Best Comic Books Of 2011: Best Ongoing Comics Of The Year

The very idea of what an ongoing series is evolving all the time, but here are the rules I used for this category: If it’s over 10 issues, and at least 2 of those issues took place in 2010, it’s an ongoing. Now, quantity does count here. The more issues a “good” title releases in the year, the better it’ll fare against a title of similar quality that only put out a few issues. And so titles that are still relatively new like Animal Man, I Vampire, Pigs, or Near Death didn’t make it on the list this year. And titles that I normally love, but that put out less than 3 issues in 2011 like Scarlet, Orc Stain, or Powers don’t make the cut either.

20) Lil Depressed Boy by S. Stephen Struble and Sina Grace (Image)

Lonely Emo hipster finds love. Love goes bad. Smiths are listened to. That’s the basic premise of this fine, emotionally engaging comic. In a year age when only action and superhero comics  seem to make it to the stands, this was a refreshing change of pace. The cautiously optimistic tone, as well as the likeable lead created by Struble, are the two main reasons to keep coming back, despite the pessimistic nature of the title. Hope to see more books like this in 2012.

19) Secret Avengers by Warren Ellis and various artists (Marvel)

No offense to Ed Brubaker or Nick Spencer, but this book didn’t really take off until Warren Ellis took over the writing reigns, and turned it from just another team book into a 25 page action-packed explosion of pages, panels, and colour. Each issue stands completely alone, and doesn’t require you to be able to tell an Avenger from an X-Man.These are superheroes kicking ass, in the simplest possible way. Ellis is telling some pretty generic, yet throughly compelling superhero stories here, and Secret Avengers contains some of the best plotting I’ve seen from him in a while. Extra shout-outs go to the extremely varied group of talented artists that helped Ellis make this work as well as it did.

18) Detective Comics by Scott Snyder, Jock, and Francesco Francavilla (DC)

Snyder has been getting a lot of praise for his work on American Vampire, but it’s his arc here, on this old bloated beast of superhero comics, that made me pay attention to his work. The story stars Dick Grayson, the young protegé who has had to step up to the plate and taken over the mantle of the Batman. This arc is probably the most convincing argument I’ve seen for why Grayson should have been allowed to stay in the cowl, as it manages to be both a pure Batman tale and a pure Dick Grayson tale at the same time. I’m aware that part of the reason I enjoyed this so much may have something to do with the fact that Grant Morrison has been systematically destroying my beloved Batman over the past few years, but I digress. If you miss the Detective in Detective Comics, I’d give this a shot. P.S. Jock and Francesco Francavilla have fairly disparate art styles, but I never felt as if they clashed, and thought that they made great tag-team partners throughout this entire run.

 17)  Jonah Hex/All-Star Western by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, various artists (DC)

I’ll lump these together as a) they’re by the same writers, and b) they’re both vehicles for Jonah Hex, DC’s notorious wild west bounty hunter. Jonah Hex was one of the best comics DC produced before their much vaunted September reboot, and it’s follow-up All-Star Western manages to keep the quality fairly high, though perhaps it’s a little toothless in comparison. Part of the appeal of the original series was the stand-alone adventure nature of the book, and so the switch to a more serial, continuity driven approach wasn’t exactly welcome news. Still, the book remains a solid western adventure read to this day.

16)  Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai (Dark Horse)

200 issues. You heard me. Usagi Yojimbo hit 200 issues this year. You know what other independent creator-owned book hit a milestone like that this year? Can’t think of one? That’s because there are no other currently running creator-owned books that have even come close to the commercial or creative longevity that Usagi has had. Usagi Yojimbo is about the continuing adventures of a masterless samurai (or ronin) in feudal Japan. He’s also a talking rabbit, but that’s never really explained, and kind of besides the point. He rambles through the Japanese countryside, looking for ways to earn a meal or a warm fire. It’s a simple concept, and that simplicity is part of the reason why Sakai has kept the quality so very high for so very long. The impressionist sensibility of Sakai’s pencils help to keep the tone light, yet fairly vibrant.

15)  The Spirit by David Hine and Moritat (DC)

Will Eisner’s Spirit. In comic book circles, those three words are enough to make even the most fervent of fanboys blush. The Spirit was a Sunday strip that was created by Will Eisner in the very late 30′s, and managed to run until 1950 or so. Although the strip’s quality was inconsistent, when it was good it was VERY good, and remains some of the best adventure comic storytelling of all time. The character has had a resurgence since Eisner’s death, with various creators trying their hand at the seminal crime fighter. Darwyn Cooke’s version remains the very best of these,  but I was happy to see just how good David Hines and Moritat’s adaptation had become, at least before DC cancelled it. Hines realized that The Spirit himself is actually the least interesting part of Eisner’s creation, and that the character should always be just a gateway to telling small, entertaining crime stories. Unfortunately very few of the new DC reboot titles have matched this level of quality.

14)  Echo/Rachel Rising by Terry Moore (Abstract Studios)

It’s probably unfair to label these together as the genres involved are quite different. But given that they’re a) both by Terry Moore, b) both have solving a mystery as their main premise, and c) both are character vehicles first, I thought lumping them together would be ok. Echo ended after 30 issues this year, with Rachel starting only a few months later. While Echo was pure sci-fi, and Rachel seems to be plumbing the horror genre, they both should be read by anyone wanting to learn how to set up a convincing, intriguing mystery comic. I wish more people would give Moore’s comics a shot, as he’s doing some really enjoyable genre work these days.

13)  Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man  Vol. 1/Vol. 2 by Brian Bendis & various artists (Marvel)

Spider-Man died this year. Yes, Peter Parker. Deader than a dictator. Big deal, yes? Then why haven’t you heard about this? Because it’s the not the regular Spider-Man that died, it’s the one in the Ultimate Universe. God you’re dumb. And they wonder why no one reads comics anymore. Despite the confusing continuity, the reality is that THE Spider-Man title to buy over the last decade has been Brian Bendis’ work on Ultimate Spider-Man. It’s a simpler, modernized version of the origin of our beloved webcrawler, and Bendis decided to take it up a notch by putting him six feet in the ground. And the best part of it was that it was actually a great story. Actually, I’m going to go as far as to say that it was a capital G GREAT story. And while Parker has remained dead (for now), Bendis has created a more-than-suitable replacement in Miles Morales. This new addition to the Spidey mythos gave the franchise a kick in the pants that it maybe didn’t need, but was definitely welcome.

12)  The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard (Image)

This sacred cow of modern horror comics is still going, and thankfully it’s still going relatively strong. It’s a testament to Kirkman’s skills as a storyteller (and for creating such an open-ended concept in the first place) that this independent comic book has thrived in such a difficult time for the market, and has even spawned a successful TV show. The premise is simple: Zombies have taken over the world. A group of people are trying to survive. Simple it may be, but Kirkman understands that emotional responses in survival situations are anything BUT simple, and constantly invents creative new ways to put his characters under the emotional gun.

11)  The Unwritten by Mike Carey (Vertigo)

Unwritten is the story of Tommy Taylor, the son of a famous fantasy novelist, and the model for his most famous creation. He’s struggling to find his own way in the world, until he finds out that the line between fantasy and reality isn’t as clear as he once thought. In short, this is a story about stories. About how stories affect our lives, our culture, and our history. And as such, it’s about as ambitious as comics can get, and this year saw Carey exploring genres ranging from noir to fantasy, and from superhero to horror. In some ways, I don’t love this series quite as much as I once did now that many of the mysteries are solved and now that it’s morphing into a pure fantasy book, but the imaginative way that Carey and Gross utilize fiction tropes to tell their ambitious epic keeps me coming back for more.

10)  Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory  (Image)

Tony Chu is the star here. He’s a FDA agent in a world where chicken has been outlawed due to a catastrophic epidemic of Bird Flu. He has the unique ability to  get a psychic impression through anything that he’s eaten, which as you would expect means that we get to see Chu eat a variety of disgusting things. My appreciation of this book was strong at first, but then soured as the comic started to get whackier, and more farcical. I’m happy to report that I’m back on the side of praise now, and I think I finally have the measure of what Layman and Guillory are all about. It’s a very thin line between serious cop drama, bizarre sci-fi, and hilarious farce that these guys are trying to draw, but they’re really pulling it off. This year saw them leap a year forward in the narrative for one issue, only to go back to the original timeline  in the next. It was a bold move, and one that could tie the hands of lesser creators. But in the wacky, capable hands of these talents it just seems par for the course.

9) DMZ by Brian Wood, Riccardo Burchielli, and Others (Vertigo)

In the near future, America is at war. Not with North Korea, or Iran, or Syria, but with itself. It’s the near future, and America is years into a brutal civil war, with the island of Manhattan serving as a “neutral” demilitarized zone. That’s the premise of DMZ, and it’s one that’s almost disturbingly familiar. As I’m writing this, one last issue of DMZ  is about to hit the stands, and it’s a bittersweet end. Creatively, it’s always great when books end on a high note. But in this era of pre-packaged superhero mediocrity, it’s a shame any time a book of this quality leaves the marketplace. DMZ wasn’t just a good comic, it was an important comic, one that served as a warning to what we might become if we’re not careful. Watching Brian Wood evolve into one of the mediums great writers over the past decade has been a real joy, and I’m going to go as far as to say that DMZ might be one of the finest war comics the medium has ever seen.

8)  Punisher Max by Jason Aaron & Steve Dillon (Marvel)

Probably the second most intense comic on the stands right now, which isn’t surprising since it’s written by the same guy who writes the first. It mystifies me that this sells as little as it does, as it’s easily among the most consistently well-made comics that Marvel has produced over the past few years. Forget what you think this series is about, as it requires absolutely no previous knowledge of The Punisher, or superheroes at all, to really enjoy it. What it is, is the story of an old man. His family was killed 30 years ago, and he’s spent every second of the decades since trying to kill criminals in a futile attempt at avenging that family’s deaths. And his time is almost up. This series has taught me a lot this year about what  it means to strip a story down to its bare essentials, as I can’t think of a single wasted beat that Aaron’s made since it started. Every single panel, is about setting up what looks to be a blaze of glory for the tragic lead character, and this might be the most emotionally charged comic on my list this year. Steve Dillon is firing on all cylinders here, and is turning in some of the best work of his career.

7) The Goon by Eric Powell (Dark Horse)

After a two-year sabbatical, Eric Powell took the reigns back in 2011 on the book that made him famous. Not only that, but he went back to his roots. By the time Powell had finished his last run on the book, The Goon had evolved into a long, dramatic horror series full of convoluted plots and strategically built tension. Powell has stepped back from that ledge however, and this year in The Goon was all about what the book was first famous for: Short, yet terrifyingly funny action-packed horror stories, full of scary monsters, dialogue that would make a dead drunken sailor blush, and some of the most beautifully disturbing artwork to be found in comics.  Although I’m looking forward to Powell getting back into the epic business, it’s been great to see him having fun again.

6) Rasl by Jeff Smith (Cartoon Books)

That this brilliant science fiction masterpiece hasn’t gotten more attention from the comic community is a real shame. I would probably rate this higher if it came out a little more often, but I’m definitely not complaining. Like recent issues of Sixth Gun and Sweet Tooth, it seemed as if there was quite a bit of exposition to get through this year in the pages of Rasl. One feels as if Smith had been waiting a long time to bring the true story of Nikola Tesla into the science fiction of RASL, and he did it pretty seamlessly. This is a large, alternate-universe epic Smith is creating here, and the only problem I have with it is that I don’t see how he could possibly wrap it up in the handful of issues left that he has planned.

5)  Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire (Vertigo)

It’s been nice to see Lemire get some mainstream success this year with his superhero writing, but he’s still most effective when he handles the art chores on his own work. So I was a little surprised when Lemire had Matt Kindt partner up with him on a few issues of Sweet Tooth this year. I shouldn’t have been. Kindt is a brilliant storyteller in his own right, and his art is a perfect complement to Lemire’s quirky sensibilities.  Sweet Tooth is a post-apocalyptic road story about a mutant and his shadowy father figure, but recent issues have seen Lemire attempt to fill in some of the holes regarding the world they live in, and how it go to be that way. In that light, Lemire’s decision to use a different artist makes sense, though part of me can’t wait for the main narrative to be revisited. Lemire’s work on Sweet Tooth is some of the best dramatic storytelling on the stands right now.

4) Northlanders by Brian Wood and various artists (Vertigo)

After a rare, and brief dip in quality with the near-terrible Metal, storyline, Brian Wood brought his Viking adventure anthology back on track this year with some pretty incredible writing, namely as seen in his brilliant Icelandic Trilogy. Sadly, this wasn’t enough to save the book, and Northlanders is scheduled for cancellation in a few months, along with Wood’s other book DMZ. This was one of the jewels of the Vertigo line, and one that I recommend often to people who love great storytelling, but haven’t really appreciated the medium of comics before. Wood understands intrinsically what most writers take years to figure out:  Genre is meaningless if you don’t have a great lead whose actions you care about passionately. And so although Wood’s chosen setting of circa 900AD Scandinavia is important, it always takes a back seat to his compelling lead characters, and the action-packed scenarios he throws them in. It’s sad that this book is ending, but at least it’s going out on a high note.

3) Here Comes….Daredevil! by Mark Waid, Marcos Martin, and Paolo Rivera (Marvel)

This book represents everything that is good and great about the medium of comics. It’s a return to the fun, swashbuckling version of Daredevil that usually comes in second place to the more popular, brooding one, but this book is so much more than that. More than any other superhero comic book being published today, this book uses the medium of comics to tell you it’s stories. Now, that just sounds like common sense right? It should be, but the sad truth is that so much of comic book storytelling today is stagnant. It’s become far more about genre than it is about medium. People like zombies? Here’s a screenplay about zombies in Vietnam, with some pictures!  Want to add some edge? Here’s Super-Zombie! Waid’s DD transcends all of that nonsense. It’s a comic about a superhero, but most importantly it’s a comic. It’s bold, It’s bright, and it uses every square inch of every single page to tell you it’s secrets. The art by Marcos Martin and Paolo Rivera are going to be dissected by comic book historians for years to come.

2) The Sixth Gun by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt (Oni)

I wish more comics were like this one. Not exactly like this one obviously. But it’s the ambition I admire here. Sixth Gun is a western/horror pastiche about.a woman who inherits a magical gun from her father, and finds out pretty quickly that the gun holds some very dark secrets. This is a bold comic book, in that it’s combining several less-than-trendy genres in a time where getting people to buy anything that doesn’t have the word Bat in front of its title is almost impossible. At first I thought there would be a years worth of stories in this concept, tops, but as more issues come and go, it’s obvious that Bunn and Hurt are weaving a complex, epic story here, and it’s one that is bordering on genius.

1) Scalped by Jason Aaron & RM Guera (Vertigo)

If this comic doesn’t constantly give you goosebumps in the tuckus, than I think you’re in the wrong blog. This is “just” a populist crime story about a modern day indian reserve in South Dakota, but it’s one that’s so visceral, so stirring, and so  character-driven that I’m always surprised that it’s never gotten the mainstream attention that lesser Vertigo series seem to garner. This series still kicks me in the pants every time I read an issue. This is powerful crime storytelling at it’s very best, and the fact that it’s ending soon is a little depressing. I’m comforted however by the fact that it seems destined to go out on a high note. I’m hoping that years from now people will be talking about this title in the same way people talk about Criminal, or 100 Bullet, although I think that it’s already proven that it’s their equal. Unfortunately, 2012 is going to be the last for this fantastic neo-noir.

Honourable Mention:

Incorruptible by Mark Waid and Marcio Takara (BOOM), I, Vampire by Joshua Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino (DC), Animal Man by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman (DC), Pigs by Ben McCool, Nate Cosby, and Breno Temura (Image), Near Death by Jay Faerber and Simone Guglielmini (Image), Captain America and Bucky by Ed Brubaker and Francesco Francavilla, (Marvel), Secret Six by Gail Simone and Jim Caliofore (DC), Batgirl by Bryan Miller and Dustin Nguyen (DC), Batgirl by Gail Simone and Ardian Syaf (DC), Batwoman by JH Williams and W. Haden Blackman (DC), Butcher Baker by Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston (Image)

Would have gotten on the list if more issues had comes out: Wasteland by Antony Johnston and various artists (IDW), Scarlet by Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev (ICON), Godland by Joe Casey and Tom Scioli (Image), Orc Stain by James Stokoe (Image), Powers by Brian Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming (Icon)

New Comics Reviews: Daredevil, Infinite Kung-Fu, The Last Mortal, and others

So I’ve been doing a lot of bitching about comics lately. Most of this has come from DC’s recent “reboot”, in which they did everything except for actually try to make there comics better. In fact, I tried to view the reboot optimistically, and even had plans of reviewing the entire line. But in large the books are so terrible, so watered down, and so uninteresting, that I gave up after the first week, and the whole thing has made me despair a little for the comics industry. If books this bad are selling so well, is there any room in today’s market for anything other than dumb, generic superhero comics?

I hope so, and so I give you some recommendations of some recent reads:

Daredevil #1-4 by Mark Waid, Paulo Rivera, and Marcos Martin

Yes, my first pick is a superhero comic. And not only that, it’s a mainstream superhero comic, with a famous, recognizable character. And it’s one of the best things I’ve read this year. Why? Because it’s one of the few superhero books on the stands right now that actually remembers that IT”S A COMIC BOOK! Every issue of this is like a masterclass in the comics medium. Waid and his partners aren’t just telling us a story, they are showing us a story, in vivid, Technicolor terms.  Waid’s Daredevil does more to showcase what comics can do than almost any other book on the stands right now, and if you’re not reading this, I’m pretty sure you’re a communist.

Rating: A+

Infinite Kung-Fu by Kagan McLeod

A 400 page kung-fu epic? Sign me up. This is a love letter to Shaw Brothers style kung fu movies, with the emotional drama, bad-ass fight scenes, and goofy nonsense that implies. McLeod has been working on this in some shape or form for over a decade, and it’s great to see such a unique, personal take on the kung-fu mythos in comic book form.

Rating: A-

Lil Depressed Boy by S. Stephen Struble and Sina Grace

Are you a sardonic hipster that loves music, comics, and died a little when Scott Pilgrim wrapped up? Good news folks, Lil Depressed Boy is here. LDB has quickly become one of my favourite character studies on the stands, and is a welcome breath of fresh air to all of the high-concept, adventure comics that are currently on the market. It’s the story of a sad little guy who meets the love of his life.

Rating: A-

The Last Mortal by John Mahoney and Filip Sablik, and Thomas Nachlik

 

Image has put out a lot of high-profile books this year, but this doesn’t seem to be one of them. The fact that its been pretty much ignored is sad, as I think it’s one of the most well-crafted high concept stories I’ve read this year. The pitch is absurdly simple: One day, a guy finds that he can’t die. That’s it. That’s the whole thing, and in a lesser talents hands we would have 25 pages of a poor man’s Wolverine knock-off. But the creators realize that it is strong characters that make high concept work, and have put together a smart and sad crime story that simply utilizes, and not relies on, it’s superpowered origins.

Rating: A-

The Hidden by Richard Sala

Holy crap. If you can find a creepier, more spine-tingling comic book story this year I’ll come over and mow your lawn*. I’ve never read a Sala story before, and I can’t believe what I’ve been missing. Sala’s expressive art perfectly accentuates the terrible sadness of the post-apocalyptic Frankenstein update he’s telling here. If you’re in the mind for great, beautifully drawn horror, this is your book.

*Offer only good  to people who live in my condo.

Green River Killer – A True Detective Story by Jeff Jensen and Jonathan Case

I opened this book, by the guy that used to write the long rambling love letters to Lost on EntertainmentWeekly.com every week, with some reluctance and trepidation. In my experience, just because you’re a good prose or non-fiction writer doesn’t mean you can write good comic books, and so I was pleasantly surprised to find that Green River Killer isn’t just a good comic book, it’s a GREAT one.

It’s the story of Jensen’s father, a Washington State police detective assigned to help track down one of the most infamous serial killers in American history. There are a lot of mis-steps that one could take putting together a story so personal, yet so part of the public record, but  Jensen takes none of them. This isn’t the killer’s story, it’s his fathers, but Jensen’s resistance to over-sensationalizing his dad’s story is admirable. This isn’t an episode of Mannix. There’s no big shoot out and the end, no “ah-ah!” moment where everything comes together in the parlor with all of the family sitting around. And still Jensen and Case manage to craft a smart, entertaining read about one man’s life work. It’s a small story, but a great one.

Rating: A

 

 

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 43: Marvel Comics – The Fantastic Four

Although its easy to point at your Batmans, your Supermans, and your Spider-Mans as the most iconic superheroes of our age, it’s unlikely that we’d even be discussing them if it weren’t for the Fantastic Four. Fantastic Four #1 is where what we know of as Marvel Comics really began in 1961, and a strong case could be made that superhero comics as we know them wouldn’t exist without it.

A family of four adventurers accidentally gets caught in cosmic rays while on a secret mission in space. They develop superpowers, and voila! The FF is born. When you’re a kid, reading superhero comics for the first time, that can come across as a pretty tame origin compared to those of vigilante Bat-creatures and snarling feral rodents. But my appreciation for the first family of comics has increased over the years, and it’s been somewhat of a surprise to discover how consistently good Fantastic Four comics have been.

Fantastic Four – Essential Fantastic Four Volumes 1-5

As has been the case with most of Marvel’s Essential collections, they don’t nearly do their source material justice. These oversized black and white editions collect the first several years of the FF’s adventures; Yep, it’s Stan and Jack. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s work on the Fantastic Four is one of the greatest achievements of modern comic art. That I am getting rid of these isn’t an insult to them, it’s a compliment. I’ll be replacing them with their high-gloss, Marvel Masterwork equivalents ASAP.

CULL

Fantastic Four – The John Byrne Years (Fantastic Four Visionaries 1-8)

Although Lee and Kirby’s work on the FF is considered sacrosanct, many fans would actually jump to the early ’80′s when asked to point out their favourite FF run. John Byrne took over both the writing and art in 1982, and redefined the concept for a new generation. How? By going back to basics. In fact, every single successful run of this title can be summed up in one phrase: Tight, close-knit family that loves each other unreservedly goes on crazy, science-oriented adventures. That’s it. When you try to complicate it,  or go outside of those parameters, then you fail. Byrne understood this, and so while he did make changes, they were necessary societal tweaks, rather than a full-out overhaul. His stamp was mostly felt by the Invisible Woman character. He doesn’t get enough credit for it, but Byrne is the one who is responsible for transforming her from the vapid, blubbering, talking uterus as created by Stan Lee, into one of the most fully formed, realistic female characters in superhero comics.

There were several notable moments in Byrne’s tenure on the title, but I don’t think he was stronger than on “The Trial Of Galactus”. Reed Richards had previously saved the life of one of the galaxy’s worst threats, and was now being held accountable by an intergalactic tribunal. To a 12-year-old kid, this was a jaw-dropping story, and one that doesn’t get enough credit.

There are some flubs, mainly the marriage of Johnny Storm to Ben Grimm’s ex-girlfriend (easily fixed later on by the revelation that it was actually a shape-changing alien the whole time! Surprise!), but all in all, this is one of the better continuous superhero runs that Marvel was responsible for in the ’80′s, and I think more than a few people would say that it was the greatest Fantastic Four run of all time.

KEEP

Fantastic Four – The New Fantastic Four: Monsters Unleashed

I’m a writer guy. I love writing, specifically good writing. And so, there aren’t many artists in the superhero world I like enough to make me pick up their books based on art alone. Art Adams is one of those, which is probably why I picked this up in the first place in the mid 90′s. The Fantastic Four have been captured, and so an ad-hoc team of Marvel’s most popular heroes (Spider-Man, Wolverine, Ghost Rider, and the Hulk), team up to go after the bad guys. This was a fun story. It blends action and humour well, and Art Adams’ work  jumps off the page into your brain, as usual. Walt Simonson wrote this one, and I enjoyed it enough on reread that I’m going to try to give the rest of his run a shot.

Fantastic Four – The Mark Waid Years (Imaginauts, Unthinkable, Authoritative Action, Hereafter, Disassembled, Rising Storm)

As with Daredevil, my collection of FF stories has lots of holes it. For some reason I stayed away for most of the next 15 years after John Byrne left the book, until Mark Waid brought me back to comic’s first family. As with Byrne, Waid stuck to the basics, and focused on the FF as Marvel’s premier explorers, (or “Imaginauts” as Waid would have us believe).

In my opinion, Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s run on FF really set the bar for what is still possible with fun, all-ages mainstream comics. Those who say that it’s impossible to just tell a good, old-fashioned superhero story anymore hasn’t read this run. Waid starts where are truly great superhero comics start; with the characters. He recognizes that these 4 people are comic archetypes by now, and so Waid doesn’t try to change their characters to match his stories; he changes his stories to match their characters. And so the stories, while fresh and action packed, still feel very familiar, and accessible. Waid’s writing here isn’t continuity heavy, it’s character heavy.

Of course, any writer who tackles the FF eventually has to bring Doctor Doom into the mix. To Waid’s credit, he resists the urge for as long as possible, but then tells one of the most horrifying Doom stories of all time, one that focuses on Doom as a tortured, sociopathic villain, rather than as a two-dimensional punching bag. There’s so much to love here, but I’d be remiss in pointing out a few of my favourite moments: Reed telling his daughter the real reason why he went public with the Fantastic Four; Ben telling Franklin how hard it is for him just to get through every day; Johnny becoming the CFO of Fantastic Four Enterprises; Johnny and Sue switching powers, and many more.

For superhero comics, it doesn’t get much better than this. While John Byrne’s time on the title might have been the most successful, and Jonathan Hickman’s current run might be the most critically acclaimed, it’s Waid’s that I’ll always go back to. It’s my personal favourite Fantastic Four run, and one of my all-time favourite all-ages superhero comic.

KEEP

Fantastic Four – The Mark Millar Years (World’s Greatest, The Master Of Doom)

Or year, to be more accurate. Millar  and Brian Hitch only did 15 issues of the Fantastic Four, but they definitely left a mark. As usual with Millar’s comics, this story was epic, ambitious, and ultimately disappointing. There were some big additions introduced (The “mentor” of Doctor Doom, the creation of an alternate Earth to eventually move all of Earth’s citizens to, etc), but the payoff was poor, especially with the Doom’s mentor storyline. This is the catch-22 of superhero comics: If you don’t add anything new, than people complain that your book is boring. If you DO add new concepts, then people complain that you’re monkeying around with time-tested classics. Millar decides to monkey, but doesn’t take enough time to really build up his new villains, or to develop subplots (Ben’s “marriage” comes to mind), that really should take years to pay off, not months. And so although he keeps telling us that they’re real threats, we don’t really believe him. These are fun stories though, and while I won’t say that they’re essential, they’re definitely worth a gander.

KEEP

Fantastic Four – The Jonathan Hickman Years (Vol. 1, 2, 3)

It might not be fair to judge these yet, as Hickman’s tenure on the book is still ongoing. Jonathan Hickman is still relatively new to the comics world, but he’s making a pretty big impact in a relatively short period of time. I’ll get into my thoughts regarding his writing skills later on when I review his non superhero material, but for now, let me say that I think that his run on FF has been fairly strong, with moments of genius. At this point however, those moments are brief. I’m also not sure he’s got a handle on all four of these characters the way that Waid did (Millar didn’t either, so Hickman shouldn’t be too worried about it), and his Fantastic Four is often colder than I would like. Who he DOES have a handle on is Reed Richards, which should be no surprise to those familiar with Hickman’s superhero work. And so he asks the question that most writers have never really explored: Why would the smartest person on earth be satisfied with being the Marvel Universe’s version of Bill Nye The Science Guy? Answer is: He wouldn’t. And so Hickman assigns Reed Richards the most difficult task of all:

Solve Everything.

So far he hasn’t quite managed to do that yet, but I like this aggressive version of Reed Richards so much I’m willing to keep giving Hickman a shot. So far, so good.

KEEP

Next up: Ghost Rider, GLA, and the Guardians Of The Galaxy

The Great Comics Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 26: DC Comics – Superman Part 2

SupermanBirthright, Earth One

Before Earth One, before Secret Origin, Birthright was supposed to be the definitive Superman origin, or at least the most definitive since the last definitive Superman origin, which was created only about 15 years before this one. And if anybody had read it, maybe it would have been. But unlike the previous Superman origin story Man Of Steel, Birthright never really captured the imagination of Superman fans. It’s a shame, as Mark Waid and Lenil Yu did a fantastic job here. Although Waid doesn’t add as many new concepts into the Superman mythos as John Byrne did before him, he tells a much more cohesive story than Byrne. It’s an extremely safe interpretation of Superman’s origin, but it’s also very well told, and definitely worth a read.

Earth One, on the other hand, tries to add a lot of new concepts, but writer J. Michael Straczynski is so excited by his new ideas that he forgets to make his Superman interesting, or even likeable. It’s still a decent story, but it’s definitely not the savior of the Superman franchise that is was made out to be when it came out last year.

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SupermanThe Death Of Superman

While Superman’s birth is retold every decade or so, his death has really only been told once. Which sounds like a lot if you’re you, or if you’re me. But if you’re a comic book character, dying only once is pretty much a mathematical impossibility. Since this story was so overhyped in its day, I was surprised to see how well it held up. This was the comic version of a summer action movie: High on action, high on emotion, short on plot or substance. While in retrospect it might have been nice to have some back story on the villain of the piece (something we would get a few years later), it’s still a fast-moving action story with some pretty effective emotional beats.

KEEP

SupermanFor All Seasons

Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale are the peanut butter and chocolate of the comic book world: Ok on their own, but magnificent when they’re together. There is nothing they’ve done together that’s not worth reading, and For All Seasons is one my personal favourites of the work they’ve done. Again, it emphasizes pathos over plot, but it’s still a beautiful piece of mainstream comic work.

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Superman - Kryptonite

Although Darwyn Cooke has achieved near-legendary status in a relatively short period of time, this was one of the first comics that he wrote, but didn’t pencil. Although I don’t think he’ll be competing with Warren Ellis anytime soon, Cooke put together a solid script here. Tim Sale is one of the few pencillers that could be considered Cooke’s artistic equal, and really elevates the story.  In fact, reading Kryptonite is enough to convince me of who really did the heavy lifting in all of the aforementioned Loeb-Sale collaborations. This has some really great Clark and Lois moments, and I think it’s quite underrated.

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SupermanOur Worlds At War Vol. 1 & 2

There are two types of cross overs in comics: Cross-Over A has one central story in a finite mini-series, and then has side books that accentuate the original story but DON”T require reading in order to understand the theme, or to get the main plot beats ( A very good recent example of this is Marvel’s Civil War). Cross-Over B has one central story, and then has side books that accentuate the original story but  still have key moments that you DO need to read in order to full grasp what is happening in the main story. This isn’t my favourite (Recent example: DC’s Blackest Night). Unfortunately, for Our World’s At War DC went with option C: A dozen different comics all trying to tell important parts of the same story, with what seems to be very little editorial direction in order to make an incomprehensible story. It’s an incredibly ambitious, big-time space epic that had some really great beats, but was very poorly served by some extremely bad editing. This was a big alien invasion story in which all of earth’s heroes team up to repel the invaders. I can’t really tell you more than that, as the extremely convoluted plot that drifted in and out of the different comics involved departed from my brain almost immediately after I read the book. In fact, what does it say about a Superman cross-over when the best story came from a Wonder Woman issue?  There are still enough interesting decent character moments (Specifically I’m referring to the Wonder Woman issues) to put it in the keep pile for now, but the next time I need to add some space for new additions, this one is gone.

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SupermanPresident Lex

Making Lex Luthor President of the US was a good idea in theory. In fact, it was such a good idea that Marvel decided to pretty much copy it verbatim for their recent Dark Reign storyline in which Norman Osbourne took control of America’s superheroes. unfortunately, Marvel did a better job with DC’s idea than DC did, and the whole Luthor as President thing is usually discussed as one of DC’s poorer ideas. I liked it though, although as with the Our Worlds At War cross-over, poor editing really hurt the concept, and there’s just as much bad as there is good. Decent idea, poor execution. An other thing this one has in common with Our Worlds At War, is that I’m keeping this one, for now.

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Superman - Red Son

This is one of the weirder ideas to come from the DC brain trust in the past decade, and no one was more surprised than me that it actually worked. It’s the Superman story, with the caveat being that the rocket ship that he was sent to earth on landed in Russia. Crazy, right? Da. But still a good story. Although it’s pretty easy to criticize Mark Millar for some of his recent work, no one can say that the guy doesn’t know how to tell a GREAT mainstream comic book action story, and he’s pulling out all the stops here. Although the high concept here is as gimmicky as gimmicks get, Millar still takes the time to stay true to the character he’s riffing on here, and tells an engaging “What If” story that happens to surpass a lot of the past decade’s more mainstream Superman canon. I’ll go on record and say that this also happens to be one of my favourite Lex Luthor stories of all time.

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SupermanWhatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow

A little back story is necessary here. In 1986, DC upset their apple cart and decided to reinvent the origins of several of their key heroes, Superman included. And since that mean that the current run of Superman was coming to an end, Julius Schwartz called up Alan Moore (Post-Watchmen, Pre-bugshit crazy) and asked him to write the final Superman story. He did, got the venerable Curt Swan to do his thing on the art, and then produced one of the greatest Superman stories ever written. I’ve read this a hundred times, and it puts a smile on my face every time. The premise is this: Superman is at the twilight of his career, but his enemies come out of the woodwork to launch one final attack against him and his loved ones. He gathers those closest to him and brings them all to the Fortress of Solitude to try to defend them. Things don’t go well. This is a definitively Silver-Age Superman story, but the interesting thing here is how timeless Moore and Swan make it. 25 years later, it remains one of the great Superman comics, and I think a strong case could me made that it was the last.

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SupermanAt Earth’s End

A throw-away Elseworlds story that is better than it has any right to be. Though not something I would say was remotely essential, it’s still weird (Future Superman fights an army of cloned Hitlers, as well as the reincarnated body of Batman) enough to keep.

Next up: More Superman, but with a dollop of Batman mixed in.

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 20: DC Comics – Legion Of Super-Heroes, Lex Luthor, and Manhunter

Legion Of Super-HeroesAn Eye For An Eye

A quick synopsis of the Legion: It’s a group of super powered teenagers from a thousand

The future is so bright, you've got to dress up in a stupid costume and fight evil aliens.

years in the future, which I’m sure you’ll agree is a nice place to be from if you are a super powered teenager. They are so influenced by the stories of Superman that they decided to dress up, call themselves by silly names that end with “kid” and “lad” and “boy”. They also fight crime. They’re fun, and well-loved by DC fans.

Paul Levitz’ run on the title in the ’80′s is still held up as a highlight for the Legion, and I remember loving this run when I was a kid. But like his run on Justice Society, when I gave this a second glance I couldn’t help but think it was written by a man who struggles with his source material. On  one hand, he’s trying to put together a fun, harmless adventure. On the other, he’s trying to write a grim and gritty drama of death and betrayal. In his effort to tame both genres, he fails at both. Unfortunately, this really doesn’t hold up that well, despite it being a story about the death of one of my all-time DC favourites, the non-ironically named Karate Kid.

CULL

Legion Of Super-Heroes - The Mark Waid trades (Teenage Revolution/Death Of A Dream)

Although I’ve never been a huge fan of the Legion, I am a fan of Mark Waid’s, and since this followed his unappreciated run on Fantastic Four, I felt it was only fair that I give this a chance. I’m glad that I did, and although more serious Legion fans may

Adults are EVIL!!!!

disagree, I think it holds up quite well. The approach he takes here (Legion as anarchy-happy teen rebels) is a fresh one, and Barry Kitson’s iconic art is perfect for this type of story. I can’t say as much for its sequel, which featured Supergirl, but I’ll leave that for a later post.

KEEP

Lex LuthorMan Of Steel

Your enjoyment of this is probably dependent on how much you enjoy the John Byrne reinterpretation of Lex Luthor as an evil businessman. It’s a story of his early years, and while I can’t say it’s essential, it’s still worth a reread.

KEEP

ManhunterStreet Justice, Trial By Fire, Origins, Unleashed, Forgotten

I struggled with this title more than any other on this project. When this title came out a few years ago, it got more praise and adulation than a hundred Neil Gaiman novels. For a while, it was the most critically acclaimed superhero book on the stands.

So what’s my problem with it?

My problem is that it’s not very good.

Actually, what I mean to say is that it’s not very great. There is some good here. What I think people responded to was the character, rather than the actual comics that character was in. Kate Spencer was and is, very different from most of the lead characters that are found in DC comics these days: She smokes, she occasionally kills criminals, and she has a vagina that children have exited from. Common qualities to have if you’re the governor of Alaska, but not if you’re a superhero. I’ll give Marc Andreyko a lot of credit. He came up with one of the most original characters DC has seen in years in Kate Spencer.

Unfortunately, I just don’t think he had the writing skills to really do his creation justice. From a plotting perspective, this thing is an absolute mess. Plot points simply happen one after another, with no build up whatsoever: Woman is DA. Criminal gets off. She steals weapons. She kills criminal. Ta Da, now she’s a superhero! Yay! Now she has superpowers. Now her grandmother was a superhero. So now her son has superpowers. Yay! The entire run of the book is like this, with different crazy weirdness just dropping out of the sky, with no rhyme or reason.

That being said, Andreyko does have a great knack for characters. It’s obviously his strength, and he’s great at creating interesting, 3 dimensional characters that the audience can responds to. That, and an absolutely amazing costume design for Kate Spencer’s Manhunter is what puts this is the keep pile for me, although just barely.

KEEP

Next up: Nightwing, the Outsiders, and Power Girl!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 19: DC Comics – More Justice Society!

Justice Society Of AmericaThe Justice Society Returns & The JSA All-Stars

These are both late ’90′s JSA stories that hold up pretty well today, though I wouldn’t say that either of them are essential to anyone other than die-hard JSA fans. Both of them are

The JSA return. Again.

“anthology” books, in that there is a storyline that begins and ends each book, with different creators working on smaller stories within the larger framework of the series. As with any such series, there is good and there is bad, but the strength of the creators (Geoff Johns, David Goyer, Michael Chabon, Howard Chaykin, Mark Waid, Michael Lark, etc) ensure that the hits far outweigh the misses.

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Justice Society Of AmericaThe Golden Age

Ok, it’s hyperbole time. This may be the greatest JSA story ever. Not only that, but I would probably put this in any “Greatest DC Stories Of All Time” list. It’s epic. It’s technically an “Elseworlds” (Readers of my blog will know that for DC, Elseworlds is just secret code for “Lazy writing”) story, but most of this is so close to

The guy in red is actually Adolph Hitler's transplanted brain in disguise. Whoops, spoiler alert!

regular continuity that it’s pretty easy to just consider this as a regular JSA story. If it isn’t continuity by now, then it should be. This story has everything you could want in a superhero comic book: Plenty of action, some tales of redemption, and the transplanted brain of Adolph Hitler. James Robinson and Paul Smith have created that rare superhero story here: One that gets better every time you read it.

Justice Society - The Geoff Johns Trades Part 1 (Justice Be Done, Darkness Falls, Return Of Hawkman, Fair Play, Stealing Thunder, Savage Times, Princes Of Darkness, Black Reign, Lost, Black Vengeance, Mixed Signals, Ghost Stories)

After the success of titles like Starman & Sandman Mystery Theatre, it was obvious that the comic book masses wanted more Justice Society. The Starman team of David Goyer and James Robinson started the new series, and quickly handed it over DC wunderkind Geoff Johns. When this series was on the stands, it was something I enjoyed quite a bit, and so I thought rereading it would just be a formality. Don’t get me wrong, I still liked it for the most part, and I’m keeping the run. But Geoff Johns bites off way more than he (or any one else) can chew, and the constantly growing cast of characters are tough to keep track of, even for jaded comic book fans. Plots start and stop with no explanation, and characters show up and then leave with very little reason as to why they were there in the first place. The hits (finally making sense of Hawkman’s origin, slowly turning Black Adam into the most tragic villain in the DCU, Stargirl’s transformation into one of the DCU’s premier teen heroes) far outweigh the misses (Dr. Fate’s constant bitching), and this stands up as a pretty decent mainstream superhero title. Ghost Stories wasn’t a Geoff Johns story, but it ended this version of the series pretty well.

Justice Society - The Geoff Johns Trades Part 2 (The Next Age, Thy Kingdom Come 1, 2, 3, Black Adam & Isis)

And we’re back. A few years ago, both the JLA and JSA books were cancelled, with new  versions of both comics starting back up almost immediately. In the JSA’s case, I’m not

Who is: Superman from Earth 22? Alex, I'll take: Reasons why nobody takes superhero comics seriously for a thousand!

really sure why a reboot was needed, since the writer for the new series was the same person who wrote most of the last one. Since one of the criticisms of the last series was that there were too many characters to follow, it only stands to reason that Geoff Johns brought even MORE characters into the mix. That being said, I would say that I enjoyed these trades more than the last 3 of 4 of his previous run, and Thy Kingdom Come is  definitely a worthy quasi sequel p to the landmark Kingdom Come mini it gets its name and concept from. Also, Dale Eaglesham’s pencil work is perfect fit for this book.

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Justice Society - The Liberty File/The Unholy Three

As I’ve written before, I don’t have a lot of respect for the “Elseworlds” concept. More often than not, it led to lazy writing as opposed to real storytelling innovation.

A bizarre alternate dimension where superheroes aren't quite so ridiculous.

Great stories are great stories, and should always be the top priority when putting together sequential art for a mainstream audience. When the strongest thing about your gimmick is the pitch, then it probably wasn’t that strong a gimmick in the first place. The Liberty Files, and it’s sequel The Unholy Three, are rare exceptions. In this world, the JSA are all secret government agents rather than costumed superheroes. The emphasis here is on telling a compelling espionage story rather than resting on the laurels of its high concept pitch.

KEEP

Next up: Legion Of Superheroes, Lex Luthor, and Manhunter!!!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 14 – DC Comics: The Justice League!

This one almost killed me. Seriously. It turns out that no other book demonstrates how good DC comics can be, but also the horrible depths that they can fall to the way that Justice League does.

So before I start I need to give you some Justice League context.

1960-1984 – The “Let’s All Be Superfriends” Years:

Putting all of their popular characters into one team along with a few fresh faces worked 

The JLA's first enemy: Telepathic Space Seafood

well for DC in the 1940′s with the Justice Society, and so DC decided to do it again in the early 1960′s to coincide with the resurgence of the superhero genre. The book originally starred Superman, Batman, Flash, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and the Martian Manhunter. This is important to remember. The line up changed over the years, with some members going away for extended periods of time, and some new blood joining. But the core premise was always that this was earth’s premier super team, and so it always had a core roster of earth’s A-List heroes. They did bring lesser known heroes onboard occasionally (Green Arrow, Red Tornado, Firestorm, Zatanna), but for the most part, this book focuses on big epic adventures, and didn’t spend a lot of time dealing with its heroes personal lives. Although this era is fondly remembered, I find that when I reread these stories very little sticks with me, and it comes across as a faceless blur of spandex.

 

1984-1986 – The “Why are there homeless people on the team?” Years.

The greatest Justice League tribute band in the mid-westAt the time, Teen Titans and X-Men were selling like crazy, and so DC attempted  to add some teen angst drama to its flagship book. The old JLA disbanded, and a new team was formed, composed of the 3 LEAST popular members of the old team, a spoiled trust-fund baby, an offensive Latino stereotype, and a homeless person. To no ones’s suprise, everyone hated it, and it didn’t last long.

1987 – 1996 –  The “Never met a cheap laugh we didn’t grind into the ground” Years:

And now the strangeness begins. There’s some context to note here. DC’s Crisis On Infinite Earths megacrisis happened in 1985-1986, and it really did a number on JLA continuity (If Wonder Woman is just becoming a hero now, how was she a founding member of the JLA? If Superman is a fairly recent hero, how was HE a founding member of the JLA?  If Hawkman is just arriving from Thanagar, who was the guy wearing wings in the JLA in the 1960′s and 1970′s. Questions, questions. ) For now, DC decided to ignore a lot of those issues, and rebooted the team again, this time calling it the JLI (Justice League International).

For this version of the team, they went for a combination of veterans (Batman, Martian Manhunter, Black Canary), recent A-listers who had never actually been part of the JLA before (Guy Gardner, Captain Marvel, Dr. Fate), and new faces who were a prominent part of the new universe that DC was creating at the time (Dr. Light, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold), etc. They also decided to make this book funny. Yes, funny.

Although the line up changed a lot, this was the direction of the book for much of the next decade, as well as of its sister books, Justice League Europe, and Justice League Task Force. Although there are some good stories from this decade, I found that the increasing focus on comedy, as well as the ever decreasing focus on having A-listers on the team, made the JLA pretty much irrelevant.

1996 – 2006 – The “Magnificent 7″ Years:

DC apparently agreed with me, and in 1996 decided to bring the band back together. So

The band reunites to play at Aquaman's wedding reception

now the JLA was Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, the new (at the time) Green Lantern, and the Flash (Not the original silver age Flash who was a founding member of the original JLA but his young partner who was originally Kid Flash but took over when his uncle died in the Crisis On Infinite Earths. Except for the fact that we just found out recently that he didn’t die and he’s now back.) After an initial mini-series by Mark Waid, DC brought Grant Morrison on board to write this new JLA. And it was epic. Huge battles, huge concepts, huge EVERYTHING. The only personal issues that the JLA faced in this book were the ones that had to do with the team. This remains a high benchmark for the concept, and remains my favourite incarnation of the league.

2006 – 2010. The “I’m sure we’ll figure it out eventually” years.

It’s no secret that the League has struggled creatively in recent years. Revolving creative teams, and revolving team rosters, have devalued the League’s effectiveness. James Robinson seems to be trying a lot of interesting things in today’s League, but I can’t say it’s doing much for me. That being said, the concept is still a sound one, and eventually the League will be on top again.

Which brings us to the books. Although there are MANY JLA trades out there, most of the ones I own have to do with the Magnificent Seven incarnation of the League. I’ve got a LOT of them, so I’m splitting this into several posts.

JLA - The Magnificent Seven Years as written by Grant Morrison (New World Order, American Dreams, Rock Of Ages, Strength In Numbers, Justice For All, Rock Of Ages, World War 3)

So as I mentioned earlier, this a League full of A-List heroes, tacking A-List threats. I have never been quiet regarding my criticisms of Grant Morrison’s writing, and so it was a great pleasure to discover just how much I still loved his run on the JLA when I reread it recently. I have never felt that Morrison was a character writer. I don’t mean concept, he’s great at those. I mean character. But character is a BIG part of why this book works so well, and I think that a part of it was that Morrison didn’t have to focus on it much. Because this wasn’t a book about how Superman gets through the day with Lois, and the Daily Planet, and all of that nonsense, Morrison was free to focus on loftier concerns (How does Superman deal with having every single hero on earth look up to him?) There are character moments here, but they all are related to how these characters deal with each other, not how they deal with their own private lives.

As I mentioned before, Morrison’s League dealt with universe-destroying threats on a daily basis, and this book remains a highlight in the history of the League.

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JLAThe Magnificent Seven Years as written by Mark Waid (Tower Of Babel, Terror Incognita, Divided We Fall)

Arguably the greatest JLA run of all time is done, and the question is, who do you get to take over? Mark Waid of course, and he knocks it out of the park.

His League is of a slightly smaller scope than Morrison’s is. He’s using continuity more than Morrison did, and character interaction is slightly more front of mind in his run. Which brings us to “Tower of Babel“, the highlight of his run. Not only is this one of the great JLA stories, it’s also one of the best Batman stories of the modern era. Although Waid’s run wasn’t very long, it’s still holds up extremely well as a worthy successor to Morrison’s arc.

KEEP

JLAThe Magnificent Seven Years as written by Joe Kelly (Future Imperfect, The Golden Circle, Obsidian Age Vol. 1 & 2, Rules Of Engagement, Trial By Fire)

At the time, Joe Kelly had a well-regarded run on Superman, and so I guess it made sense to throw him the League. But he had some pretty big shoes to fill. Although I remember thoroughly disliking his run when it first came out, upon rereading it’s obvious that was just a reaction to some of the small changes Kelly made, as opposed to his run overall. It turns out that this was a solid run, with a bigger focus on character development than either Waid’s or Morrison’s. Of course, the highlight here was the incredibly ambitious Obsidian Age arc, a sprawling epic of time travel, death, and betrayal, with some beautiful art by Doug Mahnke. Probably the biggest misses here are the new characters that Kelly brings into the team. They never really gel with the existing cast, and didn’t seem to serve any real storytelling purpose other than for Kelly’s own ego.

KEEP

JLAThe Magnificent Seven Years – The Rest. (World Without A Justice League, Tenth Circle, Pain Of The Gods, Syndicate Rules, Crisis Of Conscience)

Crucifer is upset because he's in the worst Justice League story ever written

Joe Kelly was the last regular writer on this version of the JLA, and the rest of the run was a rotating cast of different creative teams. Most of this was absolute crap, with the worst of the bunch being a truly awful excuse for a vampire story by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, who seemed bound and determined to make you forget how much you loved their X-Men run when you were a kid.

Crisis Of Conscience, Syndicate Rules: KEEP. World Without A Justice League, Pain Of The Gods, Tenth Circle: CULL

 

 

JLA – The Magnificent Seven Years : Odds & Ends (JLA: Earth 2, Superpower, Age Of Wonder, World Without Grownups, Secret Origins, A League Of One, JLA Year One)

Because this version of the Justice League was so popular, DC pumped out an endless amount of one-shots, mini-series, and tie-ins. Most of these were wretched, and are covered in my next post. But there were a few that actually still hold up well today. Age of Wonder was one of many Elseworlds JLA titles from this era, and honestly the only one worth a damn (Justice League as Steampunk scientists: Hooray!). Although Year One, and Earth 2 still gets a lot of praise, A League Of One was a pleasant rediscovery, and I would go as far as to say that it’s one of the best Wonder Woman stories of the past decade.

KEEP

Next up: Lots of really bad Justice League stories!

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 Six: DC Comics – Booster Gold to the Brave & The Bold

Booster GoldDC Showcase Presents Booster Gold

This is a black and white collection of a 25 issue series that DC ran in the mid ’80′s shortly after their epic Crisis On Infinite Earths ended. It was a book that was supposed to represent the ’80′s: Material greed and Ayn Randian opportunity pour out of ever page. So as you can imagine with anything that represents it’s time so clearly, it reads as quite dated now. That being said, there’s still quite a bit to enjoy here, Dan Jurgen’s art being the primary reason to keep this book. It seemed to me as if Jurgens was struggling to find a voice for Booster here: He wanted Booster to represent greed and American capitalism, but also wanted him to be a selfless hero. That dichotomy was part of the thing that made this book interesting, but also occasionally inconsistent. After Booster’s book was cancelled, the comedic aspects of the character would be exaggerated and he would spend the next 20 years languishing in B character limbo…..

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Booster GoldSeries Two Vol. 1-4.

And he’s back! Geoff Johns did such a great job rebuilding this character in the pages of 52 (see my recent Black Adam post) that DC decided to give him his own series. The premise here is quite different from his old series. Rather than trying to regain his fame and fortune, this Booster is doing everything he can to stay under the radar.  He’s essentially a time cop. His job is to repair problems with the time stream, and make sure the things that were supposed to happen, happen. But in order to be effective at that, he needs the world to think that he’s completely inefectual. But in reality, he’s the greatest hero the world will never know.

This book is big time fun. It doesn’t break much new ground, and to say that you have to be a DC continuity expert to really appreciate it is an understatement. But Dan Jurgens has put in some of the best art work of his career on this book, and it was barely noticeable when he took over the writing reigns from Geoff Johns.

KEEP.

Brave and the Bold Vol. 1&2.

When I found out a few years ago that Mark Waid would be writing  a new DC team-up book with George Perez on pencils, I was instantly sold. Yes, that Mark Waid, and that George Perez? Yes. Sold.

The reality of the book ended up being not quite as rosy as I had imagined however. The book was fun, and obviously Perez’ pencils were stunning as per usual. But Waid seemed to be so excited about getting as many of his favourites into each page that the book seemed to lack focus at times. Still stands up as a decent read, but not essential.

KEEP.

Next up: Catwoman, & The Challengers Of The Unknown! She dresses up like a cat, they challenge the unknown.