10 Best Comics of 2014

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10. Chew Onmibus Vol. 4 (Image Comics)
Yes, Chew is a monthly book and, yes, most of these came out in 2013, but I find that some books are stronger in a continuous story. Like Chew for example. The continuing story of chibopathic detective Tony Chew hits its stride in this volume proving that it isn’t one repeated joke.

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9. Rat Queens (Image Comics)
If Dungeons and Dragons was played by punk icons Poly Styrene, Joan Jett, and Kathlene Hannah, you would get Rat Queens. Bawdy adventures with low brow fantasy mayhem.

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8. Gotham by Midnight (DC Comics)
Detective James Corrigan is the supernatural avenging spirit known as the Spectre. His dayjob is leading a unit of supernatural misfits for Gotham PD. As a team, they are off the books, off the charts of sanity, and very hush-hush.

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7. Elektra (Marvel Comics)
Marvel’s bad-ass assassin is being hunted by some new baddies. The story is typical superhero posturing, but the art by Del Mondo is a mixture of Alex Ross, Egon Schiele, and Peter Chung.

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6. She Hulk (Marvel Comics)
This now-cancelled series mixed elements of The Good Wife, Law and Order, and superhero punch-ups, into a compelling adult court room talking-head read. The cases were interesting and the cast was compelling. It is fun to read a hero book without big heroics. It’s a shame this book is gone.

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5. Rachel Rising (Abstract Studios)
The most perfect horror comic on the shelves. Terry Moore’s tale of a woman attempting to solve her own murder continually pushes the limits of the twisted and macabre.

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4. Saga (Image Comics)
This year provided more cliff-hangers for everyone’s favorite space opera. The plot it too convoluted to go into here, but, trust me, you need to read this book.

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3. Southern Bastards (Image Comics)
A vicious tale of one man’s fight against the town he fled as a child. It was the subject of Episode 51 of my podcast.

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2. Secret Avengers (Marvel Comics)
This books is hilarious. M.O.D.O.K, Spider-Woman, Nick Fury, Hawkeye, Coulson, Maria Hill, and Black Widow are Marvel’s dysfunctional first family of espionage. Where most teams succeed on their ability to work together, the All-New Secret Avengers are doing their best not to kill each other. Add a living bomb, syringe toting mouse, and one very angry genetic monstrosity, and the world might be better off ending.

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1. Hawkeye (Marvel Comics)
Reading about the down-time adventure of Clint Barton may be cool, but Kate Bishop, Marvels’ ‘other Hawkeye’ is pure magnificence. Struggling to make a name for herself, Bishop attempts to go into the PI business.

Panels and Chords part II

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Yesterday, I linked to some pretty good songs about comics.
Today, I link to better songs about comics.

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5. Lyn  Taitt – Batman Theme
Everyone loves the Batman theme. It’s a twister, a shaker, and a full fledged melody maker. From Adam West to that guys from Daredevil, everyone can get down with the Batman groove. My favorite take on it is this one with it’s ska infused hooks and horn break-down. All others are just Robins waiting in line.

4. The Eyeball Kid – Tom Waits
Just by mentioning this Eddie Campbell comic character, Tom Waits makes it cooler. The problem is, Eddie Campbell is already pretty damn cool. This recording just pushes the whole cool experience over the top.

3. DC and Milkshakes – Art Brut
A great pop ditty from Art Brut harkening back to the days of picking up comics at the local pharmacy and running to the pizza joint next door to read ’em and trade ’em. Ah, nostalgia and arrested development.

2. Italian Spiderman – Enzo Bontempi
If anyone owns a copy of this and they have no more use for it…please…for the love of all good things, contact me.

1. Nobody Loves the Hulk
Joss Whedon is doing the world a great disservice by not using this song, or some take on it, in the Avengers movies.

Beautiful Dreamer: Hawkeye 16

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Matt Fraction / Annie Wu

Kate Bishop is Hawkeye.

Sort of.

Currently she is eking out a living in LA as a make-shift superhero and wanna-be PI.

Times are tough and she’s poor in a way Peter Parker was never allowed to be. At night she roams a discount grocery store making each penny count while her days are spent attempting to solve crimes and live up to the pointed purple cowl. Which isn’t that high a step if you’re reading on a constant basis.

Hawkeye is a consistently fine book. It’s exceedingly well plotted, the dialogue shines, and the various artists on duty share a similar old-school style that is comforting and visually stunning.

But this issue stands out from the rest. Here, Kate crosses paths with Will Bryson (a thinly veiled Brian Wilson). Her goal is to get back a master recording from the Wish (read Smile) sessions. It’s a tough case and she soon finds herself completely overwhelmed and well out of her depth – which is only wading pool shallow to start. She is the detective we would be if we attempted sleuthing.

As her quest progresses, what emerges is a discourse on digital versus analogue technology. Kate swears about the uselessness of computers and the Internet but knows about firewalls. When asking for a Web block to be lifted she’s arrested for attempting to pirate music: a clever juxtaposition to the ‘real’ theft of Bryson’s original acetate recordings. We see what you did there, Fraction. Touché.

The argument here is that the original, the physical, holds value and worth beyond the sound. What exists on the web in the eyes of many, is not only free, but essentially owner-less. Even at the cost of the creator’s sanity.

At the conclusion of the book, Bryson/Wilson has a moment of clarity and breaks from his fixation. He plays a live show at the Sandbox Club (again a clever paradox to his home piano, which sits in a pool of water) to an audience who have paid for the experience. Because after all, that is what stays with us: not the things we have stolen, but what we have earned.

I feel your pain, Kate
I feel your pain, Kate

Best Comics of 2013

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This is one of the more action packed moments…

Hawkeye Vol 2 (Marvel Comics) –
This is my book of the year.
It  takes place in a few month’s time and deals with the day-to-day business of superheroics. The focus is on Clint Barton during the periods when the Avengers are not requiring him to jump off high things and take punches from aliens and villains. The reader sits with Barton for uncomfortably long periods, sees him chat with his dog, and  ruin relationships with people who love him and (used to) respect him. In an industry of big battles, it is refreshing to see a book focused on human relationships.

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No one tell Harlan Ellison they paid ‘homage’ to one of his novellas

Superior Spider-Man (Marvel Comics) –
So, in the perfect storm of complicated continuity and sequential silliness, Doc Ock has switched bodies with Peter Parker ala Freaky Friday. The twist, and it is one Chubby Checker would be proud of, is that the body of Octavius is dead. And so is Peter Parker’s brain. The result is a villain learning how to be a hero that not being a villainous homicidal evil-scientist is harder than it looks. The strength of this book comes from watching a hero really struggle with ethics.

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Rachel Rising (Abstract Studios)-
This book is amazing. Rachel has risen from a shallow grave only to discover she is part of a long slow revenge plot involving a town’s slaughter of 300 women for witchcraft.
Terry Moore works to both build laughs and freak the reader out with intricate scenes of horror, comedy, and suspense. It’s the best bit of horror in the past decade.

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Paul Pope’s style is the stuff of gods

Battling Boy (:01 Books)-
Paul Pope re-imagines the trials of Hercules in this young adult graphic-novel series. Battling Boy has come to a planet overrun by a league monsters to fight his way into adulthood. Armed with a series of mystical T-shirts which imbue him unique powers, Battling Boy finds that the road to becoming a hero involves thought, inner-strength, intelligence, and heart. Paul Pope once again proves himself a master of the art.

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Don’t bite

Grindhouse Doors Open at Midnight (Dark Horse Comics) –
Alex De Campi brings to the world of comics the world of cinematic exploitation. Planned as an eight issue series, the books work in pairs (so that’s four Grindhouse tales all together). The first deals with sexy space bee-ladies and the current arc is about a woman’s prison ship in the grips of a religious zealot. It’s low-brow to the highest degree and the subject of the next Bibliodiscoteque episode.

The Simon & Kirby Library: Science Fiction

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Jack Kirby.

I really feel that name alone should be the push you need to run out and buy Titan Books’ The Simon and Kirby Library: Science Fiction. If it isn’t, allow me to expound.

First, this gorgeous coffee table book contains Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s science fiction tales from 1940 – 1966: That amazing time of wonder, cold war paranoia of the Bomb, and expostulation on the world to come. The draw though is reproductions of the classic newsstand adventure ‘Blue Bolt’.

“Blue Bolt” is a precursor to the type of hero Kirby will perfect during his Marvel years. In these pages, American son Fred Parrish is imbued with lightning powers to fight the Green Sorceress who wants to rule the world and continually get knocked unconscious. These stories are incredible pulp adventures with only an occasional hint of camp or kitsch.

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As the years go on, the stories become tighter and Kirby’s art builds into his iconic line. There isn’t anything here nearly as strong a ‘Street Code’, but tales like ‘Space Garbage’, ‘The Space Court’, and ‘The Boys from Up There’, perfectly capture the popular Twilight Zone form of story telling that ruled pulp publications.

After reading through 348 pages of gorgeous reproductions on the highest quality paper these tales have ever been printed on, we are treated with a view of Jove U.N. born and his Check Mates. It’s Simon’s  proposed tale of ‘an unknown soldier, all but destroyed by nuclear warfare, who was rebuilt by scientists….’ Jove’s face could be transformed into various ethnicities and he had a female companion for each identity. It’s an idea so embedded in ‘60’s spy silliness, I’m surprised that Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely haven’t revamped it.

Titan Books have a history of putting a ton of love into each of their collections: The colors are vibrant, the extras exhilarating, and the content unearths pivotal moments in comic history.

“In the Zone” Comic Reviews

Different Peter Brain. Same Peter Taste
Different Peter Brain. Same Peter Taste

Superior Spider-Man #2 – How to kill a book. Take a good idea. Have no intention of carrying it out. Build it up over the course of several issues. Implement idea. Make loads of money. Immediately sink idea of actually happening. Hopefully all the other Marvel books with Spider-Man keep ignoring this one.

Deathwatch #2 – I’m a sucker for the battle royale rage going on and this book from Boom Studios is one of the best. The characters are well developed and interesting and this issue introduces cool psychological issues for both the heroes and villains. The art is strong for an independent title and it stays consistent throughout both the fighting and cerebral scenes. Jump on this and enjoy the ride.
Yet another Green Lantern cover dripping with excellence
Yet another Green Lantern cover dripping with excellence
Green Lantern Corps Annual #1– Hey Superman’s dead! What? He’s not? It’s Friday the 13th The Last Chapter! Huh? You say Jason had three more movies? This same piece of road has changed name three times in six miles? Stupid GPS. Rise of the Third Army has concluded! Except not. Let’s just morph the story into The First Lantern and charge everyone $5 to do it. You suck D.C..

“In The Zone” Comic Reviews

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Avenging Spider-Man #16. What makes this a great book. Is it the witty and fast paced writing? No. Is it the the clean and crisp artwork? No. How about wolverine taking a faceplant and the rest of the X-Men loving it. Almost. What truly makes this book great is that the creative team totally ignores the last page of Superior Spider-Man #1 and allows this book to flourish under it’s new paradigm. Ditto for Daredevil #22.
The Joker can't face himself anymore
The Joker can’t face himself anymore
 The Joker in Death of the Family. While we have to allow for the obvious change in physics throughout the various comic worlds I’m pretty sure the Joker and The Flash are two seperate beings. Between all the Batman books, Teen Titans, and Suicide Squad I’ve never seen one person be in so many places in such a short time span. As far as I know, the last person to be in so many places in one night was Santa Claus. And he’s not real.
Leia looks badass...real badass
Leia looks badass…real badass
Star Wars #1. I don’t care. Disney now owns Star Wars. Wake me next year when Marvel unveils its new Star Wars #1. I can’t wait for the Guardians of the Galaxy crossover. The Darth Maul/Bug fight will be awesome. Then  throw in a ressurected Nightcrawler, a huge waterwheel rolling down a hill, and a special cover that glows under starlight. I’m good for ten copies.
 

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Threshold #1. Gone after six issues.
 

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Savage Wolverine #1. Truly better than I expected. Good artwork and they at least try to give valid reasons why Wolverine is stuck on the island until he eventually finds and kills the mysterious big bad at some point later in the series. Shanna is also a wicked cool bonus.
 

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Finally: Best, Bad, and Boneheaded of the Week:
     Best: X-Factor #250
     Bad:Team 7 #4
     Boneheaded: Captain America #3 Call a mulligan. Please.
Captain America: Bonehead
Captain America: Bonehead

Don’t believe us? Pick up some comics from Fantasy Zone Comics and read for yourself…

 

Thunderbolts #1

Writer: Daniel Way
Art: Steve Dillon
Colors: Guru EFX

Steve Dillon is the real reason I picked up Thuderbolts #1. His over-the-top hyper violent style has presented some of the best and most grotesque scenes in mainstream comics. From the ridiculousness of Herr Star in Preacher to Jason Aaron’s run on Punisher Max, Dillon is perfect for books that rest heavily upon mounds of decimated human bits.

I blame this mostly on the perfect robotic posture he brings to his characters. He seems to be sequentially mocking the untouchable nature of the anti-heroes and respecting their place in the narrative. Each panel is constructed like a Violence Diarama and works to tell a single complete narrative in each frame. Dillon doesn’t mess around with super-fluidity in positions. His characters exist therefore they are.

Thunderbolts not only therefore provides the perfect ongoing series for Dillon to illustrate, but Way’s writing almost seems hyper aware of Dillon’s art and works to create scenes that depend on statuesque moments. The book also demands that, because it is part of the regular universe, it plays within a prescribed violence boundary and watching Dillon restrain his exposed-gut, melting-eye, throat-ripping imagery is almost more disturbing than anything he has ever accomplished before. Not as an after thought, but by way perfection, colorists Guru EFX enhance every graphic line and showcase Dillon’s best art to date

Deadpool Killustrated and Frederic Wertham

Long ago there was a prevelent thought that kids couldn’t learn from comics.

This, of course, is a myth. With Gardner’s concept of multiple intelligences and Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics that idea has shifted. Incidentally, and hoping to fill the audience,  I should mention my participation on a panel at the Rhode Island Comic Con about bringing comics into the classroom.

Well, Marvel has decided to push back the clock.
In the best way possible.

In December, Deadpool will be skipping through the literary classics killing various characters and altering our beloved literary canon. Perhaps Moby Dick’s coolest moments now will not just be about Queequag.

On the topic of comics casting a dark shadow over adolescents and warping the minds of the youth, one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read is The Ten Cent Plague by David Haju. Its a great window into the 1950’s fear of teenagers and youth via the evil eye-gouging, crypt robbing, torpedo breasted depictions of the lewd in zip tone.

 The Ahab of this voyage to destroy comics and their creators was the nefarious Dr. Frederic Wertham. Wertham, the Tipper Gore of his time, sought to save the youth of America by cleaning up comics…only to see the evil of his ways and recant many years and lawsuits later.

In 2013,  Max Allan Collins turns Seduction of the Innocent into a murder mystery featuring a fictional Wertham…guess who the victim is. The book will also feature 16 pages of Terry Beatty art who you know through Road to Perdition and the criminally out-of-print Ms. Tree. Seriously, Max, please reprint Ms. Tree.