I came in very late to this party. Beginning back in 2004 with Green Lantern: Rebirth, writer Geoff Johns began weaving an epic outer space saga in the pages of Green Lantern. Not only did Mr. Johns completely revitalize and re-energize the Green Lantern comic book (returning original modern-day Green Lantern Hal Jordan to comic-book life and reinstating the character as the central focus of the Green Lantern comic book), but he radically reinvented and expanded the Green Lantern mythos in a way that I can’t imagine ever being undone. For years, readers of Green Lantern accepted the book’s premise that the space-faring peace-keeping group the Green Lantern Corps were powered by the green energy of will, but Mr. Johns expanded that idea to suggest an entire emotional spectrum — different colors representing different emotions, which each color having a ring-bearing corps of its own. This is such a clever idea, and has quickly become so accepted in the DCU that I can’t ever imagine that concept not being forever linked with Green Lantern moving forward.
I had read about what Mr. Johns and his talented artistic collaborators (among them Ethan Van Sciver, Carlos Pacheco, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Doug Mahnke) had been doing with Green Lantern for years, but I never actually read any of those comics until the relaunch of the DCU with the “New 52″ universe-wide shake-up. Green Lantern #1 was one of the many new DCU issue #1′s that I sampled, but after the dust cleared, Green Lantern was one of the very few new DC titles that I continued to read. (I also stuck with Green Lantern‘s sister title, Green Lantern Corps, as well as Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman.) I was immediately hooked into the story (that began in the re-numbered Green Lantern #1), which launched with the intriguing notion that villain Sinestro had somehow again become a Green Lantern, while Hal had been booted out of the corps and was now stuck on Earth, powerless. A few issues into the re-launched series, I decided that I wanted to start from the beginning and catch up on everything that I had missed.
And so began a year-long re-reading project, in which I tracked down the collected editions of Mr. Johns’ lengthy run. I wrote about this Green Lantern saga repeatedly here on the site. In my first post, I discussed Green Lantern: Rebirth, the mini-series that re-launched Green Lantern, and the first several story-lines of the relaunched Green Lantern comic book. Then I wrote about The Sinestro Corps War, the massive crossover event in which GL’s nemesis Sinestro forged his own corps — using the yellow power of fear. This … [continued]
I’ve been re-reading Grant Morrison’s long run on Batman (click here for part one, and here for part two of my notes on my re-reading project), and I will be back soon with my next installment of commentary on that complex, years-long run. But last year, while winding down his run on Batman, Grant Morrison also began writing DC Comics’ other biggest hero: Superman.
In late 2011, DC Comics rebooted their entire universe, ending all of their comic-book series and re-launching 52 titles with new #1 issues, in what they called “The New 52.” (The number 52 has significance in the DC Universe, too complicated to go into here, but suffice it to say that number wasn’t chosen by accident.) I’ve written about this universe-wide re-launch before (click here and here for some of my comments from last year). The re-boot of the universe was a little bit uneven. The Batman and Green Lantern books, though they re-started from new issue number one’s just like all the other DC titles, picked up their storylines seemingly uninterrupted from the pre-”New 52″ re-launch. Other series more dramatically wiped away all of the previous years’ worth of story-lines and continuity. Most dramatically, this was done with Superman.
When Action Comics re-launched, we were presented with a young, inexperienced version of Superman, one who had just recently arrived in Metropolis. This Superman was crafted, intentionally, to more closely resemble Superman as he was when he was originally created back in the ’30s. Rather than the immensely super-powered Superman of recent years, this Superman — while still super-powered — is more limited. He can leap tall buildings in a single bound, but he can’t fly. He can be beaten and bloodied. Young Clark Kent doesn’t work for the Daily Planet, he works for a much smaller newspaper called the Star. The whole Superman story was re-started from the ground floor.
Grant Morrison took over Action Comics with the new issue #1, and proceeded to write the series for nineteen issues (issues #1-18, plus an issue #o that was published between #12 and #13). Now, Grant Morrison had already written what I would consider to be possibly the greatest Superman story ever written: All Star Superman. In that twelve-issue run from a decade ago, illustrated by Frank Quitely, Mr. Morrison told a tale set outside of the regular DC Universe continuity, cherry-picking various aspects of Superman’s presentation from the half-century of Superman stories that had been told, in order to present a sort of “ultimate” version of the Superman character. This version of Superman contained aspects of the modern version of the character, mixed with some of the more far-out aspects of earlier … [continued]
In Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming’s phenomenal comic book series, Powers, homicide detectives Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim investigate murder cases involving super-heroes and super-villains. That simple hook — of what it would be like to be a homicide detective in a world with super-powers — has provided the juice for well over a decade’s worth of phenomenal comic book story-telling. A few years back, when Volume III of the series launched, I decided to go back and re-read the entire series from the beginning. Click here for my overview of Powers, and click here for my comments on Volume I and Volume II of the series.
Powers Volume III lasted eleven issues, published between 2009 and 2011. Unfortunately, Volume III was plagued by the same publication delays that Volume II suffered from during the later part of its run. That made it hard for the stories of Volume III to gain momentum, at least for me, though in re-reading the issues all together now I found myself looking back far more favorably at Powers Volume III. Over-all, Volume III has a lot of great story-telling, though at such a short length (just eleven issues) it winds up feeling less complete than the previous two volumes.
At the start of Volume III, Detective Walker’s long-time partner, Deena Pilgrim, has left the police force and vanished to parts unknown. Walker has been paired up with a new partner, Detective Enki Sunrise. Detective Sunrise had previously investigated Walker for Internal Affairs, under the suspicion that he secretly had powers. Indeed, Walker once was the super-hero known as Diamond, though he lost his powers before the events at the start of the series. However, unbeknownst to anyone (but, to borrow a Mel Brooksian phrase, knownst to us), Walker once again has powers, having been given the mantel of the Millennium Guard at the end of Volume II, the secret cosmic protector of the entire planet.
The first story-line in volume III, “Z,” runs from issues #1-4. As I wrote in my closing comments upon re-reading the series a few years ago, those early issues of Volume III don’t click for me. The story-line focuses on Walker’s adventures as a super-hero in WWII, and then the “Rat Pack” type of gang that he and a bunch of other WWII super-heroes formed. The idea is that, feeling pretty high on what they had accomplished in winning the war, this super-hero Rat Pack became quite a bunch of punks in the ’50s, arrogantly feeling like the world should be their oyster. It’s hard not to love the Walker-versus-giant-Nazi-robot sequence in issue #2, and the idea of a super-hero Rat Pack is … [continued]
I am digging deep into some old Batman continuity, friends! After starting a project to re-read Grant Morrison’s years-long run on Batman (click here for part one, and click here for part two), I decided to also re-read some of the other Batman comics of that era. Parallel to the beginning of Mr. Morrison’s run on Batman, Paul Dini, one of the major creative forces behind Batman: The Animated Series (still my favorite non-comic book depiction of Batman), took over Detective Comics. Right now I am having a heck of a time re-reading Mr. Dini’s run on Detective!
While most comic books of the day favored lengthy, multi-issue stories (something that is still the case today, a style which I quite enjoy when done well), Mr. Dini took the opposite approach. In a deliberately retro choice, Mr. Dini decided to tell a series of done-in-one single issue stories. This is a surprisingly difficult task to do well. To introduce a compelling mystery and/or character story-line, provide several twists and turns for the reader and complications for our hero, and then to resolve everything in a satisfying conclusion, all within the span of just twenty-two pages is fiendishly difficult. Mr. Dini, thankfully, proves a master at this form of story-telling. Each issue is a little gem all of its own, an entertaining Batman short-story.
I was particularly heartened to see how seriously Mr. Dini took the comic book’s title. This isn’t Batman, this is Detective Comics. Almost every one of Mr. Dini’s stories has a mystery aspect, in which the Dark Knight Detective must use his brains, far more often than his fists, to solve the mystery and foil the villain’s plot. I love this more cerebral take on Batman. There are super-villains galore in Mr. Dini’s run, and there are certainly some great fight scenes. But the joy of each issue is in the slow unraveling of each new mystery, as the reader races with Batman to solve the caper.
Mr. Dini’s run gets off to a terrific start in Detective #821, illustrated by the great J.H. Williams III. In my post about Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, I commented that the Black Hand three-parter (in Batman #667-670) was my first exposure to Mr. Williams’ amazing art, but I now see that I was wrong, as I definitely read Detective #821 first. All of the characteristics of Mr. Williams’ spectacular work is on display: the brilliant way he shifts his art style to differentiate different characters and different situations, his dynamic page-layouts (including some particularly jaw-dropping double-page spreads), and a gorgeous, lushly painted depiction of Batman himself. I wish Mr. Williams had illustrated more than … [continued]
Last week I began my look back at Grant Morrison’s years-long run on Batman! His run got off to a great start, but then things got a little shaky:
The Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul – this storyline crossed over through Batman, Detective Comics, Robin, and Nightwing. I was very excited to read Grant Morrison’s take on Ra’s al Ghul, but this crossover was a huge disappointment. The artwork on all off the titles ranged from terrible to atrocious, really downright embarrassing for such high-profile DC titles. In addition to being just plain bad, the artwork is completely inconsistent from issue to issue, with, for example the look and costumes of Ra’s and Talia being totally different from issue to issue. (In one issue, Ra’s is a decomposing zombie in tattered rags, in the next he looks pretty normal just with some bubbles on his skin.) I understand different artists having different styles, but this is ridiculous. And the storytelling is totally inconsistent as well, with, for example, Grant Morrison writing Damian as an arrogant little bastard, while some of the writers on the other books depicted him as being far more sympathetic. (And all sorts of other snafus such as Damian escaping from Ra’s’ men at the end of Batman #670, and then the next issue, Robin #168, opening with Ra’s’ men reporting that they lost Batman. Who they weren’t even chasing!!) And ultimately, most damningly, the crossover amounted to nothing at all. Rather than being the Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul, as it was titled (which I had assumed would mean the return of Ra’s to prominence and significance in Batman stories moving forward), in the story’s epilogue in Detective Comics #840, Batman easily defeats Ra’s and takes him off the board. What a waste! What, then was the point of that whole story??
Batman # 672-675 — Tony Daniel, who took over drawing Batman during the Ra’s al Ghul crossover, continues as the series’ artist, a real disappointment to me. I was let down at the time, and I still am, that Andy Kubert only drew seven issues of this run with Mr. Morrison. I never cared for Tony Daniels’ artwork, I found it messy and lacking in clarity. I wonder if I would have enjoyed this part of Mr. Morrison’s Batman run more had a higher quality artist been illustrating it. It’s a big what-if for me. In these issues, Mr. Morrison returns to the weird story he had been spinning several issues earlier, when he introduced the the imposter Batmen and the black casebook.
In these issues, one of the imposter Batmen attacks police HQ. When Batman intervenes, the impostor shoots Batman in the chest, … [continued]
After completing my big project of catching up on Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern saga, I decide to dive back into another DC Comics epic: Grant Morrison’s long run on Batman. Mr. Morrison took over the Batman title back in 2006, and he’s been spinning a long, complex Batman yarn on and off ever since. (His story appears to be in its final stages in the pages of Batman Inc.). Unlike Green Lantern, I followed this story as it was published, and have re-read many of the individual issues ever since, but I always felt this story would be best enjoyed when read all together, as a whole. It’s been… well, interesting, to say the least!
Batman # 655-658 – This first four-part story, illustrated by Andy Kubert, starts things off strong. Mr. Morrison is one of the best writers out there at writing a dynamite first issue, and his first Batman story is no exception. Issue #655 kicks things off with all kinds of crazy moments, starting with Commissioner Gordon getting poisoned by the Joker and thrown off of the roof of the Gotham Police HQ, and then Batman shooting the Joker right in the head. Oh yeah, and then Mr. Morrison finally brings the seminal but usually ignored 1987 graphic novel Son of the Demon, by Mike W. Barr and Jerry Bingham, into continuity by reintroducing the son Bruce Wayne fathered with Talia, the daughter of the crime-lord Ra’s al Ghul.
Its a really strong opening, and the issues that follow are also very entertaining. There’s all sorts of madcap craziness with Talia’s army of man-bat ninjas, and a bravura sequence in issue #656 in which Batman fights the man-bats in the middle of a modern pop-art gallery. There are lots of Roy Lichtenstein-style paintings drawn into the backgrounds of the panels, and the old-style comic-booky captains and thought balloons drawn into those paintings in the background serve as a funny running commentary to the main story being played out in the foreground. It’s a very clever piece of work.
The centerpiece of the story is the introduction of Batman’s son, Damian, an arrogant pup who is nevertheless a brutally efficient warrior, having been trained since birth by the League of Assassins. This is a bold new direction in which to take a Batman story, that’s for sure, and Mr. Morrison makes a nice meal out of it in these early issues. It’s fun to see how this little terror makes everyone in the Bat-family crazy, particularly Robin (Tim Drake).
But while these issues are very strong, the seeds of problems that will bug me more as Mr. Morrison’s run continues can be seen even here. Specifically, unneeded … [continued]
Yesterday I published part one of my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012. You can also check out my Top 15 Movies of 2012: click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three.
And now, on to the conclusion of my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012!
5. Batman: Earth One – A staggeringly entertaining ground-one reinvention of Batman, I can’t believe how much I loved this hardcover graphic novel by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. I don’t have too much patience for creators reworking classic super-hero origins — do they think they know better than the original creators of these long-lived, much-beloved characters? And if you’re going to re-tell Batman’s origin, how could anyone possibly do it better than Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s superlative Batman: Year One from the eighties? While I wouldn’t consider this origin story to be superior to Batman’s established origin, it’s a marvelously entertaining what-if version in which all of the familiar beats play out differently. (And it’s hugely superior to DC’s first “Earth One” graphic novel, J. Michael Straczynski’s woeful Superman: Earth One.) Mr. John’s tweaks to the familiar characters (I particularly love Earth One’s versions of Alfred and Harvey Bullock) plus Mr. Frank’s exquisite art make this a knockout. I hope they make lots more sequels so that I can return to this world for further adventures.
4. America’s Got Powers – This six-issue mini-series (of which four issues have been published so far) has been blowing my socks off. Superstar artist Bryan Hitch (for my money, the very best illustrator of super-hero comic books working today) and Jonathan Ross have teamed up to create this original, powerhouse new series. Something has gifted a whole generation of young people with super-powers. A fearful government has rounded up anyone exhibiting special abilities, but to keep them (and the general population) from focusing on the hideous human rights abuses, they have created a super-powered reality TV show in which the super-powered kids compete for fame and glory. No surprise, the behind-the-scenes reality is far different than the happy, televised spectacle. This series is deft speculative fiction of the very best kind, crossed with a terrific super-hero adventure story. I have loved every single page. I hope this series continues beyond the scheduled six issues.
3. All-New X-Men – The biggest surprise of the year for me has been Brian Michael Bendis’ new X-Men series. The Beast, fearing that his life is nearly over and distraught at the state of the X-Men, the world, and the actions of his former best friend Scott … [continued]
Now let’s jump into my second Best of 2012 list, my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012!
First up, some honorable mentions. They didn’t make by best-of list, but I really enjoyed The Manhattan Projects, Secret, The Massive, the publication of Alan Moore’s last scripted issue of Supreme, the conclusion of RASL, Ultimate Spider-Man (dropping off my best-of list for the first time since I started doing this, but still a great comic book), Daredevil: End of Days, and Peter David’s X-Factor.
15. Batman Beyond: Unlimited – I am loving this continuation of the world of Bruce Timm’s animated Batman Beyond series. The comic has picked up on many terrific story-lines left hanging by the show’s conclusion, including Terry’s membership in the Justice League, Superman’s return to Metropolis, Terry’s relationship with Dana, the tragic events that befell former Robin Tim Drake (as depicted in the Return of the Joker DVD movie), and at last the introduction of Dick Grayson into Batman Beyond continuity. With the Justice League and the New Gods front-and-center, as well as a revitalized Jokerz gang, the stories feel suitably big and epic. I love that each issue is double-sized, with several serialized stories running concurrently. The art is a little inconsistent on some of the features, but I love Dustin Nguyen’s work, and I am absolutely delighted to see the great Norm Breyfogle once again illustrating a Batman comic.
14. Winter Soldier — Ed Brubaker’s final Captain America story-line has been terrific, returning full-circle to where his Captain America epic began years ago, with a still-alive Bucky Barnes operating on the fringes of the Marvel Universe, trying his best to be a hero in the murky world of spies and shadows. I love the relationship between Barnes and the Black Widow. I love how heavily SHIELD and Nick Fury are involved in the story. I love Butch Guice’s spectacular illustrations, at once retro and very modern. This is a great noirish super-hero story, and I’m going to be sorry to see it end.
13. Batwoman — J.H. Williams III’s lavishly illustrated series continues to impress me. Without question, the main draw is J.H. Williams III’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous art, so creative in terms of page and panel layout, and his use of different artistic styles for different characters/settings. But Mr. Williams has also been doing fine work as the writer, spinning a great mystery yarn that is grounded but not afraid to embrace the supernatural or the super-heroic. The latest story-line, featuring … [continued]
A little over a year-ago, DC Comics re-launched their entire universe. Abandoning all of their previous continuity, they re-started all of their characters and re-started every one of their comic book titles with a new issue #1. In that first month-or-two of this new DC universe, called “the New 52,” I sampled a number of new comics that I hadn’t been reading before, but after a few months I quickly found myself back to reading the same DC books/characters that I’d been reading before, with two exceptions: Brian Azzarello’s exceptional new take on Wonder Woman, and Geoff John’s Green Lantern.
For years I’d been reading and hearing about the wonderful work that Geoff Johns had been doing on Green Lantern, re-shaping that title into an exciting, galaxy-spanning epic saga, but for one reason or another I’d never started reading it. I have never been particularly interested in Green Lantern, and I have NEVER — in all of my comic-book-reading years, regularly read the Green Lantern comic. But with the New 52 relaunch, and Geoff Johns still writing Green Lantern, it seemed like a great place to finally give the title a try. I was immediately hooked by the story of that first issue, in which Hal Jordan has apparently been thrown out of the Green Lantern Corps, while arch-villain Sinestro (who began as a Green Lantern himself before falling from grace) has been accepted back into the Corps. I was hooked by the story, and by the gorgeous art of Doeg Mahnke. Not only did I continue reading the newly relaunched Green Lantern series, but I started picking up the also-excellent fellow title Green Lantern Corps.
But that wasn’t enough. I was intrigued by the Green Lantern stories I was reading, and desperately wanted to get myself filled in on the backstory. And so I decided to go back and read Geoff Johns’ run on Green Lantern from the beginning, and I’ve been writing about it here on the site since last spring. My previous reviews of Mr. Johns’ Green Lantern stories can be found by following these links: Green Lantern: Rebirth,The Sinestro Corps War, Secret Origin and the prelude to Blackest Night, and the Blackest Night event. When I finally arrived at War of the Green Lanterns, I was all caught up with the Green Lantern saga.
I’ve found DC’s New 52 relaunch to be altogether a mixed bag, and part of the problem has been that while some series and characters seem to have been completely retconned and relaunched from square one, others have continued on as before. Both the Batman comics and the Green Lantern comics have picked up in the … [continued]
And so I arrive at Geoff Johns’ final Green Lantern stories before DSC’s big “New 52″ relaunch! My previous reviews of Mr. Johns’ Green Lantern stories can be found by following these links: Green Lantern: Rebirth, The Sinestro Corps War, Secret Origin and the prelude to Blackest Night, and the Blackest Night event.
Green Lantern: Brightest Day – Another brilliant story-title from Mr. Johns, it seems perfect that the Blackest Night story should be followed by a story-line entitled Brightest Day. Very clever. I thought for sure this would be a letdown after the huge, epic Blackest Night, but it was anything but. Unbelievably, I found Green Lantern: Brightest Day to be even more engaging! Mr. Johns has completely exploded the Green Lantern universe, and I was thrilled to see that all of the multi-colored corps’ standard-bearers (Atrocitus, Larfleeze, Carol Ferris, Saint Walker, Indigo-1, and Sinestro) continue to be in center stage. These characters haven’t been forgotten or quickly brushed aside by Mr. Johns so he could return Green Lantern to the status quo. No, Mr. Johns has embraced the complexity of these characters and the saga he has been weaving. I loved watching these characters bounce off of one another in Green Lantern: Blackest Night, and they are all even more fun here. I love these multi-colored characters!! Mr. Johns has created a rich tapestry, and I love seeing him continue to peel back the layers of this universe. As I’d suspected from the end of Green Lantern: Blackest Night, in this story Mr. Johns has focused on the revelation that each one of the corps has an “entity” that embodies and manifests the emotions and power tied to their specific color/corps. It’s a very clever, logical idea — like so many of Mr. Johns’ Green Lantern stories, it feels like a perfect, supremely logical idea that is obvious in all the best ways. I also loved seeing Hector Hammond again. Things really go crazy in this volume (this is NOT AT ALL a lull after the events of Blackest Night), and the volume ends on a terrific cliffhanger. Spectacular story-telling, deliciously enhanced by Doug Mahnke’s incredibly detailed, evocative artwork. (I’m thrilled that, after Green Lantern: Darkest Night, Mr. Mahnke stayed on as the series’ artist!)
Green Lantern: War of the Green Lanterns — Through Blackest Night and then Brightest Day, I felt that Geoff Johns has been ratcheting the tension and the scale of his saga up and up and up. Sadly, here in War of the Green Lanterns (Mr. Johns’ final GL story-line before the “New 52″ universe-wide relaunch), I felt he stumbled. With the title War of the Green Lanterns,… [continued]
Last Spring, I started making my way through Geoff Johns’ years-long run on Green Lantern. I had heard and read so much praise for his defining work on the series, that I thought it high time to sample his stories myself.
I started with Mr. Johns’ hugely successful re-launch of the Green Lantern series (bringing back the original Green Lantern, Hal Jordan) in Green Lantern: Rebirth and his first several story-arcs on the re-started Green Lantern regular series, and then I moved on to his epic, galaxy-spanning Sinestro Corps War storyline, in which classic Green Lantern villain Sinestro creates his own corps to rival the Green Lantern corps. Whereas the Green Lanterns draw their strength from will, Sinestro’s Yellow Lanterns draw their strength from fear, and prove to be a near insurmountable foe for the GL Corps. That was a fantastic story-line, and at that point I was well and truly hooked on Mr. Johns’ stories, and eager to see where things went from there.
Green Lantern: Secret Origin – After the Sinestro Corps epic, Mr. Johns stepped back from the cosmic story he was telling to present an updated, fleshed-out version of Green Lantern’s origin. Taking a very similar approach as he did with his wonderful Superman: Secret Origin mini-series (click here for my review), Mr. Johns presents a wonderfully rich, detailed version of the hero’s classic origin story. This is very much a modern version of Green Lantern’s origin, in which three-dimensional characterizations have replaced the far more black-and-white simplistic characters seen in older versions. But it’s not a reject-everything, start-over-from-square-one story. Quite the contrary, Green Lantern: Secret Origin is steeped in the richness of the character’s complex mythology. That the story respects continuity while also presenting a fresh take on this familiar origin is the key to this story’s magic. It’s also fun to see how Mr. Johns has gone back and retroactively layered in characters and plot-lines from his current Green Lantern sagas. Hence we now see Abin Sur and Atrocitus discussing the prophecy of the “Blackest Night,” that Sinestro was first sent to Earth by Ganthet, and that William Hand (who would become the villainous Black Hand) was involved in one of Green Lantern’s first super-hero fights. It’s nice to see those stories and characters incorporated into the beginning of Hal Jordan’s story. The art by Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert is magnificent, crisp and detailed. It’s hard for me to imagine a more perfect art team on the book.
Green Lantern: Rage of the Red Lanterns – This is a fun collection, though less of a complete story than previous volumes. These stories serve more as an epilogue to events … [continued]
“Earth One” is a series of new original graphic novels from DC Comics. The idea is to re-invent their characters from zero by re-telling their origins as if they occurred in our world, a world without other super-heroes.
They launched the series two years ago with Superman: Earth One by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis. I thought it was pretty terrible.
When Batman: Earth One was announced, I had no interest. But then I read the graphic novel would be created by the team of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, who worked together on some terrific Superman comics a few years ago, including the spectacular six-part Superman: Secret Origin. (It’s a far superior re-telling of Superman’s origin than that seen in Earth One, and I also reviewed it in the above link.) OK, I thought, let’s see what they can do with Batman.
They knocked it out of the park! Now that Christopher Nolan has completed his trilogy of Batman films, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ll soon see a reboot of the Batman film series and another telling of Batman’s origin. In many ways, Batman: Earth One seems like a perfect pitch for an awesome new film version of Batman. I don’t know if that was the creators’ intention, but I could absolutely see this graphic novel working as a film.
Let me be clear: this story was not intended to be an “iconic” version of Batman’s origin. No, Mr. Johns and Mr. Frank have taken a very different approach, re-shaping and re-thinking aspects of the character and his origin. On the one hand, I am not exactly sure why that is something worth doing. Why bother messing with one of the simplest, most perfect origin stories in comics? Why change things that don’t really need to be changed? Why fix what isn’t broken? On the other hand, if one can let go of one’s sense of continuity and the occasional horrified “No! That’s not what’s supposed to happen!”, then this bold reinvention of Batman is very exciting and, for the most part, very successful.
I love the new version of Alfred. Physically the character looks totally different (yep, that gun-weilding dude on the cover is Alfred), and though the character’s central affection for Bruce Wayne remains, the changes are more than just physical. This is a younger, more vigorous, more virile Alfred than we’ve ever seen before. This Alfred is a military man, and in this story he becomes far more directly responsible for the training of the man who would be Batman than ever before. (Although the idea that Bruce Wayne spent years traveling the world training to become Batman is a … [continued]
After reading for the first time the first few years’ worth of stories from the old West Coast Avengers comics (in the handsome new collected editions that Marvel has been publishing for the past few years — click here, here, here and here for my reviews), I decided to complete the story by digging into my longboxes and pulling out John Byrne’s run on the series, which ran from issues #42-57.
Mr. Byrne’s run on West Coast Avengers (the title of which changed to Avengers West Coast with issue #47) was one of the first times, as a kid, that I fell deeply in love with a comic book series. It was also the first time I had my heart broken by something I loved in pop culture. Mr. Byrne’s abrupt departure from the series just as his story seemed to be reaching its climax still remains a deep disappointment to me, even so many years later. But I’ll get back to that later.
Even as a kid, it was obvious to me that Mr. Byrne’s issues on the title were dramatically better than the previous issues, and also dramatically better than pretty much every other comic book I was reading at the time. I still remember being at camp during the summer of 1989, and the feeling of extraordinary delight I had when my parents mailed me an envelope with the next issue of the series. When I hold issue #48 in my hands (in which the Scarlet Witch gets turned to evil by a creepy mysterious black alien force and easily defeats stalwart Avengers Captain America and the She-Hulk), I remember like it was yesterday reading that issue for the first time, and not quite knowing how I’d be able to wait four more weeks for the next issue to arrive!!
Mr. Byrne kicked off his run on the series in issue #42 with “Vision Quest.” This story-line is still shocking to me today. In retaliation for the Vision’s previous take-over of the world’s computers (which happened in an older issue of The Avengers), government agencies from across the globe band together to kidnap and disassemble the android Vision. Although the West Coast Avengers and the Vision’s wife, the Scarlet Witch, quickly discover the abduction and are able to track down the bad-guys, the Vision has essentially been killed. Genius Henry Pym is able to re-assemble the Vision’s body, but without his mind and his memories, the android is once again a soul-less robot. (I will freely admit that I still get a small chill when looking at the opening spread of issue #44, titled “Better a Widow…” in which we see a beautifully-detailed rendering … [continued]
Surprising myself most of all, I’ve been really enjoying Marvel’s recently-published hardcovers collecting the early issues of their Avengers spin-off, The West Cost Avengers. (I wrote about my thoughts on the collection of the original West Coast Avengers mini-series here, and about the first collection of the West Coast Avengers ongoing series here and the second collection here.)
So, when a third collection was released, I eagerly snapped it up. Lost in Space-Time collects West Coast Avengers # 17-24, written by Steve Englehart and illustrated by Al Milgrom and several different inkers. This collection draws its title from the multi-part “Lost in Space-Time” story that ran through those issues. It is, for the most part, a fun romp through Marvel history as the West Coast Avengers find themselves zapped into the past by a super-villain, using Dr. Doom’s old time-machine (first encountered way back in Fantastic Four #5). The time-machone is damaged, so that it can only travel backwards in time, not forwards. Wonder Man hatches a scheme to use the time machine to keep jumping further back in time, all the way back to ancient Egypt, where they know dwells the Pharaoh Rama-Tut, really the time-traveller Kang in disguise (as seen in Fantastic Four #20). Of course, the team encounters one snag after another, and as the story continues the team becomes split amongst several different time-periods. Although the story is quite dated by today’s standards , I thought it was a fun adventure, and I enjoyed the connections with many famous aspects of Marvel universe history. (I also appreciated the collection’s containing the full story of Rama-Tut from Fantastic Four #20, as well as Dr. Strange’s time-travel-trip back to that same period — an adventure also referenced by Mr. Englehart’s story — in Dr. Strange # 53.)
But the most intriguing aspect of the stories in this collection were the two more serious story-lines. Picking up on the last issue in the previous collection, this story begins with Hank Pym contemplating suicide. It’s heavy stuff, though I was impressed at how that development seemed perfectly in keeping with Pym’s character, especially as Mr. Englehart had been writing him. I was quite engaged by the issue (West Coast Avengers #17) that dealt with Mr. Pym’s readying himself for suicide, though I was a bit disappointed that Mr. Englehart seemed to walk Pym back to heroic normalcy pretty quickly. The second serious story-line in this collection concerned Mockingbird. I was particularly interested in this aspect of the story, because it sets the seeds for her divorce from Hawkeye, which occurred in the very first issue of West Coast Avengers that I picked up as a kid. … [continued]
My rollicking journey through several years-old DC Comics events continues! I’ve already written about Identity Crisis here and Infinite Crisis here, so now my attention turns to Grant Morrison’s 2008 mini-series Final Crisis.
Final Crisis – Vastly superior to 2005′s Infinite Crisis, Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis is a complex, layered, stupendously entertaining tale that also, sadly, collapses at the very end into an utter mess.
The first three issues are pretty much perfect. Nobody does mounting dread better than Grant Morrison, and the sense of real menace and danger for our heroes practically drips off of every page. It’s quite a feat to make the reader fear for any long-running comic book character (who you pretty much know will eventually be OK and return to the status quo), but somehow in much of Grant Morrison’s work I find an engaging edge of “I don’t know quite WHAT this crazy writer is going to do to any of these poor characters next!” Mr. Morrison also loves to incorporate Big Ideas into his super-hero work. I love that issue #1 opens in prehistoric times, as we see Anthro (the DC Universe’s “First Boy”) meeting Metron (of Jack Kirby’s New Gods, here serving as a Prometheus figure). It’s an indication that Mr. Morrison is setting out a more epic, universe-spanning tale than one might expect.
I love the use of Darkseid as the villain, and the terrible corruption and crumbling of tough-cop Dan Turpin is heartbreaking. (This is classic Grant Morrison — it’s difficult not to emotionally invest in the story when we see such horrible things happening to this good-guy character. Turpin’s fall is much more traumatic for me, as a reader, than the one-panel death of the Martian Manhunter, an event which I expected would be reversed before too long, as indeed it was.)
But what I particularly like about the early issues of Final Crisis is that, while they certainly encompass many characters in many locations and of many types: gods, super-heroes, and mortal men, the story is very focused (FAR more so than the rambling, wobbly Infinite Crisis). It’s a big story, but we follow the storie’s events through the eyes of a relatively small group of characters, and even when we cut away to new characters (like, say, the Flashes at the end of issue 2), it’s clear how those scenes are moving the main story forward. While the comic crosses over into other stories (I’m certain the Green Lantern issues published at the time give far more depth to the Hal Jordan-accused-of-murder storyline), we get enough in the Final Crisis issues themselves to be able to follow the story without feeling that we need to … [continued]
The word “Crisis” has always had a special meaning in the DCU, something solidified by the epic, line-rebooting Crisis on Infinite Earths from 1986. When Brad Meltzer titled his 2004 mini-series Identity Crisis, I wonder if he realized that his use of the “Crisis” name would launch a build-up to several additional universe-spanning “Crisis” events. Last week I wrote about Identity Crisis, and the build-up towards the 2005 mini-series Infinite Crisis. Now, let’s continue to my thoughts on that big event itself:
Infinite Crisis – Like The Omac Project, I remember thinking that Infinite Crisis had a great beginning but then petered out mid-story. Re-reading the whole series now, years later, I can see how the story hangs together a little more strongly than I’d remembered, but I still think that over-all, it’s not terribly successful. I love the beginning — the first issue is particularly strong. That issue highlights how the schism between Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman has reached a breaking point, with the three heroes unable to find any common ground. (I love the scenes between the three characters in that first issue, arguing with each other in the ruins of the Watchtower. Batman’s kiss-off line to Superman is still a killer: “They need to be inspired. And let’s face it, “Superman”… the last time you really inspired anyone was when you were dead.”) We’re shown how things are going wrong across the DCU, with a million Omacs unleashed world-wide, the Rann-Thanagar war raging across space, and the newly united super-villains brutally murdering the Freedom Fighters. (That gruesome sequence really threw me for a loop when I first read it, and it’s still shocking to read now.) Then, of course, there’s the last-page cliffhanger, which connects all of these events to Crisis on Infinite Earths, as we see that the return of the four survivors of the destruction of the multiverse from that story: the elderly Superman and Lois Lane from Earth-2, Alex Luthor from Superman-3, and Superboy-Prime. It’s a very surprising revelation, and a great hook for the story.
But things quickly fall apart from there. There are several problems with Infinite Crisis, in my opinion. First and foremost, it’s too big. The series is constantly bouncing around from location to location, and from character to character across the DCU. Unless you’re reading all of those characters’ individual titles (which I certainly wasn’t), it’s extraordinarily difficult to follow (can anyone explain to me what happened to the Flashes in issue #4?), and without any characters to really invest in, I lost my involvement in the story. This series should have been much more focused on the big three of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. The … [continued]
I’ve been having a ball, recently, reading the last few years’ worth of Geoff John’s work on Green Lantern. Click here for part one, in which I discuss Green Lantern: Rebirth and the subsequent collections of Mr. John’s work on the re-launched Green Lantern comic, and click here for part two, in which I discuss the massive crossover The Sinestro Corps War. The Sinestro Corps War dug deeply into DC Universe continuity, featuring as villains characters such as Superboy Prime (who was a main villain in DC’s line-wide crossover series Infinite Crisis) and the Anti-Monitor (the villain of 1986′s classic Crisis on Infinite Earths, the series to which Infinite Crisis was really a sequel).
Since I was a kid, I have always been more of a fan of Marvel Comics than DC. I’ve read far, far more Marvel comics than DC comics, and I am far more deeply-versed in the minutia of Marvel Universe continuity than I am with that of DC. Nevertheless, I’ve been reading DC comics since I was a kid, too. And while the only books that I have been reading regularly, year after year, are the Batman books, I’ve also picked up many of the big DC crossovers, as well as various other DC books from time to time. I’ve read a lot of the big DC events of the past decade, but I’ve never really gone back and re-read them. So I decided to take a pause in my reading of Geoff John’s Green Lantern stories, to read back through some of the big recent events in the DCU. I have read 1986′s Crisis on Infinite Earths several times, so I decided to start more recently, with 2004′s Identity Crisis.
Identity Crisis – Brad Meltzer’s story was pretty shocking at the time, and I must say it still packs quite a punch. It’s a very adult take on the characters of the DCU, one that is more than a little reminiscent of the great Alan Moore’s approach to telling stories of the DC super-heroes. (That is a compliment, not a criticism!) Identity Crisis kicks off with the shocking, brutal murder of Sue Dibney, wife of the DC hero the Elongated Man. But it’s the events of the second issue of the mini-series that really shocked — the revelation that, years ago, Sue was raped by the villain Dr. Light, and that in retaliation members of the Justice League wiped his mind, and that, in fact, the Leaguers had been doing that for years, any time a super-villain discovered anything that might put their secret identities in jeopardy and endanger their loved ones. Identity Crisis works on so many levels. It’s a great way … [continued]
One of the new DC comics I started reading following the DCU’s line-wide relaunch (called “The New 52″) was Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern. I’ve been really enjoying it, so I decided to go back and catch up on the saga Mr. Johns has been weaving in the Green Lantern books for the past several years. Click here for part one. The next collected edition I picked up reprinted the big cross-over event The Sinestro Corps War, which took place over several months in the two main Green Lantern comics (Green Lantern and the Green Lantern Corps).
The Sinestro Corps War – This was a fantastic story-line, my favorite since Rebirth. I loved Green Lantern: Rebirth, but my interest wasn’t quite as captured by the three subsequent collections of Mr. John’s run on the re-launched Green Lantern regular comic. But The Sinestro Corps War kicks things back up into high gear. The story is hugely epic, containing galaxy-spanning interstellar conflict featuring hundreds of characters, but it is also deeply personal, centered on the individual characters and story-arcs of Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner, and a few other characters. In many ways, this feels like the direct sequel to Rebirth, as the Parallax fear-creature returns (this time taking possession of Green Lantern Kyle Rayner), and the resurrected Sinestro steps back into the fore as Hal Jordan’s greatest nemesis. This story is HUGE, a fact driven home by the splash page at the end of the Sinestro Corps Special (the issue that kicked off this crossover) in which Sinestro’s allies are revealed as the Cyborg Superman, Superboy Prime, and the Anti-Monitor. This story is neck-deep in the intricacies of DCU continuity, but that didn’t prove an impediment to me, even though I’m not nearly as well-versed in the DC Universe as I am in the Marvel Universe. I’ve read enough of the big DC crossovers over the years to recognize all three of those characters, even if I don’t quite understand, for example, Superboy Prime’s back-story, or how exactly the Anti-Monitor was returned to life after Crisis on Infinite Earths. But in the context of this story, it doesn’t matter — Geoff Johns gives us just enough information to ground the motivations of all three villains, and together they set the stakes extraordinarily high, posing a threat that it seems impossible for our heroes to overcome. I loved that we get to see other DC heroes involved in the story’s climax — which makes sense when the Earth and the Universe was facing such danger — and I was pleased that we saw just enough of Superman, etc., while the story stayed sharply focused on Hal Jordan and the other Green … [continued]
When DC Comics rebooted their comic book universe with “The New 52″ initiative, I was interested enough to pick up several new DC books that I hadn’t been previously reading. (For my initial thoughts on The New 52, click here and here.) Now that we’re about ten months later, though, I’m pretty much back to just reading the DC books I was following before the relaunch. With two exceptions: I’m still reading and enjoying Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman and Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern.
I of course know all about the work that Geoff Johns has been doing , since 2004, to revitalize the Green Lantern franchise. Under his guidance, Green Lantern has become one of the central books of the DCU, and events from that title have often spun-out into company-wide events (such as “Blackest Night.”). I’ve been interested in what Mr. Johns has been doing, but I never read any of his work on Green Lantern. In fact, before The New 52, I don’t think I’ve ever purchased an issue of Green Lantern ever! (Maybe one or two crossover issues back during the Death of Superman/Reign of the Supermen days).
It’s not that Green Lantern holds no interest for me. I’ve certainly enjoyed the GL-based DC Animated DVDs (click here for my review of Emerald Knights), and I was very excited (though ultimately very let-down) by the prospect of a Green Lantern movie. But I grew up a Marvel fan, and I just never found myself drawn to Green Lantern’s comic book stories.
However, something about the cosmic mythology that Geoff Johns has been building up over the last number of years did interest me. And since I’ve found myself really enjoying the post-relaunch Green Lantern series (which doesn’t appear to be relaunched at all — it seems to be picking up directly from where the pre-New 52 Green Lantern comics left off), I decided the time had come for me to sample more of Mr. Johns’ work on Green Lantern. So I picked up a number of trade paperbacks, and dove in.
Green Lantern: Rebirth — I decided to go back to the beginning: Mr. John’s attempt to unravel the past decade’s worth of Green Lantern stories that had seen Hal Jordan become a mass-murdering psychopath, then eventually die and have his spirit bound to The Spectre, the DCU’s spirit of vengeance. Mr. Johns’ goal was to somehow bring Hal Jordan back into the center stage as the heroic Green Lantern once more. Rebirth is quite an extraordinary piece of work. What I loved about it was that Mr. Johns didn’t disregard any of the GL stories that had come before. He didn’t invalidate them, taking … [continued]
I’ve really been enjoying, over the past few months, dipping back into the archives of Mighty Marvel Comics to read some classic stories I’d never read before. As my anticipation for the Avengers theatrical film grew, I found myself drawn to a variety of stories from Avengers history. I do love me a nice handsome collected edition, and it was great fun to read some of these classic tales.
Captain America: The Captain – This lengthy tome collects the story-line that ran for about a year-and-a-half in Captain America back in 1987-89. When the U.S. government tries to exert control over Steve Rogers’ actions as Captain America, Rogers chooses to give up his super-hero identity. He eventually adopts a new identity of “The Captain,” while the government selects another super-human, John Walker, to become Captain America. But when tragedy strikes his family, Walker becomes increasingly unstable, leading to an inevitable confrontation between the two Captain Americas. I was just getting into comics in 1987, and I remember reading references to this story-line in various other Marvel comic books that I was reading at the time. But I’d never actually read the Captain America story, so it was really fun to revisit this lengthy chunk of Captain America continuity, written by Mark Gruenwald. There are aspects to the story-line that are a bit simplistic (the Presidential Commission assigned to oversee Cap’s activities comes off as just a little too evil), but the central story is a great one. I like that Mr. Gruenwald lets us spend a lot of time with John Walker. (After Cap quits in Captain America #332, for the next several issues we don’t see Steve Rogers at all — instead we follow John Walker’s story.) Walker is clearly flawed but also sympathetic, which creates a strong dynamic in the stories. I was pleased that this collection also included Iron Man #228, a key confrontation between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark (from the famous Armor Wars story-line) that takes place in the middle of this Captain America story-line. (That’s a nice attention to detail by the editors.)
Avengers: The Children’s Crusade – While most of these collected editions I’ve been reading have been collecting stories from 20-30 years ago, this handsome hardcover collects the nine issue mini-series that Marvel published last year. This story brings some resolution to story-lines begun by Brian Michael Bendis nearly a decade ago, in the famous Avengers: Disassembled story. After Disassembled and her actions in House of M, Wanda Maximoff (the Scarlet Witch) has been pretty much absent from Marvel Comics, her fate unknown. But with The Children’s Crusade, writer Alan Heinberg set out to bring some closure to Wanda’s story, and … [continued]
A few weeks ago I wrote about the collected editions I’d ben reading of old, classic Marvel Comics story-lines. Here are some more of the Mighty Marvel collections I’ve been reading lately!
West Coast Avengers: Sins of the Past — Picking up right where the previous West Coast Avengers Premiere Hardcover (which collected West Coast Avengers #1-9, and which I wrote about here), left off, comes this Premiere Hardcover collection of issues #10-16 and a two-part storyline from West Coast Avengers Annual #1 and Avengers Annual #15. The stories in this collection feel like less of a complete story than those in the first volume, but having enjoyed the first collection I didn’t mind as I just enjoyed reading the next series of adventures. (And I’m looking forward to the already-announced third volume which will collect the next batch of West Coast Avengers issues.) I’m not sure why anyone at Marvel feels these issues are significant enough to warrant being collected in these snazzy Premiere Hardcover editions, but I’m enjoying them. Mr. Englehart continues the blend of soap-opera and super-heroics that characterized the stories in the last collection. We get some nice resolution to the Master Pandemonium story-line left hanging by the first collection, as well as to Tigra’s struggles with the two aspects of her personality which were introduced in the previous volume. There’s a weird edge to Tigra’s characterization in these issues that is intriguing. We see her behave as, well, a bit of a slut in these issues, throwing herself at various different men (even the villain, Graviton!). It’s interesting to see this willingness to depict the sexual side of one of the characters — a prelude to some of what you see in many comics today, particularly in the Avengers issues written by Brian Michael Bendis — though I can’t help but feel that there’s something a little sexist in depicting this female character in such an unflattering way (especially when she briefly winds up as a chained love-slave to Graviton — I am not making that up). It’s an interesting tension.
Avengers: The Korvac Saga – Boy I’ve been aware of this famous Avengers story-line for decades, but hadn’t ever read it until now. It was fun to finally read this famous saga! I was very pleased that this collection begins by reprinting Thor Annual #6, which features Thor’s time-traveling battle with Korvac the Machine-Man and also featured the 31st century super-hero group The Guardians of the Galaxy. The story serves as an important prelude to the Korvac Saga that ran through Avengers #167-168 and #170-177, so I was really happy it was included. Those Avengers issues from 1978 were written by Jim … [continued]
I’ve written before about what a sucker I am for the gorgeous Premiere Hardcovers that Marvel Comics has been issuing for the past number of years, collecting seminal story-lines from their long history. I grew up a HUGE fan of Marvel Comics (I have always been more attached to Marvel than DC), and so the opportunity to catch up on some famous runs of Marvel Comics that I’d missed is compelling, and having these stories reprinted in such beautiful hardcover editions is just icing on the cake. Here are some of the hardcover collections from Mighty Marvel that I’ve enjoyed over the past few months:
Avengers: Assault on Olympus – I wrote before about reading the hardcover Under Siege that reprinted the famous Avengers story in which the Masters of Evil invaded Avengers Mansion and brutally beat the Avengers’ butler Jarvis. The stories in that collected edition left a number of plot-lines hanging, so I was pleased to see that Marvel had released a follow-up collection reprinting the next several issues of The Avengers, numbers 278-285 from 1978. These issues were written by Roger Stern and illustrated by John Buscema and Tom Palmer. The look of that Buscema/Palmer art is exactly the look I associate with the Marvel comics that I grew up reading in the ’80s, so it’s nostalgic fun to read these issues I’d never-before-read, drawn by that art team, and presented in such a beautiful way on shiny paper and with re-touched colors. Roger Stern’s story also reminds me of the classic Marvel Comics I grew up with. There’s a lot of rhetorical bombast (and a LOT of expository narration), but also rich characterizations. Pretty much each issue contains a complete adventure, but the issues connect to tell a longer story, and there’s a great deal of continuity from issue-to-issue, with subplots constantly providing intriguing hints at story-lines-to-come. This particular story, which focuses on the Avengers’ conflict with the pantheon of Greek gods (instigated by the grievous injuries suffered by the Avenger Hercules in the previous collection), isn’t exactly the best Avengers story I’ve ever read, nor does it have much larger significance in the over-all history of the Avengers (in the way that the events in Under Siege did). But it’s a perfectly entertaining story, and a great sort-of-epilogue to Under Siege. I also really enjoyed the stand-alone issue #280, included in this collection, that was written by Bob Harras and illustrated by Bob Hall and Kyle Baker. That issue focuses on the hospitalized Jarvis’ struggle to recover physically and mentally from the savage tortures he received at the hands of the Masters of Evil in Under Siege. In many ways it’s a very dated story, … [continued]
Welcome back to the conclusion of my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011! Click here for part one. (And click here for my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2011: part one, part two, and part three.)
5. Moon Knight – I really enjoyed Brian Michael Bendis’ years-long run on Daredevil with Alex Maleev, and their relaunch of Moon Knight has been pretty terrific so far. I love the new conceit that the slightly unhinged Marc Spector is now hearing the voices of Spider-Man, Captain America, and Wolverine in his head. The result is some great comedy as the three super-heroes banter back and forth in Moon Knight’s head. (Comic banter is a Bendis specialty!) Seeing Echo back in a lead role is just icing on the cake. I never thought Moon Knight could be at all interesting, but I guess the character was just the right sort of tabula rasa for an exciting reinvention. I hope this is the start of a long run for Mr. Bendis and Mr. Maleev on the character.
4. RASL – I wish Jeff Smith’s sci-fi opus would come out a little more frequently, but I can’t really fault creator/writer/artist/self-publisher Smith, seeing as how he’s pretty much doing everything himself on this comic. It’s just that the series is so good! I want more!! This adventure/love story is just grounded enough in real scientific theories to anchor all of the fun flights of fancy involving parallel universes, lizard-men, and weird-looking little girls. Jeff Smith’s art is perfection — with a cartoony stylization that is endearing, but also an extraordinary amount of detail to give all of the settings and characters a distinct, “real world” feel. It feels like things are really starting to come together with the story, which is very exciting. The wait between issues is BRUTAL!! If you’re a comic book fan but you’re not reading this self-published gem, do yourself a favor and remedy that immediately.
3. Criminal: The Last of the Innocent – The work that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips do together just keeps getting better and better and better. I love all of their projects, but the crime-comic Criminal has always been my favorite, and The Last of the Innocent might be the very best installment since the first story-line, “Coward.” In this dark tale, we meet young man Riley Richards, who is married to a beautiful, wealthy woman. But he’s tremendously unhappy, and when he returns home and reconnects with his old goof-ball friend and the blonde girl-next-door he used to have a crush on, he realizes that he just might have chosen the wrong girl. … [continued]
15. John Byrne’s Next Men – When Mr. Byrne’s Next Men series was originally released back in the 90′s, it was one of my very favorite comic book series. Mr. Byrne’s illustration skills were at their peak, and the story was just “mature audiences” enough to peak my teenaged interest. I was also very, very taken by the fiendishly clever circular narrative. I was disappointed when the series ended, particularly since it was only supposed to have gone on hiatus for a few months, BUT I thought that, if it had to end, Mr. Byrne had wrapped things up beautifully. I never imagined the series would ever return to the comic book stands, but lo and behold, IDW brought the series back for a nine issue run this year. There were moments when the relaunch approached the greatness I had remembered (I enjoyed the twisted revelations about Bethany in issue 4), but for the most part, I wasn’t quite sure the point of this new story. It sort of muddled the perfect ending of the series, without really enhancing what had gone before. Ultimately, I didn’t quite understand the new time-travel machinations, and so was left a bit underwhelmed. Still, new issues of John Byrne’s Next Men!! How cool is that??
14. Ultimate Spider-Man – I hated the whole Death of Peter Parker story-line, but I am very much enjoying the initial issues with the new Spidey. The focus on this young kid and his classmates reminds me very much — without being derivative — of what attracted me so much to this series when it began, over a decade ago (wow). Ultimate Spidey has been one of the most consistently enjoyable comic book series I have followed ever since it began. Attentive readers will note it has slipped down in the rankings of my end-of-the-year list in the past few years, but it’s still on here as one of the stronger serialized super-hero comic books out there. And god bless Mr. Bendis and his various artistic collaborators (including the very, very talented Sara Pichelli) for their consistency in getting this book out on a regular basis, month after month, year after year!
13. Kick Ass 2 – Mark Millar and John Romita’s sequel is just as gloriously profane and juvenile as the original. Taking the concept of “escalation” (an idea explored in many comic books and also in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight film) to the extreme, the … [continued]
Here’s a run-down of some of the comic-books I’ve been reading lately:
The New 52 — Back in September, I gave my comments on the big DC Comics’ series-wide re-launch. A few months later, with several more issues of a number of the DC titles under my belt, my thoughts remain pretty much the same. This relaunch has certainly prompted me to sample several DC series I wasn’t reading before (Green Lantern, Batgirl, Catwoman, Stormwatch), so in that respect the publisher’s goals have been accomplished. But right now I don’t imagine myself sticking with 3 of the 4 series I just mentioned, after their initial story-lines have concluded (the exception being Green Lantern, which I’m really enjoying and am considering continuing with), so the bump in my monthly DC readership might not last. I still have mixed feelings on the new Superman, the character that has been the most changed by the relaunch (at least amongst the DC series that I’m currently reading). The young, jeans-wearing Superman in Grant Morrison’s Action Comics is pretty unrecognizable, and while I’m enjoying this new take on the icon, I would imagine that two years from now these rough edges are going to be sanded off to return us closer to the character we all knew. That might not be a bad thing, as while I’m enjoying Action, it really doesn’t feel like Superman. It is better, though, then the bland, colorless five-years-later version of the character seen currently in Superman. Geroge Perez is giving 1980′s Chris Claremont a run for his money in the words-per-square-inch department, and with nowhere near the panache. As for Batman, the character least changed by the relaunch, I again have mixed feelings. I’m enjoying all four Batman titles right now, each in their own way, but all of these stories feel like they would have been entirely in place in the “old” continuity. There have been a couple of references to the five-year-old history of super-hero activity that we’ve been told exists in this new DC Universe, but I just ignore those references because they are totally ridiculous in these Bat-books that seem to have kept ALL pre-existing Batman history, including the existence of at least three Robins. There was even a reference in one of the Bat-books to Bruce Wayne’s year away (when he was “dead” following the events of Final Crisis). So that means that in only FOUR years of activity, Batman had at least THREE Robins? Ludicrous, and best ignored altogether. Hence my mixed feelings — these Batman comics are all entertaining, but that is totally unconnected to (and, indeed, I might even say in spite of) the relaunch’s new continuity.
Frank … [continued]
It’s been well over a year since I’ve last read a DC comic, but since this is the month that DC Comics is totally rebooting their entire comics line by starting over from scratch and launching 52 new #1 issues, my curiosity was piqued. I’ll not be buying all 52 new first issues, heaven forfend, but I have taken this opportunity to sample a whole bunch of ‘em. Here are my thoughts so far:
Justice League #1 — Written by Geoff Johns and pencilled by Jim Lee, this is the heavy-hitter. It was the first new #1 issue published, and is clearly intended to be the flagship title of the line. I thought it was good, not great. There’s not a whole heck of a lot of story in this first issue, so it’s hard to judge. Jim Lee draws super-heroes better than pretty much anyone in the business, so it’s a heck of a lot of fun watching Batman and Green Lantern fight cops for the first half of the issue, almost enough to make me forget that this is a pretty familiar scenario. Though this is the start of the big reboot, so far Batman felt pretty much like Batman, and Green Lantern felt pretty much like Green Lantern. Their costumes were tweaked but nothing major. The big reveal of Superman’s new duds on the last page left me underwhelmed. I’m all for ditching the red underpants, but there were a lot of little lines all over the costume that felt extraneous to me. I guess those lines are supposed to indicate that the super-suit is more armor than cloth, but why would Superman need armor? He’s Superman!
Action Comics #1 — Written by Grant Morrison, this was the comic that felt most like a real reboot than any of the other #1 issues I’ve read so far. This feels like a total reinvention of the character of Superman. In this issue we meet a young, inexperienced Superman. I’m not wild about his jeans and boots “costume,” but I’m intrigued by this young punk version of Superman. (Though Devin Faraci put a small damper on my enthusiasm by pointing out, with great accuracy, that this Clark Kent feels a heck of a lot like Peter Parker.) While this hot-headed, young depiction of the character made for a fun and surprising single issue, I wonder whether this is really the version of this iconic hero that DC comics is going to stick with. But I’m looking forward to the next issue!
Detective Comics #1 — A pretty good but not revelatory Batman vs the Joker story really grabbed my attention with the jaw-droppingly gruesome final page. Wowsers. Words … [continued]
Click here for a wonderful look at the films of the Coen Brothers. This fellow re-watched all of the Coen Brothers’ films (which sounds like a wonderfully fun project, by the way), and writes about his impressions of their body of work. It’s an impressive article, and I love his assessment of the Coens’ wonderful characters, who “verge on caricature yet have a vivid particularity that makes them hard to forget and easy to return to.” That’s a good a description as I have ever seen!
I love this look at Six Comedians We Wish Would Return to Stand-Up! I wholeheartedly agree. (There are some wonderful video clips embedded in that article.)
This fascinating oral history of the very short-lived Dana Carvey Show makes me want to track down those episodes and watch them immediately.
I am a big, big fan of Dave Sim’s sprawling comic book epic Cerebus, the unprecedented “300 issue limited series.” It gets pretty crazy (and, at times, pretty unreadable) near the end (I am a subscriber to the theory that Dave Sim went insane while working on his magnum opus), but the vast swaths of the story that are good are REALLY REALLY GOOD, some of the finest comic books ever created. It’s fun to see some writers giving Cerebus some much-deserved attention these days. Click here for a lengthy excerpt from the Comics Journal’s recent look back at the series, and I also am really enjoying the series of pieces running at comicbookresources.com, written by a writer who is reading through the complete epic for the first time. Click here for part one, and here for the even stronger part two. Although I personally choose to believe that the Cerebus story ends on the final page of Rick’s Story, I appreciate this author’s debunking the commonly-held notion that the last hundred issues of Cerebus are entirely without merit. He writes, and I agree, that it’s only in the series’ final stretch of issues — Dave Sim’s bizarre exegesis of the Torah — when the comic really becomes unreadable.
This is a great piece by A. O. Scott of the New York Times about three summer 2011 movies worth debating. I’m sad to say I haven’t seem any of them yet, but this wonderful article reinforces the desire I already felt to try to track all three films down as soon as possible. (The fact that I haven’t seen Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life but I have seen Cowboys and Aliens makes me feel a little sad inside.)
Holden Carver has agreed to go undercover in an attempt to infiltrate the criminal organization run by Tao, a genetically-manipulated super-villain of enormous intelligence and brutality. In order to create a cover that would convince even the super-intelligent Tao, only Holden’s boss — the spy-masker John Lynch — knows that Holden is actually a good-guy. Holden’s infiltration of Tao’s organization succeeds, but when Lynch is shot and falls into a coma, Holden finds himself hunted by his former allies and continually at risk with being exposed to his new “friends.” With no one to rely on but himself, is there any way out for Holden? And if he has to behave as a brutal criminal in order to pass as one to Tao and his people, does it really make any difference if once, long ago, he was one of the “good guys”?
This is the story of Sleeper.
I was first introduced to the work of writer Ed Brubaker and illustrator Sean Phillips in this Wildstorm series (originally published as two twelve-issue “seasons” from 2003-2005, and these days available in four soft-cover collected editions) and I immediately knew that this was a creative team to be reckoned with. I have followed their partnership voraciously ever since (click here to read my review of their noir crime series Criminal, and here for my comments on their super-villain witness protection program story, Incognito) and have never been disappointed.
The genius of Sleeper is the way that Mr. Brubaker and Mr. Phillips bring their noir sensibilities to the world of super-hero comics. Although there are characters with super-heroes in this story, there’s very little brightly-colored spandex. This is a gritty, street-level story about a criminal underworld and the flawed, morally compromised men who would stop them. The moral choices are brutally tough, and the good guys seldom come out on top. Right from the first issue, in which Holden is forced to viciously murder another deep-cover agent, just to protect his own cover, it’s clear that is is not going to be a simplistic series with any easy outs for the main characters.
I’ve waxed poetic about Sean Phillips’ artwork before, and this series is an excellent showcase for everything that he does so well. He has a great eye for characters, and his slightly-stylized renderings truly bring each individual character to life. His backgrounds are lush and wonderfully realized. Not in a hyper-detailed sort of way, but in that he is able to include just enough specific detail to perfectly capture the environment being depicted. He can draw crazy shoot-em-ups as well as he can draw two characters plotting in a darkened room. Just fantastic work.
Ed Brubaker … [continued]
In March, 2007, Sarah Glidden took a Birthright trip to Israel. The Birthright Israel program is funded by a variety of private philanthropists and provides 10-day trips to Israel for Jews around the world who have never been to Israel before. The purpose of the trips, according to the Birthright Israel web-site, is to “diminish the growing division between Israel and Jewish communities around the world; to strengthen the sense of solidarity among world Jewry; and to strengthen participants’ personal Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish people.”
Before going on the trip, Sarah felt pretty sure of her feelings towards Israel. Though she was curious to see the country for herself, for the most part she was critical of the Jewish state’s actions towards the Palestinian people. She went on Birthright ready to challenge the pro-Israel propaganda she expected from the tour. Her experiences on the program, though, were far more complex than that, and caused her to question her initial assumptions and re-evaluate many of her opinions. Eventually, Ms. Glidden set down to write and illustrate a memoir of her experiences, and the result is the wonderful graphic novel How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, which was recently published by Vertigo, a division of DC Comics.
The graphic novel follows the basic chronology of Ms. Glidden’s trip, with each chapter focused on the time that she and her group spent in various different parts of Israel. As the novel progresses, we follow Ms. Glidden’s experiences and get to know the various Americans on her tour and local Israelis with whom she interacts. As the Birthright participants learns about Israel — its history and its people — we readers get to explore this history as well. Ms. Glidden is skillful with the exposition — she’s constantly finding creative ways to illustrate the history lessons she receives, whether it’s by bringing to life the metaphor of stacks of hats to explain how a tel contains layers of the archaeological record (I laughed at the drawings of a little Sarah climbing up an enormous stack of hats) or by imagining herself talking to David Ben Gurion (Israel’s first Prime Minister) or the long-dead Zionist halutzim (pioneers) to help explain the events that led to the establishment of the Jewish state. I know a decent amount about Israel’s history, so none of this was brand-new to me. But the light-touch with which Ms. Glidden brought to those explorations of history kept me thoroughly engaged, and I was impressed by how skillfully she was able to weave those history lessons into the over-all narrative.
I was also impressed by how well Ms. Glidden was able to incorporate multiple viewpoints … [continued]
After having so much fun, recently, reading some great Marvel prestige hardcover and trade paperback collections of classic story-lines (click here and here!), I decided to finally read two other Marvel reprint collections that had been sitting for a while on my to-read bookshelf: Daredevil: Typhoid Mary and Daredevil: Lone Stranger.
Daredevil: Typhoid Mary reprints Daredevil #254-257 and 259-263, written by Ann Nocenti and illustrated by John Romita Jr. This story-line is a famous one, as it introduced the schizophrenic villainess Typhoid Mary to the Daredevil mythos. Being a long-time Marvel Zombie, I knew all about this character and this story-line, but I’d never actually read these issues, so it was a great deal of fun to finally read this story.
I don’t think Ann Nocenti is often thought of as one of the GREAT Daredevil writers, which is unfortunate because she had a long, terrifically entertaining run on the series. Her stories were a lot crazier than the more gritty, street-level crime sagas of Frank Miller or, more recently, Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker. But it’s a lot of fun to see Daredevil interacting with characters from the wider Marvel Universe in these stories, and Ms. Nocenti does manage to keep her stories connected to the real, human dramas and struggles of Matt Murdock and his supporting cast.
Right away in the first scene of this collection, it’s clear that this isn’t going to be your average ho-hum super-hero comic. In our introduction to the story, and to the character of Typhoid Mary, we see her murder a bunch of drug dealers and torch the place, all so she can have sex with her thug partner among the fire and the dead bodies (which gives her the thrill she needs to reach orgasm). Yowza! This ain’t your father’s comic magazine!
But it is a classic Daredevil story, in which the villain (in this case, both the Kingpin & Typhoid) plays both sides of Matt Murdock’s persona (the lawyer and the super-hero) off against one another, and we see Matt Murdock succumb to temptation (cheating on Karen Page with Mary) and then try to claw his way back to redemption. It’s a really terrific tale that reads as very edgy and modern — not dated at all as one might expect a story-line from the ’80s to be.
John Romita Jr. was really coming into his own during his run on Daredevil. These days I think he’s one of the very best comic book illustrators out there, and there’s a lot of blossoming greatness on display in these pages. The man draws a heck of a fight scene (DD’s tussles with Typhoid are visceral and violent), … [continued]
Here are some of the comics I’ve been reading lately:
Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis — It took such a long time for Warren Ellis and Kaare Andrew’s five-issue mini-series to come out, I decided to wait for all five issues to be published before reading it all in one go. I’m not quite sure why this was a miniseries, as opposed to just being published as part of the regular Astonishing X-Men series, but whatever. A decently entertaining story really rose in my interest mid-way through with a surprising twist that connected the narrative to a long-forgotten Captain Britain story-line: the Jaspers Warp. I adore those old Captain Britain stories, and getting to see Warpies and the Fury again really tickled my fancy. I do wish this story had lasted a few more issues — after a slow-burn build-up, everything got wrapped up surprisingly quickly.
Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #1 — The first Witchfinder mini-series, about paranormal investigator Sir Edward Grey’s adventures in London in 1879, was phenomenal, so I was very excited to read the first issue of the follow-up. The switch in art-styles and setting (this adventure is set in the Old West!) threw me for a bit of a loop, but by the end of the issue I was hooked on this new tale. John Serverin is a comic-book master illustrator, and seeing him work in Mike Mignola’s world is a thrill.
Powers #7 — After a weird detour during the first few issues of this third volume (that Rat Pack stuff just did NOT do it for me), with this issue I felt we were finally back with the Powers series that I knew and loved. I’m not sure where all of this Golden Ones stuff is going, but Christian Walker is back investigating the grisly death of a super-hero, and I couldn’t be happier. Plus, this issue sported a gorgeous cover by Michael Avon Oeming. I wish this book came out more frequently, but I’ll happily take what I can get. (And if the Powers TV series actually gets made, I will be super-excited!!)
Secret Warriors #25 — Puzzle pieces are falling into place fast and furiously as Jonathan Hickman’s series rushes to its conclusion. This issue was fun on every page as we learned a lot of key pieces of information about the linked histories of S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra, and Leviathan, and the story finally connected with Mr. Hickman’s superlative millennia-spanning S.H.I.E.L.D. series. I have no idea where any of this is going, but I’m enjoying the hell out of the ride and I’ll be sorry to see it end.
John Byrne’s Next Men #4 — I found the first three issues of this … [continued]
Last month I wrote about some of the great Marvel Premiere hardcovers I’d been reading, collecting some classic Marvel comics from days gone bye. I had so much fun reading those that I decided to dive into several other Marvel trade paperbacks that had been sitting on my “to-read” bookshelf. These aren’t quite as snazzy as the premiere hardcovers, but they’re some slick new collections of some great old comics. Here’s what I’ve been reading:
Excalibur Visionaries: Warren Ellis — This three-volume series collects some of Warren Ellis’ earliest work for Marvel comics, helming the continuing adventures of the British X-Men spin-off, Excalibur. Chris Claremont & Alan Davis’ original run on Excalibur was one of the very first comic book series that I ever fell in love with. It was also the series that taught me how sometimes the magic of a comic book is due to it’s creative team, as once Claremont & Davis left the book, the subsequent writers/artists could never capture the spark of their run. Those were some bad comics. Just when I’d about given up on the series, Alan Davis returned (this time as artist and writer) for a lengthy run that tied up many of the loose ends left hanging by his original issues with Mr. Claremont. Those were some GREAT comics! But once Mr. Davis left the book, Excalibur again plunged right into the crapper. It only took a few issues for the follow-up writers/artists to destroy the book (killing Cerise, replacing Captain Britain with the moronic “Brittanic”) and I dropped the title. But I would always keep my eye in the book, and I did occasionally pick up some future issues. Several of them were written by Warren Ellis, and while I didn’t like the direction in which Excalibur had been taken, those Ellis issues weren’t bad.
Cut to present day. I’m a HUGE fan of Mr. Ellis’ work. He initially caught my attention as the writer for Wildstorm’s Stormwatch, The Authority, and the incredibly amazing series Planetary (read my review of the series here), and he’s also written some really top-notch Marvel comics, particularly in the Ultimate universe. (His Ultimate Galactus story ranks among my favorite super-hero comics of the last decade.) So when I saw that Marvel was collecting his early run on Excalibur from 1994-96, I was intrigued. What would I think of those issues, looking back on them today?
All in all, not bad! This is definitely not the Excalibur team that I fell in love with, and these stories don’t hold a candle to Chris Claremont & Alan Davis’ work. Still, it’s interesting to see these sort-of proto-Warren Ellis stories. … [continued]
Over the past few years, Marvel has been reprinting many famous and well-thought-of story-lines from years past in a series of gorgeous Premiere Edition hardcovers. Many of the story-lines being reprinted are ones I’ve already read or own, and there are some that just don’t interest me, but there have been quite a few of these Premiere Editions that have collected old comics that I’ve always wanted to read. The idea of finally having a chance to read those old stories — reprinted in handsome hardcover collections — is very appealing to a hard-core comics fan like myself! Here are some of the ones I’ve read recently:
The Death of Captain Marvel — Despite being a momentous event in the history of the Marvel Universe, and despite my having read and loved quite a lot of Jim Starlin’s cosmic stories from the ’70s and ’80s, I never actually read The Death of Captain Marvel graphic novel (Marvel’s very first graphic novel ever published!). This hardcover not only reprints that famous graphic novel, but also several earlier Captain Marvel comics whose events play a part in the Death of Captain Marvel story. It’s really cool to see those older comics included. They’re certainly not critical to understanding the Death of Captain Marvel, but they’re fun samplings of Captain Marvel’s long history of outer-space adventures. It’s interesting to read them, and compare them to the more mature, somber story-telling of Jim Starlin’s epic The Death of Captain Marvel. It’s easy to forget, today, just how ground-breaking that story was, when it was originally published back in 1982. Not just that a prominent character was being killed off, but also that he would perish not as the result of some super-hero/super-villain slugfest, but as a victim of cancer. I applaud Mr. Starlin’s boldness in incorporating such real-world drama into the stories of his cosmic characters. While this does lead to some narrative silliness, in which Mr. Starlin has to come up with some not-quite convincing reasons for why none of the Marvel Universe’s array of geniuses (Reed Richards, Tony Stark, etc.) can cure or at least staunch the spread of the cancer affecting the Captain, it’s a forgivable sin. I can suspend my disbelief enough to be able to invest in the drama of the story Mr. Starlin was crafted. (Anyways, those scenes aren’t nearly as weird as the one in which the dying Captain Marvel suggests that his womanizing buddy, Eros, “look after” his girlfriend Elysius once he’s gone…) Over-all, the story stands up quite well, and I particularly enjoyed the final fourteen pages, everything that happens after the caption “midnight.” It’s a very clever way to end the story, and … [continued]
5. Incognito: Bad Influences – Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ sequel to their terrific series, Incognito, has only just begun but I’m already deeply hooked again on the story of former super-villain Zack Overkill. At the end of the last series, Zack had thrown in with the S.O.S. (the agency that tries to hold the line against the super-villain crime gangs). Now they’ve sent him back undercover into the criminal world, in an attempt to contact another S.O.S. undercover agent who has apparently gone rogue. There’s no way this is going to end well. Mr. Brubaker’s fusion of super-hero and crime stories is as engagingly clever as ever, and Mr. Phillips gritty, evocative art (aided by Val Staples’ gorgeous colors) makes each page a real work of art. Phenomenal stuff.
4. Baltimore: The Plague Ships — Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden bring their vampire-hunter character, Baltimore, from the pages of their novel (Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire) into the comic-book world, and the result is a wonderfully creepy mini-series. In France in 1916, Lord Baltimore hunts the vampire, Haigus, who destroyed his family. But when he and the Gypsy young woman traveling with him find themselves shipwrecked, they discover a graveyard of German submarines and an even more terrible threat. Ben Stenbeck’s illustration work and Dave Stewart’s colors work together beautifully to bring this dark, suspenseful tale to life. It’s a compelling horror story that has really stuck with me since I finished reading the series. I am very excited for the next Baltimore mini-series, coming this year!
3. S.H.I.E.L.D. – This series took me completely by surprise. I almost didn’t buy the first issue, but thank goodness that I did! Jonathan Hickman’s story about the secret origins of the Marvel Universe — from Leonardo DaVinci’s encounter with a Celestial to Galileo’s fight with Galactus to the secret work that Anthony Stark and Nathaniel Richards (the parents of Tony Stark — Iron Man — and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four) did together, this series is stuffed to the gills with interweaving characters and story-lines that span centuries, and a heck of a lot of BIG ideas. Mr. Hickman’s story is complex, inventive and unique, and the artwork by Dustin Weaver and Christina Strain is absolutely gorgeous.
2. Serenity: Float Out and The Shepherd’s Tale — Dark Horse Comics only released two short stories, this year, set in the universe of Joss Whedon’s … [continued]
I hope you all enjoyed my Top 10 Movies of 2010 list (click here for part one, and here for part two) and my Top 10 DVDs of 2010 list (click here for part one, and here for part two)! Now on to my list of my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2010!
Honorable Mentions: Hoo boy, did I read a lot of really fantastic comic books this past year. In addition to the titles listed in my Top 15 list (I couldn’t even keep this list contained to a Top 10), I also really enjoyed: The Marvels Project, X-Factor, X-Factor Forever, New Avengers, Avengers Prime, Batman: Streets of Gotham, Batman and Robin, The Stand, Astro City, RASL, Ultimate Thor, Ultimate Mystery, Ultimate Doom, and the final issues of Ex Machina. I’m also pleased beyond words that John Byrne’s Next Men has finally returned to life (even though I don’t think the first two issues of the relaunch have come anywhere close to the greatness of the original Next Men series).
15. Superman/Batman Annual #4 — OK, this isn’t a series, but an incredible single issue. The Batman Beyond mini-series that DC published this year was great, but this one-shot annual was absolutely phenomenal. Set some-time after the conclusion of the Bruce Timm-masterminded TV series Batman Beyond, this issue picks up story-threads left dangling by the show’s Justice League two-parter “The Call.” An older Superman comes out of the fog of years of mind-control to attempt to pick up the ruins of his shattered life, and Batman (Terry McGinnis) must confront the man who took over Metropolis in Superman’s absence: Lex Luthor. A great story by Paul Levitz with gorgeous art by Renato Guedes and Jose Wilson, this was a real winner.
14. Nemesis – This profane and extraordinarily violent four-issue series from Mark Millar and Steve McNiven was gloriously outrageous fun. The premise is simple: what if Batman, instead of being a hero, had used his incredible mind and enormous fortune to become the world’s most dangerous super-villain? Fourteen-year-old me would have thought this was the greatest comic book ever created, and the older, balder version of me also thought it was a heck of a lot of fun. (It would have been higher on this list if not for the last few pages of the final issue which, to me, didn’t make any sense.) They’re not on this list, but I also enjoyed Mark Millar’s series Superior and Kick-Ass 2 (of which one issue has been published so far).
13. Star Trek: Leonard McCoy: Frontier Doctor – John Byrne was the first comic book artist/writer who I ever … [continued]
Here are some of the comic books I’ve been reading lately:
Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale — This gorgeous hardcover graphic novel finally reveals the mysterious back-story of Shepherd Book, the enigmatic preacher from Joss Whedon’s dearly-missed TV series Firefly. I always felt that the character, played to such perfection by Ron Glass, was one of the more intriguing members of the show’s ensemble. This man of peace clearly had a great deal of knowledge of war, and about the inner workings of the Alliance, but we never got to know the character’s full story. With Book’s tragic death in the film Serenity, and that film’s poor box office killing the hope of any further sequels, it seemed that Firefly fans would be left always wondering about the much hinted-at history of Shepherd Book.
Dark Horse Comics to the rescue! The publisher has put out several Serenity comic books over the past few years, but The Shepherd’s Tale is the high-point. Written by Joss Whedon and his brother Zack Whedon (a very talented writer in his own right, Zack was a key creative voice behind Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and wrote Dark Horse’s terrific recent Terminator series), this is the official, canon, straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth version of Shepherd Book’s story. It’s a wonderful tale, presented in vignettes told in reverse chronological order. In a clever touch, we begin with Book’s death (and, by the way, Book’s narration of the moment of his death is so perfect, so wonderful, that once again my heart aches at the demise of Firefly) and then work our way back through his life. (I should note here that, as wonderful as the choice to present Book’s life in reverse chronological order is, its impact was a bit diminished for me since I have long held Star Trek Annual #3, “Retrospect,” published by DC Comics back in 1988, to be one of the greatest comic books I’ve ever read. That issue, written by Peter David and illustrated by Curt Swan & Ricardo Villagran, presents the story of Scotty’s life-long love affair with a doomed woman in reverse order, from the moment he learns of her death back all the way to their first encounter as little kids. It broke my heart when I first read it as a kid, and I have re-read it a thousand times in the years since. But back to Serenity…)
Chris Samnee’s art is gorgeous, dense and atmospheric. He’s not an expert at capturing the features of the actors from the TV series, but his art is so expressive that I didn’t mind a bit. He totally captures the “feel” of Shepherd Book, and he’s an expert at creating a … [continued]
Last month, series creators Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris unveiled the series’ final issue: number 50. So what did I think of it?
(I’ll try to be vague about the details, but of course there are SPOILERS ahead.)
In short, it’s a poignant and gut-wrenchingly emotional end to the series, wonderfully written by Mr. Vaughan and gorgeously illustrated by Mr. Harris. I do have some lingering dissatisfaction, though, which I’ll get to in a minute.
For the most part, during the run of the series, ex-super-hero Mitchell Hundred managed to overcome all of the obstacles that he encountered — whether they were of the super-villain OR New York political opponent variety. But the first two pages of issue #1 (which I had quite forgotten about until re-reading the entire series from start-to-finish last month) warned readers that the story of Mitchell Hundred “may look like a comic, but it’s really a tragedy.” With that in mind, as the series approached its end I have been nervously waiting for the other shoe to drop. In issue # 50, it dropped, and it dropped hard.
Although the stories they told were completely different, Ex Machina bore a number of stylistic similarities to Mr. Vaughan’s other amazing comic-book series, Y: The Last Man. Both series utilized flashbacks in almost every issue; both series used a device of giving an exact date for every issue’s events as well as for the flashback scenes; both series revealed the title of each issue on the final page; etc. And in Y: The Last Man as in Ex Machina, the protagonist and his friends seemed to be able to always best their opponents throughout the series. That all changed in the final issue (#60) of Y, which is one of the most emotionally devastating comic books I have ever read. Spanning many years, that final issue presents the fates of Yorick and the rest of the primary characters in the series — and in almost every case, those fates are horrifically tragic. I have a lot of problems with that final issue of Y. While I must doff my proverbial hat to Mr. Vaughan for being able to write a comic-book that so profoundly affected me emotionally, I am to this day upset at the practically unremittingly tragic fates that befell the main cast of the series, all of whom I had grown to love over the run of the book. It seemed needlessly cruel to the readership to have crafted such a bleak ending, and while emotionally powerful, it felt to me to have been somewhat out-of-step with … [continued]
One of my favorite comic-book series of the last decade, Ex Machina, drew to a close last month. Before reading the 50th and final issue, I decided to go back and re-read the entire run of this extraordinary series.
Ex Machina tells the story of Mitchell Hundred. In a world very much like our own (i.e., a world without any super-heroes like the ones you find in comic books), an accident on the docks gifts him with the mysterious ability to communicate with and control machines. As a life-long comic-book reader (and egged on by his gruff but idealistic mentor, nicknamed Kremlin), Mitchell decides to become a super-hero, The Great Machine, and fight crime in New York City. After a series of rather hapless adventures (more like misadventures), he decides that he could accomplish more within the system, so he runs for Mayor of New York City. Though Hundred is first treated like a joke, his actions on September 11th, 2001 (the details of which are slowly revealed over the run of the series, but the gist of which are captured by the staggering final page of the first issue — more on this in a minute) lead to his being shockingly victorious at the poles. Ex Machina chronicles his tumultuous four years (from 2002-2005) as Mayor of New York City.
What’s extraordinarily impressive about Ex Machina is its verisimilitude. That’s a strange word to use in connection with a story about a former super-hero, but I think it’s appropriate. Author Brian K. Vaughan takes his fictional characters and weaves them in and out of the real events that transpired in New York City and the country in the years 2002-2005. Although there are a few super-heroic smack-downs (unsurprisingly, a few out-of-the-ordinary figures from Mayor Hundred’s super-hero past do show up during the course of his four-year term), for the most part Ex Machina deals with Mayor Hundred and his friends & staff (an extraordinarily well-realized ensemble of characters) wrestling with potent, real political issues: gay marriage, censorship in art, education reform, abortion, and more. Ex Machina is a very “talky” series, but that’s not a criticism — Mr. Vaughan’s scripts are dense with fascinating political intrigue and conversation. As someone who follows politics pretty attentively, I was continually impressed with the historical details constantly woven into the stories. This is a smart book.
This rather intellectual approach to a super-hero story is extraordinarily well-matched by the art of Tony Harris (ably enhanced by inkers Tom Feister and Jim Clark and colorist JD Mettler). The bulk of the drama in Ex Machina, as I just mentioned, comes not from super-hero slug-fests but from people talking with one another, … [continued]
Last month I wrote about a number of great comic books that I’d read lately. Here’s some more of the fun stuff I’ve been reading these past few weeks:
The Marvel Art of Joe Quesada — I remember taking note of a young artist named Joe Quesada back when he was illustrating Azrael for DC Comics and a variety of books for Valiant Comics (like Ninjak and, as I recall, a zero issue of X-O Manowar), and I’ve been following his work ever since. These days he’s one of the biggest superstars out there, but not just as an illustrator — Mr. Quesada has been the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics for a decade. This gorgeous oversize hardcover is a comprehensive look back at his work for the House of Ideas. In particular, I love the spotlight given to all of his phenomenal cover work. I wish there was a little more commentary provided along with all the beautiful reproductions of his work (I’ve been spoiled by the way the Cover Run: The Art of Adam Hughes book contained commentary by Mr. Hughes for EVERY IMAGE), but that’s a minor complaint. A stunning collection that sits proudly on my bookshelf.
Baltimore: The Plague Ships — Another winner from Mike Mignola and his team. Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden (working together to bring the lead character from their novel Baltimore,: or, the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire to the world of comic books) with wonderfully atmospheric art by Ben Stenbeck (and phenomenal coloring by Dave Stewart), the mini-series has me gripped so far. Lord Henry Baltimore hunts vampires across Europe in the early 1900′s. It’s grim and bloody and phenomenally good.
The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects — Speaking of Mike Mignola, I must also heap praise on this wonderfully loony hardcover collection of his one-off story, The Amazing Screw-On Head (about a robotic head that can screw into various elaborate action-figure bodies in order to hunt monsters for Abraham Lincoln) along with a variety of other equally bizarre short-stories (many of which were written and drawn specifically for this collection). Wonderfully off-beat and gorgeously illustrated by the phenomenally talented Mr. Mignola, I am in love with this handsomely-designed collection.
Dr. Horrible and Other Horrible Stories — I was a bit dubious that the characters from Joss Whedon’s triumphant web-series Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (read my rapturous review here) could translate to comics, but this softcover collection (reprinting Dark Horse Comics’ Dr. Horrible one-shot from earlier in the year along with several other short stories spotlighting different characters from the Dr. Horrible universe) but boy was I wrong. Zack Whedon wrote all of … [continued]
Although my life is as hectic as usual, I did have a little time off after the summer that allowed me to catch up on a whole host of great comic books that had been sitting unread on my shelf! Here’s some of what I’ve been reading lately:
Batman #700 – “Time and the Batman.” Loved this one. It’s a great mind-bender of a story, set in three different eras. This issue had all the Grant Morrison weirdness that I love, but contained in a one-shot story that had a strong resolution. Great art, too, by Tony Daniel, Frank Quitely, Andy Kubert, and David Finch.
Streets of Gotham – I am continuing to love this series. Fun mystery/adventure stories by Paul Dini and great art by Dustin Nguyen equals a winner for me.
The Marvels Project — I caught up with this whole miniseries by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting, depicting the early (WWII-era) days of the Marvel Universe. Brubaker and Epting are enormous talents, and great collaborators, but I wasn’t bowled over by this series. It felt like pretty familiar ground (covered pretty thoroughly by Alex Ross and Kurt Busiek’s seminal series Marvels), and while the story was engaging and entertaining I didn’t feel like I learned any dramatic revelations about the origins of the Marvel Universe.
Nemesis — Another hyper-violent series from Mark Millar, but I’m loving every juvenile minute so far. Glorious art by Steve McNiven. I’m really eager to see where this goes.
Powers — Boy, after singing the praises of this long-running (over a decade!) series in the spring, I’m sad to say I’ve been disappointed by the first five issues of volume 3. The issues all seem rushed — the usually stupendous art feels scratchy and unfinished, and the story feels half-baked. (We’ve seen that Walker has been a good guy ever since the dawn of time — yet suddenly we learn he was a prick back in the ’50s? Doesn’t really work for me.) I hope things pick up soon.
Avengers and New Avengers — I know he has his critics (and I just said I’m not loving Powers these days), but I get enormous enjoyment out of the vast majority of Brian Michael Bendis’ writing, and I love how things have kicked off with his re-launches of these two series. In Avengers, he and the phenomenally talented John Romita Junior are telling a big, huge, cosmic time-travel storyline that is rollicking along, while in New Avengers he and the equally phenomenally talented Stuart Immonen are crafting a slightly more down-to-earth tale that nevertheless involves an upheaval in the magical aspects of the Marvel Universe and the possible destruction of … [continued]
I’ve been catching up on some wonderful comic books lately (as well as some books/publications about comic books). Here’s some of what I’ve been reading and enjoying:
Do Anything: Thoughts on Comics and Things by Warren Ellis – This collection of essays (subtitled Jack Kirby Ripped My Flesh: A Grand Tour Through Comics & Culture As Seen Through a Burgled Robot Head) as a phenomenally entertaining madcap history of comics, specifically the work and influence of comic book master Jack Kirby. Mr. Ellis is one of the very best comic book authors working today. His work is usually characterized by a torrent of BIG IDEAS that tend to unfold at a rapid clip, and that quality has been embodied in spades in these collected essays. Mr. Ellis bends language to his whim (turning, for example, the use of a parenthesis into an art form) as his thoughts pour forth in rush that is at once hilarious and insightful. This tome is thick in “inside baseball” for the world of comic books, and there were a great many names and references that were unfamiliar to me. But that’s part of the fun of this collection. At its essence, Do Anything is a powerful exhortation for creative folk to make their own, original work. I defy you to get to the end and not be filled with the desire to double your efforts in your own creative endeavors.
Modern Masters Volume 24: Guy Davis by Eric Nolen-Weathington — The continuing Modern Masters series, published by TwoMorrows Publishing, has been one of my very favorite comic-book related publications ever since their first installment (spotlighting the extraordinarily talented Alan Davis — no relation to Guy). I have devoured each subsequent volume in the months and years since. I was absolutely delighted to see the latest installment spotlight Guy Davis, whose wonderfully idiosyncratic work I discovered and fell in love with in the past few years’ worth of B.P.R.D. mini-series. Mr. Davis’ work manages to be at once cartoonishly stylized — with the frequent use of simplified exaggeration in his characters’ expressions and poses — while also being extraordinarily detailed. Mr. Davis is one of those rare artists who seems to be able to draw just about ANYTHING. As with all of the Modern Masters volumes, this over-sized book consists of a long, in-depth interview with Mr. Davis by Mr. Nolen-Weathington. The interview is far-reaching, covering Mr. Davis’s youth and start in the business, through his period working for DC (most notably on Sandman Mystery Theatre), up to his involvement in Mike Mignola’s Hellboy universe. There is also a fantastic portfolio section at the back of the book, with a series of black-and-white … [continued]
Yesterday I began writing about the terrific comic book series Powers, by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming. I’ve had great fun, over the past few weeks, re-reading the series since the very beginning.
I have no idea what prompted me to pick up issue 1 of Powers ten years ago. I think I might have previously read a collection of Mr. Bendis’ series Jinx, and maybe I recognized his name on the comic. Or maybe it was the dynamic, eye-catching cover by Mr. Oeming. Either way, I have a distinct memory of reading the first issue while sitting and waiting at my barber shop, and being completely blown away by this exciting, dynamic new type of comic book.
It was a kick to go back and re-read those early issues, now a decade later. They hold up remarkably well. It’s clear, right from the beginning, that Bendis and Oeming were a powerhouse team, and that they had seized on a really unique, engaging concept for a series. But it’s also fascinating to see how dramatically both men’s styles have changed over the years. The early issues are VERY dialogue-heavy. Mr. Bendis has always been known (and rightly so) for his dialogue, and it is very common for him to cram far more dialogue into one of his issues than can be found in most comic books. However, the early issues or Powers are literally drowning in word balloons. Now, that’s not a criticism. The dialogue is phenomenal, and is a huge part of what gave Powers its distinct feel. But as the decade has passed I think Mr. Bendis has grown a lot more confident in his collaboration with Mr. Oeming, and more willing to let the images stand on their own to tell the story. It’s also interesting to see Mr. Bendis’ reliance, in those early issues, on incorporating a lot of police lingo into the dialogue, without any explanations as to what the terms mean. I remember noticing that right away when first reading issue one. I thought it was cool, and that it helped with the you-are-there sort of realism that Mr. Bendis was trying to create with his stories. I think it is another mark of Mr. Bendis’ growing confidence in his skills, and in the series, though, that those sort of things faded away as the series progressed.
Mr. Oeming’s drawing style was also quite different, back in those early issues. It’s neat to look back and see him experimenting with his page lay-outs (using multiple panels, large blocks of black space, etc.), and even more-so with the way he drew characters and especially faces. One can see … [continued]
Detective Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim investigate homicides that involve super-powered individuals. But what does it mean to be a cop in a city filled with super-heroes?
That is the deceptively simple premise for Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming’s comic book series Powers. With the series celebrating a decade of its existence, and just a few months ago beginning to release volume III of its run, I thought it would be fun to re-read the entire series from the beginning. I’ve been reading the series since the release of issue 1 back in 2000, and it has remained one of my favorite comics throughout that time.
Brian Michael Bendis has found great success writing and drawing a number of black-and-white crime books (Jinx, Goldfish, Torso) and also, over the past ten years, writing mainstream super-heroes for Marvel Comics, where he has become one of their pre-eminent authors guiding Ultimate Spider-Man, Daredevil, and the Avengers franchise (among others). But, to me, Powers remains his most potent creation. This fusion of street-level noir, crime stories with a world filled with super-heroes has proven to be an incredibly elastic concept through which Mr. Bendis & Mr. Oeming have been able to tell all sorts of stories over the past decade of the series.
There are few writers working in comics — or, frankly, in any artistic field — who can equal Mr. Bendis’ facility with dialogue. This man can capture the way people really speak, and right from the beginning this enabled him to draw the reader into the world of homicide detectives. This realism provides a key counterpoint to the idea that these detectives work in a city where super-heroes and super-villains live and fight — it grounds the series, and the characters. Mr. Bendis has also never been afraid to push the boundaries of what can be done in a creator-owned work. Powers is profane, and it is violent. Characters have sex, and characters are brutally murdered. But it’s rare that any of that feels indulgent. It’s all part of Mr. Bendis and Mr. Oeming’s creation of a universe that feels “real” — where serious shit can and often does go down. In that vein, the two men aren’t afraid to turn over the apple-cart of their series. In a mainstream Marvel or DC book, creators are obligated to, for the most part, maintain the series’ over-all status quo. Not so in a creator-owned book like Powers, and Mr. Bendis and Mr. Oeming really push that freedom to its limit. The series has changed direction WILDLY at several points, so far, in its run, and quite a few of the original cast of characters are … [continued]
Back in 1999, Tom Spurgeon wrote a piece in The Comics Journal entitled “Martin Wagner Owes me Fifty Bucks.” The subject of that piece, Martin Wagner, was the writer/illustrator of an acclaimed black-and-white comic book called Hepcats. What had begun as a comedic strip when Mr. Wagner was a student at the University of Texas gradually morphed into something much deeper, and the storyline “Snowblind” received an enormous amount of critical acclaim in the comics community in the early ’90s. But after the publication of Hepcats issue twelve in 1994, the series ceased publication, leaving the “Snowblind” storyline frustratingly incomplete.
In 1996, Mr. Wagner signed a deal with the small comic book publisher Antarctic Press to re-print the first 12 issues of Hepcats and then continue the series onward. This is when I started following the series. But while the twelve original issues were re-printed as planned, no new material ever arrived, and to this day the “Snowblind” story remains incomplete.
That is what lead Mr. Spurgeon to write his piece for The Comics Journal, expressing frustration that he (like many others) had invested in the storyline (both emotionally and monetarily), and if Mr. Wagner was not planning on finishing the tale, he owed us all our money back! I suspect Mr. Spurgeon was not seriously asking for a refund check from Martin Wagner, but his piece expressed the frustrations of fans who follow the work of a particular writer and/or artist, only to have a beloved project left unfinished. (This is not unlike the frustration felt by fans of canceled TV shows whose storylines are left forever unresolved.)
After finally seeing the publication of the years-delayed final issue of Planetary (read my review of the series here and the final issue here) earlier this year, I got to thinking about the other criminally unfinished comic book stories that haunt me. You’d think most of these unfinished series would be small, indie books, whose creators ran into monetary difficulties that made it impossible for them to continue their series (as may or may not have happened to Mr. Wagner, depending on whose story you believe), but that’s not entirely the case…
Stray Bullets – David Lapham’s black-and-white self-published crime comic absolutely blew me away when I read the first issue back in 1995. I was familiar with Mr. Lapham’s work from the Valiant Comics line of books in the ’90s, but Stray Bullets was an entirely different sort of project. The series was told mostly through single-issue stories, each one spotlighting a different character and the tragic circumstances that would befall him/her. The series would jump, from issue to issue, around to different protagonists in different … [continued]
Leo has a great mind for planning heists, and seeing all the angles of a job. But he also has a strict series of rules that he has created for himself. He feels those rules have kept him out of prison, though they have lead others to label him a coward. When he’s lured into a risky jewel heist involving the widow of one of his former partners, Leo finds that he’s about to break almost every one of his rules.
Tracy left the rough streets of his home city years ago for a life in the military. But he left his brother behind. Now, his brother is dead and Tracy has come home to find out why. But there are a lot of ghosts to be found on the streets of the city, and Tracy is about to discover that his dead father casts a long shadow.
Jacob is a cartoonist whose character, Frank Kafka, PI, is a no-nonsense tough guy. Jacob is a different type of man: a lonely, broken-down, chronic insomniac who hasn’t recovered from the death of his wife (and the ordeal that followed in which he was blamed for her death). But a chance encounter at a diner in the wee hours of one dreary morning are about to bring his not-quite-buried past rushing back for him.
Leo, Tracy, and Jacob are just a few of the compelling characters of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ amazing comic book series, Criminal (which I mentioned a few months ago, in one of my posts about great comics).
Before beginning to read their latest Criminal story, The Sinners, I decided to go back and re-read the series from the beginning. Doing-so only further solidified my belief that Criminal is one of the greatest comic book series being published today.
Criminal is a collection of hard-boiled noir tales. Some stories run for 4-5 issues, while some stories are just a single issue long. The protagonists shift from story to story, although there is a great deal of interconnectedness to be found (as characters and locations from one story frequently pop up in surprising ways in later tales).
Ed Brubaker spins tough, take-no-prisoners yarns. While Criminal has focused on characters of wildly different types and personalities (the “coward” Leo, the tough and brutal Tracy Lawless, the boxer Gnarly, the hurt and vengeful Danica, etc.), what these characters all have in common is that, as we watch, their lives take several turns for the worse. Criminal isn’t a comic book about super-heroes, and it isn’t an adventure where supposedly ordinary Joes act all super-heroic (what I like to call the Bruce-Willis-in-Die Hard syndrome). None of these characters are … [continued]
In addition to highlighting some of the very best comic book series that are out there (click here to read about 100 Bullets or here to read about Planetary) I’ve also been having fun writing about some of the great books that I’ve been following on a monthly basis (or semi-monthly basis, as the case may be) when I make my weekly visits to the comic book shop. Click here to read about books like Incognito, Kick-Ass, and The Nightly News, and here to read about books like Hellboy, Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man, The Dark Tower, and Batman: Streets of Gotham.
What else have I been reading?
Detective Comics — I am all for female heroes in my comic books (as well as TV shows and movies, for that matter) but generally I tend to think that female versions of male super-heroes (She-Hulk, Supergirl, etc.) are pretty lame. So when I read that Detective Comics was going to start focusing on the newly-introduced character of Batwoman, I was less than overwhelmed. However, when I heard that Greg Rucka and J. H. Williams III were the creators coming on board the title, I quickly changed my tune and decided to sample the series. Boy I’m glad I did, because the first five issues of their run have been terrific. Mr. Rucka is spinning a taught, tense mystery/adventure story (something at which he excels), and Mr. Williams III’s art is absolutely jaw-dropping. I’m baffled as to how exactly he produces the art I’m seeing before me (and surely colorist Dave Stewart is a key player), but it seems to be a constant mix of different media and styles, presented in wonderfully eccentric panel layouts (no simple panel grids to be found here). Each page is truly a work of art. Really wonderful.
Star Trek Romulans: Schism — The very first time, as a kid, that I paid any notice to the names of the creators behind the comic books I was reading was because I noticed that there was one guy whose work I was enjoying way more than anyone else’s. That was John Byrne. He was the first artist I really followed, and I made it my business to track down back-issues of his famous work (his lengthy runs on Uncanny X-Men and Fantastic Four) as well as his less-famous work (Alpha Flight, Namor, etc.). About the time that he was writing and illustrating the magnificent series John Byrne’s Next Men, I was convinced that he was the greatest comic book creator of the time. Lately, Mr. Byrne seems to have fallen somewhat out of favor within the industry — he’s a name I … [continued]
On Wednesday I wrote about Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s magnificent series Planetary, which is truly one of the greatest comic book series of all time. It was also, for quite a while, one of the most frustrating, as fans have been waiting for the final issue, number 27, to be published for about three years now. (The penultimate issue, number 26, was published way back in December, 2006.)
There’s truly no excuse for such a ridiculous delay, but putting those frustrations aside, what did I think of Planetary‘s swan song?
It was magnificent.
I must admit, I was ready for disappointment. Bringing a long-form story to a close is fiendishly difficult (whether that story be a comic book series that’s been published for the last decade or a long-running TV series or a series of novels, etc. etc.) Add to that the amazing anticipation and expectation built up after THREE LONG YEARS of waiting, and the potential for crushing disappointment was vast. I told myself over and over again to curb my hopes because there was no way that Planetary #27 could possibly live up to what I wanted it to be.
I’m sorry I doubted you, Mr. Ellis and Mr. Cassaday!!
At the end of issue 26, it seemed that the main thrust of the over-all Planetary story was over, as the Planetary team (Elijah, Jakita, and the Drummer) had, it seemed, finally defeated their long-standing adversaries, the Four. But that victory was not the end of the story. Before we leave them, Planetary has one last wrong to set right, and we finally get some resolution to one of the series’ most enigmatic chapters, issue #9′s flashback to the death of former Planetary team member Abrose Chase. Along the way, issue #27 is filled with Mr. Ellis’s usual brand of snarky humor and head-scratchingly complex sci-fi theorizing. (There were several pages whose explanatory dialogue I had to go back and read several times — and that is not a criticism! This is some dense, dense stuff.) The central idea behind Elijah’s efforts in this final issue (which I won’t dare even hint at here) is a wonderful hook for this last story, and I was very pleasantly surprised at how many previous issues this final tale referred to (whether it was appearances by Doc Brass and Anna Hark to the familiar look of the central machine which finally gives some context to the I-thought-this-was-just-a-random-adventure Planetary/Justice League one-shot crossover from 2003). I am really glad to have just recently re-read the entire series, as that helped me to get a lot more, I think, out of the goings-on in this final issue.
There are so many fantastic … [continued]
With the release of the long, long, looooong-awaited (the last issue was published in 2006!!) 27th and final issue of Warren Ellis and John Cassiday’s comic book series Planetary last month, I took the opportunity to re-read the entire series from start to finish. This only renewed my long-held love for and admiration of this brilliant series, one of the best comic book works I have read in the last decade.
Elijah Snow, Jakita Wagner, and the young man known only as “the drummer” make up the field team of an enigmatic world-wide organization known as Planetary. They are the “archaeologists of the unknown,” traveling the globe to uncover the secret history of the world.
In each issue (at least at the start of the series, before an even more fascinating larger story came into play), Elijah and his team would investigate different bizarre phenomena. The core idea behind this series — and its brilliant hook — is that the phenomena that Planetary was investigating were Ellis and Cassaday’s versions of familiar sci-fi, adventure, and fantasy creatures from movies, TV shows, and comic books. An enormous part of the fun of those early issues was in paying close attention to the clues in the artwork and dialogue to try to figure out just who or what Ellis and Cassaday were referencing each time.
In issue #2 (an issue which, by the way, boasts what is almost certainly the greatest opening line I have ever read in a comic book), the Planetary team investigate “Island Zero,” a small island on the far north-western tip of the Japanese archipelago, on which are found the skeletal remains of numerous enormously large, bizarre creatures. (Yep, it’s Godzilla, Mothra, and other monsters from those films!) Issues #1 and #5 delve into the 1950′s adventures of bronze-hued super-intelligent superhuman adventurer Doc. Brass (who canny readers will note bears a remarkable similarity to Doc. Savage!). Issue #6 covers the truth behind the spaceflight in which four adventurers were gifted with fantastic powers (sounds a whole like Marvel Comics’ FF to me!). Then there is my favorite issue of the series, #11, in which the Planetary team learns of three super-powered visitors to Earth: a baby rocketed through space from a doomed planet, a member of an intergalactic police-force powered by lanterns, and the emissary from a secret island of Amazons. If those descriptions remind you of three of DC Comics’ core pantheon of heroes, then good for you — except that here in Planetary, those three adventurers met most unfortunate ends.
Last week I wrote about some of the great comics I’ve read lately. That list was just scratching the surface! Here’s some more fantastic stuff that I’ve been enjoying recently:
Hellboy: The Wild Hunt and BPRD: 1947 – The Hellboy saga continues in these two new wonderful mini-series. In Hellboy: The Wild Hunt, things are coming to a head for the big red guy. Cut off from his old friends and comrades in the BPRD, and hunted by the newly-resurrected Queen of Blood, things are looking grim for our hero! Last month’s issue (#6) was jam-packed with astonishing revelations about Hellboy’s origin that I never saw coming, but that I thought worked absolutely PERFECTLY. Meanwhile, BPRD: 1947 takes us through a rollicking tale of the second year of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense as Professor Bruttenholm struggles against vampires and a lot of other weirdness. The Hellboy universe has really richened and deepened over these last few years, and I am really excited to see where things go from here.
Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man — The relaunch of Brian Michael Bendis’ take on Spider-Man (three issues have been published as of this writing) continues just where the previous 133 issues (plus a handful of annuals and other specials) left off. Young Peter Parker must juggle his, um, interesting love-life with a boring job at a fast-food joint (since he lost his job at the Daily Bugle following the devastation of NYC in the truly awful Ultimatum miniseries) with, oh yeah, his crime-fighting escapades as Spider-Man! Mr. Bendis is well-known for his witty, true-to-teenaged-life dialogue, but I think his real strength is the depth of characterization he brings to Peter Parker and all the rest of the extraordinarily numerous cast of this comic. Mary-Jane, Flash Thompson, Aunt May, “Kong,” Kitty Pryde from the X-Men, Johnny Storm from the Fantastic Four (and it is almost embarrassing how much more interesting Kitty and Johnny are here than in their “home” comics) and many more characters are all brought to amazingly real life in these pages. I’ve been following Bendis’ run on “Ultimate” Spider-Man and I’ll be with the series until he leaves. Spider-Man has never been done better (in my comic-reading life-time, at least!). My only small complaint: I’m not quite taken with the overly stylized work of new series artist David Lafuente. Let’s see if it grows on me any more after a few more issues…
Stephen King’s The Dark Tower — I fell way behind on this series of mini-series, adapting and expanding upon the back story of Stephen King’s seven-book The Dark Tower opus, but I was finally able to catch up last month. Breathtakingly gorgeous art by … [continued]
I’ve written a few pieces, recently, about some of the great comic books that I’ve been reading lately. (Click here for my thoughts on 100 Bullets, and here for my reviews of three recent graphic novels adapted from the short stories of Alan Moore.) What else have I been reading lately that has tickled my fancy? I’m glad you asked!
Filthy Rich, by Brian Azzarello and Victor Santos — After finishing 100 Bullets, I was eager to check out some more work by Brian Azzarello. Luckily, this original graphic novel had just been published, so I snapped it up. Richard “Junk” Junkin used to be a football star. Now he sells cars. Not very well. When Junk’s boss asks him to work as the bodyguard for his spoiled, party-going daughter, Junk find himself swept up in the world of the young and the rich that he is at once envious of and disdainful of. Not surprisingly, things don’t go well. Mr. Santos’s black-and-white artwork has a bit of a cartoony, Bruce Tim bent which one might think incongruous with a gritty crime story, but I quickly found myself loving his detailed, quirky illustrations. There are a lot of characters in this story, but under Mr. Santos’ sure hand I never found myself confused as to who-was-who. This is a great, street-level gritty story (an Azzarello specialty), and if you’re looking for a break from comic book super-heroics, this is worth a shot.
Frankenstein’s Womb, by Warren Ellis and Marek Oleksicki — As noted above, last week I wrote about three Alan Moore graphic novels published by Avatar Press. But that’s not all that Avatar has to offer. Last month I had the pleasure of reading this recent graphic novel (or “graphic novella,” as it is labelled on its cover) written by the enormously talented Warren Ellis. The year is 1816. Mary Wollestonecraft Goodwin, her husband-to-be Percy Bysshe Shelley, and her stepsister Claire Clairmont are traveling across Europe. In Germany, they come across a strange and deserted castle. Castle Frankenstein. This wonderfully weird and quite haunting tale of where Mary Shelley REALLY got the idea for her famous novel is one of my favorite things I’ve read this year. Mr. Ellis’ clever (and quite grim!) script is perfectly supplemented by Mr. Oleksicki’s incredibly detailed, evocative black-and-white linework. Absolutely wonderful.
Incognito, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips — Taking a break from their stellar crime series Criminal, Brubaker and Phillips bring us the story (told in six issues) of former super-hero Zack Overkill. After his twin brother (and fellow super-villain) was killed, Zack served as a secret witness against the head of his criminal organization, … [continued]
Last month I waxed poetic a bit about the groundbreaking comic book work of writer Alan Moore, and I reviewed a recent interview/retrospective of his career, The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore: Indispensible Edition, by George Khoury, published by TwoMorrows Publishing.
I commented, at the end of my review, how the highest compliment that I could pay that project was that it made me want to drop everything and go re-read all of Mr. Moore’s great comics! Well, I didn’t quite have the time to do that, but I did have the pleasure recently of checking out three relatively new works by Mr. Moore, published by Avatar Press.
Over the last several years, the fine folks at Avatar have been republishing some hard-to-find early works by Alan Moore (such as A Small Killing, which I really need to get my hands on). Even more interestingly, they have also published several original comic book versions of some of Mr. Moore’s short stories. Anthony Johnston is credited as having done the adaptations (at least, all the ones that I have read so far), and they are quite marvelous.
I was a bit worried, at first, when I read that these new graphic novels (which I’ll call graphic novels, even though in his interview in The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore, Mr. Moore was somewhat critical of that term) were merely adapted from Mr. Moore’s works, as opposed to having been 100% scripted by him. But Mr. Johnston (along with all of the artists involved) has done a fantastic job of bringing Moore’s stories to the comic book page in a pure form. The collected edition of Hypothetical Lizard (about which I’ll write more in a moment) contains Mr. Moore’s complete novella at the back. After reading the comic, I had a great deal of fun reading the prose story while constantly flipping back through the comic to compare and contrast Mr. Johnston’s adaptation with Mr. Moore’s original piece. The adaptation was PHENOMENALLY faithful. This isn’t some Hollywood project where the names and basic premise are the same and everything else is different. No, almost every scene and line of dialogue from Mr. Moore’s story was preserved — everything had just been shaped into comic book form.
OK, here are some more specifics on what I read:
Hypothetical Lizard — This was the longest of the three works that I read. (It was originally published in four issues.) This incredibly fantastical tale is set entirely within the confines of the House Without Clocks, within which dwell a variety of unique men and women, all of whom are prostitutes. In the first chapter we are introduced to a young … [continued]
Alan Moore is one of the undisputed masters of the comic book form, and that’s putting things mildly. He has authored a quite astounding body of work, including V For Vendetta, From Hell, and, of course, the magnum opus that is Watchmen.
TwoMorrows Publishing has, for the past few years, been publishing a wonderful series called Modern Masters, in which they spotlight a variety of the greatest artists in the field: Alan Davis, George Perez, Arthur Adams, John Byrne, etc. The format of those books (I suppose I should call them books — they are the size of magazines, but they are square-bound and much lengthier than your average magazine) is a lengthy one-on-one interview with the subject. Through these series of in-depth questions and answers, the reader is taken on a detailed journey through the life and career of the subject, and is also given great insight into his/her style, approach, and techniques.
First published in 2003, The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore adheres to the format of the Modern Masters series. The entire work is a lengthy interview with Mr. Moore, conducted by George Khoury. But while the Modern Masters volumes are all in-depth, this work puts those volumes to shame, clocking in at a hefty 237 pages. The new “Indispensable Edition,” which is what I have, was published a few months back, presumably with the intention of meeting the renewed interest in Mr. Moore’s work following the release of the Watchmen movie. This new edition has a great new interview with Mr. Moore, conducted in 2008, that serves as a fine epilogue to the whole piece.
For anyone who has ever read and enjoyed any of Alan Moore’s amazing comic books, I cannot recommend this publication highly enough. I thought that the early chapters, dealing with Moore’s youth and childhood, would be boring — but Mr. Moore’s wit brought great humor to those stories of his “early days.” And once the story moves to his break-though stint writing Swamp Thing, the narrative really kicks into high gear. The book is filled with behind-the-scenes stories of Moore’s time working on all of his seminal works. I’ve read a good deal over the years, for example, about his run on Swamp Thing and the making of Watchmen, V For Vendetta, etc., but the stories found here quickly move beyond the familiar “legends” connected with those projects. It’s endlessly fascinating to hear Moore’s thoughts on the development of those works, as well as his opinions about them now, looking back. (I was quite interested to read about the reasons for his dislike, for example, of The Killing Joke, which — despite his feelings — … [continued]
One of the greatest comic books that I know of took its final bow recently: Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s masterpiece, 100 Bullets.
The centerpiece of the series has been, since the very first issue, the mysterious Agent Graves. Graves brings the powerless and the beaten-down a chance at vengeance: an attache case filled with irrefutable evidence about the person or persons who destroyed their life, as well as a gun and 100 rounds of untraceable ammunition. Somehow, Graves has arranged so that no law enforcement agency on the globe can touch the user of that gun and those 100 bullets.
When the series began, its structure was that of short stories (some one issue long, most spanning several issues), each featuring a different protagonist — from a former gang-banger from Chicago to an ice-cream truck man in Brooklyn to a bartender in California to gas-station attendant in Texas, and many others — each faced with tough choices as to how to respond to Graves’ “gift.”
But the beauty of 100 Bullets is the way that an even more complex and fascinating larger story began to emerge, slowly, as the series progressed. Characters from one story would re-appear in later tales in unexpected ways. Events seen in the background of panels in one issue would, many issues later, become the focus of another story. Slowly it came to light that the people Graves was visiting might not be as totally unconnected and random as they had at first appeared. Eventually we readers began to discover a larger story, about the thirteen families who had long-ago divided up control of America, and the secret war that was now tearing them apart. As great as the tough, pull-no-punches stand-alone crime stories were that the series began with, I found myself even more engaged with this epic story-line that came to dominate the series over the course of the second half of its run.
I’m not even sure where to begin in terms of singing the praises of the series’ creators. Azzarello’s stories are both painfully, brutally intimate and also astonishingly epic. Over the 100 issues of the series (collected in 13 volumes — and that number isn’t random, as attentive readers of the series surely know), Azzarello wove a head-poundingly intricate web of increasingly inter-connected events and characters. I have re-read the early volumes of the series many times now, and each time I read them I discover amazing new connections — the way a major player late in the series’ run was there all along in the background of an earlier tale, or the way an off-hand comment made by one character early on the series would illuminate the motivations … [continued]
It is the distant future of the DC Universe. Beings with super-human abilities have spread across the globe, and ever-more powerful violent heroes and villains wreak untold havoc with their escalating conflicts. Meanwhile, the heroes of old are gone. Green Lantern has abandoned Earth for the solitude of space. Wonder Woman has returned to Themyscira. Batman, his body broken after years of pushing himself beyond the limits of human endurance, maintains order over Gotham City through the use of menacing robotic sentries. And Superman has lived alone in his Fortress of Solitude for the past ten years, ever since the Joker’s brutal attack on the Daily Planet resulted in the deaths of ninety-two men. And one woman.
This is the world of Kingdom Come, a dazzling tale of the future of the DC Universe by Mark Waid and Alex Ross. Originally published in four parts in 1996, one of the initial core ideas of the story was a comment on the increasingly violent anti-heroes that were very popular in comic books of the nineties. The brutal Magog, with his scarred eye, his enormous shoulder-pads, and his vicious weaponry was a clear comment on Marvel Comics’ character of Cable. The specificity of that reference has faded over the years, but the power of Kingdom Come has not.
I can think of few stories that have captured the grandeur of DC’s pantheon of heroes as well as Kingdom Come. This may be a story of an alternate, possible future, but it remains oen of the most iconic tales of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman that I have ever read. The dynamic between the three of them is at the heart of the story. Kingdom Come focuses our attention on the way their differing backgrounds have lead them to view the world from vastly different points of view. Those differences drive deep wedges between the characters, and lead to much of the drama of the story. Mark Waid’s script is filled with powerful moments and wonderful characterization. Having read the tale countless times, I am still struck by the moments like Wonder Woman’s first visit to Superman in his isolation, when she throws his oft-repeated commitment to truth and justice in his face. Then there is my very favorite moment in the series (and frankly, one of my favorite moments in any comic book ever), which comes in Chapter Three when a furious Superman flies out of the Batcave at super-sonic speed, basically disappearing from sight he’s moving so fast, leaving a solitary Batman to remark “so that’s what that feels like.” Brilliant!
Which brings me to Alex Ross’ remarkable painted artwork. I have been an enormous fan of this great … [continued]
Yesterday I wrote about three terrific series that told the story of The Ultimates, Marvel Comics’ reinvention of their super-hero team, the Avengers. In addition to those three phenomenal series that I discussed (The Ultimates, The Ultimates 2, and the Ultimate Galactus Trilogy), there have been a number of subsequent mini-series that have carried forward the stories of many of the characters from those series.
Some have been excellent. Others, not so much.
Let’s take a look!
Ultimate Vision, by Mike Carey & Brandon Peterson — Basically an epilogue to Warren Ellis’ Ultimate Galactus storyline, we follow Sam Wilson and the Vision (two characters that Ellis introduced to the Ultimate universe in his series) as they discover that one Galactus module has survived. If they don’t destroy it, bad things will happen! The story is really carried by Brandon Peterson’s magnificently detailed art, which I could look at all day long.
Ultimate Wolverine/Hulk, by Damon Lindeloff and Leinil Francis Yu — The promise of a Wolverine/Hulk battle authored by Lindeloff (one of the masterminds behind Lost) was very tempting, and the first two issues were a lot of fun. Then the series ceased publication. Last month, after more than 3 years, the third issue was finally released (with the assurance that the remaining 3 issues will be coming out monthly). The jury is still out on this one.
Ultimate Power, by Brian Michael Bendis, J. Michael Straczynski, Jeph Loeb, and Greg Lang — This 9 issue crossover started with an intriguing premise: Reed Richards, desperately searching for a cure for his friend Ben Grimm (who was transformed into the Thing in the accident that gave the FF their powers), sends probes into alternate universes. One of them gets contaminated and apparently winds up wreaking incredible devastation upon the Supreme Power universe (from the series Supreme Power, Straczynski’s reinvention of Marvel’s classic Squadron Supreme characters). What followed was an extended super-hero slugfest. Land’s art is beautiful, but the story was extremely choppy. Instead of Bendis, Straczynski, and Loeb collaborating on all nine issues, each one of them scripted three issues. I enjoyed the Bendis and Straczynksi issues, but Loeb didn’t stick the landing. Characters suddenly seemed completely out of character, and in the end it all turned out to be a pretty stupid super-villain plot. Lame.
Ultimate Iron Man, by Orson Scott Card and a variety of artists — I got very excited when it was announced that famed sci-fi novelist Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game) would be writing the origin story for Tony Stark, but sadly the execution left something to be desired. Card’s story had a lot … [continued]
Last month I wrote several posts about my favorite graphic novels. One of the works that I mentioned (saying at the time that a more lengthy review would be coming) was Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch’s The Ultimates.
In the early 2000′s, Marvel Comics launched their Ultimate line, in which they took several popular, long-running Marvel characters and basically started them over from ground zero. Spearheaded by some of Marvel’s top talent, the idea was to make the characters fresh and dynamic again, and remove the burden of 30-plus years of back-story and continuity. The Ultimate line kicked off with Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man. This was an amazing, extraordinary piece of work, and it deserves a longer article of its own. Suffice to say, I have never enjoyed a monthly Spider-Man comic as much, and I am still following the series every month.
Today I want to talk to you about Millar and Hitch’s reinvention of Marvel Comics’ premiere super-hero group, the Avengers, in their series The Ultimates that ran from 2002-2004. (The series is available in two softcover collections or in one gorgeous hardcover.)
This is a magnificent, adult piece of work, and one hopes that it will be used as a template for the coming Avengers feature film. The story begins at the end of World War II, as we witness the last mission of Captain America. What might be a short 4-page flashback in another series is a lengthy (taking up almost the entirety of the series’ first issue) tale of gritty combat that sets the series’ tone of brutal intensity and incredible attention to detail.
Then the story jumps forward to the 21st century. It’s a brave new world filled with new wonders and new threats, both at home and abroad. Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD, decides that the only way to protect America is to create a new team of American super-heroes. Unfortunately, no one has been able to re-create the super soldier serum that turned scrawny Steve Rogers into the super-human Captain America. But disparate events are about to come to a head that just might give Fury the elements he needs for his super-human task force: Scientist Bruce Banner injects himself with an experimental formula; brilliant industrialist and drunkard Tony Stark creates an extraordinary suit of armor; an anti-corporate hippie who claims to be Thor, the Norse God of Thunder, has begun to amass a legion of followers; and finally, the frozen body of Captain America is discovered, perfectly preserved in the Arctic.
Mark Millar’s writing is very contemporary — the story really runs with the conceit that all these events are happening in our … [continued]
IDW has published a four-issue prequel to J.J. Abrams’ upcoming Star Trek movie called Countdown. I picked up the four issues, but decided right away that I would wait to read them until after seeing the new movie. I didn’t want to be spoiled about any of the film’s story-lines, and frankly I didn’t have great expectations for the quality of the comic series. (I have seen quite a lot of movie “tie-in” material — books, comics, etc. — for all sorts of big-name movies of the past decade or so, and most of them have been pretty wretched.)
So what changed my mind? Well, I’ve been reading pretty rapturous reviews of Countdown on-line over the past few months. People really seemed to be digging the series, which raised my excitement level. And as my own anticipation of the new Trek film has grown over the past months and weeks as the release of the film inched ever closer, I found myself looking quite eagerly at the four issues of Countdown sitting in my “to-read” pile of comics. I also realized that, while I have for the most part been successful in avoiding major spoilers about the film, my repeated viewings of the trailers, in addition to everything that I have read about the film for the two years that has been in-the-making, have certainly meant that I have a pretty good basic idea about the film’s storyline, and where/how it branches off from established Trek continuity. I didn’t think the comic would reveal anything I didn’t already know, it’d just hopefully connect the dots a little bit more for me.
And so I took the plunge and read through the series.
And I am pleased to report that it is very, very excellent!
Story credit for Countdown is given to Roberto Orci & Robert Kurtzman, the writers of J.J. Abrams’ Trek film. I don’t know exactly who is responsible for what in this comic, between Orci & Kurtzman and the credited writers, Mike Johnson & Tim Jones, but based on what I read here I am very, very encouraged about the upcoming movie. My biggest fear about the film is that it has been made by people who didn’t really know and love Star Trek, and thus has abandoned too much of established Trek continuity that is important to the fans who have invested in this universe for over 40 years now. But Countdown was clearly written by people who really love Trek, and who are steeped in its lore.
OK, I’m going to avoid any MAJOR spoilers as I proceed, both for what I know about the upcoming Trek film and for the Countdown series … [continued]
Over the past two days I have listed several of my favorite graphic novels. (Click here for part I and here for part II.) You’ll notice that most of them had nothing to do with super-heroes. This was purposeful — although super-hero stories dominate the American comic book scene, there are so many other types of stories that can be told using the comics medium. That’s something I wanted to highlight.
But that’s not to say that I don’t also love a terrific super-hero story, because I certainly do! Here are some of my favorites, that are available in graphic novel or collected-edition formats:
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns — Following the death of Robin, Bruce Wayne retired his Batman persona. It’s been 10 years, and Gotham City has sunk into an urban decay of crime. Bruce Wayne is a broken man, empty and lost. But when something drives him to put on that mask one more time, everything changes. (Although not necessarily for the better!) Along with Watchmen (which was also released in 1986), Frank Miller’s magnus opus changed the comics industry forever, demonstrating without a doubt that it was possible to tell sophisticated, mature stories with super-hero characters. (It also was a tremendous influence on the look and tone of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film.) This story is intense and shockingly brutal. It is also a gorgeous work of art, filled to the brim with overlapping narratives that tell the stories of an enormous cast of characters, all struggling to make their way in the brutal urban jungle that Gotham City has become, and all of them somehow affected by the shadow of the bat. The Dark Knight Returns is also infamous for Miller’s depiction of an almost fascistic Superman, and his battle with the Batman in the series’ final chapter is a show-stopper. (I should also mention that I am quite fond of Miller’s Batman: Year One, illustrated by David Mazzucchelli, from which a great deal of the story of Batman Begins was adapted.)
The New Frontier — Darwyn Cooke’s brilliant series re-tells the origins of many of DC Comics’ most familiar characters, albeit set in the years in which they were originally created. Similar to the way in which The Right Stuff showed how American fighter pilots gradually became our astronauts, The New Frontier tells the story of how the pulp heroes that came out of the second world war gradually became the costumed super-heroes of a brave new age. Cooke’s somewhat retro, simplified art style is stunningly gorgeous and absolutely perfect for the story being told. The New Frontier captures the innocence and wonder, as well as the growing dangers, of the 1950′s and … [continued]
Yesterday I wrote about several examples of my favorite graphic novels. Today I’d like to share a few more that represent longer works:
Bone — Three cousins stumble into a mysterious valley filled with wonderful and dangerous creatures. What begins as a whimsical, fun-filled fantasy romp gradually grows into an epic, Lord of the Rings type of adventure filled with action, death, greed, and a beautiful story of unrequited love. The Lord of the Rings comparison does Bone a disservice, actually, as Bone is a brilliantly unique work unlike anything else I have ever read. At times hilariously funny and at times deeply intense, Bone is a truly wonderful tale that (unlike many of the other graphic novels I have listed) is perfectly suitable for all ages. It’s available in nine collections. Start off with volumes I & II, Out From Boneville and The Great Cow Race, and I guarantee you won’t look back.
Cerebus — If you read 300 issues of The Amazing Spider-Man (heck, if you read 50 or 100 issues!) you would probably be struck by the cyclical nature of the story-telling. The characters don’t really change, villains return again and again… you might enjoy the stories, but it’s not remotely a chronicle of what could really happen in one person’s life (even someone bitten by a radioactive spider!). With his comic Cerebus, writer/illustrator Dave Sim set out to do something entirely different. What began life in the late 70′s as a parody of Conan the Barbarian became something entirely different when Sim decided to create the ultimate 300 issue “limited-series.” His comic would chronicle the life and adventures of one character, Cerebus (an aardvark living in a medieval world of humans). It would be told at a realistic pace (with stories unfolding slowly and action only occurring every 30 or more issues, as opposed to having complete adventures every month), and it would end with Cerebus’ death. (And in 2004, when Cerebus #300 was finally published, that’s exactly what happened.) Although some have said, only half-jokingly, that Dave Sim went insane over the almost 30-years of working on his epic (and having read the bizarre and erratic final volumes I’m not sure I disagree), for much of its run it was truly magnificent. Skip the first collection and start with the phone-book sized volume II, High Society, and volumes III & IV, the two-part Church and State. These are extraordinary works, sophisticated commentaries on the nature of politics and religion that are also terrifically fun adventure stories filled with an extraordinarily rich cast of characters, and set in a fully realized fantasy world that has been fleshed out by Sim (and collaborator … [continued]
Recently I’ve had a number of conversations with friends about graphic novels. A lot of this was prompted by the Watchmen film. People have been asking me what I thought of the original Watchmen graphic novel (it’s a masterpiece!), if they should read it (YES!), and if I could recommend other graphic novels that might be of interest (read on!).
Which brings me to today’s post. While this is by no means a comprehensive list of my all-time favorite graphic novels, below are several extraordinary works that I think anyone who is interested in seeing what comics might have to offer would really enjoy.
A quick note, before we begin: I am using the term “graphic novel” to refer to any comic book story available in “book” format (as opposed to 24-32 page “pamphlet-style” single issues). I am not distinguishing between a collection of comics that were first published as single issues or something that was originally published in this longer format. I’m talking about any sort of collection that you could pick off your book-shelf and read as a complete story.
V For Vendetta — It is November the 5th, 1997, and a young girl is rescued by a mysterious vigilante wearing a Guy Fawkes mask who calls himself V. Set in an alternate history in which Britain has become a fascist state, this towering work by Alan Moore and David Lloyd explores issues of identity and individuality. It also turns the entire idea of the super-hero vigilante on its head. When the figure of V first appears, we readers are conditioned to root for him as the clear hero of the tale. Subsequent events cause one to question that thinking, as Moore and Lloyd pose difficult questions about the nature and necessity of the use of violence. This is a beautiful, haunting work, a true masterpiece of the comics medium.
Give Me Liberty — Like V for Vendetta, this is a story of a slightly-alternate world, in which individual freedoms have become a thing of the past. In Give Me Liberty, the cause is the unchecked spread of enormous corporations that have long-since co-opted the American government. Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons’ tale begins in 1995 with the birth of Martha Washington, a young, precocious African-American girl who grows up in the horrifying squalor of “The Green,” an extension of Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing project. Her brains and her courage help her escape the projects and join the military, where she finds herself embroiled in a much larger conspiracy. This astounding mix of social commentary and sci-fi adventure rises above other works of speculative fiction mainly because of the compelling lead character of Martha.
I’ve been torn as to whether to recommend to my friends who aren’t already into comic books that they should go and read Watchmen. On the one hand, it is unquestionably one of (if not the) greatest graphic novels of all time. On the other hand, would someone who’s never seen a movie before really appreciate Citizen Kane?
I have read Watchmen scores of times. Part of its brilliance is the incredible depth of its detail — upon each re-reading I always notice new things, new details, new connections. If you are going to take the plunge and sample Watchmen for the first time (and, you know what, forget what I wrote in the first paragraph — if you haven’t read Watchmen you should go find a copy to read RIGHT NOW) or if, like me, you’re considering re-reading it in anticipation of the upcoming movie adaptation, then here are some things to watch out for while (re-)reading:
Mirroring and (fearful) Symmetry in Watchmen — Watchmen is replete with the repetition of images. This device is used to draw connections, visually, between otherwise disparate scenes and ideas. Obviously, any fan can recognize the iconic image of the smiley face with the splotch of blood, but have you really noticed just how often that image repeats and repeats throughout the story? Take a look at the owlship in the last panel of issue 2, page 17; the sun in the center of the Buddha poster in the last panel of issue 5, page 7; Laurie wiping a smudge in the window in panel 7 of issue 7, page 1; the electric socket at the bottom of issue 12, page 6; the covers of issues 7, 10, and 11… and so many more examples. Slightly less iconic but no less striking is the repetition of the composition of the panel that shows the Comedian’s face, right before being thrown out the window, in panel 3 of issue 1, page 3. Take a look of that image, and then check out panel 8 of issue 2, page 21, and panel 4 of issue 2, page 22. Look familiar?
Repetition and symmetry figure heavily into the stories and backgrounds of many of the main characters. Consider chapter V, titled “Fearful Symmetry,” that focuses on Rorschach. Obviously, the chapter title is a clue, but look deeper. The entire issue is symmetrical in its composition and color, with the first panel of the first page almost identical to the last panel of the last page, then working forwards/backwards, panel-by-panel, towards the middle of the issue. Pretty cool, no? Consider also the symmetrical nature of the many inkblots (rorschach tests) that the character is … [continued]
But, you know, EVERYONE writes those sorts of top 10 lists! So today, I wanted to send some love in the direction of the best comic books that I read in 2008. 2008 was a PHENOMENAL year for comics, with a lot of great material out there. Here’s what I felt was the best of the best.
15. Top 10: Season 2 (issues #1-3 published in 2008) — One of Alan Moore (Watchmen, V For Vendetta)’s greatest works of the past decade was the first “season” of Top 10, published between 1999 and 2001. It chronicled the efforts of a police force in a bizarre city that seemed to be a meeting point for all sorts of fantasy characters from comics, TV shows, and movies. Although Mr. Moore has not returned for this second installment, talented writer Zander Cannon along with returning artist Gene Ha have crafted a story every bit as weird, complex, and compelling as Mr. Moore’s original. Ha’s art remains staggeringly complex and detailed, filled with lots of fun surprises in the background for an attentive reader.
14. Detective Comics #846-850, “Heart of Hush” – Although Grant Morrison’s “Batman: R.I.P.” storyline over in Batman got all the attention this year, it was writer Paul Dini (one of the guiding forces behind the amazing Batman: The Animated Series) who was behind my favorite Batman story of 2008. Enigmatic villain Hush returns with a complex scheme to take down the Dark Kight, while in a series of flashbacks we learn how the friendship between young Bruce Wayne and Tommy Elliott went wrong. Throw in Catwoman and gorgeous art by Dustin Nguyen, and you have a classic. (Collected edition available here.)
13. Ultimate Spider-Man (issues 116-128 published in 2008) — I cannot believe how much I continue to enjoy this Spider-Man book. Guided by the incredible writing of Brian Michael Bendis, who has been writing this reinvention of Spider-Man since issue #1, this is everything a super-hero comic book should be. It is filled with great action, terrific humor, and incredible continuity and character development. I don’t know of any comic that is consistently more fun, and the fact that such a high standard of quality has been maintained for 128 issues and counting is amazing. (The entire run of USM is available in collected editions. Here is the latest.)
12. Steph King’s The Dark Tower (issues 1-5 of “The Long Road Home” and 1-4 of “Treachery” published in 2008) — A complex but coherent story and absolutely gorgeous art by Jae Lae and Richard … [continued]
There is a lot of terrific comic book work being published these days. Last month I spent a lengthy post discussing Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. Allow me, today, to bring a few other high-quality series to your attention:
All Star Superman, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely – The idea behind DC Comics’s All-Star line was to allow today’s top creators to tell stories with the big DC heroes without worrying about current continuity issues. And so we have been blessed by this twelve-issue take on Superman (currently collected in two volumes) which manages to be retro (capturing a lot of the weirdness and silliness of Superman comics from the 50’s) and also very modern (in terms of the sophistication of the narrative). As a reader, you know you’re in for something special on the very first page of the very first issue, in which Morrison and Quitely manage to capture everything you need to know about Superman in four simple panels. As for the series’ story: Lex Luthor realizes that he’s getting older and so had better get serious about finally killing Superman. You’re best-off if I don’t tell you anything other than that, except that you should feel safe in the knowledge that, freed from the regular comics’ continuity and the need to leave all the toys in the same place that they found them, Morrison and Quitely are able to tell a story that involves real change for all the characters (no super-amnesia kiss to be found here) and that does not back away from the end that the first issue seems to be suggesting. In so doing, they are able to, at least for me, really get to the heart of the character of Superman. Brilliant work.
1985, by Mark Millar and Tommy Lee Edwards – 1985 was a big year for Marvel Comics, with the publication of their huge inter-company cross-over, Secret Wars. I began collecting comics right around that time, and I was a Marvel zombie, so the feel and tone of the Marvel Comics adventure stories from those years really holds a powerful nostalgic allure for me. What does that have to do with this six-issue mini-series? That sensation of immersing oneself in the magical world of Marvel Comics in 1985 is something that Millar and Edwards really channel in this work, but I won’t spoil it by telling you exactly how. I will tell you that 1985 is set in the “real world.”
We are introduced to young Toby, a boy who hasn’t had the easiest childhood (parents divorced, etc.). Things start getting much worse for him when he sees a Marvel comics super-villain, The Red Skull, standing … [continued]
Since the big red guy first appeared in John Byrne’s Next Men #21 back in 1993 (and I am proud to say that I read that issue when it came out!), I have been hooked on Hellboy. The creation of writer-artist Mike Mignola, Hellboy is, on its simplest level, about a monster who keeps the world safe from all the other monsters. But there’s so much more to it than that! To borrow some text from the back of the recent Hellboy Companion, “since 1994, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy has been one of the most evocative comics on the stands, slowly revealing a bizarre world of Victorian occult societies, prehistoric gods, arcane Nazi experiments, and layer upon layer of enigmas.” Yeah! Beautifully illustrated, very literate and a heck of a lot of fun, Mignola’s various Hellboy limited series that have been released over the years are some of the best American comic books out there.
For those of you who may have discovered Hellboy through Guillermo del Toro’s two recent films, there are so many great comics out there for you to enjoy. Seed of Destruction is the first miniseries, and while one can see that Mignola is still feeling things out, this is a great introduction to the world of Hellboy. The first movie drew a lot of its inspiration from this tale. But Hellboy really starts to become the Hellboy that I know and love in the next bunch of (superior) stories. First there’s Wake the Devil, in which a murder in a wax museum leads Hellboy to vampires, Nazis, and possibly the end of the world. Then there’s The Right Hand of Doom, which is probably my favorite Hellboy collection. This volume actually contains a ton of terrific short stories (most notably the classic “Pancakes,” about young Hellboy in 1947 eating breakfast), and two tales that are absolutely to the Hellboy saga: “The Right hand of Doom” and “Box Full of Evil,” both of which shed a lot of light on questions of Hellboy’s origin and ultimate destiny (storylines also hinted at in del Toro’s two movies — in particular the scene with the Angel of Death in Hellboy 2). All that back-story rushes front and center in The Conquerer Worm, which to me is one of Mignola’s masterpieces. A remnant from the Nazi space program causes trouble in present day, as a space capsule launched back in 1939, containing something very, very bad, makes its return to Earth. This series also introduces one of the great characters in the Hellboy world, the enigmatic World War II hero Lobster Johnson, whose full story remains untold (although we’ve gotten a LOT more information lately).… [continued]
The various X-Men comic books have been a sales juggernaut for Marvel Comics for almost forty years now, and the success of the three X-Men films has certainly furthered the spread of this franchise. There have been a heck of a lot of talented writers and artists involved in the X-Men over that long stretch of time, but one man really deserves the lion’s share of the credit: Chris Claremont, who wrote The Uncanny X-Men comic book from 1975-1991.
Over the course of that incredibly lengthy run, Clarement shaped the characters, the stories, and the world of the X-Men, so much of which is known and loved world-wide today.
I started reading Uncanny X-Men towards the late-middle of Claremont’s run, in the mid/late 80’s. I’d been reading comics for a few years (my enjoyment of Marvel’s Transformers comic book series lead me to various super-hero titles such as the Fantastic Four and the Avengers), and people kept telling me “you can’t be a comic fan and not be reading X-Men.” I finally took the plunge, and I was immediately sucked into the series. Claremont was incredibly skilled at crafting interesting, really three-dimensional and human characters, and his stories were dense and sophisticated. (Claremont was the master of the “sub-plot,” in which various story-lines would weave in and out of the comic, sometimes for YEARS, before finally dovetailing with the main story being told.)
After Claremont left the X-Men comic in 1991, I continued to follow the series for many years, but it was never able to recapture for me the greatness of the Claremont era. Various writers and artists would rotate through the book, and some entertaining stories were told… but after a while I finally began to get bored, and I ultimately stopped reading. Once or twice a year I’d pick up an issue or a mini-series, but nothing ever held my interest enough to warrant my reading the title again on a monthly basis.
Then, in 2001, the British writer-artist team of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely took over one of the X-Men comics. (By this point, there were several!) I purchased their first issue, titled “E for Extinction,” and was blown away. Suddenly, the characters were interesting again, and the world those characters inhabited seemed dangerous again. I was hooked, and with no small amount of disbelief I started reading an X-Men comic every month again.
Maybe I’ll return to this topic at a later date to write a lengthier review of Morrison’s run, but ultimately I was disappointed by what had begun so promisingly. From the beginning, Quitely wasn’t able to keep up a regular schedule, and without his magnificent art the stories … [continued]