Monday, January 02, 2006

2005 In Review, Part 2: Beyond The Infinite

Here are two words for devoting Part 1 to numbers: Infinite Crisis. While I can't avoid talking about it, I do want to mention the rest of the field.

My favorite regular series, month in and month out, were Captain America (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting and Michael Lark) and Firestorm (written by Dan Jolley and Stuart Moore, drawn by Jamal Igle). Both were satisfying on almost every level, including effective use of color. Captain America wove an intricate blend of espionage and superheroics into a very personal story about the possible return of Cap's revered sidekick; and Firestorm was a refreshing new look at the classic "teen superhero" setup. Its accomplishments are even more impressive considering they occurred across two writers' tenures.

Just short of that level of enjoyment were a number of very good series with only a few missteps. Batman and Detective Comics each saw their year-long story arcs interrupted by what turned out to be the frustrating, if not outright infuriating, "War Crimes." Gotham Central suffered similarly from a less-than-its-usual-standard Day of Vengeance crossover. With Green Lantern, Geoff Johns seemed to be using his talents mostly for good, including no Infinite Crisis intrusions, but the level of grue in the Shark storyline was a little off-putting. While I liked She-Hulk 2 well enough, it did start to feel a bit familiar. As for Legion of Super-Heroes, sometimes I just felt like Mark Waid thought I knew more about the plot than I actually did. Again, I really liked these books, except for the nitpicks.

A change in creative teams was either a big boost to some books (Chuck Austen to Gail Simone on Action Comics) or a big letdown to others (on Fantastic Four, Waid and Mike Wieringo giving way to J. Michael Straczynski and Mike McKone). Peter David's return to Incredible Hulk was good for about six months before House of M pretty much ended it. (I couldn't get to the shop early enough to get any of the HoM issues.) Star Wars: Empire featured rotating creative teams which, until the current arc, didn't really do anything spectacular.

Anthology series were also somewhat inconsistent. Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight started the year by finishing an enjoyable Riddler story, but over the summer preceded a good Mr. Freeze arc with a middling, unrelated Freeze two-parter. JLA Classified followed Grant Morrison's inaugural 3-parter with the Giffen/DeMatteis "I Can't Believe It's Not The Justice League," but ended the year with Warren Ellis' only intermittently entertaining "New Maps Of Hell." The best anthology series I read was Solo.

I have dropped Astonishing X-Men, JSA, and Teen Titans, mostly because the books just weren't doing anything for me. I know there are a lot of folks who feel differently, so far be it from me to harsh anyone's buzz. Still, Astonishing didn't work that classic Whedon magic on me; JSA's Per Degaton storyline collapsed under its own weight; and Teen Titans got too wrapped up in Identity Crisis fallout. (However, I don't think that one needs to have read Teen Titans to enjoy Infinite Crisis, and this means I did miss part 1 of the Captain Carrot arc.)

I was struggling with whether to drop Batman: Gotham Knights, The Flash, and Superman/Batman, because I was getting really tired with the directions in which their creative teams were taking them, but cancellations and/or news of creative changes have since spared me from making those decisions.

Finally, a few series started this year but haven't accumulated too many issues yet. The "oldest," All-Star Batman & Robin, reads like a decompressed gonzo nightmare, but the more of it I see the more fun it seems. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Dan Slott's two issues of The Thing have hit the ground running, starting from the simple premise that Ben Grimm is a superhero with nothing else to do except have adventures. If it can keep that up it has a long and happy future ahead. Similarly, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman has produced one very engaging issue which aims to encompass as many classic Superman riffs as possible.

Next: miniseries!

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