Archive for Knight and Squire

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.

Batwoman

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

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.

Xombi

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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Xombi Uprising

Xombi #1

Here’s one of the few former Milestone comics to get a full revival at DC. Originally, this comic was created by John Rozum and Denys Cowan in 1994 — it starred David Kim, a researcher who got a dose of nanotechnology that made him immortal, and it featured levels of weirdness on the level of Grant Morrison’s “Invisibles” and “Doom Patrol.”

This new series has Rozum back on board as the writer, with Fraser Irving handling the art chores. David Kim’s backstory remains the same, and the depth of the weirdness seems even higher than ever. On the first three pages, you’ve got paintings eating each other, vampires stepping out of movies, chickens bearing live young, talking coins, and evil rod-puppets made out of religious tracts. Before long, David is sent to visit the Prison of Industry with his allies Catholic Girl, Nun of the Above, Nun the Less, and Father Maxwell. They find the Prison, a mystically shrunken jail for people possessed by outside forces. Nun the Less shrinks down and finds all the prisoners dead except for one, a man with a supernatural Jekyll-Hyde complex. And then there are they self-typing typewriters and evil snow angels and even more than that…

Verdict: Honestly, I think I’m going to withhold judgment for now. David Kim is an extremely personable character, and I’ve always loved the concept of characters like Catholic Girl and Nun of the Above. But I wonder whether this one is layering on the weirdness just too thick.

Knight and Squire #6

The final issue of this miniseries sees the Joker running amok in Great Britain, dragging Jarvis Poker the British Joker (unfortunately dying of cancer) as a hostage and trying to kill as many British superheroes as he can. And he’s got a bunch of Joker masks that allow him to mind-control people. The Knight and Squire have been distracted by several prominent deaths — can they get England’s heroes, vigilantes, and even villains to pull together to stop the Joker? And does Jarvis Poker have a chance to survive the final battle?

Verdict: Thumbs up. The whole blasted series has been wonderful fun. If you haven’t gotten any of these other issues, you’ll probably want to wait for the trade paperback, but you definitely will want to read this one.

Morning Glories #8

We get some background on a couple of the other students at Morning Glory Academy. Most of our emphasis is on geeky loser Hunter — he’s just asked Casey on a date, and she said yes, but Hunter has an extreme problem with lateness. In fact, for some strange reason, every clock he looks at always reads 8:13. He nearly never knows what time it is, so he asks his roommate Jun to tell him when it’s time to go to his date. But then Hunter gets attacked by some supposedly friendly classmates — and Jun shows up to help them beat him up. Hunter ends up tied up and blindfolded, with his captors planning on torturing and killing him. Is anyone going to show up to save him?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A nicely weird issue. Hunter was probably the least interesting character before, but with the mystery behind his strange clock-reading problem, he’s leap-frogged into the most interesting spot.

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Jester Knight

Knight and Squire #5

Jarvis Poker, the British Joker, isn’t much of a villain — he’s a bit mischievous, but his villainy is pretty light-hearted and harmless. He even hangs out with the Knight and Squire from time to time. But he’s just found out that he’s dying and has only weeks to live. And he reacts to the news by trying to start up a crime wave of his own. But he’s badly out of practice, and his gimmicks are, again, pretty harmless. So he’s doing more to embarrass himself than to make his name live in infamy. But the Squire deduces that Jarvis is dying, and the Knight decides to let him go out with a final grand hurrah — he warns everyone that the British Joker is about to attempt the Crime of the Century. Invigorated, he sets out to perform the kind of grand novelty crime that’d let him go to his grave with a smile on his face… until he gets a deeply unwelcome visitor from the other side of the pond.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Holy cow, this was fun. Jarvis Poker is such a fun character, and the guest star’s appearance — even if you predicted who he is — makes a really great moment. Next issue is the last one for this series? No fair!

Batgirl #18

It’s a special Valentine’s issue guest-starring that most eligible bachelor… Klarion the Witch Boy?! He’s left underground Limbo Town for our Blue Rafters because his cat familiar Teekl, foiled in his attempts to mate, is now running loose and tearing out people’s hearts. Stephanie gets roped into helping Klarion clean up this mess, and though they’re able to recapture Teekl, he’ll remain out of control unless they can find him another were-cat to mate with. And the only place to find those is back in Limbo Town, where Steph has to dress up as a pilgrim and beat up a magic-using schoolgirl. Ahh, a traditional Valentine’s outing!

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a funny story, with some hilarious dialogue and situations. Stellar artwork from Dustin Nguyen. And it’s got Klarion the Witch Boy! We don’t see enough of him, dangit.

The Unwritten #22

Tom Taylor has apparently broken “Moby-Dick.” He’s frozen the novel in time and doesn’t know how to escape, but Frankenstein’s monster clues him in on how to use his magic crystal doorknob — inside a book, he can only travel from one element to another. There’s only one Pequod in literature, but the ocean is in plenty of different novels. So Tom is able to leap from “Moby-Dick” to one of the Sindbad stories, and from there, he meets up with the famed Baron Munchausen. Meanwhile, the puppeteer has decided Lizzie and Savoy are no use to her, so she shows them a perverse little puppet show and sends them on their way. But is it a glimpse into the future?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Listen, any comic that includes appearances by Frankenstein’s monster, Sindbad the sailor, Baron Munchausen, and even more literary heroes is something that you should just accept is an awesome comic.

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Hell Comes to Texas

B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth – Gods #1

A new storyline and a setting shift — we’re following a group of refugees fleeing Texas. Recent events, particularly a volcano erupting in Houston and a vast array of monsters appearing throughout the state, have freaked out a lot of people, and even folks trying to get out of the state for their own safety are distrusted and abused by people who should be helping them. One large group of refugees is being led by a 16-year-old girl named Fenix. She has some sort of unspecified illness but is blessed with uncannily accurate predictive abilities and very strong leadership skills. She nixes a newcomers recommendation that they hole up in an abandoned high school football stadium and has the group stay at an empty swimming pool instead. So what did Fenix think was going to show up at the stadium?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Previous BPRD books have shortchanged the chaos the world is going through, but this does a lot to bring home how it’s affecting people. Fenix seems like a cool character, too. My initial quibble was that people wouldn’t be so hostile to refugees trying to escape from a place that lots of people describe as — literally — Hell… but then again, history is full of stories of abused and rejected refugees. Even as recently as Katrina, there were people who tried to keep refugees from fleeing New Orleans…

Knight and Squire #4

Beryl has a date with the Shrike, a fledgling superhero who she and the Knight met in the first issue of this series. She brings him to the Knight’s castle to meet Cyril. But all does not go well. The Shrike doesn’t react well to Beryl figuring out his secret identity, and Beryl doesn’t react well to his negative reaction. And the Knight’s armor has developed a mind of its own, based on his old addictions and insecurities. Can the heroes stop the rogue armor and regain their trust in each other?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Lots of stuff to love here. I enjoyed getting a little background on the Knight’s lost years when he was an alcoholic. Meeting Cyril’s butler was nice, too — rather than being an upper-crust Brit like Bruce Wayne’s Alfred Pennyworth, the Knight’s butler is a drawling American with a proper bolo tie named Hank Hackenbacker. However, I do wish we’d get some more information about Beryl’s “communications abilities.” Are they actual superpowers or just an unusually high skill level or what? Maybe I haven’t been paying close enough attention, but they seem a bit undefined…

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Late-Breaking News plus Reviews

First things first: There’s going to be another meeting of people interested in getting some more comic conventions in Lubbock! It’s happening today at 6:30 p.m. at Awesome Books, 3009 34th Street.

The focus of this meeting is going to be dividing up some of the promotional work and sharing what’s been confirmed so far. If you’d like to assist with a comic convention — and take it from me, I had more fun volunteering at the previous conventions than I did when I was only an attendant — then you will certainly want to be at that meeting.

Now listen — the Miracle on 34th Street event will be going on around that time, which means a parade and a heck of a lot more traffic, so you might want to park on 33rd or 35th or in one of the larger parking lots and walk. So allow yourself some extra time to get to the meeting, awright?

Remember: today, 6:30 p.m., Awesome Books, 3009 34th Street!

And now: Reviews!

Knight and Squire #3

Genetic researchers have perfected cloning — and they’re able to re-create an actual historical personage, complete with his full genetic memory! Who do they pick for this great honor? Richard III. Wait, Richard III? The villain of Shakespeare’s play of the same name? A guy who’s thought to have killed his young nephews to keep himself on the throne? That doesn’t sound like a smart move, does it? The Knight and Squire are suspicious, but there’s some belief that Richard got a raw deal from history and Shakespeare, so maybe this guy’s okay, right?

Well, no, not really. He demands to be placed back on the throne, and when that isn’t so successful, he clones a bunch of England’s most rotten monarchs, gives them superpowers and their own armies, and turns ‘em loose on everyone. Can the Knight, the Squire, and the British Isles’ other superheroes stop the royal renegades before they take over the country?

Verdict: Thumbs up. So very many things to love about this issue. There’s the Knight dating one of the Muses. Like an actual Muse, goddess of literature and the arts, from ancient myth. That’s so random, it’s awesome. There’s the final battle, fought partly through Twitter. There’s the way Richard’s lines are all in iambic pentameter. It’s a great issue in a great series, so go get it already.

Batgirl #16

Steph’s being chased by the cops, who think Batgirl killed a college student. After she evades the Gotham PD, she meets up with Detective Gage, who reveals that he knows she she’s been framed. Back at the university, Steph has to deal with her classmates demonizing Batgirl, mostly so they can get out of having to take tests, and Wendy Harris does a little off-the-clock investigating. Eventually, they’re able to track the real killers to an abandoned warehouse contaminated with an unusual form of radiation. But will getting her good name cleared and the gang rounded up be enough to solve the case when it turns out the bad guys have superpowered help of their own?

Verdict: As ever, very funny and exciting stuff. I don’t know if this is the best of the Bat-books, but it’s certainly the most fun.

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Dungeon Masters

Dungeons & Dragons #1

I had no expectation that I was going to get this title ’til I found out that John Rogers — better known as the guy responsible for some of the best “Blue Beetle” stories — was the writer. I’m more than willing to take a few chances on him.

Our main characters are a party of adventurers — Adric Fell, a human warrior and the leader of the group; Kahl, a dwarf paladin; Varis, an elf sharpshooter; Bree, a magnificently untrustworthy halfling thief; and Tisha, a tiefling spellcaster. They live in a small town called Fallcrest at the edge of the wilderness. Things start off — of course! — at the local tavern, where the group is soon under attack by a bunch of rampaging zombies. Only they’re not zombies, they are humans under some sort of spell — a spell that inconveniently wears off just in time for the local watch to arrest them all for murder. A gnome wizard named Copernicus Jinx soon shows up to assist them, revealing that someone has opened a magical portal which is infecting the countryside with dark energies that make everyone act like zombies. And right on cue, almost everyone in town except for our heroes get infected and start lurching after the good guys. Can the party locate the source of the problem? Can they save any innocent people along the way?

Verdict: Thumbs up. This may be the first non-game adaptation of “Dungeons & Dragons” to not suck. There’s a grand and glorious amount of good humor on display, as well as excellent action, characterization, and dialogue. Reading this made me want to play D&D again — and I haven’t been tempted to do that in decades.

Atomic Robo and the Deadly Art of Science #1

Man, I haven’t been able to get any of these in ages — Robo is a really fun character, but he’s not carried by nearly enough comic shops. Luckily, I was able to get in at the beginning of a new storyarc for this one.

It’s 1930, and Atomic Robo is still in his relative infancy — he’s still working as a drudge for his creator Nikola Tesla, stuck doing boring chores instead of reading pulp magazines and having adventures, like he’d really prefer. Luckily, he runs into a masked crimefighter named Jack Tarot battling some gangsters and proceeds to make a nuisance of himself by asking Tarot and the gangsters as many irritating questions as he can. Can Robo get in good with the crimefighting set? And where will this adventure all lead to?

Verdict: Thumbs up. This isn’t the cynical Robo we may have gotten used to — he’s a more innocent and enthusiastic character here. Excellent humor, great action, very fun dialogue.

Knight and Squire #2

Our two Brit heroes get wind of a looming occult plot about to be enacted, so they rush in their civilian disguises to a small town and visit an unusually paranoid pub called The Wicker Man — only to discover that the whole town has been taken over by… the Morris Men! (Apparently, it’s a criminal gang that dresses up like Morris dancers — and I’ll have to ask you to read the Wikipedia article about that, ’cause it’s about folk dancing, and there ain’t no way I’m gonna try to explain folk dancing) When it all turns out to be a plot to force Britain back to a distant past, will the heroes manage to foil the Morris Men before the dance is over?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s daft in all the best ways. Excellent action, superb dialogue. I think I most enjoyed seeing how Beryl spends her not-fighting-crime days. Don’t miss writer Paul Cornell’s postscript — it explains a lot of the Britishisms in the story, but it looks a bit like an ad, so you may need to keep an eye out for it.

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Hard-Boiled Bat

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #5

An amnesiac Bruce Wayne is traveling forward through time, unaware that his body is acquiring Omega Energy which, when he returns to the present, will blow a hole in time? Why is this happening? Darkseid did it. Darkseid does everything. Right now, he’s stuck in — well, it looks like the pulp-fiction 1940s, but I rather suspect it’s much more recent, since a leggy redhead comes to him and asks him to investigate the murder of his own mother, Martha Wayne. The woman who’s “hired” him claims that she was Martha Wayne’s best friend and takes him to meet Martha’s parents — mom is an elderly society matron, and dad is stuck in an iron lung after a mysterious stroke, and the entire home is beset by ominous wasps. What’s waiting for Bruce Wayne in the catacombs beneath Wayne Manor? And who is getting set to betray him?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Beautiful art by Ryan Sook. And it’s a lot of fun to read this and catch the callbacks Morrison leaves to stories he previously told months or years ago.

Knight and Squire #1

The Knight and Squire are the Batman and Robin of London, and they hold court in a pub called the Time in the Bottle which has a magical spell that prevents fighting or any use of superpowers. So of course, the whole place is filled up with British superheroes and villains — people like Salt of the Earth, the Milkman, the Professional Scotsman, Captain Cornwall, Jarvis Poker the British Joker (a guy who never actually manages to do any serious villainy and really just prefers to hang out and chat with Knight and Squire), the Pirate Astronomers, Death Dinosaur, Dark Druid, and many, many more. But can anyone survive when the magic spell quits working?

Verdict: Thumbs up. I’m glad Paul Cornell is writing this, ’cause it’s all a ton of fun. All the British-themed characters are really cool. I’m not sure if every issue is going to take place in the Time in the Bottle — if so, that may wear thin pretty quickly.

The New Avengers #5

We start off with a scene from years ago when Dr. Strange and Wong unleashed some whupass on Baron Mordo and the ninjas of the Hand. In the present, Iron Fist thinks the Ancient One is the guy who wants the Eye of Agamotto, but Strange knows that makes no sense — the Ancient One gave Strange the Eye in the first place, and would’ve told him if someone else had a prior claim to it. Soon enough, everyone realizes that Agamotto himself wants the Eye back — he possesses the Avengers to get them to attack Strange, but Dr. Voodoo shows up, releases them, and issues a sorcerer’s challenge to Agamotto. It’s going to be one vessel from the Avengers — it doesn’t have to be Dr. Voodoo — vs. Agamotto, a vastly powerful interdimensional spellcaster. Who gets picked to go up against Agamotto, and how do the rest of the Avengers help power him up?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Bendis is writing this one, just like he’s writing the main “Avengers” title, but I’ve had a lot more patience with this storyarc. I’ve got to assume that means I’m enjoying the story and the writing a whole lot more than I have the other one. And the Wong and Strange vs. Mordo and ninjas beginning is definitely a winner.

The Unwritten #18

In the aftermath of Wilson Taylor’s death and the release of the new Tommy Taylor novel, the literary cabal attempts to regroup. The new novel is flat-out messianic, with Tommy Taylor raised from the dead and promising to bring mankind to a new golden age. The leader of the conspiracy decides to lay the blame on the assassin Pullman, subjecting him to a ritual where a member of the inner circle pulls a trinket out of the mouth of a stone statue to determine if Pullman lives or dies. Meanwhile, Tom Taylor, attempting to learn how he can do real magic without having to stick himself in a life-or-death situation, ingests a number of drugs to bring on a dream vision. Can his visions of his father and Tommy Taylor show him the path to real magical power? And who will come out on top in the conspiracy’s power struggle?

Verdict: Very weird and much more fun to read than I was expecting. After last issue, I was a bit worried that this series was beginning its downslide, but this story is just fine — hopefully, it’ll stay fun for a good while longer.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Kate Beaton brings back the Fat Pony.
  • Comics Alliance has a whole bunch of mini-episodes from the upcoming “Avengers” cartoon.
  • A cookbook from 1922 that features recipes from Warren G. Harding, Harry Houdini, Rube Goldberg, Charlie Chaplin, John Phillip Sousa, and many others.
  • Sometimes, we all just need to take a jump to the left.

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