Posts Tagged ‘Tom King’

Before I even started writing this review, I felt a bit boxed in — and it’s my own damn fault.

Allow me to explain : if I’d reviewed the first issue of Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ new Mister Miracle 12-part “maxi-series” from DC the day it came out, I could’ve written a positive review — which I still intend to do and which this book absolutely deserves — and that would’ve been fine. But I didn’t have or carve out the time, and now a review that’s merely “good” is going to look, well, kinda bad.

That’s because in the interim between Wednesday and now, other critics have weighed in with some of the most embarrassingly gushing praise you’re ever likely to see — we’ve been told that Mister Miracle #1 is “a leap forward for the medium” (it’s not), that it “revolutionizes comics” (it doesn’t), that it’s “the best single issue of the year” (in a year that’s already seen the first new Gary Panter comic in forever, the epic conclusion to Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence, and the best installment to date of Sammy Harkham’s Crickets? Please), that it “will blow your mind” (it won’t).

I have no desire to “keep up with the Joneses,” though, and I’ll always call it like I see it — so to hell with how it looks in comparison to everything else out there; in my (considered, I assure you) view, this is “merely” a very good comic — and if that’s not good enough, shit, I can’t help that.

Essentially, what King and Gerads have done here is “port over” the storytelling tropes that they so successfully established in their earlier Vertigo series The Sheriff Of Babylon into a super-hero setting by way of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (an influence so obvious that even CBR saw it —and keep in mind that their review completely missed that this issue’s opening and closing lines, which they chalk up to generic “carnival barking,” were directly lifted from Jack Kirby’s original Mister Miracle #1), and it works. In fact, it works quite well. But it doesn’t take much to see the scaffolding holding this structure together — and that may, in fact, be part of the point, perhaps even a bit of homage.

That’s because Scott Free, a.k.a. Mister Miracle, in addition to being the “Christ figure” of Kirby’s Fourth World opus (a fact made clear in both Nick Derington’s “A” cover and Gerads’ “B” cover for this book), is, of course, “the world’s greatest escape artist,” and a big part of the charm of his first series came from the explanations for his various death-defying acts that Kirby frequently provided. Here, I believe, the explanations are being provided for us, as well — although we might have to work a little harder to find them.

To dovetail back to Mulholland Drive for a moment, King’s deliciously clever script reverses the order of events somewhat — we open, rather than close, with the protagonist’s suicide attempt (as you can see from the double-page splash reproduced above, Scott has slashed his wrists) — but the core conceit of determining what is “real” and what isn’t, as well as how what is informs and/or “bleeds into” what’s not, remains, and Gerads provides any number of  visual cues, both subtle and less so, to assist us humble readers in that task of decoding.

Watchmen-esque nine-panel grids, for instance, are the norm here, but they are deviated from at key points, such as the childhood reminiscence shown immediately above (the joke at the end of which comes into play later), and “dissolve” into distorted “fuzzy TV” images as events appear to deviate further from (fictitious, mind you) reality, such as when Scott makes his first media appearance after his suicide attempt — on a talk show hosted by Dakseid’s chief propagandist Glorious Godfrey?

Speaking of Darkseid, his presence looms large despite it being merely a verbal incantation. The chilling two-word phrase “Darkseid is.” fulfills the same role as “Bang.” in The Sheriff Of Babylon, interjecting itself with greater and greater frequency through any number of scenes (Orion giving Scott a beat-down, the aforementioned talk-show appearance, working out a new escape routine with friend/mentor Oberon — except he’s apparently dead?), until it finally takes up an entire page just before Scott and his wife, Big Barda, step into a “Boom Tube” to join the war that’s underway on their adopted homeworld of New Genesis. It’s chillingly effective, but the idea that it’s some new storytelling innovation, as has been breathlessly claimed by many, is patented nonsense.

Beyond that, little hints that something isn’t right — or, at the very least, that something isn’t right in how Scott is seeing or interpreting things — abound : as mentioned, he works out a new trick with Oberon, but Oberon’s dead; Barda’s eyes are the wrong color; Scott’s walk on the beach with Highfather reveals a more chilly and distant relationship than we’ve seen between the two of them previously; Highfather’s later death (whoops! Spoilers!) and Darkseid’s discovery of the “anti-life equation” he’s dedicated his entire life to seeking out are mentioned in a nearly carefree, throw-away manner — what’s actually happening is anyone’s guess, but that’s rather the point.

If easy answers are your bag, then, it’s safe to say that King and Gerads’ Mister Miracle won’t be. But if you’re willing to invest at least a modest amount of time and mental energy into piecing together how much of this is actually taking place (or already took place), how much is near-death fever dream, how much is pure fantasy, and how much may be outside manipulation courtesy of Darkseid, then you’re in for a heck of a ride here. Gerads handles pencils, inks, and colors on the book, ensuring that all aspects of the various illustrated cues n’ clues remain firmly under his control, and he and King, probably by dint of their previous experience together, achieve the sort of seamless storytelling finesse that one usually only finds in comics both written and drawn by the same person. As events progress the insular visual language that they’ve developed will begin to make more concrete “sense,” I’m sure, but for now, trying to puzzle it all out is, dare I invoke the term in relation to a book this heavy, a great deal of fun.

No doubt, then, I’m damn eager to see where this series goes. I may not find it to be the singular and groundbreaking achievement that so many others apparently do, but I find it to be both an intelligently-crafted mystery, an interesting new take on an established set of characters (something which I think Kirby himself would appreciate far more than the dull, surface-level retreads of his work that so many other Fourth World -related revivals have been), a heartfelt exploration of mental illness, specifically depression, and, at the margins, an ingenious metafictional treatise on  its protagonist’s creator (“kid — comics will break your heart” hangs heavy over the proceedings) that even seems to establish him as a God-like, omniscient observer of all that’s happening. So no, Mister Miracle #1 isn’t the best single issue of the year — but it may very well be the best single issue that either of “The Big Two” has put out in a number of years. Is that good enough?

 

If thewe’s one fing I weawwy wuved about —-

Okay, that’s gonna get on your nerves and mine really quickly, isn’t it? Let’s start over.

I won’t kid you — when these DC/Looney Tunes crossovers were first announced, I was scratching my head a bit. Some of the team-ups (Marvin The Martian and Martian Manhunter, for instance) made more sense on paper than others (I’m looking at you, Bugs Bunny and The Legion Of Super-Heroes), but at five bucks a pop, they were going to have to offer something more than an intriguing novelty to get my money. The just-released Batman/Elmer Fudd Special #1 certainly meets that criteria by featuring an “A-List” creative team — Tom King on scripting chores, Lee Weeks on art — and a damn nice-looking cover, so what the hell, right? You only live once, and if you’re as broke as the average comic book collector, you gotta take your adventure where you can find it. I decided to give it a shot.

To call this a “pleasant surprise” would be an understatement. It’s no secret that I’ve been less than impressed by most of what King’s been serving up since taking over as scribe on the regular Batman series, but freed from the tight editorial strictures that no doubt sway his hand (and steer his plotlines) in those pages, he does something here that he by and large hasn’t been able to do there — he has fun. His iteration of Fudd is a less-than-fearsome assassin, the classic down-on-his luck noir anti-hero, and Weeks’ always-stylish art, combined with Lovern Kindzierski’s dripping-with-atmosphere colors, conveys the mood and tone of the far-less-absurd-than-you’d-think premise perfectly from page one onwards as our dual protagonists converge toward a surprisingly touching confrontation for the heart and, perhaps, hand of Silver St. Cloud. It’s simple, straight-forward, and admittedly derivative stuff (right down to the big “twist” that’s really nothing of the sort), but who can argue with even the most time-worn tropes when they’re executed this well? Certainly not me, especially in a book littered with this many gratuitous references to Fudd’s own WB animation “universe.”

Oh, yeah — Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, Michigan J. Frog, Foghorn Leghorn, ACME, carrot juice, Marvin The Martian, The Tasmanian Devil, Sylvester, and probably one or two other characters/things that I missed are all present and accounted for here, and almost always in ways you’ve never seen them before and never will again. One would think a mash-up of Raymond Chandler and Chuck Jones either wouldn’t or shouldn’t work, but damn — it does. And rather beautifully, at that. Throw in a fun little backup strip told in “classic cartoon” style by King and artist Byron Vaughns and what you’ve got is a comic that hits all the right notes, at all the right times, for fans coming into this from either end of Warner Brothers’ sprawling entertainment empire — hell, maybe even for folks who aren’t all that crazy about either one but just enjoy a good (make that very good), old-fashioned slice of detective fiction peppered with a healthy dose of the absurd.

I’ve been far less enthusiastic about the “DC Rebirth” initiative than most, but I have to hand it to ’em — they’re hitting far more than they’re missing with their cartoon revamps/adaptations these days. Mark Russell and Steve Pugh’s recently-concluded revisionist take on Hanna-Barbera’s The Flintstones was the best thing to come out under the publisher’s auspices literally in years, and the Batman/Elmer Fudd special can stand proudly alongside it in terms of high-quality, pitch-perfect, obvious labors of love. I could go on and on about this book’s merits for who knows how long , but hey — why do that when it’s just as easy, and probably for more effective, to just say “that’s all, folks!” and call it a day? Buy this comic now — that’s all, folks!

 

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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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Tom King makes me a little nervous.

It’s nothing to do with the guy’s personality, mind you — he could be the life of the party for all I know, or a humble and gracious gentleman, or a devoted family man, or all three. I’ve never met him, so I couldn’t tell you. But the idea of Tom King, well — that’s what makes me a trifle apprehensive, I guess.

There’s no doubt the man can write — his work on DC’s Omega Men has been stellar, and his newly-launched take on The Vision for Marvel is off to an intriguing start. I’ve never read Grayson — probably because the idea of the former Robin going undercover as a spy after his secret identity has been blown to the general public just strikes me as being absurd on its face — but folks tell me that’s a pretty good read, as well, so despite being in comics for a relatively short period of time, Mr. King is definitely making his mark. Kudos to him for doing quality work on all the titles he’s involved with.

But — and it’s a big “but” — he’s also a “former” CIA agent, one assigned to work in Iraq no less, and I don’t believe you can “resign” from the CIA any more than you can from, say, the mafia. Once you’re in, you’re in, and the only way out is usually in a bodybag.

Still, you rightly ask, what possible interest could the CIA have in the funnybooks? Well, we know they’ve infiltrated the mass media before — does a little operation named “Mockingbird” ring a bell? — and that comics have been the most fertile “AAA league” for movies and TV for the last couple of decades. By getting one of “their guys” ensconced at the ground level like this, “The Company” could be in on the first- floor entryway of the next multimillion-dollar “hot” entertainment property. Or, hey, maybe there are some pesky leftists among the ranks of comic book freelancers than they just want somebody to keep an eye on. I dunno — but I don’t like the smell of it.

Another thing I don’t like is the apparent “pro-torture” message I picked up on in the first couple issues of Omega Men. This seems to have faded into the background a bit in recent months, and it’s gotta be said that the series as a whole is almost embarrassingly good for a “Big Two” super-hero comic, but still — it’s pretty apparent to anyone reading that the editorial viewpoint expressed by the book is one that “enhanced interrogation” is, at worst, something of a “necessary evil.” When you combine this with the none-too-subtle stance taken in favor of vigilante murder in The Vision, it’s more than enough to suggest, at least to me, that Tom King is someone to follow not only for his talent, but also for the right-wing political messages underpinning his work.

Or, ya know, maybe I’m just paranoid.

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One thing’s for sure — King’s  supposedly “former” career informs every panel of every page of his latest work, the eight-part Vertigo miniseries The Sheriff Of Babylon, and even if this turns out to be a pure propaganda exercise, it’s at least going to be an authentic one with a sharp and realistic voice and a “no-bullshit” sensibility.  That’s more than enough for me to label the hot-off-the-presses first issue as my comic “pick of the week,” even taking my concerns about its author into consideration.

At its core, this appears to be a murder mystery set in a highly unique location — the American-controlled “Green Zone” inside Baghdad. Commentary on the necessity, or even the sanity, of our invasion of Iraq is noticeably absent, and instead things are presented in a very matter-of-fact, “like it or not, this is the reality on the ground’ sort of way. For that reason,  among many others, I can already see Kathryn Bigelow salivating at the prospect of directing the movie version, and certainly the art by the always-improving Mitch Gerads  — who’s handling the book’s impeccably-chosen colors, as well, and whose style has taken another dramatic leap forward here as it did between his Image series The Activity and his run on Marvel’s The Punisher — really gets the dust inside your pores and the smell of burning oil up your nostrils. Fuck, I even felt hot reading this comic, and it was about 30 degrees here in Minneapolis when I opened it up. So, yeah — this is definitely the real deal, folks. On every conceivable level.

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As far as murder mysteries go, it’s definitely altogether unconventional one any way you slice it — and I don’t say that merely because of its setting, but also because of its structure. Apparent right from this debut installment — in fact, serving as said installment’s cliffhanger — is the fact that the murder in question is one that folds back in on the investigation surrounding it, given that one of our three principal players involved (those being an American police trainer named Christopher Henry, and Iraqi cop with an understandable axe to grind with his country’s conquerors named Nassir, and a Western-educated Baghdad native returned home to consolidate control of her hometown’s rapidly-expanding criminal underworld named Sofia) gave the “green light” for it to be committed in the first place and now is in a position to pull the strings in terms of how, or even if, the killer is brought to justice.

Assuming, of course, that anything like “justice” exists in occupied Iraq — a question that’s reflected in the series’ title, taken from a line of dialogue in the book when Henry wonders aloud if there even is such a thing as a “sheriff” in these parts.

Speaking of Henry, he and Nassir are both introduced to readers in separate scenes of well-nigh-unbearable tension that are, again, incredibly cinematic is terms of both execution and feel, and since saying very much about either would “spoil” a lot of what happens in this issue, it’s probably just safer if I say that both of their debuts are quite memorable and leave it at that.

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And “memorable” seems to be the operative (no pun aimed in the direction of the writer’s “one-time” employment status intended) word in terms of the reading experience King and Gerads are aiming to create here. Vertigo’s in the midst of releasing a raft of new #1s these days,and this and Slash & Burn are, to this point, definitely the standouts of an impressive-across-the-board bunch. I remain curious to see whether or not King avails himself of the opportunity to comment on the wholesale corruption, not to mention slaughter, that the US invasion  and subsequent occupation of the former Babylon brought with it, but even if he politely declines — or, worse yet, whitewashes it out altogether — all the elements are in place here for a “whodunnit?” quite unlike any other we’ve ever seen.

I may have reservations about Tom King and what he’s even doing in comics in the first place. but so far I have no reservations about giving The Sheriff Of Babylon a very enthusiastic recommendation.