Iron Man #9: Cover of the first issue of The Secret Origin of Tony Stark arc.

The Downsides of Serial Storytelling

Serial storytelling is popular on television, but as far as print goes, it’s a dying art. There used to be a time when people regularly followed installments of actual books, printed a chapter at a time in magazines, but now magazines themselves are struggling to keep the public’s interest in the face of the internet. You can find serial stories on the internet—web comics and fanfiction for example—but the business of it isn’t the same. The comic book industry is one of the few businesses that still maintains that original serial model and because of that it usually takes six or twelve issues of a comic to tell a single story arc.

The last few months I’ve spent a lot of time deciding what titles to trim from my pull list in favor of waiting for the graphic novel releases. As I’ve evaluated titles, I’ve thought a lot about the downsides of serial storytelling. The obvious downside for the consumer is the price. I bought the first six issues of Avengers by Jonathan Hickman for a cover price of $3.99 which meant I spent approximately $24.00. The graphic novel collection of those issues is currently being sold for $15.00 on Amazon.com. For someone with a tight budget, that kind of difference is noteworthy.

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Johnny Storm

Let’s Talk About Race

As you’ve no doubt already heard, the new Fantastic Four movie has cast its Human Torch. Meet Michael B. Jordan, the new Johnny Storm:

Even though this is a topic that Eric has already covered, I’d like to offer my thoughts on why casting an actor of color for Johnny Storm isn’t just a good idea, but a really important move.

It’s no secret that representation in media is a big deal. There has been a push in the past ten years for the superhero genre to expand past the cookie cutter of “white heterosexual man,” and while the comics have been slowly expanding their repertoire, the movies… have not. The Avengers movie universe has War Machine, Black Widow, and Falcon, who have all been relegated to sidekick status; the X-Men movie franchise has revolved around the trio of Wolverine, Professor X, and Magneto, even when the stories they’re trying to tell really revolve around other characters. DC’s movie division has made movie after movie featuring Batman and Superman while outright refusing to focus a movie on Wonder Woman; their Green Lantern movie focused on Hal Jordan, the most stereotypical white guy in all the Lantern Corps.

If you frequent social media or forum spaces devoted to comics, you already know that there are a lot of people who are angry about these decisions. There aren’t any big-time superhero movies featuring people of color, even though there are plenty of characters to choose from; movies that should be telling stories about characters who aren’t white guys are instead being rewritten to be about white guys. (For examples of this, think about X-Men: The Last Stand, which should have focused on Jean Grey but was instead about Wolverine, or think of the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past, a story that in the comics is about Kitty Pryde time-travelling to save mutantkind but has been rewritten for the movie to again focus on Wolverine.) The general public hasn’t raised a fuss over those stories being changed.

Jordan’s casting as the Human Torch, however, is making ripples all over the place. People are coming out of the woodwork with phrases like “I don’t mean to be racist, but…” (which, for the record, is almost always followed by something racist). Suddenly, a focal character in a superhero movie isn’t a white guy, and some people are up in arms over it. Personally, I think there’s something really wrong with our society as a whole when we can accept without question the fact that there’s a man who can set himself on fire, not get burned, and then fly, but can’t accept that the person under the flames is anything other than white. It’s also worth noting that with the frequency that comic reboots change things about characters – their backgrounds, their families, their sexual orientations, even their entire identities – the fact that people are freaking out over a reboot changing a character’s race is again more indicative of a larger problem than an issue with the choice itself.

So why do I consider it a good thing that they’re changing Johnny Storm’s race?

First and foremost, like I said at the start, representation is important. The recent release of the newest Ms. Marvel #1 proves that; there are countless stories all over the internet about how many comic store owners and employees noticed new customers coming in specifically to purchase that book. The book was Marvel’s #1-selling digital title the week it was released. Anyone who tries to tell you that representation isn’t important either has their head in the sand or is lying through their teeth.

It’s also important to not make A-list superheroics all about the white guys. When all of the heroes are the strong white male archetype, it creates a really dangerous precedent that if you’re not a white male, you’re inferior. You can’t be the best of the best unless you fit that stereotype, too. Superhero narratives have been slowly branching out, and the movies are starting to reflect that – by including white women here and there. It’s really a sad commentary when people are insisting that Storm’s appearance in the X-Men movies counts as representation; she’s an amazing character, and I’m glad she’s a part of that franchise, but having one prominent POC character in an entire movie genre isn’t enough. Superheroes should reflect society. Making a famous superhero like Johnny Storm a POC breaks down some of that stereotype that you have to be a white guy to be a good guy, and that can never be seen as a bad thing.

At the end of the day, it seems to me that people protesting the race switch for Johnny Storm are being completely racist, pure and simple. Johnny’s character isn’t defined by his race, so changing it for more positive representation isn’t damaging him as a character. Will it change things? Absolutely. Will those things be for better or worse? If they keep the character true to his personality, it’ll be excellent. It depends a lot on what the writers do, though, so it’s hard to say at this point. There’s a lot of potential, and I’m hoping that they live up to it.

One last note on the racism inherent in the whole “Johnny shouldn’t be a POC” argument: there’s a lot of fuss being made over Michael B. Jordan playing a character who is usually portrayed as being white, but there’s been zero talk about casting Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm, even though Grimm is a Jewish character. The erasure of a Jewish character isn’t seen as a big deal; he’s being played by a white guy, after all. But the erasure of a white dude? Blasphemy.

If that isn’t racism, I don’t know what is.

Comments? Questions? Leave a reply! I’ll be happy to talk comics with you.

King Pin Comic Depiction vs Movie Depiction

Race Flipping in Comic Movies

The internet is abuzz about the recent news by 20th Century Fox to have Johnny Storm played by an African American actor in the next Fantastic Four movie. The featured image of this article should be a reminder that this isn’t the first time we’ve had this happen. Of course, that flip’s nowhere near as famous as the Nick Fury race flip. Continue reading

Guardians of the Galaxy promotional image: Will audiences connect with these characters?

Coming Soon from Marvel Studios

The first full-length trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy was released this week and it marks the tenth movie that will be released in the interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe, joining the Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Avengers movie franchises as well as The Incredible Hulk movie and the television show Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Also coming from Marvel Studios this year is Captain America: The Winter Soldier which continues the Captain America franchise and seems to be tied very closely to the S.H.I.E.L.D. stories and characters that featured in Avengers. These will be the last two movies before all the interconnecting threads meet again in Avengers: Age of Ultron and I thought I’d do an early overview of them both.

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Young Avengers #13

Talk To Me!: Why Lettering is Important

I’ve talked a lot about art and writing in the past few months, and a few weeks ago we had colorist appreciation day. I figured now was a good time to round out the collection of creators and talk about lettering.

Lettering doesn’t sound important at first, especially considering the fact that a lot of lettering these days is done digitally. Hand-lettering was an art form of its own, but why does it matter anymore? What effect does lettering even have on a comic?

As it turns out, it has a huge impact.

Action Comics #1, Superman’s first appearance, was published in 1938. He’s a sample of the lettering from the issue:

Action Comics #1

Action Comics #1

It’s easy to pick out differences between the lettering we see here and the lettering we’re more used to today. The spacing is uneven, the letters aren’t consistent, the writing isn’t very heavy, and there’s an odd hyphenation in the middle of the word “innocent.” It’s not impossible to read, not by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not exactly easy. This is hand-lettering at its birth: a man, a pen, and a script.

As time went on, the lettering business got its act together a little more. Here’s a panel from Iron Man #1, published in 1968:

Iron Man #1

Iron Man #1

And here’s a panel from The Demon #1, published in 1972:

The Demon #1

The Demon #1

Both panels show more consistent lettering than we see in the first example, and both have mostly solved the spacing and heaviness issues. We’re also starting to see different types of balloons – the Iron Man panel shows both speech and thought, and the panel from The Demon has an inset narration box. There are also examples of the bold/italic text that is still commonly used for emphasis.

Let’s skip ahead a bit to 1991. Here are two panels from Robin II: The Joker’s Wild:

Robin II: The Joker's Wild

Robin II: The Joker’s Wild

Robin II: The Joker's Wild

Robin II: The Joker’s Wild

You can see in the first panel that the text in the narration box has become italicized to represent thought, and that the lettering in the balloons is clear and consistent. Bravo to these hand-letterers; the work that they put into polishing this type of handwriting doesn’t get noticed enough. I don’t know about you, but I can’t sign my name twice without variation, but the people who did comics lettering have it down to a science.

Now, let’s take a look at some modern era comics. Red Hood and the Outlaws is a current ongoing book, and the text in #24, published in 2013, is typical of today’s lettering: neat, concise, and sharp.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #24

Red Hood and the Outlaws #24

The letters are even, with consistent spacing and weight. It’s easy to read, and you don’t have to worry about smudging or eraser marks when the lettering is digital. It makes reading modern comics a heck of a lot easier than trying to decipher some older comics.

Modern lettering also lets creative teams so some really interesting, innovative things. For example, the recent run of Young Avengers featured a recap page called yamblr, heavily based on popular blogging site tumblr. Having the ability to use different fonts, type styles, and coloring in the letters makes something like this not only fun, but incredibly effective.

Young Avengers #13

Young Avengers #13

This panel from Young Avengers #13, published in 2013, is a great example. The “author” of the post has a bold/italic name, the text is normal text, and the “tags” are lighter and italicized. It’s a great mockup of tumblr’s style, and makes both an excellent reference and a good way to write a recap page.

Modern lettering also allows for the way that the Thor books are written. In books that are set in Asgard, all (or nearly all) of the lettering is stylized to give it a certain feel:

Journey into Mystery #651

Journey into Mystery #651

In comics where an Asgardian character is speaking to a human character (or a character who speaks with otherwise humanlike speech), the lettering varies.

Loki: Agent of Asgard #1

Loki: Agent of Asgard #1

The stylistic choice is clear, and it’s something that’s much easier to do in the modern era of lettering than it would be in the days of hand-lettering. However, sometimes it’s difficult to tell if this is a blessing or a curse; I’d like to read Loki: Agent of Asgard, but the lettering makes it hard for me to do so. I tried reading the Sif arc of Journey into Mystery and had to stop halfway through the first issue because I got such a headache.

So, lettering has come a long way, from a guy with a pen to the digital age. We might be lacking some of the so-called charm of the days of hand-lettering, but I personally much prefer the digital lettering that we get today. I’m sure there are people who disagree, but overall, I think we’ve definitely moved in the right direction – and I want to give my thanks to the hand-letterers of the past for their tireless, thankless work, which paved the way for the lettering that we have today.

Comments? Questions? Leave a reply! I’ll be happy to talk comics with you.

comic pow - ms. marvel cover

Ms. Marvel: Kamala Khan Takes Up the Mantle

In 1962 Marvel Comics changed the face of the comic industry by creating Spider-Man. Peter Parker was a teenager who wasn’t stuck in the role of sidekick. He was able to be the hero of his own story and he managed to do it while balancing the struggles and drama of teenage life. Over the years from the X-Men to the Young Avengers, Marvel has continued making dynamic teen heroes that struggle to come of age against the backdrop of superhero life. The most recent addition is Kamala Khan, a young Muslim girl trying to find her place among her peers in New Jersey while taking up the mantle of Ms. Marvel.

This title has already drawn a massive amount of attention because it’s the first time a Muslim character is headlining their own book at Marvel. Now, just to be clear, Kamala is not the first Muslim hero at Marvel. She’s not even the first Muslim heroine, but creating a title around her and giving her a beloved legacy title is an extremely important step toward diversifying comics and broadening representation.

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king-city-cover

Life in the Big City

Regular readers of Comic POW know I’m a huge fan of Brandon Graham. When I discover a new creator that I like, I tend to binge on their works. Fortunately for my bank account, Brandon Graham has a pretty small canon of work in which he is both writer and artist. Prior to working on Multiple Warheads his major non-porn was was King City.

King City Book 1 "Catmaster"

King City Book 1 “Catmaster”

King City started off on Tokyo Pop and then the American division went belly up. The story was left untold until Image Comics picked it up for the second half. The story is, in my eyes, a cross between Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and Brian Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim.  From Pulp Fiction it takes a couple low level gangsters – a professional burglar and a human smuggler who are best friends and then spends a large portion of the story dealing with their lives outside their jobs. From Scott Pilgrim it borrows a world that’s ALMOST, but not quite our world. One of the characters is a veteran of the Korean Zombie war. The cat burglar literally uses a cat that can become nearly any device with the right injection. Continue reading