My hometown paper is, was and always will be The Austin American-Statesman. Its called The Statesman in town, and, aside from the masthead, rarely will you hear anyone call it by its full name. I grew up reading The Statesman, and to the annoyance of some roommates, even during college I often had a subscription. And when I didn't, I picked it up off the rack at the grocery or corner store.
Trends change. These days I only get the weekend/ holiday edition. Facts are facts. I read my news online. Heck, I read the above the fold stories on my BlackBerry walking in from the parking garage some days. But I do read The Statesman.com almost every day. And they've gotten very good at social media and finding you where you are already, be it email, Twitter, etc...
Certainly Austin is not alone in civic pride, or finding success for news outlets that have realized that the changes in news delivery due to the power of the internet mean a local focus can be quite powerful. The past few years The Statesman has really embraced those ideals. But I only thought about that as a consumer of news. I never thought about who was making those decisions, or what was happening in the newsroom.
It seems that a lot of that effort has been thanks to Michael Vivio, the publisher who has been at the helm of The Statesman the past few years. I suggest reading Vivio's good-bye column at Statesman.com. Well, Vivio now has a fan for life. In his column, he says:
A lesson learned: Countless times during the last two and a half years, I have reminded our people that Superman was a reporter as a way to focus thought on the value of our mission. It may seem like a trivial comparison, but the point I try to make is that the same motivation that powered Superman — the pursuit of truth, justice and the American way — is the very reason why we must find a way to survive in this changing media world. It motivated us to succeed because what we do matters.
During my tenure, we exposed corruption, sought truth from politicians and protected the public from faulty products. Along the way, we hopefully entertained people and made them think.
I am proud that the employees of this newspaper stayed focused on that mission during my tenure. And I know they will not lose that focus when I am gone.
A regular Perry White, this guy. Only, you know, without reporters turning in stories about how a magical artifact turned them into a 50-story Turtle Man.
For years and years, DC Comics and Sony Online Entertainment have been working to build a Massive Multi-Player Online Role Playing Game. I think I first heard about the game circa 2006, and its been a moving target for me to try to synch up buying a new computer and figuring out what the system requirements would be for the game.
At any rate, just about the time I got the computer I'm currently using, I received an email informing me that the beta-program I'd signed up for was including me in their beta-test group. Ie: I would get to play the DCU Online game for free for a while and submit feedback.
I also had to sign an NDA. Basically, nobody wanted me complaining online about issues the game would no longer have by release day. And, I assume, they didn't want me talking too much about the storylines, etc...
I'll try not to spoil the game too much, but I will share the storyline that sets things in motion:
In the not too distant future of the DCU, the heroes and villains are locked in an epic, final battle.
oh, wait. DC made an amazing video opening for the game that sets it all up:
If you didn't just watch the above video... I cannot help you.
Anyway, future-Luthor has returned to the past to release exobytes, a sort of nanotechnology which give an extraordinary number of people superpowers in the hopes that when Brainiac attacks, the Earth can repel the assault.
You get to design your character from a large menu of choices, including:
My only real point of comparison is City of Heroes, which I played for a while circa 2004 or 2005. I am not a gamer, and I assume that's part of the attraction of a DC Comics-based MMORPG for Sony Online. Its almost impossible for me to envision wanting to play other games, but to at least try the DC game? I had to.
The gameplay is actually easier than I first believed, and I assume for PS3 Players and folks not on a laptop, it will be even smoother. I don't know what I liked better about the controls than CoH, but it did seem like I was hunting and pecking a lot less on the keyboard and fights were dictated far less about button mashing and more about good allocation of energy points, etc... (which you burn up when at different rates when you use different powers).
Movement takes only a short time to master, and unlike CoH, you start off with one of three movement types that makes getting around the absolutely enormous cityscapes a blast all on its own. Its a lot of fun to walk out of the police stations and jump up the wall like Nightwing or lift into the air like Superman (especially if you gave your character a cape).
Character Design screen
All that is great, but to some degree, City of Heroes obviously went into that territory to one degree or another. What makes the game fun for someone like myself is that it is EXACTLY the DCU. All players start off on one of Brainiac's ships, having just escaped imprisonment. You fight your way off the ship, learning how to use your powers, etc... thanks to clues on the screen and instructions from either Oracle (if you're a good guy) or The Calculator (if you're a bad guy). And the team-up factor so common to DC Comics is high. Before you finish even that first level, you team up with either Superman or Luthor. And that is awesome.
My first post-escape mission for Cosmic Kid (the character I was playing with whom I got the farthest) was to deal with an invasion was to take on an invading Gorilla Army sent by Gorilla Grodd.
I mean: how much more DC Comics can you get than "Grodd's invading forces need taking down" and then slugging it out with laser-toting gorillas and picking up "Incredibly Advanced Gorilla Technology" items as your loot?
Again, the city scapes are both amazing and dead-on to the spirit of the homes of Superman and Batman. Metropolis is all shiny skyscrapers, and Gotham towering deco buildings with jutting gargoyles you can trod out upon and gaze down upon the city. And the cities are both HUGE. Its odd that you basically do learn the fake geography of an imaginary city a bit, as both are bigger than the city I currently live in. They have specific neighborhoods, amazing locations, etc... all which you can get an audio tour of, guided by the voice of Booster Gold.
You can also move around the JLA Satellite, which must have been a blast to design for somebody.
Speaking of voices: The producers landed Mark Hamill for The Joker, Kevin Conroy as Batman, and other familiar voices for the other main characters (I think it must be Gina Torres voicing Wonder Woman, and it is perfect casting). Its a huge kick to take marching orders from Batman as voiced by Conroy, and gives a sense of "authenticity" to the game that you were never going to get from City of Heroes.
Most play takes place within missions (very DC-centric missions, at that).Take on HIVE as they infiltrate the local sports stadium. Fight Poison Ivy and her walking plant minions. Lots of stuff like that, and all consistent in tone. You can move between Gotham and Metropolis more or less at will depending on what missions are thrown your way.
Things I didn't like (some come with the caveat that this may be different in production versus beta):
Obviously there's a lot of people out there with (a) far more time on their hands than what I've got, who were dozens of levels above me, and (b) people starting with lots more experience in MMORPGs who seem to have a natural advantage starting.
from a "Magic" mission with Raven, Dr. Fate and Zatanna
I felt the costume selection was a bit limited in some respects, and certainly would have liked greater flexibility over body and face type. City of Heroes had an amazingly powerful tool for this sort of character design, and it seems odd that DC, years later, is less flexible. While I like Jim Lee's art as much as the next guy, you should be able to pick more than "child", "he-man" and "'roid-freak" for body types. And not all women are a size "Power Girl".
During the last weeks of play, it seemed that it felt a bit less pointless to just fly around your respective city environment and "patrol". But it was odd that there was so little interaction with normal humanity.
In some ways, the game is a reflection and commentary upon the state of superhero comics. Your character in the beta didn't have a civilian identity at all. There was no moving back and forth, and while I understand nobody wants a superhero game where you switch to The Sims for part of your gametime, seeing the DCU only as a place where you look for brightly costumed people to smack around is likewise a bit too close to a self-referential comment upon what's demanded of and written into superhero narratives most weeks for my tastes. While humanity does appear, its mostly as victims and screaming masses. The same sorts of prop humans that appear in backgrounds of the average superhero comic, but to whom the characters in comics and game are in no real way, tied.
All that said, I had a great time beta-testing. And even a good time seeing stuff I submitted turn into patches (a sure sign I was not alone in some of my issues). I built an affinity for ol' Cosmic Kid (have a list of names ready to go when you finish character generation. I did not), and I'm sad that it seems he's gone with the wind now that the beta test is over.
As you gain more powers as you progress, I grew to really like how the powers did seem to come from the comics. One favorite thing I would do was use a sort of "flight tornado" to surround bad guys and bump them around until they got "knocked out". While I know its just a game, somehow it felt more heroic to do that than to, say, hit citizens who'd been turned bad with magic or whatever, with a nuclear blast.
The bad guy missions, by the way, are hilariously evil. And the game's voice overs go out of their way to make you want to do awful things to civilians. Sure, you're turning co-eds into little purple monsters, but they're so annoying, they deserve it, right?
DC is launching a tie-in comic with the game, which I'll be reading. And I guess they're putting out other merchandise, too. The monthly fee and comic are plenty for me, thanks.
If anyone else plans to play, let me know! Maybe we can have a superhero team-up!
Oh, and because you will ask:
You can't play your main character as an existing DCU Character, but you can play little arena matches as major characters. I was Batman. It was neat.
You can design characters based on existing DCU characters. They provide optional templatized character designs to start off with.
In the beta, I never reached a point where I figured out how to wear a Superman shield. Maybe in the regular game. I've seen characters with the "S" in promotional images.
You do team-up with major characters at the conclusion of seemingly every major adventure. At one point, I teamed up with all the Titans, which was neat.
Yes, superfast people run straight up walls.
The game is surprisingly good at not punishing you for falling off of things.
Zatanna is in the game a lot, and her backwards dialog is a reversed WAV file, but it works
The game was funnier when they just had placeholder audio put there by programmers. Nothing like hearing a programmer not-even-trying as Hawkman and sounding like he's at the bottom of a well
The Lanterns are treated like special snowflakes in the game, and I could never quite figure out what was going on with them.
Well, last night blogger was down and I really had nothing to report, anyway.
Here's an image promoting the upcoming Batwoman comic series from DC, which I believe starts in February. I am cautiously optimistic about the series.
If you have a chance, pick up Batwoman: Elegy, the stint of Detective Comics that recently starred Batwoman. The run was amazingly popular and that's what landed Kate Kane (aka: Batwoman) her own title. Written by Greg Rucka and art by Newsarama fan-favorite artist of the year, JH Williams.
The title will have lots of creative input from JH Williams on writing, and on art. Unfortunately, Rucka is working on independent projects and novels and will not be returning for the new series. That does not mean I'm not looking forward to the series, because I absolutely am. I'll just miss Rucka.
Roberson will be signing his issue at Austin Books on 1/12/2011 from 4-7. Yes, I am definitely going.
Why I think Roberson is the right guy for the job?
From the article:
"The standard knock on Superman is that he is so powerful, what can you give him to do that is interesting?" Roberson said. "Well, that's the writer's job — give him something to do. If he's having to stop muggers, it's going to get old fast. If he's having to travel outside of space and time and sing a certain note to restart the universe, that is really cool to me."
From very early on in the publishing of serialized comics, readers were encouraged to write into their favorite titles to congratulate or complain. The readers also asked silly or scientific questions, and it all made for a "hey, gang! We're all enjoying Superman together!" sort of vibe. The editors took on criticism and occasionally released formal mea culpas, and sometimes spent some time explaining a point in a story if enough people wrote in with some confusion.
As a reader growing up pre-internet and generally not tuned in to fandom, if you were the only kid on your block reading, say, The Heckler*, then it was nice to look at a letter column and know what your fellow fans were thinking and that you were a part of some larger community.
I didn't just like letter columns as a kid, these days I LOVE reading vintage letter columns in back issues. Many letters are from some poor schlub pointing out this-or-that continuity error (fake ex:) "In the first panel Jimmy Olsen is wearing his camera and three pages later, where is the camera?", and you can practically hear the derisive self-satisfied nerd-snorting. Often, editors would cop to their mistakes and say "yup, its a comic book. Our artists work for horrible wages at amazing speeds. They @#$% up every once in a while and so do us editors." And in even better cases they come up with an answer intended to simply irritate the asker, like "Ah, but Jimmy handed it off to Lois, who you didn't see walk through the room between panels".
Those, by far, are my favorite answers. Its a reminder that "holy %$#@, kids, its just comics, have some fun with it for chrissake" that the modern comics reader could certainly stand to ponder.
I also appreciate this tactic as it is one I often similarly employ when Jamie attempts to point out any of my errors.
She: You left the garage light on all night.
Me: Indeed I did. It needed to be on for the spiders.
She: No, it did not.
Me: Did you want the spiders tripping over their own feet? They have eight feet you know... Think of the spiders.
She: It is a miracle we are still married.
What's very interesting about the letter columns in older comics, when folks tended to think that comics were just for kids, is that, pretty clearly, a lot of letters are sent in by a range of ages, and include quite a few girls and women writing in (women, in particular, tend to be furious at Jimmy Olsen in their letters. Its sort of charming.). And I recently read a letter column in which an angry fellow from the Bronx predicted the inevitable passing fad of The Beatles, as something everyone would soon wise-up to (Jimmy had traveled in time and made up several cavemen to look like The Beatles. Don't ask.).
I don't remember what year letter columns disappeared. I do know they gave way to message boards, including those owned by the publisher. Then other means of web communication.
I don't go without opinions on this, but I want to see what they've decided to do before I say "this is a good idea" or "this is a bad idea".
But I half wonder if DC isn't trying to remind its fans that (a) they can listen, and (b) possibly remind their fans what a constructive conversation with the editors looks like.
The rules are as follows:
Please include your full name, and address, for confirmation purposes. Letters should be no longer than 500 words and should not include attachments.
Letters may be edited for length or clarity and may be published in any medium. Letters become the property of DC Comics.
500 words? Man, that's asking people to be precise, get to the point and not ramble on about how their Batgirl fan fiction improves on continuity and how they think it IS part of continuity (in their own crazy head, I guess).
The return of letter columns also
eliminates drive-by trolls who, for example, hit every DC Blog column they see on Superman just long enough to post "why don't they retire that character?"
eliminates the "axe-to-grind" trolls, like say, Kyle Rayner fans who use every post about Green Lantern to complain that Hal is not Kyle
not have to publish wild type-o's and misspellings and publicize the failure of certain public schools
allows them to ignore the Nth poster who insists that Grant Morrison's approach must be wrong because, basically, they can't read.
enables DC to demonstrate what sort of questions they'll answer and what a respectful exchange of ideas looks like
While letter cols no doubt will manage the conversation, there's also no doubt that the internet is an enabler for misplaced entitlement and bad behavior (why DC bothers to have a comment section on its blog is beyond me. Its the same six guys criticizing every single item that goes up) and DC can manage their conversation with fans a bit better.
Part of that managed conversation is the fact that readers sending in letters will have to stop and think about what they're saying so as not to wind up in the crank file or circular file. Can you provide constructive feedback? Ask a thoughtful question? Is this something the current generation of eager fans will even know how to do is asked? (They've never SEEN a letter column in the past decade!)
I don't foresee DC removing comment sections or giving up on their discussion board, necessarily. And the internet will always have its own unique voices and communities, but at this point I am 100% okay with a managed conversation between the fans writing in. But, interestingly, the questions of record in print comics will be the ones that make the cut. And that's worth something.
Its a two-edged sword. The internet most certainly gave fans a sense of community and ownership over DC Comics that it had never before seen. But it was always an illusory entitlement. At the end of the day, no matter how much the fans perceive a love of, say, Superman... its always DC's toy. Surely the thrill of having a letter printed in an issue of your favorite comic will provide a great sense of participation with DC (some creators actually broke into comics this way!). And if this is to work, editors will have to include and address criticism, or the whole exercise will look like useless hype.
So... I am curious to see how this goes.
And I'm also curious to see what the editors have to say for themselves in the letter columns. The fanbase is a bit different than it was even by 2000.
I guess, in many ways, I'm looking forward to seeing this first batch, and then seeing how the letters evolve.
*I tend to believe I was one of five people in the world reading (and enjoying the heck out of) The Heckler. **every day I thank my lucky stars that Jamie has been willing to put up with me, lo these many years. I can barely stand being in the same room with myself. How she does it is beyond me.
I wasn't going to mention this because, well, maybe two of you will care. But...
Congrats to one of my favorite comic writers and one of my favorite musicians. They got married over the weekend.
Congrats Greg Rucka and Kanye West!
Wait... that isn't right.
Congratulations to Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer!
This picture made the rounds on the comics webs the past 48 hours, and we figure its free for us to use, too.
We at The Signal Watch know they will never see this post, but we wish them the best, anyway. We were impressed when we heard these two were coupled up and we're glad they made it official.
For those of you wondering, Neil Gaiman is the writer of many very good comics (most famously Sandman) and novels (I just got both Jamie and Judy to read Anasi Boys, and I think you guys might like it, too), and Amanda Palmer is a solo performer as well as half of Evelyn Evelyn and Dresden Dolls.
The dress is apparently something Palmer used to wear as a street performer. Go figure.
Vertigo, DC's comic line aimed at not-kids, kept me in comics during the crucial period of high school and college when I might have walked away from the medium. Shade, Sandman, Swamp Thing, Hellblazer, Kid Eternity, Sandman Mystery Theatre (an undervalued and terrific book)... I didn't get into Animal Man or Morrison's Doom Patrol until far, far later. But I got to know Grant Morrison via The Invisibles,but his JLA and my growing interest in Superman brought me back to the DCU (with no small help from Waid and Ross's Kingdom Come). Flex was a part of that, but its been forever since I read this series.
So a while back Jamie and I were getting the DVDs of Mad Men Season 1 via Netflix. I watched some of it, but I knew Jamie had finished the season without me. I had caught stray episodes on AMC, and I watched some of Season 2, and so when I came in with both feet in Season 3, I didn't feel like I missed all that much. Also: I recall hitting "pause" on the remote and saying "What?" to Jamie quite a bit, and then she'd fill in details.
Anyhow, on Thanksgiving I had a few glasses of wine, and then got an email from CanadianSimon on my Blackberry alerting me that the BluRay for Seasons 1-3 were on deep discount at Amazon, and I figured "well, Mythbusters isn't on every night. What the heck. Also, Christina Hendricks." And so I am now the proud owner of Seasons 1-3 of Mad Men on BluRay.
So, wow, apparently I had only ever seen the first 3 episodes of Mad Men from Season 1 in any kind of organized fashion. Its amazing how well conceptualized the show was from episode 1, from character, design, historical and other standpoints. I think they managed to deal with some of the things that people were talking about so much with a bit more nuance by Season 3 (it seems like the fact that people drink and philander is played up less for shock and more for story), but its hard to ignore the impact of Season 1.
I had not, for example, seen Peggy do "The Twist". And we should all see that at least once.
It seems that what I thought was Season 1 I was catching on AMC was Season 2. This is why I am bad at TV watching and get nervous when people try to get me to commit to a series.
We're almost done with Season 1, so I expect we'll cruise right into Seasons 2 and 3.
At any rate, its a lot of fun to start over, and I guess I'll have seen far less of Season 2 then I believed I'd seen. Either than or I am flat out suffering from some form of Mad Men Amnesia.
Well, the holidays are over and we're all having to forget about peace on Earth and worrying about making Q's 1 and 2 a roaring success.
This week I'm doing a spot of traveling. For once I'm not driving around Texas. Instead, at the end of the week I'm hopping on a jet and winging my way to sunny California where somebody wants me to stand up in a room full of people and try not to embarrass myself or my employer (that's you, Texas tax-payer!).
Its my last night of freedom for a while, so I'm going to let you get back to checking your other blogs, RSS feeds, email, Facebook and other things you do when you should really be working.
The Never Ending Battle to Make it Sound Like $2.99 is a bargain!
I kid, I kid. But I can't help but be amused that $2.99 is a big selling point for DC. Why didn't they try to hold the line at $2.50 or $2.00? Well, better late than never, one supposes. But at $3.00, it was already getting a bit rich for my blood.
I have to say: I like Wonder Woman's new outfit much better once you ditch the jacket, but I still miss the red boots.
Also: I haven't read Brightest Day yet, so I'm not entirely comfortable with Martian Manhunter adopting pants but eschewing a shirt. I kind of liked the One Year Later redesign, but I guess that was just me...
And an additional note: Hey, look! Its the JLA's original seven prominently displayed in a house ad! With Barry and Hal and everything! If they can get Wonder Woman's boots squared, we may be back to cooking with gas.
One of the odd things that's hard to sell to non-comic readers and comic-readers alike is thatUncle Scroogecomics are a whole lot of fun. And this is also semi-true of a lot of most Disney comics. I, myself, looked cock-eyed at people who would talk about Uncle Scrooge comics until I was about 30. I watched a few episodes of Duck Tales in high school, but wasn't ever all that enamored (I did, however, love Tail Spin and was quite irritated when it was canceled). I knew about the money bin, Gyro Gearloose, domestic duck squabbles with Donald, globe-trotting adventure... but what I didn't get was how that worked in comics that I heard adults talking about.
While Mickey is certainly the foremost Disney character in terms of recognizability, for decades Uncle Scrooge, who is a sort of periphery Disney property, has reined supreme in comics around the globe. The rise to prominence came under the pen of Carl Barks, a legend to many in comics along the lines of Jack Kirby, who brought straight up all-ages adventure to Uncle Scrooge comics. That didn't mean they weren't funny or rely on specifics of character that you'd see in all the classic Disney characters (except, oddly, for the nephews, that Disney seemed to think worked better as interchangeable, and I kind of refuse to disagree). It was mostly a quality of storytelling and art that set Barks apart as an auteur of the medium.
We keep our change in a big coffee cup
I guess it was when I found out the guy who owns Diamond, the monopoly that runs comic distribution in the US, had started Gemstone Comics to get the Disney license and do reprints from older and overseas-produced Disney comics, I decided to try out some Uncle Scrooge.
I've become a fan, but I don't pretend I'm one of the folks who was reading Uncle Scrooge as a kid, or who has a closet full of Disney comics that I can quote chapter and verse. Respect.
When Gemstone lost the Disney reprint license to Boom! a couple years ago, I wasn't all that shattered as Boom!, (a) was going to be aggressive in their offerings, and (b) they dropped the prices to the point of easy affordability. Gemstone had been charging upward of $8 for a single issue of Uncle Scrooge (in all fairness, it was 2 or 3 comics worth of materials) and I'd quit buying.
This is almost exactly my set up at Barton Springs each summer
In some ways, I don't understand the publishing model from Disney's perspective. Disney has a license for its characters through Boom! and they've published largely recent, mostly European-produced stories. But in recent months Boom! has made it clear they're going to be reprinting classic Disney comics in their mainline Disney books, and one assumes this includes Barks and Don Rosa (Rosa is Barks' amazingly talented successor). Disney actually does own their own publishing arm, which could have done this. Further, Disney owns Marvel Comics. I don't know that its a good mixing of brands, and I have to assume there are good reasons for a lack of cooperation between Marvel and Disney Comics.
And then Fantagraphics, yet another publisher, gets the prestige format reprint license? It would just be interesting to hear Disney flat-out explain their strategy. My guess is that they just saw what Fantagraphics has done with Peanutsand they thought they were the right folks for this job. I'd also hazard a guess that they see the monthly comics as "periodicals" and this project as "the book department", and so licenses are different.
Whatever the case, the book is happening. And that's really good news!
An additional note: Its hard on the pocketbook, but across the industry, many publishers are getting very good at putting together prestige format collections of classic comics, both from standard comic book formats and from the comics page/ comic strips. There have always been "best of" hardback collections, but now we're seeing complete runs of work like Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side, and Bloom County. Fantagraphics is working its way through Peanuts' multi-decade run. And we can expect to see Walt Kelley's Pogo hit in March with its first volume.
Barks' work hasn't been collected in the US in any comprehensive manner, so I'm glad to see it happening. Not a bad way to start a new year in comics news!
Again, its expensive if you decided you wanted to own all of these, but I think I'm glad to know that these archive edition books are making their way to press before the work is lost (because one day it will be), and that means its likely digitized and semi-preserved. The price isn't that prohibitive if you can pass the books around, and I don't know if they'll try for an ebook or paperback edition, both of which would be cheaper, I'd guess. The new edition also means that these books, whole runs of them, may find their ways into libraries, both public and private.