Year End Recommendations

As a semi-professional participant in the comic book creating business, I often get the question, “What are you reading?” The most basic answer I usually give is, “Not as much as I used to.” It’s true, a few years back, when Bendis was writing Avengers, Brubaker was on Captain America, JMS was on Thor, Matt Fraction was on Iron Man, Brubaker or Bendis was on Daredevil, and DC was in full vigor, it was a great time to be a comic reader. Go back a couple more years and you get Whedon and Cassaday on X-Men and Mike Turner on Superman/Batman. Even Dreamwave’s Transformers series was a reason to hit the comic shop a couple times a month.

I’d originally planned this as a sort of “Holiday Shopping Recommendations” list, but time got away from me. I’ve generally been trying to keep more of an online presence this year, and while I’ve done better than in the past, I know I’m still not up to snuff. Hey, I’m a creator, not a promoter. So, this is more a year-end highlights list (unless you’re really procrastinating on your Christmas shopping).

So, without further ado, here’s what the writer of Bombshell has really enjoyed this year:

Batgirl: Despite DC’s best efforts, this book continues to be an intriguing read. They’ve forced it to be part of not one but two pretty lame crossovers, and fired and then quickly rehired the fan-favorite writer. The couple of fill-in issues that went to press between Gail Simone’s unceremonious dismissal and subsequent reinstatement kind of show why this book needs her on board. What this book could also use is a consistent art team. Simone’s words never fail to engage, but the art fluctuates in tone, style, and quality, going from the heights of Ardian Syaf and Ed Benes to some third string fill-ins. As it is, we’ll have to settle for this book being an interesting character piece about a damaged young woman learning to be a hero all over again, with a solid supporting cast and plenty of humor and emotional drama.

All-New X-Men: This is a book that shouldn’t be any good. It really shouldn’t. The shear physics and logic involved will give you headaches. And yet, it’s pretty darn enjoyable. The original five X-Men, for reasons that still aren’t adequately explained, beyond “Beast was dying, desperate, and possibly brain-damaged,” have been pulled from history and brought to modern day. What was this supposed to prove? In-universe, something about showing estranged X-Men leader Cyclops how things used to be in the good ol’ days in an attempt to get him to stop being such a dick. In reality, it seems to be sort of a case of seeing what they can give Brian Bendis to work with and have it still turn out any good. In this case, there’s enough teenage drama, comedy, and superhero action to make this the best X-title since Whedon and Cassaday descended from Mount Olympus nearly a decade ago.

Guardians of the Galaxy: If you had told me a couple years ago that I’d be looking forward to new issues of a Guardians of the Galaxy book every month, I’d have slapped you so hard your kids would be sore. If you didn’t have kids, I’d have slapped you, fixed you up with a nice person of the opposite gender, encouraged you to reproduce, and then, when the kid was born, the doctors would all be puzzled as to why it wouldn’t stop crying. And I’d tell the doctor, “One or both of this child’s parents once told me I’d be reading and enjoying a Guardians of the Galaxy book.” And the doctor would just nod knowingly. Now, you have been officially unslapped. I know, I’m surprised, too. Although, is there such a thing as “unslapping?” I’d say “reversed slap,” but I’m pretty sure that just means I’d be backhanding you. Anyway, there are two things bringing me to a GotG title: the writing of Brian Bendis, and a consistently high-quality art team that started with Steve McNiven and was passed on to Sara Pichelli. Sara Pichelli wasn’t an artist who was on my radar before this book, now she’s one of my favorites. Her style is awesome, like a mix between McNiven and Olivier Coipel. On the writing side, Bendis has done what he does best; focus on the human side of the superhuman first, but still keeping the superheroic side humming along. Some people hate on him for it, but I’d question those peoples’ grasp of storytelling. Make me give a damn about a character, make me laugh with them, make me empathize when something goes wrong, then I’ll care about what they’re doing, if it’s doing laundry or saving the universe.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (IDW): IDW’s TMNT line has been better than it has any right to be. They’ve taken nearly every incarnation of the Turtles from the past 30 years and amalgamated them into one coherent story (I say mostly every, because my personal favorite incarnation of the Turtles, from the Archie Comics “Adventures” series, is sadly unrepresented. I want Ninjara back in the funnybooks, dagnabit). Is Splinter Hamato Yoshi, or just a mutated pet rat? Both, and they explain why. Why do the Turtles sometimes all wear red headbands, and sometimes each have their own unique color? It’s in there. Karai, Bebop and Rocksteady, April O’Neil, the Purple Dragons, the Neutrinos, Fugitoid, Slash, Casey Jones, Krang, the Utroms, Baxter Stockman, it’s all in there. Between the main series and the Micro-Series’ (though I think IDW doesn’t quite get the concept of the Micro Series. The point is that it’s a series so short it lasts only one issue, so numbering the various Micro-Series’ as part of an ongoing Micro-Series line somewhat defeats the purpose), the gem of this past year was The Secret History of the Foot Clan mini. It features a solid, compelling, self-contained story that informs the main book, explaining how the Shredder could have been an ancient Japanese warlord and a modern day terrorist. It also brings much more polished and consistent art to the series in the form of artist Mateus Santolouco, who later took over duties on the main book. My only complaint there is that Santalouco draws each of the Turtles with a differently shaped headband, rather than allowing the colors and weapons alone to carry the difference. I get what he’s going for, but there are only so many ways to draw a headband and still have it look good, and he’s exceeded that number by four.

Avengers Assemble: As anyone who knows me (or has read the previous entries on this list) knows, I’m a big Brian Bendis fan. So, I don’t say this lightly: this book got way better after Bendis left. The book originally started as an excuse to have an Avengers book on the racks that featured the same lineup as the Avengers film when that movie hit. It also was a springboard for Guardians of the Galaxy, and a place to launch Hawkeye’s crappy, crappy, crappy new costume (seriously, that costume sucks. It’s not even a costume, it’s a t-shirt. An ugly t-shirt). But after Bendis’ “it’s sort of like the movie” run (seriously, they even included Thanos as the villain, probably so people confused about the credits scene could have that character explained to them), Kelly Sue DeConnick took over. The book was no longer required to conform to the traditional 6-issue, easy to collect format, and instead could be a showcase for in-between-continuity character moments. And it was, and works well. It also launched the “Hulk, make me a sandwich” meme. Seriously, there are t-shirts.

Atomic Robo: This one barely made the list, not because of the quality (Atomic Robo’s a phenomenal book), but because I only read it in trade, and they haven’t put out a TPB since February; Volume 7, Flying She-Devils of the Pacific. I always describe Atomic Robo to the uninitiated thusly: Imagine if Indiana Jones was an unaging robot. He’s sarcastic, reckless, and clever, is always getting himself and his compatriots (the Action Scientists of Tesladyne Industries) into bizarre, sci-fi scrapes, and getting them all out again by the skin of his teeth. If he had teeth. Which he doesn’t, because he’s a robot. Which makes the issue where he… you know what, never mind. The books strive to be as scientifically accurate as any piece of humorous fiction can be, and self-awarely poke fun at themselves whenever they bend the laws of nature. I’m eagerly awaiting the collected edition of Volume 8: The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur, due for release early next year. If you haven’t read this book, do yourself a favor and get caught up on the first 7 volumes while you wait for the next.