News & Views – DC Annuals, Valiant Returns, and the New Book Problem

Where I talk about the upcoming Animal Man and Batman Annuals coming out this week, the state of Valiant Comics’ return to publishing, and my frustration with how comic companies design their websites. Who knew I’d be doing news features here?

For a while I considered the content of my site. Mostly it’s been opinion pieces on comics that just came out (and my fledgling video series). But isn’t there more to a comic blog than just reviews? Yes, there’s also reporting about developments before they happen. And in that area, Sequential Smart is lagging sorely behind. I just never thought it necessary to do news pieces since so many other, better blogs like Major Spoilers and Comics Alliance already do so. But then, I’ve got stuff on my mind, so I might as well get it out there.

With the onset of summer and the New 52 drawing close to its one year anniversity, DC has begun releasing Annual issues. It’s basically one-shots for particular series, allowing them to get out little stories even if in the middle of a massive storyline. Or even to facilitate storylines, as is the case of the Annuals coming out this week.

And yes, I will be picking up both, though now that I think of it I don’t know where I’m going to put them. Do they go into The Weekly Pull? Certainly not First Impressions, since they’re self contained. Maybe Trade Secrets, since their enclosed nature reflects that of a trade paperback. I’ll work something out.

First is ANIMAL MAN ANNUAL #1, which sees the titular Animal Man teaming up with Swamp Thing against agents of The Rot. There’s a new event occurring later this summer called “Rotworld”, which this Annual ties into. The Annual is written by Jeff Lumiere (writer of the Animal Man ongoing), and illustrated by Timothy Green II and Joseph Silver.

For those keeping track, I don’t follow the Animal Man ongoing. This is a fact that I’ve lamented since the New 52 began, and it became clear the series was awesome. Instead I read Red Lanterns (retrospective forthcoming). Which is not to say I haven’t read any of it. Recently I had the chance to read the first trade paperback for Animal Man collecting the first five or six issues, and I loved it. But my pulls are too great still, so I cannot afford another addition to my collection.

That said, “Rotworld” as I’ve said is just around the corner, and I’ll be damned if I miss that. Plus, outside of these two annuals there’s only one book I intend to buy this week (it being another fifth wednesday and all).

The second Annual coming out this week is BATMAN ANNUAL #1, featuring the re-introduction of Mr. Freeze to the New 52. Except apparently he’s already appeared in the New 52 in the pages of Red Hood and the Outlaws, so thunder successfully stolen. Thanks Red Hood and the Outlaws for once again ruining things for everyone. The annual is written by Scott Snyder (brilliant writer and current helmsman of the adjectiveless Batman ongoing) and James T. Tynion IV, and illustrated by James Fabok.

Mr. Freeze has long been one of my favorite Batman villains, primarily because of his intensely tragic backstory and his relative underexposure. DC wisely keeps the guy close to their chest, so every time he comes out it has the potential to be really moving and exciting for the readers. It has the potential at least, because I’ve read enough to know that bad writers just happen. Just ask Joel Schumacher. Also of note is that this annual also ties into a current storyline, in this case into the Night of the Owls event dominating the Batman books. Am I the only one getting a little sick of talking about Night of the Owls?

-Valiant Comics-
Most current readers – ones estensably not decades long readers – will be unaware of a certain comic publisher from late eighties and early nineties called Valiant. And there’s a good reason for this: Valiant hadn’t existed as such since 1994, and hadn’t published comics since 1999. Yet at one time, Valiant comics was selling on par with DC Comics, with original characters nearly as iconic and popular as those characters created more than 50 years earlier. Valiant at one point sold more than 50 million comic books, an astounding feat given the company’s modest beginnings.

So what happened that a great, up-and-coming publisher like that just died? Well, Acclaim happened.

Valiant’s original owner decided, quite out of the blue, to sell the company and properties to Acclaim Entertainment, which rebranded the whole thing as “Acclaim Comics” (itself a terrible marketing move), and proceeded to run the business into the ground. In 1999, Acclaim stopped publishing the books altogether, and used the many characters in their video games until 2005, when Acclaim filed for bankruptcy.

But thankfully for old fans (and me simply because letting comics die is a terrible thing), a number of individuals bought up the rights to the comics library and formed Valiant Entertainment, which has returned to the publishing world with four new ongoing series. These are X-O Manowar, Harbinger, Bloodshot, and Archer & Armstrong.

Earlier this month, X-O MANOWAR #1 came out, and then sold out like mad. Not surprisingly, comic fans have awaited this day for a long time. The second issue comes out June 6th, alongside HARBINGER #1. BLOODSHOT #1 comes out July 11th, and ARCHER & ARMSTRONG #1 on August 8th.

Which leaves me with a problem. By professional responsibility and general curiosity, I’d like to pick up an issue one for at least one of these new books. But as for which one, I don’t know. X-O Manowar doesn’t really grab my attention, even though it drives the new releases. Currently I’m leaning towards either Harbinger or Bloodshot. Comments would be appreciated on the matter.

-The New Comics Problem-
Speaking of upcoming books, that brings me to my next point. I’m rarely the type of guy to go into a comic shop without an idea in my head beforehand what I’m going to buy. Which is to say I plan ahead. With the internet, it’s not difficult to figure out comes out in any given week. That is, if you’re just looking at Marvel or DC. Anyone else, and you potentially have a big problem.

See, most if not all comic publishers have a system on their websites telling you what comics are on sale at the time. But what if you’re at the beginning of the week, and you want to compile a list of books to purchase in advance? Where’s the “next week releases” option? Well, it really depends on the website.

Marvel comics has it very well designed, with a box right on the front page showing the releases for that week. On Sunday of every week, the thing tells you what comes out that week, and it’s there through the release and up until the next week. It starts and ends the week by what logically the week is, so there’s no ambiguity. This is a great system, kudos to Marvel.

DC comics has it a little harder, but you can find the feature. Scrolling below the big banners on the site and below the utterly superfluous “popular characters” box (hint: it’s just the cast of Justice League), there’s a box titled “new comics”. Now it does show the books that were just released, but by going into “All comics”, it gives a complete list of the books out now. Better, but not quite what we want. However, by switching to the “On Sale Date” option, it automatically switches to a view of the list of all the things coming out the next release date, as well as the several dates after that. It’s a bit hard to get to, but it tells you all you need to know.

Image Comics also knows what it’s doing, with a Comics tab on the front page which folds to reveal “Out This Week”, “Out Next Week”, and “Upcoming” options. And then it takes you to all of those. Not to mention it also proudly displays that week’s releases on the side of all the pages. It’s a great system. Heck, even Valiant has it down, although for them they only currently have four books set to release, so they just have a list of all the books that come out for the next few months. It’s simple, but right now it works perfectly fine and is headed under the “Upcoming” tab right on the front page.

But here’s where it gets messy and annoying. Neither Dark Horse nor Boom have an option to see what’s coming in the next release. They have a perfectly functional system for currently out books, but nothing for books about to be released.

But the absolute worst offender in my research is IDW. IDW’s website sucks! So far as I can tell, there’s nothing that indicates a list of upcoming titles. And how do you find where the current releases are? By going to “Shop” and then scrolling down below the massive blocks devoted to their various licensed books, and then there’s a list of books out. Except there’s no rhyme or reason to how that list is set up. Under “New This Week”, there’s links to the GI Joe Cobra Ongoing, issues 3 through 12. I know for a fact all those issues didn’t come out last week, or this week! Other than this jumbled, nonfunctioning mess, I have no way of knowing what IDW even has out right now, let alone all the stuff coming out this week.

Which is a damn shame, because IDW is a company I’ve been watching for a while and want to see succeed. It’s doing something different, and I support that. But I can’t support it very well if I can’t tell what they’re publishing at any given time. And that’s just terrible.

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