My 12 Favorite Trade Reading Experiences Of 2012

I write about a lot of trades on this site, about two a week if I’m on my game. But, I actually read a lot more than that. So, this particular list is the 12 books or runs that I enjoyed the most reading or re-reading this year. Most of them have been covered on the site, but others have not. I’ll give the latter a few more words than the former, but hope you enjoy.
outsiders looking for trouble  I read all of Judd Winick’s run of Outsiders this year, but didn’t write about it? Why? Well, it was a pretty big reading project, something that makes it harder for me to write about as a whole. But, I still really enjoyed this reading experience. Winick brings a realness to superhero comics without letting it get too in the way (if that makes sense). I know a lot of people think he forces issues into books, but I think these are the kinds of things that should be talked about and seen. Anyway, this was a fun superhero reading experience that made me remember how fun the DCU was back when this book and Geoff Johns’ Teen Titans launched. Good times. starman-omnibus-vol-3I haven’t written about James Robinson’s Starman because I haven’t finished the last omnibus yet. I haven’t finished it because I kind of don’t want to finish it and I also need quiet time to really sit down and finish it. This series is up there with Preacher and Sandman for me in my list of all time favorites. It lives in my heart and I was elated to discover that I still like it. This is what shared universe superhero comics could and should be. legend of grimjack volume 1I know I just read the first two volumes of Grimjack, but the experience has stayed with me. I love that world and keep thinking of great ways it could be interpreted for different genres. Right now I’m thinking about a Crackdown/Amazing Spider-Man style video game set in Cynosure where you take on jobs or just spend your day drinking in Munden’s Bar. If you dig Hellboy, B.P.R.D. or 100 Bullets, I think you’ll enjoy Grimjack. Frankenstein Agent Of S.H.A.D.E. Volume 1 War of the MonstersI’ve had a lot of different feelings about DC’s New 52. At first I was upset that “my” versions of the characters would only survive in my trade shelves and long boxes. Then I realized that I don’t really read new issues anymore and I still have my collection (and books I’ve never read from that era) to enjoy. I also realized that I’m almost 30 and have better things to worry about. With that behind me, I was able to dive into various trades with a mostly clear head and enjoyed them for the most part. I appreciate how DC was attempting to hit all different kinds of genres and audiences, of course, not all of those attempts were successful. The least successful tries in my opinion, though, were the books that just failed to set up a basic reason why that book existed aside from “to make money.” I still have a pile of them to read and am getting a sense of the new U, which is kind of fun. secret avengers vol 1 mission to marsEven though I read the second arc of Ed Brubaker’s Secret Avengers first and the first second, I had a great time reading this “black ops” take on superheroes. Bru writing Captain America/Steve Rogers is always aces in my book, but throwing in a lot of other street level-esque characters was even cooler. I’ve only read these first two volumes, but was satisfied with Brubaker’s ability to create an enjoyable sci-fi/spy mash-up story that felt well contained while still making me want to read more. the return of king dougReturn of King Doug came out of left field for me. It was gifted to me by a pal and I knew nothing about it, but Greg Erb, Jason Oremland and Wook-Jin Clark reminded me so much of the kinds of stories I love from the 80s, but while also doing all kinds of new, funny things I enjoy. Read this now. bprd hell on earth 2 new world gods And MmonstersI’ve said this before, but one of the things I miss most about not working at Wizard anymore is access to all of the Hellboy and B.P.R.D. comics that came out. I’m super behind, but I did get my hands on some B.P.R.D. trades this year for a little catching up (Hell On Earth: New World and Gods And Monsters). That’s still the best damn comic series around and has been for a while. hulk red hulkI don’t mind playing catch-up on some books. I’ve been super happy re-reading things like World War Hulk and catching up on Hulk, Incredible Hulk and Red Hulk this year. Super fun, popcorn books mixed with well thought out ongoing superhero tales filled with monsters? Yeah, I’m all over that. izombie vol 2 uVAmpireI read the first iZombie trade in 2011, but was delighted to get my hands on the second and third volumes in 2012. I wrote about the second one here and have a post in mind talking about the third. Anyway, this series is the rare mix of intriguing characters, wacky situations, rock solid architecture and mythology I want to study PLUS one of the greatest artists the medium has ever seen. So, so, so good. american vampire volume 1I’m pretty surprised there are two Vertigo books on here. It seemed like for a while I was reading nothing from them. Now iZombie and American Vampire are two of my faves. Then again Chris Roberson and Scott Snyder are two of the best newcomer writers around, so that’s no surprise. In this case, Snyder takes two things that have become old and boring — vampires and American history — and makes them both super interesting and intense. Can’t wait to see where the rest of this series goes.batman knightfall volume 1Batman: Knightfall Volume 1 was pure, nostalgic joy. All of the Batman comics that got me into Batman in one place in one fat volume? Yes, yes and yes. I have the second and third volumes waiting to be read. Maybe next month after knocking off a smattering of random trades I want to check out. lost_dogs_cover_sm_lgI don’t remember exactly why I didn’t write about Jeff Lemire’s Lost Dogs. It’s one of the few books I’ve bought through Comixology for my Kindle Fire. The long and short of it is that this story about a simpleton trying to save his family. It’s raw and rough and hits you in the gut. I don’t know if I liked the experience of reading this story, but it was certainly powerful. I can’t remember if it made me cry or not, but it came close.

I’m certain I missed a few books that I didn’t write about, but this is a pretty solid list by all accounts. I should probably branch out into more diverse trades and graphic novels — and I plan to — but what can I say? I love me some superheroes. I also happen to love all kinds of other comics, so let’s continue to make and talk about awesome comics.

Christmas Stories: 2012 Geek Ornaments From Hallmark

IMG_2185I actually snapped these pictures at our local Hallmark weeks ago, well before Thanksgiving, but forgot about them until now. Hopefully you’re all set on your Christmas shopping, but if not, the geek in your life will surely enjoy something from this line-up (assuming they’re still available, I really have no idea). Either way, I’d love to get my hands on the giant cardboard Darth Vader wearing red cloves and cape AND a Santa hat!

It seemed like there were a lot more available this year, which is pretty cool. I guess geeks like to go all out when decorating their Christmas tree. Of course, I know this. A few years back, we only had a tiny artificial tree that I decorated entirely with the superhero, movie and TV ornaments I’ve been given over the years. Speaking of superheroes, considering the huge summer they had at the box office, it comes as no surprise that they’re featured so heavily. You’ve got Spidey, Catwoman, Batman, Iron Man, Thor, Captain American, Green Lantern and of course Lion-O. That last one is the most exciting to me as it seems to come out of nowhere (especially because it’s in the classic style instead of the new-but-failed style of this year’s excellent remake). IMG_2184

Of course, you can’t have a giant cardboard Vader and not have a goodly offering of Star Wars ornaments. Looks like you’ve got your choice between a TIE Fighter, Hoth Han on Tauntaun, General Grievous, Darth Maul and a pair of Lego dudes. I have a longstanding love of Hoth Han, so I really should get my hands on that ornament.

I’m also a big fan of the movie and TV ornaments they make. I’m as much a product of the thousands of comics I’ve read as the hundreds of movies I’ve watched over and over again, so I’m just as, if not more excited by the Ghostbusters Stay Puft Marshamallow Man, ET with flowers and Caddyshack groundhog dressed like Rodney Dangerfield as I am about the superheroes. Looks like a pretty darn good crop of ornaments to me!

Captain America Trade Post: Reborn & Two Americas

Captain America: Reborn (Marvel)
Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Bryan Hitch
Collects Captain America: Reborn #1-6

Man, remember how long it took Captain America: Reborn to come out? It seemed excruciating at the time because I was heavily into Ed Brubaker’s Captain America epic and was dying to see how he would bring Steve Rogers back from the dead. At the time the book came out the whole “becoming unstuck in time, but coming back thanks to a constant” thing was very Lost. It’s funny how similar the idea seemed then, but only vaguely so now. Bru’s had some really funky timing with things like this on Cap, he brought Bucky back right around the time that Jason Todd returned in Batman, he created new MODOKs that were an awful lot like the then-new OMACs were plaguing the DCU and…damn there was another one that I just can’t remember right now.

Anyway, reading Reborn all together several years after the fact was interesting. I was thrust right back into the “how are they going to bring him back” aspect of the story even though I remembered some of the deets. I also liked how the story really felt like a big piece of the Marvel Universe what with H.A.M.M.E.R.’s involvement, Avengers Dark, Mighty, New and whatever else making appearances and Reed Richards helping out. I like how Hitch can marry very real world events like World War II and the street-level feel of Bucky Cap’s adventures with much bigger sci-fi concepts like the aforementioned time becoming unstuck and whatnot.

My biggest problem with this series is that it wasn’t drawn by Steve Epting or one of the other Captain America regulars. I don’t have a problem with Hitch — though it does seem like he was sloppily inked or colored in many of the pages that make them look muddy instead of dark, possibly a result of the book being late — but I’m such a big fan of the ongoing series, that it would have been cool if this landmark story had been drawn by one of the guys who had been killing it up to this point along with Bru. It’s not the kind of thing that makes me want to ditch this book and never read it again, but it was something I kept thinking while reading: why couldn’t this have just been done by the regular team in the regular book? (And yeah, I know the answer is, “money, money, money.”)

Captain America: Two Americas (Marvel)
Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Luke Ross with Butch Guice
Collects Captain America #602-605, Captain America: Who Will Wield The Shield?

After Steve Rogers came back, he didn’t become Captain America again right away. While he was off heading up the newly reinstate S.H.I.E.D. and leading the Secret Avengers, Bucky stuck around as Cap and some people thought the book began spinning its wheels a bit. I can see where they’re coming from in this arc that finds Bucky infiltrating a supremacist group run by one of the guys who was Cap while the real one was frozen.

The story itself is interesting and well told. I really like the Bucky/Falcon dynamic which takes center stage here without all the dark notes thanks to Steve’s death that loomed over the series earlier. The problem is that this felt sort of like a rehash of some of Bru’s earlier stories. Steve had his own encounters with replacement Caps and they were pretty intense and sad and really well told. So, when it happens again but with a different Cap on both sides of the conflict, it’s not super interesting.

The best part of this collection which feels a little sleight, especially for a hardcover (which I got for half off at a comic shop nearby), is the Who Will Wield The Shield one-shot in the beginning that features Steve trying to figure out what he wants to do moving forward with his superhero career. That issue felt very much in the same vein as Bru’s earlier Cap stories without feeling like its treading familiar territory.

So, while neither of these trades really wowed me, I still really like how Bru handled Captain America in the macro sense. At some point, when he exits the series, it will be interesting to sit down and read all of it to see how well it works as a huge story. As much as I like this ongoing series, I look forward to that day, like I do for most of these things. The hope is that there will be a nice, big ending that’s part of the writer’s plan instead of editorially mandated stuff or, even worse, cancellation.

Late To The Xbox Party: Captain America Super Soldier (2011)

I was a little apprehensive about picking up Captain America: Super Soldier for Xbox 360 a few weeks back. Don’t get me wrong, I love superhero based video games, but I aside from the Wolverine game, I haven’t heard much in the way of positive reviews for superhero games in a while. Actually, when it came to this one, I hadn’t heard anything at all, but a quick look on Metacritic told me that the game got pretty good reviews and that’s pretty much all I was looking for. I wanted to throw a shield at Nazis and punch them until they disappeared.

And that’s pretty much what this game is. You’re Cap from the movie running around World War II kicking ass and taking dossiers. I liked that aspect of the game. The fighting mechanic wasn’t overly complicated — or complicated at all, really now that I think about it — so it was kind of a smash em up which was what I was looking for. There’s even a Super Soldier Sense type vision thing that reminded me of a similar mechanic as the Detective Mode or whatever it was in Arkham Asylum. The problem this time around is that the mechanic made everything yellow-ish, which doesn’t make sense when you realize that the things you’re looking at are in a similar color scheme. You don’t really need it much, so it’s not that big of a deal.

There are other parts, where you hit a particular button at a certain point which launches you through the air to a pole or branch or something you swing from to hit something else. It sounds fun, but it’s actually pretty boring because I never once missed. I feel like I’ve played a game with a similar idea that was executed a lot better, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I wished these were more interesting, I also wished there were fewer parts where you have to jam a certain button over and over. I had trouble with the timing a few times, so I’d screw the finishing kill up, but THEN the enemy would get a certain amount of life back and I’d have to beat on him more. So, basically, you had to do these somewhat complex things just to knock a dumb robot over.

So, no, it wasn’t a perfect game, but I had more fun than frustration with it, so I was happy. My enjoyment level doesn’t always rely on that kind of balance, especially if I’m really looking forward to a game, but I literally went into this hoping to throw shields and punch Nazis. Some of the levels were a little more complicated than they needed to be or the save points were in annoying points, but none of those things were SUPER annoying.

Quick Movie Review: Captain America The First Avengers (2011)

I’ve got to say, I’m digging what Marvel Entertainment is doing with their Marvel movies. Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger might not be my favorite movies or even on the same level with each other (Thor and Hulk haven’t aged well in my mind) but, as a comic geek, I do appreciate all the little bits and pieces they throw in for us to slobber over. Plus, the connections between the films leading up to The Avengers have just been fun. I have no idea if normal people care about this stuff at all, but I get giddy.

Cap is packed with those kinds of things, even if they don’t match up with the comics. Guys, Arnim freaking Zola was in this movie! The original Human Torch (or at least his costume) were on display! Howling Commandos! Union Jack! I don’t even care that Bucky Barnes knew Steve ahead of time and all that. His costume looked kind of like Winter Soldier’s! Ahhh! I don’t remember geeking out this much at a comic movie in a long time, so that was fun.

It also helped that it was a fun adventure story that even my inlaws liked (we watched it over the weekend). Someone in the room mentioned that it was like Indiana Jones and I think that’s a very apt comparison. This movie sets up an evil bad guy, a great good guy, gives him a solid, important missions and pits the two against each other. I even like how they changed Red Skull’s origin to put him more on par with Cap physically. I didn’t quite understand what the deal with the Cosmic Cube was this time around (the baby was making noise, so I might have missed some exposition) but I did like how it was connected to the World Tree and thus the alien gods seen in Thor.

One other quick thing, I was so, so, SO glad to see a comic book period flick. I know X-Men: First Class did the same thing last year too, but I haven’t seen that one yet. When I was at Wizard there was talk of a Fantastic Four movie being done as a period piece, set in the 60s. I don’t know if it was an actual rumor from somewhere or something we just got to talking about, but the idea struck me as kind of revelatory at the time. A swinging 60s FF would have been great! I’m glad that this idea whether something we just made up or not eventually became a reality. I know it would never happen, but I’d love to see a 30s-set Superman flick done with modern special effects tech! It works for Cap because he came back from WWII to be in the present day and the X-Men because they’re a team that have been around for a while. Speaking of which, all this Cap stuff got me even more jazzed for The Avengers! Is it out yet?

Steve Rogers Trade Post: Secret Avengers Volume 1 & Fallen Son

Secret Avengers Volume 1: Mission To Mars (Marvel)
Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Mike Deodato, Will Conrad, David Aja, Michael Lark & Stefano Gaudiano
Collects Secret Avengers #1-5

After getting a good deal on the second volume of Secret Avengers from Thwipster, I was pretty excited to check out the first volume. So, right after finishing, I went on Sequential Swap and set up a trade for the book. When it came in the mail on Saturday, I read it pretty much immediately. This is basically the perfect team book for Ed Brubaker to write because it’s perfectly set in his wheelhouse. Not only does it star Steve Rogers, the character he revolutionized over in the excellent Captain America, but it’s all about the black ops side of the Marvel Universe and includes characters that fit in that world either obviously like Moon Knight, Sharon Jones, Black Widow and Ant-Man (the most recent one) in ways that make a lot of sense even if you didn’t think about it like Beast, War Machine, Valkyrie and Nova. The idea is for the team to be more pro-active, a buzz concept in comics that always sounds good on paper, but doesn’t always deliver because, how do you stop crime before it happens?

So, with that team and that idea in mind, Brubaker kicks the first adventure off with a trip to Mars! It’s the kind of story that might not seem he’s suited for, but it still deals with evil corporations, brainwashed henchmen, a secret organization and heroes fighting other brainwashed heroes. Here’s the actual story: Roxxon has a mining operation on Mars, but all the workers disappeared and Rogers thinks something’s up. He sends his space guy–Nova–to check it out and he finds a crown very similar to the Serpent Crown that instantly takes over Nova and results in the rest of the team–minus Sharon Jones who is back on earth getting ambushed–heading into space. It turns out that Roxxon made a deal with a Hydra-like organization called The Shadow Council to mine there, but they accidentally stumbled upon a prophecy or something that will lead to the end of the universe. So, it’s up to Commander Rogers (don’t think I’ll ever get used to that, not that I need to), Moon Knight, Valkyrie, Ant-Man, War Machine and Beast–all in pretty awesome looking space suits, by the way–to stop Nova and save the universe, which includes seeing Steve put on Nova’s helmet and get a Nova-based costume, which I dug. It sounds like a straight forward superhero story and it is, but it’s also got a lot of those awesome espionage flavored moments that signify a great Bru comic. That really gets focused on in the fifth issue that explains who the Nick Fury lookalike that’s working for the Shadow Council is. Really fun stuff.

I talked about Deodato’s art in the last post and I feel the same way with this earlier volume. I think he’s a great choice for this book if you want to get away from the Steve Epting style set up in Captain America, or the Michael Lark/David Aja look that is actually used in the fifth issue. He’s doing great on the big superhero stuff, but also–and this might be thanks to the inking or coloring–things look shadowy, which fits the theme of the book perfectly. At first it was a little distracting, but once I started thinking that way, I was in it all the way. It’s not noir by any means, but shadows are impotant for a black ops team.

Fallen Son: The Dead Of Captain America (Marvel)
Written by Jeph Loeb, drawn by John Cassaday, David Finch, Ed McGuinness, John Romita Jr. & Leinil Francis Yu
Collects Fallen Son: Wolverine, Avengers, Captain America, Spider-Man & Iron Man

I am a very big fan of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America. If you’re into espionage super hero comics, I don’t think you can find a better one than that. I was disappointed when Steve Rogers got killed off a few years back, but, I mean, it’s comics, so you know he’s going to come back, it’s just a matter of when and how. Plus, Bru did an excellent job making me care about Bucky Barnes just as much, so I was okay. But, when I heard that someone else was going to be writing a series of one-shots showing what Cap’s death meant to a variety of heroes in the Marvel U, I wasn’t super excited. I think I read the issues when they came out and I was working at Wizard, but didn’t remember much about them, so I was curious to see how they played out a few years later and with Steve Rogers back in the land of the living.

I gotta say, it’s a pretty melodramatic thing to read which feels somewhat unnecessary, especially considering the fact that Steve Rogers is back. I get the idea behind it, putting together one of the best selling writers in comics with a series of big time artists on the subject of the death of a popular characters. And, as a story, it’s interesting how the issues tie into one another (something I didn’t remember from the first read), and there are some cool moments and ideas like Hawkeye thinking about becoming the new Cap at Iron Man’s request and Spider-Man remembering how Cap helped him out, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t seem to carry any weight now. It also features at least one character issue actually saying “The death of Captain America,” out loud which just never sounds right.

However, if you are an art fan, this is a pretty fantastic book. I love Leinil Francis Yu, David Finch and Ed McGuinness and seeing them tackle a wide variety of characters is a lot of fun, especially since they’re one-shots and you don’t have to worry about them missing a future issue. I’m not the biggest John Romita Jr. or John Cassaday fan, but they turn it on full blast too.

KEEP OR DUMP? So, the big question every time I read a trade is: will I keep this book and I’m split on these two. I will definitely save both Secret Avengers trades because I think they’re great continuations of Brubaker’s run on Cap with a lot of fun other elements thrown in. On the other hand, cool art just isn’t enough to keep a book in my collection, with very few exceptions.

Trade Post: Secret Avengers Volume 2 Eyes Of The Dragon

Secret Avengers Volume 2: Eyes Of The Dragon (Marvel)
Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Mike Deodato & Will Conrad
Collects Secret Avengers #6-12

I’m a big fan of Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America. I’m way behind on what he’s doing on that book, but I’m always excited about the chance to catch up. I was also excited when it was announced that he would be writing Secret Avengers which would star Steve Rogers–no longer Captain America for the moment–as well as a ton of sorta random Marvel characters banded together under the auspices of being the “black ops” Avengers team. You’ve got Steve, his girl Sharon Carter, Beast, Black Widow, Moon Knight, the newest Ant-Man, Valkyrie, War Machine and whoever else Steve happens to call on to complete the mission. That last part is not only the beauty of the book as a general concept, but also finds itself as the basis of this arc’s plot and made the book a little bit difficult to get into.

Allow me to explain. Ever since I read the early issues of Justice League Task Force, I’ve been a big big fan of the idea of a superhero team that hand picks appropriate superheroes to take on specific threats. If you don’t need Aquaman, don’t call Aquaman, but if Black Manta’s on the lose, call him up on the fish phone! Considering Steve’s decades’ long history and the respect he’s built up with, well, every good guy and even some bad guys in the Marvel U, it makes perfect sense to have him lead this team. Need to call up Dog Brother Number One (from Bru’s run co-writing The Immortal Iron Fist) or convince Shang-Chi of a looming threat? Steve’s got it covered.

That lends itself to this story because it turns out that some group is trying to bring Shang-Chi’s dad back from that dead. Who is Shang’s dad? Well, Fu Manchu of course, but you won’t know that from reading the comic. See, Marvel licensed Fu back in the day, but wound up building their own character Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu around the mythos. They still own Shang, but not Fu, so you get all this dancing around of who his dad is aside from the fact that he’s one bad dude.

The problem with the basic concept of this book at least how Bru handled this particular volume and especially if you haven’t read the first arc (which I haven’t, this one just came up for sale on Thwipster and I bought it), is that you’re left pretty much in the dark as to how the team actually works or even who is on the team. Don’t really know who Dog Brother Number 1 is? Tough luck, that doesn’t get explained. Heck they call him by his civilian name of John for most of the book. Don’t know that War Machine or Moon Knight are on the team? Well, I guess you will when they each briefly pop up a few issues into this collection. Now, it’s very possible that Marvel had recap pages before each issue or something along those lines and I just checked and there is a “Previously” page in the beginning of this book, but shouldn’t there be something in the story itself that tells readers what’s going on? It didn’t throw me a lot and I could keep up with the story (again, Steve can call on anyone, so it makes sense that anyone will be in the book), but there wasn’t a real sense of a team dynamic found in the book. Though, maybe that is the dynamic of a team that the former Captain America leads: do what Cap asks because you trust him. Hmm, that’s something to ponder.

Okay, even with the above complaint, I actually really dug this book. Like many of Bru’s Cap arcs, this one doesn’t just focus on one story–though there aren’t Busiek-level back stories going on by any means–as the Shang-Chi story directly moves into one from Steve’s past with another fellow super soldier. I like that flow and overall, I like this book. I know Brubaker didn’t stay on the book for long, but I’d gladly pick up the first volume and then whatever comes out after this one. Oh, also, I was worried about Mike Deodato Jr.’s artwork because I haven’t been much of a fan of his lately. I dug him back in the Wonder Woman days even if it was very Image-y, but he seemed to have gotten really sketchy lately. Well, this was definitely a step up for him, though I’ll be honest, I’m not exactly sure what was him and what was Will Conrad as they jammed on all these issues. Again, overall, this was a pretty fun little comic that I’ll be keeping on my shelf at least for the foreseeable future assuming the series stays solid.