It was a great Christmas this year. Though I missed not getting home to see my parents and brothers, I had a lovely time with my girlfriend’s family, and the holiday held a number of wonderful surprises. I have a variety of wonderful new toys to play with, such as a great new, larger, flat monitor for my computer (thanks, honey!) and satellite radio for the car. When it comes to comics gifts, I’m not easy to shop for from my loved ones’ perspective, as they’re not into comics, and just about every peripheral, comics-related item that I really want, I tend to get for myself anyway. My girlfriend did well with picking up the DVD box set of the various Superman movies. But my parents — who at one time really wanted me to cast off comics as a relic of my childhood — really surprised me this year with an unusual, inexpensive little gift: a grab bag of old DC and Marvel comics from the 1970s and ’80s.
Welcome back to the first annual Glass Eye Awards (click here to check out Part One). Everybody who is anybody in the world of comics is… well, not here but somewhere else, probably getting soused on holiday eggnog and rum. And I think I’ll join them (hold the eggnog, please). As I pour liquor over the pain of the past 12 months, I’ll reflect back on the comics creators who stood out as the best in the industry in 2006. Bear in mind, there’s no way for one person to read all that the comic-book industry had to offer in the course of a single month, let alone a full year. This is by no means a definitive list, just my two cents’ worth. But hey, people seem to like these “Best of” lists.
It’s time to roll out the red carpet and dole out my personal “awards” for the best of the past year. Of course, the carpet in question was originally an off-white, stained red by the blood of pizza-delivery guys and endangered birds. Anyhoo, welcome to the first annual Glass Eye Awards, honoring the cream of the crop in comics, as best as we here at Eye on Comics can figure (and by “we,” I mean me). Bear in mind, there’s no way for me to have read all comics and graphic novels released in 2006, and a few choices — perhaps even obvious ones — may have been accidentally omitted, as my mind is no steel trap. In other words, don’t view this list as any kind of final word or all-encompassing, definitive list of the tops in comics.
Bullet Points #2 (Marvel Comics)
by J. Michael Straczynski & Tommy Lee Edwards
Straczynski’s alternate history of the Marvel Universe might seem mildly interesting to the devoted fan of the publisher’s extensive library of characters, but ultimately, the point of these tweaked events is elusive. Sure, it’s fun to see Steve Rogers cast in the role of Iron Man or Peter Parker as the Hulk, but the writer doesn’t seem to be saying anything new or different about any of the characters. The narration about bullets, the science of ballistics and the history-changing power of projectiles is effective, but it’s also growing a bit old; by the end of the series, I expect it’ll be tired. I’m also disappointed that the writer doesn’t give the audience a clearer picture of the time in which the story is set. Tommy Lee Edwards’s art remains as strong as ever, of course, and I like how his pseudo-painted style nevertheless manages to capture the charm and simplicity of Silver Age incarnations of familiar, iconic figures. I’m particularly taken with how Edwards’s colors tend to glow. The visuals are often bright, but the artist never sacrifices the darker, tragic quality that’s inherent in Straczynski’s script. 5/10
Wonder Man v.2 #1
“My Fair Super Hero”
Writer: Peter David
Pencils: Andrew Currie
Inks: Drew Hennessy
Colors: Rob Schwager
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Cover artists: Currie & Hennessy
Editor: John Barber
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.75 CAN
I’m rather indifferent when it comes to the character of Wonder Man. I’ve read a few Avengers stories over the years that made good use of the character, but I attribute that to good writing, not any inherent potential in the character. Peter David is a writer whose work usually appeals to me, so I decided to give this new title a look. The first thing that strikes one about this Wonder Man mini-series is how much the art hurts the book. The figures are so distorted that the visuals completely distract one from the story. Andrew Currie’s linework isn’t at all palatable. And if that weren’t disappointing enough, the story itself is far from David’s finest work. The title character here is a complete cipher. There’s no hint of any real personality here. David’s riff on Pygmalion/My Fair Lady is the star here, and the idea fails to sustain my interest for a few pages, let alone a few issues.
The Spirit #1
“Ice Ginger Coffee”
Writer/Pencils/Cover artist: Darwyn Cooke
Inks: J. Bone
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Scott Dunbier
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$4 CAN
Artist Darwyn Cooke is no stranger to writing for the medium. He penned Batman: Ego and merited a lot of attention for his work on DC: The New Frontier (which is getting a big push during this holiday gift-giving season with its Absolute edition). But with his scripts on Superman: Confidential and now The Spirit, Cooke is really starting to come into his own as a comics writer. Based on the Batman/The Spirit one-shot Cooke did recently with writer Jeph Loeb, I was expecting a light, traditional super-hero romp in this first issue. Instead, Cooke offers up a clever and entertaining criticism of 24-hour news networks and superficial journalism. Even the writer/artist’s visual storytelling exceeds expectations, and given Cooke’s track record as a comics artist, that’s really saying something.
The Escapists #5 (Dark Horse Comics)
by Brian K. Vaughan, Jason Shawn Alexander & Steve Rolston
The plot takes a couple of unusual turns in this issue, turns that test one’s ability to suspend disbelief a bit. Max’s deduction of who’s behind Denny’s legal woes and Case’s encounter with the corporate lawyer are a bit difficult to swallow, and those moments took me out of the story for a bit. But overall, I remain thrilled with the storytelling techniques and the personal, slice-of-life focus of the plot. The most striking scene in the book is the final one, as we visit with Denny in jail. Vaughan brings a surprisingly harsh element into play. It’s such a divergent turn in the story that it packs a real emotional impact, but it’s an effective one. The writer drives home the notion that what’s happening is serious, not just off the wall. Jason Alexander’s dark artwork is as sharp as ever, but I like that the darkness doesn’t translate into grim-n-gritty territory. The script still maintains a traditional, light tone in the storytelling. Rolston’s artwork continues to impress as well. It reminds me of the styles of such other comic artists as Philip Bond, Tim Levins and Cameron Stewart. 7/10
Meltdown: Book 1
Writer: David B. Schwartz
Artist/Letters: Sean Wang
Cover artist: Chris Bachalo
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $5.99 US/$6.80 CAN
The title of this two-issue limited series doesn’t refer to the protagonist’s super-hero identity but rather what the heat-based hero is going through. David B. Schwartz is just the latest new writer to offer up a realistic, mature and dark vision of a super-hero. We see so many of these stories these days, it’s difficult for new ones to stand out, to come across as something more than cliched. Schwartz’s story manages to stand out, just a little. This isn’t a typical super-hero story. It’s a tragedy about a man who’s been denied his dreams, his desires and a dynamic destiny. The grounded narration is compelling. The artwork is well done, but it’s inconsistent. Of course, this is purposeful, done for the sake of the storytelling, but I don’t think the approach works as intended.
George Perez: Storyteller hardcover
Writer: Christopher Lawrence
Cover artist: George Perez
Publisher: Dynamic Forces
Price: $29.99 US
I’m a huge George Perez fan and have been since I was a kid. I first remember sampling his work in the early 1980s on New Teen Titans and Justice League of America. There was just something about his work that set it apart from the art in other comics. The detail, the density of the panel layouts, the expressiveness of the characters’ faces… it all stood out as being unique, at least in my mind as a pre-teen and teenage comic fan. This isn’t the first time someone has published a book about Perez’s career — I have a copy of Focus on George Perez hiding around here somewhere — but this book strikes me as being more blunt and honest about the twists and turns on the path the artist has taken over the years. The writer examines not only Perez’s successes but instances in which he faltered or circumstances did not play out to his advantage.
Justice Society of America v.3 #1
“The Next Age, Chapter 1”
Writer: Geoff Johns
Pencils: Dale Eaglesham
Inks: Art Thibert
Colors: Jeromy Cox
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover artists: Alex Ross (regular edition) & Dale Eaglesham (variant)
Editor: Stephen Wacker & Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US/$5.50 CAN
Ever since the Silver Age of Comics, stories featuring the Justice Society of America and its members have been about preserving tradition, about remembering where the modern icons of super-hero pop culture of today came from in the first place. That was true of Gardner Fox’s JLA/JSA stories in Justice League of America in the 1960s. It was true of Paul Levitz’s JSA stories in All-Star Comics in the 1970s. And it was true of Roy Thomas’s All-Star Squadron in the 1980s. I loved all of those stories and still do today. In this relaunched series, writer Geoff Johns balances the fondness of the heroes of yesteryear with an accessible script and a slightly darker edge.
Raised by Squirrels trade paperback
Writers/Artists/Cover artists: Bram Meehan & Monica Banko Meehan
Publisher: Dream Weaver Press
Price: $4.95 US
The first thing that struck me about this book — and the first thing that would make an impact on anyone, I would imagine — is the title. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this indy title, but I imagined it was either a slice-of-life story or some kind of surreal comedy. It turns out it’s neither. Raised by Squirrels is an amalgam of the espionage and super-hero genres. The book gets its title from the name of the government agency that employs and deals with metahuman agents — S.Q.R.L. — but man, it’s just doesn’t suit the book. That’s just one of several problems with the book, but the creators also hit their mark in some regards. Chief among them is how they use narration and greytones to achieve a dark, tense atmosphere. This is a better spy book than super-hero story, and despite the awkward pacing, I found I was interested in the story. And that’s in light of the somewhat cliched plot. The art is rather unusual. At first glance, it seems a bit loose, just on the edge of being abstract, but ultimately, it’s stiff and a bit plain.
52 Week 30 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Keith Giffen, Joe Bennett & Ruy Jose/Mark Waid & Duncan Rouleau
This weekly series has proven itself to be a major success for DC Comics, and this particular issue, given its cover and content, should have been something of a milestone for the title. Sure, there have been Clark Kent appearances earlier in the series, this is the first time one of DC’s big three characters has been the focus of the plot. Unfortunately, the writers don’t provide enough detail and context for the Batman/Bruce Wayne story to allow the readership to enjoy it. For example, there’s no indication where on the globe the plot begins, and there’s little indication as to what has finally broken the Bat, what has caused this personal crisis. What I did appreciate in the plot is Renee Montoya’s gradual transformation into the Question’s replacement. I love that we’ve really seen the character grow over the course of the past 30 weeks. The art by Joe Bennett is fairly standard fare, but some lack of clarity in the visuals also contributes to the confusion in the Batman plotline. The two-page Metal Men origin story that serves as a backup feature is, not surprisingly, a lot of fun. Given Dr. Will Magnus’s prominent role in this series, it’s too bad the creators didn’t get around to it sooner. Duncan Rouleau’s art for the feature is some of the best work I’ve seen from him. His exaggerated style suits the morphing characters, and Rouleau offers up some tight, crisp linework here. 5/10
Mail Order Ninja Vol. 1 & 2
Writer: Joshua Elder
Artist: Erich Owen
Letters: Lucas Rivera
Editor: Paul Morrissey
Price: $5.99 US/$7.99 CAN (per book)
After reading the first two volumes of this new American-produced title, I was struck by one overriding thought: it’s rather juvenile. I mean that in both the positive and negative connotations of the term. There’s a youthful energy to the characters, and on the surface, there’s an innocence at play that’s appealing (but quickly dispelled). But writer Joshua Elder’s script is inconsistent, switching between a zany comedy mode to straightforward action. Furthermore, the premise and story fail to follow any kind of internal sense of logic. Manga fans will be pleased, however, with artist Erich Owen’s Japanese-inspired artwork. It’s sharp and clean. He handles the choreography of action scenes quite well, and I rather enjoyed his eye for character design.
Writer: Steven Grant
Artist: Jean Dzialowski
Colors: Sunder Raj
Letters: Ed Dukeshire
Cover artists: Kody Chamberlain & Martin Redman
Editor: Marshall Dillon
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $3.99 US
We’ve been hearing about this Whisper revival for a few years now, thanks to writer Steven Grant’s column at ComicBookresources.com. It was originally positioned at another publisher, later moving over to the up-and-coming Boom! Studios. I didn’t read the original Whisper series from First Comics, but fortunately, the only reference to the original incarnation is to be found on the cover (in the form of a poster behind the new version of title character). I like the idea of setting this new story in hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans at the height of the natural disaster, but the art fails to really convey the sense of place and the overwhelming effects of the weather disturbance. Grant’s script is full of tension and action, and I like the dark political side of the plot.
Batman/The Spirit #1
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Pencils/Cover artist: Darwyn Cooke
Inks: J. Bone
Colors: Dave Stewart
Editor: Mark Chiarello
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99 US/$6.75 CAN
Though I’ve read a couple of the late, great Will Eisner’s past Spirit stories here and there, I’m really not all that familiar with the property and the supporting cast of characters. With Darwyn Cooke’s new ongoing Spirit series due in stores next month, this crossover with the Darknight Detective is a perfect primer for readers who might be unfamiliar with the more charming, crimefighting title character. Of course, the real appeal isn’t so much the meeting of two classic comics icons but Cooke’s artwork, and the pop-comic artist doesn’t disappoint his fans. With his artwork on this one-shot and his scripts for Superman Confidential, with writing and illustration duties on The Spirit and a New Frontier DVD release on the horizon beyond that, Cooke is gearing up to be the hottest creator of 2007. And it’s not as though he didn’t have some heat going already.