Friday, January 24, 2014

The Terrific 10 of 2013

Here we are a list of ten neat "things"  I liked in 2013, all funnybook/pop culture related/available in better-than-average comic shops, with emphasis on "things"  because the #1 on this list was not a comic book, yet it was the most "comic book" of all. So, without further  ado...

10. Tales of A Sixth-Grade Muppet: When Pigs Fly -  coinciding with the release of The Muppets and subsequent revival of that franchise's film franchise was a series of novels written and illustrated by Kirk Scroggs  (in the style of the Diary of A Wimpy Kid  series) about the Muppets consoling a boy after he is suddenly transformed into a Muppet...and still has to go to school anyway. There were four books in all, but the final installment is the best, because it jettisoned the sitcom kiddie novel trappings in favor of high fantasy - most of it is set inside the USS Swinetrek ... the ship from the Pigs In Space sketches on The Muppet Show. Suddenly the series feels like a Roald Dahl book...and that's a good thing.

9. House of Fun #1 - Evan Dorkin gave his humor comic Dork!  a name change when he moved it to Dark Horse, naming it after his & wife Sarah Dyer's website,, and adding color! Perennial favorites Milk and Cheese are also present, along with a new Eltingville Club story and recurring sitcom-spoof The Murder Family, plus a lot of great stuff.

8. Superior Spider-Man #5: I'm happy to say that I've been enjoying the adventures of "Otter" (Doctor Octopus swapping minds with presumably dead Peter Parker and assuming the latter's life and superhero identity for the past year of Spider-Man comics,  hence the change-of-adjective in the book's title), largely because Marvel's stance on who Peter Parker/Spider-Man is  for the last decade has resulted in comics that didn't interest me, but this stuff, with Otto as Spider-Man...feels like the Spider-Man comics I read when I was a kid in the late-80s and 1990s...and in that sense, this is classic Spider-Man - not Steve Ditko or John Romita Sr., but David Micheline & Todd McFarlane, Howard Mackie & John Romita Jr., Todd Dezago & Mike Weiringo, Tom Defalco with Pat Olliffe & Ron Franz, and J.M. Dematteis with Sal Buscema or Luke Ross. YES...that was my Spider-Man: decadent,  domesticated, happily married  (Yes! He was happy!) not particularly accessible,  but the only time Spider-Man was accessible (in my humble opinion) was his origin story in Amazing Fantasy #15 .
Anyway, I chose issue #5 of Superior  for this list because it's an early standout issue - that cover alone lets you know the kid gloves are off fairly early in the game; writer Dan Slott's greatest accomplishment throughout this past year was to present "Otter" as a fully-realized character and not a placeholder.  I look forward to seeing how this storyline wraps up (as hinted) in the Goblin Nation storyline.

7. The All-New Ghostbusters #1: rumors of a new sequel to Ghostbusters have hinted at a lot of things, most prominent the rumor that a new team of GB's will appear alongside the old guard ( I heard Jonah Hill and Emma Stone have been cast ). Anyway, IDW had some fun with these rumors by relaunching their Ghostbusters comic with a new #1, featuring a new team made up of recurring characters that had been introduced in recent storylines, led by Janine the receptionist for a half-dozen issues before the "good ol' boys" came back. I'm sure Dan Ackroyd and Ivan Reitman have their own ideas, but this was fun.

6. Doctor Who vol. 2 #12 : this issue marked the conclusion to "Sky Jacks", a fun four part arc that brought Clara Oswald into IDW's Doctor Who comic book series. Those among you familiar with the concept of the Tardis - the Doctor's "bigger-on-the-inside" time machine, will REALLY love this one, since the show doesn't really have the budget to show a WW2 bomber flying inside it. :)

5. The House of Mystery: my blog, my list, my rules - the public library had all 8 volumes of the DC Vertigo revival of DC Comics' code-approved  Silver Age horror series, written mostly by Matthew Sturges (with Bill Willingham contributing material here & there) from a few years back. It starts off rocky, with the tone of contributions by Willingham clashing with Sturges' storylines before the latter takes over writing all the material,  allowing it to find its groove before the announcement of its cancellation forces a rushed conclusion. I noticed how (or maybe it's just me seeing things) Sturges scripts seemed to switch influences midstream from Joss Wheddon to Russell T. Davies and ending with Steven Moffat. Very timely. I loved it. I DO strongly recommend you skip Willingham's story in the premiere issue about the girl getting pregnant with the mosquito boyfriend...what was Bill smoking that night when he thought that up?

4. Superheroes! Capes, Cowls and The Creation of Comic Book Culture : you may recall a post from last fall, in which I reviewed a documentary on PBS about comic book superheroes (DC & Marvel  Comics superheroes,  mostly) and I thought the thesis inferred from watching it was that you didn't need to read the comics to enjoy the characters, because they had become subsumed within mainstream pop culture, perhaps in a cynical way...and they left out stuff! :)  Laurence Maslon, who worked on that documentary and cowrote this  companion book, had read my review, and left his comments,  including a suggestion that I check out this book - I'm glad I did. The book presents a stronger case for the film's argument that the genre has become ingrained within our pop culture landscape...and I believe that's because the authors - Maslon with Michael Kantor - offer new voices. With the exception of Jim Steranko talking about his work on Nick Fury, and Neal Adams (taking a break from defending his work on Batman: Odyssey , for a change), I had heard a lot of those guys in the film on older interviews giving the same answers they always give in documentaries and books/magazines about comics, so the programme was likely a success among newer audiences. This book was well-written and deserves a place on your bookshelf.

3. The Joker: The Clown Prince of Crime: Miracles happen. Small miracles, at least. Who knew that DC Comics would actually release all 9 issues of The Joker's late-70s solo series in a handy, affordable (!) trade paperback - in color!!  This was the treat of the year.

2. Jim Henson: The Biography: Brian Jay Jones's excellent book about the man who created the Muppets is fantastic and heartbreaking at the same time; the last 1/3 of the book reads like a workaholic's fever dream, as Jones chronicles every single project that Henson was working on during the last few years of his life and how his multitasking had spread him too thin creatively, resulting in a string of flops (The Jim Henson Hour in particular,  which is sad, because I do remember watching that show and missing it when t was yanked). If there was never any doubt about how creative the man was, Jones does shed light on his faults, perhaps eerily foreshadowing his untimely demise due to a bacterial infection that may have been preventable,  because, as I insist that you should read and see, the man was always busy. He was a genius - he could never stay idle and content where he was; he had an entrepreneurial spirit and optimism that kept him going...even when his final days were spent as the eye of a tornado that he thought he was calming by adding another gust of wind.  Sad, brilliant,  joyous and heartbreaking - the epitome of "gone too soon".

1. Doctor Who: The Day of The Doctor: THIS ...was the best "thing" of 2013. I really didn't care about what Marvel was doing, or DC Comic's 3D "wiggle" covers or Zombo the Clown (Jeff Lester's favorite) or Dark Horse's Battlestar Galactica-esque interpretation of George Lucas's pre-1st draft scribbles of "The Star Wars"...and nobody could've anticipated just how fantastic Doctor Who's 50th anniversary special would be. I've already written about the special before...but I may have neglected to add that this was the best thing of 2013.

And now you know.  :)

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