Here are a bunch of comics from this year I thought were awesome and worth talking about. “Best of” list forthcoming.
Batman Incorporated (Chris Burnham, the ghost of Shotaro Ishinomori)
I love that the moment Chris Burnham got a chance to write a fill-in issue of Batman Incorporated he came up with the most berserk thing he possibly could, teaming with artist Jorge Lucas to come up with a hybrid of Batman, Kamen Rider and Jack Kirby in telling a one-off story featuring the Batman of Japan. It’s weird and energetic and has a lady with tigers for fists whose name is Lady Tiger Fist. People say Grant Morrison comics are weird, but I think this issue outdoes Morrison. I wish this comic wasn’t out of the ordinary; I wish ALL superhero comics were this nuts.
The most heartbreaking thing about this issue is finding out that they planned to do several fill-ins during the series but the rest never ended up happening. We could have had more insane Chris Burnham Batman comics.
Villains Month: Joker #1 (Andy Kubert, some non-Kubert artist, maybe Andy Clarke)
Two guys better known for illustrating than writing both made completely bonkers Batman one-shots this year. Andy Kubert’s Joker spotlight was a bit more subdued, which made it all the more strange as he scripts a story about Joker raising a gorilla as if it were his child. I don’t have a whole lot to say about this issue except that you’d think the surefire bestselling Joker issue would be all grimdark Heath Ledgerisms and David Fincher set dressing but the story’s actually pretty Silver Age-y. Ballsy move, DC Entertainment.
Shaolin Cowboy (Geof Darrow)
Pretty sure this comic has always been about Shaolin Cowboy killing legions of bad guys with minimal plot, and that approach hits its apex in this new miniseries, wherein Cowboy spends an entire issue-and-a-half chainsawing zombies in two-tier widescreen two-page spreads. It surely made some people mad but I’d rather read 40 pages of Geoff Darrow art than 20 pages of some dumb crossover tie-in that nobody wanted to do.
Katana #1 (Anne Nocenti + Alex Sanchez)
In a critical field where the lowest score tends to be a 3 out of 5, Katana #1 is a book that actually managed to score pretty low with the usual mediocre lot of comic reviewers who can’t handle anything even remotely outre unless properly delineated like The Manhattan Projects. Me, I gave it five stars and proclaimed it comic book of the year.
DC puts out a lot of mediocre, irrelevant superhero comics that accomplish nothing, but Katana was a standout. A solo series created exclusively to synergize with a new Justice League book, Ann Nocenti made sure that she made something more art movie than Aquaman, where a superhero wakes up from a sex dream about her archenemy to caress her eponymous sword that contains the soul of her dead husband. It’s really weird, and an underrated kind of weird, at that.
I’m kind of glad it was cancelled so now I can track down all the issues for cheap.
Task Force Rad Squad #1 (Caleb Goellner + Buster Moody)
I’m not sure why I like Powder Rangers. I think it’s because they’re superheroes taken to a ridiculous extreme with poses and the addition of robots. As an adult, the actual Powder Rangers show is a thing I watch and make fun of, but I’ve got a fascination with the original Japanese versions without the American actors. I haven’t seen much of them but they seem much stranger.
Caleb likes the Powder Rangers way more than I do because he made a comic about it called Task Force Rad Squad. It’s not quite a parody, but he and Buster Moody take the basic premise of Powder Rangers and have fun remixing it while staying loyal to what it is with all the color coded costumes and specifically themed monsters of the week. I hope they make more of it.
Gamma (Ulises Farinas + Eric Freitas)
This one goes alongside Task Force Rad Squad. Gamma is a hybrid of a western and otaku culture following a disgraced Pokemon master who lets people at saloons punch him in the face for money. It’s the best version of those “what if Voltron was a gritty drama” fan trailers, but because it’s way more cheeky and self-aware.
Uncanny Avengers (Rick Remender + John Cassaday + Daniel Acuna + Olivier Coipel + Steve McNiven + Probably Some Others)
This is probably the most straightforward superhero comic I’ll be writing about, but I’m really into Uncanny Avengers. It’s the “let’s put the X-Men and Avengers on the same team in the wake of Avengers vs. X-Men” book, but so far it’s existed in its own self-contained world, surprisingly free of crossover tie-ins. I’m sure it’s just doing its thing in order to set up next year’s big crossover, but for now I like having this superhero comic where half the team hates the other half and I don’t have to read anything else to keep up with it. I really like that the X-Men and the Avengers hate one another, I hope it’s always like that.
I gave up on Hickmans’ Avengers books because the pacing was killing me, but Remender’s the kind of writer who tends to create immediacy in his comics over assuming that the readers will stick around for the payoff. I don’t know if anyone actually cares about this book, but I’m finding it pretty rockin’. To be honest, I really feel like Uncanny Avengers is closer to Fear Agent than Black Science is.
Jupiter’s Legacy (Mark Millar + Frank Quitely)
Mostly reading this for Frank Quitely’s art, where he’s totally at the top of his game. But it’s also the best work Millar’s done in a really long time. I haven’t really liked any of the glorified movie pitches he’s done for Icon but it looks like he’s finally realizing he can be a comic book creator at Image, or at least he seems to want to write things that will look cool when Goran Parlov draws ‘em. Jupiter’s Legacy isn’t necessarily anything we haven’t read before — superhero celebrities, ultraviolence, legacy characters that don’t live up — but it’s in a lively package.
Hawkeye (Matt Fraction + David Aja + Annie Wu + Other Amazing People)
This one’s pretty much to be expected in any vaguely mainstream minded list of good comics this year, but I’m truly in awe of Hawkeye’s cult status — it’s PERCEPTION. I think it’s partially because it’s been allowed to develop its own world and idiosyncratic vocabulary unlike any other mainstream superhero comic, and unlike most other mainstream comics (PERIOD), it’s taken the opportunity to do so. It’s only like 15 issues in, but it’s got myriad in-jokes, quotable moments and specific iconic references the fans can cosplay as. That’s incredible to me, because nobody does that for X-Force or even stuff like Hellboy or Morning Glories, from what I’ve seen. There’s a bit of that in Saga, but that’s the closest thing.
I guess there’s a certain “meme-bility” to these books. The moment an old lady made Captain Marvel a cap, fans were knitting their own versions like living 3D printers. All that counts for something, and it’s not a cynical act, either — it’s just that the creators are having fun on what feels like their own terms, and that’s generally infectious, and luckily the fans have something to latch onto to show their support.
But none of this has to do with the quality of the book. It’s fun and consistent. I feel like it gets delayed a lot but it’s worth the wait.
Superior Foes of Spider-Man (Nick Spencer + Steve Lieber)
Superior Foes is a solid companion to Hawkeye, a fringe superhero book with lots of clever shit in it, except this time it’s Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber. I slept on this book for months, but I heard from Dylan Todd that it’s basically a sitcom about supervillains being stupid, and that seemed right up my alley. Stories about the villains are typically more fun, anyway.
Having read the first five issues in one go, I can verify that this the most underrated book Marvel puts out, a successor to Jeff Parker’s Thunderbolts and not just because it follows that Boomerang guy. Spencer’s eschewing the vague conspiracy stuff that’s come to characterize a lot of his comics output — this is closer to Forgetless than Morning Glories — and the result is really fun bad guy hijinx where Lieber draws a lot of cute visual jokes in the process. Spencer’s scripting doesn’t always work — there’s an occasional over-wordy sentence or clunky bit or forced reference— but it seems like he’s having the most fun he’s ever had in comics.
– Danny Djeljosevic