mike sterling's progressive ruin

Saturday, December 03, 2005

God bless you, Solson Comics. 

Samurai The 13th #2 (1987) - art by Michael Shaw & Scott Gladfelter

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Shadow's Nose. 

So every time I bring up the late '80s Andy Helfer/Kyle Baker run on The Shadow (this time in the form of my sidebar icon, duplicated to the right here in this post since that icon will be replaced eventually), it always attracts a small amount of discussion. Most of that discussion is along the lines of almost universal agreement that it was indeed a classic run, and that its early ending was quite a shame. And that its ending was brought about by the Shadow's copyright holders not being terribly thrilled with the fact that their character had been decapitated and has had his head placed on a robot body. The Hurting's Tim O'Neil wondered if the "copyright holder" story was perhaps just an urban legend, and that's a fair question.

A quick Google check brings up several references to the "owners didn't like the Shadow comic" story (like at this pulp magazine page), but I haven't found any comments straight from the horse's mouth (like from anyone at Conde Nast, or anybody from DC). I checked a couple print interviews I had with Kyle Baker, but found nothing there either. I suppose there's probably something more definite somewhere, and if any of you know where that might be, point me in that direction!

I should note that in the comics themselves, that particular story is denied in an editorial response to a letter of comment in The Shadow Strikes #4:

"No, it is emphatically NOT true that Conde Nast, the copyright holders of the Shadow, 'pulled the plug' [on the Helfer/Baker series]. The good folks over there have always been most cooperative and helpful. The true and complete reason the H/B Shadow was cancelled was that the creative team's schedules proved prohibitive. Plus, they had the Prestige JUSTICE INC. to complete."

Compare the comment about the creative team's schedule to Baker's comment in this interview:

"'The Shadow' was easy to draw. I used to do a whole book in a week."

Also, in the Amazing Heroes Preview Special from January 1989, the entry for The Shadow has brief synopses for events in issues beyond the actual last printed issue (#19), and states that #24 would be the last for Helfer and Baker. So if even if they were just kinda winging it on the series (as commenter Dan relates), it looks like they were still holding out the possibility for more Shadow stories prior to the axe coming down.

That editorial reply in The Shadow Strikes also includes a reference to the theoretical Shadow Special that would have wrapped up the story:

"As for that Special concluding the '80s storylines, it's scheduled to come out one of these days...."

Sixteen years on, I'm still waiting for that special!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Hey, look. 

I'm quoted in a National Review opinion column that discusses Liberality for All, and this site is referred to as a "lefty blog." Well, I am left-handed. Oh, okay, there are a few sites probably not approved by GWB in the sidebar there, but I rarely bring up politics on the site itself. (But maybe I should...you know the kind of traffic those sites get? Except my "abolish all political parties" stance probably wouldn't be all that popular.)

Speaking of Liberality for All, we have now sold three copies of the first issue. I have yet to sell one to an actual conservative, however.

ADDITIONAL LINKAGE: Alicublog has a pretty thorough evisceration of said column.

Alan David Doane is back to some non-Kochalkian comics weblogging, which includes this discussion about Claypool Comics' impending drop from Diamond's catalog (and its sure-to-follow demise). Now at our store, the only one of Claypool's series that ever sold any kind of numbers was Peter David and Richard Howell's Soulsearchers & Co., and only briefly, at the beginning. I even tried to get it to move, putting up "Hey, this is written by Peter David!" signs by the comic, but no go. I currently have one customer for it at our shop, and he's a mail order customer, so the one copy we actually sell goes out of state.

Deadbeats started off with no readers at our store, continued with no readers, and currently still has no readers.

Elvira sold so-so at first, but dropped to literally nothing...until one of my customers decided he wanted it on his pull list, so I now sell one copy of each issue. We used to sell the occasional back issue, but it's been years. (The only Elvira back issue that ever sells anymore is this one.)

We do still order 'em, above and beyond the two actual copies we sell...we get one of each for the rack, which won't kill us. And you never know, maybe someday the World's Biggest Claypool Fan may walk in the door needed to buy extra copies of comics he already has for...well, whatever reason.

As an aside, I'd always assumed (rightly or wrongly) that the sales of the Elvira comic through sources other than comic book stores (such as through the official Elvira website or at Elvira's convention appearances) subsidized the rest of the line. Well, that, coupled with the company's apparently very low overhead.

I hate to see 'em go...I don't like seeing anyone put out of work, but like ADD says, it ain't entirely the retailers' fault the books lost the audiences they had. I even read Soulsearchers at first, and...well, lost interest. Sorry.

A few New Comics Day comments:

I finally got my signed and numbered copy of Freak Show (#139/700), several months after the regular unsigned edition was released...nice big, fat autographs of Bruce Jones and Bernie Wrightson on the endpapers. You can see a five-page preview of graphic novel
here (even though the title of the page says "Flaming Carrot #1 preview" - this ain't Flaming Carrot, I assure you). The reproduction is fine, the detailed linework is nice and clear, though the initial title splash page is printed much darker than the rest of the book. I'm assuming it was intentional, but it's hard to tell.

The Image Comics 13th or 14th anniversary hardcover is out. Really. Honest. I held it in my very hands. I saw it with my own eyes. It exists! I will admit I am curious about the Savage Dragon story, which features the first ever telling of the character's origin. Even though I haven't been a regular reader of Savage Dragon, I have admired Larsen's ability to stick with his project as long as he has (despite the current hiatus caused by his new Image head-honcho status). And I do flip through the new issues when they come in...sorta makes me wish I'd stuck with it (I did read the mini and the first five issues of the regular series). Well, maybe someday they'll do a Marvel Essentials/Showcase Presents-style reprinting of the comic so I can catch up for cheap.

Adventures of Superman #646 has a understated and downright attractive cover...featuring Mr. Mxyzptlk, of all people. I think the post-mid '80s reboot Mxyzptlk has undergone an interesting evolution, having started off as a downright nasty piece of business, openly hostile toward Supes, then turning into essentially a wacky cartoon character in the hands of Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove in the early '90s, and, in recent comics, becoming a far more sympathetic being...gentler in a way than even the Silver Age Mxy.

The current incarnation of the Doom Patrol has limped to its conclusion, leaving me to wonder when the next version of the team is due to appear. Who wants to bet that we'll be back to the old continuity with the next series, ignoring (or perhaps incorporating, as some kind of "alternate timeline" storyline) the "reboot" status of this series?

And, oh, Good Lord, about a zillion manga paperbacks came in. Somehow pal Dorian is to blame for this, I just know it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Quit looking at me...quit looking at me! 

For no good reason whatsoever, here are the items across the top of my work computer's monitor, from left to right...I put that cardboard behind it to cut down the glare from the window in the background:

Squishy computer toy thingie - left behind by the child of a customer a while back.

Warm Fuzzy - or whatever they're called...the little fuzzballs with the antennae, the big sticky feet, and the googly eyes. Well, my fourth grade teacher called 'em "warm fuzzies," and if it was good enough for Mrs. Measures, it's good enough for me.

Plush mini-shark - with spring-loaded jaw. I believe pal Dorian is responsible for this somehow.

Owl fingerpuppet - left behind by Kid Chris when we went off to UCLA. Hunched over like that, it looks as if its unblinking eyes were staring right at me, piercing into the very depths of my shameful heart.

Cardboard Lament Configuration from Hellraiser - when the Marvel/Epic Hellraiser comic book series again, it was accompanied by a package of stiff paper promo items for us to give away along with the comic, featuring a Lament Configuration (or Hellraiser Box, as I usually hear it called) that you could cut out and assemble yourself. I kept one and put it together for the store...and all these years later, even after having moved the entire store twice in that time, it's still there, intact, threatening to suck my soul into promotional item hell, or something like that.

In which Mike complains about something that hasn't really been an issue for a couple decades now. 

Along with the comic I discussed yesterday, I found a few other books in our Midnight Madness blow-out bins from a couple weeks ago. I happened across a full run of Jonni Thunder A.K.A. Thunderbolt, a mini-series by Roy & Dann Thomas and Dick Giordano. When I last talked about this series, I noted that copies, along with several hundred other comics, were cast off in The Great Comics Purge of '94...and this series is one of the few I regretted losing. (I also shouldn't have sold off my Roger Stern/John Buscema run of Avengers, but that's another post.)

Haven't had a chance to sit down and reread it yet, other than skimming it briefly before writing this entry, but I do want to note two things: first, in a good and decent world, the simple fact that Dick Giordano was drawing a comic book series starring a beautiful female detective would have been enough to get this mini on the stands, without having to throw "...and she turns into living lightning!" into it as well. Second, I said in my post from a year and a half ago that my memory was that the Flexographic printing process DC was using on some of their "special project" books at the time didn't do the artwork justice. And boy, was I right. Everything's too bright and garish, and there are several instances of off-register colors...here's a sample:

It looks like the line art printed well, but the coloring is so futzed up by the printing process, you can't even look at the page at times.

Unfortunately, before DC abandoned this particular method of printing, they sullied some of their biggest books with it, such as the first issue of Crisis on Infinite Earths #1:

I don't know if these coloring errors were any more or less frequent than in comics with the standard process, but they sure show up a lot more clearly with the brighter printing. The early Who's Who issues got stuck with it as well.

Related...do you remember a time when comic fans were a lot more aware of the various paper stocks and printing processes? When we were all concerned about newsprint, and Mando paper, and Baxter paper, and whatever the paper stock was that Ronin was printed on? I'm sure it was because of the emphasis the publishers themselves put on the flashy new paper they were using for their books...and also because of the sheer novelty of having white paper after decades of newsprint. Nowadays paper stock is usually only brought up in discussions of how to drop comic book cover prices by printing everything on newsprint again, though as I recall it's been explained that for a standard 32-page funnybook, the actual price difference would be negligible if they did so. And besides, I'm used to the whiter paper...I'm spoiled now.

A few more things I yanked out of the Midnight Madness boxes for myself:

  • The first four issues of The Bozz Chronicles series from Marvel/Epic, by David Michelinie and Bret Blevins (with a guest art appearance by John Ridgeway). An alien (Bozz) stranded on Earth in Victorian England finds his suicide attempt interrupted by a lady of the evening...and one thing leads to another, as the two of them form a detective agency. Now that's high concept. It's a series I've been intrigued by since I first read about it in a long-ago Amazing Heroes, but never got around to buying it until now...and I've read the first issue, which was darn good. It's been a long time since I've seen Bret Blevins' art, and I've forgotten just how easy on the eyes it is.

  • Comics Interview #66, featuring Keith Giffen and Andy Helfer talking about their work on Justice League International, Ty Templeton talking about his cartooning, and Roy Thomas talking. I have a lot of the earlier issues of this series, and if it's one thing I need, it's more fanzines.

  • Random scattered issues of All-Star Squadron - When I was but a young Mikester, I was absolutely fascinated with Roy Thomas 1980s DC work, particularly with the Earth-2 material. However, I didn't keep up with his All-Star Squadron run (there was some storyline early on that I didn't care for, and I just stopped reading), so nowadays I just pick up the occasional issue when I can. A lot of it didn't age terribly well, but every once in a while there's a nice sequence, like in one of the issues I picked up, #31, where there are two two-page splash images presenting the entire team. And Uncle Sam is in the book...I've always liked that Uncle Sam character.

So, good, more comics to read. Exactly what I needed.

Monday, November 28, 2005

"...Even Alec is speechless as his TRS-80 poses problem after problem for him to solve, faster than he ever thought possible." 

Okay, so I'm not the first person to go after the Whiz Kids, the four-color spokeskids for Radio Shack's line of TRS-80 personal computers, and their various team-ups with Superman. I'm not even the first person to go after this particular comic, Superman in The Computer Masters of Metropolis (1982 Edition), since Ron at Fortress of Soliloquies did so over a year ago. But, hey, I found a copy in our Midnight Madness clearance boxes and decided to keep it for myself, and sharing these finds is one of the reasons I have this weblog, right? Right.

So this story (by Paul Kupperberg, Curt Swan, and Frank Chiaramonte) starts off with Alec and Shanna, the "TRS-80 Computer Whiz Kids," and the rest of their class being introduced to the idea of computer networking by their teacher. The introduction consists primarily of the teacher sending math problems from her "host" computer to each student's individual station, thus tricking them into thinking that doing schoolwork is fun.

All of a sudden, Wonder Woman pops in with a surprise...she's arranged for the class to go on a field trip to the Metropolis World's Fair, where they'll tour the fair's electronics and computing exhibit! I don't know what the teacher, Ms. Wilson, has on these superheroes, but she sure has some luck getting them to do favors for her. It's even commented on in the story: says Alec, "first we get visits from Superman and Supergirl, and now you! We're beginning to look like a regular super-hero convention hall around here!"

But before departing for the fair, Wonder Woman still has a few words to say to the class about the importance of computers:

Okay, why Alec didn't get his smart mouth smacked off for the "Ms. Expert" comment, I have no idea. But Wonder Woman's nonchalant mention of her "secret identity" did throw me off a bit. In this post-Crisis era of DC Comics, characters openly discussing the fact that they even had secret identities seems a little...naive? Passe? Quaint? Since part of the mid-80s Superman revamp was the doing away of Supes ever letting on that he even had another identity, it seemed as if secret I.D.s as a whole were less important. Some heroes did away with them (such as the Wally West Flash, or Ray "The Atom" Palmer), others were more careless with them (like Hal Jordan, who didn't go out of his way to hide his double-life as Green Lantern in the early '90s). Anyway, Wonder Woman immediately shoots down Alec by telling him lots of people work with computers, you dumb kid.

Finally, Alec and Shanna get to demonstrate their computer whiz-kiddiness by connecting the classroom TRS-80 Color Computer to an Information Retrieval Service using their Modem (Interface II). Look closely, you young whippersnappers, since this is how Grandpa used to get his porn:

Wonder Woman is impressed:

...And then she spends the next page describing how you can use this new technology for weather reports, news updates, online shopping, games, spam, the Nigerian scam, forwarding stupid jokes and absolutely true virus warnings, blogging about All Star Batman and Robin, trading MP3s and movie files, and did I mention the porn?

And what the hell is Superman up to this whole time? Well, that dastardly Lex Luthor threatened to wreak some of his trademark havoc at the fair unless the fair officials ponied up a pile of greenbacks, in revenge for his own inventions being rejected from display, so Supes has been on the lookout. When he does finally track down Luthor, one thing leads to another, and Superman finds himself trapped in a prison of Luthor's devising...well, partially the fair's devising as well, since it's in the temporarily-closed planetarium exhibit. Luthor flies inside, and as Superman follows, Luthor triggers red solar radiation emitters, stripping Superman of his powers. Luthor then locks him inside the building, the doors armed with explosives, with no way to escape! Luthor's superior intellect has created the perfect trap, without flaw, without the slightest crack or hole in his pris...oh, wait, what's this?

Yes, it's a phone. That Luthor sure is sporting. And really, why would Superman need to convince anyone that he's Superman to get him out of the building? Wouldn't a "hey, I'm trapped inside a building at the fairgrounds, please come get me" be enough to get some authorities out there to rescue him?

As I noted previously, Luthor's motivation for causing a ruckus at the fair is because his inventions were not allowed to be displayed. Using your typical comic book logic, Superman figures that Luthor will make his initial strike against the fair at the exhibits were his inventions would have been presented, had they been allowed in. He remembers that the Daily Planet ran a story on Luthor's threats against the fair some time back, but can't remember the details on which specific exhibit was the one that did the rejecting. He tries to call the Daily Planet for the info, but gets a busy signal on what is apparently the Planet's single phone line. So, Superman, who couldn't remember the details of a story involving his arch-nemesis, remembers the home phone number of Whiz Kid Alec, and calls to ask him to use his amazing computer powers to access the Daily Planet's online archives.

Alec, despite his smart mouth, is a good kid, and does Superman's bidding, calling up the Daily Planet stories in question on his home TRS-80 Color Computer:

Once he gets the information he needs, six or seven hours later, he and fellow Whiz Kid Shanna manage to get the info to Wonder Woman, who rescues Superman, then they capture Luthor (who was going to blow up the computer and electronics exhibit, surprise, surprise), and we've all learned a little something about the importance of computers. Specifically, the TRS-80 Color Computer, the pinnacle of home computing achievement.

But honestly, if you really wanted to get kids interested in the TRS-80 computers, I have two words for you:

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Today at work. 

Pope Nathan: "I like the fact that DC has all these superintelligent gorillas in their universe. Gorilla Grodd, Congorilla...."

Me: "Well, Congorilla isn't really a superintelligent gorilla...Congo Bill uses his magic ring to swap minds with the gorilla, so it's actually a human brain in there."

PN: "How 'bout Ultra-Humanite? He's a pretty cool superintelligent gorilla."

Me: "Actually, that's a human brain surgically implanted into a mutated ape."

PN: "Oh, okay."

Me: "You know, if you told me when I was five years old the kinds of conversations I'd be having as an adult...."

I hate Thanksgiving weekend... 

...since in our area, that means everyone makes beelines to the local malls, and the small businesses (like ourselves) get it right in the shorts. Oh, we'll get the Christmas traffic spike eventually, but it's usually after the malls have been stripped bare and shoppers make their way to the retail borderlands out of desperation.

Still, it's kind of a drag, since that makes things slow, slow, slow around here...so, you know, if you need any comics or graphic novels or anything mailed to you, now's the time to ask, so drop me an e-mail. I seem to have plenty of free time at the moment. (Not that I'm standing around doing nothing, but I'd rather be collecting some coin of the realm instead of fooling around with inventory.)

We are selling some things, though...I've sold yet more copies of the Watchmen trade paperback over the last week, which still blows my mind. After all these years, it still doesn't gather dust on the shelf. Which reminds me...a week or so ago, DC sent us a promotional e-mail telling us about all the media attention for the rerelease of Watchmen in the oversized hardcover Absolute edition, and how we as retailers should take advantage of it. Boy, I'd like to, but we sold out of all our copies of Absolute Watchmen and it hasn't been available for reorder since it originally shipped. The trades still sell though, as I just noted, so I guess I'll just settle for that.

Oh, and have I mentioned that I finally sold another copy of Liberality for All?

Even though our store got shorted on our order of Giant Monster #2, I did manage to get a review copy in at Progressive Ruin HQ courtesy the good folks at Boom! Studios. There's not much more I can say about the second issue that I didn't already say about the first, except this issue has the titular Giant Monster fighting a big freakin' Nazi robot, and friend, that's entertainment. There's some very dark humor in here, particularly with the crowds of Americans cheering on the Nazi robot as it seemingly defeats the Giant Monster ("Don't you think we should have painted over the swastikas?" asks one of those kids that always seems to get involved in oversized monster shenanigans), and with the estranged wife of the Giant Monster's host. It's funny, it's gruesome, and it's pretty much review-proof. Either you like big freakin' monster comics or you don't -- and I do! Go check it out...assuming the distributor sent copies to your store. (Razzin' frazzin' Diamond....)

And, for no good reason, aside from telling pal Dorian about it the other day and wanting to send him the link: the proposed, then aborted, Star Wars novel series that would have connected Earth to the Star Wars Universe. The look on Dorian's face when I told him about this was priceless. (And I'm sure a lot of you knew about this already...but it was news to me! I only found out about it perusing the timeline found here.)

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