The Chosen Few

Times are hard, work is hell and money doesn’t come easy. When it comes to choosing which comics make the cut week after week, I have to be very sure that my limited resources are well spent. After all, I’m going to need that money soon enough to hire a creative team!

That’s why maintaining a healthy and cost-efficient pull list sometimes seem like more work than actually writing my own comics. Like any other expense in my budget, I have to balance my WANTS and my NEEDS. I know it might sound ridiculous to use the word NEEDS when talking about the purchasing of entertainment items, but I have my reasons.

Essentially, since I hope one day to make a career out of comics, I feel like I need to consider my comic collection like a reference library. Hence, I pick my books according to what I feel I can learn from them. Oh sure, I have my guilty pleasure (I’m looking at you, SUICIDE SQUAD!) and other quirky preferences and allergies, but I treat my comic reading largely as a learning experience. If a title offers me little substance for my buck, off the list it goes.

Up to now, this has been an intuitive process. Once I’ve tried a book, I know whether or not I’ll keep on buying it in the future. However, I thought it would make for an interesting little experiment to try and actually quantify my evaluation of titles. Doing this might help me understand what I like in a comic – and how I would like the comics I write to be. It might also open up new possibilities for trying out comics which I never dreamed of sampling, because I never realized before how close to my tastes they really are. Feel free to sound off in the comments if you think of any!

Now how does this work? As soon as the first previews hit the Web, prospective titles accumulate or lose points based on the criteria listed below. If the final score is positive (that is more than zero), that title will be bought and considered for becoming part of my pull list.

Good points

  • Writer in my top 5: +15Either Scott Snyder, Warren Ellis, Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka or Nick Spencer
  • Good writer: +5 – An established writer reputed to consistently put out good work: Brian Wood, Gail Simone, Mike Mignola, Grant Morrison, and so on
  • Hot newcomer writer: +10 – A writer new to the business but who surprised with his first few offerings: Brandon Seifert (WITCH DOCTOR), Nathan Edmondson (WHO IS JAKE ELIS?, THE ACTIVITY), Kurtis J. Wiebe (GREEN WAKE) and so on
  • Favorite character: +5 – Batman, Batwoman or Hellboy (but not B.P.R.D.)
  • Original premise: +5 – “Original” as in “stands out among the crowd”
  • Historical setting: +5
  • Literary adaptation: +5 – If it’s an adaptation of a literary work set in a historical setting, only count 5 points once.
  • ComixTribe or IC Geeks book: +10Because I usually personally know at least one of the creators
  • Artist in my top 3: +10Either J.H. Williams III, Amanda Conner or Ben Templesmith (I don’t really care about any other artist enough for it to influence my purchases.)
  • Zombie book: +5Yeah, yeah, I know…
  • Creator-owned title: +5
  • Not a super hero book: +5 – Deconstructions of super heroes like POWERS or WATCHMEN don’t count as super hero books.

Bad points

  • Decades-old DC property: -10
  • Green Lantern or Legion of Super Heroes: -20
  • Decades-old Marvel property: -15
  • X-Men or Fantastic Four: -20
  • Any of the Image properties dating back from the 90s: -15
  • Anything that LOOKS like it’s an Image property dating back from the 90s: -20
  • Movie, TV show or video game tie-in: -10
  • Artist in the writer’s seat: -5Unless it’s Will Eisner, Terry Moore or Joe Mulvey.
  • Rob Liefeld as artist: -20Apparently one of the sweetest guys in the business, but… well… it’s a matter of taste really. Sorry, Rob!
  • Any kind of “event”: -10
  • Gratuitous excessive gore: -10
  • Tries to be CROSSED: -15
  • Is CROSSED: -20 – Sorry, Garth, I love ya but I just can’t stomach that comic. I promise I’ll buy THE BOYS  in trades some day!
  • Gratuitous excessive swearing: -5
  • Gratuitous excessive cheesecake: -5
  • Simultaneous gratuitous cheesecake and gore: -20
  • Sounds like Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS: -10
  • Sounds like Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS but IS by Frank Miller: -5 – One exception to this rule: it IS Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.

However, even if a title passes muster, it might still get cut if it proves itself unable to entertain after a thorough reading. That’s when the post-reading criteria come into play:

  • Witty dialogue: +5
  • Clever plot: +5
  • Too wordy: -5
  • Not wordy enough: -10
  • SyFy Channel-worthy dialogue: -10
  • Confusing plot: -5
  • Predictable plot: -10
  • Issue in which nothing really happens AKA boring plot: -10 - The writing might be good, but never make me buy a comic in which the plot has simply no forward momentum. If I want to spend some time with people standing around being witty, I’ll go on Twitter.
  • Cheap death or gimmick: -10 – “Don’t miss this milestone issue in which Spidey changes his costume!”
  • Reversing of cheap death or gimmick: -20 – “Watch out, world! The old Spidey is back!”

Now let’s try to apply these to some of the books on my pull list and see if our methodology holds:

BATMAN

Writer in my top 5: +15 (Scott Snyder)
Favorite character: +5 (Batman)
Decades-old DC property: -10
Witty dialogue: +5
Clever plot: +5
Final score: 20 – It’s Snyder and it’s Batman. That’s like mixing peanut butter with choco– no, more like mixing Reeses and sex. Yeah, that’s the ticket…

BATWOMAN (the first five issues)

Favorite character: +5 (Batwoman)
Artist in my top 3: +10 (J.H. Williams III)
Artist in the writer’s seat: -5
Witty dialogue: +5
Clever plot: +5
Final score: 20 – Another good score. If would have scored even higher if this was the Detective Comics era when Greg Rucka was writing Batwoman (30 in fact).

BATWOMAN (since issue #6)

Favorite character: +5 (Batwoman)
Artist in the writer’s seat: -5
Witty dialogue: +5
Confusing plot: -5
Final score: 0 – Pull yourself together, guys! This title has suffered a big blow when J.H. Williams III gave Amy Reeder the drawing duties, not so much because Reeder isn’t doing a good job (she’s doing a great job!), but because they slacked off in the writing department. I’m rooting for you, Amy!

THE ACTIVITY

Hot newcomer writer: +10 (Nathan Edmondson)
Original premise: +5 (the plot follows the actions of a covert ops clean-up crew)
Creator-owned title: +5
Not a super hero book: +5
Witty dialogue: +5
Clever plot: +5
Final score: 35 – A very good score for a very good book from a promising newcomer on the scene.

GREEN WAKE

Hot newcomer writer: +10 (Kurtis J. Wiebe)
Original premise: +5 (If I go into this we’ll never be done with this post – just… just trust me, OK?)
Creator-owned title: +5
Not a super hero book: +5
Witty dialogue: +5
Clever plot: +5
Final score: 35 – Same score as THE ACTIVITY and it’s not surprising since it’s the exaxct same reasons that make me buy this title.

THE PUNISHER

Writer in my top 5: +15 (Greg Rucka)
Decades-old Marvel property: -15
Witty dialogue: +5
Clever plot: +5
Final score: 10 – Despite a very big flaw against it (it’s one of Marvel’s cash cows), THE PUNISHER is saved by the presence of a very strong writer who knows his craft. Take Rucka out of the equation however and we’re down in the negative.

That adds up pretty well. From a purely quantitative viewpoint, our methodology justifies the purchase of these titles. It even warns us about the possibility of dropping a book (BATWOMAN).

Speaking of which, does it work the other way around too? Does it justify why I’ve already dropped some titles? Let’s see…

ACTION COMICS

Good writer: +5 (Grant Morrison)
Decades-old DC property: -10
Confusing plot: -5
Final score: -10 – I’ll admit that, for me, this title was coasting on the Grant Morrison brand name even before he introduced the robots and all that. I did like Batman Incorporated however, but to be completely honest, that plot was even more confusing! Oh Batman! Why do you always make things so much better?

BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT

Favorite character: +5 (Batman)
Decades-old DC property: -10
Artist in the writer’s seat: -5
Sounds like Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS: -10
Too wordy: -5
Predictable plot: -10
Final score: -35 – A beautiful book unfortunately sunk by abysmal writing. This is one I REALLY wanted to like.

MORIARTY

Original premise: +5
Literary adaptation: +5
Creator-owned title: +5
Not a super hero book: +5
Too wordy: -5
Confusing plot: -5
Issue in which nothing really hapens: -10
Final score: 0 – This book had a premise tailor-made to please (Professor Moriarty comes out of retirement to solve mysteries!) but as issues went by, I had to come to the sad realization that the execution wasn’t up to the expectations prompted by the idea. It was a close cut, but I sadly had to let it go.

NEONOMICON

Good writer: +5 (Alan Moore)
Literary adaptation: +5
Creator-owned title: +5
Not a super hero book: +5
Simultaneous gratuitous cheesecake and gore: -20
Too wordy: -5
Final score: -5 – The pool scene. That would have been a very good moment to IMPLY something had happened. Oh God, the pool scene…

KICK-ASS 2

Good writer: +5 (Mark Millar)
Creator-owned title: +5
Gratuitous excessive swearing: -5
Gratuitous excessive gore: -10
Final score: -5 – There’s a really good idea in there, buried under all that calculated edginess.

So it works for those too! Am I cocky enough to try and predict the future? There is after all a new title coming out this week that I’ll be picking up…

PETER PANZERFAUST

Hot newcomer writer: +10 (Kurtis J. Wiebe)
Original premise: +5
Literary adaptation: +5
Creator-owned title: +5
Not a super hero book: +5
Final score: 30 – And it’s not even out yet! If we factor in some posible post-reading criteria, Mr. Wiebe could very well have another winner in my book!

Well that was fun and all, but what about you? Do you have any criteria on which you base your comic purchases? How many points would they be worth if you were to go through with the same neurotic exercise I just did?

Points of Impact – February 2012 – Week 2

Long time no write, but it’s no use dwelling upon that sad fact. Life happens and we get carried off to unknown parts sometimes.

I thought I’d kick off the renaissance by introducing a new regular (I hope!) feature spotlighting what are the points that had the most impact on me script-wise in my weekly comic haul. I thought I’d proceed as such: name one thing that really surprised me by how good it was (I loved…), one thing that made me smile (I liked…), and one thing that frustrated me because I know the guy or gal is better than that (I was disappointed by…). And no, you’ll never see me do any I hated… because what would be the point in throwing a tantrum?

Ready for the first one? Let’s go!

I loved…

Conan the Barbarian #1 coverThe tone of Brian Wood’s CONAN THE BARBARIAN #1 – When I first heard that Brian Wood was going to pen the script for the new Conan series at Dark Horse, I knew it was the right moment to get into the notorious barbarian’s adventures. Contrary to your probable expectations, I knew of Wood’s writing through THE NEW YORK FOUR and its sequel THE NEW YORK FIVE, not through to thematically closer NORTHLANDERS. I had already been charmed by the way he can craft engaging and natural-sounding dialogue. This comic is… quite the opposite, to say the least. It is however a perfect fit for conferring that pulpy epic feel that the narrative needs. Let’s face it: we’re talking about grim fantasy fare here, not Blackberry-obsessed college girls. If you can’t go for natural contemporary sensibility, you better go all-out with the the epicness – which is delivered in spades.

Here, taste this sample:

Page 1 (5 panels)

Panel 1

CAPTION: Messantia, capital of Argus.

CAPTION: Like a gilded pearl glittering against the cobalt waters of the Western ocean.

Panel 2

CAPTION: A city of aristocracy, of the rule of law and the justice system.

CAPTION: A city where great merchant villas adorning terraces high in the hills look down over…

Panel 3

CAPTION: …grimy hovels bordering the quays, crime-infested bazaars where the abstract corruption of the upper classes translates down to a knife lodged in the ribs of a man dying in a dark alley.

Panel 4

NO COPY

Panel 5

CAPTION: Conan the Cimmerian does no notice this divide.

Page 2-3 (splash spread)

CAPTION: This barbarian from the north is busy riding for his life.

The most interesting thing about this is that Brian Wood is in fact adapting the original novelette QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST by Robert E. Howard, breaking down the prose into more digestible captions and dialogue for the comic while preserving the feel and tone of the original. The result is a magnificient homage to pulp literature instead of yet another watered-down modern adaptation. I strongly urge you to have a look at the writer’s commentary track on CBR for more details.

Here, have another sample straight from the book:

Also bonus points for Becky Cloonan’s character designs for Conan. Finally someone lets go of the Frazetta imagery and Schwarzenegger portayal to show a more plausible character. “Barbarian” was his origin, not his job. This isn’t Dungeons & Dragons!

I liked…

The witty dialogue in Adam Glass’ SUICIDE SQUAD #6 – You’ll have to forgive me for quoting a Monty Python sketch but: “There is only one thing in the world worse than being witty, and that is not being witty.” If there’s one thing that the comics world doesn’t lack, it’s witty people. Unfortunately, not all of of these people get to write dialogue. I wince at times when I read some of what passes for clever repartee, lines that would find a better fit in a 90s made-for-TV action movie than in a medium that should pride itself in part for its writing. Well to be completely honest, I don’t wince that much, I do groan more than I’d like, but most of the time I just go with the obligatory and unenthusiastic “heh”.

Such was not the case for this month’s SUICIDE SQUAD offering. This time, I replaced the “heh” with a heartfelt “Ha!”

After killing a roomful of Harley Quinn male impersonators (don’t ask)
SAVANT: Man, this is going to make for some *weird* chalk outlines.

DEADSHOT: Mind repeating that…
Gun pointed at SAVANT’s groin
DEADSHOT: …in a slightly higher voice?

Interrogating siamese twins (again don’t ask)
DEADSHOT: So… which one of you is the smart half?

Granted, the characterization of the Joker has something that felt slightly off to me but still, you can’t fault a comic when it has this line in it:

KING SHARK: Kill more clowns.

I was disappointed by…

The disjointed narrative in J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman’s BATWOMAN #6 – Oh how the mighty have slightly slipped half a point down my imaginary ladder of excellence. It’s not much of a drop, but when you start at such a lofty position as the first five issues of BATWOMAN occupied, it can’t help but feel like a huge disappointment, even though the comic is still very, very good.

The problem? This comic is literally ALL OVER the place. Every scene switch is a new jump in time as well as change in character POV.

Pages 1-3: Batwoman, now
Pages 2- 4: Colonel Jacob Kane, one month ago
Pages 5-6: Detective Maggie Sawyer, one week ago
Pages 7-8: Maro, four months ago
Pages 9-10: Kate Kane, three weeks ago
Pages 11-20: Chase and Batwoman, two weeks ago
Page 21: Batwoman, now

Now if the POVs had been limited to one or two characters of if the jumps always moved forward in time, it wouldn’t have been so disturbing. Not to mention that DC’s habit of slipping in ad pages at every two pages is not helping keeping up with the screwed up timetable at all. As it is, it’s a confusing narrative that forces you to manage an unwieldy timeline thus taking you completely out of the story. Reading comics should be an experience that engages your reader naturally, not something that requires more concentration than channel surfing. I’m not saying it should be mindless entertainment, but “what the hell is happenin right now” shouldn’t be one of the enlightening questions to occupy my mind as I’m reading.

And seriously, guys, you did this just as Amy Reeder was starting on her turn drawing the comic. Not cool at all.

That’s all for now! Come back next week for some new Points of Impact!