Thursday, March 4, 2010

124. Somebody Remembers Firekind

Welcome back to Thrillpowered Thursday, the blog that strives to do something about the shameful lack of publicity that the Galaxy's Greatest Comic manages in the world of online media. Normal service, where I'm looking at issues and stories originally published in 2003, will resume next week, but this time around, I thought I'd ease back into things by sharing with readers some of the more recent newsworthy items to refresh your mordant thrill-circuits.

On a personal note, one highlight of the last two months was being interviewed by The Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon, for his Holiday series, in which twenty "of the best writers about comics" (well!) talked about "favorite, representative or just plain great... books from the ten-year period 2000-2009." Tom asked me for a shortlist of titles I thought that I could ramble on about. I suggested 2000 AD along with All-Star Superman, New X Men, Pluto and Scott Pilgrim, four titles I could happily talk about at great length, but I certainly enjoy proselytizing about the House of Tharg more than anything else, so I'm glad Tom went with that. If you missed the interview, you can read it here, but I'm certain you all have that site bookmarked and read it every day anyway, right?

I did make one point in the interview which was evidently worth following up. As I'm certain readers know, 2009 was the year where Diamond, the company that distributes 2000 AD in North America, got infected with an amazing case of incompetence. I wrote back in July about how Diamond was becoming so utterly infuriating to deal with, and honestly, the problem only got worse. Adding insult to injury, the "prog packs" of bundled, polybagged comics were not appearing in stores on the day that Diamond's publicly-viewable ship list claimed that they were. Rich Johnson, who runs the Bleeding Cool news and rumor site, asked Bill Schanes of Diamond to comment on the problem. As you can read at Rich's site, Mr. Schanes spoke more about the problem of economics and profitability than actually, you know, shipping the dang comics to stores.

I certainly appreciate somebody from Diamond going on the record about the issue - I have actually phoned Diamond on two occasions and found no satisfaction whatsoever, so props to Rich for getting somebody on the line - but Mr. Schanes didn't address the problem. The solid, indisputable fact is that I can go to Diamond's site on any given Wednesday and see what they claim will be in stores that day. On those occasions that a prog pack is listed, for example November 25, I can go to the comic store of my choice and watch as each and every box is unpacked and those comics are not in there. I have no objection at all to Diamond soliciting an "October" pack in August and not shipping it until November. I understand there's a small delay in bundling the things. What I object to is the company making a claim that they're shipping product on a certain day and then not doing it, regularly and routinely.

I really don't intend to talk about this any longer. That's because the other really nice highlight of the last two months has been going digital. I decided that, starting with the special Prog 2010, I was going to buy the comic every Wednesday from Clickwheel. Here, you can download the comic one week after its UK publication - not ten or more weeks, one - and it costs 25% less than what Diamond charges for a copy. I rearranged my budget a little and dropped some cluttering, unnecessary things from my expenses in order to justify the cost, and if I happen to see that actual, physical copies are waiting for me at the old comic store, I will happily pick them up. In the meantime, I'm saving money, bringing fewer things into the house, enjoying these terrific stories week-by-week the way they should be read, and not being all grumpy about the fact that I can't read everything that I want to see in a timely manner. No more six-week waits to see how cliffhangers get resolved around these parts, sir!

In other news, Rebellion did make a major announcement while I was away from this blog about their forthcoming book releases. Of principal interest to me, and surely all sentient lifeforms, is the July release of both The Stainless Steel Rat and Al's Baby, two titles drawn by Carlos Ezquerra which I have wanted to see reprinted for such a long time. Place your orders now, friends, and tell everybody you know. The Stainless Steel Rat, based on three novels by Harry Harrison, is 36 episodes of twist-filled, high-concept, con-artist sci-fi from the early eighties, and Al's Baby is 33 episodes of hilarious mob-comedy about a hitman who cannot convince his wife, the godfadda's dotta, to have a baby, so he's got to carry one himself to avoid a pair of concrete boots. Cross-dressing, getaway cars, first trimester cravings, high explosives, labor pains and sleeping with the fishes, it's all here and it's very funny. Spread the word!

There have been additional rumors about forthcoming books, but in the absence of a formal announcement from Rebellion, I'll save the speculation for the Reprint This! blog next week and save this space for things we can actually confirm.

The other big news of the last couple of months is that James Cameron's Avatar was released and in just a few weeks' time overtook everything else to become the highest-grossing film of all time. Some people were pretty dismissive early in the game about the film's apparently obvious inspirations - I haven't seen it myself - but the one that caught my eye was over at pop culture site

In a pair of well-researched and illustrated articles (here and here), writer James Edwards makes a fairly convincing case that the Cameron film relies very heavily on Firekind, a thirteen-part serial by John Smith and Paul Marshall that originally appeared in the spring of 1993, in 2000 AD progs 828-840. Whether Edwards is right or wrong about Avatar's origins, I can't say, but one thing that Edwards says does strike me: they seem near enough to totally wreck Smith and 2000 AD's chances of ever making a Firekind feature film. Like that was all that likely anyway.

Actually, what this should do is give Rebellion impetus to find a way to get Firekind back in print for people to see for themselves. The serial was collected in an Extreme Edition in 2005, but it's too short for a proper bookshelf graphic novel. So, for that matter, is Cradlegrave, a twelve-part horror serial by Smith and Edmund Bagwell that ran last year to considerable acclaim, and appearances on several critics' best-of-2009 lists. The solution's simple: package 'em together in one omnibus edition. Sure, the two serials have nothing in common besides their writer and the magazine where they first appeared, but publicity's not worth a darn unless you capitalize on it. Even just reprinting the Extreme Edition would be a case of striking when the iron is hot. How about it, Tharg?

Next time, well, I've told myself for more than a year that I'm writing too much and saying too little in these entries, but I swear I'm going to start some much shorter entries. The ABC Warriors and Snow / Tiger are scheduled head-to-head, fandom takes sides, and everybody wins, but I am going to keep commentary to a minimum. I hope. Seriously, I'm going to write a lot less and try to say a little more. See you then!


Anonymous said...


Great to see Thrillpowered Thusday back at last! I love reading the column, so I hope you don't shorten it too much!



Bob Temuka said...

Good to see you've found some peace by going digital, Grant. Going through all that Diamond rubbish would drive me bonkers. Luckily, it still shows up in several bookstores here, each and every week. It takes 10 weeks to get here - the 2010 issue is due out today - but it's always there.

As for the Avatar thing, I hadn't read Firekind in years, but the moment they started connecting with the dragon things, that was all I could see.