Monday, March 30, 2015

Fixing Dark Horse's Project Black Sky line of comics in a nutshell. Preserving it's future in the market




    In it's short couple of years on store shelves Dark Horse has really sparked a fire among fans of their 90's "Comics Greatest World" (CGW) books as well as had garnered the attention of new fans when they launched Project Black Sky 2 years ago featuring a mix of characters from CGW and classic characters long forgotten. For about two years they pumped out Captain Midnight, X, Ghost, Brain Boy, Blackout, and The Occultist in sets of ongoing titles and mini's that brought dedicated fans of these characters together to enjoy the adventures of this unfolding universe while releasing little secrets and hints along the way which was supposed to lead to something on a grand scale that never quite materialized. But what did materialize was a solid universe of heroes and villains that was accessible and fun to read. Fans of Project Black Sky were heart broken when they realized that the 3 core titles of the line (Captain Midnight, X, Ghost) were going to be ending their runs and that little was being announced by Dark Horse as to the future of the Project Black Sky Line. But luckily Dark Horse announced a miniseries based on King Tiger as well as a series based on 90's heroine Barb Wire to whet the appetites of Black Sky fans, leaving hope that more could be coming down the line. And while I'm optimistic that we will see more, I must remain a bit skeptical on the subject since Dark Horse's full dedication to the line seems to be hanging by a thread.
    Why does it appear to be hanging by a thread, you ask? Well, that statement was made in response to the lack of marketing the entire Project Black Sky line has enjoyed over the past year or so. When it first launched the Dark Horse staff sang its praises and swore up and down that they were 100% behind the books and the promotion was there with ads on comic book news sites, interviews, blurbs in other Dark Horse titles, and other such instances that made the reader believe that Project Black Sky was not only here to stay, but a top priority of the publisher. But as the months went by fans saw little from the publisher in the way of marketing, social media, convention news, or interest, which of course led the books to begin to decline in sales and eventually fall off the map as a whole. One thing I've noticed with comic book publishers these days is that they love to promote books for a brief period of time and then they move on to something else and ignore said books which causes a sales decrease followed by an impending cancellation that the publisher then plays off as "planned". It's sad to watch and it isn't fair to the fans. But if Dark Horse is truly dedicated to keeping the line alive than I have an idea that may help the publisher moving forward, especially in the orders and sales department.
     What I'd like to see the publisher do is relaunch the core books (Captain Midnight, X, Ghost) as a set of revolving mini's kicking off with a brand new issue #1 and ending with an issue #6. After the 6th issue take two months to work on the next chapter of the books and then launch the next set of mini's of these characters with a new #1 on the cover, then rinse & repeat. Every 8 months you can promote a new #1 issue of said characters with an inserted subtitle to the series so customers don't get confused, thus enjoying the early issue orders for a hot new series and keeping these characters alive for existing (and new) fans of these great characters. It isn't rocket science. Comics sell at their best when they're heavily promoted and when they're in their earliest numbering, so using this method should entice people to buy the books on a consistent clip. Having a Captain Midnight series (as example) come out over the course of 6 issues giving us a solid chapter in the characters history would be a great thing. Then two months later having another chapter, "Captain Midnight: A Man Out of Time" (as an example) hitting shelves as a new chapter with brand new numbering should keep the readers coming in and stores ordering the book thanks to the #1 on the cover. Remember, comic book fans are generally drawn to new beginnings and new titles for collecting purposes, so relaunching the books as mini's is smart because it should keep interested people coming to the books. But the key is marketing these books and heavily promoting them using social media and posting ads on major comic book news sites, also having a fairly popular creator attached tends to help as well. It's there for the taking if Dark Horse decides to take it, but that remains the biggest question of them all. Does Project Black Sky have a future beyond Barb Wire and King Tiger, or does the cancellation of X, Captain Midnight, and Ghost, mark the end of the line as we know it with these last two mini's being a last slab of meat for the imprints fan base? Let the speculation begin.....



 © B-Sly The Gamer Guy

Step into the "Circle"..... A Review of The Black Hood #2 by Dark Circle Comics



   Here we are folks, it's time to take a look at the second issue ever produced by Dark Circle Comics as it stands as a company today. Issue #1 of The Black Hood kicked off with a fun start so issue #2 should follow suit, right? It does, but it also shows off what a tragic and messed up character the man behind the Black Hood mask really is. Greg Hettinger is a full out junkie now stemming from the incident that caused him to convert from a good cop to a dark vigilante. He's moved on from pain killer and is seeking out much more and he finds himself in trouble toward the end of the issue when someone planted some stuff in his apartment which seconds later saw him under arrest when the cops raided his pad. Though admittedly he kept his goods off premises someone has it out for him bad enough to have someone break into his place and plant the stuff, which considering how this issue ended could mean trouble for Mr. Hettinger in next months offering. Sadly we didn't get to see much evolution to what will probably turn out to be a romantic involvement between the main character and his speech coach, though she did pop up for a quick moment and that was really it for her in this issue. But trust me, something is there. What had me on the edge of my seat is why someone has it out for The Black Hood and who is this person? Sure, Greg is making a stir on the streets but it isn't like he's targeted a major gang or anything, maybe he ruffled some feathers with his method of obtaining drugs or something but either which way it appears as if his first major hurdle will be mob/gang driven rather than a standoff with a super-villain. This kind of an encounter is fine for a story such as this as I don't project that this universe of characters is going to see much in the way of supernatural beings, most of the skirmishes are probably going to be military or mafia related with some quirky criminals peppered in for good measure.

Enemies and villains aside let me just say that folks.....this book is dark. Seriously dark. I love how Archie just tossed the rule book out the window and brought on a guy like Duane Swierczynski to write a tale like this, thus officially dropping the first F-bomb ever in a book produced by the legendary digest company. It's amazing that they've gone and created an imprint that showcases characters like this, I truly commend them for it. It isn't like it's gratuitous either, everything is crafted in a way that makes sense and you can see why such language or actions are taken by the characters involved. I like to think of it as comics-evolved rather than staying tried and true with superheroes that fight for truth, justice, and the American way. If I wanted to read about squeaky clean characters all the time I'd stick with Marvel & DC and read Captain America and Superman. Once in a while you need a character that is going to blur lines and stir some shit up and The Black Hood does that nicely thanks to a creative team that obviously cares about the subject enough to craft such a tale.
    The art in issue #2 was as dark and gritty as it was in the first issue, thanks to the magic pencils of Michael Gaydos, who brings a buddy and noir look to this series. Everything feels very pulpy as if I'm reading The Shadow or The Spider, which is nice because I love pulp stories, and it feels more like a crime tale than a tale about a superhero (which Archie said it would). If I had to compare this book to something it would be a mix of DC's Hitman, classic pulp stories like The Shadow, and maybe something way out there like Lobster Johnson, with a little Batman splattered in there for coloring. It's unique enough to where it's hard to draw a true comparison but it's familiar enough that you want to try. As I said in my review of the first issue I hope this book succeeds and continues to see print. It's a fun story with an interesting twist and with orders for the first issue being most likely well above what Archie had hoped (10,300, not counting direct orders and digital sales) I'm sure we'll be seeing The Black Hood in production for a while. It's probably going to end up a sleeper hit and this is the kind of thing that could end up an AMC original series someday, so one can only hope that it continues to find new fans as it goes. Check it out.

Story & Plot - 8.5/10
Art & Illustration - 8.5/10
Inks & Colors - 9.5/10
Cast & Characters - 8/10
Overall Score - 8.5/10

     © B-Sly The Gamer Guy

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Graphic Novel Review Series: Superman: Earth One v1!


 


     Recently I've gotten the itch to sit down and read some of the DC Earth One graphic novels that launched a couple of years ago to solid fanfare. They've been getting a lot of massive mainstream attention and positive reviews from trusted sources that I had to come across them at some point, and since I have such a deep love for the early "Ultimate" line of comics from Marvel I figured it would be a good idea to check these out. I decided I'd start with Superman: Earth One since it was the launching point for this DC initiative, and boy o' boy was I treated to something special. First off, for those who don't know what the Earth One line of graphic novels is, it's a starting point for classic characters within DC's roster. They created an alternate reality for these heroes and villains and set everything back to day one with a different take on each characters origin and background, so it basically shows the reader how each character became the hero or villain they've always been but with twists that wouldn't work within the core DC continuity. If you've ever read a comic or graphic novel from the Marvel "Ultimate" line than you'll be at home with Earth One. Much like Ultimate Marvel, Earth One erases decades of continuity and creates a landscape where new readers (and existing readers) can jump on board a character and see how he finds his place in the world. My love for Ultimate Spider-Man has brought me to enjoy stories such as this and there is something to be said about revamping classic characters for a modern era without doing a soft reboot that keeps their past continuity and keeps the character young and in the modern age within their own ongoing comic.
     So, I sat down and started on Superman: Earth One with expectations that things would be different, and they are to a point, but not much has changed here aside from the book taking place in the modern day. One fairly large twist is that we find out that Superman's home planet was destroyed in a "search and destroy" mission and that it wasn't just coming undone from the inside out. Also, we see that the Kent's urged Clark into becoming Superman, almost pushing him to a fault. It was a bit different than the classic origins we've been used to throughout the life of this iconic character but a lot of the same Superman tropes are present, such as Clark becoming a writer for the paper and working with Lane & Olson. Over the course of this graphic novel I didn't come across anything that didn't make the character feel like Superman and everything flowed nicely as I got to know the Earth One hero. I highly enjoyed the story presented here by J. Michael Straczynski, it was very polished and brought an edge to a character that many feel is soft, he truly made me care about Clark's situation and brought a level of depth to Superman that was highly needed. I simply couldn't wait to turn the page. The art by Shane Davis was fun and vibrant too with a slight muddy overtone that gave the visuals a gritty feel at times. I don't really know what I'd compare it to but I really liked it, I may have even preferred it to Gary Frank' work in Batman: Earth One (more on that in another post).
     The plot in the first volume of Superman: Earth One was simple and addictive. We see Clark's origin of how the Kent's found him, we see him grow up a bit and join the football team, we see him move away and join the paper, and we see him faced down by an enemy that we learn has been chasing him down since birth. Everything had meaning. We see that he easily could have slid through life as a scientist or an athlete (or anything else he wanted to be) but in typical Clark fashion he wanted to do it the hard way and work his way through as a normal human being without allowing his powers to prevail. Which I decided was something I'm glad they kept about Clark's character, though at first I was hoping that he'd allow himself some slack which I guess you could say he did seeing as how he got his job with the paper using Superman to his advantage. All in all I really enjoyed the story and the kick-off to the Earth One series of books, it's nice to be able to dive into these classic characters without decades of continuity to worry about. Don't get me wrong through, it's not like this is the essential origin tale of this character and the way fans both new and old should view him, it's just a nice take on Superman with some fun twists and turns along the way that made the ride an enjoyable one. The post-Crisis Man of Steel series by John Byrne is another essential piece of reading if you're looking to get into Superman or read a classic Superman story, but he's got a million and one different beginnings out there so you should do some research and see which one fits your tastes the best. I highly recommend fans of this character, or fans of comics in general, pick this up and add it to their book shelf. There is lots of good to be had here.

Story& Plot - 9/10
Art & Illustration - 8.5/10
Inks & Colors - 8.5/10
Cast & Characters - 8/10
Overall Score - 9/10

© B-Sly The Gamer Guy

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Step into the "Circle".....A review of The Black Hood #1 by Dark Circle Comics!


    Hello everyone and thanks a million for dropping by! Today I have a real treat because this afternoon I decided to sit down and read, or re-read actually, and review a new comic book on store stands called The Black Hood, by a publisher known as Dark Circle Comics (an imprint of Archie). Every once in a while a new (or existing) publisher comes along with a crop of new comics to unleash upon the masses featuring fun an interesting characters and after taking a look at the lineup that Dark Circle Comics has in store I'd say that this looks as promising and as fun as anything I've checked out since Dynamite made a run at the classic pulp heroes a few years back. Heck, this may even rival and/or exceed the greatness going on at Valiant and Dark Horse's Project Black Sky books. That's a very bold statement. But the questions always remains whether or not the line of books will last in a crowded market that seems to be dwindling...

    As far as The Black Hood #1 goes all I can say is "wow". From the first portion of the book to the last you are witness to a tragic incident that horribly disfigures a police officer who is forced to take a considerable amount of time off to rehab his injuries and learn to rejoin society again. Once he does he realizes that what he's doing isn't really doing much for him anymore since killing a vigilante known as "The Black Hood" so he decides to put the mask on and take up the mantle. Now I know what you're thinking. You're most likely thinking that stories such as this have been told before and that there really isn't anything special about this tale that hasn't been told. And in many ways you're right, but the magic here lies in the fact that the creative team isn't trying to reinvent the wheel more so than they're trying to master it. And this issue truly did thanks to it's remarkable story and it's dark and gritty artwork, this book was a home-run that has left me wanting more by the time I was finished. This single issue is one of the finest works that Duane Swierczynski has churned out and rivals anything he's done on Valiant's Bloodshot or Dark Horse's "X" and really should be given a chance by anyone who likes a dark and dank vigilante story that seems to have some crime overtones. The art is dark and gritty and I tip my hat to Michael Gaydos for his unique style of illustration, it's really giving the character some depth beyond what the scribe can give and the book benefits overall from his pencils. The first issue alone has introduced us to a main character who is good but wants to be bad, a potential love interest, a plot that will eventually unfold and answer a lot of questions, and it's kicked off what could be a very promising universe of heroes and villains that could be used to drive media efforts sometime down the road. My only issue is that they're going with the $3.99 price tag for their comics which will no doubt limit their potential sales since so many publishers are promoting books at the same price, and in some cases cheaper, with bigger franchises and higher tier talent attached to them. I would think that publishers these days would be able to promote a book at $2.99 and still make a sizable profit, but maybe I'm wrong.....I don't know, I just feel bad for all the kids out there who want to buy comics but can't afford to thanks to the inflated price tag.

All in all I do highly recommend this book and I hope that despite the high price tag and the "been done before" story that you'll give it a shot if you're a fellow comic book fan because there is just so much here to like. On top of The Black Hood, Dark Circle plans to release comics based on characters they own including The Fox, The Shield, Hangman, and New Crusaders, as well as the potential of expanding more throughout 2016 and then beyond. By the end of 2015 they should have 4-5 titles on store shelves and a clear vision of where the line will go, if it goes anywhere at all. This comic book fan sure hope it does.

Story& Plot - 9/10
Art & Illustration - 8.5/10
Inks & Colors - 10/10
Cast & Characters - 8.5/10
Overall Score - 9/10
© B-Sly The Gamer Guy