Digital Trade Post: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Change Is Constant

TMNT_Vol1_Change is Constant Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol. 1: Change is Constant (IDW)
Written by Kevin Eastman & Tom Waltz, drawn by Dan Duncan
Collects Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1-4

Much like Marvel Masterworks Thor from a few weeks back, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Change Is Constant Volume 1 found its way my way thanks to a sale on Comixology. I knew nothing about this new-ish TMNT book from IDW aside from that fact that my buddy Rickey liked it and that Kevin Eastman, one of the franchise’s creators, was on board.

I actually tried reading this one several months back and couldn’t get into it because I was confused by the opening. See, it starts with Leonardo, Michelangelo and Donatello facing off against a mutated cat called Old Hob. I thought this was supposed to be a continuation of the traditional TMNT story and it clearly wasn’t. It just wasn’t what I expected so I moved on to something else.

Later I returned to the story with more of an idea that I was dealing with a reboot instead of a continuation which opened my mind up to all the cool differences this volume explores. In this new world, April works for a company developing biological-based defense tech that ninjas want to steal. In the process, the turtles and Splinter wind up with the ooze in the sewer along with the cat who would become Old Hob. Raphael gets separated from the pack and eventually goes on to meet Casey Jones. The thrust of this particular volume revolves around Splinter and the three turtles trying to find Raph and setting up the new mythology which is actually pretty cool.

Change Is Constant does a solid job of setting the stage for this new world of Turtle comics, introducing the characters to new and old fans alike while also establishing a tone that fits these characters. That tone is somewhere between the satirical nature of the original TMNT comics and the current cartoon series on Nickelodeon. I was a huge fan of the Turtles as a kid, accumulating as many of the toys and Archie comics as I could, but didn’t do much with it beyond that. So, once I got used to the idea of this new take, I was on board and will be looking for more Comixology sales to see if I can get the next volume!

Digital Trade Post: Marvel Masterworks Thor Vol. 1

marvel masterworks  thor 1 Marvel Masterworks: The Mighty Thor, Vol. 1 (Marvel)
Written by Stan Lee & Larry Lieber, drawn by Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, Al Hartley & Joe Sinnott
Collects Journey Into Mystery #83-90

I’ve had a Comixology account for a few years now, but I didn’t do much with it until this year. Part of that has to do with the fact that I started using my (now broken) Kindle Fire a lot more and partly because I discovered they do a lot of great sales. One such sale offered the very first Thor stories collected in the Marvel Masterworks format for something like $5.

Thor’s not a characters I have a ton of experience with and that’s exactly why I went with his origins. I’ve found that, just by being a longtime comic fan — 22 years now — I have seen a lot of the big superhero origins over and over again. Plus, many of the stories that followed were referenced and pulled from in later years which means that actually going back to the source material can be a little boring because you know what’s happening almost beat for beat.

That was not the case with the first Thor Masterworks, thankfully. Like I said, I’m not overly familiar with the character’s many years of comics that came after his introduction in 1962. I do have a stack of Thor comics from the 70s and 80s that I tried reading through, but got really sick of what felt like an inevitable reveal that Loki was behind whatever troubles his half brother were going through at the time. Most of my experience with the character comes from his appearances in Avengers.

Anyway, these issues are actually pretty fun because I had very little idea what was going to happen in them. Sure, they’re quintessentially Silver Age-y and Loki pops up twice, but that’s to be expected. Thor also throws down with stony aliens (one of which is Korg from Planet Hulk!), travels through time, fights mobsters and topples despotic dictators.

I was surprised by several elements of the Thor mythology found in these early days. First off, when Don Blake taps the walking stick he only seems to turn into Thor physically. Sure, in that form he has more knowledge of Asgard and whatnot, but he never seemed like a different person, which is how I understood this relationship previously. I also thought it was charming how specific the rules are for Thor’s abilities. If he’s separated from Mjolnir for more than 60 seconds, he turns back into Don. There is also a very specific correlation between how many times the hammer taps the ground and what it can do. One turns him back into Blake, two creates a storm, three  stops the storm and four makes lightning.

The complete lack of other Marvel superheroes was also surprising. One of the things you always hear about this era of Marvel comics is how connected they are, but, if memory serves, this book had none of that. Finally, I was surprised with how big of a jerk Jane Foster is. Whenever she’s on the page, she’s either pining for Thor or calling her boss, Don Blake lame. Ouch.

One thing I was specifically excited about when it came to this book was seeing Jack Kirby draw some of the weird and wild elements of this book, especially after enjoying his DC work like the Fourth World books, The Demon, The Losers and OMAC. But, this is a very different Kirby. You can see what he would grow into, but these aren’t the big, bold figures you might be expecting if you’re going in reverse chronological order like I am. Also, you can really tell when someone else is pencilling. That last issue in the collection by Al Hartley looks pretty bad.

As far as digital reading experiences, I’ve got to say that this one was pretty great. For one thing, these Masterworks volumes are recolored, so they look great on a digital screen. Also, thanks to the fairly standard rectangular pane;s of these issues, they are easy to read when going through panel mode even on a phone, which is how I read most of this book. I really started reading this book when my son was in the NICU after being born almost two months early and then next to my little girl while she fell asleep so it was basically the perfect reading experience given those circumstances: fan, light stories that helped build a shared fictional universe I’m quite fond of. My only complaint? It’s a much bigger pain trying to find a page in digital format than it is just by flipping through. Laying down those four Mjolnir rules was not the funnest thing in the world.

A Few Thoughts On The DC Relaunch, Comic Commercials & Digital Comics

There’s been a lot of talk t few weeks about DC Comics’ decision to relaunch and reboot all their major characters starting in September. My initial reaction to this was highly negative. “I’m too old for this shit” essentially. A whole new continuity to learn? No thanks. Then I got over my continuity bias and started looking at things a little differently. Some of these books actually look pretty interesting. Decluttering continuity isn’t always a bad thing and really mixing up the characters will hopefully result in some fun, new stories (like Martian Manhunter joining Stormwatch and being part of the DCU). The goal for this relaunch seems to be getting new readers by either appealing to a potential reader’s (not just comic fans, but anyone) genre of preference (everything from big time superheroes and westerns to horror and sci-fi comics have been announced) or appealing to comic readers in the know by tossing out juicy names like Geoff Johns, Jim Lee and Grant Morrison. I’ve read a lot of talk about how some creative teams and projects seem doomed to failure, but my general thought process right now is “Let’s wait and see.” September is pretty far away after all.

The other–and I think larger and potentially more important–announcement to come out of the reboot is the fact that all of these new comics will be available in a digital format the same day that they’re available in comic shops (a practice dubbed day-and-date on the nets). I know other companies have done this already, like Archie, but to see one of the big two companies doing so will be very interesting. I’m assuming this digital venture is an effort to get normal people to know about this relaunch and comics in general. You like the new Green Lantern movie? Check out the comics on your iPad!

Last week, Bleeding Cool posted a rumor that DC might actually be creating commercials to attract an audience. As I’ve mentioned a few times before, I am in complete favor of this practice. Getting the word out to people about how easy it can be to read your company’s comics could be a huge boon right now. There’s lots of theories as to why the general public doesn’t read comics: they don’t know comics exist, there’s no comic shop nearby, they don’t care, they’ve got other entertainment to keep them busy, etc. Commercials would go a long way to helping a few of those problems while digital distribution would deal with another. The necessity of getting those commercials in front of a wide variety of people is also important. Is there a western on TV? Try and get your western comic advertised in that time slot. Hey, WB has the money to try, right? I would also try and get the commercials in front of or behind some podcasts to reach out to early adopters of tech products (Diggnation, Totally Rad Show, that kind of thing).

Overall, I love the idea of digital comics. Last year I wrote a post about how much I enjoy the GIT Marvel comic book DVDs. These are discs with simple PDF versions of every comic from a particular character or book from his first appearance to the then-most recent (circa 2005). I’m now the proud owner of four of these: Avengers, Iron Man, Fantastic Four/Silver Surfer and Ghost Rider. I’ll probably never have time to read through all those comics, but I like the fact that I could if I wanted to. Anyway, being cheap, I’m a fan of getting a lot of comics for not a lot of money. As such, the idea of paying a couple bucks per digital comic just doesn’t excite me very much (not having an iPad also kind of puts the kibosh on that I guess).

So, is there a digital set-up that I would like aside from DVDs? Yeah, I’ve actually long hoped for a kind of comic book subscription service. This could be something through a particular comic company or maybe even a comic shop (I don’t know how that would work, but you get the idea) where you pay one flat fee and have access to all kinds of comics. I personally don’t need to keep the digital versions, so assuming I could read them easily on my computer/tablet/future-goggles, I’d be happy. At this point, I’m done being a comic book collector and just want to read stories. If it’s something I really do like, I’ll probably pick up or Swap for the trade.

Also last week, Brigid Alverson over at Robot 6 asked “Would you buy a digital comic book subscription?” My initial answer was “Definitely,” but then I read on and the piece set up a slightly different scenario than I imagined. Essentially, this idea would be to pay a yearly fee for one particular book, like getting a mail-away sub back in the day. I would be less inclined to get in on something like this for the exact reasons brought up in the piece: the inability of comic people to hit deadlines. If I’m getting less than 12 comics for my sub, but I’m still paying for all 12? Not cool. But it would be an interesting step. Maybe if the overarching subscription system wasn’t available, there would be one for say a group of titles like Batman or X-Men.

I think this is another thing comics will have to deal with–DC specifically–if they really want to compete with/move and shake alongside TV, movies, podcasts and the like. Scheduling is super important, especially to legitimately new readers. We’ve been programmed to expect new stuff on a pretty consistent schedule as a general public, but if you really start messing with that (say something like Dark Knight) those brand new readers will absolutely find something else to go look at. Comics need to be thought of not just as a niche market aimed at collectors, but as a legit form of entertainment that can be easily digested (whether that be thanks to product availability or story accessibility).

At the end of the day, it will be interesting to see how all this plays out. As someone who doesn’t read new comics on a regular basis, I don’t feel like I have as much of a dog in the fight with this. Were I a regular buyer, I’d probably be looking at the list of new books a lot more closely, making a list of the ones I’m most interested in/seem the most important and checking that list against my comics budget. It gives me a headache even thinking about it, so I’m going to stop and go watch some TV.

Netflix For Comics

Over on Robot 6, my buddy Sean Collins asked readers what they’d add to their queue if there was a Netflix Instant-like model for comic books instead of the current download-one-at-a-time model most of the big companies seem to have gone with after the launch of the iPad. I can’t remember the last time I actually spent money on a new comic, but I can say without much consideration or doubt that I would absolutely sign up for a service like this, specifically for DC Comics, which I can’t help but be curious about even when they’re not that great.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and how things seem to be moving backwards as far as digital comics go. In the middle of the previous decade, Marvel made a deal with a company called GIT to sell DVDs jam packed with decades’ worth of comics. Then, a few years ago, Marvel started up their Digital Comics Unlimited which offers a lot of Marvel’s books past and present for only $59.88 a year. That’s not a bad deal. I haven’t had access to the service for a while, but when it first launched the selections were pretty scattershot. I’m sure it’s gotten a lot better since then. And now, we’ve got the app-based system of buying a digital comics one at a time or in trade format.

From my perspective, I’d love to sign up for some kind of subscription fee. I don’t need to keep the issues and have them cluttering up my iPad or computer (reading comics as PDFs is just fine by me), so having somewhat limited access to them is cool in my book. If I really like the book, I’ll probably pick up the trade (I don’t think I’ll ever got all the way paperless, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the world won’t). Personally, as someone who still likes comics, but doesn’t feel the need to collect them anymore (at least new ones), I’d prefer the subscription model.

Forget Omnibuses, Buy GIT Marvel DVDs

While some supposedly legitimate comic book online news outlets have been covering a glitch in Amazon sales like it’s actual news (it’s not), I’ve been busy spending my money wisely. See, I just purchased something called The Invincible Iron Man: The Complete Series, a DVD with 40 years worth of Iron Man comics in one place for about $50, the last of my birthday money. Marvel and a company called GIT teamed up a few years back to put out a series of DVDs featuring high resolution scans of their comics, including the ads and letter columns, basically everything that was between the covers. Discs like this boast 40  years of comics all on one disc for you to read in PDF format on your computer, whether you have a PC or a Mac. 

I haven’t actually gotten the Iron Man disc yet, but I do have an Avengers one, so I can get into specifics on that. It’s got every issue from the very first up until the first volume ended with Onslaught, then the Heroes Reborn series (including #13, which hasn’t been reprinted anywhere else as far as I know) and then all of the third volume of Avengers and the first 12 issues of New Avengers. Basically, everything up to 2005’s New Avengers #12, plus all the annuals. That’s a hell of a lot of comics. Hundreds even. And it takes up almost no space. In fact, the disc takes up so little space that I lost it for a while until unearthing it today. Sure, it’s missing the last five years of comics, but paying $50 for something like this is a much better value than any omnibus.

Even though the Marvel license with GIT seems to have run out, they’re still putting out discs with archives of Archie and Star Trek comics along with MAD and National Lampoon magazines, but while they were still in business, Marvel and GIT put out plenty of quality discs, most of which collect 40 years of comics. You’ve got Fantastic Four (as well as a later disc with both FF and Silver Surfer comics), Amazing Spider-Man, X-Men, Hulk, Ghost Rider, Ultimate X-Men, Iron Man, Avengers and Captain America. Now, not all of them will cost you $50. Ultimate X-Men is actually pretty cheap, under $10, while Spidey, FF, FF/Silver Surfer, X-Men, Iron Man and Ghost Rider are all $50 and under. I’m guessing it’s because Amazon still has those discs in stock. Meanwhile, Hulk will run you around $130 and Cap $160 on Amazon. I recommend searching around to make sure you can find the cheapest version possible. Check Amazon (that’s what all those links above are) and eBay and maybe Google shopping or any other cool secret search engines you might know about. Heck, you might even be able to find these discs at your local comic or collectible shop. Personally, I’d like to get my hands on the Fantastic Four/Silver Surfer disc, the Hulk one and maybe the Ghost Rider one if I could find it for like $20. I’m not a big fan of what I’ve seen of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Marvel stuff, but I’d love to see Kirby’s FF art and maybe check out Byrne’s run. Plus, I want to read all of Peter David’s epic Hulk run and Ghost Rider has always seemed like a fun character to me. Considering the high cost of the Hulk disc, I don’t see me getting that one anytime soon, but the FF/Silver Surfer and Ghost Rider ones are still affordable enough for me to buy them in the foreseeable future. The problem with these discs is that there are only a certain number of them left, but I really feel like this is the future of comics. Personally I’ve been trying to downsize my collection and have been thinking of getting a lot of my old comics bound to optimize re-readability. Those hold a sentimental value, but I just realized that I don’t need to keep all my Avengers Vol. 3 comics now that I’ve re-found this disc with all those books on there (including the ones I missed and the ones that got damaged when my childhood roof leaked on my comics when I was in college and I got way to upset in from of the future missus). It’s too bad these didn’t take off a few years back otherwise you could probably sign up for a service with a yearly subscription to keep up on the new books. Also, too bad DC didn’t get into a similar kind of deal because I would kill for a Green Lantern, Justice League, Superman or Justice Society discs. Fingers crossed for the future!

8 Comic Book Resolutions For 2010

I first had this idea before Christmas and started writing down notes with the intent of posting this on New Year’s Day. Well, yesterday was a little rough and there was football to watch (well done OSU and Penn State) so here we go. These aren’t resolutions for me and my relationship with comics, but things I’d like to see happen in the next year. As with any list I’ll ever write, it’s in no particular order.

NO MORE GIANT VILLAIN TEAM-UPS

We’ve been inundated with these huge teams of supervillains who band together to offer each other the kind of support the heroes have, but let’s face it, it’s played out and it can only ever end in one way: disaster. And not just disaster for the characters, but also for the readers. Ever since the Secret Society kicked off, this has been the go-to plan to take on superhero teams. It’s working alright in Dark Reign/Siege I guess, but when they tried doing it in Justice League of America and Salvation Run, it was just a mess. Let’s keep our villain teams small and tight and evil!

FEWER “YOU’RE ACTUALLY PART OF SOMETHING BIGGER” ESTABLISHED HEROES

The title on this one probably doesn’t really describe what I’m talking about very well. Basically, I mean the hero who discovers that he or she is actually part of a long line of heroes or part of a larger group he or she had no idea about. I’m generally a fan of this concept as I love continuity and legacy characters (to an extent), but this general concept is starting to feel a little over-used at the moment. The Immortal Iron Fist did it really well, making Danny Rand but one of many Iron Fists and they’re doing something similar in the Red Tornado miniseries right now with Red Tornado discovering there are a few other Red robots. I feel like there have been more examples lately, but can’t think of them now. I’m not saying get rid of it all together, but just ease up on it.

NO MORE SLOW ARTISTS ON IMPORTANT BOOKS

Obviously the debate over whether you want a gorgeous book that’s super late or an on-time book without a huge name drawing is a long-ranging one and everyone feels differently about it. For me, I’d rather have a book come out on time, but I’m more lenient on artists I really like. But, when it comes to a book that’s important to continuity I think the big two should be a little bit more responsible about who they put on it. I really like Ethan Van Sciver’s art, but how long has Flash: Rebirth been going on and the story of his return still hasn’t been fully explained. Even worse is Bryan Hitch on Captain America: Reborn. Not only don’t I understand Hitch’s appeal (that book would look a thousand times better if Steve Epting was drawing it), but you don’t see the time in the art. Steve Rogers is back! And how do we know that? A bunch of other comic books that Marvel had to publish to keep the rest of their line running on relative time told us. I say, keep these slower guys on covers or maybe OGNs.

MORE OGNS

I understand the financial risk of doing OGNs. You’ve got to put all this money into something that can take half a year or more to produce without getting the monthly input of single issues and then you’ve got to put out a $15-50 book that you hope people will buy. If not, you’re out a lot of money. At least with a traditional trade, you’ve got an idea of how many copies the single issues sold to gauge potential book interested. But, let’s be honest, certain artists and writers are going to sell butt loads of comics and trades. If you’re going to continue doing All Star Batman and Robin, why not just wait and put out a trade, it’ll sell. Or something like “Old Man Logan” by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven. Why put that in a monthly comic book when it could have easily been an OGN or at least a miniseries? More OGNs will keep the top notch artists busy, doing (hopefully) amazing work without gumming up the works for everything else.

SHORTER EVENTS

I understand that events are cash cows. Anything with a Siege or Blackest Night connection jumps up in sales like crazy. I get that. But come on. How long has Dark Reign been going on? And Secret Invasion before it? And Civil War? Heck, Marvel’s advertising Siege as a story seven years in the making. SEVEN YEARS! Meanwhile, Blackest Night has been going on for God knows how long with innumerable tie-ins, but can anyone keep track of the story? I read comics very sporadically and in big bursts not on a weekly basis, so it’s hard for me to remember what all is going on. I’m glad to hear that Siege is planned as four issues, we’ll see if it doesn’t get expanded at the last minute though, it’s happened before. I also wouldn’t be opposed to shorter arcs in monthly comics (Iike Jonah Hex). Don’t worry, we’ll still buy the trades even if they’re made up from several smaller stories instead of one big one.

MORE BACK-UPS/GOOD ANTHOLOGIES

DC and Marvel are FULL of weird and interesting characters who don’t really get their chance to shine much, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good stories to be told with those characters. I’d like to see more back-ups in comics. Both companies have done this, though I think DC has done a better job. We’ll see how it goes with the recently announced restructuring that will be going on soon though. In addition to back-ups, I’d like to see a really good anthology comic. Something that combines the first arc of JSA Classified (Geoff Johns and Amanda Conner telling Power Girl’s origin during Infinite Crisis) with the short story style from the most recent version of Marvel Comics Presents. These kinds of books always seem to fall off either because the creative team is no longer a draw or it has no real relevance to what’s going on in the overall universe. I’d like to see several 2-10 page stories under one roof, one of which should be by a big time creative team and/or tie into whatever event is going on. The other stories don’t all have to tie-in, but should all be really good and not just filler. These books would also give the companies a place to bring in new writing talent to cut their teeth, offering more chances than the Halloween and Holiday one-shots do.

GET KIDS READING COMICS

Both Marvel and DC have really good comics for kids, I don’t think anyone would argue with that. I try and do my part by passing whatever kids comics I get to my younger cousin who LOVES superheroes, but there needs to be more of a push to get the kids hooked. Step one should be getting comics in more places than just the dank shops we have all grown to love. But kids also need to be told that comics exist. It might sound crazy, but tons of people don’t even know comics are still made and there’s no reason a kid would either. I’d like to see commercials during comic-based cartoons and something more during the movies. Comic fans have enough to worry about with the apparent demise of the printing industry (I’m not completely convinced, but we’ll see), we shouldn’t also have to worry about the industry dying out regardless in 50 years when everyone my age starts keeling over clutching floppies.

DIGITIZE!!!

Which brings me to my most desired resolution and the one I think is the most important: comics need to make the jump to digital. I’m not saying get rid of hard copies, but we need an iTunes for comics. Marvel got the ball rolling with their Digital Comics Unlimited, and the other companies are dabbling, but I bet more people would get into comics if they could download the comics and read them on a device like their phone or whatever magical device Apple’s working on next. I’ve had a lot of conversations about this with my friends in the industry and everyone agrees it’s a gigantic undertaking with all kinds of questions needing answers, but the comic industry has the benefit of the music industry going through this change first, so comics can learn from music’s mistakes (and hopefully they will). I say, start with archive material like a full run of Action Comics or Avengers. Make them basic PDFs and, if downloading comics proves to be as popular as ripping MP3s was, then the major tech companies will have to create a product that can support the full color of a comic. Remember, when we all first started ripping our music, we didn’t have an iPod to play them on. Those came later. Heck, if comics were on iTunes, just think of the millions of new eyes that will see them and recognize their existence. If the price is right, they might even download a few and get hooked. It will hopefully be a new golden age of comics, I’ve got my fingers crossed.