Friday, April 30, 2010

Get Ready For G.I. JOE: A Real American Hero #155½

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago when discussing Hasbro's position on the DDP G.I. JOE comics, IDW Publishing gives us G.I. JOE: A Real American Hero #155½ for Free Comic Book Day tomorrow. Larry Hama returns to the continuity he created fifteen years after the book ended, teaming up with artist Agustin Padilla. You can check out a six-page preview of the book over on Newsarama. It will lead to a new ongoing series, starting with issue #156.

While I'm still not thrilled about the DDP stories being tossed to the side, I'm definitely psyched about the chance to read new Larry Hama stories rooted in the old continuity. I like IDW's G.I. JOE Origins, especially the killer covers by Tom Feister, but I stopped buying the main title after six or seven issues. While Hama managed to make his part of the reboot fun, Chuck Dixon was on a mission to put me to sleep, and he was hellbent on completing that objective. I wasn't completely put off by the idea of a reboot, but the execution was severely lacking in entertainment value. I've enjoyed some of Dixon's Bat-work in the past (some, but certainly not all), but he's never been anything special. If anything, he's a third-tier writer, but he's managed to come up with a good story here and there. When it comes to writing G.I. JOE, though, he was never right for the job. It's not that his writing is bad; it's just utterly uninteresting. Andy Schmidt says it's, "geared more towards adults," than the DDP books were, but I beg to differ. Insomniacs are adults who should consider investing in the TPB collections of IDW's G.I. JOE issues, but if IDW ever wants me to start buying their main title again, the best place to start would be replacing Chuck Dixon yesterday.

But enough about the guy who isn't right for the job, because the guy who is right for it returns tomorrow. Here's an interview with Mr. Hama on CBR to whet your appetite. Welcome back, Larry!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

G.I. JOE Doesn't Leave Anyone Behind, Hasbro

Back at the beginning of the year, Hasbro responded to a Q&A inquiry about the Devil's Due Publishing books over on They provided a two-part answer, but I want to focus on the second portion.

Q: Does Hasbro have an official stance on GI Joe comic original continuity? If so, what is it? Does Hasbro view the Devil's Due published material a continuation of the Marvel published work?

A: b) We have no official stance on the Devil’s Due material. It can be viewed as a continuation of the 80's continuity, or as an alternate universe that was inspired by the 80's continuity. Fans can read it according to their personal preference, but we are currently taking the brand in a direction that does not take the Devil's Due story into account.

Hasbro's statement bothered me back when I first read it, but I've been giving it more thought recently while reading some of the DDP material again. I'll be the first to admit that those books had more than their share of flaws at times, especially in the editing department. Looking at the whole of their publication history with the license, though, they produced a considerable amount of quality storytelling. The America's Elite title in particular really got the job done. More importantly, however, the DDP run introduced some fantastic characters while they had the license. If Hasbro wants to abandon the continuity, that's understandable, especially now that Larry Hama is picking up where Marvel #155 left off for IDW. Ignoring those characters would be a huge mistake, though.

Let's think about some of those characters for a moment.

Firewall: A young hacker with a criminal record, she went from being a wet-behind-the-ears recruit who was simply trying to atone for her past to a crucial member of the G.I. JOE team. She had to grow up quickly when her friend (Daemon) and mentor (Mainframe) were KIA.

Kamakura: Snake-Eyes' apprentice and the son of Wade Collins, a former "Fred" in Cobra's Crimson guard who served with Snake-Eyes, Storm Shadow, and Stalker.

Mayday: Sergeant Paige Adams didn't get a lot of panel time in the comics, but new female characters are always a welcome addition to the world of G.I. JOE, and this one was especially intriguing due to her skills with a firearm.

Alexander McCullen: Illegitimate son of Destro who assumed his father's role twice.

Lilian Osbourne: Mistress Armada, Alexander McCullen's lover and military commander whose loyalties shifted back and forth from Destro to Cobra Commander.

General Philip Rey: A U.S. military commander who briefly led the G.I. JOE team and later the Phoenix Guard, he was eventually revealed to be a clone from Dr. Mindbender's Serpentor experiments.

Wraith: Charles Halifax, a deadly mercenary with an even more deadly stealth armor suit. While in Destro's employ, he betrayed the Baroness and delivered her to the Jugglers.

Zanya: Zartan's daughter and likely heir to the Dreadnok throne, she's my favorite of all the DDP creations.

Charles Halifax saw his first action figure in 2008, toward the end of the 25th Anniverary/Modern Era line, and there was even a variant Wraith figure. Kamakura was released as an off-screen character in The Rise Of Cobra line. The rest of the characters on this list are still waiting for their first plastic counterparts. While I'm hoping Hasbro gets around to classics like Jinx, Zandar, Zarana, Road Pig, Big Boa, Low-Light, Budo, Lifeline, Iceberg, Airtight, Night-Vipers, and Techno-Vipers, each of these characters from the pages of DDP titles would make for excellent additions to the line. In fact, they're all practically begging to be included.

There's one more thing that shouldn't be forgotten about those comics. In addition to the characters created in the DDP offices, they also did something I didn't believe anyone could ever do: They made Duke an interesting character that I actually looked forward to seeing in the stories. That alone is worthy of tremendous praise, so don't completely disregard those books, Hasbro. Let the stories in the comics go where they will, but keep DDP in mind for future character selection.

Updated October 13, 2011: After seeing these photos, all praise be to Hasbro.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

You Can't Do That On The Interweb

There's been plenty of online chatter over the last couple of months about htmlcomics, a site that hosts thousands of scanned comic books. The debate is whether or not the content constitutes copyright infringement, and the owner of the site has participated in several of the discussions across the interweb. While coming across as both a weirdo and an asshole, he insists that if libraries don't violate copyright law, then neither does his site. Some people have chosen to accept this argument. Others reject it, but read the comics on the site, anyway. I'm in the third camp. Not only will I not be reading comics he hosts, but I have difficulty believing anyone could be so ignorant about what he's doing.

He claims that the code on his site is written to prevent downloading and saving. That's a crock. The average surfer who doesn't know how to do anything more than right-click and "save as" may not have any luck, but the images can still be saved, and it doesn't take long for more savvy internet users to get past his silly trick (and no, I won't be sharing the how, just as I won't link directly to the site). The guy is a bit too impressed with the "code" he mistakenly believes protects his activity from being classified as distribution. It doesn't matter if the content can't easily be saved, because the act of delivering it to other computers electronically, which is what happens when people view pages on a web site, is by definition distribution.

The meat of his position, however, is The Library Argument. According to him, they make books available for readers, so what he's doing is no different. The Library Argument is patently false, and it doesn't hold water for two very obvious reasons that he failed to consider.

First of all, public libraries are not free. They're "public" because the public pays for them with tax dollars. It's not charity when you go to your local library and check out a book; you pay for that right when you pay local taxes. No public service is free, not libraries, recreational centers, police or fire departments, trash collection, or road construction. The same goes for private school libraries. Tuition helps to fund them, so again, nothing is free. If a collective wanted to build a community comic collection from which they could all read books, and they did it by actually buying the titles they wanted to include, that would work under The Library Argument. This doesn't, and it's not even close.

Secondly, books in libraries are either purchased from publishers or donated, and then the library lends out those books. They do not make copies, digital or otherwise, so they can offer them to more readers. They loan out only books, music, and movies that have been obtained legally. There's nothing illegal about scanning your comics for your own purposes (the clown behind this site even tries to compare what he's doing to backing up ones own collection), but making an archive of a collection freely available to the public is an unequivocal example of copyright infringement. There's no crime in loaning the most recent trade paperback you bought to a pal, but if you made color copies of every page and gave them away, you have infringed on the publisher's rights. When you cheat the publisher, you cheat the creators whose work you claim to enjoy. That's a dick move, period.

The owner of this site claims to have no interest in comic books, and maybe that makes it easier in his mind to justify theft. On the other hand, he's a self-described database developer, so I have to wonder how he'd feel if someone stole his code without compensating him for the work he put into it. You'd think someone in that sort of profession might have a bit more respect for the concept of intellectual property, but that's apparently not the case with this guy.

There's no debate to be had about The Library Argument. It's bogus, and glaringly so. The only thing left to debate is whether or not it's okay to visit the site and take advantage of what he's providing. I've seen the same, tired excuses we always see when this sort of topic arises. "I wouldn't buy it, anyway." If you wouldn't buy it, anyway, then why are you so determined to read it for free? "I'm broke, so I can't afford to pay for comics." Welcome to The University Of Real Life. We have your course schedule ready, starting with Tough Shit 101. I'd like to have lots of things I can't afford. Hell, I'd love to run out and buy one of these, one of these, and one of these right now. The fact that I'm not sitting on thousands of dollars to throw around for luxury items doesn't make it acceptable for me to just help myself to whatever I want. The sense of entitlement some people have can be overwhelming at times.

And yes, the notion that comic book publishers should make available titles that are no longer in print is a legitimate one. If you're not printing it, and you have no intention of printing it in the foreseeable future, you won't be losing any money by hosting digital versions on your web sites. If anything, you'll be providing a valuable service that your fans will appreciate. You might even introduce them to a writer or artist whose work is currently for sale and generate some revenue from the endeavor. So yeah, I understand where people are coming from on this aspect of the debate, but what htmlcomics and people using torrent sites are doing goes so far beyond that.

It all comes down to one very basic idea: If you like the work, then don't be a dick to the creators whose efforts made that enjoyment possible for you.