Thinking Out Loud About Digital Comic Codes

It’s been a long, long while since I’ve written at any length about collecting-related issues, and while I’m a firm believer in reading the comics I buy, I’m still a comic COLLECTOR at heart. Sure I won’t read comics I hate on any principle, but there have definitely been a few shameful instances in my past where I’ve bought two copies of a polybagged book so one can stay “Mint”. (And before you judge me too harshly, ask yourself what state your Superman #75 is in.)
 
Marvel’s launched an admirable new venture wherein their $3.99 titles* all contain “free” digital download codes so you can use the Marvel app or ComiXology to read the issue on your computer or mobile device. This is smart marketing on Marvel’s part: it costs virtually nothing, acts as a pretty great goodwill gesture, and gives you some lagniappe for your extra dollar (that they would have gotten anyway).
 
The problem comes in with the presentation, though. Most likely to guard against theft, the digital download code comes covered with a small sticker and lasts for about a year, depending on when you purchase that comic. Anyone who’s read the blog for more than about a week is well aware of my unwillingness to spend $4 for a “Big Two” comic, but now we’re getting to the point where these $3.99 books are making their way to discount bins and this leaves me with a dilemma: what do I do with these codes?
 
Because I AM a collector I have an (admittedly lame) problem with ripping the stickers off because then the book can no longer be considered complete. Yet the part of me who wants to get the full value for my dollar — and likes digital comics! — says it’s stupid, after a year the code will be invalidated anyway, so there’s nothing to gain by ignoring the code. We’ve seen this before with Marvel Value Stamps and Image #0 coupons, where if someone cuts a piece out of the comic it legitimately affects the condition of the book, and even though this is a tag clearly designed to be easily removed, there’s still some…modification to the book.
 
Mike Sterling brings up some good points in his Progressive Ruin blog, mainly about the headache of validating whether a comic is still “intact”. And even though I’m not trying to be the retailer’s advocate here, I can definitely see how that’s unnecessary overhead for them. But as a buyer — whether a comic shop customer or a retailer buying back issues — you should definitely have the right to know if the tag has been pulled and the code used, at least if the book is less than a year old. That gives the owner the right to make up their own mind about whether or not they want to deface their comics.
 
So what the hell are we supposed to do?
 
I’ve done way too much thinking about this (read: ANY thinking about this) and loath as I am to admit it, that sticker is a part of the published book in the same way those Image coupons were. Even though they were designed and intended to be pulled, I find it hard to still consider a book “Mint” without it. Not that it’s worth dropping a comic by a grade, I just think they should be identified as “with” or “without” the tag, in the same way Marvel had newsstand and direct market versions of their books in the 90’s. (Again, sorry retailers. I know that’s an unfair burden on you, but it’s got to be done.  Maybe it’s just safest to assume that code is gone at all times.)
 
That said, I still want my digital comic!  I’ve lost track of the link at this point, but I found a post by an astute reader who realized that if you shine a bright light through the tag and squint, you can make out the code underneath.  This allows you to redeem the code without defacing your books.  And since said code expires in a year, you keep a pristine copy of your book and still get a digital copy.  You can even resell your book and keep the digital copy (as long as you’re honest with the seller, which you will be, right?).
 
But I want to give the last word to Mr. Sterling, who’s best insight is right in his headline: “This is all assuming there’ll eventually be a back issue market for anything coming out right now.”
 *It’s worth mentioning that Dark Horse’s new Star Wars #1, even at $2.99, had a free digital download code.

The Adventures of Sgt. Shark!

Matt and I are both big, BIG lovers of comic ads.  I mean, if you can’t appreciate the sheer lunacy of those classic Hostess ads where Big Time Hero defeats Never-Again-Seen Villain by exploiting their fried pie weakness the we are just not on the same page!.  Not to mention all those O.J. Dingo ads!

But I recently decided to give in and read The Great Darkness Saga, and I found this masterpiece in Legion of Superheroes #291:

That’s right, it’s a story about a regular rough-and-tumble dude JUST LIKE YOU (and his one-eyed parrot, of course,) who uses his bro-tastic shark tooth pendant to PUNCH A SHARK AND REDIRECT A SUBMARINE!

Friends, my $5.95 is already on it’s way to Florida.

A Look at Free Comic Book Day 2012

Free Comic Book Day 2012 has come and gone, and judging by the crowds of excited people I saw at every store I went to (5 over about 4 hours that morning) it was a pretty big success.  But how were the comics that were given away?  Well, I managed to come home with a pretty big stack of them, so let’s take a closer look.

  • Adventure Time/Peanuts – The classic Peanuts stories are great, the new stuff leaves me cold.  Okay, that half of the flipbook out of the way, let’s talk Adventure Time.  This is a great example of what Kaboom is doing with their AT series.  The main story follows all the style guides (and fits within the gutters of issue one), but there are also a couple short stories by indie creators where they can go off and tell whatever stories they like.  It’s a good, fun mix of a good, fun series, and an excellent representation of what you’d get in an issue of Adventure Time.

  • Archaia Presents Mouse Guard and Other Stories – Man, did Archaia raise the bar with their FCBD issue, giving out a 41-page (unless I miscounted) HARDCOVER sampler.  I can’t say every sample was good — Cursed Pirate Girl was somewhat illegible and I had to skip past it — but the Mouse Guard synopsis story (I really need to be reading that!) and Cow Boy by Nate  Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos were excellent.  Cow Boy is definitely going on my next order.  Another fun surprise: a Labyrinth story!  There’s no branding on the story itself but once I recognized Hoggle (okay, it’s not that hard), the other characters came flooding back to me. THIS is what FCBD should be about!
  • Atomic Robo/Neozoic/Bonnie Lass – Even though Archaia put out this Free Comic Book Day’s strongest issue, the Atomic Robo team of Brian Clevenger and Scott Wegener yet again put out an amazing offering this year.  Usually reserving FCBD for a Robo/Dr. Dinosaur fight, this year they teamed up!  Well, in a way.  As always it was hilarious, and as always you should be reading it year-round.  The other samples in here didn’t offer content nearly as strong.  Neozoic hopped from scene to scene (and even from person to person in the same  conversation) so much it felt like panels were missing.  Transitions definitely were. Bonnie Lass was fine, but nothing remarkable.
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron #0.1 – This is a good FCBD choice from Marvel.  High-profile (or rather more importantly, highly talented) creators, recognizable characters appearing in a movie opening the same weekend, and the first part of what will obviously be a huge storyline.  It’s well-written and well-drawn, but after going through it 3 times, I just can’t decide on it.  Is it for the new reader or us established folks?  It definitely feels like part 1 of 13.  The return of Ultron is great, but it feels unusually built up. I just have no idea about this one.  Strategically it’s a good call, but it mostly left me cold.  Maybe that’s just a reflection on my relationship with mainstream superhero comics than anything else.
  • The Censored Howard Cruise – Outside of the obvious creators Crumb, Pekar, and Sheldon I’m not terribly knowledgeable about the original Underground Comix creators, so this joint effort by Boom! (really!) and the CBLDF was a nice addition to the day.  And it really is censored for the FCBD edition, though the upcoming releases will not be.  I was trying to come up with a good way to describe Cruise’s work until Charles Brownstein put it much better than I could have in the backmatter: “Cruse’s technically accomplished line style has a wholesome quality that provides a stark contrast to his candid discussions of sexuality, drug use, and censorship.”  A great offering for the student of both comics and comix.  It’s also worth noting that Boom! has a new Roger Langridge collection coming out called “The Show Must Go On” that we’ll both need to keep our eyes peeled for.
  • Dinosaurs vs Aliens – Since we’re discussing how comics work, DvA fails completely, offering only 8 pages of actual comic book and filling up the rest with sketches, concept art, and text pieces.  It’s an interesting book, but not really enough sequential art to qualify as a comic.  Skepticism ruins the rest of the goodwill I have for this title.  Movie director comes up with painfully obvious mash-up (since those are all the rage), hires the best comic writer in the business to write a screenplay, then does a comic to provide street cred (see also: Cowboys vs Aliens).  Oh well, at least the art will be beautiful.
  • Image 20 – Image takes their shot this year with a sampler of their upcoming titles.  Going with a book full of teasers is probably a good call (although I’m obviously biased towards a full comic) but nothing I read inspired me to pick any of them up.
  • The New 52 – Despite my DC boycott I still picked this up, figuring it at least wasn’t putting any money in the Time-Warner coffers.  Another teaser book, this kicks off the backstory behind Pandora, the mystery woman who appeared in each of DC’s 52 #1 issues.  No disrespect intended to the creators involved, but a passing familiarity with Greek mythology and a play-through of God of War is probably all the Pandora stories we need.
  • Spider-Man: Season One – This whole “accessible universe” thing is getting out of hand.  A decade ago Marvel kicked off the Ultimate line with the intent of luring in new readers.  Then DC launched their Earth One line of OGN’s for bookstores and rebooted their whole damn universe.  Unwilling to be beaten at their own game, Marvel then launches THEIR line of bookstore OGN’s, doing the exact same thing every other relaunch has done since John Byrne did Spider-Man: Chapter One.  If you love modernized Spider-Man reboots this will be right up your alley, but otherwise this is pretty inessential.
  • Stuff of Legend/Finding Gossamyr – I’m always charmed by the soul and charming artwork of the Stuff of Legend books, though I don’t see it on the stands often enough to keep up with it.  (Fortunately, there’s an ad in the back for a collection of the first two volumes, which I will definitely pick up).  Finding Gossamyr was a little confusing…It looks like a young boy solves a math problem that leads to a portal to another dimension, but tI had a little trouble reading the transition between the two worlds.  The artwork was a nice cartoony style, and the story was intriguing more than mysterious for it’s own sake.  If you enjoy Narnia-type alternate world stories, this is a title to keep an eye out for.
  • Transformers: Regeneration One #80.5 – My love of comics started with the original Marvel Transformers series.  I was given a three-pack innocently enough, but suddenly it’s 30 years and thousands of issues later.  There will always be a soft, biased spot in my heart for those Robots in Disguise. Sure, their adventures were mainly used to reinforce toy lines, but by the end of the original 80-issue run we got to some truly original stories as we reached the final battle with Unicron written by Simon Furman and (mostly) drawn by Andrew Wildman.

Yes the Cybertronians were victorious, but in the aftermath were some of the grayest, bleakest stories I had ever read as the Transformers struggled to find purpose again.  Furman got to tell stories that didn’t require introducing new toys and could focus on the characters.  Wildman, who if I recall was a pretty divisive art choice at the time, was my favorite TF artist ever, able to draw alt modes and robot forms equally well and distinctly.  What really set him apart were the distinctive (and dare I say, human) faces with spittle frequently flying and battle damage showing they may be robots, but they’ve clearly been to Hell.

Together they got away with telling some truly weird stories.  Galvatron travels to kill his past-self before realizing he would cease to exist.  Megatron and Ratchet fuse into a Two-Face robot.  And then five issues after defeating the ultimate evil they were gone.

Their run based my entire opinion of what Transformers COULD be.  Even though it’s been a while since I’ve gone back to see how they hold up, make no mistake: I know full well that most of the comic series was pretty bad, not to mention some truly awful cartoon episodes.  But those issues…well they showed a lot of growth and potential for more.

Wildman and Furman have teamed up many times since that series end, even on Transformers, with Armada.  Those darker issues seem to have inspired other approaches to the characters as well, but none of them have worked for me.  The names and characterization are roughly the same, but the Armada or Energon Optimus Primes just aren’t the
same to me like the G1 Prime is, just like Alan Scott is not Hal Jordan is not Kyle Rayner.

Now here we are, 21 years after that series ended, and Furman and Wildman are back, picking up where they left off. Or rather, 21 years after they left off.  They do so fairly seamlessly.  Furman’s story could have been more linear rather than bouncing around, but we’re definitely going to get back to the original (and if I may be so bold, my) characters.  And Wildman’s art returned to exactly where I remember, without all the overly-angular jagged faces obviously inspired by the movies.  This is a very good comic, and I’m really excited to see where they take us.

(Now after having written all this, I feel like I’ve done Geoff Johns a disservice by my griping about him turning DC into what he loved most as a kid.)

  • 2000 AD – The surprise find of FCBD 2012!  I’ve never seen a 2000 AD FCBD issue before; I didn’t even know they participated.  The first pleasant surprise was the large magazine size, so it stands out from all the other offerings.  Then it gives several complete chunks of comics.  Sure, some of the stories were a part one but it’s an accurate representation of what to expect from 2000 AD.  Then the contents showcased a little bit of everything: classic sci-fi, some horror, a vintage Alan Moore story, and a superhero satire.  I’ve never read an individual issue of 2000 AD before, but after this I think I might need to add it to my pull list.
  • Valiant 2012 – Even though this was just a teaser book, it worked. I’m sufficiently piqued for the Valiant relaunch this summer.  Unfortunately, it’s still a bad free comic.  Marvel and DC put out things like this monthly; it’s a promotional item.*

* Yes, they’re all promotional items, but the point of Free Comic Book Day is, you know, a free comic book.

  • Yo Gabba Gabba – I really don’t know what to say about this one, since I am neither a small child nor a guardian of small children.  It definitely won’t appeal to anyone whose age is approaching double-digits, and there’s no hipster cred other than some nice work by Mike Allred and Evan Dorkin.  But might it get small children into appreciating comics?  Yes.  Yes it might. And that’s one to grow on.

And that was my 2012 Free Comic Book Day.  I think it was a raging success, even if not every book was.  I hope you found some great comics out there and have maybe been inspired to track down a few new things.  And only 11 months until next year’s!

DAMN, Emma Frost!

I’m glad the days of Fredrick Wertham are behind us, where paranoids found dirty drawings in every nook and cranny.  And I really have no problem with the realism in comic art today, where artists take it to draw every zipper and seam in a costume (or uniform, if you’d prefer).

But I was reading Uncanny X-Men #534.1 and came across this panel…

…and I can’t help but think that’s no seam.  I have no idea how this made it into a Marvel comic.

You Should Be Reading: Hark! A Vagrant

I’m pretty bad about reading webcomics.  Sure, I know they’re the big new thing, but with so much other stuff to keep track of online they wind up on the bottom of my surfing pile.  Ironically, I tend to pick them up when the print collections come out because, obviously, I do everything the wrong way.

And so it is with Kate Beaton’s webcomic Hark! A Vagrant, which I just recently snagged after hearing too many good things about it to keep ignoring.  And sure, there are the occasional superhero gags, like this great one about my buddy Aquaman:

But it’s just as likely to be about Canadian historical figures and Victorian literature, as evidenced by this amazing strip based around Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” At first I thought I had to be misreading something, or misremembering some long-ago reading assignment but no, Beaton went there.  And thank goodness she did, because there aren’t nearly enough comics that appeal to the literary nerd in me and still manage to be outright hilarious.

While there’s likely a chance the literary/historical focus could alienate some readers who are more into comics featuring Final Fantasy sprites, I found it a breath of fresh air.  Much like R. Sikoryak’s Masterpiece Comics, I found the pieces much easier to appreciate when I was familiar with the material they reference, but still easy to follow and get the joke even if I didn’t know the Canadian politician in question or (I know, I know) read Jane Eyre. 

Please, check out Hark! A Vagrant.  Besides, unless you’re weird like me, it’s free!

Our DCU Retcon

Geoff Johns, now DC’s Chief Creative Officer, has expended a considerable amount of time and effort restoring the DCU to what he remembers and loved as a kid.  And good for him!  He did the work, came up through the ranks, excelled at his craft, and wound up in a position to guide DC to what he likes best.  However, it does open the door for every other fan and DC-lover to do the same thing.  When we (inevitably!) become the CCO we’ll do the same thing.  As a sneak peak, here’s a preview of the things we’ll do to restore DC to what we remember as kids.

See, I didn’t start reading DC books until ’92 or ’93 with the death and return of Superman. There actually aren’t many good memories of DC when I was a kid to which I’d want to return, but there are somethings I’d do responsibly with my great power.

  • Flashpoint/ DCnU was all a dream. The Psycho-Pirate awakens from it to find he’s still in a padded cell within Arkham. ANNNnnnndd….
  • Barry’s dead. It’s nothing personal, Bowtie, but your death was the best thing about you story-wise. We’ll pick up with Wally again sometime after Waid’s phenomenal arc, “The Return of Barry Allen.” I like my heroes full formed rather than whining about the burden of legacy and self-doubt. Also, what’s wrong with guys with gadgets? Captain Cold’s powers are now natural? WTF?!? Instead of being inspired by the cool Icicle, he’s inspired by the douchy Johnsian Icicle, Jr.? Come one Manapul! I’d have a moritorium on the use of Captain Cold so that he could rest from having such a horrid redo.

  • Justice League International – This has come back somewhat with the New 52, but I like the idea of a Justice League in every country.  In fact, it was SUCH a good idea that Marvel had their own take on it with the Fifty-State Initiative.  It allows for more interesting backdrops, more characters to get spotlight, and gives other areas of the DCU such a time to shine.  To this end, Max Lord isn’t a villain anymore, either.  He was such a good bureaucratic good guy, a character we just don’t ever see.  And much like the (Marvel) Sandman’s return to villainy from heroism, it doesn’t feel right.  We’ve seen too many of his inner thoughts to buy that.
  • I’d also bring back annuals. What better way to tell a few short stories, tryout new writers/ artists/, make a few bucks, throw in some nifty supplement material, and entertain the reader? If there’s something better than an annual not tied to a cross-over, I haven’t found it. To my mind, an annual is a good way to both audition talent and examine aspects of a character or character dynamics that can’t find page space in the regular book.
  • No more Rainbow Lantern Corps – There will always be Green Lanterns, that’s a given, but the rainbow Corps (Corpses?) are only diluting the brand.  First task: get rid of all but green and yellow rings.  That’s been enough for 60 years.  We’ll then pare that down to one lantern corps: Green.  Most likely, just to make my mark, I’ll keep one yellow ring and have a lone Sinestro Corps member (not Thaal Sinestro) patrol the universe serving up fear.
  • Jason Todd is dead – Nuff said.  Fuck that guy

  • As a basic concept/ look, I’ve always been drawn to Hawkman. As a character…or convoluted series of characters… not so much. As Assistant CCO of DC, All of Hawkman’s origins go bye-bye. He’s not the reincarnation of an Egyptian prince, he’s not an alien. He’s not an avatar for some Hawk-god. He’s not even an amalgamation of those ideas. He’s just a shirtless guy with wings and a cool helmet that likes to beat the tar out of criminals with a mace…and he’s been around a long time. A non-origin worked for Wolverine for over twenty years. Why does Hawkman have to be from somewhere? He simply is. Done.
  • Marvel Crossovers – The Marvel/DC crossovers may not have always been great, but they’ve always been fun.  When I’m in the CCO seat the Marvel relationship will be repaired and task one will be getting the Batman/Daredevil crossover going.  I’m sure Bendis and Maleev are still up for it.  I think I’ll ditch the Amalgam concept, though.
  • Guy Gardner: Sexist Pig – Guy Gardner was always an ass, but for no discernible reason (other than spite).  Since taking the reins on Green Lantern, Johns has toned down that attitude considerably, and just made it a result of Gardner’s enthusiasm for the job.  We’re going back to the sexist braggart we all loved to hate.  But don’t worry: if you don’t like this particular take where there’s Jerk Guy Gardner, Earnest Guy Gardner is also lurking.  By Giffen and DeMatteis, if they’re willing.
  • When was the last time the Martian Manhunter actually hunted “men”? You need somebody found? Go see J’onn J’onnz. Yeah, we’re bringing that shit back.
  • No Superboy – I hopped on just after Crisis happened, when Clark Kent became Superman as an adult.  This was also before Reign of the Supermen, when DC just wanted to expand the brand.  While the Silver Age had some great stories, I think they’re silly for modern continuity.  And there have been dome decent Connor Kent stories, the whole thing seems like emo Superman.  So let’s just go back to that blissful period without a Superboy.

  • No Guardians – Those little blue guys are asses, and much like Matt’s feelings toward Professor X, I don’t think I’ve ever read a good story with them.
  • I’ve mentioned this before, but maybe someone will listen if I say it often enough. Captain Marvel and company need their own universe to play around in. It’s got to be a more timeless place. A modern setting doesn’t work, and being forced into a universe where dark psychotic killers exist turns Cap into drab generic punch’em-up kind of guy. A kid that turns into a grown up when he/ she utters a magic word is an idea that appeals to pre-teens because of its silliness and it’s wish fulfillment. A Captain Marvel book needs to be written with the same sensibility as Spongebob Squarepants or a Tex Avery cartoon. Silly and strange should be the order of the day when it comes to Captain Marvel.
  • Tim Drake: Robin – The current Robin situation is a huge mess.  Damian Wayne makes for a few good Morrison stories, but I’ve never liked the idea of Son of Batman, and it would take a huge reset button to put him back.  Honestly, I don’t know why DC didn’t do that in 2011.  Tim Drake was the right Robin for his time.  Rather than an acrobat, a physical character, he was something of a hacker, which played to Batman’s detective side and had to work EXTREMELY hard for his physical development.  And he was all planning, no impulse, which put him at odds with Jason Todd (seriously, fuck that guy).  Meanwhile, it feels like he was shoehorned into the Red Robin role because no one wanted to get rid of him but nobody knew what to do with him.  Put him back in the Robin suit and let’s get Damian back to being a digression.
  • Only Batman and Superman have multiple titles – It seems like only Superman and Batman can truly support more than one title.  Not Green Lantern, Aquaman, or Flash.  Let’s not dilute the brand, DC.  Focus your best talent on the top titles.  There don’t need to be 4 Lantern-related books on the stand each month.
  • One thing I’d keep that Johns and co. are doing right is the re-introduction of the anthology title or titles with rotating foci. While every hero or team is someone’s favorite, not all characters can support their own title. The New 52’s DC Universe Presents is an opportunity to… dare I say it… showcase characters and stories of this nature. But, why not do more? Bring back Mystery in Space and cast a wider net. Give the fans their Space Cabby, ULTRA, The Multi-Alien, Adam Strange, and others. What about a House of Mystery or a similar title for darker/ magical characters? Not only would I shuffle characters, I’d shuffle creators often. I’d use anthologies as an incentive to bring over and keep creative talent. It’s an opportunity for creators of on-going titles as well as new talent to play with more toys from the box. The only stricture would be to stay away from characters that currently have their own title.
  • Elseworlds – Placing familiar heroes in unfamiliar settings is a GREAT idea and produced some amazing stories.  Books Holy Terror, Red Son, and The Nail were both interesting takes on our heroes and took their concepts to the core so we could really examine what makes them strong.  In fact, it was such a good idea that it was the theme for an entire year of annuals.  Let’s see some more.