The Rubber Band Effect

So today I’d like to take a moment to talk about one of the big things that got me to stop reading comics from the “big 2” (Marvel & DC) and focus more on Indie Comics. It’s called the “rubber band effect” and it just kills me.

Ok so there is this concept I’ve dubbed “the rubber band effect” and it is best illustrated by asking “Who is Batman?”. The answer is, “Bruce Wayne”. Now I hear some of my more seasoned readers shouting, “What about that fantastic run by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely where Dick Grayson was Batman or when, in the 90s, Azrael was Batman?” and that my friends is the point. No matter what happens there is too much of a brand built up around Bruce Wayne being Batman that they will never replace him. Now let’s extend this to the infamous “Death of Superman” even from the 90s. Superman is likewise too big of a brand to die.

They do these changes for sheer shock value but they never are permanent- they always “rubber band” back into place. You can stretch and mold a character into whatever shape you want- but it will eventually snap back to a recognizable form. I will admit that over a long period of time changes can slowly become permanent but it’s a progressive evolution over decades (like Batman getting “darker”) and not really the fault of any one writer.

Now, I understand why they do this. If a new reader (or even an established one) picks up a comic about the Flash- they expect it to be about the Flash. If it’s about a gun-wielding depowered Barry Allen that might fly for a few issues or maybe even a event, but eventually they want to see him zip around in red tights again. These characters have a place in our mind because they are so iconic and to change that means we can’t identify with them. You also have dozens of writers working with these characters in one medium or another of the course of a decade (in the case of Batman it’s the movies, TV shows, various comic lines, cross-over events, etc). A little change gets lost in the “noise” of these writers writing a character for various demographics and telling different stories.

So why does this bother me if it is inevitable? On some level I really wish comic events and changes “meant” something. Like after I read that Damian Wayne died on February 27, 2013 I turned to my fiancée and said, “I give him 2 years”. Sure enough, in June 2014 the story arch “Robin Rises” started and he was back on his feet by December 2014. Knowing this, as a long time reader, it just takes the “umph” out of any sort of major change. They hype it up and blow it up but eventually it all snaps back into place.

Now there are exceptions but they take a lot of time and effort to pull off and no editorial mandate is going to force it to occur. It’s a matter of popular opinion. In 1986 Frank Miller wrote the seminal work “The Dark Knight Returns” and showed Batman in a very dark and gritty light. Along with the success of Alan Moore’s Watchmen in that same year we ushered in the “Dark Age” of comic books where anti-heroes and a more mature focus became the norm. Without public opinion and the strength of the writing in those books we wouldn’t have had the adoption of elements from the mainstream (or… Rob Liefeld). As a result of this we see a more homogenized version of Miller’s Batman (because he is 10 shades of bat-shit crazy in Miller’s hands) in the mainstream nowadays.

So effectively what sticks and what doesn’t is a popularity contest. Comic companies, believe it or not, do not make most of their money on comic sales. They use comics as their testing grounds for what should be adapted into the “long term” canon of a character’s mythos. For example, 1988s Batman: The Killing Joke (also by Alan Moore… in case you had any question of his impact on comics as a genre) was so popular that Barbara Gordon’s paralysis and subsequent role as the hacker and information broker “Oracle” was made canon. I mean Jason Todd (one of the Robins) was literally killed off due to a voting contest.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel however. Now I’ve brought up some fantastic limited series comics in this little rant of mine and that is where the “meat” is. Stories that exist outside normal continuity can have characters die for good, can have them undergo drastic transformations (for better or worse) over the course of the pages. If you want to see where the future of a character is going to be- look at the popular limited series.

Here are some to check out:

  • The Sandman (my all-time favorite)
  • Watchmen
  • Old Man Logan
  • Batman: The Killing Joke
  • Ex Machina: First 100 Days
  • Astonishing X-Men (Joss Whedon’s stuff)
  • Runaways (SOME rubber-banding)
  • The Dark Knight Returns
  • Kingdom Come
  • Hellboy
  • Batman: Year One
  • DC One Million
  • All-Star Superman
  • Legends of the Dark Knight
  • Spiderman 2099

Where I Have Been For the Last Four Months?

Clock_King_1

So let’s go over the big question I’ve got a few times, “Hey Scott, where were you for the last four months or so?”.The short answer is “busy”. The long answer is “very busy”. I recently left my day job to pursue my MBA full time, rather than part time. I’ve also been spending time finishing up writing duties on two separate independent comic series “Good Samaritans” and “Vis”. That’s right- now you guys can make fun of my comics like I do to yours (revenge is sweet isn’t it?). I’ve had the pleasure of working with some absolutely fantastic artists and editors during this process and it has been very illuminating.

 

That being said you can now check out my first comic, Good Samaritans #1 for FREE on DriveThruRPG and keep up with my work on Facebook at Scott Gladstein Presents.

 

Deep/Dark Comics Rant

Ok so I’m gonna soap box here for a minute. Please pardon my little rant.

 

Dark =/= good, deep, or even emotional.

 

Some comics REALLY suffer from this. I think I’ve made the statement “it has really well done, thematically appropriate, stylized art that fits the dark tone of the comic” a half dozen times recently. It kinda of bothers me. Like why do people think that doing some hyper stylized, unbelievably dark tone automatically makes a comic “good”?

 

I think it takes a lot more skill to craft a comic that has an upbeat or neutral tone. The Captain America movies did a fantastic job of portraying an heroic character in a shitty world and still kept it upbeat! “Life sucks”. Congratulations, you’ve discovered what every 8th grader has. Harping on it for 64 pages while you tell what would otherwise be an interesting story doesn’t lend gravity to a story- it detracts from it.

 

I get that HBO and other contemporary media sources kind of made this a “thing” but if I have to slog though ANOTHER dark “twisted” or “grittily realistic” indie comic I’m going to go insane. I’ve really done a million of them. Doing this doesn’t make you “unique”. It makes you trite. It’s not fun to read and doesn’t make me want to come back for more. It’s like a punishment from the comic gods. I guess I need to add that to my list of “so often overdone genres of indie comics” right there next to ill-thought out superhero comics with no substance 😦 .
Ok, sorry. I had to get that out of my system. Now back to reviewing gritty, twisted, dark, indie comics…

Things You Might Have Missed in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

So since not everyone is a huge comic nerd I thought it would be fun to put together a little “what you might have missed” guide of sorts. If you’re a Marvel fanboy, you probably know all this and more. I’m sure I’m missing a few things here but here were some of the highlights. I know I normally just do reviews on this site but I figured this would be a welcome entry 🙂

Oh yeah, this post is going to be spoiler-tastic so stop reading if you haven’t seen it.
Batroc
That dude who hijacks the boat and has that awesome fight scene with Cap? Yeah, that’s Batroc the Leaper. Old Marvel villain. Super cheesy but it was cool to see him. I was kind of wondering why the guy could LEAP so far until I figured out who he was 🙂

 

Brock Rumlow
You know that random SHIELD agent they gave a bunch of screentime to? The one who lead the strike team with Cap? Yeah, he is Crossbones. Another Cap villain. The end teases that he is alive.

 

Bruce Banner
Yep, they name drop the big green guy during the scene with Fury getting “almost killed”.

 

Agent Sitwell
This SHIELD agent has popped up in a lot of the Marvel movie universe. He was in Thor, had a cameo in the Avengers on the Helicarrier, and Agents of SHIELD. He’s the bald dude with glasses.

 

Dr. Strange
Yep, you hear them namedrop the man behind Dr. Strange (Stephen Strange) in that comic in one point in the movie. It is when Sitwell tells Cap that there are “dangerous people out there” like Stephen Stranger, etc, etc, etc.

 

Wargames
Yeah… that was a wargames reference Black Widow made.

 

The Chitauri Scepter
In the end credits interjected clip we see the staff Loki used during The Avengers being tampered with.

 

Falcon

Ok so it’s not a “what you might have missed” but the Falcon in the comics is like a product of the 70s (check out the disco-tastic costumes he has worn). Of note, he was the first African American superhero (Black Panther doesn’t count- he’s not American). He had a pet falcon named Redwing, he was a pimp who had his memories altered by the cosmic cube, and had a random flight suit. At one point he got Black Panther to hook him up with like cyber wings and stuff. I actually like the reboot quite a bit- but I think he was a little shoehorned in there.

 

Kill List
So I didn’t get to see ALL the names on the list of people the automated helicarriers were targeting as dangerous people- once the DVD hits I’m sure we will see some interesting names on the list but I DO remember that Tony Stark and the President (in the Marvel movie universe) being listed.

 

Black Widow
So there was a few interesting lines from her in this movie. She keeps talking about how she’s adopted too many different personas in her life as a spy and she doesn’t know who she is anymore. This is kind of fun because, in the comics, she was basically brainwashed and psychologically conditioned and doesn’t really have a clear memory of her past. I wonder if that’s still in play.

Also cool little side note from The Avengers: Hawkeye and her become romantically involved in the comics and that is one of the reasons she defects from Russia to the USA.

 

Baron Von Strucker
That dude with the monical in that end credits is Baron Wolfgang von Strucker. Another Avenger villain.

 

Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch
Finally, the big one in the end credit scene is Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. They are two big-name mutants (Magneto’s kids) and some of the earliest members of the Avengers. There is a story behind this though. Since Fox owns the rights to X-Men movies, Marvel can’t put mutants in their movie. The ONE catch however is that Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch showed up in the Avengers a lot. This means they fall into both categories and thus Marvel can use them in their upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron movie. The end scene credits suggest they are going to get their powers from experimentation by Baron Von Strucker’s guys and might involve the infinity stones or at least Loki’s chitauri scepter.

Fun fact, Scarlet Witch hooks up with a living robot known as “The Vision” after joining the Avengers and is responsible for the weirdness that happened in the “House of M” storyline.

Top 5 Best and Worst of 2013

Alright gang, so every critic out there seems to be doing “Best of 2013” and “Worst of 2013” lists so I figured I’d toss my hat in the ring. I’ve only been doing this for about 4 or 5 months and I am not restricting my candidates by year they were produced, more year I reviewed them. Also, for those folks who are keeping track at home, please disregard my metrics and the like- I am going for what I enjoyed and turned my stomach the most at. The lists will be top 5s.

Worst of 2013

Honorable Mentions: iHero, Screw Phillips, Surreal Murder Mysteries, Division M

5. Pink Pandas

This comic’s disconnect between audience and tone is staggering.

Clearly written by someone who doesn’t understand his source material. Ultimately it was harmless though.

4. HellOhGirl

The face of the sex doll with photo-realistic skin and a pink wig will remain in my nightmares for years to come and lets not talk about the half-naked cyclops or that hellish TV announcer. The reason it’s not lower on this list is because despite its faults it had some half way decent attempts at humor even if they fell flat. At least there was some passion behind it.

3. Pentavis Chronicles: Unearthing Project

You’ll notice a lot of these comics I grade down have poser art. I don’t think it can’t be used to make a good comic but I do think 90% of the comic I read that use it are downright terrible. I don’t know if it is a lack of investiture with their source or that it is the lowest common denominator when it comes to art, but it is almost always terrible. Anyway Pentavis has the distinction of having the worst lettering of 2013 (with some nasty eye biting yellow text). Couple that with some straight up terrifying poser expressions and rushed aimless plot and you’ve got yourself a recipe for disaster.

2. Kinesis

Kinesis is the epitome of this poser art low/no budget production style indie comic that I see plaguing the internet. I’ll call them “armchair comics” because it almost comes across as a non-professional who REALLY LIKES comics and has some odd idea in their head that festers until they muster up the bare minimum of effort to tell us a story. I mean it is clear that the writer was really excited about making the comic and now is probably telling people that he is a “comic writer (but it’s no big deal)”. Yeah, by technical definition- he wrote a comic. But honestly, this is as much a comic as a flipbook is a movie. Sorry if I’m being so hard on this but it is really a problem with the indie industry. With the floodgates open to anyone who can put together some semblance of art and lettering able to produce a comic, it means we are going to get bad comics. However, every time we get something without a driving purpose, forethought, and a mind for what the audience will think about a comic and someone reads it- it lowers the perceived value of comics (indie or otherwise).

Kinesis gives us a juvenile plot, horrific art, a lack of understanding of the visual aspect of the medium, and so much more. It seems like someone just recorded two 4-year old boy playing together with their toys and made a comic with nightmare-fuel art.

1. Female Force: Nancy Reagan

It’s a Blue Water Productions “comic-mill” style comic that someone crapped out after reading the wikipedia page on Nancy Reagan. This is the kind of comic someone might give you as a kid as some kind of an “educational gift” that would make you cry and ask for some bad Rob Liefeld artwork instead. I get the intention that this would be some kind of “inspiration” to women, but it is so soulless and unfocused in terms of its story that I was going to list this at #2 but I couldn’t bring myself to say Kinesis was worse than it. At least someone actually wanted to make Kinesis.

Best of 2013

Honorable Mentions: Gonzo, Trip, Average Jo, C.U.P.I.D.S, One-Man, Slave

5. Crunch: Revenge

Ok so there were a lot of comics who scored higher than Crunch but I couldn’t bring myself not to include this little gem on the list. It reminds me of the better parts of Venture Brothers and all the pulpy action bits were just too much fun to ignore.

4. Turtle Guitar

Art meets comics in a way we haven’t seen very often. This is more a visual exploration of a theme and vibe more than a story and I loved it. It was nutty, different, and deserves the #4 spot.

3. Fates Abound

Fates Abound really caught me out of no where. I went in with really low expectations and it had to battle uphill though some of the first chapter but once it hit its stride in the 3rd act of the first issue I was hooked. It had such a wonderfully bizarre and twisted premise that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. While the first act could have been handled better, it was almost required to play out the way it did for it to come to that kind of conclusion. I like an underdog so #3 is where you find this one.

2. Exit Generation

It was a really hard choice between Exit Generation and Fates Abound for the #2 slot. While Fates Abound probably had a more solid premise and twist- Exit Generation was pint for pound a stronger all around comic. It was unbelievably well structured, had a very expressive and fitting art style, human characters, an off-kilter sense of humor that manifests itself wonderfully in the 3rd act, and painstaking effort put into the personalization of the characters via contextual clues. Just goes to show that a lot of attention to detail and planning goes a long way!

1.The Misadventures of Electrolyte and The Justice Purveyors

I hate generic superhero premises, I hate pastiches, I hate parody for parody’s sake, and despite all this I loved Electrolyte. It was made up of all the trends I hate about indie comics but… it worked. It worked and rocked out loud. Any of these top 3 comics could have been my favorite for 2013 but Electrolyte engaged us with such conviction and bravado that I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically as I read it. It goes to show that even when the ingredients SHOULD produce a terrible result in the hands of a master they can make something amazing. The art and lettering were top notch and I got to know all the characters very well. A few of the twists are predictable but they almost make fun of it. I don’t think Electrolyte will ever get a blockbuster movie made about it but I do think that you should give it a read.

In an unrelated note, they sent me a signed copy of their comic! I am so proud of it!

In an unrelated note, they sent me a signed copy of their comic! I am so proud of it!

Conclusion

This year I got to read a whole host of indie comics from stunningly bad to wonderful and I wouldn’t have skipped a single one. I laughed my way through the worst of them and reveled in the slime when it was dumped on me. I’ve been sought out by publishers, rank #2 in google for “Indie Comic Reviews” (Just behind Comics Alliance!), became a featured reviewer for DriveThruComics, and started to write for C42 as well. It’s been a good year and I can’t WAIT to see what happens for this site in 2014! My goal is to have 100 reviews by this time next year.

Anyway, Happy Holidays!

-Scotty G

Blue Water Productions Rant

Alright, after a brief absence I’m back. I actually wanted to review some comics but nothing good popped up on my radar. Since becoming a DriveThruComic featured reviewer, I have been receiving a LOT of comics to reviews. Unfortunately the vast majority have been from a company named “Blue Water Productions”. Literally 95% of the comics sent to me were from them. I wanted to take this opportunity to voice my strong dislike of them. I know there is a lot of bad press surrounding their alleged bad business practices regarding their payment of those who work for/with them, but that is not what I’m talking about (it is covered better than I could by Johanna Draper Carlson on Comics Worth Reading).

My issue with them is that they are giving the industry a bad name, They release a dozen low budget, poorly made, comics with no thoughts for their production value. See my review on Female Force: Nancy Reagan to see what I’m talking about, but in essence their comics have no heart. It seems like they were churned out in a week and lack the degree of polish and professionalism I’ve seen in other comics. Sorry for the rant but I’ve just got SO many of these god awful comics sent to me recently.

That being said, I will not be reviewing Blue Water Productions products in the future. Call it a boycott if you want but they just push my buttons the wrong way.