Saturday, February 27, 2016

Prez: Comic-Book Satire at its Best

Rating: 5 out of 5! As part of DC Comic's DC You line in 2015, Mark Russell gave us Prez, which has now been collected in graphic novel form as Prez: Corndog-in-Chief. It takes place 20 years in the future and Russell uses this time lapse to show us the satirical but also frighteningly plausible world that we are headed for. He takes things like drone strikes, social media frenzies, reality television, corporate personhood, and political party dynamics to their logical conclusions. Every page of the graphic novel contains insight, humor, and creativity, and as a work of art it forces us to reflect on the state of our society.

Russell does a masterful job of balancing national and even international politics with the profoundly human character of Beth Ross, a teenager who through a series of coincidences becomes president of the United States (it actually makes a lot of sense in the context of the story!). Through her pure heart and naivete, and with the help of Anonymous hackers, we see the corruption of the power systems for what they are. Along the way Russell treats us to an amazing set of biting satirical stabs. Here are a few of my favorites:
  • Talking Head TV - televised debates with integrated like/dislike buttons to determine the winner;
  • Church of Wormology - religion that believes God favors viruses and bacteria because they are the most robust and plentiful organisms on Earth;
  • Sickstarter - a crowdsourced fundraising website to try to pay for medical procedures;
  • Corporate CEOs who are literally branded with their corporate logos;
  • Social Media War - took place in the 2020s with Twitter emerging victorious (but at the expense of tens of millions of lives);
  • Wayne Algorithm - billionaire designed algorithm that generates all combinations of words so he can copyright novels, screenplays, etc., before anyone else can write them;
  • Carl the End-of-Life Bear - robot that offers marijuana to the dying;
  • Taco drones - self explanatory.

The art in the book is also brilliant in spots -- especially the issues under the helm of Ben Caldwell (pencils) and Jeremy Lawson (colors). The style is unique and fits well with Russell's storytelling, and overall it gives the book more of an independent comic feel than is typical from DC Comics. There is a drop in art quality for issue 4, but it doesn't hold back the work overall. And if the trade paperback sells well enough, Mark Russell has hinted on Twitter that a new volume might be possible in Fall 2016.

I loved this book and recommend it to anyone who enjoys satire, who is a bit jaded by the current political situation, or who is closely following the 2016 presidential election. I think it even works for people who don't typically read comic books, as long as they know how to parse full-fledged satire. And although the humor is strong, Russell also manages to weave together a plot, character development (Beth is the standout, as is a sentient military sentry, and the "villains" are compelling), and scenes that are both touching and troubling. My favorite book of 2015!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Batman 49: The Batman-Making Machine

Jason Book and I discuss issue 49 of Batman (DC Comics), written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV with pencils by Yanick Paquette.

In this issue, Bruce finally uses the Batman-making machine that he conveniently invented before his run-in with the Joker in Endgame, and Alfred and Julie have to take part in the death of Bruce Wayne to bring Batman back. The art features some creative redesigns of Batman's costume and devices.

Monday, February 22, 2016

5 Questions about Batman v Superman

Jason Book and I discuss the five biggest questions we have going into Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and we give our best guesses at the answers.

The questions we address in the video above are as follows:
  • How large with the roles be for the Justice Leaguers? (Specifically Aquaman, Cyborg, and the Flash)
  • What is Lex Luthor's master plan? (Is he creating Doomsday just to kill Superman or does Lex have a plan to use the destruction for his own gain?)
  • What is happening underwater? (We saw a boy swimming in the Comic-Con trailer and now Lois in an underwater explosion in the final trailer.)
  • Who will win the Batman v Superman fight? (Or how will the fight be resolved?)
  • What is in the movie that we have no idea about yet? (We know what we know but we don't know what we don't know.)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Financial Predictions for DC's Rebirth

If you're a fan of a stronger continuity in the DC Universe or if you are excited to see Action Comics #1000 in a couple years, with Detective Comics #1000 following soon thereafter, then you have a lot to be happy about with DC's Rebirth in summer 2016. But if you were a fan of the creative approaches taken with The Omega Men, Prez, or Gotham by Midnight, you might be less thrilled.

The biggest question, however, is how Rebirth with pan out on the business side of things, because DC Comics is a business, after all. Using the rough sales estimates from my post comparing Rebirth and the DC You, I ran the numbers to see if DC's move toward $2.99 cover prices and biweekly issues from the top tier of books was likely to make good business sense. The short answer is yes.

Here's how it breaks down:
  • DC You
    • 45 titles, 45 issues per month
    • 1,246,000 copies sold per month
    • $3.19 average price
    • $4.271 Million ($94,900 per issue)
  • DC Rebirth (projected using a conservative 10,000 issues sold for titles with no comparators)
    • 32 titles, 49 issues per month
    • 1,700,000 copies sold per month
    • $2.99 average price
    • $5.083 Million ($103,700 per issue)
 Because the Rebirth is cutting out nearly all the titles that were selling less than 20,000 copies and it is doubling up on the better selling titles by publishing them biweekly, my conservative estimate has them seeing a 19% increase in sales income and a 9% increase in revenue per issue. So that strategy more than makes up for the reduction in cover price. (The biweekly approach will also reduce the time from the start of a story arc to its appearance as a trade, so that has some upside too.)

Fans will certainly be happy to get books like Batman, Superman, and Justice League for $2.99, and if the biweekly books have strong stories, then that will be yet another reason for the fans to rejoice. Overall, the Rebirth initiative seems to have the potential to be win-win in terms of business and fan satisfaction.

The downside is that personally I will miss Martian Manhunter, Midnighter, and The Omega Men, and I am already missing Prez. But apparently there are only 10-15 thousand of us reading those books, so there shouldn't be too much complaining.

EDIT: See my market share analysis leading up to and through the DC You initiative.

Comparing the DC Rebirth Lineup to the DC You Slate

Today DC Comics revealed their full comic book lineup for the Rebirth that is starting May 2016 with an 80-page issue written by Geoff Johns (for only $2.99!). The exciting things, to me, about Rebirth are the commitment to a $2.99 price on all the books (down from many of the bestsellers being $3.99 or even $4.99) and the consolidation of a lot of the main books into a single biweekly title that can have a strong creative vision, rather than spreading characters out through crossovers or multiple family books (examples of spreading things too much recently would be the Robin War event and the Superman Truth story arc). I also think the return to original numbering on Action Comics and Detective Comics is pretty smart (#1,000 is only a couple years away!).

In his interview at Comic Book Resources, Geoff Johns emphasized a return to the interconnected DC Universe and "legacy." Although I appreciate these sentiments, they seem to be a rebuking of the efforts of DCYou, which started just last June. DCYou focused on freedom from continuity where you could have books like The Omega Men (awesome!), Prez (creative and smart!), and Bizarro (fun and funny!) alongside The Flash and Batman, and you could have Justice League of America and Justice League telling epic standalone stories even while the members of the Justice League were doing completely different things in their own books.

So that led me to do a detailed comparison of the ongoing titles in the DCYou line with those just announced in DC Rebirth. Below is my rough organization of the slates, where I've tried to match up titles with their closest counterparts.

It's pretty easy to see where the DC execs drew their line in the sand. Only two books selling fewer than 20,000 copies are having a Rebirth -- Constantine: The Hellblazer and Gotham Academy. The other fourteen books under the 20,000 mark are being dropped or have been dropped already. Conversely, only five books that are selling more then 20,000 copies are being dropped, and a few of those are living on in some form (e.g., Superman Wonder Woman will be folded into Trinity, and Damien from Robin: Son of Batman will probably have a substantial role in Teen Titans or Titans).

Some key things to watch for to judge the success of Rebirth will be the following:
  • Do Batman and Justice League's sales hold strong per issue, thus doubling the copies sold per month?
  • Do Harley Quinn and Superman sales benefit from a consolidation to single biweekly titles instead of being strewn out across three or four titles?
  • Do the TV or movie-related titles sell well, such as the new Supergirl or the relaunched Green Arrow, The Flash, Wonder Woman, or Suicide Squad?

Also worth noting is that DC Rebirth marks a consolidation in the sense that there will only be 32 titles per month (once it's fully operational in the fall), but because of the biweekly books there will be 49 main DCU books produced per month. DCYou, by way of comparison, had 45 titles and 45 books per month. Back in 2011, the New 52 consisted of 52, of course. So Rebirth is a clear consolidation around the bestselling titles but it will still involve basically the same number of issues hitting the stands each month.

From this perspective, Rebirth makes good business sense. Whereas before there would be one Batman book and maybe one Harley Quinn book (at $3.99) that sell near 100K copies, a few Superman books and other titles that sell 40K - 50K, then a bunch of titles in the 10K - 15K range, this new slate will feature two Batman books and two Harley Quinn books (at $2.99) per month that hopefully stay near 100K each, plus two issues per month of all the mid-range selling books. What's lost? The more creative, unique, or risky books that were tried (albeit briefly) in DCYou, but that didn't have the sales numbers to please the execs at DC. (EDIT: Here is my financial projection based on the sales numbers in the table above.)

In summary, although I really liked the creativity and diversity of the books down the line in the DCYou, I am excited for Rebirth because I think mainstays like Superman, Green Lantern, and Green Arrow might benefit from solid writers able to tell a unified story biweekly. I am also glad to see Cyborg and Suicide Squad coming out biweekly, not because they should be beholden to the movie universe but because it will be fun to see what the comic book creative teams can do with those characters in parallel to their development on the big screen.

P.S. Blue Beetle!

Breaking Down the Final Trailer for Batman v Superman

Jason Book and I analyze the final trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Warner Bros. and DC Films). In short, the Batman action was amazing and the trailer does a great job of building anticipation for how the Superman/Batman fight is going to go down.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Batman Superman 28 29: A Stellar Team-Up

If the forthcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice blockbuster has you excited to read a Batman and Superman team-up in the comic books, look no further than the story arc that just started in Batman Superman (DC Comics). Starting in issue 28 and continuing this past week in issue 29, the new creative team of Tom Taylor, Robson Rocha, and Julio Ferreira have kicked off a great standalone story. You don't need to follow all the rest of the books in the DC Universe, nor do you have to have read the previous 27 issues of Batman Superman. Just jump right in with issue 28 and enjoy a great three-part story that will wrap up March 9th with issue 30.

5 out of 5 stars!

The first issue brings Batman and Superman together through a surprising incident that contains mystery and some great visuals that work well in the comic book medium. The reader is hooked quickly and the plot is thrust forward. Batman gets to do some detective work and Superman get to do some saving, bringing some nice core elements of the characters. The story is clearly centering on Batman and Superman, avoiding the common comic book trap of flooding the pages with too many characters. Lobo is there for good measure, but he fits well, adding another level of threat to the plot as he is mysteriously hired to assassinate Batman.

The first issue ends nicely with a question about another Kryptonian somewhere in a scorched part of space. The second issue picks up in a big way and we get a little bit different perspective on the events from the first issue. The plot forces Batman and Superman to separate, as Batman continues to investigate the opening mystery while Superman goes to find out what is happening with the unknown Kryptonian. The action rises perfectly as Lobo makes his appearance and we get a great scene of Batman being Batman, cautious and skeptical as always. Meanwhile, Superman shows his heart of gold as he finds and attempts to rescue the enslaved Kryptonian. But just as Batman manages to escape his peril, we find out that Superman may have been lured into a trap, leaving us with a cliffhanger for the next issue.

The story has a great pace, a visually compelling outer-space setting, and well written interactions between the main characters. I can't wait to see how it wraps up next month.

Adventures of Supergirl: New Digital Comic

Jason Book and I discuss the new digital comic, Adventures of Supergirl, tying in to the Supergirl TV series on CBS.

We enjoyed the style and tone as well as the price ($0.99). It's definitely a fun read and we recommend it for anyone enjoying the TV show. It can also work well as someone's introduction into comic books, and these digital comics look good on all devices.

After we recorded the video above about Chapter 1, then Chapter 2 of the digital comic came out. That follow-up installment was very similar in tone and style to Chapter 1, as expected. There were some nice scenes with the Danvers sisters, Winn was introduced briefly, and it ended on another Rampage cliffhanger. I enjoyed it as some light reading.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Prequel Comics for Batman v Superman

Jason Book and I discuss two of the prequel comics for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

There are five prequel comics attached to special bottles of Dr. Pepper and also at least one attached to the General Mills cereals. They are all really good and show how smart and complex the movie is going to be. Lex and Lois are especially good characters in the comics, I thought.

You can find at least 5 of the prequel comics on imgur.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Superman 48: Kryptonite Chemotherapy

Jason Book and I discuss issue 48 of Superman (DC Comics), written by Gene Yang with art by Howard Porter and Ardian Syaf. This is part of the larger "Savage Dawn" story arc happening in the Superman titles.

This issue picks up from #47 wherein Superman finished up his mythbrawling and captured Hordr_root (Vandal Savage's son) temporarily, and it also stems from Superman Wonder Woman #25 where WW takes Superman to her fellow demigods for healing and moral tests. In #48, Superman and Steve Trevor have a bit of a heart to heart as ex-boyfriends of Wonder Woman, we meet Hordr_root's companion villain the Puzzler, and Superman takes a big but dangerous step toward recovering his powers. You can also see an interview with Gene Yang where he talks about the inspiration for the idea of how Superman will get his powers back. (Some might also enjoy the politician character named Wolfingham who seems strikingly similar to candidate Trump.)

Overall, Jason and I felt that this was a positive step for the Superman book and we're excited to see where it goes for #49 and the big #50.