DC Speculation, Pt. 1: Gotham

Like it or not, the current speculation market is tied to television shows and big budget movies. Rumours of an Age of Apocalypse movie send the first appearance of Apocalypse through the roof. Rumours that Doomsday is coming to a theatre near you send the prices of Man of Steel #17 and #18 skyrocketing.

After a few years of false starts, DC is finally getting its multimedia act together. I’ve decided to do a bit of speculation based on the DC’s upcoming big and small-screen offerings.

Part One: Gotham 

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Is Gotham going to make anyone any money? The short answer, I think, is no. The longer answer is more complicated, and more… well… speculative.

Here’s the initial problem. Gotham looks like it’s going to feature characters who are well known and very old. Take Catwoman, for instance. It looks like Selena Kyle is going to feature in the new Gotham series. Doesn’t matter. Catwoman first appeared in 1940 in Batman #1. A Gotham series, hell, a whole 6-chapter Catwoman movie franchise isn’t moving the needle on Batman #1 because that comic is already worth thousands and thousands of dollars.

Catwoman is already a household name. She can’t get more famous, and her first appearance can’t get more valuable.

The Penguin first appeared in 1941, Two-Face in 1942 and The Riddler first appeared in 1948. See where I’m going with this? The Penguin isn’t Deathlok or Luke Cage. Those characters haven’t faded into obscurity and those comics aren’t sitting in a back issue bin somewhere for $3.50.

One possible lead is the character Crispus Allen; he’s listed on the cast of Gotham on imdb. Allen first appeared in Detective Comics #742, which can be had for a few bucks. Now, whether or not Crispus Allen’s first appearance ends up being worth anything depends not just on the popularity of Gotham but on whether or not Allen is a major character or a bit player. Still, the risk is fairly minimal.

Any other money to made from Gotham will involve some seriously long-range speculation. For example, one gets the vibe from the Gotham promo material that we’re going to get more of a film noir Gotham than a comic book Gotham, by which I mean, I don’t think we’re going to see many superpowers.

So, are there other non-superpowered Bat villains that might show up in a second or third season that have more affordable first appearances than Two-Face or Riddler?

Again, not much to see here. A villain like Hugo Strange seems like he might be a good bet to show up on a show like Gotham, but Strange first appeared in Detective Comics #36 (VF, 8.0 $8,000).

Maybe Calendar Man? Probably you could get a good episode of TV out of him. First appeared in Detective Comics #259 (VF, 8.0 $265).

Two possibilities do present themselves, and again we’re talking total shot-in-the-dark speculation here.

First, Carmine Falcone, first appeared in Batman #404, the beginning of Miller’s Year One storyline. (VF, 8.0 $16) My guess is that Gotham will have to have an organized crime angle, and Carmine is a likely addition to the cast if that happens.

Second, Victor Zsasz, first appearance Batman: Shadow of the Bat #1. Available for an affordable price (9.2 NM $4.00). Zsasz is a crazy serial killer type, also a good fit for a dark crime show.

In sum, for the time being, I don’t see much potential for a Gotham series to affect the comic book collecting market, though there may be a couple long-shot books you could lays hands on for a decent price.

Casting The Justice League in 1977

I was recently reading an old issue of Justice League of America, #146 to be exact. It was a double-sized issue published in 1977 in which the League takes on The Construct, a giant robot who can communicate with and control other machines. Basically he’s a poor-man’s Ultron. The drama in this issue revolves around whether or not Red Tornado (who has apparently returned from the dead) is being controlled by The Construct or not.

All of that is fine and good, but what I really want to talk about here is the letter’s page. On that page, editor Bob Rozakis announced that “24-year-old Christopher Reeve has been chosen to play Superman in that much-talked-about movie! Chris, a graduate of Cornell University, tested with 200 other actors for the part!”

How’s that for a bit of superhero history? But wait, it gets better.

In anticipation of the upcoming Superman movie readers were asked to mail in their ideal cast for a hypothetical Justice League movie, just for fun. Rozakis announces the results in the letters column and they are hilarious.

I thought, since we’re all getting geared up for the Justice League Movie (which, apparently, has been in production since 1977), I’d share the cast that comic fans wanted to see in a Justice League movie 40 years ago.

Some of the fan picks were gimmes, obvious choices, or big-time stars. Other choices are celebrities whose stars have faded considerably since the 70s – a few you’ve probably never heard of. Rozakis announced the winners as well as some of the runner-ups. I’ve listed the most noteworthy and comical examples here.

Wonder Woman

Fans were apparently almost unanimous in their support of Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman. No surprise here really. In 1977 we’re right in the heart of ABC’s classic Wonder Woman television series. Carter’s Wonder Woman was and remains wildly popular.

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The Flash 

Apparently, fans wanted Lee Majors, the six-million dollar man, for the Flash. Majors also got votes to play Superman, Green Lantern and Green Arrow. Stunningly, Charles Bronson was one of the other popular choices to play Barry Allen. Bronson as Flash seems a bit like casting Russell Brand to play Martian Manhunter. Bronson was a crime-fighting action star, but I have no idea what would make people want to see him as a spandex-clad speedster.

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Green Arrow

Fans tabbed Frank Converse as the 70s Oliver Queen. Who is Frank Converse? He was a TV actor who looked an awful lot like Oliver Queen. His claim to fame was that he starred in an NBC drama series called Movin’ On from 1974-1976. The show was about two truckers who drove around helping people… and presumably delivering things.

Another popular choice for the role was Charlton Heston, which may seem odd at first, but if you think about his performance in Planet of the Apes, you can kind of see it. One great irony of course is that Green Arrow is the JLA’s resident bleeding heart lefty and Heston is… well… not… that.

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Black Canary

Farrah Fawcett received almost unanimous support to play Dinah Lance, or Black Canary. Fawcett’s celebrity was sky high in the late 70s. She was one of the stars of Charlie’s Angels. Also, the iconic red swimsuit poster came out in 1976; to this day it remains one of the most recognizable glamour shots of all time. This seems like a pretty bang on choice to me.

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Green Lantern

Not much to see here. Fans picked Don Galloway, a supporting character on the long-running NBC TV series Ironside, which starred Raymond Burr as a paraplegic detective.

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One thing that’s a bit odd is that fans were almost exclusively committed to TV actors for the Justice League film. Curious. Perhaps it’s because there just were no superhero movies prior to Superman in 1977, though superheroes did appear on TV. So maybe when fans thought about stars who would pack themselves into brightly coloured leotards, they thought of TV actors more than film actors.

Some fans did vote for guys like Sylvester Stallone and Roger Moore to take on roles, but there are no votes for people like Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, or Anne-Margaret Olsson. It really speaks to how far the superhero movie genre has come. It’s now expected that a comic book movie will feature blue chip talent. It would surprise no one, for example to hear that Johnny Depp would be playing Dr. Strange in a couple years or that Michelle Williams would be cast as Black Canary.

Aquaman

Another somewhat obscure choice for Aquaman: Doug McClure. He played a cowboy in an NBC western series called The Virginian, and looked kind of like Aquaman. One of the runner-ups was particularly strange: Olympic swimmer, Mark Spitz. Spitz was basically the 1970s version of Michael Phelps. Maybe readers were taking a piss, but I’m not so sure… I kind of think people thought Spitz would be a great Aquaman because he’s such a good swimmer, which is a bit like holding a casting call at Sea World because you need someone who can communicate with whales.

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Hawkman / Atom

One of my favourite fan suggestions from this JLA letters page is that Henry Winkler should play either Hawkman or the Atom. Awesome. Hilarious. I still want to see that happen. Ball’s in your court Zack Snyder.

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Batman

The overwhelming choice for Batman was Adam West. A bit surprising given how campy we now think that old Batman series was. If a comic book fan living in the 1970s was somehow able to travel through time and see The Dark Knight his or her head would probably have exploded at about the 11 minute mark.

Another astonishing vote-getter for the role of Batman. Leonard frikkin’ Nimoy.

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Superman

Though some fans were happy to have whoever would get cast in the Superman film play The Man of Steel in the JLA movie, other suggestions included Sylvester Stallone, and… buckle up… Bruce Jenner! It’s worth remembering that this poll was taken right after the 1976 Olympics when Jenner won the gold in the Decathlon. He was not always the skeletal patriarch of TV’s most irritating family.

The most popular choice, however, was Peter Lupus who played Willy Armitage, the muscle on Mission: Impossible. As with Mark Spitz (and Jenner for that matter), this seems like a case of fans thinking it was necessary to choose the strongest and most muscular actor to play Superman. I guess because they assumed the actor would actually need to lift really heavy things over his head

I wonder if this just goes to show how much we take special effects for granted. These days, I’m pretty confident that with a little makeup and some good CGI, Sheldon Cooper could be turned into a passable Kal-El. Not so in the 1970s. Still, maybe fans were onto something with Russo. He did play a helluva Superman in this TV spot for the United States Air Force.

Waring: watching this commercial might prompt you to immediately turn off your computer and enlist in the Air Force. It’s that persuasive. (Also, how did 1970s comic book readers completely miss the acting talent of Chicago Bulls star Jerry Sloan?)

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed our little time travel adventure, our Retro Roll Call! Have a good one.

Copper and Chrome

Upon Further Reflection, Amazing Spider-Man 2 Breaks My Heart

Here be Spoilers. And foul language. Fair Warning.

I know this is about a month out of date. I had to reflect on this for a while. By now, everyone who wanted to see ASM2 has seen it. These are my thoughts. I welcome yours.

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I hate this franchise. I fucking hate it.

But before I really get into this review, let me be clear about the exact nature of my hatred. Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man movie franchise inspires in me the kind of hatred that can only be inspired by something you love.

Have you ever been cheated on? The pain and the anger generated by that betrayal is only possible because you’ve been wounded by the very person you love the most. The very person you put your faith and trust in, is the one who stabs you in the back. So, if you’re with me, I am Elin Nordegren and Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man is my Tiger Woods. I want to chase it down the street with a fucking 9-iron. I want to smash its stupid, smirking face in.

This movie gets lots of things right, and then gets so many others so very, very wrong. And the things it gets wrong are stupid, stupid things.

Let’s start with the planes. Late in the film, Electro drains all the power out of New York City (which, right there, is stupid – just juvenile, uncreative, stupid action). The loss of power means that the airport loses contact with two passenger planes and they end up on a collision course with each other. Spider-Man then turns the power back on and the planes are saved. It occurred to me about halfway through the airplane episode that this was useless action filler. Stupid. Stupid. Fuck, stupid, fuck.

There were no recognizable characters on the planes. They were random collateral damage – a trumped up, unimaginative action movie catastrophe to which there is no emotional connection, no spectacular pay-off, no sigh of relief when the planes are saved, because, who the fuck cares about these stupid planes?! Spider-Man and Electro are fighting a climactic battle at a power plant (cliché and stupid, but whatever) and we keep cutting away to see these pointless planes.

Compare that scene to the ferryboat scene at the end of The Dark Knight. The Joker orchestrates a prisoner’s dilemma that has everything to do with the plot of the movie and its commentary on the darkness and resiliency of the human spirit. It’s an unforgettable piece of film. Amazing Spider-Man 2 answers that with two planes that maybe are going to crash, but don’t because Woosh! Woah! Cool!

There are so many interconnected webs of rage-inducing awfulness in this film that I just need to break it down by character.

Electro. Jamie Fox is fine, good even. Except that his Electro is the worst written super villain since Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze. He’s all special effects and no soul. The motivation for this character is all over the place – totally incomprehensible. He’s got a stalker crush on Spider-Man. He wants to be “seen” by people. That gets twisted, (Instantly!) into a desire to kill Spider-Man because Electro decides the wall-crawler is “selfish”. Also Oscorp stole his schematics for a power plant, so he wants revenge… I guess? And to make everyone “Live in a world without a Spider-Man.” Basically, Electro’s origin story is “Yadda, Yadda, Yadda… Hey look the Sinister Six!” Oh, and also Electro is Dr. Manhattan now.

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One other thing: if a soulless, cutthroat, exploitative company like Oscorp discovered one of its employees was smart enough to design a high-tech power plant that solved the world’s energy problems, probably they would exploit that person further, as opposed to completely ignoring him and treating him like a glorified maintenance man. Probably. Probably they would, you know, see if he had any other ideas that could make the company more money. They probably wouldn’t just let B. J. Novak treat him like a bitch. Fuck.

Okay, now Gwen. Emma Stone is a really great Gwen Stacy. She and Andrew Garfield have obvious chemistry on screen. For a good chunk of this movie I thought Webb was doing a good job setting up Gwen’s inevitable death.

Then the final 30 minutes of the movie happened. Maybe I was living in a cave, but I didn’t realize that this was going to be Gwen’s swan song. I thought she was sticking around for another film. I kept thinking that all the way through this film. Mostly because I thought there was no way that the Green Goblin – who looks ridiculous by the way – is going to kill Gwen Stacy five minutes after he first acquires his powers. But… yep that’s what happens, in a fucking clock tower! A clock tower! Symbolism!

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And how does Gwen end up in harm’s way? She follows Spider-Man to the super high-tech power plant. And why does she follow him? Because she’s SEEN THE SCHEMATICS and knows how to fix the damage Electro has done. SINGLE-HANDEDLY! She’s in high school! But y’know, she’s the valedictorian so she can pretty much fix a power plant by herself.

Look, I recognize that Webb wants to disrupt the whole damsel in distress narrative. He wants to make Gwen capable and heroic in her own right. Great. I’m down with that, but make her heroism plausible. No one can fix an exploded power plant by herself. Stupid. Have her invent some doo-hickey that short-circuits Electro’s powers or something. In comic books as in superhero movies, the willing suspension of disbelief only operates in particular zones. Can people come back from the dead? Yep. Do people get superpowers when struck by lightning? Totally believable. Can a really smart high school kid pilot a submarine because her grandfather was in the navy and told her all kinds of underwater seafaring stories? No.

Lastly, let me talk about the whole secret origin sub-plot. Webb has spent a lot of time on this. It’s an interesting question, whatever happened to Peter Parker’s parents? But the revelation that Peter’s dad was an Oscorp scientist adds absolutely nothing to the plot or the mythology of Spider-Man. It’s pointless.

Look, part of the reason this movie makes me so angry is because there are other moments where Webb absolutely nails it. Like, near the end of the film, after Spider-Man has gone into semi-retirement and that kid puts on his Spidey jammies and stands up to the Rhino… I nearly cried. That is everything Spider-Man is supposed to be. That’s what he was to me as a kid. Spider-Man never has it easy; he always does the hard thing because it’s the right thing.

There are little pockets of greatness here, but it just seems like the fingerprints of studio execs are all over this film.

If you want to turn your brain off for two hours, Amazing Spider-Man 2 will let you do that. But turn your brain off, because if you think about any of this stuff it will make you crazy.

Bring on the X-Men.

Amazing Spider-Man #4, First Appearance of Silk

I seem to be writing a lot about Spider-Man lately. I guess that’s what happens when Dan Slott writes a mythology-changing story arc that defies all expectations and receives widespread critical acclaim.

Anyway, I said a short time ago that Amazing Spider-Man #1 is probably not a collectible book. At least, it’s not a book that’s going to significantly increase in value any time soon… or ever.

However, if you read ASM #1, you know there was a teaser in there for a new character. The concept is that for years we’ve all assumed that the radioactive spider that bit Peter Parker died immediately afterwards. Apparently, we thought wrong. Slott shows us the spider bite a young woman right after it bit Peter.

Apparently, this is the introduction of a new character named Silk who will make her first full appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #4.

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Now, who knows if Silk is going to be an interesting character, but the origin story alone is intriguing. If Silk turns out to be cool, then Amazing Spider-Man #4 might be the comic book worth money.

On Comic Books and Race

So, I picked up The Flash Annual #3 last week and was introduced to the New 52 version of Wally West. This Wally is a kid, kind of a punk, and a person of color.

Wally’s race change has stirred up a bit of controversy on the web, and it’s prompted me to think a bit about how the big two are approaching the whole diversity problem.

By “problem” I mean, comic books are too white, probably too male too, but definitely too white. A disproportionate number of Marvel and DC’s major heroes are white. Let’s be honest, 100% of the main heroes in the big two are white.

Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman. All white.

Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Wolverine, Thor. All white.

That’s a problem for both companies, especially since, through film and television both Marvel and DC are trying to reach bigger and broader audiences. Reaching those audiences depends on viewers and readers being able to identify with the people they see on the screen and on the page.

Both companies have tried different strategies for diversifying their lineups. Marvel changed Nick Fury from a white man to a black man. With the start of the New 52, DC promoted Cyborg from the Teen Titans to the Justice League. And now they’ve transformed Wally West into a biracial man.

I’ve gotta say, I appreciate what Marvel and DC are doing. I agree comics should be more diverse, but there’s something unsettling about these tactics to me.

Cyborg’s promotion to the Justice League is transparently about race. I find he sticks out not because of his colour, but because he’s the only member of the team who isn’t one of the World’s Greatest Superheroes. There’s also something a little disturbing to me about just “painting” a character a different color and altering their racial identity.

The main thing that bothers me though is that Marvel and DC seem to making these changes where the stakes are the lowest. We’re not going to see a black Tony Stark, or a black Clark Kent, but we’ll get a black Nick Fury. We’ll make Flash biracial, so long as we’re talking about Wally West and not the “real” Flash.

When I was a kid, I remember a couple of Image comics challenging racial norms in more authentic ways. Spawn’s alter-ego was Al Simmons. Al was a dead man who made a deal with the devil because he wanted to be reunited with is wife, Wanda. But when Al “returned” to earth he found his wife was remarried to another man named Terry and they had a daughter named Cyan. All of those characters were black, and in the mid-90s Spawn was among the best selling comics going.

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Erik Larsen’s The Savage Dragon also had minority characters in prominent roles. Two of Dragon’s romantic leads were Rapture and Alex Wilde, both women of colour.

I think diversity in comics is good, and maybe retroactive diversity is necessary if DC and Marvel want to keep supporting characters like Nick Fury around while they work on a more realistic portrayal of the human species, but I think some of those early Image comics point to another path.

Where are the original characters? Why not create compelling new minority characters to lead their own series? Turning Wally West into a biracial man is well-intentioned but it’s also kind of gutless. If you’re really going to ret-con race, you have to do better than that. Make Barry Allen black; make Bruce Banner Asian, or give Jubilee her own series.

Credit where credit is due: Marvel does seem to be making some moves in the right direction. Miles Morales has recently taken over for Peter Parker in the Ultimate universe. So we’ve got a black Spider-Man.

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This year the House of Ideas also introduced the world to a Muslim Ms. Marvel. The book has sold well so far and has received some critical acclaim.

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These to me are more authentic and more meaningful ways of diversifying comic book universes; However, again there’s still something safe about these moves. Miles Morales is to Peter Parker what Wally West is to Barry Allen. Ms. Marvel is a recognizable character, but she’s not Iron Man or Captain America.

It seems unlikely that we’ll ever see a Latino Bruce Wayne; to my mind the best bet for really diversifying the pantheon is to create compelling new minority heroes and villains.

Where Will Wolverine Die?

Confirming the worst kept secret in comics, Marvel has released the teaser art for a new mini-series coming in September called The Death of Wolverine. The series will be written by Charles Soule with art by Steve McNiven.

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Comic Book Resources has a good interview with Charles Soule. Check it out.

Interestingly, Soule was asked how important Paul Cornell’s current run on Wolverine was to Wolverine’s September swan song. Soule replied:

Paul has been doing some killer work on the main series, particular in his development of the idea that Wolverine has lost his healing factor. That concept also plays a significant role in the “Death of Wolverine” story. That said, that is literally all you need to know in order to read this story. While I’m going to be weaving in a bunch of Wolverine’s history from the past 40 years of publishing (and 100+years or so that he’s been alive in fictional terms), I’m taking great pains to ensure that anything I bring up, whether it’s a character familiar from Logan’s history or a location that has some meaning to him, is explained within this story.

So… My take on this is that the guts of Cornell’s story, all the stupid Wolverine “finding” himself by teaming up with a team of forgettable C-List bad guys will not at all feature in Soule’s mini-series. The only common element is that, in both stories, Wolverine has no healing power.

But… what are we to make of the reports about Wolverine #12 used to hype Cornell’s series a few months ago.

Here’s a quote from a CBR story written back in December:

In an update released to retailers, Marvel announced an “exchangeability” program where unsold copies of the upcoming new “Wolverine” #1 could be exchanged for an exclusive “Mortal Variant” of “Wolverine” #12,” an issue scheduled to go on sale in September 2014. While that comic is still months down the road, Marvel described it as a “double-sized landmark issue” they expect to receive “national attention for its game-changing story.”

Cornell’s series wraps up right around the same time Soule’s mini-series does, in September. The end of Cornell’s series is a “double-sized landmark issue” that should receive “national [media?] attention,” but Soule’s series is called “The Death of Wolverine” and apparently has very little to do with Cornell’s series. So, where and when is Wolverine actually going to die?

Look, obviously, Marvel is going to try and milk Logan’s death for all it’s worth. Why tell a story in one issue when they can make you shell out money for five (one double-sized)? But the continuity disconnect is curious? I wonder if Cornell is actually going to be the one to kill Wolverine off, while Soule provides a kind of “narrative retrospective” on the career of Marvel’s most popular X-man.

As of right now, I’d guess that Wolverine #12 is going to be the equivalent of Superman #75 (which kind of kills me, because I hate this arc).

And before people go crazy, can we all just accept the fact that Wolverine is not really going to “die”? This is what happens in comic books people. Deal. Wolverine is one of Marvel’s most popular characters. Not only is he not going to stay dead. He’s not even going to stay off the shelves for a month, let alone two or three. Expect to see Logan’s adventures in the underworld in October.

Another thing to keep an eye on from a story perspective (and perhaps from a collector perspective) is that, come September, Wolverine, Professor X, and Jean Grey will all be dead. That’s three of the top five or six most popular X-Men right there. Is Marvel going to bring them back one at a time, or all at once? At the very least, I imagine the Phoenix will play a part in Wolverine’s resurrection. Maybe she and Chuck will hitch a ride.

Copper and Chrome

 

Buy Multiple Copies of Lumberjanes; Read One

I’m a 30-something guy who likes superheroes, sci-fi, and crime noir stuff. I am in the target demographic for most comic books being published today. I am not in the target demographic for BOOM! Studios’ Lumberjanes.

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I found it in the “All Ages” section of my local comic shop, not my usual corner of the lcs, but I was looking specifically for Lumberjanes. The book is about a group of girls at a supernatural summer camp. It’s funny and sweet. In the first issue our heroes break curfew to fight off a pack of three-eyed monster foxes. Lumberjanes is sort of Scooby-Doo meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer at summer camp.

Its aesthetic is something like Adventure Time, but it’s a little less second-wave emo, if you know what I mean. Lumberjanes is more earnest and little less weird – more My Little Ponies. It has the potential to be a great, ironic adventure series about monsters and mysteries. When I was reading it, I was thinking, this book has that kind of “cool” factor I wanted to find in Black Science or Dead Boy Detectives but just couldn’t. You could say that there’s an “it” factor here that’s just hard to replicate; you could also just say this is good writing. After one issue, I feel like I know the characters and I like them. I want to read more about them. If you enjoyed The Fox, or you enjoyed some of the other books I’ve mentioned here, I’d recommend you give Lumberjanes a try.

It’s a cool book, though it’s a little precious in places. There’s dialogue like “What in the Joan Jett…” and dialogue like “I like kittens!” There are moments when the book is needling you in the ribs with its girl-positive message, but it’s not overdone. The art and the story are strong enough that this doesn’t feel like an animated lecture about male privilege. It’s a comic book about friends who fight monsters and get in trouble and argue and tease each other. They happen to be girls – sort of awesome girls.

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Ultimately, the story is good, the characters are well drawn, and the art is stylish. I’m going to buy future issues of Lumberjanes. And if the series has hooked someone like me (way outside it’s target demo) I’m guessing it’s going to be a cult hit amongst the younger set. I’ve got a hunch about it, I think the first issue could be an in demand book before long. I’ll be picking up more copies on my next trip to the local comic shop.