"Gotham" Recap: Killing Them Slowly "Under The Knife"

There’s blood and deformity aplenty in the latest episode, but there’s also very little payoff as things drag their way towards the finale.

Palicki & Blood Reportedly to Star in "Agents of SHIELD" Spinoff

The in-development “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” spinoff looks to star the former married couple of Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird and Lance Hunter.

Coulson Catches Up with Ward and Agent 33 in New "Agents of SHIELD" Clip

In “The Frenemy of My Frenemy,” Coulson’s team is forced to enlist Ward’s help in order to track down Skye.

Beneath the Underdog: How a Well-Intentioned Policy Threatens Hobby Retailers

As many readers know, I make my home in Seattle, land of strong coffee, loud music, trash-talking football players, rainy winters, and one or two high-tech companies you might have heard of. Seattle is simultaneously one of the most prosperous urban areas in the country and one of the most politically progressive. San Francisco may have us beat on both, but not by much. Both are also among the most expensive places to live if you are not part of the currently-booming tech economy.

Like San Francisco, Seattle recently voted to raise the minimum wage gradually over the next several years from its current level of $11/hour to $15/hour at a speed determined partly by the size of the business and partly by whether or not a business provides medical benefits, but in no cases later than 2019.

The rent’s too damn high! Raising the floor for working people is a good thing in many ways. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment within 10 miles of Seattle is $1434 – if you can find one; vacancies are at a multi-year low.  If you work a low-income job in the metro area, you’re either cramped into a very small space with parents or roommates, or facing a long, expensive commute on our traffic-clogged roads. Honk if this story sounds the same in your town.

Putting more money into the pockets of baristas, burger-flippers, loading dock workers, delivery drivers, nurses’ aides and non-union laborers of all descriptions will go a long way toward making life a little more affordable at the outskirts of Techtopia. It may have macroeconomic benefits in the aggregate, as minimum-wage workers tend to spend most of what they make – and spend it locally. And certainly as a matter of simple fairness, 99% of the productivity gains of the US economy over the past 30 years have gone to the top 10% (mostly the top 0.1%, in fact). It’s about time that working people get a raise.

Unfortunately, there is one very specific economic actor to whom all these good things do not apply. That is the owner of a particular type of small business that either does not have control of the pricing of the goods that it sells (because the prices are marked on the merchandise by the manufacturer), or produces goods that are sold mostly outside of the local market and therefore must bear the higher labor costs but not receive the macroeconomic benefits of increased local demand.

In simple English, a comic/game/hobby retailer or a small publisher.

Retailers in the crosshairs. Last month, San Francisco-area retailer Brian Hibbs gave a detailed analysis of this situation in an interview with Heidi MacDonald at The Beat, discussing the efforts that he is undertaking to keep his iconic business Comix Experience afloat in the face of rising labor costs. Alan Beatts of Borderland Books voiced some of the same concerns earlier this year when he announced his SF bookstore was closing in March. Tom Spurgeon wrote about this issue in relationship to the Seattle-based publisher Fantagraphics last summer. I’ve had conversations with retailers around Seattle on this issue as well.

In every case, the business owners clearly recognize the value that their employees bring to the business and express an earnest desire to pay fair wages. And in just about every case, the math doesn’t look good.

A few exceptionally profitable and well-run stores are probably generating good money for their owners, but from most of what I have heard, if you are looking to get rich, running a comic or hobby retail store or small press is not really the way to do it. Adding $80-90K in labor costs per year could wipe out nearly all of what the owner hopes to take home after rent, taxes, insurance and other expenses. Even retailers operating their businesses as a lifestyle or a labor of love can’t afford to do it on a volunteer basis.

Unintended consequences. It’s one thing if competition or poor management drives a company under. That’s capitalism. It’s how the system works in the US. We also have democracy, which means that voters can go to the polls and say “we want to address the problems of the working poor by making it harder for businesses to profit by paying low wages.” All policies, including the status quo, have winners and losers, and citizens have a right to choose the economic system they want to live under.

But in this case, the choice was not framed in those terms. The proponents of the minimum wage increase were pretty strident in their rhetoric. It was all about bad big businesses, overworked single moms and the need to redress big social and economic problems by starting at the local level.

The odd exception of a local business where both the owner and the employees were trading maximum economic gains for lifestyle advantages didn’t occur to policymakers, and still evinces little sympathy or understanding.  By legislating with a meat cleaver instead of a scalpel, they’ve put at risk the very kinds of businesses that I’m betting most progressive voters see as essential to the vibrancy and vitality of urban living.

The owners of small shops aren’t the Koch brothers. They are employing local people, paying local taxes, sending their kids to schools and contributing to the community. They try to do right by their workers, but at what point is it ok for the lowest paid person at a business, hour for hour, to be the person who owns it?

As Hibbs notes in his interview, employees often deliberately decide to accept lower wages to work the job they want, in an environment where they have agency and engagement. Is it really doing workers any favors to say we’re going to put your long-time employer out of business, but don’t worry, you can find better paid work as a security guard or warehouse grunt?

I really hope I am wrong about this. This is a troubling issue because 90% of what the minimum-wage advocates say is right, just and true and it is in many ways sketchy public policy to carve out an exemption for such a narrow class of businesses.

And hey, maybe that $80-90K per year in added costs isn’t so unbearable in the long run. Maybe the affected businesses will find creative ways to increase revenues and derive value from their workforce in excess of the higher wages. Maybe all the better-paid burger flippers and leaf-rakers will spend their extra money on games, comics and toys. Maybe the industry will find a way to support retailers facing these kinds of higher costs.

But I’m afraid we’re going to lose a lot of good businesses and good workers in this industry before we find out for sure.

–Rob Salkowitz (@robsalk) is the author of Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.

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Undervalued Spotlight #239

Kid Colt Outlaw #110, Marvel Comics, May 1963

Can there be anything more dead (deader?) than Marvel Westerns? Yeah! Non Marvel Westerns I guess!

But they say the best time to buy is when the market is low and Marvel Westerns my friend are pretty low.

I’ve actually got a half decent run of Marvel Westerns, nothing too fancy but I have a smattering of Rawhides, Two Guns and Kid Colts plus a whole whack of those Giant Mighty Marvel Westerns tucked away in a long box somewhere. They are tucked away because I like them way better than the market likes them and I refuse to put out nice tight copies from the mid-1960s to mid-1970s in discount bins.

I was making room for another box of Charlton Romance comics (quality stuff) and tripped over this bin of westerns. There’s some pretty neat books in this box. I found a mid-grade copy of Kid Colt Outlaw #107 in there, you know the one with the Kirby Sci-Fi cover. The next book that caught my eye was this week’s Undervalued Spotlight pick, Kid Colt Outlaw #110.

Kid Colt Outlaw #110 features the first appearance of Iron Mask. Iron Mask (the Guide lists him as an Iron Man type villain), a blacksmith that makes himself an iron mask and an iron vest and goes around pulling heists. In this first issue Kid Colt takes him down by shooting him in the unprotected arm causing Iron Mask’s gun to fall. Iron Mask is sent to jail and the story continues. In Kid Colt Outlaw #114 we learn that Iron Mask was a model prisoner and got to work in the prison metal shop, he of course made himself a full iron suit and escaped prison. gets the better of him again, this time around Kid Colt gets Iron Mask to go through a lake where the water rusts the iron suit.

The Iron Mask has been called the Dr. Doom of the old west. Needless to say I think this is a strong character and a great villain for the time setting, blacksmiths, bullet proof iron, hold ups etc!

Here’s the thing, this book should be worth more than it is just because I say so. I mean that Kirby sci-fi cover guides at $400, three times this issue’s price. May 1963 puts this book into the very beginnings of Marvel, in those early days of the round 12 cent bubbles, two months after Iron Man and two months before Doctor Strange, it introduces a great character and is legitimately a hard to come by book. So what’s it doing fetching only $100 and change in high grade?

As I said, all things being as is this book should be double maybe triple the price but heaven forbid Marvel ever gets a crazy idea about testing some fences with its rich Western catalog…

The 44th edition of the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide shows $49/$92/$135 as the 8.0/9.0/9.2 price splits.

Strengths that make this comic book a good long-term investment are:

  • First appearance Iron Mask
  • Round 12 cents!!
  • Way too cheap in the Guide
  • Early Marvel, predates Doc Strange

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Palicki & Blood Reportedly to Star in "Agents of SHIELD" Spinoff

The in-development “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” spinoff looks to star the former married couple of Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird and Lance Hunter.

Coulson Catches Up with Ward and Agent 33 in New "Agents of SHIELD" Clip

In “The Frenemy of My Frenemy,” Coulson’s team is forced to enlist Ward’s help in order to track down Skye.

New ‘Jurassic World’ Trailer and Posters

The latest Jurassic World trailer has Chris Pratt on the offense, and apparently in complete control of a pack of velociraptors.

There are more shots of dinosaurs, park interactions, and the reason for the creation of the genetically modified dinosaur, expanding the narrative further what was revealed in the last trailer (see “New ‘Jurassic World’ Teaser”).

There are also these new posters, which were revealed over the weekend.

The movie opens June 12.

(Click any image for larger view.)

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‘D&D: Temple of Elemental Evil’ Limited Edition Miniatures

Gale Force Nine has begin releasing a new limited edition collector’s series of miniatures tied to Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons Dragons: Elemental Evil storyline (see “‘DD: Elemental Evil’”). GF9 has shared several box images of upcoming releases.

The unpainted, unassembled resin miniatures represent key storyline characters and creatures, including the elemental myrmidons, which are conjured and bound by magic to ritually created suits of plate armor.  Each miniature release has a limited print run of 1500.

The Air Myrmidon (MSRP $30.00) and the Aerisi Kalinoth Air Priest two figure set (MSRP $25.00) have already released.

The Water Myrmidon (1 Figure) and Gar Shatterkeel Priest (2 figures) are due in May.

The Earth Myrmidon (1 Figure) and Marlos Urnrayle Priest (2 figures) are due in June.

The Fire Myrmidon (1 Figure) and Vanifer Priest (2 figures) are due in July.

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Valiant Creates Retailer Incentive Companion Series

Valiant has announced a retail incentive companion series tied to its Book of Death summer event (see “Valiant Kills Several Major Characters”).  The four-issue, limited edition series will only be available to retailers who qualify based on their orders for the Book of Death miniseries.

Book of Death: Legends of the Geomancer will be written by Fred Van Lente (Ivar, Time Walker, Archer Armstrong), with art by Juan Jose Ryp (Clone, Ghosted).  First issue cover art will be provided by Marguerite Sauvage. The series will expand the history of the Geomancers and chronicle the life of the first Geomancer, Anni.  The series of stories will not be collected in trade paperback. 

“This is a little known story, the history of which is only known to a select few of the most important players in the Valiant Universe, and its telling will mirror its method of distribution,” said Valiant Publisher Fred Pierce. “This will be a rare series that we hope fans will seek, much as they did decades ago for tales like the original Harbringer #0.”

The initial order date for the incentive series will be May 28.  The first issue of Legends of the Geomancer will coincide with the first Book of Death issue release, July 15.

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