Sunday, 30 December 2012

2012, the year indie comics defined my life (well, my pull list).

It's been nearly a year since I started this blog, writing about the comics I'm so addicted to and my opinions of a lot of the books I've picked up in that time, and what a year it's been. Comics has seen some great stories and big shake ups to the big two as well as its fair share of controversy regarding the writers and artists of the works that line the shelves of comic book shops. It's also seen a lot of new talent funnel through image and the more independent publishers, some ending up at the big two while, on the the flip side, some more seasoned writers have left DC and Marvel to work on more of their own stuff.
For me however, 2012 was the year that saw me move away from the the mainstream storytelling of both Marvel and DC and engross myself more in the independent titles produced by Image and Dark Horse. Since picking up the fantastic Who is Jake Ellis? by Nathan Edmondson at the tail end of 2011, I went into 2012 with a new perspective and, with the help of my local shop, have gone on to pick up the incredible Harvest by A.J. Lieberman, the terrific Punk Rock Jesus by Sean Murphy, the engrossing post-apocalyptic title the Massive by Brian Wood and the fantastic Think Tank by Matt Hawkins (which is without doubt my favourite of the year, though not by much) as well as Nathan Edmondson's sequel Where is Jake Ellis?
So why have I become so enamoured by indie titles? In truth, the reasons have been twofold; first of all, these indie titles are just so good! When, each of these books was sold to me (except for Where is Jake Ellis?) I was convinced to reluctantly pick up each title after being told that each book would be award-winning (or words to that effect) and though, not all recommendations hit the mark, the large majority impressed, which was a surprising notion for me.
However, this may have been influenced by the second reason; which was that while indie books impressed, many books from the big 2 failed to have any impact on me. For DC, only three titles spent the year on my pull list; Action Comics, Demon Knights and Earth 2. Throughout 2012 not only did no other title impress me enough to become a permanent fixture, but the titles I did get felt so bad that all three are in danger of being cut next year. Marvel fared a little better, with the early year presenting some quality story lines. However, as the year progressed many of the books fell short and some got cut while others teeter on the brink.
So why has my pull list gone a full 180 from mainstream to indie? The reason, I think, is that the inherent freedom in story telling is far more apparent in the indie books than the mainstream. In the year, a lot of stories have come out (on Twitter mostly) of editorial interference at both Marvel and (to a greater extent) DC, which has appeared apparent to me in the books I read. This results in stories from creators not being used to their fullest. Also, due to the characters used being the companies property, very little character progression or evolution is possible, stunting the story somewhat. Indie titles however, do not have the same constraints, as the characters used are creator owned and can be used in whatever way they imagine, giving them unlimited freedom to just go nuts with their books.
With 2013 round the corner, I'm seeing a big culling of my pull list in regards to the big two coming round the corner and further influx of independent books replacing them. Although, Marvel and DC continue to fight with quality books still coming out (the new Indestructible Hulk springs to mind, that is an awesome book), for me, unless their storytelling improves, the indie publishers will be getting the lions share of my comic budget from here on out.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

An uncertain start for the new Thunderbolts #1

So, this week, along with my standard entries of Earth 2, Action Comics and Daredevil: End of Days I decided to pick up yet another new addition to the Marvel Now stable in the form of Thunderbolts #1. Now I was a big fan of the previous incarnation of Thunderbolts by Jeff Parker (well, up until those pesky Dark Avengers turned up) and with a cast consisting of the Punisher, Venom, Elektra, Deadpool and ,Rulk himself, General "Thunderbolt" Ross, I figured this was certainly worth a look.
This first issue focuses mostly on Ross' recruitment of the Punisher. Having been captured while doing his usual killing of criminals, Frank Castle is approached by the General with an offer: Join his team to help take out the bad guys of the world!! However, Frank is on a ticking clock to make a decision as every crook in town knows he's in a jam and is on the way to come and finish him off. While this is going on, the story is interspersed with Red Hulk's efforts to recruit the other members of his team; from Venom in the middle east, to Deadpool in France, Elektra taking out a sheik and a final, unknown member being broken out by the boss himself, every single one of these characters is given the same offer.
Now, I was really enthusiastic for this book when I heard it mentioned on the net. I thought "a book called Thunderbolts led by Thunderbolt Ross. Now that's what I'm talking about". However, after reading this from cover to cover twice, I have to say my feelings on it were mixed to say the least. The biggest problem in this first issue is the story itself, with the majority of the focus being the Punisher/Rulk dynamic. Now, while there is focus on the other members of the team, there is far too much focus on this particular recruitment, and of that there is little action. Also, the book doesn't really define itself sufficiently in this first issue. Very little of the writing makes clear what exactly this book is all about, which for me is a stumbling block. I want to know where the book is going if not long term, then at least as a general mission statement.
The artwork also doesn't help endear this title to me. Now, don't get me wrong, Steve Dillion is a great artist with his work on the Garth Ennis Punisher series more than proves his chops, and while there is nothing wrong with the art in this issue, my only quibble is that this work is identical to that Garth Ennis series and in a world of Esad Ribic, Kenneth Rocafort and Adi Granov, this artwork just feels very old and dated.
At the end of the day, I'm torn about this book. I really want to like this book, given its history and the characters included, however this first issue has not convinced me that it's anything special. That said, an issue 1 is not always the best barometer of a books quality so maybe issue two will show it in a better light.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Aquaman is actually pretty awesome!!

My birthday was yesterday and, as a treat, my missus took me to my local comic book store and offered to buy me something (Now isn't that true love?!). After some umming and arring, which included the rejection of an Incredible Hulk bust, as well as recommendations by the guys behind the counter, I finally settled for Volume 1 of Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis' new 52 run on Aquaman. Having now read it I've realize two things; 1. Geoff Johns really can make a great character out of nothing and 2. Aquaman is actually pretty awesome!!
Volume 1 is called the Trench and essentially that is what this first arc deals with, both as a main focus as well as the aftermath. When people of some small town (coincidentally just down the road from Aquaman's lighthouse) are attacked by a race of unknown sea monsters, it falls to the king of Atlantis (and his other half Mera) to chase after these creatures, save the people they kidnapped and save the day. This first arc then leads into, what I assume will be the overlying story arc in this run, as a message from beyond the grave informs Aquaman that Atlantis may have been attacked, though it is unknown by who...?
Now, the story is pretty average for how stories go (there are certainly better AND worse in the world of comics, certainly the ones that I've read), however, the reason to read this is not the stories themselves, it's the characters and their dialogue amongst themselves. Aquaman has had the mick taken out of him since he was created (which always makes me think of Raj in Big Bang Theory dressed as the character and hating it) and some of this abuse might be justified. However, Geoff Johns not only accepts these points, but uses them to full effect. During this book, Aquaman is constantly insulted, ridiculed and mocked multiple times for various reasons (the "you can't eat fish" bit in the diner is my personal favourite), but yet he is still portrayed as a hard working, selfless hero whose only problem is the fact he talks to fish (well, he doesn't but that gets explained). This is where the talent lies in this book, as Johns not only does this but also creates a nice supporting cast for his hero (and heroine) based on the people who come to realise once you look past the jokes, Aquaman is pretty bad ass.
Of course, that isn't to take away from the artwork and Ivan Reis and Joe Prado. Reis, who was on task for Blackest Night and Flash: Rebirth, pulls another blinder here with stunning panels on every page. From the brightness on land to the darkness of the trench, every panel is so striking with deep colours and no disparities that it only enhanced my enjoyment.
At the end of the day, I have realised that I've been seriously missing out when it comes to this title, especially if the quality of this book has continued since these first 6 issues. The big question for me now is, do I get on board at the next available jumping on point or simply get all the issues I've missed?