A bunch of comics came out in 2014 and I forgot about most of them. I read Seconds, that was good? Either way, here’s some comics I wanted to talk about as well as a few that made me think about MAJOR TOPICS in the comics world, which is a very important world indeed. COOL. ALRIGHT.
This is literally the only superhero comic book you need, a manga about a lower-tier superhero (there’s a ranking hierarchy) who has the superpower to DESTROY any threat with one punch, which I’m convinced is a Justice League International reference. It would be appropriate, because One and Yusuke Murata’s One-Punch Man is simultaneously an exciting superhero action comic and a legitimately funny comedy. That’s what JLI got right back in the day — the superhero stuff was as expertly executed as the jokes.
One-Punch Man is the perfect blending of Akira Toriyama and Spider-Man, a comic book for the recovering superhero obsessive. And it’s hilarious.
The Lizard Laughed
Noah Van Sciver always surprises. While it may be tempting to pidgeonhole him as “the historical nonfiction guy” — just going off of The Hypo, City of Whiskey and Fire, The Death of Elijah Lovejoy — that would be stupid because you’d be leaving out stuff like this year’s The Lizard Laughed, one of his strongest works yet despite the humbly spare back cover blurb (“The Lizard Laughed is the story of an estranged father and son.”)
A young man visits the father who ran out back when he was in single digits, and the result is two men who kinda-sorta know one another awkwardly trying to relate — one who seems to have found out the man he is, and one who’s still trying to figure it out. With its strong central metaphor of an eponymous rock formation with mythological significance, The Lizard Laughed is not only an unsentimental look at fathers and sons, but also a tale of the dangers we risk when we refuse to evolve.
Whoever came up with this had a good idea. The thing about Zen Pencils is that, despite the mockery that comics deservedly gets, that guy is actually a pretty good artist who can shift his style as each new strip calls for it. What sucks about that guy is that he’s using it not only for inspirational greeting card nonsense — the kind of crap I always used to talk my parents out of sending to young relatives — but sentimental bullshit that often borders on plagiarism.
So some other guy took panels from Zen Pencils and remixed them with tweets from @dril and it was way funnier than those comic strips that illustrate tweets on purpose. The Zen Pencils guy took offense and wasn’t a dick about it and so Dril Pencils decided to cool it and apply the joke to other strips, which don’t work as well because classic formula Dril Pencils was the perfect collision between sincere irony and insincere treacle.
While it lasted, it was transcendent.
This is literally the only superhero comic book you need. Never mind that it’s a Japanese cartoon — it’s a better exploration of the genre than most superhero comics that try the same, and it encompasses myriad aspects of it: Kick-Ass style DIY vigilantism, Kamen Rider themed gadgetry, Power Rangers teamwork, Dark Knight meta-absurdist grit, Sailor Moon frilly dresses, and every comic where the President turns out to be the bad guy.
Story-wise, the entire series is like reading a great run of cape comics where each story arc sets up the next one yet is way more dynamic than expected, rewarding those viewers who stick with it by switching up its status quo when you least expect it. It starts out as a cartoon about a silly man who puts on a costume at night and is instantly regarded as a pervert, but it doesn’t stay that way.
In the end, it’s a story about two guys who love one another very much.
The problem with these hyped-up superheroine series — see Marvel, both Ms. and Captain — is that they’re not allowed to exist on their own terms. They get announced, the excited thinkpieces fly, the sexists and the out-of-touch expose themselves to self-congratulating Twitter mockery, and their release comes enveloped with the anxiety of “If this fails, we’re never, ever, ever going to get another one.” Come whatever random Wednesday it comes out on, fans express disappointment that a Big Two superhero comic doesn’t fit their platonic ideals of what this book was supposed to be. Imagine if you were born and everybody said “This baby sucks, why isn’t it the President?”
But, for the purposes of what I want to talk about, this particular issue of this particular comic book is a laudable work — it’s entertaining, but more importantly, it defiantly does not give a shit what the average aging superhero comic book fanboy is interested in. It involves a female character (✔) defeating a gang of cosplaying (✔) bikers by remembering how her favorite anime (✔) character got out of a bind. Kind of reminds me how Morrison/Stewart’s Manhattan Guardian beat a golem by remembering trivia from an old trading card. But these are things that the traditional comics reader would balk at, ignorant of their impending obsolescence. GOD BLESS
One of the big problems with mainstream comic books is that too many creators share too many interests — crime novels, HBO, Portland, Alan Moore, screenwriting, Los Angeles — so it’s refreshing to see a superhero comic that feels like its creators watched Girls instead of The Wire and read Sailor Moon instead of Watchmen. This is our first taste of what the future of comics is going to be like.
Here’s the thing about these comics — they don’t exist for the reason you’re assuming. This thing, for example, came out and people got up in arms about a variant cover by Milo Manara, and people were like “How is this supposed to appeal to female readers???” The answer is, well, it’s a comic book drawn by Greg Land, so obviously the only women being considered were the ones being swiped from glamor mags. And when this issue finally showed up in stores, it was a tie-in to a Spider-Man crossover, which is a great way to get Spider-Man readers to hop aboard for a few issues but a terrible way to get newcomers interested. This is a comic that exists to fill a quota, and we shouldn’t be hanging ALL of our hopes on corporate superhero comics to be progressive, anyway.
Just the other day Marvel announced that they were giving this Jessica Drew version of Spider-Woman a new costume for the first time in like 40 years, along with a new, less gross art team — in issue #5. Captain Marvel became an accidental phenomenon with a passionate subset of fans, signaling to creators to convince their bosses that fans want stronger, less pornographic iterations of female superhero characters — Ms. Marvel, Batgirl — and we still screw up simple things like “relaunch the series and give her a new costume in issue #1.” We do know that Fantastic Four took a while to put them in the costumes because “Marvel Comics superhero” wasn’t yet a cultural institution, right?
I’m starting to think you don’t necessarily go into comics if you want to make money.
i love those little guys
Bitch Planet #1
The dangers of premature hyperbole were revealed to me when Bitch Planet debuted. Granted, the hype was worthy — the comic has a killer title and DeConnick’s work is a thing that I tend to enjoy. The comic itself is fine — the art is pretty good, the story deals out some of the promising themes we can expect the book to be working with, and the setting is something that isn’t seen all that often in comics. It’s Orange is the New Black meets Lockout? But it’s one issue that hasn’t even fully gotten to the comic’s gladiatorial element yet, and it seems unfair to judge something so early either way. It’s WAY too early, and downright critically irresponsible, to be saying stuff like this after 20-something pages and a vague cliffhanger. Nothing should have that kind of expectation placed on it.
Look, I’m no stranger to hyperbole. I used to be a serious comic book reviewer before I became a creator who craps out infrequent, random missives for his own website. Were you there when Prophet first came out? How about Adventure Time? Those are great series, but they had to become great series with subsequent installments. Detention became my favorite movie five seconds into it. Conversely, I was initially very excited about that Wood/Cloonan Conan the Barbarian comic but I gave up like ten issues in, for various reasons. I want to talk about Bitch Planet because it’s the hot new topic but I keep going back to “I don’t know, it isn’t really ANYTHING yet.”
I guess what I’m getting at is that critical enthusiasm and hatred should be measured; reviewers are too damn quick to canonize or damn serialized entertainment just to be the one to shout “First!!” I know everybody needs their clicks, but everyone should try to be more aware of what they’re working with and what their limitations are when reviewing things one installment at a time. Series tend to evolve, and to put it in nerd terms — if this culture was around in the 1990s Buffy the Vampire Slayer would not have lasted past Season One.
Superior Iron Man
This comic book should not have been written by a white man. This was Marvel’s chance– they announced a black Captain America and a female Thor that got some criticism for still being written by white guys, but that choice was KIND OF okay because they were the big-name talent that were already working on those properties. Meanwhile, Iron Man was being vacated by its current big-name white dude and they could have put ANYBODY in the position to work on the continuing adventures of jerk-ass Steve Jobs.
It’s not that hard — and hey, hiring not-a-white-man to write the white man superhero comic would have at least flipped the script a little, since the white guys are doing those above mentioned books. Here’s a list of creators who have worked on comic books with bar codes on the covers: G. Willow Wilson, Doselle Young, Marjorie Liu, Noelle Stevenson, Christopher Priest, Kathryn Immonen. Jimmie Robinson? Comics about horrible people are his forte; he could do a PG version of Bomb Queen in his sleep. I would straight up admit to killing the security lady and, oh, what’s that guy, the maintenance man, for another pit sandwich, lotta horseradish, and if it meant there being an Iron Man comic written by Ann Nocenti. You’d have to publish it through Marvel MAX, but it’d be worth it.
No disrespect to the guy who actually wrote it. Superior Iron Man — the version we got — is basically “what if Tony Stark was Danger Diabolik” and I’m 100% okay with that. It’s fun even if it looks like it was drawn by the same guy who draws the Avengers comics they put in cereal boxes. If Iron Man remained a chaotic neutral scamp it’d be great — I do not even remotely give a shit about heroes acting heroically, so a decadent comic about some asshole with a mustache punishing every cell phone user in San Francisco is basically what I’ve been using these days instead of porn.
Looks cool, I should read it sometime
Catchphrase Dog Unleashed
My roommate gets several hundred tumblr notes off of this cutesy shit while I toil in obscurity????????????
Everything Boulet Drew, Even the Stuff That Didn’t Come Out This Year
Stokoe’s Avengers 100th Anniversary
For some reason Marvel squeaked out a variation on DC One Million in the form of one-shots that attempted to imagine what Marvel’s big properties would be like 100 years from now. Nobody read them — a combination of zero PR effort and the fact that half of them were made by randos — but somebody smuggled in James Stokoe to do an insane Avengers comic that didn’t even remotely resemble a Marvel comic, much less an Avengers comic, except that Rogue and Beta Ray Bill were in it.
Your New Year’s Resolution should be “buy everything James Stokoe does.”
This is literally the only superhero comic you need. Never mind that it’s an hour-long wrestling show on Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey network — it’s full of way cooler superheroes and supervillains than most of those comics you like who have incredible fake backstories that are conveyed as the god’s honest truth, complete with a sinister M. Bison-like owner who pays them to fight in some kind of temple-themed basement (?). There’s a dude named MIL MUERTES who’s billed as from “Beyond the Grave” and who lost his entire family in an earthquake. There’s a different dude named Drago who is not only a nunchuck expert but is also seriously a reincarnated dragon from King Arthur times. Don’t even get me started on the hunter-themed luchador.
Those Stupid One-Shots Shaky Kane Did
DA GAWD Shaky Kane put out two one-shot comics this year, Cap’n Dinosaur and That’s Because You’re a Robot, and the only people who read them were me and my other roommate who ultimately learned to stop caring about comics after reading both Grifter and Red Hood & the Outlaws. Shame on everybody except us.
Kane’s pop-trash comics have been a global treasure ever since The Bulletproof Coffin, and these one-shots have offered a pure dose of that craziness, feeling like B-sides to The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred. Their titles explain exactly what you’ll find on the interior pages, and they don’t mean anything in the same way that Talon and Spider-Woman don’t mean anything, except that they also mean EVERYTHING.
The New 52: Future’s End
This past week I’ve been thinking about ways to make these damn comic books faster. At the risk of sounding like Bleeding Cool, I saw a creator ask a notoriously slow artist on Twitter if he ever thought of changing up his style so he could work faster. It’s a fair question for a professional — you can take as long as you want to make a comic but there’s a risk of losing your audience and nobody giving a shit when you finally finish. I thought about how manga creators have studios and assistants who help out with some of the more tedious art duties so they can maintain a weekly schedule, but there’s not nearly enough money in comics for that to be feasible.
Weekly comics aren’t new in this country but they — along with its cousins the bi-weekly comic and that time in 2011 where Marvel double- and triple-shipped all of their books — tend to de-centralize the artist and favor the writer. DC’s modern version of the weekly comic, started by the actually-very-good 52, involves a “writer’s room” of three or four notable/dependable scribes, someone to oversee the art direction, and a small army of artists who can be trusted to finish their work on time. It wasn’t always pretty, but it worked.
After a few years of nigh unreadable weeklies and then a few years away from the format, this year DC tripled down on weekly books, offering three different series that are, as of the end of 2014, happening at the same time and projected to end simultaneously in 2015: The New 52: Future’s End, Batman Eternal, and Earth 2: World’s End. Now that I’m thinking about it, it’s a format that makes a lot of sense for these things.
Let’s be honest here, superhero comics do not exist for the sake of one’s personal artistic expression, as much as you grew up loving them, favoring creators, and getting an importance out of them. They’re yarns, soap operas where the wealthy people put on costumes and fight instead of stabbing heiresses in the back. At this point the weekly TV shows are more accessible than the comics, and maybe that format makes more sense considering both TV dramas and superhero comics are writer-driven to a large extent. And DC’s proven that they don’t really care who draws these things anyway.
Future’s End itself does not work because it does not matter in the sense that superhero comics are meant to “matter.” The “Days of Future Past”/Terminator rehash may have worked better if the DC Universe wasn’t already a scary, violent place to live before killer robots showed up, and the fact that it takes place in an alternate future made fans immediately drop out and lose interest. Compare 52‘s sales to Future’s End‘s sales — same month, same issue numbers, and the higher selling one took place in the main universe that a reader is expected to care about. Batman Eternal — which actually concerns the Batman world readers are familiar with — has been around for slightly longer than Future’s End and still sells better.
I think that’s ultimately the future of superhero comics — publish fewer series and organize writer’s rooms behind weekly ongoing comics featuring centerpiece characters. At least that way there’s a better chance of hiring some more women.