Monday, September 30, 2013

Grand Theft Auto V, Misogyny, and the Question of Satire

In case you wondered why I hadn't posted anything for a bit...
Wow, it has already been more than a week since my last post, and I don't have too many excuses (at least not good ones) for why it has taken me so long to post something. A bit of the blame partly falls onto how I'm still working my way through various items I got at Project Comic-Con so that I can review some of the comics (I'll get some reviews up sooner than later, I promise). Most of the fault however for my neglecting the blog, and by proxy you, my dear reader/s, falls upon a simple source, the game Grand Theft Auto V. Yes, when not working at whatever jobs or tasks life demands of me I have been playing GTA V, and having quite the ball. So yes, in case you wondered why I hadn't posted anything for a bit, you have GTA V to thank/blame for that.

 The thing is, while playing GTA V and reading various articles about it, some things started to bug me just as they were bugging other people. The main things were the way female characters were treated in the game, and the overall defense of the game being satire so its okay. I decided I would delve into these feelings in a probably-too-long post that may or may not prove interesting to anyone reading.

Money-making machine...
Grand Theft Auto V has been out for a little bit and I suppose at least some people have played it considering it has made 1 billion dollars in sales. Clearly, the game is a money-making machine and you don't really need me to review the game--you either are going to buy it at some point, have bought it, or don't care for the type of game it is (or just don't play games at all) and will be "sitting out" owning it. I'll preface everything else I'm going to say with the fact that GTA V is a good game, a really good game--there is no question. The world you live in feels so developed and organic it is a little creepy how you can spend a minute just staring at the amazing architecture that makes up the game, from its pedestrian characters, to buildings, music, etc. The game has been getting a fair amount of critical press however, and for things beyond the usual, "This game is too violent/games are evil." Yes, GTA V is causing a bit of a stir due to a question that sounds simple but is in fact extremely complicated. That question would be: Is it misogynist?

The worst aspects of masculinity put into a blender...
The three main characters of Grand Theft Auto V are all male, and flawed in different ways--some of them more than others. The game's developer, Rockstar, has said this is because the game is about reflecting masculinity(and clearly from the way the game plays out its downfalls). Do the characters reflect this concept however? I suppose to a point they do.

Trevor is one of the worst people you'll meet or play as.
 Franklin is probably the most genuinely likable of the characters, a young man trying to do more than just live in the "bad" part of town wasting life away. Michael is a pretty bad man but has enough insight about himself and the choices he's made to at least recognize he is bad, and doesn't like the reflection he sees in the mirror. Then we have Trevor, a grade-a monster whose mood can swing from mellow to violent in the span of a few seconds. Trevor doesn't blink at the idea of murdering anyone who stands in his way, having sex with whomever he wants regardless of their relationship status, and basically is less a man and more a display of pure id. Trevor is all the worst aspects of masculinity put into a blender and then baked until you get this horrible, horrible person. I suppose the game reflects masculinity and its issues to a degree, but what about the role of female characters, or femininity in general?

Women shown as little more than overly-emotional liars...
Grand Theft Auto V lacks any significant female character from what I've seen so far playing it and from reading about the game. At least, it lacks any significant female character who isn't portrayed in a negative light as either sexually promiscuous, or a raging bitch. The only character in the game with two X chromosomes that I have encountered (hours into the game) who isn't shown as horrible spoke maybe 3 lines to me. She was a member of my gang when we pulled off a jewelry heist and served as the hacker. The lines were telling us how long we had before the alarm went off, offering to help shoot the police pursuing us, and saying at the end of the job how she felt it went well. Other than her, everyone was a prostitute, drug addict, cheating wife, spoiled daughter, mean and over-sexed aunt, or some other stereotype of women that makes them look like little more than overly-emotional liars. Men may be shown as pretty bad people in GTA V, but at least some of them are a little bit more good than bad, and no woman seems to get the same slight redemption in GTA V, any female is just a horrible shrew.

One of the main character's daughters. She is portrayed as highly unpleasant.
It doesn't help that a lot of the time when someone has questioned the game's portrayal of females, that fans of the game have spewed forth pure hatred online, especially if the person pointing out the gender issues is a female. Putting aside the fans who have made violent threats to anyone that dares question GTA V, there are those who, in a thankfully calm manner, point out, "Hey, GTA V may portray women horribly, but aren't men given the same treatment, you know, isn't the whole thing supposed to make you uncomfortable with its misogyny and violence? After all, everyone in the game is a terrible person!" To this I can respond: Ah, the old, "Its supposed to be politically incorrect/it's satire/it's social commentary/subversive!" argument.

Satire can be silly, but just because you're silly that doesn't mean you're satire...
If I may quote an article, "Satire doesn't go far enough to cover lazy writing and thinking." This basically means that yes, Grand Theft Auto V skewers society, but is it really satire, especially where the female characters are concerned? GTA V has many funny moments of parody, and it did make me laugh, but I would agree it is really just attacking everything it can think of, and most of those thoughts seem to be easy targets (e.g. celebrities are fake, America is obsessed with reality television). Also,  wouldn't most agree it isn't really satire to just show all women as terrible people without having some sort of point to your portrayal? Satire often has a sharp, biting edge, and GTA V may make me giggle with its "Republican Space Rangers", but if we're honest the game really is just taking easy pot-shots at culture. Having a social network called "Life Invader" is about as edgy as a comedian with a day-time talk show making the same observation about how social networking sites such as Facebook, *GASP*, invade our privacy!
Making fun of social media and how it invades privacy, that's...edgy?
If your message is that nothing is worth taking seriously, then do you really have a point that you are trying to make besides that you kinda-sorta have no point? Satire can be silly, but just because you're silly that doesn't mean you're satire, it just shows how you're trying to make people laugh with dirty words and jokes about easy things to make fun of--"People on the West Coast like to smoke weed, how funny!" GTA V may parody culture, but I've seen folk agree that it isn't subversive or really all that satricial, at least not at the level of some other games out there today that definitely are making a point beyond, "Boy, our culture sure can be stupid, can't it?"

It is kind of odd to think that Grand Theft Auto V isn't that satirical, because it definitely does have a dark edge, its just that edge tends to be lacking in humor and instead be overloaded with cynicism and anger. Its a bit of a shame, as the game definitely has opportunities to make truly ballsy comments on society, and even comes close a few times. Some would argue, for example, that a scene which occurs in the game and involves torture actually does qualify as satire, with its mix of barbarism and a hint of dark comedy (or at least the scene is making a statement), however a few moments here and there of insight in a game that can last more than 100 hours does not a piece of satire make.

At least a lot of fun was had...
Grand Theft Auto V is a game with an amazing world. The city of Los Santos, the countryside of Blaine County, and the way it feels like the player is in a living, breathing world is just incredible. There are also plenty of humorous elements in GTA V, and lots of stuff to do that is a blast, from parachuting and off-road racing to more illicit activities such as robbing armored trucks or the game's titular activity of stealing cars.
GTA V has a beautiful world, even if the people populating it are atrocious.
All of this goes to show that even if GTA V isn't satire, and suffers some due to its casual misogyny, it is enjoyable as a piece of gaming entertainment. As another article I enjoyed points out, GTA V isn't the horrible threat to society's morality as some like to make the game out to be, or a piece of deep social commentary, it's just fun. While I do wish there were more of a message in a game that has such a big platform to make a statement (seriously, a billion in sales?), at least at lot of fun was had by those who played it, and is being had by those still in the process of enjoying the game. I do hope the creators behind GTA V make a greater effort to have some real statements behind the next GTA game and don't just rely on violence, swearing, and lame jokes.

Maybe if they try to be deeper and make even more money, such as two billion in sales, that'll illustrate we as video-gamers are ready for something more intricate and deep from Rockstar, such as their other recent and arguably more plot-driven games Red Dead Redemption or Max Payne 3. I want a game that makes me think while I'm having fun, not one where one of the smarter jokes is how the stock market is called the BAWSAQ. Although, that is pretty funny even if it is horribly juvenile.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Project Comic-Con 2013 In Review.

The fourth-ever Project Comic-Con has just wrapped up, and boy was it a fun weekend! As I enjoy doing, I'll recap some of the things I saw and did there. In no particular order of guests I saw (and spoke with beyond a simple "hello" as I tried to interact with everyone!) and the stuff I bought, I now present, Comic-Con In Review!

Guests I Saw and Stuff I Got in No Particular Order

Fabian Nicieza
Probably the neatest person I saw because he had a lot of interesting stuff to say would be Fabian Nicieza. We talked about his work on "Cable and Deadpool" (which was an amazing series) and what he is up to now, along with general chatter about the comic-book industry. He has so much energy and enthusiasm, and is quite witty, which raised the question of why he hasn't been doing a monthly comic for a bit. Basically he has been busy working full-time with a trans-media company called, "Starlight Runner Entertainment," but did say he'd always be eager to write a comic. Hey Marvel, perhaps you'd like to do another "Cable and Deadpool" book, please?

Avatar Press
Avatar Press had a presence at Project Comic-Con in the form of a booth with all kinds of great comics for sale. I got a number of their books for myself and a "Night of the Living Dead" one as a present for someone I know who is a big zombie fan. Avatar is indeed a very cool publisher putting out some of my favorite stuff lately so I was happy to see them at the 'con.

Watsui The Talking Dog
Watsui is a web comic by Dale Martin for all-ages that is very cute. Dale was very nice and fun to chat with Project Comic-Con, encouraging guests to name a new character that will be in the comic. I hope my suggestion is picked!

The Prospector
Darren Neely was at the convention with an intriguing self-published series called "The Prospector" about a more-than-century-old prospector dealing with all sorts of crazy situations. I bought some issues and am eager to read them!

Gargoyle by Moonlight
I've talked about how I enjoyed the comic "Gargoyle by Moonlight" before, and chatted with one of its creators, Timothy Brach some more about it. It was fun seeing him again!

George Perez
Industry legend George Perez was at Project Comic-Con, doing sketches and signing things for folk. He has been having some vision problems lately and is wearing an eye-patch over his left eye, but that doesn't appear to have slowed him down one bit.

Shane Cash and Anthony Medina
Cash and Medina have a comic book they've put out with prose novels by Medina that elaborate upon the initial comic-book stories. It is a clever idea and looks neat!

Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort
"Superman" writer Scott Lobdell was in attendance along with the comic-book illustrator, Kenneth Rocafort. Their booth was buzzing with fans and Lobdell was nice enough to give me a signed comic when he saw I didn't have anything on me for him to sign, a nice guy.

Neal Fitzpatrick
I've reviewed a piece of Neil's work before and found it quite to my liking with its mixture of cute graphics and a funny dark cynicism. It was fun running into Neal again and seeing how he has been.

Todd Tevlin
Tevlin does a humorous comic called "Frik'in Hell that is about a medieval warrior who works in fast food. He was at the 'con and fun to talk with.
Jim Mahfood
Jim Mahfood was very friendly and had a lot of his stuff for sale, of which I purchased one of his comics because how can you say no to his awesome art? Mahfood and I talked about his drawing style, how he greatly enjoys working with Joe Casey (a writer whose work I love), and other comics we like.

Angelic Wars
Marcus J. Mosley was at Project Comic-Con to promote his self-published work about a war between heaven and hell, "Angelic Wars". I got a copy of the 1st and 2nd issue and it looks interesting!

Angus Oblong
He was there last year causing a ruckus as he always does, and Angus Oblong was at Project Comic-Con yet again, with his quirky and offensive-but-in-a-good-way humor in tow. Oblong is always a hoot and it was fun to see him again.

Unshaven Comics
The guys behind Unshaven Comics are Matt, Marc, and Kyle. I picked up the first two issues that have been released of their "Samurnauts" series, a comic about astronaut samurai who have a trainer that is a monkey and helps them fight aliens and zombies. Yes, it is pretty crazy. I also got a cool poster from them!

Joshua Dysart
Also at Project Comic-Con last year and back again was Joshua Dysart. He was promoting his new work with publisher Valiant with "Harbringer". I bought the 1st trade and he was kind enough to sign it.

Ink and Drink Comics
A collective of folk who have put out a comic's anthology every six months for the last three years, Ink and Drink Comics are a cool bunch of folk with some snazzy stuff.

Dirigible Days
Dirigible Days is a steampunk web-series that will be continuing in comic-book form. I enjoy steampunk and its aesthetics very much, so seeing all their gear was cool!

Eric Basaldua
Another return to the 'con was Eric Basadula. Well known for his artwork of various heroines that often is quite risque, Basaldua was friendly as usual and had a lot of prints to sell. I myself love his Weapon X drawing that goes against his usual form of suggestive drawings of ladies and wish he'd draw more of Wolverine too, but as he's pointed out in the past, it's the drawings of pretty ladies that pay the bills.

Wascally Wee Willy
A man who makes incredibly surreal collages from comics named William Harroff was at the 'con and I bought a really cool coaster from him. Weirdly fascinating stuff.

Masta J Wood
Also at last year's Project Comic-Con, Masta J Wood, or Jon Woodard as he is also known, does very snazzy comic illustrations that have a cool mish-mash feel of western art and a hint of an anime style.

Show Me Comics
The guys behind indie-publisher Show Me Comics were at Project Comic-Con promoting their work, "Hafu" which is a strip about a girl in small-town Japan who doesn't know here father has a secret that will change her life and bring in all sorts of complicated elements such as the mob. I bought myself a copy and look forward to reading it!

Amber Stone
Illustrator Amber Stone was at Project Comic-Con and fun to chat with about comics. I especially like how she'll put her art on bottles and give them a magical look, like a little glass bottle with an "eye of newt" logo.

The guys behind "Hoax Hunters" were at Project Comic-Con and eager to discuss their comic. They were very friendly and funny too!

Camden Bottoms
Camden Bottoms creator Scott Quick was at Project Comic-Con with his cool artwork to promote his web series.

Scott D.M. Simmons
Mr. Simmons was at the 'con talking about his various comics works, including a neat one about a super-hero mother who has children that then gain their own super-powers--but at the expense of hers! A neat guy.

The Comic Creators Coffee Club
The Comic Creators Coffee Club (or C4) was at Project Comic-Con inviting folk to attend their meetings where they talk about creating comics and such!

JP Roth
Creator JP Roth was at Project Comic-Con again this year with her lushly illustrated comic, "Ancient Dreams". It really has some gorgeous art.

Comic publisher Zenescope was in attendance, and I spoke with them about how I haven't read much of their stuff but was thinking of giving it a shot.

The nice folk of Z.O.D. (Zombification Orientation and Defense) were at the convention, telling people how to fight off zombies through disaster preperation methods from the Red Cross.

Stache Publishing
The group of people who make is "Stache Publishing" were at the 'con to promote their various works, and they were quite the energetic bunch!

Lastly, I got this cool drawing of Moon Knight as a lego figurine by a man named Kenny who was selling some of his work with various characters in that style and was happy to make me a drawing of one of my favorite characters. Very cool!

In Conclusion
It was fun attending Project Comic-Con for my second time and I am excited for the next show! My thanks to all the creators and vendors at the show, and of course, thank-you to Steve and Jeff for creating this amazing show!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Project Comic-Con is Tomorrow!

As readers may recall, last year I went to Project Comic-Con and did a big write up about it (part one is here and part two can be found at this link). Well, it is time this year's Project Comic-Con and I couldn't be more excited!

If you happen to live in the Saint Louis-region or are visiting it I strongly encourage you to check out the event and have a great time, I know I will! Should you see me there or hear someone babbling on about, "The Newest Rant," then it is probably me and I encourage you to say hello. See you all at the 'con!

For more information about Project Comic-Con visit their website at this link.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Marvel is Doing Their Numbering for "Inhumanity" and Other Comics in a Way that is Either Genius or Terrible

Inhumanity is a sort-of event coming from Marvel in a matter of months--and is spinning directly out of the "Infinity" event that is going on. I say it is only sort-of an event because it seems there is no main event comic in the sense we lacking a special mini-series. There is a Matt Fraction-penned ongoing comic with the name "Inhumanity", and some comics tying in to the spectacle, but this just doesn't have that "major event" feel. The strangest thing about the "Inhumanity" non-event however is definitely how Marvel are numbering tie-in comics. A series has its normal numbering, so if a comic just finished its 21st issue the next one will be the 22nd, but it will have a little ".INH" next to it. Therefore, "Avengers Assemble #22.INH" will be at your comic shop instead of a comic just simply titled, "Avengers Assemble #22" because it happens to tie into Inhumanity going-ons.

There are problems though. For example, please keep in the mind the actual minis and the main comic won't apparently have this logo though. Another issue is that comics already do so many weird numbering schemes that this could easily back-fire and confuse people when they try to organize their comics or even know what order to read new releases. In fairness, the clever part is how this makes it absolutely clear how whatever comic with a .INH you see is a tie-in to Inhumanity. Basically, this is either one of the best ideas ever or absolutely horrible, and I'm not sure which category it truly is, even after looking at those aforementioned pros and cons.
Why does a mini-series for "Inhumanity" not have the ".INH",
but yet ongoing comics that tie-in with the event somewhat less do?
Between Marvel's whole messing with "Point One" comics, DC following suit with Villain's Month's insane numbering(and the company's own huge re-launch a couple of years ago), "Age of Ultron" having its own weird numbering scheme, and any other kinds of numbering-mayhem, it is clear that messing too much with the digits that accompany a comic can cause trouble. One saving grace for this is that it isn't a case where you have an issue of a comic and another one with the same numbering but an additional ".INH". No, the one with the ".INH" is the actual only comic. That keeps things from being too much of a nightmare for an earlier-mentioned potential collector who wants to organize everything, but if some of the comics such as the main series won't even have a ".INH" it seems really odd.

Marvel isn't just doing this little trick with their "Inhumanity" comics either, you have some of the comics that are a part of its big "Marvel Now" branding starting to carry their usual numbers and a ".NOW" logo. Therefore, we have "Avengers #24.NOW" alongside the aforementioned, "Avengers Assemble #22.INH" and we should not forget, "Avengers: Age of Ultron and Infinity Aftermath #1.INH.NOW" which doesn't actually exist but could soon enough at the rate we are are going with all the Avenger comics and weird numbering schemes. Oh, and not even all the comics in this upcoming 2nd-wave of Marvel NOW will be have that logo, a new Invaders comic, appropriately titled, "All-New Invaders" lacks it. Ummmm, what?
It is actually the 24th issue, but has a #24.NOW,
plus there is a logo about how this is the first issue of a new story.
This is getting silly.
Clearly this can go a variety of ways, and who knows if the comics will even be good enough for it to matter? Matt Fraction can make some incredible stuff ("Casanova", "Hawkeye") but then will sometimes turn out tripe such as "Fear Itself". I am excited that Warren Ellis of all people will be co-writing some of those "Avengers Assemble" comics with Kelly Sue Deconnick--especially as their little collaboration on a back-up story that appeared in the amazing "Osborn" series was quite stellar. It is just odd that Ellis seems to literally be popping in and doing a little scripting for a book as if he were some sort of fill-in writer (which do exist, although fill-in art is more common).

I'm unsure if all of these ".INH" and ".NOW" signifiers next to a comic's number will matter much in some years when folk could very well not remember what ".INH" even meant if the sorta-event bombs. Then again, should this non-event-event be a major success numbering could be greatly impacted on other comics from all sorts of publishers. DC could take the Batman "Zero Year" comic and make them have a ".Zero" next to the titles for all we know (okay, that is event is already going on so they aren't going to start that, but you know what I mean).
This "All-New Invaders" comic is a new Marvel NOW title,
but doesn't have a ".NOW"? What is going on here?
I'm genuinely interested to see how successful these comics are, and hope the stories turn out well. I won't be reading too many of them because I am both a bit tired of events and have gone into great detail about how I dropped and am continuing to drop a lot of comics from my pull-list to save money. Still, I hope folk tell me good things.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Saints Row IV Is Pretty Fun--A Not-Quite Review

I've been a fan of the "Saints Row" series of games for some time. I have an older post where I ramble on about why the first game's final three missions made the game one of my favorites. I of course also enjoyed the sequel, "Saints Row 2," and "Saints Row: The Third" was great fun, but I hadn't felt that same magic, the same desire to do every single activity or mini-mission in the game since the first "Saints Row". At least, I until this version, number four.

The "Saints Row" series has slowly gotten crazier and crazier, to a point where while in the first game you were a mostly-mute member of a street-gang, now in the fourth game you are the President of the United States and making awesome quips while fighting off a gigantic alien invasion. Oh, and you're in a computer simulation of the city of Steelport from the 3rd game and by messing with the system you have all sorts of super-powers. Yes, it is as awesome as it sounds.
Just another day in the White House,
at least until the aliens invaded from outer-space
If you've played "Saints Row" since the first game it does still follow a continuity, with references to past events and characters, but this game is also its own beast of majesty. From the opening mission with its "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare" feel, to jumping and gliding around the city, everything about the game from its writing to the act of playing is a great time. I've been loving the main missions and side-missions, along with all the little mini-games and activities that involve using my super-powers in creative ways or fighting off various aliens serving as the security program/law enforcement for the virtual system.

The internet seems to love the game too, from my friends over at Caffeineforge to Joystiq with their 5-star review. Plus it has been pointed out the game is actually pretty big on sexual and gender equality. Your character can be a man, a woman, a man with a woman's voice, or a woman with a man's voice, and your crew treats them the same no matter what. In an homage/parody of the "Mass Effect" series you also can romance your fellow Saints, be they male or female, so that's quite cool.
Super-speed, one of many great powers.
I haven't even beaten the main story in "Saints Row IV" so I don't think it would be appropriate to review it, but even at this slightly early state of my playing I can say this is one dynamite game. I know Grand Theft Auto 5 comes out tomorrow, and you can bet I'll be playing that too, so I suppose I'm going to be needing to do some juggling of games. That way I'll ensure I squeeze all the fun out of each title that I can--you know, when I'm not at work or writing this website for you fine readers, of course.

In closing, "Saints Row IV,"  is something you will most likely enjoy, try it!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Let's Talk Some More About DC's 3-D Covers, and Novelty Covers in General.

We've gone through two weeks of DC's 3-D cover madness and I've seen different shops respond to it in a variety of ways. From stores I have checked out I've seen some places taking the covers and marking them up immensely and others just selling the 3-D-adorned comics for cover price, i.e. $3.99 if you want 3-D and $2.99 if you want the covers without it. I've written about what seemed good, bad, and ugly in regards to Villain's Month/Forever Evil and how horrendous all this allocation business is. What do I think of the 3-D covers themselves now that I've seen them though? One word, "Eh".

I've been told everything about how the covers looked from that the 3-D wasn't all that impressive to it was amazing (well, maybe I heard one random guy say he thought it was cool, "amazing" is over-stating it). I've seen them in person now and...they are neat, I guess? If I look at the covers just right AKA head-on, and move the comic around a little bit then I definitely see some wiggling-around of the image as if it were popping-out at me.

 It's not a failure as a special-effect, but is it a gimmick that is worth one whole extra dollar? I honestly can't answer that, because I don't know if in the future those copies of "Batman and Robin #23.1/Two-Face #1" that are 3-D will actually be worth the many extra dollars one shop I went by was charging, or if they'll be sitting in the dollar bin with the 3-D material on the cover worth more than the comic itself.

This all leads to the question of if this Villain's Month 3-D cover business is going to be a success or more of a fiasco. From the little data that's in via word-of-mouth from retailers or other random folk, so far things have been going pretty well, with fans perhaps more interested in the event than the silly covers, but plenty of "speculators" are going to stores too and snatching-up all the 3-D covers they can, so who knows how inflated sales are due to speculation.

 I myself hope that Villain's Month goes well, but not too well. I say this because if Villain's Month is a smashing success we may see DC and other companies fiddling around with other sorts of designs and random gimmicks. Should you think I'm being paranoid I would like to point at a post about how Marvel is bringing back the acetate cover for the upcoming "Origin II" comic. I suppose a mini-series that continues telling Wolverine's back-story deserves something snazzy, but I thought all that business of covers with the raised-up-off-the-page images had passed.
As I talked about in my first-ever "Tales from the Dollar Bin" post about the old "X-Force" comic, poly-bagging has been making a return, so between that, variant covers, and now these other gimmicks it is as if the 1990's are here again. You know, the part in history right before that huge crash that occurred in the comic-book market. Clearly I don't want that to happen again because it would be tragic, but I wonder if yet again the comic-book industry is making its way toward such a thing.

As it is, I don't really mind novelty covers, as long as they aren't made artificially rare with a sort of manufactured "scarcity" that makes it harder for me to read the comics I like. Plus, suddenly if they are more expensive due to all the bells and whistles, that is a major pain too. I don't know what is going to happen with novelty and variant covers, but sooner than later something's gotta give. I just wonder what exactly it is that will be "giving", be it the market due to an over-saturation of gimmick covers, fans giving up on all the novelty-covers, or something else. We shall see.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

My Life and the Amazing Comic "X-Factor".

Numerous times on this blog I've talked about the just-ended "X-Factor" which spent a number of years in circulation, getting up to issue #50 before reverting to "Legacy"-styled numbering as #200 and ran up until ending last week at issue #262. Oh, and there was an excellent mini-series titled, "Madrox" that led into the said character forming his detective agency, of course named X-Factor.

Peter David wrote this series the entire time, through Marvel's countless editorial events that would sometimes wrest characters from his control (such as when Rahne left the book for a bit to be in an "X-Force" comic), or even when suffering a stroke that happened toward the end of the comic's run--and which in the final issue he insists has nothing to do with the book ending as there were already plans for this title to conclude. I've loved "X-Factor" so very much, because it has been with me for many years of my life that were full of various experiences, but in which "X-Factor" remained a constant. If I may be a bit self-indulgent I will illustrate why this book has meant so much to me...

The first issue of this X-Factor series I ever read was issue #6. Shown here:
 I remember quite clearly how I stumbled across it, as this book quickly became my favorite. It was sitting on an ill-kept comics' spinner-rack at a Borders in the mall at Ithaca, NY. That's right, this goes all the way back to when Borders had not yet become defunct. Anyways, I was in high school still and didn't frequent any comic shops so much as occasionally pick up a trade at bookstores or a single issue of comics that looked neat. I remembered Layla Miller being in the "House of M" trade I had just read and wondered what had happened to her, so when I saw the weird cover to issue #6 with a person who looked like Layla and a strange wolf-monster I eagerly picked the book up.

I immediately fell in love with Madrox, Rahne (whom I learned was the wolf-monster) Guido, Monet, and everyone else. I started picking up the comic anytime I saw the new issue on newsstands, and when I went away to college I finally got around to  ordering the "Madrox" mini-series on Amazon and had it delivered to my tiny college mailbox where it was roughly forced into mail-crevice yet remarkably was unharmed thanks to good packaging.

I kept reading the series and adoring it, from all the twists and turns to the amazing characterization, I kept following the book as I graduated college, did AmeriCorps, moved out to Saint Louis, and saw the characters grow and develop just as I did. Madrox and Layla got married (she became much older when she traveled through time so it wasn't that weird), Guido went from a lovable lunk to the lord of Hell, Rictor came out as gay and reunited with his love, Shatterstar. Quicksilver went in and out of the book between his various adventures in other titles and each time he appeared was a bit more stable and well-adjusted, and the fascinatingly evil Tryp was there at the start of the series and fittingly appeared in the very last issue too. As I went from high school, to college, to AmeriCorps, to working towards my Master's Degree, and graduating with it shortly ago, I always could enjoy the comic, "X-Factor" as my life kept changing--sometimes for worse, but much often for better.
The last issue of "X-Factor", or this version of it, at least.
Now we are at a point where "X-Factor" has sadly come to a close, but clearly isn't truly done with something else in the making that will most likely answer a variety of the remaining questions this series left. I've gone from a single high-school student to a holder of a Master's Degree and living with the love of my life (plus two adorable cats), and as corny as it sounds, "X-Factor" was always there for me, through the good and the bad. Sometimes folk will ask why I read comics, generally not in a mean way, but out of curiosity as with the booming business of comic-book (and specifically super-hero) movies there is more interest in the form. The best answer I can usually give is that through the long-form storytelling I'm able to have those characters there with me, remaining a constant yet also evolving as my life changes too. Sort of the same reason some people like a particular series of books, or certain television shows. It is comforting to have that piece of entertainment there growing and changing with you, yet as I said, being a constant in that it is always there.

"X-Factor" and the "Madrox" mini-series that led into it were amazing books, and I'll miss this version of the series immensely. I am thankful for the all the time that this version of "X-Factor" did exist, and was able to be with me, growing and changing in new and interesting ways, just as I suppose I did. As I enter the next stage of my life, working and such, it'll be interesting to see "X-Factor" do the same. I look forward to it--both my changes and those of "X-Factor"!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Tales From The Dollar Bin: Tribe #1

There are comics which are worth incredible sums of money, but so many of the most interesting, tragic, or just downright weird can be found for a simple dollar or less in a  store's "dollar bin". There, comics that never gained much popularity can be found alongside those that sold so much as for a copy to be worthless. "Tales From the Dollar Bin" aims to explore these comics, be they a single issue or an entire run of a series. From the great to the miserable, some of the best treasures and worst nightmares can be found in those infamous boxes. Let's have a "tale" now...

The Success and Failure of "Tribe"
"Tribe" was a comic series best described as "short-lived". Its first issue came out via Image comics in 1993, and then eventually a 2nd, 3rd, and "Zero" issue were released under two different publishers over the years (Axis comics and Good comics). The first issue also happened to sell over a million copies and is argued by some to be the best-selling comic with a black creative team (writer Todd Johnson and artist Larry Stroman) ever made. Plus, that the majority of the characters are people of color is worth noting also. Considering how that first issue did so well this raises the question of why only one issue ever came out from Image, and the rest sort of trickled out slowly via other publishers.

After some digging about I found an old forum discussion on CBR about the very subject of just why "Tribe" was cancelled. From the mouth of one of Image's founders, Erik Larsen, we are told basically it was because the thing was delayed beyond all high-heaven. Even the first issue was "months late," and,  "issue two was nowhere in sight." "Tribe" wasn't being picked on, it was cut with some other Image titles such as "Stupid" and "Trencher", which are two books I've never heard of and have no idea about the contents of, but will guess can probably be found in a dollar bin somewhere too. Clearly Image had no ill will toward the comic, they just were discouraged about how the darn thing seemed to be being made so slowly.

The story is basically about a group of powered individuals who come together to fight a corporation made up of European and Japanese interests, or "Europan". As this was just a first issue we don't get too much plot, instead having various story-connected segments occur that introduce us to some of the characters in the series. It is perfectly fine stuff, if not extraordinary story-telling. The art is worth talking about for sure though, be it because you love it or hate it--the primary two responses to the illustrator, Larry Stroman.

Stoman's artwork is an acquired taste for many, but I enjoyed seeing his work for the first time when reading the sadly-just-ended "X-Factor" (fun fact, he worked on an older version of "X-Factor" with the same writer, Peter David, too!) and viewing it here in "Tribe" was neat too. He draws with a slightly exaggerated style that can make his characters look that extra bit grotesque and almost caricature-like, and in an era where sometimes we get a "house style" from publishers, seeing Stroman's shocking out-there page designs and illustrations is cool.

As this comic sold so many copies it isn't a surprise that you can find it in the dollar bin without too much trouble, but it is a surprise how even today so few comics have minority individuals in a lead role, especially considering we are now 20 years after the original release of this comic and it is still rare enough to have a series where minority characters are at the forefront of your comic that it is a major deal when such a thing occurs. The way this series basically died is also an example of something that seems to happen far too often with comics, namely they get really, really delayed. True, not every series has a multi-year gap between issues such as "Ultimate Wolverine VS Hulk", but plenty of series seem to either come out later than intended, or have fill-in art of a questionable quality to get a comic out on time.

In closing, when I think of the comic "Tribe" I consider how even today we still have very little representation of people of color in comics (whether as characters or within the comic-creator community), and I think of how delays can kill any momentum a series has, even if it is the kind of momentum other comics would kill for--what publisher wouldn't give an arm and a leg to sell over one million copies of a comic these days? "Tribe" is a comic with decent writing and divisive art, but it also is both an encouraging artifact in its illustration of how comics about non-white characters can sell, and a warning symbol about the danger of delays. "Tribe" was both an enormous success and a huge failure, depending on which aspects of its history you choose to look at, but in the end there is no question it makes for an intriguing....tale from the dollar bin!