AICN COMICS ROUNDTABLE@@@ MARVEL 2010! @@@
@$$Hole Roll Call:Ambush Bug
Henry Higgins is My Homeboy
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Okay, this year at Marvel, we've seen a SIEGE, the Death of Sentry, the cancellation of SPIDER-GIRL, a CHAOS WAR, a street level SHADOWLAND war, the formation of the Hulk Family, X-Men’s SECOND COMING, a billion and a half AVENGERS team books, the Red Hulk reveal, a Mutants vs Vampires War, Spidey's GAUNTLET and GRIM HUNT, and the ending of Abnett & Lanning's Cosmic Saga. We'll get into specifics in a bit, but how do you guys think Marvel has been doing as a whole this year?
SUPERHERO: See, now all that right there is why I just can't buy weeklies anymore. That sounds insane. And pricey. How the hell do you guys afford all that?
PROF. CHALLENGER (PROF): I don't. I love the comic biz. I hate the cost and the glut and vote with my wallet.
HUMPHREY LEE (HUMPHREY): Honestly, I look at everything there and it makes me tired, even a little apathetic, and I read maybe only half that stuff. But, I'm not going to say all that as a lambasting of Marvel in general because it just has its ups and downs as a publishing line. There's great books in there; Fraction's runs on IRON MAN and THOR, Hickman's trifecta of books (SECRET WARRIORS, FANTASTIC FOUR, & S.H.I.E.L.D.), CAPTAIN AMERICA is still great albeit drug down a bit by a bad backup story, and THE THANOS IMPERATIVE might be the best event I've read out of all these mainstream titles the past decade; hell, maybe ever.
BUG: Yeah, it's impossible anymore to follow everything. I used to be a completist, but Marvel doesn't seem to care for those folks anymore. I had to trim the fat, so that meant titles I just don't care about anymore like X-MEN and DEADPOOL and the like. I'm curious about X-Men occasionally, but because Marvel's lineup is so bloated these days, there's no way I can check it out.
SUPERHERO: Well, yeah, me too...but how the hell can an average fan sustain that? At $4.00 a book every week, no way. It's like the whole Marvel line has become the overly saturated jumble that the X-Books were in the 90's. If I want to make sense of any of it I have to buy more than just one book. It's not like I can just read AVENGERS any more. I have to read a bajillion other tie in books. So forget it...I'll just wait for trades and hope that they'll be coherent to me once I pick them up.
MATT ADLER (ADLER): Marvel's argument is that they don't expect every person to buy their whole line, but I have to counter that by asking if there even enough monthly comic buyers total to support that approach. We're talking about a market where selling 100,000 copies is a huge achievement; at those numbers, don't you pretty much need your audience to be picking up as much of your line as possible?
VROOM SOCKO (VROOM): I haven't bought a Marvel comic since ULTIMATUM ended. Before that, I hadn't bought a non-Ultimate Marvel book since SECRET INVASION. When I stopped buying X-Men at the end of the 90's, it was because every storyline Marvel's (at the time) flagship title had became an Earth-shattering event that changed everything. Well, for the past five years AVENGERS has been Marvel's flagship title. And every year, there's an Earth-shattering event that not only changes everything, but changes the entire line-up of the team. Every year, every event, felt like starting over from scratch. And, as I said, I read the X-Men back in the 90's. I don't need to go through that again.
KLETUS CASADAY (KLETUS): Which is why there are a million tie-ins to every event. SIEGE did well because most of the tie ins were contained in the monthly titles; but most of the even tie ins are unnecessary and are wallet succubuses.
BUG: But the stories and characters feel so diluted these days. If Wolverine has six titles of his own and is on twelve teams, can the character really be interesting? No. One of the one-time most fascinating characters in comics is whittled down to a cliché who says “bub” too much. Why is Bendis writing four AVENGERS titles with practically the same roster? There is no real difference between AVENGERS, NEW AVENGERS, and the mini with Thor, Cap, and Stark. I'd love to read a few AVENGERS titles if one were written by Bendis, one by Pak & Van Lente, one by Abnett & Lanning, and one by Brubaker. I like AVENGERS ACADEMY and SECRET AVENGERS so much more because the titles are written differently for a variety of fans.
MATT: The other thing is, with all this stuff out there, I wonder if I'm missing something? What if amongst all these events and miniseries, there really is a gem, perhaps by an author I haven't tried before? Because of all the other stuff overcrowding it, I may never see it. I'd like to see Marvel focus on stories that they internally really believe in and feel passionate about, and share that with us.
HUMPHREY: That is the rub of it all, in that there is some really good stuff in all of this, but it all seems so erratic, so overwhelming that who knows what is really going on. Maybe they really do feel they need to keep having these things happen to drive the changes in status quo, but the frequency with which all this shit happens I think begs to differ. If that’s the point, we wouldn't be having them on almost a yearly basis that keeps the status quo shifting. Marvel just went through the SIEGE and pushed this whole "Heroic Age" movement where things are supposed to level out for a while...and yet already there's ominous black pages showing up in their weeklies already, foreboding the next event I assume.
MATT ADLER: The counter argument of course is that without events, attention fades away from these books, and sales drop. But again, I don't think these events need to be the size that they are! You can draw attention to a book, or even a couple of books, with a small, focused event. Just because it doesn't generate 50 different tie-ins doesn't mean you can't sell it as important.
KLETUS: Yeah, the "be all end all" of events is rarely accurate with these things. As far as monthlies go, some of them only exist to get to that next big thing and there's no depth to the things that are happening.
PROF: Both Marvel and DC are now attempting to be managed under standard corporate practices, which involve strangling the market with product in an attempt to overwhelm and push out the competition. Unfortunately, the comic-buying crowd is simply not the average consumer and rebel against that if it is sustained. And at this point, this saturation point has been pushed too long and I know way too many longtime buyers of comics who are finally breaking their OCD compulsions and walking away (or to the trades).
HUMPHREY: Y'know, as a man with an MBA (or close enough) in this stuff I wonder how much of that is true and how much it isn't. One thing we have to consider is the market, and if there was ever a customer base that is a glutton for punishment - myself obviously included - it's the comic reading public. Occasionally though, the hammer needs to fall and someone needs to learn a harsh lesson for not bothering to innovate while taking in those dollars. We're a handful of years after FELL hitting and I'm kind of shocked and amazed no one adopted that as a viable method of story-telling and revenue generation. Put out 18 issues of 16 page books at $2 a pop in a year, if you run that with 8 pages of ads you've just opened yourselves up to roughly 20 more pages of ads over the years to make up shortfalls and probably better margins, you keep attention more by coming out roughly every three weeks, and you're not wallet busting when you hit the stands.
KLETUS: Taking a gamble on a $2 book is a lot easier to do than with a $4 dollar book. Then the question is, are they trying to get you to read more comics or spend more money and at which point are you forgetting about customer satisfaction and enjoyment for making that extra $1 on a comic. Plus that $1 only seems to be attached to the books that are hyped up and what does that say about the books that are still $2.99--hey aren't worth the hype or the extra dollar?
MATT: I like that Marvel is trying to focus on smaller events with CHAOS WAR and SHADOWLAND, but I worry that the market can't support the proliferation of miniseries at $4.00 an issue. I think the spate of cancellations of ongoings and declining sales on their flagship books reflects that. There needs to be a rethinking at Marvel of a long-term strategy beyond meeting quarterly expectations.
BUG: Very true, Matt. Story-wise there hasn't really been much long term thinking either. Look at all of the Earth-shattering stuff that was supposed to change the status quo: Spidey unmasking, No More Mutants, Cap's death…all are undone just a short time later. Sure they got headlines, but readers now are realizing what we realized when Joey Q came on board: that these stories, no matter how status quo shaking, will inevitably return to square one. That's disheartening. All the writers and editors have to do is think about telling strong stories that evolve the character to make more stories for the long run, not think of what would look good in a four issue trade.
MATT: I'm reminded of how in the early '90s, Marvel would do small crossovers which would consist of an interconnected story across the annuals of 4 or 5 books (often including the debut annual of a new book, to draw attention to it). I think that works. But when there are 50 different miniseries, it's a lot harder to sort out.
KLETUS: I think Marvel (both companies really) feel like they HAVE to do these events in order to make sales and I think the quality and lack of gravity of these events reflect that. These events have become very formulaic and thus kind of boring. SIEGE was cool because it was short...but still by the numbers.
HUMPHREY LEE: I don't like big shock change, I like slight growth over the long term. I like runs with the occasional speed bump, or even a giant @$$ pothole, but that will leave the character overall intact with a bit of reflection now built into them. In the former regard, I just think Marvel more than anyone is leaning way too heavy on trying to “OMG! EPIC!” people into picking up books, but to be fair they are doing a bang up job more or less with some of these runs, even if they get some interference from these events, if you can even call it that. Just make good comics and the readers should follow.
MATT: Our immediate reaction to radical change (be it in comics or elsewhere) is discomfort and anxiety. But anxiety is the flipside of excitement. So maybe sometimes it's a good thing to shake the readers up. Again, I think the key is staying true to the characters' core, no matter what changes you make around them.
PROF: Marvel is hastening the demise of the weekly/monthly comic by continuing this event-driven hydra of a publishing policy. "Events" lose their impact when the entire company line is essentially a series of mass "events" that drives away any sense of consumer commitment.
BUG: So true, Prof. Marvel tried that in the nineties and went bankrupt because of it. I don't know why they think they can get away with twelve DEADPOOLS a month and not lose out. Why not one strong DEADPOOL title that sells as much as all of the shitty spinoffs combined? There're too many amazing alternatives out there to go the Marvel Zombie route. If I were to choose between WALKING DEAD and some crappy VENOM miniseries, there's no competition. Trying to drown out the indies and DC with multiple titles won't work anymore.
PROF: As far as I'm concerned, as a former Marvel Zombie through middle school and high school, Marvel Comics exists for me almost exclusively as a movie studio. They are forced to strip down the continuity to fit within a limited scope that film-goers can follow and enjoy...in other words...the movies are like the Marvel Comics I fell in love with and that's where my money goes.
BUG: As a comic book reader of 25 years, Prof, that depresses the shit out of me, but it's so true.
MATT: Let me put my conspiracy theory hat on and suggest that maybe Marvel is aware of this... and factors it into their plans? Maybe they have the view that the direct market and the monthly 22 page magazine format is doomed anyway, and are just trying to pump as much of out of it while they still can? They certainly seem to be making bookstores and digital a bigger part of their plans.
BUG: I think they may be eager to see that happen, but I guarantee that there will be a huge drop in readership if they move from paper to digital completely. I think that'll be the final straw for old school readers. Marvel acts like they don't give a shit about them, but these readers are the only ones who kept and will keep the company afloat through the rough days (a point proven through their bankruptcy). I know if and when the digital/trade conversion happens, I'll breathe a sigh of relief because Marvel would have provided me a perfect stopping point.
MATT: I don't see such a move as immediate--but can I see them pursuing a policy that would bleed the direct market dry, without a care for diminishing returns? Yeah. Fewer readers, but due to increased prices (or in the case of ASM, increased shipping schedules) more dollars. And eventually those readers will have dwindled down to only the most hardcore of the hardcore. I think they're hoping by that point, the digital and bookstore audiences will be large enough to replace them.
SUPERHERO: I'm gonna miss the comic shops...although I hardly go to them anymore. I just like knowing that they're there and I can always just go into one if I want. Those days may be gone soon. I don't know how they stay in business.
JOHNNY DESTRUCTO (JD): I don't think the comic shops are going anywhere soon. And what are you doing? Ordering all your stuff online? Get out to the friggin' SHOPS, man! Get out there and support the businesses that are helping to keep what you love alive! :)
BUG: I see comic shops evolving into a more specific type of specialty store. More and more stores have less comics and more tie in merchandise.
KLETUS: I really hope that comic shops aren't going the way of the arcade.
SUPERHERO: I'd love to completely support the comic shops but if I can get a book at 30-40% off at the local Borders or just wait for it and get it for a fraction of its cost on Amazon or E-Bay I think that's the smart move. I've got bills to pay, a kid to feed, etc. I have a comic shop down the street from me that is a great shop but every time I walk in I know that almost anything in there I can find somewhere else for cheaper. Sorry, it's true. The shop I get my books pulled at gives me 35% off every new floppy. That's the shop I support. Because it knows that the books are expensive and that the demographic is getting older and has other shit to spend its hard earned money on. I literally wait months to get my floppies instead of going down the street because the shop I support supports me by giving me a discount that I can't pass up. Sorry, it's called competition. If you can't compete then you need to look at your business model. I buy comics, I support comics, I love comics, I'm just not sacrificing my mortgage to keep the shops in business.
KLETUS: Like Kat Williams says, "You gotta make pimp decisions!" I was in a shop today and they mainly focus on trades because A. It’s easier to get new readers in because the story is already completed and the previous volumes are right there for customers to decide how far they want to go back and B. People are waiting to see if they really want the entire story rather than having to worry if a story is going to turn out good month to month. I'm thinking the shop I work at may need to do the same.
BUG: So let's get into specifics. What was your favorite Marvel book or storyline this year?
MATT: I really think SPIDER-GIRL went out on a strong note, although I don't think Marvel's new version is a good idea. And even as a DeFalco fan, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first issue of the new THUNDERSTRIKE miniseries. He really brought a fresh voice to it that fits in well with modern continuity. I'd love to see it continue in some form as an ongoing, though I won't hold my breath.
BUG: Yeah, I loved THUNDERSTRIKE because it was so different than anything else out there right now.
HUMPHREY: Pretty much anything that was self-contained appeals to me. I love what Fraction is doing on IRON MAN right now, though the "Stark Resilient" arc is running kind of long methinks; I think Hickman is doing quality stuff with the FANTASTIC FOUR, really hitting on the elements that make that book work, and I think Abnett & Lanning are doing the best events in comics right now. Yes, that means over all the BLACKEST NIGHT stuff and so on. Jason Aaron's run on PUNISHER MAX is glorious too, though the first arc was a little uneven.
HENRY HIGGINS IS MY HOMEBOY (HHH): In retrospect, one of the big reasons I'm so happy with Marvel this year has been them catering to my specific loves. “Second Coming” was a brilliant story for the X-Men side of things. CHAOS WAR is giving Hercules something good. And THANOS IMPERATIVE was such a fantastic way to end the Marvel Cosmic saga. The only event I was very invested in seeing do amazing that didn't was AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. But even then, the good outweighs the bad (save for Spidey’s “One Moment In Time”).
BUG: Spidey has just been ok in my opinion over the past year. BIG TIME looks interesting, but Slott doesn't seem interested in making Spidey his own. If he were to give the title the shine he did with his SHE-HULK and THING series, I think he would be on to something. But the "events" of Spidey's past year were very lackluster. Ooooh, he's running a gauntlet and facing a new villain every month! No, that's what Spidey comics used to be, morons! This isn't an event at all.
HHH: Slott's first two issues have been interesting, and it'll be fun to see what Slott has up his sleeve once he's past the first storyline.
KLETUS: Agreed. I do think Slott was the best writer of the bunch and I think he's gonna do some cool stuff with Spidey. I just wish Marcos Martin was the artist. I didn't even read the conclusion to THE GAUNTLET, I just got bored and gave up and waited for BIG TIME. Yeah, they need to stop trying to make every Spidey arc a "thing" and just make a good Spider-Man book.
MATT: SPIDER-MAN's a very hard book for me to get back into given that I grew up reading him married to Mary Jane. None of the other relationships will ever ring true to me for that reason. I want to follow the character on a regular basis again, I'm just not sure what would get me to do it. Maybe if they dipped back into some of the stories from the era where they're saying he was still with MJ, just not married, that might restore my sense of a connection. But right now it just feels like every writer and editor associated with the character is tip-toeing around it, hoping to move forward and forget all that, because of what a landmine the whole OMD mess is. Nobody wants to bring that back into people's minds (except for Quesada with OMIT, I guess). It's the elephant in the room, and I think it's permanently damaged the franchise and the ability of writers to handle the character.
JD: He has a new job, he has a new girlfriend, he has a new apartment, and all of his major villains have been ramped up, power-wise. I'm loving it. Any more shaking for the poor fella and he'd be an epileptic!
MATT: Yeah, it almost feels like the character's suffering from PTSD.
BUG: I think what Spidey needs is one writer given the chance to write the hell out of the character. I understand that they're trying to stay on schedule by having multiple writers, but the stories have been disjointed. Slott has what it takes to do it, but seems to only write the book every three to four months. Zeb Wells could do it too. I just think someone needs to stick with Spidey for a year or so. The title could benefit from that.
IMP: Even though I'm not reading the whole SHADOWLAND thing, I'm curious to see how Marvel will end up returning to the classic interpretation of Daredevil, and whether they will attempt to do it via far-fetched (though "fair") methods such as the ones you mentioned or with the BRAND NEW DAY-style deus ex machina...or maybe that should be diabolos ex machina, in this case.
BUG: I've been reading SHADOWLAND. Not a bad crossover. The introduction of the new Power Man is kind of interesting. I think pushing DD this far over the edge, though, is pretty dangerous. He's almost irredeemable now. Bringing in Black Panther is an interesting development too that I'll probably be picking up.
Anyone reading CHAOS WAR? To me, it kind of feels like a low rent THANOS IMPERATIVE without the enormously cool moments and too many tie ins.
MATT: CHAOS WAR isn't quite as good as THANOS IMPERATIVE, but I still dig what Pak and Van Lente have been doing with Hercules and Amadeus Cho overall. Plus, I like the concept of DEAD AVENGERS, and any excuse to get J.M. DeMatteis to do a THOR comic is alright with me. And I'm looking forward to seeing what a re-teamed Claremont and Simonson can do on the X-Men tie-in.
OPTIMOUS DOUCHE (OD): I've always been a dirty mutie lover when it comes to the Big M, so my condolences to all of you trapped inside your SIEGES. AVENGERS, CAPTAIN AMERICA heartache...I loved Marvel this year because they truly did Muties right with SECOND COMING. It was everything an event should be: it crossed all titles seamlessly, the ancillary books were nil and most importantly the events that transpired were an absolute game-changer for the universe.
JD: I'm with you on SECOND COMING, Sir Douche; now THAT was an almost perfectly executed crossover, except for a few minor hiccups. That was this year's SINESTRO COPS WAR for me. Sadly, exactly as I expected, nothing that came after really held my attention besides UNCANNY X-FORCE, which is a mad-cap rrrrromp! Loving that book, the art especially. Jerome Opena is tearing it up.
KLETUS: I agree this crossover was great; the stakes were high. Something happened every issue, the art was awesome...really just a great time. X-FORCE has been great since the start of the last X-FORCE series and has continued to the UNCANNY X-FORCE..Opena IS tearing it up.
BUG: And yet, I still didn't give a shit about what happened with the muties. They could lace their comics with bacon and cocaine and I still wouldn't buy an X-Book. As long as I see an entire wall of monthly X-Books and miniseries and Wolverine titles, I don’t care to dive into X-Continuity anymore. It's just too intimidating, and that's coming from someone who became a Marvel Zombie because of the X-Men. It'll never happen, but Marvel should have 4 X-titles; UNCANNY X-MEN, a younger generation like NEW MUTANTS/GENERATION X, X-FACTOR, and a single WOLVERINE title. If they did that, MAYBE, I'd check some of it out. But the way it is now...forget about it.
OD: That's what was nice about SECOND COMING--totally idiot proof and sans continuity baggage. Seriously, don't hurt yourself to spite a title lineup that will never happen because it makes too much sense.
IMP: See, that's why I love David's X-FACTOR. Even though it technically is a mutie book, the series almost acts as a court jester to the X-Universe, pointing out the flaws and goofiness of the mutant books while happily doing its own thing. In fact, over the last year the title has featured more non-mutant guest-stars and subplots than it has mutants.
MATT: I agree; I think the few times the book has run into trouble, it's because the main X-line has seemed so directionless and X-FACTOR's status quo can get dragged along with it, sometimes derailing with David is trying to set up. But I guess that comes with the territory.
BUG: Right on. The problem I have with X-FACTOR is that Peter David gets this momentum going with the title and characters, then time and time again it has to be tied in with some X-crossover, and everything just derails. Then once the crossover is over with, David is left picking up the pieces. Momentum starts, then here comes another crossover. Frustrating for the reader, and I'm sure it's frustrating for Peter David too.
PROF: I don't really enjoy Peter David's writing anymore. Around the time he actually discovered his own "voice" in his writing is about the the time I realized I didn't care for that voice and neither do I care for most of his plot devices. However...even though I personally don't "like" his current work, he does at least know how to write well and structure his individual issues with full beginning-middle-end plots (even while serving a larger storyline) rather than just chapters that serve no purpose other than advancing a larger plot. That is a disappearing art.
HUMPHREY: I keep wanting to get involved with X-titles again because they are what brought me to the dance, so to speak, 18 years ago, but I'll be buggered if I know what is going on where and what has developed the past couple years. I tried reading Fraction's UNCANNY stuff, and it seemed very reverent to the characters and developing some ideas, but I got tired of playing "guess the pinup girl" with Greg Land's art. UNCANNY X-FORCE seems interesting because it's Remender and Opena doing a book with fucking Fantomex, but at the same time, no bloody clue what greater storyline that book would be a means to.
MATT: The only X-book I really follow is X-FACTOR (well, X-MEN FOREVER too, since it's self-contained, but that's cancelled now). I've picked up a few issues of Fraction's UNCANNY, but never really felt drawn to his characters as people. The Greg Land art didn't help either; I continually wonder why Marvel isn't worried about the legal exposure his work presents. I think if I was to get interested in following the X-line as a broader whole, they'd have to give the X-Men a bit more of a compelling mission beyond survival.
OD: It's an astute observation about the main game being survival for the X-Folks, but that's really the core of the book. When they tried to bloat out the Mutant population it became an exercise in title frustration and a cavalcade of who gives a shit characters. I'll agree a new game should be played, but what is that game without changing the core foundation of the title?
MATT: I don't think survival has always been the core of the X-Men; actually, I think that's been more Magneto's view, that mutantkind is under an existential threat from humanity and we have to do whatever is necessary to survive. The X-Men have traditionally taken a more optimistic path; not just survival, but a belief that if we can stop extremists on both sides, there's a real chance for mutants and humans to prosper mutually. I think “House of M”/”Decimation” put that balance too far out of whack.
IMP: For me, the big event books never held as much interest as Marvel's smaller fringier titles. I've been out of the loop on X-MEN for way too long now, but I was able to dive back into Peter David's X-FACTOR without a hitch, and was able to read it without needing to buy a million other crossover comics. And I loved Abnett & Lanning's cosmic stuff-- both NOVA and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY-- but I've gotta say, once both those series were put on hiatus in favor of THE THANOS IMPERATIVE, my excitement waned. I don't know if it's just a psychological thing on my part, but as soon as an "Event" is decreed by the publisher, I feel like the comics and their creators tend to lose that special spark that drew me to them in the first place.
KLETUS: Yeah, NOVA was awesome and I too was bummed when it went away. I really think when a book like that that is doing that good they should just let it be. If it needs to be looped in to the event, I'm sure it wouldn't be that hard to integrate it in to the big story. At the same time I can understand just putting both those titles in one book to make it easier to follow along...at least it saves us some money.
BUG: Though it's definitely lost it's momentum with the current storyline, the WORLD WAR HULKS was a lot of fun. I even found myself liking Red Hulk after the big reveal, though the mystery was idiotic. And Greg Pak writes a vicious Banner.
JD: The Hulks lost me halfway through the Red Hulk bollocks. Except for when the "big reveal" happened, about which I'm surprised that anyone was surprised! And it all feels way too impenetrable at this point to start picking up. To me, the best of all this Hulk business was the “Planet Hulk” stuff. I loved that and haven't really seen anything too interesting happen since then, unfortunately.
KLETUS: I thought the Red Hulk story was pretty fun, really silly at times but fun. The new team on Hulk is kicking ass. The reveal to me was a little obvious seeing that Loeb did the same thing in “Hush” with the reveal being the guy who you thought to be dead as shown in a previous issue. I still had a lot of fun with the series, though.
ROCK-ME: The Cosmic Abnett and Lanning stuff was *snort* out of this world. No, really. The Hulks, with their new and dangerous Bruce Banner, has been quite intriguing. Anything with the newly revitalized Hank Pym has gotten my attention. And you know what all three had in common? An uncertain status quo, or a major change in one. If you want unchanging icons that are intuitions, they should just start churning out “Lil Spidey” or “Lil Hulky”, cast the characters in amber and write them at the level of teenager. As for me, I like some meat on the bone.
BUG: So are there any titles we've forgotten about? I'm digging AVENGERS ACADEMY. But once rock solid stories like RUNAWAYS and YOUNG AVENGERS (in the CHILDREN'S CRUSADE) have really lost their steam. And Brubaker's Cap...I mean, he's doing a great job with SECRET AVENGERS, but P.U. I have to say CAPTAIN AMERICA has really been half a@$$ed since Steve Rogers returned.
KLETUS: Yeah, CAP lost its steam with CAPTAIN AMERICA: REBORN or whatever it was called and was weirdly similar to BATMAN: RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE. It just wasn't in the same grounded approach he had in the regular CAP series. Red Skull trapped Rogers in time...after all of that planning he did, THAT was his end game...I'm not buyin' it. I think THE TRIAL OF CAPTAIN AMERICA should be pretty good though.
MATT ADLER: AVENGERS ACADEMY is solid. Christos Gage is one of the new generation of writers that consistently impresses me. RUNAWAYS I think is a dead concern...it's one of those books where, once the original writer leaves, you realize even more how great he was. I wish Vaughan would write more Marvel comics, but I can understand why he'd rather focus on his own stuff. I've actually never followed YOUNG AVENGERS, and given how Heinberg has shown only half-hearted commitment to his comics writing, I can't say I regret that. I'm still satisfied with Brubaker's work overall.
PROF: I liked AVENGERS ACADEMY. I bought the first 3 issues. Solid set-up and excellent artwork. But it was launched with a ton of intertwined AVENGERS books so...got the boot. I may pick up the trade though, where I can feel like (hopefully) I'm reading it as a bit of a stand-alone series. If Marvel had 1 AVENGERS title and then came out with AVENGERS ACADEMY and that was it? I’d probably still be buying ACADEMY. But AVENGERS, AVENGERS PRIME, NEW AVENGERS, SECRET AVENGERS, and more? They get zero from me. I gave Bendis and Romita three issues to get me hooked on AVENGERS again...instead it was one of the most disappointing series I've tried in years.
BUG: That’s exactly how Marvel got me originally hooked on X-Men. UNCANNY, then NEW MUTANTS, then X-FACTOR. Slow and steady. Soon I was buying anything with an X in it.
MATT: I think you've hit on something here; there's a lot to be said for the gradual start. When they plan a bunch of new releases all together, it's like...where do I start? But focus on just one or two new releases at a time, give them time to find an audience, and maybe you've got the start of something. Maybe I'm expecting too much restraint in this day and age, though.
PROF: FANTASTIC FOUR and S.H.I.E.L.D. are month-to-month incredible and mind-expanding and densely packed with Marvel continuity without sacrificing story, characters, or coherence. And while they give you the sense of being a part of the larger line of Marvel comics, there is no feeling that I am missing essential elements of the stories or getting storylines dictated by editorial fiat.
BUG: OK, well, let's try to put this puppy to pasture. Any final thoughts on the last year of Marvel?
PROF: Nah. It was interesting to observe from afar but essentially any real interest I've had in Marvel as an entity this past year has been to anxiously follow the drips of information, photos, and footage from their CAP And THOR movies.
HUMPHREY: You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and you have... Marvel's lineup? I dunno what to say, except what I almost say every year about the company. Too much shit is over-exposed; too many events, too many AVENGERS and X and freaking DEADPOOL books - just too much cacophony in general - but if the shit sells then there's no one to blame but us fans for not putting our money where our mouths are.
BUG: I've been thinking about this for a while now. I know that there are those who hate Stan Lee, but as a reader who started in the early eighties, he kind of represented this Heroic Age of Comics to me. I don't want to be naive and say that the era wasn't without its shady stuff like price hikes, creator backstabbing, and other heinous acts of ethical terrorism, but the guys who built the foundation of Marvel knew what a hero was and promoted that in their comics. I look at the gleeful abandon some of today's creators at Marvel take in either ignoring that era, making fun of being a good guy, books about villains and anti-heroes, and most importantly alienating the readers with price hikes, over-eventing, and oversaturation, and think that somewhere along the line the idea of heroism was forgotten. I look at the Marvel racks and in between glimmers of hope with your Van Lentes and Slotts, your Hickmans and Wells, your Abnetts and Lannings, and your Paks and Brubakers, there is a core group in charge at Marvel that haven't the foggiest of what the term "hero" means. It's kind of depressing.
KLETUS: Yeah there's nothing worse than a title with a hero you love not doing anything heroic.
MATT: Frankly, I don't just think it's the absence of the notion of heroes; I think they're missing any kind of a unifying editorial philosophy, and maybe that's inevitable since unlike the days of Stan Lee, it isn't just one guy in charge anymore. You've got Joe Quesada who is nominally in charge of editorial, but has stated that he leaves most of the day to day in the hands of Brevoort and Alonso, while he deals more with the other media side of things in his CCO role. And even Brevoort and Alonso aren't necessarily providing a unifying editorial vision for the books they oversee, because they delegate in large part to senior editors like Paniccia, Wacker, and so forth. Add in the sales department who has a lot of input into the development of events, and maybe it's inevitable that Marvel will often seem like it's all over the place. I also think the advent of the "star writer" (advanced most recently with Marvel's "architect" promotion) makes it more difficult for editors to say "No, that's not what that character would do."
BUG: Then again, there is a lot to like, so I'll stick with buying those books. But the Marvel Zombie in me really wants to like all of what Marvel has to offer. They just seem to be doing everything they can to shoot that zombie in the brain.
MATT: It sounds cliched, but I just hope they know what they're doing. The industry as a whole can suffer if its biggest player doesn't have a clear, well thought-out publishing plan. Let's hope that in the new year, they're able to reignite excitement and interest in their core books, and elevate some newer properties to the point where they can sustain a following.
KLETUS: I just want Spidey to be good again, and I think we may see a better Spidey comic this year. Marvel needs to allow their events to grow organically rather than forcing out an event because the other company is doing so. I think we need more comics that accept continuity and thrive on it rather than it being a hindrance. We need more single issue comics and not just stories that are written to be trades. Too many tie-ins and there are so many tie-ins that really have no bearing on the main event and are just there to scrape an extra dollar out of you and Please Please Please Marvel make WHAT IF's a priority again...they were so cool in the 80's but now...most of 'em stink.
SQUASHUA: I've said this elsewhere, but I figured this is as good a place as any. I need those $4 to be justified. This is my open call for an intrepid comic book news reporter to determine the per X cost of a comic book for each company, where X is either panel, page, or book. I understand that there are many parameters surrounding this cost, which include deals with creators (writer, artist), time-frames, issue quantities, distributors, management, and suppliers, and "the cut" for the company, and probably items I'm not even thinking of, but I need to know why I'm paying $4 for a book containing 40% splash pages. I feel a more open industry could help reduce overall cost.
BUG: So to wrap this roundtable up, how about you guys give a few titles worth checking out from Marvel for those brave enough to make it to the end of this roundtable?
IMP: If anyone out there is like me and likes to avoid the mega-crossovers and convoluted continuities but still knows a little something about said continuity, check out Peter David's X-FACTOR for your mutant fix. Christos Gage's AVENGERS ACADEMY is another fun title that showcases a mix of new ideas and a genuine love for Marvel Universe history. And I'll read anything that's written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.
SQUASHUA: I guess anything by Dan Slott is worth checking out, as well as the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, but only in trade paperback. $4 is too much for any book.
KLETUS: The Marvel titles I'm into right now are RED HULK by Parker & Hardman, BLACK PANTHER: MAN WITHOUT FEAR by Liss & Fracavilla, ULTIMATE SPIDERMAN, SECRET AVENGERS by Brubaker & Deodato UNCANNY X-FORCE by Remender & Opena and anything in space with Abnett & Lanning.
VROOM: The closest thing to a good Marvel book out there is SCARLET from Bendis and Maleev. Brilliant book, plus it's great to see Bendis trying something new after over half a decade of Avengers. But technically, that's an Icon book. From Marvel proper... there's really nothing.
MATT: AVENGERS ACADEMY scratches the Avengers itch, and ably balances adventure with characterization. X-FACTOR is one of the few mutant books that doesn't take itself too seriously, and guarantees a real sense of the unexpected in every issue. THUNDERSTRIKE is a great new miniseries that provides relief for those who've grown tired of the relentless cynicism in comics. HAWKEYE & MOCKINGBIRD is technically over, but Jim McCann is continuing the story in the pages of WIDOWMAKER, followed by HAWKEYE: BLINDSPOT, and what it all boils down to is an excellent spy romance tale. Jonathan Hickman is practically reinventing the FANTASTIC FOUR, so it deserves the upcoming relaunch, and Ed Brubaker continues what will surely be considered one of the all-time great CAPTAIN AMERICA runs. And if THANOS IMPERATIVE was anything to judge by, we should be in store for a great series with ANNIHILATORS.
BUG: I’m going to have to join the Abnett & Lanning chorus. NOVA, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, THANOS IMPERATIVE, and the rest of the minis were amazing, especially the last issue of THANOS IMPERATIVE. What a perfect ending! Can’t wait to see what they do with HEROES FOR HIRE. Jim McCann’s HAWKEYE & MOCKINGBIRD ended waaaay too soon, but it’s good that McCann will be writing Clint & Bobby in follow-up miniseries. DeFalco’s THUNDERSTRIKE is probably the biggest surprise first issue of the year for me. And Jeff Parker is making RED HULK a must read. Sad to see AGENTS OF ATLAS go, but Gage’s AVENGERS ACADEMY is still around to entertain with feeling. And Slott seems to be finally writing a meaty AMAZING SPIDER-MAN story, so that’s good too.
HUMPHREY: The best bet with Marvel seems to be the cosmic stuff. Abnett & Lanning have been unbelievably consistent with that aspect of the Marvel Universe. Other than that, I dig what Hickman is doing on FF and in SHIELD and Fraction on IRON MAN and THOR. Essentially whatever those two are writing seems to be good stuff. Other than that, I don't think there's anything I gush over regularly enough.
JD: Lessee..UNCANNY X-FORCE has been killer so far, with outstanding art by Opena, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN has been hitting a high, and NEW AVENGERS has been a ton-o-fun! Oh, and ULTIMATE DOOM seems to be going well, so far.
BUG: Well, if you’ve stuck around till the end of this massive back-and-forthing, pat yourselves on the backs. That’s it on the @$$Hole’s thoughts on the Year In Marvel. Be sure to stop back tomorrow when we set our sights on DC Comics!
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G