Funnybook Babylon

February 14, 2009

FBB Valentine’s Day Weekend: 25 Things Jon Loves About Comics

Filed under: Articles — Tags: — Jonathan Bernhardt @ 5:18 pm

Since it’s close enough to Valentine’s Day for government work, some of us at FBB have decided to once again put aside the women in our lives to reflect on our true passion: comic books. We decided to each list twenty-five things we love about comics, be they creators, characters, moments, plot devices, instances in time, whatever. Mine follow.
25. Spoiler — The Robin supporting character. As a decidedly average girl trying to play superhero, she’s got a lot of untapped potential that no one on the book to date has been able to put to good use.

24. Garth Ennis’s Punisher MAX — Character-defining, dark-humored action, usually with a Hollywood-leftist message cooked in. It’s not soulrending and it’s not Great Art, but if Ennis did more of his books this well, I could almost forgive him for never following through on City Lights.

23. Johnny Sorrow — The JSA villain. I don’t care for his backstory, and I don’t like what little I’ve read with him in it. He’s got an inspired name and character design.

22. AJ Lieberman & Gotham Knights — All that really needs to be said of the Lieberman’s craft on the book is that by the end of twenty-four issues, he’d completely earned the final scene: Batman turning his back on Hush and walking away, leaving him completely at the mercy of an enraged Joker.

21. Alan Moore — He’s here more for the literary quality of his work than his message, content, or philosophy. It’s sad that the message of the best known work of his got pissed on for fifteen years, but fuck it, who cares, it still made him rich.

20. Kelley Puckett — The original writer of the Cassandra Cain Batgirl series who popped up again to steer Supergirl through some troubled water recently, before just as quickly returning to from whence he came.

19. Pete Woods — Another guy who doesn’t get much respect. Pete Woods is Top Twenty artist in the industry, is almost never late, has his dues paid up through forever, and still gets stuck doing stuff like Amazons Attack while on the flagship Batman and Superman titles, the Kubert brothers wage guerrilla war against the very concept of scheduling.

18. James Kochalka — I read a children’s book by Kochalka a couple days ago, and it’s cool every once in awhile to just look at his cartooning; it’s a pretty simple, awesome pleasure. For more mature readers, Superfuckers is good.

17. Warren Ellis’s Ultimate Fantastic Four — To listen to the man talk, you’d think he hated superhero comics or something. This run proves that wrong. Not only was it an enjoyable romp through Latveria and the N-Zone, but Susan Storm was finally portrayed as someone with equal faculties and intelligence to Reed, and who deserved her seat on that space shuttle.

16. Jon Lewis’s Brief Foray Into Superheroics — Happened on the Robin monthly during that weird period in the Batman office around the turn of the millennium where guys like Dylan Horrocks were getting the chance to phone in superhero work. Included an invincible Amish kid, a crappy emo singer who made people kill themselves, a Kenyan jacking the Batmobile, time-travelling holographic cyborg Alfred, and some solid character work with Tim Drake and Stephanie Brown. Too bad he never did more.

15. Batman’s Rogue Gallery — The best in superhero comics, thanks to a kid’s TV show from the Nineties. They’re angry, confused people who throw particularly nasty tantrums instead of calculated superpower showcases.

14. The Curious Case of Matthew Fraction — At first glance, Fraction seemed to be poised to go the way of Joe Casey, Garth Ennis, and Warren Ellis: a man who could write great comics, if only he could get out of his own way. That first glance turned out to be completely wrong. Fraction rules.

13. Mike Carey — His run on Lucifer was better comics than Neil Gaiman’s more highly-regarded Sandman, and he’s the first writer since Morrison to make the regular-universe X-Men interesting to readers who have no real love for Chris Claremont.

12. Scott Pilgrim — Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Western-manga video-game relationship epic is pretty much the intersection of all my subject and character interests, executed perfectly. Except for the video-game jokes, but I don’t think I’m missing a terrible amount. Volume five just came out; pick it up if you haven’t yet.

11. Winter Men — This often-delayed miniseries from Brett Ellis and John Paul Leon finished recently, though I haven’t picked up the final issue yet. The conceit is ex-Soviet superheroes getting by in a post-Soviet world. Ellis is a fantastic dialogue writer, especially with one-liners, and Leon’s art is the best it’s ever been. If you can find it, buy it. Who knows when you’ll see it again.

10. Darwyn Cooke — Cooke’s relationship with DC is on the rocks right now, but while they were in each other’s good graces, they made some fantastic comics. With DC: New Frontier, Cooke established himself as one of the premier storytellers at the company — right before running for the hills. Maybe he’ll return in better times; maybe he’ll just do creator-owned work instead. Either way is fine by me.

9. Batman: City of Crime – One of the best Batman stories since Dark Knight Returns in terms of “getting” the characters involved, molding them, and putting them to use in a work. David Lapham’s script work reads a lot better in trade than it did monthly, and Ramon Bachs is the perfect artist for Lapham’s Gotham City.

8. Grant Morrison — To make this more difficult on myself, I decided to confine Morrison and all of his work to one number on the list; otherwise, he’d easily consume the entirety of the teens. He’s the best of the superstar Big Two writers by a wide margin, and the optimism of his work is refreshing in the face of the dreariness and cynicism that have recently dominated the market.

7. Villains That Redeem Themselves –- There’s a reason that the Riddler is my favorite DC hero right now, and there’s a reason I was frustrated when I heard that post-Final Crisis, the Tattooed Man is “addicted to evil:” I’m an optimist and a romantic, and I feel that most people would be good, if they had the choice.

6. Teens — My favorite age group of characters, perfect for adventure or exploration stories because they can fuse childlike wonder with adult concern. They can also be quite dumb, and that can be endearing, infuriating, or tragic in its own way — see the issue of 100 Bullets where the teenage fry cook gets that phone call from his girlfriend, or Sean McKeever’s Spider-man Loves Mary Jane.

5. Themes — More writers should strive towards literary themes, especially in comics; fiction is at its best when it talks not only about its own characters, but also about why we in the real world do what we do. Thematic work makes a story more than just its summary.

4. Berlin: City of Stones & Jason Lutes — Lutes’s Berlin is planned as a 24-issue, three-volume epic of love and death set against the fall of the Weimar Republic. So far, it’s the greatest example of historical fiction by an American comics creator. The story weaves through an ensemble cast living in the days just before Hitler, when the German left was cannibalizing itself and the right-wing nationalists were building their power base. Lutes is a master cartoonist and artist, and it shows in the little things — a bit over halfway through the book, he gives an impromptu lesson on perspective, courtesy of an art class the main female character attends.

3. Ultimate Spider-man — Perhaps the pitch-perfect teen superhero comic, but its impact goes beyond that. Although writer Brian Michael Bendis has dabbled in many different genres with varying degrees of success, this is the best and most enduring work of his yet. It’s the magnum opus of a man who has spent the better part of a decade dragging mainstream superhero characterization kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century. Complaints about decompression miss the point; decompression is the point. It’s not what Peter Parker’s doing that’s important; it’s how he does it, how he rationalizes it, how he makes it funny, and how he explains it to Mary Jane.

2. David Lapham — The best American creator currently working in comics, if not currently living. He’d be the best crime writer in the history of the medium if calling him just a “crime writer” didn’t sell him short. His self-published epic Stray Bullets is every inch a masterpiece, from Lapham’s dedication to writing “single-issue” stories that form a larger narrative backbone, to the way he effortlessly moves through genre and metatext in his writing and his art, to his perfectly tragic characterization and storytelling. And although Stray Bullets is on hiatus, Young Liars, his Vertigo ongoing, has proved to be a worthy diversion. When doing something he loves, Lapham is seriously, no joking, no hyperbole and no playing, better than everyone else writing comics today.

1. Doing It Myself –- There’s nothing I love more about comics than getting right into a scene and the people in it and the visceral act of creating, and I suspect this is true of anyone who writes comics, at any level, formally published or not.

5 Comments »

  1. Wow. You might want to skip my comments regarding Lapham on this week’s podcast Jon.

    Although I agree with you about Lucifer. It’s absolutely brilliant, and where Sandman feels like a dalliance with our world from a dreamscape, Lucifer really strikes at the core of something about what it means to become a self-determinant creature.

    Comment by Joseph from FBB — February 14, 2009 @ 10:46 pm

  2. I think we’ll all want to skip your comments on Lapham tomorrow. Or at least we’ll heartily disagree.

    Comment by Chris Eckert — February 15, 2009 @ 3:28 am

  3. Wow, those are some interesting choices, and ones I’m not sure I agree with, but well argued choices, which is important.

    Comment by Dan Coyle — February 15, 2009 @ 7:08 pm

  4. hated Fraction’s Punisher, but I loved the hell out of everything else though

    also I’m very iffy on CoC, the whole “faceless” cult stuff came out of knowhere, should have focused more on the other plot threads imho.

    Comment by Nathan — February 15, 2009 @ 8:31 pm

  5. Re: Nathan and Fraction’s Punisher:

    Even the Superzoo and the last issue? Because those were fantastic.

    Comment by Christian Otholm — February 16, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

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