Friday, January 06, 2012

Peaks And Valleys: 2011's Comics

Another year just bit the dust, so now it's time to recap my favorite and least favorite things about the comics I read in 2011.


I have to warn you: I'm not a professional comic critic, so this list is far from perfect. It's based solely on my limited comic-reading experiences this year. (Otherwise the Ayn Rand comic would be in my "worst" section solely on principle.) It's rather short on indie comics, for one thing. I haven't read Haibibi, a favorite among critics, and, so help me, I still haven't decided which of Mark Waid's "I-Adjective" books I'm going to start reading yet. Another thing about my list is that many really good books will still be excluded in the interest of brevity. Also? My list contains more expletives.



With that in mind, here are the peaks and valleys of my comic-reading experiences in 2011:


PEAKS


Animal Man - One of the DCnU's best books. Hard to believe I'd never heard of Jeff Lemire until a little more than a year ago, and now he's one of my favorite current comic writers. Here he steps up the horror aspect of Buddy Baker and family's story, with amazing results. And Travel Foreman's art and Lovern Kindzierski's colors make a winning combination.


Avengers Academy - Perhaps the greatest gift Ragnell gave me in 2011 was to get me interested in this Christos Gage-written story of these young would-be heroes and their teachers. I have fallen in love with this book and its characters, and I have yet to fall out. Equally amazing is the consistency of style in the art, considering that the book has had three different regular pencillers (Mike McKone, Sean Chen, and Tom Raney) this year. Incoming penciller Tom Grummett will likely continue this trend. If you read one Avengers book, make it this one.


Batwoman - I swear to God, if J.H. Williams' art in this comic gets any more beautiful, people will drop dead from reading it.


Criminal: Last Of The Innocent - This mini from the regular "Criminal" team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillps was essentially Archie Comics as crime noir. And freaking awesome!


Daredevil - Mark Waid gives Matt Murdock a much-needed lightening up and shaking up with this new series. Waid's Matt Murdock is a man who's been through it all, and is consequently not afraid to face life and live it to the fullest. He's kind of a thinking man's Hal Jordan. Waid puts DD through some truly interesting situations, like having him face off against Klaw, the Master of Sound. He also remembers that Matt is a lawyer, and a damn good one, utilizing his litigation skills even in his costumed alter ego. A truly fresh take on a character who had gotten stale. The beautiful art by of Paulo Rivera and Marcos Martin, which channels Jim Steranko in places, also makes this book a must-read.


Detective Comics: Black Mirror - This story arc introduced me to one of Batman's most fascinating new villains, James Gordon Jr., the son of Commissioner Gordon. It also introduced me to the work of Scott Snyder, now one of my favorites.


Herc - I feel guilty about this one because I jumped on the Herc bandwagon very late. Too late, as it turns out: The book was cancelled this year. But Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente's series went out with a bang, even including an issue illustrated by the great Mike Grell.


Invincible - This book has veered from excellent to merely very good and back this year in the aftermath of "The Viltrumite War", but it has still hit some very impressive highs, particularly the issue where Atom Eve tells Mark about her abortion and the most recent issue's confrontation between Nolan and Allen The Alien.


Jimmy Olsen - This one-shot by Nick Spencer and R.B. Silva brought back Superman's previously-neglected pal with a vengeance. Rather than ignoring or wiping out the Silver Age craziness in Jimmy's daily existence, Spencer and Silva embrace it... and crank it up a few notches.


Morning Glories - Speaking of Nick Spencer: Spencer and Joe Eisma's tale of a mysterious elite prep school has been nothing but engaging. From the heroics of Casey to the no-holds-barred snark of Zoe and Ike to the sadistic instructors, This book has me addicted. Bonus points for including a scene with one of the characters singing Yeasayer's "Ambling Alp".


O.M.A.C. - Who'd have thought a comic with "Dan DiDio" in the writing credits would be in my "Best Of" list, but here you go. Keith Giffen is at his Kirbyesque best here, delivering the best homage to "The King" I've seen in quite a while, as well as some of Giffen's best art since "The Great Darkness Saga". However, I've learned that this book is among the five worst-selling "New 52" comics, which prompts me to ask a question to comics fans: What the fuck is WRONG with you people????


Secret Six - Gail Simone's long-running saga of a rag-tag team of mercenary villains had long been not only one of DC's consistently best comics, but one of the best comics ever. Their swan song in issue#36 was THE best comic of the year.


Star Trek/Legion Of Super-Heroes - This could make my "Best" list on principle alone, but writer Chris Roberson and artists Jeff and Phil Moy are delivering an equally engaging story so far as well.


Superman#714 - No, your eyes aren't deceiving you: I'm actually putting the conclusion to "Grounded" here. At this time last year, I'd listed the "Grounded" arc as one of the worst of 2010. What happened? Chris Roberson happened. Call it "A Tale Of Two Work Ethics". Whereas original "Grounded" architect JMS looked at the transitory nature of this arc and said "Fuck it! I'm doing graphic novels instead!", Roberson used it as an opportunity to channel Elliot S! Maggin. The arc was still less than perfect (thanks in large part to DC shitcanning a vital chapter to placate Islamophobes), but the conclusion was a worthy sendoff for pre-Flushpoint Supes, right down to the Swan-style wink at the end.


Everything About DCnU Wonder Woman Except Her Parentage - Diana's been tinkered with and rebooted constantly, but this time (with the exception I'll get to further down in this post) Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang got it right.


Zatanna - This book was sheer magic.


VALLEYS


Batman: The Dark Knight - Seriously, what supernatural entity did David Finch do a solid for that he keeps getting high-profile jobs like this on flagship characters?


Catwoman#1 - I've been a Bat-Cat shipper since the days of Adam West and Julie Newmar, but their Winick-penned porn-style "tryst" here literally made me ill. Bow-chicka-bow-BARF!


DCnU Costumes - Whose bright idea was it to put the guy who designed Bare Midriff Huntress and Gambit in charge of redesigning the entire DC line? Many of them are overly-ornate messes. Trying to fix the problem of lateness and missed deadlines by making all the costumes three times harder to draw? Good thinking! And why the hell does Superman need armor?


Flushpoint - Where do I even begin with this wretched crossover event? "Ape-Controlled Africa"? The Lois Lane mini-series that didn't actually star Lois Lane? The third-rate snuff-comics Grodd Of War and the Adam Glass-penned Legion Of Doom? The portrayal of Aquaman and Wonder Woman as two steps away from mass murder? How about the conclusion, which portrays Barry Allen as a complete fucking irresponsible idiot and focuses on Barry's relationship with his soon-to-be-deceased mother while completely blowing off his relationship with his wife Iris? This event came off like a bad cross between House Of M and One More Day.


Frank Miller's "Holy Terror" - Riddle me this: What's black and white and made entirely of shit? Answer: This racist, Islam-hating Frank Miller graphic novel. I've grown progressively less fond of Miller's writing over the decades, but I've always maintained my love of his black-and-white work (see: Sin City). Until now. Hard to believe Miller originally intended this as a Batman story. This story features two characters I'll call Not Batman and Not Catwoman hunting down Al Qaeda agents in the aftermath of terrorist bombings, engaging in torture and Islamophobic stereotypes in the process. Even the B&W art here wasn't all that. Some panels did look beautiful, but many others looked like Miller just scribbled diagonally with an ink brush and called it a night. DC and the Bat-Franchise didn't just dodge a bullet by passing on this. They dodged a fucking mortar shell.


Kevin Smith's Bionic Man - Steve doesn't even go under the knife until Issue#4. No, seriously. The dog in "National Lampoon's Vacation" wasn't this dragged out.


"One More Day" Redux: DCnU Edition - Brace yourselves. I've got a lot to say on this one:


Most people looked at Spider-Man's "OMD" and thought it was one of the worst things in comics. Dan DiDio, Geoff Johns, and Jim Lee looked at it and thought "Hmmmm...". Not only did they repeat it, but they cranked it up to extremes.


The worst thing about DC's reboot is how they thoroughly wiped out not only most of the marriages in the DCU (Buh-bye, Clark/Lois and Barry/Iris! See ya in Limbo, Wally and Linda!), but also most of the romantic relationships as well. Now Guy and Tora only had "a few dates", and Barbara and Dick were just a "mutual crush". And Dick and Kory? Forget it. She evidently did.


Exit committed relationships, enter hookups and "friends with benefits" (aka fuck-buddies). Gee, that's just the right message you want to send to a predominantly male readership about the value of women in society, isn't it? And just the right way to attract much-needed female readers, right?


This purging even extended to friendships. Gone were the well-established bonds like the one between Dinah, Barbara, Helena, and Zinda in Simone's Birds Of Prey. The classic Teen Titans, which was like a family, apparently never formed. Even the bromances have been largely erased from DC history. What happened to Ted and Booster or Conner and Tim? Or Clark and Bruce, for that matter?


The effect: As the personal histories of these established characters has been erased, so has much of my emotional connection to them. Justice League and Justice League International have lost their zip for me. The revised history of the latter has been stripped clean of things like Guy's "One Punch" and the Giffen Embassy League in general.


This detachment even blunts my enjoyment of a quality book like the new Birds Of Prey. Whereas I watched the bond between the original Birds grow and evolve over the years, seeing Dinah and new character Starling interact as old friends doesn't have the same effect. It makes me feel like I have to start over. The book is a worthy successor to Simone's version in both story and art, but it just doesn't feel the same to me.


And don't get me started on Superman. True, Grant Morrison's Action Comics and the young Superman in the home-made outfit have grown on me, but even that gets ruined by the title book showing Supes as he is today: a broody loner who sulks in his fortress and pines in an unrequited fashion for Lois, who seems to be doing fine without him. Lois is awesome, but she was before the reboot. Honestly, what did we readers miss out on in the last 16 years by not having Clark single? New and innovative ways for him to mope? I just read a Ma & Pa Kent story in Action Comics#5 that made me want to fight back tears while reading it because it was so deeply personal to me. But it was a story that could have just as easily been told in the old DCU.


And that's the problem with the reboot. Many of the best stories the DCnU's produced could have easily been done without it. Can you tell me with a straight face that the reversal of Barry and Iris' marriage is the reason the new Flash series is so good? I don't think so. The new Flash book works despite Barry's "OMD'ing", not because of it.


It's not a coincidence that most of my favorite DCnU books are either a) largely unaffected by the reboot (see: Batman, Nightwing, Green Lantern, Animal Man, Swamp Thing) or b) starring less familiar or more previously obscure characters (see: Demon Knights, Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE). Batgirl and Wonder Woman are the only exceptions to that rule I can think of.


Maybe it's just that I'm a comic-reading vet, but this reboot seems to have been seriously ill-conceived overall, despite my enjoyment of some of the new books. Proof positive that DC needs more women and/or more Mark Waids at the top.


Red Hood And The Outlaws - In which Scott Lobdell downgrades Starfire from a vibrant three-dimensional character to a douchey-male fantasy. Kenneth Roccafort's "Escher Girls"-worthy rendering of her only made things worse.


Suicide Squad - Just as 2011 gave me new favorite writers in Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire, it also gave me a new least favorite: Adam Glass. Here, Glass manages to do what should have been impossible: fuck up Suicide Squad beyond recognition. Between the torture scenes that only Dick Cheney could love, the newly-sexed-up Amanda Waller, and Harley comparing her vagina to a clown car, this book was bad enough to drive old-time Suicide Squad fans TO suicide.


The Extras in DCnU's Justice League and Action Comics - The JL extras have included an ad for a fake book as well as some needless sketch outtakes and fictitious personnel dossiers. But that was nothing compared to Action's 8-page Super-Creator Mass Circle-Jerk. Yeah, THOSE were worth the extra buck. "Holding The Line", my ass!


Voodoo#1 - Half of this issue was spent on a lap dance. No, REALLY!


Wonder Woman's Parentage - Bad enough that Diana, whose clay origins were meant to symbolize pure female power, is now given a father, but the father was also Zeus. How. Original. As Ragnell pointed out, Hermes would have made more sense. As I pointed out, Dionysus would not only have been more fun, it would have been more...Azzarello. The one black mark on an otherwise-enjoyable comic.

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