Thursday, August 28, 2014

Unstability: Reading Kirby & Lee's The Fantastic Four #2

The Fantastic Four #2

The Skrulls. A war-like intergalactic empire. Constant cosmic threat to the Marvel Universe. Total ass-clowns.

Arriving in issue two, we find that the Four are famous. Intergalactically famous. Based, apparently, on that one time they beat up that ugly guy in a cave.

Fame and public presence have always been a key part of the Four. In fact, I’d say Marvel in general is more concerned with the public perception of its heroes (we’re talking within narrative here) than DC. But the Four, the First Family of Marvel, are always public figures. I guess I thought that would develop a little more organically.

In this issue, shape-shifting Skrulls from outer space impersonate the Four and wreck an oil derrick, steal a diamond and melt a statue so that the world’s militaries will hunt down the Four and destroy them, freeing the Skrulls up to invade the earth. Because the only thing currently stopping them is the Fantastic Four. Who can be defeated by the military, which doesn’t really present a threat to the Skrulls. Got it?

The Four is chilling in an isolated hunting lodge while all this goes down. Probably to deal with all the fame. Despite the isolation, they still make Ben dress up in his Claude Rains duds. Ben has a couple “This man, this monster” rages, throws a bear head out the window. Then they all get captured by the army. Then they all escape.

Interesting quirk of this particular reproduction: whenever Sue goes invisible, she’s rendered in white with some dotted lines. Meaning there’s no ink on the page, a true blank. It's more noticeable in the reprint. In a pulp printed comic, the ink soaks a little deeper into the page, rather than sitting on top of it and giving the page an added sheen. Here's a picture that entirely does not illustrate what I'm talking about.

Because the Four is awesome at planning, they come up with a plan. What if one of us actually destroys something, in order to confuse our impersonators? Brilliant! Johnny wrecks a rocket, then gets picked up by Skrull Reed and Skrull Sue in a Studebaker, which may or may not be a Skrull. Luckily for everyone, none of the Skrulls is in Johnny form right now, because actually that was a huge potential flaw in an otherwise flawless plan.

But here’s my favorite part.

The Four decide to impersonate the Skrulls and go to the Skrull mothership, which has been waiting in orbit for that one last obstacle to invasion to be removed. Then they fool the Skrull leader by showing him pages from other Marvel comics. But not superhero comics, pages from Strange Tales and Journey into Mystery (which would later feature Thor, but at this point I guess had giant ants?). The Skrulls, despite the fact they’ve been monitoring the planet and have found no evidence of scary-ass troll monsters and giant ants, are like “Oh crap, let’s hightail it.”

And they do. Menace defeated.

On the return trip, they pass through some more cosmic rays. Which, understandably, Ben gets pretty upset about. Of course, everyone else is less than sympathetic, because they are jerks to Ben all day.

And finally, because Reed has not had a chance this issue to prove that he is a dick, he forces the three Skrulls who remained on earth to turn into cows. Permanently. This is an awesome idea and nothing bad could ever come of introducing aliens into the food supply.

My plot summary might seem snarky, but this issue is exponentially better than the first. Sure, the various plots and schemes are ludicrous, but they’ve got room to breathe a bit. This issue seems competent, on the plotting front. The art has some standout moments, particularly Ben’s brief reversion to human form. Some of the panel pacing is odd for a narrative that’s so compressed. Like this sequence.

There’s plenty to say about Sue, and as she develops, I’ll want to say more about her here. But one thing worth noting is that invisibility is not a particularly fun super-power to draw. Kirby seems to revel in panels of Johnny leaving flame trails in his wake and Reed’s limbs distending across the frame (although none of the Reed panels can touch Jack Cole’s Plastic Man, which rivals Eisner in its early formal innovation). But when it comes to Sue, there’s not a whole lot to work with other than showing the consequences of her visual absence.

Next issue: costumes! The Fantasti-car! The Miracle Man (but not MiracleMan).

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Unstability: Reading Kirby and Lee's Fantastic Four #1 (continued)

Fantastic Four #1 (part two)


Let’s do a quick note on prose and art.

Stan Lee never uses one word when three will do. Of course, there’s the standard comic trope of narrating what’s happening in the panel, which is particularly clunky here because Kirby gets a lot across in his panels. The exclamation points, double exclamation points and double question marks are also flying fast and free throughout. It's funny that in his huckster mode, Lee's letter column prose has a certain energy to it that is hokey but undeniable. This stuff is just leaden.

As for the art, look, Kirby’s an acquired taste at the best of times (see below). And this is not the best of times. He’s still stretching (get it?) his legs with these characters, and the first issue matches the Four up with some pretty generic monsters, so the Kirby design sense that will come into play later in the run isn’t on showcase here. Also absent is the weighty line-work that usually marks something as Kirby-esque. He's efficient, in an Alex Toth kind of way, but paging forward a bit, it looks like it takes him about eight issues to really hit stride.

Another aside: I'm reading these in the quite nice Fanastic Four Omnibus. Nice paper stock, the recolorations that were done for the Marvel Masterwords editions. It even includes letter pages, which I'm looking forward to.

Which brings us to the story. In quick summary, it goes like this: Reed uses a science-y machine to discover a bunch of atomic plants have gone missing. In “French Africa”, an atomic plant gets eaten by monsters or something. The Four use the science-y machine to figure out that Monster Island is at the exact center of the disturbances. They go to Monster Island after an exchange that goes something like this:

BEN: There ain’t no such thing as Monster Island.
SUE: There’s only one way to find out.
NARRATOR: Minutes later, on Monster Island…

Seriously, everyone in this comic is a jerk to Ben Grimm all day. Remember when he warned you guys about the cosmic rays? Does that earn him zero credit whatsoever?

Once there, they are separated in some way I’m not totally clear about. Reed and Johnny fall into a crevasse, where they are blinded, dressed in blue hazmat suits, and meet the Mole Man. Meanwhile, the Thing wrestles a big rocky monster who looks a lot like the thing and Sue does absolutely nothing to help. Back underground, we learn the origin of the Mole Man, who is basically an exceptionally ugly guy who also fell down a crevasse on Monster Island, became master of the underground creatures there (who we never really see) and developed…mole powers. Which are sort of like bat powers? Only underground. He beats the crap out of either Johnny or Reed (we can’t tell, since they are in blue hazmat suits) using aforementioned mole powers. He reveals his plan thusly:
Another strong argument for solar.

The Thing and Sue show up! But they don’t really do anything. Johnny burns through his hazmat suit and scares off a big-ass monster. The Mole Man pulls a “signal cord” and summons those underground monsters he was telling them about:
None of them look especially mole-y.

And finally Johnny “blazes a fiery swath which melts the soft earth”, probably killing all the monsters, because whatever, screw monsters. And the Mole Man too, except probably not, because the comic ends with this:
"Someday he'll thank us for burying him alive."

Yes, Sue, that is absolutely the stupidest thing you can say in a comic book.

And thus, comic books were revolutionized, apparently.

So what’s different? Why is the Fantastic Four #1 a landmark comic, while Challengers of the Unknown from three years earlier is largely (wait for it) unknown?

My suspicion (based on reading all of twenty-four pages) is that it had something to do with Lee and Kirby’s frantic, kitchen sink approach to this comic. There’s a little romance comic stuff in here (Lee had been writing romance comics before publisher Martin Goodman assigned him to come up with a superhero team to rival the Justice League), there’s a bunch of monster comic action. Not to mention there’s cosmic rays, a Monster Island, an underground Valley of Diamonds. There’s a lot of ideas thrown into the blender here.

But I also think it’s not so much a revolutionary comic on its own as it is part of a revolutionary moment in comics. The introduction of the narrative organism that is the shared Marvel Universe and the “Marvel style” of superhero, which stresses the personal over the archetypal has an amazing cumulative effect that’s difficult to locate by dissecting the individual comics involved.

Because, I’m just going to say it, Fantastic Four #1 is not a particularly good comic. It’s easy to write that off as “It was 1961, comics in general weren’t particularly good by modern standards.” But there are pre-1960 comics that read as very modern to a contemporary audience. This is not one of them. The origin story is well done, but the story in which it’s embedded clunks and chugs and then suddenly ends as if no one told them there’d be a page restriction. The plot is resolved in literally one panel, as opposed to four panels devoted to a French legionnaire who feels the earth quaking.
There were no ways to make this bit character more French unless they replaced his gun with a baguette.

I’m guessing it’s not going to get better fast. The stuff I really want to check out is the cosmic stuff, the Inhumans and Galactus and all that, but those are a ways down the line.

In an article published yesterday, Greg Carpenter compared Kirby as an artist to Dylan as a vocalist, in the sense they’re both things you need to learn to love. I’m not there yet with the King and as a pretty direct result, I’m not convinced getting there will be half the fun. But I think about people “subjecting themselves” to Dylan albums knowing there’s something there if they can just get at it, and I’m willing to give it a shot.

Tomorrow, there will be Skrulls.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Unstability: Reading Kirby & Lee's Fantastic Four #1

Given that this week would be Jack Kirby’s ninety-seventh birthday, and that I’m about to go into heavy re-writing on a novel whose working title, Unstable Molecules, is taken from one of the brilliantly science-y concepts that came out of Kirby and Lee’s original run on the Fantastic Four, which I’ve shamefully never read, I figured it was time to delve into the source material. Plus it’s a good way to stretch the writing part of my brain a bit. So here goes.

The Fantastic Four #1
So many exclamation points! So many!!
Note the definite article, which sticks around until issue #16. I'm not sure I have anything to say about it just yet, but, you know, note it.

If you’re a comic book fan, it’s impossible not to come to these issues with a lot of baggage. Much of it centered on the Lee vs. Kirby issue, which is to comics what Lennon vs. McCartney or Jagger vs. Richards is to music.

Let’s put it out there right off: along with most folks, I’m in Kamp Kirby. Not because Stan Lee comes off as a huckster (he does) or because the prose and dialogue that he claims credit for is six kinds of unbearable (it is), but because of this:
The incredible Human TorchHands.
That’s the cover of Challengers of the Unknown #3 from 1958, written and drawn by Jack Kirby. For decades, Stan Lee has made the claim that the idea for the Fantastic Four, a group of intrepid space explorers who are buffeted with cosmic rays and hideously transformed, sprang from his fertile imagination. But this issue by Kirby, five years previous, features intrepid space explorers who are buffeted with cosmic rays and hideously transformed. Just saying.

Structurally, Fantastic Four #1 is a twenty-four page comic divided into three chapters, the first of which is sub-divided into intro and flashback. I admit, I am a little obsessed with the comic’s opening line of prose, which gets echoed in Gravity’s Rainbow’s opening line, “A screaming comes across the sky.” But that’s because I’m a jerk.

The three awesome words are "The Fantastic Four". By the way.

The next panel introduces Reed as a shadowy figure with a gun, one we’d likely assume is the villain of the piece. He very well might be, depending on how you look at it. More later.

Nothing menacing here at all. Nope.

Oh, and we should note that the first issue doesn’t take place in New York City, but in a DC-style New York City stand-in, Central City. I’m interested to see when they make the switch, since the mythology of the Four is deeply connected to New York.

Do we need to get into the gender politics of making invisibility a woman's superpower in 1961, or can I assume?

Sue Storm gets brought on stage next with a bit of physical comedy. Check out the timing on this panel. From the stunned expression of the figure on the far left, the folks recovering in the middle of the panel, and the two men falling at the panel’s right or present side. It’s a great bit of pacing by Kirby.

This is, no joke, The Thing lamenting a lack of Big and Tall stores in New York.

Next, we have the real hero of the first issue, Ben Grimm, the Thing, who is pure Kirby monster material: monstrous in the classical sense of being out of sync or size with the rest of the world. He gets introduced in a sort of Invisible Man get up, including shades. This brings up issues of visibility that run through the storyline of the character (Ben ends up finding love with a blind woman) and of course parallels him with the Invisible Woman. But it also highlights an initial problem with the way the character is drawn. Throughout the first few issues, we never see Ben Grimm's eyes, and I'd argue that it's not until Kirby starts drawing Ben's baby blues that the character takes on the deeply human aspects that put him at the heart of the comic and tie him most closely to Kirby as an artist.

Over the course of two pages, the Thing tears up streets, wrecks a car, and is fired on by police. Like Reed, he’s given a villain’s entrance. But while Reed’s is, initially, just visual, Ben’s is more narrative. His actions are destructive and he’s full of contempt for the people he encounters.

Finally, Johnny Storm shows up, bursting into flames and melting some planes. At least he feels bad about it.

"My bad."

On to the origin flashback! Over the protests of pilot Ben Grimm and his fear of cosmic rays, the Four go blasting into space. Ben because he’s the pilot. Reed because science. Sue because she’s Reed’s fiancĂ©. And Johnny because he’s Sue’s brother, and you should always take your teenage soon-to-be-brother-in-law on all of your space expeditions.

There’s a lot that’s unclear here, of course, because things move pretty quickly. It seems the space mission is military in some way, because the Four sneak onto the base and blast off. But Reed’s connection with the mission is never made clear. Even the “Reed is a scientist” assumption is just that at this point. Most importantly, they must beat the commies into space. So they go past the ONE GUARD on duty and essentially steal a space rocket. Well done, Four!

"If only we'd seen this coming!"

Of course, they are immediately blasted with cosmic rays. Which make a sound I imagine is a lot like an active Geiger counter, and calls to mind a classic Calvin & Hobbes strip.

The sounds of science.

Cosmic rays are the sine qua non of Marvel science-y concepts. The bulk of the Marvel Age is irradiated and mutated, and it’s good to note here the difference between American and Japanese attitudes toward radiation. In Japanese film, radiation introduces (or, more aptly reintroduces, awakes or recalls) the purely monstrous. In American comic books, radiation can induce monstrosity as well as heroism.
"I am unsubtle symbolism! RAAARRGH!"

In choosing “cosmic rays”, Lee and Kirby opt for something that is placed permanently outside of understanding, and is science-y while remaining separate from the science of actual radiation. The elements of the unknowable and, maybe more importantly, the elements of chance, have chafed modern writers of some of these characters, who have tried with varying degrees of success to introduce more intentional or spiritual elements into the characters’ origins (most notably, Mark Waid’s Speed Force accounting for the lightning strike with chemical dousing that creates The Flash, and JM Strazynski’s Spider-Totem, about which the less said the better).

It’s interesting, for me at least, to pause here and imagine a world of superhero comics that didn’t arise at a moment of obsession with atomic science. What if superheroes began forty years earlier when spiritualism was at its cultural peak? I’ve tried (again, with varying degrees of success) to come up with a set of Marvel analogues that get their powers from encounters with ancient gods and myths and totems rather than “science”. It certainly works better in a book about the power of stories and storytelling, but there’s something about superheroes having science-y origins that gives them a sense of newness. They don’t draw their power from older stories, and there’s something vital, if particularly American and mid-twentieth century, about that.

Now that they’ve been irradiated, the Four’s powers kick in. And here comes the amazing twist that drives the dynamic of this comic for decades. Reed, Sue and Johnny are all hideously transformed, but they retain a human base state to which they can revert, while Ben is permanently disfigured. Jonathan Hickman will pick up on this idea of base state pretty brilliantly sixty years later, but there are more immediate results.

"I only casually endangered the lives of my friends and loved ones. So back off!"

It’s tough not to read this as a Lee vs. Kirby moment. As the series progresses, The Thing becomes more obviously a stand-in for Kirby, while Reed retains unquestioned control over the group. And maybe there’s part of me that wants to imagine Kirby and Lee mediating their creative disputes through those two characters. This line of thinking makes these two panels all the more cringe-inducing.

"Everyone, on three: Reed sucks. One, two..."

Here’s my favorite of several articles on why Reed Richards is a dick, but those panels kind of sum it up. Total dick move, Reed.

All right, this is taking more space than I’d intended. So, tomorrow, on to the second half of the first issue. Excelsior!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The New 52: Part Two (or why you should care)

I am a big advocate for superheroes. Superheroes and the reading of them are like vitamins. They strengthen parts of the spirit and morale.

Reading is great for you. Reading fiction, even better for you. But contemporary fiction doesn't do much in the way of giving one things to aspire to. Literary fiction (and this is more or less true of a lot of genre fiction as well) relies on the conflicts produced by characters who have deep-seeded flaws.

Might it not be a good idea to now and then read about people whose defining characteristic is that they are inherently good? I mean, isn't that what the whole New Testament is supposed to be about? Here's this guy, he's just...really nice to everybody. Like as in nicer than nice. All the time. Look, he's handing out some fish to some strangers! Look, he's helping out some blind people! What a nice guy!

Reading superheroes lets you get all that positive Jesus-y energy without all the unpleasant Christianity. Comic books are chock-full of positive role models. Of people we could aspire to be.

But they're difficult to crack into. Comic books are arcane, they're drenched in nostalgia and stale narrative. They lock out all but the most devoted fans, pandering to those of us who are willing to retain encyclopaedic knowledge about character histories.

Now it's possible that the DC relaunch will quickly devolve into more of the same.
But it's also possible that the door into the DC universe might be unlocked to the uninitiated for the first time in decades. And there could be treasures within. What follows are some suggestions for books that should provide the easiest access to people who've never read a comic book in their lives.

1. Action Comics by Grant Morrison & Rags Morales. Rookie socialist Superman. If that three-word pitch doesn't sell you, you should probably stop reading now. Morrison has already done visionary work on Superman at the end of his career and is going back to the character's Seigel & Schuster roots for this story of Supe's first arrival in Metropolis. One of the best writers in comics on the medium's most iconic character.

2. Batman by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo. Snyder's recent work on Detective Comics has been nothing short of amazing. His American Vampire, which started out as a collaboration with Stephen King, was so good that King got dropped off the title (okay, that's not exactly how it happened, but if writing American Vampire was an arm-wrestling match, Snyder would be Stallone in Over the Top and King would be...everyone else in Over the Top). He's the closest writer in ages to write a Batman that feels as basic and real as Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. Greg Capullo's chunky artwork was practically made to draw Batman.

3. Justice League by Geoff Johns & Jim Lee.
One of the biggest writers in comics paired with one of the most influential (for better or worse) comics artists of the past twenty years. If they can keep this book on track and out on time, it should be pretty remarkable. Plus, this is the A-list Justice League: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern. The big guns. I'd imagine the notoriously dilatory Lee has six issues drawn already, since a lot of DC's hopes are riding on this book.

4. Batwoman by JH Williams & W. Haden Blackman. Now we get into risky territory. Williams is one of the best artists working in superheroes. He pushes the limits of what a page can look like. And Kathy Kane is DC's high profile lesbian superheroine. Under the pen of Greg Rucka, she was a wonderfully fleshed out and balanced character. Williams' writing is the x-factor here; he's one of several DC artists who are getting the bump up to writer. But unlike some of the others, Williams might have the chops to carry this book.

5. Wonder Woman by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang. Here's a character that's been struggling for an identity for ages. For whatever reason, WW has never caught on at the level of Superman or Batman. I might have preferred a return of Gail Simone to this book, I'm interested to see what Azzarello brings to it. Mostly known as a crime writer, Azz is promising that Wonder Woman will have a strong horror vibe to it. Could be a disastrous return to the bondage fetishism of WW's roots, or a chance to set the Amazonian mythology aside and let Diana step up into DC's big three where she belongs.

6. Batgirl by Gail Simone & Ardian Syaf. This one threatens to remain bogged down in continuity. Barbara Gordon reclaims the mantle of Batgirl after decades in a wheelchair. A whole lot of fans are, somewhat rightfully, offended at this mysterious, miraculous recovery and to keep those folks from rioting, there's going to be some 'splaining to do. But some of us think that Simone, one of the best writers on DC's stable and the only female writer involved in stage one of the relaunch, could be able to pull this off. Simone excels at writing strong, deeply realized female characters, which is exactly the treatment Barbara Gordon deserves, in or out of the chair.

7. Aquaman by Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis. Okay, this probably shouldn't be on the list. After all, Aquaman's power is that he talks to fish. But I've always had a soft spot for the guy and desperately want him to be cool. Geoff Johns has made Hal Jordan cool and almost had me convinced Barry Allen wasn't a narrative dead end. I'm hopeful he can do the same for Arthur Curry. But that doesn't mean y'all need to read it.

8. Animal Man by Jeff Lemire & Travel Foreman. Marvel has been very good at getting folks from indie comics to come write superheroes, with high levels of success. Huge paychecks probably don't hurt. DC's mostly plucked their talent from the mid-nineties and seems to have managed to piss off the very talented Brian Wood enough for him to abandon everything he's writing for DC. But Jeff Lemire is the real deal. His Essex County is stunning and Sweet Tooth continues to be on my reading list by virtue of being just wonderfullly weird. I wasn't huge on his Superboy work, although a lot of people were. But Animal Man, a superhero with strange animal-based powers and the ultra-rare ability to maintain a wife and two kids, could be the perfect fit for Lemire. And could be one of those books that creeps up and changes the game entirely, the way the big bad Brits did in the late eighties. Too much pressure for one book? Probably, but I'm betting Lemire is impressive right out of the gate.

Some of these might not be for you. And there might be some I'm leaving out that are totally for you. But if on some Wednesday this month, you happen to find yourself with three dollars to spare? Might not be a bad idea to go pick up a comic for once. Just saying.

Oh, and I swear pretty soon I'll start writing about books without pictures.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The New 52: Unsolicited Thoughts on the DC Comics Relaunch

It's apparent I haven't written for this blog in...oh, seventy years. Two and a half years, to be exact. I was thinking last week that, being between books at the moment (I'm in edits on one and pre-writing on another), maybe I would start up a new blog. Then I remembered I've had a whole bunch of blogs before and maybe I should just go back to this one.

Rather than doing anything remotely ambitious, I figured I'd talk about comic books.

For the record, the novel I'm starting to put notes together on has a lot to do with comics, comic book conventions and how fantasy narrative works. So I have an excuse.

In case you haven't heard, DC Comics, a company whose output makes up probably 40% of the floppies produced every year ("floppies" here refers to single issue comics, usually between twenty four and thirty six pages long with half that again in advertising, much of which is for other comics or comics-related merch), is about to do a company-wide relaunch of its superhero universe, releasing fifty-two number one issues in the month of September. If you're a comic book fan, this is huge news. In fact, it's hard to think of a cognate to this in any other form of entertainment.

Of course, it's a marketing move. Maybe not 100% a calculated marketing move, but largely a marketing move. DC has perennially lagged behind its competitor, Marvel Comics, in market share and this is what they're doing about it. Many of the characters are getting redesigned. Most if not all of them are going to be younger than they were before. And they're shedding the years of convoluted "continuity" that's come before, a sort of narrative baggage that the characters have been carting around for decades.

Continuity is another tricky thing to explain to an outsider, so let's try an analogy. If you were going to start reading the Harry Potter books (or watching the movies), you wouldn't start with the fourth one. Built into the fourth book is the expectation that you've read the previous three; there's a degree to which the narrative won't function if you don't bring that other knowledge in with you.

Now imagine that Harry Potter books have been coming out for fifty years. And that Harry lives in the same narrative universe as characters from the Narnia books, the Dark is Rising books and Madeline L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time books, each with fifty years of constant narrative trailing behind them. That's what comics continuity is like: dozens of characters who have amassed fifty years worth of intertwining, often contradictory stories (hard-core fans will do amazing mental acrobatics to reconcile discrepancies in continuity, as will comic book writers, many of whom started out as hard-core fans). And any of these stories can be called up into relevance at any time.

You can see where this might be daunting for a new fan. Someone who walks out of the Green Lantern movie, goes to their local store and picks up the latest issue will be left to stare blankly at a story that includes not just Green Lanterns, but Yellow, Orange, Violet, etc. This Lucky Charms of Lanterns situation is easily understood by someone (like me) who's been following the book for years. But it's illegible to a noob.

So in an attempt to bring in new readers, DC is ditching most (although not all; back to that later) of its continuity. And they're offering same-day digital availability of all of their titles, a move which might be more significant for the industry than everything else.

All of this has caused calamity within the comic book community and has gotten some amount of press in the world outside. A lot of fans are pissed off about the erasure of continuity. Which makes sense, especially for DC fans, because the DC universe is, in a way, about its continuity. Not only does DC trump Marvel in having superhero legacies (many DC icons have been, at one time or another, replaced by their sidekicks or someone new picking up the torch. See Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Starman. Of course, most of these torch-passings have been reversed eventually), the DC universe itself has been in a sort of existential crisis (that was an inside joke) about the contradictions in its shared narrative for decades. In an effort to "make it all fit", they've tried multiple dimensions, hypertime and the occasional rewriting of the timeline from scratch. Even this relaunch doesn't come out of nowhere: it supposedly flows out of the "Flashpoint" miniseries that wraps up tomorrow. We'll see about that.

But leaving aside the debates within the comics community (pants? no pants?), the question of whether or not this will bring in new readers remains. And while I'm rooting for this to be a huge success, here are a couple hurdles I can see.

1. Floppies are bite-sized. Most of us have watched enough television that we can handle serialized narrative. You hit the "Oh snap!" moment at the end of an episode of Lost, the screen goes black and you understand you'll have to wait a week for another fix. Most of us probably prefer binging our way through a full DVD worth one Saturday on the couch, but the waiting is part of a novelty cost: we get to see it right away. Then it's hurry up and wait.

But imagine if each episode of Lost was a half hour long. And they came out once a month. That's about the rate narrative gets doled out in comics.

For those of us who have been comics readers for a while, this is fine. We have several titles we follow and there's a ritual to going down the comic book store on a Wednesday and seeing which of the titles you dig has come out, then rushing home and moving incrementally ahead in the adventures of your favorite characters. And because the stories are going on in a shared universe, it becomes a little easier to keep incredibly long-form narratives in your head. Something that happens to Spider-Man may be referenced in a Captain America or Iron Man comic.

But these are very ingrained habits, and are foreign to most non-comic book readers. I'm not saying someone who doesn't read comics can't do this, I'm saying it may be difficult to get them to start. I started my wife (who is much smarter than me) reading The Unwritten and she really liked it. Until she had to wait every month for a new issue. By the time the next issue came out, the last one was more or less forgotten.

Among comics fans, there's a somewhat recent phenomenon referred to as "waiting for trade". What this means is that you stop following a comic on a monthly basis and wait for a whole storyline to be collected in a trade paperback. This is a much more natural form of reading and what most people probably prefer. The switch to reading in fits and starts, even with DC's commitment to getting books out on time, is going to be a tough sell to most readers.

2. The insularity of "top creative talent". It should first be noted that there have been numerous attempts to bring non-comics writers into the industry. Writers from Lost, Battlestar Gallactica and other series, as well as bigwigs like Stephen King and Kevin Smith have been given the keys to the shiniest narrative toys and told to let loose.

The results? Mixed at best. But the sales have generally been strong.

I will be the first to admit that many non-comics writers have failed to take advantage of some of the particular opportunities presented by the comics medium. I will also admit that most established, high end comics writers excel at exactly what they're doing. But outside of the industry, they're not marquee names.

This is particularly problematic within the DC relaunch, where many of the would-be marquee names are remnants of the nineties comic boom, their names largely forgotten (or never known) to the outside world and often snickered at within the industry. DC may have a hard enough time getting the fans excited about a book by Fabian Nicieza or Scott Lobdell (both keepers of the sprawling X-Men franchise through most of my teen years), much less getting anyone else's attention.

Yes, what this means is I want the writing staff of The Wire to take over the Batman books. Nothing against Treme, but seriously: right now.

3. The ladies were not excited about pants. When the relaunch was announced, one of the points DC editorial stressed was that all of its female characters would now wear pants. Not hot pants, regular pants.

In the minds of DC editorial, this seemed to be a major victory for feminism and a guaranteed increase in female readership. Of course, as game time approached, they reversed this decision and re-de-pantsed Wonder Woman. But pants (or tights, or whatever) are mostly colored in skin in a comic book, and the objections to Wonder Woman go deeper than the fact that she wears short shorts. It might not be a bad idea to enforce an editorial mandate against up-skirt shots and down-shirt shots by DC artists. If DC wants to really bring female readers on board, there are two major ways to do it.

Female writers and female artists.

I'm excited about Brian Azzarello writing Wonder Woman, because I'm excited about Brian Azzarello writing pretty much anything. But this should have been an opportunity for DC to frontline its current roster of female creators (which I think is pretty much Gail Simone, Nicola Scott and Amanda Conner) and bring new female creators into the fray. They should have been recruiting from all over the industry and beyond. What about Carla Speed McNeill writing the Legion of Superheroes? Or Karen Russell writing Element Girl? Hell, why not Sophia Coppola writing Catwoman? DC had a chance to bring in the ladies and all they had to offer was pants.

4. We're scrapping continuity. Well, not all the continuity. Marvel put out three huge superhero movies this year. DC put out one. Now not everyone was super-keen on Green Lantern, but it wasn't horrible and while it wasn't wildly successful, it wasn't an utter failure.

Folks coming to the continuity-free New 52 after digging on the Green Lantern movie might be surprised when they pick up Issue #1 of Green Lantern and find the man slinging the ring isn't Hal Jordan but Sinestro. Who is technically a Korugarian and not a man, but let's not split hairs.

Point here is, not all previous continuity is being jettisoned. It looks like all the continuity that DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns likes (or wrote) is still in play. So rather than a clean slate, we get a slightly muddied slate.

This brings up a numbers issue I'd like to address, one that illustrates just how dire the straits of comic books are right now. The lynchpin of the relaunch, Justice League #1, written by Johns and drawn by Jim "I only draw a comic every five years and it sells like crack" Lee, was pre-ordered at 200,000 copies. Biggest pre-order in a long long time. The comics industry is tumescent over numbers like that. The Green Lantern movie was pretty much considered a failure within the movie industry. It grossed $18 million in its first weekend. That means, figuring for a modest $10 ticket price, 1.8 million people saw the movie in its first weekend, almost ten times the number that will read what looks to be the best selling comic in three years.

I've gone on long enough. I'm hoping to post again on all the reasons you should get your ass down to the comic book store this month and start reading DC comics, but for now, while I'm pulling for them, I wish they'd gone a little bigger and a little smarter.

I'm also glad the Green Lantern books aren't getting the big continuity wipe. Because I'm a huge GL nerd.

Coming very soon: reasons you, yes you, should go buy some DC Comics starting tomorrow.