SIMPSONS COMICS #126: This comic is fun. After a handful of entertaining but not-exceptional issues, Simpsons Comics returns to tip-top form with an anthology of three tales of Arabian high adventure and genie jokes. Similar to the once-a-season tall tales segments on the animated show, the regular cast reinvents Aladdin, Ali Baba, and Sinbad with typical Simpson silliness and attitude. It's pretty gentle parody by Simpsons standards, but there's still a clever irreverence to it all and a nifty crossover element where the stories come together in the end. Plus, the return of Maude Flanders! (Be care-diddley-dareful what you wish for, Ned!)
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS #5: This comic is fun...sorta. These new tales of the old X-Men are nicely done-in-one adventures, although this issue shows the relative sameness of the series to date. Even a guest appearance by Thor doesn't do much to spice up the fairly standard adventureit takes far too long for Don Blake (remember when he hung around the Marvel Universe) to strike that walking stick on the floor and transform into his brawnier counterpart. There's some gentle light humor and a nice starring role for Iceman, but this issue seems to be the weakest so far of the series. (And those generic painted covers always make me think I've already picked up an issue, so I keep missing this series when it comes out.)
FANTASTIC FOUR #542: This comic is fun...sorta. Well, that's a step in the right direction: at least some acknowledgement and explanation that Reed is acting the way he is during Civil War for something he believes in. I still don't buy it entirely, but that might just be fanbull entitlement: to me, Reed has always been the epitome of "the third alternative": given the choice between two disastrous and deadly outcomes, Reed has always been the go-to man to find the third, hitherto-unseen third alternative. FF #542 explains Reed's taking the least evil of many paths, but it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth: he's in this corner because he's been written into it, and while that storyline is absolutely valid, it's still not really a Mister Fantastic I wanna "read" about. Some nice touches bring the level up, tho': a wonderfully frank and lightly funny conversation between Johnny and Reed in a Park Slope coffee shop, an intriguing alternative portrayal of the Mad Thinker, and the arrival of Dwayne McDuffie on this book are all things to cheeras is the "To be Concluded" tag at the end of the story. Plus, any book that features The Best Line of the Week: "Il est temps de fouter!" can't be all bad. (Mister Grimm, you keep using that word. I do not think you know what it means.)
THE HELMET OF FATE: DETECTIVE CHIMP: This comic is fun. I haven't been following or even specifically interested in Shadowpact, but I do love talking animals, so how could I pass up a one-shot featuring DC's simian sleuth, especially written by Bill Willingham and drawn by Shawn McManus? This book is a light but not insubstantial story of Dr. Fate's helmet beginning its quest for a new head. That's not the attractioneven if you don't follow internet gossip you know DC's not gonna leave the helmet on a monkey's head. At its heart it's more a celebration of merely one element of the wackiness that makes the DC Universe unique and different and utterly loveable: a chimp that's a better detective than Batman ("Batman's only the world's greatest human detective"). McManus's artwork is suitably apt whether he's drawing a human or primate character, and the whole thing's done with such a light touch you scarcely worry that the fate of the magical world is at stake. Like many DC books this week it's interrupted by a dumb-ass Nintendo Wii advertisement in the form of a comic strip that, if you're not expecting it, totally breaks the mood of the story, but I won't hold that against it. I'm suspicious of monkeys in general, but put some interesting headgear on onewhether that's a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker or a golden magical helmetand I'm so there.
52 WEEK 37: This comic is fun. One of 52's leading mysteries is solved right up front, and even though it invalidates my heartfelt little bit of creative writing eulogizing a dead character I'm still pumping my hoof up and declaring "Yes!" at such a great re-entrance and bit of comic book drama. Plus, those of you complaining the book's main surprise was blown on the cover? I call that a savvy redirection, 'coz I certainly didn't see the second surprise on the last couple pages coming, featuring the return of a couple characters I remember from Grant Morrison's Animal Man but which I have to re-read in order to remind me what's their role in reshaping reality. There's a lot going on now as 52 begins to pick up speed again heading into its final quarter, but keep on blasting nifty concepts at me like this issue and I'm there until the very last.
THE SPIRIT #2: This comic is fun. It placed exceptionally high on my Fun Fifty of 2006 on the basis of its single first issue, and #2 is a sure sign that it's got a really good shot of making 2007's list as well. Old-time Spirit fans might get a touch more out of this issue with its return of perennial Spirit antagonist and all-out dangerous lady P'Gell, but you don't have to know word one about Denny Colt's history to fully enjoy the solid story, crackling dialogue and gorgeous, dynamic artwork that Darwyn Cook and J. Bone are bringing to Eisner's classic character. The only crime? That more people aren't picking up this, the best adventure comic to come along in quite some time. This is by far the best book of the week, and to split the distinction, it's a book that coulda and easily woulda been the most fun book of the week, in a week that didn't include...
MARVEL ADVENTURES: AVENGERS #9: This comic is fun. Extremely general theory about the comparative appeals of the DC and Marvel Universe: The DC Universe is loved for (among other reasons) its weird and freaky assortment of heroes: Detective Chimp, Metamorpho, Space Cabby, Krypto, Kilowog, The Metal Men. The Marvel Universe is loved for (among other reasons) its weird and freaky assortment of villains: Arnim Zola, Dormammu, The Leader, Doctor Octopus, Mister Fish, The Headmen, and even Doctor Doom. With the possible exception of Batman, no DC hero has a rogues gallery as colorful and bizarre as those that skulk in the darkest corners of the MU. How else can you explain the love and obsession we Marvel fans have for the big head in a chair known as M.O.D.O.K.? (Mental Organism Designed Only for Kittens Killing) He's renamed M.O.D.O.C. (substitute the word "conquest") for this kid-friendly but fanbull-approved story, but he's still one of the biggest hoots of fandom as he stars in this why-has-nobody-ever-thought-of-it-before story where all the Avengers are transformed into M.O.D.O.C.s? What might have been just a silly story is genuinely funny in the hands of Jeff Parker's able script, in which M.O.D.O.C.'d Cap, Spidey and company begin to take over the world in their own big-headed way, thwarted in the end by nothing more than good ol' fashioned human frailties and Karl, the hilariously ineffectual A.I.M. employee. It's a great tale with a fantastic cover and I don't wanna hear anybody scoffing that it takes place in a kid's-version, non-continuity comic: if this story took place in the regular Marvel Universe you would proclaim it as one of the greatest tales in the Avengers canon, ever. That's why MARVEL ADVENTURES: AVENGERS #9 is the most fun comic of the week!
You know how sometimes you invest many hours or maybe even an entire Fourth of July weekend listening to "Power 98's One Thousand Most Rockin' Songs," just waiting for them to get up to number one, where they've got be playin' "Stairway to Heaven," there's no other choice, any fool worth his drumsticks knows it's all building up to the Stairway, and then at 11:53 PM on the last day before you have to go back to school, they reach number one and it turns out it's Van Halen's "Panama"?
10. SUPERMAN CONFIDENTIAL: Scheming supervillains. Erupting volcanoes. His first encounter with deadly kryptonite. Any one of these would leave you or me hiding under the couch, but Superman steps right up to the plate against 'em. So what's his real Achilles' heel? A spunky, classy, unpredictable woman named Lois Lane. This beauty of a story arc by Darwyn Cooke and Tim Sale features gorgeous art and design (#2's juxtaposition of Kal fighting molten lava while Lois gets ready for a date is absolutely, affectingly sublime), tack-sharp dialogue and characterization (a wonderful scene where Clark expresses to Pa Kent his terror at trying to save people) and that element of the Superman mythology that makes it universal to all of us: the love of a man from another world for a woman who's so close and yet worlds away. The introductory kryptonite subplot at first seems secondary to the love story until I realized it wasn't secondary: it was parallelin this story we see through Superman's eyes the two centers of his world: the literal world (a glowing green rock) and the spiritual one (fast-talking and sassy). Both are his greatest weaknesses.
9. 52: I woulda bet my piggybank fulla dimes that it couldn't be done: a weekly series that never got off schedule, never missed an issue, never brought a company's entire line screeching to a haltand more important, a weekly series that entertained the heck outta me. While the big three take a year's sabbatical, DC's second and third bananas step up to the plate in seemingly-separate but gradually-intertwining storylines, gently spiraling towards reshaping the DC Universe in a slow but steady process the likes of which we've not seen before in superhero comics. The sheer number of issues has led to a handful of dud subplots and who-cares stories, but week after week there's some sheer entertainment value here, and while many of the mysteries are far from being solved, half the fun is the journey. My favorite issue has to be Week 24 (with hyper-aware Ambush Bug shouting directly to us about "52" and his relationship with Julie Schwartz), but this series has also made me like and appreciate Renee Montoya, the never-named Question, Black Adam and his clan, and even evil, evil Skeets in ways I'd never felt before. There's a lot of endgame work to be done in the last few months of the series and I've got my hooves crossed they don't drop the ball, but it's been a heckuva ride so far. Fifty-two!
8. RUNAWAYS: In a year where DC and Marvel heroes were getting knocked off left-and-right, incinerated by flying nuclear submarines or punctuated by Norse code, the most affecting and touching death was that of Gert Yorkes in the pages of Runaways. This death has colored the entire year as it spins into final arc of creator Brian K. Vaughan, but though the mood is somber this is still one of the most life-affirming and joyous superhero comics on the market. I've long said that Runaways needs to be the flagship in Marvel's outreach to get new young adults and teens on board with comic books, and this storyline is no exception. With the exception of repackaging issues in digest format, however, I don't see any marketing geared for the manga-fan crowd. That's a pity and a shame, and a wasted opportunity. Maybe new marketing to the next generation of readers will take more of a precedence once Joss Whedon comes on board, but even if Runaways never becomes the crossover hit it so richly deserves, it's still provided us discerning comics fans with one of the finest and realistic portrayals in comics of teens. With, uh, evil parents and superpowers. And a pet dinosaur.
7. COMIC STRIP REPRINTS: Everything I said about this being the best of all possible times to be a comics fan because of the extensive comic book reprint programs goes double for being a fan of comic strips in 2006, where the recent growing trend in beautifully designed and reproduced collections of classic strips really began coming into their own. Peanuts and Dennis the Menace got new volumes continuing their adventures, Gasoline Alley and Dick Tracy began definitive reprint projects...even the Moomins came back in comic strip-in-book form! My pers'nal favorite is the big-as-the-2001-monolith Popeye from Fantagraphics (an amazing design crammed with more high adventure strips than a donkey who's eaten Milt Caniff's portfolio), and there's much, much more to come: 2007 looks to be another powerful year with announcements of new editions of the works of Lynda Barry plus new volumes of most of the above. And scuttlebutt in the publishing world tells this little stuffed ear to the ground there's much more classic stuff to come, so start saving your dimes...truly this is the beginning of the Age of Classic Strip Reprints!
6. GUMBY: The most fun you can have with America's favorite clayboy without ever touching a rubbery toy! Bob Burden and Rick Geary's two issues of surrealism, whimsy, and fun are the perfect all-ages comics in the truest sense of the word: not just for kids but for everyone who's a fan of fun comics. Gumby falls in love, joins the circus, does the sombrero dance, thwarts the plans of evil clowns, gets turned into a golem, and summons of the spirit of Johnny Cash...all without wearing any pants! The joy and exuberance of these comics is contagious and infectious; I dare you not to crack a smile readin' 'em, and Geary's beautifully toned and suitably rubber artwork is spot-perfect for Gumby and Pokey. Sure, buy 'em for your kids...but you'll wanna read 'em too!
5. THE SPIRIT: This comic hits a high spot on my Festival of Fun '06 on the strength of...count it...one issue. As a long-time Eisner fan, I certainly was holding my breath that Darwyn Cooke would do right by Denny Colt, and hoo boy! he exceeded my wildest hopes on every single page. This beautifully illustrated and smartly-written update of one of the finest comics of all time captures the elements that made the Spirit a classic: innovative and intricate design, casual and believable humorous dialogue, breakneck action, a gorgeous dame with an improbable name, and even the Eisner trademark splash-page representation of the Spirit's name in the artwork, brought smack-dab up to the twenty-first century by blazing it not across city buildings but in the shimmering pixels of a television screen. But Cooke's successfully pulled off an even more incredible update: Ebony is no longer a character we as fans feel we need to be ashamed of or defend with embarrassment. I know it's a cliché to say "Will Eisner would be proud"...but heck, I'll say it. I bet he's looking down from his drawing board up there and nodding in approval.
4. AGENTS OF ATLAS: It sometimes seems like there's a rogue division at Marvel slyly and stealthily sneaking comic books into publication which are so innovative and different from the normal company line that surely Joe Quesadilla doesn't even know they're doing it. That's the impression Agents of Atlas gives me, because who'da thought that in today's Civil War-ridden Marvel Universe populated by fewer than 200 mutants, a maskless Spidey and a long golden hair all grown up from a test tube, there'd be a market for a six-issue miniseries about secret heroes of the 1950s whose most significant story was a thirty year old issue of What If? Not me, that's for sure, but I'm happily on the Atlas bandwagon as Jimmy Woo and company untangle the Mystery of the Missing Ike, The Stereotypical Asian Villain and how Miss Venus manages to walk around without a top. It's sheer joyful fun that had me from the moment Gorilla Man barreled down a hallway with a gun in each hand...and foot. The I-never-woulda-figgered-it-out, wonderful and sublime puzzle-box ending was one of the finest conclusions a miniseries could have: a definitive end with a promise of more potential future adventures. Even if any future Atlas action is merely in my head and not on the page, this is a miniseries that made me oh-so-glad to be a Marvel Fanbull.
3. ALL STAR SUPERMAN:Grant Morrison knows. There's no other way to put it: he knows what we loved about the Silver Age. He knows what we love about comics today. And he puts 'em in a pot and stirs 'em around and adds a dash of absinthe when his mom's not lookin' and serves up one of the finest reinventions of Superman, ever. On the surface he and the wonderfully quirky Frank Quitely are simply retelling tales of the fifties: Super-Lois! Jimmy in drag! Krypto! But it's tinted with twenty-first century nanotechnology and hyperawareness of the tropes in comics that make the fur on the back of your neck stand up and tingle, in a comic that rewards re-reading like none other. Pay attention to the details: Clark's casual, uncostumed, cause-and-effect superdeeds in the background have a Rube Goldberg joy and brilliance to that makes this little stuffed reader giggle in glee. All Star has also given us this year one of the best Luthor tales in modern comics, a wonderfully kinetic updating of The Desperate Ones in which a never-supersuited-Clark and an arrogantly crowing Lex work their way through a riot-ridden prison, the signs of his safety right in front of Lex's burnt-off eyebrow, if only he'd look closely enough. The crown jewel of a great year for DC, and never mind the schedule: I'll gladly wait months for this.
2. SERGIO ARAGONÈS: SOLO: Permit me the indulgence of quoting myself and my original review: "not only the most fun comic of the week but will surely be on my year-end list of The Most Fun Comics of 2006!" (Hey, that guy's good!!) I mourn the passing of Solo for every one of its inventive and innovative issues that uncharacteristically for floppy comics, focused upon and celebrated the creators that make DC great. There was no more gleefully enjoyable issue in the series, though, than this fun-fest by MAD's manic Mexican master, a collection of several stories that didn't contain a weak panel in the lot 'of 'em: from confessing his murder of Marty Feldman to a wonderful autobiographical sketch of how he broke into American cartooning, Aragonés hits the heights every time, even in a goofball Batman story that's more MAD than the modern MAD magazine itself. Sheer brilliance from an amazing talent we don't see enough of these days. Hey Mark Evanier, bring back Groo!
1. NEXTWAVE: You sum it in one sentence and it sounds like a snoozefest, or worse yet, a 1980s Image comic: disillusioned superhumans working for a government agency discover their boss is a homicidal madman, and they turn against their employer and vow to take him down. But. This comic is super-caffeinated with over-the-top, outrageously gleeful violence, smartass dialogue, cheerfully irreverent reinventions of Marvel sacred cows, crab cyborgs, Broadway-dancin' Mindless Ones, Captain America's pee, Elvis M.O.D.O.K.s, and the most deadly version of Forbush-Man ever seen outside your Nyquil-fueled fever dreams. Politically-incorrect as all get-out. Widescreen in ways that would make the Authority weep. The best introduction page month-after-month. Gloriously intense artwork by Stuart Immonen, including cover designs that break the mortal bounds of comic book design and look like they would be well at home on the front of books from "real-world" paperback publishers. Warren Ellis's script and concepts gives unapologetic the Marvel Universe fanboys half-nelsons, and if there is one proof that this comic broke all boundaries, it's in the next-to-final issue #11 where half of the issue is two-page spreads (get a second issue so you can cut it up and paste 'em all end-to-end): I normally object to splash pages or two-splashes in comics as they advance the story precisely only one panel, but I spent more time examining and giggling over the Where's Waldo-on-speed brilliance of those big-ass panels than I do reading the entire length of some books. We've got one more big bang of an issue in 2007 before Nextwave goes bye-bye, but I, and you, are all the richer for a 2006 filled with its rich, nougaty, zomg-filled goodness. That's why NEXTWAVE is the most fun comic of 2006 and this is the The Best Line of the Year:
No, Miz Bloodstone: I think it stands for enormous fun.
Whew! When I started thinking about my Fun for 2006 list waaaay back around the time I picked up Solo #11 and Gumby #1, I pretty much had in mind a list of ten, or maybe a baker's dozen. When I sat down in late December with a pile of comics and a stack of notes and printouts of reviews it became clear my job of narrowing down that field to a mere hoof-ful was gonna be uphill work. The list became 20...and then 25...and oh no, I left out this one and that one, and like Topsy, the list grew and grew...until it became a Fun Fifty, and if I'd thought about it s'more I prob'bly coulda beefed (no pun intended) it out to a Sensational Sixty or a Entertaining Eighty. (Tell me your favorites, especially if I've missed 'em, in the comments!)
So, what have I learned? Well, I've learned that even in a year when I was dismayed much of the time at the state of the mainstream, in which one comic got me so hoppin' mad I saw red (and you all know what happens when a bull does that), in which I continued to express my disgust over the big crossover events of 2005 and 2006 and the sheer slippery slope the entertainment value of fairly expensive floppy books seems to be barreling down...well, I still found bucketloads of joy and excitement in the comics of 2006. That's my message to you all: whatever you enjoy, whether it was something I liked or didn't or didn't even mention, value it, treasure it, rejoice in it, have fun reading it. It's a wonderful hobby and there's more good stuff out there that meets the eye, even if it's a little black button one.
Laura/Tegan gives me a huge number of referral links, for which I send heart-felt thanks. I hope that someday during one of my trips to Seattle I'll get a chance to meet her and hubbie-Eric. If you're not reading her blog, especially her ongoing Aquaman story a day project, you're missing a very fun blog.
I can't even imagine what the surfers who get referred to me from the London Walks website think of the non-London, comic-book-heavy majority of my blog.
In the words of Casey Kasem, the hits just keep on comin'! Bully's Fun Fifty of 2006 Countdown continues, and in case you need a handy recap, here's #50-41, here's #40-31 and here's #30-21. You'll all quite clever out there in radioland the blogosphere, and I know you can spot a pattern a mile away and predict that we'll start up today with number...
20. BATMAN: YEAR 100: Good as they were, the year's best Batman comic wasn't Detective or Batman, nor was it any of the umpteen Bat-books that clutter the shelves: it was this four-issue prestige miniseries that posited Batman as a mystery crime fighter in the future. That description begs comparison with The Dark Knight Returns, and I pleased to say Paul Pope's Batman does the format that Miller pioneered twenty years ago proud: this is a Bat-book I'm gonna read again and again. The mystery is compelling and the art beautiful, and once again this is a Batman that actually uses detective skills and who cares about and treats his support staff with respect. Prestige books always cost more (each of the four issues were $5.99), but the artwork was so detailed, the plot so intricate, and the story so full of nifty ideas and moments that you could spend a wonderfully leisurely half-hour with each issue and not feel like you were dawdling, as opposed to the five or seven minutes it might take you to read a regular floppy issue. If you didn't pick this up because it's Elseworlds that's not in canon, you missed out on the best Batman of the year. But you've got a second chance: it's coming out in trade this week. And, as I promised in one of my original reviews, I hereby declare that the Sensational Character Find of 2006 was Batman Year 100's false teeth!
19. THE THING: Just like I had to go outside the regular Fantastic Four book to find an FF I could cheer for, the best Ben Grimm of the year was not in Marvel flagship title but in the short-lived, late, lamented The Thing solo series, which wrapped up earlier this year. You don't have to look too far on my blog to realize my hero of choice is big 'n' orange 'n' rocky, so a solo book for Ol' Blue Eyes was the next best thing to being a member of the FF myself. Dan Slott was hitting on all cylinders in this one: grand over-the-top battles, extensive guest-star spots by major (and minor) Marvel Universe heroes and villains, and (while the book itself was a series of easy to leap-on done-in-ones and short action epics) a progressing story arc that actually moved the character forward as he sought to make amends for past misdeeds even while he did his darndest to recapture the heart of his true lady love. There was no great philosophical deep meaning behind The Thing: just a lot of clobberin' times, some funny situations, action-packed artwork and Mama Grimm's little boy Benjy learnin' that money can't buy you everything; money can't buy you love. This title will be missed. See ya on Yancy Street, big guy.
18. SEVEN SOLDIERS: Pumped straight from the mind of Morrison to my impressionable fluff brain, I didn't always grok everything that was going on in Seven Soldiers and its septet of synchronized series, but hoo boy, what a ride! It was a long hard wait from the conclusion of the miniseries until the much-delayed Seven Soldiers #1, but when that issue finally zoomed into my reading stack, it was like a jolt of pure cane sugar right up my little ringed nose. (I actually kinda think Mister Morrison might purposefully delayed the publication of the capper just to make sure we were all reading and re-reading Manhattan Guardian and Zatanna and Klarion and Mister Miracle again and again and again before it came out!) Seldom do superhero comics require and reward such close reading (and re-reading), and Seven Soldiers will be a treat to revisit for many years to come. The thirty issues are goin' straight on my bookshelf, not in a long box, so I can get at them again and again: now that's the sign of a comic that's made its mark.
17. JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED: I have a love/scold relationship with JLU: either I'm head-over-hooves about it or I'm lamenting it woulda been better if it hadn't tried to preach a 1980s-style message of standing up for what you believe in at the end of too many issues. But when it works, JLU is a star: #24's Martian Manhunter spotlight, #28's Phantom Stranger/Flash Christmas adventure, and best of all, #18's Superman meets Space Cabby team-up. Each of these proves that we can have top-notch characterization and action in a comic without a preachy moral on the final page. In a year where the much-awaited relaunch of Justice League of America proved to be just another case of twiddling my thumbs waiting for something to happen (if I had thumbs), JLU consistently and satisfyingly delivered action and heroism in a comic that definitely was not just for kids only.
16. X-FACTOR: Editorially, I sometimes think there's a chimp at the wheel over at Marvel: much-publicized and hyped series like House of M and Civil War promise massive across-the-board co-ordination and change, but what they deliver is a tangled nest of miscommunication and dropped concepts. Honestly, when elements and plot devices of your two biggest crossovers contradict each other from book to book, why should we care or read 'em? Leave it to Peter David to pick up a lot of the dropped pieces (What really happened on M-Day? What does the superhero registration act really mean?) and spin 'em into a coherent and logical tapestry that not only makes sense but is entertaining and funny at the same time. David is one of the few mainstream comics writers who actually thinks through the consequences of Marvel Universe events and applies them logically (but never tediously) to his stories, leading to a handful of Civil War tie-ins that actually made me wish PAD was managing the whole crossover. Plus, Strong Guy! You can't go wrong with Strong Guy.
15. SOCK MONKEY: THE "INCHES" INCIDENT: Of course I'm gonna rate a comic about stuffed animals facing off against an evil doll high on my list...it's the most realistic comic being produced today! Tony Millionaire's elegant and elaborate artwork and his whimsical and inventive energy infuse every page of this miniseries featuring the all-ages versions of his Maakies characters, and no one draws a whaling ship and sea monsters better than Mister M. If I had a million dollars, in addition to buying that (real) green dress, I'd buy the comic book rights to Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin high-seas adventures from the good folks at W. W. Norton and let Tony loose on a comics adaptation of all twenty books. As long as he could find room in the story for a little stuffed bo'sun, that is.
14. DOCTOR WHO: No, it's not comics. Get over it, because no TV show has brought me such excitement and pleasure in years. I'm an old-school Doctor fan and remember the nightly Tom Baker serials in the late 1970s with great fondness, and I actually trekked to a Who convention in Britain in 1983 to stand this close to Peter Davison, but I never expected to be drawn back into the show again. I came to the reinvented Who 2.0 fairly late, with the BBC America premiere of the Ninth Doctor series in November, and while I was hooked from the first episode, it was the second ("The End of the World") that made me an obsessed fan, with its wonderful mix of aliens (a giant head simultaneously scary and cuddly-looking, a tree being who bark was definitely prettier than her bite, and the world's thinnest human), fantastic special effects, nifty ideas ("I give you the gift of air from my lungs"), and the Earth burning away to the beat of an old-style Earth ballad: "Toxic" by Britney Spears, played on the last surviving "iPod" (a Wurlitzer jukebox). But what most made me an absolute incurable fanatic for this reinvented series was the surprisingly affecting performance of Billie Piper as Rose, my new favorite of the Doctor's many Companions, in a scene where she suddenly realized how far she was from her home and her mother. The show has just kept getting better and better, and has done things to me I never imagined I'd be doing in front of the TV screen: pumping my hoof in triumph and shouting Yes! as something exciting happens, making me frightened of the Cybermen after so many years, making me very, very frightened of the Daleks, and shedding more than a few gulping tears at episodes like "Father's Day," "The Girl in the Fireplace," "Doomsday," and "The Parting of the Ways." I'm a big Star Trek: The Next Generation fan from way back, so I never thought a series could replace it in my affection for simply the best re-imagining of a classic SF series for a modern audience, ever. (Yes, I know some of you will argue that should be Battlestar Galactica. But I never wanted to grow up to be Apollo or Starbuck. I always wanted to grow up to be The Doctor.)
13. OLD COMICS: Lucky Number 13 is a reminder that sometimes the best comics of the year are ones from a previous year that you re-read and recapture the excitement and joy you felt the day you got 'em. I finally got a chunk of my old comicsby no means all of 'emout of deep storage, and what a treasure trove of nostalgia and comfort they can be. That big box of comics digest from the 1970s with their tiny tiny print is what drew me to comic books in the first place. The John Byrne Fantastic Four run. The Walt Simonson Fantastic Four run. Those old Walt Simonson Battlestar Galactica comics. Mantlo and Golden's Micronauts, Barr and Davis's Detective, Atari Force, the first issue of Avengers I ever bought (the beginning of that fantastic Red Ronin story). Dr. Strange by Marshall Rogers! Archie versus the Punisher! Golden memories stored in a box and mine again for free. You can't beat that feeling. Don't be shy about pulling out some of your favorite comics this year and rediscovering them...there's joy and fun to be had in them every day of the week, not just New Comics Wednesday.
12. X-STATIX PRESENTS: DEAD GIRL: The best portrayal of Doctor Strange in years. Gwen Stacy and Moira MacTaggart's afterlife book club. The Pitiful One's mysterious connection to the heroes of the Marvel Universe. And everybody's favorite cold-skinned cutie from the afterlife, Moonbeam, Dead Girl! Every time I despair of Marvel having any ounce of imagination or creativity, they shatter my disillusion with a series of miniseries like Peter Milligan and Mike Allred's revival of one of the most popular characters from the quirky but short-lived as a nova star X-Statix. It's moments like discovering this series that keep me reading comics: like a diamond-shaped glob of Silly Putty in the rough, it's a joy to find and read.
11. THE ESCAPISTS: It's a superhero adventure! It's metafiction! It's a love story! It's a tale of publishing! It's a floor topping! It's a dessert wax! I love the elaborate alternative publishing history built up at Dark Horse around Michael Chabon's Escapist characterhalf the fun of the late great Escapist anthology series was the historical essays about the publishing career of the character. In many ways The Escapists is the ultimate comic book fan story: an examination of the ways we, as fans, are shaped by and seek to honor our memories of our favorite characters. Because of its connection to Chabon's work, it's the ideal comic to pass onto a non-comics reader (and Dark Horse should really market this and its Escapist trades in the fiction market to Chabon readers as well as the comics field.) A wonderful mix of art styles (including Jason Shawn Alexander ably alleviating my concerns that Phillip Bond wasn't gonna illustrate the whole series) and characters I honestly liked and cared for made this my favorite comic about comics this year, and while its final, symbolically blank page signals an end to The Escapist character in print for the moment, I've got the feeling that Chabon's creation will break the bonds of cancellation and be back in comic book stores some day. Comic book heroes'll do that, doncha know.
Tomorrow! Cue up Gob Bluth's Europe CD, because it's the Final Countdown! What were the top ten comics I found fun in 2006? And will Civil War be number one? Oh ick, not a chance. Place your bets on the table because Bully's Fun Fifty for 2006 countdown concludes tomorrow with #10-1!
Continuing our countdown of, um, synonym for "fun" that begins with "C." (Slight pause while I trot over to the shelves and check my Roget's) Conviviality! You can find #50-41 here and #40-31 here. That means we pick up again with number...
30. SIMPSONS COMICS: There are those who complain that The Simpsons...the TV show...is no longer funny. I wanna grab them by the lapels, shake them thoroughly, and smack some sense into them...it's still the funniest show on TV! P'raps age and overexposure has jaded some people but this li'l stuffed bull can't stop watchin' it...of course, your mileage may vary. But you'll still get a kick out of most issues of Simpsons Comics, which as far as I can tell, is the single longest-running licensed comic in the US today. As I often say in my reviews, the quality of an issue generally ranges from sorta fun to fun indeed (I found #119, with its parody of Donald Trump's The Apprentice, the highlight of a pretty good year), but even the occasional miss or dud usually has a gem of a joke or sight gag to entertain you. Like the show itself, it's occasionally uneven...but I argue that it's still consistently one of the best entertainment values, fun-for-buck wise, in the comics industry.
29. X-MEN: THE LAST STAND: The blogosphere told us the best movie of the year was gonna be Snakes on a Plane. The scuttlebutt online was that X3 would break the streak of pretty-good X-Men movies and kill off the franchise with a whimper, not a bang. Well, if 2006 taught us anything, it's that the movie industry (and audience) cares not a fig newton for what the fanboys on the internet say! Even I was one of the cautious advance-doomsayers about X-Men: The Last Stand, but I came out of the theater grinning like an idiot over how much good old-fashioned solid entertainment it was. Highlights for me: Kelsey Grammer as a quite respectable Beast, an increased role for Kitty Pryde, the first time all five of Xavier's original pupils have been included in a movie (tho' sadly not together), a fastball special or two, and as ever, Ian McKellan playing it absolutely as straight as Shakespeare and giving gravitas to a role of a guy in a big tin hat. If this is the end of the franchise it has nothing to be ashamed of its grand finale. If there are more X-Men movies, they have a lot to live up to.
28. HEROES FOR HIRE: In a year when much of the mainstream Marvel Universe was dragged down to the gutter, it was a breath of fresh air to see a few comic books still provide a monthly mix of high adventure and sharp wit, and even more of a surprise to have one of them be the follow-up to the overly-cheesecaked Daughters of the Dragon (which I so very badly wanted to like but had so much trouble getting past the Image-style pin-up art). Despite some exploitative artwork, especially in the first few issues (seriously, Colleen, put a bra on!), Heroes for Hire gave this little Misty 'n' Colleen fan what I thought was the impossible: Civil War crossover stories that entertained me. In the words of Mister Mark Knopfler: "That's the way you do it!"
27. SPIDER-MAN COLLECTIBLE SERIES: Or as I called it, Free Spidey: Lee and Ditko-era Amazing Spider-Man reprints given away, a half-issue once a week, as a supplement to your local newspaper. I lost track of when the New York Daily News was inserting the comics, but the program's still running across the country, and while the comics themselves are bare-bones, they're the ideal introduction to Spidey for an audience that quite possibly has never read a comic book before. (You are going to continue this idea straight through the release of the third Spidey movie, right, Marvel?) I pointed my hoof suitable j'accuse fashion at Marvel for not doing more with this program to link it to getting new customers into comic book stores where a world of wonder and enchantment awaits them, but aside from that, it's the best present of all: free comics every week of the year!
26. X-MEN: FIRST CLASS: My first introduction to the Marvel Universe was finding the old Simon & Schuster trade paperback Sons of Origins of Marvel Comics in the Liverpool Public Library all those many years ago when I was no more than a tiny stuffed calf. That book contained a reprint of, among many other gems, Stan 'n' Jack's X-Men #1, which became an immediate and instant obsession for me to find more stories about the five uncanny mutants introduced in that tale. Next stop was my local Syracuse comic shop where I picked up the most recent issue of Uncanny X-Men, which I loved and devoured and couldn't wait for the next one to come out. That issue? #137. Yes, in the period of less than one week I first read Jean Grey's first appearance and her last...then I got the joy of filling in the rest of the history with back issues. This new X-Men series fulfills much the same role as never-discovered backissues: continuity implant tales of the original five X-Men back before anyone went snikt or bamf or "By the White Wolf!". These are clever and fun done-in-one tales with a modern sensibility, but they don't violate the spirit or the joy of the early tales (unlike some other X-Men continuity implants I could mention coughdeadlygenesiscough). Unlike the last couple implant X-Men series (Professor X-Men and the X-Men and X-Men: The Hidden Years) this actually celebrates and honors the spirit of the original five without trying to reinvent them from the ground up.
25. ESSENTIAL/SHOWCASE PRESENTS....: We live in a Golden Age of comics. And a Silver Age. And a Bronze Age. All at once! That's because never before has such a wide variety of reprints of classic sixties, seventies, and even a handful of eighties DC and Marvel comics been available in trade paperback at affordable prices: now you can have those issues of Spider-Man or Captain America or Justice League of America or even Metamorpho or Spider-Woman in big chunky black-and-white volumes that celebrate the glory days of creativity in the Bullpen and their Distinguished Competition. I'm a huge fan of seventies Marvels and the Essential line is at last allowing me to read stories I've never had a chance to get my hooves on, and I'm broadening my admittedly spotty DC knowledge by picking up on some of their great series as well. I'm sure you have your favorites, but my top picks for the year include Essential Thor Volume 3, Essential Godzilla, Essential Moon Knight, Showcase Presents Batman, Showcase Presents Shazam!, Showcase Presents the Superman Family, and the oh-gosh-can-you-really-believe-they-reissued-this Essential Handbook of the Marvel Universe. As long as they keep publishin' 'em, I'll keep buyin' 'em.
24. SIMPSONS SUPER SPECTACULAR: Sometimes media tie-in comics make the mistake of catering too specifically for a comic-book buying crowd alone, alienating possible franchise fans who might not read other comic books. (Remember all those Marvel Comics parodies in Alf, or Mighty Mouse's "Mices on Infinite Earths"?) But hey, sometimes we wanna read our favorite media stars parodying or taking on the conventions of our favorite comic books. What's a licensing franchise to do? Bongo Comics has its cosmic-powered cake and serves it up on a Homeriffic TV tray for us too, with Simpsons Super Spectacular, an annual-sized two-or-three-times-yearly series that spoofs and salutes our superheroes with our favorite yellow family filling in. The highlight of the year was a dead-on Jack Kirby pastiche starring Homer as Galactus, but there's a galaxy of goofy greatness in every issue that are as geeky as Jeff Albertson but as excellent as Monty Burns.
23. LEGION OF SUPER HEROES TV cartoon:Justice League Unlimited and Teen Titans have both ceased production, and while The Batman has gotten better with the introduction of Robin, I still dearly missed my DC Animated universe...until the premiere of Legion of Super Heroes on the how-can-there-be-a-Kids-WB-when-there-isn't-a-WB-anymore network. LSH purists may quibble but I'm delighted: Warner has made a wonderfully inventive and energetic adaptation of the DC Universe's most complex series by stripping the concept down to its golden basics: superpowered teens of the future. The designers and producers are obviously fans as well; there's a wonderful kaleidoscope of inside jokes (look! Booster Gold!) and concepts from different eras of the LSH, and I'll forgive them for calling Superboy by Superman for legal reasons. (Plus, it brought back my two favorite, haven't-been-seen-in-years Legionnaires: Bouncing Boy and Matter-Eater Lad!) If you have never seen a show, try to catch the episode "Legacy" in reruns and don't tune out before the final shot! It'll send a chill up your spine...provided you can read Interlac!
22. SPIDER-MAN FAMILY: AMAZING FRIENDS: Speaking of superhero animated cartoons, why does the goofy and not-particularly-classic 1980s Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends series still inspire so many of us fans with fond memories and pleasant nostalgia? Could it be that it was the first time we saw the X-Men in animation? Could it be the charms of Miss Angelica Jones, aka Firestar? Could it be Ms. Lion? No, it could not be Ms. Lion. Whatever the reason, that cartoon harkens back to an older age of fun in Marvel animation, and who'da thunk that present-day Marvel would salute it with a big thick Spider-special of new stories and reprints celebrating Spidey, Iceman, and Firestar? Not me, that's for sure, but this issue nicely filled the gap left behind by Marvel Annuals in the summer and is best read with a light heart and a big glass of lemonade. I didn't care as much for the follow-up Spider-Man Family: The Black Costume special, but this format of new stories and reprints is to be encouraged from Marvel, and I can't wait to see what they've got in store next.
21. BATMAN: To paraphrase that old song about Alan Moore: "Grant Morrison knows the score, son!" I love the artwork of comics but more often than not these days what gets me to pick up a book I haven't been reading is the writer, and I'll pretty much follow Mister Morrison anywhere. His "Batman and Son" storyline that blasted off 2006's Bat-Renaissance was wacky, outrageous, challenging and heck, a whole lotta fun: from ninja bats to using artwork as sound effects, from perilous swordfights to picking up an ages-old storyline that we all thought had been retconned out of existence, this was one of the few serial stories this year where I just couldn't wait for the next chapter. The highlight, however, was the biggest and most significant improvement to post-Infinite Crisis Batman that I wanted to see and could have hoped for: a Batman who treats his colleagues and partners, especially Robin, with respect, support, and admiration for their skills and abilities. That's the kinda Batsy I wanna read about, and if it took a few Superboy-wall-punches and rolling heads of you-know-who to get to this point, well, I'll happily declare that the ends justify the means as long as it leads to a Batman I can respect.
There can't possibly be more fun comics from 2006, you say? Wrong!Bully's Fun Fifty for 2006 countdown continues tomorrow with #20-11!
This is not just another day off from school, from work, vacation day. Honor the man, his spirit, his work, and his fellowship, by remembering, discussing, acting upon his words and deeds. We who collect comics do dearly love our heroes, and they don't have to come from a doomed alien world or dress up like insects to inspire us and change the world.
The Fun Fifty of 2006 countdown continues! Numbers 50-41 are here!
40. STAR WARS: TAG & BINK EPISODE I: I often accuse George LucasJ'accuse!, I go. J'accuse!of no longer having a sense of humor (really, the novels, comics, and new films are almost devoid of the belly laughs we got from the original trilogy), but once in a while an authorized Star Wars tie-in comes along that reminds us of a grand sense of goofiness and fun before midichlorians came along. Sight gags, pop cultural references, and wacky guest appearances populate a continuity implant of the first second trilogy, explaining a lot of the behind-the-scenes silliness with a deft "another fine mess" touch. This second Tag and Bink series from Troops creator Kevin Rubio is nowhere near canon...but it oughta be.
39. ACTION COMICS: Thanks to an enthusiastic recommendation by Steven at The Roar of Comics, I started picking up Superman titles again for the first time since the Millennium Giants saga, and hoo boy, it's a good year to be a Superman fan: post-Infinite Crisis DC has done a wonderful refit on its flagship character and especially its longest-running title. The height of excitement, action and, yes, fun comes in Kurt Busiek's Auctioneer trilogy (#841-843), which portrayed the Man of Steel as a decisive, inspirational, and compassionate team leader: the Real Steel Deal.
38. ETERNALS: It'll never be considered one of Neil Gaiman's greatest works, but his modern twist on Jack Kirby's Marvel version of the Fourth World has been a delight to me this year for its intricate mysterious building action, the subtle and sublime artwork of John Romita, Jr., and its refusal to slavishly duplicate Kirby's artwork and storylines and instead set out in a new direction that's faithful to the original without being a carbon-copy. In other words, Eternals honors the King by bringing a new approach to some of his more outrageous characters. (Now bring us the conclusion, Neil 'n' John!)
37. FUTURAMA: I'm a big fan of the Bongo Comics line, which has the unenviable task of accurately capturing a couple of the most inventive and funny animated programs of the past several years. Though I dearly miss the TV series Futurama (and I've eagerly lookin' forward to new episodes in 2008), the Bongo Futurama comic often fills the gap with clever and funny new stories. The writers have the characters down pat: just read the pages and you can hear John DiMaggio's abrasive Bender in your head. None of the comics published this year was as innovative or inventive as 2003's Futurama #14 (which I'll get around to reviewin' one of these days as one of my most fun comics, ever), but they're still a consistent delight, and, thanks to HarperCollins's trade book republishing program, might actually be picking up some Futurama and Simpsons fans who have never read a comic book before.
36. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?!: I'm not jus' sayin' this because Kicky Kevin Church gave me a signed copy ("Bully: stay in school!") of What Were They Thinking: Monster Mash-Up, but because there's few comics that actually made laugh out loud more than once this year, and both issues of WWTT reduced me to hearty guffaws and helpless giggles by uncannily targeting my wacky sense o' humor by re-dialoguing old comic books (or, as described on one of the covers, 'Keith Giffin & Company go nuts and change the word balloons on an old comic!') If your sense of humor is tickled by Mystery Science Theater 3000, or (does anybody remember this show?) Mad Movies with the L.A. Connection, you'll get a bucketful of larfs from these.
35. FANTASTIC FOUR: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY: This year, in their own book, Reed Richards built a stalag in an alien realm, Ben Grimm gave up fighting for what he thought was right and walked away, Sue Richards abandoned her children, and Johnny Storm made incest jokes. That's a good enough reason for me to run, not walk, as far away as possible from Fantastic Four. But the spirit and the energy of the true FF lives on in various miniseries and one-shots throughout the year, especially this oddly scheduled special which coulda been a regular issue but no doubt had to be shoveled into the schedule before Civil War rendered my favorite comic book family as a buncha jerks. A Death in the Family is a heartfelt and touching adventure of Johnny refusing to let a silly thing like time stop him from saving his sister's life. Solid action, great characterization, and most of all, the FF behave like family who love and respect each other. Strike the regular Fantastic Four book off the Bully-canon and put this one up there, because in my little button eyes, this is the real FF. Accept no substitutes.
34. RUNAWAY COMICS: Mark Martin's gleefully inventive Runaway Comics heralded his return to floppies this year, and oh boy, how I've missed him. The many who draws the most frantic and cutest baby animals since Walt Kelly (I want him to draw the Bully comic book someday, please!) gave us two issues in 2006 chock-full of more fun than most series manage in 12 issues. Gran'paw, Carrie Nation, Montgomery Wart, and the Yeah Butt! What more do you want from comics?
33. I HEART MARVEL: WEB OF ROMANCE #1: Despite my dislike of Civil War, I haven't objected as much to how it's affected Spider-Man: I've enjoyed the new stories and situations that Peter's joining the Avengers and his public unmasking have provided (although it's starting to get to the point where you wonder: how on earth can Marvel continue this story without undoing it?) I've especially been intrigued by the concept of Peter's friendship with Tony StarkStark filling a role of mentor and supporter that Pete's been missing since the death of Uncle Ben (which makes the eventual betrayal even more poignant). It's also a storyline that gives us such the lovely and loving portrayal of Pete and Mary Jane in I Heart Marvel: Web of Romance, as Peter struggles to find the perfect Valentine's Day gift for his red-headed reason for living. Points off for signaling the end of the story so early into it, but still a wonderful fun and touching tale and absolute proof against arguments that you can't write good stories about a married Spider-Man.
32. BATMAN/THE SPIRIT: This teaser to Darwyn Cooke's relaunch of Will Eisner's The Spirit series merges the world, the heroes, the supporting characters and the villains of the worlds of Bruce Wayne and Denny Colt virtually seamlessly, and most of that's due to the utter light touch with which the story's treated: although his Batman's grim and focused, Jeph Loeb doesn't sacrifice fun for grittiness. Critics of this one-shot complained it doesn't fit into continuity (Catwoman's in her new uniform while Babs Gordon is walking), but they're missing the point: that it's so freakin' cool to see P'Gell ensnare Commissioner Gordon, the Spirit scolding Batman with "You sure like telling other people what to do!" and a final confrontation that relies on the oldest switcharoo in the book, but it's pitch-perfect and beautifully illustrated. I'm a Spirit fan from way back, so I didn't have a problem recognizing his rogue's gallery as some readers did, but in the end it really didn't matter: gorgeous art, solid action, and a story that is everything a fun comic should be without taking itself too seriously.
31. FRANKLIN RICHARDS: SON OF A GENIUS: If you've read one Franklin Richards story in any of the several specials throughout 2006, you've kinda read 'em all, but that doesn't stop 'em from being silly, goofy, happy adventures of the mischievous son of Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Woman and his pet robot: a characterization that's so pitch-perfect it really ought to be integrated into the mainstream Marvel Universeadventurous and sneaky Franklin running wild is a lot more interesting than Earth-616 Franklin, who usually spends his appearances sniffling or cowering. Give the kid some spice! As usual, I'd rank this series a lot higher if Chris Eliopoulios's art wasn't so clearly derivative of Calvin and Hobbesevolve the style in a more original direction and this could've been in my top ten. (Also, mega-bonus points off for wasting a huge percentage of the Thanksgiving Special on that needless and stupid Marvel/Guiding Light crossover comicone of the worst bait-and-switches of 2006, and worse, a pointless and futile marketing ploy directed at the wrong end of the intended market.)
Can there possibly be more? Yes! Bully's Fun Fifty for 2006 continues tomorrow with #30-21!