Dec 19, 2013

End of the Year Recommendations

End of the Year Recommendations
Pop Medicine
Travis Hedge Coke

I can’t tell you what the best comics of 2013 were. I didn’t read enough new comics, and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure how new or not new some of the comics I read are. I don’t remember how much of the Batman Inc or Simone Batgirl I read this year were actually from this calendar year. I read a cool issue of Iron Man where he gets to fight three supervillains in a casino and even Bethany Cabe gets to knock one of them around, that I know for sure isn’t very new. I’m sure Kamiyadori isn’t new, because it’s English-language publisher doesn’t even exist anymore. I have no sense of time on that scale.

But, here are some comics that you should read, regardless of when they came out. Things I read or seriously reinvestigated this year, that are so good they belong not on your shelf but in your hands right this moment.

Endless Wartime (Warren Ellis and Mike McKone)

Long ago, Captain America made a mistake in trust, and longer ago, Thor made a mistake out of hubris. Today, those mistakes have come back to haunt them and to kill a whole mess of otherwise uninvolved people. Cue the Avengers to come stomp on the consequences of these mistakes until they stop hurting the world. That’s Endless Wartime.

Reviews of this Avengers comic tend to follow along lines of “I expected more,” or the very silly “how dare they say mean jokes to each other!” Ignoring that second category, I can see the first set’s point. But their expectation might be getting in the way of reality. Reality is, this is a super fine dynamite comic. It’s not the best Hulk comic or the best Captain America story ever in the history of all things ever, but it is the best Hulk comic I’ve seen in the last several years. It is the best Captain America or Captain Marvel comic I’ve seen recently.

It’s the first time, in a long time, that I’ve seen Captain Marvel around other heroes and not only acting in accordance with her very prestigious military and publishing background, but also being received by the others as someone who’s pretty impressive. She’s not a super-genius billionaire, but she is a colonel with a strong history in national security, an award-winning editor and writer of note, who’s been assigned command over Wolverine before by the US government. The fact that the majority of writers who use her, tackle her as an ass in black (with feelings of inadequacy) first and an Air Force Colonel who once ran security for NASA or oversaw the most successful women’s magazine launch in the Marvel Universe out of a one-room office and a boss who loathed her work is a problem. It’s not one that Warren Ellis makes.

For all that it would be easy to turn Hawkeye or Wolverine, Captains Marvel or America into cardboard gags if he so wanted, or generic action figures, everyone in Endless Wartime has both a complete and nuanced personality and their own brand of heroism or villainy. The villains of the piece, really, are depressing, especially in their joviality and practicality. The shame that hits Thor, and later Captain America, is remarkably deep, but each deals with it differently because they’re very different men, even when experiencing a similar emotion.

The only character in this comic who I think didn’t have their best showing of the year here, is Hawkeye, and that’s because Hawkeye’s solo comic should be sweeping awards ceremonies as you read this.

The Name of the Rose (Marjorie Liu and Daniel Acuña)

It’s not uncommon to see someone refer to a comic as cinematic, or to talk of comics like TV or comics like music. This Black Widow comic is a bit of like everything. It’s pacing comes in fits, in fugues, with silent scenes, talky scenes, broad and thin imagery lingering over the page, big chunks of abrupt information hitting like bullets. Some panels are rounded at the edges and fade into the white of the background, others have no fade and no drawn border, simply stopping, while still others have varying depths of black or of fade, circles, squares, inset patterns, filmic rectangles, it runs the gamut. Texture and detail might give way halfway across the page to flat colors and distinct shapes. Characterization is often given in lacunae, machinations becoming evident behind the characters’ direct concerns or awareness.

If this had been television or a concept album, it’d have been praised up and down. Instead, because the comics field is as it is, the title was quickly handed off to other talent who used it to simply springboard into a miniseries that went essentially nowhere. Still, this comic is good. It’s a shame about the follow-up material, but this comic is more than sound. It’s beautiful. The fights are good and brutal, the romance is light and serious, the reveals and stings are treacherous and maddening. Liu writes a smart, solid Black Widow, with no attempts at making her seem less than competent or out of her element. Acuña had a great eye for layout and color, and does a magnificent belt buckle on Wolverine, which has to be magnificent or why would anyone spend time in a write up talking about Wolverine’s belt buckle.

This a guest star happy comic, too, with, yes, Wolverine, and with Bucky as Captain America, Tony Stark outside his armor, Pepper Potts, Lady Bullseye, Elektra, and some intriguing new characters who don’t feel new, but rounded and grounded. No one’s superfluous. No moment or appearance ever feels wasted, and when it all starts coming together, it’s like trying to throw your fist in the air to cheer while getting kidney punched. The last dozen pages are earned and gorgeous, with some brilliant violence and one of the finest sunsets I’ve ever seen in a comic, anywhere.

Yossel (Joe Kubert)

“How did they get the lines so black? How did they do the colors, so you could still see the black lines? Why were all the colors made up of little dots, while the black lines were sleek and solid, no matter how fine the lines?” – Yossel, page 10

“Outside the barrack, the glare from spotlights mounted at intervals on the electrified fences seemed to dance in the rain.” – Yossel, page 68

“Jewish resistance and retaliation has become a reality.” – Yossel, page 91

“I was lucky.” – from Kubert’s introduction

Yossel came out ten years ago. Most of you didn’t read it then. Read it now.

Joe Kubert was the kind of talent you can’t measure, because there’s no good way to measure it. He was influential beyond his artwork and his art is pretty damned influential. Yossel is the work of someone who knows exactly what they are doing, who is comfortable with their genius. A comic that is, on the surface, a sequence of gracious what-ifs, bouncing off the question of what life would have been like for him, had his family stayed in Europe while the Nazis were in power, this is bigger, smaller, and far more important than merely what-if-ing. There is penance and gratitude in the pencil lines of each page, every crackling panel-less image, each careful sentence.

The image across the top of one page is of the interned lined up and surrounded by soldier, waiting to be beaten and humiliated and perhaps killed. Not only do the interned have no faces, no specific features, as the lines of human beings recedes to the back, even the shapes of humanity go away, and those in the far rear are merely a blank oval hanging over the collar of a uniform. The Nazis cast huge shadows, bigger than themselves, but the interned cast an even larger shadow, in bulk, over them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, Travis. I think you just sold me every one of those books. Once I've recovered from Christmas, those are on the buy list. Well written piece. Thanks!

Merry Christmas,

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