The Pull List – December 22nd

Yeah, we may’ve had a brief pause for the holidays, but we’re back and we’ve got comics!

Chaos War: Dead Avengers #2: Our resurrected heroes set up for a last-ditch defense against the forces of Chaos, we get some nice character bits, a few heroic moments, and some damn fine action. Good times.

Wonder Woman #605: We start to see who is responsible for Wonder Woman’s current condition. There are some interesting character moments (and start to see Wonder Woman as something more than a cipher, which is really all she’s been during JMS’s run), get a peek into the villains of the piece, and start to see the shape of this thing. Phil Hester does rather a better job with the dialogue that JMS has done, so I’m glad to have him aboard.

Batman Incorporated #2: Grant Morrison is knocking this one out of the park. It’s funny, over the top, a little bizarre, and lots of fun. Plus, hey, Batman of Japan!

Justice League: Generation Lost #16: This title continues to exceed expectations. We’ve got the JLI versus the Creature Commandos, a few more bits of Maxwell Lord’s plan falling into place, and our heroes are in a worse place at the end than they were at the beginning of the issue.

Deadpool #30: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: just when I’m ready to give up on this book, they put out an issue that is so spot-on and hilarious, I feel pulled right back in. We’ve got Deadpool protecting vampires against other vampires. I guess this is probably tied into what’s happening in that one X-Men book right now, though I’ll be damned if I know anything about what all’s happening there.

Invincible Iron Man #33: The conclusion to Stark Resilient is full of action and a nice setup for the next story arc. This title continues to impress and be one of the best books I read each month. I’m also pretty damn impressed with the fact that Salvador Larocca hasn’t missed a single issue yet. Most impressive.

I also grabbed the latest Blue Beetle collection, which I guess wraps up a few issues from his solo title and collects the backup feature from Booster Gold that was running late last year/early this year. Good stuff.

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Top Ten Albums of 2010

We’ve come again to the end of the year, which means I – like so many others out there in the blogosphere who thinks their opinions are the only ones worth listening to – have compiled my list of the ten best albums of 2010. Here they go, in some particular order:

10. The Walkmen, Lisbon: Moody, atmospheric…yeah, those’re words that describe a typical Walkmen album. And while Lisbon definitely fits in with the band’s prior output, there’s a new approach here, a cleaner take on the production and some nice sonic touches that stand out. Not their best album ever, maybe, but a damn fine record nonetheless.

9. Spoon, Transference: Another album by another band that seems to be in keeping with what’s come before, but also marks a bit of a departure. Whereas Spoon seemed to strip away more and more elements in their previous records, apparently in an effort to see how minimalist they could really get and still have a rock record, here they start adding stuff back in, throwing in strange keyboard swirls and clipped vocal parts that jump in and out of the mix, often stopping mid-phrase. The obvious standout track, “Written in Reverse,” could’ve fit in comfortably alongside anything from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga or Gimme Fiction, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

8. John Mellencamp, No Better Than This: Mellencamp’s been doing his best Bob Dylan impression lately. No, not singing like Bob, but digging back into the history of American music like Bob, going through the trunk in America’s attic and pulling out all sorts of interesting sounds and trying them on. Here, he decides the old ways are definitely the best ways and records an album the way they used to: no overdubs, all live, one mic, the whole band in the room together. It creates an interesting atmosphere. It helps that he’s written some compelling tunes, too, and it adds up to one of his best albums in years.

7. Jesse Malin and the St. Marks Social, Love it to Life: I really dig Jesee Malin (just saw him live last week, as a matter of fact). I heard him live before I ever heard one of his studio albums, and it really wasn’t fair: live, there’s energy, charisma, and plenty of rough and raw power. In the studio, Malin is meticulous, almost clinical, in his attention to sonic detail. Usually to the point of making his studio work sound like it’s been recorded in a hermetically-sealed bubble. I was always sad that his albums lacked that live energy. This record corrects that problem, bringing the energy and live band feel of the shows to a studio record. They may not be the best songs he’s ever written (most of those are still on The Fine Art of Self-Destruction), but they come the closest to replicating that live feeling.

6. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs: They’ve dropped the definite article from their name, but they’re still the same band that recorded Funeral: that is to say, they’ve still got a lot on their minds, some of it mundane, some of it esoteric, almost all of it compelling. This record comes the closest to reflecting the actual size of the band (there’s, like, seven or eight of them), as the songs feel full and outsized in the best possible way. They’re a band that trades in bombast and anthems, but they do it very well and very convincingly.

5. The New Pornographers, Together: The power-pop supergroup brings their A game here, with everyone contributing songs that are poppy, bouncy, energetic, and, above all, fun. These guys haven’t ever released a bad record (despite what some critics may say about Challengers), but this one easily ranks in the top half of their discography. Good stuff.

4. Jakob Dylan, Women and Country: If this list were based on sheer number of listens, Jakob Dylan would win hands-down. Granted, it had the unfair advantage of being released really early in the year, but even without that advantage, it has some of the best damn music I’ve heard all year. T-Bone Burnett produced the record, and his sonic fingerprints are all over the place: the flourishes of pedal steel that creep in, the soft, muted percussion, the hazy atmosphere that wraps the songs up like a blanket, and the beautiful backing vocals. Add to that the set of fantastic songs Dylan penned for this album, and you’ve got a record that was easily one of my favorites for the decade, not just the year.

3. Old 97’s, The Grand Theatre, Vol. 1: I had a little trepidation when I downloaded this album. I didn’t really care for their last full-length effort, Blame it on the Gravity, and the Rhett Miller karaoke-fest of Mimeograph had me worried. But this record put those fears to rest, as the band cranked out some of the most fun, energetic music of their career. These guys are a little older and a little wiser than the Too Far to Care days, but they’ve found that era’s vitality again. They’re also better musicians, and that shines through on tracks like “Every Night Is Friday Night (Without You)” and their (apparently authorized!) revision of “Desolation Row,” “Champagne, Illinois.” This is the best record they’ve made in years, hands down.

2. The National, High Violet: While it may not reach the heights of Alligator or reach the brooding majesty of Boxer, this is a damn fine album. Just because it’s not an automatic masterpiece doesn’t mean it isn’t great. There are plenty of beautiful moments, plenty of wryly clever lines, and lots of swelling anthems that you can’t help but sing along with. There’s not a bad song on the album, and while it is a grower (like most albums by the National), some of the songs do get their hooks in you immediately (“Bloodbuzz, Ohio” comes to mind).

1. The Gaslight Anthem, American Slang: I could listen to the first four songs on this album over and over again every day for the rest of my life and be perfectly happy in doing so. This is the record they’ve been trying to make since they started: anthematic, energetic, and powerful. Yes, they still owe a huge debt to the work of Bruce Springsteen, and they still sound like what would happen if the E Street Band started playing punk, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s the best album they’ve released, and it’s my favorite album of the year.

Honorable Mentions: Josh Ritter’s So Runs the World was nice but fairly forgettable, She & Him’s Volume 2 just didn’t have the same spark as their first album, Bob Dylan’s The Bootleg Series: Volume 9 – The Witmark Demos was interesting but ultimately a little repetitive (I mean, we’ve basically heard all these songs before), and Mavis Staples’s You Are Not Alone was a nice tour of her strengths. I was pretty disappointed in the offerings from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Vampire Weekend didn’t do anything new on their second album that they hadn’t already done on their debut, and the Gorillaz just didn’t grab me (except for “Some King of Nature,” but I love me some Lou Reed).

The Pull List – December 15th

Ah, the waning days of the year! We’ve still got comics comin’! Here we go!

Deadpool Max #3: Okay, so this is what this book should be like. Baron Zemo, reimagined as a white supremacist bent on making the U.S. “pure” again. The writing is clever, the violence fits, and the Lapham uses racial slurs and horrible, horrible terminology to great effect. If more issues are like this one, I’ll definitely be continuing to keep it up.

Batman and Robin #18: We get the origin of The Absence and a couple of really cool visuals (that closing page is fantastic), though some of the villain’s motivation seems a little off somehow. Decent, but not the best Cornell’s managed. We’ll see how it turns out next issue.

Birds of Prey #7: Barbara Gordon’s got an ambitious plan to keep her friends and allies safe: she’s going to kill Oracle. The art for this issue ain’t bad, and Gail Simone’s script is solid (the bits in the strip club are hysterical), as per usual. One request, though: can we please get Nicola Scott on this book? Please?

Chaos War: Thor #2: I’m not entirely sure about the real purpose of this book. I mean, it’s not a bad book, and there are some really interesting concepts at work in this issue. But there does feel like there’s something slightly off about it.

Chaos War #4: Things look pretty grim, but that’s par for the course when you’re talking about event comics and cosmic stuff. Hercules does not want to give up, Athena tries to be clever and fails, and Amadeus Cho comes up with a neat idea. I’m curious to see how Pak and Van Lente will pull off the win in this one, and where it’ll take the iHerc crew next.

I also grabbed the fifth Booster Gold trade, which rounded out Dan Jurgens’s run on the title, and the first trade of Thor: The Mighty Avenger, which is one of those books I kick myself for not having gotten into earlier (especially now that it’s apparently going to be canceled after the 8th issue).

The Pull List – December 8th

New comics! Get excited!

Booster Gold #39: We see Booster coming to grips with the death of Ted Kord, and while it’s not an easy thing for him to do, he does finally recognize why it needs to happen. Giffen and DeMatties manage to avoid too much sappiness here, though there is a sense of sentimentality that feels right. Not a “bwahaha” issue by any means, but there’s some nice character moments here.

Detective Comics Annual #12: A fairly interesting story (even if it’s a little pedestrian: there’s a killer out there who’s giving cryptic clues as to who their next target will be, and Batman has to try to figure out who’s in danger and protect them). There’s the inclusion of The Question (I do love me some Renee Montoya, and I’m glad to see she’s not just sitting on a shelf since Greg Rucka left) and an introduction to a new character (will he just show up in this annual and next week’s Batman Annual, or will he be someone we see again later?), so it’s not bad, and the art is all pretty solid, too.

The Flash #7: This issue spotlights the resurrected Captain Boomerang and gives us a brief rundown of his history. It’s decent enough, even if it is very tied up in playing connect the continuity dots.

Justice League: Generation Lost #15: We find a hole in Max Lord’s plan (whatever that is), and it makes him quite unhappy. We also get some nice character moments with just about everyone, and Booster Gold mans up (and tells Captain Atom to do the same). I’m surprised at how well this title is going.

Knight and Squire #3: Our heroes versus Richard III and a host of other villainous kings from England’s past! This comic remains unrepentantly British, and I think I love it for that. I am surprised that DC is putting out a book like this, that doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of continuity ties and it doesn’t feature anyone dying horrible deaths and changing the DC Universe forever.

Thor #618: I like Fraction’s writing a lot, but I have concerns about his Thor. Things seem to be happening here without any sort of rhyme or reason. I mean, it’s great to bring Odin back and all, but (1) how does it happen and (2) why does it happen? Do we really need Odin around? That being said, I’ve got faith Fraction will give us a good story, so I’m sticking around to see what happens next.

Welcome to Tranquility: One Foot in the Grave #6: So here ends another Tranquility miniseries. There are some nice moments here (I especially like when Thomasina works it out so that everyone in town gains Maxi-Man’s powers), but I feel like things in this particular miniseries just weren’t up to snuff compared to the first two. Part of it’s the art (Domingues’s art isn’t nearly as strong as Googe’s was in the first couple of series), part of it’s the fact that the story just doesn’t feel like it was that unique or that it necessarily needed to be told. We’ve had plenty of “the child of the great hero is a horrible villain” stories (or variations thereof) before, and while Simone tells the story pretty well, it just didn’t click for me. I sincerely hope this isn’t the last we see of Tranquility or its superpowered occupants, because I really do like the characters and the very idea of the series.

The Pull List – December 1st

Late, but not forgotten! Here’s last week’s comics:

Action Comics Annual #13: A couple of short stories from regular series writer Paul Cornell featuring a young Lex Luthor. They’re not quite as good as the stuff he’s been doing in the book, but we do get some neat insight into young Lex’s thought process, what drives him, and we get a couple of neat interactions with Darkseid and Ra’s Al Ghul.

Doom Patrol #17: I am absolutely loving the recap pages Giffen’s been doing in each issue of this book lately. They’ve got a lot in common with the recap pages we were getting in Incredible Hercules (in that they do a decent job of reminding you what’s come before and are funny and clever). This book has only gotten better as it’s gone along, though this particular issue felt disjointed at times. It moves a few plot points along (the nationalization of the Doom Patrol, for instance) and gives us some great character moments, plus it sets up one of the oldest jokes in comedy (but in a good way). Good stuff.

Secret Six #28: The conclusion to the “Reptile Brain” storyline hits here, and it creates some serious changes for the team. There’s plenty of violence here, some great lines from Ragdoll and Shark (God, I’m glad it looks like he’s gonna be around at least for a little while), and a change in the status quo for the group. Plus, we get a couple of nice character bits (the bit between Giganta and Dwarfstar felt like comeuppance for the dismal treatment of poor Ryan Choi). It’ll be interesting to see what Simone does with this next, though it looks like we have the chance of a rotating cast of awesome characters for her to play with. Good stuff.

I also grabbed the final trade of Planetary. I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of this series here.

“I Wish You Would”

Sorry about the radio silence. I haven’t been able to pick up new comics from last week yet (stupid paycheck not clearing yet), so to tide you over, here’s a demo of a song I worked up a few weeks ago. Also, if you’re in the market to hear more of my singing, my brother and I have put together a Facebook page for our band, Cross-Eyed Yeti. Go visit, Like it, and check out some of our songs (there are at least three or four of them posted over there now). For now, though, enjoy this little ditty:

I Wish You Would