Comics I Quit Reading This Year | Jason Green

finalcrisis-header.jpg1. Final Crisis






Given the serial way that comics are published, it’s easy to sample an issue or two of a title to find out that it’s for you and, if it’s not, just let it go on its merry way with nary a thought. But then there are the harder decisions: the books you want so badly to like but just don’t, the books that sounded good on paper but failed miserably, the books you once liked and kept on your pull list for months upon months out of nostalgia before realizing you just didn’t enjoy it enough to keep plunking down three bucks on it every month. This is a list of those books, in order of disappointment.



1. Final Crisis (DC)

The DC universe and I have had a strained relationship for several years now. I guess it really dates back to Infinite Crisis, a title I bought mainly because I thought I should be "up" on whatever was going on in DC’s universe-spanning crossover. It was a book whose importance, for the most part, sailed right over my head. See, I discovered DC comics through the "Death of Superman" in the early ‘90s, and as I expanded my collection, I specifically stuck to the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths era. Crisis was meant as a complete and total reboot of the entire DC Universe, after all, so it seemed like a perfectly logical starting point to me. And yet here was Infinite Crisis, dragging back the infinite earths and with them all the stories I had never read before, stories that dated back to my kindergarten days. The handling of the whole ordeal didn’t really translate what any of it meant, in the grander scheme of the DCU as I—a guy who had been reading their comics for over a decade, mind you—understood it. If Infinite Crisis was just an isolated incident, it wouldn’t have been a problem, but it was just the tip of the iceberg, the first in a series of high profile DC releases that many jokingly refer to as "continuity porn" that required intimate knowledge of every nook and cranny of books over a quarter of a century old at that point. And as more and more books fell victim to this type of storytelling, I found myself reading fewer and fewer DC books. And then along comes Final Crisis, built up as the big event to end all big events, featuring work by Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones, two creators with stellar reputations whose work I haven’t sampled nearly enough of. Against my better judgment, I let myself believe the hype, and I came along for the ride. What a mistake that was.

I hated every second of reading Final Crisis. Characters would show up and I’d have no idea who they were, and the story wouldn’t tell me who they were. "Big" things would happen in the story and I’d have no idea why they mattered, and the story wouldn’t tell me why they mattered. Reading this book made me feel stupid, like I didn’t know a damn thing about a single comic DC ever published despite owning, literally, thousands of them. Just what is the cost of entry supposed to be on this series, exactly? How many thousands more DC books am I supposed to buy before they’ll let me in the club?

I set down the fourth issue of Final Crisis and realized I had no understanding of what I had already spent $16 on, and the book hadn’t stirred up enough interest to make it worth $12 to see an ending I, in all likelihood, wouldn’t understand either. The art was nice, sure, but the story was completely inscrutable, and the final issues of the book were going to be shipping months late and with fill-in art, anyway. I just had no interest at all in seeing how it played out, no matter how much its events would influence the DC books that don’t (yet) make my head hurt. So I quit reading it.

As flawed as it was, Marvel’s answer to Final Crisis—the post-9/11 take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers known as Secret Invasion—delivered exactly what it promised, and exactly what a big, universe-spanning crossover is supposed to deliver: big action, a huge cast of characters, and a story that is comprehensible on its own but that makes you interested in reading more titles—and rewards you with a deeper understanding if you do read those titles. It’s everything that Final Crisis was not, and the differences between the two approaches are the chief among the reasons why I now read four or five times as many Marvel books as I do DC ones.



2. The various Iron Man titles (Marvel)

Coming out of Marvel’s Civil War crossover, Iron Man was everywhere, making cameo appearances in nearly every Marvel title to basically show up and say, "Hi, I’m Tony Stark. I run SHIELD now, and I’m kind of a dick." Despite the many one-note cameos, at this time last year, the character’s solo title, Iron Man: Director of SHIELD was in the middle of a renaissance thanks to "Haunted," a phenomenal espionage thriller by writers Daniel and Charles Knauf and artists Roberto De La Torre and Butch Guice. "Haunted" built to its crescendo just as the amazing Iron Man film hit theaters, and also just as the new comics series Invincible Iron Man launched with work by Matt Fraction, my favorite new writing discovery of the last year or so, and Salvador Larocca, long one of my favorite artists. 2008 seemed like the year of Iron Man, and yet as it ends, I find myself reading no Iron Man comics. What the hell happened?

Well, for starters, there really was no discernible need for two concurrent Iron Man titles. As soon as the "Haunted" wrapped in IM:DoS, the Knaufs took off, and the book was left floundering. Writer Stuart Moore’s follow-up arc was a decent but slight story arc that screamed "fill-in."The book then transformed into a Secret Invasion tie-in/War Machine solo book by Christos Gage and Sean Chen (usually dependable creators) that was downright awful, easily the worst of the SI tie-ins I read and so underwhelming that I couldn’t even bring myself to spring money on the book’s final issue. And as previewed in the Secret Invasion: Dark Reign one-shot, the new War Machine book that replaces it looks like a heaping helping of ‘90s Marvel cheese. None for me, thanks.

On paper, DoS‘s replacement sounded like a shoo-in for hot book of the summer, and to many readers it was, but I just couldn’t get into it. One of the main reasons was I just did not like Fraction’s take on Tony Stark at all, despite having enjoyed the way he wrote him in the vastly under-rated series The Order. Fraction’s Stark was, for all intents and purposes, the Robert Downey, Jr., version of the character, which felt like it was ignoring everything the character has been through in the last few years (which is a lot) to kiss-up to new fans pulled in by the movies. Even more disappointing was Larocca’s art, which was downright hideous to my eyes. A far cry from the stylish, slightly manga-influenced work Larocca had done in the past (his work on Namor was my personal favorite), his Iron Man work was slavishly photo-referenced, but it felt cobbled together, like the people on the page were pieces of a puzzle that didn’t fit together, and the thin-line ink style and Frank D’Armata’s colors—giving everyone a weird red-faced complexion—only added to the problems. Everything about the book was pushing me away, and despite really wanting to like it, I dropped it after three issues.


3. Young Liars (DC/Vertigo)

I like what I’ve read of David Lapham’s Stray Bullets, and the first issue of his new Vertigo series had Lapham’s always stellar art in stunning full color and an unorthodox story that had me excited to see where it would go next. But after 8 issues, I couldn’t take anymore. My biggest problem with Young Liars is that I absolutely hated every single character in it. Characters don’t necessarily have to be likable to make for an interesting story, but the leads in Young Liars are so thoroughly unlikable that you actively wish harm on them. That Lapham actually inflicts said harm on them doesn’t help matters either, and by the time a main character gets his manhood rather graphically removed from his body, I just stared slack-jawed at the page wondering "Why the hell am I reading this?" So I stopped reading it.



4. Stormwatch: Post Human Division (DC/Wildstorm)

Speaking of scenes of unnecessarily graphic violence, Stormwatch: PHD #13 ended with a nameless villain drinking blood as it dripped from a freshly severed human head, to the cheers of a crowd of adoring onlookers. That preposterously stupid scene was the least of the book’s problems. Though the first year’s worth of PHD was an entertaining mix of superhero action and cop drama, the book’s relaunch as part of the post-apocalyptic "World’s End" storyline through out everything that came before, resurrecting dead characters with no explanation and redesigning Stormwatch leader Jackson King into what looked like a demented cyborg Santa Claus. Noooo thanks.



5. Gen 13 (DC/Wildstorm)

DC’s mistreatment of the Wildstorm universe continues. The original Gen 13 was very much a product of its time (the mid-90s), but this updated version (written first by Gail Simone, then Exterminators‘ Simon Oliver, alongside a myriad of unexceptional fill-in artists) weighed the stories down with reality TV trappings, moving the book even further past its expiration date…and considering it stars a character named "Grunge," that’s really saying something. (I should note that since I dropped the series, it was relaunched with a new creative team, something I haven’t had a chance to sample as of yet.)



6. Youngblood (Image)

The reality TV angle worked much better in Youngblood than it did in Gen 13, mostly because it’s built into the concept of superheroes-as-celebrities working for the US government. Going in, it sure sounded like Joe Casey had a great understanding of the potential behind that concept, yet the new Youngblood had just as many problems as its previous incarnations, with too many good ideas thrown at the wall until none of them stick and an inconsistent shipping schedule that obliterated its early momentum. What once looked like the book to watch for 2008 instead became a decently enjoyable but ultimately forgettable footnote.



7. Moon Knight (Marvel)

Another guy who seemed like he got to the core of the character he was taking over was Charlie Huston. When I interviewed Huston during the series launch in 2006, he sang the praises of the classic Doug Moench/Bill Sienkiewicz run on Moon Knight, and his bona fides as a crime novelist made him seem a good fit for the character. But the tone just wasn’t right, with unnecessarily gross violence (at one point, Moon Knight carves off Bushman’s face, and the disgusting looking villain sticks around as a hallucination in the hero’s head) and hackneyed storylines (the classic sidekick-returns-as-a-supervillain shtick). Huston’s last issue (#13, paired with Tomm Coker) was, surprisingly, his best, then new writer Mike Benson took over and followed right in line with Huston’s earlier issues. Benson’s first issue turned out to be my last.



8. Punisher War Journal (Marvel)

Another Marvel book I followed for a long time before dropping this past year was this one, the book that returned vigilante Frank Castle to a central role in the Marvel Universe. The early issues of the series, by Matt Fraction and Ariel Olivetti, were some of the strongest done with the character in ages, getting inside the Punisher’s head as he deals with the new reality in the MU, post-Civil War. But as Fraction started taking more and more assignments at Marvel, his work on this title started to suffer, and he was eventually joined by a co-writer, fellow Image-alum Rick Remender. What had started out as an inventive take on the character settled into been-there-done-that territory on Remender and Fraction’s first arc together, a by-the-numbers Punisher-vs.-Jigsaw story that wasn’t helped by Howard Chaykin’s lackluster art. Punisher War Journal wasn’t necessarily a bad book, just not worth dropping $3 on every month.



9. Marvel Comics Presents (Marvel)

I love the concept behind MCP: an anthology to explore the underutilized corners of Marvel’s huge stable of characters. But other than the thrilling insanity of Stuart and Kathryn Immonen’s Hellcat storyline, none of the ongoing storylines grabbed hold, with the Omega Flight chapter being unreadably bad. Though the latter issues brought intriguing new creators, the presence of stories you already knew were bad made it hard to plunk down the full cover price for a book that’d only be half entertaining.



10. End League (Dark Horse)

A sort of Rick Remender’s Astro City, this book saw Remender and artist Mat Broome exploring endlessly tortured variations on the archetypal superhero. The book started out strong, but its slow publication schedule ultimately killed any interest I had in it. This is one that might be worth checking into in trades, especially with new artist Eric Canete, but for now it’s not on the list of books I’m snapping up whenever they hit store shelves. | Jason Green


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