Sunday, January 13, 2008

30 Days of Bloggery: Comics Year In Review

I realized the other day I've been collecting comic books for more than 25 years now, since a spinner rack at Lucky's supermarket sparked a monthly addiction to the old Marvel Star Wars comics. Ups and downs of the industry aside, I still love nothin' better than kickin' back with a pile of comics and jumping into the four-color world.

One thing that's a drag in New Zealand is it's really hard to get "alternative" comics or they're hugely expensive when you find them, so I've had to miss out on a lot of the alt-stuff lately, having to special-order what I really do want from the U.S. (High comic prices in NZ also discourage the impulse purchase). But hey, I still found joy in my little superhero corner of comics, with these my picks for the year's best and worst of the comics I buy:

PhotobucketBEST ONGOING SERIES: A tricky call this year, so I'm making it a tie -- both by the man I'd also pick as my favorite writer of the year, Ed Brubaker. Daredevil and Criminal are different in their approach - one a beloved superhero, one a R-rated Tarantino-esque crime comic - but really, they're flip sides of the same noir coin. I'm loving Ed's grim take on Daredevil, as he's trying to push a bit beyond the Miller/Bendis era and reintroduce some superhero elements into a comic that's of the streets, full of gritty foes and a hero who'll never give up. Criminal, on the other hand, is a lot like David Lapham's fine Stray Bullets, a series of interconnected tales of dead-end losers and their grand criminal plans. Both comics together offer road maps to the dark side of men's souls, wrapped together with some smashing action and made for fine reading (and I'm not even including Brubaker's other monthly blast, The Immortal Iron Fist, because I'm only reading that one in trade paperbacks, but it's another one well worth checking out. Kung fu action!).

PhotobucketBEST MINISERIES: Hey, World War Hulk wasn't perfect, but far better than most event crossovers with their convoluted plots and letdowns. The plot is simple -- Hulk returns to earth to get revenge on everyone -- and man, this series delivered the smashing and bashing, especially thanks to the utterly epic art of John Romita Jr. Old-school heroics and finally a miniseries that felt worthy of being an event. While it had the usual ton of tie-ins, the 5-issue series also stood up nicely on its own.

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL: Sure, it's almost dizzingly erudite and perhaps too much text and too little comics for its own good, but I have to admire the sheer scope of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier. PhotobucketIt takes on a vast array of pulp fiction and while it's less story than exposition, and has a disappointingly fanciful ending, it's still far more sweeping and rewarding for re-reading than most books. I particularly love the way Moore incorporates figures like Orwell's Big Brother, Virginia Woolf's Orlando and P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster into his topsy-turvy tapestry of tales. It just begs for annotation of all its nooks and crannies of fictional realms, which is why it's so nice we have the likes of Jess Nevins to provide them.

PhotobucketBEST NEW SERIES: Mark Waid and George Perez's The Brave And The Bold revival for DC is one of the only comics I buy from that publisher, which has taken a needlessly gory and cynical bent with most of its heroes lately. But this one is a fan-geek's dream of old-fashioned team-ups and Perez's always-amazing detailed art. Batman and Green Lantern? Check. Metal Men? Check. Flash and Doom Patrol? Check. Lobo and Supergirl? Check. It's like Waid's private playground away from the charnel house of the DC universe these days, and while it ain't very deep, it's just a heck of a lot of fun to read. I'm very sad Perez is leaving the art chores soon but hopefully Jerry Ordway will be a decent replacement.

PhotobucketBEST REPRINT: It's a sure sign that the age we live in I look more forward to reprints than I do the vast majority of monthly comix. What a plethora of material is out there, from cheap black-and-white phone books to elaborate color fetish objects. I got a ton of stuff this year I dug - the E.C Segar Popeye V. 1 and 2, the ongoing Complete Peanuts series, the wonderfully quirky I Shall Destroy All Planets, to name a few. But I have to admit my heart right now lies with DC's Showcase Presents line, and its huge, cheap reprints of reams of material from Batman and The Flash to obscurities like The War That Time Forgot and Enemy Ace. I particularly loved the classic Joe Kubert and Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson art in Showcase Presents The Atom and Hawkman Vol. 1-- two of my favorite second-tier DC characters, whose classic adventures have always been out of my reach financially. Sure, these tales are from a simpler time, but often they deliver more enjoyment than many of today's labored, stretched-out retreads.

PhotobucketWORST DISAPPOINTMENT: Um, case in point. Why oh why can't Marvel do right by Spider-Man? The character's adventures have been up and down in comics the past few years, with some intriguing developments (Aunt May finally learns the secret, the unmasking) handled without any real imagination. But worst yet was "One More Day," a rock-bottom awful storyline that was four issues of pointless rambling wrapped up with a bankrupt "Bobby Ewing in the shower" ending that basically wrote out 20 years' worth of Spider-Man comics because editor-in-chief Joe Quesada wanted to. (And as most of the blogosphere has pointed out already, Spider-Man does this by making a deal with the devil???) It spits in the face of the notion a character might actually grow over 40-something years of publication, and decrees that Peter Parker needs to stay a neo-teen loser for his entire life. It shows painful signs of editorial edict over solid writing. I'm still such a fan of the character that I'll keep reading the comics in 2008, but boy, this is about as clumsy a refit as I've ever seen for something that didn't need fixing (and that will surely be undone within five years anyway). I'm hopeful the "Brand New Day" this all set up is worth the garbage we had to wade through to get to it.

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