Getting Mauled by Tigers

The lights are off at O’Malley’s. I’m full of Sam Adams and smoke, so it must be a Wednesday, time again for another edition of New Comics Day.

I Swear, This Is About Comics. Really.

So I’ve been thinking about people who should be eaten by tigers. It’s hard not to, what with tiger attacks being a popular topic in the news. Some nut in New York keeps a tiger and an alligator in his apartment — meanwhile, my super would flip if I had a stray kitten living in my walk-in closet. Then, in what will surely become a prized video clip on Fox, Roy, half of the famous Siegfried and Roy magician team goes and gets himself mauled by one of his notorious props, a giant white tiger.

No shit.

Surely I can’t be the only one bothered by the fact that half the country is worried about this guy’s medical condition. Vegas shocker! says the newsmedia. Magician Roy mauled by tiger. No, sorry, guys, not a shocker. If I get mauled by a tiger, that’s a shocker. See, I’m not dumb enough to taunt a fierce jungle cat every night in front of a bunch of sweaty cracker tourists from Paducah, Kentucky.

It’s not surprising that Roy got his neck chewed open by a tiger, it’s surprising that the tiger didn’t chew his neck open sooner. If I was a menacing jungle cat and some Liberace-looking motherfucker with a goofy accent made me dance around for a tiger treat in front of a roomful of fat, pasty tourists who just got back from the $5.00 prime rib buffet, I’d chew him up, too. I’m a big fucking tiger, you dumb little wiener schnitzel, I’d say. You are my tiger treat.

The same thing happened a couple of years ago when racing legend Dale Earnhardt died in a car crash. What a tragedy! says the sports media. No, not a tragedy. Not even surprising. When you spend your Saturday afternoons piloting a piece of aluminum at 200 miles an hour six inches away from a concrete wall in the middle of a traffic jam, you’re kind of asking for it.

So Roy getting his face gnawed on by a vengeful tiger makes me think of comics.

Shut up. I’m serious.

The next big fight in the comics industry is between publishing giant DC and Bulldog comics, a sub-distributor. If you haven’t read the story, the short version goes as follows (and the long version can be read at Bulldog sells comics to smaller distributors and those who have underordered big sellers. Bulldog buys from Diamond in large quantities, then sells those comics to retailers across the country. Headed by Greg Buls, the company makes a profit by utilizing Diamond’s stair-step discount system. When a retailer orders a certain number of comics, he or she gets a set discount on the product, thus allowing said retailer to make a profit. The lowest discount comes it at around 37 percent. The more you order, the bigger your discount, and that discount can clock in as high as 57 percent if more than $34,000 in comics are ordered in a given month.

Bulldog buys large quantities of DC comics at a high discount, somewhere in the 50 percent range, then moves that product at 40 percent off retail. Smaller retailers either don’t order enough to qualify for a Diamond account at all, or they aren’t ordering enough to get a discount as high as 40 percent, so they save a few bucks by ordering from Bulldog. Others may be short on certain issues and can order from Bulldog as well, filling in gaps for their customers.

What’s the problem? Well, it seems that, according to DC’s terms of sale, you can’t do this. This issue isn’t particularly debatable. DC’s terms of sale go something like this:

Resale by Customers: Customers are prohibited from selling DC Comics products to distributors and / or to retail customers including, without limitation, newsstand, mass market, book trade, wholesale clubs, catalogs and other comic book specialty stores without DC’s prior written approval. Customers may, however, sell or trade limited quantities of DC comics products to other customers of DCD for the sole purpose of adjusting their respective inventories.

Legally speaking, the issue looks to be in the bag. I’m no lawyer, but that much seems clear. Of course, legally speaking the music industry could throw you in jail and get you ass-raped nightly for making those radio mix tapes of Sir Mix-A-Lot and Bon Jovi back in fifth grade.

But Bulldog has been operating for five years. In 2002, DC gave them fair warning to watch their asses (I’m paraphrasing, of course — the direct quote from one Bob “Fitty Cent” Wayne was, “Watch yo’ ass, niggaz, else I fuck it up”). Bulldog kept up business as usual, and then DC cracked down.

It has also been intimated that Buls may have been a “mastermind” behind some of DC’s recent sellouts, ordering big numbers of hot books like Teen Titans #1 and then selling them at jacked-up prices.

First off, DC shouldn’t sell themselves short. Titans sold out because people wanted it, just like Outsiders and Birds of Prey. I work in a comic store in my spare time, and I was behind the counter the day the first Simone BOP was released, as well as Titans #1 and Outsiders #1. My customers aren’t speculators and the shop doesn’t overorder in anticipation of holding issues back to sell at elevated prices. We sold out of those books because we, like most other stores, underestimated demand. Truckloads of people wanted to read them, and then, once the book was sold out the first time around, the buzz drew in others who were on the fence regarding the title, thus moving all the copies of second printings. The books sold out because people wanted them. There was no scam. We got as many books as we wanted, and we still couldn’t keep them around.

(The above seems to be corroborated by the fact that Bulldog’s order placements came in before the sellout status of the books was known. That excuse just plain doesn’t hold water.)

But whether or not Bulldog is turning speculator is really a separate issue entirely. Like ol’ Roy being turned into Kitty Chow, we should have seen this coming. This brand of weirdness, of ordering confusion and retailer strife, the appearance of sub-distributors, is bound to come about in an industry with a bass-ackwards distribution system.

Diamond is unfriendly. They are a monopoly. There is little chance they’ll have even a slight suggestion of competition anytime in the near future. We’re stuck with this bastard distributor who cocks up as many orders as it gets right, where one badly run institution has every copy of every book anybody wants. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a good number of retailers ordered through Bulldog just to keep from directly putting up with the kind of shit that working with Diamond entails. With the luxury of knowing they have the monopoly, they are anything but customer-friendly. If you aren’t pleased with the service you get from Diamond, better start selling Mary Kay, because they’re the only cartel with the merchandise.

DC brought this on themselves years ago when they, along with other companies, sold out to Diamond. The market was weak, distributors were folding, and nobody thought to stop Diamond from getting a stranglehold on comics distribution. (Government intervention doesn’t seem out of the question as Diamond is basically Ma Bell for funnybooks, but I don’t see it happening.) Bulldog is, at worst, an inevitable symptom of a diseased marketplace.

Is Bulldog wrong, legally speaking? It would seem so. But what’s the greater crime, making a few percent on resale by cozying up to small retailers trying to survive or putting a stranglehold on an already anemic market? Does DC, or anyone else, really need to make it more difficult for smaller retailers to survive?

In a market this unwieldy, retailer-unfriendly and treacherous, can one expect anything else? Make a tiger dance for treats long enough, he’s gonna chew your fucking face off.

And now the reviews…

Ultimate Six #3

Halfway into the series, Brian Michael Bendis finally gets the story moving. The plot isn’t particularly revolutionary; in fact, when you strip away all the dramatic dialogue and chatty digressions, it’s really just about some villains breaking out of prison and going nuts, which doesn’t even quite live up to the level of old Lee Ditko issues.

But Bendis’ story, basic as it is, makes for a fun superhero yarn, and he manages to give the series the feel of a big summer action movie.

Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. come yank Peter Parker out of class. He goes to the Triskellion where he learns that the Sinister… eh, Five, have broken out of prison. What he doesn’t know is that Norman Osborn, now totally off his rocker, believes Parker to be his son and intends to go find him.

Reading this book is like eating cotton candy. It’s enjoyable enough, but you’re perfectly aware that what you’re consuming is lighter than air and has no substance at all. If you ever pause to think about just how little has happened in this series, you’ll stop enjoying it immediately. But if you just let kick back and enjoy the ominous setups and snappy dialogue, all leading of course to the inevitable big fight scene, it’s fun enough.

What is a little more difficult to ignore is Harsine’s art — which is, unfortunately, not up to par. It’s difficult to say what’s wrong with it aside from the simple fact that the characters just don’t look right. Parker looks like a short Asian kid with goofy hair most of the time, Nick Fury doesn’t even resemble the Sam Jackson clone as seen in USM and The Ultimates — and I didn’t even realize until this issue that Hank Pym got stabbed by Doc Ock last time around. He seems to have little or no regard for the character designs established by Hitch and Bagley, and the features of his characters faces are vague and two-dimensional.

Part of Harsine’s problem is likely that he’s following a couple of tough acts. Hitch, though slow, always produces solid work when he gets around to working, and Bagley is a fast and consistent artist who excels at storytelling with subtle facial expressions. Irregardless, Harsine’s not living up to the established standard, and that kind of slip in the art duties is hard not to notice among otherwise exceptional counterparts.

Ultimate X-Men #39

Well, that’s over.

In this issue, Bendis simultaneously drains his book of any drama while almost making the last four issues seem like they might have been good.

His “Blockbuster” storyline opened with a nice prologue and left off with a great cliffhanger, but the next three issues were mostly random action sequences with villains so mysterious it was difficult to care what was going on. Now that Bendis has let us in on the gag, that the assassins were former Weapon X assassins still obsessed with Wolverine, it’s a little easier to care what was going on. Still, the arc feels a little pointless, even in light of the new perspective we get on the situation.

Meanwhile, last issue concludes with a double page spread of the X-Men — the guys the book is named after — finally appearing after 88 pages of absence. And then what happens? We get a solo Wolverine story again, him sitting in a lab talking about what has happened. The X-Folks make a cameo in their own book near the end in a dialogue-free page where we see them eating lunch. Jean Grey gets a moment to shine near the end of the book, and then the one interesting thing about her character (I guess if you haven’t figured out what that one thing is, I’ll let you be surprised) gets dragged out one more time.

“Blockbuster” has been some of the weakest work of Bendis’ career, ranking right up (or down, as it were) there with his sub-par work on Elektra. It was aimless, ill-explained and entirely lacked in the one thing you think he’d be sure to get right: the actual physical presence of the title characters.

On the plus side, David Finch sure can draw purty.

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