Saturday, January 13, 2007

Fun Fifty of 2006, Part 1 of 5

Y'know, despite my cheerful bullish optimism, not everything in comics is fun. To channel the spirit of the Piano Man, let's revisit some of the not-fun moments of 2006:

Reed Richards is black-hearted
JLA just can't get started

Alley-killer Uncle Ben
No new Wonder Woman till when?

Thing got cancelled, Nextwave too
Franklin's abandoned by Sue

Whedon's X-Men is a bore
I don't recognize J'onn no more

The Question keeps on getting sick
Tony Stark's a total dick

Dark Speedball
Booster's dead
Pantha's Bouncing Rolling Head

Negative Zone Gitmo,
(Yes I know Pantha was a year ago)

Civil War
Killer Clor
I can't take it anymore!

Enough! If you know me, you know I am a little stuffed comic fan with a positive attitude on life. And despite my gloomy outlook above, there's actually a lot to celebrate in 2006: dozens of comics that made my fun list week after week. So, when you're feeling gloomy or discouraged about the state of contemporary mainstream comics, remember that Comics Oughta Be Fun!

Don't believe me? Why, for shame, buster, coz when I pick my fave comics of the year, I can't just narrow 'em down to five or ten: I've gotta go all-out hog wild and give you half a hundred...that's how much fun 2006 was!

So,without further ado, here's the first ten of fifty reasons why comics were fun this past year: beginning the countdown of Bully's "Fun Fifty for 2006!":

ALTTEXT50. AMERICAN SPLENDOR: Harvey Pekar's renowned and acclaimed autobiographical comic gets a new lease on life at Vertigo (and, I hope, new readers who hadn't discovered him before) and shows us that slice-of-life stories of traffic woes and plumbing disasters are every bit as entertaining and touching as superhero shenanigans.

ALTTEXT49. FANTASTIC FOUR: THE END: Pitch-perfect beautiful Alan Davis art is the highlight of this future tale which would be an "Elseworlds" if it were published at DC. There's much, much more than just the FF in this story as well: you might even consider it Marvel Universe: The End for its amazing range of characters from the Avengers to the Inhumans, the Silver Surfer to Sh'iar. A Marvel fanbull's dream.

ALTTEXT48. MOUSE GUARD: This beautifully-illustrated and elegantly-told saga only just happens to star rodents but is one of the best fantasy comics in the past several years, never mind only 2006. It deserves to be praised in the same breath as breakout successes like Bone, which built its fan base in its early issues with a solid publication schedule, so let's hope a second Mouse Guard series is coming soon. Also, I do hope the non-traditional square-sized format isn't keeping you from pickin' it up!

ALTTEXT47. BATTLER BRITTON: Garth Ennis reinvents the classic British comic book hero air ace, keeping the realism (but not the ultra-violence and adult language) of his acclaimed War Stories series. A great comic to hand to your friends who don't care for superheroes: if they enjoyed Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers or Flyboys or Flag of Our Fathers, this is a perfect introduction that comics aren't just for kids anymore.

ALTTEXT46. SUPERMAN RETURNS: One of the most eagerly-awaited movies of the year: it made over $200 million and still was considered by Hollywood to be "not a massive success." Whoa, that's some screwed-up economics if you ask me! What did make it a success in my little button eyes was its careful attention to modern sensibilities that built upon the much-revered Christopher Reeve films, especially in its portrayal of the eternal Lois/Clark/Superman love triangle and the longing ache in Kal-El's heart that he is forever separated from the woman who is the center of his universe. And oh boy, that space plane sequence!

ALTTEXT45. FANTASTIC FOUR: FIRST FAMILY: Proof to this slightly-cynical stuffed bull that a massive continuity implant doesn't have to violate the spirit of characters we know and love (I'm lookin' at you, X-Men: Deadly Genesis). Filling in the blanks between panels of FF #1 may be a thankless job, but this mini gave us a compelling and interesting tale of Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben learning to live with their powers, at the same time not being a rip-off or copy of Kirby.

ALTTEXT44. LOCAL: Quiet, moody, and sometimes heartbreaking loosely-connected tales that are pitch-perfect in capturing the neighborhoods featured in each issue, not simply through lively art but through the spirit and energy of the very different locales. I'm especially and personally partial to the spot-on Park Slope, Brooklyn issue (#6) which perfectly captures the distance New Yorkers put between each other, but every issue is a gem and feels like it's genuinely moving towards a distinct and definite conclusion rather than simply wandering aimlessly issue after issue.

ALTTEXT43. DETECTIVE COMICS: This is the first of several Bat-books on this year's Fun Fifty: it was a very good year to be a Bat-fan. Batman: The Animated Series guru Paul Dini's issues were the highlight for me: mostly done-in-one adventures that actually featured Batman using his detective skills, and #826's Joker-versus-Robin joyride is some of the best personality work on either character in many issues. The needlessly-cheesecakey artwork of the Poison Ivy issue aside, this is the best Detective has read and looked in years.

ALTTEXT42. DOCTOR STRANGE: THE OATH: I was mildly interested but not enthusiastic about a new Doc miniseries; 2005's JMS Strange series seemed to be a needless reinvention and pointless padding of Doctor Strange's origins and I didn't have true faith Marvel was going to make up for that. Surprise, surprise: an entertaining tale that calls upon Doc's skill both as both sorcerer supreme and surgeon is highlighted by a touching portrayal of his friendship with Wong, plus a wonderful reinvention of the campy old Night Nurse character as a "why didn't anyone think of that before?" surgeon to the superheroes.

ALTTEXT41. STAN LEE MEETS...: It's considered fair game to poke fun at Stan for his endless self-promotion (and really, one of these days I would love to hear out of his own mouth "When Jack and I created the Fantastic Four" or "When Steve and I created Spider-Man")...but I'll forgive the grand old man of comics his bombastic personal hype for what his work has influenced and led to: the quirky and ultra-detailed Marvel Universe, so unlike what had gone before that no one has ever been able to quite copy it. That's why I quite enjoyed the series of Stan Lee Meets... comics, an anthology series of unapologetically goofy stories in which the Man meets his co-creations. Stan Lee Meets the Thing was my favorite not only because I love Ben Grimm but because it was the one book of the series that treated its hero character straight, without a modern or slightly cynical marketing twist, but every issue had a handful of decent laughs, and the choice of classic Stan Lee Marvel issues for backups was a lovely and nostalgic touch. I'd definitely pay to see some Jack Kirby Meets... comics, but until then, these books are the epitome of the Marvel idea: characters and creators that take a ninety-degree twist not merely from reality but from the norm of what had come before them. Excelsior!

Bully's Fun Fifty for 2006 continues tomorrow with #40-31!


Douglas Wolk said...

I interviewed Stan a few years ago, when the first Spider-Man movie came out, and he was VERY quick to give Ditko lots of credit.

When the magazine came out, all mention of Ditko had been excised, and the hyphen in "Spider-Man" was missing.

That was the last time I wrote for that particular magazine.

SallyP said...

Bully, your poetry is amazing...and spot on.

Anonymous said...

I never really got all the hate directed at Stan for not giving props to Jack and Steve. I've read countless interviews with him, and he ALWAYS says that he was merely part of a team. And don't forget that he was an editor who made sure everyone got mentioned in the credits at a time when credits were optional. Heck, with those stupid names and jokes, he called more attention to the credits than anyone else! Even for those who say he downplayed the artist's role: he goes out of his way to explain "the Marvel Method," which pretty much indicates that he just stuck in word bubbles at the end. Stan is a little sleazy at times, but to say that he never calls attention to the artists is just incorrect.

Bully said...

Douglas and Clam, very good points. As you can tell, I'm a big Stan fan, and I certainly wasn't trying to say he was glomming all the credit. The media (which frequently paints Stan as the sole creator) is much more to blame. I guess I vent some frustration towards Marvel Comics itself for never properly crediting the creation to the teams--the closest we've gotten in recent years is during Busiek's FF, in which he found a way to credit both Stan and Jack as inspirations in the credits (but curiously enough, I don't think ever technically as "creators"). Which is not to say it's only a Marvel problem: DC is is some ways more negligent with their whitwashing of Bill Finger's role in Batman's creation.

But someday the record will be set straight not merely in the hearts and minds of the fans but in the pages of the comic books themselves.

Gardner said...

Nice list (and song!). But, re: Night Nurse - someone did think of it before. Bendis introduced her new role in his Daredevil run.

Bully said...

Thanks, Gardner, I didn't know that!...everyone keeps tellin' me I should have been and should be reading DD...there's yet another reason why!