This continues from last week’s post; where, rather than doing a regular “Best Of” or ‘Top Ten’ list for comics released during 2013, I decided to review the titles that I had little faith in which turned out to be rather quite good. Absent from this list are certain heavy hitters (like Batman  or Saga) because, though exceptional, they’re already touted as being excellent books. So, without further ado…

Avengers A.I.

avengers ai

Another Avengers title makes it on to the list of 20123’s titles that exceeded my expectations!

For some reason, I’ve always just really liked the Vision. I’m not sure why; maybe it’s because he makes such a perfect outsider and fish-out-of-water character in a sea of human characters. So obviously, I was going to pick up this forgettable knock-off Avengers title that had the Vision in it, right? Absolutely.

I picked up this issue—for nostalgic reasons: I’ve always liked the Vision—and because the series was following up from Age of Ultron (a series that should have been great but didn’t so much end as it did lead off into a bunch of crossovers …ugh), and I was desperately hoping some sort of closure might happen from the books that came out following the miniseries’ conclusion (“conclusion”).

From the start, I figured I was buying nothing more than a second-rate book and had no real plans to collect it. Apart from the Vision, it felt like a third-string book—I mean a team where Vision or Hank Pym are the star players? There’s simply no way to dress up a team-book consisting of Victor Mancha (the “son” of Ultron from the Runaways comic), Vision, Hank Pym (Ant-Man / Giant Man), a Doombot (a Dr. Doom decoy mandroid) and Monica Chang from S.H.E.I.L.D. as being (a) good, and (b) anything other than a very temporary book.

doombot0001

Still it was a good enough first issue that directed me towards its second issue, which I bought. And there was enough going on that I ended up buying third issue before figuring I was about done with the series. By the time the fourth issue came out, I realised I was really enjoying reading the book—at least as much as many books that I actively collect. And by issue five, I was invested.

I should have realised that this had all the makings of a good book: it’s utilizing overlooked, underpowered characters that have generally dropped off the radar, as far as general readership attitude and editorial focus go. And speaking of the editorial department, a book that’s ‘low on the editorial radar’ will generally be free from having to sync up with bigger comic-universe-wide happenings—meaning the writer will have freer reign to develop the story he (or she) wants to develop with few worries of being forced to interrupt the story with some marketing ploy. (Important? You bet! It was editorial meddling that ultimately forced the creative team to leave the critically-acclaimed Batwoman series and flee DC.) It all hitches on the series having a decent writer with a decent idea, and Avengers A.I. had both.

What I Expected vs. What I Got:

What I expected: Exactly what I said already: no more than a second-rate book with third tier-heroes being worthy only of checking out as a curiosity.
What I got: A pretty good book with some truly great moments—most of which involve Doombot: the belligerent Doctor Doom decoy-android recently reprogrammed by Hank Pym to be helpful and less …evil. (Think of a more megalomaniacal Sontaran Commander Strax from Doctor Who, and you’ll get the picture.) It’s not the best book of the year by a long shot, but it’s fun—and I’m always glad when it’s part of the week’s new releases.

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The Star Wars (Lucas First Draft)

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Say what you will about the Disney pulling the comic license for Star Wars from Dark Horse, but considering the dearth of books they’ve put out, it can’t be said that Dark Horse hasn’t had their fair share of time to take a kick at the can making Star Wars comic books. And really, at this stage, it might actually be a good thing to actively have a company that isn’t Dark Horse putting out some Star Wars books for a while. At the risk of coming across as a hater, I really think Dark Horse has put out just as much uninspired, forgettable and just plain bad Star Wars books as they have good ones. But maybe I think that way because I have little respect for the prequels and not much enthusiasm for the Expanded Universe canon.

!starwars1It should come as no surprise then that I was very excited about the new ongoing Star Wars series Dark Horse launched with Brian Wood at the helm—excited, not because of Mr. Wood but because the new ongoing series bridges the gap of time between Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. And it does a great job of capturing the feel of classic, early 80s Star Wars.

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However, the second “big” Star Wars series that  Dark Horse launched was first solicited as, “The Star Wars” before adjusting its catalogue title to, “Star Wars: Lucas Draft.” The idea behind the book is that it’s a comic of the original draft of Star Wars—the quick treatment that George Lucas shopped around to different movie companies after his unexpected success with “American Graffiti.” It immediately struck me being made purely as a cash cow on Dark Horse’s part; and though it would start off grandly, with plenty of pomp and circumstance, the excitement and quality of the book would quickly ebb, leaving those who began collecting the book to do their best to make it to the end of the series, knowing they were buying a sub-standard comic only because the completist in them couldn’t in good conscious stop collecting a mini-series before its completion.

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Yes, my expectations were that low: Lucasfilm has been rubber-stamping seemingly anything that Dark Horse has pitched for so long that I don’t imagine anything too exciting coming from Dark Horse—as far as Star Wars books are concerned. Still …I set aside those feelings and ordered more than just a couple of the first issue because at least it was a bit of a fresh idea. And whenever the store takes that kind of a chance on a title, I always follow suit and make sure to buy a copy for myself as well.

Obviously, with the topic of this post being about comics in 2013 that exceeded all my expectations, I wasn’t sorry at all for picking up this book.

If you fancy yourself a Star Wars aficionado, if you dislike the prequels, or if you simply yearn for the wide-eyed enthusiasm that the original Star Wars not only possessed but inspired, I cannot stress it enough: collect this series! This series was meant for you.

It makes for such an interesting read, to see familiar character names owned by barely-recognizable characters, to read many of these beginning ideas as they were first sown all while knowing how they will turn out in the final cut of the movie and lore. The Star Wars reads like a clumsier-worded, alternate-universe version of Star Wars and wins the reader over, both with its naïveté and the amount of pure heart in the story.

It’s not just the story but the art—all based heavily on the original Ralph Macquarrie plates that George Lucas commissioned when he was preparing to shop his story treatment to the different studios—results in an inspiring read. I cannot believe how much I’ve been charmed and won over by this series. Reading these books, it’s seems a little less like George Lucas had beat all the odds by being given the green light to turn his vision into a movie; the comic really makes you feel that Star Wars becoming a movie was inevitable. It really is that good.

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What I Expected vs. What I Got:

What I expected: Yet another uninspired Star Wars comic book that seemed to be made just as much to cash in on the movies as it was to provide proof to Lucasfilm lawyers that Dark Horse was serving the license well by putting out titles on a regular basis.
What I got: A time capsule that presents the readers with a pretty good glimpse of how it felt to see Star Wars for the very first time in the 1970s. I know what it felt like to be a small child and see Star Wars in the movie theatre that first summer when it was released. Now I have a good inkling about how it felt to be an adult and see the movie for the first time back then. I think this is the series for every jaded Star Wars fan—if only to remind them why they like the movies (and universe) in the first place.

The original Death Star, looking more like a remote for lightsaber training exercises.

The original Death Star, looking more like a remote for lightsaber training exercises.

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Nowhere Men

!Nowhere-Men

Though technically a comic from 2012 (due to its start date in November of 2012),  really, the bulk of the series came out during 2013 …so I’m just going to treat it as a “strictly” 2013 release.

!Nowhere-Men-1I embarked on reading issue one thinking that it would be setting up a storyline; instead I felt like I had been dropped in the deep end with no points of reference to help me understand what anyone was talking about, all while providing no hooks to keep me curious and invested in what would be happening in the rest of the upcoming story…or even issue two for that matter. And that was the first half of the book. All I really recalled about the second half was terribly dry and paper thin dialogue, capped off with a big reveal on the last page that did nothing to make me want to read the next issue.

Complete apathy. That’s all I can remember feeling regarding the first issue of Nowhere Men. “Science is the New Rock’n’Roll” may have been a great tagline for a comic book (or any story for that matter), but it didn’t feel like it pertained to this book. Don’t get me wrong: the book looks great, but I was done with it.

Unfortunately for all my feelings of “being done with it,” I had already committed the book to my reservation file and ordered books for the store accordingly, meaning I had also committed to this series for the first and second issues.  So I was destined–nay, doomed to give the series one more chance. And with Nowhere Men issue two, boy was it worth it!

I’m not going to turn this into an issue-by-issue review of Nowhere Men, suffice it to say the entire series did a complete reversal from issue number one. The story is big, smart, and there’s some real intrigue—some hinted at past events and some seeds for future developments.

!Nowhere-Men2

And the book feels smart—not surprisingly, this is important, because this is a story about scientists. The design of the book (as in its looks) continues to be great and has become just as integral to the story alongside the art and dialogue. There’s all kinds of faux magazine articles and advertisements peppered through each issue, all done to fill in the blanks of the Nowhere Men world and make it feel more whole. The only series I’ve read before where inserted snippets worked to develop the back ground went nearly as well as here was with Watchmen. Back in the 1980s.

Nowhere Men finished its first story arc, around November last year, and the trade paperback was released in early December. As with most Image titles, it has suffered from some delays (six issues in eleven months, yet it’s been touted as being essentially a monthly title the entire time). That said, you can bet I’m excited that issue seven is due on the shelves in early February!

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!Nowhere-Men3

What I Expected vs. What I Got:

What I expected: “Science is the new Rock’n’Roll!” I’m not sure what I was expecting before the book hit the shelves—perhaps a near-future, science-fiction version of Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles? But to me, the book was dead in the water and going nowhere by the end of the first issue; so I guess that’s what I expected: a not-very good book to continue being not very good …and then quickly getting cancelled.
What I got: A science-fiction book with a big story set in a bigger world. Machiavellian plots, intrigue, an evolved history—did I mention that there are super-powered people in the book? And super-powered people done in a way that doesn’t upset the book’s near-future sensibilities? And yet I suspect that the super powers are going to be continuously taking a back seat to the rest of the book.

!Nowhere-Men-3

2014 and notable mentions

Who knows what 2014’s comic books will bring! I’m hoping that this time next year, should I choose to do this retrospective again, I’ll be able to include some DC titles. I was thinking about including DC’s titles The Wake and Coffin Hill as part of this list but ultimately decided against it. I still highly recommend checking them out; but I think for me, the jury’s still out on both these titles. The Wake seems about to transform into a totally different story, but it’s hard to say whether Snyder will pull it off (the series definitely slowed down up until the mid-series reveal / switch in December). And Coffin Hill looks …intriguing–which is hardly enough yet to call it a series that exceeded expectations. Still, hope springs eternal.

Still…who knows? DC is the company I want to like; they just seem bent on making books that won’t appeal to me.

But THAT subject is fodder for another blog post!

 

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One Response to Expectations Exceeded: Part II

  1. […] Avengers AI only lasted twelve issues; and because I’ve written my thoughts about that series elsewhere on the Imaginary Wars blog, so I won’t go into it again here. But that was the last time I read […]

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