By Matt D. Wilson
Each week (starting with this one), Matt Wilson, co-host of the War Rocket Ajax podcast and author of The Supervillain Handbook, examines at a major comic news item and picks a few winners and one loser among the week's comic book releases.
I don't know if it's there just yet, but Kickstarter, at least the comics side of it, has been edging toward a tipping point for a few weeks now. Specifically, it seems to be tipping away from being a fun place where projects that wouldn't otherwise get funded achieve some financial backing and toward one where that still happens, but other people view it as some sort of ATM.
Most recently there was this: Wednesday, the video-game webcomic "Penny Arcade" posted its new Kickstarter aimed at reviving its "Downloadable Content" podcast. That would be fine, save for a few factors:
One, "Penny Arcade" wrapped up a Kickstarter campaign less than a year ago, in which it made more than double its initial goal of $250,000. After making half a mil on a campaign that ended last July, they're going back to the well.
Two, the funding goal of the new campaign is $10. That's it. Considering that Kickstarter's rules are that projects don't get funded unless they attain their funding goals, "PA" appears to be pretty clearly gaming the system here. Its first stretch goal wasn't achieved until the campaign reached $20,000. So $10 almost definitely wasn't the real goal.
Three, "Downloadable Content" is something the "PA" guys used to do for free. I don't fault them for wanting to make some money for their work; I try to do the same with my own podcast. But Kickstarter isn't a profit machine. If the idea here, as they state in their KS details, was to buy some new equipment and pay an audio editor, both valid expenses, their funding goal should have been for the cost of the equipment and the editor's salary. Not $10. If the idea was to earn some income, they should have started a donation drive or found sponsors.
Four, the rewards stink. A $100 poster. A bonus episode. $500 to have your name mentioned on a podcast. $1,000 to play Xbox Live with the "PA" guys, and you don't even get to pick the game. You may not even own the game they want to play. That's a rip-off.
Five, "Penny Arcade" is a huge brand. They host giant conventions every year. They don't need the money.
That said, people seem to be more than willing to fork out the money. As I type this, the pledges are ticking toward $35,000. That's in just a few hours of it being up. Likewise, more than 250 people have donated going on $18,000 to this book project from writer Bill Willingham and artist Frank Cho, which initially didn't even offer copies of the book for contributions, though you could pay $10 to be put on a mailing list. That's fine. People can do whatever they want with their money. They can fund Zach Braff's movie, too.
But projects like these are ultimately bad for Kickstarter, because they damage what ought to be the spirit of Kickstarter.
In the past two weeks, I have received print copies of the end results of two Kickstarters I contributed to: Kyle Starks' "The Legend of Ricky Thunder" and Ryan Browne's "God Hates Astronauts." I'm proud I backed those, and I'm happy to have the books on my shelf to show it. These were both independent projects by creators who haven't had mainstream success yet, and odds are they wouldn't have seen print without my, and quite a few other people's, help.
Those aren't the only criteria for a worthwhile Kickstarter, though. Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett's "Lady Sabre and the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether" cranked up its Kickstarter this week, reaching its goal in less than a day. I have no doubt that those two creators have enough sway to get that book published somewhere, and if they don't, they could probably have funded a print run themselves. Yet I don't mind this project being on Kickstarter at all.
I think what it comes down to is this: If you pay Rucka and Burchett $10, you get a digital copy of their book. Pay $30, and you get a nice, cloth-cover copy of the book. Shell out a few hundred bucks and you get some face time with the creators, or you get to appear in a future comic. To be in the Willingham book? That's $10,000.
If someone contributes to the creation of a product, they should get a piece of that product. It's like investing in a company. Being a shareholder gets you a say. Maybe not much of one, but something. Some folks who start Kickstarter projects get that. They develop relationships with their backers and value their dollars. Others keep their backers at arm's length, take their money, and go do whatever they were going to do anyway.
That doesn't seem sustainable.
And now for the comics of the week!
"Suicide Squad" #20
(DC Comics, by Ales Kot and Patrick Zircher)
Color me shocked. When this book kicked off with the start of the New 52, I would have lumped it in with the worst of the titles DC was putting out. As far as I know, that level of storytelling continued. I dropped the book pretty fast. But I gave it a try again with this first issue from the new creative team. I've always liked Zircher's clean, not-overly-exaggerated art, and Kot is a very interesting figure in comics. His work at Image has proved he can craft chaotic stories, but he doesn't exactly seem like the type who would dip his toe in the superhero pool. It would seem that he and Zircher are exactly what this book needed, though. The characters, particularly Harley Quinn, have emotional groundings they never had in this title before; there are some really funny moments, namely one involving a sound effect and Scrabble tiles, and the last-page reveal has some great potential. If there was an award for most improved comic in 2013, this would win it.
(Image Comics, by Brandon Graham and Simon Roy)
People have completely devalued the word "epic" over the years, and that's too bad, because this issue fits the definition of the word really well. It has all the pieces of an epic poem: visions, portents, gods in the form of the empire's destructive Hammer Deon Fleet, world-shattering threats, immense battles, individual acts of heroism. It's almost too much to contain in one comic. It feels huge.
(Marvel Comics, by Jonathan Hickman and Mike Deodato)
On the flip-side of the coin is this issue, what you might call the smallest issue in Jonathan Hickman's "Avengers" run so far. For one thing, it's something of a self-contained story, the elevator pitch for which almost had to be "'Ocean's Eleven' but with Captain Marvel playing poker, the Black Widow shooting guys, and Shang Chi single-handedly fighting an evil corporation." There are a lot of really nice character moments here, something Hickman's run on the book isn't especially known for, and the whole thing just feels like a big, fun caper. Deodato's heavily photo-referenced art is better than usual, too.
"The Private Eye" #2
(Panel Syndicate, by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin)
The first issue of this new, digital, pay-what-you-want series mostly established the world in which it's set, which is understandable, given how different from our own and intriguing it is. This issue narrows the focus in on the mystery that drives the plot, and while Martin maybe doesn't get as much stunning views to draw -- there are still some jaw-dropping shots, like the one that establishes the setting of the old, defunct tube system -- the actual story really gets its hooks into readers this issue. It's a great take on the classic private-eye yarn, and it's well worth the nothing, or hopefully more, you'll pay for it.
"Batman and Robin" #20
(DC Comics, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason and Cliff Richards)
I wasn't crazy about either of the Batman issues that came out this week. The Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo Clayface two-parter in "Batman" felt like filler even with the regular creative team. Even Snyder seemed to be having more fun with his fan service ("Batman Beyond" costume appearance alert!) than with the story itself. That said, that story handles Bruce's continuing grief over his son Damian's death so much better than "Batman and Robin" #20, in which Bruce Wayne is a jerk to a teenage girl and then goes to Ethiopia with Red Hood to permanently maim mercenaries.. It's all topped off by Batman taking his former ward to the site of his savage beating death, and getting into a fist fight with him there. Batman's about as unlikable as he has ever been in this comic, and that's saying something.