Comic book challenge 2009


I still have one more review to do about the last audiobook I listened to on 2009, but instead I decided to take a look at the reading I did last year.

I managed to read and listen and review 83 books, and read 25 graphic novels (one not reviewed), so 108 in all. It’s around my average. I was a bit surprised to realize that I didn’t read much from my old favorite authors Lois McMaster Bujold (1), Anne Logston (0), Steven Brust (0), and Roger Zelazny (1 + 1 short story). On the other hand, in 2008 I found a new favorite author, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and read this year 6 books from her. Otherwise, I read a lot of new authors and books which were first in the series.

Monthly numbers:
First in a series: 5+6+4+1+1+2+1+3+1+1+3+3
Stand alones: 1+3+1+2+0+3+1+0+1+1+2+0
Later in a series: 5+2+2+2+3+2+2+4+3+4+1

Fantasy:5+7+4+3+2+5+2+6+4+2+2+3
SF:6+3+3+1+2+1+1+0+1+3+3+1
Mystery:2+0+1+1+0+1+1+0+0+1+2+0

I took part in five challenges: 1st in a series, 2nds challenge in 2009, ebook challenge, 9 books for 2009, and comic book challenge 2009. The only one I didn’t complete was the 9 books for 2009 -challenge. I admit that I took a wrong tactic with all of them. I should have started reading the challenge books right at the start of the year. I also made lists beforehand and tried to keep to them too doggedly instead of just growing the lists while reading. I’ve certainly learned my lesson and will take the latter tactic this year. 🙂

I mean to sign up again for a variety of challenges. Also, many of the challenges this year allow the same book to be read for many different challenges, which makes things easier. I’m thinking of joining at least five challenges this year, too. Many of them are the same ones.

Best lists:

The Booking through Thursday’s previous post went through the new reads but I just have to add these.

The Best Nostalgic Read: John Byrne’s Fantastic Four run. Without a doubt.

Best Short Story Collection: Datlow and Windling: Coyote Road. This was a hard choice between this and the fantasy pirate collection.

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By Michael Mignola

The second Hellboy trade is dedicated to Dracula which is appropriate considering that one of the main baddies in this trade is a vampire. Here Mignola continues his mythic tale of Hellboy and adds Norse and Russian myths to the mix. Most of the story is set in Romania in a quite Draculan setting.

Roderico Zinco, a very rich entrepreneur, offers sanctuary to the three Nazis whom we saw emerging from their life preservation bods at the end of the previous story. Their mysterious master had appeared to Zinco and recruited him.

One year later, the trio is in New York and Ilsa kills the curator of a wax museum. Later, the BPRD investigates and finds out that the seemingly simple murder gives a clue to a far larger conspiracy; the owner used to hold the body of Vladimir Giurescu. According to the Romanian folk tales, Giurescu could never die; that the moonlight would revive him when he was in a specific room in his castle. The Nazis made an effort to recruit him but after meeting Giurescu, Hilter ordered him and his family (six women) to be killed and burned. However, it’s possible that one of the Nazis preserved Giurescu’s body and brought it to the US. In fact, the murdered curator turns out to be German.

The BPRD sends three teams to Romania to investigate. Hellboy has the honor to check out Giurescu’s castle all by himself. Meanwhile, Ilsa has brought the crate where Giurescu’s corpse is supposed to be, back to the castle. When Hellboy shows up she makes a cyborg Nazi fight him.

Later, the Nazi trio’s Master from the previous trade appears as a ghost-like being and Ilsa follows him without question. The Master (I’m trying very hard not to spoiler here) is again the main villain of the story. We learn his history and connections to a famous Russian fairy tale character. Also, Hellboy finds out why he’s on Earth and to fight against his inner demonic being.

The art is again very distinctive. It borrows from the ancient mythologies and the more modern vampire mythology. I also liked the close-ups where we could see just how many of the equipment that the BPRD uses are made by the Zinco Corporation. The enemy was nearer than the BPRD agents ever knew.

The story continues from Seed of Destruction and I recommend starting with that trade. The main villain is the same and story of Hellboy’s origin continues here.

Some of the characters get more flesh in their bones. Ironically, they are mostly the villains, the Master and Ilsa, whom we’ll hopefully see in the future. I also enjoyed the return of the old Greek goddess and the way that the people in the village near Giurescu’s castle reacted to his return. Dracula came strongly to mind with the latter.

I found it quite remarkable how well Mignola was able to mix the different myths. Hecate, Baba Yaga, Lovecraftian monsters, the seven-in-one, and vampires can co-exist in the same world without it feeling forced. Not to mention all of the other characters from their respective myths. Impressive.

However, the ending was somewhat disappointing especially if the three people stay dead. Giurescu didn’t really get a chance to do anything; the Master and the Nazis got to do pretty much everything.

By Michael Mignola and John Byrne

This is the collection of the first Hellboy miniseries. It’s also part of the first Finnish Hellboy trade.

The first chapter is set in the final years of WWII when the Nazis are trying to get magical help. A mysterious magician performs a mighty spell which seems to go somewhat wrong.

He was supposed to summon a miracle for the Nazis but nothing happens. Meanwhile, a group of British and USAians are in East Bromwich where something magical is supposed to happen. The group consists of soldiers and three paranormal people. In the end, a scary looking little boy appears. The boy is taken in by the paranormals who are members of BPRD, the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.

The next chapter opens 50 years later. The little boy has grown up to be Hellboy, one of BPRD’s best agents. He still doesn’t know where he came from or why.

Hellboy’s old adoptive father, professor Trevor Bruttenholm, has taken part in an expedition which was seeking something mystical from the Northern Polar Regions. It was believed that the expedition perished just like all the previous ones. However, Bruttenholm survived. He tells Hellboy about a weird statue and how he has lost some of his memories. Soon, a group of frogs appears and Bruttenholm is killed. Hellboy battles a human-sized frog creature whose tongue can make his arm go numb. Even though Hellboy kills the creature, he’s only clues are the other members of the expedition. They were three young men from a famous explorer family of Cavendish. Hellboy’s small team goes to the Cavendish Hall which is rumored to have been built on cursed land.

The story is told mostly from the point-of-view of Hellboy who has to face not only the death of the only parent he has ever known but also the possibility of knowing more about his purpose on Earth – which is likely not a benevolent one. However, he has had a long time to live with the uncertainty. He’s not a brooding teenager but a professional who has a job to do.

His team mates are interesting and I hope we get to know more about them in the later stories. This time we barely got a glimpse of them. Abe Sapien, the amphibian paranormal, was found in an underground tube where he could have been a long time. He seems to be a consummate professional as well. Liz Sherman is a pyrokinetic whose power was first so uncontrolled that she burned her family to death when she was ten. That must have left a lot of traumas and yet she has a job where she probably has to use her powers. She spends most of the comic off-screen so we don’t learn much about her.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the comic is the atmosphere. There are quite a few Lovecraftian monsters around and magic is real. I could even compare Hellboy to sword and sorcery –type fantasy stories where the magicians are almost always evil. There are some references to real myths, especially in the artwork, and Hellboy himself seems to have come out of one, as well.

The artwork is different than the current manga-style or the sleek superhero -style which I’m mostly used to, but that’s good. It emphasizes the setting, the feeling of mythology, and creates a unique feel to the comic.

The first Finnish trade contains Seed of Destruction, Wake the Devil, and one of the later short stories. It’s in black and white which gives the stories perhaps a more intense atmosphere than the standard four color comics.

By John Byrne and Jerry Ordway

Collects Fantastic Four #276-284, Secret Wars II #2, Thing #23.

In these issues Ordway is inking Byrne’s pencils and to me, at least, the change is noticeable. Ordway has a very distinctive style.

In the first two issues a couple of earlier subplots are tied up: Reed, Sue, and Franklin’s stint as a normal family in Connecticut, and Ben’s return. Next, Dr. Doom steals the Baxter Building and the FF head to Microverse.

The whole “normal family” thing was a nice change of pace in between the superheroics and I was almost sorry to see it end. However, it was quite a long running subplot so it just makes sense for Byrne to end it. Also, I was expecting someone to recognize Susan and Franklin because they should be quite famous. The nosy neighbor brought to mind a similar character from the TV-show “Bewitched” and she was quite entertaining.

The second story was Ben coming back from the Beyonder’s planet. He has already decided to dump Alicia and the FF. Yet, when he comes to Alicia’s place and meets the half naked Johnny there, he starts a fight. I guess he thinks that Alicia is his property. I was happy to see She-Hulk stay.

The next issue is pretty much a recap of Doom’s backstory. Of course, when I first read these comics I didn’t know Doom was, so the recap was appreciated. Doom’s young ward Kristoff is made to think that he is Doom and he “starts his career again” by stealing the Baxter Building. Meanwhile Johnny and Alicia are dealing with racial hatred which seems stronger than usual.

Kristoff as Doom floats the BB up to space and blows it up.

Afterwards, the FF have to deal with the fact that their home is gone. Hatred and intolerance is also building up. Meanwhile, Psycho-Man sends a very powerful woman called Malice after the FF. After a pitched battle, Reed manages to trace their enemy to Microverse. So, the FF shrinks themselves and goes after the bad guy.

Kristoff wasn’t really a match for Victor but I guess he wasn’t supposed to be. He was just a way to show us how far reaching and evil Doom’s plans are.

I rather enjoyed Psycho-Man as the villain because his ability to manipulate emotions was used to a very good effect. It seems, though, that he hasn’t been used much outside this adventure.

Malice was an interesting “character”. I liked the aggressive way she used her powers (and lets face it if she had been a male from the start, he would have used the very aggressively from the start) which clearly showed how dangerous she is. I suspect, though, that her fight with the FF was cut some pages short in the Finnish edition.

The Microverse part of this trade is again one of my favorite stories and the first Microverse story I’ve ever read. I loved it how She-Hulk was trying to overcome her fear. I also liked a lot the surreal FF story that Susan experienced under torture.

Still, the stories here aren’t as classics as the Galactus-story in vol. 2 or the aftermath with Tyros in vol. 4.

This marks the milestone where Susan finally becomes the Invisible Woman.

Overall: a decent trade.

By John Byrne

Collects Fantastic Four #241-250.

This is another classic collection: the FF and Avengers against Galactus, the FF teaming up with Dr. Doom against Zorba, the monarch of Latveria, and the FF versus Gladiator.

The first issue, “Render unto Caesar”, was a pretty weird one. There’s a powerful energy source in Africa near Wakanda and so the SHIELD sends the FF to investigate. After a meeting with the Black Panther, the FF continues their journey on foot until a group of Africans takes them captive. The Africans are mute and dressed like Roman soldiers.

Once again the FF win by using their brains more than brawn, which is always nice.

The next three issues are the classic Galactus story: in the first one, Terrax, the former Herald, battles the FF and then raises the whole of Manhattan up to space. He uses the city as hostage and tries to blackmail the FF into destroying Galactus. However, when they break into Galactus’ ship, they talk with him instead. Galactus is very low on energy and that’s why Terrax thinks that the FF can destroy him now. Of course, Galactus is still immensely powerful and takes way Terrax’s powers. Then, he needs to feed and the only suitable planet near enough is Earth. The FF and some of the Avengers have to fight him.

This is a truly classic arch and I’m amazed that it took Byrne only three issues to get all the way to Frankie Ray’s destiny. I’m also amused by the fact that Byrne is apparently an ElfQuest fan. The short theater scene is straight out of the early issues.

The next story is “Childhood’s End” where Susan is being interviewed in TV when a mysterious man attacks the other FF. This issue deals with Franklin’s powers, as well.

I’m always of a two minds when journalists are shown in comics. It’s realistic, of course, but because the FF would be (if they were real) A-list celebrities so they should be practically hounded by paparazzis all the time. So, it feels like they aren’t spotlighted enough. So, either the journalists should be ignored or the FF should be constantly showered with media attention the same way that real life celebrities are. Of course, it could become tedious quickly, so maybe these infrequent journalists are better. After all, they have other superfolk to chase after and maybe all of them aren’t as suicidal as the worst cases in comics are shown.

The next two issues are Doom-centered and some of my personal favorites: “Too Many Dooms” and “This land is mine!” Doom is always entertaining and here we see another side of him: the monarch who loves his country.

The FF take Doom’s body to the Latverian embassy. However, another Doom is already at the embassy instructing the ambassador to lure the FF into a trap. Then each of the FF members has to fight a Doombot on their own. While they are fighting, the other bots restore Doom’s mind to his real body. When the bots are defeated, the real Doom shows himself and shows the FF what their earlier meddling has caused. Under the rightful king Zorba, Latveria has succumbed to poverty and crime and only Doom can save his beloved country!

There are a lot of things going on here. First of course, there’s Doom and his love of his country and how Byrne subverts the whole “rightful king” trope; the rightful king is actually bad for the country and the usurper (Doom) has to save Latveria. Then the FF has to doubt their previous actions: could Doom be a good king after all? Finally, I love it when sworn enemies are forced to work together like the FF and Doom in this story.

The next issue is another weird science fiction one-off: “Nightmare”. The FF have been invited to Attilan for Crystal’s and Quicksilver’s daughter’s naming day (and a huge thanks for not calling it ‘christening’ by the way and for not giving the girl godparents when the real parents aren’t, you know, Christian…). Suddenly, there’s a disruption when a huge space ship tractors the whole Moon into the ship. Things get rapidly weirder.

The rest of the trade is a big fight: the FF vs. Gladiator from the Shi’Ar Imperial Guard vs. X-Men vs. Spider-Man and Captain America. Generally, I’m not a huge fan of mindless fisticuffs (but I’m not against them, as such, either or I wouldn’t be reading superhero comics in the first place) but this one I liked. Of course, I’m a fan of Gladiator.

I’ve always found Gladiator to be a fascinating character. He’s very powerful and honorable but honorable in his own way; he’s almost like a Shi’Ar Superman but one who is loyal to the throne and whoever is currently sitting on it rather than to a person. This is, technically, how it should be in democratic nations; the people should obey the office (president, prime minister, mayor…) instead of the person. Yet, at least in fiction this is still rarely the case and so, Gladiator is the exception rather than the rule. The irony is, of course, that Shi’Ar isn’t a democracy but a monarchy.

Overall: many enjoyable stories here.

By Goddard, Jeanty, Owens, Whedon

Collects Buffy Season Eight #11-15

Finally, I have the third Buffy-collection in my hot little hands!

Xander: “It’s always complicated with girls. That’s why I need a man.”
Buffy: “That would be nice…”
Xander: “I mean a guy. Not a man, but a guy, for the guy bonding.”
Buffy: “Well, Andrew…”
Xander: “Do you really intend to finish that sentence?”

In the first story, “A Beautiful Sunset” the gang is still in the Scottish castle and the story deals with on-going storylines and relationships. The second story is the rest of the trade and deals with newcomer vampires who are Japanese and have a new bag of tricks.

In the first story, we find out who was the girl woke Buffy from the sleeping spell with a kiss, in the previous trade. She and Buffy seem to come an amicable understanding but things aren’t, of course, that easy. Also, a mystery man, who at least seems to be the man behind the whole Twilight –thing, attacks Buffy, flaunts his powers, and sows seeds of uncertainty to her mind.

There’s also a brief mention of a Slayer gone rogue and I presume she will be dealt with in upcoming issues. Buffy and Xander wax philosophic over how all the other Slayers have bonded together but as the leader Buffy must remain outside that connection. A very good issue.

Wolves at the Gate –story deals with a gang of Japanese vampires who have many more powers than usual vampires: the ability to turn to mist, wolves, bats, panthers… They attack the castle and steal Buffy’s scythe. There’s only one other vampire in the Buffyverse who also has these traditional vampire powers and so they turn to him for help: Dracula.

It turns out that Dracula and Xander have a kind of friendship and they have been keeping in touch over the years. So, Xander is the one who is sent to ask Dracula what he knows about the new vampires. Naturally, the Buffy gang has to go after the scythe into Japan and all kinds of wackiness ensue.

There are some on-going relationship stuff in this arc but otherwise it focuses on the new vampires so to me, it feels a bit unconnected from the rest of the story. (Which is ironic considering the first story’s point.)

I was quite surprised to find out that Xander had been keeping in touch with Dracula. After all, in that the end of the episode Xander was pretty frustrated about being everyone’s butt monkey. But their weird relationship is funny. Xander calling Dracula “master” and Dracula calling Xander “manservant”. Dracula was written very comically here and he almost reminds me of House because he throws around racial slurs a lot. He calls Renee Xander’s moor, for example. In the end, Dracula and the Slayers end up working together in Japan.

It did seem more than a bit weird to me that the Slayers did let Dracula off very easily. He is, after all, a many times multiple murderer, which he freely admits.

Willow is back but she’s shown very little and I miss Giles. I’d also like to know more about the Slayers. Now they are pretty much just a faceless mass following Buffy’s orders in fight scenes.

I didn’t really care for the ending of the trade. Too many things were just tied up neatly instead of continuing with them.

Overall: not quite as good as the previous trades but still very funny and entertaining.

By John Byrne

Collects Fantastic Four #258-267 and Alpha Flight 4, and Thing #10.

These stories deal with the aftermaths of the fight with Galactus in vol. 2. It’s full of many classic moments: Dr. Doom giving the former Terrax cosmic powers and the fight that it leads to, Reed Richards’ trial for saving Galactus, and She-Hulk replacing Ben.

The trade starts with an issue focusing on Doom. During the months that the FF has spent in the Negative Zone, Doom has been busy. He has a young ward Kristoff whom he’s teaching about the rigors of absolute monarchy. Also, he’s trying to find a way to make the Power Cosmic artificially so that he could use it again. In the end, he has to kidnap Tyros, the former Terrax Herald of Galactus, from hospital and use his machine to give Tyros the powers. Then he sends Tyros to destroy the FF. Ben, Susan, and Johnny fight Tyros but can only barely hold their own. Fortunately, the Silver Surfer interferes. Both Tyros and Doom seem to die in the fight.

Afterwards, the FF finds out that a transport beam has taken Reed out of the solar system. Susan decides to contact the Watcher who agrees to take them to Reed. A group of aliens has sentenced Reed to death because he didn’t let Galactus die. However, the FF and the Watcher persuades them to give Reed a trial. The prosecutor is Majestrix Lilandra herself. Many different people and beings speak at the trial.

Then Reed, Ben, and Johnny are whisked away to the Secret Wars while the Baxter Building guards itself against the Trapster. A visibly pregnant Susan is trying to keep busy while waiting for the rest of her family to return. However, the returning members of FF are Reed, Johnny, and the She-Hulk. Susan suffers a radiation attack and is taken to a hospital while Reed wants to consult the foremost expert in radiation: Dr. Otto Octavius also known as Dr. Octopus.

I remember being very impressed with these stories when I first read them in 1988. In the first part, Dr Doom says that he considers Susan to be the most dangerous member of the FF. Of course, practically the only thing that restricts the use of the force fields seems to be the writer’s imagination so I tend to agree with Doom in this.

The trial-part is still entertaining enough but I’m more dubious about it today. I definitely enjoyed how the pregnant Susan didn’t take any crap from the boys who tried to quickly leave her out but instead declared herself the current leader of FF and went right back into action. However, I find the whole idea that the Marvel universe has a “destiny” to be pretty cheesy. It’s also, of course, just a way of saying that the ends (the destiny) justify the means (the suffering of countless beings) which I don’t really care for. I was also baffled by the comments about Lilandra. She wants to relieve the suffering of others and this is now considered… arrogant and evil?

Byrne also put himself into the trial issues as the Chronicler of FF. I found this to be rather cheesy as well. On the other hand, it brought a little comic relief to otherwise rather tense story.

Baxter Building vs. the Trapster is great fun!

I loved She-Hulk in FF! She’s fun and easygoing and broke up the status quo nicely. I also liked her romance with Wyatt a lot.

The last storyline’s end was tragic and poignant in the middle of all the superhero action.

Overall: a great trade!

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