Here's a big surprise: this year hasn't launched itself into the stratosphere with the best comics ever made quite yet, and being a timely column dedicated to surveying things that are fresh with morning dew, that means we're stuck with the same old usual suspects. I was going to dig up this thing I'd had on my desktop where some Marvel editor said something bizarre comparing Magneto murdering starving Africans to not being able to stop at eating one potato chip, but it looks like I deleted it. You're seeing how the sausage is being made, people! Isn't it a delight? I imagine not.
Star Wars #1
By Brian Wood, Carlos D'Anda, Gabe Eltaeb
Published by Dark Horse
The story in this comic is set between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, which seems like one of the more unexciting time periods to set a story, but it gives Brian Wood the opportunity to work with the only characters that people probably still like, that being Luke & Leia and the robots and Harrison Ford. I used to think it would be nice to be a fan of these comics, to be only interested in reading Star Wars-based fiction, because there isn't too much of it that it's expensive, and none of it is special enough that you need to keep it. There's also these blurbs at the beginning where they tell the reader where the story takes place in the overall Star Wars timeline, which is really long and stretches essentially into infinity. I don't really like Star Wars enough to be that person, and that's sort of a serial killer way to get into something, but I like the concept of it, of getting your entertainment in an extremely precise, clinical fashion, to only participate in comic books via one extremely specific entry point. My old boss had roughly 25-30 items of clothing, but he had multiples of each respective item. I remember thinking that while that made sense to me on a certain level, it made sense in the same way that measuring food with a ruler does, and I'm pretty sure that when you go down that path you end up losing a lot of relationships. I don't really have a lot of relationships in the first place, so I'm not going to take any chances.
PS: I saw the part of that Star Wars porno where Chewbacca has sex, and while I believe in freedom and stuff, I also believe everybody involved in that scene should get fired into the sun, except for the women, because they have already suffered enough. I've been wanting to tell you that for a long time, Comics Journal.
21st Century Boys Volume 1
By Naoki Urasawa
I found out not too long ago that, like Gantz, a whole lot of the people who had started reading 20th Century Boys alongside me had jumped ship a long time ago, and while I'm way too close to the end to not stick it out, I really wish some of them had been nice enough to grab my shoulder and say "we're leaving," because I would have caught a ride. And instead, here I am, 44 months in to a story where the main bad guy is dead (sort of) for the second or third time (probably) and now there's another big-ass world-changing holocaust-level event right around the corner. This time it's a bomb that will blow Earth in half, Michael Bay style... there's just no way out of a story like this that can satisfy, really, and while 20th Century Boys could probably serve as a great bible for some thesis on the traps of serialized genre fiction, with its allergic reactions to conclusions and deeper meanings, or maybe on Urasawa's unwillingness to let a romantic subplot have some goddamned payoff (44 months!), it's hard to imagine that experience being fun for any of the people who would have to be involved in its creation. Hell, if you're into this deep enough to know why it doesn't work, you're probably too busy enjoying it to care. I guess what I'm trying to say is: I stood around with shit in my teeth for how long? You guys are such assholes.
Secret Service #5
By Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons, Matthew Vaughn, Andy Lanning, Angus McKie
Published by Icon
I didn't read that Django Unchained comic or that Girl with the Dragon Tattoo comic, so I'm not sure why I read this one--at the end of it all, there's nothing that any of these people can bring to the table that's going to be better than the film version of it would be, the only difference here is that Secret Service the comic came out before Secret Service the movie. That's not to say that movies > comics just 'cuz, but movies certainly are better than comics at doing certain kinds of stories, and Secret Service is as guilty of being one of those kinds as Django must be. (Dragon Tattoo has a lot of rape in it and is also terribly fucking written, so it's actually a perfect fit for DC.) That's not to say that Secret Service is the kind of terrible you can't enjoy--that's obviously not true, as anybody who has read this column's previous "ha ha, Mark Millar hates comics" sentences will know--but it is the kind of terrible that you'd enjoy a lot more if it was delivered in the more intravenous method that a movie theater provides. Look at that page above: how excited are you right now? Do you want to dress in a suit and go learn the Keysi Fighting Method right now? That's what's supposed to happen, pal. But you're not, are you? You're all laid back, thinking about Dave Gibbons and airbrush master Angus McKie, wondering what kind of working relationship Matthew Vaughn has with Mark Millar--does Millar massage the sack? do they have their own kegel balls?--and all that's saying is that the landing was botched. You're supposed to be looking at your body in disgust right now: that's what the power of film brings to the table.
By Ann Nocenti & Barry Windsor-Smith
Published by Marvel, 1986
This is a terribly executed comic with dialog that only approaches making sense about half of the time, it's drawn in such a confusing fashion that it seems like Barry Windsor-Smith was angry he had to draw it, so he decided not to fill in the gaps that the script left behind ... and yet it was the beginning of what had to be one of the most difficult transitions in superhero comics of the '80s: following up Frank Miller's Born Again. That doesn't make this comic good, which it isn't, but it does have some charms as an artifact, even more so knowing that it would lead to a solidly received four-and-a-half-year run. It's like Floyd Farland, or Pope Hats 1, or Pineapple Army, or that comic Mazzucchelli did when he was 7 that they reprint in Batman Year One: fertilizer, for the lemon trees that were to come.
Punisher War Zone #3
By Greg Rucka, Matt Hollingsworth & Carmine Di Giandomenico
Published by Marvel Comics
Since this is the issue where the Punisher faces off against Thor, you can bet there was going to be some ready-for-blood Thor fans in the wings, ready to scream like they caught a peeper at the merest hint that Frank was going to get the best of a character who once beat Jesus to death. I'll admit, even as a red-blooded Punisher First supporter, I was kind of curious how Greg Rucka was going to be able to make this comic
about a mute female alcoholic into a comic where Punisher fights Thor and it isn't all weird and shit. I should've guessed the solution would be talking, I'm actually disappointed in myself for being surprised by the choice. It sorta works, even if it is somewhat dull. They drink some beer on top of a building, and Thor talks about how awesome killing people is, how its fun to go dark for a few decades and just wear the blood of your victims. I bet Rucka got that from the part in Robert Bly's Iron John where they talk about the ashes period. That book is fucking sick as hell. It's like all the other New Age books about being a man are wagons and wheelchairs, and here comes Robert Bly on a skateboard: you're all living in the kitchen! You gotta go be in the woods now! So good. Last page of this comic: Captain America is wearing leather gloves inside, reading the newspaper? I think I just figured out that Carmine Di Giandomenico has never worn gloves in his life.
The Incredible Hulk #279
By Bill Mantlo, Mark Gruenwald, Greg LaRocque, Bob Sharen
Published by Marvel Comics, 1983
This came free with my purchase of Copra #2, it's not very good, but it's very, very, very "not very good", and I'd highly recommend it to anyone but the most humorless, so basically everybody but that CBR guy who has the face of a young suitcase. This comic apparently features every single Marvel hero that existed and was in continuity back in 1983, all of whom came together to celebrate the new status quo for the Hulk, which was that he had become Bruce Banner's mind in full control of the Hulk's body. The comic features an actual ticker tape parade, a scene where Hulk gets the key to New York City, there's an apology from General Thunderbolt Ross, Thor conjures up a doorway to Asgard so that Hulk can be greeted with huzzahs by the entire population of that realm, and yes, because this was a present from someone who knows what I like, also features a scene where Hulk cries upon receiving a sack of congratulatory letters (written by the wives of then-Marvel employees), which are delivered by that old pervert that lives with the Fantastic Four. This isn't the worst comic ever made, but it is that special kind of stupid, near-incomprehensible absurdity that can make the hunt for worst comics so much fun. Let's be honest: you would rather read this than anything Neil Gaiman has written or will ever write, and you know it.
Thor God of Thunder #4
By Jason Aaron, Esad Ribic, Ive Svorcina
Published by Marvel Comics
I missed the issue of this where the God Butcher found the end to Falkor's Neverending Story by butchering him, but I bet it was A) funny and B) violent, because the issues of this series that I have seen are both of those things, quite frequently. It's hard to criticize something that goes about what it does so openly and directly, it sort of seems like yelling at a McDonald's menu for being unhealthy, ignoring the fact that the caloric numbers are posted right there: what else do you want them to do? Patronize you when you try to order? Write apologies on the wrapper? That being said, here's something they could try fixing: Thor should use some type of edged weapon, and he should have sex with the things he kills after he kills them, and he should talk really dirty while he does it. That would make this comic a whole lot better. Nobody cares anyway, it's not like it'll fuck up the movie money. Just have Thor stick his dick in a sword wound while humming vacantly at the reader. "Let thine thistle cleave ther, splice a cubby to taketh Odinson's warmth, taketh it, taketh it, and be taketh-ing. Asgard!" Then more humming. I already think that's what happens in these comics anyway, so does everybody else... so just do it. Get real with it. Show me something honest about America and humanity.
I probably outta take a minute.