Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 50, or, I Can Admit When I’m Wrong

Here I grapple with the hardship of having a Wednesday for a Monday.

This week: Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers vs X-Men: Axis, Detective Comics, Superman Unchained, Swamp Thing

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 37, or, I Make A Sandwich

Literally.

This week: Action Comics (TWICE), Black Widow, Moon Knight, Superior Spider-Man, Superman/Wonder Woman, Swamp Thing

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 36, or, Long Time Host/First Time Caller

So there’s a new episode this week, but as I’m currently Pony Tricking from my phone because my less-than-year-old Asus laptop crashed I haven’t figured out how to embed it here just yet. It’s on the Pony Tricks Comic Cast Soundcloud page. It was recorded on my phone with minimal sleep. It is a romp. Thank you Asus. You are the new Disney.

This week: Detective Comics, Hawkeye, Justice League, Low, Outcast and The Wake

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 7, or, Double Ratings

PTCC7

The Pony Tricks Comic Cast is on iTunes! You’re welcome! And, this is the second episode in one week! In fact its the second episode in two days! I give and I give and I give. Join me on my continued adventures in the literature of comics.

This week: Action Comics, Forever Evil: Arkham War, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Swamp Thing and The Walking Dead

In Case You Missed It, or, Six Superhero Books I Loved in 2013

2013 was the first full calendar year I spent actively pursuing comic books on a weekly basis. Prior to this year I had a pretty decent stack of paperbacks and collected volumes, but it wasn’t until the end of 2012 that Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern finally got me to go into a comic book store on new comic book day and grab an individual comic book.

In the year since I’ve read a lot of comics. Some of them left me wondering how I’d been tricked into wasting three dollars on the pages of drivel in my hands, while others made me wonder why more people weren’t talking about what I’d just read.

Below are my thoughts on some of the latter. Books that I couldn’t stop thinking about with moments and characters that stuck with me long after I’d read them. There were some amazing books that came out this year that got every bit of praise and admiration they deserved. But there were also some brilliant stories, even ones by some pretty prominent writers, that seemed to fly right under the radar. I may only be a pedestrian comic book reader and my picks may not be deep cuts, but I want to talk about them.

These (six) be they.

Green Arrow #23.1: Count Vertigo #1
by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino
September 4, 2013

DIZZY ATTACK

Remember Villains’ Month? Back in September instead of running their regularly scheduled programming DC Comics released 52 #1 issues staring 52 different villains to tie into their new event, Forever Evil. In retrospect it turns out that the real villain of Villains’ Month was DC Comics, who tricked readers into picking up a boatload of comic books with 3D covers that were pretty much all drivel.

But not every Villains’ Month issue was a waste. Greg Pak and Charles Soule in particular did excellent work in their respective Zod and Arcane issues and a hand full of other books didn’t induce eye rolls, most notably Count Vertigo.

Not only did this issue manage to keep the momentum of its parent series, Green Arrow, going while so many other Villains’ Month issues obnoxiously hit the pause button on their far-superior parent books, Count Vertigo also delivered great art and a creepy exploration of a lesser known DC Villain, Warren Zytle, who understandably decides to go by Count Vertigo instead.

There’s nothing in Count Vertigo’s origins that you haven’t seen before; an heir to the throne of a country you’ve never heard of reduced to poverty in the wake of rebellion, a poor parent selling their child into research, a man turned into a weapon only to rebel against his creators, you know this story already.

But the character at the center of it all is so off-putting that it elevates the book above Count Vertigo’s by the numbers origins. Count Vertigo is angry, very, very angry, and Count Vertigo #1 is the story of what an angry person does when they have the means to do anything.

Not only did this issue elevate the lackluster Villains’ Month initiative it was a part of, it significantly upped the ante when Green Arrow finally confronted Count Vertigo in the issues after it. It’s a nice little self-contained, dark and creep story about a C-List villain who simultaneously looks like a dork and a badass. And Andrea Sorrentino’s art alone makes it well worth the read.

Fantastic Four #5AU
by Matt Fraction, André Araujo   and Jose Villarubia
March 27

fantasticfour5au

I didn’t read Age of Ultron. I don’t know, it had a cool cover I guess, but I didn’t hear great things about it. I didn’t read Marvel’s next event, Infinity, either. I mean, I checked out the first issue but it didn’t hook me. Some heroes are on Earth and some other heroes are in space and then something else happens? I don’t know. It’s got Black Bolt in it, so maybe I’ll check it out in paperback. I was going to read Inhumanity, or Inhumans, or whatever Marvel’s newest event is supposed to be, but with the recent announcement that Matt Fraction has been pulled from the title, I’m not as inclined to read it as I was.

Long story short I’m not really an event guy. But the Fantastic Four tie-in to Age of Ultron was easily one of the most memorable books I read all year.

Fantastic Four #5AU loosely ties into the group’s journey through time and space in that when it begins they’re traveling through time and space, but its repercussions on Fraction’s Fantastic Four series are minimal and, considering I enjoyed the story without having read a page of Age of Ultron, the issue is something of a stand-alone.

The title of the issue says it all: The Death of the Family Richards During the Bloody Age of Ultron, or, “Everything’s Going to be Okay.” (Hey, what do you know? Matt Fraction writes titles like that too.)

There are two threads through #5AU, the Fantastic Four returning to an Ultron-ravaged Earth and meeting their demise at the hands of a million, billion Ultron drones and Reed Richard and Sue Storm’s children waking up on the Four’s space ship and being confronted by the group’s holographic will.

Reed Richard’s saying goodbye to his children is a moment that transcends the Age of Ultron event, the Fantastic Four series and the comic book medium as a whole. They’re words that have stuck with me long after first reading them, words I can recite and images I can imagine as clear as day.

You may have read Matt Fractions straight up phenomenal Hawkeye, but if you haven’t read Fantastic Four #5AU you’re missing out on one of the writer’s greatest works. This issue hit my where I live. It’s a great story and you should read it.

Wonder Woman #22
by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang
July 17

wonderwoman22

Wonder Woman #23 was amazing. I was an exciting culmination of the issues before it that packed a ton of big character moments and plot development. It got a slew of perfect scores from across the internet and it had a really, really badass cover.

But damned if I’m not a sucker for setup.

Wonder Woman #22 finds Diana and her rag tag family band transported to New Genesis, home of the New Gods, by Orion in an attempt to save them from the wrath of the First Born back in London.

The issues before #22 had done a brilliant job of melding superheroism in the modern world with Olympian Gods and Greek mythology, but #22 kicked if up another notch by throwing an already intriguing mix into the backdrop of Jack Kirby science fiction.

And yet, despite how much of a mouthful worth of exposition setting the scene for #22 is, the issue essentially boils down to a study in family, be it Wonder Woman and the newly inherited kin she’s loosely cobbled together into a family unit under her protection, Orion and his dick dad who maybe, just maybe, isn’t totally a dick, or the First Born and his army of hyena people.

Seriously, this issue is all over the place. But under the guidance of Azzarello and Chiang, who has become the valiant steed amongst DC’s stable of artists, even a story that swerves through robot-scooters and hyena monsters within the course of 22 pages never falls apart.

Azzarello keeps Wonder Woman grounded despite the book’s far reach into fantasy. There may be hyena people, but there’s also an intimate exchange between Diana and Orion where she tells him not to try to be perfect, but to try to be better. And there may be a robot scooter, but I remember it best in regards to Orion’s triumphant return to the family band.

Wonder Woman #23 gave readers the inevitable all-out brawl that had been building up for nearly a year, and it did not disappoint. But the immediate set up to that epic confrontation in Wonder Woman #22 was anything but inevitable and equally unforgettable.

Green Lantern: New Guardians #23
by Justin Jordan, Brad Walker and Andrew Hennessy
August 21

newguardians23

Green Lantern #20 was the undeniable Green Lantern highlight of 2013. How could it not be? It was the last issue of Geoff Johns’ ten year run with the character he completely redefined. And it was great. But I already wrote about that.

What I haven’t written about, and what you might have missed this year, is Green Lantern: New Guardians #23. Unlike some of the aforementioned issues #23 isn’t self-contained. It relies on at least a casual knowledge of Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern for its emotional impact and it serves as something of a preface for the Lights Out storyline it leads into.

But everything before it and after it aside, New Guardians #23 is a story about hope shining brightest in the face of utter hopelessness. New Guardians #23 sees new villain Relic assault the home planet of the Blue Lanterns, wielders of the blue light of hope. Without getting into specifics, it’s a pretty huge downer at face value.

The Blue Lanterns have never been badasses. They don’t wield fear or rage, they don’t use light to create constructs of race cars and sharks and cannons, they’re just really, really optimistic. New Guardians #23 showcases just how badass optimism can be and its final pages are simultaneously the bleakest of bleak affairs and a swirling spiritual triumph.

New Guardians #23 is a testament to the strength of the entire Green Lantern franchise.

Daredevil #30
by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee and Javier Rodriguez
August 21

daredevil30Waid and Samnee’s Daredevil is near-universally hailed as one of the best superhero comics on stands today. I was a little bit late to the party. Month after month I’d read the book’s praises, but it wasn’t until Daredevil #30, a team up with the Silver Surfer that I rightfully surmised might be a standalone outing, that I finally got on board. And man am I glad I did.

Daredevil #30 sees Matt Murdock teaming up with the Silver Surfer to take down an alien named Ru’ach, a being who, as the Surfer explains, is a “sentient lie” that exists “on the edge of perception.” It’s an out there premise that reads more like a comic from your parents’ day than something that came out amongst the gritty, apocalyptic books on shelves in 2013. And that’s because it isn’t gritty or apocalyptic.

Daredevil #30 is just fun. Daredevil and the Silver Surfer are both cool characters. One looks like the devil and the other one was a cosmic surf board. What’s not to love? Waid and Samnee understand this and exploit it. Rather than wasting time delving deep into the Silver Surfer’s secret pain, Daredevil #30 instead offers vibrant two-page spreads of Daredevil hitching a ride on the Surfer’s board, weaving through buildings in New York City.

Daredevil is a book that fully utilizes the complete emotional spectrum. Not too long before Daredevil #30 things got dark. Really dark. And not too long after Matt Murdock found himself teaming up with Halloween monsters to face a group of white supremacists.

This Daredevil run is nowhere near monotonous and can wield heartbreak and pure joy with equal amounts of competence. But where there are plenty of well-written books that came out in 2013 that can leave you down in the dumps, few if any can reach the level of plain old fun Daredevil #30 soars at.

Batman Incorporated #13
by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham
July 31

batmaninc13

Batman Incorporated #13 might be the greatest single issue of a Batman book I’ve ever read.

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have been consistently turning out top notch material in the primary Batman series since the New 52 launched in 2011 and they sure as yell didn’t stop in 2013. Death of the Family concluded in February with Batman #17, an understated and phenomenal conclusion to a grand Bat-family event, and Snyder and Capullo set about the herculean task of redefining Batman’s origins with the start of Zero Year in Batman #21. But somehow it seems like the conclusion to Grant Morrison’s Batman story, one that started in 2006 and brought together elements from the hero’s entire 70 plus year history into one vast, epic, operatic Batman opus, got lost in the shuffle this year.

The Batman canon is aged and cumbersome, so much so that it makes more sense for each individual fan to construct their own rudimentary history of the character. These histories are often bookended by Frank Miller, whose seminal works Year One and The Dark Knight Returns have come to define the beginning and the end of Batman. Somewhere in between Batman meets a young boy and takes him under his week. Sometime later a Robin dies. Maybe somewhere in your own history of Batman he has his back broken, or fights a werewolf, or travels through time.

When Grant Morrison ended his time with the Dark Knight in Batman Incorporated #13 he had made such a unique and thoughtful interpretation of the character that the events of his run have been etched permanently into my own history of Batman.

And yet you don’t need to know any of that to enjoy Batman Incorporated #13. You don’t need to have read any of the rest of Morrison’s years-long story. You probably don’t even need to have read a comic book. But if you have any appreciation for Batman then Grant Morrison’s passion for the character and the icon alike will shine through.

Batman Incorporated #13 is a 22-page master class in a character that has been around for nearly 75 years.

2014 looks like it’s going to be a pretty cool year for comics. DC is still in the midst of both Forever Evil, an event comic that is actually worth reading, and Zero Year, the aforementioned retelling of Batman’s Origins and Marvel is set to publish some exciting new books like Silver Surfer and She-Hulk.

The nature of a medium like comics isn’t very conducive to memory. There are dozens of new books every week and so spending any amount of time with just one can be hard. But in the weeks and months and years to follow I know that I’ll still find time to revisit the books on this list because even thrown in amongst various events and variant covers and tie-ins they managed to shine bright on their own merits and ingrain themselves in my memory.

 

Now that you’ve read about my favorite books of the year, why not spend the year listening to me babble about my favorite books of the week. Every week. Check out the Pony Tricks Comic Cast for a weekly literary deconstruction of last week’s comic books.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1. Do superhero books still represent the best comics have to offer? Do they  represent the worst comics have to offer?

2. Did I miss a great issue you think was overlooked this year?

3. Did you no that if you like comic books you’re a huge nerd?

For more on my favorite entertainment in 2013:

Television

Video Games

The 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative

Because it’s Stupid, or, Why I am Never Reading Vibe Again

The time: 1984.

The place: Detroit.

Young Paco Ramone learns that with the original tried and true Justice League disbanded a new Justice League is taking form and, utilizing his superhuman power of… vibration… Paco decides to leave his life as the leader of the Los Lobos street gang to make it as a superhero dubbed Vibe. Also he was a break dancer.

Can I get an “awwwww yeeeaaaah?”

Oyo Como Va

Oyo Como Va

Just kidding, something that stupid would never happen.

Double just kidding, something that stupid happened so hard.

It was the 80’s, which I guess is an excuse, and much like the pet rock, Molly Ringwald and Poison, Vibe soon faded into obscurity and rightfully so.

But, some three decades later DC Comics mastermind Geoff Johns, an expert in the resurrections of bankrupt characters (Green Lantern: Rebirth, New 52 Aquaman), saw to it that Vibe was brought back to the forefront of the DC Universe by making him a member of the Justice League of America and giving him his own ongoing series, a series presumably with a goal other than selling comics to the grandmothers of ethnic street performers and Vanilla Ice fans.

It’s a hefty undertaking but Johns has proven time and time again that he can take a less than stellar character and rocket them into the fandom stratosphere. When Johns took the reins of Green Lantern Hal Jordan was the personification of everything wrong with the 90s with a weakness for the color yellow and now, after writing the incredibly successful series for nearly a decade, the Green Lantern universe spans across five series and Sinestro Corps shirts are awesome. Even worse off than pre-Johns Green Lantern was Aquaman. The guy talks to fish and pretty much all he’d been good for (outside of Batman: The Brave and the Bold) was being made fun of for talking to fish and serving as a springboard for shark cameos. After Johns started writing for the Atlantean at the start of the New 52 Aquaman is the star of one of DCs best books and was even at the center of a major crossover event, Throne of Atlantis.

Johns, who only actually co-wrote the first issue of Vibe’s standalone series, hyped the book substantially, talking about how the new spin on the character would give him inter-dimensional powers and make him arguably one of the most powerful and important characters in the DC Universe.

Vibration attack!

Vibration attack!

But Vibe didn’t suffer from just the angst-ridden, cynical 90s or an easily spoofed power, Vibe was a raging ethnic stereotype with stupid powers and a stupid outfit, and despite Johns’ efforts the first issue of Justice League of America’s Vibe was pretty underwhelming. On the bright side, Paco Ramone got a cool new name: Cisco.

Cisco.

The first issue of JLA’s Vibe also saw the character nestled into the existing New 52 universe quite naturally, his powers being a result of the weirdo-demon-bomb-messenger-monsters sent by Darkseid in the first arc of Justice League. The issue also left plenty of mysteries to keep readers interested; how will Vibe fit in with the likes of Hawkman and Martian Manhunter in the JLA? Can Vibe trust A.R.G.U.S., the government agency that seems so interested in his powers? What exactly are Vibe’s powers?

Poorly.

No.

I have no godamn idea.

And therein lies my biggest problem with JLA’s Vibe: I legitimately have no idea what he does. The old Vibe could vibrate and shoot sonic blasts, but in the New 52 young Cisco has the power to… see other dimensions? Or hear other dimensions? Or be other dimensions? Who knows. Also he shoots stuff? I guess they’re also sonic blasts but I couldn’t tell you. They sort of look like Pidgey’s gust attack, but again, who knows? I think he still vibrates.

I could overlook the neither-here-nor-there powers if Cisco himself was at least an interesting character, but again, we’re talking about a hero named “Vibe.”

When the second Blue Beetle died he was replaced by Jamie Reyes, a Mexican-American teenager who lived with his parents in El Paso. Jamie Reyes is awesome. His youth gives him the Spiderman-esque spirit of a quip-ready underdog and his cultural heritage adds nuance to his interactions with his family and the world around him.

Cisco’s cultural heritage adds a few apostrophes into his dialogue bubbles.

But of course even poor characterization and dumbass, inexplicable superpowers can be overlooked if, somehow, barring all logic and reason, the story is still good – and with guest appearances from Kid Flash, Batman and the Suicide Squad all within the first five issues something interesting has to be going on.

For a third time I am just kidding.

What the hell is happening?

What the hell is happening?

Kid Flash is a pretty cool character, and he still looked pretty cool in Vibe because when you have a cool costume and not a vest and ski goggles like some sort of preteen Digimon wrangler you can look cool even in a less-than-cool book. But Kid Flash’s appearance did little more than further confuse what exactly Vibe’s powers are. Kid Flash can move fast enough to tap into the speed force, which is extra-dimensional in nature, and in return Vibe can… touch Kid Flash?

But hey, you can’t go wrong with Batman. Surely one of DCs best characters can lift up one of its worst?

Just Kidding IV: The Voyage Home.

Turns out it wasn’t Batman at all, it was – get ready – an inter-dimensional shape shifting gypsy.

Cool right? Right?

And of course the Suicide Squad can only look so badass whilst chasing a break dancing vibrator and – again, get ready – an inter-dimensional shape shifting gypsy.

When last I saw Vibe he was trapped in a robot test tube thingamajig and I kind of hope he just stays trapped in their forever and then eventually gets blown up by the Blue Beetle on accident or on purpose, I really don’t care, and left to vibrate away in the dust and ashes. But either way I sincerely don’t care.

Because Vibe is stupid.

So, so, so stupid.

And I am not kidding.

Deadpool is Brilliant, or, Boy Deadpool Sure is Dumb

Dinosaurs are cool, right?

Dinosaurs are cool, right?

There was a time where anything and everything put out by Marvel comics was no more than a half a degree of separation away from their top selling poster boy Wolverine. After all, what’s not to like? He’s got mutton chops.

But those days are over.

In the days of Marvel’s New 52 countermeasure, Marvel NOW, there’s nary a title out there that doesn’t boast a tongue and cheek variant cover adorned with the Merc with a Mouth, Wade Wilson, best known as Deadpool.

Deadpool’s got a lot going for him – mostly the fact that he’s entirely aware of his own fiction existence as a comic book character. He’s been known to talk to the reader or even redraw battles so that he can come out on top. It’s all kinds of fourth-wall-breaking meta goodness, though it more often amounts to a hilarious gag than a serious literary accomplishment. Go figure.  So when it was announced that the Marvel NOW iteration of Deadpool was going to be written by a standup comedian, Brian Posehn, expectations were high.

Having finally concluded this week, Posehn’s first Deadpool story arc saw Wade Wilson become an honorary inductee of S.H.I.E.L.D. in order to thwart a demonic gang of revived, mystical zombie versions of the deceased Presidents of the United States of America. Sign me up!

This says more about Deadpool than I ever could.

This says more about Deadpool than I ever could.

And sign up I did. Now that the series is six issues and one arc in, however, I can’t tell if I’ve been reading the dumbest comic on shelves, or the smartest. Okay, that was generous. I can’t tell if I’ve been reading the dumbest comic on shelves, or just a regularly dumb comic on par with other dumb comics.

I suspect the first time Deadpool directly addressed his readers it was pretty wild and unexpected, but nowadays every other panel more or less amounts to the Merc with a Mouth making a “hilarious”  pop culture reference and then turning and winking at you. It’s fun to think about interacting with your favorite heroes, but those interactions shouldn’t be limited to me yelling “stop talking to me and do your job” at a comic book while I hide from my made up wife and kids in the bathroom of my made up house.

What job would that be, you ask? Deadpool is the Marvel Universe’s walking, talking reality check. There’s nobody too important, too well-loved or too gritty to escape Deadpool’s non-stop smart-assery. And let’s face it – they have it coming! Yeah, yeah Wolverine is an ageless mutant who’s fought his way through persecution, adversity and torture time and time again – but  guess what? He’s also a comic book weirdo who runs around in a yellow costume with metal claws that come out of his knuckles. Captain America is a grown ass 100-year old man who runs around with a shield draped in an American flag. Spider Man is a d-bag!

By running his mouth constantly and refusing to be serious Deadpool teaches the comic book universe a very serious lesson – get over yourselves nerds, you’re comic books.

Which leads me to a revelation – what if Posehn’s Deadpool won’t stop bothering me while I’m trying to read his own book because he’s trying to teach me something too? What if Deadpool’s idiotic crusade against the zombified former Presidents is really a metaphorical crusade against a generation of comic book readers who lose their shit anytime a creator tries to expand  or reinvigorate a character, a generation who dogmatically adhere to continuity like doctrine and to heroes like prophetic idols?

When Deadpool talks his way through his books he isn’t just dumbing down his own comic book, he’s dumbing down our comic book, for our own good. It’s Marvel Comics, not Charles Dickens, and while comic books certainly have their place in the literary cannon, they’re still supposed to be fun, and I’m glad Deadpool could show me that.

Deadpool’s own mouth consistently holds his own book back from being anything more than a silly, stupid comic book that your parents will roll their eyes at. But maybe that’s because he’s trying to tell me that I shouldn’t spend time pouring over Batman comics and analyzing them to death because the Caped Crusader isn’t supposed to be an icon of American literature, he’s just supposed to be a goofy guy in spandex.

And that’s when I realized the Posehn’s Deadpool isn’t dumb at all – it’s an indictment of the comic book industry, from writers to artists to critics to fans, taking itself far, far too seriously. It’s a statement on the current status of an entire literary medium, and one that raises the medium as a whole.

LOL WTF JK

You guys, Deadpool is dumb.

Deadpool is so dumb.