Paul & AJ’s Top 10 Comics of 2012

We’ve already listed our favorite TV shows and movies of last year, and we’ve got a couple more lists just before the new season begins. Here are our favorite comic books of 2012; check back tomorrow for our favorite albums (though, considering our extensively detailed history of not knowing how to talk about music, with YouTube clips instead of commentary).

PAUL: 10. THOR: GOD OF THUNDER (Marvel)

Thor in 'Thor: God of Thunder' #1. Art by Esad Ribic.

There was a period of time when Thor was my favorite character in comics. The golden Walt Simonson era was for me the height of otherworldly sword and sorcery super heroics. And while its been quite some time since the character has achieved anything close to that level of wonder, in recent years he’s enjoyed something of a renaissance. From his “death,” to his literal return to Earth under the guidance of J. Michael Straczynski, to his big screen debut, the petulant son of Asgard is kind of back in a big way.

Thor: God of Thunder is the newest incarnation of the title, with the unlikely writer Jason Aaron giving us a triptych of thunder gods, a tale of an alien butcher seeking to torture and destroy all deities told across three different periods of Thor’s life. We see young, arrogant Thor (pre-Mjolnir) and his first meeting with Gorr the God Butcher; modern-day Avenger Thor going full CSI trying to solve the mystery of who or what Gorr is; and far-future Thor, old and broken, sitting on the throne of an empty Asgard, the last surviving god, waiting for Gorr to finish him. It’s a brutal, bloody, and fascinating premise, though I do wish Gorr was slightly more imposing-looking rather than just being a Voldemort rip-off. Aaron creates a genuine mystery and sense of danger with real stakes for our hero, and the painterly art of Esad Ribic suits the romantic epic nature of the story. It’s not quite Simonson-level Mighty Thor (there’s thus far no Beta Ray Bill here), but Thor: God of Thunder is the best the character has been in a long time.

AJ: 10. ANGEL & FAITH (Dark Horse)

Angel, Willow, Connor, and Faith in 'Angel & Faith' #14. Art by Rebekah Isaacs.

I know Whedon fandom is crazy, but I might just be the biggest Buffy fan on the planet. That’s a huge claim, and while I haven’t tattooed James Marsters’ face on my ass or anything (yet), it really is difficult to describe how much Joss Whedon’s world means to me. Without Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I wouldn’t be here today. You wouldn’t be reading these words and I would have even less of an idea of what I want to do with my life. So it pains me greatly to say that the canonical Season 8 and Season 9 comics, though they have certainly had their moments, are largely disposable and occasionally worse. But then there’s Angel & Faith, which has done the impossible, making a monthly comic book series feel like the weekly television shows we fell in love with all those years ago. Christos Gage knows these characters inside and out, both their voices and their motivations. It’s never a question of if the comic will tie back into the shows’ stated mythology, but when and how spine-tingling those connections will be. These are the characters I have loved for a good deal of my life in a story that’s being brilliantly told by Gage and brought to life with wonderful clarity by artist Rebekah Isaacs. If you’re skeptical about Buffyverse comics, you have every right to be, but this one should be a priority.

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Paul & AJ’s Top 10 Films of 2011

Paul and I rambled on and on about our favorites of 2011 in our second season finale, but that isn’t gonna stop us from rambling some more. This is the first in a series of top 10s that will be spread out over the next couple weeks; the rest will concern television, albums, and comic books.

But first, a word about lists. Paul has described my obsession with list-making as a “sickness,” and that’s probably close to the truth. However, even one such as I, beholden to rating and ranking everything known to man, know that these kinds of things are imperfect, to put it lightly. For one, no matter how all-inclusive you try to be, there’s always going to be a movie (or show, or comic, etc.) that you somehow missed; for example, as of this writing, neither Paul nor I have seen The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Shame, or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, just to name a few. And more importantly, lists are always subject to how their makers feel at the moment they’re making them. Each of our top 10s represent the movies we love right now, and with the exception of our #1 choices, their order could be fluid, changing from day to day, mood to mood.

Right now, though? These are the films we adore, and which we feel exemplify 2011.

~ AJ

PAUL: 10. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (dir. Rupert Wyatt)

The summer blockbuster that was better than any of us had any right to expect. Not only a remarkably capable relaunch/reboot of a beloved but dated franchise, but also just a damned good popcorn flick in its own right. Andy Serkis brings heart and humanity (pun intended) to the “inhuman” protagonist. It’s Pinocchio and Moses and Che Guevara.

AJ: 10. GEORGE HARRISON: LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD (dir. Martin Scorsese)

It has been lazy shorthand for decades to refer to George Harrison as the “quiet Beatle,” and though that might have a kernel of truth to it, the man himself was far more complex. Publicly, he was quiet because he desperately hated fame; professionally, he was quiet during the Beatle years because John and Paul vetoed his material, and later, because he was content with tending to his family and to his garden. Martin Scorsese’s Bob Dylan documentary No Direction Home definitively captured that 60s icon’s brilliance and enigma, and while Living in the Material World doesn’t quite do the same for this 60s icon, it comes close enough. In the first part of this two-part doc, the entire life cycle of The Beatles is rehashed yet again, though considering it’s Scorsese at the helm, it remains of interest. It’s in the second part, however, when things truly come alive. By telling of his unsung career as a film producer, enticing candid stories from a number of those closest to him, and showing private home movies, Scorsese paints a portrait of Harrison as a man perpetually struggling to reconcile his spirituality with his materialism, caught between divinity and mortality.

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Four-Color Flashback: Chris Claremont & John Byrne’s ‘Uncanny X-Men’ #136-143

Welcome to the final week in our analysis of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s run on Uncanny X-Men. The first four weeks can be found here, here, here, and here.

Fearless readers, we have come to the end of Claremont/Byrne’s classic run on Uncanny X-Men. There are some very emotional points in these issues, but on the whole, this doesn’t feel like an ending so much as it does yet another springboard for future storylines. And that’s what it is: after all, Uncanny X-Men is still going 30 years later, and even with Byrne’s departure, Claremont had another ten years left on the title. What’s more, Claremont and Byrne had things planned out for a further seven issues until Byrne decided to leave. But more on that later. For now, we’ll dive headfirst into the final eight issues of their run together.

When last we left our merry mutants, Dark Phoenix was preparing to return to Earth, her appetite for destruction not sated by consuming a whole star. In advance of her return, Lilandra’s Grand Council plans her demise, President Carter (for whom Claremont brings back his regrettable dialects) tells Jarvis to assemble the Avengers, and Beast devises a “mnemonic scrambler” which the X-Men can place on Phoenix to limit her powers. The first place Jean goes upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere is her family’s home in Annandale-on-Hudson. Claremont’s captions say that “[t]his is Jean Grey’s home, not Dark Phoenix’s,” “[y]et Jean Grey is Dark Phoenix.” Her parents, and her sister, are woken from their beds in the middle of the night, their minds now an open book for Jean to unwillingly read. She senses their fear of her, and lashes out, turning a potted plant to crystal as an example of her terrible power. And she would have done more were it not for an unnatural fog produced by Storm that draws Jean out of the house, allowing Kurt to slap the mnemonic scrambler on her.

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Four-Color Flashback: Chris Claremont & John Byrne’s ‘Uncanny X-Men’ #129-135

Welcome to week 4 of 5 in our analysis of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s run on Uncanny X-Men. Weeks 1, 2, and 3 can be found here, here, and here.

Well.

This is not quite the reaction I was expecting. They’d fought Magneto, endured the Savage Land, tussled with Arcade and Proteus, and now the X-Men were preparing to go up against possibly their biggest threats yet, the Hellfire Club and Dark Phoenix. And yet I’m sitting here, after these seven issues, with a slight pang of disappointment. There are a number of things I could blame this disappointment on. First and foremost, as you may have noticed by the delayed episode this week, these last few days at Gobbledygeek HQ have been a mite rough. You’re also probably reading this column at least a day late. I don’t regard anything about this column as a chore–it was my idea, and there’s no money involved–but all the same, when you know you have something to do and not much time in which to do it, it can seem like a chore. Which I fully admit is not the best frame of mind to approach a work of art, be it a comic book, a movie, an album, what have you.

But the only reason I bring that up is because I don’t really want to consider the alternative: that for the first time during their run, and ramping up to the most iconic storyline of their joint tenure, Claremont and Byrne have stumbled. Nothing huge or damaging, but instead of continuing their ascent, a little fumbling of the ball. There are parts of these issues that are as epic as they should be, but something feels a little off.

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Four-Color Flashback: Chris Claremont & John Byrne’s ‘Uncanny X-Men’ #122-128

Welcome to week 3 of 5 in our analysis of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s run on Uncanny X-Men. Weeks 1 and 2 can be found here and here.

From #122, “Cry for the Children!,” to #128, “The Action of the Tiger!,” almost every X-Man experiences considerable developments. Since I spilled a boatload of digital ink in the first two columns by going through each issue chronologically, I figured I’d take a different tack this week. I’ll discuss each X-Man individually, then offer some overall thoughts after the fact.

First up:

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Four-Color Flashback: Chris Claremont & John Byrne’s ‘Uncanny X-Men’ #115-121

As last week’s introductory column wound to a close, I pondered two thoughts: Could John Byrne’s art be any more fantastic? Would Chris Claremont be able to refine his writing as time went on? Though we’re still fairly early on in their run, I’ve now been presented with two satisfactory answers, one of which was surprising, the other not so much.

I’ll start with the surprising one, the first thing that leapt out at me as I plowed through these issues: yes, John Byrne’s art is capable of being even more incredible than it already was! Seriously, he was doing a bang-up job on the seven issues we talked about last week, especially as he started discovering the physical and emotional cores of each character during the Magneto storyline. Even by those high standards, his work over these issues is nothing short of phenomenal. There’s the spread of Wolverine lashing out at Sauron as the rest of the team looks on in shock; the full page of Xavier’s memories taking place within his head; the group tackling Canadian superteam Alpha Flight; the list goes on. Just classic stuff on almost every page.

As for Claremont, his progression is what I had been hoping for and expecting, but it’s still good to see that his writing is getting better. Not that it was bad before, but there’s only so much corny dialogue and regional dialectics one can stomach. There’s still plenty of corny dialogue, but for the most part, it’s the good corny, the kind of corny one expects when one picks up a superhero comic from the late 70’s. Thankfully, Claremont has also dialed back the characters’ dialects. Nightcrawler stills busts out German phrases and Banshee’s dialogue is still littered with “ye”s and “aye”s, but more sparingly and at more appropriate times. There are instances when Sean’s actually able to say something that would sound intelligible coming from another character’s mouth!

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Four-Color Flashback: Chris Claremont & John Byrne’s ‘Uncanny X-Men’ #108-114

Welcome to our new column, “Four-Color Flashback,” in which we will occasionally discuss classic or interesting comic book runs. First up is the legendary 35-issue span encompassing Chris Claremont’s work with John Byrne on Uncanny X-Men. So legendary, in fact, that I’m amazed I’ve never read it. Claremont’s initial 16-year run on the book, from 1975 to 1991, has been so influential on not just the most successful superteam in the business, but also modern superhero comics as a whole, that at times it can feel like you’ve read the whole thing even if you’ve read nary a page. The four years from 1977 to 1981, during which John Byrne joined the series as penciler and co-plotter, are largely regarded as the pinnacle of Claremont’s work on the title. What with X-Men being in the air as of late, considering the release of X-Men: First Class and my recent purchase of the two hardcover editions of Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run (itself a loving homage to 70’s-era Claremont), I’ve decided that now is as good a time as any to finally read the thing. If you’d like to play along, I’ll be covering seven issues a week for five weeks, starting with #s 108-114.

First, a little history on both myself and the X-Men. As a big comics fan, I’ve read many X-Men comics over the years, including some of Claremont’s later or more recent work. When I was younger, I cut my teeth on my dad’s comics collection, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve read some of the Claremont/Byrne stuff, as he owned his fair share of 70’s and 80’s X-Men. Though if I did, I don’t remember much beyond certain cover images. As for the X-Men themselves, before Claremont came along, well, Marvel’s mighty mutants were in dire shape. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, who brought us so many of our popular superheroes, had created the pupils at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in 1963. The resulting 19-issue run, which I have read, is fun in the classic Lee/Kirby mold, and even introduced the series’ common sociopolitical themes, with the mutant-hating Bolivar Trask alerting humanity to the so-called “mutant menace” and creating the Sentinels to eradicate all mutant life.

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