Written by Charles Meier
Well, another year has come and gone. Certainly it’s had its ups and downs, not the least of which being on December 21st when the world ended and we all died. What a trip, right? Makes anything I talk about in any dumb “year in review” list look downright trivial in comparison.
Ah well, no sense fretting over the past. Onwards and upwards and all that shit. After taking care of my contributions to the site round-up, I found I still had a lot to talk about, and talk about it I shall. Let’s dive right in with my pick for…
Best Graphic Novel of 2012:
The Underwater Welder, by Jeff Lemire
Taking the New 52 into account, Lemire put out a lot of stuff this year. While his entries in that debacle have fallen pretty solidly on the not-atrocious side, it’d be a very long stretch to call them great. Even Animal Man, for all its promise, eventually degenerated into a shirtless guy and his family driving around in an RV for issues on end. Talented as he is, I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion superheroes just aren’t Lemire’s forte, not that there’s anything wrong with it. With Sweet Tooth slated to end at issue #40, where’s a fan to go for great Lemire work?
Well, look no further. It’s clear Lemire was just marking time, saving up all the greatness for one of his trademark somber character studies, set in a particularly desolate stretch of Canada. If you’ve ever read the Essex County books, you know what I’m talking about. Strong as those works are, Underwater Welder stands out as the best of the best, feeling like the most personal of the bunch, as well as affecting the reader on a more visceral level. This is a book not about the pre-baby jitters so much as it is a meditation on how not wanting to become something can, if you’re not careful, ensure you become that thing. If I seem cryptic, rest assured I merely wish to avoid spoilers–Underwater Welder has no issues with clarity, even as its last third delves into metaphor. Lemire’s art, as always, is a treat; under his pen, Canada looks like something out of a winter-themed Fallout DLC, while still heart-stopping in its sublimity. You can’t help but think you might have liked growing up there, even if it meant worrying you’d get nabbed by the white walkers. And when Lemire takes things underwater? The eerie inks become a veritable kelp forest, mirroring the unease in the protagonist’s heart, seemingly ready to snatch you up and carry you off to another world. Other books may match Underwater Welder in its compositional perfection, but none dare step to it when it comes to emotional impact.
I Also Liked: The Judas Coin, Birdseye Bristoe, Bucko, Wizzywig, The Lovely Horrible Stuff, Dotter Of Her Father’s Eyes, Athos In America, Dungeon Quest book 3
Best Comic-to-Movie Adaptation of 2012:
Dredd, directed by Pete Travis, starring Karl Urban and Olivia Thirlby
It was a pretty damn good year for comic-book movies; just look at how two of them became some of the highest-grossing films in, like, ever. Both those films are quite good (even if I find myself hating The Dark Knight Rises the more I actually think about it), but in my opinion the best of the bunch was one based on a British comic known in the US largely for an earlier, disastrous adaptation featuring the star of Party At Kitty and Stud’s . This second, rather more deserving crack at film stardom flopped in American theatres, quickly sinking out of sight despite my best efforts to promote it, in the process all but assuring there won’t be a sequel. And that is why I hate you all. Especially those of you who write for The Onion A.V. Club.
What the hell did you people want? What we have here is damn near the perfect Judge Dredd movie, one that appeals to both fans and newcomers alike. It’s well-acted, remains true to its source material without getting bogged down in backstory, is chock-full of exhilarating violence, and actually makes slow-motion into a useful narrative device. Best of all, Karl Urban keeps the damn helmet on! I went into Dredd not expecting much of anything, and came away perhaps expecting too much. My hopes for a franchise-spawning dark-horse blockbuster may have been dashed, but I expect it’ll do pretty good business as a cult film in the years to come.
I Also Liked: The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises
Worst Comic-to-Movie Adaptation of 2012:
The Amazing Spider-man, directed by Mark Webb, starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone
This film right here is the reason you won’t be seeing Spider-man in The Avengers 2, which should be reason enough to dislike it. Not to worry, however–there are plenty of other reasons, too. This movie just feels ridiculously rushed, like they just ran out of time to choose between treatments and just grabbed one out of a hat. Seeing as how, once again, this movie only exists to keep the Spider-man film rights out of Marvel/Disney’s hands, that’s probably exactly what happened. Andrew Garfield, while amusing enough as Spider-man, is quite possibly the least convincing Peter Parker ever (weirdly, Tobey Maguire had almost the exact opposite problem). Peter was not meant to look as if he’s just stepped off the cover of Tiger Beat, no matter what John Romita would have you believe. And Emma Stone is…in this movie. That’s how much impression she makes. Also in this movie is Denis Leary, who continues his career as a dramatic actor now that Bill Hicks is dead and he’s out of material to steal. Rhys Ifans makes a fine Curt Connors, but that of Spidey’s entire rogue’s gallery they chose the freaking Lizard as the big bad of this all-new, all-different reboot speaks volumes to me. Also speaking volumes to me is how the whole “great power, great responsibility” angle has been altered to the point of becoming nonsensical, Uncle Ben’s death accomplishing little beyond setting up a subplot that never comes close to getting resolved. While I like the slow-burn approach they’re taking with Norman Osborn, in the end I would have vastly preferred seeing Spidey take on Thanos.
Worst Comic of 2012:
The Victories, by Michael Avon Oeming
Yes, this again. Let me say right off the bat that I don’t doubt there were worse comics published this year–another volume of Superman: Earth One came out, for example. Trouble is, I have yet to read the thing, and while I’m quite certain Jay wrote the script on the back of Jerry Siegel’s tombstone using a chunk of his own feces as a crayon, I can’t very well put it on here sight unseen. So, The Victories it is, though by this point even I think it’s getting old.
So, if I may, I’d rather put the focus on a rare bit of positive fallout. Shortly after my original review went online, who but Oeming himself should leave a comment. While I get noticed on Twitter once in a while, it’s rare I get any on-site comments at all (*AHEM*), and so far this remains a unique occurrence.
And here’s the best part: even though I’d just pretty well brutalized his work, apart from denying having done some things he clearly had, Oeming took his spanking in good humor. In fact, were our positions reversed I have serious doubts as to whether I would have taken this level of criticism near so well.
Let me be clear: this is a very, very good sign. Acknowledging one’s mistakes and shortcomings when they’re pointed out to you, and working to avoid them in the future, is the only way anyone gets better at anything. With his comment, Oeming shows he’s at least capable of the former. I feel confident in predicting that his future solo offerings will be considerably less terrible, and may even become–dare I say it–good. Lousy as The Victories is, I still feel like its creator will be one to watch in the future.
Most Disappointing Comic of 2012:
My Friend Dahmer, by Derf Backderf
Going to school with a kid who would go on to become one of the most depraved serial killers in history must be a jarring experience, to say the least. It hasn’t happened to me (so far as I know, anyway), so I can’t even imagine how I’d react to it. I imagine I’d have one or two things to get off my chest, at absolute minimum. Were I a well-regarded figure within alternative comics, ordinarily that’d just be a bonus. With all those circumstances in place, however, I’d hope whatever I wound up putting in print wouldn’t be quite this, for lack of a better word, lurid.
At the very least, my title wouldn’t be a filthy lie. It’s quite clear that Derf and Dahmer were casual acquaintances at best, though to his credit Derf never claims otherwise. Not that anybody can be truly said to have been Dahmer’s friend. It’s clear Jeffrey Dahmer was a very, very troubled child; the product of a broken home and indifferent parenting, Dahmer grew up mutilating animals for kicks. What’s more, by the end of high school he was a full-blown alcoholic, self-medicating in an effort to damp down urges that were nothing short of horrific. Yeah, we all know how that turned out.
It’s a pretty sad story, really–not that you’ll ever catch Derf admitting it. Insisting his sympathy for Dahmer ends with his first murder (fair enough, I guess), Derf wants you to know–I mean, really wants you to know–that he in no way endorses the cool crimes of murder, necrophilia, aggravated assault and cannibalism. Really? No shit! It disturbs me that Derf thinks he needs to tell people this–it has the unsettling effect of making it seem like Derf has something to hide. Specifically, a mountain of survivor’s guilt, which Derf specifically denies in My Friend Dahmer’s rather unintentionally funny endnotes.
It’s pretty clear, to me at least, that Derf has rather a few personal demons to expunge here, and were he more honest about this it’s likely My Friend Dahmer would have turned out altogether better. As it is, however, the book comes off as dishonest, speaking far worse of Derf and his circle of friends than it does of Dahmer. It’s kind of pathetic to see Derf, who was at least somewhat aware of Dahmer’s issues, insist it wasn’t his responsibility to bring them to anybody’s attention; rather that it was the job of the teachers to notice (none ever did, obviously; however, there was at least one more obviously disturbed kid in their high school). And it’s downright cringe-inducing to see Derf and co. egg on Dahmer’s stranger behavior, culminating in a flash-mob-esque romp through the local mall, following which they don’t even deign to invite Dahmer to hang out with them afterwards. Derf’s half-hearted quest for absolvement leads him to make some very strange arguments as well; witness how, immediately after establishing Dahmer’s mother as a mentally unstable, ludicrously unfit parent who eventually abandons Jeffrey to his own devices, without even leaving money for necessities (such as, you know, food), Derf says he has “massive sympathy” for the woman. ‘Cuz, you know, she had to raise a serial killer. Even though at this point he hadn’t actually, y’know, killed anyone yet.
Look, I’m not suggesting Derf bears any personal responsibility for everything that happened. I’m not naive enough to think being a bit nicer to the kid would have meant he wouldn’t have become a serial killer. I’m just pointing out how odd it is that, for someone who constantly rails against Dahmer for his lack of empathy, Derf often shows a shocking lack of it himself. One last example: Derf argues, in all apparent seriousness, that Dahmer could have easily committed suicide rather than hurt anyone else, even though it’s made clear throughout My Friend Dahmer that he didn’t possess anywhere near that level of self-control or awareness. Like I said, it’s clear Derf has a lot of unresolved issues to work out over all this; I just wish he’d be more honest about it.
Biggest Industry Dick Move of 2012:
Before Watchmen, various writers/artists I respect rather a bit less now
Yeah, you knew there wasn’t going to be any topping this, no matter how many creators the Big Two made ragequit or fired for two weeks. I admit Alan Moore can be a hard person to like, but when you look at how atrociously DC has treated the man over the years, is it not understandable he’d be a tad grumpy? What surprises me is that, far as I’m willing to tell, these assorted miniseries are getting fairly decent reviews by those sites willing to acknowledge their existence. Mostly, I think they’re just starstruck–the creative teams involved are some of the best in the industry, after all. And every single of of those people should be ashamed of themselves. Look, I realize mainstream Big Two work is just about the only place there’s any money to be had in American comics, but god damn it, sometimes paychecks just can’t be big enough. Between Moore’s opposition and the self-contained nature of the original work, the only thing left to explain (if not justify) Before Watchmen’s existence is sheer, bullheaded greed. The mainstream industry still has a lot of lessons left to learn, and this makes it clear “learning the difference between ‘can’ and ‘should’” ranks pretty high on the list.
Most Pleasant Surprise of 2012:
The Valiant relaunch
Like I’ve said before, I went into this reboot without any real expectations, but in general I didn’t expect it to be anything more than a cash-in. It’s not hard for low expectations to be exceeded, but mine were nothing short of nuked from orbit. The expected cynicism seems just not to be present, the new proprietors making a concerted effort to rope in genuine talent for their relaunch, as opposed to the no-name hired guns one might otherwise expect. While I’ll admit I haven’t read every book of the new Valiant, I’ve yet to read one I dislike. I’ve even been motivated to do a bit of catching up, reading through old Valiant titles via Comixology. So long as they manage to avoid another Death Mate, this new Valiant should do just fine. At the very least, Acclaim’s no longer around to buy them out, so there’s that bullet dodged anyhow. Though I wouldn’t be at all averse to seeing a new Quantum & Woody, mind you.
Best Comics Compilation of 2012:
The Best American Comics 2012, edited by Francoise Mouly
There’s not much to say that I haven’t already said, so I’ll pretty much let my previous SIRTW entry for this book speak for itself. This anthology is always a must-read for adherents of the medium’s more out-there creators, and this year happened to do an especially nice job of it. Here’s hoping the kid’s-comic section remains a regular feature, along with the intro pages.
Most Irritating Youtube Video By A Smug Jackass Who Knows A Couple Famous People Apparently:
Look, The Death of Superman was a stupid idea. You know it, I know it, Dan Jurgens probably knows it, and so on. It was a cynical marketing ploy of the worst sort–nobody was dumb enough to think Kal-El was gone forever, or even for any significant length of time. And I’m sorry, but if they wanted to kill Superman off there are probably waaay more interesting ways of doing it than bringing in some spiky Juggernaut rip-off to beat him to death. Which was quite possibly intentional; the death would have needed to carry far more dramatic impact before I or anyone else would have countenanced making it permanent. The hootenanny leading up to his inevitable return was slightly better–it gave us Steel, if nothing else–but I, and just about everyone else I think, would rather it not happened at all.
And back in February, we got yet another reason to wish it hadn’t happened. Here we have a video by the very worst of comic-book fans, specifically the kind who isn’t one at all. Every scene has its poseurs, and ours just happens to have the worst of the bunch. This is obvious from the very first line of this video. Listen, you moron, as a matter of fact I do give a f*** about Superman. In my weaker moments I’d even call him my favorite superhero, before sanity sets back in and I go back to wavering between Batman and Spider-man. The Douche-Clown mentions all the “interesting” superheroes with “pathos” we’ve invented since then–well, you idiot, do you think we’d HAVE all those characters without Superman? Let me be clear: Superman as a character, for better and worse, invented the modern American comics industry. If the character seems generic and trite now, well, that’s because the tropes he introduced have long since been beaten to death. (All this said, I will admit there are far more bad Superman stories than good; it is my firm belief that All-Star Superman should be required reading for all would-be writers of the property.)
I’m serious, though, I don’t want to be That Guy, but this guy clearly had no real idea what he was talking about (GUARDIAN WASN’T A NEW CHARACTER, YOU DUMBASS). While he does point out the inherent problems of the Superman/Doomsday fight pretty well, clearly the focus is on hipster goofball humor, which would have actually needed to be funny in order to work. Also, I just love (sarcasm) the borderline-racist portrayal of Steel, who for your big fat information got pushed real hard because people liked him.
I could go on for pages with this shit, and I don’t want to, but let me point out just one more flaw: that “killed death” thing? Absolute nonsense. Trust me, comic-book characters had been dying and coming back long, long before Superman did it–hell, The Joker died at the end of his first appearance! Bringing back characters who haven’t yet outlived their financial usefulness was hardly new; Superman just happened to be the most egregious example. So yeah, screw you and your video, guy I refuse to name because I don’t want to give you the exposure and I don’t really know it anyway.
Comics Creator I Owe The Biggest Apology: Carla Speed McNeil. All I’ll say about it is this: I landed my first interview ever and decided to get all clever and “funny” about it. I learned an important lesson which is, don’t do that. So, sorry about that, Carla. Finder is still the most awesome thing ever.
In closing, the odd stumbling block aside, comics had a medium seem to have had a 2012 as healthy and productive as mine was idle and personally difficult. I’d have some pithy remark as to how I hope 2013 is even better, were it not for that small matter a couple weeks back when the Apocalypse happened and killed us all! I’m not certain whom I expect to read this feature. I’m even less certain as to how I managed to write this feature. Oh well, I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation. As I recall, the world ended last May as well, and that seems to have gone and sorted itself out. I can only assume much the same has happened here. Here’s to wishing you all a fun, safe, comics-filled New Year. Don’t take any New 52 titles!