Friday, February 05, 2010

Fun Fifty of 2009: #19-11

Live from the fabulous Bully Arms (and legs) in beautiful Park Slope, Brooklyn, it's The Fun Fifty, the nightly countdown, now for one night only 10% less filling!


Oh, no, that's not the scene of the Fun Fifty. That's actually The Three Batsignals.


What, you haven't heard of The Three Batsignals? Well, how else do you think Commissioner Gordon is going to summon three members of The Legion of Batmen?!?

Superman: The Man of Steel

Three Batmen are needed in Gotham to hunt down Two-Face-and-a-Half, so that leaves plenty of Batmen to attend our awards ceremony. Why don't you settle down as we kick tonight's festivities off with...

#19: STAR TREK • I was skeptical about how good The Lord of the Rings or Spider-Man could be on film, and boy was I wrong. But from the moment I first saw that new trailer, I was ready to line up for May 8th's Horta-hot event of the year, the opening of the new Star Trek movie. I'm a little Trek fanbull from way back, but I'm no purist at the expense of entertainment, so Big-Screen Trek was everything I'd hoped for, and more. The bag of popcorn sat unforgotten in my lap while I gazed wide-eyed at the new Enterprise and fantastic space battles and a talented new crew and that green girl in her underwear. It wasn't necessarily Trek with a message (unless the message is, you can settle for a less than ordinary life, or you can be something better, something special) but big, bright, shiny sheer entertainment: the kind of movie I'll gladly plunk my twelve bucks down to see again and again. You can quibble about little bits and pieces if you want—I'd rather have had it be a full reboot rather than a changed history, and Kirk landing the Captain's chair before he'd finished the Academy?—but suspend your inner Trek nitpicker and you've got a movie that's not just a good Star Trek film, it's a good film, period. I especially loved McCoy: ten seconds after his first appearance and Karl Urban has already utterly nailed McCoy. (And I certainly didn't expect to be laughing at funny bits as much as I did!) Bring on the next one, I say.

#18: MARVEL SUPER HERO SQUAD SHOW • Cool little toys (of course I have the Ben Grimm one!) become a cool little TV show on Cartoon Network featuring superdeformed versions of the Marvel heroes and villains fighting a deadly Civil War which will lead to an invasion by shape-shifters and the death of...NO! This is just all silly and over-the-top fun, made for kids...but us little bulls, and my human pals, like it too. Doc Doom and his team of villains race Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Falcon, Wolverine, Thor and the Silver Surfer to find MacGuffins...I mean, Infinity Fractals that can help you rule the world! Bwah-ha-ha-ha! Sort of a halfway point between Marvel Adventures Avengers and Chris Giarrusso's Mini Marvels, it doesn't take its heroes too seriously: Hulk is the friendly dumb smasher, Captain America is straight-laced and frequently oblivious, and the Silver Surfer has a California beach bum accent. (I'm not too sure about that last one, but hey.) Super Hero Squad definitely isn't high art: it knows what kids find funny (there are a lot of burp and fart jokes here), but for long time Marvel fans it's great fun to see superheroes stripped to their primal components: guys and gals in bright costumes fighting the baddies, throwing punches and zapping with power rays, and nobody ever gets hurt any more than Daffy Duck used to.

And yep...that's Stan Lee as the Mayor. And how can you resist a show that has one episode titled "Mental Organism Designed Only for Kissing"?

There's enough in-jokes and Marvel Universe references to keep you amused even if you're not a kid or a little stuffed bull, but when you're tired of all the angst and blood and Ares's intestines getting all over the carpet and making a mess, give Super Hero Squad a try to just have some fun with Marvel's heroes.

#17: WOMAN OF A.C.T.I.O.N. • Super secret agent action spanning from London to Monte Carlo! Guns, girls, gambling and goons! Tight leather catsuits, monocled madmen, and lacy lingerie! No, you're not reading one of the approximately ten bajillion Black Widow comic books on the market now, but the all-new, all-adventure book from your pals and mine at Action Age Comics! Yes, that means it's written by pal Chris Sims, he of the face-kickin' Invincible Super-Blog, tongue firmly in cheek (with gorgeous art by Chris Piers and Steve Downer), and it's almost like Chris is writing it for me, playing on every over-the-top action trope that I loves to pieces in a spy movie, book, or comic. Sexy, troubleshooting (and troublemaking) agent Penelope Devlin's career in spydom may be overshadowed by her overenthusiastic approach (wherever she's been, there's usually something that's blown up) and her star-spy brother Ricky (given a lovely Wodehousean personality and dialogue, including an ultra-competant valet at his side). I've been enjoying all the comics coming out of Chris and his stable of slaves collaborators at Action Age Comics, but Woman of A.C.T.I.O.N., with its Ian Fleming antics set in a Bob Haney world, leaves me hungry for more. Hey, Chris...why doncha quit that dead-end retail job of yours and go into writing full time? Naw, he never listens to me. You can't buy Woman of A.C.T.I.O.N. at your local comic shop, but you can read it for free at the Action Age website, or download a .cbz file here!

#16: YOTSUBA&! VOL. 6 • I don't read a lotta fact, I think the X-Men: Misfits book I reviewed the other day might have been the first time I talked about manga on this blog. Well, add Yotsuba&! to that small new list of manga I love! 2009 was a good time to be a fan of the curious and outspoken little girl with green lucky-charm hair: Yen Press made us all happy by picking up the license from ADV and bringing out the long-delayed Vol. 6 (and Vol. 7 came out right at the end of the year; look for it, no doubt, in 2010's Fun Fifty!). Bright, giddy, and gentle everyday adventures of Yotsuba "and" everything and everybody...look, how can you pass a book with this as the cover copy:
Yotsuba’s getting a biiiiike, Yotsuba’s getting a biiiiiike!! Didja know the wheels of a bike go round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and roun —oh, Yotsuba’s getting dizzy...whoooooa...
That nails it, really, right there: gentle humor and enthusiastic exploration of her world is the Yotsuba trademark, without any cloying Pollyanna überniceness or Dennis Mitchell destruction. Just like Darkseid, Yotsuba is. After all, who could have charmed the Grey Lady herself, the austere New York Times, to go from this bewildered "WTF?" description of Vol. 6...

NYT this more savvy and appreciative summary three months later:


Yotsuba's set up shop in my right-hand column for quite some time, as an avatar of exactly what this blog is about. In case you haven't seen that recently:


With Yotsuba, it always is.

#15: TALES DESIGNED TO THRIZZLE VOL. 1 • Fantagraphics has brought out a great-looking hardcover collection of Michael Kupperman's brilliant Tales Designed to Thrizzle, reprinting the first four black-and-white issues in color! (Now that's extra added value from your pal Gary Groth right there!) Without hyperbole, Thrizzle is simply the funniest, most guffaw-out-loud comic book they're going to have to pry out of your cold, dead hands when you die laughing. Kupperman's style is to take a relatively simple if absurd situation (asking your friend if you smell like a hobo) and take it completely to its illogical conclusion (a plea to buy more Fireman Octopus merchandise) within the span of four pages. Thrizzle's stuffed from front cover to impressive back page blurbs with Kupperman's splendiferous pulps-meet-woodblock-print artwork and lunatic stories; it's one of those rare humor books that actually is downright hilarious. Truth in disclosure: yours little stuffed truly, and my pal John, work for W. W. Norton, which distributes Fantagraphics titles to the bookstore trade.

#14: AGENTS OF ATLAS • Really, just what the Sam Scratch is wrong with you people? Every week you buy umpteen-ump copies of Deadpool to inspire Marvel to put out four more series, while you let inventive, imaginative, and just-plain-crackjack comics like Agents of Atlas dwindle down to sales of 17,500 copies a month and get cancelled. Restarted this year with a new #1, Agents didn't even reach a full year of publication. So what'd you miss? Great high adventure including an innovative "Dark Reign" tie-in pitting the supposedly-villainous-but-really-good Atlas against the supposedly-good-but-really-villainous Norman Osborn, guest spots by the Avengers and the Hulk, the accomplished storytelling and natural dialogue of Jeff Parker, the beautifully textured and nuanced art of Carlo Pagulayan, Clayton Henry, Gabriel Hardman and Dan Panosian, and the most unique team of heroes in the Marvel Pantheon. Including a talking gorilla. A freakin' talking gorilla. Luckily for fans, the adventures of Marvel's most subversive superheroes continues in a series of minis teaming them with the X-Men and Avengers, back-up features , and (it looks like) some leading, starring roles in the Marvel Universe. But the regular Agents of Atlas? There ya go, and there it went. This is probably the strictest and scold-iest I will get during the Fun Fifty, but hey! Do you remember when your mom told you "If you can't take care of your nice things, you don't get to have them anymore!" And that's what happened with Agents of Atlas. I've got nothing against Marvel Zombie consumerism...heck, look at my pull list!...but seriously, guy who's buying every Red Hulk title on the shelf...try something new once in a while.

#13: THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST/IMMORTAL WEAPONS • For as goofy a concept as it was in the 1970s, Iron Fist has slid into the twenty-first century with remarkable ease and grace: from a kung fu exploitation hero (teamed up with a blackspoitation hero) to a modern multi-generationed hero encountering—and battling— his history and legacy. Duane Swiercyznski's admirably kept Danny Rand's adventures up on the same historical high-adventure zen as series originators Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, teaming Iron Fist with his former fight opponents Five Immortal Weapons, a quartet of beautiful and bizarrely compelling characters. Brubaker and Fraction introduced the Weapons, but it's Swiercyznski who breathes true life and personality into them in Iron Fist's final arc and the Immortal Weapons miniseries. What I said about Danny Rand in the early issues of this series, that goes five times for the Weapons: this series has revived my interest in the zen outer edges of the Marvel Universe with dramatic but innovative continuity implants that granted these characters more import and weight in their world. Behind each of its dramatically gorgeous covers, Immortal Weapons is a true Marvel Universe comic in its purest form: pitch-perfect origin stories, world-sweeping grand adventure, and the choices and tragedy that build a Marvel hero.

#12: STRANGE TALES • What happens when you let a group of top-notch indie comics artists loose in the Marvel Universe? Chaos, bellylaughs, beautifully distinctive art, and—surprise!—a remarkable level of knowledge of and love for the Marvel heroes. It's tentpoled by the long-shelved Peter Bagge story "The Incorrigible Hulk," but golly, what treasures there are in here: Paul Pope's Lockjaw and the Inhumans, James Kolchaka's "Hulk Sqaud," Iron Man versus Baloney-Head by Tony Millionaire, Stan Sakai's Japanese samurai Hulk, and my favorite: R. Kikuo Johnson's Puppet Master/Alicia Masters/Thing story, which proves the politically-incorrect but absolutely hilarious point that a blind woman just ain't that good in the workplace. Strange Tales is a minty-fresh triumph—that old moniker "The House of Ideas" is as fresh and applicable as ever. You have do this again soon, Marvel.

#11: THE INCREDIBLE HERCULES • The best mix of mythology and modern superheroing since Walt Simonson's Thor, Herc kept hitting them out of the park again and again in 2009: the Prince o' Power's clash with his crazy-ass relatives on Midgard Earth, the breaking of the Herc/Amadeus Cho fellowship and young AC's origin, and the craziest Thor cosplay since a frog picked up the Uru hammer. But Incredible Hercules deftly balances tragedy and pathos with the high-adventure and comedy; we're never far away from a story of deep regret or shame in Hercules's past. Make what you will of rumors of Hercules' (and his book's) demise in the not-too-distant future: he's a freakin' god! Just you want and see...he'll be back.

...and, so will I, Sunday, to wrap up The Fun Fifty of 2009, with a few laughs 'n' giggles, at least one more scolding that a great book ended way too soon, and (I'm guessing) a #1 that will come as a surprise to ya. Little Stuffed Bull over an' out and to all my friends and comrades out there in blogosphere land, remember this: don't bet too heavily on the Super Bowl.You need that money to buy more comic books!


Heather said...

I can't wait! I can now see what my amazon gift certs are likely yo be spent on...

Evan Waters said...

I especially agree with you on McCoy in the new TREK. By the time he got to "It's the fear of dying in something that flies", I thought DeForest Kelley's ghost had taken possession of Urban. I mean, the other actors were good, but that was uncanny.

I've learned a long time ago not to expect a great comics title to last, at least if it doesn't have star creators or characters. You just have to enjoy it while it lasts, and I have been pleasantly surprised by how long INCREDIBLE HERC has run.