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Friday’s Top Ten Moments of Comics-Related Happiness in 2008

Our Dark Overlord suggested that this year, instead of the usual Comics Should Be Good group post about the Best Of The Year, that we should each do our own individual Top Ten Best Of 2008 entry.

Fine idea, in theory. Brian likes to change it up every year. And I’m always in favor of something that gives me a column subject. But I soon discovered a basic problem with this premise.

I didn’t have ten.

Well, I should amend that. I have ten books I bought this last year that I adored, easy. Hell, I have dozens. Many that I have mentioned in this space, even.

But most of them are older stuff, reprints. Honestly, I never get to a lot of the indie books I’m interested in when they’re hot off the presses; I usually catch up to them a year or two down the road, in a trade collection or at a show or something.

As for Marvel and DC…? Well, I finally cut the last three Marvel books I was getting monthly from my pull list, simply for economic reasons. I read a lot more Marvel last year than I did in 2007, but it was all in discount trade paperback; I’m about a year and a half behind on everything.

DC I’ve been keeping up with a little more, but that list got slashed too. Honest to God, the gut reaction I’ve been having to the majority of new monthly comics coming from DC and Marvel can be summed up as a snort that translates roughly as, “Oh, for Christ’s sake, are they kidding me?” (With some rare exceptions, that I’ll get to when I do the New Year’s column in a couple of weeks.)

But I didn’t want to do a snarling negative column about 2008, because honestly I thought this was a good year for comics,

No, really, I did. (Which is why I get so impatient with Marvel, and even more so with DC, about the boneheaded publishing strategies they keep pursuing…. the mainstream-audience train’s leaving the station and they’re not on it.)

There were lots of great indie books and graphic novels out this last year, too, but my colleagues have that end of things all wrapped up. And truthfully, that’s not my beat. I’m afraid my tastes run more towards the junk-food end of the comics banquet table.

So I’m going to do a more general Top Ten, a list of things that just plain made me happy about comics over the last year. Those moments in 2008 when I remembered that yeah, damn, I still love this stuff, no matter how many asinine superhero crossovers are choking the racks.

10. The Marvel movies.

Unless you were watching the old Marvel made-for-TV movies in the 1970’s like I was, I don’t think you have any idea how glorious it felt for this aging fan to see these characters realized on the big screen with such care and affection.

Iron Man got all the press love but I ADORED this movie from start to finish.

And especially with such verve. If someone had tried to tell me three years ago that eventually Marvel would put out an Iron Man movie that was more swashbuckling and fun than what Sam Raimi was doing with Spider-Man, I’d have said they were high.

Not a misstep anywhere and Downey was genius. Even Stan's cameo was the best yet.

I know that fans rage about stuff that gets left out and nitpick every last one of these to bits, from the first X-Men on up through to Punisher: War Zone, but I have to say that I’ve enjoyed pretty much all of Marvel’s recent film efforts on some level. (Yes, even Elektra and Ghost Rider.) And this year Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk shot up to take my personal #1 and #2 slots on the list of Marvel movie adaptations. My own measure of a superhero movie adapted from a comic is always, “Does it evoke the same fun and sense of wonder I had, reading the comic that first time?” and both of these did it in a walk. Well done.

9. The Middleman.

Speaking of brilliant adaptations of comics to film, here’s a small-screen entry that has been criminally under-valued.

Terrific comic.

The Middleman comics by Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Les McClaine are a joy and I recommend you seek them out with all possible haste, but even more heartily recommended is the television series. No DVD yet, but I believe the episodes are available online via iTunes.

Why isn't this on DVD already dammit??

If this show doesn’t cause you to laugh out loud with delight, then you are dead inside. You know how so many of us are grumpy about the depressing state of superhero comics, that Dan Didio knack of sucking all the fun out of the genre? Well, here is all that fun, present not just on the original Middleman comics pages but even– to my continuing astonishment!– done for television.

I would not have thought it was possible to get that crazed Bob Haney adrenaline-fueled superhero feel captured on a TV show until I saw this. Gorillas with machine guns, aliens masquerading as Botox junkies, fashionista succubi…. and Matt Keeslar and Natalie Morales inhabiting the characters from the comic so beautifully I have a hard time picturing them any other way now.

It helps that the guy who created the original comic is the show’s producer. Some of you may have missed this magnificent television series on ABC Family that aired earlier this year. Fortunately, there are some clips on YouTube that should enlighten you, at least a little. Here. And here. And one more for the hell of it.

Please, please, get this show another season, or failing that, get the first twelve out on DVD. And in the meantime, you all should treat yourselves to the trade paperback The Middleman: The Collected Series Indispensability, which I believe collects everything done in the comics to date.

8. Boom! Studios kicking ass.

In a year when Marvel and DC seemed determined to embrace a publishing strategy that makes it look like they actually want their readership to dwindle, it did my heart good to see a new comics company out there that mostly seems to have their shit together.

Full disclosure: I’m on the mailing list for their online comics previews, so I see a lot more of what Boom! is doing than I do of books from other comics publishers, but nevertheless, I am honestly just pleased with the stuff I see coming from them.

I could talk about their intelligent marketing or their embrace of bookstore distribution or their licensing coups with the Muppets and Pixar, but I have to be honest– what always gets my heart going pitter-patter about Boom! comics are their stellar entries in the crime-comics genre.

Steven Grant writing a crime comic is always a gimme. It's what the guy was born to do. This looked like it started life as a movie script, but screw it, it was still good comics.

Potter’s Field, Cover Girl, Left on Mission…. and this year we had both 2 Guns and Hunter’s Moon, books so good I went out and bought my own copies even though the tireless Chip Mosher sent us review PDFs, because I didn’t want them to lose the sale. (Vote with your wallet, folks, that’s the one that counts.) If all comics publishers were putting out smart, cool books like this, with tightly-constructed, engaging stories accessible to a wide audience, comics bloggers would have nothing to bitch about. I’ve said for years that there’s a huge middle ground between indie art-snob comics and superhero fan-service comics that it’s insane to ignore, because that middle ground is where the bulk of the audience lives. Well, finally, we have a publisher that’s not ignoring that audience but, in fact, actively going after it. Good stuff, guys. Keep it up.

7. Direct-to-DVD animation projects.

I suppose it shows my age, but I feel ridiculously vindicated every time I see one of these dominating an end-cap display in Wal-Mart or Target. My first thought is always, Ha! I gotcher Action For Children’s Television right here, Peggy Charren! We won after all! Take that, bitch!

Nothing to set the world on fire but solidly good and my students love it. Awesome in a box.

I know, I’m petty. If not for Peggy and her ilk we could have had these cartoons decades earlier, but I just take a deep breath and try to remember: Isn’t it nice that we get them at all?

And most of these animated movies are pretty good, too. I often will show one in my cartooning classes when we have a party, and it really takes me back to see the kids staring at the screen with the same awe and wonder that I used to stare at Birdman or The Herculoids with when I was a kid. I’ve seen all of these, from Superman: Doomsday and Ultimate Avengers on up through Batman: Gotham Knight, and though none of them are perfect I think most of them are a lot of fun. My favorites are New Frontier and Doctor Strange, but I’ve enjoyed all of the ones I’ve seen. (Even the animated Iron Man, which is the only one I’d call an out-and-out clunker, had its moments.) Very much looking forward to the new Wonder Woman from DC and the Hulk Versus set from Marvel that are both coming in ’09.

6. The B-listers’ paperback reprint renaissance.

I’m so overjoyed that these books exist it’s hard to put it into words.

Were any of us looking for this? Hell no. But I love it! About goddamn TIME!!

I mean, of course books like Watchmen and Kingdom Come and Marvels get collected in trade paperback. And the early Marvel stuff like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four were getting the paperback-collection treatment before it was trendy. Those are books you expect to see.

I wanted this WAY more than the regular Hulk Essentials. I admit it. This may be my favorite Showcase yet.

But I know damn well that NO ONE was pestering Marvel for Essential Godzilla or Champions Classic. Likewise, I’m sure that DC wasn’t being badgered about reprinting Saga of The Super-Sons or Showcase Presents The War That Time Forgot. And yet we have them. Even the New Universe books from Marvel, an imprint that was roundly jeered when it appeared in the 80’s, have their best moments preserved for posterity in a nice collection of trades. It’s a world of wonder.

Never in a million years did I expect to see THIS collection.

Yeah, it’s a nostalgia buy for me. I admit it. But I can’t help it. I was happy enough to see Marvel and DC reprinting their acknowledged classics, but none of them prompted the lunge-and-grab urge I felt when I saw Showcase Presents the Unknown Soldier or Essential Marvel Horror featuring the Son of Satan. I’m thrilled to see those. I suppose I should be embarrassed that I’m a lot more excited about seeing Brother Voodoo and groovy Diana Prince collected in trade paperback than anything else I saw reprinted this year, but I’m too busy enjoying it.

Laugh if you will, but this is the only time I was ever interested in Wonder Woman. Get your mod groove on, tiger!

(I know I’m not alone, either — my shop can’t keep those Diana Prince trades on the shelves.)

Most happy-making of all, now other publishers are adopting the Essential/Showcase format.

Happy enough to see the regular trades, but THESE were the ones I really wanted. Technically not the same, but format-wise it's close enough. And RECOMMENDED! I would recommend this even if Burgas and I WEREN'T thanked in its pages.

I enjoy scrounging for back issues and I daresay I’ll always have a touch of the antiquarian bookscout in me that loves the hunt, but I’m not a purist about it. For me a black-and-white paperback is just as good. As lovely as the Masterworks and Archives collections are, I’ll never be able to afford them, not even discounted or used on Amazon. And I don’t need my comics to be in coffee-table hardcovers, anyway. Mostly I just wanted to have these stories available to read again and now I have them.

I don’t know if I’d say these books are the future of comics or anything, but it’s a trend I’m embracing. They’re damn sure the future of my comics.

5. Rootin’ tootin’ Westerns!

Another trend I’m hesitant to attribute any real meaning to, but I’m delighted to see Western comics are alive and well in 2008. (For a few years there it looked like poor Tim Truman was going to have to carry the whole load himself.) But I think it’s safe to say that Westerns have established a healthy presence in the current comics landscape.

I felt guilty about buying this in trade, but I do buy the trades NEW when they come out. Vote with your wallet! I heart this book.

Both Jonah Hex and The Lone Ranger seem to be doing well, and this year saw the addition of The Man With No Name– and it’s a bit of a stretch but I’ll throw Matt Wagner’s Zorro in there too.

Literature? No. Groundbreaking? Hardly. But fun? You betcha.

I’ve always loved Westerns and I have great affection for Western comics. While I’m at it, I’ll plug a couple of Marvel hardcovers I picked up cheap as well– Marvel Westerns and Ghost Rider: Trail of Tears.

Yeah, I know, 2006. Shut up. Not a motorbike anywhere. This is the 1880's Ghost Rider.

Technically those two books aren’t from 2008, but they were remaindered this year and hell, they were new to me. (I especially enjoyed Trail of Tears– it probably helped, coming off the Ghost Rider movie, that I found myself picturing Sam Elliott in the lead. I think I would have enjoyed a period piece starring Sam Elliott’s Ghost Rider character a lot more than the present-day Nicolas Cage one, and Trail of Tears comes pretty close to being that.)

None of this stuff is groundbreaking, or really of that much literary merit, I suppose. But it’s fun. Solid adventure comics, especially Western adventure, always have me at hello. I’m just glad that these books are doing well enough that it appears we’ll get more of them.

4. Youth librarians.

Bless all of you for doing your best to bring in a new generation of comics readers.

Ellen Forney RULES.

Whether it’s big events like Hayden and Jennifer arranging for Ellen Forney to headline Comixtravaganza at the Seattle Public Library or just stuff like Bonnie making a big deal out of Free Comic Book Day at the Puyallup Library, these unsung heroes are doing God’s work. And I’m told similar efforts are happening at public libraries all around the country.

Go Bonnie!!

I think that’s worth a moment of appreciation. And I’d say that even if I weren’t invited to participate in these things. Good job, and I look forward to seeing more of these celebrations in 2009. (Right now e-mails are flying between me, my bosses at school, and Jennifer and Hayden down at the Seattle Public Library about putting together some kind of workshop event with Castle Waiting‘s Linda Medley. More on this in the coming weeks, I hope.)

3. The Dark Knight.

Helpless adoration? Yeah, I suppose. I can't help it. I'm a Bat guy and this was what I saw in my head for forty years.

For all that I think moviemakers probably took away the wrong message from its success, and for all the crappy “dark” superhero stories that will use The Dark Knight to justify themselves (yes, Mr. Didio, I’m talking to you)….yes, in spite of all that, I still have to own up– at the end of the day, this movie absolutely blew me away. This was what I pictured in my head reading those O’Neil/Adams Bat stories all those years ago… only more so. It’s hard to remember sometimes, but it’s not the fault of the original when a lot of shitty knockoffs and imitations spring up like diseased mushrooms. Let’s not lose sight of how good this movie is.

Even if the inevitable Batman movies that follow are teh suck, I’m happy this one got made… and that I got to see it spoiler-free in a theater on opening night, with an audience that was up for it (and that I had no access to the internet for two days before and after. That was a night where it just felt great to be a Batman fan and I was able to enjoy it without a lot of online sniping about “what they got wrong.” I recommend this to all of you as THE way to experience movies that you’re excited about.)

2. Comics scholarship.

Even more wonderful than the accessible comics reprints is the boom in comics histories. I’m old enough to remember when there were basically two– Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes and Les Daniels’ Comix. Now, my God, it’s a smorgasbord and it shows no sign of letting up.

Required reading in this household. Long overdue.

My middlebrow tastes being what they are, I’m especially pleased with what I saw from TwoMorrows in 2008– a splendid year’s worth of Back Issue and Alter Ego, not to mention their terrific “Companion” series of books. Likewise, Fantagraphics, always a leader in this area, treated us to the wonderful new Kubert biography by Bill Schelly. But I assure you there’s something for everyone, no matter what your particular favorite comics might happen to be. Books about artists, about comic strips, about undergrounds, and even about the sociological impact of comic books. It’s been extraordinary to see this entire area of scholarship suddenly blossom over the last few years.

This is just a great, great thing. Our artform is young enough that primary sources– the people who were there, who saw it all unfold!– are still around to be interviewed and their contributions noted. Thank God historians are figuring that out.

Not to mention all the online resources, like the Grand Comic Book Database and Lambiek, without which it would be almost impossible for me to do this job. My heartfelt gratitude goes out to all of you out there doing this work and I wish you all continued success in 2009.

Which brings me to…

1. The digital revolution.

I have no picture for this because no one quite knows what it looks like yet. But I know we’re in the middle of it and I think it’s largely a good thing. As irritating as it can be to see the internet comics community catch fire over something idiotic (see: organic webshooters, black Kingpin, Spider-marriage, etc.) and as depressing as it has been to see the recent cutbacks at Newsarama and ComicMix… nevertheless, we still have a plethora of new webcomics and comics press sites and interesting bloggers and specialty web sites and fan sites and DeviantArt and all sorts of things that simply would not exist if they only had the option of actual print publication for an outlet.

Including CBR right here, I imagine. I’m pretty sure that if Jonah’s only option had been to publish a magazine, none of this would be here. But because of the possibilities of digital publication, there’s a whole community of artists, writers and fans that sprung up here that I’m proud to be part of. My involvement with this place has changed my life for the better in all kinds of wonderful ways, and as I enter my fourth year of writing this weekly thing here for you all, I should point out that remembering that always makes me feel a little better about comics. No matter what stupid-ass reboot or retcon DC might be doing these days.

See you next week.

48 Comments

Didiot does “suck” the heart and soul out of you, doesn’t he? (and not just your money)

Thanks for accentuating the positive!

Sometimes I feel like the curmudgeonly old man next door, reminding people how good we’ve got it. Why, only ten years ago, there were only a handful of publishers distributed to bookstores, and you’d find those titles shelved in Science Fiction or Humor! And we didn’t have any fancy-shmancy internet downloads!

Anyway… there’s so much going on now, it’s a freaking Renaissance! Old stuff getting rediscovered (Sam’s Strip! Tales of the Beanworld! Trump!) and influencing the new stuff!

And even though I am myself a librarian, I just want to remind you that libraries have lots of FREE graphic novels (and books and DVDs and CDs…)! Let your favorite librarian know how much you appreciate them stocking graphic novels, and if you can, volunteer or donate!

Oh my god! A top ten list at CBR in which Morrison does not appear! That has got to be a first.

But yeah, i agree with the librarians. My local library has lots of graphic novels, and i discovered a whole bunch of new books that way.

Pretty good list, thanks!

Except for The Dark Knight, which was absolutely one of the worst movies I’ve seen, I can get behind pretty much all of these choices. Kudos to the library entry! And for the shout-out to TwoMorrows… man I love Back Issue!

Greg, are the Diana Prince Wonder Woman books worth getting? I’ve seen the covers over the years in books and on websites and I’ve always thought they looked amzing, but I’m slightly cautious of actually reading them as I’ve got a feeling now they’re actually available it would ruin the Goldfinger-starring-Raquel-Welsh-with set-design-by-Steranko image I have in my head.

Libraries are great for graphic novels nowadays. I read the first volume of “Middleman” from my local lib and bought the omni when it came out. I’ve also read the entirety of “Fables” from the library, and a variety of other things I don’t care to own, but like to read.

Greg, are the Diana Prince Wonder Woman books worth getting? I’ve seen the covers over the years in books and on websites and I’ve always thought they looked amazing, but I’m slightly cautious of actually reading them as I’ve got a feeling now they’re actually available it would ruin the Goldfinger-starring-Raquel-Welch-with set-design-by-Steranko image I have in my head.

Well, they can’t match THAT. But they are a lot of fun. The art is not quite as groovy as the covers suggest. Mike Sekowsky was more of a straight-up storyteller.

What you are describing actually sounds more like Modesty Blaise by Peter O’Donnell, or even Laura Morse in the Mallory & Morse novels by Forrest DeVoe.

Yeah, we YA librarians rock. Also, check out Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman.

Greg, this post is a million kinds of awesome. Your choices are so great, and they display such a wonderful sense of generosity and breadth of taste, that the whole piece was a joy to read. Thanks for making me want to add some cool stuff to my “gotta have” list!

Off topic, but since we’ve been given a new computer, I’ve noticed one thing that doesn’t work: I’m not getting the mouse-over messages when from having the cursor on the images that Greg puts up, even though I’m using the same browser (Mozilla Foxfire).

Does anyone know how I can get those snarky, funny messages that Greg sneaks in there?

Does anyone know how I can get those snarky, funny messages that Greg sneaks in there?

I keep forgetting Mozilla doesn’t show them. Explorer will. But if you MUST know, mouse on the image and right-click “properties” and it will come up in a new window, along with the size and everything else. I don’t think it’s worth that much effort, though.

Hey, thanks for including me and Comixtravaganza on your list! I agree, a toast to the librarians who put that together. (And hey, guess what!?? You know I teach a studio comics class at Cornish but I just proposed a Graphic Novels Lit class – a regular reading/ discussions/ papers/ etc. class – and they approved it! Yay, Cornish! Too late for spring but maybe in fall. I’m so excited!)

“I keep forgetting Mozilla doesn’t show them.”

The thing is, Mozilla DID show them on the old computer. Weird.

This was a great year for reprints, of older series especially. DC did what I never thought I would see- begin a full reprint of Justice League International. In hadcover no less! Back when I was a kid in a small town in the 80’s buying comics off a spinner rack at our one store that sold comics (I feel very curmudgeonly typing that), JLA and JLE were two books that hooked me and kept me interested in comics like few other books. I’m so glad to see those comics finally given the treatment they deserve after all these years.

Seeing Scott McCloud’s Zot! get released in a collection that included the best issues of the series, the “Earth Stories” was also an amazing experience for me this year.

Plus we had more Nexus Archives, Complete Badger, Denny O’Neil’s Question, the Starman Omnibus, Ben Edlund’s Tick, Mark Evanier’s DNAgents, some more of Giffen & Levitz’s Legion Of Super-Heroes run, more of Matt Wagner’s Comico Grendel series, more of Wagner’s Sandman Mystery Theatre, Tim Truman’s Scout, the concluding volume of Morrison’s Doom Patrol, and so many others. My poor book cases are bursting right now…

And 2009 looks to be just as good if not better! Now if only DC would solicit that Showcase edition of Suicide Squad again…

Awesome column as always, Greg. I too am glad to see the bigger companies putting out trade paperbacks that seem aimed right at the blogger audience. I also love your shout-out to libraries that care.

Interesting to see a recommendation for the new Hulk movie, too. Still haven’t seen that one myself– I was quite wary of it. Of course, I was one of the three guys who liked the Ang Lee one, so who knows?

Alt text apparently doesn’t pop up in Firefox (I’ve only just noticed this), but giving a “title” to the image should work in both Explorer and Firefox. I think.

I thought so too, Bill, and I actually wasted half an hour putting in the HTML code manually to make that happen. But it just disappeared the captions completely, so I put it back the way it was.

What? It’s a snow day here in Seattle. And…well… I have no life.

I use Firefox and I’ve never seen alt-text boxes here, but But they work just fine on Chris Sims’ blog. Curious

“But I know damn well that NO ONE was pestering Marvel for Essential Godzilla or Champions Classic. Likewise, I’m sure that DC wasn’t being badgered about reprinting Saga of The Super-Sons or Showcase Presents The War That Time Forgot.”

*COUGH*Chris Sims*COUGH*

Sorry, I know this is a little off topic from your post, but I don’t get why everyone is so down on DiDio and DC. Superman is more interesting than he’s been in many years, Didio’s letting Morrison handle big things in the DCU, and Green Lantern titles (according to their fans) are the best they’ve been like ever. Between Brian and Bill Reed’s Top 10 and Top 5, five of them were DC and one of them was Marvel, and the one Marvel was creator owned. Not that DiDio wrote any of these, but he’s gotta be doing something right, no? I understand that Didio’s made some scummy choices (e.g. having the RIP banner go on Heart of Hush), but Marvel, on the whole, has gotta be more deserving of chastisement.

Wow! That Phantom Stranger Showcase goes on my wishlist…

I wonder if we’ll get MiddleMan over here?

Fingers crossed…

I have two thumbs up for “The Incredible Hulk” It wasn’t perfect but it had the dark feeling of the Bruce Jones and Mike Deodato run, I liked suspense of getting the dark glimpses of the Hulk. I have to say it’s OK if your not overly excited about The Diana Prince Wonder Woman TP’s cause I’m excited enough for both of us! I had a couple of these issues as a kid and until these trades came out I had no idea just how cool they are. Do you remember The Brave and the Bold issue 87 with the same Mike Sekowsky art? I was told once that Sekowsky wanted to do fashion, I have to believe it’s true after looking at the fashions in these books. Groovy! Later!

Agreed with everything except the Dark Knight being reminescent of Denny O’Neil’s work. It didn’t remind me much of any classic Batman interpretation. I think it owes more to Saw or Hostel than a Batman comic, it’s just torture porn watered down to a PG-13 level and with Batman and Joker as the main characters.

The Incredible Hulk? Really?

Here’s my thought process: I will never understand why people got down on Hulk. Okay, so it took a dip in the box office after the first week, but Ang Lee tried his best to make a good comic book movie. He understood that you needed psychological drama in between Hulk-outs. Aside from Nick Nolte chewing up scenery as Pa Banner, I thought the movie kicked ass.

As for The Incredible Hulk? It was like watching a paint-by-numbers project get completed. Obvious shoutouts to the TV series? Check. Hulk breaking a car and making boxing gloves like in the video games? Check. Hulk catchphrases? Check. Stan Lee cameo? Check. About the only breakthrough was a “Woman of Kleenex” moment with Betty Ross, and was about it. This one ranks closer to X-Men: The Last Stand and The Punisher than Iron Man.

The Incredible Hulk? Really?

Really.

Here is my thought process in return.

–There’s nothing wrong with doing a crowd-pleaser, especially in a Big Summer Movie based on both a long-running comic book and a fondly-remembered television series. That’s where Ang Lee made his major misstep. His movie wasn’t BAD. It just wasn’t made with the crowd in mind, it wasn’t the movie we wanted to see. The checklist you cite as a criticism, I see more as They Did The Job We Paid For. It’s the difference between capital-A art and commercial art. If you want commercial art, Ang Lee’s not your guy. Blasphemous as it might sound, I generally prefer the work from the guy who knows going in that this is going to be a big ol’ crowd-pleasing popcorn movie and TAKES THAT COMMITMENT SERIOUSLY, striving to make the smartest, best big ol’ crowd-pleaser he can make.

–Norton is better than Bana in the role by a couple of orders of magnitude.

–Hurt was better than Elliott, too, and I loves me some Sam Elliott so that one really hurts to admit.

–the effects were better.

–it was the same movie all the way through. My big gripe with Ang Lee’s movie was that it wasn’t really about the Hulk, it just stopped in the middle to do obligatory Hulk stuff for forty minutes before it went back to the psychological father-son study Lee was clearly more interested in doing.

–the plot was better constructed and the basic conflict made more sense. Plus, Tim Roth as a vicious mercenary is scarier than Nick Nolte as a deadbeat dad.

I understand that there are those folks who don’t like Big Summer Movies just BECAUSE they’re Big Summer Movies. But I’m not one of those guys. I’m in favor of Big SMART Summer Movies done with flair and an appreciation for the audience’s intelligence, while at the same time never losing track of the job they’re supposed to be doing, which is, well, to be a Big Summer Movie. It’s the difference between, say, the original Die Hard and Die Hard With A Vengeance. The first is big and SMART. The second one is just big.

And Lee’s Hulk, I think, outsmarted itself. It forgot what kind of movie it was supposed to be. Sometimes I think we fans are SO familiar with this stuff that we forget what it’s supposed to be, too. You shouldn’t be producing your big summer movie on the basis of trying to wake up the jaded fans who’ve seen it all. You want it to be evangelical, you want an introduction to everything that makes people become fans. So yeah, you do the checklist. You just should be damn sure you’re doing it WELL. With flair and wit.

Not to turn this into a referendum on Hulks or anything. But I did have real reasons. And I wanted them on the record, though, as always, your mileage may vary.

I’m totally with you, Greg, on “Incredible Hulk”, which I loved much more than the Ang Lee misfire. (and I LOVED all the TV show shout-outs) I’m with T., though, on “Dark Knight”, which reminded me as well of the “Saw” movies.

I have to stick to my guns on this one. TIH (apologies if the initialization is obnoxious) was such a letdown, and like Punisher War Zone, it shows that if a would-be franchise stalls out on the first movie, there shouldn’t be a follow-up dismissing the first one. Why is PWZ failing? Perhaps too many people get facial tics thinking of the Punisher moving fire hydrants around. And while trying to link Hulk to The Big Picture with a last minute cameo is a little intriguing, it still doesn’t give me my money and time back. Putting it anywhere near the same level as Iron Man and The Dark Knight borders on blasphemy. That’s my take . . . your millage may vary.

Interesting list, Greg; and a nice departure from the standard ‘year end’ efforts. I find myself reading a lot more older trades than single issues as well.

You are so wrong about The Incredible Hulk it’s not funny, though. The hero is only as good as his villains and all that, and Roth was an awful, awful choice for that role (at least as it was conceived in the film- he would have made for a good rival scientist).

Both Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk were paint-by-numbers. I didn’t mind it, especially with the Avengers theoretically coming, but they weren’t great movies.

While I didn’t like the Hulk, I don’t like that Marvel seems to have given up on original movies after it failed. Hopefully the excellence and success of the Dark Knight will have the reverse effect, and they’ll start trying things again with Thor and Captain America. I don’t care if one of them is a 1/10 if the other one is an 8 or 9.

I don’t think any film will ever get it perfect, but I enjoyed both Hulk films, the second over the first if I had to choose, I loved the T.V. shout outs my wife didn’t so much, only because after each one I was saying, did you see that ? Do you what that’s from? The only part of the Batman film I did not care for was the voice, it’s not quite right. I really enjoy most hero films I see, just because the concepts are so familiar and nostalgic. I try not to have to high of an expectation for the films, so I’m not let down so much but generally I’m surprised and entertained I look at comic films as films about comic book characters and not comic book movies. Make sense? later!
P.S. Nick Nolte is scary as Hell but not as scary as Gary Busey

“The Middleman”…..

Gawd I miss that show……

Bah, humbug. Combine #s 6 & 5 — that is, give me Essentials of the Rawhide Kid, the Kid Colt & the Two-Gun Kid — & we’ll talk. I devoured those comics off the spinner racks when I was a kid, but like you I’m not exactly in a place where I could spring for the Marvel Masteworks volumes that’ve come out.

Also, for godssakes am I the ONLY person stuck in a backwater so benighted (i.e. Alabama’s mediocre excuse for a capital) that the libraries are too poorly funded to spring for graphic novels? They’re just not on the shelves here, as far as I can tell. (Neither is a whole hell of a lot else, it seems like, at least in comparison to the libraries in my former home of Little Rock, which until I moved here I hadn’t realized was actually the 21st century version of classical Athens.)

And I continue to wonder why anyone gives a good goddamn about superhero movies, but I’m starting to suspect that that’s just me. Oh, well.

Bah, humbug. Combine #s 6 & 5 — that is, give me Essentials of the Rawhide Kid, the Kid Colt & the Two-Gun Kid — & we’ll talk.

The Marvel Westerns hardcover, in addition to a bunch of new stories, reprints a number of those very classics, and mine cost $4.00 plus another couple of bucks to ship. I don’t know if you’ll find one THAT cheap but every time I check Amazon there’s at least one copy available for under ten bucks.

Well, yes, but I’m thinking (without checking) that I probably have everything in that volume, because — unlike you & your cursed wait-for-the-trade willpower — I bought those new one-shots off the ‘stands. *sigh*

I demand multiple Essential Westerns & I demand them NOW.

Of course, I also demaned Essential Sub-Mariner, & Marvel initially responded by scheduling that very book to come out in September ON MY BIRTHDAY, but that was apparently just another case of Joe Quesada moving his lips (=lying) … as far as I can tell, the volume isn’t even on the far horizons anymore. *deeper sigh*

And before I forget it — I second your appreciation for Boom! Crime comics aren’t really my cup of tea (crime comics not called MS. TREE, anyway), but at the moment Boom! is putting out THREE Lovecraft-oriented titles (though I guess this week’s NECRONOMICON marks the final issue of that mini), for Yog-Sothoth’s sake.

(Also amongst the indies, Oni seems determined to make this a memorable December by publishing not only Ted Naifeh’s third COURTNEY CRUMRIN one-shot but also … possibly, anyway, as I gather there’s a chance it might hit next Wednesday … Chynna Clugston’s first BLUE MONDAY comic in something like two years. Huzzah!)

I find it hilarious that, in world that produced such tripe as the Burton and Schumacher Bat-films (the first Burton one was decent for its time but it’s embarrassing two decades later), Superman Returns, Spidey 3, X3, and the Fantastic Four films, there are people here calling TDK ” the worst movie” they’ve ever seen. Or even “torture porn.”

You’d get the impression that such folks haven’t read any Batman comics made after 1986.

I find it hilarious that….there are people here calling TDK “the worst movie they’ve ever seen.”

Think how I feel. I’m old enough to remember getting my hopes dashed by THIS one…

FunkyGreenJerusalem

December 21, 2008 at 8:09 pm

I watched Superman Returns again the other day – first since I saw it at a preview screening.

It’s not THAT bad, it’s just not what we were hoping for from a Superman movie.

Think how I feel. I’m old enough to remember getting my hopes dashed by THIS one…

Why did they even bother?

You’d get the impression that such folks haven’t read any Batman comics made after 1986.

What does The Dark Knight movie have to do with Batman comics made after 1986? It doesn’t really owe much of ANYthing to the comic source material, except for the occasional “We’re two sides of the same coin, Batman” speeches by the Joker. If people want to defend it, that’s their right, but I don’t understand these people who try to defend it by saying it’s loyal to the source material.

Think how I feel. I’m old enough to remember getting my hopes dashed by THIS one…

Yeah… boy do I remember that one… (That is the one with the plastic ears on the outside of his “helmet/hood” thing isn’t it?)
I’ve even got the Corman Fantastic Four Movie… Now if you want “worst superhero movie ever”…. Hoo boy!

Compare the Original Batman Movie (Holy Shark Repellant!) with Burton’s Batman (Though I prefer his Batman Returns) and then take Schumaker’s Batman and Robin and compare it with TDK… Similar sort of jump…
Batman begins has a Heck of a lot of source material straight from Year one… TDK (I think) takes more of a mish-mash from various modern interpretations, but I felt Morrison, Miller, Grant and O’Neil influences in there…

Look how far Sam Raimi’s Spider-man improved on the 70s live-action TV series movies…

Incredible Hulk is much more of a Summer Blockbuster/Popcorn movie than Ang Lee’s Hulk was, but I think both have their place.

I feel sorry for those who were expecting Marvel to go and do a low-grossing intellectual excercise…. They want money. Both Iron Man and Incredible Hulk are just “Pretty Good” as far as your summer blockbuster goes.

As far as Superhero movies go, they BOTH get 7 out of 10 from me… Which is VERY Good! TDK gets 9 though.

TDK (I think) takes more of a mish-mash from various modern interpretations, but I felt Morrison, Miller, Grant and O’Neil influences in there…

The only thing I really felt in terms of influences from the comics were Loeb’s Long Halloween, which is actually worse than using no influences from the comics at all. Outside of that, the influences I felt were more from other movies, like Ichi the Killer, Saw and Hostel. I especially did not see any Morrison in there.

I didn’t see any influences from Saw and Hostel, not remotely– I think you’re just reaching to promote your hatred of all things DC, T. The Dark Knight does not glorify violence– the whole thing’s a lesson against it. It shows us the madness in order so that we may push it away.

I go more in-depth into all the reasons why The Dark Knight is trash over at my blog:
http://therawness.com/why-i-hated-the-dark-knight/

But in specific response to you Bill:
I don’t hate all things DC, but I do think the opposite is at play. People’s love of DC and desire before even viewing this film to find it deep and brilliant has them adding meaning to it that is totally nonexistent, or seeing it as a reflection of the comic source material when it pretty much has only the most surface similarity to Batman comics. And it does glorify violence. It has its cake and eats it too. It indulges in violence and making the audience squirm and be uncomfortable, then turns around and claims the moral high road by making a token verbal stance against violence. It does not show madness in order to push it away or anything like like that, it celebrates nihilism and cynicism. The most violent, nihilist and cynical character is the movie’s moral center, the only one with unwavering moral clarity and a consistent viewpoint that never has any doubt or expresses any hypocrisy. In fact, he serves to consistently expose the hypocrisy of all the “good guys” authority figures. Thnk about it, even the one supposed show of goodness winning out in the barge scene is just another exposure of hypocrisy by the supposed good guys, as the authority figures are willing to let the prisoner blow up the other barge, but lo and behold the prisoner actually throws out the controller, showing that the prisoner is actually more moral than the police and that when push comes to shove authority figures will try to save their own asses and are no better than the inmates they are supposed to be judging and controlling. Also, the barge scene is NOT a victory by Batman. Sure Joker loses in his barge prisoner’s dilemma setup, but it’s not by any planning or heroism by Batman, it’s by dumb luck. The day is saved by a violent felon. Batman is not proactive at all and has no role in this victory. A violent criminal saves the day, no thanks to Batman. It’s moral relativism at its finest.

Harvey Dent faces a little adversity and ends up a villain, making him exposed as a hypocrite. Batman breaks his oath to kill by killing Dent. Batman tries to steal Rachel Dawes from her fiance. Corrupt cops betray Dent and Dawes and end up getting her killed and causing Two Face to be created. The only real winner is the Joker, he does what he sets out to do, expose everyone’s hypocrisy, drive heroes to extreme violence and rulebreaking, and makes authority figures and public institutions look impotent.

Armond White had a great quote about Dark Knight:

Aaron Eckhart’s cop role in The Black Dahlia humanized the complexity of crime and morality. But as Harvey Dent, sorrow transforms him into the vengeful Two-Face, another Armageddon freak in Nolan’s sideshow. The idea is that Dent proves heroism is improbable or unlikely in this life. Dent says, ‘You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain.’

What kind of crap is that to teach our children, or swallow ourselves? Such illogic sums up hipster nihilism, just like Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World. Putting that crap in a Batman movie panders to the naivete of those who have not outgrown the moral simplifications of old comics but relish cynicism as smartness. That’s the point of The Joker telling Batman, ‘You complete me.’ Tim Burton might have ridiculed that Jerry Maguire canard, but Nolan means it– his hero is as sick as his villain.

A commenter on Rotten Tomatoes also did a good job of pointing out how this movie had its cake and ate it too:

I kept getting exhausted and repulsed by how The Dark Knight continually had its cake and ate it too, by how it shoved oppressively bleak moments in our faces, then turned away from them later on: Gary Oldman gets shot, and we have to deal with his wife breaking down and screaming at the policeman who inform her of his death; but a half-hour later: no, he’s not really dead! We have to watch minute after minute of prisoners and civilians on two different barges decide whether or not to detonate explosives rigged to the others’ boat, and linger over their ‘screw everyone else, I’m totally in it for myself’ rottenness (and *no one* on either boat stands up and says, ‘stop these madmen!’ but oh yeah, then the prisoner decides to throw the detonator out the boat window, and the civilian decides he doesn’t have the heart to go through with it– so you see, folks, the moviemakers finally demonstrated to us that these people REALLY aren’t rotten after all, even though they’ve just forced us to deal with five straight minutes of odious human nature. And then we have to endure another five solid minutes of Aaron Eckhart’s character’s holding a gun to a child’s head, to possibly avenge his girlfriend’s death, while Batman stands by and does nothing except to try to talk him out of it. So many scenes seemed intentionally designed to make us all feel powerless against society’s innate evil, and linger over and shove the rottenness of humanity down the audience’s throats. The constant foisting of fear and oppression and helplessness, going hand in hand with vigilante justice (and even an indirect justification of the Patriot Act, with Bruce Wayne’s radio-monitoring device) made me wonder if Dick Cheney had co-written the screenplay. My wife and I left the theater both wondering out loud, is THIS the movie that our country really needs to be tuning into right now? But of course, we’re only two small voices amongst the movie’s $150 million opening weekend, and after all (as so many fanboys are quick to point out), ‘it’s only a movie.’

When the Joker is your moral center of your film, you’re pretending to justify law and justice, but in reality celebrating violence and chaos. I’d have to be incredibly gullible to ignore the evidence of my eyes and pretend this movie is decrying violence just because it has a few token lines at the end to that effect.

I especially did not see any Morrison in there.

Then I might suggest (re-)reading Arkham Asylum

I read it, still don’t really see it. I mean Morrison has the same old “we’re both different sides of the same coin” conversation that has become the norm in Batman comics since 1989, but since he didn’t create that dynamic, just repeated it, I don’t really see the use of it in Dark Knight as being Morrisonesque. I don’t recall anything in the execution of that dynamic in Dark Knight that was specifically a nod to Morrison’s execution of that dynamic, although it has been a while since I read Arkham I admit.

No. Not that.

I wouldn’t call the Joker the moral center, as he’s a pathological liar whose motivations are never certain.

I rather think Gordon’s the true hero of the piece; Dent undergoes his Greek-tragedy downfall, and Batman struggles with determining what’s right, but it’s Gordon who gets the job done when it needs doing.

“And in the meantime, you all should treat yourselves to the trade paperback The Middleman: The Collected Series Indispensability, which I believe collects everything done in the comics to date.”

I just thought I’d respond and let you know that — at your command! — I did just that. The collection showed up on my doorstep this afternoon, and I’m really loving it so far. Thanks!

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