The Fun Fifty of 2009!
Um, actually, what I wanted him to say was...
Wow! I didn't know that. Is that true?
Huh. You learn somethin' new every day! Okay, let's get this countdown...counted down!
#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 two-issue anthology of tales commissioned by today's assistant editors feel like inventory or try-out pieces, there's plenty of fun and Marvel taken not-too-seriously in short stories about Galactus's daughter, Nextwave's Elsa Bloodstone, and a regular bully-favorite, Chris Giarrusso's Mini-Marvels. But for me the standout story was very unexpected: a spotlight on D-Man, the Avenger everyone makes fun of. (Well, him and Doctor Druid.) Brian Patchett and Xurxo G. Penalta, in nine pages, bring a gravitas and dignity to the homeless hero as he heads out on patrol with his squadron in Iraq. It's a beautiful little story and I'd love to see a sequel.
#49: BLOOM COUNTY: THE COMPLETE LIBRARY VOL. 1 Oh frabjous joy! Ever since the recent resurgence of archive-quality comic strip reprints (Fantagraphics started this new golden age with the first volume of The Complete Peanuts in 2007), I've been waiting with my Silly Putty in hand for five more of my favorite strips to be collected. We've had Popeye, we're getting Nancy and Pogo, we can only hope for Barnaby someday...and here comes Bloom County, Berke Breathed's wonderful saga of the kids of a small rural town, their adventures and friends, a neurotic penguin and a disgusting cat. All they needed was a little bull to make the whole thing heaven. I'm pretty pleased with IDW's treatment of this series: large, oversized hardcover volumes, Sundays in color, lots of previously unreprinted strips, and great annotation on the history of the strip and the historical and pop references in it. So why isn't this volume further up on the Fifty? Well, don't toss away your battered copy of Loose Tails target="_blank" just yet, because The Complete Library unfortunately suffers from poorer reproduction, fuzzier lines, and lighter blacks than the original paperbacks. It's a shame. I can forgive that on strips never before reprinted, but if they were in Loose Tails, why not just shoot from that excellent sharp original? Here's hoping this printing problem is fixed in time for the next volume. Oh, and IDW? You better include a floppyheck, I'll take a MP3of Billy and the Boingers' "U Stink But I ♥ U."
#48: MARVEL ADVENTURES: FANTASTIC FOUR 2009 saw the cancellation of Marvel's kid-friendly Marvel Adventures line (it returns later this year with two rebooted books), including one of my favorite recent takes on my top-choice superhero team, the Fantastic Four. Writer Paul Tobin (who you'll see a lot of on this Fun Fifty of 2009!) and an assortment of artists gave us some high-adventure, kid-friendly but never dumbed-down FF adventures spanning from a team-up with Marvel/Timely's Golden Age funny animal comic stars (Zippy Pig! SIlly Seal!); an alternate reality which gives us not only Ben Grimm as the Hulk, but also a confident team leader in Johnny and an all-fired-up Sue; and a lovely coda to the series featuring Galactus's final, most mysterious task. The World's Greatest Comic Magazine goes on as ever, but it's a little less brilliant without this companion title.
#47: GOTHAM CITY SIRENS Catwoman's been cancelled; Harley Quinn's own book is long gone. Poison Ivy never had a chance of being published (mainly because she'd tear apart the DC offices if a single tree was cut down to print a Pamela Isley, P.I. book). So if one villainess can't do the job, why not, goes the conventional wisdom, team up these three femmes fatale? Written by Harley creator Paul Dini with curvy art by Guillem March, it's definitely cheesecake with with tongue in cheek and a twinkle in the eye as our tempestuous trio try to make names for themselves in the wild frontier that is the post-Bruce Wayne Gotham City? Light on the angst and high on the fun, Gotham City Sirens ain't no high art, but who doesn't love seeing Harleen Quinzel with a big-ass hammer whalloping folks? Well, I know I do. (Even tho' the covers make me feel a little funny. Maybe Miz Ivy kissed them.)
#46: BLAZING COMBAT I've long heard of, but never got a chance to read, Archie Goodwin's legendary Warren Comics magazine Blazing Combat, featuring some of the most beautiful and beautifully terrifying war comics since the demise of EC. I never expected to, either, short of some ratty reprints I might find in a back issue bin, but (once again!) my pals at Fantagraphics surprised and delighted me with this beautifully-designed collection of the complete run of Blazing Combat, featuring intense war stories that don't end as gloriously or neatly as either Sergeants Rock or Fury. Artists? You got 'em, turning in glorious black-and-white stories: Wally Wood, Alex Toth, Russ Heath, Gene Colan, John Severin, Joe Orlando, Reed Crandall, Grey Morrow, and more. War, huh! What is it good for? Absolutely nothin'...aside from bringing us this gorgeous archive edition of a classic comic every war comics fan oughta have in their library. Truth in disclosure: yours little stuffed truly, and my pal John, work for W. W. Norton, which distributes Fantagraphics titles to the bookstore trade.
#45: THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: CENTURY: 1910 There just ain't no stoppin' the man with the beard. In a year which brought us a wince-inducing movie version of his arguable finest work, Moore heartily ignored it and instead gave us a new volume of the adventures of history's greatest..um, adventurers. The new volume (the first from new, non-DC publisher top Shelf/Knockabout), brings the League into the Edwardian Era, filling in the gaps between Volume 2 and The Black Dossier at the same time bringing us more great heroes and villains from fiction, including the vengeful daughter of one of the original Leaguers. As always, it's fun to look for historical and literary allusions and cameos throughout the book (and it's worth keeping Jess Nevins's always-excellent annotations close by while you read). It also helps if you know your Brecht and Weill: fire up "Pirate Jenny" as you read and watch the sparks fly.
Says our pals at Wikipedia, the encyclopedia more open to vandalism than the one in Mrs. Carbuncle's third-grade schoolroom:
There is a problem translating this song. In the original German, the ship is described as "mit acht Segeln" (with eight sails). Because a literal translation has fewer syllables, in English the ship is usually described as "the black freighter".Hmmm. The Black Freighter. That rings a morbid bell!
Huh, there are two more volumes of this story coming. Maybe we'll see a guest appearance and crossover with Nite Owl and Rorschach! Ehhhh, probably not.
#44: ARCHIE: THE WEDDING(S) I haven't read an Archie story in years, but hey, it's one of the rules of comic book fandom: ya gotta pick up the wedding issues. Even if I knew beforehand this couldn't, wouldn't be a permanent reset to the status quo de Riverdale, writer Michael Uslan gives us a clever and Watcher-less reason for Archie to be a bigamist within the span of six issues (he's wandering down "Memory Lane" and takes one road, then the other to step into his own future). The art by Stan Goldberg, if not up to the his classic Archie-esque Millie the Model and Chili, is bright, vibrant, and energetic, but you can't help but wonder what this story could have been in the hands of someone like the Archie Comics-exiled Dan DeCarlo. It's fluffy and lightweight, sure, but you know, since you've already discovered the great mysteries of comics like the origins of Wolverine and what really happens to Tony Stark's nose when he puts on his helmet, why not treat yourself to the greatest mystery of comic books: who would Archie choose? (Big Ethel, sorry 'bout that.)
#43: THE INCREDIBLES My favorite Pixar film (your mileage may very) is one I've long suggested would make a jim-dandy Disney comic book: The Incredibles. BOOM!'s been doing a great job of adapting the Pixar worlds to the printed page (but where's my Ratatouille comic?), and the love and affection of writer Mark Waid for superherodom's other fantastic family of four comes through in the miniseries "Family Matters" and the ongoing comic series after it. Too often = movie comic continuations grind to a painful halt when trying to continue the onscreen world (Marvel's Logan's Run, anyone?), but Waid avoids the obvious traps of say, just bringing back Syndrome. Instead, Waid pits the Parrs against new supervillains who would make Grant Morrison jealous: "A guy whose super power is a blurry face...a guy with a penny for a head!" The art (by Landry Walker and Marcio Takara) is cartoony in all the best ways, without slavishly trying to imitate the texture and "feel" of Pixar's computer process. The search for the great gateway comic will probably never end, but you could do worse than to hand a young or new comics readers The Incredibles books. (And, by the way, BOOM!? You wanna do a gateway comic book? You oughta adapt the biggest and most popular Disney franchise characters of recent years.
#42: CAPTAIN AMERICA and CAPTAIN AMERICA: REBORN Ya know something? I was wrong. I was wrong when I skipped the rebooted Ed Brubaker Cap series because I thought the return of Bucky was silly. I was wrong when I said there'd be no more interesting stories to tell about the character with a replacement for Steve Rogers. And was definitely wrong when I said I was going to find any return of Rogers to the Marvel Universe needless and minimizing. And like our greatest patriots (alhtough not Fonzie), I stand before you and say yea, I was wrong about Captain America and it's a pretty fun book. I still can't figure out why Captain America: Reborn and Who Will Wield the Shield? couldn't have just been Captain America #602-608, but hey, those #1 issues make bank for Marvel. All I know is that the return of Steve to a traumatized Dark Reign-era Marvel U. was as big and bombastic as a 1970s way-out Jack Kirby issue of Cap, which proves the oft-argued, never-disproven point: there's always room for a giant Red Skull in the body of Arnim Zola, battling it out with Captain America in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
#41: X-MEN: MISFITS, VOL. 1 In the multiverse that makes up the many worlds of Marvel, we've seen the Watcher peer in on Earth-5200 (a world ruled by Dr. Doom), and Earth-1218 (hey! I can see my house on there, coz' it's our world!). We've even seen a Marvel Mangaverse...but have we ever been to the Marvel Shojoverse before X-Men: Misfits? In a world (© 2004 Michael Bay) where Kitty Pryde is the only girl at the Xavier Institute, where the Hellfire Club is the "elite bad boys" who hang out in a Danger Room-situated resort, and where Beast is so freakin' cute, the usual tropes of shojo manga get an all-new mutant spin when everybody's head-over-heels in love with Kitty (hey! it's just like fandom!) but the one guy she's interested in is giving her the cold shoulder...literally. I wouldn't say this is for all audiences; you've either got to be ultra-X-obsessed (moi!) or a huge fan of shojo manga, or, ideally, both. But the story by Raina Telemeier and Dave Roman is fanciful and flirty and the art by Anzu brings us wide-eyed, elegant, and occasionally superdeformed versions of our favorite genetic hyperactives. My kid sister Marshall loves it and she thinks Magneto is just dreeeeamy. Anybody who can do that for old Maggie is okay in my book!
Whew! I'm barely through my mountain of four-color fun. I'm gonna make base camp here at #41, and continue the climb up the summit tomorrow. Hopefully Shelly won't be along in her rocket boots to startle me so I fall down and then we have to go eat Snuckles's famous pork and beans before we fly off in a starship to meet God and...hey! What does God need with a starship, anyway?!? The answer to this and many more questions won't be answered tomorrow, but you will find out my number 40 through 31 Fun Comics of 2009! It's all tomorrow! Be there or be rectangular, cats!