Top Ten: Comics That Work Best As Monthlies

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

Heh. I really do love this book. Honest. HA!

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!
Cliffhangers? CHECK!
SOAP OPERA?!? TRIPLE CHECK!!!

Foilball’s Review Roundup #43 – Wildstorm Trumps Secret Invasion?

Crossed #0 (***1/2)

Hmm, zombies by Ennis? Couldn’t be worse than Black Gas by Ellis, right? For the money, it’s worth checking out if you’re an Ennis fan. If you’re not, I still wouldn’t bother with this book since you probably won’t like it. It is very much you’re standard Ennis book.

Gravel #3 (****)

How much of this is Wolfer and how much of this is Ellis? I tell you what, there are parts of this that don’t read like Ellis at all, and I have to admit, those are my favorite parts. Kudos to you Mile Wolfer. You took the Combat Magician concept and raised the bar. The art by Oscar Jimenez is brilliant, especially for an Avatar book. Mystery and Magic– I’m on for the ride.

Number of the Beast #8 (****1/2)

This series is the first of the big summer minis to conclude and it completely exceeded my expectations. AND! It ended on a decidedly high note, although the Wildstorm Universe has probably never been so messed up. It wasn’t as enjoyable as Wildstorm Revelations, but it was enjoyable enough. AND! It was also consistently more entertaining than Secret Invasion. AND! I’m uber excited about World’s End, and more than that, I’m excited about Wildstorm again! AND! The High tossing Eidolon into what I hope is space was pretty fricking awesome as far as final pages go. LOOK!

Quick Hits:
Black Panther #39 (****1/2): This is not a Black Panther story. This is some editor calling up Aaron and asking him if he has any cool sci-fi alien stories on the back burner and Aaron responding, “Sure do, bro!” It’s really good, and I loved it, but this is better than any Black Panther story has any right to be. Just saying.
Green Lantern Corps #26 (***1/2): A decent end to a messy story. I don’t know if I like the “Thano-fication” of Mongul, but I definitely don’t like what happens to him in the end. It’s almost like the last 10 issues have been a big waste of time.
Justice League of America #23 (***): It wasn’t a particularly bad story, I just didn’t care. I think I’m dropping this book. It’s not interesting anymore and it’s definitely not the flagship title it used to be. Hmm, maybe that’s because the roster currently includes every stainer you could possibly imagine: Red Arrow? Vixen? Red Tornado? Black Lightning? Enough already. I want the Big Seven! This isn’t the fricking Defenders!
Skaar: Son of Hulk #2 (****): This series is going to be EPIC! I expected the fight inside to last two, maybe three pages max. I figured anything more than that and it would get boring. Nope. Wrong on both counts. And then we get a back-up story too?! Greg Pak, you spoil us.
Superman #678 (***1/2): Better, much better than last time, but Superman still feels kind of “off”. I like the Atlas character’s origin story. I’m also looking forward to next issue’s fight. Should be fun, at least.
Trinity #8-9 (*): Someone stole The Joker’s laugh? HUH?!? God, I can’t believe it’s actually gotten dumber.
Ultimate Spider-Man #124 (***): More flashback nonsense. YUCK.
X-Men Legacy #214 (***1/2): The lamest issue in an otherwise solid arc. I don’t know how I feel about “Miss Sinister” yet, but I’m definitely sticking around to find out.