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.

Trade Post: Batman Knightfall Volume 1

Batman Knightfall Volume 1 (DC)
Collects Batman #491-500, Detective #659-666, Showcase 93 #7-8, Shadow of the Bat #16-18 & Vengeance of Bane
Written by Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon & Alan Grant, drawn by Jim Aparo, Norm Breyfogle, Graham Nolan, Jim Balent, Bret Blevins, Klaus Janson & Mike Manley

You guys, I can’t tell you how excited I was when I saw that DC was re-collecting the Batman Knightfall story. If you’re unfamiliar with early 90s Batman comics, a weakened Batman went up against a new bad guy on the street named Bane who released all the villains in Arkham. After trying to stop and recapture all the bad guys, Batman finally goes up against Bane and — as you can see on the cover to the left here — Bane breaks Batman’s back. After this, a guy who has been hanging around for a little bit named Jean-Paul Valley, also known as Azrael, gets named the new Batman. JPV’s a little nutty to be nice about things and Robin realizes this is a problem, but Bruce is worried about finding Tim’s kidnapped dad and their shared doctor who Bruce wants to tell he’s Bats. There’s a lot going on, but what else can you expect from a 630 page book?

The reason I was so excited about this book — and the two that come after it — is because these were really my first Batman comics. I’d read one or two before and knew the character from the Adam West TV show, but these were the first ones I collected. The death of Superman got me into that book and the breaking of Batman got me into this one, I guess I was a little morbid as a kid. Anyway, while I have most of the issues collected therein, this is the very first time I’ve read them in order. I got many of the issues piecemeal, read them and then promptly placed them in bags and boards.

I was surprised by a lot of things reading through this book. First off, I was shocked that Kelly Jones didn’t do any interiors, only covers. This surprised me because what I remember about these stories is mainly his covers (as well as the gatefold foil Joe Quesada one for #500). I was also surprised at how quickly they got to breaking Bats. I assumed it would be towards the end of the book, but it actually takes place around the half way point.

My other surprises were more story based, so they deserve their own paragraph(s). I should note that, even if this book was a complete artistic embarrassment, I would love it because it’s so near and dear to me. While I didn’t think it was embarrassing at all, I was surprised at how flimsy Bane’s reasoning is presented in the book. We see his origins in the Bane one-shot, but his reasoning doesn’t make much sense. Why does he care about Gotham or Batman? Because some guy told him how great it was? I assume the intent is for Bane to compare himself to the highest physical specimen and win, but that falls apart when you release an army of madmen to bend him so you can come in and break him. Along similar lines, I have no idea why Bane hangs out with the trio of goofballs he does, Bird, Trogg and Zombie as they don’t do a whole lot for him.

Another problem I had which might have come from seeing how well this source material was handled in The Dark Knight Rises was that I didn’t get the impending sense of worry and doom with this story that I got in the film. Bane not only releases every crazy into Gotham and breaks Batman’s back IN FRONT OF PEOPLE, but also starts taking over all of the crime in the city, but the normal people we see don’t seem super upset or worried about it. The story lacks a sense of larger urgency that the film absolutely nailed. This is not helped by the inclusion of the Shadow of the Bat issues included in this collection which come right after JPV went out as Batman for the first time and give you three issues of Scarecrow trying to become a fear god, JPV being crazy Batman and Anarky trying to kill both of them. These don’t really help the series along and slow things WAY down, but I’m glad they’re in there. Maybe it would have been better to put them later in the book? But then they’d come after JPV made the AzBat armor…hmm

Okay, that was a good deal of complaining and critiquing, but I still really enjoyed reading this book and not just because of the wonderful trip down memory lane. Watching Batman getting so worn down facing also-rans like Firefly was actually pretty amazing. And, man, that scene where he fights Bane and gets broken? Still gives me chills. So intense. I also liked how JPV goes over the edge bit by bit. I mean, he’s clearly a terrible choice for Batman, but Bruce is not in his right mind, his brain’s as broken as his body, so it kind of makes sense. Plus, JPV was apparently hanging around before all this and was being trained by Batman and Robin. I’m pretty excited to break into the next book and see how his books hold up.

Ah, I’ve got one more complaint or more positively, a suggestion. It would be nice if there was a trade collecting some of the stuff that leads into this book. Bane appeared in a few other comics that are referenced several times that I’d like to read, but it’d also be cool to get a little bit more of JPV’s back story. Sure, I’ve got the Sword of Azreal trade on my shelf (and plan to read it again soon), but that’s a pretty old and, I assume, out of print book that I’m sure other people would like to read. Similarly, I noticed from looking at the second Knightfall volume I have and the information out there for the third, there’s a lot of stuff that’s still not collected like the Justice League Task Force stuff and a few other tales of Bruce Wayne running around trying to save Tim’s dad and their doctor. It’s entirely possible that these trades will get made in the future, especially if the planned Knightfall ones do really well, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Maybe I’ll just make my own!

I Very Much Enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises

My wife has very kindly offered for me to head over to the theater and watch Dark Knight Rises a few times. I bowed out because it was too late one night, I wasn’t up to the three hour commitment and I just wasn’t feeling up for something so seemingly intense another night, but today I took her up on her very generous offer. As I tweeted before heading over to the theater, I actually can not remember the last movie I saw inside as the few new movies we’ve gone to since Lu was born 15 months ago have been at the drive-in.

Somehow, I’d actually been able to avoid any and all spoilers since the film’s July 20th release date. I might have written about Dark Knight Rises a few times a week for Spinoff leading up to the film, but since then any and all stories have been purely about box office. I’ve scrolled over tweets, avoided emails and even skipped some of my favorite podcasts to stay in the dark. I’m actually shocked it worked.

I don’t think I need to get into too much detail about the plot, but this film picks up eight years after the events of Dark Knight. Batman’s been out of commission since then, vilified thanks to his plan with Jim Gordon while Harvey Dent was turned into the city’s fallen knight. It’s been a good time for Gotham…until Bane comes to town and wants to knock everyone off their collective high horses.

Okay, the rest of the review until otherwise stated will take place in SPOILER country, so you’ve been warned. What I liked about this movie is the journey it took us on, even if it’s not one that’s necessarily the most original. Bruce is destroyed by the death of Rachel from the previous film and doesn’t know how he can go on living when she can’t do the same. This dovetails nicely with the plan he hatched with Gordon, giving Gotham the Batman they deserve. We also discover that Bruce’s distrust of humanity make him automatically deject any plans that might be used negatively even if their primary source could be good. That’s the kind of person her is at this point.

Bane is a whole different animal, one whose MO feels like a living breathing thing throughout the movie because we’re only hearing and seeing it from other peoples’ perspectives for the most part. I thought that was a really interesting take on him: you basically only know him by his actions and his speech, not because you know anything about him or his past. The way that his plan not only confirms the fears Bruce always had about the tech getting into the wrong hands but maybe also that you might as well get some good out of things even if they can be abused for evil (that’s not said anywhere on film, but something I thought while watching). I will say that the voice took some getting used to. It almost sounds like someone dubbed in a funny voice in that opening scene, but gets a little less cartoony as it goes on. I also had a hard time understanding him a few times, but that didn’t really bother me. You tend to understand the point he’s trying to convey.

I also want to talk about Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake. Man, I loved this character and his arc. He’s Bruce Wayne if he wasn’t rich, an orphan who learned later how to hide his anger at what happened to him and his parents, but eventually decided to do good by joining the police force. How he goes from that to freedom fighter could have been a whole movie in its own right and one I would have watched. I also enjoyed Anne Hathaway’s performance. She really dug into her bag of actor tricks going from flummoxed demure maid to femme fatale in no time flat, something that could have felt slopping in the hands of a lesser actress. She’s the bad guy side of the Bruce Wayne/John Blake model: poor kid taking what she needed to survive and never really stopping, but wanting to.

Making the proceedings even more entertaining for me was the fact that some of the Batman comics I read growing up were the basis of this story. I’m seen lots of comic movies and really enjoyed them, sometimes going back later and reading the stories they were based on, but I really can’t explain to you how much a part of me the long form Bane story Knightfall meant to me. Those were the first Batman issues I ever collected. I devoured the parts of that story I could find and it lead me to buying Batman comics for the next 20 years almost. But that’s not all, the movie also includes elements from the No Man’s Land story that saw Gotham cut off from the rest of the country and even some of the Bane/Ra’s al Ghul stuff that came about in later issues. I was even retroactively remembering how things fit in with my comics after we found out who Miranda Tate really was (facepalm, of course it was her!).

The movie wasn’t perfect though. Like I said, Bane’s voice was pretty cartoony at times, to the point where I was trying to figure out what animated character he sounded like. It doesn’t help that I have no idea what Tom Hardy sounds like normally. I also thought some of the larger crowd fighting was a little weak, specifically outside city hall, though the bouts between Bane and Batman were always gnarly. OH, and how awesome was it seeing Batman and Catwoman fighting awesomely side by side?! Oh, right, I’m on complaints. Let’s see…oh, Batman took an awful lot of very previous time to stop and say goodbye to Catwoman and Gordon when flying the bomb out, didn’t he? It reminded me of a much less campy version of that famous scene from the 60s Batman movie where he’s trying to get rid of the bomb.

Speaking of the end, I thought it was very curious. Going in, I knew that this was going to be Christopher Nolan’s last Batman film (unless the famously tricky director is playing with us once again), but I was also assuming that this would be the last Batman movie set in his movie universe, like Warners would just scrap it and start over again with a new idea. But that’s pretty silly isn’t it? In comics, sometimes a writer leaves and blows everything up, leaving the next guy to pick up the pieces and sometimes there’s a really smooth transition. It seems like Nolan was giving whoever comes after him a very easy access point. They can clearly move forward with the John Blake developments or bring our hero back any number of other ways. Heck, Nolan could even still produce like he’s doing on Man of Steel, that would give him time to work on whatever his next original project will be. I don’t know any of the answers here, but I like having the questions running around my brain.

End SPOILERS. So, yeah, I really enjoyed this movie. It didn’t grab me right away in the beginning, but kept winning me throughout and by the end, I was completely in, rooting for Gotham and believing that one man really can make a difference. I was so pumped on the way home I had to make sure to watch my speed. I also bought in hard to the idea that you have to make sacrifices to help change things, you can’t just hide behind whatever’s safe or even your family because you’re just making a crappier world for your kid to live in if you’re not helping change things.