Though I always enjoyed Bill Willingham’s surprise smash-hit Fables (by far Vertigo’s most financially successful property in many, many years), I never really looked forward to it. For me, the series peaked with its fourth trade, “March of the Wooden Soldiers“, which was the perfect combination of soapy plotting and military fantasy for which the series had always (in my opinion) been aiming. It remained solid for years after that, but with so many excellent books coming out, and such an enormous back-catalog to catch up on, I fell behind. But I always noticed its spin-offs, from the winning Cinderella books to the occasionally enjoyable Jack of Fables, and I was interested when I saw the new spin-0ff, Fairest, on the shelves. With a gorgeous Adam Hughes cover, pencils by the immensely respected Phil Jimenez, not to mention Willingham writing in his element, it seemed like a must-read.
So, rather than save my Christmas money*, I did what any sensible person would do – I bought comics! Sure, I can’t pay rent for February, but I got some quality reading done in the meantime, so all is good, at least in my head. Without further embarrassing personal detail, onwards!
Northlanders: Sven the Returned
While the adherence to modern slang and language might be off-putting, it soon becomes subsumed in the tale of a stubborn Viking who just wants people to quit fucking with him. Entertaining and violent, with just a touch of the dramatic, the first trade nevertheless fails to surpass the standard Viking revenge tale. Still, the hint of promise shown within make me hopeful for future offerings.
Scalped: Indian Country
The hype from Jason Aaron’s reservation-life Native American noir is heavy, and this opening trade fails to deliver. Standard art combines with a story that barely serves as more than an introduction to make a disappointing first volume. There’s promise to be found in the filth the book revels in, but it takes some digging to find.
Scapled: Casino Boogie
Scalped: Casino Boogie
The second trade, however, delivers in all the ways the first one didn’t. Introducing new twists to the story, the book does it in a creative and entertaining way, each issue taking place over the span of the same day, but from a different point of view. Here we finally get in deep with the various players on the reservation, and here we finally have a reason to care. Count me among the converted.
Phonogram: Rue Britannia
I have trouble explaining how much I enjoyed this from relative newcomer Kieron Gillen. Ultra-masculine Brit hipster David Kohl is forced to search for a dead goddess of Brit Pop music and find out just what it going on in the ether that’s causing him to change in drastic (to him and no one else) ways. Even given my relative unfamiliarity with the bands and trends being mentioned, I nonetheless could relate to the sheer power music has in the lives of these people. An intriguing story and a fascinating setting just a little to the left of our own work together with simple (but clean and gifted) art to provide a book well-worth your money. A story about reinforcing why you love what you love, about coming to terms with it and its influence on your past.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Wolves at the Gate
The Whedonisms of the book are beginning to grate, and while it is still an undeniably enjoyable book, some of the particular thematic and writing tics of the book are wearing. Nonetheless, the book continues to excel at humorous, heartwarming, heartbreaking relationships, and fans of the TV show will continue to enjoy the rapid-fire wit and excellent dialogue.
Andy Diggle, writer of The Losers and Green Arrow: Year One, seemed like an odd choice of writer to take over the Hellblazer writing chores after award-winning horror novelist Denise Mina, and Joyride is his first collection, a series of stories meant to bring John back from the brink where he’s been hovering through the last couple writers. The story is entertaining and suitably dark, a good set of arcs to set up what Diggle seems to hope to accomplish. Expressive, dark art from Manco and strong ties to the recent Hellblazer run of Mike Carey combine to make a standard, but competent story.
Gotham Central: The Quick and the Dead
The fourth trade in the Rucka/Brubaker masterpiece bringing a refreshing bit of realism to the gritty uber-epic Batman mythos, The Quick and the Dead might be the weakest trade in the series thus far… but given the strength of the characterization and dialogue, it still serves the series well, and shows time and again how Crispus Allen and Renee Montoya got where they are today.
Matt Fraction’s tiny little piece of insane pop action is well-introduced in this first volume. While stylistic art takes a little adaptation to those of a more traditional bent, it nonetheless complements Fraction’s hyperkinetic action hero well. Fun fluff, well worth the shot for fans looking for a little something more from their action espionage comic books.
Yet another obscure entry from Grant Morrison, the Filth almost delights in being obtuse. Filled with crazy, creative ideas, it boils down to a cranky old man who just wants to be alone with his cat in its dying days. Weston had his work cut out for him, but he steps up to the task admirably and delivers on many of the absolutely horrifying concepts Morrison bandies about with creepy ease. Absolutely not for everyone – not even for most people – the Filth nonetheless may offer some readers a glimpse into the darker side of Morrison’s work, that they might better understand where he’s coming from in the lighter works.
Young Liars: Daydream Believers
The first disgusting trade of Young Liars is finally available, and well worth a gander. Like Mike Carey’s so-so Faker, Liars focuses on disgust, betrayal and selfishness, but the refreshing blitz of Sadie, teamed with the self-loathing love of young Danny, make for far more compelling interactions. The attitudes of the book may be a turn-off for many, and some bizarre stylistic choices in terms of background and dialogue can be confusing, but it is nonetheless worth a gander.
Fables: War & Pieces
Willingham’s epic seems to move in waves. Alternating between stories with a great deal of creativity, heart and action all laced together with a healthy dollop of bastardized mythology and a series of stagnant set-up arcs with a lot of introduction and even more nothing-really. So, it should be no surprise that after that strength of The Good Prince and Sons of Empire, War and Pieces reads as a perfunctory conclusion to the first major conflict in the Fables-verse. An important book plot-wise with (as always) impressive art, War and Pieces is nonetheless another dry spot in the ongoing story. Not bad, just not up to the standard the book set for itself.
DMZ: On the Ground
Brian Wood’s breakout hit about a the only on-location journalist at ground-zero of America’s second Civil War appears to be almost entirely a setting-building exercise that also happens to casually examine the horrors of war with which we are all pretty familiar. Still, the excellent art provides a certain touch, and Wood’s story excels where many such stories fail in its compelling cast of supporting characters and slice-of-life stories, like the sniper romance. Wood doesn’t let us revel in a single aspect of war atrocity on home soil, instead taking us through a series of small arcs to see the effect of the civil war and troop involvement in New York City itself. Thanks to its easy familiarity with a cool cast, DMZ proves itself a consistently entertaining read with just a touch of the frighteningly familiar.
*okay, admission time – it was actually just gift cards, so it wasn’t actually a waste, and some of these were bought before or after Christmas that I just never got around to reviewing. I may begin to review some of my older trades as my pull list (and available cash) dwindles.
I did this last year (obviously before the blog existed), and even though I’ve got a pretty durned big DCBS box coming next week (25 books. Yay!), I don’t necessarily expect them to crack this top ten, so I’m just going to jump the gun and publish my list now. Ha ha! It begins…
Going to skip putting the cover images on here because I am lazy and it takes up too much space.
10. Fables #75
Writer: Bill Willingham
Penciller: Mark Buckingham
DC’s Vertigo Imprint
Ah, Fables. If there’s one thing you do well (and believe me, it’s a lot more than one thing), it’s big milestone anniversary issues. You could argue that this book had a lot to live up to considering the quality of issue 50 and its positioning as the climax of the War and Pieces arc. I love the way Willingham and Buckingham depict war (the March of the Wooden Soldiers trade pretty much assured that I’d be reading this book until it ends), and this issue caps off the arc while giving us a window into what else we get to look forward to.
9. Kick-Ass #3
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: John Romita Jr.
Marvel’s Icon Imprint
Is it late as hell? Yup. Is Millar more interested in the movie than the comic? Probably. Doesn’t change my opinion of this issue. This book revels in being over the top, and does not pull any punches in the violence and blood department. There’s more to it than that crazy final battle sequence, but we shouldn’t exactly be looking for a lot of depth in a book like this. Review is here.
8. Thunderbolts #121
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Mike Deodato, Jr.
Ah, watching the Green Goblin go nuts. Who hasn’t seen that before? Well, me, honestly. Never really read much Spider-Man, mostly due to lack of time. This issue is the last of Ellis’ run, and it delivers on what we’ve been wanting to see since he started writing the book post Civil War. And that’s not all of course. You’ve got Bullseye with one of the best lines of the year, and the rest of the inmates attempting to run the asylum while Norman flies all over the place and just throws pumpkin bombs indiscriminately. Fantastic stuff.
7. Terry Moore’s Echo #3
Writer: Terry Moore
Artist: Terry Moore
Most of the awesome in this issue came from the last page reveal, which is that kind of true holy crap moment that gives you a little glimpse of what could be coming over the months as this series continued. We have a new character introduced out of the blue, all kinds of craziness and over the top dialogue. It forces you to pause and try to cope with what you just read, and the only words you can think of are “Damn. Didn’t see that coming.” Contrast that with a crushing interaction between the main character and her sister, and you have a wonderful issue of a wonderful book. Review is here.
6. Nova #15
Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Penciller: Wellington Alves
Yes, I love Galactus. Yes, this was one of the better Galactus stories I’ve read in recent history. Any of the three issues of the story arc could have been on this list, but I think the way that the Harrow B plot was resolved was a great moment. Wellington Alves did a great job with the big G, and the way he was used as this disinterested party hovering in the background of panels was excellent. Review is here.
5. Superman/Batman #51
Writers: Michael Green and Mike Johnson
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque
You can only read so many depressing ass comics (and considering my top four could all easily fit in that category except Iron Fist) before you need a break. And what works better as a break than the madcap fun of the two issue “Little Leaguers” arc from Superman/Batman? Not much at all, really. Super fun silliness that just makes you feel good inside. Sure, either issue could have been put here, but I went for the first because I flipped a coin. These things need to happen sometimes. Review can be found here.
4. The Twelve #6
Writer: J Michael Straczynski
Artist: Chris Weston
This is probably the best issue of this series so far (and this is pound for pound the best mini series that has come out this year, despite delays), mostly because JMS really poured on the despair in a way we hadn’t seen yet or since. That’s really what this series is about: despair. It’s another very quiet book similar in style and scope to Thor (and really, this is where JMS seems to be most at home). This issue features the actual fate of Rockman, and dear lord is it heart-wrenching. Check out my previous review for some more insight.
3. Thor #11
Writer: J Michael Straczynski
Penciller: Olivier Coipel
More JMS love here. This is a recent one (and oddly enough, takes the same place on the list as Thor #3 last year), and I might be high on this one because it’s fresh in my mind, but the quality is there nonetheless. I LOVE what JMS is doing with this book. It is nothing like what someone would necessarily expect from a character like Thor, but it perfectly fits into his world. Gods with flaws as an interesting literary device dates back to the tragic plays of Ancient Greece to me, and that’s the same kind of feel that I get from this Thor run. It’s such a quiet, slow burn. This issue is similar to that third chapter that I loved so much, in this case we’ve got Thor getting some closure concerning the death of Steve Rogers. He wasn’t around when it happened, so in this book he manages to contact Steve’s spirit and just talk to him for a bit. Coipel’s art in these pages is gorgeous, and he really makes such a simple story device sing. You’ve also got the continuation of Loki’s manipulation of Balder, as well as a callback to the fate of Lady Sif. Fantastic storytelling in every way.
2. The Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall and the Death Queen of California (One-Shot)
Writer: Duane Swierczynski
Artist: Guiseppe Camuncoli
This to me was just a beautiful throwback to the 1920’s noir style starring a character I’ve enjoyed quite immensely since his creation by Fraction and Brubaker. Swierczynski had written some Iron Fist work prior to this, but I think this issue is what really made me believe that he would be a worthy replacement for the original creative team. I think this ended up being better than Fraction’s Green Mist of Death one shot simply due to the layered references to Pygmalion and Metropolis, as well as the general feel of the book being more akin to what I look for in an Orson Randall tale. Here’s the review.
1. Casanova #14
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Fabio Moon
If anyone read my ridiculously over the top review gushing like crazy about this book back when it came out, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this is my top choice of the year. I’ve gone back and read it probably 15 to 20 times, and it never ceases being absolutely and totally incredible in every possible way. It’s the perfect ending to a story arc. It’s the perfect twist that completely changes (without being cheap) everything that came before it. I think I wrote enough in my review to justify my feelings, so I’ll just point you there. This book is covered in the combined souls of Matt Fraction and Fabio Moon. Gorgeous. Beautiful. Transcendent.
ACTION COMICS #872
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #579-581
AVENGERS INITIATIVE #20
AVENGERS INVADERS #7
BOYS #25 (MR)
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER #21
CAPTAIN AMERICA #45
CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND MI 13 #8
DARK REIGN NEW NATION
DETECTIVE COMICS #851
FABLES #79 (MR)
FC LEGION OF THREE WORLDS #4
FC REVELATIONS #5 (OF 5)
FC SECRET FILES #1
FRANKENSTEINS WOMB GN (MR)
GHOST RIDER #30
GREEN LANTERN #37
GREEN LANTERN CORPS #31
GUARDIANS OF GALAXY #8
INCREDIBLE HERCULES #124
INVINCIBLE #57 (RES)
INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #8
JACK OF FABLES #29 (MR)
JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #22
MOON KNIGHT #25
MS MARVEL #34
NEW AVENGERS #48
NO HERO #4
PUNISHER X-MAS SPECIAL 2008
RUNAWAYS 3 #5
SAVAGE DRAGON #143
SECRET SIX #4
SHE-HULK 2 #36
SI DARK REIGN
SI REQUIEM #1
SKAAR SON OF HULK #6
SUPERMAN BATMAN #55
THOR GOD SIZED #1
ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #129
ULTIMATE X-MEN #99
ULTIMATUM #3 (OF 5)
UNCANNY X-MEN #505 MD
WALKING DEAD #57 (RES) (MR)
WAR HEROES #5 (OF 6) (MR)
WAR MACHINE #1
WINTERMEN WINTER SPECIAL #1
WOLVERINE ORIGINS #31
WONDER WOMAN #27
X-MEN LEGACY #219
YOUNG LIARS #10 (MR)
Wow, only 68 books? YAUS!
December’s Greetings: Let’s see, we got all the Secret Invasion wrap-up stuff with Dark Reign: New Nation, Secret Invasion: Dark Reign and Secret Invasion: Requiem. Cool. And Morrison’s finally going to explain some crap in the Final Crisis: Secret Files book. Also cool. Brubaker and Phillips are starting a new crime book, Incognito. Extra cool. I see that Wintermen will finally get wrapped up (lots of wrapping up, must be Christmas) with the Winter Special. Oh, and I finally get to read the new House of Mystery series as the first trade releases in December.
I’m working on a series of articles about The Sentry right now that has been taking up the majority of my time. First article is nearly finished, but I ended up getting side tracked by an essay I decided to write about dreams and reality that I’ll probably post on Alpha Primitive in the next few days. I’m hoping to get a Trade Secrets out about the Marvel Knights Sentry run by the end of the weekend, provided that the potential arrival of my books on Friday (crossing my fingers, UPS) doesn’t side track things further. I’ve done a ton of writing in the last week; I just need to finish what I start. I did end up going to the comic shop today and read a few of the books I bought, so it seemed like a good idea to throw up some reviews and keep things rolling.
Fables #77 (****)
Ah, this is more like it. Not sure why Pepoy is inking this one instead of Leialoha (especially considering the cover image I pulled from ComicbookDB lists him instead of Pepoy, but the cover I have on hand is correct), but Buckingham is back and things are moving again. This is part one of The Dark Ages, and it follows multiple story lines dealing with the power vacuum in the Homelands now that the Adversary is no longer in control of things. Much of it concerns two new characters, mercenaries in the land of Tiabrut that are just trying to get on with their lives by killing some folks and earning some money in classic mercenary fashion. We don’t get a lot of heavy character development for these two, but judging from the cliffhanger at the end of the main story, these guys are going to be very important for the continuation of this first new story arc in post-war Fables. Elsewhere we see some second generation Fables demanding to take up arms and claim one of the Homelands for themselves, only to be shot down by Beauty and Beast. This is another thread I expect to pay off later on in the arc, and it might not go by without some violence. Plus, Rose Red is doing something that is not going to be taken very well by anyone who has been reading the series since its inception. In addition to the wicked cliffhanger, we’re treated to a backup story with art by Peter Gross that focuses on how Bigby is handling hid position as the director of the Homeland Recovery program that appears to be a little five issue backup run that one assumes will be printed concurrently with the Dark Ages storyline (and as such, I’m assuming this will be a five issue arc, as there is no mention of a specific number on the title page and I’m too lazy to look up the solicits). This is a classic first issue. Many threads are established (the mercs, the SOS, Rose Red, Bigby, etc.), and they’re all going to pay off and intertwine as we move on. What’s important is these threads are a lot more interesting than what we got in the last issue, and I’m engaged again. What’s more important than that? One thing’s for sure though, I am very glad that I decided to switch to singles on this book.
Superman/Batman #51 & 52 (*****)
I’ve heard so much good about these issues both from folks on this blog and various podcasts, I felt the need to pick them up the next time I ventured to a comic shop. And I did. And I am not disappointed. These issues had the kind of berserk energy that I would expect from a crazy Mxyzptlk story. I do not have a whole lot to say that Billy didn’t cover in both of his reviews; he did an excellent job pointing out all the good that happened in this arc. It’s got that wonderful mix of playfulness, youthful exuberance and bizarre non sequitur, but Green and Johnson are not afraid to undercut everything with what happens once that innocence is lost right in front of your eyes. This is the subject of the second half of the second issue, and the book is completely successful in getting that stomach punch moment as you see these super kids realizing just what death is. It’s a sobering prospect. Not sure what to make of the end. It was certainly apt for the story, but I don’t know if it’s going to have some crazy payoff further down the line. I HIGHLY recommend these issues to anyone. They’re great fun and professionally put together.
If you’re STILL not reading Jack of Fables, here is what you’re missing:
• 4th Wall Breaking Exposition!
• Awkward Girls with Big Hair!
• Interesting conversations in the Men’s Room!
• The poetic musings of Babe the Blue Ox!
• Even More Irony!
• So much Irony that unless you’ve been following extra close you’ll have no idea what’s going on!
• Babe defying gravity!
• Big final page reveals!
• And some final words from the star of the show, Jack of the Tales!
There’s tons more AWESOME in every issue, but I think I’ve given you plenty to chew on for now. My favorite part? When Humpty-Dumpty tells the “do ya’ over easy” joke. Hilarious. Get it?
Recently in the comments section of this post, I brazenly asserted that Batman, by Grant Morrison & Tony Daniel, fails as a monthly comic reading experience. Basically, I feel the plot is too convoluted or complex for easy monthly digestion, although I’m sure it’ll go down very easy in trade.
So, what makes a good monthly comic? A couple of things:
Comics that put “character” first!
Comics that tend to focus more on character than plot are inherently more readable as monthlies. When jumping into the middle of a six issue arc, its character that pulls you in and fills in the holes. With the exception of Fantastic Four, every comic on my list stars a single character.
“Done-in-One (or two)” Stories!
There’s no need to wait for the trade if each arc is only 1-2 issues long, right? Again, this type of story goes well with character writing. Since the plot isn’t required to sustain itself for 3-6 issues, it can be pared down and used primarily as a vehicle to reveal the titular hero’s character. Batman and Zatanna team up to stop the Joker!?! Reading that story you find that it’s not really about catching the Joker as much as it’s about developing Bruce and Zatanna’s relationship. Also, without really sacrificing the overall plot, these “done-in-one” stories can be framed like TV episodes that when viewed over an entire season combine to reveal a hidden master plot. Think Buffy, Heroes, etc… As many of us know, it can be very intimidating for a new reader to jump onto a book with a long running story, so hiding the plot in this manner is a great way to eliminate that intimidation factor. It also allows the writer to integrate sub-plots with clearly defined conflicts into the background that can be slowly developed and brought to the forefront at a later date, as Mark Millar does in Fantastic Four.
Cliffhangers that punch you in the face!
I mean, does this one really need explanation? There are quite a few comics (many on this list) that use the “final page splash” to great effect in almost every single issue. The rush you get from experiencing these in a floppy is much different than when experiencing them in a trade. Actually, it doesn’t even come close.
Getting that “OMG I can’t wait for next month!” Soap Opera feeling!
Of the four I’ve listed here, I think this last one is probably the most important (although it is very closely related to the Cliffhanger thing). For me, it’s the most important factor in deciding whether or not to wait for the trade. I ask myself, as many of you probably do, “Can I go more than a month without reading about BLANK?!?” If you answer “NO!”, then you obviously have a great monthly in your hands!
With the pretentious explanations out of the way I present to you, in no particular order, my “Top Ten Comics That Work Best as Monthlies”:
ACTION COMICS by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank
I could NEVER read this comic in trade; I just love the characters too much! And the cliffhangers are the epitome of punch you in the face. There haven’t been many done-in-ones in the Johns run, but that’s okay, since at least half the comics on this list barely utilize that comic book storytelling device. But Johns does love the sub-plots, wherein he writes some of the best (or, THE best) character moments in comics. CONS: More done-in-ones would be nice.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN by “The Spidey Brain Trust”
With the exception of the current arc, “New Ways To Die”, Brand New Day has been nothing but 1-, 2-, and 3-issue arcs filled with character, character, character… the Soap Opera mojo has been strong. Because of the weekly shipping schedule, the Spidey team has been using the last page splash to great effect. CONS: Actually, maybe there are too many characters? Sometimes it gets confusing.
CAPTAIN AMERICA by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting & Luke Ross
All of the above? Without all the little Bucky character stuff, I would not be enjoying this book as much as I am. It’s funny, but to me, most issues of Captain America feel like single issue stories set in an epic tapestry whose true significance won’t be seen ‘til Brubaker ends his run. It’s one long, ongoing story that excites me month in and month out.
DEADPOOL by Daniel Way & Paco Medina
We’re two issues in and I’m in love. For now. Plot? What plot? If you’re looking for a story, you’re in the wrong place, duder. This is all about Deadpool. That’s it. Do you need to read issue one to understand issue two? Hell no! Enjoy the funny!
DETECTIVE COMICS by Paul Dini & Dustin Nguyen
Current master of the 1- or 2-part story (yeah, yeah, I know the RIP tie-in breaks the rules). Reading Detective for the last two years I remember more about Bruce sex life (obv lack thereof) than I do the details of any of the stories. And to me, that’s awesome writing. Dini has made Bruce likable. This is new, folks. Bruce Wayne as an actual character in comics? Not since pre-DKR, I would think, have we seen the identity of Bruce Wayne written as a real character. Ah no, I disagree with you, Morrison’s Wayne is a flimsy piece of cardboard. Maybe he had something at the beginning of his run, but fleshing out Batman’s alter ego took a back seat to RIP setup long ago, maybe around the time Adam Kubert left the book. Anyway, yes, Dini isn’t writing Batman, he’s writing Bruce Wayne as Batman. And there is a difference, and that difference is quite refreshing.
FANTASTIC FOUR by Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch
The character stuff is lacking, but the sub-plots, cliffhangers and OMG moments make this a top of the stack must-read. Here’s a recent review that reads more negative than it actually is.
GRAVEL by Warren Ellis, Mike Wolfer & Raulo Caceres
The way the current arc is framed, it works wonderfully as a series of single issue stories filled with scenes exploring the character of William Gravel. Oh, you know what? Thank God Ellis finally got around to fleshing this guy out. Gravel started life as a boringly hollow SAS thug who starred in a series of idea-driven minis. In those minis, there was never anything particularly exciting or compelling about the Gravel character and the fact of the matter is, I probably only read them because they were written by Ellis. Now, under the watchful eye of Mike Wolfer, I really grown to like this guy and each month I can’t wait to read Gravel’s next adventure. Shocking. That’s good stuff, brother.
HULK by Jeph Loeb & Ed McGuinness
INVINCIBLE by Robert Kirkman & Cory Walker
Ever since the #51 reboot, this book has been one of the most anticipated monthlies in my stack. LOVING IT… happy now, Bruce?
JACK OF FABLES by Matthew Sturges & Bill Willingham
Awesome title character? CHECK!
Outstanding sub-plots? CHECK!
SOAP OPERA?!? TRIPLE CHECK!!!
Crappy weather all over the Northeastern seaboard this weekend. It’s time to do some MAJOR catching up.
The Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall and the Death Queen of California (*****)
This is the best story to come out of the new Iron Fist mythos. It should be noted that I’m including the main Iron Fist series in that statement, which means that this book actually manages to outshine Fraction and Brubaker’s work on the character and the title. I never thought I’d find myself in a position to make a statement like that. But that’s how good this one shot is. Swierczynski takes the Orson Randall character and puts him exactly where he should be; a hot blooded noir tinged Hollywood at the end of the 1920’s. He proceeds to spin a yarn that effortlessly combines the Eastern sensibilities of the Iron Fist with the American culture of the early twentieth century. It’s a detective story in the good noir tradition, complete with everything kicked off by the voluptuous and mysterious woman coming out of nowhere to present her problems to the protagonist, who in turn can’t keep her our of his mind while he tries to focus on the task at hand. Of course, she’s not who she originally claims to be, and thus the mystery unfolds. Sure, it’s procedure, but things become procedure because they work. Which is not to say Swierczynski simply follows a script here and plays by the rules. Something as simple as naming the female lead Galatea (who is of course the name of the woman statue from the Greek Pygmallion myth) starts to pique the interest of the mind.
The most important part of any noirish book is the narration. It’s the only entrance you have into the story and the main character. The window into his thoughts. Duane is more than capable here, and his narrative captions move the story along swimmingly. The story itself twists and turns upon itself over and over as new details come to light and more characters enter the picture. You’ve also got that inevitable moment where the detective proves he’s a badass, which in this story is represented by Orson having a meeting with a film executive and using some pistachio shells to his advantage. Did we need to know Orson Randall is a badass? Not really; he is an Iron Fist after all, and the work done in the first arc of Immortal Iron Fist as well as the Fraction penned Green Mist of Death one shot certainly established the level of badassery at play when Orson Randall is around. In this case, however, Duane is specifically making sure that this book is perfectly accessible to anyone that might deign to pick it up. Truly, there’s not a whole lot of actual Iron Fist talk until later in the book, and Orson very rarely appears with his cowl early on. This is simply an awesome noir story that anyone can read. I gave it to one of my roommates that is a big noir fan, and while he may not have gotten as much out of it as those of us with a larger information base about the Iron Fist mythology, he still loved it.
The art is also excellent here, and the work of Giuseppe Camuncoli is very different than what we’ve become used to in the various and sundry Iron Fist books since the relaunch. It also follows the standard approach of using different art for different eras. With this being a standalone one shot, things work despite the different art style than what your average Iron Fist fan would be expecting. It more than gets the job done, and there are some beautiful sequences that show a strong grasp of sequential art. It enhances the story without being garish or jarring, and both halves of the book work in a wonderfully symbiotic fashion, which is exactly what you want from a comic.
This is a gorgeous book, and probably the best Marvel one shot I’ve ever read. If not for the mad power of Casanova #14, this book would be a strong candidate for my favorite single issue of the year. It’s super accessible, wonderfully written and wonderfully drawn. It is completely worth the four dollar cover price (which I did pay in full, as I managed to forget to order it from DCBS). EVERYONE should pick this book up, if not only to enjoy the story but to see a taste of what Duane Swierczynski is doing with Iron Fist post Fraction and Brubaker
Fables #76 (***)
MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE FABLES SERIES. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
Still with me? Cool.
This kind of issue was probably necessary after the conclusion of War & Pieces. You had to have the moments that deal with Gepetto and his attempts to reacclimate himself with polite society after signing the Fabletown charter at the end of issue 75. And considering the art demands that faced Mark Buckingham during War & Pieces, it was as good of a time as any to spell him with pinch hitter Mike Allred. It’s also always been the case that the non-Buckingham issues have never been heavy on story progression. So we have a breath catching interlude to take care of things. This issue does not answer the question of “where is this series headed?” after the huge shake up of the Adversary being captured and brought into Fabletown, but that’s not something that had to be answered immediately. You have what is pretty much expected. Pinocchio and Beast take Gepetto out for a tour of the town, and the inhabitants of Fabletown aren’t exactly pleased with their newest resident. He is spit on, denied food, and generally reviled. No shock there. The only problem with this is the fact that it’s basically an auto pilot issue. Willingham doesn’t do anyhting big or spectacular, nor does he do a lot of character building that we haven’t seen before. The art is capable enough; this isn’t Mike Allred’s first go around in the Fables universe. It’s certainly a different style from Buckingham, and the only part of it that’s really jarring is Allred’s rendition of Pinocchio, which is completely different from Buckingham, even down to hair color. Even still, that’s not the kind of thing that’s going to ruin a book. All told, it’s an adequate installment of Fables. It’s not reaching for the stars and it’s not slumming. It’s just there.
Billy Batson and The Magic of Shazam! #2 (****1/2)
This is one of my favorite new books and I don’t care that I’m just about 20 years past the target demographic. This comic rocks. It’s better than 90% of the “adult” super heroes comics being published today and here’s why: 1) It’s super fun. 2) The art is Amazo-ing. I love the whole “unfinished sketch/storyboard/panels within panels thing Mike Kunkel has going on. It’s brilliant! 3) It’s fricking cheap! $2.25! Who cares if the paper isn’t glossy!?! It’s $2.25! 4) OH! And every issue has a section in the back that’s in code and you have to use “The Monster Society Code” to break it! FUN!!! 5) And for those interested in continuity, this book is a direct sequel to last year’s Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil mini series by Jeff Smith. I loved that book, but I have to admit, Mike Kunkel’s Shazam is miles better. No lie. Apparently, Kunkel used to do a little book called Hero Bear that I’d heard of but never read and consequently missed the boat on. Totally feel like an idiot. So, if you like fun and great art, give this book a try. If you don’t like it, then you, sir, have no taste.
Fables #75 (****)
Ah, this really hit the spot. Finally. This is the type of Fables war story I’ve been waiting for. Huge epic battles combined with intimate character moments. It took him 75 issues, but Willingham finally forced me to care about Prince Charming! And the art was also superb. Mark Buckingham grinds out another fabulous issue. What an underrated talent that guy is, right? This isn’t the final issue of the series, but it could easily have been so. My only complaint is that I kind of wish Boy Blue and Bigby had died. Boy Blue’s charm has been running thin as of late and I’m sick and tired of the “all-powerful” Bigby wolf. Like, the guy isn’t God, or Jesus, or Moses even. Get over yourself, you hairy monster.
Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #1 (****)
Sometimes, and I may get blasted for this, but sometimes I can’t take George Perez pencils. They just… bother me. His layouts are busy and a lot of his faces start repeating. BLAH. What I’m trying to say is that this time I enjoyed his art. It was still uber-busy, of course, but somehow Geoff Johns expert dialoguing mitigated the groan factor. As far as this being a Final Crisis tie-in, I don’t know. How does this story fit exactly? Isn’t Superman zooming through the Multiverse at this point in the FC plot? And what does the Legion have to do with anything? This mini, unlike Revelations, feels like it could’ve been just as well served without the FC banner. Could I be missing the obvious link to FC? Maybe. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Green Lantern Corps #28 (***1/2)
I really want to love this issue, and this arc in general, but the art is just SOOOOO pedestrian. Boring. It feels like fill-in art on some crappy mid-90’s Marvel book. I really like this Sixth Sense character though. I bet Johns and Tomasi are gonna get a ton of mileage out of him once “Blackest Night” starts.
Spawn #182 (****)
Again, WHY? Why are they changing directions? YET! AGAIN! When the story has been so good lately! ARRGH! Admittedly, this issue was a bit of a dip in quality, mostly due to the extraneous amounts of exposition… but… it was still better than 90% of the first 100 issues. At what point do I finally cut my losses and break up with Spawn? Is it time? Yes, I think it is.
Air #1 (-)
I can’t really review this book… I have no idea what happened!!! Somebody, anybody… please to explain!!!
The Amazing Spider-Man #568-569 (*****)
“New Ways To Be Awesome” is more like it! Dan Slott, what took you so long to land this gig? Your Spidey rocks! These first two parts did not disappoint, the Mark Waid Venom story in the back did, but that doesn’t detract in the least from the overall story. You could just not read it, or if you’re like me, immediately foget you did. DCBS was thoughtful enough to send me the variant covers for these issues, and usually I could care less, but I like this story so much if they don’t follow through on the variants for parts 3-6 I’m gonna be mighty sore!
Jack of Fables #25 (*****)
Yes, indeed, my good friend Prof Dresser… the funny is back! Although, I don’t think I buy Robin Page falling for Jack. It’s funny, but seems way out of left field, even with the labored 5-page explanation. However, I do like Priscilla Page finally growing her metaphorical balls. That was cool. The Book Burner? Kind of “meh” on that guy. But still, Jack’s final word balloon of the issue totally made up for it. Heh.
Superman/Batman #51 (****)
I just really loved the art. I loved the 5th dimensional impiness of the Lil’ Leaguers. This is another one of those books that works so well (now that Green and Johnson have taken over) BECAUSE it’s out of continuity… for the most part. It may not have the prestige of Action Comics, but it makes up for it with “Super Funtime Stories”. Isn’t that what comics should be?Yes, I think so.
• Action Comics #868 (*****): Another solid issue in the Gary Frank run. Brainic is frightening and cool. Finally.
• Daredevil #110 (*****): It’s hard to believe how mediocre this book used to be. Will the quality change survive Rucka’s departure? Never can tell.
• DC Universe: Last Will and Testament #1 (*): A complete and utter waste of time. I wouldn’t have minded it if the story was even remotely cool or interesting. It wasn’t, so I did mind its terribleness. I minded it very much.
• Doktor Sleepless #8 (****): The quality of this story has steadily been on the rise. My favorite scene in this issue was when DS basically told his ex-gf that he was, in point of fact, not sane. I kept waiting for some hint that the good Doktor was still just playing the part of “Cartoon Mad Scientist”, but no such hints were forthcoming. Great choice, Ellis. I’m finally on board for the duration.
• Final Crisis: Rogue’s Revenge #2 (*****): WOW. Best. Comic villains take note, this is how you villain it up, dudes. I love this mini, but I’m glad it’s only three issues. Thanks, Johns.
• Gravel #4 (****1/2): Gravel continues to be the best title Ellis is writing and at the same time not writing.
• Justice League of America #24 (*): As of a month from now, this title is dropped. DO. NOT. CARE.
• Justice Society of America #18 (****): This, on the other hand, could not be better. KUDOS.
• Robin #177 (***): I like the writing, but color me confused? RIP is still running, isn’t it? Red Robin isn’t Tim or Jason? Methinks lame.
• Superman #679 (***): The less “super” of the two Superman books. James Robinson, why do you suck? Is it a style choice? I just can’t get into this book, it feels like it’s trying to hard. The Lois/Clark conversation/pseudo spat and the “…avenger me!” line were ludicrous. Although, I did really like the final page, and I’m not even a dog-lover!
• Ultimate Spider-Man #125 (***): Bendis continues with this tale I could give two tugs of a… right, I didn’t play the game, but still, that doesn’t mean the comic has to be boring. Am I right?!?
• X-Force #6 (****): Everything we expected to happen happened… and then something unexpected happened to boot. Um, Rhane EATING her dad? There’s no way anyone expected that. If you disagree with me, you are made of lies.
A Slight Disclaimer:
Here’s the part where my laziness allows me to put a couple of these articles in the can ahead of time so I can relax. I love writing. I love comics. And, oddly enough, I love writing about comics. But with an impending move in less than two months and the large prospect of packing up my current life and basically moving it on my own from Philly to Boston combined with the prospect of also not having a job when I get there, things have been a bit stressful as of late, sleep has been lost and so on and so forth. So I’m going to be scaling myself back just a little bit on the blog writing tip. Don’t necessarily expect to see long form reviews on single comics outside of the events. I’ll still be churning out mini reviews whenever I get books though. And unless I get really worked up by something, I probably won’t be ranting any time soon. I’ve still got parts two and three of my event analysis coming, with part two in the can and sitting in my email waiting to be posted. I should have part three done by next week depending on my work load at the old job here (shhhh. Don’t tell anyone. Our secret). The good thing is I’m going to be able to pump out eleven Trade Secrets articles on Fables. I’ve read the first six trades, and the next five and the graphic novel are coming in the post (apparently I’ve become British) soon enough. So that’ll keep me busy without having to work overtly hard on writing more in depth commentaries on individual issues. See? Everyone wins! And by everyone, I am explicitly referring to myself. Alright. With that out of the way, on with the show.
Another Slight Disclaimer:
So why did I decide to do something extremely risky by buying the first six trades of Fables from Instocktrades.com completely blind having never read a single page of a single issue of the series, especially considering the above paragraph concerning my impending move and the fact that I don’t have a job locked down in my new place of residence (VS fans out there may or may not want to keep an eye on eBay in the coming weeks if they’re interested in some Marvel and DC Legends money rares. Des is beginning to get desperate)? Well, word of mouth is a pretty darned powerful thing. Peer pressure is too. I’ve been told so many times that Fables is the best ongoing comic on the stands today, and no one can consider themselves a true comic fan if they’re not reading Fables, and there may have been something about sacrificial goats and pagan gods, but either way, the interest was there. A few weeks ago I was listening to 11 O’Clock Comics (the best new podcast on the planet, and probably the third best comics podcast on Earth behind Around Comics and Comic Geek Speak) and Jason Wood (a gentleman and a scholar) was extolling the virtues of the tenth Fables trade, so I decided to go nuts and just order the six trades. I think it was about ten seconds after I confirmed my purchase that I realized what could potentially happen if I didn’t like the book. Could be a pretty steep waste of money. Luckily, however, I devoured all six trades in four days. And yes, they’re good. But I’m not talking about the series as a whole. Let’s just look at the first trade.
Fables Volume 1: Legends in Exile
Now that I’ve bored everyone to tears with my own agenda so they’re not actually reading this anymore, I might as well approach the task at hand. We begin with a pretty good amount of set up that gives us an idea of what kind of place Fabletown is, how the hell the Fables ended up inhabiting New York City, and who we can expect to see as some of the major characters. You’ve got your Snow White as deputy mayor/real mayor of the town within a town, Bigby Wolf as the sheriff, and a general array of well known characters from various fables, fairy tales and tall tales of all shapes and sizes. But we begin with Jack. And right off the bat, Willingham is screwing around with our expectations and perceptions. There are so many well known Jacks in the history of fables that Willingham not only consolidates them all into one guy, but he also makes him into kind of a deadbeat con artist. It’s a pretty simple formula. These are iconic characters in Western culture. It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t heard of Snow White, Prince Charming or the Big Bad Wolf. So why not take those expectations and turn them around on the reader? The opening characterization is already taken care of, and Willingham is showing us what happens to these same people after losing their home and living in New York for hundreds of years.
Our first arc is a murder mystery. Bigby Wolf is at the center of this tale, as he tries to discern the fate of Snow White’s sister, Rose Red. It’s pretty gruesome business, and it sets the tone of the book quite a lot more along the lines of the original Grimm fairy tales than their Disney counterparts. Sex, violence, and a chain smoking former wolf that plays out every hard boiled noir detective with glee. Willingham starts laying the clues from the first panel, and when you reach the end (where Bigby is so excited about the opportunity to finally play out the parlor scene we’ve seen so many times before), you can look back throughout these first five issues, and every clue and moment that leads Bigby to unlock the mystery is there. It’s not a cheat. It’s pretty ballsy on Willingham’s part to begin such a high concept comic series with what is basically genre fiction, but it works in the context of the story.
This arc is also prior to series regular Mark Buckingham handling the art chores. Lan Medina is more than adequate to kick the series off, and he establishes the world that Buckingham will eventually run with. As usual, I don’t have too much to say on the art side of things. It’s good, and it didn’t take me out of the story. It wasn’t blow away art, but it got the job done.
It’s a little difficult to continue reviewing these Fables trades without spoiling the ending to this book (considering it has major implications with the second trade, Animal Farm). It’s a wonderful little pastiche of all those famous detective stories, and it works so well in a serialized form. As much as I loved reading this book in one sitting, I do wish I had the opportunity to read this arc (and only this arc. I would have pulled out my hair waiting on March of the Wooden Soldiers, but more on that in a couple days/weeks/whenever I have the time) as it came out on the monthly schedule. The Rose red reveal at the end of issue four is just the kind of “wha…huh?” type of thing that isn’t a cheap move, but it just puts a smile on your face. It’s like the good old days, and one of the things that only a serialized medium can do successfully. That desire for more just needles at you for weeks until you get that last issue and watch Willingham and Bigby expertly tie it all together.
This is a great story on its own. This could have been a five issue mini series that never continued into an ongoing, and I still would have really enjoyed it. Of course, that’s not the case and there is much more to come, and it works really well as a lead in to the Fables universe. It’s pretty much all you could ask for from the first five issues/first trade of a comic. It’s the hook, and the hook is planted firmly in my lip. And it hurts. In a good way.
But not, you know, masochistic or anything. Because that would be inappropriate….Yeah…….. Gonna go now. See you folks for the next installment.
What we have here is the first of what I assume will be many one off stories dealing with the Fables and their adventures. This one, which I again assume will be a recurring theme, deals with a Russian folk tale involving a soldier, a sack, and some cards. Of course, since we’re talking Fables here, the soldier isn’t exactly the standard poor down on his luck soldier for the original tale, but is instead young rapscallion and con artist Jack of the Tales (AKA Jack of Fables AKA Jack Horner). And instead of being poor, he’s stacked to the gills with trinkets and winnings from his profiteering from the Civil War. There’s a very simple reason why I loved this issue. I have a personal attachment to that folk tale. When I was a kid I vaguely remembered seeing this kickass Jim Henson puppet show about these folk tales. I think it was on HBO or something, and this must have been the early 1990’s, because I was only three when the series originally aired in 1987 (and as an interesting aside, the writer for nearly every episode was Anthony Minghella, the writer and director of The English Patient, Cold Mountain and other such films). That’s one of those seminal moments you get as a kid when you see the power of true imagination come alive in front of you. Flash forward to my Sophomore year in college up in Boston, and for whatever reason, I started thinking about that show, discovered that its official name was Jim Henson’s The Storyteller, and it had just been released on DVD. Well, awesome. I picked it up, and all the memories started flowing back.
So what’s the point of this little jaunt down memory lane? Well, that should be obvious by now, but one of the episodes from that show (entitled The Soldier and Death), which happens to be one of the ones I remember so well (it’s not my favorite, considering that The Three Ravens has both Miranda Richardson and Jonathan Pryce in it) covers the exact same folk tale that gave us Fables #11. There are differences, of course, with the biggest one being the person the soldier attempts to save from Death (the king becomes a nubile young woman, of whom Jack naturally takes advantage), as well as Death’s responses at the end of the issue, but it was a very nice surprise for me, and something I could start to guess once they started talking about the magic sack.
It’s a very good issue. I’m part of the way through the third trade of Fables at the moment, and I’m really enjoying the quirky little world that Willingham has carved out for us. Brian Talbot drew this issue (presumably to give Buckingham a break), and you can’t really tell the difference between his work and Buckingham’s, which is the type of thing that’s hard not to notice when you’re reading the story in trade and it’s immediately followed by the standard Buckingham/Leialoha team. I really like Willingham’s writing style (the text piece at the end of the first trade was awesome. It read like a true fable that you would see as a kid), and it’s a very good look at this folk tale, which succeeds in both telling a good and fun story and furthering the characterization of Jack Horner. And that’s what I like to see from one shots. It’s not a disposable story. James Jean did the cover, and big shock here, it’s completely fabulous like every other cover he’s done for Fables or otherwise (I loved those Umbrella Academy covers). It’s just a very solid overall package that I’ve come to expect despite the fact that I’ve only read about 14 issues of the series.
Again, not as funny as usual, but Willingham is telling some back story here so I guess I’ll allow it. Jack may not be as funny as usual, but he’s still the biggest asshole in the world. He kills the gun store clerk for selling all his silver bullets, threatens the sheriff, threatens to kill his own men… all that and he’s only in this issue for less than five pages. The majority of the plot deals with Bigby making a mess of the town saloon, killing five people and maiming half a dozen others. What the hell, dude. You call that keeping a low profile? At the end of the book, Bigby decides that in order to catch up to Jack, he’ll have to wolf-out and bark at the moon. That’s not very fair, especially since Jack only managed to get his hands on one silver bullet. Question: How many silver bullets does it take to kill a wolf-man? Second part: Is it okay that Willingham is mixing mythologies here, crossing the Big Bad Wolf with traditional werewolves?
Mythos: Captain America #1 (***)
I’m not even sure why this book exists beyond being a marketing tool for the main title. It doesn’t really tell a compelling origin story instead it acts as an illustrated Wikipedia entry. I had this weird feeling all throughout reading this, like I was waiting for the plot to start. It never did. There is no plot. Not to say it’s badly written because it’s not. Not for what it is anyway. I’m one of the biggest Cap fans you will ever find and even I didn’t think this was essential reading, so I don’t think I can really recommend this one to anybody. Hmm, yet I still give it three stars… probably because I liked this cover so much, we’re using it in Marvel Evolution. SPOILER!
Thor: Reign of Blood #1 (*****)
I stopped in the middle of writing this review to go for a walk around the old neighborhood. I haven’t done that in years, since High School maybe. Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because when I got back, I saw that Desiato had already posted everything I wanted to say about this book, but MORE and BETTER. So, I deleted what little I had written and wrote this stupid/lame paragraph of inner shame. However, I did save a little of what I wrote. For those interested, click below:
• Angel: After The Fall #9 (**): And we are back to suck. The art is just TOO bad. TOO TOO TOO bad. Distractingly bad. Didn’t I drop this POS?
• The Man With No Name #2 (*): I was wondering what happened to this book. I reviewed the first issue and if I remember correctly, the review wasn’t that bad. But this issue? This issue is bad.
• She-Hulk #30 (*): Peter David… why? Why do you hate?
• Ultimate Fantastic Four #55 (*): Oh man, I feel like I just ate bad Chinese.
• War Is Hell: The First Flight of The Phantom Eagle #4 (****): This books keeps getting better the longer it runs. Oh shit, only one issue to go.
• Wolverine: Origins #26 (***1/2): Um, not much to say. Way reveals Daken’s origin story and we kind of feel bad. And then Logan tortures some American-Japanese. What a jerk.
Fables is Bill Willingham’s magnum opus that employs the Fables of mostly Western culture to weave an incredibly complex tale of epic proportions. There was a lot of self-serving bullshit in that first sentence, but it also happens to be true. The basic outline of the plot of Fables is this: Thousands of years ago, the Fables were driven out of their homelands by the Great Adversary. The Adversary ransacked and conquered most of the known fable worlds and currently holds them in his iron grip. The Fables fled to our world where the majority of them, the ones that could pass for human, took up residence in Fabletown… a small village in New York. As for the ones that couldn’t pass, they were relegated to The Farm. A take on the classic Animal Farm without the Orwellian underpinnings. The Farm is mostly a happy place and it’s where the bulk of this issue’s story takes place. The previous arc dealt with the establishment of a new Fable-friendly kingdom in the homelands called Haven. As the sub-title on the first page states, in this issue “we pause for a moment to catch our breath, gird our heart, and take a last look at a relatively peaceful Farm, before plunging headlong into the chaos of total war.” A war that has been long in the planning, this being issue 70, we are most likely nearing the end… Continue reading