Panel from Avengers #178 (December 1978), script by Steve Gerber, breakdowns by Carmine Infantino, finishes and inks by Rudy Nebres, colors by Nel Yomtov, letters by Joe Rosen
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Friday, February 12, 2010
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Panel from Avengers #188 (October 1979), plot by Jim Shooter, script by Bill Mantlo, breakdowns by John Byrne, finishes and inks by Dan Green, colors by Bob Sharen, letters by Gaspar Saladino
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
Panel from Avengers #197* (July 1980), script by David Michelinie, layouts by Carmine Infantino, finishes and inks by "Jack's Little Helpers" (Joe Rubinstein, Al Milgrom, Terry Austin, and others), colors by Bob Sharen, letters by John Costanza
*The first Marvel superhero comic book I ever bought!
Monday, February 08, 2010
Sunday, February 07, 2010
#10: NOMAD: GIRL WITHOUT A WORLD C'mon, you thought exactly the same as me. "What good could ever come out of Rob Liefeld's Captain America v. 2 reboot?!?" It was one of those "it seemed like a good idea at the time" movesturning over the flagship books of the Marvel Universe to the Image artists for a year could actually result in some new and fresh blood and ideas. Yet now, those "volume twos" of Marvel are best considered swept under the stairs, forgotten above, only useful for giving Marvel an opportunity to never mention Teen Tony again. And Cap? Oh, a Cap by Rob Liefeld and yet no "A" on his forehead is a scary thing indeed. After all, it's the comic book that gave us this wonderful moment of anatomy:
His...legs...are five feet long! And take a big steamin' gander at this one:
Um...yeah. To be fair, maybe Dum-Dum is really short and Sharon is really tall.
Oh my achin' head.
I could give Nomad props simply for not being as bad as Liefeld's Cap. But y'know what? Despite the title character being the Bucky of that universe and being reintroduced in (shudder) Onslaught Reborn, this miniseries is actually really good...just downright fun. Rikki Barnes, trapped in the Marvel Universe (hence the series subtitle!) finds out exactly what millions of schoolkids around the world already think: that her teacher's a supervillain: namely the (sorta lame) Professor Power from Marvel Team-Up. Except, like Rikki herself, Prof Power's been upgraded (thanks to a good story) to a genuine threat backed by the all-new, all-different, presumably non-Nixon-helmed Secret Empire. The customed hero action story is great, but it's the civilian subplot that stands out here: Rikki (and her brother from another Earth), their friends and schoolmates are all well-drawn and believable. Sean McKeever and David Baldeon give Rikki an' her pals realistic dialogue and designs, and her attempts to find a place for herself on a world where she technically doesn't exist is a unique twist to a human hero. The series has great covers, lovely dramatic art, and a solid plot that doesn't tip into pathos. It's been a long time since Marvel gave a new hero such a solid send-off to a series of adventures, and with the new Nomad set to make backup appearances in the high-profile Captain America and a potential for team-ups or membership in the Young Avengers, Rikki Barnes could be the next big young star of the Marvel Universe. I'm certainly eager to follow her future adventures.
#9: LANTERN RINGS Whoda thunk that a plastic giveaway toy would become one of the most fun promotional items in the world of comics this past year? Serving to build excitement around DC's ultra-zombie multi-crossover "Blackest Night," the rings dramatically increased the monthly sales of second-tier titles and even frontrunners in the DC stable: at its very heart, to the fans the promotion was more "buy a ring and get a free comic" than the reverse. Once you pick up Booster Gold or Outsiders or R.E.B.E.L.S. just to get the ring, you might, just might, get interested in the series enough to keep buying it. Only future analysis of the DC monthly sales will tell, but even if the sell-through of these books drop back to their usual level, it was good for the comic shops, it was fun for the collectors, and it was dynamite for DC. And even yours little stuffed truly had a lot of fun with 'em too! Not bad at all for a little plastic toy that in years past, would have been packaged at the bottom of a cereal box.
#8: DOCTOR DOOM AND THE MASTERS OF EVIL The most Shakespearean villain in the Marvel U, Dr. Doom has a rich and varied history of stories not only in the pages of Fantastic Four but in virtually every Marvel comic at one point or another. I've never counted 'em, but there must be a heck of a lot of Doom stories out there. The best of them treat Doom absolutely straight: a man of skill and honor and obsession, who is utterly and unerringly convinced that he is right and he is mighty...in fact, virtually above the level of ordinary humans, even the superheroes. The greatest Doom stories play on that hubris as Doom's greatest strength and flaw. Paul Tobin's splendid miniseries surrounds Doom with a wide cast of criminal characters from around the world, but you never, never forget who the boss is here. It's virtually a tour of villainy in the MU, from the Circus of Crime to Mysterio, from the Enchantress to the Sentinels, accompany (or oppose) Doom's elaborate odyssey to unlock an ancient power that will destroy his greatest enemy. Princess Python serves as the reader's avatar, voicing our own fears and doubts about Doom at the same time explaining the darkest corners of the Marvel Universe. All of this would make for a pretty good Doc Doom story, but it's the final plot twist, when Doom achieves exactly what he had planned for, that brings this to the top pantheon of the many adventures of Victor von D. Tobin's twist is brilliant, absolutely apt, and a sharp, appropriate coda to the series. It's easy to write a villain, and it's tough to get them right. Tobin hits a dead-center bullseye with Doctor Doom and the Masters of Evil, giving us a Doom you're both terrified and envious of.
#7: BERGEN STREET COMICS A comic book shop on my list of fun things of the year? Sure, why not? 've bought a lot of comics in a lot of comic book stores over the years, and many of them have been great comic book shops, beginning with Dream Days and Twilight in Syracuse, Queen City Books in Buffalo (where I got personal recommendations to pick up Bone and Sandman), and the famous Chicago Comics. But I've never felt a comic book shop was my "local" until Tom and Amy Adams opened Bergen Street Comics in Park Slope, Brooklyn, this past year. Part of the retail renaissance of this strip of Bergen Street with many fine destination stores, this is one of my favorite destinations in Brooklyn, period. Step into the store and you'll get a friendly welcome from Tom and Amy, who will frequently step out from behind the register to help you personally. It's a gorgeous space, with wide, spacious areas, well-stocked shelves and a large table of ever-changing interesting new releases, plus rotating comic art shows on the walls. Marvel, DC, Image, and other superhero publishers are well-represented, but it's in the extensive stock of independent and alternative comics and graphic novels that Bergen Street really excels. From the first day we stepped into the store we felt welcomed and valued, and Tom and Amy took the time and care to get to know our tastes and likes to be able to recommend and suggest new titles and creators. Not just us: this is a store where we regularly see an extremely wide range of customers, including Brooklyn-based creators (and those visiting from out of town), families with kids (Bergen Street has solid kids' comics and GN sections), women and teens, attracting a wider and more diverse customer base than I've seen before in a shop. More to the point, it's a fun shop: small but spacious, with plenty of treasures to persuade me to pick up something each time I'm in. Tom and Amy also run an extensive and impressive series of events and signings in the shop (I've got to get to them more often!). It's not enough to have a passion for comics; you also gotta have a good business sense, and I'm impressed by the amount of savvy and work that the Adamses have put into the store. In Brooklyn there's at two other really great comic book shops (Rocketship and Desert Island), but Bergen Street feels like home. You know how Englishmen have a pub they always call their "local?" Well, Bergen Street's my local, and I'm looking forward to many more years of giving them business. Bergen Street Comics on the web and on Facebook.
#6: CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND M13 Remember everything I said about Agents of Atlas the other day? Well, that goes double for Captain Britain and M13, a comic that barely made it past its first anniversary despite being one of the most acclaimed and raved-about superhero books in the past few years. You guys know what a little stuffed Anglophile I am, so it was a wonderful thing to read a superhero comic that actually felt as if it were taking place in contemporary England rather than some parody of a Miss Marple setting. If you were to take a cross-section of England's urban population, you'd wind up with a sizable percentage of Muslims, so team member Faiza Hussein is the first hero who actually makes me feel I'm reading adventures set in contemporary Britain. That doesn't mean it's a slow or dry sociological read, oh no: Paul Cornell (frequent writer for Doctor Who and now getting some well-deserved attention and sales writing Dark X-Men) has made Captain Britain an adventure at breakneck speed, spinning recent events (Secret Invasion) into an all-out battle to save Britain against the invasion of Dracula's vampire armies. The plots are clever and inventive, the dialogue is sparkling, and the entire series is filled with OMG and WT*! moments including some of the most hair-pulling cliffhangers I've read this year. This title, too, will be much missed. Cornell gave the characters a happy sendoff in issue #15 (including the return of one long-lost character), but let's hope they're not all permanently riding into the sunset. After all, the sun never sets on the British Empire.
#5: BATMAN AND ROBIN Grant Morrison no longer on Batman? For a Morrison fan, that's a hard pill to swallow. Luckily it's been made much easier by the new Batman and Robin series, which brings us not only a new Batman, not only a new Robin, but also Morrison's return to partnership with his All Star Superman artist Frank Quitely (at least, for the first three issues). I'm one of those "Bruce Wayne forever" kinda fanbulls, but I'm lovin' Dick Greyson as Batman and Damian Wayne as Robin. The new dynamic duo bring a freshness and electricity to juice up the Batman mythology, but Morrison isn't content with just dropping new heroes into the mix: there's grotesque new villainsThe Toad, Professor Pyg, and the Flamingoand, at least until the reappearance of a Lazarus Pit in the most recent issue, no reliance on the usual old tropes and trends that can tax a Batman fan's patience. I knew to expect a new Morrison title to be inventive, but I never dreamed how new it would look and feel. It's a crazy-ass, hallucinogenic, hyperactive Batman title, bright and brilliant without sacrificing the moody darkness and weirdness of Gotham City. If we're going to have to do without Bruce Wayne for a while anyway, well, Grant Morrison makes the change a thrill ride to be savored,
#4: BEASTS OF BURDEN Two of my favorite creators in comics teaming together? Sign me up! A comic about animals battling ghosties, goblins, and ghouls? Oh boy oh boy oh boy! That it's a cool idea and beautifully illustrated and written is no surprise. I'm head over hooves in love with these characters and (please please please, Dark Horse!) can't wait for a continuationthe miniseries is self-contained, but Dorkin and Thompson set up a sequel that has gotta be told. Sure, there's almost a whole genre of this sort of story now, not only in comics like We3, Pride of Baghdad, or Laika but books like Hank the Cowdog, the Bunnicula series, Watership Down or Redwall and their many impersonators, or even The Incredible Journey. You could event describe it as Hellboy, but with dogs and cats. I've loved Jill Thompson's fanciful artwork for years, especially on the Scary Godmother and Magic Trixie books, and she brings a lush palette and incisive realism to the looks and personalities of the animals. These are not generic cartoon dogs and cats, these are distinctive and different breeds to match their personalities. It's not for young kidsthere's a lot of scariness and some ghoulishly scary momentsbut it's an excellent comic for teens as well as adults.Freaky, moody, sometimes genuinely scary or deeply emotional, Beasts of Burden is one of the great comics of 2009 and deserves to stay in printand have new adventuresfor years. Anybody who complains that there's no great brilliant new series in comics these dayswell, I'm just going to hand them Beasts of Burden. (You can read some of the tales that led up to the miniseries on Dark Horse's website.
#3: BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD I considered Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon brilliant from the first episode, but it's really bloomed in its first full year and the beginning of its second season. Playing Batman straight but in an over-the-top world, this is a DC fan's dream, the ultimate team-up cartoon. The bigger guns and the obscure heroes of the DCU are spotlighted in episode after episode: Kamandi?!? Ace the Bat Hound?!? Enemy Ace?!? Detective Chimp!?...and, as far as I'm concerned, the finest and most entertaining portrayal of Aquaman ever (a bombastic personality that's very viable for a comic book Aquaman). The animation is brilliant, bright and fluid, and I love the designsbarrel-chested Batman, Dick Sprang-style Jokerand the cool professionalism with which Batman travels through time or to another planet. Basically, it's the 1950s moon-mystery Batman in a form we love! And if your minds weren't blown by the Bat Mite episode, or the all-singing "Mayhem of the Music Meister!" well, then, your hearts are made of stone. I didn't think I'd enjoy a Batman cartoon after the great evolution of the character through Justice League Unlimited. I was dead wrong to think that. Only complaint? Give us a full Season One DVD set, Warner! You know we'll buy it!
#2: LOCKJAW AND THE PET AVENGERS Here's the thing I love about Marvel today. Even in a climate where their bestselling books are dark, moody, multi-part sagas stretching over years, where the villains have won and the heroes are on the run...well, even then, there's still room for an utterly charming, witty, and fantastic series like Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers. And what a concept! An incredible journey through time and space by the animal sidekicks of the great superheroes to capture and keep safe the Infinity Gems (see: one billion issues of Marvel books written by Jim Starlin) pokes into all the grandest and most bombastic corners of the Marvel Universe, including a character I thought I'd never see again after the 1980s: Frog Thor. (You can call him Throg.) Scripter Chris Eliopoulos, no stranger to writing fantastic and fun books like Franklin Richards, treats this outrageous concept perfectly normal, and when you come down to it, in a world filled with aliens and superheroes and Norse gods and demons, it's probably even more likely that animals are going to have adventures behind our backs, right? Ig Guara's artwork is bold and fantastic; he gives wonderful expressions to the animals, and Colleen Coover, one of my favorite artists, contributes an absolutely charming origin of Throg tale in issue #2. Eliopoulos even does the impossible: bringing that annoying yapper Ms. Lion from the 1980s Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends into the real Marvel Universe, and making me shed a tear over her acts. (I'm sorry I ever said all those awful things about you, Ms. Lion!) Really great news: the Pet Avengers will return in a one-shot and another miniseries soon. Even better news: the joy and fun of the Marvel Universe is always theresometimes you just have to look down around your ankles to find it in the cat nuzzling your feet.
#1: SUPERGIRL: COSMIC ADVENTURES IN THE 8TH GRADE If you'd told me in 2008 that a Supergirl comic book would top my 2009 Fun Fifty, I'd have laughed and laughed and laughed. Then, wiping my eyes, I would have said...no, actually I would have burst into laughed again then, rolling on the floor in hilarity at your statement. Supergirl? When nowadays Supergirl looks like this?:
But still, at the time, you say "Supergirl," and I think this:
All of which left me utterly unprepared for this:
Yes, that's fourteen-year old Supergirl, spunky and fiery and curious and wide-eyed. (Literally!) I up picked the first issue of Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade because it looked cute. I kept on buying it, however, because I was intrigued by the continuing storyline where I'd expected simple straightforward done-in-one plots. But all that merely makes a good comic, not necessaily a great one. I'm giving Supergirl the Most Fun of the Year Award for its beautifully distinctive art (it copies neither the DC universe nor the DC animated character designs), surprisingly touching story, and frantically funny escapades. This much hasn't changed: Kara Zor-El as rocketed from the planet Argo to Earth, where Superman forges her a secret identity and becomes her role model. Trouble is, Kara's stuck in eighth grade at a boarding school where she's the class freak ("So computers don't respond to thought control? What stops them from uprising and rebelling them?"), leaving her to retreat into her daydreams of being a beloved hero, frequently on the moon since Earth doesn't appreciate her. I think every kidheck, even every stuffed bullhas had this feeling one time or another, and wished for superpowers to deal with it.
Kara's life is complicated when she accidentally creates an evil duplicate of herself (how bizarre!) and must vie with the new girl for attention among her schoolmates. Nobody's on Kara's side, not Principal Pycklemeyer or her classmates, until Kara falls in with another outcast: the brilliant whiz kid Lena Thorul. Uh oh! For those of you with a solid degree in Superman Studies, that name can only spell trouble!
That's another delightful aspect of Supergirl: while Landry Walker's script and plotline is a new approach and wonderfully fresh to Kara, he's put in enough references to Supergirl history to please a long-time fan without distracting newcomers to the character. Streaky's here, and Comet, and references to the Legion of Super-Heroes, red skies, the "emergency secret weapon," the Supermobile and more: "I think all I got was the power to talk to fish. Who wants to talk to fish?"
The art by Eric Jones is extremely appealing: beautifully expressive faces, dynamic action and wonderful character design. Linda Lee looks gangly and gawky even though she's the exact same build when she's Supergirl thanks to Jones's picture perfect take on the same sort of bewildered, bedraggled and can't-be-herself posture that Christopher Reeve gave Clark Kent. The scenery is delightful, from classrooms to outer space, dormitories to mad scientists' lairs. There's a wonderful sense of action in cause-and-effect scenes like Kara trying to write her detention on the blackboard a la Bart Simpson and winding up punching through the wall, or throwing a chunk of Kryptonite out the window, where it bounces into an electrical line, down to an alleyway, and fizzles and crackles in front of an alley cat with a lightning streak on his side. I've gotta give praise to to colorist Joey Mason, using a wonderful palette that pops Kara out against the dull everyday life of her school, makes a Red Kryptonite meteor storm shimmer and glow, and gives a brilliance to the whirlpool of matter at the beginning of time from which emerges the hand of...but no, that would be telling!
But all of these elements would be only gimmicks if the story itself wasn't so good and the characters so appealing (yes, even the evil ones...well, except for one). I presumed that this six-issue series would give us six different unconnected adventures of Supergirl, but it's a sagathe trials and tribulations of the girl who never fit in trying to come to grips with her peers, her arch-villains, and herself, living in the long shadow of her famous cousin. Kara's cutaway daydreams are funny, funny stuff ("Oh no! The meteor energy and the kryptonite combined to turn me into pure cheese. I'm too delicious to live!") but their progression also show how Supergirl is growing: the fantasy sequences grow fewer and fewer as the book goes on, and there's not a single one in the final issue. Dreaming is over, action is what's needed, and the lost girl from a faraway planet grows up to realize that who and what she has become is pretty special when you can save the world.
And hey: how could I not love a Supergirl who saves cows?
I recommend Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade to everybody who loves fun in comics: action, angst, humor and switch-a-roos that I didn't see coming. It might look like a book for kids, and they, especially girls, will love it just fine. No knowledge of the Superman universe is needed other than the bare minimum: do you know Superman? Do you know he fights Lex Luthor? You're all set now. Inventive while still retaining tremendous respect for the Supergirl mythos, funny without being silly, emotional without being maudlin, Supergirl needs and deserves a sequel (Adventures in the Ninth Grade, anyone?). Until then, read, enjoy, and wonder at the surprise of a mostly-overlooked miniseries in the Johnny DC line that I consider The Most Fun Comic Book of 2009. I'll go further than that: This is the finest Supergirl story I've ever read.
Well, there you go: fifty of 'em, stuff I liked and loved and hope you do too. Were there more that didn't quite make the cut-off? Oh, sure, there always are: Models Inc., The Wizard of Oz, Fables and Jack of Fables and the spin-off novel Peter and Max, Stitches, Dark Reign: The List, You Shall Die by Your Own Evil Creation!, Detective Comics, You'll Never Know, Masterpiece Comics, Prince Valiant, The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics, Millar and Hitch's Fantastic Four, Neil Gaiman's "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader"...there must be dozens more I'm forgetting. And two of the most acclaimed books of 2009, Asterios Polyp and 20th Century Boy, what did I think of them? Gulphaven't read 'em yet! My point (and I do have one) is this: any comic you like is a fun one. Buy what you love, read what you enjoy. That's true in 2009, true in 2010 and beyond. We're living in a golden age of superheroes, reprints, indy and art comics, web comics, movies and TV series from comics, andafter oh so many yearsthe beginnings of the recognition of our favorite medium as a fine art form. That in itself is fantastic, and can be fun on so many levels. But your number one, whether it be Blackest Night or Kramer's Ergot, is the test. Read it, savor it, love it. After all: isn't that feeling what got you into comics in the first place?