Death Nor Consequences: Taking the "Hero" Out of "Superhero"

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To the shock and horror of many, in my last blog, I asked, "When Is It Time to Quit Collecting Comics?" That discussion pretty much led me to the conclusion that quitting isn't really my issue. It's more that I've lost interest... sort of. I don't have the burning need to read a story when it's new, like I used to, but I still want to read it in trade. I still get excited about the idea of finding a great new comic, I still enjoy reading reprints of older material, and I still love creating my own characters. So it's not like age has abated my love of comics. I love 'em. My issue seems to be that I don't enjoy many of them.

I haven't read a story that gripped me in quite some time, and I've been trying to figure out why for almost as long. Something has been missing from my comics. Something that made me remember them, think about them, and go back to them. I have wracked my brain over and over, and just the other day, realized that the answer has been staring me in the face for a long time. It's the lack of death or consequences. That seems really simple. It's talked about quite a bit nowadays, especially with DC's Blackest Night putting the spotlight on the "revolving door of death." Until a couple of days ago though, I hadn't realized just how much the lack of those two things was really detracting from my enjoyment of the stories.

The circumstances of the "deaths" (in quotes, because some deaths only seemed to be death to other characters involved) and returns of recent years are common knowledge to most, so I won't go into them here. Look at the list of names though: Bucky Barnes, Steve Rogers, Superman, Nightcrawler, Oliver Queen, Hal Jordan, Ted Kord, Jason Todd, Stephanie Brown, Batman, Reed Richards, Jean Grey... I'm sure there are ones that I've missed. Series characters are tough, because if you kill them off, that's the end of the series. Yet, if they don't face challenges that may kill them, it starts to become a question of "are they heroes, or just adrenaline junkies in costumes?" We scoff at deaths in comics, because most characters are guaranteed to return. The only time it's really a question is if it's a "second tier" or lower character (like Ted Kord [as much as I love the guy, he's only second tier]), or if there's a legacy character with the same name (like Connor Hawke as Green Arrow). Even then though, this only creates a little doubt, because chances are, if they wear a costume, they'll come back eventually.

Then there's consequences. It used to be that superheroes showed us, the readers, the difference between right and wrong, and the consequences of wrong actions. Now, it seems that they merely show us that doing the wrong thing for the right reasons is okay, as long as you can get away with it. The Punisher kills without remorse, but always manages to manipulate things so he doesn't take a fall for it. Wolverine's character used to be about a violent man of honor. Now, it seems that he kills as a means to an end, and "berserker rage" is a justification in itself. Jason Todd thinks killing is the way to take care of badguys, yet still thinks himslef a hero. Shadowland seems like a cool story, but c'mon, it's about Daredevil becoming a badguy. And Spider-Man. Oh. my. gawd.

Spider-Man made an actual deal with the devil, and the result is a happy shiny retcon, removing problematic plot points? Yes, he gave up his wife and future child, but that's it? "Deal with the devil" stories are notorious for the devil taking far more than the dealer bargained for. Is that coming for Spider-Man, or was this just a convenient plot device to retcon Spidey with? I mean, with the fantastic results that Spider-Man got, a deal with the devil seems no more dicey than buying a used car.

These are not the actions of heroes.

To put it in a real world perspective, look at 9-11. We hailed our police, fire and rescue as heroes, because they ran into the World Trade Center towers when everyone else was running out, at the cost of their lives. We found them inspiring again, because these sacrifices were so graphically thrust into our lives. It's literally of Biblical proportions: "No greater love has any man than this: that he would lay down his life for his brother."

That's a hero.

A killer is not a hero (Punisher, Wolverine, Jason Todd). A man that turns from good to evil to enforce his ideas of how things should be is not a hero. He's a would-be-tyrant (Daredevil). A man who makes a deal with the devil is not a hero. He's a coward (Spider-Man). A man who walks across the country to find himself is not a hero. He's a hippie. When he leaves his wife and other responsibilities to do so, he's a man-child (Superman).

I have always prided myself on being able to take a story and enjoy it for what it is. Even if I don't agree with the direction a character is taken in, or with how a character was changed during a reboot, I feel I can still say if the story is good or not. I don't mind if a character has to make hard choices, or even if he has to choose between the lesser of two evils to get the job done. I do want heroes though - characters that go into battle knowing they might die, and do it anyway, because there are other people in need. Granted, most dead-and-returned heroes don't know they're going to be coming back. As readers, we do, but the characters don't. Still, I want more from my comics. I want to be inspired by them again. Heroes should be able to do that. Is that so much to ask?

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When Is It Time To Quit Collecting Comics?

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This is a question I've struggled with most of my life. If it weren't for my sense of self, I probably would have given up on comics twenty or twenty-five years ago (my mid to late teens). To this day, my mother belittles the fact that I read them. Growing up, I knew very few people who collected them, and most kids who found out I read them gave me grief for it, like it was something I should have given up when I reached my teens. I feel like I should be lying back on a couch at the moment, as one of you duly takes notes and says encouraging things like, "Mm-hm," and "I see" and "Please, go on," but frankly, those things are hurtful, and damaging to a degree. Even today, I can be choosy about where I take a comic with me to read, because of the reaction I might get. For you see, my sense of self has allowed me to continue reading comics despite the lack of support, but has not made me an extrovert by any means. I'm not entirely closed off from the world, but I loathe the prospect of hearing ridicule of my hobby. Thankfully, movies of recent years have made comics more socially acceptable, and public discussion of them is not so taboo as it once was. So I will talk about comics with anyone, but I for some reason still cling to that inability to read my comics outside of my home.

My mother's opinion is a bit odd, because it was she who gave me my first three comics, when I was little. Her criticism is that she gave me comics, because she wanted me to get interested in reading, but she thought I "would move on to books and other things." My argument to that is I did, but I didn't see a need to give up comics to do so. Comics, in particular New Teen Titans numbers 11 and 12, gave me a lifelong love of and interest in mythology. They helped build my vocabulary. A Spider-Man comic against illiteracy made me want to read Ivanhoe (although I haven't done that yet). In later years, Bone made me want to read Moby Dick (although sleeping Rat-Creatures made me want not to), and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen made me want to explore many classics of literature (I'm currently reading The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood). Way before that though, comics led me to science fiction novels, which led me to mystery novels, which led me to histories, poetry, and pretty much any kind of book. I tend to really love books of old words and phrase origins.

Comics made me want to draw, so I spent several years tracing the body types from the "Mighty Men and Monster Maker" (look it up), and drawing in my own details, to create original characters. I got to be decent at freehand drawing, but never great. I finally realized I was better at writing, from so much time spent on writing my characters' histories. Both of those came from my interest in comics. I've had a longstanding interest in publishing, because of comics. In recent years, comics have given me an interest in both history and geography.

Still, not everything is encouraging about my favorite hobby. In a previous blog, I had a lot to say about the "God Hates Nerds" protest, and that was because I had already been through that as an inner struggle, in my late teens. I became a Christian at age fifteen, and for a few years, struggled with whether my hobby was sin or not. Things about "graven images," "hero worship," and about your heart being in the place you put your treasure gave me rise to question my devotion to God. I gave up comics a couple of times, because of these concerns. The first time, I was twelve short of having two thousand comics, and I sat in my room, ripping every one of them in half, top to bottom. After a short time, I got back into them for awhile, and hit a patch of life that left me analyzing everything. That time, I sold my collection to a comic store - probably another two thousand comics - and gave the money to my church. After a time, I got back into them again, because I decided that every interest and developed talent I had was because of comics, and I don't think God's upset about that. I also gained a better (but in no way perfect) understanding of my faith, and decided that comics are not a hindrance to my relationship with God unless I make them such.

Now, ten or fifteen years later, I've hit a stint of unemployment, and have not bought enough comics to speak of, for several months, simply because of the lack of money. I had to do a major, dire tightening of the money belt, and let's face it - comics are fun, and an ongoing hobby, but they are hardly "essential." So when it comes to "the house payment or comics," or "eating or comics," comics are going to lose. There's been a plus side. There are a lot of unread trade paperbacks and unread back issues in my collection, so I've been catching up here and there. I've been reading Comic Vine, and try to find the five bucks for Previews, so I can at least have a passing knowledge of what's going on in comics right now. To be honest though, this isn't so much to keep up with my favorite titles, but because I have my own characters I'd like to get into print, and I like to know what's coming out, to avoid duplication.

I've been looking at my collection the last few months though, and I've been wondering: is it time to quit collecting? My current collection is somewhere around one hundred to one hundred fifty magazine boxes and short boxes, including three bookcases of trade paperbacks. My mother - ever ridiculing of my hobby - asked me a couple of years ago, "What are you going to do with all of those?" As baleful as her opinion is to me in this matter, it was a fair question, and I've been quietly considering it ever since. I've made moves to two different states with my comics. One of them took me across the continent, and I left half of my collection in a climate controlled storage. I now have a three bedroom house, and one bedroom is taken up with comic boxes. My bookcases in my home office library are half-full of trade paperbacks and hardcovers. If for no other reason, I'm thinking of not collecting anymore, simply due to space considerations.

Now, I'm sure that I won't quit collecting entirely, but I think my interests will shift a little. I like the idea of owning more DC Archive editions, and of finishing my collection of IDW's volumes of Dick Tracy. I'd like to finish my Milestone, Ultraverse, and New Universe collections at some point, so I can read them in their entirety. There are other things I'd like to read, of course. Still, I'm thinking that it's time to stop chasing everything and devouring it with hungry eyes, as I have done for so many years. ...It's so incredibly odd to be saying that, because comics, collecting comics, and wanting to be in the business of comics, have been my whole life for so long, I never thought I'd see the day where I'd think of not being so into them.

I don't mean "my whole life," in a fanboyish way. I mean it's been my focus; my goal; my mission to get into comics. Every interest and hobby has been with that in mind. Everything I read, I read with the thought of, "How can I apply this to comics?" My interest in comics publishing has been because I want to know what makes the industry tick, so I can break in. I've had plenty of other life things though, so it's not like I'm holed up in my nerd cave, ignoring the world. I've had my faith, girlfriends, jobs, cars, major moves, and own a house. I have not been the most social person, but when reading is your hobby and writing is your passion, you necessarily spend long hours to yourself, and I have done so.

There are other reasons though. My priorities are shifting. For many years, my focus has been on merely paying my bills, enjoying my hobby, and tweaking my original characters here and there. Now, I see the real possibility of a book. I also feel that I'm ready to move back to my hometown, to be closer to family and friends. I want to be an uncle to my brother's kids, and there's someone back home that I might like to marry. The truth is though, all of those things take money, and I have spent years pouring any extra money into this hobby. I'm starting to think that enough is enough - that maybe it's time to focus on life a little more than I have on entertainment. That's a decision for me though, not an indictment against anyone else.

I've reread this blog, thinking that it sounds a little depressing, but I'm not depressed. I'm actually excited about moving on to the next thing in life, and figuring out how comics will fit into that (because they will fit somewhere, I'm sure). Perhaps a little nervous too, as I usually get nervous about any change, but especially because it concerns such a huge element in my life. Still, this isn't even a hard decision. I am changing the way I collect comics, because there are other things that I need in my life. Have any of you ever gotten to this point? Where you still love comics, but you had to lessen their place in your life, to accomplish other things? Let me see your thoughts in the comments, and thanks for reading.

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The Value of Twins in Comics

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NOTE: This is in response to Amegashita's blog entry: "Twins: The Redundancy." It's well researched, so I recommend giving it a look. I posted this as a comment, but it got long, so I figured I'd use it as a blog as well. That said, my response...

HIV Positive: Can it be more than a sales gimmick in fiction?

I'm all for more realism, but sometimes, you just don't want to deal with stuff. I don't know what Turner syndrome is, but would it really be something I want to write about? More importantly, would it be something a majority of people would want to read about? I will go out on a guessing limb, and say 8 out of 10 people would only want to read about a character with a disease if it's a disease that has affected them or someone they know. For instance, look at AIDS. It's a hot button topic, but personally, not knowing anyone with the disease (that I know of) it's not something I care to read about. Mia having AIDS in Green Arrow just didn't seem right, because I just have a hard time seeing a disease as anything other than a sales gimmick in comics, no matter how true to life it is.

Trigger Twins

Twins though... twins get your attention immediately - especially in a comic. They're great for the much used "evil twin" story, awesome for the "mistaken identity" story, and classic for those moments when it seems that Joe has died on panel, but it turns out to really be his twin, Jon. Oh no! (or Oh thank God, depending on which brother you liked better). Twins are great for the way they play off of each other too. Unless you really have them haggle over which one is two minutes older (or whatever amount of time), you pretty much eliminate the older/younger rivalry, and just focus on sibling rivalry. This seems to really allow for development of the two characters, because when they're identical, the only way you can tell them apart (in fiction) is to get to know their characterizations.

Northstar & Aurora

I don't doubt your research, but I have a hard time thinking of male/female twins as uncommon, because the first twins I ever met were my male/female twin cousins. I grew up a couple doors down from a female/female twin set, went to high school with them and another fem/fem twin set, and a fraternal male/male twin set (did you know male/fem twins are still called "fraternal?" Weird.) - they would have been identical, but one was shorter than the other, and his fingers weren't fully formed on one hand. Okay, putting aside this aside... (yeah, I just said that to be confusing).

Jan & Jayce

I've been creating my own characters for... twenty years, give or take two, and I've found that it's really easy to wind up with them for fiction. Especially if there are super powers involved. I develop my characters with generational continuity in mind, meaning they grow old, fall in love, make babies, die, and the next generation takes over. I've found several times that I put Super A with Super B, and get Super C&C twins - often male/female twins - because I'd like a male to get one power, and a female to get the other power. This could be for any number of reasons. Maybe one power seems to me to be more masculine and the other feminine. Maybe I've come up with two super-names for the children, and one of those seems more masculine and the other feminine. Maybe I need two children at a point, because I have them marry down the line, and need something in that line to happen at the same time. Sometimes, it's just so one can die. I have a set of twin girls - one accidentally kills the other, when her powers first manifest. The guilt she carries from that gives her the drive to become a hero. There's any number of reasons to create twins in fiction.

Zan & Jayna

Boy/girl twins work well for a number of reasons. I think one of the biggest reasons is (again) it takes away the older/younger issues. Once that's out of the way, everything else becomes more complicated for the readers. When they are boy/girl twins, you have to come to grips with some things in yourself, when issues come up for the characters. They're the same age, from the same DNA, and for the sake of argument, let's say they have the same powers (if any). Twins often dress the same and do the same things, up to a certain age. Then they start trying to establish their own identities after awhile. Which one is right, then? Assuming neither twin is doing something morally reprehensible, how do you decide who's right? Can you look at the argument or difference from both characters' perspectives? Do you find yourself leaning more to the view of the twin who is your sex? Can you admit to yourself when the other-sex twin is right? I think with boy/girl twin characters, it is so much easier to get to the reader. They'll reveal to you your own social prejudices, because it will almost always boil down to which personality you like better. If the story doesn't go your favorite's way, especially if they are proved wrong about the issue at hand, you are forced to ask yourself why did you side with the character in the wrong? Were you right or wrong to do so, since they turned out to be wrong?

As I write this, I'm starting to think that twins are a way to write couples' issues, without having a couple. Siblings - especially twins - probably spend more time with each other than anyone else does, outside of romantic couples. In the early days of comics, I can see that being a very valuable writing tool, because you can go through all kinds of relationship issues, and totally avoid having to play down sexual issues, because there are none. In a time when comics had to skirt that issue, that had to be really appealing.

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Yes, I Am a Fan of Rob Liefeld

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I wrote a blog yesterday, titled "Seven Comic Writers That Inspire Me," and this was number seven:

7) Rob Liefeld - This probably comes as a shock to most, because Liefeld is probably the most popular whipping boy in comics, but he truly is one of my favorite writers in comics. NOT because I necessarily think he's a great writer, but because of the sheer amount of books and characters he has put out. I ran across an interview with Crazy Cat Com Comics, posted on Comic Vine, where Liefeld said, "About twenty years ago, it's like my head exploded," and all of these characters came out. Entire teams - Youngblood (in two or three versions of the team), Bloodstrike, New Men, and Brigade - as well as solid solo characters Supreme and Glory. Nevermind stuff he did at Maximum, like Avengelyne. And lest we forget, he created Cable and Deadpool for Marvel - characters that, love 'em or hate 'em - have carried at least five titles each.
I don't care about "tiny feet" and whatever else might be said about his art. As I have trouble drawing better than a twelve year old, I think his art is teriffic. The thing with Liefeld is that he seems to have trouble getting books out on time, if at all. Still, when Marvel tried to sue him over Agent America, he managed to get the rights to Fighting American, effectively thumbing his nose at Marvel, and with a nice bit of historical symmetry. If you don't admire him for that, you have no soul.

Of course, I got this as a response: "Liefield is good at creating characters because he rips other's creation off. Ha ha ha. But you have to respect the man. He put himself out there helped build an entire comic company from the ground up... and then robbed it blind but who's cares about that right?"

Honestly, I had avoided the topic of Liefeld's time as Image treasurer, so here, I was forced to give it some thought, along with the comment about ripping off others' creations. To my surprise, my response was more positive towards Liefeld than I expected:

I try to live by "Don't take up an offense for another." Whatever Liefeld may have done during his first run at Image, that seems to have been worked out, as he's back there now, so no, I don't think his previous offenses matter. As for ripping off other's creations, it could be argued that many creator-owned properties are derivative of stuff at the Big Two. Offhand though, other than derivatives of Cable and Deadpool, which Liefeld created for Marvel, I cannot think of characters that Liefeld has ripped off. Troll's hair made him look like Wolverine in the face. Liefeld wanted to use reworks of his Captain America art on his own Agent America, but I don't consider that any more derivative than Mighty Man to Captain Marvel, Invincible to Superboy, or the way Valentino creates villains that are direct derivatives of DC heroes (Blackjak/Superman; Nocturn/Batman). Glory is a twisted derivative of Wonder Woman, but Supreme wasn't really a Superman derivative until Alan Moore came along. Before that, the only way Supreme paralleled Superman was that he had a cape and was obviously the most powerful being in Liefeld's universe of characters.
I mean, really, are Supreme and Glory more of a ripoff than Apollo (Superman) and Midnighter (Batman), Promethea (Wonder Woman), Tom Strong (early Superman), Pitt (Hulk) or Miracleman (direct derivative of DC's Captain Marvel)? And just how broad do you want to define "ripoff" or "derivative?" It could be argued that Deathblow is derivative of the Punisher (as was New Universe's Merc). In fact, the Big Two are copying each other all the time - Superman/Sentry, JLA/Squadron Supreme, Legion of Super-Heroes/ Imperial Guard, Green Arrow/ Hawkeye, Shang-Chi/ Richard Dragon, etc.
Liefeld hasn't really done anything that wasn't being done in the industry all along. I really think to accuse him of ripping off other creations - any more than other creators have done - just goes back to using Liefeld as the favorite whipping boy.
Don't get me wrong, Liefeld has his weaknesses. Chief among them seems to be promoting the heck out of a new idea, and then taking forever to get the book out, if it comes out at all. He's been in the business for twenty-plus years, and has convinced people like Alan Moore and Robert Kirkman to work with him, as well as convincing the holders of the Fighting American rights to let him use the character. His follow through is weak though, and he apparently had to pay Alan Moore by signing over Glory to him. Liefeld's mistakes have been more obvious (or perhaps more reported on) but he's managed to correct those things in one way or another. I honestly don't consider myself a big Liefeld fan, but I can look at both sides of things where he's concerned, and I do find the sheer number of characters he's created inspiring.

So, now that I've said all that, I think I have to reevaluate my position on whether I'm a fan of Liefeld, and say that yes, I am a fan of Rob Liefeld. Really, the most negative thing I could say about him here is that he doesn't get books out on time, and it's not like he's the only person in the industry to do that. Marvel and DC even put out late books now. In fact, late books have become an industry norm.

My chief admiration of Rob Liefeld is his prodigious amount of characters. Beyond that, everything I hear about the guy personally says that he's a genuinely personable guy. If you need proof of that, look at the huge names in comics that he has convinced to work with him, or do a search on "yellow hat guy," and see if you can come up with the video of the tittering Rob-hater that thought it was cool to slip Liefeld a copy of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, and run off. Liefeld's reaction was professional and polite, under the circumstances. Later reports on Liefeld's Twitter posts showed that it was really a non-issue for him.

So beyond "tiny feet" and late books, where does the hate for Rob Liefeld come from? Is it just a case of jumping on the bandwagon - everyone else hates the guy, so I will too? Considering that his flaws are rampant throughout the industry, it doesn't seem right to single out Liefeld as the whipping boy for them. So I'm gonna route for the underdog here, and say again that yes, I am a fan of Rob Liefeld.

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Mining the Public Domain, OR Why Wonder Woman Should Be Better

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A definite trend in comics now is to revamp public domain characters for one's own use. I'm going to start with a blanket statement, and say: Alan Moore does it the most, Alex Ross does it most noticably, Erik Larsen does it most faithfully, Mike Mignola and Bill Willingham do it best, and most superhero universes have barely scratched the surface of it. That said, let's pick that blanket apart, piece by piece...

First, Alan Moore does it the most. He took public domain characters (hereafter: PDC) from British literature, and put them in the shared universe of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. (While I thought Tom Sawyer was a brilliant addition to the movie, from American literature, it went against Moore's vision for the book.) He used PDC again, for the superhero universe of Terra Obscura and Terra Obscura II.

Alex Ross does it most noticably, with his Project Superpowers - bringing PDC into the harder, shinier modern day. As with any blanket statement, I here find a flaw, because technically, with all the separate books that encompass Project Superpowers, Ross has technically done more PDC revamp books than Moore.

Erik Larsen does it the most faithfully, because the PDC he uses - particularly the original Daredevil, in Savage Dragon - he bases off of the original material. Basically, he found a way to bring all these characters into the present day, similar to Ross' book. Unlike Ross' work though, which changes all of their personalities to suit his storyline, Larsen is working with the personalities established in the original works, but bringing the change about more organically, through the new situations they encounter. In similar fashion, the PDC he approached in the short-lived Next Issue Project picked up from the last published issue the PDC were in, and attempted to write the next issue of that book. That's pretty cool, as they inevitably get classic Larsen twists. It's just too bad his Image partners weren't as on board as was originally claimed.

Mike Mignola and Bill Willingham do it best, with Hellboy and Fables, respectively. Hellboy is mining mythology and folklore of all kinds, and Fables is mining primarily the Grimm's Fairy Tales - all PDC. They have both found ways to make these excessively used stories uniquely their own, and are writing acclaimed books as a result. Mainly, it's Hellboy that I look at and ask myself, "Why isn't Wonder Woman better?"

I read so many message board threads claiming that Wonder Woman (and Shazam/Captain Marvel) are too mired down in mythological connections, and I look at Hellboy, and think they're not connected enough. People always want to point at the Perez versions of the Greek gods in the DCU, and say that they're too hard to work with. I say change 'em. New versions of some of these mythological entities were introduced in Trials of Shazam, but were explained as avatars of magic, or something like that, not the actual gods. Why, for crying out loud? DC gave new forms to the New Gods towards the end of Final Crisis, so why can't they change the forms of the old gods? The mythology even supports that idea, as the gods frequently took other forms in dealing with mortals. These guys and gals are immortals, for pete's sake - it would make sense that they might get bored every few hundred years (at least) and change their form like humans change a hairstyle. It should be easy to revamp the mythological gods of the DCU, and turn them into something usable for Wonder Woman and Shazam. They should be in some awesome epics of mythological scope, or perhaps darker arcs, similar to Hellboy. Is that different? Oh yeah, but geez, it's a direction to go in, rather than constantly trying to figure out what to do with them, and with research, it's a huge cache of characters to choose from, with only redesign to worry about.

Marvel has made great use of the Norse mythology in Thor, pretty decent use of Hercules, and scattered use of other gods here and there. Erik Larsen has utilized all mythologies, but fused them into the "Allgod," similar to the way the Eternals fuse into the Uni-Mind, but permanent. He's got his own Thor and Heracles running around, but he's still barely scratched the surface. Liefeld had his own Thor also. Jesus Christ is even public domain, and has been used to different effects, in titles like Battle Pope and Loaded Bible.

Bottom line: with public domain characters existing in old comics, classic literature, fables, mythologies and folklore, there is an absolute wealth of "new" material to be had. I would think this would be especially attractive to Marvel and DC, where creator-ownership has stymied the influx of new characters of any value. If they can develop PDC to make interesting stories for top tier characters, why not make use of it?

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Answering SumoSlamMan: Non-Capes Writers That Interest Me

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In the comment to my blog, "Seven Comic Writers That Inspire Me," SumoSlamMan commented: "All these guys have a lot of great super hero stuff floating around, I dig on Kirkman and Mark Waid a ton, and there's nothing wrong with the capes crowd, but do you dig on any non-super hero comic book writers? Just curious."

Well, typical me, the answer got really long, so I decided to make it another blog entry.

Hey, Sumo', thanks for the question. Hm... Well, my absolute favorite is Chester Gould, the creator of Dick Tracy. That's technically a newspaper strip though, not a comic book, but Gould blew my mind as a kid. I mean: Mumbles, one of his villains, falls off a building and gets impaled on a flag pole. Too cool. Plus, Gould was known for the mock graveyard at his residence - he added a "tombstone" for every character he killed off. That's not really writing related, but I've always thought it was kooky-interesting.

Other than that, I always get into non-capes stuff late, so it's hard to say. I love Willingham's Fables. Preacher was interesting, but generally, if it's really over-the-top gore, violence and language, I can only take it in doses. I mean, I read the entire Preacher in trades, but then I laid off that kind of thing for a long while. I tend to check out Vertigo stuff once it's several trades in. No real reason for that - it's just the way it happens. Y: The Last Man was excellent! Losers was okay, Invisibles I have yet to finish. DMZ and 100 Bullets are sitting on my shelf unread, but they look good. I recently enjoyed a Stray Bullets spinoff, Amy Racecar - what a fun romp. I love the whole concept of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - it made me want to read the classics they were based on (still looking for the first Allan Quatermain novel) - but maybe that classifies as capes?

So, let's see, LEG is Alan Moore of course, but who wrote the others? Ennis wrote Preacher, and I like his stuff (The Boys is great) but again, in doses. I have to peel my brain out of his stories when I'm done, like you'd peel gum from the crevices in your track shoes. Takes awhile before I'm ready to do that again. I tend to read his stuff in trades - a five or six issue dose at a time, and don't come back to it for six months. I hesitate to say this, but I guess I find him gratuitous at times. You could arguably say he's more realistic about the amount of death and destruction that would be involved with powers or guns, but I guess I do want my comics mildly sanitized. Say what you will, I just can't be that cynical and grim all the time.

Speaking of cynical and grim, Grant Morrison is another one I read in doses. Yep, I usually like his stuff, but again, it's usually in trades. I usually find his stuff an interesting read, but if it goes too long, he gets a little bizarre. Still good, but bizarre.

Back to Alan Moore for a moment - you may want to pick up your stones now - I overdosed on Moore when ABC came out, and decided I don't think he's a great writer of original material. He is the absolute king of the revamp, or retcon, or that character that's similar to your beloved childhood hero. His original stuff usually leaves me a little cold though. I guess the best way to explain it is that I usually come away from his material going, "How can that be so good, and yet show so much disdain for the comic industry at the same time?" The man is practically universally loved in the comics field, most of his original material has been made into blockbuster movies, and yet he is so danged bitter about comics. Why isn't he happier? ...(Deep sigh) There's probably a million answers for that, and it's really none of my business, but as much as I love a good Alan Moore tale, I always seem to feel weary when I'm done reading one of his trade paperbacks - just tired, and almost like I've been beat about the head and shoulders as I read. Still, despite my complaints, I must say again that he is the KING of the revamp. LEG did that, Albion did that, Terra Obscura did that, and of course, Watchmen did that. I've often thought that Terra Obscura is more along the lines of what he meant Watchmen to be. Three of my all-time Moore favorites though are Supreme: Story of the Year, Supreme: The Return, and Judgment Day - two of the best "Superman" stories I've ever read, and a time travelling epic that should be required reading to any literature student.

The other titles mentioned, I don't really know the authors well enough to give an opinion. I liked the works mentioned - that's about the best I can say.

Here's a couple of other things though. Greg Rucka's Whiteout and Whiteout: Melt were amazing. They sat on my shelf for years, and I finally broke 'em out the night before he made an appearance at an LCS to promote the Batwoman run in Detective. Everyone else was there to get their Batwoman issue signed - I was handing him my Whiteout books (in retrospect, that may have p.o.'d the artist with him). Murder mysteries in the frozen waste of Antartica. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I imagine the books are better.

Last, I have to mention Frank Miller's Sin City. As I said at the beginning, my absolute favorite is Dick Tracy, and I used to call SC "Dick Tracy for the Nineties." They have some of the same qualities of gratuitous display as Ennis or Morrison, but I feel that Miller does it with more class - maybe it's just the art. While I find the art beautiful, it's definitely the writing that does it for me with SC. The first story arc makes Marv invincible forever after, and it's a joy to know that no matter how bad the situation is after the first arc, Marv has to get out of it - the fun is watching him get out of it. Also, the first three story arcs are happening at the same time, and I thought it was amazing how he pulled that off. Sin City is really the only Miller work I can speak to though, as far as non-capes. I have 300, but prefer to sit and watch the movie. Martha Washington and it's similar predecessor, Ronin, are very cool sci-fi stories, but to me, they're almost capes, so I won't go into those. I think they're very well written though. Miller himself strikes me a little bit similar to Moore, in that he seems to be very bitter about some things in the industry. I could be wrong on that of course. I should probably add Miller to the list of guys who inspire me, because it was definitely Sin City and Dick Tracy that inspired me to create my own gangland characters, but mine have evolved into something different (as it should be).

The rest of these guys... I draw inspiration from everything I read - as any aspiring writer will - even if it inspires me on how not to do something. Their books are great, but either I haven't read enough of them to feel I can legitimately claim them as an inspiration, or in one way or another, they almost make me feel bad for liking comics. Not because "comics are for kids," but because they have a way of using a story to throw light on the cruddy practices in the industry, or make you feel ridiculous for having enjoyed only-in-comics plausibilities. That doesn't sit well with me. I want to enjoy a guy who gets powers under a different colored sun, or a guy who moves at super speed but doesn't metabolize his body to nothing for the calories. I like epic continuity reboots (to an extent) and Batman, even though he couldn't possibly be perfect at as many things as he is. Guys like Siegel and Shuster got hosed by normal business practices of the day, and a billion dollar corporation ought to have no problem making that right today, but I shouldn't have to feel guilty for enjoying the characters they created, just because they got hosed. That's the stuff that seems to come up in some of these guys' works, and I can only take that in doses, because that's not what I read comics for. I'm ecstatic that things have changed so there is creator-ownership in comics now, but I like the corporate stuff too. I think it's a little weird and two-faced to say, "Buy my comic, but you're a frickin' moron for enjoying the comics that made mine possible." So while I do enjoy some of these guys works, I don't really claim them as inspirations. Willingham's Fables inspires me for another reason, but it's the subject for another blog.

Hope I answered your question, SumoSlamMan. Sorry it got so long, but you literally asked for it. When you get me on the right subject, I can talk the ears off a cornfield. Thanks much. ;) -cb

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Predator Crossovers I'd Like to See

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Let's dive right in:

1) Predator/ Daredevil - Predators go after guys that have weapons, and DD uses his billy club pretty well. After taking down a street gang single handedly, a predator starts tracking him. Daredevil's got an advantage though - his radar sense allows him to see where the predators are.

2) Predator/ Spider-Man - I really don't see this as too different from the DD crossover. The difference is Spidey's weapons are the web shooters. He doesn't quite have the same advantage as DD though, because while his spider sense warns him of danger and helps him avoid being hit, it doesn't allow him to see where the predators are.

3) Predator/ Iron Fist - I just like the idea that predators attack guys with weapons, and Fist is "The Living Weapon."

4) Predator/ Wetworks - I'd like to see how those golden symbiotes fare against predator tech.

5) Predator/ Team 7 - This would be a little more like the original movie, but the soldiers have super powers, so a little more even.

6) Predator/ Wolverine - Logan's adamantium skull and spine would be an irresistable trophy to a predator. I'd want to see this in the Savage Land, where Wolverine can go full on berzerker mode, and tear into some predators. A T-rex has got to eat at least one predator, or be blown to bits trying.

7) Predator/ Ghost Rider - It's kind of a weird match-up, but here, the predators can see the skull up front, so I think this would be a desirable trophy for them. I think GR's penance stare would be useless here, and this would be more of a physical fight. Can the Rider give as well as the Predators give?

Well, that's a few off the top of my head. Let me know what you guys think, and feel free to throw in any of your own.

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Seven Comic Writers That Inspire Me

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I have aspired to be a writer for years, and feel I do a fair job at it, although I have drawn royalties exactly once. My desire has always been to break into comics, but I have a sneaking suspicion I will have to write elsewhere, before I can do that. Still, I have spent years developing a list of characters, adding notes here and there, and finding the writing and creativity that most appeals to me in comics. Here's the list of the top seven, and what I like about them:

1) Erik Larsen - Larsen is the first comic writer of my adulthood to excite me. Savage Dragon is one of the best rides in the comics amusement park. You never know which way it's going to go. Early on, Dragon comes face-to-face with his top foe, Overlord, and is utterly beaten. He fights him again, and a different foe breaks in on the fight, snatches Dragon and flies away, later sending him to hell. Two girlfriends and a wife have died, his daughter has been lost in another dimension, and his son stolen just after birth. As cops deal with one crisis in the department, a second crisis erupts as a group of supervillains bust in and start killing everyone.

I find this to be top notch writing. People age, change and die. Relationships come and go. The hero is not immune to tragedy. Sometimes, a few crises happen at the same time, rather than waiting their turn. Crossovers happen, and the events are held onto as part of the continuity. Currently, Dragon's not even the good guy. He's regained his memories from when he was the despotic tyrant of an alien race, and he is wreaking havoc. Larsen has said from the beginning that no one is safe in his book, including Dragon. He's always held that one day, Dragon will die and someone else will have to take over the starring role. I have my guesses, like anyone, of where things will go, but have never been disappointed to be wrong - and that's a frequent occurrence with this book.

One other thing that Larsen does: when he uses someone else's character, he tries to stay true to the character, and not write them badly to make his own character shine. He has crossed over with Superman, Madman, Hellboy, Wanted, the Amazing Joy Buzzards, Shadowhawk, 10th Muse, Spawn, Backlash, Invincible, and my personal favorite, Destroyer Duck. There are surely others that I have forgotten, and not once have I ever felt the guest character was out-of-character. Maybe I'm gushing, but I find this to be a true mark of professionalism, because he treats others' properties with as much or more respect than his own.

2) Robert Kirkman - I think it's in one of the first Invincible trades that Kirkman remarks that he stole all of his writing techniques from Erik Larsen. To me, it shows. I've commented on the sudden changes that take place in Larsen's writing, and somehow, Kirkman's made the style his own. One thing about this style is that it tells a complex story, but in a somehow simple way. Things don't often seem convoluted or contrived - just "Of course, that had to happen." It may not be something I saw coming, but when it happens, I say, "Yeah, it was all there," and I marvel at how he's kept the story together all this time.

What amazes me about Kirkman is that he doesn't do it in just Invincible. Larsen's been content to just do Savage Dragon, with the occasional mini-series or one-shot. Kirkman, on the other hand, writes Invincible, Astounding Wolf-Man, Brit, Walking Dead, Youngblood, and probably more I don't know about. When I was first discovering his work, he was also writing Marvel Team-Up. I don't automatically like a story, because it has a favorite writer on it, but I have yet to read a bad one by Kirkman.

3) Jay Faerber - I know Faerber's writing through Noble Causes and Dynamo 5. I'm hoping D5 survives the poor economy, because I like this book almost as much as I liked New Teen Titans, in the Eighties. Again, I find his writing similar to Larsen's and Kirkman's, but there's something faster about the pacing. I can breeze through a D5 trade in nothing flat, and almost be vexed that I spent the money on the thing, because it went so quickly. Only "almost" though, because I always enjoy the story. He does some nice things with characterization - characters actually stay true to their personalities, even when it might be more convenient for them not to. It kind of lent a soap opera quality to Noble Causes, and a family quality to the dysfunctional Dynamo 5. Also, you can't help but be intrigued in the "lecherous Superman" of Captain Dynamo, or what I wish Lois Lane was, in Maddie Warner. Nice stuff.

4) Mark Waid - Mark Waid was probably one of the first writers whose name I started looking for in the credits. I loved his run on Flash, where he defined Max Mercury as "the zen master of speed." Kingdom Come and Kingdom drove my imagination for months (and I highly recommend the Absolute edition, that includes all the companion material for KC, including a listing of every single character appearing in the book). Empire should be required reading for any aspiring writer, as they try to figure out why Golgoth's forces build a bridge in plain sight of the enemy. His current works, Irredeemable and Incorruptible, I don't know as well. I've read the first few issues of Irredeemable, and loved them, but haven't been able to keep up with them since (my wallet has not been inexhaustible). In a two part video interview with Babs of Comic Vine, Waid states that he'd like to teach writing to up-and-coming writers. Personally, I hope that happens at some point. I would sign up in a heartbeat, if at all possible.

5) Kurt Busiek - I don't have a ton to say about Kurt Busiek, because I think Astro City pretty well speaks for him. Also, I hold his writing in high regard because one of my all time favorite stories was written by Busiek - a JLA/JSA crossover, that puts the two teams on Apokolips (Justice League of America #183-185). Simply awesome. Another favorite is a story called "The Scoop" (Astro City #2, Sept. 1995). Busiek's mother gave him a real newspaper article, about shark remains found on a subway track, and he turned it into a reporter's epic superhero story. The problem is the reporter couldn't prove it, so he wrote a very short article about shark remains found on a subway track - the only evidence that anything had occurred there. Extrapolating such an extreme story from such a simple but odd article is pure creativity. The kind that takes me back to when I was a kid, coming up with outrageous ideas on the tiniest scraps of information. That almost gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

6) Brian Michael Bendis - This guy's been picking up some hatred lately, but I think that's just because his name is on so much stuff, people are sick of seeing it. I don't have that problem. I wish I was as prolific in writing as this man. When asked how he can write so much, his answer is simple: he does the work. Or as he puts it in his letter columns for Powers, he has "no life." Comics aren't just a job for him, he enjoys them, so he spends his time writing. He's not wasting work time on playing video games or whatever other stuff tends to distract guys that mostly make their own schedule.

The thing that inspires me the most about Bendis is that he isn't just throwing stuff at the wall and hoping something sticks. He's actually researching. Articles I read about Secret Invasion said that when he pitched the series, he went through the entire Marvel history of the Skrulls, and laid out how everything connected and culminated in this invasion. I think that's basically what we got in Secret Invasion Saga.

7) Rob Liefeld - This probably comes as a shock to most, because Liefeld is probably the most popular whipping boy in comics, but he truly is one of my favorite writers in comics. NOT because I necessarily think he's a great writer, but because of the sheer amount of books and characters he has put out. I ran across an interview with Crazy Cat Com Comics, posted on Comic Vine, where Liefeld said, "About twenty years ago, it's like my head exploded," and all of these characters came out. Entire teams - Youngblood (in two or three versions of the team), Bloodstrike, New Men, and Brigade - as well as solid solo characters Supreme and Glory. Nevermind stuff he did at Maximum, like Avengelyne. And lest we forget, he created Cable and Deadpool for Marvel - characters that, love 'em or hate 'em - have carried at least five titles each.

I don't care about "tiny feet" and whatever else might be said about his art. As I have trouble drawing better than a twelve year old, I think his art is teriffic. The thing with Liefeld is that he seems to have trouble getting books out on time, if at all. Still, when Marvel tried to sue him over Agent America, he managed to get the rights to Fighting American, effectively thumbing his nose at Marvel, and with a nice bit of historical symmetry. If you don't admire him for that, you have no soul.

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Overall, what probably draws me to all of these guys is that they've created a large amount of characters for their books, and I always love seeing new characters. Their enthusiasm for comics is infectious, and their creativity seems to know no bounds. To me, these are the guys that have learned their lessons from Kirby, Lee and other predecessors. Like them, these seven throw even the craziest ideas on the page, and make them work. Also, more often than not, these are the guys who cause me to have to strike a name from my list of characters, and that just challenges me to come up with something else. While it always gives me chagrin to one degree or another, I enjoy it too. It makes me feel like, "Yes, this idea was good enough for someone else to use in comics, so I must be on the right track." Then I try to come up with the next thing. There are other writers I like, sure - Chuck Dixon, Bill Willingham, Geoff Johns, et.al. - but these seven always give me something to smile about, even if it's a sly smirk of "Man, they beat me to it again." You have to find your inpsirations as a writer though, and these are a few of mine. I hope you enjoyed it.

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A Christian's Thoughts on "God Hates Nerds"

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Photoshopped bigotry - way to go nerds!

I've been thinking about this since it hit the web, during San Diego Comic-Con, and it's just bugging me. Before their "God Hates Nerds" protest, out in front of this year's SDCC, I had never heard of Westboro Baptist Church. I had heard something about their "God Hates Fags" protest, but like most news, ignored it. It's not that I bury my head in the sand where news is concerned, I just generally don't like network newscasts. Most newscasters smile a little too hard, try to subtly take over reports from each other, and use insipid, vapid conversation to segue from one segment to the next. I find that most hour newscasts could have been done in thirty minutes or less, and most of them leave me cringing, wishing for the succinct, professional reporting of Walter Cronkite, and his ending of "And that's the way it is. Good night." Speaking of succinct, back to the point.

One website posted a video report on the protest, and humorously interviewed one of the costumed con goers, who was dressed as Jesus. To quote that "Jesus:" "Fred's got issues." While the "God Hates..." posters are certainly attention getting, they are horribly, horribly UN-Christian. First, "God hates" is an oxymoron - the two words should never be used in conjunction like that, except in one sentence: God hates sin. This could be debated ad naseam, as each person's understanding of the Bible is usually varied in some way. Yes, there are verses in the Bible that don't make much sense, seem to contradict other verses, and there's probably a verse in there somewhere that says God hated something. I don't have the answers to all that, but for myself, I chalk those things up to a lack of understanding on my own part, centuries of retranslating of the original languages (and the agendas of men in doing so), and probably a lack of context, from not knowing what ancient cultures were like (I mean me not knowing, not the scholars [although y'never know]). For the sake of moving along, let's just say either you believe or you don't. I do. If you don't, hey, it's your eternity, do what you will with it.

God doesn't hate the nerd (or the "fag," for that matter). He hates sin. So yeah, if you've built a cobwebbed altar to Spider-Man in your armoire, where you light candles and sing the 1960's Spider-Man cartoon theme as a hymn to Peter Parker, that's idolatry. You're in sin, and should probably take a little time to get right with your Creator. Actually, y'know what? You should probably seek help. Psychiatric help. The kind that uses special medications, and straps you to your bedrail for your own protection. Once you're back on an even keel, then you should get right with your Creator.

If, on the other hand, you call yourself a believer, and you enjoy a Spider-Man comic on occasion (or other title[s] of your choice)... read closely... that's okay. Even if it's every month, or gee, every Wednesday. Now, there are verses about your money indicating where your true love lies. One in particular says "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." So, assuming "treasure" is "money" in that verse, if the bulk of your money's going to your comic shop, then your heart might be a little off balance towards the sequential art side, and Christianity is all about the balance. Let's be practical for a minute though...

People have hobbies, and people have jobs, and comics can be either or both for people, and that's fine. It's an artform, not a contribution towards juvenile delinquency. Read your comics, enjoy them, and keep moving. If you find that they give you joy, maybe that's something to thank God for. If they don't give you joy, maybe you should consider not reading them anymore. A comic is like any other form of entertainment - there's good and there's bad out there. If you throw everything out that's got a little bad in it, pretty soon, you won't be involved in anything. That goes for pretty much everything, including religion. If you can pare your life down to the bread and water existence of a monk, and that works for you, great, but that doesn't mean it will work for everybody, and that doesn't mean it is right for everybody. There is no twelve step program to walking with God, but Jesus said there are two things that sum up all of the Law and the Prophets (most of the Old Testament): "Love the Lord your God with all your might," and "love your neighbor as yourself." If you can strive for those two things, you'll be about as Christian as you're ever likely to be. If anyone tells you they've got some answer outside of that, it's either focusing on the details or it's wrong. Those two broad strokes can get you through just about anything though.

And that's the way it is. Good night.

In the meantime, be a comic nerd, if that's your thing. Read it, enjoy it, seal it up in plastic and cardboard, blog about it, chat about it, and debate it until your eyes turn red and you've run out of your favorite beverage. God's not going to be angry with you for that, and he surely doesn't hate you for it. Remember: "Fred's got issues," and "Jesus" was on the side of the comic nerds. And that's the way it is. Good night.

8-13-10 EDIT: I have received a couple of comments concerning the veracity of the protest. One comment has stated that the "God Hates Nerds" pic is photoshopped from a previous "God Hates Fags" pic, and that seems to be the case. Another comment asked if I could produce a link from something besides a comic fansite. My first response on a possible rumor is always to go to the source, so I first tried the WBC website, and could find nothing. Half of their links were broken, according to my Internet Explorer, and their pickets schedule starts at the present day and moves forward. I could find no information on past pickets, and could not access the blog link, to see if I could find the quote mentioned in just about every single article on the comic con protest. However...

Here's the Atlantic Wire, talking about the then upcoming protest: Westboro Baptist Church To Protest Comic Con.

Here's an article on sandiego.com, talking about their experience of driving past the protest: Comic Con: The Westboro Baptist Church Gets Out Protested.

Here's examiner.com's article: Comic Con Counter Protest Sends Westboro Baptist Church Running.

You can find a few youtube videos from people that were there also, but they were a little sketchy. So to answer any future questions, as far as I can tell, the protest actually happened, but whether there was actually a "God Hates Nerds" sign is questionable.

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Why Aren't the Promo Ads in Trade Paperbacks?

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1408/09/10Why Aren't the Promo Ads in Trade Paperbacks?(Blog) (Forum)Trade Paperback(Back) (Next)

This is something that I've wondered about for a long time. Those in-house ads that promote a company's new title or story arc - why aren't they included in the trade paperback? It worked very well for Batman: Knightfall. Remember the full page ads, summing up the previous events and giving a clue to what's coming in just a couple short sentences? When the trades came out, those ads were included before each new chapter, and I thought it worked great. Especially if you were reading both trades back-to-back, and needed to put a bookmark in at some point. You could open it back up, read the blurb on the promo ad, and go, "Oh yeah," and keep reading. Nice.

The ads are what get you pumped to read that title or story arc to begin with. I think that's half the fun. The ads are what made me read the original Power Pack series, in 1984. I remember half page ads with silhouettes of the characters, and I think the Smartship Friday in the background. Now, I also seem to recall that I built another idea up in my head, than what the characters turned out to be, but still, that ad was what made me want to read it. If I ever get the trade of the first issues, I will probably look for a beat up comic that I can cut that ad out of, and slip it behind the backing board (yeah, I bag and board my trades, as much as possible).

Another reason for those ads is to see something you may not see in the book. When DC was promoting The Death of Superman, they used a silhouette of Doomsday in one of the ads, only the silhouette had a ponytail that the character didn't have, when the story came out. To me, that's the perfect kind of thing to put in the trade, with a little blurb about why they did away with the ponytail - sort of a sketchbook type of thing, only it's the ad.

What we are not talking about, however, is what Image did in the Wildstar: Sky Zero trade. They ran an ad saying that the trade paperback would have every letter, every ad, and basically everything to do with putting that story out. When the trade came out, it was there, but the ads were in sketchbook form, and were hard to make out. I don't actually remember letters being in there, but maybe they meant "letter" as in "lettering," not "letter" as in "fan mail."

The point is: I think the ads would bring a little extra value to the trades. It's kind of like getting the movie trailer on the DVD. Like in Murder at 1600, the Secret Service agent tells Wesley Snipes that he was "born to become a chalk outline." That one line made me want to see the movie, and it was cut out. Totally ruined the end of the movie for me, but that's another story. Still, on the DVD, the movie trailer is there, and I can show people what I'm talking about, when I say, "This is what made me want to see this movie." I think it would be cool to be able to do the same for the book.

Oh, and here's an afterthought: sometimes, having the promo articles in the trade would be cool, as well. Like interviews in Wizard or Previews, or promo art and info that was dropped to comic websites, like say, oh, Comic Vine. Having them all would get redundant, but having the best representation of those articles in the trade gives the reader - especially if it's a reader who picks up the trade five years after it was released - an idea of what was going on at the time, and what the creators were trying to do with the story. ...So I guess what I'm saying here is the trade paperback should have more "Easter eggs."

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