Comics Disassembled: Ten Things of Note from the Past Week in Comics, Led by a Curious Interview

These columns are normally fairly long, but this one feels more robust than usual, even if it’s mostly centered on the first two items. Let’s get to it then, as I shared ten things I liked or didn’t like from the week of comics in another edition of Comics Disassembled.

1. Jim Lee, Talking Changes

Predictably, because DC loves releasing news on Friday, a big interview with Jim Lee went up on The Hollywood Reporter about the state of DC after the layoffs that took place earlier in the week. Much ado was made about some of the specific elements from the chat – some of which was excessive, to be honest – ranging from the elevation of Marie Javins and Michele Wells to co-Editors-in-Chief (it seems like the role will be split by age targeting, as I expected), the perceived IP focus of DC’s efforts (of course there is an IP focus, and there always was one), the position of DC Universe going forward (the comic element isn’t dead but it is changing), the focus on younger readers and digital (which already clearly was a focus), and beyond.

The whole thing is well worth a read, but there are two things I want to talk about in specific. First, the veracity of the interview itself. I’ve heard from some who suggest that everything Lee said was spin. That’s true to a degree with every interview – and I mean every interview – but I don’t think it’s necessarily more true here. I even saw some suggest that the comic line has an imminent death on the horizon, and this is just cover up and yada yada yada, but frankly, they wouldn’t have laid off one third of their editorial staff if that was the case. They would have laid off all of them. Clearly there’s still some level of publishing that is going to happen.

What it feels like to me is a reduction of cost paired with a refocusing of efforts on what they believe are high value targets identified by looking at what is already working: digital, all-ages, and Batman. What else their line will be comprised off is uncertain – and with a wave of cancelations (or at least periods of ellipses), it seems they’re setting up for what’s next – but whether or not there will be a line seems pretty locked in. But again, with the truthfulness of the interview: I don’t even know what he’d be lying about. They already have a black eye because of this. To me, if it’s anything, it’s a happy face on a bad situation, where the smile is spin even if the facts aren’t necessarily.

The other thing I thought was particularly of interest was the example of Injustice being a potential playbook. I laid out the case for DCeased taking that spot, but apparently I selected the wrong Tom Taylor-penned franchise. Here’s what Lee had to say about that:

“When that came out, it was the best-selling digital comic of the year, it outsold Batman. And brought a lot of adjacent fans into our business. And when we took that content and reprinted it in physical form, we sold hundreds of thousands of units. It was as big of a hit in physical as in in digital.

We’re using that as a model as we go out and do more digital content. We’ll take the most successful books and repackage it as physical books. I think there is definitely business to be had in physical periodicals. But that said, I think there’s greater upside in digital because we can go to a more global audiences and the barrier to entry, especially in this pandemic, is lower. It’s a lot easier to get digital content into the hands of consumers that want to read stories.”

You know what? That all makes a lot of sense! Everything I’ve heard suggests that Injustice is basically the most highly sold comic ever on ComiXology – or at least for a time it was – and using that “low cost leader that turns into a physical book later” plan…well, it was heavily featured in two of my five potential futures for the direct market thought experiment piece for a reason. It just makes sense.

We’ll see what shakes out in the future, and particularly, we’ll likely discover how much of what Lee said was hot air and how much was real. I’m leaning towards the latter, even if that makes me seem idealistic. I’ve been called that before, and you know what? There are worse things to be called in my opinion.

2. Scott Snyder, Making Changes

One of DC’s big guns seems to be making a shift towards controlling his own fate, as writer Scott Snyder made a big splash this week with the launch of not just a new imprint at Image in Best Jackett Press, but also its first title (or at least the idea of it) and a Kickstarter to fund it. This kind of play is likely to become more abundant in the future, in my opinion, as using Kickstarter as a way to fund page rates for creator-owned projects is sort of a match made in heaven, even going back to…I want to say Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare’s Rocket Girl was the first title I saw this happen with.

But in regards specifically to Snyder, the first project is Nocternal, and it comes with a slew of capable names behind it in artist Tony Daniel, colorist Tomeu Morey, letterer Deron Bennett, and editor Will Dennis. Perhaps the most interesting to me about that squad is how quintessentially DC it feels, as Morey has carved a real niche for him there and Daniel has been intertwined with the publisher for quite some time. It’s quite the jump off from one publisher to another.

The series itself is a horror book about how humanity survives after the sun’s light disappears, with monsters aplenty within. That’s not really my style, but I do really like what they’re doing here, because it’s a very smart way to make all of this work even if I don’t love Kickstarters for single issues. Basically, while the first issue of this series is set to come out at Image in early 2021, if you back them on Kickstarter, it gets you access to a “one-of-a-kind” reading experience in which you either get a trade paperback or a hardcover collecting a 72 page behind the scenes version of the first issue with it coming with the script to the book (next to each page) and in black and white.

Crowdfunding is extra useful when you can deliver something you can’t get anywhere else, and whether you’re talking those special features or a limited edition hardcover signed by Snyder and Daniel, this delivers on that big times. It’s no surprise that the team has nearly tripled their goal already. They’ll finish even higher than that.

This is all very interesting, and I have a lot of questions. I’ll be talking to Snyder about it for Off Panel, so hopefully I get those answered for you all to hear soon enough.

3. Eternals, Good!

Eternals are a very hit or miss group for many in comics, and that’s for good reason: they fluctuate wildly between great and terrible, even within the same project. Take Neil Gaiman and John Romita, Jr.’s run with the characters as an example. For some, that’s the bee’s knees – I loved it when I first read it – and for others, it’s hot garbage. There’s immense variance to these characters, even relative to their peers. To me, it largely depends on the creative team on the book and whether or not they fit the scope and mission of these characters.

That’s why I’m excited for the new series starring this gang. It’s from Kieron Gillen, Esad Ribic and Matt Wilson, the perfect group to treat the Eternals right. Gillen’s the correct brain for making this idea feel fresh, Ribic is the right artist to make it feel huge, and Matt Wilson is…well, he’s the best colorist in the business. Put that all together and you have a book I’m all about when it arrives in November, whether this title is designed to connect to a movie franchise or not. I’m excited to see what this squad cooks up, and I hope they gave Ribic a lot of room to work with here as this book will very much depend on artistic fit. Find a good match and it will soar. Get the wrong one and…well, my interest may wane. Go big or go home, Marvel!

4. Eternals, Bad!

Okay, I should have been more specific. Go big in some situations or go home, Marvel! For the Eternals artist? Sure. For the amount of covers for the first issue of this series? Not so much. But because Marvel’s going to Marvel and because variant covers when deployed by them are sort of like the comic equivalent of a multi-level marketing system that keeps working despite the majority of people despising them, there are 37 (!!) covers to this first issue. At least so far. Who knows what the future holds?

Artists drawing covers include “Alex Ross, Peach Momoko, Alan Davis, Art Adams, Mahmud Asrar, Jen Bartel, Bosslogic, Russell Dauterman, Dave Johnson, Jeff Johnson, Mike Del Mundo, Jenny Frison, Rian Gonzales, Inhyuk Lee, J. Scott Campbell, Joe Quesada, Khary Randolph, Esad Ribic, Humberto Ramos, Walt Simonson, Ron Lim, Otto Schmidt, Superlog, Todd Nauck, Greg Land, Takashi Okazaki, Dan Panosian, Skottie Young, Leinil Francis Yu, and Frank Cho,” per Newsarama, although I’d be interested in just seeing a list of who wasn’t asked to draw one to compare the length of each list. I don’t have huge beef with variants, but this is ridiculous. This is gamesmanship at its absolute worst at a time where comic shops are hurting. I hate it a lot, and I genuinely wish Marvel was better than this.

Granted, as shops have told me, shops can limit this kind of behavior by ordering responsibly. But at this point, Marvel’s like someone with 2,500 friends with a drinking problem, and they are always leaving bottles of liquor out. Shops can say no, but at a certain point, it becomes borderline predatory. 37 variants crosses that line.

5. Kyle Starks, Hooping

Kyle Starks is, like me, a basketball fan. Unlike me, he is a very good cartoonist. He’s been blending the two during the very good, very enjoyable (save for the Pacers being down 0-2 to the Heat) NBA playoffs with a little drawing in Procreate of what he’s watching, and I think it’s delightful. Take the above piece of Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic for example. It’s a wonderful piece of cartooning, a perfect extension of Luka’s energy (besides when he is begging for a call, which is quite often) and a fun example of a comic creator expressing one of their non-comics fandom with comics. I like it. I want more of it. Give me more, Kyle. I demand it!

6. Ram V, Workshopping

Ram V is a lot of things. He’s a super talented writer, which you likely know if you’ve read any of his work. He’s a very nice guy, at least in my experience from hanging out with him at ComicsPro’s Annual Meeting a couple years back. And he seems very generous, as he’s working with Thought Bubble for an online writing workshop as part of the online version of the comics festival, with this workshop taking place on August 29th.

It’s a two hour experience, with 30 participants getting in to learn about story structure and turning an idea into a reality from someone who knows what they’re talking about. Even cooler, four additional slots are being auctioned off, with those spots coming with an on-camera appearance during the session and all proceeds going to a charity of Thought Bubble’s choice, which is extremely rad.

It’s a cool thing to offer people, especially given the writer’s increasingly busy schedule. I can’t say I’m surprised, though, as I recall hanging out at the ComicsPro auction at the end of the event when Matt Wagner was just drawing at a table by himself for a charity piece. Ram had the same instincts I had: go over and watch a master at work, and unlike me, he actually had thoughtful questions to ask. It makes sense that someone who studies the craft has a lot to share with other students. This is rad, though, and if you get the chance to get on this, you should. I bet you’ll learn a lot. Big fan of this.

7. Gideon Falls, Closing Strong

Just last week, I closed this column with kind words about Gideon Falls, an excellent series from Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino that seemed as if it was nearing its run. Apparently I was correct in that belief, as the very same day that column went up, my words apparently willed its death upon the world: Gideon Falls is ending with an 80-page finale in December’s 27th issue.

Now I know what you’re thinking: that’s super big! How could Lemire and Sorrentino get that ready in time? The answer might shock you: Lemire and Sorrentino aren’t human. They are actually aliens with the gift of unparalleled speed and skill, thus their ability to occasionally make multiple books together at the same time, to release this title nearly monthly, and to churn out great comics at a constant rate. Or they’re just really good, really fast and haven’t slept since 2018. One of the two! I know where I align myself.

Either way, I’m excited for this finale. I imagine it will be dark with a surprising amount of hope. I’m betting on that, and with a potent end to this excellent series. We’ll find out in December.

8. Wolverine, Getting Bloody

If you’re anything like me, you’ve recently been thinking, “Wow, there really aren’t enough Wolverine appearances lately!” I have great news for you: there’s a new Wolverine series coming!

Now, you might not actually be thinking that. I’m not actually thinking that, and I love Wolverine! But this one sounds very cool, as it’s Wolverine: Black, White & Blood, a three issue anthology series of a sort where a trio of creative teams – Gerry Duggan and Adam Kubert, Matthew Rosenberg and Joshua Cassara, and Declan Shalvey with Declan Shalvey and Declan Shalvey – will be telling action packed Wolverine stories in black, white and red exclusively. It’s launching in November, and at the very least, it’s going to be a brilliant artistic showcase featuring the best there is at what he does.

A lot of comparisons and notes of “this is a copy of Harley Quinn: Black, White and Red” were made, but that’s coming from the idea that comics are instantaneously made and they actually move that quickly. I’m pretty sure this was in the works before Harley’s series was even announced, so I’m skeptical of its copycat nature. I will say this, though: this really feels like it should be a digital series to me. If you were going to copy Harley Quinn, that’s the element I would have jumped on. But that’s not how Marvel rolls. Maybe it should be! Bolder strokes, Marvel! Let’s get with the times!

9. Dead Earth, Living

Given that I made it my Book of the Week in The Pull, it should come as no surprise that I greatly enjoyed the finale to Daniel Warren Johnson, Mike Spicer and Rus Wooton’s Wonder Woman: Dead Earth. It was immense but small, insane but heartbreakingly personal. In short, it was exactly what you get when you take Daniel Warren Johnson and say, “make the most ‘you’ Wonder Woman comic you can.”

It really is a remarkable work, and I’d say my favorite Wonder Woman comic ever released. While I’ll readily admit that I haven’t read a ton of Wondy comics – I start and often don’t finish them when I don’t connect early on – that’s still a hell of a thing. Johnson killed it, and it’s a beautiful ode at the cost of violence and the importance of humanity, even to a god.

I also wanted to say that this type of story is exactly why I hope that Black Label continues onwards in this new era of DC. Andy Khouri edited this series, and it’s clear he understood the value of giving Johnson space to do his thing, even if I know he helped DWJ get there. Comics needs more of that, not less. Even as we move into a new period for the publisher minus two of the top people at that side of the DC world, I’d love to see it continue onwards because there’s so much potential here. We’ll see if that happens, but I have my fingers crossed.

10. Sony, Expanding Universes

Say what you will about Marvel vs. DC, but if you want to talk about the movie studio that most behaves like either of them, it’s undoubtedly Sony, whose handling of the Spider-Man franchise is not unlike a power mad comic book editor lusting after line expansion on the strength of a couple unexpected hits. After Venom – a genuinely insane movie that I would argue works far better once you realize it’s a buddy comedy – became an unexpected hit to go with the success of the main Spider-Man films and Into the Spider-Verse, the crew over there has went full insanity and I sort of dig it.

The next Venom movie is called “Venom: Let There Be Carnage!” There is a Morbius movie starring Jared Leto on the horizon! And now, they’re getting the guy who directed Triple Frontier – a star-studded Netflix action movie that, in true form for the streamer, I never heard anyone say anything overly positive about – to make a Kraven the Hunter movie, because why not? What else do we, an entertainment craving, pandemic exhausted audience, want more than a movie about a man in a lion vest literally hunting people? Nothing! That is clearly the answer, at least in Sony’s mind.

I respect the game and the overexpansion, even if it shouldn’t be overly surprising. Sony has long thirsted for a Spider-Man expanded universe – shouts to the gone but not forgotten efforts to make Sinister Six, the Black Cat and Silver Sable-starring Silver & Black, and probably five other movies I’ve forgotten – and they will keep going there until you know what time it is: STILT-MAN TIME, BABY.

Keep your comic book insanity going, Sony! Secure that bag, Amy Pascal! Gimme Sin-Eater! Styx & Stone! The Superior Foes of Spider-Man! (okay, maybe actually give me that last one) Let’s dig deeper! There is so much further we can get into Spider-Man’s rogues’ gallery. Kraven isn’t deep enough. I want more!