If You Watch The Movies But Don’t Read The Comics, You’re Missing Out

spider-man“Spider-Man isn’t a super-hero. He’s just a kid who got his powers in an accident on a field trip.”

“No. He’s earned his place as a super-hero. He’s saved lives. He fights crime. And he uses his powers to do it.”

“Still, I mean he shoots webs and swings around and that’s about it. He’d probably be dead without his spidey-sense. You know what  would make Spider-Man scary? If he shot spiders instead of webs out of his web shooters. Criminals wouldn’t fuck with that.”

The above conversation didn’t take place in a local comic book shop. The two people talking weren’t nerds. They were high school cheerleaders on the bus I was on yesterday. If I had a time machine and could talk to the me in high school and tell him that about twenty years from now the conversations you have with your comic book friends will be the conversations cheerleaders are having I would have called future me crazy and questioned the wisdom of the guy who played Chaplin being Iron Man.

People who haven’t been collecting comic books for the last twenty-five years might not be aware of this but up until this century, if you knew something about super-heroes, you weren’t likely to be a high school cheerleader. Also, if you wanted to watch a movie based on a Marvel Comic, they looked like this.

Comic book characters aren’t only cool, they’re cooler than they’ve ever been. And it’s not just a passing fad. Both Disney’s Marvel and Warner Brothers’ DC Comics have movies planned all the way through the year 2020 with top tier talent involved. This year’s top selling movie has almost made a billion dollars worldwide and it’s a movie with Rocket Raccoon and Groot the walking tree. We are in comic book geek nirvana right now.

Characters that originated in comic books have gone mainstream. Marvel’s series of movies are literally the most successful movie franchise in history. Millions of people are tuning in weekly to TV shows like Agents of SHIELD and Gotham. And yet, if I asked ten of these people what they think about the Red Onslaught or Future’s End, at least nine of them wouldn’t have the slightest clue what I was talking about.

Let me put it another way, while I’m absolutely as excited as anyone that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is talking about Infinity Gems and Thanos and making a lot of moves that look like there’s going to be some big battle between all of the heroes and Thanos on the big screen, I also already read The Infinity Gauntlet when I was in high school back in 1992.

Since then I’ve read hundreds of stories every bit as good as any Marvel film and a quite a few that are better than any superhero movie ever made.

The reason for this is that there’s a good amount of creative freedom when it comes to comic books. That’s because it doesn’t cost $200,000,000 to make a comic book so the Powers That Be aren’t so afraid you’ll screw something up since they can always fix it next issue if you do.

Maybe you’re not sure that you’d like comics or you don’t want to spend any money to find out. That’s fine. Take a moment and check out Astro City #1/2. It’s literally one of my all time favorite comics. It’s an eight-page story available on from Amazon. And it’s FREE.

Here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/Astro-City-1996-2000-Kurt-Busiek-ebook/dp/B00EKN0IMI

If you’re already sold on comics and want to know how to be part of the cool kids table and where to start, might I suggest Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s Daredevil run. It’s modern. The art is amazing. And when Netflix comes out with their Daredevil TV series next year, you can know what standards you’re expecting out of it.

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Superhero Hollywood

Captain-America-The-Winter-Soldier-PosterAre you excited for the new Captain America movie? I know I am. I’ve been collecting Marvel Comics since I was 12 years old. It’s great to see some of the world’s most talented people making some great movies out of some of my favorite characters. In a very real way it’s like being 12 all over again. Opening weekend, I’m going to be there. And I’ll be there for Guardians of the Galaxy this summer. I’m a Marvelite and I can’t help myself. I love it.

However, I’ve also been collecting comic books for over a quarter century. I’m aware of the history of comic books. I’ve been there for part of it. And so, I feel it’s necessary to deliver a warning to those of you who do not collect comics but do go to see comic book movies. I know there are millions of you because I’ve seen how many people go to the movies and how many people go to my local comic book shop. As I watch these comic book movies make billions I become afraid that the local movie theater is going to end up being like that local comic book shop’s shelves.

Most people think that comic books automatically equals superheroes. This was not always the case. In the late 1950s it was Western comics that were all the rage. Two-Gun Kid and Kid Colt Outlaw and Gunsmoke Western were Marvel’s big hits. There were also romance comics and ‘true’ crime comics and horror comics. And then there was Fantastic Four #1 and Amazing Fantasy #15 (The first appearance of Spider-Man). And of course DC had Superman and Batman and eventually the Justice League and whatnot.

By the time I got into comic books in the late 1980s, my local comic book shop was 95% superhero comics. The first comics I bought were GI Joe comics. They were some of the only non-superhero books Marvel published. But soon I was collecting Uncanny X-Men and then New Mutants and X-Factor and Wolverine and Excalibur and then X-Force after New Mutants ended. It was years before I really started to get into comic books that didn’t involve super powers.

Recently my girlfriend started buying healthier food for us to eat. She told me the other day, “I don’t care if you eat it. It’s just a matter of it being available for you to eat.”  Her point was that we tend to consume what’s in front of us. I bought super-heroes mainly because that’s what they had at the shop. This isn’t to say the shop didn’t carry anything else. There were plenty of independent comics that had nothing to do with superheroes, but I didn’t buy them because they didn’t relate to anything else I was buying.

My fear with these incredibly successful comic book movies is that soon, the movies will consist of 95% superheroes. Recently the head of Marvel Studios said that with all of the franchises they’re starting up, it wouldn’t be unexpected if they started coming out with three or four movies a year. Of course that’s just Marvel. That’s not including DC/Warner Bros. or the various Marvel properties that other studios have such as Spider-Man and X-Men both of which are not only talking about the sequels to the movies that are coming out this year but sequels to those sequels.

So my warning is this: Go ahead and see the comic book movies. But please, please, please see other movies too. See Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. See Chris Nolan’s Interstellar. See anything and everything that interests you that doesn’t have a cape attached to it….or prepare yourself for theaters where the person talking in the theater is asking “What’s that character’s power?”

Like I said, I love Marvel’s movies. I enjoy watching them. But I’m also interested in things that don’t involve super powers. Last year, the most powerful movie I watched was simply one man against the elements. He had no super-powers. That movie was All Is Lost starring Robert Redford. This year, I’ll be watching him in Captain America 2.

– Jack Cameron

31 Days of Comics Challenge Day 16: A Comic That Makes You Cry

Avengers_The_Initiative_Vol_1_27There aren’t a lot of comics that hat have made me cry, but Avengers The Initiative #27 is one of them. Avengers The Initiative was an interesting series. It was basically Avengers in training. However, during this era, the Powers That Be are Norman Osborn. Bad guys are running things. So bad things are happening.

Avengers The Initiative #27 concerns two Z-List super-villains named Doc Sax & Johnny Guitar. Both are villains that originated from series from the late 1970s/early 1980s called Dazzler. They end up being recruited onto a team called the Shadow Initiative.

Christos Gage’s script is surprising as he takes these characters that most people didn’t even remember and gives them a full back story of two down on their luck musicians who try to make good and continually fail. Johnny Guitar just wants to give a good life to his daughter who lives with his ex-wife.  He thinks he’s finally got his shot working for the government when he learns that the team he’s on is essentially cannon fodder. He sets things up so that his death will result in his daughter being taken care of and dies in a battle saving his friend Doc Sax. It’s sad and poignant.

For more on the 31 Days of Comics Challenge Click Here

– Jack Cameron

31 Days of Comics Challenge Day 15: A Comic That Makes You Smile

nextwave-agents-of-hate-ultimate-collection-02You’ll notice there are quite a few Warren Ellis comics on this list. That’s not an accident. During the 1990s and early 2000s Warren Ellis was nothing short of revolutionary in the comic book industry. There are comics being made today that owe their existence to Warren Ellis’ innovations.

In 2006, Ellis made what is arguably the most fun comic in Marvel Comics history. Nextwave: Agents of HATE is hard to explain. It’s a super-hero group composed of a bunch of random characters. One is a former Avenger. Another is a robot. Another is a former member of X-Force. The team is crazy and so are their missions. This is super-hero comics meets Big Trouble in Little China.

It’s worth noting that Nextwave wouldn’t be the same with the equally crazy art of Stuart Immonen. There is simply nothing about Nextwave that isn’t fun. (The image is taken from the second issue where the team fights a dragon named Fin Fang Foom.) The only bad part is that it only lasted twelve issues.

For more information on the 31 Days of Comics Challenge Click Here.

– Jack Cameron

Spider-Man Is Amazing

Spider-Man 700I have been reading comics since I was twelve years old. And the reason I keep reading them is simple: I read stories there that I can’t read anywhere else. Movies and television have too much of a budget to try anything too daring most of the time. Studio and network notes water down what might otherwise be a challenging story. Even novels put out by major publishers rarely push into uncomfortable territory. But the right comic book will blow you away in ways that you won’t expect.

As much fun as the Avengers movie was and as much fun as I’m sure Avengers 2 will be, I know that the purple guy at the end of Avengers shines best in the comic book he comes from because Thanos’ story is fairly screwed up on a level that you won’t see anywhere but a comic book.

I think my favorite thing about comic books is that unlike other media, it isn’t just the small indies taking risks, though the independent comic book scene these days is incredible. Marvel Comics this week ended Amazing Spider-Man with issue #700 and the ending was absolutely shocking for those who didn’t read about the leak online first. It’s the sort of thing they’d never do in a Spider-Man movie. And the most incredible thing to me is that this is Disney-owned Marvel Comics. If ever there was a company you might expect to play it safe, it’d be this one.

There’s no way to talk about this without spoiling things so if you plan on reading Amazing Spider-Man #700 and haven’t yet, stop reading and come back.

For everyone else, here is the basic story. Doctor Octopus (you may remember him from Spider-Man 2) switches bodies with Peter Parker. There are a couple of things that make this significantly different than your standard body-swap story. One is that each of them retains the other’s memories. So not only is Doc Ock in Peter Parker’s skin, but he knows everything about Peter Parker. The other bit is that Doc Ock’s body is hours away from death. The story culminates with Peter Parker in Doc Ock’s body trying valiantly to switch back and being unable to. And so he uses the link between them to share with Ock what it’s been like to actually be Peter Parker. Suddenly the villainous Doctor Octopus gets it. He suddenly understands that ‘With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility’. And then, Peter Parker, the Peter Parker who has had comic book adventures since 1962 dies, still stuck in Doc Ock’s body.

Doctor Octopus vows to become an even better Spider-Man and Peter Parker than the original ever was. It’s a powerful story that is expertly told through great writing and great art. And it’s managed to piss off Spider-Man fans the world over. Dan Slott, the writer, has even received death threats.

It should be noted, that another reason that Marvel (and comic books in general) get away with this stuff is that absolutely everything that happens in a comic can be taken back. A few years ago Captain America was shot and killed. He came back. Even more recently Human Torch was killed. He came back too. Other lesser known characters such as Cable and Colossus and Scarlet Witch and Wasp have all died and come back in the last few years. Death at Marvel is a bit of a revolving door.

And with Spider-Man being a major movie property, the odds of Doc Ock-Spidey sticking around past the premiere of Amazing Spider-Man 2 aren’t particularly good. But none of that detracts from the great story that Dan Slott has managed to tell. Issues like Amazing Spider-Man #700 are why I read comics.

– Jack Cameron

Why Comics Indeed

My friend Lance Weller listed his seven favorite single issue comics and a favorite piece of art and challenged others to do the same. Like Lance, I’m a Marvel guy. So most of my picks are Marvel.

1) GI Joe #21. I started collecting comics when I was twelve and ran out of ideas for my GI Joe action figures. It was fun but it wasn’t until I got this classic back issue that I realized how cool comics could be. This is arguably the most famous issue of GI Joe. Larry Hama’s entire script is silent. Great ninja stuff.
2) Uncanny X-Men #225. My first superhero comic book. My friend, Ted had borrowed some of my GI Joe comics and lost them. As an apology he gave me some X-Men comics. Little did I know that this was like someone losing your pot and giving you crack. I would be collecting X-Men and Marvel comics for the next 25 years. This issue was the beginning of a strange crossover called Fall of the Mutants where no titles actually crossed over. They just had three really bad things happen at the same time in three different comics. Over in X-Factor, Angel came back as Archangel. In New Mutants Doug Ramsey got killed, but in Uncanny X-Men, Colossus came back to the X-Men team just in time to face Freedom Force and what looked to be the end of the world. This is the issue that started that.
3) Uncanny X-Men #251. I could easily list my seven favorite issues of X-Men but I’ll try not to do that. This issue was shocking. Wolverine was literally crucified on a big X. The remains of his team had disappeared seemingly never to return. And the cyborg Reavers had taken over the abandoned Australian town that the X-Men called home. While crucified on the X, Wolverine has hallucinations of his past teammates and past loves.
4) Astro City #1/2. Kurt Busiek’s Astro City is a stunning achievement but my favorite bit of it is just an eight page story. It’s the story I show anyone who just thinks comics are for kids. Every night this man dreams of the same woman and he can’t get her out of his mind yet he knows she doesn’t exist. Eventually he finds out that some super-villain screwed with the timeline and when the heroes put it right, certain things were accidentally erased, such as this guy’s wife. She now never exists and was never meant to exist. One of the heroes arrives to help him but not in the way he wants. Great stuff.
5) Marvels #1. Before Kurt Busiek did Astro City, he and Alex Ross did Marvels. We didn’t always have great Marvel movies, but Alex Ross’ art was the next best thing. It felt real. Also, it was the first painted comic I ever bought.
6) Sleeper #1. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have been making crime comics for over a decade, but it all started with Sleeper. I’m a big fan of stories where the hero is screwed over and there have been fewer more screwed over characters than Holden. Holden is an undercover agent in a criminal organization. Only one guy on the good guy’s side knows he’s undercover and not a traitor…and that guy was just shot and is in a coma. So all of his enemies think he’s their friend and all of his friends think he’s an enemy. Great stuff.
7) Thanos Quest #1 & #2. Okay, I know it’s not a single issue but it might as well be. When I bought Thanos Quest I had no idea who the character was. Basically he’s a guy actually in love with the entity of Death. This is a story of how he literally outfights or outwits the Elders of the Universe to gain God-like power in an attempt to impress Death. With fantastic art by Ron Lim and some truly cosmic battles, this is one of my favorite stories ever.
8) Brent Anderson in God Loves, Man Kills. As for art this piece comes from the X-Men graphic novel, God Loves, Man Kills. This was a powerful epic and the first one where Magneto both seemed incredibly powerful and incredibly sympathetic. Brent Anderson’s image has long been my favorite image of Magneto. He’s entirely righteous in what he’s doing and at the same time obviously terrifying.

How To Save Comic Books

Atomic Comics in Arizona closed its doors this week. Atomic Comics was arguably the most famous comic book shop in the world. It was featured in the movie Kick Ass. They had four stores in Arizona. They are now bankrupt and the owner is losing his house. Over the last few months my local comic shop, Comic Book Ink, had a big push to solve a $30,000 debt. They just barely made it. Movies based on comic books have never been more popular. And yet, comic books seem to be dying.

I’ve been collecting comic books since I was twelve years old. I started collecting in 1989 and never really stopped. I was there for the beginning of the 1990s boom where a single issue could easily sell over a million copies in a given month. Now there are months when the most popular book in the industry sells less than 100,000 copies. And there are signs that things are getting worse.

I am someone who enjoys reading and rereading comics. I don’t collect them as an investment. I collect them as an archive. I enjoy the stories. My 13-year-old son is currently reading my Marvel comics. He just finished reading the Onslaught crossover.  He absolutely loves these stories every bit as much as I do. (Yes, Onslaught wasn’t the best crossover.) My son and I talk about the high and low points. We talk about what’s gone on before and what’s going on now. And I can’t help but wonder if he will catch up with the current comics before they stop publishing.

What is killing comics? There are no easy answers. Some say video games. Some say the Internet. Some say it’s just technology in general.

The one thing almost everyone agrees on is that it isn’t a lack of quality. The comic books being published now are some of the best comics that have ever been published. Part of this is due to the phenomenal talent of the creators. Part of this is strangely enough the fact that comics are less popular than they’ve ever been. With less titles being put out every month, there are less creators working on comics and generally speaking the quality creators are the ones who’ve been able to survive the cuts.

A lot of people point to digital comics as the bullet that’s killing print comics. These days you can bit torrent comic books the day they come out for free. So why spend the $2.99-$3.99 for the issue at your local comic shop when you can download it without spending a dime or leaving your chair? For me, the answer is that I want comic books to continue. For example, I know that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Criminal is some of the best crime fiction currently being produced in any medium. It’s so good that I want to give these people money so they’ll keep making more. So when I go to my local shop and buy an issue of Criminal, yes, I know that some of that money is going to Marvel, which is owned by Disney, and it’s not as if Disney needs any more money. But I also know that some of that money goes to the creators and some of it goes to my local comic shop so that next month there will be another issue and there will still be a place to buy that issue.

I realize that not everyone thinks like this. Some people just download and share whatever comics they want and don’t spend any money at all on comics. I would argue that these people wouldn’t buy a lot of comics even if digital comics weren’t available. I know it’s all the rage to blame digital pirates for lack of sales of everything from music to movies, but I just don’t think that’s true.

So if it’s not quality and it’s not technology, what is it? Personally I think it’s the death of the newsstand. It’s that you can’t buy comics at 7-11 anymore. My first comic wasn’t bought in a comic book shop. It was bought in a convenience store. So was my second one. It wasn’t until later that I finally ended up going to a comic shop. As a kid, I’m more likely to go to the corner store than I am to go the comic shop. Why did I first go to my local comic shop? Because I missed an issue. And then, because the guy behind the counter was smart, he mentioned that if I just wrote down a list of the titles I wanted, they would hold them for me.

I know a bit about the comic book industry, but I’m not sure why convenience stores stopped carrying comics. It might be that during the boom time of the 90s there were a dozen comics shops in any given big city. Now you can count them on one hand. (Often on one finger.) You need to get comics in the hands of kids again and kids don’t just walk into comic book shops.

With the success of so many comic book movies, one solution is giving away comics at the movie. This is rarely done and when it is, it’s done with a comic book that you can read, but it will likely never be reread. Why? Because the comic in question is essentially filler. It’s rarely written or drawn by any of the big names of comics and it is a story that takes place outside of continuity and doesn’t ‘matter’.

I think it was Steven Grant who came up with the proper way to give away comics at movies. You give away the first issue. End it with a good cliffhanger. Then you say that the second issue is available at your local comic book shop. That issue you ALSO GIVE AWAY. By making the second issue free, you get more people walking into the shop. And once a kid walks into a good comic book shop, I’m betting he’ll show up for issue three next month.

While I’m a 36-year-old guy who collects comic books, they need to be aiming for kids my son’s age. And they need to be looking at how to get comic books into their hands. Whether it’s making them available at convenience stores or in movie giveaways, the key thing here is get the kid to read a few comics. If we can’t get comics in the hands of kids, I don’t see much future for the industry.

I’m not the first one to think of these ideas and I’m far from the most knowledgeable when it comes to the comic book industry, but I do love comics. It’s a medium that tells stories that can’t be told anywhere else. Comic books have been on the verge of extinction before. But that’s one of the great things about comics. Just when you think a favorite character is dead and gone, they come back. Here’s hoping comic books can make a similar resurrection.

-Jack Cameron