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Apr 9

House to Astonish Episode 154

Posted on Sunday, April 9, 2017 by Al in Podcast

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, so we’ve got nearly an hour of chat about the comics news, including the sad death of Bernie Wrightson, the closing of ComicsAlliance, Marvel’s four-fold woes with digital code backtracking, artists vs writers, diversity and sales, and Ardian Syaf’s hidden messages, and the announcement of the New Warriors TV show. We’ve also got reviews of Royals and Eleanor and the Egret and the Official Handbook of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe is a bit pony. All this plus the Wintercontinental Title, mufti X-Men and Fantastic Four: Gymkhana Girls.

The podcast is here, or here on Mixcloud, or available via the embedded player below. Let us know what you think in the comments, on Twitter, via email or on our Facebook fan page. And don’t forget, it’s getting warm outside, and nothing says “I’m warm, but want to cover key areas of my torso” like a swanky House to Astonish t-shirt!

Bring on the comments

  1. Martin Smith says:

    Is anyone else finding that MixCloud just won’t load properly lately? The site comes up fine, but I just get an infinitely looping loading symbol when I go to play the show.

    With the Daredevil by Waid thing, it’s just a legacy of the earlier volumes not having Samnee (or consistent artists) at all. They could have added Samnee’s name to the title, but I guess the worry is confusing people about whether it’s the same series, which is a decent concern given how frequently things are relaunched now.

    Given Squirrel Girl is the lynch pin of this New Warriors TV show, I reckon they’ll use Speedball, Microbe, Debrii, Hindsight Lad and Silhouette.

    I think Black Bolt and Medusa are selling themselves short. They briefly ruled the Kree Empire! On balance they’re not doing too badly. They’re the Kaiser Wilheim of the Marvel Universe.

    Kup and Action Man team up with Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines! Kup and Action Man play Words With Friends physical edition! Kup and Action Man make Mr Frosty ice drinks!

  2. Zachary Adams says:

    Notes on Freeform, for the hosts and other non-US residents:

    Freeform dates to the 70s under a variety of different names, but their current identity is only a couple years old. Right-wing crank Pat Robertson started a cable channel called Christian Broadcasting Network in 77, then turned it into the Family Channel in the early/mid 80s with more secular, but still G-rated, programming. In the late 90s, he sold out to Fox and Haim Saban, with the understanding that the word “family” had to be in the name and they had to keep carrying Robertson’s religious magazine show The 700 Club. Fox then sold out their Saban assets including the channel to Disney, years before Disney bought Marvel proper, and it became ABC Family. The channel drifted without a real identity for a while, running shows like Pretty Little Liars which felt out of place with the older identity of the channel. By the time they were finally, contractually allowed to remove the word “Family” from the name last year, they had basically transitioned to the TV equivalent of YA Lit…plus the 700 Club, which they will have to air with a hilarious disclaimer until the Earth falls into the sun.

  3. SanityOrMadness says:

    The thing about the F4 is… I don’t see how you bring Reed/Sue/Franklin/Val back from the end of Secret Wars without hammering the “convenient amnesia” button hard. They’re basically going to be Element Lad in Legion Lost by the time they’re finished (re)making all those universes even presuming the power levels at play give them immortality.

    [And, speaking of Power Pack, wasn’t Alex Power one of their entourage in universe (re)making there?]

  4. Thomas says:

    Fellas thanks for the content you do provide. It’s anticipated and appreciated.

  5. Al says:

    @Martin – The final volume is billed as “Daredevil by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee”. It’s just a very odd choice by Marvel.

    @Thomas – Thank *you*!

  6. Ben says:

    “Wintercontinental title” is the kind of quality product I would pay for.

  7. mark coale says:

    Anyone have issues getting the show from on theit pod feed?

    As of 2145 ET, still not shown up.

    Will manually download.

  8. Brendan says:

    Do we need Reed, Sue, et al. back? ‘Secret Wars’ provided a pretty good resolution to the Reed/Doom feud and gave the F4 and FF characters a great ‘happily ever after’. Their comics didn’t sell and Sony has the cinematic rights. All the best F4 elements (The Thing, Galactus, Doom, Black Panther, the Inhumans – before they were distorted) are still in play in 616. Im sure after ‘Secret Empire’ Marvel will go back to basics like DC. But I can’t see why that would apply to the F4.

  9. Voord 99 says:

    “For the safety of all reality, Franklin Richards, your powers must be removed – until you are old enough to use them with maturity!!!”

    “It’s a Tuesday, then.”

  10. Sol says:

    My five cents on the “diversity doesn’t sell” thing and Comics Alliance folding:

    I haven’t read the original interviews, so this may not be the context intended, but I think “diversity doesn’t sell” is probably exactly true in the sense that you can’t toss in any old writer and artist with “diversity” to get a good selling book. In that sense, it isn’t that diversity HURTS a book; just that it cannot MAKE a book.

    Squirrel Girl and Ms Marvel aren’t great because their lead characters are women, one of them Muslim; they’re great because they are interesting, distinct characters who are wonderfully written and illustrated. America is the perfect example of the other way; they’ve taken what seemed to be a pretty interesting character and turned out a stinker of a comic. The problem there isn’t the diversity; but the solution isn’t diversity either. (It’s getting back to the fundamentals of storytelling, which is a major issue with the old whitebread books, too.)

    And as a long time Comics Alliance reader, I think a major problem I’ve had with them in the last few years has been their editorial voice which would usually (and I think did?) heavily promote something like America because “Diversity!” without a care whether the book was actually any good. It has certainly led to me trusting, say, House to Astonish’s reviews much more than CA’s. They might be more “professional”, but it seems clear you guys care more about good storytelling.

  11. Sol says:

    (Just want to be clear, I’m not saying Marvel shouldn’t be looking to add diversity. I think that’s a great idea. But if they want the books to be successful, they’ve got to find good solid creators to carry that diversity. And ideally to carry the established books, too.)

  12. Chris V says:

    Well, it’s been a truism in comic books for many decades now that most books without a decades long lineage sell pretty poorly.
    Most fans reading Marvel comics want to read about Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, the Mighty Thor, Cyclops, Professor X….and see them fighting people like Loki, Magneto, Mandarin, etc.
    They want characters and things that have been taking place in those comics since the 1960s.

    For a long time, the only series published by Marvel which had made it past 200 issues in a row were books which were launched prior to 1964.
    Spectacular Spider Man and X-Men are the only exceptions, and that’s because they were books featuring characters created prior to 1964.
    With all the relaunches now, it’s hard to know exactly.
    Although, this is still mostly true, based on which books have staying power or not. Maybe a few characters created in the 1970s are considered to have enough staying power to sustain reader interest now, since they’ve been around for decades too at this point.

    Marvel has decided to jettison a great deal of their original characters recently, even while they continue to push movies which feature most of those exact characters.

    A character like Tony Stark has been damaged goods for many years now, as I’d argue his character was too tarnished by the original Civil War to ever salvage. Marvel just decided to ignore that and continue on with the character, until last year.
    So, I don’t see a problem with getting rid of Stark and bringing in a new character to replace Iron Man.
    James Rhodes worked great as a replacement Iron Man in the 1980s.

    I’d argue that Marvel’s solutions aren’t the best way to go about introducing “legacy” characters.
    There are two Iron Man characters. One of them is a reformed Dr. Doom. One of them is a teenage girl, who they’re pushing very hard is a super-genius who is smarter than any other individual.
    It just seems like a mess to me, even with a strong creative team (if that’s what you consider Bendis).

    So, no, I don’t believe it’s a matter of “diversity doesn’t sell”.
    I’d say it’s a matter of in-grained comic book readers’ likes, and poor creative decisions.

  13. Jerry Ray says:

    @Chris V – So Marvel’s actually got 2 teenage/preteen African American females that it’s pushing as “the smartest person in the world” currently? (Moon Girl and the new Iron Person?) That’s maybe some of the “tripping over themselves to show how diverse they can be” stuff that’s backfiring on them, no?

    Regarding _America_: the first issue is possibly the overall worst comic I’ve read in 20+ years, at least back to those godawful Marvel UK books with the shoehorned-in X-Men guest appearances. It just seemed like a complete failure in all phases – storytelling, dialog, art, character, premise. I’m neutral to the character (maybe she’s been pushed a little too hard as the most awesome thing ever in her appearances to date), but man, that first issue was bad. I picked up the second issue to see if it was as bad, but while it wasn’t great, it wasn’t as terrible.

    Also, just a thank you to Al and Paul for keeping this podcast rolling, however sporadically. I’ve been a listener since the first episode, and I’ve been reading Paul’s reviews since the beginning back in the Usenet days. It always makes my day when I see a new review or a new episode of the podcast show up.

  14. Chris McFeely says:

    Thanks to the lads for sharing their thoughts on America #1 – my feelings about the book were SO at odds with the critical response to an extent I found extremely unusual, and I’m glad to hear some more measured criticism of it that matches my own experience from guys whose opinions I respect. I’m not one to ride the “conspiracy” train of critics treating such books with kid gloves, out of well-meaning intention or fear of disparaging them, but it really feels like this is one where they reviewed the concept of the comic’s existence, rather than the actual product delivered.

  15. Jerry Ray says:

    Same here, Chris – all the reviews I could find online were not just positive, they were 10/10 effusive. It was frankly bizarre.

  16. Brendan says:

    When it comes to brand loyalty to mainstream comics properties, I feel it (mostly) comes down to what got its hooks into you as a child.

    As a kid of the 90s, I’m far more tolerant with poor X-Men, Deadpool and Batman comics then I am with Avengers, JLA, etc. Where I imagine the kids who read comics in the ’00s would (broadly) defer to Avengers, due to their increased exposure since ‘Iron Man 1’.

    It takes time to build brand loyalty, especially in comics. I think its a good thing Marvel are looking to expand their properties from their 60s-80s stables. But Marvel’s gotta stick with it and produce good quality content.

  17. Voord 99 says:

    That’s an interesting point: Marvel expanding beyond the old characters by sticking with it and producing good books.

    I’m not sure that you can do that with Kamala Khan or Squirrel Girl, and the reason is because the market has shifted and what counts as quality with a new character is more about a specific individual creative voice.

    Kamala Khan, at least for me, is so closely associated with G. Willow Wilson that I’m uncomfortable with seeing anyone else write her as a solo character once her creator moves on. Let her fade into the background and appear in team books and the occasional guest appearance.

    (Incidentally, she also has powers that make her unsuitable for adaptation into live-action TV and film, which is a bit of a shame. Because she’s easily for me the recent Marvel character who would otherwise be best suited for adaptation, With Wilson’s involvement, that is.)

    As for Squirrel Girl, while she was of course a pre-existing character, the actual book is all about North/Henderson’s joint creative voice (as our hosts noted), so strongly so that she might as well be a new character.

  18. Joseph says:

    G Willow Wilson said it best in her post about this whole thing:

    “4. The direct market and the book market have diverged. Never the twain shall meet. We need to accept this and move on, and market accordingly.
    5. Not for nothing, but there is a direct correlation between the quote unquote “diverse” Big 2 properties that have done well (Luke Cage, Black Panther, Ms Marvel, Batgirl) and properties that have A STRONG SENSE OF PLACE. It’s not “diversity” that draws those elusive untapped audiences, it’s *particularity.* This is a vital distinction nobody seems to make. This goes back to authenticity and realism.
    AND FINALLY
    On a practical level, this is not really a story about “diversity” at all. It’s a story about the rise of YA comics. If you look at it that way, the things that sell and don’t sell (AND THE MARKETS THEY SELL IN VS THE MARKETS THEY DON’T SELL IN) start to make a different kind of sense.”

    http://gwillowwilson.com/post/159094504658/so-about-that-whole-thing

  19. […] We did a podcast this weekend!  It’s one post down!  Meanwhile, over in the UK singles chart, the era of Ed Sheeran glides serenely on… […]

  20. Chris V says:

    There’s a very good point in there about these new “diversity” characters, in that most of them are teen protagonists.
    They’re hip and Millennial and young.
    Well, at the same time, comic book readership has aged, statistically. Comic book fans are more likely to be in the age bracket of 30 to early-40s today, rather than the old demographic of kids or teens or college aged.

    One aspect of that is, certainly, cost. Comic books have gotten too expensive. Most of the remaining readers are people who have been reading comics since they were kids, back in the ’70s or ’80s, and are addicted to the characters.

    So, people in that older age bracket are less likely to be interested in a character who is meant to be a teenager and “hip”.
    In the long run, looking to the future and creating characters that younger readers might relate to is a good marketing idea.
    Peter Parker was once a high school kid, etc.

    However, the cost of individual comics is a barrier to allowing younger readers to decide that comics are something they want to buy every month.
    Maybe it is very true that these types of comics are going to sell much better as TPBs in the retail bookstore outlets.

    There is still the issue of quality creative teams with good ideas, of course.
    Ms. Marvel was a surprise hit, because it was a comic book trying to have fun and tell a story that wasn’t all that different from the Stan Lee Spider Man stories.
    Squirrel Girl is just plain genius, and very funny.
    The fact that it is, in many ways, gently poking fun at many age-old superhero tropes appeals to long-term comic fans also.
    They were comic books about a teenage protagonist which didn’t alienate an older reading public.

    I think some of the other books are trying too hard to try to appeal to a “Millennial” demographic, which feels inauthentic, and is alienating to core comic readers.

  21. Joseph says:

    @Chris V

    I think that’s what GW Wilson is getting at re: the rise of YA comics and the divergence of the market. Moon Giril, Ms Marvel, Squirrel Girl do very well in trade, at scholastic book fairs, and digitally, and im sure that’s equally true of America, the new Hawkeye, and any other “teen” book. Maintaining and building this audience is the future of Marvel. The medium will evolve and survive. Web comics, DIY, pwyw, Image, manga, wherever these comics are being made younger readers will find what they are interested in. If Marvel only appeals to their aging fan boys they won’t survive. They have to do both and can’t pretend that they are the same audience. It’s a tight rope.

    Comics changed with the advent of the direct market in the 70s, and that niche market changed the nature of serial visual storytelling by taking it off the impulse by newsstand and making it something that obsessive fans had to follow. It’s akin to the changes that DVD and streaming have had on tv storytelling.

    Now, the elephant in the room as far as I’m concern e is labour practices at the big two. The creators NEED a union. Full stop. Akin to writers and actors guilds in Hollywood. With fair labour practices and a season model, with breaks the way books like Saga work, the Big Two can begin to find their way again or sales will continue to shrink.

  22. Niall says:

    +1 to everyone!

  23. Jonny K says:

    On the “Artists don’t sell” thing, I’ve got slightly more sympathy for Alonso’s statement which was descriptive as “We can hype our artists all we want, but I don’t know if we know how many artists, besides maybe McNiven and Coipel, absolutely move the needle on anything to be drawn”. I mean, it’s sad that is the case, but it’s possible that that is the case for them.

    Also, on the double-shipping point — both Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri, who you cited as being able to build names on Uncanny X-Men in the 80s, did so as Uncanny was double-shipping. So double shipping isn’t the enemy.

  24. Voord 99 says:

    Now, the elephant in the room as far as I’m concern e is labour practices at the big two. The creators NEED a union. Full stop. Akin to writers and actors guilds in Hollywood. With fair labour practices and a season model, with breaks the way books like Saga work, the Big Two can begin to find their way again or sales will continue to shrink.

    Unless something radically changes about US labor law and the overall condition of unions in the US, the odds of unionization would strike me as extremely slight, I’m afraid.

    (Cynically, I don’t think it would do much to improve sales, either – which is not to say that it would not be a good thing.)

  25. jpw says:

    Question – I don’t know much about labor law, but wouldn’t a union make it harder for new writers and artists to break in to the business, unless they already have a connection to an insider? I’ve heard that has been one of the consequences with acting and with U.S. government jobs.

  26. Suzene says:

    I think I’m having more fun with the America comic more than Al and Paul, but I do largely agree with the criticisms. I don’t think Rivera brings anything to the book beyond authenticity, and, bluntly, there are actual comic writers out there who could bring that plus more familiarity with the medium. At the very least, her editor should be giving Rivera the helping hand that she’s obviously not getting.

  27. Joseph says:

    i don’t really agree with those criticisms (of unions as barriers to entry). first of all it all depends on what kind of collective agreement results from bargaining. but with the absence of any fair labor standards, especially in an industry that uses so much freelance labor, what results is a race to the bottom. who is willing to work for less? who is able to work for less? especially in the US where health insurance is an expensive joke for those who don’t have good coverage plans offered through their employer, we put up with exploitative conditions across the board because life is too precarious to rock the boat. absent a larger labor movement (or one might say, after decades of the power of workers being intentionally dismantled) many unions have become entrenched and conservative forces, protecting their members (which is after all their raison d’etre). but the result of no industry standards means workers being exploited with no means of protection. would unions make it harder to break in? it could be, but look at the number of artists struggling to get by now. one of the comics news sites recently shared an article by a full-time comic artist whose 2016 taxable earning amounted to something like $13,000, and this doesn’t seem to be anomalous. i can’t find the link but many creators are very reluctant to have these conversations publicly but what has trickled out doesn’t look good. i suppose it’s an open question as to weather a union would affect creativity in a positive or negative way but… look, creators have no collective power when it comes to negotiating things like royalties on trade sales, digital, licensing, etc, that is, the kinds of reasons that lead to the Image founders departing Marvel, or lead to the Writers strike in Hollywood in ’07. How many expensive trials did it take to establish that artist’s should own their originals and have them returned? This probably contributes to the Big Two mostly looking the other when artists do sketches or commissions, which many artists depend upon. The business is not sustainable is talent is going to be treated like this. Again, I think the exodus of writers from Marvel to Image since 2012 has a lot to do with these factors.

  28. Billy says:

    “Diversity doesn’t sell” comes off as a hollow or misguided excuse when comics have for so long faced the much more general “new characters don’t sell” issue.

    When you consider the success rate of new characters in general, diversity might actually be helping. It isn’t a miracle solution that turns everything into a guaranteed success, but it feels like Marvel has had a bit more success with newer characters of late.

    I’d say that Kamala Khan Ms. Marvel owes at least some success to her sex, race, and/or religion. I don’t think “Mr. Marvel,” a white teenage boy, would have the same following. Of course it all also relies on writing; Ms. Marvel could easily have been a really awful book with many other writers.

    I’d argue that Moon Girl is almost an opposite of Ms. Marvel. They are both really smart kid Inhuman-based female legacy heroes of color, but the rest of their stories are different. Moon Girl’s book was pretty meh, and it feels like it was trying too hard to sell the character without really giving a reason for people to care about the character. Moon Girl just doesn’t have much character.

  29. Voord 99 says:

    I quite like Moon Girl, and think Lunella Lafayette is probably the best thing to come out of the attempt to push that version of the Inhumans to the forefront. You can tell stories with her that aren’t as well served by any other character in the MCU.

    The problem with the book is Devil Dinosaur, whose sole contribution to the story is visual appeal. And, yes, he is visually appealing, and there are some very cute panels. But at the end of the day, Devil needs to have some necessary connection to the plot, and he really doesn’t. You could take him out entirely, and make the book “Lunella, the Child Supergenius Who Really Doesn’t Want to Be an Inhuman,” and absolutely nothing central to the plot would be affected.

  30. Voord 99 says:

    Just to clarify: Ms. Marvel’s connection to the Inhumans is entirely disposable to my mind, so she doesn’t count as “coming out of that version of the Inhumans.” If Kamala Khan had been created a few years out in either direction, she would have been a mutant, and nothing significant would change.

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