Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sunday Best: The Catholic Skywalker Awards 2018 - BEST IN COMICS

With 2018 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 hawkman #1 2018

In the wake of the Metal mini-series, the character Hawkman had his series rebooted.  Being a fan of the character I picked up the series.  What I was not expecting was that I would be reading the most fun comic book being printed today.

The first thing that will strike you is the art.  I am not a person who primarily buys a book for the art.  That is not to take away from the amazingly talented artists who make these stories, but I am willing to put up with bad art for a good story (e.g. Peter David/Larry Stroman on X-Factor).  But Bryan Hitch has made one of the best looking books of the year.  He hasn't missed a trick from his days of high-octane action on Marvel's The UltimatesHawkman is drawn in big, beautiful vistas, gorgeous detail, and thrillingly dynamic action.  He gives you a sense of location and you can clearly follow the action in that location.  On top of that, the images linger with you after you finish the book.

But the kudos go even more to writer Robert Venditti.  This is the same man who had the unenviable job of following Geoff Johns on his legendary run on Green Lantern.  But Venditti proved a worthy successor.  Here in Hawkman, Venditti feels like he's doing for this character what Johns did for Hal Jordan.  The writer is cracking open the mythology in a way that doens't throw out what has come before, but instead places it on a whole new scale.

The character of Hawkman is someone who has died an been reborn over centuries.  It was thought that his original life was as Prince Khufu from Ancient Egypt.  And yet, the hero had a mysterious incarnation as a soldier of the planet Thanagar.  Venditti raises the obvious question: Why only Thanagar?  Instead, Hawkman learns that he has been reincarnated much longer than he thought and he has been reborn all across the cosmos.  The reason why is part of the overall journey that I will not spoil here.

But above all, Hawkman is a fun book.  As soon as I see it on the shelf, I know that I will be able to blissfully lose myself for a few minutes in an exciting and engaging adventure across the DC Universe.

Darth Vader
Super Sons/ Adventures of the Super Sons
Hal Jordan and the Green Lanterns

Best Mini-Series

When Doomsday Clock first was announced I bought into the hype, but the first issue disappointed me not because it was bad, but because I was wanting more.  But I should not have been.  Each issue has gotten better.  The first issue set the tone and then let the story slowly grow.  Each installment is an event.  The delayed schedule for the book is frustrating for many, but I am glad that the time is being taken to get things just right.

Geoff Johns and Gary Frank are taking putting all of their talent to try to do the impossible: create an antidote to Watchmen.  The Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons masterpiece is a perfect piece of nihilistic fiction that deconstructs the notion of superheroes and heroism in general.  The themes are dark and horrid, but they are presented with such genius and talent that they demand respect and attention.  Johns and Frank are going to try and create a piece of fiction that constructs the notion of superheroes and heroism in a way that adequately answers the challenge of Watchmen.

To do this, Johns and Frank are meeting Moore and Gibbons on their own ground.  The style is exactly in keeping with Watchmen.  And Johns is not taking any shortcuts.  He is dragging our beloved DC icons into the moral muck of the Watchmen.  Every issue raises the stakes.  Johns is tying up our heroes into a Gordian Knot that seems impossible to untie.  But this makes the story all the more compelling.  Can Johns and Frank succeed?

I will be there to find out!

Best Single Issue
Doomsday Clock #4

Image result for doomsday clock #4


Even though in general terms each issue of Doomsday Clock improves on the other, I had to give special attention to issue #4.  The reintroduction of Rorschach into the story was such a thrill.  But I, like many others, was disappointed by the fact that it was not Walter Kovacs, who was killed by Doctor Manhattan at the end of Watchmen.  Up until this issue, the new Rorschach was a blank slate.

But Geoff Johns wrote a story that is every bit the equal of Watchmen #6, which is the origin of Kovacs.  This issue of Doomsday Clock reveals the story of Reggie Long, the new Rorschach.  It is a story that is both beautiful and heartbreaking.  Johns demonstrated his love of the Watchmen universe by showing us some of its often under-used characters.  It also shows us why Reggie is Rorschach and not some other kind of masked crusader.  Kovacs was someone who was so traumatized by the evil of the world that he decided that there was no moral order except whatever we impose on it.  Long is someone traumatized by horrific visions that plague his mind, so he must use every ounce of his will to impose his own vision over his nightmares.

Watchmen # 6 is a story about how the nihilistic abyss of Kovacs soul mentally and morally destroys his own psychiatrist.  Doomsday Clock #4 is about how even the ones that society has written off as crazy can give us just enough hope to hold on until tomorrow.

Best Graphic Novel/Deluxe One Shot

Image result for nightwing magilla gorilla special #1

I'm a man of simple tastes.  When it comes to comics books, I just want a good, engaging story with hopefully some nice artwork.  And when those things snap, crackle, and come to life, it's a kind of magic.

That's what I found with this comic.

First, I have to say that I am so excited to see Tom Grummett art again.  He is one of my favorite artists for The New Titans when I was growing up.  And to see him draw Dick Grayson again was a wonderfully nostalgic trip.

Like the critically acclaimd Batman/Elmer Fudd, this comic is a mash-up of a DC Hero and a classic cartoon character.  What was amazing to me was that writer Heath Corson simply wrote a straight-up Hollywood-noir murder mystery.  In this story, Magilla Gorilla is a famous movie star who invites Dick Grayson out to his Hollywood home to talk him into the selling the writes to the tragic story of the Flying Graysons.  While Grayson is in town, Magilla is accused of a crime and he turns to Nightwing for help.  But the more they uncover, the more suspicion falls on Magilla.  Is Magilla really being set up or is this part of an elaborate ruse to fool Nightwing?  The story creates a genuine sense of mystery and tension while being incredibly great to look at.

If you get a chance pick this book up at your local comic shop!

Best Artist

File:Gary Frank.jpg

Gary Frank is one of the best artists working today.


And when he is paired with Geoff Johns, the two of them make magic.  Their collaborations of Action Comics, Batman: Earth One, DC Universe Rebirth, and SHAZAM! have been incredible.

But Doomsday Clock is on another level.  Frank has the challenge of keeping the look of the book consistent with Dave Gibbons legendary work on Watchmen, while at the same time making it his won.  And dare I say, he has surpassed Gibbons.  Every character panel is filled with character and action.

In the latest issue, my eyes lingered on the silent expressions of Superman.  Over and over again, the Man of Steel had to enter new and treacherous territory.  Frank's art let you see the wheels turning in Superman's mind and created an incredible window into the interior life of the character.

But he is also able to turn in a single panel to gigantic action set-pieces.  I will sometimes read an issue of Doomsday Clock and then go back just to enjoy Frank's amazing art.  The decision was made to have this book only come out once every two months.  I applaud this decision.  They could have either rushed Frank's art or gotten a second artist on the book.  Either would have been a mistake.  This book is a Gary Frank book and the comic book world is all the better for it.

Bryan Hitch: Hawkman
Giuseppe Camuncoli: Darth Vader
Ethan Van Sciver: Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps.
Clay Mann: Heroes in Crisis

Best Writer

photo from besignyawn

Readers of this blog may be sick of me constantly putting Geoff Johns in the best writer spot, but I refuse to penalize him simply for being so good.

A few weeks ago, two of his books came out on the same day: Doomsday Clock #8 and SHAZAM! #1.  And for the evening, I was in comic book heaven.

I read one book right after the other and it not only re-affirmed Johns unquestionable talent as a writer, but also his versatility.  His books are diverse in the best possible sense.  Everything Grant Morrision writes feels a little crazy.  Everything Garth Ennis writes feels sadistically violent.  But Johns can write two stories with just as much skill but feel like they were written by totally different writers.

Doomsday Clock has already been a testament to his work.  It began in 2017 and will not end until 2019, so I do not know if he will be able to stick the landing.  This is not a criticism of him per se, but he has already set the degree of difficulty so high that he has to stick this impossible landing.  But in his work of 2018, Doomsday Clock works so well because it feels so different from anything he has ever done.  Johns has the heart of the classic hero, but he is now entering into the darkest depths of the comic book world.  What he is doing is dangerous.  But he attacks it with such a fantastic confidence.  I was so struck by the lack of character narration in Doomsday Clock #8.  It is the first issue that puts Superman front and center.  He is placed in an intense moral and political quandary and he may not be making the best decisions.  Normally, the writer would take us through Superman's inner monologue.  But Johns avoids this.  He has complete trust in Gary Frank's visuals to tell you what Superman is feeling.  The result is a story where the ambiguity and lack of information raise the tension to almost unbearable levels.

And in SHAZAM!, Johns brings a joyous sense of wonder to comics.  Here is the story of children super heroes that does not feel overly commercialized or cynical.  Each character has their own unique voice and adds a wonderful layer to the adventure ahead.  As in his other books, Johns opens up creative narrative vistas for our characters to explore.  All the while this book exudes a sense of magic and optimism.

Geoff Johns is the greatest comic book writer there is.  And 2018 reminded us why.

Tom King: Batman
Peter Tomasi: Super Sons/ Adventures of the Super Sons/ Detective Comics
Robert Venditti: Hawkman, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps.
Charles Soule: Darth Vader

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