Monday, January 15, 2007

Fun Fifty of 2006, Part 3 of 5

Continuing our countdown of, um, synonym for "fun" that begins with "C." (Slight pause while I trot over to the shelves and check my Roget's) Conviviality! You can find #50-41 here and #40-31 here. That means we pick up again with number...

30. SIMPSONS COMICS: There are those who complain that The Simpsons...the TV no longer funny. I wanna grab them by the lapels, shake them thoroughly, and smack some sense into's still the funniest show on TV! P'raps age and overexposure has jaded some people but this li'l stuffed bull can't stop watchin' it...of course, your mileage may vary. But you'll still get a kick out of most issues of Simpsons Comics, which as far as I can tell, is the single longest-running licensed comic in the US today. As I often say in my reviews, the quality of an issue generally ranges from sorta fun to fun indeed (I found #119, with its parody of Donald Trump's The Apprentice, the highlight of a pretty good year), but even the occasional miss or dud usually has a gem of a joke or sight gag to entertain you. Like the show itself, it's occasionally uneven...but I argue that it's still consistently one of the best entertainment values, fun-for-buck wise, in the comics industry.

29. X-MEN: THE LAST STAND: The blogosphere told us the best movie of the year was gonna be Snakes on a Plane. The scuttlebutt online was that X3 would break the streak of pretty-good X-Men movies and kill off the franchise with a whimper, not a bang. Well, if 2006 taught us anything, it's that the movie industry (and audience) cares not a fig newton for what the fanboys on the internet say! Even I was one of the cautious advance-doomsayers about X-Men: The Last Stand, but I came out of the theater grinning like an idiot over how much good old-fashioned solid entertainment it was. Highlights for me: Kelsey Grammer as a quite respectable Beast, an increased role for Kitty Pryde, the first time all five of Xavier's original pupils have been included in a movie (tho' sadly not together), a fastball special or two, and as ever, Ian McKellan playing it absolutely as straight as Shakespeare and giving gravitas to a role of a guy in a big tin hat. If this is the end of the franchise it has nothing to be ashamed of its grand finale. If there are more X-Men movies, they have a lot to live up to.

28. HEROES FOR HIRE: In a year when much of the mainstream Marvel Universe was dragged down to the gutter, it was a breath of fresh air to see a few comic books still provide a monthly mix of high adventure and sharp wit, and even more of a surprise to have one of them be the follow-up to the overly-cheesecaked Daughters of the Dragon (which I so very badly wanted to like but had so much trouble getting past the Image-style pin-up art). Despite some exploitative artwork, especially in the first few issues (seriously, Colleen, put a bra on!), Heroes for Hire gave this little Misty 'n' Colleen fan what I thought was the impossible: Civil War crossover stories that entertained me. In the words of Mister Mark Knopfler: "That's the way you do it!"

27. SPIDER-MAN COLLECTIBLE SERIES: Or as I called it, Free Spidey: Lee and Ditko-era Amazing Spider-Man reprints given away, a half-issue once a week, as a supplement to your local newspaper. I lost track of when the New York Daily News was inserting the comics, but the program's still running across the country, and while the comics themselves are bare-bones, they're the ideal introduction to Spidey for an audience that quite possibly has never read a comic book before. (You are going to continue this idea straight through the release of the third Spidey movie, right, Marvel?) I pointed my hoof suitable j'accuse fashion at Marvel for not doing more with this program to link it to getting new customers into comic book stores where a world of wonder and enchantment awaits them, but aside from that, it's the best present of all: free comics every week of the year!

26. X-MEN: FIRST CLASS: My first introduction to the Marvel Universe was finding the old Simon & Schuster trade paperback Sons of Origins of Marvel Comics in the Liverpool Public Library all those many years ago when I was no more than a tiny stuffed calf. That book contained a reprint of, among many other gems, Stan 'n' Jack's X-Men #1, which became an immediate and instant obsession for me to find more stories about the five uncanny mutants introduced in that tale. Next stop was my local Syracuse comic shop where I picked up the most recent issue of Uncanny X-Men, which I loved and devoured and couldn't wait for the next one to come out. That issue? #137. Yes, in the period of less than one week I first read Jean Grey's first appearance and her last...then I got the joy of filling in the rest of the history with back issues. This new X-Men series fulfills much the same role as never-discovered backissues: continuity implant tales of the original five X-Men back before anyone went snikt or bamf or "By the White Wolf!". These are clever and fun done-in-one tales with a modern sensibility, but they don't violate the spirit or the joy of the early tales (unlike some other X-Men continuity implants I could mention coughdeadlygenesiscough). Unlike the last couple implant X-Men series (Professor X-Men and the X-Men and X-Men: The Hidden Years) this actually celebrates and honors the spirit of the original five without trying to reinvent them from the ground up.

25. ESSENTIAL/SHOWCASE PRESENTS....: We live in a Golden Age of comics. And a Silver Age. And a Bronze Age. All at once! That's because never before has such a wide variety of reprints of classic sixties, seventies, and even a handful of eighties DC and Marvel comics been available in trade paperback at affordable prices: now you can have those issues of Spider-Man or Captain America or Justice League of America or even Metamorpho or Spider-Woman in big chunky black-and-white volumes that celebrate the glory days of creativity in the Bullpen and their Distinguished Competition. I'm a huge fan of seventies Marvels and the Essential line is at last allowing me to read stories I've never had a chance to get my hooves on, and I'm broadening my admittedly spotty DC knowledge by picking up on some of their great series as well. I'm sure you have your favorites, but my top picks for the year include Essential Thor Volume 3, Essential Godzilla, Essential Moon Knight, Showcase Presents Batman, Showcase Presents Shazam!, Showcase Presents the Superman Family, and the oh-gosh-can-you-really-believe-they-reissued-this Essential Handbook of the Marvel Universe. As long as they keep publishin' 'em, I'll keep buyin' 'em.

24. SIMPSONS SUPER SPECTACULAR: Sometimes media tie-in comics make the mistake of catering too specifically for a comic-book buying crowd alone, alienating possible franchise fans who might not read other comic books. (Remember all those Marvel Comics parodies in Alf, or Mighty Mouse's "Mices on Infinite Earths"?) But hey, sometimes we wanna read our favorite media stars parodying or taking on the conventions of our favorite comic books. What's a licensing franchise to do? Bongo Comics has its cosmic-powered cake and serves it up on a Homeriffic TV tray for us too, with Simpsons Super Spectacular, an annual-sized two-or-three-times-yearly series that spoofs and salutes our superheroes with our favorite yellow family filling in. The highlight of the year was a dead-on Jack Kirby pastiche starring Homer as Galactus, but there's a galaxy of goofy greatness in every issue that are as geeky as Jeff Albertson but as excellent as Monty Burns.

23. LEGION OF SUPER HEROES TV cartoon: Justice League Unlimited and Teen Titans have both ceased production, and while The Batman has gotten better with the introduction of Robin, I still dearly missed my DC Animated universe...until the premiere of Legion of Super Heroes on the how-can-there-be-a-Kids-WB-when-there-isn't-a-WB-anymore network. LSH purists may quibble but I'm delighted: Warner has made a wonderfully inventive and energetic adaptation of the DC Universe's most complex series by stripping the concept down to its golden basics: superpowered teens of the future. The designers and producers are obviously fans as well; there's a wonderful kaleidoscope of inside jokes (look! Booster Gold!) and concepts from different eras of the LSH, and I'll forgive them for calling Superboy by Superman for legal reasons. (Plus, it brought back my two favorite, haven't-been-seen-in-years Legionnaires: Bouncing Boy and Matter-Eater Lad!) If you have never seen a show, try to catch the episode "Legacy" in reruns and don't tune out before the final shot! It'll send a chill up your spine...provided you can read Interlac!

22. SPIDER-MAN FAMILY: AMAZING FRIENDS: Speaking of superhero animated cartoons, why does the goofy and not-particularly-classic 1980s Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends series still inspire so many of us fans with fond memories and pleasant nostalgia? Could it be that it was the first time we saw the X-Men in animation? Could it be the charms of Miss Angelica Jones, aka Firestar? Could it be Ms. Lion? No, it could not be Ms. Lion. Whatever the reason, that cartoon harkens back to an older age of fun in Marvel animation, and who'da thunk that present-day Marvel would salute it with a big thick Spider-special of new stories and reprints celebrating Spidey, Iceman, and Firestar? Not me, that's for sure, but this issue nicely filled the gap left behind by Marvel Annuals in the summer and is best read with a light heart and a big glass of lemonade. I didn't care as much for the follow-up Spider-Man Family: The Black Costume special, but this format of new stories and reprints is to be encouraged from Marvel, and I can't wait to see what they've got in store next.

21. BATMAN: To paraphrase that old song about Alan Moore: "Grant Morrison knows the score, son!" I love the artwork of comics but more often than not these days what gets me to pick up a book I haven't been reading is the writer, and I'll pretty much follow Mister Morrison anywhere. His "Batman and Son" storyline that blasted off 2006's Bat-Renaissance was wacky, outrageous, challenging and heck, a whole lotta fun: from ninja bats to using artwork as sound effects, from perilous swordfights to picking up an ages-old storyline that we all thought had been retconned out of existence, this was one of the few serial stories this year where I just couldn't wait for the next chapter. The highlight, however, was the biggest and most significant improvement to post-Infinite Crisis Batman that I wanted to see and could have hoped for: a Batman who treats his colleagues and partners, especially Robin, with respect, support, and admiration for their skills and abilities. That's the kinda Batsy I wanna read about, and if it took a few Superboy-wall-punches and rolling heads of you-know-who to get to this point, well, I'll happily declare that the ends justify the means as long as it leads to a Batman I can respect.

There can't possibly be more fun comics from 2006, you say? Wrong! Bully's Fun Fifty for 2006 countdown continues tomorrow with #20-11!


SallyP said...

Fun as usual, Bully.

Matthew E said...

LSH purists may quibble but I'm delighted

Most LSH purists like the show too; there are some objections to the animation style or to the robotification of Brainiac 5, but overall Legion fans have reacted very positively to the show.

If you have never seen a show, try to catch the episode "Legacy" in reruns and don't tune out before the final shot! It'll send a chill up your spine...provided you can read Interlac!

Aw, come on... you shouldn't need the final shot. Any superhero fan worth his salt should see that coming the second they hear the chick's first name.