Local Comics Store Spotlight: Wonderworld Comics

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on January 18, 2016.

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The foundation of ComicBook.Com is comics. While we love to cover all aspects of pop and geek culture, our roots lie in the comics community and the plethora of characters and stories that have sprung from it. If you speak with anyone in the comics community about what has made the medium successful in North America, you’ll quickly discover one answer that stands far above the rest: local comics stores. They are the bedrock of comics in the United States and Canada, supporting fans, communities, and conventions with open doors and a dedicated staff.

This year on ComicBook.Com we are highlighting this important aspect of comics and culture by taking a look at one local comic store each week. These are stores that embody what it means to support culture and community. We hope you can visit some of them throughout 2017.

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The truth about everything in comics is that it is a business. There is a ridiculous amount of passion throughout the industry; you can easily find it in the fans, creators, and especially the retailers. Yet the success of any comic or store is based on whether they can afford to keep their head above water. You can only go so long on passion before you need to pay bills and buy groceries. That’s a reality that Dennis Barger, the owner of Wonderworld Comics and Quick Stop Comic Shop, recognizes. It’s what has allowed him to fulfill the passions of his customers as well as his own for more than a decade now.

Barger is remarkably open about the business side of his store. He can quote you figures dating back to when the first Wonderworld location opened in 2005. The square footage, customer demographics, breakdown between online and in-store sales, and more all come at you clearly organized and with a story to tell. He’s obviously excited to talk about his business plan and you can’t blame him. Barger has built a store and reputation in an industry that is notably difficult to survive within.The motive behind that reputation isn’t pride though, it’s an eagerness to share with others who can help expand the comics market as well.

As an outspoken critic of some initiatives within the comics retail industry, Barger has never tried to avoid making waves. He welcomes them with a blunt voice backed by his clear vision of how to improve comics sales and credit those who work the hardest on doing so. That’s the goal and it’s one he has pursued through a variety of methods. Barger has continually adapted and altered Wonderworld in order to best suit the market. Quoting Bruce Lee, he says that stores must be “‘like water’, able to change and fill different spaces.”

Wonderworld has been engaged in finding the best way to give customers what they want since its inception. Initially, Barger wanted customers to have everything at their fingertips, but found that a massive sales floor and inventory was wearing out his staff and overwhelming customers. Rather than keep pursuing that goal he changed stream and began to catalog his backstock online. Customers could find what they wanted even more easily, the books were at less risk, and it cut costs down. It’s just one example of how Wonderworld has continued to evolve its winning model.

 

If there’s a single secret to Barger’s business strategy, it seems to be an obvious one: give the people what they want. Wonderworld has specialized in the variant market, doing its best to curate collections of covers offered only in very limited ratios. It’s a high risk task that requires Barger to order more than he might expect to sell of some titles in order to offer a specialized piece of art. However, the development of their online retail storefront has helped significantly. After 8 years of business Wonderworld reached a 50-50 split between online and in-store customers, allowing them to find collectors across the United States and beyond. It means they can target popular variants, like the action figure designs, and find customers beyond their own backyard.

Some comics readers might see the variant and online markets as being niches, but Barger’s success in these areas has allowed him to expand his customer base in multiple ways. When Wonderworld first opened he estimates the store catered to 95% men and 85% people of European descent. In little more than a decade those demographics have shifted drastically. Barger says that women now make up about 33% of the stores regular customers and that among them only about half would be characterized as caucasian. That change reflects a shift in the American comics market as well with more women and minorities discovering the medium. There’s no doubt that part of Wonderworld’ success can be attributed to welcoming these new audiences.

Barger attributes this growth to the trust he places in his own staff. He says, “Go with what your employees like and they will push the product.” An anecdote he is fond of telling regards Trish, now a manager at Wonderworld, who loved Zombie Tramp, a title that many customers dismissed without a second glance. Her passion for the series led it into the hands of many who shared her taste. It now sells better than Batman or The Amazing Spider-Man at Wonderworld. The sales staff know comics and know what they love, customers have come to trust their recommendations in turn. That level of enthusiasm grows both pull files and visitors to the shop.

Those evolving trends in demographics and taste can be observed at a micro-level at Wonderworld, and Barger is dedicated to serving his customers whatever comics they choose to read. In all of the controversy over the altered gender of Thor, Barger discovered that the number of people pulling Thor books increased by about 650%. Even if the few people who were previously reading Thor: God of Thunder left, the new readers more than made up for the difference. These are changes that excite Barger and his staff too. “I absolutely love this industry’s commitment to finding new voices and characters for the growing customer bases we have” he says.

Despite all of his experience running a successful comics store, Barger claims “No one can predict the future of this industry.” Many of his most successful items were predicted for doom in the past decade, including the loss of physical comics to digital and the downfall of variants, neither of which came to be. The comics industry is constantly evolving and it takes stores like Wonderworld to keep up with it and its new customers. Following the wisdom of Bruce Lee it has become a shop able to keep up with every new development. Barger himself is as excited by running the business as he is watching the action star deliver a finishing blow. “I love this industry, the one thing you can predict is it’ll be full of twists and turns and excitement.”

Store Info

Name: Wonderworld Comics

Address: 3955 Dix Highway

Lincoln Park, MI 48146

Phone: (313) 292-8697

Website: Wonderworld Comics

Twitter: @WonderworldCMX

Facebook: Wonderworld Comics

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The New Event Model at DC Comics

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on January 18, 2016.

dc-rebirth-event-justice-league-vs-suicide-squad

Ever since maxi-series like Secret Wars and Crisis on Infinite Earths debuted in the mid-1980s, event comics have been a staple of the superhero genre. They’re the stories too big for a typical ongoing series, epics that overlap with multiple titles and interrupt other narratives, arcs that shatter the status quo (even if just for a little while). If you look back to early examples like “Inferno” in X-Men comics and “The Death of Superman”, there’s a lot to love. They were big and unwieldy, but spoke to the incredible scope and stakes that can only be found within the superhero genre.

Yet recently the concept of events have garnered a bad image. While just a decade ago Civil War shook up Marvel Comics and spun off a wide-array of successful new and revamped series, today Civil War II has been met with falling sales and a lackluster response. Many comics readers complain about the endless cycle of events in which there is never a break and a single story can take almost an entire year to complete. Does this mean that the day of the superhero event is over?

Not at all.

With the launch of their Rebirth initiative DC Comics has shaken up the pacing of their stories, as well as their publication schedule. The bi-weekly momentum of many comics has impacted how they approach telling events as well, and it is definitely for the better. After about half of a year, they’ve completed, begun, or announced a variety of crossovers and the results are clear. We’re here to examine how DC Rebirth has reinvigorated the superhero event and what other publishers might learn from their great ideas.

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The DC Rebirth Crossover: “Night of the Monster Men”

It’s worth distinguishing between two major sorts of events: Crossovers and Event Series. The former is a story told purely within a collection of existing titles, while the latter is told in its own unique mini-series, possibly with some tie-ins from existing or new titles. The first notable crossover of DC Rebirth came in the Batman line of comics with the story “Night of the Monster Men”. It was a six-part story that crossed between Batman # 7-8, Nightwing # 5-6, and Detective Comics # 941-942. In these issues Batman and his closest allies battled against kaiju-like monsters created by Doctor Hugo Strange to demolish Gotham City.

The notion of crossing over several linked titles to tell a story is nothing new. Completing a crossover of this size in a single month absolutely is. All three of the series involved were already on a biweekly schedule meaning that with two installments each, one to two new chapters would be delivered each week. The editorial team also brought on one artist to handle each segment of the story, as well as writer Steve Orlando to oversee the entire project. Every issue came out on time and the six-issues read like a complete, coherent narrative, which goes to show how effective this plan was.

What’s most notable about this change is that it serves both readers who love and hate crossover well. There’s no risk of fans forgetting what is happening between installments, as each week delivered at least one new chapter. The editorial organization of the story also insured that it flowed smoothly in words and art (and that’s a big help for the collection as well). It also meant that readers who only wanted to pick up one series could easily skip the crossover. Instead of going months without Batman, they would only go a single month without, skipping two issues before diving back into the regular self-contained story. The fast-pacing of this crossover made it a real win-win scenario.

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The DC Rebirth Event: “Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad

It’s likely that most readers think of tentpole mini-series when they think of events though. These are the titles that publishers hang their hats on each year and hope to boost sales across the line. DC Comics is currently wrapping up their first big event of Rebirth with the penultimate chapter of Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad out today. It’s a six-issue story as well that crosses over the publisher’s most popular teams of heroes and villains to battle a set of rogues whose existence hints at even bigger threats. In addition to the main series, it’s also crossing over with both Justice League and Suicide Squad.

The event began on December 21 and is set to wrap up on January 25 thanks to a weekly publication schedule. Careful planning has assured that each new installment has landed on time and the assigned creative teams have delivered all of their work. The series itself is a delightful romp, possibly the best appearance of either team in Rebirth so far. There are no significant gaps or alterations, making the narrative as consistent as one could hope for. Additionally, only three issues of Suicide Squad (#8-10) and two of Justice League (#12-13) are considered tie-ins, and none are essential to the main story.

Both critical and commercial reception of the series has been notably positive, fans are buying and critics are raving. It’s a ton of fun delivering on all of the promises found in its premise, and in quick order. The weekly publication scheduled has kept hype at a maximum level as well with some new reveal worth discussing each and every week. It also offers the same benefits as the Rebirth-style crossovers, where naysayers can easily check out for just a few weeks before returning to their favorite titles. We may not be sure why you’d want to skip this series, but if it really isn’t your thing, then it won’t force itself on you for six months or more.

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The Future of Superhero Comics Events

It’s difficult to say what the most successful element of DC Rebirth has been, but the reinvigoration of superhero events is definitely a contender for that number one spot. Looking at all of the crossovers and events so far, it’s impossible to pick out a loser. That’s true for a number of reasons.

The pacing of biweekly and weekly comics keeps readers invested in the story. It also allows them to enjoy elongated action sequences and some silliness that don’t waste precious space in a monthly installment. Furthermore, they provide readers who don’t enjoy a particular event a break without feeling alienated or left out for an extended period of time. It is a situation that serves every opinion well without anyone being encouraged to drop a title.

This sort of breakneck publication schedule also encourages lots of pre-planning and it has clearly paid off. Whatever the editorial teams at DC Comics are doing is working. No tie-ins, crossovers, or event series have been published late so far. The clear labels on covers make it easy for fans to identify what they need each week and to jump back into a story that never show the strains of deadlines.

DC Rebirth has created an event model that is more enjoyable for all sorts of fans and that delivers a better polished product. Stories like “Night of the Monster Men” and “Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad” are already being hailed as some of the best event comics in years. When it comes to this sort of storytelling, speed and efficiency are of the essence. Other superhero publishers ought to look to DC as an example of how it’s done best in 2017.

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Advance Review: Curse Words #1

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on January 17, 2016.

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If you’ve read a comic created by Ryan Browne before, then you know to expect a lot of laughs when you see his name on any book. His quick-plotting experiments on books like God Hates Astronauts! and Blast Furnace deliver comedy, action, and pacing that move so quickly it’s impossible to notice any flaws through the deluge of delights. Curse Words #1 represents a new experiment in Browne’s career: creating a comic that subscribes to the standard storytelling model. It’s not something that pays off in the first issue.

Browne is the artist of Curse Words, collaborating with writer Charles Soule, and colorists Jordan Boyd and Shawn Depasquale. Together they’re telling the story of Wizord, an extra-dimensional, magically powered individual who comes to Earth for nefarious reasons and decides to become a celebrity instead. Accompanied by his koala assistant Margaret, he acts as a wizard-for-hire and gives civilians whatever they can afford with only three notable exceptions. There does not appear to be many, if any, limits to Wizord’s magic and the door is open for an endless array of oddities and adventures.

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In Curse Words #1 the possibilities aren’t the focus of the story and what magic is conducted isn’t particularly inventive. The first installment is focused on setting up the plot for an ongoing series with mysterious histories and antagonists all waiting in the wings. Wizord’s actual actions are familiar in nature, playing out in a manner not dissimilar from any superhero comic. Fights and anti-social impulses are not unique to this apparently evil man, but resemble those of Tony Stark with a murderous streak. The superficial nature of his appearance is key to his character, but there’s a lack of traits to grasp that make Wizord stand out as being particularly worthy of attention, especially since “mysterious past” is not an actual character trait.

What’s most attention-grabbing are the details surrounding Wizord. While Margaret may not do or say much, her existence is a promise of humor and the reaction of mortals to her start to deliver on just that. Tweets for #TeamMargaret veer into weird territory very quickly, and simultaneously raise the oddities of how one magic man in a mundane world would create some very unique challenges. An opening display in which a musician literally goes platinum provides some irony, but lands without much of a punchline.

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The last panel of that musician shows off what makes Curse Words #1 intriguing enough to continue even as it engages in a 16-page recap of Wizord coming to Earth. It’s the depiction of absurdities, like a metal man being bisected. Wizord is a magnet for the strange and Curse Words captures those elements with a perfect blend of cartooning and attention to detail. Pieces of an exploded horse and the anatomy of a burning man aren’t overtly gross; they’re just fascinating enough that you cannot look away. Knowing what magic is capable of and how it’s depicted in this first issue makes it a thrill to imagine what could be accomplished.

That promise is what makes Curse Words #1 read like the setup of a lengthy joke. The tone established by the artwork on the page is humorous. With the exception of a single splash, one that reveals previously unseen depths in Browne’s compositions and style, everything on the page is telling you this ought to be funny. Yet the issue itself is lacking in laughs. The narrative is packed with exposition establishing character, plot, and setting. With the exception of a few minor gags, there are few opportunities to even chuckle. Still, it’s very pleasing to the eyes, enough so that you may want to smile anyways. There’s no promise Curse Words will pay off in future issues, but looking at the pieces in play, you’ll likely want to listen a little while longer.

Grade: C

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5 Best Marvel Monsters Ever

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on January 15, 2017.

monsters-unleashed

Monsters Unleashed, the newest Marvel event begins this week. The massive crossover written by Cullen Bunn and five of the publisher’s biggest artists – including Adam Kubert and Steve McNiven – promises to unleash all sizes of terror across the superhero universe. In interviews the creators have stated they plan to include as many different Marvel monsters as possible, as well as some new ones of their own invention. It’s a promising event, as well as one that is firmly rooted at the start of the company’s more than five decades of existence.

Before Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Stan Lee started building the Marvel Universe, they were focused on telling monster stories. There’s even a clear point of crossover on the cover of Fantastic Four #1 in which Marvel’s First Family battles Giganto, an enormous monstrosity much like those found in prior months, on their debut adventure. Monsters have never really gone anywhere either. While the focus quickly shifted to superheroes, monsters have regularly featured as villains and misunderstood protagonists in those books and in many titles of their own. Fans have even seen some favorite characters converted into monsters, like The Punisher in “Frankencastle”.

Before Monsters Unleashed begins, we’re looking back at the 5 best monsters to ever appear in the pages of Marvel Comics to date. These are the most famous and influential horrors to ever impact this ever-expanding world of stories.

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  1. Godzilla

Created by: Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ishiro Honda, and Eiji Tsubaraya

Adapted by: Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe

First Appearance: Godzilla, King of the Monsters #1

Favorite Appearance: Godzilla, King of the Monsters #23

Many new readers may be surprised by this entry, but Godzilla once roamed the oceans of Marvel as well as Toho Studios in his very own series. This wasn’t just a Godzilla comic published by Marvel either; he regularly interacted with characters in Marvel Comics. Dum Dum Dugan, Nick Fury’s right-hand man, was the kaiju’s number one antagonist. However, the most memorable issue concerned a showdown in New York City between Godzilla and Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson. It’s the sort of thing too wild not to be true. Godzilla is one of the most recognizable monsters in the world today and he left big footprints even after departing Marvel Comics.

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  1. Man-Thing

Created by: Gerry Conway, Gray Morrow, Roy Thomas, and Stan Lee

First Appearance: Savage Tales #1

Favorite Appearance: Adventure Into Fear #19

There’s a chicken-egg type argument that follows Man-Thing and Swamp Thing wherever they go, but the truth is that comics are better off with both of them around. Man-Thing is a far more monstrous entity whose humanity is as faint as his memories of being scientist Ted Sallis. Instead, this creature functions as a mindless, but well-intentioned entity that can be exploited in a wide range of stories. This has encouraged a constantly changing cast to exist around him and helped to create other classic Marvel elements like the Nexus of Realities and Howard the Duck. Man-Thing’s burning touch and reflection of humanity has also led to some of Steve Gerber’s finest work as a satirist. From the 1970s to today, Man-Thing has slumped through the Marvel wetlands and delivered entertainment far beyond his own ability to appreciate.

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  1. Mephisto

Created by: Stan Lee and John Buscema

First Appearance: Silver Surfer #3

Favorite Appearance: Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment

This may be a controversial pick, but Mephisto looks and acts as monstrous as anyone in the entire Marvel Universe. A superhero version of the devil, he has been retconned into an extradimensional being to avoid controversy, but readers still know that this is the best stand-in for Satan around. The beauty of Mephisto is his flexibility. He was originally introduced as a Silver Surfer antagonist and has continued to operate on a cosmic scale, playing an important role in stories like The Infinity Gauntlet. Yet he is also able to interact on a personal level, facing off against characters like Spider-Man and Doctor Doom over a single soul. Just like the devil of epic poetry, Mephisto can function to explore cosmic questions and the decisions made by individuals. That flexibility makes him truly great.

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  1. Dracula

Created by: Bram Stoker

Adapted by: Gerry Conway and Gene Colan

First Appearance: Tomb of Dracula #1

Favorite Appearance: Uncanny X-Men #159

Dracula dwarfs even Godzilla both in terms of cultural impact and his presence at Marvel. He is the alpha and omega of the modern vampire, and has served as King of the Vampires whenever characters like the X-Men or Doctor Strange have faced off against the fiends, as well. Dracula isn’t just known for being a great superhero villain or making cameo appearances though. His own title Tomb of Dracula is renowned for great, short, horror stories and art. It’s also where fan favorite Blade made his debut along with a bevy of other Marvel supernatural characters. They say that heroes are only as good as their villains: Dracula has helped create plenty of new superheroes at Marvel, while raising the stakes for far more.

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  1. Fin Fang Foom

Created by: Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

First Appearance: Strange Tale #89

Favorite Appearance: Nextwave #2

Fin Fang Foom encapsulates just what it means to be a monster at Marvel Comics. On the surface Foom is an obvious creature. Powerful, destructive, and frightening in appearance, you only need to read a single appearance to know just what he is and how he works. Yet beneath that exterior lies multitudes. At various points in continuity, Foom has been intelligent or dumb, an alien or magical creature, vindictive annihilator or misguided behemoth. He can be transformed to tell so many stories, all without altering his stellar design. That’s probably why Foom has fought almost every notable hero at the publisher over the years. If there is an original monster that best represents the Marvel brand, then it has to be one of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s earliest creations: Fin Fang Foom.

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Honorable Mention: Groot

Created by: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and Dick Ayers

First Appearance: Tales to Astonish #13

Favorite Appearance: Annihilation: Conquest – Starlord #2

While Groot has grown far beyond his roots into a beloved superhero, adventurer, and alien, we thought it was worth noting his origin as a Marvel monster. In his very first appearance, Groot was a mindless beast bent on destruction. It was only many years later that creators like Keith Giffen would start to reimagine him as a misunderstood alien of benign intentions. It’s one of the best face-turns in comics history considering how beloved Groot is throughout the world today. However, he’s still a notable monster, even if we wouldn’t dare call his current incarnation any such thing.

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Can The European Model of Comics Help the US?

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on January 12, 2016.

One of the biggest struggles in American comics is establishing a model that helps expand audience and improve creator’s working conditions. Currently much of what is referred to as “mainstream comics” in America is distributed through a system called the Direct Market. It is an arrangement where stores pre-order comics, which are mostly non-returnable in order to sell them to customers. That setup has created a market where monthly sales dominate the success of any given comic and individual issues (sometimes known as floppies or pamphlets) are the deciding factor. No one will deny that it’s a less-than-ideal system, but establishing an alternative has proven allusive, but change is in the air right now.

A variety of recent announcements and successful launches at some of the biggest American comics publishers have shown promise in moving away from issues as a standard format. It indicates a trend that might push American audiences and retailers to imitate a model that is the standard across the Atlantic Ocean. So what is the European Model and why might it be beneficial for American comics?

What Is The European Model?

Just like in North America and Japan, European comics can be found in every shape, size, and distribution model from hand-stapled small press books to luxurious, over-sized anthologies. The European Model refers to a popular means of publication and distribution for that particular region. Rather than emphasizing serialized issues published on a monthly schedule, European comics promote albums. Albums are collections of stories or large chunks of an ongoing narrative that typically range between 40 and 100 pages. Their standard dimensions (8.4 x 11.6 inches) are slightly larger than American comics (6.625 x 10.25 inches) as well.

What this temporally and spatially larger model allows is for comics to be published less frequently. Many stories are able to be told in a single volume, as an album can easily contain the entirety of an American mini-series. Longer narratives are only published once or twice per year. This greater focus on content lessens the pressures on a debut issue to see a story completed. It also removes the need to include a complete chapter of a story including a cliffhanger and variety of action and dialogue scenes in a small 20-page package on a tight deadline. While there are still a mix of up- and down-sides, it does provide less pressure for creators and more content for readers when new releases do arrive.

The Belfry

Image Comics Experimentation

Image Comics has been at the front of the conversation since they reinvigorated the notion of creator-owned comics in 2011 and have since become the home to many of America’s high-profile creators. The publisher has not offered much in the way of innovation until recently though. In just the past few months, they have solicited a variety of new comics that trend away from their standard ongoing, monthly model and closer to something like the European model.

The most obvious example is the changes being made to the series Sex, created by Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalski. Sex began in March 2013 and after the release of issue #34  in December 2016 announced that it would no longer be publishing single issues. After the fifth volume is release next month, all future installments of Sex will be delivered as complete trade paperbacks. It represents the removal of the monthly model and a full jump to the European Model, in which Casey and Kowalski can focus on one or two new installments each year.

This is far from the only one-and-done collection that Image is offering in the near future though. In the past month they have published both One Week in the Library and Beowulf. The former is a connected anthology of stories based in an extradimensional library and the latter is a single volume retelling the epic English poem. They are being sold in the standard price range of most collections, but are not collecting other material. In this regard alone they are an oddity, but coming from Image Comics and in such quick succession, they might indicate a trend.

Even something like Gabriel Hardman’s The Belfry, a single-issue vampire story with no planned continuation, indicates a greater commitment to the success of single volumes. Its length is closer to that of a single comic, but it will not rely on selling future issues or collections, simply depending on discerning readers to discover this single story. All of these changes and new releases show there is an increased commitment from one of the industry’s leading publishers to innovate with how American comics are purchased and read. It appears they are taking a page from the success of stories like Saga in Europe to do just that.

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Changing the Big Two and Even Bigger

That level of change is not obvious at either of the Big Two yet, but Marvel and DC Comics have obviously benefitted the most from the current American marketplace. That doesn’t mean there are not indicators of change at either company though. The issuing of a Squirrel Girl OGN (original graphic novel) from the same creative team producing the monthly title shows that there are strong sales being found in the collected market that might not be recognized in single issues. Why else would they forgo the potential sales of one story spread over 4-5 months?

The commercial failure of critical successes at both companies like The Omega Men and Nighthawk also indicate that the American model might be at fault, at least to some degree. Both stories were designed to be packaged in 100-240 page collections with a clear beginning, middle, and end. They also were able to find new life after being cancelled and reissued as collections. The Omega Men in particular never blew up the monthly sales chart, but has been much more successful as a complete story.

Focusing on Marvel, DC, and Image also ignores the incredible success being found in the book market. Look at comics that are being published as complete volumes and primarily marketed to bookstores outside of the direct market. March, the many comics of Raina Telgemeir, and Rosalie Lightning all found great success last year. Each of these comics rests in a very different genre, ranging from historical narrative to young-adult fiction to memoir. They also were sold as complete stories, with the exception of March, which still contained 200 or more pages in each of its three books. Yet they found success often undreamed of outside of comics stores altogether. Telgemeier’s newest comic Ghosts sold more than any of the most successful direct market comics of 2016. Each of these comics are being offered in a model very similar to that of Europe, and they are the true success stories of American comics right now.

The Future of Comics in America

What does all of this mean for the future of American comics then? Right now it doesn’t indicate a clear trend or future. There are no obvious swings or changes in the market as a whole. However, what it does show is a shift with a great deal of potential. Both the largest publishers in the direct market and those targeting the book market are experiencing success in publishing of albums of comics rather than issues. Image Comics recent ventures combines with growth elsewhere is a reason to believe that Americans want to read books of comics more than the floppy pamphlets called comic books.

This doesn’t mean that monthly comics are overrated or a bad thing, but that there are new avenues for growth and expansion. The European Model is the basis for that growth and expansion. It offers new readers a model they are more familiar with, meaning both a price point and amount of content that match up with those of the book market. Providing albums or graphic novels or OGNs or whatever you want to call these collections means offering more complete stories for a more complete price. Right now it’s simply a possible trend, but it has the potential to offer a brand new future for American comics.

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Leading Questions: Superheroes Sporting Scarves and Other Styles

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on January 12, 2016.

ishinomori-scarves

Every week in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Publisher of Comics Bulletin Mark Stack will ask Co-Managing Editor Chase Magnett a question he must answer. However, Mark doesn’t plan on taking it easy on Chase. He’ll be setting him up with questions that are anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.

So without any further ado…

Ishinomori : Scarves :: Villalobos : [blank]? Show your work.

I suspect that anyone who knows the work of both Shotaro Ishinomori and Ramon Villalobos also knows exactly where this question is heading. Filling in this blank is not a matter of opinion or cleverness; there is a correct answer. However, before I get to that answer, I’ll build out the logic for solving this standardized comics test question.

Let’s start by examining the relationship between Ishinomori and scarves. I’ll admit that I’m not as familiar with this creator’s work as I would like, but I know enough to at least see where you’re heading. For those that are still in the dark though, Ishinomori is a beloved manga artist whose fame is only dwarfed by the likes of Osamu Tezuka. He created series like Kamen Rider and Super Cyborg 009, which would later be developed into anime and live-action (or tokusatsu) adaptations. Work on these and other series helped to define the adventure genre in Japanese storytelling from the 1970s forward, and be easily recognized in famous American adaptations like Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.

This is all to say that Ishinomori is a big deal. I know enough to recognize that, but also still acknowledge my familiarity with his work isn’t anywhere near what I would like it to be. However, even a passing level of knowledge is enough to know that scarves were far more common on his heroes than they are in real life. Take a look at this poster featuring some of his creations below.

ishinomori-more-scarves

The most recognizable characters in that bunch are from the two series I just mentioned: Kamen Rider (top-left on the motorcycle) and the team of Cyborg 009 (centered). You’ll notice they are all wearing distinctive scarves in addition to their sci-fi or superhero genre costumes. It’s not a common accessory in adventure stories, and especially in these genres. Try to think of a popular hero at Marvel or DC or a recent sci-fi flick that prominently featured a be-scarved character. Maybe you did, but I couldn’t after two minutes, and that’s all the time I had for that particular exercise.

The point is that this piece of clothing stands out simply for its prominent inclusion in Ishinomori’s work. What’s more is the way in which he utilizes this element of costume design. The scarves are never forgotten within the work itself. They only leave a character’s neck if lost or destroyed, and are treated with as much attention as everything else on the page. That’s simply good craft though, and based on my understanding Ishinomori could be called a master.

What is even more interesting is how he continually uses the scarves to enhance individual panels and the action between them. Just flip through some of the previews of his work available on Comixology and you’ll see what I mean. These scarves are used to convey a sense of motion and direction. The way they float in the air shows a character falling and how they whip behind someone when they are flying. Also note how the direction and positioning of these scarves help to guide your eye through the page. They’re not just an affectation in Ishinomori’s work, but a tool.

So what is Ishinomori’s relationship with scarves? He favors them as an element of costuming, featuring them far more than his peers and rendering them with careful and intentional detail. Furthermore, he uses them to enhance his work as a storyteller, favoring them as a visual instrument.

Now what sort of thing does Ramon Villalobos have a similar relationship with? What item of costume or clothing does he favor? What does he show special attention to detail with that connects multiple works? What is sometimes out of place in superhero comics, but works for him? What enhances his storytelling as well as his style?

It’s shoes. The answer is shoes.

I’m not going to go into how and why Villalobos loves shoes either. The truth is that I’m not even a novice when it comes to appreciating this (or almost any) element of fashion and Rafael Gaitan already covered it far better in this interview. If you CTRL+F down to find where “shoes” pop up, it’s easy to see the passion and understanding present. These are two gentlemen, loosely defined, who know what they are talking about. They appreciate what shoes say about the person wearing them and how all the finer elements of define make any pair their own unique statement. It’s the kind of inspired conversation that makes you want to learn more about shoes and pay a little more attention to what’s on your feet.

Even as a relative idiot on this topic, the interest and exploitation of this single element has been clear to me for a while. It’s why I encouraged Raf to do the interview and opened up one of my own by asking Villalobos what sort of kicks Darkseid would wear. It’s apparent in a lot of his work, but I’m most recently a fan of what he did in Nighthawk.

Nighthawk is a series you should read for a whole lot of reasons. Villalobos and writer David F. Walker make for a killer team that combine ultra-violence and black humor into a brutal examination of urban violence and how individuals respond to their surroundings. It’s pretty goddamn great, and it’s a damn shame it was cancelled so early.

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One small element that is worth examining in greater details are the shoes Nighthawk wears. I don’t know the first thing about shoes and fashion, as I’ve already stated, but I could still see these as an important part of the character and story. They speak to Nighthawk’s character as someone who stayed close to the streets, relies on his own athleticism to survive, and is ultimately interested in utility over style. Superman might be able to wear big, shiny boots, but Nighthawk isn’t bulletproof. He has to run and jump to dodge bullets, so a well-fitted pair of black sneakers is the perfect solution.

The tread on those shoes showed off his focus on inflicting violence as well. These aren’t standard sneakers, they are made to climb and tear off skin with a well-planted kick. Villalobos regularly highlights that with close ups of the character booting out teeth and fracturing ribs. Each close up serves the mixed purpose of focusing on the violence itself, showing how it is done, and spotlighting a key element of the character’s costume that reflects the character himself.

Simply put, it’s really smart storytelling in addition to scratching Villalobos’ itch for drawing kickass footwear.

This isn’t simply a random coincidence between two talented comics artists in different eras and on different continents. You could change up that Miller Analogy by replacing Villalobos’ name with that of almost any other comics artist with a well-defined style and ouevre in order to discover a different answer. Artists tend to fixate and fascinate on different elements of reality, whether they be based in clothing, anatomy, the natural world, or something else entirely. You could make an attempt to psychoanalyze based on that fixation, but I think it’s even more interesting to watch how that fixation is used.

Looking at Ishinomori’s scarves and Villalobo’s shoes, you see their craft distilled into simple objects. Within those objects you can recognize the way they draw and how they tell a story though. That sort of exploration seems very worthwhile, and I hope others seek to discover these stylish focuses in the work of their own favorite comics artists.

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The Few #1 Establishes a Brittle, Haunting Mood

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on January 11, 2016.

the-few-cover

American comics, not to mention film and literature, do not lack for stories set in a post-apocalyptic landscape. In some ways it seems the burned-out husk of America is the new Western in pop culture. Then along comes a comic that shows you the familiar in a way you’ve never seen it before. That’s what The Few #1 is, recognizable fiction infused with a new point of view to become something vibrant again.

Vibrant is not a word to be applied to the pages of The Few, written by Sean Lewis and drawn by Hayden Sherman, though. From the very first page imagery of brutal Northeastern winters and sparse Midwestern landscapes are combined. It is the stark beauty of the worst snow-laden territories America has to offer. The story nominally takes place in rural Montana, but it’s not hard to imagine it occurring in any woods left standing like a graveyard come January.

 

the-few-woods

Sherman’s imagery is sharp and sparse throughout. Tree branches and people both seem like they might crack at any moment. A limited color palette leaves silhouettes to dominate each panel. In this world where every figures is darkness against a never-ending landscape of white, the joints of elbows and knees seem just as likely to puncture as snap. It creates a conflict between fragility and savagery. One character in particular is taken between these extremes very quickly, illustrating how a moment of weakness can turn the world ugly.

The sparseness of the art is beautifully matched by a similar quality in the narrative throughout much of the first issue. A flashback and chase are all that is needed to give some sense of who this small central cast of characters may be. Their drive for survival and awkward interactions provide more than enough context for sympathy and forms of projection. They are survivors, as mysterious to us as one another, and in this they beg for understanding, even as they threaten to transform.

the-few-meat

 

It’s only as this first issue approaches its cliffhanger that plot begins to overtake mood. Characters established through their brief interactions with one another become figures within a continental conflict. It appears they are intended to explore and explain the state of the world, rather than simply live within it. And this is where The Few #1 stumbles. It is a comic that functions beautifully through its sketching and feeling. When it beings to grasp at a grander conflict with a scale beyond three adults and one child, what sets it apart begins to fade and leave behind the familiar.

Yet even with these final movements towards the easily recognized, The Few remains a debut issue worth seeking out. Sherman’s debut at Image Comics is stunning and the world constructed on these pages more striking than anything it might be compared to. American comics are not lacking for post-apocalyptic scenarios, but The Few has already set itself apart visually. This issue presents a world that feels as fragile and precious as the violence within the pages might lead you to believe our truly is. That imagery alone is worth re-reading.

Grade: B

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Local Comics Store Spotlight: Fantasy Shop

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on January 11, 2016.

fantasy-shop-soco-store-front

The foundation of ComicBook.Com is comics. While we love to cover all aspects of pop and geek culture, our roots lie in the comics community and the plethora of characters and stories that have sprung from it. If you speak with anyone in the comics community about what has made the medium successful in North America, you’ll quickly discover one answer that stands far above the rest: local comics stores. They are the bedrock of comics in the United States and Canada, supporting fans, communities, and conventions with open doors and a dedicated staff.

This year on ComicBook.Com we are highlighting this important aspect of comics and culture by taking a look at one local comic store each week. These are stores that embody what it means to support culture and community. We hope you can visit some of them throughout 2017.

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We might have become used to Batman and Spider-Man being regular features in movie theaters, but that doesn’t mean local comics shops have become a mainstream feature themselves. They are still specialty stores that cater to the unique interests and hobbies of a very diverse crowd. It is that specialization that prevents big box stores like Wal-Mart and Target from taking over their business. It’s also what makes collections like Fantasy Shop stand out for what they do so well.

Fantasy Shop is a brand that currently incorporates four storefronts all in the state of Missouri, including locations in St. Charles, Creve Coeur, Maplewood, and South County (the latter two of which occupy St. Louis). None of the four are more than 25 miles apart, but they each present a unique storefront to the customers in their neighborhood. Scott Samson, manager of the South County location, says that “each has a different mix of product and leans into certain categories (both from a sales perspective and from a stocking perspective) further than our other stores.” Within this set of Missouri-based comics stores you can find the unique fascinations and passions of each neighborhood.

The very first Fantasy Shop opened in 1981, but its mindset and mission has had to drastically change over 35 years in business. At the start it was possible to attract customers by simply carrying what they wanted to find. When Dungeons & Dragons was just finding its following and “geek culture” really was underground, those fans just needed a place to find home. The culture has come a long way since then and so have the many Fantasy Shops of the Midwest.

All of the shops still aim to provide whatever fans need, but their goal has expanded. Samson says they intend on “being the place that people want to go even if they don’t have buying something in mind.” When online retailers can minimize prices and maximize profits with a formula, a physical location has to offer more than great deal and backstock. That’s the key to what all of the Fantasy Shop locations do. They value a customer experience where someone leaves having spent nothing, but loving the story over the opposite. It’s as much about offering community as product now.

The readership at Fantasy Shops has evolved over the past few decades as well. They’ve witnessed all sorts of comics trends and fads pass through their doors. Through the black and white boom of the 80s and the disastrous speculator market of the 90s, Fantasy Shop has endured and thrived in their wake. Having lasted and succeeded through so much speaks to the integrity of their business model.

While the earliest years of the store were built on the very successful superhero market, things have evolved recently. Samson says, “I would characterize our current reader base as being more open to comics as a medium of storytelling.” The recent Image revival and focus on comics as an artform has helped to bring in new readers. Looking at the pull lists at any Fantasy Shop reveals new names being added to the stores. Even more exciting is that it’s a mix of young, new comics readers as well as lapsed ones returning to the fold.

It is this blend of new, returning, and lapsed readers that help to make each Fantasy Shop unique. These people discover what they love and keep coming back to the specific shop in their area for more. That’s how the wide array of clubs and get-togethers at each store are formed. Samson says that’s how they become the “home of book clubs, board game meet-ups, role-playing game groups, and more and more and more.”

Looking at such a notable success story makes one question what the future ought to look like. Samson says great comic store staffs must be three key things: “welcoming, knowledgeable, and around whom people feel comfortable.” The individuals who man the counter and stock the shelves are the foundation on which any store is built, and the community of that store on top of it. Having people who make both returning customers and new faces feel at home ensure a store can service their community well.

The magic of these four stores is not a secret being kept within Missouri, however. The owners of the store have worked hard at creating a guide for successfully starting, owning, and managing a local comic book shop. It covers the things that both we at ComicBook.Com and their loyal fans adore, as well as the brass tacks like finding a location and managing bills. For as much joy as a comics store can bring to its staff and community, it’s also a business. The folks at Fantasy Shop recognize the importance of both and are eager to share their ideas with other prospective owners.

You need look no further than the four Fantasy Shop stores nestled nearby one another to discover their greatest secret though. While they form a cohesive brand, each location offers something special. Their staff are as unique as their offering, and their clubs are as diverse as their customers. Driving a couple of dozen miles reveals an entirely different neighborhood with their own preferences for comics and games. Fantasy Shop has found its success in celebrating that diversity of interests, providing Missouri with a wide-range of homes for comics readers and gamers.

Store Info

Name: Fantasy Shop

Address: 10560 Baptist Road

St. Louis, MO 63128

Phone: (314) 842-8228

Website: Fantasy Shop

Twitter: @MaplewoodComics@FantasyShopSoCo

Facebook: Fantasy Shop

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10 Oddball Villains We’re Excited to See in LEGO Batman

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on January 9, 2016.

lego-batman-movie-villains

The Lego Batman Movie is just one month away and we have not been more excited since it was announced. Each new bit of marketing provides more reasons for optimism. The movie looks to capture the fun and all-ages themes of The Lego Movie, and combine all of that with the diverse mythology of Batman. While the trailers have mostly focused on the Batman family, they’ve also offered glimpses into a wide array of villains who will appear in the movie.

There are a bunch of A-list baddies scattered throughout advertisements, including The Joker, Posion Ivy, Scarecrow, Bane, and many others. It’s the brief glimpses of those that might be thought of as C- or D-list villains that have caught our attention though. In addition to the obvious inclusions, The Lego Batman Movie is featuring a lot of obscure antagonists from throughout Batman’s history.

Click ahead to see the 10 oddball villains we’re most excited about, then see if you can spot them in the trailers released so far.

Kite-Man

Created by Bill Finger and Dick Sprang

First Appearance: Batman (vol. 1) #133

Kite-Man’s stock is rising like the character himself these days. In addition to a cameo in The Lego Batman Movie, he is also making regular appearances in the current run of Batman written by Tom King. While the notion of a kite-themed supervillain is certainly silly, that’s why we love him. He takes the gimmick-based concept of villainy to its illogical extreme and proudly touts his costume and powers alongside some truly scary foes. Kite-Man is the ultimate underdog of DC bad guys, and that’s why you can’t help but root for him.

King Tut

Created by Victor Buono

First Appearance: “The Curse of Tut”, Batman (1966) Season 1

Not all of the villains of the 1966 Batman television show were drafted from the comics. Some, like Victor Buono’s King Tut, were created specifically for the show. Tut was a professor of Egyptology who thought he was the actual reincarnation of a Pharaoh after taking a rock to the head. His ancient Egyptian-themed gimmicks and wild mood swings made him a favorite on the show. We’re happy to see his schtick and attitude brought back for a movie that is also focused on a fun version of Batman.

Orca

Created by Larry Hama and Scott McDaniel

First Appearance: Batman (vol. 1) #579

Orca is a modern villain built on a classic origin where a scientist experiments upon herself and is transformed into a figure based upon their area of expertise. In the case of Grace Balin, she was a marine biologist attempting to use whale genes to fix damage in her spine. The result is one of the biggest bruisers in Batman’s rogue gallery. She’s smart and very physically capable, a nice reminder that women can tear through walls as easily as Clayface or Killer Croc.

Calendar Man

Created by Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff

First Appearance: Detective Comics (vol. 1) #259

Calendar Man received an update in Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb’s Batman stories, where he became a much more cunning manipulator, but he’ll never fully escape his schtick. Basing crimes around holidays and an understanding of the Gregorian calendar is about as hokey as it gets. We’re happy to see Julian Day back in his calendar suit in The Lego Batman Movie, tossing aside any seriousness and embracing his roots.

Calculator

Created by Bob Rozakis and Mike Grell

First Appearance: Detective Comics (vol. 1) #463

Calculator is another character who has been updated over the past couple of decades to function in a more serious role, as a villain broker, in the DC Universe. But he also started out with a silly super suit based upon his name, one featuring giant calculator buttons on the chest. He’s back in that style for his Lego form, buttons and all. We hope to see him provide some solid math-based puns and get to punch out one equation before he is inevitably punched out.

Eraser

Created by John Broome

First Appearance: Batman (vol. 1) #188

Eraser combines a solid modus operandi with one of the silliest costumes of any Batman villain. He offers to “erase” evidence of any crime in return for a slice of the profit. It’s a smart business and one necessary for anyone being chased by the world’s greatest detective. But then he also wears an eraser on his head. That’s the sort of outfit that is so outrageous you just have to love it, and we’re looking forward to what he does with his noggin when the movie comes out.

March Harriet

Created by Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen

First Appearance: Detective Comics (vol. 1) #841

Any Batman fan is bound to be familiar with the Alice In Wonderland-themed villain The Mad Hatter, but he’s far from the only fan of this book in Gotham City. March Harriet helps fill out his cadre of accomplices in the well-known role of the March Hare. Since her introduction she has acted as far more than a hench-person too, leading other fantasy-based characters to fulfill her own missions and battle the Bat. We look forward to her hopping through some battles next month.

Crazy Quilt

Created by Jack Kirby

First Appearance: Boy Commandos #15

They don’t make them much stranger than Crazy Quilt. This villain combines many of his creator Jack Kirby’s best instincts in what turned out to be a largely forgotten creation. He is loud, exuberant, and impossible to ignore based on his appearance alone. Even as a cameo in The Lego Batman Movie, this colorful character is bound to leave audiences asking “Who’s that guy?” We can’t wait to provide the surprisingly convoluted answer to that question.

Zebra-Man

Created by Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff

First Appearance: Detective Comics (vol. 1) #275

Unlike most characters with an animal in their name, Zebra-Man does not possess the powers of a zebra. He actually controls magnetism instead, which seems like a much more useful concept. However, his appearance and name have strung him out to dry as a punchline in Batman lore. We’re excited to see him get some time on the silver screen though in what appears to be the version re-invented by Mike W. Barr.

Billy Dee Williams’ Two-Face

Created by Tim Burton and Billy Dee Williams

First Appearance: Batman (1989)

Two-Face is definitely an A-list Batman villain, but we think a special case should be made for the version appearing in The Lego Batman Movie. In both of Tim Burton’s Batman movies, Billy Dee Williams was cast in the role of Harvey Dent. However, after he left the role was re-cast with Tommy Lee Jones who was Two-Face in Batman Forever. This meant fans never got to see Williams’ make his heel turn. It looks like the Two-Face in this movie is a Lego minifig of what might have been. We couldn’t be more excited to finally see Williams as Two-Face in any form.

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The Best Mr. Freeze Stories Ever

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on January 8, 2016.

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The first arc of All-Star Batman was nothing short of an outrageous success. It showcased writer Scott Snyder’s ability to reinterpret Batman’s greatest villains in a fascinating, but consistent manner with his new spin on Two-Face. He was accompanied by a true all-time great in superhero comics, John Romita, Jr. whose action looked as kinetic and fierce as ever when combined with inks of Danny Miki. It was a real home run and one that will likely be continued by Snyder and new series artist Jock this week when they turn their attentions to another villain: Mr. Freeze.

Mr. Freeze has been a member of Batman’s rogues gallery since he first appeared in the pages of Batman #121 in 1959, created by Sheldon Moldoff, Bob Kane, and David Wood. Since his first appearance he has been a recurring member in the many Batman books, commonly considered to be one of the hero’s “A-list” villains today. Yet his story is one of growth and reinvention. When he first appeared, Mr. Freeze was a thief with a cold-based gimmick. His start isn’t too dissimilar from that of someone like Captain Cold. Through the years, creators in comics and cartoons would add to his origin and provide the depths of tragedy many fans associate with Batman’s greatest foes. We’ve selected five stories that show off just how great Mr. Freeze has become as a character and why he’s a worthy focus in the pages of All-Star Batman.

So click forward to discover the five greatest Mr. Freeze stories of all time, although it’s entirely possible the newest arc of All-Star Batman will bump one from the list in just a few months…

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“Heart of Ice”

Batman: The Animated Series, Season One, Episode 14

Created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm

We aren’t ranking these five Mr. Freeze stories, but if we were, there’s no doubt that this would have to be number one. “Heart of Ice” debuted in 1992 and it instantly reinvented the character both in the eyes of creators and hearts of fans. This is where the tragic origin of Mr. Freeze’s dying wife Nora was first invented. It gave the character both a reason to commit his crimes and to possess his incredible cryogenic technology.

While the ideas in this episode are filled with potential that has been used repeatedly, the real reason they stuck was the telling of the story, itself. This animated iteration of Batman is often the quintessential version of Batman for many fans, especially those raised in the 90s. Everyone involved with the show understood what made the character tick and delivered some of his best adventures ever. “Heart of Ice” is one of their absolute best episodes too. It not only made Mr. Freeze the villain we know and love today, but told a tale that still evokes tear drops.

2-mr-freeze-annual

“First Snow”

Batman (vol. 2) Annual #1

Created by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, and Jason Fabok

The only problem with “Heart of Ice” is that it set a bar for Mr. Freeze stories that may very well be unsurpassable. That’s what make the first annual of Batman written by Scott Snyder so daring. Rather than return to the same origin, Snyder chose to reinterpret the character again with writer James Tynion IV and artist Jason Fabok. He shocked readers by setting this story up feature the same tragic romance between Victor and Nora Fries, only to reveal that Nora was frozen before Victor ever arrived.

This version of Mr. Freeze is far more deranged than his cartoon counterpart, with the only human part of his personality based on an illusion. It is no less tragic, but far more frightening. While “Heart of Ice” will always be used for comparison, this is a story that shows there’s more than one right answer when trying to present a character. It takes the core elements of Mr. Freeze and offers an effectively chilling new spin.

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“In The Line of Duty”

Gotham Central #1-2

Created by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, and Michael Lark

If you’re going to discuss how frightening Mr. Freeze can be, then you absolutely have to bring up Gotham Central, the acclaimed series presenting Gotham City from the point of view of the police. Mr. Freeze has never been more threatening than in this introductory story arc. The casual manner in which he kills one officer and kills another isn’t exciting like many superhero battles, is simply terrifying.

We all know Batman is well-prepared to take on the gimmicks of his villains, but those same gimmicks become horrible weapons when confronting heroes with the “super” prefix. Against the men and women of the GCPD, Mr. Freeze is an almost unconquerable threat. Despite his limited appearances on the page, this story adds gravitas to both the character and his “freeze gun”. You’ll never look at them the same after this.

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“A Cold Day in Hell”

Battle for the Cowl: Commissioner Gordon #1

Created by Royal McGraw and Tom Mandrake

In the wake of Batman’s death in “Batman R.I.P.”, the Bat-line of books was overtaken by “Battle for the Cowl”. In addition to the many heroes and antiheroes competing to be the next Batman, many allies were left struggling just to endure his absence. This one-shot tells the story of Commissioner Gordon and the GCPD working without the benefit of response to the Bat-Signal, when Mr. Freeze arrives and they have to stop him alone.

This story serves as a great counterpoint to the previous entry, as Batman cannot arrive at the end. Mr. Freeze is as scary and powerful as ever, but Gordon and his team must use their wits to defeat him. Again, it highlights why Mr. Freeze ought to be taken seriously and what his form of villainy can bring out in the heroes he confronts.

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“Cold Case”

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #201-203

Created by Christos Gage and Ron Wagner

The beauty of Legends of the Dark Knight was that it allowed creators to provide fascinating new spins on the world of Batman without having to worry too much about continuity. “Cold Case” came late in the series’ initial run, but lived up to the promise of the title. This story is as much about the Wayne legacy as the villain threatening it, as Thomas Wayne is accused of decades old murders.

While the mystery isn’t too hard to solve, the path to that solution reveals a lot about both Batman and Mr. Freeze. Their mutual obsession with family and saving those they love makes for a fascinating mirror and no stories have evoked that particular parallel as clearly as this one. All of the best Batman villains help to reveal a key element of the hero in their own tragedies and “Cold Cases” makes the common ground between Mr. Freeze and Batman as clear as ice.

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