Tidings of comics and toys!
How else but with Nerding Out should this, the first day of the new year, begin!?
I'm still full of holiday spirit and cheer, or maybe just full of it in general. But either way, the fact that it's the first Sunday of the month means I get to blather on about comic books here at length.
Comic book writer Jeff Lemire holds a “Nerding Out With Nick Dean” sticker at Fan Expo in Toronto, Canada, in August 2010. MTV Geek named Lemire the best comic book writer of 2011.
P-J?photo by Nick Dean
With last month's column having largely been a list of gift recommendations for Batman fans, I intend to steer clear of any Caped Crusader mentions today. Or at least that's the plan.
I can hardly stay focused long enough to even get started on this month's column though. Every few minutes seems to bring another year-end list of comic books from sites such as The AV Club, Comic Book Resources, Comic Vine and others.
My yearly reading's hardly so comprehensive. So rather than offer any such assessments, I'm just going to address a couple of the things from 2011 which I feel are worth sharing.
A couple of new names came to some prominence in 2012.
Technically, neither is really a ''new'' name, but in 2011, comic book writers Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire were spoken of with the same reverence usually reserved for the likes of Frank Miller, Grant Morrison and others.
I wrote a little bit about Snyder last month, as his work on ''Detective Comics'' was recently collected in a hardcover called ''Batman: The Black Mirror.''
Lemire I've written about before as well, back in October 2009, when Vertigo released the first issue of his series called ''Sweet Tooth.'' I've stuck with Lemire since then, and just this year he was given two titles in DC's set of ''New 52'' comics - ''Animal Man'' and ''Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.''
MTV Geek named Lemire its pick for the best comic book writer of 2011. I can't say I would have chosen any differently. In terms of his longer-running comic, Lemire continues to take ''Sweet Tooth'' in new directions. He's also given an interesting twist to a classic DC/Vertigo character in the pages of ''Animal Man.'' And then there's the bloody macabre fun of ''Frankenstein,'' which unites the monster with his bride and a similarly-themed backup team - a wolfman, a vampire, a mummy and an amphibious woman.
The book's more comedy and action than horror, and it has a strong sci-fi and vintage monster movie feel. I actually just quit subscribing to a Batman title in order to ensure I get the comic each month. I like it that much.
This past summer saw the third collection of ''Sweet Tooth'' released by Vertigo comics.
With ''Sweet Tooth,'' Lemire has an entirely innocent and unprepared protagonist attempting to survive the apocalypse - or rather, dealing with the people still surviving it. Gus lived a sheltered life up until the start of the series. His father dies in the first issue, leaving Gus alone in the woods. As a result, much of the series so far has involved Gus being hunted and traded.
Gus finally seems to be catching a break though. In this third volume, the human/animal hybrid at the heart of the story gets rescued, reunited with the comic's other main character and set on a new path.
Before all that happens, however, Gus spends the bulk of the six issues collected here in confinement - getting beaten, tested and questioned. Though he speaks about returning home throughout the book, it's obvious by the end that Gus realizes his old life is over.
This third book begins to explore the idea that Gus might actually predate the apocalypse and might therefore have some answers about (or even be a cause of) the catastrophe. This trade paperback ends with the growing cast heading off toward Alaska in search of answers about Gus.
The first volume of ''Sweet Tooth'' collected issues 1 through 5 under the title ''Out of the Woods.'' Volume 2 collected the ''In Captivity'' story which saw publication in issues 6 through 11. Both of those trade paperbacks hit store shelves in 2010, the first in May and the second in December. Then, this past June, Vertigo released Volume 3, called ''Animal Armies,'' which collects issues 12 through 17.
The book's fourth trade paperback will be released by Vertigo this month. It will likely include issues 18 and 19 as well as the ''Endangered Species'' storyline that takes place in issues 20 through 25.
I'd been stockpiling my single issues of ''Sweet Tooth'' since the ''Animal Armies'' storyline ended. Then, right around Thanksgiving, I busted out the eight individual comics and sat down to read the next arc.
I love it when environmental factors enhance an experience, such as reading the issues with a cold bottle of Southern Tier's Old Man Winter in hand.
In addition to marking a new start for the characters in ''Sweet Tooth,'' issue 18 is a departure in terms of storytelling. Physically, the book is meant to be read on its side, making it different from the typical comic as it's meant to be held horizontally. It's also written in the style of a children's book, which really adds to its feel as an ''in-between'' issue.
The subsequent issues see Lemire expanding the world in which Gus and the other characters live. They're a band of survivors now, striking out into the unknown. This next arc has all the best elements of other post-apocalyptic fiction like ''The Walking Dead'' - infighting within the group, power struggles, strangers on the road, possible sanctuary. For fans who have been reading since the start, issue 18 truly marks the start of a new chapter. For everyone else, now is definitely the best time to jump on board since issue 1.
Aside from all the superhero books and Vertigo horror stuff that came out in 2011, there were a number of quality ''indie'' releases from publishers like Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Oni Press and others. Sure, there was all kinds of good stuff from Daniel Clowes and Craig Thompson that I could mention, but one book different from others in my usual stack of reading was ''Wandering Son.''
''Wandering Son'' was one of my first experience reading Japanese Manga. I chose the book for its publisher and subject matter, not so much the style in which it's drawn. I would have tried this type of comic long ago if I'd been promised a book as heartfelt and poignant as this first volume of the ''Wandering Son'' series. Such things aren't universal anywhere though. Quality will vary dependent upon a number of different factors. Here, all things align for a read which addresses complicated issues in a simple, honest and innocent way.
Takako Shimura is both the author and illustrator of ''Wandering Son.'' The title's her first to be translated into English from what I can find. In Japan, ''Wandering Son'' has accumulated 11 volumes since starting in 2002. The second volume of the series is out now in the U.S.
With the book, Shimura explores the beginning stages of transsexualism in two pre-teen characters - one a boy who wants to be a girl and the other a girl who wants to be a boy. For such subject matter, Shimura's story is surprisingly subdued. In fact, that one description at the start of this paragraph sums up pretty much all of what Shimura builds to in the first few chapters of this volume. I guess that's a spoiler of sorts, but such is the ''chicken or the egg'' dilemma of books like these. Chances are I never would have given ''Wandering Son'' a read had I not known it was going to deal with issues of sex, gender and society. As a result, I spent much of my reading of the book waiting for the characters to come to the realizations I already knew they would.
Regardless, Shimura addresses transsexualism with care for her characters and the desires which they feel. That obvious care resonates with readers, regardless of gender roles, sexual orientation or interest in the politics of such things.
For as many times as some of the situations in the book have been played out on television and in other media, it works in ''Wandering Son.'' Shimura could have easily played many of the situations to more condescending comedic effect. So much of the book though focuses on everyday situations and the queerness which its two main characters feel as a result of their sex and gender roles.
The comic has since been adapted into a 12-episode anime series which aired at the start of the year and can be found online at Crunchyroll.com.
I'm starting to fear what's to come in the new year. Throughout 2011, I used this ''Assorted Etceteras'' space to gush about every little set photo and leaked detail of movies like ''The Dark Knight Rises.'' Summer 2012 is inching ever closer though. And all those leaked photos are turning into official studio-released items. I guess ''fear'' is the wrong word. I'm starting to fiend for what's to come in the new year. Yeah, it's starting to get that bad. But that's only because everything looks poised to be so good.
More from me in a month's time.
Nerding Out With Nick Dean is a monthly column about comic books, movies and more. It runs the first Sunday of each month. Comments, criticisms and/or items for submission can be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the newsroom at 487-1111, ext. 251.