Sunday, December 18, 2016
It's that time of year again and being an adult, I miss the agonizing stretch in December a kid writhes through in wait for Christmas Day. Being a grown-up, the countdown to Christmas flies, to the point children cannot understand why we panic, rush and miss the glory and moreover, the fun of the season. We decorate and we pause just enough to admire our festive handiwork before making out our guest lists, party menus and of course, the mad dashes to accumulate presents--hopefully at genuine discounts, since you have to do proper math to make sure the stocking wool's not being pulled over your eyes by humbug retailers. In this zany digital age, the new urgency (beyond the looming question mark of potential Christmas bonuses) is to click and shop for gifts with calculations of timely arrivals upon our doorsteps. It's a new dynamic and Santa himself must be leery of Amazon's upcoming drones, no doubt one of them bearing the nickname "Rudolph" to spite.
Being that I'm obsessed with comics, Christmas gives me the opportunity (like Halloween) to dig around for holiday-themed books and ease the tension of a season that once gave me weeks of joy. Nowadays, December makes me fear I'm going to miss watching Christmas Vacation for the third year in a row because one, it's too inappropriate at times for little ones and two, we all expect that proverbial magic of the season to erase the grind of life. Life doesn't stop just because Nat King Cole's waxing nostalgic about chestnuts on an open fire over the radio, his slow tempo all but ordering us to jerk the cogs of our spinning wheels to a blissful crawl.
So here are a bunch of Christmas comics, some naughty and some nice. Some are borderline like Ambush Bug: Stocking Stuffer, Elvira's Haunted Holidays or even Batman # 239. Some are outright funny and some force us to realize bad guys do their damnedest to destroy people's holiday seasons for their own selfish reasons...all of it being yuletide escapism to chase off those sugar plum fairies nagging at us to buy just one more gift for someone who inadvertently missed the cut. As I flagged in my post about 2016's comics that rocked me, Grant Morrison's Klaus miniseries was all the adventure and spectacle you could ask for in a comic--with tremendous heart, to-boot. You'll want to go get that extra pestering gift after reading Klaus.
Let's start with ten hitting the nice list:
1. Captain Marvel Adventures # 19: Helping Santa faster than you can say "SHAZAM!" times two...
2. Batman # 45: Let's spread some holiday cheer, chum!
3. Avengers Annual # 1 (2013): A wonderful and hilarious holiday-themed respite from the strenuous and frankly boring "Infinity" story line.
4. Action Comics # 105: Because Santa needs a little Kryptonian nudge at certain chimneys after scarfing bucket loads of sugar cookies all night.
5. Archie Giant Series # 512: Archie's Christmas Stocking: Even ginger swingers can have the best of both worlds to warm his hearth.
6. The Tick: Big Red 'n Green Christmas Spectacle: He's a bumbling buffoon, but never question Tick's big heart.
7. Christmas With the Super-Heroes # 2: Don't you wish your office party was this high profile? Someone had better put Mera on alert, though; methinks Aquaman has other designs in mind, using that toy wagon as his cover.
8. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles # 65: Mikey's Christmas spectacular was indeed that. Cowabunga and then some.
9. Sgt. Rock # 414: Once in a while, beauty and a truce between enemies in the holiday spirit does resonate.
10. Marvel Holiday Special # 1: Read it with the Brian Setzer Orchestra's Boogie Woogie Christmas spinning and you'll get ripe in the mood.
Aaaaaaaand...the naughty list:
1. The Vault of Horror # 35: For better or worse, here is where the killer Santa genre was founded. The ending of "And All Through the House" still packs a wallop, no matter how many times you've read it or seen the Tales from the Crypt t.v. adaptation.
2. Panic # 1: Ah, those rubes back in the day at EC Comics. Tell me this cover didn't leave scars upon you the first time you saw it.
3. Spectacular Spider-Man # 112: This one did a number on me back in the day. St. Nick The Terminator on the cover, Peter Parker thwarting a store Santa stalker...and the most gratuitous (non-superhero) butt close-ups in a single issue for its time.
4. Flash # 87: And bah humbug to you too, jerks.
5. Iron Man # 254: Spymaster as Santa Claus...you dirty bastard.
6. Grimm Fairy Tales 2011 Holiday Edition: Now you know what Robert Brian Wilson from Silent Night, Deadly Night would say: "NAUUUUUGHTYYYY!"
7. Jonah Hex # 34: Speaking of orphanages gone wrong during the holidays, even Santa needs an enforcer to negate the evil tidings of Santa impostors.
8. JLA # 60: Seriously? That's just wrong. A parental nightmare trying to explain this visual to a youngster tripping across it.
9. Spawn # 39: And this image (pun intended, heh) would give anybody nightmares, maybe even the Pumpkin King himself.
10. Avengers # 24 (variant cover): I don't care what it may look like; Deadpool is never up to any good.
Saturday, December 17, 2016
Dynamite Entertainment reportedly solicited nearly 100,000 copies of it and you, the reader, are the ones who benefit at a quarter cover price. Yup, a mere quarter! I was barely old enough to read comic books the last time they cost that much on average. The pricey manufacturing of standard publishing these days, wow...only Free Comic Book Day and Halloween Comic Fest are ballsier marketing ploys.
For the fourth time, Dynamite is relaunching Red Sonja and this time, there's a catch.
Jason Voorhees...the freaking Muppets...now the She-Devil with a Sword...
The Village is in for it...Soho...well, she's gotten more enlightened (not to mention hornier than the AVN expo) under the pen of Gail Simone, so you never know. Manhattan is where Red Sonja dwells in 2017 and given this preview of Issue Number Zero which dropped this past Wednesday, it's either going to be the romp of the year or a distant anecdote Sonja fans are going to mumble amidst themselves within reach of ibuprofen bottles, "Remember when they slung her into New York? Oy."
Now this barbarian fish out of water trope has been played before, which no doubt gave writer Amy Chu (also writing Dynamite's Kiss book along with having done Poison Ivy stories for DC) the idea of violating Red Sonja in ways not even King Kull cosplays have dreamed up. Twice Conan was hoisted out of his Hyperborea domain and dropped into the big metropolis via Marvel's What If series. Let's not forget Red Sonja herself swung her broadsword side-by-side with Spider-man in Marvel Team-Up # 79. Those were weird, implausible but hellafun stories that defied convention and made the genre more fun. Spidey and John Belushi, anyone?
Today's audiences have read it all and they know the canons. Expectations to go where their favorite characters have never gone before is now a mandate, but with a fine line drawn. That makes it rough on contemporary writers. Chu has her entire reputation staked on this project and I'm going to avoid a full review this time because I am willing to see where this wacky, if borrowed concept goes.
I'll confess that Red Sonja and Batgirl are my geek boy fantasy women. I had no qualms with the direction Dynamite took with Marguerite Bennett's brief run but it was brief and we know why. The imprint reacted to complaints from a large volume of female readers voicing out against the scantily-clad presentations of their flagship characters, Red Sonja, Vampirella, Sheena and Dejah Thoris. The appeasement Dynamite granted was noble, if ultimately fruitless as readers slowly shied away. Call men shallow, we deserve it. We want we want, and a looksee past the chain mail is ever-present on our minds while rooting on Sonja's nearly-unbeatable sword prowess.
Carlos Gomez gets back to the basics in this reboot of Sonja, which means geek boys (and girls who may apply) are served the goodies again. I still say Sonja has never been depicted sexier than Dynamite's Red Sonja vs. Thulsa Doom miniseries, but the new run is designed to titillate once again. This while rudely shoving our redheaded savage into modern times via a vengeful spell cast upon her by recent era PITA sorcerer, Kulan Gath. It would seem not even Sonja's goddess, Scathach, can help her navigate through this mess.
I eagerly await Sonja's confrontation with the Garment District. If she doesn't drop into McSorley's for a pint and a good old-fashioned Irish pub scrap, Chu and Dynamite will have missed out on a golden opportunity. If Sonja finds a floating hockey mask in the sewers, however, I'm out.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
When you have a little one, you have to go the extra mile to make their holidays special while they still believe.
Nolan's elf was named by him "Mary Penguin." Ahh, the innovative imaginations of children. This is our fourth year with M.P. and she's gotten herself into all sorts of mischief from her hopping around through "elf magic," i.e. parental manipulation. We've enjoyed a lot of shenanigans boyo will never know about until he's older, and those photos of Mary getting tossed with Woody, Buzz Lightyear and Kermit the Frog ought to be priceless to him down the road.
Ditto for Mary getting saved by and then getting it on with Indiana Jones. Her fight with Skeletor is legendary, nearly as epic as her duel with Kylo Ren. Mary and Godzilla have quite a little odd friendship going; they like to watch old 'zilla and Gamera flicks and I know they're communing amongst themselves sarcastically Mystery Science Theater 3000-style. Then there's the time she wrecked a toy car and caused a major ruckus under the Christmas tree. Puking in the toilet, well, I guess everyone's elf has done that since this damned Elf On the Shelf tradition got started, and Mary's no exception, the lush.
Mary steals my protein powder, dive-bombs into a pool of marshmallows and I've even caught her copping a feel on my wife's Betty Boop while reaching underskirt of one of the redheaded Celtic dolls. She's done it doggy style with a Halloween skeleton that missed the packing box, thus Mary loves her "Bone Daddy" and he looks forward to Christmas as much as anyone. Most of the time, Mary's innocent and sweet for Nolan, but we know the truth.
This year she's been caught pushing Cure and Beatles discs at me to play, challenging me to a game of Simpsons chess and I just can't keep a shot glass out of her reach, since her annual bourbon toasts with me are tradition. Well, here she's at it again, digging into my copy of Wonder Woman '77 Meets The Bionic Woman # 1, the sneaky wench.
Our elf has good taste, at least.
Sunday, December 11, 2016
We've reached that point of the year where media reporters and journalists begin handing out their year-end "Best of" lists--and, given the jaded society we live in today, "Worst of" jeers. When music magazines were still rampant, I would find myself the second week of every December compiling my Top Ten Album lists for the columns I wrote or as part of the masthead's yearly wrangling of favorite records. We don't have a yearly Best of at Blabbermouth, so I'll come clean; I kinda miss the exercise, since old school thrash ruled the genre I work in and I want to cheer about it on high...
When I hosted the ReadWave Comic Books forum, I divvied out a quasi-awards post that was my best-received from the readership, "Comics That Rocked Me in 2014." Like the numerous magazines I wrote for, ReadWave ended up folding, which stung since comics are my rock and I needed them more than ever to slog through a personally brutal 2016. That being said, a great big thank you to all the creators in this genre, whether I read you or not. Your work has a bigger impact than you realize in dealing with the mundane and the frantic, thus making life more fantastical. I hope to join your ranks in due time as I take strides to transition myself into this medium as a professional writer
Hands-down, DC's Rebirth was the event in comics this year, even if the mighty Marvel continued to grow mightier in cinema and in some of its books. A glut of product exacerbated by a zillion variant covers respectively, some of my 2016 selections were easy to flag, and some not so much. Rebirth, along with Millarworld (in the case of Dynamite Entertainment, simple fun ), restored my faith in comic book storytelling and characterization for a genre that has been muddled by excessive hard science. I read Heavy Metal magazine regularly, so I'm used to having my brain calibrated by science, but the mainstream comics had grown up perhaps too much. In recent years, I felt like I was reading tech manuals delivered by capes and aliens, authored by nuclear physicists, biology professors, forensics and ballistics experts and astronomers. All part and parcel to creating these wondrous worlds we like to escape to, but at the expense of action and storytelling...thank God for the winds of change in comics this year. It needed the shakeup.
That being said, submitted for your indulgence (mine especially), the comic books that rocked me in 2016...
The Top 10 Cream of the Crop Rockers:
1. Wonder Woman Rebirth - What Greg Rucka accomplished this year for Diana Prince aside from a controversial flying of the freak flag is a banner moment in the pantheon of the character. DC re-branded Wonder Woman and the entire DCU for a new generation, reminding us why we collectively fell in love with her. Liam Sharp and Nicola Scott generated some of the finest art in all of comics this year, presenting Diana back to square one at her most alluring and vulnerable. I still say she's bi, if evaluating her sexuality really has importance in our lives--though I'd fathom Steve and Clark have their own opinions.
2. Black Panther - I've said it before and I'll say it again: Ta-Nehisi Coates is the poet laureate of comics. It wasn't enough to justify the righteous revival of a classic Marvel hero who nearly stole the show in Captain America: Civil War. Coates has raised T'challa and the fictitious sovereign country of Wakanda to a new standard. A new standard in comics themselves, I should add. I always wait for the times I am most alert as a reader to read Coates' Black Panther as his writing deserves the honor of your deepest attention.
3. Aquaman Rebirth - No longer the bitch of the DCU, Aquaman's reboot has been high octane with very few pauses granted by Dan Abnett to catch your breath. It's the equivalent of a leagues-deep popcorn action film, yet Aquaman and Mera's problematic lives are subject to equal havoc ashore in this busy and emotional plot. Beautifully illustrated and colored, Aquaman Rebirth slays with its consistency of action and characterization, plus the son of Black Manta who is far more ruthless than the original. THE book I can't wait to sink into every other week.
4. Huck - If Mark Millar hasn't tagged your heart with his wonderful Everyman's bumpkin hero, Huck, you're a cold bastard. The Last Son of Krypton meets Pay it Forward. What if you were left on a doorstep and grew up to have nothing, except for the superpower to track anything or anyone, plus enough physical prowess to take on evil? Huck is not only a hero everyone wants to exploit, he is compelled to do an act of kindness every day, be it baking a pie for an elderly citizen in town or leaving his saved spare cash inside a random library book to make someone's day with. Huck's looked upon by many as mentally slow, but his moral compass is righter than all of ours collectively.
5. Saga - The greatest surrealist comic since Sandman, Issue # 38 is probably the finest single issue of the year, for certain delivering the most gut-wrenching ending in all of 2016. Dali, Duchamp and Magritte should be applauding from their gelatinous next dimension.
6. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina - If only the release schedule of the sublime Sabrina and Afterlife With Archie was as dedicated as the regular Archie books (which have definitely rocked the re-brand this year in their own right), sigh... Still, there's always something to be said about quality over quantity. Far superior to and more frightening than The Witch film from last year, and I suspect Robert Eggers was jotting notes from blueprints laid out in this genuinely shocking series by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. My answer to the eternal question "Betty or Veronica?" has always been Sabrina.
7. Moon Knight - If Aquaman's been the bitch of the DCU, Moon Knight is perpetually Marvel's. Marc Spector's been a longtime favorite of mine and if you're still dismissing this character as a Batman knockoff, you need to spend a little time getting schooled by Warren Ellis, Cullen Bunn, Brian Wood and now Jeff Lemire. These authors have transformed Moon Knight over the past two years as an intriguing victim of psychosis. Lemire has taken Spector to a new level of expressionistic, split personality torment where even exorcising his inner demon, Khonshu may not be enough to save him.
8. Darth Vader - Marvel reacquiring the Star Wars franchise rights from Dark Horse has been largely a good thing, the only detriment being way too much product. The Princess Leia miniseries was great, ditto for Obi Wan and Anakin and even Kanan's series was sharp. The Shattered Empire miniseries was spectacular, though it felt like it had so much more to give and comes up sadly empty at the end. The 25 issue run of Darth Vader, however...up to the limit and then some. Featuring some of the finest artwork in Star Wars comics history by Salvador Larroca, writer Kieron Gillen had a cosmic playground to create a pumping story of espionage and twisted redemption. Better yet, his supporting cast of villainy (especially the riotous death droids Triple Zero and Beetee) were worthy harassers and supporters of the cruelest figure in sci-fi. Dr. Aphra alone has become an overnight sensation in a galaxy far, far away...
9. Bitch Planet - Upon reading the first issue exactly two years ago, I declared in print Kelly Sue DeConnick's grindhouse feminist gala Bitch Planet would be the sleeper hit of 2015. I was right. Another case of quality over quantity, DeConnick has her fingers on the pulse over her sociopolitical hellhole in a future where women are so degraded they're imprisoned just for being out-of-step, much less engaging in actual criminal behavior. In what has been setting up to be a less comedic Longest Yard involving a team of abused, multicultural female prisoners (i.e. "non-compliants") against security guards, their leader is as fierce as F.A.K.K. 2. Exploitation with a conscience.
10. Klaus miniseries - Grant Morrison set out to create his "All-Star Santa Claus" and Lord, did he achieve that. Only comic nerds and fantasy enthusiasts are going to jive with a brawny Santa capable of scrapping with swords and fisticuffs. Nevertheless, Morrison gave us a thrilling fable in Klaus where we learn of the future Father Christmas' motivations to spread cheer amidst a frequently cheerless world. Morrison went back to the old Rankin Bass holiday shows and regurgitated an epic scorched by Dragon's Lair. For you youngbloods, that was the first laserdisc video game out of Arcadia '83, set to actual cartoon animation and hailed for the most advanced graphics of its time.
Missing the list, but ten books deserving of kudos:
Tank Girl: Two Girls, One Tank miniseries
The Wicked + The Divine
Afterlife With Archie
Usagi Yojimbo (# 158 deserves a Harvey Award as one of the most touching single shot Usagi stories in the honorable Stan Sakai's career)
Action Comics Rebirth
Five new series blowing up my radar:
The Unworthy Thor
Wonder Woman '77 Meets The Bionic Woman
Most Welcome Retro Reboot: