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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

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Worst Comics of 2010

Posted in 2010 in review, comic books, the complete opposite of brilliance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2011 by vagabondsaint

So once again, because I am horribly lazy, I’m taking ComicsAlliance’s list of the worst comics of 2010 and added my comments on them.  Luckily, I read most of them this year, so I can comment on them.

5.  VAGINAPOCALYPSE TIE — Titans: Villains for Hire and Nemesis #3

I read Titans: VfH and hated it.  The needless death of Ryan Choi, who was breathing new life into the tired costume of The Atom, really pissed me off.  Worse than that, though, was the death-by-burning-vagina of a child molester.  I’m thinking he had it coming, but still, a character who burns people to death with her vagina?  Come on DC, I know it’s a comic book, but really?  I would love to have been at that meeting.

WRITER: Okay, I got it, it’ll make the book dark and edgy for not for kids.

EDITOR: Hang on, I gotta finish this bottle of Mad Dog first.  Alright, Whatcha got?

WRITER: It’s a woman named Cinder, who has flame powers, but get this: she burns a guy to death with her vagina.

EDITOR:  Love it!

WRITER:  Really?

EDITOR:  I meant the Mad Dog, but your idea is good too, all three of you.

This is the only way I can imagine this idea being approved.

Having given up on Mark Millar some time ago, I didn’t read Nemesis.  That choice has now been validated.

4. JLA: Cry for Justice

This JLA-spinoff miniseries was just terrible.  James Robinson had a stellar run on Starman (ha!), but following it with this dreck made me wonder about his sanity. This did not bode well for his JLA run either, which goes down in history as the first book to make me miss Dwayne McDuffie’s writing.  At least the art was good.

The theory behind this team splitting off to become more pro-active, more aggressive, and chasing down the villains before they become threats, is fresh and new. . .for 1990.  Since then, there’s been Force Works, Fantastic Force, hell, even Justice League Task Force, and numerous other eminently forgettable books.  It’s been done before, it’s been done terribly before.  Cry For Justice made me cry for a better writer.  Even the “shock ending” of Green Arrow killing the villain (Prometheus, who had blown up most of GA’s hometown, blew off his adopted son’s arm, and killed his granddaughter) has been done before, in Mike Grell’s much-better Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters.

The art was good and was the best reason to buy the book.  Other than that, there’s nothing to see here people, please move along.

3. The Sentry: Fallen Sun

I’m just going to say this right now:  the Siege crossover was, by and large, completely f’in terrible.  I hated it.  It didn’t live up to the hype, didn’t even come close, and didn’t resolve all the issues it promised to resolve.  Some of the 83 bajillion spin-offs were good, but not many.

The “shocking spectacle” in issue #1 of thousands of people being killed during a battle between an Asgardian God and super-villains was exposed for a cheap plot device pretty quickly, as once it’s established as the flimsy excuse that Norman Osborn gives to invade Asgard, it’s never referenced again. A huge tragedy is forgotten about so fast that it seems like it never really happened.  In fact, just about all of this series is inconsequential.  The two major changes to the status quo, Norman Osborn’s fall from post-Secret Invasion grace and the death of the Sentry, actually do have some consequences, kind of.

One of those consequences, sadly, was the publication of The Sentry: Fallen Sun.

The Sentry, for those unfamiliar with the character, was created in 2000, following a marketing ploy that labelled the character as a “forgotten” Stan Lee character from the 1960s.  He was basically an overpowered Superman knock-off with crippling mental issues and an evil alternate personality, which explained why he wasn’t just wiping out villains left and right.

Anyway, this complete throwaway character finally died in the “shocking” anti-climax of Siege.  In its aftermath followed this memorial issue, Fallen Sun, which was actually worse than Siege.  The retconning of the Sentry into Marvel history was terribly, as everyone shared poignant moments that never happened.  And he was somehow immune to Rogue’s powers, so she slept with him?  What the fuck, Marvel?  Shouldn’t that have come up a little sooner than a throwaway scene in a throwaway comic about a throwaway character?

To sum it up, this book made me wish I was reading Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose instead.  At least that book is hilarious in its terrible-ness; The Sentry: Fallen Sun is a memorial book that’s sad for all the wrong reasons.

2. Justice League: The Rise of Arsenal

JLA: Cry For Justice was the gift that kept on giving.  Like herpes.  The infection of CFJ gave us the blisters that were Rise of Arsenal.  It’s an attempt to make a B-level character more prominent, and it succeeds. . .just not the way that the editors intended.

Remember when I said the Green Arrow’s adopted son and sidekick Roy Harper got his arm blasted off in CFJ?  This is his adventures dealing with the loss of his natural arm and the gaining of a new prosthetic one, as arms are rather important to someone whose entire gimmick is shooting arrows at people.  To make things even worse, it was Roy’s daughter that Prometheus killed in CFJ, so he’s dealing with that too.

How does he deal?

By returning to the heroin habit that made him and Green Arrow relevant back in the 70s, trying to have sex with the same villainess that was the mother of his daughter and failing because he’s impotent, and hallucinating that a dead cat is his daughter and beating up a bunch of homeless guys that he thought were threatening it, and finally getting his ass kicked by his former teammate Dick Grayson, who used to be Robin but is now a friend-ass-kicking Batman.

You know, there’s a lot of potential for a deeply moving, serious story in the scenario I just described.  Said potential is left completely ignored, however, in favour of shock value, horrible dialogue, and cheap dramatic tricks.  Make no mistake, this is four issues of hilariously awful comics that could have been great, thought-provoking comics.

But hey, it’s like I always said:  if you can’t laugh at an impotent junkie beating up homeless people, then what can you laugh at?

1. Superman: Grounded

Oh, Straczynski.  I had such high hopes for you on Superman.  Superman takes a walking tour of America to get back in touch with the country?  Soooooooooooo much potential in that!

And you blew it.

Instead of learning, Superman seems to be trying to teach.  He spouts overly-worded monologues on simple moral points, he flies people into the stratosphere for asking simple questions, the bad guys he does deign to fight are overly ethnic. . .was this written by Republicans?

The one part of this I really liked is the last Straczynski issue, in which he states that one doesn’t have to be a superhero to stop child abuse, one only needs “a pair of eyes, a voice, a phone. . .and ten cents worth of compassion.”  While I agree with the anti-child abuse sentiment and that any normal person can and should act to prevent it, Superman’s description means that people with only one eye, mutes, and those too poor to afford phones are completely useless in the fight against child abuse, which is not the case at all.  Way to discount the handicapped and the poor, Superjerk.

The issue after that was one that I really liked, and I thought that maybe the series was finally picking up. . .until I checked the cover and saw that it was written by G. Willow Wilson, who creator-owned book Air bored me to tears, but she did a good job with Superman’s supporting cast.

Anyway, Straczynski’s off the book now, so here’s hoping it picks up in 2011.

Next up: eh, I haven’t really decided yet.

VS – 1.7.10

Adventures In Shoddy Editing, Part One

Posted in comic books, the complete opposite of brilliance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 2, 2010 by vagabondsaint

Being semi-literate comic books fans as we are, G (the other guy that works at the same shop I do) and I have noticed a recent rash spate epidemic of instances of shoddy editing in comic books.  He decided it would be a good idea if we scanned the mistakes and put them up on the internet, something I should have instantly recognized as corporate-speak for “you’re going to put them up on the internet.”  (For future reference: whenever anyone you know that works in a corporate environment tells you that “we” need to do something, they really mean and fully intend for you to do something.)

That said, yes, I do want to call attention to these mistakes because, as IBM’s James Mathewson points out here, the value of editors in the literary world seems to be declining in the face of cost-cutting expenditures.  This would be a bad idea.  Having worked as an editor for a small publisher, I can honestly say that we need editors more than ever, to maintain cohesion and language as schools lose funding.  I learned a lot of my vocabulary from books when I was growing up (and still mispronounce words that I’ve never actually heard anyone say yet); the value of books for extending the vocabulary and literacy of both children and adults has not lessened at all since I was a boy and dinosaurs roamed the earth.

The worst offender in the comics world? Far and away, it’s Marvel Comics.  The House of (Bad) Ideas is swiftly becoming the House of Bad Editing, as seen in this example from Heralds #2:

And sddenly, Marvel editors forgot how to use spellcheck. I have to remember, though, that nobody’s perfect. . .

X-Men vol. 83bajillion #1

. . .not even with mutant editing powers.

Spellcheck, to be fair, can be a huge pain in the ass that slows down the entire publishing process by upwards of 6 minutes a day.  So let’s hear it for those editors who, despite the enormous pressures they face, still use it!

New Avengers vol.2 #1

The conversation continues as follows:

Dr. Strange: Our word?

HellStrom: Yes.  They’re invading our word.

Dr. Strange: Our word?

HellStrom: To your mother.  Yes.

The invasion's first casualty. Yo Vanilla, RIP.

Don’t worry, true believers; we’ll get through this together. . .

Prince of Power #2

. . .or maybe not.

You know, perhaps we’re all just better off without. . .without. . .without something. . .I can’t remember what we’re better off without.  Frank Castle, do you remember?

PunisherMax #9

You heard the Punisher, kids: stay indoors!  We’re better off without out!

I think I hear DC editors snickering in the back. . .why are you guys laughing?  Look at these two mistakes from Justice League: Generation Lost #1:

"I just beat your ass with a pipe. I don't have to use the right words."

Give the DC editors credit for at least using spellcheck, even if they didn’t bother to make sure that the words were the proper choices.

The award (at least for this episode) for Worst Editorial Mistake goes to, you guessed it, Marvel Comics, for this mistake on the cover of Marvel Zombies #5:

While I’m sure that Mr. van Lante was thrilled to finally see his name on the cover of  a comic, I’m sure that Fred van Lente, who actually wrote the book, was less than amused.  Hopefully they spelled his name right on the checks.

Till next time, Excelsifore!

VS – 8.2.10

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

Location, Location, Location (Comic Book Gripe #1)

Posted in comic books with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2010 by vagabondsaint

So I do have  few complaints about comic books, and this one below here is the foremost among them.

Why does it seem that the majority of comic books take place in major cities only, on the East or West coasts of the US?  There’s a hell of a lot of land and people between the coasts, so why aren’t more stories set in the middle?  Not like murders and crime don’t happen there, you know.  You think Batman’s got it rough in Gotham?  What about Captain Motor in Detroit?  You think it’s a cakewalk for that guy?  He’s been laid off from his job at Ford and now spends his nights fighting crime in a suit he can’t afford to repair and often beating up his former coworkers!  There’s got to be some interesting stories in that!  Or Mr. Zulu, dark-skinned defender of Birmingham, Alabama?  That’s a guy who’s beset on all sides, between racist cops, racist criminals, racist government. . .hell, even his sidekick is probably racist!  And while swinging through the air to arrive at a crime scene might look cool, it’s a lot harder to do when there’s nothing but trailer parks for miles around.  (Aside from that, seeing him swinging around gives the locals bad ideas.)

I give a little more credit here to the DC Universe, for at least having more than one major East Coast city stuffed to the gills with superheroes.  Gotham, Metropolis, New York City, Bludhaven (is that one still around?  I can never remember. . .), Washington DC, etc. . .but they also have an overprotected East Coast.  All I know about on the West Coast for DC are the Titans, and I know Aquaman used to be there but I think he’s dead (again).  The Titans spend a lot of their time traveling and fighting each other anyway, so I don’t know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing for the West Coast.  And, last time I read, I think Green Arrow and Black Canary were stationed in Seattle, but it’s been a while since I’ve followed them.  Besides, Seattle is full of potheads and occasional gun-nuts.  It’s an easy city to defend.  If they wanted a real challenge, they’d move to Tacoma.

As for the Marvel Universe, well, ugh.  How is there any crime at all in Marvel’s New York City?  There’s the Avengers, Daredevil, Spider-man, Iron Man, Dr. Strange. . .damn near everybody in the Marvel Universe works out of NYC.  But of course, there is the 50-State Initiative, which put a superhero team in every state, but come on – some of these heroes are so far down the list they’d be laughed out of the Great Lakes Avengers.  Maybe Texas doesn’t deserve better, but the rest of the states do.

All I’m saying, comics writers, is that there’s a whole hell of a lot of country – and therefore a whole hell of a lot of stories – between the coasts.  They don’t have to be backwoods hicks just because they don’t live in a city of over a million people, and frankly, it’s rather insulting that all the heroes ever seem to encounter outside of the big cities are backwoods hicks.

I will admit, it’s a bit more challenging to write and illustrate outside of the big cities, because you don’t have landmarks to go by for setting and you lack instant audience recognition, meaning that the writer and artist have to build a believable world for the characters the hard way, from scratch.

That, however, is the best part.  If you’re not challenging yourself as a writer, then you certainly are not challenging your audience, and without a little challenge and thought-provoking and breaking outside of the big-city box, you end up with, well, boring comics.

And nobody wants that. . .no matter where they live.

VS – 1.12.10

The Worst Comics Of The Last Decade(?)

Posted in comic books, the complete opposite of brilliance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2009 by vagabondsaint

My new favourite website Comics Alliance has posted their list of the 15 worst comics of the past decade.  Me being who I am (a lazy writer), I thought I would weigh in on their choices and give my own opinions of the books they selected.  You might find it helpful to click that link, read their take, and then read mine, because they go into more detail on the comics and I’m too lazy to recap all that.

15.  Marville (2002)

I am a completist; if I start a miniseries, and can tolerably accept the first issue, I’ll give it a fair shot to get better or draw me in further.  After all, Marville was only a six-issue miniseries, so why not give it a chance?

I dropped it after the second issue.

That’s really all I need to say about it.

14.  Dark Knight Strikes Again (2001 – 2002)

I love The Dark Knight Returns.  It stands as one of my absolute favourite graphic novels ever.  It gets even better if one forgets this craptastic sequel ever existed.

Dark Knight Strikes Again is proof that Frank Miller, who wrote The Dark Knight Returns (among other landmark works such as Batman: Year One and Daredevil: Born Again) no longer gives a fuck.  The art was terrible, the dialogue was sub-sub-sub-par, the action was just plain ick, the plot was thinner than the paper it was printed on, I didn’t link to it just to spare you from knowing more about it than you absolutely have to. . .I could go on, but there are space limitations to consider, not to mention sanity considerations.  I don’t know how anyone, from Miller to the colorist to the editor to the mailroom clerks, thought publishing this festival of flying fecal matter was a good idea.  Adam West could have written a better Batman.  Adam West was a better Batman.

13.  Tarot, Witch Of The Black Rose (Entire Decade and counting)

Confession time:  I own a few issues of this title.  When it started, writer/artist Jim Balent was just fresh off his 77-issue Catwoman run, and as an artist, I liked him.  Sure, his women were a little on the physically-improbable side, but his linework was clean and he had good attention to detail.  The first few issues of Tarot were the same art style, and I liked that he’d actually done research into pagan rituals and Wiccan theology and used it in the book.  He also interviewed a “real” witch and put the interview in the issues, along with the Broadsword Girls, fans who sent in pictures of themselves and were published in the issues.  (Hey, some of them were pretty good-looking.)

Then something changed.

Balent went from improbable women to flat-out impossible women.  Tarot and the rest of the cast seemed to wear fewer and fewer clothes with each issue.  I like long-legged, busty women as much as the next six guys combined, but women with legs long enough to serve as emergency runways and breasts bigger than Guinness-listed watermelons are just ridiculous – so much so that I ended up dropping the title for no other reason than that Balent’s drawing hand appeared to have been taken over by his pubescent fantasies.

There was a lot of possibility for good story-telling, education on magic and Wicca, and a strong positive female lead, but – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – the boobs just got in the way.

Just too much boob. . .and I can't believe I wrote that.

12. Chuck Austen’s X-Men Run (2002-2004)

In general, I like Chuck Austen’s writing.  His run on Elektra was a decent segue between Bendis and Robert Rodi (whatever happened to that guy, anyway?), and his black-and-white, weekly U.S. War Machine miniseries (which he also illustrated) was pretty kickass.  However, I have to admit, I didn’t read his X-Men run because I’d given up on the X-Men two years before.  All I knew about it came from a mention in Twisted Toyfare Theatre of She-Hulk sleeping with Juggernaut, and that was enough to kill any curiosity I might have had about it (said mention is the source of the classic line “Once you go Juggernaut, it’s physically impossible to go back”).  Thanks to Comics Alliance, not only do I not have to read the run to know it was absolutely God-awful, but I can sleep easy knowing that Chuck Austen will probably never be allowed to touch major super heroes ever again.  He’s apparently at his best with second-tier characters, so let’s leave him there, eh?

11.  Ultimate Adventures (2002-2004)

Missed it completely.  Pretty happy about that now.

10.  Trouble (2003)

Didn’t read it at all.  If I’d known Mark Millar was writing it, I might have given it a chance, but the cover kept me away from it.  Wondering why?  Here’s the cover:

That’s the cover of Trouble #1.  Here’s what it looked like to me:

To be honest, from looking at the cover, I was scared that this was Marvel’s attempt to enter the Disney-and-Japanese-dominated sexy-schoolgirl-that-really-actually-is-a-schoolgirl market.  And so I gave Trouble a pass.

9. Identity Crisis (2004)

I liked Identity Crisis, for some of the same reasons that CA doesn’t like it:  the father-son issues and tragedies, the gender-roles explorations,  the murderer that comes from a completely unexpected (for the heroes) direction – all of these things added up to making it a worthwhile read for me.  What happened to the murderer afterward was a bit of a letdown, but I think overall this book was a good, humanizing look at DC’s main characters, who are too often simply archetypes without enough dimension.  The plot lines left dangling are resolved in other titles, as was most likely intended, and overall you’re left realizing that, even with the best of intentions, sometimes even heroes will do bad things.

8.  Spider-Man: Sins Past (2004-2005)

You know, I liked J. Michael Straczynski.  His Spider-Man run, up to that point, had been excellent, Rising Stars was a brilliant look at how powers affect both the people that have them and those around them that don’t, Midnight Nation was excellent, etc, etc. . .

And then came Sins Past.

And I could only wonder, and scream, why?  Why, Marvel, why, Straczynski, why, why, in the name of all that is good and holy, WHY?

This was the comic book equivalent of Final Fantasy XII‘s battle with Yiazmat, who has 50 million hit points and takes anywhere from 8-12 hours to defeat:  you’re left wondering why the creators of this normally-pleasant entertainment suddenly felt a need to punish you for existing.  Except that in FFXIII, at least you get good equipment and a metric shitload of experience for beating Yiazmat.  Finishing Sins Past just leaves you feeling empty, dejected, and optically violated.

7.  Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do (2002, 2005-2006)

By 2002 I’d already learned to avoid anything written by Kevin Smith (yes, Jay and Silent Bob Kevin Smith).  While his Daredevil and Green Arrow stories were pretty good, the word “deadline” seemed to not exist in his world, making him a bad match for anyone who lacks patience (i.e., me).  Given that this six-issue miniseries took him three years to finish, and sucked horribly to boot, I contend that avoiding Kevin Smith is still a damn good idea.

6. Countdown (2007-2008)

Here are the basic ideas behind Countdown:

1. Take some of DC’s second- and third-tier characters and write stories about their roles in the universe-at-large in a semi-real-time format.

2.  Have these characters explore the deep, dark, unexplored corners of the DC Universe and provide lead-in for the next big crossover.

3.  Do this all in the pages of a year-long, weekly comic, with different teams of writers and artists.

Did it work?

Hell yes it worked, and it was awesome – when it was called 52.

52, for my non-comics-fans out there, was the yearly miniseries that preceded Countdown, and focused on a year in the DC Universe without Superman, Wonder Woman, or Batman (lost his powers, killed a guy, and just really needed a frigging break, respectively).  52 was good.  It proved a weekly comic could be done successfully, without having a single issue late or delayed, and could be financially successful.

But if 52 was a platter of delicious burritos stuffed with organic beef, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and a zesty sauce, Countdown and its tie-ins were the explosive, messy, stinky post-digestion aftermath.

52 was largely self-contained, except for the four-issue spinoff miniseries World War IIICountdown had bits and pieces all over the place, in a host of completely-unnecessary-and-only-tangentially-related spinoffs and “tie-in” miniseries.    That said, Countdown did still have some good parts, enough to make it fairly readable, and enough to draw you in to Final Crisis. . .

. . .except that Final Crisis bore little resemblance to the events of Countdown, and in fact, as CA says, outright contradicted it in some places.  I don’t know what sort of struggles and conflicts were going on between Grant Morrison and the DC editorial board about continuity between the two series, but I know this:  everyone that read Countdown for a leg up on Final Crisis lost.  People who bought the completely extraneous miniseries and one-shots from Countdown lost even worse.

But those battles were nothing compared to the battles over. . .

5.  One More Day (2007-2008)

As the tagline for One More Day asked, “what would you do. . .for one more day?”

If you answered “write a craptacular end to a pretty good 8-year Spider-Man run,” congratulations! You are Joseph Michael Straczynski.

Going into One More Day, we find Peter Parker in the worst situation he’s even been in:  he’s on the run from the government as a result of opposing the Superhuman Registration Act, his secret identity is publicly known because he revealed it while supporting the Superhuman Registration Act, and Aunt May is dying from an assassin’s bullet meant for him.  (Here’s a hint: if you’re septuagenarian with bad reflexes and your nephew is a wanted fugitive with many, many, enemies on both sides of the law, for fuck’s sake don’t stand near any windows with him.)

It’s pretty well known that Straczynski and Marvel Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada argued about not only how to end the run but also about Straczynski’s previous entry on this list.  It’s also known that Straczynski wanted a different ending to One More Day, so Quesada either rewrote the issue himself or had someone else do it.  Whatever the case, let’s play it where it lies.

No one can help Aunt May.  Tony Stark can’t do anything, Doctor Strange is helpless, and Peter’s out of time and options.  Along comes Mephisto, the Devil of the Marvel Universe, and offers a deal:  he’ll save Aunt May’s life and make Peter’s identity a secret again if Peter Parker will kill a virgin and bring the soul to him.  With no other choice to save his aunt’s life, Peter embarks on a desperate quest to find a virgin in New York City, and. . .oh, wait, that’s the way I would have written the story.  By the way, my version is much better than what was actually written.

The Mephisto part was true, but instead of  a virgin’s soul (knowing there’s no way Peter could find one in New York in time), he wants Peter’s marriage to Mary Jane.  In effect, to save the life of one old woman (who’s already died at least once before, been kidnapped by Spidey’s villains several times, and came close to marrying Doctor Octopus), Peter must give up his marriage to super-hottie Mary Jane, thereby erasing her from his life and shoving 20 years of comic book history into a hole, setting it on fire, and burying it with raw sewage.  Mary Jane and Peter both whine about this for an issue and a half and then confront Mephisto, where one of them finds the intestinal fortitude to put an end to this horrific history-molesting storyline.

What’s the decision?

When the next storyline starts, Aunt May is old, alive, and unshot, and Mary Jane and Straczynski were nowhere to be seen. (To be fair, the current ret-conned version of history is that Mary Jane and Peter had been “a couple” but not married.)

4.  Ultimates 3 (2007-2008)

Remember what I said before about Countdown being the messy aftermath of 52‘s delicious burrito-fest?  Well, Ultimates 3 is the same thing to Ultimates 1 & 2. I have no idea what sort of blunt force trauma caused Jeph Loeb, the writer of the wonderful Superman For All Seasons and The Long Halloween to write this dreck, though I do wonder if personal traumas led to him temporarily losing his writing edge.  No joke there; I just hope he recovers soon.

Luckily, Ultimates 3 did not last the full 13 issues that its predecessors did, as it lead directly into an Ultimate-universe-spanning crossover that would. . .oh.  Oh no.  Oh God no.

3.  Ultimatum (2008-2009)

Ultimates 3 was not the end of Jeph Loeb’s determined attempt to destroy the universe that Bendis built.  Here’s the basic plot:  Mutant villain is angry about how mutants are treated, unleashes tidal waves and numerous natural disasters to punish humanity.  Numerous heroes are killed.  Remaining heroes band together to defeat villain.

That should have taken maybe two issues, at best.  It only took four when The Authority did it, and they had to evacuate the entire planet first.

But not Ultimatum. Oh, no.  The destruction of the Ultimate universe apparently deserves much more attention than that.

Instead, we are treated to five issues of the actual miniseries and at least a dozen issues of tie-ins featuring heroes running around trying to figure out what’s going on, heroes getting killed in gruesome ways, heroes getting angry, and heroes generally being useless.  (In what has to have been her worst year ever, the Wasp was eaten by the Blob in the Ultimate universe and then killed by Skrulls in the regular Marvel universe in a three-month span.)  Magneto kills Professor Xavier, Dormammu kills Doctor Strange, a tidal wave kills Captain America (he comes back, though), Thor sacrifices himself to save Valkyrie, and, in the final battle, Magneto appears to kill Wolverine.  Just in case you thought it was finally safe to be a superhero after all that, Cyclops is shot and killed by an unknown assassin in the denouement.

Jeph Loeb went on an unholy rampage through the Ultimate universe, and all we got was a crappy story.

2.  Image United (2009)

Haven’t read it.  Still waiting for Darker Image #2.

1.  Mark Trail (2009)

Who reads newspapers anymore?

That said, I didn’t read this stretch of Mark Trail, but my God. . .this deserves the title that CA has bestowed upon it.

How in the fuck does, in the 21st century, a storyline about a controlling, abusive husband who is so insanely jealous of his wife giving affection to anything else that he shoots her pet deer end with the abuse victim fucking apologizing to the abuser? Seriously, what the fuck?  I know that the writer and artist of Mark Trail was born in 1924, but holy hell, Mark doesn’t tell his wife to take off her shoes and get back in the kitchen, does he?  Or go out and try to keep minorities from voting?  Fuck no.

The rest of the stories on this list were just bad stories.  This one, though, is a fucking crime against domestic violence victims everywhere.

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

Agree?  Disagree?  I have a comments section for a reason. . .

VS – 12.27.09