Questioning Authority, or, DC Comics v. The Man

Now that I’ve said my piece regarding DC Comics’ universally-loathed, split-screen advertising strategy, and now that said advertising strategy seems to be over (at least for the time being) it’s a lot easier to reflect on the actual content being put out under the publisher’s new DC You banner.

What DC’s books arguably lacked in the wake of their New 52 reboot at the end of 2011, and what Marvel has become prodigious in nailing down, is a sense of here and now. Where an issue of Marvel titles like All-New Captain America, Daredevil or Ms. Marvel often feels like a specific response to the cultural discourse of the day DC’s titles as of late have had a certain timelessness to them.

DC’s New 52 titles often felt like reactions to themselves, insular examinations of the decades old history of their stable of characters. I adore Geoff Johns’ Justice League and Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s Wonder Woman and have zero hesitation strongly recommending them to any prospective reader, but aside from modern storytelling sensibilities nothing about either book screams of the world outside of your window.

DC You aims to fix that and as of the start of the new line’s second month the publisher is right on target, telling stories that feel like they’re unfolding as you read them, rather than in some chronal literary vacuum. Not only has DC diversified their roster with books like Black Canary, Cyborg and Midnighter, they’ve started to tell stories that look outward into our world.

This timeliness is particularly prominent in books like Action Comics, Green Arrow and Batman, all of which have entered into a conversation about authority and the role of law enforcement.

CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE ATTACK

CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE ATTACK

The last story arc in New 52 Action Comics was a zombie yarn examining Superman’s ties to his hometown in Kansas. Conversely, in last week’s Action Comics #42 Superman is literally a barricade between an enraged public on the verge of rioting and a heavily armed police force wielding batons and riot shields. Artist Aaron Kuder concocts thrilling, captivating imagery that makes the 75 year old character feel like he was born in 2015. Writer Greg Pak examines both sides of a community on the brink, illustrating just how volatile and multifaceted a situation the encounters between authority and citizenry we see on the nightly news can be. By the end of the issue my stomach hurt.

The last I read of Green Arrow was Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s fantastic run, which concluded last September and saw Oliver Queen trotting the globe to uncover the mysteries of The Outsiders, an age-old organization comprised of clans with ideologies surrounding various primitive weapons. An awesome adventure story, but one that again relies on interaction with the fictional world and mythology of the title character, rather than the world we the readers occupy. Now, under the stewardship of writer Ben Percy and artist Patrick Zircher, Oliver Queen is going up against racial profiling drones that are specifically targeting African American and low-income citizens. Worse still, Oliver has found out that through his own disinterested approach to managing his company he’s inadvertently supported the development and deployment of the drones and their systematic discrimination. So while a mysterious, white as the moon villain assaults a group of peaceful protestors Oliver grapples with the fact that he has unknowingly helped prop up a system that actively disenfranchises whole segments of his community. Green Arrow has gone from taking on the spear clan and Count Vertigo to battling white privilege and institutionalized oppression.

ROOF CROUCH ATTACK

ROOF CROUCH ATTACK

Even Batman, a book that has managed to often enough buck the New 52’s insular nature with threads exploring mental illness and modern cultural fears, has taken a further step into our world in its questioning of authority. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s latest arc, Superheavy, explores law enforcement and its relationship with citizens via a Batman who works inside the law enforcement system. Yesterday’s Batman #42 saw the new Dark Knight admit that there are segments of Gotham in the lowest economical bracket that are time and time again failed by the system that is supposed to protect and support them, acknowledge the injustice of that disparity and actively try to fix it.

The writers and artists at DC have spent the decade putting out some truly extraordinary books that will no doubt be remembered for years to come for their literary prowess and craftsmanship. But with stories like the ones now being told in Action Comics, Green Arrow and Batman, DC is also releasing material that readers will be able to return to as a window into the cultural landscape of 2015, much the way Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns can provide some insight into the cultural climate of 1986. The DC You banner is becoming synonymous with stories that are specifically not timeless. And that’s a good thing.

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 24, or, Too Many Books

How many books? Too many books. A full fourteen books. A baker’s dozen, and then a whole nother. So I hope you’re ready for rambling. Also, personal accomplishment and a new logo (that looks less than stellar embedded in WordPress).

This week: Amazing Spider-Man: Learning to Crawl, Black Widow, Cyclops, Detective Comics, Futures End, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Iron Fist: The Living Weapon, Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man, Moon Knight, Original Sin, She-Hulk, Swamp Thing, The Wake

Too many books!

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 19, or, Spoilers

Are you ready to to ramble!? Because I’m sure I only spend 25% of this comic book podcast actually talking about comic books. Whoops. You’re welcome.

This week: Action Comics, Aquaman and the Others, Black Widow, Detective Comics, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Inhuman, Moon Knight, She-Hulk, Swamp Thing

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 15, or, Murder

Hey look! It’s a day early this week. You’re welcome! A lot of books this week. Possibly more than ever before. And yet, by and large, there’s but a singular resounding theme throughout them (almost) all…

This week: Action Comics, Afterlife with Archive, Detective Comics, Forever Evil, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Magneto, Moon Knight, The Punisher, She-Hulk, Swamp Thing

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