Saturday, March 27, 2010

Solicitations: Marvel

Marvel's June Solicitations.

The day we never thought would come: Marvelman Classic Primer! Wait, "classic"? "Primer"? Oh yeah, apparently Marvel is going to start reprinting a lot of the original Marvelman stories that absolutely nobody cares about. I've actually read some so this isn't entirely snide; the stuff is pretty deadly. Is it possible they still don't have rights to the Moore/Gaiman stories? It's also a bit funny that the blurb mentions Marvelman "created" by Mick Anglo - guess that sounds better than "slightly revised Captain Marvel and laughed at US copyright law from the other side of the Atlantic".

Then some kind of "Women of Marvel" thing that doesn't seem to make any sense (other than they apparently can't resist cheesecake covers). More Stephen King and Anita Blake comics that I've heard actually sell fairly well (though I found the Dark Tower novel unreadable and the first Anita Blake book merely passable). I don't understand why there's a Sense & Sensibility series just like the other classics adaptations. I suppose there's a market for a tpb but who buys these in a series?

What the heck, five Deadpool books? Interesting that Merc with a Mouth is now a "limited series" which sounds better than "we're cancelling it". That's actually been a fave for a few months. (Need to check out writer Victor Gischler's novels.)

I gave up on Ultimate Comics with Ultimatum and all the X-Men books even further back. Kept with Amazing Spider-Man for a while after it went to a thrice-a-month schedule and the other Spider books were cancelled but that still feels like a bad move. Before one series could be a little light-hearted, another a bit more serious and soap-opera-y but now it's hard to pick out arcs and expensive to feel like having to keep up. So now I skip it all. Of course Marvel's claim that we just need the one book didn't last as they added Web of Spider-Man, Peter Parker and an endless stream of minis. Some of them may be good but that seems unlikely.

Yet more Avengers relaunches which is also tiresome. (In a few years it will all be lumped together anyway so Marvel can celebrate issue #500 or whatever.) I'll certainly try the two Bendis and the Brubaker series but Avengers Academy just sounds like it's been created to be cancelled. Hank Pym and a bunch of kids? I almost dozed off just typing that.

And let's just skim the rest. Good: Brubaker's Captain America, Andy Diggle's Daredevil (well I'm just guessing actually), Fraction's Invincible Iron Man, Bendis' Powers. Bad: Don't know because there's a bunch (and I mean a BUNCH) of stuff that is utterly anti-promising. Hawkeye & Mockingbird? A SHIELD series with Leonardo Da Vinci and Isaac Newton? Another Dracula book? Almost half the Marvel line?

As for the collections there's the same hardcover problem. Who buys a Ghost Rider by Jason Aaron Omnibus? Or for that matter a hardcover of Deadpool Team-Up? Marvel is putting out a bit over 50 collections in June (50!) and only Criminal even remotely interests me (well maybe the fifth volume of Essential Captain America but I already have much of this in the color reprints).

Friday, March 26, 2010

Solicitations: DC

Every month the comic companies put out their new soliciations, meant for stores to place orders but avidly read by fans (sometimes as if they were divining with tea leaves). I thought it would be fun to run through the new ones but in actuality this didn't turn out too interesting - you've been warned.

Let's start with DC's June solicitations.

The first thing that pops out is that Superman and Batman both hit issue #700 that month? And Wonder Woman at #600? This seems pretty unlikely to be mild about it and in fact it turns out that Wonder Woman had some tinkering with the numbers (after all they start a new series every few years). Superman and Batman both began about a season apart--the first issues weren't dated by month--so I supposed it's possible they actually got this close, though Superman for a long time went by The Adventures of Superman but without changing the numbering. In any case I really wish they could have tempted Neal Adams to do some Batman art again.

Next, some Brightest Day stuff that I'll skip (I've completely given up trying to sort out the multicolored Lanterns - just isn't worth the effort y'know?). Another Green Arrow launch and I can't help but wish they'd just make him an outright bad guy, Irredeemable style. Sure it'd be an utterly implausible twist but better that than this weak "moral issues" stuff. James Robinson's Justice League of America may be where I finally bail. But Gail Simone back on Birds of Prey is good news - maybe she should be writing all the other books.

As for the Joker's Asylum linked one-shots, this is the kind of thing that I wonder why it exists. Can anybody really be waiting to see this? And did any of the creators want to make it? Still, Sienkiewicz art on the Mad Hatter will be worth checking out.

The Batman books have been great since Bruce Wayne "died" - the interplay between Dick and Damian are just the twist needed though I do wonder if anybody can keep this going whenever Morrison leaves. In fact Morrison's Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne is the kind of thing I'd ignore (much like Flash: Rebirth) if Morrison wasn't involved. I'm hoping for the best but it could still end up like Brubaker's misjudged return of Captain America mini.

I lost interest in all the Superman books with the whole return of Krypton event, just too tedious and pointless. There's yet another attempt at keeping the Legion going but I expect this will last about two years just as the last ones have. Maybe that's the inspiration for Straczynski teaming the Legion of Substitute Heroes with The Inferior Five which sounds very fanboy-cool except that Straczynski has never been noted for a sense of humor.

And oh there just a bunch of other stuff. What seems good: more Giffen's Doom Patrol, Dini's Zatanna. What doesn't: Winick taking over Power Girl, Warlord chugging along, and who on earth buys The Great Ten? Really, did anybody read Final Crisis and go "Wow, I'd give my left pinky if these guys had their own series!"

As for the collections I still don't understand why there are so many hardcovers. Do they really sell that well or is this more a prestige thing? Or even a misguided attempt at perking up demand? I might get that collection of old Batman Annuals if it wasn't hardcover and $40. (Still DC is promising "Giant Batman, Rip Van Batman, Zebra Batman, Merman Batman and more". Heck, the reason I love Morrison's work is that he could easily be planning Zebra Batman for this summer.) The only one I'm even considering buying is the third Showcase collection of Sgt. Rock.

The Wildstorm stuff is mostly skippable as usual. A new Tom Strong mini but without Moore. I wouldn't care about DV8 except Brian Wood is writing so maybe I'll check out the first issue. And Busiek is finally revealing the Silver Agent story which might well ruin one of the cool things about Astro City.

I usually read Vertigo books in trades, except for Fables and Jack of Fables which I often save and read entire arcs at once so they might as well be trades. There's a new DMZ trade but I'm not caught up to that yet, House of Mystery yes and the tpb of the next volume of the recolored Sandman.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

some recent horror films

I don't usually give spoiler warnings but that seems appropriate here.

Jennifer's Body (Karyn Kusama 2009) - The common perception of this as a failed Megan Fox vehicle is likely due from people who haven't actually seen it. The film creates a context for Fox's limited acting abilities just as Terminator did for Schwarzenegger's. But it's also a clever take on high-school horror that successfully balances the grim (a high-body-count fire) with comic (an indie rock band trying to perform a Satanic sacrifice). The film also satirizes cultural obsession with tragedy and its ready-made "healing" narrative but almost obliquely, perhaps the best way. And like the best horror films (though this isn't quite to that level) it has an increasing sense of playing for keeps. (Odd that it ends with nearly the same shot as Paranormal Activity - a young woman who's just had a brush with a demon looking knowingly into a video camera.)

Drag Me to Hell (Sam Raimi 2009) - It's not a surprise to find out that the script was originally written around the Evil Dead period - it has that same mix of energized horror tropes and gross-out comedy. Or course that doesn't seem quite so clever now, making Drag Me the equivalent of a rock band covering "Louie Louie" or "Wild Thing" - fun but that's about as far as it goes. The ending bothered me for some reason. The twist with the coin envelope was well-done and since Raimi put it in plain sight I think most of us feel if we were paying closer attention we would have predicted it. But that's probably the mark of a good twist ending. However why end up with the protagonist, well, dragged to hell? Horror films do traffic in a sense of an unfair universe (though typically personified in malevolent beings of various types) but this ending seems extremely disproportionate to what she did originally.

Zombieland (Ruben Fleischer 2009) - Starts as a pretty decent comic zombie film, perhaps a bit too heavy on the "rules to survive" but not to a harmful extent. Then it starts to feel more and more tossed off until the final sequence in an amusement park that's about as mindless and hollow as anything I've ever seen. If it had maintained the opening tone nobody really would have cared that the film has an apocalyptic event with no apocalypse - months later the electricity is still on, food supplies are available and roads across half the country are easily navigated. And of course a country of 300 million is now apparently just 300, zombies included. But when the film gets too bland that's what stands out. The filmmakers really should have watched Dead Alive first.

Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli 2007/2009) - Maybe this would have benefited from a studio remake as originally intended. What we actually get has a decent idea, better-than-expected acting and not too much else. Even though it's aiming for a more classical approach of suggesting rather than showing there's just too little happening in the film. I kept looking for little things in the background or the edges of the frame but nothing there. The Blair Witch Project in a way showed even less but showing and seeing were the actual point - it was built around epistemology in a way that Paranormal only pretends to be. At first it seems like a strength that the film doesn't explain anything but simply presents us with a given. After a while when not much is going on it's hard not to wonder why the demon (assuming that's what it is) chose this girl and why when she was 8? Why wait this long, why do so little, why save a photograph and then years later stick in the attic? And why does the couple not close their door at night if there's weird stuff going on? The spookiest moment is the woman standing motionless for several hours at night and the ending does have an unusually effective jump shot. (There's a weaker alternative ending on the DVD that's much more conventional.)

Dead Snow (Tommy Wirkola 2009) - With IFC distributing this in the US you would think there would be something imaginative or inventive or simply well-constructed about the film but nope. Students in a snow-bound cabin, Nazi zombies - anything you can imagine is better than what we find in the film. You get a crusty local passing by who tells one story that of course explains the background. You get no phone reception, only one person who knows how to get back to the cars, zombies that at times seem mindless and at times smarter than the students. By the middle of the film it's almost like the filmmakers gave up trying to tell a story and just had stuff happen. I don't know how else to explain a film that is within-boundaries reasonably naturalistic but then has a guy amputate his own arm with no tourniquet and cauterizing on the equivalent of a candle flame, who then spends the rest of the film running (yes actually running) around without even becoming pale. We also have no idea why the zombies have waited 60+ years but decided now would be a good time to act.

recent viewing

Night at the Museum (Shawn Levy 2006) - Somebody told me this is actually pretty good and I would like it. He was wrong. (Though with Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant as credited writers the first draft of the script was probably much better.)

Puppetmaster (Hou Hsiao-Hsien 1993) - Often considered Hou's masterpiece but I suspect that's mainly because the far superior City of Sadness is so hard to see. In fact this seems like one of Hou's lesser efforts to me though maybe people who like long stretches of unedited puppet shows might be more forgiving. Some of the reminiscences of the real-life Li Tianlu go on too long, resulting in a film that feels far too fragmented.

The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow 2009) - I suppose a genre film is considered something more when it's announced as such - thus the opening epigraph that fades out leaving just the point of the film readable, the wounded character who states the premise and then in the film's most ridiculous moment the main character's monologue to a baby. (Actually the entire last stateside sequence would have been vastly improved and no harder to understand if it had no dialogue at all.) Overall it's not up to the level of another bomb-defusing film The Small Back Room and the plot of a guy who doesn't play by the rules but gets results dammit was long ago played out. Still, the attempt to build a kind of moral view through detailed sequences of work at times is almost Bressonian, Pickpocket with explosives. Since it's in a way not really "about" Iraq it's no surprise that there's nothing political in a larger policy sense but considering that the entire purpose is to examine masculine identity under the pressure of combat it is a surprise that Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal didn't address the politics of the American military being composed of what are essentially mercenaries and predominantly from certain social classes. But then again how many Hollywood films would ever do that?

Of Time and the City (Terence Davies 2008) - Davies' documentary about his memories of growing up in Liverpool surely must be coasting on his reputation. I can't imagine any other reason something this unwatchable would have been financed and released. Basically it's a rambling spoken piece with nearly random images accompanying, at times it's not even clear the words actually match what we're seeing. What Davies remembers isn't too interesting anyway: a youthful crisis of faith, deprivations of post-War England, how much he disliked rock 'n' roll. His pompously sensitive delivery doesn't help either.

Fight Club (David Fincher 1999) - Nope, I'd never seen it and don't feel that I missed much but then again if I was 20-something might feel differently. Not bad overall but I expected something a bit more astringent - this is one of those films that might have been better if it was smarter or dumber. The faux apocalyptic ending felt like a mistake and not an entirely successful close to the story's premise though Fincher probably wanted something rousing for the viewers.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

So what comics are good?

After whining about the decline of comics for many posts I thought it might be worth mentioning ones that are actually good. I'm going to mainly focus on regular ongoings just because that's easier to keep straight.

Captain America - Ed Brubaker is constantly surprising as he mixes superheroics (mad scientists, superspies, guys who talk to falcons) with more serious concerns such as moral responsibility and the ravages of violence.

Batman, Batman and Robin, Detective Comics, Streets of Gotham - Killing Bruce Wayne turned out to be the shot in the arm this whole corner of the DCU needed. The dynamics of the new Batman and new Robin feel fresh and unpredictable while the side stories in Detective and Streets are just as interesting. I'm not yet as convinced by Gotham City Sirens and haven't gotten around to the other related ones (Red Robin, Batgirl, etc).

Mighty Avengers, New Avengers - Bendis can certainly do wrong but he rarely does in these two. And he's probably the best dialogue writer in all of comics.

Invincible Iron Man - Matt Fraction is writing this as a science fiction political thriller and it feels like he's completely nailed the character.

Jonah Hex - I suspect DC kept this going because of the upcoming movie but it's solid storytelling. We need more Westerns.

Unwritten - I have a feeling this could lose steam the further the story goes but at the moment it's really playing with the possibilities of its premise (a guy whose father wrote a Harry Potter-esque series based on him but finds out much more went on).

House of Mystery - Maybe the way to avoid the notorious low sales of anthology titles is to have a continuing frame story. In this case it's incongrous characters trapped in a mysterious, otherworldly house - exactly the kind of thing I love though I suppose others could be bored. The entire series becomes at some point about the very nature of storytelling.

Fables & Jack of Fables - It was a great idea to make the spin-off book quite different from the original - one somewhat sombre, the other giddy comedy.

Powers - Bendis again but having his own universe lets him get away with stories that could never appear in the regular Marvel world.

the Deadpool books - Yeah yeah I know. Overexposed and three ongoings? But at the moment the mix of black humor (sometimes so black it's not even humor), wild superheroics, clever dialogue and a genuinely insane main character are pretty hard to resist.

the Big Two kids books - The various books that were being published under the Marvel Adventures and Johnny DC lines were aimed fairly young (I'd guess 7 or 8 up to early teens) but for the past couple of years were the most consistently enjoyable being put out. They had that Silver Age feel of invention and pure entertainment without being at all retro. Too bad they're now nearly all cancelled.

Bongo - Yep the Simpsons and Futurama comics are rarely as good as the shows (except for the annual Treehouse of Horror issue) if only because they're not as dense. But they're still usually a hoot and the recent addition of Sergio Aragones pushes them to the top.

There are several others that I mainly read in trades and are about a year or two behind what's currently appearing. These include: Amazing Spider-Man (though it's been uneven since going to the three-times-a-month schedule), Daredevil, The Goon, DMZ, Ex Machina, Irresistible.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Funnies Business, Part Two

Really it looks like I'm following io9 but some of this was written before the appearance of their recent piece Superhero Tragedy Porn Is Bad for Comics. And the cause was the same - the stupefyingly cynical and completely artless last issue of Justice League: Cry for Justice where Roy Harper's daughter (age around nine or ten) is killed purely for shock value. I guess we should be grateful they didn't find her in a refrigerator but this shows just how little thought is going into so many recent comics and how far they'll go to bump sales on a wave of controversy. Because the main problem isn't just that this happened but that it was completely unnecessary - writer James Robinson with the approval of DC editors had decided to chop off Roy's arm and kill tens of thousands of people in Star City. Killing a harmless girl who hadn't even appeared in the story was just a bad move. If nothing else it's a disruption to the story that reveals how shoddy the whole business is. As the io9 writer puts it, "when superheroes have 'adult' problems, the childishness of their pursuits waxes large."

But I suppose they were working from the end backwards and the end is that they wanted to have Green Arrow become a killer. ("Executioner" isn't correct because that means state power and Oliver is acting completely on his own.) So they arranged for this trio of events to push him to the edge and then the bad guy going free to tip him over. Guess we'll find out why they wanted Oliver in this position in Robinson's run on the regular Justice League series but no matter how that plays out, Cry for Justice will still be a monumental misjudgement.

On a less offensive level, the mini-series had several other problems. Robinson has never been a particularly efficient writer but his dialogue here is often clumsy and overbearing. He's also trying to hard for the fan service - a passing reference to Claw the Unconquered works because it makes no difference whether you get it or not but Ray Palmer remembering his stint in the Teen Titans just puts you to a stop with a "what?". (I had to look it up - apparently he was turned into a teenager a few years back.) Supergirl is a main character but is portrayed pretty much as a porn star with a costume that looks airbrushed onto her. Robinson does have her figure out the big bad guy's secret but she doesn't do anything about it. That's right: doesn't do anything about it. It's not until Roy's off bleeding on the satellite floor and the city killing machinery is underway that Supergirl starts her monologue about hey you slipped up here and that thing you said revealed this. All done when everybody else has already very definitely discovered the truth so whatever she might have figured out doesn't matter in the least. And really what was the point of a completely gratuitous scene with Starfire and Donna Troy in bikinis? It just feels creepy.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Funnies Business

Publishers Weekly had a piece on "Big-Cross Over Events and the Barrier Method" that sums up the situation pretty nicely. The writer Todd Allen puts most of the blame on the business end, on a need for steady sales because these are publicly traded companies. That must be true to some degree though as outsiders we will never know. Certainly the editorial people at both companies claim there's no such pressure but the amount of cancellations, relaunches, reboots and yes cross-overs shows that something other than purely creative considerations are at work.

Many writers and artists complain about cross-overs but they tend to be the less powerful ones, people like Peter David or Christopher Priest. (Grant Morrison did at one time but he's top of the heap at the moment.) The ones like Johns or Bendis that drive these events rarely say anything negative about them. In fact it was while reading Morrrison's run on Animal Man that I first really saw the problem. When going through that series, the spots where it tied in to big events at the time no longer matter and in fact only hurt the story. Morrison talks about that briefly in one of the tpbs but it's easy to see in many places.

Of course nearly all these people learn to be follow company lines pretty early in their career and we generally have little idea what they're really thinking unless something comes out later. But it looks like many creators get caught up in the idea of a Big Event and are able to convince themselves that this is actually good storytelling. And I can't entirely blame them - if DC came to me and said, hey want to write a huge story that can use any character we've ever published and make any changes you want, then heck I'd likely do it too.

(I have to add one example that also ties back to an earlier post came in a recent issue of Siege. Now this should have been a good event. The idea is simple - Osborn and his government-sanctioned supervillains-pretending-to-be-good-guys invade Asgard and everybody else tries to stop them. Four issues, potentially tight & restricted story, big cast, big stakes - easy right? Well Marvel first started advertising that "an Avenger will die!" as if that matters at all, though considering that there are now four separate Avengers teams running around maybe a little thinning of the herd can't hurt. But the death (Ares in case anybody cares but really nobody does) was a two-page spread of him being literally torn apart in very graphic detail. At some point it's hard not to think these creators really are stuck at age 12.)

One solution is what Alan Moore proposed in the never-realized "Twilight of the Superheroes" where there's a main story in a separate series and then everybody else can tie-in if they think it's worth doing. He wrote then that such an event "would have a sensible and logical reason for crossing over with other titles, so that the readers who were prompted to try a new title as a result of the crossover or vice versa didn't feel cheated by some tenuous linkage of storylines that was at best spurious and at worst nonexistent." That nails the problem we're seeing today and Moore wrote that a quarter of a century ago.

The Big Two at times appear to trying something like this by putting the event into its own mini-series and then adding other minis rather than using ongoing series. Final Crisis possibly came closest to this idea though considering the links between the minis and then to Batman: RIP in those regular books it was hardly a streamlined approach.

Another solution frequently proposed (and that even the editorial people say they're doing but never really follow through, as Allen's article points out) is to just put a moratorium on cross-overs. This seems unlikely considering that the business has adopted this blockbuster mentality - it's pretty easy to mark the decline of American film back to studio reactions to Star Wars and there's a chance we're seeing the same thing in comics.

Because what I'm really getting at isn't the events or that they might cause problems for retrospective reading - it's that so many mainstream comics creators are producing inferior work and appear to not care about stories or characters or ideas, in short to not care about all the things that drive people to create art. And the real problem is that very few of them seem to realize that.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Girl Comics #1

Apparently inspired by their indie anthology Strange Tales (which was of course "inspired" by DC's Bizarro), Marvel decided to spotlight the "Women of Marvel" as pointed out on the cover. There have been some complaints about the title Girl Comics but that's mostly from people who don't really understand feminism - the contents are a bigger issue.

The cheesy opening ("We don't do it for the sake of power or glory though we are powerful and glorious") is as bland as most introductions are but at least indicates the point of the series. A point that's completely contradicted by the very first story where a woman in trouble is rescued by Nightcrawler. True she does help by bonking the baddie on the head with a high-heeled shoe but it's hard to imagine how having a weak damsel saved by a strong man gets across any kind of positive message (and since it's not a story, barely even an anecdote, the message would be the only point).

Another story has a guy online setting up to meet a girl at a park, only the "girl" is the Punisher. Then it's revealed that the guy is preparing to abduct the girl. He arrives at the park and is promptly murdered by the Punisher. Again not even really a story and you have to wonder why the creators thought this was a good idea (though a likely guess is that they've heard too many scare stories from TV and magazines - the rate of such crimes is much lower than most people have been led to believe). The guy as far as we know hasn't even committed a crime. A similar story in Deadpool #900 at least gave the background and oddly enough had more a feeling of reality. Here the Punisher comes across just as creepy as the would-be abductor.

The rest of the issue is at least decent. The highlight is Robin Furth & Agnes Garbowska's evocation of classic children's lit using Franklin and Valeria Richards. A few years back Devin Grayson was one of the best writers in comics but she faded out - she has an ok but not any better X-Men story here. Jill Thompson's Venus looks great but feels just a tad too clunky.

While I want to support anything different that the Big Two try, at this point I don't know whether the next issue will be worth picking up.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Book covers

Amazon's Omnivoracious blog compares covers of US and UK editions of some titles, an idea the writer picked up from another blog called The Millions which did 2010 and 2009 versions. So now I'm disappointed that we didn't get the British cover for Netherland which is so much better than the American. It also makes me wonder about the decisions behind some of them. The US cover for Stockett's The Help is so bland that I didn't realize until recently it had been getting good reviews - it just looked like more quasi-romantic churn. Moore's A Gate at the Stairs is almost as bad in the US version and while I don't think the UK's is too much better it at least looks like something you wouldn't be embarrassed to be seen hauling around.

I get a daily newsletter called Shelf Awareness of bookstore news and every week they quiz some author with a set of standard questions. One is "Book you've bought for the cover" and surprisingly most respondents say they don't buy books based on the cover, almost as if they'd been asked to divulge some slightly disgusting fleshly proclivity. Not a huge majority answer this way but perhaps a bit over half and the thing is that I think they're lying. Now I can imagine "normal" folk not buying based on a cover but writers? Book people? This is our STUFF and pretty much every writer and remotely dedicated reader connects to the physical book in a way that I assume those normals do to cars and clothes. Why even pretend that the cover had no influence in a decision?

I'll have to admit that I rarely buy books purely for the cover alone, at least not since a high school binge where Frazetta covers in the used store meant an instant purchase. Partly this is because I already have too much. There have been a few recently that tempted me, especially those Penguins with the comic artists covers - Ware, Sacco, Jason, Millionare. And the recent cover for Under the Volcano with its Day of the Dead skull though the temptation is at least partly because I was thinking of re-reading it and that would be a good excuse.

But there are also covers that work against books, not merely bad covers to forgettable books (of which there is an endless stream) but ones for books worth reading. Michael Shea's Nifft the Lean is a wonderful, sharply written novel but the cover made it look like the most generic heroic fantasy and a reissue as The Incompleat Nifft was possibly even worse. A friend was reading one of the Flashman novels while riding the bus to work and said she had to wrap it in brown paper because she was afraid somebody seeing just the cover would think it was racist (which you'll know isn't true if you've read any of the books). An entire post could go to textbook covers because they frequently look like somebody just grabbed an image from the stock library. In fact I know for sure that happened in at least one case where our store had a sociology book where the cover was a group of multi-ethnic young people having a grand old time on what looked like a beach. A few months later we got flyers advertising some kind of travel service that used the exact same photograph.

And I might as well mention my all-time favorite textbook cover: the geek joke for John Taylor's Classical Mechanics.