If you’ve been checking out the Imaginary Wars website fairly regularly, it should go without saying that our updates in the blog section have been sporadic at best. Life at the store since summer has felt like one long blur; we’ve hit scramble after scramble throughout 2013’s fall season …before finding ourselves knee-deep in the Christmas shopping season.
I was planning on doing a blog update in December and including some kind of recap of the autumn’s events and highlights. But before that update materialised, it became time to think about a December update—before a Christmas update became more appropriate; then suddenly the end of the year was bearing down upon us. After our New Years Day “Hangover Sale,” I was looking at several months of events, tournaments and hobby involvement that I had hoped to blog about: an unmanageable amount of things to write about in a few short blogs.
And now it’s the second week of the New Year.
Thankfully, what counts as “spare time” for me has increased marginally; I’ve managed to get a few games in, endeavored to paint a bit more and started tackling my reading pile of comic books—and more importantly, I’ve been getting my comics organised…which is where today’s post comes in.
Rather than dedicating this update on summarising the fall and Christmas seasons, I’ve decided instead to focus on 2013’s comic books—not necessarily a ‘Top Ten’ or what-not; instead, I made a list of the titles that caught me off guard and provided me with a good (or great!) comic book when my expecations were originally considerably less. “Better than expected” doesn’t have to be a back-handed compliment, certainly with the titles listed below, I was expecting somewhere between not-bad-but-ultimately-forgettable to mildly entertaining–and I got far more than that!
Marvel NOW! Avengers, New Avengers and Infinity
Confession: I only signed up for Avengers and New Avengers because I felt, as a comic-book-store owner, it was my responsibility to get behind some of the new titles being released under the Marvel NOW! banner instead of just shilling them. The idea of Marvel “rebooting” their universe within a year of DC having done so with their “New 52” line of comics, had me nervous that Marvel was going to do a slap-dash job of their “new” titles.
I was far from enthusiastic about the change and chose the Avengers and New Avengers books only because I had heard good things about their writer, Jonathan Hickman. Though I had already read one of his books: the limited series, “SHIELD: Architects of Forever” and couldn’t remember too much of it, I did remember how he had a flair for bigger stories; this was the perfect opportunity to get in on the ground floor with a series he was involved in.
Marvel NOW! was Marvel’s initiative to rebrand several of their ongoing titles. Described as a shifting of the Marvel Universe following the conclusion of the Avengers versus X-Men miniseries in 2012, each affected book was reset back down to issue number one and was accompanied with a completely new creative team.
My experience with the titles over the first few months was that Hickman’s books demand multiple readings. I think it was with every issue that I felt I accidentally had missed reading an issue somewhere along the way (which remains a real occupational hazard for me, considering my inability to stay current with my reading pile!). The feeling that, with so much always happening in this bi-weekly book, I couldn’t keep up with the story had my interest in Avengers beginning to wane. My interest in New Avengers was also waning but for the opposite reason: there simply wasn’t enough going on.
Regardless, I was determined to continue collecting both series, faithful that there was a reason for Hickman being so highly regarded by many; but both were now showing up on my “I should consider canceling my subscription” radar screen. The pay off came with the release of the Infinity miniseries. And what a pay off!
Infinity #1 came out in the same month as the eighteenth issue of Avengers (and ninth issue of New Avengers); and without going into spoiler territory, Infinity takes elements introduced in the first few issues of Avengers and provides the readers with their ramifications.
For me what made the series so gratifying was how evident it was from the start that Mr. Hickman had pre-planned everything. Infinity was clearly defined: the story’s proportions were so big (dare I say …epic?) that it required not just the limited series but also Hickman’s other two Avengers titles to be told. A user-friendly map was provided in every issue so readers would always know the correct reading order and issues needed of Avengers (squares), Infinity (circles) and New Avengers (diamonds) to get the full Infinity story.
Though collecting three titles was required for Infinity, the series didn’t spawn the dirge of crossovers commonly found with other big-event books. Everything readers needed was in the three titles—relevant because crossovers are done so titles with lower readerships can get a temporary cash bump riding on the coat tails of the big event. Invariably what always ends up happening is an important event transpires in a low-readership title and is then impossible to find because stores don’t go overboard ordering copies of low-readership titles on the off chance that something significant *might* happen.
Yes, each month there were a few titles (usually three) that had the effects of Infinity spill over into them, but at no point were any of those issues advertised as being anything more than loose tie-ins—which, considering Marvel’s track record with crossovers in the past, showed considerable restraint.
What’s most important in all of this is that the way Infinity wrapped up was completely satisfying. Sure, there can be no actual “The End” to anything that is serialized or a soap opera. But this got as close to saying “The End” as you can get–making it, the Avengers and the New Avengers my pick of 2013 for most surprisingly satisfying book of the year.
What I Expected vs. What I Got:
What I expected: very little enjoyment from the series, and I expected fifty crossovers and tie-ins.
What I got: an epic. A Marvel epic, filled with action, despair, hope and victory. It also demonstrated restraint from Marvel’s marketers, plus a desire to tell an exciting tale that was concise–but not too concise, so as to make the story feel as though it wasn’t actually happening in and around the Marvel universe.
AVENGERS and NEW AVENGERS
What I expected: to keep losing interest in these titles–but all the time wishing for an increase in my excitement for the books.
What I got: I witnessed the redemption of all the risks these books took early on in their reboot. The myriad small teams filled with second-string heroes, seemingly jaunting off in myriad different directions in Avengers was revealed to be the initial puzzle pieces being laid down (and more have come to fruition in the Avengers World series!). What’s more, I got to witness actual resolution, to some of these initial puzzle pieces. Similar results with New Avengers; what often felt early on as a plodding, glacial pace for the series turned out to be more of a slow simmer–and there’s still some HUGE things that will still need to be resolved!
East of West
East of West is another book by Jonathan Hickman. It is the series that I had no interest in when Diamond was soliciting me with issue one two months before its street date, yet picked it up only because—you guessed it—I liked the Jonathan Hickman’s work on New Avengers and Avengers (my interest in them at that point had yet to start faltering: East of West #1 hit the shelves four months before the release of Infinity #1).
Issue one presents us with a futuristic past …or a future that has refused to let go of America’s Wild West days. In it, the protagonist (we quickly learn he is the Rider of the Apocalypse, Death) has returned from the great beyond to exact his revenge on his three siblings for the double-crossing they had previously dealt him. I’ve already talked about this series before, so I won’t say much more. However, I still feel compelled to include it in my ‘2013 list’ because in issue one’s first twenty pages I went from ambivalent to invested and have remained so the whole way through so far. It was also the series that helped me stick with Hickman’s tenure on Avengers when my interest started to wane; month after month, the plot has been built up more–before then taking an unexpected right turn. A lot has changed since the first issue promised a tale of Death getting his revenge on his tween-looking riders-of-the-apocalypse siblings. Every time I think I know all the story’s elements, something new is introduced or the plot takes a ninety degree turn–and all of it has been great.
What I Expected vs. What I Got:
What I expected: perhaps a fairly cool series, but one that would last only five issues or so (as seems to be the fate of many new Image series.
What I got: one of my favourite comic titles! This is the book that sits at the top of my reading pile each time a new issue hits the shelves. Reading this book, I sometimes get the sense of how it must have felt when Akira was first being published as a humble manga series: at some point, its readership must have begun to realise that they were witnessing history being made. A tad dramatic–but yes, that’s how I feel with East of West.
Marvel NOW! All New X-Men
The last time I cared about X-men comics was around 1986. I can’t remember exactly what the last issue was that I bought of Uncanny X-men; it’s safe to say it fell somewhere shortly before issue 220…perhaps as early as issue 210. I never picked up an X-men book again after that—and I worked in a comic-book store for almost eight years in the nineties and another comic-book store for a half-dozen years after 2005. And yet, here I am, thoroughly enjoying All New X-men: a book about how Beast (with the blue fur) has yanked Professor X’s original X-Men –Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, Beast and Angel—from the 1960s and brought them forward in time to the present in hopes that young Cyclops’ idealism might be a way of countering current-Cyclops’ extreme, bordering-on-terrorism methods of protecting mutants who have recently manifested their powers.
That pitch came across to me as quirky and worth investigating—though unsurprisingly many have said to me that it sounds wretched and cliché more than anything else. And yet…the book has been fantastic! Best book this year? Probably not. However, the book delivers not just a great story but also plenty of great moments: the now-adult original X-men having to encounter their so-completely teenage selves, the original Angel and jean Grey finding out what fate has in store for them to name but a few. Much as I loathe the standard tropes of time-travel stories (thanks, Star Trek), All New X-Men has played around a bit with it in a very self-aware fashion.
(This series came out as a result of the big-event comic, Avengers vs. X-Men that culminated with Cyclops killing Professor X–albeit doing so essentially possessed by the same Phoenix force that historically claimed Jean Grey. There’s plenty of melodrama in between Charles Xavier’s death and Cyclops trying to set up his own ‘School for Gifted Youngsters’ in the Marvel NOW! era, but the current Scott Summers is so completely convinced that the ends justify the means when it comes to protecting mutants that he is at best …driven. To the rest of the world, he comes across as an extremist bordering on terrorist–which forces Beast to decide the only person who can talk Scott off this precipice is…a younger Scott Summers. )
All New X-Men has managed to work its way up close to the top of my ‘must read first’ pile each week it arrives at the store—something I never thought an X-Men book would ever be capable of doing with me. The art is decent; the story, though starting off more than a bit cliché, has evolved into a great (and smartly told) story. The problems with time traveling X-Men took an unexpected turn with the X-Men: Battle of the Atom cross-title story line, all while remaining fun and accessible.
The icing on the cake with this series is, how since its first issue, it has dovetailed with the new Uncanny X-Men series, the ‘X’ book dedicated to Cyclops / Scott Summers (among others) and the new school for mutants he’s trying to set up. The books are very much written as two sides of the same coin and clearly play off each other at times.
What I Expected vs. What I Got:
What I expected: X-men schlock. Nineties teen angst, rehashed and repackaged as new fodder for those who unapologetically buy every single ‘X’ title Marvel releases.
What I got: reminded of why the X-Men have stuck around for so long: they are great characters who need only a bit of decent writing to show off what they’re capable of. Much like how the “X-Men: First Class” movie showed me how the team can succeed on the screen, this book showed me how an ‘X’ book can give me the kind of stories I enjoy: big stories that trend a little smarter, ones that understand the difference between writing stories with a sense of risk and consequence rather than stories that try to fake that be being grim and dark: ultimately, stories about heroes being heroes.
Next week: Part 2 of my 2013 Comics that Exceeded Expectations
Next week I’ll go over the rest of my short list.
Spoiler: even though I’m not the hugest Avengers fan, another Avengers book is on my list, but …which one???