Most comics fans have a favorite comics series of all time, as well as favorite writers, artists and story arcs. This week I asked the comics team at Sound On Sight to join me in determining what currently running series or ongoing writers run on a long-running series they are most into at the moment. Here are our picks…
Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man is the book that got me into comics, and despite Miles Morales replacing Peter Parker as Spider-Man for good, it consistently remains one of the top books on my pull list. What draws me to the book each month is the solid mixture of well-written dialogue, interesting characters, a quick moving plot, and emotional draw. I have also enjoyed Sara Pichelli and now David Marquez’s art whether showing the character’s emotions through their facial cues, Miles’ awkward attempts at web-slinging, exploding symbiote goo, or Mary-Jane Watson’s new hipster look.
One of the strengths of Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man is its dialogue. Bendis writes teenagers, journalists (like J. Jonah Jameson), and chatty beat cops (Maria Hill) with relative ease. His dialogue is quick hitting and imparts both information, characterization, and emotion. The recent Venom incarnation was relatively one-note (“Kill Spider-Man!”), but returning Gwen Stacy and Mary-Jane to the book helped connect Miles to the bigger Ultimate Spider-Man mythos that Bendis has been building for thirteen years. Miles is no Peter Parker clone and is still finding his footing regarding his powers and quips much less often. He’s not as smart as Peter, but makes up for that with sheer stubborness and willpower as well as his trusty venom sting. This, along with his invisibility powers, might seem like “cheating”, but Miles wouldn’t be able to defeat the majority of his rogues gallery without these aids.
Recently, the plot of Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man has become a lot faster paced. The original “Venom” story took seven issues to tell, but this one is done in four and has more far-reaching consequences with the death of Miles’ mother and his retirement as Spider-Man. Like Bendis’ recent work on Age of Ultron, these issues had a good balance of characterization and action. They also had a great payoff as Miles finally had his Uncle Ben moment and realized the costs of being a superhero. The result is a darker, yet more mature Miles in the first issue of the new “No More” arc.
In the “Venom War” story, Pichelli’s pencilling and panel work complemented Bendis almost perfectly. She uses small, quick panels to keep up with Bendis’ rapid fire dialogue leaving room for emotional reactions of the characters. Her rendition of Venom made Mark Bagley’s look like Casper the Friendly Ghost. This one was faster and messier which leads to more tension for inexperienced Miles. However, new artist David Marquez is no slouch in the “No More” storyline which takes place a year after Miles’ mother’s death. His aging up of Miles and his best friend Ganke matches their maturing voices, and he seems very comfortable using longer panels to depict the quick conversations that pepper Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man. This book is in good hands, and I can’t wait to see where Bendis and Marquez take Miles as he discovers girls, other teen heroes, and struggles with his calling as Spider-Man. The last issue Ultimate Comics #23 is a perfect jumping on point for anyone who wants to try out this book.
I’m a sucker for sci-fi. The weirder the better in my eyes, and as much as I love the space epic grandeur of Brian Michael Bendis’ Guardians of the Galaxy, it just can’t compare to the admiration and sheer excitement that comes from reading Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga. This is true space epic grandeur at its most surreally bizarre. Vaughan has written a pulp series that rivals the greatest science fiction novels, films and television shows in a comic book series that is only 12 issues into its run.
Warring planets and intergalactic strife have long been the go-to tropes of sci-fi, and while Saga is no different in that regard, Vaughan somehow manages to make this somewhat tired theme fresh and unpredictably mind-blowing panel after panel. Saga’s wild originality stems from the cast of characters Vaughan has created to populate this universe in peril. The winged Alana of Landfall and the horned Marko of Landfall’s moon Wreath are the Romeo and Juliet of the story; two different races in love from opposing factions in a long-running war.
While Marko and Alana are at the heart of the story, it’s the characters that are pulled into the conflict which arises from their relationship that really make this book pulse with awesome. Bounty hunter The Will and his pet Lying Cat, a cat that quite literally can read when someone is lying, track down Alana and Marko while a half-torso teenage girl ghost named Izabel protects Alana and Marko’s baby. Page after page introduces a plethora of other characters from planet sized hatchlings, alien prostitutes on the sex-theme-park planet of Sextillion and more. My favorite character is Prince Robot IV, a member of the royal family from the Robot Kingdom who has a human-like body, blue blood and a TV for a head. There is a lot of explicit sexuality infused within Saga, much of which revolves around Prince Robot himself.
Vaughan’s storytelling is masterful, and would surely translate well in the imagination had Saga been a novel. However, even the greatest imaginations would have a hard time comparing to the representations of these fascinating worlds and characters that artist Fiona Staples has created. Staples art invigorates the writing with vivid colors and a perfect boundary between the real and the wondrous.
Without spoiling anything else, I suggest anyone who hasn’t go out and pick up the first trade paperback collecting Saga issues 1-6. You can thank me later.
Daredevil, Marvel’s blind, swashbuckling super-hero/lawyer (which is kind of like being a ice-cream vendor/pirate but whatever) has passed through a lot of talented writers, from Frank Miller (before he went insane and crappy) to Ed Brubaker. However, since taking over the title with a new ongoing last year, Mark Waid is on the fast track to becoming one of the best Daredevil writers in recent memory, if not ever.
What really works about Waid’s work on “Daredevil” is how he’s taken the character in a new direction, but one that entirely makes sense. Especially in Brubaker’s Daredevil work, the grim n’ gritty factor reached new heights, with a broodier than ever Daredevil’s life finding new and exciting ways to kick him in the stones with virtually every issue, sending him further and further down what would be a road of facial tattoos and red lightsabers, if this were an entirely different franchise. Later on, under the writing of Andy Diggle, Daredevil was even possessed by a demon. Because…..comics.
Waid, on the other hand, took a look at all this darkness and grit and met it with a resounding “eff that”, and started his series off by having a newly recovered hornhead decide to stop being such a mopey Mark about it all and return to his roots as a happy-go-lucky swashbuckler.
But what makes it interesting is how the series keeps setting him up for a relapse. Daredevil’s always been somewhat bi-polar as a character, something even his supporting cast have been quick to point out. Is the new happy outlook just a front? And if so, how long will it take for it to crumble away sending him further down the dark path than ever?
Add to that the fact that the series seemingly prides itself on what some other writers may consider anachronistic, straightforward superhero action. Want a sprawling, densely-packed epic that you need to be reading three other series to fully get? Well go somewhere else, this book has a standalone issue where Daredevil and Spiderman fight Stilt-Man. Not the gritty new version of Stilt-Man. Just plain ole Stilt-Man. In a world full of “badass” reinventions of old characters, you gotta admire a comic that unabashedly presents a villain whose sole gimmick is that he’s on stilts.
How do you make a super hero with no powers, a bad attitude and who uses a weapon from the Palaeolithic era cool? Well if you’re Matt Fraction you don’t change a thing, and, because you’re Matt Fraction, this works very, very well. So who am I talking about? Hawkguy aka Hawkeye aka Clint Barton of course! The former D-list archer who has been tossed about the Marvel Universe so haphazardly it’s amazing that the character hasn’t been killed off…again. Yet, under Fraction’s tutelage, Hawkeye is now considered Marvel’s best comic and rightfully so.
So why does Fraction’s Hawkeye work? Because he takes what makes Hawkeye unique, his humanity, and shows us a flawed, caring, hero who is just trying to do the right thing. Even if that means taking on an entire mob just to protect his neighbours that dwell in his dump of an apartment building. But more than the heroics, Hawkeye is a personal book that tells us what a hero gets up to on his days off from being a hero. From trying to hook-up his DVD player, and failing, to saving a stubborn old man from a flood, nothing is ever easy for Clint.
Hawkeye is the anti-hero book. A book for those of you who are so burned out on the superhero genre that you just need to get away. It reads more like a sitcom than anything else and is a great gift for anyone who’s looking for a way to get into comics. With only 11 issues under his belt Fraction has done the impossible; he’s made Clint Barton Marvel’s greatest hero, though I’m pretty sure that Clint already knew that.
Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, spanning 2006 to the present day (and finishing up this July), is so absurd, and bizarre and universe-bending that it’s hard to believe it’s even canon and not some super elaborate Elseworlds story. Morrison’s initial premise even goes against the groundwork of the DC Universe and everything that has been established by the iconic “Crisis On Infinite Earths” and later continuity re-writes.
In his introduction in the trade paperback “Batman: The Black Casebook”, Morrison provides insight on his creative run on the character; he decided to accept every Batman comic written from 1939 to the present day as “canon”, or at least canon in the mind of Bruce Wayne/Batman. He said these events would be condensed into roughly 15 years*, and his story examines what would happen to a human being who had lived such an impossibly fantastical extraordinary life. He had special interest in the Batman comics of the 1950s, a decade most Batman fans choose to ignore, seen as a creative low point in the character’s publishing history, wherein he would regularly go on surreal and nonsensical time travel adventures or visit alien worlds.
The great mysterious villainous forces in Morrison’s Batman know of Batman’s very colourful past, and use it in ways to manipulate him, to even trigger psychological attacks. To have experienced everything Wayne has and to remain sane? Impossible. This Bruce Wayne is psychologically damaged, and just like Morrison previously explored in the graphic novel “Arkham Asylum: Serious House on Serious Earth”, Wayne is perhaps every bit as mentally ill as the villains he regularly faces.
The epic narrative Grant Morrison has been telling over the last seven years is one of the most unique runs in Batman’s entire publishing history, and possibly my favourite interpretation of the character and his mythology, in any medium, ever. Like his work on the magnificent comic “The Invisibles”, his Batman stories don’t often make complete literal sense, or follow the coherent structure we are used to reading in mainstream comics. It’s as if he is throwing us right inside Wayne’s fractured mind, leaving us to struggle and interpret these events just as Wayne is struggling as always with his troubled existence.
The stories are often dark, and about as psychologically horrific and explicit as you’ll see in a DC comic. And they can also be wonderfully funny. And always engrossing; Morrison has such a knack for writing all of the Bat-family members. While the run arguably peaked with “Batman & Robin” from 2009-2011, it continues to dazzle on a regular basis. The last several issues of “Batman Incorporated” have been some of DC’s strongest releases all year
*Even in a post-New 52 Universe, this still seems to be the case. Morrison has largely ignored this universe cleansing, trying not to let it interfere with his story. This isn’t the first time he has been rebellious towards DC and its universe continuity re-writes. In the late 1980s, his “Animal Man” comic had a story arc actually deal with the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” aftermath, featuring erased characters trying to fight their way back into continuity/reality.
What is your current favorite?