Monday, January 25, 2010

Looking Back at the "O*'s" - The 5 Best New Characters of the Decade

We got a lot of great new characters in the past 10 years. Here are 5 that deserve mentioning.

Winter Soldier

While Bucky Barnes has been around forever, it was his rebirth as Winter Soldier that turned this teen sidekick into a serious character of his own. Rather than destroy his earlier image, Marvel chose instead to go back and show us the "unseen" parts of his past. In other words, he might have looked like just a kid, but he was actually a serious secret weapon. Don't believe me? Just pick up the Avengers/Invaders story from last year.

When Captain America died, he stepped into the boots and kept the character alive. Unfortunately, this meant we lost Winter Soldier and it's apparently for good. Steve is back, but isn't Cap so I guess Bucky will continue to fling the shield for the foreseeable future.

The Sentry

What can I say? I love this character's potential. Unfortunately, it appears he will forever be crippled by Marvel from being all he could become. That final battle in World War Hulk where he got to cut loose gave us a glimpse of what he could become.

Yes, he's Marvel's answer to Superman...though they have yet to figure out what to do with him. For some strange reason they think giving him the mental crazies is a great way to make him unique. It's not. Stop it. Stop it now.

Currently working for Norman Osborn and the Dark Avengers, Sentry's future is uncertain. I just hope Marvel someday decides to let this character get a normal mind and just become a hero. 

Red Robin (twice) as Jason Todd and Tim Drake

One of the truly iconic moments of Kingdom Come was a single page where Red Robin shows up to stop the aliens inside the Statue of Liberty's head (read it if you're confused by that statement). I guess it could even be considered cheating to say Red Robin came from the "0*'s", but I'm going to anyway. This decade finally gave us that character...even though it was Dick Grayson who wore the suit.

While three different people became Red Robin this decade, the two who make the biggest impression were Jason Todd and Tim Drake. Hands down, Jason Todd was the better of the two, but DC in their "infinite" wisdom decided to erase his time in the suit after Countdown to Infinite Crisis was over. Still, the short time he wore the suit allowed us to see him take the character in this "Batman" direction of beating down criminals and taking no prisoners. He even killed the Joker during one of his trips to the multiverse after watching that incarnation of Batman die! And yet all of that was over in an instant.

Tim Drake is currently the Red Robin, and it's an interesting fit. He has yet to really do anything that makes the character stand out any differently from his stint as Robin, but there are possibilities.

Red Arrow

Speedy's had a rough life of being a sidekick, to becoming a drug addict, then eventually turning up as Arsenal, and finally going back to the bow with Red Arrow.

What makes this character so interesting is how he eventually replaced Green Arrow (his mentor) in the Justice League. It was a changing of the guard that really showed his worth in the eyes of the elder heroes he'd grown up around.

He's had his fair share of moments as well. Perhaps the best was when he and Vixen were trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building. She was powerless, and he was hurt, yet he still managed to get them both out of there alive.

While he'll soon be leaving the Justice League and returning to his "Arsenal" name, his time there was a great move for the character.


We'd never heard of him until he got his own 12-part storyline. While you might think Damian, Batman's son with Talia, should rank a place in this list, I think this new villain gets the spot.

After tormenting Batman with hints of who he might or might not be, he turns out to be a childhood friend with a lifelong hatred of Bruce Wayne. While that might not sound like the most original supervillain idea, there was a twist on this one in the aftermath of Batman R.I.P. -- he became Bruce Wayne.

Imagine Lex Luthor getting to become Superman, his arch-enemy. Now you see how cool this moment really is.

Next week we close down this look back over the past decade at the single character who has had the busiest and most eventful years. I'll give you a hint: it's a DC character.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Looking Back at the "0*"s - Top 5 Iconic Comic Book Related Events

Comics had their share of amazing moments since 2000. While these might not have made the news, they were something of note to comic book fans as they happened. I went with things that were a little more obscure rather than the obvious.

1 - DC - The Birth and Death of the Weekly Comic Book

The rumors grabbed everyone's attention. DC was planning on attempting something that hadn't been done before: a weekly comic book. The bigger news? It would be done without an appearance from the "Big 3" of Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman. Drawn by the same artist throughout, 52 would flow seamlessly after "Infinite Crisis" to tell the story of what happened in the year after Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman disappeared.

The project worked. Incredibly enough, DC was able to keep each issue going out as planned and the fans enjoyed what they were reading. It played havoc with comic shop owners who were having to figure out how many to order when there was no major star to draw readers in. DC did a good job of picking the stars for the series though (The Question, Black Adam, Booster Gold, and Animal Man) and it had its own moments of plot twist shockers.

As it drew to a close, DC quickly announced they were continuing the process with a 52 issue series ominously called Countdown (later changed to Countdown to Final Crisis). Fans who were willing to invest $4 a week in a new thing were a little less enthusiastic about the new series. Folks began to do the math and realize they could wait a few weeks until the trade paperback came out and save about 40% off the cost of buying individual issues. The fact that the series became strangely twisted and hard to follow didn't help matters.

The final nail in the coffin came when the reader found out everything they'd paid to follow actually didn't mean a single thing to Final Crisis. It was as if none of it had even happened. It did not sit well.

DC went to the well one final time, this time banking on their big 3. Trinity focused on Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman in a weekly series. Unfortunately, the series didn't do well. We had just seen Bruce Wayne killed as Batman, so where exactly did this series fit into continuity? While DC recently tried something called "Wednesday Comics" (a newspaper format of different heroes), they've steered clear of the weekly comic. The closest they have come is the recent announcement of a 26 issue bi-weekly comic series called "Brightest Day" that will, of course, be the sequel/aftermath to "Blackest Night". Geoff Johns is writing this, though, so expect good things from it.

2 - Alex Ross Returns to Comics

While Alex Ross is best known for his work on stories like "Kingdom Come" and "Universe X", his work on entire comic books began to dwindle. While still a huge presence on covers everywhere, his interior work was almost nonexistent. Then "Justice" came along.

Alex proved himself true to form here, recreating some iconic scenes from Kingdom Come (Captain Marvel standing over a fallen Superman) while paying homage to the old comic stories. I would love to comment more on some of the specifics of the stories, but if you haven't read it that would spoil some good stuff. You want to give this one a look though.

So far, Alex has only stepped in for interior work one more time. That was in the JSA's "Thy Kingdom Come" storyline, which was supposed to be a true sequel of sorts to "Kingdom Come". He did the interior work for the issue that featured the battle between the real Superman and the KC Superman. He also revisited it for a final epilogue of KC in the last pages of the storyline. This is available as a 3-part TPB set as well.

Even though that's all we've seen, it was a great set of moments. I hope Alex  picks up some major storyline soon so he can give us more of his incredible artwork.

3 - Comic books become more expensive than a gallon of milk

That's not meant to be sarcastic, it's just truth. At some point in this decade, comic books hit the $4 per issue mark, while not offering any more content than they did in 2000.

Suddenly publishers were complaining because sales were down. Sales were down because comics were so expensive a casual reader had to be selective in what they bought. Series were canceled after only a few issues rather than giving them several months to build an audience. Fans were leery to begin new series because they didn't think they'd last. 

The reasons given by the publishers were the new paper and better ink quality allowed the issues to hold up better over time than the old newsprint. The pages were more vibrant and alive! The readers responded with the same answer: $4 for one comic book?!? Pop out a double-size issue and it was suddenly almost $8 for one story!

The publishers say their life blood now comes from trade paperback sales after the issues have gone off press. That's probably true. Even though a TPB can go for over $20, it's still cheaper than buying six individual issues.

4 - The release of "Vault" books

If you're a fan of comic book nostalgia, then chances are good you've picked up one of these books over the past few years since they started coming out. Originally released as a rather expensive title (the "Marvel Vault" was first of the bunch and published at close to $100) they've come down in price and become something pretty affordable.

So what makes them such a big deal? Imagine being able to hold in your hands a copy of the Christmas postcard sent to Marvel fans in the 60's. How about being able to hold a real Batman mask from the 50's? Things you might see mentioned in ads for old comics are reproduced here for you to actually be able to see and touch. The chances are slim and none that you'd ever find the real things (or be able to afford them if you did), but this is the next best thing.

The history reprinted here is detailed and enjoyable. Almost everything is true to size and very close to the original paper it was printed on (if possible). The format allows for you to pull out and hold the "collector's items" and still be able to put them back away safely for storage when you're through. With one for Marvel, DC, and most recently Batman, there's bound to be one you'll enjoy. They are most definitely not the pricey investment they once were, so grab one.

5 - Everybody gets an action figure!

When  I was growing up, we had the "Super Powers" collection from DC and the "Secret Wars" collection from Marvel. The figures could bend at the shoulders and hips, and their heads could turn. Every once in a while  someone could bend a knee or elbow, that was all she wrote. And it was almost always a major hero or villain. Obscure characters need not apply.

The past 10 years have seen a huge surge in action figures. Now just about any hero out there either has one or is on the list for one in the future. And the articulation on most of these is amazing. They can bend at wrist, knees, ankles, and some even cover fingers and toes. Just about any pose you can imagine can be created.

While the market has cooled dramatically recently, there is still a growing market of figures coming out. There is even a "retro" set of old Mego-style DC figures that will be hitting the markets in March. It's definitely a collector's world out there if you want to fill in the gaps on any hero or villain you missed back in the day.

Next week, we look at some of the greatest characters in comic book history of the past 10 years!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Looking Back at the "O*'s" - The 5 Best New Titles of the Decade

For this list (part 3 of the 6 part series), I wanted to look specifically at some of the new titles that were brought to the forefront. These are not re-imaginations of a current hero, or rebranding of that hero with yet another title (I'm looking at you, Wolverine!). These are folks we'd never heard of (or barely seen) in the 90's and were suddenly introduced to.

1 - Vertigo - "Fables"

While I don't condone the violence, sex, and language of this title, I can't fault them for the storylines. The complete re-imagination of our childhood fairy tale characters into the real-world was genius. It's especially true when you consider how they changed them up.

The big bad wolf (the villain in more than one story) actually became a private investigator/sheriff werewolf named Bigby Wolf. Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, and just about any other fictional character you can imagine has been brought into the story even if in nothing more than a cameo.

This series is now approaching its 100th issue, so if you haven't read it yet you might want to give it a look. Just be careful of the content. It's not for children.

2 - Zondervan - "Hand of the Morningstar"

This title slipped by most people because it started as a web comic before moving to print. The artwork is done by one of Marvel's former artists, and the quality of the storylines are superb. This is a graphic novel rather than a monthly comic title and only 6 volumes have come out so far, but it's worth following.

Morningstar is basically about a group of people who receive super-powers from a being called the Morningstar. This mysterious being is only alluded to in the first issues and never really explained. As the stories progress, it becomes apparent that there's a good possibility the Morningstar might not be all they had originally thought...and might even be the villain of the story.

The heroes here are flawed, and some even become corrupt with power. They kill from time to time, and yet often find themselves desperately seeking to keep their humanity intact even while saving the world as superheroes. You should look this one up on Amazon, as it's possible to find the first few volumes for very cheap. While this is a Christian publisher, the series will appeal to most comic book fans...especially those who long for the days when comic book stories were fun and not filled with gratuitous violence and language.

3. - Dark Horse - Archenemies

Imagine if Superman and Doctor Doom were out to kill each other, but turned out to be roommates in their secret identities with no idea the person they hated most in the world was just a few feet away. That's the premise for this four-issue series from Dark Horse that was funny and imaginative.

Star Fighter and Underlord hate each other and regularly battle as hero and villain. Ethan and Vincent also hate each other and regularly argue as roomies. There are so many fun moments in here it's hard to mention them all. At one point, Vincent develops such a hatred for Ethan that he decides it's time to kill him off as Underlord. Unfortunately, Ethan (Star Fighter) believes Underlord has somehow figured out his secret identity and is trying to kill him and Vincent!

The story takes a lot of tragic turns and manages to cram a lot into four issues. The emotional development between the two is great and it seems to end just as it's getting good. There have been talks of this turning into a feature film, and some discussion of it returning for a few more issues. I, for one, would love to see both happen.

4. - DC - Green Lantern Corps

While the Corps have been around since Hal Jordan first put on the ring, they never had a title of their own. Fortunately, Geoff Johns knew how to breathe life into the title by giving us a real look at how they would pick and train these new ring bearers. Favorites Kyle Raynor and Guy Gardner took the forefront of the story, yet also managed to slide into the background when Kilowog and any of a half dozen other GL's stepped into the spotlight.

What's amazing is how DC is able to keep this Green Lantern book interesting with nary a visit from Hal Jordan. In the past the only time we saw the Corps was when they desperately needed Hal's help to stop some villain or another. Now we see them as a group of heroes who don't need his help at all.

With the events of Blackest Night running through all titles, you see him showing up from time to time, but for the most part this is a title standing on its own merits.

5. - Red-Handed Studios - "Fallen Justice"

Justice Theta is a Superman-type hero who saves the world time and again. One day he realizes he's feeling more tired than usual and having some power problems. After a quick check, he is informed by the local scientist that his powers aren't giving out...he's dying. He has three months to live.

There is no cure. There will be no last-minute save. He is going to die, and that is settled up front in the first issue. From that point on, it's all in how he lives his last days. Every time he uses his powers he pushes himself that much closer to death, but how can a true hero stand idly by while others die?

This series truly is amazing. While it's definitely adult in language and situations, it really does show an interesting take on what truly makes a hero. Not a big fan of the name "Justice Theta", but the character is well-written and you really get a sense of the finality of his situation as the story progresses.

Starting as a comic for the iPhone, this strip is newest on the list (it came out in February of 2009). Available online in the iTunes store, it's also available in print for those comic fans like me who prefer to feel the paper as you read. This one is still going on, so if you're interested, pick it up.

We've crossed the halfway point with our lists! Next week, we continue our look back over the last decade with a look at some of the best comic book related moments since 2000.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Looking Back at the "O*'s" - The 5 Best Stories of the Decade

While I blasted the worst stories last week, I wanted to point out the best this week. Here are the books you should have picked up (and yes, DC was the clear winner here):

1. - Marvel Comics - Civil War

There were rumblings and teasers throughout Marvel's titles for months, and even when it came time to spill the beans on their newest upcoming project, we had no idea where they were going with it. Heroes were supposed to die and some were supposed to turn into villains, but could Marvel pull it off?

Yes, they did.

In this one storyline, we saw Spider-Man unmasking publicly. We saw the return of the Punisher to the regular Marvel Universe. We saw "Thor" kill Giant Man, only to later be revealed as a clone. We saw Captain America turn on Iron Man, and we were loving every page of it. Though the ending was really a little anticlimactic, the story kept to a steady pace and the outcome paved the way for the Secret Invasion later.

2. - DC - Infinite Crisis

 The first issue of this series managed to pay homage to its predecessor (Crisis on Infinite Earths) while still establishing itself as an original plot of its own. Many heroes died here, and some came back (Barry Allen, even just for one panel).

I didn't like how Alexander Luthor and Superboy Prime were turned into bad guys at the end (I feel that was a cheap shot), but I liked this series for the most part.

By the way, find the one huge mistake they made on the poster for this one. It's fairly easy to spot, though the folks at DC never picked up on it for some reason. Did you see it? Explain why Jay Garrick, the golden-age Flash, would be fighting Wally West, the current Flash. It was supposed to be Jay versus Professor Zoom, but apparently the colorist didn't catch the memo.

DC had originally planned to kill Nightwing in this story, but fortunately they rethought that one. That left the character wide open to take part in our next winner...

3. - DC - Battle for the Cowl

How do you recover from the drug-induced haze of Grant Morrison's Batman: R.I.P. story? You give the follow-up tale to Tony Daniel. Rather than dig through years of comic history to find the most obscure moments and make them suddenly crucial to the story, Tony gave us a story that even a new Batman reader could follow.

Dick Grayson, the natural successor to the cowl, didn't want it (for reasons that became apparent later in the title), while everyone else did. Jason Todd steps in as a Batman you should seriously be afraid of, and in the end Dick Grayon's eventual acceptance of the mantle of Batman made perfect sense. The end result was the same as if you'd just had him take it, but the ride made the moment much more poignant.

4. - DC - Identity Crisis

While many have panned this, I have to say I loved it. It was the first time in a long time I followed a monthly series and really had no idea how it was going to end. It had some incredibly iconic moments like the death of Firestorm, Deathstroke versus the JLA, and of course the eventual revelation of Sue Dibny's killer.

This series has made three different lists in this blog based on some of the moments in it, so it stands to reason it would find its way here. This wasn't a comic book was a full-fledged mystery that showed how ugly it can be to be a superhero sometimes.

Oh, it went too far in places. Sue Dibny's rape at the hands of Doctor Light was way over the edge and unnecessary, even though it was the catalyst for Elongated Man's determined attack on him. But this was a solid enough story to keep it interesting until the end. I never saw the end coming.

5. - DC - Green Lantern: Rebirth

We knew Hal Jordan was coming back. The question was how? Geoff Johns gave us a taste of how to write a return story with this one. Hal Jordan's Spectre comes back in a crazy way. Green Arrow uses a power ring. And these are all just moments leading up to the big return.

Some of the explanations were a little strange (like why Hal had gray hair at his temples), but for the most part we saw some incredible stuff from beginning to end.

The thing that set this story apart was how they were able to bring Hal back into the regular DC universe without killing Kyle or anyone else. And in the aftermath of this series we saw him confronting Batman (and decking him).

This will be released in an Absolute Edition early in 2010. If you haven't read it already, get that one on order.

BONUS: DC - Justice

This one didn't make the list because it's on another list I have coming up reviewing the "0*'s", but I had to mention it here.

What's there to like about this? Let's see...Alex Ross does all the interior and exterior work, the Justice League get the biggest smackdown to their abilities ever, Aquaman gets brutally attacked but gets his revenge, and the list goes on and on. This story took an incredibly original look at the Justice League while managing to pay homage to the old "Challenge of the Super Friends" cartoon series by giving us the Legion of Doom (plus some). It looked absolutely hopeless for our heroes until they were finally able to slowly turn the tide.

The "Absolute" edition of this is a must-have. The artwork looks even more amazing in this bigger, more-colorful size. The price may be a little steep, but it's definitely work the investment.

Honorable Mention: Blackest Night

While it technically began in the "oughts", it won't finish until 2010. That means it'll be making our list on December 22, 2019, so be sure and check us out then!

Next week, we continue our look back on the first decade!
Blog Widget by LinkWithin