Best Comics Of 2011: Best Mini-Series of the Year

The rules here are a little arbitrary but its probably the simplest way to categorize this. Basically a title is eligible if it’s between 2-10 issues long, and ENDED in 2011. Which means great minis like Matt Fraction’s Casanova: Avaritia, or Brian Azzarello’s Spaceman will have to wait until next year to be considered. Unfortunately this also means that titles that started years ago but aren’t finished yet aren’t eligible either, which leaves out things like Ben McCool’s Memoir. No worries, as there are still plenty of eligible mini-series well worth your time.

20. The Witch Doctor by Brandon Seifert & Lukas Ketner (Skybound/Image)

It was tempting to dismiss this as yet another of the dozens of shoddy supernatural adventurer comics that seem to clog up the stands these days. But Seifert and Ketner are definitely onto something here, with their whimsical Quincy meets Doc Frankenstein pastiche. They’re in monster-of-the-week territory for sure, but the basic premise is so sound that forgiveness is forthcoming. The addition of real medical explanations for supernatural happenstance is a welcome one, and Ketner is turning out some of the best monsters in comics.

19. Billy The Kid’s Old Timey Oddities & The Ghastly Fiend Of London by Eric Powell & Kyle Hotz (Dark Horse)

Billy The Kid Vs. Jack The Ripper, and in not in a slash fiction-y sort of way, which was nice. Yee-Haw! Powell kept busy during his hiatus from his seminal Goon series, and this odd little monster-hunting mini is one of the more pleasant results. Better than most of the LOEXG copycats currently clogging up the stands.

18. Xombi by John Rozum and Frazer Irving (DC)

Xombi was a series that run as part of the Milestone/DC universe back in the 90′s, starring a human/nanite cyborg that couldn’t die. Critics loved it. No one bought it. Fast forward 20 years later, and after decades of absolutely no one asking for it to be brought back, it was. I’m not really sure how this got greenlit at DC in the first place, but I’m glad it did, if only to highlight how devoid of originality and big ideas the two big publishers are right now. Xombi picked up right where it’s predecessor left off, highlighting the adventures of David Kim as he deals with the craziness that come with his new life as a techno-infested immortal. This really was like nothing else published by the big two this year, which is probably why it barely lasted 6 issues. But the convoluted yet entertaining scripts of John Rozum, and the effortlessly creepy pencils of Frazer Irving are well worth the time of fans of the weirder side of comics.

17. Atomic Robo: The Deadly Art Of Science by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red5)

With his admittedly pulpy roots, it was just a matter of time before Atomic Robo got placed into a proper 1930′s pulp-hero adventure. The Deadly Art Of Science sees the mechanical adventurer team up with crime fighter Jack Tarot and his daughter/partner Nightingale, as they battle the evil science of Thomas Edison. Muuah-ha-and-a-double-ha.  I like pretty much everything that Wegener and Clevinger have done to date with their Robo character, but to me they haven’t quite recaptured the heights they reached during their epic Shadows From Beyond Time mini-series. Still, the fun inherent in the characters and concepts more than make up for it. Got kids? Get this.

16. Locke and Key: Keys To The Kingdom by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)

It’s one of the most original books on the stands, but with such ambition comes the danger of overreaching. Locke And Key hasn’t done that yet, but this epic ghost story is becoming so weird, and so strange, that getting new readers at this late date might be almost impossible. With Vertigo taking a break from being Vertigo this year, Locke & Key remains your best bet for bizarre, unconventional horror.

15. Axe-Cop: Bad Guy Earth by Ethan Nicolle and Malachi Nicolle (Dark Horse)

After the runaway success of the Axe-Cop webcomic as a viral sensation, Ethan Nicolle was approached by Dark Horse to create a print version of his brilliant tribute to stream-of-consciousness narrative. One month of intense playtime with his 6-year-old brother (and series writer) Malachi later, and we have Bad Guy Earth, a more than worthy addition to the Axe-Cop mythos. Yes, the writer of this comic is 6 years old, and it shows. Gloriously. As I wrote when doing my best webcomics list, there are no rules here, no shades of grey. Only good guys, versus the unyielding menace of..BAD GUY EARTH. 

14. B.P.R.D. Hell On Earth – Gods/Monsters by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Guy Davis, and Tyler Crook (Dark Horse)

Forget Marvel or DC. My favourite shared universe in comics is and has been for a long time, the Mignola-verse. Or if you’d like, the world where Hellboy lives. And while Hellboy hasn’t been associated with the BPRD in a decade or so, the BPRD is still going strong. Well, not really strong, as the Hell On Earth tagline that now accompanies all BPRD books isn’t so much a slogan as it is an accurate description of the world they now live in. In short, they’re screwed.  Gods and Monsters gave the characters a chance to catch their breath after the horrific events of The King Of Fear, and focus on what the Bureau’s role will be in this new, post-apocalyptic world. Monsters also saw the addition of Tyler Crook to the creative team, and in a very short period of time it appears as if Crook will make a more than worthy successor to the talents of Guy Davis.

13. Incognito: Bad Influences by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Icon)

 The original Incognito mini introduced us to Zack Overkill, a former super-villain trying to stay on the straight and narrow. In Bad Influences, Zack is in full hero mode, and is working for the forces of good. But for Zack, staying on the right side of the law is harder than it looks. My only critique of Brubaker and Philip’s follow-up to their critically acclaimed super-noir Incognito mini is that I’m not sure it was necessary. I loved the first mini, but the concept wasn’t one that screamed “SEQUEL NEEDED” to me. I’m happy to report that I was wrong. It’s obvious that Brubaker and Phillips are trying to duplicate the slowly building pressure of their much-missed Sleeper series here, putting their hero through horrific events that are bound to just get worse with every arc. I’m happy to say that I can’t wait for the sequel.

12. Mystery Men by David Liss & Patrick Zircher (Marvel)

This was Marvel’s attempt at fleshing out their pre-WW2 era mythos, and while I don’t know if they succeeded at that, they did succeed at staging an entertaining 1930′s pulp comic with exciting new characters that was better than almost anything else they put on the stands this year. It’s the story of five masked heroes in 1930′s New York, who team up to overcome a giant conspiracy. This was better than it had any right to be, and one hopes that Marvel doesn’t dilute its critical success here by giving us unnecessary sequels. Hope to see more of this team in the future.

11. Baltimore: The Curse Bells by Mike Mignola, Chris Golden, and Ben Stenbeck (Dark Horse)

The second of four Mignola-related books on my list, but it’s the result of real quality rather than any bias on my part. The work Mignola is producing these days with his collaborative partners is just that good. The character of Lord Henry Baltimore was conceived both by Mignola and by novelist Chris Golden to be the ultimate tortured vampire hunter. He’s on the hunt for Haigus, the vampire that a) is trying to take over Europe, and b) killed his family. Although Baltimore doesn’t have nearly the likability or charisma of other Mignola heroes like Hellboy or Sir Edward Grey, what the story lacks in fun it makes up for in terror, and there’s an edge here that’s often missing in other Mignola books.

10. Witchfinder: Lost & Gone Forever by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and John Severin (Dark Horse)

Victorian supernatural detective meets weird western ghost story, as written by two of today’s strongest creators, and drawn by one of the industry’s great pencillers? You had me at hello. Witchfinder is peripherally connected to Mignola’s larger Hellboy mythology, but these chilling adventures of Mignola’s Sir Edward Grey character stand up on their own quite nicely. In Lost & Gone Forever, Grey is in the American mid-west trying to track down a member of a mystical secret society. What he finds instead is…wait for it….HORROR! Ha. Like pretty much everything connected with Mignola these days, the quality of the work here is high. What makes this one so  special though, is the beautiful art of EC comics legend John Severin. I’m ashamed to admit that I was barely familiar with his work before this, and I’ve been trying to catch up ever since. If I was ranking just on quality of art work, this 89-year-old legend would have taken the top spot.

9. The Last Mortal by John Mahoney and Flip Sabilik (Image)

This got overlooked this year in lieu of flashier, yet lesser Image minis, but I’m hoping that an upcoming collected version will give this well-crafted thriller a second lease on life. It’s the story of Alex King, a petty criminal that finds out one day that he has a superpower: he can’t die. In the hands of lesser talent, that would be the end of it, and the entire story would coast on that conceit. But Mahoney and Sabilik understand that it’s characters that bring people back, and so they’ve created a tragic, and charismatic lead that we as readers can’t help but want to see succeed. The superpower stuff is just icing on the cake, and that restraint is the sign of real talent.

8. Comic Book Comics by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey (Evil Twin Comics)

This was Van Lente and Dunlavey’s attempt at creating a somewhat comprehensive overview of the history of comics, in comic book form. This was an ambitious project by the creators of Action Philosophers, and as such took a few years to finish. In terms of tone, the closest comparison I could make it to are Larry Gonick’s fun and fantastic Cartoon History Of The World books. As far as essential books needed to full understand how comics became what they are today, I’d say that it’s pretty much indispensible.

7. Who Is Jake Ellis? By Nathan Edmondson and Tonci Zonjic (Image)

Edmondson has been on my talent to watch list ever since last year’s creepy The Light mini-series, and I’m pleased to say that his follow-up is as good, if not better. It’s the story of Jon Moore, a mercenary that’s on the run from various enemies. He’s completely alone, with one exception: Jake Ellis, a man who offers Moore logistical and technical support wherever possible. Only snag? Only Moore can see him.  This was one of the more overly cinematic books on the stands this year, with Tonci Zonjic’s moody but precise pencils providing a well-crafted canvas for Edmonson’s tight story.

6. Batman: Knight Of Vengeance by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso (DC)

I won’t bore you with the details of what DC’s mega-event Flashpoint was all about other than to say that it’s a) over, and b) was terrible, but I will say that n this year of superhero mediocrity, it would take a hell of a lot to get me to rank a Flashpoint mini series  in my top 10 of the year. This, my friends, is a hell of a lot of comic. First of all, it’s by the team that brought you 100 Bullets, which pretty much guarantees a first look. Second of all, it’s one of the best superhero books I’ve read all year. The skinny: This is an alternate-universe tale, and one in which it was Bruce Wayne that was killed by a mugger’s bullet in that alley so long ago, not his parents. In this world, it’s Dr. Thomas Wayne that picks up the cowl of Batman in an effort to avenge the family he lost decades before. This sounds a little gimmicky, but Azzarello and Risso took this series very seriously, and put together a great three-part tragedy that will tear the heart out of pretty much anybody who reads it. P.S. Wait till you find out who the Joker is….

5. Hellboy: The Fury by Mike Mignola and Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)

Hellboy is dead. As a doornail. And this is the series that killed him. Mike Mignola has been building towards this monumental mini for a few years now. Like any major character death, the true measure of whether or not it was the right thing to do is if it caused a legitimate emotional response in its readers, and thankfully Mignola has evolved so much as a writer in recent years that he was able to pull that off without a hitch. Fegredo has become such a formidable partner for Mignola that his depiction of the decades-in-the-making battle of between Hellboy and the Ogdru Jahad is going to be talked about for years to come.

4. Echoes by Joshua Fialkov and Rahsan Ekedal (Minotaur/Image)

Brian Cohn is a sick man, but he’s doing better. He’s been struggling with a serious case of schizophrenia, but with the help of drugs and his supportive wife, he’s learning to cope. Until he learns that his father may have been a serial killer.  Bazaam. If I was doing a pure horror comics list, this would have easily crushed the top spot. Lots of horror comics being produced right now are either monster of the week books (BPRD) or apocalyptic gross-out sagas (Crossed), but few of them are actually scary. Echoes isn’t just scary, it’s terrifying. Fialkov isn’t just an up-and-coming talent anymore, he’s arrived, and if you want to learn how to build tension in a comic book, look no further than Echoes.

3. Ozma Of Oz by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young (Marvel)

In Ozma Of Oz, little Dorothy Gale encounters robots, talking chickens, and bulimic tigers. Just another day in Oz, then. Ozma is Shanower and Young’s third adaptation of Frank Baum’s original Oz books, and they’re pretty much guaranteed to be on my best of lists as long as they keep doing them.  Ozma sees Dorothy Gale return to Oz, and is more of a pure sequel to the Wizard Of Oz than the Marvelous Land Of Oz was.  These minis are fairly faithful to the originals, and as such are both enhanced and hindered by the wonder and weirdness of the original series. Thankfully Shanhower’s love of the source material, and Young’s original sense of visual storytelling make them the perfect collaborators for these projects.Want your kids to get into comics? This is a great start.

2. Sweets by Kody Chamberlain (Image)

I wanted to include this in last year’s list, but it didn’t actually wrap up until 2011, so I waited. And I’m glad I did. Chamberlain’s story of a New Orleans Detective on the hunt for a serial killer days before Hurricane Katrina hits is an emotional powerhouse, and one that’s best served all in one bite. Chamberlain sets up tropes familiar to those us who love modern crime stories: An at-the-end-of-his-rope protagonist. Political intrigue. A moody, evocative setting. But it’s the way he blends them all together that’s the real joy here. Can’t wait to see what Chamberlain comes up with next.

1. Criminal: Last Of The Innocent by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Icon)

What do you give the comic that has everything?  More praise, I guess? I can’t imagine anybody reading this blog that isn’t at least peripherally aware of the brilliant work that Brubaker and Phillips have been doing on their Criminal mini-series for the past five years or, but if you’re not, here goes: Each mini series is self-contained, and stars…wait for it….a criminal. Yep. Doing crime. And while it’s getting a bit redundant to say so, Last Of The Innocent might be the finest Criminal story to date. It’s the story of Riley Richards, a small town boy done well. He got the girl, he got the job, got the money…but he’s not happy. Yet. And he’s ready to do pretty much anything to get  there. This isn’t just a compelling story, it’s a masterclass on modern comic storytelling. Brubaker and Phillips use flashbacks in such a unique and exciting way that they’re not just telling you the history of their characters, they’re telling you the history of comics.

Honourable mention: Ruse by Mark Waid, Mirco Pierfederici, & Minck Oosterveer, (Marvel),  Undying Love by Tomm Coker & Daniel Freedman (Image), Chronicles Of Wormwood: Last Battle by Garth Ennis & Oscar Jimenez (Avatar), The Mission by Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, and Werther Dell’Edera (Image)

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 46: Marvel Comics – The Inhumans, Iron Fist, and the Immortal Weapons!

The Immortal Weapons – The Immortal Weapons

These are supporting characters that spun out of Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker’s epic run on Iron Fist (more on that below), and so this book is disposable if you’re not a fan of that run. But it’s an essential companion piece for those who loved the original series, and several of the mysterious characters from that run get fleshed out here. This is essentially a martial arts anthology book, and so some tales stand up better than others, but all in all, this is a good kung-fu book.

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 The Inhumans – The Inhumans, Silent War

The Inhumans have been minor Marvel supporting characters since Jack Kirby and Stan Lee first created them for the Fantastic Four title in the mid 1960′s. They are a race of genetic superhumans that were created on Earth millenia by the Kree (Marvel alien race) to serve them. It never happened.

The Inhumans have always been an interesting concept, but have always played second fiddle to the X-Men in the superhuman genetic monstrosities department, and they have often been pushed to the back of the bus as a result. Until recently. Over the past decade or so, Marvel has been slowly rebuilding the concept of the group, to the point where they’re an integral part of numerous Marvel storylines. And it all started with The Inhumans, a 12 issue maxi series from 1998 by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee.

Paul Jenkins is one of the best writers in superhero comics. No question. However, as a plotter he leaves a little to be desired. Jenkins is a character specialist. He knows how to dig into the heads of characters like nobody else, and really gets to the essence of the people he’s writing about. Emotion is his trade, and he plies it well. The trade-off is that he takes 12 issues to tell 4 issues of story. But in this case I’m willing to accept it. Jenkins (with the help of the gorgeous art of Jae Lee), crafts an intense collection of character studies here, and really sets up what Marvel would do with these characters later on. The “outsider” angle is really pushed hard here, and Jenkins sets up Black Bolt (the leader of the Inhumans), as one of the great tortured heroes of the Marvel Universe.

David Hine & Frazer Irving told a similar story a decade later with Silent War, but it’s one that’s just as effective. This is a transition story, one designed to set the Inhumans even further apart from the mainstream that most Marvel heroes operate in. While it didn’t get a lot of attention when it came out, it’s one that is integral story-line wise to the events that the Inhumans would be involved with later.

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The Immortal Iron Fist – The Last Iron Fist Story, The Seven Capital Cities Of Heaven, The Book Of Iron Fist, The Mortal Iron Fist, Escape From The Eighth City

Here is the truth about Iron Fist: He’s awesome. He’s a kung-fu master, he once ripped the heart out of an immortal dragon, and can summon his internal energies to make his fist indestructible. Cool, right? Wrong. Despite his bad-assery, Iron Fist has never been what you would call a popular character, and is usually relegated to team-ups, bad mini-series, and failed team books. How Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction convinced Marvel to let them create this under-read gem of a series I’ll never know, but I’m glad.

This is pure kung-fu epic storytelling. Although the character is firmly set in the superheroics of the Marvel Universe, it’s the martial art side of the character that Fraction and Brubaker focus on here. Lost cities, epic kung-fu battles, and secret conspiracies: They’re all here. The origin of the Iron Fist isn’t redone here, it’s expanded upon, with the character’s history, mythos, and motivations made much clearer.  Fraction and Brubaker turn the story of the city of K’un L’un into one of political intrigue, human rights, and magic, and really make us care about the character they’re writing about for the first time. Definitely one of the better martial arts stories that Marvel or DC has ever told, and the quality remained solid even after Fraction and Brubaker left the book, though it was cancelled not long after.

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Next up: Iron Man!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 41: Marvel Comics – Daredevil: The Ed Brubaker/Andy Diggle years

Regarding Daredevil:

“But although I would check in on the book periodically over the years, it never really seemed to grab me, or to be telling stories worth my time.”

Probably the sentence that got me more e-mails and notes than any other I’ve written on this blog. It seems that I didn’t give enough attention to some of the Daredevil writers that contributed to the book between Frank Miller’s run and Brian Bendis’ run. A few people specifically mentioned J.G. Chichester’s run as one worth reading. I do own a few issues from it, but I’ve never given it much attention before, and based on your comments, I’ve started to reread it. I’m about 8 issues in, and quite frankly, I’m a little embarrassed that I’ve neglected it recently. His Last Rites story about the fall of the Kingpin is emotionally powerful, to the extent that I’m not sure the character ever fully recovered from it. I’m going to make it a top priority to collect the rest of his run soon, and I’ll report back when I do.

Daredevil – The Ed Brubaker Years (The Devil, Inside & Out Vol. 1 &2, Hell To Pay Vol. 1 & 2. Cruel & Unusual, Lady Bullseye, Return Of The King)

Any comic fan with a love of superhero comics has been there: You love a comic. The character kicks ass, the writer and the artist are firing on all cylinders, and things are awesome. And then it ends. And you have a choice: You follow the writer or artist to wherever they go next, or you continue to read the book blindly, hoping beyond hope that things will get better, even though you know they never will. In the comic book world, creative teams get pulled off of books all the time. It’s the big publisher’s hope that you won’t really care about that; that you’ll follow the adventures of the Amazing/Incredible/Spectacular Super/Spider/Bat Man/Woman/Mite/Person no matter which hapless half-wit they hire to write the scripts. I’ve long since resigned myself to such publishing silliness, and it’s one of the reason why I rarely dabble in superhero comics anymore.

And so when it was announced that Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev were leaving  Daredevil, I immediately cancelled the title from my pull list. I’ve long lost any attachment to any of these silly costumed buffoons, and only follow the books whose creative teams I respect and enjoy. Great comics are great comics, regardless of the character, and continuing to read a character’s exploits long after they stopped being interesting in a futile hope that you’ll be able to recapture your youth makes no sense to me. And although I was very familiar with both Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark’s work, I didn’t expect anybody to come close to matching what Bendis and Maleev had done on the book.

I was right. But not by much.

First of all, the pass over between Bendis and Brubaker might be the best I’ve ever seen. While Bendis ended his run in the most devastating, logical way possible, Brubaker picks up the reigns seamlessly, and for a few issues it’s hard to figure out where Bendis’ run ends and Brubaker’s run starts. That’s not to say it’s derivative at all, and it’s not long before Brubaker starts to add his own take to the Daredevil mythos.

His first arc is packed full of tension. It starts with Matt Murdock at Ryker’s Island, and it seems as if things can’t get worse. And then the Kingpin shows up. And then the Punisher. Not to mention that although Murdock is in prison, there’s another Daredevil running around Hell’s Kitchen. And then things start to get worse. And worse. And worse. In fact, The Devil, Inside & Out is not only a worthy successor to the neo-noir work of Bendis, it’s pretty much a companion to it.

Unfortunately, it’s the best arc of Brubaker’s run. That’s not to say that the rest of his run was bad. It wasn’t, by a long shot. But he never recaptured the pure visceral intensity of that first story. He still added a lot of interesting concepts to the mythos: Lady Bullseye, the reintroduction of Mr. Fear, and one of the better Kingpin stories in recent memory. But the sum is never as good as it’s parts, and while Brubaker’s run touches greatness, it never fully embraces it like Bendis’ did. It’s completely worth your time and money, and if it hadn’t come right after what most people consider to be one of the best Daredevil runs of all time, I’d probably rate it higher.

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Daredevil – The Devil’s Hand

Marvel had been extremely lucky with their Daredevil creative teams, and the question was whether or not lightning could strike thrice. The answer was absolutely not. I’ve been hearing for several years that Andy Diggle is a great writer, and I hope that one day I find that to be true. But so far, the only thing he’s managed to accomplish is to get me to do something I never thought I would do again: Stop reading Daredevil.

He essentially flushed down 8 years of stories by Brian Bendis and Ed Brubaker, and traded them for a half-assed ninja story full of cliches that would have been out of place in the early ’80′s. Is it awful? Nope. But when you’re accustomed to greatness, mediocrity just doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s just been announced that Mark Waid will be taking over the adventures of Daredevil next, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Mark Waid can do with this book.

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Next up: Alternate reality mutant mayhem!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 36: Captain America

U S A ! U S A !

On the surface, I shouldn’t like the concept of Captain America. It’s a throwback to a previous time. He’s a jingoistic, nationalist, character that really shouldn’t work in today’s geopolitical climate. But in terms of the Marvel comics universe, he’s the top dog. Although not always (or often) reflected in sales, his character is always at the forefront of Marvel’s storylines, and does for Marvel what Superman does for DC, in that he’s the de facto leader of Earth’s heroes. I think I admire the simplicity. At the character’s best, he represents everything that is “good” about America. At his worst, he’s a government puppet, fulfilling the mandate of whatever politician is currently in power. It’s a fine line, and when done well (the runs of Mark Gruenwald, Mark Waid, and Ed Brubaker), he can be a compelling plot device. But the character itself is quite bland, and so it’s been my experience that there are more bad Cap stories than there are good. As I’ve done this project, there are books that I realize I need to pick up, and Mark Gruenwald’s epic run on Captain America is at the top of the list.

Captain America – The Otherworld War/The New Deal

Blah. A bland, generic, character is bound to guarantee some bland, generic stories, and these are two mini-series that fit the bill. There’s not much to discuss here, as there isn’t much to either of these. Although the New Deal does have the benefit of John Cassady’s pencil work, and is somewhat readable, neither comic is anything other than just a run of the mill exercise in blandness.

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Captain America – The Winter Soldier Vol. 1 & 2, Red Menace Vol. 1 & 2, Civil War, The Death Of Captain America Vol. 1, 2, 3, The Man With No Face, Two Americas, Reborn, No Escape

I’m not going to go as far as many people have and declare Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America to be “the best ever”. But it is a very good run, one that blends superhero theatrics with quasi-realistic espionage thrills quite seamlessly.

Even now, this is still one of the better superhero comics on the market, though it doesn’t quite have the impact that it did in its hey day. There is a lot of story here: The death and resurrection of Cap’s arch-nemesis; The resurrection of Cap’s WW2 partner Bucky; Cap being wanted by the US government; Cap being shot and killed; Bucky taking up the mantle of Cap, The original Cap coming back from the dead, etc. As I said, there’s a LOT of stuff going on here. And while this book is quite plot heavy at times, it still never gets too dense, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. I would say that Brubaker finds the character of Bucky to be a little more interesting than that of the original Cap, as he’s done more in terms of character development with that character than with that of Steve Rogers. Brubaker takes a similar approach to Steve Rogers as Christopher Priest did to the Black Panther, in that he really makes the book about how others perceive the title character, more than he makes it about that character himself. Good approach for an iconic character like Cap.

I would recommend this as a good-to-almost great mainstream superhero book, though at times it resembles spy books like Queen & Country more than it does more traditional Cap stories. The Cap Reborn trade is easily the weak link of the bunch, though I’m keeping it.

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Captain America – Fallen Son

This was an attempt by Marvel to capitalize on the hype created by the “death” of the original Captain America, Steve Rogers. Like much of Jeph Loeb’s writing these days, it’s heavy on schmaltz, low on story. And so while you get some decent character moments, it’s not really compelling enough to justify a reread, and comes across as inconsequential.

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Next: Captain Britain! Captain Marvel! The son of Captain Marvel! A shapechanging alien that thinks he’s Captain Marvel!

 

 

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 9: DC Comics – Doctor 13 to Gotham Central

Doctor 13 - Architecture & Mortality

Doctor 13 is an old DC character from the 60′s that doesn’t make a lot of sense in a world full of superhumans, magicians, and god-like entities: He’s a skeptic. Now, I consider myself to be an amateur skeptic of sorts; in that the only way I would believe in people with super-powers, is if one of them flew down to my house and crapped on my new carpet. So you can see why I would identify with him. But how can you be a skeptic in a world full of magic? When the evidence of the existence of the paranormal slaps you in the face every single day? That’s what Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang try to answer here. This is honestly one of the weirdest things DC has published in recent memory, and I love it.

Brian Azzarello is usually known for his hardboiled crime fiction, but he turns in a fun, completely absurdist piece here that isn’t like anything he’s ever done. Cliff Chiang is one of the very few modern day pencillers whose work is strong enough to get me to buy a book just for the art, and he outdoes himself here. I will definitely say that this isn’t for everybody (a good friend of mine looked at a few pages of this book and said that it was the most ridiculous piece of comic book art he’s ever seen. And he likes Frank Miller), but if the idea of talking Nazi Gorillas teaming up with gay vampires and 30th Century plague carriers to convince Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison not to write them out of continuity sounds like your bag, give this a shot. It’s pure, absurdist comic book fun. Also should mention that this has one of the best last pages to a comic story that I can remember.

KEEP

Flash And Green Lantern - Brave And Bold.

Whew! Finally some characters you’ve heard of. These two are familiar to pretty much everybody, and for good reason. They’re 2 of DC’s ‘Big 5″ characters, although you wouldn’t know it by the way DC treats them sometimes. This is a flashback story, delving into the early friendship between Barry (the original Silver Age Flash, then was killed by the Anti-Monitor. Then Wally West who used to be Kid-Flash became Flash, and at first everyone hated him but then Mark Waid wrote him and people started to like him, but then for some reason they made Impulse  the new Flash. He’s actually Barry Allen’s grandson from the far future, but then he died, and now for some reason Barry Allen is back even though Wally West is a more interesting character but for some reason DC seems to think that the best way to deal with poor sales is just by rebooting everything back to 1975) Allen and Hal (was the original Silver Age Green Lantern, but then went evil and killed a lot of people and then he died, but then came back to life, and then died again. And then he became God’s Spirit Of Vengeance, which is an ok gig if you’re retired I guess, but then he came back to life yet again, and now he’s back to being Green Lantern again) Jordan. Yes.

This was nicely written. Mark Waid goes back into the Silver Age era he knows so well, but adds nuance and breadth to these characters that never really existed before now. In fact, a lot of what Waid did here set the groundwork for the inevitable resurrections of each character, and some of the characterization here can be found in both the current Flash & Green Lantern titles. Tom Peyer’s pencils work well with the story, and it’s overall a good read, though not essential. Please also note that despite my sizable DC collection, this is the ONLY trade I own with the Flash’s name in the title. I’ve never been a big fan of the character, though I will most likely give the rumoured omnibus of Geoff Johns run on the book a try when it comes out next year.

KEEP

Gotham Central  5 Trades (Half A Life, In The Line Of Duty, Dead Robin, Unresolved Targets, Quick and the Dead)

The commercial reaction to Gotham Central when it was on the stands sums up everything that I think is wrong with modern comic book fans: It’s extremely well-written, with complex characters and exciting action-packed scenarios. When it was being produced, it was regularly one of the most critically acclaimed series on the stands, and I can say without exaggeration that this is one of my favourite DC titles of the past decade. And nobody read it.

It’s an idea so simple you can’t believe it hasn’t been done before: What would it like to be a police officer in a world full of superheroes? I should also mention that it HAS been done before, notably with Brian Bendis and Mike Oeming’s brilliant Powers series. But this was the first time it had been done with heroes we know. What would it be like to work 6 months on a case and then have a 14-year-old in tight shorts come in and beat all of your suspects up in one night? Or to have a sociopath in a bat costume have more credibility with the citizens you’ve sworn to protect than you do? 

That’s what Gotham Central is about. It’s the story of Gotham City’s Major Crime Unit: A group of detectives hand-picked by Commissioner Gordon to take on the city’s worst problems. It was originally co-written by two of my favourite contemporary writers: Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker. There were different artists, though Michael Lark was the initial and primary penciller on the book.

I consider this book to be a gateway drug. If you only read superhero comics, but want to get an accessible look at what else is out there, try this book. If you’ve never read superhero comics, but want to see what it’s all about without having your intelligence insulted, try this book. It’s like Law And Order, if L&O had occasional cameos by Batman, but was also not boring.. I’ll also say that I would consider Half A Life (the second major arc of the comic) to be one of the finest story arcs to ever be found in a DC comic book.  

KEEP.  

 Next up: Some characters YOU ACTUALLY HAVE HEARD OF!!!! GREEN ARROW! GREEN LANTERN! HAWKMAN! Well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad. Oh, and the culling starts in earnest….

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part Seven: DC Comics – Catwoman to The Challengers Of The Unknown

CatwomanThe Ed Brubaker Trades (Dark End Of The Street, Relentless, Crooked Little Town, Wild Ride)

To say that I’ve never been a Catwoman fan is an understatement. The character has always represented the worst of DC’s silly excesses to me. So why the hell do I own 9 Catwoman trade paperbacks? Two words: Ed Brubaker. The man has a gift for great crime stories, and since Catwoman is supposed to be a great criminal, it makes perfect sense that him writing the book would be a perfect fit. And it is.

Brubaker’s Catwoman is a “small c” crimefighter. It’s mostly gangs and mob bosses for her. But Brubaker builds a great supporting cast for Selena Kyle, and between them and the choice of Black Mask as lead villain, it’s a pretty great little series. Extra points go to Darwyn Cooke, Javier Pulido, and Cameron Stewart for some great pencil work.

KEEP.

Catwoman - The Will Pfeiffer trades (Replacements, It’s Only a Movie, Crime Pays, Catwoman Dies)

One thing that I HATE about superhero comics is the constantly changing creative teams. You love a book, get used to the look and feel, and bang! They’re gone, and some no-name rookie is in there making your much loved book a dark and gritty deconstruction of the superhero genre that nobody asked for. So as you can imagine I wasn’t too inclined to give Will Pfeiffer a shot when he took over Catwoman for the much vaunted Ed Brubaker. But I did, and I’m glad. Sort of.

Although Pfeiffer injected a bunch of nasty into the book with some great new villains, specifically the Film Freak, he also delved into serious melodrama, with a “who’s the baby daddy” storyline that wouldn’t have been out of place on Guiding Light. Worse than that, the actual pay off to that storyline satisfied NO ONE, and only alienated fans that had been patient enough to give it a shot. Although Pfeiffer’s run started strong, it eventually got roped into the regular DCU shenanigans (And by shenanigans, I mean she went to outer space. Seriously.), and pretty soon any of the charm that the book had had was gone.

First two trades: KEEP. Last two trades: CULL.

CatwomanWhen In Rome.

This was essentially the epilogue to Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s much loved Batman Long Halloween/Dark Victory mini series. It takes place between the two series, and it shows a young Catwoman traveling to Italy to find out if a big time Gotham gangster was actually her father.

Jeph Loeb is many things, and some of those things are good. But subtle ain’t one of them, and he pretty much mucks this one up right from the beginning. Loeb’s Catwoman is nothing but a cheap vamp, and while that may make sense if she’s flirting with Batman, it loses it’s charm when she’s on a personal mission. Not to mention the lack of anything much like a real plot. The only thing that saves this is Tim Sale’s art. Even though the story is utterly dispensable, Sale produces some of the best artwork of his career. Absolutely stunning work on this one.

KEEP. Just barely.

Challengers Of The UnknownChallengers Of The Unknown Must Die!

Yep, it’s another Loeb/Sale collaboration. In fact, it’s their first, from 1991. As such, it’s extremely unpolished in places, and it’s obvious that the two future superstars are still feeling their way around the medium. The Challengers are a fairly obscure DC group that is most famous for being the characters that Jack Kirby ripped off when he created the Fantastic Four. I suppose it’s ok since he created the Challengers too. Talented bastard. The Challs are one of those groups that most long term DC fans know, but don’t really care about, and they are rarely used in continuity today. So Loeb and Sale had free reign to do pretty much anything they wanted. It’s an interesting, though uneven attempt, and a decent story about some of DC’s more obscure heroes. There’s quite a bit to like here, though I think ultimately it’s about two issues too long.

KEEP.

Next up: Checkmate to Deadman. Yes, he’s dead, and yes, DC is often a little too “on- the- nose” when naming their characters.