Archive for batman

2013 Year In Review: Quickies

Posted in 2013 year in review, comic books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2014 by vagabondsaint

Wow, 2013 was a pretty craptastic year, personally. But, I survived, and here I am with my year-in-review stuff. In April, partly because timeliness is for the weak, and partly because I’m still bitter about 2013.

Anyway.

There will be longer, more in-depth pieces coming, but for now, here are the categories that only merited a paragraph or two! Enjoy!

Worst Comic Book News

That J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman were leaving Batwoman, which was one of the best DC New 52 comics at the time. Williams had been with the character from the beginning of her run in Detective Comics (with writer Greg Rucka), and made Kate Kane into a fully fleshed-out, intriguing character, and the only lesbian in mainstream comics today.  Blackman and Williams cited editorial differences and interference as the reasons for their departure, including not being able to show the wedding of Kate and her fiance Maggie Sawyer.

Solid writing by Blackman and absolutely fantastic, haunting, gorgeous art by Williams are exactly why this book was on the top of the New 52 heap, and while I’ve got nothing against Marc Andreyko (his Manhunter run proved he can write female characters well), he’s not Blackman. Thankfully, though, the pair planned to finish their then-current arc of the book, which would have pitted Batwoman against Batman, and end their run with #26.

And then came the. . .

Biggest Dick Move of 2013

DC decided to cut Blackman and Williams’ shortened run on Batwoman even shorter.  #24 ended up being the last Blackman/Williams issue, to make room for a Zero Year (insanely inane origin-mangling crime against comic fans story arc running in Batman) tie-in issue in #25 and the start of new writer Marc Andreyko’s run in #26 (with new artist Trevor McCarthy).  To make up for this astounding lack of love for the fans, DC announced in January that the conclusion of Blackman/Williams’ last storyline would be presented in the 2014 Batwoman Annual. . .written by Marc Andreyko and illustrated by Trevor McCarthy.

Apparently “DC” now stands for “Dick Comics.”

Most Disappointing Comic-Based Video Game

And the nominees are. . .actually, there aren’t any, because this one was easy.

The winner is: Batman: Arkham Origins!

A little backstory, because games this disappointing don’t just come out of nowhere. In 2009, WB published the first of a new line of Batman video games, titled Batman: Arkham Asylum, and developed by Rocksteady Games.  The gameplay was phenomenal, the graphics were beautiful, the Paul Dini-penned story was enjoyable, and everybody was happy.  In 2011, WB and Rocksteady followed it up with Batman: Arkham Citywhich improved upon the first game in every conceivable way with even tighter gameplay, a much larger area to explore, more challenges, better graphics, more villains, more heroes (Catwoman was playable!), and more unlockables than you could shake a batarang at.  B:AC won awards, accolades, and acclaims from virtually all corners. Both games, by the way, sold like bacon-flavored hotcakes.

Then Warner Brothers decided. . .no one seems to actually know what they decided.  It was speculated that WB wanted to put out a new game in the Arkham series every year, and Rocksteady let common sense triumph over greed and said no, they couldn’t make a quality game in that short a timeframe.  Whatever the story was, WB let their in-house studio, WB Montreal, develop Arkham Origins instead.

And they proved Rocksteady completely correct.

Origins is, and let me say now I did play the game all the way through to completion, a major freaking disappointment.  Story-wise, it’s a prequel to Asylum, but it feels that way in terms of gameplay and writing as well.  Despite having access to Rocksteady’s code, engine, and improved technology, WB Montreal made a worse game.  The fighting system is superficially, the same but lacks the timing and polish of the other two games, the badly-written story flat-out contradicts events in the other two games, graphics and game glitches are EVERYWHERE, the challenge system is counter-intuitive and counter-productive, Batman is a jerk, and the villains are either under-utilized or drawn out in gimmicky boss fights.  And as for all the hype in the ad campaign about Batman fighting uber-mercenary Deathstroke in the fallen snow while thinking about his dead parents?  Brace yourself: that scene NEVER HAPPENS IN THE GAME.  The one fight with Deathstroke is early in the game, indoors, gimmicky, over very quickly. . .and you never see Deathstroke again. The ads lied to you, kids.  WB’s marketing department lied to you.

But on the plus side, Origins was still better than Batman’s adventures in the New 52.

Favorite Comic-based Video Game of 2013

Surprisingly, Injustice: Gods Among Us.  So WB got something right in 2013.  The story of “our” familiar DC heroes being transported to a world where Superman has taken over the world was surprisingly good (and surprisingly violent; RIP Captain Marvel).  The fighting mechanics could have been a little better, but overall, it’s a fun fighting game with a great cast of fighters. Batgirl is really cheap, though.  Lots of unlockable stuff, the stages and stage interactions are beautifully-done, and opponent-specific dialog made this game crackle.

Also, with the sole exception of Wonder Woman, this game was better than ANY of its characters’ adventures in the New 52.

Worst Superhero Movie

This one was really close between Iron Man 3 and Man of SteelHowver, I have to give the award to Man of Steel, because it didn’t have two better movies in its franchise to fall back on. What was wrong with Man of Steel? I’m glad you asked!  I’m also honestly surprised you’re still reading this.

Anyway, what went wrong with Man of Steel.

SPOILER ALERT!

First off, if Jor-El is not dead and buried in the first 15 minutes of the movie, you are making a bad Superman movie. If Jonathan Kent is a jerk who tells young Clark not to use his powers to help humanity and then dies in a bad-CGI tornado after telling Clark not to use his powers to save him, you are making a bad Superman movie. If the lost Kryptonians who show up on Earth are as powerful as Superman three days after showing up, when Superman’s been here his entire lifeyou are making a bad superman movie. If those Kryptonians also threaten Metropolis, a city that your Superman has absolutely no connection to, you are making a bad Superman movie. If your Superman has absolutely no connection to Metropolis, you are making a BAD SUPERMAN MOVIE! If your movie contains dozens of buildings being destroyed and countless thousands dying without Superman saving anybody but one little family in a train station, you are making a terrible Superman movie!  If your Superman MURDERS HIS FIRST VILLAIN, you have COMPLETELY F***ED UP YOUR SUPERMAN MOVIE! GODDAMMIT THIS MOVIE WAS TERRIBLE!

Best Character

Still Batman, just like every year, and despite current Batman writer Scott Snyder being the worst thing to happen to Batman since Joel Schumacher.  Second worst, if you include the entire editorial direction of the New 52.

Best Non-Batman Character

Batwoman, before Blackman and Williams left.

Best Non-Bat-Family Character

The Superior Spider-Man. Yep, I said it. So, you ask, what’s the difference between Superior Spidey and regular (or Amazing, or Spectacular) Spidey? I’m glad you asked!

SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Superior Spidey began when an imprisoned Doctor Octopus, dying of the years of punishment inflicted on his body, figured out a way to transfer his mind into Peter Parker’s body, effectively swapping bodies with his most hated foe.  Peter Parker, genius that he is, doesn’t take long to figure out what happened. He escapes from prison with the help of villains he recruits, and goes to reclaim his body before the body he’s in, Doc Ock’s, dies. Peter finds his enemy, fights Ock-in-Spidey’s-body, loses the fight, and dies.

Yeah.

The Superior Spider-Man comic chronicles the adventures of Doc Ock in Peter Parker’s body, after the death of Peter Parker in Doc Ock’s body.  Ock sets out to be not just Spider-Man, but to be a better Spider-Man than Peter Parker ever was – and does it. From destroying the Kingpin’s power base to building spider-bots to patrol the city for him to hiring minions (that he calls “spiderlings”) to also poatrol the city and provide backup when he needs it to finally completing Peter’s doctorate studies, Otto Octavius is genuinely a better Spider-Man than Peter Parker was.  He uses the powers more creatively, manages his time more efficiently, and even makes an uneasy alliance with current NYC major J. Jonah Jameson.

But of course it all goes wrong, and how it goes wrong is hilarious, engaging, and creative. It’s a fresh take on the Spider-Man story that is, well, fun, a word largely lacking from mainstream comics nowadays.  It’s definitely worth checking out.

Well, that’s it for the quick awards.  I’ll post more next week, from Mississippi and/or Arkansas!

VS

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Emerald City 2013!

Posted in comic books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2013 by vagabondsaint

Yes, I went to Emerald City Comic Convention (ECCC) this year.  Due to time and budget constraints, I could only go for one day, Sunday, but it was still a pretty good day!  These are my pictures from the day:

Magneto and Mystique, from the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants Whose Codenames Start With 'M'

Magneto and Mystique, from the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants Whose Codenames Start With ‘M’

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HawkgirL, who you’d really think would be cosplayed more often but isn’t. . .

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I confess to this now: I totally love Flo from the Progressive commercials. She can sell me insurance anytime!

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Catwoman, stuck on rocks. . .I guess climbing trees got old?

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Gaze upon his works, ye mighty, and despair! Or just admire his Ozymandias costume, whatever.

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This is actually just one guy, wearing the best (and possibly only) Denny O’Neil/Gerry Conway costume EVER.

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In retrospect, pinching Batgirl’s bum as she walked by was a BAD idea. . .

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Lady Comedian and. . .her accountant? I dunno what they guy in the tie was going for there.

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In retrospect, pinching Batgirl’s bum while she walked by and was within radio range of Batman was a TERRIFICALLY BAD idea. . .

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Matt Wagner drew a neat little sketch on my Batman/Grendel cover!

Matt Wagner again, on the inside cover of my Grendel: Devil by the Deed hardcover!  He was AWESOME!

Matt Wagner again, on the inside cover of my Grendel: Devil by the Deed hardcover! He was AWESOME!

Those are my pics!  I also got stuff signed by Darick Robertson, Garth Ennis, Howard Chaykin, and numerous others!

See you soon!

VS  – 3.11.13

 

Life With Archie: The Bravest Comic On The Stands?

Posted in book review, brilliance, comic books, politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2013 by vagabondsaint

AUTHOR’S NOTE: When I posted my last entry (Unhappy Trails:  A Farewell To “Scalped”, 12/13/12), I also had this entry in mind and had, in fact, planned to write it that night.  However, by the time I finished that entry, it was 4 AM, I was tired, and decided instead to write this article the next day.  That next day, I didn’t wake up until after noon Pacific Time.  As a matter of habit, one of the first things I do after waking up is read online news, and after reading of the events of December 14, 2012, I decided to delay this post. I think it’s been long enough now.

I’m going to go ahead and say this:  Life With Archie is the bravest comic book on the stands today.

Why, you ask?

Because they’re not afraid to take a stand on issues.

Take, for example, marriage equality.  (I don’t call it “gay marriage” because that implies an explicit difference between “straight marriage” and other types of marriage, and since all marriage is two people that love each other making a public, legal commitment to each other, I see no need for the distinction.)

Gay characters are not new to comics.  Underground comics have had homosexual acts and characters depicted since the late ’60s. . .but of course, that’s the underground stuff, and who pays attention to that?  Mainstream comics publishers largely ignored homosexual characters until the 1980s, when DC published their first obviously gay character, Extrano (“strange” in Spanish) for the mercifully short-lived series The New Guardians in 1987.  The biggest reveal, however, was that Marvel’s character Northstar, longtime member of the Canadian super-team Alpha Flight, was gay (because he’s already French-Canadian, so why not make him gay?), though his creator revealed later that he was supposed to have been gay from his first appearance in 1979 but wasn’t due to an anti-gay character policy at Marvel Comics.

After that, gay and bisexual characters fell out of the woodwork.  The Authority’s  Apollo and Midnighter were the world’s finest gay couple; Gotham City detective Renee Montoya, a major supporting Batman character, was outed as a lesbian by Two-Face; John Constantine of Hellblazer was revealed to be bisexual (though he mostly sleeps with women and is married to a woman);  Hulkling and Wiccan of The Young Avengers were a gay couple; the new Batwoman is a lesbian; and in revising their entire universe, DC Comics made Alan Scott, the Green Lantern of Earth-Two  gay (sorry, Jade and Obsidian, the guy who was your dad pre-revision is now gay, so I guess you won’t be coming back for the New 52). . .the list goes on and on.  By 2010, you wouldn’t think a gay character would make news anymore.

But it did, when Archie Comics, long thought of as the most traditional, wholesome, conservative, “safe” comics company out there, introduced an openly gay character named Kevin Keller in Veronica #202.  It made news worldwide that gay had finally come to Riverdale, and at that point, it was a surprising move but not exactly a groundbreaking one.

Until February 2012, when, in the pages of Life With Archie, Kevin Keller married his boyfriend, Dr. Clay Walker.  Gay kissing was still new to comics then; longtime homosexual Northstar had just finally kissed his boyfriend on-panel the year before (after almost 20 years of being out of the closet); although The Midnighter and Apollo had been shown kissing before then, Neil Gaiman had been exploring gay and transgender themes in Sandman, and John Constantine had been in several homosexual sex scenes, they weren’t as mainstream and being written by mostly British writers besides.  At that point, marriage equality was only the law of the land in six states and the District of Columbia, with many many more states having laws on the books specifically preventing same-sex couple from getting married, so it was a pretty bold move for “traditional, wholesome” Archie Comics to make at the time.

Just to add a little more controversy to Kevin and Clay, their story was that they met in the military, when Kevin was injured fighting in Iraq and Dr. Walker had been his medic. . .and this was just after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  Archie Comics wasted no time jumping on that subject, and the issue containing the wedding (#16, if you want it; it sells for $20-$40 now) of Keller and Walker became one of Archie Comics’ fastest-selling issues of all time (which is no mean feat, considering they’ve been going for over 70 years).

But that’s not why I call Life With Archie the bravest book on the stands.

(SPOILERS FOLLOW.)

In issue #22 of Life With Archie, Clay Walker is shot while attempting to prevent a robbery. (Had to be the black guy, didn’t it, Archie Comics?) Luckily, he survives the shooting and the would-be robber is captured after being clocked with a hammer by the store’s owner.

In issue #24, Kevin discovers that the unnamed shooter was a previously-convicted felon who bought the gun from a licensed dealer through a “loophole” (it’s later stated that he’s talking about the gun show loophole).  Kevin then rattles off a few statistics (“gun-related homicides are more than twenty times higher than in other developed nations”) and announces he is retiring from the Army to do something about it. . .and his “something” is. . .

Wait for it. . .

Kevin Keller decides to run for the US Senate on a gun-control platform!

Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) just proved in November that an openly-gay candidate can win a Senate race; she became our first openly-gay US Senator and was sworn in on Thursday, January 3, 2013.  So you could say the precedent has been broken. . .except that #24 came out in November and was solicited three months earlier (as all comics are), so the story was written before her election, when she was still running a very tight race against Tommy “I’m gonna kill me some Medicare” Thompson.  (It’s worth noting that Tammy Baldwin still can’t legally marry in her home state, though she can have her same-sex marriage from another state recognized in Wisconsin as a “domestic partnership,” so Kevin Keller’s still got one up on her.)

In issue #25, Kevin expounds more upon his gun-control views, states a strong view that the Second Amendment pertains to the right to bear arms for “a well-regulated militia” and asks “why do we need an estimated 200 million guns in the hands of this country’s 300 million citizens?”  (His number is actually quite low; the 2007 estimates are 88.1 guns for every 100 US citizen,which comes out to about 274 million guns in this country, a figure that has no doubt gone up, since there were massive spikes in gun sales every time a black guy got elected President.)

Now, I am sure that some of you are saying that it’s not such a big deal to jump on the gun-control bandwagon now, after what happened in Newtown.  You’d be right; that terrible tragedy has changed a lot of views on gun control for many people, as it and numerous other tragedies before it should have done.

And I’d agree if it wasn’t that Life With Archie #24 came out in November 2012, and #25 hit the stands (and my greedy little palms) on Wednesday, December 12, 2012. . .two days before Newtown.

And that’s why I call Life With Archie the bravest comic book on the stands today:  it took on marriage equality before the 2012 electoral sweep that nearly doubled the number of states with legalized marriage equality with a firm, unmistakable statement of support; it took a strong pro-gun-control stance before the tragedy that catapulted gun control back into the national conversation; and it’s poised to do even more with Betty-and-Veronica rival Cheryl Blossom having been ravaged by breast cancer and now starting up her own foundation to fight breast cancer.

I never thought I’d say this, but here it is:  I wish Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image Comics, and IDW had half the intestinal fortitude that Archie Comics does when it comes to addressing relevant social issues.

Life With Archie: the best-written and bravest comic book on the stands today.  Go read it, it’s brilliant.

VS – 1.6.13

Worst Comics Publisher Of 2010

Posted in 2010 in review, comic books, rant, the complete opposite of brilliance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2011 by vagabondsaint

So here I am, ready to announce my pick for 2010’s Worst Comics Publisher.

But first, the runner-up!

Runner-Up:  DC Comics

Oh, DC.  You had an excellent year coming and completely blew it to Hell.

The biweekly, six-issue miniseries Batman: The Return Of Bruce Wayne, heralding the time-travel adventures of Batman as he struggled back from the past (more on that in another column) was poised to be a huge hit.  It had a superstar writer in Grant Morrison, the return of a character everybody and their weird uncles loves, and a rotating team of fantastic artists.  How could you possibly blow that?

Oh yeah – it was plagued with delays so badly that a series that should have been out and done in three months instead took seven.  Even for that talent and character, people lost interest.  The delays threw it out of sync with companion books like Batman and Robin, and the release of the completely inconsequential Bruce Wayne: The Road Home one-shots before the final issue of ROBR just confused whoever was still paying attention.  And then, just to make it worse, you released the Time Masters: Vanishing Point miniseries, about the adventures of Rip Hunter, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, and Superman as they searched the timestream for Batman. . .and it too was plagued with delays, which is death for a title that already starred characters no one really cared about.

That would be enough to make a bad year, but oh wait, there is more.

J. Michael Straczynski‘s run on Superman got people talking. . .for all the wrong reasons. It was arrogant, preachy, and heavy-handed to the point that the interludes, necessitated by health issues and Straczynski’s writing the much-better-received Superman: Earth One graphic novel, were liked much better.  While we’re talking about JMS, his changes to Wonder Woman’s costume went over like roadkill for dinner.  Don Kramer’s art couldn’t even save it.  Here’s hoping the next writer either changes it back or gives us a damn good reason for the change.

Other DC blunders?  Delays on The Flash (how does the Fastest Man Alive star in the Slowest Book On The Stands?), James Robinson turning the JLA into Teen Titans: The Grown-Up Years, replacing the all-ages Batman team-up series Batman: The Brave and the Bold with an all-new all-ages Batman team-up series called Batman: The Brave and the Bold (read that line again if you wish; I promise it won’t make any more sense the second time), letting Mark Guggenheim write JSA, and the Jonah Hex movie (which is nearly completely identical to Will Smith’s Wild Wild West movie.  Seriously.  The villains even plot to kill the same President, which makes me wonder what Garfield was up to that so many screenwriters want him dead).  The final nail in the coffin was their 100-page specials, which are just reprints of older comics.  Good for background info on some characters, but useless otherwise and, at $8 each, aren’t selling.  Just stop with the damn specials already, DC.

On the plus side, though, Paul Cornell is doing an excellent run on Action Comics right now.  And Grant Morrison’s Batman work has blown me away.

But, the saving grace for DC?

They listened to the fans.

When faced with rising costs, Marvel and DC both started hiking up prices from $2.99 to $3.99 per issue.  As long it was just a few series and miniseries, it wasn’t so bad.  But in the midst of a recession, fans took notice and starting dropping books.  When the unusually-large price increase started expanding to more regular series and virtually all miniseries in July, fans showed their displeasure by not buying comics.  In fact, industry-wide, there was a stunning 17% across-the-board sales drop in the month of August.  DC responded quickly, and favourably, by issuing a statement that they would drop prices back down to $2.99 in the new year, though, due to rising costs of their own, this would also mean dropping 2 pages per issue.  Hell, at least they listened and responded in a way that showed they understood the situation. (Marvel issued a similar “me too” statement 30 minutes later, but more on that in a minute.)

Despite all the errors and missteps, that single show of understanding kept DC from being the worst publisher of 2010.  No, that honour went to. . .

2010’s Worst Publisher of the Year: Marvel Comics

Oh, it was Marvel’s year, all right. . .Marvel’s year to suck.

Let’s start with over-saturation.  To help build the hype of an upcoming Deadpool movie, Marvel had Deadpool starring in four separate ongoing series this year (five, if you count Deadpool MAX) and at least 2 miniseries a month, plus guest appearances galore.  He appeared more than Spider-Man and Bruce Wayne, although he still came up short for the title of Most Overused Character (that title still belongs to Wolverine).  The once-beloved Merc With A Mouth became the Merc With Too Damn Many Books, and even the most hardcore fans were not willing to spend $20 a month on one non-bat-inspired character.  Sales plummeted, Deadpool lost popularity, and Ryan Reynolds, who was slated to star in the movie, instead signed a contract with DC to do more Green Lantern movies.  As of this writing, 2 of these books have been cancelled, which would have been great news approximately 20,000 dead trees ago, but now it’s too little, too late.

Speaking of cancellations, there were plenty of those, too. . .just on the wrong titles.  The well-liked series Atlas was cancelled for low sales after only five issues; the same for Thor: The Mighty Avenger.  Both books might have stood a chance had it not been for a sudden glut of comics titles on the shelf – a glut largely put there by. . .wait for it. . .Marvel Comics.

One can accept that when a company does a crossover, there are going to be extraneous tie-ins and such.  Marvel took this waaaaaaaaay too far in 2010.  It would have been acceptable if there had been a company-wide crossover, but, in addition to that crossover (Siege, which was terrible), there were also line-specific crossovers, like X-Men: Second Coming (which was actually good), X-Men: Curse of the Mutants (vampires are overdone, kids, let it go already), Shadowland (about Daredevil becoming master of the Hand ninja clan and taking over NYC; also, it sucked), and all of the 4 new Avengers-themed books, released to replace the previous 4 Avengers books that ended with Siege.  Each crossover had its own spin-offs and miniseries, very very few of which were readable and very few of which had any effect on the crossover story or the characters in them.  In addition to all that, of course, Marvel was also releasing the “Women of Marvel” one-shots, a new Strange Tales miniseries (which was worth reading), a slew of miniseries starring minor or new characters, and other useless pablum.

In short, in a time of belt-tightening and stretched dollars, Marvel Comics threw books at you like they’d forgotten that comics are a luxury item.

And Marvel appeared to recognize this mistake when they announced, 30 minutes after DC’s price-drop announcement, that they too would be dropping prices for 2011.

But, see, what they meant to say, and clarified in a later press release, was that they wouldn’t be putting out any new ongoing titles for $3.99.  They wouldn’t be dropping prices so much as they would be keeping them stable.  Same difference, right?  Well, not really, but okay. . .fair enough. . .oh, except that miniseries and specials are exempt from that rule, so those will be priced at $3.99.  And there will be a metric shitload more of them.  Hell, right now, Captain America, who’s barely interesting enough for one book, has two miniseries going. Thor, whose second ongoing was cancelled, has at least three going.  Spider-Man just ended one and I think has more on the way, in addition to the miniseries starring his nemesis Norman Osborn.  Basically, Marvel’s made it clear that there will be fewer ongoing series and more specials and miniseries coming your way in 2011 – an end-run around looking like they give a fuck about the stressed wallets of the fans.

 

A special message to you, the fans, from Marvel Comics.

Marvel, too, was plagued with delays this year; the final issue of Siege came out after series and specials that chronicled events that happened in that final issue.  Of course, said events were nearly immediately forgotten about, but whatever.  It’s not like Siege was worth remembering.

On top of all that, Iron Man and Reed Richards still have not been arrested and tried for the negligent homicide of Black Goliath.  This still pisses me off.

Oh, and Siege.

And Shadowland, which made me quit reading Daredevil.

Plus, The Sentry: Fallen Sun.

And the X-Men fighting vampires at the same time as the Ultimate Avengers.

And Marc Guggenheim writing, well, anything.

So there you have it, folks:  Marvel Comics, the Worst Comics Publisher of 2010.  Take a bow, Marvel!

 

Or, you know, don't. Just keep giving us the finger. Jerk.

VS – 1.9.10

Wonderful (Woman) Wednesday

Posted in comic books with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2010 by vagabondsaint

I don’t normally buy action figures.  Oh, I used to buy any figure that struck my fancy, and I am even now plagued by cardboard boxes full of figures that I can’t quite bring myself to toss out or sell but I have neither room nor desire to display anymore.  It was with that mindset that I made a moratorium against purchasing new figures, except for those of either Batman or Final Fantasy, and even then, only if they were really well-sculpted.  With those stricture in place, I haven’t bought an action figure in at least two years, and haven’t really been tempted (okay, so I was really tempted when the Watchmen figures came out, but I managed to beat that urge back. . .by which I mean I really couldn’t afford them) to buy new ones.

Until two weeks ago.

That was when I was at the shop, opening new shipment boxes, and laid my hungry eyes upon her:

Ame-Comi Wonder Woman v2

Hot damn.

I like Wonder Woman, but it’s never been on the level of my interest in Batman, Grendel, Dawn, or John Constantine.  She’s probably the most famous female superhero ever, and certainly every bit as beautiful as whichever artist is drawing her at the time can make her, but with the exception of the Blackest Night Wonder Woman figure, I’ve never been tempted to buy a figure or statue of her, like I have of, say, Dawn.

Until I saw this one.

This is from DC’s Ame-Comi line of figures, which is, in a nutshell, DC Comics characters re-imagined with a strong Japanese influence.  Previous figures in the line included Black Canary, Huntress (the Huntress was pretty sweet too, and wearing a purple-and-black costume. . .allllllllllllllmost got me!), Catwoman, Donna Troy, Power Girl, Poison Ivy, Catwoman again, and Batman, appearing as the thus-far only male figure in the line.  (I was really tempted to buy the Batman too, and still might.)

So what do I like about this wonderful Wonder Woman figure?

Yes, I know she’s wearing a Wonder-Woman-ized version of Princess Leia’s slave outfit for Star Wars.  I have to admit, though, I like the stylized “w” on the chest better than her current logo.  I like the more colourful, more intricate bracelets (they’re normally depicted as solid silver or black).  I like the body sculpt; it’s more voluptuous, curvy, and feminine than some other female figures that look painfully thin and have cantaloupes glued to their chests.  (Looking at you, Superman/Batman Supergirl.)  I love her pose – she returns triumphant from the field of battle with a Gorgon’s head in her hands; she has defeated the beast that paralyzed and defeated many before her and did it without getting a scratch.  She is confident, sexy, determined; she is strong, she is feminine, and she does not give a good goddamn what you think of her outfit.

But what I really love about this figure, what really really made the decision for me to buy it, is the face.

Ame-Comi Wonder Woman v2 close-up

The upturned chin, the almond-shaped eyes, the thoughtful expression – she has an exotic beauty in her face, and that pushed me over the line into buying the figure.

Unfortunately, the three of them that G. had ordered were all already spoken for.

So, I had him order more (and there is absolutely no truth to the rumours that I made him do so at gunpoint; I don’t even own a gun, or more than one or two reasonable facsimiles) and waited patiently for the reorders to come in.

They finally did this past Wednesday, and I bought my first action figure in two years.

She is in place now, in my bedroom, on top of a storage cabinet, next to a statue of Wonder Woman that I bought for someone else but ended up stuck with.  Maybe I’m getting a Wonder Woman collection going; it’s certainly a possibility if J. M. Stracynzski (I spelled that without looking it up, so I may have blown it completely) does as excellent a job of portraying her in her comic, starting next month, as he did in last month’s The Brave and the Bold #33 (get a copy if you can; it sold out within a week of publication purely on the basis of having one of the most excellent single-issue comic stories I’ve seen in years).

But for now, I have my Wonder Woman statue and Ame-Comi Wonder Woman figure and I’m good.  I’ve had my action-figure splurge.

Besides, she reminds me of a real,  genuinely wonderful, exotically beautiful woman I know. . .

VS – 5.28.10

My 10 Favourite Completed Series, 5-1

Posted in comic books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2010 by vagabondsaint

Hey, welcome back!

Before I get to the list, I want to point out that I am intentionally excluding Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.  Since they already have places on the list of my favourite books of any type of all time, I didn’t see a need to relist them here and take two spots away from books that deserved a mention.

Ready?  Better be, ’cause we’re goin’!

5. Crisis On Infinite Earths (DC, 1985, 12 issues, writer: Marv Wolfman, artists: George Perez and Dick Giordano)

Oh, here we go.

In 1985, DC Comics was celebrating its fiftieth anniversary.  (The “DC”, for all you trivia buffs out there, stands for its longest-running and still published title, Detective Comics.)  However, after 50 years of history, the DC Universe was a continuity nightmare that would give the X-Men headaches.  After all, how do you explain how the same Flash, Green Lantern, Superman, and Batman that were active in World War 2 are still running around in the 60s and haven’t gotten any older?

The solution back then was to introduce Earth-Two, a parallel dimension in which the Golden Age (World War 2-era) superheroes lived, and make “our” earth Earth-One, with the current versions of those heroes active.  It was a good solution for 1961, but by 1985, there were so many parallel universes and different versions of heroes and conflicting histories that the DC Universe was, once again, a largely unmanageable mess.

Enter Crisis on Infinite Earths.

While the story of Crisis revolves around the war of two beings, the Monitor and Anti-Monitor (real original, guys), who were created in the same experiment that splintered one reality into DC’s Multiverse, the idea behind it was to wipe out all of DC’s current continuity and start all over again, with a single universe.  This, they hoped, would revitalize the company, make it more accessible for new readers, and boost sales.

Surprisingly, they were successful on all counts.

In the battle to prevent the Anti-Monitor from destroying all of the Multiverse, however, heroes died by the ton.  Supergirl, The Flash (Barry Allen), the Golden Age Robin, Huntress, Green Arrow, and literally hundreds of others were killed by the Anti-Monitor or his “shadow demons” in the course of the books 12 issues.

It’s hard and probably inaccurate to call Crisis thought-provoking, but, then again, it isn’t a mindless carnival of violence either.  The sadness at the deaths of heroes is palpable, the regret and loss that the Golden Age Superman feels at realizing that he is once again the sole survivor of his world, the betrayal of the Monitor’s assistant when she murders him. . .there are some very gripping, very emotional moments in this.

But behind it all, leaking from every panel on every page, is the weight of history. . .and that’s why it’s earned its spot on this list.

4. Peter Milligan’s X-Force/X-Statix run (Marvel, 2001-2004, X-Force: issues 116 – 129, X-Statix: 29 issues, writer: Peter Milligan, artists:  mostly Mike Allred, various others)

If you’re a mutant in the Marvel Universe, home of the X-Men, your job is pretty much to be hated and feared by everybody else.  Seriously, they just never seem to catch a break.  No matter how many times the X-Men save the world, there’s always somebody somewhere building more mutant-killing robots or starting a religion-based anti-mutant group or just running around shooting at mutants, like a pack of fucking ingrates.  The X-Men, and by association all mutants, are really just the redheaded stepchildren of Marvel Earth.

If you want to make a spanking joke, go right ahead.

I was going to make a "spanking the redhead" joke here, but she looks like she could kick my ass, so I think I'll just keep that one to myself.

Unless, of course, you are one of Peter Milligan’s X-Force.

With sales on X-Force, an X-Men spinoff team, flagging, Marvel brought in writer Peter Milligan to reimagine the team.  I genuinely believe that they did not know what they were in for.

Instead of being hated and feared, Milligan’s new X-Force, comprised entirely of new characters instead of holdovers from the 80s, were celebrities of the highest order.  Their battles were filmed by floating-green-blob-and-cinematographer-extraordinaire Doop and sold on DVD.  They did interviews, signed books deals, held press conferences whenever the team roster changed, had drug and alcohol problems, fought each other more than they did other people, worried about their popularity, were merchandised up the wazoo (said wazoo itself also being heavily merchandised), and occasionally went out and fought bad guys – if the battle promised good ratings.

Peter Milligan took yet another book about yet another tired, has-been team of outcast mutants and made it into a scathing commentary on the dual natures of celebrity and hero worship in American society.  Mike Allred’s sharp-lined, pop-art style served as the perfect complement to Milligan’s unorthodox writing.  However, the unusual context and subject matter of the story in the first issue serve to keep one off-balance just enough that the sucker-punch shock ending knocks you into a reeling tizzy of confusion, WTF-itude, and, most importantly, a metric shitload of anticipation for the next issue.

(By the way, I just realized that Milligan’s X-Force team had no problem with killing the people they fought against, and were loved and adored for it.  One member is even criticized for not killing enough people on a mission.  Kind of a thematic tie with Kingdom Come, huh?)

3. The Authority (first series) (DC/Wildstorm, 1999-2002, writers: Warren Ellis, Mark Millar, Tom Peyer, artists: Bryan Hitch, Frank “my accent is so thick you’d think I’d eaten Scotland” Quitely, Art Adams, Gary Erskine)

A little backstory:  in the Wildstorm Universe, there was a world peacekeeping team called Stormwatch.  They had a good run, until they ran into Aliens (yes, I do mean the same Aliens that keep bugging Sigourney Weaver, and good luck finding that trade paperback – copyright issues keep it from being reprinted) and got absolutely obliterated.  Unbeknownst to the general public, Stormwatch had a secret covert ops team, Stormwatch Black; after the death of Stormwatch, Stormwatch Black team leader Jenny Sparks decided that the world still needed a team to watch out for it, and so took the covert team, found some new members, and became The Authority.

The “modern pantheon” that Warren Ellis created was: Jenny Sparks, electric-powered British woman who embodied the spirit of the 20th century (she was born on January 1, 1900 and died on December 31, 1999); Swift, a winged, taloned Tibetan woman; the Doctor, shaman of the global village of Earth (and, as it turned out, a heroin addict); Apollo, a super-solar-powered Superman-type; Midnighter, a surgically augmented Batman type and Apollo’s boyfriend; the Engineer, whose blood contained nanobots that allowed her to make anything she wanted, very similar to Green Lantern’s ring; and Jack Hawksmoor, who, for lack of a better way to put it, could talk to and control cities (buildings, not people).

Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch gave the book its trademark four-issue story arc format; every arc was like a good summer blockbuster movie: loud, brash, boisterous, and fun.  In their books, the first three arcs, the team battled a good old-fashioned supervillain bent on world domination, invaders from another dimension, and ended with a fight against “God,” a gigantic pyramid-shaped alien being that had originally created Earth and was pissed to come back from touring the cosmos to find humans all over it.

Millar and Quitely, no doubt chattering to each other in a damn near indecipherable Scottish brogue, decided to keep that format when they took over with issue 13 but also gave more characterization and exploration of social and political issues:  starting with the question “Why don’t superheroes ever fight the real bastards?”, the Authority began tackling military juntas and corrupt dictators when not busy fighting Earth itself or thinly-veiled parodies of Marvel’s Avengers while trying to recover Jenny Quantum, the Asian-born spirit of the 21st century.

The problem with doing right in third-world countries is that you make first-world countries feel threatened, and so the G7 governments united and built a super-powered cyborg named Bubba to take out the Authority and replace them with new versions, fully sanctioned by the world’s ruling elite, and unlikely to go around helping poor people or knocking over puppet governments for no good reason.  (After the replacement team is slaughtered by one seriously-pissed Midnighter, and the team is struggling to defeat Bubba, Jenny Quantum turns him off by saying the one phrase that the world’s wealthy and powerful knew no one would ever say: “Welcome to the Oval Office, President Gore.”)

Ellis and Hitch gave us the wide-screen blockbuster comic format; Millar and Quitely gave the team depth, character, and social commentary.  Between the two of them, the book had an air of semi-plausibility; you could believe that this is really how the world’s leaders would react to a superteam that effected political and social changes instead of just beating up the supervillain du jour.

The first series ended amidst a flurry of delays, heavy censorship following 9/11, and even more heavy-handed censoring of things like Midnighter and Apollo kissing, which seems quite an ironic end for such a revolutionary series.  The Authority continued in several more volumes, but they haven’t been as good since. . .not even when they took over the U.S.

*******WARNING: IF YOU EXPECT TO READ MORE ABOUT ADULTS IN TIGHTS BEATING EACH OTHER UP, STOP RIGHT NOW.  THE NEXT TWO ON THE LIST, THE TOP TWO, IN FACT, DO NOT INVOLVE SUPERHEROES AT ALL.  CARRY ON. ***************************

2.  Four Women (DC/Homage, 2003, 5 issues, writer/artist: Sam Kieth)

Hey, look at that!  A nice, simple story with no superheroes, no supervillains, no spandex, and no urgent rush to save the world/universe/Multiverse/Toledo, Ohio (then again, there’s never a rush to save Toledo).  Four Women is about (duh) four women, longtime friends, great companions, taking a fun road trip to a wedding together. . .and the terrifying tragedy that befalls them.

Four Women is hard to categorize.  It’s not a horror story; there’s no lurking boogeymen jumping out from behind trees or slow-moving misanthropes in hockey masks here.  It’s not a story about four hot women having a sleepover at Crystal Lake; this is just four women stuck in a horrible situation, made even more so by the fact that it’s completely plausible.  There is no suspension of disbelief required; this could really happen.  It’s not just a tragic story; there is more to it than that.

If I had to nail it down, I would have to say that Four Women is about friendship, loyalty, survival, sacrifice, redemption, and guilt.  Would you sacrifice yourself to protect your friends?  Would you die for your friends?  Would you kill for them? Would you betray your closest friends in order to keep yourself safe from harm?  If you did, could you still be friends afterward?  Would they forgive you?  Could you forgive yourself?

In a nutshell, that’s what Four Women is about.  It’s more about questions than it is answers.

While I was not a fan of Sam Kieth’s artwork before, I have to admit that it fits this story perfectly.  Rather than being body-type clones with different hair and eye colours, the four women – Beverly, Cindy, Marion, and Donna – all show their personalities in their appearances.  Bev is self-assertive and confident, as shown in her short hair and strong jaw; Cindy is the wild party child and, as the youngest, has the wild-eyed exuberance of youth; Marion is conservative, but matronly, caring and strong (there’s a panel of her face in the midst of the tragedy that will make your eyes wet, if you are human in any way, shape, or form), and Donna’s cynical and selfish-yet-warm nature is evident from the first time you see her smirking to herself and making a speech to the effect that friendship is stronger than instinct.

As some songs are a perfect match of lyrics to music, Four Women is a rare perfect pairing of writing and art.

Speaking of that perfect pairing. . .

1.  100 Bullets (DC/Vertigo, 1999-2009, 100 issues, writer: Brian Azzarello, artist: Eduardo Risso, cover artist: Dave Johnson)

And at the top of the pile, surrounded by spent bullet casings, is 100 Bullets.

Noir, as a genre, is enjoying something of a Renaissance in comics right now, due in part to Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips’ excellent Criminal series and Brubaker and Lark/Gaudiano’s (Hi Stephano!  That’s my shout-out to Stephano Gaudiano, who is just one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met) awesome Gotham Central series, not to mention Brubaker’s very dark, gritty run on Daredevil, along with Marvel’s Noir series, which reimagines many of their mainstays in a more noir-type universe.  (I just realized that approximately three-fourths of the current Renaissance is entirely due to Ed Brubaker.  That guy gets around.)

But none of it would have been possible without 100 Bullets.

When I get home from the comic book shop, and I have some time to sit and read my new books, I read in order of what I’m most looking forward to, which usually puts parts of miniseries and good ongoing works at the top of the list.  For nine years, though, 100 Bullets was always the book that I read first, in front of everything else, even books starring Batman, which for me is really saying something.

Right.  On to the book, then.

100 Bullets began with a thematically-simple-but-morally-complex premise:  what would you do if you’d been wronged, and someone gave you an untraceable gun, 100 rounds of untraceable ammunition, and guaranteed that you would not be punished if you used said gun and bullets to get revenge?

What will Dizzy Cordova do, in the first story arc, when the mysterious Agent Graves gives her a briefcase containing the gun, the bullets, and evidence of who really killed her husband and son while she was in prison?  What will Lee Dolan, former restaurant owner kicked down the ladder to dive-bar bartender, do to the beautiful woman that Graves tells him framed him for possession of child pornography?  Or Cole Burns, ex-convict ice cream man who finds out his grandmother was murdered?  Or the mother who finally finds out why her daughter ran away and hears the tragic tale of the child’s life on the streets?  What will they, and others, do with Graves’ strange “gift”?

That’s just where 100 Bullets begins.

That’s a good enough premise to be a top-rated drama on prime-time TV, if done right (Eastwood as Graves?).  But it gets so, so much deeper than that.

Just the basic question of “what would you do?” is great, but then more questions arise.  Who is Agent Graves?  How can he do this for people?  Does he want them to kill their targets?  Or is he just testing people?  Where does he get all these guns?

And from there, 100 Bullets blossoms like a steroid-fed orchid.  From its not-so-simple root, 100 Bullets goes on to show us the massive, centuries-old conspiracy behind America and who really owns this country.  Everyone is connected, everyone is a puppet, and Graves knows who’s pulling the strings.  The real question is, which side is he on? Is the also-mysterious Agent Shepherd that follows him around on the same side or working for the opposition? Who is pulling the strings?  Is Graves a puppet or the puppet-master? What’s really going on here?

If, as Vincent the Bastard says in issue 50, “America is all about the fuck,” then 100 Bullets is all about the mind-fuck.  The plot takes more twists and turns than a roller-coaster designed by ravers, the dialog is full of double meanings, everybody has secrets and shames and absolutely everyone has a role to play in the world’s biggest conspiracy. 100 Bullets is dark, gritty, violent, profane, littered with beautiful women, handsome men, absolute wrecks of humanity, and heaping heavy handfuls of grey shades.  It’s an absolutely beautiful work; even the (thankfully) rare filler issues aren’t boring or forced.

Azzarello holds no sacred cows, either:  anyone can die at any given time.  There’s no guarantee that your favourite characters will make it to the end of the series.  Several times while reading it, I actually yelled “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” when one of my favourite characters suddenly bit the dust.  He will keep you guessing, right up until the bullet-heavy ending.

As brilliant as Azzarello’s writing is, 100 Bullets would not be nearly as good without Eduardo Risso’s art.  Displaying a fondness for odd camera angles (one shot is from the back of a guy’s as he is shot in the face, giving the reader a front-row seat to an exit wound), a great appreciation for the use of negative space, and an amazing ability to make beautiful people seem ugly at times, Risso’s art is just a joy to behold.

Somebody's gonna get shot. . .

It's all fun and games until somebody gets an eye shot out. . .

You may have noticed above that I also mentioned, for the first time in this list, the cover artist, Dave Johnson.  Without Dave’s awesome covers, and he did the covers for every single issue plus all of the trade paperbacks, 100 Bullets would seem to be missing a little something.  His inimitable style, perhaps.

Dave Johnson 100 Bullets cover

Just an example of Dave Johnson's covers

You know I'm right. . .

Yeah, she's scary, but in a voodoo hot kinda way. . .

100 Bullets: Ugly, beautiful, gritty, crime noir at its best, using the comic book medium in ways it needs to be used more often.

**************************

Honorable Mentions:

We3, Obergeist: Ragnarok Highway, DC: The New Frontier, Grendel: Black, White And Red, Batman: Black And White, Grendel/Batman, Darwyn Cooke’s run on The Spirit: All of these deserved at least a mention here, and I’m sure I’m forgetting several more, but you know, I only have room for so much in my brain at one time.

Thanks for reading!

VS – 1.25.10

P.S. You may have noticed that many of the titles on this list were published by either Vertigo or Homage, which are imprints owned by DC Comics.  While Homage is no longer around, Vertigo is still putting out some of the best adult-oriented comics out there.  Aside from Preacher, Transmetropolitan, and 100 Bullets, the Vertigo line is also responsible for We3, John Constantine: Hellblazer, and goth cult favourite Sandman.  Vertigo takes the chances and publishes excellent creator-owned stuff with little in the way of censorship, thereby letting creators express themselves as they wish, and I love them to death for it.

My 10 Favourite Completed Series, 10-6

Posted in comic books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2010 by vagabondsaint

So, you may be wondering to yourself right now Who is this Vagabond Saint guy?  What sort of comics does he like?  Why should I listen to his opinions?  Does he like the same stuff I do?  Why does his blog smell like bacon?

Well, I’m going to try to answer most of those questions (you’re on your own about the bacon) by telling you, Dear Reader(s), what comics I like, what stories and writers and artists I am into.  If these choices agree with yours, well, so much the better and we can continue on in harmony.  If not, well, you can complain and be largely ignored in the comments section!  Everybody wins!

To start it all off, let’s begin with my favourite completed series.  They’re all available in trade paperbacks or hardback editions, so you can read the whole story for yourselves, which is why I chose to do these separate from the ongoing series.  Top ten only, or else we’ll be here all day, and keep in mind that these are in no particular order (except number one, of course).

10.  Preacher (1995-2000, DC/Vertigo, 66 issues plus one-shots and a 4-issue miniseries, writer: Garth Ennis, artist: Steve Dillon)

Preacher: Gone To Texas

So, Garth, why don't you have the book start off in Hell? What? It starts in Texas? Close enough, then. Carry on.

Preacher is the simple story of Jesse Custer, one man on a quest to find God.  Well, one man with a horrifically abusive family and a criminal past.  And possessed by a being that gives him the power of the Word of God, meaning that whoever hears him must do as he says.  And being pursued by a secretive worldwide organization dedicated to bringing about Armageddon.  And also being chased by an invulnerable, indefatigable killing machine in a leather duster.  And he’s joined by his trigger-happy ex-girlfriend and an alcoholic Irish vampire.  And God, hiding somewhere on Earth after abandoning His creation, doesn’t want to be found.  Okay, maybe it’s not so simple.

This was my real introduction to the warped, twisted, and possibly illegal mind of Garth Ennis, who has since become one of my favourite writers (and the only one that I suspect of seriously hating superheroes).  In addition to Preacher, Ennis also wrote The Pro (ever wonder what happens when a street prostitute gets super-powers?  Read The Pro and wonder no more) and the absolute best Punisher books ever written.  Without Garth Ennis on Punisher, neither one of those movies would have been made, and that’s probably a strike against him.  Let me rephrase that:  without Garth Ennis revitalizing the character of the Punisher and gaining a large fan following, Marvel Comics would never have had the chance to screw said fans over with two crappy movies.  There.  That’s better.  Back to Preacher.

Preacher starts off being about the search to find God, but really delves deeply into themes of friendship, love, camaraderie, forgiveness, and most importantly, searching for one’s self.  It’s gross at times, and violent a good part of the time, but don’t let that stand in the way of a great story with few lagging periods.  It also contains the brilliant solution of how to hurt a Texan who can command people with every word he says:  use assassins who don’t speak English.  I do have to note that, by the latter half of the series, Jesse Custer rarely uses that ability; for a while, you might even forget that he has it. . .until the explosive end, of course.

Also, the first trade paperback (pictured above) has this awesome quote from Joe R. Lansdale in his introduction: “It’s scarier than a psychopathic greased gerbil with a miner’s helmet and a flashlight and your bare asshole in sight.”  That guy has a definite way with words.

9. U.S. (1997, DC/Vertigo, two issues, Prestige Format, writer: Steve Darnall, artist/painter: Alex muthafucking Ross, suckas, and don’t you fuckin’ forget it)

Alex Ross is probably the most famous comic book cover painter.  His clean, photorealistic style makes people like me (who dig photorealism) drool.  He doesn’t do comic interiors very often, though (the 192 pages, plus covers, of Kingdom Come took him two years to do), so when he does, it’s usually something to be savoured, like Marvels, Kingdom Come, the DC treasury edition stories, or even Justice (in which he painted over someone else’s pencils).  Most people, however, probably know him for this image:

". . .what? She was like this when I found her."

In U.S., he does the interior art, which is the first thing I loved about the story.  The second, though no less important, is the story itself.

Our protagonist in U.S. is a white-bearded homeless guy.  He is down-and-out, desperate, lost, confused, and seems to speak primarily in quotes from politicians and celebrities of the past.  (“Give us twenty-two minutes and we’ll give you the world!” he tells two orderlies that are throwing him out of a hospital.)  He hears voices in his head that also speak in quotes, and, as he admits, he can no longer distinguish between the past and the present, between reality and fantasy.  Sometimes he’s walking the streets of an unnamed American city, sometimes he’s somewhere else entirely, talking to a wife he can’t remember from over 200 years ago, watching a man in a convertible get shot, being taken to a lynching by a talking Negro lawn jockey, or conversing with sick and dying Union soldiers.

The real problem, however, is that his fantasies aren’t fantasies at all – they’re history.  American history.  He’s there when Kennedy is shot and killed.  He’s there to see the real horror and corkscrews of a lynching and the fallacy of “freedom” for African-Americans in the early 20th century.  He’s at Andersonville, a Civil War prison for Union soldiers where, pressed 1,500 people per acre, there was no medical aid, the food had maggots in it, and the only water came from a nearby creek, downstream of the Confederate soldiers who used it for bathing and as a latrine.  He’s there in the Dustbowl, there at Dearborn when police fired on laid-off autoworkers in 1932, there for Shay’s Rebellion.  He doesn’t know why he’s being shown all these horrible things; the lawn jockey tells him it’s “because you need to know, that’s why!  Because you have a tendency to forget these things.”

His name is Sam. . .but is he still the Uncle?

Steve Darnall wrote what is, in my reading, one of the hardest, most unforgiving looks at American history in comic form – nothing about this is glorious, nothing sugarcoated or gussied up to be all pretty.  It’s harsh, it hurts, and, if you are like me, it’ll make you look a little closer at America and where it’s been over the years.  Few other graphic novels have had the impact on me that this book has; it influenced my writing in a major way.

Sadly, the trade paperback of U.S. is out of print.  Luckily, DC published an hardcover deluxe edition of it in October.  If you can’t find a copy of the trade paperback online somewhere or in a shop (or if you don’t get really lucky and find the original issues in a comic shop’s dollar bin after you lent your copies to someone who never fucking returned them), then the  deluxe edition is an option, and one well worth the $20.  (Amazon has it cheaper than that.)

P.S.  U.S. is so good that I stopped writing this list for a bit to go read it again.  Just saying.

8. World War Hulk (2007, Marvel, 5 issues plus too many tie-ins to be named, main series writer: Greg Pak, main series artist: John Romita Jr.)

While most of the books on this list are thought-provoking and reflective works on themese such as friendship, loyalty, religion, history, and journalism (next entry), sometimes I’m just in the mood for a good old-fashioned mindless slugfest.  You must sometimes have those “mindless entertainment” moods too, otherwise Michael Bay would be homeless, half of Hollywood would be unemployed, the Twilight books wouldn’t have become bestsellers, and the romance novel industry wouldn’t dominate sales charts.

So when I’m in the mood for a good punch-up, where do I go?

Straight to World War Hulk, do not stop, do not pass go!

Here’s the set -up:  tired of having to clean up after the Hulk’s rampages, the leading heroes of the Marvel Universe, Iron Man, Reed Richards, Black Bolt, and Dr. Strange (Professor Xavier was busy that day, but we’ll get to that shortly) decide to send the Hulk into outer space, to an uninhabited planet where he can smash to his heart’s content and be left alone.  However, the space ship that they tricked him onto went into a wormhole (whoops) and ended up on an inhabited planet (whoops) where a cruel emperor maintained his rule through slavery and gladatorial combat (double whoops).  Long story spoiled and shortened, the Hulk fights in the arena, beats the holy hell out of anyone that crosses him, makes some friends, starts a revolution, takes over the planet, marries and impregnates the now-deceased emperor’s bodyguard (it’s not like she liked the emperor all that much anyway), and appears to be heading straight towards a happy ending. . .when the ship he arrived in, brought into the capital as part of a commemorative display, blows up and wipes out everybody but the Hulk and a few of his friends (super-big-fucking whoops).

I’m sure we are all familiar with the notion that “the madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk is,” right?  Well, this is the Hulk mad beyond mad; this is the Hulk super-pissed, on the highest levels of pisstivity.  This is like Reed Richards and Iron Man and the others peed in his cornflakes, screwed his wife, his daughter, and his dog as a prelude to shoving his toothbrush up their arses and gangbanging his mother. . .then making billboards, Facebook accounts, and TV commercials with pictures of all of it.

hulk

Goddamn, that green motherfucker is pissed.

In World War Hulk, Hulk and his new friends borrow a spaceship from some of his other alien pals and head to Earth, determined to make the people who sent him away pay.  What follows is one of my absolute favourite slugfests of all time, as the Hulk stops by the moon to beat the tar out of Mr. “my merest whisper can level mountains” Black Bolt, previously regarded as one of the most powerful douchebags around.  After that, and Hulk’s order to the people of New York (because everything happens in New York in the Marvel Universe) to bring him the ones who sent him away or get smashed, Iron Man straps on his special “Hulkbuster” armor, designed just for such an occasion, and gets his metal-clad ass beat.  Reed Richards and the other clowns in the Fantastic Four get it next, even though Reed stretched himself as thin as possible, not realizing that this was a Hulk who could punch microbes into submission.  Dr. Strange gets his hands broken and his ass handed to him after using mystical powers to punch a hole through the Hulk.  Everybody else that shows up to challenge the Hulk also takes a beating, including the Avengers, Ghost Rider, the US Army,

In the final issue, the Hulk faces the most powerful being in the Marvel Universe, the Sentry.  It’s an epic battle, to say the least:  Hulk is the angriest he’s ever been and the Sentry can finally cut loose and unleash his “power of a million exploding suns” (wouldn’t that pretty much wipe out Earth?).  They knock each other into space, they level entire city blocks from the shockwaves of their punches, and in the end they pound each other so hard that their powers run out and we’re left with Bruce Banner and Robert Reynolds, the Sentry’s alter ego, punching each other in the face until one of them falls.  It’s a mindless slugfest without peer.

As for the tie-ins, the best of those was World War Hulk: X-Men, in which the Hulk takes a side trip to upstate New York to ask Professor Xavier how he would have voted if he’d been present when the decision was made to send him away.  What follows is the Hulk, alone, taking on every still-living member of the X-Men, Excalibur, X-Factor, the X-Babies, the XFL, zombie Malcolm X, and anybody else with an X in front of or behind their name – and smashing them all, including Wolverine, and you know I’m always down to see Wolverine take one.  (The invulnerable girl, M, gets kicked out of the state and told to “go be invulnerable in Jersey.”  To the solid-stone guy who can control his limbs even if they are detached:  “Can you still control them if they’re in Connecticut?” Hint: no.)  More face-breakin’ goodness from the Hulk.

7.  Transmetropolitan (1997-2002, DC/Helix/Vertigo, 60 issues plus 3 or 4 one-shots, writer: Warren Ellis, artist: Darick Robertson)

My longtime follower knows I loves me some Transmet.  The hilarious, often drug-fueled, truth-seeking adventures of Spider Jerusalem are just irresistible and should be required reading for anyone that cares about journalism, politics, or excellent stories.

When the story starts, Spider has been retired for five years and lives alone and hairy in a mountain cabin.  Reminded that he still owes his last publisher two books, he’s forced to come down from the mountain and re-immerse himself in The City, in journalism and politics, the very things that drove him out of The City five years ago.

Transmet is one of those works about which I can’t say enough and yet can’t say much without giving it all away.  While I’ve given a lot of spoilers out so far, the twists and turns of Transmet definitely need to be experienced – so I’ll just implore you go to get it and dive into this wonderfully trippy sci-fi world that Ellis and Robertson created.

P.S.  If, like me, you can’t get enough of Transmet’s bizarre-yet-somehow-vaguely-plausible sci-fi world, try to track down City of Silence, by Ellis with art by Gary Erskine, published by Image.  It predates Transmet (though wasn’t published until after Transmet started) and takes place in a world that is, if not the exact same world, certainly eerily similar.

6. Kingdom Come (1996, DC, 4 Prestige Format issues, writer: Mark Waid, painter/artist: Alex “Badass with a Brush” Ross)

If I could make only one comic book into a movie, this would be it.

I’ll let Wikipedia handle a quick summation:

Set some twenty years into the future of the then-current DC Universe, it deals with a growing conflict between “traditional” superheroes, such as Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Justice League, and a growing population of largely amoral and dangerously irresponsible new vigilantes. Between these two groups is Batman and his assembled team, who attempt to contain the escalating disaster, foil the machinations of Lex Luthor, and prevent a world-ending superhuman war.  The series draws heavily on Biblical apocalyptic imagery, especially that of the Book of Revelation.

They don’t manage to prevent the war, by the way.

It’s a great book, and it will really affect the way you see superheroes and their moral codes, especially the one against killing; in fact, it is the Metropolis public’s endorsement of the hero that killed the Joker (after a murder spree at the Daily Planet that also killed Lois Lane) and his acquittal at trial for the crime that drives Superman into retirement, ten years before Kingdom Come starts.  And that, of course, leads other heroes to quit and fosters the “amoral and dangerously irresponsible” semi-heroes that replace them.

The other thing I like about Kingdom Come is that it more clearly delineates the differences between DC’s Big Three – Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman – along ideological lines.  They’re all heroes, they all want to help and protect people, but how they do it is the biggest difference between them, and Waid does more exploration of that difference than I’ve ever seen, before or since.  To me, this is Waid’s Watchmen; this is his unsurpassable superhero magnum opus.

So that’s my first five – next we get into the really good shit!

VS – 1.23.10