We?ve got another super-sized ATR this week, so let?s just jump right into it:

Ultimate Activision

Word out of Activision is that the Ultimate Spider-Man video game is proceeding with active participation from Brian Bendis, and the release date is tentatively planned for mid-to-late 2005. This will be the second ?Ultimate? game from Activision, as X-Men: Legends was largely based on Ultimate X-Men. Mark Millar is also rumored to be working on an ?Ultimate? related game or series of games for Activision.

For old school Marvel fans, there is a Classic Spider-Man game in development for 2006 and a Fantastic Four game set to coincide with the release of the FF movie next summer.

This Has A ?Digital Web-Head? Factor of Seven Out of Ten


All That And Moore

According to some late rumors coming out of Wizard World Texas, Tony Moore, the original and current cover artist of The Walking Dead, is just about finished with the paperwork from DC that put him on a new title for Vertigo. Moore?s new project may be up for a 2005 release date.

This Has A ?The Dead Will Rise Again? Factor of Eight Out of Ten


Jack?s Back

For the first time since the collapse of First Comics, GrimJack is set to return in a new six-issue miniseries from IDW entitled GrimJack: Killer Instinct. The miniseries reunites the original creative team of John Ostrander and Timothy Truman, along with letterer John Workman and editor Mike Gold. When reached for comment, Ostrander replied:

GrimJack: Killer Instinct

      is something of a prequel in that the events in this miniseries happen before the stories that were chronicled for the most part. It will be familiar to long time readers but there’s also some twists here as well that will surprise them. This story is set before Gaunt becomes that sort of P.I. persona, before he has the street rep that he relies on so well. We tell you things you didn’t know about the city before so old time readers will discover it at the same time as first time readers. While Gaunt has a tight circle of friends that wasn’t always the case; relationships change over the years. One character in particular who old time readers know as a close friend of GrimJack just plain isn’t at the time of this story.

 

      Munden’s Bar is closely associated with John Gaunt but, again, that wasn’t always the case. Someone else owns the Bar when this story starts. A big question, I think, that should be asked is how, when and under what circumstances did Gaunt come to own Munden’s? We’re not tossing out continuity by any means; this is still the same John Gaunt that the fans remember. Hopefully, Tim and I have improved over the years so that this version is as good or better than what you remember. We’re going to be playing with the continuity, making connections, and answering questions you may not have known to ask.

 

 

      Our goal is also to make this story completely accessible to first-time readers as well. You don’t have to be steeped in the continuity to “get” this story; you just have to open it up and let yourself get involved. The way I try to make it work for old fans as well are with “Easter eggs”. If you know

GrimJack

      , there’s lots of stuff in there that relates to the continuity but none of them drive the plot. The more you know

Grimjack

      , the more you’ll find to appreciate but if you’ve never read

GrimJack

      before you won’t get lost. And we have all kinds of fun. Tim and I are famous for tossing off concepts in

GrimJack

      that others might build whole series around. There are new characters in this series as well, one of whom I think it going to develop into a major opponent for Gaunt. And most of the supporting cast returns for at least an appearance. Some play crucial roles.

 

 

      For those of you who don’t know the character and concept,

GrimJack

      is the street name of one John Gaunt who lives and operates out of the multi-dimensional city of Cynosure. The city sits at the nexus of the multi-verse and, sooner or later, every dimension comes into phase with it. That means that the laws of physics can change from block to block. As we’re fond of saying — science works here, magic works there, a sword (and a bad attitude) seems to work everywhere. Gaunt works as a private eye/mercenary/assassin/spy and in most of the stories published he’s been freelance, working out of a dive called Munden’s Bar set on the lip of an area known as the Pit. Some say the Pit is the crater where a sentient dimension committed suicide. The reality of the Pit is that it’s where sentients go who have no other place to live. It’s also where John Gaunt was born and lived his early childhood. Framed for a crime he didn’t commit, young John Gaunt was sentenced to fight in the Arena where gladiator games were held. He eventually earned his freedom and then found love in the pocket dimension of Pdwyr with a girl named Rhian. That was crushed during the Demon Wars when Hell slipped into phase with Cynosure and demons invaded the city. Gaunt fought as part of the Demonknights during the War and, while the city was victorious, Pdwyr was invaded and everyone in it killed. It would leave permanent emotional scars on Gaunt. After that, Gaunt served as a bounty hunter in time, as a mercenary, as part of the TDP — the local police, and a spy organization called CADRE before setting out on his own. Killer Instinct reveals why and how Gaunt left CADRE and how he came to open shop in a bar.

 

GrimJack

      was first published in the Eighties and was tied up in legal limbo when the original publisher went out of business. Not a month has gone by since then when I haven’t heard from old fans asking when

GrimJack

    was coming back. The answer is — January 2005 — better than ever.

This Has A ?Temporal Displacement? Factor of Nine Out of Ten


Stone Temple Pilot

Paul Chadwick is one of the most respected creators in the comic industry and one of the major contributors to the upcoming Matrix Online game. In addition to that, Concrete, his creator owned title is set to return this December in a new miniseries: Concrete: The Human Dilemma. Earlier this week, Chadwick took the time to talk about both projects:

Blair Marnell: It?s been about four years since your last Concrete story. Why was the interval between Concrete stories so long?

Paul Chadwick: The short answer is: I got myself in a money fix. So, I turned my energies to making money more quickly than I do with Concrete. But all this time I was working on this series and it?s a substantial bit of work. Six issues, 120 pages and they?re fairly dense.

BM: For some of our readers who aren?t familiar with Concrete, can you describe the concept?

PC: Concrete is a fairly small-scale, real world approach to the superhero concept. He lives in our mundane world without super-villains or other fantastic elements running around. Although his origin involves aliens, they have departed forever and he is left with a human brain transplanted into a colossal stone-covered body, facing the question of how to live a worthwhile life in that condition. That?s what the series focuses on. He?s drawn to a youthful dream of being a travel writer and this body certainly facilitates that. Although a lot of the stories evolved from his personal relationships or his environmental politics and the challenges of daily life for somebody trapped in that kind of body.

BM: He?s also a celebrity of sorts?

PC: Yeah, I do get to examine the ramifications of our celebrity culture, which I?ve been able to observe from my work in Hollywood as a storyboard artist. I?ve worked with directors and a lot of actor/directors too. And I?ve seen some very interesting distortions of life being famous causes. People who you don?t know at all get fixated on you, security concerns, the way it opens doors? and I?ve been able to apply some of that to Concrete.

BM: What can Concrete fans expect from The Human Dilemma?

PC: Some things I?ve tried to keep very constant in Concrete. And that is: he lives in a suburb of Los Angeles, in a warehouse that accommodates his proclivity towards breaking things. And his surrogate family unit: Maureen Vonnegut, a biologist who keeps him alive and studies him and his sidekick/assistant/typist Larry Munro, not to mention a two-legged dog he inherited from a company he helped out called Tripod. It starts in that setting and Concrete gets an offer from a Pizza Mogul, who has started a new foundation with a very controversial approach to population control. He wants to start a trend that makes childlessness ?fashionable? and more socially acceptable. To do that he?s going to pay people, along with giving them education, career counseling and whatever they need to have success, fulfilled live, but childless. And he wants Concrete to be his spokesman for this. It?s not so much that he?s going to pay off so many people that the population explosion will stop; he wants to air out the issue through this approach. Concrete does not like fighting and he doesn?t like attention. So he?s very hesitant to do this even though he?s a very logical candidate. He?s liable to be childless, of course. He?s gray and race neutral which defuses that aspect of the issue. But he?s also a manic collector of Victorian paintings, and an arrangement is made for a painting Concrete has sought for years, ?The Infinite Night.?

Concrete plunges into that publicity campaign, which allows me to explore the overpopulation issue from a lot of different angles. In the meantime, his pal Larry has reached a point in his life when he thinks he?s ready to get married. He proposes to his girlfriend and they get engaged. The problem is, Larry is NOT emotionally ready and starts to unconsciously sabotage the whole thing. The other wrinkle is, Concrete finds himself, a childless guy, about to become a parent. And that allows me to examine the issues of parenthood, which I?ve been dealing with for the last eleven years.

BM: What?s the status of the Concrete movie?

PC: [laughs] Well, in the tradition of development hell, they?re writing a new script. I?ll tell you what hung it up: Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh wrote a script. And it was the producer?s hope that after The Lord of the Rings was finally in the bag, that Peter would feel a parental love of his script and want to make Concrete his ?easy? movie after The Lord of The Rings Trilogy. It didn?t happen. Peter decided to do King Kong. So, back to square one. It?s still at Disney but lacking in momentum.

BM: You?re also heavily involved with The Matrix Online, what?s your role in that?

PC: That? is my day job. I?m not a game designer but I?m writing the ongoing story of the game. It?s a massive-multiplayer, which means tens of thousands of people play at the same time. They control characters that wander around a virtual city, which they can explore or go on missions with lots of secrets to discover and factions to fight. All springing from the logic of the Matrix movies. The game itself is a sequel to The Matrix: Revolutions and it takes place during the ?messy truce? that was made at the end of that film. It occurs completely in the Matrix, the major city. You never get out to Zion or the surface of the actual world, but that allows our characters to have those cool Matrix superpowers.

BM: If there?s a truce between the humans and the machines, then why are there still rebels from Zion jacking in to the Matrix?

PC: Well, they still have to police things to make sure the whole system doesn?t crash. That is to say, that if enough ?blue pills? (the people sleeping in the pods powering the Matrix and experiencing it but not knowing what it really is) lose belief or ?disbelief in the Matrix, they can wake up in their pods and drown or go mad. If enough of them do that then the whole system crashes. So the agents are there to coerce ?red pills? (the people from Zion) to not do anything too fantastical. To not change the Matrix in an unreal way. And of course, there are humans who want to push those limits. One of the main activities is awakening ?blue pills.?

BM: I imagine that wouldn?t be allowed under the terms of the truce.

PC: It is legal but it?s discouraged. That?s what makes it a ?messy truce.? Then other complications come. The humans split into factions and artificial intelligence groups, which we call ?exiles? in the Matrix (The Merovingian is the most prominent one in the story) who have their own agendas which are pretty disruptive. So there will be times when agents and humans join forces to battle these exiles. And humans and exiles will also team up to thwart agents. As I said, it?s very messy and complicated.

BM: How will players in the game be able to affect the story?

PC: They?ll be able to join one organization or another and advance its goals. You can actually work for The Merovingian, you can work for Zion and you can work for the machines alongside agents to accomplish their goals, a lot of which are secret and underhanded. There are also threats to the Matrix itself, this unreality I?ve been talking about. At one point a group of humans gets their hands on some code which gives them outrageous superpowers and they start making a lot of trouble in the Matrix. That?s when the agents and humans have to come together, hunt them down and eliminate them.

BM: And you have storyline planned out for the entire first year?

PC: Yeah, we?ve got an outline for a year and then I?ll be joining the ?live team? that will be lying railroad tracks in front of a speeding express train. We?ll want to respond to what players seem to enjoy. And also, the Wachowskis have been secretive for what they want to do in the second year. I?m wondering myself.

BM: When is The Matrix Online going to be released?

PC: January 18th, 2005.

BM: You?ve also got a project in the works with Harlan Ellison at DC, right?


PC: Yeah, it?ll be a long term project because I?m writing the Matrix game, but I?m almost done with penciling and inking the first of a four issue prestige format miniseries called Seven Against Chaos. Harlan is basing it on a film treatment he wrote years ago, that takes The Seven Samurai plot and reimagines it in a science fictional context. But frankly, I think Harlan is more influenced by the western, The Magnificent Seven. Peter Tomasi is our editor and it?s a standalone book, not a DCU book but not a Vertigo book either. I would expect that it?s about two years away.

This Has A ?Playing the Cards You?re Dealt? Factor of Ten Out of Ten


Fight the Future

Over on his website, Bob Layton has posted a lengthy explanation for the failure of Future Comics, in the form of a letter to Future Comics? investors. Among the text are several interesting revelations on the inner workings of Future Comics and its relationship with Diamond:

      The Direct Market is a term used to identify the loosely-associated chain of 1100 independent book stores whose main business is the sales of comic books and related merchandise. All merchandise purchased from wholesale outlets to these stores is non-returnable. Meaning: whatever quantities they buy at the wholesale level?those sales are considered final.

 

      All mainstream comics sold to these comic shops are done the under the auspices of a single, monopolistic (and possibly malevolent) entity?Diamond Comic Distributors. In many ways, Future Comics was revolutionary, but especially so in our radical business plan which used the internet to exclusively self-distribute our publications. For two years prior to our first release, Dick Giordano and I mapped out a daring, but sound, business plan that would allow an independent publisher to be profitable in a market dominated by Marvel, DC and Diamond. The only way that could be accomplished was to cut Diamond’s discount of 60% off the cover price out of the mix. Which we did–and magically, the numbers worked. By the spring of 2003, almost half of 1100 comic retail shops in America were signed up to participate in our Future Comics Retailers? Club. It was at that point that Diamond, being genuinely concerned that our operation might pose a threat to them, proposed that they partner with us in the distribution of our products?promising to double our sales and bring our little start-up into the limelight with a premiere publisher status in their catalogue.

 

      So… we bit.

 

    Unfortunately, this move proved to be disastrous for us on several levels. Foremost, the promises made by Diamond were hollow. They rarely followed up on any request and never promoted our products as promised. Additionally, our Retailers? Club members abandoned us en masse?, generally feeling betrayed that we ?sold out? to the despised monopolistic distributor. The sad truth is that abandoning our original self-distribution plan is what ultimately lead to the company’s sad demise. Before Diamond entered the picture, our self-distribution plan was working. It was a regrettable miscalculation to accept Diamond?s offer to distribute us instead of staying the course with our original business model. However, their promise of doubling our sales and reaching profitability in our first year of operation proved to be too great of a temptation to pass up. Prior to the deal, we felt as if we had Diamond “between a rock and a hard place” with our successful distribution operation. I received calls from Diamond’s V.P. on a weekly basis, trying to sweeten the deal or suggesting some sort of compromise to get us onboard. Little did we suspect that it was a ploy to break the back of a little publisher that dared to defy the ‘Overlords of Comic Distribution’.

Layton also expands upon the Direct Market?s response to Future Comics? lineup, burning a few bridges in the process:

      Here are merely four examples of how Future Comics’ distribution catered to the retail community without success:

 

      1. Future Comics gave the Direct Market free shipping (not available thru Diamond) We gave them deeper wholesale discounts than Diamond. But still, the retailers still didn?t order sufficient quantities to keep us going.
      2. We made our products 100% returnable (free for all intents and purposes) while all sales from Diamond are non-returnable. But still, the retailers still didn?t order sufficient quantities to keep us going.
      3. The storeowners complained that they wanted us to lower the cover price from $3.50 to $2.99? which we did. But still, the retailers still didn?t order sufficient quantities to keep us going.
      4. They wanted us to make our products available thru Diamond too, which we did– but even after that, the retailers still didn?t order sufficient quantities to keep us going. In fact, orders dropped.

One of the major reasons that we started Future Comics was that nearly every retailer that Dick Giordano and I talked to in the Direct Market voiced that they were tired of the callous way they were being treated by Diamond and pledged to support our efforts. It seemed to us that they were crying out for someone to attempt to change the system? and to show them some respect in the process.

As it turned out?that was not entirely true.

While there are many respectable and business-savvy retailers in the Direct Market, the majority of them are penny-ante dabblers whose whims change with the drop of the proverbial hat with little or no business sense whatsoever. It’s no longer a mystery to me as to why the Direct Market has been slowly shrinking into oblivion.

And, a grim fact has to be taken into consideration in all of this: The comics industry is totally (and possibly illegally) controlled by Diamond, Marvel, DC, Wizard and Quebecor. There’s a substantial amount of ‘under the table’ dealings occurring between these entities on a steady basis. They work closely and clandestinely to control the marketplace and unfairly squeeze out any competition.

Unfortunately, it wasn?t merely miscalculations in the Direct Market that affected Future Comics adversely. A substantial amount of our debt was incurred through mismanagement by our financial department during the early phases of the company?s start-up. We were basically being robbed blind. Unfortunately, since those employees had name authorization with our financial accounts, none of the creditors were willing to allow us to file theft claims. When combined with lackluster sales in the Direct Market, it became readily apparent that we might be heading in the wrong direction as a business entity.

As entertaining as it is to read his theories, it really seems like Layton is laying the blame on everyone’s shoulders but his own. In a 2,000 word letter he cites everything from retailers and distributors to other comic companies “clandestinely” working against him. But not once does he raise the possibility that the audience simply wasn’t interested in the books that he was putting out.

This Has An ?Avoiding Personal Accountability? Factor of Four Out of Ten


Ghost in the Machine

Iron Ghost, Across the Pond?s second title through Image, has been scheduled for a late February/March 2005 release. IG reunites CrossGen creators Chuck Dixon and Sergio Cariello, as Cariello elaborates:

      Chuck Dixon and I were working on a project for CrossGen that never came to see print and we wanted to do something else together since CG was folding. More recently, I was working for Across the Pond penciling and inking Metal Locus when Stephan Nilson (ATP Publisher) asked me if Chuck would be interested in writing some of ATP’s books. I spoke to Chuck and he wanted to do something creator owned. So Chuck gave me the

Iron Ghost

      story to read, which I really liked, and we decided to work together on it. Afterwards, we pitched it ATP, Stephan said ?yes? and we?ve already been picked up by Image for early next year.

Iron Ghost

      is a violent noir mystery set in besieged Germany 1943, in which a vengeance-seeking vigilante stalks the Nazis during the apocalyptic final days of Hitler’s nightmare. Imagine the Shadow or the Green Hornet set in the Third Reich. We have a masked and armed agent for the resistance who is, in reality, a member of the Nazi hierarchy. But which one is he?

 

 

      Nobody knows who the Iron Ghost is… not me.

 

      And maybe not even Chuck.

 

      The project has a dark tone to it so my approach is to add lots of blacks and mystery like the Black Noir type pages, seen in the old

Creepy

      mags and

Heavy Metal

      .

 

 

      It’s more towards the “old school” genre and way of doing things and isn?t the regular superhero kind of book. Chuck and I admire many of the same artists, like: Joe Kubert, Jorge Zaffino, Frank Frazetta, who use lots of black and white rendering which is self-sufficient in its tones. At first we were a bit concerned about adding color, but when we saw the final colored pages we knew Rick (Hiltbrunner) understood what direction we were trying to go with this book.

 

 

    I personally enjoy drawing in a way that if there is no budget for color that’s fine ’cause I like spotting enough blacks and gray in there that even with no color you still sense the weight, the density and three dimensions on the pages. At least that’s what I hope I’m conveying in the pages that I draw. That’s why it’s so important to me to able to ink my own work because i enjoy drawing with my inks and changing as I go. And Chuck seems to be on the “same page” with me in that regard.

This Has A ?Shadow Blitzkrieg? Factor of Eight Out of Ten


Blood Flow

Neal Adams has posted a four-page preview of his original graphic novel Blood over at his website, second item down.

Enjoy.


That?s it for this week. Special thanks to John V.

See you in seven.

Later,
Blair

PS If anyone has any rumors, stories or news to share, please email me at blairm@silverbulletcomicbooks.com. Thanks to everyone who has been sending stuff in. It?s greatly appreciated.


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