Saturday, February 09, 2008

A Wodehouse a Week #41: The Adventures of Sally

A Wodehouse a Week banner

Sally Nicholas has just inherited a truckload of money. (Well, $25,000, which was a truckload back in 1922, when money was larger and trucks were tinier.) You think that would solve all her problems, doncha? Doncha? Well, think again, bucky!

By the time of his novel The Adventures of Sally (1922, published in the US under the title Mostly Sally), Wodehouse was nearly a quarter-century into his writing career, but this book still has the trademark of his early work: a plot that's simpler and less intricate than his later novels (events tend to happen one after the other in a cause-and-effect momentum rather than the more complicated intertwined plots of later years that require a flow-chart, or Jeeves, to keep track of). Young, cheerful Sally uses her newfound fortune to help her friends at the boarding house and her brother, the earnest but pompous Fillmore. But she's not simply a pretty creature of charity: she also splashes out on a holiday to a French seaside resort, where she meets redheaded Lancelot "Ginger" Kemp. This being a Wodehouse novel, it's no surprise when on their second brief meeting Ginger can't let Sally go without asking her:
"I say..." Ginger Kemp turned bright scarlet and glared before him at the uniformed official, who was regarding their téte-a-téte with the indulgent eye of one who has been through this sort of thing himself. "I say, look here, will you marry me?"
Oh, bad luck for Ginger: Sally's engaged to self-absorbed playwright Gerald Foster, but just like in any Wodehouse book, while the course of true love may not run smooth at first, and in fact jumps around and does handsprings and somersaults for a while, the situation sorts itself out when Gerald runs off an marries diva Elsa Doland, the star of his play.

Much of the rest of the book is a comedy of manners in which the balance of power shifts swiftly from character to character. Fillmore loses all the money Sally gave him and is forced to take work as a stage manager, but Sally re-appears in his life just in time to fund him yet again (Sally never learns!) when he plans to buy out the play and put it on the road. Ginger turns up again (only slightly coincidentally). These are the days before Peter Gabriel and boomboxes, and Ginger saves his back from lifting a gramophone over his head under her window to play the latest Gershwin ditty, and instead woos Sally in the way of all the world's most romantic lovers: by stalking her in her boarding house room:
Sally turned restlessly, and, having turned remained for a long instant transfixed and rigid. She had seen something, and what she had seen was enough to surprise any girl in the privacy of her bedroom. From underneath the bed there peeped coyly forth an undeniably masculine shoe and six inches of a grey trouser-leg.

Sally bounded to the floor. She was a girl of courage, and she meant to probe this matter thoroughly.

"What are you doing under my bed?"

The question was a reasonable one, and evidently seemed to the intruder to deserve an answer. There was a muffled sneeze, and he began to crawl out.

The shoe came first. Then the legs. Then a sturdy body in a dusty coat. And finally there flashed on Sally's fascinated gaze a head of so nearly the maximum redness that it could only belong to one person in the world.


Mr. Lancelot Kemp, on all fours, blinked up at her.

"Oh, hullo!" he said.
The Adventures of Sally is a longish but rather straightforward light comedy romance, in many ways inspired by Wodehouse's early years in New York City and his travels around America following stage productions. It doesn't have the elegant complications of Wodehouse's later comedies but it's sharp, clever and funny; he proves his skill at writing a sassy and spunky heroine with whom we giggle at her delight and sniffle at her sorrows. Most of Wodehouse's heroines are much the same, and true, he never varied tremendously from the formula, but Sally has a handful of sparkling moments which leave you with no doubt who the star of the book truly is, like here:
She broke off and scrutinized Sally closely. "Say, what do you do with your skin?"

She spoke with solemn earnestness which made Sally laugh.

"What do I do with my skin? I just carry it around with me."
...and, here, where she pulls a trick of mind-reading that Sherlock Holmes himself would have been impressed with:
As Fillmore sat opposite Sally on the train, he radiated contentment and importance.

"Yes, do," said Sally, breaking a long silence.

Fillmore awoke from happy dreams.


"I said 'Yes, do.' I think you owe it to your position."

"Do what?"

"Buy a fur coat. Wasn't that what you were meditating about?"

"Don't be a chump," said Fillmore, blushing nevertheless. It was true that once or twice during the past week he had toyed negligently, as Mr Bunbury would have said, with the notion, and why not? A fellow must keep warm.

"With an astrakhan collar," insisted Sally.

Happy endings all around, of course, in the best Hollywood tradition, even tho' Sally eventually whips through her money ($25,000 doesn't go as far as it used to, eh, Sally?). The moral of the story? Well, maybe that twenty-five thousand clams aren't as important as the love of a good ginger-haired man. Or, as it was said elegantly and rhythmically some forty-two years later by four different but equally creative and whimsical Englishmen:

I've got only one edition of The Adventures of Sally, a Penguin mass market paperback featuring an Ionicus illustration of pretty Sally and a curiously sunburnt Ginger at a nightclub. Really, poor lad looks like he's been out in the Australian Outback. Wanna get yourself a copy? You're in luck, chuck: as it's in the public domain now, it's just been reissued in paperback. You can get yourself a Sally, for much less than twenty-five thousand dollars, by clicking on the Amazon link to the right. See? Tell 'em Bully sent you, and if Sally gives you a sweet, sweet kiss for buying her book, please make sure you pass it onto me.

A Wodehouse a Week Index.

Separated at Birth: Now who's got the most fun comic of the year?!?

Booster Gold #7/Action Comics #594
L: Booster Gold #7 (August 1986), art by Dan Jurgens and Mike DeCarlo
R: Action Comics #594 (November 1987), art by John Byrne
(Click picture to dish-served-cold-size)

Saturday Morning Cartoon: The Merry Marvel Marching Society

The Merry Marvel Marching Society song, distributed on record to MMMS members in the 1960s,
video produced and edited by Matthew Hawes
More info about the MMMS

Friday, February 08, 2008

Fun Fifty of 2007: Part 5 of 5

Look! Fabulous stars and celebrities are arriving in their stretch limousines and stepping onto the plush red carpet to stroll into the amphitheater as we prepare for the Big Awards Night: The Top Ten of the Fun Fifty of 2007. Quick! Sidestep Joan Rivers before she makes fun of your outfit and avoid Isaac Mizrahi's wandering hands, duck away from Amy Winehouse before she collapses on you, and find your way to your seat. You may have to whack Jack Nicholson on the head if he's bobbing around in front of you, but look!: the lights are going down and the curtain is coming up, and here comes Billy Crystal soaring into the theater on a jet pack...oh my gosh look out Mister Crystal...oh, no! Oh no! He landed right on Miss Jolie! (Boing!) And Michael Douglas's hairpiece has burst into flames! Oh the humanity! Oh the humanity!

Um, so, while they're all sorting that out, let's duck quick to the café around the corner for a cup of tea and some hot buttered toast and do the rest of the Fun Fifty here, shall we? It's been a long a winding road that's brought us to this point in four parts (OneTwoThreeFour), but the end is near. In fact it's here:

#10: ALL STAR SUPERMAN Only four issues of the finest and funnest Superman comic came out this year, but I'll gladly trade four of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's comics for a truckload of most other creators'. All Star Superman (don't acronymize it!) has a modern spirit infused with the nanotechnology and quantum theory thinking that's a trademark of Morrison's works, while, like his work on Batman, at the same time it homages and salutes the joy and goofiness of the 1950s Superman stories without making them seem silly or outdated. It's like the Reeses Peanut Cup of comics: delicious, creamy nostalgia surrounded by a sweet savory twenty-first century shell. 2007's stories advanced the general meta-saga—the slow death of Superman—at the same time individual stories took front stage: the Bizarro World, new Kryptonians...but the stand-out of a fine year was #6's "Funeral in Smallville," bringing the concept of mortality home to Clark in a very personal way.

#9: THE SPIRIT Darwyn Cooke's year-long tenure on The Spirit is over, but I'm gonna look back on this run with extreme fondness. Cooke, J. Bone, and Dave Stewart clearly had a lot of love for Will Eisner's blue-masked mystery man and his extensive supporting cast (including the gorgeously re-realized Central City). With a great mix of humor and drama, the new Spirit has been brought up to modern times (including a street-wise but no-longer politically-incorrect Ebony). But there's still plenty of room to acknowledge the great stories of The Spirit's past, as Cooke has in a couple beautifully drawn and touchingly scripted Sand Sarif stories. Even #7 and #13's triple-storied anthology issues were a delight, which just goes to prove that The Spirit isn't simply a Cooke-only franchise. That said, while I'm very much looking forward to Aragonés, Evanier, and Ploog on the title, these first twelve issues will remain near and dear to my little satin heart for keeping the spirit of Eisner's great hero alive.

#8: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD I try not to have a sense of fan entitlement (it's not becoming in a little stuffed bull), but the revived Brave and the Bold was one comic I was definitely being a back-seat driver: it wouldn't work unless Batman was co-starring in every issue; it needed done-in-one stories rather than a continued saga; you can't mix Legion of Super-Heroes mythology with the Batman mythos. And boy, was I wrong! There's been dozens of team-up titles over the years and I have a weakness for 'em, but Brave and the Bold may just outfun 'em all in my book. (Yes, even Marvel Two-in-One!) The initial extended "Luck Lords" storyline brought in everyone from Batman to Green Lantern to Supergirl and the Legion, and the inclusion of these diverse heroes seemed organic and logical rather than haphazard and coincidental. Bonus points for introducing the merged Batman/Tharok (Batrok?), minus a couple points for the slightly skeevy attraction of Green Lantern towards the teenage Supergirl. If the second story arc is half as fun as the first, however, then this series might have a shot at outlasting the original B&B. Heck, they can even bring back Bat-Hulk if they do it right.

#7: BIFF-BAM-POW! What this world needs: more comics by Evan Dorkin. Biff-Bam-Pow! (don't forget the exclamation point!) is an anthology title by Dorkin and wife Sarah Dyer with more action, humor, and pure punching power per page than all other comics released in 2007 had in their entire run combined! (Note: hyperbole about level of punching power is for entertainment purposes only and not a legally-binding contract). It an all-ages comic that's perfectly appropriate for kids, but manly, yes, adults liked it too! Meet One Punch Goldberg, the fightin'-est girl around: she can lay out a brigade of monkeys with a single fist! (And I'm not using monkeys metaphorically...they really are monkeys!) If that's not enough, the ever-thrilling Kid Blastoff, plus a couple comedy-action reprint comics (that I hadn't seen before) round out BBP!, and the only disappointment is that the comic comes to an end and there was only one issue in 2007. More, Mister Dorkin, please!

#6: RATATOUILLE Not merely the finest animated movie of 2007—Ratatouille is quite simply one of the best movies, period, of the year. You may not like may certainly not like rats in your kitchen...but rats in a kitchen in a movie is cinema gold, and for the folks at Pixar, a way to chalk up another acclaimed success. But look beyond the million computer-generated hairs on the plump little body of Rémy the rat or the gorgeously-realized cityscape of Paris's alleys and rooftops and you'll find a story of of food, love of your work, and love for a beautiful and spunky French chef (the quirky Collette, aptly voiced by Janeane Garofolo). In fact, it's the mix of human and animal characters that make Ratatouille more than just another Disney animal fable—to the little button eyes of this stuffed bull living among human, it's one of the first and one of the finest cartoons that have mixed the animal and human worlds without giving either species' story time short shrift. It may be that the CGI technology has finally reached the point where the human characters—charicactured tho' they may be—look as realistic within their world as the animal figures, but I think it's also because the script gives both its two- and four-legged heroes room to shine. Also, it taught me how to pronounce and spell the word "ratatouille," so it was educational as well.

#5: JACK OF FABLES Rogues and con men are always fun to read about (long as it's not your pocket they're pickin'...hey, hands off my Hello Kitty change purse!), which is why Jack of Fables overtook regular-flavored Fables on my fun list of 2007. After he was banished from Fabletown, I wondered exactly what sort of adventures Jack could possibly have. The short answer is: he's taking his act on the road, from that most famous of American destinations (Las Vegas) to his current extended road trip around mythological America, all in search of fame, fortune, gold, and a pretty girl. As the makers of The Han Solo Show will tell you, however, a rogue's nothing without his extended supporting cast, and Jack's got some of the finest: Gary the Pathetic Fallacy, sexy librarian (aren't they all?) Hillary, and certainly my role model when it comes to comic book heroes: Babe, the Tiny Blue Ox with a very rich fantasy life. While Fables itself seems to be heading towards an ending, Jack's still got plenty of road to travel, and I'm happy to tag along with him.

#4: DOCTOR WHO: THE TEN DOCTORS Nope, you didn't miss picking up this Doctor Who comic at your local Android's Dungeon: this is a fan-made webcomic that you'll find online here (click on the arrows in the upper right to progress through the pages) and you'll be transported into the dream of every Doctor Who fan: an extended, time-spanning adventure featuring not just one or three or five but all ten Doctors...their entire cast of companions (including several time-versions of some companions)...a rogue's gallery of the Doctor's Doctors' greatest villains from Cybermen to Daleks...and K-9, of course! Sure, this is fan fiction, but it's done with sincere love and knowledge of the characters and stories throughout Who-story. (If you're not sure who's who, so to speak, check out the comments below each page to get a gist of the characters). Rich Morris's expressive and fluid artwork deftly captures the Doctors' energy and idiosyncrasies, and it's fun to see Four teaming up with Seven, Eight taking control, and One and Ten, the first and the latest Doctor, have a conversation:

I'd love to see Morris's work fully inked and colored and lettered professionally (a few but not many finished pages are displayed on the site), but for the moment this story—eighty pages and growing—will bring even delight to even the most cynical Doctor Who fans. Rich Morris's ComixBlog Site.

#3: X-MEN: FIRST CLASS The best X-Men title being published today? Well, your mileage may vary. But don't let the complaints of anal fanboys that these stories "don't matter" because they "aren't in canon" keep you from picking up the most fun mutant-stuffed comic on the market. It's got the original X-Men of the Lee/Kirby issues, the light humor of the early Claremont/Cockrum run, and the "teen heroes" riff of the first few dozen New Mutants. There's a wonderful emphasis on learning experience for Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Iceman, and Marvel Girl in every issue: the discovery, so important to the theme of mutant comics, that hideous or monstrous does not equal villainous. At the same time the heroes are having a heck of a lot of fun (almost as much as we are): road trips, extra-curricular excursions, clever and inventive text page introductions and some of the natural teen dialogue without being over laden with quickly-outdated slang. The icing on this X-cake? Colleen Coover's occasional Marvel Girl backups are funny, charming, beautifully drawn and inventive. I don't care if canon tells us Jean and Wanda never hung out together—by golly, reading about them doing so seems right. And more important, fun.

#2: THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST P'raps the fact that it's been mostly divorced from the widespread super-upheavals of the past couple years (Civil, Hulk, and Skrull wars all cascading into one another) gives The Immortal Iron Fist its appeal and charm—stripped of the need for massive tight continuity with every other book in the line, Iron Fist is free to be an inventive globe-trotting adventure. Maybe it's just that deep down, Danny Rand was a heck of a character whose past has always been acknowledged but never deeply examined. Or it might be that this book features a high level of kicks to the face in every issue. Whatever! At the recommendation of Chris Sims, a man who knows kick-ass when he sees it, I picked up IIF in mid-story-stream but not only was I not lost, I rushed back to the store to grab as many of the back issues I could find. It has the same vibe I felt when I first read James Robinson's Starman: a legacy hero done right, even including periodic flashback tales that dovetail into the main narrative, but it's got its own vibe and energy, especially in the current storyline featuring an extreme fighting tournament against a cast of skilled warriors from competing mystic cities, while on the outside Luke Cage, Misty Knight, and Colleen Wing fight the Hydra hordes. It's that rarest of superhero comics: thoughtful and subtle, reverent of its past, but with amazing fight sequences. Kickassery. It does a comic good.

#1: BOOSTER GOLD 52's MVP makes the big leap to his second solo series. Like the first, it's got a gimmick, but this time it's custom-made for those of us who love comics: Booster is now the appointed guardian of the history timeline in the DC Universe. Like Doctor Sam Beckett, he travels back in time, putting right what once went wrong, hoping that his next leap will be the save his dearest friend. As a gimmick, it's dandy. What's even better is the execution: in the first six issues alone Booster zips from Green Lantern history to the Cosmic Treadmill-era Flash, from the old west of Jonah Hex to the hard-learned lessons of history and temporal causality when he tries to save Barbara Gordon from Alan Moore The Joker. And, a chance to undo one of the most misbegotten stories of recent years and reunite the Blue and the Gold? I'm with Booster all the way. Like the new Brave and the Bold, this series is a reward for those of us up on our iconic DCU history (but isn't inaccessible if you're not). In lesser hands, this might devolve into fan fiction, but the team of Geoff (Johns) and Jeff (Katz) clearly have a great love of the DCU, its varied characters and history highlights, and more important, a deft comic skill to give Booster some great quips without reducing him to a joke himself (a very thin line some writers trip over). There's a great joy in reading such a fun superhero comic—there's an even bigger joy when it's inventive and unique. I'm not certain how long the situation at the end of issue #6 will last, but for the moment, the return of a disappeared character made me grin and laugh with glee and excitement. That's the best kind of comic, I think—one that if it were a movie, you'd stand up and shout out "YEAH!" So..."YEAH, Booster Gold! YEAH!"

So! There ya go: fifty things that I found fun in 2007. That's five times better than most people's top ten lists. And if I didn't mention your favorite? Well, that's all well and good. There's plenty of fun things out there for everyone, and that's what makes it America, pal. Little pink houses for you and me. That's the most vital lesson I've learned from comics and other entertainment: all that's important is that you enjoy it. If you do, it's all well and good.

Unless you enjoyed World War III. Hoo boy, that was a stinker.

See ya next year, Fun Fifty!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Fun Fifty of 2007: Part 4 of 5

Here I am, wallowing in a big pile of comics, books, DVDs and croissants I've been saving up since last year, sorting them into piles of varying level of that indefinable quality of what we call funness. Over here, in the back, is that big towering pile of issues of Civil War and World War III, all destined for the dustbin. Those are not fun. So from that, we can deduce: "War! Huh! What is it good for?" To which the only possible answer is "Absolutely nothin'!" But here, a little closer to me, is a pile of ten things which are so fun they can only get numbered as some of the Fun Fifty of 2007. More sp'fically, and mainly 'coz we did numbers 30 through 21 yesterday, these are numbers 20 through 11. In that order. Starting with this one...

#20: THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: THE BLACK DOSSIER Probably one of the most eagerly awaited comics of the year (because it was actually due in 2006), the sequel to Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's metafiction high adventure comics brings back Mina Harker and Alan Quatermain into the strange and bizarre world of 1958 Britain (curiously enough, a 1958 that's post-1984). As always, part of the fun is in spotting the literary allusions and characters that sneak in—I howled with delight when I spied a Winged Avenger comic book from the Avengers TV series, and Moore writes one of the funniest, and perhaps most hapless, James Bonds since Ian Fleming. If I gotta make a few quibbles? Well, most of all, it doesn't really seem to tell a story, being more concerned with a series of documents within the book which tell past histories of the League. To my eyes, Moore's pastiche of P. G. Wodehouse crossed with Lovecraft, which I have to review one of these days, isn't especially convincing on a literary level, but it's at least fun. And if the ending is the equivalent of a big splashy Broadway musical number that wraps up the story but doesn't really make any sense, well, then at least it's in 3-D. Any book that comes with 3-D glasses? I'm so there.

#19: GROO 25th ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL He's back! The greatest barbarian of the modern comics age returns with a vengeance, aptly drawn by MADman Sergio Aragonés, with Mark Evanier doing whatever it is that he usually does. One of the great joys of a new Groo story is that it's almost exactly like every other Groo story, and there aren't many series in which you can say that as a positive. Plus, plenty of special features, including a funny and clever "Groo Alphabet." And it leads into the first Groo series in years, Groo: Hell on Earth, which ain't half as dismal as it sounds. Groo is always silly, never stupid, and as long as Evanier and Aragonés keep puttin' 'em out, I'm standing in line with my dimes to buy 'em.

#18: SHAZAM: THE MONSTER SOCIETY OF EVIL Jeff Smith proves there's life after Bone in this delightful, colorful, and sometimes creepy reinvention of the Captain Marvel legend, which , while making changes to the mythos, preserves more of the joy, charm, and adventure of the original C. C. Beck creation than the current dark-spirited The Trials of Shazam mainstream DC comic does. Smith's tale springs from the classic Monster Society serial of yesteryear but adds his own touches, including the most charming Mary Marvel ever put on paper. Shazam is one of those rare comics that'll appeal to adults as well as children, and I repeat my original request when I first reviewed this: pick up a copy for a kid as well and I bet you'll get him or her hooked.

#17: POPEYE VOL. 2 "WELL BLOW ME DOWN!" For the first time since comic strips were regularly and frequently published in mass market newsstand paperbacks, we're living in a Golden Age of newspaper comic strip reprints, and the range and quality of the projects is enough to please even the fussiest of collectors and fans. Dick Tracy, Peanuts, The Far Side, Gasoline Alley, Dennis the Menace, Pogo, and many more to come are all being reprinted in beautiful archive editions. I'm a big fan of all of 'em (tho' I likely won't be buying The Complete Mary Worth, Volume 1: Mary Meddles in The Affairs of Others). But by far my favorite new reprint project has been Fantagraphics's monolith-sized reprints of Thimble Theater starring that spinach-chawin' sailor man, Popeye. Volume 2, as beautifully designed as the first (with a hard-board cut-out cover and large pages that preserve a full week's worth of continuity). The Popeye stories in this book are some of the best comedy and adventure tales told in the medium: The Rough-House War, King Popeye, and Skullyville (Toughest Town in the World!) Plus, nearly two years of full-page, full-color Sunday strips (including the lower-tier "Sappo" strip by Segar), and an extensive historical essay by Donald Phelps. Pure joy—the only way this could be better were if the book had a scratch-'n'-sniff spinach-scented cover.

#16: THE SIMPSONS MOVIE Eighteen years in the making (sorta) made The Simpsons Movie eagerly awaited, and it didn't disappoint, unless you're one of those cynical, curmudgeonly critics who claim the series hasn't been funny since Mister Plow. Me? I howled with laughter, cheered with excitement and sniffled during the sad bits. It's a bigger and broader story than your average 22-minute TV episode, with more detailed 3D animation and backgrounds but still the same loveable characters (and a few new surprises). You might lament that your favorite didn't get much screen time (me, I was disappointed there wasn't more to do for Mister Burns), but how can you not love a movie that introduced The Sensational Character Find of 2007: The Amazing Spider-Pig:

#15: EMPOWERED Let's get this out of the way right from the start: little stuffed bulls shouldn't be reading Empowered. Uh uh. No way. Not until they're at least late-teenage stuffed bulls. There's enough sex, violence, and near-but-not-complete nudity to rate this a "mature audiences only" and safely shrink-wrap away the naughty bits. But if I were allowed to review this, I'd probably tell you not only how sexy but how relentlessly funny it is: the adventures of a superheroine with serious self-esteem issues (she more often hostage than hero), her burly boyfriend Thugboy, BFF Ninjette, and TV-addicted interdimensional conqueror The Caged Demonwolf. Adam Warren (Dirty Pair, Gen13) is turning out some of the most beautiful work of his career, gorgeously reproduced to look like the original pencils, and the sexy girls and guys stretched out across the pages don't distract from Empowered being one of the most incisive and satirical looks at hero worship and the cult of celebrity in a world with superbeings. It's a pity that superhero fans probably won't pick this up because it looks like manga—and a pity that manga fans won't pick this up because it looks like superheroes. They're missing out on one of the comic delights of 2007 (with more volumes to come in 2008).

#14: TORCHWOOD SERIES 1 Rearrange the letters of "Torchwood" in the correct order and you know what you wind up with? That's right: Hot Rod Cow. For those of you who aren't interested in the weekly series about a little stuffed race car driver, check out Torchwood, the Doctor Who spin-off that's done more for Welsh tourism than any production since How Green Was My Valley. John Barrowman is back as Captain Jack Harkness, surrounding himself with a crack team of experts to investigate the crimes beyond the skills of the Cardiff police—or indeed, the imagination of most mortal men. Darker and grimmer than Doctor Who, but never bleak, Torchwood brings sensibility of The X-Files into the twenty-first century with a compelling cast of characters whose stories grow and intertwine throughout the season. And when it clicks, it strikes dead aim at your heart and brain at the same time: stand-out episodes like "Captain Jack Harkness" and "Random Shoes" had me on the edge of my seat and reaching for my handkerchief to sniffle in at the same time.

#13: COVER GIRL Remember those old To Tell The Truth episodes where a panelist would exempt himself from the final round because he already knew the secret contestant? Well, in the interest of true and honest disclosure, Cover Girl co-creator Kevin Church (mastermind of BeaucoupKevin(dot)com) is a pal o' mine. And yet, I'm including his comic in my Fun Fifty. Or, as an instant message conversation 'tween yours little stuffed truly and that paragon of Pet Shop Boys fandom went:

bully: i have to decide what comics I'm going top put in my year-end Top Fifty.
kevin: Well, that's easy.
kevin: COVER GIRL #1-5

Well, I did have 49 other choices, Kevin, but you get one slot right here for your, co-creator Andrew Cosby, and artist Mateus Santolouco's fast-paced, funny, and beautifully drawn action adventure of an up-and-coming movie star and the gorgeous and deadly bodyguard assigned to protect him after he saves the wrong girl from a car crash. Cover Girl is both fast-paced and dense—this is not a fast five-minutes-per-issue read, and Church's genuinely funny yet believable dialogue rewards re-reading. For my money, it's the most entertaining Hollywood-based comic book since Crossfire. Someday, this will be a Hollywood film, and you can say you read it in comic book form before you bought the action figures and got the McDonald's Happy Meal.

Now can I have my tricycle back, Mister Church?

#12: THE ART OF BONE Jeff Smith goes for the hat trick and makes his third appearance on the Fun Fifty list with this dazzling oversized gift book covering the design and evolution of his award-winning Bone series. Beautiful full-color reproductions of covers minus logos, penciled roughs, extensive history and commentary, plus a large collection of Smith's college-era "Thorn" comic strips which inspired Bone. If you're a Boneophile, this is the closest thing to pure heaven—at least until Smith starts work on the sequel Bone 2: Electric Boogaloo.

#11: HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS In the course of the Fun Fifty, I've mentioned a few eagerly anticipated 2007 projects—but none have been so intensely awaited worldwide than the concluding volume of J. K. Rowling's Happy Potter series. We've followed Harry from age 11 to age 17 and bought billions of his books, and if you're a fan, the final adventure doesn't disappoint—the last standoff against Voldemort and his minions, a search for mystic talismans as well as the mysterious past of Dumbledore, and more deaths than an issue of What If?. I could be Scroogesque and complain about the massive infodump chapters, including one that brings the climatic battle to a complete halt while we rewind to the past of Harry's family, and that Rowling really could have used an editor in some sections, but I can't deny I awaited this book with increasing excitement the nearer its release approached, and that I devoured it in one night of eager reading...and that I read it all over again the next day. No spoilers here from me if you haven't read it, but the final three words of Deathly Hallows are not only a summation of Harry's life but also a reflection of our contentment with the entire saga.

Well, that's all, folks! The most fun comics, movies, books and all kindsa other stuff in 2007. I sure hope you enjoyed it, and you'll join me around this time next year when I look back at 2008 and tell you how much fun we had reading that Secret Invasion and Final Crisis thing, and how much we laughed in relief and joy when Stephanie Brown, Steve Rogers, and Mary Jane Watson-Parker all showed up together in the shower in the morning after a terrible long nightmare...

Oh, wait! Not done yet! There's ten more to come! So, tune in tomorrow and we'll take the final swing through the Ten Most Fun of 2007. There'll be laughter, and tears, and Skrulls. And this's personal!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Fun Fifty of 2007: Part 3 of 5

You'd hardly think that one single year could contain so much freakin' fun as to fill up fifty slots, would you now? Well, think again, buster, 'coz the Fun Fifty of 2007 continues unabated—or, at least, only slightly bated—with another ten frankly frantic and ferociously fun funnies of fwo fhous...I mean two thousand and seven. Yesterday, you saw things get gradually funner one by one as we counted down from 40 to 31. Can your brain stand the intense excitement and mind-blowing sensation as we return to the countdown with numbers 30 through 21? Huh? Can it? Can it?

#30: RIFFTRAX 2007 was the year Mystery Science Theater 3000 came back in many different forms: Flash cartoons by Jim Mallon, Joel Hodgson and company's Cinematic Titanic, and DVDs by The Film Crew. But if you ever watched and howled at an episode of MST3K and wished they could do the same for a big-budget cinematic stinker, then zip on over to the Rifftrax website, by golly, where you can buy (usually for three or four bucks) and download MP3 files of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett and many special celebrity guest stars riffing MST-style on the movie, to play at the same time you watch your DVD of Star Trek V, Fantastic Four, or, in this case, that fine, fine piece of cinema, Batman and Robin:

#29: THE LAUGH-OUT-LOUD CATS In 2007, cats took the internet by storm. People showed off their bad cats, put stuff on their cats, and displayed photos of cats who looked like Hitler. (Paging Art Spiegelman!) The blog I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER? brings us several daily captioned "LOLCat" photos until they were all overdone (by yours truly among others) and we were all heartily sick of the concept. But leave it to Adam "Apelad" Koford to turn the LOLcat concept into delightful and wondrous works of art in his hundreds and hundreds of Laugh-Out-Loud Cats cartoons (viewable on his Flickr page and on his blog). This sublime collection of panel comic strips (purportedly by Kuford's great-grandfather, but featuring strangely reminiscent references to the internet lingo of today) follow the adventures of Kitteh and Pip, two wandering Depression-era feline hoboes with a taste for the good life and a quiet contentment at finding a good meal, a dry boxcar, and the joys of Caturday. There's well over 700 cartoons posted and more every day, and Adam's deft pen and keen design sense make the Laugh-Out-Loud Cats a whimsical delight—beautifully drawn as well as charmingly funny.

#28: 52 The sales and critical success of DC's weekly comics experiment continues into 2008 with the sequel Countdown, but 52 lasted well into 2007 (wrapping up, appropriately, on 5/2), spinning together the yarns of the missing year of the DC Universe. The dénouement was less impressive than the set-up: I'd expected more of the individual stories to end more elegantly than abruptly, and the unnecessary four-issue World War III miniseries was left to sweep up some of the pieces that didn't get addressed in 52 proper. Nevertheless, there were some dandy high-adventure moments right up to the end, culminating in the universe-a-bornin' Week 52, which set up not only the new multiverse but also the concept of the new Booster Gold series. Seeing how DC is already blowing up some of their 52 Earths in Countdown spinoffs, maybe they shoulda started with more, but for me, 52 is and was worlds enough.

#27: I SHALL DESTROY ALL THE CIVILIZED PLANETS I don't care how many oddball or wacky comics you think you've read: until you've dived into the works of Fletcher Hanks, you ain't seen nothing yet, bubbo! Hanks's earnest but over-the-top superhero and jungle adventure comics are grisly, crude, primal and powerful, with wildly deformed villains and earnest heroes meting out punishments so cruel and unusual you'll cackle with glee. The weed of crime bears bitter fruit, especially when you have a giant golden octopus shoved down your throat or are marooned on a high-gravity planet of gold and jewels. This is a gorgeous package all over, from the stunning minimalist cover designed by Jacob Covey, to the colorful, bright, and brilliant reproduction of the stories. Editor Paul Karasik's somber but compelling autobiographical strip on finding Hanks's heir rounds out the book, and the only sad part is that there's only a handful more Hanks stories that aren't collection, so a sequel is unlikely. Want a taste? Stroll on over to Karasik's Fletcher Hanks website—there's plenty of panel reproductions plus a bonus "Fantomah, Mystery Queen of the Jungle" story and links to other Hanks work not in the book. Truth in disclosure: This book is published by Fantagraphics, which is distributed to the book trade by W. W. Norton, where John (my best pal, the big guy I live with who helps me out with this blog because typing can be difficult with hooves) works. But I'm still reviewing it. So there.

#26: FUTURAMA: BENDER'S BIG SCORE Return with us now to the thrilling days of tomorrowyear, where Bender the robot declares "I'm back, baby!" at the beginning of this made-for-DVD movie. In fact, they're all back: Fry, Leela, Zoidberg, the Professor, Amy, Hermes, and even Hypnotoad in a plot that has something to do with stealing the treasures of history, naked aliens, Charles DeGaulle's head, multiple Benders, and the secret to time travel tattooed on Fry's ass. "Well, it had to be somewhere," Fry shrugs. The entire original cast (and mucho guest stars) are back for the first of four direct-to-DVD movies (later to be shown on Comedy Central), and if you're a Futurama fan like me, it's not a moment too soon. Like the best of the original series, there's laughs-a-plenty as well as a touching subplot of Fry's undying love for Leela which'll tug at the strings of your heart as surely as Bender's tugging at your wallet.

#25: FABLES I'm a Bully-come-lately to Fables (and its companion book, Jack of Fables), but thanks to rave reviews by pal Miss Jenn and the purchase of a stack of trade paperbacks to get me up to speed, I'm a Fableholic, which is a little like an alcoholic, except with comic books and fewer twelve-step meetings. Most of 2007 has been taken up with ongoing chapters of "The Good Prince," which shows the hero Flycatcher has become as he takes the war against the Adversary back to the enemy, and Willingham is deft at creating mild but compelling cliffhangers at the end of every continuing comic that keeps the pace moving swiftly and this little stuffed reader eager for the next issue. A highlight of the year, however, was issue #64's peek at the marriage of Bigby and Snow and the birthday party of their children, crossing over with Jack of Fables in a most unexpected way.

#24: BLUE BEETLE I'll bet you dollars to donuts (mmm, donuts) that despite their affection for the late Ted Kord Blue Beetle, most fans couldn't point to a truly great (and fun) Blue Beetle series. Now we've got one. The new series has wisely tread its own path (while not ignoring the legacy of the past) and teenage Jaime Reyes is one of the most appealing new superheroes introduced in the 21st century, with believable dialogue and funny, exciting adventures. Blue Beetle is by no means high superhero art, but it passes the test of what we all liked Ted Kord for anyway: it's darn fun.

#23: DOCTOR WHO SERIES 3 Exit Rose, enter Martha as the Doctor takes off on a third season of time-and-space traveling adventure. Freema Agyeman is wonderful as the competent and level-headed Martha Jones—pity only that she's shoehorned into what seems to be leftover Rose-infatuated-with-the-Doctor plots. Yes, yes, Russell Davies: we do know David Tennant is dreamy. But every hitchhiker on the TARDIS (Jack Harkness included) doesn't have to have a crush on Number Ten. That said, a solid season highlighted by a visit to Shakespeare, a sublime two-parter in which the Doctor gives up his Time Lord mantle to become human, and quite simply one of the finest hours of Who ever, the scary and beautiful "Blink." Heck, I even loved the over-the-top Master and the clichéd but effective way Martha brings him down and rescues the Doctor. And so farewell, Martha, and hello (again) Donna, as we look forward to Series Four. Less of the doe-eyes this time around, I think. And hope.

#22: I KILLED ADOLF HITLER Ask any head of programming at the History Channel and he'll agree: "You can't go wrong with a story about Hitler." The newest graphic novel by Norwegian cartoonist Jason features Hitler as a prominent character, but it's not really about Hitler escaping from his time to ours any more than it's solely about time machines that take fifty years to recharge. As with most of Jason's work, even the humorous scenes are leveled with a sense of quiet melancholy and ennui, and his characteristic anthropomorphic animal characters are as real as the people on the street. Take a good look at that guy you passed on the corner—coulda been Hitler, don't you think? Truth in disclosure: This book is published by Fantagraphics, so see the entry for I Shall Destroy above for my personal disclaimer.

#21: BATMAN Grant Morrison's metavention of the Dark Knight continued with some hit and miss stories in 2007: there's been a few too many "The Three Batmen" stories for my comfort (I keep thinking they'll read better in the trade) and although they were entertaining, his contributions to the "Resurrection of R'as al Ghul" crossover event seemed to derail the momentum of a fine book going through a new renaissance. But the tent pole that holds up one of DC's flagship titles was Morrison's "Club of Heroes" trilogy, resurrecting a plot and characters from the goofy but fondly-remembered 1950s era of swashbuckling, globetrotting, planet-hopping Batman, in a murder mystery with charm and bite, not to mention a few starring moments for Robin, which is a wonderful sight in these days of "Batman is no longer a dick." I can but live in hope that Morrison will bring back the Zebra Batman. Maybe in 2008.

What, more? Yes. Tomorrow. Numbers 16, 13, 11, 19, 14, and 20, as well as some other extra bonus numbers, not necessarily in that order. Be there or be unaware, mon frère!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Fun Fifty of 2007: Part 2 of 5

The countdown to adventure continues! But we're not looking for Ray Palmer—we all know he's hidin' out inside Starfire's uniform. (Well, wouldn't you?) Instead, we're continuing the countdown of my favorite Fun Fifty of 2007. If it's fun, it's in here, baby! Yesterday, as you may remember, we covered numbers 50 through 41, so today, in a shock surprising twist, we move to numbers 40 through 31. On with the countdown!

#40: THE COMPLETELY MAD DON MARTIN Sure, it's not goin' for the price of a usual issue of MAD magazine (cheap!), but save your dimes up for this elegant slipcased set: every single page of MAD magazine work from MAD's Maddest Artist. Plus, at 25 pounds, you can whack rats with it! This is a book that you'll be proud to own and display, but don't let it just sit on your bookshelf—tug it out and read some Don Martin a day, every day. It doesn't contain Don's brilliant original paperback book work (clearly fodder for another volume!), but in between these four covers you'll find everything he wrote for MAD: every single AAHT AAHHT BLOOOOT, CHUGA CHUGA CHUGA CHUGA, PLOOSH FLAPF, SPITZ SPOPPLE SPATZ, and GLIP SHPIKKLE GLUP GAPLORK SHLIPP SPLOP GLIT PLOBBLE SHLORP GLOOP BLOP SKLOP SHLURP PLiPPLE SLOTCH SHLOOP.

#39: JACK KIRBY'S FOURTH WORLD OMNIBUS Speaking of sets of big books, here's four big books collecting the biggest stories about the biggest heroes by the biggest creator in the business. That's a whole lotta big for your buck, buster! Kirby's masterpiece is presented for the first time in chronological order so you can see how the pieces originally fit together. The paper is closer to newsprint than glossy, but it holds and presents the vibrant colors and solid blacks brilliantly. Three volumes were released in 2007 with a fourth to follow later this year. How much do I recommend these books? Well, to paraphrase the King: Bully says "Don't Ask! Just Buy It!"

#38: THE TRIAL OF COLONEL SWEETO If your local alternative paper doesn't carry Nicholas Gurewitch's brilliant and batty Perry Bible Fellowship comic strip, then you oughta be checking him out online. But even if you faithfully read his comics on the web, run, don't walk, to your local bookstore and grab yourself a candy-colored copy of The Trial of Colonel Sweeto, the first book collection (we can but hope there will be many many more) of the strip. Gurewitch is not only a wonderful humorist and a fantastic artist, he's also an amazing designer: his style and even typography changes from strip to strip to fit the story and the humor to create some of the most hilarious and beautiful comics being done today, from classics like "Penguin Enemy," "Kitty Heaven," "Hey Goat," "Guntron Alliance Force" and several pages of never-seen strips. They're not only beautiful, they're laugh-out-loud.

#37: THE BLACK DIAMOND DETECTIVE AGENCY Eddie Campbell: Cool guy. Great Artist. Fantastic hair. And, maker of one of the Funnest Comics of 2007: The Black Diamond Detective Agency, an adaptation of a (not-yet-filmed) screenplay by C. Gaby Mitchell (Blood Diamond). It's a perfect story for Campbell: a turn-of-the-century Pinkerton-type firm hunts down the mystery criminal behind a deadly railway bombing. But is the leading suspect really the culprit? Campbell's unique and expressive artwork is perfect for the moody mystery tale, and if it's not as brilliant as From Hell, it evokes the same level of time and place with distinct details and an incisive and entertaining look at American Victorian-era police procedures.

#36: FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS All hail Bahlactus, grand cosmic funk master of the galaxy! The creator of the ultimate Galactus homage site (also featuring solid and informative looks at black heroes in comics, like the Falcon and the Milestone heroes) cemented his authority over the blogosphere in 2007 with the introduction of the infectious Friday Night Fights meme, the ultimate comics bloggers' fighting league. On Friday night when the bell rings, comics bloggers all around the world post panels or stories featuring fight scenes, and Bahlactus gathers them into a raucous round-up post, giving announcer's commentary to the power and might of the four-color knock-outs. One of the beautiful things I've enjoyed most about FNF is its simplicity: you can post a panel with a thrown punch, or if you're feelin' more ambitious, you can discuss a entire fight scene or story in depth—it's all copacetic with the Big B. FNF is still going strong in 2008; although I don't participate every week, I'm always looking for great fight comics and thrust my hooves into my boxing gloves and punch onto the web. Bahlactus has even begun offering prizes for the knock-out of the week, but in many ways, the fighting is its own reward.

#35: LAIKA The sublimely-drawn, touchingly-scripted tale of the first astronaut—the rescued mongrel mutt launched into outer space by the Russians aboard Sputnik 2 in 1957. Nick Abadzis's expressive art reminded me of Herge, but he avoids the hyper-intelligence of Tintin's Snowy by avoiding anthropomorphizing Laika. Laika's story is paralleled with those of her human trainer and the engineer in charge of the Sputnik project. Even if you know your space history and the eventual fate of Laika you'll shed an unexpected tear at this touchingly-wri8tten and beautifully-drawn dogography.

#34: READING COMICS I've met Douglas Wolk and he's a heckuva nice guy. But even if I didn't know him, I still woulda enjoyed his book of comics history and criticism Reading Comics. Genial, spirited, sometimes argumentative and opinionated but never uninteresting, Douglas strolls through the work and influence of classic creators old and new and addresses the divide that a lot of fans find difficult to straddle: superheroes and art comics. I especially enjoyed the second part of the book, each chapter of which focuses on a specific creator and their work, ranging from Eisner to Starlin's Warlock to Alan Moore and Steve Ditko. You're never going to agree 100% with the opinions expressed in a book of criticism like Reading Comics—even genial little me got riled up a bit reading the second chapter—but Wolk doesn't settle for just telling you about the comics not tells you what to think, he helps teach you how to think about them.

#33: SIMPSONS COMICS In a year highlighted by a big-screen premiere and a dandy videogame, The Simpsons franchise continued to be done proud by the good folks at Bongo Comics not only in their flagship Simpsons title but various spin-offs: Bart Simpson, Simpsons Super-Spectacular and various seasonal specials. Like the TV series itself, it's business as usual but always a delight and fun read in the Simpsons comics: Homer trundles around Springfield on a Rascal scooter, tall tales are told, and 24 is deftly parodied (a couple months before the TV show itself!). Pound for pound, month after month, Simpsons Comics continue to provide solid bellylaughs and the most consistent fun of any licensed comic line.

#32: POPEYE THE SAILOR: 1933-1938, VOL. 1 Toss away those crappy public-domain cartoon DVDs from the dollar store: here's the ultimate collection of the gorgeous high-adventures Popeye shorts from the 1930s. Produced by the famous Fleischer Cartoon Studios, these are "the good stuff"—the Popeye cartoons that open up with the titles on the ship's doors, from the heyday of cinematic cartoons. There's plenty of documentary extras and hours of commentaries here, as well as silent cartoons and the gorgeous longer "two-reelers" that featured amazing 3-D-style background animation that set the Fleischers apart from their competitors—60 crispy and sharply restored cartoons in all. Best of all, check that subtitle: this is only Volume 1 and there's more to come.

#31: MOOMIN: THE COMPLETE TOVE JANSSON COMIC STRIP, BOOK TWO The Moomintroll children's novels by Tove Jansson are cheerful, quirky and moody, and her Moomin comic strip, collected in a second stunning collection from Drawn & Quarterly, follows in the same Moomin-footsteps. Here are tales of discovering prehistoric Moomins, Moominvalley in mid-winter, long-staying guests, and a most miserable maid, all in Jansson's own fluid and crisp black-and-white artwork. D+Q has done this series proud with its oversized and sharply-designed series look. If you grew up (like me) alongside Moomin and the Snork Maiden and Snufkin and Sniff, rediscover your childhood friends in comics form. If you've never met a Moomin, well, this is the perfect medium to make their fuzzy, chubby acquaintances.

Whew! That'sa lotsa fun. How, oh, how, can we top that tomorrow? Maybe we can't! That's just the risk you'll have to take, Bully-backers! Tune in tomorrow: same bull time, same bull channel, for countdown numbers 30 through 21!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Fun Fifty of 2007, Part 1 of 5

Well, looking at my 2008 Keira Knightley calendar, I spy that it's better than one-twelfth of the way into the new year, that Keira looks as smashing as ever, and that I'd better get the lead beans out of my little stuffed butt and post my Best of the Year for 2007. Except as always, I'm more interested in fun, so like last year, here's my Fun Fifty of 2007, presented in several parts to preserve surprise, build anticipation, and fill up a week's worth of posts by talking about stuff that came out as long ago as twelve months past. As usual, I won't be talking solely about comics—other media always finds a way to sneak onto the Fun Fifty—but it's all genre-based and has a solid cross-over with our own special fandoms. And most of all, it's all fun! Now, as Casey Kasem would say, "Zoinks, Scoob! I'm getting' outta here!" Oh no, wait, he would say...let's get the countdown started!

#50: FANTASTIC FOUR 2: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER There's a lot to point out that wasn't that fun in FF2: the repeated poor use of Doctor Doom. The amorphous Galactus. That the entire FF weren't involved in the movie's penultimate fight scene. That the FF weren't involved at all in the final battle versus Galactus. Reed Richards's elastic disco dance. But there's also a heck of a lot that is fun and enjoyable in this sequel: the portrayals of Johnny and Ben are spot on target with the best characterization of the comics. The design and voice of the Surfer are pitch perfect (who'da thunk Laurence Fishburne, huh?) The goofy and self-conscious Stan Lee cameo (basically straight outta the comic, only missing Jack at his side). The FF movies will never be seen as high art or even the best examples of their genre, but there's moments of sheer, exhilarating, memorable fun in 'em.

#49: ASTONISHING X-MEN AXM would placed higher on my list if it had come out more frequently. Its 24-issue run logically should have taken 2 years. Instead, this series started in...well, it premiered around 1949, didn't it? Never mind. Removed from the extensive and convoluted contemporary current events of the Marvel Universe, AXM features solid action, quirky dialogue, vibrant art and a couple fastball specials of its own in sharp and surprising plot twists. Plus, who can resist a decently-written Kitty Pryde? (Not me, that's for sure.) AXM reads better in a stack or as a trade than as a monthly quarterly comic book, but it's the most primal fun I've had with a post-Morrison X-Men comic.

#48: MARVEL ADVENTURES: AVENGERS Ego the Loving Planet. Let me repeat that. Ego the Freakin' Loving Planet. Fast on the heels of the ish where all the Avengers became MODOK-ized, Jeff Parker's Ego as Barry White riff made this team of Avengers definitively more fun than the two groups being published in the MU proper, whether New or Mighty. Other issues featuring the Vision, Hawkeye, and Hercules brought these classic characters in the Marvel Adventures Universe in compelling new stories that don't violate the original spirit of the Avengers saga or the characters themselves, at the same time preserving a sense of adventure, fun, and action. If you're not picking up this because you think it's a "kid" title, hoo boy, bub, you're missin' the best Avengers title currently being published.

#47: KING CAT CLASSIX This hefty collection of the past ten years of John Porcellino's justly-acclaimed self-published comic is as thick as a brick and twice as solid. His bold but minimal lines belie the intensity and emotion of many of these tales, especially the heartbreaking story of his childhood dog. A hefty section of annotations and new comics makes this a must-buy even if you own all the originals. Giggles, tears, and wonder: an art and writing evolution over ten years leading to powerful and assured storytelling.

#46: JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED R.I.P. the Justice League/Justice League Unlimited animated cartoon, especially the brilliant last couple seasons, but the style and action of the series lives on in the comic book, preserving the crisp and distinctive design of the original while telling new, mostly done-in-one focus tales on individual members of the League. Highlights this year were #36's focus on the enigmatic Question (more incisive and entertaining than the recent focus on the Renee Montoya Question in the mainstream DC Universe) and #39's team-up of the three greatest detectives: Batman, Elongated Man, and Detective Chimp. Detective Chimp. All's right in the world when a comic can give us DC (hey!) and Batman and Ralph Dibny and Gorilla City in the same story. Long live the League!

#45: RASL PREVIEW I happily lined up at the Jeff Smith booth this past July at San Diego Comic-Con to plunk down my cash for the oversized, glossy RASL preview edition: Smith's upcoming 2008 new series focusing on a thief who can walk through different dimensions. Only six pages long (but taller than this little stuffed bull), it's no more than a short preview, but it's both gorgeous and provocative. If you thought Smith was a one-trick-Bone-y, think again: between this and his 2007 Shazam series, he's showing that his appeal can span different genres in the comics field. RASL is one of my most anticipated comics of the upcoming year. Will it appear on next year's Fun Fifty? We'll see!

#44: SPIDER-MAN LOVES MARY JANE In a year where the most highly-promoted Spider-Man story involved him giving up and losing the love of his life, this title preserved the romance and (for the moment) unrequited love of that famous redhead Miss Mary Jane Watson, in soap-operaesque but never banal tales of high school infatuation, gossip, cliques and friendships. The artwork of Takeshi Miyazawa is simply sublime and gives the series a unique look of its own: not quite superhero, not quite manga—in a class of its own and utterly charming. Plus, Firestar! The series ended in 2007 but is set to start again this year as written by Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise) and drawn by Adrian Alphona. It remains to be seen if I enjoy the new creative team as much, but one thing remains constant: Spider-Man does love Mary Jane. And in this universe, at least, that can't be wished away.

#43: SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP: MODOK'S 11 Okay, hands up: who doesn't love MODOK (Mental Organism Designed Only for Knickers)? I thought so! Like Raymond or Hypnotoad, everybody loves MODOK, big-headed loveable supervillain that he is, so it's long past time he had his own book, this quirky and comical miniseries that teamed up a rogues gallery of second-string super-baddies in order to pull off the ultimate heist. MODOK, of course, has a more deadly plan in mind than just unlimited riches, and his team's falling apart with every issue—this ain't George Clooney at the helm! Subtract a handful of points for not enough MODOK in the later issues, but bonus marks to Marvel for the sheer chutzpah of producing a miniseries in which the villains all have sympathetic moments: even old big-head himself. You rule, MODOK. You totally rock, dude.

#42: HOUDINI: THE HANDCUFF KING Nominally written and designed for children (like this six-year old little stuffed bull) but entertaining and lovely enough to be appreciated by adults, Houdini is Jason Lutes and Nick Pertozzi's graphic novel biography not only of Harry Houdini but of his circle of friends, family, life and times. It's brief and brisk and fairly straight-forward (essay discussions round out the book in the back and add to its educational appeal), but for all its simplicity it's a lovely and detail-oriented look at the frenzy and fandom of an amazing entertainer in a true age of wonders.

#41: JOHN LUSTIG'S "SUMMER MOONSHINE" BY P. G. WODEHOUSE Yes, it's a one-page "book review" comic by John Lustig (Last Kiss) and yes, it's available for free on the internet (although I highly recommend ordering the limited print edition), but it deftly and colorfully combines two of my greatest loves besides Miss Knightley: comics and P. G. Wodehouse. Summer Moonshine is a book I haven't gotten to yet in my "A Wodehouse a Week" project, but when I do, I can't imagine summing up the book in a more concise and entertaining manner than Lustig already has. There's never been a Wodehouse comic book, but now I think there oughta be: Lustig preserves the joy, twists, and razor-sharp dialogue id the original (even adding a sassy "yo' mama" joke that made me giggle. It's plum fun.

So. Ten down, forty to go. And every single one of the remaining numbers is taken up by Civil War and One More Day crossovers. So tune in tomorrow for the Fun Forty through Thirty-One, and be sure to strap on your Captain America memorial black armbands!