Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Science! (we get no aliens - this time) and DC Comics' REBELS

Science! and aliens and not science

The other night I saw an article that led me to believe that SCIENCE had found evidence of extraterrestrial life.  I posted about it here, and then set about wondering why this wasn't front page news.

I thank Leaguers Fantomenos and Horus Kemwer for chiming in and helping out a bit in the comments section.

In the past 20 years, America has turned on its scientists as those lab-coated jerks keep (a) telling us things that are personally inconvenient to our butter-soaked, gasoline chugging lifestyles (b) refuse to just say "because of magic" and (c) keep finding new and amazing ways to kill us.  But I'd guess the number one reason we hate science is that it doesn't work in the way we were led to believe by the Professor on Gilligan's Island and cold remedy commercials.

While The News would lead you to believe that all scientists are equal, and that if they can find two scientists to disagree on front of cameras that it must mean that we just don't know, that's not really true either.  It means that they managed to find a scientist who disagreed, but that may be one scientist in a field of thousands.  Which is why SCIENCE relies upon peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, which basically give a few experts in the field a chance to review conclusions of a study before a scientist has a chance to make a jerk of himself and confuse the public.

This isn't to say that everyone who ignores the usual scientific channels is wrong, but its worth looking long and hard at the credentials of both the author and published journal before saying "these are facts".

Now, as Joe Public, I generally guess that when the usual news outlets report on "studies" in "research journals", they mean that they're looking at journals with a reputable peer-review and an actual research institute backing the journal.  I do not assume that the news is just looking at some dude's website and declaring "Science!".  However, that appears to be exactly what happened with the "hey, aliens!" story from the weekend.

It does occur to me that if we DID know of alien life, it might also be true that shadowy forces would try to cover up our knowledge of aliens.

they're making another one of these dumb movies, btw
So its not entirely outside the scope of possibility that President Obama spent Saturday afternoon being debriefed about some Omega Protocol being put into play to discredit the "alien bacteria" story.  But, until someone produces an actual alien, I'm going to go with the fact that the journal carrying the alien bacteria story looks about as professional as the average Office Admin's first attempts with DreamWeaver (download Open Journal System, Cosmology) and has an agenda to prove the existence of aliens.  So, there you go.


I only read the trade collections, and the series just got canceled, but you know what book I loved from DC Comics?  REBELS.

I think in this issue are heroes are more "running away" than "saving the day"
The basic premise of the series is that Vril Dox is a clone of Superman mainstay-baddy Brainiac, and using the intellectual might at his disposal, Dox set up an interplanetary PAX-for-hire.  Unfortunately, his use of robot drones as enforcers means that his forces are co-opted and used to subjugate the very planets they were intended to protect.  On top of this, the droids are used to keep the population docile while an interplanetary parasite known as Starro invades whole sectors of the galaxy.

Our man Vril joins with a ragtag band of pirates and thugs (and Vril is no Dudley Do-right himself) in order to take back the galaxy and get back to making gobs of money.

Its a really well written and well-paced story, even to the point that a two-issue diversion tied in with Blackest Night fits neatly into the plot.  It also manages to explore DC's oft-neglected outerspace cultures and characters in a away that feels natural, even if the interplanetary jumping feels a bit like people moving from town to town inside of a single state.

And as far as amoral anti-heroes go (who might still have some tiny, on-life-support bit of conscience left), Vril Dox makes for a pretty great central figure.  The writers have to remain two or three steps ahead of the readership and the other characters.  And, in fact, they manage to pull off pretty definite characterization for most characters, which is no small feat with a sprawling cast like you see in REBELS.

No matter who he's dealing with, Vril is always one step a-head
Sadly, REBELS did not feature any DC staple characters, and no comic company seems to be able to deal with the mass conversion of its readership to trades and illegal scans.  Just last week, the series was canceled.

I have to say - I think DC would do well to get on the same printing schedule as Boom! and others, printing the trade collections of an arc within weeks of the release of the most recent issue (ex:  issues 1-6 finish in March, the trade arrives in April).  Frankly, they seemed to be on that schedule but recently backed off for reasons I can't begin to fathom.

The REBELS books read very well as trades, and the first three trades will actually bring you through a very satisfying story arc.  I'm on the 4th trade right now, and I'm a little sad that I can only expect a couple more collections before we call it a day.


Simon MacDonald said...

REBELS is a series I missed completely. People who I trust, including yourself, have said it was good but I've never tracked it down. I kinda figured it would be cancelled before too long.

You're right about comic companies not knowing what to do about it's readers shifting to other formats. I don't see what the issue is with illegal scans. I'm sure if comic companies offerred day and date releases of their books at a reasonable price then people wouldn't bother to pirate them anymore. Hell it would get me picking up some single issues again instead of trade waiting everything.

Did you see the comic sales for February? The top tile Green Lantern #62 only sold 71,517 copies. Yikes, comics are in big trouble. I did a quick look at the top 25 and it breaks down:

Green Lantern - 5
Avengers - 4
Fantastic Four - 1
Batman - 2
Flash - 1
Spider-Man - 4
X-Men - 5
Wolverine - 2
JLA - 1

It really seems like Marvel and DC are trying to saturate the market with their top name characters. That doesn't leave much room for books like REBELS, or Thor the Mighty Avenger or Captain Britain or Agents of Atlas.

The League said...

It does seem that they are saturating with mainline characters, but I think you can also say - they are scared and they're hiding behind what they know. I am beginning to wonder if Diane Nelson isn't reacting too slowly (or if she cares about the print side).

The need for a major shake-up in the business status quo at DC and Marvel is sorely needed, and "maybe people will pay $2 on an iPad" is not going to do it. (ie - I'm not paying $600 to save $1 on a comic).

All the bad habits of the past 15 years are all hitting at once and it won't be pretty.

But... yeah, DC just flat out dropped the ball on REBELS. It was quietly as good or better than many of DC's best sellers. I am convinced something is just entirely broken at DC under Dan Didio, and that he doesn't know how to deal with more than one area at a time (and when he does, its as much fun as the eye of Sauron turning on you).

Simon MacDonald said...

Well I'm pretty sure that DC and Marvel don't actually care about print sales. The make their money of licensing, TV and movies. The iconic characters are established and I'm not even sure that they need to create new monthly issues at this point to keep the money train going.

I don't suggest that anyone spend $600 on a device just to read comics. For me personally, it makes sense as I have a number of use cases for an iPad and mobile development is what I do for a living. However if there were legitimate digital versions of books available at a reasonable price I certainly think it would help the industry.

I really wish that the industry would figure out a way to promote good books. Some books that I love like Chew (12,473), Darkwing Duck (6,020), Unwritten (11,443) and Locke & Key (6,634) have super low numbers but they are just great books. Mind you I'm not helping their numbers being a trade waiter.

The League said...

But that's partially it... These days, it only makes sense to be a trade-waiter. Hell, I LOVE floppy comics and even I've caved. The only floppies I get anymore are Superman-related titles (because I am impatient when it comes to Superman).

I had high hopes for the "Superman: Earth One" initiative as I thought it could steer DC toward realizing that most readers would prefer the trade format - and once you're in a book format, the 22 page format goes out the window. And, voila... books instead of collections. But just like All Star, they seem to be moving at a glacial pace that will kill the whole deal before it has a chance to succeed.

As per the iconic characters - in some ways I've been thrilled that DC has spent time and energy getting their icons in shape. WW and Superman have just been slapped around by iffy editorial oversight and bad writing. Green Lantern no longer feels like a waiting game of "when will they bring back Hal?" and Flash feels reinvigorated for the first time since the last year of Johns' run with Wally.

And it seems like even J'onn and Aquaman have a chance. Now, DC - Do something with that.