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  • December31st

    THE BEST OF 2012

    So many great comic books this year, 2012 felt like the beginning of a new standard for the art form. Image Comics celebrated its 20th Anniversary with several striking new books from a diverse talent pool. New books from established industry giants such as Grant Morrison and Ed Brubaker were joined by fresh new voices in Brandon Graham and Joe Keatinge. Together they combined to give us Happy, Fatale, Prophet, Multiple Warheads, Hell Yeah and Glory. Tim Seeley wroteWitchblade and Bloodstrike but his new horror series Revival caused a frenzy. No new book was bigger than Saga from Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples. And The Walking Dead continued its ascension to the top of every possible measure of critical and commercial success.

    Meanwhile, over at DC Comics, there was one voice that rose above all others,  Scott Snyder, whose Midas Touch continued to charm everything in his path. During his brief tenure on Batman he has had only two storylines to date, but both have been co-opted by the publisher as major cross-continuity events, touching dozens of other titles. This is the definition of a game-changer, when the rising tide lifts all ships. Without Snyder at the helm, DC would look vey different. Batman is the gold standard of the direct market.

    My list is limited to the Top 5 so let’s get to it before a new year is upon us. My honorable mentions would include GLORY, X-FORCE and MUDMAN.

    5. REVIVAL – Tim Seeley and Mike Norton’s modern gothic epic concerns the mysterious “revival” of the presumed dead residents of small town USA. The comparisons to Walking Dead are warranted in so much that they both excel at creating a tense atmosphere where the unexpected looms around the corner of every page. The art is clean and the story telling is fantastic. I don’t want to ruin the mystery or the suspense in any way, just give the series a chance if you have not already, trust me it will compel you to read further issues. I imagined the first issue as an HBO television series, hopefully that reality is not far off.

    4. PROPHET – Having created Prophet twenty years ago, I can tell you that I was not prepared for this drastically different and wonderful approach to the character. Brandon Graham’s take on the concept of a misplaced time traveler has provided all of us with the most creepily bizarre and stupendous journey of the year. This version of John Prophet that takes place in a far, far-flung future has experienced a varied menu of un-familiar alien mating rituals, living, organic weaponry, questionable immortality and supernatural communion. Graham has an embarrassment of riches illustrating his stories, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Giannis Milonogiannis provide stunning visuals depicting lush, sometimes harsh, always dangerous alien environments. A gifted illustrator himself, Graham illustrated an entire issue of Prophet as well, widening the already diverse artistic palette. This book is the gift that keeps on giving. If you are a fan of Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Soylent Green, Planet of the Apes, Omega Man, Bradbury, Serling, Lynch or Kurosawa give Prophet and its mind-bending science fiction your immediate attention.

    3.  BATMAN. Success, thy name is SNYDER! Scott Snyder shot out of a cannon in 2011 with his dizzying debut on Batman, making it the flagship of the DC 52. He continued to shake the foundations of Gotham throughout 2012 with the most exciting Batman tale in ages with his “Court of Owls” saga. It’s not easy to add an integral piece of mythos to the existing Batman canon, but Court of Owls was immediately received as an important milestone in the legend of the Dark Knight. The mystery and hidden history that Snyder has given the Wayne family has strengthened a global icon that needed a fresh coat of creative paint. His “Death of the Family” Joker epic has been co-opted by the entire Bat-family strengthening an entire line of comic books and finds readers and retailers alike eagerly anticipating every new issue. Joined by industry veteran Greg Capullo, as well as Becky Cloonan, Raphael Albuquerque and Andy Clarke on various issues and back-up stories, the book boasts powerful visuals that enhance the depths of Snyder’s vision. His new Superman title is still a few months off but I’m certain it will rank among the best of 2013.

    .2 SAGA – An outrageous first issue that introduces us to a pair of alien fugitives on the run from the Empire never slowed down and let us catch our breath even once. The opening scene of childbirth and it’s blunt, frank and hilarious exchange created an unexpected Tarantino meets Star Wars vibe that has provided the most unique and exciting comic in ages. A bounty hunter with a colorful and conflicting agenda has stolen the show but the universe that Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples hascreated is flush with unknown surprises lurking in every wormhole.  The first issue went through multiple printings as word of mouth spread on this rare masterpiece in the making. Grab the trade collection and catch up while you can!

    .1 THE WALKING DEAD – Through the winter and spring of 2012, I had SAGA as the runaway number one comic book of the year. Then summer came and with it the arrival of the 100th issue of Robert Kirkman’s ground breaking powerhouse. The milestone and the storyline that accompanied its arrival has seemed to energize Kirkman who is producing the best work of his career these past 6 months. The heroes in any tale are only as good as the villains or the obstacles they face and there is currently no nastier villain in any genre then the man wreaking havoc with the survivors in Walking Dead. Negan is as terrifying a figure as I’ve encountered in years. He and Lucille, his “vampire bat” walk with such tremendous swagger that you are compelled by his every subtle nuance. A discussion with young Carl that finds Negan tossing hurtful insults and cruel taunts at the fragile young boy was as terrifying as any torture or beating that he has committed thus far, and he’s done plenty of both. I haven’t put down a comic to catch my breath in quite some time. This Negan is an absolute bastard and watching as Rick negotiates around his tyranny is the best duel in comics.Kirkman has spent years building our trust and investing us in the survival of this particular cast of characters,Negan’s arrival has created a sense of danger and terror that had been missing, at least for me, over the last year or so. From the myth of Negan and the promise of his arrival, to his memorable, terrifying debut in issue #100, he has maintained a powerful presence in the pages of The Walking Dead. The promise of tyranny that Kirkman began with The Governor many years ago, has been honed and mastered in the form of Negan and his reign of terror. This is the Walking Dead’s Darth Vader, their Doctor Doom or Magneto, he is the nemesis that will define them for years to come. Kudos to the often unsung and overlooked storytelling of Charlie Adlard, over nearly 100 consecutive issues he has defined the look of this book and his powerful illustrations provide the punch that has put this book over the top.

    What a great year for comic books. Here’s to a fantastic 2013! Cheers!

  • December28th

    So back in the summer of 2006 I had a Kamandi pitch that I had shared with several folks in the industry. I should make it crystal clear, make no bones about it, Jack Kirby’s Kamandi is one of my all time favorite comic book series ever.  I had shared my pitch with Jeph Loeb who had shared it with Joe Quesada who had responded enthusiastically to the concept. As fate would find it that summer,  I found myself seated across from Joe, Jeph and Robert Kirkman in the lobby of the Hyatt Hotel during Comic-Con. Joe Q casually mentions that he loves my Kamandi pitch and wanted to know if I would re-construct it as a Killraven story and do it with Kirkman. Talk about a no-brainer. Kirkman was in, I was in, the project was a go.

    The original pitch was that Kamandi fought his way into a bunker that had a transporter device and after successfully activating it, he and his allies were transported successfully on board the JLA satellite which was still in orbit above earth. They were able to arm themselves with an arsenal of iconic JLA weaponry as well as pursue an object that was mapped out on the JLA computer before the great disaster occurred. This was easily re-formatted with Killraven and the Avengers mansion in place of their DC counterparts.

    I started drawing Killraven later that fall in-between issues of Onslaught Reborn. Kirkman was feeding me scripts at a regular clip and we were banking issue after issue until the fall of 2008 when I handed in the last issue. Over the course of the last decade or so, the practice of most comic book companies is to solicit a new series with a minimum of 2 issues or less in the can. We continued to complete issue after issue and I kept waiting to hear when Killraven would be solicited, but all I heard was more delays and reasons that it could not get put on the schedule. We couldn’t get it solicited with 2 issues completed, and by completed I mean written, drawn and colored, and 3 issues penciled. I thought we’d make the schedule for sure  in 2009, then again in 2010 but by 2011 to present I have no reason to believe that it will see the light of day.

    Let me state very purposefully that this is in no way a gripe or a complaint. Robert and I were paid for our contributions in full. The color work was paid for, we have no reason to complain. We did a job, it hasn’t been published, big deal. But the fun in is analyzing the potential reasons behind this series not seeing the light of day. I’ll leave that for the next article. In the meantime I hope you have enjoyed these un-published pages from Killraven #2.

  • December27th

    I’m not going to waste a whole lot of words on this post. A wiser man than me once stated that ” A picture tells a thousand words and to let the picture do the talking”.  So that’s what I’m going to do here. This  page by the immensely talented Ross Campbell is from GLORY #32. It is astounding and depicts just about the entire Extreme Corp. of heroes. Enjoy!

    If you are not currently reading this outstanding series written by Joe Keatinge and illustrated by Ross Campbell the you are missing out on a real treat. GLORY is a must read and one of the year’s best, don’t miss out, get your copy today!

  • December26th

    About 2 years back I was drawing a Deadpool/X-Force mini-series for Marvel written by Duane Swierczynski. I had completed the entire first issue and penciled the second issue when I left the project due to some funky business reasons. The story was set during my original X-Force era with Fabian Nicieza. The original X-Force line-up discovered that Deadpool had stolen a time machine and gone back in time to wreak havoc. The first issue found them in the Revolutionary War, the 2nd issue was the Civil War, the 3rd World War 1 and the last in World War 2.

    I was a longtime admirer of Duane’s work, especially his run on Cable and I loved drawing his story. I was thrilled to return to the original 90′s line-up of Shatterstar, Domino, Warpath, Cannonball and Cable. There were some outstanding moments of drama and great humor with Deadpool screwing up time as we know it. Below here is the cover to #1 which was intended as an homage to my New Mutants #98 but with Deadpool in the “gasp” slot this time around instead of Cable and co.

    After completing the second issue of the mini-series I got a call from Marvel business looking to change the way I was paid on the job. If you were a freelancer at Marvel during the  spring to fall of 2011, Marvel was actively scaling back page rates for writers, pencilers, inkers, colorists alike. It was the talk of the floor at New York Comic-Con amongst the freelance community, “You get cut? How about You?” back and forth, no matter the job or skill, loads of us were getting the cut. I had a contract with an established rate that couldn’t be cut but I was hit with a different approach, I was told I would no longer be paid by the page, I would be paid when the entire book was completed. Pencils, inks, colors, the whole package. It was a fair loophole on their part, but it was one I opted to decline. I left the project and didn’t look back. The adjustment in pay felt uneccessary. I had just completed 9 monthly issues of Deadpool Corps. each shipped monthly, so I was lost as to why I was to take an entire backend deal. I was already drawing The Infinite with Robert Kirkman and was starting Hawk and Dove so I left the series and left Marvel. The project is dead as far as I understand it, but the first 2 issues provided some fun interaction. I figured I’d share some of them here.

    I was inking my own work at this point, so my pencils are lighter and looser than if I was being inked by someone else. The first few pages of the first issue were being colored as I was drawing issue #2. Here’s are some pages from issue #1.

    Unpublished projects are part of the comics business, I have a number of them, a 5-issue Killraven series that I drew with Robert Kirkman is my all time favorite. It remains deep in the drawer at Marvel snugged up nice and cozy next to this almost Deadpool/X-Force mini -series.

  • December25th

    So the year that was 2012 is drawing to a close. What a crazy year it has been in the world of comics. It was the year that saw Image Comics surge and rise to its former glory with the launch of bold new series, SAGA, HAPPY, HELL YEAH, REVIVAL and FATALE. The blockbuster series WALKING DEAD continued to climb all the way to the top of the charts and not look back. New voices like Joe Keatinge and Brandon Graham broke fresh ground with their critically acclaimed work on GLORY and PROPHET.

    The DC 52 Initiative saw the bottom fall out from under it as sales on anything NOT relating to the Batman family of books fell off a cliff. Anything outside of two families of books, Batman and JLA, stood no chance. The mid-year launch of a Titans spin-off, Ravagers, with half of the Titans numbers from nine months earlier was the first sign that no one was buying in blind any longer. The recent Titans/Ravagers related series Team 7 was loaded with incentives and variant covers in an effort to bolster its launch and it’s fallen further, faster than Ravagers did four months earlier. This has not boded well for the direction of anything outside the Batman and Justice League families. I had the honor of trying to “revive the patient” on a number of their “C” list titles. Good God, I had 4 of them throughout the year. My advice, don’t ask the physician to heal the patient and then take away the medicine and the equipment needed in order to do so. Several others have been tasked with the same challenge, also while having their hands tied behind their back. It was a fun experience, I was paid well, no harm no foul I suppose. I’ll be drawing on those experiences over the next few months, providing material  for keen insight into corporate comics circa 2013 and beyond.

    Marvel struck back at the initial DC 52 surge with the surefire mega-hit Avengers/X-Men which led directly into their Marvel NOW! re-launch. My only curiosity about their strategy was wether or not the public would backlash over yet another re-launch of new Marvel #1′s since the previous fall of 2011 was littered with new #1′s for Captain America, Hulk, X-Men and Thor. There has been no backlash whatsoever as the Marvel NOW! books have been embraced by retailers and the buying public alike. And they are being double shipped in order to cramp the charts and block out the Batman books. Case Closed.

    So what does 2013 bring? Count on Marvel continuing their current win streak as they go deeper into their bench of go-to fan favorite characters and stack the deck with even more re-launches. Wolverine hasn’t arrived as of this writing, neither has the Spider-Man family of books and can a second Deadpool book really be that far behind? This is what separates Marvel from DC, the depth and scope of their bench. The X-Men family alone sports a slew of characters with plenty of commercial appeal in Gambit, Bishop, Storm and Fantomex. Where is DC’s counter? Martian Manhunter? Katana? Vibe? Seriously?

    I honestly expect DC to rip a page out of their 1970′s playbook and put Joker in his own series because he is one of the few DC characters whose popularity warrants it. Robin, Harley Quinn, Red Robin….more Bat books will definitely punch the sales and market share ticket for DC, but how long until they truly are Detective Comics, all Batman, all the time.

    On talent alone Marvel also goes much deeper. While the stand out talent of the year is Scott Snyder, you can’t burn the guy out asking him to forge a creative path for every book. As it is they should stop co-opting his every good idea and making it a multi-part cross-over epic. The Joker themed Death in the Family has lost some punch as a result of being pimped out to every possible Bat-related comic book. I’m enjoying the Snyder issues and the Batman and Robin chapters by Tomasi are great, but I have no interest in chasing every nook and cranny of this “event”. Geoff Johns carried the company for nearly a decade, he has a formidable presence on his books, but after Johns who is stepping up and expanding the playing field for DC ? My advice? Take some of those Dark Knight profits and invest them in the actual cloning of Jim Lee. I buy whatever Jim touches, so does everyone else, two of him gives you plenty of options, 3 Jim’s even more so. Get on that STAT. Or lean on someone else to  move the needle. Unless you can’t because there is no one else. Yet.

    The “Yet” exists because there are other talented voices out there, but you have to unleash them and let them actually CREATE, undeterred, without editorial input from assistants attempting to impress their corporate overlords. At Marvel, they have Bendis, Aarron, Hickman, Remender, Fraction, Slott, Waid….y’see what I’m saying here? And that’s without mentioning Sam Humphries, Gary Duggan, Brian Posehn and Dennis Hopeless, all relative newbies that have shot out of the gates with strong showings on their respective titles. Depth matters.

    Image comics promises greater depth in the new year as well. More Morrison, Kirkman, Hickman, Seeley, Vaughn, Brubaker, Keatinge, Graham and Stephenson. That’s a helluva line up that you won’t find at DC. Or Marvel. Image faced down its 20th year with its best and strongest year in ages and more big books are on the horizon. The success at Image is contagious, more creators I talk to are flocking to Image looking to get into the derby and compete at the highest level. Kirkman has easily outpaced the success the early Image creators achieved. We never had the kind of multi-media success that Walking Dead is enjoying and Kirkman himself is energized by the level of execution that Vaughn, Brubaker and Morrison are delivering. If  Iron truly does sharpen Iron, the swords at Image are the sharpest of all blades.

    So there you have it, plenty of great reasons to look forward to great comic books in 2013. The next 12 months should prove to be some of the most exciting times we have witnessed in many years. 3 companies are firing on all cylinders and the best is yet to come.

    I’ll have my best of the year posted tomorrow. See you then!