If you've read my blog ever, you probably know that I'm a pretty huge comic book nerd. If you're read my blog for more than two days, you probably know that a lot of the books that I like are a smidge off the beaten path. Not too far off...just a little to the side. Through my 'The Best Books You Aren't Reading', I offered a series of articles, and will continue to offer them, pointing out little-read books that deserves your attention. Unfortunately, I am now left to demonstrate what happens when they don't actually get your attention.
I must warn you all - this is an image-heavy post, and it is a bile-heavy post. While the fires of my wrath have cooled, there is still a lingering aftertaste of anger in my mouth, and this will seep through at time. For the most part, though, this is meant to be a relatively loving post. If you don't want me to insult you and everything you love repeatedly, I'd recommend you stop reading right now and move on your way.
Blue Beetle: Cancelled
- Blue Beetle was one of the best teen comics out there. A pitch-perfect blend of comedy, drama and action, Jaime Reyes was one of the best new characters of the decade, and I'll hold his supporting cast up against any in comics in a heartbeat. After John Rogers left, we saw Will Pfiefer and Matt Sturges each take a turn with the character, and through some arcane magic, each was still awesome. Blue Beetle deserved much more than it ever got, but that's okay - its readers will remember it fondly for a good, long while....
- Checkmate is another book to come out of the overbearing, overlarge, overambitious Infinite Crisis. Written by Greg Rucka, it detailed a United Nations-run Peacekeeping Organization and the crazy stuff they go through in a world like the DC Universe. Imagine Marvel's S.H.E.I.L.D. if someone bright and uncynical were writing it. Always clever, Checkmate gave us an enormous cast of B-D list characters and made them all awesome in their own way. For a time in comics that many fans claim to be a bitter, depressing era, Checkmate was a beacon of hope, offering relatively complex metahuman espionage, new characters, and an infinitely more satisfying answer to the question of lethal force in superhero comics. Of all the new characters Rucka created in his run of Checkmate #1-25, perhaps my favorite is Josephine Tautin, known as Mademoiselle Marie.
Checkmate wasn't perfect - it was often wordy and many were turned off by the occasional moral grey areas in which the characters found themselves - but in a comicdom populated frequently by bitter naivete and fanboy pacification, Checkmate managed a strong run.
- Criminal. Ah, why am I not even remotely surprised to see you on this list? Every arc, you introduced us to new characters. Every single arc. The lack of a recurring cast certainly couldn't have helped you out. The fact that almost every character in the setting was a dirtball of some sort also couldn't have helped. Where Checkmate let it's characters occasionally visit moral grey areas, Criminal lived in them. Solid writing from Ed Brubaker combined well with art from Sean Phillips that perfectly complemented the noir stylings, Criminal was a rock solid love letter to comics and to noir. Dark and slow-paced, it was never destined to be a big seller, but I'm still sad that it is going away.
EDIT: As a note, I have had my tragic misinformation fixed, and return to you a cleaner, happier man - Criminal remains. While it will be taking a break for the beginning of Incognito, it is not dead, merely napping. Rarely have I been happier to be wrong.
To Sean Phillips (!) for correcting me: merci beaucoup, どうもありがとう, and stay classy.
To everyone else: go give Criminal a shot!
Birds of Prey: Cancelled
- It's sad to see Birds of Prey on this list, but when excellent writer Gail Simone left the book to move on to Wonder Woman and Secret Six, you can bet that we all saw this coming. Birds of Prey, under Gail Simone, turned out to be a fun, clever action book that served to flesh out the characters of a number of the premier heroines of the DC Universe - most notably, of course, Barbara Gordon, Black Canary, and Huntress.
After Barbara Gordon was shot in the spine by the Joker in an attempt to torture and drive insane her father, Commissioner James Gordon, she was devastated. As Batgirl, she had always fought hard at Batman's side. It wasn't until John Ostrander used her in his Suicide Squad mini as the enigmatic Oracle, though, that her crime-fighting career really took off. As Batgirl, she beat up muggers. As Oracle, she masterminded the information technology of the DC Universe. Quickly becoming a vital organizational hub, Oracle and her team of superheroes-turned-spies had some awesome adventures.
With the cancellation, we've been assured that we're getting a wonderful Oracle mini. I somehow suspect that this will see her return to Gotham City as the sidekick of Batman, and will be written by whoever does it cheapest. I'm sure it will make money, but Birds of Prey was a great lens through which we could see all the heroines of the DC Universe treated, as they so rarely are, with a little respect. Here's to hoping that DC doesn't forget this lesson, shove these characters out of the way, and relegate them to sidekicks of their male peers.
- This one comes as a surprise to precisely no one. Cancelled once, Manhunter was saved by one of the most passionate fanbases I've ever seen. Cancelled a second time, they redoubled their efforts, trade sales did well, the book got brought back. Unfortunately, it got brought back without telling anyone about it, and to an arc that, while decent, wasn't quite up to the quality of the rest of the run. And so now, it's on its last legs, on the verge of cancellation once more.
Manhunter shouldn't have been good. Overly violent without offering any real danger while having a super-complex, almost incestuous relationship with DC's deepest continuity, it should have been purely mediocre. Instead, it offered a great supporting cast, from one of the only well-done gay relationships in comics to the novel support of a former tech-geek for supervillains who entered the Witness Protection Program. It also offered a no-nonsense, smoking single mother as a heroine willing to kill - and who thought that'd come from DC?
The All-New Atom: Cancelled
- The All-New Atom was, much like Blue Beetle, hampered in large part by a whiny, clingy fanbase that pouted the book to death because it wasn't veteran Atom Ray Palmer helming, but newcomer Ryan Choi. If I'm being honest, and I rarely am, then I will say that it was also hampered by a creative attitude that comics don't like - which is to say, that of almost manic creativity. Ivy Town was a bizarre, surreal place, a place that I couldn't picture existing anywhere but in the DCU, but which feels almost completely necessary to the DCU. Severely warped by the bizarre super-science occurring in the town, Ivy Town feels like the setting of a David Lynch movie, if David Lynch was on crack and had a 500,000,000,000$ budget.
A perfect blend of action and comedy, of the mystic and super-science, The All-New Atom was doomed from the start. But throughout Gail Simone's run, it was an enjoyable book, and I'd highly recommend that you give it a shot.
- Once again, say it with me: Shadowpact spun out of Infinite Crisis. Shadowpact was a book dedicated to a team of magical misfits. Wow, who didn't see this cancellation coming. I'm sure some of you have heard my thoughts on the fanboy opinion of magic, and they all worked against this book.
"Why," posits the fanboy, "would I want to read a fun, well-written book with good art? There are people casting spells fer chrissakes."
"But...you just said so yourself - 'tis a fun, well-written book with pretty good art," quoth I.
"Ah," laughs the fanboy. "You misunderstand. Magic is totally for fags, my friend. Because I am Super Manly, I am going to read Wolverine."
"But," beginneth I, "is not Wolverine essentially magic? What with the whole 'a billion tons of super-metal welded to the spine of a midget who can heal from anything in seconds?"
"No," answers the fanboy. "No. That, my friend, is Science."
There may have been some exaggeration, or a vast amount of imagination, in that conversation, seasoned with bitterness and left in the oven far too long, but Shadowpact nonetheless had just such a problem, as have many other books in recent days. I can't say that highly-publicized stories like Spider-Man's frankly embarrassing 'One More Day' are much of a help in converting people to the 'magic is fine in the hands of a decent writer' side of things, though.
It's unfair, though - for all that Shadowpact was a pretty good book, it was far from the breathtaking example of awesome that was Blue Beetle or The All-New Atom. It was just...good. You picked up an issue of Shadowpact, you knew you were getting a pretty quality comic. Simple as that. It's unfortunate that it didn't last longer, and got spun into the current relatively average mini-series 'Reign in Hell', but it was fun while it lasted.
I could, of course, go on. A bunch of books have been cancelled in recent months that seem to be heralding some sort of bizarre comic book armageddon, while perennial mediocrities like Green Lantern swim in a vast pool of adoration.
Still, why focus on the bad? Sometimes you must, I admit, to clear yourself, to prepare yourself for more wholesome fare in the future. And thus shall I do. I recent months, I have let slack my list of The Best Books You Aren't Reading. An enormous part of this is because I am reasonably sure that they are not widely-read. Of the audience of this blog with which I am familiar, few have the resources or interest to pick up a comic book merely on my say so, however awesome my say so might be.
However, as someone who is absolutely convinced that I have better taste than everyone else alive - well, okay, not everyone else, but, I have better taste than at least five living people right now, and that'll have to do for you all - I feel a peculiar responsibility to nonetheless inform you of all the juicy offerings that are out there, waiting for you to come and save them, or at least distract them from their imminent doom.
And so with that, I leave you. I hope all of you have a fabulous night, and I hope that I will be forgiven for interjecting the occasional less-than-polite comment. Not every insult is directed at you, faceless fanboy - they are merely comments on broad, sad trends I occasionally see pop up. I shall, I swear to you all, be more hopeful from here on out.
At least until the next Cancellation Season.
-Still bitter about the cancellation of Veronica Mars