Comic Fodder

Tpull’s Top Five Mini-Series of 2009

Last year I got sick and had a delay, but this year I promised to get the best mini-series column out before the new year hit. It was made easier by the fact that I settled on a top five list, because there just weren’t enough contenders. The sad fact is, we have been hammered with mindless trash like the Final Crisis Aftermath minis, and a plethora of forgettable Dark Reign minis. Justice League: Cry For Justice was a cry all right, as in pitiful enough to make you cry (even if nicely painted). Arkham Reborn almost made the cut, but not quite. The Marvels Project is not quite far enough along to count. Flash: Rebirth is late, and my patience is gone for stuff like that. Chalk up another tardy mark for Barry Allen, Iris…

So the year has not been kind in a growing quantity of mini-series by both publishers, as they had price increases and poor quality. That leaves me with these few favorites:

1. Blackest Night

There might have been a top ten list, but the rest would have been Blackest Night tie-ins, for BN: Superman, BN: Batman, BN: Tales of the Corps, etc. Gripping covers hint at the visual spectacle within, as Ivan Reis knocks it out of the park. The layout of iconic shots and swiftly-flowing story features not only all of the great characters of the DCU, but a horde of dead ones, too. Alex Sinclair is a true professional, and one of my favorite colorists in the business, necessary for such a color-themed plot. The lettering choices are well-planned too. In short, this is one of the best creative teams, and they are firing on all cylinders.

Geoff Johns has his detractors, and I know some on the ‘net are claiming to be tired of any theme remotely touching on zombies, but there is enough distinction here to differentiate it from other normal zombie fare: the black rings take on the memories of the subject, but they don’t actually bring the real person back. Johns has a masterful handle on each and every character, helping characters like Atom and Mera to shine, and crafting a story that doesn’t even need the Big Three to be in it for you to pay attention.

The various mini-series tie-ins associated with this event are all fairly good reads, and much better than any of the dreaded Final Crisis stuff earlier this year, and easily better than the vast majority of overpriced Dark Reign stories. Johns’ attention to continuity is helpful, as he uses it to enrich his story, not get bogged down in pedantic details. The nature of the story allows for not just an overt threat, but also for the enemy to claw at each hero’s emotions, digging deep at the most hurtful events involving their departed loved ones. For once, I am in complete agreement with the sales charts on this one.

2. Captain America: Reborn

This one nearly lost its place on the list when my numbering changed. See, issues 1-4 all said they were part of a 5-part mini-series. Issue #5 came out… and it says it’s 5 of 6. Ah well, at least the art combination of Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice is one of the best team-ups in comics this year. Brubaker gives us a story that weirdly parallels what is happening to Batman, as Ryan pointed out, but via a slightly different route, utilizing Hitch’s cinematic style, but darkened by Guice’s heavy linework. Even though the ending is not in doubt, Marvel dropped the ball by showing Steve Rogers in half a dozen other comics already, rendering the 6th issue anti-climactic, when they manage to publish it. Did I mention I don’t like my books being late?

At the end of the day, Brubaker’s writing is fairly solid, the art is cool, and they’re bringing back one of my favorite characters in all of comics. Good enough to be on the list.

3. JSA VS. Kobra

Here is a surprise hit, and a pleasant surprise indeed. The regular JSA title has immediately dropped in quality; while a good enough read on its own, it does not compare to the last couple years. In this mini-series, Eric Trautmann gave us a renewed threat from Kobra, making good on DC’s Faces of Evil event storyline. Don Kramer gave us a group pin-up with every issue, and hit home with just how good he really is. In the era of super-star artists, you might forget someone like Don Kramer at first, and that’s a mistake. His work earns him a place at the top.

Trautmann gives us a group that can fight in multiple places at once and accomplish a lot. Intelligence blended with intrigue, they are still out-matched by their opponent, and for all their accomplishments, the series ends with a pyrrhic victory. All interspersed with chess terminology, even though Trautmann admitted he doesn’t play the game! If there is one trade your friend hasn’t read yet, get him this for a gift.

4. Superman: World of New Krypton

James Robinson and Greg Rucka team up on the writing chores to explore not only New Krypton and their culture, but also how they will interact with the various alien races of the DCU. Superman is persona non grata right now on Earth, and trying to help guide a bunch of super-powered Kryptonians to avoid war.

Pete Woods is good, if not spectacular, on the art, but the key is that this is one of the few places we got to see Superman this year, given the theme which required his absence everywhere else. His character is handled well, as we see him in an environment where everyone else is just about as powerful. He copes well, given a chance to use his wisdom to train the others in their powers, to show them different ways to resolve problems, and to showcase his intellect and his judgment instead of just his brawns. All this, and we also gain a grudging respect for Zod, and get to see characters like the Thanagarians, Jemm of Saturn, and Adam Strange. Another gamble by DC that has paid off.

5. War of Kings

One of the best things to come out of Secret Invasion, the Inhumans did more than just become a weapon of the Kree: they took over the Kree. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have capitalized on their work within Marvel’s cosmos to craft a grand epic. The mad leader of the Shi’ar, Vulcan, sent the Imperial Guard on a first strike against the ruling Inhumans, sparking a great war. It ended with the death of Lilandra, the apparent death of both Black Bolt and Vulcan, and a rift in space-time called the Fault.

Ably drawn by the regular team-up of Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar, we got to see the Shi’ar surrender, so now the Kree empire, headed up by the Inhumans, is in charge of a large portion of the galaxy. DnA have taken little-used characters, such as Crystal and added another facet, another dimension to flesh things out better. This mini-series has acted as a stepping stone to the Realm of Kings mini-series, a smaller Marvel event that is slowly blooming to add more depth to Marvel’s cosmic areas. And since more than one of you is thinking that the last sentence sounded a little dirty, I’ll end it there.

As in the top ten for ongoing series this year, DC again edges out Marvel in the battle. Can DC keep it up for 2010? I’ll be here keeping score.

Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.