August “Worlds in Panels”: comiXology’s “My Backups” and DRM

In my most recent column for PopMatters, I look at what downloads of comics from your comiXology library means for the future of DRM:

When I buy a print copy of a comic, there are a number of things I can do with that copy beyond simply reading it myself. I can, as noted, loan it to someone else. I can give it away or even sell it. I may not have to buy the comic in the first place; in many cases I could check the book out from the library to do my reading. With print there’s a clear distinction between owning a copy of a work and owning the work itself. I can do what I want with an individual copy that I come to possess by legal means, but what I can’t do is start making copies of my own for sale or to give away; that right adheres to the owner of the underlying work.

Read the column

January comics

From tfaw:

Monthly comics:

Angel: Illyria: Haunted #2 (IDW)

Scott Tipton and Mariah Huehner have a good idea for a story started. Given how few episodes Illyria appeared in, I imagine that she is a good character to write. Getting the voice right remains hard.

Birds of Prey #8 (DC)

“The Death of Oracle” story continues and the title seems to have found some stability in the art. Gail Simone writes strong stories about the human/meta-human divide and this looks to be one of those, at least in part.

B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth: Gods #1 (Dark Horse)

The new story starts fast with a cast of unfamiliar characters, but ends with an awesomely rendered final page. Guy Davis also designs a great-looking, though enigmatic, cover.

Casanova: Gula #1 (Marvel Icon)

Another new story starts. Lots going on, people intersecting from different timelines, and Casanova missing in one of them. Full of the kind of action and geekry I have come to expect from this title.

Generation Hope #3 (Marvel)

I am wondering where this title goes after all of the new mutants have been found and pacified by Hope. I suppose this issue is an indication, with them coming together as a team somehow, but that Kieron Gillen’s next story arc should be even more of an indication of this.

Hellboy: The Sleeping and the Dead #1 (Dark Horse)

Scott Hampton’s style is slicker than I am used to seeing on this title, but Mike Mignola’s story seems like creepy fun. Short mini.

I, Zombie #9 (DC/Vertigo)

Gwen and Horatio finally have a date, while the vampires scheme, Ellie gets jealous, and maybe rash, and Scott deals with his life. This is turning into quite the ensemble title.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #5 (Marvel)

Settles into kind of a conventional action thriller mode, unless you count all of the zipping around in time and space. This title is so strange, that I wonder that Marvel allows Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver make it at all, especially since they are radically shaping the history of one of the Marvel Universe’s key institutions. And, yet, here it is.

Spider-Girl #2 (Marvel)

Quick, dramatic, and maybe not so positive turn in the story. I am guessing it will take a few issues to work through the implication sof what happens to Anya here. Less encouraging is the splitting of the art.

Spike #4 (IDW)

The point of this issue is pretty well revealed at the end. Drusilla remains a work in progress. I think that Nicola Zanni’s Dru can grown on me, but there is a lot of variation in how she looks here, with face and body not quite settled yet.

Uncanny X-Men #531 (Marvel)

I will say this about this title right now: as per my prior comments, I do not like Greg Land’s style. But it does work for Lobe’s alternate X-Men. The panel where they gather to go be heroes is well drawn, and the plastic-y, beautiful look works well for these wannabes. It still remains a problem for many in the main cast; I even think he manages to make Emma boring, despite the fact that she is a character who can also wear his style well.

X-23 #4 (Marvel)

So, Laura gets her own story after all. Maybe Marjorie Liu is finally getting some ownership now that “Wolverine Goes to Hell” is behind her. One thing I have noticed about this title is that covers are often oddly inappropriate. This month, we see X-23 in X-Force mode, but most of the time she is drawn as some kind of sexy fashion plate. None of these looks has had much to do with the stories.

TPBs:

Batman: Joker’s Asylum Volume 2 (DC)

Ordered this to scree for A, who loves Harley Quinn and likes the Batverse. On the whole, a reminder of how depraved Gotham is, but I also found Mike Raicht’s (writer), David Yardin’s & Cliff Richards’ (art) and Jose Villarrubia (colors) Killer Croc story to be strangely affecting, especially the by the time the next to last panel shows.

Marvel Masterworks: Uncanny X-Men Volume 3 (Marvel)

Forthcoming.

X-Men Forever 2 Volume 1: Back in Action (Marvel)

Fun-ish sideshow with Rogue and Spider-Man, and the reemergence of the Morlocks. Mystique. High soap opera. Pretty much what you expect from this series.

Digital comics (from comiXology):

Suburban Glamour #1-4 (Image)

Probably the best thing I read this month. Beautiful, pop-y art from Jamie McKelvie and a story that nicely intertwines classic genre elements and fantasy with contemporary suburban ennui. Maybe moves too quick and crams too much in, and points towards sequels a little too broadly, especially if they never happen. What I like most about McKelvie’s art is how real it looks despite the simplicity. Renders well on my iPhone, except for the letters pages, which are next to impossible to read that way.

End of September comics

From tfaw this month:

Monthlies:

Avengers Academy #4 (Marvel)

This is A’s subscription. My plan is always to skim, but I end up reading them more intently than that. That probably says something good about Christos Gage’s writing in particular.

B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth – New World #2 (Dark Horse)

Two major storylines this issue. In one, at B.P.R.D. headquarters, Kate is cracking under the bureaucratic responsibilities imposed by the UN, while Panya is causing mischief, raising questions about her agendas and what she’s contributing to the work of the Bureau.

Meanwhile, in the woods of British Columbia Abe finds Benjamin Daimio hiding out, ashamed of how he left the B.P.R.D. The Wendigo is seen lurking in the forest. Daimio fills Abe in on news of a deep lake in the area where something terrible rests. The issue ends with Abe diving in.

The two major storylines are bridged by a series of panels featuring two unknown men living with an unidentified “she” who shouldn’t be disturbed. The transition from B.P.R.D. hq to the BC woods is handled through a TV talk show where commentators argue over what the horrible events of the last few months mean. We see Johann watching the show, and then are taken to the set, and then to the house in the woods where one of the unidentified men is watching the debate.

As always, reading B.P.R.D. has rewards on multiple levels.

Batman: Streets of Gotham #16 (DC)

I canceled this subscription a few months ao when the Manhunter backups stopped running. So, this is just a burn off.

Birds of Prey #5 (DC)

This issue highlights what I’m enjoying about the new BoP and what worries about the series. First, I appreciate how Gail Simone is able to keep things moving in interesting ways. Even though this issue is mostly about the aftermath of last month’s big fight, and set up for the issue to follow, a lot happens in-between mop up and the shift to Bangkok. The fact that it mostly involves Lady Blackhawk and Huntress, thereby bringing them back into the main action, is even better.

And on that, I also am enjoying seeing Helena with her edge back. After Black Canary left the group the first time, Helena got turned into the field leader/den mother than Dinah used to be, and, in the process, became a softer character. For me, though, she is at her most interesting when you aren’t quite sure what she’ll do. Here I believed that she would kill The Penguin given the chance, despite the fact that I know that is probably forbidden by the Powers that Be at DC.

On the other hand, I am concerned that this reset is beginning with everyone in grim peril, and, now, the team fraying at the seams. I think that Simone loves these characters too much to sell them out for cheap dramatics, so I trust that there will be a settling down at some point, but when you start with so much dire, it’s hard to know where things might go next.

That concern is minor next to my wish for more from the art. I was glad enough to see that Ed Benes is able to moderate his impulse to fetishize certain parts of the Birds’ bodies, but I can still think of a number of artists I’d rather have on the title. I understand from reading Gail Simone on Twitter that Benes had to quit working for health reasons. I would not wish that kind of illness on anyone, but I do hope that his absence creates an opportunity for someone else. Nicola Scott or Georges Jeanty come immediately to mind, or, even though she hasn’t worked with DC before, I would love to see Emma Rios on this book. Right now, predictably, I guess, the art-side is a mess.

Black Widow #6 (Marvel)

A new creative team takes over and gets off to a ho hum start. I appreciate Duane Swierczynski’s effort to write a story that, at the outset at least, is easy to get into without a lot of background, but beginning with the same premise as Marjorie Liu used to launch the series, Natalia/Natasha being framed for crimes she did not commit, is not confidence inspiring.

The art is also missing the uniqueness and flare of Daniel Acuna’s work. Manuel Garcia, in particular, draws all of the women in a disappointingly conventional way (flowing hair, big breasts, long legs).

Still, it is just a start.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight #36 (Last Gleaming, part I) (Dark Horse)

Here Joss Whedon scripts and it shows in the mix of wit and drama, including a few nice visual jokes. I also found the issue to be helpful in recapping the Twilight reveal and its implications. In addition to starting the end of Season Eight, the issue reads as if it might be setting up Angel and Spike’s return to Dark Horse (see the Spike: The Devil You Know below).

Daytripper #10 (DC/Vertigo)

Final issue, and the gentlest of the series. Moon & Ba use a device here that I am not fond of, the dispensing of parental wisdom, but in a series about writers and the writing life, I grant them some latitude.

I am also still working through what I think about this last installment ending in a markedly different way than the previous issues – until the end, in fact, I had been wondering if this series really needed to be read in a strictly linear way – but I also think that this book should end up high on the “titles to recommend to adults who want to get into comics” list. Not only is the story entirely against the grain of what Americans assume comics are for, but the art is at a high standard. Ba & Moon clearly love people, and the details of daily life. Both of these are beautifully reflected here.

Fringe: Tales from the Fringe #4 (Wildstorm)

I am enjoying this second Fringe mini. I think that using comics to tell small side stories about characters from a TV show are a good use of these kinds of licensed comics.

Of course, the fact that the stories wouldn’t really carry a television episode sometimes shows. This issue the main story about Nina Sharp lacks a certain amount of imagination (let’s see; we have an older woman in a position of power, childless, no partner, what shall we write about?), but the art is lovely. Subtly styled, Julius Gopez also draws charmingly credible versions of the younger Nina and William Bell. Carrie Strachan’s colors are bright, and I especially like how Nina’s red hair ‘pops’.

The secondary story is also cliched, but Fiona Staples’ typically expressive artwork elevates the narrative beyond its limitations.

Hellboy: The Storm #3 (Dark Horse)

By the end of this mini, it is revealed that ‘the storm’ is the summoning, again, of Ogdru Jahad, a revelation that probably explains why Hellboy begins to feel as if doing what everyone wants him to do, lead an army of the dead against Nimue’s host, is exactly what he should not do. As it turns out, Nimue is, herself, simply a tool in the bringing of the Ogdru Jahad (isn’t that always the way).

Before setting out to face the witch queen, Hellboy appears to express his love for Alice and an intention to return to America and to the B.P.R.D. (following up on last issue’s hint at a crossover). On the road, he sees Gruagach/Grom strung up on a tree, begging for death and expressing regret for where his thirst for revenge has led the world. Hellboy tries to accomodate him, but to no avail. Gruagach seems destined to suffer for all time, which is sad even for a creature so epically small-minded.

More of interest happens in this comic than in a whole year’s worth of other titles.

I, Zombie #5 (DC/Vertigo)

Gwen confronts a moral dilemma and possibly an uncomfortable truth about herself in this issue. Chris Roberson and Michael Allred do an excellent job showing Gwen’s distress as much as telling it to readers. Most keenly for me, A continues to look forward to this book and I continue to feel ok about letting her read it.

Murderland #2 (Image)

After two issues, I am still trying to make up my mind about this book. I had it pulled because the previews promised something that inspired by Homicide and The Wire, and issue two certainly exhibits more of that promise than number one. However, I’m still not sure what’s going on. Narrative strands are being drawn out but not brought together yet. I was thankful for the short ‘FlipSide’ backup for its clearer and sharper story.

Still, David Hahn’s art is eye catching, with a good assist from Jose Villarubia on “Jiggity-Jig, part one” and Guillem Mari on the main story.

Mystery Society #3 (IDW)

This book continues to be fun. Not a lot new happens in this issue, but our heroes continue to outwit their pursuers, at least until the cliffhanger ending. And it would be hard not to at least enjoy looking at Fiona Staples art.

Scarlet #2 (Marvel Icon)

This book seems designed to polarize people and to provoke questions about the medium. What does it mean when a comic book character breaks the fourth wall? Is that even the right language? At what point does it make sense to look at Alex Maleev’s art in terms of photography rather than comics? How does doing that change how you understand his work?

I thought that having Scarlet address the reader was an effective way to set up the story and introduce the character. In issue two it becomes … ponderous. She seems to be rehearsing her justifications for doing what she does. Maybe there’s something to that in terms of character – the ex-cop bartender does the same thing after all – but does it make for a good comic? Not sure.

One quality I like about Maleev’s approach to the art is that the city of Portland becomes a real and compelling part of the story, but whether that works for readers who don’t already know the city, I couldn’t say.

There are certainly people doing what Maleev does here, but badly and on the cheap. I don’t think he should bear the burden of what other artists do. I doubt that a hack would have the vision to move from the dominant photorealism of this book to the panels of pure abstraction at the bottom of the next to last page of this issue like Maleev does.

Spike: The Devil You Know #3 & #4 (IDW)

And so concludes this somewhat undistinguished mini-series, at least as compared to Brian Lynch’s & Franco Urru’s previous series, Spike: Asylum and Spike: Shadow Puppets.

On the whole, I think that Buffy Season Eight is a stronger series than the Angel monthly, and unlike the majority of the earlier books featuring Spike, this mini is of a piece with Angel. What I do appreciate about IDW’s Angel series is the willingness to introduce and experiment with new characters, but I am not quite understanding what readers are supposed to be finding so interesting about Eddie Hope, who co-stars here and in backups to Angel.

I suspect that The Devil You Know was meant to be set up for the forthcoming Spike monthly, and we would have found out more about Eddie and Tansy (no other reason to keep her alive at the end of all of this). But that’s all pretty well water under the bridge now.

Stumptown #4 (Oni Press)

And so the first story arc comes to a close. Finally. The issue is worth it for Matthew Southworth’s soul bearing letter to readers if nothing else, but the fact that I felt like I knew what was going on despite the time between number three and number four (and number two and number three) suggests something about the quality of the story. It would be easy to write Dex off as one of Greg Rucka’s well-rehearsed “tough women”, but I think there is something unique in her just getting by, knock-about quality; male P.I.s get to be this underdog-y as a matter of routine, female detective, not so much. Rucka gives this classic persona to Dex without masculinizing her or turning the book into one about her getting beaten down all the time. In the end, she’s smarter and more resourceful than the people she has to contend with, and that’s cool. Looking forward to more, even if it takes awhile.

Uncanny X-Men #528 (Marvel)

A tightly structured, keep things moving issue. Just fine, and I’m glad that we are well-past Matt Fraction needing to service some big cross-over with the title, but am unsure about Whilce Portacio’s pencils. He has some serious problems with Emma Frost, especially. She’s far too pinched looking, and, while you have to make certain allowances for her dress, she comes across as vulgar more than strongly sexy here.

X-23 #1 (Marvel)

I think this is a good start for the series. I am interested in the idea of helping X-23/Laura learn about helping people by putting her in a situation where she can’t rely on her mutant abilities, and also by the theme of the responsible adults in her life needing to, well, act responsibly. I also like seeing some variation in body-type between the characters, especially the women. Some are more voluptuous, while others are lean and wiry. A good beginning for Liu and Conrad.

Other purchases:
Digital comics:

  • X-23: Innocence Lost #1 (Marvel)
  • X-23: Innocence Lost #2 (Marvel)
  • X-23 Innocence Lost #3 (Marvel)
  • X-23 Innocence Lost #4 (Marvel)
  • X-23 Innocence Lost #5 (Marvel)
  • X-23 Innocence Lost #6 (Marvel)

TPBs:

Captain America Reborn (Marvel)

Looking back through the comics that survived my youth, there’s a fair number of Captain Americas, but I haven’t really been that interested in reconnecting with the character as an adult. Whatever resonated with me as an adolescent is gone. Still, I know that Ed Brubaker’s run on the title is one of the better regarded works by a writer at Marvel and so I’ve been selectively checking those out, and this is the second collection I’ve read, after Winter Soldier.

What I like most about Brubaker’s writing is that he approaches the material completely straight, no irony, no meta-commentary on the superhero. There’s room for that stance, too, of course, but I never like seeing a form taken over by one way of doing things. So, here, even when you have a giant Red Skull rampaging on the National Mall, there are witty bon mots from the heroes, but nothing that takes you out of the moments. This manages to capture some of the pure fun of reading comics as a kid.

Daredevil Bendis & Maleev Ultimate Collection Book 2 (Marvel)

I am glad that Marvel is putting out these collections. Brian Bendis’ run on Daredevil fell into the period when I wasn’t actively reading comics (and the title was never a favorite). For me, the best part of this run is the opening collaboration with David Mack, but consistently entertaining, while also posing interesting questions about superheroism.

Supergirl: Death and The Family (DC)

One of the frustrations with this title, in trade at least, is that it sometimes seems as it deals with characters other than, well, Supergirl. This is one of those collections. It certainly seems as if this collection could just as easily be titled Superwoman, as Lucy Lane gets much more interesting treatment than does Kara.

I also found myself discomfited by the chapters penciled by Jamal Igle. In much the same way as other artists need to devise tricks to keep the skirt from flying up in revealing ways, Igle appears to be looking for ways to feature the compression shorts. Perhaps he is pushing the point about the character design – there’s just no way to make this work – but the showcasing of the shorts can also be read as just a new fetish.

I did find the Helen Slater and Jake Black and Cliff Chiang collaboration that closes the book to be fun, and, most importantly, about Supergirl.

Tiny Titans vol. 4: The First Rule of Pet Club (DC)

Good natured fun as always. I especially loved the bats, and the Stretchy Guys.

Left over in the to-read ‘box’:

TPBs:

A.D.: New Orleans after the Deluge (Pantheon)

Affecting, if not groundbreaking, work of comics reportage. Neufeld has an eye for detail that serves him well in developing the individual stories he chooses for the book. He draws each of his characters in a way that gives them distinct personalities, and all grow on you over time, even if if there is some imbalance in the time devoted to different subjects.

Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love (DC/Vertigo)

For some reason, I had really high expectations for this book. Maybe it’s because Chris Roberson also writes the fine I, Zombie, or because of Chrissie Zullo’s delightful covers, but I was pretty ready for this to be cool.

And it approaches it – the backstory with the Fairy Godmother is a good example of how the The Fables conceit works well – but also falls short. The shoe store story with Crispin Cordwainer felt like filler, and I was waiting for more to come from Cindy’s flashbacks. I’d love to see a series about her and Bigby. And, in the end, being left wanting more would seem to me good things about a book.

Ex Machina vol. 1: The First Hundred Days (Wildstorm)

A God Somewhere (Wildstorm)

This is a curious title. For starters, John Arcudi and Peter Snejbjerg do some interesting things with the superhero genre. Rarely do you get to see a book like this where there is truly only one superpowered, superheroic figure. Arcudi seems interested in exploring what that might be like. What makes the story even more interesting is the focus on the superperson’s best friend, and how he is affected in ways both positive and negative by the acquisition of powers. The fact that Sam is a flawed and not entirely likeable guy adds another important layer to the story. Similarly, the fact that Eric, and brother Hugh, are kind of ‘heroic’ before Eric gets his powers, which actually twist him into something else, also adds a significant layer of meaning to the story.

And yet, the story is too compressed. I think that Hugh suffers the most from this in terms of his development as a character. There is also very little time for Eric to lose his mind. I would have liked to see more about religion and more of a time period where Eric uses his powers in a ‘good’ way, while slowly going crazy from the alienation and sense of superiority to others. And, really, Sam could use more time for readers to see his underlying talents.

Upon finishing I wasn’t sure how much I liked the book, but it definitely improves upon reflection. I just wish that it had been longer or been written as a mini-series.

Heartbreakers: Bust Out (Image)

Women of Marvel: Celebrating Seven Decades (Marvel)

X-Men: First Class – Tomorrow’s Brightest (Digest) (Marvel)

Light and fun. Glad I finally read it. Jeff Parker does an especially nice job of writing stories that are gentle and accessible without being squishy or boring. Also nice to see an contemporary X-Men title that is kind to new readers.

Digital comics:

Moon Girl #4, #5, #6, & #7 (comiXology)

I finished this series over breakfast this morning (Sat, 10/2), and then went back to the beginning to see if I could piece it all together. The historical back-and-forth is hard to track, but this is what I gather about the arc of the story.

The final issues flashback to Clare/Moon Girl’s history with Santana and to Clare’s personal history as some kind of European aristocracy. Santana trained Clare to be ‘the embodiment of the people’, a task that she was, and remains, skeptical about, but Clare’s parents were killed during a ‘Bolshevik’ revolution, and she emigrated to the U.S. hoping to start a new life as a ‘normal’ person. The first three issues show readers how that worked out for her.

This was the first comic I purchased that was meant for digital distribution and you could tell in how easy it is to ‘flow’ through the pages and panels on my iPhone. I also think that this is my favorite ‘painted’ comic; somehow in digital form, the images seem less stiff than this style usually is on the page. The bright colors and clear details also rendered well on the screen.

If you enjoy twentieth century political theory, and pulpy characters, Moon Girl is a good read.

Find out more about this post.