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A Weekend With the Good Stuff

As is his habit, Kiel Phegley emailed all of us at CBR asking us to give him our annual best-of-the-year top ten, so that he can edit together CBR’s annual top 100 picks from all of us.

And as is my habit, I sat down to do it and got stopped at about six. There’s only about ten books on my pull list, period, and I know perfectly well that several fall into the category of “stuff I just happen to like” as opposed to “best of what’s out there.” I don’t read everything that’s out there, and of the stuff I do read, only about half is something I’d put on any kind of best-of list. I eventually get it done in time for Kiel to do his tally, but invariably, every year at some point I get stuck for a while at around the halfway point.

I grumbled about this to Julie, who said, “MacGyver! Did you put MacGyver on the list? Because MacGyver is awesome.”

I don’t know about best of the year, but the new MacGyver book from Image is pretty good.

My bride is actually the big MacGyver fan here, but I like this too.

It’s co-written by Lee Zlotoff, who actually created the original television show, and Tony Lee, who’s done enough Doctor Who comics to know the key to making a licensed book work. The art from Will Sliney keeps a nice sense of movement and he’s doing very well at suggesting Richard Dean Anderson’s likeness without getting too photorealistic.

Put it this way-- if you liked the show you will like this book.

The book ranks about even with a good episode of the show. If you like watching MacGyver on television, you will enjoy reading his adventures in comics.

Jellybean shrapnel, baby!

I’m not a MacGyver fan really– I started picking this up for Julie– but I am enjoying it almost as much as my wife does. Between Tony Lee’s apprenticeship writing serials for British weekly comics and Zlotoff’s experience in network television, what you have is a book scripted by people who don’t really do ‘decompression’ at all, which pleases me. Moreover, Zlotoff also has a fascinating text piece in each issue recounting the process involved in getting MacGyver to the screen in the first place. It’s a solid read for the money and I almost never say that about regular monthly comics any more.

I wouldn’t call it best of the year, but it’s GOOD. I hope we get more books like this from this creative team once this mini-series is done. Recommended.

Another mini-series that has that kind of old-school “Geez, we used to get stuff this good ALL the time” feeling was Lone Ranger: Snake of Iron from Chuck Dixon and Esteve Polls.

This is just a good solid Lone Ranger western but I purely enjoyed the hell out of it.

First of all, I’ve said several times that as far as I’m concerned Chuck Dixon is the go-to guy for this kind of story. He knows history and he knows guns and he knows pulp fiction and he can put them all together into a tight comics narrative. (In my perfect world someone would revive High Adventure comics as a Chuck Dixon/Beau Smith/Mike Grell anthology book with cowboys, pirates, and Mack Bolan-style mercenaries alternating as the leads.)

And Sergio Cariello and Tim Truman and the Kubert boys on art! Come on, somebody, make this happen!

Dixon clearly loves the Ranger– his contribution to Moonstone’s The Lone Ranger Chronicles was one of the best, and best-researched, in that anthology.

By the way, all right-thinking Ranger fans should own this book. I sprung for the hardcover with all the extras, but the paperback's good too.

So I was very pleased to see him come back to the character. What I love about this is that Dixon’s not trying to re-invent the wheel or deconstruct anything. He’s just giving us a really good western with the Lone Ranger and Tonto.

There's classic Ranger tropes throughout the story, but Dixon and Polls have shined them up and made them feel current.

Everything a Ranger fan could want is in there– he makes sure to get in hero moments even for the horses Silver and Scout. But he also bends convention a number of ways: for example, Chuck Dixon knows enough about Native American history to construct a plausible hostage-crisis conflict without having to resort to using ‘evil injuns.’ He’s able to use a group of angry tribal warriors as antagonists without demeaning them.

And the story takes advantage of something the TV show could never have done, but is a common occurrence in Western fiction– the rough country and the weather are part of the problem. The story takes place in a blizzard, adding to the overall tension.

Dixon also gives us very well-constructed stuff with the angry tribe and the besieged white folks on the train.

I’m going on and on about the writing but I should add that Esteve Polls continues to hit it out of the park for me with his artistic take on the proceedings. He really sells the idea of cold and isolation with the trail-riding scenes, especially.

I’m assuming it’ll get collected at least in paperback, and I hope you all check it out if you haven’t already.

I look at these books and I look at my pull list and I think about the Marvel and DC stuff that gets hailed by critics as brilliant. I mean, I love what Mark Waid is doing on Daredevil and it would appear that he’s about to re-invigorate the Hulk’s book in the same way… but at the end of the day he’s basically just looking at the characters and trying to do justice to them. The big innovation is that there isn’t anything innovative. They’re just really good Daredevil and Hulk comic-book stories. Sometimes they’re even done-in-one.

Now, I think that’s AWESOME. Don’t get me wrong. I approve very strongly of comics like that.

But dammit, this shouldn’t be best-of-the-year, it should be the baseline. This should be the minimum requirement of a comic book, to tell an engaging story well enough that a reader feels like he got full value. Even if it’s a chapter in a longer story, it should still have some weight, things should move forward. It’s kind of embarrassing to acknowledge the fact that it happens so rarely any more that when we get a superhero series that can manage that, it gets praised to the skies.

Look, I really love that comics are moving into the bookstore market. I am finding that most of my comics reading is done in the trade format these days, in book-sized chunks. Most of them– certainly anything by Jonathan Hickman or Brian Bendis– work better that way.

But I also think that I’d prefer a comics landscape where we had more books around like MacGyver and Chuck Dixon’s Lone Ranger and the Mark Waid Marvel stuff. Good stories told well that don’t just sprawl on and on… and if they do go five or six chapters, well, at least they feel like actual chapters and not just paragraphs. You know, I fell in love with comic books because of what they actually were, not what they could be. I still like seeing a kickass adventure story done in 22 pages…and once upon a time, I could count on it. No longer. Now it’s something so rare that when someone comes along and does it at Marvel and DC, it’s a breath of fresh air.

Maybe it’s just because I came of age in a comics landscape where that was the norm, where a “continued” story was maybe two or three chapters at most.

In fact, devoting all 22 pages to ONE story was so weird that it was on the cover as an event. A NOVEL COMPLETE IN THIS ISSUE!

There’s a skill to compression. It’s really damn hard to get it done in twenty-two pages, and it takes a real professional eye to get just enough story in there without losing the pacing or crowding out the art.

I don’t know. Maybe it is becoming rare enough that the folks that manage it should be considered best of the year. I’m just glad they’re still out there at all.

See you next week.

11 Comments

“…I fell in love with comic books because of what they actually were, not what they could be.” This. In fact, that entire paragraph pretty much sums up why ‘old-timers’ like me stay away from the more recent super-hero output of the big two.
By the way, nice write-up on the Lone Ranger – it’s really got me interested in looking into these (esp. if collected in trades), even though I’m not quite a big Lone Ranger fan. In fact, it looks like Dynamite has been putting out a quite a bit of good stuff over the past few years…

Greg, Get out of my Head! :) It is always disconcerting when someone posts something that 100% echoes what I feel about the current state of comics. The art of a done in one story is becoming a lost art. Even when there were the rare continued stories or long arcs in the older books, you still were brought up to speed. In most cases you could figure out what was going on (which was good when distribution of books were spotty or you missed an issue.) One thing I always liked about 60’s Marvel was that you rarely felt lost when you picked up one individual issue. I didn’t have the whole story and they sometimes ended on a cliff hanger but I rarely felt cheated and always wanted to find out what was happening next. Sometimes when I read the Essentials (In one sitting or large chunks) there is repetitive nature to long arcs but those books were never made to be read in chunks. The stuff today is made for long chunks but I rarely buy single issues of many series because they are not satisfying to read. Even in the bargain bins I rarley pick up current individual books unless I find a significant run. That being said I do buy Saga and a few other periodicals because in spite of the serialized nature I feel I get my moneys worth and I want to see what happens next. Wish that was the norm in mainstream books because I would buy more. Thanks for articulating some great points and for reviewing a couple of books I’ll keep an eye out for. How about a column on crossovers you have liked or followed. (JLA / JSA team ups were always favorites).

“But I also think that I’d prefer a comics landscape where we had more books around like MacGyver and Chuck Dixon’s Lone Ranger and the Mark Waid Marvel stuff. Good stories told well that don’t just sprawl on and on… and if they do go five or six chapters, well, at least they feel like actual chapters and not just paragraphs. You know, I fell in love with comic books because of what they actually were, not what they could be. I still like seeing a kickass adventure story done in 22 pages…and once upon a time, I could count on it. No longer. Now it’s something so rare that when someone comes along and does it at Marvel and DC, it’s a breath of fresh air.”

I hope this paragraph has the hell quoted out of it. (That sentence makes sense, right?) What you say here is true. I’ve heard others complain about decompression, but you nailed it here. I’d add Busiek to your list of people who can do this well; I’ve been reading his Avengers stories. He did big sprawling epics… but every chapter was “big” in a good way. And Dixon has always been, if not amazing, at least dependable. Should we include Peter David as a writer that also gets it, generally? I haven’t read a lot of his recent stuff…

With your love of “old school,” have you tried the New Crusaders? Unfortunately,it does feel a bit written for the trade, but I’ve been loving the older-style family-friendly but not simpering or cute. But then again, I loved the !mpact line and went back to as many old Red Circle books as I could find, so I am SO the target audience.

In fact, it looks like Dynamite has been putting out a quite a bit of good stuff over the past few years…

I swear to God it’s like Dynamite is basing their entire publishing strategy on my personal tastes. The new crossover book Masks is Chris Roberson’s take on the Black Police trilogy, one of the most famous Spider stories ever done and my personal favorite… but with value-added Green Hornet and Kato, Shadow, Green Lama, Black Bat, and a new Zorro thrown in. Alex Ross does the art on #1. It’s a good time.

I’ve noticed that I prefer comics from the 60s to 90s over the newer decompressed stuff. Comics are so expensive these days that they really need to focus on giving you enough story and value for your $3.99. I mean when I read a single issue of a comic from the 80s it takes me 20-30 minutes to finish it, today’s comics take me only 5-10 minutes to read an issue. Today’s comics for the most part are not satisfying reads, which is why I prefer to wait for the trade.

MacGyver is the first live action television show that I remember watching. I don’t remember much of the show. Stargate made me a fan of Richard Dean Anderson, so I’d like to watch it from beginning to end some day. The comic looks nice too.

How about a column on crossovers you have liked or followed. (JLA / JSA team ups were always favorites).

Here it is. There have been a few since then– not many. Secret Invasion I liked a lot. And Masks, mentioned above, seems like it’s made just for me. For JLA/JSA, well, I adored Crisis on Earth-X, with the Freedom Fighters. That’s probably my favorite. The runner-up would be the one with the Robins, in 1969.

“In my perfect world someone would revive High Adventure comics as a Chuck Dixon/Beau Smith/Mike Grell anthology book with cowboys, pirates, and Mack Bolan-style mercenaries alternating as the leads.”

I like this alternate universe you speak of. Please send me a forwarding address.

Hmmm, I just went and read that “old” column that you linked (posted before I discovered this site) and besides being surprised that there’s no comments, I have to say: what??!! No love for Secret Wars I or II???!!!

But dammit, this shouldn’t be best-of-the-year, it should be the baseline.

I do agree that Waid’s DD is not reinventing the wheel, but I don’t think there ever was a time when it was the baseline level of comics, especially not artwise.

Thanks for your link to the crossover column. I’m definitely going to have to make time to go through yor archives of older posts. Missed that one for sure since it was way before I discovered your column. Interesting crossovers you chose. I always liked the subtle Marvel crossovers like the FF issue (#73) where Spider-man, Daredevil (#38) and Thor (#150) appeared and they tied into the a couple of the character’s titles.If you had missed their issues you would have missed some of the experiences of the other characters story, but still had an idea what was going on. (Thor was in the middle of recovering from a battle when he got involved with the FF and when the FF issue ends he goes back to continue the battle.) Not as blatant as Marvel Team up or Marvel Two in One (which I almost always enjoyed or flat out loved.) Always liked the early Spider-man Annual with the first appearance of the Sinister Six, because it had all the cameos by other Marvel heroes. Not a team up in the traditional sense but it had that shared quality of the Marvel Universe.

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