The First Annual Vulcan Quiche Awards: Part 3

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With the Big Two focused on massive crossovers and building up their revamped universes, the fine tradition of the mini-series or one-shot seemed to be forgotten in 2012, Luckily, there were still some fine writers and artists to give those quick, powerful stories more than their due.

The Shorties  – Saluting excellence in a limited series or one-shot.

Fifth PlaceAxeCop_16Axe Cop: President of the World

The Axe Cop stories have always been a gleeful celebration of what comics can be. There’s little devotion to story, characterization or coherence but the pure spectacle and reckless creative abandon are always a joy to behold.

Fourth Placetumblr_m7fe1hTz1c1qky2i3o1_1280Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre

Amanda Conner and Darwyn Cooke paired the exoticism, drug culture and empty philosophies of the ’60s with the painful mother/daughter dynamic that defined the Spectre to create one of the best books of the controversial series. It’s a book more open to experimentation than any of the other Before Watchmen titles and more importantly, strayed far enough from the source material to give an important new look at defining a life through pain, crime and failure.

Third PlacehappyHappy

Grant Morrison seemed to be going in a bizarre new direction in his story about a hitman who suddenly starts seeing and talking to a blue cartoon horse but it’s still filled with the same sort of bizarre metatextuality the writer brings to much of his work. It’s a bloody, violent, occasionally revolting piece of entertainment but it never makes readers forget about the genius who’s pulling the strings.

Second Placexlarge_d7e937b38e36dd9b2e1b39aaf536375dSpaceman

Film noir meets “Waterworld” meets “A Clockwork Orange” and so much more in Brian Azzarello and Edward Risso’s excellent meditation on the future, reality television, identity, guilt and celebrity culture. Risso’s exceptional cartoony, expressive art sets a dingy tone for a world that reached for the stars only to be burned upon arrival. Spaceman is about how the hopes of an individual are crushed by reality in a story which watches as the past and the present are ground down by the choices we’re forced into.

And the Shorty goes to…leagueLeague of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Century: 2009

What does it mean to fail? What does it mean to be a hero when the world has long since passed you by? Who are you when the people you loved are gone? Alan Moore’s brilliant final chapter of the League’s adventures asks all of these questions of its three protagonists, the immortal gender swapping Orlando, the sectioned vampire Mina Harker and the heroin addicted homeless adventurer Alan Quartermain. The final chapter sees the heroes at their lowest as Prospero asks them to avert the Apocalypse that they’ve already failed to stop. The end is coming. There’s nothing left to do. It’s in that condition that Orlando, Mina and eventually Alan’s actions shine all the brighter as the League has one last chance to keep the darkness at bay and maybe be the heroes the world has always wanted them to be.

Next Up: We’re getting to the biggest awards of the year. Star crossed lovers, mercenaries, killers, companies, schools and scientists are all competing for the title of best series of the year.

The First Annual Vulcan Quiche Awards: Part 2

noo1We’re rolling along with our annual awards, this time celebrating the best comic book arc of 2012. What startling revelations, bloody brawl or slow building horror is going to take it? I know but I have to burn through a bunch of words in order to tell you.

The Gateway to the Best – Saluting exemplary examples of arc based storytelling.

Fifth Placeprv13045_cov1-657x341Final Execution  – Uncanny X-Force

Rick Remender’s sprawling epic of violence, consequences, revenge and redemption concludes in a bloody fashion as the team goes up against a reformed Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and faces the long coming consequences of The Apocalypse Solution. It’s not perfect but it’s a book that always felt like it was building to this moment.

Fourth Place2720680-batwoman14_05World’s Finest – Batwoman

Batwoman struggled through the confusing tangled mess of its second arc, To Drown the World, but it came back with a vengeance. As the DEO pressures Kate Kane to track down the leader of the terrorist organization Medusa, she pairs up with Wonder Woman and goes monster hunting while Gotham is under siege from a mutated occultist Killer Croc, Bloody Mary and an army of mind controlled cultists. It’s a book that retains it’s trippy, fragmented, experimental sense of wonder but meshes it with legends, violence and the creeping dread of that which should not be.

Third Placetumblr_m8vdzhlvgJ1qhaplxo1_1280The Return of Black Hand – Green Lantern

Since Blackest Night, Black Hand has solidified himself as one of the most dangerous men in the universe. After killing himself on the Indigo home world, he’s resurrected by a black ring and back to his old ways. Hal and Sinestro’s battle with the villain in the last few issues of the arc show the characters at their best, working together, making sacrifices and proving their devotion to the Corps, even when it’s turning its back on them.

Second Place2339008-batman_09_page21Night of the Owls – Batman

Batman’s greatest strength has been Gotham. It’s a city he knows, one he understands and one he can control. So when an ancient, secret organization rises up and strikes Bruce where it hurts, things are going to get rough. It’s a great story-line, despite some less than exciting crossovers, with an incredible denouement which changes everything about Bruce’s knowledge of the city he saves.

And the Gateway goes to…manhattan
The Shadow Government Forms – Manhattan Projects

The most brilliant minds are capable of the most monstrous things in Jonathan Hickman’s strange tale of science, power and the Cold War. As Oppenheimer, Von Braun, Einstein and Feynman create a computerized FDR to control the United States’ future while the crazed Free Mason, Henry Truman, runs the puppet government, the Manhattan Projects expands into the stars. The first arc succinctly shows the cost men are willing to pay for power and draws parallels with the American atomic threat in the post WWII world in a way that’s horrifying, gleefully violent and occasionally, sadly, necessary.

Next Up: The world ends, reality TV rules, two classic robots team up, the dead return and much, much more as the best miniseries or one-shot is chosen.

The First Annual Vulcan Quiche Awards: Part 1

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It’s been a long year, what with the New 52 picking up steam, Marvel kinda-sorta-not-really relaunching, Grant Morrison having his own convention, people complaining about a theoretical Avengers line-up, people getting offended about sexism in one of the most traditionally sexists mediums but this time with occasional flashes of brilliance. Basically, it’s been another year in comics. So what better way to celebrate than counting down some of the best produced in 2012? I can’t think of one because I’m morbidly uncreative. We’ll be running countdowns all week, concluding with the best series and best single issues. For now, we’re focused on characters, namely the breakout comic stars of 2012.

The Riker’s Beardies- Awarded for excellence in character growth and increased visibility and fan support

Runner-Up

batcowpreviewDamian Wayne

For a lot of DC readers, this was the first introduction of the son of Batman, a callused, aggressive, violent, impetuous Robin introduced by Grant Morrison only about a year before the relaunch. Since then, he’s been softened and after teaming back up with Bruce after he returned from time, Peter Tomasi and Grant Morrison focused their efforts on creating a strong father-son dynamic between the characters. It’s worked and Damian is still an wonderfully conflicted, complicated character for it.

Fifth Place

2158238-s2Sinestro

In what is debatably Geoff Johns’ best book, a perfect buddy cop relationship was forged in the wake of Sinestro taking Hal’s ring at the conclusion of War of the Green Lanterns. Everything that made him one of the best villains of the DC universe continues to make him one of the best heroes. He’s a man who’s made many mistakes but has a single-minded vision of what the universe, the Corps and what Hal needs to survive. It’s already been too long since readers have seen him back in action.

Fourth Place

Animal-Man_2_panelAnimal Man – Buddy Baker

No book from the Big Two has successfully gone bigger, weirder and darker this year than Animal Man, which managed to balance family drama, body-horror and looming dread around the twisted tale of one of DC’s most forgotten heroes. Baker came out of the first issue with style and finesse but between battling totems in the Red, killing his own fleshy Rot-clone and descending with Swamp Thing into Rotworld, he’s become a bona fide niche hit.

Third Place

indestructiblehulk1_splashpageThe Hulk – Bruce Banner

As I said in the Marvel NOW! roundup, Banner’s gotten a big movie push in popularity and the House of Ideas is clearly trying to capitalize on that success in Indestructible Hulk. With only two, albeit exceptional, issues out, writer Mark Waid is bringing the same sense of gritty, violent reinvention to Hulk that he brought to Daredevil.

Second Place

2566927-broo_wolverine_the_x_men_15_ideaBroo

Broo is the heart and brains of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning. A member of a race of old-school X-enemies, Broo went from being the comic relief to a character with a soul, one trying to escape his bestial heritage, find love and find a place. He eventually becomes the center of the students’ hopes and fears at the conclusion of the heartbreaking Wolverine and the X-Men #18 in an issue that may be showing up on another list…

And the Beardie goes to…

tumblr_mc1qf1PXeI1qzcsd1o1_1280Hawkeye – Clint Barton

Did anyone expect Matt Fraction’s take on Marvel’s best archer to be this great? In 6 issues, Clint has become a hero to the everyman, a guy making a stand, a father figure and a neighbor. He’s the hero we want to and think we could be. Fraction and David Aja’s nail the archer in and out of the costume and he’s made more than a few new fans in 2012.

Next Up – We’ve seen owls, the return of the Joker, burning space birds, atomic bombs, Daemonites, books of magic, poorly named evil organizations and much more but what’s strong enough to take this year’s award for Best Arc?

“But I’ve had an amazing idea”: A Marvel NOW roundup

2598079-all_new_xmen_01_and_02_cover__by_martegracia_d5cwuqbI think this blog has made it abundantly clear that I’m not a big Marvel guy. This is the 99th post on here and not once have I written about modern Marvel, unless it was in reference to DC. That’s not because I’ve never read Marvel. My very first comic was an issue of the Fantastic Four where a pyrokinetic Nazi was gunning for the Baxter Building. Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force has been one of my favorite titles of the last 5 years. Chris Claremont’s ’70s X-Men work is the definitive book of that decade. Frank Miller became the writer he would be while redefining Daredevil. I respect Marvel but I haven’t really gotten into the House of Ideas until recently. Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men can be thanked mostly for that but a sense of journalistic responsibility, curiosity and lots of disposable income that would normally be spent on women has led me to jump into the relaunch. So, is it worth it? Is Marvel NOW a triumphant new shot in the arm or a wet fart on the bed spread? Let’s look at the first crop of new releases and see. [Note: I didn’t pick up Thor: God of Thunder. I don’t care about Thor and you can’t make me.]

Uncanny Avengers

UncannyAvengers_2_VariantManaraPICOnI don’t care about the Avengers. At all. It’s sort of the same problem I have with the Justice League. It’s a bunch of super-tough guys punching other super tough guys. Plus, I’ve always been an X-Men guy. Luckily, Uncanny Avengers has Remender at the helm and tons of mutants running around to make me care. The first issue was the very opening of Marvel NOW and although it served partially as a thesis statement for the series, it was weak and little more than a typical first issue. Lots of individual characters team up, inevitably waiting for the whole group to team up. A leader is chosen who doesn’t know if he’s capable of running the team. The enemy rises.

Luckily, the second issue, released this week, is Remender in prime form. His Red Skull is terrifying and capable, now using all the power of the deceased Charles Xavier’s brain. Rogue is a bad ass, breaking out of captivity in a brutal fight sequence. Remender has always known how to show his characters at their most violent and capable but he succeeds most when showing the icons his team could be. In issue two, Havok saves a man from Avalanche’s attacks, who suddenly finds himself overcome with the capacity for heroism in the world. It’s a moment showing the potential the mutant race can still have in the face of the new AvX racist resurgence. It’s a beautiful moment, one that legitimately gave me chills. Uncanny proved itself as the flagship title and it’s one to watch, although it may be a little tricky for readers who didn’t devour this summer’s Avengers vs. X-Men.

Rating: Buy it.

A+X

No, I couldn't find any images from A+X. Take this from a not terrible issue of AvX.

No, I couldn’t find any images from A+X. Take this from a not terrible issue of AvX.

There are inevitably those books that piggyback off major event comics. Shit, I feel like I read about 300 issues of Final Crisis, despite it being a 12 issue series. A+X is that book. Each issue has a pair of stories, written and pencilled by different people. It’s a fine idea but not one that can ever be worth $4.99 an issue.

The first issue proved that definitively, with a goofy Cable and Captain America team-up and a thoroughly inessential Hulk and Wolverine brawl. It was pointless and far too short, especially for the price tag. I picked up #2 solely for Chris Bachalo’s pencils on a Rogue/Black Widow team-up and it’s well worth the asking fee if you adore his work. The second story is a snippy, thoroughly fun conversation between Kitty Pryde and Tony Stark where Kitty continues to deal with the Brood infestation that had her out of commission back in Wolverine and the X-Men #5-7. It’s good, clean, episodic fun.

Rating: Decide whether or not it’s worth picking up for the characters, artists or writers. There’s no reason to grab every issue.

All New X-Men

anxm2Brian Michael Bendis has somehow gotten himself onto the X gig after his well received Avengers run and I couldn’t be less excited.  Bendis is a writer that feels a lot like DC’s Geoff Johns but with even less concern for fans, continuity or the characters. He’s claimed All New X-Men will be the defining X-Men book of the relaunch and if the first two issues of the series say anything, it’s that Bendis couldn’t be more wrong.

The time travel storyline has gotten a lot of media attention and it’s a neat idea, particularly for fans who think Cyclops has gotten a little too violent and combative since Schism. That being said, it doesn’t really add anything to any of these characters. No one seems to act that shocked at what’s going on and nothing has happened to justify making this any more than an obligation buy when it inevitably ties into February’s Uncanny X-Men.

Rating: Decide how big of an X-fan you are before plopping down your $3.99.

Deadpool

DEADPOOL-1-BACHALO-VAR-NOW-1I was pretty excited to see Brian Posehn writing the Merc with a Mouth and the first issue may not be the strongest start but it’s probably worth sticking with. Deadpool’s been conscripted by S.H.I.E.L.D. to kill the zombified presidents resurrected by a sorcerer. It’s a premise with the great potential to be a lot of goofy fun.

The writing’s solid although it may take a little too long to bring Wade onto panel. Posehn’s writing really punny, with lots of “New Deal” and wheelchair jokes as Deadpool fights zombie FDR but it’s very cheeky and I’d rather have this any day over Cable & Deadpool.

Rating: Give it a try.

Iron Man

comic_iron_man_marvel_now_concept_artHere’s the stinker. Kieron Gillen’s Iron Man is a mess and worse, it’s a mess you’ve read before. Building off of Warren Ellis’ exceptional Extremis arc, Tony’s fighting weapons developers who are using the exceptionally dangerous bio-mechanical tech. The art is exceptionally poor, with Tony inexplicably looking Asian and scenes in the suit looking less like a drawing than poorly done cut and paste jobs from the movies.

There’s a very interesting subtext to the entire work, with Tony having to deal with the roll he played in creating the Phoenix 5 back in AvX and the place of faith in a world where he used to solely believe in science. It’s too bad Gillen doesn’t do a thing to advance the idea.

Rating: Stay the hell away.

Indestructible Hulk

indestructiblehulk1_splashpageThe Hulk was the go to hero coming out of this summer’s “Avengers” film and it was for good reason. Whedon managed to balance the dichotomy of Bruce Banner’s intelligence with the Hulk’s savagery. Mark Waid plays the same game but does it even smarter here. The stars of the book are Banner and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s head, Maria Hill, as Banner tries to find a little redemption for his actions. A scene in a diner where Hill watches the clock and panics at every moderate stressor is telling and drives the tension, while establishing both party’s feelings. She sees Banner as a time bomb that could go off at any time and Banner’s canny enough to notice. In one of the most telling lines of the issue, Banner says “Don’t think of the Hulk as a bomb. Think of him as a cannon.”

Banner’s willing to sell himself to S.H.I.E.L.D. to prove himself. He’s angry, spiteful of the attention Reed Richards and Tony Stark receive for their genius works and he wants in on it too. He’ll give himself to the feds for their resources and labs on the condition that they drop the Hulk in locations where things need smashing. It’s all waiting for that countdown until Banner goes Green and the book reflects that that nail-bitingly tense pace. The whole thing takes place in about 20 minutes and the clock is a constant, ticking away until the next  moment Banner explodes. Hopefully, we’ll be there when it does.

Rating: For the love of god, buy this book.

X-Men Legacy

50252b2fbacd9X-Men Legacy used to be the most exclusive of X-titles. Filled with characters who normally didn’t get a lot of panel time and led by Rogue, Gambit and Magneto, it was a fun book. In a weird bit of rebranding, the new Legacy focuses on Legion, the son of Charles Xavier who’s been gone from comics for quite some time. He’s an Omega level mutant and a schizophrenic, with hundreds of potential powers all fighting for control in his mind.

It’s a trippy book and with two issues already on stands, it’s one that’s sure to get stranger. Legion deals with threats imagined, perceived and all in his head and Si Spurrier and Tan Eng Huat make that dichotomy just as hard to understand for Legion as it is for us. It’s a canny bit of creation and a fun one to lose yourself in, even if there doesn’t seem to be much of a plot or goal for David Haller to work for.

Rating: It’s a good, totally inessential time.

Captain America

CaptainAmerica_1_PICONHey, it’s more Remender! And it’s pretty good! Remender’s delving into why Rogers keeps taking up the shield and taking down threats. It’s a neat set-up with Remender showing Cap’s early life, with an abusive father and a mother who keeps getting back up.

The issue tries to set “getting back up” as a tone but it never really manages it. Cap ends up getting thrown into an alternate dimension with a cloned kid Arnim Zola wants. It loses it’s way when it gets to the plot but an initial set piece where Cap fights a group of hippy bio terrorists is electric, kinetic, Kirby-esque fun.

Rating: It’s just ok, but I’m sticking around.

Fantastic Four

FANTASTIC_FOUR_1_BAGSVARIANT_Edit_3The First Family has lost some of it’s teeth in recent years. Reed’s become less of an insular genius and become a caring and respectful father. Johnny Storm has become woefully less obnoxious. Marvel seems to want to wipe away Sue’s perceived or actualized infidelities. The Fantastic Four has instead become a true, caring family and it’s certainly interesting in a different way. There are absolutes here. Love, compassion, respect, doing what’s best; these are the things that define Reed’s family now.

Except he’s still lying. After an injury reveals he may be dying, Reed gathers the family together for a multi-dimensional trip. Claiming it to be educational, Reed’s desperate to stay alive and hopefully prevent his family from succumbing to the same subatomic degeneration he is.

Fraction brings a lot of Silver Age wonder to the first issue, with HERBIE, Mom-Bots, fighting dinosaurs and space restaurants orbiting over warring aliens. It all has a pleasant charm and these are characters you desperately want to hang out with.

Rating: As friendly for new readers as it is for long time Baxter Building tenants. Check it out.

FF

FF_1_Preview001f-730x365So here’s the different take on the First Family. As Reed and company head off into hyperspace, recruitments are needed to hold down the fort while they’re gone. The set up is neat but the execution is a little weak. Readers are guided through the FF kids talking about what the foundation means to them, while each member of the Fantastic Four picks their replacement. All of those replacements speak to something essential about them in a small way. Reed picks Scott Lang, the second Ant Man, hoping to get him out of the depression he’s been in since Dr. Doom killed his daughter during The Children’s Crusade. Lang is clearly going to become the focus of the series and writer Matt Fraction has said Lang hopes to hunt down the man who murdered his daughter.

Sue also gets a great moment as she ponders her marital woes with Medusa. Both have found their lives changed by relationships and it’s clear they have problems with the way those relationships have defined their existence. It’s a neat moment, filled with unspoken truths. Johnny similarly has a great moment with his girlfriend, Darla Deering, as he asks her to take his place.

There’s a real Wolverine and the X-Men vibe to this book that’ll keep me interested for a few issues and the simple, cartoony pencilling really makes the book pop. It’s not a perfect start but it’s worth waiting to see what will develop.

Rating: You’re not missing much if you leave this one on the shelf but if you’re picking up Fantastic Four, you might as well give this one a look.

“Down to the last stone, down to my last breath”: Damian’s future is written in Morrison’s amazing BATMAN INC 5

Batman Inc-Zone-021It’s interesting watching the Batman line lose it’s way. In a veritable mess of non-stop crossovers, DC has made sure that readers are bound to lose track of the characters under the cowls. Why care about the risks if every thing’s just a series of mounting tensions with inevitable climaxes that come far too late?

That’s only one of the many, many reasons why Grant Morrsion’s Batman Incorporated has been the premier Bat-title DC has been releasing, if not the best title DC has produced in 3 years.

Part of that’s because of the relentless focus on tension. Morrison began with the end in mind. The finale of Batman Incorporated will be the end of Morrison’s collaboration with DC, exception of course for the upcoming Multiversity. As such, he’s decided to play with any of the toys he wants to, not caring what anyone else is waiting to use them for. Barbara Gordon’s in a wheel-chair! Jason Todd’s (maybe) wearing a more heroic costume! The Joker will end Gotham!

batman-inc-221Batman Inc. 5 reveals one answer that Morrison’s been holding out on for years, the future Bruce saw was of what happens when Damian takes over the Cowl. It’s a sinister world, with zombified-Joker ghouls burning Gotham to ashes, a cannibal Gorilla Grodd-esque super villain preaching the end of days, and Babs Gordon shooting Damian in the spine.

It’s an exhilarating issue. From Bruce, Dick and Jason surrounding a breaking down Damain, the new Batman’s dedication to the cause, the nuke or Leviathan’s second wave, it’s an action packed issue in a series that’s become one of the best for it.

Batman-and-Robin-0-Damian-first-Robin-CostumeDamian will remain Morrison’s finest contribution to the Bat-mythos for years to come and this is clearly him building to a new status queue for the character. The question that has loomed over the series since issue 3 has been whether Damian was ever suited to being Robin. He’s violent, self-centered and wants little more than to prove himself.

Damian’s a character that has consciously been designed to recall Jason Todd. Morrison (like me, although that sounds often pretentious of me) has long recognized that Jason has gotten a bad rap as Robin. He was a strong, interesting character, one that clearly wanted to do what was best for Gotham and for the Family. Jason’s death was one of the legitimately tragic moments of the Batman mythology, read separately from the phone line incident, and the character’s parallels to Damian are clear. Both are less focused on saving the city than proving themselves to the Knight in black armor.

tumblr_mcjdvoOplu1qhxx6do2_1280With seven issues left, and some preview images avaliable of issues to come, it’s pretty clear Batman Incorporated will be defined by Damian’s decisions. Can he control his own impulses and prove himself to Bruce? Will Talia push her beloved too far? Will Gotham be proven to be the Hell it was promised to be? Will Barbara end up back in a wheel chair? That one is probably less important.