Longbox Soapbox (Summer 2016 Edition)

Longbox Graveyard #162

The sleeper has awakened! Longbox Graveyard is back! 

Captain America #101

My thanks for sticking with me through this month-long hiatus. After five years of continuous publication here at LBG, going away on vacation for a couple weeks seemed a good opportunity to step back from the blog (and Twitter, and Instagram) and take stock of my online comics fandom efforts. My return coincides with this summer edition of the Longbox Soapbox, where I reveal blog stats for the last several months, and determine if Longbox Graveyard will continue.

First things first — Longbox Graveyard will continue! I do still enjoy doing the blog, and you guys seem to like reading it, so I will commit to another year of publication. But my frequency will decrease. LBG started as a weekly blog … then moved to twice-monthly … then to once-a-month … and as of now, will be published “irregularly,” which means that I will aim for once-a-month for big “numbered” articles, but we’ll see how it goes. I don’t want to publish just to publish, and while I still have plenty of enthusiasm for comics blogging, the refractory period between those enthusiastic outbursts is getting longer and longer. It happens to all of us as we age, honest!

This shouldn’t impact LBG’s readership too much. The blog has been on a slow drip for quite some time (my frantic publication of Marvel reviews notwithstanding), and I effectively missed the last month entirely and the world still kept spinning. In fact, it kept spinning at a remarkably stable rate, which gave me a picture into the blog’s base traffic level, absent any sort of promotion on Twitter or Instagram. (I abandoned promoting on Facebook ages ago — not because it was a poor source of traffic, just because I don’t like Facebook).

Anyway, it looks like daily search traffic and the occasional visit from Longbox Graveyard diehards guarantees about 2000 views a week for my little one-man blogging operation, down from roughly 2800 per week when I am actively adding content and promoting up a storm. The chart below bears with out, with the last four full weeks on the graph showing activity when the blog was mothballed while I was on vacation (and the right-most week being partial at the time of this screenshot).

Longbox Graveyard weekly traffic

That level of traffic might be kind of sad if I was trying to monetize Longbox Graveyard, but seeing as I’ve turned off most advertising here (again), it’s more than enough for a cozy little fannish operation that is primarily an outlet for my four-color obsessions, and a safe space to discuss the same with a loyal cadre of leaders that have stuck with me through thick and thin. So I expect this to be my traffic level for the future, maybe ticking up a bit when I add new content, or return to Twitter and Instagram in force (and the jury is still out on whether I want to do that … it’s fun to interact through those channels, but it was starting to feel like work, and after a month away I find I don’t miss it much, whereas blogging is still calling my name).

And what might you expect here at the blog in the coming weeks?

I dunno.

shrug

I have a pile of DC Rebirth books here awaiting review, but I am having trouble getting traction with that project. For the most part, these books have failed to inspire the kind of strong emotion that makes for good reviews. Everything has been a “C” so far, and I’m not sure I want to devote a lot of digital ink to damning DC’s latest reboot with faint praise. I may yet take a run at this — if so, you’ll see the first reviews in a day or two.

Or not.

Steve Ditko's Doctor Strange

Looking farther out, I will certainly do something magic-related when the Doctor Strange movie comes out in November (probably in concert with Super-Blog Team-Up). I have a long-gestating Golden Age review series that looks at comics year-by-year that may finally see publication — I’ve written the 1939 entry, but need to finish my 1938 article to kick things off right. I might do something with Star Wars in December, to coincide with Rogue One’s theatrical release. I have special monster plans for October. There’s the second-part of my promised Fantastic Four Annuals review bumping around somewhere; I’d like to take a look at the Claremont/Byrne run on Marvel Team-Up; and I am forever saying I will get back to reviewing Tomb of Dracula, Master of Kung Fu, and the rest of Walt Simonson’s run on Thor. Maybe this is the year!

we miss you, Darwyn

But for now, it’s summer time. The nights are long and the living is easy. San Diego Comic-Con begins this week, and it is right in my backyard, so I expect I will be down there getting in trouble. I’ve been keeping up with a few contemporary Marvel series through my Unlimited digital sub, and several DC Rebirth books are still inbound, seeing as I preordered them months ago. I hope everyone out there is having a great season and reading lots of comics. In fact, that suggests a survey question:

Sound off in the comments, to let me know what you are reading, and to let me know you are still out there and a part of Longbox Graveyard! Thanks in advance for your support, and I look forward to visiting with you here at LBG for the balance of this year and beyond. Excelsior!

Longbox Graveyard On Summer Vacation

I’m going on vacation for the rest of June, and this blog and my Twitter and Instagram feeds will be dark until July.

superhero summer by Brendan Tobin

art by Brendan Tobin

In the meantime, keep reading comics! And feel free to comment on this or any other post … I will reply when I return!

I will be back in July, with the roll-out of my DC Rebirth capsule reviews, a new Longbox Soapbox, and much more. Thanks for your support!

 

DC Universe Rebirth #1

DC UNIVERSE REBIRTH #1

Capsule Review

CONTEXT-FREE REVIEW: DC’s latest reboot leads with DC Universe Rebirth #1, a big ol’ bunch of housekeeping that is one part mea culpa and one part blueprint for doing better, served with a side of finger-wagging at past editorial decisions that have painted DC into a grim and gritty storytelling corner. It’s also an entertaining story, mostly. The writer is DC’s silver bullet, Geoff Johns, who along with a half-dozen artists serves up a literal lightning storm of present-tense DC vignettes, with a time-lost Wally West bursting in and out of reality, looking in on old friends who do not remember him (or their pasts). The script is wordy with a couple awkward exposition dumps but does the job, assisted by art that values clarity over style (and where each artist seems to be trying to make this book look the product of a single hand). The Big Idea, here, is that the DC Universe has lost its way, manipulated by an outsider Big Bad (and I won’t spoil his identity, but details are here). The Big Bad, you see, is the reason why DC has failed — why it over-applied the lessons of Watchmen and Dark Knight in creating a dark and unsmiling comic universe where no one is having any fun … not the characters, not the creators, and not the fans. “A darkness from somewhere has infected us,” Wally says, “It has for a long time now.” The premise of Rebirth, it seems, will be heroes struggling against this darkness.

DC Universe Rebirth #1

OK. Here is where you get on, or you get off. Here is where you embrace the meta or you choke on DC’s naked admission that all those books they’ve been marketing to you for decades were dirty, nasty things that we should regard with shame and revulsion. For my part, I got on board. I liked the stories Johns set up here, including the schmaltzy ones, and I even felt a bit of emotion — like a tingling sense of wonder when the Atom’s recorded message served as a call to adventure in the microverse, and I teared up (just a little bit) when Wally witnessed a marriage proposal, and again later when he was reunited with his old mentor. Rebirth #1 is not perfect, but it will do — and it had better, as there is a sense that if DC can’t get it right this time, then we may not have DC (as we know it) to kick around any more. In the end, Johns goes right at it, inviting us to cleanse ourselves of the sins of the past through the transformative power of love. And, yeah, I don’t feel like those sins were mine, especially, but I’ll give the guy the benefit of the doubt. I’ll read more of this reboot …

… but you will have to wait until July for my capsule review series to continue, because I’m going on vacation, and Longbox Graveyard is going on hiatus!

DC Universe Rebirth #1

THE PART WITH THE CONTEXT: It’s kind of silly that I even have to add this paragraph, but DC Comics has become such a lightning rod for fannish discontent that some kind of public service announcement is required, if only for self-defense. There’s been plenty of coverage about how DC has walked back their this-is-the-new-reality New 52 launch with Rebirth; how Rebirth smells of desperation after DCYou cratered last year; the editorial turmoil around DC’s Vertigo line; and the serious-on-entirely-different-level charges of sexual harassment inside the DC offices … it’s a big ball of awful, to be sure. This is apart from the more mundane fan outrage DC has provoked with how they’ve handled some of their characters these past several years; or the collateral news of Warners reshuffling their movie division after Batman v Superman seemed to get it so wrong; or even the echoes of discontent over new projects spinning out of beloved DC classics like Dark Knight and Watchmen (with the later now hotting up again). It seems like everyone has a beef with DC Comics! I’m not here to dismiss anyone’s issues with DC — and I even share a few of them — but I do want to state that I’ve gone into this review series laser focused only on the comics in front of me, without really trying to fit things into the larger context of DC’s business operations, talent relations, or the way they have treated their fans and their brand/continuity. I’m just reviewing the comics, man! In the interest of full disclosure, I do have a couple friends and DC, and I would like to see them succeed in their jobs … and if that makes me some kind of apologist, well, OK, I guess. But I’m here to tell you that I don’t have a dog in this fight — aside from wanting to like these comics, and wanting superhero comics in general to enjoy success — and if DC can give me that, then I’m happy. I have scant investment in DC’s characters or history and thus will have little sensitivity to the character and continuity changes that may drive more dedicated fans mad. So you can blast off at me in the comments section if you like (and I hope you will!), but please do so with the understanding that I am an outsider when it comes to most things DC, for better or worse … at least as much of an outsider as a guy who has been writing a comics review blog for five years can be!

Approachability For New Readers

This book is aimed squarely at the core, and new readers be damned. It is readable and entertaining but good luck if you don’t already know most of DC’s characters and history. There’s an awful lot of handwringing here about continuity and characters and times gone by, but I was intrigued more than I was confused. Hopefully the stories to come will focus more on the present than the past.

Read #2?

Well, there isn’t a second issue of DC Universe Rebirth on the schedule (yet), but I will definitely be reading the next issues in this relaunch.

Sales Rank

(N/A)

Read capsule reviews of a competing relaunch — The All-New All-Different Marvel Now!

The Superman Novels of Elliot S! Maggin

Longbox Graveyard #161

Look — up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a … Superman novel?

Guest blogger Ryan McSwain — author of Monsters All the Way Down and the upcoming Four Color Bleed, now on Kickstarter — offers this look back at a literary form that has finally come of age: the superhero novel!

There have been many attempts to capture long-underwear heroes in prose. There are the old Marvel Pocket novels, fast reads packed full of imagination. More recently fans have loved Soon I Will Become Invincible and It’s Superman! Jim Butcher of the Dresden Files even cast his hat in the ring with Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours. Add in indie hits like Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? and Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, and you have plenty to choose from.

If you’re looking for something really special, you want the Superman novels by Elliot S! Maggin, Last Son of Krypton and Miracle Monday.

Maggin is no stranger to longtime Superman fans. He wrote many of the Man of Steel’s four-color adventures in the ‘70s and ‘80s, enjoying long runs on both Action Comics and Superman. He helped define Superman’s world in the Bronze Age, beginning with the landmark “Must There be a Superman?” in 1972.

last son of krypton cover

Trivia: On Earth-2, Elliot S! Maggin wrote the 1978 Superman film.

Maggin wrote Last Son of Krypton based on his own idea for a Superman movie, and it came out the same day as the 1978 film. The book expands on Superman’s origins and early life, including a memorable retcon with Albert Einstein. Superman and Luthor have to work together to defeat an alien tied to Superman’s past.

miracle monday cover

We read this at my support group, Survivors of Man of Steel, and it really helped.

Miracle Monday reads like a milestone event in the life of Superman. Luthor’s latest prison escape allows a demon to escape from hell, and Superman must save the earth without sacrificing his ideals. It’s a surprisingly modern story, but it holds true to the characters.

Maggin’s Superman, both in the comics and novels, resides in an era of the Big Blue Boyscout’s history that is currently overlooked. The collective consciousness of comic fans holds plenty of nostalgia for the frenzied creativity of the Golden Age, the naïve splendor of the Silver Age, or the crafted Post-Crisis continuity. For whatever reason, people aren’t reminiscing over the period when Clark Kent was a news anchor with Lana Lang and Luthor still broke out the purple and green tights.

Which is a shame, because the ’70s and early ’80s have a wonderful balance between classic Superman and mature themes. Nowhere is this more on display than in Maggin’s novels. At no point do you feel these stories are ashamed of their origins. Sure, Superman battles a mischievous imp from the fifth dimension. Why wouldn’t he? We’re here to have fun, right?

Maggin somehow takes these absurd elements and puts them into a believable context. He describes elements like Superman’s microscopic vision in detail, just enough to make you say, “Hey, that actually makes sense.” When Superman and Luthor head off into space, it feels natural in this fantastic reality.

Something modern adaptations get wrong, with the possible exception of Smallville, is the relationship between Superman and Luthor. The Bronze Age Luthor is still a villain, but he’s like the Flash’s Rogues Gallery. This Luthor has never killed anyone, which allows Superman to take a different approach to his capers.

In Last Son of Krypton and Miracle Monday, Luthor takes on the role of almost a secondary protagonist. Maggin also explores the childhood friendship between Clark Kent and Lex Luthor, showing where things went wrong. It’s tragic and intriguing, and it adds so much to the dynamic.

A little bonus trivia for you: The title Miracle Monday comes from a fictitious Superman holiday celebrated on the third monday in May. The concept later appears in Superman #400 (1984) and Superman/Batman #80 (2011). Maggin later imported Kristin Wells, an important character from Miracle Monday, into the DC universe as Superwoman.

superwoman

DC Comics Presents Annual #2 (1983). But Lois Lane was still the first Superwoman way back in Action Comics #60 (1943).

I have only one complaint about these two wonderful books. Superman exists in this fantastic world, but the rest of the DC universe is missing. Luthor is there, and other villains are mentioned, but none of them show up. The Guardians of the Universe make a guest appearance, but Hal Jordan is nowhere in sight. Superman and Luthor are on their own to save the day, which serves the story, but it leaves me wishing Maggin had written a Justice League novel to complete the trilogy. Fortunately, he wrote a fantastic novel adaptation of Kingdom Come and a Generation X novel I still need to read.

If the idea of an entire comic universe in a book intrigues you, I have good news. Four Color Bleed is my attempt at a massive comic book event in novel form. It’s all the fun of a summer crossover without having to chase down the tie-in issues. It’s inspired by my love for comics from the Golden Age to now, and it captures the fun and imagination of the paneled page. It’s for fans of series like Astro City, Starman, and All-Star Superman.

fcb centered cover.png

artist-grid

The artists of Four Color Bleed: Rian Gonzales, Weshoyot Alvitre, Ben Zmith, Morgan Perry (aka Geauxta), Ben Cohen, Kevin Kelly, Adam Prosser, and Chris “Chance!” Brown.

Four Color Bleed is currently on Kickstarter. I’ve lined up eight fantastic artists for the project. Their illustrations will accompany fictional encyclopedia entries in the style of the old Who’s Who series, to expand the world of Four Color Bleed and its huge cast of characters. Any support would be incredible, so head on over to the Kickstarter and help us make it happen.

titania-for-site-copy.png

Thanks, Ryan … now I’ve got two superhero novels I need to track down. No, make that three superhero novels … I’ve just backed Ryan’s new novel, and I hope Longbox Graveyard’s readers will join me! We Silver Age fans have got to stick together!

NEXT: Longbox Soapbox (Summer 2016 Edition)

X-Men: Genesis

Longbox Graveyard #160

X-Men: Apocalypse arrives in theaters this week, and while reviews have been mixed, there’s no denying that the X-Men have become a major movie franchise, with a half-dozen films so far, and plenty more on the way. It’s hard to believe these many movies began with a single comic series published by Marvel a half-century ago!

Uncanny X-Men #1

I recently re-read the first several issues of X-Men, and it was fascinating to see where and how this modern franchise was born. In celebration of the X-Men’s pending Apocalypse, I thought it would be fun to look at the team’s Genesis, in terms of the major mutant tropes that emerged in the earliest days of the X-Men!

Now, I have a confession to make. Despite my love of all things Marvel, I’ve never been a huge X-Men fan, and I’ve considered the earliest run of the book among the lesser works of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It had been several years since I read this book, and I went into my re-read expecting unsophisticated stories and a lot of growing pains as the X-Men formula gradually took shape.

What surprised me was how much of the modern X-Men storytelling DNA was baked into this series right from the start. And the most magical moment of all was when the most important element of the X-Men ethos flowered into full life in issue #5.

But that’s getting ahead of myself …

The concept of mutant student/heroes was on display right from the start. From the first page of issue #1, class was in session!

X-Men #1, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

And “class,” for the most part, meant the Danger Room … though it wasn’t called by that name quite yet.

X-Men #1, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

Some of the X-Men’s personalities were also on early display. Scott Summers was already a humorless hall monitor. The Beast, conversely, was initially a rough-and-tumble thuggish type … but more about him in a moment.

X-Men #1, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

The X-Men were united in their admiration of the school’s newest pupil — Jean Grey. Maybe not quite united — Bobby Drake, the Iceman, was vocal in his disinterest. I’m certain Stan Lee and Jack Kirby didn’t mean for this to be more than an adolescent male expressing that girls are icky … but given that Bobby has come out as gay in recent Marvel continuity, this makes for an interesting footnote.

X-Men #1, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

Most important, this first issue laid the groundwork for the core element of the X-Men mythos — that mutants are different than humans, and feared by them.

X-Men #1, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

And mutants are feared with good reason! That’s right, there are evil mutants, too … And right on cue, we get a gloriously deranged Magneto, ranting about Homo Superior.

X-Men #1, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

Our heroes put Magneto to flight, which earns them the appreciation of the Army. While hinted at earlier, that critical element of the X-Men — that society hates all mutants, good or evil, just for being mutants — hasn’t quite coalesced yet.

X-Men #1, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

Issue #2 further wedded the X-Men with the mainstream. Cyclops and Iceman received the kind of welcome normally reserved for the likes of the Fantastic Four …

X-Men #2, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

And Professor X was working directly with the F.B.I. to capture the Vanisher, communicating via some high-tech telepathic gizmo. (It might be easier to use the phone next time, Chuck!)

X-Men #2, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

But there was one bit of X-Men lore that got well and truly locked in this issue — the Danger Room got its name!

X-Men #2, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

Issue #3 saw the X-Men’s mission of reaching out to the world’s mutants start to come into focus, though the way Professor X was shown to do it was kind of creepy.

X-Men #3, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

The Mutant-Of-The-Month was the Blob. It was amusing that Professor X had no “Plan B” if someone had the temerity of turning down an invitation to the X-Men. Someone might take a dim view of risking his neck in the Danger Room and getting bossed around by Scott Summers? Inconceivable!

X-Men #3, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

The Blob clearly wasn’t X-Men material. That he used his newfound status to try to take over a circus speaks volumes … and also serves to underscore the emerging good-mutants-versus-bad-mutants theme taking root in the book.

X-Men #3, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

This issue also saw the Beast reinterpreted as educated and sophisticated. In Son of Origins, Stan Lee wrote this change was because the original, rough-hewn Beast seemed too much like The Thing, from the Fantastic Four. And so the Beast started using big words and reading an advanced calculus book with his feet!

X-Men #3, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

Issue #3 also introduced a pervy subplot where Professor X secretly pined for the teenage Jean Grey … but we will just pretend this never happened …

X-Men #3, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

Issue #4 featured the return of Magneto, now in command of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants! Chief among Magneto’s crew were Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch — pretty much the odd-mutants-out in Magneto’s Brotherhood, and destined to to respond to the better angels of their natures and become heroes after an issue or two. But they did provide the perfect audience for Magneto to blast off again about the secret mutant war that was becoming the heart of the book.

X-Men #4, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

That plot line continued into Issue #5, where there was a subtle change that really defined what made the X-Men special …

X-Men #5, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

Did you catch it?

“Normal humans fear and distrust anyone with super-mutant powers! … If he’s a fellow mutant, we’ve got to help him! … We’ve got to help anyone who’s in trouble! That’s our oath!”

The friendly men-on-the-street and allied authority figures of the first few issues have given way to an ugly mob that turns against mutants because they are different … while the X-Men emerge as heroes who look out for their own kind, but also defend anyone who is in trouble, even the people who hate them.

With these two panels, the X-Men are well and truly born. The idea that our heroes were mutants, and that they were students in a school, did help to set the book apart right from the start — but these were external elements, and over time they would have been little more than gimmicks. By providing the X-Men with the internal dynamic of being hated by the outside world while still pledging to serve the common good — well, that’s a concept that could (and did!) sustain these heroes for decades to come.

Suddenly, X-Men was more than a superhero fist opera. It was a battle for hearts and minds! And the stakes couldn’t be higher, because that battle was fought inside the team itself — like in issue #8, where Beast stormed off the team after being set-upon by a bigoted mob.

X-Men #8, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

“I think Magneto and his evil mutants are right!”

That’s an argument we’ve been having in X-Men to this day.

This is interesting stuff! Our four-color world is suddenly cast in shades of grey. And while it would still be a decade before the X-Men as we know them today really came together …

Giant-Size X-Men #1

… you can still trace the genesis of this beloved Marvel super-team to those first, at-times-awkward issues by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Was there anything those two guys couldn’t do?

And has there ever been a longer-gestating comic book hit than the X-Men? The book was ten years in the wilderness before it turned into a phenomenon with that new team, above — ten years where the series flirted with cancellation, and was even a reprint book for a time. The reintroduction of the X-Men under Len Wein and Dave Cockrum (and Chris Claremont, who took the ball and ran with it) was pitch-perfect, using the core ideas and history of series as a jumping-off point, and introducing a colorful and (mostly) new cast of characters that connected with the audience in ways the originals never quite managed.

Given Marvel’s nature — and the necessity of keeping those trademarks fresh — I expect the X-Men would have continued to get times at bat even if the 1974 series had fizzled, but that would have been no guarantee of success. How many times has Marvel tried (and failed) to make us fall in love with the Inhumans? Deathlok, Blade, Ghost Rider … every couple years, these characters get a chance to seize the spotlight, but they’ve never pulled it off, certainly not to the degree the X-Men have enjoyed. In terms of unlikely success, I expect only the Guardians of the Galaxy rank higher in Marvel’s oeuvre, and while the Guardians used a clever comics reboot as a springboard for their success, that property has really been more of a movie phenomenon than a comic book success.

Anyway, it just goes to show that sometimes it take awhile to get it right … and that you can’t rush success. The idea and the moment have to meet, and even then, you need a lot of luck. But hope springs eternal, and one of the pleasures of being a comics fan is watching a tertiary book like X-Men or the Guardians turn into a runaway success. It’s the kind of thing that inspires collectors to hang on to even their most obscure comic books — you never know when some lame old first issue is going to turn into solid gold.

(And personally, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the Invaders, Son of Satan, and the Legion of Monsters!)

NEXT MONTH: #161 The Superman Novels of Elliot S! Maggin

 

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