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.

“You’re a super-villain, right?” – Superior Spider-Man #15 gloriously reverses protagonists a second time

superiorspiderman15658-642x362 Responsibility looms over the Spider-Man franchise. It’s the key part in Uncle Ben’s most famous quote and it’s a theme that runs through everything from Spider-Man’s ethos, powers and his villains.

Dan Slott has played with the theme since he joined the franchise and never more so than in Superior Spider-Man. While he tried  the idea of Spider-Man’s powers being given to a man without Peter’s morality in the Spider-Island story-line, giving Doc Ock the classic costume and powers has expanded the mythos in ways that never would have been possible had Peter stayed alive. Ock’s one man war on New York City crime has been one of the standout parts of the book and his differing perspective on violence and crime has been fascinating.

gobfeatureSlott gave Doc Ock all the toys last issue as the villain returns to make war on Wilson Fisk and Shadowland. It was a violent issue and it showed the full lengths the anti-hero would go to for what he believes to be justice. While issue #14 was primarily a plot mover, this week’s #15 focused on his struggle against a single villain, Phil Urich’s Hobgoblin. Otto works best when Slott focuses on the competition between villains, namely the way these characters have dealt with each other for years.

Urich is an interesting case. A legacy villain with debts to other killers, Urich’s Hobgoblin has always been in an interesting spot and forcing him out from under the Kingpin’s thumb puts him on the run. I was struck during this issue by the way Slott wrote Urich as a murderous Peter Parker. Trying to get some cash together to pay the Tinkerer to repair his gear and needing to send a check to ex-Goblin Robert Kingsley, Urich is under pressure from all sides and is forced to do things he may not have expected. His crime spree at issue’s end reminds me of a Spider-Man on the ropes, struggling to make ends meet.

gob3It’s an interesting role reversal in a series all about that theme. Much like other series focusing on an antihero, namely Breaking Bad and the excellent American Vampire, viewers are meant to struggle with how much we want the protagonist to win. Do we really want Doc Ock to get away with it, to be Spider-Man forever or are we waiting for his comeuppance? Placing Urich so closely to Peter Parker, even drawing him similarly shows Slott’s willingness to make reader’s question what they want out of his elaborate game of cowboys and robbers.

I’ll admit, Humberto Ramos is probably my least favorite artist in Marvel’s stable. His chunky, straight edged characters feel out of place in a series about lithe, mid-air ballets and the fact that he was the beginning of the end for Runaways digs him deeper into a hole. He does a fine job here but Slott’s script is the real star, showing how far Doc Ock is willing to bring all his powers to bear to take down his enemies. It’s an issue all about desperation and last steps, with both Urich and Octavius playing trump cards and reaching deep as they struggle to get what they want.

gob2It’s only a matter of time until the Spidey-Ock era ends, pretty much the weeks before Amazing Spider-Man 2 comes out but Slott continues to push the limits of audience expectations with a protagonist whose struggle to be a hero is crushed by a lack of empathy and morality. It’s a story that shouldn’t, can’t possibly work in Spider-Man’s corner of the Marvel Universe but impossibly does, over and over again.

Stray ObservationsTrillium_1_PanelThis was a big, really great week for DC in particular so let’s dive into it.

  • Again, Jeff Lemire proves his place isn’t on a franchise book. While offering little more than promise of what the series will become, Trillium #1 shows an outsider’s perspective on a time travel/drug trip story-line and has the same inventive imagination Lemire shows on his other more offbeat books.
  • It’s definitely a weird wonderful finale for Dial H, a book which, clearly, never had a chance to grow into what China Mielville hoped for it but still a fitting finale for his heroes. Nelson’s twists on all the heroes he dialed previously is a great, nostalgic way to close the cult series.
  • Charles Soule is making a great name for himself at DC. His Swamp Thing #23 features the sort of nausea inducing darkness Alan Moore and Jamie Delano used so well and is a great, powerful mainstream horror issue.
  • As far as alternative horror, Ed Brubaker has that on lock. This week’s Fatale #16 shows the corruption Jo effortlessly brings with her and the darkness is starting to close around Lance’s house.
  • Billy Tan is definitely trying to combine his dull ’90s style with Doug Mahnke’s work in the new Green Lantern #23. It’s a better issue than what he’s done before but he needs to step it up very quickly to make this book shine.
  • Once again, Superior Foes of Spider-Man knocks it out of the park. This week’s #2 is another hysterically funny, very knowing look at the politics of villainy. Boomerang’s desperation as he faces pressure on all sides gives this book the drama that makes it a must pull.

“Gotham’s ready to commit suicide” – Grant Morrison sets the stage for a finale in Batman Incorporated #12

UZW8v4jFor the last few years, Damian Wayne has been the face of the Batman franchise, a child destined to the be the savior of a twisted future, the son of humanity’s greatest greatest savior, a child of two twisted worlds. His life from conception, to training, to redemption, to heroism is one of the greatest modern stories DC has produced and Grant Morrison’s attention and care for Damian made the character’s death such an emotional gut punch which echoed through the Batman franchise.

It’s been time for Bruce to have his revenge. One of the most interesting things about the death of Damian has been the way Bruce has had to really take the role of a father, one dealing with death. For his entire life, he’s been the child mourning a father and now, he’s finally had to grow up, to stop being a vengeful and wounded son playing at being a man. He’s still struggling, still impulsive but deep down, Batman has another child who needs his protection more than ever. Gotham needs saving and as Bruce says, “she needs Batman Incorporated.”

batman-inc-10-021While many of Morrison’s scripts have been labyrinthine essays exploring the psyches of his characters, this week’s Batman Incorporated #12 is basically a straight fight comic. The showdown between Batman and The Heretic has been a long time coming and Morrison and Chris Burnham devote most of the book’s pages to the knock-down, drag-out brawl between the characters.  It still works, namely with Morrison’s love of all eras of Bat-history and a creative visual language. I mean, Batman is strapped into the most ’90s armor ever, falling onto blimps, yelling about jet-packs and and waiting for Talia in the animated Bat-cave. It’s that attention to all era detail and visual storytelling which elevates the dark, violent subject.

Burnham deserves plenty of attention as well. One of the things he’s not been praised enough for is his unconventional panel work. He’s great at using sized panels with decreasing heights to emphasize the verticality and brutal height of The Heretic and Batman’s battle and each shattered diagonal fight sequence gives a greater sense of impact and force to every blow.

BatmanInc12panel2There are few comic book stories which have maintained such a prolonged sense of tension, menace and intrigue as Grant Morrison’s expansion of Batman beyond Gotham City. While his early work on the character was great, it wasn’t until Batman’s return from the past, the beginning of Dick and Damian’s team up and the formation of Bruce’s world wide war on crime that the series turned from a franchise into a bold, innovative and creator defined must-read comic. I can only hope the final issue offers a suitable end to Morrison’s greatest work to date.

Stray Observationsku-xlarge

  • I’m not the biggest Nick Spencer fan by any stretch of the imagination. Even after a much better issue #5, Secret Avengers is still probably the worst book of Marvel Now. That being said, I didn’t have a bigger laugh this week than the one I found when Shocker and Speed Demon hold up a pet store in Superior Foes of Spider-Man #1. I can’t wait for the next issue.
  • Speaking of series creeping up on their finale, Dial H #14 has continued to expand the horizons of the series’ premise as the team reaches The Operator. I do have some concerns that China Mielville will be able to tie the series together in a satisfying ending.
  • Daredevil has had a creative renaissance in the last few years and the “Dark Nights” miniseries is a suitable companion piece to “End of Days” and “The Man Without Fear.” This week’s #2 explored everything that makes the very human Matt Murdock one of New York City’s greatest heroes.
  • If Superior Foes of Spider-Man offered this week’s biggest laugh, What If…AvX #1 offered the biggest gasp. Even if Magneto’s decision to become the face of mutants doesn’t make much sense, that final splash page packs a punch I wouldn’t have expected in a What If… story.