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!!!
New Avengers #45 (**)
House of M was the first Marvel book I ever read. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s safe to say that I was looking forward to this one, especially the way that the last three or four issues of New Avengers had the little “Next! House of M!” icon at the bottom of the last page. Well, we finally got it. However, I was kinda let down by this one. There was a moment earlier in the Avengers Secret Invasion tie-ins that mentioned three things the Skrulls needed to happen to ease the pressure on their invasion. They needed Nick Fury gone, they needed the mutants in check, and they needed the heroes not to trust each other. Of course, these three necessary components take the form of Secret War, House of M, and Civil War. So you have the presupposition that the Skrulls had something to do with these events. But really, they just got lucky. These events all happened in rapid succession and as far as we can tell, the advance scouts and sleeper agents just happened to be there when they happened. I know this does sorta feed into the notion that this does reinforce to the Skrulls that the invasion was in fact prophesized, and I know that retcons are a bit of a taboo for fans these days, especially when they’re done to events that happened so recently, but Bendis wrote Secret War and House of M. He’s been planning Secret Invasion since Avengers: Disassembled. So why not take the plunge and make the Skrulls more than bystanders? It’s his story! He can make it work. This book just seemed like a great missed opportunity. I find that saddening especially since Jim Cheung was on the art for this book and his gorgeous work was wasted on a middling book. This one was a misfire.
Mighty Avengers #18 (****)
I don’t have a lot to say about this one (you’ll notice a bit of a theme for that, but I’ll discuss that at the end of this article). I do love the way Bendis writes Nick Fury. Mighty Avengers 12 and 13 were really fun, and I’m glad they went back to this portion of the back story. Sure, it’s designed to further flesh out the characters before the launch of Secret Warriors, but it’s a good little one off story that also builds up Maria Hill a little further, which I always appreciate. All the Secret Warriors are fun characters. Bick Fury is the badass he should be. It’s just a great book, and it makes me excited for Secret Warriors, so it was a success from that perspective.
Avengers: The Initiative #17 (***1/2)
I like Eric O’Grady. I should probably read the Kirkman issues. I don’t really have a whole lot to say about this one either. The overt actions of the Skrulls were a little sill, but I like the way they’re smart enough to realize that they need to mkake sure Spider-Woman is protected. It’s also possible that the use of Jessica Drew dupes came as a response to Maria Hill’s little LMD ambush on the Helicarrier, which is a nice touch (if one that may be completely fabricated in my own mind). Plus you’ve got that little Mutant X semi reveal that was a bit weird. Sure seems to me that they’re trying to intimate that Mutant X is Jean Grey. Which means it’s probably Madelyn Pryor. Or someone else that has long, flowing red hair. That was a bit strange. This was a good, if middling, read.
Secret Invasion: Thor #2 (***)
I don’t get the same sense of energy in this book compared to the Fraction one shots. Obviously, it’s not going to read like the JMS book, and the Thor that we see in the JMS book is different from the Thor that we saw in those first two one shots, but that’s not the problem. Even still, this book just doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s Beta Ray Bill, but I don’t have a problem with the character or particularly how he’s written. I guess it might be the way Fraction cuts between the battle at Asgard and the child birth scenes in nearby Broxton, Oklahoma, but I don’t necessarily hate the device. Perhaps it’s the execution. I also wonder if I would like this more had the two Fraction/Zircher one shots not come out yet. They created a quality expectation for any Fraction penned Thor book, and these first two issues haven’t lived up to that. The third issue shows some potential promise with some possible Thor/Beta Ray Bill team-up action. Hoping this will pick up and turn into something worthwhile.
Deadpool #2 (****1/2)
Complete madness. Deadpool training Super Skrulls is a recipe for disaster. HILARIOUS disaster! We’ve got a lot of nice moments in the course of this book, including the realization that Deadpool’s DNA replication not only grants his impressive healing factor on these new Super Skrulls, but also his complete mental imbalance (and presumably his penchant for breaking the fourth wall). Deadpool wreaks havoc on the Skrulls and basically ruins an entire batch of Super Skrulls (who had already killed a completely separate batch of Super Skrulls as a “training exercise”) singlehandedly. Of course, we find out at the end that this was planned by Nick Fury from the beginning, and all is right with the world. The humor is still there and solidly done. Personally, I still prefer Nicieza’s humor over Way’s thus far, but he still brings the funny well enough. And it’s perfect acceptable for a Deadpool book. It’s a positive start to the series and I’m looking forward to the continuation of the book.
War Machine: Weapon of SHIELD #33 (***)
I’ve gotten a bunch of the Iron Man: Director of SHIELD issues, mostly for 25-50 cents apiece at various cons or Wild Pig sdales. Haven’t actually read any of them yet, but this one is a Secret Invasion book and War Machine has officially taken the title over, so it’s as good a time as any to start reading the book, especially considering the book is ending in a few scant months to be replaced b a Greg Pak War Machine book. So was it good? I guess. Christos Gage wrote this one, and it doesn’t exactly have the same flair that he puts into, oh…I don’t know…let’s say THUNDERBOLTS (Woo! Thunderbolts!). It’s a pretty good book; nothing about it is bad or painful, but it’s just okay. I didn’t get much out of this, and it’s one of the few tie-ins that didn’t add too much to the worldwide scope of Secret Invasion. Not necessary to be read, but it’s okay.
So here’s the deal. I’m getting really burned out by the whole capsule review thing. Not really sure how to fix that, but I think I’m going to take some time to try and find a topic I can write about that isn’t a review or tied to any specific book. It’s been too long since the whole aborted look at the nature of various event structures to go back to that one (yeah, I know. Lame), so I’m really looking for something along the lines of the “In Defense of Civil War 7” article I wrote about six months back. Hopefully, the inspiration will strike me soon enough.
Deadpool #1 (****)
Deadpool #1 was fun and pretty at the same time. I’m not always 100% on board for Daniel Way but he seems to have a story to tell, and I like it so far, so I’m gonna let him tell it. Paco Medina kicked the crap out of the art in this issue, especially the Skrull characters. Cable & Deadpool was decent fun (hardly ever pretty fun), but Deadpool has always worked better as the star of his own book and Way is taking advantage of that trademark charisma with the introduction (or re-introduction?) of “Pool-o-Vision”. Also, kind of an unrelated question but, are we sick of the Skrulls yet?
Ms. Marvel #30 (***)
Ms. Marvel fights a Super Skrull this issue. Just like last issue. And the issue before that. Oh, but this time said Super Skrull is actually a product of HYDRA science. Oh, and then we’re treated to a SI-epilogue that’s just weird. Huh-wha?
Secret Invasion: Frontline #3 (****1/2)
Are people reading this? Because it’s awesome! Easily one of the best tie-ins. Brian Reed confuses me though, as a talent, I mean. Sometimes, like with this book, his writing is incredible, and then there’s Ms. Marvel which is so hit-or-miss lately. Ugh, BRIAN REED! Focus!
Secret Invasion: Runaways/Young Avengers #3 (****)
They swooped in, got their story told, and got out. Three cheers for three issue tie-in minis! And in three issues there was so much character development it was almost too much. Is Terry Moore going to address any of what happened here in his new Runaways ongoing? And what about Heinberg’s new Young Avengers series? WHEN IS THAT COMING OUT!?!
Secret Invasion: X-Men #2 (****)
I don’t want to beat a dead horse, so you won’t see me telling you how much better this is than Secret Invasion. It is, but I won’t say it.