Inevitably, The Year's Best Comics

I always find these year end "Best Of" lists so difficult... when you spend most of your time immersed in the pop culture of a 3 year old, you tend to lose sight of what's going on in your own sphere and fall well behind the curve. As a result, a lot of the things I really enjoyed this year in movies, music, TV, comics, etc., were released in prior years. I probably stayed the most current in comics - which still isn't saying much - so I can list off a few things from '08 that I really enjoyed, so let's go with that.

And yes, this is as subjective as all hell.

Harvest Is When I Need You The Most - A very unofficial Star Wars mini-comic created by a group of talented creators. At times funny, sweet, surprising, and artsy, but always a lot of fun.

The Order - Probably the best Marvel ongoing series since Nextwave: Agents of HATE, and just as undeservedly cut down before its time (allegedly by writer Matt Fraction himself, but that doesn't make the loss any easier). Superheroes-as-celebrities is nothing new, but Fraction really got into these characters' heads and really gave them life.

Comic Book Comics - Not a definitive history of comics, even by the admissions of Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey, but solidly entertaining. A good starting point for people who want to learn more about the history of the medium, but still quite informative for the already-initiated, too.

Captain America - Look, someone had bet me 5 years ago that they'd not only bring back Bucky, but bring him back as a bad-ass cyborg Cold War-era Soviet assassin, then make him the new Captain America, and that it'd actually be a good story, well, I'd have lost that bet, and damn badly at that.

Marina: A 24 Hour Comic - Pure joy in black & white comic form. Read it for yourself. Then go buy a copy (if the website's up, anyway). It's a dollar well-spent.

All Star Superman - This is not the greatest Superman story in the world, no, this is just a tribute. Except that even in tribute, Morrison and Quitely created something so transcendent and wonderful that it sort of comes back around and actually eclipses the very work they tried to emulate. I think they were shooting for Maggin but wound up at Moore. Not that there's anything wrong with either destination, mind you. I'm rambling now. This was great. 'Nuff said.

Skyscrapers of the Midwest hardcover - Months later, and I still think of this book frequently. It's sad, it's funny, it's downright unsettling. Metaphorical as it may be, it still gets early adolescence exactly right, for better or and worse.

Herbie Archives Vol. 1 - So look... if you can find no joy in Herbie, I don't think we can be friends.

And there are honorable mentions to be sure... The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite, Brand New Day Spidey, the Queen & Country Definitive Editions, and The Age of the Sentry all come to mind. But as far as what I liked best, yeah, the above is pretty much it.

As sincere a holiday greeting as you'll ever get from me.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or just plan on going out for Chinese food and a movie, enjoy the day!

The Five Doctors, Twitter-style

As it snowed Sunday morning, my son wanted to watch The Five Doctors for about the gazillionth time (I've truly created a monster). In an attempt to make it more interesting for myself, I grabbed my wife's laptop and decided to live-Twitter my reactions. Only ended up costing me one Twitter follower, so I figured either A.) what I wrote wasn't all that terrible; or B.) very few people were paying attention, most folks probably sleeping in. Well, in a desperate bid for holiday week blog fodder, I give you the highlights of my typin' frenzy.

Yeah, that's right. Highlights. These are actually the good bits.

Live-twittering The Five Doctors until I get bored. Join me, won't you?
Love the opening Hartnell moment. Probably the only Hartnell moment I enjoy at all, actually. The Eye of Orion looks like Scotland. I can see why they'd be so keen on it then! Fake First Doctor is Fake. Happiness is a 3 year old trying to repeat the 5th Doctor's line about cosmic angst - "Just a twinga gosmicgangst" The Brig looks pretty dapper in civilian clothes. And Patrick Troughton is all kinds of rad. I wish BBC hadn't destroyed most of his run Jon Pertwee's pronunciation makes me smile. "Great Ballths of Fie-ah!" Bessie is such a fantastic car. I got to sit in her when that traveling Doctor Who exhibit came to town in the 80s. Real geek out moment. Enter Oddly Whiny & Un-Hip Sarah Jane. Seriously, who decided to write and dress her so out of character for this? One of these days I'm gonna look up Owen Chadwick so I know who Doctor 4 (direct from Shada) is talking about. The most amazing thing about Lalla Ward's Romana is that she could still be cute and funny in some of the worst costumes ever. Maybe if our "mystery" villain would just try harder to adjust the time scoop tracking, he could get 4 out of that vortex. The TARDIS is paralyzed! In other news, it's Tuesday. Cue the Time Lords in funny hats! So, wait, Borusa is played by a different guy every time we see him... he blows through lives faster than the Doctor & the Master combined! "And when I say drop, drop. Understood?" Nope, please clear that up for me, Fake 1. See, fandom? Susan totally recognizes Gallifrey. She *is* a Time Lady. Look out, Sarah Jane... don't fall down that tiny inclined surface! Anyone else ever think this was all just an elaborate plot by 5 to try and ditch Tegan & Turlough? Yes, you *might* be the original Doctor, but for the fact that you're not. Susan, stop making eyes at 5... he's your GRANDFATHER!!! Ick. Pertwee: "Another regeneration?" Ainley (slyly): "Not exactly." Heh. Love their exchange. 5 and Tegan take the appearance of the Cybermen pretty calmly, considering the whole Adric thing. Don't trip over that clearly avoidable rock, Sus... oh, too late. "No, not the mind PROBE!" "Easy as Pi" Death Chessboard comes with coins and slaughtered Cybermen. Other figures & accessories sold separately. New from GalliFun! Oh, wow, I just noticed that Sarah Jane's jacket has mittens on an idiot string. As if the frills weren't bad enough? Wow, spectral Mike Yates and Liz Shaw aged terribly. Spectral Zoe is wearing tights, Ugg boots, and bubble wrap. Belted bubble wrap. Because she's from the future, see. "Tegan." "Sarah." With an introduction and a handshake, a band is born! The Cybermen's attempt to blow up the TARDIS might have been more effective if it maybe didn't take 'em 3 days to set it up. Borusa is pretty non-plused considering the Doctor just caught him in a black gown, playing with dolls. 3 just reversed the polarity of the neutron flow. If this were a drinking game, we'd all have to finish our drinks now. I'm glad they deepened Rassilon's voice for the newer editions of this... his original voice sounded like the Sentry of Emerald City. Bitchin' Rollie Fingers mustache on Rassilon, though... you've gotta give the man that. TIme for the inter-Doctor goodbyes. I love how 5 is so embarrassed by his past selves. Another thing I like about the updated version... they all go back home via time scoop pyramids, not awkward TARDIS cut-outs. More Time Lords in funny hats, woo-hoo! Weird electoral process Gallifrey has: "well, the old guy's gone, so we're just gonna make you president, Doctor. Cool?" You know, I think given the opportunity, most people would run from being president. "...after all, that's how it all started." Nice little sentiment to end on, I think. And this mix of original-theme-into-Davison-theme is one of my favorite versions. And cue the ending "THOOM!"

Christmas is just 2 days away...

Have you been a good enough boy or girl to warrant a visit from Besser Claus?

He's the true spirit of Christmas, don't you know.

Splitting Sequential Hairs

So New York Comic Con has announced that Mike "Gabe" Krahulik & Jerry "Tycho" Holkins from Penny Arcade are going to be among the Guests of Honor at the con in February. The email I received that announced this bills them as the first "non-comic guests of honor." (emphasis mine)


Is there really such a difference between webcomics and print & staple comics, or between strips and books for that matter, that the creators of one of the most popular strips, web or print, in the world today are considered unrelated to "comics"? And yeah, they've certainly moved into other areas of endeavor... there's their video game, the annual Penny Arcade Expo, and their charity Child's Play, they still, you know, make comics. Regularly.

Not trying to make an issue out of an odd wording choice here... I'll leave that to the Newsarama trolls, thanks. But still, it is an odd wording choice.

Pretty Sketchy: Retro Space Girl

So yeah, holy crap do I think this is good.

I commissioned this from Les McClaine a few months back when he was doing his Week (and then some) of 100 Drawings. My only instructions were "Cute retro space girl, bubble helmet a must." To say this exceeded my expectations would be an understatement. Les just absolutely crushed this one. She looks like Betty Cooper... IN OUTER SPAAAAAAAAAAAAACE! What's not to love here?

And he did a great job on the one I commissioned for my son, too. But I'll save that for another time.

The Dig List: 12/16/08, A.K.A. The Lightning Round Edition

Even briefer than usual reactions to things I've read recently:

Grant Morrison's Doctor Who #2 - Mining 60s stories for plot points, adding new meaning to those old stories, making wild connections between seemingly disparate elements of the mythos, an unusual look at a familiar character (as well as the revelation of his ultimate fate), all topped with a dash of metacommentary... yeah, that's more like the Grant we know.

Wolves of Odin - Takes a little too long to get to the hot viking-on-werewolf action (Hi, Googlers!), but does finally deliver exactly that with a good amount of style and flash from Grant Gould. Makes me wanna check out his Star Wars comics now.

Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #20 - Like the cartoon it was based upon, this book died before its time. Still, it ties up an unresolved plot-point from the series, gives us what is, for my money, the only good version of a boring villain (sort of), and the end is a nice tip of the hat to the original Legion. A rushed send-off, but still nice.

Astonishing X-Men Vols. 1-4 - I'd have probably been annoyed reading this in quasi-bimonthly bits, too, but it always read well in chunks, and it reads best of all reading the whole run in just a few days. That way, you can really see Joss Whedon's entire plan come together, and true to form, a lot of the ending is actually set up near the very beginning. Reads like one of the better Buffy seasons, and for the X-Men, that's just about right. Plus, funny Wolverine. Never enough of that.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes #1 - It's probably a stretch to include this in a Dig List post, as the story here may actually be more disjointed than in the movie. But the art by Erich Owen is nice, capturing the look of the characters without obviously photoreferencing them. So, you know, good for Erich Owen.

Queen & Country Definitive Edition Vol. 3 - Still excellent stories about truly damaged people doing terrible things for the public good, and probably the volume with the most consistently good artwork. Definitely a great read, but I'm bummed that about half the book is taken up by the scripts to the first storyarc from back in Vol. 1, which really felt like padding over content. I would have preferred it if they stuck the Q&C Declassified minis into this book instead of stringing it out to a 4th volume just to make use of another Tim Sale cover.

Thoughts on "When I Grow Up: A Memoir"

(Pilfered word-for-word from the review I wrote for this on But why write the same thing twice? And no one has yet proved that self-plagiarism leads to blindness.)

Self-esteem has never been my thing, and a girl I was dating during a particularly annoying (both to myself and others) downswing said something memorable to me: "If you keep telling me what a loser you are, eventually I'm going to start to believe it." Well, Juliana Hatfield spends a lot of When I Grow Up: A Memoir telling us that she's probably not the sort of person we'd actually like to get to know, and I'm now inclined to believe it. It's a little hard to take, given that she's been my absolute favorite musician I first saw her in concert back in 1993, and that I've harbored a crush on her for all that time as well. And while it's easy to tell from just a cursory listen to the lyrics of any given album that she's a big ol' saddo, this look into her life and psyche makes it pretty clear that even on her best days, she's probably more than a little miserable.

Don't get me wrong, the book certainly has its interesting moments, since you're really getting 2 books in 1 here. Half of this is a look into the life of a journeyman, "kinda famous for a minute about 15 years ago" musician on tour. And while she may get a little too bogged down in the details sometimes (at some points recounting individual food choices), it's a unique chance to look into a life completely foreign to me. The other half of the book has the more traditional biography elements, and this is a real mixed bag. We get a lot of information about what it was like to be a female rock musician at a point in time when "girls with guitars" were The Big Thing, discussions of her influences, family life, and a surprisingly in-depth chapter on how the Telecommunications Act of 1996 changed the face of music forever, and that's all fine reading. But there are some surprising gaps, too... one chapter tells about the formation of the Blake Babies, and by the next, they've already broken up. And that's the most glaring example, but there's lots of other little seemingly important pieces missing... not as much "there" there as should be. I'm sure she had her reasons, but these are oddly glaring omissions to say the least.

In short, a decent read at times, a dull slog at others. I think the lesson here is "it's often better not to know what's going on the heads of the people you admire most." I, for one, preferred the illusion.

After finally seeing The Dark Knight, I had but one thought:

(Seriously, Heath Ledger's amazing performance as the Joker aside - and I can't believe I'm saying that, because I'm not a Joker fan, but Ledger was phenomenal - I just don't see the big deal about this movie.)

In which I attempt to go all Project Rooftop on the subject of Phoenix.

I had the X-Men on my mind the other day, partially because I had just read the entire Joss Whedon run on Astonishing X-Men a few days before, but also because that's just the sort of thing happens to me on any given Tuesday, and it occurred to me that the original Phoenix costume just might be one of the best superhero uniforms ever.

See? Even when drawn in a somewhat cartoony style (in this case, by Mike Maihack of Cowshell Graphics), it looks damn cool. A nice, uncluttered design. A simple yet still distinguishable logo. The sash that allows an artist to do all those cool little in-flight movements a cape would make without actually having to give her a cape (adding a cape to this outfit would make it look too Marvel Family... which is a great look for the Marvel Family, but not an X-Man; Storm excepted, X-Men look silly in capes).

And among female costumes, it truly stands out. Form-fitting, sure, but still beyond modest... even her neck is covered! It seems relatively practical, at least when the artist doesn't try and add heels to the boots. It's pretty much the anti-Wonder Woman uniform.

And perhaps most interesting, it shows the true iconic power of color. The green and yellow together is reassuring somehow, maybe even a bit calming, despite the power of the lady in question. But white out the eyes, add some flames, and turn that green blood red, and it's a whole new ballgame.

En francais, s'il vous plait!(En francais, s'il vous plait!)

I still say this is the only cover this collection should ever have.(I still say this is the only cover this collection should ever have.)

Even given his penchant for exposition above and beyond the call of duty, I find it funny that Chris Claremont had to go and name this incarnation Dark Phoenix, since it's so clear just looking at her that whatever's about to happen in her presence will be Not Good. And that's as much because of the costume as her demeanor or obvious power, so strong is visual cue provided by a fairly basic color change.

This is a Dave Cockrum design, yes? Even if I didn't already suspect it (given he was X-Men artist at the time of Phoenix's debut), he'd likely be my first guess. It's not only reminiscent of the designs he did for the Legion of Super-Heroes, but it has that same hallmark of his usual creations... generally basic in design though still quite snappy, has a quick symbolic summation of the character's name/power/theme (the last one was nothing new for superheroes, of course, but Diamond Dave had a real knack for it), and just about anyone can make it look really good. Sounds like a winner to me.

Why my son is the most awesome person I've ever known.

Today he used Pez dispensers and some rulers to simulate a lightsaber fight between Darth Vader and Santa Claus.

That's why.

(And yes, the Force was strong with Santa. Like there was ever any doubt.)

Music! BAT-MUSIC!!!

This scene has always made me happy to be alive:

Incidentally, King Tut is set to make his (long-overdue) comic book debut soon. May the comic Tut be even 1/8th as awesome as the Victor Buono version!

Winter Blog-cation

Taking a short break. See you on the other side.

The Dig List - 12/1/08

Okay, enough crankiness. Let's briefly talk about comics I've liked:

Uncanny X-Men #504 - I was curious to check out Matt Fraction on X-Men, but jeez, you know... Greg Land. Just not a fan. Seeing Terry and Rachel Dodson on art, though, was enough to make me impulse buy this one, and I'm glad I did. Cheesecakey, to be sure, but I enjoy well-done cheesecake from time to time, and this was it. And Fraction's voice on the book... it just sounds right for the X-Men, with the characters hitting all the right beats in situations both familiar and new (the tattoo parlor scene is priceless), and better still, he does this without just aping Claremont. So points for that. Anyway, I'm curious enough now to get over my Greg Land aversion to see what has gone on before, as well as what lies ahead.

Age of the Sentry #3 - Hillbillionaires! Harrison Oogar, Caveman Lawyer! An interstellar love triangle! The shocking secret of why background characters are sometimes colored oddly! Millie the Model! As Kirby said, don't ask, just buy it!

Simpsons Treasure Trove #1 - I never buy Simpsons comics, even though I usually end up really enjoying the Free Comic Book Day issues. But this digest-sized magazine had a spot-on Uncle Scrooge parody (complete with Homer in a pantsless sailor outfit *shudder*), a Bartman parody of those "Bajillion Costumes of Batman" stories from the 50s, and a 30s-ish Itchy and Scratchy story. I'm not made of stone here, people. Fun stuff, and something I'll be sure to keep an eye out for from now on.