2010: The Year in Comics

A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Jason Sacks
Editor's Note: Now that the calendar has flipped to 2010, it's time for Comics Bulletin's annual round-up of the best, worst and most interesting comics of the previous year. Come ssee what our all-star writing staff has chosen as some of the most notable series, writers, artists and miscellanea of 2010 - then be sure to offer your comments in our forum!

Most Impressive Series

Morning Glories by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma
By Danny Djeljosevic

Every time Nick Spencer tweets about another printing of Morning Glories selling out, my day becomes 10% happier -- not only because a new comic book is selling like cakes that are hot, but because a new creator owned comic book is selling like cakes that are hot.

Moreover, the success is totally warranted, because Morning Glories is such a great book, with a cast of entertaining, well-defined characters and a promising central mystery surrounding the mysterious Academy where our teenaged protagonists attend. What's so special about these kids, who all have the same birthday? What's that weird ghosty thing that attacks rule-breakers, Prisoner-style? I don't know yet, but I can't wait to find out.

If that weren't enough, Morning Glories is often visually entertaining, with Spencer and artist Joe Eisma creating a combination of dynamic pages that are often great to look at and well-executed repeating panels that never feel like glorified storyboards. More importantly, Eisma knows how to draw teenagers wearing clothing that teenagers in the year 2010 would conceivably wear. In other words, no tight belly shirts -- one of my biggest pet peeves in comic book character design.

Morning Glories is one of the best new series of 2010, and promises to be the best ongoing series of 2011. It's only a few issues in, so start reading this book now and avoid kicking yourself later for missing out.

The Stand: Soul Survivors to Hardcases
by Shawn Hill

I really think of all The Stand books as a maxi-series, I suppose. Thirty issues is equal to many an ongoing's maximum run these days, and as this one reached the halfway point this year (moving into its fourth set of 5-issue arcs out of six), I really started to see the big overall picture emerge. Aguirre-Sacasa interprets Stephen King's words with nuanced subtlety and care, packing in details but never losing the ongoing narrative thread. Mike Perkins presents realistic but also imaginative art that is the perfect vehicle to capture the staggering variety of character studies embedded in King's epic tale of viral apocalypse, as well as the unraveled landscape of a country transformed into a ghost town.

Soul Survivors wrapped up introducing us to the last of our major players, including the personification of hope and light (the Gandalf of this myth) Mother Abigail. Hardcases has been our look at those allying themselves with the enemy, either in overt or covert, accidental or purposeful ways. Along the way, as the characters converge on two western poles to the north and the south, we get a kind of travelogue of America.

Sometimes the action is almost nil, as issues are full of talking heads struggling to make quite ordinary decisions concerning leadership and fairness. But then we get an issue where an amateur appendectomy goes as wrong as it inevitably must. Sometimes the supernatural trappings lead to visions that might be hokey or goofy from a different artist, but Perkins and colorist Laura Martin chill us with spectral silhouettes, glowing red eyes, or packs of possessed wolves that spread across the pages only to vanish as quickly as they appeared.

I'm not sure how overt or subtle the religious symbolism (which increases as the novel reaches its climax) will continue to be, but this team has already given us an adaptation of the expanded tale that should be a model for any similarly literary attempts.



Most Impressive Limited Series or One-Shot

Officer Downe by Joe Casey & Chris Burnham
By Danny Djeljosevic

I'm pretty sure Ben 10 has made Joe Casey insane. As one-fourth of the comics creator media collective Man of Action, Casey has spent the past few years in the limelight working on kid-friendly adventure cartoons and pseudo-retro Marvel Comics miniseries while doing creator-owned stuff like Godland and 2010's Officer Downe one-shot with Chris Burnham, which was clearly made by someone who needed somewhere to put a motorcyle-riding, mustachioed cop aiming a big honkin' gun and shouting PULL OVER, COCKSUCKERS! That just won't play in Avengers: The Origin.

Officer Downe is a book I've been talking up to my friends as "RoboCop but more insane," about a dead police officer brought back by way of the "Resurrection Equation" to punch crime square in the dick until he ultimately gets killed in the line of duty, only to be resurrected again and again, over and over. Pair that with a secret cabal of anthropomorphic animal gangsters and a tracksuited kung fu genius called Zen Master Flash, have it all rendered in a vaguely Geof Darrow flurry of highly detailed ultraviolence by Chris Burnham and you have an irresistible adrenaline shot of pure comics guaranteed to make you cooler and more attractive. Here's how great this book is: I could get one pull quote on a comic, it would be on the cover of the inevitable Compleat, Essential, Annotated Ultimate Edition Officer Downe Omnibus to convince casual strollers at Wal-Mart to buy it, it would be the words "BUGFUCKING HILARIOUS" in gold embossment that partially covers up the title and a great deal of the art.

In May of 2010, a seemingly reenergized Joe Casey talked up a bunch of his new and upcoming creator-owned projects including Officer Downe and the absolutely crazy-sounding Butcher Baker the Righteous Maker (with Mike Huddleston). To hear about the return (though he never really went away) of the Joe Casey who dared to advance the medium with seminal work like The Intimates and Automatic Kafka excites me in ways science could never understand, and I think Officer Downe is a spicy appetizer for what he has in store for 2011.

Astro City: Silver Agent by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson
By Zack Davisson

I have been looking forward to Astro City: Silver Agent for about fifteen years. Ever since I grabbed Astro City #2 off the shelf in 1995 and was introduced to the "poor, doomed Silver Agent," I wanted to know more.

The Silver Agent has been one of the great mysteries of the constantly-excellent-yet-randomly-published series. Busiek and Anderson's avatar of the Silver Age of comics has jumped in and out of other people's adventures, always held up as the standard of a true, pure hero. Yet lurking behind every punch and smile and honorable deed was that statue: Head down, arms crossed, and with a plaque reading "To Our Eternal Shame." We knew that he did not die well.

With the conclusion of Astro City: The Dark Ages, we finally learned about that shameful death. But still a piece of the puzzle was missing. As prominent a character as the Silver Agent was, there had never been a single story of Astro City told from his perspective. We never got a glimpse behind the mask. The Silver Agent was a character that other characters reacted to, were inspired by, or hated and wanted to kill. But we never knew him. Finally, in the two-issue Astro City: Silver Agent we met the man behind the legend.

And that man was unlike anything I had expected. Instead of a symbol of integrity, as shiny as Captain America's shield, Busiek and Anderson gave us a strange mix of Slaughterhouse 5 with 2010. Alan Craig, the Silver Agent, lives far in the future in a sweet love cocoon with a hot alien babe surrounded by his legacy, the Silver Centurions. But his happiness is only a transient moment. He must begin the slow crawl back in time to his eventual fate in the electric chair where he will be executed for a crime he did not commit. The moment of his death is also the moment of his birth, and somehow the character and his legacy are so much greater than I ever imagined fifteen years ago when I first read about the "poor, doomed Silver Agent."

Busiek and Anderson managed to conclude a fifteen year saga with the perfect final turn of the page.

Well done, gentlemen.

Joe the Barbarian by Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy
by Morgan Davis

Praising Grant Morrison for doing something different is a little like praising a pilot for not crashing the plane- yes, we're all glad he did it but can you really expect him to do anything else by this point?

Even with that caveat, Joe the Barbarian is a remarkable release (despite its continuously delayed final issue) that showed Grant Morrison had even more range than previously thought, sharing the tone and scope of his impeccable All-Star Superman but otherwise reading and looking like nearly nothing Morrison had done before. It goes without saying that a large part of Joe's success is due to the wonderful eye of artist Sean Murphy, who makes Joe's fantasy world incredibly vivid and imaginative, fitting in perfectly with the Alice in Wonderland-style adventure Joe has been thrust into.

While some critics took issue with the slow pace of Joe's first issue, they completely missed the point of Morrison and Murphy's masterpiece- Joe's world is split between his reality and the fantasy he slips into when he hallucinates as a result of his affliction and Murphy wastes no space charting both. By confidently trusting their readers to be patient, Morrison and Murphy are able to more carefully contrast the reality and fantasy of Joe's existence.

Like Joe, the reader is quickly thrust into the latter world and just as Joe only becomes comfortable in that world gradually, the reader is put through the same motions. Morrison takes a great risk in placing the reader so squarely in the same position as the protagonist but it's that risk that makes the series such an immensely rewarding experience.

Because comics are fantasy. They are not always believable or realistic but they often offer an escape for the reader and with Joe the Barbarian and its world of a toy holocaust Morrison is building on that experience, asking the reader to take pleasure in the slow reveal of Joe's settings. Would it be as fun to see that overflowing bathwater is a river right from the start? Or to skip out on all the majesty of Joe's fantasy world and land straight into the action? Of course not.

All Morrison and Murphy want is for you to believe. To let yourself escape like Joe does. And in 2010 there wasn't anywhere else I would have rather escaped to.

The Barry Windsor-Smith Conan Archives Volume 1 & 2
By Zack Davisson

It must suck to be a writer or artist assigned to work on Conan and know in advance that no matter how good your work is, the best you can possibly hope for is "almost as good as the Roy Thomas/Barry Windsor-Smith run." Because with some characters, the bar was set too high at the beginning, and no one has yet been able to surmount it.

With such greatness so well-defined, why is it that the various collected editions of the Thomas/Windsor-Smith run have been of such debatable quality? Color has been the main culprit. Marvel ran a Conan Saga collection of the stories in 1987, featuring black-and-white reproductions of the stories with new painted covers. From 2003, Dark Horse comics acquired the rights to Conan and began publishing The Chronicles of Conan with modern super-saturated computer coloring that obliterated Windsor-Smith's fine line work in favor of flash-effects and lens-flare.

In 2010 hammer finally struck nail. Dark Horse released the two volume hardcover Barry Windsor-Smith Conan Achives. These collections are a beautiful marriage of Windsor-Smith's delicate Pre-Raphaelite inspired line work and the best that modern coloring technology can provide. Instead of shoving every possible effect onto the pages, the re-coloring was done with a restrained hand giving depth and beauty to the original rather than taking away from it. The collections are "re-mastered" rather than "re-imagined."

If you have never read the Thomas/Windsor-Smith run, well, you owe it to yourself as a comics fan to pick these up. The first volume is really just a taste; Windsor-Smith started out as an able Kirby-clone and Thomas was trying to hard to mimic Robert E. Howard. But by volume two they are all a symphony in perfect harmony, with Thomas riffing off of Howard but not afraid to inject his own creativity, and Windsor-Smith making Fine Art on every page. There are some great comics here. The Elric of Melniborn cross-over co-written by Michael Moorcock. The introduction of Red Sonja in The Shadow of the Vulture! (with nary a chain-mail bikini in sight.). And their masterpiece, the complete version of Howard's classic Conan story Red Nails.

Taskmaster
by Jamil Scalese

It might have slipped under people's radar, but the Taskmaster miniseries put out by Fred Van Lente and Jefte Palo really pulled me in. The infamous villain (anti-hero?) with the photo-reflexive memory has been around for just over thirty years but has never really received a major spotlight series of his own.

While not an A-lister by any means, and arguably a B, Tasky has woven himself into Marvel lore by battling, teaching and teaming with the best and greatest. In this four-issue limited, Van Lente exposes the long awaited origin, real name and motivation of Taskmaster with a clever, exciting and often hilarious plot.

The portrayal of Taskmaster as a stoic, though occasionally bemused mystery man is right on-key. Most of the characters and dialogue push the narrative forward not wasting any of the limited four issues. At times there are some absurd plot details, but that balances with an emotional undertone that surprisingly had me caring for the ol' mercenary/drill instructor.

Jefte Palo's art blew me away at times in its own regard. With his scratchy and bold pencils sometimes Palo's pages look like he was eating pizza over his work station but it in its own way it's very successful. At first I was worried about how his characters would “move” but that fret quickly quelled by the end of the first issue. The representation (and choice!) of Taskmaster's powers was fantastically played and switching masks throughout the story was also a nice touch.

Heck even colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu deserves a shoutout- Tasky's classic blue and orange really popped off the page. These creators, especially Van Lente, are on their way upward.

This mini by Marvel succeeded because it did not embed itself into any event or bigger plot but still provided a relevant and absorbing story about a long-time fan favorite. I greatly enjoyed it.



Most Disappointing Series

Justice League of America by James Robinson & Mark Bagley
By Danny Djeljosevic

Every month I try to get into Justice League of America. Every month I fail. Which kills me (well, maybe not kills me, but certainly bothers me) because I want to like a Justice League comic. JLA was a formative comic book for me, not only because it introduced me to Grant Morrison, but it was also the first comic that I kept up with month-to-month from issue #1 and almost up to the series' death knell (I tuned out during "Crisis of Conscience" after a series of atrocious fill-in arcs).

But this newest series has never worked for me. Brad Meltzer's run was all about, from what I remember, superheroes gazing at one another longingly, Twilight-style, amidst feeble attempts to humanize the Red Tornado and that one really boss issue where Red Arrow and Vixen are trapped under a collapsed building, followed by a Dwayne McDuffie run that had a promising start but might have been better without the editorial control he openly complained about.

Under James Robinson, Justice League of America has traded its usual roster of heavy-hitters for a lineup featuring people like Mon-El, Dick Grayson Batman, Jade, The Guardian, Mikaal Thomas Starman, Congorilla, Jesse Quick, Donna Troy and Supergirl, among others. While it's admirable that he's going with so-called "lesser" characters (a move that has made for classic comics like Justice League International) and I'm normally all about a superhero team with a gorilla in it, using so many derivatives (save Dick Grayson, who IS Batman as far as I'm concerned) make the team seem like an off-brand Justice League.

We can assume all this "Grounded," Brightest Day and whatever-the-hell-is-going-on-in-Wonder-Woman nonsense is keeping the usual suspects out of the Justice League book, but these are comic books, not movies. There's no need for "scheduling issues" to keep The Flash out of Justice League of America. If this isn't his own choice, independent of what the other characters are up to (and I can't imagine that it is -- who lobbies for Jessie Quick and Jade when you can have Flash and Green Lantern?), James Robinson shouldn't have to resort to using DC superhero analogues in a DC comic book.

After all, wouldn't Justice League of America sell more if it features more superheroes people want to see?

Wonder Woman revision by J. Michael Straczynski
by Shawn Hill

It sounded great at the outset, right? Why couldn't JMS bring his storytelling magic to bear on DC's no. 1 heroine? Wasn't she due for a new direction and a spotlight, somewhere new to take the character in the wake of executing Maxwell Lord (who's back already, btw)? Hadn't he already written a version of her with Zarda over in Squadron Supreme, whose reflexivity regarding Marvel/DC JLA/Avengers rivalries and parodies is beyond byzantine considering how many alternate universes have been juggled to keep the Squadrons Supreme and all their parallel analogs going? And isn't he actually forging some new ground with an even more stalwart DC character in his take on the Superman mythos?

But Zarda and Clark are not Diana, and neither was the young lass depicted in this title's reboot. Previous writer Gail Simone tried filling the series with quirky supporting characters, rival gods, rebellious Amazons, and freakish new villains. Not really all new ground, sure, but with a quirky overall tone that managed to make Diana the most normal girl in a world of wonders and oddities. But rather than moving on from that solid foundation, JMS falls for the oldest of hoary Wonder Woman clichés, and reboots the whole thing: She's powerless. She's a spy. She's extra cartoonish. She's being judged by her peers. She's in 1938. She's on another world. She's dead, she's newly risen as a goddess, she's been replaced by analogs of herself. Or, in this case, she's teenage and confused and only has some of her powers so far.

The series obliterated her history in order to feed it back in bit by bit, while replacing her continuity with mysticism and an overload of military and martial concerns seemingly grafted in from some modern update of Weird War Tales. The foe, once revealed, was a vague chimera that didn't measure up to Simone's rogue's gallery. Despite the return to classic numbering, the underwhelming story and inconsistent art (coupled with news of yet another impending creative change) has led me to drop the book for the New Year.



Favorite Writer

Nick Spencer
by Morgan Davis


We're living in a splendid time. And I mean that in every way but for a moment let's center it on comics. You see, while comics have always been valuable and rewarding, the last couple decades or so have been a renaissance of sorts, with writers and artists both able to take more risks than ever before. In 2010, Nick Spencer has been perhaps the perfect example of why comics today are leagues beyond the majority of what came before.

On series like Morning Glories and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Spencer has shown that he's the logical next step in comics evolution, a writer who deftly maneuvers between multiple influences while simultaneously creating his own unique style. Spencer appears to be as influenced by works like The Prisoner and Battle Royale as he is by Kirby and Morrison- he's a writer that is able to use all that came before him to steer comics towards a new Golden Age.

While comics writers have influenced by multiple media arguably since the start, Spencer is like the best hip-hop producers in that he's able to turn something old and forgotten into something new and invigorating. Take T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, which Spencer has brought kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Spencer has left the basic plot, the beat, intact but over that he's grafted a post-modern awareness that's in some senses equal parts Morrison and Ellis. Yes, Spencer has his predecessor's templates, their tools, but the way he uses those devices is new and different.

Call Spencer the J Dilla of comics. Call him the Flying Lotus of scripting. The shared trait is his penchant for adventure and mutation, something that let him turn what appeared to be yet another superhero academy tale in Morning Glories into something decidedly unexpected. If Morrison's game is the exploration of myth in all its forms and Ellis' is the idea of our generation's descent into cynicism as escape then Spencer's is the concept that the 21st century is all about using everything that came before to become super-aware.

Spencer's characters, from Morning Glories' alternately cynical and naive teens to the team that knows they'll have to suffer greatly to fix what their predecessors did in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, are all our anxieties brought to life. We do mistrust our elders and like the kids in Morning Glories there's a great reason why we do. We do suspect that our generation may very well be the last and even if it kills us we know we're going to have to fix it, a la T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. Spencer's got his finger on the pulse of America and he needs all of our help to win this game once and for all.

Photo by Luigi Novi

Grant Morrison
by Shawn Hill


I think it means something that I'm reading more Batman books than I am X-Men books these days. This year Morrison took the epic he wove through his run on Batman and Final Crisis, and expanded and explained and filled on the blanks on what might have seemed vague on first run-through. His return to Batman inspired Tony Daniel to a career best level of artistic innovation. His sci-fi parable of Bruce's trip through time allowed a Silver Age fantasy of Batman adventures to exist in six different successive eras in Return of Bruce Wayne (I look at this mini-series as Morrison's All-Star Batman, so packed was it with ideas and variations on the solid core of the main character). While in the latter part of his Batman & Robin run he continued to create a dynamic duo that didn't even need Bruce (despite a chilling and misguided attempt to resurrect him) to keep his mythos and legacy not just alive and kicking, but evolving for the modern age.

I shouldn't have been surprised. Morrison did the same thing for New X-Men in the early aughts and the same thing for the JLA in the 1990s. His iconic knowledge and appreciation of the concepts means putting all the iconic ideas through a major spin cycle, retelling many of the classics, but multiplying the resonances and story threads so that the franchise ends in better shape than when he commenced his fertile exploration. Who knew Batman could exist in multitudes, all around the globe, far away from Gotham or any other no man's land? Morrison did. Do I wish he cared as much about Wonder Woman as he does about the Big Two? Maybe.
Photo by pinguino



Favorite Artist

Sean Murphy
By Morgan Davis


Before his stint on Joe the Barbarian, Sean Murphy was the classic example of an inventive, immensely talented artist who had yet to be given the free reign he deserved. Even with relatively high profile gigs on the likes of Hellblazer and Batman/Scarecrow: Year One, it's likely that most fans were unaware of what Murphy was truly capable of. But with Joe the Barbarian, Murphy has proven that he's easily one of the most impressive artists working in comics today.

Murphy's skill primarily lies in the life he breathes into his art. On Joe the Barbarian, Murphy has been perhaps the largest reason why the fantasy world that the titular Joe falls into has been so captivating. Every panel of Murphy's is filled with a sense of wonder and adventure, with even his depictions of everyday life offering multiple levels of meaning and intent. It's not enough to say that Murphy is creative or unique or quite adept at storytelling- like the sorely missed Seth Fisher, Murphy is the kind of artist who makes a world that feels like no other, the type of world you want to get lost in.

Aided by the fantastic Dave Stewart on colors, Murphy's art for Joe the Barbarian has been an imaginative blend of nostalgia and escape, filled with broken figurines and lush landscapes that lure the reader in. As fantastic as Morrison's writing on the series is, Murphy is the key ingredient, the master who really sells the story by causing readers to want to inhabit the same world as Joe, if only for just a bit.

Murphy would have been a success sooner or later, there's no doubt. But Joe the Barbarian is such a perfect utilization of his skills that it's not at all difficult to see why even Morrison attributes the book's success to him. Morrison's words draw you in but Murphy's art is what makes you believe.

Dustin Weaver
By Nicholas Slayton


It seems that when it comes to detail in comics today, many artist go for a kind of hyper realism, where every muscle is drawn, every bit of a costume has a line on it. The hero is a mesh of lines, a realistic demigod standing out against a background of lesser quality, as if to make the hero stand out more.

In S.H.I.E.L.D., Dustin Weaver takes a completely approach to detail. Not only do characters get a level of detail – but one in which it doesn't clutter the page – but the backgrounds share a level prominence. He can bring to life Ancient Egyptian warriors – including a kind of Egyptian Avengers, complete with enough visual cues to include Moon Knight without being too obvious – as well as Enlightenment scientists or the mechanics of a clockwork machine.

Weaver's talent doesn't extend to his level of detail, but the variety of settings he is able to use that detail. In S.H.I.E.L.D., the settings come to life. Weaver's skill as a story teller is evident. It doesn't take Jonathan Hickman's script to tell what is going on, Weaver easily shows the reader. Whether it's China, Renaissance Italy, or the suits and cars of the 1950s, each era is vivid and so detailed it feels as if Weaver has spent forever researching it, and not the multiple other eras in the book.

Hickman has crafted a complex, high-concept series in S.H.I.E.L.D., but it's Weaver who brings the world to life. His range spans cultural eras, used technology and high tech futurism. Weaver took comics by storm with the century-spanning story of S.H.I.E.L.D., and it will be fascinating to see where he goes in the future.



Wild Card Choices

Attracting new readers
By Nicholas Slayton


The comic industry is about hype. That's one of the main things I've noticed this past year. Between previewing and building pre-release hype for series with little information – quite like the Oscars – the Big Five have been working on giving comics readers something to look forward to months in advance. They have not done a good job of enticing people outside of that circle to start reading comics.

Viewers flocked to watch Iron Man 2, but how many new people jumped on to read Invincible Iron Man? Many complain that Hollywood is taking over Comic-Con, but it's not so much an invasion as it is seizing an opportunity. Did the publishers use it as a way to hook new readers? Did they campaign to reach out to a wider audience? Sadly, no. Appealing to the base can only go so far.

The industry needs some new readers to help. Fans grow older, and despite the need to validate that comics are no longer “for kids,” kids and teenagers represent, on a purely business level, a long-term buyer. To ignore that market would be ludicrous. As a reader who started reading comics in my teenage years, I know that there is not much of an effort to attract my peers. It's a lost opportunity that needs to be rectified.

The rise of digital comics could help the industry succeed in 2011 where it failed in 2010. Digital comics are market-free, and anyone who might not go to a comic book store can easily access and buy the latest issue of any series. And people might doubt the longevity of the mobile market or tablets like the iPad, but the developers are certainly putting their weight behind it, and it looks to be the focus of, at the very least, the next few years. And it's an opportunity to attract a new readership. The question is, will the industry capitalize on it?

The Agony of the Ecstasy of Captain Marvel
By Zack Davisson


James Robinson told me that Captain Marvel was one of the most difficult characters in comics to write. Everyone loves him, but what do you do with him? Judging by the lack of a regular series or even regular appearances, many in the industry must feel the same way. But Captain Marvel just happens to be my favorite superhero and 2010 saw both the best and the worst Captain Marvel releases in recent years.

The Agony – Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! - This one started so good. Mike Kunkel of Hero Bear -fame was hired to continue Jeff Smith's note-perfect 2007 Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil in an ongoing series aimed at kids. Kunkel started off just as perfect, and Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! looked like every Captain Marvel fan's dream come true. Homages to the Golden Age. Beautiful art and story.

And then suddenly, DC fired Kunkel from the series he created and allowed a slew of replacement artists and writers to vomit on the pages with art and story so incomprehensibly bad that I am shocked they made it out of the editorial door. It was just like someone inviting you to a delicious gourmet meal, setting the feast in front of you, allowing you one scrumptious forkful to fill your taste buds with anticipation, and then violent ripping the delights away from you and sticking your face in a plate full of rotten, fly-infested cabbage.

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! drug its stinking carcass across the comic book stands until being mercifully cancelled late 2010.

The Ecstasy - Shazam!: The Golden Age of the World's Mightiest Mortal - The Universe can be kind, sometimes. Almost as an apology for the horrors of Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!, right as the final issue festered on the stands Chip Kidd published this amazing tribute to the Golden Age wonder that was Captain Marvel fandom. This is a reminder of why the character is so much fun. Not a history lesson or a comic reprint, instead Kidd gathers together all of the memorabilia and wacky stuff that accompanied the Big Red Cheese back when he was the King of Comics and the best-selling title around.

Big, colorful and fun without a trace of angst or darkness. Shazam!: The Golden Age of the World's Mightiest Mortal is everything a book about Captain Marvel should be.

The Return of Casanova
By Danny Djeljosevic


Despite being a fan of Matt Fraction since the days of The Basement Tapes at Comic Book Resources and the release of Five Fists of Science, I only got into Casanova in 2009 when I found a copy of the "Luxuria" trade paperback and was blown away by Fraction's gloriously dense and surprisingly introspective sci-spy story. Then, like a detective on his last case in the face of dying penniless, I went all over town, tracking down nearly all the single issues -- not only for all the ultra-personal backmatter, but also to read the as-yet-uncollected second story arc, "Gula," which blew me away like no piece of pop culture before it. There's no telling how many times I reread those comics before ICON's color reprints came out in the summer.

Here's the gloriously complicated premise of the series: Casanova Quinn, a suave thief and the son of the head of a global espionage organization, gets abducted by super-villain Newman Xeno into a parallel universe where he's actually working as a secret agent for his father. So, under Xeno, Casanova must do the James Bond thing whilst running counter-missions for the enemy, and all sorts of problems ensue.

But Casanova is more than just its incredibly high concept; Casanova is Matt Fraction taking his myriad interests (spy fiction, cinema, comic books, the work of Howard Chaykin) and creating a kitchen-sink kind of comic book that gives readers more bang for their buck in one 16-page story than in a 12-part saga where the first issue is just a play-by-play sequence of a superhero strapping on his costume. It's a busy work by creators desperate to keep your attention when they know Batman exists, but also a loving (and often hilarious) homage that also has dozens of things to say, be they about the nature of self, family, spies, racism in popular fiction or even just plain comic books.

It's a beautiful thing, this new Casanova, thanks to the stunning full-color job by Cris Peter with Dustin Harbin's new (hand-drawn!) lettering. Now I'm noticing things I never noticed before and appreciating the art and story on a whole new level than before. Then there's the all-new backmatter, which helps to further illuminate the forces at work behind the story in ways different from Fraction's original art-school-personal-statement-style annotations from the original printings. I'm normally a trade-waiter, but it really pays off to get the single issues.

These reprints of "Luxuria" mark the third time I've picked up this comic. The trade paperback of this first volume comes out in January just in time for the heartbreaking single issues of "Gula," so I look forward to making a quadruple dip. Casanova is my favorite comic book and one of the most important comic books of the 21st Century, not only showing off some of the many things comics can do, but doing them all at the same time. Mark my words, Internet: in a few years, comics critics won't be able to write about Casanova without using the words "highly-influential."

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