Comics, FYI

By Graeme McMillan

Humbled, Bundled



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Comics, FYI
Humbled, Bundled
By Graeme McMillan • Issue #16 • View online
A veritable pot pourri of topics to close out the week: Zdarsky on Batman, Marvel’s team-ups, Comixology promises to be better, and 3W3M goes analog.

A mixed bag this time around, getting back to a format I promised myself I’d use for the Friday newsletters back when I started, only to promptly entirely ignore for the last few weeks. That’s pretty much on brand for me, I think. (See also not actually making a move on monetizing this newsletter yet; someone suggested a tip jar so that everyone could still access each issue, which might be the way I’m leaning…?)
Perhaps DC’s biggest news out of this year’s ComicsPRO meeting – which took place remotely over the past couple of days, featuring presentations from publishers including Marvel, Boom! Studios, Dark Horse, IDW, Rebellion and many more – was the announcement that Chip Zdarsky was taking over the main Batman title with #125, out this July. 
A lot of people – not least Zdarsky himself, on his Substack – noted that this marks the first time someone will be writing the primary Batman and Daredevil books simultaneously (“I love that book and Marco [Checchetto] and I are in a pretty grand home stretch right now,” he wrote, adding, “but, hey, maybe Marvel will fire me?” Although I like both series well enough – the latter, admittedly, mostly because of Zdarsky’s writing on the current run, as Daredevil as a whole traditionally runs a little too grim for me – what feels more noteworthy is the fact that the writer of DC’s flagship title isn’t someone under an exclusive contract with the publisher. 
I feel this says something about the state of talent relations at both Marvel and DC right now; it’s not as if Marvel hasn’t been building Zdarsky up with some high-profile gigs for awhile now – he’s at the heart of the still-ongoing Devil’s Reign crossover, after all, and he relaunched What If? as a comic book franchise with the recent Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow, in addition to launching the Life Story branding with his Spider-Man series – but he wasn’t under an exclusive contract there, either. Indeed, while all of that was going on, he was slowly building a name for himself at DC on lower profile books like Batman: Urban Legends and Justice League: Last Ride*. 
It could be that both companies had offered exclusives, and he’d turned them down; I’d heard that the same was true of Tom Taylor, before he finally went exclusive with DC in December. But even so, it feels like a change in operating policy from the not-too-distant past when an exclusive contract was a necessity in order to get into the planning summits for the big books, never mind get a gig as the regular writer on one of them. (A particularly welcome change, I should add.)
I feel like there’s also a lesson to be learned here about building an audience amongst superhero readers, too. It was just in 2015** when Zdarsky got his first Big Two writing gig, handling a Howard the Duck book spinning out of his cameo at the end of the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Just as it felt as if James Tynion IV had a meteoric rise into the upper echelons of comic book writers, there’s an argument to be made for Zdarsky doing the same thing via a different route. What does this say about what it takes to “make it” these days, I wonder…?
* It’s worth noting that, thanks to this earlier work – and his current Batman: The Knight mini – DC will have some Zdarsky Batman material to release in collected edition to coincide with his first Batman single issues. The synergy, it’s not entirely a coincidence.
** “Just back in 2015,” I write, even though that was seven years ago. What has happened to time?
Also this week, Marvel announced a revival of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, courtesy of a series of one-shots teaming the characters with other Marvel heroes throughout the course of this summer. In many ways, this feels like a perfect summary of a couple of recent trends in Marvel launches. 
Most obviously, it’s a short-run tie-in to an upcoming TV show or movie – the animated Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur launches on the Disney Channel this summer, in case you didn’t know. It’s an idea which has been a mainstay of the Marvel line for decades by this point*, and is heavily represented in the current line: think Captain Carter (last year’s What If…? on Disney+), the current Ms. Marvel: Beyond the Limit mini (Ms. Marvel launches on Disney+ later this year), or Spider-Gwen: Gweniverse (Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is due at the end of the year), as well as, arguably, Moon Knight or the new She-Hulk title (both Disney+ shows), both of which are in theory ongoing books but we’ll see in practice.
It’s also repeating a strange twist that’s popped up in no less than two other Marvel minis in the past year: pairing the title character with others in the Marvel pantheon to use the series as a stealth introduction to the larger Marvel catalog. Admittedly, the new Moon Girl book handles this in a far more straightforward manner than either Gweniverse or What If…? Miles Morales, in that it’s essentially a regular team-up book rather than reinventing the character as other Marvel characters** but in all three cases, it feels as if it’s simultaneously attempting to maximize the potential to make casual readers into “Marvel fans” – synergy! – while also seeming almost as if there’s little faith that these characters could anchor a series in their own right… something that might be true, given the lack of regular titles featuring these characters right now, to be blunt.
To underscore the feeling that Marvel doesn’t necessarily have faith in Moon Girl this time around: she doesn’t even get top billing in the first of the one-shots, which is instead called Miles Morales and Moon Girl. That just feels strange for a series theoretically centering around Moon Girl; at least the logo for the book makes her name significantly larger than her co-star’s.
(The one-shot, by Mohale Mashigo and Ig Guara, is due in stores June 1.) 
Another trend that Marvel’s new announcements have continued: mini-series based squarely at the 1990s nostalgia audiences. Genis-Vell: Captain Marvel is a five-issue mini written by Peter David, who wrote the 1990s Captain Marvel series that featured Genis-Vell, that will run alongside the five-issue Wolverine: Patch written by Larry Hama and follow the five-issue Ben Reilly: Spider-Man, written by J.M. DeMatteis. As someone just outside the target demographic for these books, it’s dizzying to see.
* This isn’t an exclusive Marvel gimmick, of course, as Thursday’s announcement of Aquaman & The Flash: Voidsong – which will get a collected edition in stores before both Aquaman 2 and Flashpoint hit theaters – makes clear.
** Spider-Man characters being made over as other familiar heroes is something that almost certainly has to be a plot point in Across the Spider-Verse, given that it’s the core idea of no less than two minis right now, right?
On the heels of Wednesday’s newsletter, Comixology took to Twitter Thursday to address concerns about its makeover. In a ten-tweet thread, there was some good news for users of the app on Kindle Fire devices – they’ve already released an update, and are working on other updates to “ease the hardest pain points” – and for those asking for a clearer shopping experience on Amazon, admitting that the week’s New Releases could be more obvious; there was also some contrition about last week’s changes, noting that “moving to the new codebase and away from our dedicated web experience was a tough call,” even if it remains entirely unclear just why it was deemed necessary. (It was, apparently, “an important step towards our long-term goals [of sharing] our love of comics, manga and graphic novels and to reach more lifelong fans,” which is… nice…?)
It was the first public response to criticism of the change, notably signed by “The Comixology Team,” rather than co-founder and CEO David Steinberger, who’d been the public face of the roll out of the changes. (Steinberger also counts “GM Digital Comics, Amazon” as a job title.) it’s far from a walkback of the changes, but it did make me wonder just how much of a sales drop had happened on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week to prompt it. I’m now very curious what is going to happen on the next couple of months as publishers get to see what the changes mean for them firsthand.
Something that literally came into my inbox while writing: not content with hiring Steve Wacker as editor-in-chief, the Substack-funded 3 Worlds 3 Moons collective headed by Jonathan Hickman announced this morning a new partnership with crowdfunding/fulfillment platform Zoop to create physical editions of its product, starting with the [SYSTEMS] Graphic Novel Sourcebook later this year. 
Of all the Substack Pro comics projects to date, 3W3M is beginning to feel the most like a traditional comics publisher, as opposed to a singular project or creative team. (As well as being one of the more organized and intentional*; I don’t think the crossover is accidental.) It’ll be interesting to see where it ends up.
* This shouldn’t be read as “the most impressive” or “my favorite,” I hasten to add. The ramshackle quality of Morrison’s Xanaduum is far more fun to me, and I’m very much enjoying the playfulness of King and Charretier’s Love Everlasting, as well. 
One last thing to earn that subject line: Go look at the 25 Years of Oni Press campaign at Humble Bundle currently running. There’s a host of great stuff there to remind you of how great a back catalog that company has. You can get a lot of really good comics while helping out a good cause, so make that happen.
The subject line itself was a reference to how long and shitty the week has been, combined with the bundle of topics covered therein, in case you’re wondering, and also a pun because, well, puns. Let’s all just head into the weekend with a deep breath, shall we?
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Graeme McMillan

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