This has been quite a strange year to be a comic book fan.
On one hand, the success of superhero movies like Wonder Woman, Guardians Of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor Ragnarok, The LEGO Batman Movie, and, yes, even Justice League, got us cheering in the cinemas.
On the other hand, the quality of the comic books these films were based on have been erratic, to say the least.
In terms of the Big Two, DC Comics and Marvel, DC Comics has come up with some intriguing stories, especially the absorbing Dark Nights: Metal, the debut of the Watchmen in the main universe in Doomsday Clock, and the reboot of the Wildstorm imprint by Warren Ellis.
Then there’s Frank Millar returning to the Dark Knight Universe with Dark Knight III: The Master Race.
However, if there’s one thing us regular contributors to the Worlds Of Wonder column can agree on, it’s that Marvel’s Secret Empire event was a disaster. It even prompted the company to go back to its roots with the Marvel Legacy initiative, which has actually been doing OK so far.
Outside the Big Two, publishers like Image Comics, Boom!, Dynamite, Dark Horse, Fantagraphics, and Valiant also produced some great books that helped ease our superhero fatigue somewhat.
The local Malaysian scene also saw some cool events, including the recent Pop culture, Lifestyle, Art and You (Play) exhibition at Publika, Kuala Lumpur. And then Malaysia-born Singaporean Sonny Liew did the region proud by winning three Eisner Awards (ie, the comics industry’s Oscars) for The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye.
In sadder news, the comics world said goodbye to some icons, including Len Wein, cocreator of Wolverine and Swamp Thing, Alfonso Wong, creator of Hong Kong’s iconic Old Master Q comics, and Adam West, who played Batman in the 1966 TV series.
Here’s a breakdown of what we loved and didn’t love throughout the year:
Kaleon Rahan: Ragnarok Thor. No, not the Chris Hemsworth version or the unworthy Marvel version, but the bona fide Walter Simonson version from IDW’s Ragnarok series. Definitely the worthiest god of thunder in comics!
Michael Cheang: Kitty Pryde. She’s had some of the better story development among the X-Men in recent years. This year, she stepped up to become the leader of the X-Men, and even gets to show off her ninja skills in a badass katana fight with a serial mutant killer.
KR: Wolverine – for being dead during his greatest cinematic moment! And no, Old Man Logan does not count. For once, you have to give credit to Marvel for not milking their greatest cash cow.
MC: The Inhumans, specifically the royal family. Not just because their TV show was terrible, but also because their stories and personalities just aren’t very interesting. Except for Karnak. Karnak is awesome.
KR: Wilson Fisk aka The Kingpin. Despite his size, Fisk is Marvel’s most adaptable and versatile villain, who does his dastardly deeds outside AND within the law. Now that he’s the Mayor of New York, expect him to turn Matthew Murdock aka Daredevil’s life into a living hell in 2018!
MC: The Batman Who Laughs. Bruce Wayne + The Joker = the scariest version of Batman ever. The one-shot about his origins is one of the most terrifying comics of the year.
KR: Jor El. It took DC eight decades to bring back Kal El’s dad … and the result is a character that makes even Kevin Costner’s Pa Kent in Man Of Steel seem better!
MC: Hydra Captain America. At first, it seemed like a novel idea, even if it went against everything Captain America stands for. But I was prepared to forgive Marvel if the story turned out to be good. But it wasn’t. In the end, it just left a bad taste in the mouth.
Best new character:
KR: Doomsday Clock’s new Roscharch. The protagonist and unsung hero of Watchmen finally gets a new lease of life, albeit with a different “host”.
MC: Kid Kaiju, from Monsters Unleashed. Because he can control monsters, which can merge to become ONE GIANT MONSTER. OH YEAH.
Worst new character:
KR: Jor El. While technically, and historically, he is as old as Superman, the decision to bring him back is even worse than Marvel’s 1990s act of bringing back Peter Parker’s parents (who later turned out to be “Life Model Decoys”).
MC: I could place Hydra Captain America and Secret Empire in almost all the “Worst” categories this year. He really is that bad.
KR: Doomsday Clock, aka the return of the Watchmen. It may be too early to sing praises here but with Geoff Johns and Gary Frank at the creative helm … success is as sure as death and taxes. Alan Moore might even be proud!
MC: The Wild Storm. Warren Ellis’ reboot of the Wildstorm universe is fresh enough to attract new fans while also familiar enough to keep old fans happy.
KR: Ben Reilly/Scarlet Spider. More than two decades after the whole Clone Saga debacle, the scars are still fresh … and obviously someone at Marvel didn’t get the memo.
MC: Does the Ghost In The Shell movie count? Because that didn’t do any justice to the original manga/anime at all.
KR: This is more of a memorable tribute to a real-life legend – Alfonso Wong, the creator of Old Master Q, who died in January, aged 93. In comics, it has to be Agent Phil Coulson, killed by Deadpool (Deadpool #31), who was duped into working for Hydra Captain America.
MC: Dawn Greenwood, from Silver Surfer. The most beautiful death and send-off a comic book character could ever have. Oh, and in terms of resurrections, Gertrude Yorkes from Runaways!
KR: Jor El’s resurrection. ’Nuff said!
MC: Black Widow’s death at the hands of Hydra Cap in Secret Empire. We’re not even sure she’s actually dead, which makes it even worse. As for resurrections, we knew Captain America was coming back, but the way it happened was way too convenient.
Best crossover event:
KR: Monsters Unleashed. The perfect reason (and excuse) to gather every Marvel hero, instead of some cosmic cube Nazi abomination.
MC: Dark Nights: Metal. A story that really pushes the boundaries of the DC Universe, expanding it by introducing the Dark Multiverse, and of course, the most nightmarish versions of Batman ever.
Worst crossover event:
KR: Secret Empire. There may not have been any Cap America movies this year but this experiment with Hydra Captain America certainly churned out the worst results…. Definitely worse than Secret Wars 2 plus the whole Spidey Clone Saga!
MC: You’ve heard enough about Secret Empire already, so instead, I’ll go for the Harley & Ivy Meet Betty And Veronica crossover between DC and Archie Comics. I have no words for just how pointless and irrelevant the whole thing is. Heck, Catwoman shows up just because … she likes Josie And The Pussycats. Yeah, I know.
Best non-comic comic-book related news:
KR: Finally one to unite Malaysian and Singaporean comic fans: Sonny Liew winning three Eisner Awards for The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye!
MC: The Wonder Woman movie. She’s the shining light of the DC film franchise, and the best thing in Justice League. Also, The Punisher and Runaways TV shows.
Story we would love to see become a movie:
KR: Jeff Lemire’s Moon Knight. The book was a fascinating exploration and development of the character’s mental condition, with Marc Spector waking up in a mental institution and being told that his entire hero career was a hallucination!
MC: Mystic U. The story of a school for magicians has been done before, but with Guillermo Del Toro’s Justice League Dark movie now dead in the water, I want a movie about teenage versions of Enchantress, Zatanna, and maybe John Constantine being taught by Madame Xanadu, Frankenstein and Mr E.
One book to recommend to someone who is completely sick of superheroes:
KR: Moon Knight. No super powers, no problems. Who needs them when you’ve got multiple personalities?
MC: I’m not saying this just because Star Wars: The Last Jedi is opening this week, but really, go read Marvel’s Star Wars comics. They’re pretty good. If you prefer your space opera less Disney-fied, read Saga, which is still the best space fantasy story around.
One 2017 series to re-read:
KR: IDW’s Ragnarok. Reading this title is akin to a crime for me, albeit a righteous one. It’s like stealing from Marvel while paying homage to a true thunder god.
MC: Silver Surfer. Dan Slott and Michael Allred’s series ended on such a sad but touching note that I simply had to go back and re-read the whole thing all over again.
One 2017 comic book moment to erase from existence:
KR: Bringing back or creating a new persona for Jor El! Whichever way you see it, some dead characters should remain dead…. Or as holograms.
MC: Secret Empire, of course. Duh.