My 13 (Not So) Favorite Things of 2009 (Part 16 of 17)

Sea Donkey: I don’t really want to rehash all of Good Ol’ Sea Donk’s fuck ups this year, but suffice it to say there are certain things successful retailers do, and His Donkeyness doesn’t do very many of those. When I walk into any LCS, I just want a few things. I want it to be clean and well lit. I want it to be organized. I want some depth and breadth of selection. I want some consistency. I want to attend a meaningful sale once in a while. I want the staff to be able to interact with other humans and be fairly knowledgeable about the wares they’re hocking. And when it comes to attitude, I just expect you to be professional and courteous and appreciative of the fact that I am handing you my money, when I could easily be giving it to another. The demeanor you display should reassure me that you actually willingly chose this as a profession and are trying to sustain a profitable business endeavor, it should not give me the impression that customer service is a lost art, that creating as many fire code violations as possible is your true calling, or that you were just a guy with a stained Warrant t-shirt two sizes too small who had 10 long boxes full of ROM: Space Knight and Warriors of Plasm, thought it’d be so damn cool to have a place to hang out, and now you’re stuck doing something you really don’t like and aren’t very good at in the first place. This behavior wouldn’t fly anywhere else, my friend. If you worked for me in any of the jobs I’ve ever had and brought that same disgruntled befuddled ennui to the table, that general penchant for caca, I’d have fired you long ago. No second chances, no confusing effort with results, no government bailout, do not pass go, do not collect $200 for that dodgy Emma Frost bust, no more swindling old ladies for Amazing Spider-Man #583, no more cluttering up my planet with bent up cardboard cutouts of Edward & Bella, and no more overpriced Admiral Ackbar Mighty Muggs – just vacuum the floor, open on time, give me my fucking copy of Wasteland #25 on the day it’s supposed to come out, smile, say thanks, and carry on, oh diligent shopkeeper – it’s survival of the fittest, pure capitalism at work, and the retarded antics of your perpetual Sea Donkey Dance of Retailing Destruction just ain’t cuttin’ it. My greatest fear is that I’ll become so conditioned to this behavior that it will normalize, that I’ll be so close to it as to lose my objectivity. The absurdity will be so normal, I’ll no longer find it absurd. I’ll be just like those Romero-inspired zombies, lurching toward the 1970’s strip mall every Wednesday blind to what’s wrong and what’s become of me. Please don’t let that be my fate…

The X-Titles Flounder: After enjoying the first arc of X-Force, I was happy to accept it as a little guilty pleasure. The book had many detractors, but I thought Chris Yost and Craig Kyle managed a fun cast, decent action, and could occasionally turn a clever phrase in the dialogue department. Clayton Crain had zero fans from what I could tell, but I defended his dark murky style as consistent with the book’s morally flexible subject matter; and even the fill-in artists grew on me eventually. Where it all started to go south was when I found myself actually excited about the Messiah War crossover with Cable, wherein Bishop hunts Cable and Hope in the future, as X-Force is sent in by Scott to aid them, complete with a Deadpool appearance. Oh, what the hell was I thinking? And now it’s X-Necrosha? Are you kidding me? Did I get sucked back into 1992 for the X-Cutioner’s Song? Stupid me for thinking otherwise, but not only was there absolutely zero forward plot motion or resolution with the crossover, but the book really lost direction after that. I quickly dropped it, disgusted with myself for falling for the ruse, and it’s been relegated to my non-essential quarter bin list. Next up in the franchise that couldn’t get it together was Astonishing X-Men. After Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s legendary run, Warren Ellis is announced as the new series writer, along with Simone Bianchi on pencils. This is one of those creative teams that sounds wonderful on paper, but ultimately they created an utterly skippable arc that was of no consequence whatsoever, and its lateness rendered it egregiously out of sync with the rest of the X-Titles. On top of it all, though several issues of the main title were late, they of course managed to spunk out an overpriced non-essential spin-off mini-series amid the debacle. So far, the arc with Phil Jimenez has been marginally better, but judging from what’s out they’re still being phoned in and devoid of any of that “special” Jossy Cassawhedon feeling. The last, and perhaps most painful, stumble in the trinity of derailed X-Books has become Uncanny X-Men. Early issues with Pixie gave some hope, but I feel that Fraction has lost focus and will be unable to machete his way out of the jungle, attempting to juggle far too many characters, an unwieldy web of plot threads, and decades of convoluted continuity. Unfortunately, he’s being assisted by nothing but forced crossovers and at least one artist who would rather trace copies of Jessica Alba and Sawyer from Lost out of Entertainment Weekly than actually compose a decent string of those boxy square things (or whatever those shapes are called that you’re supposed to know how to tell a story with). It’s been a slow, lazy spiral toward the drain, with occasional bursts of brilliance and beauty like Uncanny X-Men #512 with Yanick Paquette on pencils, depicting Beast and the Science Team’s time-jumping adventures. That pleasant anomaly aside, we’re headed toward the waste water treatment plant and it teeters on the fence for me, wanting to justifiably pull the plug for reasons of quality, but hanging on with continued purchases out of sheer blind momentum.

Comic Foundry Goes Bust: Tim Leong and Laura Hudson created a much needed periodical that occupied a vacuum in the differentiated market space somewhere between the erudition of The Comics Journal and the 8th grade fart and boob humor of Wizard Magazine. I never got that final issue that Tim Leong promised, which actually felt like the perfect denouement to a sadly missed opportunity for niche market exploitation. Perhaps it’s emblematic of the larger socioeconomic conditions of the country we’re presently experiencing, namely the rapid elimination of the middle class. It seems that there is no tolerance for the middle ground any longer; you can either be ultra-wealthy and take baths in Cristal and Beluga, immune to all market fluctuations – or toil away with two incomes, but still struggle to make the mortgage payment, ultimately living on the streets marinating in your own blend of cat piss and spicy “beef” grease from .99 cent Jack in the Box tacos. Comic Foundry was that middle class periodical aimed at the learned every man, yet sadly our market conditions led to no man actually purchasing it, or even being marginally aware of its existence, despite big pushes with free copies at SDCC and some really stellar writing and interviewing. Oh, Comic Foundry. We’ll always have that Jonathan Lethem interview that led me back to Omega: The Unknown. And I still think the Matt Fraction “Undercover” issue was priceless. Sigh.

Amazing Spider-Man #583 & All It Symbolizes: So yeah, what’s with the weird speculator crap seeping back in to the market? It sure seems like there are a lot of variant covers, “special” issues with artificially inflated prices, overhyped interest, renumbering tricks to get maximum sell through, and just lame ass gimmicks. Green Lantern Rings? Seriously? Are you fucking kidding me? What, are we in 4th Grade still? If you keep buying it, they’ll keep making it. Vote with your wallets, people. 1992 called and it wanted the lesson you were already supposed to have learned back.

I Shouldn’t Complain, but Paul Pope… did not produce Battling Boy, nor was the whispered “Total THB” ever published. True, we did see his contributions in Wednesday Comics and Strange Tales, but I’ve always felt that his creator owned work was a lot more interesting aesthetically and thematically. Both of these books were in fact announced by First Second Publishing (as long out as two years ago on “Total THB"), who indicated they’d see the light of day some time in 2009, and then… everything went dark. It was like I was watching Run Silent Run Deep, or one of those other classic submarine movies where the sailors nervously look around at each other as they dive further into the deep trying to avoid the looming depth charges. I suppose art takes time and that I should be thankful for the awesome Adam Strange story that largely made Wednesday Comics for me, but damn if it’s hard not to be greedy and feel like the ultimate First Second Pulp Hope c--k tease was in effect this year. BONUS: First Second never got around to publishing The Wrenchies by Farel Dalrymple either. Sigh.

Expectations Not Met: There were a few titles that just didn’t live up to my hopes right out of the gate. After just killing it with The Lone Ranger, I was eagerly anticipating Buck Rogers from Dynamite Entertainment, and it just… sat there. The art was mediocre at best, and the storytelling just felt like a severely watered down version of Fear Agent. It was so boring. Next up was Greek Street from Peter Milligan and Davide Gianfelice for DC/Vertigo. I like watching Gianfelice get all Eduardo Risso and draw boobs, incest, and a bunch of gangsters doing a bunch of gangster shit as much as the next guy, but Milligan’s script just didn’t feel as focused as it could have, stretching the underlying premise a bit too far. I wasn’t quite able to get a foothold on the story. I enjoyed Jeff Lemire’s Essex County Trilogy, but The Nobody OGN and Sweet Tooth (even priced at $1) both left me cold. James Robinson’s run on JLA began with a teased image featuring Mon-El, Dick Grayson as Batman, and Donna Troy. Well, as interesting as that sounds, uhh yeah, those people aren’t even in the book. Instead, you get Vixen, Gypsy, and Red Tornado co-opted into the Blackest Night crossover. Whatever. I’m sure the direction and intent should generally be “make JLA better” or “it should be the cornerstone of the DCU,” but a goal without a plan is just a hope. They’re repeating all the mistakes of the past, bogging writers down in crossovers before a title can even get off the ground. Hope is flickering away. Additionally, there were some titles that started strong, but sort of fizzled. Batman & Robin could really do no wrong provided Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s names were on the cover, but then you go and screw up the equation. God love Philip Tan, but following Frank Quitely isn’t any kind of fun for anyone. Morrison also made a big splash with a second volume of Seaguy, but the buzz on that either never began or was over so quickly that I must have been absent that day on the interwebs. Neil Gaiman threw his hat into the ring with the Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? two-parter, the first of which I dug, the second felt like a completely different creative team and was a bit of an ambitious dud.

Late, Stalled, Delayed, Postponed, On Hiatus: Well, the good news was that Planetary finally wrapped with issue #27 coming out. The bad news? It happened 10 years after the first issue. That’s an average of, let’s see, four, carry the one, two point five, square root of seven, decimal there, ahem… 2.7 issues per year, not counting specials. Wow. Yeah, keep holding your breath for the fourth trade paperback, fourth hardcover, and then that second Absolute Edition. Moving on, remember Jonathan Hickman’s Image work? Yeah, every single one of those mini-series ran late, The Nightly News, Pax Romana, Transhuman, and remember something called Red Mass for Mars? Oh, is this book still being published? Yeah, I think so. The last issue came out in October of 2008 and it’s still not done. It’s a 4 issue mini-series. Awesome. Elsewhere, I tuned out by issue three or so, but we also got the last installment of The End League almost two years after it began. Bounce with me… after some “restructuring” at Archaia Studios Press – aka: ASP, err… is it just Archaia now(?), why are there two web-sites still up(?), hello, is this thing on(?) – Jacamon and Matz’s The Killer finally concluded with issue #10 after a several month delay. Now all we need is that second hardcover and I can stop being annoyed. Finally, what happened to Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca’s quintessential blaxploitation missive Afrodisiac? I was eagerly anticipating their biting sociological observations that manage to capture the ludicrous, the hypocritical, the sacred, and the profane nature of some of the stereotyping it plays around with. I wanted to include this book in my list of favorites; surely it would have been on the list judging from previous output, but it disappeared. It was announced, solicited, posted on AdHouse Books’ web-site as a “December 2009” release for months, and then was a ghostly no-show as the clock drained on 2009. Is everything actually late and delayed and stalled, or does it just happen to be the books that I’m specifically interested in which seem to go MIA? What a hassle.

Warren Ellis… was a bit of a “miss” this year for me, though I still like to play with this occasionally. By my totally subjective non-scientific personal arsebiscuit guesstimation, he only “hit” about 40% of the time. True, while Ellis’ 40% is more enjoyable than most writers’ 100%, it was unsettling to have one of the go-to creators not deliver as reliably as he may have in the past. I’ve enjoyed Black Summer, No Hero, and despite Supergod starting pretty strong (though I am bummed that Juan Jose Ryp is not on art chores to complete the triptych), it ultimately got trade-waited. On the other hand, Ignition City, Freakangels, Hotwire, and the aforementioned Astonishing X-Men all left me cold. Some of these titles had fun moments, but in search of a good meal, they felt a bit like eating cotton candy, leaving me hollow with empty calories and ultimately unsatisfied. Oh, and Frankenstein’s Womb? Well, it was certainly no Aetheric Mechanics. Hell, it’s wasn’t even as good as Crecy.


At 11:14 AM, Anonymous Chris Pitzer said...

AFRO was printed overseas, so with those type of books, we tend to run just a bit late of the solicitation month. It should be in better comic shops in January. Sorry, but I think it will be worth the wait!

At 11:33 AM, Blogger Justin said...

Thanks for the update, Chris! I think it'll be worth the wait too, very excited when it was announced.

At 11:11 AM, Blogger Matt C said...

Nice round up of 2009's 'turn-offs' there Justin.

I think my major disappointment for the year was Marvel Comics in general. Bendis's grip on the company's direction seems to be stronger than ever. I love the characters but I can't stand what he's been doing them. Stuff like Invincible Iron Man and Incredible Hercules continue to shine, but for a once firm True Believer, I seem to be getting fewer Marvel titles as the months roll by.

At 2:12 PM, Blogger Justin said...

I hear you, Matt. I grew up on DC characters, so it doesn't feel like as much of a loss. I'm still enjoying Fraction on Iron Man, but I think it's the only Marvel book I'm getting regularly now. I dropped Punisher once he turned into Frankenstein, and Astonishing and Uncanny both worked their way off the pull list.

I'll follow creators I like to a Marvel book, or if it's a "specialty" project like Omega: The Unknown I might jump on, but that aside I'm largely tuned out.


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