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Project Superpowers #0-#3
By Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, Doug Kaluba, Stephen Sadowski, Carlos Paul, Andy Smith, and Various
#0: $1.00, #1-3: $2.99 each, FCBD: Free
Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Two series’ launched recently with very, very similar premises: Forgotten heroes from the Golden Age of comics, roughly World War II, are taken out of commission for 60-odd years, re-emerging into the present day with times having radically changed around them. One of those series, The Twelve by J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Weston and published by Marvel Comics, has been surprisingly good. I look forward to each issue and the progress that these forgotten heroes are making in the post-Civil War Marvel Universe, and no one is more surprised about that than I. But with a full 30 days between installments of The Twelve I figured I’d give the other series a go, see if I could find something to fill my “old-timey-men out of place and out of time, with seeeeeeeeeeecrets” jones.

So, that was pretty much a mistake. Despite very, very similar starting points, the two series could not be more different than one another. Whereas The Twelve is a gritty and intriguing mystery/drama slowly being revealed to the reader, Project Superpowers is a pretty straight-forward superhero beat’em-up by Alex Ross and Jim Krueger, the creative team behind Earth X. Actually, if you’ve read the Alex Ross vehicles Earth X and especially Kingdom Come, you’ll be on incredibly familiar ground here as all of the standard Alex Ross tropes are here: Repentant old-man narrator, guide from the spirit world, classic heroes appalled by the sorry state of the modern world and its heroes, and more iconic characters standing around posing than you can shake a stick at… Which isn’t to say that Project Superpowers is particularly bad either as a comic or as an example of the contemporary superhero genre, it’s just not what I was looking for.

So on its own merits then, how does the series hold up? I’m not as ‘into’ the big superhero mythology stories as most, but I still found enough to enjoy in the series to keep reading through. The series itself isn’t drawn or painted by Ross, but instead by a fella named Carlos Paul, who has a cartoonish vibe to his pencils, sort of half-way between one of the contemporary anatomist pencilers like Steve Sadowski or Doug Braithwaite, and someone like Norm Breyfogle. The art is always at least functional, with the characters clearly blocked out and the story easy to read, and occasionally there’ll be a nice level of polish on the illustrations as well. Granted, it’s still got a bit of that garish contemporary superhero colouring to it–something that Ross seems to have largely eschewed in his own work lately–but it’s got more of a painterly vibe than most contemporary comics work which created a great deal more visual interest than most books on the rack. It’s still going to be a bit of a shock-to-the-system for readers picking up an “Alex Ross Book” and getting not Alex Ross art inside, but the work is much more Brent (Astro City) Anderson than contemporary-meh-DC-penciler, which will soften the blow.

As for the story? I’ll be honest, it’s a step above most contemporary superhero comics, but that’s quite clearly me damning this with faint praise. Alex Ross is a poor writer, and I’m not quite sure what Jim Krueger’s contributions have been, but I really remember liking some of his earlier work… The biggest problem Project Superpowers faces is that ‘clarity’ seems to be a four-letter-word, with the writers mistaking confusion for drama. There are lots of short scenes dropped in without explanation, lots of cuts back and forth in space (and occasionally time), blind prophet characters shouting about the end of days, ghosts shouting about spectral duty, superheroes just shouting at one another, and so far it’s added up to not-very-much. The narrative through, the story of a golden age hero named “The Fighting Yank” hoping to atone for past sins, is easily the best part of the book, and the scenes moving that story forward have been enjoyable. The rest of it, with random heroes getting little introduction alternately screaming or “being mysterious”? I could do without that. I feel like Ross and Krueger are relying a little too heavily on their past writing styles here… It’s one thing to have The Spectre, Captain Marvel, or any number of popular iconic characters shouting at one another or uttering mysterious nonsense that might eventually pay off in the story; the reader is already invested in those characters thanks to years and years of familiarity–it’s the very definition of a fanboy-oriented event comic. But when the reader has no idea who any of these characters are? When you haven’t sufficiently invested them with any humanity (other than: blanket tragedy, ‘mystery’, and screaming) it’s really hard to give a shit and I don’t. By contrast, The Twelve has done a great job of the ‘slow reveal’, with plenty of characters populating the book that you want to spend time with or, if not, at least want to figure out how their stories will end. But there I go comparing Project Superpowers to something else again. I guess what I mean to say is, in Project Superpowers I’m curious to see where the plot is going but so far I don’t care if anyone introduced in the series makes it to the last page, you know? And since the whole vibe of the book seems to be about re-introducing these golden age characters to the modern world (and aren’t they all nifty!?) that’s kinda-sorta a problem. I guess when you’re Alex Ross you don’t need an editor to point out huge flaws in your storytelling…which would explain why no editor is listed in the credits page. Guys: give these new characters you’re introducing something to do, or leave them out of the story until you figure out what they’re for.

So, to sum up: I’ll probably wait another few issues and then catch up with the story again. Anyone who’s liked Ross’s last few outings in big bold superheroes will probably really enjoy this one and should check out that $1 issue #0 (28 pages for a buck!) at the very least: It’s a big, bold superhero story that is very close to all of the work you already love.

But The Twelve will be one of those books that I read first thing in the morning, standing at the rack on the day of release, wondering if Dynamic Man and Captain Wonder are gonna hook up.

- Christopher
P.S.: Skip the FCBD story, it’s poorly drawn and nothing happens in it, and it jumps past the end of the current story arc, which is vaguely stupid when you’re trying to write a mystery…

Image: Cover painting used for Project Superpowers #0a and #0b, by Alex Ross.


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We’re confirmed: The 2009 Toronto Comic Arts Festival will be held Saturday May 9th and Sunday May 10th, in Toronto, Canada. Our new digs? The Toronto Reference Library, a huge and beautiful modernist building, able to accommodate all of our growing Festival needs.

Mark your calendars now, book off some time, and get ready for the best TCAF yet.

For more info, e-mail me at 2009@torontocomics.com.
- Christopher


greatspinnerrack.jpgAlthough he was under no obligation to do so, Tom Spurgeon didn’t post the full text of my response to the news that Fantagraphics has signed an exclusive deal with Diamond… It’s a little more balanced and nuanced then what ended up in the CR piece, in my always-humble opinion, so I figured I’d post it here.

We really wish that Fantagraphics had consulted us as their retail partners before they made this move, because we would have said “Good God No, Don’t Do It.” We’re very sympathetic to the general indifference of the Direct Market to good comics, including those that Fantagraphics publishes, and we understand the reasons they made their decision. Speaking from our point of view though, we like the opportunity to deal directly with Fantagraphics, because if Fanta has a book in print, then they will have it in stock. That is not the case with Diamond. Even on the largest publishers that have moved their Direct Market business exclusive with Diamond, publishers like Viz and Tokyopop, our fill rates on in-print books are less than adequate. We hope that Fanta knows what they’re in for on that front.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but as The Beguiling we’re fortunate enough talk to reps from a large number of publishers, great and small, and many of them really aren’t happy with their exclusivity deals with Diamond. No one will go on the record about it of course, because regardless of exclusivity or not they’re still going to be working with Diamond going forward and being openly critical of Diamond is not the best way to get good service from them. So, no one talks about how things are not going the way they had hoped, and everyone re-ups for another few years hoping things will change because hey, everyone else is doing it. Worse still, we’re worried about the sort of “chilling effect” that goes on whenever a publisher signs an exclusivity deal. Fantagraphics better than anyone (thanks to reportage in The Comics Journal) knows the havoc that exclusivity agreements caused direct market retailers, particularly with regards to Image and Dark Horse deciding on Diamond after DC had made their deal. Has the consolidation of the direct market to, effectively, Diamond Comics Distributors, shown a noted increase in stores, sales, or market strength over the past 10 years? Particularly for any company that isn’t Marvel or DC? Not at all, and yet the consolidation continues, leading many publishers to believe that there’s no other way to do business and succeed (or at least stay afloat) in the market.

Honestly, we order the majority of our Fantagraphics product through Diamond, all of our frontlist and the occasional backlist. But when it comes time to do actual store restocks on perennials like Ghost World and the works of Dan Clowes, Love & Rockets, the Ignatz Books, Mome, that order goes to Fantagraphics because of a solid discount, and because if the book is in print, the publisher will have it in stock. Right now Diamond doesn’t seem to have Ghost World in stock, which is perhaps just an unfortunate coincidence. But the first time that we try to order something from Diamond and can’t, and that backorder takes weeks or months (don’t laugh, it happens all the time), and that book would have been available to us direct from Fanta? That’s a lost sale for Fantagraphics and for us, and truly unfortunate.

Hopefully Diamond will keep all of these books in stock under this new deal. Hopefully with thousands of new book-format comics coming out every year, Fanta titles now solely available through Diamond won’t get lost in the shuffle. We know that the good folks working at Fantagraphics will be responsive to our needs as their customers just as they always have been; we just hope that history proves us all wrong and that Diamond is responsive to theirs.

We wish them the best of luck.

- Christopher Butcher, Manager, The Beguiling

That’s the entirety of what I sent Tom yesterday afternoon, and I’ve been thinking on it since then. In my head, my vision of the comics industry is one where comics are available if not everywhere, than at least everywhere you’d otherwise find printed material. The key to that, in my mind, is more access, and not less. I’m not unaware of economies of scale, of how much cheaper and easier it is to deal with two major distributors than dozens of smaller ones. I just honestly don’t see any smaller store that stocks Fanta/Eros stuff going through the hassle of opening a Diamond account and trying to meet monthly order minimums in order to get something better than a 35% discount when they do a backlist order. I hope there are other options, grandfather clauses, whatever, that keep Fanta’s reach as broad as it ever was. I really do wish them the best.

- Chris


1. Would a show that’s sort of like Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares but set in comic book stores do well? Or would it just collapse the direct market? I mean, there are restaurants everywhere, that industry can survive the hits it takes.

2.  I’m 2000 messages behind on my feed reader (it’s been a busy few weeks). I’m debating just clicking “mark all as read” and pretending that tomorrow really is a new day.

3. It’s Mother’s Day today, I hope everyone remembers to call their mom. Or, you know, your local equivalent.

4. If I ever decide to do something outside of retail, I’d really like to take two or three months, raise some venture capital, and put together a really good comics news site and blog. Something with a solid design, with some good content guidelines, and recruit some really top-notch staff to run it. That’s not to say that there aren’t excellent efforts on the web right now, I’m 2000 messages behind on my feed reader after all. But I look at what’s available and I see big gaps in the comics discourse, and I think that’d be fun to try and address. Basically:

i) there’s a lot of stuff that ends up as a lazy-ish blog post that with a little time and effort would be a fantastic fully-fledged article, and it happens all over the blogosphere
ii) the people with the most funding are doing the least interesting work, and from talking to (for example) Spurgeon, if he was making twice as much money from CR he would spend twice as long on it, and we’d get ‘blogosphere-rocking articles’ like his thoughts on the NYCC twice as often, which seems like easy math
iii) there’s no incentive to do real news either monetarily or really from a fan perspective, and I’d like to create both the financial recompense and the fan interest and I don’t think it’d take too much money to do so…
iv) most people running corporate sites seem to have awful taste in comic books, or their coverage is dictated by who’s advertising. either way, it’s unfortunate at best.
v) I will say that it was smart of CBR to pick up Greg McElhatton in their relaunch. too few sites do reviews at all (let alone competent ones), and he’s a catch.
vi) most comics sites are ugly and poorly designed, and my imaginary one would not be.
vii) I’d like to create something that I wouldn’t run, that could be firmly established and well-thought-out and made air-tight, and then just let go. hell, i’d like to make 2 or 3 and have them compete, only getting stronger and smarter, designed to take advantage of the emerging graphic novel industry (and keep it honest)
viii) because then I’d get the industry I want.

5. I really miss Japan. I just spent an hour going through my photos to give suggestions to a friend on his upcoming trip there…
- Chris


I was in a mood but I’m done now.

- Chris


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Hey everybody! I just posted The Beguiling’s Free Comic Book Day wrap-up at: http://www.beguiling.com/2008/05/free-comic-book-day-2008-wrap-up.html.

We had a good year this year despite some pretty awful weather, and though I don’t have exact figures I’d say that we had at least 600 people through both events over the course of the day, and a lot (at least 200 of them) were under 14. Mission: Accomplished.

Because my site gets way more traffic than The Beguiling’s site, I did want to take the opportunity to send you to visit the online homes of all of our participating artists at this year’s FCBD events. They were really stars, drawing and sketching all day (many of them without any breaks) and sending you to check out their work is the least I can do.

Michael Cho (Transmission-X, Max Finder): http://www.transmission-x.com/ , http://chodrawings.blogspot.com/
Willow Dawson (Violet Miranda): http://www.willowdawson.com/
J. Korim (Neozoic): http://www.jkorim.ca/main.htm
Jessie Lam (Neozoic): http://axl99.net/
Steve Manale (Superslackers, You Crack Me Up): http://www.superslackers.com/
Nick Mandaag (Artist): no website!
Tyrone McCarthy (Corduroy High): http://www.corduroyhigh.com/
Alana McCarthy (Illustrator): http://www.alanaland.com/
Brian McLachlan (Princess Planet): http://www.theprincessplanet.com/, http://www.transmission-x.com/
Tara Tallan (Galaxion): http://www.girlamatic.com/comics/galaxion.php
Jeremy Tankard (Grumpy Bird, Me Hungry): http://www.jeremytankard.com/
Chip Zdarsky (Monster Cops): http://chipzdarsky.livejournal.com/

Hope you all had a great Free Comic Book Day!

- Christopher
(Photo: Jeremy Tankard talks about his very first home-made comics to a group of rapt youngsters and their parents at Free Comics For Kids Day)


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French graphic novelists Phillipe Dupuy and Charles Berberian visited New York a few months back, in celebration of the English-language release of Berberian’s new book Haunted from Drawn & Quarterly.

Alternative comics blog The Daily Crosshatch was on hand to interview the pair about their work and creative partnership, and it’s a very good and worthwhile interview, and you should head over and check it out:

http://thedailycrosshatch.com/2008/03/11/interview-charles-berberian-and-philippe-dupuy-pt-1/
http://thedailycrosshatch.com/2008/03/24/interview-charles-berberian-and-philippe-dupuy-pt-2/
http://thedailycrosshatch.com/2008/04/07/interview-charles-berberian-and-philippe-dupuy-pt-3/
http://thedailycrosshatch.com/2008/04/28/interview-philippe-dupuy-and-charles-berberian-pt-4-of-4/

As you’ve noticed it’s been broken up into four parts here (that seem to have been dribbled out 2-3 weeks apart), which is both annoying and entirely unnecessary in my humble opinion, but there you are. I usually hesitate from commenting on interface design issues as I feel my own site could be substantially improved on that point, but despite the quality of the work here I just have to bitch: If I weren’t so absolutely interested in the content, the formatting would have driven me from the site. None of the interview segments leads to the next so far as I could tell, making it difficult to continue reading when you get to the end of each part. It seems designed more to discourage you from continuing to read what these fine gentlemen have to say. Also, each segment was far too short and where each segment rested felt like an artificial break. Further, and though not entirely relevant to my problems with the formatting of this specific interview, the front page for The Daily Crosshatch is constructed in a “preview mode” kind of way, where you get about a paragraph before having to “click to continue reading.”

There’s no doubt that the fine content of The Daily Crosshatch is both of high-quality and sorely needed in the larger world of the online comics discourse. I just hope that the proprietors of this fine site find a way to present the material in a more appealing way (and as long as I’m bitching, more art!).

- Christopher


chris-at-comic-store.jpgI was fortunate enough to be a guest on the CBC’s weekend morning program Fresh Air with Jeff Goodes this morning, extolling the virtues of comics and Free Comic Book Day in particular. I just wanted to drop a quick note thanking Jeff, Mariel, and Sandy for the chance to plug our event today (scroll down) and comics in general. I think the interview went really well and Jeff was nice enough to plug The Beguiling website, as well as the site you’re reading now!

So, welcome new readers from the CBC. If you wanna check the archives, click “Japan” in the categories section for some pretty amazing pics from my recent comics-oriented trip to Japan, click “comics retailing” for the ins and outs of selling comics for a living, or just keep scrolling back through the archives and enjoy.

Alright, I’m off to set up for Free Comic Book Day. See you soon!

- Christopher