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Mar 20

The X-Axis – 20 March 2011

Posted on Sunday, March 20, 2011 by Paul in x-axis

It’s the weekend of the Chicago comicon!  I’m sure all sorts of interesting things have been announced.  I’ll read the round-ups on Monday.

Meanwhile, it’s a busy week for reviews, with five X-books and a bunch of other interesting (or at least noteworthy) titles.  So to work…

Fear Itself: Book of the Skull – Billed as the prologue to the upcoming Fear Itself crossover.  Matt Fraction is writing the main event, but this lead-in one-shot is by Ed Brubaker, presumably because it spins out of his Captain America storylines.  The Red Skull is apparently dead, and his estranged daughter Sin is planning to carry on the family tradition.  So she and Baron Zemo raid an abandoned Red Skull base, in order to lay hands on a Magic Widget which will clearly be of tremendous importance to the upcoming crossover.  The angle is that Sin is going to outdo her father by revisiting one of his failed plans from World War II and getting it right this time.  Cue an extended flashback, with Captain America, Bucky and the Sub-Mariner thwarting a Nazi plan that can fairly be described as enigmatically vague.  Scot Eaton’s art is fine, though the inking’s a bit heavy for my taste.  But the big pay-off is rather undermined by the fact that it really just tells us something that was already in the adverts for the series proper, accompanied by some vague hinting that will no doubt make sense in seven months’ time.  It’s a perfectly acceptable comic, but I can’t honestly say it gets me excited about the crossover.

Generation Hope #5 – Now that the cast has been assembled, this book is hitting its stride properly.  This is essentially a second issue of the Lights settling in on Utopia, but focussing more in the question of how the group as a whole relates to the X-Men.  Poor, marginalised Professor X shows up to introduce himself to the group, only to get a lecture about how times have changed.  And Emma, who clearly doesn’t much care for Hope, struggles to assert her authority.  Actually, the Hope/Emma stuff teeters on the brink of overdoing it; it leaves Emma looking like a bit of an idiot, and I have some difficulty believing that she crumbles quite that quickly in the face of insubordination.  It’s fine if you view it as a special case of her being intimidated by Hope – I take it that Emma too finds Hope worryingly reminiscent of Jean Grey, or worse, Phoenix, and doesn’t much care for either thought.  But it might be trying a little hard to make the new character look cool at the expense of an established one.  Jamie McKelvie is this month’s guest artist, reuniting the creative team from Phonogram, and he’s very well suited to an issue which is entirely character-driven.  Oh, and we finally get a clear statement of what I’d kind of been hoping was the case: that the Five Lights are, officially, just the first of a new wave of mutants, so the “no more mutants” era is finally behind us.  I’m a little less sure about the idea of Hope having to stabilise all the new mutants – it got a bit repetitive even in the “Five Lights” arc, and I don’t really want it to be the springboard for every arc in this book.  Still, a good issue overall.

Hulk #30.1 – I’ve heard that Jeff Parker has been doing good work on this book since taking it over, so I thought I’d try the Point One issue.  The whole Point One programme seems to be going badly off the rails, with a number of issues that either don’t work as jumping on points, or are sunk by incomprehensible scheduling.  (We’ll come to one of those later.)  But Jeff Parker does understand how this is supposed to work, and has indeed delivered an issue which establishes the premise and sets up a new storyline.  Thunderbolt Ross is the Red Hulk; he’s trying to atone for what he did in the Jeph Loeb run; he’s now working for the government thanks to Steve Rogers; but other people are out for revenge.  Parker’s obviously playing up the dramatic irony here: Ross has taken over the Hulk’s role, and his enemies are people who are setting out to fill his shoes.  All of which makes perfect sense, and it’s a well executed comic, with Gabriel Hardman and Tom Palmer providing some neat old-school Hulk art.

Well, I say it makes perfect sense.  There does seem to be a glaring plot hole, or at least an obvious question that isn’t addressed: if the Red Hulk is working for the government, then why doesn’t he just get his new pursuers shut down?  I’m kind of confused by that, and it does hang rather uncomfortably over the story.  Since Parker is no fool, I’m kind of figuring that there is an explanation, but it’s not one that comes across in this issue, and since it’s meant to be a jumping on point…

Aside from that, though, it’s a good introductory issue.  But I can’t say I find Ross a compelling enough character that I want to read a whole series about him.  Often a problem when characters are put into a role for which they weren’t designed, and Parker’s got an angle here that makes sense, but I’m just not gripped.

Iceman & Angel – Another of the “X-Men First Class” one-shots, which are set to be collected in May for an extremely tenuous movie tie-in.  Are these things supposed to be in continuity?  For the movie?  For the Marvel Universe?  For X-Men: First Class (the series which inspired the title of the movie and from the looks of it not a great deal else)?  This one’s downright confusing.  It’s got Bobby and Warren on spring break, and for the most part it seems to be going for early Silver Age, but it also inexplicably references Wolverine.  How did that slip through?

So… Warren and Bobby are hanging around New York, and a giant monster attacks, and they fight him, and yeah, that’s pretty much it.  But the plot’s really just a backdrop for Brian Clevinger to play the characters off against one another, and there’s some fun banter in here – such as the immature Bobby musing about how awesome it would be if Warren had, like, knives for wings…  Art is by Juan Doe, and I don’t recall seeing him doing interior art before.  As it turns out, his work here looks nothing like his cover art – but it’s good work, with clear storytelling and a nice spontaneously sketchy feel to it.  The issue as a whole could use a bit more plot to hang everything on, but it’s very readable.

Knight & Squire #6 – The final issue of Paul Cornell and Jimmy Broxton’s curious miniseries, which hasn’t been about the title characters so much as a whole milieu of mock-Silver Age British superheroes.  This issue, the actual Joker shows up to express his disdain for the whole thing – and just in case anybody hadn’t figured out that this series is a reaction against pseudo-realism in the superhero genre, he’s also controlling people’s minds using V For Vendetta masks.  Cornell’s basic thesis seems to be that there’s more complexity to these characters than meets the eye, given the layers of irony and humour that are built into them,  and conversely rather less to the Joker than you’d think, since he’s basically just a one-dimensional psycho.  I’m going to re-read this series and see how it holds up, since it’s a bit episodic – and the last couple of pages of this issue do feel a bit rushed.  But it’s been an entertaining read, and an interesting attempt to challenge the genre’s often rather adolescent idea of what constitutes complexity.

Ruse #1 – The second relaunched CrossGen title is rather closer to its original incarnation.  Mark Waid’s pseudo-Victorian detective series now has the Sigil elements apparently stripped out, leaving it as a straightforward Victorian detective series.  Well, maybe still pseudo-Victorian, actually, since there are some odd references here to a Royal Family that don’t seem quite real-world.  It’s a simple set-up – Simon Archard is the acclaimed world’s greatest detective, and Emma Bishop is the long-suffering partner (or assistant, as Archard would have it) who has to put up with him and serve as his contact with reality.  They investigate stuff, he’s a genius, and it works very nicely on a combination of well-constructed plots and strong character interaction with some fun comedy asides.  Waid was doing some very good oddball detective stories recently on Unknown, and many of the same qualities are in evidence here.  The risk with this kind of set-up is that you end up with characters who are obviously knock-offs of Holmes and Watson, but Waid avoids that pitfall effortlessly.  Mirco Pierfederici’s art has a good sense of location and nicely expressive characters.  Good issue.

Uncanny X-Force #5.1 – Another Point One comic, and this is the sort that makes you wonder what on earth Marvel can be thinking.  In fairness, Rick Remender clearly does get the idea.  He’s written a single issue story where X-Force take on the Reavers (er, weren’t they mostly dead already?), largely as a background to Psylocke agonising over whether she’s taking too much enjoyment in X-Force’s work when she ought to see it as a necessary evil.  That’s really the central theme of the series and it’s absolutely something to put front and centre in this issue.  The issue also nudges the overall plot along by having X-Force nearly cross paths with the regular X-Men, hinting at how Scott might react when he finds that they’re still around.  Rafael Albuquerque’s art is a little rough for my taste, and I think he oversells Psylocke’s angst, but there are some good striking panels, and he draws good Reavers.

But the scheduling!  What maniac decided that this issue should come out between issues #5 and 6 of the regular series?  The Point One books, let us remember, were supposed to be jumping on points.  So, you might expect that if you bought this book and enjoyed it, you could pick up issue #6 and start reading, right?  Wrong!  Because issue #6 is chapter two of a storyline in progress, to which this issue is completely unrelated.  This is all the more baffling because the issue would fit in quite happily between issues #4 and #5.  All they needed to do was swap the order of two issues and it would have been a perfectly good jumping on point.  But they didn’t, and they’ve blown it.  It doesn’t work as a jumping on point at all.  It doesn’t even contain a summary of the storyline in progress.  There’s a “next issue” page, but all it contains is the cover art for issue #6, and what’s that supposed to achieve?  It doesn’t even list the shipping date!

To be honest, the Point One books don’t seem to have made much difference to sales anyway, so the failings in execution may be academic.  But still, to create jumping-on issues that aren’t labelled as such and don’t ship in the correct sequence?  What were they thinking?

Uncanny X-Men Annual #3 – This is the first part of “Escape from the Negative Zone”, a crossover running through this issue, Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier Annual #1 and Namor: The First Mutant Annual #1.  As you can imagine with that billing, I didn’t have my hopes up for this.  As it turns out, though, it’s actually pretty good.  The set-up is basically that a random lab explosion sends four of the X-Men off to the Negative Zone, which of course they don’t recognise because it’s a Fantastic Four concept.  The plot is slight, but that’s not a problem, because James Asmus’ story really just uses it as a backdrop for the characters to interact in.  The utterly random “X-Men” team for this story is Cyclops, Hope, Namor and Dr Nemesis, the idea being that Cyclops is stuck with a team who don’t accept him as their leader.  Namor and Dr Nemesis both think they ought to be in charge, and Hope just thinks Cyclops is infuriatingly condescending.  And she’s right, of course.  It works because, aside from providing some comedy, it also forces Cyclops out of his established role as the unquestioned leader, and that’s a good story.  Nick Bradshaw’s art won’t be to everyone’s taste – there’s a degree of distortion on the faces that some people will hate – but I think it’s beautiful work.  He’s good with emotion, and he’s able to render stock Kirby environments in a way that makes them seem fresh.  There’s a vaguely Art Adams quality to some of it.  I’d like to see more from him.  An unexpectedly strong issue.

X-Factor #217 – Part 2 of the J Jonah Jameson story.  Ballistique and Rococo are trying to kill him, X-Factor are trying to protect him, and he gets to make a speech about tolerance about halfway through to show that he’s a multifaceted character.  No Spider-Man this issue, but there’s a big role for the Black Cat.  It’s the sort of issue that’s kind of hard to comment on since it’s basically a story being advanced – it’s good, but for the same reasons that Peter David’s X-Factor is always good, rather than for any particular stand-out qualities of this issue.  Continuity wonks will wish to note that the book seems to be gearing up to address the dreaded question of “What’s the connection between Longshot and Shatterstar?”  Good luck with that one – Shatterstar’s back story has been utterly incomprehensible since the 1990s, thanks to a horrifically botched X-Force storyline that (allegedly) even the writer couldn’t understand by the time the editors had finished with it.  Actually, there’s something to be said for  sweeping all that stuff away in order to put Shatterstar on more secure foundations as a character, but it’s going to be a challenge.

Xombi #1 – There’s something quite endearing about DC’s disregard for common sense.  A revival of Xombi from the Milestone imprint?  Not a bad idea.  Many people will tell you that Milestone had plenty of good characters with untapped potential.  But launching straight into it as an ongoing series?  It seems insane – but a part of me is kind of glad that DC are crazy enough to do it anyway.

I didn’t read the original series, but John Rozum and Frazer Irving seem to be picking up where it left off.  To be honest, I wouldn’t have minded a slightly clearer explanation of the back story (by which I mean, a couple of panels covering the origin flashback, or maybe a one-page back-up strip).  But in principle I’m all for jumping straight into the story and filling in the details as we go along.  David Kim has – somehow or other – had his body fused with loads of nanotech machines, and now he’s sort of immortal with vaguely defined powers.  That’s the relatively normal bit.  Then you get to the story, which is a lunatic rush of insane and sometimes vaguely disturbing concepts – talking coins, evil papier mache, supporting characters called Catholic Girl and Nun Of The Above.  And some saturated colouring only makes it odder.

You could make a case that it’s maybe a little heavy on the freeform weirdness at the expense of giving the reader something to hang on to, but it’s so distinctive and bizarre that I can’t help liking it.  I’ll be stunned if this finds an audience, but I really hope I”m wrong.

Bring on the comments

  1. ZZZ says:

    I wonder if the Negative Zone story will actually reference the first time the X-Men fought Blastaar (“the living bomb burst!” – has any character ever had a worse descriptor?) waaaay back in 1969’s X-Men (Vol. 1) 53. On the one hand, no one really expects writers to reference storeis from 42 years ago (and many would criticize them for doing so), on the other hand, it’s kind of a shame to have grizzled veteran Cyclops meet Blastaar and not take advantage of the fact that Cyclops met Blastaar once before back when he was practically still a rookie.

    (And if they act like they’ve never met before, it would also be kind of disappointing to think that someone wrote a story about two characters who’ve been around for so long meeting “for the first time” without bothering to type their names into Google together and make sure it really is the first time, but I suppose I ought to wait and see how it plays out before criticizing the path they may or may not take.)

    Throwing the Steve Rogers annual into an otherwise X-Men related crossover seems incredible random, but there obviously is a connection between him and Namor so maybe there’ll actually be a point to it in the end.

  2. mchan says:

    I was actually quite amused by the Uncanny X-Men annual as well. I think Cyclops is being written a little bit out of character, which seems to be the point of this exercise, but it’s a good tongue-in-cheek look at him from a more comedic standpoint. He really comes across as a dick in this book (to borrow from the film), but in a funny way as opposed to the main title, where he’s just a serious dick. The interaction between him and Hope really makes for some good character work; it’s a shame, though, that the Cyclops here has to be completely dissociated from the context of the mainstream line to get this across. He keeps having these office meetings with Hope in the other books, but there’s no “chemistry,” for lack of a better word, between them or just for Cyclops in general.

    I think that this is probably the price of having to be the central character in a sprawling cast of characters. It may have been a problem with Marvel’s scheduling and delays, but Cyclops has seems to be coming under a lot of constant backlash in the X-books than Professor X did not when he was “in charge.” My question, though, is whether it is actually the X-books building to something, or if it’s just pure coincidence. At least at this point, it seems to me to be indicative of the problem of Utopia and this sense of malaise that what’s supposed to be the flagship X-Men title appears to conjure up. Utopia under siege just doesn’t have the thrall that it did when the X-Men first got there.

    In that sense, it’s good that Generation Hope is starting to move in…well, the old direction (which I think it particularly will if the team leaves Utopia, which the latest issue seems to hint at). But Uncanny just seems to be flailing. I want to say that I hope that X-Men: Prelude will be what the doctor ordered, but isn’t the larger problem that I have to keep saying that for each successive event?

  3. Matt says:

    RE: Hulk #30.1.

    I thought it was pretty clear that Fortean and his people had gone semi-rogue, and were acting independently. Just a thought.

  4. Ken B. says:

    Uncanny Annual #3 was a very good book, and Bradshaw’s art was lovely, like Hope’s face pull when she has to team up with Scott. I especially liked how Scott purposely goads Hope into being combative.

    Disappointed with Knight & Squire #6 because while the other issues were just fun stories this issue seemed like Cornell was trying to prove a point to an argument that no one brought up, and it felt a bit like a repressed viewpoint finally being set off by something. It could have even been a dig at other British writers for going too dark in the past twenty years, but it just didn’t click.

  5. Terence says:

    “What were they thinking?”
    Simple. More product, more market share. That is all the .1 ‘initiative’ was about. Gaining new readers was just an excuse and some marketing flim flam.

  6. ZZZ says:


    I’m just waiting for the endless string of retcons that “prove” that Cyclops has been a cold-blooded Machiavellian jerk behind the scenes all along. When that starts, he truly will have become the heir to Xavier’s X-Men legacy. (And then Rogue will take over all his books, and he’ll have become the heir heir to Xavier’s X-Men: Legacy.)

    Predictions: one of the times Scott left the team, he formed his own team, go them all killed, and came crawling back to Xavier. He also has known that his visor was sentient all along but never told anyone. And he has an autistic illegitimate son that there’s no way he could have not known about but he’s completely ignored until he develops powers and runs amok (maybe he’s Teon’s dad!). And that was actually Mystique that got sucked into the Negative Zone – Scott hired her to replace him while he plans for a Phalanx invasion, and didn’t tell anyone. And one of Lobe’s henchmen is actually someone who came to Scott hoping to join the X-Men and he was feeling saucy that day so he sent them on an open-ended undercover mission to work with their enemies to funnel him intel that he’ll never ever actually use, and didn’t tell anyone not they’re on the good guys’ side.

  7. mchan says:


    HA! That’s probably exactly how it is.

    By the way, I apologize for all the grammar errors in that sentence comparing Cyclops to Professor X. Looks like I typed and retyped that sentence a few times too many.

    Nevertheless, I feel like the majority of Professor X’s shortcomings were always based in him being too “perfect” as a character. Every time the Professor isn’t acting quite right, it’s either a Skrull impersonator, Onslaught, or something bizarre that is not the actual Professor, but some kind of projection of him in one way or another. Whereas with Cyclops (for now, at least), he’s just being himself, or whatever the status quo of himself is defined as now, and all his shortcomings are those pointed out by those around him, not necessarily shortcomings that develop out of himself. Either it’s that Professor X has ended up, even now with his revised “legacy,” being too saintly, or there’s some master plan behind Cyclops taking it from all around and pretty much refusing to budge in the face of it all. Everyone was “concerned” about the Professor when he acted like an ass, but it just seems that everyone “hates” and criticizes Cyclops now. Surely, as the Annual attempts to make tribute to, the Professor’s motivations for wanting to send Kitty to the New Mutants comes from a much nicer place than Cyclops being depicted as a dick in regards to Hope, pretty much just because he can.

    Go figure ;p.

  8. The original Matt says:

    “He also has known that his visor was sentient all along but never told anyone.”

    Pure gold.

  9. wwk5d says:

    “But it might be trying a little hard to make the new character look cool at the expense of an established one.”

    Hasn’t that been the policy at Marvel for the last decade or so?

    “He’s written a single issue story where X-Force take on the Reavers (er, weren’t they mostly dead already?)”

    Never let continuity stand in the way of storytelling!

  10. alex says:

    Read Generation Hope 1-5 tonight.

    Are they the “new New Mutants” just without the kiss of death name, like how Young Justice weren’t the Teen Titans, but were?

    As an American Anglophile, I loved Knight and Squire.

    logistic question — If the IDW Doctor Who comic is going to be available digitally, will it be officially available in the UK and if so, might we see it finally reviewed in the podcast? I believe AL or Paul told me once the IDW book isn’t sold officially sold in the UK.

  11. Charles Knight says:

    “As an American Anglophile, I loved Knight and Squire.”

    As your actual Englishman, I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about – average art and waffer thin stories.

  12. Jeff says:

    What did you think of the latest issue of Amazing Spider-man? I’m beginning to think it is the best old school series on the shelves. I feel exactly like I’m reading an 80’s Marvel comic, which I mean as extremely high praise. It’s making me feel like a kid again.

  13. sam says:

    The original Xombi series is worth tracking down. The weirdness of David Kim’s situation is surprisingly touching; he wants to be a hero, but his body keeps betraying him. He had a rabbi sidekick, too, as I recall. The art was spectacular, by someone named J.J. Birch. I’m looking forward to reading this new one.

  14. Heinz Hochkoepper says:

    Paul, I don’t understand why you think that DC’s decision to publish Xombi contradicts common sense or is insane. Both DC and Marvel launch books all the time that everybody knows won’t be top sellers (DC does this more frequently and doesn’t cancel them as quickly as Marvel, but the general practice is the same). I’ll never understand why people criticize this or call the books failures when they inevitably get cancelled. Where’s the disadvantage to this policy? The publishers make some money, creators and fans are happy (assuming not everybody wants to create or read only books about the most popular characters), maybe they can even broaden the customer base a little by offering more diversity in their product. If your point was just that limited series make more sense for niche characters than ongoing series, I don’t understand that either. Ongoing series can adapt the length of their run to their reception in the marketplace. Sure, some get cancelled so fast they might just as well have been limited series from the start (Freedom Fighters is a recent example), but others last much longer than expected (Booster Gold, Power Girl, Doom Patrol). We would have been deprived of a lot of great comics if all these had only been limited series.

  15. JD says:

    It’s kinda bizarre for Marvel to be publishing a Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier annual, given that it was a mini-series, and that it ended its publication months ago. Couldn’t they just make it a Captain America annual ? (Especially considering the news that Steve Rogers is taking over half the book soon…)

    While I agree the publishing schedule of the .1 issues makes no sense whatsoever (coming soon : a .1 issue one month before a title’s cancellation/relaunch ! .1 issues for miniseries !), I loved the approach taken for Deadpool #33.1. Sure, #33-34 is a two-parter taking Deadpool in space while #33.1 is set on Earth, but the issue took advantage of this by having an opening page lampooning the concept by giving ridiculous contrivances so that Deadpool can come back to Earth in the middle of the ongoing story.

  16. Paul says:

    Heinz: The argument assumes that the alternative is to publish nothing, when in fact there are two other alternatives: (i) publish with enough promotion to give the book a realistic shot of survival, or (ii) publish as a miniseries, since the book will almost certainly get axed within a year anyway. (In the highly unlikely event that it does well enough to survive, great. Launch an ongoing series off the back of the well-received mini.)

    The current approach trains readers and retailers to believe that most new titles are bound to fail, as well as frustrating readers when a book they liked is axed within a year. All of this only makes it harder to persuade readers to pick up the NEXT launch. It’s a downward spiral.

  17. Taibak says:

    Heinz: It’s also assuming that the publishers are making substantial profits off of these. Given the sales figures, you have to wonder.

  18. Micah says:

    Xombi was great! I really liked the establishment of the supporting cast right away. Initially I just saw that Frazer was on the art, and the previews’ write-up was good enough for me to pick it up. Now I’m really excited about the next issue. It has a BPRD-vibe where this guy is going to explore the weird.

  19. Heinz Hochkoepper says:

    Paul: I think that the subject of promotion has been extensively covered in various interviews with representatives of the big two. The bottom line is always the same: heavily promoting a niche title is a waste of money, since it never succeeds to increase a book’s sales enough to cover the costs of promotion (understand, this isn’t my opinion, it’s what Marvel and DC have said repeatedly).
    As for your second alternative, this may apply to Marvel, who often cancel low-selling books after four of five issues, but less so to DC, who have seen quite a few niche titles running two years or longer (Jonah Hex is about to hit 70! Who would have bet on that when it launched?)
    Why do you say that “The current approach trains readers and retailers to believe that most new titles are bound to fail”, when going by your argument, most new titles (at DC) are actually quite successful, since they last much longer than the mini-series that you consider the likeliest alternative? As I said, when a niche title lasts two years or longer, that’s not failure, that’s success. Why on earth would readers be frustated with getting 10 or 20 issues of a book they enjoy instead of 4 or 6?

    Taibak: I said some money, not substantial profits. And you don’t have to wonder about that, if these kinds of books weren’t profitable at all, they wouldn’t keep lauching them.

  20. Brian says:

    Heinz, you’re not really trying to draw a direct comparison between Jonah Hex (a character who debuted back in ’72 and lasted 8 years in a solo series, or 10 if you want to count the ridiculous “Hex” series which followed it) with friggin’ Xombi, are you?
    Most of these niche titles at DC involve at least some long-established and recognizable properties, even if they weren’t big stars.

    I’m sure the three remaining fans who actually read Xombi back in the 90s are delighted to see this series return, but I think it’d be a better idea to test the waters with a mini first.

  21. Heinz Hochkoepper says:

    Brian: No direct comparison. I was talking about niche titles in general (for lack of a better term). As for ‘testing the waters’ with a mini, DC sometimes does this (Batman Beyond), but I don’t really see a lot of advantages in this policy. If the mini is successful enough to launch in ongoing, they could have done that in the first place. If it’s not, all that means is that fans only get 4 issues instead of 8 or 10. What’s preferable about that?

  22. Brian says:

    “If the mini is successful enough to launch in ongoing, they could have done that in the first place.”

    So, you’re suggesting that they just shouldn’t even bother with minis and go straight-to-ongoing.

    That doesn’t work. I’m sick of latching onto titles and investing myself in the characters and concepts involved only to have the rug pulled out from under me by an early cancellation. A lot of fans feel similarly, and consequently won’t even bother with certain ongoing titles if they have an inkling that they just can’t succeed in today’s market. Who needs the aggravation?

    Aborted ongoing titles often end hastily as the writer scrambles to bring satisfying closure to the series after getting his notice. The result is often unsatisfying, and of course, as a reader you’re disappointed. And with what comics cost these days, I’m not willing to make those kind of investments.

    But if I see a new ongoing series being launched on the heels of a successful miniseries, I can have a greater degree of confidence that I won’t be the only one reading the thing. The mini (which perhaps I’ve already read) must have done well on SOME level (critically or commercially) for an ongoing to get green-lit. That’s no guarantee it’s going to last more than a year, but it’s a good sign.

    Now, you might have a different attitude from me about this, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are readers who are very much like me out there. There are books that don’t get the following that they could get because readers like me have already made the conscious decision not to buy the thing for fear of an early cancellation.

    And if you launch everything as an ongoing you’re just making this problem worse because not everything is going to be a winner. That’s why the folks in television like to do pilots. The miniseries is essentially the same thing as a pilot episode.

    Which brings me to my next point about the people who actually work on the things. Don’t you think it’s better for the creators involved to be signed on for a miniseries that they know going in will be a one-off and MAY or may not be picked for an ongoing? You know, rather than immediately say “Here you go! Full-time gig!” as they make financial plans for their family only to get a call from their editor eight months later saying “Sorry, I guess we misread the market. Nobody seems to want this.”

  23. Heinz Hochkoepper says:

    “So, you’re suggesting that they just shouldn’t even bother with minis and go straight-to-ongoing.”

    Not as a general rule. I guess there are a lot of factors involved in those decisions. Besides the expected sales success, there’s also the kind of story they want to tell (many minis are out to tell a finite story), the commitment of the creative team, the place the book has in the overall publishing plan, and so on. I’m just saying there’s nothing wrong with launching niche concepts as ongoing series, and hoping for the best.

    “I’m sick of latching onto titles and investing myself in the characters and concepts involved only to have the rug pulled out from under me by an early cancellation.”

    As I said, that’s an attitude that I just can’t understand. Why should it make anyone sick to get 10 or 20 issues of a book they enjoy instead of 4 or 6?

    “Aborted ongoing titles often end hastily as the writer scrambles to bring satisfying closure to the series after getting his notice.”

    That is true in some cases, but it only affects the last few issues, so all in all you will still have gotten more books to enjoy than you would have gotten if it was only a mini. Besides, often writers and editors are smart enough to plan for the possibility of cancellation and create cut-off points in their long-range plans for a book. That should be common practice for every niche book.

    “There are books that don’t get the following that they could get because readers like me have already made the conscious decision not to buy the thing for fear of an early cancellation.”

    That may be true, though I am not quite convinced. I don’t see minis generally outselling ongoings. Personally, I would be quite disappointed if quirky or challenging concepts would only appear in minis.

    “You know, rather than immediately say “Here you go! Full-time gig!” as they make financial plans for their family only to get a call from their editor eight months later saying “Sorry, I guess we misread the market. Nobody seems to want this.””

    I can’t believe any creator could be this naive. In pretty much every interview I read with creators about a new book they’re working on, there are statements along the lines of ‘I have long-term plans for this book, but I’ll have to wait and see how it does sales-wise.’

    Bottom line is, the idea of ‘testing the waters’ with a mini doesn’t seem to have a lot of appeal to publishers, since they do it so rarely (in fact, I think the general assumption is that most minis just don’t sell, and looking at the charts, that seems true). And as for the appeal to the fans, even though I obviously respect your opinion, I still find it hard to wrap my head around the idea that someone would rather get 4 or 6 issues of a book they enjoy than 10 or 20.

  24. Fake says:

    Yes, there’s a comparison between Jonah Hex and friggin’ Xombi. Both have a built-in audience that’s negligible. The ten people who both read the first Jonah Hex comic and have been enjoying the current one from a rocking chair at the old folk’s home, they all haven’t survived to get this month’s issue.

    But I could be wrong. Maybe finding out if Hex stops those cattle rustlers this month and the occasional extra pudding cup a nurse sneaks them is what gives them the will to wake up every morning.

    I don’t understand not buying a comic because it’s going to be canceled. Every DC/Marvel comic you’re buying that hasn’t been published almost every month for 40+ years, it’s going to be canceled. Probably very soon if it isn’t a Bat, X or whatever spin-off. Almost certainly before its writer planned for it to end.

    And any writer/artist who gets an on-going starring a Namor or Atom and thinks they have a guaranteed paycheck for years to come is a moron ignorant of the basics of the market.

  25. Jerry Ray says:

    It’s not really about the number of issues. I’d rather get 4 issues that tell a complete story (perhaps the same story that would have been told in the opening arc of an ongoing) than 6 or 8 issues where the last couple were “abort all storylines, abandon all subplots, and try to produce some sort of conclusion” issues. In other words, I’d rather have 4 issues according to plan rather than 6 or 8 or 10 where the creators had to rework stuff (usually in an unsatisfying way) due to cancellation.

    While Xombi and Hex may have “negligible fanbase at launch” in common, a comic launched in 1972 (when average comics were selling 6 figures) had a lot better shot than a comic launched in 2011 (when average comics are selling low-to-mid 5 five figures and minor launches are selling 4 figures), so that’s really not a fair comparison.

  26. Brian says:

    “I’d rather get 4 issues that tell a complete story (perhaps the same story that would have been told in the opening arc of an ongoing) than 6 or 8 issues where the last couple were “abort all storylines, abandon all subplots, and try to produce some sort of conclusion” issues. In other words, I’d rather have 4 issues according to plan rather than 6 or 8 or 10 where the creators had to rework stuff (usually in an unsatisfying way) due to cancellation.”

    Precisely how I feel about it.

  27. Heinz Hochkoepper says:

    Jerry: When you put it that way, I’d have to agree. But the scenario you describe sounds like very poor planning on the publisher’s or editor’s side. Can you think of any examples of books actually ending that way? I know I’ve read some interviews with writers whose books got cancelled, and usually they got word a few months in advance and had time to wrap up their storylines.

  28. Jerry Ray says:

    Paul or somebody can probably come up with a better list off the cuff than I can, as I don’t have the memory for comics that I used to.

    _The Order_ (I think that was the book – the California-based team book with Pepper Potts as a member) comes to mind immediately. Recently, _Young Allies_ got canned without even publishing an issue that was already done.

    It’s certainly not uncommon – that “time to wrap up their storylines” usually just means exactly what I wrote – abort the storylines, abandon the subplots, and try to twist things into a semblance of a conclusion.

  29. Heinz Hochkoepper says:

    Interesting that both your examples are Marvel books. I don’t want to turn this into a DC vs. Marvel thing, but I can’t deny that I strongly prefer the one to the other.

    “It’s certainly not uncommon – that “time to wrap up their storylines” usually just means exactly what I wrote – abort the storylines, abandon the subplots, and try to twist things into a semblance of a conclusion.”

    Here I disagree. Writers aren’t stupid. They are aware of their books’ sales figures. They know they shouldn’t start year-long storylines when their books are at a certain sales level. When the word comes from editorial that the book will be cancelled in a few months, they should generally have enough time to end their major plotlines, maybe cutting out a few subplots or detours, which strikes me as an acceptable loss. I just reread Shadowpact, and that series ended quite gracefully, at a logical end point. Doom Patrol (my favourite DCU book) isn’t in the middle of a long storyline, so I see no problems there (aside from the fact that I’ll miss the book, of course).

  30. Jerry Ray says:

    I don’t read much DC stuff (just JSA) – none of their short run, likely to be cancelled tomorrow books. So everything I’m talking about is based on reading Marvel stuff for the past 30+ years. The sense I have of things is that it’s the exception that creators are given the luxury of wrapping things up more or less as they’d originally intended. You can go all the way back to Omega the Unknown to find a good early example of this phenomenon.

    Just because editorial may say “well, sales look bad, so you’ve got another 1 or 2 or 3 issues to wrap things up and then your run is ending” doesn’t mean that those 1 or 2 or 3 issues will contain a wrap-up that’s really “satisfying.” (And sometimes, the creators don’t even get those 1 or 2 or 3 issues.)

  31. Heinz Hochkoepper says:

    Now it’s clear our different viewpoints are mostly based on the fact that we prefer different companies. Everything you say may be true for Marvel (and you’ve definitely come up with a few good examples), but it simply isn’t true for DC. DC doesn’t have “likely to be cancelled tomorrow books”, except for same rare exceptions, every book is given at least a year to find an audience. Honestly, I can’t think of a single DC book that was cancelled in the way you describe. There was the weird cancellation of Great Ten, but that was a mini-series. As I said, in numerous interviews DC creators have said that they did have enough time to wrap things up in a satisfying way. In fact, at DC I’ve observed a curious practice that is almost the exact opposite of what you describe: Low-selling books that seemed to be up for cancellation were continued even after the original creators finished their story and left. There was a 4 or 5 part fill-in story by a different creative team until the book was finally cancelled (Examples: Azrael, Magog, Atom, Checkmate, Aquaman). I have no idea why they do this.

  32. Maxwell's Hammer says:

    While there are certainly major differences in publishing philosophies, one big reason DC has been traditionally more able to let low-selling books stay alive longer is the much deeper pockets of DC’s parent company, Warner Brothers. Marvel in the last few decades have definitely taken some pretty major risks, but they’ve typically been more market driven, reacting quickly in ways that are the most cost effective. Of course now that Disney is in the picture, I’m curious to see if those habits shift…

  33. I Grok Spock says:

    DC pulled the rug out from under Jim Shooter’s run on Legion of Super Heroes a few years back. The conclusion to that run was very unsatisfying. So much so that Shooter took his name off of it.

    The sad thing is that it was very good. Much better than what Shooter is doing now with the Gold Key characters at Dark Horse.

  34. Heinz Hochkoepper says:

    Maxwell’s Hammer: Interesting points. Isn’t it sometimes said that the true function of comic books is to create IP that can be exploited in other media, where the real money is? In that case, shouldn’t they both be much more interested in developing new concepts without paying so much attention to sales?

    I Grok Spock: That’s an example I didn’t think of. But wasn’t that more a case of creative differences and editorial wanting to relaunch the LoSH version Johns used in Action Comics than your typical sales-related cancellation?

  35. Alien Rope Burn says:

    Honestly the Reavers’ original death was done just to sell Trevor Fitzroy, of all people, as a big threat. I’m okay with it being washed over, especially since their deaths were largely off-screen, IIRC. Of course, Lady Deathstrike’s death is a little harder to call out, considering she died rather recently, but it’s at least hinted how she may have come back.

    I’m a bit disappointed to see Lady Deathstrike’s old design, I thought her newer redesign was quite nice, if a bit too detailed.

  36. Maxwell's Hammer says:

    Heinz: comics as a means of developing new concepts to exploit in other mediums? That’s a novel idea, but its not really the way modern Hollywood works. They want sequels and prequels and reboots of firmly established properties.

    Marvel’s current strategy is to make a movie out of your biggest already establshed properties, then publish 1,000 mini-series and one-shots to try to capitalize on the popularity of the movie. Just look at the utterly stupid number of Thor and Captain America mini’s and 1-shots on the shelves right now.

    I honestly wish the comic companies would reorganize the whole system so that new, riskier ideas could see daylight in print and in other media, but that’s just not the best way to make money.

  37. Mike says:

    Bradshaw’s art in the X-Men Annual was fantastic; As Paul says, you’ve got some Art Adams (the faces in particular remind of me distorted, fatter Adams faces), but I also detect a little earlier, unrefined Jimmy Cheung and some Seth Fisher, to boot. The design work is pretty similar to the stuff that’s been in Thor lately. The other two annuals have a tough act to follow.

  38. I Grok Spock says:

    Heinz: I believe so. Jim Shooter has a reputation for being hard to get along with, which probably did not help. It’s too bad that run of Legion was discarded. I had never read The Legion before in all my 33 years and I was enjoying it. C’est la vie. That’s Comics in The Year 2011.

  39. moose n squirrel says:

    Well, here’s the thing. The comic book industry – or at least, what we’ve come to think of as the comic book industry, the thing that puts out monthly superhero pamphlets and sells them in specialty brick-and-mortar comic shops – is dying. We can argue about how that dying industry should best market and sell what it has left to whatever customer base it has left, but the bigger problem is that there aren’t new readers coming in to buy these things, and what readers are left are leaving in droves (and with good reason – four or five bucks a pop to buy five or six minutes worth of entertainment value is insane).

    I liked Xombi, and at the same time expected the book wasn’t going to last for very long. But then, I’m not expecting the thirty-two-page-ads-included comic pamphlet to last much longer, either – honestly, if there’s a place to buy them in my town I’ll be amazed (right now there’s one dying comic shop in the middle of nowhere and a Borders, and Borders, as you might have noticed, isn’t doing so hot). I know these kinds of conversations in general turn into other worried arguments over what the comic industry should turn into, or what it can turn into, and frankly, even if I thought I knew, or if I thought Marvel and DC knew, I don’t think they know how to get there from where they are now.

    All of which is to say, figuring out how best to sell a book like Xombi in 2011 feels a bit like worrying over the hiccups when you’ve just come down with terminal cancer.

  40. Andrew Perron says:

    You know, people keep saying that, but… aren’t sales figures overall going up?

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