Tuesday, 3 January 2012

EspanolBot's Opinionated Bests and Worst in Comics of 2011

Due to moving house, I unfortunately have been unable to make any Casstoons to cover this, so here is a prose semi-list of things I thought were good and bad about comics (mainly DC) that happened in the year 2011.

Break-Out Writer of the Year - Scott Snyder

Although I'd already read his work in the kind of meh series Iron Man: Noir and in the excellent American Vampire (of which Stephen King managed to hog most of the credit), this year I was really surprised by the quality of his runs on the Batman related titles, such as the backup storyline that became the Black Mirror, the Gates of Gotham and his current run on Batman. All of them were excellent, and word is that his work on Swamp Thing is really good as well, though due to budget concerns I sadly am having to wait for the trade.

Runner Up - Paul Cornell

Continuing his winning streak from his work on Marvel, Cornell has managed to write consistently entertaining work with his Black Ring storyline in Action Comics, as well as Batman and Robin, Stormwatch and Demon Knights runs. Kind of like a British Gail Simone in some respects, only without the Joss Whedon-ish tone that seeps in occasionally to her work. Definitely looking forward to his Saucer Country series for Vertigo next year.

Most Consistently Great Superhero Comic - Batgirl (2010 - 2011)

A fun book about the one character in the Bat Family that doesn't seem to be overwhelmed by depressed navel gazing. A lot of fun, with mostly consistent good art and interesting characters, Stephanie Brown's journey from being seen as merely a nuisance or hazard by the other members of the Bat Family to being accepted for her own merits was really an interesting journey. Not really the most deep of books, but sometimes we just want to read a book where a plucky young woman teams up with Supergirl to fight a horde of overacting, angsty Draculas. Or maybe that's just me.

Runner-Up : Batman Inc.

Although it showed a lot of promise in the start, as well as having a lot of new and exciting ideas being introduced into the Bat Universe, this series seemed to be to sadly not hold up to muster, at least at up until it hastily being semi-concluded in Leviathan Strikes!. Maybe it warrants multiple reads like the majority of Morrison's Batman work, but there's a difference between having a complex story and having plot elements thrown at you as if from the mouth of a crazy homeless person. There are definitely good moments to it, the opening few issues introducing the Japanese branch of Batman Inc. were VERY good in terms of art, story and in the interaction between the characters. With the relationship between Selina and Batman being a particular highlight. The issue with the CG art was inexcusable though. Blarg.

Most Disappointing Event Comic - Flashpoint

Probably only brought about as an internal means of justifying the reboot, the series didn't really gel with me as some of DC's other event storylines. The spin-off titles were ironically more interesting than the main title, with the Batman tie-in where Bruce Wayne died and his parents are now Batman and the Joker evidently was really good. The Traci 13 centric one was also really good, though problematic in parts. The fact that the main series was based around one of the more bland of DC's "iconic" cast probably didn't help matters, and leads us to our next segment...

Biggest Unintentional Villain of 2011 - Barry Allen

Although it was highly unlikely that the creators intended it that way, Barry Allen's decision to try and change the past to suit his own means managed to come across as being kind of selfish, and the fact that it ended up destroying time and creating the dystopian world of the Flashpoint Universe made it even worse. Maybe they were going for the irony factor, but wasn't trying to change the past to right some tragedies that happened to him the origin of the Flash villain Zoom? And Wally West, the Flash at the time (who seems to have been erased in the reboot by the by) refused to let him do it as it would break the timestream? Hell, Hal Jordan tried to do the same thing, and that caused even Superman to decry him as a crazy supervillain. And then you get into the fact that Barry wouldn't fix things the way they used to be, erasing people like Wally West (his wife's nephew) and his family... Yeah, accidental or no, I can't really find myself rooting for the guy at this point.

Runner-Up: the Guardians of the Universe

Always balancing on the edge between being godlike but benevolent beings and immortals with huge chips on their soldiers, 2011 opened whole new ways for the supposed Big Goods of the DCU, the leaders of the Green Lantern Corps (the Guardians of the Universe) to go from just being cold and distant to being overtly villainous. For example, brainwashing the more traditionally heroic of the Guardians, Ganthet, due to becoming a representive of the Blue Lanterns because him feeling hope and love was an abomination, apparently. Though these are the guys who seemed to think that turning their own people into dogmatic cyborgs (after their last attempt at robotic minions failed spectacularly with the Manhunters) would be a good idea, so I guess that shouldn't be suprising. And the only reason I rate Barry higher than the Guardians is that the Guardians are restricted mostly just to the Green Lantern books (unless Geoff Johns is writing, then they'll come in at the edges to claim the title for themselves, like a drier, more passive-aggressive version of Darkseid's mob), while Barry basically destroyed reality (erasing a good chunk of his own family in the process just for starters) and was unable to fix it properly afterwards.

Yeah, I know that it wasn't his fault (editorial mandate and all) but that's why I said that this was my opinion.

Greatest Internet Arguments Caused by Comics?
A tie between,
- The DC Reboot: Good or Bad?
- The Reboot and Sexism: Catwoman raping Batman and Kori the disinterested sex object.
- Wonder Woman's New Origin
- Barbara Gordan's Cured Paralysis: Does the loss of Oracle outweigh having BatgirlClassic back?

- Racists complaining about Idris Elba in Thor
- Frank Miller calling the members of the Occupy Movement rapists and whiners.
- The debate over whether the complaints about Ultimate Spider-man being replaced by Miles Morales are racist or not (most of them WERE).

Series with the Consistently Best Cover Art - Gates of Gotham

Most Bizarrely Adorable Semi-Incest Implict Pairing - Cassandra Cain (Black Bat) and Tim Drake/Wayne (Red Robin) at the end of Gates of Gotham.

Building on their relationship from Cass' own series, up through the implications of Beechen's unfortunate Robin run and into the pre-reboot Red Robin series, the attraction that was implied appeared to finally come to a head, when the adopted siblings appeared to officially become a couple at the end of Scott Snyder's excellent miniseries. Chances are that any relationship between the two has now been erased due to the reboot, same as Supergirl apparently getting some in the conclusion of her own series, but if something DID happen between Cass and Tim, it kind of makes for a weirdly sweet end to their ten or so year pseudofriendship.

The Worst Way to Show the Retconning of a Marriage - Lois and Clark
There are good ways and bad ways to reboot a relationship. A good way is to have them just be friends and build from there. The bad way would be to should them as friends and show they aren't a couple anymore by having Clark interupt her having sex with her boyfriend. Allen, this is your doing!

Worst Costume - Zatanna's outfit in Flashpoint

Best New Villain - James Gordon Jr.
The son of Commissioner Gordon, James Jr came back into the Batman universe during Scott Snyder's Black Mirror run on Detective Comics, in a story that originally was meant to be a back-up story for the main one, but DC dropped the concept of backup stories Snyder's story made its way to the forefront.

The explanation as to why Jim Jr acts the way he does is never really explained, possibly the drop from the bridge in Batman: Year One, possibly him just being born that way, he manages to come across as both genuinely disturbed as well as actually frightening, even before the extent of his illness is revealed.

Still around in the DCnU (appearing in a panel in the start of Snyder's Batman run), I really hope that IF he is returned, it is by people who'd not dumb down his protrayal into something more akin to Zsasz or something. Or the Dollmaker. Blarg.

Best Death - Ultimate Peter Parker

One of the highly publicised piece of news in the mainstream media in 2011 was the death of Spider-Man and his replacement with the biracial character of Miles Morales. Due to noncomicbook reader's basic laziness when it comes to researching such stories, many journalists seemed to think that it was the regular Peter Parker that had kicked the bucket rather than his (more interesting) Ultimate Marvel version, thus causing much uproar over such an iconic character being killed off in a "shameless grab for publicity" with his recasting. This is at least partially true, but it doesn't reduce the effect of the story of Peter's death or Miles' eventually stepping up to fill the void said death left in the city.

After getting accidentally shot by the Punisher in another book, a somewhat ironic turn considering that's what Frank was trying to do when he was first introduced way back when (yes, the Punisher started as a Spider-Man villain, go figure) Peter rushed back home to find that all of his enemies had gathered to openly murder his aunt and friends. This was because whatever universe he's in, Norman Osborn is a crazy bastard.

After a skuffle with the Fantastic Four and Peter's X-men-related friends, Peter came to save the day, squashing Norman with a minivan before finally dying of having a huge hole where a lot of his abdomen used to be. His death and the aftermath were both handled really well, made more effective by the fact that a lot of the time death actually means something in the Ultimate Marvel Universe as opposed to just being the equivalent of the character just going on vacation. Bravo.

Worst Death - Bucky Barnes, aka Captain America, in Feat Itself

The same can't really be said for deaths in the main Marvel Universe. As someone high in the company openly stating that they were going to have one major death every fiscal quarter basically making the idea of charater death even more cheap that it already was. This meant that two of the major deaths this year, Johnny Storm and Bucky, really didn't have as much impact as they should have.

In this case I am just focusing on Bucky's demise, as he's still dead while Johnny has just recently returned from the grave after getting blown up or having alien maggots eat his junk or something. It was a little confusing.

Bucky died in the crossover event Fear Itself, where a forgotten Norse God of Fear returns to the Marvel universe, teams up with some Nazis and go on the rampage, leaving mystical hammers around the place to possess heroes and villains into becoming his henchfolk.

Somehow an event that focussed on the Tom Strong/Indiana Jones/Hellboyish genre of Nazis with supertech and mystical stuff ended up rapidly loosing momentum, as delays in release dates and massively decompressed storylines made it all a lot more tiring than it should have been.

Added into the mix to make the God of Fear, aka the Serpent, seem more like a legitimate threat, the current Captain America Buck Barnes was chosen to be the mainstream character to cop it in this particular event comic. And, I don't know, maybe because Bucky ALREADY had had a dramatic death scene (getting exploded on a missile he was redirecting to keep from hurting civilians), him getting a second one kind of drained it of any impact it might have had. Especially as heroically getting exploded is a more iconic way to die than being squashed by a big hammer, and then stabbed with the end of the handle. Or maybe it's just me. The aforementioned "Kill a character once a quarter" deal definately robbed it any potential emotional connection to the character anyways, as did the fact that he returned in the series epilogue. After all, if the editors don't care about the characters, why should we?

Best Comicbook Adaption - Tintin/Batman: Arkham City
There were a lot of good comicbook movies out this year, Captain America, X-Men: First Class, Cowboys and Aliens (yes, it was a comicbook adaption), Thor... And a couple there were a good effort, but ultimately seemed to be messed about by the executives to the point that it was merely OK (Green Lantern).

Two adaptions of comicbook titles managed to rise above the rest this year by being simply stellar. Those two are Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson's Tintin movie and Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham City computer game. Although they couldn't really be any more different in tone, both managed to perfectly condense the elements of their source material into things that managed to perfectly capture the essence of both franchises.

Tintin was a bright, old fashioned adventure that remained funny, exciting and genuinely amusing where it was supposed to be. The interaction between Jamie Bell's Tintin and Andy Serkis' Captain Haddock retained the platonic chemistry from the books, while the rest of the writing and cast barely had a mistep between them. It certainly contained two of the year's best action sequences, benefiting largely from the decision to do in motion-capture, in the form of the pirate ship battle and the single-shot chase scene through the desert city.

Batman: Arkham City, however, was dark, action packed and visually really smart looking. The settings and game mechanic really allowing you to have the experience of actually being Batman, without all the baggage that comes from being a crazy orphan. Again, the performances from all involved were superb: Kevin Conroy continues his near twenty year streak of being the Best Batman Ever, Mark Hamill gives an excellent fairwell performance as the Joker, whilst the newcomers to the cast also provided suprisingly strong performances. Tara Strong (Twilight Sparkle in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic amongst many, MANY other roles) did a really good job as Harley Quinn, Grey DeLisle (Azula in Avatar: the Last Airbender amongst others) did well as Catwoman, Maurice LaMarche (the Brain in Pinky and the Brain, Morbo and others in Futurama) performed one of the best versions of Mr Freeze in years, and Wally Wingert was suitably smarmy as the Riddler. Even the "Cockney" (he was born in the US, grew up in London and then moved back to the States, which could explain the somewhat inconsistant accent) version of the Penguin ended up being better than I thought he would be, so kudos to the voice casting guys on that part.

Not that Tintin and B:AC aren't without their flaws. Tintin carries over the originals tiny (as in ONE reoccuring character) female cast, and treats alcoholism as something of a joke despite Haddock accidentally ruining things several times because of it, though treating THAT seriously wouldn't fit with the tone of the rest of the film, I guess. The question of subject matter versus tone was also present in Arkham City too, due to the highly publicised complaints over the use of the word "Bitch" to describe the female characters, particularly Catwoman. But considering the word was being used by (mostly) violent or insane convicts in a game based towards the higher age range of the Batman franchise, it is somewhat justified... somewhat. Complaints over some of the convicts implying that they wanted to molest Harley and Selina were also present, but considering they also implictly were also abusing some of the weaker male convicts (and loudly proclaim that they're going to make Bruce Wayne their bitch towards the beginning of the game), it arguably could be said they're not treating it lightly and fits in with the tone of the prison being a thoroughly miserable place to be stuck.

Worst Adaption of a Comicbook Franchise: Wonder Woman

You know, a lot of people, myself included, have complained about the fact that Superman and Batman have around ten films between them, as well as umpteen tv shows and games, when Wonder Woman seems to be restricted to the Lynda Carter series and the DC Universe animated film. Not that the Superman and Batman movies, tv shows etc. are BAD, it just seems a bit of a let down that they advertise Wonder Woman as part of the trinity of the best and most marketable heroes in DC character stable, yet they don't seem that willing to do that much with her.

Well when news of a new, live-action television adaption of Wonder Woman reached people's ears, it rapidly became a case of being careful what you wished for.

Huge chunks of the character were changed, from Wonder Woman being a warrior diplomat on a mission of peace, to her being the owner of a corperation that secretly was Wonder Woman on the side... or something. Then it was the bizarre dialogue and attempts to tackle the sexism present in the comicbook industry with all the skill of someone who has both never read a comic in their life and never understood what people were complaining about. Leading to such events as the now infamous "Diana worries about her breasts" audition tape. And then there was the palava with the costume...

Audience attitudes towards the show ranged from derisive to cautiously optimistic while the show as in production. It might be good after all, they said. People didn't like the Batman or Batman: the Brave and the Bold when they were in production either, and both were eventually liked on their own merits after a while.

And then the pilot was made... and the show promptly disappeared out of sight, joining Global Frequency in the high publicised but ultimately cancelled comicbook adaption heap. The main difference between the two being, that while GF was leaked, was applauded and was cancelled despite the MASSIVE levels of praise that it recieved due to said leaking, Wonder Woman sucked. Sucked really badly.

The fact that NBC have decided to reuse the costume from the failed show in another of their programmes, where a delusional woman thinks that she's Wonder Woman, hasn't really helped matters after the fact.

Hopefully this hasn't made the character sink once more into the ocean of development hell, with the justification that Wonder Woman doesn't work as a character as the pilot flopped, but at this point we'll just have to wait and see whether she appears in liveaction in anything good. Though it will probably be in a Justice League movie, as opposed to a solo title. *grumble*

Best New Character (Webcomics): Tarquin, Order of the Stick
Occasionally a villain comes along who manages to be both a really effective villain, while at the same time remaining bizarrely likeable despite the horrible things that they do. Tarquin, father of Elan of the titular Order, is one of those characters.

A mixture of apparently confusing opposites, Tarquin is one of those villains that manages to be suprisingly horrifying in that he acts something like a regular person despite the atrocities that he performs in the aim of getting power. For example, he sincerely loves his son, and goes out of his way to be nice to him after they are reunited for the first time in decades, but although he's certainly friendly when he wants to be, that doesn't get in the way of the fact that he's a genre savvy dictator.

This is the moment that Elan twigged that his father might not be the "noble demon" ruler brand of villain that he wished he was,

Greatest Return to Form: Cassandra Cain (Black Bat) in Red Robin
After the kerfuffle surrounding her brainwashing and DC's subsequentbafflement of what to do with her after Adam Beechen's mini series about her didn't do as well (Gee, I wonder why that was), appeared to be doing the publishing equivalent of pushing unwanted vegetables around on their plate in regards to her. Cass Cain was the unwanted cabbage of the DCU.

Eventually, the associated baggage surrounding her (as well as the need to reshuffle Cass' only starring role, in the book Batman and the Outsiders, again following Chuck Dixon's departure from DC, and since Dan Didio was writing the book it's probably fair to say that he didn't want anything to do with Cass at this point either), DC seemed to decide that it'll be best just to reboot the Batgirl comic with someone else in the costume.

First they teased that it might be Barbara Gordon in her own brief miniseries, before settling on Cass' best mate Stephanie Brown for the role, which managed to go on from a somewhat wobbly start (Cass just appearing to dump the outfit on a rooftop for Steph to use and vanishing into the night) to being one of the most fun and consistantly funny books in the DCU (pre-reboot).

After this Cass seemed to be once again in nowhereland, before she reappeared in Hong Kong as an independant vigilante in Red Robin, where it was revealled that Tim Drake (the titular vigilante of the book) had been keeping in contact with her since she left Gotham. Partly so she wouldn't be abducted by mindcontrolling ninjas (again) and partly so she wouldn't feel excluded like how the Bat Family unintentionally did following Infinite Crisis (which resulted in her being abducted by mindcontrolling ninjas).

Following the return of Bruce Wayne after his magical mystery tour through time and space, Tim met up with Cass in Hong Kong, where he informed her that she was still part of the Family and gave her her old costume back if she wanted to going to Gotham. She didn't, but she soon afterwards sworn in as the Batman of Hong Kong (or the entirety of South East Asia, depending on who you ask) under the guise of Black Bat.

Although she did have a brief appearence in Batman Incorperated being kickass and hijacking a Triad helicopter in midflight, I feel that the moment where she once again begain acting like she had done prior to the braincontrol business was during Red Robin 25. Openly heroic with a dry sense of humour, it was nice to see her back to her old self. It's just a shame that it ended on a cliffhanger for her that will most likely never be resolved, ie her feud with the metahuman martial artist Cricket. Still, her next appearance in Gates of Gotham more than made up for that, personally.

Best Return to Form (Writer) - James Robinson

After returning to DC with the... somewhat "questionable" Cry for Justice, James Robinson finally managed to get the Shade miniseries, starring the Golden Age Flash villain who was one of the lead characters in his Starman series from the 1990s, off the ground. And, man, what a change there is in terms of writing quality!

Very much in the style of his work in Starman, Shade thus far is about the titular ex-villain travelling the DCU to try and discover who exactly is trying to murder him, and carrying out the investigating whilst wielding nothing more than Wildean Wit and an elemental control over darkness and shadows. It does seem interesting within the book, that deprived of the long history that the character had with the likes of the now retconned Jay Garrick, the sense of history has now been replaced with one of geography, as it fills in more on the international range of heroes that Robinson had begun to develop in his Superman or Action Comics run, I forget which.

Brilliant book, great art and writing, definately the most classy thing on sale in either of the Big Two at the moment.

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