Archive for December, 2010

The Hero Sandwich List of Favorite Comics for 2010

I don’t think I’ve ever tried to do a year-end retrospective list — it’s always too difficult for me to pick out a list of things I enjoyed the most out of 12 whole months. But what the heck, I’m gonna try it today.

This list is strictly listed in alphabetical order. I can’t claim it’s a list of the best comics — I haven’t read all the comics, after all — but it’s the list of the 15 comics that I enjoyed the most.

American Vampire

Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, and Stephen King came together to re-invent the vampire for the rough-and-tumble American West. Outstanding characters, close attention to setting, and rip-snorting horror make this a must-read for anyone who loves non-sparkly bloodsuckers.


The adventures of Stephanie Brown as the newest Batgirl are full of great humor, great action, great dialogue, and great characterizations. This is one of the best superhero comics around.

Batman and Robin

Grant Morrison’s triumphant run of Batman comics had its most epic stretch in these stories of Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne, as well as Alfred, Dr. Hurt, and the Joker. The scale of Morrison’s storytelling here was breathtaking.

Blackest Night

Possibly the most successful crossover storyarc in years, this grabbed readers’ imaginations and didn’t let go for months. Even better than its commercial successes were the overall excellence of the plotline. At its height, there was nothing as good as this story about zombies, power rings, and emotions.


I’m not a fan of the new series, but Garth Ennis’ original Crossed miniseries was the most harrowing, brutal, relentless, depressing, and terrifying horror comic to hit the stands in a long, long time.


This was, without a single doubt, the best comic series of the entire year. Nothing else came close. Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon deserve to win so many awards for this one. If you missed this series in the original run, you should definitely keep your eyes open in the next few months for the trade paperback.

Detective Comics starring Batwoman

Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III didn’t create the character, but they crafted her best stories. While Rucka brilliantly fleshed out her backstory, personality, and supporting cast, Williams took the stories and created some of the year’s most beautiful artwork and design.

Hellboy in Mexico

This story of, well, Hellboy in Mexico was my favorite, but I also loved all of the other collaborations between Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and fantasy artist Richard Corben. These two meshed together creatively in ways that very few creators are able to do, and all of us readers were the beneficiaries.

Joe the Barbarian

Grant Morrison’s fantasy story is both epic and mundane in scale, which is really quite a trick — Joe is in diabetic shock, and he’s hallucinating that his home and toys have turned into a fantasy kingdom. But what if he’s not really hallucinating?

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Outfit

The second chapter of Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of Donald Westlake’s crime fiction is a beautiful tribute to Cooke’s retro-cool art sensibilities and the pure fun of good pulp crime novels.

Power Girl

Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Amanda Conner created the best version of Power Girl ever for a year’s worth of funny, smart, sexy, exciting superhero stories. These creators loved this character, and you can tell that in every story they published about her. I still hope they’ll be able to come back to this title eventually.

Secret Six

Far and away DC’s best team book, Gail Simone has hooked us a bunch of people who are extremely likeable and also completely crazy and prone to trying to kill each other from moment to moment. This shouldn’t work as well as it does, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s colossal fun to read every single month.

Strange Science Fantasy

Scott Morse’s retro-pulp series packed a heck of a lot of audacious fun into six short issues. This was a treat visually, emotionally, intellectually — even on a tactile level, what with the heavy, rough paper it was printed on.

Thor and the Warriors Four

The Power Pack go to Asgard. I didn’t really expect much of it, to be honest, but readers were treated to godlike quantities of humor, excitement, whimsey, and awesomeness, thanks to writer Alex Zalben and artists Gurihiru, and to Colleen Coover’s excellent backup stories.

Tiny Titans

Probably the best all-ages comic out there right now. These comics are smart and funny and cute and just plain fun to read.

Aaaaand that’s what I got. There were plenty of other comics that just barely missed the cut, but these were nevertheless the ones that gave me the most joy when I was reading them.

So farewell, 2010. And hello, rapidly onrushing 2011. Hope you’re a better year for all of us, and I hope we can all look forward to plenty more great comics to come.

Now y’all be safe and have a good time tonight, but call a cab if you need it — I want to make sure all of y’all are here to read me in 2011.

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Atomic Batteries to Power

Atomic Robo and the Deadly Art of Science #2

It’s 1930, and Atomic Robo is a relatively young robot, working for his creator, Nikola Tesla. But he runs into crimefighter Jack Tarot and desperately wants to join in his life of adventure. Jack wants nothing to do with him, but his daughter Helen thinks Robo is keen and pressures Jack to let him tag along in the next night’s investigations. During the day, however, Robo has to help Tesla conduct experiments (which means fighting interdimensional vampires), while Jack and Helen pose as reporters so they can interview F.A. Mitchell-Hedges, whose priceless crystal skull has been stolen. And that evening’s investigations lead Jack Tarot and Robo to an apparent monster sighting at a nearby university. Are they prepared for what is awaiting them?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Excellent action, comedy, and dialogue. You should be reading this.

Green Lantern/Plastic Man: Weapons of Mass Deception

I’m a complete sucker for anything with Plastic Man in it, so of course, I had to pick this one up. Plas has a lead about some alien thieves who are stealing nuclear material and organizing human criminals for some sort of colossal heist, and he recruits Hal Jordan to help him take care of the problem. This leads to multiple trips from outer space to Earth, as the two heroes take on the duck-like aliens (Why ducks? I have no idea.) and human criminals, and as they continuously butt heads about their wildly differing approaches to crimefighting.

Verdict: Thumbs down. It’s not particularly well-written, and it meanders all over the place. And I’m a bit irritated that comic writers who should know better keep writing my pal Plastic Man as a 95%-of-the-time screwup, or as someone who absolutely no one ever takes seriously. I’d just love for a writer to put together a story that acknowledges that Plas has been fighting crime since the ’40s, has been a member of the Justice League, and is vouched for by Batman and Superman. When both Grant Morrison and Frank Miller both agree that Plastic Man is made of pure stretchy awesomesauce, isn’t it time for the rest of the comics world to quit living in denial about it?

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Greed is Good

Green Lantern: Larfleeze Christmas Special #1

Here’s a late entry in the Christmas comics sweepstakes — the greediest being in the universe learns the true meaning of Christmas. Larfleeze has heard stories about Santa Claus, and when he doesn’t get any presents on Christmas morning, he’s so enraged at Santa’s perfidy that he goes on a rampage, chasing down Santas in a parade and in a department store before someone tells him that the real Santa lives at the North Pole. Still unable to find Santa, he decides to melt the entire North Pole, until Hal Jordan shows up to try to steer him straight on whole “More blessed to give than receive” thing. But does Larfleeze learn anything from the entire Christmas lesson? Maybe, maybe not… And in a backup feature, Art Baltazar and Franco from Tiny Titans send Larfleeze’s minion Glomulus on a tour of the galaxy to find some presents for his boss.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Both stories are completely goofy, and I love that DC was willing to put their patron saint of greed in the spotlight position of a Christmas special. I also loved a few extra activity-book features that made it into this one — a maze, instructions for how to make your own Larfleeze Christmas ornament, and a recipe for Orange Lantern Cookies (“Makes approximately two dozen cookies or one serving.” Oh, Larfleeze, you gluttonous warthog-lookin’ critter!).

Dungeons & Dragons #2

Our party of adventurers — human warrior Adric Fell, dwarven paladin Khal, scheming halfling Bree, elven archer Varis, and suspiciously noble tiefling Tisha — are up to their necks in trouble. While Adric and Fell help rescue a bunch of orphans after their home blows up, Khal, Varis, and Tisha meet up with a shapeshifting necromancer who’s causing all the trouble with the temporarily zombified citizenry. The shapeshifter makes his escape, but the party pursues him to a merchant caravan under siege by a band of orcs. Knowing that they’re outflanked and outnumbered — with a doppelganger hiding in their midst — Adric chooses to challenge the orc leader to single combat. Aldric thinks he’s got a pretty good grasp of orc combat — but he’s wrong, wrong, wrong.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Fun, action-packed, excellent humor. I am so freakin’ glad this is a good comic, seriously, people.

Supergirl #59

It’s Christmas Eve, and Cat Grant has been kidnapped by the Dollmaker, the estranged son of Winslow Schott, the Toyman. He knows that his father killed Cat’s son years ago, and he wants her to be his new surrogate mother. Of course, she says no, loudly and angrily, and when the Dollmaker decides to kill all the children in Metropolis as revenge, Cat swallows her pride and calls for Supergirl’s aid. It doesn’t take long for Kara and Cat to take out the Dollmaker, and Supergirl gets her own special Christmas gift in the bargain.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A very nice story, with good action, nice character work, and some humor, too — loved the brief appearance of what can only be called the Composite Santa Claus. I also like the way they’ve turned this character around, from the skank floozy to a perfectly acceptable superhero. Now all they have to do is fix the costume

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Holiday Heroes

Everyone raise your mugs for this December 25th — the day when we celebrate the birthdays of Isaac Newton, Clara Barton, Robert Ripley, Cab Calloway, and German scholar and physician Johann Jakob Reiske! Oh, yeah, and Christmas, too.

Let’s celebrate the traditional way — with comic covers!

Everyone have a wonderful day, enjoy some good meals and good company — and I know I ride this hobbyhorse a lot, but keep in mind your fellow travelers on this planet who don’t have things as nice as you do…

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Friday Night Fights: Christmas Eve of Destruction!

SpaceBooger has called a temporary truce on Friday Night Fights ’til the holidays are over, but that don’t mean we have to stop, right? HECK, NO! In fact, we’d be crazy to let Christmas get away without commemorating it with a little gratuitous violence!

So here’s tonight’s battle: Adventure Comics #82, from January 1943, by none other than Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Our setup: The Golden Age version of the Sandman — after he got rid of his classy trenchcoat, fedora, and gas mask costume in favor of the much-less-stylish spandex costume — and his sidekick Sandy are on the trail of a bunch of gangsters.

The mobsters have a pretty sweet idea — they recruited a broken-down wrestler named Mountain Man Bearde to dress up in a Santa Claus costume at the local department store. Bearde has enjoyed playing Santa and had no idea he was being used by crooks — but now they’ve dragged him back to the store at gunpoint so they can trick the night watchman into opening the doors for him. Sandman and Sandy make their appearance at last, and the fisticuffs get started:

But before the whole thing is over, the dime-store Santa gets his own revenge on the mobsters:

“And I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a GOOD FIGHT!”

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A Dose of Awesome: Krampus!

Usually, all the awesome stuff I dig up here has been considered awesome for years, decades, centuries. But this is something that just caught fire in the last few weeks. I think I was aware of this before, but suddenly, I’m seeing references to it just about everywhere. What is it? We’re talking about the black sheep of the Christmas holiday — the Krampus!

Okay, fine, what’s the Krampus? It’s a Christmas legend, most common in Germany, Austria, and the Alps, about a monstrous creature who is a companion of St. Nicholas — where St. Nick brings presents to good children, the Krampus brings punishment to bad ones, usually, around December 5th of every year. He carries a bundle full of switches, and he’s sometimes depicted carrying bad children away.

In other words, he’s Incongruous Christmas Monster, complete with horns, obscenely long tongue, chains, bells, and the whole shebang. He’s such a badass that he hangs around a Christian saint — and no one can make him go away!

And Bill O’Reilly can’t even complain that Krampus is doing anything against Christmas! It’s not like he just showed up all of a sudden and started getting Christmas all monstered up — he’s been scaring waste fluids out of kids in the Alps every December for centuries! Bill O’Reilly better keep his distance from the Krampus anyway — he’s got way more fearmongering experience than the Falafel-Master…

And the Krampus isn’t just a feature in old artwork and legends — Christmas festivals in Germany will often include people who dress up in monster costumes and walk among the crowds along with St. Nicholas. Can you imagine that happening at a Christmas parade in America? “Merry Christmas, kids! Now here’s GWAR!

I think that’s why Krampus is so awesome — it’s like taking Christmas and adding a heaping spoonful of PURE HEAVY METAL. Even the name — KRAMPUS — sounds like a heavy metal band, doesn’t it?

So hope you all have a wonderful Christmas Eve, filled with all the Christmas goodness you can get your hands on — and with extra helpings of Krampus Awesomeness.

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Holiday Gift Bag: Showcases and Essentials

We have time for one more look into our Holiday Gift Bag, full of some of my recommendations for comics fans and people who want to be comic fans. Today, we’re going with an old favorite around here: Marvel’s Essentials and DC’s Showcase Presents.

I’ve recommended these every year, because they’re some of the very best, easiest gifts you can get for someone who loves comics. What are they? These are very thick collections of old comics — usually over 500 pages long, black and white printing, on inexpensive paper. They’re sometimes called “phone books,” ’cause they’re about as thick as a big city phone directory. They sell ‘em for cheap, too — between $15-20 each. Some people complain that the paper’s too cheap, or they want comics in color — but then they couldn’t afford to make these so affordable, and that’s a trade-off you should feel pretty comfortable making.

These collections can be divided between early works, like the first appearances of the Flash, Thor, the Justice League, or Spider-Man, and rarities that haven’t previously been collected because they’re not in high demand, like “Howard the Duck,” “Batgirl,” “Killraven,” or “The Metal Men.” There’s a huge variety of comics offered this way — superhero comics, war comics, Westerns, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and more. You get major characters and minor characters, and some of the greatest artists and writers in comics history.

The economy is still weaker’n spit, and lots of folks are on the lookout for gifts that won’t cost ’em an arm and a leg. These are perfect for that — they’re amazingly affordable, and they’re stuffed full of enough comics to keep any comics fan happily reading for weeks. And you don’t even have to get these on special order — most comics shops and large bookstores are going to have a ton of these on hand, so you can stop in, shell out a little cash, and walk off with an easy last-minute stocking stuffer. The comics fan on your list gets some classic stories they’d never get to read otherwise, and you get a nice little break for your pocketbook, too.

Marvel’s Essentials and DC’s Showcase Presents. Go pick some up.

And hey, looking for some of my older recommendations? Just click on the button down at the bottom of this post that says “Holiday Gift Bag” — it’ll take you to all of my previous posts on this subject.

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Speed Kills

Green Lantern #60

Well, the Flash has been possessed by Parallax. You know what that means, right? It means Hal Jordan is gonna get his butt kicked almost the whole issue long. By the time Hal finally convinces Parallax to leave Flash’s body and try to possess him again, Parallax’s new captor makes his appearance, and we finally find out who he is — turns out he’s yet another terrifyingly powerful cosmic villain — can’t the Green Lanterns ever catch a break?

Verdict: Thumbs up, but mainly because the Parallax-possessed Flash is so entertainingly depicted. Other than that, there’s really not that much story development.

Chaos War #4

The Chaos King is the most powerful being in the universe, and he’s extremely close to destroying everything. Unfortunately, he’s so powerful, he actually ends up losing Hercules and his allies because they’ve gotten to insignificant to him. They still have the power to stop him, but he has an important friend on his side — Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom!? The few remaining gods have gathered with Gaea herself in Hawaii to await the end, but Amadeus Cho realizes that with Hercules’ new power as the All-Father, he could move everyone on Earth to Hera’s empty pocket universe — but Herc thinks that means giving up, so he refuses. Is it too late to save everything? Or can Gaea show Hercules how to master his powers once and for all?

Verdict: Thumbs up. This has been an unusually good crisis event — lots of stuff happening, and it still makes pretty good sense. The dialogue suffers a bit, but the action is very good, and the stakes keep getting raised higher and higher. Looking forward to seeing how this all turns out next issue.

Dethklok #2

The boys from Dethklok are heading back to Finland, where their last concert ended when they summoned a giant troll that laid waste to the countryside before they accidentally knocked it back out with a cell phone. While Toki tries to prove trolls exist by calling the never-very-reliable Dr. Rockzo the Rock and Roll Clown (He does cocaine!), Murderface reminisces about his mostly rotten childhood, and a cult dedicated to the trolls harvests their own testicles as an offering to the monsters. This is all going to end in disaster, isn’t it?

Verdict: Thumbs down. Despite a few very good moments (Murderface’s description of a minotaur is pretty awesome), it’s mostly pretty dull. I think this probably would’ve been pretty funny as an animated cartoon, but it just doesn’t work right in comic form. Sorry, guys…

Today’s Cool Links:

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Friday Night Fights: Ultimate Robot Battle GO!

It’s the last weekend before Christmas, man, and you’ve so good for Santa Claus, you just can’t stand it no more. What better time to bust loose and get wild than your good old-fashioned FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Ya know what we need today? We need robots. We need one valiant, charismatic hero who’s gonna punch the snot out of a robot. And that one valiant, charismatic hero… is an adorable five-year-old with green hair.

From Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba&!, Volume 5, published in Japan in 2006, with the English translation hitting in 2009, where Yotsuba meets up with the mighty robot Danbo (actually her friend Miura’s class project):

Wait for it…

…Wait for it…

BAM! The Avengers need to hire that girl to take care of Ultron.

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Big Time

Avengers Academy #7

Our focus for this issue is on Hank Pym, former Ant-Man, former Giant-Man, former Yellowjacket, currently calling himself the Wasp in tribute to his late wife Janet. He’s just learned that Tigra’s child, conceived by a Skrull doppelganger, is genetically his child, due to the Skrulls’ abilities to duplicate someone down to their DNA. And he’s decided to take on his old Giant-Man name and costume, because he plans on bringing Janet, her body trapped in an “Underspace Dimension,” back to life and back into the real world, despite the danger that her mind may not have survived at all. Meanwhile, a prison transport taking the Absorbing Man to prison suffers a mishap, and the supervillain is released into New York, with only the inexperienced Academy members and Pym available to stop him.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The Academy members are almost entirely forgotten here — Pym carries the whole show. And it’s a pretty good show — I love the way he takes out Crusher Creel, I love the scale of their battle, I love seeing a science guy like Pym do crazy comic-book science.

Batman and Robin #18

Bruce Wayne’s former girlfriend Una Nemo isn’t actually dead — she’s just got a gigantic hole all the way through her skull. Apparently, she had a condition called Dandy-Walker Syndrome — an actual genetic defect where a large portion of the brain is missing, but intellect may be unaffected — and she didn’t even know it until some robbers shot her in the head and dumped her in the ocean! She attends her own funeral as a lark, but is upset that no one seems sad she’s gone — and Bruce Wayne didn’t even attend! Exposing her brain to more oxygen made her smarter but a heck of a lot crazier — she started calling herself “the Absence,” gathered up a bunch of imbalanced disciples, and went about luring Batman and Robin to her. When the Dynamic Duo make their escape, they tell Bruce what happened — he was on his “lost in time” period when Nemo “died” and didn’t even know about it ’til just now. But that won’t stop her from going on a killing spree of Bruce’s old girlfriends.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Wow, Una Nemo is spectacularly weird looking. Not a whole lot of detecting going on here, as most of the issue is devoted to Una monologuing for the heroes. Still, it works well, and comes across as spectacularly creepy.

The Unwritten #20

Tom Taylor and Lizzie Hexam have gotten together, if you know what I mean and I think you do. While she’s in the shower and he’s afterglowing, he sees… a glowing white whale? Convinced it’s Moby-Dick, he takes off in pursuit, only to find that it’s actually a prop for Pittsfield’s annual Mobyfest. He takes part in a dramatized reading for the festival and suddenly finds himself sucked into the novel, mistaken for a crewman on the Pequod, and standing in front of a Captain Ahab who looks startlingly familiar. Meanwhile, Savoy is turning into a vampire, and the Cabal is sending more assassins after them.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I never liked reading “Moby-Dick,” but this is an unexpectedly fun story. I’m even enjoying the bits from the novel, with all the weird Melville crap that always bugged me. Plus there’s the usual great dialogue, bizarre complications, and funky plot twists to enjoy.

Today’s Cool Links:

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