2006 Comic Book Commentary (Part 1)A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Keith Dallas
Like last year, SBC’s Reviewers were asked to comment on any five comic book “items” of their choosing, appropriate to the year 2006: five noteworthy titles, five prevalent industry trends, five favorite creators, et al.
This year, 19 SBC reviewers submitted commentaries, which forced me to divide this column into three parts for an easier reading experience. The links to the 2nd and 3rd part of this column can be found in “Recent Soapboxes,” located to the right. Feel free to critique our choices and/or provide your own commentary in the Silver Soapbox forum of SBC’s messageboard.
Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall: Vertigo does it again, which should come as no surprise. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: this original graphic novel is simply perfect. It doesn’t matter if you’re a regular reader of the ongoing masterpiece or a newcomer, you’ll find oodles to love in this spin-off of Fables that tops the medium in both writing and art. It is, simply, what comics can be and should be all about.
Death Note Vol. 1-7: Although it wasn’t originally released this year, the bulk of these volumes were brought to western shores by Viz Media in 2006. Though the series continues past volume 7, volumes 1-7 represent manga at its finest with some of the brainiest dialogue and detective work of any graphic literature. The most frustrating part of Death Note is choosing which of the two incredible leads to root for: the righteous murderer who will go to extremes to make the world a better place, or the ruthless detective who finds no greater pleasure than thwarting his archenemy at every turn. Not only is it relentlessly riveting, but it keeps the reader thinking, guessing and, most importantly, emotionally involved until the unbelievable events in volume 7.
52: As many weak issues as there may have been, I can’t deny how many strong issues we’ve seen in a series that’s shipped 33 issues in 33 weeks. There’ve been more superb issues in eight months of 52 than you typically find in five years’ worth of any other series. Not to mention how many third and fourth tier characters I’ve never read about before in which I’ve now become wholly engrossed. Come on, it’s the only series this year that gave us the bare-chested buffalo-headed new Super Chief – surely that alone puts it on the list.
Stan Lee Meets Spider-man: I can’t honestly say it was one of the best comics of the year, but it was undeniably refreshing to not only discover that, yes, Stan’s still got it, but that Marvel is still capable of producing an out-and-out humor comic that refuses to take itself seriously (unlike the few others that rely on industry in-jokes). While the rest of the Stan Meets issues simply repeat the same formula, the first proved to be the strongest and freshest with the most self-deprecating message of them all. Nope, not going to spoil it, as I’m sure there will be a trade soon. There better be.
Now, I’m rather hard-pressed to name one more series or one-shot that truly deserves to be regarded as the “Best of 2006,” so I’ll save myself the anguish and give mention to the clearest Shame of 2006: DC’s Brave New World special. I never expected to feel ripped off after spending a dollar for 80 pages of new material, let alone material that debuted six new series about which I had no previous expectations. I mean, granted, I expected one would be an obvious dud and some to be fairly pleasant, but instead they ranged from purely uninteresting (Trials of Shazam!) to nightmarishly dreadful (OMAC). Worse, my reaction to this special only mirrored my general feelings about DC in 2006: other than 52, I couldn’t care less about any of their other titles. This is a complete 180 from my feelings, not to mention my buying habits, concerning the publisher in 2005.
Michael Bailey: 2006 was a weird year for me as far as comic books go. Actually, it was a weird year in general full of sudden and immediate change, but since this is about the top five things I liked about comic books this year I figured I should focus on that. 2006 started with a lot of goodwill within me towards the comic industry. I honestly thought it was going to be the best year ever, but unfortunately it didn’t turn out that way. There was a lot of disappointment and fannish anger, but in between the griping and complaining there were some books, moments and characters that I liked quite a bit. It took some thought, but here are five of them.
5. American Way: When things started to go south between me and the major companies, I decided to take a chance on some books that simply looked good. American Way was one of those chances. The writing by John Ridley was strong and he took the characters and situations into some really interesting directions. It was a period piece that didn’t pull any punches or try to be politically correct. Ridley used the setting of the early sixties to good effect, and the conspiratorial elements made for some great reading. The art by Georges Jeanty was exceptional and really brought the story to life. I don’t know how much critical or commercial success the series got, but for me it was one of the highlights of the year with an ending that was truly powerful. I’m hoping to find another new mini-series or ongoing that got to me as much as this one.
4. 52: As many problems as I have with DC as a whole these days and as many of their books that I picked up and then subsequently dropped 52 stood out as one of their greater achievements. It isn’t simply the fact that they have managed to keep the book on schedule, though that is part of it. With all of the other books that seem to be arriving weeks, even months, late (and I feel I should mention that DC is not the only or worst offender when it comes to this) they’ve managed to keep up with this one. The story started out slow, and at first I didn’t even know if I was going to like it, but slowly and over the course of several months, I found aspects of the book that appealed to me and had me excited for the next issue. Some aspects are definitely better than others, but the four writers and the host of artists has managed to keep my interest and put some innovative spins on established characters while playing with the notion of how the DC Universe would react without three of their most influential heroes around. I don’t quite know where they’re going, but if the creative team and the company manage to pull this one off, it will be one of those events that comic fans and readers will talk about for years, maybe even decades.
3. Black Adam: If any character captured my interest and loyalty this year, it was Black Adam. I just like how the various writers (Geoff Johns, Gail Simone and others) have handled the character and far and away, it is Black Adam’s story that has me the most excited in the pages of 52. Sure, there are shades of Namor there, but the fact is they took the evil Captain Marvel and turned him into a compelling character. The addition of his family this year made him even more interesting because now he is trying to make up for the sins of the past. Isis, Osiris and even Sobek added a new dynamic to Black Adam and now he has more to worry about than his own perceptions of right and wrong. Of course, the argument could be made that all Adam needed was the love of a good woman, but that is neither here nor there. I realize that Adam’s story may take a bad turn over the next few months (especially with the reveal of the cover of the recent Previews) but that doesn’t change the fact that Black Adam was one of my favorite aspects of comic book year 2006.
I also dig the cape. I can’t say that enough.
2. Justice Society of America: I realize giving the number two spot to a comic book that came out three weeks ago may be a bit unfair, but frankly movie studios do this all the time by releasing some of the movies they wish to be Oscar contenders in December. So I really don't feel too bad about this. I was somewhat crestfallen when I found out that Geoff Johns was taking a break from JSA because I loved his work on the title, but that feeling was short lived when they revealed that JSA was being cancelled and replaced with Justice Society of America. It was a long wait, but for once I thought the wait was worth it. Geoff Johns, Alex Ross and Dale Eaglesham came out swinging in that first issue and introduced some potentially cool characters (like Mister America, Maxine Hunkle and the new Starman) while also reintroducing some established characters (like Jesse Quick as the new Liberty Belle). More than anything, the book lived up to the hype. That’s very rare these days, but Johns and company pulled it off. The fact that they included a preview of the upcoming year’s worth of stories at the end of the first issue only added to the excitement. If there is any book I am looking forward to reading over the next year, it is this one.
1. Superman Returns: And I’m not just talking about the movie. This year was hyped as the Year of Superman, and on nearly every front, DC and Warner Brothers delivered. While I had problems and continue to have problems with how Superman Returns turned, out there were so many other things to keep me satisfied as a Superman fan that it almost doesn’t matter. Sure this entry isn’t solely about Superman in the comics, but with how this year unfolded and with the sheer amount of Superman related stuff that was released, it’s hard to separate them in my head.
While the movie had its problems and the DVD releases that dropped in June and November were awesome (in addition to all of the action figures and other assorted items that were released), it was a great year for Superman in the comic books. Infinite Crisis wrapped up and immediately things were looking up for the Man of Steel. “Up, Up, and Away” was a fantastic re-introduction to the character and his world, “Back in Action” was a fun story, Kurt Busiek is doing some interesting things in the pages of Superman, and I can’t say enough about Geoff Johns, Richard Donner and Adam Kubert’s work in Action Comics. Jeph Loeb wrapped up his run on Superman/Batman with a heartbreaking story, and when it came out, All-Star Superman showcased some interesting Superman stories by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. The coming year has just as much potential, but it was nice to have a solid year of Superman stories, especially when so much attention was being focused on the character.
Well, there you have it. My top five for 2006. I hope that everyone has a very Merry Christmas (or whatever holiday you choose to celebrate) and a Happy New Year.
Kevin T. Brown: Creating a “Top 5” or a “Review of the year” list is always difficult. Not in finding five items to discuss, but in finding five specific and unique items. Whereas most people will focus in on either tragedy or “the hot event of the year,” I’m going to focus in on four low-selling titles that should have higher sales and one specific issue of a title that I consider to probably be the best story of the year.
So here are my five picks for the year, beginning with the four series I feel deserve a much larger audience:
Checkmate (DC Comics, written mainly by Greg Rucka and drawn mainly by Jesus Saiz) is one of those series unlike most super-hero comics today. It's the DCU version of Black-Ops featuring super-humans and basing its power structure on the game of chess. While accurate, that’s the extremely simplistic description of the team. It features such characters as Amanda Waller (as Checkmate’s White Queen), Mr. Terrific (The newly “crowned” White King), Fire and Sasha Bordeaux. It’s also a series that’s slowly but surely coming together and is a great example of a character driven story.
If you’re looking for something different, but you don’t want to stray too far from super-hero comics, I urge you to take a look at this series.
Fallen Angel (IDW, written by Peter David and drawn mainly by J.K. Woodward) was originally published by DC Comics and moved over to IDW this past year. The Angel in question is Lee, a woman deeply shrouded in mystery. Very little is known about her, but some has been revealed in the IDW series. What is known is that she is truly a former angel, a guardian angel at that, and that her son, Jude, is now the Magistrate of city of Belle Noire as well as a priest. She also still maintains some of her angelic powers that she now uses, essentially, to help others.
There is literally no other comic to compare this series to. It’s truly unlike anything I’ve ever read before. The characters and the city of Belle Noire (which is a character unto itself) are still slowly allowing some of their mysteries to be revealed. Like Checkmate, it’s also a character driven series, and you’ll never find such a unique collection of characters.
Jonah Hex (DC Comics, written by Justin Grey & Jimmy Palmiotti and drawn by various artists) is the best and most under-appreciated series at DC today. It’s one of two western comics DC publishes (the other being Vertigo’s Loveless) and its main claim to “fame” is that it focuses on one-part stories. You can pick up any issue you want and not be concerned if you’re suddently in the middle of a multi-part story. (Current issues are, however, featuring Hex’s origin told in three parts.)
Gray & Palmiotti are teamed with a different artist with each story. The current origin story is being drawn by Jordi Bernet, and future stories will involve Phil Noto. There has never been a bad story written in this series. Period. Each issue shows Hex at his bounty hunting best and that he has his own moral code that he follows. Just be thankful you're not on the other end of that “code.”
Manhunter (DC Comics, written by Marc Andreyko and drawn by Javier Pina) was initially cancelled with issue #25, but it got a reprieve and is getting at least five more issues to prove it still deserves to be published. Trust me, this book deserves to be published! It not only features a very strong female lead in Kate Spencer, but an equally strong supporting cast. One of the best things about Kate is her attitude. She’s not one to take prisoners. Literally. If you’re a villain who crosses her path, expect to be dealt with in extreme fashion.
Marc Andreyko has created a character that is still trying to find her way within the DCU, but she’s tenacious and will do whatever it takes to make herself better. All that, and be an attorney and mother as well. One cannot help but admire Kate Spencer. She definitely deserves more than just another five issues.
And that one issue I feel probably the best story of the year:
Robin #156 (DC Comics, written by Adam Beechen and drawn by Freddie E. Williams II). So why do I consider this to be the best comic of the year? Because it’s a hard hitting, emotionally charged issue that forces Robin to face his own fears and recent tragedies while trying to talk someone out of committing suicide. It’s the dialogue between Robin and this young man that is incredibly powerful and drives this story right to the heart. Having had a friend who committed suicide when I was barely 16 years old, this story affected me more than I thought possible.
Beechen & Williams have crafted a story so full of emotion, one cannot help but be affected by it. There are no easy answers provide,d and some hard truths are brought forth, but in the end you fully realize just how strong the human spirit is.
So those are my “Top 5 for 2006.” If you’re searching for something different and for books of high quality, I urge you to read the series I mentioned above. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
Allegory: Let’s face it; when meta-humans started killing each other in the DCU and the Registration Act got passed in Marvel, the artists weren’t really just trying to shell out stories. It is hard and complicated to demonstrate all of the allegory in Infinite Crisis, but the Rann-Thangar War clearly represents U.S./Israel-Middle East tensions. Likewise, when Tony Stark is arguing with Captain America over the Registration Act, what the writers are really trying to get at are the pros and cons of the Patriot Act. Thanks to the writers and editors who have put together these stories, comics have grown head-and-shoulders as literary pieces without losing their appeal of crazy people with too much power hitting each other.
Multitasking: These huge storylines may not have been possible without hard working writers working on multiple projects. In DC, guys like Geoff Johns, Brad Meltzer and Greg Rucka worked on multiple titles while writing prose novels and screenplays. In Marvel, it has been Ed Brubaker and J. Michael Straczynski working on multiple titles. Let us not forget guys like Jim Lee who’s re-launching Wildstorm while doing art and Jeph Loeb who has several titles out with Marvel already while his final stories with DC are still being released.
The Last Christmas: What’s going on in the big two feels new and exciting to me, because I didn’t read any of their previous big events. But it’s hardly unique. The Last Christmas by Image this year was definitely unique. If you read my reviews of it, you’d know how much I loved it. Though it fit standard genre types—such as the zombie books or comedic ones—it combined so many that it made it unique. This book presented hilarious moments, bad ass moments, and a heart felt cheesy story all at once. I hope to see more like it.
DDP: Not to be confused with wrestler Diamond Dallas Page, Devil’s Due Publishing out of Chicago definitely has people fitting the aforementioned multitasking role. Tim Seeley, for instance, is writing some titles while doing art on others. Other creators are doubling as Devil’s Due businessmen. They hold the standard of what an independent company is while still being a good company period. Maybe they got the idea from someone else, but their adaptations of fantasy novels—namely Forgotten Realms—seems to have rubbed off on Marvel as they try to create their own success with titles like Red Prophet and soon The Gunslinger. Devil’s Due may publish some weak titles, but at least in the Chicago area where I reside, they definitely have established themselves quickly.
CD Roms: Reading a comic on a computer isn’t as enjoyable as reading printed paper in my hands. Still, it is nice to have all the Ultimate X-Men titles on a CD-ROM for at least reference. What’s really cool is being able to read 40 years of X-Men, Avengers, and other Marvel titles. It is weird that they simply scanned them all in, considering that they have probably had digital versions they could have put on a CD-ROM for the newer issues, but still. It is interesting.
Tobey Cook: It’s hard looking at 2006 without noting there were a lot of really significant moments from both Marvel and DC as well as independent publishers. So without further ado, here are my top 5 comic-book related items of 2006:
DC Comics: DC had a fantastic year. Wrapping up Infinite Crisis, The One Year Later “soft relaunch” of their books, 52, the success of the Absolute hardcover line, as well as many other really solid moments really made them a publisher to be noticed this year. I think this is honestly some of the strongest material DC has put out in years, and hopefully will continue well into 2007 and beyond.
Rise of the Small Press: We saw a lot of movement from the small press publishers this year, both good and bad. Markosia, APE Entertainment, Archaia Studios Press, etc. all offered readers some quality titles while long-standing independents like Dark Horse and Image continued to offer readers new and continuingly fantastic reads. Titles like Mouse Guard and Athena Voltaire showed that the spirit of comics was not limited to superheroes.
Civil War: Probably Marvel’s most ambitious move to try and revitalize their characters, Civil War was met with critical raves as well as significant backlash when the publisher was forced to delay most of their books a month in order to give Steve McNiven time to get back on track. Say what you will about the decision, but I have to give them credit for deciding to keep McNiven on the book all the way through without bringing in a fill-in artist (as has been done in other crossovers without much success).
Heroes: the biggest success story in television this year was Heroes. Spearheaded by Tim Kring, the series focuses on 9 individuals with fantastic abilities and shows that comic books really can be put on television to great effect. It has delivered solid ratings for NBC, spotlighted artists like Tim Sale (who does the art for Isaac’s paintings) and given us an unlikely hero in the personage of Hiro Nakamura, whose love of comics fuels his desire to save the world.
TwoMorrows Publishing: probably my favorite publisher this year. Back Issue Magazine as well as Alter Ego and their Modern Masters series showcase some of the best and brightest talent of the 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond. A fantastic example is their interview with Neal Adams in Back Issue #18 which covers every spectrum of his career from his work on Green Lantern to his successes and failures with Continuity Studios and more. TwoMorrows truly shows a love of what made this industry great, and continues to put out some of the most comprehensive works covering all manner of subjects in the world of comics.
Really, it was a tough choice coming up with five items that really made me proud to be a comics fan, and there are so many things I loved and hated about this year to really sum up in a short list such as this. However, all of the above will influence the industry in 2007 and beyond and give me much more reason to enjoy my comics every week.
Keith Dallas: Last year I learned to stop worrying and love independent comic books. This year I made mine Marvel… and Vertigo.
My favorite single comic book issue of 2006 is December’s Detective Comics #826 in which Joker abducts Robin and torments him throughout a murderous car ride around snowy Gotham during this “most wonderful time of the year.” This is one of the best Joker stories I’ve ever read. The Joker is hysterically loony as writer Paul Dini provides him with chillingly sinister rimshots: “[Joker dials 911 on his cellphone] Yes, I’d like to report a hit and run, corner of Market and Broome… [Joker runs over a pedestrian] Oops. My bad. Make that Market and Boyle.” Tim Drake, on the hand, succeeds in keeping his wits about him despite knowing the Joker’s true intentions (yep—unsurprisingly, he plans to kill the Boy Wonder), and Robin eventually turns the tables on the Joker with (of all things) a Marx Brothers joke. The story has a tight, perfectly paced structure, and Don Kramer deserves high praise for presenting Joker in glorious mania and providing Tim with a full array of emotions despite the character being bound, gagged and masked. This issue merits inclusion in a new Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told hardcover.
Last year my favorite comic book publisher was Image. This year it’s Vertigo, the DC imprint which is experiencing a Renaissance. I’ll confess that once Preacher ended, it took a while for any Vertigo book to catch my interest. This year, however, I’ve been fascinated by no less than four Vertigo publications: the haunting Vietnam war story The Other Side, the densely intellectual Testament, the tragically philosophical allegory Pride of Baghdad and the best title of the lot, Simon Oliver’s The Exterminators. Oliver employs black humor and his impressive knowledge of an assortment of disciplines (sociology, egyptology, entomology, world history, religion, among others) to deliver a compelling misanthropic message: Mankind’s biological drive is to exterminate itself. With the artistic help of Tony Moore (mainly), each issue has presented events that brilliantly negotiate comedy and repulsion. No other comic book regularly contains scenes that have me simultaneously laughing in fits and reacting in disgust. This is entertainingly exceptional work.
In a 2006 super-hero comic book landscape dominated by all things 52, “One Year Later” and Civil War, the titles I have enjoyed the most have been the ones that have kept themselves removed from all the “hoopla,” like DC’s Jonah Hex and Marvel’s Annihilation and Moon Knight. Far and away, my favorite comic book title of 2006 is Dwayne McDuffie and Scott Kolins’ Beyond!. With a collection of traditionally supporting characters (Hank Pym, The Wasp, Firebird, Medusa, Kraven the Hunter, et al), this limited series put on display everything this is great about the Marvel Universe: fantastic situations that produce thrilling action, compelling character interaction that leads to noble heroism. McDuffie plotted some wonderful twists (That’s no ordinary graveyard keeper, it’s Deathlok; that’s not really Spider-Man, it’s the Space Phantom; That’s not really The Beyonder, it’s…), and Kolins gets EVERY dynamic angle, perspective, facial expression and character detail right (and he deserves special accolades for a stunning re-design of Medusa’s costume). The story’s conclusion is more genuine and poignant than anything yet provided by Civil War (and before I receive anyone’s hate email, I’m enjoying Civil War…, an admission that ensures that I’m going to receive a different kind of hate email, doesn’t it?).
I quit reading X-Men back in 1991 with the launch of “adjectiveless” X-Men. Little did I know how ridiculously suffocating X-Men continuity would become over the subsequent 15 years, to the point where the X-Universe became impenetrable to those without PhDs in “Marvel Mutant Mania.” At least a half a dozen times over the past decade, I tried jumping back on board various X-titles…, and been rewarded with a splitting headache every time. I simply could not fathom the goings-on. This year, however, Mike Carey and Ed Brubaker did what Grant Morrison, Chuck Austen, Chris Claremont and Peter Milligan couldn’t: they made the X-Men accessible AND riveting WITHOUT rebooting continuity or ignoring it wholesale. Truth be told, Carey’s “Supernovas” arc in X-Men and Brubaker’s continuing “Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire” in Uncanny X-Men have NOT been without their imperfections, but the last time I eagerly anticipated a new issue of X-Men, George Bush SR. resided at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and not his son. That, in itself, is a noteworthy accomplishment.
Many of my SBC colleagues are rightly going to use this column to label 2006 the “Year of the Delayed Comic Book.” It is a trend that has plagued every comic book publisher and been lamented by readers on EVERY comic book messageboard. Allow me to focus then on a comic book that boldly refuses to “follow the herd” and be delayed like seemingly every other title being published: Marvel Comics’ X-Factor; it has published 14 high quality issues in 13 months (this new volume of X-Factor debuted in December 2005, and the 14th issue has just been released). And before someone cries that I shouldn’t honor a title just for adhering to an expected schedule, consider these unforeseen circumstances that X-Factor dealt with throughout 2006: (1) artist Ryan Sook quit the book soon after its launch, (2) the title got pulled into the Civil War event, and (3) Banshee, the father of one X-Factor’s major characters (Siryn), died in the pages of X-Men: Deadly Genesis (a development that writer Peter David admitted he learned about after the fact and one that he couldn’t just ignore). A different creative team would have eagerly advertised these circumstances and then allowed production to be delayed, but Editor Andy Schmidt is to be commended for keeping his train on its tracks and running on schedule. If we’re going to crucify creators for interminable delays, let’s then also make sure that we provide fanfare for the professionals who produce quality comic book entertainment every 30 days.