The Top Twelve Comics of 2008

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Last year was crap for home property values, banks, auto dealers, the stock market, oil prices, jobs, Republicans, and the Dallas Cowboys. But looking back, it was a pretty good year for comic books. DC concluded their 52 week "Countdown" and kicked off their "Final Crisis." Marvel thrust their entire universe into paranoia-laced chaos with a "Secret Invasion" that left the super-villains in control at the end of the day. Image wrapped up another "Casanova" thrill ride without Casanova Quinn. Dark Horse opened the gates of Hellboy with stories that feature "Lobster Johnson", "Abe Sapien", the "BPRD" from 1946, and even a "Hellboy" story that was written and drawn by Mike Mignola. Not only did the big guys all come to the show with their "A-game" but so did smaller publishers like Avatar Press with their super-radical "Black Summer". And then there was Archaia Studios' second beautiful installment of "Okko". And Icon's pulp-perfect "Criminal". Not sure what we're talking about? Read on. (Our Top 12 are listed in chronological order.)


 

B.P.R.D.: 1946 #1
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Written by Mike Mignola, art by Joshua Dysart

Mignola puts us in the middle of World War II torn Europe better than Spielberg and Eastwood put together. Except in Mike Mignola's WWII, you're not just contending with Nazis but you've also got vampires coming out of the castle's woodwork. The first issue of this series was creepier than Dick Cheney and twice as scary. And the perfect way to kickoff this riveting series. When it comes to helping put back together a post-war Germany, miles of Army red tape and Cold War diplomacy proves to be of little concern compared with vampires that crawl all around you in dark hallways and an evil spirit that works through the body of a 7-year old Russian girl.

 
       
 

The Umbrella Academy: Apokalypse Suite #6
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Written by Gerard Way, art by Gabriel Ba

This book is a totally unexpected surprise - both the content as well as the circumstances surrounding its creation. The Umbrella Academy is an amazing story about seven exceptional children born without fathers, raised by an alien (who among other things nurtures super-intelligence out of primates) along with a robot mother and a giant Arab for the sole purpose of saving the world. If that sounds pretty far-fetched, consider for a moment how this incredible and perfectly scripted story was the first comic book written by My Chemical Romance's lead vocalist Gerard Way. And it was written while Way was on tour with his band. Unbelievable!

 
       
 

The Immortal Iron Fist #13
Published by Marvel Comics
Written by Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, art by David Aja

A mad scientist is attempting to blow up Heaven while the universe's greatest kung fu masters are engaged in a tournament that happens once every eighty-eight years. Danny Rand, Luke Cage and the Heroes for Hire lead the battle against Hydra and their evil leader, Xao to save Heaven and establish Danny Rand as the greatest Iron Fist of them all. Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and David Aja prove that kung fu is alive and well in the Marvel U. The big mystery behind this book is why it's not Number One on Marvel's sales charts every single month.

 
       
 

Black Summer #6
Published by Avatar Press
Written by Warren Ellis, art by Juan Jose Ryp

Ever since Steve Rogers became America's Super Soldier, comic creators continue to be inspired by the concept of government made super heroes. If you liked Alan Moore's Miracleman, Mark Millar's The Ultimates, Warren Ellis' The Authority, or J. Michael Straczinski's Supreme Power, then you're gonna love Black Summer. Ellis dials up the action, the violence, and the political insanity to 11 in this super bad ass story about a Super Soldier who decides that protecting America begins by killing the president for his crimes against the country. Ouch.

 
       
 

Casanova #14
Published by Image Comics
Written by Matt Fraction, art by Fabio Moon

Casanova #14 is the final issue of the second story arc about the Quinn family and friends and their convoluted plans for protecting and / or controlling society in Matt Fraction's whacked out vision of the future. If the first sotry arc made you think nothing could be weirder, Fraction totally proves you wrong with this second roller coaster ride. In your face! Maybe the real trick here though is that he did it withou the aid of his lead character Casanova Quinn. Makes it pretty important to pick up the next issue as soon as it comes out.

 
       
 

Captain America #39
Published by Marvel Comics
Written by Ed Brubaker, art by Rob De La Torre

Ever since Ed Brubaker killed him, I just can't seem to get enough of Captain America. By the time the Death of Captain America saga reaches issue #39, we've been teased with the prospect of Captain America's return through the past with the Invaders, from outer space with the Skrull invasion, or possibly the weirdest, through the womb of Agent 13. But in this issue, the new Captain America, Cap's old partner, Bucky, is confronted with a brainwashed Captain America replacement from the fifties. It sounds as goofy as a Casanova plot but it's really amazing comic book storytelling by the master, Ed Brubaker.

 
       
 

Omega The Unknown #10
Published by Marvel Comics
Written by Jonathan Lethem and Karl Rusnak, art by Farel Dalrymple and Paul Hornschemeier

The story of a mute, reluctant superhero from another planet, and the earthly teenager with whom he shares a strange destiny -- and the legion of robots and nanoviruses that have been sent from afar to hunt the two of them down. Created in 1975 by Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes, the original Omega The Unknown lasted only ten issues but was a legend to those who recall it -- an ahead-of-its-time tale of an anti-hero, inflected with brilliant ambiguity. Jonathan Lethem has turned his fascination with the 1975 Omega into a hysterical, poignant, and moving story about lonliness and purpose in a crazy, confusing world.

 
       
 

Dead Space #5
Published by Image Comics
Written by Antony Johnston, art by Ben Templesmith

Ben Templesmith rocks. You may be familiar with his art from his work with Warren Ellis on the kickass detective series "Fell." In "Fell", Templesmith does a great job of creating a mood and a location that are one and the same. In "Dead Space", Templesmith accomplishes the same miracle. The outpost colony where this sci-fi zombie thriller takes place is simply crawlng with creepiness, thanks to Templesmith's mojo. And Antony Johnston has done an excellent job of making a truly scary, frighhtening story come to life (and death). Maybe the most amazing thing is that this is based on a video game and it's still a great comic. Inconceivable!

 
       
 

Okko Cycle of Earth #1
Published by Archaia Studios
Written and Illustrated by Hub

It is the Winter of 1109 in the official calendar of the Pajan Empire. Okko and his faithful companions – the mysterious masked Noburo, Noshin the monk, and young Tikku – arrive at the City of the Blasting Powder. While seeking a guide to help them cross the perilous chain of the seven monasteries, they meet a skillful warrior: Mow of the Wind. On the one hand, Hub's kung fu storytelling is fairly straightforward and relatively typical for the genre. On the other hand, the art is amazingly detailed and immaculately rendered. A good story and great art make for an exceptional comic.

 
       
 

All Star Superman #12
Published by DC Comics
Written by Grant Morrison, art by Frank Quitely

Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely saved Superman. Superman comics had become unreadable before this series started. The character had been so deconstructed and reconstructed that he was a pail shadow of his former self. That former self, thank goodness, still lived in the mind of Grat Morrison. And with the help of Frank Quitely, Superman has returned. Issue 12 concludes their run in stellar fashion. Every issue of this series has been a reminder of what makes Superman great along with suprises that we never expected before. Bravo.

 
       
 

Criminal Volume 2 #6
Published by Icon
Written by Ed Brubaker, art by Sean Phillips

Ed Brubaker proves that comic books are equal if not superior to all other forms of media entertainment with Criminal. This noir inspired series transcends the genre. In each issue, Brubaker highlights an old film-noir gem but if you take the time to watch most of these flicks you'll see that they're actually inferior to Brubaker's Criminal series. Corny dialogue and implausible plot lines that are a dime a dozen in film noir flicks from the forties and fifties are nowhere to be found in Criminal. This is truly masterpiece level entertainment that raises the bar for every screenplay writer and novelist in the biz.

 
       
 

Secret Invasion #8
Published by Marvel Comics
Written by Brian Bendis, art by Leinil Yu

Secret Invasion began with a lot of teasing and anticipation. As usual, Brian Bendis delivered on the promise. For a story that was spread out over several months across several other titles, Secret Invasion still managed to deliver like a high speed thriller/summer blockbuster. All the way up to it's dramatic conclusion (Issue #8) which includes a breathtaking twist in the ending with more teasing and anticipation for the next big blockbuster. These guys make comic books hurt so good.

 

 


 

Too Many Captain Americas

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By Mike Heornime

When Captain America died last year, I went immediately into denial saying, "there's no way Cap is really dead."  He'll be back.  My second reaction was to begin imagining how he might return.  I guess the guys at Marvel went through a similar process -- and then decided to publish all of those stories.  Because now, instead of no Cap, we've got Caps comin' out our whazzoo.  It's very much like the death of Superman.  The minute he left us, he was replaced with a half dozen second rate Supermen.  

Captain America was shot point blank by his secret agent girlfriend and I was still convinced that it wasn't enough to kill the Super Soldier.  But in the weeks and months that followed, we were presented with evidence that seemed to confirm that Steve Rogers was definitely dead.  Maybe the most amazing thing about Cap's death has been Brubaker's ability to keep Captain America's comic book alive and kickin' with its title character apparently pushin' up daisies (maybe, takin' a dirt nap on Boot Hill would be more appropriate than daisies).

Brubaker has done a lot more than just keep the spirit of Captain America alive.  And he's had plenty of help from Marvel's best and brightest.  As a matter of fact, Alex Ross, Brian Bendis, Jeph Loeb, Mark Millar, Matt Fraction, and Ed Brubaker have all had a hand in bringing back Captain America from the dead.  So much so that we now have had at least nine appearances of Captain America since Steve Rogers was plugged full of lead. That's right.  Nine.

Here they are in no particular order.

Captain America, the Corpse.
We've all seen this guy.  It's supposedly the body of Steve Rogers, dead as a doornail.  But is it really?  Now that we've seen Captain America from Outer Space (see below), can we really be sure that Agent Carter didn't hypnotically ventilate the body of a Skrull imposter? This has my vote for how Marvel plans to return Steve Rogers to Marvel U continuity.  But it's certainly not their only option.

Captain America from Outer Space.
Secret Invasion is Marvel's blockbuster event for the summer and Brian Bendis kicked us all in the brain balls with his show stopping scene at the end of issue 1.  A space ship lands on Earth and is confronted by the New Avengers and the Mighty Avengers.  When the space ship doors open up, who steps out?  Marvel's Mightiest Heroes of the 1970s.  Luke Cage sporting his tiara.  Spider-Man with webbed armpits.  Furry blue Beast before the catlike transformation.  And Captain America.  Over the course of the next couple of issues, it was revealed that some of these 70s throwbacks are the real McCoy (Hank?) while others are actually Skrulls.  We've been told that this is Outer Space Cap is the real Cap but it hasn't been confirmed.  Until then, here are some other options.

Captain America from the Invaders.
A little time traveling hocus-pocus, and Shazam! the Invaders from WWII are suddenly pulled from the past and thrust into the mixed up continuity of the present.  Of course, the Invaders were a team of super heroes that included the Human Torch, Toro, The Sub-Mariner, Bucky, and Captain America.  Now, with the wave of a magic wand (or magic keyboard as the case may be) and Voila!, the original Captain America/Steve Rogers is back.  But is he here to stay?  And how will he feel when he discovers that he's been assassinated by his girlfriend and replaced by his sidekick?  If you thought Steve Rogers had problems before when he thought his sidekick died in an explosion and he had to adjust to contemporary American life, just imagine what it would be like to have this particular Invader's current blast of cold reality hitting you in the face.

Captain America, the Sidekick.
If you think for a second that the death of Captain America is the end of Captain America, witness Bucky Barnes.  Long considered one of the few permanently dead characters in comics, Ed Brubaker did the unthinkable by bringing Bucky back from the grave to the applause of fans everywhere.  Apparently Bucky Barnes was picked up by the Russians who brainwashed him, augmented his body with bionics, and transformed him into the world's most lethal assassin, the Winter Soldier.  Thank goodness he was rehabilitated in time to fill the boots of his mentor. Today, Bucky Barnes IS Captain America.  But I would be pretty surprised if Marvel left it that way.  For one thing, they made sure they gave him a distinguishably different costume supposedly so that you can tell the difference between the real Cap and the Barnes Cap.

Captain America, the Punisher.
One of the first Marvel characters to pick up the mantle of Captain America was Frank Castle.  Apparently Frank is a bit of a Captain America fanboy.  Who knew?  Anyway, soon after Cap's death, Frank decked himself out in his own version of Captain America's costume and set about Punishing criminals in his new guise.  It's pretty hard to take seriously once you see the costume.  But when it comes to effectively creating dramatic situations with tongue firmly placed in cheek, no one does it better than Matt Fraction, author of Punisher War Journal (and Iron Fist and Iron Man, too).  Frank's not a real contender for the title of Captain America but he's been another one of the many Caps to hit the scene since Rogers' demise.

Captain America, the Archer.
Another huge fan of Captain America is Clint Barton, the man that used to be the Avenger named Hawkeye.  I guess all those years of getting yelled at by Cap had the same effect as the Helsinki Syndrome.  Anyway, not too long after Cap was put into cold storage, Tony Stark approached Clint Barton and asked him to take up the mantle of Captain America.  After a brief tryout, Clint gave it up, admitting to Tony and himself that he was no Captain America.  Too bad.  He would've been my choice to put on the old stars and stripes in a world without Mr. Rogers.

Captain America, the Life Model Decoy (LMD).
One of our first glimpses of the posthumous Steve Rogers was in the pages of New Avengers, and seen through the astrally projected eyes of Doctor Strange. ("The coast is clear!" Yeah, right.  Thanks Doc.)  But alas, it was just a trap, as Wolverine confirmed later with his excellent super sense of smell.  So who was that laying on the slab in the SHIELD morgue? A SHIELD LMD of course.  As a matter of fact, if you wanted to get technical, Marvel is probably crawling with Captain Americas considering how many Cap LMDs SHIELD has made.  As far as SHILED is concerned, you can never have too many Captain Americas around.

Captain America from the Fifties.
In a recent issue of Captain America, Agent Carter is digging around the Red Skull's lair when she comes across a Steve Rogers in a tube.  By the next issue, we find out that this isn't Steve Rogers but instead some guy from the Fifties who was recruited to be Captain America's replacement while Steve was locked up in a block of ice somewhere in the Arctic Ocean.  I guess, later this Cap replacement showed up and made trouble for the original Captain America who had been thawed out by then by the Avengers.  Cap had to put this second rater down for whatever reason.  And now the Red Skull has gotten his mitts on him and plans to make him the new Captain America.  I'm sure Captain America the Sidekick will have something to say about that.

"Cap," the Earth Protecting Robot.
Probably the most unexpected Captain America appearance came in the pages of Mark Millar's Fantastic Four.  In Millar's story, an old friend of Reed Richards has constructed a parallel Earth to be home to humans after our planet has been destroyed by our own pollution and neglect.  To help make sure this new Earth will be safe from the ravishes of war, they invented "Cap," a very aggressive and effective robot designed to wipe out all military forces everywhere.  "Cap" is a giant robot decorated to look a lot like like Captain America.  When it accidentally ends up on the original Earth, "Cap" begins to fulfill its programming by going around the planet and destroying every military base on Earth.  Eventually, Reed Richards puts the bot down 'cause "Cap" was programmed to never harm former boyfriends of his creator.  Go figure.

So, as you can see, there's no shortage of Captain Americas.  Quite the contrary.  We have quite a glut.  So the next time somebody decides to kill an A-lister like Batman, just relax.  Chill out.  It ain't nothin' to worry about.  There are always plenty of skrulls, robots, time travelers, imposters, decoys, pacts with the devil, and sour seafood induced nightmares around to bring back any superhero from his (always) premature demise.  Superheroes never die, they just get re-invented.

Waiting For Comics An Extra Day

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Review by Mike Heronime

New comics come out every Wednesday.  It's like having a favorite TV show.  You wait until Wednesday when it comes on and then you get to re-connect with your friends and familiars once again.  It's one of these habitual rituals that people seem to adopt and adapt to so easily.  I think it has something to do with the sun rising and setting and rising again and the comfort that comes with patterns that repeat.  So in this regard, "new comics come out every Wednesday" is like hope for a bright tomorrow.  

So what does it mean when Wednesday comes and goes without new comics?  Doom?  Despair?  Well, no.  But certainly disappointment.  Kinda like the writers strike.  Favorite TV shows were suddenly not available on their promised dates.  Sadness set in.  But this too came to pass.  Just like this Wednesday will.  The good news is that this comicless Wednesday will be swiftly followed by new comics on Thursday.  A very short if not slightly inconvenient 24-hour delay in our chance to reconnect with our friends and familiars in the pages of our favorite comic books.  

When Thursday finally gets here, and you find yourself scoping out the numerous options available to you on the shelves of your local comic book store, if you pick up nothing else, be sure to grab copies of the following:

ALL STAR SUPERMAN #11
Writer :  Grant Morrison

Artist : Frank Quitely

Manufacturer / Publisher :  DC

Description :  "Superman--dead? What is the secret behind the Daily Planet's ominous headline from the future? And what does Clark Kent have to say about it? All the pieces of Lex Luthor's master plan to kill Superman begin to come together, building up to the All Star big bang in story's finale!"

ASTONISHING X-MEN GIANT SIZE #1
Writer :  Joss Whedon

Artist : John Cassaday

Manufacturer / Publisher :  Marvel

Description :  "Too big to be contained in a normal issue, the grand finale of Joss Whedon (Buffy, Firefly) and John Cassaday's (CAPTAIN AMERICA, Planetary) landmark run is right here! The powerlords of Breakworld bring the fight to Earth. Can the X-Men stop them from destroying the whole planet? Will the Avengers join their fight? What we do know is this: one of the X-Men won't walk away from this fight. Plus spotlight interviews with Whedon and Cassaday!"

BATMAN #677 RIP
Writer :  Grant Morrison

Artist : "Tony Daniel, Sandu Florea"

Manufacturer / Publisher :  DC

Description :  "Continuing "Batman R.I.P," the epic story that will change the legend of the Dark Knight forever! As the life of Bruce Wayne takes an interesting turn with Jezebel Jet, the life of Batman falls into the ultimate downward spiral."

FINAL CRISIS #1
Writer :  Grant Morrison

Artist : J.G. Jones

Manufacturer / Publisher :  DC

Description :  "Witness the historic start of the final chapter in the Crisis trilogy that could only spring from the mind of Grant Morrison -- Final Crisis, featuring stunning art by J.G. Jones (52 Covers)! Worlds will live and heroes will die in this epic tale spanning the beginning and end of the DC Universe! The entire Multiverse is threatened as the mysterious Libra assembles an army of the DCU's most terrifying super villains. But what is the ultimate plan, and who will live to find out?"

IMMORTAL IRON FIST #15
Writer :  Various

Artist : David Aja

Manufacturer / Publisher :  Marvel

Description :  "TALES OF THE IRON FIST! When we last saw Bei Bang-Wen, he was leaping to what seemed to be a certain death off the top of the Taku Forts -- would you believe us if we told you that was only the beginning? Join us as we take a look at another one of the fabulous Iron Fists of years past and his legendary legacy in "The Story of the Iron Fist Bei Bang-Wen -- The Perfect Strategy Mind and his Miraculous Travels to the Dark Continent, and What Mysteries of the World and of the Self that He Learned There (1827-1860)" By Matt Fraction and Khari Evans!"

KING SIZE HULK #1
Writer :  Jeph Loeb

Artist : Various

Manufacturer / Publisher :  Marvel

Description :  "HULK vs. SHE-HULK! HULK vs. WENDIGO! HULK vs. ??????????? JEPH LOEB! ART ADAMS! FRANK CHO! TOO many SUPERSTARS to fit into a puny REGULAR-SIZED issue!!! We're comin' upside your head with a KING-SIZE spectacular with MORE smashing, bashing, trashing, and clashing than should be allowed by law!!! Three new tales that fill in the gaps of the best-selling HULK book, and set up NEW storylines! PLUS, classic tales including THE INCREDIBLE HULK 180 (the REAL 1st appearance of Wolverine!) and AVENGERS 83 (Lady Liberators, anyone?)! More? You want MORE!?!? How about a super-secret MYSTERY ARTIST????"

NEW AVENGERS #41 (SECRET INVASTION TIE-IN)
Writer :  Brian Michael Bendis

Artist : Leinil Francis Yu

Manufacturer / Publisher :  Marvel

Description :  "The Avengers are trapped in the Savage Land, battling friend and foe. And Spider-Man heads to the one person in the entire place he knows he can trust: Ka-Zar!! But is it really him? This important chapter rewinds the events of the very first New Avengers story and shows how it connects to the Invasion."