Saturday, 31 December 2011

Batwoman, Judge Dredd, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen; The Best And Worst Of 2011 (Part 6 0f 6)

In which the blogger concludes his review of 2011, which was begun here, and continued here and here and here and even here. For anyone just popping in by chance, there's a brief recap of how the "best" and "worst" were chosen at the bottom of this page;

               
7. Problem The Seventh:- The Absence of Density, or What Value For Money?

Time and time again, we run into problems so obvious and so serious that it seems quite literally impossible that they're being largely ignored by the mainstream super-person book. Of these, perhaps the most inexplicable and suicidally harmful is the industry's inability to grasp what might pass for value for money. If there's one quality which characterises all of the comics which have been mentioned so far in this review of 2011, it's the presence of a density of story which rewards the reader's faith rather than seeming to snigger at their gullibility. Nothing - nothing - threatens the fantastical comicbook more than the fact that it's typically such a thin, shallow, and fundamentally stupid product. It's far too ofen a cheat, a con-job, a betrayal not just of the reader, but of the tradition of the Pop super-book itself. With almost three-quarters of a century's worth of comics having gone to press since Action Comics # 1, everybody involved should know what excellence is and how to aspire to achieve it. These things are not, if I might be excused the archaism, rocket science, and yet so many of 2011's comics managed to achieve, after the example of Spinal Tap, such a "selective appeal" that the industry as a whole deserves to share its very own Darwin Award. There are diamonds in the garbage, as Jim Starlin once had his Warlock declare in a damning comment on Marvel's late Seventies output, but it's the overwhelming mass of that garbage and not the few sparkling exceptions sprinkled throughout it which will sink the sub-genre as anything other than raw material for the likes of movies, games, and - presumably - ironic adult underwear.

       
It is, of course, perfectly possible to produce a densely rewarding comic in the "very-widescreen" tradition so apparently beloved of today's industry. Only an idiot would suggest anything else. But having largely  moved from deconstructed to devolved - we are Devo - the Big Two appear, to a lesser or greater degree, to have largely abandoned the dream of breaking out into broader markets and appealing to less, shall we say, specialist audiences. And yet, despite the fact that it's plainly obvious that it's possible to make a very good living as a creator of restricted ambition if not ability in the modern day biz, there keep appearing these strangely stubborn and principled individuals who are apparently unable to convince themselves that a few "shocking" moments and a great deal of little else at all constitutes a story.

           
I'd love to be able discuss the point with reference to (13) Al Ewing and John Higgins's Judge Dredd: Choose Your Own Christmas, but it's a story that's so cleverly, so densely, constructed that I fear I'd only thoroughly spoil its pleasures. By that, I don't mean to suggest that it's a tale which relies upon a sub-O Henry twist, for it's a far more smart and complicated business than that. Framed in the form of a choose your own adventure tale, and concluding with one of those wonderful Ewing final panels which absolutely nails the political theme of what's gone before, it's an example of a story which doesn't just reward, but absolutely demand, a second and third reading. The polar opposite of the showy, thin egotism of a typical LOOK-AT-ME! Event Book, Choose Your Own Christmas carries more plot and story in its pages than many a "special" issue several times its length. Indeed, so focused and unshowy and effective is John Higgins's artwork that the reader might not notice until after the stories done quite how complex and bleak the tale has been

And I'd love to explain that point too, but if I start pulling at one thread of this story, it'll all unravel.

       
There's no better example of the value of density that (14) J. H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman's Batwoman. I've little time for the Batoverse these days, and I'm not going to pretend that the Batwoman's plots are, beyond their tender and admirable refusal to play to the homophobic gallery, particularly noteworthy. Yet the book is alive with imagination and aspiration, and it's proof that a comic's art can add such value to a perfectly serviceable script that even the uncommitted can't avoid being beguiled. The comic is so rich and sensuous a visual experience that it's impossible not to return to its pages for their own sake even after the various virtues of the story have been worked through. To be so experimental and yet so absolutely clear, to be so daring and yet always so very emotionally involving; Mr Williams's work simultaneously occupies two supposedly incompatible forms, the "art" and the "commercial" book, and it's so successful in both than my own tastes quite dissolve before it. To be able to annexe readers who are broadly unsympathetic to the material at hand, to turn doubters in proselytisers through sheer excellence; there really is something of the super-person Holy Grail about Batwoman.

           
8. Problem The Eighth And Last:- The Lack Of Purposeful Hybrisation


One of things that has tended to be overlooked where (15) Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1969 is concerned is that it's quite obviously a super-person book. It doesn't matter how ironic, how playful, the book is where the fantastical is concerned, it's still focused on its surface with little but supernaturally able individuals making their way in a patently absurd world. Anyone who'd argue that the fantastical comicbook can't break out into mainstream audiences clearly hasn't been paying attention to the commercial as well as the artistic success of the League, which has been selling in its truckloads as individual chapters and which will be matching and improving on that when it's finally completed and collected. The high summer of the mid-Eighties wasn't the only break-out moment for the super-person sub-genre, although far too many folks are willing to believe that it was. 2011 was as good as any.

                
The super-person book is, as we've discussed over the past twelve months, a fragile and often impenetrable sub-genre unlikely to win over a mainstream audience if presented in the terms of nothing but its own traditions. Yet so many of the most ambitious of mainstream comics endeavours are concerned with little but the business of cape'n'chest-insignia meta, clever, knowledgeable and ambitious, and yet, inevitably, uninteresting to all but the already profoundly converted. At best, the fantastical comicbook tends to opt for the most obvious of genre fusions in order to expand its concerns and its achievements; the futuristic or supernatural western, the SiFi war story, and so on. But 1969 is so impossibly ambitious in its mash-up of a host of inspirations that it leaves most if not quite all of its challengers standing in the also-ran lane. There are undoubtedly learned treaties being written at this very moment which seek to describe in analistic detail all of the complexities of the hybridisation process which underlies 1969's narrative structure. But the comic's glory lies in significant part in the fact that nobody need know anything of the backstory and genre and inter-textuality of it all to thoroughly enjoy the book, although the pleasures of noting those very aspects are undoubtedly considerable.

        
There are times when I think that we've learnt to take Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's tale-telling almost for granted. Another year or so, another comicbook of distinction, ho-hum. Yet, as with all the comics which I've tried to discuss in these best-of features, their achievement is such that, one day, we'll all turn to a friend and reminisce about the comics wonderland of 2011, when work as fine as 1969 appeared on the shelves and its exceptional quality was so predictable that no-one walked before its creators in the streets scattering rose petals and humming hymns of gratitude.

And we'll probably feel that twisting ache of nostalgia and pontificate on the matter of the comics of the distant future, and of how they're just not as good as they used to be ...

             

TooBusyThinking Offers Its Sincere Thanks To The Following Creators For Their Having Made 2011 A Better Place To Live In;

in no order of preference, since all involved are entirely splendid;

(1) Robbie Morrison & Simon Fraser's Nikolai Dante: Bad Blood (2000ad # 1732-1736)
(2) Roger Langride & Chris Samnee's Thor The Mighty Avenger
(3) Rob Williams & D'Israeli's Low Life: The Deal (2000ad #1750-1761)
(4) Damon Lindelof & Ryan Sook's Life Support (Action Comics # 900)
(5) Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera & Marcos Martin's Daredevil
(6) Paul Cornell & Jimmy Broxton's Knight And Squire
(7) Gail Simone, Jim Calafiore & Marcos Marz's Secret Six
(8) Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie's Generation Hope # 9
(9) Al Ewing & Leigh Gallagher's Judge Dredd:The Family Man (Judge Dredd Megazine # 312/3)
(10) Kieron Gillen & Richard Elson's Journey Into Mystery # 630
(11) Warren Ellis, Jamie McKelvie & Kev Walker's Secret Avengers # 16/17
(12) Gail Simone & Horacio Domingues's Welcome To Tranquility: One Foot In The Grave
(13) Al Ewing & John Higgins's Judge Dredd: Choose Your Own Christmas (2000ad Prog 2012)
(14) J. H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman's Batwoman
(15) Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1969


For what little it's worth; THANK YOU!


A Brief Recap Of What's Going On Here

If you've not read either of the first two parts of this piece - and why should you? - then here's a quick recap of how this best-and-worst-of-2011 has been put together;

"I've tried to make what follows a relatively brief summary of a year's worth of blogging. There's 8 sections to come, each of which in turn deals with a series of problems which seem to be commonly afflicting most of today's comics. At the end of each section, I've mentioned one or more of my favourite comics from the past twelve months, each a notable and much-appreciated exception to whatever rule it is that I'm trying to establish. Most of the comics which I mention favourably could have been used to contradict any of the general criticisms I've made, and I've shared them around more with a desire to break up the moaning than to suggest that each of them is characterised by just a single and specific virtue. Nothing could be further from my mind."

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Friday, 30 December 2011

Places To Be, Things To Enjoy:- In Which The Blogger Recommends Several Splendid Destinations In The Blogosphere For Your Delectation

In which the blogger sings the praises of the work of creators whose projects are well worth a moment of anyone's time. 


I'm a considerable fan of Mark Simmons's work. I love the life and the charm and the energy of his comic strips. His Little Monsters: Seven Comic Fantasies is a collection of short stories from the small press, 24 hour Comics Day projects, and the absolutely splendid Blood Bite Of The Death Dragon, a strip which would've been in my best-of list for 2010 if I'd've had the sense to produce one.  Seriously. I love that story, and it reads even better when collected here than it did when it was first presented as a web comic at Toy's Dream, Mark's blog. Mark tells me that anyone who thinks that they might be interested in acquiring a copy of Little Monsters would be welcome to contact him at toysdream@gmail.com.  I've found him to be as splendid a chap as he is an artist, so why not drop him a line?

          
I'm not sure if it's the technology that intimidates me, or if it's just that I'm a terrible old Tory when it comes to consuming fiction, but I've always belonged the tribe of the exceptionally late adopters. A shameful thing to admit, I know, but that only makes my favourable response to Reilly Brown and Kurt Christenson's digital comic Power Play all the more telling. It's the first digital comic I've come across whose form has been crafted to take advantage of the new medium. It's not just a strip which can be read in a digital format, but one which has been designed in such a way as to take advantage of what is, after all, a very different method of consuming comics. I enjoyed being surprised and entertained by how the preview pages of Power Play worked, so I'll not try to describe what I found there here. But even an aged Luddite such as myself can sense something of the future for the comic book in Power Play.

         
The story itself is a manga-esque super-person tale, kinetic and good-humoured and unpretentiously enjoyable. You can find both a free preview and the $1.99 first issue at Comixology here, while checking out the artwork here only emphasises how well Power Play would work in a bog-standard two-stapled format too. Some heavy duty folks have been quick to praise the work of Brown and Christenson here, from Fred Van Lente to Paolo Rivera to Fabian Nicieza, and it's really not hard at all to see why they've done so.

  
I know how seriously Matthew Mclaughlin takes his writing, and so I'm always taken aback to note how hard he works to make his scripts as entertainingly free from worthiness as possible. No lover of superheroes, he's developing his trade in a variety of sadly-less typical genres, from the grimmest of futuristic westerns to absurd rib-ticklers concerning medieval priests engaged in monster hunting. I admire his determination to carve out his own terse, smart and dryly amusing style, and I'm pleased to note the development of his latest venture, the fantasy western El Bigote, in which a Mexico plagued by the undead is patrolled by a ghoul-killer not given to excesses of negotiation or restraint. Matt's enthusiastic to be collaborating with artist El Chivo on the project and the result of their combined endeavours is, quite frankly, something of a hoot. You can find sample art and follow the properties progress forwards here at the El Bigote Facebook page, and there's an El Bigote site currently under construction here, featuring a splendid logo put together by the apparently tireless Bolt-01.



Julian Darius's new publishing venture and blog Martian Lit bears the reassuring tag-line "We come in peace, seeking only oxygen and slaves", which all sounds rather reasonable. Should the short history of Martian civilisation offered by the blog is to be trusted - here - things could, after all, be far worse. And if the blog itself appears to believe that it's speaking from and for the fourth planet, then its content defines Martian Lit as a brave and intriguing endeavour, with a range of creatively aggressive fiction, non-fiction and poetry already up, each of which is complimented by some splendid original art. I have no idea where Julian finds the energy and time for everything that he's involved in. (He's even done me the not-inconsiderable favour of editing the first of my new weekly essays for Sequart, which are scheduled to begin on the 3rd of January. A really good editor is exceptionally hard to find, as I'm sure you're aware.) But, as always, his work, and that of his many and estimable co-conspirators, is well worth the checking out.      
             

The world is full of tales of Giant Robots, but that’s no excuse for not checking out Richard Clements and Alex Moore’s Turning Tiger, which is to be published by Arcana in the coming April It’s a comic whose strength lies not just in its well-choreographed scenes of giant war-machines knocking seventeen bells out of each other. Indeed, what really sets apart Turning Tiger from a great deal of the competition is the family drama which only appears to run parallel to the grand action set-pieces.  Clements's script is typically terse, focused, and clear, while Moore is similarly transparent, direct and engaging. I'd like to say a little more about Turning Tiger, and to reference the most touching aspect of the tale, but the way in which the book's two plots collide is really best left to the reader to discover for themselves. The world is indeed full of giant robots, but there’s an emotional core to this story which means that it could well survive and prosper in mediums far beyond the comic book. You can check out a few preview pages at Arcana Press here, and I'd recommend a visit to artist Alex Moore's blog too. 
       

   
I'd have to say that my favourite new blog of the year is Miguel's exceptionally smart Comics Without Frontiers. His writing needs no hyping up from me, as visitors to the blog will already know. He's equally adept at discussing European and American comics, newspaper strips and superhero hoo-hahs, and I never leave his blog without feeling that my time's been well invested.

 
Finally,  Emmet O'Cuana has a series of three pieces under the tile of "2011: A Geek Review" up on Comics Booked.com. (Find them here, here and here.) In them, he presents the opinions of a range of artists, writers, and bloggers on their highlights of the year that's been and their most-anticipated events of 2012. It's a fun read, as anyone who's followed Emmet's career on his own A Book A Day Until I Can Stay blog, let alone elsewhere, might safely anticipate. I appreciated being given the chance to contribute a few of my own genre experiences of the past 12 months too, and it lent me the opportunity to babble a touch about the utterly splendid Misfits too, a favourite of both the Splendid Wife and her Obediant Husband. Thank you, Emmet!

I do hope your holiday season is going as well as might be hoped for. All the best to you from the windswept semi-wilderness of the East of England.

nb: In order to avoid seeming to show any undue favour at all, I had the Splendid Wife decide the order of the above through the hi-tech method of, er, picking out folded-over pieces of paper from a coffee cup. If you've seen something that looks interesting to you, why not help spread the word? The blogosphere's a place where the law of unintended consequences is always at play, and regularly in a benevolent fashion too. A tweet, a comment, a recommendation to a friend, a free sample experimented with; there are, of course, worse things to invest a few seconds in, and I know from experience how the fortunes of a lil'blog such as TooBusyThinkingAboutMyComics can be raised by such kindnesses.

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Sunday, 25 December 2011

Season's Greetings!

In which the blogger, in the company of The Splendid Wife and Eyebrow Girl, The Hound Supreme, wish anyone who might chance upon this page the very best holiday season that it's possible for them to have. All the best from The Splendid Wife's Country Retreat out here in the windswept East Of England!




ps; And, just to prove that all things are possible, might I present a gift of gardening socks which it actually made me smile to receive?


            
Take care!

Friday, 23 December 2011

On "Knight And Squire", or, "...Magna So-Called Bleedin' Carta!" (Part 2)

In which the blogger continues the chat about Knight And Squire which was begun here. I've done my best to avoid spoilers, but it's an effort which hasn't proven either easy, or, to my shame, successful. So please be warned; there be spoilers in what follows;

  

"Things are complicated", as the duo of wonderfully camp French super-villains who travel under the nom de plume of "Double Entendre" declare at the conclusion of Paul Cornell's Knight And Squire. It's a point of view which just about everything in the book would seem to have been designed to confirm. On the one hand, Knight And Squire is an entirely reader-friendly and - at least at first - innocent-hearted graphic novel, carrying with it none of the audience-excluding indulgence and excess which so marks the storytelling and content of a great deal of 2011's comics. And yet, scratch what at first seems to be an innocuous and nostalgic surface and some exceptionally sharp and bleak and, yes, mournful things begin to snare the reader's attention too. Neither a comedy or a tragedy, then, but quite clearly both at the very same time, as Jarvis Poker the British Joker helps to emphasise when he reflects on how he'd had to learn that  "... the horrific and whimsical are mixed together".

            
If that's so, then the very fact of writing a comicbook to illustrate such a theme inevitably means that it stands, as we've already touched upon, as a critique of so much of the modern-era superhero book. Because if there's one thing that the sub-genre has tended to acknowledge less and less as the decades have passed, it's the fact that despair and depression and the nihilism which that inspires aren't in themselves the default settings of human existence. As a consequences, there's such a terrible bleakness is so many of the sub-genre's books, such a sense that life itself is essentially nothing but one appalling and practically unwinnable crisis after another. Knight And Squire is having none of that, though there's no doubt that there are a whole series of "horrific" moments to be found in its pages. There are despairingly lonely deaths, and appallingly unexpected and violent deaths, and deaths which can't be resisted and which seem to reduce life to nothing but a state of loss and meaninglessness. Life is all these terrible things, argues the script of Knight And Square, and yet it's so much more, and if a body is given to believing in little but the bleakness, then the bleakest of solutions become not just acceptable, but rational and laudable.

            
But Cornell's is an argument in favour of a far less constricted and ultimately joyous view of  life, and it's perhaps best represented in Knight And Squire by the Joker's complete failure not simply to terrify and "exterminate" Britain's "pathetic superheroes and villains", but to even provoke them into a traditionally violent showdown. It's a unmistakably deliberate comment on the way in which viciousness matched with a despicable lack of self-control on the part of too many heroic characters is often framed in terms of restraint and moderation. Given how tempting and even necessary the business of murdering the likes of the Joker is so often made to seem, the administering of nothing but a through beating can seem by comparison a mark of a grimmly heroic, and even unimaginably inhuman, self-control. Similarly, the very temptation to end an antagonist's life is regularly portrayed as an entirely understandable process of necessary venting combined with respect for the cardinal traditions of frontier justice. Who but the noblest of vigilantes could ever resist such an intense and apparently legitimate desire?

            
And as the beatings and the body-count have become more and more ubiquitous, the superhero who won't even consider extending their responsibilities to that of self-appointed brutaliser and executioner can often seem as if they're nothing more than a weak-willed and even cowardly self-emasculated do-gooder. In such a tradition, the Knights declaration to the jailbound Cornwall Boy that he doesn't need "power" but "moderation" would seem ironic rather than admirable. Thankfully, Knight And Squire is a superhero book which quite deliberately avoids associating itself with any such a world-view, and so the Knight seems not to be pathetically breaking the superhero code so much as admirably challenging and redefining it. In that, the arc of Faceoff's character development, from atomised and hang-'em-all vigilante to ego-sacrificing team-player and mensch, describes the ideal of heroic behaviour in Knight And Squire. Only the Joker lacks the possibly of redemption, because the Joker quite literally can't take his place in any wider community at all. The empathy circuits in his mind are irreparably fried, and as Jarvis Poker says, his American's counterpart's "curse" is to "stand alone, with nothing in all directions". Yet that word "curse" is meant quite literally, and the superheroes who surround him in the Time And The Bottle are well aware that he's as blameless as his actions are baleful. Vengeance very much isn't on the agenda.

             
Yet it's hard not to believe that Cornell intended his clash of comic-book cultures to represent a far broader matter than just that of how moderate and humane the super-human narrative ought to be free to be. At its heart, Knight And Squire seems concerned to discuss the relationship between culture and politics, between art and ethical consequences, in a far broader and more general sense. In fact, Knight And Squire appears to be a playful and smart-minded broadside directed against the relationship that's presumed to exist between fiction and real-world values by the politically and culturally correct of all stripes, from cape'n'chest-insignia fundamentalists to the ethical reductionists of the various thought police. In the context of that much wider debate, Knight And Squire appears to be the creation of a writer who despairs of the all-too-widely-held conviction that a community can only be acceptably represented by fictions which contain unambiguously virtuous and culturally relevant role models as protagonists.

      
There is, according to the (ill)logic of such a literal-minded world view, a direct and casual relationship between the fictions which we consume and the values which we develop. Accordingly, the worth of the entertainment which we choose to enjoy is all too often defined according to how it appears to reflect this manifesto or that one, this litany of social worth and that catechism of cultural relevance. But just as Knight And Squire is a rejection of a great deal of the current norms of the superhero tale, it's also a quite different take on how politics are supposed to be presented in the fiction in our culture. For the superhero community of Knight And Squire is neither a quota-system vision of contemporary urban Britain or a group of types whose worth has been rebooted in terms of any of the modern-era's supposed zeitgeists. In fact, Cornell's cast of super-people might seem on first skim to have been quite deliberately designed to ignore any such concerns, although quite the opposite is obviously true.

          
There's no immediate and unproblematical candidate for the role of "outstandingly-admirable" representative of a minority or class or whatever, it's true. There's no Red Flag-waving Captain Clydeside, but there is the Professional Scotsman, and, with the exception of Squire, there's no potential feminist icon though there is the perpetually naked and statuesque Birthday Girl. And yet, of course, Knight And Squire very much isn't, despite what a few commentators have suggested, a conservative and comfily nostalgic vision of Britain in any way at all. There's an exceptionally clear and carefully drawn line in Knight And Squire between the cultures which the book's super-heroic cast initially sprang from and an enthusiastically positive vision of a modern multicultural Britain which the likes of Cyril and Beryl strive to inform and defend. These super-people from a host of different and distant and even often disreputable sources, from radio comedy to comic books, from novelty 45's to cultural stereotypes, aren't being used to serve the most regressive and enervating of the agendas of yesterday at all. Of course they're not. Rather, Cornell's using them to suggest that the culture of the past is, regardless of the PC mentality, constantly open to being used in an unexpected, humane, entertaining, and, even, as much of it was in its own time, radical manner.

And that's what I'd like to discuss next time. 


To be continued;
      

Monday, 19 December 2011

"Secret Avengers" & "Welcome To Tranquility: One Foot In The Grave": The Best & Worst Of 2011 (Part 5 of 6)

In which the blogger continues his review of 2011, which was begun here, and continued here and here and here. For anyone just popping in by chance, there's a brief recap of how the "best" and "worst" were chosen at the bottom of this page;
        
                      
6. Problem The Sixth:- An Obsession With The Soap Opera Of The Superhero Class

What if it all got way, way, way past the point at which there were far too many comics in which everyone was a superhero? What if these superheroes weren't being typically used as metaphors for the human condition at all, or as symbols of this ethical dilemma or that, but as objects of fascination if not veneration in themselves? What if the wonderful absurdity which marks out the superhero as something that's both entirely ridiculous and yet so strangely telling had been seriously diminished by how ubiquitous and interchangeable the breed and its adventures had become? What if their affairs were removed from everyday life to the point at which any world which the likes of you and I might recognise rarely appeared at all, and even then as if from the wrong end of the telescope, far away and improbably abstracted?


What if this class of super-people were shown forming their own closed societies, their own privileged and inter-locking classes and sub-cultures and nations, in which they lived with and married and worked with no-one but those of their own kind, until the only typical human beings that they ever met seemed to be either victims to be saved, helpers to be won over, or antagonists to be defeated?  What if all the countless possibilities of the sub-genre became blanded out with an obsession concerning which costume might join which team, and which super-people might fall in love, and which might end up fighting apparently to the death for the next month or two? What if everybody knew everyone else, and what if each successive year seemed more and more like an endlessly purposeless excuse-me, in which everyone eventually exchanges partners and roles until everything returns back to where it was before, meaning that little ultimately makes sense except for the mechanics of the melodrama of the same-time-next-month superhero soap opera?

              
An obsession with the incestuous social relations of the superhero class is obviously one fetish which (11) Warren Ellis has avoided becoming habituated to. His Secret Avengers issues are entirely unconcerned with anything other than the broadest details of his character's backstory. Similarly, there's no suggestion of any continuity which binds his done-in-one issues together with either each other or the Marvel universe beyond in any way which diminishes the value of each single issue as a stand-alone. (*1) Each month finds a rotating cast of Avengers under Steve Rogers's leadership charging off to play out a series of notably not-so-covert secret missions in what reads as a hybrid of G.I. Joe with Mission Impossible. If there's at times just a touch too little story that's been woven been over his plots, Ellis's smart melange of pop science and 21st century politics, Saturday-morning cartoons and bleak post-Bourne thrillers, succeeds where so few other superhero comics do; it entertains as a self-contained pleasure rather than functioning as a way-station along an endless trudge of continuity. As it does so, it displays once more Ennis's often under-appreciated skill for imaging and describing a uniquely promising widescreen scene which his collaborators can then bring to life according to their own individual gifts. Of these, Jamie McKelvie's graceful, and almost-agoraphobic, double-page splash of Moon-Knight gliding over a darkened, empty sci-fi cityscape in Subland Empire is the most impressively affecting. There's so little story that's being delivered there, and yet the scene has been so precisely designed that there's an almost overwhelming sense of vertiginous lonesomeness at work there..

*1:- Michael Hoskin quite rightly called me on this sentence in the comments, and I've amended it according.


Yet the best of Ellis's Secret Avengers stories is to be found in Beast Box, his collaboration with Kev Walker in Secret Avengers # 17, though it's an issue which hasn't always proved to be the most popular of the run across the blogosphere. Its portrayal of a mechanised,vampiric truck roaming across a fractured Serbia and kidnapping its citizens is as knowingly preposterous as it's entirely chilling. To use the ridiculous conceit of a demonic mind-thieving freighter in order not simply to entertain, but to touch upon the ghosts and spectres of former and present real-world terrors grounds - but not mires - all those superheroics in something endlessly more disturbing and tragic.

          
Don't be misled by the cover to the collected edition of (12) Gail Simone and Horacio Domingues's Welcome To Tranquillity: One Foot In The Grave. It may well appear to be describing just another closed community of costumed superheroes, but One Foot In The Grave is anything but yet another comic concerned with a society of super-people and little else. Similarly, the meta-aspects of the story's six chapters may seem to suggest a cape'n'chest-insignia book concerned with nothing but the playing out of the most over-familiar and threadbare aspects of the sub-genre; the community transformed into super-people in order to end an overwhelming threat, the return of apparently-dead and well-loved characters, the representation of backstory in the form of anachronistic comic-strip pages, and so on.

          
Yet it's all a great deal of a double-bluff, as a knowing - but never arch - Ms Simone uses some of sub-genre's most bromidic conventions in order to gently but definitively illustrate the fundamental difference between comic-book melodrama and drama, between conflict for its own sake and conflict that helps play out an ethical dilemma. In doing so, Ms Simone appears to be arguing that it's not the superhero comic itself which is in risk of exhausting its appeal, but rather the lack of an moral purpose in the tales which are told with it. With everything that occurs on the pages of One Foot In The Grave serving the overall theme of the virtues and limits of unselfishness and forgiveness, there's never a sense that the book's love-affairs and shoot-outs and nightmare snacktime horroshocks are either sensationalist ham indulgences or thin retreads of a thousand cold-in-their-Mylar comicbook tales.

          
No, there's nothing of the super-soap-opera here at all, or at least there's not to anyone who's not a macho fundamentalist, regarding any sign of emotion and intimacy as a disgracefully spine-weakening indulgence.  Assisted in no little measure by a laudable leap in Mr Domingues's achievements where the emotional clarity in particular of his work is concerned, One Foot In The Grave delivers a thoroughly enjoyable example of how the superhero tale can describe the lives of a broad community of individuals without ever falling back on either cliche for its own sake or bathos as a substitute for emotion and smart-thinking.

Is it full to the brim of super-people? It surely is, and the fun of it all is a match for anything else that there's been out on the stands from an American publisher this year beyond its soul-mate and equal Knight And Squire. And yet it's really not that "super" part of the equation which matters the most in the end. For all the entertainment offered by the spectacle of the hyper-conflict and the cleverness of the inter-texuality, it's Ms Simone and Mr Dominques's characters that remain with the reader at the story's close, as well, of course, as the conclusion to the theme which all those super-folks have helped play out.


            

TooBusyThinking Offers Its Sincere Thanks To The Following Creators For Their Having Made 2011 A Better Place To Live In;

in no order of preference, since all involved are entirely splendid;

(1) Robbie Morrison & Simon Fraser's Nikolai Dante: Bad Blood (2000ad # 1732-1736)
(2) Roger Langride & Chris Samnee's Thor The Mighty Avenger
(3) Rob Williams & D'Israeli's Low Life: The Deal (2000ad #1750-1761)
(4) Damon Lindelof & Ryan Sook's Life Support (Action Comics # 900)
(5) Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera & Marcos Martin's Daredevil
(6) Paul Cornell & Jimmy Broxton's Knight And Squire
(7) Gail Simone, Jim Calafiore & Marcos Marz's Secret Six
(8) Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie's Generation Hope # 9
(9) Al Ewing & Leigh Gallagher's Judge Dredd:The Family Man (Judge Dredd Megazine # 312/3)
(10) Kieron Gillen & Richard Elson's Journey Into Mystery # 630
(11) Warren Ellis, Jamie McKelvie & Kev Walker's Secret Avengers # 16/17
(12) Gail Simone & Horacio Domingues's Welcome To Tranquility: One Foot In The Grave


Numbers 13 to, er, 15, are, of course, still to come, as well as the last 2 - boo-hiss - problems ...
       
Tomorrow, there'll be the concluding part of this blog's chat about Knight And Squire, for which I'll have to rescue the tpb from the Splendid Wife's side of the marital bed. Between that and a weekend's watching of the first series of Misfits, there may just be a second superhero-friendly member of the family for Christmas ...

       
A Brief Recap Of What's Going On Here

If you've not read either of the first two parts of this piece - and why should you? - then here's a quick recap of how this best-and-worst-of-2011 has been put together;

"I've tried to make what follows a relatively brief summary of a year's worth of blogging. There's 8 sections to come, each of which in turn deals with a series of problems which seem to be commonly afflicting most of today's comics. At the end of each section, I've mentioned one or more of my favourite comics from the past twelve months, each a notable and much-appreciated exception to whatever rule it is that I'm trying to establish. Most of the comics which I mention favourably could have been used to contradict any of the general criticisms I've made, and I've shared them around more with a desire to break up the moaning than to suggest that each of them is characterised by just a single and specific virtue. Nothing could be further from my mind."
.
.          

Saturday, 17 December 2011

"Judge Dredd" & "Journey Into Mystery":- The Best And The Worst Of 2011 (Part 4)

In which the blogger continues his review of 2011, which was begun here, and continued here and here. There's a brief recap of how the "best" and "worst" were chosen at the bottom of this page;

       
5. Problem The Fifth:- The Absolute Dominance Of The Event

If the definition of madness is the repeated use of methods which have long since proven themselves ineffectual, then the comics industry is in at least significant part insane. When Marvel Comics declared in the autumn of 2011 that their three major crossovers of the year were all leading into the publisher's major Event for 2012, irony, if not the profoundest of irritation, became redundant. There is no satire on the concept of the Event which could trump that irony-free statement of company policy. The solution to the declining appeal of a company whose product has once again become dependent on Event books is, it seems, to tie all its separate Events together into a very big Event indeed. The faithful ingenuity of the whole process inspires not admiration and anticipation, but rather despair. For comics have become an insanely expensive and never concluding scavenger hunt, with consumers trudging from book to book in order to find the clues and mysteries which will, rather than delivering satisfaction, drive them on to even more product and even more hunting and even more exceptionally delayed gratification.

             
The very earliest signs of what we'd now call an Event in the Marvel Revolution books of the early Sixties were at least as much motivated by profit as they were by playfulness and ambition. There never was a golden age when art perpetually trumped profit. The very first Amazing Spider-Man Annual from 1964, for example, saw the reader presented with a sequence of cameos by each of Marvel's line-leading properties, though none of them were in any way central to the plot. As each character disappeared back in the direction of their own quite separate adventures, a blurb was placed on the page advertising the fact that, for instance, "Mighty Thor appears each month in his own magazine, as well as in The Avengers".  But then, The Sinister Six was also a 41-page self-contained story too, complete with dense and transparent and innovative storytelling, and the crossover material, such as it was, served as added value to the narrative's obvious virtues rather than as an alternative to them.

             
There was certainly a considerable irony in the fact that the New 52 was intended to be as reader-inclusive as it could be, and yet it still functioned just as any Event of scale traditionally has. Rather than feeling like a consumer-friendly, hit-the-beach-running collection of deliberately individual and separate books, the New 52 carried a sense of being no less monolithic and inorganic and centre-driven than anything pumped out in 2011 by Marvel. Indeed, the whole year felt like one marketing campaign stomping on another. That the comics of the New 52 were intended to be light on backstory and gentle in their cross-title complexity was undeniable. Yet the new titles have inevitably begun to generate their own intricate and even contradictory backstories, and it already looks very much as if the new boss is going to look - as they tend to - very much like the old one, sans the deep history of the established DCU which was so - quite literally - unceremoniously discarded. The grandest exercise in meta, therefore, DC's New 52 took the concept of the immersive universe and, having thrown its readers out of one quarter century of continuity, invited them to buy into another fantastical world based on the concept that everything you've learned is, yes, significantly wrong, but also, in large part, right as well. This was not a fresh start so much as as the most overwhelming Event of all, combining the opportunity cost of all that had been dumped with the physical expense of all that was on offer.

         
Whatever the intentions, the sense of same-as-it-ever-was soon returned, and that's especially so given that the New 52 was launched off the back of a shamefully lacklustre and protracted Flashpoint crossover. No matter how DC might allow each individual book to carve out its own distinct territory quite separate from any grand marketing marketing plans in 2012, this year's reboot looked and walked and talked like the most bloated of all Events. Everything in the mainstream of 2012 felt like an Event, or rather, it did with the exception of those moments when the babble from Marvel and DC briefly died down and the reader knew - just knew - that yet another Event was about to be announced. It all too often felt, quite frankly, as if the reader was being regarded as nothing more than a highly susceptible consumer. Combine DC's all-or-nothing reboot with Marvel's apparent determination to micro-manage the continuity of its books, and 2011 was just yet another year in which both of the Big Two seemed far more like advertising agencies working hand-in-hand with accountants than they ever did pop publishing houses.

Only, more so.

            
New readers, no doubt, saw the 52 as a dream of a jumping-on point, and yet, how many of those mythical starting-from-zero readers actually were there? By DC's own account, the project was aimed not at the new consumer, but at the lapsed one, meaning that such a massive project had remarkably limited aims. Sadly, that fresh-ish start was marked by the perpetuation of much of the same old hack-friendly storytelling orthodoxies, meaning that what the reader received was often simply a great more of what had come before. A new coat of paint, then, but too often the same read-it-in-minute product underneath. A jumping on point, yes, but what was it that neophytes and the returnees were leaping onto? Without a radical reinvention of how the superhero story itself was told, the old scavenger hunt beckoned once again, with the hope that all of this mostly-thin plenty would eventually pay off somewhere down the line.

             
It's surely certain that an investment of the budget which was allocated to the New 52, combined with a commitment to the highest standards of storytelling, would have significantly boosted the sales of the old DCU too. Of course, there were undoubtedly good books in the relaunch. From Wonder Woman to Demon Knights, from Action to Batwoman, there were comicbooks to enjoy and some even to celebrate, but there was nothing about any of them which absolutely required the Event of the New 52. In that, all the column-inches and market-share was bought at a considerable and arguably unnecessary cost. For most books, the whole process was nothing more than the equivalent of placing a set of new, flashy, and tackily-made clothes onto an already potentially attractive individual who unfortunately just wouldn't wash enough. It all looked new and enticing from a distance, but too often, as the reader got closer and closer and closer ....

            
That the problem with most of 2011's Events lay far more in the storytelling of the creators involved than the business of the Big Tent crossover itself can be seen in (9) Kieron Gillen's work on the Journey Into Mystery issues associated with Fear Itself. Assisted by a series of artists who, to a lesser or greater degree, helped him bring his end of the playing field to life, Gillen succeeded in focusing on the nuts'n'bolts of his craft rather than upon the post-modern - or should that just be sloppy and self-indulgent - spectacularisms of the 21st century comic book. To praise a creator for attending to the basics is no backhanded compliment. Just as it is a revolutionary act in dishonest times to tell the truth, so it's undeniably a radical business in a decadent creative milieu to reject the easy shortcuts and the money-spinning wankerisms in order to attend to the logic of plot, the essence of character, and to the framing of events so that they reflect ethical as well as dramatic priorities. It was an achievement on Gillen's part which left his work seeming as untypical and enjoyable as an unexpectedly fine three-part harmony at a drunken karaoke marathon, and it can be best experienced in the story illustrated by Richard Elson in JIM # 630. There the easy opportunities for a maudlin post-Event recap were rejected in favour of recasting Volstagg the Voluminous as an existential hero, redefining himself over and over again as one of a series of quite distinct and often unexpected roles in order to better serve the needs of those around him. Touching, telling, and smart, it stands as something of a corrective to all of those who regard the Event as an excuse to string a  couple of empty-headed and supposedly-shocking plot twists together via a string of talking heads and pin-up pages.

            
A similarly elegant, exciting and unsentimentally heart-tugging achievement can be found in (10) Al Ewing and Leigh Gallagher's Judge Dredd: The Family Man. I simply can't think of another story, in this or any other year, which so clearly and concisely weaves such a thoughtful and suspenseful tale out of so much ambition and continuity. Where most other writers attempting such a task would find themselves mired in a plot-slowing mass of exposition, or avoiding the whole business and producing the most confusing of tales, Ewing once more shows how he's one of the very finest writers working in comics today. Even the oddness of the combination of genre-forms that Ewing puts to work in The Family Man go unnoticed as the story progresses, for the unravelling of the plot is so effectively achieved that the events on the page never appear to be anything other than fully integrated and entirely involving.

             
The very idea of a two-part story featuring a dystopian SF western crossed with an espionage thriller is surely challenging enough. Yet Ewing uses that hybrid of forms to carry a tragedy despairing of the right's unraveling of the state's responsibilities to the more helpless of its citizens. To do so while using so much of Dredd's backstory, from the Cursed Earth mutant settlements to an apparently long-unmentioned secret organisation in the Justice Department itself, merely shows how little ambition the typical Event book is marked by. For there's far, far more going on, and a great more being achieved, in this single tale than tends to be shown in any half-a-dozen crossover books. Without the slightest narrative drag caused by all the continuity, and without any trace of worthiness coming across from the political sub-text, The Family Man functions as if it were the most transparent of comicbook tales. But then, that's exactly what it is. Ewing's script, in combination with the impressive precision and admirable restraint of Gallagher's artwork, seamlessly fuses all of the story's components together into a deceptively straight-forward and engaging narrative. No other story this year transmitted the feeling of helplessness than might be felt by those trying to find a safe place of shelter on the periphery of events, and there was certainly no more quietly chilling portrayal of political evil than that carried in The Family Man's closing face-off between Dredd and the sublimely reprehensible Judge Bachman.

There's nothing wrong with the mainstream Event that a reduction of the hype and micro-management matched with an increased measure of craft, skill and ambition on the part of creators can't put right.

                

TooBusyThinking Offers Its Sincere Thanks To The Following Creators For Their Having Made 2011 A Better Place To Live In;

in no order of preference, since all involved are entirely splendid;

(1) Robbie Morrison & Simon Fraser for Nikolai Dante: Bad Blood (2000ad # 1732-1736)
(2) Roger Langride & Chris Samnee for Thor The Mighty Avenger
(3) Rob Williams & D'Israeli for Low Life: The Deal (2000ad #1750-1761)
(4) Damon Lindelof & Ryan Sook for Life Support (Action Comics # 900)
(5) Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera & Marcos Martin for Daredevil
(6) Paul Cornell & Jimmy Broxton for Knight And Squire
(7) Gail Simone, Jim Calafiore & Marcos Marz for Secret Six
(8) Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie for Generation Hope # 9
(9) Kieron Gillen & Richard Elson's Journey Into Mystery # 630
(10) Al Ewing & Leigh Gallagher for Judge Dredd:The Family Man (Judge Dredd Megazine # 312/3)

Numbers 11 onwards are, of course, still to come, as well as the last 3 - boo-hiss - problems ...
      
            

A Brief Recap Of What's Going On Here

If you've not read either of the first two parts of this piece - and why should you? - then here's a quick recap of how this best-and-worst-of-2011 has been put together;

"I've tried to make what follows a relatively brief summary of a year's worth of blogging. There's 8 sections to come, each of which in turn deals with a series of problems which seem to be commonly afflicting most of today's comics. At the end of each section, I've mentioned one or more of my favourite comics from the past twelve months, each a notable and much-appreciated exception to whatever rule it is that I'm trying to establish. Most of the comics which I mention favourably could have been used to contradict any of the general criticisms I've made, and I've shared them around more with a desire to break up the moaning than to suggest that each of them is characterised by just a single and specific virtue. Nothing could be further from my mind."
.
.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

"Secret Six" & "Generation Hope":- The Best And The Worst of 2011 In Comics (Part 3)

In which the blogger continues his review of 2011, which was begun here and continued here. There's a brief recap of how the "best" and "worst" were chosen at the bottom of this page;

         
4. Problem The Fourth:- The Lack Of A Deliberate Ethical Purpose

There's no escaping politics. Pretending that they don't exist certainly doesn't work. Creators who might be concerned with nothing but the Sturm und Drang of a linewide event's flagship title can so easily end up producing a comic in which the sole character of colour speaks just the once, and then only from the background of a single panel. It happened this year, and it'll probably happen next year too. Audiences are alienated, prejudices perpetuated, storytelling opportunities unwittingly ignored. Even if a creator wants nothing at all to do with all that distasteful business of taking a stand, they're probably going to end up doing so anyway. Concentrating on nothing but the broadest and least contentious of ethical traditions can't prevent an unwary creator's work from unintentionally transmitting a mass of assumptions and opinions. And the presence of a cast of predominantly white, straight, classless blokes acting out the thinnest of themes - might makes right, bravery redeems sinners - can't protect a creator from the pitfalls of the political. Of course it can't. Who could possibly imagine that it could? After all, there's little more political than the portrayal of a world that's little else but white, male and straight. What about everybody else? Where are they all, and why aren't they good enough to join the club?

We know this. Of course we know this. And yet, it seems, we somehow don't.

         
In that, it's not, as has been suggested, the purposeful politics of a Chuck Dixon or a Frank Miller, of a Peter David or a Neil Gaiman or an Alan Moore, which undermines the appeal of the superhero comicbook with that apparently unnecessary thinking. Instead, it's the lack of purpose and urgency and feeling which regularly marks the sub-genre's too often ethically-apathetic pages. The very presence of a creator who's determined to explore a specific political agenda, no matter what it might be, charges the pages of the work and encourages open and robust challenges too. Yet the superhero comic is mired, for example, in product created by avowed liberals who continually - and apparently unknowingly - reinforce the Tea Party line in their stories, constantly presenting government as perpetually inept and hostile, while virtue stands revealed as a hardy non-conformist hero ready to take on any authority which challenges his own out-of-my-dead-hands values. Humanists who revel in cheesecake, equal opportunity supporters who rarely present a person of anything other than a whitebread, malestream background; it's not just that comics are so much duller for their lack of real-world engagement, it's also that they're constantly transmitting messages which their creators claim to abhor. Yes, attempting to control how any story might possibly be interpreted is an inevitably quixotic business. Yet it would at least be a process that was far more likely to result in distinct and interesting stories and debates than is the industry's perpetual drifting into thoughlessness and blandly reactionary thinking.

             
Few creators in the industry over this past year worked to so skillfully - so touchingly - shape the values represented in their work as did (7) Gail Simone, with her collaborators Jim Calafiore and Marcos Marz, on Secret Six, and (8) Keiron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie in Generation Hope # 9.  Refusing to take the shortcuts and the cheap effects offered by the gross-oversimplifications of what was once known as comicbook relevancy, they framed their ethical debates in compelling and entertaining dramas which could captivate the least politically engaged of readers. Theirs was the tradition of storytelling informed by moral debate rather than that of the outraged polemic delivered from the pulpit on-high. As such, their work stands as examples of a damn-good-time-guaranteed-for-all which also serves to raise a series of fiercely-felt ethical debates too.

              
I almost hesitate to nominate Gail Simone as an outstanding example of a writer who knows exactly how to shape the values of her work without ever diminishing its dramatic potential. Because such is the paucity of her competition in the matter of delivering books which are as thoughtful and principled as they're kinetic and suspenseful, that her skills as an excellent writer of action/adventure stories are often unfairly ignored. It's easy to wonder, and with not a little anger too, whether she would have been so commonly, and so often unkindly, pigeonholed as a political writer by certain sections of the readership if she'd not been both a woman and such a formidable humanist. Yet her achievement with Secret Six is surely one of the most remarkable in the history of the superhero book. With a cast mostly composed of barely third-string draws, a premise guaranteed to have the project labelled 'niche' by more reactionary fanboys, and an absolute commitment to principle matched to a keenly-felt responsibility to entertain, Simone achieved the unlikely success of not just keeping Secret Six alive, but of ensuring its lasting popularity and merit too.

          
No other comicbook has ever focused more on those caught not just on the periphery of what society regards as acceptable, but of what it considers to be human too. Without ever turning her cast of disordered and opportunistic criminals into palid and comfortably amusing anti-heroes, Simone and her many artistic compatriots constantly pushed the boundaries of how the super-person book engaged with issues of difference and deviance, of compassion and psychoticism, of community and self-interest. That they succeeded in doing all of that while regularly producing stories which were so touching and indeed hilarious only marks out how untypical and beguiling the comic was. (Anti-social personality disorders have rarely been as funny, or as bleakly tragic either.) Secret Six was the book where folks who wanted to think and feel as well as be surprised and excited turned up every month, and the quality of Ms Simone's scripts remained uniformly high until the book's final issue in the late summer of this year. That Secret Six was cancelled to free up a berth for what was so often far lesser fare in the New 52 is one of the comicbook shames of the year.

             
In the end, Ms Simone succeeded in in presenting the book's audience with a cast of characters who were patently unwell, often untrustworthy, regularly unpredictable, and catastrophically dangerous, and yet she managed to make us care for them too. As if they weren't the dregs of another entirely different and utterly inferior species, but rather, the shadows and shades of what we might all have been, had we arrived at the wrong place and the wrong time, and made most if not all of the wrong decisions. Not so much the Other as ourselves.

            
Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's "Zeeshan", from Generation Hope # 1, is a perfect little magic bullet of a tale, targetting the twin issues of homophobia and atomisation without ever allowing the narrative drive of events to be either slowed or diminished by self-indulgence or worthiness. It's an exceedingly angry comicbook, and yet its creators have made sure that their story's unmarked by vengeancefulness or a dehumanising contempt for its cast of torturers and bystanders. Similarly, it's the saddest of tales, and yet the emotion of the piece is constrained with such an effective delicacy that there's no need for the superheroic tropes of uncontrollable tears, fists shaking at the sky, or bowed silhouettes gathered around an open graveside as the rains fall. Indeed, it's notable that there's no attempt at all by Gillen and McKelvie to do anything more than identify the barest bones of the issues that Zeeshan is so concerned with.

           
A twenty page comic is no place, Mr Gillen knows, to attempt to dissect the contemporary and entirely regrettable phenomena of young gay suicides. Instead, the pages of Generation Hope # 9 are put to use to discuss in the most unsensationalist way possible a process of labelling, dehumanisation, social alienation, persecution, and despair, so that a tale concerned with one specific example of bigotry can stand as an example which speaks for a range of similar and equally despicable social problems. It's a comic in which the good supergals and guys arrive too late, and in which the society they've raced to save from disorder is revealed to be so fractured and rudderless that no easy, heroic solution can be brought to bear.

               
Matched with the restraint, compassion and decency of Gillen's script is the beautifully compassionate artwork of Jamie McKelvie, in which not a line is wasted on anything other than the emotional truths of the situation. His characters are to a degree idealised, but never objectified, and they all could, to a lesser or greater degree, be folks who might be found standing before us in a check-out queue or sitting beside us on the bus. In placing his characters, whether they're superheroes or not, into an immediately prosaic and everyday world, McKelvie ensures that we're never distracted by the great flying super-jets or the rescue team of super-people.In fact, the contradiction between the mutant's power and their inability to help poor Zeeshan serves to intensify the sense of loss and helplessness which saturates the first three-quarters of the tale. In the end, Generation Hope # 9 was a despairing and yet pragmatically hopeful story of a  society in which some folk's lives simply aren't considered to be all important at all, and of how the solution to any such an anomic moral universe can't ever be found in the physical release of revenge.

That it was Wolverine himself who was called upon to deliver the book's closing message of restraint and respect only made the compassion and cleverness of Zeeshan all the more admirable.

             

TooBusyThinking Offers Its Sincere Thanks To The Following Creators For Their Having Made 2011 A Better Place To Live In;

in no order of preference, since all involved are entirely splendid;

(1) Robbie Morrison & Simon Fraser for Nikolai Dante: Bad Blood (2000ad # 1732-1736)
(2) Roger Langride & Chris Samnee for Thor The Mighty Avenger
(3) Rob Williams & D'Israeli for Low Life: The Deal (2000ad #1750-1761)
(4) Damon Lindelof & Ryan Sook for Life Support (Action Comics # 900)
(5) Mark Waid & Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin for Daredevil
(6) Paul Cornell & Jimmy Broxton for Knight And Squire
(7) Gail Simone, Jim Calafiore & Marcos Marz for Secret Six
(8) Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie for Generation Hope # 9

Numbers 9 to 13 - or is it actually 14? - are, of course, still to come, as well as the last 4 - boo - problems ...

           
A Brief Recap Of What's Going On Here

If you've not read either of the first two parts of this piece - and why should you? - then here's a quick recap of how this best-and-worst-of-2011 has been put together;

"I've tried to make what follows a relatively brief summary of a year's worth of blogging. There's 8 sections to come, each of which in turn deals with a series of problems which seem to be commonly afflicting most of today's comics. At the end of each section, I've mentioned one or more of my favourite comics from the past twelve months, each a notable and much-appreciated exception to whatever rule it is that I'm trying to establish. Most of the comics which I mention favourably could have been used to contradict any of the general criticisms I've made, and I've shared them around more with a desire to break up the moaning than to suggest that each of them is characterised by just a single and specific virtue. Nothing could be further from my mind."
.