Wednesday, February 29, 2012

10. Why I like Archer but can't stand Kenny Powers

Recently, I gave HBO's Eastbound and Down a second shot, when the third season began. I didn't like it. I continue to mostly wish Kenny Powers would get beaten with baseball bats repeatedly for most of the time I'm watching it. And I like Danny McBride, and I really enjoyed the addition of Jason Sudekis, but... I just can't get into the show. I find Kenny Powers too obnoxious.

And yet... I love Archer, and there can be no doubt that Sterling Archer and Kenny Powers are cut from the same self-involved cloth. So why the disconnect?

Partly it's the animation thing. I think having Archer animated allows me to swallow the more outrageous elements more easily. Certainly wee baby Seamus wouldn't be anywhere near as funny if they had to have a live infant to do that story.

Partly I think it's a tonal thing. While I'm not generally a fan of Adult Swim, and haven't really watched much Frisky Dingo or Sealab, for whatever reason, Archer hits me right in the right place, comedically. I laugh my way through every episode, and when I re-watch, it still cracks me up. Meanwhile, ignoring aberrations like Anchorman (which I really enjoy), I'm generally not a fan of the Will Ferrell/Adam McKay team that is behind Eastbound and Down. There's a certain smugness, a certain point-of-view that these self-involved characters are at their heart just lovable scamps, that I can't abide. There can be little doubt when watching Archer that the creative team thinks Archer is a total douche. I'm not entirely convinced that the creators of Eastbound and Down see Kenny Powers that way.

But at any rate, I love Archer, and am currently re-watching my way through season two which was just added to Netflix. Meanwhile, my easy access to two seasons of Eastbound and Down on HBO Go remains mostly unused, because I don't have any interest in spending time watching Kenny Powers.

Monday, February 20, 2012

9. Five Years

Almost five years ago to the day (I'm three days late in posting), I wrote this: The Secret Project

In that post, I revealed that I had bought a comic book shop, that it would be changing names in 2008 to Rogues Gallery Comics & Games, and talked a bit about what buying a comic shop meant to me.

Since that time, I don't think I've really had much cause to regret the decision. We had a tough go with the recession in 2009, I won't lie, and there were months there where I was really worried, but thanks to a supportive customer base, an amazing staff and family stepping in to help with a bank that could not have been less interested in helping us out, we made it through.

Not only did we survive, we thrived. 2010 was pretty good. 2011 was great. 2012 is on track to be even better. Not bad for an industry that the Internet has been saying was dying for, well, as long as I've been reading the Internet.

A few days ago, my wife (and bookkeeper) told me we'd paid off the loan to the bank. That was the brass ring I've been reaching for for the last five years. We still have plenty of overhead, including rent, power, payroll, inventory, but in terms of debt? We're clean. This is ours now. And that feels pretty great. It feels even better knowing how many people were betting against us. Not maliciously, really, but for every jaded pundit who declared that comics retail was dying, for every creator who complained that retailers were ruining their industry, for every banker who thought "comics? not worth our time" I can now offer a nice, friendly, middle finger. We made it. Other than maybe a few months in 2009, I never really doubted we would, but man is it nice to be able to say it.

What I wrote then:
"I'm not as in love with comics as I was when I began working at the store, but my love for selling them has only grown. I love the business problems and marketing challenges presented in comics. Yes, I'd be happier with a healthier, bigger market and several distributors operating at the top of their game, but I've been dealing with Diamond for six years now (plus two years during college), and for all the shit that they get, they actually provide a pretty solid service 90% of the time. And I love selling comics to people who are getting back in or looking for something new. Even if I'm not into Civil War, I get a certain joy at seeing someone get just totally hooked on a comic series like that. And when I get to sell someone on, say, Queen & Country or Bone, or when a kid picks up Owly, that's a good feeling that's hard to beat."

What I say now:
Actually, I still believe most of this. I'd be happier with a healthier market, but DC did us a huge favor with the New 52, reinvigorating the sales of single issues. Image is doing us a huge favor with new books like Chew and Strange Talent of Luther Strode and Thief of Thieves and Witch Doctor, etc. etc., not to mention Walking Dead. IDW is doing us a huge favor with spectacular licensed books, reinvigorated favorites like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and new hits like Locke & Key. Dark Horse continues to impress with Hellboy and the BPRD, licensed hits like Star Wars and Mass Effect, plus plenty of their own new books. Even Marvel, which gets a lot of bad press from the retail corner, are probably going to give us a sales success with the "give the fans what they want" of Avengers vs. X-Men, and if nothing else, they're publishing Waid's Daredevil, for which I'll be eternally thankful. That's not even mentioning Archaia, Archie, Bongo, Boom!, Oni, Top Shelf, Red 5, and the dozens of smaller publishers whose work we sell week-in and week-out.

Diamond has screwed us over during the last five years. There were the weeks when other shops in town got their books a day earlier than us. There are the weeks where they miss an entire run of an issue and we have to wait a few extra days for it. There are near-constant screw-ups in our reorders, damages to our books, missed books, etc. However... if you really step back and look at it, I maintain that these guys have an immense job to do, and 90% of the time, they get it right. I'd prefer 100% of the time, of course, but I'll take 90%.

And I've seen an increase in selling people on books I like. Sixth Gun, Chew, American Vampire, Amulet... these are a few of the top sellers in my store, books I love and hand-sell and get great response to.

I've also grown to know and love more of our games section. I've always been a gamer, but I've started to really appreciate the depth and breadth of board and card games available for groups from hardcore Euro-gamers to more casual families. In the past five years, I've fallen in love with games like Pandemic, Dominion, Ticket to Ride and Small World, to name but a few that have supplemented favorites like Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan. Perhaps more importantly, a lot of customers have discovered these games through us, and we've seen steadily increasing sales on boardgames.

Role-playing game wise, I have to admit to being a little disappointed in the direction that the big gun, Dungeons & Dragons, has taken, but I also have to admit that the launch of 4th edition was probably a big factor in our early success. We went all-out with a midnight release and joined up with their Encounters program, and even if I've soured a bit on the current edition, I loved it for a good long time and so did many of my customers. More importantly, Paizo has stepped up to the plate with Pathfinder and provided what many of my customers were looking for from Dungeons & Dragons. Even if D&D's new edition comes out in 2013 and is a huge success, Pathfinder has carved itself a nice niche in the market, and the worst case scenario is that we have two hugely successful fantasy role-playing games.

We've had some staff turnover, but I've had the same two managers, Nick Budd and Dave Farabee, since we started this crazy ride, and I could not have done it without them. I've been incredibly lucky to have two smart, passionate guys to run this place, and I hope that we'll continue to be the team in place for a good long time. And I've been pretty lucky with my staff too... when we had to make changes, it was a little nerve-wracking, as we hadn't done it for a while, but it always worked out for the best, and I would put my staff up against any comic book store in the country in terms of enthusiasm, friendliness, product knowledge and general awesomeness.

Five years down. Lots more to go.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

8. Top 10 DC Relaunch Books

We're almost six months into the DC relaunch now, so that we've seen the finale of most of the first story arcs (and more on that in a minute), and I feel like I've seen enough to fairly rank my favorites.

I should say that we're only in week two of month six, but one issue more or less isn't really going to move my opinion on any of the books I'm reading. I should also say that by month six, I feel like every book should be at least finished with its first story arc, and several of my favorites are actually already into their second. Some of the best books had a four issue or even shorter first arc, and I think that's part of the reason for their success.

1. Suicide Squad
So many ways this could have gone wrong. Untested creative team, some really ugly costume designs on the cover of #1, the weight of expectations from one of my all-time favorite series... and instead, it is my favorite book of the relaunch by a wide margin, and the only one I'm 100% certain I'll be picking up in collected editions.

It's got great dark humor, terrific new characters, a great use of existing characters and really nice art. I'm surprised by how much I'm enjoying their take on Harley Quinn, equally surprised by how well Deadshot works as leader of the Squad instead of free-floating headcase, and I love King Shark, who is violent and unpredictable and often very, very funny. Of course I hate skinny Waller and miss the pre-relaunch Wall, but that's a minor tweak, all things considered, and this is great book.

2. Resurrection Man
This one is pretty much exactly what it was before the relaunch. Abnett & Lanning know how to create a character and a setting (just look at what they've done with Marvel's space adventure stuff or Heroes for Hire), the art is really strong and I like the various mysteries running throughout the thing. And while in some ways the first story arc is still going, in other ways they're doing a more old school approach, with stories that finish in each issue (or in two or three issues) and a larger over-arcing series of subplots. In fact, issue #6, taking place in Gotham, is basically a standalone.

3. Wonder Woman
This is still one of those that could go off the rails, and I suspect, as with almost all of Azzarello's work, that it will read better in trade. But it really is a completely new, and much more interesting, take on Wonder Woman, dark and violent and grounded in mythology in a very different way than what Perez did when he reinvigorated the character in the '80s. And Cliff Chiang's art is phenomenal, some of the best of the relaunch. Even more impressive, when they brought in guest artist Tony Akins, he rose to the occasion and did the best work of his career, so that the occasional guest spot won't ruin the vibe that Azzarello and Chiang have going.

I'm not certain I'll pick up collected editions of the run, I need to see how it does in the long run, but it's a strong possibility.

4. Aquaman
Given that Johns hasn't written much that I've enjoyed in the past few years (ever since Countdown to Infinite Crisis, actually), I'm surprised how much I'm enjoying this book. A relatively short four issue intro arc, some strong art from Ivan Reis, and of course a more badass Aquaman have a lot to do with it. But I also really like his use of Mera (a character I previously could not possibly care less about).

5. Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E.
Lots of fun, picking up on elements of what Morrison did with the character, and just throwing in tons of little DC Universe elements while essentially being an action-adventure monster book. There have been bumps in the road, like a crossover with OMAC, and I'm deeply disappointed that Lemire is leaving the book, even if Matt Kindt is a decent replacement, but I've been enjoying it in general.

6. Catwoman
Sexy, fun, with spectacular art by Guillem March and some of the strongest writing Winick has done in a while. Sure, it can't compare to the Brubaker run, but what possibly could? It's a popcorn book for me, but I have to admit that every issue I enjoy, and it feels like these guys get this character.

7. Batman and Robin
Loses a few points for still being on its first story arc, even six issues in, loses more points for not naming the new dog Ace, but the dynamic between Bruce Wayne and Damian is fantastic, the art by Patrick Gleason really strong and the bad guy, a callback to Wayne's past and a temptation for Damian's dark side, is a perfect choice. Easily the best of the new Batman books.

8. Swamp Thing
I have to be honest, I'm losing interest in the overlong first arc, but this is a creepy horror take on a character who works better as creepy horror than superheroes, and Yanick Paquette is doing a great job on the art.

9. Animal Man
This one also had a big swing and a miss with the inexplicable decision to do the Buddy Baker movie issue with #6, but it's been creepy and haunting and really, really good up to that point.

10. Batwoman
I have to admit, beautiful as JH Williams' art is, there are times when I can't really tell what's supposed to be going on. And to some extent, Amy Reeder Hadley taking over on art is an improvement. And Williams is maybe a bit too ambitious as a new writer, playing around with structure when he should really be trying to tell a more straightforward story. But... there's so much to like about this book and it's deliberate weirdness, and he gets major bonus points for using Chase and the DEO.

A few notes on other books in the relaunch:

Action Comics - Great first two issues, than rapid nosedive into WTF-ville. I think this, like much of Morrison's work, will benefit from seeing a big chunk (like twelve issues) at a time to see what he's doing, but my initial love of the book has cooled considerably, and it's almost in not reading territory for me now.

Batman - Lots of folks seem to love this, but I can't get past Capullo's artwork. That motorcycle vs. helicopter chase in #3? Borderline unreadable, and it's not the only sequence like that. Snyder is one of my favorite Batman writers after Black Mirror, so I'll probably give this one a chance when it's collected, but I think the choice of artist just killed this book for me.

Batgirl - I can't get over what a morose, disappointing read this book has been.

Green Lantern - Love the use of Sinestro as Green Lantern, and still enjoy the read, but the Mike Choi guest art on #6 didn't do it any favors.

Justice League - Still enjoying this as an action book, but nobody feels particularly in character, Darkseid is a big disappointment (and don't redesign Kirby unless you can improve on it) and it's definitely a "read and forget" book for me. I understand why it's the flagship, and I don't dislike it, but neither is it anywhere near my top 10.

Flash - Love Manapul's art, and I feel like he took a step up as the writer and designer of the panels, but... the writing is soooo boring. With a better writing collaborator, I feel like this book could be much stronger.

Demon Knights - Overlong first story arc, too many characters... I really wanted to like this, but I'm quickly losing track of the story.

Friday, February 03, 2012

7. Worst Spider-Man Writers

This is going to be shorter than my favorites list, partly because I don't have as much to say about writers whose work I didn't like as I do writers I liked. In reverse order:

5. Marv Wolfman - Not really bad writing, given that most of the melodrama and such were elements of the period, not Wolfman in particular, but some of the weakest Spidey because it felt like Wolfman never got Spidey. His Peter Parker was the biggest sad sack and failure on the planet, his supporting cast felt more "larger than life" and DC-like, his original villains were pretty terrible and his use of the classic villains not particularly inspired. Still, compared to the others on this list, it was mostly flat writing, not bad writing.

4. Terry Kavanaugh - I confess, I'm not even sure I spelled his name right. But for a while, Kavanaugh was a Marvel editor turned writer in the '90s who contributed a lot of the clone saga and other execrable Spidey stories. To the best of my knowledge, he never wrote a single story I found palatable.

3. Howard Mackie - Which, technically, should put him higher (lower?) on the list than Mackie, who did write a few stories I found at least solid, if not inspired. But Mackie contributed not only to the clone saga, but also to Byrne's Chapter One era, and was involved in so many terrible stories that he's more memorable (and not in a good way) than Kavanaugh. I'm trying not to extend extra credit for how badly he screwed up the X-Men in the '90s and 2000s as well.

2. John Byrne - Chapter One was everything Ultimate Spider-Man could have been. I do not mean that as a compliment. An attempt to "update" Spidey's origin succeeded only in making him dated for the '80s, not the '60s (and this was written in the late '90s), the attempt to tie up "loose ends" of his origin by tying in Doc Ock or having the burglar notice Peter buying a computer totally missed the point of the character and had all the feel of Byrne's usual "continuity fixes," which fix problems that only a crazy person actually saw before they were fixed. The best thing I can say is that this era is utterly forgotten, so it didn't do any long-term damage.

1. Joe Quesada - I know, I'm not even sure he's credited as co-writer, but let's be honest, the blame for Spidey's devil divorce lays squarely on Quesada's doorstep. Straczynski wrote it, and deserves part of the blame, but Quesada was the guy beating the drum for it, and swearing up and down that they had a clever way to un-marry Spidey. An actual divorce would have done less damage to the character. Mary Jane being murdered by a villain would have done less damage to the character. And the "Brand New Day" status quo shackled some very good writers so that they weren't able to get their feet under them fully for months or even a year afterward, and still causes problems. Dan Slott should be a dream writer for Spidey, and he would be if he weren't saddled with the "Brand New Day" status quo.

Honorable mention here to Kaare Andrews, whose alternate reality tale Spider-Man Reign is the bleakest sort of fan-fic crap that Marvel actually published. Mary Jane dies of cancer because of Spidey's radioactive jizz. Seriously.