The Second Annual Vulcan Quiche Awards: Part 4

Screen shot 2013-08-30 at 10.39.32 PMI know this is (holy shit) three months into 2014 but at long last, here’s the top 20 series of 2013. This was an intensely contested category and I really had to whittle the list down to the very best of the best of the best. Let’s get into it.

The Next Generations – Awarded to the finest series of pictorials of the year.

Runners UpANXMEN2012013_int_LR-2-3
This was tough. All New X-Men somehow overcame a limited premise, several overly complicated story arcs, a tie-in to the underwhelming “Battle of the Atom” and some rickety character work to be a fantastic look at the X-Men through the ages and a reflection on how the series has changed. The Allred family overcame some rocky plotting by Matt Fraction and fixed FF, making it one of Marvel’s most unique and recognizable books on the market. Bringing Rafael Albuquerque onto Animal Man took it from an impressive title to one of DC’s finest off-key horror books and a consistent source of nightmare imagery and heartwarming scenes of characters fighting for what’s important.

Twentieth PlaceBruce-Banner-in-Indestructible-Hulk-2Indestructible Hulk

Mark Waid is a man who can redefine a character. Focusing on Banner, the jealous, hopelessly petty, intrinsically flawed monster underneath another monster is the focus and like in Waid’s Daredevil, he’s a character who finally wants to change his place in the world. While stories like “Agents of TIME” dragged along, Waid positioned Banner and Hulk as separate, albeit linked, characters looking to change, even when the world and the people they surround themselves with aren’t so sure they’re ready.

Nineteenth PlaceuxmUncanny Avengers

Uncanny Avengers isn’t a perfect book. It’s often barely a good one. What makes this story unique is that it’s always bold, always pushing the envelope, always relentlessly putting the characters in the worst possible position and watching them hopelessly crawl back from the brink. It’s a technique Rick Remender perfected on Uncanny X-Force but it’s given new weight in Uncanny Avengers with a team who can’t afford to let its secrets stay locked away. Each issue is an event, a talking point, an upcoming Twitter firestorm and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Eighteenth PlaceScreen-Shot-2013-10-05-at-8.33.07-PMStar Wars

If there’s a better introduction to the Expanded Universe than Brian Wood’s Star Wars, I don’t know what it is. Taking the familiar bits of the canon and slowly bringing in the looser character relationships, motivations and world building, Star Wars is a master class in how to make a licensed book work for diehard fans and newcomers alike. Evocative, recognizable and classically nostalgic, it’s a book that makes a galaxy far far away feel never more reachable.

Seventeenth Placehooded-figure-green-lanternGreen Lantern

After years of guidance and hundreds of issues of wonderfully realized worlds, Geoff Johns handed over the franchise he resurrected in a single issue of Green Lantern. While Robert Venditti has done a commendable job moving the series forward and keeping the book a must-read, Johns’ deliberate, wonderfully realized moments between Hal Jordan and Sinestro in Green Lantern #20 made this book an instant classic and cemented his place in the Corps’ history.

Sixteenth PlaceNova's_lifeNova

Casting off years of complicated backstories and Marvel’s often arcane space baggage paid off by bringing Sam Alexander home in Nova. A wonderfully realized, empathetic and true portrait of growing up young, poor and without much guidance, Sam is the perfect character to try to fight for what he believes is a galaxy worth saving and his attempts to right intergalactic wrongs are touching, bold, attention grabbing and often hilarious. Nova often achieves the impossible, being a well written, fun and passionate book, as well suited for first time readers as Marvel junkies alike.

Fifteenth PlaceScreen Shot 2013-08-23 at 12.41.31 PMWonder Woman

A rare example of a writer and artists’ voices defining a DC character, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s take on Wonder Woman is the boldest book by a traditionally conservative publisher and the results are often stunning. Focusing on Diana’s twisted family dynamics and her attempts at creating a more stable home, Wonder Woman is a deeply human story on the way we reflect and deny the families who define us.

Fourteenth PlacesagaSaga

Last year’s winner, Saga continues to be one of the biggest success stories in independent comics and one of the best examples of the diversity of stories the medium can tell. A “Pulp Fiction”-esque storytelling device brought all the characters together in 2013, letting them bounce off each other and haunt their actions until only love can define them. Saga continues to be an electrifying read and the wait for the next issue is always far too painful.

Thirteenth Placebatman-242Batman

In 2013’s Batman #21, an unmasked Bruce Wayne raises a youthful middle finger to the man who will one day be his archenemy. It’s a defiant wonderful moment but it might as well be Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo flipping off the established canon. “Year Zero” has been a wonderfully realized, exuberant and fresh take on the early days of Batman, both respectful to Frank Miller’s “Year One,” and willing to critique, prod and kill its idols. Snyder’s Batman is everything the New 52 should be: fresh, respectful, modern, hip and unbelievably ready to slash and burn.

Twelfth Placeku-xlargeHawkeye

Matt Fraction and his stable of artists went bigger, more ambitious and infinitely more complicated in their second year of Hawkeye and that’s why it’s on the list but also why it’s not higher up. While the investigation into Gil’s death, Kate’s trip to California and the return of Barney were all great character driven beats, an inconsistent shipping schedule, missed deadlines and switching publication orders left fans wanting more and not in the most friendly way imaginable.

Eleventh Placegg1Guardians of the Galaxy

Brian Michael Bendis skills are all in display in his revamp of Guardians of the Galaxy, his whip smart dialogue, wonderful characterizations, fight choreography and gripping story telling. Like Nova, Bendis built on the past without being enslaved by it and made the Guardians more than just a team of space pirates but a group of heroes like no one else in the Marvel Universe.

Tenth Placeaaron-02Wolverine and the X-Men

What defines the X-Men? Is it their deep history, their very recognizable and personal struggles, their complicated romantic lives or the ongoing stories which define a race and people? Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men takes all of those disparate bits and brings them together into a single cohesive package. Wolverine and the X-Men is the perfect look at why the X-Men work as a franchise and despite some missteps (I don’t think anyone will look back favorably on the Frankenstein’s Murder Circus arc), it’s a stunning, beautiful book, always ready to surprise and remind readers why they’ve invested so much in these characters and this world.

Ninth PlaceAstro-City_1_PanelAstro City

The return of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City is more than just the return of a series which redefined comics. It’s the culmination of all the ways the medium has grown and changed since the series went on hiatus in 2009. Astro City is a wonderful reminder of how a deconstruction of  comics can work, not stripping down and destroying the characters and world but celebrating the way the medium works and how people exist within it.

Eighth Placetumblr_mtyn4dOw4m1qj97xmo1_1280Fatale
In the wake of murder and madness at the end of Fatale #10, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips had a chance to go bigger and broader with their tale of Jo and the monsters who pursue and they made a splash in a huge way. Going back through the past and ending the year in the ’90s Seattle Grunge scene gave the title the same amount of freedom and energy Jo has found. It’s a book mercilessly in command of the story and characters it slowly unravels, pushing Jo and the Bishop closer and closer together into what is sure to be an Earth shaking conclusion in the final year of Fatale.

Seventh Placenew-avengers4-strangeNew Avengers

One of the masterstrokes of Marvel’s soft relaunch has been the company’s decision to pay attention to the past without being beholden to it. In New Avengers, past relationships haunt a team of Earth’s most brilliant minds and the odds the group is up against weigh heavy on their hearts. While dealing with the extraplanar incursions is the narrative thrust of the series, Jonathan Hickman’s writing is sharpest when delving into the minds and motives of his characters. Black Panther and Namor’s tense declaration of war, Reed Richards tentative, inquisitive interrogations of the unknowable Black Swan and Stephen Strange’s slow descent into a power he doesn’t know if he can control create a perfect mix of internal and external tension. These are characters with a history and presence in the Marvel Universe and by pushing them against a threat they don’t understand and have never faced has let all of what makes them icons shine.

Sixth Placemanhattanproj-13-review-9_copyManhattan Projects

In Manhattan Projects, absolute power doesn’t corrupt absolutely, the illusion of absolute power corrupts everyone absolutely. As the team secures its place as the defacto leaders of Earth’s future by killing, bribing and dominating anyone who stands against them, their reach finally extends their grasp. It’s just a matter of time until every unleashed horror collapses in on this team of opportunistic scientific schemers and their grand plans and grander delusions make every issue a tragic, stunning, revolting must-read.

Fifth PlaceincBatman Incorporated

Everything ends and everything begins again. It’s a maxim Grant Morrison has often repeated in his mainstream comics but it’s never been so vivid, so dark and so wonderfully daring than in the conclusion of Batman Incorporated. It takes a ruined Gotham, the death of his son and a final battle with the only woman who could have stopped him to take Batman and Bruce Wayne from a child fighting for the wrongs his parents suffered to a father fighting for the children he’s losing and it’s pulled off with aplomb. Morrison’s operatic conclusion to his years of Batman stories is a perfect end to one of the best DC stories of all time and like the ever-present serpent eating its own tale, the last moments of Batman Incorporated show a future for Bruce Wayne that will only begin again, eternally and forever.

Fourth PlaceScreen-Shot-2014-01-26-at-2.52.42-PMEast of West

Every issue of Jonathan Hickman’s masterpiece in progress, East of West, contains the same line: “We did this to ourselves.” East of West is singularly focused on an apocalypse of our own making, a far flung, splintered dystopia not so different from the world we live in. The end of the world isn’t an act of God, despite the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, it’s an act of very mortal hubris, of greed, blind faith, betrayal and xenophobia and between layers of post-modern myth, biblical apocrypha and buckets of blood, it’s a strangely prescient warning of the doom and divisions we still blindly build for ourselves.

Third PlaceBoomerang07The Superior Foes of Spider-Man

Failure is very, very funny. I guess let’s back up from there. Failure is only funny if it’s backed with delusion, if a person only believes they can’t possibly fail or doesn’t even recognize their failures as such. Fred Meyers doesn’t think he can fail. He’s created a new Sinister Six (with only five members), broken his friends out of police custody (which he put them in), killed the traitor in his organization (actually, that didn’t really work out) and planned a daring heist against one of the most dangerous men in New York (under false pretenses). He’s falling apart at the seams and doesn’t even seem to realize it and the rest of his team of narcissists, functioning alcoholics and has-beens are always taking falls and hits they don’t quite deserve. It’s a series which could fall into tragic melodrama just as easily as it lands its humor and that’s what makes The Superior Foes of Spider-Man so special.

Second PlaceXML2X-Men Legacy

X-Men Legacy is indefinable. It’s neither superhero comic nor deconstruction, neither celebration nor character study. It’s something in between but also separated from. Through David Haller, the man once known as Legion, Si Spurrier and a host of artists have examined the nature of heroism with a character who would reject that label. X-Men Legacy is supremely confident in the story it’s telling, one with both world spanning and very personal consequences and stakes and that care shows in every moment. This is an opening statement from Spurrier and a cult classic in waiting, a wonderful story about what being a hero means and the sacrifices and choices that need to be made to get there.

First Placedaredevil_30_panelDaredevil

“Try the red one.” Spoken by the super-sensitive ninja, Ikari in Daredevil #25, it’s a line that walks the balance of horror and humor, of weakness and strength, desperation and victory. It’s the line that made me fall hard for Mark Waid’s Daredevil. Focused on giving Matt Murdock a chance to escape the sadness, death and desperation which has embodied the character since Frank Miller’s turn at the helm, Waid gave his characters a chance to be more than the sum of their parts. Murdock isn’t just a hero when he puts on the suit. He’s a hero when he sits in a cancer ward, a hero when he tries to rebuild his personal life, a hero everytime he reaches out to someone in need. No longer is Matt Murdock defined by tragedy, he’s defined by how he averts it, how he shapes his life and the lives around him with passion, zeal and a never-say-die attitude. Neither indebted to the past nor embarrassed by it, Daredevil soars by letting a character take control and make a difference, or at least let him try. 

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The Second Annual Vulcan Quiche Awards: Part 3

Sandman_014In between the big issues, the massive story arcs and the character defining changes, there are the spaces in between. These are the little moments, the panels, the moments of dialogue, the spreads that stay for years. This is a celebration of those moments.

The Prepare to Fire – Awarded to standout single page, double page spreads or panels in comics.

Runners Updo-dogs-dream-of-sheepdogsManhattan Projects #14 nearly made the list for a final moment when only Laika, the semi-sentient dog astronaut sees the horror the team has wrought. Black Panther and Namor’s tense declarations of war in New Avengers #7 shows the potency of a team of characters with a longstanding history. Thor’s first strike against the Builders in Infinity #4 almost placed with a legitimately riling kill that shows the strength the Galactic Council was bringing to the war.

Fifth Placethor_-_god_of_thunder_009-005The Battle Begins – Thor God of Thunder #9

As the war between the Thors and Gorr the Godslayer began, Esad Ribic redefined what a splash page should be with a deeply evocative moment defining the power of its protagonists and the forces they’re arrayed against. It’s among the best splash pages since Walt Simonson’s work on Thor and a standout moment from a great story arc.

Fourth Place2rcpglz.jpg“You will always be my friend” – Green Lantern #20

Geoff Johns’ transformation of Sinestro, from domineering would be conqueror out to make sure Hal Jordan stayed dead, to sympathetic, deeply conflicted Green Lantern, to a somewhat unwilling host of Parallax is what made Green Lantern #20 such a triumph. Watching the final crushing battle between Hal and Sinestro shows the deep, rich characterization of two people trying their best to be heroes and their few differences end up defining and separating them in Johns’ landmark final issue.

Third Placebr18_1“Love and respect” – Batman and Robin #18

In a notably passionate silent issue, Bruce Wayne and Alfred try to deal with the death of Damian after his murder. While Bruce delves deeper and deeper into his war on crime, Alfred silently views the legacy he hoped for slowly be erased. All those simmering, contradictory emotions brutally rise to the top as Bruce reads Damian’s last letter and screams in pain and rage for a child who even in defiance, offered him his only chance for hope.

Second PlaceSuperiorFoes4-p13“Total Heisenberg Moment” – Superior Foes of Spider-Man #4

It’s no surprise Fred Meyers would see himself as Breaking Bad’s self-mythologizing sociopath but his moment breaking the rest of his team from the back of a prison transport shows off exactly why he’s earned that honor. Fred’s a hyperbolic, narcissistic social climber and his one moment of unmitigated heroism is something worth remembering.

And the winner is…xmenlegacy20658“Gestalt” – X-Men Legacy #20

I’ve written extensively on this incredible issue but the single image of David, passionately embraced by his first power is a beautiful moment for a damaged hero and shows the power and self control he’s finally been able to seize.

Coming Up: We’re getting close to the top awards but it’s time to pick out the best series of the year. It’s going to be tough but get ready to see if your favorite makes the list.

The Second Annual Vulcan Quiche Awards: Part 2

zivaKQHIn 2012, Marvel saw the advantage of focusing on a relatable, realized, rounded character in Clint Barton. The explosion of fan support to Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye showed the potential focusing on characters can have. The Big Two as well as the independents zeroed in on their heroes in 2013 and it’s time to recognize the successes in character building for the year.

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

Runners Uptumblr_mryiboJWVj1s5zf6fo2_1280Brian Wood and Olive Coipel were the perfect pair to revamp Jubilee as a hip, in over her head, would be mother but it’s still too early to tell how the character’s revamp is going to go. Going in a drastically different direction, Charles Soule turning Guy Gardner into a Red Lantern, in the wake of the war with the First Lantern, was a master stroke which finally plays to the character’s savage, impulsive strengths. While her appearance in Avengers Arena was great, Nico didn’t really benefit from her portrayal, despite becoming a nearly godly source of magic.

Tenth PlaceComicBookCast-GuardiansOfTheGalaxy3Review459Star-Lord: Peter Quill – Guardians of the Galaxy

Focusing on Marvel’s cosmic characters was a risky gamble but Brian Michael Bendis absolutely delivered with a host of great artists to create a fresh take on the team with none receiving more attention than Peter Quill. Turning the hero into a whip-smart wise-cracking, rebellious space pirate in the Han Solo mold made the character an instant, relatable hit and the secrets he’s hiding about his seeming return to life just add additional mystery to a character readers already want more of.

Ninth Placeharry-daghlian-investigated-by-doctorsDr. Harry Daghlian – Manhattan Projects

Manhattan Projects has never spent a lot of time focusing on the struggles of it’s characters but two issues in 2013 were spent on the challenges of the man turned atomic zombie, Dr. Harry Daghlian. His struggles to find someone to connect with followed by Fermi’s betrayal showed the human costs of the team’s monstrous actions. Daghlian’s heartbreak in Manhattan Projects #12 was one of the most emotionally wrecking moments of the year and most of it was thanks to focusing on the doctor’s attempts to continue to express his humanity.

Eighth Placetumblr_mwky58ZPj31r82wlpo1_1280Doctor Nemesis and Forge – Cable and the X-Force

Make no mistake about it, Cable and the X-Force is not a good series but the relationship between two of the smartest mutant minds in the business has been occasionally thrilling. The cold, nerdy superiority of Doctor Nemesis is a fun counter point to Forge’s relaxed, spiritual, inspired genius and the pair’s banter has given the book a breezy sense of fun it couldn’t achieve during the early issues of the series.

Seventh Placetumblr_mlsnjhHlOg1s5k9amo1_1280Wasp: Janet Van Dyne – Uncanny Avengers

The return of the Wasp left the character with something of a blank slate. After the success of “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” cartoon, particularly the breakout success of Janet’s character, there was a real chance to capitalize. Luckily, Rick Remender, focused on Janet’s place as a peacemaker and champion of the Avenger’s mission first, and an indomitable sass machine second. She’s one of the best parts of an increasingly dour (and after #14’s ridiculous, pointless violence, dire) book. Her adventure with Captain America and Havok is one of the funniest and sweetest parts of the Avengers franchise this year.

Sixth Placefatale1Jo – Fatale

In the first year of Fatale, Jo was little more than a plot device, designed to advance the stories of the predominantly male protagonists and audience surrogates. That was before she took control of her power and influence in Fatale #10 and went in search of what she can do. Through looks back at what she’s experienced in the past, the powers of her ancestors and her reappearance in Seattle, Jo has taken a hand in her fate. At any given time, she’s the most powerful, dangerous person in the room. Her sexuality is no longer a liability or something to be dealt with, but a weapon and an asset.

Fifth PlaceIceman05_zps487fdbcbIceman: Bobby Drake – All New X-Men, Amazing X-Men, Astonishing X-Men, Wolverine and the X-Men

Of the original five X-Men, Bobby Drake has gone through life relatively unscathed. He’s lived and grown, gaining power and finding love but he’s really come into his own in 2013. Seeing the young, boisterous Iceman along side the mature man he becomes has give additional coloring to both characters and watching and he tries to find love with a woman who he’s always considered a friend has been one of the X-Men’s sweetest romances in years. Seeing him come to terms with his family and changes as well as finding and losing a woman who means so much to him has been a fascinating and emotional ride for a character who has finally seen the hero he can be.

Fourth PlaceSaga1102_zps1cc52accAlana – Saga

Alana has always been one of the driving forces of Saga’s success but writer Brian K. Vaughan showed a much wider side to the character in 2013. Alana is a passionate woman, both in protecting and doing what’s best for her child. She’s obsessed with books and sexually confident and in control and showed such a wide and powerful range of character throughout the year. Her range somehow made Saga an even better comic in 2013 which seemed almost impossible.

Third PlaceHawkeye_14_panel_1Hawkeye: Kate Bishop – Hawkeye, Young Avengers

There’s no character who better defines the new age of comic fans on the internet than Kate Bishop, the surly, impulsive, compulsively fun would-be PI. Kate’s appeal is simple, she’s the girl you want to have a drink with, get pancakes with and desperately ask out on a date. Kate’s effortless charm and no-bullshit take on super-heroing and growing up has made every one of her adventures a must-read, regardless of who’s writing it.

Second PlaceSuperiorFoes5_02Boomerang: Fred Myers – Superior Spider-Man, The Superior Foes of Spider-Man

There’s no one more fun to root for than the underdog and there’s no bigger underdog than perpetually in over his head, constantly scheming and always on the run, Fred Myers. Pursued by Chameleon, his parole officer and, occasionally, his own teammates, Boomerang constantly thinks he’s one step ahead only to realize how far behind he is. His failings don’t stop his always running internal commentary, mostly focused on homicide, binge drinking and the next step of his scheme to make a quick buck. I can’t wait to watch him try and fail all through 2014.

First Placexmenlegacy20658David Haller: Legion – X-Men Legacy

Si Spurrier’s take on one of the X-Men franchise’s most controversial characters is a fascinating, relentlessly creative and insightful study of a deeply flawed man. David’s struggle to be a hero, not a super-hero, is a deeply emotional and wonderful look at what it means to impact real change on the world and a persecuted people. Spurrier’s look at David has allowed readers to question exactly what it means to be a hero and how that can be done while dealing with the very real emotional and mental issues many people deal with.

Coming Up: It’s time to look for those moments that make you take a step back, namely the best scenes of the year. It’s going to get raw, occasionally sexy, tear jerking, and really, really violent.

“Become your own army” – The team burns down a road less traveled in Uncanny X-Force #11

UXFORCE2013011-int-LR-2-acff9Moreso than any other book on comic shelves, Uncanny X-Force embraces a time many comics fans would much rather forget. Placing Psylocke and a mohawked Storm of the late 80s-early 90s age of X-comics is a stylistic gamble and teaming them up with Puck, Bishop and Spiral just drives home how much comics have changed. When most of these characters were part of the new age of Marvel, they now have a place as exhausted, twisted and worn out killers, left to be the last resort of the mutant race.  In Uncanny X-Force #10, the heroes were assaulted by the memories of the people they once were, killers and heroes who’ve lost so much in the past to be the people they are now. The message, of course, was that it’s hard to be hero, painfully hard to put the safety and well being of others ahead of yourself and in some ways, it’s not always a choice worth making.

Bishop’s quest to save the team from the revenants in #11 reduces a man who was once a savior and soldier into an opportunist and survivor. Having spent so much of his life outside of a time he once tried to save, he knows the high costs of failure. Sam Humphries draws heavily from Eastern mysticism and the film “No Country for Old Men” as Bishop assembles the tools he needs to rescue the people he doesn’t know are worth saving and it’s a memorable moment as he dispatches the spirits of pasts left unlived.

UXFORCE2013011-int-LR-4-4b061Storm, Psylocke and Puck’s eventual triumph over their shadows shows something eternal about these characters, namely that regardless of who they’ve become, our choices don’t define who we are. Puck and his doppelganger made different choices but both know what it means to fight, to have to fight. Both Storm’s understand the powers they control but only one knows the consequences. Betsy knows what she can do but her strength is in choosing not to. It’s a well written moment and one which shows the power these sometimes less than moral heroes still have.

Humphries’ work on the title hasn’t always been consistent and a rotating art team hasn’t helped the book stay thematically or tonally consistent and a constant narrative shifts from the French thriller of the Fantomex stories to the psychedelic head trips with Psylocke and Storm and the down and dirty club battles of the series’ beginning haven’t helped the book. However, focusing on these complicated characters and the people they could and want to be is sure to benefit a series in need of focus.

Stray Observations

COURTOFOWLS1Note 1: The nice thing about Villain’s Month is at least I can ignore the issues that are terrible. Note 2: DC and Marvel need to be giving Matt Kindt better books to work on.

  • The Court of the Owls have been one of the best parts of the New 52 and the group’s one-shot in Batman and Robin #23.2 is a fun and horrifying look back at the society that controlled Gotham long before Bruce Wayne put on the cowl.
  • Brian Wood is finally making Star Wars cinematic in this week’s #9, setting up three climactic stories as Leia, Han and Luke all find themselves running out of time as Vader and Boba Fett close in.
  • It’s interesting to see how Jonathan Hickman has differentiated all of the infinity books and taking galactic betrayal to the Avengers’ doorstep in Avengers #19 is a gut punch I would never have expected.
  • Oppenheimer plays all of his cards in Manhattan Projects #14 and seeing the team of decimated psychopaths is the closest this book has come in making these characters even slightly sympathetic. Just slightly.

The Year’s Best Comics (So Far…)

Daredevil_26-001Despite weird editorial decisions from both of the Big Two, comic creators have had plenty of room to create some excellent stuff so far in 2013. With the year half over, let’s check in on some of my favorite issues so far, in no particular order.

Dial H #13c6KAC2kIn a cast full of bizarre heroes, Openwindow Man is probably one of China Mielville’s oddest characters. When the entire interdimensional team is stuck in a dimension of chalkboards, the heroes struggle to procure a new dial and the conversation forces all of the heroes to deal with the stakes saving the universe brings with it.

Mielville has done a great job incorporating character specific voices to his work and the chalky, visible lettering and visible thought bubbles give the book a unique, homemade look that perfectly fits his storytelling bent.

Batman and Robin #18street-lamp
Batman is defined by tragedy but his early attempts to come to terms with Damian’s death offers a look at the way the loss of a child ruins more than the Wayne family, consuming the way a hero wages his war on crime.

In a silent issue, Bruce and Alfred try to deal with the loss of a family member. For an issue without dialogue, it’s a strikingly loud one. Alfred’s tears, Batman’s unleashed rage and a primal scream to close the issue make Batman and Robin #18 one of the New 52’s most memorable issues.

New Avengers #7New-Avengers-7-p7-ft-bannerA cold war between Namor and Black Panther has been brewing since the second issue of New Avengers and Namor offers an olive branch in New Avengers #7 but the runaway train to war has already left.

The power of Jonathan Hickman’s work on the title has been the inner conflicts becoming external ones. These are characters who have no reason to work together if it weren’t for saving the world and the tension has shown but here, it boils over, threatening to destroy everything the team has worked for.

East of West #4east_of_west_004-024I’ve already written about this excellent issue but the main point is the way in which Hickman continues to usurp reader expectations of who Death is and what the motives of the people he associates with could possibly be.

Wolverine and the X-Men #24tumblr_mh3fdcXzRF1rlcw3po2_1280Wolverine and the X-Men works best as a hangout comic. We know and presumably like these characters and seeing them try to live their lives, connect with one another and find a way to be more than just a hero is a great way to focus on the fact that these are kids, teachers and killers who still have lives.

Wolverine and the X-Men #24 takes much of the simpering romantic tension of the team and give the characters a chance to act on Valentine’s Day. Kitty and Bobby struggle with separating super-heroism from love, Jean and Quentin get honest about power, legacies and sex, Storm deals with her lingering feelings about T’Challa and her new ones for Logan and Toad gets sick of all these damn lovesick kids. It’s low key, promising and achingly sweet.

Daredevil #26originalThe best thing about Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s Daredevil works because it constantly feels as if anything could happen. From Foggy’s diagnosis to Bullseye’s insane, web-like plots to bring down the Man Without Fear, the sense of constant danger reminds readers that Matt Murdock is the unluckiest man in the world.

The exceptional Daredevil #26 achieves a laser focus by putting Matt on the run. With Ikari’s death threat still hanging over his head, the assassin makes good on his threat, showing Matt that the whole city can and will destroy him. While the proper story is fantastic, the backup, where Foggy goes into a children’s cancer ward and sees how the kids deal with their mortality is a great reminder of what comics can and do mean to all of us.

Manhattan Projects #120b6fd9b29e25be39c830aa1d992df4a4Secret motives run deep in Hickman’s Manhattan Projects and Fermi’s otherness has always been a recurring motif. Since the first reveal the scientist was more than human, Fermi’s real motivation for joining the team has been in question. Now, he strikes back, hurting the one person he has grown close to and losing his sense of agency. Daghalin’s defeated questions at the issue’s end turn a violent bug hunt into a near tragedy and a psychotic Einstein dispatches another threat by issue’s end, moving the imperialistic Manhattan Projects deeper into unexplored space.

Hawkeye #11HAWKEYE01105_d7c8eThere’s a real focus on the senses running throughout Hawkeye. Whether it’s the washed out colors or the slowed down moments of Kate and Clint shooting, there’s a focus on how we view and experience the world around us, the mundane, the heart breaking and the heroic.

Hawkeye #11 takes that feeling into a new direction as Pizza Dog investigates Gil’s death. Readers are brought into an approximation of how the animal feels, filtered through a noir kaleidoscope. It’s a fun, ambitious issue and makes more of a case for the cult appeal of the series.

Green Lantern #20hal-jordan-vs-sinestroLike many readers, Geoff Johns was the name I associated with Green Lantern more than anything else and his final issue on the title proves why. The focus on bombastic action, foreshadowed plot twists, real heart and simmering conflicts gives a sense of finale to a landmark run on one of DC’s greatest characters. It’s the sort of epic, mythic issue that only DC can pull off, with characters who’ve gone beyond heroes and villains and become legends.

“Being a superhero is amazing. Everyone should try it.” – Marvel NOW keeps rolling along

ux2We’ve now had three months of Marvel NOW! and the new titles just keep rolling along. After the last roundup, there’s been a lot of change. FF, which I initially said was a little below board, has proven to definitively be the best, most stylish series of the bunch. Thor: God of Thunder, which I picked up on the recommendation of a commenter, brought all of Jason Aaron’s stylish, continuity embracing charms to the most godly Avenger. It’s been a neat experiment but with new books still coming, we’ve got a lot more rounding up to do. [Note: I didn’t pick up Morbius: The Living Vampire. I’m not a Spider-Man and friends fan and I just don’t plan to get into it.]

AvengersAvengers_1_PanelJonathan Hickman has been one of my favorite writers of the last three years for his high concept take on the Marvel Universe. He’s best at taking the smartest people in the room and making them do the impossible and that’s why his Avengers is still a bit of a slippery slope.

The first few issues have shined almost solely on the strength of Jerome Opena, who’s bringing the same dark, epic charms to the title that he brought to Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force. It’s a visual treat and the world spanning cast recalls Grant Morrison’s epic work on JLA. It’s not great and I’m admittedly not the biggest Avenger fan but this book definitely has an irresistible hook.

Rating: It’s really not my cup of tea but it seems to be blossoming into something worth reading.

New Avengerstumblr_mg0pnaMYkY1r159loo1_r1_1280Here’s where Hickman hits his stride. The most brilliant minds in the superhero community come together to reform the Illuminati in the wake of an interdimensional threat. It naturally recalls The Manhattan Projects, one of my favorite books of the year, and the hook alone is worth buying it for.

The art edges a little too close to Marvel’s house style but Hickman nails the characterizations. Black Panther’s brooding intelligence and his conflict with Namor’s haughty indifference is page turning and that’s not even mentioning the cold, calculating cynicism Reed Richards and Tony Stark are bringing to the conflict. These are great characters with competing goals, views, and strategies for dealing with the threat they face. With an art team willing to paint these characters in the shades of grey they deserve, this would be Marvel’s perfect Avengers book.

Rating: So close to perfect, it hurts.

Avengers Arenaarenaaaa0001It was the toast of pre-Marvel NOW! controversy and naturally, it’s become one of the company’s top sellers. Pitting the company’s teen characters against each other in a series that’s actively drawing from “The Hunger Games” and “Battle Royale,” Avengers Arena just goes for it with old school Avengers and X-Men villain Arcane trying out his old Murder World on a bigger scale than ever.

There’s really not a lot to say about the book itself though. Dennis Hopeless is one of the newcomers to The House of Ideas and he’s clearly more interested in the newer characters he’s created than anything else. It’s a disappointment, especially with one of the book’s big appeals being characters from Avengers Academy and Runaways. It’s nice that there’s a teen focused book on the shelves but it just doesn’t reach the heights of Marvel’s previous efforts on that front.

Rating: It’s trying way too hard and just being aggressively average for the efforts.

Cable and the X-ForcefacemeltHopeless is getting the fringe titles and it’s clear he’s trying but, boy, is it not working. The return of the Cable and Domino team-up should make those three Rob Liefeld fans wake up from their Doritos induced slumber but the book lacks punch. It’s nice to have Hope around to do awesome mutant action but the team up of Dr. Nemesis, Colossus and Forge as support characters doesn’t add much.

It doesn’t help that issue 3 features one of the most deliriously idiotic story lines in years. As Cable tries to stop a prophetic dream from occurring, the team discovers a fast food company that’s trying to infect the populace with mutant zombie meat. It’s such an aggressively dumb plot that you wouldn’t be wrong to think it was meant to be satire but Hopeless plays it with such a self-seriously straight face that it’s impossible to laugh.

Rating: You can skip this one like you’ve skipped every Cable book since Messiah War.

Thunderbolts2826629-venomMarvel doesn’t really seem to know how to do a dark book at this point. The best parts of Marvel NOW! have been optimistic, intelligent, character driven and thought-provoking books that put their iconic characters into new situations and settings. I’m all for that as DC seems to have embraced ennui and nihilism in their biggest titles. Marvel seems to be trying to bite off some of that style with the relaunch of Thunderbolts, bringing together Thunderbolt Ross (get it, eh, eh), Deadpool, Venom, Elektra and Punisher to destroy threats worldwide.

There doesn’t really seem to be much of a purpose for the team yet. These are some of the most dangerous and capable killers in the universe and they’re mostly just aiding militia fighters in a covert war. Why do they need the Punisher and Red Hulk? Why is Elektra willing to do this? The book doesn’t justify it’s choices well enough and the violence the book promises doesn’t come or provide any of the tension these personalities should bring to the table.

Rating: A massive waste of potential. Even for $2.99 and for the great team of characters, it’s not worth picking up.

Savage WolverinezaUxbI would love to think I’m a man of refined taste but there’s a primal appeal in watching Wolverine fight dinosaurs, SHIELD agents get torn to shreds and see Frank Cho’s crazy take on the female anatomy. Savage Wolverine is a showcase for the male comic fan’s basest instincts and it’s probably worth indulging in.

Wolverine wakes up in the Savage Land and is pretty quickly killing dinosaurs, fighting barbarians and teaming up with Shanna the She-Devil. It’s pure pulp. There’s no context, no tie-ins to Wolverine’s recent attempts to stop killing and no desire to show these characters’ place in the larger context of Marvel. Frankly, I couldn’t be happier to see the company have this much fun with one of their biggest characters.

Rating: I feel bad about loving this as much as I do. It’s worth seeing if you will too.

Superior Spider-Mansuperior-spiderman-identityIt’s an uphill battle for me to care about Spider-Man from the get go and the Amazing Spider-Man 700 twist certainly didn’t help matters. I like Dan Slott. I think he’s a funny guy who cares deeply about the character but Spider-Man is a character who exists in a virtually impenetrable pocket of the Marvel Universe. No one touches New York in the same way Spider-man does and that’s what makes any lasting change in the character feel so strange.

Superior’s Doc Ock swap feels like a stop-gap and it’s one readers are familiar with. Peter’s not gone, even if his ghost wasn’t there, he still wouldn’t be gone. Once the next Amazing Spider-Man movie comes around, Parker will be back and that’ll be the end of the experiment as the status quo gets reset. For now, the book is uninteresting, the art cribs heavily from Todd McFarlane and Greg Capullo and the writing has the same alternatively dour and overly quippy style that has kept me away from Spider-books for years.

Rating: This is a Spider-Man book for Spider-Man fans and Spider-Man fans only. New comers need not apply.

Uncanny X-ForceUNCXF2013002covVarHow do you follow up one of the biggest surprise hits Marvel has seen in the last five years? Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force was one of the best X-books in a long time and it seemed impossible to see lightning strike twice. Sam Humphries has been given the unenviable job of doing just that and he wisely sets a different tone for the book.

Psylocke and Storm is a great team up, with both women facing major changes as the return of Fantomex and a divorce from Black Panther have put the women at new positions in their life. Both show off their power as they exorcise their demons and although the group doesn’t have a clear goal, it’s neat stuff to see them team up with Alpha Flight member Puck. It’s a super colorful, stylish to a fault first issue that looks to be a lot of fun especially with a drug dealing Spyral, the return of Bishop and a final page reveal of Fantomex’s new leading lady.

Rating: Don’t think this is a revamp and get on the action packed ride. It looks like it’s going to be fun.

Young Avengersnice-art1The kids have grown up. When last we saw the Young Avengers, they were crippled by loss, war and the realizations that the real world is a brutal place to grow up. Kierron Gillen has a much different take on these characters. These are teenagers. They hook up, make out and have fun with the fact that they’re occasionally the smartest, toughest, most dangerous people in the room.

Gillen nails the characterizations here. Kate Bishop is a girl playing the game for the thrill, the sex, the battle, the fun. The relationship between Hulkling and Wiccan feels like the kind of kamikaze love that can only happen when you’re 18. Kid Loki rocks being the self-righteous punk who doesn’t care who you are or what you’re selling. It’s a book that we’ve seen a couple of times before as the team starts to form up to face down a new potential Skrull attack but you can’t find many better characters to spend the time with.

Rating: Until Runaways gets a new volume, this is the premier teen series. That’s not a bad thing.

Fearless Defendersfearless-defenders-1bMarvel’s clearly been happy with how much better they look than DC on the subject of gender diversity, sexuality and women in comics but that’s not much of an accomplishment. It’s like me being happy for being taller than my dog. Fearless Defenders received a lot of early press for the team up between shit-kicking ladies Dani Moonstar and Valkyrie and the pair do work really well but this is an action comic first and foremost.

It works on the strength of just that and the rest of the first issue shines for the characterization and bold choices. It’s a fun fight book with these two very different characters taking on pirates and Viking zombies. There’s a lot of style to work with here and this has the potential to be one of the most fun pure-action comics of Marvel’s relaunch.

Rating: It’s the most sexy, violent, empty-headed, pop-culture addled, ’80’s obsessed, straight up fun book Marvel is putting out right now.

The Vulcan Quiche Awards: The Grand Finale

BatmanRobin-Zone-017-e1344659731947This is it, the best single issue of the year. Who’s got it? I guess you should probably read on and validate my crippling lack of self worth.

The Sarek Scramble: Awarded to the single finest issue of the year.

Honorable Mentions2292173-g8image1
There were so many truly incredible offerings this year that it was difficult to whittle them down. Grifter #8 made a case for Nathan Edmondson’s gritty, hyper-violent 90s style with plenty of heart as Cole faces off with his possessed brother and shows himself as the most dangerous man in the DCU. Batgirl #11 and Batman and Robin #12 both showed off what exactly makes the Bat-Family into a force to be reckoned with and showed the honor, compassion and skill of two of its most interesting members. Green Lantern Annual #1 crystalized the power of the unconventional pairing of Sinestro and Hal as they take on Black Hand with the highest of stakes. The Goon #39 nearly cracked the top 5 with a hysterical, biting take on crossovers, retcons, rebrandings and pretty much every comic book cardinal sin The Big Two have committed since the ’90s.

Fifth PlaceSAUCER6_1Saucer Country #6

What happens when fiction begins to determine how reality is viewed? What is the risk of building knowledge from constructed myth? Saucer Country’s expository issue on the nature of the UFO mythology and how popular culture such as “The X-Files” and competing tales of experiences with aliens has created a fiction that is believed and reported on so much that it has become the truth. Writer Paul Cornell masterfully weaves what could have been an expository bore into a conversation that doesn’t just make readers reconsider all they know about the series but everything we know about fiction.

Fourth Placebatman 10.1 - CopyBatman #10

The chant of the owls at the end of Scott Snyder’s epic is, appropriately, “who?” Who is behind the attack from the Court of Owls? Who is Lincoln March? Who knew Gotham better than Batman? In Snyder’s epic battle of wits between Bruce Wayne and his (maybe?) lost brother Lincoln, the answer is worth more than the fight. Snyder wove a tale of secrets, battles and vengeance into his impossibly brilliant Court of Owls that climaxes not with a fist fight but with a verbal jousting match between two forces battling for the soul of a tortured city.

Third PlaceManhattan-Projects-4-bannerManhattan Projects #3

The theme of Jonathan Hickman’s excellent Manhattan Projects has always been power and it’s in the exceptional third issue that power is seized by the cabal of narcissistic scientists. It’s a tense issue. As FDR dies, Truman is sworn in, only to face a decision he doesn’t have a say in. The nuke will drop, the war will end, the Manhattan Projects will seize power and become the main force in the future of Earth. As Truman becomes more and more frantic, the future is increasingly sealed in an issue that shows the power a single group of individuals can wield in the face of their last enemy.

Second Placetumblr_mbptso0lpg1qky2i3o1_1280Wolverine and the X-Men #18

Heroes fall. It’s a classic myth cycle. Innocents die in the face of overwhelming darkness. Weakness is punished. The best of us fall to inspire others. In the exemplary issue of Jason Aaron’s series, Broo is helpless to his feelings as Idie offers him a chance to escape the creature he struggles against being. While Wolverine makes his final struggle against a Phoenix-empowered Cyclops, the students of the Jean Grey Academy dance and surrender to impulses, leading Broo to an inevitable conflict with Kade Kilgore of the Hellfire Club. It’s a heartbreaking issue, one that makes readers reconsider the struggles of the alien who so desperately wants to be one of the rejects and the failures he faces. This is excellency in comic book storytelling and the power of the denouement gives the characters the honor and importance they deserve.

And the Scramble goes to…tumblr_mdbjg6Ke9M1qky2i3o1_1280Hawkeye #3

Things have gotten dark. DC has embraced arc based storytelling in an effort to sell more tie-in titles in an uncharacteristically dark style. Marvel hopes to recapture the sales they found during Avengers vs. X-Men with massive, universe spanning events. Comics weren’t fun in 2012. They were bleak affairs, filled alternatively with bad men doing bad things and heroes battling other heroes. What happened to the medium we loved, heroes being heroic, fighting for justice and goodness in a world that rejected such things? Matt Fraction’s exceptional Hawkeye dared to be that experimental. In the fantastic one-and-done, Clint Barton engages in a massive car chase throughout New York City, showing off all the goofy arrows that made his Silver Age representation a character to watch. What’s best is this is an issue that’s fun, one with humor and action, tension and characters we care about and want to succeed. In an industry that’d rather see its characters dragged through the mud in an attempt to find something unique about them, it’s revolutionary to see a hero show what it means to care about others and prove it.

The Vulcan Quiche Awards: Part 4

WolverineXmen17It’s all wrapping up and it’s time to award the single best series of 2012. There was some fierce competition and some of the best titles of the year are left out in the cold but this is the second biggest award of the year. Let’s get to it.

The Next Generations – Awarded to the finest series of pictorials of the year.

Honorable MentionsBatman-Robin-Zone-001

There are really too many to count but a couple of series nearly cracked the top five. Uncanny X-ForceAnimal Man and FF all were in the running but for one reason or another, were left behind. Peter Tomasi’s Batman and Robin recovered from a brief Night of the Owls crossover misstep and focused on Damian’s need to prove himself to Dick, Jason and Tim led to one of the best moments of 2012 as the Robins join together in their own beautiful way. Jason Aaron’s exceptional Wolverine and the X-Men was just beat out for fifth place, mostly on the strength of three issues that defined the X-franchise, both pre- and post- Avengers vs. X-Men.

Fifth Placescan0007Saucer Country

In an election year which inevitably focused on broken promises, preconceptions and verbal badger baiting on both sides of the aisle, Saucer Country focused on an idealistic candidate with a past but the series’ focus on politics all serves the overarching narrative. While Arcadia lets her alien abduction become the focus of her presidential campaign, Professor Kidd focuses on the mythology, a complex series of contradicting narratives that form the body of not only UFO lore, but also of how we understand all stories. In the fantastic issue #6, Kidd’s speech on the way missing time impacts memory is fragmented, broken into increasingly smaller panels, showing the way readers are forced to fill in the blanks themselves through memory, knowledge, intuition and drawing on common myth. It’s an excellent series that showed it’s hand brilliantly in the first issue and continues to be one of Vertigo’s best.

Fourth Placeinc-bannerBatman Incorporated: Volume 2

Grant Morrison’s epic, gripping, poetic magnum opus has been a propulsive, incredibly readable take on Batman’s struggle for the souls of Gotham, his son and himself. It’s a book with a sense of pace that few, even Scott Snyder’s vaunted run on Batman, can’t match and each issue is another incredibly powerful look at a man who cannot and will not be stopped. This is the Batman book of 2012 and when it ends in 2013, I’m sure it will have a chance to hold that title again.

Third Place2719154-hawkeye4_03Hawkeye

Matt Fraction has become one of Marvel’s premier talents and his take on the Avengers’ archer shows why. Taking Clint back to his roots and showing him as the guy next door has highlighted his heroics and in storylines such as “The Tape,” his incredible, “Die Hard”-esque leaps into action are highlighted even more. It’s a series with charm, laughs and plenty of action, weirdly making it unique in a medium that’s increasingly been played for something entirely different.

Second Placescreen-shot-2012-07-09-at-9-52-48-pmManhattan Projects

Jonathan Hickman’s ever-growing cast of scientific geniuses, opportunists, schemers, computers, aliens, talking dogs and inter-dimensional doppelgängers have built a twisted look at the scientific world at the onset of the Cold War. Manhattan Projects is downright scary at times, showing men without ethics manipulate, kill and conquer as they pursue nothing but their own goals. It’s an inadvertent character study, mostly of the sinister, uncontrollable Oppenheimer and the moralistic but tortured Feynman and the ways their ideologies, beliefs and methods differ as a new world is created, corrupted and discarded.

And the Nextie goes to…xlargeSaga

Brian K. Vaughan did it again, creating an instant classic of sci-fi wonder, love, death and life in the first 8 issues of Saga. Vaughan has never produced a bad series and Saga is impressive even by his incredible standards, with instantly relatable characters, complex and morally compromised villains, a believable quest and the sort of adult interpersonal relationships rarely seen in comics these days. Protagonists Marko and Alana have such a believable connection, making their occasional spats all the more painful and their love all the more powerful. The story, told in retrospect by the couple’s newly born daughter, Hazel, has a wonderfully knowing combination of child-like innocence and a bright worldliness, perfectly suiting the space opera style of this majestic, must-read series.

Next Up: The lights are scanning and the drums are rolling as the best single issue of 2012 is crowned.

 

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.