by Doug Smith
Hello, and welcome to The Chopping Block!
Well, not you personally. Your neck isn’t on the block. The Chopping Block is a list of comics that I sometimes wonder why I’m still buying every month. Generally, they’re not bad books, but are they good enough for me to continue to spend three or four bucks on them every month? That’s the question we’ll answer today.
First, a quick rundown of my buying habits. I have a pull list at my local comic store of 30 titles (for now). That’s a mix of ongoing books and limited series, so the total number of books on my pull list will vary by a book or three from month to month.
I also buy about $200 worth of single issues and trades/graphic novels from an online retailer every month. One hundred on singles, one hundred on trades/graphic novels, that’s my budget limit, so as prices go up, something has to give. I started using this mail order service about three years ago, because the discounts they offer were quite a bit larger than the one from my LCS.
My LCS pull list consists mostly of books I’ve been buying for many years, so there’s not a lot on there that’s on the chopping block. However, I was able to drop NEW AVENGERS and MIGHTY AVENGERS last year, and I’d been buying the Avengers, in some form, without fail for over twenty years, so nothing’s safe. (MIGHTY is back on the pull list thanks to Dan Slott.)
With that in mind, let’s talk about why these books are on the chopping block…
BATMAN: I’ve been down the “replacement Batman” road before, and I’m just not interested in DC’s current variation on that theme. I’m skipping the entire “Battle for the Cowl” event, with the exception of the ORACLE miniseries (which just barely made the cut). Word is that when BATMAN returns to monthly publication in July, it will be with Judd Winick as the writer, and it will most likely be either Dick Grayson or (ugh) Jason Todd as Batman. I may give this an issue or two, but Winick is one of my least-favorite writers, so the outlook is not good.
Status: In serious danger.
AGE OF BRONZE: Eric Shanowar’s retelling of the epic Trojan War. This book has seen the frequency of its publication slip badly in the past couple of years, which really dampens my enthusiasm. As a result, the book is a perennial occupant of the chopping block. But the book is also such an obvious labor of love for Shanowar, and the quality is always so very high, that I want to continue to support it. I’ll probably switch to “waiting for the trade” mode once the current “Betrayal” story arc is over…whenever that may be.
Status: Safe for now.
CHARLATAN BALL: This book kills me. Joe Casey is one of my favorite writers, an author I’ll follow just about anywhere. But this series does absolutely nothing for me. I’ve given it six issues and I just….well, I just don’t like it. It’s taking a little break, so I’ll probably check out issue 7 when it comes out, but that’s going to be a make-or-break issue for me.
Status: Last chance, Joe, even at that very attractive $2.50 price.
THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST: Let me just say, this book should NOT be on the chopping block. It was probably my favorite book in 2007-2008. Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and David Aja (along with several other talented artists) produced one of the best books Marvel’s put out in years. I was very concerned when it was announced that Matt Fraction was leaving (Brubaker had departed a few months earlier) and the new writer was going to be Duane Swierczynski, who had not impressed me at all with his other Marvel work.
But Swierczynski's first two arcs have been very good. Not reaching the high bar set by Fraction & Brubaker, but still one of Marvel’s best titles. But now comes the news that the monthly series is going on hiatus and will be replaced by a series of one-shots for five months. The good news is that I love the Immortal Weapons, so I really want to check these out. The bad news is there will different creative teams on each one-shot, so the quality could be very hit or miss. The even worse news is that these one-shots will be priced at $3.99, a one-dollar increase from the monthly series. So, what’s a fan to do?
Status: Who are we kidding? I’m a whore and I’ll buy these.
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA: This title has been on the chopping block for way too long. It’s just a very mediocre series right now, when it should be one of DC’s best. It’s not terrible (in fact, I liked the most recent issue aside from a couple of wildly out-of-character moments), but Dwayne McDuffie has never convinced me that he’s anything more than a decent writer, and Ed Benes seems to have regressed artistically. A shake-up in the creative team really seems to be in order.
Status: Hanging by a thread.
PUNISHER MAX: I guess this is now called PUNISHER: FRANK CASTLE, but it’ll always be PUNISHER MAX to me. Garth Ennis had such a fantastic run on this book that really, nobody could live up to it. The two arcs that have followed the end of the Ennis Era have been OK. Not close to being bad enough to drop, but the book slips further and further back in my “to read” pile every month. That, combined with the dreaded increase to $3.99 a month, has put this series in danger with me.
Status: Safe for now.
ASTONISHING X-MEN: I saw a preview for a new issue on the ‘net this week. I can’t remember the last time I saw a new issue. Has there been one since the two “Ghost Box” wallet-rapers….errrr, very special and essential two-issue miniseries? Regardless, I wasn’t really enjoying this series even before the long delays. It doesn’t really feel like Warren Ellis’s heart is in it, I find Simone Bianchi’s artwork to be amazingly ugly, and with the cast of this book more or less appearing in UNCANNY X-MEN every month (which has been rightfully restored to its place as the flagship X-Men book), I just have no more interest in ASTONISHING.
And now, let’s turn our attention to the mail order pull list…
BOOSTER GOLD: I loved the first six issues of this series, but it’s been slowly sliding down my list of favorites ever since then. Not bad, just…boring. And Booster Gold as a character has never been a particular favorite of mine. So, as the budget gets tighter, this book becomes a victim.
DETECTIVE COMICS: Another book that was endangered by the “Battle for the Cowl” event, but this one looks like it’s going to come out a winner. Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III (probably my favorite current artist) doing a new Batwoman series in ‘TEC, with “The Question” by Rucka and Cully Hamner as the back-up?
Status: Rock solid, baby.
GHOST RIDER: I like Jason Aaron as a writer. Really, I do. I enjoyed his first arc on this title, which I had dropped during Daniel Way’s run. But…I don’t like the direction of the book, with Ghost Rider’s revamped origin and all this Zadkiel business, at all. The recent arc with the multiple Ghost Riders just left me with a big fat case of “I don’t care and I don’t even want to care”.
GREEN LANTERN CORPS: This is a good enough book on its own merits. Never a favorite, but good enough. But it’s about to get wrapped up in the whole Rainbow Lanterns ridiculousness that’s been plaguing the solo GREEN LANTERN book. The Sinestro Corps (Yellow Lanterns) made sense as an opposite number for the GLC, but now it’s just gone too far. Orange Lanterns, Blue Lanterns, Indigo Lanterns…enough already!
Status: CHOPPED! (But let me know when the Crayola Lantern crap is over with.)
JONAH HEX: This book has lived on the chopping block almost since day one. I like the fact that it offers something different. It’s rare that there is a flat-out bad issue, but every month I read this book and think “that was OK”. That kind of reaction really should get the book dropped, but the writing team of Palmiotti and Gray manage to come up with a “that was really good” issue just often enough to keep the axe at bay.
Status: A little bit shaky.
MOON KNIGHT: I love Moon Knight, the character. I haven’t loved MOON KNIGHT, the comic book, since about 1985. I wasn’t a fan of Charlie Huston’s run at the beginning of the current series, and Mike Benson (who came on as a co-writer with Huston, then took over solo) took some time to find his footing. The book has gotten considerably better over the past several months though, so for now, the book stays.
Ms. Marvel WARNING!!! Big SPOILERS ahead for Ms. Marvel fans! So look away if you want to avoid spoilers!
Yes, we're talking to YOU, fanboy!
So, the most recent issue of MS. MARVEL (#37) saw the death of Carol Danvers, which means that Karla Sofen (the villainous Moonstone, currently masquerading as Ms. Marvel in DARK AVENGERS) will be taking over the solo title. Of course, this is comics, so death isn’t permanent, and we didn’t even see Carol’s body…but this book had been on the chopping block for some time now anyway, and I want to read about Carol, not Moonstone. If writer Brian Reed plans to use this as some sort of possible redemption vehicle for Karla Sofen, well, we’ve been down that road before in THUNDERBOLTS, and it didn’t take. And if it’s just more of what Bendis is serving up in DARK AVENGERS…I’ll definitely pass. I may be back if and when Carol is back.
THE PHANTOM: I’ll be honest…I buy this series mostly out of nostalgia. The Phantom is a childhood favorite thanks to the comic strip. Moonstone just relaunched their comic book series with a new #1 as THE PHANTOM: GHOST WHO WALKS, so that will probably buy it some time, but if I have to start making hard budget choices, this book is in trouble.
Status: Very, very shaky.
THE SPIRIT: I absolutely loved Darwyn Cooke’s run on this book, during its first year or so. I hated the Evanier/Aragones run that followed and dropped the series. I’ve started picking it up again thanks to some new creators, and covers by Brian Bolland (I’ll buy damn near anything with a Bolland cover), but this series is never more than one or two poor issues away from being dropped again.
Status: Very, very shaky.
THUNDERBOLTS: The more this book moves away from its original concept, the less I like it. Heck, DARK AVENGERS is actually more like the original T-Bolts than THUNDERBOLTS is these days. Andy Diggle has always impressed me in the past, from THE LOSERS through ADAM STRANGE through HELLBLAZER, but I’m just not feeling it here.
Status: On life support.
WOLVERINE: WEAPON X: How can a book be on the chopping block before the first issue even comes out? By sporting that $3.99 price tag. I’ve really liked Jason Aaron’s previous work with Wolverine though, so this book got on the pull list sight unseen…for now.
Status: You really need to impress me to justify $4 a month. Let’s see what ya got.
WONDER WOMAN: The character is always a tough sell for me, as she is for most of comics fandom. I think we all want to like this series because of Wondy’s status in the comics pantheon, but really, it’s usually pretty mediocre. I had high hopes for Gail Simone as writer, but after a year, I’m still not 100% convinced. The current “Rise of the Olympian” saga is her big epic storyline, and some months I think it’s just OK, but then there will be an issue (like the most recent one) where Simone and artist Aaron Lopresti really knock it out of the park. I’m sticking with the book for now and hoping the batting average increases when all is said and done.
Status: Safe for a few more months, at least.
X-FACTOR: And finally…a series and a writer who both always seem to be on my chopping block. I used to really like Peter David’s work, but over the past several years, I’ve been finding myself enjoying his work less and less. He took over one of my favorite series (SHE-HULK) and moved it to the chopping block, until Marvel made the decision for me by cancelling it.
X-FACTOR has been the epitome of a chopping block book…never bad enough to drop, never good enough to stop me from wondering “Why am I still buying this every month?” David’s been dropping some major surprises in the book recently in an effort to pump up sales, and he also seems to have pushed his attempts at humor into the backseat, which helps, as I think his humor usually falls flat.
Status: What else? On the chopping block…still.
So that’s it for me…what books do all of you read every month and wonder if you should still keep buying them?
by Doug Smith