Archive for graphic novels

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

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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