December comics

From tfaw:

Single issues:

Angel #40 (IDW)

Elena Casagrande is replaced by Jason Armstrong, who, with Brian Miller on colors, gives the book a Saturday morning cartoon makeover, which I kind of like? A radical change like this, however admirable in the abstract, in practice, takes some time to get used. I found myself constantly pausing to remind myself who the characters are, none more than Kate, who looks nothing like her previous selves (brown hair and pearls?).

The storytelling is fine, but David Tischman and Mariah Huehner are forcing the dialogue, especially trying to make Angel quick-witted and Gunn sound “street”.

Atomic Robo #2 (Red 5)

More period fun as Robo tries to lead a double life, doing science and fighting crime. An exceptionally cool set of pin-ups is included in this issue, too.

Avengers Academy #7 (Marvel)

Christos Gage turns his attention to the teachers, especially Hank Pym. Continues to be a strong book.

Batwoman #0 (DC)

Bruce Wayne stops by to surveil Kate Kane and Batwoman. I agree with the discussion on 3 Chicks Review Comics that it might have been better to include this as part of the “Road Home” comics rather than billing it as a Batwoman prelude. For readers who did not read the Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III Detective Comics run, this issue is probably useful as an orientation to Kate and Batwoman, but for anyone who had been looking forward to the start of the new ongoing series, it is probably a letdown, at least narratively, artistically, the back-and-forth between Williams and Amy Reeder works well.

Birds of Prey #7 (DC)

A new story arc begins with Oracle deciding she needs to fake her death because too many people know that she is Barbara Gordon (or vice versa, I guess). There’s one artistic team on this issue, Ardian Syaf (pencils), Vincente Cifuentes (inks), and Nei Ruffino (colors), which is good, and I am optimistic about what Gail Simone has started in this issue.

Black Widow #8 (Marvel)

Duane Swierczynski’s storytelling gains depth in this issue, mining the Cold War in more personal ways for Natasha/Natalia, and reintroducing Fatale as an ally. However, even if I were so inclined to go out buy Widowmaker, I’m not sure that this storyline is one I would choose to follow, or would feel that I could not afford to categorize as trade/wait. The art, from Manuel Garcia (pencils), Lorenzo Ruggiero (inks), and Jim Charlampidis (colors), is still pushing the soft core too much, but they avoid the worst excesses of the preceding issues.

B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth: New World #5 (Dark Horse)

The first arc of the new series comes to a close and it comes around to Abe and Ben, and some further clues about what’s to come. A lot to look forward to from B.P.R.D. and Hellboy in 2011.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight #40 (Dark Horse)

The penultimate issue, and Angel kills Giles (also the Master), Buffy destroys the Seed of the World and seems to go catatonic. A lot to address in the next chapter.

Fringe: Tales from the Fringe #6 (Wildstorm)

A second mini-series comes to an end with a story about alternate Olivia, which is a nice touch. I assume that DC will continue to put these books out post-Wildstorm. No, they aren’t the best that comics has to offer, but for fans of the show, they are effective uses of the medium as an adjunct to TV, and the artistic standards are pretty high, higher than some ongoing series I read.

Generation Hope #2 (Marvel)

Kieron Gillen keeps the action in Tokyo, and Rogue takes center stage. I like Salvador Espin’s style, and Jim Charlampidis brings the same earth-y tones he does to Black Widow, but why does Rogue have to be drawn so that she is practically falling out of her top?

Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil (Dark Horse)

Richard Corben and Mike Mignola collaborate on a couple of classic horror stories. Not the strongest of their work together on this title, but I’m not sure that there is an ongoing series that does one-shots like this better than Mignola and his partners. I think any fan of horror and gothic literature could read this issue and enjoy it, not just Hellboy regulars.

I, Zombie #8 (DC/Vertigo)

Chris Roberson and Michael Allred continue to broaden this title into an ensemble piece, but without losing Gwen as its core. Fun sequence with the revived vampire in a UO hoodie. Nice to see when Eugene emerges in the story, rather than just being in the background.

Lady Mechanika #1 (Aspen)

So Joe Benitez’s series gets underway proper, and the writing is not as strong here as in the #0 preview. The Victoriana is more forced, but Mechanika herself remains well drawn and conceived, with a clear voice of her own. As well as she is handled, I wish that Benitez could have resisted introducing the female Commander now chasing Mechanika with such an overtly sexualized pose.

Murderland #3 (Image)

David Hahn draws a bunch of cool looking people doing … I’m not really sure, but they are really intent on it. I cannot follow the story here, and am even more confused by looking at the inside cover and seeing that somehow there are two stories going in this issue. Not sure what Stephen Scott has in mind here except riffing on cultural references to Baltimore.

Mystery Society #5 (IDW)

So the first (only?) story comes to a close. This title settled down into a genial mode, fun, but not over the top. The cast is a little large to be contained by a short run like this. I would like to see more for Fiona Staples’s art if nothing else.

Spike: What happens in Vegas, Slays in Vegas #3 (IDW)

Brian Lynch brings Drusilla into the story, and we get some confirmation that Beck has romantic feelings for Spike. The use and introduction of Dru shows how well Lynch gets these characters. More ambivalent about the way that Nicola Zanni draws the characters. Dru is too voluptuous, head to toe, than she should be. Looking at Franco Urru’s cover makes me wish he was drawing the inside, too.

Uncanny X-Force #2 & #3 (Marvel)

I am liking this title very much. Rick Remender is writing a story that taps into X-Men history, but not one that requires a PhD in the subject to grasp. The cast of characters is suitably dark and damaged, and Jerome Opena draws everyone as long, lean, and athletic looking, a nice change from the usual steroidal and pneumatic art you find in so many Marvel books (the one exception is Wolverine, who is short and stocky as he should be). Dean White’s colors tend to the gray, which fits the cast and the story. Now, if they could only get permission to get Betsy out of that bathing suit.

Uncanny X-Men #530 (Marvel)

Greg Land is back on pencils and so everyone looks like a model or porn star. Emma may wear this well, but for others, it is ridiculous (does anyone really imagine Scott Summers as looking like he just walked off of a photo shoot for men’s cologne?) Mostly, I find the uniformity of the characters to be boring, or even depressing in the case of the X-Men. These are supposed to be outcasts. If every mutant looked as plastic-y beautiful as they do here, wouldn’t more people want to be mutants, instead of rejecting them? On the other hand, Matt Fraction has a tight story this month.

TPBs:

Orc Stain Volume 1 (Image)

I enjoyed James Stokoe’s Wonton Soup books, and considered pulling this series monthly, but decided to wait for the trade instead. I’m not sure how this would read issue-to-issue, the pace is kind of laconic, even as the book does not lack for action, but Stokoe likes slacker dood characters, and his stories tend to move like they do.

The attraction here, as with the earlier series, is the world building, and Stokoe’s imagination seems to run riot with wild ideas for universes made almost entirely from organic material, making everything seem like it could either be food or something that eats. The color work here makes already jam-packed panels seem busy, but I suspect I just need to take a second look without having to follow the narrative as closely.

Despite the self-conscious masculinity of the story and the characters, the one notable woman in the book, Bowie Enocraz Yaramund, the “Poison Thrower”, is self-possessed and powerful in her own right (she even offers direct and indirect comment on the “love nymphs” who make up the remaining women you see). This is perhaps just a good illustration of what happens when an author sets out to write about men being men in a conscious and critical way, instead of presumptively.

Two Step (Wildstorm)

Forthcoming.

TPBs from Powell’s (Burnside store):

Black Orchid (DC/Vertigo).

Glad I got this. Another good example of what Neil Gaiman does well: asking questions about what characters like this and the stories we tell with them mean. I like how Lex Luthor is used as an organized crime figure more than as a super genius here. Dave McKean’s use of color and collage-like art helps to create different tones for different parts of the narrative. That being said, I’m not entirely sure what the thing means on the whole. Will reward on subsequent readings I suspect.

Global Frequency: Detonation Radio Volume 2 (Wildstorm)

Fast moving action and violence. Warren Ellis uses this volume to show more of Miranda Zero, who I remember as more of a shadowy figure from the first volume. Might work better as a movie franchise or TV series than as a comics series, more time on process, and less on the bloody finishes. Cool covers by Brian Wood.

The New X-Men: New Worlds Volume 3 (Marvel).

I am glad that I started picking these up. Having Emma and Jean together is interesting. Grant Morrison also does good work with the political and cultural themes of difference and acceptance, focusing both on non-mutants on how mutants perceive themselves and their place in the world.

The Perhapanauts Volume 1 (Image)

Not as much pure fun as Volume 0, but still an enjoyable team of misfits book. Todd Dezago and Craig Rosseau work their genres with skill, but there is a predictability to how characters develop and how stories unfold, albeit in a comfortable way.

Nyx: Wannabe (Marvel)

I read the Marjorie Liu written mini before coming to the original and I have mixed feelings about this collection.

I like the art, especially Nelson and Chris Sotomayor’s colors; light pastels are an interesting and unexpected choice for a book working so hard to be gritty and urban. I also like seeing a sustained story about mutants outside the scope of the X-Men (something I liked about the follow-up, too). It makes sense that not all young mutants coming into their powers would have the necessary adult support to keep them safe or to find their way to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.

On the other hand, Joe Quesada’s writing verges on exploitation fiction, especially in the Zebra Daddy character with his “street” slang, coke sniffing, sharp dressing, misogyny, and pimping. I think that Liu does a better job of getting into the lives of these young, virtually homeless mutants.

Wasteland Book 2: Shades of God & Wasteland Book 3: Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos (Oni Press)

It took me a few pages to get back into this series, to reorient myself to the characters and situations, but once I did, I had no doubts about immediately moving from Book 2 to Book 3. I like Christopher Mitten’s grey scale art, the sketchiness seems perfect for a story about a rebuilding world, and the flashback effect is subtle. Sometimes I find it difficult to distinguish between figures and faces, but by the end of both books, I could readily make out the principal characters. I think that Anthony Johnston does an excellent job of writing the narrative and dialogue that makes the world of Wasteland familiar and yet not at the same time.

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Favorite comics of 2010

I’ve already covered this ground at PopMatters, and will again at some point later this month, but as I suggest in my December column, those selections are more about the themes I address in “Worlds in Panels” than about what I really enjoyed this year.

And that’s what I turn to here. As with my TV selections, these reflect my own idiosyncracies, which is to say, I read what I like, or think I’ll like, and don’t read what doesn’t interest me.

My list is divided into long form works and/or series I’m reading in trade, and books that I read monthly or as uncollected serials. I narrowed my favorites to five for each format, but also have generous additions of ‘honorable mention’ and ‘special mention’ titles.

Long form/trade collections (in no particular order).

Duncan the Wonder Dog Show One by Adam Hines (AdHouse). It is beyond the scope of this blog post to unpack the imagery of this visually complicated, mixed media book, but what has resonated strongly with me on initial reading is Hines’s brilliant effort at imagining what animals would say if they could speak like humans. Most importantly, he differentiates between animals, giving birds different voices than monkeys, companion animals different voices than wild, etc., while clearly individuating between the animals as well. What is at issue in these differentiated voices is not so much how different species, and individuals speak, but how they think, and what they might value. Most affecting for me are the voices of the companion animals, especially the dogs. In Hines’s world, humans and dogs remain fully co-evolved, and co-dependent. The only difference is that we can have actual conversations, and not just imaginary ones. The story of Bundle struck so many chords with me that it made me cry for lost friends, and wonder more deeply about the thoughts and emotions of those still living with us.

The Saga of Rex by Michel Gagne (Image). My initial thoughts on this book can be found here, but as I continue to think about it, one of the additional points of interest is how effectively Gagne uses pages as panels. Maybe this makes Rex veer on the edge of ‘picture book’, but it is also appropriate to convey the scale of the story that the hero finds himself in. Saga indeed.

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld (Pantheon). I made this selection largely for the reasons given in the PopMatters column linked above, but also want to mention that I would not have thought that this book would be on this list after I first read it. But the fact remains that I think about the book a lot. Neufeld’s compositions and colors come to mind, often unbidden, leading me to recall the humanity of his art and his narrative. Maybe there’s nothing here that hasn’t been done by people like Joe Sacco already, but it is still done very well.

Batgirl volume 1: Batgirl Rising, written by Bryan Q. Miller, with pencils by Tim Levins, Trevor Scott & Lee Garbett, inks by Trevor Scott, Dan Davis, Aaron Sowd, Sandra Hope & Oliver Nome, colors by Guy Major, and letters by John J. Hill (DC).

Fun, fast-paced with an essentially likeable protagonist, this series offers much of what I read superhero comics for. I don’t have any baggage when it comes to Stephanie Brown vs. Cass Cain, and that undoubtedly helped me to approach this series with an open mind, and while I am not deeply invested in the Batverse, I do read Birds of Prey and followed the final (?) Manhunter story set in Gotham. This book makes good use of Oracle and helps to place the new Batgirl in context. I am looking forward to the next collection.

Fallen Angel Omnibus Volume 0, written by Peter David with art by David Lopez (IDW).

I have been interested in this series, and took this new collection as a perfect entry point. I loved every page. Liandra is a fantastically complicated lead character, and one whose femininity and sexuality are used mostly for good narrative purposes and not treated as liabilities or for spectacle. Even pregnancy, normally a way to place limits on a female character in this kind of context, is used in a constructive way, furthering both the story and the development of Liandra’s character in meaningful ways. I don’t know much about where the series heads after this, but if the Reborn mini featuring Illyria is any indication, I am hopeful that it remained worthwhile.

Honorable and special mentions:

In my most recent column for PopMatters, I cite DMZ Volume 8: Hearts and Minds (Vertigo) and Phonogram Volume 2: The Singles Club (DC) as among the “best” of 2010 and I want to mention them again here for more or less the same reasons as I give in the other piece. I also mention Scott Pilgrim Volume 6: Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour (Oni Press) in the column, but want to elaborate on that choice here.

What stands out for me about that series is how Bryan Lee O’Malley skillfully uses Scott’s circle of friends to make the guy seem worth rooting for. On his own, Scott is a pretty self-involved jerk, but the fact that all these other cool people want the best for him, want him to grow up, persuaded me to want that for him, too. I like the fact that the finale makes this part of the narrative clear, in that Scott needs to find a way to reward everyone’s trust in him, and also that it becomes a story about both Scott and Ramona getting over their pasts and trying to move forward together. Whether they stay together or not seems beside the point, another strength of the book. I do think that the final story could have been edited more judiciously for sharpness and length, and while Gideon’s ‘ghost in the machine’ trick provides a reason for why Scott and Ramona made the choices they made during the run of the narrative, it is also, at the end of the day, still a ghost in the machine.

I am also citing Marvel’s Strange Tales collection, and for more on that, read this. In addition, Kieron Gillen’s X-Men: S.W.O.R.D. – No Time to Breath (Marvel) collection was right there with Batgirl for the best superhero trade I read this year. Abigail Brand is a great character that, sadly, is now adrift given the cancellation of the series. Neil Gaiman’s Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? (DC) story is a nicely turned work of meta-fiction, and Andy Kubert’s and Scott Williams’s art is appropriately classic for a reflection on what Batman means. Marvel has been releasing Brian Michael Bendis’s and Alex Maleev’s Daredevil run in big Ultimate Collections, and I mention Book 1 here mostly for Bendis’s early collaboration with David Mack, which is a smart and beautiful meditation and deconstruction of comics and superheroes.

Finally, I have two special mentions of books from 2007 that I read for the first time this year: Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home (Mariner Books) and Adam Warren’s Empowered Volume 1 (Dark Horse), both of which have legions of fans and critical commentaries already available elsewhere, so I won’t go on about them here.

Monthly comics & uncollected serials (in no particular order).

Hellboy (Dark Horse). The mainline of the series, written by Mike Mignola with art by Duncan Fegredo and colors by Dave Stewart, continued the story began in “The Wild Hunt” with “The Storm”. This arc shows the series at its best, adapting folk tales and old mythologies to original characters and purposes, and featuring beautifully drawn figures and landscapes. Stewart’s color palette gives the art an other worldly, mythic feel, especially with how both vibrant and muted the choices are.

Aside from the major stories, in 2010 the title also featured two fabulous one-shots, “Hellboy in Mexico”, a collaboration with Richard Corben, and the crossover with Jill Thompson’s and Evan Dworkin’s Beasts of Burden, “Sacrifice”, both of which are funny, poignant, and beautifully rendered, and I read both more than once the first week I picked them up.

One thing I appreciate about Hellboy is how accessible I imagine it to be. I can pass the one-shots onto A knowing that she will understand the stories, and I suspect that you could pick up collections of the main arcs, read them, and enjoy the narratives without having the advantage of having read the rest of the series. The way that Mignola builds from established myths and legends is what makes this possible, I think.

B.P.R.D./B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth (Dark Horse).

While this selection maybe predictable given the one above, even though Hellboy and B.P.R.D. come from the same root, they are very different books. Where I think that Hellboy is accessible, B.P.R.D. is far more comic book-y in the depth of its original storytelling, and rewards close reading more than casual. While the change in title this year to B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth was initially puzzling, I also think that it highlights another difference between it and Hellboy: B.P.R.D. has always been more of the mundane world, while Hellboy seems to live in more of a mythic space. The title change signals an even tighter embedding of the B.P.R.D. with ‘real life’ (and, likewise, Dave Stewart’s colors are different in this title, more immediate feeling than in Hellboy, and Guy Davis draws the team on a much more human scale than is Hellboy).

What B.P.R.D. does share with Hellboy is an open narrative architecture, and this year that was shown in the Abe Sapien mini, “The Abyssal Plain”, another fascinating Cold War-era story from this universe.

Hotwire: Deep Cut (Radical Comics).

There’s one more issue to go in this mini-series, but as I mention here, this second outing for Warren Ellis’s and Steve Pugh’s Alice Hotwire, detective exorcist, has been fantastic, featuring sharp dialogue, quick action, and pointed cultural commentary about science and the state. The painted art style that Radical specializes in is not my favorite, but Pugh manages to make his figures appear more fluid or at least less stiff than is often the case with this form of the art. That and Alice looks so very much like the English chippy that some in the book mistake her for.

Fringe: Tales from the Fringe (Wildstorm).

I have the last issue in this mini-series waiting to be read, but I enjoyed the stories leading up to the final installment probably more than I should. As I write in my upcoming “Worlds in Panels”, these Fringe comics are exemplars of how licensed comics can be good, and mostly what makes these work is their commitment to telling stories that I imagine only fans of the show can really appreciate.

DEMO – VOLUME II (Vertigo).

The second outing in Brian Wood’s and Becky Cloonan’s series continues to stretch the idea of having ‘powers’ into the realm of everyday life, exploring both the idea of exceptional abilities in the context of ‘normal’ problems and dilemmas, #5, “Stranded”, for example, and also thinking about smaller scale quirks, #3, “Volume One Love Story”, for example, as ‘powers’. Cloonan and Wood work well together to tell their stories as much in images as words. Beautiful, thoughtful work.

Honorable and special mentions:

For reasons I spell out in the aforementioned and forthcoming column, I want to mention Gabriel Ba’s and Fabio Moon’s Daytripper (Vertigo), an excellent example of comics as a medium for short stories, but also one where I am still puzzling over the conclusion.

Michael Allred’s and Chris Roberson’s I, Zombie gets mention because it’s the best comic I share reading with A, and for the fun and stylish art. I’m citing the re-release of Matt Fraction’s and Gabriel Ba’s first Casanova (Marvel Icon) series for its frenetic style and self-conscious comic bookness that never tips over into preciousness. The first five issues of Black Widow (Marvel), written by Marjorie Liu and featuring art by Daniel Acuna, is stylish and densely plotted, and both of those creators are sorely missed now. G. Willow Wilson’s and M.K. Perker’s Air (Vertigo) ended this year, and will be missed for its sense of imagination and for Blythe’s unique character. I’m not sure I understand everything in Jonathan Hickman’s and Dustin Weaver’s S.H.I.E.LD. (Marvel) series, but every issue so far as featured gorgeous art and bizarre, inventive twists on history and historical figures. Greg Rucka’s and Matthew Southworth’s Stumptown (Oni Press) took a long time to get through four issues, but the storytelling was strong enough to withstand the waits, and I loved seeing Southworth’s Portland. As I discuss here, the Girl Comics (Marvel) anthology series has much to recommend it, even as it raises questions about what room the major publishers make for women and girls in their sandboxes.

Finally, Marvel produced a pair of one-shots that I was happy to have pulled, Sean McKeever’s and Emma Rios’s Firestar story, and Marjorie Liu’s collaboration with Filipe Andrade, Nuno Alves, and Jay Leisten on an X-23 story that delved deeper into the character, and in more imaginative ways, than has the start of the ongoing series led by Laura. More on Firestar at PopMatters later this month.

All of the graphic novels and trade paperbacks I read in 2010.

All of the monthly comics I read in 2010.