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Saturday’s Annual Inventory – 2012 edition

by  in Comic News Comment
Saturday’s Annual Inventory – 2012 edition

Suddenly I’m seeing a bunch of articles in the comics press about how it’s been a year since DC launched their whole “New 52” thing, and that reminded me– it’s been about a year since I did my annual look at my pull list. So today, let’s do that.

Again, this was a year where I inched closer to being a trades-only guy. But I’m not there yet– there are still a few titles I can’t bring myself to wait for, though the list gets shorter every year.

Since it was DC’s New 52 anniversary that brought it to mind, I guess I’ll start there. Frankly, they did not impress me over the last year, but I’m still hanging in there with a couple of their monthly books.

Aquaman is a keeper. I should point out, though, that this is absolutely a title that I would normally be doing a wait-for-the-trade thing on, except for one thing– it’s Aquaman.

Longtime DC fans know exactly what I’m talking about. Any time an Aquaman ongoing book lasts beyond four years, we are honestly amazed.

Here's a weird factoid-- DC has stopped and restarted his book so often, it is actually possible to own almost twice as many LAST issues of Aquaman as it is FIRST issues.

Which is to say, I don’t trust DC not to cancel it at the drop of a hat the second Geoff Johns gets bored with it and moves on. I am voting with my wallet; I want Aquaman to have an ongoing series at DC.

So how’s the book itself? Solid superhero stuff. I’ve always said that Geoff Johns is much better at doing just a regular monthly adventure book than he is doing the EPIC WORLD-CHANGING EVENT!! stuff, and so far, so good. I’m not crazy about the Secret Hidden Chapter of Aquaman’s Past that drives the current arc, and I wish Johns would get over his need to demonstrate that Aquaman is a dangerous badass. But those are minor things and I’m still on board with this book for the time being.

The art from Ivan Reis is… well, it’s not wildly innovative or anything, but it is really good, finely-crafted adventure stuff. It looks pretty, it tells the story, and Mr. Reis is just as good with the meat-n-potatoes of storytelling as he is at giving readers a visual treat. In an earlier era, he’d have been a superstar; as it is, he’s just doing excellent work in the same school as guys like Neal Adams or Brent Anderson. The style Ivan Reis works in is so familiar to modern readers that I think we overlook how good the guy really is.

Here’s my one caveat. If I am honest, I have to admit that Aquaman is a comic that is absolutely constructed to be read in trade paperback, it runs in a six-issue cycle. Which means that when you get to the third and fourth issues in that cycle, it feels a little padded. But overall, I’m still enjoying it.

Batman and Batman and Robin are, I think, destined for the chopping block, and it’s basically because of that same six-issue cycle thing. There’s no way in hell DC will throw Batman under a bus the way they’ve routinely done with Aquaman, so there’s no need for a wallet vote there, and if they’re going to insist on doing crossovers with books I’m not buying, then screw it.

Sorry, DC, but the Owls thing got old real fast for me.

The whole “Night of the Owls” business just left me cold. I do like what Peter Tomasi is doing with Batman and Robin, but not well enough that I want to keep it as a monthly pull title. I suspect that there will definitely be trade collections of it anyway, and I’d rather keep up that way if I decide to keep up. Right now I’m leaning towards not keeping up, but we’ll see.

Nightwing… well, that was a wallet vote, too, but I am just not feeling it. Sorry, guys.

I want to like Dick Grayson’s book. Really, I do. I love the idea of Nightwing. I love the concept of the grown sidekick, the only well-adjusted member of the Bat squad, the guy members of the Justice League take aside and ask about how to deal with Batman. There is so much potential there.

But the only guy to really pick up that ball and run with it was Peter Tomasi. Everyone else has this idiot idea that Nightwing needs to be DISTANCED from the Bat books, that the key to making the book successful is to “make Dick Grayson his own man.” I’ve lost count of the writers who’ve made that point in interviews and it always makes me crazy.

One more time for slow students– The thing that makes Nightwing unique is the Batman connection. Take that away and what’s left? Not much. Higgins and Barrows are doing serviceable superhero stories here, they’re not bad stories in and of themselves– but there’s nothing about them that couldn’t just as easily be done with Daredevil or the Ted Kord Blue Beetle or any of a dozen other non-powered spandex guys. That’s not enough to keep it on the list, I’m afraid.

Last year when I went through the list I was roundly jeered for including Voodoo, but you know what? I like it.

It's not Great Literature or anything but I like the space espionage-cloning-secret war plot, and it's not really a T&A book like everyone swore it would be.

I completely missed Voodoo’s Wildstorm incarnation and so I have no investment in the character beyond what I’ve seen in the last year. I was sorry to see Ron Marz go but new writer Josh Williamson has some interesting things going on, and I really love the whole space-war, secret spies, X-Files vibe of the thing. There’s no real hero– I’m not even sure if Voodoo is the star of the book or if it’s Priscilla, the woman she was cloned from. As the story of the secret invasion unfolds, each lady is getting about an equal amount of attention and so far the idea of dual protagonists working at cross purposes has been entertaining.

I’m still ambivalent about the idea of doing this as an ongoing– it feels much more like a long-form single story, and if the alien invasion plotline drags on too long then everyone is going to look stupid. If you are setting up your story to be about an alien invasion and you keep raising the stakes, readers get more invested in the idea of somebody actually achieving victory. Stall on that too long and people get annoyed. (Same reason ABC should never have tried to do V as a weekly series.) And though technically the book is set firmly in the DC universe, there’s not a lot of spandex types running around, and that’s how it should be. I’d still like it better if it wasn’t in the DCU at all, but at least Mr. Williamson had the good sense to keep the JLA away from the proceedings. Sami Basri’s art is still a little too pretty for all the blood and thunder the book’s got going on, but it’s good art nevertheless. This one stays on the roster. Or it would have, if I hadn’t just found out– literally, just now, looking for some scans to run with this– that the book is about to be canceled. Apparently the upcoming #0 issue is the last. Guess that solves the whole how-to-do-this-as-an-ongoing-series problem. Sigh.

And that’s really it for me and DC. I dumped Savage Hawkman when Liefeld got it, and they canceled Mr. Terrific, so that’s where it stands. Haven’t added any DC books in the last year, so cutting the Bat books means it’s a net loss of five, and with Voodoo about to get the ax that makes it six. Out of seven. Not good.

I have added a number of non-DC books to the list, though. In terms of monthly comics, the new Daredevil is a never-miss title for me.

I could say it’s a wallet vote as well, but the truth is that I just can’t stand to wait for it. There have been hundreds of words written about how great a job Mark Waid has been doing writing this book and I don’t see the need to rehash it all again, except that everyone praising it to the skies has good reason to do so. It’s the kind of fun superhero adventure book that used to be the norm and not an anomaly.

The new Star Trek book from IDW was a nice surprise for us.

I say “us” because Julie enjoys this one too, and will often grab it out of my hands whenever I come home with the current one. The conceit behind the book is that it’s the new crew– that is to say, this is an ongoing featuring the adventures of the movie’s Starship Enterprise, with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto and so on– but they are doing revamped, new-timeline versions of classic Star Trek stories like “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and “The Galileo Seven” and so on. There is the occasional original like “Vulcan’s Vengeance,” as well.

It was a little embarrassing when I was reading this and suddenly burst out, 'Holy shit, they're doing WHERE NO MAN HAS GONE BEFORE!' Julie said, 'With the silver-eyed guy?' and when I nodded she was instantly on board.

Mike Johnson’s scripts are tight and well-constructed and I never feel like I’m getting short weight. The art’s good– I like how Stephen Molnar can do likenesses and still move and pose them organically, it never feels like he’s lightboxing anything. But what I like most about this new Star Trek book is its unpretentiousness. The stories so far have all been two-parters, there’s no padding with an eye towards an eventual trade collection. It’s just an entertaining comic book that’s found an interesting way to hit my nostalgia button while still feeling fresh. Works for me.

In going over the list, though, the point I made a few weeks ago still stands. The comics publisher that somehow has become the one I get more books from than any other is Dynamite.

I’ve talked in this space already about how much I adored the new modern-day take on The Spider.

I still do. I won’t go over it all again except to say that you really do not have to be up on the originals to enjoy this, any more than you have to be an expert Holmesian to enjoy the BBC’s Sherlock. It stands on its own, though there are numerous added layers of fun if you do happen to be familiar with Richard Wentworth’s original pulp incarnation. David Liss and Colton Worley are just rocking it here. End of story.

I don’t love the new Shadow book from Dynamite quite as much as I do The Spider— but I do still like it a lot.

It’s just straight-up classic Shadow pulp mystery, done with the advantage of historical hindsight. We haven’t seen that much of the wartime-era Lamont Cranston in either the comics or the actual pulp reprint books, and I think that was a good thing for Garth Ennis to key in on when he set about plotting this new series. Aaron Campbell’s doing a good job on the art side of things, though his ink line’s maybe a little TOO heavy; there’s a difference between ‘shadowed’ and murky, and I think a little less murk would make it easier to read. There’s a fine line between atmopsherically moody and just plain too dark.

The Lone Ranger continues to be my favorite current monthly comic. Ande Parks and Esteve Polls are just killing it; the wrapup to “Hard Country” was great stuff.

I really have been waiting my whole life for a Lone Ranger this good. And Chuck Dixon on deck for the new SNAKE OF IRON? AWESOME. If there is anyone in comics born to write a Lone Ranger story, it's Chuck Dixon.

They are giving us a Lone Ranger every bit as heroic and uncompromisingly decent as Clayton Moore was on TV all those years ago, but they’ve put him in the dusty, gritty milieu of a Sergio Leone spaghetti Western. It really works.

Of course anyone who’s read this column for any length of time knew that Dynamite’s The Bionic Man and The Bionic Woman had me at hello. I had to give those a try.

Well OF COURSE I put these on my pull list.

I really didn’t expect to enjoy them as much as I have, though, especially since I was not a fan of the Kevin Smith screenplay these comics derive from. But Phil Hester has done a great job adapting The Bionic Man to comics, and somehow it’s a lot more believable in a comic than it would be in a movie. The art from Jonathan Lau amazes me– he manages to evoke the look of both Lee Majors and Richard Anderson from the original TV show, but he’s not doing likenesses.

The Bionic Woman is only a couple of issues in, but I like the tone they’re reaching for– a Jaime Sommers that is recognizable to old-school fans of the TV show like me, but planted in a spy vs. spy environment reminiscent of a Jason Bourne movie.

European spies about to get a cybernetic ass-kicking, courtesy of the re-imagined Bionic Woman.

Paul Tobin’s scripts are hitting exactly the right note for a guy like me that loves pulp adventure, and though Leno Carvalho’s art is new to me I think it’s pretty good, especially the kineticism he gives the action scenes. Hoping both these books last a while.

I am also picking up some more Dynamite books in trade as they come out– Dark Shadows I talked about in an earlier column, and the new Green Hornet from Ande Parks and Jonathan Lau just kind of sneaked up on me. I bought the first Hornet trade on impulse and liked it, and then the second, and just came home with the fourth a few days ago.

I bought these on a whim and decided I liked each one enough to keep up with the trade editions.

And I’ve also been reading Zorro in trade and liking it a lot.

These are just straightforward swashbuckling Zorro tales but Matt Wagner does a nice job of ringing changes on the theme.

As long as I’m talking about trade editions, I should probably add that I’ve dropped most of the Marvel books I was following that way; the Big Event stuff like A vs. X and Fear Itself make those decisions incredibly easy. The quickest way to get me to drop a book is to include it in some big crossover mess. I decided I’d rather spend the money on older stuff that’s getting remaindered than stay current, for the most part. The ones I am hanging on to are Captain America, Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man, and I added Fantastic Four, FF, and Avengers Academy.

Hickman is doing great stuff with FF, and AVENGERS ACADEMY is a delightful return to the kind of team-book adventure with soap opera stuff I remember from my youth.

And I keep up with the Planet of the Apes trade collections from Boom Studios.

I have a soft spot for those damn dirty apes.

This all sounds like a lot, but you have to remember that it’s generally only two trade collections a year for each series, which is quite manageable and much easier on my bank account than getting the monthly versions would be.

And there you have it. Really it was Dynamite’s year, at least for me. I don’t know why they’ve taken it upon themselves to try and license everything I liked in the Bronze Age but it’s sure working for me. If I’m going to let nostalgia drive my comics purchases– and admittedly that’s what gave me the initial impulse to check many of these comics out– I’d much rather see genuinely new takes on old favorites like we’ve been getting on Green Hornet or Bionic Woman or The Spider. Likewise with IDW’s Star Trek and Boom’s Planet of the Apes. Those books combine the best of the old and the new. That’s how you do it.

See you next week.

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