Friday, January 6, 2017

Look What the Cat Dragged in! (2016 review, part 1)

Why do so many "best of" lists appear before the year in question is done? Why do we begin memorializing all the dead famous people of the year when more might die in the last few days of the year (ie, Carrie Fisher)?

Me, I don't have to make deadlines or earn ad revenue based on how many clicks my blogging gets; the two dozen of you reading are sufficient for me. And yet, this was a pretty good year for the blog as my list of Creator credits for Luke Cage season 1 was the most-read Section 244 post of 2016. Obviously, the creator credits will continue to be a feature of this blog in 2017. A tip of the hat again to my friend Kevin Garcia and his site MonoMythic for promoting my efforts.

To begin my look back on 2016, let's start with comic books, the foundation of this site and my so-called sideline career. My recurring feature Unearthed returned in 2016 to revisit Atlas Comics with The Destructor #4, Tigerman #1 and Tigerman #2. There will be more from Unearthed and Atlas in 2017!

In honour of Captain America: Civil War I looked back at how the relationship between Captain America and Iron Man had been portrayed in the comics; it ran 5 installments: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four and Part Five.

Looking again at comics history I looked over the publication life of The Atomic Knights and found it a mixed bag with some clever, charming or dynamic stories interspersed with dull material trying too hard to be "important." I also found the long-ignored Mysterious Traveler comics by Trevor Von Eeden, which turned out to be fairly effective weird horror stories.

I delved into a few early creator-owned characters, examining Wally Wood's Cannon and Gil Kane's Savage. Further, their descendant Cerebus came back in 2016 via Cerebus in Hell?. This was also the year where I finally tried Michael Fiffe's Copra and have enjoyed the experience most thoroughly.

I still have much to learn about the field of comic strips but I sampled a few more books such as the vast book The Comics Before 1945 and found a few things to like in the adventure strip compilations Buz Sawyer: The War in the Pacific, Milt Caniff's Dickie Dare and The Phantom vs. the Sky Maidens. I also gave the Phantom another chance with his most recent tale, The Phantom: Danger in the Forbidden City.

In contemporary comics I found Margaret Atwood's Angel Catbird to be an amusing tale. I was pleased to have a new Beasts of Burden story to enjoy and the recent Fox mini-series by Dean Haspiel and tried out a graphic novel adaptation of Lafcadio Hearn's Japanese ghost stories, The Faceless Ghost and of M. R. James' Ghost Stories of an Antiquary.

Through Kickstarter I've continued to support a few projects from beloved creators; I spotlighted two of Steve Ditko's recent publications this year with Out of This World, Tales of the Mysterious Traveler and Mr. A. I also supported Batton Lash's latest Supernatural Law collection, A Vampire in Hollywood.

I was very nicely surprised by Twilight Zone: The Shadow, which was certainly the most ambitious Dynamite-published Shadow comic I had read. I gave a few Aftershock comics a try and while nothing stuck with me, Garth Ennis' Dreaming Eagles was all right.

Mark Waid's Empire returned with little fanfare via Empire: Uprising which I still hope will find a sequel as it took a concept which could have been left complete as it was and (once again!) left its story incomplete.

In more popular fronts I was surprised to find myself buying a DC comic again - Deathstroke, no less, but the presence of Christopher Priest drew me in with his ever-vital and ever-complex plotting and the steady hands of Carlo Pagulayan and Joe Bennett on art duties. I'm still following Larry Hama's G. I. Joe: A Real American Hero, which produced a notable issue featuring only female characters which I highlighted on the blog. I tried out the new Black Panther #1 and didn't particularly connect with it but I certainly have a great deal of affection for the character and wish it the best. Further, I continued to follow Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo, Walter Simonson's Ragnarok and Kurt Busiek's Astro City & Autumnlands (also read Busiek's graphic novel Redhand).

But there were so many other comics I read which I didn't bring up on the blog! 2016 was the year I finally delved into Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell's From Hell, tried the first volume of Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe, read some Chester Brown such as The Little Man, Evan Dorkin's Eltingville Club, Jason Lutes' Berlin, Dean Motter's The Return of Mister X, Ben Edlund's The Tick, and finished reading Grant Morrison's Animal Man.

I audited a university class on comics this year and while most of the reading material comprised books I was already familiar with, Alison Bechdel's Fun Home was one new-to-me book which stood out.

Other new material I tried included J. Torres' entertaining martial arts epic The Mighty Zodiac, Mike Baron's revived Badger series. Dan Abnett's The Wild's End wrapped up in 2016 but I keep forgetting to revisit that series for the blog; I also recently went through Corinna Bechko's Miss Fury and hope to blog about it soon. I tried the beginning of Roger Langridge's Betty Boop, but despite my great affection for Langridge's humour it unfortunately didn't connect with me. I read a fantasy epic about boxing called Kings and Canvas on Comixology, but the series is incomplete.

Other notable comics: Tom Gauld's great humour book You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack; the World War I book Above the Dreamless Dead; Regis Loisel's The Quest for the Time Bird has a great premise but an unsatisfying final quarter; Ron Miller's Velda was an amusing parody of Matt Baker adventure comics; the early graphic novel Four Frightened Women turned out to be well-rendered but not exactly special; I read the mangas Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths by Shigeru Mizuki and Black Blizzard by Yoshihiro Tatsumi and I located the always-great Michael Kupperman's Snake 'n' Bacon Cartoon Cabaret.

As it stands, I'm cautiously optimistic about comics. It helps, I think, that I've untangled myself from much of the noise surrounding the industry and instead focus squarely on the concepts, characters and creators who I enjoy. So long as people such as Stan Sakai, Christopher Priest, Kurt Busiek, Walter Simonson, Roger Langridge and Dave Sim have a platform to work through, I remain a comic book fan.

Tomorrow: Films!

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