Saturday, January 2, 2010

Ben's First Minute New Years Comics Spending Guide 2010

Welcome to a new decade, ladies and gents! It may be 2010, but we’re still kids, we’re still cool and this is still our table.

Ugh. That was awful. I apologize.

Let’s forget all that mess and start the New Year off on the right foot with a tradition I started 12 months or so ago: The First Minute Holiday Comics Spending Guide. To sum it up, while other folks give you last minute guides to gifts you can buy for others, I’m lazier, so I provide some of what I thought were comics’ best products in 2009 for you to cash those Amazon and Borders gift cards on.

As always, I begin with the disclaimer that I don’t cover every comic I loved over the last year in this space as it would take several days and blog posts, but this is a nice start.

Onward!

BLACK LIGHTNING YEAR ONE
For my money, Jen Van Meter is one of the most consistently underrated and underutilized super hero comic book writers there is, with a clear understanding of what makes a fun, exciting story and firm grasp on how to get it done. Complementing those skills, Cully Hamner is an artist who has great design chops as well as the ability to make a quiet conversation pop just as well as an electricity-tossing brawl. Combine these two great creators with Black Lightning, a truly unique character who really needed a polish on his origin given the way continuity has played ping pong with his past of late, and you get a hidden gem of a limited series.

THE BOYS: WE GOTTA GO NOW
If you were a fan of Garth Ennis’ perhaps best-loved classic, Preacher, as I was, and don’t check out The Boys regularly for whatever reason, you’re definitely missing out. Boys has that same delightfully naught mix of over-the-top sex and violence with genuine heart and characters who straddle that line between lovable and excessive that Preacher did. This particular collection sees my personal favorite Boy, Wee Hughie, infiltrate an X-Men knock-off team—well, more a New Mutants or X-Force knock-off, as one of the tropes this arc plays with is the proliferation of X-teams—and try to solve a murder mystery while Ennis pokes a healthy bit of fun as the idea of mutants’ “outcast” status making them big-time corporate money-makers. Herogasm, a Boys spin-off mini that came out this year as well, was also a lot of fun, but while the capable John McCrea handles art chores there, few can top the energy of the great Darick Robertson, the regular series artist, when it comes to my personal tastes.

CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND MI13: VAMPIRE STATE
No question that Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk’s brilliant and bizarre Captain Britain and MI13 series was far too short for this world based on how fun and well-executed it was, but if nothing else the book got an appropriately gonzo send-off with the Vampire State epic. As it has been put more eloquently on other blogs, basically any story that involves Dracula launching vampires at England from missile silos on the moon and then following at their heels in a glorified pirate ship has a lot going for it from minute one. But stripping away the so-crazy-it’s-awesome twists and turns, Cornell is so good with the emotional stuff, from the little beats to the epic romance; the stuff between Cap and Meggan, between Faiza and the Black Knight, between Spitfire and her son, and Pete Wisdom’s whole hero’s journey, all just wonderful stuff. And I’ll go ahead and say perhaps nobody has ever used Blade as uniquely effectively as Cornell and Kirk did in this series. I also dug huge the whole large-scale game of chess Wisdom and friends were waging with Dracula the whole time and how every time the stakes got upped, the counters had to become more clever and unorthodox. Sorely missed, this book.

DEADPOOL: SUICIDE KINGS
No lack of quality material starring the Merc With a Mouth in 2009, the completely unexpected Year of Deadpool, but perhaps the most fun had with Wade Wilson and friends (in his head) came from this little firecracker courtesy of Mike Benson and Carlo Barberi. The big picture stuff of Deadpool getting conned into taking a job that leads to him being framed for killing a bunch of kids because a guy owns Tombstone a gambling debt seems like a lot to swallow, but it’s easy to follow as you go. More importantly, it puts ‘pool at odds with Daredevil, Spider-Man and the Punisher, all of whom Benson instantly nails and creates beautiful chemistry and comedy with. The Deadpool-Spidey banter is top notch and the Punisher-created cliffhanger that ends one chapter is just perfect. At the end of the day though, I’m not a hard man to please; give me Tombstone and Deadpool making self-aware jokes about how crazy it is that he has as many titles as he does and I’m a happy fellow.

EX MACHINA: DIRTY TRICKS
There are certain books I consistently enjoy but don’t mention all that much because they’re so reliably of high quality month in and out that I don’t really have anything to say other than “still great” (Sean T. Collins during our Wizard days would probably have called this the “Brubaker Daredevil Syndrome”). Ex Machina is one of these books. However, I did think the “Dirty Tricks” arc, in which a sexed-up and crazed old groupie of the Great Machine attempts to become a super hero herself and causes Mitch Hundred all sorts of problems was a cut above even the excellent norm; Brian K. Vaughan is always good, and Tony Harris really shines in his design of the would-be super savior.

FABLES: THE DARK AGES
I’ve really been enjoying Fables with a renewed vigor of late, as the conclusion of the years-long war with the Adversary and brassy killing of several main characters has forced writer Bill Willingham to basically reinvent the series in many ways, and he’s taken to the challenge quite nicely. It all started here, with the post-war status quo of Fabletown and its inhabitants getting set up along with the introduction of Mister Dark, a comic book villain who actually creeps me out even when I close the issue I’m reading, so that’s something. Mark Buckingham remains one of comics’ artists most deserving of much more touting and there’s some stuff here with Boy Blue and Rose Red that is simply heartbreaking.

FINAL CRISIS: LEGION OF THREE WORLDS
Technically most of this series came out in 2008, but it wrapped in 2009 and it’s also just soooo pretty. Basically any excuse to see George Perez draw a zillion characters and I’m there, but this also happens to be the Legion of Super-Heroes, among my favorites characters, and is penned by Geoff Johns, one of my favorite writers, so I’m more than there (whatever that is). Kudos to Geoff for crafting a crackerjack cosmic epic here that has some great beneath-the-surface arcs going on, but also not losing sight of the fact that, again, perhaps the book’s biggest draw is the aforementioned Perez drawing a zillion characters, which he cheerfully provides along with all the continuity minutiae and trivia winks a true Legion nerd would ever want. Double kudos to both men for balancing a literal cast of thousands, bringing back two fan favorite characters, disposing of a big-time villain and much much more yet still finding time to give just about every character right down to Gates and Kinetix their moments to shine. And for the record I called the Legion of Earth Prime revelation two or so issues early, so ha!

HOUSE OF MYSTERY: THE SPACE BETWEEN
On a monthly basis, House of Mystery is a great series if for no other reason than you get double bang for your buck, with Matt Sturges’ ongoing story always being supplemented by a short yarn with a talented artist. However, issue #13 broke format (not the last time the book has done so) and presented a series of stories, some with the regular cast and some without, just focused on the number 13 and utilizing the artistic talents of no less than Neal Adams, Eric Powell, Sergio Aragones and Ralph Reese. This is the closing bookend for an arc in which we get to learn more about the intriguing quagmires surrounding our “heroes” and this creepy house they’re all stuck in; House of Mystery is kinda like the “LOST” of comics sometimes, both in its central dilemma and also in its willingness to push boundaries when it comes to neat format experiments.

INCREDIBLE HERCULES: LOVE AND WAR
It’s quite possible that Incredible Hercules is my favorite ongoing comic book being published by anybody at the moment—I’m not sure I could defend that opinion at gunpoint (primarily because I’d be distracted by the gun aimed at me over a really weird question), but it’s possible. Every issue Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente deliver the perfect blend of action, intelligence, humor and pathos as they craft one of the best buddy books ever in this medium starring Herc and Amadeus Cho. However, amidst a sea of killer arcs, “Love and War” may well remain my favorite. No it’s not just because Herc sees Amadeus about to score with an Amazon and gives him the greatest thumbs up and shit-eating grin ever, but if I had to sum it up in a panel that might be it. It’s the playful romance between Herc and Namora, mixed with Amadeus falling in love for the first time, mixed with Namor showing up and being a cock, mixed with the actual throwbacks to Greek mythology that the book does so well, mixed with Clayton Henry’s fun-tastic art, mixed with the big alternate reality brouhaha that ties it all in a bow and so on; it’s all good.

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN: WORLD’S MOST WANTED BOOK 1
Did you like the “Iron Man” movie? Of course you did; everybody did. But dig this: Marvel’s got a monthly comic starring Iron Man where writer Matt Fraction has mastered translating the smarmy brilliance of Robert Downey Jr.’s big-screen turn as Tony Stark and meshing it with all that has come before in terms of the character’s continuity while Salvador Larroca is in top form on art chores. This past year, they put poor Tony on the run as an international fugitive courtesy of Norman Osborn, and this is the beginning of the balls to the wall thrill ride that sees him jumping from armor to armor and getting dumber as time goes on since he’s erasing knowledge from his brain he can’t let the bad guys get their hands on while everybody from Namor to War Machine is chasing him down. Also, after years of being kinda grating, Maria Hill becomes awesome. Tell your friends.

IRREDEEMABLE: VOLUME 1
Yes, the whole “What if Superman were evil?” road has been travelled many times before, but when it’s Mark Waid behind the wheel, you (or at least I) pay attention, because he’s really good at this sort of thing. I’ve been a bit surprised at how invested I’ve gotten in the story of The Plutonian and his rampage against all he once protected and loved, but I guess I really shouldn’t be, given what a Waid mark I’ve always been (see what I did there?). The things that really make the series work I think are how far Waid is really to take things in order to convey how dangerous this guy really is without it ever being cheap or depraved, and also Mark’s real love of Superman shines through in his passion for writing this book. Also, Peter Krause is a solid artist from the Jerry Ordway school of drawing, so that helps quite a bit.

THE MUPPET SHOW COMIC BOOK: MEET THE MUPPETS
I already did a whole post on how much I love this comic, and I feel no real need to add anything other than I got to meet Roger Langridge at San Diego where he did a Nova sketch for me and he’s a lovely man.

RUNAWAYS: HOMESCHOOLING
In their brief tenure on Runaways, Kathryn Immonen and Sara Pichelli really did an incredible job at capturing that lightning in a bottle Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona harnessed way back when for a terrific little story arc collected here. The voices of the kids really rang true for me as Immonen brought them to life, not just because they resonated with what Vaughan did, but because I could really imagine teenagers in the Runaways’ situation sounding like that, which reminded me how simultaneously horrible and awesome the Runaways’ situation is and why I loved this book to begin with. Pichelli’s art sidles up nicely to this feel of fantastic but real, and I also totally have a crush on her Karolina. The idea of a prom for four people is a great place to start, and then the disasters that follow just spin you for a total loop—in a good way.

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE UNIVERSE
The first Scott Pilgrim volume I actually had to wait for (I only read the other four towards the middle of 2008), so it was a different kind of experience, but totally worth it. Unlike the previous Scott Pilgrim joints, I found the fights and craziness to be less the star here, and the growing ennui of Scott and Ramona’s relationship to be more center stage, which intrigued me, as I’m a sucker for a good tale of romance realistically going sour as much as I am fairy tale love stories. Of course the usual Scott Pilgrim video game tropes and general weirdness isn’t traded in the bargain for this renewed focus on a young man whose personal life seems to be stalling out, but I guess I found this to be the most relatable SP yet. And as with every other book in the series, I flipped the last page needing to know what happens next in the worst way, so Bryan Lee O’Malley definitely still knows what he’s doing.

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY: DALLAS
I did not expect to like the original Umbrella Academy, but I did, so this go-around I wasn’t taken unaware by how rockin’ the sequel was, but it still upped the ante nicely and blew my mind appropriately. I love the wacko layers Gerard Way adds to 00.05 and the funny/sad existence of Spaceboy. All the characters continue to be really well-realized and bizarre while at the same time endearing and the plot spirals all over the place in a finely-planned chaos that spins you round but makes you smile. Gabriel Ba is just a virtuoso on art, so that certainly helps.

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