Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Splash Page Podcast Episode 2.1

Episode 2.1 of the Splash Page Podcast is live. Tim and I talked for just under two-and-a-half hours on Friday night, so I'm splitting the conversation up into three or four podcasts of more manageable sizes. The sound quality is much better this time around.

Is there a specific length people would prefer these podcasts to be? I'm aiming for somewhere between 40 and 60 minutes in my editing. Is that good or would people like shorter podcasts?

As well, our podcast site is here.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

CBR Review: Daredevil #504

I recently reviewed Daredevil #504 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The conflict between Murdock’s Hand and Osborn’s H.A.M.M.E.R. could be interesting, but isn’t presented as such here. The direct confrontations are barely shown; Andy Diggle relies on Murdock and Osborn talking about how they’re going to take the other down; there’s far too much telling and not nearly enough showing here. Osborn’s conversation with Bullseye is very good, though, as Osborn raises Bullseye’s continued inability to defeat Murdock. Osborn likens it to Murdock simply being that one opponent that has Bullseye’s number, an interesting way to reconcile Bullseye’s past failures and maintain his ‘badass killer’ status."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Secret Warriors #12

I recently reviewed Secret Warriors #12 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The origins of Leviathan most likely extend further back than post-World War II as Nick Fury suggests here since it seems all of the organization spotlighted in Secret Warriors have their roots in groups from centuries ago, but the idea that Leviathan comes out of the Soviet Union’s covert ops/spying arm fills a gap in the battle between these forces. With S.H.I.E.L.D. coming out of the United States and Hydra springing from the ashes of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, the omission of a Soviet-based group is glaring in retrospect."

You can read the rest HERE!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

CBR Review: The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh #4

I recently reviewed The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh #4 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The second The Unknown mini-series concludes with this week’s issue four. It’s an entertaining finish, but doesn’t quite have the boldness of the mini’s beginning issues. The Devil Made Flesh started off so surprising and fearless that creating a conclusion that matches it was a tall order. Mark Waid and Minck Oosterveer come close but fall short just barely; this issue comes off as more a set-up for the next mini-series rather than a conclusion for this one."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: New Avengers #61

I recently reviewed New Avengers #61 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Those looking to purchase New Avengers #61 to make their collection of Siege related comics complete may feel a little cheated since there’s not a lot of Norman-Osborn-invading-Asgard action going on these pages. In fact, the events of Siege are only hinted at in a vague way, but that doesn’t stop this from being a pretty good issue of New Avengers with not just Stuart Immonen on art, but Daniel Acuña also coming on board to handle some scenes between Spider-Man and Spider-Woman."

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

CBR Review: Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers #1

I recently reviewed Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Despite being aimed at kids, many elements of Transformers have always struck me as more mature and adult than normal children’s fare. Take, for instance, the animated Transformers: The Movie, which features the wholesale slaughter of various Transformers, gunned down, beaten to death, or run over, since their robot nature meant harsher forms of violence weren’t out of bounds. With a violent conflict at the core of the concept, Transformers has always flirted with very dark subject matter and no group of characters in its universe seems ripe for dark, disturbing stories than the Wreckers, a commando group of Autobots — the sort sent in to do suicide missions and eliminate the enemy any way possible."

You can read the rest HERE!

Quickie Reviews: January 27, 2010

Four non-CBR-review books this week...

Batman and Robin #7: A quick-paced enjoyable issue. Cameron Stewart does some very impressive work, handling the action stuff with a lot of energy and fluidity. Those opening pages really flow nicely. His shadow work on Pearly is also very good. Some great Morrison lines in there and the plot is interesting. I'm not so sure about Dick's ease with using the Lazurus Pit to bring back Bruce -- it's a little certain, but, fuck me if those teasers at the end of the issue don't give excite me a bit. [****]

Captain America: Reborn #6: A lot of fun, exciting action. The good guys get a big win for once that doesn't feel like a tie or a loss. The flash-forward stuff at the end that Steve experienced is interesting and will have people speculating no doubt. I don't recognise those aliens (or whatever they are) and is that someone using Thor's hammer? (And why is James back in his Winter Soldier gear?) The injury to Sin is also a nice touch. The art is a little rough in places and I think there was just too much expected of this story... it didn't fully deliver that... I don't know... big moment. Good, not great. [***1/2]

Detective Comics #861: I never noticed before how much Jock's work reminds me of an early Sean Phillips... a pretty standard issue with a boring criminal and the standard 'look away and the guy you just beat up somehow escapes without making a sound' scene. I think I was buying this book mostly for JH Williams III's art without realising that was my primary motivation. The back-up feature was good for the end where Renee and Helena do what's necessary to do their job and Tot looks... unrealistic and antiquated somehow. I may come back to that at some point to examine it in more depth. [***]

Spider-Man: The Clone Saga #5: I actually liked this issue despite it being so horribly predictable. Unlike other issues, the quick pacing didn't feel out of place. Peter and MJ's baby being taken by the woman doctor was obvious, but that end with the Green Goblin was surprising. From what I've read, this isn't actually the true plan for the Clone Saga, but this was an enjoyable issue. Todd Nauck's art still does little for me, but he handled the fight between Kaine and the Spider-Men better than previous issues. I'm curious to see how this ends. [**1/2]

Also, I dropped The Authority: The Lost Year today. My retailer was not surprised. I believe Tim's exact words when I said I was dropping it were, "Yeah, you and everyone else..."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

CBR Review: Thor #606

I recently reviewed Thor #606 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Part of the conclusion to Kieron Gillen and Billy Tan’s first three-issue Thor arc is known since, in Siege #1, the Asgardians have been seen inhabiting the floating city of Asgard in Broxton, Oklahoma. But the journey of how they get from Latveria and fighting against Doom’s undead cyborg army of butchered and vivisected Asgardians is pretty good. Not only that, but various questions are answered, like the status of Kelda, how Loki ingratiates himself back in Balder’s good graces, and just how a fight between Thor and Doom-inhabited Destroyer plays out."

You can read the rest HERE!

Monday, January 25, 2010

CBR Review: Rasl #6

I recently reviewed Rasl #6 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The Nikola Tesla parts of the issue help to further provide background details on the dimensional-hopping technology Rasl uses to steal paintings from alternate Earths for profit. The version of Tesla’s biography we get here is narrated by Rasl, who focuses on Tesla’s feud with Edison over AC and DC electricity delivery systems and how that led Tesla to experiment with wireless communication and electromagnetic currents as they relate to the Earth. Since Tesla’s experiments and theories connect with Rasl’s technology, these portions of the story aren’t simply there because Smith finds Tesla fascinating. Exactly what it means is still unclear, but the information given is engaging."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: The Darkness: Shadows & Flame #1

I recently reviewed The Darkness: Shadows & Flame #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "For fans of short horror stories, The Darkness: Shadows & Flame #1 is the book you possibly overlooked this week that warrants some attention, as Rob Levin crafts a creepy story about a man, Salvador Gomes, tortured by the deaths of his wife and child in 1897 New England. He now seeks the Shadow God to send him back in time to repair his failure to save them. A man named Teo tries to warn him off his insane quest, urging him to accept what has happened and move on as best he can."

You can read the rest HERE!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Splash Page Podcast 001

On Friday night, Tim and I recorded the first ever Splash Page podcast. It was our first time speaking and I think it went quite well. We had some recording problems on Tim's end, so we wound up doing it in small chunks, some of which didn't make it, so I don't know what's here and what isn't. I haven't had a chance to listen to it yet. Anyway, we discuss some of this week's comics and many other things. Maybe.

Again, check it out HERE!

Quickie Reviews: January 20, 2010

Because I don't feel like saying much sometimes... (And apologies if anything I say here winds up being said on the Splash Page podcast that will go online later this week probably. We had various recording issues, so I don't know what parts of mine and Tim's discussion actually got recorded and saved. But, whatever, if there's some crossover, just play that part while reading this blog and it's like you've got a transcript or some shit. Also, you'll see that, yes, I do write how I talk. Or, at least, I try to... what that says about my writing or how I speak is something I don't know...)

Anna Mercury 2 #3: High-concept action series keeps on a'truckin' boy oh boy. The whole space vikings thing is funny, but I'm more interested in seeing what Anna Mercury's fellow agents are like. The introduction of Max Jupiter -- wait, sorry, "THAT'S MAX FUCKING JUPITER, DEAR" -- at the end of the issue prompted a laugh, partly because of Facundo Percio's art. He's got a slick-yet-rough style. The wild, bug-eyed, freaked out look Mercury has a lot of the time really sells just how fucking insane her job is. Not a reveolutionary work, but I always enjoy it when an issue comes out. [***]

The Authority: The Lost Year #5: Ever wondered what would happen if you found an artist that was influenced by manga-influenced artists and Sam Kieth? Well, wonder no more thanks to Jonathan Wayshak. I'm very close to dropping this book as Keith Giffen's writing is... not good... I have no idea if this was Morrison's original plot or if Giffen is deviating, but it's lacking. Maybe Morrison would have made it work, but Giffen's dialogue lacks nuance and... reads like someone who understands only the most superficial characteristics of the Authority. At least I don't have to see Darick Robertson's art butchered by hack inking... [*1/2]

Captain America #602: Didn't make it through the Nomad story. Don't care. The main story is back into the regular sort of Captain America comic we all know and love. But with Dean White doing the colours. It looks better and why not take the break that Reborn provided as a chance to change the visual tone of the comic? [***1/2]

glamourpuss #11: The car story was a funny gag that didn't work in execution. The rest of the comic with Sim focusing on Stan Drake's facial expressions was great. Really wonderful stuff. [***]

Gravel #16: Both a 'done-in-one' issue and tying into the larger idea of Gravel as the new king of magicians in England. A pretty basic ghost story that's worthwhile as it brings up the friction between Gravel and those that really control England... which follows up on last issue's bit about that. The weakness of the main story hurts this issue a bit, but I do like seeing Gravel in a story that takes up just a single issue. Everything he's been involved in so far has been part of a larger story when, like John Constantine, the character lends itself to short horror stories. I'm kind of surprised that Ellis hasn't tapped that part of the character more yet. [**1/2]

Joe the Barbarian #1: Honestly, if I didn't know what the concept of this series was, I would have liked this issue less. The art is gorgeous in its sketchy, angular detail. But, the writing is weak and relies heavily on the idea that this will work much better when read as part of the whole. I would completely understand someone who had no idea where the story is heading reading this issue and not wanting to buy number two. It would be their loss, but I do understand. (One thing that our recording issues for the podcast does mean is that you won't hear Tim and I discuss this issue. Or how Vertigo's preview pages tend to be the final pages of the comic... good insights there... ah well...) [***]

Power Girl #8: A funny issue that had me more than last issue. I checked out this series partly to review #7 for CBR and partly because I really dug Palmiotti and Conner's "Supergirl" strip in Wednesday Comics. Last issue was fine, but didn't wow me -- or make me laugh much. This issue really brought the funny and did so in an interesting way plot-wise. Power Girl getting drunk and goofy was rather amusing as was the stuff with the bad guys -- and so much of the humour is executed in the visuals. That's a place where a lot of comics fall flat since doing funny comics requires an artist that can sell jokes visually and not a lot of people can do that (mostly because that's not a skill they develop when working on most superhero comics). I think this book may be getting a spot on my pull list. [***1/2]

Spider-Woman #5: I don't really have many thoughts on this book. I enjoy it, but not that much. I don't dislike it. It's like one of those TV shows that you watch because it's on, because you sometimes get one line or scene that makes you want to watch more. Alex Maleev's photoreferenced art is hit-or-miss as most photoreferenced art is. The drop-in at the end by the Thunderbolts comes out of nowhere -- in that bad way. Curious to see where this book is after next issue. I'm on the fence about it really. [**1/2]

And that was this week's non-CBR-reviewed books that I bought.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Alone at the End of the World with the Bell Bottom Blues

I normally don't post any fiction or anything like that here, but I'm listening to Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs Derek and the Dominos and was reminded of this short story that I wrote in the fall of 2006 for my creative class. It's a superhero story, so it does relate to comics. It's been sitting on my computer for a while collecting dust (or whatever files on a computer collect), so I figured I'd share. It's just a quick throwaway story for a laugh or two. Enjoy.

CBR Review: Superman/Batman #68

I recently reviewed Superman/Batman #68 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Despite the prologue issue from October, not much actually happens in this issue as it mostly sets up the story where Superman and Batman begin to investigate what escaped the Kryptonian craft and whatever has happened to Gaines encounters Clark Kent and senses something different about him. Casey, thankfully, peppers the issue with interesting ideas or scenes, like Batman’s fight against his latest costumed villain: Death-Man, the criminal that dies every time he’s captured and comes back to life at a later date. Okay, his skull-painted helmet and name are lame, but the character works for the three pages he appears on, particularly Superman’s amused reaction to him and Batman’s embarrassment."

You can read the rest HERE!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

CBR Review: Outsiders #26

I recently reviewed Outsiders #26 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Ever since its relaunch just over two years ago, Outsiders has had a hard time finding its place, with numerous creative team changes and a largely muted reaction from the critical community. The only exceptions have been those times when a new team came on board or the status quo changed. Well, it’s that time again, as DC ‘shakes things up’ with executive editor Dan DiDio coming on as writer, popular artist Philip Tan taking over the art, and a shift from a Batman-focused team to a Superman-focused one. Unfortunately, this is not a change for the better as the results range from dull to just plain bad."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Incorruptible #2

I recently reviewed Incorruptible #2 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Irredeemable is Mark Waid’s spin on the Superman mythos, turning it upside down. It’s only fitting that the spin-off book, Incorruptible, bases itself on the Batman mythos. While Max Damage/Danger isn’t exactly Bruce Wayne, his relationships with a teenage sidekick and a cop who may or may not be on his side, and his hidden cave-like lair all scream Batman. But, those superficial similarities are merely a wink at the reader as Waid goes beyond that for an interesting look at what a post-Plutonian world is like."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Nova #33

I recently reviewed Nova #33 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "With Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning almost single handedly (or double handedly in this case, I suppose) writing and defining the current Marvel cosmic line, it’s only natural for the work to suffer a little as the pair get overextended. Nova #33 looks like it could be the first sign in a decline in quality from the writing team, which is almost an accomplishment in itself, going this long before deliver a merely adequate, mediocre comic, but it’s also a sharp disappointment since the standards have been so high for nearly three years."

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

CBR Review: Dark Avengers #13

I recently reviewed Dark Avengers #13 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Ultimately, Deodato's success can't cover up Bendis' failure to provide strong new insights into the Sentry or his past. The technique of structuring stories so that one or two issues are devoted to filling in the blanks from previous stories is one that Bendis has used several times in the past and it has one big weakness: by the time you reveal the solution to the big mystery, expectations are high and the payoff better be great. It's not here, as most of the time is spent recounting known parts of the Sentry's past and the new revelation is the sort that will make many wonder exactly what Bendis is thinking."

You can read the rest HERE!

One Week Late Quickies

Very quick thoughts on books from last Wednesday. Need to get back into the habit of this, yes? To make it easier, I'll add star ratings as well.

Daytripper #2: I like it, but don't love it. The first issue was a little better, but who can argue with the gorgeous Fabio Moon art? Not I, good sir, not I. [***1/2]

The Marvels Project #5: I honestly wonder why I'm buying this. It's a technically solid comic, but the story leaves me cold. I hope Brubaker pulls it together, because, right now, it feels like everything is going through the motions. But, Steve Epting is doing great work as always. [**1/2]

Mystic Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1: The shop has a box full of recent releases that they ordered too many of that they're selling off at a dollar each. Looking through it, a lot of these Marvel 70th anniversary books were in there and I remembered that David Lapham had written and drawn this one (I'd debated buying it a few times in the weeks after its release). It's a fun little story, nothing too special, just solid entertainment. Lapham's style suits the oddness of the Golden Age Vision property. The reprint stories were rather... bad. Are any of the other 70th anniversary specials worth picking up? [***]

Punishermax #3: Not sure about the introduction of the Mennonite, but the rest of the issue is very good. The first confrontation of Fisk and Castle works well. Maybe it's Steve Dillon's art, but I can't shake the shadow of Ennis. Maybe the Mennonite seems like a very Ennis concept, but, yeah, reads like Aaron doing a really good Ennis impression partly. Still, I'm digging this. [***1/2]

The Unwritten #9: I haven't really enjoyed this storyarc as much as the first one. I don't know why, but I've found it tedious and not all that engaging. The death of the kids was surprising, but their dad turning into the villain was... lame. Very lame. This book began very strongly and has been somewhat of a disappointment lately. It's on the bubble of being dropped. [**1/2]

More timely quickies for today's books I promise.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

CBR Review: The Muppet Show Comic Book #1

I recently reviewed The Muppet Show Comic Book #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "After two four-issue minis, Roger Langridge and BOOM! are finally taking the limits off and allowing everyone’s favorite ‘not quite mops and not quite puppets’ to hit the shelves every month without limit and we are all richer for it. Langridge’s work on the first two Muppets minis was impeccable and one of the most pleasant surprises of 2009. While known as an obviously talented cartoonist, no one quite expected the pairing of him and the Muppets to work out so well. Kicking off the ongoing series with the Muppets going on the road is an appropriate story to begin the new book of no limits and no end in sight."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Weekly World News #1

I recently reviewed Weekly World News #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The comic adaptation of the defunct tabloid newspaper has finally arrived and it’s as irreverent and insane as the paper that inspired it, but it also doesn’t hold together as a comic. Chris Ryall does his best to pull together the disparate threads of various recurring elements of the paper into a cohesive, compelling story, but it never happens. Instead, what we get is an odd jumbling of not-quite-funny satire and a central story that is lacking because the main character isn’t anything more than an easy stereotype of the angry conservative paranoid."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: S.W.O.R.D. #3

I recently reviewed S.W.O.R.D. #3 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Well, the fix is in, S.W.O.R.D. will be ending after its fifth issue, but that doesn’t mean the series is dead yet, as the third issue is the book’s best yet. While the first two issues suffered a little by having too much going on with the two different plots, this one settles into a nice rhythm by streamlining things down to one central plot as Henry Gyrich has taken over S.W.O.R.D. and is kicking all of the aliens off of Earth. Including S.W.O.R.D.’s commander, Abigail Brand."

You can read the rest HERE!

Monday, January 18, 2010

CBR Review: Absolution #6

I recently reviewed Absolution #6 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The debate over superheroes killing is often reduced to simplicities in comics, relying simply on clichés like ‘killing is not heroic’ or ‘killing would lower the hero to the same level as the villain’ instead of offering intelligent, thoughtful debate. The root in acting as morality plays for children is no doubt to blame, but given the recent trend for content that skews a little older, the lack of maturity in the debate over killing stands out as one of the relic of the ‘comics are for kids’ mindset. Absolution, though, addresses the morality of heroes killing head on in its final issue with John Dusk arrested for the murders he has committed and his fellow superpowered officers and his girlfriend all wanting explanations."

You can read the rest HERE!

Friday, January 15, 2010

CBR Review: Conan: The Weight of the Crown #1

I recently reviewed Conan: The Weight of the Crown #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "As part of its initiative to provide readers with a series of self-contained, easy-to-read one-shots, Dark Horse tapped Darick Robertson to write and draw a Conan book, which, if you’ve seen Robertson’s art, is a brilliant and logical choice. Except, honestly, for the writing portion of the comic. While Robertson’s art is perfectly suited to Conan, his writing is mediocre with a very simple and unoriginal plot, and grating, over-written narration."

You can read the rest HERE!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

CBR Review: Nation X #2

I recently reviewed Nation X #2 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Looking at the preview pages for the second issue of the Nation X anthology, it’s obvious that this is a diverse issue featuring numerous styles and approaches to the X-characters and their new island home of Utopia from the traditional to the more off-beat sensibility you’d normally find in a non-Marvel, non-superhero book. However, one thing that all of the stories have in common is an abiding love of the characters that comes through, which is both a good and bad thing."

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Best of 2009: The Meta-List

Sandy over at I Love Rob Liefeld has taken up the best comics of the year meta-list from the absent Dick Hyacinth and posted this year's list today. He takes 130 'best of' lists and assigns a set number of points distributed to selections via a mathematical formula that I came up with one boring afternoon a couple of years back. It's an interesting way to see what books rise to the top. A few notes:

* Is anyone surprised that Asterios Polyp took the top spot?

* Do I count as being completely out of touch with my fellow critics when my number one book doesn't even make the top 100? According to Sandy, I was the only person to rank Young Liars at all. Wow.

* Six of my books did make the top 100. The four that didn't: The Boys, Dark Reign: Zodiac, No Hero, and Young Liars. Only Young Liars is a surprise.

* I only had two books from my list make the top ten, while only an additional one made the top twenty. A few more books that I buy/enjoy were listed.

* I'm a little surprised that Irredeemable did make the list. I kind of expected to go six for ten with Irredeemable not making the list and Young Liars making it. But, Irredeemable not only made the list, it made the top fifty. Good for it, glad to see I'm not the only one digging that one.

* Am oddly amused that Criminal ranked ahead of Incognito since one told a complete story, while the other only shipped three issues. Then again, that Criminal omnibus came out and probably got some votes. This changed when Sandy missed part of one list and edited the meta-list to reflect that.

* Blackest Night is in the top fifty? Really?

* For all of the underwhelmed talk when it came out, Planetary #27 did pretty well for itself.

* I guess Captain Britain and MI:13 did pretty good and wasn't as forgotten as I thought it was by others.

* I need to begin using these lists as shopping lists. I really do.

It's good stuff. Go check it out.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

CBR Review: Jonah Hex #51

I recently reviewed Jonah Hex #51 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Jonah Hex #51 reminds me of an episode of a western TV show that you used to see on Saturday afternoons in syndication. It’s not great, but it’s also not bad; it’s pleasant is what it is. It’s a pleasant little story with some cynical wit thrown in and is a satisfying read that won’t linger too long in your mind, but will leave you with a nice feeling. It’s the sort of comic that you will remember fondly and will only get better as time passes since you read it. In short, the impression it makes is better than its actual quality."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Spider-Man Noir: Eyes without a Face #2

I recently reviewed Spider-Man Noir: Eyes without a Face #2 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "There’s a strong dissonance between the art and the writing in Spider-Man Noir: Eyes Without a Face #2, particularly in Carmine Di Giandomenico’s colors, which are bright and cinematic, very much like the neon, washed-out look used by some animation, and don’t match the darker tone of the script. Sometimes, a dissonance of this sort between art and writing help a project by illuminating some portion of the subtext, but, in this comic, the gap between the two is distracting as the script calls for a dark, moody feeling and the art delivers a bright, polished world where style seems more important than substance."

You can read the rest HERE!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Best of 2009: The Top Ten

Here it is. My personal top ten. As always, this is based on what I read and my extremely subjective taste. I don't know if I could lay out my thought process in ordering these books as it's some unknown combination of a sense of what is objectively good (if such a thing exists) and just what I liked the most. So, let's count them down...

10. Wednesday Comics by John Arcudi, Brian Azzarello, Kyle Baker, Eddie Berganza, Dave Bullock, Kurt Busiek, Ben Caldwell, Dan DiDio, Brenden Fletcher, Neil Gaiman, Dave Gibbons, Vinton Heuck, Karl Kerschl, Adam Kubert, Jimmy Palmiotti, Paul Pope, Walter Simonson, Michael Allred, Lee Bermejo, Amanda Conner, Sean Galloway, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Joe Kubert, Kevin Nowlan, Joe Quinones, Eduardo Risso, Ryan Sook, and Brian Stelfreeze. If there were an award for project that I was most excited about in 2009, Wednesday Comics would get it. A newspaper-style anthology featuring a pretty great cross-section of the styles and voices in mainstream superhero comics. It also provided Tim and I our largest Splash Page audience to date. Originally, this was higher on my list, but it was a rather mixed project. There were a few great strips, a lot of good/mediocre ones, and a few outright bad ones. It still bothers me that they chose to do fifteen 12-part serials rather than mix it up a bit more with one-off strips or half-page stuff. It makes the top ten on the strength of its ambition and four strips: Pope's "Strange Adventures," Azzarello and Risso's "Batman," Palmiotti and Conner's "Supergirl," and the wonderfully surprising break-out of the book, Kerschl and Fletcher's "Flash."

9. The Boys by Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson, Carlos Ezquerra, John McCrea, and Keith Burns. Yes, this includes Herogasm, which may seem unfair, but it's my list and I'm including it. This year was a bit of return to form for The Boys, partly because of the inclusion of Herogasm in the schedule. There was the absurd slapstick comedy and the serious drama with everything in between. The conclusion to "We Gotta Go Now" was stunning in how it undercut expectations while still being completely satisfying. Herogasm was a little long, but had some good jokes and the essential issue wherein we learned what happened in the White House on September 11, 2001 in this world. The fight against the 'Avengers' was some solid work, culminating in a fight against 'Nazi Superman' that was far better and clever than it had any right to be. And, there were the recent string of origin issues that also mixed tones well. Throughout, Ennis worked with a stable of talented artists, many of whom are friends/collaborators he's worked with often. Now, I do wish that Robertson drew every issue of the comic, they did manage to find good fill-ins. Passing the halfway mark, this series continues to both prove itself as exactly what people think it is (mocking superheroes in obvious, immature ways), and doing more than that with some good character work and presenting a larger unifying story that is interesting and engrossing. This book is the first comic I read each month (literally since it comes out on the first Wednesday of the month like clockwork) because it doesn't disappoint.

8. Dark Reign: Zodiac by Joe Casey and Nathan Fox. At three issues, this was a compact little ball of energy. Nathan Fox's art is dynamic and delivered a view of the Marvel universe that seemed more suited to the Strange Tales anthology than a motherfucking Dark Reign mini-series. Joe Casey wrote his most compelling and interesting portrait of villainy of the year in the new Zodiac. This guy kicked the shit out of Johnny Storm, pulled a fast one on Norman Osborn, and set loose a giant robot just so he could steal something. And send a message. Writers, when discussing the likes of Magneto and Dr. Doom, like to go on about how no one sees themself as evil. "No one would really call it the 'Brotherhood of Evil Mutants,'" they say, but Joe Casey knows different. He knows that there are many who glorify in being the bad guy, who enjoy breaking rules, and going against the norm. Supervillains are the counterculture in the superhero comics... or, can be at least. Hopefully, we'll see more of the new Zodiac (though I doubt it... Last Defenders anyone...?)

7. Irredeemable by Mark Waid and Peter Krause. I'm kind of surprised that this series made this list. I wouldn't have thought it likely when it first began. After all 'Superman turns bad' is interesting enough that I'll give it a look for a lark (I appreciate some good twisting of superhero conventions) and maybe keep up with it if it's entertaining, which is all this series was initially. There was something a little more appealing about it than most books like this because I know just how much Mark Waid loves Superman, so his playing with that mythos and twisting it into something darker had an odd satisfaction that I didn't expect. And, then, somewhere around issue five or six (maybe as early as four), the book got really good. It wasn't so much about Superman turning evil and Waid creating analogues/variants of characters we know, it was a series about how we build people up only to tear them down. The joke about this book is that the Plutonian turned because people called him names and made fun of him behind his back, but there's truth in that. How long would you last if you devoted your life to protecting people and, in return, they called you a 'faggot?' You saved their life and they threatened to sue you for assault or property damage? How long could you last when you saved the world dozens (possibly hundreds) of times and one mistake would take all of that away? We're used to reading superhero comics where heroes like Spider-Man encounter negative public reactions and take it in stride, but how many people would really be able to stand that day in, day out? It's a book about how we love to build people up only to tear them down... it's a sad book that's far more than 'Superman turned bad.' And Peter Krause is going to be drawing a franchise book within the next five years. Guaranteed.

6. No Hero by Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp. This comic makes the list based on the end of issue six. It ranks this high on the list based on the general quality of the series. I normally don't reward a single moment like that, but, goddamn, the end of issue six was one of the most audacious, shocking, and brilliant scenes I've ever read in a superhero comic. Sure, my ramblings on it back in July may seem like the words of a self-deprived idiot, but I stand by them. No Hero #6 is a critique of the superhero fan and of the entire genre... in the form of a horrific page of brutal violence. Like Black Summer before it, No Hero also explores the idea of superhumans changing the world and, in this case, they succeeded. The end of the series has the Front Line taken apart, killed, destroyed by a man sent by the collective governments of the world who are sick of being dictated to... and the world falls apart as a result. Democracy was a shame and the world went on just fine. It's an indictment of The Authority, of trying to change the world when you don't understand how it actually works. People sometimes talk about the Illuminati or Free Masons or some other tiny group of people who really run the world and, usually, they also say that, if given the chance, they'd get rid of them assuming it would be the right thing to do, that it would make the world a better place... but it probably wouldn't, at least not in the short term and maybe not in the long term either. No Hero is a vicious, mean, angry comic and I really enjoyed it. (Fuck, I am doing a shitty job of discussing art... Juan Jose Ryp does great work on this series. His pictures are beautiful and that makes the violence more unsettling. They look like Hollywood blockbusters and they're drawing gonzo horror...)

5. Parker: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke. I've always liked Darwyn Cooke's art (or, well, I liked it since I first encountered it), but have never been a fan of his writing. I've also yet to read any of Richard Stark's "Parker" novels (though I have read 361 by Donald Westlake... I liked it). So, I guess Parker: The Hunter gets the best of both worlds on a writing front: Cooke didn't write it and I don't know how it compares to the original. I like it more than Payback (the director's cut, of course -- I haven't seen the theatrical version) if that means anything. Cooke begins this book so well. The opening pages where Parker walks into Manhattan and gets himself set up are amazing. Strong, confident visual storytelling... maybe I like it because it relies on Cooke's art so heavily. He holds off on showing Parker's face to us and, when he does, it's perfect. Cooke is good at making each character look like their defining characteristics and his Parker looks like a hard motherfucking guy. The use of fuzzy art/Benday dots for the flashbacks is something I haven't seen in a book that only uses one colour... which gives it a subtle feeling of memory. The lack of hard panel borders makes each panel feel like a paragraph, bridging that gap with the prose where there's separation, but not a complete one necessarily. I don't know who to give credit to really when it comes to the writing since this is an adaptation, but I absolutely loved reading this book, which is all that really matters, right?

4. Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye by Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart. No Hero was partly about the danger in changing the world, while Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye is partly about the futility of changing the world. Every rebel and revolutionary that has succeeded (and many who have failed) has been absorbed into the status quo. Rebel and win, and you make yourself the new target to rebel against. You can't beat authority, you can only become it. It's a little depressing, but that's superhero comics for you since Morrison is talking about superhero comics in particular. You can try and change them, but you can't. It all eventually settles back to where it was and you'll only make yourself angry and tired in fighting it. Slaves of Mickey Eye is kind of depressing like that as Seaguy goes through that teenage rebellion phase and comes out the other side with an offer to replace the adult formerly in charge and the acquisition of the woman he loves. There's a lot of inside baseball going on in Seaguy, particularly how it relates to Morrison's work on New X-Men, but it's also a compelling story in its own right. There's a lot of beauty and poetry in his odd ideas as he crafts a world all its own, building on elements from the first mini-series. Cameron Stewart continues to evolve and improve as an artist, creating the visual look of a fictional world. His style is a minimalist sort where things are rooted in realism, they're just transformed into drawings... I guess? I really do love the end of this story... call me a sucker, but Seaguy getting the girl? That's some good stuff. Hopefully, 2010 will bring us Seaguy: The Eternal and wrap-up this story.

3. Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli. Yes, it only makes it to number three. I am a horrible critic. It only makes it to number three because I only read it two days ago and it didn't knock me on my ass so much as to demand the first spot. Maybe if I had more time to live with it, to reread it, and consider its various aspects, it would rank higher. But I don't, so it doesn't. Still, number three is pretty good. Only two books get higher praise/accolades -- and I don't think Mr. Mazzucchelli is lacking in those, so I'm sure he would forgive me in this case. It's hard to accurately judge this work since my reading of it was coloured by everything I heard/read about it. "It's a masterpiece," "It's too sterile and focused on technique," "The character work is great, you're crazy!" and so on... I loved it. I didn't find it sterile, but I also didn't find the character work amazing. It hit me on emotional levels and I also appreciated the technical acumen that was on display. The technical stuff didn't wow me as much as others, but, then again, maybe the standards were raised a little bit too high. What really got me was the page where the relationship between Asterios and Hana falls apart. Her words just punched me in the gut as, like many of you, I was expecting the influence of Willy Chimera to be different than that... it was unexpected and struck me as the most 'real' aspect of the book. It's hard for me to truly love a work of fiction without being emotionally invested in it in some way and Asterios Polyp did that. As for the rest... it a gorgeous and inventive book. Nothing Mazzucchelli did knocked me on my ass, but that sort of stuff tends to come with rereads... you need to get the plot out of the way before you can see past it in a sense. Really, though, this book deserves all of the praise it's received so far and I've added my contribution now.

2. Scalped by Jason Aaron, RM Guera, Davide Furnò, and Francesco Francavilla. I rarely feel good after reading Scalped. This book just makes me feel bad. How can it not? Every character in this book seems to make bad choices on purpose or is forced to make them based on previous bad ones. It's a spiral downward for all of them where attempting to climb back out usually results in falling further down... And it's all done with such style, confidence, and skill. Jason Aaron writes his ass off in this book, giving each character complex and realistic motivations, never taking the easy way out, and never failing to provide at least one 'Why the fuck are you doing that?' moment per issue. The pacing is relatively slow, but Aaron knows how to pick things up for effect like he has in recent issues. I don't just leave each issue feeling bad, I enter each with a sense of dread. I don't know what Aaron will do to a character... and it's easy to worry when killing a character can be seen as being kind to said character. This year, a series of spotlight issues shed light on a lot of character motivations and pasts before gearing up for "The Gnawing," a story that seems determined to bring the whole thing down. I wouldn't put it past Aaron to kill off all of the main characters and start anew since he's said the reservation is the real main character. While Rm Guera is the main artist on the book, fill-ins have been required, and they were great. All three artists brought rough, dirty styles to the book in their own way. Because of the content, realism is a must, but Guera's realism is a distorted one, one that reveals an inner realism of the characters a lot of the time (does that even make sense?). His characters are ugly and flawed on the outside, mirroring the inside. But, he also creates visual drama with the best of them, Red Crow being one of the most visually powerful and stunning characters in recent memory... that guy looks bigger, badder, and scarier than most supervillains... Sure, I dread each issue of Scalped, but that's only because I love reading it and am so invested in it that I don't want anything bad to happen to any of the characters. Even though that possibility (and reality) is one of the reasons I love it. It's a little complex, I admit.

1. Young Liars by David Lapham. Does this surprise anyone really? In 2009, Young Liars received the following star ratings in reviews from myself: 4, 4.5 (twice), and 5 (twice). This book was, easily, my favourite comic of 2009. The reality-changing adventures of Danny Noonan and company spoke to me in a way that not many pieces of fiction do. I'm not sure I can really explain it fully why I so loved this comic. But I'll try, of course.

I loved that it was never afraid to be whatever it wanted to be. It was the vision of a singular creative voice and it changed according to that voice. The reality of the book was upturned constantly based, seemingly, on the whims of David Lapham. Each issue was a surprise. Where you were on page one wasn't where you'd be on page twenty-two... or maybe it would be. Who knows? Its relation to music plays a role here as Lapham reminded me often of my favourite musicians (Ryan Adams, Lou Reed, Neil Young) and their willingness to do whatever suits them at the moment. If making a commercial failure is where you're at, then you do it. It's all about creating art that represents who you are at that moment. Young Liars did that on a monthly basis within the confines of a serial narrative... and it worked. What the fuck?

Issue sixteen was a special treat for me as it was a 'double song' in comic form. I've been obsessed with the idea of capturing the feeling of music in narrative fiction for years, including writing something that accurately captures the 'double song.' (A double song being two songs in one... like "No Suguar Tonight/New Mother Nature" by the Guess Who... my favourite example of that type of song...) Lapham structured the sixteenth issue of Young Liars like a double song, using the narrative voice and page layouts to separate the two halves and, merging them at the end to bring them together. And he does it effortlessly and in a way where you don't realise what he's doing unless you're looking for it. It's easy to see why I'd grow so attached a comic that was seemingly directed at me...

The final issue of Young Liars was amazing. It began with a rant about the commercial failure of the book and those who dismissed it as too weird or difficult. It's the sort of rant every creator wants to include in the final issue of a cancelled book, but not many do. From there, it wrapped everything up, while still making a statement about Lapham as a creator, putting the book and his attachment to it into perspective. The end is both sad and hopeful. There's also one page that stops me dead every time. You know which one.

I don't know if I can properly tell you why Young Liars is my favourite comic of 2009 other than by saying that it is. It's not objectively better than some of the other books on the list, but it is subjectively superior to each of them. It gets the top spot for reasons too personal for me to explain -- or really understand myself. And, like I said, that probably doesn't surprise too many of you.

Bring on 2010.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Best of 2009: My Favourite Comic Critic

I'll keep this as brief as I can. I wanted to mention my favourite comic critic of 2009 because, well, I spend a lot of time reading about comics, usually in the form of reviews, essays, and other forms of criticism. People talk a lot about how some critics are good, some are bad, but not many are ever recognised as such. Do they deserve it? Maybe. Maybe I'm doing this as a way to validate what I do and, really, compliment myself. That's certainly possible, but let's pretend it's actually because I read a lot of critics and simply want to point out which one I liked the best this year. Okay?

My favourite comic critic of 2009 was Tucker Stone. Stone, more than any other critic, continually wrote things that I wish I had written. I didn't always agree with his opinions (actually, I probably only agree with Tucker 50-60% of the time -- which is still pretty high), but can't think of many things he wrote that I thought were poorly written. He's the critic I usually have to try not to emulate because it would be easy to do a bad impression of him and his biting, harsh, sometimes mean criticism. (If you look at my writing here prior to finding out Tucker existed... which was probably one of the interviews he did toward the end of 2008... jesus, I've only been reading him for 2009 basically?... you'll see that I've always leaned toward that mocking style that Tucker does, well, better.) He's very good at making fun of the stupid and awful in comics, a sentiment I often share. And... I think that says enough so things aren't completely awkward online or in any future interactions with him... though probably not...

Tucker Stone's work can be found at his site the Factual Opinion, the Savage Critics, his column This Ship is Totally Sinking at Comixology, and his series of web episodes of criticism, Advanced Common Sense.

Tomorrow: the top ten comics of 2009.

Best of 2009: Joe Casey Comics

As is part of my best of the year tradition, I like to take a quick look at the comics of Joe Casey for the year. Obviously not in-depth reviews by any stretch, just some quick words, thoughts, impressions. You may notice one book missing, but that's only because it made the top ten and I don't want to write about it twice. The order is random according to my whims. If I forgot something (or someone as far as credits go), I apologise.

Gødland with Tom Scioli. Only five issues of Gødland were released in 2009, but it was a return to form for the series after a somewhat lacklustre run of issues for a while there. The series has become a good example of longform storytelling as Casey and Scioli juggle four or five plots per issue at this point, advancing all of them without it feeling slight in any way. Instead, each issue gives you enough to simply make you want more. The book is beginning to run for daylight and it's showing as the butterfly from the end of Automatic Kafka has shown up... I'll admit that that development and the inclusion of Kadeem Hardison in the book were the two things I liked best. Two small, slight things, but they seem to somehow tell you everything you need to know about the book and what can/will happen in it. It's also the only Casey comic of 2009 that began prior to the year and continues on after the year is over. (Unless Charlatan Ball returns that is...) Will it see 2011? We'll see!

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance with ChrisCross, Andre Coelho, and Eduardo Pansica. Joe Casey writing characters created by Grant Morrison? This is what I've been wanting for years (at least when the idea of someone writing Morrison characters came up) since Casey always seemed the writer in comics most in tune with Morrison's sensibilities and the choice to have Casey write teenage superheroes created by Morrison is fantastic. If there's one area that Morrison and Casey seem most in sync, it's on how teens/young adults would act and think if they had superpowers. Of all of the Final Crisis Aftermath books, this was the most loyal to both the concept as set up by Morrison and the feeling of said concept. The Super Young Team were the same here as they were in Final Crisis, basically. Casey used Twitter posts to narrate the book, which many found a little too modern, but was an inspired choice and worked with the self-aware nature of Most Excellent Superbat, and acted as a more manageable version of the infoscroll he used in The Intimates (technology keeps progressing to shorter and more succinct forms of communication, so Casey goes with it). Most of the issues here were somewhat self-contained while tying into the larger story -- and, if they weren't self-contained, they still worked well on their own. In Dance, Casey explored the nature of superhero teams from a different angle than he's done before, explicitly treating the group as a product, and did a fantastic job of poking fun at fan culture in the third (?) issue. But, my favourite part of this comic was the furthering of his juxtaposing capitalism/business and superheroics. Somehow, the Super Young Team were seen as less heroic despite wanting fame and fortune, but Batman and Iron Man are allowed to be wealthy and heroic? The only thing separating the two groups was that the Super Young Team didn't distinguish between superhero and civilian worlds... they could do it all as superheroes and why not? Who says fame and heroism have to be mutually exclusive concepts?

Charlatan Ball with Andy Suriano. "When Andy and I collaborate, we create a certain style of comic that it seems like most people – reviewers especially – don't seem to quite get. Sometimes an apple is just an apple. Imagine if the Internet was around back when the classic Warner Bros. cartoons first premiered. Oy vey!" Casey on Charlatan Ball this summer. Only one issue of Charlatan Ball came out in 2009 and I gave it three stars when I reviewed it for CBR. I haven't look at the comic since then, so everything you need to know about it can be read there.

Youngblood with Derec Aucoin. Let's add this to the 'what might have been' column of Casey-penned comics as Casey and Aucoin were fired off of the book mid-storyline in favour of Youngblood creator Rob Liefeld returning to write and draw the book. I believe one issue has come out since that happened. Now, I will admit that this book wasn't blowing me away, but it had many interesting elements and was improving. If the duo had been kicked off after their fourth issue instead of their eighth, I wouldn't have minded, but things were on the upswing with an alien invasion, plenty of anti-authority intrigue, and action inside of the television. Now, I have to wonder... if you interact with shows inside of the TV, but not the people who filmed the shows... how does that work? That question was never answered and that kind of sucks. I should really return to this book sometime this year and write it up.

The Death-Defying 'Devil/Project Superpowers: Meet the Bad Guys with Alex Ross, Edgar Salazar, Jonathan Lau, Mike Lilly, Carlos Paul, and Jackson Herbert. Both books here fit into the larger Project Superpowers universe of Alex Ross and Jim Krueger, and are not Casey's best work. It's hard to know exactly how much is Casey's fault since on both projects, Ross is credited as the co-plotter and has considerable influence on the finished comics. The Death-Defying 'Devil ended incredibly poorly, not resolving either of its plots, which is owed to both plots of the mini-series tying into the main Project Superpowers book heavily. While that makes sense for the universe in question, it really undercut the mini-series. Part of the point of getting other writers like Casey involved is to bring their fanbase to the book and I think it was designed to hook readers into buying the main book, but turned me off. The Meet the Bad Guys mini was better with four self-contained stories revolving around new villains. 2009 featured Casey doing a lot of work on villains and the work here was better as a result. The best issue was the second one where Casey and Ross crafted an intriguing villain in the Revolutionary Kid, who is actually a good guy at his core, he's simply labelled a villain by society. While the character wasn't developed enough, he showed great potential and I would really like to see Casey do more with him.

Superman/Batman #64 with Scott Kolins. I really didn't like this comic when it came out. It's a comic that makes more sense now that Casey is beginning a tenure on Superman/Batman with this month's issue, but DC didn't exactly explain that... or give any indication what the fuck was going on with this issue when it was released. As a result, I'm shifting my opinion from 'bad comic' to 'wait and see' based on what happens in the title from now on. It's unfair to judge Casey on an issue that's obviously meant to set up a story when DC didn't bother telling anyone when (if ever) said story would happen. And, he's not to blame for there being a three-month gap between this issue and the ones that would follow it. It's some very bad marketing/publishing by DC. This issue sets up a menace from Krypton's past attacking Earth, but only just barely. Despite my shifting the blame to DC, I still can't call it a good comic since it doesn't even function as a solid first chapter. The story barely gets started... to the point where there's not a strong indication of a story happening. But, let's leave it at that.

Later today: my favourite comic critic of 2009. I'll give you a sneak peak of that post by telling you that the critic is neither myself nor Tim Callahan. You can just assume that we get the top two spots automatically, but I don't say so in the post because that would appear biased and self-serving.

Tomorrow: the top ten comics of 2009.

CBR Review: The Great Ten #3

I recently reviewed The Great Ten #3 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Your enjoyment of The Great Ten #3 will largely rest on how interested you are in seeing a Chinese combination of Superman and Captain Marvel. The characterization of Thundermind is not original, nor is it meant to be taken as such. Quite clearly modeled on Superman, the narration on the first page even says, 'He is China’s own Superman, and yet he, too, knows that he is not unique...' But, does this level of awareness make the unoriginality of Thundermind more palatable or entertaining? Again, that depends on how amusing you find it."

You can read the rest HERE!

Friday, January 08, 2010

Best of 2009: Not Good Enough

Today, I'm going to highlight a few books that I liked throughout the year or found noteworthy for some reason, but didn't make my top ten books of 2009. These aren't books eleven, twelve, thirteen, etc. so don't confuse them as such. Just books that I feel like pointing out for whatever reason.

Captain Britain & MI:13 by Paul Cornell, Leonard Kirk, Mike Collins, and Ardian Syaf. Two years in a row, this book makes one top ten list and fails to make another. It made the top ten I gave CBR, but has fallen off from the final list thanks to me reconsidering the order and, well, I bought and read Asterios Polyp. It's a great comic and, this year, it had some of its best writing and art. The "Vampire State" storyline was refreshing and surprising throughout. A vampire story -- hell, a Dracula story that was original and innovative. I'm tempted to name this the best comic of 2009 for that reason alone. Okay, not really tempted, but it's the sort of thing one says in these situations. It doesn't make the list, because the Meggan-centred annual was mediocre and, honestly, it doesn't hold up as well in rereadings. When I reread the entire Captain Britain & MI:13 series for the blogathon this summer, I didn't enjoy it as much as I did the first time around. I've seen it missing from a lot of lists (including the CBR one), which is surprising since it was praised heavily when it was coming out. I think it's a victim of people forgetting that it existed when it came time to make the lists and I just wanted to show that I didn't forget it... it just didn't make the cut. Barely. I wonder if it would have had it not ended...

The Unwritten by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. I want to like this book more than I actually do. It should be on my top ten list, honestly, given my academic background. A comic about the power and wonder of literature... gee, could it be any more of a wet dream for a guy with a master's in English? But, there's something lacking. Maybe it's the slow pacing, the cold, clinical way it's told... that I'm still not entirely sure what the book is actually about... Maybe it's that the book seems like it's trying very, very hard to be clever and smart, and it's hard to love something that's so screaming for attention like that. I don't mean to harp on the book's negatives since I did come here to point out that it's very good. I look forward to each issue and have no doubt that this could become my favourite comic in any given month. It just hasn't yet.

"Boo-tleg" by Ben Jones from Bart Simpsons's Treehouse of Horror #15. I had originally meant to discuss the whole book, but I reviewed enough anthologies this year for CBR to learn that I hate talking about anthologies. Focus on one thing too much and it seems like an uneven review, but making room for everything means there's no depth. Anthologies make me spend the other time trying to find that balance between breadth and depth, and I don't want to this time. I want to point out "Boo-tleg" by Ben Jones as I fucking love this story. I reread it last night and, man oh man, did it make me laugh. It's weird and wild and off-the-wall... in it, bootleg, cheap candy sold at the Kwik-E-Mart begins killing people, so Apu has bootlegs of the dead people made... and it's just fucking weird. And funny. Jones makes fun of The Simpsons, American culture, and also uses the sort of jokes you'd find in The Simpsons. It's an odd line to walk and, by the end, it becomes some 'misguided' mixture of odd cultural stereotypes, like he took a character from every crappy Simpsons knock-off worldwide and stuck them in the same show. Each time I read it, I a different bit makes me laugh. Like, on the first page, the thing I find funniest is that Chief Wiggum died at some point prior to this story -- and, like, the idea that the fat, bumbling cop being alive/dead is the key difference between this reality and the true Simpsons reality. Somehow, he would have stopped Apu and it wouldn't become Da Slimpsonz... what a fucking absurd idea, but it makes me laugh.

Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape by Ivan Brandon, Marco Rudy, and Cliff Richards. How the fuck did this comic get published? I feel bad for using the word 'weird' to describe Ben Jones's "Boo-tleg," because it seems downright middle of the road compared to the weirdness of this series (not really, but, again, that sounds almost good). The first issue of this series left people scratching their heads, wondering what was going on. Nemesis wakes up in Electric City and is held a prisoner with others as reality shifts around them... but it's all test. You escape, you've proven yourself worthy. The series is him working out the puzzle and escaping. It doesn't add up. The Global Peace Agency is never really explained and, honestly, the loss of Marco Rudy makes the book suffer. While everyone was talking about JH Williams III and his great layouts (and rightly so), not many were noticing the work Rudy was doing in the same vein. Not as sophisticated or well done as Williams's work (especially the actual drawings in Rudy's art), but still great effort. Escape promised a lot and failed to deliver completely... but, man, I'd give my left nut (not really) for more books from Marvel and DC to try this hard. Then again, I love my ambitious failures and Escape is one hell of a one. I can't wait to see what happens in the follow-up Nemesis mini-series by Brandon and Richards this year.

Final Crisis/Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D by Grant Morrison, Doug Mahnke, JG Jones, Marco Rudy, and Carlos Pacheco. I'm mentioning for the sole purpose of telling you why a comic I really liked was never even considered for contention, because Final Crisis wasn't. I never considered it as a possibility for my top ten, because it's a 2008 comic that got into 2009 on a technicality. It ran late and bled into the new year. Others include it on their lists and that's fine, but it's a 2008 comic in my mind. When I saw it one other lists, I had to remind myself 'Oh yeah, that did finish in January!' It sort of got screwed that way: it didn't finish in 2008, which kept it off last year's best of list most likely... and, now, I see it as a 2008 book. Well, life isn't fair and these lists don't mean that much anyway. I'm sure no one involved is sitting at home reading this and seething with rage that I'm excluding this work. So, no Final Crisis. (And, yes, the collection came out this year, but I read it in singles, so that's what I judge it by. So, no, it doesn't make it based on that technicality either.)

Tomorrow: a rundown of the Joe Casey-penned comics of this year and I'll also spend a few brief moments discussing my favourite comic critic of 2009.

Best of 2009: Top Ten No More

I always like to star my best of the year posts by looking at the books (or their closest relative when applicable -- you'll see what I mean by that) that were in last year's top ten, but didn't make this year's list. Some books, of course, were one-shots or series that ended/didn't release an issue this year, so they're not discussed.

Batman and Robin by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, and Philip Tan (#10 in 2008 as Batman). Since this is pretty much a continuation of Morrison's Batman run, I'm counting it here. While I really liked the first arc, this relaunch was really hampered by that second storyarc and the general feeling of not being as 'important' as Morrison's previous work with the character. The plotting is a bit looser, leaning more toward fun, entertaining stories that began his run on Batman than where the book ended up. A good way to structure things, but not the way to produce fantastic comics. The difference between Quitely and Tan doesn't help -- I actually consider Tan the worst artist that Morrison has been saddled with while writing Batman so far... aside from the fill-in issues by Ryan Benjamin, I suppose. Just awful, ugly, nonsensical stuff. As this comic begins to build on the foundations laid here and kicks things into gear in 2010 with a line-up of great artists, I could see this making a reappearance in the top ten.

glamourpuss by Dave Sim (#9 in 2008). After an incredibly focused 2008 as Sim explored the art of Alex Raymond, 2009's issues were much looser and free-ranging. You never knew what you were going to get as they all revolved around Stan Drake in some way, but less on his art and more on the circumstances surrounding the comic strip "The Heart of Juliet Jones." Sometimes, this worked (the Margaret Mitchell issue) and, sometimes, it didn't (the most recent issue focusing on Drake's second marriage). The fashion magazine elements of the comic were as hit and miss as always. Sim's art remains gorgeous in stunning black and white as he doesn't just produce photorealistic drawings of models, but reproduces work by Drake and other fantastic artists. glamourpuss remains an engaging, essential, unique book, but wasn't as good in 2009 as it was in 2008.

Captain America/Captain America: Reborn by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Butch Guice, Luke Ross, Gene Colan, and Bryan Hitch (#8 in 2008). I really liked Captain America this year, but the year began with the better-than-average-but-not-great storyarc involving Barnes getting used to being Captain America while confronting his past. After that, things shifted into Reborn with a brief stop for an issue meant to be an annual years ago. Reborn has been entertaining, but suffers from an obvious ending and a slightly delayed schedule. As well, Hitch's art doesn't exactly fit into the tone of the comic to date, something that had been maintained incredibly well to this point. Like the others mentioned so far, this book was worse this year, but wasn't bad. It did do one thing, though, and that's make me notice Dean White's name any time it shows up in the credits box after his fantastic colouring job over Gene Colan's pencils in issue 601. I can't wait to see what Brubaker has in store for the title and characters in 2010, but this year felt a little like filler/necessary plot mechanics (done quite well, but still).

Incognito/Criminal: The Sinners by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Val Staples (#5 in 2008). Is it unfair to lump these two books together despite sharing the same creative team? They both harken back to a specific era, but different genres. Sure, Incognito took the place of Criminal on the schedule, but should they be stuck together? I'll say yes, because The Sinners wasn't going to make the top ten anyway, so why not talk about both? I've been enjoying The Sinners, but it isn't as good as previous Criminal stories. 2008 has the three excellent one-off stories that were connected through a crime and the "Bad Night" arc, which was also very good. Part of what makes Criminal stories work so well is how the final chapter always makes everything that came before it look a little different. If Incognito failed in any regard, it's that. It ended and didn't validate the previous issues' flaws or make the good parts better. Then again, I've realised that Incognito didn't work for me because of my expectations as much as the work that Brubaker, Phillips, and Staples did. The art in both books was some of the best you're going to find in any comics in 2009, but I'm more of a writing guy. No matter how hard I try not to be sometimes, if the writing doesn't wow me, a book can only rise so far in my personal rankings. If anything is unfair, it's that, but it's who I am.

None of these comics were bad this year, but none were as good as they were in 2008, which is why they fell from the top ten. The funny thing about all of these books is that I could see any of them making 2010's top ten. Guess we'll see.

Tomorrow, I'll look at some notable books that I think are worth mentioning that didn't make the top ten.