Archive for December, 2011

The Hero Sandwich List of Favorite Comics for 2011

Well, everyone else is doing end-of-year best-of lists, so I reckon I will, too. What’s Newsweek magazine got that I ain’t got, right? I mean, the way magazine readership has been falling, there’s a decent chance that I’ve got more readers now. ZING! Oh, Newsweek, you know I kid ’cause I love.

Anyway, this is not a list of the very best of all comics. I haven’t read all comics. I haven’t even gotten close. This is my list of the comics I read that I enjoyed the most.

Also, I don’t think I could manage to say which of these is the best — so I’d rather just arrange them in alphabetical order.

So here we go: The 16 comics I enjoyed reading the most in 2011.

American Vampire

This series by Scott Snyder is still carrying the torch for serious vampiric horror with great characterization, boundless imagination, and really awesome bloodsuckers.

Atomic Robo

One of the best comics out there — this one packs in action, humor, and mindblowing science into something that is always fun. Fun cameos by the famous and infamous, and an incredibly cool lead character.

Avengers Academy

Thank goodness someone still remembers how to do a good teen comic. You can do teen angst without it turning into a bloodbath. This series combines a great concept with outstanding characterization.

Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth

The most audaciously imaginative comic of the year, thanks to its seven-year-old writer. Loved the drama, loved the action, and laughed out loud at the humor.

Batgirl (pre-Reboot)

Stephanie Brown’s tenure as Batgirl was marked by great writing, excellent action, and a very strong sense of humor. Stephanie is still MIA in the new DC, unfortunately.

Batman comics by Scott Snyder

Whether it was on Detective Comics prior to the Reboot or on Batman afterwards, Snyder wrote some of the most engrossing tales of the Dark Knight.

Batman Inc.

Reading Grant Morrison’s Batman has been a treat for years, and it was fun to watch him create the new Batman megacorp.


J.H. Williams III’s writing has been fine, but his art is simply breathtaking. This was absolutely the most beautiful comic book on the stands in 2011.


Daredevil? I’ve never cared for Daredevil in my life. But this one is a blast. Writing and art are incredible. Humor, action, characterization — and again, fun. You can make a pretty good comic if you make it fun, ya know?

Dungeons & Dragons

Did anyone ever expect a D&D comic to be this good? Excellent dialogue, humor, action, drama, suspense — all while doing a pretty good job spotlighting the RPG it’s based on. Best fantasy comic of the year, right here.

Hellboy: The Fury

Mike Mignola has enjoyed another excellent year of comics, and I could’ve put almost any of his B.P.R.D. comics in here, but this one — Hellboy’s last hurrah — was really something special.

Knight and Squire

Paul Cornell’s miniseries focusing on London’s version of Batman and Robin was fun storytelling, along with a quick course in British pop culture. Excellent characters and adventures, and a wonderfully created setting.

Secret Six

Gail Simone’s awesomely epic series of supervillains occasionally doing the right thing had some of the funniest, saddest, most dramatic, most astounding moments in the comics world. Absolutely grand characters, too. Losing this series was one of DC’s biggest mistakes of the Reboot.

Supergirl (pre-Reboot)

After years of being the DC Universe’s version of the useless mallrat in a belly shirt, several creators finally realized they could make the character awesome by treating her more like a real person instead of an MTV stereotype. Yes, DC, character is everything!

Tiny Titans

The best all-ages comic on the market. Still can’t believe they’re going to let something this awesome go.


One of the weirdest comics to come out this year. There was usually at least one really mind-blowingly weird thing in every single issue. Beautiful art, too, along with great writing and dialogue. It was a joy to read.

And one more little category? How ’bout Publisher of the Year? DC and Marvel are out — they’ve spent the past 12 months pandering to the worst in comics, cancelling great series, and randomly insulting their readers. IDW, Dark Horse, Red 5, Image, all the other independents came close, because they’re doing more of what good comics publishers should be doing — gunning for new readers, pushing the artistic and storytelling envelopes, making excellent comics.

But I think the Publisher of the Year is Archie Comics. What? But I don’t read any Archies! But Archie is doing even more than the other independents to push the creative and social envelope. They’ve gotten lots of publicity with their Archie marries Betty/Veronica comics, but they also had a great crossover with the Tiny Titans. And who would have ever imagined that staid, conservative Archie Comics would end up being the most progressive comics publisher — whitebread Archie Andrews has recently dated Valerie Brown, the African-American bass player from Josie and the Pussycats, and Kevin Keller, Archie’s first openly gay character, has become more popular and more prominent in the comics. Archie Comics is outpacing all the other independent publishers and rocketing past the Big Two in terms of how much they’re moving the comics industry forward.

So there we go — 16 grand, fun comics series. And I think I’d still have to declare 2011 one of the worst years for comics we’ve seen in a long time. Almost half my list is made up of comics that were cancelled, will be cancelled in the next few months, or are in continual danger of being cancelled. DC enjoyed a nice sales surge in the first few months of the Reboot, but the numbers on many of their series are already dropping back to more normal levels. And they spent months alienating and angering long-time fans in one public relations disaster after another. Not that Marvel has fared much better — they’ve been cancelling comics hand over fist. The independents have a better track record for producing good comics — but of course, they’ve also had more trouble getting those comics sold.

2011 has been an awful, terrifying, depressing year for comics fans. I’d like to tell you that I think 2012 is going to be better. But I don’t think I’d get my hopes up very high. No one’s learned any lessons from this year’s catastrophes, and I’m not even sure the Big Two are even capable of doing anything other than shooting themselves in the foot.

Let’s just hope the non-comics portions of 2012 will be better for all of us. Y’all stay safe, buckle up, call a cab if you need to.

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Stuff I Just Don’t Have Time to Do Long Reviews For

Batman #4

I liked it. The Court of Owls is nice and creepy. The background on young Bruce Wayne’s first detective case is maybe a bit odd, but still enjoyable.

Dark Horse Presents #7

I liked it. Lots of good stories in this one, including a new Hellboy story with art by Mike Mignola, Howard Chaykin’s always enjoyable “Marked Man,” a tale of Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai, and the amusing and unexpected story of the barbarian hero Skulltar by M.J. Butler and Mark Wheatley.

The Amazing Spider-Man #676

I didn’t like it. Spidey never appears. It’s all the Sinister Six vs. the Intelligencia. And Doctor Octopus’ new costume is just awful.

Blue Beetle #4

I didn’t like it. I really kinda hated it. Remember what made the old Blue Beetle so much fun? Namely, you know, the fun? All that fun, the light touch, the great interplay with the supporting cast? None of it’s there. It’s just another bombastic, stupid DC comic book now.

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A Stab in the Darkness

Demon Knights #4

Most of this story is a flashback of the Shining Knight’s origin. She had sustained a fatal wound on the battlefield after the fall of Camelot when Merlin found her and gave her a sip from the Holy Grail, granting her immortality and an obsession with finding the Grail again. What’s Merlin’s connection to all of this? Well, he’s the sap who threw the Grail away. Will Sir Ystina rededicate herself to finding the Grail and redeeming the world? And what sort of unpleasantness awaits her once she emerges from her vision?

Verdict: Thumbs up. An offbeat issue, but nice to get a little more background on Ystina and the world around our heroes. And it’s interesting that she either names their little band of adventurers or identifies the alien forces opposing them.

Severed #5

Jack Garron, on the hunt to find his mysterious musician father, has lost his best friend Sam. He thinks she tried to steal from him, but she was actually killed by the Salesman, a psychotic with a set of shark teeth. Now Jack is traveling south with the Salesman and slowly learning that he isn’t everything he said he was. He won’t tell anyone his real name, and when Jack gets into trouble with a shady character on the road, the Salesman butchers the man with ease. How much danger is Jack in? Probably a lot…

Verdict: Thumbs up. A nice, dark, bleak, bloody story. Hard to figure out any way there’s going to be hope for Jack to escape all this unscathed… but if we remember the first issue, we actually know that he won’t…

B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth – Russia #4

The Russians are trying to keep an abomination from exploding out of the ground, so they’ve recruited Johann Kraus to go down into the mines and blow it up with a tacnuke. The complications include the monster sending wave after wave of zombies at the troops aboveground while it takes over the minds and bodies of the Russian soldiers accompanying Johann into the depths. Can a soldier’s sacrifice help Johann destroy the monster? And will the Russians destroy Johann just to make sure the threat is ended?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Hopeless situations, bleak outlook, certain death, noble but doomed sacrifice, and tainted miracles — dadgum, it’s like reading Russian lit! And it’s a lot less wordy, so that’s a good thing…

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Claw Marks

Avengers Academy #23

There are a trio of events going on in this issue. First and most obviously, X-23, Wolverine’s gender-swapped teenaged clone, joins Avengers Academy. After initially freaking everyone out with what an utter badass she is, the rest of the students warm to her almost immediately afterwards. Second, the future version of Reptil is mentally possessing his younger self’s body and plotting against the team from within. And finally, Striker comes out as gay to Lightspeed, who is herself bisexual. And this is all in addition to another big super-battle that leads to an old X-Men villain worming his way into the Academy…

Verdict: Thumbs up. But I gotta say, the segment where Striker comes out? I really wasn’t fond of that. I got nothing against Striker being gay, but I don’t think he’d come out to Lightspeed, who he just barely knows. I don’t buy him being comfortable and accepting of his sexuality, especially the way he aggressively hits on every other female in the series. And I didn’t see the point of the big “Oh no, I was molested, I will cry on Julie Powers’ shoulder because OMG DRAMA” moment. But other than those five pages, the issue was just fine.

American Vampire #21

Again, we’ve flashed back to the days before Skinner Sweet was a vampire, and when he and Jim Book were best friends. They’re both members of the U.S. Cavalry, and their commanding officer would like them both dead for questioning his military decisions. The problem is that the Apaches they’re all hunting are out in vastly superior numbers — and even worse, Hole in the Sky, a renegade Apache leader, has gotten himself a powerful new vampiric form. Unfortunately for Hole in the Sky, the Indian maiden who he stole those powers from isn’t happy about getting attacked by him. So how are the soldiers going to deal with a hundred Apaches and two angry monster-vampires?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A nice conclusion to the storyarc. Not much else to say about it — I enjoyed it. Loved the art, loved the writing…

Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters #10

Steven Woods and Allie have gotten control of Mechagodzilla, just in time to stumble across Godzilla himself. The president wants them to get the giant robot somewhere safe so it can be refurbished and repaired, but Woods wants to try to take the Big G down. But can all his fighting skills and all the robot’s secret weapons allow him to defeat the King of Monsters — especially with King Ghidorah joining the battle — and Rodan and Battra, controlled by the evil French telepaths, on the horizon?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Exceptional action and very strong characterization. Gotta hand it to writer Jason Ciaramella and artist Victor Santos — this is very good work.

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Your Obligatory but Still Merry Christmas Blog Post

Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noel, Feliz Navidad… now let’s check out a dozen seasonal comic book covers.

Hope you get to enjoy the holidays with your friends and family — and please remember the folks out there who don’t enjoy our advantages. If you aren’t giving your compassion a good solid workout during the holidays, you’re doing Christmas wrong.

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Friday Night Fights: Bizarros vs. Christmas!

Hey, Merry Christmas Eve Eve! I know it’s the holidays, peace on earth, goodwill to men, and all that, but surely there’s some room for some mindless violence in all that, right? Well, maybe not in the usual way, but I believe I’ve found something that’s definitely mindless and fairly significantly violent to Christmas itself. So even though I don’t have the most battle-heavy battle ever, it’s still time for… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

So from November 1961’s Adventure Comics #290 by Jerry Siegel and John Forte, let’s pay a visit to the Bizarro World, that strange cube-shaped world where Superman’s imperfect duplicate Bizarro lives with all the other imperfect duplicates. So how do Bizarros celebrate their imperfect duplicate of Christmas? Well, you’ve got to have a Bizarro-Claus…

And Bizarro-Claus needs to sing some Christmas carols, right?

Yes, that certainly helps get you into the Christmas spirit, doesn’t it? And hey, is Bizarro-Claus going to come down the chimney to bring us presents?

Well, of course, that makes perfect sense. No, wait, it makes imperfect sense!

Broken toys under Christmas cactus tree! This am just like least favorite Christmas ever! Me so sad me could laugh and laugh!

And now for traditional smelly Bizarro Christmas cards!

And that am how Bizarros use symbolic violence to make Christmas dumber and stinkier than ever! Unmerry Christmas from Bizarro World! Me hope you have lousiest, ugliest, and worst holiday ever! Hello!

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Holiday Gift Bag: Showcases and Essentials

Time for one final look into our Holiday Gift Bag, with my gift 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 recommended these every year, because they’re definitely some of the 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. DC and Marvel sell ‘em for cheap, too — usually between $15-20 each. Yes, it’s just in black and white, and the paper isn’t particularly fancy — but if they published these in color or on fancy paper, they couldn’t afford to make these so affordable, and that’s a trade-off you should feel pretty happy to make.

These collections can be divided between early works, like the first appearances of the Atom, Iron Man, the Teen Titans, or the Hulk, and rarities that haven’t previously been collected because they’re not in high demand, like Moon Knight, Metamorpho, Dazzler, or Adam Strange. 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.

People are still looking for good gifts that won’t cost ‘em an arm and a leg, and that makes these just what the doctor ordered — they’re amazingly affordable, and they’re stuffed full of enough comics to keep any comics fan reading for weeks. And yeah, Christmas is almost here, but this is something you don’t have to put on special order — most comics shops and large bookstores are going to have a ton of these on hand, so you can stop in, spend a little cash, and walk off with an easy last-minute gift. It’s why I try to save this particular recommendation for late in the season every year — it’s a fast, easy gift that’ll go easy on your checking account while still giving the comics fan on your list some classic stories they’d never get to read otherwise.

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 — that’s five years’ worth of gift recommendations at this point!

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Bats, Devils, Gods, Babies

Batman Inc.: Leviathan Strikes! #1

There is so much stuff going on in this comic, people. SO MUCH STUFF!

First things first: This is set before Flashpoint and before the DC Reboot! HUZZAH! It’s a Christmas miracle!

We get Stephanie Brown as Batgirl one more time, infiltrating a sinister finishing school where the students are trained to be assassins. We get Barbara Gordon as Oracle one more time, organizing all the Batmen all over the planet. We get Batman stuck in some kind of bizarre drug/time-travel hallucination as he tries to battle Otto Netz. We get betrayals and double-agents and sacrifices and mind-control and old friends and old enemies. And we find out who’s really running Leviathan. Is it Jezebel Jet? It’s Jezebel Jet, isn’t it?

Verdict: Thumbs up, people. Oh, mercy, just to see another glimpse of the pre-Reboot continuity. That alone is worth a thumbs up. Plus Stephanie Brown, Oracle, Dick Grayson as Batman, and a chance for even more next year? That’s solid gold, baby.

Daredevil #7

After the office Christmas party, Matt Murdock volunteers to escort some blind kids from a local school on a field trip. Unfortunately, there’s a crash in the middle of a blizzard, and Daredevil has to lead the kids to safety. Easy-peasy, right? Nope, all the snow messes with DD’s radar senses, and his injuries from the crash have got him in danger of bleeding out. Can a blind, injured superhero save a bunch of kids in a raging snowstorm when he has no idea where he is or where to find safe shelter?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Nicely tense storytelling, beautiful art, fun dialogue, and an unexpected challenge for the Man without Fear. If nothing else, this comic is worth getting for Matt Murdock at a Christmas party wearing an “I’m Not Daredevil” sweater.

Wonder Woman #4

While Wonder Woman soothes herself from abandoning Themyscira by taking in a London rock show, the gods plot against her, and Hera herself prepares to revenge herself upon the Amazons.

Verdict: Ehh, thumbs up. Not a lot happening here, really. But I enjoyed the idea of Ares as an old man hanging out in war zones. And Diana hanging out in a headbangers club was pretty cool, too. If I’ve got a serious disappointment, it’s that Hippolyta may now be written out of the series, and that’s just way too early for that to happen.

Tiny Titans #47

Bumblebee attends a meeting of the Team Nucleus club and is looking forward to getting her Babysitting Patch. Mrs. Atom offers to help out, so they volunteer to take Damien, Jason Toddler, Kid Devil, Arthur Jr., and Miss Martian on a trip to Metropolis. Too bad that they lose all the kids in the city almost immediately! Can Bumblebee and Miss Martian round up the rest of the kids? Or will Bee have to do without her new patch?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Much humor and lunacy and cuteness all over the place here. Y’all know why I love this series already, okay?!

Today’s Cool Links:

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Broken Wings

Batwoman #4

Like most issues of this comic, we get a couple of storylines running alongside each other. Kate Kane and Maggie Sawyer spend the night together, and then Batwoman investigates a woman named Maria, learning that her children died while she was in a drunken stupor and then she committed suicide, eventually becoming the Weeping Woman who has been abducting children recently. The second storyline focuses on Bette Kane, Kate Kane’s cousin and former crimefighting partner until Kate rejected her in an attempt to get her out of the superhero business. Unfortunately, Bette got mad and went out in her old Flamebird costume to bust some crooks’ heads — and she ran afoul of a killer with a boathook for a hand. Now she’s slowly bleeding to death in DEO custody, and all Agent Chase cares about is finding out Batwoman’s real name. Will Bette survive? Will Kate get arrested by the DEO?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Beautiful art, but that goes without saying. I’m good and worried about Flamebird by this point — very much hoping she survives, but assuming she does, it also leaves open the question of whether this will make her a more dedicated crimefighter, or if it’ll just scare her back into DC’s C-list characters folder. Let’s hope it’s the former and not the latter.

The Unwritten #32

Tom Taylor is stuck in the Antarctic with a nonfunctioning magic wand, unable to teleport himself to safety. And with Tom losing consciousness and slowly dying, the magic that keeps the generators running for Lizzie, Savoy, and Frankenstein is also stopping working. They use the Crystal Doorknob to rescue Tom, but Frankenstein ends up trapped in the frozen wastes. Can Richie figure out a way to save them using the belief of Tommy Taylor fans on the Internet?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A short, focused chapter. We get our heroes out of a jam and open up some new threats against them. And hey, kudos must go out for the fact that the Arctic setting was so well done that it made me go put on a coat. That’s nicely done work.

Today’s Cool Links:

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Holiday Gift Bag: I Kill Giants

We’re getting closer to wrapping up our annual crop of comics gift recommendations. Today, we’re going to talk about I Kill Giants.

This was originally a seven-issue miniseries by Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Niimura, published by Image Comics back in 2008. I got the first issue of this when it first came out but never ended up getting anything after that. I used to regret that, but I’m actually happy about it now, because I think this story works best as a stand-alone graphic novel, rather than as a series of individual comics.

The story focuses on an eccentric but whip-smart fifth grader named Barbara Thorson. She really is a glorious character — she’s terrifically smart, she’s got a smart mouth that can cut you to shreds from 50 yards, she’s an awesome D&D dungeon master, she knows more than anyone her age should know about obscure baseball trivia, she loves to wear weird animal-ear headgear, and possibly unsurprisingly, she has almost no friends. She lives at home with her older brother and sister, who does most of the work to keep the family going, as their father left the family and their mom is mysteriously absentee.

And Barbara sees fairies and monsters everywhere, tells everyone that she fights and kills giants, and has forebodings of titanic monsters on the way to destroy everyone around her.

Yes, maybe Barbara is a bit more than merely eccentric.

I’d love to tell you more about the story, about her mighty weapon Coveleski, about the secrets in her life, hiding in the upper floors of her house, about the terrors Barbara has to face. But I can’t do it, because there is so much glory in discovering these things for yourself while reading it.

Joe Kelly’s writing is entirely masterful. Killer dialogue and excellent characterization — seriously, you will love the heck out of Barbara even while you’re wishing you could take a switch to her. The plot builds slow, with more and more pressure stacking up. Niimura’s art is pretty amazing. It’s cartoony — almost sketchy — but it’s vastly eloquent at expressing emotion and action and mood.

The ending of this story is going to leave you terrified and breathless and maybe sad, for all the right reasons. It’s one of the few comics out there that gets me choked up every time I read it.

If you haven’t read it, you should read it. If you already have read it, you should get it for someone else and pass the joy along. The trade paperback will cost you less than $20.

I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Niimura. Go pick it up.

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