Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Well, it’s that time of year again where I look at the pull list and decide who makes the cut.
I surprised myself two ways, this year.
The first is that I actually added monthly books to the list, reversing a five-year trend. I really do prefer to get my comics in book form, but for some reason there are just a lot of cool monthly comics coming out lately that I can’t bear to wait for.
The second is that there are still no Bat-books on the list. My colleague Mr. Burgas has got me talked into maybe picking up the new Batman Beyond collection– but the comics-retail pull-list instructions are Bat-free.
At least until Batman ’66 rolls out, I’ll be first in line for that one.
As far as DC is concerned, well… I’m still kind of hanging in there with Aquaman. That’s it.
It’s the only DC monthly I’m getting at the moment and I’m lukewarm about it; most of the time it’s a pretty fair mid-list superhero book and I like it okay, but every so often it just makes me wince. It’s inching closer to the ‘cut’ side of the list. I probably would have cut it after the horribly padded JLA crossover, “Throne of Atlantis,” if not for my affection for Aquaman as a character, and my desire to see him have an ongoing monthly comic that’s a success.
And it is a success. So I can’t say DC is doing something wrong here… I just wish I liked the book more. This new Aquaman title is a big hit for DC, which makes me happy on an abstract level, but on the other hand, I don’t enjoy it that much. For one thing, it is absolutely locked in to a six-issue, writing-for-the-trade cycle, which makes it feel glacially slow a lot of the time, and often things seem stretched out and padded for no good reason. So that’s strike one.
But probably the thing that bothers me the most about it is that Geoff Johns seems to have the idea that everything about Aquaman needs some sort of Badass Makeover. And I mean Every. Thing. Think i’m kidding? The latest is re-introducing Topo, Aquaman’s octopus pal from the old Ramona Fradon days, as some sort of Lovecraftian monster.
I mean, I don’t actually object to the scene, it was interesting enough, but calling the creature ‘Topo’ is sort of emblematic of the whole New 52 approach at DC. Everything– EVERYTHING!– must be new and edgy and kewl. The actual merit of the story is lost under the fanboy sniggering. This is exactly the same sort of dumbass in-joke that we saw a few years back in Teen Titans with Wonder Dog’s revamping into a man-eating killer. It annoyed me then too.
No, I’m not grieving for superhero comics’ loss of innocence or lamenting the destruction of a beloved original character or anything like that. I’m pretty sure no one cares about Topo the octopus. I certainly don’t.
But why go there at all? Why not just call the monster Aquaman summons in #19 something else? Why is it necessary to go for the inside-baseball fan reference?
The reason it annoys me is because, every time I’ve picked up a New 52 DC title (and I’ve sampled quite a few over the last couple of years, I WANT to like them) it always feels like everything is taking the same tone, which is to say early 1990s grim-n-gritty with a side of fanboy in-jokes. That, to me, suggests that the powers-that-be who are running DC comics really don’t understand what they have. The thinking strikes me as very binary– it’s either Kid Stuff or it’s HARDCORE! There’s a vast middle ground between, say, Tiny Titans and Watchmen and I don’t know why more DC superhero books don’t try for it. The Flash is different than Batman and both of them are different from Aquaman, but it feels like there’s an ongoing effort to make sure that all DC superheroes are done in the same way, and that way is apparently “the same as Batman.” Even though the dark, urban tone of a Batman story is completely out-of-place with someone like the Flash or Green Lantern. Aquaman, in particular, is a character that could really stand to lighten up a little, not get more grim and badassed and stabby. As it is, I’ll hang in there with this one a little longer, but it’s definitely on the bubble.
I’m still digging the new Star Trek ongoing from IDW. This is everything I could ask for in a ‘re-imagining’ of a beloved old property. The stories that Mike Johnson is doing are clever combinations of the old and the new, and it’s been a lot of fun seeing him stretch himself as he finds a groove on the book. The recent set of spotlight issues focusing on individual crew members were very cool. The one with Sulu and Chekov at Starfleet Academy, especially, with both cadets forced into decisions that seemed bad but actually worked out really well, was a classic Trek morality play. And the new arc that just kicked off, “After Darkness,” incorporates everything from the new movie without getting bogged down in it and is shaping up to be a wild new version of the original series episode “Amok Time.” Ever since J.J. Abrams did the big-screen movie in 2009, there have been hordes of Trekkies yelling that the new version doesn’t get what the series was about at all, and I’m telling you that it’s alive and well here in the ongoing. I’m always tripping over the announcement of one or another Star Trek comics miniseries, but I never see anyone else writing about the regular ongoing– at least in the comics press, though it gets a lot of play from the Star Trek sites– and I’m here to tell you, it’s fun comics. The weak link is the art, which has been inconsistent. There doesn’t seem to be a regular team. But the guys they’ve been getting are all okay and don’t look like they’re lightboxing off movie stills, they can all draw.
My interest in Marvel, at the moment, is all about the Mark Waid books. Daredevil is still hitting for me and I am loving the new Indestructible Hulk so far.
I don’t know what to say about them other than they’re terrific and I love them. I especially love that in the Hulk book Waid is giving us a version of the Hulk very like the Mark Ruffalo one from the Avengers movie, except in the comics version Banner stayed on the Helicarrier with Fury instead of riding off with Tony Stark. The idea that Bruce Banner is a scientist so brilliant that it’s worth risking the Hulk to have Banner around is a great one; I liked it in the Avengers movie and I like it here even more. Waid is a science nerd (I think all of us that grew up on Silver Age DC have that same love of Comic Book Big Science!) and it serves him really well here.
Steed and Mrs. Peel, the ongoing title from Boom! is another one that I initially picked up because of Mark Waid, but I have stuck around despite his departure. This is another book that, like IDW’s Star Trek, has a knack for taking something old and familiar and breathing new life into it. They’ve been hedging their bets by doing the ‘greatest hits’ — even casual fans of the Avengers TV show certainly remember the Hellfire Club and the Cybernauts — but first Mark Waid and now new writer Caleb Monroe have been giving us new takes on them that don’t feel like retreads. This is another book that’s just consistently a fun read month after month, without really setting the world on fire or breaking boundaries or anything. I really love books like this, but unfortunately stuff that falls into the category of ‘consistently entertaining’ never seems to get any press.
Sadly, that invisibility has apparently taken its toll. I hear this book’s getting canceled, so I guess it’s not going to stay on the pull list after all, though I liked it quite a bit more than I thought I would. The interior art’s mostly just been serviceable, though the covers have been amazing…. I would love posters of the last four or five months’ worth of them. Emma Peel never looked better. And no unnecessary cleavage or ‘brokeback’ either.
But really, this year it’s all about Dynamite Comics as far as I’m concerned. Between the ‘bionic’ books and the pulp revivals, they own me.
The Bionic Man and The Bionic Woman are chugging right along. I love the new versions of fondly-rememberered TV storylines like the fembots and the bionic Sasquatch. That’s what I was hoping for when these books launched and it’s been great.
I’ve written about these titles before so, again, not a lot to add. They’re still fun books and I still love them.
I am especially digging The Lone Ranger and The Spider. There’s enough familiarity that I can see the characters I love, but there’s enough new stuff there that everything feels fresh and new. And I never get tired of those Francavilla covers.
The Shadow and The Shadow: Year One are both continued delights. I am enjoying the variant-cover thing too… I don’t get one of each or anything, but it’s fun to see what the different artists do. If you’re going to have a cover gimmick, that’s a good one.
And Masks, the pulp crossover, has just been a great ride all the way through. I kind of wish it would continue as an ongoing, with the same sort of loose non-team, no-set-roster Brave and the Bold approach that Chris Roberson took in plotting this story. And again, seeing all the variant covers has been a fun value-add. I’m sad that it’s almost over.
But on the other hand, I can console myself with the upcoming Shadow-Green Hornet book Dark Nights. I think I’ll give that one a shot.
That’s it for the monthly pulls. The books I continue to get in trade are the Dark Horse Conan, Lord of the Jungle, and the New 52 version of Jonah Hex in All-Star Western.
Still enjoying all three, though I’m about done with Jonah Hex in Gotham. He needs to be back out west. The stories have kept me hooked but I’m getting tired of urban Hex.
And that’s the list. Looking it over, it appears that I’m still the same sucker for pulp adventure that I was at age thirteen. I’m delighted that all these new books have sprung up to accommodate me just as I’m considering giving up on my last two old standbys from DC.
If you are anywhere near Olympia, Washington tomorrow come see us at the Olympia Comics Festival! We’re tabling there again this year, along with all sorts of indie folks including David Lasky and Carol Lay and Roberta Gregory. It’s shaping up to be a great show and the kids are very jazzed. The new class books came off the press just this week and I think they are pretty damn good, especially the high school Young Authors anthology. Hope to see you there.
And if we don’t see you there, why, I’ll see you here… next week.
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