We are seven months into 2020, so it’s a perfect time to share thoughts about art I enjoyed in 2019.
Al Ewing, Alan Davis, Alex Maleev, Aline Brosh McKenna, Bill Sienkiwicz, Brian Michael Bendis, Cary Nord, Christopher Priest, Cory Hamscher, David Finch, Denys Cowan, Doug Mahnke, Ed Brubaker, Ed Piskor, Elizabeth Breitweiser, Gerard Way, Grant Morrison, Howard Porter, Jack Kirby, Jackson Guice, James Robinson, Jamie McKelvie, Jason Aaron, Jason Paz, Jim Starlin, Joe Bennett, John Paul Leon, Jon Rivera, Kei Zama, Kieron Gillen, Kurt Busiek, Kyle Baker, Larry Hama, Leonard Kirk, Mariko Tamaki, Marjorie Liu, Matt Wilson, Michael Avon Oeming, Mike Mignola, Mike W. Barr, Nico LEon, Norm Rapmund, Oliver Coipel, Paco Medina, Peter Tomasi, Phil Winslade, Sana Takeda, Sean Phillips, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Tom King, Tom Taylor, Travel Foreman
1. Justice League of America – Howard Porter, Grant Morrison
2. Jane – Aline Brosh McKenna
3. The Ultimates 2 – Travel Foreman, Al Ewing
4. Hulk – Nico Leon, Mariko Tamaki
5. Batman – Tom King, David Finch
6. Scarlet Witch – Kei Zama, James Robinson
7. Monstress – Sana Takeda, Marjorie Liu
8. Infamous Iron Man – Alex Maleev, Brian Michael Bendis
9. DC Elseworlds: Justice League Vol. 2 – Kyle Baker
10. X-Men: Grand Design – Ed Piskor
11. All New Wolverine – Leonard Kirk, Cory Hamscher, Tom Taylor
12. Mister Miracle – Jack Kirby
13. U.S.Avengers – Paco Medina, Al Ewing
14. Batman: Creature of the Night – Kurt Busiek, John Paul Leon, Phil Winslade
15. Wicked and the Divine – Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson
16. Batman: Black & White – Alan Davis
17. Legends of the Dark Knight: Alan Davis vol. 1 – Alan Davis, Mike W. Barr
18. Black Panther and the Crew – Jackson Guice, Ta-Nehisi Coates
19. Kill or Be Killed – Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser, Ed Brubaker
20. Superman – Doug Mahnke, Peter Tomasi
21. Deathstroke – Christopher Priest, Jason Paz, Cary Nord, Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiwicz, Larry Hama, Joe Bennett, Norm Rapmund, Jason Paz
22. Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye – Michael Avon Oeming, Gerard Way, Jon Rivera
23. Cosmic Odyssey – Mike Mignola, Jim Starlin
24. The Unworthy Thor – Oliver Coipel, Jason Aaron
Corinna Sara Bechko, E.K. Weaver, Emil Ferris, Gabriel Hartman, Jason Aaron, Jerome Opena, John allison, Katie Skelly, Lisa Treiman, Matt Hollingsworth, Max Sarin, Meredith Gran, mitch Gerads, Rick Remender, Ron Wimbereley, Russell Dauterman, Thi Bui, Tom King
In no particular order…
1. Octopus Pie vol. 1-4 – Meredith Gran
2. My Favorite Thing is Monsters – Emil Ferris
3. The Best We Could – Thi Bui
4. Mister Miracle – Tom King, Mitch Gerads
5. Prince of Cats – Ron Wimberley
6. The Mighty Thor – Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman
7. My Pretty Vampire – Katie Skelly
8. Giant Days – John Allison, Lisa Treiman, Max Sarin
9. Seven to Eternity – Rick Remender, Jerome Opena, Matt Hollingsworth
10. The Less than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal – E.K. Weaver
11. Invisible Republic – Gabriel Hartman, Corinna Sara Bechko
- Dick (Nightwing) is the one sitting alone in the booth, the one who is relaxed and comfortable in his own skin. The one who comes closest to being a well adjusted person.
- Jason (Red Hood) is the angry one, the rebel without a cause. He communicates through sarcasm and provocations.
- Damian (Robin) is the young one, one who pretends to be an entitled jerk but doesn’t want you to know that he’s just an adolescent boy.
- Bruce (you know who…) is the father figure and a man who is not comfortable in a fast food restaurant.
The dialogue sharpens the distinctions between the men (and boy), but you’d get it without reading a thing.
The four are meeting in a “Batman” themed fast food restaurant, which gives Finch the opportunity to add humorous elements in the background that lighten the tone of the story. There’s something extremely ironic about the panel in which the three proteges banter in front of a Joker themed wall decoration.
This was a fun read. I find that I appreciate superhero comics more when I read them the same way I did when I was a kid/adolescent – with enthusiasm and a sense of generosity.
I had a mixed response to the parts of the story focused on the conflict between Bane and Batman. I was intrigued by the broad strokes of the story, in which Batman is trying to defeat a foe who was not only stronger than him, but had successfully broken the body and mystique of Batman in the past. In the first two volumes, King and Finch explored the nature of the character through stories exploring his role as a mentor to other heroes (who were not sidekick/surrogate child figures), a tactician and leader of a group of amoral adventurers and as a failed/tragic romantic figure in his relationship with Catwoman. In this volume, Finch and King use a physical conflict between Batman and a superior foe to help the reader understand a man who would dress up as a bat to fight crime. There’s a long buildup to the battle in this volume. We see Batman prepare for war and Bane dispatch all of the other members of the cast (hero and villain alike) with ease.
The conflict between the two takes up most of an issue and feels pretty anti climatic on the first read. Finch and King mix sequences of Bane beating Batman senseless (while the two verbally spar) with an imagined monologue delivered by a figure from Batman’s past that helpfully summarizes the plot and transforms the subtext into text. Finch alternates between panels illustrating the combat and ones which complement the monologue (e.g., a panel featuring Catwoman accompanying a passage about doomed love). The fight ends as one might expect (hint: we’re not reading the continued adventures of ‘Bane‘). It was a bit anti-climactic – I wanted a perfectly choreographed martial arts inspired battle between two skilled combatants, but I got a brawl with a pretty implausible conclusion.
On a second read (with more sleep), I had a better sense of things. The story inverts Knightfall, the classic Batman story by an army of creators including Denny O’Neil, Chuck Dixon, Jim Aparo and Norm Breyfogle that introduced Bane a quarter century ago. In Knightfall, Bane defeats Batman by pitting him against a gauntlet of his most dangerous foes (he stages a breakout at Arkham Asylum, the residential facility/hostel for Batman villains) and viciously attacking him when he is at his weakest. Finch and King have Batman borrow Bane’s old technique by using the tools at his disposal (including his enemies) to drive Bane to mental exhaustion and use a ‘rope a dope’ strategy (which involves letting Bane pummel him into oblivion) to further exhaust and distract him.
Although the experience of reading the scene is still a tad unsatisfying – I would have preferred more visual cues hinting at the strategic planning behind the physical conflict – the final moment of the battle does feel more powerful.
Captain America, Doug Murray, fascism, Garth Ennis, George Evans, Greg Pak, Harvey Kurtzman, J.M. De Matteis, Jack Kirby, Joe Casey, Joe Kubert, Joe Sacco, Kieron Dwyer, Legion of Superheroes, Mark Gruenwald, Michael Ellis, Michael Golden, Mirko Colak, Nazis, Nick Dragotta, Paul Neary, Red Skull, Red Skull Incarnate, Robert Kanigher, Sal Buscema, Sgt. Rock, Steve Englehart, superhero comics, The Avengers, The Nam, The X-Tinction Agenda, Two Fisted Tales, Vengeance, Wally Wood
I was confronted by two Red Skulls the other day while I was browsing the Comixology digital storefront (looking for a good bedtime read). The covers from Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta’s Vengeance and Greg Pak and Mirko Colak’s Red Skull: Incarnate miniseries stared at me from the row of comics in my collection.
The Red Skull has been dead in Marvel for a long time now. Sure, he’s been resurrected a couple of times since then – in the bodies of a clone of Steve Rogers (the original Captain America), a Russian post-cold war billionaire, and a clone with a piece of Charles Xavier’s brain – but it just doesn’t feel the same.
These were diluted Skulls. The images staring at me from the screen were the real thing.
Hey y’all. When I originally wrote this, I had just read a great article by George Packer about Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland and was reminded of how much our 37th President shaped the decade before I was born and the America we all live in today. I decided to re-read the book (originally read it in 2008 concurrent with Jason Lutes’ Berlin: City of Stones because I enjoy light and cheery reading!). I was also reading Rick Remender’s Captain America. I was fascinated by the relationship between the New Deal inspired fantasy that Captain America represented and the modern conservative vision of the American dream. On the surface, there’s a vast gulf between Steve Rogers and Dick Nixon, but in reality, the New Deal was only for some people and there were a hell of a lot of guys like Steve Rogers (vets and New Deal liberals) who went for Nixon.
A Nixonland Cap could help us grapple with our collective demons more effectively than Nick Spencer’s
Nazi Hydra Cap, whose beliefs are extreme and foreign in a way that allows us to distance ourselves from the darker elements of the American psyche.
Okay, it probably wouldn’t do any of those things. But it might be fun.
Also – for some reason, I confused Rick Remender with Jason Aaron in the original post. The former is the one who worked on the book a couple of years ago. The latter is a writer who probably should write a Captain America book one of these days, but has only tackled the character in an underwhelming miniseries in Marvel’s defunct Ultimate line. Remender and Carlos Pacheco came up with Dr. Mindbubble, a scientist affiliated with the Weapon Minus program who injected himself with a mix of the supersoldier serum and LSD to become a supersoldier for the psychedelic era.
Yes, it was just as bad as you might imagine. On with the show!
More new thoughts about comics released in 2014-15!
Tom Scioli’s G.I. Joe v. Transformers was another reminder that interesting and experimental stories can be found in any medium and genre, even comic books based on licensed toys. I love the efforts to play with the superhero genre in books like Grant Morrison’s Multiversity, but the formal innovation in G.I. Joe v. Transformers felt more unsettling and transgressive. Scioli’s approach to storytelling (down to the characters posed like action figures) evoked the childhood ritual of using action figures to remix pop culture brands. Scioli does more than stage battles between recognizable toys, he blends the mythologies that have developed around both properties while adding in layers of inventive madness inspired by the subtext and themes of the original. We get an unsettling (but unsurprising!) US coup staged by General Flagg and an epic battle between Duke and Destro on Megatron’s head. It was a reminder of a childhood spent telling stories about G.I. Joe members joining forces with the Ghostbusters and the Superfriends to combat the combined forces of Darkseid, Cobra, and the Deceptions during endless Saturday afternoons.
I planned to write these every week, but unexpected complications related to a move, health problems for a loved one, an insane workload and an event I’m planning contributed to the delay. So, here we go…
Sometimes I think that 2015 was the first year when stories in licensed comics felt more emotionally complex and creatively ambitious than the ones in stories published by Marvel and DC.
Uncanny Avengers #2, by Daniel Acuna and Rick Remender. I read the first five issues of the second volume of Uncanny Avengers on Marvel Unlimited in a single sitting. I lost interest in the plot and the dialogue pretty quickly (other than a few great scenes between the Vision and the Scarlet Witch).
Remender’s version of the High Evolutionary character is slightly different than the one I’m familiar with from the Bronze (and Modern) Age. The High Evolutionary was typically presented as an unbalanced scientist obsessed with mastering evolution, a slightly less sinister modern version of Wells’ classic Dr. Moreau. He tampered with the genetic structure of animals (creating both an evil evolved red wolf with psychic powers and a benevolent evolved cow who was the foster mother to Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver), evolved himself into a god-like figure, and created a version of the Earth where time passes at an accelerated rate. Creators used him as an antagonist, a deux ex machina and a story catalyst over the decades, but Remender and Acuna were the first (that I’ve read) to explicitly address some of the darker implications of the character. Although some treated the character as a symbol for our fears of science untethered from all ethical constraints, almost all portrayed HE in a sympathetic or ambivalent light. Acuna and Remender highlight the social attitudes that might accompany an obsession with accelerating human evolution, particularly from a character who was originally a British scientist from the early 20th century. He may have been depicted as a proto-transhumanist in the past, but it’s not that hard to imagine him as a twisted eugenicist.
This excerpt is from my favorite scene in the arc, when Acuna gives the reader glimpses of ordinary folk in the humanoid animal society. The body language and expressions of the characters is recognizable and emotionally resonant. I’m drawn to the way Acuna uses hands to convey casual intimacy – the deer holding their child, the tightly clasped hands of a zebra and a leopard, the older rhino who places their hands (protectively, almost pa/maternally) on the shoulders of a younger rhino. His images help the reader develop empathy for the New Men and other human/animal hybrids that are usually in the background of these stories.
Remender’s dialogue strikes a chillingly complementary note. The High Evolutionary’s words are heartless and clinical, but when the reader sees the audience, they feel particularly cruel, hinting at a deeply familiar bigotry.
I’m not alway a fan of applying retcons and other character tweaks to earlier stories, but it’s surprisingly easy to imagine that Remender and Acuna’s version of the High Evolutionary is the same (or at the very least, the true) version of the character who appeared intermittently in comics over the last few decades. Everything reads differently if one spends a little bit of time thinking about the sentient beings who were impacted by the High Evolutionary’s actions. You might find that what was traditionally depicted as a slightly unhealthy interest in human advancement might just be an obsession with perfection, and the Evolutionary’s reckless indifference to human life could easily be viewed as an unwillingness to acknowledge the personhood of sentient beings who look different.
It’s not necessary to view the character from this perspective – the next time we see High Evolutionary, he might be a positive symbol of human curiosity – but it’s interesting to think about the possibilities of a Marvel villain who hides their evil behind a veil of rationality.