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You have seen “Best of” comic lists before.  I know I have.  Until this year, I have not done one.  And though this blog is about my opinion, I felt that such a thing was too limiting for a “Best of” list.  People all across the Internet post personal lists, so doing that here seems no different–just one other person’s perspective.  Some sites, though, provide a list combined from the lists of various staff members.  This seems like a better idea, since more opinions are involved.  However, there is no guarantee that all those people read the same things.

So, I bring you this: a list compiled from the individual lists my dad, my brother, and I made.  We compiled our lists based on the issues of 174 different titles we read this year.  That means, basically, that all series were graded solely on what we read of them, whether that be one or all of the issues of it that came out this year. My brother has not read some of the “independent” titles, but aside from that, I can assure you we read all 174 titles.

The list was compiled as follows.  We each made a “Best of” list, consisting of the fifteen titles we liked best this past year, strictly limited to the comics that were published last year.  We each also made a “Worst of” list, consisting of five titles.  Then, the lists were combined based on a point structure.  A title placed first received 15 points, second received 14 points, etc.  In the case of “Worst of” lists, the worst received 5 points, the next-to-worst received 4, and so on.

So, with that out of the way, here is the Least Five and Top Ten that our lists made.  My mom always told me to end on a positive note, so I provide the Least Five first.

5) Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #2 (DC)/New Mutants #5 (Marvel) (tie)–3 points.

Superman Beyond makes this list for a few reasons.  It is partially from the confusion caused by not getting  the first issue.  We just could not follow the story or discern its connection to Final Crisis (though we were partially able to once we read Final Crisis #7).  Explanations provided regarding the multiverse and the nature of Monitors (the guardians of the multiverse) went over our heads.  It did not help matters that the parts in 3-D were muddled.

The cover and the solicitation for New Mutants implied that Warlock, a beloved character in my family, would be at least part of the focus of the issue.  Yes, he returns (as promised), but that is all.  Nothing is done with him.  Instead, the issue largely discusses a problem leftover from the New Mutants taking down Legion, a powerful psychic with a multiple personality disorder.  Having not read the previous issues, the events that had happened and the discussion in this issue of them were not completely clear to us.  On top of that, Warlock was only introduced to be part of the Necrosha crossover, which would pick up next issue.  All in all, it was just a very disappointing issue.

4) Wonder Woman #28-33 (DC)–6 points.

These issues were part of the “Rise of the Olympian” story that began the previous year.  In it, Wonder Woman fights a new menace named Genocide while Zeus revives the Argonauts and Achilles to take the place of the Amazons.  There are multiple problems with this story.  First, there is Genocide, who is, in behavior, look, and destructive nature, a clone of Doomsday.  Wonder Woman is the only person that can stop Genocide, as becomes apparent after she calls in allies (including a few Justice Leaguers) and things go sour.  Also, Genocide is provided contradictory origins.  Second, this arc has entirely too much going on.  The fight between Wonder Woman, Genocide, and Genocide’s makers seems to be the focus.  Yet, this is supposed to be the “Rise of the Olympian” story, so the Argonauts are there.  But their story is distracting and largely unconnected, until after Genocide is taken care of and they are the only real thing to focus on.  Wonder Woman deals with the Argonauts and Cheetah (one of Genocide’s makers, supposedly) while Genocide roams free, and one has to wonder why Genocide is not causing, well, genocide in the meantime.  All in all, the story just does not work.

3) Dellec #0 (Aspen)–8 points.

This is a bad comic for one very clear reason: it does not tell us who Dellec is.  There is someone who seems to be a blacksmith at the start of the comic, doing a little bit of internal monologuing, but his relevance to the rest of the comic or the title in general is never made clear.  It seems to me that an issue #0 should do a better job introducing readers to the characters than that.  Presumably, the series focuses on Dellec and his quest for revenge, as the solicitations implied.  However, for issue #0, the focus is on a group of criminals and a mission they undertake (which does not go according to plan) and a priest revealing a secret artifact.  Within the series, all of these elements might tie together.  As presented in this issue, however, none of it seems relevant to anything else, making the entire comic disjointed and partially confusing.

1) Mr. Universe (Image)/Solomon Grundy #7 (DC) (tie)–10 points.

Mr. Universe is a comic my dad and I both thought was interested based on the solicitation:

Everybody needs Mr. Universe — the superhero whose adventures ring
throughout the cosmos! Day and night, he watches over the city,
offering help to the helpless! Without the luxury of a secret
identity, unable to remain invisible among the crowds, he continues to
fulfill his duty! Mr. Universe! The restless superhero! At least,
that’s what Tommy thought…

It sounds like a cool streetview look at a Superman-type character and his influence on a child, right?  It really is not like that.  Instead, it is a series of pages of a muddled storyline wherein Tommy is perhaps insane, muddling through life until such a time he can read a Mr. Universe comic book.  I say Tommy is insane because there are shifts in the story wherein  he sees things happening that do not occur in actuality, almost as if he is trying to will his imagination into existence.  There is little text to the comic, so the art works to convey the story.  It does not succeed, leaving far too many questions.  Overall, it is just a confusing story with art that, though not terrible, definitely cannot carry the comic.

Though there is more dialogue and narration in Solomon Grundy #7, the art is worse and the story is about as clear as the one in Mr. Universe. Perhaps it would have helped if we read any of the previous issues of the mini series.  Perhaps.  Basely solely on this issue, though, it was not clear what was going on or what had gotten Grundy to where he is.  Worse still, as the final part of the mini it did not conclude.  The story continued into a slightly better follow-up in a Superman/Batman two-parter.

Now that those are out of the way, let us get onto the good stuff:

Honorable Mention: Scourge of Gods #1-3/Scourge of the Gods: The Fall #1-3 (Soleil/Marvel)

Scourge of the Gods is set in the future, wherein future parallels of what we know as the Roman Empire–here, the Roman Galactic Empire, comprised of multiple planets–and the Huns–supposed barbarians invading from outside the Empire.  In the first mini, Flavia Aetia, the daughter of a Roman senator, is declared to be the reincarnation of Kerka, the Huns’ goddess of chaos.  From this come a series of interesting developments, wherein we are left uncertain whether or not she is a goddess, what side of the conflict she wishes to be (due to her loyalties with the Romans and her relationship with the Hun King Attilas), and where the Huns are from.  The reveal at the end of the third part certainly leaves the reader hanging and, indeed, left us confused since no other issues of the series had been solicited yet.  Fortunately, though, The Fall came out and eased our confusion.  Everything is explained, relating the Huns, the Romans, gods, and the significance of the Roman Empire we know.

This is an epic, multifaceted story, incorporating life, love, war, godhood, bureaucracy, science fiction and more.  The art is stunning in its detail and meshes quite well with the story.  Overall, Scourge of the Gods is well worth your time and only barely missed our Top Ten.

9) Nova #21-32 (Marvel)/Superman: World of New Krypton #1-10 (DC) (tie)–16 points.

Nova is stellar, and not just because it takes place in space.  This past year in Nova, the main character, Richard Rider, had to deal with a rapidly-enlarged Nova Corps, losing his title as Nova Prime, facing his own mortality, dealing with spillover from War of Kings, fixing the corrupted Worldmind (the head of the Nova Corps), and much more.  Suffice to say, a lot happened in Nova in 2009.  All the while, Richard grew as a character, as a Nova, as a leader, and as a brother.  It certainly helps that this title has has consistently good artists on it, such as Wellington Alves and Andrea DiVito, depicting the stories in a sort of classic style.  Things were sometimes a bit slow, such as toward the start of the year, some of the Nova Corpsmen lack much character, and some of the things the Corps deals with are not fully explained.  But, the comic is consistently dramatic and entertaining.  All too often, Richard or his few Nova Corpsmen were left in predicaments leaving the reader wanting the next month to arrive in order to see how the story ends.

World of New Krypton is exceptional.  I do not mean that to imply that I think it is better than anything else on this list (I don’t).  It is exceptional because it is a Superman story all three of us enjoy.  That is definitely saying something to the quality of this comic, considering that my dad and I are not Superman fans and typically do not have a fond appreciation for Superman material.  Like Nova, World of New Krypton takes an Earth-based hero offworld and puts him in a position where he has to lead people who are struggling their new powers, powers similar to his own.  There have been a few missteps during the series, such as the crossover with the other Superman titles around issue #6 or so.  That said, this is just a strong character piece.  Why is Superman special when there is a whole planet of powered Kryptonians?  This series shows us why.  And it is not just Superman’s character that is being touched on here.  General Zod, his aunt Alura, and a variety of recurring cast members all get their moments to shine and show us that Kryptonians are no less diverse than we are.  World of New Krypton is solid storytelling.

8) War of Kings #1-6 (Marvel)–18 points.


As one of the big events of last year, you might expect big things to happen.  From around the end of the first issue all the way through the climax in the middle of the sixth, the story is filled with big action, multiple forms of conflict, and a few surprise twists.  The third-person narration, while offering unique perspectives, seemed superfluous at times, and the mini was a bit hurt by War of Kings: Darkhawk being used as a means to explain a key point of the story.

War of Kings adequately connects multiple plot threads related to Annihilation, Annihilation: Conquest, Secret War, Secret Invasion, and Uncanny X-Men and is beautifully drawn by Paul Pelletier.  It is a quality story with ramifications to be felt in Marvel space comics for the foreseeable future.

6) The Dark Tower (Marvel)/Mighty Avengers #21-32 (Marvel) (tie)–19 points.

The Dark Tower is a series of mini series.  This year, four Dark Tower titles came out: Treachery, Sorcerer (a one-shot), The Fall of Gilead, and The Battle of Jericho Hill, in that order.  The last of those only just started before the year ended.  Since these issues are all inter-related and part of one large story, we decided that they should count as one entry.  And, oh, what an entry.  The Dark Tower is told in what some might call “widescreen” format.  The story is told with few panels, forcing the narration and dialogue to provide most of the plot.  This is not to say the art is unnecessary.  On the contrary, it provides expansive backgrounds and focuses on key moments, all the while providing the tone the entire story is based around.  The art plays a role in how even a slow issue (usually the first issue or two of each mini) is enjoyable.

The Dark Tower is a story of good versus evil and a boy-turned-man fighting against all odds, no matter how much harm and disaster he experiences in his journey.  I would argue Treachery #6 is one of the best issues of 2009.  No wonder the series is this high on our list.

The fallout of Secret Invasion, Hank Pym dons the identity of the Wasp and forms his own team of Avengers to counteract the formation of the team seen in Dark Avengers.  From there comes Mighty Avengers, which has a lot of what makes a team superhero title great.  Pym’s Avengers face big, world-threatening problems, from the rise of the Elder God Chthon to a villain with the power of a Cosmic Cube, with multiple threats in between.  Great character interactions abound–such as the exchange between Pym and Norman Osborn at a press conference–as do great individual character moments–such as Quicksilver claiming a Skrull had done his misdeeds or Hercules comparing piloting to making love.  The issues have just the right amount of action, drama, and hilarity, making every issue entertaining.

5) Hercules: The Knives of Kush #1-4 (Radical)–21 points.

This comic is great largely because it has so much in it.  Remember those comics that took half an hour to read?  The first four issues that came out in 2009 are each like that.  (The fifth issue, which came out this month, is just faster-paced.)  Hercules and his allies are trying to travel home when their ship is wrecked and they are forced to stay in Egypt for a while.  At first facing a lack of direction and a fair bit of distrust (due to being outsiders), they soon get wrapped up in a civil war between the Pharaoh and his brother.  They are treated as guests and hired as bodyguards by the Pharaoh himself.  He wants them to guard one of his lovers and sniff out a mole in his palace.  All that, plus a few more things, is in the first issue.  As the series progresses, Hercules and company also get involved in the frontlines of the war itself, leading to some cool moments.  Also, the series frequently showcases the culture clash between Ancient Greeks and Egyptians.  There are multiple characters and situations to keep track of, all the while being rendered beautifully by Cris Bolson–though, the coloring is slightly muddy.  The amount of character focus, action, plotlines, and nuances just make this a tremendous series.

4) Avengers: The Initiative #21-31 (Marvel)–23 points.

This title takes a sort of scattershot approach to storytelling.  With an ensemble cast almost too large to juggle, multiple plotlines (sometimes more than one per character), and adjustments related to Marvel’s event titles… well, this comic has no set focus.  That said, the overall focus is on what some might consider the B- through Z-list characters of Marvel.  The various issues touch on people including the Initiative’s instructors, the members of the Shadow Initiative and their mission in Madripoor, members of Initiative’s state teams, new recruits, senior students, former students that are outside the Initiative, and members of the New Warriors.  See what I mean about a large ensemble?  The characters rotate, but each receives some focus.  The quality of the stories does not suffer amidst the shifts and the various plotlines are still allowed to move forward.  The art, though not wonderful, works well enough, adequately showcasing the action and emotion involved in each issue.

Avengers: The Initiative may involve a lot of characters, and it may be forced into changes due to the repercussions of Marvel’s events, but it remains a strong comic, consistently interesting and entertaining.

3) Thor #600-605/Thor: Giant-Size Finale (Marvel)–24 points.

Not many issues of Thor came out this year.  However, it started and ended the year with giant-size issues.  For purposes of voting, we decided the Finale issue should be included Thor proper, as it was essentially just an over-sized issue of the regular series.  Through the regular issues and the Finale, Straczynski weaves a powerful character piece focusing on gods Thor, Loki, Balder, and Kelda and the human Bill.  This year, Loki’s plans to force Thor out of Asgard (and, almost altogether) and to weave his influence over the Asgardians reaches fruition.  Due to the events of Thor #600, Balder is in charge of Asgard and in well over his head.  Thor has his own problems, so it is up to Bill to help Balder and attempt to save the day.  That leads the Finale, which sets up a conflict between the Asgardians, Loki, and Doctor Doom–since the Asgardians are staying in Latveria at the time.  Kieron Gillen picks up from there, taking what came before and converging the individual stories into a battle that was inevitable.  Whether it is the slow-burning fuse of the earlier issues or the explosive conflict emerging from the later issues, Thor is a thrilling, emotional roller coaster ride, rendered beautifully by its multiple artists.

2) Incredible Hercules #125-139/Assault on New Olympus #1 (Marvel)–28 points.

Incredible Hercules is fun–clever, hilarious, dramatic, balls-to-the-wall fun.  Take for example the journey Hercules and his companion Amadeus Cho take to the Underworld.  In Incredible Hercules, the Underworld is a casino wherein the dead heroes and villains of the world literally gamble for their lives, with the payout being resurrection.  See?  That is clever.  How about the lettering that includes such great sound effects as “Rzzldzzl”, “Nuhkraak”, and “Sisy-poof” (upon the rock Sisyphus carries up a hill reappearing after being destroyed), you can see just a taste of the hilarity.  For a better example, you just need to read pretty much any part of the “Hercules: God of Thunder” arc.  Items such Cho’s quest to find his missing sister and the current prophesy of Hercules dying soon showcase the dramatic elements of the story.  Well, those and the threats the duo face in the forms of villains, elves, gods, and one genius.

Month after month, Incredible Hercules is one of the most entertaining comics we buy.

And finally…

1) G-Man: Cape Crisis #1-4 (Image)–31 points.

Like Hercules: Knives of Kush, this comic is dense.  It may look cartoony and (perhaps via that train of thought) childish, but a lot of material can be found in each issue of Cape Crisis.  The main story showcases the protagonist G-Man and his friends as they try to fix a problem G-Man himself causes in the first issue–a problem related to his cape, of course.  As the story is told, nearly every page has a joke and some jokes are just recurring, entertaining gags as an issue progresses.  This is not to say Cape Crisis is great solely because it is funny.  It is just good, classic, lighthearted fun.  Writer/artist Chris Giarrusso is not trying to reinvent the way we look at comics, but merely tell a fun-filled tale of a struggling hero’s… well, struggles.  Yes, the jokes and gags are part of the charm and certainly a good reason to read it.  But it really is the charm of the comic that sells it.  A lot of detail can be found in the simplistic art and the story structure allows for a fair bit of dialogue.  So, the charm comes amidst the density.

I said the exploits of G-Man made up the main story, didn’t I?  Well, in this comic, not only is there a standard size comic story, but there are also multiple back-up comic strips and stories from other writers and artists.  Each of these, though not spectacular in their own right, serve as good bonus material and shape this mini almost into a lighthearted, comedic anthology series.

Honestly, I could go on for quite a while talking about all the things we love about this title.  Suffice to say, we don’t even need the final part to love it as much as we do.

…So there you have it.  One tribunal’s five worst and ten best comic titles of 2009.

Every so often, I take the comics I read in a given week and sort them into two stacks. In one stack are those that have a cover decently expressive of the interior. In the other are those that say little to nothing or are misleading.

This week, I review Astonishing X-Men #25 as a bonus!

American Dream #5–The mini series comes to climactic finish and can you guess the focus? American Dream versus a giant crystal monster! Sure, they don’t burst through the ground and fight above the city. The conflict is the draw and it happens to be the final one in the issue. Comics from the week of Independence Day and this one makes it in the first stack. Kinda cool.

(not full cover)

Astonishing X-Men #25–Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi pick up the X-Men after the events of “Messiah Complex”. The X-Men have moved to San Francisco and are still trying to figure out their new method of operation (which readers can figure out if they read the recap page at the front). Due to this, and probably the likelihood of people buying the title simply because of a change in creative team, Ellis spends the first half of the comic introducing us to the characters, their relation to each other, their respective roles on the team, and how they’re adjusting to San Francisco life. My only complaint here is that nearly everyone is funny, even when they don’t seem like they’re supposed to be (such as Storm describing how she got permission to be on the team).

Bianchi’s art is decent, and the odd layouts work well enough. However, there are no real dynamic sequences for him to draw. The art works well for this issue, but can Bianchi handle a more action-packed issue?

There are clever concepts (such as the secret of Chaparanga Bay) and nods to continuity. But as character issues go, since that is essentially what this it, it’s nothing exceptional. I give it a 3:5. And, no, the cover doesn’t make the first stack.

Batman #678–The cover shows Batman standing in the city underneath a psychedelic light. It probably is meant to show that Batman is somewhat insane inside, which he might be. The cover is a bit symbolic that way. However, there are other important aspects and, well, that thing on the cover looks to me like an attack from above more than it does psychosis. Close, but not quite.

Billy Batson & the Magic of Shazam! #1–Here, Captain Marvel is depicted as slowly turning into Billy Batson. Or maybe vice versa. Either way, this is both an inaccurate depiction of the character, and says little to nothing about the story.

Dark Tower: The Long Road Home #5–From the cover, one can see that in this issue there should be a confrontation between these two guys and that the one on the right wants to kill the one on the left. More or less, that covers the first half of the story. First stack, away!

Dynamo 5 #14–The first third of this issue deals with a mysterious new protector of the city named Vigil. (And if you check out the back cover, that name is provided.) She does fight a strong guy and a guy with an electric fist. Good enough, but just barely.

Grimm Fairy Tales #28–The story is about a girl’s life as influenced by the tale of The Ugly Duckling. The cover seems to express this simply by including a group of ducklings and a swan. However, the focus of the cover is a bikini-wearing-girl that is presumably the mysterious redhead that essentially guides the story. So, I can interpret the cover going backward. But just looking at the cover itself beforehand, I’d assume it’s a standard poster wannabe.

House of Mystery #3–The cover depicts a shadowy figure standing in front of a skull. The figure in question appears toward the end, but has little impact on this issue specifically. Death is an important concept here, as well. However, learning important details about the story is nigh impossible.

Legion of Super-Heroes #43–The team above are trapped on Rimbor, on the run, and getting shot at whenever they make their whereabouts known. So, yes, they do flee from the sewer while hiding and, yes, Colossal Boy gets shot. It’s not a pivotal moment of the issue, but it is relevant and does adequately express one of the plots. I’ll put it in the first stack.

Nightwing #146–“BURIAL AT SEA”, it reads, while showing Nightwing surrounded by corpses. That scene isn’t that important, and is handled within the first two pages.

Noble Causes #35–I’m going to be lenient and let this one into the first stack. The Nobles confront the metallic guy on the cover, and his machinations are in pretty much every part of the issue. It would help if the cover showed everyone that attacks Crucible (said metallic guy), but I won’t be picky.

Rann-Thanagar Holy War #3–The main characters are in the clutches of a villain! (He’s named Deacon Dark, but you can’t know that from the cover.) Within the issue, they are, but they aren’t. Dark himself plays a small role in the issue, but it’s what he does and has done that’s of more relevance.

Star Trek: Enterprise Experiment #3–The cover shows Captain Kirk fighting a Klingon. It doesn’t happen. Nothing close does, actually.

Trinity #5–In a surprise twist, Trinity’s cover actually does fit into the first stack. Not only does Wonder Woman fighting the big monster (Konvikt), but that fight (though not depicted accurately here) is a crucial event.

This week, American Dream, Dark Tower, Dynamo 5, Legion of Super-Heroes, Noble Causes, and Trinity fall into the first stack. That makes the Count this week 6:8.

This week, in lieu of the Cover Count, I offer a review. That review, as if the title weren’t any indication, will be of Avengers: The Initiative #14.

Now, let me start by saying that I’m a little miffed. I hopped on board with issue #13, as it promised a new class of recruits. (It helped that among those recruits is a favorite of mine, Prodigy.) And just as I decide to hop in, it starts a playing in Secret Invasion waters. …as it will proceed to do for a few issues. Ah well.

But just how good is the first part of the crossover? Actually not bad. The issue includes three important items: how the head instructor, Hank Pym, being a Skrull affected the Initiative (and the 50-State Initiative therein), the revelation of a few other Skrulls in the organization, and an adventure with Triathlon 3-D Man in Hawaii, the state in which he is assigned. Each of them is handled tactfully, but with a bit of humor. That’s about the extent of spoilers you’ll get here.

The Hank Pym stuff is more funny than it is interesting, especially the scene in the cafeteria. The Skrull reveals (there are two, not counting Pym) aren’t that shocking. The latter of them probably should have been more, considering it led into the climax of the issue, but it’s done with a bit of confusion at first. We don’t know how he was detected until a few panels later (and after a two-page ad). Well, unless you happen to know a bit about a certain 1970s superhero. It takes a little of the oomph out of the reveal, but nothing out of the climax itself.

The Hawaii team is fun to read about. First off, they’re called the Point Men. A fairly symbolic name that they explain in the issue. They have they’re very own Pigpen of Peanuts. And Devil-Slayer returns. They’re all very cool things.

Another thing I like is that Caselli returns for art duties. I just was not enjoying Uy’s art as much. There are other capable artists that could handle this title, and some of them I would probably prefer to Caselli, but he does a fine job. I have a complaint regarding a small bit in the fight of the issue, in which something important occurs that could be better portrayed, but I’m not going to spoil that. Try finding it yourself. Like a game of Where’s Waldo?

It’s a fun issue. It’s a funny issue. It has decent art, a decent story, and leaves us with an interesting cliffhanger (though albeit a confusing one).

The positives outweigh the negatives. I give it a 4 out of 5.

I may not browse the Internet looking for comic book reviews, but of those I have seen, none review my favorite comic of last week. (Look to the title for more information.) So, as I stated in my last entry, I though I would provide one.

There are two important pieces of information I feel I should get out of the way now. First off, there is a summary of the events of the first two issues printed on the back of the cover (like a book inset, if you will–which in itself is somewhat amusing given that the story relates to a book series of the same name). The summary only fails to comment on one story element, but I’ll get to that in a bit. Secondly, this is a limited series. A five-part series, to be precise. This is part three and I think you could just jump in here. Even if you feel a bit confused or want the whole story, though, there are only two other comics previous to this one that you would have to pick up.

Now, onto what makes this comic great. Namely, this is a dramatic story wrapped with mystery that has fun with itself. It’s written by Peter David. You know to expect good stuff. The first half of the issue or so is filled with things that made me laugh. The ending, and you may want to be paying attention when you get there to fully appreciate it, offers a twist that implies a bit more about what is happening. I like this issue mostly because it has fun with itself. David offers a serious situation (an important ship being stolen and subsequently being used to cause trouble) involving a variety of characters (this is Star Trek) and injecting does of humor and mystery to keep readers entertained.

As a bonus, the art is superb, capturing realistic perspective with a tone that suits the story. Perhaps the art being as serious as the main story helps the lighthearted sequences that much more.

You’ll recall that I mentioned that there is a sequence within the issue that is not explained in the beginning summary. Part of the story takes place on a planet where it has recently been revealed that the queen is pregnant. That story, as of yet, seems to have nothing to do with the space adventure and, I think, may be more understandable by those who have read the book series (just as there are a few elements in the first two issues that are the same).

This is by no means a perfect comic. As stated, it does a little bit of nodding to the book series in a way that may confuse new readers. Of the three in the series so far, however, this one is the most self-contained and easily accessible–plus, most of the characters are referred to by name at least once, which is nice. And you get fun (and funny) moments like this:

I give Star Trek: New Frontier #3 a 4 out of 5.

One of the things I received for Christmas was Kevin J. Anderson’s The Last Days of Krypton.

(The cover is actually bluer than that, but the shine throws off the coloring in this image.)

Okay, yes, it’s not a comic book. It is definitely comic book-related, though, so I think it still counts.

In any case, the story is about, as it claims, the last days of the planet Krypton. In essence, it is the story before Superman. All the standard players are there. Jor-El, Zor-El, Lara, Zod, Brainiac, the Kryptonian Council, etc. There are also several important figures entirely new to the story (as far as I know, anyway).

Now, the backstory of Krypton has been done before many times. The early Superman serials had a story. Byrne had a story. The current DC universe has been developing a story. There are others, but you get the point. The story of Krypton has been modified several times. A few characters from those past stories are included here, such as Jax-Ur and Lyla Lorrel. Concepts that might previously have been in contradiction between those various tellings are included here together. Some details are changed (such as Krypton having three moons instead of two) and others are added. So, there is a fair amount in the book to appeal to longtime fans of Superman.

It is okay, though, if you are like me and know very little about those previous stories. To truly appreciate the story, all you really need to know is a bit about Superman. That he’s from Krypton, his father is Jor-El (the star of the show here), and that Krypton was lost in some catastrophe. The book especially plays off that last bit, as it introduces a series of calamities that could destroy the planet. It leaves you guessing as to which one will be the final catastrophe. Well, it left me guessing, but I suppose a bigger fan of the character and the past stories of Krypton would know better. …And maybe people with greater memories, too.

Just as a side note that I think is somewhat relevant, there are some plays on Superman comics themselves, with the inclusion of such things as a “Look, up in the sky!” line.

Anyway, although the book starts off slow, I found it to be a compelling read. It has action, romance, politics, and history (it’s the history of a fictional planet, but that has got to count for something). There is a lot to keep your interest. Astonishingly, the various descriptions for the landscape, clothing, architecture, etc. does not get in the way of the story.

This is definitely above-average story, but still a little flawed, especially within some dialogue portions.

I give it a 4 out of 5.

I wasn’t going to read Brand New Day.  But, since someone in my household go it and I have this compulsion to read everything that enters the house (even if I know I won’t like it), I ended up reading it anyway.  And, yes, I know I’m behind and that you’ve probably read a number of other reviews by now, but bear with me.  So, how is Amazing Spider-Man #546?

It’s not bad, really. As a stand-alone issue, it works quite well. The art is mostly nice. The main story is mostly straightforward, definitely fun, and well-paced. As a reader of some time now, though, I just get the feeling that we’ve been there before. Just look at the reboot in ’99. Spider-Man was no longer Spider-Man. There was emphasis on the supporting cast. Peter was looking for a job outside the Bugle (eventually getting on at Tricorp). Someone is inspired by Spider-Man to do something (Mattie took up his mantle, this mugger uses his face for personal gain). Oh, and it came after a controversial story involving Aunt May.

I liked the reboot, as I was a fairly new reader. I just feel that I’ve been here before.

I say the story is mostly straightforward because there’s that bit with the web-shooters that I don’t understand. Where are the things that extend into his palm? Why do they fire tracers? The summary of the device on that two-page spread offers no explanations.

The back-up stories were nice. I suppose their relevance will be revealed later, but as it is the Harry story seems almost useless, except to give us a Harry story.

So, overall not bad, but certainly not great either.  A 3 out of 5.

I have tried writing this twice now. I really just can’t get my thoughts together in the proper order. Commenting on a 12-part story will do that to you. Especially if you’re commenting on it after you’ve read all 12 parts. Now I’ve got a bunch of stuff to praise and a fair bit to criticize. I should’ve just done it chapter by chapter. Gotta love hindsight.

What is this though? This is a review of Watchmen, a story originally printed as a 12-part (mentioning that a bit too much) maxiseries–in no way related to menstrual pads–that is widely available in graphic novel format.

Thanks to CBR’s Secret Santa and my Secret Santa, Mike Smash! (thanks Mike), I was able to read this beloved masterpiece. Okay, calling it a “masterpiece” might make you jump to the conclusion that I really like it. I don’t. Before I elaborate on that, though, let me provide this warning:

If you have not read Watchmen, don’t read further. I do not find it likely that there will be a reader who has not done so, but I’m not going to be a jerk. I mean, I am going to focus a fair amount on the last few chapters. So if you’ve read it or don’t mind having the ending spoiled for you, then keep reading. And if you fit entire neither of those categories and are still reading, leave now. Still here? That was my last warning. Let’s move on.

With that out of the way, I’ll expand on that statement I made earlier. No, I don’t like Watchmen. But I don’t like in the same way I don’t like The Scarlet Letter (someone else drew the comparison for me, for which I’m thankful). The Scarlet Letter is widely regarded as one of the classics, one of those pieces of literature people who like literature should read. It’s filled with history, romance, and action, all of which appeal to many. It’s filled with symbolism, imagery, metaphors, and many other rhetorical devices, all of critical value. Watchmen is no different in that sense. It’s one of the most technically well-constructed stories I’ve ever read.

From the parallels with The Black Frontier (a bit of metafiction there) to most of the backup pieces to the various items included in the art and beyond, Watchmen is wonderfully well-crafted at a technical level. As a reader, I was able to see into the minds of the various characters without thought balloons, a striking contrast to works of the time and likely the influence for the lack of those balloons today. I got into their heads other ways. Through what they say, what they write (especially with Rorschach), how they act, and so forth, I was easily able to understand the characters and their points of view. Even though this style of writing has become pretty standard in comics currently, few writers are able to achieve that. It’s astounding.

I promise that I’m getting to my negative thoughts. Just hold on.

The art is gorgeous. It includes the smallest touches of added realism that could just has easily been left out and not affected the story as a whole, like the graffiti on some walls. The art suits the tone, being suitably dark and pastel. And …and… There’s just a lot to appreciate in there.

But for all it’s great art, for all it’s connecting themes, symbols, etc., and for all it’s critical merits, Watchmen ends unsatisfactorily. It makes me think, it makes me create my own ending, and wraps up all the crucial plot points, I suppose, but the heroes lose. They lose. An explosion occurs in New York city that kills half the city. That’s fine, I suppose, as it’s big and dramatic, and shocking and all those things you want during the climax. But then you get to the aftermath. The heroes, save for Rorschach, give up. You win, Ozymandias. If we reveal your dastardly plot, the world goes to hell again. Really? What Veidt has done is unified the world’s great powers by having them perceive a potential threat to the entire planet. There is no immediate alien problem. That should readily become clear. The world stands united against what could happen. Whether or not there will be an alien threat for them to fight is not known. My point is that I don’t see why they can’t tell anyone. If the world is united on something that could happen, then why not reveal the ruse? Fear of the world reverting to the way it was? I guess? But that’s when you need a good speaker. Several good speakers. People who will make the public at large realize that this new society is worth keeping. I somewhat hope that the journal would get published, but I’m not entirely sure that it would be convincing enough. Rorschach was clinically insane after all.

Which brings me to another point. We get a lot of build up with Doctor Manhattan. He goes off the Mars to think. He builds a glass citadel. He has a conversation with Laurie, one in which she convinces him to come back. Yet he adds nothing. He comes back only to find the devastation of New York and the Ozymandias feeling like he’s on top of it all. No punishing the man for his crime of mass homicide, perhaps by killing him. No aid in the city. No presence in the world really at all. He comes back, suggests that Ozymandias is right (why we should take the word of a man who is clearly out of touch with the way people think and react I don’t know) and kills Rorschach for disagreeing. Then he leaves. That’s it. All that build-up to essentially kill Rorschach. And his journal lives on, a book that is only a little less credible than the writer.

Ozymandias is a megalomaniac who wants to rule the world. Rorschach is insane. Overall noble, I think, but still insane. Doctor Manhattan never does anything particularly heroic within the confines of present-day story (he does some cool military work in the past, though). Nite-Owl and Laurie just give up and go underground. It’s a story about heroes with no heroes. One could argue that Ozymandias is the hero because he ceases the world’s conflict. The Cold War is over. But he clearly states that he’s not done. The next step is Utopia. Given that his inspiration in all this is Alexander the Great, I have no doubt that he wants to conquer. If not the world, then everyone’s mind.

An interesting thought: if they hadn’t stopped to drop off Rorschach’s journal, would they have made it in time to stop him? Maybe a bit ironic. Anyway, I digress.

I am very impressed by Watchmen. There’s a lot to see in it, a lot to appreciate. And it gets me thinking. I like when stories leave me thinking. I know it wouldn’t read as well in standard comic format. So, it kinda makes me appreciate decompressed storytelling a bit more as well. But, essentially, I don’t like it when Chapter 12 is included. Chapters 1-11? Fine. Minor quibbles at best. I just can’t wrap my head around the events of the last chapter. I enjoyed my reading experience. It’s compelling and engaging stuff. I recommend that others read it as well. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

It gets a 4 out of 5.

A few years back, HeroClix, that comic book miniatures game, released an Independents set separate from their Marvel and DC sets. In there was a character named Johnny Alpha. As I played at the time, I almost instantly fell in love with that miniature. I put him on almost every team I made.

So, when DC published Strontium Dog: The Early Cases, I took the opportunity to learn about this character. As it turns out, he is just one of many Strontium Dogs or Search/Destroy Agents. Essentially, he’s a bounty hunter within a bounty hunter organization. The trade paperback was filled with fun stories, including a trip through an imaginary Hell and a time-traveling adventure involving Hitler. I enjoyed it immensely, enough to look for more.

Eventually, Rebellion Comics began publishing the Search/Destroy Agency Files. I didn’t catch them until the second one and was then unsure if I should get it, as I wasn’t sure how The Early Cases fit into this new trade run.

In any case, I did get the third trade (labeled a graphic novel) last week. I finished reading it yesterday.

It’s not as great The Early Cases but there’s some pretty good stuff in there. The “Strontium Dog in Rage” story is a pretty good read and probably the best of the stories included. It’s a revenge tale where Johnny Alpha seeks the killers of a friend and long-time ally of his (Wulf Sternhammer, a viking sent to the future from 739 A.D. whose origin is provided in this collection before his death). Johnny’s quest is side-tracked a few times by things unrelated to the killers, adding to my enjoyment. It’s a revenge tale that includes stories not based solely on that revenge. Good stuff.

One the biggest problems I had in reading these stories was MiddenFace McNulty, a Strontium Dog from Scotland. I don’t mind the character; he made for some interesting moments. I did, however, have trouble interpreting his dialogue. His words are written to reflect a thick Scottish accent. Most of the time, I can figure out what he’s saying. Sometimes, though, I get thrown off by the spelling or he says some word or combination of words I haven’t heard before. What does “jings” mean?

Even though this collection had its ups and downs and was by no means perfect, it was a bargain considering the price of comic books currently. It has enough good stuff in it that I don’t mind owning it. And since I haven’t mentioned so far, the art is superb, save one story that was not drawn by Carlos Ezquerra (the standard Strontium Dog artist).

Overall, I give it a 4 out of 5.