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Ghost Rider - John C. Kirk

Jan. 31st, 2007

04:49 pm - Ghost Rider

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There have been various Marvel comics being turned into films recently, such as "Spider-Man" and "The Fantastic Four". There are also a few others in the pipeline, such as "Ghost Rider" (with Nicolas Cage in the lead role); there are trailers available here. I'm not sure whether the film itself will be any good, but it has boosted the popularity of the comic title a bit, which is nice: Marvel have been reprinting the original (1970s) issues in their "Essential" format (cheap black and white "phonebooks"), and there have been some recent mini-series.

What's more interesting is the comic that they're releasing this week: Ghost Rider: Finale. They refer to it as "an issue eight years in the making", and they aren't kidding! However, the explanation involves a bit of a history lesson...

In the early 1990s, there was a boom in American comics. People were paying large amounts of money for back issues, e.g. old Spider-Man comics from the 1960s, and this led to the "speculators" getting involved. The basic theory was that if you bought up loads of new comics, and kept them for a few years, they would accumulate in value, so you could sell them for a huge profit. However, it turned out to be a bit more complicated than that; the old comics were valuable due to a limited supply (not many were originally printed and many of those had been thrown away) and a high demand (Spider-Man being a popular character). By contrast, if you have millions of copies of "Power Pack" floating around, they'll all wind up in the 50p rack.

I first started reading American comics during this time, so I saw the benefits and the drawbacks. On the plus side, it was a lot easier to start up a new comic (since the speculators would buy everything), and this meant that there were some very good ones published that wouldn't stand much of a chance nowadays (e.g. New Warriors). On the downside, there were also a lot of comics pushed out that were complete dross. I have mixed feelings about some of the gimmicks that were around, such as foil covers; in moderation, and for special occasions, I think they look quite nice, so I often chose to buy the foil version rather than the less expensive paper version. On the other hand, I remember walking into the comic shop while the X-Men "Age of Apocalypse" storyline was going on, and every single X-Men comic had a gold foil cover. When the sun reflected off that wall (did I mention that there were lots of comics being published?), I almost got blinded!

Inevitably, the bubble burst, and this led to a lot of comics being cancelled when their numbers dropped. In particular, this happened to the ongoing Ghost Rider series that was being published at the time; the writer had a storyline going that was due to conclude with issue #100 (a nice anniversary issue), but then he was told that the final issue would be #94. Fair enough - he reworked the storyline, and #93 ended on a big cliff-hanger (in January 1998). However, Marvel then decided that they simply couldn't afford to publish #94 after all, because there weren't enough people buying it. At that point the script was written, and the artwork was half-finished, but it had to be abandoned like that.

It's hard to say whether this was the correct decision or not, especially since I wasn't present at any of the meetings! On the one hand, the company exists to make money, so that has to be an important factor. The people who were following the title (like me) would be annoyed, but since there weren't many of us, that wouldn't really matter too much. On the other hand, there was a knock-on effect to other titles: if the same thing might happen to another comic, do you really want to pay money for half a story?

Later that year, there was a Blade mini-series published. Unlike an ongoing series (which runs until it stops), a mini-series (aka a "limited series") is announced as having a fixed number of issues right from the start. In this case, it was a 6 issue series, so the first issue was labelled as "#1 of 6" etc. It got as far as #3 (September 1998), then it was cancelled; issues #4-6 never came out. I wasn't buying that one, but I imagine that the (few) people who were buying it probably got annoyed about this, since it felt like a broken promise.

This is linked in to a wider debate: is it better to buy individual issues of a comic, or to "wait for the trade", i.e. wait for the issues to be reprinted in a TPB (trade paperback)? One big advantage to a TPB is that you get the whole story in one go, and you don't have to worry about the final chapter being missing. The main disadvantage is that if nobody buys the individual issues then the comic gets cancelled, and therefore you don't get a TPB. There is also the issue of dodgy downloads; if there are only 25,000 people buying a comic each month, it doesn't take much of a drop in numbers for that comic to be cancelled.

This also relates to the Rising Stars comic that JMS did a few years ago. This was intended to run for 24 issues (plus a few specials) on a monthly basis, but it didn't work out quite like that. There were various delays during the series, and then JMS had a dispute with someone. So, #21 was published on 18th December 2002. #22 didn't come out until 3rd November 2004, almost 2 years later! #23 followed on 8th December 2004 (back on a monthly schedule), then #24 (the very last issue) was published on 2nd March 2005 (after a 3 month gap). During the 2 year gap, I had some major doubts about whether the remaining issues would ever be published at all; even if JMS eventually decided that he would release the scripts, that still left the question of whether the publishers would want to print them, and Marvel had demonstrated that this wasn't a foregone conclusion. Fortunately, that did work out ok in the end, and the final issue was good enough to make me feel guilty for the mean thoughts I'd had about JMS in the meantime.

Coming back to Ghost Rider, the "Finale" comic is reprinting #93 and includes the finished version of #94. So, it's almost 9 years late, but I'm glad they got there eventually!

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[User Picture]
Date:January 31st, 2007 04:58 pm (UTC)
The JMS dispute seems to have been (according to Wikipedia) over Top Cow cutting him out of flim rights for Rising Stars. However, the bit that I remember, and remember seeing JMS comment on several times before the last few issues came out, was that he was waiting on an apology for the way he'd been treated and that he'd hand over the scripts if he got one...

From what I know of the guy, he has very strong beliefs in how people should act to each other and sticks to his guns on them very strongly - I believe his email sig of "Permission to reprint specifically denied to SFX magazine" comes from another batch of rudeness against him.
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[User Picture]
Date:January 31st, 2007 05:08 pm (UTC)
Yes, that sounds about right. Mind you, given that there hasn't been any sign of that film recently, the whole issue of rights/royalties may turn out to be a moot point...

Underlying that, there was a question of whether JMS was punishing the readers by behaving that way. There seemed to be two schools of thought on this:

a) As a reader, I am paying Top Cow for a comic each month. Meanwhile, Top Cow is paying JMS for comic scripts. So, if he doesn't hand in a script, that's between him and Top Cow, and it's none of my business. In the same way, if I'm hiring a decorating firm to paint my flat, and they don't pay their staff, I don't have any grounds to ask those staff to come back to work.

b) Although I'm buying the comics from Top Cow, I'm doing that because it's a JMS story. (The spin-offs by Fiona Avery weren't as good, and didn't sell as well.) If the decorators hired a different painter, it wouldn't make any difference to me (I just want my walls to be a certain colour), but I wouldn't want Top Cow to hire a different writer to finish the series off. Also, I bought the previous issues on the assumption (promise?) that the story would have an ending; if they were a set of standalone issues (like several issues of Astro City have been) then I wouldn't mind.

I lean towards the second school of thought, as you may have guessed :) I dropped all of his other comics (e.g. Amazing Spider-Man) in protest while he was delaying Rising Stars, and although I've since started buying his stories again, I only do so in collected form.
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[User Picture]
Date:January 31st, 2007 05:39 pm (UTC)
I agree with the second point as well, but in this case I make an exception because I also have an overdeveloped sense of "rudeness" - ie. Top Cow were "rude" in not cutting JMS in (which seemed to be the spin he put on it from the mailing list entries I saw) and thus owed him an apology. For him to submit scripts in that situation would both go against his sense of "rudeness" and also not punish Top Cow for their actions - he said to the fans that as soon as Top Cow apologised for the behaviour that he would post the scripts...

That all said, I suspect there was a financial component to it that he is missing out in his explanation - that would move it away from being the pure matter of principle that I respect and into a payment battle that would be of much less interest.
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