Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Quarterly Report: January-March 2007

"Patrick Stewart, Mr. T, and O.J. Simpson in . . .

A Comic A Day, the Third Quarter: Attack of the Samurai Penguin."

If I created a movie poster to represent this penultimate quarter of the A Comic A Day challenge, would I consider such a sensational tag line? Absolutely. First of all, the box office has proven that penguins make good movies; further, sensationalism (or more specifically its abusive father capitalism) is an inarguable commonality among the diverse selection of comic books I read between January and March. From movie tie-ins like Ghost Rider: Trail of Tears #1 to celebrity-touting titles like Leonard Nimoy's Primortals, from issues that promote corporate agendas like Captain Nauticus and the Ocean Force #1 to series that exploit current events like He Said/She Said Comics #5: The OJ Simpson/Nicole Simpson Story, many of these comics have a hook, some marketable reason to read them aside from the fact that they're just potentially entertaining comic books. This phenomenon begs the question, "Does the comic book industry wonder if it can really exist on its own?"

Consider the first comic book I read this calendar year, Spider-man: Reign #1. While this underscored miniseries initially reserved the promise of offering a dark final chapter to the Spider-man saga, in an unapologetically inspired-by-The Dark Knight Returns way (an air I approve of since Spidey is renowned for poking fun at his adversaries), the rise of Sandman and Venom as prominent and sympathetic villains by its final issue persuaded me to perceive the arc as just another appendage to the Sony Spider-man 3 marketing machine (similar to Spidey's recent "back in black" fashion move) . Sure, Venom was the presumed villain from the beginning, but Flint Marko's inconsequential side story was page filler for suspense's sake, an emotional footnote to the real action. Did Kaare Andrews intend to expound upon the Sandman's parental plight or was this digression's inclusion the result of editorial insistence? The fact that I even have to ask is indicative of the medium's susceptibility to the 24 hour pop culture cycle. Which came first, the comics or the movies?

Speaking of anticipated movies, one of the driving forces behind many reviews this quarter was the release of TMNT, the return of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the big screen. As a fan of the Turtles franchise and a burgeoning student of comic book history, I thought this radical renaissance was significant; I stand by my assertion that Eastman and Laird are our generation's Siegel and Shuster, creating characters that quickly became larger than they could've imagined, that spawned a trend in popular fiction that they certainly didn't intend but couldn't help but fuel. Alas, while the latter founded the immensely popular superhero genre as we know it today, the former established a . . . well, multi-adjective animal trend. The most blatant Turtles' spin-off that I've read, Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters, was neither homage or spoof, but a seemingly legitimate attempt to launch a franchise with its own identity -- a phenomenon that wouldn't have held water in any other medium. (Can you imagine a small but stable movie studio trying to produce a film about an adventurous archaeologist named Illinois Smith? Further, to be fair, at the suggestion of the Hamsters' creator, I read another ARBB issue this month and liked it . . . but what do they say about first impressions?) Yet, this small trend reveals the true potential of the comic book industry; with enough determination and capital, anyone can contribute anything to the medium.

I've been asked more than once how I can afford the arduous task of reading (thus, purchasing) a comic book a day for an entire year. Well, frankly, many of the comic books I've read have been pulled from the discount bins of shops and conventions throughout California and Arizona -- very few have been purchased at anything over their original cover price (and I would've purchased those Rocketeer issues at an inflated price, if that hobby shop not hadn't marked all of their back issues a measly dollar). That is to say, when one pulls a black-bagged issue of Superman #75 out of a quarter box right after Space Beaver #1, a certain sense of context begins to supersede one's perspective of the industry as a whole. No matter where a comic book might fall on the spectrum of production and talent, from the "big two" publishers to the struggling small press companies, everything is subject to public consumption and discretion. Supermarket #4 had an incredible look and feel for a single comic book issue; I bought it for a quarter. Shatter #3 was written by the highly respected Steven Grant and was billed as the future of comics, what with its exclusively computerized production; I bought it for a quarter. These issues aren't bad, but in an industry that is constantly evolving and expanding, they simply have to go somewhere. What's the promise of a movie development deal if your source material is buried in a dusty old quarter box in some retailer's warehouse? I'd be remiss not to mention that this quarter also featured comics that honored Black History and Women's History Months. Unlike previous holiday-oriented reviews, specifically during October and December, these issues weren't intended to boast the themes I had assigned them, yet each title contributed to my grand tapestry in one way or another, if not by establishing respective comic book icons (Static Shock and Power Man in February, the Grrl Scouts and the Grrrl Squad in March), then by asserting appropriate, applicable themes (see Strike!'s urban commentary or Iron Jaw's anti-feminist agenda). As comic books become a more significant driving force in pop culture, the medium's status as an art form, and thus a reflection of the human condition, could be easily forgotten. Yet, what would Spider-man be is Peter Parker wasn't a puny nerd, or the X-Men if Stan Lee wasn't inspired by the Civil Rights Movement of the '60s? The human condition is what makes this industry rich cinematic fodder in the first place!

What's this emphasis on movies and supplemental comic book media, you ask? Well, I confess an introspective inspiration to this quarterly review's intentions. I recently read a commentary that accused aspiring writers and artists of resorting to on-line review blogs, like A Comic A Day, when their original creative pursuits fail. While I'm still generating original material via my self-publishing vehicle K.O. Comix (the banner under which I exhibited at last weekend's Alternative Press Expo, another nagging inspiration for this drive toward originality), I cannot argue that my daily writing efforts fuel this project -- that is very stipulation of this personal challenge in the first place. I guess I'm saying that the movie industry is comic books' proverbial blog cop out -- the means through which, when all else fails, it can establish some sense of legitimacy. Like the frustrated artist, like me and dozens of fanboys like me, the comic will never be satisfied with itself and will remain its own toughest critic, yet it also won't hesitate to succumb to sensationalism if the opportunity arises. You ask me, originality and diversity could solve both problems, since they're both as ironically abundant as the quarter bins that now house the comic books that touted these qualities in the first place. Truly, comics suffer from the snake-eating-its-own-tail syndrome.

On a plane.

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