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Dead Universes (Part IV): Defiant Comics reading order

defiant comics logoOf the four Dead Universes I’m currently collecting, the death of Defiant Comics was the most disappointing. Valiant had a long enough run that it didn’t feel premature when it died. Marvel did a great job sucking all of the satisfaction out the Ultraverse after they purchased it from Mailbu, so it didn’t feel like a great loss when it finally folded in on itself. Comics’ Greatest World never quite grabbed me. Defiant, however, was something special that never had the opportunity to reach its full potential. The Defiant universe, much like Valiant, stood apart from the other universes, because it didn’t build itself on the foundation of tired comic book tropes. The Defiant universe didn’t have analogs for Superman, Batman, or the X-Men. Many of the characters that kicked off the universe felt fresh and inspired.

Defiant Comics: Dark Dominion and Warriors of Plasm

The launch title for Defiant Comics was Warriors of Plasm and it started the reader off not on Earth, but instead a hungry, living, alien planet. The planet gives the inhabitants everything they need from itself and therefore it needs to constantly feed. This is done by conquering planets. A rift in the Universe opens and Earth is discovered and it’s this discovery that leads to a quintet of Earthlings receiving powers.

Defiant Comics Dark Dominion

Of those titles starting the universe, and the one that brought me back to this dead universe, was Dark Dominion. Steve Ditko, who only penciled part of the first issue before walking away, deserves a great deal of credit for inspiring what Jim Shooter would eventually create. According to Shooter:

He wanted a character who wasn’t bitten by a radioactive anything, or from another planet, or injected with chemicals. Whatever the character could do that was special, if anything, he wanted to be the result of his own efforts, his own thinking. If empowered, empowered in some novel, creative way by his own mind. And why does it always have to be a young guy? Why not an older man? Steve also didn’t want another muscular bodybuilder type. No mansions, no Batmobiles, no costumes. And no “official” super hero name. A real, regular person name—though he allowed that others who didn’t know his name might call the guy by some more dramatic appellation.

What Shooter produced was a 54-year-old superhero named Michael Alexander who spent his life working to overcome human fears. Pushing his fears aside granted Michael access to the “Quantum Substratum” where he could see the “Dark Dominion.” Stepping into this world allows one the ability to see the true form of fears and how they unknowingly latch onto humans.
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Dead Universes (part III): Reading order

ghostDeciding how to read a Dead Universe informs the best way to collect a Dead Universe. Do you read it series-by-series, as it came out when originally published, or in some sort of chronological order? Knowing this will help determine how to invest in Dead Universes.

Chronological Reading Order

Reading a Universe in chronological order is tempting, especially if the publisher had taken time to plot out a rough skeleton of the timeline. This is easiest with Defiant due to less than 60 issues being published thanks to Marvel’s company killing lawsuit. The website ShooterWorks.com has posted notes from the never published universe-wide crossover event, Schism, which helps establish a solid reading order. Using those notes and my own reading of the titles I’ve built a preferred Defiant Comics chronology.

The original Valiant Universe (VH1), on the other hand, had a long and healthy life before greed drove the universe into the ground. Due to that long publishing life putting the whole thing into a chronological reading order would be a bit of a bear. Thankfully, Joshua Eves at ValiantFans.com enjoys wrestling bears and did the heavy lifting to establish a timeline. While it would definitely be interesting to read the universe in this order it would require waiting until all of the relevant issues have been collected. Putting that collection together will take time and money because it isn’t very often someone puts up for sale an entire lot of all published Valiant issues.

Series-by-Series Reading Order

Steve Englehart, one of the founding fathers of the Ultraverse, has said the intention was “from the outset to share the playground and join in each other’s games,” so there’s a great deal more crossover in the Ultraverse than some of the other Dead Universes. That makes a chronological reading enticing. However, if you include everything published, including after the accursed Marvel buyout, there are nearly 800 single issues in the Ultraverse. Subtracting the issues after the Marvel takeover you’re still looking at more than 500 single issues. It isn’t as many as the Valiant Universe, but it would still take a great deal of work to figure out the rough chronology. Of course, there’s far less time jumping in the Ultraverse than in Valiant, so arguably someone could read the issues as they initially hit the market and probably come close to a chronology.

I’ve decided to read Malibu’s Ultraverse series-by-series based on when that series started. As an example, Prime, Hardcase, and The Strangers were first to market in June 1993, so I’ll read those all the way through starting with The Strangers which is considered the launch title of the universe. Next would be Freex and Mantra which both came out in July 1993. Those would be followed by Exiles and Prototype (August 1993), The Solution (September 1993), Sludge and Night Man (October 1993), so on and so forth. It’ll be interesting to first see the Ultraverse evolve entirely through the eyes of Prime and then see how it all connects through the perspective of Night Man.
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Dead Universes (part II): Best Practices

Marvel's ad after they bought out Ultraverse.

Marvel’s ad after they bought out Ultraverse.

Thursday I kicked off what’s intended to be a long running series dedicated to the exploration of Dead Universes. Today’s post is dedicated to looking at some of the ‘best practices’ for individuals who think they may want to get into reading or collecting Dead Universes.

1. Have a game plan. Know what you want to collect in advance and how you’ll go about doing it. I haven’t jumped into the original Valiant Universe yet for two reasons. The first is I have a substantial number of Valiant titles in my long boxes, which are 2000 miles away. It’ll be cheaper to mail them across the country over Christmas than to buy duplicates of the first 20 issues of Magnus, Solar, Harbinger, and Archer & Armstrong. The second is I haven’t quite figured out how much of the Valiant universe I want to read. I know I’ll stick through Jim Shooter’s run, but will I seek out everything up until Acclaim tried to turn the company into a video game promotional unit?

For Ultraverse, my demarcation line is roughly Godwheel. That’s when Marvel heroes first started coming into the Ultraverse and when the quality of the titles started to decline significantly.

2. Buy complete runs when possible. This is a bit of advice I wish I’d known going into my quest to acquire Ultraverse titles. Sure you might be able to get Prime 1-10 for $5, but you’ll have a harder time completing the rest of the series. Readers tend to decline the longer a series goes on (which is why Marvel and DC keep canceling and restarting titles), so there are fewer of the later issues in the resale marketplace.

3. Shop around. There’s a vendor on ebay currently selling a complete run of Freex for $45, which is much too high. One month ago I purchased a complete run for $15 ($20 with shipping). I have a rule to never pay more than the number of issues in the run, so essentially $1 per issue. It’s worth repeating that I’m collecting for the stories and not potential future value, so if you want an all near mint line you’ll likely be pay more.

4. Don’t be afraid to wait. If you’re unhappy with the price results coming back don’t be afraid to wait. My generation, the one that grew up during the comic Universe boom of the 90s, is getting to an age where many of us are embarrassed to have junk in our parent’s basement or we need to sacrifice long boxes to make space in our homes for baby cribs.

Next week I’ll take a look at “reading orders” of Dead Universes.

Dead Universes (part I): Reading Dead Universes

defiantA few years ago I had an itch to reread the Dark Dominion series from Defiant Comics. Not having my original issues readily available I went to ebay to see if I could get them at a reasonable price. Plugging “Defiant Comics” into the search led me to a vendor selling not only every issue of Dark Dominion, but nearly every single issue published by Defiant between 1993 and 1994 for $30. My pulse quickened as I realized I could own a nearly complete universe. He was only missing the two issues of Prudence & Caution and the Warriors of Plasm and Dark Dominion zero issues.

It was easy enough to track down Prudence & Caution, but the zero issues come as a series of trading cards that puzzle together when placed in order in a binder. There were vendors on ebay selling the fully collected trading cards complete in binders, but while searching I came across someone selling six boxes of Warriors of Plasm cards and four boxes of Dark Dominion cards. The price for all 10 unopened boxes was $20 which at the time seemed like a smart purchase.

When adjusted for inflation everything I purchased (not including the multiple boxes of trading cards) would have cost me more than $220 in 1994.  I only had to spend a little more than $50 so I could read the storyline of an entire shared universe. Having this revelation I realized if I could do it with Defiant I could very likely do it with the other mothballed universes from the 90s.

Some quick googling showed me I wasn’t alone. There’s a vibrant forum dedicated to Dead Universes at Valiantfans.com and a number of blogs documenting efforts to collect entire universes. The magnitude of collecting universes varies. Some collectors are only seeking to have a complete storyline. Others are trying to acquire all of the variant covers and ashcans. On the more extreme end are collectors collecting everything related to the publisher’s universe from action figures to promotional swag to television pilots.

Personally, I’m mostly interested in collecting for the purpose of reading the stories of these universes. Tragically, most have never been collected into trades and in many cases legal kerfuffles make the likelihood they ever will slim at best. That means mining ebay and long boxes at comic shops for the lowest priced floppies.

Of course, Dead Universes stretch all the way back to the Golden Age. For my own personal sanity I’ve limited my current reading to universes that were launched and started to fade between 1991 and 1995. This includes, but is not limited to, Defiant, Malibu’s Ultraverse, Comics Greatest World, and Valiant.

Related Links:

Dead Universes Part 2: Best Practices

Dead Universes Part 3: Choosing a Reading Order

Dead Universes Part 4: Defiant Comics

Dead Universes (prologue): A time traveler finds holes in the multiverse

This was intended to be a one or two paragraph introduction to a series I’m working on regarding Dead Universes of the 90s. It’s possible I got a little carried away.

If a time traveler leaps from January 1995 to January 2012 and walked into a comic book shop she’d likely at first think very little had changed. DC and Marvel are still the top dogs while the logos of Dark Horse and Image continue to command a decent amount of shelf space.

The first thing she might notice is all of the numbering on DC’s titles are very low; shouldn’t Action Comics be nearing 900 around now? DC is still publishing the Vertigo imprint, but Animal Man and Swamp Thing seem to be absorbed back into the the primary DC continuity. Missing from the racks: Sandman, Doom Patrol, the Invisibles, and Shade, the Changing Man. She’d note that Hellblazer is still running, but John Constantine (and Shade) now appear to be part of something called Justice League Dark.

Continuing her observation she’d likely start to notice some holes where universes used to be. Dark Horse’s attempt at a shared superhero universe, Comics’ Greatest World, doesn’t have any representation on the shelf (Ghost would grace the cover of Dark Horse Presents... five months later). Defiant, which held so much promise when she left 1994, nowhere to be seen. Marvel had just purchased the Ultraverse characters right before she hit the time stream, but they’re missing from the shelves and don’t appear to have been absorbed into the Marvel Universe. Her beloved Valiant, which was doing so well when she left and had many titles were on a two-issue per month schedule, completely absent (X-O Manowar would reintroduce a new Valiant Universe in May).

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Searching for “The Immaterial Girl”

I was scrolling through my tumblr last night and arrived on a teaser I had very excitedly posted for the next story in Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen’s Phonogram Universe called “The Immaterial Girl.” The teaser was from February of 2012 and 19 months later it still hasn’t hit shelves. Out of curiosity, I did some very simple googling and the last official mention of the book was in September of last year on the Phonogram website:

“The bad news is that PHONOGRAM: THE IMMATERIAL GIRL won’t be happening this year. We were holding back from mentioning it, in hope we’d be able to make a better prediction of when the story will drop. But, due to a variety of other things, we still don’t know. We’re pretty sure it’ll be 2013. I’ll be highly surprised if it’s in the first half. What happened? Basically, life happened. ‘Scheduling issues’ and all that. Sorry we can’t be more specific. And we’re sorry we announced it as early as we did.”

I adore Phonogram, but also know that McKelvie and Gillen are both very busy these days with multiple projects. Notably, the brilliantly executed effort to tackle the frustrations and confusions of modern adolescence through the filter of superheroes in Young Avengers. The point of this post and mentioning “The Immaterial Girl” is to simply keep it in the ether until the stars align. I have plenty to read for the moment, but when “The Immaterial Girl” does materialize I’m hoping for a big Phonogram dance party in the Bay.

 

phonogramimmaterial

RetChronicles: Revisiting “Titans Hunt”

New_Teen_Titans_Vol_2_71For a few of years I’ve been haunted by a story arc from The New Titans dubbed “The Titans Hunt.” Since my original reading of the storyline in 1990, it’s lived in my mind as one of the greatest Teen Titan stories ever told. For a couple of years now I’ve wanted to revisit the story, but haven’t been willing to invest in the floppies knowing I already had them sitting in a long box 3,000 miles away. On a recent trip to my childhood home, I decided to crack open that box, pull out a big chunk of nostalgia, and pack it all in my luggage (I had to steal a second suitcase from my parents because I ended up taking 15 pounds of comics back with me).

What Was “Titans Hunt”?

The “Titans Hunt” story arc runs from issue 71 through 84, but the fallout from the events in “Titans Hunt” ripple well beyond issue 100. In the letter section of issue 71 editor Jonathan Peterson promised to “shake things up” as the title had fallen into a rut. Working with longtime Titans writer Marv Wolfman and penciler Tom Grummett little time is wasted turning the Titans inside out like a baboon through a Brundle telepod. By the end of the first five issues in the arc most of the Titans are captured by the Wildebeest Society for a mysterious experiment, Aqualad’s in a coma, Titans Tower has been demolished, Jericho is revealed to be a traitor, and some b-list Titans are “dead” (I run the tally at the end of this post).

Wolfman doesn’t hold back when it comes to putting these beloved characters (many of whom he created) through the grinder. Peterson definitely got his wish by the end of the storyline with most of the core members who’d been on the roster for more than a decade out of commission.

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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 →

Saga wins a Hugo

saga_umbilicalThe 2013 Hugo Award winners were announced over Labor Day weekend and ongoing comic series Saga from Image Comics took the prize for Best Graphic Story.

The Best Graphic Story category was introduced in 2009, when Girl Genius by Kaja and Phil Foglio won out over contenders like Fables, Y: The Last Man, and Joss Whedon’s Serenity— and kept winning in 2010 and 2011. 2012’s Hugo went to Digger by Ursula Vernon on Sofawolf Press. Saga‘s win may indicate a sea change in a category that has previously recognized independent and smaller press works.

Of note is that the Hugos– unlike, say, the Nebulas or Tiptrees, which also honor speculative fiction– are voted on by about a thousand Worldcon members as opposed to the typical small committee model. You could therefore interpret Saga‘s Hugo Award as both a critical and a popular accolade.

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