Posts Tagged ‘Doom Patrol’

Goddamn. I mean, seriously.

It’s no secret that I’m a tremendous fan — nay, admirer — of Grant Morrison and Richard Case’s justly-legendary run on the Doom Patrol comic book, but if you put a gun to my head (and some readers over the years have been, I’m sure, tempted to do just that) and forced me to name a favorite single storyline from their era, I’d probably have to say the one colloquially known as “The Cult Of The Unwritten Book,” so-called because that’s the name of the villains they go up against, a suitably freakish bunch of nihilists who are waiting for the flesh of a certain unwitting sap to literally finish writing itself, given that it’s been manifesting a tattooed “unholy scripture” upon its own surface, in the form of arcane symbols, for quite some time now. Once this unwritten book is, in fact, written, the cult’s intention is to read it and, in so doing, summon forth The Decreator, a shadow of the Big Bang itself tasked with undoing that which its counterpart once did. Fuck the end of the world — The Decreator’s out to wipe out all of existence.

In the comics, the team is joined by “de-frocked” Templar Knight/freelance occult detective Willoughby Kipling — think John Constantine only not cool (Morrison had, in fact, originally wanted to use Constantine for the story, but DC editorial put the kibosh on it as his involvement would run counter to some things taking place concurrently within his own series) — and after a harrowing visit to the cult’s home turf of Nurnheim, a shadow realm that exists within a snow globe, the combined forces of “The World’s Strangest Heroes” and the world’s most annoying magician result, not so much in stopping the destruction of all things, but in slowing it down to the point where nobody can really be bothered to notice what’s happening.

I never never could have imagined, way back in 1990, that I’d ever see this utterly bizarre, mystifying, and singular tale adapted into a big-budget TV production, and yet, here in 2019 —in a world that, I humbly submit, is probably every bit as weird as Nurnheim itself — it’s actually happened. It’s called “Cult Patrol.”  And it’s not just “good,” it’s sensational.

A few liberties with the so-called “source material” have been taken by “showrunner” Jeremy Carver and his script writers, Marcus Dalzine and Chris Dingess — Kipling (magnificently brought to life by actor Mark Sheppard) and Timothy Dalton’s Chief are old acquaintances, the “recipient” of the unwritten book is a Salt Lake City teen named Elliot Patterson (Ted Sutherland), while the actual leader of the cult turns out to be none other than his own mother (Lilli Birdsell) — but a good number of scenes are lifted directly from the page, and those that aren’t offer intriguing new takes on this old story (that, in fairness, most viewers have probably never read anyway) that make it unpredictable all over again while fitting in with the various ongoing “story arcs” of the series as a whole. In short, though, the basics are intact, and when Brendan Fraser/Riley Shanahan’s Cliff Steele and Diane Guerrero’s “Crazy” Jane (who spends most of this episode in her defensive-to-the-point-of-offensive Hammerhead persona) end up in an astonishingly well-realized version of Nurnheim, shit — I was over the moon.

Who knows? I might have loved this story too much, and for too long, to write anything approaching an “objective” review here.

Still, if director Stefan Pleszczynski had screwed anything up, I’d be the first to object, and he doesn’t. The performances of the cast are strong, with April Bowlby really coming into her own as Rita Farr, Joivan Wade playing his de facto leader role as Cyborg to a proverbial “T,” and Matt Bomer/Matthew Zuk’s recently-developed “what the fuck?” persona for Larry Trainor all meriting special mention — Cliff and Jane may be the heart of this particular episode, but it’s not like everyone else is just given “filler” material to pad out the runtime. Everything’s essential, everything’s part of a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

My one gripe — and it’s a small one — is that when The Decreator makes its appearance, “Chicken Little was right” is a lot better line to announce its arrival than “Maybe I should have gone with A Hard Day’s Night.” That’s seriously all I’ve got though — other than that, this is some seriously flawless television. We’ll see how part two shakes out next week, but top marks for all involved so far.

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Three episodes in, the DC Universe streaming television series Doom Patrol is proving to be a genuine amalgamation : yeah, the Grant Morrison/Richard Case era of the comic is still the primary “source material,” but more and more the Arnold Drake/Bruno Premiani influence is being felt, and there’s plenty here that’s altogether new, as well, making this show that rarest of rare things : one where you literally never know what’s going to happen.

The most recent installment, “Puppet Patrol,” is probably the farthest “step out of the nest” yet — for both the characters in Tamara Becher and Tom Farrell’s razor-sharp script, and for the program in a more general, thematic sense. With Timothy Dalton’s Chief missing and a localized search proving fruitless (there’s a surreal and hilarious scene centered around Diane Guerrero’s “Crazy” Jane kicking off the episode that drives this point home with some bloody laughs), a rummage through his lab unearths clues that lead to Paraguay, where we — but, it should be noted, not the characters themselves — know that the de facto team’s equally de facto leader first encountered the now-villainous Mr. Nobody. The real baddie, though, is “ex”-Nazi commandant/mad scientist Strumbanfuhrer Van Fuchs (played by the great Julian Richings), who created Nobody and has been running a super-powers-for-sale tourist trap loosely modeled on Chile’s notorious Colonia Dignidad ever since. So, yeah, our erstwhile heroes have to head south — but how to get there?

With Cyborg (Joivan Wade) stepping into the role of lead strategist largely because nobody else wants the gig, attempts to land the services of a S.T.A.R. Labs private jet courtesy of his farther Silas Stone (Phil Morris) prove fruitless, and so it’s down to their literal “short bus” to do the job — which, needless to say, it’s not up to. The team ends up stranded somewhere well shy of Paraguay, at a roadside motel (where they watch George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead), but when Jane reveals a previously unseen persona known as Flit, with the also- previously unseen power to teleport, she, Matt Bomer/Matthew Zuk’s Larry Trainor, and Brendan Fraser/Riley Shanahan’s Cliff Steele end up pretty much exactly where they wanted to be after all — I say pretty much, because first they have to catch a bus to Nazi-land with an overly-enthusiastic tourist named Steve (Alec Mapa), who’s going there for “The Full Nobody.” What does that mean? Probably more or less exactly what you’re guessing it does.

This leaves Cyborg and Rita Farr (April Bowlby) back at the ranch for some well-executed “character bonding” scenes, and by day’s end, lo and behold, Silas comes through with that jet after all, but by the time the “remainers” meet up with their teammates, a lot has happened. Roll call :

A puppet show tells the whole story about Von Fuchs and his life-long quest to create ubermenschen (in addition to dropping some juicy hints about Niles Caluder’s own past); Larry (who’s the featured character in the “flashback scenes” this time out) unsuccessfully tries to separate himself from the “Negative Spirit” by means of one of the compound’s crazy-ass mechanical devices; Cliff takes a good, hard look inside himself — and takes it out on Von Fuchs’ hive-mind (in the strictest sense of that term) Bavarian teen hit squad when he goes absolutely, and frighteningly, apeshit; a confrontation with Von Fuchs himself, kept alive in a steampunk technological monstrosity, reveals that Jane may not be who we think she is but, even more crucially, not who she thinks she is; and Steve — well, we haven’t seen the last of good ol’ Steve. Not by a long shot. And he’s absolutely ecstatic about that.

Veteran director Rachel Talalay definitely brings a cinematic look and feel to the proceedings here, but “showrunner” Jeremy Carver has established a tone that carries through in everything so far, one that is revealing itself to be among the most singular and unique in television in a good long while. It’s perfectly fair and entirely accurate to say that each episode of this show has been better than the one before it — and considering how strong it started right out of the gate, that’s very high praise indeed.  Bring on part four’s “Cult Patrol,” then — I’m absolutely hooked.

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Those who know far more about the craft (we’ll stick with that term given that it seldom rises to the level of “art’) of television writing tell me that second episodes are the trickiest wicket of all — at the starting gate you simply lay enough of your cards on the table to grab peoples’ attention, but not so many that they’ll walk away figuring they’ve got the whole show sussed out; with episodes three on out you’re essentially preaching to the choir; but episode two is the one that has to turn the casual viewers into die-hards, has to keep the butts in the seats. The “insta-fans” are already on board, but the “take it or leave it” crowd — the really fickle folks — well, they’re looking for a reason to take it. This is your one and only chance.

“Showrunner” Jeremy Carver turns the writing chores for this crucial installment of the DC Universe original series Doom Patrol over to the tandem of Neil Reynolds and Shoshana Sachi, and their script for “Donkey Patrol” (“Puppet Patrol” is next, so you can already see a pattern developing here) more than does its job — following, as most shows do these days, directly from the previous episode, the vortex created by Alan Tudyk’s narrator/villain Mr. Nobody has swallowed whole the town of Cloverton, Ohio, and with it Niles “The Chief” Caulder (the role that Timothy Dalton, I’m already convinced, was born to play) , but that farting donkey we “met” last time? He’s more than a gasbag, he’s a portal into whatever realm the Doom Patrol’s de facto “leader” has been whisked away to by this guy who hates his guts for reasons we’re still not privy to.

Diane Guerrero’ s”Crazy” Jane leaps in for an attempted rescue, but her visit proves to be a short one, the donkey hee-hawing her back out when her insanity proves to be too unpalatable even for a creature that’ll probably eat anything. This commotion’s not the only show in town, though, as alternating scenes in the early going introduce us to the team’s final member, Vic Stone/Cyborg (played by Joivan Wade), a Detroit-based hero aiming to work his way up to Justice League membership by busting small crimes such as ATM robberies. His roll-out proves to be a complete (I say that with zero hesitation) “win” for Carver, his writers, and director Dermott Downs, who alleviate all concerns about what the fuck a character best known for his turns with the aforementioned League and the Teen Titans is even doing in this show within a matter of minutes — hell, they even manage to tick every box on the “pedantic fan” checklist by directly addressing the continuity issues that arise from Vic appearing in this series this year, but in the Justice League movie last year.

Making perhaps an even more distinctive debut, though, is veteran actor Phil Ford in the role of his father, robotics genius/overbearing prick Silas Stone, a “second voice” in his son’s mind who simply won’t shut the fuck up and always has a “better” idea about what the kiddo should be doing with his extraordinary powers. There’s a tragedy at the heart of Cyborg’s origin story that no doubt has resulted in much unspoken tension between progenitor and progeny, but positioning Caulder as a secondary “father figure” in Vic’s life going back quite a few years not only helps ameliorate some of that, it also provides a perfectly logical explanation for why the half-robotic teen decides to hook up with the Doom Patrol in the first place.

In short, then, shoe-horning this character into this show probably shouldn’t have worked — but damn, it sure does.

“Shippers” — as well as regular people — will probably be gratified to see the bonds between Brendan Fraser/Riley Shanahan’s Cliff Steele and Jane deepen in this episode, fans of the freakish will get a kick out of April Bowlby’s Rita Farr being “squeezed” down into the donkey, and it’s a safe bet that everyone will find the “confronting their past demons” scenarios that she, Vic, and Matt Bomer/Matthew Zuk’s Larry Trainor are faced with on the “other side” of the most deliberately absurd dimensional doorway ever envisioned compelling in the extreme. Unlikely heroes emerge from this already-unlikely crew as they make their escape, but rest assured no one is left unscathed from their experiences in the (let’s just call it what it is) Twilight Zone.

Oh, and The Chief? Spoiler alert — by the time the end credits roll, he’s still stuck there.

Another good episode, then? Nope. Another great one, anchored by strong performances from one and all, well-paced scripting, smart and reasonably stylish direction, and a generous smattering of “Easter Eggs” (including, as you’d expect, any number from the Grant Morrison/Richard Case era of the comic — and one you probably would never expect featuring Curtis “Booger” Armstrong himself) for the observant and/or obsessive. It’s still too early to call this the best super-hero TV show of all time (even if most of the competition for that title is pretty weak), but it’s in no way too early to say that it’s well on track to be.

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Every comic-book reader has it : “their” book. The one that comes along at just the right time in your life and stays with you for the rest of your days. I’ve got a few, truth be told, but one of the big ones is Doom Patrol — specifically, Grant Morrison and Richard Case’s Doom Patrol, that began with issue number 19 of the title’s second go-’round and lasted through number 63, a unique amalgamation of the existential, the conspiratorial, the emotive, and the quite-often indescribable that surely still stands as the most unusual “team book” ever set within the confines of a pre-existing superhero “universe.” Filled to the brim and beyond with Morrison’s patented brand of “high weirdness” but underscored with a palpable strain of sheer heart throughout, it had everything I was looking for in a comic as a teenager — when my interest in the traditional, by-the-numbers superhero narrative was waning, and my exploration of the work of  “alternative” cartoonists of the period (Chester Brown, Dan Clowes, Peter Bagge, Chris Ware, etc.) was only just starting to take hold. Doom Patrol was a comic that hit a kind of “sweet spot” right between the two, and I definitely credit it for keeping my interest in the medium alive at precisely the point where it was threatening to wane.

And now, here we are, some three fucking decades later, and what would have been absolutely unthinkable in 1989 has come to pass : Doom Patrol is now a big-budget TV series, newly-launched on the DC Universe website/streaming service.

It’s not precisely “my” Doom Patrol, mind you, nor should it be : a straight adaptation of the Morrison/Case era would reek of the “been there, done that,” but one episode in (that episode bearing the standardized, and entirely unimaginative, title of “Pilot”), it’s clear that “showrunner” Jeremy Carver is cleaving to the temperament of that now-legendary run, while mixing in plenty from the original “Silver Age” version of the book by Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani (credited as the team’s creators along with Bob Haney), a dash of Rachel Pollack’s post-Morrison/Case iteration (although, at least as yet, the elements of Pollack’s run that make their way onto the screen include nothing from the brief-but-incredible period when things went really, and wonderfully, far off the rails following the arrival of Ted McKeever as artist), and plenty that’s wholly unique and original in its own right. Something old, something new and all that —

The basic set-up is a fairly logical updating of the initial premise : genius (but quite mysterious) wheelchair-bound scientist Dr. Niles Caulder (played with something very much akin to absolute perfection by Timothy Dalton) accrues into his orbit a small group of super-beings whose abilities brand them more as rejects and freaks than “heroes,” outcasts with power to save the world but little desire to do so given they’ve been shunned from it. Their ranks are composed of former test pilot Larry Trainor (Matt Bomer), who is now horribly burned, completely bandaged, and sharing his body with a mysterious, and sentient, “negative” energy force; one-time Hollywood starlet Rita Farr (April Bowlby), who suffered a freak accident on a film location and is now a gelatinous, oozing mass of flesh that can only hold on to human form for brief periods of time; multiple personality disorder sufferer “Crazy” Jane (Diane Guerrero), who has 64 distinctive “selves,” each with a metahuman “gift” of its own; and long-since-believed-dead race car driver Cliff Steele (Brendan Fraser), whose brain was actually saved by Caulder following a fiery collision and placed inside a robotic body. Future  episodes will apparently see the addition of stalwart DC character Cyborg, a fan-favorite from the pages of Teen Titans and Justice League, but since he has yet to hit the scene, we need not dwell on him too much — although I’m curious as to how they plan to integrate him into this far-less-traditional team and, more importantly, why they’re even bothering to do so. Guess we’ll take a “wait and see” approach there.

Based on evidence so far, though, I’m inclined to give Carver the benefit of the doubt and assume he knows what he’s doing, because his script for this first episode is essentially pitch-perfect : Cliff is out point of entry, and through him we get to know the other members of the cast, their “secret origins,” and their coping mechanisms : Larry’s into horticulture, Rita has her knitting, Jane (or a part of her at any rate) paints. Cliff, for his part, is building a miniature town, but when they all go into the nearest real one while “Chief” Caulder is away for a couple of days, the shit hits the fan and they end up needing to save the pleasant little village they’ve entered — from themselves.

Caulder warned them not to go, of course, but with the cat out of the bag, his makeshift “family” suddenly finds itself at very real risk from forces not out of their pasts, but his : specifically a mentally-and physically-fragmented being of immense power known as Mr. Morden/Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk, who doubles as this episode’s narrator), whose been looking for “The Chief” for a long time for reasons as yet unknown. Much as with the first “live-action” DC Universe series, Titans (where a slightly different version of our team made its first appearance in episode four), this  show looks to have a “road trip” as its core conceit, but first they all head back into town to undo the damage/face the music — only to find that Morden is a step ahead of them. As is a flatulent donkey. Things are about to go from strange to stranger.

Director Glen Winter does a superb job with the pacing here, balancing flashbacks with “present-day” action seamlessly, and his cast turn in uniformly strong performances that really sell viewers on the everyday banality of their absurd existences. These are people — and a robot — each in tremendous amounts of pain, and while they all seem to be able to “go through the motions” to a certain extent, that sense of anguish is ever-present just beneath the surface. This is an especially tricky thing to pull off in the cases of Larry Trainor and Cliff Steele, who are each voiced by the “big-name” actors whose names adorn the show’s credits, while their full-body costumes are inhabited by other actors (Matthew Zuk and Riley Shanahan, respectively) charged with the important task of expressing the physicality of the characters. It works — hell, it’s so seamless you could be forgiven for assuming Bomer and Fraser were on set/location and inside the suits — but never forget this kind of apparent “ease” always takes a hell of a lot of work, and the effort Winter puts in behind the camera definitely pays off in terms of delivering a unique, idiosyncratic, highly imaginative product in front of it.

Fans of standard superhero fare may find the altogether different tone, style, and even premise of Doom Patrol 180 degrees removed from where their interests lie, but they needn’t despair too much : the big and small screens offer no shortage of material in line with their populist sensibilities. For the rest of us, though, this show offers the exact same thing that Grant Morrison and Richard Case did 30 years ago, and Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani some 20 years before that : a superhero adventure series capable of rekindling our interest in the genre by doing something new and different, while simultaneously reminding us why we loved it in the first place.

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This review is brought to you by — my own damn self, specifically my Patreon page. For exclusive thrice-weekly “deep dives” into the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics, please consider joining up. Your support not only allows me to keep things going there, but to continue providing free content both here and on my fourcolorapocalypse comics blog. I’ll be posting a “companion piece” to this one on there soon looking specifically at Doom Patrol #19 and the impact it had on my younger self, and continues to have to this day. I’d be very pleased to share that, and everything else I have planned coming up, with each of you.

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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!