Tag Archives: John Cassaday

A little listmania! part 1: favorite stories

Blogger wwayne got me thinking about my favorites;  Favorite story arcs and favorite single issues.  Putting the definitions as simply as possible ( since us geeks love to argue about the definitions ) we get….

Story arc:  a  story occurring within an ongoing series.  OK, that is not going to work for me, dammit!  Since I am a trade waiter and have been for 2 decades, some of this will have to be at least a little in the self-contained series vein.  But I will try to justify and explain as I go.

Single issue:  Just like it says on the tin, a single issue of an ongoing series.

So, in no particular order except the order if find them on the shelf….

Concrete:  Strange Armor.  (1997)  This is where the definition gave me trouble as Concrete creator Paul Chadwick didn’t really DO an ongoing Concrete series, just connected limited series, the definition became an issue.  Also in the age of trades and collections the actual issues of a particular arc are harder to recall.  This one I did read as the single issues when they came out in late 97 and early 98.  A 5-issue limited in the continuing story of Ron Lithgow, this was the story that finally gave the full and definitive origin of the character, and fleshed out the back story greatly.  The “series” of concrete stories that Chadwick has done are an amazing character study with its roots in the sci-fi and super hero stories he grew up with and have more heart than any other book(s) I have read since.  All but the most recent DHP series have been collected as trades and are still powerful today.

Cerebus #139 to 150 (Melmoth). (1990) The was the story that followed Jaka’s Story and is one of the shorter Cerebus arcs.  A beautifully written and drawn book, it explores the final days of Oscar Wilde as seen in this fictionalized universe.  Taken directly from contemporary accounts of friends of the dying writer, this is a powerful and sad story.  It is available in “phone book” number 6 of the Cerebus run.

Action Comics  #866 to 870. (2008) Geoff Johns and Gary Frank update and redefine the Brainiac character.  One of the most successful updates DC has ever done.  Gary frank’s art is at its very best here.  Available as the Superman Brainiac trade.

Justice League of America#1 to 7  (2006)  Brad Meltzer is a polarizing figure in comics thanks in large part to the love it or hate it Identity Crisis series.  (loved it)  This arc started up the new volume of JL with artist Ed Benes, and is a story that actually made me interested in JL.  What got me into the story in the first place was my affection for Red Tornado, and this story focuses on him and his existence heavily and is a great team book to boot.  Available as The Tornado’s Path trade collection.

Planetary #7 to 12 (2000)  After setting up the world of Elijah Snow and his team in the first arc, Warren Ellis and John Cassaday outdid themselves on this arc (available as Planetary:  The Fourth Man collection).  The jumped into the homages of the comics with both feet here.  They did versions of Transmepolitan, Hellblazer, Doc Savage and touched on the origins of the big three at DC and still managed to keep the main story moving forward without the meanderings that affected some of the later issues.

My Jill Thompson sketch in my Absolute edition

Sandman #41 to 49 (1992)  This was the arc that really made the series sing for me.  After the A Game of You arc cooled me on the series (It took me years to learn to appreciate it) this series just sang with life.  Gaiman was really flying here and this is the run that made me love Jill Thompson’s art.  This is available in the Brief Lives collection or in Absolute Sandman vol 3.

Fantastic Four #242 to 244 (1982)  I still go back and read these every few months.  In fact the whole #240 to 250 part of John Byrne’s run is just crazy fun to read!  This was the first Galactus story I read that I actually liked.  Available in several reprint volumes from FF Visionaries vol 2 to the big-ass omnibus collection of the Byrne run.

Uncanny X-Men #165 to 168 (1982)  Paul Smith’s first issues on this title were the wrap up to Chris Claremont’s Brood story.  ( I include 168 here as the epilogue to that story–because I CAN!) To this day, his art in these issues is amazing to look at.  Collected in too many versions to count.

Mage #1 to 15 (1984)  Technically this was a limited series, but to my mind, when you know that you are just going to do a series of limited series, it is just a series with breaks.  In the case of Mage the break between the first and second series was a little more than just a break.  The same is true with the ongoing wait for the third series.  This story by Matt Wagner was lightning in a bottle.

Avengers #198 to 200 (1980)  This was David Michelinie and George Perez’s last regular issues on the title(in a run anyway) and they rent out with a great story that was a follow-up to the Claremont/Golden story in Avengers Annual #10.  This run is not yet collected.  Hopefully the Marvel Masterworks will continue long enough to get to these.

Well, I stuck to 10.  I omitted runs where there was a single good issue that MADE that run, and I avoided genuine limited series.  Maybe that will be another list.  Next up…

Favorite single issues…

 

 

 

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The Children of the Atom

The cover to issue #1

The X-Men has always been a sore spot with me.  One of the richest pools of characters in comics regularly misused.  Creators at the top of the industry doing their best work, or people so inept that they fail in every possible way to make something as inherently entertaining as a comic book even remotely readable.  This is a book that vacillates wildly between the best in the industry to not worth wiping your ass with. 

Such is the way of things with many books that have been around for as long as the X-Men.  In 1963 Stan Lee and Jack Kirby started the book up and wasted no time in taking interesting characters and writing them like they didn’t care a bit. To be fair this was true.  This was just another comic to them, and they did not care all that much about it.  It didn’t sell well from the start, and they were not doing their best work.  Not even close.  Kirby did not stick around long, leaving main art chores after the first dozen issues and working with other artist for the heavy lifting for a few more.  As was often the case with a Kirby drawn book, once he was gone things tanked.  Since this was already a marginal book, things were really pretty awful.  Not to say there were not positives.  Golden Age artists Don Heck, Werner Roth (AKA Jay Gavin) and Alex Toth  graced the pages, sometimes aping Kirby’s style, but often doing their own.  The book looked great at times.  There was the all too short Roy Thomas, Neal Adams run.  One of the best of both their long careers.  Then with issues #67 the book started reprints.  Not bothering to reprint the entire run, they started with issue #12.  The reprints were sloppy, concerned with cramming a couple of issues from the early run under 1 cover, they were often done out of original sequence. 

Issue #94

Then Giant Sized X-Men #1 arrived.  Len Wein and Dave Cockrum put together a book that threw caution to the wind and made a book that was limping to its death into a book that was still limping to its death, only slightly slower.  This issue (followed by #94) is remembered incorrectly by people today.  It was not a thunderbolt.  People remember this as the book that changed everything and made the X-Men hugely popular.  Only the first part of that was true.  When Chris Claremont took over the book with issue #94, co plotting the book with Wein for a few issues, sales were slow to improve.  The book got only a small bump with the new team.  When John Byrne came on as penciller with issue #108 the title had not improved much, and things were not looking great.  At that time in his career, Byrne was not very popular and certainly not the legend he would become.  He was replacing the fairly slow, but very popular Dave Cockrum in the hopes they could get a terminally late book back on schedule.  This began what was at the time, a very underappreciated run on the book.  The ABC books, as I used to hear them called, for inker Terry Austin, Byrne and Claremont, have become some of the most beloved in Marvel’s long history.  Byrne and Austin stayed with the title until #143, along the way creating with Claremont, The Dark Phoenix Saga; the story that really did redefine modern comics.  Dave Cockrum returned for a nice run and the book’s sales continued to climb, but they were still not stellar.  In those days 100,000 copies was a borderline book, always waiting for a dip in sales that would cause it to be cancelled.  X-Men did not become THE Marvel book until the 150’s or so. 

The cover to issue #165 by Paul Smith, marked a drastic change in the look of the title.

The popularity was cemented by the arrival of Paul Smith with issue #165.  At this point spin-offs and limited series with the characters were done to capitalize on the popularity of the X-Men.  Other highlights such as Magneto’s conversion to a much deeper and more resonant character, and the Fall of the Mutants arc, were strong entries as well.  A host of artist came and went, while Claremont stayed on the book until 1991, when editorial pressure, and a willful artist named Jim Lee wanted more story input.  The lunatics artists were running the asylum at this point at Marvel, and  it shows.  A lot of the guys that left to found Image were big on the idea that you didn’t need a writer if the art was good.  Well they were proven both right and wrong.  The X-books went almost immediately into the crapper.  Sales followed once the hot artists all defected to Image, where poorly written books like Spawn and WildC.A.T.S. sold just as well as the well-written ones, better much of the time.  The X-books lost much of their previous sales numbers, and Marvel with its new “just put whatever pretty bit of foil-covered crap we can on the stands” policy in place, fell with it.  Eventually they declared bankruptcy, leading many to foolishly fear that the company would fold.  An artistic and editorial black hole opened up and Marvel managed to destroy almost every book they had.

The suck-itude lasted for nearly a decade.  When the ship was finally righted, it took a long while for people to pay attention to even the best books Marvel was putting on the stands, even the well written X-Men.  Grant Morrison was writing the New X-Men and with Frank Quietly, making this a premier book again.  The books were more in line with the movies, at least visually, and contained wild and outlandish stories at times. This let this book soar again.  There were even good crossovers.  The House of M and original Age of Apocalypse, were actually not bad, and continue to draw readers and have new stories or direct call backs to them even now.  

The absolutely stunning cover to Astonishing X-Men #6

Then there is Astonishing X-Men.  OMF-ing G this was a great book!  Joss Whedon and John  Cassaday brought out 24 issues over nearly 4 years, and gave us the best X-Men comic in over a decade.  Bringing back major characters from the glory days, putting a sick amount of Whedon-esque humor and then kicking us in the gut with a climax that truly was astonishing!  These were the X-Men I remembered, possibly even better than I remembered.  I could not wait for each issue, and I was never let down by what I read. 

Since then, things have been pretty uneven. Vampires on the low-end, with some powerful stories with classic characters on the high.  The trip into the cosmic storylines was interesting, if not all that well executed.  Some of the spin-off series are quite fun also.  The returned New Mutants being the highlight there. 

With AvX running now, I cannot honestly say that there is much to look forward to.  There have been a couple of interesting twists, but Marvel still is a “House of Ideas”, they just can’t translate even the coolest ones into strong stories.  The brightest light right now is Wolverine and the X-Men written by Jason Aaron.  This is a very fun read.  Lots of action and humor, with something strong underneath called good writing.

When well written, the X-books can be among the best of the Marvel titles, thanks to a rich stable of strong and much-loved characters.  If you seek out the stories mentioned here, you will not be disappointed.

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Superman Grounded vol 2

Superman Grounded vol 2

DC

168 pages

$23

Well, I reviewed volume 1 back in September, and I recall liking it.  Quite a bit.  Gosh, I wish I could say the same for volume 2!  This thing says “I changed my mind” at every turn.  A lot was made of J. Michael Straczynski leaving the book and I had my doubts as well at the time.  The first volume was a surprise.  Solid and consistent through, except for the interludes, which felt like filler.  Not that they were bad, they just didn’t work in that volume.  This book takes everything that the first volume got right and destroys it.  Sometimes by running it into the ground, others by ignoring or flatly contradicting it.  It is hard to point to the exact spot that JMS left most of the heavy lifting to Chris Roberson, and I don’t think it matters.  They are both good enough writers to know better.  Roberson in particular is one I have watched with great interest.  JMS on the other hand, really should have just stayed with this or let Roberson handle it on his own.  It is the mix of the two, as the only reason I can come up with, why this thing is so miserable.  It is not that any one thing is bad, the book just has the narrative flow of molasses in January.  Nothing has anything like dramatic impact, and there is never a point where I cared even a little for the outcome.

The fluctuating art chores are another part of the problem.  There are 5 pencillers and 7 inkers.  Unlike Identity Crisis or even 52, which tried their best to be as visually seamless as possible, this book is a mess.  All of the art is pretty good, but unless there is a narrative reason for such jarring changes, they can really kill a book.  Everything about this book screams “corporate Product” too.  I know DC is a company out to make money just like all the others, and that is no bad thing.  But when I can see the wires SO clearly, it removes the escapist enjoyment we are supposed to get from this kind of entertainment.  The appearance of the other major DC players is an even bigger issue.  The Flash is kind of wasted, Batman’s appearance feels like filler and an excuse to use the character, and Wonder Woman’s very brief trip into the story only reminds us of another book the JMS failed to do justice to.  If you were not familiar with what was going on over there in her regular book, her showing up here makes no sense at all.  As it was all of the appearances felt like a cross between Sammy Davis jr or some other celebrity sticking his head out of the window while Batman and Robin unconvincingly climb up the side of a building and the intense need to fill up a second complete volume.  Speaking of this volume, even the cover is jarring.  Liking the cover or not is not the issue (I didn’t really, but that is just a personal taste issue), the issue really is that this does not even look like it is the second volume.  While John Cassaday was not doing his best work on these covers, they tended to feel like inventory being used up, they pulled the individual issue together and would have done the same here.  This one looks just plain wrong next to volume one.  Everything about the second book feels like inventory.  No one cared.  I know the New 52 was well into the planning stages at this point, as it is likely that there was little attention paid to this book once the publicity for it died, but this whole thing is a slap in the face to the reader.

I don’t like writing all this negativity, so to sum up the gripe…

Superman Grounded volume one did what it was supposed to do as the first book in a two book set:  It made me want more.  Volume two just makes me want my money back.  And to smack someone.  And punch Superman in the gut.

 

 

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Captain America: A few things before the movie…

It has been a mighty slow month for comics.  Once the dust had started to settle from the DC “New 52” announcement, things got downright dull.  While the relaunch/reboot/re-whatever is getting more interesting with every last flash of news, that is what is coming, not what is happening now.

2011 looked, at the start, to be a great comic book movie year.  Things look very different now.  Dylan Dog and Priest were flops, but to be fair, there was not much hope they would do well.  X-Men First Class was a great film that just sort of became the red-headed stepchild as far as the press was concerned.  $346 million worldwide in just under 7 weeks and there is no promise that there will be another one.  The standard has really changed in the last few years.  Time was, that would have had a greenlit sequel already, now it is a coin toss at best.  With one month more in theaters, Thor has $445 million WW and already has a release date for number 2.  Some of that may have to do with the studios in the picture.  Fox is slow to jump and cheaper with spending money on what it probably considers and “old” franchise.  Paramount is a little more flush and sees a good franchise just starting up.  I would bet that once the total figures are in after these are both out on video, the theatrical runs of the two will be very close to each other in total dollars.

Green Lantern, on the other hand, was weak at best.  It opened 2 weeks after X-Men and has less than half that film’s total gross.  If it hits $200 million in WW box office, I will be very surprised.

And now we have Captain America: The First Avenger opening this weekend in the US.  I’m excited and hope it is great.  There is talk of it topping Harry Potter 7a, but I don’t really think that is likely.  It MAY take the number one spot for the weekend, but there is very little chance it will break the opening weekend record that HP7a set last week.  I hope that is not the benchmark that the studio is expecting, because the film will be a failure out of the gate.  I really think a reasonable number for weekend opening numbers would be $70 million, but the film is very capable of hitting the $100 million mark this weekend.  It is the most mainstream of the comic book films of the year, and the advance reviews have been positive, so here is hoping.

In advance of the film, I thought a little review of the character might be in order, but if you don’t know anything about the guy, then sod off.  Where have you been for the last 70 years?  He is Captain freaking America!  The name says more than enough.  The movie looks faithful to the myth so far.  The trailers are giving you the origin pretty much complete.  My only fear is this will be more of a prequel  to The Avengers than its own film.  Iron Man 2 felt very much like a set up for next years Marvel blockbuster, as did Thor, despite the latter being an excellent film in its own right.

If you really want to brush up on the character, there are two books I can recommend.  Most current fans will assume I am going to say Ed Brubaker’s run, currently appearing in Marvel books, highlighted by the Death of Captain America storyline, but no.  While a great story, there are 2 reasons that I am not recommending it.  First, it is not done yet.  There is a long way to go before he wraps up his run and I like to plug only complete works when the purpose it to introduce an established character to someone.  As a side note, the new series with Brubaker and Steve McNiven looks very promising, if they can keep it on schedule.  The second reason is that Brubaker’s book is not really a jumping on point.  It is an epic that new or even returning readers will not feel the full impact from.

No, the 2 books I will mention here are War and remembrance and The New Deal.

Starting with the older book, Captain America: War and Remembrance is the classic Cap run by Roger Stern and John Byrne that started in 1980 and ran only 9 issues.  But man, were they good issues!  The book includes many of the classic villains and some of the best and most fondly remembered Cap stories ever to see print. Among these are the “Cap for President” issue and the 40th anniversary issue (#255) with a fantastic retelling of the origin of America’s greatest hero.

This is the cover to the most current printing, I think

The cover to the first printing

 

Stern is as good as ever in this classic and Byrne, inked here by Joe Rubnestein, is the perfect compliment to the story.  Not quite the style of Byrne’s X-Men and FF runs, the art here is perfect for that golden age hero in a modern world feel.  Never looking old-fashioned (gasp!) or too flashy and lacking storytelling skill, like so many modern books.

The other book is one of the more controversial of the book’s long history, Captain America: The New Deal.  The title has been taken by some as a sly reference to the fact that Cap would most likely have been a “New Deal” Democrat, something that tends to bug the crap out of conservatives in this country today.  If there is any deliberate effort here to imply that, I have not heard.  Jon Ney Rieber’s 16 issue run on the character was very divisive among the fans.  Some praised the drama and realism of the stories, while others thought the book was too much a part of the real world to be the fun and light book they recalled.  Sorry guys, but the 70’s and 80’s had some great comics in them, like the above W&R book, but in the early part of the 2000’s, a very different touch was required.  Where a lot of people were scared away was the fact that the very first issue of his run came shortly after, and dealt directly with the aftermath of 9/11 and the effect that day had on America as a whole and New York City in particular.  The New Deal covers that and the rest of the first 6 issues of his run on the book.  Illustrated by John Cassaday (Planetary, Astonishing X-Men & I Am Legion ) the book has a stark and unsettling feel from the visuals and the story.  They deal with great skill and balance, the issue of terrorism, both from an American perspective and that of the people we are quick to label as evil.  Cap is a good guy here, only because he is on our side, but even that is tenuous at the best of times as he realizes that the issue is not a black and white one.  Everyone feels affected by terrorism even when they have no real contact with it beyond what they see on TV.  This book takes the simple view we have generally been encouraged to hold and tries to shed the light of reason and truth on it.  Even Cap’s view of it changes when he finds that, as a soldier in war, he has not always been on the “right” side.

The New Deal by Rierber & Cassaday

Both of these are amazing volumes that are generally still easy to find.  There is also the Marvel Essentials series of phone book size B&W reprints of the early 60’s Cap and piles of other really fun books.  All of these are on line, or better yet, at your local comic shop!

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