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 

gotham-cast-photo-fox

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.

Advertisements

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.

Image

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.

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 11.04.29 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 11.04.39 PM

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.

Farrah_Fawcett_iconic_pinup_1976

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.

don-galloway-2-sized

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.

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 11.04.18 PM

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.

fonz

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.

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 11.05.49 PM

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

The Nightmarish Genius of Kelley Jones’s Batman

One reason digital comics will never replace print comics is because, unlike magazines, newspapers, or novels, comic books can’t simply be reduced to “plot” or “information.” A comic book story can, of course, be translated to a digital medium, but something is necessarily lost in that translation. And that loss is greater than the loss suffered by a novel or newspaper. If this weren’t true, there would be no such thing as comic book collecting.

Our attachment to print comics is an attachment to physical objects, to the tactile experience of holding pictures and turning pages. Many people aren’t content to store all their personal photos on a hard drive: they want some of them framed. Many people aren’t content to look at paintings on Google Images: they want to hang them on their walls. Just so, it’s unlikely we’ll ever get to a place where comic collections exist exclusively in a digital form. Comics aren’t like novels or DVDs, because of the art.

This meditation on comic book art has led me to think about some great, underrated comic book artists. Take for example, Kelley Jones, the artist who defined the look of Batman in the late 90s.

I remember Jones best for his cover illustrations. They’re weird and dark. Jones gives us a funhouse mirror vision of the Batman’s Gotham, and it stays with you. The more I read comics, the more I’ve come to recognize that I love style. I don’t just want good art, or realism, I want art that has meaning, art that builds a world. That’s style, and Kelley Jones has it.

batman494

Detective_Comics_671

Batman_542

Two things come up when people talk about Kelley Jones’s Batman: the cowl and the cape. Jones elongated Batman’s “ears” and his cape became an almost overwhelming heap of liquid black and blue. It’s not realistic, but it is stylish. And there’s meaning in that incarnation of the costume: Jones draws Batman the way the criminals of Gotham see Batman in their nightmares. His is the Batman of bad dreams. His Batman is a ghoul, a demon. He looks like he just stepped out of a scary story, and he should, because Batman should be scary.

Jones may be best known for his work on the Knightfall storyline. He really defined the look of Bane. Jones draws Bane as a hulking mass of muscle. It was fitting for a guy addicted to super steroids. Bane’s size and stature are overwhelming; he looks like a man capable of breaking the Bat. 

Image

In this next one, which I love, Bane looks like a dark god or a devil rising up from the Inferno. Even the Batman of bad dreams looks tentative and defensive when confronted by the giant, glowering villain.

Detective_Comics_666

I’m sure there are some people out there who really dislike Jones’s exaggerated style. The case against him would, I suspect, be that his costumes and figures defy reality. Think for a minute, though, about that criticism. Comic book art has never had much to do with realism. Jack Kirby’s figures are overwhelmingly geometric. His male figures are barrel-chested he-men, all foreheads and jawlines. His females are stacks of trapezoids – hourglasses with poofy haircuts. Understand that I’m not trying to insult Kirby here. I’m merely pointing out that superheroes have always been stylized. Some styles are more realistic than others, yes. But to compare comic art to reality is a bit like comparing bicycles to Harley Davidsons. Yes, some bicycles are more like Harleys than others, but none of them are very much like Harleys. 

The exception that proves the rule might be Alex Ross. Ross paints beautiful realistic superheroes. But think about how unprecedented and unusual Ross is within the industry.

It’s not that good comic book art is “realistic” and bad comic art is “exaggerated.” It’s that certain artists like Kirby or Ditko have such compelling styles that they make an imprint on our brains. The great comic book artists have a powerful influence on how we imagine heroes and villains. It’s because great artists leave such a mark that it’s sometimes hard to appreciate the virtues of alternative or original styles. I think those who are resistant to Jones’s style are resistant because they’ve been so powerfully seduced by other styles like Neal Adams’ or Jim Lee’s. 

Kelley Jones had a incredible, original vision. He did some amazing stuff with Batman. His covers are dark and beautiful. I’m happy to have them in my collection, so that I can hold them in my hands and look into the dark.

495-2

Batman-moench-and-jones-v1

Batman_544

What Did I Tell You About Deathstroke?

A trailer for the new arc on CW’s Arrow has been released. You can have a look. Deathstroke is the big bad here. I maintain that he may be DC’s most interesting (and most marketable) non-Bat-villain. He just doesn’t have the same brand recognition those other characters do, at least not yet.

As I’ve said, there’s an opportunity here for speculators and collectors.

What’s Worth Reading Now?

Shortly after starting this blog I put together a short list of four comics that I couldn’t get enough of. I’m still reading those books, and I still really love them. But I’m promiscuous in my affections; I can’t be tied down by any one universe or any few books. Here are a few more series I’ve had eyes for lately.

AC_Cv26_ds

 I’m a big Superman fan, but I’m often disappointed by Superman comics. Maybe I’m too committed to a particular interpretation of the character. I don’ know. I do know that I love Pak’s Superman. This version of the Man of Steel feels fresh and classic all at the same time. Pak’s Action Comics has a sci-fi feel to it: Superman fights monsters and explores underground civilizations. There’s a retro vibe, but the story never feels goofy. Also, there’s a healthy dose of Lana Lang. (You know how much I love Lana Lang). So far in Pak’s run, Lana has been Clark’s foil. She’s ballsy and tomboyish and she has no problem giving Clark… er… Superman a piece of her mind. Lana also adds tenderness and warmth to the series though. As the figure of first love and missed opportunities Lana fills the pages of this book with an atmosphere of nostalgia that fits Superman perfectly.  I recommend you start reading Greg Pak’s Action Comics with issue #26. Skip the Zero Year tie-in (#25).

AlexAda-01-0-cropped-e8af3

Alex + Ada is unlike anything else I’m reading. It’s a near-future sci-fi tale about young man whose grandmother buys him a fully functioning female automaton. Obviously, there are lots of potential  advantages to having a robot assistant/companion, but Alex’s grandmother clearly thinks that he should use Ada for … um… adult… things. The comic speaks metaphorically, of course, to the ways our friendships and relationships are increasingly digital.  People use the Internet in all sorts of ways to satisfy their social desires and exercise their sexual demons. Ada is just a logical extension of those drives. But Alex never feels quite right using Ada as a sophisticated scratching post. He begins exploring the taboo world of sentient A.I. That’s when things get interesting. The art in this series is superb. Everything is clean lines and subtle facial expressions. Beautiful stuff. I’ve never seen a comic that can make sitting down and having a conversation look so interesting.

Moon-Knight-1-cover

Let me start by saying this: God bless the local comic shop proprietor. As I was perusing the rack today, the manager at my local shop came over and all but shoved a copy of Moon Knight #1 into my hand. I was considering picking up Magneto #1, but I had no interest in Moon Knight. None. I picked it up solely based on my comic guy’s enthusiastic recommendation. And I loved it. Normally, I like to wait a bit before giving my verdict on a new series. First issues can be a bit like movie previews – lots of promise, not a lot of substance. You don’t know how good the series is going to be until you’re into a story arc. Just like you don’t really know how good the movie is until you see it. All that said, Moon Knight is off to a very promising start. This may seem like strange compliment, but this is a Marvel book that feels like an Image book. It was dark, mature, and cool. I should stress that I had no previous experience with Moon Knight. I have no experience with the character, no knowledge of his back story, no attachment. Nothing. So, as “jumping on points” go… let’s just say “nicely done, Marvel.”

Note for speculators: if I had to put money on an All New Marvel Now series becoming “hot,” I’d put my money on Moon Knight.

Copper and Chrome

It’s The 90s All Over Again

So, I grew up in the 80s and 90s. When I was a young teenager, first getting into comics, Superman was dead and Image Comics was just getting started. Anti-heroes were everywhere, and Spawn was the coolest thing that had ever happened to comic books (at least in my estimation). Grant Morrison was writing JLA, Kurt Busiek was writing The Avengers. I fell in love with comics as a teenager, and I happened to be a teenager during the 90s. So, I loved 90s comics.

That’s why it’s a bit funny for me to read people hyperbolically slagging 90s comics. I’ll regularly see somebody online saying “The 90s was the worst decade in the history of comics!” Or: “The 90s nearly destroyed the comics industry!”

Look, I was there. I read a lot of Extreme Studios stuff during the 90s (Glory, Team Youngblood, Maximage, etc.). I know there was some garbage published during the decade, but honestly, there’s always garbage on the shelves. There’s garbage now.

What I find especially strange is that some of the most reviled aspects of 90s comics – the crossovers, the superfluous #1 “Collector’s Item” issues, and the variant covers – are all back in a big way, and no one seems to be batting an eye.

Between the New 52 and All New Marvel Now! How many #1 issues have we seen in the past couple of years? How many of those #1 issues came with variant covers? Forget that. How many random #4 and #15 issues have variant covers?

Screen Shot 2014-03-01 at 10.22.09 AM

Image Comics is once again the hot publisher, although now instead of a lot of copycat superheroes they’re publishing genre-bending sci-fi and horror stuff for mature readers.

Remember what a crime it was in the mid-90s when Marvel decided Peter Parker would no longer be the real Spider-Man and instead someone else would be Spider-Man? Yeah…

In September, DC took a month off of publishing their normal fare in order to publish approximately 200 terrible one-shots wrapped in fancy 3-D lenticular covers. That was more 90s than anything that happened in the 90s.

doomsday

Crossover events? They’re the backbone of the industry. DC and Marvel use crossovers to get their loyal fans to buy just a few more comics every couple of months. What’s that, you buy Action Comics? Well what about if, for the next two months, you buy Action Comics, and Supergirl, and Superboy? 

When I started buying comics again (about a year ago) I thought that maybe Marvel would have learned its lesson about watering down their properties. Maybe they would have quit publishing 17 different X-books just to take advantage of fan enthusiasm. Nope. Now they’re still publishing 17 different X-books, and they’ve applied the same model to the Avengers.

DC always published too many Superman and Batman books, but now the same thing is happening with the Justice League and Green F#$*ing Lantern! Seriously, how many Green Lantern books do we need? By my count there are now six different coloured power rings and each of those rings requires no fewer than three monthly titles(1.). Who the heck is Larfleeze?

Screen Shot 2014-03-01 at 10.19.35 AM

Anyway, to those of you that have a hate-on for 90s comics, I’m sorry about your luck, because you’re living in the 1990s.

In other news Rai #1 is due out from Valiant in May.

Copper and Chrome

  1. *All math is exaggerated.

The Teen Titans Movie Has to Happen, Right? On DC’s Hip Problem

470px-Deathstroke

Marvel has always been hipper than DC. That much is indisputable. Marvel’s characters were born of the 1960s. Marvel’s most iconic characters first appeared in print a year or two before the Beatles debuted on the Ed Sullivan Show. They specialize in teen angst and social isolation (see Spider-Man, Hulk). Something about the strivings and anxieties, the hopes and fears of the young are sewn into Marvel’s very foundations.

By contrast, DC is your grandfather’s comic book company. Their origins are bound up with the greatest generation and WWII. Consequently, the contrast between good and evil has always been starker in the DC universe. Superman is Christ in a cape. Batman is a pulp detective in a cowl. Moreover, Aquaman is a king; Wonder Woman is a princess. DC comics is about the powers that be. Marvel is about the revolution.

But then there are the Teen Titans. Perhaps not coincidentally the Teen Titans debuted in 1964 (The Brave and the Bold #54), just as Marvel began making its mark. However, this team of sidekicks and other young heroes really came into its own in the 1980s under Marv Wolfman and George Perez.

The Teen Titans had, and continue to have, a “hip” factor that has been pretty hard for DC to bottle over the years.

Image

There’s an undeniable awesomeness to characters like Superman, but he’s not exactly relatable. The same goes for characters like Green Lantern. The struggles DC has had with its movie franchises in recent years are all about translating that 1930s sensibility to modern audiences. The audience doesn’t understand why characters like Superman and Green Lantern do the things they do. They’re just good guys. That’s because they come from an era where it was okay, even expected of you, to be a good guy. But in the 21st century, we have a harder time believing in good guys who are good for the sake of being good. It’s sad, but true. Marvel, hasn’t had this problem. Their films resonate because their films are extended metaphors about

a) minorities struggling to achieve equal recognition under the law,

Image

b) teenagers reluctantly and unevenly accepting the responsibilities of adulthood,

Image

c) billionaire tech geniuses whose ridiculous success has prompted them to do good works in an effort to justify their staggering good fortune.

Image

Marvel’s narratives have currency and purchase for modern audiences. I think Batman and Superman have similar currency, but it’s less transparent. DC has to work a bit harder to make their characters sympathetic; that’s what tempts DC to “update” its characters so regularly: that’s why Superman turned blue for awhile in the late 90s, and that’s why he killed Zod at the end of Man of Steel.

But back to the Titans.  Over the past decade DC has signalled its commitment to the Titans property with two pretty good animated series. The 2003-2006 series Teen Titans and the present, goofier Teen Titans Go!, which premiered in 2013.

Image

DC has swung and missed on a couple of recent screen adaptations. They hit a double with The Man of Steel. They need some home runs. Given that they’ve kept theTeen Titans in the popular consciousness with their animated series, a film adaptation has to be in their sights at some point. Doesn’t it? If not, they’re fools.

The Titans represent one of DC’s coolest and most marketable properties. Done properly a Titans film could do for DC what X-Men and the Avengers have done for Marvel.

If we see a Titans film, you can bet that it’s the Wolfman/Perez version of the team that we’ll be seeing, some combination of Robin/Nightwing, Kid Flash, Donna Troy, Raven, Starfire, Cyborg, and Changeling. The 80s version of the team has always been a fan favourite and that incarnation has staying power. It’s a version of that team that DC has used in both of its animated endeavours.

To you speculators out there, that means that Teen Titans comics from the 80s could become quite valuable. They’re a respectable investment even without the potential of a film, given that the Titans have a loyal fan base and the characters are safely second-tier. They aren’t Spider-Man or Superman, but they’re not Blue Beetle either. We’re probably talking the same kind of fan base that Thor, The Punisher, and Green Arrow command.

If there’s one Teen Titans book you want in your collection, it’s The New Teen Titans #2, which features the first appearance of Deathstroke the Terminator.

Image

It’s funny, just as the Teen Titans are an uncharacteristically youthful team in the DCU, Deathstroke is an uncharacteristically badass super-villain for DC. Villains in the DCU tend to be a bit more “cerebral”: Joker, Two-Face, Luthor, Braniac, Sinestro. DC’s villains are like physical manifestations of their nemeses’ own fears and anxieties. Deathstroke just seems like a different animal. He’s part of that Punisher/Wolverine generation. He’s one of those characters who was born in the Bronze Age but signaled the coming of the Copper Age.

Deathstroke’s first appearance isn’t available for pennies. However, I was recently able to pick up a VF copy from a local collectibles store for $16.00. They can be had.

In summation, I think DC’s surest path to the pop-culture in crowd may require getting behind the Teen Titans in a big way. Collectors may want to jump on board before the train leaves the station.

Copper and Chrome