Dark Knight Rises Reviewers’ Lives Threatened

So it has come to this.

Why so serious?

In case you’re not familiar with the webcomic XKCD, that means I’ve been rendered a bit speechless. Rotten Tomatoes, the movie review site that collates reviews from all over and combines them into a critic score (and later allows the audience to score the movie) has been posting its collected advance reviews for The Dark Knight Rises, debuting at 12:01 AM Friday morning.

This has led to a pack of raving idiots bashing, trolling, and even death-threatening reviewers who have given it a less-than-positive review. Let’s face it:  Christopher Nolan set the bar pretty darn high with The Dark Knight, so expectations have never been higher. People have a strong attachment to Batman. People love Batman. People loved that movie, from its creepy-as-all-get-out depiction of the Joker to the thematic elements and other jargon that I’m not going to pretend I know much about.

But death threats? Is this what we’ve come to, internet?

(I guess that’s someone’s cue to “You Must Be New Here” me).

To anyone outraged that The Dark Knight Rises has been getting negative reviews, I have a few logical questions to ask you, and then I’m done until I review the damn movie myself in the wee hours of the morning on Friday.

Have you seen the movie?

Having seen or not seen it, can you distance yourself enough from your emotional attachment to the character to determine whether or not it’s a good movie? (Because seriously, I’ve read so many comics in the last few years that I started to lose touch with what a “good” comic was, maybe that’s the case here).

If the answer is “no” to either one of these questions…stop bashing and death-threatening. If the answer is “yes” to either one of these questions…still stop bashing and death-threatening. It’s embarrassing.

As with any and all preemptive reviews, you have to take them with a grain of salt. If you’re dead-set on seeing it no matter what the critics say, well, why aren’t you waiting until you watch the movie yourself anyway?

Stop angsting. Stop freaking out. Just wait and watch the freakin’ movie.

Maybe…just maybe these reviewers are right. And now, just for suggesting that, I’m going to go hide from the internet for a while.

Thrillbent: Entering the Embrace of Piracy

Alternate title:  If you can’t beat ’em, work with ’em.

Mark Waid is one of my favorite comic book writers. He’s also controversial. A few years ago, Waid was almost shouted off the stage in a room full of comic book pros because he advocated embracing the oncoming digital comics age. That didn’t mean that print comics were going the way of the dodo. He just meant that, like all good surfers, comic pros had to ride the wave instead of getting crushed because they weren’t ready for it.

Waid put his money where his mouth was and created Thrillbent, a webcomics site that hopes to experiment in the new media and find its ground, including its excellent title Insufferable. It’s a brilliant comic, really, and you should check it out.

He even has the balls to put the hero in the sidecar!

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

Comic book piracy is a big deal. Now, not every pirated copy translates 1-to-1 in lack of issues sold. Anyone who tells you that is bonkers. But let’s admit it, pirates have taken some business from everyone who used to need a physical copy for their work to be sold and enjoyed. Even in the digital age, where Thrillbent funds its website through merchandising and advertising, Waid has found his Insufferable comics repackaged and uploaded onto pirate sites when they’re just as free and accessible on his website.

But Waid’s not fighting back, and I think he’s darn smart. Instead, he’s chosen to embrace the pirates. By repackaging the files himself, making them easily available for the pirates to put online, and including a page that asks the readers to check out the site if they liked what they saw, Waid has found a way to increase his site’s traffic without making a false attempt to try to prevent the piracy. It’s a well-known fact that the issues are going to be online and pirated. He can’t stop them. So instead, he’s driving traffic to his site by helping the pirates.

And this isn’t the first time that someone has benefited from piracy, either. Take a look at what happened when Steve Lieber and Jeff Parker’s Underground found its way onto 4Chan. There’s a huge spike in sales linked directly to when that pirated copy was uploaded. Did it translate into long-form, rising sales? No. But look at that flat line leading up to that spike, would you?

Mark Andrew Smith’s Sullivan’s Sluggers raised almost $100,000 on Kickstarter (on a $6000 goal!) due in no small part to the fact that Smith advertised on the front page of The Pirate Bay.

I’m not saying that piracy is good. I’m not, no way. That’s an argument for someone else to make.

What I’m saying is that we have to understand that piracy is not going away anytime soon. It isn’t. But the smart pros are the ones who find ways to utilize this existing audience and translate it to sales or pledges. Those who don’t just might find themselves left in the dust.

Penny Arcade + Kickstarter: Gaming the System

Have you heard of Penny Arcade? Sure you have. If you haven’t, you probably clicked the link, so now you have. Too much effort? Penny Arcade is a juggernaut webcomic site, and they’re asking folks to donate money on Kickstarter to help their site go ad-free for a full year! That’s right, when they reach $1,000,000, no more ads until they ask for that million again next year!

*sigh*

Kickstarter is a brilliant system. I love what it brings to the table for artists, writers, etc. who otherwise couldn’t work on their dream project because they don’t have the money.

But this? This strikes me as an egregious abuse of the system.

Not the least accurate Kickstarter description I’ve seen.

“Give us a million dollars so that we can keep doing what we already have a system for, but will already have your money for instead!”

See, this kind of thing would make sense if that $250,000 (for just the one initial ad) was actually for printing costs on their next book, or to produce a new webcomic (although an extremely expensive one, yikes). But no, it’s just to make their lives easier so they don’t have to deal with ads.

But that’s not all!

If you pledge $15, Gabe will think about you while he’s having sex!

If you pledge $125, you’ll get an autographed “Dickstarter” postcard!

If you pledge $300, @cwgabriel will follow you on Twitter for a year!

If you pledge $500, Gabe and Tycho will retweet a tweet of yours!

If you pledge $1000, you get on Tycho’s Xbox Live list!

If you pledge $5000, you get to have pizza with them, as long as you pay for getting there yourself!

If you pledge $7500, you can be their intern and do their work for a day.

If you pledge $9999, you get lunch with the guys! Just pay to get there yourself!

I don’t even…these are the worst rewards I’ve seen in my life, and I’ve seen the Kickstarter page for Tales of a Gay Asian. It’s like they sat in a room and said, what can we do that won’t actually involve producing anything besides something we’re already financially stable in producing now?

It feels wrong, and I think it’s because I see Kickstarter as a platform for new artists to do something they otherwise couldn’t. It feels like an abuse of the system for the big guys to elbow their way in to ask for money from a fanbase that they already have, for money that they basically already have from their advertising revenue, without using it to produce anything specific (“With that money, we can do new stuff!”–like what, more dick jokes?). They sat in a room and said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if our fans gave us money for nothing?” I mean, they spin it nicely and all, but it just…there’s something that doesn’t feel good about it at all.

I guess if I’m pledging to your Kickstarter, I’m going to want to know what I’m Kickstarting. And Penny Arcade? They aren’t Kickstarting anything.

They’re gaming the system, and that’s what makes the system brilliantly flawed.

But all is not lost. An alternative project to put your pennies behind? Check out Duster, a 240-page graphic novel self-described as such: “In the closing days of World War II, a widowed housewife turned cropduster pilot struggles to rescue her teenage daughter from a band of Nazi war criminals who crash near her small Texas farm.” 

How awesome does that sound?

For $30, you’ll get the hardcover print when it’s published, and this is the only way you’ll get it in print form. It’s a project where you know what you’re getting and what you’re funding, and why they can’t do it without you.

That’s what Kickstarter is for. Pledge, because otherwise these folks can’t tell the stories they’re dying to tell. Anything that doesn’t fit that category doesn’t deserve my dollars.

Ripped Hair

Folks, I’m issuing a mandate:  If your comic books are stressing you out, stop buying them. 

Stop going on message boards. Stop reading press releases. Take a chill pill. Breathe, relax, and return.

I’m a member of various message boards, and it’s the recent talk of the Marvel NOW! publishing initiative that has people tearing their hair out. Now, I’m blogging about this instead of message boarding right now just to avoid confrontation (yup, there’s my yellow stripe showing), but bear with me.

Quick! Use your new, Marvel-granted license to complain incessantly about things that haven’t happened yet!

Folks can look onto an image like this and say that they don’t think good things are going to come of it. I get that. If you don’t like Cyclops’ new helmet with the X-visor or Hulk wearing armor or Rocket Raccoon carrying a Gatling gun, fine by me.

What I can’t handle is people saying that the announcement of multiple Avengers titles suggests that Marvel “hates the X-Men” or that Iron Man’s new armor means the death of the character as we know him, and gosh darn it, it just won’t be good anymore because this is all of the information we have. People are freaking out, thinking that the announcement of Uncanny Avengers means the cancellation of Uncanny X-Force or that All-New X-Men is replacing Uncanny X-Men. Marvel just loves that adjective. And y’know, maybe those things really are going to happen. But if they do, so what? If the new comics or publishing direction isn’t to your taste, don’t buy it.

Look, I’m no neophyte when it comes to internet message boards, but it’s this slave mentality that kills me on message boards. Comic book readers seem to have something that the best (and yet most offensive, alas) analogue I can think of is the mentality that comes with battered women’s syndrome. I’m talking about comic book readers who feel burned by the parent company because of however many stories they didn’t like but continue to pour money into the company anyway on the thing they didn’t like. Every person you know is going to tell you to leave that “abusive” relationship. So do it. You don’t have to worry about your kids or your financial stability if you walk away, so what, my dear comic reading friends, is keeping you?

If comic books are seriously stressing you out this badly that your heart races at the terrible, most worrisome things you think this publishing decision could do to your favorite characters, you’re probably well past the point where you need to back off your comics and find something that gives you peace instead. If worst-case-scenarios are all that come to mind every time a press release is announced (“Oh god! First X-Men is just another excuse to publish Wolverine!”), but you feel compelled to buy it anyway, step back and reconsider what kind of animal you’re feeding within yourself.

Folks, if you feel burned because Havok has a headdress again, don’t buy Uncanny Avengers this October. If you can’t stand that there’s going to be a rotating roster of 18 Avengers that will have two issues per month, don’t spend your money on the December-debuting Avengers title.

I mean it, because I need you to tell me to do the exact same thing if you see me doing this a few weeks/months/years from now.

Finally, for the folks who shot back at the people who complained about the people who were doomsaying (complaining about complaining about complaining, as it’s otherwise known), hold on a second. The number one mandate about comics is that they’re supposed to be fun. If your hobby isn’t fun for you anymore, sorry to hear it. If people have an issue with doomsaying on a forum because it dampens their own fun, well, I’m with those people. You can say what you want about a publishing decision that’s occurring between three and six months from now. But if people think your negativity is bringing the fun level down, I won’t give them any backlash for saying you’re being negative.

Comics should be fun for you, and if they aren’t, you’re the only one who has the power to change that. Try new comics that you think will be fun instead of the ones causing you distress. Find a different hobby, because god knows every other hobby is less expensive than this one.

Or, better yet, relax your grip on the safety bar, and sit back and see where the ride takes you. You may like the scenery. You may not. But at least you didn’t give yourself a freakin’ heart attack on the way there.

Valiant Comics: How Not to Put the Cart Before the Horse

Within the last month, Valiant Comics, one of the biggest publishers of the 1990s, has emerged from the depths of bankruptcy to make quite the splash in the comic book world starting with their relaunched versions of X-O Manowar and Harbinger with two more books (Bloodshot and Archer & Armstrong) to follow.

You know, that’s only four books, and I’ve gotta be truthful with you guys here:  I think that’s brilliant.

Work with me here. A publisher that’s relatively unknown to comic book readers who started reading after 2000 shows up in the marketplace, and instead of shipping 20 books, they ship one in their first month. When people say, oh this new Valiant stuff is good, what happens?

People know that the title they’re referring to? That had to be X-O Manowar #1. When people went into comic stores saying that they wanted to read something from the new publisher they were hearing buzz about, the comic retailer was able to tell them where to go rather than offering ten different choices and making them feel like they were all important (because when everything’s just as important, nothing is).

Some comic book creators (Mr. Liefeld, I’m lookin’ at you) were on Twitter talking about how Valiant couldn’t have possibly pulled the numbers they did on their first issue without some kind of insider scandal, something where they told retailers to order high on their books and they’d buy back whatever didn’t sell. But really, if you look at it from a publisher’s point of view, that doesn’t make any sense. You’d have to have the money to do that in the first place, and as a starting publisher, that has to be impossible to be the case. I think that this was the case of some really, really smart marketing.

They’re all over the social media map. Their Twitter feed is constantly abuzz with feedback from Valiant fans old and new. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone hinted that toward Rob Liefeld just to get him to blow up about it on Twitter. If he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have known about the X-O debut issue and gotten in on the ground floor.

And what’s beautiful is that it’s just four titles for now, and according to Valiant execs, probably only going up to a total of six titles within the first year of publishing for them.

That’s how you build a universe and a fanbase. Sometimes, the big guys are too bulky, too confusing. The way Valiant is handling things seems like a way to get readers without boggling their brains when they look at the comic racks, and I think it’s a good effort (struggled not to say “valiant” there) for any new publisher in this marketplace.

I’m looking forward to seeing where they go next!

From the Ashes, a Phoenix is Reborn!

Entertainment Weekly has broken the news that Marvel will be bringing back Jean Grey in some fashion sometime soon. Most outlets are taking this to mean she’s coming back to life, so let’s roll with that.

Jean Grey was killed in the early/mid-2000s in Grant Morrison’s “Planet X” storyline in New X-Men by a man pretending to be Magneto who was actually…you know what, I’m actually going to not try to explain the fiasco of continuity that Xorn ended up being. Regardless, Jean died. Now, the Avengers and fighting the X-Men over the Phoenix Force that Jean wielded in a story cleverly titled, wait for it, Avengers vs. X-Men. 

Just roll with it.

Regardless, most Jean Grey fans will recognize her from the movie series, the X-Men: Evolution cartoon, or the fact that she’s died and come back to life a few times in her history. She’s been dead for most of the time that I’ve been reading comics (since I started back in 2002 as a wee tyke).

I wouldn’t normally post a press release and hot-button news, but then this happened:

That’s right, guys. Jean Grey is trending Worldwide on Twitter, defeated only by the news that Anderson Cooper has come out as gay. The reason I put so much stock in trending topics on Twitter is because it means people are talking, and people talking is a good thing. If enough people talk, maybe some of those people will put their money where their tweet is.

Comics could use the readers, and if Marvel puts the right story behind Jean’s return, maybe those readers’ll stick around.

EDIT: Aaaaand Twitter has now informed me that it’s changed trending topics from a worldwide point of view to trends about things that I care about. Sonuvagun. Expect an updated blog post that isn’t half-pointless later on.

Happy Canada Day from Alpha Flight!

See, I wasn’t going to say anything. I wasn’t going to update this blog until tomorrow (and hopefully weekly here on out).

But then Alpha Flight went and trended on Twitter.

#bizarroworld

For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, UncannyXmen.net has a whole host of Alpha Flight articles from the Event Month they did a while back.

Alpha Flight is a team of superheroes located in Canada, clearly, and Wolverine is one of their former members. In fact, one of their members, the subject of a future blog entry here–Northstar–just got married to his boyfriend Kyle Jinadu in an issue of Astonishing X-Men that made national news headlines for featuring a gay wedding in a superhero comic and was announced on The View of all places.

But seriously, folks. Canadians love their Alpha Flight. This should tell Marvel something. Bring back Alpha Flight, eh?

Please. We barely got it back last time.