Comics Update: My Current Lineup and 2019 Pros and Cons

Comics 2019!

Nearly all my 2019 purchases, sorted in alphabetical piles from A to Y.

Comics collecting has been my primary geek interest since age 6, but I have a tough time writing about it with any regularity. My comics-judging criteria can seem weird and unfair to other fans who don’t share them. I like discussing them if asked, which is rare, but I loathe debating them. It doesn’t help that I skip most crossovers and tend to gravitate toward titles with smaller audiences. Whenever a larger company axes titles for the sake of their bottom line or internal politics, my favorites are usually first on the chopping block. I doubt many comics readers follow MCC anyway, so it’s really the best possible place for me to talk about comics unharmed, albeit all to myself. Whee.

Going into 2019 I predicted I’d be cutting back on titles, reducing my budget for weekly floppies, and, optimistically, thereby making more time for diving into my overwhelming stack of unread trades, OGNs, and novels from the past few decades. Yes, decades. For the first several months that didn’t happen, but nearer year-end such decisions were taken out of my hands as companies conspired to cancel a good number of titles I’d been enjoying. Sticking to a budget is easier when your temptations to exceed it are removed for you.

For reference and psychological self-assessment of my own tastes, here’s what I’m currently buying every Wednesday at my local comic shop, all the current series and miniseries alike that survived managerial and personal cuts through the very end of December 2019:

Marvel Comics:

Hawkeye: Freefall – I haven’t bought every Hawkeye series, but I loved him as a kid and I own no less than three Hawkeye T-shirts. When he’s handled correctly, he’s my favorite sarcastic non-powered hapless heroic Everyman schmuck. We’re only one issue in, but Matthew Rosenberg and Otto Schmidt appear to have nailed most of those adjectives so far, and they’ve remembered his deafness, which his MCU version never had to face and now likely never will. One reservation about this already, though: our man Clint Barton being shoved aside to welcome special guests the Falcon and the Winter Soldier, stars of the upcoming Disney+ smash hit series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. More on this subject a bit farther down.

Runaways – After a bit of meandering mid-year (inducting Gib the ex-Gibborim as their latest tag-along took three times as long as it should’ve), the kids are back on track in the current arc in which they’ve signed up to be an actual costume-wearing super-team alongside a retconned new/old L.A. hero named Doc Justice who, in keeping with all the best Runaways villains, isn’t what he seems. I’m happy to see them come back swinging for the fences after their Hulu series squandered its potential and fizzled out.

Star Wars – Restarting books with an all-new #1 virtually the month after their previous volume ended is becoming a great way to lose me as a reader, but it’s a (very) slightly more understandable move here as we jump to hyperspace and reach the post-Empire Strikes Back era, minutes after the film ended when Luke is still raw from his shocking amputation and revelation, and everyone’s still freshly mad at Lando for his betrayal at Cloud City. If Charles Soule can keep up the emotional momentum and avoid treading water, and if artist Jesus Saiz can maintain a monthly schedule, Our Heroes could soar to great heights.

X-Men / Excalibur / X-Force – After upper management allegedly decreed the X-books would be ignored and under-promoted while Fox’s movie license remained in effect these past few years, an about-face occurred when fans failed to fall for the marketing department’s feeble scheme of persuading everyone to love the Inhumans instead. Thus was the failure-strewn path paved over for Jonathan Hickman’s ambitious relaunch, in which secret mutant Moira MacTaggert changes everything about human/mutant relations with revelations about other disastrous timelines that force Xavier, Magneto and every other major character to rethink their lives from Day One onward. I haven’t collected a primary X-book in some thirteen years, but the audacity of the project is so off-the-charts that I’m curious to see how outlandish things can get until I abandon ship at the first sign of a terrible crossover…which I understand will be later in 2020. At that time I reserve the right to sprint directly to the nearest exit.

Excalibur #1 2019 variant!

My least favorite cover of 2019 was a variant that had nothing whatsoever to do with the inner contents. Nothing against artists Mark Bagley, John Dell, or Israel Silva, but good luck figuring out why this was slapped on Excalibur #1.

DC Comics / Black Label:

Basketful of Heads – The flagship title of Joe Hill’s Hill House Comics short-term imprint isn’t exactly for the faint of heart: a goodly young lady discovers a Viking axe that can decapitate people but leave their heads alive. And for whatever reason, bad guys just won’t stop forcing her to decapitate them in self-defense. The concept would make an awesome, horrible B-movie, but Hill and his mononymous artist Leomacs keep it suspensefully breezy and don’t dwell on the guts left in her wake.

The Batman’s Grave – The classic Authority team of Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch reunite for macabre doings in Gotham City, a new set of evildoers, and an inventive new process for the Caped Crusader, who flips the script on pop culture’s endless parade of FBI profilers and their unremarkable copycats — we see him solving a crime by getting into the mind of the victim, not the killer. Hitch choreographs actual hand-to-hand combat that takes several pages to play out blow-by-blow, in stark contrast to today’s played-out storytelling mode of single-page fight summary pinups. And best of all, Ellis has endowed Alfred with the deadpan sardonicism of someone who’s had the same employer for decades, is thoroughly sick of putting up with their crap, and knows they can’t be fired but refuses to quit. He’s vaguely like Jeremy Irons in Batman vs. Superman if he’d had a properly cynical British writer on his side.

Dial H for Hero – Full disclosure: this bizarre yet endearing C-list concept hit a sweet spot in my childhood and is one of the very, very, very few intellectual properties I will buy on sight regardless of who’s writing or drawing it. Virtually no character, no matter how popular, is a “must-buy” for me anymore. No one. Except the H-Dials. That said, this was the most aggravating series that I didn’t drop. Sam Humphries and Joe Quinones use the rotating-hero premise to perform some exceptional homages to distinctive artists from the comics medium (I flat-out died at their Chris Ware tribute), but in between those fine parts, Humphries trips into the same trap that befell the last two Dial H series: insisting on overexplaining how the H-Dials work and making up elaborate yet extraordinarily dull backstories for their mysterious functionality. I. Don’t. CARE. How. Or. Why. They. Work. JUST LET THEM WORK. And I super don’t care when I’m engrossed in any new hero’s origin only to learn their initial reaction is to avoid using their awesome new powers for as many issues as possible. Those keen homages were the only reason I lasted more than four issues.

Dollhouse Family – Mike Carey and Peter Gross, creators of DC/Vertigo’s underappreciated The Unwritten, re-team for this Hill House Comics joint — a creepy tale of an abused child, the large old-fashioned dollhouse gifted to her, and its lively, old-timey doll-ish inhabitants who take a shine to her and decide they’re her unofficial guardians. Casualties ensue.

Far Sector – I’m sorry that I’m roughly three decades behind on keeping up with the wondrous world of science fiction novels, but I’m told N.K. Jemisin is kind of a big deal. I can see why. In the best Green Lantern book now on the stands, Jemisin and artist Jamal Campbell (Naomi) introduce us to Green Lantern Sojourner Mullein, formerly of Earth but now in charge of some area far, far away where a murder mystery amid a civilization of three variegated and rather tense alien races coexist in detente that might just implode if she can’t figure out their quirks and their secrets. Obviously I should probably fast-track Jemisin on my novel want-list now.

Green Lantern: Blackstars – Remember when Grant Morrison was A-list and everything he did was unbeatable? I wouldn’t go quite that far, but his spaced-out take on The Green Lantern rejuvenated more than a few forgotten toys from the Silver Age and gave them 21st-century edges, all masterfully illustrated by Liam Sharp…but this three-month intermission, in which Hal Jordan has given up the ring for a deep-undercover gig while buying time for Sharp to play catch-up, looks fine but isn’t quite the same thing. Every Morrison story still requires the reader to stop every two pages, back up three pages, and re-parse what they’ve just read and gotten befuddled by. Eventually it all gels but it demands an irksome amount of extra work that, once you’re done with your decoder ring, turns out is just reheated Gardner Fox but with two out of every three expository sentences deleted.

Legion of Super-Heroes – A rare instance in which the guys at my local comic shop recommended a book to me. Usually they let me buy whatever and don’t try to sell me on things I skip. They braked twice this year to do that, and Brian Michael Bendis’ Legion reboot was one of them. I demurred at first when I learned their extreme do-over actually began not at #1 but in some Superman books I don’t collect. I’m not wild about the fact that so far most of the team’s twenty to eighty members are unnamed Easter eggs clogging up the backgrounds. I admittedly giggled at the part where Bleeding Cool reported on how DC couldn’t make up their minds which characters to change to which races. But it’s all lighthearted fun anyway — I knew all the main characters back in my childhood, I love Ryan Sook’s art (though I sense he’s stepping away from his duties, as I’d predicted), and I love that modern comics-making technology now lets the artist, letterer, and/or colorist digitally insert 31st-century floating name-tags around each hero, changing angles as the camera moves. For now let’s see where this goes.

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen – Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber present the funniest comic of the year. I’m ignorant of today’s Superman continuity but getting a big kick out of this, a panoply of vignettes that alternate between historic tales of the Olsen family tree and a sort-of thriller in the here-and-now that remembers and savors every bit of Jimmy’s checkered past, including the wacky ’60s nonsense and some brand new nonsense that matches and exceeds the oldies, Dada-for-Dada. Frankly, it’s a hoot.

Wonder Twins – The erstwhile stars of TV’s Super-Friends nab their own spotlight for the first time in decades as junior-grade Justice Leaguers getting used to life on Earth with ordinary high-schoolers and quickly adapting to the sort of socially conscious tales and satirical parables that are writer Mark Russell’s specialty. Zan and Jayna remain seemingly innocuous and yet accede to a few opponents that maybe some things about life on Earth do need to change, though maybe not in the totally evil ways they’re proposing? It’s soon to shuffle off the stage along with the rest of Bendis’ short-term Wonder Comics line (see also: Dial H), but it’ll be the one I miss most.

Image Comics:

Ascender – Descender is dead. Long live its inheritor, which changes gears radically after its intergalactic apocalypse, its robot-laden sci-fi future usurped by evil fantasy magicians conspiring to insure technology never makes a come back. Emotions remain a roller coaster as always, and Dustin Nguyen’s amazing watercolors continue to distinguish it from all other books on the stands.

DIE – Longtime MCC readers may recall I already wrote 7000 words regarding my response to this one, plus a few hundred bonus words when the Bronte family became a plot point. Suffice it to repeat, this series has struck more nerves in me than any comic in recent memory.

Farmhand – How many writers out there are exploring agricultural SF today? Show of hands? Anyone? Just Rob Guillory here? I’m not of the farming world, but as a lifelong Indiana resident, it’s a pervasive subject for us, albeit not usually one fraught with mad-science transplants and botanical body-horror.

Lazarus: Risen – After switching to a quarterly format with longer page counts, Greg Rucka and Michael Lark have devised a more workable and satisfying rhythm to express the complexities of their dystopic alt-future, the rich families who rule it, and the gene-mod superhumans who enforce it and sometimes go to war over it. Now there’s more room for political intrigue and deftly paced martial-arts throwdowns in equal measure. I’m even enjoying the additional back-matter and text features. I’ve always hated text features in comics. Here, they’re hooking me for once.

Manifest Destiny – After a hiatus between arcs, Lewis and Clark are back to fight more monsters along their journey, but the new arc pits them against an entirely different sort of challenge: women. LOTS of women. Seemingly strong-willed, capable women…who of course aren’t what they seem. Here we go again with more monster deaths, probably!

Undiscovered Country – The Image success story of 2019, in which the winning Darth Vader duo of Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli tag-team with DC superstar Scott Snyder (okay, yes, I may be misrepresenting the dynamic) to create an all-new, deeply disturbing future in which the United States closed itself off 360 degrees from the entire outside world for the better part of decades…and now an international search team has been sent in to find out exactly what the heck and to seek a MacGuffin that might solve their own societies’ latest catastrophe. It’s a slightly political descent into a maelstrom where everything’s warped — people, places, animals, iconography, even time itself may have broken. We’re still getting to know the large cast thrown at us up front as opposed to staggering their introductions, but it only took a few pages before chaos broke out and new twists began to emerge amid much Americana amok. This is clearly a book that will not sit still.

Greetings from Indiana!

One of the ads for Undiscovered Country featured my own home state! I was so excited, I nearly gave it its own MCC entry. Instead I’m sharing it way down here.

Other publishers:

Firefly – The further adventures of Our Antiheroes before Serenity ended the year with the introduction of Captain Reynolds’ mom, our crew split up yet again (sigh), and good ol’ Mal getting himself stuck in the unlikeliest position of all: a sheriff’s job. Reckon that’s gonna be some humdinger of a hoedown a-comin’ if’n his partner Boss Moon don’t throw him in the nearest space briar patch.

Once and Future – In which DIE‘s own Kieron Gillen and artist Dan Mora (working in a young John Romita Jr. vein) present King Arthur Revamp #7,006 except this time the prophecy of “Arthur shall return at England’s darkest hour” is inverted to mean it’s Arthur the undead blue-blooded racist who causes it. And the only heroes who can save it are an elderly lady who kept a secret arsenal around for this very occasion, her uptight adult grandson, and a young lady who didn’t enjoy their first date the other day. I don’t think I’ve ever actually consumed an unironic, straight-faced, non-high-concept version of Arthurian legend, so this all works for me.

…whoa, is that it? When did my “Other Publishers” section shrink to nearly nothing? Huh. Blame publishers for opting more minseries instead of ongoings, IDW for focusing almost exclusively on ancient licensed properties (increasingly not my thing), and on Dark Horse for focusing on universes that mean more to other readers than they do to me. My local shop also tends to bypass a bevy of other, smaller publishers (Oni, Vault, Scout, Ahoy, Alterna, et al.), but lately I haven’t been given much reason to venture out to the other shops around Indy to hunt any of them down.

Titles on hiatus:

Bitter Root – Wrapped up their first arc earlier in 2019; returning in February.

The Dying and the Dead – Last sighted in 2017. No new announcements. Possibly dead and dead.

The Green Lantern – Returning in February after the Blackstars interlude concludes this coming Wednesday. Can’t wait to move on.

Oliver – The first four issues of this sci-fi reimagining of Oliver Twist are being collected shortly, but ended on a cliffhanger. I see no signs of #5 coming soon.

Rumble – On hold (again) for now, according to writer/creator John Arcudi, though we did get a fun team-up with Andrew MacLean’s Head Lopper before the pause.

The Seeds – Last seen in September 2018, artist David Aja indicates #3 has been finished for months, but won’t be released until #4 is in the can. Now targeted optimistically for sometime in 2020.

Series that ended as planned or were canceled:

Deathstroke – Christopher Priest ends a 50-issue run, far longer than most series are afforded these days, particularly tricky when your main character is irredeemably evil. He made it work even while removing any reasons to root for the ostensibly good-guy antagonists. Now I have no monthly Priest fix and this saddens me.

Domino – Killed at the beginning of the year and replaced with Hotshots, which I didn’t jump to and which also didn’t last.

Fearless – That all-super-women convergence moment from Avengers: Endgame, but instead of warring they go to summer camp and inspire a new generation, in one main story and several vignettes written and illustrated entirely by women. Fun times except Ms. Marvel’s voice sounded off. She never sounds right to me outside her own book.

Goddess Mode – Zoe Quinn and Robbi Rodriguez’s energetic feminist-cyberpunk riff was among the last Vertigo projects standing when DC turned off the lights at the house Karen Berger built.

Ironheart – Within the span of a few months Marvel canceled nearly all the young-hero solo books I was collecting. Eve Ewing and her adopted armored genius have since made the jump to the next big crossover, but those aren’t my thing.

James Bond: Origin – I saw nothing indicating this was merely a 12-issue series. It just…stopped. Inviting Batman ’66 retro specialist Jeff Parker to bring Teen 007 to life was an inspired choice for a character I otherwise rarely care deeply about.

Loki – Whenever Daniel Kibblesmith is allowed to make zippy fun comics I try to show up for it, though killing this one after five issues of meta pizzazz seemed downright mean.

Lone Ranger – Mark Russell even infiltrated the Ooooold West with social relevance in a tale of filthy rich land-grabbers and the invention of barbed wire. Another instance of a quote-unquote “series” that apparently wasn’t.

Maneaters – After the internet blew up in Chelsea Cain’s face amid claims that she chose to ride the wrong feminism wave, failed to write stories precisely as newer-wave adherents would prefer them, and then begged consultants to help guide her backpedaling for free (that was excruciating to watch happen live on Twitter)…I kept buying anyway because sometimes online mobs deeply bother me. In hindsight, this was a mistake on my part. Cain seemed to attempt a course correction that bent the final three or four issues into directions they perhaps weren’t meant to go, and narrative coherence was among the the casualties. Devoting three full issues out of twelve to side gags that were only marginally amusing in the first place also didn’t help. At all. This debacle all but guarantees no one else will ever attempt a sci-fi comic about menstruation from now till the end of time, and in fact it’d be best if we all simply agree to pretend menstruation never existed.

Ms. Marvel – G. Willow Wilson bade farewell to Kamala Khan, not exactly all grown up but ready for new directions.

Outpost Zero!

What’s wrong with this picture? Every collector’s worst problem.

Outpost Zero – Sean McKeever’s return to comics after a years-long absence was an interesting SF mystery about a restarted civilization, a weather dome, and an apparent suicide, but at some point I lost track of what was going on. I figured out the problem while organizing all my 2019 purchases into my longbox at the end of the year: I missed an issue. Annoying and embarrassing at once. I owe the series a reread.

Paper Girls – It me, the fan who loved this Brian K. Vaughan epic more than Saga. Thirty issues of time-travel across multiple eras and versions of the same characters was a blast, and I think it all eventually made sense. I think.

Relay – #5 ended with a To Be Continued story beat and the words “THE END.” Granted, it closely resembled the end of Alien Resurrection, but still, what the heck? I’m unclear why Aftershock Comics gave up on this, though maybe switching to a new artist with a rather different style after a few issues did more damage than I thought.

Shuri – Busy writer Nnedi Okorafor told Marvel up front she would only be available for a limited run. Marvel didn’t mention this to fans. Like Domino, this was apparently planned as a limited run but not announced as such because I guess the word “miniseries” kills sales dead? The best Wakandan ever had a few moments to call her own, at least.

Star Wars – The final arc written by Greg Pak gave a much-needed boost to the previously just-okay book, right before it had to restart from #1 because double-digit issue numbers frighten and confuse new readers. Hopefully this wasn’t the last we’ll see of Leia’s new/old pal Dar Champion.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – NOOOOOOOO. WHYYYYYYY. Sigh.

Unstoppable Wasp You may have noticed a pattern: most of the monthly Marvel titles I’ve been following over the past couple years featured their younger solo characters, no team books, and a variety of authors who weren’t of the old guard. Now they’re all ex-series. But as the year wore on they collectively began to bug me. Again, more on this in a moment.

Beasts of Burden covers!

Interlocking covers from Beasts of Burden: The Presence of Others painted by Jill Thompson.

Miniseries completed in 2019:

Archie Meets Batman ’66 – Thus did DC close the books on their “Batman ’66” revival altogether. The winsome whimsy was welcome.

Assassin Nation – Former Squirrel Girl artist Erica Henderson joined forces with Kyle Starks (Dead of Winter) for a gig that was the complete opposite: a violent shoot-’em-up in which dozens of hired killers are ranked against each other like some macabre American Top 40, hired to protect one kingpin, then forced into competition for the job as they knock each other off one by one. Henderson’s art looks a bit cutesy for Tarantino-esque bloodbaths, but in a way I’m fine with as it sanded the edges off the blood-‘n’-guts, much as Stan Sakai used to do with Usagi Yojimbo.

Atomic Robo: Dawn of a New Era – More science adventures with Nikola Tesla’s greatest invention, this time tutoring a new generation of scientists and fighting vampires because why not.

Beasts of Burden: The Presence of Others / Beasts of Burden: Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men – Anything by Evan Dorkin is a must-buy, and his collaborations with Jill Thompson and Ben Dewey are some of the best horror-fantasy heroics ever to star talking, magic-wielding stray pets.

Black Panther vs. Deadpool – Another frivolous Daniel Kibblesmith dramedy, with a premise that either made too little sense for most buyers to forgive or made them shake their heads and buy it anyway.

Clue: Candlestick – It’s almost never that we see single-issue works by creators whose careers have primarily been published through Fantagraphics Books, but indie cartoonist Dash Shaw turned an unlikely three-issue Parker Brothers adaptation into the best licensed comic of the year and possibly the only IDW product I bought. It’s clever, faithful to the game, and has puzzles you can solve!

Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive – I’m struggling to remember it, but I know I read it. That was months ago. Not everything I read comes back to me with crystal clarity. Alas, if only.

House of X / Powers of X – See the aforementioned X-titles. I can’t believe I bought the whole thing. And didn’t hate it. And wanted more.

Killmonger – Not quite the Michael B. Jordan comeback we’d hoped for, but it and Shuri helped prolong the magic of that one Best Picture nominee for a few extra months.

LaGuardia – Nnedi Okorafor’s other comics project of 2019, regarding fugitive alien potted plants seeking asylum on Earth and a resourceful pregnant woman who helps one achieve its goals. This is why we need more writers coming in from outside comics and bringing in wider, more diversified influences besides fifty-year-old superhero stuff.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Comic – As a huge fan of the show, I respected the valiant effort to translate the Shadowramma gimmick into the funnybook medium so that Crow, Servo, and pals could insult public-domain oldies that haven’t aged well. The jokes were hit-or-miss (mocking poorly printed Golden Age colors is fish-in-a-barrel comedy writing) and the inserted verbiage of the experimental format made for cumbersome reading, but I honestly don’t know how else they could’ve streamlined it.

Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt – Pete Morisi’s self-made athletic hero was originally among the Charlton Comics orphans adopted by DC Comics back in the early ’80s, where they all served as archetypes for the cast of Watchmen but only a few ever earned a real audience. One paltry, ignored four-issue miniseries was all DC bothered with before Thunderbolt was released into the wild where Dynamite Comics discovered him. Leave it to DIE‘s Kieron Gillen to do anything with it but straightforward crime-fighting: in this, the year’s most mind-bending tale bar none, the character who was the basis for Ozymandias is pitted against, well, basically an evil Mirror Universe Ozymandias in a meta-META examination of comics formalism and obscure homages. (Loved the Eddie Campbell stopover.)

She Could Fly: The Lost Pilot – The follow-up to my favorite miniseries of 2018 felt like the middle section of a trilogy, brought up many questions and refused to act as though there should be answers. My endearment waned quite a bit.

Marvel’s other 2019 Star Wars books prior to The Rise of Skywalker – I’m not interested in a play-by-play rundown on this voluminous merchandise assortment, which was largely forgettable. Best of Show included the Imperial Cadet miniseries that gave me a slightly less boring Young Han Solo and the one-shot in which a shirtless old Tarkin provokes a fistfight to prove he’s still got it. I was largely buying these as reading matter that my wife and I could share, but we recently chatted about this practice and have mutually agreed that in 2020 I do not have to buy her every Marvel Star Wars comic ever. If Marvel doesn’t cut back on them, we’ll do it ourselves.

The Wild Storm – Warren Ellis’ reboot of Wildcats and The Authority was full of explosions and high-stakes super-fights and immensely satisfying as a standalone 24-issue run even if the planned Wildcats follow-up appears to be dead and never happening. Now I need to know what artist Jon Davis-Hunt is doing next because WOW, was this thrillingly paced and dramatically executed.

Teen Titans jail!

This excerpt from Deathstroke #42 nearly became an entry about how jails run by superheroes tend to have deplorable living conditions. Whether in this page or in early seasons of The Flash, do shackled villains have to go to the bathroom in their costumes? Who feeds them? (Art by Carlo Pagulayan, Norm Rapmund and/or Jason Paz, and Jeromy Cox.)

Titles I dropped:

Analog – I dug the idea of a world where internet security no longer exists and physical couriers are the only way to transport sensitive information, but it lost some urgency after the first arc ended.

Death-Defying Devil – Ye olde public-domain hero spent much of his first issue silent and useless, or unconscious and useless. That was not a compelling cliffhanger.

Everything – The second creator-owned comics project from the mind that brought us Halt and Catch Fire and the aforementioned She Could Fly, a retro satire of the early years of big-box stores that was either saving its main satirical points for the final issue or was simply intended as Walmart Comes to Twin Peaks. Two issues in, I wasn’t feeling it.

Exorsisters – Entertaining light-hearted horror, but each issue was a two-minute read.

Fallen Angels – I still have my copies of the original Jo Duffy/Kerry Gammill miniseries, but I forgot the contents of #1 roughly ten minutes after I finished.

fantastic Four: Grand Design – In which Godland‘s Tom Scioli subjects Marvel’s First Family to the same indie-styled chronological-retelling method that made Ed Piskor’s X-Men: Grand Design a charming experiment. Scioli’s curious decision to cram in 500 panels per page was such an unsightly slog that I avoided the conclusion of this two-issue deal.

Heroes in Crisis – Tom King has written quite a few awesome wonders (Sheriff of Babylon, Omega Men), but I have very little emotional investment in DC’s current universe, was dubious about the premise of a rehab center where even Batman (yes, THAT Batman) confesses his emotional issues to any other living human, and chuckled ruefully at the notion that I was supposed to take the multiple high-profile character deaths seriously. Clay Mann turned in some beautiful pages, but four pages of MAJOR EVENT COMICS was all I could take.

Inferior 5 – I remember the Inferior Five from such works as Ambush Bug and Who’s Who. Two issues in, I had absolutely, positively, thoroughly, unequivocally no idea what this revival was supposed to be about.

Magnificent Ms. Marvel – Officially I didn’t think I’d dropped it, but I’m now three issues behind, so I think I’m in denial. Saladin Ahmed was a worthy (and funny!) successor to G. Willow Wilson, but I resented the threat against Kamala’s dad, the mind-wiping after the lively first arc, and what appears to be her recent acquisition of a Venom-esque symbiote costume in the issues that I procrastinated. My shop is out of #9 and #10, and I’ve yet to summon the enthusiasm to go chase them down elsewhere.

Marauders – I like the idea of Kitty Pryde now being old enough in the Marvel Universe to be called “Kate” and to lead her own X-team. I was lukewarm to the idea of them sailing the vast oceans in a massive ship and somehow having more than three adventures per year. And I refused to suspend disbelief for scenes in which Storm, former African goddess and Wakandan royalty, takes orders from her without blinking.

New Mutants – I couldn’t hear the dialogue over all the loud creaking from the strain of trying to bind together the same 30-year-old characters on the same team with the same obsolete name and same teenage school uniforms.

Ronin Island – Same problem as Exorsisters — intriguing premise, solid writer/artist team, two-minute read per issue. It’ll read better in trades, but whenever I tell myself “I’ll just switch to reading in trades”, I never remember to.

Shazam! – The film was a keeper, so I gave the series a shot. I wasn’t happy that Billy Batson had to share his low page count with a group of copycat strangers whose origin occurred elsewhere out of my line of sight (I grumble whenever an issue #1 is not a Chapter One) and scrunched up my face even harder when Geoff Johns decided the wizard Shazam and all the lands around his mountain needed or even asked to be turned into a sprawling, overexplained mythos. When months began to pass between each issue, letting go was easy.

Star Wars: The Rise of Kylo Ren – Given my disappointed reaction to Episode IX, it took me two issues to admit to myself that I kinda don’t care about the Knights of Ren (I mean, Episode IX clearly didn’t) or about Ben Solo’s personal transformation into a Dark Side superstar based on a grave Three’s Company misunderstanding. Between this and Joker, totally beside-the-point villain origin prequels aren’t bowling me over right now.

Teen Titans – I bought three issues as part of a crossover with Deathstroke in violation of my own rules. A few current members are total strangers — largely unlikable ones, at that — whose scant intros gave me zero incentive to stay on board for future shenanigans.

West Coast Avengers – This book replaced the two Hawkeyes’ last series. To an extent it was a Hawkeye series with guest stars who wouldn’t leave. It soon became just another Marvel team book comprising eighteen pages of motionless repartee to every two-page fight montage pinup.

Miles Morales, Spider-Man – And now we come to my biggest problem with all the Marvel solo books I was reading in 2019: guest stars. Lots of guest stars. Often the same guest stars again and again. Back in the ’90s it was hard to collect a Marvel series that didn’t guest-star Wolverine, the Punisher, Venom, Ghost Rider, or Spider-Man. Marvel tried every possible trick to boost sales, and for a while overuse of hot guest stars was one of them. Fast-forward to 2019 and here we are again: every single new hero takes turns sharing their pages with the Avengers, Miles Morales, Ms. Marvel, Shuri, Ironheart, and a multitude of Hollywood players from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. No solo hero can go for more than two consecutive issues without needing someone else to hold their hand in their fight montage pinups.

I’m not sure if this was a sales-driven editorial edict or if every writer has simply decided of their own accord that they want to play with every single toy in the Marvel toybox while they can, but the pattern was unmistakable and distracting. That frustration culminated in me eventually getting really, really tired of Miles Morales, star of my favorite film of 2018. I resent being tired of him, I resent egregious marketing tactics when I spot them, and I resent the cheapening of what made his original Ultimate series special. So Miles and I are on an extended break.

…and that’s me and comics in 2019, mostly. For related reading, you can check out my 2019 in graphic novels (and non-illustrated reading) starting with the final installment and then working your way backward through the links provided.

See you next year, I think! Cheers!

TIE Fighter 2-5!

Ending on a visual high note: the TIE FIghter miniseries, a transmedia tie-in to a novel I’ll never read, was largely wasted on me, but the painted covers by Tommy Lee Edwards were among the year’s best.

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