Though I can hardly believe it, 2009 is practically over.  Which means it’s time for me to once again look over the books I read and see what’s on The Dropping Block.

Before I look at the titles themselves, my overall impression is to note that there are fewer comics listed here than previously.  Also my general feeling for the comics below is less enthusiasm than I’ve had in the past.  And I’m not alone in this line of thinking.  There are many books that I actively look forward too, but many that I slog through and hope things improve.  I’m also looking for some new book to come up and demand my readership, but there isn’t a whole lot out there that inspires those feelings.

Batman and Robin and The Return of Bruce Wayne
This is the book I look forward to the most.  And it’s not just because I’ve always loved Batman.  I was hooked just over 20 years ago with Tim Burton’s movie which I saw as many times as possible in the theater and re-watched endlessly on VHS though I don’t think I ever had a Warner Brothers Ball Cap.  The first comic I ever had was Batman and Other DC Classics a reprint issue that contained snips of trades DC was putting out at the time and heavily featuring Batman.  As my first superhero and one of the greats, I always look forward to a good Batman story.  But sadly, those aren’t as easy to find as one might like.
Grant Morrison though has set out to craft an epic Batman story that shows the character at his best by putting him through the toughest challenges possible.  I’m enjoying his approach and have been following his Batman tale from Batman to Final Crisis to the current Batman and Robin and onto the just announced The Return of Bruce Wayne.  Though early on in Batman I made the mistake of dropping the book as I wasn’t sure where it was going.  But a few months later I was digging through the Isotope’s racks to find the issues I missed and vital clues I’d need as “R.I.P.” was starting.  I won’t make the same mistake and I’ll begrudgingly suffer through three issues of Philip Tan’s art for the developments that will matter as we go forward.  Because as rough and unfinished as those issues are, they’re done.  I’ve read them and set the issues aside and I can look forward to three issues of “Blackest Knight” (#7-10) with Cameron Stewart on the art followed by Andy Clarke’s art in “Batman vs. Robin” (#11-13) and then Frazer Irving will come in with his long delayed arc (#14-16).
Meanwhile, The Return of Bruce Wayne will kick off with a great concept: Six issues of Bruce Wayne becoming Batmen Through History in order to reclaim himself and get home.  Each issue’s art will be handled by a different master beginning with Chris Sprouse on issue one and Frazer Irving should have issue two.  I was nervous when Return was announced that it could supersede the Batman and Robin schedule, but Grant saidFrank Quitely will be the one to tie it all together and thankfully Grant is planning to stick around afterwards to see what’s next for the Batmen and Robins.  I can’t wait!
…As a prediction though, I still think Lump will be more involved in the mystery of what happened to Bruce Wayne than they’re letting on.  #682’s “The Butler Did It” and 683’s “What the Butler Saw” are going to be very important when they try to figure out which Bat-body is which and bring Bruce back to life. that, “[he’s] doing at least another year of stories with Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne in the Batman and Robin book before that book starts to dovetail with Return and we rush headlong and screaming into the next big, earth-shattering, game-changing twist in the life of Batman.”  It appears that

Detective Comics and Batwoman
While I follow Grant’s Batman comics for both the character and creator, Detective Comics belongs to the artists.  The elegant blending of J.H. Williams III’s art with Dave Stewart’s colors and Todd Klein’s letters make each issue something special to behold.  I enjoy Greg Rucka’s writing, but it’s not what makes me go into the store each month, or pull the issue back out of it’s box to reread and stare.  Now shortly Jim is leaving the book and Jock is going to take over art duties.  While I have nothing against Jock, he’s simply not the reason I buy the book.  And neither is Batwoman herself, while I while I like her and think she’s an interesting character, I don’t have a need to read everything with her.  I read 52 which she debuted in, and I read Final Crisis, but neither of those were for her.  Thankfully Jim says he’ll be on the project “for awhile” which is great, but it appears that it will be in a new on-going Batwoman title.  I’m happy to hear they’re going to give them an issue #1, since that was the plan long ago but DC got nervous, held onto the project and put it into Detective Comics.  Whatever name DC wants to put on the top of the cover is fine by me, I’m just happy to be able to regularly buy the best work of Williams’ career.

All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder
I’m not expecting another issue of this, but if it comes out I’ll probably buy it.  Of course where will Frank find the time when he’s so busy with all his other vaporware?

Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps and Blackest Night
The Green Lantern books are starting to wear on me.  I’ve been following them loyally for a few years now and I think we’ve gotten into a rut and we’re there on purpose.  Ever since Geoff Johns engineered the return of Hal Jordan he has been building to the Blackest Night based on a couple of 25 year old back-up stories Alan Moore did.  This is a story that fully displays the defining aspects of Geoff Johns’ writing style: iconic heroes expounding on their nobility while returning to their Silver Age status by violently triumphing over gruesome villains in extreme situations.  Geoff Johns and his style are not for everyone, some find it engaging and some find it off putting, but I’m starting to find it repetitive.  It’s constant action! and explosions! and deaths! and mutilations! and rebirths!
In fact, Johns has gotten so concerned with bringing back Silver Age characters that he’s sidelined his own characters.  When he started the new on going Green Lantern in 2005, Johns introduced a new character Jillian “Cowgirl” Pearlman as a possible new love interest for the main character.  And while Jillian was steady part of the first two years of the title, Hal’s original Silver Age love interest Carol Ferris returned in “May” 2007’s issue #18.  Since that issue Jillian has appeared five more times most recently in a few panels at the start of Blackest Night, while Carol has appeared in fifteen comics and is now an integral part of the Blackest Night storyline.  Johns seems immanently more interested in reviving Carol than in his own creation, and while I hardly think that people were clamoring for more Jillian “Cowgirl” Pearlman, it shows something in Johns style.
Of course, once we’ve gotten through Blackest Night and Hal becomes the White Lantern and saves the universe, we’ll see what Johns has planned, but I hope it’s an interesting change of pace.  I’ve followed this for a while and my enthusiasm is dipping.
I still love Patrick Gleason’s art on Green Lantern Corps.  His style is appropriately exaggerated and moody with distinct characters and a wonderful sense of motion.  His storytelling is clear and expressive despite the panels being crammed with action and a cast of hundreds.  Every month I look forward to what he’s going to do in his pages.  And if he’ll start taking commissions again, I’d love to have his take on Dick & Damien as Batman and Robin.  I’ve said before and still believe, Patrick would be wonderful on a Batman book. Or maybe Adam Warlock.
That said, comics are a mix of words and pictures, and I don’t care for Pete Tomasi’s writing for a couple of reasons.  My biggest issue with it is the lack of nuance in the writing and dialog.  Everything that happens within the pages of the book has a clear purpose it needs to accomplish, but it is rarely done with style or creative flourish.  A prime example of this is the romance between the characters Kyle and Soranik.  The two had very little interaction throughout the book when suddenly a third character tells them they are in love and suddenly they are!  They have sex and then he dies, she fights to keep him alive, and then the third character returns and says that Kyle and Soranik are joined at the heart and brings him back to life so they can be in love longer.  If their relationship had been built up and a bond formed between them beyond “coworker” it would have felt more real and resonated, but Tomasi seems to be operating from a checklist and he has much to get done.
My other big problem with the writing is the way much of the original cast has been pushed aside for a narrow focus on a few characters.  Originally there were several characters all interacting and developing as they came to grip with being a Green Lantern, but when Tomasi started to write the book (after being it’s editor while Dave Gibbons wrote it), he just abandoned them to be among the dozens of characters Patrick is able to place in the background of panels starring Tomasi’s favorites.  And while I object to the decision itself, I am particularly annoyed at how it was handled.
Should Patrick Gleason leave the book I’ll drop it in a heartbeat and anxiously follow him wherever he goes.

Captain America, Captain America: Reborn and The Marvel Project
I’ve been faithfully following Ed Brubaker’s Captain America since it started.  I like all the characters and the great mood and slow burn approach that made issues 1-9 and 11-42’s Captain America versus The Red Skull story something truly memorable.  When it ended I was happy to follow Bucky and the rest of their cast struggle to find their footing in the series as it went forward.  But after just six issues of Bucky’s own adventures exploring his past and present, the Red Skull’s story abruptly took back over and we were switched over to Captain America: Reborn to follow The Adventures of Steve Rogers in Slaughterhouse-Five.
Of course it was inevitable that Ed Brubaker  would bring back Steve Rogers and I’m glad he’s telling the epic story he wanted to, but I can’t help but feel that this was rushed.  I know that he’s said he moved up the death of Captain America so that it fit with Civil War and so I have to assume that Steve Rogers is being rushed back just in time for Marvel’s Siege event and Heroic Age…thing.  And it’s the rushed that bothers me.  Things are moving forward but too quickly and without any real drama.  The slow and steady story of Bucky’s return, Steve’s death and the new Captain America was filled with mystery and danger and an uneasy sense that anything could happen now.
However, once they started to bring Steve Rogers back, he is back.  This is more that the standard “I knew he’d be back” thought process when any comic book character dies now, this is also how it was presented in the story.  At the end of the first issue the readers know that Steve Rogers is bouncing through time in his body and it’s just a matter of time before he is happily secured back in the present.  As a reader I’m no longer waiting to find out what happens next, I’m waiting for this story to end so that we can get back to the regular series.  Right now I’m much more interested in what will happen in Captain America #602 than what will happen Reborn #6.  Additionally, the fact that Reborn has expanded from five issues to six and is now trailing behind other comics that show Steve Rogers happily walking around the Marvel Universe don’t help.
Of course, to add to my complaints about Reborn, I think I’m the only person who does not enjoy Bryan Hitch’s artwork.  The stretched anatomy reminds me of Rob Liefeld mixed with the photoshoppery of other artists.  But I understand I’m the minority here and am willing to accept it and won’t hold it against the title, but it is another reason I don’t look forward to opening the book each month.
I should say something here about the similarities between Grant Morrison’s Batman epic and Ed Brubaker’s Captain America epic.  While these runs each hit similar points (hero’s death, first sidekick assumes mantle, hero not actually dead but lost in time) I think it’s very foolish for anyone to claim that either story is a ripoff of the other.  Most basically, the issues have unfolded at roughly the same time and it’s ludicrous and insulting to think that either one of these authors is simply following the same notes, rather than their own unique forward thinking plans.  Of course the old saying is true, “the devil is in the details”; how they tell their story is just as important as what the story is.  I am enjoying both creator’s stories and how the way they are being told, but I can enjoy parts of one better than parts of another.  After all, art does not require me to pick sides, it is not a zero sum game.  There is room in my heart for both.
That said, I am enjoying Ed Brubaker’s third Captain America comic The Marvel Project.  The book is delivering exactly what it promised: an intriguing look at the early days of the Marvel Universe.  The characters are a mix of the familiar and the obscure, some of them have been there from the beginning and forgotten while others were recent inventions, but they are all interesting and make me want to read more.  The story also moves forward and while I know how it all will end up, Brubaker finds ways to keep me guessing through twists I’ve forgotten and turns he’s invented.  This is exactly what I miss about the main Captain America title.

Criminal
I love these books.  I’ve always been a fan of film noir and detective stories and this is right up my alley.  If Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips want to keep doing this forever, I’d be happy.  If they want to do switch back-and-forth between this and Incognito, I’d be happy.  If they come up with another idea, I’ll be happy.  Now in the meantime, I need to go back and get the Sleeper trades.

Guardians of The Galaxy and Realm of Kings
I read Guardians of The Galaxy for Adam Warlock.   He is my favorite character and I own almost all of his comics which has resulted in me reading a lot of pretty bad comics.  (I’ve toyed with the idea of doing a rip off of NotBlogX called “Farrar and the Infinity Read” but that would take more time than I have.)  However, the writing team of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have put together a really great comic book series in Guardians of The Galaxy.  The key is the freedom they have to use their cast the way they want.  Most of these characters are B- or C-list (at best) and so the writers have more freedom to play with them.  Typically a creator on Superman knows the limits of what lasting changes can be made to the status quo and so they are unable to make many changes.  However, a creator can really have some fun with lesser tier characters and give the book an unpredictable and exciting feel.  It’s things like this that allow Adam Warlock to subtly turn into The Magus in the background of the comic and brutally kill half the team before being killed himself.  And so even though the reason I first bought this book is dead (for now, we’ll see what’s really going on in Februrary’s issue 23), I’m still reading it.  Because it’s fun, shocking, keeps me guessing and doesn’t show signs of stopping.  It even has me picking up the odd issues of crossovers that come up, but so far I’ve resisted the non-Adam Warlock cosmic stuff, but I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.  I get exactly the amount of great comics from it that I expect.

Usagi Yojimbo
Stan Sakai always keeps me entertained with this great and dependable book.  I’ve also got a lot of trades to go back and collect.  The thought of an entire shelf of Usagi Yojimbo makes me feel all warm inside.

Superman: Secret Origin
Many people have decried this umpteenth retelling of Superman’s origin as unnecessary, but that’s not true.  The people in charge of Superman want to get him back in touch with the movie Superman with the Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes history.  After all, that was all removed sometime ago, so from their perspective, it really does need to be put back in.  The problem is, this really isn’t a Superman story, it’s a Superboy story.  Granted the first few issues of it were about his childhood so it’s acceptable that he act immature and petulant, but in issue three the adult Clark Kent has arrived in Metropolis but still acts like a nervous unsure child.  At the risk of sounding too much like a fanboy, there is too much Clark Kent and not enough Superman.
What Geoff Johns seems to have forgotten is that Clark Kent is an act that Superman puts on.  He pretends to be clumsy, he pretends to be dorky and he pretends to be unaware.  Superman should always be putting on an act and not actually confused by Lois’ schemes, he’s willing to go along with them, but there should always be a wink to the reader that he has the situtation undercontrol.  This balance was done expertly in All-Star Superman where it was possible to see Superman disguised as Clark Kent, hunched over and stumbling through Metropolis tagging behind Lois.  There should be the warmth that the perfect being of Superman is willing to make himself one of us so that we feel comfortable, because he loves us.  Superman  doesn’t need an origin story that show’s him growing into his role, it’s fine to show him making friends and meeting people for the first time, but Superman doesn’t need to learn to be a hero.  He is better than us and shows what’s best in us, he doesn’t need to do anything other than be.
I will be dropping this book, just as I dropped all the other Superman books.  It’s a real shame that all the good will and the fanbase that was built up from “One Year Later” and the Johns/Richard Donner and Kurt Busiek relaunch, that struggled through the poor shipping schedule and was back on track with Gary Frank penciling…until everything blew up with New Krypton and just seems to be getting further and further away from anything I want.

Adventure Comics
The first Geoff Johns book I regularly read was Teen Titans where I rediscovered my deep enjoyment of Superboy.  When this title was launched I debated it and decided not to follow it since I didn’t want to be stuck with a title for a long time.  However a little while later when it was announced that Johns was leaving the book after issue six, I was on board.  Six issues of great Superboy action?  That sounded fine, so I tracked down the first three issues and really enjoyed them.  Then came issues 4 and 5 which starred Superboy-Prime and they were awful.  But there is just one more issue of Superboy.  I’ll read that and hope against hope that there will be a satisfying ending because I step away after issue 6.

RASL
I still like this book and hope that Jeff Smith is able to get on a schedule that works and lets me buy and read this book.

Ex Machina
I’m sorry that there are only three more issues of this book, but still, it’s going all out to have a big satisfying finish.  Before it ends I need to take the time to go back and reread the whole series (and specials) to really prepare myself for the ending.  I wish I had done that before Y ended so I won’t make the same mistake twice.  And since this is almost done, we should be hearing from Brian K. Vaughn about his next book soon.  He promised that he had something else in the works that would be announced right around the end of Ex Machina.  Well, bring it on BKV!

True Story Swear To God
It looks like another issue of this will come out.  I’ll get it when it does.

The Goon and Chimichanga
This is another book that amazes me with its unpredictabililty.  Eric Powell has the freedom to do whatever he’d like in his book and does it masterfully.  One issue could be a dark horror story, another could be a romance between a man and a fish, while a third could be a gory slapstick adventure.  And whatever it is it will be fun and leave an impression.  And of course the book is so unpredictable that he’s taking a break from it to put out three issues of Chimichanga, which looks good so far!

Jonah Hex
I don’t read this regularly, in fact, I have only picked up three issues: #33 with art by Darwyn Cooke, #35 with art by JH Williams III, and the just out #50 with art by Darwyn Cooke.  Clearly I have a pattern going.  But the book has been so wonderful in each of those issues I really think I should be picking it up regularly.  #50 could very well be the best single comic book issue I’ve read all year.  I might have to inject in a little more Hex in my life…

In addition to these books, there are some upcoming books whose charms I am not immune to…

Joe the Barbarian
This seems like a reliable premise that Grant has given some interesting new twists and turns.  This could be his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  Add to the premise the fact that what pages artist Sean Gordon Murphy has been kind enough to offer peeks of look amazing and we have a great book waiting in the wings.  I’ll be ready for it.

Nation X
I only need the last issue of this four issue miniseries.  Because it stars Doop!  And I’ll buy anything with the X-Statix in it.

X-Factor Forever
When X-Men Forever came out I wasn’t moved to purchase it.  It was catering to a specific fan base that did not include me.  And that was fine.  I haven’t felt a strong need to pick up X-Men comics in a long while.  And when New Mutants Forever was announced I felt even less of an interest in it.  But X-Factor Forever, this is a book I can get behind.  First off, it’s a miniseries so I’m not committing to anything.  Secondly, it’s a What Ifbecause it sounded fun to do. And fourth, this was a great time in the history of my favorite X-Men, and one in particular Warren Worthington III.  If I ever get to make a pitch to Marvel, it’s a Warren story.  This is where he’s the best, a man who’s gone through terrible tragedy and is struggling to find a way to move on. story, which I like.  Thirdly, a great creative team is coming back and not because of a strong proprietary sense but

Girl Comics
Considering how many titles I read are Boy Comics, this should be a refreshing bit of fun.  I don’t see why it should really stir up any controversy.  I loved Wednesday Comics and Strange Tales and I’m ready for more great creators getting a chance to make great comics in one easy to buy package.  Who can get upset about that?

Thor
I like Thor.  I like the character and generally I’ve liked his books, but I haven’t read Thor in a while.  I loved the beginning of Dan Jergen’s run after Heroes Return but fizzled out at issue #40.  As I think back though, I can’t actually recall why I stopped reading, but a part of me wants to complete that run.  However I never made any attempt to follow J. Michael Straczynski’s run on the character and have no regrets.  I’m also not planning to buy Siege, but when that’s over, Matt Fraction and John Romita Jr take over and I might just be interested in that.
Though I can’t be certain if I’m really excited about Thor’s upcoming comics or if I just need something to whet my appetite before the movie.  This is the same problem I run into with Iron Man.  The movie Iron Man is the best Iron Man has ever been and the second movie looks like a thrilling continuation of it, but the comics have never appealed to me.  I want them to, but I’ve never fallen for them.  Thor however I have read and enjoyed comics from and so I’m looking forward to his movie, but I also want to read some comics.
And these sound like they could be some great comics.  I have no doubt that JRJR will do some great work as he always does, his art was a big part of why I liked the last Thor comics I bought. I’ve never really read Matt Fraction’s work though of course I am aware of it.  I skipped out on his four Thor one-shots and Secret Invasion mini, and I might consider them if I find them cheap, but I won’t be hunting for the collections.  I will definitely start with the Free Comic Book Day issue and go from there.  If that’s good I might sign on for the full run, if not I’ll just wait for May 20, 2011.

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