I read 20 comics in December, and these were the best.
5. Hellboy: Bride of Hell
Another classic Hellboy one-shot. Richard Corben, showing the whippersnappers how terrible they are, produces wonderful work that surpasses his Eisner-winning accomplishment on Hellboy: The Crooked Man. That alone makes this comic special. But, Mignola’s there too, providing a riveting, tragic tale.
4. Captain America: Reborn #5
This might as well be the conclusion of Reborn. We all know how it’s going to end. Even before Marvel ruined it, we knew. I’d rather have it end here. Sharon Carter in the hands of Red Skull. Sin destroying Vision with an Arnim Zola contraption. Crossbones, and his army of robotic killing machines, shooting the heroes. Red Skull, in the body of Steve Rogers, battling Bucky on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, while the Red Skull duels Steve in his own brain. This, rendered by Bryan Hitch and written by Ed Brubaker, is good stuff.
3. Astonishing X-Men #33
Ellis & Jimenez make larger-than-life superheroics look easy, when few books actually do it well. Fraction may be writing a great, diplomatic Cyclops over in Uncanny X-Men, but Ellis’ Cyclops is a bitter, war-forged mutant with the power of a nuke in his eyeballs. He cuts through a Brood-fused Krakoa like butter. Ellis provides humor, entertainment, and enough X-history to make the fanboys squeal, and Jimenez makes it all look pretty.
2. Irredeemable #9
Nine issues in and Waid continues to keep things fresh. This is extremism at its finest. Demons crawling out of mouths, villains hiding in friends, and “upgrading” used for torture, are just a few of this issue’s memorable moments. If Waid’s not commenting on Internet trolls, he’s commenting on the corruption of power. But, have no fear, there’s plenty of entertainment to be found. The subtext is just the icing on the cake.
1. Detective Comics #860
The final part of Kate’s origin feels more than a little Year One-esque, and Williams continues to give his best rendition of Mazzucchelli. We see the natural progression of Kate’s vigilantism evolving into so much more. Kate and the Colonel bond over the experience, which makes the issue’s Shakespearean conclusion all the more painful. Of course, Williams and Stewart, the best art team around, are the stars of the show, but Rucka pulls his weight and then some. With Batwoman at the helm, Detective Comics is, once again, the best comic of the month.
In such a great decade for comics, you always hear an awful lot of praise for the writers. When you hear people talk about Watchmen, a great deal of attention is paid to Alan Moore; when you hear people talk about Wanted, lovers and haters all talk about Mark Millar. But a comic book is primarily a visual medium, and a talented artist can make a so-so book better, a good book great… or a great book only average. Witness the art problems that plagued, for example, Grant Morrison’s ground-breaking run on New X-Men.
But this decade had its fair number of stars, art-wise, artists whose style and intensity nearly defined the titles they worked on. These are our picks for the Top 10 interior artists of the 2000’s.
Writing: Brubaker produces another well-written Captain America issue. Everything is technically good. However, if you have more than a passing knowledge of Captain America, you probably won’t get much out of this issue. Either you already knew it or, if you’ve been reading Brubaker’s run up to this point, you saw it coming.
Art: What we can appreciate in Brubaker’s writing, is that he let his art team strut their stuff. I didn’t review the last issue, but, if I had, I would’ve criticized the art. Either Hitch and Guice were rushed, or maybe they just didn’t work well together. Whatever it was, it’s been fixed. This issue’s art is a massive improvement over the opening chapter’s. This looks like the Hitch that many people fell in love with during The Ultimates or The Authority.
Final Word: Marvel is marketing this comic as some sort of event. It’s not. Captain America: Reborn’s counterpart is Geoff John’s Green Lantern: Secret Origin. Both are retelling a classic character’s origin story with a twist, and both are forwarding the ongoing epic being told in their respective monthlies. The only difference is that unlike Secret Origin, Reborn is being told in a mini. That’s a smart move. Though you may already know a lot of the details, this comic makes up for it with its art, and the hint of something grand.
I have a confession to make – I’m not reading Captain America. At least, not in monthly form. A combination of factors caused this, but largely it’s because I didn’t hear about how good his run was until it was over 20 issues in… and I didn’t believe it until I managed to pick up that first omnibus (which managed to sell me on his run completely). I keep relatively up to date on what’s happening, though I try and avoid spoilers. Still, when the title of the mini is Captain America: Reborn, you face the reality that there are some spoilers you just can’t avoid.
Still, I thoroughly enjoy Brubaker, I enjoy his take on Captain America, and Marvel is marketing this as a mini-series. By doing so, they are clearly courting a larger audience than merely the one that regularly reads Captain America. So the question here is, does Captain America: Reborn work for audiences both new and old? Yes, it does. And that’s not always a good thing.
This issue is extremely heavy on the exposition. And I mean, there is exposition, sometimes quite lengthy exposition, on almost every page of the book, sometimes overloading the action going on in the foreground of the panels. It’s framed in a number of different ways, it’s well-written, and Brubaker makes sure that what’s happening on screen as he infodumps is generally pretty interesting, but it is nonetheless a whole lot of exposition covering the entirety of Brubaker’s run.
Hitch and Guice provide static art that’s always just a little bit darker than it really needs to be. Which is not to say it’s bad – there’s a great deal they do right. A few of the fight scenes seem to be fairly dynamic, and the more conversational panels are done extraordinarily well. The panels seem to sweep around the room in a few conversations, making it feel almost like a movie in the way it’s set up. But Hitch is an artist who’s never quite worked for me. In struggling to be too realistic, he loses some of the motion, some of the essential humanity of his characters.
I realize that this sounds particularly negative. I assure you, Captain America: Reborn #1 is not a bad book. Brubaker clearly knows what he’s doing, and there’s the sense throughout that you’re watching something enormous and unexpected unfold, like a massive Christmas present being unwrapped. Even if this issue is almost entirely set-up for what is to come, it is still capable, relatively enjoyable set-up that offers a great deal to future issues.
In other words, Reborn #1 does what it needed to do – informed new/returning readers of what’s been going on while still moving the action forward – and that’s definitely to its benefit. But that’s about as ambitious as it gets. If this issue is any hint, Reborn will be as excellent as the rest of Brubaker’s run, but the issue doesn’t make me need to read the next one. I’ll wait for the trade.
– Cal Cleary
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!!!
I’ve warmed up to this run (I’m actually really enjoying its throwback style), but that doesn’t mean I can’t see the flaws. Take this issue for instance, logic errors abound!
It’s 500 years in the future and Hulk (Millar) would have us believe that it’s far easier to build a super time machine to send eight billion people to the past than it is to build spaceships to transport those same people off-planet? No. Oh, but this is cool, right? So you wanna go with it? Me too! Let’s see how long those beliefs remain suspended, shall we?
Wait, ethical dilemma, Mr. Ultron? Oh, the irony…
MY, GOD, ROBOT! You’re right! Why didn’t super-smart Hulk think of this?
Well, look how petty the heroes are in the 26th century! But seriously, besides the ethical dilemma, this plan is doomed to failure. Like, if part of the reason the planet fell apart in the first place was overpopulation and the mismanagement of natural resources, then how the hell do you suppose to solve those problems by adding eight billion more mouths to the equation? Logically, this doesn’t make sense. But, whatever. Apparently this question is irrelevant:
Establish a base? HUH?!? I don’t understand this. So, there’s not enough power in the future, but there is in the past? And we’re not talking about hydro-electric, nuclear or coal produced power, we’re talking about the kind of power that comes from the cosmic!
Man, Bryan Hitch loves him some Galactus! Okay, so these New Defenders “mug” the Big G, siphon off his power, shunt a small group into the future, build their base and go about looking for “ultimate” power. Where do they find this power? Oh, you know, they just go out and “mug” this century’s Galactus, break Dr. Doom out of jail and kidnap The Human Torch.
Slow down… in the future, it took the combined might of 170ish New Defenders to tackle Galactus but in our time they manage the same feet with less than six guys? W. T. F. On top of that, how the hell did they even locate Galactus? Where did they obtain the means for space flight? THIS IS SO STUPID!!! IT’S TOO STUPID!!!*
Okay, fine, maybe Millar will explain this next issue and maybe he won’t, I’ll assume they managed it somehow and move on… but then there’s still the matter of Dr. Doom and Human Torch. Why these two? Are we to believe that the combination of these three beings is enough to bring eight billion peeps from the future to the past? Does the math seem wrong to anyone else? Like I could understand it if they’d captured like 50 super heroes, or 100, or 200, but just three? The scale here is wrong.
Um, no! Super heroes don’t kidnap other super heroes and use them like batteries!
Can’t wait for this. That single panel may have redeemed this entire issue for me.
Oh, back to the sub-plots! This is the chick that’s dating Thing. That is her ex-boyfriend. He seems upset. Last panel is great. What’s he gonna do?!?
Okay, so by the end of this issue we discover that this nanny chick is actually Susan Storm from the future and she’s also the mastermind behind this whole “Save the Future” scheme. I scanned these panels to show that yes, Bryan Hitch was playing fair with us the whole time. Looking at these panels side-by-side and it becomes so obvious that these two women are the same person. Just look at that nose! Same nose! Same lips! Bravo, Mr. Hitch.
Ah, just a cool shot to illustrate the talent of Mr. Hitch, although the writing kind of fails here. If this is future Sue, would she really resort to this type of blatant show of force? I mean, wouldn’t she just wrap present Sue’s head in an invisible force field ‘til she passed out? It wouldn’t kill her and the fight would be over in seconds. Also, she wouldn’t have the clues to figure out that nanny lady is actually her from the future. DURF.
…and here is where Millar almost redeems himself. Obviously, Sue has thought about the question I brought up earlier in this review: how can present Earth support the lives of the present and future populations? Um, it can’t. Sue knows this… Sue is going to kill us all!!!
No, Sue. It is YOU that’s embarrassing yourself. OBVIOUSLY, Mr. Fantastic is going to find you! He’s FANTASTIC!!! You should know better, lady.
As a midway point (for the run), this issue works fine. It moves the plot forward (albeit illogically at times) and gets most of the exposition out of the way. I assume next issue will be jammed full of action, suspense and Doom killing Invisible Woman. YAY!
*Or it could be that the Galactus pictured is “future” Galactus. If that’s the case, then that portion of my argument falls apart, but it then raises another equally pressing question: two Big Gs in the same time? PARADOX!!!
• 1985 #2 (****): I’m really liking where this is headed. See, you can’t call me a Millar hater! Some of his stuff is utter garbage, and some of it, when he puts the research and thought in, turns out quite fantastic. Here’s hoping I’m right about this one.
• Conan the Cimmerian #0 (****): Bruce Castle’s review of this was spot on. It was a very, very, VERY good sword and sandal read. Unfortunately, I think I’m done with Conan for now… or, I may pick up the first issue when it ships! I just don’t know!
• Daredevil #108 (****): It just keeps getting better! Dear Greg Rucka, please never leave. No more brooding! No more Mila! No more Emo!
• Fantastic Four #558 (****1/2): This was really good. Really, really good. I can see clearly now what Millar is doing and I love it. The interweaving of the subplots over multiple 4-part story arcs is finally starting to pay off. I haven’t been this excited about reading Fantastic Four since JMS first took over the book. I know I was harsh on the first couple of these, but now that the engine is revving up toward max RPMs, I couldn’t be happier. I just hope he doesn’t blow his load too soon. But, I still think the Galactus suit was a lame idea. OH! Almost forgot, little Val is a genius!
• Ghost Rider # 24 (****): Love the new artist. Love the new direction. If this is what we can expect from the rest of Aaron’s Ghost Rider run, I think I can finally put myself safely in the “on board” column. It was touch and go there for a while with a couple of stinkers mixed in with the gooders, but this issue has restored my faith… for now! Ha-Hah, you just never know! Next month I could be bashing it again! Help, I’m in an abusive relationship and I can’t get out!*
• Iron Fist #16 (*****): Terrific series finale, bravo to all involved, especially Matt Fraction. I can’t wait for the “Heroes For Hire” relaunch this fall… wait, what? Not cancelled? New creative team? Get OUT of here!
• Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. #30 (****): Still not the Knaufs, but adequate. Actually, more than adequate. This Moore guys is doing a bang-up fill-in! Overkill Mind! Star Squad! Paladin messing up Iron Man’s fascist face! YES! YES! YES!
• The Punisher #58 (*****): Every month I get a little sad. New Punisher issue only serves to remind me of its imminent cancellation. Well, pretty much, right? I like the new guy, his Foolkiller was good, but no one’s ever going to top Garth Ennis. Oh, I should say something about this issue. It was really good, as usual. They always are. Sad face.
• Thunderbolts #121 (*****): OH GOOD GOD! This was epic. And now it’s over. Forever. I don’t care that this book shipped once a quarter, it was totally worth it. But, I don’t think Ellis is leaving because of lateness, I think he’s just done. Is that true? Does anybody know? I’m seriously asking a serious question here…
• X-Factor #32 (****1/2): In this issue, Madrox tells Cooper to get stuffed and finally takes responsibility as the father of Theressa’s baby… and just like that, *POOF*, X-Factor is a 4-5 Star book again. Why? Because we’re back to focusing on the drama, baby, and not the action. Yay! Thank you, Peter David. I don’t know what happened to you or why you had to phone the past 6 months in, but I’m glad you’re back. Now, if only I could say the same thing about She-Hulk. UGH!
• Young Avengers Presents: Hawkeye #6 (****): This was easily the best of the series. Fraction is just on fire this month (although his Punisher still sucks ass). I loved how much of a dick Clint is when he makes Kate cry. Ha-Ha! But then, it was just Clint teaching her a lesson all along! Oh snap! Shit, I wish Clint had his own team book or something. He works well as mentor/father figure… FUCK, why isn’t he leading the New Avengers? He’s got the attitude, the skill and the experience. Maybe that’s one of the changes Bendis has lined up for after Secret Invasion? I hope so. I’ve always loved me some Hawkeye. Oh, and when the hell is Young Avengers Volume 2 coming out? These characters are way cooler than the Titans and those shitters have two books, both equally shitty!
Hmm, got surly there at the end. Ah, well. Tomorrow, Planetary Series Review (honest) and on Wednesday, maybe a Spoiler Re view… if something cool comes out.
*That one was for VsRealms.
Bruce Jones is a hack. A despicably vacant wreck of a talent. This issue was awful. And to be perfectly clear, I mistakenly pre-ordered this mess out of habit and boy did I pay the price for that one. In one swift stroke, Jones destroys any and all credibility earned by the Checkmate organization during the Greg Rucka run. What’s most appalling is that he sacrifices said credibility in order to give the world this monstrosity. What. The. Fuck. Hyperbole? I think not. I’m positive that anyone who’s actually read this issue knows exactly what I’m talking about. I’m burning this travesty, just as soon as I hit the publish button.
Fantastic Four #557 (***)
As far as opening arcs go, this one was an interesting choice. Millar stated that he wanted to get back to telling family oriented stories… doesn’t everyone say this about the Fantastic Four?… but I found these last four issues to be curiously devoid of any real depth. It’s not enough to say your plot is about Sue and Reed’s relationship, you actually have to write about said relationship. Maybe I just couldn’t handle all the subtext, but I just don’t see how this issue’s payoff scene was adequately built up in the preceding issues. Ok, that’s enough about what I didn’t like. Wait, this was stupid as well. The idea of the Anti-Galactus suit comes from a place in Millar’s head where he’s way too pleased with himself. Okay, okay, what I liked: Dangling subplots! This is something Lee and Kirby really excelled at in their legendary run and I’m glad Millar is tapping into this.
The Nu-World thing will most likely get addressed by the end of the run, but I’m not so sure about the “banging your villains” issue. Could this be just another one of Millar’s attention-grabbing ideas that go nowhere? Maybe. Oh, and with regards to that scene, couldn’t he still handcuff her after they finish? I’m sure I saw that in a movie once starring Joe Don Baker.
We’re still in the opening stages here, and I usually love the Millar/Hitch pairing, so I guess I can cut them some slack. And let’s be real, writing the FF is not the easiest assignment in history. Doing it right could be one of the toughest jobs in comics, second only to writing a good Superman book (Yay, Geoff Johns!). So, yes, I complain, but my heart is in the right place. Oh and… Enter: DOOM!
X-Force #4 (*****)
As each part of this story unfolds, the complex plot turns faster and thicker. In this issue, we focus on X-23. Now, I haven’t read much X-23, so I had no idea she was this emotionally damaged. And then she’s a cutter? Good, God! This happens after Wolverine just rips into here (not literally, at least not yet) about innocence and sacrifice. I love how violently Wolverine reacts, as if he feels personally indicted by X-23’s inhumanity. And rightly so, I would think. She is your clone, dude. Later, after the cutting, X-23 confronts a wolfed out Rahne Sinclair A.K.A. Wolfsbane. Just before going wild shit crazy on the drugged up lassie, X-23 hears Logan’s damning words in her head… and proceeds to drop her guard. Extreme violence and blood loss follows.
Which brings us to my one complaint about this entire series: the art, although wonderful, is sometimes so dark that it’s difficult to read the details. And maybe there’s too much blood? This is a nitpick, I admit. I am old and could probably do with some reading glasses. Anyway…
GAH! So much happened in this one issue! Why is Wolfsbane attacking her friends, specifically Angel? Oh, well because she’s under the control of Mathew Risman, of course. What a twist! And Bastion has no idea what Risman’s doing behind his back! Another cool twist! Shit! Those are Archangel’s old wings, right? A choir of Archangels?!? And speaking of Archangel, look who’s back… Archangel!!!
This is my book of the month. I had no idea how much I would enjoy reading it and it has completely surpassed all expectations. Consider me a believer. If you’re not reading this book, do yourself a favor and click the links. Gah, all I can say is that I wish I had access to this art a month ago. Sigh.
• 1985 #1 (**1/2): Meh, I think the solicitation was more interesting than the actual product being solicited.
• Action Comics #865 (***): Well written, as always, but what was the point of retconning Toyman’s character history?
• Fables #73 (**1/2): I wish the war was over already. I don’t think I care who wins. I don’t think I even like these fables anymore.
• The Immortal Iron Fist #15 (***1/2): This was fun. Shockingly. I dread the day Brubaker and Fraction leave the book.
• The Programme #11 (*): Oh, finally, time for the super soldiers to fight?
• Spawn #178 (****): I really like what Hine has done with this book. And now… and NOW I read that McFarlane is coming back and he’s going to turn it back into a superhero comic? WTF? EFF YOU, TODD!!!
• War is Hell: The First Flight of the Phantom Eagle #3 (***1/2): Okay, I get it now. I think I like this book.
5 Stars: WARNING: The Right Stuff.
4 Stars: The Solid Stuff.
3 Stars: The Average Stuff.
2 Stars: The Stuff.
1 Star: The Stuff Between Your Toes.
Avengers: The Initiative #10 (****):