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Friday’s (and Saturday’s) Annual Inventory

by  in Comic News Comment
Friday’s (and Saturday’s) Annual Inventory

Greg Burgas and Joe Rice manage to tell you every single week what new books they’re buying and how they are liking them, and be amusing while they do it. I admire them enormously for this because I can usually only manage to do a column like that once a year, when I take a look at my pull-list and decide what goes and what stays.

I do revise the pull-list more often than once a year; but not a lot more often, because it’s kind of a pain. It involves filling out forms and stuff down at my comics shop, and sometimes I forget to bring back the Previews order form… and, well, it’s a hassle. Recently, however, I discovered to my delight that it’s okay with my retailer if I do this chore via e-mail, which helps a lot.

This year my major resolutions were to cut the list and to really try to convert to trade paperbacks as much as I can. As far as mainstream comics are concerned, I read them like books, they’re usually published as books, they read better AS books… and I am getting really annoyed with myself for supporting a system of magazine distribution that seems to depend on fan inertia — “waiting for it to get good again” — and/or the obsessive-compulsive disorder of “not wanting to break up a run.”

So for monthly books, the policy was slash-n-burn. If I don’t love it, over it goes and maybe I’ll look through the trade when it gets one.

That was the policy, anyway. I didn’t stick to it as well as I would have liked but mostly now I have a pull list I’m happy with.

My monthly picks usually fall into four categories, so we’ll look at them that way.

Bat Books: Never have I been so close to dropping the main Batman books as I was in 2006 — not even when Jim Starlin was doing them. That whole business with Judd Winnick and the Red Hood led to some of the worst Batman I’d ever seen. I decided to hold out for One Year Later and was rewarded with Robinson, Dini and Morrison… but what really pleases me is that the fill-ins seem to be much better, too. That was a nice little Dr. Phosphorous story from Royal McGraw and Marcos Marz in Detective, and I am digging the Ostrander/Mandrake Batman as much as I am the Morrison/Kubert one. If this is the new policy — print fun stories and quit worrying about knitting them into the DC universe tapestry — I can’t endorse that heartily enough.

Legends of the Dark Knight is founded on that same philosophy, so it can stay. When I buy a Batman comic, I just want a plain Batman story, you know? That’s all I’m after. I don’t need the world-changing event or the historical continuity overview. I carry the history in my head already, I’m a fan for crying out loud. Simpler is always better.

The other Bat books took some hits. Robin got cut.

I think Adam Beechen is doing nice stories there but the bottom line is that I don’t care about Robin’s solo adventures. Just not into it. I prefer Robin with Batman, if we’re going to have Robin. When Batman was more of a presence in Robin’s book I liked it better, but all the Tim Drake high school angst stuff is like every other teen-hero book on the market, which is to say it all seems like warmed-over Spider-Man riffs from the Ditko days to me. The fun of Robin originally is that he was designed to be a viewpoint character for young readers, a way for kids to hang with Batman. If Robin’s not going to hang with Batman, what’s the point?

Nightwing was also very close to the chopping block but I decided to keep it at the last minute, when Marv Wolfman came on. After all, this is the guy that’s essentially created the modern Dick Grayson back in the pages of the old Titans book, and I still remember when I couldn’t wait to see how “The Judas Contract” played out. Plus I like to support books by the guys in my age bracket, who were trained to actually craft a full story in 22 pages. So far so good. I enjoyed this first four-issue arc and I’m provisionally on board as long as Wolfman’s doing it.

Birds of Prey is at the point where you can’t call it a Bat book with a straight face any more, but I still really like it. Gail Simone is doing a lot of fun stuff here but the single most awesome thing she accomplished on this book as far as I’m concerned is this: she made me like the Helena Bertinelli Huntress. For an old-school Earth-2 guy like me who was still vaguely peevish about losing Helena Wayne to the original Crisis editorial BS, that is a major coup. And she did it by taking what was there and progressing the character naturally, too. This is a book I wish more people would notice; it breaks so many of the conventional-wisdom rules about superheroes, and it does it in the best kind of way, the kind that comes from story-first thinking. Chuck Dixon set the tone for it and Gail has wisely chosen to simply follow through and progress what he laid down rather than fix a premise that wasn’t broken.

Other DC books: Lots of cuts here, sorry to say. But I’m just not going to keep buying books that I only kind of like, or that seem like they’re on the verge of getting better. That’s inertia buying and it’s probably the worst habit comics fans have, because it sends publishers the message that you like something when you don’t.

So Hawkgirl got the ax. I really wanted to like this book and it was always hovering right on the edge of being almost good. But… there’s just nothing there for me. As much as I admire Walt Simonson’s other stuff, he just didn’t seem to be bringing his A-game here, and Howard Chaykin is completely the wrong guy for this kind of book. Chaykin’s best work is always slick, noir, urban things. Hawkgirl should be a book that’s butting up the ancient against the modern, stories that come from ideas about reincarnation and archeology and the past impacting the present and so on and so forth. Somebody with a Joe Kubert/John Buscema/John Severin kind of sensibility… good at drawing ancient ruins, you know? The book should have the legacy vibe James Robinson brought to Starman. Hip-single-girl-in-the-city Hawkgirl is not my thing.

Green Lantern is another one that I wanted to like and I decided I just don’t. Clearly Geoff Johns is as enamored of the tough test-pilot version of Hal Jordan and the classic GL Corps as I am… but somehow it all feels completely joyless. As long as DC insists on treating Hal Jordan as a tragic figger of a man trying to atone for committing terrible crimes, it doesn’t matter WHAT book they put him in. It could be Green Lantern or the Spectre or they could make Hal the new Metamorpho and it still would be a huge drag. As long as we’re seeing morose-loner Hal the book is going to suck. It’s a shame, especially considering how Geoff Johns has killed himself for the last two years trying to do damage control. But the problem isn’t the continuity stuff. The problem is the tone. Green Lantern should be a fast-paced SF adventure with a sense of wonder and possibility. If you’re going to bring back Hal Jordan, bring back the real one — the confident, quick-thinking guy that had friends and a family and a life. This depressed, defensive hardcase that stars in the book now is not what I look for in a Green Lantern book. Kyle Rayner was more fun than this version.

On the other hand, speaking of joyless takes on Silver Age fun, I don’t mind Brad Meltzer messing with the League nearly as much as I would if I didn’t have JLA Classified. This is another unpretentious, fun idea for a book — get a rotating roster of different big-name creators to come tell a rousing Justice League adventure. This seems like a can’t-miss idea and so far it pretty much has been. Even at its worst the book has been the equivalent of a solid base hit, and occasionally you get a home run like Warren Ellis’ “New Maps of Hell.” I like JSA Classified for the same reason. Hell, these books aren’t even scared of running a humorous story once in a while. How’d something like that get on to the DC schedule?

Unpretentious fun also seems to be the new mission statement for the Superman office, which pleases me a great deal. All-Star Superman is a gimme — I wasn’t thrilled with the first couple of issues but the last four, with the self-contained done-in-one approach and the palpable sense of excitement throughout, sold me. I’m still not persuaded that it’s the Best Comic Ever but it is pretty damn good.

In all the shouting over All-Star, though, what gets lost is that the regular Superman books are also the most enjoyable they’ve been in a decade. Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco are doing some solidly entertaining stuff in Superman, and so help me I think this is the only run ever on a Super book to make the Superman-Lois marriage look like a real adult marriage between two grown-ups who love each other a lot, as opposed to a high-school kid’s idea of how married people act. Even better, Busiek has keyed in on the idea that the best way to challenge Superman is to give him a seemingly impossible moral dilemma. I love the premise for “Camelot Falls” and I enjoyed the clever post-apocalypse Metropolis illustration of it the last couple of issues. Action from Johns and Donner is not nearly as clever but on the other hand, I’m liking the idea of the son of Zod enough to hang in there a little longer. I’m primarily a Bat guy but it pleases me to have Superman books I can like, too. This last year, stuff like the Showcase reprint volumes and revisiting Lois & Clark on DVD and acquiring the Richard Donner cut of Superman II has reminded me of how much affection I still have for the big guy.

And then there’s 52. I loathed most all the spin-offs and tie-ins that had anything to do with Infinite Crisis but I admit I am enjoying this a great deal, and not just the Morrison Animal Man stuff either. I am enjoying Renee Montoya and Doc Magnus and Luthor and Supernova and de-powered Clark and pretty much everything except the Ralph Dibny-helmet of Fate subplot, which strikes me as taking a bad idea and finding new ways to make it even more wrongheaded. Plus, I can always make my wife laugh by holding up the book and gritting in my best Jack Bauer tones, “this comic takes place in real time.” Here’s something to take notice of, industry people — decompressed serialization works WAY better when the books come out weekly instead of monthly and stay on schedule, it doesn’t feel nearly as slow. The backup origin stories are a treat too. If DC ever decides to revive Who’s Who, that format would be a lot more fun than the nerd-index one they used before.

Marvel: Like most comics people would say, Civil War was the event of 2006 for me too… but not in a good way, at least not as far as my Marvel purchases were concerned. There were some great bits in the Stracynski tie-in story “The War At Home,” in Amazing Spider-Man… you could call it The Last Temptation of Peter Parker the way he’s got it set up, as someone pointed out here a couple of weeks ago. But overall, I just don’t believe in the premise of Civil War. It doesn’t make sense to me… and if I’m not buying into the idea, sorry, I’m not buying the book, either.

So I’m done with Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man for the time being, and there won’t be any more New Avengers trades for a while either. Oh well. More for the Essentials budget. The painlessness of cuts like this is a sure sign that the books had long been overstaying their welcome on the list. Say it with me, OCD fans — it’s okay to NOT know what’s going on in books you don’t like. Let it go.

Non-Civil War books fared a little better. Still on board for Dr. Strange: The Oath, which is just plain fun, and of course my student Tiffany and I are both happy to go the distance with the new White Tiger.

If either of these mini-series graduated to actual ongoing titles that weren’t promptly crippled by having to tie in to huge sweeping continuity dictums, that would be a happy thing.

The nice thing about the Marvel mainstream books is that if you get disgusted with how they are going they provide alternative versions. The Ultimate universe chugged merrily along the last year without any worries, but I made cuts here too. Honestly, I’m just not very interested in the X-Men any more. I buy Astonishing for Whedon and Cassaday but even that one’s kind of tottering on the brink — they have this outer-space arc to finish and then it’s make or break time for keeping it on the list. But at least I can tell you what’s going on in that book. Ultimate X-Men has not been memorable enough for me to tell you what happened in the last year’s worth of stories, which tells me that the magic is gone. And Bendis and Bagley are going to be done with Ultimate Spider-Man soon and so I probably will be too. It’s stupid to keep a monthly book I’m ambivalent about especially when it gets three or four different trade editions a year.

That leaves Ultimate Fantastic Four, which has blown hot and cold over the last year but has definitely been on the upswing. That one’s a keeper, no question.

Other stuff: Mostly this is various trade books and reprints that catch my eye, very little makes the pull-list. I still like True Story Swear to God very much despite the unpleasantness here from a few months back; I do feel ridiculously guilty saying so, though. And of course The Lone Ranger stays.

I really have nothing new to say about that book but I still really like it and I wanted to run the cool picture.

And that’s the pull list. Everything else is an impulse buy. I notice, scrolling up, that I keep coming back to the idea of fun books that don’t have to tie in to a bunch of other crap. Well, that’s the way I’m voting with my wallet, comics industry. Take heed! (Not that they will, but I find it’s an empowering thing to say.)

See you next week.

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