Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Fun Fifty of 2008: Part 1 of 5

All together now:

Bugs and DaffyOverture, curtains, lights!
This is it, the night of nights!
No more rehearsing and nursing a part!
We know every part by heart

Overture, curtains, lights!
This is it, you'll hit the heights!
And oh, what heights we'll hit!
On with the show, this is it!

Whew. Now let's run some Speedy Gonzales cartoons.

Keira KnightleyNo, no, actually, it's time once again for the event of the Bully-Year, the Third Annual Academy Awards Fun Fifty of the Year, counting down and celebrating the comics (and other pop culture items) that I enjoyed the most in 2008. We're outside on the red carpet with a wide array of fabulous stars, from Mister Benjamin Grimm to Anakin Skywalker, from Donna Noble to Supergirl, and the hard-drinking duo of Iron Man and Homer Simpson! Quit popping your claws at Joan Rivers, Wolverine...I'm sure you'll win an award! And She-Hulk, put Isaac Mizrahi down...I'm sure he didn't mean anything by grabbing you there! Okay, everybody into the theater, because, in the immortal words of The Duchess of York, let's get it started in here!

For those of you who came in late...don't let the Hulk park your car. For the rest of you, let me run over the rules of the Fun Fifty Countdown. It's a very subjective list of what this little stuffed bull enjoyed reading, watching, and even hearing (but no tasting! Don't lick your comic books!) over the past year...in short, the most Fun Stuff of 2008! While there are no prizes given, please feel free to award yourself special bonus Bull-Points if you have picked up and enjoyed one or more of the following fifty things! I'm sure you'll argue over some of my choices (specifically this year's number six fun comic book miniseries, Everyone's Secretly a Skrull and Also Invading, So Why Don't We Put a Convicted Murderer in Charge of S.H.I.E.L.D.*, and Hey, Didn't ROM: Spaceknight Already Do This Gig Back in the Eighties? (*Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division)). But while there's no wagering, please feel free to guess what I'm going to name as my favorite fun thing of 2008. It'll join the Pantheon (no, Hulk, wrong Pantheon...get off the stage, please!) of Bully's Funnest Comics of the Year: Banana Sunday (2005), Nextwave (2006), and Booster Gold (2007). So, as the Bully Dancers leave the stage, let's ring up the curtain and start the Countdown! (Hulk! What did I tell you...oh, never mind!)

#50: FINAL CRISIS: SUPERMAN BEYOND 3D You're gonna see a lotta comics by Mister Grant Morrison on this year's Fun Fifty, for a few very good reasons: because he writes wild, way-out, wacky comics that are high-energy, high-concept, and high-entertainment; because I happen to love the guy's writing like nobody's business; but mostly because he wrote approximately seventy-'leven comic books in 2008. (Final Crisis? He wrote it. Richie Rich? He wrote it. Slylock Fox? He wrote it.) Superman Beyond is a two-ish sidebar to Final Crisis, explaining just where the Sam Scratch Supes vanished to during the Earth's greatest moment of need. (Also, when he wasn't hanging around with supped-up teenagers in the future.) It's a fun and fast romp in the Mission: Impossible mode: gather a bunch of experts (in this case, different dimensional versions of Superman) to tackle a terror of cosmic proportions. With guest appearances by Ultraman, Ace the Bat-Hound, and Merryman! And it's in 3D. Holy cow, is that the destruction of the multiverse in three dimensions? It sure is! Strap on your 3D glasses and come along for the ride—it's solid, frantic adventure cranked up to 11 in the Mighty Morrison Mode. (Now, bring us the second issue, Grant!)

#49: EVERYBODY HURTS, EVEN SITH LORDSI picked this minicomic up at SPX in September, and boy howdy, did I enjoy it! A fast but furious read set in the Star Wars universe (but don't sue creator Alex Bullett, Lucasfilms!) pits that master of mean, Darth Vader, against the one foe he cannot defeat: love. And this ain't no girly-whiny Episode III Vader, no sir...this is the kickass Dark Lord of the Sith who asks for what he wants and if he doesn't get it, no one can. All this, plus a female Jedi in a belly shirt (aren't they all?) and a rousingly sniffle-worthy rendition of the saddest song in the galaxy. Plus, the comic is trimmed in the shape of Vader's helmet! I picked up a lot of minicomics this year but this is one of the few that stays with me. How can you pick it up? Um, well, I'm not sure. Live near a great comic store that sells minis, like Quimby's in Chicago? You can probably pick it up there. But for everybody else, you can read part of it at at Alex Bullett's Flickr, and I imagine if you leave a note for Alex there asking how to get the mini he can set you up. But not you, George Lucas!

#48: GREATEST HITS What If?...The Fab Four became The Fantastic Four? That's the general concept behind my favorite new Vertigo comic in the past couple years: a psychedelic tour through the sixties, seen through the eyes of a documentary filmmaker trying to capture the story behind the headlines of The Mates, the quintessential 1960s superhero quartet, at the same time unraveling a mystery stretching to the modern day. It's a furiously fun concept that I seriously can't believe nobody's done before, and series creators David Tischman and Glenn Fabry fill this miniseries with enough brilliant ideas for comics twice their length. Intentionally confusing, leaping back and forth in time, a whirlwind journey through sex, superheroes, and rock 'n' roll that rewards re-reading and will make a great gateway comic in trade paperback.

#47: SUPERMAN'S PAL JIMMY OLSEN SPECIAL My fave supporting character of the DC Universe (move over, Alfred Pennyworth) gets his own giant-sized Final Crisis tie-in special highlighting the sweater-vested star using his journalistic, detective, and Superman's-Pal skills to crack the mystery of Jim Harper, Guardian, and the clones of The Cadmus Project. While it harkens back to those crazy, kooky Kirby issues of Jimmy Olsen, it's well-integrated into the DCU's current interlocking adventures and is about as modern as an iPhone stapled to Barack Obama: Jimmy Olsen does, indeed, yes, certainly, have sex. (Off screen, but hey, Jimbo!) And if your eyes don't tear up at the scene with Dubblex, well then, you're made of stronger stuff than this fluff-filled little bull toy. One quibble? There's no real conclusion; the story continues in a Superman special. Aw, geez, give Mr. Action his due: a full story that centers around him with a real ending where he doesn't have to press that hypersonic watch to signal Big Blue.

#46: MARVEL ADVENTURES: THE AVENGERS (In 2007: #48) In a year crammed full of Avengers New, Mighty, Dark, and Cheese-Flavored, where monthly Avengers issues featured flashbacks to Skrulls inserting themselves into the lives of superheroes, Jarvis, and Fabian Stankowicz (hey, is he was a Skrull back in Avengers #239, that explains why he attacked David Letterman! Doesn't it?)...well, forgive me if I go hankerin' for some good old-fashioned "Avengers Assembling" on a monthly basis. This series of kid-friendly (but never child-like), done-in-one (but never short-shrifted on action and characterization) brings together Marvel's Greatest Heroes—as Spock would knowingly nod and say, "Ah yes...the Giants." This year they've faced off against Galactus, been popped into each other's bodies, explore Wakanda and go through therapy with Doc Samson. Most issues also feature a Chris Giarrusso "Mini-Marvels" strip, which is always pure delight in four-color form. If you're bemoaning the loss of an energetic and heroic team of Assemblers, your best bet's not on Earth-616: pick up Marvel Adventures: The Avengers and grin with joy.

#45: ZOT!: THE COMPLETE BLACK AND WHITE COLLECTION: 1987-1991 If you've read Understanding Comics and his other comic art theory books, you know that, agree with him or no, how influential Scott McCloud is to contemporary comics. But if you've never read his groundbreaking indie black-and-white comic Zot!, well, then, cowboy, you're livin' at the right time, because it's been reissued in a gorgeously-designed package by HarperCollins, with extensive new commentary by McCloud. At first glance a superhero or science fiction hero in the vein of Astro Boy or Flash Gordon, Zot's story is...especially in the b/w issues collected (#11-36)...also a teen romance, a light soap opera, and a comics whose dialogue and characters still stand as realistic and touching long after the b/w boom went bust. Buy it for yourself, buy it for a friend, buy it for a young adult...just read it, love it, and enjoy it. We live in a golden age of great comics and strips being reprinted, and Zot! rightfully takes it place among them as a treasured collection of a classic comic.

#44: JOHNNY BOO: THE BEST LITTLE GHOST IN THE WORLD Of course I love Johnny Boo: just like me, he's the cutest little thing around—a boy ghost with the "Boo Power" to face off against the Ice Cream Monster and make friends galore, which already makes him more socially acceptable than Casper, who frightens off everybody left and right. Johnny Boo is one of those rare comics for kids that are thankfully accessible for adults: without being maudlin or dumbed-down, it's entertaining and compelling, like the best children's lit. There's a wonderful sense of just peering in on Johnny's daily life that brings James Kochalka's characters and fluid artwork closer to the reader. Certainly the best comic about a ghost this year, and joyful joy! It's the first in a series, with Johnny Boo Volume 2 arriving soon. Simply...(don't hit me)...bootiful.

#43: ST. TRINIAN'S: THE ENTIRE APPALLING BUSINESS I leapt for joy when I learned Overlook Press, already doing a bang-up job reissuing the Complete P. G. Wodehouse in attractive uniform hardcover editions, was also publishing Ronald Searle's complete cartoons of the macabre, manical, murderous little moppets of St. Trinian's School for Girls, where backstabbing isn't a metaphor, devil worship is the accepted religion, and Wednesday Addams woulda felt right at home. This gorgeous and hilarious package contains all the Searle cartoons, so if you only know the Belles of St. Trinian's from the fun but decidedly watered-down movie series (including the recent remake with Rupert Everett in drag), you owe it to yourself to see the master at work:

St. Trinian's

#42: THE MUPPET SHOW: THE COMIC BOOK PREVIEW What's the best thing about attending San Diego Comic-Con?


Bully and Jane Wiedlin, BEST FRIENDS FOREVER!!!!

What's the second best thing? Getting a chance to pick up special preview issues of forthcoming comics! And there's none I'm looking forward to more than BOOM! Studios's The Muppet Show comic book, for which they issued a special preview illustrated by one of my favorite artists, the incomparable Roger Langridge, creator of Fred the Clown (the closest thing to a Buster Keaton comic book) and all-around Goon Show fan. Roger's artwork in this jam-packed but all-too-swift preview is (like the felt and foam creations of Jim Henson and associates), wonderfully detailed, energetic, and funny, and golly, I can't wait for the full-fledged comic from BOOM!, which oughta be around the corner in 2009. Check out a preview cover at Roger's blog, and seriously, pay no attention to the whiners and the naysayers complaining about his work: Langridge's art shows great love and respect for the characters and the storylines from The Muppet Show, and as a felt-and-fluff guy myself, I can't wait to see the series.

#41: RASL (In 2007: #45) It's a candy and a gum! Oh wait, I've made another one of my silly mistakes. It's actually a comic book: Jeff Smith's follow-up to the galactically-acclaimed Bone, and he couldn't go further in another direction from Bone if he tried. Speaking of preview issues, I picked up the (oversized) RASL preview at 2007's Comic-Con and loved it to pieces (not literally), so I was very much lookin' forward to diving into the full series. Mysterious, compelling, and beautifully-drawn (of course!), RASL is the mystery of a dimension-jumping thief hunted across reality as he leaps from place to place trying to put right what once went w finding worlds startlingly similar to his own except in the smaller details. And...so far, that's just about it, really, three issues into the comic. Critics of the series have complained it comes out too infrequently (four times a year) and is decompressed to such an extent that reading one issue gives only a fraction of the story, but hey, the first four issues of Bone took a year to come out, and while delightful, you can't glean the story just by reading one issue. In other words, if you're impatient for it, just wait. Like Bone, I think massive public praise for RASL will happen when the story is published in collected volumes (volume one is coming out very soon; click on the Amazon link above to pre-order it), but if you value the journey and the mystery, enjoy the quarterly single issues like me to see how the story grows and evolves. I bet in several years when it's finished, nobody'll remember the grumbling about the wait between issue #3 and 4.

Tomorrow: More fun stuff, you betcha! Want a sneak preview? Heck no! It's a surprise.


Aw, okay. (inhale) Tomorrow: Dying heroes! Darn dirty apes! A movie you haven't seen yet! And an old radio show you probably don't know exists? All this and more in tomorrow's installment of...The Fun Fifty of 2008!


David Campbell said...

Jane Weidlin loves Bully and I do, too! But just as pals.

Anonymous said...

Bully, you're so right about the Zot! collection. I saw it last summer and read it all in two days, loving every minute of it. When I told the book purchaser at the library I work at that it would make a great addition to our collection, he looked at me and said: "Zot? They collected it? I love that book!" He bought the HC on the spot and now it's proudly part of our graphic novel collection.

SallyP said...

Some excellent selections, Bully. I MUST get my hands on the St. Trinian's book.

Anonymous said...

Best one on the list: Marvel Adventures:Avengers. Also hope to see Super Heroes on the list somewhere. I should also note that there's one title in particular that I've called you out on, so I'll be looking for it. I'm just not telling you which one. Heh!

Andrew Leal said...

One of my dearest wishes is for some publisher, maybe even Overlook if they can afford it, to hire Searle to pen cover illustrations for Wodehouse books. It's a consummation devoutly to be wished, but seemingly it has yet to occur to any publishing geezer with the oof and full of ginger to accomplish the wheeze.

I'm looking forward to the Muppet comics myself. Some Muppet fans have been critical, especially the fact that Gonzo is drawn very distinctly to have a beak and feathers, but on the whole, I like it, and hey, anything that brings the Muppets and the comics medium back together is a good thing. Plus, Pigs in Space comic stories! Seriously, Pigs in Spaaaaaace comic stories!!