Comic Review: XO Manowar #1

XO Manowar #1 came out yesterday, a relaunch by Valiant comics who already relaunched the 90s property in 2012, which from my cursory look on the internet met with great reviews. I’ve actually never read either prior incarnation of XO Manowar, and am coming at this as a new reader, which probably is most helpful in a review for potential new readers.  My cousin had the #1 variant back in the 90s, shiny cover as I recall (I could be wrong, it was the 90s) but I never picked it up, already having my budget in comics extended far more than it should have been. I’m not sure why I missed the original relaunch, but I did, and it looks like it had a pretty successful run.

This new incarnation is written by Matt Kindt and drawn by Tomas Giorello, neither of whom I knew much about before yesterday and doing a cursory google search. Frankly, I think the time is ripe for Valiant to be doing a relaunch of something anyone might have remotely heard of from the 90s. Going into comic shops lately has left me scratching my head. I’ve been STARVED for something new to read that catches my eye. I saw the work via Twitter that Valiant was doing by supporting local comic shops and really getting out there for retailers, and, as the former owner of a comic shop myself, that impressed me as well. The team looks like good, intelligent people. The kind I like to support. The question is, how is the actual comic itself?

What drew me in was the cover. The bright yellow with the huge logo and a Star Wars/ Princess of Mars style art on the cover that screams classic adventure sci-fi to me. It’s gorgeous, bright, fills me with anticipation to open up the book.

Inside, it starts with a scene of a guy who’s kinda “retired” from adventuring, farming, just doing his thing. It reminds me a bit of Rogue One’s opening where the bad guys flood in and force the guy back to work. This had the guy forced into military service. We see within the first few pages the guy is strong, cautious, wise, has a history of adventuring with some weird gadget thing, is alpha and good at getting the girl (even ones with tails…) and someone you generally want to root for as a reader. The army looks like a cool sci-fi group, further reminding me of Princess of Mars or classic adventure fiction.  I like how the aliens refer to him as “Aric of Urth” which if you say it out loud makes sense how it would be twisted like that by a foreign culture.

Adventure ensues, as our hero goes into a hopeless suicide mission of a military situation, people dying all around him, he runs a gauntlet of death and cool sci-fi devices against aliens, with a hopelessly undermatched group. He uses both his wit and strength to guide him through the situation, totally as a solo individual and without some powers, which I assume are going to come later through the mysterious orb that was introduced in the book. It’s somewhat decompressed like modern comics, building to a trade sized story for sure, but at the same time I feel like I did get a full helping of story, unlike a lot of comics these days. It helps that they did a 40-page issue—and my first thought was how are they going to make money at $3.99 with this any pages?  Perhaps it’s meant to be a loss leader, but I was happy with how much I got on the story front. Kindt did a fantastic job of providing real adventure, bringing me back to the golden age of sci-fi storytelling that makes me yearn for more.

The art is great as well. I would say this is completely top notch, far better than I would have expected from a small publisher. It outdoes most Marvel/DC books I saw on the shelves. Good expressions, great detail work, wonderful shading and lighting effects. The artist drew some super creative gadgets and aliens too which look fantastic, unique and memorable. I really couldn’t have asked for better on this book.

Overall, it’s just a teaser of a story. We have our hero operating without his powers, running the gauntlet, being called back into action, and we’re still waiting for more. It’s a little tough to judge until the full arc comes about, but if Kindt continues with the brilliant adventure fiction as this book gave us a glimpse of, with homages and respect for the past pulp era, I think we may have 2017’s best comic book on our hands. As a new reader who’s never looked at Valiant or XO Manowar before, I was given enough info for this to be a perfect starting point, and the story gripped me from there.

Appendix N and #PulpRevolution people – this is the horse we should bet on. I think XO Manowar may be right up our alley, and highly suggest you take a look for yourself. Even though I said in past blogs I’m done with pamphlet comics with the way trades have taken over, I can’t wait for #2.

Comic Review: The Invisible Republic Vol. 1

UPDATE: After I leave a positive review of their book, both @GabrielHardman and @CorinnaBechko blocked me on Twitter. Very weird. Do they not want positive reviews of their book, or people reading them? Do they just block reviewers? Is there a worse intention of that blocking there because of my whistleblowing of the comics industry’s bigotry? If someone would like to message them and ask, I’d like to clear that up before leaving endorsements of them up! 

A fun fact is I used to do a series of comic reviews on the website True Believer Reviews, and had interviewed a lot of great comic writers from 2009-2013 or so. My own writing took precedence at the time, but now I’ve learned to knock out reviews pretty quickly, and with a comic-based audience, I figured I’d pick that back up again, true believers, so we can discover fun and interesting reads together. I’ll be doing trade paperbacks only for the most part, as I find pamphlets to be mostly pointless in comics these days.

But you’re here to hear about Image Comics’ invisible republic by Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Sarah Bechko, which I picked up after seeing a positive review on my favorite reviewer, The Injustice Gamer’s, blog. Continue reading

“Make Mine Marvel No More!”

Marvel Comics has a big problem.

I was in my local comic shop today, of which I don’t frequent nearly as much as I used to. I don’t want to say I lost a love for comics, as I recently just plowed through the trade paperbacks of Chew and finished 4 of the end of the series in one night. I feel similarly about Revival and Terry Moore’s Motor Girl. However, it’s been at least three to four years since I stopped making weekly appointments to go to the comic shop on Wednesdays, eager to pick up new books. I mentioned in an earlier post that the way storytelling has gone, I don’t really want to pick up individual issues anymore. That’s certainly part of it, but I’m also consuming a lot less content than ever before.

Around the time I stopped regularly buying comics, I cut ties and dropped the last vestiges of my Marvel Comics reading. EPIC CROSSOVER EVENTS had been anything but epic for me for years, making it difficult to read individual comic storylines (this issue of Amazing Spider-Man takes place after Civil War #4 and continues in X-Factor #17!), and trying to one-up the last with a new “shocking” death or even “shockinger” resurrection. This was hard for me to do. I’d been reading Marvel Comics since I was 10. That all started with a subscription to Amazing Spider-Man that my aunt bought for me for Christmas. If I had to choose desert island top 5 all time favorite comic characters, they would be: 5. Spider-Girl 4. Fantastic Four (I count them as one unit). 3. Captain America 2. Black Cat (way better than Catwoman) 1. Spider-Man.  Marvel meant a ton to me over the years, and if I added up all the money i’ve spent on their comics, I probably could buy myself a new car at the very least.  So it pained me to let them go.

What I heard today was disconcerting to me, because I care about Marvel Comics, and more because of what their mistakes do to the comic industry as a whole. The local shop owner told me that Marvel used to comprise about 48% of their sales, and now they’re down to about 25%. Whoa. That’s a huge drop. And I know that doesn’t mean that people are jumping ship and buying equal amount of titles of other books. The comic book readers like me, are mostly quitting except for picking out a few titles here and there. It’s really sad. Marvel, apparently, has it the worst, as the shop owner mentioned that the distributor comes into the shop, asks how things are going, with a caveat of “other than marvel” and they laugh about the poor sales together.

Now this could be anecdotal for one shop, but it’s not. If you look ten years ago, Marvel led comic sales across the board, every time, hands down, and had for decades prior to that. What happened was laziness, complacency, an unwillingness to learn from business mistakes and a healthy dose of social justice sprinkled in on top of that to seal their coffin.

Marvel went wrong in a few big ways that they need to correct:

  1. Crossover events. I mentioned how they’re just not special anymore. They haven’t been special in a decade. You may get a boost in sales temporarily but it doesn’t do anything for the long term. I hate them. Most readers hate them. We tolerated them for awhile because it looked like Bendis and Co. were doing cool things with the universe, but it turned out there wasn’t much of a real plan there other than to make new crossover events. I pick up a book to read its story. If you want to do a team up whatever with Spidery and X-Men you can make that happen within the confines of the one story and without 50,000 loose tie ins that the writers shoe-horn in. It makes for lousy books every single time.
  2. Variant covers. I was informed that it was recently or is “Venom variant month” where everything has a Venom variant cover. Look, variants were cool a couple of times, when it was special. Once it started happening all the time, it killed collecting. There’s barely any collecting going on now, and that’s your fault, comic industry. Marvel is repeating these mistakes by killing the specialness of such things even more.
  3. Social Justice. It stems from the editorial down to the writers, and they’re al the same lockstep of trying to force a left wing social narrative on everyone trying to relax and read Hulk beating up bad guys in a pure rage. Your overall audience aren’t hipsters in New York City. We’re spread out across the country and are probably split mostly along the way they country’s split. Recognize that. I couldn’t find any book that looked like the iconic characters any longer. Everyone is a gender swap trans muslim whatever gimmick of the month to virtue signal how diverse they are. And it suffers from the same problems as the first two points I made about the industry. When this was done once or twice, it was something different. It was cute. It made news headlines. Marvel got a quick sales bump. They went for that cheap gimmick on repeat rather than maintaining excellence in storytelling. It’s not making something new, it’s using a marketing gimmick for what would have been a single issue of What If? 30 years ago. A bigger problem is it isn’t to evoke the same sense of What If? fun and wonder, it’s 100% completely for the virtue signal. That intent shows through, it annoys people. No one wants it, for real.
  4. Distribution. This is an old problem, but it’s getting steadily worse. Throwing these things in specialty comic shops only or lost on the internet just gets clouded with easier to find, easier to digest content. Not exclusively Marvel’s fault here, but they need to get with a new program. I don’t have an answer here, but someone smarter than me working for Disney probably does.
  5. Not Telling A Story In An Issue. Stories go like this: Issue 1: Thor wakes up, brushes his (or her, or xer or whatever gender this week is popular) teeth. Eats breakfast. Heads out the door. Something happens. Cliffhanger to be continued! That is not enough to get me remotely interested in what’s going on, let alone to remember what happened a month from now to continue it. This is why I’m only buying trades, which hurts sales. I think the last instance I remember where whole stories were told was Tom De Falco’s Spectacular Spider-Girl, the third incarnation of that book. He’s a great storyteller. I miss him on Marvel books. When a book was a book. Cliffhangers ok, but give me a full story.
  6. Resting on the laurels of Stan Lee. There’s nothing new, and that’s nothing new. Really the problem is Iron Man is 50+ years old. And they’ll do their social justice gimmick “what if Iron Man is…. female! Because women and men are interchangeable!” and then, when a movie’s about to hit, they go quickly to revert back to some iconic unchanging Iron Man. Then repeat. There’s no long term investment available for these storylines. Marvel attempted it and succeed to make continuing stories for these characters up until about the 90s, but they couldn’t think of ways to keep them going and maintain continuity. I’m still pissed over One More Day. That was lazy writing. It doesn’t help that readers are disappointing, and any attempt to bring forth something new doesn’t last, but it’s partially Marvel’s fault for letting it get that way, and not really pushing their top talent toward those endeavors. Frankly, I loved Runaways, Arana, Spider-Girl, Spider-Man 2099. Many others did too. They didn’t get a long term commitment or lasting support from marketing or editorial. They were vestiges allowed to exist for a time as an experiment, but they were too little too late. To fix this, Marvel needs to make a real dedicated push and be willing to make a long term plan out of it. It probably involves disconverging the “Marvel Universe” and letting some books be separate, like Image does. I doubt they’ll ever be able to do that.

My last point is my greatest, and the reasoning is that any of these fixes can be done to one or two books, or for a bit. Someone will always come in with an ALL NEW SUPER COLLECTORS #1 and reset it to just these five terrible points on repeat. We know that as the readership, and that’s part of why Marvel’s lost its luster. It needs real creatives, real leadership to take it in a bold and fresh new direction to resolve this. I doubt it’s going to happen any time soon.

I long for the days of someone saying “Excelsior!” once again.

I Ain’t Buying Comics Anymore

To which I mean I’m completely done with single issue comic pamphlets. They make a mess, they get all over, hard to store reasonably, there’s not really much collector value long term, as I’m not going to want to revisit most of these stories in 20-30 years or whatnot. And even then, things that are hot now might be quarter bin like Spawn or Gen13.

Next, there’s not a single book out there (barring some random indie ones, don’t leave comments listing “but this–” please) that actually tells a story in a single issue or makes any attempt at it anymore. Everything’s built around 5-7 issue arcs. So you might as well get a graphic novel at that point. It’s just a waste, and 20 pages, as comics have been shortened to, with the modern cinematic style, don’t convey nearly enough information like the Golden/Silver age of comics to get you invested in a story enough to want to do it monthly. You’ll get a short part where Spider-man steps in dog poo and then heads out and then the issue ends. And then next issue he might be at the laundromat before something happens. By the time the next month rolls around there’s nothing to leave an impression enough for you to follow the story from where it left off (which is why they do recaps every issue now).

Graphic novels are the way to go. They’re more efficient, I can sit and do it in one reading, and that’s that.

Terry Moore’s Motor Girl #1 Review (Spoiler Free)

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Last week marked the release of Terry Moore’s new comic, Motor Girl #1. I’ve been eagerly awaiting this since the end of Rachel Rising, which is my favorite comic book series of all time, which you should check out the omnibus here.  I’m a bit late in reviewing because of other obligations, but here goes!  Continue reading