The Most Wonderful Stories of the Year

Dec-18-08

Ah, do you smell the chestnuts roasting on the open fire? Is Jack Frost nipping at your nose? Do you hear yuletide carols being sung by a choir? Are folks near you dressed up like eskimos?

If you answered yes to those questions, then it must be Christmastime in your land! Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, there’s no denying that the holiday has a tremendous importance in much of the world, especially in America. It’s become the one day of the year where most of the country shuts down, so if you’re not out there celebrating Christmas, you’re probably pretty bored on December 25th. It’s also hard to avoid the decorations, the songs, and the Christmas episodes which air in so many television series. Comics, never an industry to pass up a trend, has also published Christmas stories, dating all the way back to Christmases in the Golden Age of Comics.

Yes, there’s Superman, trying to help Santa by shoving him down the chimney. It seems that, if Superman is successful, he’s likely to destroy this poor family’s chimney. Perhaps Santa’s bringing them a new Hydro-Thermal heating unit, so they don’t need that chimney anymore. I’m also thinking that Santa may end up with some broken bones. But, the point is, that Christmas has been showing up in comics since the medium was invented. Look, even that current comics curmudgeon Batman had the Christmas spirit back then!

Some readers may be confused by this cover, and the odd drawing of Batman’s face. What he’s doing is smiling. I know. I’ve never seen it before either. Apparently he’s amused by making the old man and the little kid lug around all those toys, while he gets to mosey along, completely unencumbered. And people said Superman was a dick.

Throughout the Golden Age and some of the Silver Age of comics, it wasn’t unusual to find at least one Christmas story in the titles of your favorite heroes during the holiday season. After all, many of these books had more than one story an issue, and continuity wasn’t very well maintained. However, when Marvel started tracking continuity in their comics during the 1960s, it became more difficult to do Christmas stories on a regular basis. After all, a year’s worth of comic stories might only take 2-3 weeks for the hero featured within them, if that long. If Marvel started printing Christmas stories every December, it would seem like their heroes were celebrating Christmas every month! DC soon encountered the same problem when they began to track continuity more closely. However, both companies realized that there was an audience for holiday stories, and if they couldn’t tell them in the regular books (which they would still do, just not that often), they’d publish special books just for that purpose. That is indeed what they did, and both have published Holiday Specials with some regularity ever since.

So, over the years, both companies have published a wide array of Christmas stories. Many of them have been quite good, and some have come from some unusual sources. In 1980, before he became the well known writer and artist that he is today, Frank Miller wrote and drew a Batman Christmas story for that year’s DC Christmas special. It’s a very short tale (as most of the Christmas tales were) and was entitled “Wanted: Santa Claus-Dead or Alive!” Sadly, while not a bad story, this one’s not nearly as exciting as the name suggested it might be. It mostly focuses on a department store Santa who has a checkered past and wants to go straight, but gets pulled into a heist on Christmas Eve. The story has a happy ending (as most Christmas tales do) and even includes the tease of a Christmas miracle. It’s nice to read it, just to see a time when Batman was portrayed as somewhat grim, but not a total psycho. It’s almost impossible to reconcile this portrayal of Batman with Miller’s later work on the character though.

Miller was obviously a fan of drawing people in Santa outfits, since he went back to that well in Daredevil, during his “Born Again” storyline. In that story, Turk, a minor punk that Miller had created for his run on the book, steals a Santa suit, hoping to get some money from strangers who would think he was collecting for charity. When an insane Matt Murdock sees this, he confronts Turk, only to be knifed by the punk and almost killed. Ah, now that’s the Frank Miller we all know and love!

The list of holiday stories is long and varied. Have any of them stayed in your memory?

Short answer? No. Not a single one. I mean, I have vague memories of Christmas-themed things, but I can’t place any of them or give specific details. I do know that this book is mixed in among my myriad longboxes:

It was an oversized issue that had a bunch of very short stories in it, some reprints of older material, lists of holiday stories from Marvel’s early days and even a page of Christmas carols rewritten with X-men-based lyrics. Exciting, no? There was a tale about Punisher redistributing drug money to the needy. Thor fighting some trolls while his dad lied about being Santa. And Captain Ultra (WTF?) fighting off Plantman in order to save everyone’s Christmas trees. LAME.


And I can’t believe that John didn’t mention the GLX-Mas Special that came out a few years ago and featured the Great Lakes Avengers a presented by Dan Slott. I know John is a big fan of the GLA. Sadly, there wasn’t anything aobut this comic that really stood out as “memorable” or even “good.” Wait, I take that back. MODOK makes an appearance. That’s always memorable (but not always good).

I know there are some others that I’m forgetting. Comics have a way of trying to drill home those “true meaning of the holiday” messages as often as they can. I’m sure there’s a Spider-Man story about helping out a little kid in a hospital or something about the Justice League helping an orphanage fight the evil utility man who keeps turning off their heat. And I know for a fact that there have been about four dozen modern comic interpretations of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Bah Humbug, J. Jonah Jameson!

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the Tick’s Big Yule Log Special. It’s a glorious flip book. One side features a story where Tick and Arthur are hired to play mall Santas and get caught up in an evil elf’s revenge plot. The other side of the book shows us how Arthur tries to teach the Tick the true meaning of Hanukkah. Brings a tear to my eye every time.

Of course, my favorite bit of holiday comics lore has no tie to the season or really any particular day for that matter. It’s something that has been around for decades and still shines as one of the greatest catchphrases in modern pop culture: Luke Cage’s “Sweet Christmas!” exclamation.

Sweet Christmas, indeed.


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Comic Book Predictions for 2009

Dec-15-08

Here at “Meanwhile…Comics!”, we’ve spent the past year talking about what we would do differently with the characters and titles found in the Marvel and DC universes. It’s been fun to play editor-after-the-fact. However, if we want to be true editors of a comic book world, we need to learn to plan ahead as well. So, John and I thought this would be a good opportunity to take a peek into the future and see what 2009 may hold for our favorite Marvel and DC characters. I’ll kick off the festivities and then John can comment on my thoughts and add some of his own (you guys know the drill). In 2009, I predict…

1. MODOK will make a comeback. Granted, this freak has been the butt of many jokes in the past year or two, but he used to be leader (many times over) of AIM and one of Captain America’s most visually interesting foes. The way Ed Brubaker is scrolling through the early Cap bad guys…Red Skull, Doctor Faustus, Arnim Zola…he’s bound to get to MODOK sooner than later. And then, we can expect dramatic comebacks from the likes of The Stranger, Solarr, Monster Ape, Yellow Claw, The Tumbler and The Alchemoid. Classics all.

2. DC will go through yet another crisis. And the Internet will weep. And no one will understand what’s going on. And the whole thing will center around an epic battle between Bat-Mite and Streaky the Super Cat. The plot will get leaked to someone’s blog and then Dan DiDio will spend four months rejiggering the whole thing so that Bat-Mite ends up either torn in half or stuffed in a refrigerator (or, in his case, a little Coleman cooler). Tears will fall. Heroes will rise up. No one will notice.

3. Wasp will come back from the dead. And so will Steve Rogers and Bruce Wayne and Martian Manhunter and Orion and everyone else who went down this year. Are you shocked yet? I’m even going to go out on a limb and say that Mockingbird will die again, just so Bendis can mess with Hawkeye a little bit more. Jerk.

4. Some second tier characters will get their own titles. And then get them cancelled. I’m looking at you, Dakota North! Oh, what’s that? You already had a title that no one bothered to read? Never mind then. Now I’m looking at you, Nth Man! What? Really?? Oh. Well, maybe She-Hulk will get her own title again. Fingers crossed.

5. Frank Miller and Rob Liefeld will collaborate. In the crossover, Batman and Shatterstar will carry really big guns, swear a lot, and constantly look like they’re in pain (either through their expressions or the fact that they have teeny, tiny ankles and ginormously huge upper body structure). Oh, and the whole thing will be presented in vivid black & white…because, you know, that never gets old.

That’s five things off the top of my head. I predict that John will inspire more sarcasm in me. What do you predict?

Well, it’s certainly hard to argue with the prediction that the dead in comics will rise again. I’d also go ahead and add Shadowcat to your list, as I’m sure she’ll return from her Joss Whedon-penned demise in short order (at least I’d hope so, as she’s one of the few truly interesting members of the X-Men). It’s also certainly hard to argue with DC having another Crisis. I know this one is called Final Crisis, but who really believes that?

Here are some other predictions:

1. Brian Michael Bendis will suffer fatigue from writing 75% of the titles Marvel produces and his scripts will show it: Oh, I’m sorry, that happened in 2006. I’m supposed to be looking to the future. I do, however, feel that he will continue to be one of the guiding lights behind the Marvel Universe, that his writing will continue to avoid hitting the heights it did back when he wrote only a few fringe books, and that I will continue to avoid purchasing most Marvel titles for this very reason.

2. Mark Millar will unveil his latest brainstorm: Ultimate Midnighter and Ultimate Apollo!: In an attempt to breathe life back into the Ultimate Universe, Mark Millar will introduce Ultimate Midnighter and Apollo into that world. Once there, they will become members of the Ultimates, leading that team to new heights of debauchery and pathetic attempts to incite readers with cheap sensationalistic antics. Ultimate Captain America will prove to be a giant homophobe and will fight with them both, eventually ending when Apollo sodomizes him at which point Cap will see the error of his ways and shack up with Ultimate Colossus.

3. Spider-Girl will be relaunched and then re-cancelled. Twice. Which is a pretty safe bet any year.

4. Dan Didio will make internet fandom arise against him in anger when he decides that the DC Universe needs to kill off Captain Marvel. “He’s really just another Superman, right? I’ve never seen the point of him. He’s redundant.”

5. Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction will launch a new title, “Raging Razorback”, will will become a huge critical darling. “We can make any previously unimportant D list hero relevant and exciting,” Brubaker will say in an interview on Newsarama. The book will indeed, launch to much critical and commercial success, which will last for eight months, when both creators will then leave the book to work on a relaunch of El Aguila. Some poor relative unknown will be tapped to replace them, and Razorback’s title will quickly fade from view. However, I declare 2010 to be the year of El Aguila!

Oh, snap! Those are some good ones. The Bendis point is so true it’s ridiculous. Everyone seems to hint that Bendis will be Quesada’s replacement as Editor-in-Chief eventually. What a horrible day that will be in the Marvel U. Everyone…will…yeah, but…well, you know…we can…we can all start, y’know, start…talking like…um…like, y’know, this? Or…yeah. Yes.

I’m not sure DiDio will get to Captain Marvel in 2009 though. He still has to do long division on the rest of the former Robins, a couple Green Arrows, three Flashes, at least two Atoms and a generous handful of Green Lanterns. Captain Marvel might get pushed to 2010.

I absolutely LOVE the Brubaker/Fraction reference. So true. And, so help me, I’d happily buy every issue of Raging Razorback. Y’know…until the scrub creative team takes over.

That reminds me of a few more things I can predict for 2009…

1. Someone will finally sell an Aquaman pitch. And that lucky devil will be Grant Morrison. The book will be described as “Lovecraft with sex pirates,” the art will be provided by Frank Quitely, and the first issue will come out 22 months after the book is announced. Critics will rejoice. Fans will scurry for their dictionaries. And, somehow, Morrison will win a Nobel Prize for literature. He’ll accept the award in a shiny suit and then disappear from the stage in a puff of smoke.

2. The TV-to-comics writer trend will continue. 2009 will see the debut of three titles that take place in a hospital, four that deal with scientist cops, one that features a law firm and one that has some sort of weird sci-fi vibe but just gets more convoluted and confusing as it progresses. Pretty soon, readers will give up on it all and start turning to the serialized versions of Survivor and The Amazing Race. The Comic Writers Strike of 2009 will come to a head with Deal or No Deal: The Comic Book (which will immediately be optioned by Sony for a three-picture deal).

3. All the superhero tropes will make an appearance. Someone will be resurrected. Someone will lose their memory. A plot will turn out to be a vividly bad dream. Another plot will turn out to have taken place in a different dimension. Time travel will solve someone’s problems. A bad guy will have his “lifeforce’ transferred to another body a split second before his current body is destroyed. Certain characters will die in one title, only to pop up in another as if nothing ever happened and nothing is explained. One hero will secretly wear the costume of another hero. There will be an evil twin…with a goatee and, preferably, an eyepatch. An older sister will turn out to be someone’s mother instead. Someone will cheat on someone else with their brother…and get pregnant! Wow…those last few went into soap opera territory, didn’t they?

4. Wolverine will get three more titles. And, right before his movie debuts, he’ll show up in crossovers with Hulk, Punisher, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, Iron Man, Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, Thunderbolts, Captain Britain, Anita Blake, Dark Tower and even the Marvel Illustrated version of The Man in the Iron Mask.

5. DC will slip to #3 in sales. This will happen when Dark Horse signs a licensing deal for a Harry Potter vs. Twilight series. Geeks worldwide will suddenly realize that Dark Horse publishes books featuring Hellboy, Star Wars, Buffy, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Serenity and pretty much every other popular genre-based character and Eliza Dushku role outside the superhero realm. The mainstream media will try to make a story out of the fact that comics exist that aren’t based around male power fantasies. A few people will take note, but aging fanboys will rally against the minimally perked popular interest, decrying these new books as “dumb” and the people who read them as “idiots.” The world will realize what socially repressed assholes the core comic readership is comprised of, the potential excitement will die away and superhero comics will continue to shrink in both quality and reach. Everyone will be happy. Hooray!

Have I mentioned lately how much I enjoy reading comics? Just wanted to reinforce that.

I would so read that Aquaman book.

I can’t wait to read more Wolverine titles. With his three monthlies, plus his appearances in multiple X-Men titles and Avengers affairs, I simply don’t feel that we’re seeing enough of him. With a major motion picture coming out next year, I don’t understand why Marvel doesn’t capitalize on this underused character. Perhaps the launch of Spectacular Wolverine, Wolverine: The Best There Is At What He Does and Superfluous Wolverine, will help to fill the gap and will help draw non-comics readers into comics shops after the movie is a hit. Oh wait. No, that won’t work, since all of those books will be cynical, angry books, mired in years of confusing continuity that would take ten years to understand. My bad.

My crystal ball is clouding over, but I do have a few more predictions for next year:

1. Usagi Yojimbo will continue to be an amazing comic, with spectacular writing, good art, and it will appear on a regular monthly schedule. It’s creator, writer and artist, Stan Sakai, with perform this feat, amazing in and of itself, while still finding time to do another few odd projects, such as lettering a Groo miniseries for Dark Horse. Comic book scientists will still be unable to distill and bottle this amazing man, and other comics creators will still be unable to duplicate his feats.

2. The third issue of Kevin Smith’s Batman book will not ship. Look for it in 2011. It will still suck.

3. Peter David will launch a new series starring Hawkeye, a popular character who has had his own series in the past, but never seems to be able to keep one long term. The series will be smartly written. It will have humor, but will also handle serious subjects. It will be popular with critics and get good reviews. It will have strong art, with clean storytelling and a sense of fun. It will be cancelled within the first two years.

4. Judd Winick will start writing another three titles in the DCU. Characters in those titles will note that instances of rape, general violence and needless slaughter increase by 150%.

5. The comics industry will continue to hemorrage readers, while the leaders in the industry refuse to consider alternate business strategies that would keep the artform alive in the longterm. Oh, how I wish I had a punchline for this one.

And, I’m spent.

Hey! Don’t throw Hawkeye under the bus like that! X-Factor hasn’t been cancelled (again) yet, has it? It’s funny that we assign certain traits to certain writers. If the characters were actually living and breathing members of a contained universe, do you think they’d be having water cooler conversations about who’s handling their writing duties?

Fade in on Hulk, Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel talking in the break room of a nondescript office building. Iron Man approaches with a casual saunter.

IRON MAN: What’s up, homeslices?

HULK: Have you seen Spidey?

IRON MAN: Nah. Kid’s a square. Too angsty for me.

MOON KNIGHT: Pfft. Not anymore. Bendis got a hold of him for some event comic. Poor Petey is talking like a fry cook with a head injury. Takes ten minutes to say hello.

MS. MARVEL: That’s so sad. Did you hear that Peter David is taking over my book?

IRON MAN: Well, it was nice knowing you!

Everyone laughs.

HULK: You’re lucky. I’ve got two titles right now. One with Slott and one with Claremont. I wake up in the morning and I don’t know if I’m supposed to be bashing stuff and throwing out clever quips or if I’m just supposed to be standing around delivering panel-cramping monologues about my feelings and every relationship I’ve ever had.

The group nods their heads in agreement. Just then, Green Arrow walks into the room. He’s looking around confusedly.

GREEN ARROW: Anyone seen Batman?

HULK: Last I saw him, Kevin Smith had called him into his office. But that was six months ago.

MOON KNIGHT: Anyone know what Smith’s doing with that whole Daredevil/Bullseye thing? I swear he’s got bodies buried under the floorboards.

Hercules storms into the room. He whips his coffee mug across the room and imbeds it in the wall.

HERCULES: Goddamn, Millar! Even I don’t have enough muscles to keep up with these redundant fight scenes!

GREEN ARROW: Hey, just be glad you’re not part of the Legion! I hear Winick took over that book and now they only have four members left. Freakin’ bloodbath. Families. Friends. Pets. Raped and dismembered. I hear they only found chunks of some of the Substitute Heroes. I don’t know what refrigerators look like in the 31st century, but they must hold a lot.

Ms. Marvel starts crying. Moon Knight moves over to comfort her.

IRON MAN: I miss the good ol’ days. Stan Lee couldn’t write for crap, but at least we all got home in one piece.

HULK: And almost everyone’s name rhymed too. Big help.

HERCULES: Yeah. So…what do you guys think about Grant Morrison?

IRON MAN: I hear he turned Wonder Woman into a dude. And an astronaut. S/he can see into the future now.

MOON KNIGHT: Hmph. Lucky break. Sales ought to go through the roof on that one.

Fade out.

Sigh…I’d take one meticulous, thoughtful Stan Sakai over a hundred Judd Winicks any day.


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.