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2013 YiR: My 10 Favorite Comic Series

Posted in 2013 year in review, book review, comic books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2014 by vagabondsaint

And now, my 10 favourite comic series of 2013, presented in no particular order (except #1):

#10. Batwoman (until #25)

Batwoman #17 cover by J.H. Williams III

I’ve already discussed how badly DC ruined Batwoman by losing the creative team of W. Haden Blackman and J.H. Williams III, so there’s no need to rehash that here. I will just say that, while I’m not trying to hate on the current creative team of Marc Andreyko and Trevor McCarthy, they’re just not as good as Blackman and Williams were.  Nowhere near it, and McCarthy’s attempts to give us a little Williams-esque work with flowing, irregular panels and unusual perspectives just makes me miss Williams more.  But the book was great before #25, so it’s on this list.

#9. Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman #20 cover by Cliff Chiang

Brian Azzarello is just not a superhero writer.  His work on the crime noir epic 100 Bullets was fantastic, of course, and his run on Hellblazer got me back into liking John Constantine (before DC ruined Constantine in the New 52), but his Batman and Superman stories were less brilliant (though the Batman stories are pretty good).  His dirty, gritty, morally-grey, doublespeak style just isn’t  suited to the brightly-colored, black-and-white morality of the spandex set, and that’s okay.

When it was announced that he was going to be writing Wonder Woman in the New 52, I was skeptical. Even with artist Cliff Chiang (whom I’ve loved since the Beware the Creeper mini-series – pick it up if you can find it), I didn’t think Azzarello could pull it off.  How could he? He’s just not a superhero guy!

Apparently Brian Azzarello knew that too, because Wonder Woman is not a superhero comic book. Yes, it stars Wonder Woman, of course, but if you’re expecting big fights against supervillains in colorful costumes and an arc of morality tales every 4 to 6 issues, you’re in for a delightful disappointment.

Instead, Azzarello made Wonder Woman into what basically amounts to a family squabble writ large – writ as large as possible, really, since the family involved is the pantheon of Greek Gods.  In its 30 issues so far, there hasn’t been a hint of anything like a supervillain appearing, just gods pissed off at each other over things that would land normal humans on a week-long episode of Jerry Springer.

And it works.

Kudos to Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang for making a book starring a superhero into a brilliant mythological journey, where the gods are every bit as petty, vain, short-sighted, conflict-laden, and selfish as the humans that are supposed to worship them.  I’ll be sad when their run ends this year.

#8. Superior Spider-Man

Superior Spider-Man #22 cover by Guiseppe Camuncoli

You should be reading this comic.  Why are you not reading this?  Hurry up before Peter Parker comes back!

Long story short: Otto Octavius, aka Doctor Octopus, swapped minds with Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, and let his own body die with Parker still inside it.  Since then, Otto has been determined to be a better Spider-Man than Peter Parker ever was, and oh boy, has he done it! He’s much more creative with using his powers, he’s become proactive against villains like the Kingpin, and he;s basically been kicking ass.  Go read this comic before Peter Parker comes back in a couple months.  Otto’s adventures have been hilarious.

And speaking of hilarious comics. . .

#7. Superior Foes of Spider-Man

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #7 cover by In-hyuk Lee

Boomerang.  The Shocker.  Speed Demon. The new Beetle. Overdrive.  These five has-been H-list villains have united to form the new SINISTER SIX! (And yes, they know there are only five.)

Actually, they got together because Boomerang promised them an easy score: procuring the cybernetic, still-living head of former crime boss Silvermane, reportedly lost when his cyborg body was destroyed.  Of course, Boomerang lied and double-crossed them, but how and why he did so makes for a great, highly entertaining read.

Writer Nick Spencer (who you will see again on my list of least-favorite series of 2013) has made these characters totally believable.  They went from Spider-Man punchlines to lovable-loser-type punchlines in their own book. I can’t say much more without spoilers, but trust me, this series is worth the read!

#6 : Transformers: Robots In Disguise and Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye

Transformers: Robots In Disguise #18 cover by Atilio Rojo & Casey Coller

Yes, I’m lumping these two together because they’re closely related (events in one affect events in the other) and they end up virtually combining for the their big Dark Cybertron crossover at the end of the year.

Transformers: RiD chronicles the adventures of the Transformers on Cybertron.  The War is over, and the planet is now led by a coalition government consisting of Bumblebee for the Autobots, Starscream for the Decepticons, and Metalhawk for those who did not choose a side in the war.  Meanwhile, Transformers: MTMTE follows the adventures of Rodimus (once Rodimus Prime) as he leads a group of Autobots through space, in search of the legendary Knights of Cybertron.

Notice what’s missing? HUMANS!

There are NO HUMAN BEINGS in these comics! That’s why these are my favorite Transformers comic series ever! Without people to constantly save and/or menace, the Transformers themselves have become much more human and much, much more relateable. They have been since the beginning, and this year they continued the trend with fun, occasionally dark stories leading up to one of the most organic-feeling crossovers I’ve ever read.  It felt like it flowed naturally from the stories, like they’d planned the whole thing from the beginning. . .but nobody does that, so that can’t possibly be the case.  Anyway, good stuff for Transformers/giant robots/good comics fans!

#5. Afterlife with Archie

Afterlife With Archie #2 cover by Francesco Francavilla

 

Starting in October, this series just barely made it into the 2013 list. . .but 2013 was a year that saved the best for last (the #3 book on this list also started around the same time and only got 2 issues in before the end of the year)!

Possibly the most unexpected Archie comic since 1994’s The Punisher Meets ArchieAfterlife with Archie is the brainchild of writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (who also adapted Stephen King’s The Stand for Marvel Comics) and artist Francesco Francavilla. In this series, the zombie apocalypse begins in Riverdale!

Without giving away too much, it goes like this: Reggie accidentally runs over and kills Jughead’s pet Hot Dog, then flees from the accident scene without telling anyone.  A grieving Jughead takes his dog to Sabrina (the teenage witch), who brings it back to life – but as a Pet Sematary-style creature that bits Jughead and. . .well, things go zombie from there pretty quick. And before you think I spoiled anything for you, let me tell you: that all happens in the first issue.  Things get considerably stranger from there!

One longtime character reveals their real sexual orientation, some siblings reveal their Lannister-like relationship, lots of familiar characters become zombies – and they’re just on issue 4!  It’s like Aguirre-Sacasa goes into writing every issue wondering how he can make it more of a mindf*** than the last one, and oh wow he succeeds every time!

If there is any must-read book on this list, I’m completely failing because they should ALL be must-reads.  But if you only choose one to just check out, make it this one.  It is a horror book, so I know it’s not for everyone, but if you’ve ever been an Archie fan, or thought Archie comics couldn’t be dark, moody, and exciting, read this book!

I should also note that Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa was named last month as Archie Comics’ first-ever Chief Creative Officer, and immediately tapped Lena Dunham (creator/writer of HBO’s series Girls) to write a miniseries for Archie Comics.  If he gets the whole company moving in the directions he wants, maybe next year they’ll be my Publisher of the Year, instead of just being 2013’s runner-up (that’ll be in a later post).

#4: Life with Archie

Life With Archie #27 "Grill of Thrones" variant cover by Mike Norton

This might be my favorite cover of the year. . .

I have never made a secret of my love for this book, and 2013 gave me no reasons to stop loving it.

If you’re not familiar with Life With Archie, I’ll give you the basics: every issue is split into two stories.  One story follows a future timeline in which Archie married Betty; the other follows a timeline in which Archie married Veronica. Hijinks and the best soap opera ever committed to the comics page ensue.

LWA already made headlines with the marriage of Kevin Keller to his boyfriend Clay Walker in #16 (which is going for about $35 on Ebay in excellent condition) and its willingness to address social issues in 2012. So what happened in 2013?

Well, in Archie Marries Veronica: Veronica and Archie have left Lodge Industries only to have their careers manipulated unknowingly by Lodge’s rival Fred Mirth, Kevin Keller ran for a US Senate seat with Veronica’s help, reality-show star Reggie gets talked into causing fights with his girlfriend Betty to increase ratings (nice commentary on “reality” TV there, writer Paul Kupperberg!), and Veronica gets framed for corruption!

In Archie Marries Betty: Betty’s successes at work make Archie jealous, Veronica helps Cheryl Blossom start a breast cancer foundation, Jughead has to deal with his sister Jellybean’s shady new boyfriend and Midge’s difficult pregnancy, Reggie’s dad is trying to recover from a heart attack, Reggie runs ragged trying to take his dad’s place at the Riverdale Gazette, and Veronica is running Kevin Keller’s Senate campaign, which Reggie is hesitant to endorse, and Mr. Weatherbee is trying to find new love after the death of Mrs. Grundy!

It’s still a fun, occasionally sad, book. . .but it will also be ending this year with #36, so once that happens, you’ve no excuse for not giving it a read!

#3. A Voice In The Dark

A Voice in the Dark #1 cover by Larime Taylor

 

 

A Voice in the Dark also started late in the year, but it jumped right out of the gate and onto this list in much the same way that Afterlife With Archie did.

Why?

First of all, bi-racial female protagonist. From Seattle.  So, right out of the box we’ve got a decidedly atypical protagonist.

Second, the protagonist is a murderer. I’m not spoiling anything here; she says it pretty quick in the first issue.

But instead of being about her killing more peoplethis story is about her struggling with dark urge to kill as she deals with the normal frustrations that all of us encounter – up to and including stupid people.  How would your daily interactions change if you knew you could kill someone and probably get away with it?

When our protagonist Zoey (extra points for not giving the bi-racial protagonist a stereotypical name) starts college in a small California town, she decides to start a college radio call-in show. Her format is that people can call in anonymously and discuss their darker, deepest, most hidden thoughts and desires. It goes horribly wrong with the very first call.

Also, this small California town has a serial killer of its own – so what’s going to happen when they meet?

A Voice in the Dark is a well-written and beautifully-illustrated book (also unusually-illustrated, but I’m not going to tell you how), and is pleasantly grounded in reality.  It intrigued me from the very first issue and has kept me there. . .so much so that I buy an extra copy of issues for a friend to read!

#2. Sex Criminals

COVER OF THE YEAR! Sex Criminals #1 cover by Chip Zdarsky and Matt Fraction

COVER OF THE YEAR! Note that this is the cover of the FOURTH printing of #1. A sixth and possibly final printing came out last month.

 

Yeah, I’m on the Sex Criminals bandwagon. I bought the first printing of the first issue, then bought the fourth printing because just look at that awesome cover.

Sex Criminals is about Suze, a woman who discovers that time stops when she has an orgasm, leaving only her unaffected.  When she meets a man with the same amazing ability, hilarity and hijinks ensue.

My favourite quotes from issue 1:

“So I did what any otherwise good, emotionally-frozen, role model-less girl would do the day after rubbing one out the first time.”

“come to our awesome PARTY where for 5 BUCKS you can DRINK while SAVING BOOKS from destruction at the hands of the S***HEAD BANK that foreclosed the library oops sorry I didn’t mean to write the word S***HEAD on a PUBLIC POSTER”

“This book is dedicated to the brave men and women who love 2 f***”

Yes, this IS a mature readers title. It’s a coming (ha!) of age story, it’s a crime saga, it’s a love story, it’s hilarious.  The best part of the book is when Young Suze is forced to go to the “Dirty Girls” at school for advice on sex.  What follows is a montage of (hopefully) made-up sexual positions with hilarious names like “twerging,” “brimping,” and “auto-erotic twerging.” No way in hell I’m showing the images here.  If Chip Zdarsky wants me to, he can draw them up and send them to me.

The second issue is where the book really takes off, with the first Sex Criminals letter column!  My favorite quotes from that:

“EGGS. EGGS IS MY PROBLEM.”

“HI DANIEL YOU SOUND SEXXXXY.”

“Thanks for writing and KEEP ON RUBBIN'”

Those were the safest things I could say without needing a ton of asterisks.

Anyway, go read Sex Criminals, if you’re mature enough, and can handle sex and crime and funny.

#1. Saga

Saga

 

Yep, another immensely popular comic book.  My shop-owning friend literally cannot keep copies of the Saga trades in his shop.  When the third trade came out last month, he ordered 35 copies and took barely a week to sell them all.  That only sounds low if you don’t live in Seattle, where there is a comic book shop every 3 miles. In a really saturated market, that’s a lot.

But Saga, unlike, say, Fifty Shades of S***ty Erotic Writing or Twilight, is actually good.  Brian K. Vaughan has crafted a well-written sci-fi story of forbidden, unlikely lovers on the run from both sides of an interplanetary war.

Wow, that was actually a really good summation.

Of course, Vaughan’s writing isn’t the only reason to read this book. Fiona Staples’ art is just so beautiful.  She captures expressions and body language perfectly.  Her characters are detailed and lush, even when you wish they weren’t (Chapter Seven), and her aliens are fascinating xenobiological forms.

Look, I could natter on and on and on about Saga (especially considering that my favorite comics moment of 2013 happens in it).

But really, I’d just rather you went out and bought the first trade and read it.  Seriously, this book has a legion of fans for one reason and one reason only: it’s a damn good book.

In fact, it’s my #1 favorite comic of 2013!

VS – 4.22.14

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

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

2010 In Review Month Begins!

Posted in 2010 in review, comic books with tags , , , , on January 2, 2011 by vagabondsaint

Now that 2010 is over (and not a moment too soon; jeesh, what a rough year) and we’ve escaped it mostly intact (I’ll miss you, left pinky toe – you were my favourite pinky toe!), it’s time to take a look back, scratch our heads, say “that was great,” or “that sucked” or “WTF was that?”.

So, all this week I’ll be doing articles about the best and worst of 2010!

See you soon, with the first article, “The Best Comics-Related News Story of 2010”!

VS -1.2.10

Cover Letters #2

Posted in comic books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2010 by vagabondsaint

More fun with covers!

"Now might be a good time to do so."

"Excuse me, miss, but have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?"

"I know you fight robots and all, but did you have to steal Aquaman's shirt to do it? And you couldn't have put pants on first?" (From Magnus, Robot Fighter #2, featuring a not-at-all surprise appearnce by Li'l Magnus "It's Cold In Here, Alright?" RF)

"Ebony. . .and ivory. . .live together in perfect. . .harmony. . ."

The Green Hornet: You might defeat him, but he'll give you a wicked Purple Nurple on his way out.

Hulk: *sob* You never. . .you never really loved me!" Wolverine: "I'm sorry. I didn't want it to be this way."

 

Next week: More editorial errors!

VS – 11.2.10

The Best Book You’re Probably Not Reading, #1

Posted in brilliance, comic books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2010 by vagabondsaint

If you’re like me, or millions of other people out there, you probably spent at least a little bit of your childhood reading Archie comics.  Archie, for the 6 people out there who have no idea who I am talking about, is the red-headed all-American caucasian teenager growing up in the all-American small town of Riverdale, umm, Riverdale. . .okay, it’s never actually said what state Riverdale is in, but I’m gonna guess it’s not far from Springfield, where The Simpsons live, and only a couple hours west of Gotham City.  Hope that helps.  Anyway, Archie Andrews is has been in high school forever and is perpetually trapped in a love triangle between two unreasonably attractive women:  blond, girl-next-door-type beauty Betty Cooper, and rich-girl princess Veronica Lodge.  The comics have always been compilations of vignettes about his adventures with his best friend Jughead, romantic rival Reggie, and peripheral characters like ill-tempered and highly jealous Moose, Moose’s girlfriend Midge, Sabrina the Teenage Witch (yes, the one played by Melissa Joan Hart in the ’90s TV series), L’il Ambrose, supergenius Dilton, soda shop owner Pop Tate, and Chuck and Nancy, apparently the only people of colour that live in Riverdale.  The stories are always pretty basic, humourous, and the end of each story usually returned things to the status quo.

In case that got boring, though, there were always the spy stories of Archie as “The Man From R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.”, Archie as superhero Pureheart the Powerful, The Mighty Archie Art players taking on Shakespeare and various other plays with a humourous take, et cetera. . .there were many variations of the character, but one thing remained constant: nobody ever grew up, nothing really ever changed.  Archie and friends never graduated, the 50s-style soda shop they frequented never closed down. . .in short, nothing real ever happened, and the comics were kept strictly divorced from whatever was going on in the real world.

Growing up, you probably read a little of these comics, maybe a lot.  But then you started changing, and Archie and company didn’t.  You sprouted hair in odd places and got funny feelings whenever non-familial members of the opposite sex (or, for some of you, the same sex) were around.  Archie never seemed to experience these things.  You had to start wearing deodorant; Archie never seemed to have body odor issues.  You faced all the myriad dramas of high school and found they didn’t end after five pages; Archie always had his problems solved in usually less than that and everything was cool again.  Archie never got drunk or hacked his lungs out trying to smoke a cigarette because he thought it would make him look cool.  Archie was only broke when it was funny; you learned the hard way it’s never funny to be broke.

In short, you grew up.  Archie and his friends did not.

So you left them behind, probably without even so much as a wave.  that’s how it’s been for the past 60 or so years of Archie:  he never changes.

Until this year.

Earlier this year, Archie comics ran a six-issue miniseries in the pages of Archie called “Archie Marries Betty/Archie Marries Veronica,” in which Archie walks down a strange path and is shown a future in which he married Veronica.  After three issues of that, Archie walks back down the path, takes a different fork, and is shown a future in which he married Betty instead. (I haven’t read this story yet, but I may buy the trade paperback when it comes out.)  It was a well-received story that got a lot of media coverage, but ultimately, it wasn’t real and Archie comics went back to their static world.

Sometime between then and now, Archie had his first interracial relationship with Nancy (there really weren’t any other black people in town besides Chuck, and I don’t think comic readers are ready for Archie to go black and bi at the same time), which was a bit of a long-overdue shock, but also a sign that maybe Archie’s world was opening up to the changing face of America and different societal attitudes towards interracial relationships.  It’s not much of a step for ward for Archie – really, that’s just taking him from the 50s to the 70s – but it’s a step nonetheless.

After that, someone had the idea to introduce a gay character to Archie’s world (the first openly gay character; Pop Tate’s always been in the closet), and so, that happened this year, a sign that Riverdale is becoming more diverse (and more fabulous!)  That was pretty recent, so we’ll see how that goes over with Archie’s fan base, most of whom may be asking their parents some uncomfortable questions soon. (To be fair, I did have some people that don’t normally buy Archie comics buy the issue debuting the new gay character.  I hope they do right by those new fans.)

And finally, someone at Archie Comics Publications headquarters said, “Hey, what if we kept telling the story of Archie being married, in two separate stories?  And we made it a lot like a soap opera?  And Mr. Lodge, Veronica’s dad, was a prick in both worlds?”

Ergo, Life with Archie: The Married Life, the best book you’re probably not reading.  In Life with Archie, Archie has finally followed you into adulthood. . .and found that life sucks.

Life with Archie contains two serial stories: one of Archie’s life being married to Veronica, one in which he is married to Betty.  While you might think this is the same thing as the miniseries I mentioned before, there is a difference, one I won’t discuss here so as not to give out spoilers.

To not give away too much, Life with Archie is the BESTEST MOST AWESOME ARCHIE BOOK I’VE EVER READ. This is a more mature book, though minus the more mature language and sex, keeping it still safe for more mature kids.

In the first serial story, Archie’s married to Veronica, wealthy, and unhappy – his wife is his boss and too busy with work and her father to pay much attention to him, he’s in charge of ruining the soda shop so Mr. Lodge can buy it cheap, his best friend won’t talk to him, and there’s nothing he can do about it.  His friends aren’t doing much better:  Midge left Moose because of his temper and jealousy, Jughead is fighting a losing battle to keep the soda shop afloat, Reggie works for Veronica and hates it, Betty is lonely and miserable, Dilton has mysteriously disappeared, and Mr. Lodge is secretly buying up the city as fast as he can to put up shopping malls and condos (okay, that part kind of has a populist-leaning edge to it – the wealthy millionaire as greedy, heartless money-grubbing developer – that’s all too close to the real world; if you live in Seattle or most other major cities you know exactly what I’m talking about). . .this is not the happy and unchanging rainbow-laden Riverdale you remember.  It’s roughly 3 million times better.  Yes, it’s a fresh coat of soap-opera paint on old Riverdale, but Archie wears it so well that you won’t care.

Between the two stories lies a vale of ‘tween-age crap that you’re better off skipping over and forgetting you ever saw.

In the second story, Archie marries Betty and is. . .also miserable.  He’s just miserable and poor, which is always worse than being miserable and rich.  Archie and Betty have moved to New York, so that Betty can work in the fashion world and Archie can make a go of his music career. . .which of course didn’t happen.  Archie can’t get decent gigs to save his life, and Betty, who works at Sacks 6th Avenue, has to take a pay cut in order to keep her job, when her earnings already were barely keeping them afloat.  Back in Riverdale, Jughead is having a hard time keeping the soda shop afloat, Moose has been dumped but he’s not ready to let Midge go yet, Reggie’s broke and unemployed, Chuck and Nancy are encountering difficulties in keeping their comic book shop going, and their old high shcool teacher Mrs. Grundy is dying of cancer, a revelation that causes the principal to propose to her. . .and Dilton has mysteriously vanished while studying parallel universes.

And that’s all in the first issue.

The second issue of Life with Archie is filled with even more twists and catches; there’s a happy scene in the “Archie Marries Betty” side that seems great. . .until the next page makes you realize that lifting your arms to cheer good news only makes it easier to get punched in the gut by bad news.

As Bill Ellis (one of my English professors) would say, “It’s good stuff!

And indeed it is.  It’s so good, in fact, that I was interrupted while raving about it to a customer in the shop I work in by another customer who said, “I’m sorry, I know you weren’t talking to me, but you just totally sold me on that book.  Where is it?”

If you have any fondness at all for Archie and his friends, you have to read Life with Archie.  You owe it to yourself to see how well Archie has grown up, and how fascinating this trip into soap-opera real-life drama is.

If you don’t have any fondness for Archie, read it anyway.  It’s solidly-written and drawn in an art style that’s a beautiful homage to the late, great, definitive-yet-tragically-underappreciated Archie Comics artist, Dan DeCarlo.

Basically, go buy the book.  Now.  It’s worth it.

VS – 9.11.10

The 2007 MCVBSHOTY Award

Posted in comic books with tags , , , , , , , on March 17, 2008 by vagabondsaint

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for. . .

The 2007 Marvel Comics Victimized Black SuperHero Of The Year Award!!!!

But before we name this year’s (2007) winner, let’s take a look back at last year’s winner: Black Goliath.

Oh, Black Goliath, you so totally died in vain.

Bill Foster, a.k.a. Black Goliath: became a victim of The Man in Civil War #4.

In brief: During Marvel’s Civil War event, superheroes split into two camps: hero-in-a-can Iron Man’s supporters of the Super Hero Registration Act (which required all superheroes to reveal their true identities to the US Federal Government, an organization known for its tight focus, lack of security leaks, and unwillingness to use personal information against people; those who didn’t register would be considered vigilantes and have warrants issued for their arrest) (you know, that’s happened to Batman like 6 times in the past decade. He just beats people up until they leave him alone again. Bunch of nancies in that Marvel Universe, I swear), and patriotic octogenarian Captain America’s group of rebels. Black Goliath sided with Captain America. In a desperate bid to bring the rebels back in line, Iron Man and Reed Richards (scientist supreme and stretchy leader of the Fantastic Four) built a clone of then-missing Norse thunder god Thor and sent it out to fight the rebels. This was a very bad move. . .for Black Goliath. BG grew big and tall and strong, and the clone shot him with a bolt of lightning. The clone killed BG, and afterwards? The clone got destroyed by Greek demigod Hercules; Reed Richards and Iron Man were convicted of manslaughter in the first degree and sent to prison for 10-15 years.

Oh, wait, that’s what should have happened.

The clone was in fact destroyed by Hercules, but for making the weapon that killed America’s tallest black superhero, Iron Man and Reed Richards got nothing. Slap on the wrist? Not a stern letter from the NAACP, not even a harsh look from Jesse Jackson. But the sacrifice of Black Goliath inspired Captain America to fight on until the rebels won and the SHRA was revoked.

Oh, wait. . .

3 issues after the death of Black Goliath, Captain America surrendered himself into federal custody after seeing numerous buildings get destroyed in a battle with Iron Man’s troops. Let me sum this up for you. Buildings get destroyed, Captain America quits. Building-sized black man gets killed, Captain America hardly notices. He didn’t even make an inspiring speech, and this is a man who made inspiring and patriotic speeches when people got busted for jaywalking. Or when he found a pair of shoes that fit. Or when he got his food from the McDonald’s drive-through and they got his order exactly right (which, honestly, is a pretty momentous occasion). (Hey, remember that federal government that wanted all the heroes to surrender their secret identities to them? That just happens to be the same federal government that let Captain America get shot and killed while in their custody. Bet that inspired people to trust them, eh?)

To be fair, when the real Thor came back, he beat the snot out of Iron Man in roughly three pages, but that was more for daring to make a clone of Thor than the fact that it killed Black Goliath.

Black Goliath: hero, afro-wearer, needless shock-value repercussion-free death.

So, that’s Black Goliath, winner of the 2006 MCVBSHOTY award.

And now, the 2007 Marvel Comics Victimized Black Superhero Of The Year:

GAUNTLET!!!!!!!!

Gauntlet

Gauntlet, in less comatose times; kept down for good in Avengers: The Initiative #7.

Gauntlet and his mighty alien-tech arm, from which he took his powers and name, went from serving in the US military to becoming the drill instructor to a new class of heroes in the post-Civil War Initiative Program, which was designed to put a team of well-trained registered superheroes in each of the 50 states. Gauntlet was in charge of the California team (California doesn’t have enough heroes already?) and was merciless in training them.

And then, in Full Metal Jacket style, one of his trainees decided to take him out.

Which one of the young powerhouses under his command marshalled up their awesome power and unleashed that power in epic battle against Gauntlet, ultimately triumphing over his strong will and military training?

Slapstick.

Slapstick.

This guy. Seriously.

Fucking Slapstick, for God’s sake.

A military sergeant with super-powers gets taken down in a sneak attack by a guy with a stretchy cartoon body, a giant mallet, and no genitalia? What the fuck?

Gauntlet doesn’t die from the attack (I would have, out of pure embarrassment if nothing else) but instead goes into a coma, from which he is revived only long enough to completely fail to identify his attacker, and then he’s put back into his coma so the government can steal his gauntlet and give it to somebody else. Is there just no end to the indignities here? Why not go ahead and take pictures of him naked and comatose with various vegetables in various orifices? It wouldn’t be any more humiliating than what he’s already been through. What could make his beating and subsequent coma worse?

I’m glad you asked! Due to the government’s need to keep the Initiative program looking squeaky clean, the attack is hushed up and the true perpetrator is never found, i.e., Slapstick gets away with it. He tries to confess to his friends, but is always comically interrupted. Let me repeat that: Slapstick gets away with it.

The message here is clear. In the Marvel Comics Universe, beating and/or killing black superheroes can be done with impunity. Nothing will happen to you, and, if done in the proper circumstances, the government will help you cover it up. Seriously, Marvel, somebody needs to have a talk with Grand Dragon Quesada over there. No justice for Black Goliath, no justice for Gauntlet. . .what the hell is wrong with you people? This wouldn’t happen with any of DC’s prominent black heroes, like Black Lightning and. . .ummm. . .Vixen! Vixen and. . .ummm. . .ummmm. . .hmmmm. . .hang on, I know there’s another one. . .

Well anyway, that’s it for this year’s Marvel Comics Victimized Black Superhero Of The Year! Join us next year! Who will it be? Storm? Black Panther? Triathlon? Falcon? Triathlon? Triathlon? Please, Triathlon*?

Thanks for being here!

Now get out.

Really.

Get out.

 

 

* = Please, Triathlon? The lamest character of any colour in a long, long, long time? Please?