I finally finished the first Starman Omnibus and despite Robinson’s occasionally too-purple prose, I now see why so many of my friends have been enamored with the series. For when it came out, it feels downright revolutionary and it would hold up fairly well on the shelves now. I do like the feeling that he’s going for a long game (even if Robinson wants to tell you that he’s planned this out constantly) and that a lot of thought has been put into creation and reimagination versus copyright continuation. The last few issues collected in this volume, where one bad day in Opal City is retold from multiple POVs with Jack Knight running a gauntlet are downright enthralling. I still have to get used to the unusual emphasis Robinson places on words, mind.
Ex Machina just got one of those nice hardcover editions from DC and I picked it up on a whim. The book annoys me much less than I remembered (maybe I read it at a bad time?) and once Vaughan drops the whole “here’s a factoid I wrote down in a book and wanted to make sure I used” thing, it’s a well-done science fiction drama. I quite like how DC/Wildstorm’s deluxe hardcover format worked in this case: the first two trade paperbacks for the series are placed together with the original series notes, etc, for a cover price that’s about the same as two of the current-format volumes.
This isn’t something that should be done in all cases (hello, Power Pack), but it shows how DC understands the book marketplace a bit better than Marvel. Whereas the house that Jack, Steve, and Stan built focuses entirely on the current direct market (and movies, but let’s stick to one medium,) DC has proven time and again that they’re better at courting customers in multiple realms. This Ex Machina book is perfect for libraries, where trade paperbacks fall apart fairly quickly, and features not one but two proven properties: the title itself, and Brian K. Vaughan, so the value to retailers is significantly higher than something like the premiere hardcover of Kraven’s Last Hunt (a book that I love, but wouldn’t necessarily recommend as My First Spidey-Story) or Civil War, which has an ephemeral value at best, even with the creative team involved. Add in DC’s relationship with Random House’s distribution arm (which includes more than just being stuck in a catalog: there’s co-op promotion payments, incentives and special offers, returnability making books less risky) versus using Marvel continuing to depend on an overburdened Diamond sales force, and the picture becomes clear: Marvel focuses on the current base in its publishing efforts, DC acts like a business, takes a risk, and expands into other bookselling arenas. I’ll be very curious to see if Marvel makes a similar deal in the next few years once they’ve seen how DC handles some of the book-market issues they’ve not had to tackle in any real way before, such as returns.
Unrelated entirely: The first Inbound, from the Boston Comics Roundtable shows nascent signs of something greater, but stronger editing, a thematic focus, and content that delivered complete stories instead of chapters and excerpts could have done wonders for this book. Highlights for me included Susan Chasen and Dan Mazur’s “The Daytime Sky,” surprisingly charming look at an overweight astrophysicist making an unwelcome discovery, and Hyuun Supul’s awkwardly-dialogued but effective look at humanity in “Deconstruction,” while the office tale “Lending Can Openers” and “After The Plague’s” postapocalyptic drama were fairly standard indie comics stories – nothing bad, per se, but nothing that excited me, even if I really liked Steve Harrison’s art on the first. It’s obvious that “After The Plague” is part of a larger work, but manages to cram in enough mood and character work to feel like a decent piece on its own.
Where Inbound falls apart is group founder Dave Kender’s “The Ragbox, Chapter One,” featuring art by Mark Hamilton. When working in an anthology, creators have only a limited amount of space to hook a reader, and Kender spends nine pages establishing that there’s a fire somewhere in a neighborhood called The Ragbox and that two teenage siblings (one of whom is writing a college essay) are wondering where their parents are. While the second volume of this series will likely continue this story, there’s no hook to keep me interested until then. Part of the problem here is an egregious use of silent panels and too-long, static shots that aren’t interesting, even if it’s obvious that the reader should get a sense of impending something. I understand it’s the first chapter of a longer work, but did it really need to open with a title page of its own, a page showing a fire very slowly growing as curtains are parted, an entire page devoted to two panels of a young woman sleeping, and another 3-panel page in which she opens her eyes suddenly? If it’s part of a graphic novel or whatever, that’s great, but it really does not feel like it fits in an anthology like this at all.
Neither does Jaime Garmendia and Justin Mattarocchia’s horror tale “Body Blues,” one of those newish horror comics that feels more Marilyn Manson shock-rock than Nosferatu and is exactly the sort of thing I avoid like the plague. I’m sure it has its audience; I’m just not a member of it.
On the inside front cover, Kender discusses the book’s inception and the Boston Comics Roundtable as a whole, setting a lofty standard for the group that I’m not sure is on display here. Part of the problem might be the use of an editorial committee – four people putting together an anthology aren’t going to have the same focus as one or two, and I’m sure that everyone wants to maintain an even keel and not upset other creators in the group, which can lead to compromises. That said, even with my reservations, I’m glad that I picked up Inbound and look forward to the next volume, which features some work from creators whose work I know and have enjoyed, such as Cathy Leamy and Charles Schneeflock Snow.