Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Day-And-Date: Justice League 1

Justice League 1
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artists: Jim Lee & Scott Williams
Release Date: August 31, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5 Pixels

Perhaps more than any other New 52 title, this issue had a lot of hype to live up to. Does it succeed? Well, it depends on what exactly you were expecting. If you were expecting the greatest thing ever to happen to the Justice League, maybe not, but if you were expecting an entertaining, well-written comic with pretty pictures of iconic DC characters looking just a little different than you're used to, then yes it delivers. There are a lot of things this comic gets right: It establishes the new DC universe, where superheroes are not yet trusted by the public at large and the authorities. It focuses on the tense dynamic between Batman and Green Lantern, which is still new enough that it feels fresh and lends itself to natural character development and conflict. It sets the stage for Cyborg's new origin, which looks like it will keep the important pieces of the original--Victor is a successful athlete who doesn't get along with his scientist father--but loses the more dated "angry young Black man" aspects, and adds an interesting twist that ties Cyborg into the Justice League--his father is presumably one of the first experts in the emerging scientific field of superhuman studies. This comic also sets up the coming conflict that will no doubt bring this Justice League together, with a sense of foreboding. It does all this in a relatively quick-paced, fun-to-read narrative with equal shares of action, excitement, and humor.

A couple of things didn't quite work for me. First, Johns has committed the same sin that Grant Morrison did with 1997's JLA 1: After months of hype about the new, awesomer-than-ever Justice League, we didn't even get to see the entire team in the first issue. I understand that this is an origin story and the team hasn't formed yet, but at least make sure each of the characters on the cover makes an appearance! Of seven members of this League, three aren't to be found anywhere in this issue (unless you count the sketchbook material at the end). Making this even worse than Morrison's sin is the fact that Justice League 2 will not be out for another seven weeks, so really this issue feels like a teaser more than anything. It's a teaser that suggests good things to come, though, and I have faith that once this team comes together it will have been worth the wait, as it was with JLA.

The second thing that didn't work for me--well, "didn't work for me" is a little strong; perhaps better "that may or may not work for me in the long run"--is that the changes to the DC Universe we've seen so far suggest that the New 52 is DC's attempt to be more like Marvel. So far we've established that the Justice League lives in a world of people who hate and fear them, and that when superheroes first meet, they must naturally fight each other. Like I said, this may or may not work in the long run. Creating conflict for the protagonists and allowing personalities to clash are not necessarily bad things. And Marvel has been outselling DC for a long time, so I can understand why they might want to try out Marvel's secret sauce. I just hope that the creators involved in this initiative are not simply saying, "Let's Marvelize the DCU," but that rather they are taking what works for Marvel and applying it to the DCU in a way that makes sense for the characters and their world. And I also hope that's not the extent of their plan.

One thing that did work for me, though, is Jim Lee's art. It isn't perfect--there were a few panels that I had to look at twice to figure out what was going on--but overall the pictures were pretty, as you'd expect, and Lee even managed to surprise me. He is not typically known for great facial expressions, at least not in the way Kevin Maguire is, but Batman's self-satisfied smile here is priceless:

Perhaps a question I should answer on each of these Day-And-Date reviews is whether it's worth paying full price to read this comic now, or if you'd be better off waiting a month to save a dollar? I say buy it now. This is a great read, and clearly an important prelude to everything coming up in the next month.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Digital Delay on Justice League 1

As I mentioned last night, I was curious to see whether there would be a midnight release of Justice League 1 on Comixology, similar to the midnight releases at comic shops around the country, and if so what time zone it would go by. I guessed that Eastern would make the most sense, so when I checked Comixology's DC store at about 12:30am Eastern and didn't see anything new, I just about decided it wasn't going to happen and went to bed. But then I checked the general store homepage and found this:

At first 2am Eastern time seemed like an odd choice, but it makes sense as a compromise between making easterners wait all the way until 3am in order to release at midnight Pacific time, and giving Pacific-coast digital readers an unfair advantage over their print-reading counterparts if it were released at midnight Eastern time. At any rate, I was happy to see that Comixology put up the note letting us know when to expect the release, as I think one of the weaknesses of their release schedule thus far is that it is typically unpredictable (another post on that another day). And then I came back at 2am Eastern time (11pm Pacific) and it was still not there. I refreshed and refreshed and refreshed for five minutes, growing more and more annoyed at Comixology's lack of timeliness.

And then I looked at the notice again and saw, as you no doubt saw at first glance, that it says 2pm, not 2am. Sigh. So I guess I'll be posting a review tomorrow after all. C'est la vie.

Monday, August 29, 2011

My Digital Pull List: The New 35... maybe 36

With tomorrow's midnight release of Justice League 1, the New 52 begins. (Incidentally, I'm curious to see whether there will be a midnight release on Comixology since DC has given retailers the option, and if so what time zone's midnight it will be. If Justice League 1 is in fact released digitally at, say, midnight Eastern time, I'll be reviewing it within an hour thereof.) At any rate, since the subtitle of this blog is "My Digital Pull List," I thought it would be appropriate to actually list the titles I plan on getting. Since I'll be buying only the comics I'm most anxious for on the day they're released and waiting a month to buy the rest when the price drops a dollar, I'm dividing the titles into two lists (each subject to change without warning). Also, a word or two on why I'm planning to buy each one. Without further ado:


  • Justice League--because, duh, Geoff Johns + Jim Lee + World's Greatest Heroes (tm)
  • Action Comics--see above, but insert Grant Morrison + Rags Morales in Geoff and Jim's spots, and lose the plural on Heroes
  • Batgirl--I'm a little skeptical about Babs losing the wheelchair and the Oracle identity, but if anyone can pull it off, it's Gail Simone
  • Justice League International--I enjoyed Generation Lost and although this is not by the same writer, it looks like it's going for a similar feel, capturing the essence of the Giffen/DeMatteis League without trying to recreate it
  • Stormwatch--I loved the Authority trades I read a while back, I love the idea of mixing J'onn in with Wildstorm characters, and there just aren't enough comics starring a Superman analogue and a Batman analogue who are in love
  • Batman and Robin--Tomasi and Gleason do good stuff, plus this looks like the place I'll be getting my Damian fix
  • Batwoman--Pretty pictures with the added bonus of supporting a book that stars a gay female lead
  • Green Lantern--As hesitant as I usually am to jump on bandwagons, I've been on the Geoff Johns bandwagon for some time now
  • Batman--Batman is my first love, and I've been hearing good things about this Scott Snyder chap, so I'm excited to read his stuff
  • Green Lantern Corps--Seems like a package deal with Green Lantern
  • Nightwing--My other first love
  • Red Hood and the Outlaws--I was a little skeptical when I first heard about this, but the more I hear the more intrigued I am by the idea of putting these former Titans together on the road to redemption; also, I recently read Winick's Red Hood miniseries and that made me actually like the character for the first time
  • Wonder Woman--Honestly, I'm not as in love with Azzarrello as I think I'm supposed to be, but I'm curious to see what he does with Diana; also, I loves me some Cliff Chiang
  • Aquaman--Geoff Johns has done right by every other character he's taken under his wing, so I have faith he'll do a good Aquaman
  • Flash--I guess character loyalty more than anything, though I admit to being a Wally fan more than a Barry fan; I'm curious to see if Francis Manapul writes as well as he draws
  • Green Lantern: New Guardians--see Green Lantern Corps above; also, Kyle is my Green Lantern
  • Superman--Package deal with Action, plus George Perez has a history of doing well with freshly rebooted characters
  • Teen Titans--This is one of two titles, along with Justice League, that I will always buy no matter who's on the team and no matter who the creators are, because that's the kind of comic book reader I am; even though I'm a little turned off by the idea of erasing the characters' history and drastically changing them, my fears are somewhat put to rest by recent interviews with Scott Lobdell where he insists the characters are the same at their core--hopefully this is at least true in the case of Tim Drake, my third first love

A Month Late and a Dollar Short

  • Animal Man--I've always liked the character and I've heard good things about Jeff Lemire, so I'm willing to give this book a chance
  • Batwing--Judd Winick is hit-and-miss for me, so I'll give him a chance to hit me with this one
  • Detective Comics--I don't have a lot of faith in Tony Daniel as a writer (though his art has improved much over the past years), but I have been enjoying his run on Batman well enough
  • Green Arrow--I'm enjoying JT Krul's current run on GA enough to read this, just not enough to make a must-read-right-now
  • Static Shock--I like the character, plus I feel the need to support books featuring minority characters (so long as I have a genuine interest in the book; I'm not buying, for example, Voodoo)
  • Swamp Thing--I'm giving this book a try purely based on the fact that everyone is talking about how great Scott Snyder is lately; I've never been hooked by the character before, despite giving him several chances, so we'll see how long this book keeps my interest
  • Grifter--Still haven't decided for sure on this one; initially I was interested because it looked like he was going to be hunting white Martians and I liked the DC/Wildstorm mashup concept, but now it's looking like they're some other species so I don't know whether I'm still interested
  • Legion Lost--I dig the Legion and I dig Nicieza (his run on Red Robin has been fantastic); I'll be pissed, though, if Gates really dies in the first issue
  • Mister Terrific--Mainly I'm just curious to see how he works as a solo character, especially if the JSA is no longer part of this universe's history
  • Superboy--Mainly interested because it looks like this will be closely tied to Teen Titans
  • Birds of Prey--Right now my only reason for buying this book is Black Canary, despite her god-awful costume redesign; the creative team is going to have to convince me to keep reading
  • Blue Beetle--His last book was pure awesome, so Tony Bedard has some big shoes to fill; I'm not crazy about the fact that it appears they're starting over from scratch, essentially retelling a story that was told only a few years ago
  • Captain Atom--It looks like they're trying to make the character more Dr. Manhattany, which may or may not work; buying this mainly because I've generally enjoyed JT Krul's stuff so far
  • Catwoman--See Batwing above
  • Legion of Super-heroes--Again, I love the Legion; since they're in the future and don't interact with other books much I figure I can afford to wait a month for this one; as a side note, I think it's dumb to hyphenate "super-heroes," but that's how it's solicited
  • Supergirl--As with Blue Beetle, I'm not crazy about the idea of starting over from scratch yet again with this character, but I'm not 100% certain that's what they're doing; honestly, I just want Peter David to come back and bring Linda Danvers with him
  • The Fury of Firestorm--I've always found the character visually appealing, and I kind of like the Jason/Ronnie combo, and Gail Simone has never written a single word I didn't enjoy (her thes are great)
  • Justice League Dark--I can't say I'm a big fan of any of these characters nor of magical characters in general, but Peter Milligan is one of those writers I'm supposed to like, so I'm giving this a chance to wow me
  • The Savage Hawkman--Like I said, I don't have much faith in Tony Daniel as a writer, but I've always had a soft spot for buff men who don't wear shirts

A few notes on what I'm not getting:

  • As much as I think it's good for DC to be trying non-superhero genres, I'm trusting that those books will find their audience without me. Just not into war comics or westerns or swords and sorcery. 
  • Even though I think I'm supposed to like Peter Milligan, I don't want to read a monthly comic about an entire corps of characters whose power is to barf up blood.
  • I may check out DC Universe Presents in the future, but I have never been able to care about Deadman.
  • I'm kind of sort of interested in Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E., but money doesn't grow on trees, you know. Ditto for Hawk & Dove
  • I like Harley Quinn, but I'm waiting for a book that has a character that actually looks like her before I buy it. And seriously, what's with King Shark's eyes?
  • Sorry, Dan Didio, you're welcome to hire yourself as a writer, but that doesn't mean I want to read what you write.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Digital Horizons: Marvel Claims Digital Supremacy, Digital Storefronts Go Live

Last weekend Joe Quesada made the claim that Marvel is the #1 digital publisher. This week Graeme McMillan, who is quickly becoming my favorite Blog@Newsarama contributor (with all due respect to his fellow contributors, who also write great stuff), asked (a) what does that mean? and (b) how on earth would Joe Quesada know that?


This week Comixology's Digital Storefront program went live. Apparently, some retailers are not happy about the terms of the program. For example: give up your right to sue or form class action lawsuits; comiXology has the right to use your service marks to promote their digital service; you're obligated to promote the service in-store to existing customers; there are some circumstances where you don't receive even a single penny until you sell well over 600 comics, and so on and so forth...
I'm kind of bummed about this. As I mentioned the other day, I feel somewhat ambivalent about being one of those people who are giving up print comics in favor of digital, thus screwing over the direct market. I understand that the direct market is important for the survival of the comics industry as we know it. At the same time, I and every other consumer have to make decisions that make the most sense for us--comic shops are not charities we should be guilted into donating to. Digital is what makes sense for me right now, but I was  hoping the Digital Storefront program would give me a way to do what's best for me while still supporting businesses that I value.

I don't know anything about how the program works except for what I've quoted from Brian Hibbs above, but based on what I can observe, this is what I think needs to happen:

  • Retailers need to be able to customize the display, just as they arrange the comics they display in their shops. Right now, what I see is basically Comixology's web app framed on the retailer's website.
  • Retailers need to be able to offer subscriber discounts, and they need to be making enough of a profit that they can afford to do this. Right now pricing appears to be determined by Comixology, which means I have no incentive to buy from Comics Dungeon instead of buying directly from Comixology, except that I think they're good people and I want to help keep them in business. Altruism only goes so far in a capitalistic economy.
  • Apart from alternative pricing, retailers need to be able to offer something Comixology doesn't. Like, I dunno, signed copies or region-specific variants? Again, consumers need incentives to buy from the retailers. 
The problem, as Hibbs points out, is that Comixology wants to be a retailer (actually, the retailer), not a distributor (not even the distributor). And Comixology doesn't have incentive to do otherwise, so as Hibbs says, the problem lies at DC's feet. Or mine, I suppose, as the consumer. I'm not sure what I can do, though, other than support the Digital Storefront program (such as it is) as my way of saying that yes, I want digital comics, but I want to get them without screwing over the direct market. Even if the program doesn't support the direct market as well as it should, it's currently the only option I have if those are my goals as a consumer. 

The other thing I can do, as with other issues I have with Comixology, is wait it out. Yes, they are very quickly becoming the iTunes of comics, but before long Amazon will come along and start offering DRM-free digital comics (i.e. digital comics I can actually download and own) at the same price, and Comixology will be forced to try new things in order to compete. Hopefully one of the ways they compete will be by teaming up with retailers in a more equitable fashion. 

If only everything I wished for on this blog came true...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Diving Into Digital Part 4: Welcome to Pixelated Panels

The downside of buying comics online--whether digitally or through an online store like G-Mart--is that you don't get the social connection that you might from the weekly trip to the comic book store. To be honest, the only comic book store, of all the comic book stores I've frequented over the years, where I made any kind of social connection was Drom's Comics in Davis, California, where each week I'd chat with the owner, who was a really cool guy, about everything from who Bruce Wayne's replacement would be after "Batman R.I.P." to the woes of trying to raise children in today's modern world. As uncommon as that experience was for me, it was a good experience, and I miss it.

The upside of the internet is that it provides opportunities for social connection that those of us who aren't exactly social butterflies might not get otherwise. When I discovered Living Between Wednesdays a few years back, I was ecstatic to learn that there were people out there in the world who not only cared about comics in the same way I do, but who also said really clever, funny things about them. I quickly discovered several other blogs in the comics blogosphere, like Green Lantern Butt's Forever, Every Day is Like Wednesday, and the Absorbascon. Inspired by these blogs, I tried starting my own comics-themed blog, but then I discovered that I didn't have much to say that other comics bloggers were not already saying (my friend, Theric, now uses that blog to review mostly indie comics; check it out).

With all the buzz around digital comics lately, though, and my own immersion into the new medium, I'm hoping I've found my niche. I'm taking my cue from another comics blog I follow, Collected Editions, except that while Collected Editions is the "wait-for-the-trade headquarters," I intend to make Pixelated Panels the read-it-digitally headquarters. What does that entail? I imagine this blog will evolve over time, but at least right now, these are the regular features I have planned:
  • Day-And-Date: Yes, I know "day-and-date" is an absurd, redundant term, but I'm embracing the absurdity and using it to describe reviews of titles that are released (and which I buy) digitally the same day they're released in print. You can expect to see these reviews every Wednesday night. 
  • A Month Late and a Dollar Short: Reviews of comics that I wait a month to buy, in order to get them a dollar cheaper. Consider these reviews your reminder that Hey! These comics are a month old now, and maybe worth checking out for a buck less than cover price.
  • Digital Dollar Bin: Reviews of comics that you can get for $0.99, either because they're on sale or because they're old enough that this is the designated price point. 
  • Digiversity: As you may have guessed by now, my thing is superhero comics published by DC. In order to broaden my horizons, and perhaps yours, I'm challenging myself to regularly sample new things, whether it's a Marvel or Vertigo or Archie comic I can get through Comixology, or a webcomic on some random dude's website. I'll report back on my findings. 
  • Digital Horizons: A weekly roundup of news related to digital comics, and my ponderings thereon.
  • Unpixelated Panels (with a tip of the hat to the Collected Editions feature, Uncollected Editions): This is where I'll talk about comics that are not yet available digitally, but should be. And eventually this blog will be so popular and have so much sway with digital readers that the powers that be will have no choice but to respond to my call to action. 
So there you have it, folks. If you're not wowed by the awesomeness of Pixelated Panels yet, just wait. I'm sure I'll come up with something. Hopefully. Maybe. Pretty please?

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Month Late and a Dollar Short: Flashpoint: Kid Flash Lost 2 and Flashpoint: Hal Jordan 2

In what will hopefully become the first of several cases of my wishing for something on this blog causing that thing to happen, this morning when I happened to check on the website of the comic shop I frequented when I lived in Seattle, Comics Dungeon, I discovered that they now have a Comixology-powered digital storefront, so today I bought my digital comics through them. I don't know how much comic shops actually get out of this program--I fear it's not much--but buying my digital comics through a business that's done good by me in the past makes me feel a little less like a dick for going digital at the expense of the direct market. At any rate, on to the reviews:

Flashpoint: Kid Flash Lost 2
Writer: Sterling Gates
Artists: Oliver Nome and Trevor Scott
Release Date: July 27, 2011 (Print), August 26, 2011 (Digital)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Pixels

Although there's nothing really outstanding about this series, I find myself enjoying it just a little bit more than a lot of the other Flashpoint minis because it stars the same Bart Allen I know and love, not some unfamiliar alternate reality version of him. In this issue, for example, he references the time he flew the Batplane, he makes a joke about how no one ever believes him when he says he has a plan, and his virtual reality upbringing plays a central role in his victory over the issue's villain. He even makes references to cousin Jenni and her teammate, Brainiac 5. Not surprisingly, considering his close ties with Geoff Johns, Sterling Gates knows Bart Allen well, and as a result reading this issue feels like visiting with an old friend. The comfort this gives me in contrast with the discomfort at reading unfamiliar versions of characters that should be familiar in other Flashpoint tie-ins makes me worry just a little about the more permanent tweaking that will happen with the New 52. Several writers have insisted that regardless of changes to their histories, the characters will remain who they are at their core. I hope they're right.

Also, I kind of like the nod to Back to the Future with Bart's hands fading away as reality changes, but Oliver Nome makes it a little more gory than Steven Spielberg did:

Flashpoint: Hal Jordan 2
Writer: Adam Schlagman
Artist: Cliff Richards
Release Date: July 27, 2011 (Print), August 26, 2011 (Digital)
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Pixels

So despite what I said above about wanting to read stories with familiar characters, this story was just a little too familiar. Flashpoint Hal Jordan is pretty much exactly the same as regular Hal Jordan, except without the ring. This story is your standard "Hal Jordan is a cocky, immature bastard but when duty calls he grows up and saves the day, but in his own reckless way" kind of story. So I guess I want stories about the characters I know and love, but I want them to be new stories. There's nothing wrong with this issue, there's just nothing spectacular.

Also, I think it's weird that Carol Ferris's pilot nickname is Sapphire. That would be like Hal Jordan's pilot nickname being Lantern, before he ever heard of the Green Lantern Corps. They used that nickname for her in the movie too, didn't they?

Also also, I'm officially joining the camp of people who are kind of weirded out by Barack Obama not only appearing in, but having a speaking role in DC superhero comics.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Diving Into Digital Part 3: Why Digital?

In order to understand why I'm going digital, you have to understand first that I am a very practical person. A practical person who, as a thirty-one-year-old professional and father of three, still reads superhero comics religiously, but practical nonetheless. Every decision I make, whether it involves marriage and children or simply getting breakfast items from the fridge to the dining room table in as few trips as possible, is made after analyzing all alternatives and their possible outcomes. At work, I'm praised for my efficiency. So when it comes to buying comics, my goal has always been to maximize enjoyment while reducing cost.

When I was a kid, I took a half-hour bus ride to Gecko Comics in Kaimuki every week because they gave me a better discount than Jelly's Comics, which was just down the street. The better discount meant I could buy more comics with my limited budget (a very small monthly allowance plus paper route earnings). When I was in college I discovered G-Mart, a really great online store that offers 35% discounts on DC advance orders and free shipping on orders of $85 or more. Depending on my budget, $85 usually meant a month or two of comics for me, so I got my comics shipped every other month or so, the most recent comics just a week and a half after their release date. I also discovered during this time that I didn't really want to move nine long boxes with me every time I relocated, which was pretty often, so I started downsizing my collection. I sold comics on eBay and replaced them when I could with more durable and re-readable trade paperbacks. Then I decided it was silly to buy comics, read them once, and sell them for less money, only to spend the money again on trade paperbacks. Why not just wait for the trade in the first place?

I've tried waiting for the trade for the past six or seven years now, with varying degrees of success. The problem is that the practical adult in me is constantly at war with the eager fanboy who wants to read that latest issue of Teen Titans right now! So while I was in grad school in Seattle, I checked out the local comic shops (there are several) and found Comics Dungeon, which offered enough of a subscribers' discount to appease the miser in me. Then I moved to Davis, California, and was equally happy with Drom's Comics. I enjoyed making the trip to the comic shop every week, chatting with the owner, and knowing that I was as up-to-date on the happenings of the DC Universe as my inner fanboy needed to be.

Who returns from the dead in this issue? I'll have to wait a month to find out if I don't buy it now. Oh, who am I kidding? I read the spoiler online the day before it was released.

Then I moved to Orem, Utah, where we have some decent comic shops around, but nothing like Comics Dungeon or Drom's. And worst of all, no subscriber's discount. I just couldn't justify spending three bucks for a comic book (this will be ironic in just a minute). So I went back to G-Mart, ordering floppies of the most important series I couldn't trade-wait for, and trades for all the rest. So now instead of living between Wednesdays, I live between the random day every month or two when my G-Mart order has accumulated to $85 and a shipment of comics arrive. (Please note that G-Mart does offer other, faster shipping options to people less practical-minded than I, but those options cost money and we've established that that's a bad thing, right?)

Then along comes Comixology. As I mentioned in Part 1, I've been checking out digital comics for a few months now. I realized at one point that in most cases it's cheaper to buy individual back issues at $1.99 a piece than to buy the equivalent trade collection, even with G-Mart's advance order discount, so I've been buying series that I otherwise would have trade-waited for, like Green Lantern and Gotham City Sirens. And I've decided I kind of like getting my comics this way. Generally I've been able to get comics earlier than the trade release, and a little cheaper, and I still get to keep them forever without the hassle of long boxes. (Never mind the fact that you don't actually own comics that live on Comixology's servers; that's a post for another day.)

So I was already digging digital when DC announced the New 52 would be available digitally the same day as print. This seemed like a good time to make the full plunge into digital. I have all the benefits mentioned above, plus I get to read comics on the day they're released, without having to go anywhere (as I've mentioned before, I work from home; the longer I do so, the more of a recluse I become, and going places is such a hassle). But then there's the price issue. Mems how spending three bucks for a comic is ridiculous? How about spending three bucks for a comic I don't really own? But the fanboy really really wants to read new comics now. And Mr. Practical really doesn't want more long boxes. And the lazy part of me is kind of tired of buying comics, reading them, then scanning the covers and listing them on eBay so that I can then replace them with trades.

So I made a compromise: The few comics I'm really excited for, the ones I have to read the day they're released, I'll pay full price for. The rest I'll read a month later, when the price drops a dollar to the same price I would have paid by pre-ordering through G-Mart. We'll see how long this appeases both sides of me.

[Aside to G-Mart and the other comic shops I've linked to above: As soon as you decide to participate in Comixology's Digital Storefront program, I will totally buy my digital comics through you. I'd just as soon give part of my money to you as give it all to Comixology and DC.]

Reading over this post now, I don't believe I've convinced anyone that I'm a practical person. Hopefully, though, I've convinced you to at least read the coming conclusion to my blog intro, Diving Into Digital Part 4...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Day-And-Date: DC Retroactive: Justice League of America - The 90s

DC Retroactive: Justice League of America - The 90s
Writers: Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis
Artist: Kevin Maguire
Release Date: August 24, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5 Pixels

I didn't read Giffen and DeMatteis's Justice League when it was published. I started reading comics just after their era ended and the Dan Jurgens era began. But in the years since, I've managed to buy most of their run at one point or another. So while this Retroactive special isn't exactly a nostalgia piece for me in the same way the 90s Batman one was, it's still a welcome visit with old friends. This issue hits all the important notes--the recurring one-liners throughout the issue, panels crammed with dialogue, the preference for the quotidian over the epic. And I'll be damned if Kevin Maguire's art isn't even better each time he returns to these characters, making each page a delight to look at. Honestly, it surprises me that the Giffen/DeMatteis era lasted for several years after Maguire left the series. Giffen's plots and DeMatteis's words are hilarious, to be sure, but half the comedy is in the facial expressions. The only post-Maguire artist who came close to achieving the same effect was Adam Hughes.

It occurred to me while reading this issue, though, that Maguire's strengths go far beyond faces. There's a scene here where J'onn is getting increasingly frustrated by the incompetence of everyone around him, and he tells Oberon, "I'll be in my room--"
Few comic book artists could pull off this subtle joke. Most artists either don't include the level of detail to show someone's veins popping out with stress, or else they simply draw everyone so muscular that their veins are popping out all the time. With Maguire, though, the veins on J'onn's hand contribute to the story.

I find it interesting that DC decided to include Justice League America 62 as the backup feature in this issue. This is the conclusion of "Breakdowns," the final issue of Giffen and Dematteis's run on the book. I was trying to figure out why they chose this rather than an earlier issue, but then I realized that this is probably the only issue illustrated by Kevin Maguire that was released in the 90s. By the time 1990 came around, Maguire had moved on, and returned only for this final issue of the run. Which makes the choice to label this book as a 90s special rather than 80s somewhat puzzling. The funny Justice League lasted from 1987 to 1992, so equally in both decades, but there's no denying that Maguire is the artist most associated with the run, and he was only with the title in the 80s. I understand that DC wanted to revisit the Detroit League, which was definitely a child of the 80s, but if I were them I would have called this issue an 80s special and brought Grant Morrison and Howard Porter back together to represent the 90s. But oh well, I'm not DC.

Of note to digital readers: In conjunction with this issue, Comixology is offering two issues of Justice League America from the early 90s (#s 37 and 38, each illustrated by Adam Hughes) for $0.99 each. Definitely worth the price of admission if you don't already own them.

Of note to comic book creators: Don't have your characters talk about their fears of dying unless you want Brad Meltzer to come along twelve years later and turn your nice little scene into morbid foreshadowing:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Diving Into Digital Part 2: Size Matters

I read my digital comics on the 17.3" screen of my HP Pavilion dv7 laptop. I had to buy a new computer for work recently (I work from home for a virtual company) and I specifically looked for a large screen laptop with comics in mind. Until then, I'd been reading either on a desktop, which had a large enough screen, but who wants to read comics while sitting at a desk?, or on a 15.6" laptop. I found the 15.6" screen just a little too small. Viewing an entire two-page spread, I could make out most of the print, but I had to squint in some cases and in other cases it was just plain impossible. You can zoom in on any part of the page, but then moving around the page is cumbersome--with so much clicking and dragging, I can't just enjoy the comic.  

I experimented with Comixology's Guided View, which shows the panel one by one so that they can be displayed larger, but I found it too constraining: I felt claustrophobic, like I was trapped in this little box and I knew something was happening outside, but I wasn't sure what. Guided View zooms in and out of panels and pans across the page as it goes from one panel to the next, but you rarely get to see the entire page as a whole, unless you exit out of Guided View. This would be fine with comics that were created to be read in Comixology's Guided View, but so long as comics are created to be printed on paper, Guided View simply doesn't capture the full experience. Part of comic book art is the page layout--you couldn't shift panels around on the page and have the same work of art.

To see what I'm talking about, take a look at this two-page spread from Flashpoint: Hal Jordan #1, by Adam Schlagman and Ben Oliver:

These two pages are meant to be seen side by side, so you get that zig-zag effect. Each panel tells part of the story, but together they tell a larger story--not just sequentially, but also simultaneously. Here's the same page as seen in Guided View:

You get an idea of the overall motif, but just barely.

So I decided I needed a big screen. This ruled out that iPad I'd been coveting but couldn't really afford anyway. (Yes, the laptop cost more than an iPad would have, but I needed the laptop for work, remember? Plus, my employer paid for the laptop. [And if you're reading, dear employer, rest assured that I do use the laptop for work nine hours a day. You aren't paying me to read comics. (But if you ever want to, just let me know.)])

The 17.3" screen works well. It gives me 8.5 inches of height, compared to the average 10" comic book spine, which means I'm seeing comics at 85% of their natural size. Definitely readable, no squinting necessary. At 6.72 pounds, the laptop is a little heavier than the average comic. Okay, a lot heavier. I won't be reading digital comics in the bathtub. And laptops do get hot when you actually have them atop your lap for an extended period of time, but a lapdesk solves that problem, and alleviates the weight with a little cushioning. I bought the LapGear Deluxe Computer Lapdesk on Amazon for twenty-five bucks, and it does the trick. I can now comfortably read comics sitting on the couch, lying in bed, or, most likely, slouching in such a way that will have me looking like Harold Allnut by the time I'm forty. (Who knew his last name was Allnut? Wikipedia is awesome.)

Still, I'll be the first to admit that reading comics on my laptop is not quite as natural-feeling as reading comics on paper. I think my ideal would be an iPad with a 20" screen. Until Apple makes one of those for me, though, I'm willing to make the compromise. Why? We'll get there in Part 3.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Day-And-Date: DC Retroactive: Batman - The 90s

Writer: Alan Grant
Artist: Norm Breyfogle
Release Date: August 17, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5 Pixels
It's a bit of a cop-out to point you somewhere else in my first review, but J. Caleb Mozzocco expressed my sentiments exactly in his review of this issue on Robot 6: This is a fantastic piece of nostalgia that perfectly recaptures the feel of Grant/Breyfogle Batman stories from the early nineties. I give it only 4 out of 5 Pixels because, as Caleb points out, this doesn't do much above and beyond recreating the era. 

I will add, though, that I think it's great that DC and Comixology are releasing 99-cent digital versions of comics from the era in conjunction with these Retroactive specials. I bought and reread Batman 462, 463, 464, and 465 (featuring one of the early appearances of Tim Drake as Robin, yay!) to complete my nostalgia experience. The thing that stood out to me, apart from how great Grant is at populating Gotham with three-dimensional characters, how much I love Breyfogle's Robin, and how apt Caleb Mozzocco's description of Breyfogle's Batman is ("Breyfogle drew the character so that his cape, cowl, white triangle eyes and often gritted teeth looked like highly-abstracted, expressionistic elements that belonged to one character, but his Batman had a tall, thin, highly-muscled athletic body that seemed to belong to another character"), was that Breyfogle's Batmobile is by far my favorite:

Here's hoping this won't be Grant and Breyfogle's last Batman collaboration.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Diving Into Digital Part 1: Batman and Me

My first comic was Batman 476 (Apr 92) by Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle. The cover shows Batman unmasking himself before a shocked Vicki Vale. I remember picking up the issue and thinking how momentous it must be, as surely Batman had never revealed his secret identity to anyone before, and how lucky I was to start reading Batman on this important occasion. I bought the issue and brought it home, only to find out that the cover was a bit of a white lie. Yes, there's a scene in which Batman unmasks himself to a shocked Vicki Vale, but it only happens in Bruce Wayne's imagination.
Taking my cue from Batman 476, I've also started out with a little white lie. In truth, I had read and even owned a few comics before this one--as an elementary school kid, I'd dabbled in G.I.JoeTransformers, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But it was not until as a twelve-year-old I bought Batman 476 that I truly became a comics reader. Despite the cover's deception, I was entranced by Grant's mature, witty script, and by Breyfogle's crisp, dynamic line work. This was a sexy, mysterious, captivating Batman unlike either the Adam West version I'd watched in old reruns or the Michael Keaton version I'd seen more recently. Although the issue was part three of a three-part story, it was easy enough to jump right into it, with enough of a hint of the greater universe it existed within to make me want more. 

And more is what I got: Armageddon Inferno introduced me to others in Batman's universe, not only familiar faces like Superman and Wonder Woman, but unfamiliar ones like Starfire, Guy Gardner, and Lobo; Justice League Spectacular showed me an entirely different group of heroes than I remembered from Super Friends; and Batman: Shadow of the Bat gave me more of the Grant/Breyfogle Batman I'd fallen in love with. From there I worked backward, browsing through the local comic shop's back issue bins, and forward, using the Advance Comics catalog to plan my monthly purchases. 

Nearly twenty years later, I'm still here, immersed in the world of comics. I've tried other genres and fictional universes, from Vertigo to Ultimate Marvel to Craig Thompson's Blankets to Art Spiegelman's Maus. My buying habits have changed as disposable income has ebbed and flowed and interstate moves have given me better or worse access to decent comic shops. I've even tried waiting for the trade. But the constant has always been Batman and the other heroes of the DC Universe. 

It's only appropriate, then, that the impetus for the newest change to my comics buying habits stems from a related change for the DC Universe: next month's New 52 and the accompanying same-day digital release of all DC titles. I've been testing the waters with digital comics for several months now, so when DC announced the relaunch I decided this would be the perfect time for me to complete the switch from print to digital. This blog will chronicle my foray into this brave new world, with reviews of digital releases, news, and musings on the evolution of digital comics as it happens. 

Today seemed like a good day to start the blog, as this morning I bought DC Retroactive: Batman - The 90s and felt like I was twelve again, reading Alan Grant's clever script and seeing Norm Breyfogle's sleek Batman--with the subtle difference that this time it was on a screen instead of on paper.