Archive for superman

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 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

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

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