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.

Previews and Portents, September 2012

Well, I’m as surprised as anyone that we’re back for round two, but here we are, immersed in a 6000 page catalog yet again!  Let’s dig in!

Arsenic Lullaby Publishing

  • Arsenic Lullaby Pulp Edition – AL comes out so infrequently I haven’t had the chance to read it in YEARS, but I’m glad to see it’s still around and will definitely be picking this up.  If it were any less funny it would be the most offensive comic ever produced, but it’s NOT less funny and it’s the best for messed up humor.

Art Books

  • Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal – If you, perhaps, are a fan of the late muppet master, this adaptation of his diary sounds pretty cool (although I admit to having zero clue what they mean by adaptation).  It certainly has the potential to be extremely cool, though.

Boom! Studios

  • Superbia (Ongoing) #1 – I haven’t checked out Grace Randolph’s Superbia mini, but I probably should have.  We’re both huge fans of Randolph’s based on her Muppet-related work from Boom.

Boundless

  • Lady Death #23 – Wait, WHAT year is this?!?!? I’m all for irony, but this is ridiculous.

Dark Horse

  • Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities and The Orm of Loch Ness – More crazy madness in the Mighty Powell Manner!
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow — Wonderland – I’m not a Buffy follower, but it IS written by Jeff Parker, so it may be worth checking out on the strength of that alone.
  • Goon #44 – Giant monsters, cockfighting, and sexy ladies: I hope you CAN judge a book by its cover!

DC Comics

  • Before Watchmen – I’m glad to see that the fourth (and final) issues of these abominations in the eyes of the Moore means we can put them safely behind us and forget they ever happened.
  • Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus Vol 4 TP – The final volume of DC’s top-notch chronological reprints of the Fourth World. This is comics at it’s best, and Jack Kirby’s most focused and personal work.
  • Joe Kubert Presents #2 – It’s sad, but Joe Kubert’s participation in the Before Watchmen travesty pretty much guaranteed I wouldn’t support his future work.  Still, kudos to DC for releasing an anthology starring this comic book legend.  I hope they do this with other creators in the future.
  • Legends of the Dark Knight #2 – Ben Templesmith doesn’t tend to do superhero work, so if you’re still reading DC’s output, this is probably going to be beautiful and spooky, if nothing else.
  • Showcase Presents: Weird War Tales Vol 1 TP – I’ve never been much of a war OR a horror comic fan, but just looking at the list of creators involved here, it’s a pretty tempting bargain.

Dynamite Entertainment

  • Evil Ernie #2 – As confused as I am that there would be a Lady Death comic in 2012, multiply that by a hundred for Evil Ernie.  Did anybody really miss that cackling ghoul?  REALLY?
  • Masks #1 – Chris Roberson writes and Alex Ross paints the team-up book featuring all of the pulp characters Dynamite has been relaunching.  I just can’t believe I have to wait so long to get it in my hands. My only question is why the hell they’d cover up Zorro’s face with the logo like that?

 

EC Comics

If you’re so inclined, there’s another $300 of Golden Age crime and horror reprints to be had here.

  • Eerie Archives Volume 12 HC – If you recall, the last time I ran this feature I was pleased by the numerous options for snagging old-school horror reprints.  I’m afraid this is a rabbit-hole I can’t bring myself to go down, but it’s fascinating and welcome.

Hermes Press

  • Alex Toth’s Zorro: The Complete Dell Comics Adventures HC – $50 for 240 pages is REALLY spendy, but if you love Toth (and you really should) it promises to be a lovely collection.

IDW

  • Berkeley Breathed’s Opus and Outland – IDW’s archival reprints have been rivaling the qwuality of Fantagraphics’.  Here they wrap up their work on Breathed’s Bloom County by publishing his two follow-up strips.
  • Judge Dredd #1 – I haven’t had the opportunity to read much Dredd before, but IDW’s new series is probably a decent  starting point, at least if they ensure their stories actually GO somewhere.
  • Judge Dredd: The Complete Brian Bolland – $50 is pretty steep for 248 pages, but it’s at least guaranteed to be gorgeous and a decent primer on the character.  I’m thinking about snagging it.
  • Mad: Artist’s Edition – IDW’s Artist’s Editions are shot from the original art and printed at the original size, with all the corrections, blue lines, etc left in place so the reader can get the best possible impression of the artwork.  This one will include SOME story from every issue between #1-18 — including Bat Boy and Rubin — and promises to be the best possible glimpse you can get of real comics history.

Image Comics

  • Bloodstrike #34 – Rob Liefeld takes the reigns for the first time in the Extreme relaunch, and we’re going to see the most Liefeldy characters of the bunch in this one, including the original Shaft (displaced from Youngblood) and blatant Lobo ripoff Bloodwulf.  So yeah, I’m pretty psyched.
  • Cyber Force #2 – Coming off a successful Kickstarter campaign (which I admit I contributed to), this is going to be FREE if you visit a participating retailer.  So do that.
  • Thought Bubble Anthology 2012 – New work by Warren Ellis and Tony Harris alone would probably make me pick up this book, but there are some other top-name creators involved here.  I would HAPPILY support a full TPB with this caliber of creators attached, but this one is only 32 pages.

Marvel Comics

The Marvel NOW! soft relaunch (and where have we heard THAT little chestnut before?) is upon us, and now it’s time to ask myself if I want to continue aiding and abetting Marvel and DC’s game of soulless one-upsmanship or if I just want to check out now, like I did with the New 52.  Truth be told, there’s very little here that I find exciting, more just strategic.  Still, since I haven’t made that decision yet I’ll still keep an eye on them here.

  • All-New X-Men #1 – As long as the original 60’s stories still “happened,” I’m VERY nervous about this book.  Despite their mission the original mutant teens were still pretty happy-go-lucky, and I’d hate to see that ret-conned into no longer being true or having that explicitly destroyed.
  • Captain America #1 – In which Cap becomes John Carter, Warlord of Mars.  Who says the Silver Age is dead?  All you have to add is Cap-Mite and you’ve got 50’s Batman.
  • Indestructible Hulk #1 – MArk Waid is on fire lately, but Hulk: Agent of SHIELD?  Um…Not setting ME on fire.
  • Thor: God of Thunder #1 – Thor isn’t really one of the titles I pick up, but it IS Jason Aaron and that counts for a lot.
  • Uncanny Avengers #2 – The X-Avengers seems like a cynical ploy to me, like marrying the children of different royal families to build a stronger empire.  And yet Rick Remender, John Cassaday, and the Red Skull are a VERY tempting combination.  The Scott Summers lobotomy, though?  Eww.

Tamashii Nations

  • DX Soul of Chogokin: Mazinger Z Action Figure – Should you have $440 of disposable income or, like Friend of the Blog Ben who had the FIRST Mazinger Z web page on the Internet (it was a LOOOOONG time ago!), this looks pretty damn sharp.  And if in the future they should happen to make one featuring Optimus Prime or Voltron, well…I can;t say I wouldn’t snap it up myself.

 

Valiant Entertainment

  • Shadowman #1 – Valiant’s relaunch has been the highest-quality line-wide relaunch since…Well, since The Rob kicked Extreme off again.  Every single title I’ve read has been top-notch, even the ones I never really cared for originally.  With Shadowman they’re bringing back someone I really did like back in the day, so I’m happy to see Jack Boniface get the return he deserves.

Orders must be in to your LCS by September 18, 2012 (OOPS, sorry friends!) and are scheduled to arrive in November.

Sunnytime Review Show: Adventure Time #5

Adventure Time’s sixth issue came out last Wednesday, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t spend a little time talking about Adventure Time #5

It’s rare that we get surprised anymore.  Usually books are previewed and spoilered all over the Internet (and make no mistake there will be SPOILERS here, too) so that by the time you get it home and in front of you, you usually know exactly what you’re going to get when you crack open the cover.  Past that, once a few issues have been released you get to know the tone and approach of the book, so even with a great title the latest issue tends to feel like  just the most recent installment of an excellent run (see also Jeff Parker’s books, or Jason Aaron’s, or Jonathan Hickman’s). 

And so it’s been with Adventure Time, the comic anthology of Cartoon Network’s hit (I have to assume) show.  Written by Ryan North (of Dinosaur Comics) with art by Mike Holmes, it’s been a pretty consistent book.  Fun, zany mayhem with the characters you love, chock full of anthropomorphic candy and fist bumps, it’s a breezy read that somewhat betrays exactly how funny it is.  I mean, there’s a joke in almost literally every single panel.  Plus hidden messages!

When I brought home issue 5 I figured I knew exactly what I was into.  In this issue Jake the dog and Finn the human visit their pal BMO, who offers them a cupcake, but since they can’t decide how to share it a contest is devised: whoever can walk in a straight line the longest wins.  It doesn’t take long for their friendship (and most likely, laziness) to override their competitiveness so they can work together.  Then they stumble across Adventure Tim –a Finn/Jake composite — and his friend ALN.  They discover that their friends and adventures are almost exactly the same, but just a tad askew.  The Mice King attacks, they team up, and Finn and Jake return home having learned how to share.

Which is amazing.  I mean, it just works on all levels.  A kid could pick this up and get a funny, self-contained story (it’s a standalone issue) with a nice moral about teamwork and sharing that doesn’t feel overworked or preachy.  An adult can read it and stay happily delighted by the gags. 

But then — and I apologize if every other reader got this immediately and I’m just slow to arrive — North surprised me.  The entire issue was a love letter to fandom. 

Finn and Jake’s race in a straight line?  That’s a pretty straight homage to the first Superman/Flash race from Superman #199.  Adventure Tim is an admitted mashup of Finn and Jake, but it’s also a nice reference to the Composite Superman/Batman.  And Tim’s friend?  There’s been a long-time theory that when Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey, the insane computer HAL 9000 was a reference to IBM because those are the letters you get when you subtract one from each letter of IBM.  And when you subtract one letter from BMO it equals ALN.

None of this is done with an overt nod and a wink, but it’s there if you choose to see it and otherwise completely transparent, as it should be.  This is an exceptional and amazingly-crafted book, and that’s just the main feature.  The second backup is by indie legend Paul Pope, who manages to tell a short four-page story that’s true to both the characters and his own sensibilities.  Finally, the last story is a one-pager by Superman savior and Monkeybrain founder Chris Roberson and his 8 year-old daughter Georgia, with art by Lucy Knisley.  It’s a nicely-told story, but  the involvement of actual children along with their professional parents is such a charming touch I hope kaboom! continues to utilize it.

These days there are so many comics out there that just don’t know how to package and deliver entertainment.  All too often a story gets split into 6 issues and winds up stretched so thin that each part feels like the middle, or is bogged down in needless continuity, or frustratingly ignores any continuity whatsoever.  It’s so REFRESHING to pick up a comic where every single one of the 22 pages is packed with content, where there are no extraneous panels and every one is a delight.  Seriously friends, this is a perfect comic book. 

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.