Archive for December, 2012

The Hero Sandwich List of Favorite Comics for 2012

Well, 2012 is almost over, and I’m absolutely delighted to see it go. This has been, without a single doubt, the absolute worst year of my life.

My grandmother died in January — she was 100 years old, but nope, you’re never prepared for that, never, never. Three friends died of cancer. We lost Ray Bradbury. I was diagnosed with diabetes. “City of Heroes” was shut down.

Oh, I know, there are lots of ways it could’ve been worse. Lots of people have gone through more horrible things this year, and I’ve got it relatively good. My family is healthy and happy. I have a job that keeps a roof over my head, food on the table, and comics in the longboxes. I’ve lost about 45 pounds since July, and my health is overall pretty good.

Nevertheless. It’s been a deeply unpleasant, depressing, sorrowful year, and I won’t be at all sad to see it end.

And ya know, this hasn’t been a very good year for comics, either.

We’ve had to sit through DC firing Gail Simone from “Batgirl” for no apparent reason (and then hiring her back when they realized that she was much more popular than anyone else at the company); DC shutting down “Hellblazer” so they can try to turn John Constantine into a superhero; fans responding to the (truly awful sounding) Amazing Spider-Man #700 by making serious death threats against writer Dan Slott (Pff, like Slott came up with that? Joe Quesada and Alex Alonso probably thought that one up, then assigned him to work on it.); DC just straight up being a dick to Alan Moore almost all year long with the (mostly ignored by readers) “Before Watchmen” comics.

And dominating geek news for the entire year has been the bizarre hostility in comics and gaming toward anyone who isn’t a straight white male. In a lot of ways, the gaming industry has been far worse with the hating-on-everyone problem, but the new obsession with Fake Geek Girls is largely focused on the comics fan community, especially cosplayers. Tony Harris’s bizarre misogyny helped play it up, but DC and Marvel have had more than their fair share of He Man Woman Hater moments, too. Really, would you be particularly surprised if Dan DiDio announced he was firing all the female creators at DC?

I’m probably forgetting some really important awful moments for comics, too, but there have just been so dang many of them…

Even the year’s major successes — the films of “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises” — were really to be attributed more to the skill, talent, and imagination of movie studios than to comics publishers.

DC, of course, has been the leader in bad comics and bad decisions. Marvel’s been a bit better, but has still shown too much enthusiasm for dull crossover events and poor judgement. The independents have been better than both of the Big Two — and yet I’ve still felt mostly bored with the comics that’ve been released this year.

I went through my pull-list earlier this year and stripped a lot of it out. I was tired of spending so much money on comics, of having to find storage space for all my books. And a lot of what I got rid of was actually pretty good. Scott Snyder’s Batman comic, for example, got pulled off my list. It was just fine, Snyder’s still a fantastic writer, and his work on the Dark Knight is just plain some of the best work anyone’s done with him for years. But I still took it off my list because I wasn’t excited about it. It wasn’t a book I looked forward to getting anymore. There were lots of comics like that — The Massive, Dark Horse Presents, Dial H, Demon Knights, Fatale, Frankenstein, Morning Glories, Popeye, Saucer Country, Unwritten, even B.P.R.D. — and I don’t really regret taking any of them off the list.

So what are my picks for my favorite comics of 2012? Here they are, in alphabetical order…


American Vampire

Still the best and most gloriously visceral horror comic we’ve got. Great characterization, art, and plotting make it a winner every issue.


Atomic Robo

Possibly the most consistently fun and entertaining comic out there. Any comic fan who isn’t reading this is utterly, utterly mad.


Avengers Academy

Cancelled long before its time, I loved this one for the great characterization and for its refusal to fall into the same boring traps as other teen-oriented comics. Random, shock-value deaths were avoided, and the heroes got out of plenty of problems by talking instead of fighting.


Axe Cop

This remains one of the best humor comics you’ll find — the Nicolle brothers are still hugely imaginative, funny, and audacious, even years after they started their comic.



Month after month, the best art you’re going to find in any comic book on the stands.



Probably the best pure superhero comic out there. Mark Waid’s Daredevil is fun, charismatic, clever, action-packed, and just all-around fantastic. And the art is usually pretty darn good, too.


The Goon

Rude? Yes. Hilarious? Yes. Unexpectedly emotional? Yes, yes, yes. Eric Powell would probably kick my ass for saying it, but he’s got more heart than any other comic book creator.


Love and Capes

This superhero sitcom is light on the action, but heavy on the humor, awesome characterization, and brainy storytelling. I would like more of you to read this, please.


Punk Rock Jesus

An amazing story combining religion, punk rock, politics of all stripes, science fiction, and our global obsessions with pop culture and entertainment. Sean Murphy deserves to win all kinds of awards for this.



A very fun modernized re-telling of Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark.” Great characters, dialogue, humor, and action, all wrapped up in a very friendly all-ages bow. I want Roger Langridge to make more and more comics, that’s all there is to it.


Wonder Woman

This isn’t really a superhero book at all — it’s part horror comic, part urban fantasy, part reboot of the ancient Greek myths. Half the fun of this is seeing what bizarre new forms the Greek gods and monsters will take.

So that’s what I’ve got for this year. I left off a lot of good comics — books that debuted in only the last few months, books that were cancelled in the first month or two of the year, books that were of unquestionably high-quality but which were nevertheless boring me when I finally dropped them.

What can we hope for in the future? I’m sure not dumb enough to try to make predictions, but I’d like to think that, after a year this bad, there’s nowhere the comics industry can go but up. Unfortunately, my optimism bone done got snapped off, and it wouldn’t shock me a bit to see things get even worse in 2013.

Hold on to your hats, and pray for miracles.

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Friday Night Fights: Bent Arrow!

It’s time for the final Friday Night Fights of 2012! Do we have an epic battle between Old Man Time and Baby New Year? Superheroes slugging it out at a New Year’s party? The ghost of Dick Clark beating up whoever’s doing the New Year’s specials nowadays? No! I couldn’t find anything that appropriate. So tonight is Season-Inappropriate Beatdowns on… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle comes to us from October 1973’s Action Comics #428 by Elliot S! Maggin and Dick Giordano, as Black Canary flips some arrogant dork.



Ya gotta admit — there isn’t anyone who deserves to get his ass kicked by Black Canary more than Green Arrow. They could do that in every issue for the next decade, and Ollie would still have worse coming to him…

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Doctor Doom is on Drugs





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Batman is on Drugs


It’s the only logical explanation.

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Merry Merry Merry

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings, and Feliz Navidad!

And because it wouldn’t be a holiday without holiday comic book covers, we now present: Holiday Comic Book Covers!













Kirby bless us, everyone…

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Please Exercise Your Compassion


I don’t know what it is about this time of year. We’re told that Christmas is, to quote my pal Charles Dickens, “a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

And with all of that ringing in our heads, it’s also the time when the hard-heartedness and meanness and cruelty of our species really seems to start working overtime.

I mean, I don’t care what your politics are, when you hear that someone’s shot up an elementary school and killed 20 first-graders, the right response is never to start whining that libruls are comin’ to take yore guuuuuuns, or that the real problem is that pretend guns in video games are the real killers. Seriously, if you’re ever tempted to do that, just keep your fool mouth shut. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the people who have really been wronged here — it’s not you, it’s the victims and their families, and no one wants to listen to gun-worshiping silliness at a time like that.

Heck, it’s not even the only symptom we’ve got of Christmastime cruelties. People want to cut off aid to the poor, they scream at waitresses and store clerks, they fume about every imagined slight, from the entirely mythical War on Christmas to big crowds at the malls. I know it’s not everyone — heck, it’s not even most people — but it sure seems like there’s more of it at this time of year.

My preference would be for people to be compassionate for those who are suffering or less fortunate all the time, but it particularly seems like they should try to be more empathetic around the holidays. I understand that it’s a stressful time, everyone wants everything to be perfect, and there’s enormous pressure on just about everyone — and sometimes folks just snap and let that stress come boiling out on someone else. But it happens too dang often, and it’s really, really messed up.

It’s not like I want everyone to go volunteer at soup kitchens. If that’s your thing, sure, go ahead — but it’s just not for everyone.

But fer cry-eye, be nicer to employees in stores and restaurants. They don’t get paid enough for doing nice things for you, so smile, thank ’em, and wish ’em a merry holiday. Be a bit less aggressive on the highways. Don’t be snippy with friends and family. Try to put yourself in other people’s shoes and remember that there’s pain out there greater than yours, no matter what some angry douche on the TV or radio tells you.

Do it for Christmas — and heck, do it every dang day you can — but be more compassionate, caring, and patient, okay? It’s good for all of us.

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Friday Night Fights: Seasons Beatings!

Awright, kids, it’s the last weekend before Christmas, and if you think we’re gonna go easy on the harmless cartoon violence just for the sake of the holiday, you’re sadly mistaken. It’s mere days from Christmas, and it’s time for… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s festive rannygazoo comes to us from February 2007’s DCU Infinite Holiday Special #1, in the story “Yes, Tyrone, There is a Santa Claus” by Kelley Puckett and Pete Woods. Superman has decided to help a family in need, and because the kids don’t believe in Santa Claus, he’s decided to get dressed up as Old St. Nick to rekindle their love of the holiday. However, it turns out that Batman does not approve of the masquerade.





Yes, Batman, we know. Your parents are DEEAAAAAAD!

So Batman talks Superman out of the charade, but the Man of Steel later decides he’ll pay the family a visit anyway. And what to his wondering eyes should appear…?




That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

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Holiday Gift Bag: Showcases and Essentials

Time for one more check into our Holiday Gift Bag, with my gift recommendations for comics fans and non-comics fans alike. Today, we’re going with something I recommend every year: Marvel’s Essentials and DC’s Showcase Presents.


These are old favorites around here because they’re some of the best, easiest gifts you can get for someone who loves comics, especially older comics. They’re very thick collections of old, usually out-of-print 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 cheap, too — usually between $15-20 each. Yes, it’s just in black and white, no color, and the paper isn’t the best quality — 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 comfortable with.


These collections can be divided between early works, like the first appearances of Spider-Man, the Flash, the Fantastic Four, or the Legion of Super-Heroes, and rarities that haven’t previously been collected because they’re not in high demand, like Rip Hunter, the Rawhide Kid, the Losers, or X-Factor. There’s a huge variety of comics offered this way — superhero comics, war comics, Westerns, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and more. You can even find a few romance collections out there now. You get major characters and minor ones, and some of the greatest artists and writers in comics history.


People are still looking for good gifts that won’t cost a fortune, and that makes these perfect — they’re extremely affordable, especially when you consider how much comics material is stuffed between the covers. And while Christmas is almost here, this is something you won’t have to put on special order — most comics shops and large bookstores are going to have quite a few of these on hand, so you can stop in, spend a little green, and walk off with an easy last-minute gift. Comics shops and bookstores don’t always have the older editions of these, so if a particular phone book was released more than a year or two ago, you may have to hit up the used bookstores. Still, 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 checkbook 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? Check out my archive of Holiday Gift Bag recommendations — there’s six years’ worth of ’em at this point!

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Holiday Gift Bag: Hark! A Vagrant

More gift recommendations? Heck yes, more gift recommendations! How ’bout Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant?


I do hope y’all have heard of Kate Beaton, because if not, y’all ain’t been paying attention. This is Kate Beaton, and she is awesome. She’s a Canadian webcomic artist — she’s got majors in history and anthropology, and a lot of her comics are about historical figures — with enough of an absurdist twist to make them hilarious. Plus she does cartoons about literature, other artists, pop culture, semi-autobiographical stuff, and much more. She’s just plain outstanding.

So there’s this book, named after one of her websites and based on one of her early cartoons. It includes Queen Elizabeth I, Macbeth, Tesla, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the Bronte sisters, Jules Verne, Laura Secord, The Great Gatsby, hipsters, mystery-solving teens, alternate Watsons, sexy Batman, and even cartoons based solely on Nancy Drew and Edward Gorey book covers. And of course, the much loved Fat Pony.

Verdict: Thumbs up. There’s a reason Kate Beaton is so popular — she’s a great cartoonist, and she’s very, very funny.

Beaton’s art is deceptively simple. It’s often very quickly sketched out, almost messy. But even then, she does a great job of creating stuff that’ll make you laugh. And when she goes for really detailed artwork, she’s just awesome. Her greatest strength, art-wise, is probably her facial expressions — to pick one of my favorites, there’s the cartoon about arctic explorers Robert Peary and Matthew Henson. Dig the detail on Henson’s disgusted but not-at-all-surprised expression in the fourth panel. Now how ’bout the last panel — much simpler and less detailed in the expressions, but Peary’s fury and Henson’s absolute glee are crystal-clear.

Why buy a book when the cartoons are free online? Well, because a book looks better on your bookshelf than sticking a bunch of printed-off-the-computer cartoons stuck into a looseleaf notebook. Because it’s easier to show off to friends instead of dragging them over to your computer to call up her website. And frankly, cartoonists don’t make much money, so buying a book helps Kate Beaton make more cartoons instead of having to get a job at a convenience store.

If you have someone on your list who loves Kate Beaton’s cartoons, or loves history and literature — and loves laughing at those things, too — then they’ll probably love this book. This’ll run you about 20 bucks retail, maybe a skritch less from online booksellers.

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton. Go pick it up.

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Holiday Gift Bag: King City

Just a week before Christmas, and it’s looking like I may be able to devote this entire week to more gift recommendations. Today, we look at Brandon Graham’s amazing King City.


Ya know, I kinda don’t want to tell you anything about this one. When I read it for the first time, I knew almost nothing about it, other than the fact that a lot of people had lavishly praised its art and vision and general madcappery. In a lot of ways, I think that’s the best way to go into this book — knowing nothing about it and being delighted and shocked and mind-blown every time you turn a page.

But let’s hit a few quick plot and character bits, just for the sake of being thorough. Our story is set some time in the future — not quite dystopia, not quite space-opera futuristic. Our main character is Joe, a Catmaster — he’s a martial artist who’s able to use his cat, Earthling, as any tool or weapon he needs, with an injection of the right drug. His best friend is Pete, a guy who wears a doofy-looking hood all the time, who’s fallen in love with an alien he helped sell into slavery. His ex-girlfriend is Anna, who lives with Max, a veteran of the Zombie Wars who is addicted to a drug he uses to control his nightmares — the same drug his body is slowly turning into the more he uses it. They fight giant monsters and spies and cyberpunks and mad scientists and everything in between.

I could say more than that, but I ain’t gonna. I want you to go into this not knowing what to expect.

Verdict: Thumbs up. So very, very thumbs up. This is a glorious comic, sketchy and imaginative and sexy and surreal and hilarious and filled with wild and crazy action sequences. The dialogue, the characterization, the art and design are all absolutely pinpoint perfect.

I really don’t know what else I can say about it. It’s just a fantastic comic.

If you have someone on your list who loves wild science fiction and action, or who just loves beautifully-made comics, you’ll want to get this for them. If you haven’t read this yet, you may want to get it for yourself. It’s a nice, fat comic — over 400 pages! — and you can get it, retail, for just $20, probably less at the big online retailers.

King City by Brandon Graham. Go pick it up.

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