Ambidextrous - The Great Acclaim Confession

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The Great Acclaim Confession

This installment was supposed to be about something else entirely. It was supposed to be entitled HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE FOUR, and was meant to dictate my newfound appreciation for Marvel’s Fantastic Four, due purely to the man known as Carlos Pacheco. While mid-way through the outline process, the word came down that Carlos was allowing his exclusive deal with the publisher to expire, officially becoming a freelancer, and sending a swift torpedo through the possibility of him making an extended stay in the Baxter Building.

Well, shit.

I wasn’t prepared to spill my comic guts all over the column just yet. But that’s what the whole damn thing is about. Going with the flow, stopping on a dime and switching focus. With that in mind, let’s take a moment to discuss guilty pleasures.

How do you know if the title you frequent on a regular basis could be considered a guilty pleasure? Lack of readership is one indicator. The company publishes just enough copies to remain marginally profitable and the letters page is filled with comments from the same three readers month after lonely month. Or there is no letters page at all, replaced instead by frequent editorials to fill up the empty space resting alone in the rear of the book because not enough people realize the thing exists, so how the hell would they even consider writing a fan letter??

The comics media frequently pans any book that could be classified as a guilty pleasure. On nearly ninety percent of the online comic sites that seriously conduct regular reviews, the title that you’ve grown accustomed to in some bizarre way is dismissed on a consistent basis, completely regardless of its sporadic release.

Then there’s always the speedy cancellation of a title you thought was just hitting its stride. Apparently, you were all alone because the company shuts the lights off and makes for the door before you can even find the nerve to write your first fan letter.

The above criteria appearing exclusively or in tandem should be an initial clue that your enjoyment of a title is not shared by fandom at large, but my personal warning light came from my friendly neighborhood retailer. Upon removing my books from my weekly pull box, and in the infrequent instance that one of my guilty pleasures actually was released, he always reserved a snicker for me while commenting that I was the only one who spent their hard-earned comic dough on such drivel (my words, not his).

Now…I’m a regular customer of this particular establishment. I drop a substantial amount of currency within its doors on a weekly basis. I personally request that my retailer order certain items for my reading enjoyment. (That’s another trait of a guilty pleasure…most of them are difficult to locate.) And this man was actually laughing at the source of a small portion of his revenue. Not a large part mind you…but a part. (And before you go attacking my retailer for being an ass…consider that this man also provided me with the directors’ cut of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. All is truly forgiven.)

Still, this made me think. Was this the average person’s response to the unidentified culprit?? Were the books really that bad?? Was something fundamentally wrong with the work these people were putting out?? Was I the ONLY one reading this stuff?? And if so, how much longer would they be released until the specter of cancellation loomed its dark head, scythe in hand, and ready to strike??

Enough posturing…it’s time to lift the cloak in hopes that things will suddenly become completely understandable. Maybe you’ll even get a hearty laugh out of it, or raise a suspicious eyebrow in response.

Two words people…. Acclaim. Comics.

They’re not around anymore, but for a period of time…I was a faithful follower. I’m referring specifically to the last incarnation that encompassed nearly a dozen releases over an eighteen month span. I bought all of them. Every last one. My own personal comic guilty pleasure right up there with books from Awesome Entertainment.
(Don’t even get me started on that one!!)

Allow me to explain why I would think something so strange. Acclaim had an alarming amount of potential, but suffered from that fact that only I was interested in just how they were executing it.

Content is king, and on paper…Acclaim had content. Three big guns that could’ve driven the line to greatness. Three concepts that didn’t involve spandex. Three that died off before finding a true voice.

There was Shadowman, the guardian of the barrier that separated life and death. Anything foolish enough to attempt crossing the void met with this man in black, guns blazing with enchanted weaponry, nonchalant attitude and cool nature nearly betraying the importance of his mission. The fate of the world in the hands of a man that refused to smile, to feel emotion, to behave as a “super-hero”. Michael Leroi, who worked as a late-night talk show host, was not interested in stopping bank robbers, muggers, and kingpins of crime. His only concern was with the demons, witches, and monsters that haunted the night. It was his job to send them back to Hell, and making the world a better place wasn’t relevant.

Then there were the Armorines. (Stop laughing at the name and listen.) This was the premier government sponsored task force that specialized in the prevention of alien invasions and other similar interlopers intent on damaging the American way of life. The appeal of the title came not from the high-tech ordnance and equipment, or even the spider-like alien invaders they repelled. It was the individual personality quirks that were contained within the advanced suits of armor that made things interesting. From rampaging egos, power plays, ambivalence, and betrayals, the team’s greatest enemy frequently came from within.

Completing the triangle of Acclaim’s big guns was Turok, Dinosaur Hunter. Joshua Fireseed, top college baseball prospect and all-around stud, loved his life of adulation and debauchery until he learned the truth behind his family heritage. The eldest born male is entrusted with the task of taking the mantle of Turok, Son of Stone, protector of the Lost Land.

The Lost Land is an interdimensional toilet that serves as a dumping ground for the universe’s detritus. The expansive world contains dinosaurs and other manners of creatures that the universe would rather keep sequestered. One of Josh’s ancestors unwittingly allowed the things that dwell there access to our world. As penance, it falls to the latest in the Fireseed lineage to ensure that Earth doesn’t perish as a result, no matter the impact this has on Josh’s sex life or his baseball career. Aided by the Light Burden, a satchel that doubles as a dimensional portal, from which Turok can remove nearly any weapon imaginable, and best friend and resident geek Barry Hackowitz, Josh is forced to wage a one-man war on anything resourceful enough to enter our world.

Sounds good right? Solid concepts with plenty of room for character development. These characters all spawned big-budget video game titles, with Turok racking up two sequels with more likely to follow.

Complementing this line of characters were Acclaim’s top notch production values. The covers and interior pages were all printed on a glossy paper stock that caused the comics to take on a more magazine type appearance, distinguishing them from their worthy competitors on the stands.

On small feature that would seem to be a no-brainer from an accessibility point of view was the issue synopsis being printed on the back cover. This enabled any suspecting reader to pick up the product, read the description of what was contained within, and make a more-informed buying decision. (If more of them came like that, I’d probably have less crap books.)

So if the core characters had potential, and the production was quality, why haven’t the comics world heard anything from Acclaim in the last year?? Unfortunately, the reasons why a comic doesn’t sell are numerous and alarmingly complex. Perhaps the creators involved weren’t popular enough to sell units?? Perhaps the harsh reality that this was Acclaim’s third shot at comics’ marketshare colored its reputation in the eyes of retailers and consumers. Maybe…I was the only one that bought the things. Still, for the period of time that Acclaim sporadically released its wares…what they were trying to accomplish was worth my hard-earned comic dough.

On a personal note, the editors there, Mike Marts and Omar Banmally, were the first to take a genuine look at any of the countless submissions I’ve been attempting to pass off to potential employers for the past two years. I intended to target Mr. Marts with frequent mailings, and two days later (I kid you not!!) I read on AnotherUniverse.com that Marts had just been hired by Marvel Comics. His former cohort Banmally exchanged a few e-mails with me before disappearing from the face of the company.

Still…it was a start. Enough to get my wheels spinning on how to handle things if given the keys to the wheel of the Acclaim universe. My own naiveté and semi-confidence in my work allowed me to believe that proposing two year-long maxi-series’ and a complete revamp of an existing title was not a waste of my time. That’s the thing about being a writer…sometimes you take such pride and respect in your work that you ignore the submissions guides and insiders that tell you a newcomer would never be given such an opportunity. If only you could get the stuff out there…the rules will change. That’s the fantasy that drives you, and personally…I wouldn’t have it any other way. Approach the work from any other perspective and your intensity will suffer. Write like this is the first and last story that a person will ever read. Leave them with something of yourself. Make them put the thing down and think about it later. Refuse to shoot yourself in the foot.

Never say never.

Next time: I give you three proposals prepared for Acclaim Comics, with the intention of delivering them during last year’s WizardWorld convention (only to discover they weren’t attending….just my luck), including commentary that explains some of the thinking that went into their creation.

Brandon Thomas

Recommended Reading: Pick up a book you’ve never read before and give it a shot. I’m suggesting this because I have to read a stack of Thor books this weekend to familiarize myself with the character enough to win this talent search Marvel is hosting. And I know nothing about Thor. Wish me luck.

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