Thursday, 20 January 2011

The Letters Page Returns!

DC Comics are bringing back their Letters Page!  Great news as far as I'm concerned.  I've always seen the Letters Page as a sort of fanboy time capsule at the back of every comic, freezing the views, gripes and speculation of fans for future generations to peruse.  Maybe it's just me, but there's something fascinating about reading letters from '90s fans vowing never to read another Batman comic until Azrael is out of the Bat-costume, or '70s fans complaining because Hawkgirl isn't a member of the Justice League.  These were the message boards of long ago and they'll never be deleted!

Also, if you're really lucky, you'll find an old issue with a letter from a fan who will later go on to become a comics professional.  Geoff Johns famously wrote into the '90s Superboy series suggesting that Kon-El should be a clone of Lex Luthor and Superman.  He would go on to make this happen a decade later in the pages of Teen Titans.  Recently I stumbled across a letter in the back of DC Comics Presents #40 from a young fan who would go on to make his mark in the industry.

Who knows, maybe it was the Air-Wave back up story in that very issue that inspired Todd McFarlane's most famous creation?

Probably not though.

But I have another reason for celebrating the return of the Letters Page to DC Comics.  As a child  I always wanted to get my letter published in a DC Comic.  Sadly I never got a single letter published and my nine year old self's complaints about the decision to change Robin's costume went unshared with the rest of the world.  Now I have a second chance!  I've already written to Supergirl and I plan on bothering the DC Offices with more of my half-baked opinions.  Maybe someday soon I will join the ranks of Geoff Johns and Todd McFarlane and get my letter printed in a DC Comic!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Top Ten Best Comic Books of 2000-2009

I recently decided that, since 2010 was over, it would be a great time to compile a list of my favourite comics of the past decade. I was about halfway through the list when I realised that technically the decade spanned from 2000 to 2009 and so last year would have been a much better time to present such a list. Oh well, here it is anyway.

Before you proceed please take into account that while I love the entire medium of comics, superheroes are my favourite genre. Within that genre DC and Marvel are my companies of choice. In short, I'm what's wrong with comics today.

One thing that cheered me up while compiling the list was how much I had to choose from. 2000-2009 had it's stinkers that's for sure, but even within the sphere of mainstream, DC/Marvel superhero stuff there's plenty of fantastic work. Comics that narrowly avoided making the list included Ultimates Vol: 1-2, Grant Morrison's New X-Men, Ultimate Spider-Man, Dan Jurgens' Aquaman, Civil War, New Avengers, DC: New Frontier, Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis and Kick-Ass  As good as they all were however, they didn't make the final cut.  So without further ado let's check out my own personal Top Ten favourite comics of 2000-2009!

10) Mark Waid's Fantastic Four, 2002-2005

The FF are at their best when they're venturing forth into unexplored territory, purely for the thrill of discovery and being the first. After all, the whole reason they gained their powers was because of their rush to ''beat the commies'' into space. During Mark Waid's run the FF were re-established as 'Imaginauts', adventurers and explorers of the unknown. Over the course of his time on the book, Waid had the team battling mathematics, swapping powers, taking over Latveria and rescuing their loved ones from the afterlife. That last one was my favourite aspect of the run, the idea that for the FF the afterlife is just another unexplored frontier. Another highlight was the reinvention of Doctor Doom from a technology based hero to a leather clad sorcerer and Reed Richards' fear as he realised he was out of his depth against the forces of magic. Along with the late, great artist Mike Wieringo, Waid created not only some of the best Fantastic Four stories ever but also some of the most enjoyable comics ever made.

Best Moment: The FF meet God, and he's Jack Kirby!

Where to read it all:

Fantastic Four, Vol. 1: Imaginauts
Fantastic Four, Vol. 2: Unthinkable
Fantastic Four, Vol. 3: Authoritative Action
Fantastic Four, Vol. 4: Hereafter
Fantastic Four, Vol. 5: Disassembled
Fantastic Four, Vol. 6: Rising Storm

9) Dan Slott's She-Hulk, 2004-2007 

When Stan Lee created Jennifer Walters A.K.A She-Hulk in 1980 she wasn't exactly the greatest character in the Marvel Universe. There's nothing wrong with those early stories, but there's nothing great about them either. She-Hulk is portrayed as a bit more intelligent than her male counterpart but is otherwise the same tragic, savage, hunted figure. A few years later John Byrne got hold of the character, first as a member of the Fantastic Four and then in her own solo series. Byrne had She-Hulk break the Fourth Wall and talk to the reader. Personally I found that this approach came across as a bit smug and irritating. Also, John Byrne being John Byrne, he ensured that She-Hulk was tied up or stripped down to her undies at every given opportunity. One issue saw the character skipping naked for the first couple of pages while the 1985 She-Hulk graphic novel sees Byrne's lecherousness practically dripping off every page. Frankly it's a bit embarrasing. But to Byrne's credit he did establish one important aspect of the character that distinguished her from her cousin and probably ensured the character's appeal and sustainability. She likes being She-Hulk. It's not a curse for her it's a gift.

This was the She-Hulk that Dan Slott inherited in 2004 and he worked absolute wonders with the character. Slott made her a sort of Marvel Universe version of Ally McBeal. She-Hulk worked at a law firm and had a cast of kooky supporting characters, love interests and rivals. Except She-Hulk's law firm defended super-heroes and super-villains and formed legal defenses based on issues of Marvel Comics. In She-Hulk Slott took advantage of some of the absurdities of life in the Marvel Universe and gave us such great concepts as a ghost taking the stand as a witness to his own murder, an unbiased jury gathered from the recent past, Hercules getting sued for excessive force by the Constrictor and Peter Parker getting sued for libel by his own webbed alter-ego. At one point She-Hulk gets promoted to the role of circuit judge for a sector of space that still uses a form of trial by combat as their legislative principle. But there's more to She-Hulk than soap opera and sci-fi. Slott takes the idea established by Byrne that Jennifer Walters prefers being She-Hulk and expands on it, exploring Jennifer's insecurities and hidden depths and asking why exactly a woman would want to hide behind a glamorous, green persona.

Best Moment: She-Hulk and Spidey sue Jolly Jonah Jameson for libel, but Spidey winds up suing himself.

Where to read it all:

She-Hulk, Vol 1: Single Green Female
She-Hulk, Vol 2: Superhuman Law
She-Hulk, Vol 3: Time Trials
She-Hulk, Vol 4: Laws of Attraction
She-Hulk, Vol 5: Planet Without a Hulk

8) J. Michael Straczynski's Amazing Spider-Man, 2001-2007

Many people's recollections of Straczynski's run on Amazing Spider-Man are dominated by two stories, Sins Past and One More Day. Both stories have their problems to say the least but it's a shame to let them detract from six and a half years that had some great Spidey tales. Right from the start JMS showed us he was taking the character to interesting places by introducing Spidey to Ezekiel, a millionaire with spider powers who suggested that the roots of their powers were mystical rather than scientific. True to his nature, Spidey rejected the mystical explanation but seeing him out of his comfort zone amongst all the magical mumbo-jumbo was fun. Ezekiel was a fantastic character. He gave us a glimpse of what a man with spider powers might do if he didn't have Peter Parker's drive or morals. Seeing the way Ezekiel had wasted his powers reminded us just what makes Peter Parker so special and for me this was the best thing about JMS' run.

There are other highlights too. Pete and MJ's relationship is written very well and the issue where Pete travels to Hollywood to win her back is great. JMS also gives us the best version of Aunt May ever depicted since she first appeared. May finds out Peter's secret early on in the run and while she is hurt and angry that Peter has lied to her all these years she's still determined to support her nephew in any way she can. In one issue she's shown writing letters of complaint to every newspaper giving negative coverage of Spider-Man.

Sure, it all started running out of steam a bit towards the end. I've haven't got much of a problem with the idea of Norman Osborn having seduced Gwen Stacy but did we really have to see Norm's leering, sweaty sex face? Also, while I quite like One More Day and don't believe it's the travesty it's generally depicted to be, it's still a very flawed story. The Other would have been a much better story if they'd stuck with one writer/artist team instead of dividing it over all the Spidey books. But looking at the run as a whole there's so many good bits that I find it easy to forgive its dodgier aspects.

Best Moment: In JMS' first story Peter Parker defeats mysterious, mystical super-baddie Morlun by PUNCHING HIM IN THE FACE WITH SCIENCE!

Where to read it all:

Amazing Spider-Man, Volume 1: Coming Home
Amazing Spider-Man, Volume 2: Revelations
Amazing Spider-Man, Volume 3: Until The Stars Turn Cold
Amazing Spider-Man, Volume 4: The Life & Death of Spiders
Amazing Spider-Man, Volume 5: Unintended Consequences
Amazing Spider-Man, Volume 6: Happy Birthday
Amazing Spider-Man, Volume 7: The Book of Ezekiel
Amazing Spider-Man, Volume 8: Sins Past
Amazing Spider-Man, Volume 9: Skin Deep
Amazing Spider-Man, Volume 10: New Avengers
Spider-Man: The Other
Civil War: The Road To Civil War
Civil War: Amazing Spider-Man
Amazing Spider-Man: Back in Black
Amazing Spider-Man: One More Day

7) 52, 2006-2007

In 2006 DC Comics did something that has never, to my knowledge, been done with mainstream American comics before. They let their best writers, Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, Mark Waid and Greg Rucka loose on a 52 part weekly maxi-series that would chronicle a year in the life of the DC Universe. Each issue detailed an actual week chronicling the events that took place during the missing year after the end of Infinite Crisis.

For a whole year the best creators DC had to offer gave us a glimpse of the more obscure parts of the DC Universe. We saw Black Adam getting a brief taste of redemption and happiness before having it cruelly snatched away. We saw Will Magnus getting forced to work for a giant, cybernetic, Chinese egg on an island full of mad scientists. We saw Steel coping with new powers as he took on Lex Luthor in a world without Superman. We saw Animal Man, Adam Strange and Starfire trekking across the Universe on a long journey back to Earth. Best of all we saw Booster Gold seemingly living down to expectations before finally fulfilling his potential and saving everyone from a giant, cosmic butterfly. At the end of it all we were left with a new multiverse brimming with glorious story potential. In short, we saw one year of pure awesome.

The most amusing thing about 52 was the fact that DC Comics obviously intended for the series to connect the dots between the end of Infinite Crisis and the new status quo established in each DC titles' One Year Later issues. During this missing year many things were supposed to have occured. For example, Commissioner Gordon got his job back, Aquaman got turned into squid-thing and the Teen Titans got a bunch of new members. However Morrison, Johns, Rucka and Waid clearly weren't interested in having their creativity directed down these paths and pretty much ignored One Year Later and did their own thing. And quite right too, 52 was better for it. As a result a mini series called World War Three was tacked on towards the end that explained all the changes ignored by 52 in one go. Anyone reading 52 purely for explanations of the new status quo might as well just have waited for World War Three. Anyone reading 52 for an original, epic and extremely fun story were richly rewarded.

Best Moment: Will Magnus escaping from Oolong Island and taking on Egg-Fu armed with mini Metal Men.

Where to read it all:

52, Volumes 1-4
DC: World War Three

6) Geoff Johns' The Flash, 2000-2005

When Mark Waid stopped writing The Flash I was gutted. Waid had spent the '90s taking Wally West from a selfish former sidekick stuck in the shadow of his late mentor to a hero in his own right who both continued and surpassed the legacy of the previous Flash. As far as I was concerned no one could write Wally as well as Waid. And who the hell was this Geoff Johns guy anyway? My biggest concern was that Waid had taken Wally on such a perfect journey of growth and maturity that there was very little else to be said about the character. And in a way I was right, because Johns, perhaps realising that Waid had spent a lot of time in Wally's head, decided to concentrate on fleshing out Flash's enemies, the much maligned Rogues. Under Johns Captain Cold, Mirror Master and the rest went from B-list villains to a compelling, tragic bunch of baddies, with intriguing back stories and a complex set of ethics that made them unique among villains. Johns didn't just rely on established Rouges however, he also created his own. The best of these was Wally's very own Reverse-Flash, Zoom. Now Wally's predecessor, Barry Allen, has returned from the dead. It's a shame Wally's taken a back seat, but as I've said before, I feel it's Barry's time again. And this time I couldn't be happier that Johns is writing it.

Best Moment:  Supporting cast member and ally of The Flash, Hunter Zolomon, (present since the start of Johns' run) goes all evil and becomes Zoom.

Where to read it all:

The Flash, Wonderland
The Flash, Blood Will Run
The Flash, Rogues
The Flash, Crossfire
The Flash, Blitz
The Flash, Ignition
The Flash, The Secret of Barry Allen
The Flash, Rogue War

5) Geoff Johns' Green Lantern, 2004-ongoing

DC Comics had spent ten years trying to convince us that Hal Jordan, Green Lantern, was a murdering nutjob and we just weren't buying it. Not only was Hal responsible for the destruction of the Green Lantern Corps but in Zero Hour he'd tried to rewrite the Universe, and by now he was dead and bonded to the The Spectre, dishing out God's wrath to everyone. To say he'd come a bit far from his roots was an understatement. Don't get me wrong, there were some great stories during this period and Hal's replacement, Kyle Rayner, was a great character. But this just wasn't Hal. Redeeming Hal and returning him to his role as Green Lantern seemed an impossible task but with Green Lantern: Rebirth, Geoff Johns made it seem easy.

Rebirth was just the start. Pretty soon Johns surprised everybody with The Sinestro Corps War, a crossover between Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps that saw the formation of an evil yellow ringed Corps based around fear rather than will power. It also saw the return of Parallax, the Anti-Monitor and Superboy-Prime and introduced concepts and plot threads that would enrich the mythology of the entire DC Universe, resulting in last year's highly enjoyable Blackest Night.

So not only did Johns bring Hal back in a credible and enjoyable way but he returned the mythology of the Green Lantern Corps to prominence in the DC Universe while expanding upon it. He made Green Lantern into one of DC's top franchises, leading to this year's Green Lantern movie (which looks awsome). Best of all, rather than kill off or retire Kyle Rayner or either of Earth's other GLs, John Stewart and Guy Gardner, he made them and Hal into a sort of a sci-fi version of the Four Musketeers. It just goes to show that there's nothing terrible a comic company can do to a character that can't be undone by a good writer.

(UPDATE: Johns' run finished in 2013, and it was consistently brilliant all the way through. The Green Lantern movie was not quite as brilliant to say the least.)

Best Moment: The Sinestro Corps War was almost gonna be my pick for best moment, but nothing beats the bit in Green Lantern: Rebirth where Hal returns from the dead with "no more fear. But plenty of damn will!"

Where to read it all: (Updated to include the whole run)

Green Lantern, Rebirth
Green Lantern, No Fear
Green Lantern, Revenge of the Green Lanterns
Green Lantern, Wanted Hal Jordan
Green Lantern, The Sinestro Corps War Vol. 1
Green Lantern, The Sinestro Corps War Vol. 2
Green Lantern, Secret Origin
Green Lantern, Rage of the Red Lanterns
Green Lantern, Agent Orange
Blackest Night, Green Lantern
Blackest Night
Green Lantern, Brightest Day
Green Lantern, War of the Green Lanterns
Green Lantern, Sinestro
Green Lantern, Revenge of the Black Hand
Green Lantern, Rise of the Third Army
Green Lantern, Wrath of the First Lantern

4) Grant Morrison's Batman, 2006-ongoing

When Grant Morrison began his run on Batman he stated that he wanted to return the character to his '70s status of "hairy chested love god". That was the least of what Morrison acheived. Morrison has breathed new life into the Bat-Books. Since 2006 he has completely rearranged the status quo, introduced new characters, created new ways of looking at old characters, merged over seventy years of continuity into one long narrative and yet still managed to keep everything recognisable and iconic.

Morrison set the tone of his run right from the start with a story that featured Ninja Man-Bats and introduced Damien Wayne, the son of Batman. Damien is a ten year old who has been raised by assassins. He is initially arrogant and petulant and has no qualms about chopping off a head or two in order to try and impress his dad. Over the past few years it's been a joy to see Damien mature from an arrogant little psycho into a Boy Wonder who, while still arrogant, is eager to respect and live up to his father's legacy. His relationship with his new mentor Dick Grayson, is particularly touching. Damien has become Robin to Dick's Batman and while Damien is forver critical of Grayson, he has obvious respect and affection for his older brother. This is in stark contrast to Damien's relationship with his other brother Tim Drake, with whom he has a bitter, and amusing rivalry.

As well as creating Damien, Morrison has brought Dick Grayson into the role of Batman, cleverly emphasising his circus roots and showmanship in order to distinguish him from Bruce Wayne's Batman. Morrison has also continued his reinvention of the Joker, a process that began in 1989 with Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. Under Morrison, the Joker posseses a form of super-sanity that leaves him constantly reinventing his personality. One day he may be a mischievous clown the next he could be a cold hearted killer. But it is Bruce Wayne who is the star of Morrison's run. Morrison's Wayne describes himself as "alpha-male plus", he is a man who has pushed himself to the very pinnacle of human perfection. He is a man so prepared that he programmed a back-up personality into his own brain as a defence against psychological attacks. Morrison has taken Wayne on a journey that has seen him take on new villain Dr. Hurt, The Joker, Darkseid and history itself.

The best thing about Morrison's run is that each individual issue contains enough cool moments to satisfy on the first read, but truly understanding the plot requires multiple readings, meaning you get your money's worth with each story.

Best Moment: 
It's almost impossible to pick one but I'm going to go with Batman: RIP, the story where Bruce Wayne survives being driven insane and buried alive in order to bring down Dr Hurt and his organisation, the Black Glove.

(UPDATE: Morrison's run finished in 2013, and it was never less than phenomenal.)
Where to read it all: (Updated to include the whole run)

Batman, Batman and Son
Batman, The Black Glove
Batman, RIP
Final Crisis
Batman and Robin, Batman Reborn
Batman and Robin, Batman vs. Robin
Batman and Robin, The Return of Batman
Batman, The Return of Bruce Wayne
Batman Incorporated Vol. 1
Batman Incorporated Vol. 2

3) Superman and the Legion of Superheroes, 2007-2008

Geoff Johns and Gary Frank have produced some of the best Superman stories of the past decade. This is one of them. Superman goes back to the 31st Century to reunite his old teenage gang, the Legion of Superheroes, and battle super-powered, alien-hating human supremacists. Since the early '90s the Legion have been through reboot after reboot. This story ignores the reboots and draws on decades of continuity to return the Legion to their roots. Despite this it stands alone as a brilliant story in its own right. The getting-the-band-back-together plot and the array of colourful characters would make this the perfect basis for the next Superman movie, but let's face it, that's not gonna happen.

Johns tells you everything you need to know about the Legion and everything you need to know about each Legionnaire through their dialogue and actions rather than relying on monologues and flashbacks. You're in no doubt about each character's personality or role in the team within a few panels of meeting them. Read this story and I guarantee you will love the Legion of Superheroes! The best thing about the tale however, is that Superman is without his powers for most of it but you hardly notice because he's such a double-hard bastard.

Best Moment: 
This story is littered with moments so cool that I literally punched the air with joy while reading them. If I had to pick one it would be when a powerless Superman pushes the main baddy, Earth Man through the window of a space station in order to battle him while plummeting through the atmosphere. Balls of Steel.

2) Superman: Red Son, 2003

This is the story of what would have happened if Superman's rocket landed in Soviet Russia and Superman became "the Champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact." It's written by Mark Millar, a brilliant writer who has written depressingly little in the way of Superman stories considering he obviously loves and understands the character so much. Superman has always walked a fine line between helpful super-powered pal and scary alien invader, hell-bent on imposing his will on the world. In Red Son, he crosses that line. Despite this Superman is never depicted as an evil power mad Commie. Throughout the whole book he's driven by the same desire to help and make the world a better place that drives the regular Superman. This story shows us what would happen if Superman, removed of the American value for individual freedom, took that desire to it's extreme. This is also one of the best Lex Luthor stories ever. Luthor is the Western world's only hope but, like regular Luthor, he is driven by the same petty obsession to rid the world of the one man who could be perceived as superior to him. It also features Russian Batman in an adorable little Bat-eared deer-stalker hat.

Best Moment: 
Luthor shows Superman who's boss with just a sentence written on a scrap of paper.

1) All Star Superman, 2005-2008

This is it. The best comicbook story of the last decade and the ultimate Superman story. It's written by Grant Morrison and it features everything that's good about Superman, and I mean EVERYTHING! Clark, Lois, Jimmy, Perry, Krypto, Luthor, Ma & Pa Kent, The Daily Planet, the Fortress of Solitude, Krypton, Metropolis, every aspect of the Superman myth is taken to it's next logical extreme and injected with an extra dose of Grant Morrison awesomeness.

One of the most successful ways to depict Superman has always been as a sort of 20th/21st Century legend, Western Civilisation's very own equivalent to the Norse or Greek Myths. Richard Donner did it with his Superman movie, and now Morrison has done it with All Star Superman. The tale begins with Superman realising he's dying. He then has to go forth and perform a list of legendary super-feats before he pops his clogs. Along the way he reveals his secret identity to Lois (who refuses to believe him), meets future members of the Superman dynasty, escapes from Bizarro World with the help of Zibarro the Bizarro Bizarro, helps the coolest version of Jimmy Olsen since the days of Kirby and of course, fights Lex Luthor.

Luthor is absolutely perfect, a super genius utterly consumed by hate, just as he should be. In many ways Luthor has always represented Superman's greatest failiure. Superman's mission is to inspire good in the people of the world, and yet it has always seemed he's inspired nothing but hatred and evil in Luthor. Morrison addresses this in a very original way, through the character of Leo Quintum. Quintum represents everything Luthor could be and, according to some interpretations, may actually be a redeemed future version of Luthor. There's very little else I can say about All Star Superman except of course READ IT!

Best Moment: 
There's an unforgettable moment on every page. If I had to choose the best one, it's a toss up between Superman's final super-feat and the moment Luthor reveals he shares his prison cell with an ape in a Superman costume called Leopold.

Where to read it all:

All Star Superman, Volume 1
All Star Superman, Volume 2

or if you fancy splashing out,

Absolute All Star Superman

So, there it is? What do you think? Am I crazy? Any of your own favourites left out? Let me know.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Really Rob Liefeld? You really wanna go there?

I'm usually against slagging off comics professionals on the internet.  Firstly there's far too much undeserved negativity and bile directed towards these people and they don't need me adding to it.  Secondly the worst comic writer/artist out there is at least a thousand times more talented than me.  Not only that but everyone of them has actually got up off their arses and worked their way into the industry, which is no mean feat.  While I'm entitled to express my opinion on their creative output they all still deserve my respect.

But then I see stuff like this on Rob Liefeld's Twitter feed....

Hey if you are @ does that mean you're the talented version of Stan??

Hopefully the Ghost of Jack Kirby will show up today and kick Stan's sorry ass as he gets his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Really? Really? Rob Liefeld really wants to publicly have a go at Stan Lee!? Really?!

Just to remind you all, Stan Lee is the guy who co-created most of the Marvel Universe and, along with other legends such as Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, changed the face of mainstream superhero comics for all time.  Rob Liefeld is the guy who helped set the brief '90s trend for over-muscled, multi-pouched superheroes with big guns.  He famously can't draw feet.  He drew this...

So just so we're all clear, the man who helped create this...

is being criticised by the man who did this...

That's this....

...versus this...

I'm being unfair.  Rob Liefeld has had a massive impact on the comics industry.  He's a self-taught artist who worked his way up to the top of his field.  He co-founded Image Comics.  He co-created Deadpool.  He's done more with his life than I ever will to say the least.

But he can't draw feet.  And Stan Lee is STAN LEE!

This isn't the first time Liefeld has had a go at someone by whom he's ridiculously outclassed.  In the past he's thrown stones out of his glass house in the direction of Alan Moore.  Check it out here.   Fellow blogger Duy Tano has published a highly amusing rebuttal to this interview on his Comics Cube.

I feel guilty taking these cheap shots at Liefeld.  Like I said, there's enough bile on the internet directed towards comic pros.  But really? Rob Liefeld?  Taking shots at Stan Lee? Really? Stan Lee?


Saturday, 1 January 2011

Doctor Who Vs. Batman

This film will never happen (least of all because one of its stars is sadly no longer with us) but I think I can safely say it would be the greatest movie of all time!