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And It Looks Like We've Made It Once Again

Comics, FYI
And It Looks Like We've Made It Once Again
By Graeme McMillan • Issue #24 • View online
Finally, that last-minute Oscars round-up you’ve been waiting for has arrived.

It’s been quite a week over in these here parts, as I’ve been wrestling various deadlines to the floor on a number of different projects, all of which means that this might be more scattered than usual. (It’s also why this is far later than usual; paid work comes first.) I apologize in advance for everything that follows.
I keep thinking about the announcement earlier this week – just after I’d finished the last newsletter, dammit, or else I’d have folded it in – that Abrams ComicArts has signed Monstress creators Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda for a new trilogy of graphic novels going under the series name The Night Eaters. (The first volume, wonderfully, is called The Night Eaters: She Eats the Night.) 
It’s not because this is the first time that a mainstream book publisher has announced a graphic novel for grown-ups*, as some suggested in the wake of the news; just a quick look at the Abrams ComicArts back catalog alone proves that, with titles from Eddie Campbell, Nate Powell, and Sarah Mirk’s Guantanamo Voices anthology available to pick up. While it’s true that YA graphic novels have been a focus for mainstream publishers for a number of years, it’s not as if those outside of the demographic have gone entirely ignored this entire time.
Instead, it’s the feeling that Abrams is turning its attention to towards what might be described as the Direct Market audience that’s got me curious. As if a new series from the multiple-Eisner Award winning creative team of Monstress wasn’t enough, let’s not forget that it was only a few months ago that Abrams announced that it was partnering with Marvel for a series of original graphic novels, starting with an Alex Ross-written and illustrated Fantastic Four book**. Doing Image-style books with Image creators is one thing, especially given the breadth of material Image publishes and the success of certain Image collections in bookstores; but doing that as well as actually releasing all-new, official, Marvel comics feels like there are certainly moves being made.
There’s some level of irony in seeing a mainstream publisher court the Direct Market fanbase, given the long held belief by a significant number of creators and publishers that the future of comics was the mainstream bookstore rather than the comic store. Of course, in the couple of decades since the heady days of Artbomb and the WEF, there’s an argument to be made that the Direct Market took over pop culture as a whole: Beyond the Marvelization of everything, there’s also the Walking Dead of it all to consider, not to mention the streaming success of things like The Boys, The Umbrella Academy or other comic properties***. Maybe Abrams is simply responding to what it perceives as a gap in the market for Direct Market-style storytelling that doesn’t actually require the single issue Direct Market format or pacing…?****
For now, let’s wait and see if Abrams ComicArts (or, indeed, any other mainstream book publisher) signs up similar projects from creators known for their Direct Market work anytime soon. Who knows? Maybe this could be the start of a new trend.
* Abrams described the series as “adult graphic novels,” but I just read that as “a polite way of saying porn comics,” I admit; I’m old enough to remember such euphemisms.
** I’m very interested to see how Fantastic Four: Full Circle will perform, saleswise; remember when Marvel launched a line of original graphic novels a few years back with the Warren Ellis/Mike McKone Avengers: Endless Wartime? There were a handful of titles that followed, including the Spider-Man book that introduced Peter Parker’s sister, who would later show up in Chip Zdarsky and Nick Spencer’s runs, but the line fizzled pretty aggressively in terms of sales, if I recall correctly. 
*** Despite this, Netflix’s Millarworld projects seem to be flopping. Jupiter’s Legacy was a high-profile failure, but it felt like the world didn’t even notice that an animated adaptation of Super Crooks came and went in November of last year. Given Millar’s seeming ability to turn anything into at least a medium-sized hit in comics, it’s genuinely surprising that we’ve not seen a Mark Millar-penned hit on that streaming service as yet. It’s been almost five years since Netflix bought the company, after all! (Movie adaptations of titles like Huck and Empress were announced way back in 2018, but nothing’s come of them yet. I feel like there’s a story there.)
**** In this light, I wonder how DC’s various Black Label titles are performing outside of the Direct Market, and perhaps more importantly, if they could be performing even better.
I wrote a thing for Polygon this week as part of its Who Would Win Week about the Hulk/Thor rivalry that’s been a thing for, shockingly, almost 60 years by this point. In reading the various comics as research, the following things stood out:
  • The Hulk cares about the rivalry much more than Thor, which for some reason is endlessly amusing to me. It also happens more often in Hulk comics than Thor comics, which makes me wonder if it’s because it’s much more of a Hulk idea (“Who’s stronger, Thor or Hulk?” ties in very closely with “Hulk is the strongest one there is,” after all) than a Thor one at its core.
  • The more times the two fight, the more frustrating it becomes that Thor constantly seems to forget that he has far more tools at his disposal than just being strong. Obviously, he can’t use them for plot reasons – “Hulk can’t smash lightning, oh no, wait, Hulk has just been killed by lightning” – but still, Thor: get your head in the game.
  • It’s possible that superhero comics have never improved on The Defenders #10, in which the Thor/Hulk fight is literally just the two of them unable to move while wrestling each other because they’re so even matched… something that, according to Steve Englehart’s narrative captions, goes on for more than one hour. 
After reading so many of the comics, I can’t tell if I’m more or less into the upcoming Hulk vs. Thor: Banner of War crossover. On the one hand, I’m not sure if I really need to see the two face off against each other again any time soon. On the other, I have to admit being more than a little taken in by the idea that, this time around, there might actually be a definitive winner at the end of the fight. This is how they get you, dammit.
Stick it to those gamblers, Clark.
Stick it to those gamblers, Clark.
A thought that occurred while working on the Hulk/Thor piece: the closest thing DC has to “Who is stronger, Hulk or Thor?” is probably “Who is faster, Superman or Flash?” which feels far more benign and friendly*. One gets resolved via a fight, the other a foot race. I feel this says something about the two different fictional universes, an observation I make even after reading a preview copy of Justice League #75, where almost all of the heroes die**.
* If you’re like me and curious, I’ll save you the bother of looking it up: the first proper Hulk/Thor story appeared in Journey into Mystery #112, published in November 1964. The first Superman/Flash race was in Superman #199, coverdated August 1967. Stan and Jack got there first, and with fisticuffs.
** I enjoyed it a lot, but I’m a mark for this kind of Countdown to Infinite Crisis slow burn for event storylines, especially in DC books. As someone who’s very much appreciated everything Joshua Williamson has done to build to Dark Crisis, this was almost guaranteed to be my thing.
The cover to Dark Crisis #1, which contains one (1) spoiler for Justice League #75, as well as the sight of Cyborg saying, "I'm so glad they dropped me from the Justice League, otherwise I'd be dead as well!"
The cover to Dark Crisis #1, which contains one (1) spoiler for Justice League #75, as well as the sight of Cyborg saying, "I'm so glad they dropped me from the Justice League, otherwise I'd be dead as well!"
We’re coming up on the end of the third month of this newsletter, somewhat shockingly for me, so I’m curious: are there stories you’d want to see me looking into? Are there people you’d want to see me interview? Feel free to reply and let me know; as exhausting as this week has been, this newsletter remains a highlight to work on, and something I want to keep making as good as I can. Tell me what I can do differently and/or better, but gently; it really has been quite the week, after all.
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Graeme McMillan

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