Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Wednesday Comics: Catholic Skywalker Awards 2017 - BEST IN COMICS

With 2017 coming to a close, it is time for us to choose what the best entertainment of the year was.  And just as the Academy Awards have their "Oscars, " so too the Catholic Skywalker Awards have their "Kal-El's"

Now, you may be wondering why a blog called Catholic Skywalker would choose a Superman statue as it's award, and not something from Star Wars.   The reasons are 3-fold:

1.  The Catholic Skywalker Awards will cover movies, television, and comic books.  Superman is an icon for all three.
2.  The pose he has here, revealing his inner hero, is symbolic of the revelation of truth and beauty that we should find in all good art.
3.  It's a statue I actually own, so I can use this photo on my blog.

Catholic Skywalker: Best in Comics:

Best Series

Image result for batman the button

I have to admit that this book snuck up on me.  When the Rebirth event happened, I didn't pay too much attention to Batman.  For years his book has been decent at best.  But I was not prepared for what writer Tom King had in store.

This book works for many reasons.  King is doing a long form story but he is smart enough so that each mini-story arch feels complete with its own payoff.

Second, this book also has a round-robin slate of artists that come and bring their A-game to these stories, making sure their own unique flair gives each book its own flavor while servicing the story.

Thirdly, King understands that the most important thing about Batman is the internal journey of the character.  His fight with Bane was action-packed and brutal.  But underneath that was the emotional and psychological battle going on inside Batman's head and heart.  And yes, Batman does have a heart.  Some have complained that this softens him too much.  I disagree.  Batman is always someone who cared too much, which is why he wages his never ending war on crime.  But he layers himself with the armor of cold, steely logic so that this heart isn't wounded any further.  But when it shows it makes us realize that in some ways Bruce Wayne never grew up from the moment his parents died.

Finally, King is able to do something that no Batman book has done in a long time: make Batman feel fresh and new.  This character has been around for nearly 80 years and I marvel at the fact that King can take us to new places with the character without it feeling like a radical divergence from what has come before.  I look forward to each new issue with eager anticipation. 

Best Mini-Series
Mr. Miracle

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Neil Gaiman's Sandman is considered a comic book masterpiece.  I've read the whole series and while I recognize it's artistry, I could not understand the hyperbole around it when people said that there was nothing else like it in comics.

But that's the way I feel about Mr. Miracle.

I think this book cast a spell on me.  

The reason why I say this is because we are about half way through the series and I still have no idea what is going on.  Normally, I would have given up on a book like this the way I have on tons of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison works.  

But there is something compelling about this book for reasons I cannot explain.  The book feels like being trapped in a nightmare.  To use a quote from the movie Titanic, "there's truth but no logic."  

Even when the plot is confusing, I cannot help but be emotionally connected to the events of the story.  

For those who don't know, Mr. Miracle is the son of High Father of New Genesis.  When he was a baby, he was exchanged with Orion, son of Darkseid, as part of a peace treaty.  As a result, Mr. Miracle, aka Scott Free, grew up in hell until he was able to escape to Earth to become the world's greatest escape artist.  

The series begins with Scott's failed suicide attempt and goes immeadiately into a war with Darkseid.

Nothing is as it seems and as compelling as the book is, you cannot help but feel like you want to escape the madness too.  Maybe that's the point.

I will have a better assessment of the book when all is said and done, but I cannot think of another book like on the stands now.

Best Single Issue
Batman #37

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This is the second of a 2-part story where Batman brings Catwoman to meet Superman and Lois Lane.  What follows was one of the most enjoyable comics I have read in ages.

What makes the story work so well is the constant tension between similarities and opposites.  Batman and Superman are often contrasted as the difference between darkness and light.  This is true, but they are so much alike in terms of their innate goodness, decency, and commitment to justice.  The same can be seen in their choice of romantic partner.  Selina Kyle and Lois Lane appear to be complete opposites in every way: one is a criminal, former prostitute with an amoral worldview and the other is award-winning, career and family juggling reporter who always seeks the truth.  And yet beyond that, they share so many common threads.

While the issue is a pure delight as the four of them go on a double date, writer Tom King uses it as an opportunity to do a character study, foiling best friend/romantic partner, best friend/ best friend, and romantic partner/ romantic partner.  This allows for such a rich, multifaceted character study in the context of a fun night out.

Even if you are only a casual comic book fan, you should enjoy this.

Best Graphic Novel/Deluxe One Shot
Batman/Elmer Fudd

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Nothing about this book should work.

This should be a ridiculous one-off that would soon be thrown onto the rubbish bin of memory.

And yet this is the best one-shot I have read all year.

The book almost dares you hate it.  As soon as you open the book, the title of the story uses Fudd's speech impediment and is titles, "Pway for Me."  And the first page is an interior, dramatic, noir monologue completely done in Fudd's voice.  And in one page you go from scoffing at the stupdity of the premise to in awe that the monologue has sucked you in to the story.

And it is a dark story of murder and revenge while at the same time being filled with joyous cameos.  Writer Tom King deserves the most amazing credit for embracing the ridiculousness of the pairing and turning that weakness into the book's biggest strength.  The degree of difficulty alone in what this book has accomplished is one of the reasons why King has cemented himself already in his short career as one of the greats.

Best Artist
Ethan Van Sciver
photo by badseed

I know that the art of a book is excellent when I go back and immediately re-read it just so I can let my eyes linger on the images.  That's how I felt when reading Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps  with every issue Ethan Van Sciver draws.

The issue where the alliance collapses between the Green Lanterns and the Sinestro corps is such a beautiful book to read.  The story is very compelling, but the art explodes on the page.  Some art is there as a service to the story.  Some art is a hindrance to the story.

But the work of Ethan Van Sciver elevates the story.  I can't help but feel transported every time he does a book.  So once again, he has earned the award for Best Artist the second year in a row.

Best Writer
Tom King (Batman, Mr. Miracle, Batman/Elmer Fudd)

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You may have noticed by now that every single book award this year has gone to something written by Tom King.

Tom King seems to have come out of nowhere to rule this year of comics. 

King's style is to tell big and bold stories while holding on to the essential beating heart.  Sometimes he focuses too much on the interior rather than the exterior, as he did in The War of Jokes and Riddles.  Yet even then I could not stop turning the pages to find out what happened next. 

His single issue of Batman with Swamp Thing was both ethereal, gritty, and emotional.  It was emblematic his ability to weave together these important strands of storytelling.

And his two issues of The Button crossover showcase that he can tell an exciting action-set piece (Batman's 60-second fight with the Reverse Flash) and heartbreaking melodrama (Bruce meeting his father).  In the latter, Bruce says that he thought about for years what one thing he would say if he could ever talk to his father again.  What he says was at the same time for me obvious and surprising.  That is the mark of a great storyteller.

And Tom King is only beginning his career (I pray) in comics.

I, for one, can't wait to see what he does next.

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