Saturday, December 29, 2012

Best and Worst Comics of 2012

2012 was the year I bought all of my comics completely in digital format via Comixology which actually resulted in me buying more comics this year than I have in almost a decade.

Here's my take on the Top Ten Best (followed directly by the Top Five Worst.)

10: Coming in at the bottom of this list is Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang's Wonder Woman.

While I've cooled off a bit on this title during the last year, I still love the artwork and the supporting characters (Hera and Zola) keep the book fresh. With an upcoming arc featuring the New Gods, I'm looking forward to another year with this comic.

9: Tie - Synder's Batman and Morrison's Batman Incorporated.

It may be a bit of a cheat to "tie" these two titles, but if you had told me three years ago I would be reading two Batman comics in 2012 and loving both of them, I would have thought you were crazy. While I enjoy Batman as a foil for other characters in Morrison's Justice League, I've never been a big fan of his solo series. Even when Morrison started writing his solo series a few years back, I was just never compelled to try the title. (Though I did pick up a few of the first volume of Batman Incorporated, but I think the publishing schedule and my old erratic comic shop caused me to wander away from the title.) I tried the first couple of Snyder's New 52 run on Batman and it didn't quite grab me (though I did like the visuals and the idea of the Court of Owls.) It wasn't really until Batman Inc. was relaunched and Snyder started in on his Joker arc that I really started buying either of these on a regular basis. For the time being, I'll continue on with both series. Batman Inc. is fast paced and imaginative. Batman is refreshingly scary.

8: Rick Remender's Captain America.

Of all the Marvel Now comics I tried, this is the one that felt like it tried to do something different - by doing something old. I've always been a big fan of the Jack Kirby eras of Captain America (Silver Age and after he left DC) Something about the way Kirby would just throw Captain America into a wild science-fictiony story always work struck me as a good way to go. It allowed Kirby to show us some neat concepts and visuals (his strongsuit) and then have Cap fight his way to a solution (Cap's strongsuit) with an occasional bit of heroic rhetoric. (Kirby's Omac worked a bit this way too, didn't it?) Well, Remender's Cap has our hero stranded on hostile alien world ruled by Arnim Zola populated with strange and dangerous bio engineered creatures. The first issue was a bit of wonky setup, but the second issue delivered on the premise in spades. I was afraid it was going to be a bit like Planet Hulk starring Captain America (not really a bad thing albeit...) but so far it hasn't gone that route.

7: Darwyn Cooke's MinuteMen

I was one of the people curious about how some of the Before Watchmen mini-series would turn out (some good, some bad, as I thought) but the real winner was Minutemen. Of all of the series put out under that banner, only Minutemen feels like a true spiritual companion to the original story. Regardless of your feelings on the matter Watchmen ownership, I would say that Cooke's series does everything comic fans ask of a great comic. His artwork on this series is every bit as good as anything he's done in his Parker series or New Frontier (I actually think it's better than New Frontier.) Check out this page:

And as I said, the storyline Cooke has come up with is the only one that seems a worthy addition to the original mythos. (Amanda Connor's Silk Spectre series is also good in many ways, but it's a bit light on content.)

6: Valiant's XO Manowar relaunch by Robert Venditti and Cary Nord.

Yeah, this was another surprise for me. Like a lot of people, I had my doubts about another Valiant relaunch since the last one under Acclaim had been so bad (and Dark Horse's dalliance with Dr. Solar and Samson seemed to go nowhere) but I'm happy to report that the new XO Manowar is a fitting revamp for fans of the original series. Venditti's take on the character jives perfectly with Jim Shooter's original version and Cary Nord is killing it on art. If you were a fan of the old series, then try the first couple of issues of this relaunch.

5: The Lookouts by Ben McCool and Rob Mommaerts

This is an independently published series that I picked up for my daughter but ended up enjoying myself. I've reviewed it in depth on this blog before. It has a sort of Asterix and Obelix feel to in in both tone and pacing, so if that is the sort of thing you enjoy, you'll like this as well.

4: Eric Shanower's Oz Series

This is actually an older series that came out from Dark Horse between 1986 and 1992 (A time when college and economic hardship was cutting into my comic reading quite a bit.) Fortunately for me, Dark Horse re-released the series on Comixology where I discovered it while casting about for cool kids comics. I was amazed at the quality of the art and how true to the spirit of the old Oz books these comics are. I initially bought them for my daughter but don't let the kid-centric nature of the story material fool you. While the stories are fanciful, the characters come across as very real. I would hardily recommend to anyone of any age.

3: The Only Living Boy by David Gallaher and Steve Ellis

Some people might see this as the third "kids" comic in my list but I would say that's a bit like calling Kamandi or Runaways kids comics. The Only Living Boy is the story of Erik Farrell, a 12 year old boy who runs away from home, sleeps in a cave and then wakes up on a much older earth where he finds himself fighting in an alien gladiatorial arena alongside a blonde haired insect princess and a mermaidian amazon. It's a hodge podge of fantastic and compelling characters that reminds me a bit of Marvel's Micronauts and of Neil Gaiman's Sandman. The exotic cast of characters allows Gallaher to really stretch is legs as a writer. He gives each character a distinct voice not shying away from attempting alien dialogue like so many modern writers do these days. Steve Ellis also is allowed to shine in this series as he gives us some innovative designs and fun creatures. Check out this page sample:

I see stuff like this and I'm like, That is what the New 52 should have brought us! So far, only one issue has been release, so this is a good time to jump on to the series if you haven't heard about it. Issue 2 should be coming out in January.

2. Garth Ennis' The Shadow

Man, I really had my doubts about this series, mostly because in recent years, I have felt like Ennis has strayed away from the things that drew me to him in the early days (his grasp of complex characters) and was sort of coasting on Grand Guignol bombast (especially in some of his recent Marvel work and The Boys) so, I passed on this series when it originally started up this year, but as time went on, I kept hearing good things about it on various comic podcasts, so during a .99 cent sale from Dynamite on Comixology, I tried the first couple of issues and was surprised to find myself really enjoying it. Ennis has tried very hard to capture not only the vibe of the old pulp comics, but the history of the era. The level of historical detail in the art and the story is well welcomed! The first storyline ran a bit long (6 issues) but it gave Ennis time to show us a fully fleshed out Lamont Cranston (and Shadow) who is far more than just Batman's inspiration.

1. Jason Aaron's and Esad Ribic's Thor

Like Ennis above, I had sort of lost faith in Jason Aaron. My wife swears by Scalped, but I found it got a bit over the top and had seen nothing in his Marvel work to date to separate him from Fraction or Bendis in my mind. (That is to say, a guy writing by the numbers stories that don't really do much besides punch a few fanboy buttons with a token reference to older continuity and lax characterization.) It was really because of Esad Ribic's artwork that I considered picking up the first issue of this Marvel Now relaunch. Ribic has a painterly style that makes all of his characters distinct. His Thor looks mythical but not in an overly cartoony way (which is how a lot of artists seem to go with bigger characters now days.)

And while it may have been the promise of seeing more of Ribic's Hela that got me to buy the comic, it was the story by Aaron blew me away. Here he presents three stories told at different times in Thor's life: As a younger, pre-Majolnir Thor, A modern space faring Thor and and older, Odin successing Thor. All three stories are tied together by battles with a being known as The Butcher of Gods. As the issues unfold, we see Thor battle this creature while we are giving hints to how one battle's aftermath may have set forth a horrible pattern of events afterwards. The writing is top notch. Shunning the conventional take on Thor started by Bendis, wherein Thor talks pretty much like any other 21st century male, Aaron is embracing the more traditional faux-Shakespearian speaking Thor. While it may not be completely realistic, I feel like that approach lends the comic more verisimilitude. Overall, I'm not normally a Thor reader, but this storyline has me hooked for now.

So, that's the top ten, here are the bottom five.

5. DC's 52 Amethyst relaunch

I had big hopes for this series as I'm always on the lookout for anything that might be something my daughter and I could enjoy, but as it turns out, DC has found a way to make a magical jeweled princess adventure comic that no one of any age could enjoy. Imagine the Disney Channel trying to make a young teenage version of Game of Thrones but without distinct characters or a good plot hook. Rumor has it this series will be cancelled soon. What is most disheartening is that Renae De Liz actually proposed a much more interesting looking Amethyst relaunch prior to this series.

4. Marvel Now's All New X-men

I read the first two issues of this series (enough to see it's basically Back to the Future fanfic staring the original X-men) before giving up. Bendis just really doesn't seem to care who says what how. Check out this dialogue from Emma Frost (who has always been written with an English accent.)

3. Earth 2 by James Robinson

Wow, did I have high hopes for this. Robinson's The Golden Age is one of my favorite takes on the Golden Age DC heroes and his Starman is legendary. Unfortunately, so far this series has just been another run of the mill superteam book with nothing to really distinguish it. It might as well be the umpteenth relaunch of Alpha Flight (or Freedom Fighters)

2. Space 1999

Here's a little known fact about Jim Shelley: He want's to put out a 1970's styled Science Fiction comic some day. Something along the lines of Logan's Run or Land of the Giant's. So it was with great expectations that I picked up this Space 1999 comic from Archaia. Bad move. At first I thought the the comic had a lot of exposition it had to dispense with, but as I kept reading, I realized it was just flat out overwritten. It felt like they had adapted a radio play verbatim. Check out this page as an example.

On the flipside, this may be just a case of European comic style not jiving with my American Sensibilities.

1. Geoff John's Justice League

It may seem unfair to single out this series as being any worse than any other modern superhero series, but with this book coming in at the number one spot on Comixology's top ten list so often this year, it feels like the badness was amplified by comicdom's acceptance of it. This should be DC's flagship title not only in sales, but in quality, and as it is, the storylines John's has been dishing out have really been horrible. First the anti-climatic climax to Darkseid's first appearance, then a villain who attacks you with your worst fears (or something equally cliched) and finally a battle royale between the Justice League and...wait for it...The Cheetah. Yep. You read that right. I think something like three issues were devoted to the Justice League taking down the Cheetah. Not exactly epic fare is it?
Anyway, that's my list for the year. I hope next year brings us more amazing comics and less bad ones.
- Jim

Saturday, December 15, 2012

How Santa Got His Red Suit

Today I'm presenting an early Holiday gift as I won't be posting next week. A festive public domain comic illustrated by the wonderful Walt Kelly (of Pogo fame)

[ How Santa Got His Red Suit ]

Have a Happy Holidays!

- Jim

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Adam Strange 100 Page Spectacular

Today I continue my series of Lost 100 Page Super Spectaculars with this entry featuring a Mystery In Space themed issue:

The Adam Strange illustration comes from the very talented Adam Moore who is known as Laemeur on You can see more of his artwork on his website:

While I've never had the pleasure of working with Adam on a Flashback Universe project, he and I were both contributors to Trey Causey's Weird Adventures (a highly original RPG setting guide.) Adam provided several fantastic illustrations for the guide and I was the layout/typesetter for the the project.

I'm still open to suggestions for Lost 100 Pagers, so if there is a classic DC character you think deserved their own 100 Page Spectacular, but didn't get one, let me know!

- Jim

Monday, December 3, 2012

Flashback Five on: Transformations

Editor's Note: While I'm traveling during the holidays, Matt Linkous is lending a hand with a new Flashback Five. Today, Matt shares some of his memories of his favorite superhero transformation scenes. Thank you Matt! - Jim

In superhero stories I have always had a tremendous affection towards secret identities for one very important reason: the idea of transformation. As a kid I lived for that moment in a comic book where an ordinary person summons, becomes, or reveals their super powered form. There is just something kinetic about that moment of transition from the mortal to the extraordinary. Besides, having that contrast simply makes the idea of being a superhero that much more special. This can happen very literally with a burst of magic, such as Diana Prince spinning into her glamorously heroic form as Wonder Woman. But it can also be the hero getting suited up for the battle ahead. This is something I touched on briefly in my review of the New 52 Flash comic.

Continuing in that vein, Today's FB5 is five of my favorite superhero transformations.

5. Dr. Banner to The Incredible Hulk. 

The Hulk has undergone a lot of versions over the past 20-30 years, most really focused on the "Jekyl/Hyde" aspect.  Personally, I always found the Frankenstein aspect more interesting, the man who created his own monster and is literally stuck with it. The character I really think of as the Hulk is the 70's green, shaggy haired, childlike brute who was gentle at heart because deep down Banner's own conscience is the tether between the man and the beast. Next to the eye-effect from the Bill Bixby TV show I also love it when the change when it's portrayed as a rush of adrenalin. Like the sensation that goes through you when you get frustrated enough to slam your fist onto your desk. Only in Banners case it's one million times that and he can't put the breaks on it once it starts. As in this page from the Batman/Hulk crossover drawn by the incomperable Jose Garcia Lopez.

4.  Bruce Wayne to The Batman. 

Now Of course Bruce cannot instantly or magically transform. However a well done gearing-up sequence conveys that same trans-formative sense. After all the mantle of the bat is a disguise Bruce created to "strike fear and terror into the hearts of criminals". It helps re-enforce the power of this concept when comics show the moment that he makes that transition from billionaire playboy to the The Dark Knight Detective (remember when the "detective" part actually counted?) I think an excellent example of this comes from this page by the great Marshall Rogers.

3. Peter Parker into Spidey.  

Now at certain times it works to give Peter a very cool gearing-up type of sequence to indicate he's really going kick some butt. However most of the time there is the indication that Peter putting on his Spidey suit is a hurried and occasionally humorous affair. Being first exposed to Spidey's comics in the 70's one of my favorite reoccurring shots was of Peter skittering up the side of an alleyway with his shoes in his hand trying to get to the roof so he can quick change. A variation on this idea comes from an issue of Marvel Team-Up. Peter is just trying to have a night out  with Mary Jane but of course he has to dash off to become Spider-Man ...and almost bungles the whole secret identity thing in front of a live studio audience by nearly dropping his shoe on the hosts head while trying to change in the rafters.

2. Billy Batson transforming into Captain Marvel.

Growing up as one of those kids dreaming about how cool it would be to become a superhero, the appeal of Captain Marvel was only natural. You didn't even need radiation or an alien physiology, you could just say the word and off you go! I was first exposed to the good Captain via the 70's Filmation tv series with Michael Gray. For all the shows requisite lessons of the week and under budgeted flaws, Filmation knew how to get a kid amped up with a transformation sequence. Artist Alex Ross is a bit of a kindred spirit to me in this respect since he has gone on record many times sighting his love for the show. So I guess it's fitting that one of my favorite portrayls of Billy's transformations is from his work. While this one is from a collectors item rather than something that was used in a story it is still a favorite of mine because I think it perfectly captures the power and the joy of what happens when Billy utters that one magic word.

1. Clark Kent into Superman. 

Clark Kent revealing that bold red \S/ on his chest is the single most iconic and imitated superhero transformation of all time. It is known the world over just like the character himself. There many ways of showing Clark Kent going from his street clothes to his hero mode but nothing captures and evokes the idea with as much effectiveness. You don't even need to see him move at super-speed or have a panel showing him slipping on his boots. You just see that shirt-rip and you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is a job..for Superman! You can immediately cut away to a cool shot of him flying or have him zooming out of the sky and right into the action. It's exactly the kind of "hell yeah!" moment good superhero comics are made of. A great example of this comes from artist Ivan Reis. The page is so simple, yet so awesome. You can practically hear the John Williams theme cue up as your eyes go down the panels.

These are only a few of my favorite transformations. We'd love to hear some of yours!
Have a great weekend and be sure to be back here live for the next FB5!

- Matt


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