Tuesday, December 27, 2011

#MyFive Comic Fresh Starts

With the New Year rapidly approaching, it's likely many of us are reflecting on the last year, and are thinking of ways to make changes that may lead to a better life. I don't think that's always an easy task, and as I've had lots of free time this week to catch up on some old (and new) comic book faves, I noticed a lot of parallels between fresh starts in comics and rebooting your real life. How do you take the elements of your life that have always worked, eliminate the ones that don't, and create something organic, new, and even better? While I figure out how to do that in the real world, I thought I'd admire those who have done it brilliantly in comics.

5) X-Factor #71 - When a book covering the lives of the original 5 X-men lost its entire cast, Peter David took the reins and created something completely new and different. The new characters were very similar to their predecessors on paper (Summers brother, his girlfriend, the jokester, the wild card, and the strong guy), but the tone and adventures of the comic were completely different. David created a unique X-book, one with humor, satire, and a psychological approach to understanding the characters (I'd argue that the issue where the characters go to therapy is one of the best-loved Marvel issues of all time). The concept of this fresh start was so pervasive and appealing, that the relaunch of this relaunch became relevant and popular almost two decades later, and is still going strong.

4) Batgirl #1 - I know this is a controversial one, but I grew up watching Barbara Gordon on the reruns of the campy Batman TV show. I simply adored her spunk (and oh-so-shiny purple costume). But by that point, Barbara Gordon was no longer Batgirl, and DC comics felt very inaccessible to me (depending on which comic or comic card I was reading, I felt like the same character could have vastly different pre-crisis, post-crisis, pre-post crisis, or Earth 137-329 histories.) Fast forward to 2011, when DC rebooted their entire line, put Babs back in the suit, and gave people like me the opportunity to jump on the Barbara-as-Batgirl ship for the first time. I understand why the decision offended some people, but the end-product is a beautifully written book. Gail Simone has written what I consider to be the most realistic character in comics today. I understand the motivations for all of Batgirl's decisions, but am still surprised and excited by them. That's true talent from a writer.

3) X-Force #19 - This is probably the least dramatic of the "reboots" in my list, but it's a personal favorite for many reasons. At the risk of spoiling future blog countdowns, Cannonball is, and will always be, my favorite X-character. Skinny, nerdy, insecure son of a coal-miner from a tiny mountain town? That was me. Which is why it was so cool for me to see him become a confident and effective leader without losing his sensitivity and compassion. Throw in the return of some of my other favorites, Rictor and Sunspot, and some beautiful new costumes, and this issue got me excited in a way few comics ever did. Watching Sam stand up to Professor Xavier, take control of his life, and start down a new and uncertain path was inspiring. I went along for the ride (which was way too short, thanks to Cable's return), and it remains one of my favorite comic runs of all time.

2) Avengers #1 - The original run of the Avengers had so many well-loved characters and stories, but after The Crossing, Onslaught, and Heroes Reborn attempts at rebooting misfired, the Avengers pool felt so muddied and stagnant that nothing could revive them. Enter Kurt Busiek and George Perez. They didn't immediately erase anything that had happened, but created an organic reboot where it made complete sense for these characters to come back together. They also managed to work in roughly 40 Avengers in a 3-part kickoff arc, where everyone got a moment to shine and introduce not just their powers but also their personalities. You felt the proud history of the series but were also intrigued by where these characters were going. Throw in the beautiful art of George Perez, and you've got a near-perfect Avengers run.

1) X-men #70 - The X-men were splintered into several different teams in several different places with several different objectives. This issue, conveniently titled "Homecoming", brought them all back together. Joe Kelly brilliantly used a health crisis for one of the characters (there's a bomb in Cyclops, wow) to explore every single X-man and who they were as a person.  He honored past connections (Storm pulled out Marrow's heart, there's probably some tension there) while creating exciting new ones (Wolverine vs. Beast?, Marrow <3's Cannonball?). To have these characters back under the same roof, with so many potential conflicts and connections, was so exciting. I literally couldn't wait for each new issue. I was also so devastated when the vibe of this series abruptly shifted only 10 issues later, that I pretty much quit comics for 5 years.

With only a few days left in 2011, I will be thinking of how to successfully "reboot" my life for a new year. Hopefully I do it as well as some of the creators mentioned above. Wish me luck!

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