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The Song of Red Sonja

The Song of Red Sonja

March brings a new Dollar Box column over at StashMyComics.com.

Conan The Barbarian #24, Barry Windsor-Smith

Yesterday I wrote about the not-so-great Red Sonja solo series from the 1970s, but this article is all about Sonja’s origins, in one of the finest single comic book issues of all time — Conan the Barbarian #24. It’s a classic tale from Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith. Read all about it!

Thanks, as always, to StashMyComics.com for hosting The Dollar Box!

Red Sonja

Longbox Graveyard #90

It’s been awhile since I wrote about Conan here at Longbox Graveyard, but my Hyborian bona fides are well-established. I’ve lauded the original Barry Windsor-Smith run of Conan the Barbarian, mourned Hollywood’s many ham-handed attempts to bring the Cimmerian to the silver screen, and penned a love note to Belit, the “ultimate Marvel Comics girlfriend.” I even reviewed the Conan-inspired Fire & Ice movie here a couple weeks ago.

Conan material is starting to get thin on the ground at my secret comic book headquarters. I will review Savage Sword of Conan someday, and will take a crack at King Conan if that rumored Schwarzenegger Conan movie reboot ever gets off the ground. I’ll probably give the new Dark Horse version of Queen of the Black Coast a go someday, too. But in the meantime, I thought I’d satisfy my urges for Robert E. Howard nostalgia with a little Red Sonja. After all, she’s the She-Devil With A Sword! She has red hair! She wears a chainmail bikini! What could go wrong?

Almost everything, as it turns out.

Red Sonja #1, Frank Thorne

to the death! (or cancellation, whichever comes first)

Red Sonja was born in the pages of Conan the Barbarian #23, and won the hearts of all right-thinking Conan aficionados in the classic “Song of Red Sonja” from issue #24 (a story so good it made my Top Five Single-Issue Stories post, way back when, and is also the subject of my latest Dollar Box column over at StashMyComics.com). Working only from a name mentioned in passing in a non-Conan Robert E. Howard story, series scribe Roy Thomas introduced Sonja as a beautiful, fast-thinking foil to young Conan … a smart, daring, and calculating swordswoman who was pretty clearly out of Conan’s league.

Conan #24, Barry Windsor-Smith and Roy Thomas

Red Sonja was a vivid and instantly-memorable character, the kind that inspired fervent fan devotion … but also the kind that likely should not have received her own book, in that few of her qualities could easily be made to stand on their own. What makes Sonja likeable is the way she plays off of Conan — how she seems clever, determined, fearless, and one step ahead of our hero. Conan knows that Sonja will betray him — and so do we — but we go along with Sonja’s schemes because she’s the right kind of crazy. She promises riches and adventure, and maybe something else besides.

When Sonja tramples Conan aside and gallops out of town on a stolen horse, we can respect her as a fellow rogue — her betrayal was inevitable, and her “I-wish-there-was-another-way” besting of our hero both elicits our sympathy and affords us a laugh in a rare ending where Conan doesn’t get the girl. Implicit in this exchange is the promise these characters will meet again — and they would, both in Conan’s own mag and Savage Sword — but Sonja would never be quite so good as she was in that first tale, and the character that walked into her own book in Marvel Presents and Red Sonja would prove a distant echo of the Sonja we’d come to know and love.

Marvel Feature #4, Frank Thorne

the series sported a couple good covers, but you know what they say about judging a book …

There’s certainly much to work with here. The Conan books were among Marvel’s most popular of their era and it would seem a small thing to walk an adolescent audience over to a series promising all the monsters and mayhem of the Hyborian Age with a little cheesecake on top. But instead of embracing the core elements of what made Conan work, Red Sonja runs from them in an ill-advised attempt to distinguish the book on its own merits. It’s like the creators set out to solve the wrong problem. The task should have been extending Conan’s magic to a second title. Instead, Red Sonja strives so hard to stand on its own that it ends up rejecting almost everything that made Conan such a romp in the first place. You can change a thing or two, but altering too many tropes at the same time leads to a kind of cognitive dissonance bound to put curious Conan readers off of the book.

Red Sonja #3, Frank Thorne

like Conan, Red Sonja scores a disposable mate at the end of some stories … and it kind of works (sometimes) … but other Conan tropes are missing from this book

The problems begin with Frank Thorne’s art, which displays a high degree of style and illustrative ambition but was as far-removed from the look of Barry Windsor-Smith and John Buscema on Conan as you can imagine. Thorne’s Red Sonja is almost abstract in her purity — there isn’t a wrinkle or a frown line on her, and her face is an exaggeration of wide, dark eyes and full lips that amounts to an exotic but unconventional beauty. In this, Sonja is in contrast to almost everything else in Thorne’s world, where every creature seems monstrous — gnarled, tattooed, infected, and corrupt, faces out of some south sea cannibal nightmare.

Frank Thorne, Red Sonja

everyone but Sonja has a case of the uglies in Frank Thorne’s Hybroian Age (and I’m not always certain about Sonja, either)

Thorne’s costumes, arms, and accoutrements seem more out of a fairy tale or an Arabian Nights fantasy than Howard’s Hyborian Age, and Thorne’s architecture, though sometimes ambitious, fails to evoke the wonder of a world that Buscema more effectively rendered even with rough indifference (and that Windsor-Smith laid down with manic attention to detail).

Thorne could turn in a decent bit of visual storytelling now and then (particularly when a page wasn’t swarming with overwritten captions) …

Marvel Feature #5, Frank Thorne

… but Thorne’s action scenes were especially weak, with his characters contorted in awkward poses, lamely clashing swords with all the conviction of a sixth-grade stage play.

Red Sonja #5, Frank Thorne

Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age is a broad landscape of borrowed tribes and tropes, and there’s certainly room for Thorne’s take — but there isn’t room for Thorne’s take and the more familiar Marvel impression at the same time. More than just being about two different characters, these books appear to be set in entirely different worlds.

Part of this may be down to trying to do too much, too fast. Marvel launched a fist-full of female superhero books in the mid-1970s — Ms. Marvel, Spider-Woman, She Hulk, and Red Sonja all date from roughly the same age. Female superheroes are tricky to market and create and it is worth noting that none of those books would succeed. Launching just one successful female solo title would have been a challenge — launching four or more in a limited period of time seems a recipe for failure, especially given that Red Sonja’s creator, Roy Thomas, would be a remote presence in the book’s first several issues.

Marvel Feature #4, Frank Thorne

Frank Thorne would also suffer with monster design, but this gorgon was a strong effort

Marvel Presents #1 is a typically thrown-together 1970s Marvel book — a reprint of a Red Sonja story from Savage Sword of Conan, and a slight but not half-bad original eight-pager by Thomas and Dick Giordano. It’s like Marvel decided to publish a Red Sonja comic but didn’t bother to tell the creators! In Marvel Presents #2, the regular team is aboard — artist Frank Thorne and writer Bruce Jones, edited by Thomas. It takes Jones and Thorne a couple issues to find their footing — the first few stories are strewn with small, densely-written panels that afford Thorne’s art little room to breathe — but while Jones’ scripts were moody and atmospheric (and began to explore Sonja’s psychology in ways later writers would ignore), his tales were undone by distracting and over-clever plot twists and “shocking” reveals that served only to throw readers out of the story.

By issue #6 of Marvel Feature — and rolling into the run of Red Sonja’s self-titled book — Roy Thomas is aboard as co-scripter with Clair Noto, but even here the old Conan magic is lacking. Maybe Thomas was taking his hands off the reins, or maybe he still felt it essential that Sonja substantially distinguish herself from the tone and characterization we’d seen in her Conan appearances he’d penned, but this Sonja is all over the place, cavorting with unicorns and entering herself in beast man Olympics because … well, I’m not sure why, frankly.

Red Sonja #1, Frank Thorne

an artful page, but we’re not in Hyboria any more

Aside from a sense of justice stemming from her own oppressive origins that leads Sonja to quickly take up the cause of the underdog, I’m not sure who Sonja really is, or why she does what she does — and that bold red-headed wench who one-upped Conan and lived to tell the tale is long gone from these stories.

As a line extension of the Conan series starring a spin-off character from a book I loved, Red Sonja pretty much fails on all counts. Probably the best way to approach these issues is to set aside all previous conceptions — about Red Sonja, about the way the Hyborian Age looks and feels, about the kinds of stories told in Conan — and evaluate the series on its own merits. But when stripped of all that makes the Conan franchise special, these Red Sonja stories are generic fantasy stories that fail to deliver. Red Sonja was just different for its own sake, not better in any way, and offering few advantages for all the pains it took to distinguish itself from its parent book. The attempt to make Sonja stand on her own in terms of psychology and tone may have seemed imperative at the time but it ultimately did both readers and the book a disservice. We would have been better off with more of the same, all the usual Conan cliches and situations, made to seem slightly different by having Red Sonja at the center of the story, but still clearly a part of the swaggering, fast-paced sword and sorcery stories that worked so well in Conan the Barbarian.

Red Sonja #6, Frank Thorne

the best single issue in this run — Red Sonja #6, with a script from ElfQuest co-creator Wendi Pini — embraced the old Conan tropes and was better for it

I wish I could say that this book was ahead of its time, and that its fearless experimentation and bold new look made it a pleasure to rediscover after all these years, but sadly this is not the case. Re-reading these books was a hard slog, like cranking an engine that stubbornly won’t turn over. In it’s favor, I better enjoyed what Frank Thorne was trying to do than when I first read these books in the 70s, and was pleased to find the stories were less exploitative than I remembered. Yes, this is a barbarian girl in chainmail, but Thorne draws the character with dignity and avoids the “broke-back” contortions common to female characters in contemporary superhero books, where every page seems a pin-up built out backwards from the heroine’s ass and boobs. And every once in awhile there is a page that almost works.

Almost.

Marvel Feature #6, Frank Thorne

As noted above, it is hard to determine how much of a hand Roy Thomas had in plotting and scripting these books, but these stories are considerably less confident and sure-footed than his Conan work. It may not always have been wise to recycle some non-Conan Robert E. Howard tale into an adventure of Conan the Barbarian (as Thomas would do time and again), but doing so at least ensured that those issues would conform to Howard’s story beats and themes, rather than the fairy tale flights of fancy that too-often are at the heart of Red Sonja.

It is a testament to the strength of the brand (and Conan’s popularity) that the book lasted as long as it did, running seven issues in Marvel Presents and fifteen more as Red Sonja before its inevitable cancellation in 1979. Marvel and the audience certainly gave this book its shot — this isn’t the case of a boldly experimental book being cut down in its prime, like Don McGregor and P. Craig Russell’s Killraven. Everyone understood exactly what this book was trying to do — and no one wanted this particular flavor of barbarian fantasy. Red Sonja is a rich concept, though, and the character would go on to star in a series of successful books from Dynamite Entertainment, with no less a luminary than fan-favorite writer Gail Simone scheduled to pen Sonja’s adventures in a new series starting in July 2013.

But by not delivering on even the basics of its genre, Marvel’s Red Sonja disappoints on almost every level. I am stopping short of giving the book a failing grade. I’ve reserved that mark for Marvel’s John Carter book, which squandered far richer source material. But Red Sonja is the very definition of a “D,” and I’m not talking about Sonja’s cup size!

NEXT WEDNESDAY: #91 By Any Other Name: Sub-Mariner!

Freakout Friday!

There must be something in the water — or maybe Halloween and the U.S. election are driving people nuts. Either way, I’ve encountered three different freakouts in the last couple days. They’re nothing that rises to the level of a regular blog, but I’d like to share them anyway, in this first (and probably last) Longbox Graveyard Freakout Friday!

Freakout The First — Twitter Freak!

I had a spirited exchange on Twitter yesterday:

Yes, friends, it is true — I am guilty of the unpardonable sin of Twitter unfollowing. Call a cop. I went back and read ToxicStormComic’s stream and he was indeed a dullard, which is why I unfollowed him. That he also proved to be a knucklehead was an unanticipated bonus.

Toxie’s insult doesn’t upset me at all — it’s kind of funny, which is why I RT’d it to my stream yesterday. It’s also a milestone of a sort because it’s the first time in the eighteen months I’ve been online as Longbox Graveyard that I’ve gotten flamed, which means I am doing something right (or maybe very, very wrong).

I’ve been flamed! Oh no!

I suppose this is a chance for me to lay out the Longbox Graveyard Twitter policy.

I am quick to hire and quick to fire on Twitter. I’ll follow most anyone, but I’ll also bounce you if you’re boring, or needy, or posting about stuff that might be very important but isn’t interesting to me. It’s not personal. I get followed and unfollowed all the time and that’s the way it goes. My rules are pretty much as I outlined to Mr. Toxic above — if you’re boring, or a knucklehead, or not following back, you get plonked.

It’s the “not following back” part that requires more explanation, because in this I am (gasp! horror!) hypocritical. There are plenty of people who follow me that I don’t follow back, but there isn’t a single person I follow who is itself not a follower. No exceptions.

The reason for this is twofold. First, the primary reason I’m on Twitter in the first place is to drive traffic to Longbox Graveyard. If you aren’t listening to my feed, I can’t do that. Second, I’m also here to actively engage with people … and anyone who has tweeted at me knows that I always make an effort to tweet back. Again, if you aren’t following me, you aren’t engaging with me. I completely understand that there are pros and celebrities who can’t possibly follow back everyone who follows them and that’s fine. I just don’t follow those people. I need you to follow me and (hopefully) engage with me or I’m not interested in your Twitter stream. So if you want me to follow you, do one of those two things.

(And Toxic, baby, if you are reading this, I am taking my “kiss and make up” offer off the table. I reviewed your stream and you’re still boring).

Freakout The Second — Dark Iron Man!

I expect you’ve seen the trailer for Iron Man 3 by now:

It didn’t do a lot for me, but these first trailers for effects pictures are usually cobbled together from whatever footage is ready to show, and it is a rare first trailer that really blows my doors off. Half the time I don’t look at trailers at all. Iron Man 3? Sold. I will be there first weekend. Why spoil it with a trailer?

Anyway.

A favorite sport is tormenting the Ulm, my day job partner-in-crime, and a comics guy from way back (you may remember him from our Deathlok review, or our Top Ten Manliest Superheroes list, or maybe you were there when I moderated Ulm’s Malibu Comics panel at San Diego Comic-Con).

Ulm even loved Iron Man when he had a NOSE!

The Ulm loves Iron Man. He loved Iron Man even back in the bad old George Tuska days, and he loves Iron Man even more in his eponymous movie and The Avengers, too (we don’t often speak of Iron Man 2). After reading mainstream press reaction to this “dark and grim” Iron Man I thought it was a chance to give Ulm the needle, as I know he loves the lighter tone of the big Marvel pictures, and is worn out by the sometimes dour tone of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films.

I sent Ulm a link to the trailer and Vulture’s article about it, and I was not disappointed in the Ulm’s epic and sarcastic return rant:

Whew. Just saw the new Iron Man trailer. I’m really glad they got rid of that “snarky humor action adventure” trope. No AC/DC, no quips, no fast cars, no stripping stewardesses. Finally, the pointless debris of “entertainment” has been discarded in favor of the grim truth that lies beneath the surface of every comic book character.

Now we see the Iron Man we have all been waiting for —  a serious man nursing his regrets. Now is the time to rip the veil from Tony’s destructive alcoholism and make him pay for his errant and violent ways.

Think how interesting it will be to have a bed-ridden Tony Stark. Personally, I’d like to see maybe 2/3 of the running time with Tony in a coma because of the Mandarin. While he slumbers, ill of heart and mind, let us penetrate Tony’s conscience; his dark dreams and secret torments. Let us see strippers morph into Tony’s mother while he shrieks into the uncaring void. Let us see the living embodiment of Tony’s father through the metaphoric transformation of a bottle of Jack Daniels. Is the disembodied voice coming from the whisky really Howard Stark — or is it the Mandarin — or could it be … Tony himself?

In the course of Iron Man 3, I am eagerly anticipating that Mr. Stark will let down those closest to him, but ultimately learn respect for others (especially women) and, more importantly, for himself. He will learn that his rich and famous lifestyle has actually been a waste of his human potential to love – and be loved.

As the audience, we will travel this dark road with him. We too shall feel our sanity slipping away beneath the many hued rings and accusatory dialogue of the Mandarin. We shall emerge not just entertained, not just captivated, but also that much wiser about ourselves.

Now is the time to transform a so-called “enjoyable” popcorn matinee into a darkly tinged tone poem that transforms the withered trope of “superheroism” into a penetrating view of the subconscious “Iron Man” within us all.

Can’t wait.

— Chris Ulm

Awesome, Ulmster. Pure awesome.

Freakout The Third — By Crom!

About the only thing I thought less likely than a John Carter sequel was another Conan movie, but today comes news that a new Conan picture may be coming in 2014, with Arnold Schwarzenegger returning to the role that made him a star.

Now, I’m not crazy about Arnold as my favorite barbarian, which I made clear in one of my first columns here at Longbox Graveyard … but if Arnold is what it takes to get Conan back on the big screen, then I’m ready to make peace with him. Besides, in a twisted sort of way, “Old Arnold” may be better than “Young Arnold” for this role.

Hear me out.

First, there is some indication that Arnold is ready to start acting his age (while still being superhuman), as evinced by this trailer for The Last Stand.

It won’t make anyone forget Terminator, but it doesn’t look terrible. The Last Stand might even be fun.

Further, there is precedent for “Old Conan.” The very first Robert E. Howard Conan story — The Phoenix on the Sword — is about an older Conan, now king of Aquilonia, coming to realize that it is an uneasy head that wears the crown. There was even a fifty-five issue run of King Conan from Marvel Comics back in the 1980s, looking at Conan’s adventures at the end of his life (and now I find myself interested in completing that run).

Arnold has also been slapped around a bit lately, losing his marriage after a sordid sex scandal (in a career that seen quite a few of them), and also proving to have been a failure as Governor of California. Maybe he’s ready to play a world-weary barbarian king. In any case, I’m going to be optimistic about this one, and enjoy my little freakout that Conan may be back, despite the recent big screen failure of the franchise.

Who knows? If the producers listen to the foolproof advice I offered for making a good Conan picture we may finally get the barbarian movie we deserve!

Here endeth the freakouts.

Be good to each other.

(And feel free to admonish me for my TwitterCrimes in comments, below)

Fantastic Fiftieth Issue!

Longbox Graveyard #50

With this installment, Longbox Graveyard hits the half-century mark! While you can always reference all past Longbox Graveyard columns through the Checklist link at the top of every page, to mark this solemn occasion I thought I’d count down the top ten Longbox Graveyard blogs by hits.

Cue the drumroll and the David Letterman voice as we begin with the #10 item on our Top Ten List of Longbox Graveyard posts for the past year!

10) Tomb It May Concern

Tomb of Dracula is a seminal comic of the 1970s and one of the reasons I started Longbox Graveyard. I was anxious to revisit this book, but my memories were based on the final issues of the run, and the early numbers were rougher sledding than I’d anticipated. I do remain enthused for this book and have been actively filling in my missing issues. I will get around to reviewing the rest of the series, though at this point it doesn’t look like that will happen before Halloween.

one of my recently-added Tomb of Dracula back issues, purchased out of the bin at the excellent House of Secrets comics shop in Burbank, California

It’s good to see this post has gotten some attention through the year, though I think most of that was down to a surge of hits from the Reddit comicbooks group, when I advertised it over there with the headline, “Before Vampires Sparkled, There Was Tomb of Dracula!” Never underestimate the power of nerd rage — about the one thing comics fans can agree on is that they hate and shun Twilight. Unfortunately, those Reddit readers are mostly interested in contemporary books and I don’t think I converted many of them into regular readers. I do think I made some valid points about the harder-than-expected edge of this series and it’s unsparing look at a genuinely evil protagonist — in a lot of ways I think Tomb of Dracula was (and still is) ahead of its time.

Longbox Graveyard has a long future ahead of it because so many of my favorite books have yet to come up for review here. In addition to finishing off Tomb of Dracula, I want to do several columns on Master of Kung Fu, Daredevil, and Swamp Thing, none one of which much figured in the first year of this blog. It’s crazy that I haven’t touched those books but that I did a Godzilla review this year! This project keeps getting bigger the deeper I get into it.

9) Top Ten Marvel Comics Characters

I did a pair of favorite character Top Ten blogs this year, and they both made this year end lineup. Lists are red meat for bloggers — easy to put together, and likely to draw comments, as everyone has an opinion about the best and worst of everything. My Marvel list wasn’t especially good writing, but it was important in that it helped bring together an emerging community around this blog, challenging my understanding of Sub-Mariner and taking me to task for snubbing Spider-Man. Community is critical for blog retention (and Top Tens are a nice, lazy way to structure a blog), so this list did its job, even if I’m not terribly proud of the work.

Plus anything that got me to take another look at Steve Ditko‘s Spider-Man must be counted as time well spent.

another special benefit and unexpected pleasure of this past year has been a new appreciation for Steve Ditko

8) This Female Fights Back!

My Ms. Marvel column represents the best of Longbox Graveyard on a personal level — not because of the quality of the column, but because without Longbox Graveyard, there’s no way on earth I ever would have rediscovered this series. This really was just another stack of books that I intended to offer a cursory glance on the way to eBay, but issue after issue I found myself unaccountably caught up in this admittedly marginal book, and not just because I developed a crush on Carol Danvers. Longbox Graveyard has been about rediscovering the comics of my youth and Ms. Marvel was among the most pleasant rediscoveries of the past year.

Carol is coming back as Captain Marvel, but I like her old look better

There is a vibrant female comics fandom scene on the internet, particularly at sites like DC Women Kicking Ass and Has Boobs, Reads Comics, and I think my Ms. Marvel column gets a few referrals from those sites, but mostly I think this column resonated because there isn’t a lot on the web about the original Ms. Marvel run.

I think the Ms. Marvel character is an important part of the dialogue about sexism in comics, and how female characters are generally sexualized while male characters are idealized, but it’s above my pay grade to sort that out. I just like this book (and since running this blog I’ve addressed my old mistake in filled in the rest of my Ms. Marvel, volume 1 collection, and look forward to reading those last few issues soon).

7) Panel Gallery: To Me, My Board!

My “Panel Galleries” were an experiment born out of desperation, and this first Panel Gallery only did so-so at launch, but it has continued to attract views so I shouldn’t be surprised to see it elbowing into my top posts of the year. Panel Galleries are the “fill in issues” of Longbox Graveyard, and while I will sometimes run them to coincide with outside media events (like the “Avengers Assemble” gallery I ran just before the movie came out), more often than not a Panel Gallery is a last-minute offering to keep my weekly posting streak alive while I work on a meatier subject or just take a couple weeks off to recharge.

This particular Panel Gallery focused on a narrow and obscure trope — the stock phrase the Silver Surfer calls out to summon his flying board. I have several other Panel Galleries on the boil, with panels excerpted and squirreled away in secret folders as I encounter them via my Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited subscription. A few panels that might otherwise have wound up in a Panel Gallery were repurposed for the “Say What?!” features I will be contributing this summer over at the Stash My Comics blog, and past Panel Galleries have new life as the backbone of Longbox Graveyard’s presence on Pinterest. Not bad for a fill-in feature!

If you have suggestions for future Panel Galleries, let me know. My next scheduled Panel Gallery will appear in July, focusing on the faces of Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man and supporting characters. The Ditko Panel Gallery I did on Doctor Strange faces finished well down the list for the year, but I really like seeing those Ditko faces up close, so you’re still going to get a lot of larger-than-life Ditko supporting characters in July when the new movie comes out.

a preview of my forthcoming Amazing Spider-Faces Panel Gallery

6) American Dream

I was still finding my footing when I published my fanboy rave for Ed Brubaker’s Captain America. I was in a honeymoon period of rediscovering comics and this Cap run likely benefited from that in scoring a rare A-plus score on the Longbox Graveyard Report Card. As much as I enjoyed the run at the time, two follow-on volumes remain unread on my shelf. Even with excellent modern books immediately to hand, I still prefer to spend my time with sometimes-inferior Bronze and Silver Age books.

Which isn’t to say I over-rated this series — not at all! It’s just that I went a little overboard with Cap in the early days of Longbox Graveyard and I haven’t quite recovered. Those aforementioned volumes are still in the shrink and while I hunted down the missing numbers to fill out my Jack Kirby Cap run from the 1970s, and I haven’t mustered the enthusiasm to plunge into those, either. Life is long, and it will seem longer still if I start treating comic books like homework assignments. I’ll get to these issues when the impulse strikes me. In the meantime, I’m happy to have them in my collection.

This particular post benefited from a surge of readers when author Ed Brubaker mentioned it on his Twitter feed, but like many spikes, that exposure appears to have resulted in few continuing readers. Still, it was nice to make contact with a working pro (and I would also exchange Facebook messages with Walt Simonson over the columns I did on his outstanding Thor run). For several weeks, that was my single strongest traffic day for Longbox Graveyard, eclipsed only by a mysterious surge of hits when I published my Beneath The Longbox Graveyard blog in February (which paradoxically did not end up making this year-end list), and then shattered by last week’s Thanos post.

5) Have You Seen This Barbarian?

This column might have been my best writing for Longbox Graveyard. Certainly it was my most heartfelt, and it’s good to see that my prescription for how Conan the Barbarian might be better handled on film proved one of the most popular posts of the year. A similar post lamenting the misfire of John Carter was also popular, falling just outside this top ten, despite being live for only a fraction of the time of my Conan piece.

it also helped to linkbait Jason Momoa naked

Almost a year later, this movie is forgotten, while the half-life of my Hyborian disappointment has burned off, and I’ve started reading some Conan again, thanks to the Savage Sword of Conan reprints published by Dark Horse Comics. I did a lot of Conan columns this year but I might sneak in one more in the year ahead …

4) Nemedian Chronicles

… because it seems my Conan coverage was more popular than I’d surmised. This is one of the earliest columns on this list, and it doubtless benefited from accumulating hits for nearly a year (and from the aforementioned linkbaiting), but I think the gorgeous Barry Windsor-Smith artwork in this run remains worthy of celebration, especially in their Dark Horse reprint form, and I stand by the high marks I offered Conan the Barbarian #1-25 on the Longbox Graveyard Report Card.

great cover, despite the helmet

3) Longbox Shortbox

Another format born of desperation that proved a successful innovation, my first “Longbox Shortbox” came around when I found I had several reviews that weren’t gelling as longer pieces, but still had one or two points I wanted to share. By combining them into a single post I felt they added up to the substance afforded by my “full” review format, and so the circle was squared, giving me a format to publish shorter reviews and also letting me discuss books that didn’t merit a full column all on their own. I’ve since made the format “official”, though I will be ratcheting back on the number of mini-reviews in each Shortbox column, as five mini-reviews ends up being longer, more exhausting, and less focused than a single stand-alone piece.

There were some decent insights here. My review of the earliest issues of the Avengers would warm me up for more extensive coverage of that book these past few weeks, and reviewing Don McGregor’s Black Panther in this format let me write a negative review in the fewest words possible. It’s not that I shy away from negative reviews — it’s just that my distaste for this Panther run came down to disliking the author’s style, which isn’t the greatest basis for criticism. The biggest misstep with this column was “grading down” New Teen Titans to B-plus (when it surely deserves an “A”) but that was also fodder for comments, which is never a bad thing.

2) Young Justice

An outlier on a comics blog, my animation review of DC’s Young Justice cartoon continues to pull hits each and every week, seeming to strengthen through the year, and might have come in as my top post of the year if I’d taken my traffic snapshot closer to press time. It might be because there are kids out there looking for news on this show’s notoriously erratic broadcast schedule … or it might be because mentioning “Batman Handjob” in your lead paragraph is powerful SEO mojo! Either way, the intertubes loves them some Young Justice!

I was happy for a chance to talk about Young Justice, which I continue to watch with my boys (when it is on). Warners did contact me with an offer to review another Young Justice DVD release, but I turned them down, as I felt I’d already said everything I needed to say about the show. Film and television reviews will remain the exception, rather than the rule here at Longbox Graveyard, but I suspect you can look forward to reviews of Green Lantern: The Animated Series and Batman The Brave And The Bold in the year ahead (provided I’m still on the Warners freebie list!).

1) Top Ten DC Comics Characters

Told you that lists were popular! Still, I was surprised to see this post proved the most popular of the year, and I think a lot of that popularity has to do with the robust comment thread this post generated, with thirty-odd posts offering their own Top Tens and debating the merits of Aquaman. I certainly can’t credit the success of this piece to my writing, which was some of the flabbiest on offer here at Longbox Graveyard, and displayed my general ignorance of DC characters by picking a third of the list strictly on the basis of their headgear!

I do promise more DC coverage in the year ahead, starting with some Batman as soon as next week. I’ll also be checking out some of the DC New 52 relaunch now that the trades are hitting the market, though I don’t know if they’ll prove blog-worthy.

Those were the hits. There were misses, too, with my Supergods column proving especially disappointing in terms of the traffic it (didn’t) pull, but even my top posts don’t get a lot of hits in the scheme of things, and the first purpose of Longbox Graveyard is that I please myself, so traffic numbers are of secondary importance. I do like watching my hit numbers increase, though, so if the impulse strikes you, please revisit these or other Longbox Graveyard posts, and tell your friends about the blog.

Thank you for supporting my work these past fifty issues!

NEXT WEEK: #51 Escape From The Longbox Shortbox

LONGBOX GRAVEYARD TOP TEN LISTS

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