It sounds easy, but, sorry, there is a catch. You have to choose your favorite comic book from the following list of 20 new comics, all published by Marvel and DC, that I’ve provided below. Your favorite may not be included. But a potential favorite may be there, in which case you have the opportunity to read a new comic (or a few new comics), make your choice, and let me know what you think.
You may have several favorites on this list. Which one has the edge? You may have a strong opinion that none of these books should be here. Let me know why. But also let me know if there’s one below you would consider reading.
Here they are!
Captain America #34 (March, 2008, Marvel Comics). Written by Ed Brubaker. Art by Steve Epting and Butch Guice. Edited by Tom Brevoort. Captain America is arguably Marvel’s best superhero comic, and this issue shows why. Steve Rogers is dead, assassinated months ago, and a character formerly believed deceased is now the new Captain America. You can pull this kind of stuff off in comics. Brubaker raises the creative stakes by simply knocking the action and intrigue out of the park. I didn’t think much of the revived character when he first appeared earlier in the series, but with this issue, in the space of a few pages in conversation with the Black Widow and during his dramatic debut as Cap, I like him.
100 Bullets #88 (April, 2008, Vertigo/DC Comics). Written by Brian Azzarello. Art by Eduardo Risso. Edited by Will Dennis. This abstract crime drama is closing in on ten years of publication, and has entered its closing act. While there have been many memorable story arcs, and a host of confusing sequences– I don’t call it abstract for nothing–the books that stand out for me are the ones where a main supporting character meets a violent death. This issue is one of them. Actually, I saw this coming; no one dies a natural death in 100 Bullets. The series has been around long enough now that you vaguely get to know the characters, and even understand their motivations at times, so when one meets their end, as the blood gushes out, you feel the impact. Eighty-eight issues have played out, with only twelve left to wrap it up. I hope Agent Graves gets what he’s scheming for, but I can’t help but feel he’s going to be digging his own name.
The Mighty Avengers #10 (May, 2008, Marvel Comics). Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Mark Bagley, Danny Miki, and Allen Martinez. Edited by Tom Brevoort. Reading The Mighty Avengers #10 was like stepping back into late 1974, thanks to the time-traveling plot device utilized by Bendis, which placed Iron Man, The Sentry, and Dr. Doom in a New York City 30 years gone. Even the look of the book was mid-70s Marvel, with typed captions at the bottom of some pages hyping the then-current books (including Captain America #181, which was actually published in October of 1974). Now if Marvel had only gone with the newsprint that funny books used to be printed on, then it would have really felt and smelt like a vintage 70s Marvel comic! My only complaint was the explosive two-page spread at the end. Pretty, but a waste of story space.
All-Star Superman #9 (December, 2007, DC Comics). Written by Grant Morrison. Art by Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant. Edited by Bob Schreck. I don’t see All-Star Superman as a contemporary throwback to the Weisinger era of Superman comics as much as I do a warped extension of Morrison and Quitely’s Flex Mentallo. Published in 1996, Flex Mentallo is one of the best superhero comics ever written, and while it was (and continues to be, from time to time) critically acclaimed, it keeps getting neglected in the comics canon shuffle. Flex Mentallo is the revenge of Flex Mentallo disguised as a Superman comic.
The Amazing Spider-Man #553 (May, 2008, Marvel Comics). Written by Bob Gale. Art by Phil Jimenez and Andy Lanning. Edited by Stephen Wacker. “Brand New Day.” Here I was thinking Spider-Man would be singing a Sting song. No, actually, a portion of his life has been erased, hence the Brand New Day. I dropped Spider-Man when that nasty Gwen Stacy retro-revelation involving one of the Osbornes (which I now barely remember) was published some time back. So, hopefully, that’s been erased, too, and that’s not an endorsement for the it-never-happened-in-established-continuity-vanishing-trick, it’s me looking for a silver lining and carrying on. And I thought this comic was terrific. This is the nostalgic throwback that All-Star Superman isn’t. This book feels like the spirit of Stan Lee is presiding over it. There is no continuity baggage to wrestle with. It’s just Spider-Man, in all his outcast glory, battling the villain of the day.
Wonder Woman #17 (April, 2008, DC Comics). Written by Gail Simone. Art by Terry Dodson, Ron Randall, and Rachel Dodson. Edited by Matt Idelson. I think Wonder Woman is a difficult character for any writer to get a handle on and make the character and the series entertaining, and I give Simone all the credit in the world for sustaining my interest–especially since I was coming in at the tail end of a four-part story arc. I’m behind on my Wonder Woman reading, but not on the character’s history. She’s gone through a lot of talented writers since her revamping by George Perez in 1987, with the past year and a half being an awkward stretch. Unfortunately, I was still a bit disappointed in this comic because it seems that Wonder Woman is in kind of a rut right now, and I feel that DC doesn’t quite know what to do with her.
Wolverine #63 (May, 2008, Marvel Comics). Written by Jason Aaron. Art by Ron Garney. Edited by Alex Alonso. This is the first Wolverine comic I have ever purchased, which is appropriate because it’s written by Jason Aaron, who writes my favorite comic, Scalped. My initial concern was that I’d be comparing it to Scalped, which honestly wouldn’t be fair. So I’m not going to be fair. It isn’t as good as Scalped, not even close, but it’s a good Wolverine story–and that’s coming from a reader who is sufficiently familiar with Wolverine through reading a good number of X-Men comics but who has never really connected with the character. Wolverine is extremely bullet-ridden in this story, and he keeps his sense of humor despite the annoyance. I didn’t realize Wolverine was that invulnerable. I didn’t realize he was so dang old, either. And I loved the cliffhanger ending because it didn’t involve a huge explosion or a full-page spread depicting a returning character who hasn’t been seen for only two months. So consider me hooked.
Justice Society of America #13 (April, 2008, DC Comics). Written by Geoff Johns. Art by Fernando Pasarin and Richard Friend. Edited by Michael Siglain. This super-team has been around almost seventy years, which is simply amazing. Right now, the JSA is involved in an epic story arc involving the Superman of Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come. To some, this is continuity porn, and they have a point. To others, it’s how a super-team book should be handled, and they have a point, too. Personally, being a long-time JSA fan, I appreciate how Johns respects the team’s legacy and traditions while keeping it fresh with new characters. So, for me, it’s a good read.
Fantastic Four #555 (May, 2008, Marvel Comics). Written by Mark Millar. Art by Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary. Edited by Tom Brevoort. I had an immediate problem with this comic before I even read it. In the house ad for Millar and Hitch’s debut on Fantastic Four, Sue Storm looks like Gwyneth Paltrow–which is just wrong. Sue’s face is round, not long. Of course, one way to side step the entire issue is to not have Sue in the book (well, she could be, y’know, invisible). Anyway, I liked this issue, because I read it after a long day at work, which made me quite grumpy, and the plot is that the Earth is doomed, and that was fine with grumpy old me. However, an ex-girlfriend of Reed Richards and her husband have constructed a man-made planet in another dimension to house Earth’s population. Some people just have the means to accomplish anything. A nice bit of escapism after an aggravating day (and isn’t that what comics are all about?).
All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder #9 (April, 2008, DC Comics). Written by Frank Miller. Art by Jim Lee and Scott Williams. Edited by Bob Schreck. In the wake of Frank Miller’s critical and successful The Dark Knight Returns and, to a lesser extent, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, this hard-cut, hard-boiled, tough as nails, gosh-darn intensely primitive interpretation of Batman may just be what this generation of Bat-fans deserves. However, this issue is a turning point. In the wake of one violent action by the boy he has trained, Batman finds himself taking a hard look at what he has done, and if this changes him, as well it should, the readers may find a kinder, gentler Dark Knight emerging from the emotional wreckage, and they may not want that. As of right now, All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder remains a very popular comic book, although not a critical favorite. Your support for it confirms that you’re pleased with the direction Miller and Jim Lee are heading in. But at this critical juncture you may have some suspicions.
Iron Man #26 (April, 2008, Marvel Comics). Written by Daniel and Charles Knauf. Art by Roberto De La Torre. Edited by Nicole Boose. Iron Man is my favorite Marvel character, solely due to his uniform, which is awesome–as good as Green Lantern’s. I prefer the classic red and gold look, emphasizing the man and not the machine. Too much armor and gadgetry doesn’t work for me. And now Tony Stark runs S.H.I.E.L.D.? Obviously, I’ve been out of the Marvel Universe too long (actually, since the final issue of Civil War where, in the space of one panel, I dropped Marvel ‘s new books altogether. It’s not Marvel’s fault, it’s a long story, and I’m digressing). Anyway, in this issue, Iron Man battles his long-time foe, the Mandarin, and is apparently killed at the end of the issue, just as he is in The Mighty Avengers #10! Talk about a tough month!
The Spirit #14 (March, 2008, DC Comics). Written by Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier. Art by Mike Ploog and Mark Farmer. Edited by Joey Cavalieri. Oh, man. Not only do Aragones, Evanier, Ploog, and Farmer have to fill some pretty big creative shoes left behind by Darwyn Cooke, but they’ve got to perform on the Spirit-ual stage built by the legendary Will Eisner. I don’t envy them, and I don’t dislike what they’re doing, either. This isn’t the most gripping unsolved murder case in modern fiction, but it’s an enjoyable read because the characters are interesting, there are a couple of successful stabs at humor, and it’s just plain nice to see The Spirit handled by creators who are genuinely appreciative of Eisner’s artistic style (as opposed to someone else trying to imitate Cooke, which could’ve happened).
Moon Knight #16 (May, 2008, Marvel Comics). Written by Mike Benson. Art by Mark Texeira. Edited by Axel Alonso. I selected this comic because I’ve never been able to shake off the character’s similarities to DC’s Batman, and was curious if this latest version would brush away my long-standing perceptions. Surprisingly, the answer is “almost”. When it comes to fighting crime, Moon Knight is a lot harsher in his methods than is the Caped Crusader. However, since signing up under the Registration Act, Moonie’s been conflicted about holding back on those methods. I’m not sure I like the guy, but the story is intriguing. I may stick with it.
Fables #70 (April, 2008, Vertigo/DC Comics). Written by Bill Willingham. Art by Niko Henrichon. Edited by Shell Bond. What a great cover. The Three Bears have to decide, as do many other Fables, where they want to live. Remain at The Farm in upstate New York or return to an area of the Homelands protected from the Adversary thanks to the clever Good Prince? Also, Boy Blue’s heart is broken and his pride stricken. I didn’t see that coming. There are a lot of interesting developments in this issue as Bill Willingham sets the stage for all-out war (the perfect distraction for the emotionally besieged Boy Blue). An outstanding comic, so good I think we all take it for granted.
The Punisher #55 (May, 2008, Marvel Comics). Written by Garth Ennis. Art by Goran Parlow. Edited by Alex Alonso. I’m no Punisher fan, but this is a strong story. In fact, of all the books I’ve written about here (with the possible exception of the final entry), it’s this Punisher story that’s stayed with me the most, in a haunting kind of way. There’s a pretty formidable threat to the Punisher being concocted, but there’s also a book here, called Valley Forge, Valley Forge, that’s been placed into the mix–and it depicts part of Frank Castle’s past in Vietnam during the early 1970s. It’s written by the brother of a man who served with Castle. I’m not yet sure how it’s all going to tie together (this is only part one). Ennis is just so good at bringing you into the story and setting you right beside the characters. In this case, setting you on two stages where you know soon all hell is going to break loose.
Checkmate #23 (April, 2008, DC Comics). Written by Greg Rucka and Eric Trautmann. Art by Joe Bennett and Jack Jackson. Edited by Joan Hilty. I’m a little wary of where this book will be going once Greg Rucka departs. I suppose we can only deal with that when the time goes. For now, it’s a fine comic involving an espionage division of the United Nations that keeps close tabs on nasty meta-humans. Checkmate castle has been breached by one of their own–one who is so deep undercover in the Kobra cult that he may have gone over to the other side. Right now, Checkmate considers their agent’s life threatened so they send in Superman to rescue him–and how Superman is illustrated is my only complaint with this issue. There’s just too much muscle (and he’s posing with it). Doesn’t any artist today want to draw Superman in the way that Curt Swan once did?
The Last Defenders #1 (May, 2008, Marvel Comics). Written by Joe Casey and Keith Giffen. Art by Keith Giffen, Jim Muniz and Cam Smith. Edited by Stephen Wacker. This is my introduction to the contemporary Marvel playground, wherein each state of the union gets its own unique super-team. New Jersey gets the new Defenders, which consists of Nighthawk, Colossus, She-Hulk, and some oddity known as the Blazing Skull. Their first mission is to crash into a Trump building and break up a ceremony performed by some serpent cult. Of course, this leads to an even bigger threat, at which point we break away to a distant planet where a world-conqueror explains in hints and clues to a Recorder that the new Defenders are part of something bigger in the Marvel Universe. Decent Marvel fan-boy fare, although budget constraints (one of the truer threats to the comics industry at the moment) will prevent me from continuing with it. I might consider purchasing the trade collection a few months down the line, though.
Green Lantern #28 (April, 2008, DC Comics). Written by Geoff Johns. Art by Mike McKone, Andy Lanning, Marlo Alquiza, and Norm Rapmund. Edited by Eddie Berganza. The best space opera in comics today. The trial of Laira, Green Lantern of Sector 112, is conducted before the Guardians of the Universe and her fellow Green Lanterns. She is found guilty of murdering Amon Sur, son of Abin Sur, the man who bequeathed Hal Jordan his power ring. Laira is stripped of her title and position, and then sent home. The second law of Oa is initiated, allowing Green Lanterns to induce lethal force on their enemies. There’s even room for the first stages in the forming of the Red Lanterns. In the wake of “The Sinestro Corps War,” there is no downtime in this book. The action, intrigue, and conflicts just keep on coming. Geoff Johns is methodically setting the stages for a resounding climax in 2009. And while this book has ties to established continuity, the reader isn’t drenched in it. If it wasn’t for Scalped, this would be my favorite comic book.
X-Factor #29 (May, 2008, Marvel Comics). Written by Peter David. Art by Valentine De Landro and Andrew Hennesy. Edited by Aubrey Sitterson. X-Factor was a pleasant surprise. I chose this book because it was the new X-book for the week of March 10. I didn’t know who the characters were, hadn’t read any of the issues leading up to this one, and I had no idea what the “Divided We Stand” blurb on the front cover meant. As far I was concerned, this book had everything going against it. Even though it was part one of a new story arc (and there were obviously many unresolved plots and subplots carrying over from prior issues), I didn’t have a single problem enjoying this comic. In fact, I may even buy the next issue.
Scalped #15 (May, 2008). Written by Jason Aaron. Art by R.M. Guera. Edited by Will Dennis. I may have stacked the deck against this book–after all, Captain America and Batman are a heck of a lot more popular–but I want to give Scalped exposure because I think it’s the best ongoing comic book being published today. So even if it receives absolutely no support (which, honestly, I don’t think is going to happen), you’ll at least know it’s worth checking out. Actually, it’s worth more than “just checking out,” it’s worth purchasing the first two trade paperbacks and losing yourself in this superior crime drama that I’m praying is allowed to run a natural course as perceived and executed by writer Jason Aaron and artist R.M. Guera. I highly recommended Scalped in my column last year, and it’s only gotten better since. In fact, with the introduction of a young “sidekick” for undercover FBI agent Dashiell Bad Horse and the genuinely evil (as opposed to conflicted) Mr. Brass, the humanity and intensity in Scalped has risen volumes. The character development and interactions are so good you can forget there are murders to be solved!
That’s it! Let me know your favorite in an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org!
The “polls” are open for two weeks, beginning Thursday, March 27 and closing Thursday, April 10. On Friday, April 18, I will announce and analyze the results, four books will be eliminated–not necessarily because they received the lowest number of “votes”–and we’ll go from there.