Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Clean Break (of sorts)

Since I was thirteen years old I have been what you might term a "serious" comic collector. I had previously purchased the occasional comic from the newsstand, but after discovering specialty shops (after an episode of Simon & Simon–documented here) I took up the hobby in earnest.

In the twenty-eight years or so since, I have accumulated and sold many collections. My first collection of ten or so long boxes I sold to the shop that became my first employer after moving to California. The owner figured that no one would be able to price and highlight my collection better than me, so he hired me to do that and run his sport card department. It featured at least 20 books valued at over $300 each, and this was in 1991. I had a near complete run X-Men/Uncanny X-Men, and all the important Bronze Age first appearance and origin issues like Hulk #180-182, Amazing Spider-Man #127 and more. He gave me $3,000 and a job.

While employed there, I bought a crucial set of key and classic Marvel and DC Silver age books including the Neal Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow series,  complete runs of Tales of Suspense, Journey Into Mystery, Avengers and Fantastic Four. I donated that collection along with a newly acquired run of Uncanny X-Men (Giant Size #1 and #94 to somewhere in the high 260s) to The Boys and Girls Club of America in 1998. It was four long boxes and two short boxes with an Overstreet value of $220,000.00. I needed the $22,000.00 tax write-off badly, and made a lot of kids happy on Christmas Eve that year.

In the 90's I had gotten way into the Vertigo stuff, and when I moved to Chicago in 2005 I dropped off three short boxes of Sandman, Preacher and pretty much everything that Alan Moore and Frank Miller had written, at Meltdown Comics. Through some sort of lack of communication I never got paid for those, and I still bust Gaston's balls about it to this day.

A few years ago an old friend of mine got me back into the hobby. At about the same time, my mother moved from her house in Massachusetts to Arizona, and my sisters found my secret stash of two short boxes of what I considered the really great stuff. Weird one-offs by Alan Moore and Dave Stevens and Bernie Wrightson, and rare undergrounds by Richard Corben and Rick Veitch and Steve Bissette. UK imports of Warrior Magazine and Crisis. Basically, these were the comics that didn't have much price guide value but which I knew would be difficult to track down in the pre-internet 1980s. I had started to read Bill Willingham's Fables, and it launched me back into hardcore collecting. From Halloween 2009 until my birthday (October 17th) this year, I went from guy with no comic books to a guy with nine short boxes. That does not include the two to three dozen Ombnibus, Absolute or other special edition hardcovers that still occupy about fifteen linear feet of shelf space.

On Sunday, October 21st, I sold the entire Pop-Sequentialism collection, with the exception of some recent issues from a handful of series that are currently ongoing and therefore not collected in hardcover yet. Well, those and a literal handful of comics that I treasure too much to sell or give away. I kept a CBG 9.5 grade Howard the Duck #1, and a similar Werewolf By Night #32. The first was the book I always wanted as a little kid, and the second was the first one I actually bought. I also kept a fine condition Haunt of Fear #19, which was a sixteenth birthday present from the guys I worked with at my first after-school job. Those guys were my mentors and if I ever escape a house fire, you can bet that this comic book will be make it out with me ahead of my wallet. The only other two comics I kept were the original Trident Comics edition of Grant Morrison's St. Swithins Day, which almost became a movie in the mid 90s and was a dream project for me as a young actor, and very good House of Mystery #261, which features a brilliant Mike Kaluta cover of the grim reaper, which is an image I redrew with some proficiency in my teens and of which I am still proud today.

Why am I liquidating this important collection? Because I'm moving. I'm also getting married next year and I realized that I have a ton of stuff. Like any mad collector, I've had trouble limiting myself to just one area of collectibles, so I've got a couple thousand DVDs, way more books than space to display them, fifteen CaseLogic binders full of audio and data cds, crates of movie posters and lobby cards, more clothing than I will ever wear, and more shoes than any other straight man on the planet.

And I'm practically hemorrhaging art. I've got more paintings than square feet of walls. I've got way more sculptures than counter top space. I've got guitars that I almost never play but find it impossible to get rid of them. Do you know what I use for a coffee table? Architectural drawers filled with artwork.

Somehow I've managed to limit my toy collection to a single suitcase-sized box.

So what have I given up? The list is below. The collection now resides at Comics Vs. Toys in Eagle Rock, CA. The owner, Ace Aguilera, has been a friend of mine for almost twenty years. He's a fair dude, and his clientele for back issues is well matched for this collection, which represents some of the best work done in sequential storytelling over the past thirty years and more. There are full sets, and obscure runs within titles by great creative teams. There are random issues of forgotten series that feature absolutely iconic cover art from some of the industry's best.

This is Pop Sequentialism:

After Watchmen: What’s Next? 
Airboy #5 (Dave Stevens) 
Alias #1-12
Alien Worlds #2,4 (Dave Stevens)
All-Star Superman collection Vol 1 & #7-12 (Morrison) Anarchy Comics #2 (1st Tales of the Black Freighter)
Animal Man tp (Morrison), and complete Animal Man series
Astro City: Confessions
Back to Brooklyn #1-5
Batman Year One (#404-407 Frank Miller)
Batman #666, 686, 687
Batman & Robin #1-16 (Morrison)
Bedlam #1, 2 (Bissette & Veitch)
Blood: a Tale #1-4 (Kent Williams)
Blood of the Innocent #1-4
Brat Pack tp
Capt. America Reborn #1-6 (Brubaker)
Chaingang #1,2 (Rex Miller)
Cinderella From Fable Town with Love#1
City of Silence #1-3 (Warren Ellis)
Comico Attractions: Rocketeer (Dave Stevens)
King Sized Conan #1 (BWS)
Corinthian #1-3
Criminal: Sinners #1-5 (Brubaker)
Grant Morrison's Dare #1-4
Daredevil #41 (Bendis)
Dave Stevens greeting card (Thanks for a Wonderful Night)
DC Sampler #3 (Bissette & Moore Swamp Thing)
DC Spotlight #1 (1st Frank Miller Dark Knight, 1st Watchmen)
Death Rattle #16
Detective Comics #853-863
DNAgents #24 (Dave Stevens)
Doom Force #1 (Morrison)
Doom Patrol (entire Morrison run)
Dreaming #55
Eclipse Extra #53
Eddy Current v.2, 3
Egypt #1-7
Elektra Assassin #1-8 (Miller & Sienkiewicz)
Elvira's House of Mystery #11 (Dave Stevens)
Enigma #1-8 (Morrison)
Ex Machina (whole series)
Extremist #1-4 (Milligan)
Fables #81,90-98
Marvel Knights Fantastic Four 1,2,3,4 #1-4 (Morrison)
Fantasy Masterpieces #1
Filth (whole series - Morrison)
Giant Sized Man Thing #1
Glueboy #1-4
Golden Age #1-4
Gumby Summer Fun Special (Art Adams)
Hellblazer #1-8, 12&13, 18-22, 25-27, Dangerous habits tp, 53, 61-end of Ennis Run, #134-139 (Ellis Run), #250-268 (Milligan Run)
Heroes for Hope – signed
History of DC Universe #1&2 (Wolfman & Perez)
Horrorist #1&2 (Milligan & David Lloyd)
Human Target – mini series complete, ongoing #1-3, 7-18, 20 (Milligan)
Incognito #1-5 (Brubaker)
Invincible Iron Man #20-27
Invisibles – complete run of all three series (Morrison)
Jack Cross #1-4 (Ennis)
JLA - #1-18 (Morrison)
JLA Classified #37-41 (Milligan)
Joe the Barbarian #1-5 (Morrison)
Johnny Nemo Mag #1-4 (Milligan & Morrison)
Johnny Nemo coll v.1
Johnny Quest #5 (Dave Stevens)
JSA Liberty Files tp
Junk Culture #1&2
Kick Ass #1-7
Kid Eternitiy #1-3 (Morrison)
Kill Your Boyfriend (Morrison)
Kurztman Komix
League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen v.1 tp
Losers Special #1
Losers – complete Vertigo series
Love & Rockets Short Stories & Heartbeak Soup collections
Madman Jam
Mage, The Hero Discovered – complete first series
Merv Pumpkinhead
Mesmo Delivery
Mindless Self Indulgence – signed
Ministry of Space #1-3
Moon Knight #29&30 (Sienkiewicz)
New Frontier – complete series
New Funnies v.1 #126 (1938!)
New Titans #50-55 (Wolfman & Perez)
Northlanders #21,23
Ocean #1-6
100 Bullets v.5 tp
100 bullets #67,82,86-97
One Million #1-4 (Morrison)
Planetary All Over the World tp (Ellis)
Preacher: The Story of You Know Who #1 (Ennis)
The Programme #1-12 (Milligan)
Proposition Player #1-6 (Willingham)
Reid Fleming World's Toughest Milkman #1
Robot Comics #0
Ruins one shot #1
Sam & Max #1
Sandman: Endless Night Special
Scalped #1,7,9,10,11,14,15-28
Sea Guy tp
Sea Guy v.2 #1-3
Sebastion O #1-3 (Morrison)
Secret Origins #1 special (Gaiman)
Seduction of the Innocent 3D #2 (Wrightson)
Shade the Changing Man #1-70 (whole series)
Skreemer tp (Milligan)
Slow Death #8
Sheena 3D #1 (Dave Stevens)
Spider Woman #1-7 (Bendis)
Star Spangled War Stories #151 (1st Unknown Soldier /dbl cvr)
Dr Strange mini series #1-3 (Waid)
Stumptown v.1 #1-3
Sub Mariner #1,2 (coverless)
Superman Annual #11 (Moore & Gibbons)
Superman Batman #60-62
Superman for All Seasons (complete series)
Superman Secret Origins #1-3
Saga of Swamp Thing – #21-64, annual #2 (x2) Alan Moore run, Annual #3 (Veitch), #140-147 (Morrison/Millar)
Sweeney Todd (Gaiman/Zulli)
Tainted (Delano)
Tales of the Teen Titans #41-43 & Annual 2 (Judas Contract issues - Wolfman & Perez)
Tank Girl tp
Teen Titans Lost Annual
Territory #1-4, (Milligan)
Thessaliad #1-4
Journey into Mystery #91, #104, #116, 119, Thor #127, 128, 129, 132, 138, 139, 144, 145 (Kirby), Thor #601-603, giant sized finale (JMS), annual #1
Tongue Lash #1&2
Torso #1-4 Jinx #6
Transmetropolitan #1-60 (whole series)
True Love #1 (Dave Stevens)
Twisted Tales #2 (Wrightson)
Ultimate Avengers #1-3,5
Umbrella Academy #1-6 & free comic book day
Unknown Soldier #1-4 (Ennis)
V for Vendetta #1-10 (whole series - Moore & Lloyd)
Vanguard Illustrated #2 (Dave Stevens)
Vertigo Pop London – full series
Vertigo Preview
Vigilante #17&18 (Alan Moore)
Vimanarama #1-3 (Morrison)
Walking Dead tp v.1
War Story #1-3 (Ennis)
Wasteland #1-18
Watchmen #1-12, Watchmen button set (Moore & Gibbon)
Wednesday Comics (complete set)
We3 tp (Morrison)
Witchcraft #1-3
the Witching #1-10
Wonder Woman #27 (Quitely variant)
World of Wood #1-4 (Dave Stevens)
X-force & X Statix (all Milligan issues)
New X Men (complete Morrison run)
Crime Does Not Pay #46 (classic SOTI)
IT #1 (Gaiman magazine)
Mad Magazine #159 (A Clockwork Lemon)
Neat Stuff #9
Neat Stuff best of
Weirdo #10 (first Peter Bagge art)
Comics Journal #273 (Gaiman), 278 (Gaiman), 176 (Morrison)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Daredevil's Long Goodbye

Daredevil has been a sort of generational touchstone at Marvel Comics since Frank Miller took over the title in the late 1970s. His initial work on the title–especially when collaborating with inker Klaus Jansen, was (for a time) considered the best comic book run in the long history of the superhero. His revisitation of the character in 1986 was arguably better, and that Born Again story arc became the high water mark against which all other monthly comic plots had to compare.

Many high profile teams of writers and artists followed, including David Mack who brought in pal Brian Michael Bendis to succeed him, and it was the latter's four years at the helm of the title with artist Alex Maleev that matched and outdid the great work Miller had done on the title. Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark had the unenviable task of following the best ever run on the storied franchise of Daredevil and managed to match it for the next three and half years.

Once again, many talented folks followed, but none have lived up to the back to back Bendis and Brubaker years–including the current award-winning series by Mark Waid. That all changed two days ago with the release of Daredevil: End of Days #1. Mack and Bendis began plotting this series back in 2006, and have an artistic dream team in former Miller collaborators Klaus Jansen and Bill Sienkiewicz. Why the long wait? There's just no rushing perfection.

So what happens when one of the least conventional comic creators teams with one of the most popular?

They kill Daredevil.

This isn't really a spoiler, as the hero's corpse is pictured on the cover of the first of eight issues, and his death is revealed a mere five pages into the actual comic (after a gruesome battle with long time nemesis Bullseye). This story takes place in the not-too-distant future and so is outside regular Marvel Universe continuity. In many ways it's the perfectly spaced conclusion to the "Wake Up" story that Mack penciled for Bendis back in 2001. We've all known that the red, horned guardian of Hell's Kitchen wasn't going to die of old age, and he wasn't ever going to retire. It's always been in the cards that Matt Murdoch would die in his Daredevil costume, and via Daily Bugle journalist Ben Urich we get the story. Like Citizen Kane, End of Days opens with a great man's dying words and hopefully in the next 7 issues we'll learn what they meant. Regardless, this is some of the best writing out there, and it's great to see Jansen and Sienkiewicz back in top form. There is a double page spread of the Bugle office immediately following a double page spread of the killing blow, and so textured and detailed is the newsroom that I spent a full five minutes scanning it. This is one of those books that is so sumptuous, that you almost don't want to turn the pages but so compelling is the script that you're helpless against the urge to continue. This is why we buy comics.

I've known David Mack for a little while now. He's a friend and if I asked him he might just tell me what's going to happen in this eight-issue mini-series. Of course that would rob me of the great joy of discovery I am guaranteed from now until next spring. I think I'll wait.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Valiant Effort Rewarded

The new Harbinger (#6)
The story of the Valiant Universe is a brief and convoluted tale of greed, double-crosses, and espionage–and that doesn't even address the comics they published!

In 1989 former Marvel CEO Jim Shooter found himself a persona non grata in the industry he helped shape and flourish. After a failed attempt to buy Marvel and another failed attempt to buy Harvey he found a venture capital group willing to bankroll a new comic publishing empire. In 1991 after a brief stint publishing books based on Nintendo and World Wrestling characters, they licensed characters from the old Gold Key line (Magnus Robot Fighter, Turok Son of Stone, Dr. Solar), and focused on the original superhero business plan.  Within two years a creative team that included Bob Layton and Barry Windsor Smith helped expand the Valiant Universe with original characters Harbinger, X-O Manowar, Rai, and Shadowman, followed by Eternal Warrior and Archer & Armstrong. HARBINGER #1 was named "Collectible of the Decade" and in 1992 Shooter was given Wizard's Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1993, Valiant was named Publisher of the Year, and the company's monthly circulation was almost identical to DC Comics (a 50 year publishing veteran). Valiant titles like those already named and the new Bloodshot and Ninjak regularly occupied the top 10 alongside Batman, Spawn, Spider-Man and X-Men.

By 1994, Shooter was gone and his investors, Triumph Capital, sold their shares to video game giants Acclaim Entertainment. They had great (though short-lived) success with games based on the Gold Key characters Magnus and Turok as well as original Valiant character Shadowman and an Iron Man / X-O Manowar crossover game, but they ceased publishing monthly comics and the line that had overtaken Marvel, DC, Image, and Dark Horse was no more.

Of course there were other problems in the industry at that time–problems that many industry historians blame on Valiant. Shooter had fallen out of favor with the fans after a series of private memos on company letterhead at Marvel revealing his contempt for comic fans was leaked at The Comics Journal. He had been the man responsible for "dumbing down" the story arcs to concentrate on crossover events like Secret Wars, and was a big fan of gimmicks.

At Valiant, Shooter engineered the #0 origin issues, launched the variant cover concept with limited gold foil editions took the company-wide crossover concept into overdrive to the extent that events in any given comic could repercussions upon any other title without warning, forcing avid readers to purchase all titles in the company's imprint. For a little while these tricks worked and even inspired the competition to copy the format, so that "Platinum" editions appeared in DC's Vertigo line and multiple covers became normal at Marvel and Image. These gimmicks had drawn speculators into the hobby and led to inflated orders on any new first issue so that more premium, variant covers would be shipped with those orders. For a while, the ballooning prices of gold foil editions of Valiant books were so much higher than the standard Valiant books that it would have been worthwhile to order 100 copies of any issue and burn the 95 standard copies to sell the 5 premiums for $60 or more apiece.

History has taught us that going back to the same well so often leads to a drought, and the entire industry almost died in the years that followed. It was the independents that saved comics back then, and the stigma against superheroes has only recently (with successful film franchises) begun to wear off. Have they learned their lesson?

Of course not.

Marvel and DC have continued to alienate new readers by choosing to sell company-wide crossovers and variant covers to the people already invested in their product. There is absolutely no growth potential in this marketing plan. Marvel has gone to a bi-weekly publishing schedule and expanded successful title X-Men from one to twelve separate titles, only two of which are any damn good. This is a cannibalization of the buying demographic, and if any of the people buying these titles misses two months, they'll be out for good. And no matter how many times they reset to the beginning, continuing to dilute the market insures that spiked sales among the same buyers isn't the same as attracting new readers. It's an all eggs in one basket approach, and it's foolish.
Enter the New Valiant.
From left to right: Chief Creative Officer Dinesh Shamdasani, Sales Manager Atom! Freeman, Marketing and Communications Manager Hunter Gorinson and Publisher Fred Pierce. © Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons.
In 2007, a lifelong fan of the Valiant Universe scraped together enough equity to rescue the Valiant characters not originally published by Gold Key from Acclaim's bankruptcy. Jason Kothari and Dinesh Shamdasani formed Valiant Entertainment and endeavored to revive their favorite line of comics. They hired Jim Shooter, but wound up suing him for a breach of contract when he agreed to write Magnus Robot Fighter for Dark Horse. There was also a long litigation with Valiant Intellectual Properties LLC, who seemed to be under the impression that Acclaim had failed to renew the trademarks during their bankruptcy, and thought they had a free ride. In August 2011, Kothari and Shamdasani hired another former Marvel CEO, Peter Cuneo, and the summer of 2012 was announced as the "Summer of Valiant." 

I was never a big fan of the original Valiant books, and the fact that none of those back issues held their value was a sign to me that most of the people who bought those 50 million issues turned out not to be, either. I hated the coloring in the books which made the artwork look muddy, and having been obsessed with Barry Windsor Smith's Conan and Machine Man, and expecting something on par with his Weapon X, I was quite non-plussed by his work at Valiant. I love Bob Layton, and his work on Marvel's Iron Man (whether inking himself or John Romita Jr.) stands as one of the best runs on the title, but he wouldn't have been my first choice to ink Smith or Art Nichols. It was fine journeyman work (as was most of the Valiant art), but under that flat color it all seemed to have a "house" look. It must be noted that as an editor, Layton excelled, and the story was always front and center at Valiant. 

While I wasn't a fan of the comics, it's really hard not to root for fanboys who take over the company, so with the hype at comic shops at a fever pitch for this new launch of the other major publisher of the 90s, I went out and bought the first five issues of the new X-O Manowar, the first four issues of the new Harbinger, Bloodshot 1-3 and Archer & Armstrong 1 & 2. What do I think?

The artwork on these titles is really good. I also like the new Valiant logo which reminds me of a classic car hood ornament. The writing is on par with most of what's out there, and in the case of Harbinger, its well above par. Joshua Dysart is in the top ten percentile of comic book scribes at the moment, and hasn't over extended himself on too many titles yet. I don't like that all of the new Valiant comics offer alternative covers, but I do like that they aren't offered as premiums. You can choose which cover you prefer or you can buy both if you are so inclined.

If I'm to break it down by title, I found X-O Manowar to be implausible and overly complicated, but readable. Too much is taken for granted as far as reality is concerned, but it's a comic book and complaining about suspension of disbelief in a superhero comic is pure folly.

Bloodshot has a good story but the actual writing was situational in that the situation of the plot seemed to determine the writing style, so there was no "voice" to the comic. It's too early to judge if that can be maintained for a long run, but it's not bad. The art is really good and I enjoyed it.

Archer & Armstrong is extremely well drawn by Clayton Henry and the covers have been the best of the entire line so far. It's a humor title, though, and I'm not a big fan of that. Maybe J.M DeMatteis burned me out on Justice League, or maybe Garth Ennis took it too far in... pretty much everything, but I like my heroes serious with a bit of comedy thrown in, not the other way around. I love to watch Monty Python, but I'm not sure I'd read a comic book of the Life of Brian. I realize I may be in the minority here, though, so If you like silly, you'll love this.

Harbinger is excellent. The covers haven't been doing the interiors much justice, but if you want to read any of the new Valiant books, this is the one I'd recommend. It's layered, and all the characters seem to be walking the same nebulous line between cause and conviction adding a strong sense of mystery and even paranoia to the proceedings. Writing is great, art is great and I'll be continuing to follow this book.

I've heard that the upcoming Shadowman is incredible, so I'll just have to wait and see.

They're off to a strong start and I wish these guys luck. I hope they can steer clear of the nonsense that brought the original company down, and if they're looking to expand with some NEW characters I've got a great female protagonist I'd be happy to pitch...