A weird week unfortunately must begin in an ugly place with ugly news. Let’s get to that and more in Comics Disassembled, my look at ten things I liked or didn’t like from the week of comics.
1. What in the World is Happening at Oni?
Continuing a trend that started in late June with the departure of its two most senior team members in Publisher James Lucas Jones and VP of Creative & Business Development Charlie Chu, four more members of long-time indie publisher Oni Press were laid off this week in VP of Sales and Marketing Alex Segura, Senior Editor Amanda Meadows, Editor Jasmine Amiri, and Sales Manager Henry Barajas. Graeme McMillan reported at Popverse that it’s been described as “management restructuring,” which is like when I tell my wife I need a Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich: I might believe what I’m saying, but no one else should. This is a dismantling, plain and simple.
Just look at those names and the number of them – especially when you factor in Director of Publicity Tara Lehmann’s recent (self-determined) departure – and then ask yourself this: who is left at Oni? Not many people, and certainly not enough to run a publisher to the same degree as before. There’s a lot of speculation as to the reasoning behind these moves – the hottest, of course, is that Oni/Lion Forge’s parent company Polarity is looking to sell – and really just speculation about all of this in general. Twitter is atwitter about all of this.
There’s nothing I can say concretely, but my read on this is pretty simple. A company bought another one with IP dreams and Hollywood wishes, but found themselves souring on the idea when they realized a) Oni’s mostly creator-owned and b) publishing comics isn’t the short jump over to raking in cash on varying deals that they thought it was. This looks like buyer’s remorse, and the ugly actions that come from a parent company that’s run out of patience and lacked a real plan.
The cost is a human one. Jones and Chu were, for all intents and purpose, Oni Press. Segura, Meadows, Amiri, and Barajas were, by all accounts, smart comics folks who make a publisher better (and more attractive for sale, I imagine), both today and tomorrow. This is to say nothing of the creators out there who have active deals or were in the midst of making one happen with the publisher, each of whom at best has to now start over or at worst has to battle what remains of Oni/Lion Forge to maintain or escape their deals. It’s a horrible situation for everyone, save for the people in charge who are seemingly hellbent on destroying what they acquired for reasons unknown.
We’ll see what comes from this, but this feels like the end of Oni Press – even if it’s only in spirit – just in time for the publisher’s 25th anniversary. It’s quite the celebration Polarity planned out. Not sure I would have went the same route, but I suppose that’s why I don’t run a corporation.
Update after I wrote the previous bit: In one of the most stunningly defensive entries in the history of the Twitter genre best labeled as “jpegs of written text saying why I’m not wrong, you’re wrong,” Oni-Lion Forge responded late yesterday to the growing dismay with these changes. It did not help. Shockingly. I thought it might, but then I read the first line that started “With wildly sensationalistic rumors and false information spreading” and realized, no, no this will not help. Okay, I didn’t think it would help, but I thought it’d be more amusing to couch it that way. Anyways, things are going great for Oni-Lion Forge!
2. Tara Lehmann: The Winner, by TKO
While we don’t know what’s next for many of those who have been let go by Oni recently, I did want to give a shout out to one of the folks who was able to choose their own rather timely departure. We knew that Oni’s Director of Publicity Tara Lehmann was leaving by her own volition, we just didn’t know where she was going. Now we do, as McMillan reported in his Oni piece that Lehmann has hopped over to TKO Studios, joining former Oni pals like Director of Sales Margot Wood and Special Projects Manager Amber O’Neill over at the publisher.
I’ve worked with a lot of marketing and publicity folks over the years, but Lehmann’s one of the best, as she does an exceptional job of engaging with press and expanding awareness in Oni’s releases. She’s the type of person who makes you more excited about comics through osmosis, even over email, and signing her up is a major win for TKO, a publisher that continues to grow despite early skepticism from the outside. Best of luck to Lehmann going forward. I’m excited to be hearing from her about TKO’s releases in the future.
On the heels of a Netflix deal and a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund monster collections for a trio of related books, it seems as if Mark Waid and Peter Krause’s Irredeemable is returning in 2023. The original series – a “Superman gone bad” tale that actually was quite good at times and also, at least in my opinion, ended well and rather conclusively with an extremely meta solution to a very punchy problem – wasn’t exactly clamoring for a follow up. But given the environment and the six figure response to the Kickstarter, the market is ripe for the Plutonian and his world.
What’s it about? Who knows! Well, Waid does, and it sounds like it’s a continuation that might have the Plutonian in it, but also maybe not in the capacity we might expect. It’s in the world of the story. Whether or not that’s a draw beyond the “this has an adaptation coming out” sort of way is uncertain, because Irredeemable was always a rather hook-oriented series, even if it was a well-crafted one. Irredeemable without its primary hook is like Garfield without Garfield, sans the existential crisis. If anyone can make it work, it’s Waid and Krause. I for one will likely be waiting for trade on this to see how it shapes up first, rather than diving in from the start. But it will be interesting to see.
4. Graeme McMillan, Popping Off!
One idea that was long floated in comics was that if everyone wanted there to be a comic site that was actually worthwhile, someone needed to foot the bill. There are talented folks out there, smart people who can write about and report on comics with the best of them. They just need to be assembled and paid, like The Avengers, but if they paid much more attention to the art and industry of comics.
Popverse seems to be doing that, as the ReedPop fueled and funded website continues to grow, and do so in smart ways. Take the latest official staff hiring: Graeme McMillan! Given that McMillan has earned links in the first two items of this very article, it’s clear he’s a journalist who pays close attention to what’s going on and finds the story. Popverse already has smart people like Chris Arrant and Tiffany Babb in place, but adding to their roster only makes the site and the field of comics journalism better. Good job by you Popverse! It’s a smart move, and I hope to see the site continuing to grow well into the future.
5. Starfox, Looking Good?
Of all the Marvel characters I’d be looking to read a one-shot of, Starfox would not be high on my list, at least conceptually. While I have some level of fondness for him and his absurdist, romantic ways, he’s always been a bit one-note to me. That said, when it was revealed this week that the character was getting a one-shot connected to the upcoming A.X.E.: Judgment Day event – an Eternals-centric event, who Starfox is certainly connected to – and that Kieron Gillen was writing it and the excellent Daniele Di Nicuolo would be drawing it (and providing that charming as heck cover), well, then, my friends, I became quite interested indeed.
Based off the solicit, it’s going to be Grade A Gillen joint, with a smarmy, charmy vibe to an apocalyptic story that will assuredly be a delight. But maybe the most exciting part is Di Nicuolo getting a bit more of a showcase, as the Seven Secrets artist and his Shonen energy fit the character and this type of story to a tee. I hope this one-shot helps people better understand what kind of talent he is, or, at the very least, leads to a highly entertaining story. The latter is certain. The former is what I’m rooting for.
Starfox! Who saw that guy as a one-shot superstar coming?
6. Daredevil, Doubling Up
This is undoubtedly something that was known before, but I only noticed this week when I received a press release about it. It seems that coming on the heels of a new volume of Daredevil – continuing the same story with the same creative team – debuting this week with a $4.99 issue #1 is a special second issue that isn’t just #2, but also #650. Filled with guest artists galore, including former Daredevil luminaries like Chris Samnee, Klaus Janson, Alex Maleev, and more, this issue is a super-sized celebration of all things Daredevil. It’s also $5.99.
As much as I want to celebrate the quality of this run, I want to talk about the prices. That has to be the first time a non-event, non-special Marvel series launched with two issues that were $4.99 or more. While this is most likely just special circumstances – it’s not Marvel’s fault that #650 follows #1! – given the increasing cost of paper and printing related items in general, I can’t help but wonder if this is part celebration and part pilot program. Will orders sustain at the higher price points? Can we do this a third time? This isn’t me reporting anything. It’s just me wondering whether Marvel’s dalliances with higher price points might turn into something more in the future.
Even if it doesn’t, it’s Marvel’s way to always maximize what they can get out of a single release. That’s understandable, to a degree. They are a business after all. But I do feel for Zdarsky and Checchetto, whose run has been great, but also has been regularly impacted by decisions that have either made it a bit more disjointed than it should be or more expensive than some readers might prefer to keep paying. That’s the risk Marvel takes with these machinations. I can’t help but wonder what the cost has been for the title, or if it’s been beneficial overall? At least we’re getting some new Chris Samnee on Daredevil art out of it!
7. Ms. Marvel, Excelling
As you likely know as a reader of this column, I’ve been pretty down on the latest from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whether it’s the movies – like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which I rewatched recently and continue to be very down on – or the Disney+ shows, the MCU’s fourth phase has been a hot mess, even if it is also a highly profitable one. I’ve enjoyed aspects of it, either in full or partially.
But there hadn’t been a show or movie where my response was, “Yes, I love this completely” since Shang-Chi, probably, with most shows and movies feeling like firehoses of plot that woefully lacked in character. Sure, they were always that to a degree. But the characters were always the connection point that grounded the story, rather than our guides to a future Easter Egg analysis on YouTube. I missed that connection.
Enter Ms. Marvel, the just completed Disney+ series that allows me to once again say, “Yes, I loved this completely.” This series was an absolute delight, electing to focus almost entirely on character and story rather than plot and, to steal a term from the great Girlfriend Reviews channel on YouTube, the diarrhea Christmas lights of CGI fights in the third act. Even when there were CGI fights, Ms. Marvel built them on the core themes that were constants in the story, using the action as a way to find drama and foster connection.
The cast made it all possible, with Iman Vellani bringing one of the strongest and most charming performances in recent MCU history as Kamala Khan, and a supporting cast that brought heart and believability to the relationships within the story. Kamala’s entire family was just perfect, in particular (the scene with Kamala and her dad on the roof in the finale was so, so good). That they rooted Kamala’s powers in her family’s story made it all the easier to buy in to the enhanced side of things, and it gave the heroic side depth and life throughout.
Plus: the show had style for days, leveraging visuals from the comics and the general vibe of Adrian Alphona’s art to make the whole thing feel cool in a way the MCU hadn’t in some time. There was some clunkiness at times, of course. The Clandestines as villains were a bit thin, in particular. But it turns out Kamala’s story was a perfect fit for a classic teen dramedy. Kudos to everyone involved for realizing it and then bringing it to life.
I can’t wait to see what’s next, even though as a viewer, I probably would prefer a second season of Ms. Marvel to the character next appearing in increasing overstuffed The Marvels in July 2023 (Gemma Chan’s Sersi is going to be in it?!). The MCU engine must never stop, though, and it’s increasingly apparent that the shows are simply launching pads for movies.
8. The MCU, Comic Booking
Speaking of the MCU’s engine, the Ms. Marvel finale was a tale of two endings in some ways, one of which I was thoroughly down with and the other my fanboy mind enjoyed but my “wait was that a good idea?” one rejected. For this item, I would not read further if you haven’t seen the Ms. Marvel finale yet.
Consider this a spoiler warning.
Let’s start with the part I like. There was a lot of hand-wringing about Kamala’s powers changing, and how her origin wouldn’t make as much sense without the Inhumans giving the character her jump off. In regards to the former, even though we did get a rather delightful “embiggen” moment in the finale, I suspect their concerns were not resolved by the show. But Ms. Marvel definitely resolved the Inhumans problem in a rather fitting way. The character was mostly an Inhuman in the comics by circumstance, as Kamala debuted while Marvel had…uhhh…lost the X-Men’s number and started favoring the Inhumans as their de facto replacement in the mid 2010s simply because they didn’t own the rights to the mutant side of things. Now that Marvel owns them again after acquiring Fox, though, Kamala was revealed to have a “mutation,” as the X-Men: The Animated Series theme played in the background.
That was a heck of a thing, and hey, it’s smart! Did I expect in a million years that Ms. Marvel would become the MCU’s first mutant? Nope! Does it work? Yep! Is Marvel already now publicly saying that they wanted her to be a mutant the whole time? Absolutely! And I believe it! I say this with respect to Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee’s Inhumans and that maxi-series alone, but no one prefers the Inhumans to the mutants. It’s just a fact. This makes sense, and it’s a tidier solution going forward than doing something insane like introducing the Inhumans before the X-Men. I liked it! That was a neat trick, and one that built excitement, not confusion.
Conversely, there was the mid-credits stinger to the finale, in which Kamala messes around with the bangle that is connected to her powers, only for something to go awry, at which point she’s launched through her closet door. Instead of Kamala getting up, though, it was Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers in her full Captain Marvel regalia. Now, this seems like it’s a Quantum Bands situation – shouts to Genis-Vell – in which two people share a single presence effectively, and there’s a part of me that likes that, simply because I loved early 2000s Captain Marvel. But as far as stingers go, this just creates confusion rather than excitement. Take my wife’s reaction as an example. This beat happened, and her response was saying, “I don’t understand” out loud. It wasn’t excited either. It was just confusion.
That beat reminds me of one of the other main issues I have with the MCU’s Phase Four run: it has embraced the confusing aspects of superhero comics that make the genre a struggle. Don’t get me wrong, connectivity has always been a part of the Marvel equation. But I would put this in the camp of the Illuminati’s appearance in the second Doctor Strange movie. It’s exclusively for the hardcore fans, not the people who want to just have fun watching a cool superhero story. It’s a beat in which the payoff is not found in evidence, only in the dire world of YouTube and random 2000s Marvel comics. I’d love to see less of that, not more of that, which is part of the reason I enjoyed Ms. Marvel so much. It avoid that kind of thing…until the very last scene of the series. Boo to that, Marvel!
9. Events, Being Good!
Next week brings a big feature interview to SKTCHD that focuses on writing event comics from the perspective of Joshua Williamson and Kieron Gillen. It’s a great chat, but one not inspired by my own affinity for event comics – although that is a real thing! – but my fondness in particular for the ones they’re currently writing. A.X.E.: Judgment Day debuted this week with the one-shot Eve of Judgment, and while it was effectively Eternals #13, that sort of thing works for me, and as a gateway into this larger story. Dark Crisis has started strong, marrying massive scale with big emotion. They’re both quite good, and I like that.
It does make me wonder, though: when was the last time there was a great DC capital “E” Event at the same time as a good Marvel one? Here’s where I bring some spice! It might have been 2005/2006 with Infinite Crisis and House of M/Civil War! 2008’s your other option, but Final Crisis and Secret Invasion were definitely your mileage may vary events. Judgment Day and Dark Crisis, at least in my opinion, have the potential of breaking a rather impressive streak. I hope they do it! I’m all in on both right now, which is something I haven’t been in quite some time for events.
10. Comic Shops, Making It Work
One subject that came up in this week’s Off Panel podcast with retailer Brian Hibbs is how much of a factor rent is in terms of making the business of comics retail one that works. If your rent is too high, it can kill the business, plain and simple. And with a tough economic environment filled with opportunistic property owners, rent can shift at a moments notice.
Ask Secret Headquarters, an esteemed Los Angeles comic shop that for 17 years has cultivated a strong following. They were recently faced with a significant rent increase – because of “greed-flation” as they put it – and in that moment, they had a trio of options, really. Pay the new rent and nuke their own viability, close up shop, or find a new space. The former two would end in tears, and quite possibly would have been the solution for some, understandably. Thankfully, the shop chose the third, and have found a new location that fits their needs and their budget, a win win for everyone but the property owner looking to make more money off of their tenant.
That’s great to see. It’s a tough environment for everyone, and to see comic shops like Secret Headquarters adjust on the fly and make it work for them is heartening. Good job by Team Secret Headquarters, and best of luck in your new location!