Saturday, February 06, 2010

365 Days with Hank McCoy, Day 37

UXM A 1998
Panel from Uncanny X-Men/Fantastic Four '98 (September 1998), script by Joe Casey; pencils by Paul Pelletier and Leo Fernandez; inks by Andrew Pepoy, Keith Champagne, Rob Leigh, and Ray McCarthy; colors by Felix Serrano, Wilson Ramos, Chris Sotomayor, Tom Smith, and Schigiel; letters by Richard Starkings and Comicraft. You know, I think I might have worked on this one too.

Saturday Morning Cartoon: Thor in "Enter Hercules"

The Marvel Super Heroes Thor in "Enter Hercules" (1966) featuring the voices of Chris Wiggins as Thor, Bernard Cowan as the Narrator and Odin, and Peg Dixon as Jane Foster.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Fun Fifty of 2009: #19-11

Live from the fabulous Bully Arms (and legs) in beautiful Park Slope, Brooklyn, it's The Fun Fifty, the nightly countdown, now for one night only 10% less filling!


Oh, no, that's not the scene of the Fun Fifty. That's actually The Three Batsignals.


What, you haven't heard of The Three Batsignals? Well, how else do you think Commissioner Gordon is going to summon three members of The Legion of Batmen?!?

Superman: The Man of Steel

Three Batmen are needed in Gotham to hunt down Two-Face-and-a-Half, so that leaves plenty of Batmen to attend our awards ceremony. Why don't you settle down as we kick tonight's festivities off with...

#19: STAR TREK • I was skeptical about how good The Lord of the Rings or Spider-Man could be on film, and boy was I wrong. But from the moment I first saw that new trailer, I was ready to line up for May 8th's Horta-hot event of the year, the opening of the new Star Trek movie. I'm a little Trek fanbull from way back, but I'm no purist at the expense of entertainment, so Big-Screen Trek was everything I'd hoped for, and more. The bag of popcorn sat unforgotten in my lap while I gazed wide-eyed at the new Enterprise and fantastic space battles and a talented new crew and that green girl in her underwear. It wasn't necessarily Trek with a message (unless the message is, you can settle for a less than ordinary life, or you can be something better, something special) but big, bright, shiny sheer entertainment: the kind of movie I'll gladly plunk my twelve bucks down to see again and again. You can quibble about little bits and pieces if you want—I'd rather have had it be a full reboot rather than a changed history, and Kirk landing the Captain's chair before he'd finished the Academy?—but suspend your inner Trek nitpicker and you've got a movie that's not just a good Star Trek film, it's a good film, period. I especially loved McCoy: ten seconds after his first appearance and Karl Urban has already utterly nailed McCoy. (And I certainly didn't expect to be laughing at funny bits as much as I did!) Bring on the next one, I say.

#18: MARVEL SUPER HERO SQUAD SHOW • Cool little toys (of course I have the Ben Grimm one!) become a cool little TV show on Cartoon Network featuring superdeformed versions of the Marvel heroes and villains fighting a deadly Civil War which will lead to an invasion by shape-shifters and the death of...NO! This is just all silly and over-the-top fun, made for kids...but us little bulls, and my human pals, like it too. Doc Doom and his team of villains race Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Falcon, Wolverine, Thor and the Silver Surfer to find MacGuffins...I mean, Infinity Fractals that can help you rule the world! Bwah-ha-ha-ha! Sort of a halfway point between Marvel Adventures Avengers and Chris Giarrusso's Mini Marvels, it doesn't take its heroes too seriously: Hulk is the friendly dumb smasher, Captain America is straight-laced and frequently oblivious, and the Silver Surfer has a California beach bum accent. (I'm not too sure about that last one, but hey.) Super Hero Squad definitely isn't high art: it knows what kids find funny (there are a lot of burp and fart jokes here), but for long time Marvel fans it's great fun to see superheroes stripped to their primal components: guys and gals in bright costumes fighting the baddies, throwing punches and zapping with power rays, and nobody ever gets hurt any more than Daffy Duck used to.

And yep...that's Stan Lee as the Mayor. And how can you resist a show that has one episode titled "Mental Organism Designed Only for Kissing"?

There's enough in-jokes and Marvel Universe references to keep you amused even if you're not a kid or a little stuffed bull, but when you're tired of all the angst and blood and Ares's intestines getting all over the carpet and making a mess, give Super Hero Squad a try to just have some fun with Marvel's heroes.

#17: WOMAN OF A.C.T.I.O.N. • Super secret agent action spanning from London to Monte Carlo! Guns, girls, gambling and goons! Tight leather catsuits, monocled madmen, and lacy lingerie! No, you're not reading one of the approximately ten bajillion Black Widow comic books on the market now, but the all-new, all-adventure book from your pals and mine at Action Age Comics! Yes, that means it's written by pal Chris Sims, he of the face-kickin' Invincible Super-Blog, tongue firmly in cheek (with gorgeous art by Chris Piers and Steve Downer), and it's almost like Chris is writing it for me, playing on every over-the-top action trope that I loves to pieces in a spy movie, book, or comic. Sexy, troubleshooting (and troublemaking) agent Penelope Devlin's career in spydom may be overshadowed by her overenthusiastic approach (wherever she's been, there's usually something that's blown up) and her star-spy brother Ricky (given a lovely Wodehousean personality and dialogue, including an ultra-competant valet at his side). I've been enjoying all the comics coming out of Chris and his stable of slaves collaborators at Action Age Comics, but Woman of A.C.T.I.O.N., with its Ian Fleming antics set in a Bob Haney world, leaves me hungry for more. Hey, Chris...why doncha quit that dead-end retail job of yours and go into writing full time? Naw, he never listens to me. You can't buy Woman of A.C.T.I.O.N. at your local comic shop, but you can read it for free at the Action Age website, or download a .cbz file here!

#16: YOTSUBA&! VOL. 6 • I don't read a lotta fact, I think the X-Men: Misfits book I reviewed the other day might have been the first time I talked about manga on this blog. Well, add Yotsuba&! to that small new list of manga I love! 2009 was a good time to be a fan of the curious and outspoken little girl with green lucky-charm hair: Yen Press made us all happy by picking up the license from ADV and bringing out the long-delayed Vol. 6 (and Vol. 7 came out right at the end of the year; look for it, no doubt, in 2010's Fun Fifty!). Bright, giddy, and gentle everyday adventures of Yotsuba "and" everything and everybody...look, how can you pass a book with this as the cover copy:
Yotsuba’s getting a biiiiike, Yotsuba’s getting a biiiiiike!! Didja know the wheels of a bike go round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and roun —oh, Yotsuba’s getting dizzy...whoooooa...
That nails it, really, right there: gentle humor and enthusiastic exploration of her world is the Yotsuba trademark, without any cloying Pollyanna überniceness or Dennis Mitchell destruction. Just like Darkseid, Yotsuba is. After all, who could have charmed the Grey Lady herself, the austere New York Times, to go from this bewildered "WTF?" description of Vol. 6...

NYT this more savvy and appreciative summary three months later:


Yotsuba's set up shop in my right-hand column for quite some time, as an avatar of exactly what this blog is about. In case you haven't seen that recently:


With Yotsuba, it always is.

#15: TALES DESIGNED TO THRIZZLE VOL. 1 • Fantagraphics has brought out a great-looking hardcover collection of Michael Kupperman's brilliant Tales Designed to Thrizzle, reprinting the first four black-and-white issues in color! (Now that's extra added value from your pal Gary Groth right there!) Without hyperbole, Thrizzle is simply the funniest, most guffaw-out-loud comic book they're going to have to pry out of your cold, dead hands when you die laughing. Kupperman's style is to take a relatively simple if absurd situation (asking your friend if you smell like a hobo) and take it completely to its illogical conclusion (a plea to buy more Fireman Octopus merchandise) within the span of four pages. Thrizzle's stuffed from front cover to impressive back page blurbs with Kupperman's splendiferous pulps-meet-woodblock-print artwork and lunatic stories; it's one of those rare humor books that actually is downright hilarious. Truth in disclosure: yours little stuffed truly, and my pal John, work for W. W. Norton, which distributes Fantagraphics titles to the bookstore trade.

#14: AGENTS OF ATLAS • Really, just what the Sam Scratch is wrong with you people? Every week you buy umpteen-ump copies of Deadpool to inspire Marvel to put out four more series, while you let inventive, imaginative, and just-plain-crackjack comics like Agents of Atlas dwindle down to sales of 17,500 copies a month and get cancelled. Restarted this year with a new #1, Agents didn't even reach a full year of publication. So what'd you miss? Great high adventure including an innovative "Dark Reign" tie-in pitting the supposedly-villainous-but-really-good Atlas against the supposedly-good-but-really-villainous Norman Osborn, guest spots by the Avengers and the Hulk, the accomplished storytelling and natural dialogue of Jeff Parker, the beautifully textured and nuanced art of Carlo Pagulayan, Clayton Henry, Gabriel Hardman and Dan Panosian, and the most unique team of heroes in the Marvel Pantheon. Including a talking gorilla. A freakin' talking gorilla. Luckily for fans, the adventures of Marvel's most subversive superheroes continues in a series of minis teaming them with the X-Men and Avengers, back-up features , and (it looks like) some leading, starring roles in the Marvel Universe. But the regular Agents of Atlas? There ya go, and there it went. This is probably the strictest and scold-iest I will get during the Fun Fifty, but hey! Do you remember when your mom told you "If you can't take care of your nice things, you don't get to have them anymore!" And that's what happened with Agents of Atlas. I've got nothing against Marvel Zombie consumerism...heck, look at my pull list!...but seriously, guy who's buying every Red Hulk title on the shelf...try something new once in a while.

#13: THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST/IMMORTAL WEAPONS • For as goofy a concept as it was in the 1970s, Iron Fist has slid into the twenty-first century with remarkable ease and grace: from a kung fu exploitation hero (teamed up with a blackspoitation hero) to a modern multi-generationed hero encountering—and battling— his history and legacy. Duane Swiercyznski's admirably kept Danny Rand's adventures up on the same historical high-adventure zen as series originators Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, teaming Iron Fist with his former fight opponents Five Immortal Weapons, a quartet of beautiful and bizarrely compelling characters. Brubaker and Fraction introduced the Weapons, but it's Swiercyznski who breathes true life and personality into them in Iron Fist's final arc and the Immortal Weapons miniseries. What I said about Danny Rand in the early issues of this series, that goes five times for the Weapons: this series has revived my interest in the zen outer edges of the Marvel Universe with dramatic but innovative continuity implants that granted these characters more import and weight in their world. Behind each of its dramatically gorgeous covers, Immortal Weapons is a true Marvel Universe comic in its purest form: pitch-perfect origin stories, world-sweeping grand adventure, and the choices and tragedy that build a Marvel hero.

#12: STRANGE TALES • What happens when you let a group of top-notch indie comics artists loose in the Marvel Universe? Chaos, bellylaughs, beautifully distinctive art, and—surprise!—a remarkable level of knowledge of and love for the Marvel heroes. It's tentpoled by the long-shelved Peter Bagge story "The Incorrigible Hulk," but golly, what treasures there are in here: Paul Pope's Lockjaw and the Inhumans, James Kolchaka's "Hulk Sqaud," Iron Man versus Baloney-Head by Tony Millionaire, Stan Sakai's Japanese samurai Hulk, and my favorite: R. Kikuo Johnson's Puppet Master/Alicia Masters/Thing story, which proves the politically-incorrect but absolutely hilarious point that a blind woman just ain't that good in the workplace. Strange Tales is a minty-fresh triumph—that old moniker "The House of Ideas" is as fresh and applicable as ever. You have do this again soon, Marvel.

#11: THE INCREDIBLE HERCULES • The best mix of mythology and modern superheroing since Walt Simonson's Thor, Herc kept hitting them out of the park again and again in 2009: the Prince o' Power's clash with his crazy-ass relatives on Midgard Earth, the breaking of the Herc/Amadeus Cho fellowship and young AC's origin, and the craziest Thor cosplay since a frog picked up the Uru hammer. But Incredible Hercules deftly balances tragedy and pathos with the high-adventure and comedy; we're never far away from a story of deep regret or shame in Hercules's past. Make what you will of rumors of Hercules' (and his book's) demise in the not-too-distant future: he's a freakin' god! Just you want and see...he'll be back.

...and, so will I, Sunday, to wrap up The Fun Fifty of 2009, with a few laughs 'n' giggles, at least one more scolding that a great book ended way too soon, and (I'm guessing) a #1 that will come as a surprise to ya. Little Stuffed Bull over an' out and to all my friends and comrades out there in blogosphere land, remember this: don't bet too heavily on the Super Bowl.You need that money to buy more comic books!

365 Days with Hank McCoy, Day 36

Amazing Adventures #15
Panel from Amazing Adventures #15 (November 1972), script by Steve Englehart, pencils by Tom Sutton, inks by Frank Giacoia and John Tartaglione, letters by Jean Izzo

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Fun Fifty of 2009: #20

Welcome back my friends to the blog that shows the trends! That's right, it's time for another installment of The Fun Fifty of 2009, and today we're going to do a little something different—I'm only going to give you one entry in the list! Why? Oh, why? Well, because it's actually really cool, it's got lots of keen pictures, and if you stick around you just might learn something before we're through! Clear the stage, cue the lights, and raise the curtain for...NUMBER TWENTY!

#20: MARVEL DECADE VARIANT COVERS • Along with Wolverine Art Appreciation (#33 on the Fun Fifty '09), Marvel issued a number of other series of themed covers including parodies of famous and iconic Marvel Comics images using their cute-as-a-button Super Hero Squad, and an anniversary updating of the 1986 25th Anniversary "frame" covers. But by far my favorite, and the theme that actually did for the first time in my little stuffed life have me scouring the shelves for variants, was Marvel's "Decade Variant" covers. When I first heard of these I thought it would be a fairly mundane exercise in making the covers of the 2009 books look as if they had been published in different decades, like a Daredevil cover with the Atlas 1950s monster look, or Spider-Man as he might have been published in the 1940s by Timely Comics. Marvel was a little more offbeat and inventive than that: they produced covers that sent their heroes back in time to experience the great pop culture of those decades, complete with newly designed period logos, which I just loved. As variant covers, these didn't reflect in the least what was goin' on inside, although in many cases I wish they had. I think these are fun in its purest form: they just amuse the stuffin' out of me. And hey, Marvel? Will you please put together a pamphlet collection of these like you did with the Wolvie covers? Pretty please?

Here's just some of the Decade Variant Covers, which take you back to the last century...

...from the disco seventies...

...through the metal nineties... idealized 1950s...

...a patriotic, gung-ho 1940s...

Could 1939 be comics' finest year?

In the 1970s it was hard to tell who was and wasn't a crook.

This would have made Shuri the first black heroine to have her own comic. Ah, if only.

But the following four are my favoritest, and as far as I'm concerned, the funnest of the bunch!

Daken would like to say "Thankyuh, thankyuh verra much."

Whoa! Either Emma's at a drive-in showing 'Yellow Submarine,' or Iceman slipped some of the brown acid into her bubbles.

In the nineteen seventies, everybody loved a disco guy who showed off a little chest hair.

And let's face it: the 80s were quite a thriller!

So, remember, comics are not only your best entertainment value (if you discount their high cost and the short timespan it takes to read them)...they're also a valuable and historically accurate lesson into how we all lived in the twentieth century! Why, I'm sure you all remember doing this:

Kitty Pryde and Ororo
Dazzler and Magneto
Cannonball, Wolverine
On a comics magazine

Beast and Cyke and Grey, Jean
Archangel and the White Queen
Psylocke, Northstar, Stacy X
Mutant powers, mutant sex

Cable, Juggernaut and Sage
Made you want to turn the page
Iceman, Pixie, Gambit, Xorn
Hope Maggott won't be reborn

Mutants trained by Prof C.X.
Hangin' round in tight spandex
Get into that bright costume
Strike a pose in the Danger Room!


See y'all tomorrow for the Fun Fifty #19-11!

Oh, I almost forgot! Click here for the rest of the Decade Variants!

365 Days with Hank McCoy, Day 35

Defenders #125
Panel from [The New] Defenders #125 (November 1983), script by J. M. DeMatteis, pencils by Don Perlin, inks by Kim DeMulder, colors by Christie Scheele, letters by Janice Chiang

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Fun Fifty of 2009: #30-21

Comic RackHi hi hi, everyone! Good evening, ladies and germs and all the ships at sea! It's me, your little stuffed host, Bully, back with another action-filled, tension-thribbled, groundhog-free installment of The Fun Fifty, the only awards show that takes place not on a stage but entirely on a spinning comics rack! (Also, the Cable Ace Awards.) When we last left you, we were at.,..let me check my clipboard here...number three thousand and thirty! So let's count down the next ten, starting with number 3,029...the comic where Guy Gardner throws up blood!:

#3,029: GUY GARDNER: BLOODPUKER #43 • If you were lookin' for some high-adventure blood-puking in 2009, then there's only one comic you could have gone to. Actually, there were several, but only one featured everyone's favorite plasma-barfer, Guy Gardner! This crimson-stained comic had everybody reaching for the bucket in 2009 when Guy became a member of the Blood Puking Lantern Corps and began to...

Wait a minute! Number three thousand and twenty-nine? Who's been messing with my clipboard???


What did I tell you, you darn groundhog! Get outta here! Go bother Sims for once!

Now that he's gone, let's get on with the real countdown, 'kay? Here we go again with...

#30: DARK REIGNWhat's that?!? Bully enjoyed a Marvel mega-event? Is up now down? Is black white? Is Batman Owlman? Is Mr. Fantastic The Brute? I haven't made secret my feelings about the past...can it be six years of Marvel's heroes rolling down the slippery slope that started with "Avengers Disassembled": ranging from pretty general indifference for some storylines and outright little-stuffed-entitled-rage over others. Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.? (*Strategic Hound Intelligence, Encompassing Little Dalmatians) I'd call that book Iron Man: Director of J.E.R.K.*! (*Justice Eliminated, Revering Kaos) But you know, getting me interested in the newest twist in the Marvel Universe is as simple as 1-2-3: #1: Make the villains the villains. Enough pitting hero vs. hero, let's show that when supers squabble the sinisters slither in. (Oooh, that's good!) With Stormin' Norman Osborn in charge, there's an entirely new status quo, and it's compelling to see how the heroes—from the ground level to the cosmic—react. #2: As Stan once said, Bring on the Bad Guys! We've been privy to a level of intimacy with 616's supervillains that we haven't had since the last time Doctor Doom and the Red Skull got together for brunch. I've become somewhat sympathetic to Hercules's brother Ares, thrilled by the loose-cannon exploits of Bullseye/Hawkeye, intrigued by the machinations and madness of Norman himself. It's a clever twist on the usual "hero fights villain" trope of superhero comics. Heck, there were a few moments (a few) when I even liked Daken. And of course, #3: keep it fun. With the entire event spreading across the MU, there's plenty of heroes and villains to follow, but whatever book you're reading, there's high adventure and drama and suspense and even a lot of laughs. (You gotta love the bickering the Dark Avengers mutter behind Osborn's back; squabbling among themselves just like the Fantastic Four or the Avengers.) The triumph of Spider-Man as he tricks Osborn in Spider-Man: The List, the roller-coaster twists of a hero betraying his team to save his child, and even the Sentry's Kenny McCormick impersonation every few issues, made me feel that even if each individual title didn't appeal to me, this was a world that was different and unique. After decades of promising "the Marvel Universe will never be the same," they finally did it. Dark Reign: I wouldn't wanna read about it forever, but it's a fun place to visit.

#29: SIMPSONS COMICS • Like Futurama, the Simpsons line of comics from Bongo is consistently one of my favorites: there's always at least two or three, very often a few dozen laugh-out-loud moments and sheer animation-to-page entertainment. And that's a lot of entertainment: the Simpsons family of comics includes Simpsons Comics, Simpsons Super Spectacular, Bart Simpson, Treehouse of Horror, Summer Shindig, Winter Wingding, and The Love Stories of Moe Szyslak. Among this year's stand-outs: Sergio Aragonçs came aboard to write and illustrate Bart's fiftieth issue and he continues with the charming "Maggie's Crib" feature in subsequent issues; interconnecting stories of life in the information age take our favorite yellow family into cyberspace; plus the three-issue crossover event (and future "Monday Night Mural") Radioactive Man Saga parodies everybody's favorite hobby (and it ain't collecting stamps, bub!) With jokes and dialogue as sharp and witty as the Sunday night TV show, Simpsons Comics never fail to entertain me. Why thank you, young man...I will have a cow!

#28: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN • Your mileage may vary depending on the writer and artist on a particular arc, but I've been digging the whole post-MJ (who?!?) Spidey-saga more than I've thrilled to our friendly neighborhood you-know-what in years. New characters, old characters kept fresh with new intriguing subplots, an unexpected wedding, the meanest mayor in Manhattan, and the ever-growing threat of Dark Reign: all these elements thrown into the mix and spun out intricately kept me hanging like a...well, you know. My favorite arcs included "24/7," a fun twist on how nothing ever works out for Spidey no matter how hard he tries, the aforementioned wedding story, done reverently and joyfully, and may I say, 'bout time May found a new man of her dreams, and the main Dark Reign tie-in: "American Son," the last temptation of Harry Osborn that pits him against his father, with Spider-Man in the middle. Add in the return of Stan the Man for a funny tale of Spidey visiting his therapist, and the return of that red-headed stranger, and you've got a Spider-year that 2010's going to have to work hard to beat.

#27: THE INVINCIBLE IRON MAN • Tony Stark makes you feel he's a cool exec with a brain of oatmeal, thanks to Matt Fraction's scripting on one of the finest Shellhead tales in recent years, "World's Most Wanted." On the run from Norman Osborn and his Dark Avengers, Tony's not only got to keep not only Stark Industries's technology out of the hands of H.A.M.M.E.R....but the secrets of the entire superhero world that Tony has in his head. Stark sets off on a global chase to destroy his factories...and his systematically erasing his brain bit by bit. As Norman gets closer, Stark gets dumber...and his Iron Man armor is downgraded every time until he's clomping around in the old grey metal shell. But even a disgraced Tony's got allies, especially perky Pepper Potts, who gets to try on a tin suit of her own. #19's final faceoff between Stark and Osborn is one of the best single issues of 2008. Hey, movie guys...looking yet for a great plot for IM3? You could do yourseves, and us, a favor by picking up Fraction's story!

#26: MARVEL ADVENTURES: AVENGERS • 2009 saw a farewell to my favorite Avengers book since...oh, around the glory days of Michelinie, Byrne, and Perez. Paul Tobin's kid-friendly Avengers are nevertheless the real deal: wisecracking Spider-Man, earnest Captain America, innovative Iron Man, regal Thor...but all with a sense of humor and rollicking fun missing from New and Mighty Avengers. This past year saw more action in each single issue than most entire Bendis arcs: the Avengers time-travel to Ancient Egypt and team up with Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos (stopping for pancakes with Abe Lincoln along the way); join a dating service to thwart Batroc's schemes; face off against a vengeful genie intent on stomping Bruce Banner...and they clean up Avengers Mansion. I can think of no finer Marvel book to introduce kids...or, indeed, the Marvel superheroes and their sense of justice and fun. By the end of the year MA: A was gone and Marvel Adventures Super Heroes rebooted the Avengers with even more diverse characters (Nova! The Invisible Girl!), but I'm already nostalgic for the genial but dense Hulk and the Spider-Man with wisecracks that actually do make you laugh of MA: Avengers. This book will be missed.

#25: TORCHWOOD: CHILDREN OF EARTH • 2008 only gave us five episodes each of Doctor Who and Torchwood, but whoo-hoo, what a ride! I was glued to the edge of my seat (darn you, Shelly! Put the paste away!) through the five-night Torchwood miniseries in sorta-real-time: darker and edgier than most of the regular episodes, with mysteries and cliffhangers that send a chill up your spine. For best results if you have the DVD, watch a chapter a night, but don't watch the accompanying documentary until after the miniseries! Even saying too much might ruin the fun, so I'll simply say that we find out one of the darkest moments of Captain Jack's past, and I don't wanna work for Torchwood anymore. It's just too dangerous. Fine, spooky, moody stuff reminiscent of alien-vistation films of the fifties and sixties with a twist of the twenty-first century (when everything changes).

#24: WEDNESDAY COMICS • Some comics look great. Some comics are innovative in format. Some are thrilling to read. Wednesday Comics, while flawed, hit pretty close to those three marks each of its twelve weeks. This clever and cool anthology replicates the big Sunday comics sections of old, with a modern DC twist: each of the strips is a continuing adventure of DC heroes big and small. Curiously, the three least effective strips were those of DC's big guns: the trinity of Batman (fairly standard and somewhat mundane Bat-adventure), Superman (poorly-paced, frequently action-less), and Wonder Woman (pretty to look at, strenuous to read: a dream does not a story make). The strips that stood out—the ones I looked forward to every week—were those that took experimental new approaches to not only their starring heroes but the format of the strips. Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook's Prince Valiant-flavored "Kamandi" gave a grandeur and solemnity to Kirby's over-the-top world. Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred's playful and sixties-tinged "Metamorpho" played games with panels and layout, including a snakes and ladders board game and trippy hip-hop through the periodic table where Metamorpho changes into every element plus works each chemical abbreviation into his dialogue. Kyle Baker's "Hawkman" is big, gorgeous, all-action fun of a guy with wings and a big-ass mace fighting dinosaurs; best cliffhangers in the series. But by far my favorite couple features were Karl Karschl and Brenden Fletcher's "The Flash," where a time-zipping Barry Allen shared a page with the soap opera comic "Iris West," paralleling his adventures from his wife's POV; and "Supergirl" by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, with Kara chasing superpets-gone-wild Streaky and Krypto with the aid of guest-stars Dr. Mid-Nite and Aquaman (and his "shell-phone"). Conner's artwork is bright and energetic; I'd love to see her draw a regular Supergirl series. Wednesday Comics is a mixed bag: some duds, an assortment of good but uninspired comics, and a few polished gems. In the Silver Age, DC spotlighted characters and artists in rotating books like The Brave and the Bold and Showcase. The best of Wednesday Comics has the right stuff to stand alongside those classics.

#23: DARK REIGN: FANTASTIC FOUR • I loved Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's FF with its way-out science concepts and inventive twists on the mythology of Marvel's First Family (altho' I'll say it one last time: where the heck was Alicia during all this?!? Nice handkerchiefy ending to the Ben wedding story, tho'). As up and down as the FF's book can be in recent years...heck, throughout its existence...I was a little worried about the departure of Messrs. M. & H. and the arrival of Jonathan Hickman as my favorite team's new scripter. I needn't have worried, and didn't, when I read Dark Reign: FF. Hickman's got the characters voices and personalities down perfect (I love, love, love his Ben Grimm!), and he uses the wonderful emphasis on family that few other superhero teams have to spin off new and interesting stories. DRFF (durff?) features Reed opening alternate realities to find one in which his recent, Civil War-period errors might have been rectified, while Sue, Johnny and Ben tumble through diverse Earths, encountering and teaming up with different versions of themselves. So who's left behind to hold the fort against Norman Osborn and his invading Dark Avengers? Why, Franklin and Valeria, "home alone" in the Baxter Building, of course! I'm enjoying Hickman's regular ongoing issues of the FF series (especially the recent birthday party story and the wonderful covers by Alan Davis), but DRFF tickles me pink with its concept and execution, not to mention The Most Fun Panel of 2009:

Clobbering Hour

#22: FIN FANG 4 RETURN • Okay, you were paying attention last night when I told you how much I enjoy Roger Langridge's work on The Muppet Show, right? Well, that goes quadruple for the sequel to his much-beloved monster team-up, setting loose four of the Atlas Era's classic monsters (shrunken to handy-human scale) in today's Marvel Manhattan. Googam (son of Goom) has a therapy session with Doc Samson and plots to be adopted by a child-collecting celebrity; Gorgilla has a "curious" adventure; Fin himself works the grill at a Chinese restaurant and (ultimately) bums out Professor X as well as saving Christmas with the help of Dr. Strange's right-hand man Wong.; Elektro falls in love (again? but that trick never works!) Golly, this is goofy, grand fun for anyone who doesn't take the Marvel Universe too seriously...and with ancient monsters running around it in their underpants, why should you?

#21: MARVEL DIVAS • Sure, Models Inc. had the better covers by far (really, what was up with that T&A-tastic Marvel Divas ish #1 cover that Marvel still had to use it on the trade?), but Marvel Divas bought a joy and gentle humor to the quartet of Hellcat, Firestar, the Black Cat and Captain Marvel Photon Pulsar the smart one in Nextwave Monica Rambeau. Solid and mostly subtle writing by Robert Aguirre-Sacasa and lovely nuanced and cartoony art by Tonci Zonjic highlight the lives of four superhero women partying, gossiping, shopping and dealing with the tough things in life: love, money troubles, cancer, and an ex-husband literally sending you through hell. The ending's a little pat and predictable but leaves room open for a sequel (please!) and it's wonderful to see four strong and well-defined women in an adventure that doesn't involve punching someone on every page. This series is a great kick-off to Marvel's focus on their female characters in 2010's Girl Comics and Marvel Her-oes. Just try to keep those covers classy, guys, okay?

Whew! That's a whole spinner rack of fun-osity from the past twelve months. And we haven't even gotten to The Plaid Lantern Corps, Giant-Sized Thor Goes Shopping on the iTunes Store Annual, Dark Power Pack, and It's Called Superman But Superman's Not Actually In It, No, No, Work With Me Here, Hey, Don't Put Me Back on the Rack! And can you even believe #1 is going to be Ultimatum? Oh, whoops, darn!!! I've spoiled the big surprise. Well, if you come back tomorrow I'll give you candy? Will that work?

Candy and a nickel. That's my final offer.

Okay, a dime.

365 Days with Hank McCoy, Day 34

X-Men: First Class #2
Panel from X-Men: First Class v.1 #2 (December 2006), script by Jeff Parker, pencils by Roger Cruz, inks by Victor Olazaba, colors by Val Staples, letters by Nate Piekos

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 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 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, 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.

365 Days with Hank McCoy, Day 33

X-Men #22
Panels from [Uncanny] X-Men #22 (July 1966), script by Roy Thomas, pencils by Werner Roth, inks by Dick Ayers, letters by Artie Simek

Monday, February 01, 2010

Fun Fifty of 2009: #50-41

Stack o' ComicsWhoo boy, am I exhausted! What's got yours truly, the third-most popular stuffed animal blogger on the internet, so plum tuckered out (or is that tucker plummed out)? Why, I've been spending the day sorting through the Paramount-logo sized mountain of comics and graphics novels and miscellany of the last year to find my favorites of 2009! Yes, the little stuffed bull is last over the finish line once again, but hey, I've gone the long distance for you: no mere Top Ten or Succulent Seventeen or even a Terrific Twenty-Two...but once again I present to you, with minimum commercial interruptions

The Fun Fifty of 2009!

Yes sirree, I've got a lot of books and comics and whatnot to sort through. This whole afternoon was spent wading through my piles of pamphlets, swimming through them like a porpoise, throwing them up in the air and letting them hit him on the head. (Warning: do not do that with this thing.) So, while I'm sure you're all hoping your favorite will pull out ahead in the race and sprint over the winning line, remember this: comics are not horses. And now that we're all clear on that...let' the words of the guy my good pal Casey Kasem...

Um, actually, what I wanted him to say was...

Casey Kasem

Wow! I didn't know that. Is that true?

Jean Kazem

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 floppy—heck, I'll take a MP3—of 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 SIRENSCatwoman'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, 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!

Tales of the Black Freighter

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!