Dec 06 2013

Between the Lines: My Favorites Graphic Reads from 2013

Published by at 11:00 am under Uncategorized

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Sadly, I haven’t had as much time to commit to my reading – both comic- and book-related – in 2013. Things have happened both professionally and personally that have pulled me in a few different directions, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to re-focus in 2014. Maybe I’ll try to incorporate some regular comic book feedback into my weekly contributions here at Unreality Magazine, even if it’s only to offer a quick bit of wisdom on a current read or maybe a suggestion for a title I think should get more attention.

Still, I did have an awful lot of fun with a few specific titles, so much so that I wanted to feature them here in hopes that if you’re looking for a book or a trade for yourself this holiday season, these fully get a ringing endorsement from yours truly.

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Dark Horse’s “Aliens: Inhuman Condition” (April, 2013)

Let me start by saying that I think Dark Horse has done a pretty solid job with the Aliens franchise as long as they’ve been contributing to it. While all of it hasn’t exactly been stellar, the various storylines over last two decades have plumbed the depths of a universe where these bugs threaten every race they come into contact with; and I don’t think there’s been as pure a space-based monster series as this one continues to be.

This past April, Dark Horse released “Inhuman Condition,” a 48-page one-shot that’s about as perfect a nightmare in the Aliens universe since Ridley Scott’s 1979 movie.

What worked in the film was that the story really was a vintage monster movie; the only thing making it legitimate science fiction was that it took place in space. (Let’s not split hairs over the whole ‘alien’ idea because, at the end of it, there’s really little thematic difference between the alien and, say, Jason Voorhees.) “Inhuman Condition” gets great mileage out of doing like that film did – it placed the aliens in the background, allowing the flawed human characters to take center stage. The tension was heightened by watching them tick, seeing how they handled themselves, seeing what lengths they were willing to go to survive. “Condition” takes the same route – our lead character, Jean DuPaul, has her fears, insecurities, and shortcomings on full display, and all the while the alien menace is lurking, waiting, patient in the knowledge that their time will come.

It’s a brilliant story from John Layman, and the artwork by Sam Kieth is curiously inspired.

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Dynamite Entertainment’s “The Shadow: Year One” (Feb., 2013 – present)

I mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: I grew up on The Shadow. No, I’m not old enough to have listened to the original radio dramas at first airing, but I did grow up near a small town radio station that made use of tapes of those originals. And I loved them. I loved the character. I loved the stories. All of it was just perfect.

Dynamite Entertainment’s monthly take on the classic pulp character — simply called “The Shadow” is decidedly less inspired. It’s had a handful of writers all taking stabs at the man with the ability to cloud men’s minds, but, for my tastes, each of them have failed to do what Matt Wagner has with this unrelated maxi-series (it started out as 8 planned issues but has grown to a promised 10 as of last word).

Specifically, Wagner put The Shadow back in his element: “The Shadow: Year One” returns to the era of the mysterious avenger’s early days, re-introducing us to that pantheon of characters. Instead of trying as the regular monthly has to infuse an old dog with new tricks, Wagner has stripped away the gloss; in the process, he served up a glass of quintessential ‘pulp’ for anyone wanting a freshly squeezed swallow.

Seriously, if you’re a big a fan of Lamont Cranston as I am, don’t wait for this one to be collected in trade. Get the individual issues either in print or digital. You’ll be glad you did.

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DC Comics: Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern (2004 – 2013)

As of late, much has been written about Geoff Johns’ run on DC’s Green Lantern. Much of the hullaballoo has dealt with the fact that Johns is finally – after ten years – passing the torch to another creative team.

And what has his run been like?

Well, we critics have a tendency to use words like ‘epic’ and ‘perfection’ or phrases like “a modern day classic” all too often … even when they’re legitimate. I’ll dispense with those, but I’ll try to offer up a quick endorsement with my own unique phrases.

Before Johns, I’d always thought that of all the superheroes in the DC Universe certainly the Green Lantern was the most … erm … disposable. He clearly was a ‘60’s invention – although he was first seen in 1940 Lantern aficionados are quick to point to the Silver Era when he truly came into his own – and one who didn’t quite have a place among the more adult-minded Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. He’d crack wise, but he never came across as ‘wise’ as the Flash. He just never seemed to fit. Maybe he was – dare I say – too kid friendly?

With ‘Rebirth,’ Johns kinda/sorta gave the whole Lantern Universe the opportunity to grow up. It faced its fears, yadda yadda yadda, and it set the stage for something bigger.  Using that momentum, Johns and the other creative talent at DC then capitalized on those events to feed the next storyline … and that one led to the next … and so on and so forth … all the way to the events of ‘Blackest Night’ and ‘Brightest Day’ and ‘War of the Green Lanterns’ and now (as it’s aptly titled) ‘The End,’ the last story (presumably) penned by Johns with a visionary arc that sure looks like it was all planned out from the very beginning.

It’s a daunting commitment if you’re willing to make it. And, sure, there are some low points in there, much of it the end result of one too many characters to follow; but, come ‘The End,’ Johns doesn’t skimp . He even commits space to telling you what he believes the last days of Hal Jordan just might look like.

When it comes to comics, to each his own.

We all have our likes and our dislikes. Still, these three titles above gave me some hope that this storytelling format might have something to offer a whole new generation of readers. If you haven’t yet, take the plunge and read ‘em again. You might like what you find.





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One response so far

  • Elnino14

    I haven’t read any of these stories. But that’s another glowing recommendation for John’s Green Lantern.

    Here are my highlights for the year:
    Sin City series
    Rick Remender’s excellent run on Uncanny X-force
    Bedlam vol. 1
    FreakAngels
    Black Hole
    I Kill Giants
    Marvel Cosmic by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (Annihilation, Annhilation Conquest, War of Kings, Realm of Kings, Nova, and Guardians of the Galaxy)
    Superman Birthright

    And I’m currently working on Greg Rucka’s recent run on the Punisher.

    Next year: I’ll definitely be tackling Planetary, Young Liars, Global Frequency, Desolation Jones, and probably Transmetropolitan (I’m on a Warren Ellis kick, love his stuff)

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