Sunday, 5 January 2014

A Year in Review, Part Three – Worst Comics and Novels of 2013

Worst Science fiction novels
Star Trek: The Next Generation: Doomsday World
Star Trek novels were some of the books I had the move fun reading in 2013. A lot of that has to do with the structure of the series which the novels can tap into which gives you stories that are similar in structure and execution as the TV show but allowing greater flexibility in terms of characters and budget (the novels can do anything). Doomsday World is, as far as I know, the first novel that was written by a team of writers. Four writers got together to write this little book. The problem with Doomsday World is that it’s not any better than other Star Trek books because of the additional writers. Much the opposite, its seems as though all four writers decided to half-ass it thinking the others will pick up the slack. While reading the book I had a feeling that the writers were more focused on actually accomplishing the task of writing a collaborative book than they were on writing a book that is good.
It's too bad you weren't as hilariously
entertaining as The Courtship of Princess Leia.
Runner-up: Star Wars: Choices of One
Timothy Zahn is regularly lauded as being the writer of one of the best Expanded Universe trilogies. His other Star Wars novels are regularly included in list of the best Star Wars books. When I decided to explore the Expanded Universe I immediately chose on of Zahn’s book. At the time it was the most recent one, Star Wars: Choices of One. The main reason I didn’t like Choices of One is that I felt lost. There were very many reference points to the Star Wars I know. Because Star Wars is such a huge franchise I image this is an issue that fans who have not devoured everything Star Wars encounter with some of the novels. Another problem that I had was that Zahn used characters unique to the EU, many of them he created. I think that only fans of the Expanded Universe or of Zahn’s previous Star Wars books would appreciate and like Choices of One. It might sound blasphemous to some, but I don’t give a crap about Mara Jade.

Worst Fantasy Novels
Streams of Silver
I had read a couple books by R. A. Salvatore in my teens and I had enjoyed them. Part of my Blog Fantastic project was to discover new writers in series in the fantasy genre while also taking the time to revisit series and writers I was already familiar with. Some of those stories have held up. I still enjoy a Dragonlance story even though I now realise it’s not the best fantasy series in ever created which my 12 year old self used to think. I wanted to give Salvatore another chance and while he was disappointing with The Crystal Shard, the first volume of his Icewind Dale trilogy, the second volume, Streams of Silver is just awful. His characters are invincible and Salvatore is using and more is more approach with the monsters he puts in his heroes’ way. More importantly, Salvatore borrows quite heavily from Tolkien and while he doesn’t try to imitate the giant of fantasy fiction, he doesn’t do him justice either. At its best Streams of Silver reads like good fan fiction and it’s convinced me not to continue the Icewind Dale trilogy or any books with Drizzt Do’Urden who I find insufferable.  

Runner-up: The Eye of the World
I really liked Robert Jordan’s prequel to his acclaimed fantasy epic, The Wheel of Time. It was the second time I read New Spring and I enjoyed it just as much as an adult as I did in my teens. The desire to read the rest of The Wheel of Time is one of the reason I started The Blog Fantastic. Years ago I had started The Eye of the World but for reasons I don’t recall clearly, I abandoned it. Needless to say I gave it another shot this year and I was very disappointed. How is it that the first volume of an epic fantasy series didn’t live up to my expectations after having only read the prequel? I have no clue. If there’s one book I read in 2013 that I’m frustrated about its The Eye of the World. I wanted to love it so badly but I didn’t. I’m still not sure why. Part of me thinks it’s because it’s bloated and that doesn’t bode well when it’s the first volume of the series. Another part of me thinks the main character is far to whinny and I really think we didn’t enough Moira. Despite my problems with the first book, I want to keep on reading. If the first book was any indication, there will be plenty for me to enjoy about this series to balance out for all of the things I’ll dislike. One of my goals for 2014 is to read The Great Hunt. He’s hoping I love it.  

It's shorter than The Eye of the World  but is it better? 

Worst Collection of Comics originally published before 2012/2013
Avengers: The Contest
This comic can be considered one of the first ever event comics. It’s been a while since I read I and to be quite honest I forgot about most of it. Lucky for me I remember just enough to know that the setup for the stories was bland and the only real enjoyment I got out of it was some old school comic book artistry. Unfortunately like some of its contemporaries, Avengers: The Contest isn’t a classic comic storyline filled with the best examples of superhero melodrama nor is it endearing. Ultimately, the background information that lead up to the creation of The Contest is just interesting enough to warrant its own reprint but it’s not good enough to find a home on your bookshelf.

Runner-up: X-men: Longshot
The first time I read X-men: Longshot was during my first year of discovering American comics. I specify American comics because I grew up reading Tintin, Spirou et Fantasio, Achile Talon and many other European comics. Before re-reading Longshot all I remembered was that it wasn’t much of an X-men comic and it’s not. What I hadn’t realized before is just how influential Longshot was for the 90s comics era. So much of Image’s identity as a comic publisher in the 90’s can be found in Longshot. The problem with that is Longshot is kind of a mess but it’s an original mess and a surprisingly influential one. I also enjoyed just how passionate Nocenti was in her introduction and in the supplementary material. I don’ agree with everything she says but her appreciation and thoughts on comics a good read.  

Worst Collection of Comics originally published during 2012/2013:
The little comic that could but didn't.
Mara had a promising setup but writer Brian Wood and artist Ming Doyle don’t follow through. Instead, the story changes directions halfway through and everything falls apart. I have no idea why Wood took the story in a superhero direction because the first half of the comic about a not-so-distant future dealing with power, media and fame seems better suited to his skill as a writer. There are interesting scenes to be found in Mara but it’s difficult to appreciate them when they’re surrounded by uninteresting art and a story that feels all too familiar. 

Runner-up: Avengers vs. X-men
Part of me isn’t surprised I didn’t like Avengers vs. X-men. After all, it’s an event comic and those are always hit or miss with the added frustrations of being terrible standalone stories and they’re often preceded by and end with a new (temporary) status quo for the fictional universe in which the story takes place. Based on those criteria, Avengers vs. X-men does not disappoint. There are two additional reasons why I didn’t like this particular comic. The first is the inconsistencies in the writing and the art. I appreciated the experiment of having some of Marvel’s top writers and artist working according to a rotating schedule but the shifts in tone, art styles and storytelling techniques was jarring and unpleasant to say the least. The second reason is that the story doesn’t try nor does it deliver anything new. The Phoenix entity shows up, possesses some characters and the heroes find a way to vanquish it by having a well-known character pay the price. It’s sad that such high demand was put on so small a story. Don’t even get me started on character development; clearly there wasn’t enough room for that in 12 issues of comics. Obviously that’s what tie-in issues are for.

Worst OGNs
The Originals by Dave Gibbons
This one needs some explanation. There weren’t many OGN’s that I’ve read this year and unless my memory serves me wrong, The Originals is the only one I read that was released prior to 2013. It’s by no means a spectacular comic but it isn’t bad either. It’s a well-executed middle-of-the-road story with stellar artist. Gibbons’ style is classy and I really enjoy it. The highpoint of this comic is the art and the reason I ranked it as the worst OGN of 2013 is because of the unimpressive story. I would still recommend this comic to any fans of good graphic storytelling and nice art.

When you name is Dave Gibbons you don't need to write the best comic. You just have to draw the hell out of it.

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