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Comics: The Commentary Track for the January 5th Buy Pile (a.k.a. The Best and Worst of Comics in 2010)

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Every week I do a column full of comic book reviews as I’ve done since March 2003 and currently published at Comic Book Resources. Then, after the reviews post, I try to come over to my blog and expand on the thoughts and ideas listed there. Sometimes it’s profound, sometimes it’s gibberish, but it’s always about comics … let’s see what we get this week!

What? This week’s reviews

Well, happy new year to you, bucko!

You’re likely hear for my “haven’t done the Smackdown Awards in years” wrap up of 2010 — the good, the bad and the whimsical. There’s not much to say about this week’s reviews (other than “what the heck is the Twilight Sword doing being used to reshape reality?” and “condescending to gay people in Starman/Congorilla is only slightly less bad than insulting them”) so let’s get right down to it.

THE BEST OF 2010

  • The Fables franchise — with the weird exception of the Jack of Fables series, remained some of the best stuff on the stands. The miniseries Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love finished strong, proving that the property still has legs in terms of spinning off, the epic conflict and fantastic extras in Fables #100 are like an instruction manual for excellence … it’s just a fantastic property that keeps on giving and giving.
  • Speaking of brilliance in comics, Boom Studios brought Michael Alan Nelson’s Dingo to life, and it’s almost as amazing as its prose incarnation. A real high spot of the year.
  • Tyro publishers Stranger Comics optioned their debut property The Untamed to Hollywood bigwigs Lloyd Levin (the better-than-expected Watchmen), Andrew Sugerman (the outstanding Shopgirl) and director Andrew Cosby (Eureka) before a single issue had shipped through Diamond. Now, they’re ready to launch their new product Skarlok Two Hearts through Wowio and … well, let’s just say we’re having some pretty interesting conversations. I’m very proud to see their accomplishments.
  • Taking some of the wild ideas from Grant Morrison’s wacky brain, The Great Ten was an ambitious attempt at exhibiting the superhero paradigm from the perspective of the world’s most populous country. Tony Bedard was a perfect choice for the kind of team dynamic required there, and the fascinating powers (many of whom would be greatly helpful in major crises and crossovers, yet are nowhere to be seen) were great to see on display. Cancelled an issue before its proposed ten-issue run would be complete, it was nevertheless artistically brilliant.
  • We’re going to remember 2010 as the year when Red Robin stepped up and became somebody. With an international mandate, solid operational experience and a set of skills that may just be the best of the Bat’s apprentices (smarter than Dick, more comprehensive than Jason, billions of times smarter than Stephanie, better at multiple environments than Cassandra), he’s a wild card that can make the “franchise” idea work … especially since he came up with it first.
  • Matt Fraction’s run on Invincible Iron Man is likely to be remembered in the kind of hushed tones that people speak of the Michelenie period. He’s really a freaking genius and this could be some of his best work. He’s upgraded Tony Stark by building him into almost the king of the world, then taking him apart piece by piece, only to refashion a better hero from the remaining pieces. Pepper Potts has never been stronger as a character, new villains (the Hammer girls, Obadiah Stane) have been created and become impressive … it’s amazing stuff. Amazing stuff.
  • Vril Dox is a self-important jackass, a douchebag of the highest level who would make Kanye West look like a candy striper by comparison. Watching him work — he’s a prototypical magnificent bastard with super villain DNA and super hero credentials. Watching him work is a joy, and the moments sucked away from that joy by his less-than-inspired supporting cast — which is way too big, they could ditch Strata, Captain Comet and Adam Strange (basically the same character if not the same powers), Bounder, Xylon and Garv — is tedious. He’s almost good enough to float a solo book, and that’s great to say … but more on that in a bit.
  • Speaking of brilliant, dangerous characters, Amaedus Cho is possibly even more compelling. He’s a teenager, he’s a person of color, he’s just this side of morally flexible and could go the wrong way at almost any point. He improves every comic where he’s found, his characterization (from the loss of his family to the romantic entanglements with Delphyne Gorgon) is excellent, he’s … he’s just a wonderful character.
  • Let’s finish up our Magnificent Bastard section with one word: Scorpius. Hell yeah.
  • Secret Six is the definition of “wrong fun” every single issue, and it almost never fails to satisfy. Gail Simone has been hit and miss on many projects, but this series is … it’s wonderful. It’s mean spirited and ruthless and bloody and wonderful. The series rehabilitated freaking Catman, for the love of pie, and Deadshot is made all the more interesting through his relationship with the siren Jeanette. Ragman is like Brittany on Glee with his random bon mots, Scandal’s a surprising straight woman (pun intended) for this crowd, Bane a dynfunctional father figure … just amazing work.
  • I don’t like Spider-Man. I feel he’s whiny, he makes bad decisions and his sad sack act is tedious. However, the story in Amazing Spider-Man #617 had him almost as a guest star for the original Rhino and his would-be successor, and it gets real in such a big way that it’s kind of amazing. Probably the best issue in some time.
  • In IDW’s new continuity, Cobra is just too big to fail. They run the equivalent of Scientology, they have billions of dollars in corporate holdings, they have a decentralized organizational structure, tactical assets on multiple continents … they’re amazing. They’re a modern super villain multinational corporation and they’re great to watch. The plotting is way too slow in many places, but the underarching ideas … wow. So strong, and such an innovative methodology. Also, the character work on the first few issues of G.I. Joe Hearts & Minds was similarly fantastic — Tripwire, Firefly, Major Bludd, Spirit … wow.
  • Chuckles in G.I. Joe: Cobra … he’s so ill. He’s gone native and it’s like “what if Holden in Sleeper really, really went too far?” Yes, that’s two Sleeper references, I won’t apologize.
  • Speaking of great ideas, I love the idea of Batman, Incorporated. For years, I’ve said that its not the most efficient means of crime fighting for a billionaire to wear panties and kick people in the face behind buildings. Franchising opens so many possibilities — permutations of the Batman brand, much better prepared and equipped safe houses around the globe, better networking with international heroes (see “Great Ten” above) … it’s just good for business. I’m very happy with the idea. Let’s see if the execution lives up to the promise, or we’re forgetting about the Zairan Batman in a year.
  • The last great idea I’d like to bravery of the new Legion (Mon-El the GL, Earth Man, Conner and Tyroc)
  • I simply loved the complicated, nuanced presentation of Siege: Loki, which showed a divinity searching for freedom from the horror of his existence (things never end well for him in the cycle of Asgard) that was frustratingly undone in recent issues of Thor. Kieron Gillen nailed the story, and his Phonogram partner Jamie McKelvie could draw pages from a phone book and make it interesting. It was great. Moreover, while we’re here, with two words — “To hell” — Gillen did more to illustrate Thor’s mettle than some whole issues have done. Honestly? He needs to be put back on the title.
  • The mid-range — books I like but aren’t quite good enough to buy — keep my weeks worth doing when I’m frustrated by crossovers. Here’s to Chew, Incorruptible and Kill Shakespeare, and I’m always hoping they get consistent and kick ass (each has in the