The 12 Days of Comics: 2010 – Day 13 (Bonus!)
Justin: I’ve been examining our list holistically and we’ve covered a lot of ground, Ryan. We’ve included a whole host of interesting titles from second tier publishers, more than a couple all-ages selections, some solid adventure books with pulp and sci-fi roots, a small array of powerful mini-comics, two very different Vertigo comics, and even managed to squeeze in some non-US Manga. I think it’s really interesting that we managed to avoid the industry’s most prolific genre, superheroes, and that there are no Marvel Comics included on the list.
In the spirit of spreading around the love a little, my bonus selection will attempt to fill that perceived gap in the market for any readers so inclined. I was tempted to go with the “Wednesday Comics” Hardcover from DC, because the size alone is a spectacle and would make a grand gift. “Wednesday Comics” also has a plethora of top shelf artists, like Kyle Baker, Paul Pope, Ryan Sook, Dave Gibbons, and I was surprised to enjoy the inventive Flash strip from Karl Kerschl. However… with two DC imprint books already sitting proudly on the list, I’m going to go with Marvel’s modest 5-issue series “S.W.O.R.D.”
"S.W.O.R.D." by Kieron Gillen & Steven Sanders (Marvel Comics)
Demographic: Fun-Loving Adventurist, Superheroes!
Selected by: Justin Giampaoli
Justin: “S.W.O.R.D.” is an under-appreciated gem that was never really given much of a chance to succeed in the direct market. At the time, it featured a relatively obscure creative team, written by Kieron Gillen (“Phonogram”), with art by Steven Sanders (“Five Fists of Science”). It featured a relatively new supporting character from Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s “Astonishing X-Men” run, Abigail Brand. But, the book debuted something like a year after that series finally wrapped, so interest had faded significantly and momentum was lost. Abby is the Director of the Sentient Worlds Observation & Response Department (S.W.O.R.D.), which is the extra-terrestrial counterpart to S.H.I.E.L.D. Her boyfriend is Dr. Hank McCoy, aka: Beast, from the X-Men.
The premise of the book is that Earth is basically under constant daily threat from off-world incursion. The eclectic band of cast members seems to continually be on the edge of disaster, slimly averting near annihilation from the alien deluge through a combination of luck, bumbling, diplomacy, and skill – pretty much in that order. Gillen uses a lot of familiar Marvel Universe toss-aways, like Lockheed (Kitty Pryde’s Dragon), Death’s Head II (Intergalactic Bounty Hunter), Beta Ray Bill, and even introduces some of his own creations. For example, the sentient android, Unit, brings to mind the ominous computer HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” He’s cold and clinical and steals every scene he’s in with his cunning, distracting you with a disturbing smile while he plots your death 13 moves ahead. I sincerely hope that another writer comes along to make good use of this stellar creation.
Sanders’ art is well-suited for the comedic timing and tongue-in-cheek tone required of this big fun adventure book. I think that “S.W.O.R.D.” would appeal to anyone in search of an off-beat old-fashioned space-faring romp, someone that doesn’t take the constant threat of the end of life on this planet as we know it too seriously. The 5 single issues are really easy to find in dollar bins (you’ll spot those beautiful John Cassaday covers), but Marvel also collected it and awkwardly re-branded it under the X-banner as “X-Men: S.W.O.R.D. – No Time to Breathe.” It’s one of those books that was critically acclaimed, but just didn’t sell well, so what was intended as an ongoing series got truncated into a one-arc mini-series. I was sad to see it go prematurely. It’s worth a look.
Ryan: Huh! That’s interesting that we completely neglected “The House of Ideas.” Well, it’s funny that you mention Marvel, because one of my potential picks was from them.
"Strange Tales II" by Various (Marvel Comics)
Demographic: Indie-Artist with Superhero Ties
Selected by: Ryan Claytor
Ryan: As the title suggests, “Strange Tales II” is a follow-up project to “Strange Tales,” a mini-series originally published in 2009 which released a hungry pack of indie comics creators onto the untouchable Marvel properties they all grew up reading. This three-issue anthology of short stories by lesser known comics artists presents some unique looks at the superheroes we’ve all come to know.
Not only are there some fun and unexpected shorts in here, but the “Strange Tales” series functions as a fantastic bridge for either of the polar comics fans in your life. If you have an adamantly underground curmudgeon who refuses to look at a publication from “The Big Two,” just dangle names like Alex Robinson, Dash Shaw, The Hernandez Brothers, Harvey Pekar, Jeff Lemire, Jeffrey Brown, Shannon Wheeler, and Tony Millionaire in front of him/her, and then count the seconds until they snatch the issue from your hands. Conversely, for the “Marvel Zombie” on your shopping list, this will introduce them to a number of new (to them) creators who all have a healthy body of work behind them. Once they discover a creator or two from this expansive anthology, they’ll broaden their horizons by seeking out some work from that particular creator.
Honestly, I missed the boat on “Strange Tales I” (which I’ll be rectifying in my next back issue search), but “Strange Tales II” already has me itching for a third installment. Kudos to Editor Jody LeHeup for having the courage and organizational prowess to help this project come to fruition. Aside from that, I wanted to highlight a couple more bonus mentions that didn’t quite make my “12 Days of Comics” cut, but were all tied for 13th place.
“Chip” by Richard Moore, from Antarctic Press. Great for the dry-humorist on your list. Chip is about the littlest gargoyle who, try as he might, is not very scary. Moore’s classic deadpan humor makes these issues fly by.“Reich” is another comic by a single creator, Elijah Brubaker, and is published by Sparkplug Comic Books. “Reich” is a historical re-telling of the life of Wilhelm Reich, a psychoanalyst working in the field of sex research. This ambitious project is 7 issues into its run and perfectly suited for the fringe-interest historian on your list.
Justin, did you have any other honorable mentions you’d like to reveal before we finish our 2010 collaboration? Maybe you’d like to veto one of my bonus titles, just so your veto doesn’t go to waste (and make me look like the only jerk who decided to use it)?
Justin: I thought about vetoing “Strange Tales II” just on principle (read: to mess with you), simply because at the time of this writing only 2 of the 3 issues have actually come out so far, making it an incomplete work. However, since none of the stories carry over from issue to issue and can all function as standalone treats, I refrained. Besides, in my opinion, “Strange Tales II” #1 has, perhaps, the best single Wolverine story, like, ever. It’s by Rafael Grampa, and I’ll be talking a little more about it later this month during “My 13 Favorite Things of 2010” at 13 Minutes. It’s astounding that Grampa actually found a new take on an extremely well-tread character. Between that story, Frank Santoro’s sparse and iconic “Silver Surfer” story, and the Jeffrey Brown neurotic “X-Men” triangle between Scott/Jean/Logan in the second issue, this volume succeeds where the previous fell short for me. The only things memorable about the first volume of “Strange Tales” are the hilarious M.O.D.O.K. strip and the Paul Pope cover. You’re in for a treat there, Ryan.
Other than seconding that selection, I’d just like to get quick plugs in for two additional books. The first is “The Sinister Truth: MK Ultra” (Pop Industries) by Aaron Norhanian and Jason Ciaccia, about a real world CIA/military mind control initiative focused on the assassination of Fidel Castro. It should appeal to any Cold War Historian or Government Conspiracy Buff. The second book is “Inbound 5: The Food Issue” (Boston Comics Roundtable), which is an anthology of food related short stories. It contains a plethora of high quality strips, is one of the best anthologies I read this year, and underscores the strength of the Boston mini-comics scene. It would make a kitschy and unique present for any foodie on your shopping list.
Thanks again, Ryan, for another fun end-of-the-year project. Merry Christmas!
Ryan: Back atchya, Justin. ‘Twas a pleasure, as always. And a Jolly Christhannawanza to you and yours.