Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More contenders for Best Story Ever

Just like I promised, its time to return to the discussion of the contenders for the BEST STORY EVER.

As a quick recap, we have discussed the merits of a number of classically recognized series, as well as one or two surprises thrown out by me as stories that deserve consideration despite their lack of mass market recognition. So far we've discussed:

1. Starman #0 - 81
2. Planetary #1 - 27
3. Kingdom Come #1 - 4
4. Kick Ass #1 - 7
5. Preacher #1 - 66
6. The Authority (Vol. 1) #1 - 12
7. The Griffen #1 - 6
8. V For Vendetta #1 - 10
9. The Dark Knight Returns #1 - 4
10. Sandman #21 - 28 (A Season of Mists)
11. Watchmen #1 - 12

Let's push onward and upwards with a list that includes a couple more Marvel titles, something that right now our list is a little bit light on. And let's start out with Marvel's own team book; The Avengers.

Avengers Forever #1 - 12
Written by enormously talented author Kurt Busiek, this series is everything that a great Avengers story should be. Rick Jones holds the key to humanity's evolutionary future, and Immortus decides that for the benefit of the timeline Jones must die. Kang (Immortus' younger, more violent self) and the enigmatic Libra come to Jones' rescue and with the help of the Supreme Intelligence unlock Jones' latent powers once more, allowing him to summon to his side the one force he knows he can count on; The Avengers. There's just one catch; he summons them from all across time, and the mish-mash we get hardly remind us of the team we have come to expect. Like any Busiek story, this one is interwoven with wonderful subplots, and the pacing is exceptional.  It is a massive story, whose outcome could significantly change the destiny of the Marvel universe, and reading it is like taking a primer course in 'everything you need to know about the Avengers.' For some people Stern's Masters Of Evil story is the greatest Avengers story ever told.  In my mind it's Avengers Forever.

Days Of Future Past (X-Men #141 - 142)
Chris Claremont. Johny Byrne. Terry Austin. What?  Those three names don't seal the deal for you all by themselves?  How about this then?  This is the grandfather of all X-Men stories involving the apocalyptic future in which mutants are hunted to extinction by an army of sentinel robots intent on making the world safe for ordinary humans.  The very concept is the backbone of stories that lead to the rise of Rachel Summers, Cable, Bishop and Apocalypse. It is one of the earliest examples of a 'future timeline' story that I ever read, and it was freaking cool.  Not enough?  Then look at the cover. An aging Wolverine standing protectively in front of a middle aged Kitty Pryde, with a poster on the wall behind them showing mutants who have been captured and killed.  Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, Angel, Nightcrawler and Banshee are all dead before we even set foot into this possible future. The story is intense.  The scope is enormous. The idea is responsible for hundreds of stories that have followed. This may be the most influential X-Men story ever told, and there's damn good reason for that.  It's awesome.

Crimson #1 - 24
I first "discovered" Brian Augustyn while reading Mark Waid's epic run on The Flash, but this was the first time I decided to give one of Brian's solo books (until then I only read the things he did in collaboration with Mark) a try. One of the coolest decisions I made that year (no doubt.) Working with superstar artist Humberto Ramos (a terrific guy if you get to meet him) Brian forged a very unique vampire tale and was cunning enough to walk away and leave me wanting more. For two years I read the story of Alex Elder, a young boy bitten by a vampire and saved by an ancient being known as Ekimus. The question running throughout the book is whether or not Alex is the "Chosen One" a special vampire gifted with abilities beyond those of his dark siblings, and destined to put an end to vampirekind. Before there was Twilight and the emo vamp genre, Crimson captured the idea of a teen vampire with a destiny almost too big to conceive of. This story contains great Biblical elements (including the reincarnation of St. George, just in the nick of time!) all manner of supernatural creatures, and a plot that doesn't quit....even when the story does.  Maybe the best Vampire story ever?

Superman & The Legion Of Super-Heroes 
(Action Comics #858 - 863)
In case it hasn't come up in your readings, I'm a big fan of Geoff Johns (despite the fact that he either doesn't know how to pronounce his name, or he doesn't know how to spell it.....or both!) I also happen to be fairly fond of Superman.  All things I've shared before.  What you may not know is that I consider The Legion of Super Heroes to be the most under-appreciated title in the history of DC publishing.  I cannot say that after this story hit the stands, because John breathes fresh new life into the relationship between the world's greatest hero and the generation of heroes throughout the galaxy who come together to follow his example in the 31st century. This is the story that created a new generation of Legion fans, and it should have.  It's a marvelous tale about the power of a symbol and how it can be corrupted for all the wrong reasons. It's a story of bigotry and hatred and hope, embodied in a man who no longer has powers. Best of all?  It's drawn by Gary Frank, who is sensational.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Arwyn NOT Arwen...

The name Arwen Undomiel summons forth all manner of images for the dedicated fanboy, and after Liv Tyler's flawless portrayal of the daughter of Elrond, I have no doubt that not all of those images are wholesome and clean.  But if I change just one letter in that name, what image is then summoned forth?

What if I say Arwyn instead of Arwen?

For almost everyone I know, that won't summon forth any image at all, and yet for me it draws forth thoughts of one of the finest heroines every to grace a fantasy epic. Skillfully drawn by Greg Land (in reference to an earlier conversation on Barry Windsor-Smith I would note that I find Greg Land's facial work amongst the finest I've ever seen) Arwyn stars in what was once Crossgen's (there's that company again!) highest grossing comic series; Sojourn.

The tale is actually very simple:

300 years ago a man named Mordath raised an army of Trolls and conquered the five lands, before an mysterious warrior named Ayden arose and rallied the free peoples into an army to defeat Mordath.  Ayden slew Mordath, and then took the arrow he used to kill the evil overlord and broke it into five pieces, scattering them amongst the five realms. He did this because Mordath vowed upon his death to return and wreak vengeance upon Ayden and the five lands.

300 years later Mordath's body is touched, and marked with a great sigil (the theme of all Crossgen books.) He returns to life, but his wickedness immediately betrays the power of the sigil, and turns it fully to a corrupted engine of hate. Mordath once more calls forth the troll armies and crushes the Five Lands. The archer Arwyn survives the destruction of her city, but loses her husband and daughter in the process, and swears vengeance on Mordath.

Confronted by the enigma who calls herself Neven, Arwyn takes up the quest to reunite the five fragments and bring Ayden back to snuff out the evil of Mordath once more. She is joined in this quest by Gareth, a one-eyed rogue notorious throughout the lands as the greatest archer alive, and her faithful dog Kreeg (don't sell him short - I really enjoy his role in the early issues.)

Wizard once referred to this series as "An intricate story of loss and revenge." They weren't wrong.  The first seventeen issues of this series were done under the guidance of Ron Marz and were truly exceptional.  The next sixteen issues were handled by a younger Ian Edginton, who at that time I didn't yet know much about.  The story's feel changed with Ian, but the grandeur of the tale wasn't lost.  The final issue was handled by Chuck Dixon.

All in all, it may be one of the best examples of  high fantasy done in comics.

It's very worth the reading time.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

This and that....

I finally watched the Blue Ray release of Planet Hulk, and I thought it was......adequate. My pet peeve with comic related movies is this need of the director's guild to change the story and somehow "make it their own." Planet Hulk certainly does that, as well as compressing the story down into a tighter, more succinct story that they can tell in the time they have alloted themselves. Obviously these aren't things that I enjoyed about the movie, especially since it was animated and there was no excuse to chop the story down to size.  It was a direct to DVD release, so why not give us the whole thing, unabridged?

That said, its worth the watch.  I understand why they substituted Beta Ray Bill for the Surfer, and at first I kind of liked it because I like Bill. In retrospect though, in order to make it work they mucked up Thor's origin, so I've decided that it wasn't worth it.

I watched something else comic related, but it's slipped my mind, so obviously it didn't make a big enough impression for me to comment on it.

Father's Day has come and gone, and one of my sons got me a t-shirt with a local artist's original work of Superman on it.  It's very impressive and the guy's rates for canvas work are also very reasonable.  I'm thinking about getting a 5' x 3' of one of my favorite stories done for the basement (if and when I ever get the darned thing finished.) Very cool Father's Day gift.

I'm waiting on my next shipment of books, and as I wait I've been picking through other things I want to talk about for the debate for Best Story Ever. The result though is that I've been reading some Crossgen things again, and once again I'm in love with how that company was formed and how their stories got off the ground. I've harped on it before, but it never gets any love on here so I'm going to harp on it again as I reread my way through the varying books. I'm probably most excited to revisit Crux (the story of Atlantis and its people, who were once the shepherds of humanity's destiny), Sojourn (a story told in the style of Lord of The Rings) and Sigil (a story about somebody giving Han Solo power that makes jedis look like punks.)

I think we may be taking some steps to review the series as I work through them, so there won't be any escaping the value of these stories for those of you who haven't read them.

I've also got some thoughts about other stories we're going to look at for our Best Story Ever review.  Some things I've read that need to be considered:

1. Avengers Forever #1 - 12
2. Days of Future Past: X-Men #141 - 142
3. Crimson #1 - 24
4. Superman & The Legion of Superheroes: Action Comics #858 - 663
5. New World Order: JLA #1 - 4
6. Confession: Astro City #4 - 9
7. Future Imperfect #1 - 2

But we'll get to them later.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Birds of Prey.....a bomb

Love the comic series.

Loathe the TV series.

Last night at midnight I needed to unwind, so I sat down and skipped around one of my hard drives looking for an episode of the Big Bang Theory I hadn't seen yet.  Turns out there weren't any, so I was left with the task of picking a new series to start watching on an ad hoc basis. I settled on Birds of Prey with I had a copy of for some time but had never turned on.

As anyone would, I started with the pilot.

I'm still trying to debate if that will be the last episode of the show I ever watch. Allow me to explain;

1) Barbara Gordon is paralyzed and her career as Batgirl ends because the Joker shot her in the spine. (all good so far)

2) Selina Kyle, publicly know to formerly be Catwoman, dies when stabbed by an unknown assailant at the Joker's direction. Her young daughter Helena watches her mother bleed out in the street. (Catwoman dead? Bah! Helena is her daughter? I suppose that works in the Earth 2 version of The Huntress, and in that version Selina did actually die before he daughter became a crime fighter.)

3) Barbara Gordon takes Helena in and nurtures her into become a super-hero (double bah!)

4) Helena Kyle is a meta-human with super-powers ( lost me)

5) Bruce Wayne is missing because Batman couldn't live with the trauma of what happened to Barbara and Selina and disappeared. (ummmm......bull@^%$!)

6) Dinah Lance is a psychic, many years younger than Helena, and desperate to become associated with Barbara and Helena (lame even beyond being nothing like Dinah)

I'm marginally tempted to hang around and see how they progress things in Gotham under the banner of the Birds of Prey, but something tells me I'm not going to like the rest of this any more than I liked the pilot.  At least Smallville was well written and made sense. The acting in this is paper thin, and the characters are poorly crafted compared to the comic counterparts that exist.

Hell, Mercy Reef was better than this.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


 I have a copy of Conan #1.

Published in October of 1970, almost a year and a half to the day before I was born, it is one of my favorite pieces in my comic collection and while I can attribute this to a  number of things, it is one of the few pieces that gets special credit for the artist whose work graces it.

Surely most of you have noticed by now that I gush about writers, and seldom throw any love in the direction of artists, despite the fact that without them our writers would simply be novelists. Well I'm prepared to break the trend in this case.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the man whose name I'm about to bring up, I would recommend that you familiarize yourself quickly.

He is a legend.

His name, is Barry Windsor-Smith.

 I could fill any number of blogs by focusing solely on the terrific ability to convey a unique and captivating story with original and mesmerizing characters that this man possesses, but I've decided in this blog to simply give you a quick look into his career highlights and then to focus on one series in particular. Barry is well known in North America as the man who handled the original Marvel Comics run of Conan The Barbarian, a title which will never be forgotten. His impact on Marvel didn't end there though, as he was also the man who took the first official run at the secret origin of Wolverine in a serialized tale called 'Weapon X.' If you are one of the people who understand just how awesome an accomplishment that Valiant Comics was in the 90's, Barry was there.  He did unbelievable work breathing life back into characters from the sixties like Doctor Solar, Turok The Dinosaur Hunter and Magnus the Robot Fighter, as well as helping to launch some new characters and series that were equally impressive.

The man's pedigree is beyond reproach and his artwork is distinct, unique, and arguably amongst the best of all time.  I certainly find his style worthy of great praise, and feel like it stands apart from the rest of the industry.

But Barry was more than just an artist, he was a Storyteller.

Which is why we're discussing him here today, as I have dug out and dusted off his 1995 series of oversized comics entitled Storyteller. This series featured a glossy, gorgeous cover o 12.5" x 9" stock and contained three stories being told in serialized format.  It was published by Dark Horse for nine issues, and then canceled despite the tenth issue having been completed. I have copies of all nine of the original issues, and I still enjoy them every time I take them out and read them.

The features inside were:

The Paradoxman - A dark sci-fi story with some very strange twists and turns.

Young Gods - Which feels like an homage to New Gods or Thor, and features brilliant artwork woven into a tale of cosmic proportions.  Letting a man like Barry loose in the realm of Gods is a brilliant idea, because there is nothing he cannot draw and explain rationally as a part of the tale.

The FreeBooters - Which feels like a Conan tale about an aged mercenary who now runs a tavern and lives off of fame.  For those who roleplay in the fashion of D&D (which is crap - you really should play Harnworld) the lead character Axus smacks of the kind of Tavern Owner you would long to encounter.  The story is light and fun, and engaging.

One of my favorite pieces of work from him is a graphic novel from the late nineties called Adastra In Africa, based on one of his characters from Young Gods. I have heard it said that it was originally intended to be an X-Men graphic novel, but the Marvel editors decided that since it wasn't written under their supervision or guidance that they wouldn't publish it. It languished for some time until Windsor-Smith decided to revive it as a stand-alone Young Gods novel about Adastra.  While I cannot confirm the validity of the reason it was never published at Marvel, if the story is true.......

Marvel editors made a big mistake.

In any event, I like to champion things I think get overlooked on here just as much as I like to rant about how terrible Spider-Man is, or how awesome Batman is.  Barry Windsor-Smith is one of those gems of the industry that I think a lot of my friends have no idea about.

Do yourselves a favor and change that.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A fan of the black...

I've extolled the value of a good read over Reginald Hudlin's run on The Black Panther, which was met with some general disinterest amongst most of you (a mistake!), and now I'm turning my attention to another book that begins with that ever important first word 'Black.'

The difference of course is that the books couldn't be less similar.

Unlike The Black Panther, which is a story about a King from the African nation of Wakanda, I'm talking about a superspy from the Super Power formerly known as the U.S.S.R.  I'm talking about The Black Widow (and not the one depicted in the latest Iron Man movie by Scarlett - okay, yes that same character......but you know.....with more depth, meaning and background than they bothered to give Scarlett to work with.)

Marjorie Liu is breathing new life into this character, and after two issues I'm sold on giving this book a serious look for the foreseeable future. For those of you who don't know Liu's work, she's been running as co-writer on Dark Wolverine with Daniel Way and doing a terrific job of developing the story that will ultimately dictate the outcome of the parricidal story of Wolverine's son Daken.

Liu introduces us to Widow in a well paced, tightly written first issue in which we are reminded of the woman's deep-seeded roots as a soviet spy with too many secrets in her past. We also get a glimpse into her romantic links in the Marvel Universe, which nicely sets us up for the suggestion that all of her time as an Avenger (since her defection years earlier) may in fact have been a deception.

The hanging ending of the first book and the underlying tone of the story suggest that we're in for a story which will really dig deeply into whether or not you can ever trust the world's second best spy (*ahem* Nick Fury of course being the best) and what happens when the people who think they're closest to her finally have to start doubting the trust they have always had for her.

I like books that make me think, and I get the impression I'm going to spend some time trying to decide when and where the twists and turns are coming in this one. Frankly I don't care if she's really an agent who's been on assignment all these years, or if somebody's just trying to frame her and take her down.  What I care about is that we're delving into the roots of the character in a smart way, and that the story is going to be an exciting mix of violence and cunning.

If you're looking for something new to try, this may be a book of interest for you.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Where were you Jeff? Plus, I'll let you in on a secret!

A month ago the blog went dark.

No new posts and no talking comics.

Rumor has it that it became a dark time in many people's lives.

Well the story is kind of simple; it was Sponsor Wars time.  And if you don't know what that's about, be thankful and just move on to the latter part of this blog.  For those of you who do appreciate the roleplaying challenge of being victorious in Sponsor Wars, you must understand how much time and attention it took for me to emerge victorious for the second year in a row.  Sadly I had to leave that douchebag Genocide in the dust this time around.

Alright.....the explanation's out of the way, and we're on to the secret.

And it's a good one.

This is for the math geeks out there: Secret Avengers > Avengers.

I picked up Secret Avengers #1 because I've enjoyed Ed's work on Captain America and I felt like I should give him a chance to show me that he can manage the "black ops" team of Avengers who do the jobs that the rest of the world cannot know about. Unlike the first issue of Avengers, this one is something worth writing home about.  It had a better pace, and a feel that seemed to be more on the mark.

As of right now, this is the Avengers book I'm going to be recommending to people.

Read it.

Avengers Assem.......................blah!

Captain America is alive!

Tony Stark once more wears the suit of iron!

The God of Thunder is an Avenger again!

We emerge from Seige into the Heroic Age of Marvel, when we will once again see greatness as the 'big 3' come together at the formation of a new Avengers (as opposed to the NEW Avengers.) Steve Rogers has been handed Norman Osborne's old job as chief of United States security and he has gathered together a large assortment of former heroes and made a simple request of them:

Avengers Assemble.

Those two words, for me, have been a timeless reminder of the true power of Marvel's team comic book. Written by some of the greats in the industry, this team book is Marvel's answer to the Justice League and at its core it too has always had a BIG 3. In recent years the events of Civil War and other events have shattered the bonds that made those heroes great, and now Marvel is setting out to rebuild them.  For a guy like me, who has always had a soft spot for nostalgia and the iconic characters who stand amongst the Avengers (and in case you're Avengers DO NOT include Spider-Man) this book should be a rallying call for the emergence of a new time at Marvel.



After a read of this book I cannot recommend it to anyone. I found it particularly uninspired and utterly vanilla. It could have been written by the kid down the street and I'm not sure it could have been less captivating. The surprise on the last panel is mildly intriguing, but comes too late to make up for an uneventful encounter with Kang, a lot of subplot development that I couldn't care less about, and a Steve Rogers who looks a little bit too bright and chipper for a guy who's seen his world torn apart by the failure of the Avengers in recent years.  Plus the awkwardness between Tony and Steve isn't nearly awkward enough to be real after what's gone before. I'm not sure that John Romita Jr is the right artist for this book, that while entitled for the onset of The Heroic Age is really about rebuilding the greatness that lies in ruins.

Romita's art hearkens to a brighter time in the past, or that may yet be coming, but seems out of place in what should be a somber, if optimistic, time amongst Earth's Mightiest Heroes. All in all, the book doesn't work for me in other ways than the art, and its a bit of a footnote, but it starts to compound other concerns. I need the Avengers to stop pretending that Wolverine and Spider-Man belong with them, and I need this rebuilding to be exactly that.....a rebuilding.  You don't just wipe the slate clean and start over with everyone bonding, which too much of this book felt like to me.

Sorry folks, but this is one big disappointment from Mr. Bendis and he's going to have to do a lot of hard work to convince me that it's going to get better.