Archive | Commentary

Superior Spider-Man: Do we need Peter Parker?

Why wonder if there's a you when that you could be you?

Why wonder if there’s a you when that you could be you?

My willingness to see flagship characters die and “remain dead” likely comes from growing up as a Green Lantern fan and being forced to accept the death of Hal Jordan. While 1993 saw headlines trumpeting the death of Superman it was insignificant when held up to the eventual fallout of Superman’s return. The original Superman returns, after only seven months “dead,” to find Jordan’s Coast City in ruins thanks to the combined forces of Cyborg Superman and Mogul. Jordan had been away from Earth during the destruction and finding the city destroyed begins a descent into madness. He seeks the power to restore Coast City by slaughtering the Green Lantern Corps. After taking their rings he becomes the villain Parallax for three years. His death finally comes in 1996 when, as Parallax, he sacrifices himself to reignite the Sun in “The Final Night.” Jordan remained dead until his soul returned as The Spectre in 1999 and eventually returning to his power ring in 2004.

Ten years is a longtime for such a well-known hero to not return to his namesake title (possibly topped only by Barry Allen).  Prior to Peter Parker being purged from his body by Doctor Octopus at the end of 2012 the most recent gamble by Marvel was the death of Steve Rogers as Captain America in April of 2007. Impressively, Rogers stayed “dead” (he was actually frozen in time) for more than two years and when he did come back it wasn’t certain how soon he’d return to the shield. It was the first time since the death of Jordan that a major character known for carrying a title had been sacrificed for more than a year. Batman doesn’t count, because when DC “killed” Bruce Wayne at the end of 2009’s Final Crisis issue six it was only one week of wondering if he’d eventually return to the cowl (Wayne, much like Rogers, was also sent hurtling through time).

This is why the death and eventual return of Peter Parker is significant. Much to the chagrin of those calling for Dan Slott’s head Superior Spider-Man continues to be one of Marvel’s best-selling titles (you can read my previous defense of SSM here). It begs the question, do we need Peter Parker? That’s a hard question for me to write. Spider-Man was the first hero I ever made a monthly commitment to when my mother let me subscribe by direct mail to Web of Spider-Man in the late 80s. It’s difficult to comprehend a generation growing up without Parker and all of his idiosyncrasies behind the mask.

If we decide Peter Parker doesn’t necessarily need to come back it can’t be Otto Octavius forever. While he’s been taking strides to become a better person, including very noble advocacy on behalf of little people, he did kill Peter Parker and deserves to get his comeuppance. Who should take his place?
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Tim Draper proposes California Hunger Games

TechCrunch is reporting that technology investor Tim Draper is proposing a ballot initiative that would see California broken up into six states. His plan, called “Six Californias” and available to read on TechCrunch, is currently lacking meat on the bone. One of his main points is the plan would break up monopolistic power: “Competition is good, monopolies are bad. This initiative encourages more competition and less monopolistic power. Like all competitive systems, costs will be lower and service will be better.”

That statement seems counter-intuitive to how he’s proposed the state be fragmented. The proposal would create state monopolies through concentration of industry. It sounds rather Hunger Games-esque with each state being a district with a specialization. Generalizing, we’re looking at the Bread Basket State, the Entertainment State, the Tech State, the Timber and Marijuana State, the Wine State, and the Warehouse and Distribution State.

While Draper’s proposal suggests the plan will result in “lower costs” it doesn’t address the added cost associated with intrastate vs. interstate commerce. For example, what will happen when the Bread Basket State, which currently provides a great deal of the food and dairy for California, no longer receives the significant tax support that comes from other regions?

DIY Comics: Conversion rates of crowdfunding

Independent comic creators turning to crowdfunding to get projects off the ground has become common. Results tend to be mixed with some striking their goal and flat-lining, some barely getting out the gate and failing, and the rare few that go viral and raise mountains of cash above and beyond the goal.  As a regular contributor to crowdfunded projects I’ve developed a fairly good sense for what will fail and what will be successful. Knowing the trends is important, because even if a project does receive all of the requested funding that doesn’t mean it’ll be successful.

In addition to supporting projects I’ve been on the other side by successfully launching a project using a lesser known crowdfunding platform called StartSomeGood. Making the decision to choose SSG wasn’t easy. At the time it was very new to the crowdfunding game, so it didn’t have the reach of Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. We knew that if we chose SSG the success would be completely contingent on our ability to get the word out. Our final decision to choose SGG was due to two reasons. First of all, their mission was specifically targeted at nonprofits and we were raising these funds as a nonprofit. It was a good fit in that sense. The clincher was the “tipping point” model. In order to build the foundation for what we wanted to do we knew we needed to raise at the least $3500. If we raised a dime less than that the funding would have been pointless. We also knew that in order to completely fund the project and go above and beyond we’d need $10,000 and we wanted people to know that. SSG makes the tipping point and ideal funding goal posts very visible.

We were able to raise $1501 beyond our tipping point goal which was more than we needed to get started. I have nothing but good things to say about my experience with SSG. The team behind the site constantly provided input on how to make the campaign most successful and we’re quick to respond to queries. One of the founders even contributed to our campaign, which meant a great deal to me.

Knowing I’ll likely be doing a new crowdfunded project in the future I keep an eye on the trends, especially when it comes to determining which site will be the best to use. If I’m raising money for freelance journalists again I’d likely return to SSG. However, if I’m doing something more personal, like trying to fund a comic, I’d probably go with either Kickstarter or IndieGoGo.

This morning Compete released a study comparing the conversion rates of Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. The study shows that Kickstarter, being the current market leader with the highest traffic rate, is also the best when it comes to visitors completing the pledge process. IndieGoGo, with half the traffic of Kickstarter, has been closing in on the more popular sites conversion rate. IndieGoGo could be doing much better and the studies author deduces “if I were Indiegogo, this would be the most concerning. Although a 58% abandonment rate is on track with ecommerce averages, it is nowhere near the 35% abandonment rate their direct competitor is seeing.”

Why is IndieGoGo’s abandonment rate so high?
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The strange case of Michael Moorcock and Grant Morrison

Gideon Stargrave michael moorcock and grant morrisonThis link is to an epic response from Grant Morrison to Alan Moore, but I’m mostly interested in the part regarding Michael Moorcock.

I don’t dabble much in creator drama (and I find the Moore vs. Everyone drama especially droll), so I didn’t actually know Moorcock had such disdain for Morrison. It shocks me because if it wasn’t for Morrison I likely never would have picked up a book featuring Moorcock’s character Jerry Cornelius. Since Morrison led me to discover Cornelius I’ve read every single Moorcock story (as far as I know) that features the character. The devouring of those stories led me to Dancers at the End of Time which in turn resulted in digging deeper into Moorcock’s work including Elric, Corum, and more (even works like Fireclown and Gloriana). Likewise, I came to Jorge Luis Borges due to that author’s influence on Morrison’s Doom Patrol.

Reading Moorcock’s 2004 thread, where he continues to hold a grudge 25 years after 17-year-old Morrison first used Gideon Stargrave, it sounds like Morrison had spent the last two decades trying to hide the tribute he was paying to the author in his work. I don’t personally think that was the case as Morrison wasn’t shy in mid-90s interviews or the letters section of The Invisibles to mention how he was inspired by both Moorcock and J.G. Ballard in his youth (the latter he’s cited as being the larger influence on both Gideon Stargrave and King Mob). Moorcock seems to be fixated on the character of Gideon Stargrave while missing the more relevant influence of Cornelius on aspects of the character of King Mob.

Reading works by creators like Morrison is enhanced by figuring out how different pieces of the larger puzzle were informed. In many ways, it’s like dismantling the samples in a Beastie Boys album and visiting the source material. Kurtis Blow has often joked about how he could have sued the Beastie Boys for clipping his song “Party Time” in “Hey Ladies,” but instead accepts the sample with pride, because it’s led new listeners to his work.

I’m a fan of Moorcock because Morrison shared his exuberance for the character of Jerry Cornelius with Gideon Stargrave. Instead of being petty and spiteful Moorcock should instead be thanking creators like Morrison for keeping his legacy alive instead of collecting dust in the poorly organized sci-fi section of a used bookstore.

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DC’s editorial department back in spotlight as Batwoman’s creators step down

Batwoman proposal from issue 17.

Batwoman proposal from issue 17.

Last night J. H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman announced that they’re leaving Batwoman after 26 issues due to editorial interference that included being “prohibited from ever showing Kate and Maggie actually getting married.” Williams followed up the posting of his letter on Twitter with the comment “But must clarify- was never put to us as being anti-gay marriage.”

No one except those who were in the editorial board room knows if this decision was based on a company policy against DC’s LGBT characters getting hitched. It would seem odd in light of the company’s increasing comfort with prominent LGBT characters including Batwoman, Midnighter, Apollo, Sarah Rainmaker, Alysia Yeoh, and Alan Scott. What we do know is that DC erased every major character marriage — most notably the marriage between Superman and Lois Lane — when they relaunched the DC Universe in 2011. That suggests DC may have a policy to limit the marriage of title characters — no matter their sexual orientation. DC has never declared that limiting marriages is a policy.

No matter the justification for denying the marriage, the departure of Blackman and Williams once again brings negative attention to DC’s editorial department, who seem to have an increasing problem of not trusting some creators while putting too much faith in others.

The story Williams and Blackman have been telling is unique in the DC Universe, as they’ve had the freedom to tell it in a bubble without needing to shape their arcs around pesky multiple-title event storylines. Batwoman and Batman, Inc. were the only Bat-books given the luxury to sit out both “The Court of Owls” and “Death of the Family.” The result, free of crossover interruptions, is a complete story that can be read straight through from the first issue. Its lead character is also one of the best developed characters in the new 52. Continue Reading →

Superior Spider-Man is better than you

This post originally appeared on my personal blog on April 8, 2013.

Alternate cover for Amazing Spider-Man #700

Alternate cover for Amazing Spider-Man #700

If I were to rely solely on the comments sections of comic book industry news sites I’d be led to believe that Superior Spider-Man is the worst thing to happen to Marvel – ever. In truth, it’s one of the best titles the company currently has, which is saying quite a bit, because Marvel’s certainly been hitting it out of the park in terms of storytelling and character development.

I like Peter Parker. When I was a wee lad I’d consume anything that featured “Spider-Man” in the title. I wanted to be Spidey and I related to Peter. That said, one thing I like more than Peter Parker is when comic book publishers take risks with legacy characters in the name of telling an ambitious and well-written story. For all the complaining fanboys do about the state of the industry it’s always puzzling to me that they complain just as much when companies try to do exciting things. Sacred cows are boring if all they do is stand in a field all day.

What Superior Spider-Man does well is play with emotions. It’s sad to know that Peter’s not simply dead, but that his body has been inhabited by one of his greatest enemies, Doctor Octopus. It’s torture to see a flicker of the hero still frustrated and screaming in the background of his body’s consciousness.

It’s creepy to know it’s Otto Octavius flirting with Mary Jane. It’s even creepier on a whole other level to know he’s pining inside for the woman he once almost married, Peter’s Aunt May.

It’s frustrating to finally see J. Jonah Jameson approve of the actions of the wall crawler, but only because Otto is sullying Spidey’s name by crossing the hard ethical lines set by Peter.

It’s humiliating to watch Doc Ock mock Peter, one of the smarter people on Earth-616, for not completing his doctorate and actually pledge to do what Peter could not by finishing school. To add to that humiliation Doc builds dozens of spider cameras to monitor the city, so he can more effectively fight crime while also finishing his degree.

The storyline Dan Slott is writing for Spider-Man is providing the character of Peter Parker the opportunity to take a vacation. It is, essentially, a way to eventually relaunch a fresh Peter Parker as the spectacular Spider-Man without the need to relaunch the entire Marvel Universe. At this point it appears when Parker comes back Spider-Man’s reputation will have been reset to where the public is wary of the wall crawler. It’ll be like the good old days when J. Jonah Jameson was a one man propaganda machine vilifying Spidey no matter how much good he did. Assuming the world doesn’t learn that Spider-Man was occupied by Doc Ock there’s going to be a serious need for Parker to rebuild not only his brand, but relationships.

Of course, I was one of those in the minority who felt DC and Grant Morrison were too quick to bring back Bruce Wayne as Batman. Dick Grayson trying to live up to the legend, and cope with a scowling Damian Wayne, was far more interesting than yet another Bruce Wayne as Batman vs. “fill-in-the-blank” from his rogues gallery story. Due to the necessity to bring back Bruce Wayne we never had the opportunity to learn, for example, how would Dick Grayson as Batman handle the Riddler while carrying on the charade that it’s the same Batman?

I know how Peter Parker as Spider-Man will handle villains like Electro or Chameleon. I’ve read versions of those stories for years. I don’t know how Otto Octavius as Spider-Man will handle those villains, especially without letting on too much that he isn’t the same person inside the Peter Parker flesh suit.

Dan Slott has received a great deal of venom for his decision to “kill” Peter Parker, but the angry comments from the “don’t change the status quo” crowd are mere whispers when held up against the numbers. Superior is a success, because Slott, with the blessing of his editors, decided to have faith that readers wanted to read new stories and not just remixes of the old.

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