Friday, April 20, 2007

Back to work...

- Right then, back to normal after my time away. If you're wondering, this Sunday's X-Axis will cover both weeks' comics - although as it happens, virtually all the X-books published over the last fortnight were mid-storyline, so they wouldn't have got a full review anyway. But there are plenty of new titles and miniseries to review, so I'll do some of those.

- There's nothing like complete honesty as a PR strategy for dealing with utter disaster, and here we see the Brooklands Group explaining the performance of Popworld Pulp, a weekly music magazine which they've cancelled after one issue. Popworld is basically a pop music and interview show that goes out in a hazily positioned kids/teens slot on Sunday mornings on Channel 4. It used to be quite good when Simon Amstell and Miquita Oliver hosted it, but these days it seems a bit lost. After over a year of development, favourable focus groups, and extensive promotion, they printed 130,000 copies of issue #1, and sold 9,000.

That's not very good. So the official spin? "The magazine has bombed in a way nobody connected with it could ever have envisaged." It's about the only way you're going to get out of that situation with any dignity, really.

- I've already written the March sales column for the Beat, so presumably it'll go up in the next few days. It's a good month for Marvel, of course. DC haven't been doing so well lately, and it's hard to imagine this week's World War III changing that - if anything, it illustrates where they're going wrong. Now, I haven't read the one-shots, although the reviews have been decidedly unenthusiastic. But I have read 52 Week 50 and the editorial at the back.

In a nutshell, DC admit that the big idea for 52 was to explain all the big jumps forward that we saw in the "One Year Later" stunt almost a year ago. But, er, they lost interest and did something else instead. So now they're doing all that material in some rushed one-shots in the last month instead. Whoo.

Now, I'm not saying that the original plan for 52 would necessarily have been a better comic. But the fact that the original plan apparently went so comprehensively out the window makes me wonder what on earth they were thinking with this "One Year Later" stunt. For the tiny minority of you who don't read comics, "One Year Later" involved all DC's titles jumping forward a year. Things had changed, which begged the question of how they'd changed. 52 was supposed to be a year-long weekly story which covered the missing year in (sort of) real time. This must have seemed like a really good idea when somebody was watching 24.

The problem is that 22 pages to cover a week's events isn't very many, which means that 52 is an awkwardy paced book. On top of that, it's running alongside all the other DC books. Now, you'd have thought this would require some careful co-ordination to make sure that everyone knows what's being revealed when. It's hardly reasonable to expect all the OYL titles to set up a big change and then ignore it for a year just to avoid treading on 52's toes. And, y'know, it's the lynchpin of your entire line for the year. You'd think there'd be a plan or something. You'd think that not having a plan would be a recipe for disaster. It sounds as though, if there ever was a plan, it was ignored very early. I haven't been reading many of the DCU titles, but if the sales figures are anything to go by, it doesn't seem readers are too thrilled with the way things are.

And then... if 52 wasn't about explaining what happened in the missing year, what was it about? Looking back on it, it just seems like a random collection of largely unrelated stories which have ended up in the same comic through an accident of scheduling. It doesn't tell a single story; I'm increasingly sceptical that it's going to deliver any sort of satisfactory resolution at all. I'm going to give it those two extra issues to prove me wrong, but as things stand, I haven't got the slightest intention of sticking around for the sequel, Countdown.

- Reading over Marvel's July solicitations, it's clear that Roy Thomas is very much back in favour. He seems to be writing the Marvel Illustrated books singlehandedly, and he's also credited with co-writing, of all things, Mystic Arcana: Black Knight. Marvel Illustrated is basically a revival of the old Classics Illustrated format, and it's plainly an attempt to extend Marvel's audience. I find it interesting that, for a project like that, they reach for an old warhorse like Roy Thomas, who's been around since the sixties, and has a rock-solid grasp of the basic principles of comic book storytelling, but in a very traditional American style.

In the superhero genre, they've been trying to get away from that sort of thing for years; most of the last few years has been about trying to redefine Marvel's house style by reference to Brian Bendis (also solid, but in a very different way which doesn't always translate comfortably to this genre) and Mark Millar (all over the place, but energetically so). Perhaps they feel Roy Thomas' style doesn't have the same stigma when you apply it to something else.

Also in July, we've got the ludicrously over-extended World War Hulk crossover, which sounds like the dullest thing ever. Four issues of the Hulk being angry and smashing things? Might work. Haven't done it in a while. Seventy-two issues of the Hulk being angry and smashing things? Shoot me now.

Matt Fraction and Barry Kitsons' Champions series sounds potentially decent. Except that it turns out Marvel don't actually have the rights to call a comic book Champions any more. Heroic Publishing claimed it last year, on the strength of some scattered comic books published over the years, based on their RPG. In fact, it turns out that Marvel tried to challenge the Champions RPG back in the mid-1980s, only for their trademark to be successfully challenged itself, on the grounds of abandonment. They tried to trademark the name again in the 1990s, and the registry rejected it. They're on shaky ground with this one, to put it mildly. And if Heroic have only put out a handful of Champions comics, it's still more than Marvel have.

Now, it's true that Marvel probably have a bigger legal budget than Heroic - but they'd still need some sort of case, and they're on shaky ground. Besides which, is it really worth spending that much money over the right to re-use an utterly generic name from a short-lived late-seventies comic? Wouldn't it be a better use of time and money to change it?