Secret Invasion had, well, a lot of problems, despite high sales, but, in my opinion, it would have never been a great story because of one fundamental problem - it was, at its core, a super hero story first and a covert, secret invasion story second.
A plot about a so-called secret invasion and standard super heroics simply doesn't mesh well because they are two fundamentally different kinds of stories. Secret Invasion should have been a lot more subversive and insidious a take on the invasion, but super heroes are, well, not, as evidenced by what amounted to nothing but punching and shouting "who do you trust" for the entire series, culminating with a fist fight in Central Park to end the "secret" invasion.
Secret Invasion was, in theory, a fantastic idea, but, even as a crossover between New and Mighty Avengers, it still wouldn't have lived up to its potential. I think it should have been a series about Nick Fury and his Secret Warriors tracking down Skrull infiltrators and trying to stop them from taking over the Earth much in the same vein as the covert ops tracking down of Hydra that Jonathan Hickman is employing in the Secret Warriors ongoing. Eventually, Fury and his group would do enough damage/uncover enough of the conspiracy/invasion that the Skrulls would have been forced to use overt methods so everyone can get their big super hero fight to end the story.
Writing the Wrong Books
It occurs to me that writers like Brian Bendis and Ed Brubaker got their start on street level characters, like Daredevil, where they do wonderful work, but eventually they become so popular that Marvel wants to give them higher profile work, which means your standard big action super hero title (New Avengers, Uncanny X-Men, etc), which niether excel at and both end up producing average, at best, work or, at the very least, subpar compared to their noir/street level work that made them popular in the first place. There styles just don't mesh well with what standard superhero books require yet they can't work on the books they would excel at since they don't sell enough. Just a weird observation.
Controversial Statement - Kingdom Come is Not A Great Comic
Yeah, I said it. While I think Kingdom Come has some good qualities, I think many get caught up in the psuedo religious analogies, which they don't see in comics that often, and associate it with the story actually having some deeper meaning. There's also the whole painted artwork that had not really been done in comics prior to Kingdom Come and Marvels before that. As for more specific reasons why I don't think it's a great story, I will try to stick to broad points so I don't get into nit pick territory.
- Character Regression
Regression is the order of the day with this story supposedly set in the future. In fact, there is no future in Kingdom Come - just an endless repetition of the "glorious" past through Alex Ross's blinded love of the Golden and Silver Age of comics. None of the Legacy characters that descended from any of the original DC characters play a substantial role in resolving the central conflict on the story. It is all about how great Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are and the only value other characters have is by following in their wake.
- The Strawman that is Magog
Magog seemed to be the representative of everything from the grim and gritty late 80's/90's era and his methods flew in the face of what heroes of the Golden and Silver Ages employed. Watching the two play off each other or conflict could have been interesting, but I have never seen such a horribly constructed and transparent argument in my life. Waid and Ross never even bother to explain the conflict between them or even give the pretense of a discussion about the various methods. Superman and Co. are right and everyone else is wrong. End. Of. Story. They never bother to give the argument about why they are right, they just are, which is just as bad as Magog's and the new heroes' belief that they are right in killing villains to stop them from killing or doing more evil in the future by not killing them.
For example, yes, there were a lot of bad things to come from 90's, but Waid and Ross never actually get around to telling us how Superman should respond to the Joker killing everyone at the Daily Planet, which is part of the 90's "extreme" mind set. They just ignore it and say that things should go back to the way they were, which you can't do. Late 80's styled books brought shades of gray into the black and white world of comics, with incredibly varying degrees of success (late 90's brought the shades of gray to near parody levels though and is what most associate with that era), but Waid and Ross never address how Superman should deal with those grays areas, they just ignore them.
Honestly, what would Superman have done to the Joker if he caught him? Put him in jail and watch him go kill another building full of people he loved? I don't think Superman would have killed Joker, but it's a major cop out to the plot point of Superman's supposededly moral high ground if he doesn't have to make any hard decisions and gets to walk away from any of these problems without having to make some form of compromise or decision.
- Superman is an Ineffectual Loser
Speaking of Superman's portrayal in the story, throughout the entire series, Superman is impotent. He never takes charge, he is forced to react to every situation that happens or is driven to act by Wonder Woman and, as I said, never has to make a decision that compromises his moral high ground since someone else does the deciding for him or provides the easy out for him. The one time he does take decisive action, attacking the U.N. building, he's wrong. And Superman doesn't consider himself human? Since when? He's always considered himself human first and Superman as a facade. For a couple of creators who claim to love Superman they don't seem to understand the character.
- The Writing
All of the important events in the story, aside from the big fight at the end, take place in flashbacks. This takes away a lot the impact of said events since we look at them from the aftermath. This is similar to how Secret Invasion's final issue ended with a flashback narrative, negating any impact or suspense the finale should have had, except, for Kingdom Come, this is for an entire series.
The as-subtle-as-a-sledgehammer-to-the-face foreshadowing/religious overtones/narrative didn't help either, which made it painfully easy to predict what was going to happen with every event before it happens is a good way to negate the effectiveness of those scenes later in the story.
Finally, the writing is massively inaccessible. Most of the characters in the story go unnamed and unidentified throughout the entire story. In fact, it's not made entirely, 100% crystal clear that Ibn al Xu'ffash is Batman's son until the end of the story. Nor is it said that Nightstar, the only legacy character that seems to be of any importance, is Dick Grayson's daughter, again, still the end. Maybe some people enjoy getting out a reference or reading extras in a trade to figure out who key characters to the story are, but, to me, that is not good storytelling. It's also surprising this is only really relevant to the non-Golden/Silver Age characters in the story.
- Bad Comic Book Art
Alex Ross is a talented artist and can paint like nobody's business, but his comic book art looks terrible to me. The biggest turn off of his comic book work is the limited number of models he uses. Aside from the costumes, a lot of his characters look like the same out of shape, sock stuffing male, which simply doesn't look good in a super hero comic book. Ross's art also looks lifeless and static at times. His panel layouts look like single frame paintings or pinups that do not convey the sense of fluidity of a Frank Quitely, Bryan Hitch or Adam Kubert, who's art looks good and tells a story at the same time. The dull colouring of Kingdom Come, which I assume is intentional for the grim and gritty story analogues, doesn't bring the story to life the way it should either and gives a muddy, washed out look to it.
- Okay, Okay, One Little Nitpick
Early in the story, Norman McCay mentions that all of the "heroes" do nothing but fight each other and never do anything useful. Fair point, because that's mostly what super heroes did and still do, but all Kingdom Come ends up being is just super heroes fighting each other and not doing anything useful, specifically in regards to Superman, Wonder Woman and their supposedly "right way" of doing things.
Not That Complicated
People like to talk about how hard it is to get into comics and I call bullshit on that train of thought. It, simply put, is not. The first Marvel comic proper (had read out of continuity stuff before) I read was Sensational Spider-Man #0, the midpoint of the Clone Saga where Ben Reilly becomes Spider-Man for the first time. Kind of hard to get more complicated than that and it didn't stop me from reading comics.
The first DC comic I read was Green Lantern #26, after hearing so many great things about the Sinestro Corps War, and read Green Lantern: Rebirth shortly after that. Had no problems getting the story. Jumped into Grant Morrison's Batman run halfway through the arc right before R.I.P. and didn't have any problems. I read Infinite Crisis before Crisis on Infinite Earths and when I read Crisis on Infinite Earths, I had no idea who half the characters were and didn't have a problem understanding either story.
Yeah, I may have missed some minor details but they where just that, minor details. I think Marvel and DC readers, by and large, over inflate the importance of the minor details more than they should and obsess over them too much. I think if people tried to just read the stories and stopped worrying about every little detail, then they might get more enjoyment out of what they are reading.
Marvel vs. DC: Creators vs. Characters
One of the complaints that is often lobbed at DC is that they misuse or under use creators, but that's understandable - DC isn't selling creators, they are selling characters. It is a fundamental difference between Marvel and DC. Marvel goes out of their way, at times, to promote their creative teams as much or, occasionally, moreso than their characters. and I think it's one of the reasons why Marvel are selling better.
It also makes sense to promote creators over characters as well. Characters tend to have built in fan bases and, especially with the bigger characters, don't really need promotion since they are often more well know then their writers, odd exception aside.
It's also similar to regular prose books, where you often see the writer's name in huge font on the cover, usually at the top of the book before the title and in larger font that the actual title. People associate creators with the quality of a book, not the characters. However, like I said, some characters are popular regardless of the writer.
One thing that I think is often ignored when discussing delays is that good art takes time, typically more than a month per issue most of the time.
There are artists, like J.G. Jones, Ethan Van Sciver and Frank Quitely, that simply can't produce comics on a monthly basis, yet Marvel and DC want to use them because they sell comics.
So, why not work ahead of time? Well, for one, that doesn't guarantee there won't be delays because of things like last minute rewrites or personal troubles for the artist. There is also the problem that if you start too early, the situations in other books could have changed and effect the book that the slow artist is working on. Countdown and Final Crisis are a prime example of this.
So, why not out of continuity books? Because, with rare exceptions, they sell nowhere near as much as in continuity books.
For me, there is another reason why I don't much care about these delays - single issues are not the final product anymore, collections are. Obviously, you can claim bias since I don't read single issues anymore, but I didn't really care about delays when I was reading singles not so long ago either.
Final Crisis with art by J.G. Jones is always, always, I repeat, always going to look better than Final Crisis with art by J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Doug Mahnke and half a dozen or more inkers.
Even with single issues, I would rather have eight really good issues a year than eight really good issues and four mediocre issues a year. Those four mediocre issues are always going to bring down the other eight issues since they just can't compare. If you want good art, then you have to be willing to wait for it at times.
How the hell did DC beat Marvel to having a news blog?
I mean, seriously. DC is often utterly incompetent, or close to it, when it comes to promoting their books and yet, they beat Marvel at something promotion-related. Also, how the hell has Marvel not copied them with their own news blog in the same vein as The Source? I know they have blogs for editors and other personel and their main site posts news, but it's a cluttered mess at times and lacks the simplicity and clear cut promotion that The Source is putting out.
Ghost in the Shell is one of my favorite anime series ever, so I had some high expectations for the manga, which didn't turn out anything like I expected, even if I ended up liking it. Differences between the manga and the anime were pretty big at times and it was a quite a turn off at times, too, depending on the change. Maybe that's why movies don't generate interest in the comics?
Say a potential new reader goes to a comic store or Borders, flips through or skims a book, but, ultimately, don't buy it simply because it is not similar enough to the movie they just watched. There are vast differences between the comics and the movies and, if a potential new reader wants to check out the comics version of a character, they are probably looking for something similar to the movies. So, maybe, if they don't find something like the movie they enjoyed, which is basically 100% likely, they just give up on the comics. Could also explain why Invincible Iron Man sold so much better than the Knaufs written and now defunct Iron Man: Director of SHIELD title, which garnered more critical praise at the time.
Scalped to Icon?
Why didn't Jason Aaron take Scalped with him to Marvel and have it published under their Icon imprint? Did Marvel not give him the option? Did Vertigo have a better deal for Aaron than Marvel? Were there some benefits to keeping it at Vertigo that Marvel didn't have? Anyone know?
There are a lot of things that I dislike about Robert Kirkman's Invincible, which is a topic for another time, but the one thing I truly enjoyed about the series was Atom Eve. She is one of the truly new and unique characters from the past decade, yet, based on solicits and other information, it looks like she is going to be killed off in the current Conquest arc.
This brings me to my point about what is one of the biggest problems I have with the series - wasted potential. Several of his characters seemed to have a lot of potential, like Atom Eve or Rex Splode, but have ended up dead or are constantly being maimed in lieu of actually developing them into great characters. Kirkman also likes to kill off a lot of minor characters, which, of course, gets rid of any potential they might have had, no matter how minor of a character they were.
One of the things that I enjoy so much about creator-owned work is that every character is filled with potential. They can be or become anything the writer wants them to. The only restriction is what the creator sets on themselves, so it's sad to see Kirkman forcibly limiting himself with the wanton killings. He had the option of simply writing them out of the series or putting them on the back burner, but outright he kills these characters just as you are getting to know or like them. I'd like to believe that Kirkman won't actually kill Atom Eve, but I'm not getting my hopes.
A quick tangent before I rap this up. Is it me or does Kirkman seems to like killing or maiming his own creations? I'm trying to think of a recurring characters from Invincible that wasn't killed or maimed at some point, but I'm drawing a blank. I haven't read past the eighth trade so I haven't read the later parts of the series yet.