By Matt Wilson
Each week, Matt Wilson, co-host of the War Rocket Ajax podcast and author of The Supervillain Handbook, examines at a major comic news item and picks a few winners and one loser among the week’s comic book releases.
The big comics news of the week is that BOOM! Studios acquired Archaia, a publisher known for the high quality of its print publications. I have mixed feelings about it.
On the one hand, it’s a blessing. Archaia has published some really great graphic novels in the past few years, including Royden Lepp’s excellent “Rust;” Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopolous’ terrific all-ages comic “Cow Boy;” “Syndrome” by Daniel Quantz, R.J. Ryan and David Marquez (the latter two of whom have a really cool-looking 3D comic called “The Joyners in 3D” coming from Archaia in the fall); David Petersen’s “Mouse Guard,” the list goes on.
Archaia hit a little bit of a rough patch late last year as a result of distribution hang-ups, and company President and COO Jack Cummins told CBR outright that there are tons of challenges in the publishing market — a big fallow period caused by distribution snafus not being much of a help. Merging with Boom! gives Archaia some added stability, and I’m thankful for that. It means I’ll get to read more of the books I’ve been enjoying.
And yet I can’t help but feel a little turned off by the language of the press release announcing the deal. For his part, Cummins talks about expanded distribution and relationships with creators, retailers and customers. That’s all great. It’s what I expect from a publisher. BOOM! CEO and founder Ross Richie makes his statement about fair creator compensation, which I can totally get behind. But here’s the second paragraph of the release, which comes before all of that:
The addition of Archaia positions BOOM!’s catalog of intellectual property as the largest independent company-controlled comic book and graphic novel library, behind only industry titans DC Entertainment (Warner Bros.) and Marvel Entertainment (Disney). BOOM!’s comic books and graphic novels pioneer a new business model, sharing intellectual property ownership between the company and the creators who generate the content.
Creator ownership is fantastic, don’t get me wrong. But there’s something about so quickly using the term “intellectual property” that bugs me. It’s legalese, for one thing, which makes it feel like the release was written by and for attorneys and executives rather than fans or even journalists. The more distressing thing for me, though, is that it seems to shy away from the word “comics,” or even the term “graphic novels.” It’s language that points toward an interest in well, not comics.
A list near the end of the releas of works that have been optioned for movies doesn’t help that feeling go away.
I’m not trying to be naive here. I understand that pushing toward that movie option is a major goal for comics publishers now, and lots of comics are being created with the sole intent of being backdoor screenplays (not to say that’s what Archaia or BOOM! has been or will be doing; I really don’t know). Movies are what potential investors or armchair businesspeople want to hear about. It’s where the money is. That doesn’t mean I can’t wish comics companies didn’t put comics first.
But I guess if that’s what it takes for me to get a second volume of Cow Boy and The Joyners in 3D, I may just have to live with it.
And now the comics of the week!
(Marvel Comics, by Matt Fraction and David Aja)
If a comic told entirely from the perspective of a cute dog who loves pizza isn’t your bag, then I don’t know what to tell you. But really, this issue does an amazing job of telling a story that pivots off of some major, sad events from previous issues in a way that isn’t cliche, doesn’t hold the reader’s hand, but gets everything across quite clearly. It’s a wonder of a comic.
(Image Comics, by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark)
Part “Dune,” part “Game of Thrones” and part mental exercise regarding the eventual division of the world into distinct classes, Lazarus seems like a little bit of a departure for both Rucka and Lark, who last worked together on “Gotham Central.” They’re both known for their gritty crime comics, and while there’s a bit of that flavor here, especially in a grisly fight scene at the beginning, this story is really a sci-fi epic that will branch out its focus quickly. The political intrigue is evident from the get-go, and the lead character, whose name is Forever, seems to clearly be the last truly noble person among a very powerful nobility. I’m in for issue 2.
“Atomic Robo: The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur” #1
(Red 5 Comics, by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener)
What really caught my attention about this comic was how deftly Clevinger and Wegener weave the main plot and the subplot together in a really effective way. Subplots are, quite frankly, a rarity in comics right now. Creative teams rarely use the space they get in 20 or 22 pages to tell much of one story, let alone two or three, but the team here does a really nice job of cutting from one plot to the other in a clever way. And once Dr. Dinosaur (it’s not a spoiler if he’s in the title) finally makes an appearance in the closing pages, the whole thing is a hoot.
“The Unwritten” #50
(Vertigo Comics, by Mike Carey, Bill Willingham, Peter Gross and Mark Buckingham)
Speaking of comics with multiple plots, this issue accomplished the unenviable task of not only carrying a few concurrent plots, but bringing readers up to speed on two ongoing series, “Fables” and “The Unwritten,” which cross over here. I’m honestly not sure what I’m impressed with more: the stunning art-jam art of Gross and Buckingham, which gives the two artists the opportunity to switch off roles, but is never distracting in terms of looking too different from page to page, how easily the two writers made this story with this huge cast of characters so easy to follow and get up to speed with even if you haven’t been reading before now, or how the plot twists are surprising while being wholly earned. It’s all pretty doggone good.
(DC Comics, by Greg Pak, Jae Lee and Ben Oliver)
I really like Greg Pak. I like a lot of Jae Lee’s work. But the approach to this book, particularly Lee’s artwork, simply doesn’t work. I wanted so badly to like the comic, but the opening pages, which feature a young Clark Kent walking the streets of what’s supposed to be Gotham City but looks more like a particularly morbid amusement park or a particularly gray version of hell, made me check out. Things improve once Oliver’s pages start near the end, but you’ve still got Batman vs. Superman character dynamics that I feel like I’ve seen dozens of times before. Developments in the last couple pages do give me a little hope — young Supes being really confused by an older Batman who knows him is pretty good — but the book’s got a big hill to climb.