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.

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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

Speculation: Marvel Characters to Watch

Just recently Deathlok popped back into the popular consciousness thanks to an appearance on Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Before that, Marvel and Netflix announced that they would be producing series featuring characters like Iron Fist and Luke Cage.

Marvel has had so much success on the big and small screens of late, that they’ve started pulling characters from their benches. Each of those media announcements have then created a rush for key issues featuring the first appearances of these characters. I’ve put together a list of other characters who could at some point show up in one of Marvel’s mass market media endeavours.

The thinking here is that the first appearances of these characters can be had for reasonable prices at the moment. If any of these characters appear in a movie or on TV, prices will go up. None of these are sure things, but that’s what makes speculation speculation, am I right?

1. Silver Sable (First Appearance Amazing Spider-Man #265)

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Silver Sable has never been a major player – she’s a Deathlok type -but she is a permanent fixture of the Marvel universe. Sable is a sort of mercenary super-spy, kind of like a female Nick Fury. Here’s why her first appearance might be worth owning: Marvel is smartly trying to diversify its universe in order to broaden its appeal. Too many of their characters are white men. (Thus, Nick Fury gets Samuel L. Jacksoned). They want more minority heroes and more female protagonists.

Silver Sable is another female character that Marvel could use to diversify a future Avengers film or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. She might also appeal to the company’s baser impulses, because Silver Sable has sex appeal. Think Scarlett Johanson’s Black Widow, except in white. What I really like is that Silver Sable’s first appearance is dirt cheap. You can have one for about $5.00. Sable was also a recurring character in Spider-Man comics, so there are a variety of possible routes for her character to achieve greater notoriety.

2. Black Cat (First Appearance Amazing Spider-Man #194)

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It’s kind of a wonder that Black Cat hasn’t yet been featured in a Spider-Man movie. Perhaps Marvel worries that they’ll be charged with copy-cating DC’s Catwoman. And, in fairness, Black Cat is basically just Spider-Man’s Catwoman. However, she’s been a fixture of the Spider-Man universe since the late 70s, and she’s a very popular character. It’s only a matter of time before she shows up somewhere. Love triangles have always been one of the key components of the best Spider-Man comics. I’m betting that dynamic will eventually make itself into the films, though perhaps not the current Andrew Garfield franchise, given that they seem to be intent on letting the whole death of Gwen Stacy thing play out. (Speaking of which, it’s probably worth splurging on key Gwen Stacy issues before the speculation population puts the pieces together, see ASM #31 and ASM #121).

Because she’s a popular supporting character who first appeared almost 40 years ago, you can’t get the first appearance of Black Cat for pennies. However, a recent survey of eBay shows issues of ASM #194 are all over the place. Some people are selling NM copies for $200-$500, but others putting VF/NM copies up for auction are getting $30-$50. Pick your moment with this book. If you’re persistent and patient, you might be able to get a good deal on a key ASM issue that is likely to increase in value with or without a TV/movie announcement.

3. Carnage (First Appearance Amazing Spider-Man #361)

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I like Carnage to pick up steam in the mid- to long-term. I picked up ASM 361 a few months ago when Fox announced that it was planning spin-offs of its Spider-Man franchise. I thought for sure the plan was going to be a Spider-Man vs. Venom movie, followed by a Venom stand-alone. I also figured that Carnage would be the obvious choice for a Venom movie villain. But, alas! It looks like the plan is to develop the Sinister Six and see where that goes. Still, odds are good that Venom will have his day in the sun before long.

Think of Transformers, for example, or, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Both of these properties were popular in the 80s. They’ve come back, now that the boys who grew up with those characters are adults with young children of their own. That’s not a coincidence. It’s very strategic marketing. Movie studios and toy manufacturers are betting hundreds of millions that 30-something dads will want to share with their kids the characters and toys that they grew up with. The same principle, I think, can be applied to Venom and Carnage, who were hugely popular in the early 90s. Marvel and Fox will soon realize that the teenagers who thought Venom was supercool are now adults with decent salaries and whiny kids who want stuff.

The first appearance of Venom can’t be had for much less than $300. Carnage’s first appearance is much more affordable. I got a NM copy a few months back for less than $30.00.

Mephisto (First Appearance Silver Surfer #3) 

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Okay, so last, but not least, a character who didn’t first appear in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man.

Marvel struck gold with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. His performance has breathed cool into a once-lame character and restored Loki to a place of prominence within the Marvel Universe. Marvel now seems to be committed to getting all their most famous bad guys on the screen.

The course of the Avengers movies seems pretty straightforward from here. Thanos is the big bad in Avengers 2. The Ant-Man film will introduce Ultron, who will then be the big bad in Avengers 3, and there we go.

If you’re going to do another Avengers movie after that, well… Mephisto might be your guy. More likely though, Marvel will get a Doctor Strange movie off the ground, and if you’re going to do a movie with an occult superhero, Mephisto is likely to make an appearance. Mephisto, like Silver Sable, is also a “general” Marvel universe villain. So, it wouldn’t be unthinkable that he could show up in, say, a Fantastic Four movie, a Silver Surfer movie, or on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The bad news is, Silver Surfer #3 came out in 1968. It’s a Silver Age book featuring the first appearance of a major Marvel villain. Like the first appearance of Black Cat, however, it’s value is all over the place on eBay. We’re talking $50 to $500, depending on grade. Still, a Silver Age key is a sound investment, as comic books go, and I’m thinking Marvel will be inclined to mobilize Mephisto before too long.

 

Shocking Comics and Binge Television

So, Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead was pretty shocking. I won’t spoil too much. I’ll just say some characters died in dramatic fashion. That episode got a lot of fans talking, in much the same way fans were all a twitter last year after Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding episode. The second season of Netflix’s House of Cards began with a similarly shocking turn of events.

Episodes like these really mark the divide between the new “binge television” and traditional serial dramas.

The objective with most traditional TV dramas is to get on the air and stay on the air as long as possible. The recipe for that seems to be finding a formulaic plot that can be run repetitively over and over again.

Every episode of NBC’s Law and Order or CBS’s CSI is essentially the same. There’s very little variation in the plot structure from week to week, and there’s almost no character development. The same goes for comedies like The Big Bang Theory: the jokes are essentially the same in every episode. In traditional TV, nothing significant changes from episode to episode, season to season. Change is the enemy. When a key actor leaves a series, or when characters get married or have babies, it often means the end is near.

One might say that a lot of the material coming out of the Big 2 comic publishers, DC and Marvel, works the same way. Batman is always pretty much Batman. Peter Parker dies, but then, a year later, he’ll come back to life. Does anyone really believe that Wolverine isn’t going to get his mutant healing power back? Sure, maybe it takes 12 months instead of 22 minutes, but as story arcs end and creative teams move on, the status quo is always reestablished.

Netflix, HBO, and AMC have been doing something very different recently. They aren’t trying to produce shows that casual viewers can pick up and drop and pick up again. They don’t care about making it easy for the uninitiated to jump on at any point and immediately pick up the plot.

Netflix, HBO, and AMC use a different model. They want to “hook” a committed audience of viewers who they expect to tune in every week, or binge watch a series in a weekend. They then try to grow that core audience through word of mouth. Hooking an audience, getting them addicted to a series depends in large part on shock and awe. There need to be unexpected twists. Viewers need to feel as if they can’t miss an episode because something significant could happen at any time.

My impression is that, more and more comics are applying this same storytelling model.

Disclaimer: the rest of this post contains SPOILERS for Sheltered, Jupiter’s Legacy and The Wake. To be clear, I’m only talking about things that have already happened in these series. I have no knowledge of what is going to happen in future issues. 

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The first issue of Ed Brisson’s Sheltered: A Pre-Apocalyptic Tale (which has recently been optioned for a movie) has a shocking finale. As the story begins, the end of the world is coming, and a band of survivalists are preparing for the worst. The first issue catches the reader off guard; just as we feel we’re getting to know the guys in charge of the compound, they’re all brutally executed… by their own kids! The series that looked like it was going to be about the beginning of the end of the world, turns out to be a re-imagining of Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

Recent issues of this series have turned the tables again; we’ve gotten our first glimpse of the world outside of the compound and it’s possible the apocalypse is not as imminent as it seemed to the well-armed anti-government types we met in the series’ first arc. All those people stockpiling guns and living in trailers might not be survivalists, but rather paranoid conspiracy theorists. 

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Jupiter’s Legacy, an Image title written by Mark Millar and drawn beautifully by Frank Quietly, is another kick at The Watchmen can, insofar as it’s a superhero comic that really tries to grapple with the nature of superheroes. One could also say it’s a mix between Kingdom Come and The Fantastic Four. The series focuses on a tight-knit group of superheroes who received their powers after a trip to a mysterious island. Now though, they’re older and somewhat jaded after a lifetime of superheroing. Their children have inherited their parents’ powers. Through these kids, Millar is able to analyze the young Hollywood set, the Brody Jenner’s and Paris Hilton’s of the world, people who find themselves famous simply by nature of their existence.

The series takes a radical turn when, three issues in, super-offspring Brandon kill’s his Super-dad on the advice of his ambitious uncle, who has dreams of using his powers to turn the United States into a socialist utopia.

Issue 4 of this series was just released after a very, very long hiatus. It’s a high quality book, so fans are likely to stick with it, and maybe in the interim, Jupiter’s Legacy picked up some buzz. I know I didn’t start reading it until after the third issue was published. However, mixing cliff-hanger endings and unreliable publication schedules can be a dangerous game.

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Scott Snyder’s The Wake is among the most interesting comics being published today. Snyder and artist Sean Murphy have done some amazing things translating the conventions of the horror movie genre to the comic book medium. They’ve also chosen a highly imaginative and unfamiliar antagonist for their book: humanity’s underwater “cousin,” evolved over millennia into highly intelligent, predatory mer-people.

The Wake is a 10-issue mini-series, and five issues in, Snyder did something totally unexpected, killing all of the main characters, and destroying the earth as we know it. The sea monsters won! The second half of the series, unexpectedly, flashes forward a century into the future. The world is a completely different place and we’re introduced to a whole new cast of characters. It’s not at all clear where The Wake is going and that’s a good thing. It’s a thrill ride, totally original and filled with unexpected twists.

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It shouldn’t be a surprise that the three titles I’ve mentioned here are published by Image and Vertigo, two publishers that specialize in mature and off-the-wall stories. I think it’s fair to say that Image and Vertigo are the AMC and HBO of the comic industry. Image in particular has published a plethora of hot, “must-read” series in the past 12 months. That success might have big time consequences.

Four or five years ago, the big networks like NBC, ABC, and Fox weren’t really worried about boutique cable channels like AMC and HBO. Now, however, those networks, along with Netflix have started redefining the way people watch TV. The Walking Dead has become a ratings juggernaut. More and more AMC and Netflix seem like the future. Meanwhile NBC wonders why viewers aren’t interested in their new Matthew Perry sit-com? 

One wonders if the comic book industry will move in the same direction. Will Image’s more mature, less conventional series start to threaten the publishing paradigms that have governed the Big 2 for the past 30 years? Only time will tell.

Copper and Chrome