“Please guide me home” – ODY-C #1 is a stunning, beautiful contradiction

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Since I put ODY-C on my pull list, following the book’s announcement at Image Expo 2013, I’ve moved across the country, started a new job, quit smoking, began a relationship, turned around my opinion on ramen, read somewhere around 1,000 X-Men comics and rewatched “30 Rock” four times. My comic shop owner regularly asked me “Hey, when’s that ODY-C coming out,” and I would dutifully reply that it got pushed back again or that it seemed like Matt Fraction might be abandoning the book as he kept swapping around Marvel projects, backing out of Inhuman and falling behind on Hawkeye. I eventually, almost gave up hope.

But I didn’t and I’m very happy that I did not. ODY-C, written by Fraction and drawn by Christian Ward, is a powerful, self-assured debut from one of comics’ most recognized modern writers and an up and coming artist with a lived-in style. It’s a book that doesn’t feel like it could be created by any other team, in the same way Fraction’s most recent independent, the smash-hit Sex Criminals, felt as if it couldn’t have been made by anyone other than himself and artist Chip Zdarsky. However, where Sex Criminals took the first issue to establish protagonist Suzie’s motivations, back story and unique ability, ODY-C does everything in two pages.

Well, technically 10 pages.

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Yes, the much vaunted 8-page opening spread is there and it’s glorious but it’s what that spread both shows and doesn’t show which is the real masterstroke of the opening. Before unfurling the spread, The sides hold both a map and a timeline, respectively of the world Odyssia and her crew inhabit. Both have the same impressionistic style Jonathan Hickman popularized in charts and diagrams in The Nightly News, Pax Romana and Secret Wars but they serve dual purposes and those purposes highlight the contrasting worlds ODY-C exists in. While a dry, loose timeline explains the background of Zeus’ actions, the reason for so few men in this world, and the conflict in Troii, it all serves as useful flavor around a shocking, imaginative and gruesome tableau of Odyssia and her companions. It’s a smart move, grounding the physical cost of massive violence against the dispassionate recounting of the bickering and pettiness which leads to it.

That fusion of new-age artistic aesthetic and Western canon is what provides some of the more intriguing moments of ODY-C as well. After the ship takes off to bring its crew of warriors home, we visit the Gods, a seemingly powerful family of conspirators and battling factions all watching the actions of Odyssia from on high. While the issue up to this point, has held all of the action unobtrusively in narration, the shift to word bubblers when the gods appear is jarring and an interesting touch, certainly open to interpretation. Is letterer Chris Eliopoulos attempting to show a difference between the controlled, set as legend story of Odyssia with the more emotion based tales of the Gods? Are we meant to view the Gods as more traditional characters while the soldiers are more untouchable by the comics medium? Are the characters and tropes permanent even when placed them in an unfamiliar medium, while the gods wholely inhabit where they are?

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To his credit, Fraction doesn’t offer many answers in the first issue but there’s lots of room for debate. So it goes throughout the story, where each of Fraction and Ward’s choices are meant to accentuate both the power of Homer’s original text as well as the new subtext a few changes can bring to these tales. Nowhere is this clearer than in the death of Xylot. While The Odyssey contains many passages referencing Odysseus’ loyalty to his crew as well as the violence he is capable of, the shift to Odyssia’s crew, more in tune with one another and in desperate need of cooperation makes her choice to kill a crew member feel different. She’s no less of a hero and no less worthy of a character than Odysseus when she damns Xylot to the cold reaches of space but it’s a moment that requires the reader to ask something of themselves. Just who is this captain who makes these sacrifices? What is waiting for her back home and is she deserving of taking it upon her return? Reframing these questions, which have formed the backbone of so much of Western fiction as we know it, is the key success of ODY-C #1 and create a strong start for the sure to be long journey to come.

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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. 

“The Female and the Male, the one who cast her out”: Phase One of Marvel Now concludes with a bang

X_Men_1_SlideBy all approximations, Marvel NOW! has been one of the House of Ideas’ most economically successful ventures, albeit one with some problems, since the launch of the Ultimate Universe and has challenged and dominated DC’s sales every month since the relaunch. With the first wave of new and relaunched titles wrapping up this week, let’s look at the last book and reevaluate some titles that have developed since I initially reviewed them.

X-Menxmen_1_preview4The all female X-team has been a lightening rod for internet applause since it was announced. The web has been clamoring for more positive and widespread portrayals of female characters for years, with much of the conversation beginning with the 2011 cancellation of the X-23 series and the idea for an all female team that doesn’t draw attention to their femininity is a sound one.

Brian Wood’s interpretation of the team doesn’t really jump off the page and it follows the form of his X-Men book pre-relaunch. Once again, we’re following the old tried and true formula of having bunches of characters doing different things with the assumption that they might all come together by the end. It’s dull and expected at this point but he’s got a hell of a cast. Psylocke has become a fan favorite in recent years and Wood has had plenty of experience writing her and Storm but his Kitty Pryde talks like she just started using Tumblr and Jubilee feels like she could be any other character. Dialogue has never been Wood’s strong suit but penciller Oliver Copiel draws dynamic action sequences and quieter scenes with great attention to body language and facial expressions which more than makes up for scripting flaws. The looming threat of the too-long-missing villain, Sublime and a last page cliffhanger are sure to keep readers interested in the title but as it stands, it isn’t living up to the potential of the premise or team.

The Verdict: Wood’s first issue of the relaunched X-Men feels unfinished but there’s plenty of reasons to pick up the next one.

I never felt bad about how dismissive I was to some of the earlier relaunches of the line and I think, for the most part, the way I felt about early issues of some of these series is still the way I feel now. Still, there are a couple that have evolved or fallen since those first issues. Let’s go back and check in on them.

Iron ManIronMan_06_Preview2Iron Man had one of the roughest starts of the relaunch with writer Kieron Gillen clearly having to balance the upcoming cosmic changes to the character with the mechanical Earth based adventures new readers expected. The first four issues suffered dramatically because of this but as soon as Tony headed to space, everything improved.

While Greg Land’s early issues suffered from overuse of photo reference, sending the protagonist into space and requiring Land to draw aliens, spaceships, robots and planets opened his style up for experimentation. His Tony is still inconsistent from issue to issue but he and Gillen are really crafting something special in the new “Secret Origin of Tony Stark” arc.

The (Revisited) Verdict: Tony’s transition into space has opened up the storytelling possibilities but the art still holds the series back from becoming a must buy.

X-Men Legacyxleg_spitI initially dismissed X-Men Legacy as feeling like an unnecessary niche title in an already loaded X-line and vastly, I still stand by that statement. Legacy is undoubtedly a cult book, focused on David Haller aka Legion, one of probably the most maligned characters in the franchise. The magic of the series is how writer Si Spurrier knows how you feel about David and doesn’t give a shit, writing a book that combines character study, low key adventure and heartfelt romance in equal, unexpected measure.

Legacy is one of the most experimental books of the relaunch, with a protagonist who actively dismisses the “speedos and tights set” of the X-Men, a genuinely respectful, loving relationship between Haller and Blindfold and a timely, thoughtful approach to how the rest of the world would build their lives around a people they believe to be a menace. Each issue treads new territory, goes further and further into the hero’s psyche and ups the ante with each new conflict.

The (Revisited) Verdict: Almost undoubtedly the best book of the relaunch.

FFff6-good-for-herI initially dismissed FF as a lesser companion piece to writer Matt Fraction’s excellent Fantastic Four but it’s much more than that. It’s still a companion piece, one very focused on the legacy of the First Family but it has centered primarily on Scott Lang’s hopes to create a new family in the face of tragedy and loss.

When FF clicks, it really works. Lang and Darla Deering’s plans to deal with the Internet addled Yancy Street Gang is exciting, silly and very funny in equal measure. Medusa’s struggle to be a mother for a group of children she doesn’t and doesn’t want to understand is intriguing and offers a fascinating subtext to the issue of family. Mike Allerd’s pop-art inspired pencils make the characters feel like icons in much the same way he brought new millennium style to X-Statix in the ’90s. The problem really is fan service. Tong’s unexpected revelation of his gender identity, The Wizard maniacally hoping for a “heteronormative cissgendered” family and an entire page sequence of Darla trying on hats feel like they were written and designed to be posted to blogs rather than appear in a comic.

The (Revisited) Verdict: Even for a beautifully stylish and well written series, FF needs to decide what it wants to be and stick with it.

Avengersavengers-world-marvel-now-cap-thorAn obscene twice-monthly shipping schedule did wonders to boost the pace of Jonathan Hickman’s universe spanning Avengers team, with early issues not giving much of a look at what the book would become. Revamps of long forgotten characters, introductions of galactic heavy hitters and the looming threat of the White Event have come together to make a great series.

Despite a clear motive and goal for the characters, Hickman has given plenty of room for minor figures and off-beat issues. A recent trip to a Shanghai casino to duel with AIM scientists, an amazing look at a battle for the fate of the Shi’ar Empire and extended ruminations on the nature of creation round out a book that could have been little more than a series of dour battles and down character beats.

The (Revisited) Verdict: Hickman clearly has big plans for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes but readers expecting a classic team book should adjust their expectations and ready themselves for something experimental, intriguing and entirely unexpected.

Superior Spider-ManSuperiorSpiderMan_9_Preview2I was really, really harsh on Superior Spider-Man. I still have a lot of problems with it but I’ll admit, this is the first Spider-Man story I’ve ever really cared about. The Doc Ock swap still feels cheap and ridiculous but the web-head is exciting, interesting and unpredictable for the first time since I’ve been reading comics.

Dan Slott still tends to write very soapy which is par for the course for Spider-Man comics but the pacing is just very off. Plot developments drop off as soon as they are introduced, such as the Avengers questioning Peter’s mental well being, the finally revealed fate of the remnants of Vulture’s gang and Phil Ulrich’s struggles with the Goblin persona, and these give the book a deep sense of worldbuilding with no real story pay off. It’s nothing Slott couldn’t take care of and the book shines when it focuses on Doc Ock and his moments of inner turmoil as he struggles with what it means to be a hero working out childhood trauma on all criminals great and small.

The (Revisited) Verdict: Long live Doctor Otto Octavius.

Stray Notesforce5Hey, at the end of every comic post, I’ll be talking about a couple other releases of the week, just to highlight some of the books I write about less than others. Consider it a conversation starter more than anything else.

  • So, that twist in JLA #4, huh. After Geoff Johns wrote maybe the best single issue of his career in Green Lantern #20, this just felt crazy, unnecessary and a little disgusting.
  • Also, damn it, wasn’t computer lining supposed to help David Finch get his art out faster? Why do we have to keep dealing with Brett Booth?
  • I know I missed it last week, but Fearless Defenders #4 A.U. probably had one of the most fun tie-ins of the event.
  • I can’t really put my finger on it but what’s the problem with the new Uncanny X-Force? I like the story well enough and it’s a great line-up of characters but it just doesn’t add up to anything. The Bishop memory fragments were great and Adrian Alphona killed it on art but the whole book still just feels very, very off.

“I should be ashamed. But I’m not.” – Matt Fraction’s Fantastic Four #4 gives a stand-alone unexpected weight

ffMatt Fraction is trying something devilishly clever in his Marvel works by writing nothing but loosely serialized mainstream comics. It’s a bold departure from the rest of the publisher’s line and even from Jonathan Hickman’s run on the title. By writing stand alone issues, he’s intelligently given his characters time to shine in a variety of situations while letting the stresses of each issue weigh on the characters.

Fantastic Four has benefitted from this writing style as much as the also excellent Hawkeye but the First Family also has the problem of starting with a premise. From the first issue, Fraction set up Reed’s need to find a cure for his cellular degeneration as well as Franklin’s dreams of a bleak future in space. It’s obviously a long game but one that constantly needs acknowledged.

Fantastic-Four-3Fraction may have made a small misstep in the third issue. When the family makes contact with a living planet, it’s clear Fraction and Mark Bagley were trying to set up a Dr. Who style sci-fi romp with a pure pulp heart but the characterization took a back seat. It’s clear Fraction is trying to highlight Ben’s struggle to fit in as he’s pushed out of his element but it just didn’t mesh together very well. It’s hard to tell if Fraction was setting up the pieces or if he had learned his lesson but the series’ fourth issue pulls it all together in a big way.

Reed and Sue are put in sharp focus here as the family stumbles onto an uncharted planet which worships the Fantastic Four after discovering cave paintings of the team thousands of years ago. It’s a neat premise and it pairs well with Reed’s flashbacks to the early days of his relationship with Sue.

fanfou10Bagley is one of the reason this issue in particular shines. His style has always recalled John Romita Sr. and shows off the facial work that made Ultimate Spider-Man stand out on shelves for years. He’s great with people and his aliens are consistently depicted and well designed. His strength really shines in those pivotal flashbacks though. He brings a certain sense of soft, sunny  nostalgia to Reed’s memories of his wife and it makes the sequence shine.

Of course, that’s all leading to the gut punch. Reed has to rewrite history to remind himself of what’s important in his life. Sue’s written for the first time in the series as a woman who sees and knows much more than she lets on. The future foretold in Fraction’s also excellent FF #3 is coming soon and Reed’s breaking down as the future rushes up to greet him and the family continues to splinter. This is one of Marvel’s best characters written excellently and forced into the only situation he can’t think himself out of. Frankly, there’s no better place for Reed to be.

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 1

wxm_1_pg17_b

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.