The New 52: My top five (and then some)

So, we're on the far side of the New 52 initiative, of which I ended up reading 40 titles (plus two I would have read if I could ever have found copies), and I have to say it aside from some issues that cropped up each week it was overall a positive experience. There were a handful of standouts, but I liked a lot more of the total than I expected to, and I intend to stick with a bunch, albeit a month late after the price drop for most of them. In lieu of writing forty reviews, which I probably would have done if I had time between actually reading my 20-odd-books-a-week pull (urgh), I'm just going to pick out my five favorites and a few honorable mentions and focus on the ones worth reading.


The Best _____ This Week for 8/17/11: Whole lotta fighting going on

Ughuguh. Never found the time to write anything this weekend, so you get super-quick picks for the week, just so I can say I put something up. Which is a tragedy because of how good some of the books were this week (Two great Man-Thing books! TWO!). In lieu of lengthy, loving write-ups, just trust me on these and go buy 'em, okay?


This Week In Rant for 8/17/11: Full Of Itself

This week, the subject that permeated most of  my pull was: Event Fatigue.

I've never been a huge fan of events from the Big Two. They have their place in concept, but they've grown into these massive beasts that take up most of a year's comics, and whose fallout will pervade a good number of titles  for the rest of the year, until the next event rises up. The old mantra "nothing will never be the same" is only true thanks to the fact that this flow and ebb never lets up long enough for something to settle and stay the same, as room must be made for the new status quos, the dying-for-sales characters or the reality-altering time-quakes.
To DC's credit, not a whole lot will be the same after this current event wraps up. Flashpoint is being used to usher in the new DCU, which is a fine idea in itself, but the odd part is proving to be how insular the various Flashpoint series have been, mostly being stand-alone mini-series and one-shots. While the majority of DC's books are, within the narrative, not being affected by the goings-on in Flashpoint, they are contradictably being affected in the real world with their being relaunched or cancelled to make room for the fresh-and-shiny continuity being moved in. It's not a new point to bring up, certainly, and I am excited about a great deal of the new books, but it's hard to forget what's being left in the wake. All problems with the story of the book aside, Flashpoint is, in a lot of ways, a very good example of how to handle an event, providing a mostly-contained story without permeating other books and disrupting their rhythm, as is often the case with an ongoing title's event tie-in. However, at the same time it is the current DCU's death-knell, a tool to hew out this new continuity. While the event itself has been mostly contained to its own titles, with the rest of the books ending every week (some for good for the time being), every title becomes intrisically tied to the fallout of Flashpoint, for better or worse, and in a major way. And a lot of the books' stories have been forced to rush and alter plots to wrap them up, if not because of the event then because they simply won't have another chance to do so. As I focused on last week, every Wednesday we're saying good-bye to something because of this event, even if Flashpoint itself is just a puppet for this greater mandate.

A bit on the nose, there.

Marvel, on the other hand, is doing a pretty terrible job organizing their events. And I have to emphasize the plural there, we are now dealing with multiple crossover events. We are smack in the middle of Fear Itself, which currently has the entire world panicking as the Serpent and his Worthy are at the height of their powers,  with the heroes of Earth coming together to stop this seemingly-omnipotent, existence-wide threat. Meanwhile, New York is infested with normal citizens possessing spider powers and the X-Men are battling a global Sentinel threat and a reformed Hellfire club, neither of which seem to be showing any signs of being in the midst of or on the far side of the events of Fear Itself. The main draw we keep coming back to these events for, whether we like it or not, is to see the effect they're going to have on the shared continuity, and it becomes hard to take this kind of thing seriously when said shared continuity is going to pick and choose what it's going to observe. It wouldn't be such a problem if, like Flashpoint, the events themselves were more insular and/or staggered out a little better. A large part of the event fatigue is the sheer amount of books I'm getting devoted to them. Out of eleven Marvel books I picked up this week, one was the Schism main title (which also had a Generation Hope tie-in come out), two were Spider-Island tie-ins and five were Fear Itself tie-ins. Of the three remaining books, one is just getting out of its Fear Itself arc that, for all intents and purposes, could have missed those two issues and not missed a beat. Specifically, I'm talking about Hulk which, while one of the issues was pretty fun and I can't fault it for that, had to take a break from the story in progress for two issues to inconsequentially check in on how Fear Itself was doing.
This is admittedly a bad week to just complain, however, since even if it did throw a wrench into their intended plotworks, Uncanny X-Men and Thunderbolts both put out some great issues for their tie-ins and Deadpool and Fearsome Four were both fun issues that need Fear Itself to exist in the first place, while Journey Into Mystery has been one of the standouts of the Fear Itself crop since Gillen started his run alongside the event. Both Venom and Spider-Girl's Spider-Island books were very strong, as was Cloak and Dagger's first issue last week. And I have some small problems with Schism, but the good far outweighs the bad and I'm enjoying the series quite a bit more than even I expected to. At any given point in an event, you can take things book by book and find some great comics, almost by law of averages, and the problem isn't one of quality. The problem, in the end, comes to primarily to timing and volume. We are given the core Event series and it's closer tie-in mini-series. Then that spins out into the ongoing series touched by the event. As those move on, series have to move on and they fall off the main event and, in the case we're currently seeing, spinning out into their own, smaller events. However, that first event is still going, and as the initial minis start to dry up, we start getting the "impact" series and one-shots (which I think Fear Itself has been mostly free from but I remember Civil War absolutely drowning in). Eventually, the series ends and the fallout books start coming out, which today Marvel announced for Fear Itself, including Fear Itself getting issues 7.1, 7.2 and 7.3 among other titles, and surely some of the ongoings will swing back around and comment on what happened, now the the world has been forever changed somehow until sales dictate it returns to normal. And between inevitable delays, shipping issues, etc, by the time we've actually gotten past this event, we'll probably be seeing the prelude books for next year's event getting solicits. When all's said and done, we'll have seen a seven-issue series spawn damn near a hundred individual issues, and the wheel keeps turning. This is probably the best thing about the DC relaunch, that they're giving themselves to break that cycle and start fresh, even though we'll still have to wait and see if they seize that opportunity. Marvel, on the other hand, seemed to have taken a bit of a breather with the whole Heroic Age movement, but it looks like it's headed right back down the event-hole, remaining mired deep down as the tentacles cancerously spread through their titles without reprieve.

Ah well. There's always Image.


The Best _____ This Week for 8/10/11: Cloak and cowl

The Best Part Of This Balanced Breakfast:
Spider-Island: Cloak and Dagger #1, written by Nick Spencer, art by Emma Ríos, colors by Javier Rodriguez, letters by Joe Caramagna

The Best Thing We'll Probably Never See Again:
Batgirl #24, written by Bryan Q. Miller, art by Pere Pérez, colors by Guy Major, letters by Dave Sharpe

Red Lantern Damien? Why you gotta tease me, Miller?

The Best Satanic Familiar:
Ghost Rider #2, written by Rob Williams, art by Matthew Clark, inks by Sean Parsons, colors by Rob Schwager, letters by Clayton Cowles
And now, onto the real categories:

This Week In Rant for 8/10/11: Odds and Endings

So in a bid to artificially inflate my post count break up these increasingly-long weekly post a little, I'm going to split up the usual Best Of post into three parts: the "little" spiel that normally goes up top here getting its own post, the main Best Of the week post that it was originally meant to be, and finally the Best of the Rest reviews, which are what I started the post to avoid doing in the first place because now I feel bad about not mentioning some books. Just goes to show how bad I am at long-term planning.

Starting At The End

So if every week has some kind of running theme I can pull out of it, the impending relaunch of the DCU has made the entire month of August feel like there's been a running theme of books coming to their end. And, given the staggered nature of three-through-six issue story arcs coming out, every week something is coming to an end, but I can't remember anytime so many major titles have reached their end within so tight a time-frame. Even if we remember most (mrr) of these books are coming back next month, the whole comic zeitgeist feels permeated with a sense of finality. The endings of other books, not even remotely related to DC's relaunch, feels more impactful just because its all hitting in the middle of this massive fall-off of titles.
Last week, my pull saw the end of two books facing vastly different fates: Gail Simone's Secret Six and the current run of Jonah Hex. The former went out, deservedly, with a bang, but left some glimmer of hope for continuation, even if its continuity has been warped and reshaped like Playdough in the interim. Hex on the other hand, by virtue of its nature to stay further disconnected from the greater DCU, did not have the same sense of concluding things. It was, however still laid out in such a way that it  could serve perfectly well as a last issue without putting any kind of cap on things. It, like seemingly the Batman and Lantern books will be, is going to be able to start back up in September without missing a beat regardless of the new quota of making all the books, even the fringe titles like All-Star Westerns, actively connected to the publisher's shared continuity. Especially since the creative team is not being particularly shook up, with Palmiotti and Gray still handling the writing.
Batgirl #24, cover art by Dustin Nguyen
This week, I picked up two more books cut down to make way for the DCnU, Batgirl #24 and Detective Comics #881, Detective Comic's first last issue ever since it started back in 1937. Batgirl sees the end of Stephanie Brown's tenure as the character, with the Simone-penned Batgirl next month putting a de-wheelchaired Barbara Gordon back in the costume. Bryan Q. Miller has done an excellent job on this series, taking a character who probably wasn't the handled the greatest over the years, and proving the adage that there aren't any bad characters, just ones who haven't found the right writer yet. Miller put twenty-three of the most fun Bat-books in years out on the shelves, and he wraps it up with this one, a pitch-perfect issue and a wonderful, touching good-bye to the character. And as sad as I am to see this incarnation of the series and the character go, I can't read that last page without smiling.
Detective Comics, on the other hand, is about as tonally different from Batgirl as you can get. Wrapping up the hanging threads Snyder has been working on since taking over the title. It is a strong, classic Batman tale mixing the superheroics and detective work that Detective Comics at its best has always utilized, but in a lot of ways placed secondary to the family drama and turmoil the Gordons find themselves going through. Like Hex, though, while it is a good wrap to this particular story, it doesn't feel in any way like this is a last issue. This could make any changes that do occur in the shuffle that much more abrupt, or if the changes are negligible making the whole relaunch/renumbering feel that much more pointless.
Hellboy: The Fury #3, written by Mike Mignola, art by Duncan
Fegredo, colors by Dave Stewart, letters by Clem Robins
Outside of DC, the other big ending this week was obvious Hellboy. Both Hellboy's three-part The Fury and B.P.R.D.'s Hell On Earth: Monsters came to a close, and within the former we see the end of Hellboy's seventeen-year macro-arc, facing down the very end of the world we've been teased about since the series began. It's hard to say Hellboy or BPRD ever truly ends, as each arc builds off the previous and sets up the next all while being its own stand-alone story, and Fury is truly no different as it ends with a teaser for next year's Hellboy series; somewhat negating the impact of the final scenes here but in no way taking away from the series itself. The only thing I really noticed was, with all the hype Dark Horse and the blogs were putting on The Fury, Monsters seemed to slide by relatively unmentioned. Which is a shame, because this is a good bridge series (and Crook's ability to draw expressions in particular has completely won me over at this point, the man can draw a smirk). And with my attention mostly directed towards Hellboy, the ending here came entirely out of left field, and was very impactful, especially with no clue as to how permanent its going to be.

Girls, Girls, Girls

B.P.R.D.: Hell On Earth: Monsters #2, written by Mike Mignola and John
Arcudi, art by Tyler Crook, colors by Dave Stewart, lettering by Clem Robins
This is obviously not a new topic, but certainly one that also got a fire lit under its ass by the frenzy surrounding DC and their handling of the relaunch and is spreading out to other areas of the comic consciousness, is women in comics, both characters and creators. As such, this week's pull had its fair share to chime in on about the subject, for better or worse (but for once mostly better, I think). In the above-mentioned comics alone, Monsters focused almost entirely on Liz Sherman kicking some ass, and when it wasn't it shifted over to Kate Corrigan for a couple of scenes, who has always been two of my favorite characters in comcis regardless of gender.
Over on Batgirl and Detective Comics, we got to see two of the women to wear the cowl have their proper send-offs from the current status quo, including a trip through Stephanie's subconscious and Barbara having the chance to play horror-movie heroine when kidnapped by a serial killer.
Batgirl #24, written by Bryan Q. Miller, art by Pere Pérez,
colors by Guy Major, letters by Dave Sharpe
Also from DC, the Batman 80-Page Giant special had a short Catwoman story that I loved, and also featured Renee Montoya's Question, a great and greatly-underused character, in a Riddler story, which is delightfully fun in concept but can't say I quite enjoyed the execution. On the other hand, it also features a Zsasz story about a doctor at Arkham who falls in love with her patient and adopts their psychosis to impress them. Which is, what, the fifth, sixth time they've done that premise? They've done it with just the Joker at least twice, and this was easily one of the clumsiest handling of an already-weak plot.
Marvel had the potential to do something with their Ghost Rider book, as the current host of the Spirit of Vengeance is a woman, but as of yet they haven't done much with her, depicted more as a tool than a character, and despite his depowered status, the book has so far still mainly focused on Johnny Blaze. I'm starting to get worried the new host is merely a gimmick for this first arc instead of a viable character in her own right. I'll wait until its actually over to pass judgement, but if this is just a vehicle to get the fire back in Johnny, I'll be more than a bit disappointed.
Spider-Island: Cloak and Dagger #1, written by Nick Spencer, art
by Emma Ríos, colors by Javier Rodriguez, letters by Joe Caramagna
Where Marvel did get things right, however, is the new Cloak and Dagger. I'm going to be discussing this one at length in the next post, but needless to say this is a book featuring main characters who are a) a woman, b) a minority character and, most importantly, c) not written like these two things matter in defining who these characters are. These are two characters who have endured for years but never truly caught on, and here, with Nick Spencer doing possibly the best job of writing them to date and Emma Ríos providing some absolutely stunning work with the art, this book is in danger of getting lost in the Event shuffle. Don't let the Spider-Island banner turn you off; at least so far as we've seen in the series, you can pick up and enjoy this without any prior knowledge of Spider-Island, or even Cloak and Dagger themselves, as their recap is deftly covered, mostly in one amazing two-page spread and gotten out of the way immediately to jump into the story. As Spencer himself has said, speak with your dollars and pick this up. Whether you're concerned with the issue of racial and gender representation in comics and their creators, or you're completely ambivalent and just concerned with picking up a great book, this is the one to get.