Ambidextrous 280: What I Know Now: Chapter One

2008 Showdown - Movie of the Year

The Dark Knight

Welcome to the Ambidextrous Year End Extravaganza…

I told Matt Brady that I wanted to talk about what was interesting and exciting about comics in 2008, but that it would likely send my trusty word counter into overdrive and produce an article that not even my closest friends would make it through. With so many books, trends, personal observations and gripes to publicly discuss, we had little choice but to split the thing into three separate pieces and run them all in the same week. Seriously…we had no choice. It was either this, or something else far worse, maybe something as bad as Hancock. And who is willing to face that in these joyful times?

But yeah, this is the first in a series of pieces devoted to the question---what have we learned about comics in 2008? And how does this inform our expectations for 2009? As always, feel free to add your own thoughts on the boards, and hope that everyone has a safe and sufficiently wonderful time with friends and fam over the holidays. Enjoy.

We Love Hollywood and They Love Us, Though…Conditionally-

To say that it’s been a banner year for comic movies would be an understatement. From the absolute brilliance of The Dark Knight, to the steaming pile of excrement that was Hancock, it is clear that the “mainstream” is enjoying a deep, passionate (and now very public) love affair with comic books and superheroes. Taking full advantage of Hollywood’s persistent allergy to new ideas, they’ve begun to realize that with the correct approach, dozens of blockbuster franchises are resting at their fingertips. You can readily debate the quality of everything that came out over the summer months, but most of them made more than enough money to justify their existence, and despite how much this turns my stomach, nothing else matters past that. It’s all about dollars, and comic based movies will continue to produce them for the next several years.

For us, this means a couple things going forward. On the one hand, we’ve been provided a well-deserved air of legitimacy that has made things like the announcement of someone like Kenneth Branagh directing Thor feel commonplace, perhaps even obvious. As the material continues to improve, this will only intensify, hammering as many preconceived notions about what comics are and who reads them into the ground. The level of collaboration is also encouraging, with Marvel writers being flown out to consult on

Iron Man, and Mark Millar becoming a fixture on the Kick-Ass set. There is also no denying that on the surface the money and notoriety is pretty great for the industry, if only because it encourages people to later seek out books like Wanted and Hellboy, once the credits close.

Wanted 2 Disc Special Edition
Wanted 2 Disc Special Edition
Wanted

On the other, it’s helped create an environment that is beginning to rely more and more on the idea that “Hollywood money will save us,” which unfortunately, seems to be a business model that is being forced upon a lot of independent publishers. And with the economy spiraling down the rabbit hole, this might become an option few and far between. I’m sure I’m not alone in believing wholeheartedly that the industry needs a viable and somewhat functional independent outlet to creatively survive, which is a fact hardly exclusive to comics. Everything about our art form revolves around the tenet that anything is possible, and that the only conceivable limits are self-imposed. Without an expansive outlet, the limits only multiply, and everything becomes about money. Which it is, of course, but my poor naïve, romantic psyche can’t accept that innovation derives solely from blatant attempts at making money.

If we’re lucky, we’ll continue to enjoy the benefits of this relationship with Hollywood, while avoiding the obvious perils. Hopefully, we’ll know when to remove ourselves before things get messy, and this strange marriage of ours becomes one of simple convenience. Or more importantly, that we’ll even have the ability to, if we decide that the deal on the table is no longer good for us.

Immortal-

How great is it that Marvel is collecting all of Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker’s Immortal Iron Fist into one massive omnibus? Seriously, it’s right there in the March solicits---500 oversized pages brimming with kung-fu action for seventy-five bucks. I’ve been waiting months to pick up the last two hardcovers, but I will gladly eat the cost of the first to have another of my very favorite runs of comics preserved in its proper glory.

I remember the day when the heart of fandom was shattered by the announcement that the entire creative team was leaving the book, but this makes the pain just a little easier to bear. That, and the fact that Duane Swierczynski has done an excellent job of picking up exactly where things left off and pushing the concepts and characters forward. All of the core elements that made Iron Fist one of the best books Marvel puts out are still there, just viewed through a slightly different creative lens. I was so impressed with his work there that I went out and gave Cable another shot, after foolishly believing that I wouldn’t find another X-book to buy.

But even when Fraction and company left, I’d decided to give the new team an honest shot, and I hope a lot of others did as well, because it’s still a great book that deserves time to continue developing. Really, anytime a lesser-known character is able to fight their way onto the stands and creatively stand side-by-side with the better-established heavyweights, it’s reason to get excited.

Secret Six #6

Buy This Book-

Secret Six, by Gail Simone and Nicola Scott

This is the best book that Gail Simone has ever written. I know this of course because I’ve read every book Gail Simone has ever written. Secret Six takes elements from everything Gail has done, and combines them into this great little package that I think will stand as her masterwork in the DC Universe. There’s the intense focus on characterization, which you’ll recognize from Birds of Prey. Every character speaks and behaves in a unique way---given a line of dialogue without its art, you can still tell exactly who said it, and that’s tough to accomplish. There’s her ability to find a way into the heads of the most obscure or forgotten characters, also from Birds, but truly put on display in Villains United, the successor to this title. How else can you justify Catman now being considered cool? And finally, there’s the twisted sense of humor and obvious love of strange violence cultivated in VU, but even earlier than that in her much beloved Deadpool/Agent X run.

On the real though…what is greater than a “Get Out of Hell Free” card? Trick question---the answer is nothing. Now go buy this book before it’s too late.

One More Day Was Worth It…Sorry-

There, I said it---and despite what some would have you believe, I’m far from alone in accepting (and even enjoying) One More Day as a necessary and worthwhile step in revitalizing the Spider-Man franchise for the present and for the future. The flood of great stories and fantastic art that have graced the book in its new shipping format has been pretty undeniable evidence that the biggest draw of Spider-Man is still actually

Spider-Man. Despite everyone’s affinity to the idea that the biggest nerd in the world goes on to marry a supermodel as a measure of universal karma, the saga continues on without her, and anyone who believes that she won’t soon return to the franchise in some capacity hasn’t been reading comics long enough anyway.

Amazing Spider-Man #578
Amazing Spider-Man #578
With a years’ worth of material under their belts, it’s obvious that the creative teams were highly methodical in the way they went about easing the readership into the new status quo, which they knew was guaranteed to upset some people. First six months built a foundation for the tone and direction of the stories, introduced a flood of new characters, relationships, adversaries, etc. to give the book a slightly larger canvass. Then they hit the blockbuster “New Ways to Die” arc, which returned Eddie Brock, Venom, and JRJR to the fold, and they’ve kept the pedal down every minute since then. Next year, I’d expect the return of Mary Jane and for OMD to be more directly referenced and integrated into the larger never-ending story of Spider-Man. And probably a few more months after that, people will start to forget about the whole thing and just enjoy having good Spidey stories three times a month.

Seriously, I think it’s great that some people have actually voted with their wallets on this, as people buying anything strictly out of habit is a little depressing, but the stabilizing numbers suggest this is already happening, which is great. It means that people are giving the book a chance, judging it on its own merits, and learning that everything they really loved about the character is still there. All of the time and money invested over the years is owed to Peter Parker and his eternal compulsion to “do the right thing,” despite the fact he’ll never get the credit or attention he deserves---not because of who he’s married to or whatever building he’s living in.

Bottom line, the books read great, they look great, and they’ve only gotten better since Brand New Day started. It might be a personal weakness, but I don’t want to turn down stories from writers like Dan Slott, Mark Waid, Joe Kelly, etc. for any reason. And don’t even get me started on the art, which is already edging a couple guys into “classic Spidey artist” territory. And it’s not tied into any major bit of crossover inspired continuity, making it one of the few books with a major character in it that someone off the street can pick up without needing annotations to fully understand. But just looking at it from the simple perspective of a hardcore Spider-Man fan---why deny yourself a ton of great stories featuring one of the greatest and most enduring characters in comics? You might still disagree of course, but I don’t think it’s worth it…

Buy This Book-

Talking to G. Willow Wilson
Talking to G. Willow Wilson
Air #1

Air, by G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker

This is hardly a revelation to anyone, but Vertigo has made it their business to properly introduce writers to the world of comics. The list of relative unknowns and up and comers that shot to stardom while doing stellar work for the imprint is a long one, and should now include the name of G. Willow Wilson, who’s the writer and co-creator of the fantastic new series Air. Her narrative about fear of flying, fear of who’s flying with you, politics, secret countries, lost love, terrorism, and communication shows that she has incredible potential and a definite voice that the medium can only benefit from. The journalism background is obvious here, and I hear even more so in Cairo, which I’ll probably be pickin’ up after Christmas. And her Vixen series is pretty good as well---and who ever imagined being able to confidently say that?

With DC packaging the first arc in an enormously affordable trade, and an upcoming issue priced at just one dollar, there’s little excuse not to buy this book and get in on the ground floor of a bright career.

Okay, that’s all we got for now. Thanks for dropping by and the next installment posts day after tomorrow I believe. See you then as we reveal the best writers in comics right now, discuss the price of comics, marvel at a very important aspect of the modern company crossover, and talk about a couple more of the best new books of 2008. Until then.

The Fiction House

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