Saturday, January 31, 2009

Eight days of favorite films VII: War

The end of my eight day look at my favorite films by genre is within sight! Today is day seven and it's time to look at the War film genre.

Of all the genres I'm examining here, war is the one I developed an interest in late in life. Growing up I didn't have much interest in war movies (although I did get into my Mom's favorite television program Combat!). More about why I got into war after the list:

  1. Glory (1989)
  2. The Great Escape (1963)
  3. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
  4. Paths of Glory (1957)
  5. Das Boot (1981)
  6. A Soldier's Story (1984)
  7. Gettysburg (1993)
  8. Zulu (1964)
  9. Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)
  10. Downfall (2004)

Here we have 1 film on the Zulu uprising (uh, Zulu), 2 on the Civil War (Glory & Gettysburg), 2 on WW I (All Quiet... & Paths of Glory) and 5 on WW II (Great Escape, Das Boot, Soldier's Story, Letters... & Downfall).

I first saw the films Glory, Great Escape, Zulu, Gettysburg and a Soldier's Story on History Television, in some cases side-by-side with each other. I think it was these five films that turned me around on war pictures - the demonstration of heroism under fire with the ultimate futility of war really impressed me, much as the Combat episode "Hills are for Heroes" made firm my appreciation for Combat. Films I've seen since then - most recently Letters From Iwo Jima - continue that trend. In many of these films, the protagonists either lose the battle or win at a debilitating cost. Two also explore the non-combat side of war, with a Soldier's Story viewing the inhumanity between men on the same side and Downfall detailing Hitler's last days.

I leave you with a clip from the climax of Glory:

Tomorrow: we conclude with the Fantasy genre!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Eight days of favorite films VI: Horror

Day six of my eight day examination of my favorite films organized by genre brings us to the Horror genre.

I'm not a massive horror fan in any medium, but here and there I find something that I like:

  1. Psycho (1960)
  2. The Birds (1963)
  3. Tales From the Crypt (1972)
  4. Dead of Night (1945)
  5. Jaws (1975)
  6. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
  7. Matango (1963)
  8. The Sixth Sense (1999)
  9. The Thing From Another World (1951)
  10. The Fly (1958)

I handed out placements for Aliens (Science Fiction) and Shaun of the Dead (Comedy) in earlier entries, but both of those films have claims to being bona fide horror; they would've easily charted in the top four if I had listed them here. I was also a little unsure about where to put Jaws, but felt horror fit it better than anything else.

Once again, another showing for the master of suspense at the top of the list with Psycho and the Birds, his only films which really fit the horror model. Tales From the Crypt and Dead of Night both share an anthology format in common. Since my favorite form of horror in the printed page is short fiction, it's probably why I feel those two films are particularly effective.

The remaining films are a bit of a hodge podge and include some schlocky material (although Matango is particularly great schlock).

When I was a young teen reading voraciously about film in every book I could grasp, I noticed repeated accolades delivered to the horror film the Cat People (1942). It was a low budget picture concerning a woman turning into a cat, only the filmmakers couldn't afford their own monster. Their genius was to suggest the transformation scenes and leave the viewer guessing whether she really was a Cat Person. The important message I gathered from this oft-repeated example was that sometimes horror could be more palpable when it is left off-screen to the audience's imagination.

What I'm leading up to is an admission: splatter films do nothing for me. I used to be nervous about watching gory films because I was very impressionable and easily repulsed. However, upon seeing Day of the Dead (1985) - notably the climactic scene where the cast are consumed by zombies in graphic detail - I made two interesting observations about my reaction: "Hey, I can handle watching extreme gore!" and "Hey, this isn't scary."

This is probably why the recent upswing in fascination with zombies in film, comics, novels & television leaves me cold. It's just splatter, you know? That's not scary. M.R. James' Lost Hearts...that's scary! Why? Because it engages my imagination. The ten films I listed above have the power to startle me because they engage my imagination; splatter films give me nothing to work with.

I leave you with a sample from the master of imaginative horror: Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.

Tomorrow: a ten gun salute to the War film genre!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Already in stores: Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four TPB

I mention this because it features a text piece written by yours truly!

The invasion has started, and no one in the Marvel Universe is safe, not even the First Family of Comicdom! Aware that some of the Earth's most advanced technology and weaponry is housed in the Baxter Building, the Skrulls have neutralized the building - by transporting it and its inhabitants straight to the Negative Zone! With one member of the Fantastic Four M.I.A. and another "replaced," it's up to the remaining family members - not to mention Franklin and Val - to get back to our dimension, Skrulls or no Skrulls. But are any of our heroes who they think they are? Plus, two classic stories of Skrull trickery from the Fantastic Four's past. Collects Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four #1-3, and Fantastic Four #300 and #357.

This trade also includes Fantastic Four#358 thanks to my last-minute input. You're welcome!

Eight days of favorite films V: Drama

It's day five of my eight day look at lists of my favorite films by genre and today we have drama.

So, drama...what is that exactly?

"Drama" may be a useful term when dividing films from comedies, but otherwise the category of "drama" usually means "everything that doesn't fit into another more obvious genre."

So, who am I to argue with the majority?

  1. Citizen Kane (1941)
  2. Ikiru (1952)
  3. Casablanca (1942)
  4. 12 Angry Men (1957)
  5. On the Waterfront (1954)
  6. Deliverance (1972)
  7. Pi (1998)
  8. Fight Club (1999)
  9. The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
  10. The Chosen (1981)

I've been very good to Orson Welles these last two days, haven't I?

In previous entries I've commented on the easily-observable patterns amongst my favorites by genre, be it by the era in which they were produced, the featured character, the star, the director, etc. Well, aside from the presence of two Welles pictures (Citizen Kane, Magnificent Ambersons), I somehow avoided such pitfalls here. Perhaps it's appropriate that this genre, which has no particular cohesive pattern, has a healthy sampling of films from across 5 decades and with wildly different tones.

Here's everything from the sad yet life-affirming (Ikiru) to cynical anarchy (Fight Club), to morality overcoming prejudice (12 Angry Men), to the collapse of genius (Pi), to the horrors of nature (Deliverance).

Once again, I leave you with a favorite moment from the film in my top spot; once again, it includes actors Joseph Cotten & Orson Welles; from Citizen Kane:

Tomorrow: the Horror genre

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Eight days of favorite films IV: Mystery/Suspense

Continuing my eight day look at my favorite films by genre we arrive at mystery/suspense. This is one of my favorite genres!

  1. The Third Man (1949)
  2. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  3. North by Northwest (1959)
  4. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
  5. Vertigo (1958)
  6. Rope (1948)
  7. Rear Window (1954)
  8. Lifeboat (1944)
  9. Notorious (1946)
  10. The Killers (1946)

Once again, we see an obvious trend. No, not that six were filmed in black and's a hint: seven were directed by the master of suspense.

That's right: Michael Bay!

I think I'm atypical so far as Hitchcock fans go in that I rank Rope among his greatest films. Rope is not generally considered to be one of the master's best but I really enjoy the camera tricks he employed to try and shoot the entire film in as few takes as possible, assembling it so deftly that you can mistakenly think it was shot in a single take. To me at least, a body lying in a chest during a dinner party while the murderers gamble with fate to see if they'll get caught is a fine piece of suspense.

My love of old films in general - and with it, old time radio and classic literature - all goes to back to Hitch and his movies, starting with a fascination I had for the Alfred Hitchcock Presents television program; a few late night cable mini-marathons of films such as Psycho, Saboteur, Vertigo, the Wrong Man and Dial 'M' for Murder placed me firmly in the master's fanbase.

However, the top spot goes to the Third Man, not a Hitchcock film at all. In fact, the Third Man is my all-time favorite movie. I first learned of it while diggint through a pile of videos at a Canadian Superstore. I noticed on the back blurb that it the film "rivals any Hitchcock thriller as being the ultimate masterpiece of film suspense." I scoffed at that. Yeah, sure - better than Hitchcock. Who wouldn't want to claim that? I threw it back in the pile.

And yet...the memory of that blurb stuck with me. At home, I dug out my family's film guide books. Maltin gave it 4 out of 4. Ebert gave it 4 out of 4 and listed it among the greatest films ever made. The Video Movie Guide gave it 5 out of 5. Huh. Maybe there was something to it?

Long story short, I did buy the Third Man and I did eventually admit that it was better than Hitchcock. But I'll give Hitch due honours for making more memorable pictures than Carol Reed; Reed will just have to settle for making the best suspense film of them all (oh, and Oliver!, one of the top Oscar winners of all time).

Here's a clip of one of the most popular scenes from the Third Man:

Tomorrow: the not-particularly-helpful "Drama" genre

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Eight days of favorite films III: Comedy

Continuing my eight day look at my favorite films by genre we have comedies:

  1. The Great Dictator (1940)
  2. Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
  3. Duck Soup (1933)
  4. Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
  5. A Christmas Story (1983)
  6. Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House (1948)
  7. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
  8. To Be or Not to Be (1942)
  9. Bringing up Baby (1938)
  10. Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Once again, there are certain trends you can observe; for one, I appear to be roughly 90 years old. For another, I really seem to like Cary Grant.

Comedy is a tricky one with me. I like amusing wordplay more than slapstick and I like slapstick more than gross-out humour. I also have a limit to the amount of snark I can take with my comedy, so modern comedies have a hard time winning me over. I usually do my best to avoid comedies.

Explaining why I find something funny is a task I'm not equipped to meet. Instead, I'll just give you a scene from my favorite comedy, the Great Dictator:

Tomorrow: the Mystery/Suspense genre

Monday, January 26, 2009

Eight days of favorite films II: Science Fiction

This is a list guaranteed to disappoint my high-minded science fiction-loving friends who loan me their Vernor Vinge and speak breathlessly about Gattaca. I mean, I like Gattaca just fine, but...*sigh* on with my list:

  1. Serenity (2005)
  2. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
  3. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
  4. Aliens (1986)
  5. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
  6. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
  7. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
  8. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
  9. WALL-E (2008)
  10. 12 Monkeys (1995)

So if yesterday demonstrated that I like Batman, I guess today shows how much I like Star Trek. I don't consider myself a huge Star Trek fan now, but...I don't consider myself much of a science fiction movie fan currently either.

I felt that I should divide science fiction and fantasy into two genres, although the two are usually combined. Science fiction has plenty of well-known films to fill up the ranks of the greats, but (as we'll see) fantasy isn't as well-populated.

In many ways I could have merged this genre with yesterday's action/adventure. Although all of these films utilize science fiction trappings, I think 12 Monkeys is the sole film which explores an idea in a way only the sci-fi genre can. The rest are mainly action films (with WALL-E & Star Trek IV also serving as comedies). Top marks go to Serenity, the filmgoing experience of 2005 for me.

With the exception of the Empire Strikes Back I had to shut the Star Wars films out of this list, a notion that my 12 (or even 18) year old self would have found absurd. It's not that I don't still enjoy the old movies, nor do I feel that the new films have irreparably damaged the franchise's reputation, I simply fell out of love with the franchise more than a decade ago. I still like them fine.

Tomorrow: the comedy genre!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Eight days of favorite films I: Action/Adventure

Way back on my defunct blog Section 241 I once wrote a post about the American Film Institute's list of the 100 best genre films. I disputed their definition of "genre," as well as the few genres they chose to represent. Having already aired all of that, I thought I should delve into what I consider great genre films.

Over the next 8 days I'll be listing my 10 favorites from 8 genres: Action/Adventure, Science Fiction, Comedy, Mystery/Suspense, Drama, Horror, War and Fantasy. I would have liked to represent Musicals, Westerns & Documentaries as well, but I had a hard enough time filling out the top 8 genres (but for the record my number one favorites of each genre are respectively Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), High Noon (1952) and March of the Penguins (2005)).

To begin, I'll cover Action/Adventure. It is tricky to divide films into genre because some films could fit comfortably into multiple genres. I'll explain some of my rationalizations and other thoughts after the list:

  1. The Dark Knight (2008)
  2. Die Hard (1988)
  3. Leon - the Professional (1994)
  4. The Man Who Would be King (1975)
  5. The Seven Samurai (1954)
  6. Batman Begins (2005)
  7. Iron Man (2008)
  8. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
  9. The Untouchables (1987)
  10. Batman: Mask of Phantasm (1993)

Well, it's clear that I like Batman films, if nothing else. Rather than create an animation genre I chose to distribute my favorite animated films amongst whatever genre they fit best. I also considered a super hero genre, but ultimately decided that super hero films were best described as a sub-genre of action/adventure and left it as you see.

It's interesting to see the kinds of heroes who make up my favorite action films; some of them aren't entirely heroic, notably a murderous hitman (Leon), two rogues who con their way into a kingdom (Man Who Would be King) and a weapons maker who has a *literal* change of heart (Iron Man). But the others are more or less straight arrow good guys - a philanthropic millionaire who besmirches himself for the greater good (Batman), a treasury agent out to get Capone (Untouchables), a bandit who robs from the rich and gives to the poor (Robin Hood), the titular Seven Samurai who defend a doomed town and a cop who fights his way through a building of heavily-armed men to save his wife (Die Hard).

It's also interesting that four of these have downbeat endings where the hero either dies accomplishing his task (Leon), achieves his task but pays a heavy price (Seven Samurai, Dark Knight) or outright loses everything (Man Who Would be King).

So what do I enjoy in an Action/Adventure film? Usually it's a singular protagonist who is bold enough to take on an impossible challenge, likely because of his particular worldview (there are 7 protagonists in the Seven Samurai but Kikuchiyo clearly takes the cake; his status as a non-samurai makes him more fallible than the others but also more worldly-wise). I enjoy a well-coreographed fight scene (which is hard to come by in some major action films, sad to say) but I'm happiest with films where there's a ticking clock - only so much time for the hero to beat the odds or be beaten. Interesting heroes; tense moments; exciting action sequences; I'm easy to please.

Tomorrow: my 10 favorite science fiction genre films.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Life is beautiful. Comics retailing is ugly.

Boy, I'm in a great mood. I watched Obama's inauguration speech yesterday and was extremely impressed with his eloquence. Even though he's the leader of another country, I'm really pleased that he's in office and it gives me hope for the future.

Wait, what? Diamond is once more restricting the number of independent titles that they'll sell to comic shops? Gee, last time that happened it forced SLG to wrap up Rex Libris. Well, nothing like that can happen to me again, right?

"Pitzer confirmed there would be no more Johnny Hiro comic books in the immediate future..."


Deep breath. Keep reading.

"...with some of the forthcoming material folded over into a planned trade. "People will be getting more Johnny Hiro, though. We have plans to release a collection in June, which collect issues #1-3, while adding 'issues' #4-5."


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Michael's books in April



Continuing the chronicle of the Marvel Universe, starting with Spider-Man (from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #170 on), Iron Man (from IRON MAN #70 on) and the X-Men (from UNCANNY X-MEN ANNUAL #7 on). Follow the history of the Marvel universe as it unfolds month by month with the All-New Official Index to the Marvel Universe. Each issue provides synopses for dozens of individual comics, including back-up strips, introducing you to the characters, teams, places and equipment that appeared within, providing vital information about first appearances, where they last showed up and where they appeared next! 64 PGS./Rated A ...$3.99



A brand-new, all-inclusive handbook for Hollywood's favorite mutant, spotlighting a complete biography of Wolverine! He may be in an acre of comics each month, but this is the only place to get the real score! Also featuring some of the Canucklehead's best allies - including Gambit, Maverick, Tyger Tiger and X-Force! And along for the ride are villains - the likes of Blob, Daken, Deadpool, Mastermind, Orphan Maker, Donald Pierce, the Purifiers, Sabretooth and S'ym! And more than four dozen other stars linked to our man Logan from Amiko to Silver Fox! 64 PGS./Rated T+ ...$4.99

Sunday, January 18, 2009

War of Kings Saga - online!

Too much trouble for you to walk in to your friendly local comic book shop to get a free copy of War of Kings Saga? Well, why not go online to's digital library and read it there?

Friday, January 16, 2009

I've made it simple for you

Finding it too hard to keep track of the comics I've had published? Don't know where to begin looking? Well, you could begin right here, thanks to this list I made at listmania!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tony Isabella reviews the Marvel Atlas!

One-time Marvel Comics writer Tony Isabella wrote a fun review of the TPB edition of the Marvel Atlas:

"My embarrassment does not stem from my geeky delight in their efforts, but from the several times I looked for the "First Appearance" information for nations that actually exist in the real world."

Check out the full review here!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Already in stores: War of Kings Saga

This came out last week, but I missed getting a copy. I had no idea it was out!

War of Kings Saga is a rundown of all the stories leading into the War of Kings mini-event. It also has a spectacular wraparound cover by David Yardin! War of Kings officially kicked off last week with the one-shot Secret Invasion: War of Kings. In coming months it'll be running through X-Men: Kingbreaker, Nova, Guardians of the Galaxy, War of Kings: Darkhawk and the main War of Kings mini-series.

So far I'm digging the reactions online; why, just look at this comment from Comic Book Resources:

It was kind of interesting though how the freebie War of Kings Saga out today made that latter story actually seem good and interesting. If I hadn't already read it and know what crap it was I'd have been intrigued.

I made a Marvel comic seem as though it wasn't crap? YES! My job here is done.

Overall, the reactions are much more positive than my earlier Annihilation Saga. Perhaps because Annihilation Saga cost $2 but War of Kings Saga is free? Oh yeah, that reminds me...IT'S FREE!!! You have no excuse to be without one.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Looking ahead: Free Comic Book Day 2009

This year Free Comic Book Day falls on May 2nd. The FCBD website has covers and details for the gold comics which will be offered ("gold" being the titles most likely to be in every participating store) and a brief list of the silver titles ("silver" being less likely to be in every store).

What looks good in the golds:

I don't think I'm interested in Blackest Night per se, but I am proud of DC for finally offering original content on FCBD. Who knows, maybe next year they'll realize they should be offering a stand-alone story instead of a trailer for their next crossover?; speaking of stand-alone original content, Marvel has an Avengers comic; and Image is offering a Savage Dragon reprint with the Golden Age Daredevil putting in an appearance.

What looks good in the silvers:

The silver blurbs are so brief that it's hard for me to judge their contents; most of them seem to be preview material. At any rate, the EC Comics Sampler should be fantastic, assuming that it isn't the same book they offered last year; ditto Love & Capes and Atomic Robo and Friends; Marvel has Wolverine: Origin of an X-Man, whatever that is; Mirage is reprinting the first issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles which I've never read, despite being a huge TMNT fan back in the day; and I have about zero interest in William Shatner Presents, but in my mind I'm imagining it as a horror comic ala Gold Key's Boris Karloff's Tales of Mystery comics and that tickles my fancy.

I won't know for certain which I'll be taking home until they lie before me on May 2nd.

Friday, January 9, 2009

In an odd bit of news, it seems that the success of DC's the Dark Knight - and impending certain-to-be-blockbuster Watchmen - has actually led DC to cancel their previous slate of comic book/film adaptations, presumably so that they can do it right (more Dark Knight, less Catwoman). Although 2008 held a lot of super-hero movies, DC seems to have nothing in the pipeline for 2009 past Watchmen; Marvel just has X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Curious, I went through Wikipedia's list of 2009 films to see what else might be on the way. I knew about Whiteout, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Dragonball and Astro Boy already, but was a little surprised to learn about Blood: the Last Vampire, Red Sonja, Sherlock Holmes and Witchblade. Witchblade aside, there don't appear to be any other super-hero films on the horizon for 2009 (unless an original property turns up). The above are the sort of comic book adaptations that filmgoers usually don't recognize as comic book adaptations. Given that there were some complaints that 2008 had too many super-hero films I almost wonder if the studios agree...or if this means we won't be able to swing a cat without hitting a super-hero film in 2010.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

In stores today

The Official Index of the Marvel Universe#1, kicking off a new series which will index as many Marvel Comics as we're able, starting with Spider-Man, Iron Man & the X-Men.

Comics of 2009: looking forward

I've already taken a brief look back at comics of 2008, now I'm taking a brief consideration to what lies ahead.

I've already added a few trades to my collection in this new year - Brian K. Vaughn's Pride of Baghdad and Scott McCloud's Zot! For the rest of my intended purchases, I've divided them by Marvel, DC, Image, other publishers, trades & films.

Marvel is still my number one publisher, 18 years and running. I've made a lot of forays into non-Marvel non-super-hero material in the past few years, but Marvel still dominates my purchasing. Some of this is because of my duties writing for Marvel's handbooks, indexes & sagas, but there are a lot of books I'm currently enjoying: Guardians of the Galaxy, Incredible Hercules, Avengers: The Initiative, Nova, Iron Man, Skaar & War Machine. Spider-Girl & the Marvels mini-series will be ending soon; I occasionally follow Spider-Man; I'm pondering whether to follow Incognito. I'm also looking forward to Mighty Avengers, War of Kings & Agents of Atlas.

DC has really tapered off recently; there are no Vertigo or Wildstorm publications I'm currently interested in, nor anything else on the horizon. I'm still following Paul Dini's Detective Comics but it goes on hiatus soon. JSA has a new creative team that might be good. Nothing else in DC's super-hero line interests me. Well, they don't need my money.

Image surprised me last year by becoming one of my favorite publishers. I can't say I like the delays most of their titles undergo, but when Firebreather & Fell actually come out, I'll be there. Meanwhile, Proof & Dynamo 5 keep me entertained.

Other Publishers have only a few items I've noted so far; new Scott Pilgrim & North World from Oni and a new Potter's Field book from Boom! No sign of more Johnny Hiro from it over? Beyond that, Comic Book Comics will continue from Evil Twin.

Trades include a new Invincible volume and (hopefully) the 2nd Noble Causes Archives. I have a standing recommendation from Texcap to read Usagi Yojimbo and a recommendation from Riley to read Olympus; we'll see. Considering following Captain Britain via trades. Would like to get some more Will Eisner (Spirit? Contract With God?) under my belt. Maybe read Bone?

Films Naturally there are a lot of comic book movies in development, but who wants to take a bet on those? In terms of what's definitely coming out this year, I'll be in line for Watchmen and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Of course, in comics you don't know what to expect until it's been solicited; with 9 months yet to be previewed, I'm sure there will be more. Also, I'm bound to dig into some older material I haven't yet considered. Friends with recommendations, be sure to keep passing them along!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Impressions on comics of 2008

There has been some interesting discussions of late in the comic book blogosphere around the many "best of" lists which emerge near the end of the year. Charges were made that some of these lists are overly pretentious. Others called for some standards to be invented then applied to the process of comic book reviews. Some chose to skip over "best of" in lieu of "what I liked." Some have a resigned weariness over the content which appears in such lists. Overall, the blogosphere is not asking for more "best of" lists.

So, this would be the year I would choose to fashion such a write-up, eh? Rather than add my small voice to the din, I'm simply going to briefly list & discuss comic books I read in 2008 which made a lasting impression upon me. I do not necessarily consider them to be the best; some were originally published years earlier.

2008 was an unusual year for me; although the bulk of my purchases were for Marvel Comics (as has been the case since about 1990), I made a determined effort to broaden my reading habits. I solicited opinions from friends, scoured shelves at shops for odd material and tracked down many of the books I had seen for years in "all-time best" lists yet never read. Out of all that I purchased, here are 14 of the most impressionable, in alphabetical order: Action Philosophers

I've enjoyed the Marvel Comics work of Fred Van Lente so much that Action Philosophers seemed a natural for me. Part of what drew me to the series was my own ignorance of the philosophers being discussed and a desire to learn. It turns out that, much like my beloved television show History Bites, humour is an effective means of teaching because I retained a great deal of the lessons. All-New Iron Manual

It's a good thing that this is not a "best of" list or it would be arrogant of me to breathe a word about the All-New Iron Manual. Although this was not a perfect project it was one of the most exciting books I have written because of the amount of new artwork involved. I'm always pleased to give Eliot R. Brown's work a home, but to have a gallery of Iron Man armors by Carlo Pagulayan and a set of characters drawn by my teenage favorite Ron Lim made this particularly special for me. BPRD: The Ectoplasmic Man

I have tried repeatedly to get into the comic book incarnations of Hellboy & the BPRD, but to be honest, it takes a lot of effort; I don't think I'm the proper audience because I lack Mike Mignola's passion for reworking myths, fables and Lovecraft. Consequently, BPRD: The Ectoplasmic Man was a very pleasant surprise and is easily my favorite comic of the Hellboy mythos I have read. This done-in-one story relates the origin of the BPRD's Johann Krauss and it's the final panel which made me love it. The newly-deceased Krauss confronts a creature who feasts upon the dead; although Krauss' spirit is strong enough to avoid destruction, he can't actually stop the monster. Finally, Krauss receives a containment suit for his ectoplasmic remains and the final panel depicts him returning to the monster's lair. We don't get to see how the rematch plays out, it's left entirely to the imagination. I love a comic that lets me fill in a few of the blanks. Comic Book Comics

Enjoying Action Philosophers as I did, Comic Book Comics was a must-buy. What fascinates me about this series is that I considered myself rather well-educated in comic book history and yet Van Lente keeps drawing out anecdotes I had never heard while tying the fractured pieces of comics history into an easy-to-follow whole. Dr. 13: Architecture and Mortality

Dr. 13: Architecture & Mortality played around with a number of funky DC characters like Anthro the caveboy, the Haunted Tank and Captain Fear the ghost pirate. Irreverant takes on old properties are rather commonplace at Marvel & DC, but this one goes so far as to mock the creative direction of DC Comics, which tickled me. It turns out to be something of a celebration of the weird and the less-than-perfect while it condemns comics that exist to "fix" other comics. Immortal Iron Fist

The Immortal Iron Fist sent off its premiere creative team in 2008, bringing to an end a great run of action stories. The series' use of flashback tales and the way it built upon old stories while expanding Iron Fist's universe has done so much to make Iron Fist stand out at the head of his own mythos, rather than stapling him in with the rest of Marvel's heroes. This should be a textbook case for anyone trying to revive a dormant and neglected property. Invincible

Although I have heard good things online about Invincible for years now, I had never felt compelled to try the series out, even when free samples were offered. It took the recommendation of my friend Olav to lead me into a purchase and it turned out that Invincible is to my tastes (at least, my tastes at present). Writer Robert Kirkman seems to have been raised on many of the same comics I was and I enjoy how the series constantly finds a neat angle on old ideas. Invincible really got me thinking that this is the sort of super-hero comic the aging fanbase should be reading, rather than encouraging today's writers to alter the age-old Marvel/DC titles in the name of nostalgia or sophistication. In a way, I agree with Kirkman's diatribe, insofar as I'm beginning to think that Marvel/DC have led their super-heroes too far from their roots as kid-friendly creations. I would rather see the market send adult readers who want super-heroes to books such as Invincible and preserve the old heroes for future generations of kids; but that ship sailed a long time ago... JLA Presents: Aztek the Ultimate Man

If only I had consulted Olav prior to purchasing JLA Presents: Aztek the Ultimate Man, I would be a happier man (and $15 richer). I was interested in this series because of the many complimentary things I had heard online so I bought the collection without even cracking the cover. It turns out that Aztek was not to my tastes. I appreciated it's quirky take on super-heroes but it was impossible to place any emotional investment in the characters. All told, it was simply too odd. Its presence on my bookshelf will be a reminder: "never again." Maus

The big comic which I had heard of for years yet never read was Maus. It would have done me some good to find it years earlier, but I'm glad to finally have it done. By sheer coincidence, I was reading this at about the same time as the Diary of Anne Frank; that's a lot of Holocaust. Maus was the perfect compliment because of the contemporary material detailing the latter days of Spiegelman's father. It really informed me of the lasting impact of the Holocaust upon its survivors as I divined that Vladek Spiegelman's mindset was entrenched in the survivalist mentality of the camps and never returned to normal. Nearly Complete Essential Hembeck Archives Omnibus

I had enjoyed Fred Hembeck's work when it ran in locales such as Marvel Age magazine, but I knew little about his earlier material (much less where to find it). The Nearly Complete Essential Hembeck Archives Omnibus solved that for me rather nicely. Although this phonebook-sized tome appeared to be a heavy read, I was confident that I could get through it in a couple of days - didn't I do the same with the various Marvel Essentials of similar size? Well, the Hembeck Archives took weeks. Many pages are crowded with text (which Hembeck apologizes for) as he goes on about comics he loved in his childhood, teenhood and at the time of original publication. I knew it would be funny, but it was also informative. Where else was I going to hear about that great Superman April Fool's story? North World

I had been following the webcomic version of North World since meeting Lars Brown in '06 and I was pleased to be there for the arrival of the print version. North World was the first webcomic I've followed which tells a story (as opposed to say, telling gags) and it opened up my eyes to the possibilities webcomics offer in a way 200 pages worth of Scott McCloud didn't. The "infinite" length and importance of page breaks really come through in the day-to-day process of webcomics.

Rex Libris

It seems that this will be the last year to talk about Rex Libris, which ended its run with issue #13. This was one of the first independent comics that I really enjoyed, in no small part because of the librarian hero concept. Rex had a fine send-off for his last year, even if I still don't care about Lovecraft pastiche (see BPRD). I'll really miss the Barry's editorials with their send-ups of comic book publishing; Barry's catastrophic business decisions which supposedly caused the comic to go out of publication seemed prescient in light of the collapse of Virgin Comics around the same time. Shockrockets

When I placed a copy of Shockrockets down at the cash register, the clerk broke out into a grin. He had a lot of fondness for this book and I can see why. Although it was brought to a quick finish, it tells a fairly complete story about a young man who is recruited into a band of pilots who operate extraterrestrial aircrafts. Kurt Busiek was on his a-game here and Stuart Immonen turned out some fine art; Shockrockets is the best combination I've seen of Busiek's character-driven material alongside all-out-action. Best action hero comic I've read since Global Frequency. Skaar: Son of Hulk

Skaar: Son of Hulk has not been everything I wanted so far. As a sequel to the storyline "Planet Hulk" I've found it a bit disappointing, but there is one aspect which has impressed me - the art. I have never been a fan of Ron Garney's work but somehow his material in Skaar is really clicking for me. Perhaps it's the absence of his inker, perhaps it's the barbarian-style environs, but I've been seeing a Joe Kubert-esque quality to his work that I really, really enjoy. Likewise, Butch Guice has been turning in astounding work in the back-up stories. He has a real John Buscema flair that I hadn't noticed before (again, perhaps because of the subject matter) and there aren't many contemporary artists following in the footsteps of the Foster/Buscema types. Guice would be an amazing Conan artist.