Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

June 30, 2010

Bundled, Tossed, Untied And Stacked


By Tom Spurgeon

* D+Q is doing an affordable series of reprints featuring Doug Wright's Nipper, and I'm pretty much of a mind with Dan Nadel on this one.

image* Hermes Press will be collecting the Steve Canyon comic books into two volumes.

* Gerry Alanguilan's strange and touching series about sentient chickens, Elmer, will be published this Fall through SLG. As of last Saturday morning, there was a free PDF download of 40 pages on the front page of the SLG site.

* looks like John Hankiewicz is working on something. Hankiewicz is one my favorites.

* via PR without a link where I could see one comes word that Del Rey will publish two more graphic novels starring Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas character.

* Josh Simmons has a story in a forthcoming Jason Miles anthology.

* there's a beautiful preview of the next Palooka-Ville here.

* the big publishing news in mainstream comics this week is J. Michael Straczynski's refashioning of DC's Wonder Woman character, with actual costume refashioning by Jim Lee. I know without looking there's a New York Times article. After the gentle mocking that resulted when it was announced JMS' take on Superman involved him walking across America -- any Superman plot line that would be more interesting if it was some random dude in the real world doing it in the costume should be automatically rejected -- this has not been a good fortnight for the writer's DC comics return.

I respect the degree of difficulty involved in working with Wonder Woman. She's an older character, she has a hardcore fanbase that's very protective of her, and the enthusiasm for her comic book adventures has failed to match her licensing power for decades now. Also the comics industry proper has developed in a way that makes it difficult if not impossible for her to sustain in successful fashion a serial comic book of the kind that legalities demand. When about 15 years ago the mainstream comics made an even deeper, more fundamental switch to fighting over market share and thus the eyeballs of this profit-generating core readership rather than balancing that against pursuing new or even casual readers, things were going to get difficult for the characters that might do better with a broader, more general audience.

Still, I always suspect that these iconic characters work better closer to their core concepts and, just as importantly, how those core concepts intersect with the values of adventure comic books, than they do further away from either or both. I mean this in an almost over-facile way, which is a key to Wonder Woman because her "core" as defined by Marston and reflected back by some troubling comic books over the years gets you into some dark water. I suspect that there's a sizable audience that wants to see the recognizable elements that have endured over time -- the lasso, Paradise Island, the invisible jet -- and that they want these effectively applied in an action-adventure comic framework. I like Gail Simone, but her Wonder Woman seemed like an endless string of change-of-pace issues -- if Simone had written a season of the Xena, Warrior Princess television show, I suspect every episode would have been one of the musical ones.

JMS' take as announced strikes me a duller, less byzantine, and less connected to the classic elements version of what Greg Rucka was trying to do with the character a few years back: take it seriously, and find constructs within modern comics by which one can utilize all these story elements at once. JMS version seems to be extra-burdened a bit by having to find solutions in-continuity to older plot elements that seem not to appeal to him personally and that also have been tossed around so much through a light hand at editorial as to lose all meaning as narrative factors. I don't read Wonder Woman regularly enough to know for sure, but I have an image of Paradise Island being put through the wringer over the last decade or two, experiencing in several instances what should have been shattering change that because that individual plot didn't get over, the change didn't quite take. This can be death for a modern comics character -- TV show characters, too -- and I have serious doubts whether JMS' take has enough going for itself not to be yet another thing that's moved away from in a couple of years. Would anyone want to read a new character with this exact narrative configuration? If someone described to you the potential narrative to be employed without the stamp of approval from publishing, would you think that it was a break from a character's standard plotline or a stand-alone reconfiguration for the ages?

imageAs for the costume change, it's a good idea. As sports teams have learned, if your new costume stinks you can go back to the classic but if it works you now have two to sell. It's just that execution-wise this one already looks dated to me, with that weird X-Men movie reminiscent half-jacket. You have to execute that costume well because 1) the first one is very iconic, and 2) it also has that Sub-Mariner factor of "I showed up to beat your ass in my pageant swimsuit and tiara" that actually makes Wonder Woman more terrifying than a standard costume might. Anyway, Jim Lee isn't a well-known costume designer, at least not to my knowledge, so I'm surprised he got that call. JMS' public distaste for the Mike Sekowsky version, which I recall being a few outfits perfectly in line with an Emma Peel-style take on the character, just seems unfortunate to me on an aesthetic level. I liked the way those costumes looked.

I think I have now exceeded my lifetime's allotment of talking about Wonder Woman. One last thing -- why doesn't that character have an all-ages title? That seems to me like it would be more important than bouncing it up 20,000 readers on Mel Thompson's charts. Wonder Woman is one of the few characters girls (and their parents) know. Wonder Tot is just sitting there waiting to have demented back-up adventures. Best of all, allowing multiple takes on the character outside of standard mainstream tropes and influences and the judgment of the CBR thread commenters might result in a way of looking at Wonder Woman that works for way more than 20,000 new readers. I'd argue those kinds of books really helped Batman -- why wouldn't they help Wonder Woman?

* this sounds like a fun Marvel Comic I'll buy a year after it's published for $1 an issue, but I find that it was announced on a TV show kind of odd. Does that really work? I mean, I guess all things considered I'd want my comic book series announced by a pretty girl, too. Still, it just looks weird, like there was this arbitrary comics announcement on a random show, even though I know it's not a random show.

* finally, the previews are up for the seventh volume of Flight. It's the last volume for the solid and influential series -- which although not exactly the industry-changer some folks predicted when they started coming out is among the few comics projects that had outright imitators that could only be traced to its success and will continue to have them for years.

posted 11:00 am PST | Permalink

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