End o’ the year, so I thought I’d do a quick look-see at some regular series comics I’ve been reading over the past twelve months that deserve some hey-check-this-out!-type acknowledgement. All five are from the mainstream companies and are being packaged as ongoing series (though, given the state of the industry, who knows if we’ll still be seeing all five this time next year). No Art Comics here (though some of the creators herein may’ve swiped from their less commercial peers), just some titles that’ve fulfilled my admittedly warped entertainment needs. In alphabetical order, they are:
Alias (MAX): Scripter Brian Michael Bendis takes the ‘tec story mode that he polished in his Powers series and plunks it into the Marvel Universe. I have no memory of Jessica Jones’ murky history as a superheroine (in the most recent issue, a character asks her if she’d once been in the Avengers), but that’s no real detriment. As a hard-bitten p.i. in the V.I. Warshawski mode, Jones finds herself in sordid noir-ish cases involving 2nd-tier Marvel personalities (in one story arc, she looks for Hulk & Captain Marvel hanger-on, Rick Jones). Bendis’ style is slow and deliberate – doesn’t always pay off in satisfying resolutions either – but I like his world-weary heroine and the mean streets tone of his book. Only complaint I have is with the writer’s use of frozen panels during long expositionary conversations: the technique, first utilized in Powers, may save a mess of drawing, but it too frequently draws attention to itself. I enjoy Michael Gaydos’ face ‘n’ shadow focused art too much to accept any cheats on this front.
Automatic Kafka (Wildstorm): Pure gobble-de-gook or unpure gobble-de-gook? Beats me. Superman scripter Joe Casey and artist Ashley Wood have developed a “superhero comic” that at times reads and looks like something that could’ve come from the retarded narrator of The Sound and The Fury. Still don’t know what the hell is going on, but I’m nonetheless titillated. Whole thing makes Grant Morrison’s The Filth mini-series look like a model of linear scriptwriting, but there are plenty of funny moments that arise from Casey’s clunking contrast between superhero comics cliches and his dubious junkie android hero. Of all the books in this list, the one most likely to provoke a what-the-hell-you-talkin’-about-Sherman? response from other comics readers.
Fables (Vertigo): Bill Willingham does for the world of fairy tales what Roger Rabbit did for ‘toons: makes the characters living & breathing creatures who live by their own rules, then tosses gritty human motivations into the mix. Of all the current Vertigo series, this ‘un is my favorite. Willingham’s world is well-realized (first recall becoming acquainted w./ this guy through an Eros Comic) and full of sly allusions (current plotline is a play on George Orwell’s Animal Farm – someone alert Chris Hitchens!) Artists Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha convincingly ground a world where a Goldilocks is a gun-toting radical and the three bears members of her would-be revolutionary army. This book frankly surprised me: I wasn’t expecting it to be as richly developed as it is.
Harley Quinn (DC): A pure guilty pleasure. Paul Dini’s squeaky-voiced addition to the Gotham City criminal population had one heck of a year: she went to hell & took advantage of the situation better than Howard the Duck; she gave Jimmy Olsen a hard time on a visit to Metropolis (bringing that icon of Silver Age Silliness, Bizarro, into the frame) and even managed to make John Jones interesting. Don’t know what to make of the book’s new creative team yet – Karl Kesel, abetted by unabashed cheesecakers Terry & Rachel Dodson, provided some funny moments this past year that it’ll be tough surpassing – but I’m cautiously optimistic.
X-Statix (formerly: X-Force) (Marvel): Yeah, I know, everybody and their geeky fan boy nephew (see the villain of its most recent story arc, The Mysterious Fan Boy) rave about this book. But outside of a few recent trades (plus the New X-Men hardcover reprint, which I got as a gift), this is the only Marvel X-book I can bring myself to regularly read. Peter Milligan’s cynical superheroes-as-commodity take may be obvious, but it’s on-target in this, the Marvel Age of Merchandize Marketing. I also love Mike Allred’s retro superhero art style, which is much more fun than the murky pseudo-realism affected by so many mainstream artists these days – particularly when it comes to the book’s periodic bursts of de rigueur graphic ultra-violence. For a good measure of Allred’s indispensability, check out issue #5, where Paul (100%) Pope manages to take the air out of out of the script’s “It’s A Good Life” swipe.
So there you go: five titles that likely won’t make any serious comics critic’s Best-of-the-Year list, and I’ve enjoyed every one of ’em. Wouldn’t dream of pulling any of these titles out if I was in a Comics Can Be Serious Art debate. But, then, I also probably wouldn’t pull out the last issue of Crumb’s Mystic Funnies to bolster my point either.
Here’s to another year of panelogical pleasures . . .
(Tweaked from its original appearance in Pop Culture Gadabout.)