2006: MY LOOK BACK AT REVIEWS
Merry Christmas, Happy Boxing Day, and a belated joyous Festivus for the rest of you.
Welcome to the last column for the calendar year 2006. While everyone else is recounting their most interesting or "best" books of the year, I'm looking back at everything I've written this year and trying my best to sum it all up.
For starters, my intention at the beginning of the year to turn this into the kind of column that deals mostly in trades and hardcovers has failed miserably. There are a few reasons for this, mostly due to Real Life getting in the way. I still reviewed nearly thirty compilations, but I found myself reading more single issues this year than in recent memory. The funny thing is, I also bought less of them in 2006 than in years past. That just showed me how many comics I bought in the last couple of years that I never got around to reading. Sneaking a 22-page story into the cracks of free time in my day is a lot easier to do than the half hour to an hour that a hardcover collection or trade might demand. Sure, I don't need to read them in one sitting, but I think that's their purpose, more often than not. The reading experience is changed when you can read the entire story in one sitting. The second you need to break it up into more than one session is the minute something about the book changes.
Even more frustrating, though, is the number of thicker books that I read and never had the chance or the inclination to review. PRIDE OF BAGHDAD leads that pack, a wonderful book with a strong story that slipped through the cracks. If you don't have it yet, give it to yourself today as a belated birthday present. It's a beautiful and well-done piece of work.
That said, let's take a look at the books that I did review.
The sole DC book on the list:
I'm neck deep in DC THE NEW FRONTIER right now. There's no way to read that all in one sitting. For starters, it's pushing four hundred pages. But it's also a much slower read than I could ever sit through all at once. Maybe we'll see a review of that in the new year.
I think this meager listing is proof that the major continuity shakeup at DC didn't do much for me. It provided more jumping off points than jumping on.
Dark Horse fared better:
The former is duly noted for art by Rick Leonardi, one of the masters of the comics form who's so sadly seemed to have slipped through the cracks of comic-dom. The latter comes from the able pencil of the legendary and, even at that, underrated Gene Colan. Beautiful books, both.
Gemstone continues to pump out the Duck books, though at a much slower rate than they did at the beginning of the year. Let's cross our fingers and hope for a more profitable 2007 for all of them. I reviewed two of their titles in 2006:
There is, indeed, a second volume of those DuckTales stories now. In case you don't know, these are cheap trade paperbacks reprinting the classic Carl Barks stories that specific episodes of DuckTales were based on. If you're new to the world of Ducks but have fond memories of the animated series -- now partially available on two DVD releases -- then this is the book for you. See what made Barks so great, while reliving fond memories.
The latter didn't dredge up any memories for me, as I had never read EC's output before. What a pleasant time I had reading that monster of a hardcover! It only collects six issues of the classic series, but the oversized hardcover is a beautiful production and the stories range from the genius to the quaint. It's well worth the time I spent to read them, though at $50 for the volume, your wallet might dictate your reading habits.
Image had a varied triumvirate of reviews:
- Combat Zone: True Tales of GIs in Iraq
- Fantastic Four HC, Volume 3
- Kitty Pryde: Shadow and Flame
- Marvel Zombies
- New Avengers, Volume 2: Sentry
- New Avengers, Volume 3: Secrets and Lies
- New Avengers, Volume 4: The Collective
- New X-Men HC, Volume 3
- Runaways HC, Volume 1
- Secret War HC
- She-Hulk: Superhuman Law
- The Pulse, Volume 2: Secret War
- Wolverine: Origins and Endings
- First issue letters columns were tricky bits of business. Often, they would have the editor stepping up and talking about the creative team -- where they've come from, how good they are, and how exciting their plans are. Sometimes, a creator would write them to explain his or her appreciate for the character the book was about. Occasionally, you'd get an editor who'd go the extra mile and send out black and white previews of completed first issues to known letterhacks to get their opinions early for print in the first issue. I was never that lucky, honestly, save for the case of Malibu, but that's a bullet point for later.
Traditionally, the first attempt to drag letters out of readers was to hold a contest to name the letters column. Some readers would submit dozens, but the editors plowed their way through to the best. Those whose names were chosen received anything from original art to signed copies of the first issue to the thanks of a grateful editorial board. Your mileage, of course, did vary.
- MARVEL AGE had a rotating letters column banner every month. A new title for the column would be submitted by a reader, and the header image was stolen from some recent comic or lettered to the page.
- In the days of the Ultraverse, Malibu reached out the most to its fans and letterhacks. They actually had a program wherein selected readers -- I imagine the readers were chosen from the letter writers they had received missives from -- would receive all sorts of nifty previews and "fan club" types of materials. Yes, I was one of them. They'd send black and white previews of upcoming issues to see what you thought. They'd have little surveys along with them, and ask for comments. I can remember a line-wide dictate being put into place to use brighter colors on the covers based on readership response.
But they also sent goodies, including posters and even hologram cover versions of their comics. I think I have a hologram HARDCASE #1. Back then, those books were worth upwards of $100. Nowadays, I think they're worth $5 if you could find someone to buy one from you. Good luck.
- Sam Kieth combined two or three of my letters into one for an early THE MAXX letters column. Erik Larsen once published three letters of mine in the same issue of THE SAVAGE DRAGON. I became a running gag in a letters column there that spanned multiple pages. That was likely my fault for being late in writing some of them.
- A letter of mine that appeared in X-FORCE was butchered up pretty badly. As I recall, I had a series of numbered points or questions in that letter, and they edited all but one out. That would be fine, except my closing echoed my first point, and I just looked redundant when the two were placed one after the other. As a nice bonus, though, Marvel Editorial sent me the paste-up board used on that issue. I still have it somewhere.
You see, kids, back in the day before computers, the letters columns were printed out and pasted up on a page of art board. The printers would take a picture of that page and then print it in the comic book, effectively. Sadly, the glue on the paste-up boards isn't holding up as well as the staples in those original issues.
- My only other appearance in an X-family title was a Jim Lee-drawn adjectiveless X-MEN. It was the issue with Ghost Rider in New Orleans, as I recall. I think that may be the top-selling book of all time that saw a letter of mine.
- Yes, that's me in YOUNGBLOOD #3 indulging in some of my most embarrassing fanboy tendencies from the time. I still think YOUNGBLOOD was ahead of its time, even if the actual execution of the ideas was somewhat lacking. But that letter, seen nearly 15 years later, makes me cringe. That's the problem with a paper trail. . .
- I think I've linked to the site in this column before, but here's a nifty page of letters column miscellany. There's a tribute there to T.M. Maple and a series of pages of letters column header scans.
- Letters columns took a hit when computers came on the scene for pre-production. Remember how the early computer lettering jobs often used lots of excessive colors in the backgrounds of caption boxes or fonts? Remember how early Photoshop computer coloring used way too many gradients and special effects (lens flares)? Letters columns had the same problem, as editors learned ways to throw images up in the background behind pages or text, or color the pages way too darkly for black letters to read clearly off of.
- DC moved the letters column headers to the left side of the page by the mid-90s. I've never done the math on it, but I'm fairly certain that took up more room that placing the header in its traditional top-of-the-page position, thus killing a letter off per column.
- I don't think the letters columns died when Marvel and DC stopped publishing them. I think they were dead of apathy before then, killed by editors who just didn't care. In a day and age when e-mail made the process of putting together a letters column into a ten minute task, there's no excuse for the boring letters columns we had by the late 90s. Part of me wonders if that's a generational thing. A generation of fans grew up to be editors, and took care of the fans through the letters columns. The next generation of fans wanted to grow up to be writers and artists, settled for editing positions, and just did what they had to do until they could write that year's ANNUAL book. They didn't think about the letters column as being part of the book. It was just the creative side that interested them.
- And a quick nod to fellow NJ hack Joe Marchese, who read my column and wrote in out of the blue. Honestly, I swear, I'm going to e-mail you back!
While I enjoyed all three, I think FIVE FISTS wins the day. Any comic that sends me to Barnes & Noble to pick up an anthology of Mark Twain short stories is a good book.
In the end, this is the year I had to choose a side. I clearly chose Marvel:
Yes, I have indeed reviewed every premiere edition hardcover of Brian Bendis' NEW AVENGERS. Here's the first volume review.
RUNAWAYS hooked me on the series. I tried to read the digest-sized reprints first, but my old and tired eyes couldn't handle the awful printing quality eating up the colors. The second hardcover just came out a couple of weeks ago, and I look forward to delving into that in the new year. With Joss Whedon stopping by for a very short run in 2007, I don't think I'll be alone.
I've fallen behind on my SHE-HULK reading of late. The art teams haven't excited me very much, sorry to say.
SECRET WAR was a curious book -- the packaging misled me in my reading speed for the book. Because they printed the unnecessary filler SHIELD Files text pages at the end, the story actually finished about 60 pages before the end of the book. That jolted me quite a bit. I didn't expect the ending to be so far from the back cover, and my expectations and reading experience were changed due to that. That's a personal problem, not a professional condemnation. But I can't not note it.
MARVEL ZOMBIES and KITTY PRYDE were both worthy efforts from their respective creators, though.
Let's just lump everyone else in together:
QUEST and MODEL OPERANDI were very fun books, in wildly different ways. MAKESHIFT MIRACLE was a more introspective piece. STREET FIGHTER gave you just what you expected from it. MODERN MASTERS continues to be the finest series of books being released in comics today. The latest edition features Mike Wieringo. Clearly, I don't review enough of these books, as good as they are. I know I read at least the John Byrne and Walter Simonson editions this year, though I never reviewed them formally. And DICK TRACY is a great reprint of some classic comics, even though the choice of cover designs was unfortunate. Hopefully, they'll clean that up for any future volumes.
With any luck, I'll have a longer list to review next year at this time. There's a shelf on my bookcase with plenty of unread material for future columns. Maybe it's time to dig in.
ADVENTURES IN LETTERHACKING
Earlier in the month, I devoted a column to the long lost art of the letters column. I had some very nice reactions to it, so I thought I'd share a few more random thoughts on the topic before putting it to bed.
There's always something worth talking about at The Pipeline Podcast.
My blog, Various and Sundry is looking all new and is still updating daily without fail. Seriously, there are days I just load up the front page to enjoy the new look. It's mine now, you know? It might be primitive and monotone, but it's MINE, dangit!
More than 700 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.