Jason’s Things to be Thankful for in 2008

Nov-25-08

Okay, now it’s my turn. This took a bit of research for me and the results are still kind of nebulous. My problem is that I have so many trades and books and magazines and single issues lying around that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet. That makes it hard for me to figure out what actually came out in 2008 and what came out two years ago but only has a thin layer of dust on it because my wife likes to clean.

It’s actually quite sad how big my “to read’ list pile is.

Anyway, here are 10 things that stood out for me in 2008. No real rhyme or reason to the numbering. Hell, there’s no real rhyme or reason to the reasoning either! (I’ll copy Jason’s format and just insert my comments right after his.)  Just sit back and pretend that I know what I’m talking about. I’m thankful for:

1. Kirby: King of Comics – The basic truth behind this pick is that you’re either a Kirby fan or you’re not (or, in my case, you weren’t a fan but learned to be one). However, regardless of your feelings about the man’s style, the book is an excellent biography of a person who was never fully appreciated even though his comic output was tremendous and his influence is primarily responsible for the books you read today. There are some great pieces inside that show a truly different style to the square-jawed faces everyone is familiar with too. As an honorable mention in the biography/art book category, I’d also mention Paul Pope’s Pulphope (which came out in 2007 but I haven’t gotten around to reading yet) and Blake Bell’s Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko (which I haven’t bought yet but hear many good things about).

Three artists who I can appreciate in the abstract, but can’t love in the reality.  However, as I’ve probably stated before on the blog, I’m more of a follower of writers than artists anyway (yes, I know, all three also write comics, but these books focus more, I believe, on their artistic talent).

2. Northlanders – A couple years ago, when I still had my store and ran a blog about it, I posed the question, “What would be the next big thing?” At the time, both zombies and pirates (and probably pirate zombies) were at the height of their respective popularities, robots were still going strong and ninjas were making a resurgence. I threw out the notion that vikings would make their mark next. Turns out I was right! Brian Wood has managed to craft a gritty world relatively free from the stereotypical horn-headed, mead-swilling, “thee” and “yon” spouting heathens and replete with anti-heroes who value honor over conquest, payback over duty. He uses modern language (earmuff the kids if you’re reading out loud) to paint what can only be described as “the ‘hood” of medieval Scandinavia. Couple this series with the also excellent DMZ trades and you get a pretty grim, yet entertaining, picture of the “real” world both past and present. Almost makes you want to go outside and hug someone. Almost.

I have heard good things, but this hasn’t made my list of books to read yet.  Actually, despite the buzz about Brian Wood, I’ve not yet read anything he’s written.  My bad.  I’ll put that on my to do list for 2009.

3. Criminal – Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips continue their magical partnership. The third volume of this creator-owned series came out in 2008. No one writes better double-crossing, in it for themselves characters than Brubaker. He has the Midas touch when it comes to crime comics. Whether the storylines deal with good people caught in bad situations or dastardly types struggling to redeem themselves in a world that continues to beat them down, his work is aces. And Phillips’ line work gives it all the requisite rough-and-tumble look it needs. These people are dirty, they’re raw and they’re either in trouble or looking for it.

My scintillating commentary continues, as I can again say I’ve never read this.  However, this is on my Christmas list, and I’m hoping the big red guy comes through for me (don’t let me down Hellboy)!

4. Ed Brubaker’s Daredevil – While we’re on the topic of Ed Brubaker, we may as well talk about Daredevil too. I’ve followed Daredevil on and off through the years…yes for Miller, no for Nocenti…but no one has been able to truly capture the underlying angst and tension that Matt Murdock seems to find himself in the center of. Brubaker is able to show that Daredevil is merely the lens that we witness all of these horrible people through. For the past few years, things have been happening to Daredevil that seem like payback for the years of heroic work he did. Nothing is going right and nothing is getting better, and that’s what makes it so much fun to read.

5. The end of the Brubaker/Fraction Immortal Iron Fist run – Can you tell that I enjoyed Brubaker’s work this year? I know it’s kind of strange to praise the end of a run that you’ve enjoyed so much, but I have my reasons. In less than two years, Ed and Matt managed to create a whole new world for the Iron Fist character…they added a lineage with vibrant back stories, a stable of allies and adversaries that gives a much needed depth, and managed to inject a light humor into the serious business of karate chops and glowing chi dragons. I praise the end of their run because it ended on a high note. I didn’t start to get bored. I wasn’t second guessing any of their decisions. Basically, they left me wanting more, which is always a good thing.

6. Scott Pilgrim – Technically, Volume 4 came out in November 2007 and Volume 5 isn’t due until February 2009, but that’s reason enough to mention these little bundles of excellence. Bryan O’Malley combines the perfect amount of videogaming and pop culture references to this romantic comedy wrapped up in a loose manga influence. You really can’t go wrong with a book that caters to everyone at once and yet no one in particular. There’s something for every boy and girl to enjoy!

While I love me some Ed Brubaker (as I mentioned on my own list of things to be thankful for, when I singled out his commitment to Captain America), I didn’t have much to say about the last two entries.  Partly because I haven’t read them, but also because….ok, it’s entirely because I haven’t read them.  However, I have to give a shout out to Scott Pilgrim!  I am absolutely in love with this series, which helped to restore my faith in comics when I read the first book.  I had read some really awful books, and hadn’t stumbled upon anything new in sometime that had really spoken to me, and this book knocked my right on my tuchus (in a good way).  I breathlessly await the new volume in 2009!

7. I Luv Halloween, Ultimate Twisted Edition – Here’s another quasi-mangaesque gem that combines three separate black-and-white volumes into a full-color hardcover edition with bunches of extras and artwork. Ben Roman’s cartoony style adds a touch of whimsy to Keith Giffen’s otherwise gruesome tale of trick-or-treating kids awash in a sea of zombies and suffering. Goofy things happen by circumstance. A kid who may or may not actually be the Devil shows up. And there are entrails and screaming galore. Fun read. And can be used as a formidable weapon too.

I have never even heard of this.  I feel so uncool.  I tend to think of myself as quite up to date on the world of four color (and one color) funnybooks, and this is completely off my radar.  I’ll have to do some research myself.

8. Comic Foundry – As a gross generalization, useful comics journalism sucks. The Comics Journal tries too hard and Wizard doesn’t try at all. I’m happy that there’s finally a happy medium that relies on neither fart jokes nor lengthy snobbery to get its point across effectively. Tim Leong puts together a solid magazine. My only complaint is that it doesn’t come out often enough!

9. City Cyclops – There are a few webcomics that I delve into on a semi-regular basis. I’m a pretty avid reader of Penny Arcade. I used to follow PvP for a few years. And I’m catching up on Order of the Stick. But when I want a solid dose of awkward and surreal superheroes, I make a beeline to the home of Jon Adams’ Truth Serum series. He slyly incorporates current events into the three-panel examinations of these sad sack “heroes” and “villains” who spend more time griping about their living conditions than they do actually fixing anything. Always good for a pondering chuckle. And his Lonely Parade collection is the sharpest political satire set against the world of superheroes that I have ever read.

I echo the sentiments on Truth Serum, a truly amusing series.  However, I want to single out Order of the Stick, which you mentioned, and recommend it to everyone.  It’s a great comic.  The first 10-20 installments may lead you to believe that it’s just a vehicle to do jokes about D&D, and that’s an understandable impression.  Give the strip some time though, and you’ll find that the characters have actual personalities, that a huge, sprawling world is unfolding before your eyes, and that the strip doesn’t just go for the punchline; it’s telling a story, and some of the strips aren’t funny, but are actually touching.  This strip is much more than it might appear at first, and I encourage everyone to give it a try.

10. Other stuff – Yeah, that’s not very specific, is it? What is this “stuff” I’m talking about? Well, it’s a nebulous collection of odds and ends that I’m proud of…from my conversational connections to certain creators and comic professionals, to the confusing attention our blog received because of a similarly named award nominee, to the way John and I interact with each other online, to the fact that my Amazon wishlist is filled with more and more independent comic collections and experimental artwork than ever before. There’s a lot out there to appreciate in comics. I like to toss the snark probably more often than necessary, because a good chunk of what we’ve cherished over the years has been turned into much buffoonery and heavy-handedness. However, I’m always willing to try new and different offerings in the hopes that I can recapture the feeling I had when I first opened a comic book and was sucked in by something wonderful. Every time it happens, I feel like a kid again.

That’s what I’m truly thankful for.

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John’s Things to be Thankful For in 2008

Nov-24-08

Yes, it’s the week of Thanksgiving, and while we do honestly plan to tackle the subject of Grant Morrison eventually, we’ve decided to take a break before the holidays to discuss what made us thankful as comics fans during the year 2008. I’ve listed mine below, and I should mention that there’s no particular order to this list. I’m just using numbers for organizational purposes. With that said, here we go (and, in order to keep the post a bit smaller, I’m just going to throw in my comments on your list after each item. My list will be posted tomorrow. – Jason)! I am thankful for:

1. DC’s Excellent Policy of Reprinting Older Issues: While both Marvel and DC are heavily investing in trade paperbacks, graphic novels and hardcover collections of their vast libraries, DC does a much better job of actually keeping those issues in print than Marvel does. Plus, DC started publishing Omnibus collections of the entire run of Starman (along with some of the miscellaneous one-shots and mini-series that tied into it) and Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ Justice League International, two series that I’ve included amongst my favorites in the past. Yes, I have the original issues and have read them over and over, but I’m thrilled to have nice, handsome bookshelf friendly collected editions as well.

Agreed on the Starman omnibuses (omnibi?). Beautiful presentation and good price for the content. Sadly, because of the twisted and quite random collector gene in me, I won’t buy the JLI volumes…not because I don’t think the book is fantabulous, but because I already own the singles and I have other non-owned things that I’d like to purchase first. You forgot to mention that DC is now doing this with the complete Y: The Last Man run too. Looking forward to getting those.

2. GIT Corp’s Comics DVD-Rom Collections: For the past few years, a company called GIT Corp has been collecting the entire run of comics and magazines and collecting them on DVD-Roms. They had been working with Marvel, and while I know there are some people who don’t like the idea of reading comics on a computer screen, I found that being able to get EVERY SINGLE ISSUE of, say, Amazing Spider-Man, from his first appearance in the title to when Civil War began, for only $50.00 was too good to pass up! Heck, both the Marvel Masterworks and the DC Archives retail for more than that amount now, and they only contain ten issues! Sure, there are some bad issues in that run, but the sheer volume of good issues more than compensate for that. Additionally, these issues are complete on the disc, including ads, letters pages and the Bullpen Bulletins. What a deal! Unfortunately, Marvel and GIT seem to have had a falling out, but GIT this year released compilations of Archie and Star Trek comics. While the Archie comics aren’t my cup of tea, I was excited about the possibilities that perhaps other companies may do business with GIT Corp and can’t wait to see what they come out with next!

I know how obsessed you are with these things and I’m sorry the Marvel well seems to have run dry. I will say, the one disk you gave me had an excellent format to it. I liked the look of the interface and the controls too. Perhaps sometime down the line I’ll look into getting some of these for my kids…since I’m not-so-secretly concerned about them damaging my collection.

3. The Iron Man Movie: I’ve enjoyed a lot of comic book movies in my day, but honestly, I’m not sure that I’ve ever enjoyed one as much as I did Iron Man. Everything about this movie was well done, from the script, to the acting, to the action. I know that The Dark Knight grabbed the majority of the media attention, and don’t get me wrong, Christopher Nolan and his crew did a fantastic job with that movie, but I think that Iron Man is just more fun. With the success of that movie, as well as The Incredible Hulk movie (which I enjoyed, although not as much as Iron Man) I have such hope for Marvel’s movies in the years ahead, and am truly excited to see their Avengers movie hit the screens.

Agreed on Iron Man. Excellent film. The Dark Knight was a bit long and the plot was, at best, difficult.

4. Manhunter from DC Comics: I read very few of the current mainstream DC Comics universe, as I find it depressing and disturbing. However, Marc Andreyko has continued to do an amazing job with Manhunter. As of now, it’s been cancelled (again) but even if it doesn’t come back, I’m thankful that we got as many issues of it as we did. The neat trick about this series is that it is a dark comic, with some serious themes and a rather gritty atmosphere, but it doesn’t cross the line that most of the rest of the DC Comics Universe has crossed. It continues to hold a core of hope at its center that so many DC Comics have abandoned, and that’s why I’m so grateful to it.

5. Comics Publishers outside the Big Two: I’ve been reading more and more comics that aren’t published by Marvel and DC, and honestly, some months, they’re the only things that keep me interested in the form. From Dark Horse to Image to IDW to Oni to Fantagraphics to a gazillion others whom I couldn’t even begin to list, they provide an alternative to what you find at Marvel and DC. Just like with Marvel and DC, not everything they publish is excellent, but there’s a lot of really neat ideas out there, and I encourage readers to explore them.

I will expand on this thought with some more specific examples in my own list. I’d just like to point out that, as much as we talk about Marvel and DC (which is close to 100% of the time on this blog), we’re both highly open to the so-called “independents” and have some wide-ranging offerings on our shelves.

6. The Umbrella Academy from Dark Horse Comics: Speaking of books published by other companies, I found The Umbrella Academy (which began in 2007 and ended in 2008) to be a joy. It’s incredibly weird, and perhaps not for everyone, but if your sensibilities are a little off of center, if you’re a fan of Tim Burton, and if you think odd is good, then I think you’ll enjoy this series. It’s basically a superhero story, about a very special family of heroes. It’s not quite as surreal as Scud, but it’s close. Oh, speaking of which..

7. Scud: The Disposable Assassin completely collected: I had been a fan of Scud in the mid-90s when the stories were originally published, but had come into the series late and didn’t have every issue. This year, the entire series (and a one-shot) were released in one package, and I finally got to read the story from beginning to ending. Scud, for those who are unaware, is an assassin who will self-destruct once he kills his target. To prevent this, he wounds his target, puts her on life support, and then begins taking jobs as a mercenary to pay for her upkeep. It’s a brilliant premise, and the series proved to be one of the most surreal I’d ever read (Benjamin Franklin is one of the main villains). Still, it’s loads of fun, and pokes fun at pop culture all over the place. I highly recommend it.

I bought the Umbrella Academy trade three months ago and haven’t gotten around to it yet, but I’m hopeful of it’s cleverness. I’m also hoping for the Scud collection as a holiday gift. I own about half of the original run, but it’d be great to have it all in one place.

8. Bill Willingham’s decision to continue Fables: I am a huge proponent of the idea that every series needs a beginning, middle and end, and that open ended series are often a detriment to the characters in them. I think that, if you just keep your series going on and on without end, you will eventually see story and art quality decline. That being said, I was incredibly sad with the idea that Fables would be ending, and will thrilled when Willingham said it would keep going. So far, the series has remained a must-read, and I have faith that Willingham will shut it down when it’s time. There are few series which I enjoy reading more than Fables.

I read the first 7 or 8 volumes of Fables and really, really loved it. Of course, it was easier to follow when I owned a comic book store and could just pluck it off the shelf. This is one of those titles that my wife would love as well. I should probably invest in a set of trades for the home bookshelf.

9. Ed Brubaker/Steve Epting’s commitment to Captain America: I’ve been enjoying Brubaker’s Cap since he began writing it; it is, without a doubt, my favorite of the Marvel series. It’s very common, in this day and age, for writers (and artists) to come and go on titles pretty quickly. Brubaker and Epting have been detailing the events of Cap’s life (and death) since 2005 and it seems like they should soon be leaving, but so far, they’ve stayed with the book, and I thank them for it. I pity the poor writer and artist that replaces them, as they’ve truly built a legacy on that title that will be difficult to follow.

Still haven’t read these, but you’re tempting my eBay skills to land a complete set.

10. Most of the comics blogosphere: I’m going to focus on the good, and say how much I appreciate so many of the people out there on the internet who devote so much of their time to creating some of the most interesting comics sites around. I don’t get to hang out at a comic shop anymore; I actually worked at one for years, and then still hung there after I no longer was employed there, but I gradually became disaffected with many of the new employees and stopped going. For a period of time, I bought my comics online, until I finally found a new shop that I enjoyed. Sadly, that one closed, and I’m now driving about 30 minutes to get my comics. I don’t get to stop by as often, and I miss that sense of community. Luckily, the internet has provided a community like that for me. Dirk Deppey, Tom Spurgeon, Heidi McDonald, Chris Sims, Tucker Stone and many more who I will remember as soon as I post this have created websites that amuse, entertain and educate me. I feel like I’m hanging out at my old comics shop, listening to the people chatting about the business of comics, and I’m enthralled.

Those are some of the things for which I am thankful in 2008!

Awww, I was going to give you a virtual high-five for referencing the “new shop that I enjoyed” because I assumed you were talking about my store. But then you went on to mention a bunch of people you’ve never even met by their full names and I got nothing! You’re just sucking up to them for the site traffic! Boo!

Overall, an acceptable list (except for the kissassery at the end). I expect my list to be much more rambling and insulting. I’m planning to do this thing like a drunken frat boy on a 3-day bender at Mardi Gras. It’ll be all “I love you, man!” and then suddenly warp into “This sucks! I hate you all!” and then I’ll probably break down in tears, vomit on myself and slump down in the corner shoving spoonfuls of cold mashed potatoes in my mouth. Keep your fingers crossed for tomorrow! Hooray!


Top 10 Marvel Characters That Would Make Horrible Halloween Costumes.

Oct-30-08

I was getting my youngest son ready for his Halloween Parade at preschool this morning and I started thinking about costumes. One of these days, I’ll have to dig out the Polaroid of my younger self dressed as Captain America with my sweet cardboard shield. Not that that has anything to do with anything.

Anyway, I was thinking that some costumes look great and are instantly recognizable to the common folk. And some? Not so much. The cool ones are easy to applaud, so what’s the fun in talking about them? I’m sure when we have the kids out trick-or-treating tonight, that we’re bound to run into endless iterations of Iron Man, Batman, Spider-Man and Hulk. There’ll be a few Jokers mixed into the crowd and maybe, just maybe, someone will have the resources and chutzpah to pull off an excellent Hellboy costume.

However, I’m not holding my breath for any of these:

10. Radioactive Man: Hmm…a husky, glowing Chinese man in a dress. Sure, I’ve been to some crazy nightclubs in my life and done some things I’m not proud of, but that image is just creepy.

9. Sub-Mariner: It doesn’t take much to slap together a costume consisting of a green Speedo, Spock ears and pillow feathers super-glued to your ankles. That said, it definitely takes a lot to pull the look off…like a body that anyone would want to see in a Speedo.

8. Ka-Zar: I guess I have some sort of subliminal problem with half-naked fanboys, because the idea of a stinky hippie in a loincloth reminds me more of Burning Man than Halloween. The only treat this costume would get at my house would be a bar of soap to scrub off the stench of Patchouli.

7. Razorback: My high school’s janitor may have looked kind of weird slopping up vomit in his green jumpsuit and rubber gloves, but adding a pig carcass and CB lingo to the ensemble is NOT an improvement.

6. Starfox: The costume itself wouldn’t be a difficult thing to produce, but it takes a certain kind of schmuck to believe he can waltz into a bar dressed like that and try to pick up a woman with his “empathy” powers. I predict many drinks thrown in his face.

5. Vulture: Not only do I never need to see a bald old guy in some skintight green jammies, but those big wings would be a logistical nightmare in a party setting. He’d be constantly knocking over drinks and getting stuck in doorways.

4. Madrox: Unless you’re one of a set of quintuplets, there’s absolutely no pulling off this “mutant in jeans and t-shirt” concept. But imagine how freaky that would be if you were!

3. MODOK: I’m not sure if this would be the stupidest costume or the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. Granted, there would need to be some major “suspension of disbelief” to pull off the hovering bit. It would be pretty hilarious to see MODOK trying to bob for apples with his giant noggin and tiny T-Rex limbs.

2. Professor X: Ooooh. Bald guy in a wheelchair. Original.

1. Ghost Rider: Flaming skull? If you’re gonna go for realism, this one is probably not a good idea. Plus, the motorcycle makes it kind of awkward to mingle.