Whether you’re a purist who keeps your precious comic books in safety deposit boxes or a n00b who just jumped on the bandwagon at Hollywood’s behest (yeah, tell me I’m wrong, girls-who-think-Green-Lantern-has-always-looked-like-Ryan-Reynolds and kids-who-think-Batman-always-sounded-like-Christian-Bale-constipated), you should at least be aware that comic books are cool now. At least, that’s what I’m putting out onto the Internet and as we all know, everything on the Internet is true.
With that said, 2011 was actually a bang-up year for the world of comic books. The San Diego Comic Con has not yet been relegated to the Hell that is Anaheim (despite persistent rumors), cinema and video game production studios continued to suck at the proverbial teats of Marvel, DC and Dark Horse, and the tried-and-true paper books made a somewhat successful leap into the digital realm. As a self-professed geek (but I’m cool now, because comic books are cool now. Right, guys?) and hoarder of geek treasure, I’m here to give you new fans and old a rundown of the best comic book things that happened this year.
It’s almost as if Marvel apologized for the Hulk movies, the mediocre X-Men sequels and the Daredevil/Elektra fiasco with their releases this year. Riding on the coattails of the “Iron Man” franchise’s success with both critics AND fanboys, we seem to have entered a new era of anti-suck for the Marvel silver screen with Captain America and X-Men: First Class. Admittedly, even “Thor” was (at very least) better than okay. Seemingly intended to further bridge the gap between the more militant fanboys and the regular public, plotlines walked tightropes of origin stories that new fans could enjoy without getting lost in the intricacies of parallel story arcs. Fanatic or now, how could you not enjoy the exploration of the complex relationship between a young Xavier and Magneto, set against a backdrop of 1960s political turmoil? And let’s not forget the stellar “updated” visuals; I am definitely not complaining about the Captain America costume redesign. I thought that it was the perfect realization of a superhero getup without being too cheeseball “Batman and Robin” (the Batman movie of which we do not speak.) My point being, let’s hope this wave of better-than-average cinematic adaptations continues, given that we’re staring down the barrel of a 2012 with even more comic book movie release dates. Do not disappoint me, Avengers.
Okay, let’s all agree that 2009’s “Batman: Arkham Asylum” beat the piss out of any and all LEGO Batman video game. Are we all on the same page now? Good. So, who didn’t expect the world out of this year’s Batman: Arkham City follow-up? Damn skippy—we all did. I’m happy to say that DC delivered in a big way and I’ll say it as politely as I can: Arkham City is the tits. Earning 4 of Spike’s illustrious VGAs (that’s Video Game Awards for everyone who thought that was a naughty acronym for something else) including Best Xbox 360 Game, Arkham City went above and beyond as a sequel. And, in case you live under a rock or still use dial-up or something, the Internet is positively buzzing with hinty-hints of another sequel, Arkham World. Google it if you don’t believe me—I’m not gonna do everything for you, jeez. Somewhat less kickass but still pretty awesome was Marvel’s weirdly-timed Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, which stayed under the radar for the most part, due to the earlier release of Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds. Really, they were 9 months apart. WTF is that?! Anyway, Ultimate boasts new characters and *some* fixes, and has met with a generally lukewarm reception. Although, if you’re like me and remember the days of actual arcade games with wistful sighs and nostalgia, Ultimate is definitely worth the $40 price tag.
In a ballsy move to re-“kindle” (that pun is gonna get charmingly clever in a sec) the romance between people and comics, DC did a big thing in August this year and launched the New 52—reissues and new numberings and entirely new directions for their biggest 52 superheroes and superheroines. This gives new fans a chance to jump in on the ground floor and start picking up books numbered 1 and get invested so that you can be cool in the future, like the rest of us comic geeks. Additionally, the New 52 can be purchased digitally, and with the Kindle Fire color e-reader out now (and cheaper than iPads), I anticipate that digital comics will get much bigger in the coming year. (If you’re looking for a decent cheap starter, I suggest the 99-cent per issue Arkham Unhinged series, delightfully spun-off of the Arkham Asylum VG. Simple plots with familiar characters and really beautiful artwork!) Now you don’t have to purchase additional “bags and boards” to keep your pages pristine and thumb-smudge free. Seriously, keep your Cheetos-fingers off my latest issue of The Goon.
Tangentially, DC’s done a great job of drumming up support for less-than-popular series, such as the sorta wimpy Aquaman who suddenly kicks ass and Animal Man, who now has a storyline that people find interesting. Other big hits include the much-lauded Swamp Thing and the places that the Batman empire is going, most notably, to Africa with Batwing. Hopefully now there will be a little more cohesion with the writing in the Batverse.
This year also brought the announcement of Marvel’s upcoming Avengers vs. X-Men storyline and a really great Guillermo del Toro/Dark Horse horror book, The Strain, which has a lot of merit, given that the vampire comic is so played out, no one can even hear the word “vampire” without waves of Twilight-induced nausea. Additionally, issue #1 of The Strain retails for a dollar, which is the same price of a cheeseburger at McDonald’s, and The Strain (probably) will not give you diarrhea.
I know I’ve been sticking with Marvel, DC and little Dark Horse in this list. I also that there is a whole world of other publishers, big and indie, and that they also have worthwhile things going on this year and next. For the most part, I’m covering the biggest of the big happenings, but that in no way should discourage you from finding and loving comics that are not from the Big Three publishers. To get you started, if you’re unfamiliar with some of the best web comics ever, at least know that we now have real, honest-to-Zod paper books to peruse from favorites The Oatmeal and Hark! A Vagrant, which both hit stores this year. Their websites have been around for a while, but there is this new trend in web comics-turned-books that I’m loving (I’m looking at you, too, xkcd and Hyperbole and a Half) and it saves me the trouble of printing out extra-hilarious pages to look at when my eyeballs start to shrivel up from staring at the computer too much. I don’t even have a lot to add to these, because they’re both clever and hilarious and you really just need to go love them. NEW BOOKS, GUYS! EVERYONE LOVES NEW BOOKS!
AND IN OTHER NEWS, COMICS COULD MAKE YOU RICH AGAIN!
Comic books are, and have always been, the coolest “investment.” Stamps are for mailing things and coins are for buying things, like comic books. (See what I did there?) I can prove it to you with these bits of news: this year, there were some more record-breaking price tags for the favoritest and famousest “Action Comics #1” (first appearance of Superman) and “Amazing Fantasy #15” (first appearance of Spiderman). How rich could you be if you stumbled onto one of these rare books? Well, the discovery of an excellent condition first appearance of the Man of Steel could net you $2.16 million like it did at auction this year, while the first Spidey book earned $1.1 million. And, if digital is the new, uncharted territory of comic books, I wonder if print versions will start to dwindle. Time will tell. The interesting thing is that these sales broke records in an economy full of people that still don’t have a lot of spending money, which says to me that there will always be value in art. Personally, I think $2.16 million is a LOT for Superman, but I guess if I had money to kick around, I would probably be shelling it out for the $110,000 first issue of The X-Men from 1963, so no judgment here.
As I said before, 2011 was good to comic books. Unfortunately, that just means that we’re all going into 2012 with high expectations and we all know that satisfying the fanboy (and fangirl) is a Herculean task. (I mean creatively, not sexually.) So, here’s to 2012 kicking ass and taking names. Happy Holidays, nerds.
– Sierra Christman