All-New X-Factor #7-12: Change of Decay

When you’ve been reading superhero comics for decades, many of them start blurring together. It’s easy for creators and readers to settle for the usual supervillain challenges, where costumed, powered characters duke it out without much real-world connection. But after a while, when you’ve read more than your share of those stories, it all becomes familiar and boring.

All-New X-Factor #7 cover

That’s why I was so surprised and pleased to see what Peter David was doing with the recent run of All-New X-Factor, beginning in issue #7 and running through the latest #12.

The X-Factor team — made up of leader Polaris, carefree Gambit (who for some reason is usually surrounded by cats), prickly Quicksilver, the robot Danger, Cypher (Doug Ramsey), and the alien robot Warlock — has gained corporate backing. They come across a video blog by the teenaged Georgia about how depressed she is about being home schooled and unable to see anyone. Her father runs an ultra-conservative news network that’s also anti-mutant, and his home is a desert bunker. The team debates whether they should “rescue” Georgia and how much their dislike of her father might be affecting their decision.

This is fascinating, a premise with the possibility of true heroism but reaching far beyond the usual costumed good guy/bad guy violent dispute. David tackles universal themes, such as parent/child struggles during adolescence, with complex dialogue and detailed characterization. If a teenager wants out, how bad does the situation have to be for others to get involved? How much absolute power should a father have over his offspring? Does it matter if his ideas are bigoted and repellent? These are questions that have direct relation to the modern world, even outside the exaggerated superhero universe.

All-New X-Factor #9 cover

Carmine Di Giandomenico’s art has a nicely European flavor that’s not afraid of detail or expression. His thin lines aren’t smooth or clean; they’ve got plenty of angles and edges, which feels more real-world. Plus, the covers, by Kris Anka and Jared Fletcher, are so distinctive and eye-catching, very nicely designed.

The father’s militarization of his home allows for a certain amount of action and suspense, particularly once things quickly escalate out of control, but what kept me reading these issues was how real Georgia felt. She doesn’t realize what she’s caused, having a teenager’s self-obsessed “whatever, it’s all ok now” attitude and no sense of consequence. Part of that is a naiveté caused by her solitude. As the story progresses, we learn more about why dad has the two of them (and a private army) in such a secluded location.

The character of Danger is new to me, but I really like such a straight-talking robot. My understanding is that she’s the former danger room computer turned walking personality. She feels at times like a modern incarnation of Marvin the Paranoid Android, but her plain expression of observations others have likely made at times reads as sarcastic. For example, when someone asks about what the school for mutants trains its students to do, Danger replies, “To fight evil mutants. And risk your life and possibly die. Sometimes repeatedly.” It doesn’t sound like such a great choice when put that way, but one can’t argue with the truth of it.

All-New X-Factor #10

Peter David does amazing work with outsider characters of this type, allowing comments on the overall dynamic that make the book more friendly to someone who hasn’t been living with the rest of the cast and other mutants for years. Danger reminds me of the previous great work he did with Layla Miller, an omniscient girl created as a crossover plot device to whom David gave real personality and purpose in the previous run of this series.

It amazes me that, at this point in the fifty-year history of the mutants in Marvel comics, that someone can come up with something new to say about the problem, but by exploring in depth what it means to have a child who’s part of a tribe you despise, David has made the conflict fresh. It helps that he’s layered on the fraught complications of money, media, and power. I’m also very thankful that David, as the story progresses, remember that this child had a mother. So many stories about family struggles in the superhero comic genre act as though the father was the only important parent, as though his decisions are what the child is shaped by and/or rebels against, but remember, “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” The mother is as or more important in most people’s lives.

Over the six issues that make up this story, David continues throwing curveballs and cliffhangers at the reader, following up previous hints that turn the story in new directions that continue building the theme. Plus, there’s his trademark humor, livening up the fight sequences, as well as a good dollop of soap opera. Poor Warlock, as everyone asks if the human characters are doing ok but don’t seem to care about his wellbeing. And poor Gambit, who gets left behind as part of a grudge.

The final, epilogue issue of this storyline, #12, gives the team a press conference and returns to the question of superheroes being proactive instead of reactive. The team took initiative, which started this whole sprawling conflict encounter, but it seems that that’s not going to be used as evidence that they should have waited for the fight to come to them. I’m glad. Continuing down this path, of seeking out ways to take positive action to make the world better, is a neat approach and a great way to set the team apart. Helps live up to the “all-new” branding, too. I’m eagerly looking forward to more. These issues will be available in a collection, All-New X-Factor Volume 2: Change of Decay, at the end of October.

Some Thoughts on the Comic Con Trademark Kerfluffle

I am not a lawyer, although I did take an intellectual property course once (in today’s world, where everyone ends up violating those laws, it seemed useful), so these are just some observations from an uninterested party.

Salt Lake Comic Con logo 2

Here’s some background. The short version is that the San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) has sued the organizers of the Salt Lake Comic Con for federal trademark infringement.

The folks behind Salt Lake then found it necessary to send out a press release saying that they’ve hired a lawyer, although that’s generally what one does when one is sued, unless one has a fool for a client.

I’m not sure this is relevant, but I find it interesting to note that SDCC is a non-profit organization “dedicated to creating awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular artforms, primarily through the presentation of conventions and events that celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture.” No one’s getting rich off the growth of the show, in other words, although I’m sure their organizers are fairly compensated for what they do. In contrast, Salt Lake is a for-profit organization, and as we’ve seen before, there can be a lot of money in this game.

Anyway, one of the key factors in this case will likely be whether or not customers are being confused by the similar names. From this handy legal summary, “In order to stop trademark infringement, … the first business to adopt and use a particular mark in connection with its goods or services must prove likelihood of confusion.” We already have that, as established in the original cease-and-desist letter. Salt Lake wanted to promote their show at San Diego this year. Some of the business involved thought that the Salt Lake folks were associated with SDCC. Thus, confusion due to similarity. Evidence of actual confusion, instead of theoretical similarity, is a powerful argument.

Salt Lake Comic Con logo

Speaking of similarity, Salt Lake has made a big deal out of how many other shows use “Comic Con”. However, few of them are so similar in name structure in close geographic area. (That’s why I’m calling them Salt Lake instead of SLCC, since using both SLCC and SDCC in this article struck me as not particularly clear or readable.) There’s a San Jose Comic Con, but it’s a Wizard World show, so that’s the primary branding. And the other shows I checked beginning with S all have the location name as large as the rest. Part of SDCC’s complaint is that Salt Lake isn’t prominent enough in their advertising, as shown in this logo from their online store, where Comic Con is much larger than the location. Again, similarity leads to customer confusion. Their revised logo, above, has similar problems, although it does look sleeker.

(Interestingly, if you read that complaint, there are also statements about Salt Lake’s organizers’ press releases and websites trying to trade on this infringement to drum up publicity, which is used as evidence of bad faith.)

Now, the presence or absence of the hyphen is significant. In comparison, I believe, although I didn’t check this, that DC and Marvel jointly own “super hero” as a trademark, but not “superhero”. Given that, Salt Lake may win, although you never know what a jury will decide. But this all doesn’t make me want to go to the Salt Lake Comic Con, although from the press releases their organizers keep sending out, they certainly seem to see it as a marketing benefit. Their behavior, from fans’ belief that they’re removing webpage comments that don’t agree with them to bragging about how Salt Lake has more social media engagement to trying this case in the press, leaves a bad taste. If you have that strong a case, why all the smoke and mirrors and circus atmosphere?

Wizard World Having a Much Better 2014 Financially

Earlier this year, I reported on Wizard World’s financial status, where they made more money but were running at a loss.

Wizard World logo

Now they’ve released their financial statements for the second quarter of 2014, where the headline is “Company Exceeds 2013 Revenue in First Half of 2014″. I guess their expanded slate of shows strategy is working, bringing in more money.

Q2 2014 contained four comic cons, which brought in $7,110,940 (compared to only $2,901,416 in the second quarter of 2013). As they put it, “The significant increase in revenue in 2014 is primarily accredited to the Company’s team’s dedication to delivering higher quality events, including better organization, more programming, and an exciting list of celebrities and artists to an increasing fan base, which all translates to higher revenue growth.”

They’re also doing better at making money per event, with average revenue per con in 2014 up $400,000, from $1,173,723 in 2013 to $1,535,517 in 2014. Of course, this all costs more, with expenses of over $2 million ($2,002,931) in Q2 2014 as opposed to $859,536 in 2013. Bigger names cost more. But they made money. Income from operations was $759,842 in Q2 2014, while in 2013 the quarter was a loss, at -$293,666. So now, they’re making money instead of losing it. They’ve gotten rid of the derivative liabilities that ate up profit last year, so if they can keep expenses under profits, it’s all money-making from here. And now you know why people want to put on comic and pop culture conventions.

The First Japanese Comic Artist Published in English

This is a pretty neat writeup… Ash Brown has the story of Masaichi Mukaide’s translated work, credited as “the first Japanese comics to be translated into English”. It appeared in Star Reach, an early independent comic anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories, in the 1970s. As Brown describes it, much of much of Mukaide’s work was written by already-known US creators and developed for this market and audience, so I’m not sure we’d call it manga, but it’s a neat bit of forgotten history.

No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular! Book 4 (WataMote)

Ah, it’s time for a price rise (from $11.99 to $13 — and I’m glad Yen has gotten away from the .99 dodge). Thankfully, I’m still enjoying this series enough to keep buying. I’m not sure why, since normally I hate comedy based on “look how pathetic this person is”, but somehow, I’m still rooting for Tomoko, even when she’s doing the stupidest things possible. I think it’s because there’s a fondness in her portrayal that allow me to focus on similarities without cringing from the discomfort.

As No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular! Book 4 opens, Tomoko has forgotten how to talk to other people, particularly boys. To improve her social skills, she decides to become a club hostess — which is like deciding, since you can’t get a basketball through the hoop, to join the WNBA. It’s the exaggeration that makes this so funny instead of painful. Of course, as soon as she seizes on this idea (based on a TV interview), she envisions herself as the best hostess ever.

I’m impressed by the non-verbal humor segments that work so well. As part of her self-imposed hostess training, Tomoko is working on lighting cigarettes and preparing drinks. She still thinks of life as a video game, working on speed instead of human interaction and trying to figure out tasks to complete to mark progress. In spite of how out of her league she is, she’s still keeping a positive outlook, as though she just needs to find the next new trick to make things all better. I think it’s that optimism and the resulting enthusiasm that makes her such an interesting read to me.

Also, it’s rare to me to see a teen character who’s shown as so honestly sex-crazy while having absolutely no idea what to do about it. She has bizarre fantasies, but I think that’s a realistic part of having adolescent hormones.

Much of this volume revolves around end-of-year activities, from a school marathon (where Tomoko is handicapped by badly having to go to the bathroom) to not knowing what to do with her winter break holiday — although Mom has ideas about cleaning — to a Christmas party with school friends. The last chapter ends on a high note, as Tomoko marks her sixteenth birthday by pretentiously engaging in what she thinks of as adult activities, which include drinking black coffee at a cafe and appreciating the depth and fascination of mature literature, without pictures. Again, she’s marking life by ultimately pointless details, but those elements give her hooks to start understanding the bigger picture.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10 #6

Writer Christos Gage is really killing it on this series, with creative stories that are true to the characters but reveal new facets of their personalities, not an easy trick to do with something beloved and long-running. He’s back writing solo after being joined by Nicholas Brendon for a Dracula arc. Artists for this story, “I Wish”, are Karl Moline (Fray) and Cliff Richards, inked by Andy Owens.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10 #6 cover

Cover by Steve Morris

Our ever-growing gang of friends start off the issue by facing a huge challenge for many young adults: affordable housing. Dawn and Xander have broken up, so at least one of them needs a new place. Buffy doesn’t want to live with her roommates any more. Giles has financial issues, being reincarnated as himself as a preteen. It’s all complicated by them being in California, where prices are sky-high. This is very easy to relate to, particularly at that age, when you’re still trying to figure out the adulthood thing. The best parts of Buffy, in my opinion, took these kinds of struggles and made them mean so much more because monsters got involved, which also allowed for symbolic theming. Gage is ably carrying on that tradition.

Their problems might be settled with a deal with the owner of a haunted house — they clean the place out and they can live there. Only the house’s inhabitant isn’t a ghost, it’s a demon with a particularly nasty sting in its tail. The promo copy describes it as fighting back “with blissful childhood fantasies”. Now, the idea of trapping a hero by giving them exactly what they want isn’t a unique one, particularly in comics. The best-known example is Superman’s Black Mercy in “For the Man Who Has Everything” by Alan Moore, published 30 years ago in Superman Annual #11. Yet that plot is such a perfect choice for these characters — and perhaps the fans, since I can easily see the dismissive snarking about how they were “better when they were in high school.” Well, let’s see, shall we?

Gage clearly knows and loves the show, and I love the way he makes references to past events in such a way that those with more spotty memories can easily get the mention and appreciate the humor. See, for example, Buffy’s response to Andrew’s offer of guest room space. Unfortunately, when it comes to Willow’s clothes, the artist appears to be living in the past to less effective result: a belly-baring shirt with a velvet choker? How 1990s of you.

But back to the story. It’s hilarious who falls for it (and how) and who doesn’t, and along the way, we get plenty of great wisecracks and some thought-provoking moments. Overall, I like spending time with these characters once again, and after reading an issue, I want to read more or watch the show again, the best compliment (I think) for a multi-platform franchise.

Dark Horse Releases Free Digital Earthquake Comic

In conjunction with the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, Dark Horse Comics has put out a free short digital comic to teach earthquake preparedness to teenagers. Without Warning is written by Althea Rizzo and Jeremy Barlow and illustrated by David Hahn. The idea is that the comic format will be more interesting to kids than other types of educational material.

Without Warning cover

Now, it’s still a public interest comic. You won’t find great character insights or a compelling plot here. Instead, it shows us how Angie, a teen in a coastal town in the Pacific Northwest, uses her prepared backpack kit of emergency supplies to calm her friends, rescue a stranded motorist, and reunite with her family after an earthquake and flood.

The art is very journalistic, plain and straightforward, with no showoffy disaster panels, just one full-page post-event portrait of water in the streets and debris everywhere. Instead, the emphasis is on everyday people. You may wonder what happened to Heather, who ignored her better-prepared friend and drove away without knowing how bad/flooded the streets were. Careful attention reveals part of the answer.

It’s a great idea, given the amount of industry talent living near Portland, to do an outreach comic. Particularly since the PR tells us that “experts predict a large 9.0 or higher earthquake could strike Oregon at any time.” That’s a pretty scary possibility. The comic also has some websites to check out and additional educational information on preparedness.

Metafiction Sends ABC Down the Rabbit Hole With Derrick Storm Series

I’m stunned by this news. I thought it was weird enough reading the Richard Castle novels — someone wrote a TV show starring a writer, and then the company released books referenced on the TV show supposedly by that writer that were more stories that could have been plots on the series, but with another level of fictionalization. Where’s the thesis on all this about self-referentiality and postmodernism?

But wait, there are more than one series of works by Richard Castle — in addition to the “Nikki Heat” books, there are “Derrick Storm” books, which was the series we see him concluding at the beginning of the Castle show. (And I’m not even mentioning the various comics and graphic novels with the character.) Those books are spy thrillers, so I haven’t read them.

Now Variety reports that ABC is developing a Derrick Storm series for television. Although executive producer and Castle creator Andrew Marlowe has moved on from that series as it prepares to launch season 7, he and wife Terri Edda Miller will be producing this new show in conjunction with Gregory Poirier, who is writing the pilot.




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