2008 is drawing to a close and the time for reflection is upon us. The time is nigh for a year end report; a review, even! In no particular order, let’s take a look back at the big events in the world of comics this year.
For my money, the biggest comic book story of the year didn’t even take place on the printed page, but rather on the silver screen. 2008 was the “year of the comic book movie” and there wasn’t a bigger movie than The Dark Knight. According to boxofficemojo.com, the film has raked in a domestic total of $530,723,626 as of December 14, 2008 and a worldwide total of $992.8 million. It broke too many records to even mention here and with a re-release scheduled for January, it might just end up joining Titanic, Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest in the “Billion Dollar Club”. Beyond all that, Dark Knight was just a great movie. Not a great comic book movie, mind you, but simply a great movie. It was the serious adaptation that fans have been waiting to see. I’m not going to review it or even compare it to other comic book films; Dark Knight was in a league of its own.
Looking past The Dark Knight’s staggering success, 2008 saw a plethora of comic book films hit the silver screen. Iron Man and Incredible Hulk were Marvel Studios first self-produced films and while they might’ve lacked the depth of the new Bat-flick, they set a new standard for solid comic adaptations. For the first time, fans got to see on-screen continuity. The Marvel Universe played out before our eyes as Nick Fury appeared in Iron Man and Tony Stark had a cameo over in the Hulk. I can’t imagine that even the most cynical and jaded comic fan didn’t squeal with delight at the thought of the doors opened by those movies. And the lack of studio influence showed. There were no organic web-shooters, no unnecessary continuity changes: just good superhero action.
And it wasn’t just the icons that got screen time this summer. The big screen adaptation of Mark Millar and J.G. Jones’ Wanted was a big success as well. Hellboy made another appearance in theaters, and Persepolis was met with tons of critical acclaim and has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. December saw the release of Punisher: War Zone, another Marvel reboot, and Frank Miller’s adaptation of Will Eisner’s The Spirit will be released on Christmas Day. It all adds up to simple proof that comic book adaptations aren’t going anywhere. The superhero movie has become a genre unto itself and it isn’t just limited to Marvel and DC. The only problem is, after the glut of films this year, what does the comic book obsessed fan have to look forward to next year?
The success wasn’t just on the silver screen; comic adaptations hit the small screen as well with television series’ and direct-to-DVD movies. The new Spectacular Spider-Man and Batman: The Brave and the Bold animated series’ proved that superheroes will always have a place on Saturday mornings. World of Quest made it onto the Kids’ WB Saturday morning lineup and The Middleman made its way onto ABC Family, proving that small-screen success is not limited to the Big Two.
And the hits just kept on coming! Warner Bros released not one but two spectacular direct-to-DVD movies this year: Batman: Gotham Knight, which showcased six renowned anime directors, and an amazing adaptation of Darwyn Cooke’s Justice League: the New Frontier.
Now, I’m 600 words into a comic book year-in-review and I haven’t even talked about a single book yet! Let’s move on to the meat n’ potatoes of the article, shall we? The reason we’re all here: the comics.
The big-time multi-title crossover event has become the norm with Marvel and DC, so much so that before one event ends, the next one seems to be beginning. It actually made it kind of challenging researching this article. For example, when did Batman R.I.P. really begin? Did it begin with Batman #676, when the R.I.P. banner began appearing on the covers, or did it begin back in 2007 when Grant Morrison took over the title and started laying the groundwork for the event? And why does everything have to be an event these days? Whatever happened to simply telling good stories?
Ahhh, but that’s a topic for a different article. I’m here to talk about the year that was.
It would seem that Marvel and DC pretty much put all their eggs into the crossover basket this year. Marvel presented fans with the question “Who Do You Trust?” as many Marvel heroes stood revealed as Skrull infiltrators in Secret Invasion. If you read any of the Illuminati books, you’d probably agree that you really can’t trust anybody in the Marvel U, whether they’re a Skrull or not. Detractors of this event might complain that it could’ve been told in 3 or 4 issues and was stretched out into 8 (not counting the multitude of tie-ins), but at least it told a cohesive tale. From what I’ve seen on message boards and heard in conversation at my local comic shop, DC fans seemed to be split on Final Crisis as well, with some folks calling it a multi-layered epic and others referring to it as incomprehensible garbage. But at any rate, it looks like we’ve got Mockingbird and Barry Allen back!
2008 apparently saw Batman say goodbye (or maybe not) as the controversial Batman R.I.P. story stretched out over the Bat-Family of titles. Similar to Final Crisis, it split the internet, with some fans singing its praises and others scratching their heads wondering what the hell was going on. And the story’s not over yet – the final fate of Batman will be revealed in Final Crisis. These days, a crossover doesn’t even end in its own pages; it finishes up in the pages of another crossover.
Speaking of goodbyes, Marvel bid a fond farewell to the Spider-Man we’ve come to know and love with the One More Day storyline in 2007 and in January of 2008, a new/old status quo was revealed. Brand New Day kicked off on Free Comic Book Day and was ushered into the Marvel U proper with Amazing Spider-Man # 546. That annoying model wife who had been pestering Peter Parker with threats of eternal love and devotion was gone and the miserable life of a pathetic single man doting on his decrepit old aunt was back! Many fans said that the book was better than it had been in years though, so I guess the ends of 2008’s Brand New Day justified the means of 2007’s One More Day.
Another change in Spidey’s status quo was the almost weekly publication of his flagship book, Amazing Spider-Man. Speaking of weekly publications, Marvel’s Distinguished Competition wrapped up one weekly book and started another. Countdown ended in April and June saw the first issue of Trinity, featuring a story by Kurt Busiek and art by newly-signed DC exclusive artist Mark Bagley, long-time Ultimate Spider-Man artist (see how I bring things full circle?). The self-contained story focuses on DC’s big three heroes: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman and their importance in the DCU.
Barack Obama might’ve won the election in a landslide victory in our world, but it almost wasn’t the case in the Marvel Universe. Stephen Colbert, who jokingly threw his hat into the Presidential Race in the real world, seemingly led the polls in the Marvel U and early reports even suggested that he had won the election. The White House hopeful made an appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #573 and his campaign was felt throughout many Marvel titles.
Over on the Image side of things, The Savage Dragon, who once ran for President himself, endorsed Barack Obama on the cover of Savage Dragon #137. The book ended up selling out several times over and going into multiple printings. Both Obama and John McCain were also the subjects of comic biographies published by IDW. And beyond being featured in comics, Obama has admitted to being a collector of both Spider-Man and Conan comics. We’ve got a geek in the White House!
While the Blue States took home the victory in the Presidential Election, the Red Hulk cleaned up at the comic shops as one of the years’ top-selling titles. The mysterious character, created by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuiness, first appeared in Hulk #1 in January of this year and his true identity has yet to be revealed. While the critics haven’t always been kind, the first five issues of the book sold out and #6 was the second best selling book in the month of September, proving that the “everything and the kitchen sink” approach that Loeb utilized on Superman/Batman still works.
Blue States, Red Hulks and would you believe Blue, Orange, Red and even Black Lanterns? In the wake of the Sinestro Corps War, the sleeper hit of 2007, a plethora of new Lantern Corps were introduced, setting the stage for Blackest Night, which will likely be the best crossover of 2009.
But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.
Even as comic books moved toward the future in 2008, they never stopped looking to the past for inspiration. Marvel Comics gave us The Twelve, a 12-issue series by J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Weston featuring cryogenically frozen heroes from the 1940’s dealing with the troubles of the modern world.
Project: Superpowers was Dynamite Entertainment’s foray into public domain superheroics. With scripts by Jim Krueger and covers by Alex Ross, the story featured a bevy of forgotten heroes unleashed on the 21st century.
Even Image got into the game with their Next Issue Project, which continued the numbering of long-cancelled anthologies from the 1930s and ‘40s with similar page count and dimensions to books of the era known as the Golden Age of Comics. Fantastic Comics #24 was released in February of 2008 and for my money was one of the coolest books of the year.
It wasn’t just the Golden Age that saw a resurgence this year. DC brought back the multiverse and incorporated many elements from the Silver Age into their current comics. All-Star Superman and Batman R.I.P., both penned by Grant Morrison, drew heavily from obscure Silver Age reference points. It would seem that in the realm of comic books, Thomas Wolfe was wrong; you can go home again.
While Marvel and DC made the biggest headlines in 2008, they weren’t the only comic companies making news.
IDW Publishing, a powerhouse in the realm of licensed properties, launched two new imprints in 2008: Worthwhile Books, part of their children’s division, and Blue Dream Studios, previously a self-published venture. They also managed to snag the G.I. Joe license and have announced three new Joe series’ in time to tie in with the release of the movie in 2009, featuring writers such as Chuck Dixon, Larry Hama and Christos Gage.
Virgin Comics, the brainchild of Sir Richard Branson, author Deepak Chopra, filmmaker Shekhar Kapur and several entrepreneurs, announced in August that it would be shutting down its New York offices and restructuring. In September it was announced that Virgin was changing its name to Liquid Comics following a management buyout.
The surprise of the year award has got to go to the Eisner Award-winning Umbrella Academy, written by Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance and illustrated by the amazingly talented Gabriel Bá. I don’t know of a single person who thought this comic would be anything more than a rock star’s vanity project, but I haven’t heard a single bad review of the book. Lots of jaded comic fans were opening their mouths and inserting their foot with the success of this one. Technically, the book started in September of 2007, but since it won the Eisner in 2008 and the second Umbrella Academy mini-series is currently underway, I’m including it on this list.
And of course, I couldn’t do a year-end wrap up without mentioning the so-called “Kirkman Manifesto”, a viral video in which Robert Kirkman, who had recently been made a partner at Image Comics, urged creators to focus on their own creations as the end goal of their career, rather than simply toiling away working for Marvel and DC on characters that someone else created (not that there’s any shame in that either). Of course, it’s the type of thing that’s easy to say when you’re the creator of two of the most successful creator-owned works of the past decade.
Kirkman received a lot of criticism for his manifesto, and I’ll be the first to admit that his statements had more than a few holes in their logic. But at its heart, it was the impassioned plea of a true fan of the medium for creators to strive for something better than simply standing on the shoulders of those who came before us. It reminds me of a story I read about Jack Kirby who, upon hearing that a new artist would be taking over Captain America and “hoped to do it in the Kirby tradition” replied “The kid doesn’t get it. The Kirby tradition is to create a new comic.”
I know we all love our iconic heroes, but they wouldn’t be so iconic if someone hadn’t been afraid to break the mold. I think it’s a shame that fans and creators focused more on the faults of Kirkman’s logic than on the message he was trying to convey.
I’ve done my best to hit on all the major stories and events of the year, and I know I’ve glazed over a few and skipped some entirely. Here’s the section where I try to rectify that situation.
January: Hellblazer #240 is released, marking the 20th anniversary of the series. That’s a really long time for any ongoing series to last, especially one that doesn’t feature a superhero. Kudos to Mr. Constantine and the many writers and artists who’ve helped him along the way.
James Buchanan Barnes assumes the mantle of Captain America from his deceased partner, Steve Rogers. One year later, he’s still going strong. I have to admit, I’m in the camp that prefers Bucky under the mask and I wouldn’t mind it one bit if Steve never came back.
February: Legendary creator Steve Gerber passes away on February 10. Gerber was probably best known for co-creating Howard the Duck, but his career, which spanned over 30 years, saw him pen stories for nearly every major publication as well as a plethora of cartoons including G.I. Joe, Thundarr the Barbarian, Dungeons & Dragons and The Superman/Batman Adventures, for which he won an Emmy his influence will be felt for many years to come and his talent will be sorely missed.
The first issue of Locke & Key is published, featuring art by Gabriel Rodriguez and a story by Joe Hill, aka Stephen King’s kid.
Kirby: King of Comics, an informal biography/coffee table art book written by long-time Kirby friend Mark Evanier, is published.
April: DC Universe # 0 is released and Barry Allen returns after a 23-year absence.
The first issue of Kick-Ass by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. is released. Like every Millar project, this one’s also being made into a movie.
May: 1985, another Millar project, begins. This one is a six-issue limited series featuring extraordinary artwork by Tommy Lee Edwards and a story about the heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe entering the real world. This one blew my socks off and come highly recommended by me.
Spinning out of Annihilation, a new Guardians of the Galaxy series debuts.
June 27: Michael Turner passes away after a long battle with bone cancer. A popular artist and president of Aspen Entertainment, Turner was known for his work on Fathom, and Witchblade as well as many other books. Putting a Turner cover on a comic meant instant sales. I was in Chicago for the Wizard World Convention when I heard the news, and there was a palpable sense of sadness at the convention center, despite its size. It’s not an experience I’d like to have again, but it is a testament to how much the man was loved by fans and peers alike.
July: Warren Ellis takes over writing chores on Astonishing X-Men with issue # 25. Simone Bianchi handles the art.
It is announced at the San Diego Comic Con that James Robinson will begin penning the ongoing Superman comic book and Sterling Golden will be taking over writing chores on Supergirl. With Geoff Johns on Action Comics, the seeds were sown for the New Krypton storyline.
August: Geoff Johns and George Perez begin to spin a yarn called Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds, featuring every incarnation of the popular team.
September: The Superman of Kingdom Come arrives in our universe in the finale of Justice Society of America #9.
October: Joker, a 128-page hardcover original graphic novel by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo is released, featuring an even more sadistic and deranged version of the character.
Talk about beating a dead horse! Marvel Zombies 3 begins.
The Superman: New Krypton Special kicks off the event.
And That Was 2008
Thus concludes my retrospective of the Year in Comics. Looking back, it was a pretty good year, especially if you like superhero movies. We saw a lot of new ground broken in the realm of comics and a lot of familiar ground was retread. A lot of awesome books were published (as well as some not-so awesome ones), but overall I think it was a pretty fun year. I’m looking forward to seeing you all in 2009.