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Pushing and Pulling

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As we look forward to a New Year, it’s also a time of reflection...an opportunity to think back over the past 12 months and see where I’ve traveled.  It’s a time to look at how I’ve changed over the course of 2006…

…and naturally, the first thing I did was look at my comic pull list (forget the navel-gazing reflection – this is far more fun). 

Being as my local comic shop leans towards the small side, my comic reading habits tend to live and die by the pull list.  Coupling that with the inevitable fact that there’s only so much paycheck that can be allocated to comic book purchases (I have this bad habit of needing food and shelter), keeping close scrutiny of the pull list is critical.  With the wealth of entertaining and diverse comic books today, there is no reason to settle for second best.

Keepers

If there were ever an ideal gateway book to introduce new readers to comics, Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane would be it.  On the heels of two mini-series (critical hits, that didn’t see financial success until they were collected in digest form), writer Sean McKeever and artist Takeshi Miyazawa’s book follows the high school adventures of Mary Jane Watson.  Free of the constraints of “mainstream” Marvel continuity, this book is (from a marketing standpoint), geared towards attracting a younger, female audience.  Thanks to the dynamic, manga-inspired art and McKeever’s delicate balancing act of drama and humor, SMLMJ has been attracting fans of all types.  In addition to the storytelling skills he honed on his The Waiting Place, McKeever also works in fun nods to Marvel continuity, along with the occasional whimsical burst of super heroics.

Coming from a completely different direction, Steve Emond’s Emo Boy takes on the trials and tribulations of teenage life in a satirical manner.  Blowing up (sometimes literally) the emotional drama of high school existence, Emond infuses what could easily have been a mean spirited parody with genuine heart.  Issues #6 and 7 (the end of the first “arc” and start of the second) offers some surprising plot twists as well as some truly insightful moments with the self-absorbed protagonist.  Another standout point this year was issue #9, the “Choose-Your-Own-Emo” issue, which co-opted the gimmick from the popular children’s book series with hilarious results. 

Another consistently excellent title (for established comic fans and newcomers alike) is Tom Beland’s autobiographical series, True Story, Swear to God.  Despite suffering from a slightly erratic publishing schedule in 2006, this year’s issues of TSSTG have been some of the best to come from Beland’s pen.  Issue #16 related Tom’s first taste of life as a comic book professional, while #17 and #1 (appropriately his final self-published issue and first through Image Comics) chronicled his struggles to accept the ending of one chapter of his life and the start of another.  While the situations may be specific to Tom, the emotions behind them are universal.  Never one to preach a message, Tom’s stories always manage to subtlety encourage readers to their own internal reflections.    

In addition to these titles, books such as Jonah Hex (which beautifully recaptures the spirit of the early Albano & Fleisher stories), Ex Machina (winner of last year’s Paper Screen Gem Award for Mystery/Suspense series), Fables (covered in more detail elsewhere in Broken Frontier’s year-end coverage), She-Hulk (another Paper Screen Gem alumni, for 2005’s best Comedy series) and Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men all continue to be exceptionally entertaining.  Each and every creator involved in these books are the people who make this industry the exciting, entertaining place it is.

Dropped titles

Love it or hate it, Infinite Crisis was one of the most significant titles from the major publishers this year.  Logistically, DC made this a true event, with years of build up and, potentially, years of follow-ups and spin-offs.  Personally, I enjoyed this sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths as it did bring a real sense of excitement to DC’s line of titles.  What recently occurred to me however, was that they made it entirely too easy to drop titles.  With the line of superhero comics all taking a leap in continuity to “One Year Later”, most titles switching creative teams and several books being rebooted, a clear “jumping on” point was created for new readers…and a “jumping off” point for others.  The current mindset certainly holds that #1 issues sell, but it does defeat the completist mentality. 

There has been several times over the course of the past two decades where I’ve felt the Superman line had slid into mediocrity.  As a fan and collector however, I found the idea of breaking a 20+ year run of a title very daunting.  Heading into 2007, if I felt the two long-running Supermen titles were less than entertaining I’d probably still stick them out.  With the newly launched Superman Confidential, I’m less likely to feel that obligation.  Two issues into the series, Darwyn Cooke and Tim Sale have offered a good story, but set beside the similar themed Superman For All Seasons, the book seems without a clear direction.  Under whelmed by the comic two months in a row, I have a hard time seeing myself ordering it again.

In a similar vein, with the conclusion of Wonder Woman and the subsequent relaunch, I turned my back on the Amazonian princess.  Wonder Woman has never been a character that I followed, but Greg Rucka’s majestically presented run drew me in with his debut on issue #195.  With a strong hook and a unique vision for the character, I was reading to jump onto a long running title with confidence that this talented writer would give me everything I needed to know in order to enjoy a Wonder Woman tale.  Now, one year later, another talented writer, Allan Heinberg, has taken up the character with a new series.  With the conclusion of the previous series and wait for the relaunch, DC let me get out of the habit of buying the book.  I would have been much more likely to give Heinberg an opportunity to win me over had it followed Rucka’s run directly.  Instead, during the months between series, I took that money, tried something else and liked it.  The same thing occurred with the change from JLA to Justice League of America – the money in my budget was reassigned during the title’s hiatus.

There have been some books that disappeared from my pull list for outside reasons;  Dan Slott’s The Thing (really, as close to a perfect marriage between writer and characters as you could find) ended it’s short run, despite his critically acclaimed writing and a strong last-minute grassroots campaign to save the title.  One new book from ’06, Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., a smart, fun and original titles by two incredibly talented creators (Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen), was unable to find a large enough following and will wrap in February ’07.  Many comic fans have been calling for something new and original on the market.  Sadly, these two books did take very different approaches to the superhero genre (The Thing using a healthy dose of domestic drama and Nextwave with its offbeat sense of humour) but were unable to find a large enough audience to support them.

Top additions

On the other side of the coin, while I have found myself less interested in following “characters,” creators have been another matter all together.  Rucka’s political view of Wonder Woman carried nicely over to the new Checkmate series.  While Wonder Woman was a superhero series that touched brushed with global politics, Checkmate is an exciting title of global espionage and diplomacy that happens to involve people with amazing super-abilities.  Similarly, Bill Willingham’s work on Fables (a winner of 2005’s Broken Frontier awards) made the spin off series, Jack of Fables a very safe add.  Partnered with Matthew Sturges, Willingham shifts from an ensemble book to a smaller cast.  Exploring the world of Fables with this eccentric character has added another layer of depth to an already strong concept.

Of new books that have found their way onto my pull list, The Lone Ranger and Highlander have been two recent additions from Dynamite Entertainment.  In both cases, the comics pick up iconic characters that come packed with rich mythologies.  The writers (Brett Matthews and Brandon Jerwa & Mike Oeming, respectively) all seem to have a great love and respect for the various multi-media incarnations of these characters, creating amalgamations of all the best aspects.  While these books take a look back at the property’s history, Star Wars: Legacy (by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema) jumps 100 years beyond any established continuity.  Despite a slow start the series, Legacy has proven to be an interesting world, mixing and matching well-established concepts into intriguing new combinations.  

David Petersen’s Mouse Guard mini-series has been another outstanding new title this year.  Although the book is covered elsewhere in Broken Frontier’s year end coverage, this unique fantasy title deserves at least one more mention.

Easily the most significant addition to my pull list this year has been the spiritual successor to Infinite Crisis, the weekly series 52.  The first weekly comic in many years from one of the major publishers, 52 and its “real time” storytelling has allowed the four writers (Mark Waid, Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison and Greg Rucka) to experiment with different types of pacing and storytelling.  Acting more like a serial than a traditional monthly comic, 52 has managed to maintain the rapid production schedule with a team of rotating artists while offering readers a unique reading experience.

Heading into 2007…that’s a lot of good comics.

Maybe I should think about giving up food…

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