High Five! Comics

Posts Tagged ‘Joss Whedon

Remember in ninth grade, when you were totally into that girl in your Honors English class? She was the only reason you ever feigned interest in the Bouncing Souls and Perks of Being a Wallflower. And then, one day she calls you and is all, “Hey, meet me at the Chinatown Express. We totally need to talk.” Oh, god. Man, you needed to get down there. There she is. In the corner with her $1 side of beef broccoli (beef removed in a poor attempt at vegetarianism) and a fortune cookie. This is it. Oh man oh man oh man. “Hey, there, Girl-in-your-ninth-grade-Honors-English-class, what’s up?”

“I just haaaave to tell somebody! I just lost my virginity to the forward on the varsity soccer team!”

That’s Identity Crisis.

But, what was it exactly that made this book so heartbreaking?

In the 1990s the comic industry began delving deeper and deeper in to events. These events were more geared at getting the readers’ money than actual substance. Investors were buying up anything and everything they could get their hands on, and story arcs like Death of Superman or Spider-Man’s Clone Saga were written to shock rather than move readers, and the characters devolved to cheap shots and gimmicks. By and large comics were gussied up with trading cards, black Mylar bags, holographic covers, and many promises of “out with the old, in with the new”.

Right around 2000 (how appropriate for this countdown), things seemed to change. Marvel produced both Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man and Morrison’s New X-Men while DC released Kevin Smith’s run on Green Arrow. This seemed to mark a change in the status quo and comics began to actually focus on who characters were. In other words, the Big Two opted for quality over quantity. Published in 2004, Identity Crisis epitomized this push towards character development.

As a warning, there will be many major spoilers from here on out.

Before Identity Crisis, if I were to ask a comics novice who Sue Dibny, Jean Loring, Jack Drake, Digger Harkness, or Ronnie Raymond was, the response would probably have been a blank stare. Fortunately, DC had been experimenting with thriller novelist Brad Meltzer, who followed up Kevin Smith on Green Arrow. Pleased with the results, they gave him a seven issue mini-series called Identity Crisis. The premise? Apparently to make you cry.

The Silver Age had established how much Ralph (and the rest of the DCU) loved Sue Dibny. A lot of Batman stories involving Tim Drake talk about how he is the only Robin to have ever had a parent to go home to. Former Flash Rogue Digger Harkness (aka: Captain Boomerang) has decided it’s time to pass the torch to his estranged son, Owen Mercer. Jean Loring and Ray Palmer are trying their best to fix their ridiculously rocky relationship. Brad Meltzer does an amazing job setting you up to feel for all of these pairings before taking each and every one of them out in the most gut-wrenching ways possible. Not to be out-done, Rags Morales managed to capture every ounce of heartache in exquisite fashion. Morales’ depiction of Ronnie Raymond’s final moments alone were enough to send me to my cupboard for a hit of Jack Daniels.

Toss in a couple abominable revelations about Doctor Light, Sue Dibny, Batman, the Justice League, and the fact that Identity Crisis was one of the most referenced works in 52 (arguably the turning point in current DC continuity) and you will see why Identity Crisis made #1 on our list. Perhaps Joss Whedon put it best in his introduction for the trade: “Even if you know what happens, you have to live through it. That’s the feeling this book gives you — of living with these people through their pain and triumph and madness, and did I mention the pain? You will come through it with a new understanding of the world before you. You will see.”

There you have it, folks. Identity Crisis was High Five! Comics’ favorite comic of last decade. It wasn’t the most important comic, nor did it revolutionize the industry. We picked Identity Crisis because it made us cry. There were no gimmicks. There were no cheap shots. Just a cast of characters transformed from b-listers to people we genuinely cared about. The last decade saw an abundance of high-quality and entertaining work. Yet, at the end of the day it wasn’t the powers, or the costumes, or the action that we loved most. Identity Crisis was a story about fragile humans, ripped from their tough-guy lifestyle, and doing the best they can to cope with a harsh world.

-Rob

10 (tie).  Walking Dead – Robert Kirkman

I can’t help feeling like this book should probably be #1 on our list. It isn’t (not even in my own personal ranking) because a few others were more popular, had greater impact, etc. But for sheer quality- in both concept and execution- The Walking Dead stood peerless in the 2000s. The book starts from a simple question: “What if every zombie movie you’ve ever seen didn’t actually have to end?” Series creator Robert Kirkman anchors the horror in his characteristically well-drawn characters, each of whom has the opportunity to show complete emotional range and complex, totally natural motivations usually absent from traditionally truncated zombie genre fare. Protagonist Rick Grimes and company endure a hard-fought existence that calls into question the nature of concepts like morality, justice, society and sanity when life becomes a nonstop pursuit of one goal: survival. And that makes anything possible- when the story doesn’t have to work itself to resolution after 90 minutes, all of the rules change. To spoil even one moment of The Walking Dead for a new reader would be criminal, but suffice it to say that nobody is safe, and in a world like this, any/every “normal” person can and will be pushed to things you’d never expect possible. And it is, in all likelihood, the best currently ongoing series in comics.

-Brendan

10 (tie). All-Star Superman – Grant Morrison

I love Superman. I love him as a supporting character. After 80 years as the flagship superhero of comics it feels like everything there was to say about Krypton’s last son has been said. In fact, it was said before a guy like Grant Morrison was even in the biz. Going in to All-Star Superman I felt this way. Then, for 12 marvelous issues I was convinced I needed to know more. Who knew Big Blue had one last arc of good reading in him? I’m sure at some point there will come another author who finds something entertaining to do with Superman, but in the waning years of this last decade it was nice to see creative duo Morrison and Quitely tell me something about Kent I didn’t already know, and wrap it all up so tidily that I felt a sense of closure when it was all said and done.

-Jonny

9. Final Crisis: Revelations – Greg Rucka

Whoa, whoa. Hold on a hot second. A tie-in to an event that’s better than the event itself? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.

You’re dumb, and here’s the proof. While Final Crisis was a little, um, disjointed, Revelations was straight up Biblical goodness. Basically, while Darkseid is busy mind-raping everybody with the Anti-Life Equation, newly-appointed Question Renee Montoya is fighting off the Religion of Crime in Gotham (if you ain’t read it, you’re now officially confused). Meanwhile, newly-appointed Spectre (and Renee’s ex-partner since Batman: the Animated Series) Crispus Allen is serving out justice on God’s behalf for those held responsible for the death of the Martian Manhunter. Basically, the book is a team-up between these two: the Huntress, and Radiant, God’s angel of mercy in a battle against many of Darkseid’s Justifiers and Vandal Savage (who is possessed by Cain from the Bible).

-Rob

8. Y: The Last Man – Brian K. Vaughn
Sort of a weird thing happened in the last decade. Since Hollywood’s bankruptcy of original intellectual properties, we’ve seen so many mediocre, utterly forgettable comics adaptations that we’ve forgotten a time when not every book was viewed in terms of its potential to sustain a film or television franchise. Instead, we’ve begun new lives in an alternate universe where your Aunt whose favorite musician is Michael Buble can tell you who Harry Osborne’s dad is, and the more intellectual set might deign to deride a new theatrical release by saying something like “Eh… I think it would have been better as a comic book.” A shining example of the opposite in effect, Vertigo’s Y: The Last Man is one a truly few number of titles that openly begs to be realized in moving pictures small or large. The story of the last living carriers of a Y chromosome on Earth (20-something Yorrick Brown and his monkey, Ampersand) moves along a pace that perfectly balances its dual nature as both an episodic and serial narrative while introducing us to a hugely diverse cast of female (naturally) characters who all have different goals and motivations driving them to live in a new world without men. At times, the book could be almost soapy in how relationships progress and evolve, and I’d be lying if I said I loved the plot’s final resolution, but for 60 issues Y exhibited an undeniable quality that said this is just the kind of great story- and storytelling– that’s fit for today’s enlightened masses. It’s no wonder that series co-creator Brian K. Vaughn wound up plying his trade doing just that as a writer on ABC’s Lost.

-Brendan

7. Astonishing X-Men – Joss Whedon

Poor Piotr. He spends all that time being good while falling for that underage Lolita, Kitty Pryde. Then he dies. And then, suddenly, he comes back to life and she’s of age! They bump legal uglies and everything is coming up Colossus! Until, you know, Ord shows up with a giant space bullet pointed at Earth and Kitty Pryde has to phase into it and ride it into deep space to save all of us. Yup. Joss Whedon has made a career out of cockblocking and then killing off your favorite characters in everything he touches (see: every girl Xander ever got involved with).

Oh, yeah, plus this book gave us Abbie Brand and S.W.O.R.D. (which is kinda cool) and features art by John Cassaday and Simone Bianchi that is just fucking gorgeous. Now, with Warren Ellis at the helm and the announcement of a few more Astonishing titles, I’m curious to see where they take this from here.

-Rob

6. Invincible – Robert Kirkman

I’m not really much of a fan of Image Comics. I’m not sure if it’s just the stigma that comes with the name (and, yes, I’ll admit that Liefeld’s name does subconsciously affect my opinion) but I just can’t get into it. I’m sorry. Get over it.

Now that I have that out of the way, let’s discuss Invincible. The story of a young man who develops superpowers and decides to use it for the good of mankind yadda yadda nothing new. So what sets it apart exactly? Well, for one, our main character (conveniently named Invincible) has some, well, let’s say family issues with his father, fellow super-being Omni-Man. Pair that with his kid brother’s budding powers, dealing with his girlfriend/classmate/former superhero partner, and the government jerking him around, it is actually a very compelling superhero story. Needless to say, it’s a far cry from the other stuff on Image’s line-up. So far.

Why do I say this? Well, Invincible has all ready had a crossover with Savage Dragon, Astounding Wolf-Man, and Brit (which, might I add, was done surprisingly well). With Invincible #60, they’ve decided to throw Spawn, Witchblade, and Pitt (oh, Pitt) into the mix and, well, that’s where I get a bit dodgy. I can’t bring myself to read Image United but here’s hoping that it doesn’t turn a great book like Invincible into just another Image title.

-Rob

Allright, so I caught Rorschach in the background the first time around, but I didn’t recognize 1979 Movie Captain America until I re-read “Gifted” today. And I only recognized him because the dude who played the part was signing autographs at Long Beach Comic Con last weekend. Got me thinking, anyone recognize any of the other background folks in this panel? Seems to me that if 2 of the 6 are referencing something, the other 4 might be too. Click to embiggen and get to it!

axmen6cameos

Also, Batwoman cameoed in Cry for Justice #4! I wonder if she was there for a specific reason or if this was just a fun little cameo. We’re pretty sure we saw her chillin’ on a gargoyle eavesdropping on Our Heroes earlier in the book.

katecfj

201233-63367-abigail-brand_largeI love Abigail Brand. I’ve wanted to dye my hair green ever since she first showed up during Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run as the head of S.W.O.R.D. – the CIA to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s FBI – with her alien-green hair and sweet sunglasses.

Whedon’s golden-touch when it comes to kick ass female characters was turned to eleven when he created Abby. S.W.O.R.D. (Sentient World Observation and Response Department), headquartered on an orbital space station, deals with alien threats to Earth and Abby’s in charge. It’s kind of like if Fox Mulder had Dana Scully’s anatomy and got to chill out on the JLA Watchtower. From the word go, Abby was her own woman – a lot of second and third string characters in the Marvel U don’t really stand up on their own because they were created to fit a team dynamic, but Abby blows that all to hell. Homegirl’s saved the world from countless alien threats – she even snuck on board a Skrull ship during the invasion and killed every single Skrull on board by her damned self.

And she’s a good shot too, she targeted a cannon on a Ghost Box, FROM SPACE, and saved the world from yet another interdimensional invasion.

She’s got good taste in men; she’s dating Beast. Who, while covered in blue fur, is actually a human, so everyone just calm down. Brand herself is half alien, and apparently her father was a big blue thing too, so Beast’s appearance doesn’t phase her one bit. Her half-alien heritage has given her some sweet powers of her own; she can generate heat and speak in alien languages no other human could physically vocalize. It’s about damn time Beast got a real AWESOME girlfriend. (Watching him leap to her rescue while her escape pod plummeted to earth in this week’s Astonishing X-Men was awesome – “I mean, I’ve lost girlfriends before, but losing one to a ballistic re-entry in half a spaceship is just going to seem gauche when people ask.”)

swordcoverThis is a woman who can kill scads of Skrulls, cry when she sees the destruction they’ve wrought, then turn around and fuck their shit up even more. Abby can be gruff, but she’s doing Nick Fury’s job on a galactic scale, you’d be a bit cantankerous too!

As director of S.W.O.R.D., Abby is basically on constant Galactus watch. I feel safer already. Hopefully we’ll see a lot of her in Spider-Woman and I can’t freakin’ wait for S.W.O.R.D. #1, starring Brand, Lockheed, and Beast. Now I just need to figure out who I’m going to commission my “Abigail Brand, Agent of S.W.O.R.D.” classic Steranko-style Nick Fury cover mock up from. It’s gonna rule.

So your girlfriend/husband/best friend/sister/mom/wife/brother isn’t into comics? Bummer. High Five! is here to help!

I’ll kick this series off with an obvious one. Let’s say you are a gigantic Grant Morrison fan. Your girlfriend, as nerdy and awesome as she is, doesn’t like comics. Well, she thinks she doesn’t like comics.  This post assumes that if you’re reading High Five! and you’ve got a girlfriend, she is probably at least a little geeky, not a classless woo-girl ninny.

Did she like Buffy? That makes it easier. Go pick up the first trade paperback of Buffy Season 8, The Long Way Home. Spend a month or two rewatching the ENTIRE series with her (If she wasn’t into Buffy before, she will be now. You may have to watch Angel as well, for maximum effect). When she goes into withdrawal after watching the series finale, whip that book out and say lovingly “Do you miss them already? Good thing I have this swell COMIC BOOK by JOSS WHEDON which continues the adventures of the fictional characters you’re hopelessly attached to! I got it for you because I LOVE YOU!”

Buffy Season 8

Once she catches up on those, go pick up Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run.  Oh snap, your girlfriend is reading super-hero comics. When she finishes Astonishing, she’ll want to read New X-Men, to know what was going on BEFORE Astonishing. So go buy Grant Morrison’s New X-Men.

Now your girlfriend is reading GRANT MORRISON. Hot. From there you can get her reading Animal Man, Doom Patrol, We3, or JLA. I suggest keeping her away from The Invisibles at first, just to be on the safe side.

This whole process should snowball until your girlfriend is spending just as much money as you on Wednesdays!

Recap: Buffy/Angel – Buffy Season 8 – Whedon X-Men – Morrison X-Men – other Morrison books.

Next Week: Your Mom.


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