New Year’s Revolutions: 2006 is the new 2005

A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: David Wallace

Well, not really, but you know what I mean. After a big year for comics in 2005 saw the Big Two shake things up considerably, there are quite a few things I’m looking forward to in 2006 as a result…

1. The comics trend you love to hate continues: Crossovers: If one trend characterised the comics year of 2005, it’s the Crossover. Seeing in the New Year, DC’s Identity Crisis got the ball rolling with Brad Meltzer’s winning mix of old-school superhero team-ups, strong and accessible characterisation, and a darkening of the DC Universe which caused a fair share of controversy among the fan community. Despite a weak conclusion on its own terms, this miniseries led neatly into what now seems like an eternity of spin-offs, tie-ins, Countdowns and build-ups to the big DC event of the decade that made Identity Crisis look like a mere prologue: Infinite Crisis.

Marvel’s marketing department struck out defensively with the much-mooted Universe-altering House of M and all its surrounding tie-ins, but there was something anti-climactic about Brian Bendis’ big finale. Despite the earth-shaking implications of the Scarlet Witch’s culling of Marvel’s mutant population, something felt a little bit off about the way in which the series was wrapped up, and some of the changes made are already being retconned back to normal in the X-Men titles. Marvel’s second crossover effort concerned the Spider-Man books, with "The Other" promising some high drama and huge character-defining revelations for the wallcrawler. Halfway through the event, however, "The Other" has yet to convince that it’s anything other than a bloated, uneven and overlong excuse for J. Michael Stracynski’ to mine the same storytelling seam of Totemistic powers which has split Spider-Man fans ever since he started writing Amazing Spider-Man a few years ago.

DC didn’t completely escape the crossover backlash either, as fans grew frustrated with the ever-growing list of required reading which set up Infinite Crisis. The situation reached a head with the O.M.A.C. Project/"Sacrifice" debacle, during which fans complained that an entire arc of Wonder Woman was an essential read if one hoped to understand the events of a key moment in Batman’s O.M.A.C. miniseries.

However, with Crossovers displaying sales-boosting superpowers of their own, it doesn’t look as if they’re going to go away any time soon. Thankfully, Infinite Crisis looks to be shaping up as a worthy 2006 successor to Crisis on Infinite Earths, and Marvel looks to be planning future events with a lot more forethought, with the soon-to-be-released New Avengers: Illumniati Special purportedly tying in to their big “Civil War / Whose side are you on” event next year. And with Marvel’s Planet Hulk, Annihilation, and DC’s weekly 52 series and One Year Later universe-spanning overhaul also on the cards for 2006, it doesn’t look like crossovers are going to disappear from our shelves any time soon.

2. Most overlooked talent of 2005: David Hine’s Daredevil: Redemption: If I had to name one series that really made its mark on me in 2005 but doesn’t seem to have captured the imagination of the comics-buying public in the same way, it would be David Hine’s Daredevil: Redemption.

Redemption was a refereshingly intelligent and mature take on the character which focussed as much on Matt Murdock the lawyer as on Daredevil the costumed vigilante, providing a dramatic legal angle which had been sorely missed throughout Bendis and Maleev’s run on the core title. Michael Gaydos’ atmospheric pencils and heavy inks sold the dark tone of Hine’s story of Joel Flood, a misunderstood young boy from a close-knit Southern town who is framed for the grotesque murder of a local child. There were some great pieces of characterisation in this book, whether it was Matt himself, his idealistic young intern, the very different lawyers he encountered during the trial or the sinister secrets of the local townsfolk, which were revealed as the miniseries progressed. I won’t spoil the mystery here, but the book took some very dark and compelling twists and turns before it reached its ultimate conclusion.

Along with musings on the fallibility of the death penalty, the dangers of religious fanaticism and the feelings of isolation which accompany adolescence, Hine examined the closeted mentality of small-town America and explored just how difficult it was for our hero to have faith in a legal system which conspires to let him down at every turn. Crucially, Daredevil didn’t have all the answers in this book, and the heart-wrenching resolution was one of the strongest single issues I read all year. A bittersweet quality plays on the mind after you’ve turned the final page of this series, making for a far more relevant and satisfying read than most superhero comics could hope to manage. An overlooked gem that is well worth picking up in TPB form if you can find it, and if you do, hey – we might even get to hear more from him in 2006. I’m certainly hoping so.

3. Top Ongoing titles for 2006: Here are the titles I’m most looking forward to in 2006:

Ultimates 2: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: this would be a perfect comic if not for the delays. Erratic shipping is possibly the only bad thing I can find to say about this book, and with only 3 issues to go before Millar and Hitch’s final run on the title wraps up, I’ll go out on a limb and say we might even see it all before October (well, maybe November). I can’t even imagine how Jeph Loeb and Joe Madueira are going to follow this.

Black Widow v.2: Richard K. Morgan’s Black Widow v.1 showed aspiring writers of spy comics and female characters alike how it’s done, and this second mini is following in the footsteps of the first and building on the foundations of that series to create something very special. The first few months of this year will see V.2 come to a close; I can only hope V.3 isn’t too far away.

Daredevil: Bendis and Maleev will bring their epic superhero-noir story to a close in typically grand style in early 2006, having moved all the pieces of their run into place for an epic finale. However, even more significant is the hot new team of Brubaker and Lark. They certainly have a lot to live up to in this next year, but there’s definitely a market for readers who are growing tired of Bendis’ individual writing style. Brubaker claims he’s going to restore the swashbuckling side of DD, and after having seen the latest cover preview for an upcoming issue, it looks like major upheavals are in store for the Man Without Fear.

Ex Machina: Brian K. Vaughn and Tony Harris struck gold with their mix of New York politics and ex-superhero shenanigans, and this title looks to be raising the bar in 2006. January’s first issue of the year anchors itself in 2003, and promises a mix of action from the Great Machine and public protest against Bush’s war in Iraq. I. Cannot. Wait.

DC’s All-Star line: When DC announced their “All-Star” project a while back, people weren’t quite sure what to expect. With Frank Miller’s bizarre and psychotic reinvention of Batman only a couple of issues in, and All Star-Superman only just hitting the shelves, it may still be too early to judge the success of the All-Star line – but so far it’s been an interesting new take on DC’s two big icons which seems to be looking to emulate the success of Marvel’s accessible “Ultimate” imprint. I can only hope new issues are a bit more regular in 2006.

4. Creator to watch: Mark Millar: Many big-name writers have maintained a higher profile during 2005 than Mark Millar, but I don’t think any have matched his consistently high standard of output. Millar has had high-profile runs with Marvel’s two flagship characters this year, with both of his 12-issue epic arcs on Marvel Knights Spider-Man and Wolverine providing big-scale thrills and spills and status-quo-altering events for both characters. These two runs showed that he’s got a strong grasp of how to make relatively old-fashioned superhero conventions work for a modern readership and that he’s more than capable of providing effortlessly entertaining (if occasionally mindless) action-packed comics, as well as far more original works like his final stand-alone issue of Wolverine (which transported the clawed one to a WWII concentration camp with chilling results). Despite the commercial success of these two projects, that side of Millar’s work wasn’t his strongest suit creatively, as it was two titles from Marvel’s still relatively young Ultimate stable which really allowed him to shine in 2005.

Millar’s opening run on Ultimate Fantastic Four showcased the manic imagination and strong grasp of character which has already made his tenure on the book more memorable than that of any of his predecessors. His first arc, “Crossover”, instigated a great bait-and-switch on comics fans by threatening an Ultimate Universe/616 crossover which never came, instead rewarding us with a tale in which Reed crosses over into a sinister zombified alternate Marvel reality. His second arc, which introduces Namor into the Ultimate Universe, is providing more of the same great action and refreshingly condensed writing, and it’s telling that his work on the title is already providing enough material for spin-off series (with Marvel Zombies debuting this December). The jewel in Marvel’s crown, however, remains Millar’s Ultimates 2, which continues to impress me every issue with its compelling blend of politics, militaristic characterisation and grandly-staged super-hero action. It’s the book I look forward to above all others, and it’ll be a great loss when Millar and Hitch end their run on the title in 2006.

Even the Millar-penned segments of Marvel’s weird and wonderful Wha… Huh issue stood out above the others, with “What if the Avengers all had beards” and “What if the Punisher was a bleeding heart” sticking in my memory as especially fun contributions. And it’s not just Marvel comics that have taken advantage of Millar’s talents, as the writer’s own creator-owned comic Wanted wrapped up earlier in the year. Indeed, he plans to concentrate more on smaller, independent projects in years to come. On top of all of this, - Millar’s official website - has continued to provide a great forum for mature comics discussion and a wonderful new monthly magazine which is well worth a read for anyone who loves comics (or has geek tendencies generally).

Mark Millar is gearing up for even bigger and better things in 2006, as he’s been named as the writer of Marvel’s Big Summer Event Civil War as well as the mysterious 1985 series, which looks to be an interesting experimental project which fuses photography and comicbook storytelling, centering around the Marvel universe of 1985. It was a shame to hear of his recent illness, and I can only hope he overcomes it soon, because the comics world will be a far less entertaining place without him.

5. Best way to show your comics some love! DC Absolute editions: DC could potentially tempt more and more monthly readers to switch sides in the “wait for the trade” debate with the unveiling of the first of its Absolute editions in 2005. These exemplary volumes used an oversized, slipcased hardcover format and high quality paper stock and printing methods to present comics in the best manner I’ve ever seen. Taking a cue from some of the great hardcover collections that Marvel comics have recently turned out, DC has also included pages and pages of extras in these sets (artwork, interviews, commentaries, pencils and variant covers) which really add value to the books and offer tons of insight into the modern classics which have so far been released in the format.

Batman: Hush and Watchmen were the first two stories to receive the prestigious “Absolute” treatment, with Crisis on Infinite Earths following soon after in a satisfyingly weighty set. It really enhances the pleasure of reading to have comics presented in such a definitive format, and despite their high price tag these are really worthy additions to any DC fan’s collection. I look forward to seeing what comics receive the same treatment in 2006.

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