Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Top 10 Comics for 2019

   Another year has wrapped so it’s time to look back and pick the best comics from 2019.

  A caveat: this is my (Chuck’s) list of the best comics of the year, and I didn’t read everything by a wide, wide margin. So your mileage will almost certainly vary. 

   But of the hundreds of comics I read this year, these are my favorites.

   If you disagree, feel free to send in your own list or nominees that should have been in the top 10 - you can either comment at the link at the bottom of this post or email it to us at Chuckscomicoftheday@gmail.com. 

   First, though - the Worst Comic of the Year. Heroes in Crisis #9 wins this one running away, as the story makes almost no sense at all, manages character assassination on more than one beloved character (although one gets the worst of it), and just ends up being a terrible story (though it gets some points for being well-intentioned).

   Now, on to our Honorable Mentions for 2019 (listed in alphabetical order), any one of which could easily have been placed in the Top 10:

Action Comics #1016, Conan the Barbarian #1, History of the Marvel Universe #1, Incursion #1, Journey Into Mystery #1, Justice League #30, Legion of Super-Heroes #1, Life and Death of Toyo Harada, Naomi #4, Paper Girls #30, Rai #1 (11/26), Superman: Year One, Wynonna Earp: Bad Day at Black Rock, X-Men #1, Young Justice #1.


 Now, here’s my Top 10 Comics for 2019:

#10 - Doomsday Clock #12

   Like anyone who writes reviews, I hate to admit that I was wrong - but I think I was wrong about Doomsday Clock.

   Throughout its run, I have bemoaned this merger of DC's universe and the Watchmen universe as being too dark, too humorless, and trying too hard to bring together two wildly disparate concepts.

   But with this issue, writer Geoff Johns leaves behind the darkness - mostly - and redeems Dr. Manhattan (at least to some extent) during his final showdown with Superman

   There are still some big issues or story points that are getting dusted over - and the resolutions of ongoing issues a bit too easy - but at least it feels like a spirit of the DC Universe has been redeemed.

   The art by Gary Frank is, as always, stunning - and he gets to work is almost every character in town in this issue.

   I was against this series, and I really didn't think Johns was going to be able to stick the landing - but he did it, by damn.

   An interesting, thought-provoking series, and well worth reading.


#9 - The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest #6

   It's time to bow our heads to pay a moment of respect as this comic brings the end of an era.

   With this final issue of The League of Extraordinary 
Gentlemen: The Tempest, writer Alan Moore brings an end to his comic book writing career (though presumably not writing altogether).

   He's built an amazing backlog of work, with a number of achievements - any one of which alone would place him in the top creative ranks. Say them with me, kids: Miracleman, Swamp Thing, Watchmen, key issues of Superman and the Green Lantern Corps, Supreme, Tom Strong, Top Ten, Promethea, and of course the LOEG series, always working with the amazing artist Kevin O'Neill.

   For their final issue they've packed in the usual incredible amount of detail, as armageddon descends on not just Earth but the entire galaxy.

   Yet there are still moments of actual tenderness and laugh-out-loud humor, including a scene lifted wholesale from one of Stan and Jack's high points.

   It's a wild finish to a series that's covered a stunning range of stories, formats and characters - the amount of research involved is incredible.

   It's easy to admire Moore's amazing attention to detail, to story structure, to character development, and original storytelling - but his relationship with the companies that own and operate the comics industry has been difficult, so it's easy to understand why he wants to call an end to that stress.

   But it's a real loss for the comics readers, especially at a time when we need more great writers, not fewer. 

   Still, we can be grateful for the work he's created, and honor him as one of the industry's all-time greats. 

   We may never see his like again!


#8 - The Undiscovered Country #1

   Here's a welcome break from the profusion of super-heroes in comics - The Undiscovered Country takes us instead into a science fiction tale of the near future.

   (Or perhaps we should hope that it's "just" science fiction.)

   It gives us a world that is racked by turmoil and disease - and the United States has become an enigma.

   The country's response to worldwide disaster was to cut itself off - literally - from the rest of the world. The conditions there are a mystery to everyone else on Earth - and to the reader.

   Now, with extinction threatening the world's population, the U.S. has finally opened its door to visitors - or has it?

   Several scientists are sent to the U.S., but their welcome is not at all what they might expect - and what they find is... well, that would be telling.

   The series is a collaboration between powerhouse writers Scott Snyder and Charles Soule, and artists Giuseppe Camuncoli and Daniele Orlandini, with color art by Matt Wilson. 

   The art is stunning, with towering vistas, delights and terrors aplenty, along with great character designs. 

    The story manages to keep the surprises cranking along hot and heavy, along with characters you care about and some concepts that will challenge you and - best of all - make you think.

   I have no idea where this story is going, but I'm looking forward to the ride as we explore this new vision of America - a land of dreams and nightmares aplenty!


#7 - Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olson #1

   I really wasn't planning to pick up this issue.

   I've always been fan of Superman, but I haven't really followed the stories about the Superman Family since the '60s - but I admit fondness for the early, offbeat stories about Jimmy Olsen

   But then I saw that the writer on this series is Matt Fraction, so I had to give it a go. I'm glad I did!

   The series manages to merge the old goofy Silver Age fantasies with a more modern, comedic style. So we get Jimmy sky-diving from space, arguing with Perry White, and trying to solve a murder. (No, not all at once.)

   It's fast and fun and a real delight! 

   The art by Steve Lieber manages to balance the humor and the action nicely, and sets up a unique world for Jimmy to run in.

   So, if you're looking for a book with humor and heart, look no further - Jimmy is everyone's pal!


#6 - Doctor Strange #11 

   I'm surprised the ongoing series starring Doctor Strange doesn't get more buzz with fans - it's very good!

  It's the latest example of one of my favorite comic book genres: "Mark Waid takes over the writing of a classic comic and hits it out of the park!" (See: Daredevil, Captain America, Fantastic Four.)

   With the adventures of the Sorcerer Supreme, Waid started by taking away his mystic powers, and then sending him on a journey to alien worlds to find new sources of power.

   Now he's back on Earth and confronted with a mystery - one that involves his teacher, the Ancient One (who I'm always happy to see), an Earth-shaking menace - and the return of his signature villain, the Dread Dormammu!

   Teamed with terrific artists Jesus Saiz and Javier Pina, it's a cracking good tale. What more do you need to know?

   You really should be reading this comic.


#5 - Event Leviathan #1

   This is (I believe) the first "Event" comic writer Brian Michael Bendis has created since his move to DC Comics - conveniently, the title of it is Event Leviathan.

   It promises to be the kind of large-scale story such events require.

   A mysterious entity known as Leviathan has violently taken out every covert operation in the DC Universe, including ARGUS, Kobra, Task Force X, D.E.O., and Spyral - all virtually at the same time, using a strange destructive force. 

   The story spins out of Superman's comic, but he's not in this issue - instead, the search for Leviathan's identity falls on several of DC's non-powered heroes, including Batman, Green Arrow, the Question and Lois Lane.

   The art is by Alex Maleev, and it's wonderful, mood-drenched work.

   The mystery is a challenging one, with lots of interesting twists and turns in this issue alone. 

   More than any other Event in recent memory, I'm looking forward to seeing where this one goes!


#4 - Powers of X #1

   This is the companion book to Jonathan Hickman's new vision for the X-Men, and it's certainly a different take on the story.

   Where the House of X established a new structure for the present-day version of the team, Powers of X looks at the past, present, future and far future of the X-Men.

   So it's a bit of a deep dive and takes some sorting to get up to speed here.

    It helps to remember that the "X" in the title is actually the Roman Numeral for "Ten" - because the story jumps from 10 years ago to the present to 100 years in the future and then 1000 years from now.

   So we're getting a blueprint for the world of the mutants, and there's a lot to chew on here.

   The story is illustrated by R.B. Silva and Adriano Di Benedetto, with color art by Matte Gracia, and it's powerful work, managing a different look for each era but linking the different settings together.

   This may be a tougher read for the casual X-Fan, but there's obviously been a lot of planning and design here, and it's a rewarding read for those brave enough to tackle it. 


#3 - Marvels Epilogue #1

   Marvel has been reprinting the original Marvels series to celebrate its 25th anniversary (I raved about the original series here), and have happily added this Epilogue by original creators Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross.

   The issue includes photographer Phil Sheldon, a bit older but still in the wrong place at the right time.

   He and his daughters are enjoying a Christmas outing at Rockefeller Center in New York when they find themselves right in the middle of X-Men #98!

   It's the perfect choice for a throwback to the ever-changing era of comics. Many think the first appearance of the New X-Men was the beginning of the Bronze Age of comics, and this is one of that team's earliest adventures, one loaded with cameo appearances as the team tries to enjoy a night out - but an attack throws that out the window.

   As always, Busiek turns in a terrific script, and Ross' artwork simply defies description, creating a real-world version of these comic book events. It's page after page of stunning art.

   (And, if you look closely: Doom on Ice!)

   The story is "only" 16 pages long (pages of fully painted art!), and there are lots of extras too add to the package, including an interview with the creators, sketch art and more.

   It's a great "fini" to the series, and a real delight!


#2 - Superman #8

    Let me say up front that I'm really enjoying Brian Michael Bendis' take on Superman.

   The stories manage a great mix of action, humor, heartfelt moments, great dialogue and story twists.

   This latest storyline is a perfect example of a story that could have gone badly in lesser hands.

   It takes Jon Kent, the son of Clark and Lois, and pulls the old soap opera trick of sending him away for a few months - and when he returns, he's suddenly grown into maturity (well, he's about 18 now).

   But the story behind how this happened (during a "summer vacation" around the galaxy with Jor-El, who's somehow still alive), is turning out to be a cracking good yarn - and if that last splash page doesn't hook you, I give up.

   It doesn't hurt that the art is by two of the best in the business - Ivan Reis and Brandon Peterson. 

   So to sum up: you really should be reading this series.


#1 - House of X #1 

   I gave up on the X-Men years ago.

   It wasn't easy to do - after all, I've been a fan since I picked up a copy of issue #3 (during its original run). 

   I followed through Lee and Kirby, Thomas, Steranko, Adams, suffered through the long drought when the series was cancelled, and then followed the "new" version through Wein, Cockrum, Claremont, Byrne, Smith, Romita, Jr., (Jim) Lee and so many more.

   I bought the New Mutants and X-Force and X-Factor and on and on...

   But finally, it was just too much. Too many characters, too many titles - the brand was badly diluted. Who could keep up with it all? When they killed Cyclops (after years of character assassination), I dropped all the titles.

   But Marvel has lured me back now that they have turned the whole line over to one of the industry's top writers - Jonathan Hickman, who turned in stellar work (and amazing world-building) on long runs on the Fantastic Four and the Avengers books.

   Hickman obviously has a plan - this first issue back already sees the extended X-Family in a new setting and adjusting to a new existence for mutants on Earth.

   The story is being rolled out slowly, but it's a very clever twist on the original dream by Charles Xavier - and one that promises long-reverberating effects on the rest of the Marvel Universe.

   It's smart, it's well-thought out - and loaded with surprises.

   The artwork is by Pepe Larraz, with color art by Matte Gracia, and it's wonderful, with powerful character designs and lush, exotic environments.

   Is the X-Family "fixed" now? Well, it's much too early to render a final judgment - but the mutants are in a much better place than they've been since those creators I named above built their reputations crafting adventures for the X-Men.

   It's a very promising start, and highly recommended!


Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas To All!

   Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas! 

   You pal Chuck is knocking off for a few days for a much-needed holiday break, but will be back on Dec. 31 for his annual "Year In Review" post. Be sure to send in your own thoughts on the best - or worst - comic for 2019!

   In the meantime, have a great holiday season!

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Doomsday Clock #12 (of 12)

   Like anyone who writes reviews, I hate to admit that I was wrong - but I think I was wrong about Doomsday Clock.

   Throughout its run, I have bemoaned this merger of DC's universe and the Watchmen universe as being too dark, too humorless, and trying too hard to bring together two wildly disparate concepts.

   But with this issue, writer Geoff Johns leaves behind the darkness - mostly - and redeems Dr. Manhattan (at least to some extent) during his final showdown with Superman

   There are still some big issues or story points that are getting dusted over - and the resolutions of ongoing issues a bit too easy - but at least it feels like a spirit of the DC Universe has been redeemed.

   The art by Gary Frank is, as always, stunning - and he gets to work is almost every character in town in this issue.

   I was against this series, and I really didn't think Johns was going to be able to stick the landing - but he did it, by damn.

   An interesting, thought-provoking series, and well worth reading.

Grade: A-



Thursday, December 19, 2019

"Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" - Movie Review

   Most of us won't get to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker until late tonight, but my pal Mark Cannon, who lives halfway around the world, saw it last night and sends along his spoiler-free thoughts in this guest review. Thanks, Mark!

   Well, here we are at last.  The wrap-up - at least for now - to the core Star Wars saga.

   A Long Time Ago (about 42 years and one month) in a city Far, Far Away (Sydney, about 150 miles from where I now live), I first saw a little movie titled Star Wars.

   It had only recently opened in Australia but I’d read the advance media buzz months before, along with Marvel’s Roy Thomas / Howard Chaykin comic book adaptation. As a lifelong Science Fiction fan, I thought I’d like the film - but actually, I loved it.  It was every purple-prosed Space Opera I’d ever read mashed together, up on a big screen with then-State of the Art effects.  Afterwards, I wondered if they’d manage to make a sequel?

   Of course that little movie went on to became a multi-platform cultural phenomenon. Albeit one with a multitude of sub-fandoms, many happy to argue amongst themselves, often seemingly motivated by the injustice of the creators failing to read the minds of self-styled True Fans and refusing to deliver the film (or TV show, or game) that SHOULD be made. Whatever the hell that might be. Is it now even possible that any new film could satisfy everyone who loves the SW Universe?

   The short answer is “probably not”, regardless of how great that film might be. Nonetheless, as big films now effectively premiere simultaneously around the world - something that in 1977 would have seemed as improbable as a light sabre - I decided to catch an opening day screening and make up my mind for myself.

   Short answer after that rambling prelude - I enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker. A lot. I don’t know yet if I loved it, as that will take a fair bit of thought and reflection, and probably additional viewings, but my initial response was extremely positive.

   If you have enjoyed any of the Star Wars films, I think that there’s a lot in this movie to like. It supplies plenty of what you expect in one of these films - epic battles, both small and large scale; chases, captures, escapes, “Will they make it?” moments aplenty; and amazing planet-scapes, interstellar vistas and special effects. Heroic heroes and dastardly villains. It’s labelled “Star Wars,” and it does what it says on the tin.

   That may sound like I’m damning the film with faint praise; not so. All of those elements are delivered well, with thrills and spills aplenty. There were also a few scenes that completely surprised me, in a “I didn’t see that coming” or “I never expected to see that in Star Wars!” way.

   That’s not to say that the film is without shortcomings. In my view at least one character is very poorly served, being shunted off to the sidelines for most of the film. The questioning of some of the basic assumptions of the Star Wars Universe that formed an interesting element of The Last Jedi are also pretty much ignored this go-round. There’s also the long-standing franchise problem of poor internal plot logic and structure, with the heroes jumping from location to location, experiencing a seemingly endless succession of “This is our last chance!” moments, and a fair share of “with one mighty effort, our hero was free!” escapes. But hey, one of George Lucas’ original inspirations for both “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was classic movie serials, in which such elements are standard - at this point, you can’t really blame the latest film for being true to its roots.

   One aspect of the film that is likely to generate controversy is the use of Leia; or more specifically, footage of the late Carrie Fisher.  We already knew that she would appear, but I was surprised at how substantial a role her character played. Her footage was blended in effectively, but confess that I found it all a bit creepy. Which given that the films have frequently featured dead characters reappearing, though played by still-living actors, does seem a bit of a double standard on my part...

   Overall though, “The Rise of Skywalker” provides a quite satisfactory wrap-up of the current trilogy - and, if you like, the core nine films. Just about all of the major questions are answered.  What is Rey’s heritage? What’s the resolution of her and Kylo Ren’s relationship? Who or what is the real Big, BIG Bad who’s been behind everything all along? The matters that aren’t fully resolved are ones which, frankly, it’s more fun to leave open.

   So - should you watch the film? If you’re a “Star Wars” fan to any degree, by all means. Will you like it? Maybe, maybe not, but I hope you’ll give it a fair go. Above all, avoid reviews - good and bad - before seeing it. Except for this one, of course.

   A final personal note. A common theme running through all the nine main “Star Wars” films is heritage and legacy. I saw The Rise of Skywalker today with my younger son, Oliver. He’s 28 and I introduced him to the original films a year or so before went together to see The Phantom Menace. Afterwards we discussed whether it would be suitable viewing for his 7-year-old nephew, Cooper, who has become a keen “Star Wars” fan over the last couple of years. We decided he should be okay with it. The legacy continues.

   May the Force be with you. (A line that I honestly don’t remember hearing this time around!)

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

New Comics Day

   Here's what U picked up at the comics shop today:

- AVENGERS #28 - StarBrand reborn!

- DOOMSDAY CLOCK #12 (OF 12) - The final countdown!

- HISTORY OF MARVEL UNIVERSE #6 (OF 6) - The end of the world!

- SUPERMAN'S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #6 (OF 12) - The great Batman / Jimmy prank war continues! 

- JUSTICE LEAGUE #38 - Almost the finale!

- LEGION OF SUPER HEROES #2 - What happened to the oceans of Earth?

- NEW MUTANTS #4 - Call in the cavalry!

- SHAZAM #9 - Into Wozenderland!

- SPIDER-MAN #3 (OF 5) - The son of Spidey!

- KING THOR #4 (OF 4) - The end!

   And I received these review copies:

- BLACK STARS ABOVE #2 - Lost in the wilderness.

- BLADE RUNNER 2019 #5 - A new story and a new employer!

- BLOODSHOT #4 - The long shot begins!

- CULT CLASSIC CREATURE FEATURE #3 - Love, death and hormones!

- DOCTOR WHO 13TH HOLIDAY SPECIAL #2 - The Doctor saves Christmas!

- MONEY SHOT #3 - The fate of a world hangs in the balance!

- PRINCELESS DLX HC VOL. 3 - Saving the sisters!

- ROBOTECH TP VOL. 6 EVENT HORIZON - An apocalyptic enemy!

- ROKU #3 (OF 4) - Reeling from defeat.

- SHADES OF MAGIC REBEL ARMY #2 - The invasion of the city begins!

- VISITOR #1 (OF 6) - Unstoppable. Unkillable.

   And that's it!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Life Is Strange #11

   If you're looking for a knock-down, drag-out fight, keep looking. Life Is Strange is not the comic you're looking for.

   What it is, is: compelling. Thoughtful. Emotional. Moving. All told with lovely art and terrific characters.

   The concept is a nice science fiction twist: a young woman named Max loves Chloe, but when tragedy separates them, she finds she's able to step through time - and she may get a second chance for love. 

   Or she may destroy herself - and the town - in the process.

   Based on a hit video game, this story continues the saga and is a wonderful, expertly crafted tale of love, loss and redemption.

   Highly recommended!

Grade: A-


Saturday, December 14, 2019

New Mutants #3

   When I read this issue I thought - for a moment - that I had picked up the wrong comic.

   The last issue of the New Mutants had the team in deep space, dealing with the Shi'ar. 

   This time around, those heroes are mentioned but not seen - instead we look in on other young mutants back on Krakoa.

   Almost all the world's mutants have moved to the island, but a few are missing - and Armor, Glob and Boom-Boom decide to go in search of one of their mutant friends.

   What seems an odd change of pace is actually a great way to expand the cast, bring us up to speed and give us reasons to care about these characters.

   Of the seeds planted by the new take on the X-Men, this is one of the best so far.

Grade: A-