Sunday, December 31, 2006

Should auld acquaintance be forgot...

At the insistence of the guy who feeds my addiction, I've decided to do a big end of the year post. I'm separated from most of my collection, so this is pretty much from memory, and limited to what I bought and read over the course of the year. Here goes!

In the category of Limited Series...
Most surprising: Beyond! Beyond! was a fantastic little tale that, amid the hubbub of Civil War, was a nice reminder of how comic crossovers (especially Marvel comic crossovers) used to be. It's short, heavy on the melodrama and the emotion, and still a lot of fun. Plus, you didn't need to buy the whole Marvel catalog to get the whole story. I was more than a little upset at Gravity's death, because I really liked the character and his miniseries, but the end seemed to suggest that his story's not over yet. I can't wait to get this in trade format.

Most disappointing: Civil War. I'm sure I'll get lambasted for this. It's not that Civil War is the worst miniseries out right now, but it's the one which most squandered its potential. It has fantastic art and a good idea, but what could have been the best Marvel crossover this side of "Acts of Vengeance" has become everything its authors said it wouldn't be. Long-established characters are acting wildly out of character, there's no consistency between the related comics and the main series, the plot is haphazard, and worst of all, it's a 'real-world political allegory' with absolutely no shades of gray. Millar has taken the worst parts of bad political allegory and fused them with the worst parts of superhero crossovers to make something that sure looks nice, but with a plot that simply doesn't hold up under its own weight. And whether it's in two months or a year, eventually we'll see Wanda Maximoff magic it away, when we could have seen real status quo change to the universe.

Worst (tie): Martian Manhunter & The Trials of Shazam. I simply couldn't choose. Between these comics we have the most half-assed lame attempts to make major unpopular characters relevant that I've seen in a very long time (way back to armored Daredevil and peek-a-boo costume Invisible Woman, I daresay). With Martian Manhunter, the heart and soul of the Justice League has been given the world's worst makeover, saddled with unnecessary new Martians, and told "everything you know is wrong" for the gazillionth time. Yes, let's make a character popular by taking away everything that makes him recognizable and unique, that'll work. Utter crap. And Trials of Shazam? Ye gods, let's take the most shining-bright happy-go-lucky character in the history of comics, and turn him into a dark, brooding, soul patch-wearing mystic on an idiotic quest. Oh, and we'll get Judd Winick to write in some of his trademark "missing the point" and "misogyny" to boot. Just bad, bad comics.

Best: Secret Six; Runners-up: Beyond! & Marvel Zombies. Secret Six has been one of the most consistently entertaining comics ever since it was Villains United. I want to continue reading it well into the end of time. Please, please, make this an ongoing.
I've already said my piece about Beyond!, but I'll say that Marvel Zombies would have this top spot easily if not for the lame ending. It just kind of...petered out. And over the course of like the last three pages, too. Even so, it's a fantastic mini, with a great idea behind it, and you better believe that I'll be picking up the Army of Darkness tie-in prequel.

In the category of graphic novels...
I'll admit, I haven't read many OGNs this year. So, while I'd like to say that "Pride of Baghdad" is the best, I haven't even cracked open Cancer Vixen or Mom's Cancer or American-Born Chinese or 1,001 Nights of Snowfall or even Pride of Baghdad, which I only just bought. So I can't make an intelligent decision here.

But as far as trades go, there's only one choice for the best: Absolute Sandman Vol. 1. It's so big and beautiful...I can't wait for them to finish the series.
Close runner-up is Absolute New Frontier, mainly because it doesn't quite have the same stack of special features, despite being a beautiful and complete story.

In the category of regular comic series...
Most disappointing series: Justice League of America. This isn't to say that it's the worst series, not by a longshot. But it seems like it has compiled all of the bad tics of Meltzer's writing into a muddled, plodding mess. Meltzer can tell solid superhero stories; his work on Green Arrow was top-notch, and despite everything, Identity Crisis turned out to be a pretty good story. It was a bad mystery and a terrible foundation for the new universal status quo, but it was a good story. Meltzer understands the characters, the relationships that drive them, and the need for heart and soul and emotion in addition to action. He has a knack for making minor characters interesting and for exploring previously unexplored but natural elements of superhero existence (like planning for your death in "Archer's Quest"). Morrison's JLA was epic and plot-driven, Waid's was character-driven, Kelly's was theme-driven, and Meltzer's had the potential to be relationship-driven. Unfortunately, none of that has really made it into JLofA. Instead, we have Vixen's anime-inspired animal naming, superheroes who can't use each other's codenames even in battle, Red Tornado's over-the-top (even for comics) melodrama, and decompression that would make Brian Michael Bendis gasp for air. The action has been decent, but it doesn't nearly make up for the fact that the trinity has been playing Overpower for five issues. And the fact that we won't even have a team until after the halfway point really drives the point home. This could have been a fantastic series, if an editor were willing to tell Meltzer to speed things up, to pay attention to codenames, and to realize how ridiculous Vixen's dialogue is (honestly, even the cartoon just showed an animal-shaped aura around her, this isn't Bravestarr). But Meltzer's a superstar, and superstars don't get edited, and that's not a good thing.
JLofA isn't the worst series around. I still buy it, I still hope that every issue makes up for the previous ones, and I like some of the story twists, and the last issue was pretty solid, but damn I hope it picks up soon.
And please, for the love of Rao, someone realize that "Reddy" is dumb once, but the third time on the same page, it's idiotic. When you've got everyone else calling each other by their first names, why not "John"? Why "Reddy"? Oy.

Most surprising series: All-New Atom. I resisted All-New Atom at first. It was partially because John Byrne was on it, and I haven't been thrilled with Byrne's work for some time now. Part of it was that I really kind of like Ray Palmer, and a big part of it was that I really didn't care for the story in Brave New World. Which is no surprise, since I don't think there was a decent story in the whole book. But, at the insistence of my supplier and after rave reviews across the blogohedron, I broke down and picked up the back issues. I promptly subscribed and I haven't looked back since. All-New Atom is just about the perfect book for a science geek like me, whether it's for the weird mesh of science and magic in Ivy Town, for Simone's top-notch research, or for the name-dropping of people I really like and respect like Penn Jillette, James Randi and Phil Plait, alongside a who's who of DCU fictional scientists. And while I certainly won't be mourning the loss of the irascible Mr. Byrne, I have to say that his work here was a marked improvement over the awful, awful work he did on Action Comics. All-New Atom has been a fantastic series, and I can't wait to see where it goes from here.

Worst series: Flash: the Fastest Man Alive. This should come as no surprise. Quite a few bad changes came out of IC/OYL. The death of Superboy, the senseless defection of Cassandra Cain, the dropping of "Captain" from Captain Comet's name, but none have been quite so absolutely moronic as the passing of the Flash mantle to Bart Allen. At least the others could be justified by the new story options they opened up or something like that; so far there hasn't been a story--nay, a single panel--to justify making Bart the Flash. We lost more than just Bart's fun, whimsical nature (which took a beating in Teen Titans, but more due to maturation than editorial edict). We lost two good characters (Impulse/Kid Flash and Wally) and a fantastic supporting cast (Linda and the rest of Wally's family, the Speed Force crew), and what did we get in return? A brooding, boring, paint-by-numbers superhero, further hindered by some of the worst plotting, sloppiest art, and mind-numbing dialogue in professional comics. Wally would have fit in so well with the post-IC DCU. Between him, Catwoman, Batman, Superman, Black Canary, and now Wildcat, superheroes' children are the new fashion. They could all share a daycare service. But instead of that new, interesting angle on superheroics and parenting, we get...this. I hope Marc Guggenheim improves this book (he could hardly do worse, but they said the same thing about Bruce Jones taking over Nightwing from Devin Grayson), but with Bart remaining the Flash, I kind of doubt it. Until then, though, I won't be wasting any more of my money on this garbage. Congratulations, messrs. Bilson, DeMeo, and Lashley, for printing the worst comic of the year!

Best series: All-Star Superman; Runner-up: 52. All-Star Superman has delivered six of the best issues featuring the character since Alan Moore was involved. Somehow mixing Morrisonweird™ with Silver Age craziness and Frank Quitely's flawless art turns out to be the recipe for the perfect Superman series. I really could gush about this for pages without saying anything new; suffice it to say that this is one of the few books I look forward to rereading. There's always something new to admire, in writing and art, in an issue of All-Star Superman.
I feel hesitant considering 52 in the "best series" category. It's had bumps and lulls and bad issues, and sometimes it feels like none of the plots are progressing (or only a few are, while others stagnate), but I look forward to reading every issue every week, to the point where waiting seven days for the next one is difficult. It's been a very long time since I've been able to say that about any comic, let alone one with as much to like as 52. And in a year where a high-profile bimonthly title only managed a single issue, any comic that could present 34 quality issues in one year, without any delays or resolicitations, is a major achievement. Kudos, 52 team.

Best single issue: There were a lot of strong contenders for this title. I could have easily looked through All-Star Superman, Y: The Last Man, Fables, Runaways, or any number of other series for some well-written, well-illustrated awesome issue. I could have been somewhat disingenuous and picked Seven Soldiers #1, even though I haven't reread it, I haven't reread the miniseries, and I'm fairly certain I didn't understand it. But there's one comic that stands out in my memory, and since I'm doing this thing by memory, I'm going to go with that. And that comic is The Thing #8. The superheroes (and assorted villains) of the Marvel Universe meet at Ben Grimm's place to play poker, and along the way we hear about Ben's Bar Mitzvah, we wrap up the various plotlines still hanging at the end of the too-short-lived series, and we learn of a battle where the Thing and Squirell Girl defeated the Bi-Beast with smelly garbage. All this and absolute hilarity really make this an excellent display of the fun, entertaining, heartfelt comics Marvel is capable of doing, when they're not striving for half-thought realism and spider-totems. When Civil War is gone and forgotten, The Thing #8 will still stand out as one of the most pure fun comics in Marvel history.

Character of the Year: Superman. It's been a banner year for Superman. We finally received the renaissance that has been promised nearly every year since 2000 (or before). All-Star Superman stands head and shoulders above most of the other comics on the shelves; Up, Up, and Away gave us the best eight straight issues of the Superman books that I've seen...maybe ever. Kurt Busiek has brought his sense of character and action and plot and everything else to make Action Comics, then Superman, simply incredible, and despite some disappointment, Johns and Donner are turning in quality work as well. Not to mention Pete Woods, Adam Kubert, and Carlos Pacheco, who have each lent distinctive looks to the titles. Meanwhile, outside of comics, young Superman has shown up in a new animated series alongside the Legion, Smallville's Clark is forming a Justice League, and we've finally been able to get the Donner cut of Superman II. Not to mention the rest of the special features and whatnot associated with the new Superman movie releases. The '40s serials are finally available on DVD, as is the first season of Justice League Unlimited. It could have been a better year for the Man of Steel; there could be a little better editorial control of Action Comics, and more people could have seen The Best Movie Ever. But, he made it back to the big screen (and the huge screen, in 3-D no less!) after too long of an absence, and that's a major accomplishment. And in The Best Movie Ever, no less. 2006 has been a red-letter year for Superman.
And that letter is "S."

Artist of the Year: Mark Bagley. Bagley's been my second favorite Spider-Man artist since he was on Amazing way back when (my favorite is still John Romita, Sr.). This year, Bagley hit 100 consecutive issues on Ultimate Spider-Man, which to my knowledge is a pretty punctual book. His work has become the standard non-movie image of Spider-Man on bookbags, t-shirts, and folders, and for good reason. He's a top-notch artist, who can do action and emotion equally well. He knows Spider-Man, and he can make the weirdest contortions and flips and whatnot look totally natural. It'll be sad to see Bags leave USM, especially since the book is so defined by his style, and despite his own great skill, Stuart Immonen has some big boots to fill. But, if it's anything like the last time Bagley left Spider-Man, I doubt it'll be too long before he's pencilling webs again. Thanks, Mark, for all the fantastic work.

Writer of the Year: Gail Simone. I didn't think a whole lot of Gail Simone coming into the year. I didn't much care for the revamp of Rose & Thorn, and I was underwhelmed by Action Comics (though more for Byrne's art than her writing) and her Teen Titans fill-in. But now I repent my earlier folly. I kneel at Ms. Simone's feet and chant "I'm not worthy" in my best impression of Wayne Campbell. Up until a week or two ago, I was buying three Simone comics monthly: All-New Atom, Birds of Prey, and Secret Six (which just ended). Besides those, she's got Gen 13 and Welcome to Tranquility coming out regularly, and she's been on Action Comics, Villains United, and JLA: Classified over the course of the year. I think she's averaging four or more books a month, with punctuality and quality intact, and that's a major feat. Besides her terrific comics work (and it is terrific, it's among the most terrific comics work being done today), she somehow manages to frequent the blogohedron and various messageboards. I'm not sure how she does it, though I suspect some mixture of sleep deprevation and a Time-Turner, but I'm glad she does. Gail Simone's a fantastic writer and a fantastic person, and far more deserving of a "Person of the Year" nod than certain editors in chief. Congratulations, Ms. Simone. Keep up the good work!

I couldn't possibly list everyone and everything that has stood out to me this year. Just let me thank everyone who has worked on the comics I've mentioned, everyone who's worked on the comics I buy and haven't mentioned, the fine folks at Tim's Corner and Stand-Up Comics for feeding my addiction, and everyone who reads this blog through infrequent updates and my feeble attempts at humor. I really enjoy doing this, and I hope to provide more quality blogging, perhaps on a more regular schedule, in 2007 and beyond! Thanks, one and all, and Happy New Year!

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