Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The State of My Sublist: Fall 2015 (part 1)

School’s back in session (for my kids). The leaves are turning. There is a bite in the air in the early morning. Fall is here. Time for me to check back in!

This summer marked a sad new achievement for me; I went an entire month without visiting the comic book store. There simply were not enough comics coming out to make it worth driving over and picking them up. As someone who has made the weekly pilgrimage to the comic store for 30 years, I’m shocked at this development.

That said, I am still buying some comics on Comixology, so that would certainly have driven me into the shop if I didn't just download them on my tablet. And don’t think for a second I don’t like comics any more. I love them. There are still plenty of fantastic books out there.

  • Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye is simply brilliant. The stories can sometimes get a tad silly, but always with pitch-perfect characterization and masterful dialogue. James Roberts writes this book as if it is an excellent sitcom or dramedy, and I mean that as high praise. It is not hyperbole to say that these are the best Transformers comics ever published. This title needs to be held in the same regard as the “Bwa-ha-ha” era JLI. It is that good.
  • G.I. Joe: Real American Hero has somehow returned and maintained its place as the perfect nostalgia comic. Larry Hama’s continuing saga adds to the Joe canon while having enough repetition to remind me of the joys of reading comics as a kid. The Death of Snake Eyes should rightfully get more eyes on this book, as it is simply a joy to read every month.
  • Walking Dead and Invincible are easy to forget, because Robert Kirkman has been doing them so well for so long. The slow-burning horror of Walking Dead has achieved the perfect balance of hope and terror. Invincible’s current arc isn’t as dynamic as some of the recent madness in that title, but it is OK to give your characters a breather sometimes too.
  • Hellboy, B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth, and Abe Sapien continue to roll on as well. With the loss of institutions like Fables, it is easy to remember that Mike Mignola and John Arcudi have been creating the same epic, post-apocalyptic tale for over a decade. In the more recent BPRD trades, I feel like there is enough Hellboy-style super-heroic action to satisfy super-fans too.
  • And my beloved Astro City. How sad is it that I feel a stronger bond to the characters of this one title than I do to the entire DC Universe? It is not surprising, I guess. At this point, Astro City has a much longer and tighter continuity than the DCNU! Kurt Busiek’s masterpiece often speaks on aging and time, two subjects close to the audience’s hearts, I imagine. But rather than becoming maudlin, Astro City celebrates super-heroes and the passage of time in a poignant, interesting fashion. Heck, I never thought I’d need to read Astro City to get my Superman fix, but here we are!

Marvel still has a few titles holding on for me this summer. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a delight. Ant-Man is very entertaining. This Silver Surfer run will go down as a classic. But Daredevil is the pinnacle of what corporate super-comics can achieve. Mark Waid and Chris Samnee are wrapping up one of the best runs of my comic-reading career. Frank Miller was always too dark for me; THIS has been my favorite Daredevil era.  

DC Comics only has one book on my current sublist. All-Star Section Eight. I don’t love it, don’t hate it, but at least it reminds me of one of my favorite comics of all-time (Hitman). Garth Ennis can put out this kind of stuff in his sleep, I think. I tried Starfire, Cyborg, Martian Manhunter, and Justice League, but none blew me away. I really wanted to like them, but they felt too much like the new 52 or too far from the core character concepts that attracted me to the characters in the first place.

Image has had some good stuff too. The Fade Out, Trees, and Invisible Republic have all been intriguing. Valiant continues to be a great value on Comixology with the always entertaining Archer & Armstrong, Eternal Warrior, and X-0 Manowar.

But All-New, All-Different Marvel Now? That is going to be mighty expensive for me! 

To Be Continued!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Secret Wars Vacation

In an effort to stay excited about comics, I'm taking the summer off. It doesn't help that my sublist is very, very small during Secret Wars. My feelings about Jonathan Hickman's writing make for negative posts, which I'm trying to avoid.

I'm trying a few DC books, but I feel as though my opinions on DC's current output is very clear, so I don't want to dwell on being negative there either. (So far, I like Justice League, Starfire was average, and I'm in on Section 8 until the end.)

I'll see you guys again this fall when Marvel relaunches their entire line! In the meantime, I'll still be posting nonsense on Twitter. You can find me at @MrTimbotron!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A-Force #1

Boy, I really wanted to love this comic. I truly did. But I’m more than a little lost.

I see that a lot of the heroes featured in this comic are sporting their classic costumes. Does that mean these are versions of the characters plucked from different points in time? I have a lot of questions. A lot.

Did this disco Dazzler join SHIELD? Why is Loki a woman? How exactly did Loki raise Miss America and Nico? Is this a brand new continuity for the She-Hulk-led Arcadia? Why is Dr. Doom in charge of everything? How did Sam Wilson become a mix of Captain America and Thor? Has She-Hulk met this Sheriff Dr. Strange before? Do they have their Avengers history? Why do none of the X-Men besides Dazzler have speaking parts? How does Dazzler fly? If the name of their country is Arcadia, where did Miss America get her name?

That is a LOT of confusion for a first issue.

After reading G. Willow Wilson’s eloquent and powerful blog post about this book, I wanted to love it. But instead of being able to buy in, I must confess to some confusion myself. I’m a long-time comic reader. I’m well versed in comics continuity. Heck, I’m caught up on my Marvel books.

I will admit to avoiding Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers and Secret War books, though. And it sure looks to me like that willful dodging of Marvel’s summer tent pole means I’m not the targeted audience for this book. I assume that’s the case. It is pretty frustrating that the comics I’ve tried the hardest to avoid for the past few years are now dictating the direction of the entire Marvel Universe.

Wilson and her co-writer Marguerite Bennett do a wonderful job giving characterization and voice to many Marvel heroines. Jorge Molina’s art is delightful too. The megalodon antagonist is sufficiently horrific and I love the classic uniforms I mentioned above. The female leads are attractive and heroic while not being exploited. Most of all, I’m delighted to see She-Hulk leading a team of competent, powerful super-heroes. That’s what I was looking for when I picked up this book!

But instead, I’ve got a whole bunch of odd stuff about barons, Dr. Doom as a god, and the Nightwatch protecting the world from the white walkers. Oh! I mean the Shield protecting the world from zombies. I know Marvel wanted to get in on the Game of Thrones action, but this is ridiculous!

With all the press, the fantastic cover, and the concept of an all-lady Avengers team, I had really hoped that this would be a book I’d read with my daughters (who are also well-established Marvel fans.) I actually wonder if their lack of continuity knowledge might help them enjoy this book? Maybe I’ll get my 10-year-old to write a review too.

I truly hope this book and this creative team get more of a chance to show their stuff after Secret Wars ends. There is a ton of potential here, in both creative energy and in the concepts. But my absolute confusion about the very premise of the Arcadia world means this book is AVERAGE. 

Thor #8

This is almost the perfect comic. Jason Aaron’s story delivers a fantastic, logical reveal, and prefaces it with some wonderful high-octane action. Russell Dauterman has somehow become one of my favorite artists, and his portrayal of the ladies of the Marvel U taking on the Destroyer is absolutely gorgeous. I read this comic sitting in my work’s parking lot, something I haven’t done in 10 years or so, but that is how excited I was to find out the new Thor’s secret identity. And thanks to the well-choreographed action that opened the issue, I had a smile on my face the whole time.

I’m not going to give it away here, but Aaron swerved me with the obvious choice over the last few months. I read this book with my daughters (we all love it) and while my 7-year-old was with me with the obvious suspect, my 10-year-old didn’t buy it. She told me that “they wouldn’t just give it away that easily.” I will say that they were both happy about the reveal, although my younger daughter especially was immediately overcome with concern for this character. It was pretty great to get to tell her “this is a comic book, buddy, I’m sure the writer has a plan in mind.” Jason Aaron has repeatedly proven himself to be one of the best writers in comics and this is just another piece of evidence building that case.

But Russell Dauterman. I didn’t know this guy at all, and he has impressed the hell out of me. The character work on all these guest-stars is stunning. Karnilla the Norn Queen became one of my favorite characters in the span of two pages! (I thought she resembled the singer St. Vincent, anyone else get that vibe?) In any case, my younger daughter immediately declared that she wants to try to get an artist to draw Karnilla at the next comicon she attends. (It’s good to have a plan, right?)

Scarlet Witch, Spider-Woman, Captain Marvel, Lady Sif, Freyja, Angela, Karnilla, Valkyrie, and the new-to-me Hildegard. What a fantastic lineup of suspected Thors and guest stars. And throughout all of this, Aaron and Dauterman keep “regular Thor” as an integral part of the story. This has become a team-up book featuring the two Thors and I love it.

I said this was almost the perfect comic. And I meant it. It is EXCELLENT. This is Marvel Comics done right, folks.

(FYI: The perfect comic book will never exist because it would be a team-up of all my favorite b-tier Justice Leaguers and Avengers.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Justice League #40

I clearly don’t learn my lessons. I’ve been stung so many times by false hopes about the new 52 easing back on its new grim continuity, and here I go again, hoping that this time it is actually going to happen.

This issue of Justice League is the first new issue I’ve bought since issue 3 or 4. (I have been reading Geoff Johns’ series in trade paperback from the library. I’m working through a library of Forever Evil books right now.) Interestingly enough, I don’t think a single member of the Justice League appears in this title.

Instead, our focus is on Metron of the New Gods. And believe it or not, he looks pretty much like he’s supposed to look. Maybe Kevin Maguire has modernized him a tad, but there aren’t any obvious new 52-isms going on in his uniform. That alone had me smiling in the opening pages. The fact that Kevin Maguire is drawing the opening scene just made me even happier.

Through the pencils of different DC artists, we follow Metron as he recaps the origin of Mr. Miracle and Orion (by Kevin Maguire), Crisis on Infinite Earths (by Phil Jiminez), Zero Hour (by Dan Jurgens), Final Crisis (by Jerry Ordway), and Flashpoint (by Scott Kolins). And my friends, these pages are glorious. These classic artists capture the tone and look of their particular eras perfectly, sometimes in less than a page of work! Jurgens’ Zero Hour piece in particular made my day. (And I’ll also say, I wish Kolins had gotten a better assignment than the boring Flashpoint). There were long periods where I preferred DC to Marvel, so seeing these characters again was a real treat. Jason Fabok and Jim Lee provide the art for the closing chapters that tie in to the upcoming Darkseid War storyline.

The book finishes up with Metron facing down the Anti-Monitor. Metron ominously declares that “Reality cannot survive another Crisis.” Well, that gives me hope, cause I’m crossing my fingers for another one! Especially after the Anti-Monitor and Metron explicitly state that the new 52 reality has “yet to solidify.” I’m sure that statement is music to the ears of a lot of readers.

So, with my sublist lightening up for the summer, I think I’ll see this one through. I’m back on Justice League, with the hope that somehow, Geoff Johns is going to give us back some aspect of the DCU that we lost at the end of Flashpoint. The potential alone made this comic a GOOD one.

I’m a super-hero fan, right? I can’t help but be an optimist. 

(Oh, and we all think the Anti-Monitor is a future version of Metron merged with the chair, right?) 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Convergence: Justice League International #2

This is really more of a comment on all the Convergence books, although I will be talking about this one in particular.

I'm having a hard time figuring out exactly what the status quo is supposed to be for all these characters going forward. Are all the interesting versions of the DCU's cast going to stick around or are they just shuffling off into obscurity again, leaving the limelight to the collar-wearing new 52? Please don't tell me that I'm supposed to be reading the core Convergence book to understand what is going on in the bigger storyline. From what I understand, that is all about the Earth 2 series that I never read, so that ain't happening.

As for this issue; what a refreshing change. Ron Marz knows these characters. Blue Beetle and Kingdom Come Wonder Woman try to talk their way out of trouble at the start of the issue. The way heroes should. Then when things finally do break down, the KC heroes make sure not to be jerks about the whole thing. The battle of Metropolis' champions plays out sort of like a scrimmage. No one needs to get hurt.

But the reader doesn't even get to see that, because we are lucky enough to follow Blue Beetle's point of view as he teams up with the Kingdom Come version of himself. It sounds more confusing than it is, thanks to Marz's playful script and laid back attitude towards Telos' threat level.

And while Marz clearly didn't have permission to use Booster Gold, rest assured, he knows what fans of the JLI want to see.

Mike Manley's art is a bit retro, and I mean that as a good thing. His JLI look absolutely perfect. I wish I could have had a few more panels with his version of Martian Manhunter. Ice's costume seems like a neat update too. The Kingdom Come characters are a bit more hit or miss. KC Blue Beetle looks just fine, but KC Wonder Woman looks like normal Diana with a sword. I would have preferred to see the armored version we get on that spectacular cover.

This is another GOOD book where the better versions of the characters are left intact. So at least I have a little hope. Surely DC wouldn't just tease the old fans with this type of content for two months then just dump it, would they?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Convergence: Shazam #1

Aargh! It kills me that DC is putting out these books! It proves that they COULD put out a good Shazam comic if they actually wanted to. Jeff Parker, a long-time fave of mine, clearly gets the character. Billy Batson is optimistic and naïve, but still heroic. His family has his back. And best of all, the heroes want to do the right thing! What more could you want from a Captain Marvel book?

This is one of the stronger Convergence books because it barely acknowledges its part in the overall crossover. Three-quarters of this comic features a great showdown between the Marvel family and some of their greatest foes. It isn’t until the last few pages that we have to suffer through the redundant Convergence exposition.

Things get repetitive when we have to sit through Tellos’ exposition once again. As in most of these Convergence titles, the worst part of the story is the actual Convergence storyline. The battles between the different domed cities holds absolutely no interest for me. There aren’t enough pages to do justice to the antagonists, and in almost every case we have to just blindly accept that the heroes involved would give up and fight for Tellos’ amusement. I’m not buying it. Worst of all, I’m tired of reading the same dialogue over and over again!

It is crime that we are going to have to see Evan “Doc” Shaner spending time on the Red Rain vampire characters rather than Captain Marvel characters. Heck, I’d almost rather just get more sketchbook pages where we can see the brilliant ways Shaner would handle more characters if he got the chance. His clean style is retro and modern at the same time. Shazam looks perfect! Mary Marvel looks heroic and wholesome, like a kid-sister hero should. The villains, while threatening, are rocking a fantastic retro vibe that just makes them stand out.

How the heck did DC put out another EXCELLENT Shazam comic so soon after Multiversity. And what does it say about DC that the “real” version in the new 52 is so much less compelling?