miércoles, 19 de diciembre de 2018

The Top Ten Worst DC Comics of 2018

What else is there to say?

I know this has become an habit coming from myself but I just can't help it, there are always a bunch of things to criticize every year and 2018 is no different, in fact, in many instances is much worse.

As I've mentioned during the last couple of years, the Rebirth initiative brought the best from the creative roster at DC Comics to return characters to the their most classic forms but sadly, that initiative is already over right now and it makes sense due that Geoff Johns is no longer the Chief Creative Officer at DC so his strong direction is not as prevalent and it has been especially obvious towards the end of this year.

Yes, some terrible events have appeared over the course of 2018 and mind you, some of them are unrelated to Johns stepping down but is pretty clear that this is a major turning point for the whole line and I'm going to mention how that is going to affect many books and most importantly, characters.

A few things are going to be similar from last year because sadly, many of the bad stuff from 2017 still continued despite of most people's complaints and even quite a few terrible books appeared from what seemed a promising new direction for DC.

Let's start with the old first shall we? Let's start with the lesser evil:

10. Marguerite Bennett's Batwoman.

Let's be fair here, this book wasn't terrible as much as it was incredibly dull and uninspired, that's the major reason why I included it on the list last year and the same thing happened in 2018.

I've mentioned in the past how disappointing this book turned out because Bennett has always mentioned how much she loves the character of Kate Kane and thus it was incredibly surprising how little she apparently cared to deliver an interesting story for this heroine.

The trend remains the same this year with Bennett failing to offer a compelling enough story for people to be invested in this title up to the point where it was mercifully killed to prevent readers from wasting their time anymore.

But let's talk about that "big final story" that Bennett wanted to tell okay? It was an arc centered around Alice, Kate's demented sister and archenemy which is a pretty fitting way to end a book fair enough. THE PROBLEM is that for some reason that nobody can explain, Bennett insisted on including those characters from that boring island that she created during her first arc that no one even bothers to remember its name and they're by far the worst part of the story.

That's not the only problem though since Bennett didn't do anything particularly new with Alice, even Marc Andreyko's misguided run knew to give the character new and at times, interesting developments with the promise that she could become a hero at some point. Bennett simply refuses to give any progress to Kate's sister or hell, the series as a whole. When the best part of a book was an one-shot written by the often filler writer Kate Perkins, you know that it was a failure.

I must admit that I almost forgot about this book, that's how unremarkable it was.

Then again, at least it wasn't:

9. Hope Larson's Batgirl.

I don't think anyone even remembers this run, at least not fondly.

As you might remember, last year I mentioned how Hope Larson's Batgirl started interesting enough with a few intriguing elements and aspects of worldbuilding. Sadly, that didn't last long since Larson's true nature became quite obvious almost immediately and decided to drop any pretense of telling a story and instead focused on giving as many "progressive" messages as possible while trying, and the key word is "trying", to make them pass as a plot.

Again, I'm all for progressive ideas since those are the ones that should be promoted so people can learn to accept others no matter their differences. That being said, the way how Larson does it seems more patronizing than anything else, basically looking down to the people she supposedly wants to help by portraying them as weak and pathetic as possible and repeating concepts that only extremists would think are acceptable.

Her final stories didn't change much concerning this mentality. In fact, her last "arc" (if you can call it that since it consisted of only two issues) was about how Babs didn't want to follow the most traditional aspects of society like settling down and having a boyfriend which is one of the typical forced rebellious aspects that this trend of writing contains but even if we ignore the heavyhanded message, this also goes completely against characterization due that Babs is one of those characters who do wants a normal life, is only that the circunstances in her world often got in the way. This was especially obvious during the Cameron/Fletcher/Tarr's run and it makes me sad how low we've fallen since then.

But hey, at least Larson finally remembered a few characters from her initial arc towards the end but too little, too late.

And speaking of things that seemed kinda promising at the beginning:

8. James Robinson's Wonder Woman.

I wasn't a fan of Greg Rucka's Wonder Woman run as a whole as you know. I thought its beginning was really strong but it quickly devolved into a series of unnecessary retcons to erase the New 52 events and basically screaming to Brian Azzarello: "MY RUN IS MUCH BETTER THAN YOURS!" but ultimately lacked the actual consistence to sustain that decision and mentality, and worst of all, it ended in a rather anticlimactic way that made Rucka's desire to get rid of previous concepts pointless.

So I was ready for any sort of change at that point and what we got was a pretty forgettable short run written by Shea Fontanna... and a pretty forgettable long run written by James Robinson.

And it didn't have to be this way. Robinson started with interesting enough ideas, implementing his classic love for obscure characters and concepts to bring back a few forgotten aspects of the Wonder Woman mythos. However, the nature of the run eventually became pretty clear and what we actually received was a transparent editorially mandated story that barely made any impact on the actual book where it happened.

Apparently Robinson was forced to deal with the ignored character of Grail from the event Darkside War and bring back Darkseid to the DCU which was handled in many, many issues that turned into several decompressed chapters that felt like a waste of time, not only because very little happened in each one of them but also because they were devoid of any personal creativity and felt like Robinson was simply awaiting a check at the end of the read.

The worst thing is that even Darkseid's return was useless in the grand scheme of things due that he suffered yet another change of status quo on the pages of Justice League Odyssey where he became younger and with a new purpose so one can't help but questioning what was the point of all this? (Aside from robbing people of their money of course).

Unfortunately, that's the nature of plans changing or not being good in the first place and that leads me to:

7. James Tynion IV/Jim Lee's The Immortal Men.

This was just bad from the start at least.

Despite of having a few interesting moments and ideas, Scott Snyder's Metal was a rather forgettable event as a whole and if we're completely honest we can see it as what it actually was: A mere set-up for the new status quo of the DCU.

Yes, the new big direction of the DC line was heavily promoted during the quick and anticlimactic ending of Metal which resulted into the Justice League: No Justice miniseries (another Snyder event which was just yet another set-up) and the Dark Matter line which was heavily promoted as a big collaboration between artists and writers, giving a bigger importance to the pencillers.

And this brought its own sort of problems. For one, a great artist is not necessarily a great writer and even if they have other people with actual writing experience helping them, this doesn't really stop the poor foundation and direction that was created in the first place. Don't get me wrong, the Dark Matter line still produced a decent amount of great books but it was because some of them had equally talented artists and writers.

Where I'm going with this is: What did you honestly expect from a collaboration between Jim Lee and James Frikking Tynion IV?

Tynion is not one of my favorite writers, like, at all. His books might, might start decently enough with a few intriguing ideas but they quickly devolve into a never ending trend of dull stories and bad characterization. The Immortal Men was bad from the very beginning though, with characters who were not presented in an interesting manner and so, they were not worth the investment of readers which is especially insulting considering that these are brand new characters and a first issue is supposed to attract the audience so they're compelled to keep buying the damn book.

This is far from the only problem though since Tynion's classic overwritten narration constantly got in the way with several annoying moments of third person narration, characters who said more than they should simply because of exposition and the saddest part is that no matter the huge amount of narration, it didn't manage to make the cast any more appealing.

And this also brings Lee to the table whose skills are really not suited for a supernatural book. I'm a fan of his early work and he still does know how to create imposing moments at times but his idea of creating magical protagonists was basically 90s Image characters, think Spawn and the likes, the Immortal Men were heavily influenced by them to the point that they almost looked like parodies.

For being both badly written and poorly depicted, The Immortal Men can't simply escape any bad list.

Is funny though, this also reminds me of yet another book that Lee worked on at the beginning:

6. Rob Williams' Suicide Squad.

Repeat after me: This already ended.

Now repeat after me: Why the f*ck did it take this long?!

Launched by both Rob Williams and Jim Lee, Suicide Squad was supposed to be one of the biggest titles from the Rebirth initiative. It was following a similar cast from the at the time recent Suicide Squad movie, it had one of the most popular pencillers in the medium and also had a writer with a, let's say, interesting background. Everything was given to this book to succeed.

But of course we all know what actually happened. The Suicide Squad movie, while not really a comercial flop, was a critical failure so the changes that were made for the Rebirth title to go aligned with it were ill-conceived and ill-fated. Jim Lee was never going to stay in the long run and thus the sales were going to inevitably decline once that he was gone. Finally, I was one of the people who were warning others about how Rob Williams is not really that good of an author and his ideas ended-up being more counterproductive than anything else.

And yet things ended-up being worse than even I anticipated.

Suicide Squad delivered one of the most mediocre runs that I've ever experienced in all my years reading DC Comics, so much that I simply stopped bothering with the title because there was nothing interesting to talk about it, not even anything particularly wrong or atrocius, the book was simply mediocrity incarnated. I only came back a few times to see if anything had changed and there wasn't any surprises whatsover from neither a good or bad perspective.

The funny thing is that the book ended in just a crossover with Aquaman and the funniest thing is that such issues were actually some of the best parts from the entire run, possibly because it had to go along with an actual competent run but even in such case, Williams didn't even bother to create compelling characterization for the cast because he introduced a couple of villains who were basically screaming "COME ON! KILL ME!" and thus it was hard to even care about them.

This whole era was pretty much James Robinson's Wonder Woman turned up to eleven. A clearly creatively bankrupt work that was a disservice for the entire line and audience.

And it was still far from the worst offender in that regard.

5. Ben Percy's Green Arrow.

Yes, this is not on the first place this year, what a miracle.

And there are justifiable reasons for that. The most obvious one is that this run finally ended so there's no reason to keep criticizing it.

The second one is that this wasn't actually as bad as last year!

Why? Well, because of the mere fact that Percy's work on the title consisted of just 3 issues in 2018 and so, there's not a lot to hate here.

Unfortunately, most of the things that happened in those 3 issues reminded me of all the problems that this era brought.

Let's start with the bad characterization first. The image above should be one of the wrongest things I've read about the character of Oliver Queen. No, he doesn't "learn from his mistakes", yes, he regrets them, yes, he tries to not make them again but at the end, he always does. Sure, "learning from mistakes" doesn't necessarily mean that such mistakes won't be commited again but at the same time, I highly doubt that Percy was refering to anything else. The most hilarious part about this is that this is said by Dinah of all people and at that point I was praying that one of the characters would have told her: "Oh really Dinah? He always learns from his mistakes? Tell me, did he learn much when he cheated on you the first time? Or the second time? Or God forbid, the third time? I guess he might be a slow learner".

And the story is still unremarkable to say the least. The Ninth Circle, the stereotypical evil businessmen, are finally and I mean finally, defeated which is not really an accomplishment as much as a relief for the entire audience because Lord knows those guys overstayed their welcome even before of the Rebirth series. Oh, but one can't forget the fact that Percy ruined the character of Moira Queen by making her revive, one-dimensionally evil (What a surprise coming from this writer) and had an affair with Malcolm Merlyn which goes so against the version that Jeff Lemire created that is not even insulting, is literally desecrating.

Finally, the last issue was a "celebration" of all the events that Percy created and actually introduced Constantine Drakon to the post-Flashpoint continuity... only to be quickly and unsatisfactorily defeated by Dinah and really why did he even bother with that? Salt to the wound.

Not as bad but come on, with only 3 issues it just couldn't have been.

Then again, there are other titles that were just as short and were not exactly better:

4. Steve Orlando's The Unexpected.

What happened to you Steve Orlando? Seriously, what happened to you?

You started INCREDIBLY promising at DC Comics with your brilliant Midnighter series and I considered it one of the best books from that time. Your future looked bright.

Sadly, everything after that was disappointment followed by disappointment in a constant basis. The biggest one being your Justice League of America series that for all intent and purposes should have been great but it ended-up as one of the most underwhelming books in a long time. I thought things couldn't get worse after that disaster.

But I was wrong, very wrong.

The Unexpected commits many of the same mistakes of Orlando's JLA like starting with full blown action without setting-up neither the story nor the characters properly. Hell, it's even worse in that regard because at least JLA had a series of one-shots dedicated to the protagonists before the proper series was launched to showcase the kind of people they were, The Unexpected didn't even bother with that which makes it even more frustrating.

And what makes it actually infuriating is that Orlando simply decided to kill most of them in the first couple of issues.

Yes, it wasn't enough that these characters were barely characters to begin with, they had to be killed before they were even given a personality in a vain attempt of creating a "twist". Let alone the fact that I hate the trope of killing just for shock value, how are we supposed to care for people who we don't even know? People who didn't even receive the spotlight to at least makes us concerned about their fate? They were literally a waste of time and space.

That's not saying that the characters that survived were treated any better. Oh no, they were just as uninteresting as the ones who died. This was the case for the first 3 issues and I didn't even bother with what followed later because of what I've read up to that point was so bad. This is what I meant when I said that this was as short as Percy's Green Arrow and yet it was much worse, at least Percy seemed to care about the characters despite of how misguiden his work was.

This was also part of the Dark Matter line but the difference between this and The Immortal Men is that the flaws of this series completely fall into the writer's hands. I mean, I guess you could complaint about the chaotic nature of the artwork here but really, that's mostly because Orlando's script suffers from serious pacing problems.

This and the recent Martian Manhunter series has made me suspect that Orlando might just be an one-hit-wonder and is sad because of how excited I was about his future.

And speaking of things that bring doubt for the future:

3. Brian Bendis' Man of Steel.

This didn't start bad per se but the ramifications certainly were.

I think we are all familiar with Brian Bendis' work, even if you're not familiar with Marvel Comics you at least should have heard about him. Bendis' early Marvel work was undoubtly great with the stand-outs being his Daredevil and Alias runs which became some of the definitive interpretations of a few characters. However, he's also known for his less than appropriate works like his maligned Avengers: Disassembled story where he killed a lot of the cast and misinterpreted a few of the key characters in the roster, since then Bendis has been synonymous with "bad characterization" and there are justifiable reasons for that as we're going to learn here.

The miniseries Man of Steel marked the proper beginning on Bendis on the Superman line (not counting a few early ministories) and let's just say that he started in a way that is very predictable from him. He created a brand new antagonist who was supposed to shake Superman's universe for years to come (Okay, "brand new" is really stretching it because that archetype has been used several times already) which led to a very decompressed story due that very little happened in each chapter. Mind you, it wasn't really terrible, there was a good sense of escalation and an entertaining tone for the most part.

What was really terrible came at the end though.

Bendis followed his "bad characterization" reputation as accurately as possible by completely rewriting the character of Jon Kent, one of the best additions from the Rebirth initiative and one of my new favorite young heroes, by turning him into someone who is completely insecure of himself for reasons that are not even adequate for his own history. It turned out that because he was rejected by the Teen Titans that made him realize that there was something wrong with him... somehow. Let's forget the fact that this pretty much came out of nowhere, this isn't really how it happened since Peter Tomasi, the man responsible for most of Jon's stories, made it seem like the rejection by the Teen Titans wasn't that much of a big deal for Jon.

And here is where the true problem comes. This classic Bendis example of bad characterization was simply delivered to create drama in Clark's life because now Jon wants to leave the world with his grandfather to sort of find himself (and seriously, what kid even tries to "find himself"?) and Lois decides to accompany for reasons that are really impossible to explain aside from the decision of leaving Clark completely alone and more miserable than ever which of course, presents another case of that so lovely bad characterization for Lois this time and this would only be accentuated in upcoming issues of Superman believe me.

Those are the reasons why I put this miniseries in particular on this list. They plant the seeds for a direction that I personally detest, one that is cemented in poor portrayals just to create a story that seems different but at the end, is not unlike all the other dozen stories that heavily try to devastate a character's world to gain quick attention from the readers.

This has made me realize that Brian Bendis might be the anti-Geoff Johns. Both have the potential to attract huge number of sales based on their premises but, while Johns usually bases his books on classic stories and mythos and builds from them, Bendis simply does the opposite and destroys what was previously established.

Is not a promising future but at least is something that hopefully won't last as long as:

2. Tom King's Batman.

Why are we still here? Why?

That's the question we all have been asking since pretty much the beginning of Rebirth and yet things are still the same.

I blame myself obviously since I mentioned last year when this work fell into the same spot that "this run gives readers hope only to immediately take it away" so I should've stayed far away from it as well.

But no, I persevered and this time I didn't find any hope, only dread.

Let's start with what happened early this year, one of the worst storylines that I've seen in recent times and one that involves one of my favorite characters. "The Gift" was an arc based on an alternate reality where the Waynes didn't die and Bruce had what seemed like a normal life and why was this timeline created you might ask? Because Booster Gold wanted to give Bruce and Selina a gift for their wedding.

If you're familiar with the character of Booster Gold you should know that time after time, Michael Carter has learned that he shouldn't interfere with the timeline, his whole job and direction is to protect it all cost. Hell, I believe that a recent story written by Dan Jurgens, creator of Booster Gold, dealt with the exact same topic so I don't understand why King decided to alter Booster's character so much.

Oh wait, no, I understand why he did it, because King always needs to follow his well-known "themes over characterization" mentality and change characters just to fit into his stories. Even worse is that the Booster who appeared here was a rather incompetent and at times, delusional version of the beloved hero who needed to be broken to mess-up with reality and the true reason why all of this happened is because King wanted a victim, sorry, "character" for an upcoming event that he was planning and I guess you can imagine what's coming next with that said.

Far from the only problem though since King also decided to quickly drop the wedding storyarc he has been developing for a big part of his run just because "Batman needs to be miserable to keep being Batman" which is one of the most predictable and derivative concepts in existence. Is not that it's particularly bad, it was implemented during Scott Snyder's run with a solid effect I believe, the problem is that this happens immediately after Snyder's run and thus it seems like we're going in circles at this point.

Is funny actually, this reminds me that one of my criticisms about King's run early on was that he was trying to follow Snyder's work but didn't have the same strengths to execute it and this pretty much confirms that believe and, if you look even further than that, I would say that King also tries to emulate Grant Morrison's run concerning bizarre events and continuity but pretty much has the same negative effect.

The most unbelievable aspect is what happened after the whole wedding debacle when it turned out that Bane has been manipulating all the terrible things that have been happening in Bruce's life to broke him. Yes, the same Bane who acted like a demented asshole at the end of the I am Bane arc (You know, the one where Bruce beat him with a headbutt and the words "I am Batman!"). Is almost offensive that King wants us all to buy that Bane has been pulling the strings all this time because this even involves the Thomas Wayne from Flashpoint which it would mean that Bane has now access to Multiverse sh*t. This doesn't make Bane look more competent nor the story more complex, it just makes the whole thing transparently fabricated to give it some sense of depth and makes me suspect that King is simply making things up as he goes.

Everything about this run is hard to believe, hard to believe that is so bad and hard to believe that it has lasted so long.

And yet, it doesn't even get close to how bad the title in the first spot is.

And that title only had 3 issues so far up to this date.

What could possibly make it so bad? Well, let's explore its background first shall we?

Remember when I mentioned early on that Geoff Johns stepped down from his Chief Creative Officer position?

Well, this book is the result of that.

Johns' Rebirth line was the kind of revitalization that DC Comics needed after the many years of erratic directions that the New 52 brought. It was a promising, bright and strong plan that allowed for many titles and characters to return to their roots and create brand new stories heavily based on classic interpretations.

Everything stopped almost immediately with Johns leaving though.

In fact, many of the same problems from some of the darkest times in DC Comics, not only from the New 52 but also even before that, are included in this title. Is dark for the sake of being dark, is almost grotesque, is a downright insult to people who have been invested in the last couple of years of stories and a literal assassination to many characters from the DCU.

The only thing that I find relieving about this is that, in retrospective, a few of my picks for the first spot of this particular list from previous years could have been considered controversial since there were some people who enjoyed such books despite of how little I understood their reasoning. However, I don't think I'm going to annoy anyone with my choice this year.

And yes, I think we all know where this is going.

1. Tom King's Heroes in Crisis. 

Let's just say that this series didn't start the best way even when it was simply announced.

Tom King's Batman didn't reach the expectations that people had as a whole to the point where readers started to doubt his skills at handling a proper event that could define the entire DCU but the problem goes even beyond that.

You see, Dan Didio and Jim Lee pretty much replaced Johns in his previous position and with that they brought back a bit of the mentality that made the New 52 so maligned: Creating shock value and directions that alter the landscape of the line to attract readers. It was cheap before and is cheap now, and is especially obvious based on the premise of this crossover.

King's initial premise was about heroes dealing with mental issues which fair enough, is an interesting concept in and of itself, and it might, might have worked but later Didio apparently decided to make it a more traditional event, including deaths and everything.

Yes, people die in this happy story and they do in the most nefarious way. Let's not forget that this was supposed to involve characters trying to regain their mental health so the fact that they're murdered is already pretty offensive when you think about it but let's explore more about what makes it even more offensive.

I can tolerate characters dying. Actually, many of the best stories in this medium involve such trope but the point about it is that the death of character must be emotional, impactful and relevant, even more important though, it shouldn't be overdone because it would start losing its value.

How does Heroes in Crisis open? With the death of a bunch of obscure characters who nobody has seen in years and they only receive a single page to poorly explain their personalities and the reason why they are here.

I have seen people comparing this story with the event Identity Crisis but I think those people are being unfair here. Think whatever you want about such event but the way how it handled its initial murder was really strong, it was appropriately set-up, emotional, powerful and quickly devastated the entire superhero community. No matter how you see it, it was, for the lack of a better word, a well-executed death.

Heroes in Crisis' implementation of such trope is more akin to the terrible Justice League: Cry for Justice miniseries. Killing for the sake of killing and not even giving those deaths the kind of respect they deserve.

King's worst traits are visible here. The poor dialogue, pretentious writing and bad characterization are all present. The reasons why these characters were being treated in this place called Sanctuary make very little sense which makes me believe that all these people were forced to die because nobody wanted to do anything with them and they were easy to dispose.

I know I've mentioned that King's original premise had potential but once that I think about it, it might not even have been good in the first place. The implementation of Bruce's depression in Batman was predictable and shallow, not to mention that Booster Gold's reasons for being here (I told you he was going to appear in an upcoming King story) are quite illogical based on his history and personality, the only justification is that Booster was available and King was allowed to do whatever he wanted with him. This is not really a book about mental issues as much as forcing a theme over characters that were not the right fit for it.

And we're not even touching the worst aspects of this. Both Wally West and Roy Harper get murdered off screen. Wally at least receives a few interesting scenes later on explaining why he's being treated but Roy doesn't get that luxury, the best thing that Roy got was a funeral story told in the pages of Green Arrow (which was pretty solid to be fair). These are two of my favorite characters and so they being mishandled this way automatically annoys me and makes me detest this title like no other.

There's a possibility that all these changes won't stay, at least not for Wally since there are a few hints here and there that his role could be bigger but in retrospective it would make sense if this was a permanent death for him. Wally's return marked the beginning of the Rebirth line promising a much brighter future so his death obviously marks the end of Rebirth and the beginning of a darker time for the DCU.

I mean, it would still be an atrocious, completely despicable direction but it still makes sense from a theme standpoint.

And we all know how much Tom King loves themes don't we?

Heroes in Crisis is a complete failure in terms of writing and editorial, one of the most glaring examples in recent years and what makes it deserve this place in the list more than anything else.

This brings me to my final point as always: Do I consider Tom King a bad writer?

What? Haven't you been reading anything that I've written all this year?

Of course not.

When King is good, he can be really, REALLY good (and I'm going to talk about this soon enough). He has a way to create emotional stories based on obscure characters that makes you question even the nature of their existence.

However, when King is bad, he can also be really, REALLY bad, especially when he handles well-known characters since he doesn't follow their histories properly and just decides to do whatever fit into his ideas.

Is a shame that there's no middle point with him.

Well, those were my Top Ten Worst DC Comics of 2018. As usual, I'm going to finish the year in a more positive tone and so expect my Top Ten Best DC Comics of 2018 list before the end.

See you next time!

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