The DC Reboot – How to save the DC Universe


 Fig #1: A happy day for DC-Fans.
Apparently, the DC Universe is broken. That’s what DC has decided and thus, it gets rebooted. Even if they did not and probably will never admit to it being broken, they attempt to fix it. Personally, I kind of agree with it. Some aspects of it – unfortunately some of the bigger ones – are broken beyond repair. However, with DC under Geoff Johns and Jim Lee going “Meh, bugger it all to hell!” they could do everything better. Or at least they try to do everything better.

So now they’re running the risk of doing it like every other “Everything will change”-event and completely failing at it. Thus, they’ll end up with something that was supposed to make everything better and different, but they keep on dragging the baggage of the already broken past along with them. The prime example for this would be Ultimatum, which was supposed to fix the Ultimate Universe. Then it failed by them not completely throwing overboard everything they had.

Whatever you do as a comic book company, there are people who will bitch and moan about everything you do. You make Batman light and funny, some will complain. You make him dark and gritty, an equal number of people will complain. This has been the thing that held comics back the most. Why do you think indie books are sometimes so very amazing? Because they dare doing things that the big two publishers would never be able to do because of their very loyal, very vocal and very stupid fanbase. Even stories that feature characters that can best be described as “This totally isn’t Superman, wink wink!” like Boom’s Irredeemable are infinitely better than any Superman story there currently is. Don’t you just wish that this story was allowed to be a Superman story? With all the debate, the harsh criticism, the love, the inevitable redemption and retcon and all that? Wouldn’t it be an amazing ride?

However, this can only happen if you forget everything that has happened before. Yes, I am hereby advertising the elimination of sixty-plus years of continuity and storytelling. I am all for forgetting stories like Hush or Knightfall or The Death and Rebirth of Superman or even the Multiverse itself. Do away with it, it’s bogging us down. Look at it, where has 52 led? They have turned the Multiverse on again, nothing was ever done with it. If anything, it limited stories. Look at the Wildstorm universe – now defunct, mind you – that lost The Authority. The Authority’s whole shtick was to travel through dimensions, explore alternate worlds. Now we have only fifty-two of them. And The Authority was a cornerstone of that universe. All gone. Thanks to something that ever amounted to anything and is now being fixed by a time-travel-thing.

Well, here’s your chance, DC. Go for it. Do whatever you like. Make Superman a bastard for a bit. Make Batman be happy for a little while. You never know, maybe people will like it and it can stick. You could have an entirely new universe that way, with characters having roles you would never have expected. Us readers, we will get a whole new world to explore. We’ll have the fun and excitement that we had as children when we first read comics and discovered things like Batman’s Batcave for the first time. When we learned that Superman was actually an alien from Krypton. When we found out that there are so many more heroes out there when we first held an issue of the JLA. We could have all this again. We could have new characters without more established ones having to take their spotlight because they’re just so much more important and more experienced.

And, granted, they’re also easier to write as you can just throw a villain at them because everyone knows who Superman is. So put some effort into it, be creative all you want. Tell the best stories that there can be. Do things you would never have dared to do before. Comic book readers will buy it, even if they claim not to do it. Marvel showed courage a couple of years ago and depowered almost all of their mutants. It worked. Years later, mutantkind has settled for it all. And guess what, there are still readers around. Marvel has not died and the fans who complained were wrong.

Sure, the fans will bitch and moan at DC, but remember what Oscar Wilde said: The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.
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Press Release: Unlock the Vault

The Vault #1 Cover
Occasionally, I get press releases for things. Here's one that sounds amazingly awesome.
 

Image Comics is pleased to announce that writer Sam Sarkar and artist Garrie Gastonny (Warren Ellis’ Supergod), the team behind Caliber: First Canon of Justice, have reunited to unlock the horror and action within their new miniseries THE VAULT.

THE VAULT is about a small team of treasure hunters, struggling to excavate a dangerous and legendary treasure pit before a massive storm hits Sable Island, the "Graveyard of the North Atlantic." Equipped with all the latest technology, the scientists believe they are prepared against all of nature's fury, but nothing can prepare them for what they are about to unleash.

"THE VAULT is kind of a contemporary Pandora’s Box story," explained creator and writer, Sam Sarkar. "Though it appears on the surface to be a pretty straightforward story, it has most of its mythology buried deeply. It gets uncovered both literally and figuratively as the pit gets excavated."

When asked how THE VAULT found its home at Image, Sarkar replied: "Well, I’m incredibly fortunate that most of the lasting gifts of Caliber were the relationships it helped to cement. Chief among them, David Elliott. Dave and I have soldiered through quite a few storms personally and professionally, and when I asked him to edit THE VAULT, he didn’t hesitate. There are few people I trust as much. I asked Dave what he thought the best way to release THE VAULT would be and Image was at the top of his list of publishers to approach. I’ve always been a fan of Image, not just because of their model, but because of the quality of titles they have represented and continue to represent."

THE VAULT #1 (1 of 3), a 32-page full color comic book, will be on sale in stores July 27th for $3.50 and is available to order in the June 2011 edition of Diamond Previews (Diamond Order Code: JUN110501).

I do like underwater horror stuff. So yeah, I can't wait.

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Superman Is Not A Justin Bieber, So Stop Treating Him Like One

 Let’s face it: Superman is boring. He even said so himself. Well, not in these precise words, but the message is clear. And there’s a reason why he’s so boring. Not because “he is an out-dated concept” or because he is too much of a boyscout. It’s because he is neither. But first, let’s talk about Justin Bieber, because most of us are more familiar with Superman than with Justin Bieber.


 Fig. #2: A teenager's dream
Justin Bieber is the latest and hottest teenie-pop-sensation as of May 2011. As such, he’s got a pretty face which is presumably the ideal of young teenagers from all over the world. He’s also had a couple songs that are hugely successful and he’s had a 3D-motion-picture out that chronicles his life on tour. He’s had guest appearances on popular TV-shows like CSI and is a well-liked guest on any talk show. Furthermore, just about every teenie-magazine out there has had nobody but him on the cover for months now. In addition to that, nobody over the age of fifteen seems to “get” him. And there’s a good reason for that, and it’s stunningly simple: There is not all that much to “get”. Basically, Justin Bieber is little more than a pretty face. He says nothing of consequence, nothing that could be misinterpreted with ease, nothing that holds any real value. If you’re a twelve year-old girl, he is everything you want him to be. You want him to be a rebel? Sure, he says stuff that could be interpreted as mild rebellion against the never-specified “them”. You want him to be the romantic love interest who’s just waiting for you? Oh yes, that’s him. You get the picture. He’s a blank canvas that everyone can just paint on. He is everything you need him to be.

The same can be said for Superman. Or most of the other heroes out there right now. But for this, we’ll run with Superman because he’s been around the most and one of the theoretically most well-defined. So Superman stands for “Truth, Justice and the American Way”. The problem is, those concepts are not defined. They’re whatever you want them to be. Even in a historical context, he doesn’t stand for anything. Let’s go for the American Way first. Once upon a time, it was considered to be the American Way to “slap a Jap”. It was once okay to force black people to sit in the back of the bus because the front was whites-only. It was once considered to be the American Way to have slaves. And as much as people want to deny it, that’s what history tells us. Superman, in theory, stood for all that. Thus, the American Way is a very, very flexible concept that is ever-changing. The only thing that American History since the second World War is war. Now, we all know it sucks, but the one thing that’s been a constant in the American Way is waging war. Not a good thing. And since Superman is kind of like a sentinel of peace and liberty and all that, he can’t be a war-waging superhuman. Because modesty is part of the American Way these days, among other things.

Truth. This one is simple, no? It’s either true or it’s false. The very basics of computers and seemingly simple. However, this only works in logical systems. Two plus two will never equal seventy. If you have a gallon of beer and you drink a gallon of beer, you will never have three gallons all of a sudden. However, when you add the human element, truth becomes flexible. What’s truth is not always right. Superman himself has abolished the clear black/white thing during his recent walk, where he was going to throw a guy who pollutes the environment in jail, but then didn’t because it would have put an entire village out of work.

Justice. This one’s simple and I can use the most debated and over-talked issue of all to make my point. The death penalty. A guy ends someone’s life and then has his life ended by justice. In both cases, the same thing happens, but it won’t bring the victim back and it is basically the same thing. Logically speaking, the initial murder and the death penalty are the same thing if you look at the outcome: A life is ended. And in one case, it’s justice and in the other case it’s a crime. Sure, if you add the human element, it somehow adds up to a rather warped concept of justice where up can be down and all that.

 Fig. #3: This is better than Superman.
So, where does that leave us with? With Superman being an empty concept, that’s where. He and his compatriot are Justin Biebers. You can just say “Oh, Superman likes the death penalty because it’s the American Way” and it would be true. But I’m sure you’ll find a dozen comics where he opposes the death penalty. However, they’re not all empty concepts. You have heroes like the most recent incarnation of Magog, for example*. He had a clear set of views. He didn’t like slavery on a personal level. And while all the other heroes glanced over it, he did something about it. He was a bit more extreme in his political views. And that’s the thing that made him so interesting, even if you didn’t share his views. Or Rick Grimes of The Walking Dead fame. He’s a deeply flawed character and, much to his chagrin, a natural born leader. However, it is clear where his loyalties are and every time you think that you might have seen him grow out of it, that he’s finally a hero in everybody’s eyes, he goes and lets someone die in cold blood or lets Carl get away with murder. Yet, for some really strange reason, Rick is often more of a hero than Superman could possibly be. But both Rick and Magog are way more interesting as characters, because they have views, they have opinions and they feel more human to the reader, so we can either connect to them better or hate them more.

Fig. #4: You tried to forget this, didn't you?
There’s a downside to this, though, as there is to everything. If you have a character with clearly defined morals and a clearly defined mindset, he or she is very likely to be out-dated at some point. That’s where a thing called a “lifecycle” comes in. Just like Justin Bieber, to get back to our amazing but devoid-of-character popstar. In two years, nobody will remember him and he will play at WalMart openings. At some point, you should just let something die. Record executives have realized that, even though the singers themselves rarely do. However, this is something, of course, that will never happen with comic books. Because, comic books not really being about telling the best possible stories but selling the most possible issues… there’s just too much money to be made of characters that should have died or otherwise expired a long, long time ago. And with Superman, we’re at a point where no re-imagining or no alternate-version-replacing-the-original or new powerset can fix him. However, we’ll luckily get a couple of alternate versions of Superman every now and then or some writer who manages to tell an interesting despite Superman being beyond salvation. Or they do the only sensible thing and tell a story about his supporting cast, like Lex Luthor in the recent issues of Action Comics.

But other than that, we’ll get more Superman issues. And a lot of them will suck. And people will complain. And Superman will never be allowed to die.

*Yes, I do realize that the Magog book was basically dead on arrival because the story was such crap, but I do find him as a character more interesting than most new characters there are.
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Comic Book Universes – I’d rather be dead

Comic book universes must be an absolute hell to live in if you’re one of the people who never get saved. Sure, we read about them and they’re amazing and we’re having fun reading what the heroes have done this week to make our world a marginally better place. We enjoy reading about them fighting off alien invasions, beating up killer robots, figuring out who the evil clone from the alternate dimension is and all that. As kids, we all imagined that it must be really, really cool to live in such a universe. As we grew up, we thankfully abandoned that thought. Because let’s look at what it would be like, for a minute.

I’m now just going to assume that you have no special powers. You might be exceptionally smart in one area or another, you might be good at maths. Or you learn a language in eight weeks (languages who require knowledge of another alphabet excluded) or you can look at a pile of wood and know exactly how much it is. These talents amaze the people around you. They go “Man, I wish I could do that” and it gives you a little ego-boost. Even stuff like you being able to play football really well or run the 100 meter dash the fastest brings you admirers. Well, not so in the Marvel Universe. You have Reed Richards who is better at everything. But for the sake of argument, let’s say he’s only better at maths than you are. Languages? There’s Cypher of the X-Men who understands you after you’ve coughed twice. He can understand your body language now too, so he can tell exactly when you’re in a real hurry to get to the toilet. And he does it instantly. Cypher understands you like nobody else ever has or ever will. That thing about the pile of wood? Meet Amadeus Cho who not only can tell you how much weight it is but also how many splinters there are after having taken a quick glance at it. He could also effortlessly set it on fire by simply holding up a glass shard. Or he could make it levitate by using a lizard’s hind legs and a piece of gum. Running fast? Meet Quicksilver who’s crossed an ocean by the time you took your third step in your not-so-amazing 100 meter dash.

 Fig. #1: Your superior.
So all the admiration you got for your special skills that are certainly impressive for our world, they mean absolutely nothing in a world where superheroes jump around at every corner. Seriously, there are thousands of heroes, mutants and other metahuman characters around. Try growing up in a world like that. Sure, when you are really fast, your mom will tell you that you’re “as fast as Quicksilver” and she’ll be proud of you. Let’s say you’re inspired by this, because Quicksilver is a big hero and all that. You run faster and faster, you join the track team. Eventually, the soul-crushing realization comes to you: You will never be as fast as Quicksilver. You will never get the admiration he does. All you’ll get is a gold medal or two.

Then there’s this little bit: You’d be living in constant fear. Fear of everything. Remember 9/11? Of course you do. Remember the time afterwards? Those weeks of uncertainty where you didn’t know whether or not it was over or if there was more to come? The weeks that basically stylized Osama Bin Laden to be a cackling madman with his finger on a red button that could blow up everything? And then there was that little titbit where we all suddenly realized that we’re still mortal after all and that bad stuff can happen to all of us. That feeling would be an every day occurrence for you, your neighbours and everyone you know. Especially if you just happen to be one of the unlucky sods who get to live in New York City, where a picnic in the park can turn out to be the genesis of a crazed vigilante or where suddenly, some people in spandex and a horde of aliens will fall out of the sky and decide to duke it out so that the Earth may be free until next Tuesday where another alien race decides to do the same. The Marvel Universe is littered with people who can take out cities by yawning, whose looks can kill and who can be thrown through the sturdy walls of your home and get up to have a laser fight where your living room was only seconds ago.



Yes, this argument has been made a hundred times in jokes and all that, but seriously, it would suck so hard, wouldn’t it? Not just suck. It would be downright terrifying. And the thing is that it’s not one of these many things that could kill us every day. Like, if you live in Los Angeles, an earthquake could end you every day. You get used to that. However, supervillains you never get used to. One day, a guy who is so radioactive that you become impotent by just looking at him decides to rob your neighbours, the next a giant mutant-hunting robot annihilates your entire neighbourhood just because the nice woman from two houses away has the ability to toast bread with her breath. Two days later, a crazy Nazi scientists unleashes a hitherto unknown virus that liquefies your brain and next Tuesday, a dinosaur from the future will claim that the playground at the nearby school is now his throne.

And it’s not just the villains you’ll be terrified of, no. The heroes are just as bad. Last year, Daredevil decided that all evildoers must die and so he used his control over a band of undead ninjas to control Hell’s Kitchen. Constant fear for tens of thousands of people living there. And if you see a masked do-gooder, how can you be sure that it’s not an evil clone or a life model decoy gone rogue or that the hero has just snapped or someone using magic to trick you into thinking it’s your favourite hero?
Yeah, I’d rather shoot myself in the head than live in the Marvel Universe. Going on holidays there, maybe. But living there? That would be living a nightmare.

And on a more light-hearted note, and one that is more about our hobby: What do you think comic books would be about in a world where everything we’ve read about in comic books would be real?
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Comic Book Merchandise - Why so tasteless?

We like comic books. Them being a highly visual medium, we like things that look nice... obviously. And because some stuff does look really awesome, we occasionally get the thought "Hmmm... why not wear something that is reminiscent of my favourite hero or villain?" And that's where it usually starts, isn't it? You get on your computer - because you just know that no shop in your area has the stuff you'd like - and log on to a shop that sells comic book merchandise, namely T-Shirts, because - let's be honest here - there's not much else in terms of comic book related clothing that is wearable and affordable. The very second you click on something like "Show all T-Shirts" or something, it gets really bad.

 Fig. #1: A bad shirt
One seizure later, you realize that the same people who give you many a beautiful comic book are apparently unable to give you something that you can wear without completely giving up any chance of ever getting laid. Look at the image to the left. The image itself is undoubtedly a badass picture. The splashpage in the comic was quite probably something like a really awesome moment where all seemed to be lost and out of the carnage, the heroes appeared, led by Captain America, ready to save the day. You fondly remember that issue, where Cap says something like "Avengers... ASSEMBLE!" followed by a big fight in the middle of New York City and you, as the reader, were right there. Most people who will see this shirt, though, they've not read it. They'll see this and think "Blimey, what is wrong with that person?"

Let's face it, nobody likes people who wear stuff that looks like the depression of a colourblind person who vomited on a piece of cotton that just so happened to be shaped like a T-Shirt. Every square inch has to be covered in print. Have you ever worn one of these things? You sweat like a pig under them. So not only do you look like a disney movie threw up on you but you also smell like rotting bacon. And that's where I'm thankful for the part about body hygiene being poor in nerds is a myth as far as I can tell. And if we're honest with ourselves, we wouldn't wear something like this to the office. We wouldn't wear it to the comic book store, even, because you'd have to pass many people on the way there. And every single person passing you will either break out in an epileptic seizure or stigmatize you forever as that cellardweller who rarely ever sees the daylight apart from the few times where he shows around his shirt and induces epileptic seizures in people.

And if all that wasn't bad enough, there's the fact that a T-Shirt will never be the same medium as a flat piece of paper. The human body just isn't suited to display flat images like the one shown in the picture. If you're skinny, Cap and his friends will be all scrunched up and nobody will see anything but a couple blotches of colour and all that print gets completely pointles. If you're not skinny - the shape of the stereotypical nerd comes to mind - Cap will end up being a very distorted face that will give little children nightmares when they sit across from you on the bus and have to stare it for more than three minutes. Either way, you lose and maybe you have scarred a kindergarten-student for life. Not exactly what you aspired to when you bought the shirt, is it?

 Fig. #2: A good shirt
But what does that leave you with? Not too much. Something like the image on the right, for example. It's simple, it's sleek, it works on a human body and it actually looks nice. People will look at it and think "That's a nice shirt" and not "What a nerd". Those who do know what it is, they will think it's totally awesome or really sucky, depending on what your taste tells you.  And what's even better is that it's even somewhat fashionable. Stars are never out of fashion and it's not a mess of colours. The emphasis is clear - there's a big star in the middle - and it has some decoration, too. And you could walk around your workplace with that. Your boss would think that it's a nice shirt, too. However, these shirts are few and far in between and most of the time, only the big heroes get the treatment of the designers actually putting effort into the shirt. There's a ton of Batman-symbol shirts. I'm not even going to talk about Superman's S-Shield. And as a comic book reader, the shirt won't just remind you of that one moment where Cap stood up for all of humanity, but it will remind you of Cap himself. Every single heroic deed Steve Rogers has ever done, all in one shirt. Because you can wear that shirt with pride and show it off on the bus and at the mall and wherever you go.  And you won't smell like a dead animal in it when the weather's a bit warmer, either. So you win on all accounts. You look fashionable, socially acceptable, sport the symbol of your hero and you don't stink.

All fashion-advice aside, it can't be that hard to make shirts like that, can it? You take a look at the comic books, you make a T-Shirt out of it. Just look at the costumes and make them into T-Shirts. But don't add muscles for emphasis of the hero's strength, because all the added muscle will look silly. Or go the really, really easy way: Just take the elaboratel designed title typefaces of the comics and slap them on the chest of a T-Shirt. It's that simple. Arguably the best people at this are Graphitti Designs. They seem to actually take into account that you are a human being and not a flat piece of paper and they seem to make effort. So next time you buy comic book merch, please make the effort to buy something you can actually wear.
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