Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fun Fifty of 2008: Part 4 of 5

Whoooooo! Whooooooo! (wolf whistle) Ann-Margrock, everybody! Whoa! (fanning myself). Whooo-ee! That heated up the joint a few degrees, didn't it, folks! Yowza! Okay, ladies, you can take the blindfolds off your husbands, and let's get on with the show!

Welcome once more to the fabulous, sparkling, all-star salute to the Fun Fifty of 2008—half a hundredweight of comics, books, movies, DVDs and chocolate bars that will bring a spring to your step and make your heart a little lighter. Before the break were were gawkin' away at numbers 30 through 21, in that order...so let's get right back to the action with number twenty as the countdown continues!

#20: GERANIUMS AND BACON Just like Crosby and Hope, Power man and Iron Fist, and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Crisco, Geraniums and Bacon is two great tastes that taste great together! One of my fave minicomics in 2008 was the newest issue (#5) of G&B by Cathy Leamy (aka the mysterious Metrokitty, crimefighter to the stars!). Although I'd picked up a few of her minicomics in stores previously, I was lucky enough to finally meet Cathy at this year's ultra-hot MoCCA Art Festival, where she not only autographed a copy of her newest mini to me but also sketched a very handsome and debonair character:

Bully, by Cathy Leamy

As Cathy so accurately phrases it, Yay! And her comics are cause for celebration as well. G&B features short slice-of-life autobiographical sketches, funny, sweet, cute and sharp, with a wonderful ear for dialogue and beautifully detailed and energetic cartooning in which every element—from wonderfully captured facial expressions to detailed and shadow-depthed crosshatching...not to mention her stories are funny as all get out as well! While I'm a little stuffed bull who will never go shopping for a bra (unless I need a two-seater hammock), I giggled with delight at "Unmentionables," which winds up equating underwire underwear with Wonder Woman's bullet-deflecting bracelets, and the saga "Let me tell you about the Señor" had me wishing I could have a rotting pumpkin on my fire escape as well. I feel that we're looking at an up-and-coming graphic novelist in the vein of Carol Lay or C. Tyler here in Ms. Leamy. With artistic and writing chops like hers, in a few years you'll likely see Cathy producing full-fledged graphic novels for First Second or Fantagraphics or Drawn & Quarterly and you can say I knew her when. So what are you waiting for?—hop on over to her website and order yerself some of those sweet, sweet minicomics, bub! (I also highly recommend the very funny I Survived Gwar mini!)

#19: BAT-MANGA Okay, shall we get this out of the way right at the top? Chip Kidd and Pantheon oughta 'a put Jiro Kuwata's name in the title or subtitle. There, done. Now, crack open the book (hey, it's bound "backwards," just like a Japanese manga!) and get ready to dive into the wildest, wackiest, wu-tangiest Batman comics you or I have ever seen: sixties' Japanese manga created to capitalize on the worldwide sensation of the Batman TV series, but with an Eastern sensibility and over-the-top outrageousness all of its own. Jiro Kuwata's gleeful, almost primal Batman recalls the outrageous Bat-tales from DC in the 1950s, larger than life and twice as exciting. Batman battles Lord Death Man, Go-Go the Magician, Karmak the Murderous Intelligent Gorilla and a whole wacky rogue's gallery of foes new to even the most obsessive Bat-fan, and the vibrant comics are accompanied by color spreads of Japanese Batman toys and other merchandise. It's perhaps not a coincidence that throughout DC Comics's extensive series of "Elseworlds" graphic novels, Batman was the hero most often transplanted through fiction into other worlds and times. That's perhaps the beauty of Batman: a truly universal hero whose stories, like those of Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, or Robin Hood—prove that valor, courage, and a quest for justice can be translated into any culture, giving us a true pantheon (no pun intended) of heroes...and Batmen...for every world. My good internet pal Mister Chris Sims sent me this book as a present (thank you, Chris), and in the words of Mister S: this is more fun than a kick to the face! (And, Chip Kidd tells us, there's enough excess material in the archives for a Volume 2!)

#18: AMBUSH BUG: YEAR NONE There's no miniseries I looked forward to with more unbridled glee and drooling anticipation than DC's revival of Ambush Bug, and hoo-whee! The Bug is back and he's got yer Final Crisis right here, pallie! Keith Giffin and Robert Loren Fleming, the masterminds behind the classic Bug stories of the 1980s (thankfully soon to be reprinted in a big fat Showcase edition) have returned for this six-issue miniseries that pits everyone's three favorite all-green DC hero against his own universe. I'm not certain what readers who weren't prepped for this series by reading the old Ambush Bug comics thought of it: joyfully anarchic, bashing both the fourth wall and the hand that feeds them as it entangles and attacks the multi-series mega-Crisis-crossovers of today and even paints Dan DiDio as the ultimate supervillain. Some of it's silly more often than it is funny (much like the original Bugs), but there's plenty of good, solid chuckles in every issue, and let's face it: even if I can't quite figger out what's going on, how much different is that from most of the mega-comics of today? It's nice to know that DC doesn't take themselves so dead seriously that there's still a corner of their universe where hyperactive shenanigans are still welcome. (Now, bring back Sugar and Spike, ya mooks!)

#17: BILLY BATSON AND THE MAGIC OF SHAZAM! Speakin' o' little fun pocket universes in the DCU, howzabout this wonderful, funderful take on Captain Marvel by Mike "Herobear" Kunkel, which picks up the story from the Jeff Smith mini of last year but brings Kunkel's own visual and story take on The Big Red Cheese—a comic that's for kids, sure, but you'll like it too! This is Captain Marvel taken out of the ever-complicated DC Universe and given his own world to Shazam around in with mischievous and marvelous kid sister Mary. This Shazam series is like nothing DC's ever done with the character—in fact it looks like nothing else on the superhero shelf, period: highly exaggerated cartoon art, but beautifully detailed, powerful in its energy and movement and a brilliant but not blinding pallet of colors. This is work that approaches the physical comedy, visual look and energetic movement of Asterix, which from me, a little stuffed Gaulish supporter from way back, is very high praise indeed. Not only that, but BB is the best value on the superhero shelf: you can't read this in two or three minutes because Kunkel's packed each page with plenty of panels and dialogue to entertain you and move his story along. It's never cramped or padded...it's just, for lack of a better word, chock-full. If you go back to the original Captain Marvel Adventures comics of the Fawcett Comics era, you'll find that those were never comics just for kids, but amazing in their appeal and entertainment value for adults then (and now). Kunkel's Captain Marvel has much the same appeal. If your only memory of Captain Marvel is as a crazed lightning-bolt slinger from Kingdom Come, you owe it to yourself to experience the joy and fun a really fine Shazam! comic can bring.

#16: EMPOWERED (In 2007: #15) As I do every time I talk about Adam Warren's manga-styled superhero soap opera (or is that a superhero-styled soap opera manga?), I issue the following advisory warning: kids, and little stuffed bulls, really oughtn't to be reading Empowered. It's sexy without being pornographic, adult without being sleazy, and my goodness, there's a lotta skin on display in this comic. But put aside the cheesecake (even tho' everbody luvs cheesecake) and Empowered is, once again this year, simply one of the best meta-aware looks at the tropes of superhero comics out there. 2008's eagerly-awaited volume #4 has probably the most superhero-aware plotline: inferiority-complexed super Empowered is nominated for a Caped Justice Award ("The Capeys"), and the climax (no, absolutely no pun intended) is a clever and triumphant twist on the usual superhero megabattle where we've been given the clues as to how the hero will defeat the villain, but if we can't spot it in time, will our heroine? Heck, yeah! Emp's rise to justly deserved fame is paralleled by the troubled fears of Ninjette following her defeat in the previous volume, but never fear, the melodrama never gets in the way of Warren's gloriously curvy and voluptuous art and genuinely touching and humorous dialogue. And, if you're not here for that, there's still plenty of boobs, butts, and sex jokes. Don't give it to your kid brother, don't give it to you mom, don't give it to your little stuffed bull: just enjoy Empowered and start impatiently counting the days until Book 5.

#15: SATURN KNIGHT Earlier tonight I mentioned Cuddly Chris Sims, the Invincible Super-Blogger who will always tell you if a part of your anatomy is haunted, isn't just a cool guy who sends me free books, suspiciously trying to bribe me into listing him more than once in my year-end wrap-up...no, no, no, he's also a guy who brags about his upcoming comics projects, all of which threaten to break the comics blogosophere in equilateral thirds. Well, Chris (in collaboration with artist Pierre Villeneuve) has finally done that thing we call around my house "pooping or getting off the pot", producing the ultimate Christmas comic (and that includes that Punisher ish where Frank Castle shot an elf point-blank in the face): Saturn Knight in "The Knight Before Christmas!" It's a battle royale at the North Pole when a villainous vixen kidnaps St. Nick and the only hero who can stop her is...aw, you guessed it, Saturn Knight! This is bright and bold and brash: nothing deep or serious but just what the jolly old elf ordered in a Christmas comic. In addition to introducing Saturn Knight, the strip guest-stars some great cameo super-characters who deserve to get more time in the spotlight later: Jim Shelley and Pierre Villeneuve universe, with Chris Sims at the writing helm in this story, all bring us a solid and original heroic world in the vein of Astro City or 1963 that I'd love to explore further. And let's face it, how can you resist a villain who attacks Santa Claus using a big-ass laser gun called the Holidazer with a sound effect of KWANAZAAAP! It's all great fun, gorgeously drawn and lushly colored, and appeals to my sense of good solid superhero comics: not trying to reinvent the genre, but simply to produce a solid and entertaining comic story. And in the end, we're left with a great warm feeling and a belief in Santa Claus and superheroes. Only a Grinch would tell a kid they don't exist, and Sims and Villeneuve...and Saturn Knight...bring back belief in all that's good, fat, and dressed in a red suit. And how much is this stocking full of Christmas cheer gonna cost me, you ask? Absolutely nothin'! (Say it again!) Click on the image above or here to read Saturn Knight for free online! Who says this isn't the Flashback Age of Comics?

#14: STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS I'll admit it: 2008's Star Wars: The Clone Wars was the first Star Wars film I didn't queue up for, dressed in my tiny little Wookiee fur costume and waving my plastic lightsaber around: in my button eyes, the films had pretty much been the definition of diminishing returns, so I skipped the theatrical midquel. But I thought I'd give the Cartoon Network weekly half-hour Clone Wars adventure series a try, and color me as bright red as Mister Vader's lightsaber: I'm lovin' this thing! Set between Episodes II and III and probably no doubt sidebarred precisely between volumes 18 and 19 of some lengthy Extended Universe novel, Clone Wars does what no other Star Wars has done since the late lamented Star Wars Tales comic did: it entertained the heck out of me. Maybe it's the short, snappy, half-hour episodes that keep the galactic politics to a minimum and the swashbuckling right up on screen...maybe it's that it fills in some of the adventures of Jedi other than whiny, petulant poster boy for loss of temper control Anakin Skywalker...or maybe it's the rule of inverse Lucasism is in effect here: the less George Lucas is directly involved with a Star Wars project, the more entertaining it is. Whichever it is, doesn't matter—it's just good, solid, primal Star Wars. Despite my initial misgivings, the video-gamesque computer animation actually fits the characters and action, and the action is actually thrilling and the humor—like that of Star Wars IV-VI—actually makes me laugh. Ahsoka, Anakin's chirpy Jedi apprentice, could have been yet another annoying teen sidekick character, but she's fun and brings a light of optimism to this darkening universe. Clone Wars even performs the very definition of an absolutely impossible task in an episode that spotlights Jar Jar Binks and makes his adventures genuinely funny and entertaining. I only have one question: why is it all female Jedi are costumed either in the galactic equivalent of a burkha, or in a belly shirt?

#13: X-MEN: FIRST CLASS In 2007: #3) Over in the Marvel Universe, there's still umpty-ump gajillions of X-Men titles, most of which feature Wolverine. Excuse me if I step over those books to grab X-Men: First Class off the rack: it's been consistently the most entertaining and fun X-comic since Grant Morrison left New X-Men ten seconds before all his stories were retconned. 2008 saw the end of the regular First Class series, but never fear: it was followed up with a lovely Giant-Sized special (featuring two of my favorite X-stories of '08, Roger Langridge's Edward Goreyesque Charles Xavier storybook, and Michael Cho's gorgeous black-and-grey-and-ruby-quartz toned 1950s-style take on that movie with Keanu Reeves Michael Rennie). But the real star here (aside from the five original X-Men) is the writing of Jeff Parker, who gives these 1960s continuity implants a level of high adventure and entertaining soap opera that Stan and Roy never reached. (For comparison, check out the cheerfully goofball reprint of [Uncanny] X-Men #40 in the Giant-Sized First Class: where the Famous Five met Frankenstein and try to beat the bejeezus out of him before finding out he's an alien robot...wha?!?) No mention of First Class is complete without praising the frequent back-up strips written by Parker and cartooned with whimsical gleeful art by Colleen Coover, who's turned pre-Phoenix Jean Grey into a spunky, clever, and outgoing heroine of the sort I'd want to grow up to be. Um, if I was gonna be a girl.

#12: DOCTOR WHO SERIES FOUR (In 2007: #23) Okay, Who fans, get your broomsticks and cricket bats ready, because I'm going to go out on a limb and tell you that I think the just completed Series Four has featured some of the best episodes of the reinvented Doctor Who to date, and the best companion, Donna Noble. I loved Donna this year: sharp-tongued, sarcastic, fierce, protective and jubilantly happy at (most of) her adventures. Donna in many ways challenged The Doctor and brought to him a sense of humanity that continues the evolution since the Christopher Eggleston series—reminding our 903-year old time traveler that with great power comes great responsibility. Russell T. Davies last year of sailing on the TARDIS gave us some fantastic moments: a hilarious mime as The Doctor and Donna meet again, the chilling two-episode Library spooktacular, a wonderful David Tennant tour-de-force in "Midnight," and the lovely light period episode guest-starring Agatha Christie, who woulda made a dandy Companion herself, doncha think? Sure, there were a few mis-steps: nobody needs to see Baby Spice as The Doctor, Jr. again, and I'll gladly step up to be first in line to slap whiny Rose for dickering over which Doctor she gets in her little pocket universe. Still, if you can watch the final hour without sniffling your eyes out, well, boyo, you're made of stronger stuff than me. Some may argue this is a horrible end to a wonderful companion, but I've got a feeling this isn't the end of Donna's story. In a world of a time-traveling adventurer, any story can be undone, and no tragedy need be definite. (F'r instance, weren't we told we could never, would never see Miss Tyler again?) I'm greatly looking forward to The All-New, All-Different, All-Flopsy-Haired Doc The Eleventh, but RTD and company have given David Tennant a great final voyage of a series.

#11: TALES DESIGNED TO THRIZZLE If I could have any comic book on Earth melted down into a concentrated form and shot directly into my brain using a special brain-bazooka comic-book flinging sort of gun thing, well, I'd want it to be Tales Designed to Thrizzle, Michael Kupperman's anarchic, Dadaist comic that's all about...well, what the heck is this thing about? If the Marx Brothers were a comic book, if the Firesign Theater were a...uh, comic book, if The Goon Show had been...hey, The Goon Show was a comic book! Well, anyway: a befuddling cornucopia of strips, fake ads, and period informational pieces, 2008's Thrizzle #4 starred Albert Einstein and Mark Twain: Cops; pop group NSync starring in a high-seas pirate swashbuckler; those twin tykes of hiding behind furniture, The Scaredy Kids; and the greatest duo in pop culture, Snake & Bacon. Kupperman's deceptively simplistic woodcut style only highlights the utter absurdity of his work, and frequently a strip will be hijacked by another feature's heroes until they drive it careening into an advertisement for Snails Across America. I've said of many comics on this list that there's many laughs in every issue—Tales Designed to Thrizzle stuffs so many guffaws, belly-laughs, and perplexed "huh?"s into every page that you'll be beating down the door to buy the upcoming hardcover collection coming this year from Fantagraphics (handily linked above to the right). Truth in advertising department: When I'm not typing away about comic books, pop culture, and Ben Grimm, I work for W. W. Norton, which distributes Fantagraphics Books to the bookstore trade. But I'da bought and recommended Thrizzle if it'd been published by any press.

Whew! I need to go backstage and hose down my rented tuxedo, folks. In the words of Jack Benny...we're running a little late, so, goodnight, everybody...what's that? What are the Top Fun Ten of 2008? Oh, it's just Secret Invasion #0-8 and , huh, I guess the issue of Mighty Avengers where Dr. Doom told us to shut our cow mouths. Kind of an anti-climax, huh?

I'm kiddin' ya! I kid because I love. If you think the rest of this stuff was fun, well, it only increases in geometrical funness the closer we get to #1, until we all collapse into a Fun Hole which will destroy the universe! So until then, stay cool, feed your kittycat, brush up on your Shakespeare, and we'll see you at the finish line!


Jeff said...

Cathy Leamy is completely and totally awesome. Her mini-comic about going to a GWAR show is hilarious, but probably not suitable for Bully's younger friends.

James Ashelford said...

Completely agree with you about Donna, it was nice to have a companion who viewed herself as the Doctor's equal and didn't fancy him.

Seangreyson said...

Only comment I have on your statement regarding X-men: First Class. It's actually more fun than Morrison's run on X-men.

Of course I was never a fan of Morrison's X-men, there behavior was too "inhuman" for my taste. Whereas the First Class characters are very human.

Siskoid said...

LOVED Donna this year. A great 4th series overall, especially the parts you mentioned.

Corman said...

I don't know if you heard, but Kupperman is doing an animated/live-action sketch show for Adult Swim called "Snake N' Bacon" which adapts some of his best strips (and presumably some newer material) and stars his lovable comedy duo of the same name (alongside James "Dr. Venture" Urbaniak, Kirstin Schall, and Matt Berry).