The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 33: More Avengers

Avengers West Coat – Vision Quest

I’m really not sure how it’s possible that I only have one West Coast Avengers trade, as I loved this book in the late ’80s when it originally came out.This trade focuses on John Byrne’s run on the book. There are lots of interesting stuff here: The first appearance of the Great Lakes Avengers, the foreshadowing of Scarlet Witch’s eventual meltdown, and a complete retcon of the origin of the Vision. Plus John Byrne’s pencils were great on this run. I’m definitely looking for more trades from this era ASAP.

KEEP

Avengers – Red Zone

It didn’t take Marvel long to try to scoop DC’s Geoff Johns up for one of their books, but for some reason the pairing never seemed to click. His run got a LOT of online heat from fans, and proved to be controversial. Nothing like what was to come when Brian Michael Bendis took over the book, but at this point, Marvel still hadn’t quite cottoned to the fact that if they wanted the Avengers to become a top-tier book, they were going to need to do some serious changing. So while Johns run is edgier than previous writer’s attempts to reboot the Avengers, it still comes across as slightly forced. That being said, I did enjoy this far more than I thought I would. The “big reveal” of the arc’s villain still comes across as quite hackneyed, and not well-thought out at all, but it’s still quite a good read. Some good character moments between Black Panther and Iron Man as well. There are a few other trades from Johns’ run that I may track down now.

KEEP

New Avengers – Breakout, The Sentry, Secrets & Lies, The Collective, Civil War, Revolution, The Trust, Secret Invasion Books 1 & 2, Power, Search For The Sorcerer supreme, Powerloss, Siege, New Avengers

So it’s 2004, and Marvel finally realizes that the Avengers are done. Not the concept, but the team as it currently stood. The book had been running on fumes for quite a while, and even bringing in superstar writer Geoff Johns to revive the teams fortunes hadn’t grown any traction with fans. The book was is in the doldrums. Enter Brian Michael Bendis. By this point, Bendis had garnered some serious goodwill among Marvel fans for his runs on Daredevil, Alias, and Ultimate Spider-Man. But he had never really tackled anything with quite as big a potential scope as the Avengers. Could he pull it off? Could he make the Avengers relevant again?

From a commercial standpoint, the answer was unequivocably yes. Not only did he make the Avengers relevant again, Marvel essentially rebuilt the entire framework of the Marvel Universe around the work Bendis did on New Avengers. It became Marvel’s flagship book, usurping Spider-Man and X-Men as the top draws at the company. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the title’s success had a large part to do with Marvel realizing that an Avengers movie could work.

From a quality standpoint, the answer is a little more complicated. It’s Brian Bendis. Which means the book went from becoming a light-hearted adventure-of-the-week book to a dark, conspiracy-laden, dialogue-heavy, noir thriller. Whether you liked it had a lot to do with how much you liked Brian Bendis’ writing. I for one loved it, and still do. In fact, my appreciation of what he’s done for the book has only increased upon revisiting the work.

The first thing Bendis realized is that if he was to make this work, if he was to completely revitalize the very concept of the Avengers, he was going to have to make some tough choices. And so he threw out the baby with the bath water. In fact, he didn’t just throw out the baby, he drowned it at the bottom of the tub. He damaged Avengers Mansion, killed fan-favourite character Hawkeye (and didn’t just kill him, but gave him one of the most ignoble deaths a well-known character has ever gotten, and dismantled the team.

Enter New Avengers. The premise here was to organically grow a “street-level” team of some of Marvel’s top characters, as well as some of Bendis’ favourites. And so perennial C listers Luke Cage and Spider-Woman joined team stalwarts Iron Man and Captain America. In addition, he also brought triple A listers Wolverine and Spider-Man into the fold to garner the favour of casual fans. He also threw the Sentry into the mix, just to provide some tension. This doesn’t sound so crazy now, but at the time all of these changes were considered blasphemy, and the changes Bendis brought to the Avengers were probably the most radical since the mid-’60’s. He also provided an opportunity for more casual fans to experience the adventures of their favourites  without having to actually follow what was happening in their own books. Even though I love the team, I’m the first one to admit that not only was this not your daddy’s Avengers, it really wasn’t the Avengers at all. The team didn’t have any type of government mandate, almost never went on patrol, and really just stumbled from adventure to adventure. And for me, that was ok. And still is.

Those looking for holes to poke won’t have to look far however. While there is some long-term plotting here (the buildup to Secret Invasion, the slow recreation of Luke Cage becoming one of Marvel’s top-tier heroes), and some ideas took almost 4 years to pay off, it does seem as if Bendis viewed what was happening in the rest of the Marvel Universe as somewhat of an inconvenience. The Civil War storyline in particular seemed to take Bendis by surprise, though he deftly brought it into his master plan relatively painlessly. I’ll also never fully believe Bendis’ claims that he had the entire arc of Spider-Woman’s character planned out in advance, as the events of Secret Invasion seemed to fly in the face of reason. And while I happen to enjoy Bendis’ Mametian maelstroms of dialogue, they’re not for everyone, and one of the major criticisms of the book was (and still is) that it’s heavy on exposition, low on action. I think that was a legitimate comment at one point, but Bendis seems to have captured a solid middle ground now, blending character development with action much better than he did at the start of his run. Another critique that is often made of the book is the art. Although David Finch garnered few complaints when he started the book, he handed the reigns over to darker, more stylized artists like Lenil Yu and Alex Maleev, whose work seems to have antagonized long-time fans. Again, this happens to be a matter of taste. I happen to think Alex Maleev is one of comics unheralded geniuses, but those looking for a more traditional, detailed look weren’t happy.

For the most part, Bendis’ New Avengers has been a wholly entertaining thrill ride of a superhero comic book. Though not for everybody, I think it’s really set the bar a little higher for what is possible  (and also necessary in order to capture a modern audience) with team superhero books in the 21st century.

KEEP

Next up: Wow. More Avengers. Whee.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

2011 Oscar Predictions

 

Whoops, wrong Oscar.

I’m not as interested in the Oscars this year as in previous years, mostly because Halle Berry’s breasts don’t seem to be nominated for anything. But I’m still going to watch, so I thought I’d put together my picks.  I would say that most people don’t give a Bieber about who wins the Oscars, and I’m about as good as this as Charlie Sheen is at showing up to work, but here goes. Oh, and I left out the categories where I haven’t watched enough of the films nominated to have a valid opinion.

Writing (Original Screenplay)

Who should win? I’ll go with The Kids Are All Right for this one, though I don’t think the nominees are that strong this year.

Who will Win? King’s Speech probably will, because british accents make words sound better.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

What should win? This one’s a tough pick for me. It’s probably a toss-up between True Grit and Social Network, though I wouldn’t be sad if Winter’s Bone won either. I love Aaron Sorkin’s work, but I think that the Cohen’s script for True Grit is one of their strongest yet. Let’s go with Social Network.

What will win? Social Network. Aaron Sorkin’s fluid script is what makes this movie work, and is easily the biggest star of the film.

Visual Effects

What should win? Inception, primarily for Joseph Gordon Leavitt’s fight scenes.

What will win? I’d say Inception, but that might just be because it’s the only film nominated in this category that was actually watchable. I’m not sure why Hollywood seems to think that “special effect” movies can’t be great too.

Sound Mixing

What should win? Black Swan, even though it wasn’t nominated.

What will win? Inception. Probably the best chance that Inception has to win an Oscar this year.

Sound Editing

What should win? Again, Black Swan, even though it wasn’t nominated. Easily the best sounding movie this year.

What will win? Toy Story 3.

Music (Original Song)

What should win? Either Mother Knows Best, or I’ve Got A Dream, from Tangled, though neither was nominated.

What will win? We Belong Together, from Toy Story. Why? Because it’s Randy Newman. And watching an Oscars show without Randy Newman is like getting lung cancer without having smoked a cigarette.

Music (Original Score)

What should win? Black Swan, by Clint Mansell, even though it wasn’t nominated due the Academy’s dumb rules as to what constitutes an “original” score. My runner-up would be True Grit, which was also disqualified for the same reason.

What will win? The King’s Speech, by Alexandre Desplat. It’s a decent enough score, and does the job a score is supposed to do, which is to support the movie it’s in.

Best Foreign Language Film

What Should win? Incendies. It’s a Quebec film about rape, war, and incest.

What will win? Biutiful. It’s a Spanish film about looking into Javier Barden’s big, beautiful eyes for two hours. Which film do YOU think will win?

Film Editing

What Should Win? 127 Hours. Nobody knows how tell a story like Danny Boyle, and while people didn’t seem to respond to 127 Hours the way they did to his previous film, the editing was definitely the strongest part of the film, and deserves to be recognized.

What Will Win? Social Network.

Documentary Feature

This telephone booth may be accepting the award for best documentary.

What should win? Exit Through The Gift Shop. I would give Van Gogh’s ear to see this happen, JUST to see if Banksy will show up to accept the award.

What will win? Inside Job, unfortunately. It wasn’t a particularly well-made or interesting take on the financial crisis, but for some reason seemed to have quite a high-profile year.

Directing

Who should win? Darren Aronofsky, for Black Swan. I don’t think we have another director that is daring, as focused, and as talented as Darren Aranofsky right now. Another disappointment of this year’s Oscars is that Christopher Nolan didn’t get nominated for Inception.

Who will win? David Fincher, for Social Network.

Costume Design

Who should win? Mary Zophres, for True Grit.

Who will win? Jenny Beavan, for The King’s Speech. When in doubt, always go with the British period piece. It’s the costume design equivalent of going full retard.

Cinematography

Who should win? Danny Cohen, for the King’s Speech. Never has wallpaper looked so good.

Who will win? Danny Cohen, for the King’s Speech, though I think this is probably the category that has the strongest nominees. There are literally no losers here.

Art Direction

Who should win? King’s Speech.

Who will win? King’s Speech. You’re probably sensing a trend here. If this movie’s script was half as good as it looked, this would have been the best film of the year.

Animated Feature Film

Who Should Win? Toy Story 3, though I wouldn’t be sad if L’Illusioniste won. One of the misses of this year’s Oscars was that Tangled wasn’t nominated, in favour of the noxious How To Train Your Dragon.

Who Will Win? Toy Story 3. Pixar owns this category like Gaddafi owns crazy.

Supporting Actress

Two talented actresses. One reaaaaaally bad movie.

Who should win? Lesley Manville, for her sad, and desperately lonely performance in Another Year. Oh wait, she wasn’t nominated. Ok, so let’s go with Hailee Steinfeld. She was fantastic in True Grit, though the script she had to work with was a big part of that.

Who will win? Probably Amy Adams or Melissa Leo for The Fighter. They both had the misfortune of being in the same terrible movie, though they weren’t able to rise above it the way the Christian Bale did.

Best Actress

Natalie Portman, about 2 minutes after she realizes that she'll never be in a movie as good as Black Swan again.

Who should win? Natalie Portman. Hands down. There isn’t another category that I’m as convinced as to who should win as this one. Portman turned in the peformance of her career in Black Swan. That being said, I wouldn’t be sad if Jennifer Lawrence won this either.

Who will win? Not Natalie Portman or Jennifer Lawrence. Annette Bening seems to have this one locked up. Don’t get me wrong, I liked her in The Kids Are alright, but I think Portman took more risks with her performance.

Best Supporting Actor

Who should win? Christian Bale.

Who will win? Christian Bale. However, what he should actually win for is for “Best Supporting Actor In An Otherwise Awful Movie”. The Fighter was REALLY bad,  but someone forgot to tell Christian Bale, and so he put in the performance of his career, for a movie that really didn’t deserve it.  Also, being the best actor in a movie that stars Mark Wahlberg is a little like being the straightest man at a Cher concert: It’s not a contest if you’re the only one competing.

Best Actor

Who should win? Jeff Bridges. I think this isn’t likely, due to the fact that he won it last year for the thoroughly forgettable Crazy Heart.

Who will win? Colin Firth. I’m not sure what it is about the acting categories lately. The awards seem to be given for great performances in films that are otherwise just ok. That’s not to take anything away from Firth’s performance in King’s Speech. He helped make a decent film even better, and that’s his job. He really should have won for last year’s Single Man, so I’m ok if he finally gets his due here.

Best Picture

 

The best movie based on a book about a website ever.

Who should win? It’s no secret that I wasn’t blown away by a lot of films in 2010. Black Swan was one of very few exceptions, and it’s the movie that I most responded to, both emotionally and from a technical standpoint. In a time where Hollywood is getting safer and safer, Black Swan was a film that took risks. Risks that paid off big time.

Who will win? Social Network. Actually, I think this is a two-horse race, between Social Network and King’s Speech. Social Network is the better film, and it’s also one of three films that had both big box office as well as serious critical acclaim (Inception and Toy Story being the other two). It’s a movie that very much captures the zeitgeist of our time, and while I don’t think it was the best movie of the year, it’s probably the most important. It’s also my favourite movie based on a website since http://www.hothornyhousewives.com 2.

Enjoy the show!

Site Update!

As you can see, the site has a brand new look, thanks to the capable and creative hands of a very good friend of mine (Thanks!)

I’ll still be tweaking it, but this will be the look of the site for the forseeable future. It’s a little more “me”, and a little more entertaining (hopefully). Hope you enjoy!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 32: The Avengers

The Avengers. They’ll let anyone on the team.

See, it didn’t take too long for us to get to some characters you’ve heard of. The Avengers are Marvel’s version of the Justice League, but with less power, but more angst and drama. They’re Earth’s preeminent superhero team, and the premise usually is that it’s a few A list heavy hitters, combined with a bunch of characters that people like, but aren’t popular enough to carry their own book for any length of time. In general, the Avengers stories tend to be a little more “personal” than Justice League stories, as Avengers characters often don’t have their own comics. Pretty much every popular Marvel character has become an Avenger at some point, and their ranks have included such luminaries as Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Wasp, Hank Pym (currently known as Wasp. Formerly known as Yellowjacket. Formerly known as Goliath. Formerly known as Giant-Man. Formerly known as Ant-Man), Vision, Hercules, She-Hulk, Sub-Mariner, Spider-Man, Wolverine, and many, many, more. There’s also a huge Avengers movie coming out next year, directed by Joss Whedon.

I’ve always liked the concept of the Avengers, but I’ve never been compulsive about collecting it. So there’s actually plenty of great Avengers stories that I don’t own, and I’m going to be rectifying that soon. Most of my collection is from the current Brian Bendis run on the Avengers books, which long time fans will be horrified by. Suck it, long time fans!

Avengers Essential Avengers 1-5

First things first. The “Essential” line is a great Marvel concept where they collect years worth of early Marvel stories in cheap, black & white phone book sized softcovers. It’s an inexpensive way to read some of the most important stories in superhero comics history. Unfortunately, the lack of colour basically means you’re only getting half of the story. Don’t get me wrong, I love black and white comics. But not when the comics were supposed to be coloured in the first place. These Essential Avengers trades cover most of the first decade of Avenger’s stories by Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, John Buscema, and other creative legends. It’s all there: The discovery of Captain America’s body, the formation of the Avengers, The addition of the Vision to the team, the Kree-Skrull War, etc. So if this has so many great Marvel moments, why am I getting rid of them? Because they have so many great Marvel moments. As I’ve read through my Marvel collection, I’ve culled almost all of the Essential books I have, NOT as a reflection on the quality (they’re called Essential for a reason), but because the format quite frankly doesn’t do the source material justice. It’s like watching Avatar on your iPod. Sure, you get the plot, but you really don’t get the whole story. Marvel has a Marvel Masterworks line that does high-end collections of a lot of the comics from this era, and once I’m done my cull and see how much space I have, I’ll be replacing my Essentials with those.

CULL

The AvengersEmperor Doom, Revenge Of The Living Monolith

These were part of Marvel’s early to mid ’80’s stand alone graphic novel experiment. The line itself was of variable quality, and upon rereading only one of these two really worked. Monolith still looks really good upon rereading (Marc Silvestri on pencils), but the story (and the villain) isn’t compelling enough to really grab on to. I don’t think it’s poorly executed, it just doesn’t click for some reason. Emperor Doom is another story however, and to my mind would have to go down as one of the better Dr. Doom stories ever published. Why? Because Doom wins. Hands down, unequivocably wins. Takes over the world, in fact. The only reason he “loses” at the end is because he’s so bored with his new power, that he lets the Avengers win. Great story, with some fine pencils by Bob Hall.

Revenge Of The Living Monolith – CULL. Emperor Doom – KEEP

The AvengersLast Avengers Story

This was part of a line that Marvel goes back to every once in a while, in which they surmise what the “last” story of a particular character will be. For the most part these have been forgettable (with the striking exception being Pater David’s Hulk: The End), and this (also written by Peter David) is unfortunately no exception. The Avengers are all middle-aged has-beens, and Hank Pym gets them back together one last time to fight a several of their main villains. Blah. Although the premise is sound, the story really doesn’t feel epic enough to justify its “last Avengers story” premise. It comes across as just another big Avengers story, but one where everybody is old and more people die.

CULL

The AvengersUtron Limited, Clear And Present Dangers, The Morgan Conquest, The Kang Dynasty, and Avengers Forever

This was a huge reboot of the Avengers that happened about 13 years ago, and initially it was quite successful. The writer was Kurt Busiek, and the artist was George Perez, so you know that Marvel was serious about making this book a contender. And while I love George Perez’ art a lot, I think that I would argue that he and Busiek didn’t really click creatively as much as one would have thought. The first three trades reread as overly reverential to the past, and the dialogue seems cut and pasted from old Lee and Kirby comics. Not there’s anything wrong with that, but I need a little contemporary dialogue in my comics. Still, there’s plenty to love here. The art is gorgeous, the characterization is spot-on, and the adventures are epic. Surprisingly, it’s when Perez left the book that I felt that it actually started to take off creatively. The Kang Dynasty and Avengers Forever don’t get as much attention as they should in the pantheon of Marvel’s big events, but I think they more than hold their own. In fact, I would say they’re 2 of the best epic Avengers stories ever written. There’s time travel, space battles, love, and betrayal. Pretty much everything you would want in a superhero comic, and if you’re a Marvel fan that hasn’t read these, I recommend you give them a shot, particularly Avengers Forever. Busiek seems to have loosened up by now, and was taking more risks with the characters then he was when Perez was on the book. So no Perez, which is bad, but the stories are more compelling, which is good.

KEEP

Next up: More Avengers. Lots, and lots, of Avengers.

Movie reviews: Superman, Ed Helms, and Pretentious Arthouse Awesomeness

Incendies – Directed by Denis Villeneuve

This was one of the most disturbing movies that came out in 2010. It was also one of the very best.

It’s the story of twins that have recently lost their mother. An unusual will reading leads them to believe that there’s a lot more to their history than they previously knew, and the rest of the film cuts between their mother’s journey, as well as their mission to rediscover their past. It sounds pretty straightforward. And to some extent, it is a simple familial melodrama. But it’s also a story about war. And horror. And culture And family. And forgiveness.

This is a devastating movie. Both from a technical standpoint, and from an emotional one. Villeneuve has crafted a gorgeous looking film, and while I was horrified by the events that were happening on-screen, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the imagery. This was one of the best looking movies I’ve seen in a while, but ultimately the cinematography is overshadowed by the story itself. I won’t get go into the plot any more than I already have, as the story is best experienced, not told. As I said, it’s extremely disturbing in tone, if not content, but that shouldn’t stop you from experiencing one of the most emotionally powerful films of 2010. If the movie has a flaw, it’s that it’s secrets are quite easily discovered. There are just too many coincidences to really give this full marks as a thriller, but as a drama its first rate. It’s my pick for best foreign language film at the Oscars this Sunday, which considering my luck at picking these things, means the award will go to How To Train Your Dragon

Rating: A

All-Star Superman – Directed by Sam Liu

Today is a sad day for comic book fans, as Dwayne McDuffie, one of the writers of this direct to DVD animated feature, has died. He had an extremely varied and influential career in both the comic, and animation worlds, and he’ll be missed.

If you read a lot of the reviews for All-Star Superman, you’ll see that it’s being called one of the best films DC Animation has put out so far. Unfortunately, that’s not even remotely true, and while this isn’t the worst film they’ve done, it’s not nearly as good as it could have been, and is ultimately disappointing as a result.

The problem here, is also the reason to do this movie in the first place: The source material. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman is considered by a lot of people to be one of the very best superhero comics of the past decade. I’m not sure I would go that far, but I do think that it’s a thoroughly unique breath of fresh air in the increasingly fetid world of superhero books, and that it’s an extremely entertaining love letter to the silver age of both Superman, and superhero comics. That’s what it is. I wouldn’t change anything about it. What it’s not, is a well-told, comprehensively plotted and planned story. Apologies to all of you who love the book, but it’s just not. As single, self-contained issues, the book rocked. But as a 12 part novel, it’s a bit of a mess. And that’s ok. It works. And it’s part of what makes Grant Morrison, Grant Morrison. But a film isn’t separated into 12 parts. It’s just one part. And if you’re attempting to tell an accessible narrative for a wide audience, that part needs to have a  beginning, middle, and end, that all serve the story. This movie is just end. One really, really, long end.

I understand the problem. If you change the source material too much, the fans go crazy. And if you don’t, you have the risk of making a poor films. And in this case director Sam Liu decided to go with the latter option, which is a shame since there are several scenes in this film that will drop your jaw. There’s some really amazing work here, which duplicates the book perfectly. Which is of course, the problem. At least 25% of the movie doesn’t serve the bigger story, and that should have been cut.  The main villain doesn’t even get named until the last 10 minutes of the movie, not to mention the fact that we weren’t even told that there was a main villain before that. That’s forgivable if you’re Grant Morrison, who has made a wonderful career out of poor plots and amazing ideas. But it’s not forgivable if you’re trying to make a coherent film.

Rating: C-

Cedar Rapids – Directed by Miguel Arteta

Miguel Arteta has been making quiet, funny, movies for a while now, so it should be no surprise that Cedar Rapids is more of the same. I don’t mean that to sound like a bad thing. Cedar Rapids is a quiet, entertaining, and funny movie. It’s being billed as The Hangover-lite, but that’s just marketing. It’s it’s really more along the lines of something like Up In The Air, but with more dick jokes. It’s a small, mid-life crisis story, but one that’s incredibly important to the people involved. Kudos go to the great ensemble cast, with special mention to Anne Heche, who should (but won’t) get a best supporting actress nomination for her small, but effective role here. If there’s a flaw here, it’s that the script careens a little too easily from the serious to the absurd.

Rating: B+

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 31: Marvel Comics – Agents of ATLAS, Alias, Alpha Flight, and Ares

Many Marvel characters that are all getting their own movies next year.

And we’re back. Since I started this, I’ve had numerous people tell me that although they like the blog, what they’re really waiting for is for me to start talking about Marvel comics, since that’s what they grew up with. Well, that moment has arrived. Kind of. For those of you unfamiliar with the superhero comic scene, here’s a brief primer. For the past 4 decades or so, most (but not all) superhero comics have been published by one of two companies: DC, and Marvel. And while superhero books isn’t what they do exclusively, it remains their bread and butter. For most of the past few decades, Marvel has been the number one comic company in terns of market share, and I would say that currently their characters are more recognizable to mainstream North American audiences than DC characters. The recent slate of Marvel movies are a big part of that success, though Marvel’s dominance was solidified before that. Some of Marvel’s top characters that you may recognize, and that I will be writing about here include: Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Avengers, Captain America, Thor, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Daredevil, Wolverine, the Hulk, the Punisher, and many more characters that Stan Lee seems to have turned out in one drunken weekend back in 1961. One of the generalities that is usually used to describe the difference between DC and Marvel is that Marvel stories tend to be slightly more “realistic”, though that’s a silly term to describe a character that can walk on walls.

A few things to note:

1) I’m actually way ahead in my reading. So although I’m just starting writing about my Marvel collection (and for those of you who care about such things, I started this with as many Marvel trades and I did DC trades), I’m almost finished reading them. And while I actually ended up culling more Marvel than I did DC, most of the culls don’t happen until I get to the second half of the alphabet. So a lot of the next dozen or so posts will be kept, rather than culled.

 

Two characters that I won't be writing about anytime soon.

 

2) For those of who can’t wait to see what I think of your favourite characters like Wolverine, Punisher, Deadpool, and the X-Men, I have some bad news for you. I have some trades for all of those characters, but not really that many in the grand scheme of things. That side of Marvel hasn’t interested me in a long time. Also, because I’m doing this alphabetically, I have a LOT of Avengers, Daredevil, and Fantastic Four to get through before I get to your favourites. As with DC, I tend to like the more obscure characters, so you’ll just have to put up with 4 blogs of how much I like people like The Incredible Hercules, and The Hood, and Squirrel Girl, before you see what I think of Wolverine.
3) Most of the Marvel trades I have consist of stories from the last couple of decades. One thing I realized when I did this, is that my trade collection is really lacking in terms of representing 1960’s Marvel comics, and that’s going to be a top priority of mine this year.  So don’t get mad at me when you see how little 1960’s Spider-Man stuff I have.

4) The quality of late ’90’s, early 2000’s Marvel trades is awful. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve had to handle gingerly in fear of them falling apart, and more than a few of them HAVE fallen apart. For shame.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Agents Of AtlasAgents Of Atlas, Dark Reign, Turf Wars, Return Of The 3D Man

This isn’t an ideal way to start this blog, as most of my rookie readers won’t know who these folks are. Long story short, they’re a collection of little known Marvel characters that writer Jeff Parker decided to throw together as a super-spy type team a few years ago. There’s way more to it than that, but it’s a start. When the first maxi-series came out, I LOVED this series, and the hardcover that collects this series still stands up quite well.  It’s fresh, has lots of action, and the dialogue is sharp. The reality is that although this is one of the most critically acclaimed concepts that Marvel has had in some time, the sales have been poor. And while Marvel should be commended for repeatedly giving Parker a chance at making this concept a hit, the quality of the book has diminished over the past few years, and it’s really only the first hardcover that still works as a self-contained story. The second series (Dark Reign, Turf Wars) starts quite well, and adds some interesting twists to the ATLAS mythos. But I think that they got the cancellation call with very little notice, and so the second half of the series feels very rushed, with some pretty major events being introduced with not enough buildup. By the time the third series (Return of the 3D Man) came out, the concept had run out of steam. Kudos to Marvel (and Parker of course) for trying something new, and at the very least we got some great new characters (Gorilla-Man in particular) that I think will be around for a very long time.

Agents Of Atlas, Dark Reign, Turf Wars: KEEP; Return Of The 3D Man: CULL

AliasAlias, Come Home, The Underneath, The Secret Origins Of Jessica Jones

Full disclosure – Alias is one of my very favourite superhero comics of all time. Of all time. And rereading it did nothing but solidify that opinion for me. As I said above, I’m almost done my Marvel reading, and so I’ve recently read a LOT of Brian Michael Bendis’ Marvel work. And I think that although he’s done some amazing work for the company, this might be my very favourite of the work he’s done (Daredevil is a very close second). It’s the story of Jessica Jones, a down on her luck private detective that used to be a superhero. She still has some power, but doesn’t like to use it very much. And so we follow her as she explores the seedy underbelly of the Marvel Universe. On the surface she’s not that likeable: She swears, she smokes, and she’s the only mainstream superhero that takes it up the a&&. Except for possibly Superman.

This is a story about redemption. Jones is a character so fully developed, that we’re happy to wait for the resolution and redemption that Bendis promises throughout. Even when she’s making horrible life choices, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and are happy to follow Bendis as he gets us there. One of the things about this book that isn’t mentioned much, is that it’s the perfect length. It’s not too short, it’s not too long. When the big reveals about what caused Jessica’s retirement from superheroics finally come, one feels as if every page, and every word was crafted meticulously ahead of time, and that Bendis knew exactly how many issues this book should be before he even started writing. He’s essentially teaching a class in how to pace a comic book. This is a must read for anybody that wants something a little different, but can’t quite break the superhero habit. Special mention must be given to how Bendis takes a 3rd string villain called the Purple Man (because he’s purple), and turns him into a truly terrifying depiction of pure evil.

KEEP

Alpha FlightClassic Vol. 1

If you needed proof of how big John Byrne was in his day, look no further than this vanity project that he created to showcase his group of little known Canadian superheroes. The fact that Marvel let him get away with this for as long as they did is a testament to how big a name he was at the time, and how creative and commercial his work was as well.  The book stands up pretty well, though obviously a little dated. It’s a character driven story, which I always like, and Byrne does a credible job in giving you quick, succinct motivations and backgrounds for all his characters. From an art standpoint, it goes down as among the highlights of his career.

KEEP

Ares God Of War

Until recently, the Marvel version of the mythological figure of Ares has never played the major role in that companies stories that his DC counterpart did in theirs. He’s been used as a B level villain a few times, and that was the status quo until 5 years ago, when Michael Avon Oeming and Travis Foreman did a underated mini-series featuring the character that would launch him into the upper echelon of Marvel heroes.  Although not a well-read mini at the time, Marvel has used several of the concepts it posits as cornerstones of their universe ever since, including the villain in the recent Chaos War cross-over. It’s a great, action-packed story, with some fantastic, dynamic art. If ass-kicking mythological action stories are your thing, look no further.

KEEP

Next up: Avengers. Lots and lots of Avengers.

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 30: LAST DC Comics Post – Young Justice, Zatanna, Blackest Night, Crisis, New Frontier, and Kingdom Come

Well, we’re down to the home stretch, folks. This is my final DC blog post. That’s right, I’ve read almost an entire bookshelf worth of DC trade collections, and I think I might need to be hospitalized. I’ve culled over a full shelf (about 100 trades) worth of trades, which unfortunately I’ve already replaced with recent purchases. Although I’m sick to death of superhero comics, I still have another full bookcase worth of superhero comics to read after this. But before I can get to my Marvel books, I have one more DC blog to write. Be strong. Be brave.

Young JusticeYoung Justice, Sins Of Youth

This was a much-loved series from a few years ago that features a junior version of the Teen Titans. It featured Robin (later known as Red Robin), Impulse (later known as Kid Flash, than Flash, then dead Flash, then Kid Flash again), and Superboy (later known as Dead Superboy, and now just known as Superboy again) It’s written by Peter David, which means it’s heavy on funny, with a healthy dose on heart and soul. I thought I’d be culling this, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it stands up quite well as a light-hearted, fun, superhero series, though obviously extremely goofy at times. A lot of the current relationships that are major parts of today’s DCU were set up here.

KEEP

ZatannaEveryday Magic

A short, sweet, and entertaining one-shot that Paul Dini wrote a few years back. Definitely a nice mix of the superheroic and magic sides of the DCU. I wish Paul Dini’s new Zatanna series was half as good.

KEEP

Various – Secret Origins, DC Universe Illustrated by Neal Adams, Across The Universe – The DC Universe Stories of Alan Moore, Adventure Comics 80-Page Giant

When judging anthology trades like this, the rules are simple: There are going to be hits and misses. If the hits outweigh the misses, then you’re in good shape. Unfortunately for these, the reverse is true. Secret Origins and Adventure Comics were fluff anthologies, with very little to keep the interest of anyone other than the die hards. The Alan Moore and Neal Adams trades are of higher quality, but ultimately disposable. Though obviously the art in the Adams trade is strong, the stories themselves are weak, and nowhere near the quality of his Batman or Deadman work from the same time period.  The Alan Moore trade is a cash grab, but there is only one good story in here to speak of (though it’s a GREAT one: Superman’s For The Man Who Has Everything with Dave Gibbons) it wasn’t worth keeping.

CULL

VariousBizarro Comics, Bizarro World

For those of you who found Marvel’s recent Strange Tales anthology a little familiar, it’s probably because they stole the idea from DC. These two engaging collections consist of dozens of indie comics top creators riffing on their favourite DC characters. No rules, no guidelines, just fun. As you can imagine, the results are VERY mixed, but there’s fun and joy on every page. Highlights from the first volume include: Chip Kidd and Tony Millionaire’s take on Batman, Dylan Horrocks and Jessica Abel’s Supergirl and Mary Marvel story, and the critically acclaimed “Superman’s Babysitter” by Kyle Baker and Liz Glass.

KEEP

VariousBlackest Night

DC’s most recent mega-crossover. This started out extremely well, and the tension Geoff Johns builds at the beginning is palpable. Sadly, it soon collapses under its own weight, and becomes just a little too big for its own good. It’s also never really clear what the motivation of the villains is, which is never good, and is a happenstance all too common in DC books these days. Here is my number one rule regarding big events: The “event” should be able to have a start, middle, and end, all in the pages of its own book. There can be cross-overs and companion books, but the big beats should all take place in its own pages. DC breaks these rules more often than not, and so unfortunately you also need to get the corresponding Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps trades to get all the major plot points. Still a good, creepy story for the most part, and a worthy pay-off to the last several years of Green Lantern comics.

KEEP

VariousCrisis On Infinite Earths

This is the grandaddy of all big event stories, and to this day is the gold standard by which all big events are compared. The problem is that it’s not really as good as you remember it being. Oh, the premise is sound: All of earth’s heroes team up to fight an intergalactic menace, with plot and art by one of the business’ top creative teams at the time. But the stories strengths are also it’s weakness’. This story is huge. So huge in fact, that’s it almost impossible to tell you what it was about. Characters float in and out with no explanation, plot points seem urgent but then get dropped immediately, and no one outside of a life long DC fan would be able to figure out who any of these people are. On the plus side: Some great character moments from a lot of neglected DC characters, the best art EVER in an event book like this (Seriously), and 2 of the best, if not the very best deaths in superhero history. Not to mention the final issue, which features a battle between Earth 2 Superman and the Anti-Monitor so drenched with action and drama that it’ll make your teeth hurt.

KEEP

Various52 Vol. 1-4

An ambitious DC experiment that should have failed miserably, but instead worked so well that they’ve tried to replicate it ever since, though with mixed results. Here is the skinny: 4 of DC’s top writers at the time would team up with Keith Giffen and other artists to produce a 52 issue story, with each issue coming out once a week. Not only was the book never late, but the book was also extremely good. In fact, I can’t get over how great this was, considering how much of an editorial and logistical nightmare it must have been to produce. The best part is that it featured some of DC’s lesser known characters (The Question, Black Adam, Elongated Man, Animal Man, Doc Magnus, Booster Gold, etc), and many of these have gone on to become much larger parts of the DCU as a result. It’s one of my favourites of DC’s recent events books, and JG Williams covers are worth the price of admission alone.

KEEP

VariousHistory Of The DC Universe

After the first Crisis, DC continuity was a bit of a mess. This was Wolfman and Perez’ attempt to set the record straight, and while it’s not much if you’re looking for a cohesive story, the art is gorgeous, and it’s a worthy companion to Crisis On Infinite Earths.

VariousIdentity Crisis

This was (and still is), an extremely controversial story, and one that got fans riled up like a hornet’s nest. Here’s the premise: The wife of a B list hero is brutally murdered. In the frenzy to capture her killer, many secrets come to light, involving some tough decisions that our heroes had to make in the past. This was the beginning of DC’s recent descent into morbidity, and it’s not an easy read. But putting the actual events in the book aside, it’s a very powerful story, and works extremely well as a stand alone event. Brad Meltzer doesn’t do nearly enough comic book work, and Identity Crisis might be his finest moment. Add one of the best fight scenes in recent superhero comics, and you’ve got yourself a powerful, yet very disturbing read.

KEEP

VariousCountdown to To Infinite Crisis, WWIII, Final Night, Rann-Thanagar War

DC embraces “big events” like no one else. Every time they do one, they put a dozen supporting minis and one shots, and before you know it, you’ve filled up an entire shelf just on their cast-offs.  Obviously some good can come from events like this, but I’ve found that Marvel does a better job of keeping the quality high on their secondary books than DC has when in comes to recent big events. Although the events they’re tied to (Infinite Crisis and 52 respectively) are strong, Prelude andWW3 aren’t worth a second glance. The Rann-Thanagar War and Final Night both are decent reads, and while I’m not keeping them, they might be of interest to DC completists.

CULL

VariousPrelude To Infinite Crisis, Infinite Crisis, Day Of Vengeance, Infinite Crisis Companion, Omac Project

This was more or less a sequel to the first Crisis, and it would be hard to conceive of a more complicated, unnecessary story. Remember when I said that a successful event comic needed to have all of its key plot points contained within the main book itself? Not only does Infinite Crisis NOT do that, it barely has ANY major plot points in its own pages, and much of the actual story is spread among a dozen other spin-offs, one-shots, and cross-overs. Sadly, those stories (Villains United and Omac Project being the best examples of this) are often stronger than the main books itself. This story works ONLY if you read everything, and since I have, I guess it’s a success. But it’s really an overhyped mess, whose only real memorable moment is that it’s responsible for the best Blue Beetle story ever written.

VariousKingdom Come, The Kingdom

Kingdom Come is one of the most heralded DC stories of all time, and there are some good reasons for that. It’s set around 15 to 20 years in DC’s future. America is overrun with metahumans who spend all their time beating the crap out of each other, and the line between hero and villain is non-existent. As usual, it’s up to Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman to save the day, but it takes some time for all 3 to get on the same page. This book is memorable for a few reasons. It’s Alex Ross who gets all the credit, and he deserves it. His painting has never been as good, or as focused as it was on Kingdom Come, and many of the new designs he gave some of DC’s iconic characters proved so effective that they are being used today. But I think it’s Mark Waid who is really the unsung hero of this piece. It’s his understanding of the inherent traits of each character that really makes this piece work, and I think any list of the greatest Superman stories of all time would have to include Kingdom Come. It’s a true epic, and I know of more than a few people who cite this as their very favourite DC story of all time. It’s follow-up, The Kingdom, hasn’t aged quite as well, but it’s a nice companion piece, and has enough backstory to some of the events in its predessesor to make it worth keeping.

KEEP

VariousNew Frontier

Although Kingdom Come gets far more mainstream praise, it’s Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier that captured my heart, and I would have to say that it gets my vote as best DC event story of all time. That’s right. Of all time. Why? Because no one has captured the wonder and imagination of DC’s Silver Age like Cooke did. He gets right to the essence of each character, and it’s impossible to read this without a huge smile on your face. It’s one of my all time favourite comic stories in any genre, and if you haven’t read it, you’re really missing out.

KEEP

Various9-11 Vol. 2

After 9-11, a lot of the comic book companies rushed to put out comics that showed their support for the victims. I thought that this one was the best of the lot. Though I don’t agree with some of the politics, there are some beautiful stories here, and it’s a snapshot of history that hopefully will never have to be repeated.

 

Next up: What you’ve all been waiting for: MARVEL!!!!!!