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.