It’s full steam ahead into 2018, but there’s still time for some 2017 reflections, yeah? Here are my five favourite comics of 2017. Good year for Image Comics!
I can’t remember the last time I bought a single, physical issue of a comic book. Age of Ultron, maybe? Regardless, the buzz around Doomsday Clock, DC’s maybe-sequel to Watchmen that maybe integrates the Watchmen universe with the DC Universe, inspired me to visit Silver Snail on New Comic Book Day last week to get a copy of Doomsday Clock #1 for myself.
Here are my thoughts (minor spoilers where noted):
What is it? Doomsday Clock #1
Who did it? Geoff Johns and Gary Frank
When did it come out? November 22, 2017
Doomsday Clock #1 exceeded my expectations
I’ve mostly enjoyed the comics I’ve read by Geoff Johns; some I’ve loved, in fact. And I like Gary Frank. In fact, I am a huge fan of the work those two did together on Superman. That, combined with the positive early buzz, set my expectations for this book pretty high! And it exceeded them thoroughly. It’s gorgeous. It’s written in such a way that is more than homage to Watchmen, and that could have easily derailed it, looking like a copy or a mockery… but it actually works. It put my right back into that universe. And the story drops you in the middle of a crisis (that I won’t spoil) and then tension is ratcheted up, and you really feel it. Furthermore, much like Watchmen #1, enough hints of several mysteries are dropped that you definitely want to read what’s coming next.
I probably shouldn’t love the overt Watchmen homages, but I do
That this is a continuation of Watchmen is right in your face; much like Dr. Manhattan’s giant blue penis in the big-screen adaptation, you can’t miss it. The cover layout is the same. The cover acting as the first panel of the story is there. The nine-panel grid, of course. The lettering and fonts, the colors, the titles, the quote at the end… the end pieces! I mean, this should feel hokey, or cheap, but… it just doesn’t. It works.
Let’s talk about Rorschach
(SPOILERS IN THIS SECTION)
It’s not a spoiler to say that Rorschach appears in this comic, since he’s all over the previews. But (another SPOILER ALERT, in case you ain’t paying attention) this isn’t the same Rorschach that we saw in Watchmen. It would appear that Walter Kovacs was indeed, annihilated in the snow by Dr. Manhattan, and another gentleman—an African-American gentleman—has taken up the role. It’s not clear why, or how he got the mask, but he’s clearly a bit… deranged, like the original. He has peculiar eating habits (likes his syrup, apparently), is oddly forgetful, lives in his car… yeah, he’s got issues. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s someone we know; as far as I can recall, the only black characters in the original Watchmen (Rorschach’s psychiatrist and Bernie the newsstand boy) were killed when the creature materialized in New York. (Although looking at those pages now… it’s possible young Bernie was shielded enough by old Bernie to survive…) (END SPOILERS)
I’m not up on current DC continuity, such as it is…
… so I was surprised to learn that, in the current DCU, Clark Kent’s adoptive parents were killed in a car crash when he was 18. I was even more surprised to learn that I had, in fact, read the stories where that continuity change was introduced: Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run. (That should tell you how much that run stuck with me… man, what a disappointment that was after Morrison’s brilliant All-Star Superman.) Clark’s nightmare about their death clearly means that night ties into this story somehow (assuming of course, Johns and Frank follow the track of the original Watchmen, where every panel and page meant something). Are we meant to think that continuity change happened because Dr. Manhattan manipulated the DCU? Or is it even more sinister than that? Can’t wait to find out!
I don’t want to get my hopes up too far
This issue did remind me of the first issue of Infinite Crisis, another Geoff Johns book that was a sequel to a legendary 1980s comic (Crisis on Infinite Earths). And I loved that first issue as well; I loved the ideas it presented (that the DC heroes had gotten away from what made them special), why it needed to tie into the original Crisis (the purpose of that event was to “clean up” the DC Universe and get their characters back to basics) and the way it brought back the original Earth-2 Superman and Lois and the Earth-Prime Superboy. It all worked! Unfortunately it fell apart by the end of the series. Editorial changes and delays plagued the book and the ending felt hollow. Let’s hope the follow through is better on this one.
So the question is: Will I end up going to the comic shop next month to get Doomsday Clock #2? Will I settle for a digital copy? Or wait until the inevitable collected edition? Time will tell…
This is three Fridays in a row blogging about The Fantastic Four. I might have to start calling these Fantastic Four Fridays! Today I wanted to take a look through my collection and share a few memories about actual issues that I’ve bought. My previous posts were about why I enjoy the Fantastic Four, and my history of reading Fantastic Four comics… today it’s about collecting them.
The three issues of the “Galactus Trilogy” are the most important in my entire collection
Featuring the first appearances of Galactus and the Silver Surfer, you can’t go wrong with Fantastic Four #48-50. I acquired #49 first, around 1990, at 1,000,000 Comix at South Common Mall in Mississauga. It was $19; that was definitely a couple of weeks worth of allowance, and (by far) the most I’d ever paid for a comic at the time, but even in its pretty beat up condition, I felt (still do!) it was a bargain. I remember seeing it up on the wall, behind the counter, and thinking, wow, I gotta get that! And just hoping it would still be there when I’d saved enough to get it. Thankfully it was. #50 was a 16th birthday present from my friend Ali, without a doubt a very thoughtful and considerate gift. Ali was not a huge comic book reader so I have no idea how he knew how much I coveted these silver age FFs or how he knew I needed this one, or if he knew how important this issue was… and I am certain it wasn’t cheap. By condition alone he definitely paid more than the $19 I paid for #49. Thanks Ali!
Fantastic Four #48 was my “holy grail” for many years
I acquired #48 many years after #49 and #50 – in 2004 to be exact, at FanExpo in Toronto, on the Sunday. Every year at FanExpo I looked for an affordable copy; I could never find one that I felt was the right price for the condition. In 2004 I’d decided I wasn’t going to do FanExpo again as the crowds and general mismanagement of the event had exasperated me for the last time, so on the Sunday I said if this is it, I’d better get my copy of FF #48 now. The vendor was selling this for $130. I tried to talk him down to $100 as that was my (self-imposed) limit; I got him down to $110 and he wouldn’t budge further, so, close enough! I very much felt like I’d acquired the holy grail. The first appearance of The Silver Surfer! And Galactus! And it was mine at last: The “Galactus Trilogy” complete.
Fantastic Four #15 remains the oldest comic book I own…
…but I’m not sure it counts because it’s missing pages. If my memory serves me right, I bought this one at the Toronto Comics and Sequential Art show in 1991. It was clearly in rough shape—I wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise—but I didn’t realize it was missing pages until I got home of course. Incredible bummer. And shitty to have to think about replacing it one day, ‘cause it ain’t gonna be cheap! (If you don’t want to count FF #15, as my oldest FF, then the honor goes to FF #22, another one-time birthday gift from Ali!)
Collecting today isn’t quite the same as it was 25 years ago
Before the internet, and before the days of collected editions, back issues were the only way to read these stories. So if you were missing an issue—like, say, issue #85, the second part of the Doctor Doom story from issues #84-87, you had no alternative way of catching up other than hoping you found the issue at a local comic shop. (That story, where the FF “invade” Doom’s home country of Latveria, remains one of my all-time favorite. I acquired #84, #86, and #87 early on, but it took me years to get #85 and get the full scoop on Dr. Doom’s killer robots!). I would guess about half of my Fantastic Four collection came from me spending my weekly allowance at 1,000,000 Comix; the other half comes from the various other local shops (Grey Legion at Square One mall; Grey Region/3rd Quadrant on Queen Street and Yonge Street; Altered States in Clarkson; Dragon Lady on Queen; and of course, the Silver Snail) and then the local conventions. You never knew what you might find, in what condition, for what price. Nowadays it’s much easier to search eBay or one of the online sellers to find what you need. And even the local shops have a social media presence that can give you a heads-up when back issues come in!
Although I’m down on Facebook, I wouldn’t be writing this post without it
I follow the comic shop closest to me, Paradise Comics, on Facebook. When they acquired a massive collection of Silver Age books over the summer, they shared photos of it on Facebook; that’s what renewed my interest in my own Fantastic Four collection and brought this wave of FF nostalgia forward. A few weeks later they posted about their back to school sale, and that’s what made me go visit them and buy a few of those old FFs! I bought about 20 issues, most notably Annual #1 (July 1963, which now that I think about it is actually older than the aforementioned #22). Now that I had the bug, and the gaps on the checklist were getting smaller, I set out to find a few more issues online, and bought about 20 more, including the first appearances of Ronan the Accuser and Warlock, from issues #65-67, which I’ve long worried would be out of my price range, for a decent price. I did have to pay more than I would have liked for issue #112 (July 1971), which features a Hulk vs. Thing fight and always seems to go for premium prices. All told though – I now have every issue from #31 (October 1964) through to the end of volume 1, including every annual and Giant-Size special.
That means that I only need to acquire 28 issues of Fantastic Four to have a complete run (well, and aother copy of #15)—. Of course, they’re the most difficult to find and most expensive issues. Paradise had a copy of issue #1, in poor condition, for $5,000. I spend a lot of money on books and comics and toys, but spending that much on one thing… I can’t even imagine. But maybe one day!!
A couple months back, the comic shop up the street from me put a large selection of silver age (1961-1970) Marvel comics up for sale, including a large number of Fantastic Four issues from that era. I became quite nostalgic as Fantastic Four was my favorite comic as a kid, and the title whose back issues I sought out the most. My goal was to one day own every issue of Fantastic Four! Seeing those old FFs at the shop brought back memories of the days of hunting down back issues at shops and comic cons, so I pulled out my old, hand-made checklist and thought, “why not?” And off hunting I went!
More on the outcome of that hunt later, but ever since, I’ve had the FF on my mind. Why has Fantastic Four been my favorite comic for 30 years? A few thoughts…
- The Fantastic Four—scientist Reed Richards, his fiancee Sue Storm and her kid brother Johnny, and Reed’s best friend Ben Grimm, are a family, not just a random collection of super-heroes. They have interpersonal conflicts whose roots extend well beyond the first issue of their comic, where they got their powers; they have a shared history. None of them have adventures in solo titles, with the odd exception, and even then, not very successfully—they work best when they’re together.
- Their shared goal isn’t to defend the weak or innocent, or to stop criminals or threats other heroes can’t handle—it’s “to help mankind.” Much loftier than your usual super-hero!
- In fact they’re not even really traditional super-heroes; they’re explorers, adventurers. Or as Mark Waid dubbed them, “imaginauts”—the places they explore and things they discover are only limited by the writers’ imaginations. They also don’t have secret identities, which, nowadays isn’t that unique, but in 1961 and when I discovered them in the ‘80s, was definitely unusual.
- Because they’re not traditional super-heroes, their stories have a much more science fiction-y flavor to them than action adventure. They make contact with alien races, travel through time, discover new universes and dimensions, invent new technologies and devices. Their headquarters and vehicles are like something out of Star Trek.
- They live “real lives” – again, all comics do this now, but it used to be a big deal that the FF lived in New York City, that Reed and Sue got engaged, married, and had a kid and then a miscarriage and finally a second kid, that Johnny had his heart broken by Crystal and that Alicia Masters left Ben (for Johnny!). The status quo changed, often, in the first 100 issues or so—less so, after, as the demands of serialized storytelling over decades took its toll, but still. You felt this family growing older (slowly!) together.
People cite the reasons above and others when talking about what makes the Fantastic Four distinct from other super-hero teams, and while they’re all true to an extent, it’s really the combination of them all together that makes them work; the whole is greater than the sum and all of that.
I have many more thoughts on the FF rattling around my head these days—more to come!