So this may be a short column. For one thing, I’ve procrastinated and gotten pressed for time. But also… I don’t have many funnybooks to talk about. Neither Marvel nor DC released anything last week, which didn’t impact me all that much since I don’t read a lot from either of them. But not much that I DO read came out, either. It was just two books, in fact, but they were both doozies: the second issue of The Boys: Dear Becky, and the long-awaited (by me, anyway) return of Jason Aaron and RM Guera’s The Goddamned.
But, hey. Since we’re so light on reviews this week, let’s talk a bit about why neither of the Big Two released any books, and what that means for the comics shop market.
Since coming back after the nation-wide lockdowns stopped publication, Marvel has only been shipping comics every two weeks. In part, this is to avoid overwhelming the country’s remaining comic shops with product at a time when they don’t have much capital to spend, and when their customers may be out of work and not spending money on expensive hobbies like comics. It also helps Diamond Comics Distribution lessen their warehouse staff’s exposure to COVID-19, with fewer people working fewer hours at safer distances. I’m sure it also helps to some extent on shipping costs, since one large shipment every two weeks generally costs less than the two smaller shipments they’d be making if they went weekly.
Basically, they want to make sure their primary means of selling their wares doesn’t completely collapse. Granted, they’ve been putting excess pressure on that market for years, shipping far more titles than it can realistically bear, with the goal of pushing other publishers off the shelves. So this is, at least partially, a simple market correction. But it’s easy to be cynical about this thing. Ultimately, it really does seem that Marvel’s heart (for once) is in the right place.
DC, meanwhile, has been shipping every week, and I’m not sure their output has really slowed all that much. I’m not casting aspersions on them for that, mind you. They were already shipping fewer titles than Marvel, so the chances of them overwhelming the market are a lot more slim. What they’re doing in terms of distribution, however, may actually harm the industry more than it helps.
During the shutdown, when Diamond stopped shipping for safety reasons, DC made deals to distribute their comics through two online comics dealers. Never mind that there was a global pandemic killing people by the thousands. Never mind that there weren’t many stores that could legally be open to sell those books. And never mind that shops got shut down by the cops because they did open to sell them. DC wanted to sell some shit, so they did.
They sold the same books through Diamond when they started shipping again, mind you, but it seems that was just to make sure they got their wares out to all the stores that chose not to participate in their irresponsible pandemic distribution scheme. Because now, DC has pulled out of Diamond completely, and they took last week off from shipping to give all the holdouts time to set up accounts with their new distributors.
Which, on the one hand, is fine. Diamond is far from an ideal business partner for many comic shops. Their terms are crap, and they make a lot of mistakes. They needed competition to make them better. But the middle of a global pandemic, when the entire comic shop industry is in danger of collapsing in upon itself, is NOT the time to give them that competition. Comics are a niche market in the best of times, and if losing DC’s business makes Diamond go under right now, the entire market that’s been selling the vast majority of their wares for the last 30 years might just go under with it.
So unless DC has some other avenues set up to sell their shit… They might just be cutting their own throats. I’ve seen arguments that the healthy shops… the ones run by serious businessmen who know how to make the small business model work for them… will survive. But here’s the thing: those shops, for the most part, don’t make a lot of their money by selling DC comics. Or Marvel comics, for that matter. A lot of those shops were already getting out of the business of selling monthly comics before the pandemic hit. And some of them have already said that they may just stop carrying DC’s line altogether now.
Which would leave them with that network of small, shoddily-run shops that still cater to the buyers DC and Marvel increasingly aim their books at: flippers trying to turn a quick profit on the latest hot books and variant covers, and the corporate spandex lifers who don’t want to read anything but capes. But those are the shops most likely to go under right now, so… I hope DC’s got some plans in the works.
And they probably do. They’re certainly better-positioned for it than Marvel, whose output has remained myopically focused on the monthlies. But DC has always (in the modern era, anyway) been known for trying different things. They pioneered the trade collection in the 80s. And they’ve been branching out with books for kids and young adults for years. So maybe they could go digital-only with the monthlies, and keep distributing trades and OGNs in print through Penguin. Or maybe they could stop doing the monthlies completely, and concentrate on OGNs and young adult books. Comics don’t have to keep looking the way they’ve looked for the past 80s years. And they might, honestly, be better off if they didn’t.
But I love that comic shop culture. And I will miss it if it dies.
So anyway. That’s how the Big Two’s skip weeks came to coincide, and why we had a week where the racks were ruled by the indies. Speaking of which, I believe I had a couple of comics to review…
The Goddamned: The Virgin Brides 1
by Jason Aaron and RM Guera
The feel-bad comic of 2016 has returned! And it’s uglier than ever!
But also prettier. The long gap between series has evidently paid off, because artist RM Guera has turned in some breathtaking work on this issue. After that gorgeous cover, you open the book and are immediately greeted by this two-page landscape:
I must have stared at that spread for two or three minutes before I started reading. RM Guera’s work here has a sort of brutal delicacy to it that I was not expecting. I can see shades of Moebius in it, and Barry Windsor-Smith, and (strangely) Brandon Graham. The art for the first series was nice, but extremely rough, as befitted that rough story. The Virgin Brides is no walk in the park, mind you, but its brutality hides behind a veneer of beauty that Guera’s most definitely mirroring in the visuals.
But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. If you’re not familiar, The Goddamned is grimdark Biblical fantasy adventure, set in the days before the Flood. It’s a time of lawlessness and despair, when human beings have turned their backs on God, and the Earth is home to monsters. The protagonist (not sure you can really call him the “hero”) is Cain, first-born of Adam and Eve, cursed to walk the Earth undying as punishment for committing the first murder. He wants most fervently to die, and throws himself in the path of danger in his attempts at doing so.
But Cain’s not in this first issue. No, this one is devoted to a small village of young girls who, upon attaining puberty, are wed to an angel. And it is not a beautiful experience.
I’m not gonna lie: This book messed me up. It’s a tale of innocence betrayed, and innocence lost, and the passage right before that cloudy scream almost makes me want to cry it’s so sad. Considering the dark timeline we find ourselves in right now, it’s an uglier story than I really want to read. But it’s so very well done that I can’t look away. And it’s not all sad. We do have a plucky heroine who’s delightfully cynical about all the right things. And her best friend, who’s charmingly naive. And they’re fun to read about, even as they discover the horrors they’ve been born into. I have a terrible feeling that this world will not treat them well in the end. I may very well regret reading this thing before it’s done.
But it’s so good that I just can’t help myself.
The Boys: Dear Becky 2
by Garth Ennis and Russ Braun
This issue, we get a slightly clearer picture of what this series is really about. Ennis has put together a story here that juxtaposes the damage done to Hughie’s psyche by his time with the Boys, and the damage done to Billy Butcher before him. The difference between them, of course, is that Butcher was a vicious bastard before he ever started hunting Supes, while Hughie was always essentially sweet-natured.
And… I don’t know what to say, other than that. We get some of the patented Boys super hero parody and extreme wrongness along the way, and it’s all very funny and entertaining. But it all just goes to illustrate the point I already made above. I mean, don’t get me wrong. This was a good bit of nasty fun, as you’d expect, and it’s all in service to the kind of solid character writing that made the original series one of Ennis’ best. It’s very good. It’s just that…
Anything else I could say about it would spoil the fun of the thing.
And I don’t want to do that.