Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Fistful of Comic Book Annuals

NOTE: an addendum has been made to this post.  You can see above (if you're reading this soon after publication), or check here for the new #2 annual in my personal top 5.  



Conceived and used with the permission of Matthew Constantine and Brad Gullickson, the original dorks.  Everyone has a Top 5, but A Fistful just sounds way damn cooler.

Note:  This post fueled by Nostalgia TM 

Inspired by a recent Comic Geek Speak episode, in which the gang waxed rhapsodic about their own five favorite comic book annuals, here are my top five. 


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6. Psi-Force annual #1 (1987), written by Danny Fingeroth, art by Mark Texeira


Marvel’s New Universe was about the strangeness, and the heroes, right outside your door.  Unencumbered by a quarter-century (then) of continuity, with stories taking place in disparate American cities, it really felt that way.  Despite the bad rap the New Universe has gotten, in retrospect, I love Psi-Force, without reservation or irony, and this annual, at the end of its first year of publication, shook up the status quo in a dramatic way, with one of the regular team members choosing to leave, in order to allow the team’s former enemy, Thomas Boyd—now on the run from the clandestine organization hunting these kids, with which he worked to try and capture Psi-Force.  The writing is a bit rough, though not Claremontian-rough, but the story is solid with beautiful art from Mark Texeira, early in his career.  This story, upending the status quo in the manner it does, feels big and important, worthy of an oversized annual.


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5. The Flash Annual #1 (1987), written by Mike Baron, art by Jackson Guice & Larry Mahlstedt


The Flash is my favorite superhero, and when the title returned, albeit with Wally West rather than Barry Allen, on the heels of Legends, I was excited.  This annual, published after only four issues of the regular series, takes Wally to Hong Kong, where he looks to learn how to harness his chi, in order to control Dim Mak, the death touch he exhibited in the opening of the issue.  It’s a fun story that showcases Flash’s impatience (he’s got superspeed, get it?) as well as expanding on a major theme that runs through the bulk of the Wally West run—that of Wally learning how to be a hero, as well as a man, and coming to terms with the grave responsibility thrust upon him when his Uncle Barry died in the Crisis.  Though they would never return to this aspect of Wally’s powers, it helps lay the groundwork for much that followed…and it was damn cool to infuse the Scarlet Speedster with some zen mysticism and martial arts. 


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4. Justice League of America annual #2 (1984), written by Gerry Conway, art by Chuck Patton & Dave Hunt


“The End of the Justice League!”  Frustrated at members unwilling to give their all to the league, Aquaman, as acting chairman and the only founding member still active full-time, disbands the Justice League.  Many of the current roster protest, like Firestorm and Green Arrow, but very few of them are able to give themselves to the league full-time.  So, it is settled.  Except for Zatanna’s and Elongated Man’s desire to continue with the league coupled with the surprising return of J’onn J’onnz, the Martian Manhunter.  With this core, including Aquaman, a new league could be formed from the ashes, and they set about with that in mind.  Through the rest of this story, this rejuvenated JLA gets a new headquarters in Detroit and a number of new members, including Vixen, Steel, Vibe, and Gypsy.  It’s JLDetroit, baby!  Like the Psi-Force annual above, JLA annual #2 shook up the status quo and delivered a story that felt important and dramatic, worthy of an annual.  From here, Conway & Patton, with Luke McDonnell coming on later as artist, would chart a brand new course for the Justice League, sans the “big guns” of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, et al., and take some chances.  There are many who look no this short era of the league with disdain, but after the Bwa-ha-ha version that would follow, this is “my Justice League.” 

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3. G.I. Joe Yearbook #3 (1987), written by Larry Hama, art by Ron Wagner, Mike Zeck, et al.


The first comic book I collected was G.I. Joe.  Loved it.  Still love it.  Larry Hama’s infusion of grand soap operatic plotting with complex political machinations and intertwined backstories, combined with over-the-top villains, similarly colorful heroes, super-secret bases and weapons, and all-out action made, and makes, for some great comics.  This story, “Hush Job,” is another important one worthy of an annual.  Snake-Eyes, having infiltrated Cobra disguised as Flint, was discovered and subdued, and is now being held in Cobra’s consulate building in New York City.  Scarlet and Storm Shadow decide to go in and rescue him.  There are ninjas, Dr. Mindbender, Baroness, bullets, bombs, and action, all told without dialogue, as in issue #21.  Ron Wagner’s art is wonderful, detailed and uncluttered, with some great choreography for the fight scenes.  There’s drama and emotion, as Storm Shadow battles to free his friend while Scarlett is discovered by the Baroness in the lower levels of the building, and the final twist, though questionable from a plot standpoint, still works—it’s G.I. Joe, come on.  Add a bunch of extras, including lengthy summaries of the past year’s cartoon and comic book adventures, pin-ups from Mike Zeck, and a short story in the back drawn by Zeck that recounts how a Roman praetor utilized the invention of pizza to defeat the Gauls, and you have a full comic that was well worth the cover price. 


NEW #2. 


see here for the full post on this issue.


1. Superman annual #11 (1984), written by Alan Moore, art by Dave Gibbons. 


“For the Man Who Has Everything.”  The best single-issue Superman story ever told, in my opinion.  Mongul has come to Earth to defeat Superman, on the day he celebrates his birthday, bringing an alien plant, the Black Mercy, as his weapon.  Attaching itself to its victim, the Black Mercy puts the victim into a catatonic state by offering up an alternate reality where the victim’s greatest wishes come true, offering a virtual reality the victim does not wish to leave.  Batman, Wonder Woman, and Robin, come to the Fortress of Solitude to celebrate Kal-El’s birthday, happen upon this and work to save their friend.  It does not go well, as Wonder Woman battles Mongul while Batman & Robin attempt to free Superman from the Black Mercy’s clutches. 

Superman is lost in a world where Krypton did not blow up, where he had the chance for a family, a wife and children, and where everything was perfect…almost.  It’s an idyllic setting, until rifts start to show, rifts in the political realities of this Krypton that are revealed due to Superman’s psyche fighting the alien plant.  He knows this isn’t right, knows he must return to Earth to be the hero he was born to be.  And, in the end, Kal-El gives up this life, gives up his home, his wife, his kids, and leaves them to return to his true reality.  But, when he comes to—as the plant jumps to Batman, plunging him into a reality where his parents were not killed in that dark alley—Superman is left with all the memories of the family he never had, and the pain he felt at leaving them behind.  He is mad.  And he takes it out on Mongul. 

Their battle is mean and destructive and all too human.  And that is what Moore, and Gibbons, brought to this tale, the truest sense of humanity, and the pain concomitant his parents’ sacrifice, that I’ve ever seen in a Superman story.  Dave Gibbons, a master comic artist, brings it all to life in a way that accentuates this humanity, grounding it all with his precise linework.  “For the Man Who Has Everything” is a master class in doing a poignant, engaging, and entertaining, done-in-one comic story that will make you think and illuminate the characters on the page.  This is a great comic that you must read, if you want to call yourself a real comic fan. 


-chris

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