• Complex took a swing at naming the 50 best comic book covers of 2009. There are some absolutely spectacular choices on there, but I was especially happy to see Juan Doe’s Nova #22 nab the top slot.
• We the writers of MTV’s Splash Page blog have named our own top picks of 2009. It really felt like splitting hairs in a few places, but when it came down to the overall picture and multiple strengths of the selections I made, the hairs ultimately split themselves.
• The Beat touches on the health care debate and where it strikes cartoonists. In other news, the reality of the health care situation in America is depressing.
• On his list of less handsome actors suited to revive old movie properties, Chris Ward understands how hilarious Ernest Borgnine can be when used effectively, and this pleases me.
• It really thrills me to know that in a reality not too different from our own David Lynch directed Return of the Jedi.
I won’t go as far as to call Philip Tan’s art in Batman and Robin #6 insufferable, but I’m definitely in agreement with David Wallace that the last two issues have been the weakest thus far in the series, and it has a small mountain to hike back up to save the story’s place among my favorite Morrison tales — even among his Batman work to date.
Yes, there are some spotty severe problems with the art though. I’m going to point to the moment with the elderly couple most prominently where the panel on the lower left part of the page looks like it was sketched in after the fact with barely any thought at all, and the sense of space on that page altogether is rickety to say the least.
That said, Morrison really does have an inspired knack for telling his current Batman story in the context of Gotham City’s media culture — very much in the tradition of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight. There are glimmers of a story that could have been better told in places like the old couple scene and the surprise ending, but they tend to float in a murkier arc right now that ultimately made the end of issue #6 a relief to be done with. Furthermore, the Flamingo was a really shallow character in the end, and despite his entrance and flair for the dramatic, I hope he plays a role that ripens at Morrison approaches his conclusion.
Tony Bedard is really doing his best — whether intentionally or not — to craft DC mini to rival Marvel’s Immortal Weapons. The concerns I had at the close of The Great Ten #1 that there’s a fine line being walked between caricaturizing the Chinese government and framing it in a way that seriously tackles its post-Cultural Revolution approach to anti-pluralism and Party bureaucracy. Nevertheless, Bedard’s storytelling is composed and clever his second issue on the series.
The Great Ten #2 opens with a bare-knuckled synopsis of Mao Zedong’s retcon of modern Chinese identity and launches directly into the moment the first issue left off with where the old gods return to confront China’s government-controlled “super-functionaries.” There are a lot of clever wordings like this involved in the Great Ten world that have really built a compelling sphere within the DC Universe. In this issue more than the last, Bedard really hits home the fact that there are gobs of paperwork to be done at every turn in the government, and it’s an effective aside in several places as a tongue-in-cheek gag about China’s government.
At its best, this book is channeling the kind of Gaimanian American Gods discussion about old belief systems confronting new ones, and the character designs and succinct names underline those complexities quite eloquently.
The origin stories are also very well used, much as they have been in Immortal Weapons. There are several characters who still haven’t been brought into the limelight yet, but with eight issues ahead, Bedard’s working at a great pace to carousel them in as needed.
I don’t know if you’ve ever played a Japanese import RPG that was obviously intended to be shown on an HD television, and after plugging it into your 360 or PS3 you realized that your non-HD TV could not possibly display all of the narrative text at work in the game. If the HD TV in this metaphor represents a reader’s encyclopedic awareness of The Flash’s history, my reading experience with Geoff Johns’ Blackest Night: The Flash #1 was much like the user experience described above. That’s not to say there wasn’t a compelling and enjoyable story here, but it reached Crisis on Infinite Earths levels of continuity density. And despite some comparatively dense montage pages of 9-14-panel primers, I’m sure many of the implications introduced went over my head as a casually acquainted Flash follower.
This was probably the best single-character spin-off story I’ve read yet from the now-sprawling web of “Blackest Night” titles. Barry Allen is still unsure of exactly how The Reverse-Flash came back to life and subsequently snatched him out of the Speed Force, effectively saving him and bringing him back. That introduces a dilemma for him that the Black Lantern ring resurrection process may be a part of the process that brings Eobard Thawne back to life, enabling him to save Barry. Time traveling mechanics aside, this situation adds weight to the story, and the Gorilla City and Captain Cold moments kept things lively with the continuity-rich character-driven moments that Johns does so well.
I also appreciated the clarification of what the Black Lantern zombies really are — programmed bodies with mind software based on the final memories of their hosts. It’s a bit like the Doctor Who episode with the astronauts whose zombie reincarnations repeat the last words their characters said before dieing.
Scott Kollins’ art keeps up with Johns’ story, too, even if a couple of the page in here come off as ultra-compressed. I’ll definitely pick up issue #2, which is more than I can say for a couple of the “Blackest Night” titles I’ve picked up issues #1’s from thus far.
• T.J. Dietsch has one of the greatest Christmas decorations I have ever seen.
• The @MarkMillarIdeas Twitter account has evolved into a sentient entity that could keep Marvel and DC powered for decades to come. (via Robot6)
• I knew Alan Moore could sing. But who knew he could move with this kind of stage presence? (via Topless Robot)
• I counted 27 of the A.V. Club’s 50 best films of the ’00s that I’ve seen. It’s a geographically ambitious list, and there are a few surprises. Though Gangs of New York, Speed Racer and Grindhouse were all notably absent, it was definitely a considerate list — even if I have a hard Eternal Sunshine at #1. Also, this is the second such top 50 list that’s told me I need to see The New World, so I guess I should put that on the queue.
Ivan Reis proves once again in this issue that DC couldn’t have tapped a better artist for Blackest Night, and I’m assuming nuclear abstract confusion is the final note issue #5 meant to end on, but scene by scene this books felt a little fractured. This was chiefly due to two different problems. First, nearly every panel in this book was a close-up action shot, and the angles were spinning every which way, so there was an absolute minimum sense of setting and space at any given moment in time. In fact, setting was basically non-existent.
To the book’s credit, every single story beat and plot turn was epic and well established, but Space Sector 666 might as well just be the center of a black hole or a random point on the Ethereal Plane, because the entire issue felt like it was floating out in space somewhere, like what you find inside that tank the Ghostbusters keep in their basement. The Batman reveal manages to be shocking and dangle a new mystery at the end, but everything up until that point basically seemed like dialog being recited and character actions being executed amid a technicolor monsoon to connect the first and final scenes. The story advanced the plot, and the pages were gorgeous. They just worked to advance their own moments in two-to-three-page sequences more than than they gelled together to unify the issue, and a better defined setting could have really helped that.
**SPOILER ALERT** Brian Michael Bendis’ Siege: The Cabal #1 at #51 was a coincidental follow-up to #50. It packs a memorably malicious exchange between Dr. Doom and Norman Osborn and lead into Marvel’s new “Siege” event, but it also left me completely stunned throughout the second half with a scene I misinterpreted with anticlimactic consequences. So this review is going to be as much about what didn’t happen as was did happen.
The premise of the Siege title going into this read was presumably that it would be about Norman deciding on what to do about the big fat kingdom of Asgard that’s currently hovering above the United States and how he’s going to storm the gates and get rid of it. His anti-Illuminati cabal of villains, The Hood, The Taskmaster, and Loki are predictably along for the ride when he solicits the help of Dr. Doom. There’s a beautifully melodramatic discussion between Osborn and Doom about why that won’t happen that leads up to a Siege of a different kind, but my post-9/11 reading of the sequence ending that confrontation had to be rewound and reread. My explanation requires an extra image, which you’ll see after the jump…
“That was all washed away by the rains and the police as the world hustled forward into our “New Normal.”
I’ve wrestled with how I feel about this book on almost a biannual basis over the last five years, but I’ve come to the lingering conclusion of late that it is to my feelings about September 11th, the Bush/Cheney administration, and the condition we’ve culturally been corralled into what prog metal like Dream Theater is to general emotional frustration. On a conceptual level, I’m more inclined to refer to it as a graphic essay than I am a graphic novel, because there really isn’t a cogent narrative across its pages so much as it is an extended op-ed about about how a cartoonist with an awareness of his medium’s history contends internally with recurring themes and unresolved persisting conflicts on national and global scales.
The second half of the book then functions more like a montage testament to Spiegelman’s essay from the first half. This book isn’t uniform, and it’s unapologetic about its unbalanced, wandering format, which reinforces its likeness to a giant minicomics zine. Herein lies In the Shadow of No Towers place in comics as a monolithic editorial grown within an industry and out of the newspaper funnies that gave birth to comics as we know them in the 20th Century.
As an object that looks like an artificial newspaper while you read it, this book draws a parallel between that relationship with a dying format and its representation of the Towers themselves, which Spiegelman claims to have had little affinity for beyond his nostalgia for the time they represented. He compares them to an ugly nose, which someone may dislike but would never wish to have destroyed.
The book maps out the intersection of Spiegelman as a creator directly impacted by the Nazi concentration camps of Maus with the warring ideologies and forces that intersected and produced the events of September 11th. There’s a severe lack of continuity page by page as Spiegelman modulates across topics, touching on his firsthand account and stepping back to offer historical context. Its greatest weakness is that as whole it doesn’t possess a consistent language or voice. Since every page introduces a different format and in most cases a collage of other people’s characters and symbols, Spiegelman himself gives a tour of imagery more than he succeeds in generating a definitive graphic novel as he did with Maus. Moreover, it contemplates his manic inability to come to terms with the present by flashing back and recounting history without ultimately making an assessment about the “New Normal” that he identifies in the introduction.
There’s no self-imposed pressure at work demanding a conclusion, but the open-ended deferral to show-and-tell for the second half of the book settles on the question of why things stay the same more than they change instead of providing resolution.