Saturday, January 26, 2008

Don't You Know It's All Art Adams's Fault?

Doesn't everyone know that Art Adams is actually to blame for the downfall of the American super-hero comic book?

I've always suspected this to be true, but after reading George Khoury's Image: The Road to Independence, I have beloved facts to back me up. Now, you must keep a couple of things in mind: (1) Khoury doesn't belabor the Adams connection, and, in my opinion, his interview questions don't go into enough depth about the exact influence Art Adams had on the original Image Comics creators, and (2) everything below is pretty much completely made up by me, but I'm sure it all happened exactly like this:

In July of 1985, 15-year-old Rob Liefeld, taking a break from his summer job waxing skateboards, walked to the corner store to purchase his usual lunch: Yoo-Hoo and an iced Honey Bun. He glanced at the comic book spinner rack and saw the usual cerebral fare: Squadron Supreme, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Colossal Jughead Digest. Dismissing such comics as "pretentious nonsense," he headed to the register with only his sugary delights in his hand. Out of the corner of his eye, though, he saw something. Something AWESOME.

It was the cover of Longshot #1, illustrated by Art Adams.

"Look at all those lines!" shouted young Rob. "Is that guy sporting a mullet on the cover? Or is that a rat-tail? It's the most AWESOME thing I've ever seen."

Rob didn't return to the skateboard shop that day. He, his Yoo-Hoo, iced Honey Bun, and near-mint copy of Longshot #1 raced home and never looked back. For the next three years, young Rob perfected his Art Adams drawing impression. He traced all the lines. ALL OF THEM. Until he knew how to draw lines better than anyone who had ever drawn lines before. He worried not about "under-drawing" or "character shapes" or "page design" or "storytelling."

"The line's the thing!" he sang, "with it, I shall change the face of comic books as we know it."

In 1988, still-15-year-old Rob penciled a DC "Bonus Book" (a free comic story done by upcoming superstars stapled inside another, unrelated story--or as Rob would say, "awesomeness squared") and gained a longer gig on Hawk and Dove, both of which he drew in imitation of Art Adams.

A look at young Rob's cover to Hawk and Dove #1 reveals the close spiritual bond between the two artists. As Rob says, recalling his work on that title, "I thought Art Adams drew an AWESOME smile on Mojo, back in the Longshot days, so I took that same smile, drew it with a bunch of lines, and slapped it on Kestrel. You can see his smile on that first cover. Isn't it AWESOME? I gave him extra teeth so I could draw more lines, but I think the inker changed it for some stupid reason."

Fired from DC for drawing the final issue of Hawk and Dove sideways (why sideways? "Because that's how Erik Larsen did it, and he's AWESOME--some day I want to work with that guy, not really get along with him, and quit a company we start before I get kicked out. That would be SWEET," says Rob), young Rob re-energized a floundering small-time company known as "Marvel" Comics. Coincidentally, that same company was the original publisher of the very same Longshot comic book which had formed the foundation of the Rob Liefeld approach to art with lines.

During his decade at "Marvel," 15-year-old Rob created hundreds of memorable characters, all of which carried giant guns. When asked about this, Rob recalls his inspiration: "I thought, what could I draw my characters holding so I didn't have to draw fingers NOT holding stuff? My idol, Art Adams, designed Longshot with only four fingers, just so he could get around the trickiness of finger-drawing. I went a different route. I decided to have my characters hold big, big guns. Plus, more guns equals more lines! (And not tricky finger-lines--I'm talking bad-ass metal lines! AWESOME!)"

Around this same time, at the local skatepark, young Rob met a few other Art Adams devotees. One youngster, Whilce Portacio, had even inked Art Adams back in his Longshot days! And kick-flip expert Jim Lee's favorite inker (the one who drew the most lines, obviously), was none other than Scott Williams, who had helped Whilce ink Art Adams when they were toddlers. Combine that with a reunion between sideways-page-drawing Erik Larsen, and added-extra-lines-to-Spider-Man's-costume Todd McFarlane, and you had a gang of youthful street punks who decided to spraypaint their names across the brick wall of comicdom: "Image Comics," they scrawled, in neon orange.

15-year-old Rob's first Image book was none other than the legendary Youngblood. After decades of copying the Art Adams look, he decided to mark this new territory with a more experimental style. Abandoning any sense of context, Liefeld's characters, from the sublime Badrock to the elegant Shaft, inhabited a metaphorical, rather than literal "comic book space." As young Rob puts it, "my characters had evolved beyond the binary notion of foreground and background. While Art Adams may have situated his characters in a detailed mise-en-scene, I found it more evocative to position my figures in a conceptual, 'free' space symbolized by solids. Mostly white solids. With maybe hundreds of lines thrown in."

As revolutionary as his Youngblood style became, he was forced to walk away from Image Comics at the height of his popularity and cultural influence. His multi-national cabal, AWESOME ENTERTAINMENT sprung from the ashes of what had once been his corner of the Image playpen. 15-year-old Rob persevered, though, by hiring fresh young talent like Alan Moore and Jeph Loeb write stories that others could draw, giving Rob more time to pursue his studies.

"Now, I've evolved past the Art Adams aesthetic," says Rob. "I've immersed myself in classic illustrators. Have you seen N. C. Wyeth? Talk about LINES! He uses lines EVERYWHERE. Or older guys like Gustave Dore? They're AWESOME."

Nevertheless, the torch of Art Adams continued without young Rob's help, as 12 and 13-year old artists rushed into DC and "Marvel" to fill the void.

Throughout the 1990s, the legacy of Art Adams could be felt throughout comicdom, and when Art Adams himself joined forces with Wildstorm, young Jim Lee's company, and DC on such titles as Tom Strong's Terrific Tales and The Authority the history of contemporary comic books devoured itself and was rendered obsolete.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I Like Comics: 1/23/08

I read a huge pile of today's comics, and it's probably because I've been listening to too many podcasts lately--Bendis, then Loeb, then Fraction on Word Balloon, most specifically--but I'm continuing to feel the pull of the Marvel books at the expense of the increasingly lackluster DC output. I grew up as a DC guy, but even when I was a teenager, I didn't think so much in terms of companies as I did creators. I liked Chaykin, so I read American Flagg, and I liked Steve Rude, so I read Nexus, and back in those days Marvel didn't have much of interest to me, except when Miller or Sienkiewicz (or both) came back to play. The DC icons always interested me more, as characters, as visuals, as concepts, and clearly DC put out far superior comics than Marvel in the 1980s. It's not even close. But this Quesada-era Marvel has something special going on. Say what you will about Quesada raping your childhood, and pretend that you're going to boycott something that you really won't, but Quesada has not only turned Marvel into the best mainstream company this decade, but he's brought in creators who are just beginning to heat up. Jason Aaron is sure to impress on Wolverine and Ghost Rider, Fraction will be on half a dozen titles by the end of 2008 (and my guess is that one of them will be the Young X-Men with Yanick Paquette--if the preview art is to be believed. EDITED TO NOTE: The April solicits, just posted, confirm my guess about Paquette, but Guggenheim, not Fraction, will be writing. That just gives Fraction the freedom to write more Thor!), and Brubaker is writing the best super-hero stuff of his career. Brand New Day has convincingly turned the main Spidey titles around, and even stuff that seems like it has been bled dry, like the Marvel Zombies and Ultimate Universe "franchises" continue to amuse me.

Countdown, on the other hand, even now that it's reaching its climax, still feels life-draining. By the way, why is the Ion trade paperback out of print? That seemingly inconsequential miniseries is the DIRECT lead-in to Countdown-- it establishes Captain Atom as the new Monarch, and it also ties in to the upcoming Tangent Universe stuff. If DC REALLY cares about Countdown as much as they seem to, why not keep that series in print and promote it as the "road to Countdown" or whatever the hell Marvel seems to do so successfully? Seems like a missed opportunity that would have helped sell books and make more sense out of the admittedly still poor Countdown title. I don't know why I even care, but I do, because I want DC to be better than it has been lately.

You know what is good at DC, though? You guessed it! Blue Beetle! The newest issue (#23) might be my favorite of the entire series thus far, and I've been raving about this book for over a year, so you can imagine that the newest issue is, in fact, really damn good. As I read it, I realized that John Rogers would be a PERFECT choice to take over the Legion of Super-Heroes once Jim Shooter completes his run. (I have no clue how long Shooter plans on sticking around, but if he leaves anytime in the next year or so, PUT ROGERS ON THAT BOOK!) Rogers mixes super-hero science with aliens with a kid learning to use his powers in an unconventional way with family drama and makes excellent comics out of it. Rafael Albuquerque could come along as the artist on Legion too. He's pretty great already, and I have a feeling he's going to get even better.

Teen Titans was also quite good this week, showing that Marvel did make a huge mistake in letting Sean McKeever slip away. Marvel never gave him a shot on a big book, and here he proves that his ability to write meaningful characterization can carry a story even without a billion guest stars punching eachother (which is what happened in the previous arc--and I liked the previous "Titans Army" stuff that he just completed, but in issue #55 it's all about the characters and it's GREAT).

But those two comics, as excellent as they were (and Shooter's new Legion comic wasn't bad either--although it had about eight times too many "future swears" which seemed silly in their use. If you read it, I'm sure you found them annoying too), they can't stand up to the barrage of Marvel quality: Fraction and Kitson's The Order #7, a series that's cancelled just as it's hitting its stride--and this new issue is a great example of the way Fraction uses spectacle (aka super-hero punching) as backdrop to the main conflict, which is the intellectual face-off between Henry Hellrung and Namor. Brubaker uses spectacle in a similar way in the first issue of the Young Avengers Presents Patriot, as the story centers on what it means to carry on a legacy, but it still has enough punching and kicking to keep the kids coming back to the comics shop for more. The strategy seems to be: lure them in with the punching, but keep them with the characters. That's the real Marvel Method, and Fraction and Brubaker do it as well as anyone. I even enjoyed Ultimates 3 #2 this week (Marc Caputo, are you still breathing?) with its super-exaggerated spectacle at the EXPENSE of character. The coloring is still ugly as hell, but at least Loeb filled in some of the "huh?" gaps that we were left with after issue #1. He explains why Thor acts differently all of a sudden, and you may think the reason is stupid, but at least he had a reason. And, really, the new issue isn't about logic anyway. But it does feature THREE big guest stars, one being a fun interpretation of Ultimate Spider-Man, one being a certain mutant badass, and the other being an even bigger mutant badass (you can judge which is which if you've read the book). It was fun in its excess.

Marvel: even their crap books are good today. DC: still a whole lot of counting down to go.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Heath Ledger's Death and The Dark Knight

Heath Ledger was found dead only a few hours ago, and almost immediately people started hitting the message boards asking how it would affect The Dark Knight's summer release.

That seems wildly selfish, but I have to admit that it was the first thought that crossed my mind as well. I assume his contribution to the film is complete, and I wasn't expecting much from the movie anyway (since I was not impressed with Batman Begins), but I think his tragic death adds a new layer of meaning to the film.

It will be interesting to see how things play out when the movie's released, but I can imagine that his performance will take on an added resonance, much like Brandon Lee's performance seemed enhanced in The Crow by the contextual knowledge of his death. And, obviously, Heath Ledger was a far more highly regarded actor than Brandon Lee ever was.

Celebrity deaths are always bizarre, because it makes you feel like you lost someone you knew. But we didn't know this guy. We just saw him flicker on the screen a few times. What makes him anything other than a stranger? Celebrity is a weird thing.

Geniusboy Live Episode 6

Have you ever noticed how comic book trends directly mimic cinematic trends from ten years before? Ryan and I have, and we discuss the theory, among many, many other things, in the newest episode of Geniusboy Live On Demand Radio.

Episode 6, along with all of our other brilliant episodes, is available on our podcast page at:

This new episode is our longest episode to date, and we pretty much cover everything you would want to know about Parker Lewis Can't Lose poetry, why No Country for Old Men is good, and some wrestling guy that Ryan is in love with, plus oh so much more. Listen and learn.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Teaching Comics

If you weren't at the Norman Rockwell Museum on Saturday, you missed out on a great day of comics and education. In fact, I think it's safe to say that the "Graphic Novels in the Classroom" Symposium, which you missed (unless you were there, and if you were, then "hey, nice to see you again!"), was the Malcolm Gladwellesque Tipping Point for the comics in the classroom movement. The assembled multitude of (at least) fifty educators, gathered together in the name of comics awesomeness, learning about what these fancy newfangled graphic narratives are all about, will be seen as the first wave of the paradigm shift. No more will comics be relegated to the young, to the homeless, to the insane. From this moment forward, comics will permeate the walls of every school in the country, radically shifting the way students learn.

Comics, and education, will never be the same again.

Okay, I'm exaggerating, a lot. But the Rockwell Symposium, which I was lucky enough to be a part of (I presented a well-attended workshop on "Graphic Novels and Literature" as part of the afternoon session), was symbolic of something more. Think about it: not only is the Norman Rockwell Museum embracing comics as an art form, and as a legitimate, and essential, part of the history of American Illustration, but the teachers who showed up on Saturday (who ranged from new teachers quite familiar with comics to experienced teachers who knew that Beetle Bailey used to be in the newspapers) were enthusiastic about the potential of the medium. These teachers wanted to find out why they should use comics and how they should use comics. And, based on what I saw and heard, they left the building at 4:45 PM with exciting new ideas about the role comics can play in a teaching environment. It was exciting to be involved in.

Thirteen years ago, when I first received my teaching certification in Massachusetts, when I was younger, had slightly more hair, and thought that new was inherently better than old, I failed to get hired. I had good credentials, and I would always be one of the finalists interviewed for every job, but I couldn't close the deal that summer. In retrospect, I know exactly why. I sat in those interviews and talked about the changing face of English instruction. I talked about the shift toward visual narrative and the inevitable change in the way English is taught. I discussed the incorporation of film and comics into the curriculum as modes of narrative, and I talked myself out of every one of those jobs by doing so.

They didn't want to hear that stuff. They wanted to hear that I was going to teach Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, and I was going to assign a lot of essays using "process writing," and that I wasn't going to put up with any crap from the students. They didn't want to hear how things were going to change.

When I finally DID get hired, well that was the interview where I didn't talk about any of that visual narrative stuff. I had learned my lesson.

But damn it if I wasn't right, and the reaction to the Rockwell Symposium only confirms the ideas I was mentioning over a decade ago. The thing those schools didn't realize back then, and it was my fault for not expressing myself clearly, I suppose, is that I think there's more than enough room for Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, AND films AND comics. As much as I'm on the so-called "cutting edge" (at least in this relatively rural area of the state) with my Cinema class (which has been in place for over six years now, and had produced several award-winning filmmakers already) and my advocacy of comics in the classroom, the truth is that I am pretty "old school." I believe in teaching Shakespeare, frequently. And without using one of those so-called "modern translations" which others find so helpful. That's bullshit as far as I'm concerned. When you teach Shakespeare plays, you teach the blank verse or you don't teach it. The language IS the meaning, and that's why you won't find me using "classics illustrated"-style comics in the classroom. The comics don't replace the important literary texts, and they aren't modes to "simplify" meaning for students. The comics worth teaching are the ones that can stand next to a literary work and offer some basis for thematic comparison, or some interesting similarity (or difference) in the way a different medium shapes narrative technique.

I might use John Barth's "Autobiography" (prose), Chuck Jones's "Duck Amuck" (film), and Grant Morrison and Charles Truog's "The Coyote Gospel" (comics) as three texts in a short unit on metafiction. Perhaps if I had clearly explained why those three texts are equally valid and useful as instructional tools, I wouldn't have gotten those condescending stares in those interviews thirteen years ago. It probably wouldn't have mattered. Schools, even that recently, weren't ready for the shift. If the Rockwell Symposium is any indication, they are now. And, honestly, it's about time.

By the way, the image at the top of this post is from Jay Hosler's Clan Apis, which is a great example of a comic that's a teaching tool but also an engaging read by itself. Plus, Jay is a fantastic advocate of comics in the classroom and a brilliant speaker on the topic. His slideshow and lecture which kicked off the Symposium was one of the most informative and enjoyable two hours of my life. That's what learning should feel like, at its best.

Comics in education. Finally.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Amazing Spider-Man #546 Review

I have probably bought about three non-Ultimate universe Spider-Man comics in the past 10 years (although I do own that Spider-Man DVD comic collection thing, which I haven't looked at hardly at all--someday I'll read every issue of Amazing Spider-Man in order, so I, too, can be pissed when Pete and MJ get married, and pissed when they get unmarried).

I was really tempted to buy Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man when that launched, but before the first issue hit the stands, I read that the series would soon crossover as part of "The Other" storyline, and that sounded like bad news (and I assume I was right--didn't One More Day erase anything "Other" related?). Honestly, Ultimate Spider-Man has been the only Spidey comic I've been reading regularly, since, probably Erik Larsen took over for Todd McFarlane on Amazing, and that was 15 years ago. I've written a bit about why I like Ultimate Spider-Man, and I guess this whole One More Day/Brand New Day stuff is intended for readers like me.

I don't necessarily have a problem with the Peter/MJ marriage. I thought Matt Fraction's annual from last year was a great defense of their relationship, and gave direction on how it could be written well. Yet, I've certainly gravitated toward the non-married Spider-Man stories, even though I hadn't thought of it that way. I wasn't thinking, "Yes! ULTIMATE Spider-Man, because I totally don't want to read about a married dude. That's lame." In fact, I would love to read well-written comics about married dudes. I'm a happily married dude, and I have been for 10 years, and as much as I love the coming-of-age stuff in a series like Blue Beetle, a nice, mature married couple could make for great stories too. They usually don't though, or they haven't in the past. Other than Ralph and Sue Dinby (and look what was done to THEM), what other married couples in comics have worked? I don't even think Reed and Sue work, completely, as a married couple. Clark Kent and Lois Lane don't become more interesting as a married couple. Not that they're less interesting, but it's just kind of a wash. Because the fact is that drama is built on conflict, and a happily married couple is not the foundation of great drama. I'm not talking just about comics here--I'm talking any sort of dramatic narrative. Look at Nora and Torvald Helmer; look at Anna and Alexei Karenin; look at Susan Alexander and Charles Foster Kane. Great drama often derives from UNHAPPY marriages, but you don't want your super-heroes being jackasses to their wives, and you don't want their wives throwing themselves under trains. So, Spider-Man is stuck with Mephisto.

I didn't read One More Day, I probably never will. I'm about 10% curious, but not enough to pay for the issues or the trades. But, I, like everyone else, knows what happened. I've seen the highlights everywhere. And I do have a MAJOR issue with Peter Parker willingly giving up his marriage and all knowledge of the marriage to save his elderly aunt. No happily married person would ever do that. It's just inconsistent with the character--inconsistent drama. It's bad writing.

BUT, goddamn if Quesada's plan hasn't worked. I am a perfect example. By removing the marriage AND (and this is a key AND) bringing on some excellent creative teams to basically relauch Amazing Spider-Man, I'm now buying it, and based on what I saw in the first issue of Brand New Day, I intend to buy it regularly for a while. Quesada's evil, inconsistent plan has suckered me into becoming a regular reader, and that was clearly his goal. Well, not to sucker me, personally, but all of the clones of me running around, not buying Amazing.

I didn't want to buy it, you know. I actually didn't buy it on Wednesday. I intentionally avoided it, picked up 15 other comics, and refused to get Amazing Spider-Man #546. I was too annoyed at what I had read about the way they got rid of the marriage and the stupid mind-wipe plot which is no different that House of M, except "permanent." Primarily, though, I am making a concerted effort to cut back on weekly purchases, and spend more money on trades and hardcovers. So, I figured I would wait and maybe, MAYBE get the Dan Slott/Steve McNiven arc in trade paperback.

But as I read my comics Wednesday night, I kept thinking about that Spider-Man issue. Slott and McNiven are always worth a look, I thought to myself. Why didn't I pick it up? And then, I was listening to some podcasts on the way to work, some stuff I'd downloaded a day or two before, and on Fanboy Radio, Dan Slott spends 45 minutes geeking out about Brand New Day, and his enthusiasm makes me even more impatient.

How can you wait for the trade, people?!?! You are stronger than I.

Because on my way home Thursday, I had to swing by the comic shop and buy Amazing Spider-Man #546. And I'm glad I did.

I think it's still too close to One More Day to be a great comic, and the stuff about Peter's age is weird. Slott goes overboard trying to establish that he's a young guy, even though he's gotta be early 30s at least, based on any sort of "established" continuity, such as it is. But, Pete keeps saying, "hey, I'm young. I'm hip. I've got my cellphone and my iPod." It's more than a bit awkward.

YET, the art is fantastic. The fact that Spider-Man has some serious struggles to deal with, financial, personal, super-villainy--that's all great. And I'm going to give Brand New Day a chance to make me enjoy Spider-Man in the Marvel universe. It's going to take some getting used to, even for a guy who hadn't been reading the series in years, but I think Slott, Wells, Guggenheim, and (sigh) Gale can make Spider-Man worth reading again. The artists scheduled to work on the series helps, as does the three-times a month release plan, but for me, it's all about the potential for interesting stories, and damn it, this Brand New Day stuff is interesting. I'm curious to see where it goes.

(The back-up stories in Amazing Spider-Man #546, which give a taste of the rest of the writing team, are far weaker than the main story. Bob Gale's short is especially cringe-worthy, and he looks to be the real weak link in keeping me as a long-term reader. I just think he's a poor comic book writer, based on this little story, and the work he did on Daredevil. He's got that Steve Gerber kind of weird, street-level grunginess going on, but without any ideas behind it. I really hope Gale proves me wrong when he writes his full arc.)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Twelve #1 Review

Kaare Andrews is a phenomenal artist who can seemingly mimic any style (for examples, see his Incredible Hulk covers, and his The Arachnight Returns series), and he can do unique and interesting art as well as anyone, but this cover is awful. It looks like the kind of weak Alex Ross rip-off art we so so much after Marvels hit. I don't know what kind of effect he was going for here--is it supposed to look amateurish because the characters are dorky and lame? That seems like a bad way to sell a comic, especially when the interior art is by the hyper-hypno-detailed Chris Weston. Weston is like the creepy, deviant version of Brian Bolland. The Bolland who hangs around Times Square, circa 1974, sketching teenage prostitutes while smoking opium.

The cover, though, looks like it was painted by that kid in art class who just kept drawing pictures of Conan the Barbarian in spandex. I don't get it.

The main attractions in The Twelve are Chris Weston's insanely detailed and, yes, sordid art (there's a reason why this guy was selected to draw Morrison's The Filth), and the high concept: lame-ass, forgotten Marvel Golden Age heroes awakened in the contemporary Marvel universe.

For me, writer J. Michael Straczynski is a detraction. I had high hopes for his Supreme Power/Squadron Supreme work, but after several years, it didn't amount to a damn thing. I still see people praise his work on that series, and I'm baffled. I would love for someone to explain to me what was so good about it, because I can sure tell you what was not good: the decompression made Bendis look like Gardner Fox, the alterations to the characters made them less interesting that the "originals," and the entire series (or two series) were ALL set-up and no payoff. He built a new version of the Squadron Supreme and then had them do absolutely nothing. And that took years and years. As for his Fantastic Four and Spider-Man work, I have no opinion, because I only dipped into his runs on those titles a few times, and I didn't find anything that made me want to stick around. That's cool, though. None of those Spider-Man stories actually happened now anyway, because comics are magic.

But, I think Straczynski can redeem himself with The Twelve, at least as far as I'm concerned. This series has incredible potential, if issue #1 is any indication, and it is. It's also a finite series, so no matter how much he wants to decompress things, he's still got to have SOMETHING happen within the next twelve comics, and, hell, he even ends this first issue with a shocking cliffhanger, showing what will happen in the future (and it's not good--I mean, not good for the characters; it IS good for us, because we like dead people in our comics). Yes, someone will die in The Twelve! It's not like that's any kind of spoiler anyway, since you don't know who these damn characters are. You probably know there's some big guy, some guy with a sword, another guy who looks like Commander Steel with short-shorts, and a bunch of guys who all look like the Crimson Avenger. I've read the comic and that's basically all I know too.

Actually, Straczynski does go out of his way to tell you who these characters are, with his use of a first-person narrator who likes the exposition (well, to be fair, he is a Golden Age character--although that might make a cooler high concept: a Golden Age character knowingly stuck in Bendis and Straczynski's Marvel, pissed off at the lack of narrative captions and plot momentum. Is that the metafictional conceit of this book? We'll have to wait and see on that one. The book is clearly set in a post-Civil War Marvel universe, and that does play an active role in how these character will be used.)

Straczynski also has an annoying habit of treating the characters, and therefore the readers, like idiots, as in the example of Electro, the robot man. Electro, who is basically a giant remote-control robot, doesn't work in a sealed underground bunker, which prompts dozens of lines of dialogue like this (I'm paraphrasing):

"Electro must not work, because we've been sealed off."

"Because we are in an undergound bunker, Electro cannot receive signals."

"Electro isn't working."

"Bunker sealing must make Electro breaky breaky"

"No radio. Bunker blocking it. Electro no worky."

Then, decades later, when the characters awaken from their Rip Van Winkle sleepy sleep, a soldier wonders why Electro isn't working, even though another guy just explained how Electro is a giant remote-control robot. Keep in mind, by the way, that they don't have the control for Electro. That was in the hands of someone back in the states. So the soldier asking why Electro doesn't work is like you randomly coming across a decades-old radio controlled car with no controller, putting it on the ground, and wondering why it isn't driving around.

I'm glad Straczynski thinks that we, and or the U. S. military (or both) are that dumb.

But, you know what? This comic will be really good, once it's all finished. I can tell. The Chris Weston art is seriously good enough to make you pick it up, and if you thought the whole Captain America-frozen-in-ice-and-awakened-in-a-time-not-his-own concept was great back in 1964, image that same concept, but TIMES TWELVE, and in 2008! Wait, that sounds lame. But it's not. Just do the math. Multiply Captain America's coolness (subtract half a point for deadness) by 12 and then add 44. Take that number, divide it by the number of previous Straczynski comics you own, then add the number of Filth or 2000AD issues in your collection. Double it if you bought an extra copy of The Twelve in mint condition, subtract 100 if you downloaded it illegally, and then you'll get the coolness factor of this comic.

So read The Twelve. It's got stuff in it.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The 10 Best Comics of 2007

I've been writing for the past few weeks about how great 2007 was for comics, and now it's finally time to share my Top 10 Comics of the Year list. These are the comics (and by "comics," I mean graphic novels, comic books, collected editions, whatever I happen to think is worthy of the term) that I liked the most and I thought were substantial works of art and/or entertainment. I've written about plenty of other great comics from the past year, many in tremendous detail, but these ten are the best, and probably don't need as much explanation:


10. Dr. 13: Architecture and Mortality
I was floored by this when it came out in the back of that abysmal Spectre miniseries. Dr. 13 certainly didn't read like anything I'd ever read by Brian Azzarello, and it didn't seem to rip off his obvious forebears, like Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, who have tread in similar territory more than once before. When I reread this as a trade paperback, I found it a bit hasty--the chapters move along briskly, but the read like short serials rather than a whole work, and I think that makes the collection a bit less satisfying than I expected.

It still makes the Top 10, though, simply because Cliff Chiang is a phenomenal artist and he got to draw some amazing things in this comic. From Infectious Lass to Anthro to a Vampire Nazi Gorilla, Chiang was able to apply his wonderfully think brush stroke with verve. It might be the best-looking comic of the year (I can't think of anything that looked better), and that alone is worth something. But couple that with Dr. 13's refusal to accept the evidence in front of his face and Azzarello's mockery of DC continuity, and you end up with something that is worth regard as one of the best comics of the year.

9. American Elf Vol. 2
I thought the first volume of American Elf was a poetic and funny exploration of life, but Volume 2 is even better (in every possible way). It just plain looks nicer, with Kochalka's striking use of color to complement his clear and simple lines. As much as I like Superf*ckers, and as much fun as I had reading Squirrely Gray to my kids, American Elf is Kochalka's masterwork, and it's a wonderful glimpse of the little moments that make up the world of a parent, a comic creator, a human being. If that sounds to sappy, screw you, you cynical bastard!

8. Scalped
When the first issue of Scalped came out, people complained about the muddy artwork, and I went so far as to go on the Barbelith board to say, "I don't know. I think R. M. Guera is quite good." I also commented that I liked the twist at the end of issue #1. Since then, this series has become something far greater than I ever expected, and I've tried to get people to read it because I want to see what Jason Aaron will do next. I don't want this series to end.

Aaron has developed, in Scalped the most effective character-driven series in recent years. It's the kind of thing Brian Michael Bendis tries to do, but he hasn't succeeded the way Aaron has here. I've said it before, but Scalped is like an Altman movie but with a tighter, more genre-laden plot. Yet it has that Altmanesque sense of narrative overlap, that sense that these are characters whose lives are unfolding before us, and its fascinating.

So appreciate it as a crime book. It's excellent in that regard. But also realize that Jason Aaron has created a setting and characters (and the setting IS a character, in a far more meaningful way than even Brian Wood attempts in DMZ) who have real substance. This is the type of comic book Vertigo was designed to foster, and they've finally done it, with Scalped.

7. Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together
I am so glad that Scott Pilgrim FINALLY got it together, because for the first 3/4ths of this book, I wanted to slap him. Bryan Lee O'Malley and I go way back (Comic-Con 2004, Bry--remember that?), and I've followed his career closely over the years. I thought Lost at Sea was a poetic evocation of adolescent longing and regret, and his Scott Pilgrim books have consistently been some of the favorite things I've read each year. Even when Scott Pilgrim didn't have it together, and he was an unmotivated whiner, I still liked reading about his exploits because O'Malley has mad cartooning skills and a great ear for dialogue.

But now that Scott HAS got it together, watch out world! I don't know if you can handle the awesome.

6. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier
This is the kind of thing I'm predisposed to like. First of all, it's Alan Moore, who is always fascinating, and it's Kevin O'Neill, who I like so much I own Nemesis the Warlock in multiple forms, plus the Metalzoic graphic novel (which, by the way, is pretty insane in its own right), in addition to everything else he's done. It's also a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book, which sounds just fine to me. And it's a pastiche of great literary styles of the past, including comic strips, erotic novels, and Shakespeare.

I only got about half the references without Jess Nevins's annotations, but I still thought it was a lot of fun even without knowing that one of the characters was supposed to be Emma Peel, or that some image was from a mid-20th century propaganda film. That's the key, by the way, for it being in my Top 10. I thought it was fun. The portrayal of James Bond, the Orlando sequence, and even the 3D section at the end--all were fun. I didn't love every page, of course, but the book had so much going on, that one or two missteps barely impacted any of my enjoyment.

5. Powr Masters
I have read this book three times since it arrived at my doorstep. After a single reading, I wrote a blog post, describing how it was "Just Outside the 20," meaning it wasn't quite good enough to rank as one of the Top 20 Comics of 2007. But, in writing about it, I had the nagging sense that I should reread it, and let its absurd illogic wash over me again. When I did, I realized that not only wasn't the comic illogical, but it deserved a spot near the top, and when I reread it a third time I was convinced. So here it is as the fifth Best Comic of 2007.

(By the way, I rarely reread comics or graphic novels. I have hundreds of unread comics, Archive editions, Masterworks, DVD compilations, and other miscellany sitting on my shelves, unread--so I don't feel compelled to spend my time rereading much of anything. It's a testament to Powr Masters that I went back to it more than once, in the span of a single week.)

Artist and writer C.F. has been praised in other places for the world-building he exhibits in Powr Masters, but my favorite part of the book is the dialogue. It's wonderfully innocent and strange, and it would be a disservice to quote any of it out of context, because it is so essential to the sequential art. If you haven't picked up this book yet, give it a chance. Read it a few times, and see if you don't agree that it's one of the best things to come out in 2007.

4. The Immortal Iron Fist
Although I was a devoted fan of anything Power Man and Iron Fist-related back in the 1980s, I never fully appreciated the character of Danny Rand until I began reading this series. This series made me want to go back and read the Essential reprints, and discover their gloriously mad exploitation stories. In turn, those stories helped inform my appreciation of what Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction are doing in this new series.

The Immortal Iron Fist is more fun than it has any right to be, David Aja's art is more beautiful than you'd ever expect, the stories resonate more than any other Marvel comic on the market, and the writing is swift, precise, and exquisite. It's a comic that doesn't connect directly to anything that's going on in the Marvel universe right now, but it's deeply imbued with a sense of Marvel mythology, from which it gains depth and substance. I love everything about this comic.

3. Casanova
Casanova is so good, it should probably be ranked #1. It's probably the fact that it's been so consistently amazing each time it hits the stands that I take it for granted already. But it's ever so very, very good.

"Luxuria," both in single issues, which gives you Matt Fraction's essential-to-read back matter, and the hardcover, which makes the stories look prettier than ever, is an amazing work for a young comic book writer to start with. I know Fraction's been around for a while, and he's produced some excellent stuff over recent years, but Casanova is his first major comic book work, really. And it's a masterpiece. You all know how good it is, and it has remained at that level since issue #1. I have no doubt that when Casanova ends its run, and people look back on it generations from now with their Comic Book Reader brain implants, the series will be regarded as one of the great comics of the early 21st century. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but it's definitely going to happen. Trust me.

2. All-Star Superman
Grant Morrison is obviously a master of the medium because there's a book out there that says so. On top of that, he produced a few more issues of All-Star Superman this year with the phenomenally talented Frank Quitely, and the gorgeous hardcover collection of issues #1-6 came out in 2007 as well. All-Star Superman might be my favorite Morrison work of the past decade. It combines his understanding of what made the Silver Age work with his own mythic take on the Superman family. It's not a deconstruction of Superman at all. Instead, it's a celebration. A highlight reel of adventures that never were, but should have been. A glorious look at everything superhero comic books should be capable of achieving but seldom reach. It's great, great comics, whether read as individual issues or collected into a hardcover edition.

By the way, All-Star Superman #6 is the best Superman story ever published.

1. Acme Novelty Library Vol. 18
I hadn't even realized this came out in mid-December until I saw it listed as an recommendation. Is the expectation of Chris Ware excellence so pervasive that a splendid work is ignored just because it's from someone so good all the time? Or are people eagerly anticipating the next Rusty Brown installment and don't care about the interlude presented here? Or is there a Ware backlash for some inexplicable reason?

All I know is, this issue, which collects some previously published material from a variety of obscure and semi-obscure sources is the most powerful and formally interesting work he's done since Jimmy Corrigan. In the linked stories presented here (and there are a few inconsistencies, demonstrating that these stories were done at different times for different purposes--one of the inconsistencies being the age of the girl when she fell in love, but maybe that shows the fallibility of the character's memory), a young woman anguishes over lost relationships, most specifically with her first love and a family she once worked for. The stories are exactly what'd you'd expect from the great Chris Ware, and that's a good thing, because he is the most innovative and humanistic comic book creator working today. He's one of only a handful of writers or artists who is a true master of the comic book medium, and Acme Novelty Library Vol. 18 shows that his range and power is undiminished.

To see how my Top 10 list compares to my bloggers-in-crime, check out Chad Nevett's, Marc Caputo's, and Geoff Klock's lists as well. Years from now, look back on these lists and see who actually got it right.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Best of 2007: #11-20

I'm gearing up for the reveal of my big Top 10 list, but here are links to what I wrote about the Best Comics of the Year, numbers 11 through 20:

#20: Blue Beetle

#19: Fantastic Four Omnibus Volume 2

#18: The Fourth World Omnibus Volume 1

#17: Madman Gargantua!

#16: Yesterday's Tomorrows

#15: Green Lantern

#14: The Umbrella Academy

#13: Omega the Unknown

#12: Dr. Fate Archives Volume 1

#11: The Irredeemable Ant-Man

The 5 Worst Comics of 2007

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: 2007 was a great, great year for comics, but there were more than a few comics that frustrated me for one reason or another, and I'm going to classify those comics as THE 5 WORST COMICS OF 2007, because, frankly, they deserve it:

1. Superman Confidential
Darwyn Cooke and Tim Sale kicked off this series with the "Kryptonite" storyline, and as I read it each month, or every other month, or whenever it came out, I kept thinking, "this is probably the worst thing either of these guys produced." And I have read Billi 99, by the way, so I know what I'm talking about. But I gave them the benefit of the doubt, and figured that the story would certainly flow better when read all in one sitting. But, guess what? The final issue of the story NEVER CAME OUT. Sure, it's supposed to come out soon, but I waited for the final part of the story, and instead, in the next issue of Superman Classified I get a really bad Lori Lemaris story without any sort of explanation. I thought I missed an issue, so I checked online, and found a Newsarama post about how the finale of "Kryptonite" was delayed indefinitely. No explanation there either.

Then, after the Lori-Lemaris-to-the-EXTREME story, we're hit with a New Gods inventory story which retells the events of Jack Kirby's Fourth World, with the Forever People, and Orion, and Darkseid, and all that stuff, except way less interesting than the way Jack Kirby did it. Those issues were like Spark Notes verions of Kirby's epic, except lamer.

For all I know, Batman Confidential could have been worse, but I didn't read that one after the first issue. I stuck with Superman Confidential all year and was hit with disappointment after disappointment.

2. Countdown / Countdown Spin-Offs
I guess it's my own fault that I stuck with Countdown long after everyone else dropped it. I liked the first few issues, and the potential they showed. The Monitors as continuity cops! Sounds like a cool story.

It hasn't been. It's been a disaster, so it's quite ironic that the series warns us about the upcoming Great Disaster, because you're left thinking, "what could be worse than this?"

Countdown has been so bad that the best issue was the one that was just a bunch of exposition explaining all the stuff that supposedly had been going on, even though not much has actually happened in 30 plus issues of the series and a gazillion spin-off comics.

If you had told me, when I was younger and more naive, like three years ago, that DC would produce a 52 issue gigantic crossover series, I actually would have been excited about the scope, the magnitude of the project. I would have imagined a glorious, epic tale. Instead, we get a lot of wandering. Thousands of pages of wandering. Mary Marvel being evil, while wandering. Flash's rogues, wandering, even now that one of them's dead. Donna Troy, Kyle Raynor, Jason Todd: wandering.

What a cosmic waste of talent, time, and money.

3. Wildstorm Armageddon One-Shots
Remember the advent of Image Comics. That was an exciting time. But then when the issues started coming out, they weren't as good as any of us expected.

Then, last year Wildstorm relaunched their entire line in an attempt to get things right this time. They basically conceded that they screwed up when they were part of Image--that they needed some writers back then to go along with all the fancy lines in their artwork. So they started over with some old favorites with writers like Grant Morrison (ka-zow!), Mike Carey (wicked!), Gail Simone (sassy!), Christos Gage (sweet!), and Brian Azzarello (ka-blam!) and then proceeded to run all of their titles into the ground. The issues either failed to get produced (one issue of WildCATS? Pathetic.) or failed to generate reader interest (are any of them NOT cancelled at this point).

So now the Wildstorm Universe is going to undergo some kind of event to attract readers. And they kicked off the event with a bunch of completely pointless and frankly, unoriginal (we've all read "Days of Future Past") one-shots that made me complete give up on Wildstorm altogether.

Just like the good old days, when I got seven into Wetworks and realized, I do not ever need to read this comic.

4. X-Men: Endangered Species / Messiah CompleX
"Endangered Species" featured a story in which the Beast (sometime accompanied by bosom buddy Dark Beast) walked from mad scientist to mad scientist asking if they could help with this whole No-More-Mutants problem. Nope, they said. Or, sorry. Or, I don't wanna.

That's how it went, for 900 consecutive issues.

That all led into, of course, "Messiah Complex," which can be summarized as a long, drawn out version of kill the guy with the ball. You all used to play that at recess, right? Well, in the X-Version, instead of a ball, they use a baby, and then they all run around chasing the guy with the baby. For 900 more issues.

I can't wait to see what happens next! Such intrigue.

5. Wolverine: Origins
Remember like a year or two ago when Mark Millar described how great Daniel Way was, and how he was the best thing to come along since Jesus teamed up with Ghandi? I'm paraphrasing, but Millar really championed this guy, and although I didn't think much of his Nighthawk mini-series (actually, I thought a lot about it, because I kept thinking, "what's the point of this issue?" for six months in a row), I gave him a chance to prove that he was decent. Even with Steve Dillon, who I like, especially when he does something super-heroic (since his style seems to be anti-heroic), Wolverine: Origins has been a mess. Just like Countdown it features a lot of wandering and ugliness, and, unlike Countdown it reveals SHOCKING SECRETS about Wolverine's past. He has a kid, with claws, only less interesting than even that sounds.

Even these five series, no matter how many thousands of crappy pages they produced, can't dampen my enthusiasm for comics. 2007 was a fantastic year, and I can't wait to see what greatness awaits us in 2008.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Top 20 of 2007: #11 The Irredeemable Ant-Man

Supposedly The Irredeemable Ant-Man failed because it featured an unlikeable protagonist in former SHIELD agent Eric O'Grady. Screw that! It failed because of all the idiots who didn't buy it. Yes, I'm calling you an idiot if you didn't buy this comic. I'm like Eric O'Grady; I'm unlikeable.

Here's why you're an idiot (if you didn't buy the comic):

1) Phil Hester is really good, and you should buy anything he works on, unless it's written by Judd Winick, which this was not.

2) Robert Kirkman is really good, especially when he gets to do his own thing, which he basically got to do here. Have you read Invincible? Then you know he's good, no matter how you felt about Marvel Zombies (which I enjoyed, by the way).

3) Ant-Man is tiny, and he can talk to ants. And he helped beat up the Taskmaster in that Avengers issue I read the cover off of back when I was a kid. I don't care that this is a new character. Ant-Man still kicks ass.

4) This comic was like no other comic published by Marvel or DC recently. You complain about how everything is the same, but yet a super-hero comic with a unique sensibility comes along, and do you buy it? No, you buy Wolverine: Origins instead. It's your fault. All of it.

5) You were probably waiting for the trade. Dick.

6) You downloaded the comic illegally. Dick.

7) You don't like comics involving SHIELD, Damage Control, Ms. Marvel naked, or the Black Fox. In which case, you don't know what you're missing, because all of those things are good.

8) You want the world to be a suckier place, so you purposely don't support anything that might be entertaining and slightly original and fun. Why are you such a hater?

So, it's almost too late for you, if you didn't originally read it. I think it wasn't even collected into a trade, was it? Just like two digests, or something? Digests take comics designed for a certain size and then squish them down to make them look more like Manga, as if that fools anyone. All it does is make the pages look worse and the font too small.

Your job is to buy all the back issues, read them, then write thousands of letters to Kirkman and Hester and Marvel telling them how sorry you are. You ruined it.

Read it, somehow.

Clones, She Said

As I was getting my three-year-old daughter ready for bed tonight, I did something goofy (I don't remember what) to make her laugh, but she didn't laugh. Instead, she said, "you're a fake daddy. You're made out of clones."

Top 20 of 2007: #12 Dr. Fate Archives Volume 1

Way back in July, I asked whether or not the Dr. Fate Archives was Golden Age Greatness or the Most Amazing Comic Book Series Ever. You should read that post, because I'm not going to rehash it here, but I showed why the Dr. Fate Archives Volume 1 is pretty amazing stuff, at least for the first half of the volume, before everyone decided to de-Lovecraft the comic and turn it into Superman-lite.

I've read quite a bit of DC Golden Age stuff, including every issue of All-Star Comics, a healthy sampling of Flash Comics, Sensation Comics, Adventure Comics, whatever series the Golden Age Green Lantern appeared in, as well as a large dose of Batman and Superman. Dr. Fate is by far, by FAR, my favorite of them all. Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman's work on the early issues is the spiritual relative to Fletcher Hanks's Stardust, only sometimes more illogical, and with a Cthulhu vibe. The original Dr. Fate was a bastard with a vengeful streak--an inexplicable mystical being who could destroy planets while carrying his girlfriend under his arm.

And every solo Dr. Fate story is included in this one volume! What a collection!

Unfortunately, the stories do become bland and generic about halfway through, once Dr. Fate's mask shrinks to show off his chin. Having a prominent chin meant that Dr. Fate did a lot more punching than shooting-magical-lightning-bolts-of-death, and, no, I don't see the connection there either, but that's what happened. So, I pretend that those later Dr. Fate stories don't exist, and just reread the first half of the book. I still like having all the stories, by the way, I just ignore the crappy ones. It's just nice to know they're there, that the collection is complete. It makes me feel safe. Seriously, though, the early stories are the ones to read. Again and again.

Read it, and cower in terror at the Fish-Men of Nyarl-Amen.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Top 20 of 2007: #13 Omega the Unknown

Imagine a world where superhero comics didn't rehash the same standard plot lines again and again. Imagine a world where unconventional, idiosyncratic artists could work on comics once part of the "mainstream" universe. Imagine one of the best 21st century novelists scripting such tales. Imagine reading the comics and having no idea what's going to happen next because everything feels a bit off, a bit strange, but in a good, exhilarating way.

That's what the new Omega the Unknown series is like. And it's getting better every issue. (With over half the series still remaining!)

Steve Gerber and Jim Mooney's Omega the Unknown was certainly one of the most unusual superhero comics ever published. It featured an elliptical narrative involving a mysterious "hero" juxtaposed with a tale of harsh city life for a brilliant young high school student who seemed more robot than adolescent. It was about the connection between Omega and James-Michael, two characters who failed to connect with almost anyone else in the world. But nothing was ever explained--it was a surreal superhero journey with plenty of social commentary thrown in. And the story "ended" in another comic, well after Omega's series was canceled. Omega the Unknown (volume 1) was all promise and hope and despair and uncertainty, but it resolved (in The Defenders comic) in a tidy, unsatisfyingly neat little package.

Jonathan Lethem and Farel Dalrymple's Omega the Unknown began with a faithful retelling of Steve Gerber's first issue, but it has diverged wildly to become something unique in the Marvel universe: an absurdist, anachronistic, bizarre, Dan Clowes-esque exploration of a group of inexplicable weirdos. The teenage dialogue reads like something out of an S. E. Hinton novel, while an insane "superhero," called the Mink is up to who knows what. Meanwhile, some guy with gigantic "Fonzie" bling finds himself infected by some kind of super-nano virus, and then there's Omega (the title character and presumed hero) lurking around in the back of a food service van. I really couldn't begin to summarize the plot thus far, but it's definitely building to something, and the mood of the series is unlike any other.

Lethem and Dalrymple are major talents, and although their interpretation of Omega the Unknown is only 13th on my list for 2007, I bet a lot of people (myself included) will rank it much higher next year once its all complete. Don't ignore Omega the Unknown; it's more brilliantly insane than you'd ever expect.

Read it, if you're looking for something that's more than a bit out of the ordinary.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Top 20 of 2007: #14 The Umbrella Academy

One of the astounding facts about The Umbrella Academy is that Gabriel Ba's art looks even better here than it did in Casanova, and it looked GREAT in Casanova. I'm more astounded by that than I am about the story, written by Gerard Way. I had no preconceptions about Gerard Way at all. I remember reading about My Chemical Romance a few years ago in a Spin feature article and thinking that they sounded like cool guys with their comic book references and all, but they looked like douchebags with their art-student-rockstar-foppish-dandyness. But I never heard any of their music until "Welcome to the Black Parade," which I though was one of the great pop songs of the year. And they were really popular with the local Hot Topic crowd. None of which predisposed me to assume anything about Gerard Way's comic writing skillz.

Umbrella Academy, all four issues of it so far, is good, though. Quite good. Maybe the only thing keeping it out of the Top 10 is that I don't know how Way and Ba are going to end this sucker, especially if Way has plans to continue the series as a set of miniseries over the next decade (as he has stated in interviews). The overall flow of the narrative has seemed a bit uneven, too, with an incredibly strong first issue followed by a bit of a stall with issues two and three and then an explosion of awesomeness in issue four. Once the series is completed, the pacing might work perfectly when everything is read in succession, but as monthlies, it feels just a bit off.

But I have faith that Way and Ba can pull it off. The comic boldly flashes its influences, with a heaping of Grant Morrison here, some Wes Anderson there, a side of Mike Mignola and a hint of Matt Wagner, but those are all creators I love as well, so I can understand where Way and Ba are coming from.

Umbrella Academy might end up being one of the great comics of all time. It's got the potential, and it makes a damn fine ambassador for what makes comics so cool. So all the Hot Topic kids buying it just because Gerard Way's name on it might find a gateway drug to American superhero comics. I just hope they don't accidentally pick up anything by Daniel Way. That stuff might turn them off the medium forever.

Umbrella Academy is good. Read it.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Top 20 of 2007: #15 Green Lantern

What a year for Geoff Johns's Green Lantern!

In 2007, this comic became something superior. Beginning with the conclusion of the "Wanted: Hal Jordan" storyline and culminating in the apocalyptic "Sinestro Corps War," Johns expanded the depth and breadth of the Green Lantern universe and told a great story even while juggling a seemingly-overwhelming cast of characters.

One of the things Johns does best (and by the way, he was joined by some fantastic artists on the title this year, especially the stellar Ivan Reis, who seems to have distilled his John Byrne and Neal Adams influences into some kind of perfect superhero blend) is story structure. I should amend that: story structure over the long term. He has been building to the Sinestro Corps War since he relaunched Hal Jordan's career in Green Lantern: Rebirth over three years ago. Yet he doesn't tell decompressed stories. As a reader, I didn't know he was building to the Sinestro Corps War, although, in retrospect it's obvious. But Johns masterfully built each story arc on top of the next one, escalating the threats, dealing with Hal Jordan's character, and building a universe.

On top of that, Green Lantern #25 promises even greater escalation through 2009! It takes quite a writer to conclude the Sinestro Corps War as a kind of prelude for something much, much larger (the war of many colors!) and still satisfy the reader in the short term. Johns pulls it off. With style.

Read it.

Top 20 of 2007: #16 Yesterday's Tomorrows

Rian Hughes is probably best known today, if at all, as a designer of stylish logos and cover designs. Who can forget his cover for Invisibles #1 with the psychedelic hand grenade? And would the comic have been the same without the cut-out logo? I think not.

But Hughes has also illustrated some excellent comics in his day, and the bulk of his work was collected this year in Yesterday's Tomorrows, a slick hardcover featuring such stories as "Dare" and "Really and Truly," with Morrison, as well as "The Science Service," with John Freeman, and an adaptation of Raymond Chandler's "Goldfish," with novelist Tom DeHaven.

"Dare," in particular, is worth the price alone. It's a full-length work by itself (once published by Fantagraphics as a four-issue series), and it features Morrison's admittedly by-the-numbers, but still fascinating deconstruction of the "boy's own adventure" aspect of the original Dan Dare comics. Morrison and Hughes's reinterpretation is as much of its time (early 1990s) as Frank Hampson's original version was a product of the 1950s, but that's the way to do Dare, I think. And Hughes blocky figures and art deco landscapes mischievously undermine Morrison's tendency in the story to become too precious and ironic.

The other strips in the book each have a unique style, some of them resembling a proto-Darwyn Cooke in their character design. I wasn't overly familiar with most of these Hughes comics until I read this collection, and I was surprised by how he approached each story as a distinct project, and applied an appropriate style, none of which looking much like other comics that had come before. Like a chameleon, Hughes changes his look constantly, but he doesn't seem to be mimicking the work of others, at least not others in the comic book industry. His inspiration clearly derives from outside sources like advertising, poster art, and graphic design.

Rian Hughes hasn't produced any comics that I know of recently, but in a Newsarama interview from last summer, he had this to say when asked if he planned on creating any new comics: "Yes, definitely, soon. Something that expresses what I've just been discussing somehow, hopefully without seeming gimmicky. Stay tuned...!"

Until then, Yesterday's Tomorrows more than fills the void, which is why I rank it as the 16th best comic of 2007.

Read it.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Top 20 of 2007: #17 Madman Gargantua!

I'm seeing a pattern here. Thick, fancy hardcover collections are ruling the high teens on my 2007 list, but what's wrong with that? I love thick, fancy hardcovers, especially when they pull together the earliest Madman series along with the entire Dark Horse run.

Madman Gargantua! wasn't on my "must buy" list when it was first announced in 2006, but after the book was initially delayed, and the more I thought about owning all those stories under a single set of covers, I couldn't stop myself from clicking the Buy It Now button on Amazon. I wasn't disappointed.

As I wrote about this summer, Madman is, contrary to popular reception, Michael Allred's exploration of deep, religious themes. While the reputation of Allred's work is that he writes these zany, "ginchy" stories about weird, wacky characters with a goofy Silver Age sensibility, if you actually sit down and read Madman Gargantua! in a single sitting (or, as I did, over two days), you'll recognize that the book is a series of metaphysical questions which just happen to be explored using weird, wacky characters with a Silver Age sensibility. But the metaphysical questions drive the stories, without a doubt.

Unlike the other Absolute and Omnibus editions out there which feature creators at the top of their game, Madman Gargantua shows the development of Michael Allred's style and voice. The early Tundra series are quite different in look and tone than the Dark Horse run, and it's fascinating to see Allred develop as a creator even while he continues to explore serious questions about the nature of identity and reality. You all know, by now, that Allred is a major talent in the comic book world, and Madman is his still-unfinished masterpiece. But a large chunk of that masterpiece comprises this book, and it's astounding.

Read it.

Top 20 of 2007: #18 Fourth World Omnibus Volume 1

When I first read Jack Kirby's The Fourth World Omnibus, Volume 1, I couldn't get it out of my brain, and I blogged about it.

Since then, two more volumes from this series have been released, but this first Volume still resonates above and beyond the remainder of Kirby's Fourth World run. Volume 3 arguably features Kirby hitting his stride with these characters artistically, but Volume 1 is so full of un-matched cosmic ideas that it easily takes its place among the great comics released in 2007.

Even though this first Volume is my favorite, I love how DC chose to reprint Kirby's Fourth World saga as a single text, with the individual issues from four different comic book series printed in order of publication, allowing the threads to weave together in a way they wouldn't have if each series was published on its own (as it had been in the past). The Fourth World works as a single text, by the way, not because the issues directly tie into one another the way any recent crossover series would, but because each issue is a thematic layer towards something larger, something that Kirby couldn't articulate directly. The Fourth World stories combine, not in the way of a mosaic, or a tapestry, but like a grand fireworks finale. Each explosive issue contributes to a larger, brighter, booming display.

Read it.