Industry Rumours, Gerber's Cybernary

March 23, 1996

RUMOUR DU JOUR: The cancellation of the Great Eastern con and the poor turnout of publishers at the Motor City Con (Marvel didn't bother to mount a booth and some others pulled out at the last minute, giving double booth space to the lucky folks who did show up) has added to the current load of industry jitters. Sales figures are so far down on a couple of well-financed lines of colour comics that insiders are swapping estimates on how much money is being lost each month and betting how long the publishers will stick around to take hits of that magnitude. A couple of printers who specialize in producing b&w books for small independents are said to be getting edgy at extending any more credit than they already have. The failure of several key retailers and late payments from others is said to have driven both major independent distributors closer to the red ink line than they like to be.

I am fairly moderate when it comes to catastrophising, and i try to let the rumours wash over me like so much salty water, but even i have to admit that there is a lot to be worried about these days. I am able to smile indulgently when folks warn me of "the end of the comics industry as we know it" -- but part of that smile is merely based on my age, not on any insider knowledge that gives me more confidence about the future than the apocalypticians have. You see, i can well remember hearing similar predictions back in the late 1970s and early 1980s -- about the end of newsprint comics, the end of newsstand comics, the end of super-hero comics, and the end of comics altogether -- yet nothing came of those rumours then, so, i figure, not much will come of the current crop of doom-and-gloom rumours.

Still...something killed vaudeville, something brought the pulp magazine era to an end, something put a stop to radio drama, and something rendered the jitterbug as mouldy as the madrigal. Eras do end, and our era, the era of comic books as a big piece of the popular culture pie, might be closing. I'm not counting on it, though.

IMAGE RETURNS TO MY MAILBOX: After a long absence from my review pile, Image has returned with a vengeance. The first title that caught my eye was Cybernary, mainly because the writer's name leaped out at me. Good old Steve Gerber. I doubt i would have dived into issues 3 and 4 if Gerber hadn't scripted them -- and i'm not sure what i expected from him, after the ragged years that have elapsed since last i wrote a rave review of...well, i guess it would have to have been that Foolkiller mini-series he did for Marvel...

I speak from experience when i say that Gerber is a clean writer who needs no editorial help. There's a bum tense change between pages 1 and 2 of issue 4, but that's it, and i suspect that the editor, Tom Harrington, didn't touch a thing. Harrington, on the other hand, badly needed a reader for his text piece in #4 -- and got none. Image ought to pay Gerber to correct Harrington's errors, such as calling a character named Trantor McGregor "Trantor McLeod," and writing stuff like, "He brought Vandalia for task for wasting Kaizen's money."

Anyway, Cybernary carries many of the old Gerber trademarks: a violent woman in fish-net tights (once, when i asked him why he wrote so many female fighters who wore this particular piece of costuming, he frowned thoughtfully and stuttered, "but... but... but... i don't... uh... do i? well, yes... i do, don't i?... hmmm..."); splash pages filled with cascading yellow boxes; a hero who accuses a villain of a minor breach of the social contract, such as inconsiderate selfishness, before killing him; and characters who are besmeared with feces, blood, vomit, or spittle as a prelude to confronting a person from their past who betrays their love. Cybernary has all this and more.

On one level the plot is an Image walk-through of revenge and violent confrontation; on another it is definitely being Gerberized, as for instance when Cybernary's two unconscious indwelling human personae clash over the need to kill the father of one of them. Not quite the classic of Howard's mumbled "epoxy. piano. piano." -- still, Cybernary's "dada Kaizen dada die die" is a worthy entry in the genre.

Good going, Steve; you've got me hooked.

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