Posts Tagged ‘darwyn cooke’

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Before we get rolling on our look back at 2016 in the world of comics, let’s take a brief moment to acknowledge the passing of two masters, shall we? Darwyn Cooke and Steve Dillon were  very different artists with very different visions and very different styles, no doubt about that, but both were among the very best at what they did, both entered this undeserving world in 1962, and both exited it, leaving it a decidedly poorer place for their passing, in 2016. Both gentleman turned the medium upside – down with their brilliance and created bodies of work that are more than guaranteed to stand the test of time, so I feel it’s only appropriate, prior to diving into our annual retrospective (which, you’ve officially been warned, will take a minute, so buckle in) to say “thank you” and “we miss you” one more time to this pair of undeniable greats. And now, onto the business at hand —

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Wow, it’s been quite a ride, hasn’t it? In a year when both of the “Big Two” decided to hit the “reset” button again, it’s probably fair to say that DC Universe : Rebirth #1 — and the entire Rebirth initiative in general — will go down as the major “event” of 2016, given that it essentially catapulted the publisher from a distant-second-place competitor to Marvel to “Top Dog” in the industry in the space of one month. That doesn’t mean that the comic itself was any good, of course — my feelings on it are well-known and I believe that Geoff Johns and his artistic collaborators Gary FrankEthan Van SciverIvan Reis and Phil Jimenez essentially churned out a stinkbomb here that will ultimately do both the DCU “proper” as well as the so-called “Watchmen Universe” no favors by setting them on a collision course with each other — but at this point, what’s done is done, and in the short run that means we’ve got a two-horse race for the top spot in the Diamond sales charts every month as DC’s decidedly mediocre twice-monthly efforts compete with yet fucking another round of “Marvel Now!” relaunched books that by and large are, in their own way, every bit as uninspired and predictable as their rivals’ four-color “floppies.” Honestly, this has been the most convoluted path back to the status quo that I’ve ever seen, and just goes to show that a bunch of hype is all that’s needed to sell readers on the same old crap. Of the two reboots, Marvel’s is the most promising, given that they’ve made an effort to carve out some space for genuinely interesting and off-beat titles, but you know most of ’em aren’t going to last, as the so-called “House Of Ideas” is putting far more promotional muscle behind crap like this —

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than they are behind intriguing and potentially subversive fare like this :

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So, yeah, on the whole, count me as being more or less completely uninspired by both major initiatives by both major publishers. Marvel’s in the awkward position (although it’s one they’re well used to after last year’s Secret Wars) of rolling out a raft of new books hot on the tail of a major crossover that hasn’t even ended yet, given that Civil War II was beset by the usual delays we’ve come to expect from these things, but I do give ’em credit for having about a half-dozen or so pretty good books stemming from “Marvel Now!” 2016 — and that’s roughly four more than post-Rebirth DC is giving us. For all that, though, once you move outside the Rebirth realm, DC is actually putting out a fair number of quite good books, which brings us to our main order of business here —

Ryan C.’s Top 10 Comics Series Of 2016

Same rules as always apply : these can be either “limited” or “ongoing” series — as long as they came out within the past 12 months in single-issue format (our preferred consumption method around these parts), we don’t discriminate. But it’s not a “real” Top 10 list without at least a couple of “honorable mentions,” though, is it? So let’s look at those first —

Honorable Mention #1 : American Monster (Aftershock)

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Brian Azzarello — whose name will be coming up again later for decidedly less complimentary reasons — is proving he’s “still got it” and then some with this decidedly sleazy, amoral small-town crime series that features a cast of pedophiles, gun-runners, neo-Nazis, corrupt preachers, and other fine, upstanding citizens. And Juan Doe‘s animation-cel inspired art is absolutely killer. Unfortunately, this book has seen so many publication delays that we only got three issues all year. If it was coming out on anything like an even remotely consistent basis, this would not only be “Top 10” material all the way, it might be “Top 2 Or 3.” I love this comic. Now feed me more of it.

Honorable Mention #2 : Power Man And Iron Fist (Marvel)

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David F. Walker is The Man. You could ask for no more perfect writer to chronicle the exploits of Luke Cage and Danny Rand. And Sanford Greene and frequent fill-in Flaviano Armentaro are doing a nice job on the art. Unfortunately, this title got sidetracked for no less than four months into the creative black hole that is Civil War II, and while these issues weren’t bad for tie-in nonsense, they were still — well, tie-in nonsense. Now that we’ve got the real story rolling again, all is right with the world, and you can blame this one narrowly missing out on the Top 10 squarely and solely on Marvel editorial, who steered the ship into “event” territory before it even had a chance to properly get its feet off the ground. It was a real momentum-killing decision, and I sincerely hope it won’t prove to be a fatal one, as well — but it may turn out to be just that given that sales on this series have been tanking in recent months. So much for the notion that cross-over “events” boost interest in a book.

Honorable Mention #3 : Love And Rockets (Fantagraphics)

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I’m not too proud to admit it — seeing the first issue of this new series from Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez on the shelves of my LCS, and back in its original magazine format at that, was enough to make me tear up just a little bit for a second. It was hardly an issue for the ages or anything, but everything about this just feels right. I love it when life comes full-circle, I love Los Bros., I love their characters, and I love this world. It’s a shoe-in for the Top 10 next year, but one issue is simply too small a sample size for me too include it in good conscience this time out. Not that I wasn’t tempted.

Honorable Mention #4 : The Fix (Image)

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Nobody does fuck-up criminal low-lifes like Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber, and in the pages of this book they up the ante by making their fuck-up criminal low-lifes cops, to boot. This comic is all kinds of perverse and depraved fun, and I’d dearly love to have found a spot for it in the Top 10, but there simply wasn’t room for more than — well, shit, ten titles. Nevertheless, it’s a series you absolutely should be pulling.

And now onto the main event —

10. Doom Patrol (DC’s Young Animal)

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The flagship title of Gerard Way‘s new “art comics” imprint, this book is proving a mere three issues in that it’s gonna push these characters in directions even Grant Morrison never dreamed of. Way and artist Nick Derington are doing the genuinely unthinkable here — producing a well and truly experimental comic with the full blessing of one of the “Big Two” publishers. All may not be lost, after all.

9. Deadly Class (Image)

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Rick Remender and Wes Craig gave us the “Holy Shit!” moment of the year in comics when they actually fucking killed their protagonist (doubly shocking when you consider he was an obvious stand-in for a youthful Remender himself) twenty-some issues in, but the new crop of students at King’s Dominion Atelier For The Deadly Arts is decidedly less interesting than was the last, hence the drop for this series from its loftier perch last year.

8. Southern Bastards (Image)

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Jasons Aaron and Latour just don’t let up. This deep-friend southern noir is loaded with so much gallows humor, spot-on characterization, and low-rent evil that not even a spotty publication schedule and a lackluster fill-in issue could keep it outta the Top 10. A legend in the making, even if it ends up taking a decade for it all to get made.

7. Jacked (Vertigo)

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As near as I can determine, nobody other than myself actually read Eric Kripke and John Higgins’ superb six-part tale of pharmaceutically-charged super-hero revisionism, and that’s a damn shame as it’s one of the single finest and most honest portrayals of mid-life crisis that this beleaguered medium has ever produced, and the art is simply sensational. Do yourself a favor and grab it in trade — you won’t be disappointed, and you won’t hate yourself for that beer gut and receding hairline anymore, either.

6. The Vision (Marvel)

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Enough ink — both physical and digital — has been spilled in praise of Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta‘s admittedly Philip K. Dick-inspired techno-Shakespearean tragedy that adding to it just feels like piling on against the rest of the industry at this point. Suffice to say all the superlatives you’ve heard are true and then some and yeah, this one has “destined to be talked about for years to come” written all over it.

5. Hip Hop Family Tree (Fantagraphics)

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Ed Piskor put the wraps on the 12-part single-issue reprintings of his cultural history milestone earlier this year, and while I’ll certainly continue to collect and enjoy his oversized hardcover volumes, there was just something about having these previously-told stories presented on cheap, pre-yellowed newsprint that was beyond awesome. And the last issue even came packaged with an old-school floppy record — that was actually a code for a free digital download, but whatever. This book was more satisfying than a 40 of Olde English on a hot summer day.

4. Glitterbomb (Image)

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Jim Zub and deliriously-talented newcomer Djibril Morissette-Pham came out of nowhere with this series about Lovecraftian horror intersecting with the seedier side of post-fame Tinseltown (with bloody results) and just blew me the fuck away. The surprise hit of the year for this armchair critic and a book I can’t stop thinking or talking about. The first trade should be out soon enough and collects the self-contained story presented in issues 1-4,  and they’re coming back in late 2017 with a new arc that — man, I just don’t even know where they go from here. But I’m dying to find out.

3. The Flintstones (DC)

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Believe it. Mark Russell and Steve Pugh are putting out the most socially- and politically-relevant comic on the stands, and the satire in this book is by turns hilarious and heartwarming. A truly “mature” take on characters we thought we already knew everything there was to know about, and consistently one of the smartest books you’ll have the pleasure of reading. I don’t know that I have words to adequately describe how unexpectedly awesome this series is — when I said that DC was actually putting out some damn good stuff outside its main Rebirth line, this is exactly what I was talking about. If you’d have told me a year ago that one of the books I was going to be most eagerly looking forward to month-in and month-out was going to be The Flintstones, I would have thought you’d lost it. In fact, I probably would have said that Donald effing Trump had a better chance of being elected president. And yet, here we are — ain’t life crazy? And shitty? But at least we have this comic, and as antidotes to a new age of right-wing anti-intellectual barbarism go, you won’t find much better.

2. The Sheriff Of Babylon (Vertigo)

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The Vision may have gotten all the attention, but Tom King‘s best series of 2016 — by a wide margin, in my view — was this Iraq-set murder mystery drawn heavily from his own experiences as a CIA case officer during that bloody boondoggle of a war. Every aspect of this comic is almost painfully authentic, and Mitch Gerads rounds the package out with artwork so gritty you can feel the sand underneath your fingertips. This. Shit. Was. Amazing. Or maybe that should be “is” amazing, since — well, more on that in a minute.

1. Providence (Avatar)

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I’m out of superlatives, honestly. I review each issue of this series as it comes out, and my mind is blown more completely every time. I said last year that Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows were potentially creating the comic of the young century with this volume of their “Lovecraft Cycle,” and with one installment left to go in this 12-parter, I think it’s safe to say we can take the “potentially” qualifier out of that statement :  Providence is, in fact, the best comic of the century so far.

Wait, though! We’re far from done —

On the graphic novel front, it’s gotta be said that 2016 was a banner year, as well, in many respects — but I’m always a bit perplexed on how best to assemble a “best-of” list when it comes to the GN format because it only seems fair to subdivide it down into wholly original works, trade collections, old-school vintage reprints, etc. Throw in the fact that may “original” graphic novels got their start as serialized installments on the web, and things get even dicier. What really constitutes “new” work anymore? Still, there is definitely plenty outside the realm of the single-issue “floppy” that deserves a mention, and so —

Original Graphic Novel Of The Year : Patience By Daniel Clowes (Fantagraphics)

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Five years in the making, and it shows in every panel on every page. Clowes outdoes himself with each new project, it seems, and this is jewel in his creative crown — until the next one, at any rate. Love, obsession, longing, time travel, regret, loneliness, desolation — even optimism? This work encompasses all of it and then some; a monumental achievement of staggering proportions.

Best Collected Edition Of Recent Work : American Blood By Benjamin Marra (Fantagraphics)

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Anyone who’s read Terror Assaulter : O.M.W.O.T. knows that Ben Marra exists on a planet of his own, and this collection of the self-published works issued under his awesomely-named Traditional Comics imprint runs the stylistic gamut from insanely exaggerated pseudo-“realism” to Gary Panter-esque primitive id-channeling. WaPo columnist Maureen Dowd as a sexy super-spy? Bloodthirsty barbarians from distant worlds? Gang-bangers who do nothing but fuck and kill? Freed slaves who can tear white men apart with their bare hands? It’s all here, in suitably gaudy purple-and-white.

Best Collected Edition Of Vintage WorkMarvel Masterworks : The Black Panther, Volume 2 By Jack Kirby (Marvel)

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In recent years, the awesome body of work produced by The King Of Comics during his second, late-’70s stint at Marvel has finally been given its due as the visionary output it so clearly was, but while books like Machine ManThe EternalsDevil Dinosaur and “Madbomb!”-era Captain America have now taken their rightful place among the rich pantheon of Kirby masterworks, Jack’s Black Panther run from that same period still doesn’t get anything like the love it deserves. Hopefully this handsome hardbound collection will finally start to clue readers in to what a magical and imaginative Wakanda Kirby created in this high-flying techno-fantasy epic.

It wasn’t all good news, though, and since we’re on the subject of T’Challa, we might as well segue into some of 2016’s lowlights —

Most Disappointing Series Of The Year #1 : Black Panther (Marvel)

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There’s no doubt that Ta-Nehisi Coates is a literary and journalistic genius, and his voice in this ugly new Trump-ian era is more necessary and urgent than ever. Unfortunately, he can’t write a comic to save his life, and his dour, humorless, self-absorbed, navel-gazing take on The Panther reads like a relic of the worst sort of over-wrought 1990s excesses. This is a genuinely lousy title, and it doesn’t help that neither of its usually-reliable artists, Brian Stelfreeze and Chris Sprouse, are delivering anything like their best work.

Most Disappointing Series Of The Year #2 : Batman (DC)

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Tom King giveth, and Tom King taketh away. We’ve already covered the great stuff he’s given readers in 2016, but he’s also taken one of the most consistently-good super-hero books and turned it into a massive fucking train wreck. Lots of people were jazzed when he was announced as Scott Snyder‘s replacement on the “main” Bat-book, but King has struggled to find a “voice” for Bruce Wayne either in or out of the cape and cowl, his two major storylines to date have featured ridiculous plots, and 13 issues in all we can really say is that he writes a pretty good Alfred. The illustration by David Finch on the first five-issue story arc was atrocious, and the only thing that saved this title from being dropped from my pull for the first time ever was when the magnificent Mikel Janin took over art chores with the second arc and delivered work of absolutely breathtaking scope and grandeur. Still, at this point, I have to say — when he goes, I go. And I think he’s gone after next issue. And yet, horseshit as this book has been, it’s nothing compared with our —

Worst Comic Of The Year : Dark Knight III : The Master Race (DC)

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Unmitigated garbage that plumbs new depths of hopelessness with every issue, Brian AzzarelloAndy Kubert and Klaus Janson (with nominal involvement from Frank Miller) are doing something here no one thought possible : making fans yearn for the days of The Dark Knight Strikes Again!  (which, admittedly, I’ve always liked, but no one else does). Also, they seem to be doing their level best to match that title’s glacial publication schedule. At this rate, we’re gonna wait three years to complete a story that’s been a total waste of time from the outset. This series is honestly starting to rival Before Watchmen  in the “artistically-bankrupt blatant cash-grab” category. I expected nothing from it, true — and yet somehow we’re getting even less than that.

I’m going to close on something of a high note for DC, though, if you can believe it, because they also get the award for —

Best Development Of 2016 DC’s Young Animal

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I’m still not sure what the hell a “pop-up imprint” is, but Gerard Way has one he can call his very own, and so far all four series released under this label’s auspices — Doom Patrol (as previously discussed), Shade, The Changing GirlCave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye and Mother Panic — have been not just good, but great. While at first DCYA sounded like little more than a stylistic heir to vintage-era Veritgo to my mind, in fact its aims seem to be much different, while admittedly utilizing a number of characters and concepts from that fan-favorite period. This is an imprint where anything both goes and can happen, and we’ve sorely needed that for waaaaayyy too long. In short, this is the most exciting thing either of the “Big Two” have done in — shit, as long as I can remember. Long may it continue.

So — What About The Year To Come?

By the sound of it there’s plenty to be excited about, from Warren Ellis spearheading the re-launch of WildStorm to the debuts of much-publicized new series from Image such as God Country and The Few, but my most-anticipated events of 2017 (at least as far we know now) would have to be —

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March 31st (seriously, guys?) is slated as the provisional release date for Providence #12, and to say that I can’t wait to find out how it all ends would be an understatement of criminal proportions. It would also be an equally-proportionate understatement to say that I’ll simply “miss” this series when it’s over. So, ya know, maybe take your time with that last issue, after all.

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The so-called second “season” of The Sheriff Of Babylon is due to hit sometime in the latter part of the year and, simple as the “teaser” image shown above was, it was still enough to get me excited. And finally —

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January sees the release of the first installment of Kamandi Challenge, a “round-robin” 12-part series from DC starring The Last Boy On Earth that features a different creative team on each issue trying to solve the cliffhangers left by the folks the month before, as well setting up new messes for the next bunch to get themselves out of. This is the first of what I hope to be many releases commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jack Kirby that we can look forward to over the next 12 months — in fact, DC has just also announced an omnibus hardcover reprinting of Kirby’s entire original Kamandi run, so let’s hope that 2017 really will be a vintage year for fans of The King.

Whew! Okay! We’re done for the year! Enjoy your holidays — or what remains of them — and we’ll see you back here in January, when we get to start the whole thing all over again!

 

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The comics and animation worlds are reeling today with the announcement of the loss of Darwyn Cooke. At only 54 years of age, it’s a good-bye far too soon, and represents something of a “double-whammy” coming just a day after news of his fight with a very aggressive form of cancer had gone public. In a world where the term “visionary talent” is criminally overused, Cooke was exactly that, and reading through the many tributes to the man posted on social media by various comics creators, it’s uncanny how much they resemble the tone and substance of what many musicians had to say in the wake of Prince’s still-shocking passing a couple of weeks ago, essentially : he was the best of us.

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Cooke’s first foray into the world of comics was a brief one, with his artist’s “by-line” adorning a short story in DC’s New Talent Showcase #19 in 1985. With a young family to feed, he couldn’t pursue his dreams on the printed page at that time, and worked as a graphic designer and art director in his native Canada for a number of years before giving comics another try in the early 1990s, finding no takers, and then being hired on by Bruce Timm as a storyboard artist on Superman : The Animated Series and Batman : The Animated Series before eventually working his way up to the position of lead animator on Batman Beyond in 1999.He also found time during this period to direct a number of episodes of Sony Animation’s Men In Black cartoon series.

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Still, he never gave up on his passion for comic books, and in 2000 DC finally “green-lit” a project he had submitted years earlier, the original graphic novel Batman:Ego . From there, the rest is history.

A few assignments at Marvel followed — most notably on X-Force and Spider-Man’s Tangled Web — but his revival of Catwoman beginning in 2001 with writer Ed Brubaker pushed him into the stratosphere of “top comics talents,” and his six-part 2004 mini-series DC : The New Frontier elevated his status to that of “living legend,” reminding us all of just why we love this medium so much along the way.

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After that, every project Cooke was involved with was a genuine event. Batman/The Spirit showed that he was the best Spirit artist since Eisner himself, Before Watchmen:Minutemen (a project he had initially passed on but later decided to accept knowing that DC would be going ahead with it anyway with or without him) proved to be the only series in that unholy mess of an initiative worth following, and his graphic adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker novels for IDW were a genuine feast for the eyes and a triumph of modern noir. His last comics work was the supernatural mystery series The Twilight Children for DC’s creator-owned Vertigo imprint, a collaboration with writer Gilbert Hernandez that allowed Cooke to infuse his sleek, “deco”-esque style with a distinctly Latin flair.

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And damn, I mean — it was all brilliant, wasn’t it? Sure, once could see dashes of Kirby, Toth, Rude, Timm and others in his work at times, but whatever he came up with was always his own. Nobody else “drew like Darwyn Cooke” — although in their private moments many a comic book freelancer certainly wished they could — and I don’t think anybody else ever will. A one-of-a-kind, revolutionary talent who was also, by all accounts, one heck of a fine human being, as well. This loss hurts — a lot.

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But Cooke’s work? That’ll live forever. And while plenty has been, and is being, said about his art, his skills as a writer deserve some mention, as well. May I present to you, then, my favorite Cooke-scripted sequence, from DC:The New Frontier, which shows without question that he was the first and only creator to really understand the character of Johnny Cloud, from The Losers, since a fella named Kirby worked on him in the early 1970s :

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Cooke’s work honored the past while looking firmly towards the future, and if somebody ever asks you “why do you like comic books, anyway?,” I can’t think of a better way to answer them than to show them a few pages from one of his books. Trust me, they’ll go from questioners to converts pronto.

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Darwyn and his wife, Marsha, ask any interested fans, by way of memorials, to give to either the Hero Initiative, at http://www.heroinitiative.org/ , or to the Canadian Cancer Society, at http://convio.cancer.ca/site/TR?px=6843246&fr_id=20868&pg=personal .

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Rest in peace, good sir. Your friends and colleagues are absolutely right — you were the very best of us.

 

Okay, so normally I pretty much avoid “top 10” lists because I’m sure they’ll make me cringe later — and when it comes to movies there’s probably a few (at least) deserving entries that would flat-out slip my increasingly calcified and deteriorating mind — but ya know, as far as comics go, this year I think I can do it. One caveat, though : since we’re big believers in monthly (or less-than-monthly, as the case may be) “singles” around these parts, the following list is specifically for comic book series, be they of the ongoing or limited-duration variety,  and therefore you will find no graphic novels, digital comics, or anything of the like here, although I should stress that there were any number of absolutely excellent comics that came out last year in those formats — I just wanted my list to reflect my preference for “floppy” books that are serialized in the good, old-fashioned, printed single-issue format. So without any further ado —

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10. Southern Bastards (Jason Aaron/Jason Latour – Image)

The pacing of this series is certainly unique, with the Jasons (Aaron and Latour) going from extended stage-setting in the first arc to a multi-part “origin” of the series’ chief villain in the second to side-steps focusing on supporting characters in the third, but they definitely seem to be building up to something big and memorable in an unconventional, but certainly appealing, way.

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9. The Twilight Children (Gilbert Hernandez/Darwyn Cooke – DC/Vertigo)

Classic Hernandez “location-centric” storytelling peppered with broadly-drawn, memorable characters orbiting around a truly fascinating mystery/supernatural thriller. Cooke’s illustration is, of course, superb.

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8. Tet (Paul Tucker/Paul Allor – IDW/Comics Experience)

The second series produced under the auspices of Comics Experience’s publishing partnership with IDW, Paul Tucker and Paul Allor’s four-parter is the most harrowing and effective meditation on the human cost of war to appear on the comics page in literally a couple of decades. Now available in trade, go out and grab it immediately.

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7. Deadly Class (Rick Rememder/Wes Craig – Image)

Things seem to be heading into Battle Royale territory here, with the exploits of Marcus and his increasingly-fractured circle of former “friends” taking a number of gut-wrenching twists and turns over the course of 2015. Wes Craig’s art gets stronger and more confident with each issue.

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6. Annihilator (Grant Morrison/Frazer Irving – Legendary)

Morrison’s Philip K. Dick-esque mind-fuck script is brought to grand, cosmic life by Irving’s absolutely spectacular art to create a story of personal tragedy played out on a universe-shaking scale. Now out in trade and definitely worth a purchase.

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5. Big Man Plans (Eric Powell/Tim Wiesch – Image)

The most gleefully anti-social and misanthropic book of 2015, this Powell/Wiesch four-part series embraces the most extreme aspects of the grindhouse without remorse or even apology. A visceral wallop to the face that leaves you reeling — and loving every minute of it. The trade’s available now, so do yourself a favor.

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4. Effigy (Tim Seeley/Marley Zarcone – DC/Vertigo)

Seven amazing issues of “reality”TV/celebrity “culture” deconstruction wrapped around a trans-dimensional mystery story that’s been on a “hiatus” since September that I’m increasingly worried may be permanent. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, because Seeley and Zarcone have barely begun to scratch the surface here.

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3. Crossed + One Hundred (Alan Moore/Simon Spurrier/Gabriel Andrade/Fernando Heinz/Rafa Ortiz – Avatar Press)

Moore and Andrade’s initial six-issue story arc was absolutely epic and arguably the best “zombie comic” of all time, and while it took a little while for Simon Spurrier to find his footing as The Bearded One’s successor, he seems to have finally discovered his own voice while remaining true to his predecessor’s “blueprint” of strong “world building” littered with knowing winks in the direction of various genre fiction classics.

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2. Hip Hop Family Tree (Ed Piskor – Fantagraphics Books)

Piskor has “re-purposed” his oversized hardcover cultural history as a monthly series on cheap paper with intentionally-shoddy production values and the end result is a revelation. Yeah, the gigantic volumes are great, but dammit, this is how the series should have been presented all along. A wealth of new material, including “director’s commentary” pages, definitely helps, as well. Worth the “double dip,” without question.

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1.  Providence (Alan Moore/Jacen Burrows – Avatar Press)

No surprise at all for regular readers of my shit, the latest and greatest entry in the Moore/Burrows “Lovecraft Cycle,” now at its halfway point, is shaping up to be the most literate, multi-layered, immersive comics reading experience of the decade, as well as one of the best pure horror comics, well, ever. I’ve written somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 words on the series already, and it’s nowhere near enough, so expect plenty more single-issue reviews for the now-apparently-bimonthly series as 2016 rolls along. If I only had five bucks to my name and the latest issue was coming out, I’d buy Providence and go hungry — it’s just. That. Fucking. Good.

A few final points — while Image certainly dominated the list this year, their two most popular and acclaimed titles, Saga and Sex Criminals, are nowhere to be found here. I felt that both had “off years” and that their currently-running story arcs are definitely not up to previous standards. Saga will most likely rebound, but Sex Criminals is just getting swallowed further and further down into its own self-created rabbit hole and may very well have, pun absolutely intended, shot its wad by this point.

And while we’re on the subject of list domination, I’d be surprised if Image pulls a “repeat” in 2016, to be honest. Not because their line is getting worse, mind you, but because Vertigo is just getting that much better. They came on strong at the tail end of 2015 with their re-launch, but a one-or two-issue sample size just isn’t enough to earn most of these superb new series, like Slash & BurnRed ThornThe Sheriff Of BabylonUnfollowLast Gang In Town, or the latest iteration of Lucifer spots in this year’s top 10. Next year, however, is another matter entirely, and unless these books go to pot, I fully expect Veritgo to be the publisher to beat in 2016.

So — that’s our (alright, my) 2015 list. I’m a little bummed that female creators aren’t better-represented herein, to be sure (Marley Zarcone’s the only one), but hopefully the increased presence of women in the freelancer ranks will continue apace and my list next year — assuming I do one — will be far more gender-balanced. Kelly Sue DeConnick is certainly blazing a heck of a trail with Bitch Planet, and Gail Simone is in top creative form so far on Clean Room, but both of those books fell just outside my rankings this time around. Still, I’m as unpleasantly surprised as anyone that the comics industry is still as depressingly male-dominated as it is.

As far as more pleasant  surprises go, I never thought I’d be putting together a Top 10 list in 2015 that featured Alan Moore twice. If I was doing this in 30 years ago, sure, but apparently Moore is every bit the creative dynamo at age 63 as he was at 33, and so if I had to single out one “creator of the year,” he’d be it. In fact, he’d earn the nod by a country mile. I only wish that more people were actually, ya know, buying his stuff. Providence is selling great for an Avatar book, but it’s still routinely bested on the Diamond charts by even the most tepid and uninspired “Big Two” fare, so if there’s one thing we know about comics heading into 2016, it’s that the overwhelming majority of stuff coming out will still, sorry to say it, suck.

Okay, that’s it for this time around — here’s to happy reading in the year ahead!

 

2826850-2013_01_20_minmen_cv6_ds_superSo, this is it — the “no-holds-barred” (so we’re told, at any rate) finale to what has become, either by default, design, or — most likely — a little bit of both, the “cornerstone series” of the entire Before Watchmen prequel-a-palooza. I suppose now would be an opportune moment for me to take a bow, since as things turns out I had the “shock surprise” ending figured out more or less detail for detail, but ya know what? I’m not going to do that, for two reasons:

1. This issue actually left me feeling considerably better about this series than I had been, even though I could see the ending coming a mile away; and

2. Writer-artist Darwyn Cooke actually throws a little extra wrinkle in here that I didn’t see coming, and even though said minor twist actually ends up setting up yet another final (supposed) gut-punch that, to my credit (okay, I’ll shut up now — wait, no, I still have at least 3/4 of this review left to write, so I guess I won’t), I also predicted on this very blog in advance, for just a split second there it was enough to make me second-guess myself —and since surprises have been so few and far between in the world of Before Watchmen, a surprise that ends up leading to an ending that’s really not all that surprising  is still better than no surprise at all. Whew! Did that make any sense? It will if and when you read this issue, and if and when you’ve read my previous reviews of Minutemen.

For the record, though, if digging through those past posts is too much hassle,  I had prognosticated  that the other Minutemen would come to the realization that Hooded Justice was the child-killer that they had been hunting, off and on, throughout the six-issue run of this book (okay, fair enough — throughout five issues of it, since nothing happens in the first installment), that they would kill him themselves rather than turn him over to the cops, and that it would be revealed later, in one of the other BW books, that it turned out they’d actually killed the wrong guy. Apart from one or two little details (I won’t say which particular ones in case you haven’t read the book yet), that’s more or less how things play out here — but like I said, Cooke takes an interesting-enough turn on the way to arriving at this expected conclusion that I don’t feel to cheated as a reader even if I did see the whole thing (or at least most of the whole thing) coming.

So where does that leave us at the end of the day? Good question. Cooke really draws his butt off this issue, it must be said, and even though the art for this series has been of a generally high standard from the get-go, the extra effort he puts into this finale really shows — in particular, there’s a terrific  sectioned-up splash page featuring Dr. Manhattan  at the halfway point of this one that might be the best single image in any of the BW books, so that goes some way toward elevating my overall feelings about this title, as well.The variant covers by Cooke (see top of post) and Becky Cloonan (see below) are both pretty damn amazing, as well. The story’s been a mixed bag, to be sure, and was obviously constructed to be read in collected form since it isn’t paced or plotted to work particularly well in single-issue chunks at all, but you know what? I think folks who read this in the upcoming hardcover and eventual trade paperback collections are going to be pretty pleased with what Cooke has done here. The characterization has been consistent, we’ve gotten to know Hollis Mason and Byron Lewis, especially, a good deal better than we did before, and all in all the whole thing doesn’t feel like a giant, gaping, yawning waste of time.

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Damning with faint praise? Possibly so. And maybe my expectations have been ground down so low under the onslaught of pointlessness that is the rest of Before Watchmen that even an okay series like this one seems better than it actually is when compared to its fellow travelers. Certainly there are more ideas and multiple layers of meaning and interpretation to be found on pretty much any given page of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen series than Cooke manages to fit into six entire issues here. At its best moments, this was pretty much just superbly-drawn, competently-written, straight-forward comics storytelling. At its worst, it had a tendency to drift into the realms of “why-the-fuck-am-I-even-reading-this”-ness that BW books such as ComedianRorschach, and Ozymandias have firmly planted their flags in and never left. But it didn’t stay there for too terribly long, and Cooke always managed to find a way to at least keep his readership engaged in the proceedings. That hardly makes for revolutionary stuff, by any means, and this series doesn’t really do anything to add to the Moore/Gibbons Watchmen legacy, but at least it doesn’t in any way detract from it, either. If you’re willing to settle for a decent-enough little story featuring  characters that first appeared in a timeless classic of world literature rather than holding out for, well, another timeless classic of world literature,  then you’ll be more than suitably entertained by Before Watchmen : Minutemen. If you were hoping for something more, as I guess to one degree or another we probably (and, let’s face it, foolishly) all were, I don’t know what to tell you — this is DC Comics in 2012.  A snappy superhero adventure yarn with pretty pictures is, sadly, about as good as it gets from them.

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So, this is it.

For months now, those of us who are actively following the goings-on in and around the various Before Watchmen titles have been hearing stirrings about a “major revelation” to come in the fifth issue of Darwyn Cooke’s Minutemen series — one that would be “controversial,” earth-shaking,” and would form the lynchpin and/or turning point not only of this book, but of all the various other BW series, as well.

And sure enough, it’s in there, playing out over the last couple of pages following (well, following might be generous — to be honest, it feels more like a hastily-tacked-on “cliffhanger”-type scene) a  quite- nicely-done little stand-alone adventure story that sees our erstwhile, and heretofore mostly incompetent, costumed adventurers taking on a handful of Japanese “fifth column”-type infiltrators determined to unleash a deadly wave of nuclear radiation on New York City as post-war retaliation for the atom-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s the Minutemen’s finest hour — and frankly Cooke’s as well, as it’s a tightly-scripted, impeccably-drawn affair that showcases his natural ability to tell  a traditional period-piece adventure with a modern sensibility at its very best.

There’s just one problem with this whole “major revelation” thing — it’s not in the least bit surprising. Seriously, Cooke’s been telegraphing this thing to us since the second issue, and all but hammered us over the head with it in the fourth. If you didn’t see this coming, well — I just don’t even know what to say, except that you’re probably the kind of person that can be trusted with even the most obvious of secrets. So maybe that’s a good thing.

All of which begs the question — why haven’t I chosen to spill the beans, specifically, on this “big” not–so-secret myself in this review? Well, two reasons, really — one, I do realize that there are folks out there who read a number of reviews of movies, comics, books, etc. before deciding whether or not to spend their money on them, and I can certainly respect that; and two, if you’ve been reading this series up to this point, it’s all so painfully fucking obvious that you flat-out don’t even need me to.

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At the end of the day, then, Before Watchmen : Minutemen #5 suffers from something of a split personality. On the one hand, the first twenty-four pages stand up really well on their own as  a self-contained story. Cooke’s scripting is solidly professional, and his always-noteworthy art has never been better (the variant covers by Cooke and Michael Cho, respectively, as shown, are none-too-shabby, either), but the “moment we’ve all been waiting for” that wraps up the issue — in addition to reading like a quickly-slapped-together and hopelessly disjointed addendum to the proceedings — is, in fact, a moment that we’ve all seen coming from a mile away.

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I hope I’m not giving too much away right off the bat here, but Frank Sinatra is dead in the so-called “Watchmen Universe.”

Okay, fair enough, he’s dead here in the real universe as well, and has been for a good long time now, but he died a lot sooner — and a lot more hilariously — in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ fictitious world than he did in ours. As a matter of fact, the Tarantino-esque one-two punch that does in the Chairman Of The Board in the fourth and final issue of Amanda Conner and Darwyn Cooke’s Before Watchmen : Silk Spectre miniseries is the single-most effective sequence in any of the BW books to date as well as being the only laugh-out-loud funny moment in any of them so far (it honestly wouldn’t feel out of place at all in, say, Marvel’s new ultra-absurdist Deadpool book) and it’s worth the $3.99 cover price in and of itself.

Fortunately, this book has some things going for it, as well, most notably Conner’s superb artwork, which started out great and has been getting more confident and assured with each issue. She’s saved her best for last, however, and really hits it out of the park with this concluding chapter. My only slight quibble is that in the final splash-page page panel that winds things up (the only splash in this series, come to think of it) she depicts Laurie as being considerably younger than she had appeared previously, which could be explained away as a realistic-enough choice on Conner’s part since this is an image of her iconic first meeting with Dr. Mahnhattan and depicting their age difference in such a stark manner would really drive home Janey Slater’s famous “chasing jailbait” line, but — she makes Dr. Mahnhattan look like some sort of love-struck teenager, as well. Seriously. He looks more like a blue kid sidekick than the most powerful man in the world. So the image, while amazingly well-rendered, is a bit of a head-scratcher.

Still, that’s it for gripes as far as the artwork goes. Conner’s pencils and inks, coupled with Paul Mounts’ superb colors, are all in top form here and I hope the two of them are teamed up on another project in the not-too-distant future. Now, as far as the story is concerned —

Well, whaddaya know? I don’t really have much cause to bitch on this front, either. Yeah, things get wrapped up a bit quickly and conveniently, and it does at times feel like Cooke and Conner are rushing to get things in the can ASAP before they run out of pages, but it at least all makes a kind of sense, and the characterization of Laurie and Sally Jupiter and Hollis Mason is spot-on throughout. Even when Mason is stoned off his ass (yes, you read that right). All in all, it’s an admittedly inconsequential, but nevertheless damn fun little read.

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And that word right there — fun — is what sets apart not only Silk Spectre #4 (variant covers by Conner and Bruce Timm, respectively, as shown), but this entire mini- series as a whole from the rest of the Before Watchmen pack. Conner and Cooke didn’t set out to trump Moore and Gibbons here, nor were they so slavishly beholden to what had  gone before that they were hesitant to add their own stamp on the character. They just seemed content to tell a simple story well and have fun while they were doing it. The end result? The BW series that I frankly had the lowest expectations for going in has ended up (at least to this point) being the best of the bunch.

 

Now we’re getting somewhere! The fourth issue of writer/artist Darwyn Cooke’s Before Watchmen : Minutemen is certainly the best of this six-part series so far, but its success really does underscore some of the failures of the previous three installments, to wit :

This issue is jam-packed with plot and character development, traits noticeably lacking in this series so far, particularly in the first and third parts; the main storyline actually pushes itself to the forefront in a way it hadn’t before (okay, fair enough, it threatened to in part two, then retreated into the background again in the third — as for part one, hell, it didn’t even get started there); Cooke gives equal weight here to both “filling in the blanks” in Minutemen history and presenting a new, real, coherent for why he’s doing so rather than just engaging in said style of “storytelling” merely for its own sake; and rather than leaving tantalizing hints about some overarching reason for everything he’s doing just hanging out there in one issue (two) and forgetting about them completely in the next (three), he gets back to them all and seems to be actually tying them all together in service of some grand denouement of some sort.

In short, Cooke seems to be making up for lost time here, realizing that he’s wasted at least two of his first three chapters and needs to get things going if he’s going to wrap all this up in six parts. The end result is definitely a pretty good comic, but one that has to do too much because previous segments had done so little. Here, then, is where we get to a few “spoilers,” as well as where I lay out my “grand theory” as to what’s really going on here, so if you’d prefer to be kept in the dark about all that, don’t, as they say, “follow the jump” after the cover image reproduced below:

 

Okay, still here? Good. This is the issue where, in true “laundry-list” fashion : The Silhouette and her partner are killed, and we learn how they met in the first place; the origins of The Silhouette’s “save the children” campaign are revealed; we learn of a crime-fighting partnership between the first Nite Owl and Mothman and begin to witness the early stages of Mothman’s slide into alcoholism and insanity; Silk Spectre wakes up to what a ruthless bitch she’s been and decides to become a real crimefighter; we learn how and why Silk Spectre and the Comedian began to — ahem! — “reconnect” some years after he attempted to rape her; and we finally get back to those weird flashback sequences we first saw at the end of the second issue and start to figure out exactly what the hell they’re all about. Whew! And ya know — I can’t help but feeling I even left a thing or two out of that rather breakneck run-down of events, but whatever. I’m fairly sure the main points are all covered.

Now, with all that in mind, there’s nothing that happened in this fourth issue that’s caused me to think again about this “dark secret” the Minutemen are hiding that’s supposedly going to be revealed next issue and turn the whole “Watchmen Universe” on its ear. It’s been hinted at in the pages of Nite Owl and Ozymandias as well as here, so here’s my best guess as to what this “major revelation” is, just to get it down for the record : the child-killer that The Silhouette was looking for when she met her untimely demise is, in fact, Hooded Justice, and rather than risk the attendant bad publicity that would come with turning him in to stand trial for his crimes, the other Minutement are going to kill him and dump his body in the ocean or river or something. Honestly, does anyone see this thing playing out any differently? The only thing “extra” we may have learned to further back this theory up here in Minutemen #4 (with variant covers, as shown, by Cooke and — hey! how’bout this! — Steve “The Dude” Rude, respectively) is that HJ may also be the same Nazi slimebag who murdered the Silhouette’s kid sister.

So — that’s where we are, as I see it, and where we’re going, as I also see it. I would well and truly welcome comments from any readers out there who have any different ideas and can back them up with story angles I hadn’t considered, but I’m pretty confident in this “best-guess” scenario of mine. Roll on issue five and let’s see if I’m right! But before we get to that, we’ve got the next installments of all the other books to get through, including the fourth issue of Silk Spectre, which next week will become the first non-Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons Watchmen series to actually conclude and stand as a complete work in its own right, so good, bad, or (most likely) somewhere in between, it should at least be interesting to be able to evaluate it in totality and determine, finally, whether or not it ever really needed to exist at all.

 

While I’m understandably quite hesitant to say which of the various Before Watchmen series is the “best of the bunch” yet — for a couple reasons, one being that none of them are over and the other being that it’s frankly impossible to tell if some of them are even good or not at this point (although it’s fairly obvious that a couple just flat-out aren’t) — I do think it’s entirely fair to state that at this point Amanda Conner and Darwyn Cooke’s Silk Spectre has slowly, even imperceptibly, managed to establish itself as the most interesting of the bunch, which is rather saying something given that it suffers from one of the same narrative weaknesses so apparent in Cooke’s Minutemen series, namely : he gets what looks for all intents and purposes to be a coherent overall plot rolling in the second issue and then all but abandons it in the third.

If you’ll recall, last time around we were made privy to a scheme engineered by no less than Frank Sinatra himself to turn all the hippies in the Haight into rabid consumers thanks to a new strain of acid that the Chairman of the Board was going to distribute to all the “flower children” thanks to his stooges within the “flower power” scene, legendary LSD “cook” Owsley and offensively-lecherous-black-hippie-cult-leader-who’s-really-just-there-to-bang-all-the-white-chicks Gurustein. In this third installment, which starts with an extremely well-drawn-by-Conner acid trip that Laurie’s taking, we get to see just what effect said new strain of everybody’s (well, mine, at any rate — back in the day) hallucinogen has on the young Ms. Juspeczyk, and she has a brief confrontation with monsieurs Sinatra and Gurustein about it, but most of this issue is taken up with another new plot wrinkle altogether —

Apparently, after sitting last issue out, Sally J. decides she’s fed up with waiting and that it’s time to bring her daughter home. “Uncle” Hollis Mason’s “soft touch” approach isn’t yielding the desired result quickly enough, so our gal Sal decides it’s time to bring in the heavy hitters — in the form of The Comedian, who’s pretty much done a guest turn in every one of these books now. And while Conner draws Eddie Blake in an almost cartoonishly innocent fashion for reasons that, frankly, escape me, his characterization in her and Cooke’s hands in much more spot-on than it is even in his own series, never mind the others. The lengths he’s willing to go in order to insure his still-unbeknownst-to-her (of course) daughter’s return home are well and truly frighteningly amoral, and for those wondering just where the Alan Moore-Dave Gibbons Comedian has been hiding in any of the BW books, the answer is — right here.

 

The last point worth a mention here (guess this write-up’s gonna be quicker than I thought) is that Conner and Cooke close out — well, almost close out — the book on a very curious note indeed : they show us the origin of The Comedian’s “smiley face” button, which yes, sounds like absolutely pointless fanwank of the highest order, and in the hands of J. Michael Straczynski certainly would be just that, but here, in the unlikely pages of Before Watchmen : Silk Spectre #3 (variant covers, as shown, by Conner and Mike and Laura Allred, respectively) of all places, it’s handled just about pitch-perfectly and maybe even threatens to be a little bit — dare I say it? — touching.

So, that’s where we’re at with three issues down and one to go here, which means that Silk Spectre will be the first of these mini-series to end. Conner and Cooke have a fair amount to tie up, and I’m fairly certain that a number of key points will be left dangling for the other series to pick up on, but at least it looks like we’re going to have a story that follows something like accepted linear plot progression here and not the kind of ducking-in-and-out-of-various-career-highlights-and-lowlights that we’re getting over in MinutemenNite Owl, and, most unforgivably given its rather auspicious (as far as any of these books go) start, Comedian. We’ve had some decently-handled character development mixed with an unexpected amount of high weirdness, all presented, I must say, with rather lush visuals from Ms. Conner, and so far this is the one BW title that has managed to surpass my (admittedly limited) expectations for it. Strange as it feels to even type these words, I find myself actually, and actively, looking forward to seeing how this one’s going to end.

Which, of course, means that they’re probably going to end up fucking the whole thing up. But I guess a guy can dream.

 

Okay, so September’s nearly 2/3 of the way over and I haven’t blogged about squat here all month, but all that’s about to change. Here’s the plan, for those of you who may be interested in such things — yes, the never-ending “Comix Month” is finally over around these parts, with two exceptions — I have one book left over from last month I still need to write about, and I’m going to be keepin’ on keepin’ on with the Before Watchmen reviews for as long as I’m buying the books. Which may not be a lot longer, we’ll see. But I do admit I have some serious catching up to do on the BW front and that’s what the next few days are all about. We’ll be examining the third issues of MinutemenSilk SpectreComedian, and Nite Owl, respectively, then diving into the one last “indie” publication I meant to get around to last month but didn’t, then it’s back to my “How I’d Relaunch The Batman Movie Franchise” series for at least a week or so — reblogged, as always, thanks to my good friends at Through The Shattered Lens, who I’m scribing said series for in the first place — and then we should be either at the start of October or pretty close to it, at which point, like every other fucking blog out there, we’re gonna talk nothing but horror flicks here for 30 days solid, with an emphasis on grindhouse horrors.

Sound good? Glad you approve.

So, without any further ado, let’s jump into the third issue of Darwyn Cooke’s Minutemen  series, which is now officially at the halfway point, and see just what your host had to make of things, shall we?

 

First off, let me remark on the fact that even though this book has no less than three people serving in some sort of editorial capacity on it — an editor, assistant editor, and associate editor, respectively — there seems to be very little actual editing going on, to wit : the first issue, which we already determined was essentially a complete waste of time, was pure set-up, and clearly intended to serve as an introduction to these characters for the, I dunno, two or so people out there who were buying this thing who hadn’t previously read the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons original. Yet come this third installment, we get a scene involving the Minutemen deciding what sort of punishment to dole out to Eddie Blake, aka The Comedian, for trying to rape Sally Jupiter, aka the original Silk Spectre, that is completely dependent upon intimate foreknowledge of the first Watchmen series since those events aren’t recapped here in the least! Talk about schizophrenic —

All that aside, though, Before Watchmen : Minutemen #3 (with variant covers, as shown, by Cooke and Cliff Chiang, respectively) isn’t a half-bad little read on its own merits, even though it pretty much completely brushes aside the entire plot “trajectory” that seemed to be forming in the last issue vis-a-vis the child abduction/murder the team — well, part of it at any rate — had been investigating. Instead, here Cooke plunges us into the Silhouette’s essentially solo investigation of a completely unrelated child exploitation case, and shows us how our erstwhile narrator, Hollis Mason (aka the original Nite Owl) gave her a helping hand. Along the way we get some glimpses into the pages of an old 1940s Minutemen comic that are kinda neat to look at even if the existence of said book rather contradicts established Wachmen continuity that superhero titles never really took off in this world where spandex-clad crimefighters were an actual phenomenon and instead pirate comics were all the rage — and we see a little bit more of the torch our guy Hollis was obviously carrying for Usula/The Silhouette on display, but there’s really not much more than that going on here. Cooke spends a lot of time playing the “ooh, what’s this mysterious scene I’m showing you glimpses of here” card with a sequence that basically has no mystery surrounding it whatsoever — the Silhouette’s lesbian lover is washing her up in the tub after a scrape with the bad guys, as is fairly evident from the first “teaser” panel and only gets more crushingly obvious with each successive one — and then, bang, it’s issue over once she recounts her story into a tape recorder and calls it a night.

All of this, apparently, is leading up to some major shake-up of the known foundations of the “Watchmen Universe” (a term I’m still getting used to using and, frankly, hate), but whatever that is — and I’ve got a pretty good guess — you can bet one thing’s for certain : we’ll pretty much be dropped right into the middle of it rather than be lead up to it in any kind of standard-plotting sort of sense, because this series is one incredibly disjointed affair that seems content to flit around and show us whatever brief “highlights” of various Minutemen capers that Cooke wants us to see before moving on to — well, more of the same. It’s competently, if less than compellingly, written, and the period-piece art remains a treat to look at, but on the old dramatic tension scale the whole thing still rates more or less a zero. Halfway through any series some sort of fundamental driving force behind the actual plot itself isn’t too terribly much to ask for, and so far Before Watchmen : Minutemen doesn’t really seem to have one. The fan geek inside me is still looking forward to whatever this big “revelation” that’s forthcoming turns out to be — again, even though I like to think I’ve more or less got it sussed out already — but it would be so nice if we got an actual, honest-to-goodness, goes-from-point-A-to-point-B story tying the whole thing together. Instead, it feels like Cooke had one big idea that he wanted to drop on us, and the other five issues surrounding it aren’t so much lead-up and aftermath to said “big idea” as they are just filler material to pad it out with. Granted, even one idea is more than some of these BW books have going for them, but on the whole it still ain’t a lot, especially if it’s been telegraphed throughout the various titles as obviously as I think it has. Darwyn Cooke’s got three issues left to prove me wrong and make a complete mockery out of everything I’ve said here, and I honestly hope he does so.

 

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. While the first issue of Amanda Conner and Darwyn Cooke’s Before Watchmen : Silk Spectre miniseries had a bit more substance to it than the previous week’s Minutemen #1, it still felt more or less like all set-up material and not much else, and it’s only with this second installment that it feels like we’re really getting into the teeth of the story itself. Which isn’t the end of the world in and of itself, I suppose, but it does mean that by the time we actually have some sort of clear indication of where things are heading here, the series is already half over, given that it only runs for four issues, but I’m beginning to realize — not that I actually condone this, mind you — that cheating the customer as far as getting their actual money’s worth from a book goes is part and parcel of the modern mainstream comics industry. But I digress (as I’m so often wont to do).

Anyway, a teenage Laurie Juspeczyk, sick of her retired heroine mother’s meddling in her life, has run away from home with her high school boyfriend, Greg, and now they’re in San Francisco during what I assume to be the height of the Haight-Ashbury period, living with some friends, one of whom has the incredibly stupid name of “Chappy,” in a communal-type Victorian house. Laurie’s got a gig waiting tables, they’re all getting high a lot, and man, they’re just being, can you dig?

There’s a dark shadow falling over the Haight, though — a cat who goes by the handle of (speaking of stupid names) Gurustein (a black hippie with a Jewish-sounding name, way to prejudice the reader against three groups of people in one go!) has devised a plan, together with local mobsters, legendary acid chemist Owsley (who actually makes an appearance in the book) and “Merry Prankster” Ken Kesey (who does likewise) to get the kids hooked on a new type of hallucinogen that will turn them all on to the groovy vibes of mass consumerism now that the corporate world is taking a hit thanks to the “peace and love generation” figuring out that we don’t all need separate washing machines, refrigerators, stereos, TVs, or even clothes and records! Sharing, in other words, is a real bummer as far as “The Man” is concerned.

All of which, goofy as it sounds, has some basis in reality. Sort of. There’s ample evidence to suggest that LSD itself was introduced on a mass scale by our good friends at the CIA in order to de-radicalize and de-politicize the emerging youth culture of the late 1960s before it could actually present a threat en masse to the status quo (after all, you’re less likely to give a shit about all the various causes you’re wrapped up in while you’re spending half the day in la-la land), and — sorry if this bursts anyone’s bubble — there’s also pretty solidly-sourced material out there indicating that leading proponents of “LSD culture” such as Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, and yes, even Owsley himself were, in fact, intelligence assets in one capacity or another.

Sure, this might all sound like it has nothing to do with a fictional “consumer drug” being developed, but it’s not as great a leap as it might first appear to be when you consider that the first few CIA directors were all former Wall Street men and that “The Company” has basically operated as a clandestine front to advance US business interests from its outset (and, yes, continues to do exactly that to this day). So things here aren’t nearly as far-fetched as they may seem, even if Cooke’s dialogue and characterization are, at times, painfully clumsy (he seems much more at home dealing with the ’40s than the ’60s).

 

Oh, and somewhere in the middle of all this Laurie has her first official “costume” made and goes out crime-fighting on her own for the first time, but that’s almost incidental, at least at this point, to the main thrust of the story here. Anyway, Conner’s art is, as I’m quickly coming to expect, gorgeous as always, it’s great to see her continuing to employ Dave Gibbons’ classic nine-panel grid while not being afraid to express her own style in her own manner, Paul Mount’s colors are flat-out superb, and both covers (as shown, respectively) — by Conner and Josh Middleton — wrap the whole package up in a pleasing form. Cooke’s scripting is still miles away from even attempting to  match Alan Moore in both form and execution, but this series is at least headed in an interesting direction, even if the going is a bit uneven and the gulf between the quality of the artwork and that of the story remains pretty wide.