Thursday, January 17, 2013

13 comics in '13

I know what you're saying. You're saying: "Okay sure, you've talked about some good movies, Jon, and you've talked about some bad ones. But what about the comics, Jon? Why won't you think of the comics?" Well, rest easy, gentle readers, I have heard your cries and so, for your reading pleasure... (And in no particular order)

1. Saga

Saga is an epic space opera that draws a lot of "it's this meets that" type descriptions using some pretty recognizable properties, but I find those limiting, so forget that. Instead, Sage is an epic space opera about two young lovers from opposite sides of intergalactic war. Alana and Marko are generally kind of fuck-ups and they're also brand new parents. The baby, Hazel, occasionally narrates. Both of them have gone AWOL from their respective armies and they are now on the run with their baby, just trying to get away from the endless war between their races, ducking authorities from both sides, a robot royal class who have TVs for heads, several bounty hunters, and even their own parents. Artist Fiona Staples (whose art really grew on me) and Writer Brian K. Vaughn (who for a brief time made the TV show Lost not stupid) have created an original and funny, ridiculously imaginative and frankly awesome new series. If you claim to be a comic fan, but whine incessantly about superheroes, well then, here's a fantastic alternative.

2. Batman

Ah, the classic. Batman needs no introduction. He's maybe one of the most, if not the most recognizable superhero ever, you all know him and his story. For clarification purposes though, we are only specifically talking about the Post-New 52, Scott Snyder written, Greg Capullo drawn series simply titled: Batman. All the others books can go screw. You see, as a general rule, I have no use for regular Batman books. In my opinion, Batman only really works in self-contained stories with a beginning, middle, and an ending. The endless serial, mostly due to the fact that it is endless (Going on, what? 70 plus years now?), generally ran out of gas along time ago. It just got stupid and convoluted. Hello, Ouroboros. So anyway, Snyder's Batman, as it is usually referred to, has been a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stodgy and well-established corner of the comic world. It features a new and younger Batman, with stronger stories, clearer character moments, and much more danger. Snyder has taken a character that is in the meta-sense basically immortal and invulnerable and made him interesting again. Plus Capullo draws the hell out of Batman.

3. Prophet

Prophet was one of the stupidest characters ever, created by one of the worst creator in comics ever, during one of the lowest points in comic book history, especially in terms of new character creation. It was just the awfullest of the awful. Dumb. Poorly drawn. Derivative. Ugly. Pointless. Terrible. It eventually died a well-deserved death due to either apathy on the part of the audience or because the fanbase all ended up winning Darwin Awards and sales ended up suffering. Over a decade later, the property was revived and has since proven that even a really stupid idea can be made into a good one, a brilliant one even, in the right hands. Writer Brandon Graham has taken the character of Prophet and spun an incredible, star-spanning sci-fi tale 10,000 years in the future, a story of fallen Empires, of old warriors returning to battle, of armies of clones still doing the bidding of their masters, of all the crazy and endlessly weird variations found in the far flung corners of the galaxy. Awesome and so well done. Highest recommendation.

4. Star Wars

This is maybe one of the best ideas ever. I am ridiculously jealous that I don't get to work on it. Brian Wood writes this and the basic premise is the continuation of the Star Wars story immediately following the original film, Star Wars (now called: A New Hope). Everything else, Empire, Return, the crappy prequels, the even crappier Expanded Universe books and games and comics may or may not happen. I mean, I'm sure Vader is still Luke and Leia's father and all that, but apparently, the idea is that everything before that first opening crawl and everything after the credits roll is up for grabs. How awesome an opportunity is that? Sure, sure, it's a little fan-fictiony, but I'm gonna say that the official endorsement kind of moves it out that realm, so it's all right. Anyway, there's only been one issue so far, but I'm excited to see where it goes.

5. Danger Club

Danger Club has a great premise: All the adult superheros and most of the villains left the planet to deal with some huge, unknown threat... and they never came back. No one knows what happened. They left one day and never returned. All that's left are the teen sidekicks, young people outside the law, some with the power of gods. Things quickly spiral out of control. There's a lot of recognizable pastiches, but with some good twists. It has a really nice Silver Age suddenly plunged into the dark feel. Lots of fun. This is a good comic that is published way too infrequently (timeliness being the main failure of most comics, for some reason), but I read recently that the latest issue is on the way, so hopefully they can get back on track.

6. Locke & Key

Locke and Key is by writer Joe Hill, a man who carries what is most likely a blessing and a curse career-wise, the fact that he is the son of Stephen King. I've always heard good things about his work, but until this book, I haven't gotten around to any of them. The premise really intrigued me: After their father is murdered, the Locke children move with their mother across country and into the family's ancestral home, a rambling old New England mansion known as the Key House. There is a horrible legacy locked up in that old house, a legacy of magic and murder and betrayal that happened to their father and his friends when they were younger. There's a monster trapped at the bottom of the well waiting to escape and exact its revenge. When the monster finally does escape, a race soon begins to find a series of keys, special keys for special doors, all with strange powers, that can unlock all the secrets and mysteries of Key House. All in all, I was so impressed with this book, such a great set up, so inventive, so well done. A lot of this series can be picked up in trade paper back form, so check it out.

7. All New X-Men

The All New X-Men is kind of like the Batman series I mentioned above and kind of like the Avengers books I mention below. In a nutshell, there is always one version or another of these books availlable and ongoing. You can walk into your local comic shop (1-888-COMIC-BOOK, if you're looking) any week and pick up the latest issue of of one of those titles. They are constant and never-ending. So, when you're recommending one of them to someone, you're really recommending specific runs or specific creators. Like if I were to recommend Thunderbolts to you, I would recommend issues #110 to #121. I would not endorse any issues outside these numbers. See how it goes? So... All New X-men is a new series written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Stuart Immonen. I'm a big fan of Bendis and Immonen and I love the set-up: In the wake of the most recent big bruh-haha which ended with a possessed Cyclops killing Professor X (among other things), Dr. Henry McCoy, in an effort to cure his debilitating mutation and to stop Cyclops' jihad, travels back in time and brings the original five X-men forward, hoping to gain help from his younger self on his medical issue and to shock Cyclops into inaction when confronted with his younger, more idealistic self... it's a comic book, all right? However, once arrived, the original five find a themselves in a future world much worse than any dark future they could have ever imagined, so they stay to try to make a difference. And a new adventure begins...

8. Avengers Arena

Oh, controversy... with the popularity of Battle Royale and Hunger Games and yadda yadda yadda, Avengers Arena is Marvel's version. Arcade is a villain known for making killer amusement parks that he traps superheroes in and from which they later escape and then beat him senseless. Well, now he's back and upgraded somehow and he has a bunch of teen heroes trapped in a brand new Murder World and he's told them that, in order to survive, they have to kill each other and be the last one standing. The controversy in the comic world? Two kids are dead so far, one surprising, one not so surprising. The real surprise of this book though? It's really well done. I'm not familiar with either the writer or the artist, but they are doing good work, building tension, creating characters, adding a real sense of danger. All in all, so far they are telling a great story.

9. Wonder Woman

Yes, I know. This is the big shocker, isn't it? Wonder Woman is easily one of the top three most recognizable superheroes ever (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman), but the really odd thing about her? Outside of her outfit and her accessories? No one knows anything about her. Origin? Okay, sure, maybe some people outside the comic world know it, but compare that to how many people know Batman and Superman's origins? I realize they are more exposed, but I'm just making a side point here about recognizability vs. known character traits. My larger point? She has no good stories, almost no note-worthy supporting cast to speak or, and at best, second rate villains. She's never really been an interesting character... and yet, world recognized. Weird, huh? Anyway, Brian Azzarello comes along, tangles her up with Greek Gods and adds a good splash of horror and a bunch of really cool new character designs and suddenly she's a real character with a real story, suddenly she's interesting, proving yet again, it's all about the script, folks (and art, as well, in the case of comics), which is why Avatar was so terrible.

10. The Manhattan Projects

Jonathan Hickman might currently be my favorite comic book writer. He didn't just make the Fantastic Four cool and fun again, but he wrote maybe the best run since Stan and Jack. He also penned the best run of the Ultimates ever, easily the best. Secret Warriors, super hero espionage? Excellent. I want more. The guy does good stuff. The only downside is, when it comes to his creator owned stuff, while they are uniformly highly imaginative and interesting, they also have a tendency to wander and usually flub the landing a bit. In short, with a firm editorial hand, the guy writes the shit out of books, but on his own...? It can get iffy. The Manhattan Projects is a brilliant exception. It is the story of a slightly different Los Alamos where everything goes wrong. It's a place fraught with conspiracies and weird technologies, packed with insane super-scientists, ex-nazis, and space aliens. It's fantastic. Two Albert Einsteins? One good, one from an alternate dimension and evil? This comic has it. Where else can you see Yuri Gargarin and Wernher Von Braun fighting off an insane AI powered by the personality of FDR? How many other places show you Oppenheimer machine-gunning a bunch of Japanese Kamikaze Robot Samurais down?

Not many, kids. Not many. Get on board.

11. Ultimate Spider-man

The Ultimate universe is a side universe, a pocket universe. It's different from the one most people know. In this universe, Peter Parker is dead. He gave his life protecting Aunt May and Mary Jane from a bunch of super villains, a moment truly embodying his credo: With great power, comes great responsibility. And with Peter dead, a new Spider-man has taken his place. That's what the new Ultimate Spider-man is all about, young Miles Morales is thirteen and trying to learn the superhero ropes. It's classic Spider-man stuff, problems with family and girls and leading a double life, but with new twists. Written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Sarah Pichelli, it's fresh and fun. Bendis was on this book over ten years with Peter and it was consistently the best superhero book out there, month after month, and so far, the new title is keeping up with the tradition.

12. Thor: God of Thunder

Jason Aaron is writing the hell out of Thor and Esad Ribic is drawing the hell out of him. I love it. Thor is a character that's never really blown my skirt up, but in just four issues this book has moved to the top of my pile. The first story arc features three time lines: a young Thor carousing and fighting, long before receiving his enchanted hammer Mjolnir, the present day Thor, and a old Thor, missing an eye, missing an arm, scarred by battle, at the end of time, all of them facing off against a terrifying entity known as the God Butcher. It is a being that has been traveling the cosmos and killing gods. Thor is in a race to track him down, following the trail of bloody bodies, before Asgard falls victim. It is brutal. The sight of the dead gods from the various pantheons across the galaxy? Seeing a desperate Thor pin a beserker down and beat it to death with his hammer? It's fantastic and dark. Well done. Love it.

13. Avengers/New Avengers

These are both Jonathan Hickman again and I love both titles. One is the Avengers, and like the movie it is big and widescreen, all wild adventures and saving the day. It's marvel's biggest and best facing huge problems. It's legends, basically, legends making legends. The other book is the New Avengers, which features what is called the Illuminati. They are Tony Stark, Reed Richards, Black Bolt, Namor, and Dr. Strange. They've been secretly meeting for years and the consequences of the secrets of these powerful men and secret kings have rocked the marvel universe. Now, they're adding Hank McCoy, Black Panther, and Captain America and it looks like they're going to be fighting big problems from alternate earths. I love the imaginative scope and the amazing art. I'm such a fan.

Okay, that was a long one, so I'll wrap things up here, but before I do, here's an honorable mention title that didn't make the cut (I could only choose 13, after all) and some books I'm looking forward to, but haven't had a chance to read yet:

The Massive: (The honorable mention) A Brian Wood penned story of a world where the ice caps have melted and a ship of eco-warriors searches the wide new seas for their sister ship.
Young Avengers: Right now, just the art is attracting me, but it sounds fun. The title is self-explanatory, really.
Uncanny X-men: Bendis' companion title to the All New X-Men.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Also Bendis, featuring the space team that has an upcoming movie.
X-Men: Brian Wood again... jesus, I guess it's a trend... anyway, it's an all female team of X-men. Click the link. I like the art.
One Trick Rip-off/deep cuts: The new Paul Pope book, which is all the reason I need.



Qlaudie said...

If I return those comics I borrowed from you ages ago, could I borrow some of these? :p Heh. A bunch of these look like my kind of thing!

Jon said...

Yes. What do you still have? Scott Pilgrim?

Shawn Enderlin said...

Good list! I've read a few of these and had several more on my radar.

Thor - had initially dismissed the concept but I keep hearing good things.

Avengers Arena - again, dismissed due to Hunger Games, but maybe I should reconsider.

Star Wars - I'm kinda over Star Wars, but I have to admit this was intriguing. But will Marvel just kill it once they get the license? Like Dark Horse did to IDW/Brian Lynch's insanely awesome Spike? I can't take another cancellation! ;-)

Bendis' X-Men - I like it, but I don't love it. Not yet.

Avengers/New Avengers - LOVE IT

Ultimate Spider-Man - so behind... and I have no excuse!

Batman/Wonder Woman - I'm staying away from DC, just to keep the number of comics down. Except for Arrow on the WB.

And Saga. Great.

But you missed Journey Into Mystery. Tsk tsk.

Jon said...

This is for 2013, Journey into Mystery is done, but I may pick up the trade. What's-his-name? Gillen? He's doing Young Avengers.

You know what I did forget?

Hawkeye by Fraction and Aja. Such a good comic. Look here and here and here.

I guess Dark Horse has it for a year? After that, who knows. You should definitely look into Avengers Arena and Thor. They're really good. really good.

Jon said...

That Dark Horse comment was in reference to the Star Wars comic, BTW.