Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Fun Fifty of 2006, Part 4 of 5

In the words of Casey Kasem, the hits just keep on comin'! Bully's Fun Fifty of 2006 Countdown continues, and in case you need a handy recap, here's #50-41, here's #40-31 and here's #30-21. You'll all quite clever out there in radioland the blogosphere, and I know you can spot a pattern a mile away and predict that we'll start up today with number...

20. BATMAN: YEAR 100: Good as they were, the year's best Batman comic wasn't Detective or Batman, nor was it any of the umpteen Bat-books that clutter the shelves: it was this four-issue prestige miniseries that posited Batman as a mystery crime fighter in the future. That description begs comparison with The Dark Knight Returns, and I pleased to say Paul Pope's Batman does the format that Miller pioneered twenty years ago proud: this is a Bat-book I'm gonna read again and again. The mystery is compelling and the art beautiful, and once again this is a Batman that actually uses detective skills and who cares about and treats his support staff with respect. Prestige books always cost more (each of the four issues were $5.99), but the artwork was so detailed, the plot so intricate, and the story so full of nifty ideas and moments that you could spend a wonderfully leisurely half-hour with each issue and not feel like you were dawdling, as opposed to the five or seven minutes it might take you to read a regular floppy issue. If you didn't pick this up because it's Elseworlds that's not in canon, you missed out on the best Batman of the year. But you've got a second chance: it's coming out in trade this week. And, as I promised in one of my original reviews, I hereby declare that the Sensational Character Find of 2006 was Batman Year 100's false teeth!

19. THE THING: Just like I had to go outside the regular Fantastic Four book to find an FF I could cheer for, the best Ben Grimm of the year was not in Marvel flagship title but in the short-lived, late, lamented The Thing solo series, which wrapped up earlier this year. You don't have to look too far on my blog to realize my hero of choice is big 'n' orange 'n' rocky, so a solo book for Ol' Blue Eyes was the next best thing to being a member of the FF myself. Dan Slott was hitting on all cylinders in this one: grand over-the-top battles, extensive guest-star spots by major (and minor) Marvel Universe heroes and villains, and (while the book itself was a series of easy to leap-on done-in-ones and short action epics) a progressing story arc that actually moved the character forward as he sought to make amends for past misdeeds even while he did his darndest to recapture the heart of his true lady love. There was no great philosophical deep meaning behind The Thing: just a lot of clobberin' times, some funny situations, action-packed artwork and Mama Grimm's little boy Benjy learnin' that money can't buy you everything; money can't buy you love. This title will be missed. See ya on Yancy Street, big guy.

18. SEVEN SOLDIERS: Pumped straight from the mind of Morrison to my impressionable fluff brain, I didn't always grok everything that was going on in Seven Soldiers and its septet of synchronized series, but hoo boy, what a ride! It was a long hard wait from the conclusion of the miniseries until the much-delayed Seven Soldiers #1, but when that issue finally zoomed into my reading stack, it was like a jolt of pure cane sugar right up my little ringed nose. (I actually kinda think Mister Morrison might purposefully delayed the publication of the capper just to make sure we were all reading and re-reading Manhattan Guardian and Zatanna and Klarion and Mister Miracle again and again and again before it came out!) Seldom do superhero comics require and reward such close reading (and re-reading), and Seven Soldiers will be a treat to revisit for many years to come. The thirty issues are goin' straight on my bookshelf, not in a long box, so I can get at them again and again: now that's the sign of a comic that's made its mark.

17. JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED: I have a love/scold relationship with JLU: either I'm head-over-hooves about it or I'm lamenting it woulda been better if it hadn't tried to preach a 1980s-style message of standing up for what you believe in at the end of too many issues. But when it works, JLU is a star: #24's Martian Manhunter spotlight, #28's Phantom Stranger/Flash Christmas adventure, and best of all, #18's Superman meets Space Cabby team-up. Each of these proves that we can have top-notch characterization and action in a comic without a preachy moral on the final page. In a year where the much-awaited relaunch of Justice League of America proved to be just another case of twiddling my thumbs waiting for something to happen (if I had thumbs), JLU consistently and satisfyingly delivered action and heroism in a comic that definitely was not just for kids only.

16. X-FACTOR: Editorially, I sometimes think there's a chimp at the wheel over at Marvel: much-publicized and hyped series like House of M and Civil War promise massive across-the-board co-ordination and change, but what they deliver is a tangled nest of miscommunication and dropped concepts. Honestly, when elements and plot devices of your two biggest crossovers contradict each other from book to book, why should we care or read 'em? Leave it to Peter David to pick up a lot of the dropped pieces (What really happened on M-Day? What does the superhero registration act really mean?) and spin 'em into a coherent and logical tapestry that not only makes sense but is entertaining and funny at the same time. David is one of the few mainstream comics writers who actually thinks through the consequences of Marvel Universe events and applies them logically (but never tediously) to his stories, leading to a handful of Civil War tie-ins that actually made me wish PAD was managing the whole crossover. Plus, Strong Guy! You can't go wrong with Strong Guy.

15. SOCK MONKEY: THE "INCHES" INCIDENT: Of course I'm gonna rate a comic about stuffed animals facing off against an evil doll high on my list...it's the most realistic comic being produced today! Tony Millionaire's elegant and elaborate artwork and his whimsical and inventive energy infuse every page of this miniseries featuring the all-ages versions of his Maakies characters, and no one draws a whaling ship and sea monsters better than Mister M. If I had a million dollars, in addition to buying that (real) green dress, I'd buy the comic book rights to Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin high-seas adventures from the good folks at W. W. Norton and let Tony loose on a comics adaptation of all twenty books. As long as he could find room in the story for a little stuffed bo'sun, that is.

14. DOCTOR WHO: No, it's not comics. Get over it, because no TV show has brought me such excitement and pleasure in years. I'm an old-school Doctor fan and remember the nightly Tom Baker serials in the late 1970s with great fondness, and I actually trekked to a Who convention in Britain in 1983 to stand this close to Peter Davison, but I never expected to be drawn back into the show again. I came to the reinvented Who 2.0 fairly late, with the BBC America premiere of the Ninth Doctor series in November, and while I was hooked from the first episode, it was the second ("The End of the World") that made me an obsessed fan, with its wonderful mix of aliens (a giant head simultaneously scary and cuddly-looking, a tree being who bark was definitely prettier than her bite, and the world's thinnest human), fantastic special effects, nifty ideas ("I give you the gift of air from my lungs"), and the Earth burning away to the beat of an old-style Earth ballad: "Toxic" by Britney Spears, played on the last surviving "iPod" (a Wurlitzer jukebox). But what most made me an absolute incurable fanatic for this reinvented series was the surprisingly affecting performance of Billie Piper as Rose, my new favorite of the Doctor's many Companions, in a scene where she suddenly realized how far she was from her home and her mother. The show has just kept getting better and better, and has done things to me I never imagined I'd be doing in front of the TV screen: pumping my hoof in triumph and shouting Yes! as something exciting happens, making me frightened of the Cybermen after so many years, making me very, very frightened of the Daleks, and shedding more than a few gulping tears at episodes like "Father's Day," "The Girl in the Fireplace," "Doomsday," and "The Parting of the Ways." I'm a big Star Trek: The Next Generation fan from way back, so I never thought a series could replace it in my affection for simply the best re-imagining of a classic SF series for a modern audience, ever. (Yes, I know some of you will argue that should be Battlestar Galactica. But I never wanted to grow up to be Apollo or Starbuck. I always wanted to grow up to be The Doctor.)

13. OLD COMICS: Lucky Number 13 is a reminder that sometimes the best comics of the year are ones from a previous year that you re-read and recapture the excitement and joy you felt the day you got 'em. I finally got a chunk of my old comics—by no means all of 'em—out of deep storage, and what a treasure trove of nostalgia and comfort they can be. That big box of comics digest from the 1970s with their tiny tiny print is what drew me to comic books in the first place. The John Byrne Fantastic Four run. The Walt Simonson Fantastic Four run. Those old Walt Simonson Battlestar Galactica comics. Mantlo and Golden's Micronauts, Barr and Davis's Detective, Atari Force, the first issue of Avengers I ever bought (the beginning of that fantastic Red Ronin story). Dr. Strange by Marshall Rogers! Archie versus the Punisher! Golden memories stored in a box and mine again for free. You can't beat that feeling. Don't be shy about pulling out some of your favorite comics this year and rediscovering them...there's joy and fun to be had in them every day of the week, not just New Comics Wednesday.

12. X-STATIX PRESENTS: DEAD GIRL: The best portrayal of Doctor Strange in years. Gwen Stacy and Moira MacTaggart's afterlife book club. The Pitiful One's mysterious connection to the heroes of the Marvel Universe. And everybody's favorite cold-skinned cutie from the afterlife, Moonbeam, Dead Girl! Every time I despair of Marvel having any ounce of imagination or creativity, they shatter my disillusion with a series of miniseries like Peter Milligan and Mike Allred's revival of one of the most popular characters from the quirky but short-lived as a nova star X-Statix. It's moments like discovering this series that keep me reading comics: like a diamond-shaped glob of Silly Putty in the rough, it's a joy to find and read.

11. THE ESCAPISTS: It's a superhero adventure! It's metafiction! It's a love story! It's a tale of publishing! It's a floor topping! It's a dessert wax! I love the elaborate alternative publishing history built up at Dark Horse around Michael Chabon's Escapist character—half the fun of the late great Escapist anthology series was the historical essays about the publishing career of the character. In many ways The Escapists is the ultimate comic book fan story: an examination of the ways we, as fans, are shaped by and seek to honor our memories of our favorite characters. Because of its connection to Chabon's work, it's the ideal comic to pass onto a non-comics reader (and Dark Horse should really market this and its Escapist trades in the fiction market to Chabon readers as well as the comics field.) A wonderful mix of art styles (including Jason Shawn Alexander ably alleviating my concerns that Phillip Bond wasn't gonna illustrate the whole series) and characters I honestly liked and cared for made this my favorite comic about comics this year, and while its final, symbolically blank page signals an end to The Escapist character in print for the moment, I've got the feeling that Chabon's creation will break the bonds of cancellation and be back in comic book stores some day. Comic book heroes'll do that, doncha know.

Tomorrow! Cue up Gob Bluth's Europe CD, because it's the Final Countdown! What were the top ten comics I found fun in 2006? And will Civil War be number one? Oh ick, not a chance. Place your bets on the table because Bully's Fun Fifty for 2006 countdown concludes tomorrow with #10-1!


Anonymous said...

Man, I totally agree with the Dr. Who stuff. I haven't enjoyed a sci-fi TV show this much in years.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed Dead Girl, too. It's one of those books that really has fun with the genre and does clever stuff as it explores what there is to offer. More comics should take place in their universes' afterlife. This, GLA, and Nextwave shows Marvel still has a little corner of greatness squirreled away.

Unknown said...

Lovin' your fun fifty.

Just about all those books won my affection last year as well, but I was too lazy to write about them all in my 2006 wrap-up.

(Heck, I didn't even get to the non-DC and Marvel stuff ... )

I'm with you on Dr. Who too, although I'm equally enthusiastic about Battlestar Galactica. I can't remember a time when there were TWO great Sci-fi shows around at the same time.

(And the epissodes where the Doctor meets up with Sarah Jane and says goodbye to Rose were huge tear-jerkers.)

SallyP said...

Whoa! Excellent choices, all.