Comics

Villains…Villains are cool!

Villain: a cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime (source Dictionary.com). To me, a strong hero is only as good as his/her villain. In my opinion, weak bad guys can only promote weak good guys. So, I say, bring on the baddies! I’ve read comics depicting bad guys as morons or buffoons, which makes me wonder why any hero would waste his or her time. However, I’ve read some hardcore bad guys, the likes of which demand a reader keep lights on and have some form of weapon in hand while reading. Strong villains help shape strong hero characters. The adversity should be difficult and require Superhuman will to overcome. Here are some the villains I admire, yet fear:

Favorite Villain 1 – Red Skull from Old Man Logan (Marvel)

In the future, the bad guys win; Red Skull opens a can of whoop-ass on the Avengers and doesn’t stop until Captain America is dead. Then he and the rest of the baddies parcel out parts of North America like they are slicing a fresh made apple pie. Defining moment: Red Skull putting his fingers through Captain America’s eye sockets. Years later, this certified villain walks around wearing Caps uniform with Caps dried blood still on it.

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Favorite Villain 2 – Traveling Salesman from Severed (Image)

The villain of this story comes in the form of an elderly traveling salesman. This man has an unusual taste for human flesh and particularly enjoys victimizing fatherless boys who seek direction and the American Dream in 1916. Defining moment: it’s not unusual to see an older person remove their false teeth. What a reader might not expect is sharper and more deadly teeth to appear in the place of said removed false teeth.

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Favorite Villain 3 – Boogie Man from Stuff of Legend (Th3rd World Studios)

Some villains use physical strength or special powers to overwhelm their prey/victims. In the case of the Boogieman, though, it is a victim’s personal weakness that is used against him or her. If there’s a secret on the team, the Boogieman finds it and exploits it with deadly force. Defining moment: the Boogieman uses Percy the Pig’s cowardice to kill the Colonel by tearing him in half.

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Favorite Villain 4 – The Governor from The Walking Dead (Image)

It is the end of the world, and civilized life is a thing of the past. So, it’s easy to see how a psychotic narcissist ends up as the leader of a group of weakened survivors, desperate for a sense of belonging and some stability. When the Governor is first introduced, it is obvious his smile is nothing by which to take comfort. He very plainly explains to Rick, Glenn, and Michonne that he feeds town trespassers to walkers for entertainment. Defining moment: within moments of meeting, the Governor demonstrates his sadism by cutting off Rick’s hand.

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Favorite Villain 5 – Nixon Nun from Fell (Image)

Detective Richard Fell has his hands full dealing with cases of all sorts in Snowtown. But, what really has him spooked in his new town is the “Nixon Nun”; named so for the Richard Nixon mask she wears on top of her religious habit. Without muttering a single word, Nixon Nun causes Fell’s skin to crawl, and rightly so, as she always appears on the scenes of heinous crimes. Defining moment: as police look on, Nixon Nun solicits a prostitute for nefarious means.

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Favorite Villain 6 – Rat Creatures from Bone (Cartoon Books)

It would be easy to dismiss the Rat Creatures in Bone as brainless lemmings doing the bidding of an ineffective king. And, that would be a mistake. Though they have limited thinking capacity, what the Rat Creatures lack in brains, they make in sheer numbers and teeth/claw size. In large packs, Rat Creatures are quite deadly, destroying everything in their path as they carry out orders from their leader. Defining moment: Kingdok makes easy work of Gran’ma Ben, tossing her around like a rag doll. This is noteworthy as Gran’ma Ben withstood battles with Dragons much more daunting and seemingly treacherous than a pack of rats.

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Favorite Villain 7 – General Clarkson from Think Tank (Top Cow)

The military is no stranger to collateral damage and sacrifice. So, what is a general to do when a Colonel does not obey orders? When a Colonel gets wind of a clandestine operation not approved by the President, he attempts to blow the whistle and is met with a bullet from General Clarkson. Defining moment: General Clarkson issues punishment for disloyalty with extreme prejudice, spraying the Colonel’s brain matter all over the resident genius Dr. Loren.

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Favorite Villain 8 – The Purple Man from Alias (Marvel)

No need for subtly, Zebediah Killgrave, known as the Purple Man, emits a pheromone that allows him to verbally control anyone, including superheroes. In the Marvel Max universe, the Purple Man presents a formidable foe for Jessica Jones (a.k.a. Jewel), and toys with her for several weeks before he is apprehended. Defining moment: Killgrave initially suggests Jessica take her clothes off, using her nakedness as a way to humiliate her. However, upon learning the Avengers are in the area, Killgrave orders her to attack her teammates instead, with devastating results.

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Favorite Villain 9 – Doomsday from Superman (DC)

Possessing enough strength to gut punch Superman, Doomsday entered the DC universe with a vengeance. Arriving on the outskirts of Metropolis, he proceeds on a warpath to the city and destroys any superhero attempting to stop him. Defining moment: with a mighty blow Doomsday kills the Man of Steel, something that has never before happened.

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Favorite Villain 10 – Alien Invader from Wild’s End (Boom Studios)

An unrelenting machine with a single objective, to Kill! That is the villain of Wild’s End. Aliens land in the sleepy countryside and wreck havoc on occupants. There are no requests or demands, simply the burning of all organic matter (people) that interacts with the alien. Defining moment: villain issues a resident’s death with a full facial blast of fire. Ouch!

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This list is by no means all inclusive, there are tons of great villains out there. Have one you want to share? Leave me a comment.

Stumptown

Stumptown

Publisher: Oni PressIMG_0882

Writers: Greg Rucka

Artist: Matthew Southworth

In the span of 24 hours, Dex pisses off two rednecks, makes a reluctant deal with a local crime boss, gets shot point blank… several times, and ends up arrested. That’s quite an accomplishment for a moonlighting private investigator with a gambling problem. Dex is in the hole for about eighteen-grand, so when her credit is no longer good, casino management pulls her card. To pay off her debt, Dex agrees to honor a request by a casino manager, and sets course to find a missing person. The tale is gritty, dark, moody, and enjoyable. What appears to be a straight-forward missing person case morphs into gang wars, illegal drugs, and murder. Within the first few pages of Stumptown, Dex is shot and left for dead in a river. Quite the opener. From White Out to Lazarus, Greg Rucka consistently narrates a spectacular female tale. He creates strong female protagonists who do not lean on conventional stereotypes, and Dex is no exception.

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Cool Factor: Dex has a nonchalant attitude about everything, which may give the impression she is not interested or paying attention to people talking at her. Truth is, she is way more astute than the bad guys realize, and–nine times out of ten–she is 3 steps ahead of her enemies.

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Format: Floppies, Trade paperback

We Likes the Comics, We likes the Grading

There are two “camps” of comic book collecting:  those who slab and those who don’t. I readily admit, I am in the first group and I’m perfectly happy to stay put. “Slab” or “slabbing” is collector slang for “comic encapsulation,” otherwise known as “grading.” Since 2000, impartial thirty-party comic book grading has been available thanks to Certified Guaranty Company, known in the industry as CGC. IMG_1232Several knock-off/bootleg grading companies have emerged, but none of the CGC quality… until last year. More recently, Comic Book Certification Services (CBCS) launched, and CGC finally as a worthy competitor. I have used both grading companies and, to be honest, I like them equally. CGC corners the market; they have been around for 15 years and are an industry icon/standard. CBCS IMG_0530was founded by some of the folks who started CGC. They have a similar business model and offer competitive services to CGC, except they offer less expensive service. One last plus to CBCS is the general public can submit comics to them directly, whereas CGC requires either a paid membership or submission through a third-party.

Okay enough about that. So you have decided you want to submit your books to CGC or CBCS. You believe you have a rough idea regarding the potential grade your comic(s) will earn, so you pack up your book(s), ship to one of the graders, and wait the 6-8 months it takes for your submission to go through the grading cycle.

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Screenshot from ComicsPriceGuide.com

Why have your comic book graded? Because it increases the value of your comic and thus increases the value of your collection. Here’s an example:

In 2003 The Walking Dead sold for $2.95. By 2015, the inaugural issue is worth $1,600 raw (not slabbed). A 9.8 (near mint, slabbed and graded) copy of The Walking Dead Issue 1 is valued at $4,300. I say no more.

You have submitted what you believe to be near mint books expecting a grade between 9.6 to 9.8. Low and behold your book(s) returns to you and–to your surprise– with a lower grade than you anticipated.

IMG_1732As I’ve mentioned in my “about me” post, I am a collector/hobbyist. Therefore, the joy of the hobby comes first. Value or speculations of “it might be worth something/it’s a good investment” comes in a limp second. I like slabs. I think slabs look awesome on display, and I do like that graded comics add value to my collection. Feels like a win-win. I preface the following with “I am not a professional comic book grader,” I am offering my advice on the topic just to share.

I have self-submitted over 100 comics (okay that’s not a lot, but still). I have received grades that range from 9.6 to 9.9. During my early submitting days, 9.6 appears to be my average. Over time, however, I have learned to really pay attention to the physical details of the books I submit and have improved my average to 9.8. Though, admittedly, I have seen a lot more 9.9 than I expected (let’s hope that trend continues).

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Okay let’s grade some comics – amateur style. Dirt and oil from your fingertips can cost you grading points in the end. I recommend using gloves while you assess your book. I have experience with cotton and latex. Both types of glove seem fine, though I recommend staying away from latex gloves that have powder in them, as this substance can be introduced to your comic and it will cause damage. IMG_1744To properly assess your comic, you must be able to view the front and back of the book. If bagged and boarded, remove your book (be gentle). Good maneuverable lighting helps with assessment, as changing light angle can show defects or discrepancies. Have a clean work area to perform your assessment, and get right to it. First, look at the corners of your comics. Are the corners crisp or blunted? If one or more of the corners is blunted, not at a point, points are deducted from the grade. Be very critical. It is better to assess your book lower than to assume a higher grade. Next, look at the spine, and pay attention to the staples. Are there any creases in the spine? What about staple tears, including those from the printer? Again, small dents and dings cost points, and any blemish can make the difference between 9.8 and 9.4. Okay, so you’ve looked at the corners, reviewed the spine. Now, lay the book flat and determine if there are any scuff marks on the cover. IMG_1745Once you assess the outward condition of your book, give the pages a flip, and do so from cover to cover. Here you are looking for folded page corners or manufacturer defects. If the book looks sharp and clean, give it your best grading guess. Remember, be critical. If you think it is a 9.8, consider 9.6. If you think it is a 9.9, consider 9.8.

What’s the point to all this? Having an idea of the potential grade of your comic should assist you in making the decision to invest in grading your comic book.

I applied this assessment method to this reprint of The Walking Dead. I’ll post a follow up in about 6 months as to the grade it received. IMG_1746

*** UPDATE *** January 2016 ***
The above comic has just arrived from CBCS. It was graded 9.8 and I am quite pleased. And for the record it took a little over 4 months, that some great turn around time I say!

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My Love Hate Relationship with Variant Cover Comics (more like love)

IMG_1464As a modern comic collector, I am bombarded with new and fresh comics each week. The conundrum in collecting is deciding what I want while trying to maintain a budget. Then, some hot, new, creative team introduces a “must have” book, and–just to spice things up–the publisher offers a kazillion variants. The completest in me wants very badly to have every issue of the new Archie relaunch AND every one of those awesome Star Wars covers issued by Marvel. Some books are issued as “1 in 10” variants or “1 in 25.” There are “1 in 50,” too, and so forth and so on. Add to these “1 in…” are special interests variants like Ghost Variant, Phantom Variant, Loot Crate Variant and Hastings Variant. Sometimes, to encourage high order numbers, publishers allow retailers their very own special variant unique to their store!

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Publishers aren’t just issuing variants for comic release dates. They are also doing special limited (debatable) print runs for specific comic conventions, such as San Diego Comic Con, New York Comic Con, or any of those Wizard World conventions. This means the market is duly flooded with variant cover comic books as far as the eye can see. Some variants really are extremely rare; like those 1:100 and 1:200, and especially those 1:300. Some variants are limited by print run, as only 500 copies are made. That’s it. Five-hundred. All these different approaches to printing a comic book means a collector has the potential to be inundated with… too much. And, can you imagine what it must be like for the retailers? What about all the stock that doesn’t sell?

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So here’s my love/hate: I like variety and I enjoy having the opportunity to see artistic vision, one artist versus another. And, I–like many other collectors–want that rare book that might be worth money many months (years) from now. But, I realize there is a down side to this hype. Variants cause an extra layer of speculation in this hobby, and that speculation can turn some collectors off. What’s hot now may fizzle out later, and what I paid a premium for today may not be worth cover a few months from now. This means if I don’t want to get burned I have to be discerning.

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I recently stumbled on to this website and found myself wishing I had more money. I am a sucker for really unique variants. I mean, I want something more than just the black and white variant. I will pursue variants by specific artists, people I like, such as: Charles P. Wilson III or Fiona Staples and I’ll pay whatever is the asking price. Honestly, if I didn’t impose my own restriction on variant purchases I would go broke trying to own them all. As I recall, the Archie relaunch had about 20 different covers. Some were amazing and some, well acquired taste. If you are a Godzilla fan, there were over 100 variants issued by IDW. That’s like a short box of comics all for one issue.

Update just before posting, the awesome variant subscription service Four Color Grails has closed. This saddens me as I really enjoyed their enthusiasm for the hobby. I feel lucky enough to have gotten some of their books. RIP 4colorGrails.

Gotham by Gaslight: A Tale of Batman

IMG_1526Gotham by Gaslight: A Tale of Batman

Publisher: DC Comics

Writer: Brian Augustyn

Artist: Michael Mignola

What would happen if the great detective went up against one of London’s most famous serial killers? In 1989 DC Comics tried something a little different with one of their main characters; they allowed Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola to pen a one-shot Batman tale outside of Batman’s continuum. Gotham By Gaslight is set in Gotham during the 1800s, where a woman has been murdered a`la Jack the Ripper style. Thus begins a dark and suspenseful tale of Batman versus Jack the Ripper. Who is the killer? How did he come to be in Gotham? Is Jack the Ripper really Bruce Wayne? The story has a great period drama feel to it, with all the assumed pomp and circumstance. In Gaslight, as in the original series, Bruce’s parents are killed by a robber, which–in turn–sets Bruce on a quest for vengeance. Yet, in this story, he spends some time in London, learning detectives skills from Scotland Yard. Bruce happens to be in living during the time of the Ripper murders.

IMG_1520This version of Batman looks every bit the part of a highwayman and, of course, this is to strike fear in his enemies. Though Batman’s important utility belt is still present, it is full of anti-crime deterrents such as: rope, knives, and smoke pellets. The story was so successful that DC Direct created a Gotham by Gaslight Batman action figure in 2007. The detail was exceptional, and closely resembled the character concept of the graphic novel.

Currently there is a live-action version of Gaslight in the works by James Campbell, it is called Ripper. You can watch the teaser trailer here. Also feel free to visit the Facebook page for Ripper, as it has come very cool concept art to boot.

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Cool Factor: Gotham by Gaslight is the very first Elseworld title from DC and is one of the few with a standalone sequel.

Format: Trade paperback

Skybound’s Anniversary Box Set and Modern Speculation

I’ve spent some time reading the CGC chat boards and have come away with a cynical feeling about modern collecting. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t stop buying or reading what I love, but witnessing some of the speculation nonsense does put me off the hobby sometimes.

sky1See here’s the thing:  Skybound, a subsidiary of Image Comics, introduced an anniversary box set of comics this year at San Diego Comic Con. The box set comes with 10 comics, Issue 1 reprints of popular titles by Image Comics. There are two sets, of covers:  a more common color version, and a less common black & white version. All box sets are sealed, so you don’t know what you have until the box is open. Included in each box is also a flash drive with PDF versions of all 10 issue Issue 1 books. Skybound sweetened the deal by randomly inserting “golden tickets” in some of the boxes.  The “golden tickets” were bonuses which meant the possibility of an additional rare CGC 9.8 signature series book. A purchaser could potentially come away with an original issue 1 such as The Walking Dead, Clone, Thief of Thieves, Birthright or Outcast. (Use this link to see the full list of 10 comics.) The box set sold for $80/pc and was initially only available at the con. With the popularity of The Walking Dead, one can imagine the “feeding frenzy” over graded copies of the original series that appeared as a consequence of the “golden tickets” in these boxes. Enter the speculators.

Some of the “golden tickets” have been redeemed, however that one that matches The Walking Dead CGCs is not yet claimed. As a result, many fans sky2are buying stacks of the anniversary boxes (now at prices in the range of $100 – $300) with the hope of landing a “golden ticket” for a CGC Issue 1 of The Walking Dead. Some speculators on the chat boards assume the book is so “rare,” is could easily command $10k for whoever owns it.

For my part, I purchased two boxes hoping to get one color edition and one black & white edition of the reprints for my collection. Both of my boxes were color and neither had a redeemable ticket.  Since my purchases, I notice, unopened boxes are posting on eBay and disappear quickly as fans attempt to find the last elusive “golden tickets.” And because the ticket is not yet redeemed, the prices of remaining sets in the secondary market are being driven ever higher by speculator.  In my opinion, it’s reaching ridiculous height. For some, this kind of marketing event generates revenue from second market sales. For others, this kind of marketing event is a complete turn off and reminiscent of events that led up to the comics bust in the 90s.

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I think some speculation is good for the hobby, especially as I do believe there will never be another modern sleeper hit like The Walking Dead.  However, to what end?

Images belong to Skybound.

The Stuff of Legend

Set in the 1940s, The Stuff of Legend is tale of friendship and bravery. The Boogieman really does exist, and he uses closets and shadows underneath beds to capture his victims; victims who are never heard from again.

Let’s Begin…

I read comics ‘cause I like them. I’m not here to speculate. I don’t fancy myself a talented writer, so I’m not looking to write or draw my own comic; I’ll leave that to the experts. Comic writers and artists can have my money. I just really enjoy the energy of this hobby, and reading comics brings me happiness.

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