Comic Fodder

2008: A Year That Was (Part 3)

Some things that I enjoyed in 2008

Let's keep it on the positive for a while, shall we?

#1: The re-refurbished Superman titles:

For an industry about virtually nothing but people in tights owing their existence to Siegel and Shuster's creation, a lot of people give The Man of Steel a bad rap. And since Byrne's run on man of Steel, DC hasn't always given fans a lot of reason to want to see what was going on with The Big Blue Boy Scout (I mean, I've been pleased, but whatever).

2008 was the year that saw the Superman books take it up a notch from a vast improvement over pre-Infinite Crisis to becoming must-reads for fans of superhero comics. Really, if you're a reader who says they're going to pick up stuff that received good buzz in trade format (Simon), then you can start now with Busiek and Johns on "Up, Up and Away" and work your way towards the "New Krypton" storyline which brings a whole new definition of "epic" to the Superman books while clearly understanding Superman as a character, not just as an icon or concept.

#2: Trinity:

After the trainwreck that was "Countdown", I was unsure if I wanted to get on the train for another weekly series. And I almost dropped it after the first few issues, but Busiek went a direction I was completely not expecting, telling a story engaging enough that its always one of my first reads each week.

Its also been nice to have the consistency of Bagley on art chores. The man may never win any awards for an innovative style, and you can tell his work is far more rushed here than Ultimate Spider-Man, but it's still keeping up well after half a year of a pretty crazy pace.

I'm not 100% on Trinity, but I have been very pleasantly surprised at the strength of the title (even if the Trinity itself hasn't been around for several issues).

#3: Wonder Woman by Gail Simone:

I became a Wonder Woman fan when Phil Jimenez was on the book, and dodged back to pick up several of the post COIE collections by George Perez. I stuck with the last volume straight through to the end (if you've never read Rucka's Wonder Woman, man... you are missing out). So it was with tremendous horror that, post-Infinite Crisis, I watched DC pass around the Wonder Woman title like a Rubik's cube to see who could get it solved by what seemed to be disinterested parties.

Simone had a tough, tough hill to climb, inheriting Wonder Woman post-Amazons Attack!, post Allan Heinberg and Jodi Picoult. No sooner had Simone taken the title than Didio took to Spin Alley shouting about "Manazons!", which seems to the sort of dull-headed idea he'd cook up or at least grossly misrepresent (they're like Amazons, but dudes! What a crazy idea to make an island... of... male... soldiers... wait a minute...).

Simone, instead, has been carefully restructuring the world of Wonder Woman in the fallout of the mess what came before, taking the chaos as a chance to demonstrate Diana's adaptability and calm center, and like her co-equals in the Trinity, her world is seeing intelligent exploration by a dedicated writer trying to build for the longterm. And even the upcoming "Olympian/ Manazons" concept seems like it could be handled well in the end.

With GL enjoying two books, Batman and Superman a handful of books... it seems that to get Wonder Woman content coming at a pace brisk enough to keep up, DC may want to think about a second Wonder Woman title. Perhaps one including the "Wonder Family" of Diana, Donna, Hippolyta and Cassie Sandsmark. Maybe even Artemis or others. Wonder Woman needs to flex her supporting cast's muscles a bit (more Etta Candy, please), and a team book might be the ticket. Just a thought.

#4: Dynamite Comics gets serious

They're barely a blip in the comic blogosphere, but Dynamite Comics spent the year building themselves up with pre-existing content such as Lone Ranger, Man with No Name, and the copyright free characters appearing in Alex Ross's pet project, Project: Superpowers.

Recognizing that a good slice of the comic industry and superhero comic fans are largely NOT a place looking for new characters or concepts, Dynamite played to the nostalgic strength of the market and licensed everything from Red Sonja to Army of Darkness. In 2009, Garth Ennis's superlative "Dan Dare" series will be jumping to Dynamite. And that is a good thing.

Nobody is going to accuse Dynamite of trying to break new ground, but they did what they did with the help of well placed talent and an eye on the marketplace, and breathed new life into old favorites. Now, the TCJ crowd kind of despises that this is the state of comics in 2008, and I'd like to see more innovation as well, but... given the tendency of the fanboys coming to comics who seem to want to create "new" characters who are either just a costume and power set, or who retread old territory and concepts like so many microwaved superhero side-dishes (that almost invariably fail), I prefer the original concepts handled by higher level talent with an investment.

I don't think that means there's no room for genuinely new ideas or different kinds of ideas. And I occasionally spend money on them. But I'm also spending money on some of these licenses Dynamite picked up as well.

#5: Iron Man (The Movie!):

For someone who has never really taken to Iron Man, except in the pages of Ultimates, I could tell from the trailers that the movie would, at minimum, be a jump up from the train wrecks Marvel had been releasing (FF2, Ghost Rider, and even Spidey 3). What I wasn't anticipating was what a good movie Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. would be able to piece together. (And Downey was terrific.)

I recall hearing that Favreau had actually flown several of Marvel's top writers out to LA to look at his early script/ treatment/ whatever (which they shot down), and actually listened as they worked with him to explain the nuts and bolts of the character of Iron Man. I have no idea if this is all true, but it sounds right compared to the usual "they just didn't get it" that superhero fans are normally treated to*. Favreau delivered an updated scenario to match our current international entanglements and by spending time investigating the why's-and-wherefore's of Tony Stark's transformation from playboy millionaire to deeply flawed man with a conscience, raised the game for Marvel Studios.

Plus, seriously, was the armor (and associated fx) not the coolest?

All that aside, the real reason I'm highlighting the movie is that Marvel took a first stab at building a universe for its heroes to exist in (at least The Avengers), extending out so far as to include Downey's Stark in this summer's "The Incredible Hulk". Organic, working to use nerd-hype machines to their advantage, and true to the way in which Marvel built their house.

6: The Dark Knight (The Movie!) and Batman: The Brave and the Bold:

If we're going to cover Iron Man, then we owe it more so to site The Dark Knight and its billion-dollar (pre-home video) haul to the list.

I'm not entirely surprised that Dark Knight was left off a few end-of-year lists. There's always going to be a movie that baffles the taste testers or which they feel isn't as good as some Bulgarian movie about impoverished street sweepers in the Victorian era. If that's your bag, then fine. But, seriously, Time... Speed Racer? You can't declare one movie "the future of entertainment" when the audience simply isn't there. Cute, though.

Nolan's "Dark Knight" brought the Batman of the past 30 years as seen in comics and cartoons to the screen for the first time. Sure, there are a few plot holes which you could drive a truck through (who saves all the people in Wayne's penthouse after he jumps out the window? What happens after that?), but the movie managed to bring the complex moral compass of Batman to the big screen alongside the character who is most known for testing that resolve, The Joker.

Grim, unrelenting, and more akin to epic crime/ cop films on a grander stage, Dark Knight managed to bring the harrowing experience of a Gotham under siege home to the audience in a way that seemed to have an unexpected impact. So much so that both sides of the political coin were trying to claim Batman as their own (and, I'd argue, both sides were probably a bit right, which only means that we can all agree on concepts of self-sacrifice and certain cultural values.).

On the FLIP side, WB put out a non-competing product in the all-new "Batman: Brave and the Bold" cartoon, which sees a kid-friendly (but still characteristically gruff) Batman teamed up with other DCU superheroes. So far we've seen Plastic Man, Blue Beetle, Green Flame, Aquaman and Red Tornado. It's very family friendly, and, I'd argue, pretty funny, all while sticking to the basics of the DCU.

And when they release the Batmobile from this show as a toy? I am so in.

It seems Batman is a far more flexible figure than virtually any other out there on the market, from the decidedly non-kid friendly "Dark Knight" to "Brave and the Bold". Those "comics are for adults" arguments are often largely true, but I'm of the opinion that I'd prefer to have my cake and eat it, too.

#7: All Star Superman

All Star Superman wrapped a few months ago, ending on a spectacular high note.

One wonders if the Super-titles would have languished for so long in the early 00's had DC just gone ahead and let Morrison, Waid, etc... take the titles over instead of letting Berganza loose on the books.

On the plus side, Morrison had clearly meditated upon exactly what he wanted to do to tell a Superman story that seemed to wrap up and say so much about The Man of Steel that even Moore's "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow" could not, giving DC's first and greatest hero a fitting ending.

As fantastically as Johns has handled the "in continuity" tales of Superman in Action, one gets the feeling that Morrison and Quitely's opus will find its way among other DC-non-continuity series of high regard (I'm not sure we can say the same for All Star Batman... they have to put out more than one issue every seven months for me to make that call).

But the praise heaped upon All Star was interesting as non-Superbook readers praised the book for the well defined character found between the pages. But here's a hint: that's Superman, readers. I know you've felt like someone at the comic shop might give you noogies for trying the Superbooks, and while Morrison handled Superman better than the average bear, that's the core of Superman and why so many of us just sort of shrug when we're told Superman is passe, or no longer applies to the "comics are for adults" world of comics.

Anyhow, this reader is eagerly awaiting the inevitable Absolute version of the series.

#8: Final Crisis

Oh, you nay sayers are all crying about Final Crisis now, but when the series wraps, its going to be remembered better than it's current coverage. Now, your mileage is going to vary, depending upon your take on Kirby's Fourth World, someone messing with the state of things as they've been in the DCU.

Like anyone else, I have preferred states I like to see for specific characters, how things are in the DCU (I prefer orange-shirted, two handed Aquaman, for example). And, yes... Final Crisis does seem geared to be changing things.

But more than any of that, its the realization of a threat to the DCU which has hung around for decades, an unimaginable horror that seems large enough to put the heroes of the DCU on their heels. It's a big, scary story, without the certainty of victory that seems endemic to stories like "Invasion!" which features foppish, mostly non-threatening villains, there's a certain hell that's already descended solidly upon the DCU.

From a publishing standpoint, Final Crisis has seen both success and something less-so. Already fans know that JG Jones will not be able to finish the series if its to come out on anything resembling a timely schedule. We've been told that a schedule MUST be maintained, as the events of Final Crisis will have some effect on the rest of the DCU and those stories are already planned for publication.

By and large, the series seems to be coming out somewhere close to on time, I guess. The tie-ins for the series are an odd lot, which we're being told will tie-in, from the Rage of the Red Lanterns, to Legion of 3 Worlds to Superman Beyond. "Revelations" has been an interesting tie-in, bringing the events to a certain bizarre mix of street and mystical level. And it was probably worth picking up "Submit" and "Resist" to get a snapshot of the DCU during the events in question.

But Final Crisis, in and of itself has been an interesting read, and I look forward to the final issues.

9: Good Marvel Stuff

I don't talk too often about Marvel, what me being a DC Columnist for the most part. But Marvel has found some niches and pockets where they've really shined this year. Obvious titles are Captain America (yes, I know its weird that they killed Steve Rogers) and Daredevil. I've also really enjoyed "Guardians of the Galaxy", and "Thor". And, to a lesser extent, "Invincible Iron Man" (which I am months behind on).

The Marvel U is a far cry from where it was four years ago when even die-hard fans were beginning to suggest that the Ultimate Marvel U. should replace the good 'ol Marvel U we all know and love.

And love it or hate it, the introduction of a multi-year mega narrative (Civil War, Avengers Initiative, Secret Invasion,etc...) to the Marvel U has managed to draw up more interest in Marvel's non-Spidey or X-titles than I can remember in my lifetime. And that's a great thing. And certainly a far cry from the road Marvel seemed to want to travel under Bill "Marville/ U-Decide" Jemas.

10: No one single thing

I've toyed with how to use this tenth and final spot, and I can't name any, one single thing that really made the year. So I'm going to take the opportunity to rattle on a bit.

It's been a transitional year for me as a reader. I've changed what store where I pick up my weeklies to match my evolving taste and needs as a comics fan. And in that, I've enjoyed exploring pockets and niches outside the world of the Big 2. I'm still as much or more of a fan of Superman and old favorites with DC and Marvel, but there's a pretty wide world out there in comics, and we're doing ourselves a disservice as comics fans if we don't explore it on a regular basis.

I've thoroughly enjoyed rejoining Comic Fodder this year. It's been such a tremendous opportunity to rejoin Travis here under the big Filmfodder umbrella. And I can't say how much I appreciate your feedback, your e-mails, and your comments. Heck, I don't even care if you guys call me a bozo, as long as we're getting feedback in our little corner of the blogoverse.

Speaking of, I'm still enjoying Progressive Ruin , Kevin Church and The ISB as some of the best in comics culture blogging. And a salute to all the sites we link to over in that menu on the right. They're sites I visit regularly.

Special thanks to Blog@ crew, Dirk at TCJ and Occasional Superheroine for linking back to me in the past few months. Much appreciated.

Onward, to... THE FUTURE

I have no idea what 2009 will bring for Comic Fodder (I'd love to say we have all sorts of schemes, but that's not exactly true), but we hope you'll stick with us.

Keep in mind how much we value your input, and thanks again for a great 2008.

*The FF movies, in particular


Questions? Comments? Hate mail?

Come on, I can take it.

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Ryan is an Op/Ed columnist for Comic Fodder. He keeps his comics and himself in Austin, Texas where he manages the long running blog League of Melbotis.

He likes Superman.

You can reach Ryan (aka: The League) at theleague.cf@gmail.com

Good stuff, bozo! And let me add, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and the other great people at Filmfodder.

-TP

-- Posted by: tpull at December 23, 2008 2:17 AM

Thanks, Bozo #1!

Happy Holidays and all that good stuff to you and yours!

-Ryan

-- Posted by: Ryan at December 23, 2008 10:17 AM

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

All Star Superman got me considering getting on board with the Superman titles again, at least in trades. Busiek, Johns and Robinson are three of my favourite writers so it seems silly of me to shy away from them. Especially when I'm interested in the Superman vs Brainiac storyline.

I'm now starting to troll through the dollar bins looking for Trinity issues. I figure I'll save 66% off the regular cover price now that I know it's pretty good.

Iron Man and The Dark Knight were just great movies. You really didn't have to be a comic book fan to enjoy them.

Final Crisis is not as bad as some are saying. I think things hit a high point with issue #5 and they are only going to get better.

Looking forward to being flu free in 2009!!! He says as he crawls back into bed.

-- Posted by: Simon MacDonald at December 23, 2008 2:43 PM