How I Failed STARBORN

Starborn!For most of the people who do it, I’d wager that hanging around at iFanboy.com is one of the bright spots of online interaction. I’ve made a dozen friends I never would have met otherwise and had a million animated conversations about topics that universally would have earned me blank stares from my otherwise decent in-person community. The normal tone around here and the people it attracts seem to me like unique little snowflakes in the comicsphere; I don’t know about you, but I subscribed to four or five other comics podcasts the week I found this one, and within a month or two this was the only one that had survived the playlist. If I may “fanboy out” over a site I myself now work on for a moment.

Of course, even the most fun, positive places on earth are no match for pervasive doom. Sarin gas at Disneyworld is still sarin gas. And make no mistake, a mere two months after DC’s New 52 made autumn feel like spring, the pall of death suddenly hangs over us in the form of CANCELPOCALYPSE. Last week, I saw a couple of people online give us the business about our coping mechanism/gallows humor, direly warning that putting a death watch on books would scare readers away from them. Respectfully: we’re not the ones who gave the books eleven loyal readers. We’re the ones who talk up comics we like every single week. You may have us confused with the Marvel marketing department.

Still, I feel guilty that I haven’t used my Monday soapbox more to beat the drum for books I like. Because of CANCELPOCALYPSE, I recently did something I never do anymore, namely look at the sales charts. (Of course, industry insiders will be quick to tell you that these numbers bear absolutely no resemblance to reality; the fact that the books at the bottom of the chart are the exact books that get canceled– I’m sorry, “end”– is random coincidence, a joke at the hands of a whimsical God. But anyway.) The top sellers were a blur to me– oh, at last, people are buying Green Lantern– but I couldn’t help idly wondering, “Which book I buy is at the bottom of this chart?”

I didn’t have to look hard. The worst selling book in the top 300 was Starborn.

That is a crime.

Starborn was a great, imaginative book about a would-be sci-fi writer who discovers that his stories are actually memories, and that he is the heir to a galactic empire who was hidden on earth as a child. I say “was” because the day I read the sales chart turned out to be the day that the last issue of the book came out. It had “ended” by sheer coincidence that had nothing to do with those imaginary sales numbers. The end of the book was a sucker-punch; all this time, I had just assumed the book had an audience because it was good. I can be naive.

It’s too late for me to do my part to save Starborn (although it’s worth your while to grab any collected edition of the material that comes out; the last chapter is a satisfying conclusion and not abrupt in any way) but there are a bunch of other books I’ve been assuming you know about that I ought to mention while the mentioning is good. I don’t want to feel like I let anybody else down.

They’ve talked about The Sixth Gun on the podcast a few times, but it deserves all the attention it can get. I could summarize it as a “supernatural Western,” but the book is more than the sum of its parts. It weaves the Civil War and the apocalypse together in ways that surprise on a regular basis, with a lot of characters making a lot of deals with a lot of devils. Even if you think you dislike the genre, the way it touches on loss and greed and other human drives is universal.

Skullkickers is a miracle. Speaking generally, there is no genre I hate more than fantasy. Magic and dragons and effing swords and effing elves and that veneer of faux-Middle Ages ren faire turkey leg hogwash does nothing for me but make me feel like taking a shower. Somehow, against all the odds, Skullkickers manages to be a fantasy book I look forward to every single month. The key is that it takes none of the genre conventions seriously, but it isn’t some wink-wink in-joke for Warcraft players, either. It follows two hapless mercenaries as they attempt to find work but instead find nothing but trouble and disaster. It is an incredibly accessible, fun book full of action, mayhem, and sound effects. The fact that one of the mercenaries inexplicably carries a gun doesn’t hurt, either.

The Unwritten has been a Pick of the Week, but it bears repeating that it’s a great story for people who think about Stories. Is Tom Taylor the inspiration for his father’s most popular character, or is he a story come to life? What is the agenda of the cabal that seems to be steering the world with fiction, and how can Tom stop them using nothing more than a doorknob and a magic wand? The book defies summation, but that’s good, because that gives you all the more opportunity to experience it for yourself. Drop two or three of your lazy three-star books next week and try the first trade. (There I go, getting three-star books canceled again with my powers.)

Near Death has only come out twice, but I want to see it keep coming out. A professional killer almost dies himself and gets a glimpse at the Hell that awaits him unless he redeems himself, then tries to spend the rest of his life using his talents for good. Is that high-concept enough for you? As straightforward as The Unwritten is complicated, but so far just as good. You still have time to claim you liked it before it got popular.

I’m sure you have a pet book of your own that I’ve forgotten. I’d love to hear about it in the comments, if only so I can say I helped sell some deserving comics this week.


Jim Mroczkowski is trying, Ringo, he’s trying real hard to be the shepherd.

Comments

  1. gobo gobo says:

    Agreeing wholeheartedly with all of those picks, especially Skullkickers.

    I’d add Atomic Robo, Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors, Green Wake and Lil Depressed Boy.

  2. OttoBott OttoBott says:

    Also Loose Ends – it’s a mini series, sure, but the more that are bought, the more likely they’ll make more…

  3. flakbait flakbait says:

    Starborn is one of those Stan Lee presents…books isn’t it? Are any of the others good?

  4. deezer deezer says:

    Yes! I haven’t read Skullkickers, but will be getting the trades soonish. The Unwritten and The Sixth Gun are two of my favorite stories… never got into Starborn though. Although weren’t those Stan Lee Presents… books all supposed to just be maxi-series anyway? I thought I’d heard that around issue 3 or 4

  5. Firevine Firevine says:

    I thought those Boom! Stan Lee books were only 12 issues each to begin with. I could be wrong.

    I have enjoyed Near Death so far, but I thought that was a mini too. Could be that there are just too many comics for me to keep up with.

  6. Ryn Ryn says:

    Skullkickers is amazing! And the creators behind that book are just awesome too, and so obviously passionate about it! I hope they get to have many more issues in the future, it’s always on my pull list!

  7. Blargo Blargo says:

    Shame about Starborn. Anybody know if Soldier Zero and The Traveler are still around? Tried to keep up with all three series, but I had too much on my pile.

    • Blargo Blargo says:

      Also like to add that, even though its been canceled as well, the new Darkwing Duck series was fucking phenomenal. Definitely worth checking out if you loved the old show. Hell, even if you’ve never even heard of it, the comic still stands on its own. It was just plain damn awesome. Damn Disney for letting their license agreement with BOOM run out.

    • Conor Kilpatrick Conor Kilpatrick (@cskilpatrick) says:

      All the Stan Lee BOOM! books are canceled.

    • Blargo Blargo says:

      Damn…well, at least they’ll be there in Trade.

    • gobo gobo says:

      All 3 seemed to just tell a 36 issue story from 3 different sides, I don’t think they were canceled, I think this was just the story they told

    • I totally feel they were canceled. Soldier Zero had a bunch of interesting plotlines that were just dropped in favor of some random big threat for three issues so it could feel like a climax, and while they were better, Traveler and Starborn both felt rushed and truncated to some degree.

    • Conor Kilpatrick Conor Kilpatrick (@cskilpatrick) says:

      @gobo: They were canceled.

  8. I don’t know what or who decides this, but i would LOVE to see more previews and reviews for some of these B-list books instead of the high profile big 2 previews we keep seeing weekly. Batman, Avengers….those books are going to sell very well no matter what, do they really need the extra push? These smaller books could use that preview/review attention. Honestly, I had no idea Skullkickers was still being published. Out of sight out of mind and all that.

    The Lord Baltimore series over on Darkhorse continues to be good times. I recommend quite highly.

    • YES! I agree, I really wish more books like these got more attention, even here. Skullkickers and Sixth Gun are fantastic books, and Image has tons more that deserve more attention. Image is to me the best comic company out there right now, and while Ifanboy tends to do pretty well in regards to highlighting some of them, I do wish more attention went to them along with other non-Marvel/DC companies.

  9. I love Skullkickers too, but I’ve been following it in trade, and am starting to think that was a mistake. It’s a common dilemma for me: If I really like a book, I like having it as a book, something I can read in one long, satisfying sitting and give out to friends. But if I don’t buy it in issues, I’m less likely to get more.

  10. ChrisSnell ChrisSnell says:

    “…that veneer of faux-Middle Ages ren faire turkey leg hogwash…”

    If nothing else, that line has been my favorite line of 2011. Thanks Jim!

    P.S.: I played D&D as a kid and would love to read a good D&D story, and for ME, this wasn’t it. Also, DC’s Demon Knight’s isn’t it either. Also, D&D from IDW isn’t it either. :-S

  11. dennisnahas says:

    I read Sixth Gun, Near Death, and Starborn. Could not get into Skullkickers. Bought the first, borrowed the next 7, and just did not like it, reading it was like I was a cat being pet in the wrong direction (against the fur).

  12. RoiVampire RoiVampire says:

    The Image Comics app is having a half off sale from now until 11/23 on Skullkickers. Just bought the first two issues for a dollar each. Thanks for the recommendation Jim. Great article as always

  13. flakbait flakbait says:

    I enjoyed the first Skullkickers trade okay, but it didn’t inspire me to get more. It’s cute. I feel like a really great tongue-in-cheek fantasy book should capture the sort of humor and spirit we get out of the Penny-Arcade/PVP D&D podcast games, but it doesn’t quite get to that level.

  14. IroncladMerc says:

    Hellraiser by Boom Studios is also great, and I suspect low in sales charts as well.

  15. I’ve considered dropping The Unwritten a few times but every time I do It just does something so awesome I’ve got to get the next one. By now though I’m truly sold and in it for the long haul. Near death I’m liking too, it’s feels a little offbeat in a good way and like a TV show you know is always solid. Like comics comfort food. Skullkickers I’ve thought looks interesting visually but it’s never grabbed me enough to pick it up. Knowing they’re on offer I might check out the first issue though. Sixth I’m gonna check in trade as I’m am doing with RASL. It’s one of my favourite things in comics but comes out so slowly I’m trade waiting on it. I think the next one is due in December and I can’t wait.

  16. MarkCWarner MarkCWarner (@MarkCWarner) says:

    I got to give a nod of appreciation to the podcats. Though I have devoured too many to pinpoint which one, but it introduced me to Mitch Gerads. During the podcat, he mentioned his colouring duties, hence Starborn. There you go, 3 degrees of Stan Lee.

    Grabbed a few digitally and liked it. However, I had the Stan Lee oversaturated factor, when I looked at the Stan Lee presents title, I thought it was gimmicky and brought to mind the Sci-Fi tv show he was hosting a few years back.

    But Shame on me. This is Stan Lee. Stan the Man. And my disrepect, is just a mirror of my own issues. Mark Waid most recent Word Balloon appearance hightlighted that shame. He reminded me who Stan was. This is Stan ‘effin’ Lee! True Believer! The Man who introduced Excelsior to an islander. He always spoke to the audience like we were huddled children sitting in front of him. God bless him for that. And I am going to make up for my transgression with 2 Hail Marys and a purchase of 10 issues of Boom’s outstanding Starborn. Because at the end of the day, it was a fun book to read.

    Excelsior!

  17. RaulTheMan RaulTheMan says:

    I picked up The Unwritten from the combinations of the awesome covers and recommendations and great reviews I had been reading.
    The book is outstanding.
    The Unwritten needs more love.

  18. iroberts007 iroberts007 says:

    The reason i didnt try any of this round of “stan lee” promoted books was simply because Stan has promoted awful books on more than one occasion. At least twice in the past ive bought multiple comics from new lines of comics promoted as “Stan Lee” plotted or inspired and they were garbage. Perhaps this Boom group was better but you have to be careful what you stick your name on Stan.. you may just ruin your brand.
    Is it not true that every 5 -10 years Stan sticks his name on a new series of comics? Does anyone still read those. No.

    • MarkCWarner MarkCWarner (@MarkCWarner) says:

      @iroberts007 Good point, while I feel a little better about passing on the basis of “fool me thrice…”. I still feel a little bad about not completing what I started with Starborn. I should have known better

      ’nuff said

      @Jim Mroczkowski – I found your wallet. I know it was your wallet, because it was the one that said Bad Muther…

  19. AlanRob AlanRob says:

    When will the early issues of Skullkickers be on Graphicly?

  20. MaxPower MaxPower says:

    I think an important message to walk away with here is: stop buying mediocre books out of habit and spend that money elsewhere. You’ll likely be thankful you did because you will be able to say that every book on your pull list excellent quality. But, hey, it’s your money. Great job Jim!

  21. zombox zombox says:

    I read Starborn. And Skullkickers. And Unwritten. There are dozens of excellent books I don’t read, though. I can’t afford them. As it is I spend about $200 a month on comics. I feel no guilt, I more than carry my share.

  22. cosmo cosmo says:

    Let me add to the praise for Unwritten, which is one helluva a good book — one of my favorite series at the moment.

    I was curious to check out some of those Boom/Stan Lee books when they first came out, only my budget was too tight at the moment. So it goes.

    I would agree with the above comments about more previews/reviews for indie books. I would like to have more creator owned indies in my pile, but could use some guide for sorting through the good & the not as good . . .

  23. celtix celtix says:

    What! I did not know Starborn was cancelled till just now. that sucks. I tried it out because it was like nothing else I was reading. It was super rewarding read. Gladstone’s is DOPE

  24. Skyfire124 Skyfire124 says:

    @jimski I’ll second giving Wonder Woman a re-read! I remember one of your issues with it was not having an origin, but the next two issues turned the arc into a origin story tweak. I’d love to see if you come away from it feeling differently!

  25. darktipper says:

    Starborn was good! I can’t believe it is getting canned…… The future is webcomics/publishing digitally. Publishers just do not want to go with is but times are changing for comics….. I support the indie books even if the art may be bad or story is bad. I support the upstarts :)

  26. cahubble09 cahubble09 says:

    I’ve loved Starborn and am happy to own any title in single issues that publishes less than 3,500 a print run. Someone on this board explained to me that the licensing fee Boom! probably paid to Stan Lee to publish those books probably had a little something to do with the axe falling on low sales.

    I’m not surprised that Walt Disney has let Boom!’s license on their properties lapse. Now that they own Marvel outright it makes sense to bring the production of those properties home, or so I’m guessing … Boom! has done rather well with all the anthropomorphic titles and animated adaptations.

    The book I worry about most is Orc Stain by James Stokoe. I’m pretty certain he does ALL the work on that title–and it is a phenomenal book … a clever premise and story accompanied by absolutely stunning artwork. The next three issues in that book are solicited for Dec 28, so I’m guessing they’ll be released early next year.

    Preview of #7 at Stokoe’s website here: http://orcstain.wordpress.com/2011/06/05/ham-n-mutherfuckers/

    But that book leaves me in awe of the commitment and passion some of these writers and artists give to their craft. I assume that the financial return for a book that rarely makes the top 300 when it comes out isn’t exactly substantial. The fact that Mr. Stokoe continues this title is inspiring.

  27. Agent Spanky says:

    I had the Starborn preview sitting on my Comixology list for ages and I just kept thinking, I’ll by that later, I’ll buy that later, I’ll but that later. And now it’s gone and it’s not coming back :-(

    Just like that time I wanted to meet Mr T at the mall.

    Must buy trades.