I guess I should be happy that — around a day job and family stuff and writing stuff and whatever the else I do with my time (drinking?) — I managed to read enough comics this year that I literally cannot remember them without outside help. From a certain point of view, that seems like what Ten-Year-Old Me would chalk up as a complete and total success.
But it’s also kind of weird, a worrying sign that maybe I really AM old and the gray beard hairs and growing kids and what-not are for real, not some kind of elaborate prank. Like, they’re comics, many of which I enjoyed. Shouldn’t I be able to remember them?
Regardless of what I “should” do, I couldn’t. I wanted to join Jeff and Graeme’s retrospective fiesta from the last podcast and list some of my favorite books of the year, and I had NO GODDAMNED IDEA what I had read this year.
Part of this is the weird timelessness of modern media, which I’ve written about before. The mashup of books from the library and books showing up on Marvel Unlimited and books that I buy because they’re on sale digitally means that a whole bunch of stuff is “from 2015” as far as I’m concerned.
But part of it is just that I’m apparently losing my damned mind.
Fortunately for this post, we now live in a friendly surveillance state, so I can easily sort my digital purchases by date, I can go through my archives here and elsewhere, and I can generally gin up a list of books that I want to mention. So that’s what I did. Come along as I take a trip back through time and into the murky, vague recesses of my mind and emerge with some awards and superlatives for stuff I read this year, below!
Book Of The Year That I Somehow Didn’t Mention Here At All
Sexcastle, by Kyle Starks. The Image edition of this book was actually released in March of this year, so it’s not even a chronological reach! I am contemporary and hip! Hashtag yesssssss! Anyway, this book managed to marry goofy action movie humor and a genuine beating heart as well as anything since Scott Pilgrim, for me. I loved the book, had a lively email interview with its creator, and somehow never ever mentioned it here. Ooops! Rectified now. If you’re reading this and somehow haven’t read Sexcastle, go check it out. Fun cartooning, over-the-top action, homages to 1980s action movies … It’s great.
First Book I Bought This Year According To Comixology
Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #4, by Tom Scioli and John Barber. Huh. Feels like I’ve been reading the book for much longer than this — wasn’t the first issue in May of last year? — but it still baffles me that it exists at all. You’ve probably heard Jeff and Graeme talking about it or read about it elsewhere, but … it’s a Kirby-esque, psychedelic take on a licensed mash-up of 80’s toy properties, and it comes out REGULARLY, not just as a one time jam. Somehow, it manages to press nostalgia buttons and novelty buttons all at the same time. I’m still buying and still reading, and am perfectly pleased to be on record with this as the first purchase of the year.
Nostalgia Purchase That Does Not Hold Up At All
Batman #429, by Jim Starlin, Jim Aparo, and Mike DeCarlo. Why did I re-purchase the noxious 1989 “A Death In The Family” crossover in March of 2015? I have no earthly idea. I mean, obviously it was a Comixology sale. No doubt about that. But even at 99¢ apiece, this was a waste of money. I could’ve bought half a burrito with that money! Divorced from the era, from the marketing frenzy, from the 1-900 number to vote on Robin’s fate, and from the presumed finality and drama of Robin’s death, this is just a poorly constructed story with unconvincing characters and some sadly lifeless art from one of the all-time greats. Also, Joker becomes the ambassador for Iran because … um … 1989. I dunno. Looking back through my year, it’s obvious that I’m a sucker for nostalgia, but this is an awful comic by any measure.
Best DC Sneak Peek
The Omega Men, by Tom King and Alec Morgan. In May my Comixology “purchases” suddenly include a whole lot of the short “sneak peek” stories that DC was releasing for their then-upcoming DC You initiative. This was the most striking of them, a Watchmen-influenced pastiche that was yet another indicator that King would be a strong candidate for the imaginary “Breakout Writer of 2015” award that I’m not giving. (Other candidates who would’ve been nominated for this non-existent award include Al Ewing, Tom Taylor, James Roberts, and Marjorie Liu. It would’ve been a tough call, and I’m glad the award doesn’t exist so I don’t have to make it.) The sneak peek perfectly presaged the book’s strengths (formalism! a novel take on an existing concept!) and weaknesses (complexity occasionally obscuring clarity, basically). It made me excited for the series, and flipping through it now has me excited to reread the whole things once it’s collected.
Best Other Licensed Property Fight-Fight-Fight Comic I Bought (Again) In 2015
RoboCop vs. The Terminator, by Frank Miller and Walt Simonson. Something else I re-bought because of a Comixology sale, and if I’m being honest, this didn’t quite live up to how good it was in my memory. That’s probably because I remembered it as one of my favorite comics of all time. At a minimum, it’s a nice reminder that Frank Miller used to be able to be a fun, pop writer, and that Walt Simonson has always been an all-time great on everything always. It’s a fun read.
Book I Still Wish I Liked More
X-Men ’92, by Chad Bowers, Chris Sims, and Scott Koblish. I already reviewed it here and don’t feel compelled to belabor my issues with the initial run of the series. The best compliment I can give it is that, even after that initial disappointment, I’m optimistic about the upcoming ongoing version and look forward to giving it another shot. It’s a fun idea with the right creators attached, and I hope the next round works slightly better for me.
Book With The Widest Gulf Between Number Of Issues I Bought And Number Of Issues I’ve Read
Uber, by Kieron Gillen, Canaan White, and probably some other people down the line, but I don’t know because I’m only a Zero issue in. (So I guess I haven’t read any of it yet?) Bought the entire run on some kind of extensive Comixology sale and have had it sitting in my already-downloaded to-be-read queue ever since. I want to read it, I like the creative team, I like the idea, but somehow I never sit down after a tiring day at work and think, “Hey, what’ve I got where the Nazi win for awhile.”
Book That Disappointed Me The Most On Rereading
Alias, by Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Gaydos, and Mark Bagley. Another purchase because of a sale, combo’ed up with my enthusiasm about the Jessica Jones series on Netflix. (Short review of the series: I liked it a lot but, like Hannibal, another TV favorite, it could be a bit much to take in more than one episode at a time. My wife, on the other hand, loved it unreservedly and is pissed that they haven’t announced a season 2 yet.)
I remember Alias as a fun, fun, exciting book, the best marriage of the pre-Marvel Bendis with his then-budding Marvel stardom. On this reread, I found it a tedious slog, overdialogued and under-plotted — two sins that are common to the novels that influenced Bendis’s work here, but that are much more effective withOUT illustrations. This was a case where I felt like the adaptation distilled out the best things about the original (the character, the street-level setting, some of the relationships, and all the Purple Man stuff) while dumping much of the unnecessary baggage and streamlining the dialogue.
What I was reminded of most was the scene in Bendis’s autobio Fortune & Glory book, where it’s pointed out to him that the characters in his first pass at the screenplay talk WAY more than they do in any movies. The comparison of Alias to Jessica Jones shows that really, really clearly.
Podcast (Aside From This One) That Seems To Drive An Awful Lot Of My Purchases, Because I Am Easily Led
X-Plain The X-Men, by Jay Edidin and Miles Stokes. Two issue of X-Men/Alpha Flight (another man-I-used-to-love-this-book purchase), the Fall of the Mutants crossover issues of New Mutants and X-Factor, and lord knows how much reading on Marvel Unlimited — I’m pretty sure the dates of a lot of my tracked purchases could be correlated directly to episodes of this podcast. Jay and Miles repeatedly demonstrate (much like Graeme and Jeff) how hosts being enthusiastic about a topic can be completely contagious.
Worst Book(s) Of The Year
Secret Wars, by Jonathan Hickman, Esad Ribic, and an assortment of other talented people, along with pretty much all of its crossovers. This has been a textbook example of how to do a crossover totally wrong. The main book would work fine as a few issues wrapping up Hickman’s Avengers uber-plot, where the supposed “end of the universe” would pretty clearly (and correctly) be a minor plot point headed for resolution. Instead it’s a self-serious, humorless mega-event that’s served as the foundation for most of what Marvel’s published this year.
Meanwhile, the spinoffs that I’ve sampled would be entertaining side stories or What If…s or out-of-continuity miniseries, but they seem insignificant to the greater SW crossover while also somehow being totally inextricable from it. The book simultaneously being non-continuity AND going off schedule managed to break a huge chunk of my weekly (or monthly) Marvel comics habit after god knows how many decades; I thought at the time that it was driving me to comfortably read things on Unlimited after the six-month delays, but as the SW tie-ins have started showing up on Unlimited, I’ve found myself just as disinterested there.
This is a book that has managed to disappoint in just about every way I could imagine … and, thanks to the ever-slipping schedule, it has a longshot at winning this category again in 2016.
Best Book(s) Of The Year
Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye, written by James Roberts with art by various, along with a few other scattered Transformers comics with various subtitles, also written by Roberts. Mostly not released this year, but part of a Humble Bundle that I bought in March. I feel bad about leaving out Transformers: Robots In Disguise, the sister book to this one, which was also included in the Bundle, but … it was definitely Roberts’ work that I found myself responding to most directly. RID was good, but MTMTE was absolutely great.
What Roberts does so expertly (and Chris Sims has covered this really well in his series on the books over at Comics Alliance) is craft characters that we connect with, respond to, and care about — regardless of the fact that they are multi-million-year-old robots that turn into vehicles. The book explicitly references my beloved old Giffen/DeMatteis era Justice League books by way of cover homages, and it in many ways mirrors them in tone — light, character-and-dialogue-driven comedy married to high-stakes genre-trope action.
But what it most gets right from those books — and what so many other, similarly influenced books miss — is that simply having characters wisecrack at each other is not enough. What JLI did was use the banter to make the characters into your friends — and then use the relationship it had built to make you care what happened to them. Or use the goofball banter to set up actual plot-relevant actions. Roberts does both those things so, so well here.
It took me forever to get around to reading these books, but I’m kind of glad about that, because it meant that there’s more of a backlog for me to catch up with now that I’m done.
Terrific, top-notch stuff, and not because of any nostalgia. I quit reading about these characters almost 30 years ago, less than 20 issues into their first series; the people here were pretty much completely new. (I bought a different Humble Bundle with the Marvel Transformers books out of nostalgia and found it, no lie, unreadable.) If you’ve been reading my rambling over the past year and found your tastes in any way aligning with mine, go ahead and dig these up from somewhere. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
So, going through this list, let’s see if I can distill my year in comics down to any general lessons.
- Comedy in a book is more important to me than I’d realized.
- Walt Simonson.
- I am a pretty middlebrow, mainstream kind of guy, and also a complete mark for nostalgia.
- I like the Transformers more than I thought I did, apparently.
- Secret Wars makes me inexplicably angry, and that attitude seems to color anything it touches.
Thanks to all of you who have put up with me intruding on Graeme and Jeff’s site here, especially those who have offered comments and feedback. Thanks to Graeme and Jeff for having me here. And I’m looking forward to continuing this into 2016, where I’ll hopefully do a better job. Happy new year, all.