Tremble in Fear, Hollywood!

Hey, gang — welcome to another New Comics Day. I’m screwing around with the format of the column (again). Look for some more changes in the coming weeks. If you hate the new format and direction, drop me a line and tell me why — I’m open to suggestions. Or drop me a line if you dig it, as I’d hate to just get mail from Larry Young.

I don’t know that I’ve ever bothered to say this, but I’m happy to review any books you send along. That includes mini-comics. Send along an e-mail for details.

Enough with the administrative stuff…

I snagged this from CBR’s Comics Reel scribe Hannibal Tabu, who yanked the juicy quotes from Herorealm. Tim Bradstreet has this to say about the upcoming Constantine movie starring Keanu Reeves:

When talking about “Constantine,” Bradstreet said, “will reserve final judgment until I see the film. Keanu may just pull it off. The thing I’m most upset about is the fact that they’ve taken the character out of the UK. London is just as important to Hellblazer as John Constantine is. Fans are already alienated from this production because of that alone. Where is the benefit of alienating your core audience? Apparently, they don’t believe that the 14,000 or so people who read it monthly are very important in the scheme of things. But that’s Hollywood.”

Which of course makes one think instantly — no! Of course those 14,000 people don’t matter!

If every goddamn one of those 14,000 people decided to boycott the Hellblazer movie, the studio would lose an earth-shattering $98,000. ARE YOU SCARED YET, HOLLYWOOD?! WE, THE COMICS READERS, HAVE YOUR HUNDRED GRAND, AND WE AREN’T GIVING IT BACK UNTIL WE GET WHAT WE WANT!

A hundred grand? That’s like half the cost of covering up every time Mel Gibson kills one of those hookers in nun costumes. (Did I say hookers in nun costumes? I meant Jews.)

A hundred grand by Hollywood standards is like three pizzas by Peter David standards. Nothing, my friend, nothing! Chump change. Robert Evans has a hundred grand worth of coke in his fucking sofa.

And that’s of course assuming that every one of those 14,000 Hellblazer fans boycott the movie, which we all know is bullshit. They could change his name to Jane Constantine and have him played by Britney Spears and the Vertigo fanboys wouldn’t go anyway. You think nobody rented the first Punisher movie and that shitty Captain America straight-to-video job? Comics fans will always go see the fucking movie, no matter what, so the movie studios aren’t concerned. Actually, they aren’t concerned because our numbers are so completely insignificant as not to matter anyway, but even if they needed our business, they still wouldn’t worry.

Ultimate Spider-Man sells something like 100,000 copies a month. So does Amazing Spider-Man. Assuming that the exact same people aren’t reading both books, I’ll put the total Spider-Man comic reading audience at 150,000, which is generous. Let’s say that all 150,000 Spider-Man readers boycotted the last Spider-Man movie. Averaging ticket prices at seven bucks (nine in the city, six in the styx, plus cheaper matinee prices), that means that the Spider-Man reader boycott of the movie would have cost the movie $1,050,000. Fuck it, let’s say 2,000,000. Sounds like a lot, eh? Yeah, we could really fuck them. They’d only have made MORE THAN THREE HUNDRED MILLION FUCKING DOLLARS!

We are insignificant. Our voices are small. Nobody gives a good goddamn. Anybody who expects Hollywood or TV or whoever else to make decent comic adaptations is out of their mind. It may happen on occasion. Enjoy it. Be happy that somewhere a comics creator like Mike Mignola may have made some scratch off the deal.

Worry about the comics. Worry about the good comics. Nevermind the movies. The movie industry hates you more than the comics industry. Did you even think that was possible?

The latest issue of The Ultimates finally hit stands. I hate to kick this horse anymore, but it’s been a damn long time since this arc started. When you’re dealing with serial fiction, you’d better keep the story flowing regularly, or else have one hell of a story to offset the delays. I can’t think of many comics that would be good enough to offset this kind of lateness. I only remember the arc in broad strokes and we all know it’s going to come down to kicking and punching anyway.

At least there is kicking and punching in this issue. The last few have been deadly boring, a lot of ominous thumb-twiddling as the team prepares to enter into a battle… but never quite makes it. In #12 they finally start the fighting — though, oddly enough, without really establishing where the characters are. Millar goes from nothing to fist-fights without letting the action build to any sort of climax, resulting in an issue full of exploding things I couldn’t possibly care less about.

Speaking of things Ultimate, Brian Bendis hits issue fifty in Ultimate Spider-Man. The issue is fun enough, but mostly its interesting as a textbook example of how decompressed storytelling works and how it fails.

The first third of the book involves Black Widow stealing stuff. One thing, really. Not planning the heist, chatting with people, posing as someone else. No, just slipping into a building, cutting some glass and taking some stuff.

For eighteen pages we see how Black Widow steals an ancient artifact. Eighteen goddamn pages dedicated to…what? Cutting glass? Swinging around on little wires? Dismantling cameras? We know, okay, we know! Everyone has seen a James Bond movie or some suitable spy ripoff. We’ve seen the glass cutting, the camera dismantling, the wire swinging.

This is Bad Decompressed Storytelling. If this were the opening scene of a movie it would have been fine. Not terribly interesting or novel, but it would have been short and properly set up the fact that the Black Cat was committing a crime so as to allow Spider-Man to intervene. The scene would have taken five minutes, maybe.

Eighteen pages.

If most comics are 22 pages long and most arcs (at Marvel, anyway) run for six issues, then some quick calculating would put the average story at 132 pages. Those eighteen pages then come up to right at fourteen percent of your total story. (Still with me?) Fourteen percent of a two-hour movie is about seventeen minutes.

Now, everyone who loves decompressed storytelling, raise your hand if you want to watch an incredibly standard heist scene for seventeen full minutes. (And nevermind the fact that two hours of movie cost you seven or eight bucks while 132 pages of comics will run you at least $13.50.)

To this I say: economy. The storyteller at this point has to realize that he or she has 132 pages to work with, and in those 132 pages (a good amount of room, really) there must be a climax, character development, etc. Thus, when you’re writing something as deadly dull and standard-issue as a heist scene, you needn’t take more than a couple of pages. Show the wires hanging, the glass cut, the villain sneaking out. Let the reader fill in the blanks. Nevermind the fact that several pages are filled with slow zooms into buildings and pointless close-ups of Black Cat’s face as she smirks. Economy, economy, economy. Films have editors. I used to think comics did too.

Finally Spider-Man fights Black Cat. It’s not much more innovative than the heist scene, but we get some typically fun Bendis dialogue, some character interaction. Afterwards Peter returns home and chats with Mary Jane in his basement. They have a long conversation, and thus we have our example of Good Decompressed Storytelling. Peter and Mary Jane have a conversation that is entertaining in its own right, but also serves to further their individual characters as well as highlight certain aspects of their relationship. New story wrinkles emerge re: Mary Jane’s father.

As usual, the conversation scenes and the quippy dialogue during the fight scene make the book worthwhile in spite of the 18-page waste of space in the opening scene. With a little tightening and editing, though, the book could be markedly stronger.

While Bendis, Bagley and Thibert stick to their mostly successful routine, the folks at Y: The Last Man change the formula a bit as regular artist Pia Guerra takes a two-issue break. Concrete’s Paul Chadwick steps in to draw Vaughan’s two-issue story about art in a world without men. (Not to kill the surprise, but those dogs playing poker were the first to go.)

Though issues #16 and #17 definitely feel like fill-ins (the only regular character featured in both issues is Ampersand the helper monkey), they’re enjoyable nonetheless. Vaughan tells the story of a traveling theater troupe hired to put on a play in a town run by a fairly conservative woman. The women of the theater group have been performing pure diversionary entertainment, but they decide that art must address the current situation after being inspired by Ampersand’s genitals.

And so the ladies of the theater tell the story of a mysterious last man who returns home to his wife. But they imagine that a lone man in a world of women would find himself in a rather tight situation. Their depiction of men in the theater doesn’t go over so well with all of the audience, however, and an argument about the nature and importance of art ensues. Before anything too serious can be discussed, Yorrick (in disguise) shows up to make dumb jokes while his friends rescue the monkey.

Vaughan’s story is disappointing in that it mostly scratches the obvious surface of what would become of the art world after the disaster that frames the book. Y: The Last Man has been consistently entertaining because Vaughan avoids the obvious angle to such a story in favor of more unique and offbeat plot threads. Here, though, he goes straight for the obvious, and it turns out that art in a world without men is a lot like art in a world with men.

This isn’t Vaughan’s new high water mark for storytelling, but it’s interesting enough. Chadwick does a nice job filling in for Guerra. Hopefully this more high-profile gig will give him some time and cash to work on more Concrete stories. That alone would make the two-issue diversion in Y:TLM worthwhile.

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