batman_13_jokerHappy New Year! Well, almost.

This year in comics has been pretty uneven for the Big Two. Marvel finally dragged its ass across the finish line to end the pain and suffering that was Avengers Vs. X-Men, leading to a reboot relaunch of most of its major titles under the imprint of something called Marvel Now! Whatever its actual intentions (sales!), Marvel Now!’s primary functions have to have an excuse to bring Jean Grey back as a teenager (hot!) and kill off Peter Parker (cold!). The jury is out with me on the whole concept right now. Meanwhile, DC has killed off many of its New 52 titles before they even made it to middle school (oh, O.M.A.C., we barely knew ye!). On the other hand, Scott Snyder has emerged as an architect of some vision with his “Death Of The Family” concept, which is currently impacting the Bat Family of books. I’m digging this story almost enough to forgive him for taking a break from Vertigo’s American Vampire…and Vertigo’s got enough problems right now.

So, where were the bright spots? Check out my picks, after the jump.

Sanctuary4 Small press picked up much of the heavy lifting that Marvel and DC failed to accomplish. Sanctuary, by writer-artist Stephen Coughlin, got me to do two things with this series. First, it made me remember that capes and cowls are not always where it is at with comic books. This tight series about the mysterious murder of a panda in a wildlife sanctuary full of talking animals is a reminder that comic books serve as a medium for a variety of awesome stories. Second, it made me consider digital comics as a viable medium for consuming said stories. Yes, there is always a real concern that with platforms like Comixology the consumer is merely renting their digitals with no real way of saving them for the long haul if the service goes tits up. However, many small press publishers like Slave Labor Graphics are offering DRM free PDF downloads, which you can store however you’d like.

CC4-2If you haven’t checked out Courtney Crumrin by Ted Naifeh through Oni Press, do yourself a favor and pick up issues 1-8 of the current run. Courtney’s a plucky loner whose Uncle Aloysius may be the most powerful warlock of all time. On the run because her own magical exploits have finally crossed the line, Courtney finds herself being hunted for judgement by the Marshals of the Council. When their efforts fail, Aloysius must track her himself or face their consequences. Whether you’re a fan that came on board in the days of Courtney Crumrin And The Night Things or a newcomer, this tale of magic, family, and betrayal will keep you engaged from beginning to end.

my_friend_dahmer_coverRob reviewed the graphic novel My Friend Dahmer back in February. This story, written and drawn by John “Derf” Backderf and published by Abrams ComicArts, is the tale of growing up with a young Jeffery Dahmer. This is not a gratuitous examination of serial killers in the manner of Alan Moore’s From Hell or Brian Michael Bendis’s Torso, but rather the author’s attempt to make sense of a young man he knew and sometimes hung out with, a teenager who could have been any of the kids we remember from high school who didn’t quite fit in and were slowly pushed further and further to the fringes of the social herd. The book is chilling, not because you know how it turns out for Dahmer, but because any kid who goes through an American high school will recognize the elements that might have led to how he got there.

Glory26-1For those of you who do need your capes and cowls, Glory by Joe Keatinge with art by Ross Campbell from publisher Image, is chock full of big characters, vibrant, dynamic art, and super hero ass kicking. Relaunching with issue #23, Keatinge has turned a book that used to be simple fodder for Rob Liefeld’s cheesecake pleasure into a complex tale with strong women and a reasonably well thought out rationale behind the price of power that such a character like Glory might have to bear. This is not a character that would hide herself behind a pair of hipster glasses and probably couldn’t, even if she wanted to.

Not everything from Marvel and DC was bad though:

  • Jeff Parker and Declan Shalvey were the creative team responsible for one of my favorite Marvel books in the last year, Thunderbolts. In particular, issue #173, in which The Fixer, trapped in the past, meets his younger self, was humorous and thought provoking. What happens when you’re confronted with the double whammy of the arrogance of your youth and crushed hopes of your youth’s dreams unfulfilled? If you ever wished you could take your younger self out drinking and give them advice about the future? Don’t. Declan Shalvey’s expressive characters seal the deal.

    A lot of folks have been giving Dan Slott copious grief for the final arc of The Amazing Spider-Man, which culminated in the death of Peter Parker in issue #700. Heck, we were among them. Readers piled on him as well this past summer when he debuted a Lizard themed story arc that some felt was written purely to take advantage of publicity from The Amazing Spider-Man movie, which also came out around that time. What the whiners seemed to overlook was that the arc, “No Turning Back”, was cleverly written. We got a fun story involving The Lizard and Morbius and the arc lays the groundwork for the idea that no matter how man tries to use science to overwrite the human brain. say – to supersede the original personality present with someone else, like a giant lizard or a death cheating super villain, the pathways will eventually reset themselves back to the way they used to be. So, regardless of how you feel about the death of Peter Parker? He’s coming back, folks. Just give it time.

    Over in DC’s neck of the wood, Kyle Higgins has been doing some great writing on Nightwing and, on my personal, late lamented favorite, Deathstroke. In fact, issue #8, which sees him sign off from the series before Rob Liefeld comes in to ruin write it, Higgins turns in a satisfying resolution to his storyline about what sons learn from their fathers – the bottom line being you learn from your forebears as much what not to do as anything else. Higgins succeeded, for me, in creating a story about a super powered mercenary that was still a story about human beings at its core. For anyone over 30 with questions about where he or she fits in the world obsessed with youth, this story has a lot of relateable themes wrapped up in a whole lot of kick ass.

    Finally, as I mentioned previously, if there is any book from the Big Two you might want to actively seek out right now, it’s Batman, written by Scott Snyder with art by Greg Capullo. Issue #13 kicks off “Death Of The Family” and brings back the new, and 200% more terrifying, Joker. You know how we often lament here that not enough writers show and prefer to tell, at the expense of their storytelling? Yeah, that’s not a problem with Snyder’s writing. Not only do we get to bear witness to the horror and terror that the Joker spreads through his actions (think “monster under your bed” for real), but through the reactions of the other characters as well, particularly Harley Quinn and Batman. If Batman’s shaken, then what hope do the citizens of Gotham have? Outstanding work.

  • So, there you have it. Plenty of strong, diverse stories out there to satisfy reader of all interests. Don’t like what you’re seeing from the more well known publishing houses? There’s lots of other press to choose from and if you don’t see what you want at your local comic book store, consider options for digital sources – at the very least, they’ll give you some ideas what to go back and ask your store to order, if not filling your reading needs in a pinch.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, this champagne isn’t going to open itself. Happy New Year!

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