Monday, January 19, 2015

Digitally Speaking...23 "Captains America and Marvel, Avengers Forever"

Captain America and the Falcon #1 (Marvel)
From 2004.

Given recent developments, it's always interesting to look back at the history of Falcon's association with Captain America (in case you don't know, aside from Falcon's screen debut in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he is Captain America now, in the pages of All-New Captain America).  This is certainly a curious entry in that history, a series that lasted a little over a dozen issues.  The writer is Christopher Priest, perennially underrated, working with Bart Sears.  The pair seem to have somehow evoked the later Jason Aaron series Scalped, both in general approach and even art (Sears is distinctive enough in style, but here looks a lot like R.M Guera's work).  It's pre-Ed Brubaker, but is generally comparable in approach.  It's an exercise in making Cap socially relevant by entangling him in Guantanamo Bay (although that's because he's trying to figure out what Falcon is up to).  The copyright information in the digital edition listed the release date as 2013, which is less than accurate.

Captain America: The First Avenger - First Vengeance #1 (Marvel)
From 2011.

This prequel to the movie opens with action scenes of Cap at war with his scrawny origins as his mother offers encouragement and he meets Bucky for the first time.  I'm not sure how much overlap there is, because it's been a while since I've seen the movie, which I otherwise have fond memories of, considering it from the start to be one of the better entries in the Avengers cycle to date.  Writer Fred Van Lente tends to bounce around a lot, being, I guess, generally adaptable, which here he takes pretty literally.

Captain Marvel #1 (Marvel)
From 2014.

This is a reboot of a previous Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel series.  For those of you (like me) who know very little about this particular version of Captain Marvel, other than the fact that Danvers used to be a previous Ms. Marvel (as distinguished from the current one, making a spectacular splash and a personal current favorite of mine in the G. Willow Wilson series that launched at the same time as this), you won't receive too much clarification here.  Marvel can be notoriously impenetrable in terms of continuity, when it isn't doing soft reboots (which is often) that nonetheless imply connections to what came before.  Thankfully it's not too hard to follow along.  If you liked Guardians of the Galaxy, you'll be pleasantly surprised that the thrust of the issue is getting her into a general Star-Lord direction.  I had no idea.  All I knew was, the series relaunched, and she's there on the cover readjusting her glove (and I still have no idea why they went in that artistic direction, though it looks distinctive enough, and maybe that was all they cared about).  Apparently she's had a relationship with Jim Rhodes, although at this point relationships have probably happened between all of Marvel's characters (it's a real soap opera landscape in that regard; the new Storm series has explored a relationship with Currently Dead Wolverine that I hadn't known about previously, because last I knew Ororo's only notable relationship had been with Black Panther, because, uh, they're both African).  But the question remains, why does this series even exist if there doesn't seem to be much of a Carol Danvers narrative to exploit, much less in a relaunch that purposefully thrusts her in a new direction?

Avengers Forever #1 (Marvel)
From 2001.

Speaking of Marvel's soft reboots...This may have been the last hurrah of the pre-Bendis/Ultimate Comics era, what might be considered the culmination of Kurt Busiek's run on Avengers itself, a series that had considerable acclaim at the time, a return to form for a company that had suffered a great deal thanks to bankruptcy, the Spider-Man Clone Saga, the Heroes Reborn era, and the Image exodus in general, not to mention a whole X-Men era that failed to leave any meaningful legacy to that franchise.  But all good things must come to an end.  Avengers Forever itself has, so far as I know, no comparably lofty reputation.  Maybe it does.  My knowledge of Marvel lore goes only so far.  It's a story that attempts to take an expansive look at the legacy of the team, pivoting around Rick Jones (kind of hard to explain him these days, of which DC fans can say the same concerning Snapper Carr), even having a look at what probably turns out to be a possible future in which humanity has borrowed the idea of the Avengers to become galactic tyrants.  All of which is to say, Avengers Forever is now a curiosity at best.

Stuart Immonen's Superman #1

Hey, I actually scanned this one myself!
Adventures of Superman #520 (DC)
From 1994.

Immonen works as: penciller
Inked by: Jose Marzan
Writer: Karl Kesel

Story:

Superman spends Christmas Eve thwarting one hundred thieves, starting with Loophole, who possesses technology that allows him to pass through solid matter, although he haplessly ends up stuck in it more often than not.  Other low-key villains include the Untouchables, who are similar to Loophole (but less pathetic).  Captain Boomerang and the Royal Flush Gang are the only noteworthy inclusions.  Clark manages to snag Lois a special gift as a thank-you for his efforts.

Notes:
  • This is Immonen's third-ever issue working on Superman, following two try-outs within the pages of Superman itself.
  • This is the first in a large selection I was able to acquire recently (in association with the "Binge-worthy" comics featured in Quarter Bin, as reflected in the Final Night links below) after having enjoyed most of Immonen's Superman in its original run, the loss of which was one of the worst in the 2012 purge.
  • Is this in the midst of the long hair era?  Yes it is.
  • Other creators listed in the solicitations at the end of the letters column (Kryptograms) are: David Michelinie and Butch Guice (Action Comics), Louise Simonson (with a special guest penciller rather than regular collaborator Jon Bogdanove in Man of Steel), and Dan Jurgens and Joe Rubenstein (Superman).
  • Next issue, which is not in the collection I currently have, features Thorn and the Riot Grrrls.
  • The previous artist in the series was Barry Kitson.
  • Kesel was previously associated with Tom Grummett in the pages of Adventures, including the "Reign of the Supermen" era where they created Superboy, whom they followed into the pages of the spin-off and served as the signature creative team for much of the series.
  • Immomen's art in the issue doesn't feature any standout Superman images.  He's still getting into the flow of things.
  • It's a fun issue, though certainly a soft start to Immonen's era.


Superman #87 - Superman #88 - Adventures of Superman #520 - Adventures of Superman #521 - Adventures of Superman #522 - Adventures of Superman #523 - Adventures of Superman #524 - Adventures of Superman #525 - Adventures of Superman #527 - Adventures of Superman #528 - Adventures of Superman #529 = Adventures of Superman #530 - Adventures of Superman #531 - Adventures of Superman #532 - Adventures of Superman #533 - Adventures of Superman #534 - Adventures of Superman #535 - Adventures of Superman #537 - Adventures of Superman #538 - Adventures of Superman #541 - Adventures of Superman #543 - Adventures of Superman #544 - Adventures of Superman #546 - Adventures of Superman #547 - Adventures of Superman #548 - Adventures of Superman #549 - Adventures of Superman #550 - Adventures of Superman #573 - Adventures of Superman #574 - Adventures of Superman #575 - Adventures of Superman #576 - Adventures of Superman #577 - Action Comics #738 - Action Comics #739 - Action Comics #740 - Action Comics #741 - Action Comics #742 - Action Comics #743 - Action Comics #744 - Action Comics #745 - Action Comics #746 - Action Comics #747 - Action Comics #748 - Action Comics #750 - Action Comics #751 - Action Comics #752 - Action Comics #753 - Action Comics #754 - Action Comics #755 - Action Comics #758 - Alpha Centurion Special - Superman/Toyman - The Final Night #1The Final Night #2The Final Night #3The Final Night #4 - Superman: The Wedding Album - Superman Secret Files #1 - Superman Secret Files #2 - Superman Red/Superman Blue - Superman Forever - Superman Villains Secret Files - Supermen of America - Superman: End of the Century - Superman Metropolis Secret Files - Superman: Lex Luthor 2000 - Secret Files: President Luthor - Superman: Secret Identity #1 - Superman: Secret Identity #2 - Superman: Secret Identity #3 - Superman: Secret Identity #4

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Annotations to 52 #1

via Comic Book Realm
52 #1 (DC)
From 2006.

writers: Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid

artists: Giffen, Joe Bennett

Featured characters: 
  • Ralph Dibney
  • Renee Montoya
  • Steel
  • Booster Gold
  • Natasha Irons
  • Black Adam
  • Mister Mind
  • Clark Kent
  • The Question
The first page of the weekly series that led to the return of the multiverse is in fact a shot of the multiverse.

The third page introduces Ralph Dibney, the erstwhile Elongated Man; Renee Montoya; and Steel: three of the primary protagonists of the series.  Dibney's arc follows the events of Identity Crisis, in which his wife Sue is brutally murdered.  Montoya's follows her partner's death in the pages of Gotham Central.  Steel is engaged in the rebuilding of Metropolis.

Superboy is referenced for the first time on the fourth page.  His death during Infinite Crisis becomes a pivotal element of Dibney's arc.

Booster Gold appears officially on the seventh page, although he's introduced in the classic Superman manner on the previous page, foreshadowing the role he hopes to play, but his publicity-minded grandstanding that is the focus of his early appearances in the series begins immediately.

On the twelfth page, Dibney is about to commit suicide until a phone call alerts him to the desecration of his wife's grave.

Natasha Irons, sporting the armor she'd been sporting to that point, appears on the thirteenth page, and Steel, her uncle John, takes it away on the fourteenth.

On the fifteenth page, Black Adam debuts, introducing his new aggressive political stance for the nation of Kahndaq, which he began ruling in the pages of JSA.

On the seventeenth page, Mister Mind makes a cameo in Sivana's lab.  This is another Easter egg for later developments in the series, aside from Sivana himself being the first "mad scientist" to be kidnapped.

A lot of heroes who don't really feature in the plot begin gathering on the eighteenth page for a memorial to the destruction caused by Infinite Crisis, including Bart Allen, who at the time had become the new Flash

On the twenty-first page, Booster Gold's arc builds shape as his robotic assistant Skeets fails him for the first time.

On the twenty-second page, Clark Kent appears.  The erstwhile Superman is depowered during the "lost year" chronicled in the series, while Batman is off on a spirit quest and Wonder Woman is still looking for ways to rebuild her public image after her murder of Maxwell Lord.

The twenty-third is the start of a three-page sequence that concludes the issue, introducing the Question into the narrative, and alluding to the connection he'll have with Montoya.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Quarter Bin 65 "Binge-worthy X: Some Things Old, Some New"

Blackhawk #16 (DC)
From 1990.

I picked this one up because of the Rick Burchett art.  Burchett was one of the artists who was later converted into Batman Adventures work, along with the late Mike Parobeck.  I wanted to see how much he had to modify his work to conform to the Bruce Timm model.  Turns out a bit more than Parobeck, whom I'd encountered in the pages of a Justice Society revival previous to the comics based on the Timm/Paul Dini cartoon.  But the real revelation is that Burchett's work was surprisingly sexy, and the bigger revelation that Blackhawk was a pretty darn excellent comic book.  This was its final issue, by the way, so it was another of those excellent comics that still somehow failed to find an audience.  It's the bane of fans everywhere.  But at least I've had the chance to discover this one, a quarter century after the fact.  The last time I did that, I fell in love with Loeb and Sale's Challengers of the Unknown, from around the same period, so it was good news/bad news for attempts to revive older DC properties at the time, right?  Blackhawk told the story of secret agents who were also pilots.  The last time a revival was attempt was Mike Costa's New 52 series Blackhawks, which also was an underrated series, though this time my late discovery of it was far less forgiveable, as I'm a big fan of Costa's (he's coming back to G.I. Joe/Cobra next week, by the way, in the pages of G.I. Joe - Snake Eyes: Agent of Cobra) who nonetheless made a poor effort to try out his first mainstream superhero effort.  My bad.

via Idol-Head
Brightest Day #3 (DC)
From 2010.

The image on the left is Patrick Gleason's Martian Manhunter.  Brightest Day was the biggest victim of my near-2011 implosion as a reader (this is the same time period in which I started this blog, so the whole journey has been documented for all its dubious relevance).  I loved it when it debuted, but have never had the opportunity to read the complete story, which along with Flashpoint helped usher the age of the New 52.  It was a bi-weekly series, but it's easily the best weeklyesque comic DC has managed since 52, and it was spearheaded, naturally, by Geoff Johns, working alongside Peter Tomasi, in the closest to an apprenticeship for the Tomasi who now writes the brilliant Batman and Robin as you're likely to find.  Tomasi's chief collaborator, Gleason, is present and accounted for, naturally, and of course his portions of Brightest Day revolve around Martian Manhunter.  This was a fact I'd forgotten until I picked up this issue.  This was a time in which J'onn J'onzz was getting some of his best material.  The Brightest material is in some ways a sequel to the 2006-2007 mini-series that was at the forefront of this era.  The Deadman and Aquaman material are also highlights of the issue that remind me of other things worth remembering about the series.

Justice League America #89-90 (DC)
From 1994.

Parts 1 and 4 of the "Judgment Day" Justice League crossover event that tried to ramp up the significance of the League books at the time (a little over two years later, Grant Morrison's JLA rebooted the whole field), this was a big dramatic end-of-the-world-type story.  The creative team is Dan Vado and Marc Campos, who soon after launched Extreme Justice, a series I followed throughout its run even though Vado and Campos left soon after it launched, apparently because of conflicts with the editor (so you see, New 52 creators, this was nothing new), Vado back to Slave Labor Graphics.  The Vado/Campos team was heavily influenced into following the Image style of the day.  The villain for "Judgment Day" was a kind of cross between Galactus and Darkseid, Overmaster, whom Vado chose in much the same fashion as Grant Morrison later would Libra for the purposes of Final Crisis, an afterthought of a character that could use a slight revision.  There were three additional chapters to the event, which may be best known, if at all, for the death of Ice.  I used to think it would make a nice trade collection.  Booster Gold's post-"Doomsday" woes, in which his original costume and therefore source of powers had been destroyed, also saw progress during the event, from a ridiculously bulky set of armor to a more streamlined look, which eventually led back to the form-fitting version for which he was known.  It was the start of Booster's transformation from a Bwa-ha-ha image to someone who could be taken seriously again, returning the focus back to his sometimes-anomalous background as coming from, ah, the future, who couldn't be relied upon to provide foreknowledge of major crises such as this and, yes, the whole Doomsday thing, which Blue Beetle rightly points out here as having been, in hindsight, a pretty dick move, since Beetle was among the ones severely injured during it, besides the cost to Booster himself.  All of which is to say, no matter how awkward this particular era might seem, it was a necessary evolution or at least transition.  Extreme Justice later addressed the Armageddon 2001 dangling issue of Captain Atom's involvement with the figure of Monarch, saw the return of Firestorm, and to Vado's chagrin the in-continuity debut of the Wonder Twins, one of the issues that drove him away from mainstream comics.

Action Comics #806 and 809 (DC)
From 2003.

Joe Kelly was part of the Man of Action alliance (also including Joe Casey, Duncan Rouleau, and Steven T. Seagle) that was a different kind of evolution, doing the Image founders one better by going into business for themselves outside of the comics medium, helping to create, among other projects, Ben 10 (Rouleau and Seagle also created Big Hero 6, which became a smash hit film in 2014).  This was a sort of lost generation for DC, most of whom had been tapped to join Jeph Loeb as the new millennium Superman creative team.  The first of these two issues features Traci 13 and Natasha Irons, who by the end of the issue has discovered a new set of armor forged for her by her uncle, Steel, who had recently undergone one of several crises (including a temporary death coming out of Our Worlds at War).  Superman is basically a guest star in the issue.  The second issue features Lois and Clark on a cruise, forced to contend with the irrepressible Jack Ryder, whose dual existence as the Creeper doesn't explain his human behavior.  It's a character who is always interesting but apparently can't carry his own series.

Supreme #64
From 2012.

As you may be aware, I've become heavily invested in Warren Ellis's Supreme: Blue Rose.  The previous attempt at a Supreme revival started with this issue from Erik Larsen, best known for his ongoing Savage Dragon.  Larsen used as his launching pad a lost script from Alan Moore, who had used Rob Liefeld's creation as a platform for writing Silver Age Superman adventures in the '90s.  That script was used for Supreme #63.  Larsen threw Supreme into a whole clash of multiple versions of himself and brought back the idea Liefeld originally envisioned, basically a violent version of Superman.  (Anyone find it ironic that Moore didn't want to use that version, from a creator who helped build his legacy on Miracleman?)  The result is typical Larsen, whose only competition at one point for the kinds of stories he likes telling was, of all comics, Garth Ennis's Preacher.  Larsen's profile has dropped considerably since he launched Savage Dragon, but he remains one of the more interesting subjects for critical analysis.  And unlike every other Image founder, he's remained true to the cause.

Tangent: Superman's Reign #1 (DC)
From 2008.

Speaking of causes, Tangent was Dan Jurgens' big to recreate DC's Silver Age revolution, when new versions of The Flash and Green Lantern helped revitalize its landscape.  Using familiar names but totally revamping the mythology, it jumpstarted the idea of legacy that became so important to the company.  Jurgens didn't have any pretensions of such a large-scale effect, but he created a fascinating concept all the same, one he was able to revisit after its debut in the '90s thanks to Dwayne McDuffie's Justice League of America, which also served as a platform to temporarily mainline the Milestone heroes.  It's amusing how subtle Jurgens can be as a storyteller when someone else is providing the art.  This is something I've remarked on before, but it bears repeating.  He scales back on excited speech patterns that remain the most unfortunate aspect of older comics in general, and allows himself the liberty to let loose creatively, something that was a highlight of his Superman at the start (he's also, remember, the creator of Booster Gold, the antithesis of the Man of Steel).  Superman, meanwhile, is the villain of the Tangent universe.  It's a concept that remains interesting.  If DC ever did decide to undergo another radical overhaul, it could do worse than look here for inspiration.

All-New Miracleman Annual #1 (Marvel)

via Marvel
writer: Grant Morrison

artist: Joe Quesada

Marvel's ongoing reprints of the long-out-of-print Miracleman have curiously fallen off the radar as far as I can tell.  I admit I haven't read an issue since the first one, after determining that perhaps "The Original Writer," Alan Moore, may have had his inner Garth Ennis a little too squarely in mind when he tackled one of the defining '80s comics.  Lately I've considered checking back in.

This isn't what I mean by that, by the way.  I read this one for one reason: Grant Morrison.

Ha.  For some people, this project is the culmination of a whole version of comic book history, the feud between Moore and Morrison, two giants of the form who embody the schism that inexplicably ended Moore's relationship with the mainstream.  Morrison originally wrote the script for the lead story in this annual in 1984 and sent it to Moore.  Moore had no interest.  Reports suggest that Morrison took it personally.  Maybe?  At the time, Morrison's career was still years away from its popular breakthrough, when he was part of the later British Invasion that followed Moore to American comics, along with Neil Gaiman, that helped form the genesis of the Vertigo imprint, which Moore's Saga of Swamp Thing had helped bring about but by which point Moore himself had...moved along.  Comics historians will have a lot of fun talking about this.  Fans have been talking about it for years already, and so have Moore and Morrison.  But the last word has yet to be written by either.  Morrison's recent The Multiversity: Pax Americana, a version of Moore's Watchmen, is surely one of the more direct creative responses between them.

And now Marvel has quietly entered the conversation.

The company must have known what it was doing, although by the strict sense of it seems to have considered rising above all the hassle, cutting through all the bullshit and just letting the material speak for itself.  It'd be nice if one or the two of the creators in question did the same.  Marvel's biggest testament to the material is that it is illustrated by Joe Quesada, who is the company's Chief Creative Officer.  Prior to taking on managing responsibility, Quesada was best known as an artist.  Every time he does such work now, it should always be viewed as significant in and of itself.

So really, you ought to consider this one as much for the unearthed Morrison script as the new Quesada art.

What about the story?  Not being completely familiar with Moore's Miracleman saga, only the broad strokes, I have to take it at face value.  Johnny Bates, the erstwhile Kid Miracleman who has been set up as the superhero gone rogue and mortal enemy of Miracleman himself, is on the verge of his worst deeds.  We're on the eve of Armageddon.  As such, Morrison evokes the Book of Revelation from the Bible.  A little over ten years after Morrison wrote this script, Mark Waid and Alex Ross took a similar approach to great success in the pages of Kingdom Come.

It might have come across as a little arty to Moore in 1984.  How am I to know?  Maybe Moore himself had made similar allusions in his own work.

For Morrison's later work, this kind of material is similar insofar as it's evocative, but it's a lot more deliberate.  Morrison is a writer who loves to make connections, and usually so many of them that he leaves a lot of readers frustrated.  When he simplifies things, his instincts are still evident.  Moore's Miracleman is ultimately not all that reflective of Morrison's storytelling, which does not tend to revamp so much as reflect prior material in ways that had not previously been considered.  He constructs more than deconstructs.  Even when Moore isn't deconstructing, he's basically goofing around.  The most world-building he ever did was for the Green Lantern mythos, for whatever reason.

At the back of the issue is a complete transcript of Morrison's original text, along with art breakdowns and commentary, all of which is valuable in properly appreciating what exactly you've just read.

There's also a Peter Milligan effort included, as Morrison's story is pretty brief, originally conceived in the the British fashion in which Miracleman and Morrison's own scripts at the time were approached.  Milligan was a supporting player in the British Invasion, and has been someone I've been trying to figure out, but with a lower profile, it's been harder to figure out where exactly I should start.  His tale here is a winking version of the original Mick Anglo Marvelman on which Miracleman was derived that considers at the end what it might be like if the good guys approached a more realistic worldview.  It's greatly aided in impact by Mike Allred's art.  Allred is best known for his indy creation Madman, one of the icons of that comics branch, and his work has been a constant throwback that never ages, if that makes any sense, in the best timeless tradition.  He's someone whose legacy could very well increase in time upon further critical reflection.

As one of the few comics release on the last day of 2014, hopefully All-New Miracleman Annual found an appreciable audience for its historic worth, in more ways than one.  It ranks among the year's most significant events.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Reading Comics 145 "Justice League"

via Nothing But Comics
I've been a huge supporter of Geoff Johns' Justice League, but you'd be forgiven for not knowing that, as I haven't regularly read it in a few years.  I haven't even finished reading "Throne of Atlantis," which should be indication enough of how that's played out.

Since Forever Evil, I've been making an effort to get back into it.  The problem hasn't been the series itself, unless you count the fact that Justice League has consistently been one of the must-read-monthly series since it debuted in 2011.  What happens when you don't read monthly?  Pretty much what happened to me.

What brought me back?  In a word, Luthor, as in Lex Luthor, who has officially joined the team.  And don't think that's been easy.  I've recently read #34-36, the conclusion of the initial post-Evil arc and the start of "The Amazo Virus."

Luthor isn't the only new phase.  Recent issues have included Jessica Cruz, who Johns first introduced in Green Lantern #20.  Cruz is another legacy of Evil, who has gained possession of the alternate universe Power Ring's eponymous weapon, which like everything else from that reality has an evil bent.  Cruz has been terrified, but has shown an ability to overcome, so to speak, great fear.  She has supplanted Simon Baz as Johns' continuing link to Green Lantern lore, and the opportunity is hardly lost on him.

Interesting, at least in the pages of #34, he's also chosen to continue another legacy, the heroic alliance between Green Lantern and The Flash.  Green Lantern may be in a wholly different incarnation, but Flash is once again Barry Allen.  Johns tends to write the series pairing characters together in separate storylines, which was how a Green Lantern first appeared in its pages, alongside Batman (a genius combination that could really use additional exploration).  That's also how Superman/Wonder Woman happened, by the way.

The issue also sees Johns collaborate, once again, with Scott Kolins, with whom he's done many Flash stories before.  This was great to see, and Kolins, as always, didn't disappoint.

Wonder Woman and Luthor, Luthor and Bruce Wayne, Luthor and Owlman?  Of course Lex Luthor remains hugely important to the series.

#35 sees the rivalry between Luthor and Wayne (which is all in Luthor's head, naturally) continue, with competing public speeches that further illuminate both characters.  Most of the issue is about them, actually, incidentally introducing the next big arc when Luthor's fail-safe weapon is accidentally unleashed.  I admit I wasn't initially interested in jumping back into Justice League at this point because I wasn't sure how interesting "Amazo Virus" would be, but eventually I realized it's a variation on a subplot from 52, which Johns worked on with Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid.  It now seems that Johns may have been the spearhead behind that particular element.  This version, and my love of 52 is surely well-documented, may be more interesting, even if the main benefit of the original was finally creating a Luthor/Steel rivalry.

The art for this issue is from another frequent Johns collaborator, Doug Mahnke.

#36 is the official start of the arc.  Before I get to its story contents, let's just acknowledge the art, which is from Jason Fabok, who comes from a Batman background to provide dynamic new art for a series that began with Jim Lee.  
via USA Today
I'v including two pieces of Fabok art, rather than feature Kolins or Mahnke mostly to put a definitive spotlight on Fabok, who here makes a strong case for superstar status.

Johns pairs Superman and Batman (I haven't read the current Batman/Superman, so when I say that hasn't happened enough recently, that's where it's coming from), and Luthor and Wonder Woman once again, which leads to this choice exchange:

Luthor: She's a god. 
Wonder Woman: Why does that sound like an insult when you say it?

Priceless, and another clear instance of Johns nailing the Amazon's perspective in ways other writers haven't even considered.  

I haven't mentioned Captain Cold yet, but his scenes with Luthor across these issues are another highlight, and like Kolins another link to Johns' days writing The Flash.  Every character has a purpose, and a well-defined one, in Johns' scripts, which isn't often the case when a writer is juggling a large cast, whether in a team book or otherwise.  The temptation is always to just throw everyone in the same scenes and have them make random characteristic comments (this is one of my main beefs in Marvel comics).  I prefer more personal depictions.  Somehow Johns does that and keeps the stories big.  That's why Justice League is so important.

So, very profitable return to the series for me.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 QB50

For my ninth annual list of the best comics I read from the last year, I'm glad to say I read a lot of quality material, with so many excellent choices for the top ten that there are viable candidates ranked well below that prestigious marker.  Now, keep in mind that the QB50 represents only material released in 2014, not what I read in 2014.  In at least one instance I fudged this distinction a little, but as it stands, and because there really is no such thing as a definitive version of a "best of" list, should you wonder what I thought about something else you may have thought worth considering, that's why Comics Reader is an ongoing, past and present, experience...

via Huffington Post
1. Annihilator (Legendary)

It's no secret that I'm a fan of Grant Morrison.  He has in fact written or co-written five out of the nine top-ranked comics on this list (52 in 2006 and 2007, on which he collaborated with Geoff Johns, Mark Waid, and Greg Rucka; Batman in 2008, which would have been circa "R.I.P.;" and Action Comics in 2012, which would have been the first year of the New 52 run, including the crucial ninth issue, which for all intents and purposes introduced The Multiversity; and now of course Annihilator in 2014).  Never mind that if I could retroactively reconsider Joe the Barbarian's listings in 2010 and 2011 (the former in which Air took its second consecutive top ranking, and the latter in which RASL took the honors) I would now seriously like to see that list increase by one (likely 2010)...Anyway, Annihilator isn't finished yet.  With four of its six issues released, the story of Hollywood screenwriter Ray Spass (pronounced "space") and his fateful meeting with Max Nomax, who happens to be the star of Ray's latest effort, for me reads like a culmination of all Morrison's best instincts, as well as lessons learned from his best work.  (I mean, what else could you ask for, right?)  Frequent collaborator Frazer Irving has also provided some of his career-best material.  Issue after issue has only increased Annihilator's impact.  There remains the possibility that its two remaining issues next year will make it the top-ranked comic in the 2015 QB50.  We'll see.  Should Morrison nail the ending...?  Could be his best ever.

via Unobtanium 13
2. The Multiversity (DC)

And here's Morrison as his own closest competition.  Seriously, it's not just the fact that fans have been waiting years to see this one become a reality.  It's brilliant, it really is.  Combining Seven Soldiers of Victory, The Return of Bruce Wayne, and the early issues of Batman Incorporated, this is Morrison exploding the concept of one-and-done by creating definitive comics for every concept he touches, including Pax Americana, a direct commentary on and answer to Watchmen, and what will for years be argued as an actual improvement.  This is Morrison's argument for the genre of superhero comics being viable into the 21st century, not for nostalgia's sake or because they happen to be pop culture commodities at the movies, but as legitimate storytelling characters in their own right, by their own rules, and to their own ends.  An epic vision of the complete DC landscape, something he previously tackled in Final Crisis, for which Multiversity might almost be seen as a sequel to, an apology for, and at least a refinement of, this is a total creative statement, a second project for which an entire legacy can be built around.  Which is saying something, given that Morrison already has several such efforts under his belt.  Most comics creators at this point in their careers have settled into more subdued expectations.  Here's a chance to see someone live up to the old showbiz end-of-career delusion, "You ain't seen nothing yet."

via Shopify
3. Wasteland (Oni)

Previous rankings for this series: 10th (2006), 26th (2007), 11th (2009), 7th (2010), 7th (2012), 15th (2013).  Missing years denote either blanks in the publishing schedule or how difficult it's been to find Wasteland reliably available in comic book shops.  Which is a huge crime I won't have to worry about after one more issue, because as of December 2014, there is only one remaining.  The epic journey of post-apocalyptic drifter Michael and the mystery of how that landscape was created has reached its final arc.  Wasteland has been my personal equivalent to Bone, a series I discovered by proxy in the '90s and has gone on to legendary status in the comics community, slowly expanding outward thanks to mainstream Scholastic reprints.  I hope Wasteland has a similarly fruitful afterlife.  It has been brilliant from start to finish.  I'm proud to have been a stalwart fan throughout its original run.

via DC Comics
4. Batman and Robin (DC)

The single best series of the New 52 since the start, Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason have collaborated several times in the past (Green Lantern Corps, Brightest Day), but ever to this pitch-perfect degree and certainly never to such operatic heights.  For me, this might as well be considered unthinkable, given what I've said above: they've improved on Grant Morrison.  It was Morrison who created the character of Damian, and last year killed him off.  But any and all of that was merely a starting point for this dynamic duo.  Early in the run they seemed content to ride shotgun with larger creative acts handling all the attention, but this was the year Tomasi and Gleason unleashed their full potential.  The "Hellbat" option is on par with Frank Miller's famous wish-fulfillment fight with Superman in the pages of The Dark Knight Returns, the moment a vulnerable Batman ignored all restraints and went after the body of his son, the embodiment of a career dedicated to avenging the signal loss of his life.  What happens when you attempt the impossible?  Well, something like this.  This is what superhero comics are all about.

via First Comics News
5. The Star Wars (Dark Horse)

Everyone's excited about Marvel reclaiming Star Wars in 2015, but it needs reminding that arguably the best Star Wars comic ever made was released by Dark Horse, who happened to have rights to the franchise for the last quarter century.  That comic is the improbable adaptation of the original George Lucas draft of the first film, a whole alternate take on everything you know, and all the more mesmerizing for it.  Imbued with the lush art of Mike Mayhew, it's the best thank-you Dark Horse could have conceived for everyone who enjoyed its efforts over the years, from Dark Empire to Brian Wood's Star Wars, the saga as you know it now would not exist without these comics.  And now there's an accessible version of the saga that never happened.  And that won't go away just because someone else has the rights now.

via DC Comics
6. Grayson: Futures End #1 (DC)

Along with The Multiversity: Pax Americana, this was 2014's best argument that one issue can say it all.  Grayson is a repackaging of Nightwing, following the events of Forever Evil.  It's Dick Grayson, the original Robin, in his latest transformation, this time as a spy.  I haven't read the series itself regularly, but thank goodness I thought to have a look at the special issue released as part of DC's annual September events month, a tradition since the New 52 era began in 2011.  In conjunction with the weekly Futures End comic that takes place five years in the future, the month gave the creators behind the rest of the line the chance to look ahead.  Some creators opted out of the opportunity, some understood that they had the chance to make valuable statements on what they're doing now in the likelihood that they won't have such an opportunity again.  Grayson writers Tim Seeley and Tom King did something even more brilliant: they crafted a riddle of an issue that not only seized the opportunity but wrote the definitive issue of this whole era in the character's ever-expanding legacy.

via Previews World
7. Supreme: Blue Rose (Image)

It's not often you hear about a comic and without any prior interest know suddenly that you not only must read it but that it will end up being a defining experience.  When this happens at all, it's something that was finished years in the past (Watchmen is the prototypical example) or merely the popular thing everyone's latching onto.  Warren Ellis re-imagining Rob Liefeld and Alan Moore's Supreme, Blue Rose is a classic in the making.  It's a superhero mystery unlike any you've seen before, removing the main character from his own story and instead exploiting his fantastic mythology in ways that are still hard to comprehend even after you've read an issue or two, much less the five that have been published to date.  It's compulsive in the best comics tradition, and it will be talked about for years to come.  At the moment, it seems to have slipped completely off the radar.  This will change.

via USA Today
8. Geoff Johns' Superman (DC)

It's hard to believe that DC put so much emphasis on Grant Morrison's Action Comics when the New 52 began that Superman became so hard to nail, by so many creators, that it became almost completely superfluous.  Enter Geoff Johns.  Of course, right?  The last time Johns worked on the Man of Steel, he opted for iconic portraits of known elements such as General Zod, Bizarro, and the Legion of Super-Heroes.  This time he's doing something new, and exceedingly clever.  The idea of introducing a contrasting character has been done many times (Pete Tomasi has opted to try Magog again over in Superman/Wonder Woman, for instance), but rarely to such a high conceptual level as Johns has tackled with Ulysses, a "strange visitor" and "last son" who has pushed our hero to his very limits, not mortally, but morally.  The art of John Romita, Jr., working at DC for the first time after a career dedicated to Marvel and Kick-Ass, has helped distinguish the story as well, forcing the reader to see Superman in a different light with every new striking image.  

via Previews World
9. Saga (Image)

This is the comic that put the entire industry on notice, and has been keeping everyone on their toes for three years now.  Brian K. Vaughan has a number of iconic creations already (Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, for example), but he's doing the best work of his career in a science fiction opus that breaks every taboo and features a whole cast of exceptional characters.  And the art of Fiona Staples.  The way Image redefined art in the '90s is what Staples is doing in the pages of Saga.  Without Staples' work here, there wouldn't be Tula Lotay's Supreme: Blue Rose, or even Frazer Irving's Annihilator.  Staples sets the pace.  And Saga has the best fans in all of comics, the best letters column in an age where such a feature has become a mark of pride for any comic that thinks to include it.  What does Lying Cat say about all of that?  Nothing at all...

via Hitfix
10. The Sandman: Overture (Vertigo)

If there's a Sandman being published, surely it deserves mentioning among the year's best?  I've come very late to the game, and I'm still trying to catch up, but I know enough to acknowledge Neil Gaiman, at this point, as one of the most important creators in comics.  In this return engagement, which has a very relaxed publishing schedule, he's sought to take an increasingly philosophical look at his most famous creation.  Every issue is like a complete re-calibration on the whole effort.  After four issues, we're still inching along, it seems, but the stakes keep getting raised, and so too does our emotional investment in Dream's latest crisis.  The art of J.H. Williams III has become a challenge in its own right, but surely a welcome one, and a necessary one to convey the truly dream-like quality of the story.  And maybe that's all you really need to know about The Sandman: Overture.

11. Tuki (Cartoon)
Jeff Smith's online comic begins, only his third creation after Bone and RASL.  He has now completed two "seasons," or what amounts to two issues worth of material, but the results have been worth it.  Beginning with RASL, Smith began relaxing the pace of his storytelling, allowing his art to rise to the surface, and that's been the most telling element of Tuki, in which a caveman slowly embraces another of Smith's trademark unique destinies.

12. Detective Comics #27 (DC)
The New 52 milestone of the second-ever issue featuring the same issue number as the first-ever appearance of Batman was the occasion for several remarkable short stories from some of the best contemporary creators, including a rare Brad Meltzer effort that revisited that first appearance, the first chapter of the otherwise-overlooked "Gothtopia" arc from John Layman, and a Scott Snyder version of the Dark Knight's future featuring the art of Sean Murphy, which was the impetus for this comics commentator reconsidering Snyder's emerging legacy.  Not a bad way to celebrate.

13. Red Lanterns (DC)
The series that helped me discover the talent of Charles Soule.  When it launched back at the start of the New 52, Red Lanterns was easily one of the most-questioned decisions made at that time, a series dedicated to one of the least compelling corners of a franchise that had only recently bloomed to proportions where such an opportunity presented itself.  And that reaction lasted for several years.  Then Soule arrived, bringing Guy Gardner with him, and exploded the concept into a full sci-fi spectacle, borrowing Supergirl for added emphasis, and using, as did Grayson, its Futures End special issue to dramatic effect, as a peak at an ending Soule, after a fan-crushing announcement of an impending exclusive deal with Marvel, would probably never get to write otherwise.

14. Ms. Marvel (Marvel)
I've been a fan of G. Willow Wilson for years (Air topped the QB50 in 2009 and 2010), and have been waiting for her big comics comeback for what seemed like centuries.  So it was with great pleasure to see her launch Ms. Marvel to much critical and well as cultural acclaim.  A very well-deserved triumph, and a terrifically fun read.

15. Django/Zorro (Vertigo/Dynamite)
A late addition to the year was this sequel to Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained and Matt Wagner's own previous Zorro for Dynamite, which has somehow managed to combine them for a story that serves to do justice to both.  

16. Starlight (Image)
Last year I ranked Jeph Loeb's Nova #1 at seventh.  Subsequent issues failed to live up to that incredible promise.  Enter Mark Millar, who has been doing his best to single-handedly make comics relevant to wide audiences again, with a series of projects that have been adapted into major motion pictures.  Hopefully Starlight will follow.

17. Superman Unchained (DC)
I came very late to this Scott Snyder/Jim Lee project, but its final issue served not only to join a considerable list of 2014 comics that shown new light on Lex Luthor, but helped me see Snyder more clearly as well.

18. Emerald City of Oz (Marvel)
After six adaptations of the original L. Frank Baum material, Eric Shanower and Skottie Young's remarkable collaboration has come to an end, and the magic they've helped illuminate will serve the legacies of all three creators.  Technically released at the end of 2013.  I didn't see it until early 2014.  If you consider this retroactive to last year's QB50, that'll make one of these Oz comics ranked every year since 2009.

19. Forever Evil (DC)
A decidedly contentious event, Geoff Johns let the bad guys win (for a while) before concluding on a far more ambiguous note, with traditional uber-villain Lex Luthor becoming the hero, and then setting up the next crisis.  Or, Crisis.

20. Atomic Robo (Red 5)
Has appeared on every list from 2009-2012, omitted last year because this is another small-press comic that is unreliably available in physical comics venues (and that was the year Dr. Dinosaur finally made the title of an Atomic Robo mini-series!).  But suffice to say, every time I read a Brian Clevinger/Scott Wegener comic, a smile spreads broadly across my face.

21. The Unwritten: Apocalypse (Vertigo)
Mike Carey's metafictional account of a Harry Potter figure was cancelled in 2013, but brought back for a limited engagement in 2014, and the first issue was the best possible argument for the whole concept's brilliance.

22. The Girl Who Played with Fire (Vertigo)
The comics adaptation was the biggest reason I finally read the original Stieg Larsson books.  My personal favorite element was the inclusion of Antonio Fuso in the pool of artists, fondly remembered as one of the key creative elements of Mike Costa's Cobra.

23. Archeologists of Shadows (Septagon)
2014 was the year I finally went digital, and among the benefits was the possibility of discovering exciting new underground talent, which AOS exemplified in its innovative art and engaging vision of the heroic journey.

24. Trillium (Vertigo)
Neither of the two issues I finally read of Jeff Lemire's ambitious love story was technically released in 2014, but the project did conclude in the required time-frame.  

25. The Bunker (Oni)
Joshua Hale Fialkov has been on one of the more unique creative journeys in comics, and if The Bunker signals where he's headed, he is a force that go very, very far.  

26. Batman/Batman Eternal (DC)
Here's Scott Snyder' Batman, a creative run that most observers have pegged as among the very best comics.  I've had my reservations over the years, but the more chances I give it, the more it rewards me.

27. Justice League (DC)
After having my regular reading experience broken a few years back, I've found it difficult to get back into a groove on this series, although I continue to contend that Geoff Johns is doing the most important work of the New 52 in its pages.

28. Superman/Wonder Woman (DC)
For most of the year this was another of the signal Charles Soule projects, and the first he had to conclude as he prepared for that (wretched!) Marvel contract.  His successor couldn't have been better, though: Pete Tomasi, bringing, apparently, everything he's learned in the pages of Batman and Robin with him.

29. The Death of Wolverine (Marvel)
For once, this kind of thing actually delivered, making a permanent touchstone statement in the history of a major comics character, building on the milestone work that has retroactively an entire background for one of the most important superheroes of our time.  And Charles Soule wrote it.  So maybe fans like me don't have to worry so much.

30. Captain America/All-New Captain America (Marvel)
Rick Remender has somehow become a defining writer of Steve Rogers.  Following the long tenure of Ed Brubaker, which among other things produced the material for the film Captain America: Winter Soldier, Remender brought his off-kilter instincts to full effect, depowering Rogers and introducing the Falcon as his latest replacement.  The latter series features the art of Stuart Immonen, featuring his most recognize work in years.

31. "Brace Yourself," Sensation Comics (DC)
This was the year Wonder Woman finally began to be embraced as the same creative opportunity as Batman and Superman.  The digital-first Sensation Comics rewarded that faith almost immediately with this story from Jason Bischoff, which took a fresh look at the Amazon's origins.

32. Umbral (Image)
If there's any reluctance on my part to fully enjoy this series, it's because I'm still attached to Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten's last collaboration, Wasteland (uh, see above).

33. Damian: Son of Batman (DC)
Here's Andy Kubert's solo look at an alternate future first proposed by Grant Morrison, as Damian becomes the new Dark Knight and struggles against the legacy.

34. Ultimate Spider-Man #200 (Marvel)
We all need a little Brian Michael Bendis, and this may have been the best example, a special celebration that had a look at both amazing arachnids, Peter Parker and Miles Morales.

35. Dysphoria (Hollow Tree)
Something the digital community can't really give you is the product of local talent, whose material needs all the platforms it can get to spread awareness.  If I hadn't seen this in a comics shop, I would never have seen it at all.

36. Swamp Thing (Vertigo)
The last project Charles Soule has to wrap up at DC is this one, and that may be the most telling thing to know about it.  

37. Wonder Woman (DC)
Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang concluded their epic run on the series, which may go down as the most significant creative statement in the character's long history.

38. Smallville: Lantern (DC)
In the comics, the TV series never ended.  And Superman finally became a Green Lantern.

39. The Fuse (Image)
Wasteland mastermind Antony Johnston also launched this series, a sci-fi procedural with Justin Greenwood, who along with Christopher Mitten is another signature Wasteland collaborator.  And yeah, I'm waiting until the end of that one to embrace this one, too...

40. Superior Spider-Man (Marvel)
The era of Dan Slott's Doctor Spider-Man came to an end, and y'know what? I kind of miss it.

41. Secret Origins (DC)
Very cleverly, this has been a platform not only to emphasize new creative runs, but also to acknowledge ones that have concluded.

42. The New 52: Futures End (DC)
The headlining act of a trilogy of weekly series, I badly wanted this one to remind me of 52, but it hasn't even hit the notes of Countdown to Final Crisis.  Which I liked, by the way.

43. Green Lantern (DC)
Robert Venditti's era, for me, always had an impossible act to follow, but he's been doing okay.  "Godhead" has been a step in the right direction.

44. Kick-Ass 3 (Icon)
When Mark Millar launched Kick-Ass originally, I actually was among the readers, but I quit following along after a while.  I was happy to come back and see the conclusion.

45. Deadpool: The Gauntlet (Marvel)
Hey, so I liked a Deadpool comic!

46. 7th Sword (IDW)
If the comic includes swords, it has to be awesome.  This one obviously does.  And it is.

47. Sinestro (DC)
I really wish this series were better.  A can't-miss opportunity that is on the verge of doing exactly that...

48. Teen Titans (DC)
Scott Lobdell's New 52 work hasn't been properly acknowledged in the QB50.  I came too late his Superman.  Thankfully I caught a moment every other reader (this is a running theme of Lobdell's efforts) called egregious, as Bart Allen's past (future?) was dramatically revamped.  A certain amount of evil genius was involved to make this happen.  Keep in mind, I was a huge fan of Mark Waid's Impulse, which is arguably better than his Flash, which is arguably, at its best, among the best comics ever written.

49. Star Trek Special: Flesh & Stone (IDW)
This otherwise unremarkable comic brings together all the major doctors from Star Trek history, which among other things means Enterprise now has its comic book debut.

50. Earth 2/Earth 2: World's End (DC)
The introduction of the new Superman was underwhelming, but the origin of the new Batman, which I still haven't read, is still one of the best moments of any comic in 2014.  And the spin-off weekly gets no respect, but softly deserves it.
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