All Those DC Cancellations

Despite having made a big deal out of the first few batch of new books coming through in designed “waves”, DC seems to have fallen into a habit of regularly canceling and announcing new titles. Based on what has been announced alone, every month in 2012 through June will have either the first or final issue of a New 52 series. That’s half the year, and that’s not taking into account any unexpected cancellations in June.

This makes my series of semi-regular DC-wave analysis articles more difficult to plan for, but with the recent rash of DC cancellations, it feels as good a time as any to at least do some post-mortems. We currently know three of the eight titles that are slated to be replace the outgoing books (assuming Man of Steel is one of them), but we’ll hold off on that blog post until those final five are announced. For now though, let’s take a look at the dearly departed.

April Cancellations:

DC Universe Presents: A bit surprised to see this book disappear, only because it always smelled like a loss-leader anyway. More or less this was an anthology line of mini-series, largely for characters who wouldn’t carry their own ongoings. In theory, it could be used to test the waters of interest for the new incarnation of certain DC properties, or in the case of James Robertson’s excellent Savage story, be the launching point of a new character completely. However, I can understand why it would be an ordering nightmare for retailers, and thus it becomes harder to justify creative costs month over month. I have seen some folks online suggest that it be converted to a digital-first format, which I agree fixes the issue of having a book you don’t know how is going to ship from arc to arc. But along with the failure of DC’s stabs at the war comic genre, this seems to continue the expectation that anthology titles just don’t sell in the American market.

I, Vampire: Less surprising to see go than DCU Presents, but profoundly more disappointing. I, Vampire has been one of DC’s most distinctive books since the relaunch, as it blended classic horror comics of the past with modern storytelling devices, while introducing new entertaining characters into the fold. It’s art was breathtaking, blending a sense of Renaissance beauty with horrific imagery. More importantly, it was felt wholly unique from anything else that DC was publishing, a distinction more books could use. Sadly, word of mouth and stronger than expected trade sells don’t seem to have been enough to help the book rise above an obscure property and unattractive title. It is some comfort that Andrea Sorrentino’s art will live on in Green Arrow, and word on the street is that Falkov is being slated to play a major part in DC's new Green Lantern creative office. A step up in exposure for both creators, but expect to see this title reach a small but vocal cult-following after it's untimely demise.

May Cancellations:

Deathstroke: Mixed feelings here. Kyle Higgins initial run on this book remains one of the hidden gems of the New 52, a compelling story of family grief and the price of a life lived in service to violence. Also, it had a man dropping a giant cruise liner on Slade Wilson. Sadly, the book in that format wasn’t selling, so it along with a horde of other books were put under the creative eye of Rob Liefeld; I like to think of this as the Liefeld gambit, where a score of books were given one last chance under the guidance of a creative voice who, if nothing else, was one-of-a-kind. In Deathstroke's case, which Liefled both wrote and drew, the book promptly became an unreadable mess, both losing the original tone of the series and botching the re-introduction of Lobo to the New 52 universe. The book was salvaged somewhat when Liefeld left the company and Justin Jordan took over, showing promise with a self-contained two-part story that was a bit of campy, violent fun with some political touches. Still, villain books are hard to keep readership up for, and the fact the book had two soft relaunches already made this cancellation seem more like an eventual “when” rather than “if” it was going to get axed; I strongly suspect that DC had no illusions about Jordan saving the title, and more wanted to keep him in their corner until they were ready for another wave of cancellations to roll out. Ultimately disappointing if only because Higgins proved that a fantastic Deathstroke series can exist. It just might not be able to sell.

Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men/Man: Firestorm is one of those concepts that keeps coming back up over and over again, largely due to a cult following that passionately loves the central conceit. And this version of Firestorm certainly had a lot of ideas going for it, from the dual identity of it’s heroes to the idea of superheroes as literal WMDs. But it also often lacked direction, giving the impression it was one of the infamous DC books that was being written by editorial committee rather than a single author's vision. The book was never depressingly unreadable, but it also never reached the inspiration of it’s high concepts beyond a few flashes and a handful of really eye-catching character designs. Wouldn’t be surprised to see these characters pop up somewhere else in the near future, but not enough vision or purpose to maintain a long-term solo book.

Ravagers: The one book on the list of cancellations I don’t recall seeing anyone publicly grieving the passing of. And it’s not really hard to see why: it was a Teen Titans spin-off back that was spawned by the generally unpopular Culling crossover, was spearheaded originally by the divisive Howard Mackie and featured an unlikeable cast of misfits. Add to all of that the fact that the book reverts to some of the most unseemly tropes of angst-ridden young supers comics, and it isn’t hard to see why this book was often the subject of ridicule or, perhaps more often, outright apathy. Some of the earliest issues were a good showcase for Ian Churchill’s new dynamic artistic voice, but that’s hardly enough to recommend the book, and between being a crowded market and a product of questionable quality, this book’s fate was more or less a foregone conclusion at some point. It’s worth noting that with this cancellation, there are only two books in the Young Justice line, and one of those (Legion of Super-Heroes) is in dubious standings in terms of sales numbers. I suspect more will be announced for a June premiere, but as it stands right now, the next generation of DC heroes are an endangered species.

Savage Hawkman: Another book that hasn’t seen many tears shed upon it’s passing, though there are some that would argue there’s always a space for Hawkman on the schedule. Perhaps the most puzzling part of this announcement is that the character is set to have a much more prominent role in the DCU as a member of the new Justice League of America. But like Deathstroke, the numbers on this book were so low that any sort of rebound that putting a new creative team on it would have earned probably wouldn’t have been enough to keep it on life support. Another victim of the failed Liefeld gambit.

Sword of Sorcery: A lot of people have pointed towards this book cancellation as some sort of lightning rod that signals not just the doomed state of DC, but of the comics industry as a whole. A book targeted towards female readers, by veteran cartoon writer Christy Marx, sporting a slightly different tone than the rest of the capes and cowls DCU, and it can’t last even a year. But it is important to keep in mind that it’s fairly astonishing that DC attempted to publish a book like this at all. You can contribute several different factors to the book not capturing the audience it needed to justify it’s existence (unknown character, high price point, confusing title, lackluster promotion), but as I said when this book was announced, DC remains dedicated to at least diversify and experiment with the kind of books they’re willing to publish within the DC Universe. People might complain that it gets cancelled before it has a chance to fly, but don’t weep because it’s over. Celebrate that it ever happened at all.

Team Seven: There is an emerging theme that can be traced through certain New 52 books since the relaunch of the line: paramilitary books haven’t done well. I’ve talked extensively about the troubles that DC has had launching a straight military book, but even edge cases like Blackhawks, Grifter and Deathstroke have had difficulty as well. While Team Seven hedged somewhat closer to traditional superhero comics than any of those books, it still had a bit of a GI Joe look and smell to it, just enough to keep it towards the basement of DC’s sales figures. Unlike Deathstroke, which Jordan was always likely assigned to more or less steward towards it’s inevitable grave, this was a book that he launched and failed to capture a wide audience with. If the next set of DC titles has another vaguely guns-and-bombs book, I wouldn’t put even money on it lasting very long among the rest of the crop.


New 52 Fourth Wave: The Newcomers

A bit delayed, but partially because I wanted to make absolutely positively sure that DC wasn't pulling some last minute announcement of another title launching in February. Turns out that they are going to fill out their obligated 52 titles that month with a Valentine's Day themed one-shot that gives a snapshot of the various romantic entanglements around the DCU and slap the New 52 label on it in an attempt to boost up sales. Not a bad move, all things told, as it allows that extra space to make sure our first new book is up to the inevitable scrutiny it is going to be under.

And without further delay, ladies and gents, your new New 52:

1. Constantine: The first I’m going to write about due to it’s alphabetic placement, but the last of this bunch to be announced, and actually launching a month later. It seems that DC is less strident in launching these books in a singular month, but rather spacing them out slightly to give them more room to breathe. Which makes marketing sense; it’s how Marvel organized their Marvel Now initiative, and it provides an opportunity for Threshold (which we’ll get to later) and this book to have it’s own space.

Which is all well and good, but will it be any good? Much of the initial talk about Constantine is about how it will be replacing the longest running DC title, Hellblazer, presumably with a more moderate rating and a bit more of a superhero bent. While I am saddened to see such a historic Vertigo title cancelled, I also feel that thus far the fears about the New 52 John have been unfounded; he’s an interesting, shades-of-gray character who might be a member of a team, but is far from being a team player. In regards to this series? It has a promising creative team. I am especially excited to see Renato Guedes on a regular assignment with DC, as his work is always spectacular to read. Looking forward to this book, but it has a high bar to clear with most of the skeptical audience.

2. Justice League of America: The big launch of the wave, and the one I am most excited for personally. To be honest, Geoff Johns’ Justice League has been a bit of a disappointment for me, but I think that is partially due to that book attempting to operate as an all-readers, continuity-light trifle of a superhero book that anyone could pick up and read. JLA, by comparison, seems to have a bit more dirt under it’s fingernails. Besides, the line-up for the team is so utterly bizarre that it should at least make for some interesting pairings and interactions. High expectations going in, but I had similar expectations for Justice League before, so we’ll see how this one shapes up.

3. Justice League of America’s Vibe: For the people who might ask “Who’s Vibe?”, DC has given a very helpful title: he’s a member of the Justice League of America! Honestly hard to say what to expect from this book until at least JLA comes out and we see what the new Vibe is like. As it stands, it’s a reboot of a slightly corny and horribly dated superhero whose name reminds of women’s personal accessories, written by television’s Andrew Kreisenberg and drawn by Pete Woods and largely based on Johns plotting points. For what it’s worth, I hear good things about Arrow, and I’ve loved Pete Woods work since his Luthor stuff on Action Comics, so it is at least a promising creative team. But I don’t see a minor character like Vibe having a whole lot of longevity, even with the hotly anticipated JLA tag attached.

4. Katana: Serious good news, bad news situation here. Good news, DC is pulling the trigger on that Katana series they’ve been plotting around for a while now, in conjunction with her own high-profile position on that same hotly anticipated Justice League of America book. Bad news? Ann Nocenti’s writing it. While I was originally pulling for Nocenti when she came onto Green Arrow, the quality of her work since that high-profile position has been muddled at best, and horribly misguided at worst. I will be pulling for this book as I always do hope the best for female-led solo series, but I also realistically predict it will be plagued by the same illogical nonsense that has defined her New 52 work thus far.

5. Threshold: And again, even as I write about this last, this book is actually launching a month earlier. According to rumor, the first issue at least has been done for a while, and editorial deemed it time to abort the whole military book experiment a month early. For all intents and purposes however, this is considered a part of this Fourth Wave. All of those technicalities aside...this is a weird book. It is essentially a DC cosmic anthology title, with two stories from Keith Giffen and Tom Raney, one starring a new character that will be revealed in future Green Lantern books and a second feature starring Larfleeze. So in short, it’s a double-feature Green Lantern book without the word “Lantern” in the title and at a deluxe 3.99 pricetag. Not exactly an easy sell, but it does expand that line slightly...except it’s being solicited along with the other “Edge” titles. So it may be simply expanding the interstellar corner of the DCU. Either way, the high pricetag books that aren’t Action Comics or Batman books have struggled historically, and it will be interesting to see if this catches an audience. Giffen and the cosmic line have their fans, and the latter has a very sparse line currently being published. Still, if I had to put money down, I don’t see this as being long for this world.


New 52 Fourth Wave: The Cancellations

Another wave of DC cancellations, and I have my standard thoughts. I'm going to be holding off on my impressions of the announced titles until they actually announce what the fifth new title is, but been sitting on these for a while. we go!

1. Blue Beetle: Like Static Shock before it, this is a book that had a lot of potential that it never lived up to; unlike Static, it actually had a core premise I’d like to see still explored.The tone of this book was all over the place, fluctuating between comedic to moody to outright goofy, often in the same issue. But Jaime has always been an interesting character, and Bedard clearly enjoyed writing the banter between him and the bugsuit. DC also clearly has larger plans for the character, so I expect to see him pop up elsewhere; he’d be a welcome addition onto the Teen Titans, but I suspect that editorial would prefer to keep him cosmic focused for the time being.

2. Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.: The book I am saddest to see go, though it lost some of it’s spark since original writer Jeff Lemire left the book. A lot of people criticized this title for being a fair shamelessly riff on Hellboy’s BPRD, but I never fully understood why that was a bad thing. Both Lemire and Kindt wrote Frankie well, though his supporting cast fell into the background pretty swiftly after the creative turnover. Like Blue Beetle, the character is set to live on as a part of the Justice League Dark group under Lemire’s pen again. I just hope that S.H.A.D.E. still exists as well, even if only the periphery.

3. G.I. Combat: Of interest as the only second wave book being cancelled, though that is a bit misleading; this was really a second stab that DC took at trying to create modern military book, so this is really the second time that they’ve pulled the plug on Men of War. The tone took a sharp turn towards the absurd to be sure, but even at the end of MoH’s run that was already the case; that series ended with a one-shot about Frankenstein’s role in World War 2. As I said back then, I think that the core idea here wasn’t misguided. This was DC trying to capitalize on the current popularity of modern military shooters and diversity in a line of comics dominated by capes and tights is always appreciate. The audience just clearly wasn’t there, especially at a premium price point. Maybe down the line they’ll try again, but for now this experiment seems to be buried.

4.Grifter: I had a lot of hope for Grifter. The initial conceit (a man stumbles upon a massive alien invasion while the rest of the world believes him crazed and very dangerous) had a lot of promise. Unfortunately, like many other of the WIldstorm reboots, it lacked focus or direction through multiple creative teams. By the time Liefeld took over plotting and it became an excuse in bringing in more and more WS characters with little purpose, it became a bit of a bore. What will be interesting to see is where Cole pops up next. He’ll certainly be part of Team Seven, but as far as current-day books, he’ll likely show up somewhere eventually. May be a good match for Suicide Squad?

5. Legion Lost: Legion books as a whole are fairly impenetrable to any besides those already literate in this peculiar corner of the DC universe. I mention that just to laud Legion Lost on being fairly approachable to even the most casual or uninformed of DC readers. It was a basic, universal story of strangers in a strange land, with the strangers being very strange and the land being our own. That said, this book lost a lot of it’s appeal for me when Fabian Nicieza left; Tom DeFalco’s work on the book was inoffensive but lacked a certain flavor and spark that Nicieza’s run had. Add a rather misguided crossover with Teen Titans that derailed the books own momentum, and a growing level of complexity, and what made this book special was quickly lost (no pun intended.) More Pete Woods art is always a good thing though, and this book was consistently pretty to look at. It will be interesting to see where this book leaves off, and if these characters will still able to interact with the main core of the DCU or return back to the future.


Four Thoughts on Cancelled New 52 Titles

1. Captain Atom: This was on the chopping block and barely escaped last time, so not surprising to see it go this time around. And not terribly disappointing either; JT Krul should be lauded for attempting to right a book with broader implications on the intersections between science, religion and fate, but the book itself never really found solid grounding. It probably didn't help that the whole story was very clearly in the shadow of Alan Moore's Dr. Manhattan. It had some interesting ideas, but was weighed down by overwrought writing. Freddie Williams III art was consistently readable though, and I hope that he finds another project to work on soon.

2. Justice League International: I have to be entirely honest, I have no idea why this book is being axed, especially when it is going out with a high caliber annual story and doesn't have any real book that seems to be replacing it thematically. It is easily the best seller of this bunch, and while never knock-your-socks-off great, it had a consistent tone and provided a place for B and C list characters to live. Maybe Dan Jurgens reached the end of the story he wanted to tell and DC didn't see the need to pass the baton to someone else. I don't know, but this leaves a serious hole in the line for a B-tier team book and I think that other books could have been dropped instead.

3. Resurrection Man: Not surprising to see dropped, but also disappointing. Abnett and Lanning had a clear passion project in this title and the nature of the main character's ability to switch powers gave them a blank check on the kinds of stories they could tell. It never really established a core of what the series was about sadly (or more accurately, kept changing what it was about), but it was consistently okay to good. Like the original, this will likely hold a cult favorite status down the least for those people who remember it.

4. Voodoo: Oh Voodoo. The sad strange case of Voodoo. There may have been a time when I would have been sad to see this book go, but around the time Ron Marz was unceremoniously kicked off the book and it turned into a mass killing spree of his main cast of characters, the book has taken a month-on-month downward turn. The unfortunate part is that Josh Williamson seemed to have that core idea that he wanted to play with: the dual lives of the two titular characters and their complicated familial relationship. But it was all so off-putting for anyone who had bought into the original premise of the book, and it was paced in such a way to at least give the impression it was being made up as it went along. Like Captain Atom, I hope the artist here, Sami Basri, gets more projects soon because the art was consistently high quality. But this series quickly went from "promising" to "disappointing" with the change of editorial direction and I didn't see it ever recovering. Indeed, a depressing case of "what could have been..."


Four Thoughts on the New 52 Third Wave

1. The Phantom Strange: Dan DiDio's OMAC title was a surprising delight of rather sincere, old school Kirby-tropes wrapped in readable, often one-off stories. His Challengers of the Unknown relaunch, conversely, was a bit of a mess and had pacing issues from the word go. Add the fact that it is a series that will likely reveal the origins of a character who's who schtick has always been that he's unknown. So...this could go either way really. Nice to see the always reliable Brent Anderson get a prestige ongoing to do though, and this will likely be required reading for the upcoming Trinity War.

2. Sword of Sorcery: An odd and unexpected addition, but in all the right ways. Writer Christy Marx is a long-time veteran of the children's TV market, most famous for creating Jem and the Holograms; she also wrote a female-centric fantasy series for Epic in the mid-1980s called Sisterhood of Steel which people tell me is pretty alright. So it is an established, if slightly obscure, pedigree revitalizing an equally obscure female heroine property, benefited from the always gorgeous art of Aaron Lopresti. Has every opportunity to be the surprise hit of this wave, and shows that DC is serious about diversifying the kind of books that can be published within the New 52.

3. Talon: Of note for being the first character created after the New 52 relaunch to get his own title, plus (and I'd have to go back through the Night of the Owls issues to confirm this) a new character who is actually debuting IN the first issue of his series. Unheard of in this day and age. In the creative department, James Tynion has done some excellent work in the past few months with Snyder, and Guillem March has been killing it on Catwoman. A little skeptical if the world needs yet another Gotham title, but there is enough good stuff here to catch my attention.

4. Team Seven: The hinted Team Seven ongoing series is now a reality, but certainly not in any form that I was anticipating. Justin Jordan is best known for his recent title the Strange Talent of Luther Strode, which is best described as "cerebral but hyper violent." He is certainly not in the wheelhouse of DC's house style, that someone like Johns or DiDio would be, but it is that outside-the-book thinking that perks my interest. Jesus Merino has been doing a admirable job on Superman, though his art is fairly standard American capes-and-tights. Add an incredible cast of characters and a genuinely interesting premise, and Team Seven is probably just behind SoS in terms of books I can't wait to read.

BONUS THOUGHT for Zero Month: DC has never shied away from gimmick months, and this one at least has a function of helping to fill in the holes that might be left with the relaunch. Particularly impressed with their use of DC Comics Presents to give a tip of a hat to the books that are no longer with us (Hawk & Dove, Mister Terrific, OMAC and Blackhawks). That said, I fear if creators are going to be able to across the board find those aspects of the plot that need to be filled. And who gets to retell the Batman origin when you have four titles starring the same character? More interested to see the creative team shake-ups that go along with this. All said, an interesting and relevant way to celebrate one year of New 52, and I'm always down for one-off issues.


Six Thoughts on the Six Cancelled DC Books

Blackhawks: Probably the series I am most disappointed to see go, this was really a different kind of book that was beginning to hit its stride. Yes, it was a thinly disguised GI Joe, but through the lens of Warren Ellis transhumanism. It had a different tone from the rest of the DCU and was a welcome experiment from a traditionally conservative publisher. Hopefully Mike Costa will get future DC work, maybe on something a bit higher profile. He's a hidden treasure of a writer.

Hawk and Dove: Wasn't really long for this world anyway. Rob Liefeld comics appeal to a very specific crowd, and that market has been shrinking for a while. Attach that to a pair of, with all the best will in the world, C-listers, and you got an easy choice for a book to let go. It should be said that this has been far less dreadful than it had any right to be, and some of the subplots dealing with Dove and Deadman's relationship has been genuinely interesting. Not really sad to see it go, but it is far from the worst of the relaunch.

Men of War: Seems to be have been rebranded as GI Combat, or maybe at some pointt DC was actually imagining having a whole line of military comics and the sales on this book has cause them to rethink that and go back to the drawingboard. I can't really blame DC for their logic here: Call of Duty is basically the biggest thing ever, and if they can make their own franchise that is kinda-like-that, then they can ride on the wave of that popularity. Why that hasn't actually translated to sales is anyones guess, but this book has floundered for an identity since it appeared, so not shocked to see it go.

Mister Terrific: My least favorite book of the six, though it has been getting better slowly; this week's issue was especially impressive, but that might just be what my expectations for the title have been before. Again a case of a lesser known character struggling for shelf space, but I also felt like this book had a struggle for identity. Eric Wallace seemed to be shooting for some sort of race relations commentary, but it was weighed down by an obsession with cutting edge science and a cast of largely interchangeable characters. Again, the recent two part story dealing with extra-dimensional travel has been better, but it also muddled exactly what this book was about in the end.

O.M.A.C.: Give Dan DiDio and company credit, when the market has spoken with their dollars, they will respond accordingly regardless of their personal feelings on a project. In this case however, it is a shame because O.M.A.C. was kind of a special book. Yes, it was borrowing a lot from its Kirbyism, but it was also unabashedly fun and bright. It also did a yeoman's job of towing the line between be accessible to new readers while also appealing to longterm readers remembrances. It is textbook old school thowback, but in a way that feels fresh in comparison to the overbearing grimdark of most contemporary superhero comics. Another book that will be missed.

Static Shock: The writing was on the wall for this one from the word go. Conflicts among the creative team, a character that has long struggled with making relevant and a change of locale that had the undesired affect of making the book more generic. Add the fact that it wasn't especially good, relied on years of backstory to make some sense of and was coming into a rather crowded 'young heroes' market, and it was probably an easy choice to get cut, especially to make room for Ravagers. The book was more disappointing than its eventual cancellation.

A bonus thought: DC made a serious effort to create a diverse, multi-racial cast of characters for the new DCU, but this first round of cancelations might raise some eyebrows on how committed to that as a long-term goal. Half of the Black lead characters had their books cut (Voodoo and Batwing being the two that survived, and Voodoo is an alien shapeshifter...), as well as a new Vietnamese OMAC and an multi-national Blackhawks team (but really, mostly white). Hopefully this won't become a trend for when the next round of cancellation arrives, possibly around September.

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Six Thoughts on the Six New DC Books

1. Batman Inc.: I could comment on how much of a shake-up this should provide to the other Bat-books, or how they have done a poor job of acknowledging the whole Batman Inc idea to begin with, but then I keep going back to Grant Morrison's pitch for the series.

"It's like Kramer vs. Kramer, but they've got thermonuclear capability."

Uh, sold.

2. Dial H: The unknown variable of this group of announcements, as far as I am concerned. The art and general press copy of the book seems to suggest that they are taking the title in a slightly darker, Vertigo-friendly direction ala Animal man and Swamp Thing. Add the China Miéville factor, a writer who I only know by reputation only and without really any significant comic accolades to his name, and I'm quite baffled as to what to expect from this book. Still, I'm intrigued.

3. Earth 2: James Robinson is such an uneven writer, that it is hard to really know what to expect from this book. But I do love alternate reality stuff, and it would hopefully be able to exist within a bubble and not be too concerned with anything else, as well as having free reign other books would be denied. Plus Nicola Scott is a wonderfully fun artist, and it will probably have pretty strong ties to the book I am MOST looking forward to on this list (see later).

4. GI Combat: A little confused why Men of War got canceled and this got greenlit, but it might be that the War That Time Forgot was too fanciful for that book's rather rough-edged tone. Still, this is a JT Krul book, and thus will likely be pretty shit. Nice sounding back-ups though, which basically guanatees it will be a $4 title. Expect to see in the next round of cancellations

5. The Ravagers: Oh Howard Mackie. If DC comics couldn't get any more 90stastic, this surely is the tipping point where it really becomes apparent that Bob Harras hasn't updated his rolodex in a while. Still, curious to see who the cast on this book is going to be (probably a mixture of new and old, ala Teen Titans); if this is where Raven finally shows up, might be tempted into buying it. Also, Ian Churchill's recent work has been so smile-inducing, it might make up for the mothballed dialogue.

6. Worlds' Finest: A team-up book of Power Girl and Huntress, written by Paul Levitz and drawn in alternating arcs (IE, so the art gets in on time) by two incredible artists. This is a home run, and by far the stand out from this list for me. May can't get here fast enough so that I can read this book.