Monday, February 28, 2011

On Pete, Pully and the Postcard

It would have been my father-in-law Pete's birthday this week.  He was a guy who lived life to the fullest, and spent much of it in the company of...certain people.  To give you an idea of what I mean, The Wife, her mother and sister and I went to see Casino, and they spent most of the film reminding who each of the character really were, and how they knew them; "Oh, that's The Corporal, and that's supposed to be Uncle Tommy..."

Pete was the kind of guy that when we went out to eat on the weekends, people would come over and introduce other people to him.  Far more a Damon Runyon type of company than Mario Puzo, if you know what I mean.

This is a story as much about Pete as it is about character actor B.S. Pully.  Pully is best known for playing Big Julie in the film version of Guys and Dolls, a role he created on Broadway.  Before that, he was a nightclub comedian, and recorded an album, "B.S. Pully's Fairy Tales".  A joke from his act went:

"I was in the elevator in the hotel, and I accidentally bumped into a lovely lady with my elbow.
'I'm terribly sorry, madam' I said, 'but if your heart is as soft as your bosom, you'll forgive me.'
She says, 'If your cock is as hard as your elbow, meet me in room 519'! "

When Pully was called to Hollywood to reprise his role in Guys and Dolls, he was short on cash, and went to Pete for a touch.

"I'll pay you as soon as I get out there," Pete recalled in one of our Saturday afternoon lunches, doing a passable impression of B.S., a voice not too far from his own..  "They can't pay me till I get there."  So Pete fronts him the money, and off he goes.  Two weeks pass, no word from B.S.; three weeks, four, nothing.  Pete figures that's money he'll never see again.

Six weeks later, a postcard arrives to Pete's restaurant.

"Dear friends, am having a wonderful time filming the movie, miss you all terribly, (signed) B.S. Pully.
P.S. - Dear Pete - enclosed, please find the money I owe you."

Pete flips the postcard around in his hands once or twice, and asks for a really sharp knife.

"I thought he was crazy enough to paste it inside somehow."

I miss Pete.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

On the run-up to the next adventures of a timelord

We're just weeks away from the next season of Doctor Who, and if I have to tell you what that is, kindly leave the Internet.

Gleefully little information has come out about the upcoming series, and while that's torturous, it's also for the best. Here's a brief look at what we know so far.

We know that the season will indeed be two mini-seasons. The average BBC series is six or so episodes in a series, while Doctor Who is 13 episodes, plus the Christmas special. Showrunner Steven Moffat realized that by splitting the season in half, you can spread the excitement out - the first half of the season will run starting in April, and the remaining episodes in late summer or early fall, followed by the Christmas episode. This means there won't be as long a wait between new episodes, no more than a couple of months at any time. This also means they'll be able to change up the current narrative format of the season, that of one long narrative arc, culminating in the last two episodes. Now they can do two smaller arcs, with what they describe as a gamechanging cliffhanger in between. One wonders if they could extend things and make the Christmas episode part of the storyline as well, as opposed to the more standalone story they are now. Odds are it's not necessary, as it does quite well as it is.

We know Neil Gaiman has written an episode. And that's damn near about it, save that "It will be on television, and it will be in color" We know it'll be broadcast in the first half of the season, or at least that seems likely, considering when it was filmed. Suranne Jones (who played the Mona Lisa in Sarah Jane Adventures last year) plays a character named Idris, about whom many have already kvelled.

Mark Gatiss is writing another episode, as is gareth Roberts. Moffat's writing five, as it's tradititional for the showrunner to provide the lion's share. Steve Thompson, who wrote for Sherlock, is writing one as well, and Matthew Graham, creator of Life on Mars, is writing a two-parter

The casting news has been trickling through as well. Another British comedian with a long history with the series is joining - David Walliams of Little Britain fame will be playing a character named Gibbis in what's being called "A spooky episode" written by Toby (Being Human) Whithouse. Also, elfin waif Lily Cole and ubiquitous British actor Hugh Bonneville will be in an episode with a pirate theme of some type.

Most recently, James Corden announced (quickly confiemed) that he'd be back this season, reprising his role of Craig Owens from last season's The Lodger. Considering we saw a control room that looked just like the one from that episode in the season teaser, this raises many questions as to how much of that episode was more important than originally thought. It is in fact very possible that the control room we saw in the teaser is the EXACT same one from the Lodger - considering that Corden's episode has yet to film, that may be a clip from the previous episode, or just a random unused shot of the set, tacked on there.

It's amazing the actors that the new series has been attracting. Not just for the cool factor either; the show has been doing such a good job that people know that an appearance on the show will be a feather in their cap.

If you need a bit of a look back on the previous season, I happen to have done recaps of each episode for the folks at Newsarama. Here's a list of them if you want to give them a perusal...

01. The Eleventh Hour

02. The Beast Below

03. Victory of the Daleks

04. The Time of Angels

05. Flesh and Stone

06. The Vampires of Venice

07. Amy's Choice

08. The Hungry Earth

09. Cold Blood

10. Vincent and the Doctor

11. The Lodger

12. The Pandorica Opens

13. The Big Bang

14. A Christmas Carol

See you all in a couple weeks.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

On a week of Death, part 2 - Fictional

In amongst the real-world sadness of the past couple of days, several comics were released today that dealt with death as well, two about the reactions of loved ones, one an actual death, or more correctly a confirmation of what readers assumed from events two weeks hence.

Dan Slott and Marcos Martin presented a heart-rending memorial to a character the general public has never heard of in Amazing Spider-Man #655. In the previous issue, J. Jonah Jameson's wife Marla was killed in an attack by the Spider-Slayers, creatures who, in the various years hence, she helped design, and JJJ helped finance. This issue dealt with the ways various characters dealt with said passing.

The first 11 pages of the 32-page story are silent, and utterly gripping. It's not just a case of not hearing what people are saying, it's people not speaking, too shaken by events to do anything but shuffle mutely through their day and the communal sadness of the funeral of a friend. Considering the emotion portrayed in the pages, I'll lay odds that even sans dialogue, the script for them is as long as the rest of the book.

The remainder of the issue is a massive dream sequence, courtesy the guilt-besotted subconscious of one Peter Parker. He sees and talks with all the people who he is directly and indirectly responsible for the death of, from Uncle Ben , right up to Marla. Some were killed as he faught, some in revenge by villains, and one he killed himself. They all demand their moment with him, some asking for explanation, some just marching by, reminding him of his actions.

The issue ends with Peter making a vow to himself, one that also serves as the title to the two-part story - "No One Dies". It's a moving promise, but tragically, one that can almost never be kept. Peter has spent his life taking the weight of his misdeeds (real and imagined) onto his shoulders - this decision, all but doomed to eventual failure, is going to shatter him, and send him to a place that will spawn great literature.

Dan's writing has been stellar as far back as his Arkham Asylum mini for DC - losing him to Marvel stands as one of DC's biggest business missteps in recent history. As good as he's been on She-Hulk, Thing, et al, he seems almost genetically bred to write this title. He once posted a picture of his refrigerator - under a series of upcoming covers stand the words "YOU GET TO WRITE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" emblazoned in multicolored alphabet magnets. The sheer joy that oozes from his pores as he writes this book shows on the page. This issue has no joy, of course, but his deep knowledge of the character shows as he includes mentions and cameos of characters that you were convinced you were the only one who remembered them. I saw Tim Hammond, AKA "The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man", for pete's sake.

They are going to have to pry this book from Dan's withered and arthritic hands, and I'll be there with a stick to smack the people who try it.

In the years since the great unpleasantness that was One More Day, one artist has risen from nowhere to be the most stunning creator Marvel has. He is Dan's favorite collaborator Marcos Martin, and he doesn't just handle the art on this issue, he makes it his bitch. Already sporting a thin line and sparse design that demands positive comparisons to Steve Ditko, he piles on layout tricks that defy description. Cinematic and moody camera angles and in-page tryptyches to denote passages of time challenge other creators to keep up. A double page spread of an Inception-style spiraling midtown, centered at the Flatiron building, is at once staggering and still ultimately readable. You will draw Norbert one day, Mr. Martin. This I swear.

One More Day will never be forgotten. Brand New Day Almost got it forgiven. Big Time, the plot arc Dan has been writing now that he's the sole writer on the book, is good enough to let it be put on the shelf and not brought up anymore. Spider-Man is joyous, broad and the most fun it has been in years.

While Spider-Man is experiencing a rebirth, modern Marvel's first title experienced and ending this week. Fantastic Four ends its run (insert cynical eyebrow raise here) with an issue dealing with the MU's communal reaction to the death of Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, in the previous issue.

Now as I've said before, death in comics is at best, fleeting. With Johnny's demise, now ALL FOUR MEMBERS of the Fantastic Four have now died, at least one more than once, and all have come back hale and hearty, save (so far) for Johnny. He died (allegedly) in the Negative Zone, an extradimensional space where the laws of physics are scarcely suggestions. There's no body - first rule of comic-book death; no body, no death. The only real purpose for a character to die in comics, honestly, is to provide a good story. And Jonathan Hickman has done so.

Like in Spider-Man, the issue is silent, tho in this case it's the entire story, save for the last panel. Unlike Spider-Man, the reactions are not all sullen and quiet. Valeria Richards declares (via a to-do list on a blackboard) the aim of her organization of savants is to kill Annihilus. Reed apparently tries to with the help of the Ultimate Nullifier (Though one could argue this was a dream sequence). Ben Grimm has a cathartic episode with the help of Thor and the Hulk, and Franklin Richards has a heart-to-heart with Spider-Man in a backup story where they remember their respective uncles, both of whom they feel they could have saved, has they only acted.

It's a good issue, albeit with (IMHO) somewhat weak and decidedly muddy art. Hickman has done a great deal to get the FF back to its "Cosmic" level, where it belongs. The issue sets up a number of plot threads that will be picked up in the new title, FF (Future Foundation) starting next month. But in honesty, like the deaths of so many tentpole characters in the past, I have no belief it will stand. I have no doubt Hickman will tell great stories, ones that may not deal with Johnny's return at all. But ultimately, they will bring him back with great pomp and circumstance, re-lauch the Fantastic Four title, and return us to the first-position at which we feel the most confortable. There's just too much money on the table from licensing, movie rights, etc, for any major changes to take place.

It's the desire to return to square one that annoys me the most with the third major comic book death this week, the confirmation of the passing of Jaime Reyes, the new Blue Beetle in Justice League: Generation Lost. After the headshot max Lord gave him last issue (a thematic bookend to the one he gave to Ted Kord in Countdown to Infinite Crisis), Reyes was declared DOA on the last page of the latest issue, surprising no one.

Reyes was met with the most vehement opposition of a new character since Kyle Reyner replaced Hal Jordan as Green Lantern. In both cases, the fans saw the change as a deliberate attempt to generate hype for a new character at the expense of the old, at the cost of the original's entire fanbase. The fact that Jaime was Hispanic was seen as insult to injury by (too damn) many, claiming it was just another attempt to "cram another minorty character down our throats".

I am a huge Ted Kord fan. But I'm honest enough to know why they killed him off. He was burnable. He had his fans, but ultimately, little enough had been done with lately that he could be used as a plot point to spark a big new story. Unlike what they did with Martian Manhunter in Final Crisis or even Bart Allen in the final issue of his run of the Flash book, they did so with no plan to bring Ted back, or indeed, any desire to.

But a couple of very strange things happened. First off, the new Blue Beetle was really really good. The first few issues co-written by Keith Giffen were good, but when he left and John Rogers took the reins, it kicked into high gear. Several issues (especially an issue-long fight with Typhoon, who will forever be known in my head as "The Giant Naked Bad Man") stood as the best issues of their moth of release. Second, Ted Kord started getting a LOT more respect. In the Blue Beetle book, in Booster Gold, and elsewhere across the DCU, writers started doing stories about how Ted was not the BWAH-HAH-HAH guy we got used to in JLI, but a solid detective, a great adventurer, and generally deserving of far more respect by both the hero and reader community. He got more ink after he died than in easily the last five years previous. Death was the best thing to happen to him.

But the hardcore Tedfen wouldn't give in. They stubbornly refused to sample the title, regardless of the fact that in many cases, it was exactly the kind of fun lightheated entertainment they were demanding more of from DC.

DC responded by doing an end-run. They made Jaime a featured character on the new Batman: The Brave and the Bold series, exposing him to more people than any issue of any DC issue could. But even there they gave tribute to Ted, featuring him in a couple stories, voiced by Wil Wheaton. The Beetle action figures regularly sold out faster than others in the assortments - Jaime was a breakout star. He's going to be featured on Smallville soon, along with Booster Gold.

But the petulant comics fans kept on whining. And regardless of the number of fans he's collected in the past few years, they chose to take him out in the same fashion )and pose) as Ted, as a sort of apology. And in both cases, the death served to show what a badass Max lord was.

Now again, I don't expect this to last. Specifically, I don't think it'll last more than a couple weeks. (Jaime shows up in an upcoming issue of Supergirl, so that's a pretty big clue, or a really clumsy mistake). But what infuriates me is that there are thousands of people reading the last two issues, pumping their fists in the air and saying "YEEESSSSSsss!!!!"

I invite those people to line up and kiss my pudgy ass.

On a week of Death, part 1 - Non-fictional

Comic fans deal with death almost every week.  Luckily, most of the time they're transitory, temporary, and reversible; so much so that it's almost a running joke.  We have several examples of that this week, and they will be addressed shortly.  But alas, there have been two all too real examples this week, both deserving moments of respect and remembrance.

Dwayne McDuffie died this week, apparently from complications after surgery for a heart issue.  This has been met with disbelief and depression across fandom.  Dwayne created Damage Control, a series of hilarious minis from Marvel about the company that fixes New York City so quickly after the endless superhero battles and alien invasions.  It was an organization so well received, it was used as part of a major plot-point in a couple of the last Marvel summer events. 

He was instrumental in the creation of Milestone Comics, which brought us some of the most memorable new superhero characters of the 80s and 90s.  There was rarely a DC panel at a convention that someone didn't ask when they were returning. After their canceling, he went on to create an animated series based on Static, one of the characters from the run, launching him to a whole new audience. More on that in a moment.

His run on Fantastic Four was brief but memorable, mainly for creating an all new team and relegating the original members to supporting cast, and still being staggeringly entertaining. I still maintain that his one-shot "My Dinner With Doom" was one of the best bit of character work with the characters in a very long time, and it alone was what made me excited for his FF run.

He is likely responsible for introducing more people to the Justice League of America than any single issue of the comic since the birth of the direct market, possibly any year's worth of issues.  He wrote for, script edited, and produced the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited series for Cartoon Network, as well as a number of their dvd releases, including All-Star Superman, released the day after he passed.

His run on the JLA comic should have been triumphant, but ended up nasty, brutish and short.  Hobbled by a number of events and crossovers he was alternately asked to incorporate into his narrative or step aside as others did fill-in issues, while his stories were exemplary, he never got the chance to get up to speed. As a result of the tumult of the various crossovers and events, he was more than once asked (at the eleventh hour) to rewrite stories, replacing one character for another, including one exchange where a character's living status had changed 180 degrees between writing and publishing. When he gave his fans a look behind the curtain at what he had been dealing with (stark honesty and forthrightness was one of his strong suits), he was hastily fired from the book, adding a number of stories to the Library of the Unwritten.

At the same time, many fans' requests were answered when the Milestone characters were announced to be returning to the DCU.  The return was handled...oddly.  Characters began reappearing in random books, Dwayne wrote a (very good) story in JLA that served to explain how the world of the Milestone Universe and the DCU merged, And Static (now wearing a version of his animated series costume) appeared in and joined the Teen Titans.  But after a brief period of use, the majority of the characters dropped to the bottom of the cauldron, leaving only Static.  Were I prone to conspiracy theories, I would opine that DC made a deal for the entire run of characters solely so they could get access to Static, easily the most well known character of them all.  Static is getting his own title shortly, but so is Xombi, one of the later additions to the lineup, which seems to (happily) throw a wrench in that theory. 

Perhaps of his connection to Milestone, Dwayne was ever being accused of doing things for politically correct reasons, and sometimes less polite choices of words.  His changes to the FF and JLA roster, most of which were dictated by Editorial, were seen as "forcing minority characters" upon us.  He would often have his fun with said people - when he posted a sketch of all black/minority characters in a JLA thread, it started a (you should pardon the expression) firestorm of vitriol across the Internet as small-minded fans thought up new ways to insult him.

While I often heard Dwayne speak of his adventures with various people and publishers, I don't recall him ever complaining.  He carried on, persevered, and ultimately succeeded.

His passing is tragic, and all too soon.

The same day, we learned of the passing of Nicholas Courtney, best know for playing Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart on Doctor Who.  Much like many actors from the original run of the series, he kept in touch with Who-fen via the convention circuit, as well as various reprises of the character with the folks at Big Finish, producers of radio-style audio plays based on Who and several other popular series.  The Brigadier got a few mentions on the new series, ultimately returning to the role on the DW spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures, starring fellow Who-lumna Elisabeth Sladen.  Posts and related tales paint him as a kind and gentle man, with nary a harsh word against him. 

In my mind, The Brigadier will ever remain on assignment in Peru.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

On the question "why did God harden the Pharaoh's heart?"

It's a phrase that has been dropped in Nick Spencer's wonderful T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents series twice now, both times when SPIDER revealed that they were effectively in control of the situation to a degree that T.H.U.N.D.E.R.hadn't even considered. Much like the climax of Se7en, where the package is opened and Somerset says "John Doe has the upper hand!"

It's a reference to a long-debated religious question about the story of Moses and the Exodus. A snippet of the relevant text follows:
Exodus 9:12 - "12 And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had spoken unto Moses"
That's read to mean that God actively MADE the Pharaoh more evil and vindictive against the Israelites, thus requiring Himself to send more plagues upon Egypt to effect the Jewish slaves' release.

Now if you read more of the passage, it can also be read that it's just that the plagues simply had the opposite effect desired, and made Pharaoh more angry toward the Israelites, as opposed to more amenable to setting them free. But yet the first argument is still asked. And for those who choose to read it that way, there are several versions of the argument that all pretty much boil down to the same thing:

God did it to make Himself look good.

Some temper the statement more to the idea that God, being omniscient, knew that Pharaoh would not react well to these acts and threats, and chose to take advantage of the path He knew things would go.

In short, God hacked the system, took advantage of advance knowledge to create a scenario in which He would be lauded and praised, and got His people out of the situation, just as He wanted.

Now take that scenario and turn it towards T.H.U.N.D.E.R..

How did T.H.U.N.D.E.R. defeat the Warlord, only to start fighting a new threat, SPIDER, almost immediately afterwards?

Why was T.H.U.N.D.E.R. so surprised that SPIDER had the upper hand on them?

Is T.H.U.N.D.E.R. doing things deliberately to make themselves look good?

And are those things getting out of their control?

Mind = BLOWN...

I've no idea how close to the truth I am (and judging by the way Spencer has been able to confound my expectations with each issue, I'm likely not even close), but it's an interesting topic of discussion.

There's also the fact that a terrorist organization is using the Bible in its statements, and not a text more closely connected (rightly or no) with more violent actions.

This is a stellar book.  Very much not a simple superhero title.  Seek it out.  The latest issue features a five-page section by George Perez that will remind you once again why he is not only head and shoulders above the rest of the artist in comics today, but chest, hips knees and shins as well.

For a more in-depth look at the debate of the Pharaoh's Heart, check here, and any other number of religions sites on the net.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

On the public getting what it wants, and the industry getting what it deserves

Eric Powell, creator of The Goon (not to mention a Conspirator) recently posted a very funny video about the need for "diversity" in comics.  I naturally assumed he was referring to the PC concept of more women, more gay characters, etc, but no; he was talking about more types of comics - westerns, SciFi, etc.  I include the video here for your perusal:

UPDATE - Alas, due to many negative reactions to said video, Eric has removed it from the YouTube, faster even than anyone could grab a copy and re-post it.

Harsh terms indeed.

Now I grasp satire perfectly, and I'm not going to go off on a rant about any of his comments, as they're all valid to varying degrees.  Eric's worked for DC (his Bizarro World run was a delight) so I assume he doesn't have any Mooreian hatred for the Big Two. 

The point he makes is quite correct - comics in America is largely made up of Superhero books published by two compaines.  I don't agree with his choice of the term "monopoly", as that suggests positive action against other companies, and potential illegal activity.  They definitely have the market controlled, but not (IMHO) out of actively nefarious practices, just standard (take that as you will) competition.

I've written before about how hard it is to get a new book off the ground today, even from one of the Big Two.  Right now we've gotten the market to the point where the only people in it are people who like superhero comics, and trying to sell something new and different (even if it's not very much of either) to that audience is a sisyphean task.  That's more because of inaction than action.

The comics market has dwindled steadily in this country over the past 70 years, for a number of reasons:

F#*$ing Wertham - The Comics Code may have finally gone the way of all flesh, but its effect may never be erased.  Since the fifties, comic books have been seen as a) primarily children's entertainment b) bad for you.  Comics were the first of the many Reasons Your Kids Are Acting Up the popular media has tried to sell to the parents of America to explain why their beloved darlings started to act up when they hit their teenage years, as opposed to the perfect little angels they were as kids.  Wertham was the first pop psychologist - he understood the "new media", a term that has found new use today, but has ever been around, just referring to different media.  People in those days trusted figures of authority - he had a suit, and diploma and an accent, surely what he said was right.  Nowadays, not a single expert goes unchallenged; this is usually a good thing, but we may be reaching the other end of the pendulum-swing, to a land where ALL theories are valid, or at least deserving of a fair hearing. 

Many more explanations for your kids' misbehavior have been presented over the years; rock and roll, television, reefers, video games... lather, rinse, repeat.  But none was as decimated as comics.  Thanks to Wertham, the movie trope of "a comic book in a grown-up's hand means he's an illiterate cretin" has survived until today. And it took several billion dollars of ticket sales before even a dent was put in the standard practice of starting a comics-related news story with Batmanny sound effects.

In almost every other country, comics are as respected and popular a medium as any other.  I've ever mentioned the fact that there are comics (magna, whatever) in Japan dedicated to Mah-Johnng.  This is largley because adults read comics, openly and great numbers in those other countries.  The market exists, so the books are written to appeal to that market. 

The Direct Market - By the time the 80's rolled around, comics sales were dropping, but ironically, because of LOW prices.  Drugstores and candy shops, traditional homes of comics purchases, were not seeing enough profits from comics.  A slick magazine which sold for two or three times of a comics was much more alluring a product.  That's why the "Dollar Comics" were created back in the day, to provide a more profitable item for the newsstands.

The newsstand market was drying up, and the Direct Market was created to effectively save the industry.  Comics were sold directly to comic shops, bypassing the newsstand distributors.  It worked, and everybody made money.  But the downsides were numerous, the most obvious being it turned comics from an impulse purchase to a destination purchase.  The potential market shrank precipitously.  Since you had to go to a special place to buy comics, pretty much the only people who went there were already buying.  Unless a store could afford a prime location with lots of walk-by traffic like a mall or at least a major shopping high street, they were limited to "pre-sold" customers.

Isolationist Comic Shops - Sadly, for a whole lot of comic stores, that suits them fine.  There's still a lot of stores run by people who opened them to find a place to house their collections, and if they only had to deal with their fellow fans who knew what they were talking about and didn't bother them with dumb questions, that'd be great.  There's one store in my area that actively looks down their nose at non-fans, and another who, even though they have a mall location, chooses not to participate in Free Comic Book Day because they see it as a waste of money.  These are the stores have no desire to find the legendary "new readers".  They charge outrageous fees to the walk-ins for the hot Death issue that made the papers, and breathe a sigh of relief when they don't return.

Things That Are Newfangled - We'll never again see a TV show that earns anything above a 30 rating.  With hundreds of channels to choose from, not to mention DVDs, the electric-type Internet and endless other distractions, the viewership is so diluted it borders on impossible to attract the audiences of only a few decades ago.  The same holds true of comics.  With so many things to appeal to people, especially teens, getting them to try ANY comic, let alone a non-superhero one is quite a trick.  It's not impossible.  The young adult book industry was almost non-existent until a single mother from Britain wrote a book about a Boy Who Lived. 

We Do It One Way - What Eric seems to say is the biggest problem with comics today is IMHO the least important of the issues.  Right now, the "regular readers" comics market is made up of about 100,000 people, tops.  And largely, they like superhero comics.  So that's what the publishers supply.  If you want to compare DC and Marvel to Coke and Pepsi, it's not their responsibility to convince people to drink orange juice.

I've already alluded to how hard it is to get a new book off the ground.  That's largely due to the reasons I've mentioned, not because of any active desire to keep non-super-books off the shelves.  It's the eternal chicken/egg scenario - new types of comics will only flourish if there is a larger potential market, and the market will only expand if there are more types of books.  And with only a fraction of store all that interested in even GETTING new readers, the onus falls on the larger stores, mainstream bookstores and the up and coming digital market.  In short, the companies that are more often than not accused of "ruining" the industry.

The solution is not try to sell more and different books to the current market.  The secret is enlarging the market.  To light a candle as opposed to cursing the darkness.

How do we do that? Buggered if I know.

We may have gone too far.  The industry has drawn itself into a corner, and may not have time to wait for the ink to dry.  It may well end up that the lion's share of profits from a comic are from the film rights, and the comics become just ways to keep the character in the eyeline of the public, or at least the ones who know where the comic shops are.

But then you see the crowds at San Diego of the New York Comic Con, and you figure, "Surely there must be someone still buying these things". 

Like Eric, I don't have any answers either.  I just have different questions.  But the end result is the same - comics are a respected and beloved (and popular) medium and art form all over the rest of the world, and until it can become the same here, you better get to like multi-month crossovers.