Sunday, April 28, 2013

Ugly American # 25 – Daredevil Vs. Vapora!

The Ugly American Presents: Daredevil Vs. Vapora (1996)

• “A Season for Tears”
• Script: Mindy Newell
• Pencils: Mike Harris

Once upon a time, Marvel liked to publish weird little one-off comics that operated like after-school specials. Hulk would teach you to brush your teeth with Aim, or Power Pack might warn you about people trying to inappropriately grab your junk. I think that one was mostly about avoiding Woody Allen, which is pretty sound advice.

Daredevil Vs. Vapora was a comic about the dangers of gasoline, published in conjunction with the good folks at the Gas Appliance Manufacturer’s Association. If anybody knows good comics, it’s them. Let’s foray into this festive feast of fossil fuels, true believers!

The story opens with Daredevil saving a little girl named Angel from a burning building. Angel, huh? We’re already laying it on a little thick, I would say. Angel remembers watching her dad head up to the kitchen earlier that evening with a can of gas and a bunch of old rags. I think I might know how the fire started.

Mandy Sewell’s prose is quite purple. There’s some obligatory tripe about all brave men feeling fear, and there’s a lot of clinical vocab. When DD hands the girl off to the paramedics, one of them orders up an IV of “lactated ringers”. There’s a lot of odd quasi-sexual stuff in this comic, actually. Before Daredevil can pause to wonder if he’s just relinquished his victim to a pack of fetishists feeding a little girl breast milk, he hears a spectral laughing from the top of the burning roof. Radar can’t quite confirm a physical presence up there. It’s all very spooky.

Daredevil then asks one of the firefighters if everyone got out of the building. The guy starts working out some of his stand-up material and says that all the living people escaped. Oh, so none of the dead people walked out there, then? Glad we cleared that up, Louis C.K. Did everybody make it out OK? Well, the folks still alive got out, but I’m sure there’s a stack of burnt, crispy dead people in there, Mr. Daredevil. Thanks, you macabre son of a bitch.

Cut to a week later, when intrepid lawyer Matt Murdock is interviewing the landlord of the burnt up apartment. Daredevil wants to know if this dude put a ten-year old girl at risk so he could make some insurance money.

If this comic were published in 2013, that’s exactly how it would have went down. The rich, white building owner would have been evil, and then a bunch of Occupiers would poop into Ziploc bags and throw them at him. After they got done raping a few women, turning over some police cars, and stopping a lot of responsible people from getting to work, of course. Then everybody would cheer about how wonderful “progress” is.

But no, this was 1996, when the world still made a sliver of sense. So instead, Daredevil interrogates the landlord and discovers that in this case, he’s innocent. So then it’s off to the scene of the crime to see if Murdock can piece together what actually did happen.

As he walks the charred husk with an inspector, Daredevil’s keen senses start picking up that phantom vapor demon again. She’s kinda there, but not really, it’s all very creepy, and by creepy I mean slightly arousing. Murdock’s reaction to staring down this vapor demon is a strange tickling of his coccyx. I’m thinking this is a line originally from the Power Pack molestation special that got cut for being gross. It probably should have been cut from this comic as well.

Now, if you’re a respected blind lawyer, and you happen to sense an invisible vapor demon with your superhuman abilities, there’s a couple of ways you can play this.

• You can question your perception, since the radar hit isn’t strong, and keep your mouth shut.
• You can recognize that this ethereal threat is probably out of your league, and again, keep your damn mouth shut. You quickly get yourself and the inspector out, then contact Stephen Strange as soon as possible.
• You can shout idle threats at the invisible creature right in front of the inspector like a schizophrenic, and then ask the guy if he can see the invisible creature that your superhuman radar isn’t really hitting on.

Well, Matt Murdock decided to select option “C”. But then he ups the ante further by inexplicably declaring the creature that isn’t there to be a “vapora”. Now, if you’re the inspector and this lawyer starts rambling on about a vampire in the corner of the room…that’s pretty bad, but at least you have a concept of a vampire. It’s in the shared mythological lexicon. Nobody knows what a vapora is, because there aren’t any. Not just in real life, but in fiction. They just made it up for this comic, and he’s spouting off about it like it’s a thing now.

If you’re the other guy in that room, you pretty much have no choice but to call the appropriate authorities and have Matt Murdock committed. There is zero chance you’d allow this guy to try the case, he’s clearly a lunatic. If I’m that inspector, I’m ringing the sitting judge and putting distance between myself and Mr. Murdock post haste. Instead, he just kind of blows it off. Comics.

In the meantime, Vapora continues to go on a little pyro rampage, and this is where the comic’s message loses me a little. Vapora runs around town and sort of “pushes” people into playing around with gas.

Like this woman here, scrubbing the floor with gas, as we all do approximately six inches from our caged toddler. Again, none of this would appear in a modern comic. That child would be incarcerated in a dolphin-free detention area, and also would be wearing a helmet. In this comic, the mother has several gallons of gasoline parked in front of the child, and then she lights up a cigarette. Heavens to Wertham, can you even imagine it, kids???

Well, folks, don’t worry – they get their just rewards. When mom finally gets her Virginia Slim lit, that baby goes up like a roman candle. Score one for Vapora!

Next she heads over to little Laura’s house. Laura’s brothers are cleaning the family motorcycle with gasoline. Apparently all this time I’ve been using CLR like an asshole. What you really want for that tough grime is some petrol. It strips your floors, makes your motorcycle shine, and if you’re out of vermouth, just go ahead and splash some gas in there, I guess. It’s versatile. We’re learning a lot in this comic, kids.

Well, seconds after these two jackholes wipe down the bike with the world’s most flammable substance, they start it. You can guess how that story ends. And this is the point I was getting to about the point of this comic. In the first place, if you’re stupid enough to smoke around a gas can and your youngest child, I don’t want you around to breed more children. Same thing with the guys and the motorcycle. We need to weed these people out.

Secondly, I don’t want the vapor demon taking people off the hook. People don’t light themselves on fire because a mystical vapor demon talks them into it. They do it because they are aggressively stupid, and the sooner we allow these morons to reduce themselves to a small pile of ash, the better.

Lucky for Laura and her brothers, Daredevil doesn’t share my opinion. He smells some gas fumes from across town and storms in there to save the day. It’s an epic battle, for sure. Daredevil stops, drops, and rolls.

He calculates that opening the garage door will cause a backdraft, and that pouring water on the fire will only make it worse. As “Eye of the Tiger” plays faintly in the background, Daredevil crawls his way to what he prays is a functioning class B extinguisher. I don’t want to ruin the surprise for you or anything, but it all works out. He sprays some fluids on Vapora’s chest and then she disappears. Pretty much business as usual for ol’ Matty Murdock, although usually there isn’t a little girl involved. Maybe she needs to read that Power Pack comic.

The story ends with Murdock winning the case for landlord Abraham Rutkowski. Take that, Zuccotti Park! We find out that little Angel Jusko will require a king’s ransom in medical bills, therapy, and will likely be horribly disfigured. But she’ll live, so….result!

And now dad will know better about peeling up floor tiles with gas. How about next time we rent a power scraper, huh, Mr. Jusko? But maybe not. Maybe he’ll just get conned into using gas again by that pesky Vapora. That’s the final message of Daredevil Vs. Vapora. Good may have triumphed this time, but in the end it doesn’t matter. Whatever you do, pain and misery are coming. It’s always the season for tears, kids. That’s a message the Ugly American fully endorses.

Until next week, you play safe now, y’hear?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Ugly American # 24 – Market

I just did one of these a month ago, and I don’t want to go to the whip too much on Market, because some people really despise it. But a bunch of interesting (to me, at any rate) things are brewing in the secondary market, so let’s dive in!

Rachel Rising

The Hollywood Reporter broke news that Terry Moore has sold the Rachel Rising television rights to a fledgling outfit called Alcon Television Group. In fact, Rachel is their first project…you always remember your first time. Rachel will be theirs.

Now, they haven’t even hired a show runner yet, much less cut a pilot, much less had the pilot green lit. This has not stopped the secondary market from absolutely losing their shit over the comic book back issues, particularly # 1, which has closed for as much as $200 recently.

The book is legitimately scarce, and legitimately good. If for some reason your LCS has a copy of # 1 lying around for cover price, I recommend you snap that up with all due haste. Should you sell right now, though? That’s the real question, and it’s difficult to answer because there are several different flavours to the “spike on option news” game.

Is Rachel likely to act like Sixth Gun, which spiked and continued to climb, (I recently watched a CGC 9.8 copy of # 1 clear almost $900) pulling issues other than the # 1 up with it in an increasing fervor? Will she act like Mind MGMT, which crested extremely high for a couple of days and then settled in at much lower rates? There are other, more cautionary tales to be had if you dig back a little further. It wasn’t that long ago that ABC actually put Human Target on the air, starring Agent Dunham’s dead boyfriend. I can buy a copy of Human Target # 1 for $1. Not that exciting, and that show got much further than any of the aforementioned properties.

Which is sort of a long way of saying that if I could find a buyer on my copy of Rachel Rising # 1 for $200…I’d take it with a smile. Yes, there is a very small chance that you’re passing up on the next Walking Dead # 1 a little early. As I said, Rachel Rising is a legitimately scarce comic book. That kind of formula can lead to spectacular results. More likely, though, the end result is something like Global Frequency. GF had a magnificent pilot that went nowhere, and the comic material is fantastic reading but not terribly exciting in terms of dollar value. When these super-spikes hit, it nearly always makes sense to cash in.

Just in case you were wondering, I’ve been reading Rachel Rising from the beginning and it’s not just a pretty Terry Moore face. It’s straight mystery/horror, character driven, and features a really creepy little girl. That’s a little redundant, I know. But she’s creepy. Also, there’s Aunt Johnny. Moore is handling everything but the finances, it comes out on time with a high degree of quality, and I hope he got a bijillion dollars from Alcon because he deserves it.

East of West

East of West # 1 debuted at #35 on the Diamond top 300 for an astonishing 49,518 units. It’s difficult to imagine how strong that result is. That destroyed what Saga opened for, as an example, and THAT was an astonishing result.

I think what’s happening here is that Image has produced enough championship thoroughbreds that the secondary market is beginning to catch up and speculators are inflating these orders. Some of you are thinking that this is just the reality of Jonathan Hickman, but if you look further down the list at # 125 you’ll find Manhattan Projects selling 17,000 copies. Does Nick Dragotta make up the 33,000 copy difference? (He almost does, that East of West art was AWESOME) No, it just doesn’t add up. I would expect a steeper than normal decline on issue # 2, when the speculative riff-raff will have largely disappeared. Ironically, that’s when you should really start to speculate.

Currently, East of West # 1 is trading for $8-$10 a copy. It still might be a good buy at that price, although I might be more inclined to lay a wager with Five Ghosts # 1 if I were betting a tenner. The art on Five Ghosts is also preternaturally good, and it debuted waaaaaay down the list at # 152 and around 13,000 copies.

Marvel NOW!

In case you missed it, Marvel is just eating DCs lunch these days. Doesn’t matter if you count by units, dollars, general enthusiasm, whitest smile, Marvel is winning.

People say that the stories have largely been enjoyable and inspired new interest in these characters. I can’t vouch for this personally, because they mostly cost $4 a pop so I don’t buy them. But all I need to verify this is to look at how many of these issues are going to second and third prints. I don’t get impressed with the sales results of Uncanny Avengers # 1 or Guardians of the Galaxy # 1. It looks like nosebleed territory, but really all that boils down to is bullshit variant covers. Doesn’t impress me.

What does impress me is a second print. Big first orders might be sitting in the quarter box at your LCS. In order to score that second print, two significant achievements have to occur. One, you have to sell the issues you ordered. Two, enough people have to care about what’s happening via word-of-mouth to express an interest in ordering more comics. Most people do not give a rat’s wet arse about anything to the point that they will trouble themselves with placing an order and then waiting weeks for it to arrive. Easier just to say “hell with it.” So those second prints speak volumes to me, and Marvel NOW! books are loaded with second and third prints.

I think it likely that several of these will end up being better-than-average investments. At the top of the list I put Thor: God of Thunder # 4 and most of the early All New X-Men issues. I’ve heard more than one source tout the Jason Aaron Thor book as the finest comic Marvel is producing. Again, can’t verify that, but it certainly doesn’t surprise me.

Some will question the value of collecting such mainstream, high end material but bear in mind that Uncanny X-Force # 4 currently trades for $40-$50 a pop, and it’s an easy sell at that level. Even something like Superior Spider-Man # 1 is trading well above cover price ($10-$15) and that was hardly scarce.

The pundits get it wrong on several levels, actually. They’ll tell you that today’s comics aren’t scarce, and they’re mostly wrong. There are exceptions, but generally speaking today’s comics have the lowest print runs in the medium’s history. The pundits will also tell you that a comic with a higher print run can’t earn a profit, and that’s mostly true. The real key to the game is simple supply-and-demand. If more people want a thing than can have it, prices rise. Listen, DC printed an ASSLOAD of Batman # 1 for the New 52 reboolaunch. I’ll be conservative and guess that the actual number is quarter of a million copies. Doesn’t matter. More than a quarter million people want that book. You can sell your NM Batman # 1 for $40+, and I don’t mean you can slap the price sticker on it and watch it collect dust. A dozen people will be tripping over themselves to purchase it at that price. Unfortunately for DC, Batman is about all they produce that has that effect.

Finally, the pundits like to tell you that everything modern is mint. They’re kinda sorta right about that. After 1980, it certainly gets much easier to find yourself a 9.2 of most any book compared to the Silver/Golden age. Those CGC 9.8s are tough to come by, though, especially now when everybody is going away from the cardstock covers. Take a look at the racks on new comic day…it’s hard to find something NM/MT, and next to impossible to keep it that way, even for just the car ride home. Today’s books are dainty little flowers. But I digest.

I think the point I was getting to was that a lot of people are desperately in love with All New X-Men. Say what you want about Bendis, and I often will, people have responded with overwhelming affection for that title, and each issue continues to go for multiple printings. You can’t bullshit your way into that. The public has to embrace and demand the product for that to happen. I’m sure the Stuart Immonen art isn’t hurting anything, either.

Maybe part of the equation is the fact that All New X-Men comes out every 12 minutes? Whatever the case, finding first prints of anything for # 3-7 is difficult. If you see the red banner on the bottom for early All New X-Men, I think those are insta-buys.

Jupiter’s Legacy

I’m closing with Jupiter’s Legacy, because there is a metric ton of hype surrounding that book. (which one would expect from a Mark Millar production) This time the crazy Scottish git has enlisted Frank Quitely to handle the pencils, so it’s difficult to think of a book currently being published with bigger marquee names.

From a speculation standpoint, though, this one feels like a dud. I’m already hearing tales of 150K pre-orders on the title, so scarcity is out the window. We’ve already covered the fact that demand could still outstrip supply, but I think that would be odd here. Iconic properties like Spider-Man and Batman can withstand big orders, because the established fan base is so large. As a new property, I find it exceedingly difficult to believe that a new property can do that. Every now and again you can briefly catch lightning in a bottle, (see: Chasers, Battle) but in order to achieve long-term success in the secondary market, a new property needs scarcity.

And that’s my story. Somebody tell me how much they like the Marvel NOW! books. And tell me if you like the new hardcovers Marvel is putting out without dust jackets. You can comment below!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Ugly American # 23: Surprise!

I read a lot of good comics this week, but the one that struck me the most – both for its contents and the nuances of context was Avengers Arena # 7. We covered the book briefly here at Ugly American Inc. when it first broke, but for the uninitiated the basic conceit is this:

A group of young Marvel B-D listers are captured by a suddenly amped-up Arcade and forced to fight to the death “Hunger Games” style.

It’s a dirt simple, powerful hook. Well, sort of. Detractors might question the derivative nature of the premise. Mostly people were upset about the concept of a comic devoted to “whacking” semi-beloved characters for sport. Particularly in a medium where deaths seem to be awfully cheap and temporary.

For a story like this, I think feeling guarded is justified. Is any of this real? Is it canon, or an Elseworlds tale? How do we know that Arcade hasn’t ripped off some of Xavier’s Danger Room tech and plugged these kids into his own little matrix? Or if that’s the case, why bother tempting an ass-whupping by kidnapping the actual kids when you could just run the sim with life-like holograms? I guess I can only speak for myself, but I found it difficult to fully invest myself in Avengers Arena because in the back of my head I’m waiting for Bobby Ewing to come out of the shower. That’s a slightly tantalizing but mostly uncomfortable feeling.

Avengers Arena # 7 shines a spotlight on Arcade, his sexy assistant Miss Coriander, and the origins of this new-and-improved Murderworld. All of the important questions get answered here. I think there’s still some room for button-hooking, so they may not end up being THE answers. But if you want to know if Murderworld is a tangible place in a physical locale, the answer is “yes”. Is Arcade really as powerful as he appears to be? Ehhh….sort of. And you may not entirely buy the premise of those powers or their limitations, but at least you’ll understand the rules the book is playing by. Were the kids physically captured and physically present inside of Murderworld? Definitely “yes”. Are the kids actually dying? Again, I think there’s room for fudging, (this is Arcade and a comic book after all) but this issue is presenting the answer as “yes”. Is there a reason why this scenario is so reminiscent of other pop culture memes? “Yes”. Does that take it off the hook? Probably “no”. But at least the book is now finally playing fair with us.

Now here’s the real question – why in the world would ever take seven issues to play fair with your audience?

The answer is this:

Comics are in such a dark hole of incestuous recycling of ideas, and so ravaged by the spoiler-obsessed comics “news” industry that the only vestige of novelty left to the creators is to try and confuse the shit out of you.

Story? Who cares? We’ve heard it all before, and if we haven’t, it will be well-trodden and used up a full month before the issue actually hits stands. Comics are no longer constructed to be enjoyed or understood. Today’s comics are adversarial in nature. They aren’t trying to please us, and we aren’t politely expecting to be pleased. We aggressively fight to crack the code, and they in turn go to increasingly bizarre lengths to encrypt the message into gibberish. Who will win? Answer: nobody.

The stories are lost. What they’ve turned into are Hobbit riddles in the dank corners of Gollum’s cave. Once all the carefully crafted gems have been used up, all you can do is repeat them or cheat.

“What do I have in my pockets?”, says Marvel.

“Uh….I don’t know, and that’s not even a riddle”, you reply.

“Fuck you, then, I win!” says Marvel.

That’s where we’re at as a medium now, at least for the Big Two. Before I go any further, I want to make a couple things clear. I think Dennis Hopeless is an excellent storyteller with a superlative grasp of character and what makes us care about people. Avengers Arena # 7 is a prime example of that, actually. What grabbed me was not the plot reveals, which were fine and much needed. What grabbed me was peering into Arcade’s life outside of Murderworld, where he is strangely vulnerable, detestable, broken, and oddly charming about it all.

What I want is the inside baseball. I want to know what the frost giants of Jotunheim are doing when Thor isn’t bouncing an uru hammer off their skulls. That’s where the juice is for me, and Dennis Hopeless is really good at delivering that stuff. Hopeless gives us the inner workings of Arcade’s bizarre celebrity villain birthday parties, and a previously undeveloped relationship with his assistant. As good as the Arcade stuff was, the Coriander bits were better. She was a nothing to me last month, this month I’m in love. Now I want to know how much of that relationship is genuine affection, and how much is just two broken people trying to get over on each other. That’s interesting. That’s character. That’s story. That’s magic!

Now, how much of that magic is lost if they just lead with that information, in a first issue or zero issue, or an Avengers lead-in issue? None. The story is stronger for it. I am not less interested in Arcade and the concept of Murderworld now that I know the emotional impetus and some of its basic working elements. I was less interested when I didn’t know that, because I had no anchor with which to ground my investment. The “mystery” of Arcade’s Murderworld was not driving me deeper into the book, it was constantly threatening my ability to continue. I held course because Hopeless provided enough character moments in the interim to counter-balance my plot reservations. They got lucky on that one, I often bail. We all do.

And again, to be clear, I’m not picking on Avengers Arena. A lot of comics are guilty of confusing intrigue with confusion. Remember East of West last week? Loved the art, only liked the story. Clearly something is there, but I don’t know what, and that’s by design. It’s hurting my ability to connect with that material. How about Five Ghosts? I really enjoyed the pulp tone of that book, the design, the spider-monsters, the look. I know a little something about the nature of Fabian Gray’s abilities, but I got most of that info from the solicit, the back matter, and because I’m tuned into comics podcasts. The content of the first issue itself establishes little that is concrete or compelling about the most critical element of that character and the comic. The move is to provide core clarity and then dazzle us with the depth. What’s a literary ghost, and how does Fabian use them? It’s important to have a basic understanding of that. What’s the benefit in confusion?

Listen, I’m not suggesting that I need to be spoon-fed or that you have to play all of your cards instantly. Remember Preacher? Lots of twists and turns and mysteries to be solved around the way, but in the very beginning the guts are spelled out very clearly:

• Jesse Custer is a tough sonavubitch ex-preacher who has lost his faith

• Jesse Custer is ironically hit with a divine power to compel others to do as he says

• Jesse Custer wants to use his powers for a reckoning with God

Boom – you’re in! No, you don’t understand right away exactly what happened to Jesse, or why. You don’t know how he got hooked up with an asshole vampire or why he’s so bad with women, or why Starr liked it in the can. Garth Ennis left plenty of room for the story to breathe, but you knew exactly why you were there and what you were dealing with.

I think I get where all this is coming from, and believe it or not I have some sympathy for Marvel and DC. So much of their clientele are now middle-aged and jaded, and have seen it all at this point. We say we want new things, but we only ever seem to buy the old icons, and how do you keep it new? They won’t be expecting a punch in the balls, right? Pow! Except I don’t want to be punched in the balls, or lost at sea.

We’re in trouble as a medium when I hear Bendis selling Age of Ultron based on the fact that nobody can guess how it ends. Two weeks in all of that gets leaked, and then what’s that worth? It was rubbish from the beginning, though. Making your audience get the answer wrong isn’t the same as telling a good story. “What number am I thinking of?” is kind of a shit game with no real skill involved.

Here’s a secret that seems in danger of being forgotten – human beings are story machines, designed specifically for the transmission and reception of lore. Stop trying to jam the signal in the name of novelty. God help us, we need a little more Jim Shooter in comics right now.

Avengers Arena was an enjoyable # 7 but it would have been incredible # 0.

Somebody give me an “Amen”, or challenge my commentary with their own!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Ugly American # 22: Ug-Ah-Lay Uh-Mary-Cahn

Captain Marvel
Once upon a time I read Captain Marvel # 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick and was lukewarm about it. I was not a huge fan of Dexter Soy’s art, but I appreciated the novelty, which pretty much made me Soy’s biggest fan. I’ll never forget perennial Pollyanna over at iFanboy Ron Richards calling it a “shit show”. People were not into Dexter Soy. The script as I recall was solid. I could see potential, but wasn’t quite sure what it was going to be about, other than an ethereal sense of womeny women gazing awestruck into space. Then I felt a small amount of bitter vomit in the back of my throat and thought – what’s that about? Oh yeah… pretense. I promised myself I was giving it at least three issues, because I loved Deconnick’s Osborn a great deal, but I just didn’t care enough about this to get past the one issue.

Fast forward to last week, when I read a testimonial extolling the virtues of Captain Marvel and decided it was time to fulfill my promise and give the book a shot again. So I did a little digging and discovered that Kelly Sue got herself a new artist called Filipe Andrade and a new direction with Captain Marvel # 9. So I bought that one, plus #10-11 and got current.

And you know what? Captain Marvel is a pretty darned good comic book. First thing I noticed about the current Captain Marvel run is that it is far more unabashedly a superhero comic. Carol punches dinosaurs, pulls several tons of train out of the ground, and brushes elbows with Tony Stark, and Captain America, and Jessica Drew. She’s got a rivalry with Death Bird, and there’s a mystery villain behind her pulling strings and doing some moustache twirling. The “A” plot right now revolves around a lesion inside of Carol’s brain that gets aggravated when she uses her flight powers. Doctors tell her that it probably won’t be lethal, what with the healing factor and all. But the process of regenerating that piece of her brain would probably wipe everything that makes her “Carol” clean. It’s a nice homage to the old terminal illness bit that Starlin did back in the day with a more psychological modern twist. Flying has been established as a key piece of her character, so the stakes are very high. The story has all of the elements of a good bronze age romp, and doesn’t seem to be winking at you or ashamed about it.

While it’s doing the page-turney potboiler stuff, Captain Marvel is shockingly character-driven and intimate. It’s actually quite a bit like Hawkeye. If you enjoy Hawkeye, I really don’t see how you’d avoid liking Captain Marvel. It’s essentially the same formula. The blueprints are so similar that you’ll notice an unusual amount of attention paid to apartment dwelling neighbours in the superstructure, and characters playfully misconstruing the main character’s name. (Hawkguy, Cap-Eee-Tahn Uh-Mary-Ca) Not sure who’s copying who, really. Captain Marvel # 1 predates Hawkeye # 1 by a month, although the Captain Marvel I just read is fundamentally different as regards tone and pacing. I guess it doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s good.

And it is good. Character moments abound, and not just for Carol. There are no “bit” parts in Captain Marvel, and very little if any wasted space or momentum. Reading Captain Marvel is getting to know Carol Danvers, and the crazy old lady eternally affixed to the park bench knitting her a hat, and Chewie the cat, and the cab driver that Carol dupes into taking said cat to the vet so she can go save the city from rampaging dinosaurs. One thing I’ll promise you – you will not feel cheated out of your $2.99 if you buy Captain Marvel. Deconnick is writing a really efficient machine that is dense with story and emotion.

There are some issues. Sometimes the book feels overly precious, and you can catch it in the act of being entirely too pleased with itself. To be fair, each issue comes equipped with a line or four that you will desperately wish you’d thought of. But not every vendor handing over danishes needs to be a silver-tongued quipster. It tends to put cracks in the world investment. (See: Bendis, Brian Michael) Captain Marvel is a bit of a Bunny Book, but isn’t overly obnoxious about it, at least not the three issues I read. One of the sub-plots involves a group recruiting Carol to fly humanitarian aid to some underprivileged something-or-other. I don’t have any problem with people helping people, but when these little excursions are opposed by papier mache Evil Rich White Guys, I’m just warning you that I’m going to throw the comic at the wall.

Hard. It’s going to happen.

And then there’s the art. Andrade’s work is not exactly from the Neal Adams illustrative school, which is fine. It reminds me of what Mike Huddleston was doing on Butcher Baker more than anything. So if you liked that, you should feel right at home here. It’s not a deal-breaker for me, because Andrade seems to be deftly capturing emotions and a sense of action…but it’s not super appealing to my tastes, either. When I look at the cover to #9 and see that gorgeous Jamie McElvie stuff, I kinda wish the whole book looked like that. But I’m admittedly a bit of an art neanderthal.

I recognize that Captain Marvel is a different kind of a book, and I like the idea of some experimentation in style. But on the other hand… what’s wrong with just putting a Tom Grummett on the book? Nobody really talks about that guy, I think he’s great. That stuff looks attractive, and I always know what I’m looking at. Tom Grummett would probably quit drawing if he knew I was on his side, though. “What? That asshole thinks I’m good? That’s it, I’m done.” Sorry, Tom.

So. Captain Marvel. Old school high-impact super heroics laced with DeConnicky character goodness, and each $2.99 issue is stuffed to capacity. That’s a pretty good package.

I used up more space on Captain Marvel than I intended, so let me very quickly get to a few other items worthy of your attention:

The Private Eye

Did you know that Bryan K Vaughan and Marcos Martin are self-publishing a digital comic called The Private Eye? Well, they did. They put it up on something called panel syndicate, and here’s where it gets really crazy – you pay whatever you want. The comic is available without DRM entanglements, at whatever price you deem fair. If you think you should get it for free, you just enter $0.00 and download away. I’ve always thought that $1 was about right for digital books. Since the first issue of The Private Eye was 32 pages and nearly double-sized, I pitched them $2.

It’s a noir detective story fused with a dystopian future in which our social media-driven culture eventually hits critical mass. When the dam finally breaks, Newton’s Law tears the internet down, and most folks walk around in their daily lives with masks to hide their identities. Privacy is one of my 21st century pet issues, so I was extremely pleased to hear about a Vaughan comic tackling the subject, and wasn’t disappointed by what I found in the first issue. Lots of landscape panels and beautiful art from Mr. Martin, but you probably guessed that.

I’m deadly curious to know how much they’ll take in for the issue, but I doubt we’ll ever know. Trent Reznor and Louis C.K. have had success with this kind of business model. My guess is that Vaughan and Martin can drive 8-12K to his book, and I’m guessing that average donation settles around $1.50, which would mean, what? $12,000 - $18,000? My figures are pure fantasy, of course, but if I’m right that’s enough to keep the book going. They don’t have to share that money with a publisher, and they don’t have to wait a year down the road on a trade collection to get in the black. It could be the future, at least for name talent. It helps to be Bryan K Vaughan.

Incidentally, I had issues with the download. I got the comic just fine, and in PDF form. Ordinarily when I download anything I can teach the computer to put it on my desktop for later reference. Couldn’t do that with The Private Eye. The good news is, I was able to just go back to the website and “repurchase” the book for free when I wanted to reference it again later. If they go with a pay only model later, that would really irritate me, though. I’m sure the issue is with the user, not the comic. I’m not particularly tech savvy. If any of you have similar issues, I’d be curious to hear about them. I’d also be curious to know what you decided to pay for the comic.

East of West

Holy balls, Mr. Hickman! Jonathan Hickman is the king of Implied Depth, nobody thinks bigger. Maybe Grant Morrison? It’s Grant, or nobody.

So check this out – Hickman’s new Image book is a sci-fi, futuristic, supernatural, alternative history western. You’ve got the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, one of whom has gone rogue. America develops differently than history remembers, splitting into seven different factions. Revivalist preachers and Indian shamans independently and spontaneously script apocalyptic prophecy. I’m sure novels could be written about any little piece of any little piece of that. I’d love to read the text of those prophecies, or a history of the formation of the Endless Nation, or the mythology of the Horsemen. The story is impossibly big.

What you get in issue # 1 though, is just a sliver. It’s mostly set in 2064, and there’s a lot of fantastic old-timey gunslinger talk, and the Nick Dragotta art is Next Level. Gorgeously illustrated, and I love the colors. There’s just no way that we’ll get to see even .02% of what’s being set before us….but if Hickman can sell us on the idea that we’re getting 10%, it’s going to be one for the ages.

I’m not ready to declare this a Hall of Famer yet. Let’s give it a good six issues before we can even guess about where this is going and how satisfied we feel about the payoff. I’ll say this – the first issue was satisfying in what it offered on its own, and East of West is the most ambitious sonovabitch you’ve ever met.