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Wait, What? Ep. 30: Slow Burns and Subplots

Jeff Lester


Yes, it’s that time again (though I would’ve had this yesterday for you if I could): Graeme and I are back with Episode 30, and in it we talk about Veronica Mars, the future of slow-burns and subplots, Dave Roman’s Astronaut Academy, and of course Mike Friedrich’s Justice League of America.  It’s brief, it’s peppy, and it’s been remixed with both Levelator and noise removal tools (because my new headset might be a bit of a dog).  Does it sound better? Worse?  The same?  Let us know!

You can find it on iTunes, or so I’m told, or should you prefer, you can certainly listen to it here:

Wait, What? Ep. 30: Slow Burns and Subplots

As always, we hope you enjoy!

18 Responses to “ Wait, What? Ep. 30: Slow Burns and Subplots ”

  1. “Yes, it’s that time again”

    To clutter a site that claims to be about comic reviews with more things that aren’t comic reviews?

  2. “To clutter a site that claims to be about comic reviews with more things that aren’t comic reviews?”

    No, for assholes complaining about free content on the internet to pucker up once more.

    Me, I enjoy the hell out of these podcasts. Most podcasts feel like a huge waste of time, but this is the most enjoyable waste of time! Er, uh, I mean, it’s good.

  3. It sounds better, but there was too much “Veronica Mars” luvin’ and not enough classic JLAdoration (oh and I wish Showcase Vol 5 had space to include more of Len Wein’s stuff — especially #111 with the Morrison-inspiring Libra or the issue with the death of Santa Claus!! Damn the page count, give me more good stuff!)

    And I finally gave a listen to the prologue to 28 podcast and thoroughly enjoyed the Randy Newman discussion. My wife and I are seeing him in a couple of weeks here in Toronto. Love Randy Newman (and Songbook Vol 2 is coming!).

    So, to summarize, Randy Newman great; Veronica Mars not okay; classic JLA excellent. If you’re looking for the perfect formula, I’m sure everyone would agree that that is it.

  4. Troll posts are troll-y.

    I actually thought the sound was great on this one – Graeme has always sounded a little off-in-the-distance before, and that was greatly reduced this time around. I know it was a pain to remix this, but I think the effort was definitely worth it.

    I would argue that Dan Slott has a point, at least regarding the fallibility of slow-burn pacing – a perfect example being Hickman’s recent Fantastic Four death. David Uzumeri COMPLETELY dissected that reveal before it ever came out, and Hickman was seemed pretty shaken in interviews when that was brought up. I’m not saying it wasn’t well written, but a really smart guy on the internet put the pieces together and told everyone who wanted to listen (again, it should be noted that Uzumeri kept spoiler alerts up whenever he talked about it) before the climax hit. And ANYTHING that gets modern comics writers to take a more classic approach – one that tells a full story EVERY ISSUE while continuing a larger surrounding narrative – is a good thing, IMHO. We’ve said it so much as a fanbase and as an industry that I think we’ve forgotten how true the mantra really is – “every comic is somebody’s first”.

    I also think you guys made a good point about actor chemistry and how it applies to comics. A good TV show (or movie, or hell, radio program, I guess) can coast on great chemistry between the leads through a mediocre episode or two; a mediocre comic book issue can only coast on the fans’ enduring love of the character – and while actor chemistry remains enough, a lot of times fanboy love just isn’t anymore. I feel like there’s a lot that can be extrapolated from that idea, but I’m not the guy to break it down. I’d love to see Abhay wrestle with it.

    Ah, Veronica Mars. I kept half an ear open while my girlfriend was watching that on Netflix Instant a few months back, because a good friend of mine still raves about the show, but I’ve never sat down and watched a full season. The banter between Kristen Bell and the photog from Just Shoot Me was the high point of that show, from what I noticed.

    Anyway, great show as ever, dudes. Can’t wait for the next one. :)

  5. I like the way Zatanna seems to have some Elvis ‘burns action creeping down the side of her face.”!won sisylortcelE” indeed.

    Is that picture a Sekowsky? I ask because I’m practicing my art-spotting. I can name the artist of almost every picture on my Marvel underoos. The Cyclops one is giving me trouble; but it’s definitely Thor by Kirby with Colleta inks adorning my thighparts. Too much info? A Sekowsky? Serious question.

    I hope to listen to this because I don’t know what a Veronica Mars is and I mourn the loss of sub-plots daily.

    I thank you both for your efforts in advance.

  6. That’s Dick Dillin, John K. He drew approximately 100,767 issues of Justice League in the 70’s alone.

    And is it me, or does Superman look an awful lot like Dean Martin in that panel?

  7. @VoodooBen: I don’t know if the Uzumeri thing is really a reason *not* to do slow-burn storytelling…actually, I think the way he was able to put it together is a sign that Hickman was playing fair. The whole thing really just demonstrates that it’s silly to try and build suspense around something that can be spoiled in less than a sentence before people even read the book anyway.

    (Besides, it seems like most people were already guessing who was dying based on that character not having another death in recent memory…)

    But anyway, I agree — we need to get back to the idea of a full story in every issue that still fits into the larger narrative. I’m hoping the rise of digital comics will push things in this direction. (Partly because the delay between print and digital means the big spoilers are already spoiled, and partly because digital would seem to encourage a return to the idea of the issue rather than the trade/arc as a unit of storytelling.)

    As for Ultimate Spider-Man…it’s funny, I remember some people totally believing the hype that Ultimatum would mean the end of the Ultimate line entirely, and yet a lot of people seem to think there’s no way they could possibly kill Ultimate Spidey now. Once bitten, twice shy I guess. It seems like it’s possible to me, given:

    a) the Ultimate line seems to have a limited shelf life and has been kind of floundering lately

    b) didn’t they say somewhere that they’d be doing movie-universe comics, which would fulfill a similar purpose?

    c) Bendis probably doesn’t want to write USM forever, and since the book is so associated with him, Marvel may just want to let it rest once he’s ready to go.

    On the other hand, supposedly Ultimate books still sell really well to non-direct market outlets, so who knows?

  8. Thanks, Mr. Bacardi. My eyes lied! Also: totally Dean Martin. nice catch. Ring-a-ding-ding!

    I had to bail before the end but: I can’t believe those summaries of Mike Friedrich’s JLA; they are just too beautiful, baby. Banter? See: Chaykin, Howard Victor. I know I’m biased but, seriously: bantertastic. Yeah, I think I’ll give Veronica Mars a miss.

    (Nice sound mix but can we have the little bar thing back? I missed some stuff and couldn’t figure out how to rewind. Sorry to be a bother. I’m a techno-berk.)

    Thanks again!

  9. Later I had some thoughts on the whole storytelling part of the discussion and I give them to you now:

    I don’t think you can have sub-plots in comics when it currently takes three pages to show someone crossing a room, entering a lift and then rising three floors. The subplot would take up a third of the issue. For subplots to work, I think, you need the density of old timey storytelling. The thing about The Hive Mind guessing where stuff is going isn’t that important to me and I think it is weak tea indeed as a reason to avoid any form of storytelling. But personally it’s the journey not the destination. I don’t re-read DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN again and again because I can never remember how it ends (I’m old but I’m not senile (yet)) I re-re-re-re-read it because that is some tight as #### writing. (The art’s not too shabby either. Heh.)

    Also, while it is entirely accurate to call old timey stuff “inelegant” and “clunky” there does seem to be an accepted assumption (not by Messrs McMillan and Lester, just generally) that this is in comparison to the far superior work of the present rather than a judgement of the work in and of itself. Yes, this old stuff has all the faults it is accused of (and of course all the glorious pleasures documented) but, I would (and am about to) argue so do today’s comical periodicals. It’s just hidden better.

    This is disguised in the main by the move towards, and emphasis on, dialogue driven storytelling. This is a Godsend to the writers in at least four ways: 1) It’s quicker 2) It hides any inadequacies with the English language that a more prose based approach would make plain 3) it is often viewed as “sophisticated” due to its surface resemblance to the “superior” mediums of TV/movies (in which of course they all want jobs) 4) The combination of 2) and 3) essentially make it quite easy to initially conceal the fact that what is actually going on is dumb as a stump (re-reading is the Kryptonite to this) or, basically, just as dumb as a Bob Haney comic. But with less words, verve and élan, natch.

    Sure NAM comics used to be like a teen amusingly flailing around the park high on their Dad’s hooch but now they have grown up; grown up just enough to stand there, still stinking of gin, holding a repetitive conversation with you while swaying a little and, if you look real close, you can see a dark stain spreading over their trouser fronts. It is progress of a sort but not as much progress as people like to think, I think.

    And, hey, everyone likes Ghost Rider, Mr. Lester: Dude’s head’s totally on fire! What’s not to like? Design classic.

  10. The problem with anyone figuring out the FF death in advance wasn’t so much a weakness of slow-burn plotting, as the fact that Marvel and Hickman actively HYPED the character death. If you know the story’s gonna end with somebody dying, you’ve got a one-in-four chance of guessing it right. The fact that some people did get it right shouldn’t be startling to Hickman or anybody else, really.

    Come on, really now. If you want a character death to be shocking, you don’t put banners on the cover counting down to it.

  11. Dead on, Baroza.

    I’d have been mightily impressed had Torch just died as a result of the story. You’d likely have drilled two birds with one stone by getting a ton of secondary buys from people who were actually caught off guard in addition to the death baggers. i’d think it would drive second printings for people who wanted to get the whole of the story after being surprised. instead they got a crush of buys lined up for the sensational issue and they’re hoping that carries over into ff. i’ll check the comichron numbers for the lead in issues / death issue / “last issue” / first issue of future foundation. see what kind of story that tells.

  12. John K,

    I danced this dance a couple times with Colin Smith on his Bendis pieces. A few other problems you allude to with dialogue based story telling are:

    1) the deliberate exclusion of techniques developed for the comics medium. Captions, thought balloons, continuity links. This handicapping of the medium has a lot to do with the “slim” feel of books these days.

    2) VOICE. More than anything too damn many of these books read like the writer is having a conversation with themselves. I find Bendis and Fraction to be principal violators in this regard but that’s likely because they are bleeding edge talky-book guys. I was also looking at Authority vol 1 and 2 the other day and was gobsmacked to find that three different characters used the exact phrase, “think it through” before launching into a speech about why something or other would or would not work. Ellis also used this anti-socratic method of speechmaking in Planetary.

    This type of proclamatory speech doesn’t hang on every character but, you know, character be damned. If Maria Hill suddenly needs to grow the stones to deliver a hero making speech in the middle of Secret Invasion before blowing up the hellicarrier she’s gonna have the words put in her mouth.

    ok. Enough with the grouchy. Work to be done. thanks for another good cast, gents.

  13. j_Smitty:

    Is the moratorium finally over? Can we now say that the Human Torch is dead (at least as dead as dead gets in comic books, which is not at all, really)? Good.

    Here’s the thing: the various clues/foreshadowings that Hickman dropped into the book over the last year that Uzumeri picked up on might have been seen as clever in retrospect IF we weren’t already spoiled to the story’s ending. But we weren’t spoiled because of the internet hive mind; it was Marvel promotions that done the deed. If the death was simply presented as the story and not as an event, Hickman’s use of the subtle, slow build would have been a lot more effective.

    Which is why Bendis was right when he said that the best character death was the death of Elektra.

  14. – I liked the levelling on the sound, every now and again on the podcast, but not this one, Jeff will laugh really loud, and if my ear phones are turned up… ouch.
    That said, I was worried in the intro – Jeff sounded like he was drugged out on prescribed medicine. I thought the levelator had stolen his soul!
    (In seriousness, there were a few moments the voice levels went down quite low, but other than that, sounded fine).

    – I’ve watched the first episode of Veronica Mars, and one or two others.
    Every ep I saw involved either rape or incest – possibly both.
    And at the end of one Veronica hooked up with a guy who filmed them having sex.
    That was enough to turn me off it – the content didn’t suit the tone of the show at all.

    – I think I disagree with Slott.
    Fans will figure it out if you say ‘In issue #xx someone will die!’, like the companies tend to do, but otherwise, I don’t think too many got spoiled.
    I got called an idiot when I and a few others on CBR picked ahead of time that Hurt wasn’t THE devil – I copped being called an idiot for a year or so on that one – and later that Oberon Sexton was the Joker.
    Same thing happened a decade earlier in New X-Men when I guessed Sublime was coming back (well, I thought John Sublime was behind it – I didn’t quite guess a sentiment gene was behind it all).
    If you write a good mystery/build up, and don’t draw too much attention with ‘CLUES IN THIS ISSUE! YOU NEED TO READ THIS ISSUE!’ most twists and turns aren’t picked.
    It’s more that a lot of stories these days lead into bigger mutli-book stories, and so a bigger deal is made of everything, and also, editorial at the big two are as subtle as a jackhammer.
    (Also, isn’t it official Marvel policy that not enough people read/post on message boards to be worth counting, so why listen to them? Maybe Slott didn’t get the memo.)
    Man, how awesome was that last issue of Amazing Spider-Man?
    Macros Martin for God, says I.

  15. J_Smitty, obviously I agree with you. Yes, I do. In summary I’d say: Less tools should require more work not less.

    A.L. Baroza, Yes, the death of Elektra was a good death. A fine death. My favourite (well, y’know) though is the death of the (SPOILERS!)newsvendor and the wee boy in WATCHMEN. The way the guy tries to shield the kid from the glare of Death as the panels progressivley white out. Blumming gets me. Right. There. Every time. It’s so…human. And the effect is due entirely to the storytelling. Nothing else.

  16. Thanks to a combination of Comichron and John Mayo’s CBR sales wraps for the Diamond numbers.

    FF 567 – 46,207
    568 – 45,798
    569 – 44,680
    570 – 62,335 (Hickman issue #1)
    571 – 47,428
    572 – 41,914 (End council of Reed arc)
    573 – 39,415 (done in ones – NuEarth)
    574 – 38,431 (Franklin’s Birthday Party)
    575 – 41,284 (Mole Man)
    576 – 37,526 (Hidden city, AIM, Shark-guys)
    577 – 35,789 (not reviewed by CBR)
    578 – 37,940 (Negative Zone hidden city)
    579 – 38,415 (???)
    580 – 36,582 (Everybody takes Franklin to a toy store)
    581 – 35,505
    582 – 34,617
    583 – 42,257 (‘Three’ Storyline Begins)
    584 – 41,163
    585 – 37,739 (Reviewer wishes plot elements introduced in past 8-10 issues were more clearly emphasized as IMPORTANT)
    586 – 42,829
    587 – 115,448 (Death)
    588 – 63,529

    So, almost 55% of the buyers for the death issue felt no need to continue on? If numbers continue to erode back to the low 40’s high 30’s you’re looking at a book that will just barely check in to the top 40. Hickman’s debut on the book took it up to 62k and then quickly came back to that 30’s 40’s I mentioned earlier. I figure they’ll get a sales pop from the new number 1 and then by issue 5 they’ll be right back where FF has been for the better part of (what I could tell) the last five years. In 06 you had the crush job that Civil War put on everything so sales were “somewhat” affected (85k copies of FF 542? That was a McDuffie fill-in issue after JMS left)

    So the “death” of a founding member draws 20k more copies than a slight Civil War tie-in from 2006…

    Well, initially it doesn’t say much about slow-burn story-telling or the “ruination” of plot twists. What it does point to is the state of the industry. The chip that needed to be cashed in to pull 100k + copies was a pretty major one and the ground was (largely) given back immediately.

    However, re-reading the reviews you get a sense that reviewers and readers have been trained to expect something to always happen NOW, no right now! No, now again! And that the days where a run could develop over the course of say – even ten issues – are long gone. For example the 580 issue where Johnny and Franklin are bonding and toy shopping and all the rest would seem remarkably poignant now, yes?

    Turn the page – smile for the cover of Future Foundation. Next thing! Now. No, now again!

  17. “However, re-reading the reviews you get a sense that reviewers and readers have been trained to expect something to always happen NOW, no right now! No, now again! And that the days where a run could develop over the course of say – even ten issues – are long gone. ”

    Yeah, but the biggest complaints in the reviews I read was that there wasn’t enough going on in the build up – if Hickman had packed every issue with story, then we’d probably be seeing something different.

  18. It is true that people want something major to happen every time they read a comic and the notion of the slow-burn seems lost. I think price may have a lot to do with that though. If you drop $4 on a comic, likely a large portion of your entertainment expense, you expect it to be a very satisfying read. Satisfaction can come from a well-told, well-crafted story, but most comics fans are less likely to notice craft versus status-quo changing events.

    It’s been a year since I’ve read an issue, but I feel like Walking Dead is actually a book that employs the slow burn.

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