The PopCult Bookshelf

This will be the last PopCult Bookshelf of 2014. We’re taking off next week because our normal day, Thursday, is Christmas Day and the following week is New Year’s. So for those of you scoring at home, the next PopCult Bookshelf will be posted January 8, 2015.

For our final column this year, we are going to look back at what I pick as the Top Five comic books of 2014r. In no particular order:

Written by Grant Morrison
drawn by Ivan Reis and various artists
DC Comics

Grant Morrison’s long delayed re-shuffling of the DC Comics multiverse finally turned up this year and I’m happy to report that so far, its been well worth the wait. Using his near encyclopedic knowledge of every obscure nook and cranny of all the various DC universes, Morrison has crafted a story that jumps from one alternate reality to the next, while employing different storytelling styles but maintaining a coherent plot.

It’s nice to see Morrison back at the top of his game because when he’s good, he’s among the best writers in comics. But when he stumbles, he’s nearly incomprehensible. Multiversity is a triumph.This book has been a welcome alternative to the mess that is DC’s “New 52.”

Little Nemo:Return to Slumberland
STK656833Written by Eric Shanower
drawn by Gabriel Rodriguez
IDW Comics

The unenviable task of trying to continue one of the most legendary comic strips in history over a hundred years after its debut had to have been daunting. Remarkably, Shanower and Rodriguez manage to perfectly capture the spirit of Winsor McCay’s nearly perfect comic strip while making it seem contemporary without polluting it with cheap pop culture or technological references.

The remarkable thing about this new version of Little Nemo is that it manages to translate McCay’s single large Sunday page into the modern comic book format without losing any of the sense of wonder or epic scale of McCay’s work. Third issue even manages to meld McCay with M.C. Escher, an contemporary an a kindred spirit.

Three issues in, we have seen nothing but brilliance in Shanower’s scripts and the artwork by Rodriguez has been beautifully astounding. This book is the first one I look for when I get my shipment of comic books in from Westfield.

3903692-silver_surfer_4_coverAll New Silver Surfer
Written by Peter Milligan
drawn by Mike Allred
Marvel Comics

One of my favorite writers and one of my favorite artists team up to bring us the adventures of one of the coolest Marvel Comics characters that Jack Kirby ever created. All New Silver Surfer brings a light and thoroughly entertaining tone to a character who is usually depicted as ponderous and philosophical.

Milligan and Allred have brought a sense of fun to this comic book that makes it currently the most entertaining book that Marvel publishes. It’s as entertaining a comic book as Guardians Of The Galaxy was a movie. Milligan’s stories bring a human touch to the cosmic mythology of Marvel while pointing out the inherent absurdity of that part of the Marvel universe. Mike Allred’s art is a unique distillation of Jack Kirby, Alex Toth, and Bruno Premiani. There is nobody else working in mainstream comics with such a pure comic book style.

WeirdLove_21Weird Love
Written and drawn by various
edited by Craig Yoe and Ciliza Gussoni
Yoe Books/IDW Comics

Weird Love mines a largely ignored vein of comic book history. This all reprint title presents romance comics from various defunct publishers. Since the genre pretty much died out in 1976, this material is of quite a ripe vintage. What makes this book “Weird Love” is the absolutely bizzare conventions of the form which, emanating from earlier times in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, have attained a level of cultural alienation.

There are some teriffically lurid and sensationalistic stories in this comic book. Many of them have the thoroughly entertaining quality of what a veneral disease film might have been like had it been written and directed by Ed Wood. With titles like “Love of a Lunatic,” “Trailer Park Trash,” “I Fell For a Commie” and “Too Fat to Frug,” these stories are howlers. The artwork ranges from rather pedestrian anonymous artists to work by amazing craftsmen like Matt Baker and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. Every issue has at least a couple of artistic gems, but the real selling point is the Confession Magazine-style writing. With individual issues selling out across the country, it’s great news that these comics will soon be collected in a lovely hardback volume.

COVER (1)The Charlton Arrow
Written and drawn by various
edited by Fester Faceplant, Roger McKenzie, and Mort Todd

The Charlton Arrow is a tribute to the beloved and/or ridiculed Charlton Comics Group. This may be the first comic book spawned out of a Facebook Group page. Charlton was never the number one comic book publisher. Truth be told, I don’t think they were ever in the top five. They were the comic book arm of Charlton Publications, the folks who published Hit Parader magazine, among other periodicals. Charlton maintains a special place in history as a plucky little company where creativity was allowed to run wild with a very small budget. The Charlton Arrow hops from genre to genre, much like the original Charlton comics. This is what comic books used to be like, before they were taken over by guys on steroids running around in their underwear.

A labor of love, with a mix of new contributions from Charlton veterans, fans of the original comics and even a couple of vintage stories, The Charlton Arrow is a hugely fun package of comics. Much of the appeal of the original Charlton comics was that the writers and artists were afforded creative freedom in lieu of decent pay. This new comic captures that spirit very well. This may have been the most fun comic book of the year. The very talented roster of writers and artists are obviously having a blast, and so will anyone who reads it.

Just this week the first two issues became available on the Kindle, and hard copies can be ordered directly from Mort Todd. This comic is at the forefront of the “Charlton Neo” movement, and we’ll be telling you all about that next month.