All the News of February

ApologiaThe Comics Blotter has been absent for a month while I worked on other projects. As such, we are coving the last month of news, with new stories given some preference in our line-up. A lot has happened, and you may — if you like — look at this as a review of the last month worth of comics news. Thanks.

X-Men Reloaded

Marvel plans to restructure the X-corner of their universe in May. This includes:

  • Astonishing X-Men, a new series written by Joss Whedon (of the overrated Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series) with art by John Cassaday (apparently pulling him from the more important Planetary…);
  • Uncanny X-Men #444 begins the run of a new creative team — Chris Claremont and artist Alan Davis;
  • New X-Men gets retitled X-Men (as it was called before Grant Morrison’s run) and gets a new creative team — writer Chuck Austen and artist Salvador Larroca;
  • New X-Men: Academy X replaces New Mutants and features the (regressive) return of codenames and tights to the Institute;
  • Excalibur, a new series replacing X-Treme X-Men and written by Chris Claremont, has Professor X on Genosha in its first issue;
  • District X, a new series;
  • Exiles and Weapon X continue; and
  • Mystique gets a new creative team.

I hope you’re not buying all of this, plus one-shots and mini-series…

The revived line has already seen controversy. Artist Igor Kordey — hated by many fans — was announced as Exalibur‘s artist only to be quickly and publicly dropped. Some debate over this has already raged on the internet.

Millarworld Part Late, Part Cancelled

Mark Millar’s scheduled inter-company “Millarworld” event, scheduled for December, has not quite come off as planned. Wanted (a 6-issue mini published by Image’s Top Cow) premiered in December as scheduled and has become a grand hit. The second issue came out in January, and the third is expected in March. A non-story special issue is planned thereafter, keeping material on the shelves while the artist J.G. Jones continues his work.

The same health cannot quite be claimed for the other three scheduled titles.

The Unfunnies (a 4-issue mini published by Avatar) premiered in January, a month late, but was a big hit by Avatar’s standards. Millar has claimed that the first two issues “were completely written, drawn, and colored months before Christmas,” but that the publisher inexplicably took a long time to letter and publish the material. Millar claims he proofread the first issue on Christmas Eve. The second issue was just released this Wednesday, the third of March.

Chosen (a 3-issue mini published by Dark Horse) premiered in February, almost two months late. Millar has stated that artist Peter Gross completed the art on time and that Dark Horse has offered no explanation for the inexplicable delay. The second issue has not yet seen publication.

Run!, the first of a planned series of one-shots (to be published through Image Central), is now cancelled along with work on its unsolicited successors. The reason? There’s no art. That’s right, artist Ashley Wood has apparently disappeared. No one can reach him, according to Millar. “We’re hoping to resolve the matter soon,” the writer reassuringly adds. While it’s been pointed out that Wood had to work without up-front pay, that does not excuse apparently committing to a project and then not following through — or so much as making a phone call.

The really sad thing here is that all of this puts a damper on the noble experiment that Millarworld represents: eschewing the big two publishers, this non-line was published through the alternatives, reaching big sales numbers for those publishers. If the project fails, or is plagued by delays, the rallying call that this represents for alternative publishing may understandably be a bit … muted.

Image Has New Publisher

Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Valentino founded Image Comics in the early 1990s, selling millions of copies and becoming a third big comics company, rivaling DC and Marvel. Since then, sales have dropped, all but Larsen have stopped producing their own books (farming them out much like the big two), Rob Liefeld was voted out of the company, and Jim Lee sold his WildStorm Studios to DC. Jim Valentino assumed the title of Publisher, encouraging new talent to publish creator-owned work under the Image banner. And sales have dropped, with Image having fallen far from a rival of the big two — and continuing to fall, now below a 5% market share and below Dark Horse.

In mid-February, Image revealed that Erik Larsen (the sole founder still producing his own book, namely Savage Dragon) has replaced Valentino. Because Larsen lives in Northern California, where he is busy producing his own book, Marketing Director Eric Stephenson will be working as Larsen’s right-hand man, handing much of Valentino’s work. Larsen has contemplated allowing companies publishing through Image to use the Image logo in alternate ways and to accept ads for toys other than McFarlane’s — both having been sticking points with some of those companies.

The mid-February statement hinted that Valentino plans to produce more of his own work, though the reasons for the change have been the subject of controversy. Larsen acknowledges that there was a feeling that the company needed a new direction, and pointed out that Valentino came more from the alternative, small press, black-and-white end of the publishing business. Speculation focuses on Image acquiring new licensed properties — such as G.I. Joe, which was published by Devil’s Due through Image before Devil’s Due began publishing their own material — and perhaps bringing in new, hot, mainstream creators, as well as focusing more on the bottom line. Most expect a number of the alternative (“small press”) titles to disappear, though Larsen has promised to focus on eliminating only the so-called “bad” books — perhaps necessary, but certainly open to some subjectivity.

Epic Anthology Cancelled

The final nail seems to have been hammered into Marvel’s trouble-plagued Epic imprint. The imprint, which ironically began with the five-issue mini-series Trouble, was officially announced in March 2003 and began taking unsolicited proposals. Inundated, the division was quickly closed to these proposals. The ongoing Crimson Dynamo, plagued with artistic changes, was cancelled as of #6, though its writer went on to Iron Man. Gun Theory, a four-issue mini-series, was cancelled as of #2.

The various series planned for the line — that did not themselves jump ship — were cancelled and combined in November into a single title called Epic Anthology. These projects included Robert Kirkman and Khary Randolph’s “Sleepwalker,” Rob Worley and Andy Kuhn’s “Young Ancient One” and Jason Henderson and Greg Scott’s “Strange Magic.” The book received little promotion and was incorrectly solicited with a $8.99 cover price, though Diamond Comics corrected the price to $5.99. Marvel had not promised the anthology a second issue.

In mid-February, Marvel announced that #1 would be the final issue.

Elektra Cancelled

Marvel’s series Elektra has been cancelled. #35, schedule for April, will be the final issue. Later issues have been solicited but will not be published. No final trade paperback is expected (the series has four in print, skipping a few issues but running through #28).

DC Sell-Outs

The Superman titles’ two-month “Godfall” storyline, published to set up the creative changes coming in April (including Jim Lee’s run on Superman), is apparently selling like hotcakes. The first two episodes — Action Comics #812 and Adventures of Superman #625 — are getting second prints.

Julius Schwartz Dies at 88

Julius Schwartz died in New York City’s Winthrop Hospital at 2:30 AM on 8 February. He was 88 and a comics legend.

Having only recently joined DC’s staff at the time, Schwartz edited 1956′s Showcase #4, featuring the new Flash and launching — according to most comics historians — the Silver Age of comics. Schwartz guided the new character, whose light adventures and streamlined costume paved the way not only for his own ongoing series but for the entire Silver Age. He was rightly considered the great old man of DC’s Silver Age.

He was, in some ways, DC’s Stan Lee, and deserves to be remembered as such.

Although I did not begin reading comics until the 1980s, I remember Julius Schwartz because of my interest in older comics, particularly of the Flash. I best recall the brilliant meta-narratives in which Flash or Superman would somehow enter our own universe — just as they could enter Earth-2 and the universe of DC’s Golden Age, the stories of which existed in Earth-1 as comic books. Schwartz himself appeared in our universe amidst DC’s offices, and for me the message was clear: he represented DC and all the magic that I read and loved. When we peered behind the curtain, the wizard of Oz looked remarkably like this charming man.

As a member of a younger generation that never encountered Julius Schwartz except through his name on the masthead of so many comics that I read, comics that made me wonder and dream and delight, I salute him and offer for us all the deepest sympathies to his loved ones.

You see, Julius Schwartz is loved and revered even by those for whom his work could mostly be encountered in back issue bins and trade collections. Those with no real right to care about the man, those too young to expect to have such sentiment, nonetheless do.

I like to imagine the cover featuring Superman flying off from the Daily Planet, from Alan Moore’s “Last Superman Story,” only reimagined in reverse — with Schwartz heading up to Heaven and all of us below, countless readers with unknown faces, waving up to him, sad at his passing and happy for his receiving grace.

Goodbye.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In 1996, while still an undergraduate, Dr. Julian Darius founded what would become Sequart Organization. After graduating magna cum laude from Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), he obtained his M.A. in English, authoring a thesis on John Milton and utopianism. In 2002, he moved to Waikiki, teaching college while obtaining an M.A. in French (high honors) and a Ph.D. in English. In 2011, he founded Martian Lit, which publishes creative work, including his comic book Martian Comics. He currently lives in Illinois.

See more, including free online content, on .

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