07 October 2009

'The Last Days of American Crime' defines "Radical Comics"

You'll probably remember me mentioning Portland-based Rick Remender as I was giving y'all a tour of Springfield: My Nice Little Town. Rick's been writing Marvel's The Punisher titles for the past couple years now. [Not being much of a Punisher lover myself, though, I've never read 'em. Sorry, people. Sorry, Ricky. I'll let you know what I think when I finally sample your stuff next month with your one-shot, Punisher: The List.]
Anyway, Rick pretty much put himself on the map with his two Dark Horse Comics series, Fear Agent and The End League. That's how I found him, and I've got good hunch that Rick'll be discovered by a whole lot more folks when his new Radical Publishing title, The Last Days of American Crime, starts up this December.

The Last Days of American Crime tells the story of Graham Brick, a petty criminal never quite able to hit the big score. In a grand scheme, Graham intends to steal one of the charging stations, skip the country and live off unlimited funds for the rest of his life. But the media has leaked news of the anti-crime signal one week before it was to go live... and now Graham and his team have just a few days to turn the heist of the century into the last crime in American history. [To read Radical Publishing's press release for Last Days, go here.]

Remender teams up with artist Greg Tocchini for this three issue, 64-page per issue series. Radical Publishing's one of the relatively new kids in town, but as far as the smaller third-tier publishers go, they've been turning out quality books with regularity as well as drawing some top-notch industry talent their way. Last Days is one of three titles Radical's going to be pricing at $4.99 an issue -- an experiment to find the consumer comfort-zone between cost, quality,
talent, and the page-count of a single monthly comic book.
This is the Big Issue here, abbracadabblers. [I'm even taking an extra paragraph to illustrate this fine point, notice?]
As most of you know, the standard monthly title -- and when one says standard or typical, the main referents are comics from DC Comics and Marvel -- is a whopping 22-pages of story, plus advertising. Both of the Big Two have made price increases for many of their monthly books, from $2.99 to $3.99, the majority of them also being the most popular books, too. This economic snafu, of course, has heard considerable fanboy outcry. To counter, Marvel and DC have both attempted to add page-count to their own books; DC by supplementing many of their mid-selling titles with a 'Second Feature', and Marvel by either publishing their best-sellers like The Amazing Spider-Man more frequently or tweaking the page-counts of their other books.
Radical's decided to throw an extra dollar onto the much-maligned $3.99 that's plaguing DC and Marvel, but they also stand alone with their decision of nearly tripling the 22-page industry standard. Most collectors, including myself, will by-and-large find this quite acceptable. The cost is logical, and I believe it's a five-dollar pill collectors would swallow no matter who published the 64-page whopper.
Plus, third-tier publishers like Radical are allowed much more leniency with their costs in the first place. They're expected to have to charge more: they incur substantially greater printing and production costs, likely pay more for talent, don't enjoy widespread distribution, their books have far fewer readers than any of Big Two's, and they see little to no marketing revenue from licensed products.
Radical's been aggressive from the get-go, thanks to its President and Publisher Barry Levine. Levine's drawn some high-profile folks to his line lately, like the prolific Warren Ellis' Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead. Using this approach, Levine has been enlisting high caliber story lines for his comics, and ensuring that those same comics hit the stand as a pre-formatted cinema-style package, primed for Hollywood adaptation. Levine's no stranger to the movie business, and hasn't made a secret of his approach of marrying 'widescreen comic book storytelling' to that of 'widescreen' movie making.
As much as I (and, obviously, a legion of other folks) enjoy seeing their comic books on the silver screen, Levine's approach veers too closely to the lane of pre-mediation for me to be completely comfortable. That discomfort I feel may also cast me as a 'fanboy in denial' or even as a hypocrite. It's a fact that comics, intentionally or not, are already serving this purpose for the bulk of Tinsel Town's producers, from Ron Howard to Michael Bay. Whether the greater purpose of DC and Marvel properties is that of mass-market consumerables is debatable, too. So, I ask myself, why the problem?
Maybe I'll wait until Remender's The Last Days of American Crime is in my hot little hands before I render a verdict. I mean, I've discussed it here, dabblers, because I know it's going to be a good read. And, as a matter of fact, it's already been primed for the screen, too.
To that, I say kudos' to you, Mister Remender just up the I-5 in Portland-town, and hats-off to the Radical folks as well. Abbracadabblers, you've got two months to save the five hundred pennies Last Days first issue will cost you. Give it the read it deserves, and even if it's not to your liking (which I think to be very unlikely, but it's possible), I assure you, the book in your hands may very well become a true modern-day metaphor.
Not of The Last Days of American Crime, mind you, but of the comic industry. I'm not one to be pessimistic; I'm no doom-sayer. I love me my monthly comics, no matter the cost. But I do keep my ears to the ground, and usually my feet along with 'em. In the end, I'm just saying what I'm saying.
Read more about Rick Remender and The Last Days of American Crime on Ain't It Cool News here, Comic Book Resources here, and on MTV here.
Radical Publishing has placed a fifteen-page preview from Last Day's first issue at their MySpace page here, and if you'd like to try supercomputing with Last Day's B-Cover (as seen below), it's here.

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