Saturday, January 13, 2007

Fun Fifty of 2006, Part 1 of 5

Y'know, despite my cheerful bullish optimism, not everything in comics is fun. To channel the spirit of the Piano Man, let's revisit some of the not-fun moments of 2006:

Reed Richards is black-hearted
JLA just can't get started

Alley-killer Uncle Ben
No new Wonder Woman till when?

Thing got cancelled, Nextwave too
Franklin's abandoned by Sue

Whedon's X-Men is a bore
I don't recognize J'onn no more

The Question keeps on getting sick
Tony Stark's a total dick

Dark Speedball
Booster's dead
Pantha's Bouncing Rolling Head

Negative Zone Gitmo,
(Yes I know Pantha was a year ago)

Civil War
Killer Clor
I can't take it anymore!

Enough! If you know me, you know I am a little stuffed comic fan with a positive attitude on life. And despite my gloomy outlook above, there's actually a lot to celebrate in 2006: dozens of comics that made my fun list week after week. So, when you're feeling gloomy or discouraged about the state of contemporary mainstream comics, remember that Comics Oughta Be Fun!

Don't believe me? Why, for shame, buster, coz when I pick my fave comics of the year, I can't just narrow 'em down to five or ten: I've gotta go all-out hog wild and give you half a hundred...that's how much fun 2006 was!

So,without further ado, here's the first ten of fifty reasons why comics were fun this past year: beginning the countdown of Bully's "Fun Fifty for 2006!":

ALTTEXT50. AMERICAN SPLENDOR: Harvey Pekar's renowned and acclaimed autobiographical comic gets a new lease on life at Vertigo (and, I hope, new readers who hadn't discovered him before) and shows us that slice-of-life stories of traffic woes and plumbing disasters are every bit as entertaining and touching as superhero shenanigans.

ALTTEXT49. FANTASTIC FOUR: THE END: Pitch-perfect beautiful Alan Davis art is the highlight of this future tale which would be an "Elseworlds" if it were published at DC. There's much, much more than just the FF in this story as well: you might even consider it Marvel Universe: The End for its amazing range of characters from the Avengers to the Inhumans, the Silver Surfer to Sh'iar. A Marvel fanbull's dream.

ALTTEXT48. MOUSE GUARD: This beautifully-illustrated and elegantly-told saga only just happens to star rodents but is one of the best fantasy comics in the past several years, never mind only 2006. It deserves to be praised in the same breath as breakout successes like Bone, which built its fan base in its early issues with a solid publication schedule, so let's hope a second Mouse Guard series is coming soon. Also, I do hope the non-traditional square-sized format isn't keeping you from pickin' it up!

ALTTEXT47. BATTLER BRITTON: Garth Ennis reinvents the classic British comic book hero air ace, keeping the realism (but not the ultra-violence and adult language) of his acclaimed War Stories series. A great comic to hand to your friends who don't care for superheroes: if they enjoyed Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers or Flyboys or Flag of Our Fathers, this is a perfect introduction that comics aren't just for kids anymore.

ALTTEXT46. SUPERMAN RETURNS: One of the most eagerly-awaited movies of the year: it made over $200 million and still was considered by Hollywood to be "not a massive success." Whoa, that's some screwed-up economics if you ask me! What did make it a success in my little button eyes was its careful attention to modern sensibilities that built upon the much-revered Christopher Reeve films, especially in its portrayal of the eternal Lois/Clark/Superman love triangle and the longing ache in Kal-El's heart that he is forever separated from the woman who is the center of his universe. And oh boy, that space plane sequence!

ALTTEXT45. FANTASTIC FOUR: FIRST FAMILY: Proof to this slightly-cynical stuffed bull that a massive continuity implant doesn't have to violate the spirit of characters we know and love (I'm lookin' at you, X-Men: Deadly Genesis). Filling in the blanks between panels of FF #1 may be a thankless job, but this mini gave us a compelling and interesting tale of Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben learning to live with their powers, at the same time not being a rip-off or copy of Kirby.

ALTTEXT44. LOCAL: Quiet, moody, and sometimes heartbreaking loosely-connected tales that are pitch-perfect in capturing the neighborhoods featured in each issue, not simply through lively art but through the spirit and energy of the very different locales. I'm especially and personally partial to the spot-on Park Slope, Brooklyn issue (#6) which perfectly captures the distance New Yorkers put between each other, but every issue is a gem and feels like it's genuinely moving towards a distinct and definite conclusion rather than simply wandering aimlessly issue after issue.

ALTTEXT43. DETECTIVE COMICS: This is the first of several Bat-books on this year's Fun Fifty: it was a very good year to be a Bat-fan. Batman: The Animated Series guru Paul Dini's issues were the highlight for me: mostly done-in-one adventures that actually featured Batman using his detective skills, and #826's Joker-versus-Robin joyride is some of the best personality work on either character in many issues. The needlessly-cheesecakey artwork of the Poison Ivy issue aside, this is the best Detective has read and looked in years.

ALTTEXT42. DOCTOR STRANGE: THE OATH: I was mildly interested but not enthusiastic about a new Doc miniseries; 2005's JMS Strange series seemed to be a needless reinvention and pointless padding of Doctor Strange's origins and I didn't have true faith Marvel was going to make up for that. Surprise, surprise: an entertaining tale that calls upon Doc's skill both as both sorcerer supreme and surgeon is highlighted by a touching portrayal of his friendship with Wong, plus a wonderful reinvention of the campy old Night Nurse character as a "why didn't anyone think of that before?" surgeon to the superheroes.

ALTTEXT41. STAN LEE MEETS...: It's considered fair game to poke fun at Stan for his endless self-promotion (and really, one of these days I would love to hear out of his own mouth "When Jack and I created the Fantastic Four" or "When Steve and I created Spider-Man")...but I'll forgive the grand old man of comics his bombastic personal hype for what his work has influenced and led to: the quirky and ultra-detailed Marvel Universe, so unlike what had gone before that no one has ever been able to quite copy it. That's why I quite enjoyed the series of Stan Lee Meets... comics, an anthology series of unapologetically goofy stories in which the Man meets his co-creations. Stan Lee Meets the Thing was my favorite not only because I love Ben Grimm but because it was the one book of the series that treated its hero character straight, without a modern or slightly cynical marketing twist, but every issue had a handful of decent laughs, and the choice of classic Stan Lee Marvel issues for backups was a lovely and nostalgic touch. I'd definitely pay to see some Jack Kirby Meets... comics, but until then, these books are the epitome of the Marvel idea: characters and creators that take a ninety-degree twist not merely from reality but from the norm of what had come before them. Excelsior!

Bully's Fun Fifty for 2006 continues tomorrow with #40-31!

Strange stuffed visitor from another planet

Aside from occasionally threatening me with the fact that he works in a deli where I'd be considered high-quality top round, I admire the heck out of Steestak and his endlessly-entertainin' blog Lady, That's My Skull.

But never so much as now, when he's treated the world to a Photoshop mashup that makes me blush in pride and giggle in delight: All Star Bully:

All Star Bully

(based on panels in All Star Superman #6. And here's the post that started it all, Sleestak's "If I Wrote All Star Superman".)

If I had any sort of Photoshop skill, I'd be putting Hayley Mills popping out of a Kansas crater right at this moment. But since I'm dead crap at Photoshop, I'll simply have to say, Thank you very, very, very much!

Separated at Birth: Down in the Tube Station at Midnight

FF #12 & Thor #404

L: Fantastic Four #12, March 1963, art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers (?)
R: Thor #404, June 1989, art by Ron Frenz and Joe Sinnott
(Click picture to embiggen)

Too much information about a little bull's tummy.

Where's Bully gone to? cries the blogosophere, as the little stuffed bull, so soon after his relaxing hiatus, disappears once again. Well, I've not gone back to London...I wish!...but someplace a good deal closer and more unpleasant. Following an ill-advised dinner at the snackbar of the Brooklyn Target, I came down with a light case of food poisoning, accompanied by nausea and fever all day yesterday, that was only eased by repeated visits to the bathroom to blarg up copious amounts of fluff and beans from my little stuffed stomach. Blarg! It's not fun and it's not pretty, but believe me, it was better out than in, you betcha.

The nausea and fever have gone, as have the fever-induced dreams about the episode of Doctor Who with Sarah Jane Smith (which I watched in a stupor yesterday and couldn't stop thinking about even while asleep). I feel better enough to nibble on some saltines and sip some ginger ale, and soon I'll be back up to snuff again with a lesson learned and a vow made: Target is for shopping only.

Punctilious Paul Saether points out in my comments that he thought bulls only ate grass. Well, that's kind of the problem, Paul. I s'pose I should stay away entirely from the kind of grass I like to eat:

So, now that my tender tummy is on the mend, everything I promised you (reviews, best of the year roundup) will be posted at last this long weekend. May your own meals be more settling and less repetitive!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Welcome to Riverdale.

Archie's a jerk.
Archie's a jerk.

Reggie's a jerk.
Reggie's a jerk.

Veronica's a jerk.
Veronica's a jerk.

Betty's a jerk.
Betty's a jerk.

Moose is a jerk.
Moose's a jerk.

Even The Bee's a jerk.
Weatherbee's a jerk.

But Jughead...
What about Jughead?

...Jughead protests too much.

All panels are from stories in Archie Comics Digest #2, October 1973, one of a big stack of Golden Comics, Walt Disney, Archie and Dennis the Menace Comics Digests that I retrieved from Mama Bull's basement, and which are chock-full of entertainment value for both readin' and bloggin' about, so this won't be the last you see of 'em!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Catchin' up with comics

And...I'm back. Hope you didn't miss me too much! The week's holiday from blogging was just what I needed to mentally catch up after a busy busy December—I loved blogging in London, but each night in the hotel was spent tap-tap-tapping away capturing the adventure of the day, just to keep up. A few fill-in-the-blanks posts aside, I managed to keep myself from falling more than a day behind (as opposed to 2005 where it took me almost a year after my London holiday to finish transcribing my scribbed hoofwritten notes into the blog), but the lesson I learned is blogging is a harsh and demanding mistress. (Even tho' I'm too young to know what a mistress is.) At various times on my holiday I thought "Well, I won't blog daily next London trip"...and "But I like keeping such a timely souvenir of my adventures!" I did notice my daily readership drop down to less than half of its usual velocity, although that may have been a factor of a Christmas week. In any case, next time I go to London, who knows? But I'm back, and this little bull is rested and ready to talk about comic books again.

Oh yes, comic books! I'm sure some of you have asked (go on, say it aloud) "When's he gonna get back to blogging about comics?" A: Right now, because I'm got a stack of three week's worth of comic books to review, all the comics I didn't buy when I was in London purchased this past week in one fell swoop at Jim Hanley's, and to stay on schedule I'll review 'em all, but swiftly, in a pithy sentence or two each (and minus the time-consuming jpegs for this week only):

52 WEEKS 33-35: These comics are fun. 52 heads into its home stretch and continues storylines that make me wonder: will they ever intersect towards the end? Dandy cliff-hanger in #34 leads into pure Luthor bwah-ha-ha evil in #35, and reading three of these at once really keeps the pace rolling. I plan to read all 52 issues in one marathon sitting when the series is done; three-in-a-row suggests to me they might make more sense and have more forward movement that way. Still, week after week a fun ride.

JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED #29: This comic is fun...sorta. A story basically focusing on what a jerk B'wana Beast is. Another one of those too-often "JLU member learns a valuable lesson at the end" stories. Still the best Justice League comic out there, though.

FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN #15: This comic is fun. Take it from this little stuffed bull who works in book publishing: the book-signing scenes in this comic are actually pretty accurate. Well, except for the supervillain attacks, but I'm told that does happen at some Janet Evanovich signings.

BART SIMPSON #33: This comic is fun...sorta. Bart generally seems to be written for a younger audience than Simpsons Comics, but this issue feels like it skews even younger. Entertaining and funny stories but very little of the subversive element than sets Simpsons comics ahead of the crowd. Great iconic cover, though.

SIMPSONS COMICS #125: This comic is fun...sorta. Short stories feel like inventory comics leftover from Bart Simpson. A funny and clever Bart-meets-Cletus comedy in the first story, but the two remaining stories (by Tom Peyer and Chuck Dixon) seem flat and just not my cup of tea. Still the most consistently fun comic I buy, but just a slight dip in the ha-ha level this issue.

HEROES FOR HIRE #5: This comic is fun. Fast-moving action comic that doesn't take itself (or its Civil War tie-in elements) too seriously. I'm very interested to see if the pace (and humorous patter) can be sustained.

SUPERMAN CONFIDENTIAL #3: This comic is fun. Suffers a bit from mid-storyline lag: this always seems to hit around issue 3 or 4 of a contemporary storyline, doesn't it? But great cliffhanger and wonderful scenes of, as I've said before, my favorite element of the Superman mythos: the Lois/Clark/Superman triangle.

NEXTWAVE #11: This comic is fun. "Fun" doesn't quite do it justice, does it? It's like a Brueghel painting mixed with a Where's Waldo book—half the comic is double-page spreads as Nextwave battles their way to the completely insane Dirk Anger...never have I wanted original comic art so much! Buy two copies and paste one together, coz it all fits together end-to-end, like the Bayeux Tapesty. Except with Elvis M.O.D.O.K.s and rampaging Elanis.

ALL STAR SUPERMAN #6: This comic is fun. Still the most beautifully subtle Superman comic currently being published. It's not short on action but there are iconic scenes in here and other issues in this series that I think will be remembered and referenced for years to come: the appearance of Krypto in this issue is one of 'em. Definite proof to all nay-sayers that you can still pay homage to the history and continuity of Superman and yet write an original and touching story. This definitely have been the most fun comic in a week that didn't include...

GUMBY #2: This comic is fun. 34 ad-free pages of beautifully-colored quirky and elegant Rick Geary art and Bob Burden's signature weirdness and whimsy ad up to the perfect comic mix. If you didn't pick this up because you don't read "kid's comics," you're missing out on one of the most imaginative illustrated works of 2006. It also features The Best Line of the Week which must be seen rather than just reported:

Pokey Speaks

That's why GUMBY #2 is the most fun comic of the week and one of the most fun comics of the year.

"Most fun comics of the year"? you ask. "What are those?" (Tune in tomorrow Thursday or Friday, fun fans!)

In the meantime, I hereby declare it Comic Book Reviewing Amnesty Day. I take a deep gulp as I peer up at the huge pile of comic books I bought but never got a chance to review weekly in 2006, a stack taller than me:

A huge stack of comics

I've kept this stack of 2006 comics sittin' on my coffee table vowing to, even at a late date, to review 'em. Pish-posh to that now, I say: it's a new year with new comics and I must look forward and not backward. (Um, except for my post tomorrow.) I can barely attack those books now, even with my little mountain-climbing gear. So I will box them or shelve them and move onwards, looking ever-forward into our brand-spankin' near-mint all-new all-different Uncanny New Year. And to go along with that, what fits better than some lovely New Year's Resolutions? So here is your Comics Oughta Be Fun Semi-Solemn Cow-Vows for In 2007:
  • Although my budget means I'll be trying to buy fewer comics this year, I will still buy 'em weekly.
  • Despite cutting down some titles I'm not getting a full fun-quotient out of, I still want to have a variety of titles, so once again I'll do my best to Pick Up One New Comic Title Each Week That I Haven't Been Reading.
  • I will do my best to review each week's comics within the week I buy 'em. However, if I start building up a backlog of unreviewed comics, I'm not gonna worry about it and build up another huge stack. Life goes on and there will be more next week, so if you don't see comics reviews every week, don't panic. Like a London bus, there'll be another one along in just a little while.
  • I still ain't readin' Civil War.
Also, I vow to pick up after myself, do my chores, not eat so much candy, and to be nicer to my little sister. May you have a wonderful 2007 and best of luck with your New Year's resolutions. As always, enjoy your comics, and remember this: they oughta be fun!