Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Fun Fifty of 2009: #40-31

Hey, everybody! Happy Groundhog Day, and welcome back to the Fun Fifty!

First up on the Fun Fifty...numbers 50 through 41! So let's get started right away!

#50: MARVEL ASSISTANT-SIZED SPECTACULAR • If you're as fond of the Shooter-suffused Marvel of the 1980s as I am, you remember the wacky stunt of late 1983 that put the Marvel Assistant Editors in charge of the books while the bigwigs were all away at Comic-Con. Chaos, of course, ensued, giving us Bernie America; Aunt May, Herald of Galactus; and a Spider-Man with swirly knees. That so crazee! Of course, Marvel editors never left the offices again...until 2009! Although a few of the stories in this this...

Whoa. Déjà vu.

Anyway! Hey, everybody! Happy Groundhog Day, and welcome back to the Fun Fifty! First up on the Fun Fifty...numbers 50 through 41!

#50: MARVEL ASSISTANT-SIZED SPECTACULAR • If you're as fond of the Shooter-suffused Marvel of the 1980s as I am, you remember the wacky stunt of late 1983 that put the

...Now cut that out!

Gwan, shoo! Shoo! Get outta here!

Now that he's gone...

#40: ADVENTURES IN CARTOONING • I like to think of myself as a creative little stuffed bull, but what I'm not very good at is drawing. (It's difficult holding the pencils in hooves.) Why do you think I always resort to fumetti to show my exciting adventures? Well, now I'm learning to be a cartoonist thanks to The Center for Cartoon Studies's Adventures in Cartooning, one of the best books I've seen to teach and inspire kids (like me!) to draw comics. In bright and colorful panels and panels, Adventures shows you how panels work, how to create movement and drama, the point and placement of word balloons, and, best of all, how to have fun designing and drawing your comic book or strip. The very first lesson, right from page 1 is that you don't need to be an expert artist to draw. Stick figures work great (just ask Matt Feazell!) or roly-poly blobs or even abstract shapes. Your skill isn't what matters...having fun and a sense of learning is! (And believe me, you will become a better artist as you follow the easy and entertaining lessons through the book and develop your own style.) The lessons, while similar to Scott McLeod's Understanding Comics, are demonstrated through a fast and funny narrative of a magical elf teaching a knight how to fight a dragon, by designing a comic. Geared for kids but accessible to adults, Adventures in Cartooning is perfect for the aspiring comics artist in your life...heck, inside you!

#39: THE MUPPET SHOW • One of my favorite comics of 2008 when I saw it in preview, BOOM!'s The Muppet Show didn't disappoint my high expectations. I've been a huge Roger Langridge fan for just about a bajillion years (or whenever it was I saw his wonderful Goon Show artwork), and I'll bet the sheer joy and enthusiasm he's bringing to each ish is exceeded only by my enjoyment of it. Langridge gives each issue the feel of a "real" Muppet Show (minus the 1970s guest stars), in addition to a subplot that spotlights the wonderful characters of Jim Henson's boundless imagination. The show-biz atmosphere and inventive design remind me of classic circus and carnival posters (of the "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" variety). In his first four-issue miniseries each chapter spotlighted a different lead Muppet (Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo and Piggy), while "The Treasure of Peg Leg Wilson" takes our felt-flocked fellows on a treasure hunt inside the Muppet Theater, complete with imposter Muppets (a sedate, restrained Animal ruins a Doctor Teeth number with his light jazz drumming), a series of silent panels where Kermits re-enact the Harpo Marx mirror sketch, trained fleas, Pigs in Space, dwarfs and rats, and, as always, Statler and Waldorf to catcall the whole thing. Glorious, goony, gorgeous comics. Have I got any complaints? Sure, although they're minor. First, the rougher, cheaper-grade paper now being used dulls and fades Langridge's ink-sharp art and gorgeous colors. If that's the paper stock going to be used on all Muppet comics from now on, I'll wait for the trades. Second, BOOM!'s publishing a lot of Muppets...Langridge's series plus several minis by other artists released in the past year need to be more visually distinct from one another; I was always under the impression I had already picked up an issue I saw on the comic book shop shelf. More to the point, I fret about BOOM! oversaturating the market too fast with too many books. The stuff's great, guys, but two or three comics featuring the same characters in continuing stories is confusing and too much for this penny-pinching bovine to pick up. It may be that with their new bookstore distribution deal with Simon & Schuster, BOOM! is thinking more towards the trade market than direct, but don't overdo it, guys: even when it comes to the Muppets, there can be too much of a good thing.

#38: FUTURAMA COMICS • One of the perennial fixtures of the Fun Fifty: every year I tell you how much I miss Futurama the TV show, and every year I tell you how much I love Futurama the comic book. Now with the series coming back (Yah! Take that, Fox! In yer face, National Football League!) Futurama comics is more hip than ever. Pick it up for sheer enjoyment with all your 31st century friends from Fry to Leela, Bender to Nixon's Head. The plots and dialogue feel like they should, they could be actual episodes of the TV series (as you read 'em, you will hear the voices of Billy West, Katey Sagal, and John DiMaggio in your head). Look, just like last year, Futurama is sheer comics fun and enjoyment. Pick it up and you'll love it too. But that won't stop me from praising it in 2011 too.

#37: RICHARD STARK'S PARKER: THE HUNTER • Now, technically this is about as far from "fun" as it's usually defined: a gritty, fist-filled, bullet-zingin', double-crossin' noir based on the classic crime novel by Donald Westlake (aka Richard Stark). Now, pair that up with an adaptation and artwork by Darwyn Cooke, who gave us the bright and optimistic New Frontier. An outlandish match? No: pitch perfect. The Hunter is one of the most gorgeous books of the year, perfectly suited for a breakout from the comics market into a crime classic. DC/Vertigo shoulda thrown money at Cooke until he agreed to make this the flagship novel in their new Vertigo Crime series; instead IDW reaps the benefits with a beautiful and nuanced treatment in shaded two-toned artwork that spotlights the two extraordinary strengths of Darwyn Cooke: he knows how to lay out a scene with extensive or expository dialogue like an expert, and he knows when to shut up and let the images do the talking. I wish The Hunter had gotten more mainstream review attention and stronger sales (trade bookstore owners: try displaying it in the crime and mystery section next to the Westlake books and you'll be surprised by the sell-through), and I hope the promised second volume is still scheduled. In the meantime, The Hunter rewards repeat readings—so much more than an illustrated mystery novel, it shows how great books can be made into something equally great and new in comics form. That's a rare, precious skill, but Darwyn Cooke's got it, in spades.

#36: STRANGE SUSPENSE: THE STEVE DITKO ARCHIVES VOL. 1 • Okay, you guys know I luvs the classic Marvel artists, right? ("Jack Kirby Week" was an itty bitty clue of that, right?) As I've said, after a long time being unable to read and appreciate the early Marvels, we're at last in an age where we can buy 'em in inexpensive paperbacks or fancy archive hardcovers. But what about the pre-superhero careers of the greats? Hey, guess what: we can have that too! I'm a nut for the early quirky Steve Ditko crime, monster, and mystery books, but I've only ever seen a handful before this book. Ditko expert Blake Bell collects several dozen of Steve's 1950s work from Charlton and other publishers, plus plenty of amazing covers, in a thick, hardy collection with glorious gory and ghoulish Ditko comics from front to back. This thing's a gold mine! Old stories, sure, but aren't old comics you've never read before really brand-new? If all you know of his work is Spidey and Strange, educate yourself with Strange Suspense and get a thorough early-Ditko education. And those two little words "Volume One" fill me with excitement and anticipation for Volume Two: gimme more, more, more Ditko! Truth in disclosure: yours little stuffed truly, and my pal John, work for W. W. Norton, which distributes Fantagraphics titles to the bookstore trade.

#35: M.O.D.O.K.: REIGN DELAY • As the blogosphere gears itself up for the end of Marvel's seven-year sprint through disassemblies, wars civil and hulk, invasions secret, M-houses, reigns dark and a whole lotta sieging goin' on, there's a lot of rejoicing at the promise that the Marvel Universe will return to a brighter, more fun and playful universe. To which I say, bull! (Meaning myself.) We don't need to return to that...it never left! For every death Giant-Man and brain-damaged Iron Man we've had wild and wacky rides through the MU that are indeed actually joyful, bright, high-adventured, and sometimes even laugh-out-loud. I'm not gonna mention them all right now (because a lot of them are coming up further in the list!), but I gotta give props to Ryan Dunlavey's gleefully insane M.O.D.O.K.: Reign Delay as the wackiest and most hilarious Dark Reign tie-in. Sure, our big-headed guy in the floating chair is played for laughs (MODOK and three henchmen move back home to Erie, Pennsylvania to live with the Big M's parents, hit the high school reunion, and oh, yeah, take over the Millcreek Mall. That sound you hear? It's me laughin'!


One of the problems with one-shots that aren't specifically connected with a series? They often don't wind up getting collected in trade. Notice I couldn't provide you with an Amazon link above. Yes, it's true...you cannot buy M.O.D.O.K.: Reign Delay. But because y'all are such good pals of mine, lemme tell ya where you can get it...for free!: right on Marvel's Digital Comics Site Read it and weep...with tears of joy!

#34: SEAGUY: THE SLAVES OF MICKEY EYE • Want proof we're living in the Golden Age of Comics, the best of all possible worlds, the nirvana of nerd-dom? Exhibit Q: there's a new Grant Morrison comic book released every ten minutes. The Grant Morrisoniest of all in 2009 was the triumphant and ocean-soaked return of Seaguy. Beautiful visuals (Cameron Stewart) and colors (Dave Stewart) highlight the story (Grant Stewart...er, Morrison) of our aqua-adventurer...suffering from ennui and depression, struggling to find his way in the world, and taking a new definition from his battle against a mighty worldwide conglomerate. It's surreal as it is superheroesque—not only rewarding but demanding repeat readings, and there's no easy answers in Morrison's text. (Why settle for easy answers and spelled-out morals in all your comics literature, kids?) By the end things have blowed up real good but has Seaguy really triumphed? Did it happen the way he thought it did? Did he make a difference? Does it matter? The journey is more than the sum of the results...both for Seaguy's odyssey and for us, the readers. Sublime stuff.

#33: WOLVERINE ART APPRECIATION • I was heartily sick of Marvel's alternate zombie covers of the past few years. "Pfui," sez I, "this joke has lasted too long, and we have no need to see a Power Pack Zombie cover." By that you might assume I jus' plain don't like alternate covers. Well, that is, until Wolverine Art Appreciation month in March 2009, where a baker's dozen of Marvel's books featured Wolverine on their covers...yes, even the two or three that didn't have ol' Adamantium-Skull appearing inside. Instead, each of these Wolvie works reinterpreted the world's second-favorite mutant* in pastiches of the most iconic art and history's greatest artists:

Wolvie Art Appreciation
Wolvie Art Appreciation
Wolvie Art Appreciation
Wolvie Art Appreciation

Yes, I did say "history's greatest artists":

Wolvie Art Appreciation

Pointless? Kinda. Fun? Absolutely. Marvel released a one-shot collection of the covers later in the year that reprinted each artwork plus essays about the original artists and artwork and short interviews with the Marvel artists. It's a cool keepsake of one of the more fun stunts Marvel's pulled in the past few years, and a very nice way for non-completists to ogle the variety of art without having to search for each individual issue. Marvel's followed this up with a few other themed cover months (one of which I'll be talkin' about later down the list, and in 2010 we've got a month of Iron Man covers coming up, each with the old' red-and-gold suit in a different style of armor through the ages. Sure, you can't judge a book by its cover, but you can judge a cover as "fun!"

#32: TIMELY COMICS 70th ANNIVERSARY SPECIALS • Seventy years ago last year, a Human Torch burned his way through a comic book cover to kick the sass out of saboteurs, crooks, Nazis and the Sub-Mariner. Marvel paid homage to their rich history with a series of 12 specials, named after and commemorating the great Timely comics of the Golden Age: not only the ones we know and remember (Captain America, Marvel Mystery Comics, Sub-Mariner Comics), but the books...and the heroes...of Marvel's original universe. Each book featured a new story or two by today's writers and artists set in and starring the heroes of the 1940s, plus a classic story reprint. My favorite? All Select Comics, with a gleefully goofy "Marvex: The Super Robot" story by Michael Kupperman (Tales Designed to Thrizzle). Just when you can't believe there was actually a hero and adventures like Marvex, turn the page to read a Marvex reprint and discover that Kupperman wasn't that far off base form the original! Marvel even issued a Marvel Mystery Handbook with stat sheets and histories of all those great characters. Solid nostalgia and a spitfire full o' fun, and absolutely essential for anyone who wants to know more about the origins of the Marvel Universe: it's much wider and diverse than you ever imagined.

#31: THE JOHN STANLEY LIBRARY • Douglas Wolk said it best . today, right over at Comics Alliance: "We are very lucky to be living in a time when basically every comic book John Stanley ever worked on is coming back into print." Oh, yeah. I love Dark Horse's Little Lulu reprints (early issues were drawn by Stanley and later drawn by Irving Tripp), but the prize this year goes to Drawn & Quarterly for their beautifully-designed John Stanley Library series, especially Nancy (hey, Mike Sterling's not the only Nancy and Sluggo fan out here in the blogosphere!). Collecting the hard-to-find Nancy comic book series by Stanley, Nancy: Vol. 1 is definitely a horse of a different color from the Bushmiller strip: extended comic episodes expand Nancy's escapades and circle of friends, most notably the cheerfully weird Oona Goosepimple and her house of oddball relatives and magically macabre happenings—sort of a gleeful Addams Family. The John Stanley Library also includes the lovely Melvin the Monster, the adventures of a monster boy who just wants to be good, go to school, and eat right. We've got second volumes of both coming out in 2010, plus a collection of Stanley's teenage sitcomic Thirteen Going on Eighteen. They're all beautifully designed by Seth and packaged in the same elegant but accessible presentation that's distinguished my favorite books from D+Q. Kids'll love these, adults'll enjoy these, and little stuffed bulls just eat 'em up. (Not literally). Now, D+Q (he said, greedily), how about Stanley's Raggedy Ann and Peterkin Pottle comics, huh?

So there ya go: ten more books that made comics fun in 2009. Could there be more? Aw, you know the answer to that one. So, join me here tomorrow for pretty girls, big monsters, heinous villains, big-ass comics, and the one organization to work for where your life expectancy odds are pretty bleak. Until then, don't forget...

Aw, not again...get the heck off my lawn, you crummy groundhog!


Sigh. See ya tomorrow, folks!

*First favorite? Aw, c'mon, you shoulda been able to guess.

1 comment:

Bill D. said...

I can't help but think Parker would have made a bigger splash had it not come out so closely on the heels of Asterios Polyp. Only so much swooning to go around, you know?