6-5-11: Why I'm Excited About The DC Relaunch

by Brian LeTendre

DC Comics announced a bold initiative this week. They will be relaunching over 50 of their books in September--essentially rebooting the DCU with all new series, lots of new creative teams, and changes to the status quo of many iconic characters.

And I could not be more excited about it.

Much like many other comic fans, anytime I hear of a relaunch, a reboot, a character death, or any other major change to a character or title, I am very skeptical. Why wouldn’t I? We’ve been burnt so many times before by sales stunts that introduce a change, and then get reversed a couple years alter, when the sales bump from that change dissipates.  It seems like comics are forever doomed to return to the status quo at some point.

But the optimist in me hopes this time could be different.  DC is not just rebooting one or two book, they’re rebooting their entire line.  That’s pretty exciting. An all-new Justice League with the original members? Sweet! A chance to get in on the ground floor of a whole bunch of series I didn’t grow up reading? Awesome! Not being bogged down by years of continuity that have resulted in the same stories being told over and over and over? Sign me up!

Seriously though, the idea of having a new status quo that is accessible to new readers is something that is good for the future of the industry. I sincerely hope that DC takes this opportunity to make a good chunk of these new series appropriate for all ages, so that more kids can experience what it’s like to grow up with great superhero comics that ignite their imaginations like the ones I grew up with.

There’s also a completionist part of me that will be happy to see some of the current DC books end. I like looking back and knowing I have the full run of something, or that I collected a whole series. Those are the series I often return back to and read again

I was very excited to see that as part of the relaunch, DC will be releasing all of their books digitally on the same day they hit retail stores. All I can say is that it’s about time one of the big two fully embraced digital. There are so many handheld devices out there, and having new comics readily accessible for those devices will definitely be a shot in the arm for the industry. You don’t have to look any farther than the success of current digital initiatives, which are mostly built on back catalogs. The only part of the digital initiative I still think needs to be tweaked is the price point. Personally, I think if DC put new books out digitally at a price of $1.99 instead of $2.99, they would sell like hotcakes.

Perhaps the thing I’m most excited about though is the idea of substantial change in an industry that likes to take baby steps. DC should be commended for taking such a big (and risky) step. I just hope that it succeeds, or in a couple years we’ll be talking about the mega event that returns everything to the status quo.

How do you feel about the DC shakeup?  Head over to the boards and let us know!

4-12-11: DoubleFeature Is A Digital Revolution

by Brian LeTendre

This past week, the guys at Four Star Studios (who include Mike Norton and Tim Seeley) launched a brand new venture called DoubleFeature ( The idea behind it is that each month they will put out a two-fer of creator-owned short stories for a mere $0.99. Issue #1 of DoubleFeature is entitled Action, and showcases Mike Norton's "The Answer" and Tim Seeley's "Jack Kraken." Both stories are fantastic and you will hear me review them on Issue #325 of Secret Identity. What really blew me away about Double Feature was how the iPad app really shows the potential of digital comics. Built into the app are a few simple but amazing features. First, there is a creator commentary that you can select, which offers notes on each page of each story by Seeley and Norton. 

Second, and most awe-inspiring, is the option to see each page of each story in its penciled, inked and fully colored and lettered formats. Let me repeat that--YOU CAN TOGGLE BETWEEN THE PENCILED, INKED AND FULLY-COLORED AND LETTERED PAGES OF EACH STORY. You can do this on the fly, toggling back and forth as you read each page.

I'll let that sit in for a minute.

What these guys are doing cannot be done with print comics. Period. Sure, in some trade collections you might get sketches and some creator commentary, but not integrated like this. So much of the conversation about digital comics revolves around how they are inferior to print comics. People who think that way need to take a good look at what the Guys at Four Start Studios are doing with DoubleFeature. It is amazing and it deserves your support. I will be talking about this for a long time to come, and I look forward to reviewing each issue of DoubleFeature on Secret Identity. I am hopeful that other creators will be inspired to think differently about the power of digital comics as well. If the guys at Four Star decide to license their app as a platform, I would have Mo Stache on this thing tomorrow.

If you don't have an iPad, you can go to right now and download the PDF version of DoubleFeature #1 right now. As with the iPad version, it will cost you a mere $0.99.

3-26-11:  Review--Hellraiser #1 (BOOM!)

by Brian LeTendre

As a horror fan growing up, Clive Barker was my favorite author by far.  I remember buying a copy of “The Hellbound Heart” novella at my middle school’s book fair.  I eventually collected all of Barker’s books, from the short story collections the "Books of Blood," to his epics like "Weaveworld" and "Imajica."  What always drew me into Barker’s work was his wild imagination and his ability to create entire worlds that were like nothing I'd ever seen, hear or read before. He is right up there with H.P. Lovecraft for me in terms of his ability to really disturb you.

And there are few creatures out there more disturbing than the Cenobites, those things that are called forth when human beings are foolish enough to try and solve the mysteries of the infamous puzzle box (or Lament Configuration, as it's technically known). The first "Hellraiser" movie was a masterpiece of horror, and while subsequent entries haven't all been that great, Pinhead and the rest of the Cenobites have always been terrifying to watch and read about.

Much to the joy of "Hellraiser" fans, Clive Barker has returned to the world of his creations with a new comic series at BOOM! The first issue (which arrived in stores this week) pretty quickly reintroduces us to the world of "Hellraiser," as Pinhead and one of his fellow cenobites are shown doing what they do to an unsuspecting victim. Things quickly take a turn however, as it's clear that Pinhead doesn't revel in his work any longer. It's almost as if he's bored with it, and he is looking for something different. This leads him to strike a deal that could free him from his current station. Part of this deal involves him finding someone to take his place, and that's where Barker introduces a very interesting twist into the story. I didn't see it coming, but it made perfect sense to me after I read it.
Providing the visuals to the new series is Leonardo Manco, and his art works very well with Barker's story. All of the characters are recognizable, and he does a good job translating the feel of the "Hellraiser" universe to the page. He also handles the gore well, so no worries there.
Issue #1 of Hellraiser is a great return to the universe by the man who created it. As a fan of both Clive Barker and the "Hellraiser" franchise, I highly recommend picking this one up.

4.5 out of 5 Impromptu Facelifts

2-28-11:  Review--The Spider #1 (Moonstone)

By Brian LeTendre

I've never been all that familiar with the crime-fighting pulp character the Spider. He was popular back in the 30's and 40's, and stories involving The Spider were well known for their high levels of violence. The main character was a New York millionaire by the name of Richard Wentworth, who led a secret life as a vigilante. Wentworth donned a hat, cape and mask and brought his severe brand of justice to the New York underworld.

Moonstone recently started up a new series starring the Spider, and if the first issue is any indication, the further adventures of the Spider will be a hit with both pulp and horror fans.

"The Spider" #1 begins with a chase scene, as Wentworth's fiance Nita Van Sloan is being pursued by murderous creatures through a small, countryside town. Back in New York, Wentworth is having a discussion with the police commissioner about a recent incident involving the Spider, when he gets a call that Nita is in danger. Wentworth heads out to the countryside, where Nita was supposed be visiting an old friend. Once there, Wentworth changes into the Spider and starts tracking Nita. After a confrontation with the undead in the local cemetery, the Spider realizes there's something sinister going on in the small town. What he doesn't yet know is that the undead attacks are related to the family of Nita's longtime friend. The rest of the story plays out in an interesting way, with a bot of an "O. Henry" twist at the end.

Writer Martin Powell and artist Pablo Marcos are a good fit with one another, and they perfectly capture the sort of radio drama feel that a pulp story should have. Having no previous experience with the world of the Spider, I was able to jump right in and enjoy the story. The Spider fits right in with that part of me that likes the Twilight Zone, Eerie and Creepy, and tales from the Crypt. I like my pulp to be on the darker side, and "The Spider" #1 certainly delivers in that aspect.

Issue #1 of "The Spider" also has a backup story featuring another pulp character, Operator 5. This tale by Gary Phillips and Roberto Castro had more of an espionage tone to it, as Operator 5 is infiltrating a American Nazi sympathizer group, but ends up getting brainwashed by the group's leader. It's an entertaining story that ends on a "to be continued" note, so I'm sure we'll see more of Operator 5 in the pages of "The Spider."

All in all, "The Spider" #1 is a great read for fans of horror, pulp or crime stories. Moonstone has another solid series on their hands with this one.

4 out of 5 Millionaire Vigilantes

1-31-11:  Review--Heroes For Hire #2 (Marvel)

by Brian LeTendre

My love for all things Abnett and Lanning has been well-chronicled over many episodes of Secret Identity. The two of them pulled the Marvel cosmic universe out of obscurity and made it a platform for some of the best stories Marvel has published in years. And while I’m still a bit miffed over Marvel putting the cosmic characters on the back burner lately, at least Abnett and Lanning still have and outlet to tell great stories. Putting them on the new “Heroes for Hire” book was pure genius, and after only two issues, this book has already rocketed to the top of my monthly reading list.

In the new version of “Heroes for Hire,” Misty Knight has become Marvel’s Oracle. She uses all of her contacts in both the criminal and superhero worlds to monitor the status quo of the Marvel U. When something is going down, Misty reaches out to the heroes she feels are best equipped to deal with the situation, and hires them for that specific job. It’s not all that simple though, as there is someone that’s pulling Misty’s strings behind the scenes, and his agenda can’t be good.

Heroes for Hire #2 sees Misty reaching out to Silver Sable to assist in taking down some arms dealers. Sable gets in over her head, and Misty finds out too late that there is a large occult element to the recent flood of arms that have been hitting the streets. She calls in some back of for Sable in the form of Ghost Rider, which makes for one of the cooler team-ups I’ve seen in a long time.

Abnett and Lanning have always done a great job of taking B and C-list characters and giving them a chance to shine. This book is pretty much the perfect set up for their talents, and if they are allowed to use anyone they want, I am giddy at the thought of the team-ups we’ll see. As it is, Silver Sable and Ghost Rider in the second issue is a pretty strong indicator they have free reign to go crazy, which means we as the readers are in for quite a treat. Brad Walker on art completes the dream team for me, as he demonstrated with the cosmic books that he can bring DnA’s crazy visions to life. His work on Ghost Rider in this issue is superb.

Get this book now.

5 out of 5 Silver Freaking Sables

1-24-11:  Review--Cabra Cini: Voodoo Trespass

by Brian LeTendre

Everyone likes a feel-good story about someone who’s down on their luck and manages to turn their life around. Take Sam Johnson’s Cabra Cini, for example.  She went through some rough times as a drug-addicted prostitute with an abusive boyfriend. Instead of joining  a 12-step program, however, Cabra decided to school herself in the dark arts of Voodoo and went on to become a drug-free, hitwoman for hire.  

In the latest issue of Visionary Comics’ "Digital Visions," Johnson and artist Bruno Letizia offer up a short story starring Cabra Cini called “Voodoo Trespass.”

In "Voodoo Trespass," Cabra is hired to take out a wannabe goth vampire who murdered his girlfriend.  To track him down, she travels through a little known corner of Limbo called ‘The Infinity’ that allows her to teleport to her victim’s location.  The problem is, The Infinity has a ruler, and he doesn’t take kindly to Cabra using his little corner of Limbo as a shorcut to her victims.  Cabra is forced to face off against some demons from her past in order to get to her current target.

The story does a nice job of introducing readers to the Cabra, as well as establishing some of the rules that govern magik in her world.  It also stands on its own as a “one and done” adventure for the main character.

Cabra Cini seems like an interesting character that I’m eager to find out more about.  “Voodoo Trespass” is enough of a reason to pick up Digital Visions #4, which also contains two other stories from other creative teams.

4 out of 5 Voodoos an Voodon’ts

You can check out the Cabra's latest adventure in "Digital Visions" #4 over at Drive Thru Comics or Wowio.  Youo can also keep up with Cabra and Sam's other projects over on

1-19-11: Spawn # 200 (Image Comics)

This is a huge milestone!

It isn’t everyday a comic, let alone a non DC / Marvel book lives to see # 200. But here we are some 17 years after the release of Spawn # 1 celebrating not just a comic book or character, but an event in comics history!

All those years ago, Spawn challenged everything we knew and loved about our comics! He was an anti hero with supernatural abilities, and the books were certainly 0style over substance. Not that they were bad stories, it’s just the art was the precedence, and Todd McFarlane always delivered on the visuals.

Spawn # 200 is a big, massive book. As a casual Spawn reader over the years (consistent only during the incredible David Hine / Brian Haberlin run), I’m not up to date in the Spawn world. Al Simmons isn’t Spawn anymore, he’s been replaced by a guy named Jim Downing and I don’t know enough about him. Simmons was an interesting and complex character so having a new guy step into the role is a bit of a shock, but I’m in.

What you get in this issue is not a lot of character development, but a whole mess of punch ups! Freak, The Clown, Omega Spawn, Hell Spawn for a lot of pages just throw at each other banter, fists and chains. Omega Spawn is looking for control, Freak is looking to take out Spawn and the Clown just gets in the way. In another realm, Simmons and his replacement chat about life; what to expect and where they are going!

Did I mention the punch - ups? This entire book is like the awesome fight scene between Rowdy Roddy Piper and Keith David in 'They Live.' In other words, Spawn # 200 is non stop! McFarlane, Michael Golden and Robert Kirkman fill each panel with some of the coolest monster creature things you'll see. The art is colorful, vibrant and exactly what you'd expect from a Spawn comic. The writing by Kirkman, McFarlane and Jonathin David Goff is not earth shattering, but who really wants it, or needs it to be.

This is a great way to celebrate an anniversary! 48 pages of fighting and a few pages of McFarlane's thoughts! Perfect. The last few pages is a brief introduction to the new creative team; artist Szymon Kudranski and writer Will Carlton coming in with the next issue.

In other get more than your four bucks worth! And with a million different covers you get your choice. I picked the coolest looking one without knowing who drew it and it ended up being the Rob Liefeld one (pictured above)!

So spend your cash, have a great read and get ready for the next era of Spawn. 

Matman - 4.5 out of 5 green blood splatters.

1-10-11:  Review--Drop Dead Dangerous #0

by Brian LeTendre

“Drop Dead Dangerous” #0 is exactly what a zero issue should be.  The book sets up the main characters and the world they inhabit, and lays the foundation for where the series will be going in the future.“DDD” takes place in a version of the Wild West, where a serial killer called “The Raven” has been killing young women and scrawling quotes from Poe in their blood next to the bodies.  As the story opens, The Raven is about to take his latest victim, who happens to be the wife of Jack Smith, a deputy sheriff who arrives just in time to save his wife and kill The Raven.  After the traumatic incident, Jack quits his job and opens his own private investigation practice, so he can spend more time with this wife, who hasn’t been the same since her near-death experience.  Jack’s first case in his new job involves a murder that fits the m.o. of The Raven, who Jack killed one year ago.

As I mentioned above, writer Chad Cabrera sets up the series very well with this zero issue.  Artist Mike Banting has a manga style, and he really pulls off the “Wild West meets pulp noir” feel well.

“Drop Dead Dangerous” #0 is a great read that has hooked me for the upcoming series.  Definitely worth checking out.

4 out of 5 Nevermores
You can download "Drop Dead Dangerous" #0 for FREE right now over on Drive Thru Comics by clicking here.

1-8-11:  Review--Haunt #12 (Image)

by Brian LeTendre

“Haunt” has to be one of the most pleasant surprises in comics over the last year or two.  Even with Ryan Ottley leaving and Greg Capullo taking over the art chores, this book has been really consistent from the get go.  In fact, Capullo is doing such a great job on the book now, I don’t even miss Ottley, and I never thought I’d say that.

Issue #12 is the last chapter in the story arc that has run through the entire first year of this book.  Haunt is finally able to track down and take down Hurg, the weapons dealer who has managed to stay one step ahead of him to this point.  As Hurg is conducting a business deal to sell his mutant super-soldiers to an organized crime family, Haunt and crew swoop in and wipe the floor with everyone.  

To be sure, Hurg won’t stay incarcerated for long, as he’s clearly setting up to be the Kingpin of the Haunt universe.  This issue also sees the two women in Kurt’s life finally having a sit down.  The meeting between former wife and mistress turns out different than you might expect.

All in all, this is a wrap-up issue that provides a small breather before the start of the next major arc.  It does a nice job of tying up some loose ends, as well as teasing what’s to come.  Issue #13 is a brand new story, so I’m sounding the “jump on’ alarm for this one. If you’re not reading “Haunt,” you should be.

4 out of 5 Who is the Apparitions

1-6-11:  Are Marvel And DC Trying To Sabotage Their Own Digital Comic Sales?

by Brian LeTendre

I know, I know--it's a dumb question.  But when you actually look at what Marvel and DC are doing in the digital space right now, you have to wonder.

First, Marvel launches iPhone and iPod apps that are not compatible with their Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited subscription service. This means that while MDCU subscribers can access thousands of comics on their computers for the subscription fee they pay, any of those comics that are offered on the iPhone and iPad will have to be purchased individually.

This week, DC announced that Batman Beyond #1 was going to be available on their iPhone and iPad apps, as well as the PlayStation Comics store, the same day the print version was available in comic shops. Great news, right? Not when you see they are keeping the $2.99 price for the digital version.

So what gives? Well, I think it's a combination of things, although none of them will make hardcore comic fans feel better.

Part of the issue is that retailers would be furious if cheaper digital versions were available day and date with print versions. They are right to be concerned, as this would definitely cost them sales. Another issue is that Marvel and DC's current forays into the digital market for handheld devices are not aimed at hardcore comic fans--they are aimed at new or "lapsed" readers, who have these digital devices and are looking for content to consume on them. These are the same consumers who will pay almost cover price for ebooks, or purchase movies on iTunes for $15--they want a variety of content and they want it conveniently. So, if they can go on the Marvel or DC comics app, download a couple of free older books and pay $3 for a new one, that's not a bad deal in their eyes. To them, they don't see it as something of less value than the hard copy they could have at the same price. Lastly, since both Marvel and DC are in business to make money, why not launch at the highest price point possible? If the sales from casual or "lapsed" readers don't pan out so well, they can always start dropping the price incrementally. In the meantime, they will continue to make money on their print comics, and the digital sales are just icing on the cake.

That's a shortsighted plan though, and at some point, marvel and DC will have to face some real decisions about how they deal with digital. Comic sales were down almost 6% in 2010 in terms of dollars, and that's a misleading number, because many books were $3.99 this year. That means fewer comics were sold to make up the total dollar amount, so comic sales overall were down more than just 6%. In November 2010 alone, there were about 675,000 less comics sold than in November 2009.

So, what to do?

Everyone has their theories, which is good, because there needs to be more discussion about this issue. For my two cents, I think the magic price point for digital comics is $0.99. I don't even care if they are day and date with the print version. I would gladly accept a one or two-month delay to get the digital version of a book for a dollar. Anything in the past calendar year could be priced at $0.99, and older books would be priced down from there. I would even go as high as $1.49 for new books, if they were day and date. My point is, there's no way I would move to digital unless downloadable books were at least half off the cover price of the print versions, especially print versions that are easily available. You could almost justify charging a little more for out of print or hard to find books or collections. I also believe that the comics should not be restricted to one format. If I buy it, I own it, and I can read it on my computer, put it on my iPad, burn it to a DVD, whatever. Restricting formats and locking down digital comics will not reduce piracy, it will encourage and increase it. Make them cheap, make them accessible and I will buy them.

So, what are your thoughts on the current digital initiatives of the big two, and where do you think they should go in the future? Head over to the boards and let us know!

P.S.  I would be remiss if I didn't mention that there are some models out there that have been working quite well. Drive Thru Comics is home to a lot of smaller independent publishers, but some of the bigger companies like Top Cow, Moonstone and Archaia have put a lot of their back catalogs up there as well. Most of the books are between $0.99 and $1.99, and you get a watermarked PDF that you can port to any device. If your computer crashes, you can go back to your account history and download all of your purchases again. We use the platform to post episodes of Secret Identity, which you can download for the price of FREE. Wowio also offers PDFs of comics at reasonable prices, many at $0.99.

1-1-11:  Review--Amazing Spider-Man #650

by Brian LeTendre

Three issues into the ‘Big Time’ era of Amazing Spider-Man, and it finally clicked for me. The first two issues had so much going on, that I could almost hear Dan Slott yelling plot points at me as I read them.  I was almost overwhelmed with the hectic pace Slott had set, and while issue #650 doesn’t exactly slow down, it does feel less scattershot than the previous two issues.

ASM #650 contiues the Hobgoblin storyline, and Spidey ends up barely escaping an encounter with Hobby at his new place of work, Horizon Labs.  When Peter finally find something that can counteract the sonic laugh of Phil Urich’s Hobgoblin, he decides to put the technology into a redesigned Spidey suit--one that would fit right in at a Tron convention.  In all seriousness, the suit does look cool, and the “science” behind it is pretty cool as well.  Spidey enlists the aid of Black Cat and the two embark on a mission to steal back from Kingpin the highly experimental new metal that Hobgoblin took from Horizon labs and sold to Fisk.

As I mentioned, the pace Slott sets in this issue is pretty brisk, but what clicked for me is that this is going to be what we can expect of Big Time.  After a two-year period of gritty, serious Spider-Man stories, Slott is bringing the whimsy back to everyone’s favorite wall-crawler.  And while it took me a couple issues to adjust, I am really glad this is the direction that ASM is headed for the time being. Spidey needs to be fun again, and Slott is just the guy to write him that way.

4 out of 5 Spidey-Trons