Indie Comics at NYCC: Miles Beyond the Big 2

news8logoIn my review of MidNight Tiger by Ray-Anthony Height I thought, based upon his comic, that Height would be the kind of guy I’d like to hang and shoot the breeze with. Well, at New York Comic Con 2016, I found out that I was right. Ray is a great guy who is fun to hang out with.

Like me, he has a deep love of comics and feels that they should be fun. The first comic that he bought with his own money was the West Coast Avengers. “Great stories, they didn’t talk down to me, and everyone could enjoy them.” We agreed that while Frank Miller has done some great things, not every comic needs the Miller touch. Stories can be “adult” without over the top sex and violence, and they don’t need to be so dark.

His goal with MidNight Tiger was to bring back that 1980’s sensibility and to make comics accessible to everyone by telling stories with a sense of fun, which seems to be in short supply at the Big 2 these days.

Anyone reading my reviews will know that I agree.  I’m not against dark and moody, or even, with the proper justification, violent comics. What my gripe is that not everything should look the same. And if we are to snag the next generation readers then comics need to be accessible. There needs to be comics that parents and their children can enjoy together. Comics are a medium to tell stories and the range should be as vast as the talent pool.

Making it my mission at Comic Con to eschew the Big 2 and see what is out there, I explored the Independent Comics. In my travels around the Javits Center, I clocked about four miles a day moving up and down the aisles and met a lot of great people, and learned about small publishers of whom I have never heard of before. In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting reviews of titles from the small presses. Some comics are outstanding, some not so good, but get a big “E” for effort.

I have read comics with important messages, like Erica Heflin and Amanda Rachel’s Flesh of White, published by Comic Times and Inverse to Oni Press’s subversively funny volume 3 of Rick and Morty.

If you’re tired of the constant massive crossovers, and the media event driven story-line (“Let’s make Thor a woman, Captain America a Hydra sleeper, etc”) try the independent lines. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. 

Are Independent Comic Book Companies Producing the Best Comics?

AftershockOne of  the interesting things about doing comic book reviews is that it has changed what I read and what I consider to be the best comics. Most fans, and I include myself on this, just hop on the Marvel or DC train and ride wherever that takes us. Back in the 1940s there were dozens of comic book companies producing a wide variety of comic book and comic characters. For reasons discussed elsewhere, this Cambrian Explosion died in early 1950s. Then the 1960s came and between Julius Schwartz and later Stan Lee the Silver Age of comics was born, and with it the domination of the super-hero.

DC and Marvel became and now are the power houses. We are indoctrinated to believe that they produce the best comics and if a comic creator doesn’t work for the big two, then they are merely a poser. In the 1980s with First Comics and then in the 1990s with the rise of the other independents, as well as Billy Tucci’s self-published Shi, fans were given a real choice.

The problem with the big boys is that while they can produce good and sometimes great comics, they can’t consistently produce the best comics. They have too much Actionlabsinvested in their characters and can’t take too many liberties. Like Conan Doyle who vainly tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes only to be forced to continue to write a character he detested, DC and Marvel are stuck as well.  In an effort to drum up sales, instead of taking real risks, they indulge in cynical multi-title and multi-issue cross-overs forcing fans to choose between continuity anxiety and their next car payment.

The independents have no such problem. They are aggressive and hungry and as a result, pushing the boundaries. They can write a continuing series or a self contained titled. They are not invested in seeing Action Comics continue past issue one thousand.

The  big boys, as far as indies go, are of course Image and IDW.  Image was formed in 1992 by  Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Valentino. The current partners are Robert Kirkman, Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Valentino.

The key distinction that Image brought to the table was that  Image would not own the creator’s work. This concept of “creator owned” work is very attractive to comic book creators. In other articles, I have and will detail some of the battles between creators and the comic book companies.
There are now a profusion of independent labels out there and with Kickstarter, even more self-published comics. And don’t forget the internet, Graphic Indiawhich allows artists to produce, very cheaply, web based comics.

But as interesting as the work they are doing is, DC and Marvel still dominate. According to Diamond (see my article on Phil Seuling about the rise of the independent comic book wholesaler) in July 2016, in retail market share, DC had 35.36%,  Marvel at 34.20%, and Image at number three has just 8.15% of the market. IDW at number four has 4.49% and Darkhorse is at five with 2.83%.  Boom! is at 2.05% in sixth place and Archie is in seventh place with 1.36%. The rest just go down from there.

Just some of the indie companies we’ve been looking at here, in no particular order, are Valiant, ActionLabs, AfterShock, Oni, Graphic India, Boom! Studios, IDW, Image, Darkhorse and of course Top Cow. However, I am looking to go even farther afield and welcome suggestions from fans, writers, artists, colorists, letters and even publishers. Unless DC and Marvel come out with something very unique, I’ll be spending more of my time on the independents, not only do they produce the best comics today, they need the exposure.

SOT – Save Our Tick!!!

The-Tick-1-590x393CITIZENS! Our beloved Hero the TICK is in trouble, though he is Nigh Invulnerable, he needs our help. Yes, he has faced the Terror, Chairface Chippendale and even Apocalypse Cow, but now he once again faces the dreaded Corporate Suits. These purveyors of mindless television have twice before defeated the Tick. First on November 24, 1996 when Fox canceled his animated television show after 3 seasons, then on January 21, 2002 when Fox canceled his live action show after 9 episodes. (These same dastards killed Firefly after 9 episodes as well.)

Now, Amazon has commissioned a pilot for a new Tick live action series. But, unless we, the Tick’s loyal fans get the word out, the Tick may succumb to his third, and final defeat from which he may never recover. Share this post, twit this post, call your friends, snapchat your friends, go to their houses and pound on their doors to get them to take the Amazon poll so that the Tick will once again be free to patrol The City to  Smite Evildoers! (Link to the Amazon Pilot Preview Page)

For those benighted souls who don’t know who the Tick is, let me explain. Like many, I first encountered the Tick during his 1994 to 1996 run on Fox Kids. Tip of the hat to my daughter, Sara, the Planetary Scientist at the University of Arkansas, (“Go Razorbacks!”), and my son, Sam, the Army Officer at Fort Riley, (“Go Ordinance”),  for introducing the show to me. Watching Saturday morning cartoons with the kids was a tradition back then, and when we discovered the Tick, our world changed.

I later learned that the Tick was originally a black and white comic created by Ben Edlund at New England Comics. Edlund created the Tick in 1986 for NECs as their mascot when he was an 18 year old comic book fan. One thing led to another and NEC bankrolled a full length comic. This led to other series and spin offs with such characters as Paul the Samurai, Man Eating Cow, and the Chain Saw Vigilante.

The Tick was conceived as a spoof of the superhero genre, but Edlund’s brilliant writing and sense of the absurd propelled this character beyond a single joke. Make no mistake, the Tick is insane; in the first issue he broke out of a lunatic asylum. But, he is a superhero. His world is populated with villains so off beat and bizarre as to give Adam West pause.

Fighting for justice with him is his long suffering side kick, Arthur. Stuck as an accountant, Arthur knew he was destined for greatness and when he discovered the Moth costume, he knew that his  time had come. Arthur is an ordinary everyman, who just wants to be a hero. Unfortunately, he’s the Tick’s sidekick.

The Tick is oblivious and simplistic and as he put it in Karma Tornado #6: “”Say what you will about me! I comprehend very little of it anyway!” But, he has a great heart and lives to do justice. “Destiny’s powerful hand has made the bed of my future, and it’s up to me to lie in it. I am destined to be a superhero. To right wrongs, and to pound two-fisted justice into the hearts of evildoers everywhere. And you don’t fight destiny! No sir! And, you don’t eat crackers in the bed of your future, or you get all… scratchy.”

Edlund has been involved in all three Tick incarnations. Not merely a creator of the Tick, in 2002 he was hired by Joss Whedon to work on Firefly, which as mentioned above Fox also canceled after 9 episodes. He later worked on Angel , Point Pleasant, Star Wars: The Clone Saga, Supernatural, Revolution and Gotham. He wrote the movie Titan, A.E. with Joss Whedon and John August. And of course,  he worked on Doctor Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, creating Bad Horse and Moist.

Somehow, he convinced Amazon to give the Tick another go. He wrote the pilot episode, and Patrick Warburton, who played the Tick in the first live series is listed as the producer. In the original cartoon, the Tick and Arthur were seen having adventures and fighting the bad guys. The first live action series focused on what they did in their off-time. This new series, with the increased budget, looks to focus on the crime-fighting aspect.

Where the first two series hewed very closely to the comics, Edlund has now given us a different version. Originally in the comics and the first two series, Arthur tried and often failed as the voice of sanity to the Tick’s over the top mania. Arthur was smart, but ordinary. He attempted to ground the Tick in reality.

In this new series, Arthur, played by  Griffin Newman is messed up. Having seen his father killed in a battle between superheroes and the dread Terror, he has become obsessive and himself a little deranged.

Where the Tick was  crazy in a campy Adam West-Batman way, Peter Serafinowic plays the Tick as truly insane. The mood in this new series is somewhat darker. Yes, there is humor, just not the inspired lunacy of the comics or the original series.

To be honest, the pilot does drag in spots. The episode revolves on an obsessive Arthur trying to prove that the evil Terror is still alive, despite evidence of being killed by a superhero. His bedroom has a wall devoted to clippings, notes and pieces of string connecting them together. At night he sneaks around spying on people he believes works for the Terror. And one night he runs into that blue clad maniac.

We have yet to see any supporting cast. In the cartoon we had American Maid, a cross-between Captain America and Wonder Woman. She was smart, together and with little patience for the dimwitted Tick. There was also the Batman parody, Die Fledermaus, who was a coward, and probably only dressed up as a hero to hit on women. Due to the licensing agreement, Edlund re-wrote these characters for the live action series as Captain Liberty and BatManuel. Captain Liberty was a hot mess as a person, while BatManuel, was a real hero but was also looking to score with the ladies. Hopefully, these two will make a re-appearance.

Since Edlund and Warburton are at the helm of the project, I am hopeful that if green-lighted more of the lighthearted wackiness will prevail. But, this won’t happen if Amazon doesn’t pick up the series. So, mobilize your friends, get over to  Amazon and Save Our Tick!

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BoroughCon – Phil Seuling’s Revenge

When fans are asked to name the legends of the comic book field, Phil Seuling is never mentioned, but old hands from DC and Marvel always say his name with fondness and reverence.

Phil Seuling never wrote nor drew a single comic, yet he is credited with saving the field.

Back in the dim days of the 1970s, comics were sold at newsstands and luncheonettes. The retailer had no control over what he received, and each week he sent back the unsold copies. This was inefficient and there were no back issues to be found. Everything went back to the distributor. Back issues could only be found at secondhand dealers.

Seuling came up with the idea to directly market comic books to specialty stores. His plan was for the publishers to sell to him at 60% off the cover price, then he would sell at 40% off to the comic book stores. Returns were gone, and everything sold. Under this arrangement everyone won.

In 1974, Seuling’s Seagate company was up and running. He named it after, of course, Seagate in Brooklyn where he lived.

This new form of marketing resulted in larger profit margins to the publishers and created a new and more controlled outlet: the comic book store. The store owners went from selling used comics to brand new ones. This innovation is credited in saving the comic book companies, which were not all that healthy in the early 1970’s.

Phil Seuling in 1973
Phil Seuling in 1973

Phil was also the father of the modern comic book convention. Prior to his convention in 1968, cons were basically small affairs primarily focused on second hand dealers. Only a handful of people would show up. Seuling started to add the trappings we associate with the modern convention, guests, artists, panels and publisher’s tables. Last year New York ComicCon had 167,000 people attending.

Who was this Renaissance man? He was a used comic book dealer and an English teacher at Lafayette High School in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. According to the PTA president of Lafayette at the time, my dearly departed mother, Evelyn Port, Seuling was a f****n’ moron. (Mom was originally a hillbilly from the Deep South and had a colorful way with words.) She complained that all Seuling talked about was comic books. My brother thought Seuling was a great teacher, but clearly Mom was of a different opinion. I distinctly remember one day when Mom told me that Seuling had quit his tenured position as a teacher to, if you can believe it, sell comic books!

What Mom didn’t know was that by 1978 Seuling had a near monopoly on the comic book trade. He was sued by another distributer and lost. Having created a new model, Seuling soon started to lose business to competitors. He was also, unfortunately suffering a rare liver ailment. By 1984, he was dead at the age of 50.

Jim McLauchlin published a great, in-depth account of the rise and fall of Phil Seuling, as well as how he saved the comic book industry.  It is well worth the time to read it. Also of interest is Billy Ingram’s vintage 1973 interview with Seuling.

For my part, I can still hear my mother cursing Seuling for being an idiot because of his obsession with comic books. Yet, here I am, part of a comic book convention. It would seem that BoroughCon is Phil Seuling’s revenge.

Carl Barks – An Appreciation

ScroogeIn 1987 the Wil Eisner Award was created. Quick name the first three introductory recipients. Wil Eisner, of course; Jack Kirby, naturally and Carl Barks. Carl Barks? Who the heck is he?

While there are rabid Carl Barks fanboys, there are a host of people who don’t know him but can name his most famous creation: Scrooge McDuck. According to ComicChron in 1960, Uncle Scrooge sold over a million copies, where Superman sold only 840,000 and Batman a mere 502,000. Even Mickey Mouse sold only 568,000. A parsimonious cantankerous Duck beat the Man of Steel, the Dark Knight and the Imperial Mouse.

It was all due to Barks.

Carl Barks in the 1930’s worked at Walt Disney Studios and  later in the 1940’s had quit. While doing some minor work as an artist and later writer, it was when he started working for Western Publishing that his genius shined. It was here that he created Scrooge and the other eccentric inhabitants of Duckberg. From the Beagle Boys to Scrooge’s Money Bin, the work of Barks was sheer genius.

Wil Eisner is reputed to have called Barks the “Hans Christian Anderson of comic books.” Walt Simonson dedicated one of his Thor stories to Barks. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg gave homage to Barks in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Indie was being chased by the giant boulder.

He even has an asteroid named after him, 2730 Barks. Discoverer Ted Boswell was inspired by the Barks’ story Island in the Sky.

I first discovered Barks by accident in 1987.  I was stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, and had just come home after defending a soldier at a court-martial. Being wiped out, I just wanted to veg in front of the television. The California feed KTLA was playing a cartoon, “Ducktales.” I was about to change the channel, when I got sucked into the story. That weekend my local comic book dealer, Mr. Boca (just off of Mesa) told me that it was based upon the works of Carl Barks. Fortunately, Gladstone had republished some of the stories, and I was hooked.

There are plenty of websites which will tell you of Barks life, reception and tributes. The greatest tribute is to go out and buy his works.

Barks had a wonderful way of telling a fun adventure story, full of imagination and humor. He understood that comics were to be fun. In this age where the WackyRacers exist in a post-apocalyptic future and Sabrina is a Satan worshipping dark witch it is relaxing to dive into the wonderful world of Duckberg.

Most of the Scrooge stories involve Scrooge, Donald, and the nephews, Huey, Dewy and Louie traveling to some exotic destination after, of course, treasure. When reading these stories, it is easy to see how they inspired Lucas in the adventures of Indiana Jones. Scrooge traveled the globe from hidden South American Cities, to searching for the golden fleece and of course traveling to Atlantis.

Then there are the stories where the dreaded Beagle Boys have some fantastic plot to break into Scrooge’s money bin. Whether it is giant robots or just old fashioned dynamite the Beagles were as obsessed with stealing from Scrooge as he was at trying to stay one step ahead of them.

Later, Barks introduced the  wonderful villainess, Magica De Spell.  A witch-Duck, Magica used her magics to try and steal Scrooge’s lucky dime.

My favorites were the stories of the young Scrooge scraping away before he made his first million. An energetic young duck, he worked as a cowboy, an importer caught in the eruption of Krakatoa, and later a prospector during the Klondike Gold Rush.

When you get tired of the  “adult comics” with angst ridden heroes, excessive violence and existentialist plots, perhaps that’s the time to remember that comics can be light, imaginative  and fun.  Carl Barks was truly one of the great innovators of comics. Honor him by grabbing some re-prints and go adventuring with the inspiration for Doctor Jones: Scrooge McDuck.

Satellite Falling – Just not fast enough

Satellite_fallingBack when I was a kid, $5 would get me 20 comics. At those prices, it was easy to experiment with a new title.  With comics going for $2.99 to $3.99 and in some cases $4.99 a pop, reviews and recommendations are increasingly important. Unfortunately, sometimes the reviews are off.

Take Satellite Falling, written by Steve Horton, drawn by Stephen Thompson and published by IDW for example. The reviews are filled with superlatives. Peer recommendations from people like Roger Stern and Jimmy Palmiotti are absolutely glowing. The problem is that the book is not particularly good.

When writing a review it is important to know which standard is being used. The most exacting standard is reserved for books. Here, plot holes and poorly drawn characters are absolutely not tolerated. The next level down is the movie standard. With this standard, we will accept some plot holes and one dimensional characters if the story moves along briskly. The television standard is even less exacting, but if we like the characters we will accept major plot flaws. NCIS is a perfect example. It is one of the longest running and most popular shows in the world. Yet, you could drive a Mack truck through the holes in most episodes. General non-superhero comics fall below television and in the superhero comic anything goes. The Justice League travels back in time to start the big bang? No problem.

Satellite Falling fails on many levels. Only by using the generous Super Hero standard can anything positive be said about it.

Let’s start with the premise. An emotionally fragile woman leaves a xenophobic Earth to live on an polyglot alien space station as the lone human where she works as a freelance bounty hunter for the police. Using a chameleon technology she can appear as any species, work her way to the target and take them. Ok, not too original, but not too bad either.

The first major problem is that the  aliens aren’t alien. They are Star Trek aliens, basically looking like humans wearing prosthetics. Worse, they don’t act like aliens. They act like humans. If they act like humans, then what is the point of them being “aliens?” Alien denotes being different not just  in looks but in thought and culture.

The Satellite is just a stand-in for any city. There is crime and there are drug dealing lowlifes. The Satellite does not convey as sense of alienness, but a rather familiar comic book city of the future. The point of science fiction is that the story can’t be told in another environment. Consider Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 where the premise of the story is that aliens redesigned our ancestors to become human. This is not a rewritten western or mystery. Or Asimov’s “Night Fall” where a planet has so many suns that the people only see the stars every thousand years.

Here, the tough but fragile heroine tracks down human seeming criminals in a human seeming city. In the second issue she breaks up a drug ring which uses slave labor to create its product. And most of that issue seems to involve an ill-explained escape from the bad guys in an air car, while trying to save a young slave girl, who coincidentally turns out to be the niece of some of the heroine’s friends.

The girl’s supposed to be an alien yet has a human family structure. Not like Zaphod and Ford Prefect who are “semi-cousins” sharing three of the same mothers, as in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The character of Lilly reads like a check list of the modern hero. Female? Check. Tough but fragile? Check. Lesbian? Check. Cynical? Check. Cliché? Check.

While I approve of the trend of including more LGBT characters into literature, as this group represents a good percentage of the population, I am getting the feeling that of late it’s getting to be trendy. It seems like if an author wants to be seen as cool and hip, he’ll make his character gay or more frequently lesbian. It’s starting to feel patronizing. Lilly’s lesbianism feels more forced in an effort to make the comic feel socially relevant.

In sum, we have a Satellite which is a stand-in for any American city, a cliché burnout private bounty hunter, and an oft-told story of drug lords who are bad people.

At $3.99 an issue, the great artwork of Stephen Thompson complemented by Lisa Jackson’s colors can’t keep this comic afloat.

William Gibson Comes To The Comic Book World

ArchangelWilliam Gibson, the father of Cyberpunk has entered the ranks of other respected authors by  writing a comic book. Archangel, was written in collaboration with actor Michael St. John  originally as a screenplay for German television. The Germans passed on it, and when IDW approached Gibson about doing a comic, he had this script ready.

To many of us hardcore Science Fiction fans, Gibson is a legendary figure, who towers above the field. Although, he has only ten novels to his name, his influence is massive. In his 1982 story, “Burning Chrome”, he created the term “Cyberspace”, and in Neuromancer, he showed us the dark side of the internet before it had even been invented. In spirit he is more the heir to Philp K. Dick and Samuel “Chip” Delany than to Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein.

The Golden Age Science Fiction writers celebrated technology, seeing its advance intertwined with upward human progression. High technology was the logical progression of the taming of fire, and with it, Man would create a paradise.

With the advent of the New Wave Writers of the 1960’s we saw a shift in this belief. Harlan Ellison’s dystopic horror story      “I have No Mouth and I Must Scream” (Winner of the 1968 Hugo Award) exemplified this new mood, that technology was not the miracle that would lead Man to godhood.

The works of Dick were particularly cynical and disturbing, setting the stage for 1984 when Gibson unleashed Neuromancer. I remember reading it during my second year of Law School. When I should have been spending time reading a couple of hundred pages from casebooks, I played hooky and read Neuromancer in one sitting. It was as seismic as the jump from Bob Kane’s Batman to Frank Miller’s Dark Knight.

Although only one issue of Archangel has appeared it’s too early to tell where Gibson is going.  One thing is clear, he is not going to waste our time revisiting his old haunts. The story starts with a shattered 2016, where American democracy is dead and the country is run by a Father-Son team of despots. At a secret facility the Veep, Junior, has just undergone surgery to look like his grandfather did in 1945.  He then enters “the Splitter” a device which splits and creates alternate universes, to go to a parallel 1945 to kill the grandfather and take his place.

A resistance group sends two marines after him, but their aircraft unfortunately appears in the middle of a B-52 formation flying over post-War Germany.  The Americans got the Pilot, and the Soviets got the Plane. The Brits are trying to get a piece of the action.

The several characters are described in the book’s endnotes: Junior, Major Guadalupe Torres, Naomi Givens, Captain Vince Matthews and Pilot.

Junior, “ and his father are horrible assholes. They are cruel, smug, narcissistic uber-thugs, wrapped sanctimoniously in what’s left of the flag.”

Major Guadalupe Torres: “Face a study in determination, she pilots a noisy electric wheelchair and wears a brace on her leg… She’s hellbent on stopping Junior’s plans for 1945.”

Naomi Givens is British RAF who believes in the supernatural and unusual. “Difficult enough being a woman in British Intelligence. Being a smart one is quite unforgiveable.” According to Gibson, “I have a certain kind of over the top female character who never gets killed. They may not be realistic but I love them, and a lot of people evidently do.”

Captain Vince Matthews is Naomi’s American counterpart. He is torn by his position in the military and helping Naomi, whom he still loves. “He’s tough and doesn’t believe Pilot at first, but ultimately we like and root for him.”

Pilot, is a dark and mysterious marine.

Gibson has acknowledged that time travel and alternate universes are a standard science fiction trope. But, so were computers until “Burning Chrome” and Neuromancer. This is Gibson,   he is unlikely to stray into stereotypes. The story runs smoothly, the characters well drawn and the dialog snaps.

The art work is done by Butch Guice, with Tom Palmer giving an assist on the inks. They go for the realistic school of drawing, which thankfully is crowding out the Super Hero school. The clothing is natural and wears appropriately on the character’s bodies. This is important for the realism of Naomi, on whom the uniform is definitely unflattering. Naomi is not drawn as an adolescent fantasy, but as a believable person.   Diego Rodriquez’s masterful colors evokes the depressing atmosphere of post-War Germany.

There are just two gripes about this comic. One is the price of $4.99 for 20 pages, and second having to wait at 30 day intervals to watch the story unfold.

Spectrum, a comic created by Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion

spectrumAlan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion the minds behind the hit web series ConMan are at it again. (Full disclosure, I contributed to the ConMan Indiegogo campaign.) They are producing a comic book called Spectrum.

In ConMan, Tudyk and Fillion play actors who starred in a beloved science fiction television show which was cancelled too soon. The show, Spectrum, is a stand in for Firefly, the Joss Whedon television show which Fox cancelled after nine episodes, but has a fanatical fan base.

Enter Spectrum. This comic is based upon that fictional television show. Rather than jumping off into the middle, and assuming people would actually know what is going on, Tudyk and co-writer PJ Haasma, start the story at the beginning, before ace pilot Cash (Tudyk)  meets up with Captain Raaker (Fillion). Cash is a disgraced former hero busted down in rank for destroying a ship by spilling his coffee. In the opening sequences, Earth is under attack and Cash must pilot his antiquated ship to Cheyanne base, only to be accidently shot down by Raaker.

The artist is a relative new comer, Sarah Stone. The end notes list her as working as the Senior Art Director at Gaia interactive. Her work is not of the Super Hero School. She tries to draw Cash as a younger Tudyk and as she does for Fillion’s Raaker. The results are somewhat mixed. Personally, I have never been a fan of trying to make a comic character look like a real person. It generally does not work, as countless Star Trek comics has shown.

It’s too early to tell where the story is going. While there are moments of humor, the overall tone of the comic is serious. Since Spectrum was the stand-in for Firefly, it is probably likely that Tudyk and Fillion will be looking for that type of feel.

Should you try it? At $1.99 on Comixology, it’s a relative bargain.

Does Paramount Hate Star Trek Fans?

T-ShirtIt seems like Paramount hates Star Trek fans but loves our dollars.  Paramount is so jealous of its franchise that the suits have forgotten, if they ever knew, that but for the fans, the original series would have died on June 3, 1969.

Ever since the series was cancelled there has been fan fiction. While most of it was truly horrid it was also beautiful as a paean to an original (for the visual media at least) idea.  For the most part, Paramount stayed away from the fans, except when it finally saw them as a cash cow to be milked.  Between the television shows, the reboots and merchandising, Paramount has taken franchising where no company had gone before, at least until Star Wars.

When video technology became cheaper, the fan fiction migrated to video and later to YouTube.  With more computing power in our phones than what launched the Apollo missions, the amateur film maker can create works far superior to commercial productions of 20 or even 10 years ago.

With websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, the fans can pool the power of their fellows and create a high quality low budget film. Professional film makers realizing the power of the crowd funding have used it to unshackle their vision from the corporate drones. Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk used crowd funding to create Con Man, a love story to their fans and a swipe at Fox which canceled Firefly.

Professional and semi-professional film makers and actors have, naturally gravitated to Star Trek. While many of the fan films are amateurish and unintentionally funny, such as the German fan-flick Dark Horizon (you have to watch the first five minutes. It is absolutely hysterical), there are productions which rival the best TV Movies and some theatrical releases.

Two of the best fan flicks are Star Trek: Horizon and Star Trek Renegades. The great fan film was to be Star Trek: Axanar, which was created by Christian Gossett and was to star Kate VernonTony ToddRichard HatchGary Graham, and J. G. Hertzler. The original short, Prelude to Axanar  is a documentary style film about the lead up to the Battle of Axanar, a major battle between the Federation and the Klingons.

Although it was crowd funded and made on a not for profit basis, the corporate drones at Paramount were frightened. They foolishly believed that Axanar and similar fan ventures would cut into their profits.  Naturally, the attack lawyers were called in. Although, Paramount ultimately dropped the lawsuit, it instituted very restrictive guidelines for future fan films.  The bottom line, the films can’t be more than 15 minutes and can’t be part of a series of stories.

Clearly, the guys running Paramount are the spiritual heirs to the nimrods who canceled the show in the first place. Their concept of communications is back in the era of the Pony Express and be damned with that newfangled telegraph. We are now 17 years since Blair Witch demonstrated the power of internet marketing, and Paramount still doesn’t get it.

These, and let’s not put too much fine a gloss on this, fools believe that fan films cut into Paramount’s marketing revenue.  These fan films are free advertising on a massive scale.  Right now, Star Trek is only kept alive by the fervor of fans. It has been 11 years since Enterprise ended, 15 years since Voyager ended, 17 years since Deep Space Nine ended and 22 years since television episodes of TNG ended. The Star Trek movies are coming, but at multi-year intervals.

What keeps Star Trek alive is the fans. Because of the fans, Paramount has a ready-made base for movies and the new television series. Allowing the fans to express their love through fan films keeps the Star Trek brand alive between movies. Fan films don’t erode the revenue stream, but enhances it.

If we were in the Mirror Universe, where hopefully the Paramount executives were chosen for intelligence, fan films would be encouraged and yes, monetized. Here’s where Paramount has really shown their lack of vision. They can make money off of the Fan Films but have thrown it away.

All they have to do is establish a Star Trek Fan Channel on Youtube, and then encourage fans to submit their work for inclusion. Paramount would then collect the advertising dollars from the videos. For example, Star Trek Renegades has 1.7 million views. Similarly, Star Trek Horizon also has 1.7 million views. While Prelude to Axanar has over 2,418,652 views!

Paramount could also repackage the best films on Blu-Ray for resale.

All Paramount has to do is fire the moron who came up with the 10 restrictive rules and replace the rules with just two. First, all films must be not for profit. Second, all films must be submitted to Paramount for the right of first refusal.  That’s it. And now Paramount has free advertising worth millions plus they get paid for it. It’s an idea so simple and smart that Paramount will never do it.

Locke and Key

file_1_5111Let’s take a break from DC Rebirth and check out the smaller publishing houses. In this review we will be looking at the Eisner Award-winning Locke and Key.

For those who are already fans this review is old news. But, for the people who are blinded by the light of Marvel and DC you may have missed this incredible comic book. Fortunately,  not only is the entire run available in six collections, but Audible created an audio version with a star cast led by Haley Joel Osment and Kate Mulgrew.

If you have not read Locke and Key, then just ignore this review and go out and buy the collections right now. The first issue, published in 2008, was sold out within 24 hours. Same for the first collection.

Created by award winning Fantasy and Horror writer Joe Hill, Locke and Key is a different type of horror comic from what readers are used to seeing. I grew up on such DC staples such as House of Mystery and House of Secrets.

In 1968, DC had decided to challenge the fascists at the Comics Code Authority, and hired EC Comics great Joe Orlando. Back in the 1950’s M.C. Gaines’ EC Comics was the undisputed king of the disturbing horror comic genre. Modern readers can get a taste of this by watching HBO’s EC-inspired Tales from the Crypt or Stephen King’s horror movie Creep Show.

Unfortunately for the comics industry in 1950 a publicity hound, psychiatrist Fredric Wetham, published Seduction of the Innocent an absolutely absurd piece of dreck dressed up as science. In this book Wetham “proved” that comics caused juvenile delinquency. Naturally, this created a public outcry and a congressional hearing. In the end, EC Comics and most of the super heroes were gone as were many of the comic book companies. To protect themselves, the survivors founded a self-censoring private regulatory company, the Comics Code Authority.

The Orlando inspired comics were pure EC. A narrator would introduce the scene, six pages later the character’s flaws would result in a particularly heinous outcome. Then the narrator would make some wholly inappropriate pun and the curtain would close.

Locke and Key is inspired more by Stephen King and Charles De Lint than EC. Hill understands that the essence of horror comes first from the non-supernatural world. This is not too surprising as Hill is the son of Stephen King.

The book opens with an unconventional horror. Two disturbed high school students kill their guidance counselor. The oldest son, Tyler and his mother stop them, with mom killing one and Tyler beating the other senseless with a brick. Meanwhile, teenaged daughter Kinsey hides on the roof, desperately clutching elementary schooler, Bode.

In the aftermath the family relocates to the house of the paternal uncle, the Key House. The story moves in two tracks, the one where the individual family members walk in a haze in the aftermath of the tragedy and the De Lintesque mysterious house narrative featuring Bode.

Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez are a powerful team. Rarely have I seen a writer and artist work with such unity of purpose. Hill knows when to shut up and leave the story telling to Rodriguez.   The funeral scenes are dramatic in their understatement. Rodriguez captures the emotional turmoil of Tyler with such perfection, that we know what he is thinking without the need of thought balloons.

Likewise, Kinsey is aptly drawn as a wounded creature. Prior to the murder, she sported dreads and like any sixteen year old, worked to get attention. But, after her father’s murder, she is stuck in the moment on the roof holding Bode.

And then there’s Bode. The child who discovers the first mystery.

The full story is told in six arcs, “Welcome to Lovecraft”, “Head Games”, “Crown of Shadows”, “Keys to the Kingdom”, “Clockworks” and “Alpha & Omega.” There are three stand alone books, “Open the Moon”, “Grindhouse” and “Small World.”

This incredible comic underscores the importance of smaller houses and independent presses. So, if you’re looking for a change of pace from the endless super hero battles and mandatory cross-overs, check out IDW’s Locke and Key.