Tuesday, January 8, 2008

2007: The Year of Comics Goodness

All right, looks like it's time to air out my picks for my favorite stuff among last year's sequential art offerings. It probably goes without saying, but I feel weird if I don't offer the caveat that this is all my opinion and not some assertion of objective fact as to the actual, indisputable best comics. Rather, these are my favorites. And, in an effort to try to game Dick Hyacinth's mathematical aggregates, I'm splitting the list into several parts. Actually, I'm doing that because I increasingly approach full "graphic novels" separate from ongoing comics series or miniseries. Maybe I'll have to rethink that philosophy in the future, but that can wait a year, right? Anyway, on with the show:

The Best Comics of 2007!

Graphic novels:

I tried to limit this to ten or so, but I was apparently unable. Instead, I'll go with the odd number of seventeen, and give "honorable mention" status to the following: Shortcomings, Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil, The Professor's Daughter, Dr. Thirteen: Architecture and Morality, Re-Gifters, PX!, Templar, Arizona, and Crécy (Those links lead to posts containing my reviews of the books in question, although you have to scroll a bit to get to the Shazam one; the same goes for any links below, unless indicated otherwise).

17. The Homeless Channel



Matt Silady is a talent to watch, judging by this biting satire of modern entertainment. But while that element of the book is quite notable, the study of Darcy, the main character, is the real heart of the story. It's a nice look at the pull between art, commerce, and personal responsibility that people in her position must experience. At least hopefully they do, but I suspect commerce usually wins out...

16. The Plain Janes

I went back and forth about whether to include this book or Re-Gifters as the Minx offering on the list, but while the latter is really good, I ultimately think I like this one better. There's something about the characters (especially "Main Jane") that really fascinated me, and while the ending was abrupt, it was still a really nice story, with wonderful artwork by Jim Rugg. I can't wait for the sequel.

15. Empowered



I love Adam Warren's combination of hyperactive, frenetic artwork and crazy, nonstop sci-fi ideas. He delivered that in spades with his new "sexy superhero comedy", and managed to tweak gender issues, comment on exploitative artwork (while indulging in his and his readers' desire for the same), and craft a fascinating character study and a smart, well-realized relationship. I think I liked the first volume (see link above) a bit better than the second, but the fact that he managed to pump out two volumes of the series in one year (with more soon to come) is pretty incredible.

14. Chance In Hell



Gilbert Hernandez. He blows minds, he amazes eyeballs, he can't seem to produce a bad comic. This one was bizarre and hard to interpret, but that's what made it such a unique experience. More, please.

13. The Black Diamond Detective Agency



Eddie Campbell is an old comics pro, and this was one hell of an entertaining story, with some beautiful artwork and a crazy energy that couldn't be replicated by anybody else. I can't wait for his next book, The Amazing Remarkable Mr. Leotard (I think that's the title).

12. Fox Bunny Funny

Andy Hartzell's fascinating exploration of gender and social bigotry was beautiful and thought-provoking. Good comics (but not good enough to get into the top ten, I guess).

11. I Killed Adolf Hitler

This was the year I discovered Jason, and the two books he put out this year (The Living and the Dead was the other one) were a good place to start (actually, I think I read You Can't Get There From Here and Why Are You Doing This? in between them). Ultimately, I went with I Killed Adolf Hitler over the silent-film zombie shenanigans of the other one, but they're both very good. I really like his minimalistic, deadpan style, and he manages to tell some affecting and hilarious stories while remaining quite subtle. I can't wait to check out more of his stuff.

10. Alice in Sunderland



What?! This should be higher than number ten, shouldn't it? Well, I've come too far to change things now. Whatever the case, it's an amazing book, a tour through the history and geography northern England, with emphasis on Lewis Carroll's career and whatever the hell else Bryan Talbot feels like talking about. It's a dizzying barrage of information, but it's never boring, thanks to Talbot's entertaining presentation. When I finished reading it, I would never have expected to have nine other books I liked better, but them's the breaks.

9. The Arrival



A wordless story about immigration that's notable just for the incredible, beautiful artwork. Shaun Tan's work is fucking breathtaking here, but the story is also really well done, with moving anecdotes about leaving one's homeland with dreams of making it in a better place. It's a wonderful book; I can't recommend it enough.

8. Tekkon Kinkreet



This is the only manga to make my graphic novel list, but that's just because I didn't read the most recent volume of Phoenix. I've got a separate list for other manga I liked below, I dug this one enough to include it on here. A stylish story about juvenile thugs, gentrification, and battling the psychic monster within (or something like that), it was like nothing else I read this year. How the hell is it all the way down at number 8? It's been that kind of a year, I guess.

7. Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together



For the last several years, the most recent volume of this book has been unavoidable when talking about the best comics of the year. This year's installment is no exception, seeing Bryan Lee O'Malley at the top of his game, telling fun, action packed stories in his unique, fun style. As with every year, I can't wait for next year's volume.

6. King City



This was Brandon Graham's breakout year, with this book and Multiple Warheads. I didn't know much about him before, but he jumped right onto my list of creators to watch out for. Cute, expressive art and wild sci-fi ideas are right up my alley, so I expect to keep reading his comics for quite a while.

5. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier



This one seemed to get panned by most "respectable" critics (i.e., not me), but I loved it. So screw all you guys. Alan Moore is a genius, and he created one hell of an amazing read, full of nifty references and clever wordplay that managed to make me feel dumb and smart at the same time.

4. The Salon



Even though I felt woefully dumb when reading it (my knowledge of art and art history is sadly limited), I was blown away by Nick Bertozzi's fantastic story about mystical murder during the birth of Cubism.

3. Acme Novelty Library #18

I haven't reviewed this one yet, since it just came out, but I absolutely loved it. Chris Ware's realistic, affecting portrait of a depressed, lonely woman is just beautiful. There seems to be a bit of a backlash against Ware lately, but he's still one of my favorite creators, and this installment of his ongoing story only cements him in that place further.

2. Exit Wounds

This high up on the list, it's kind of a wash; any of the top four or five entries could probably change places; this is just my current preference at this particular point in time. But I will say that Exit Wounds is an wonderful, excellent book, mixing current events with the exploration of family and interpersonal relationships. I can't recommend it enough.

1. Super Spy



But I think I've got to choose Matt Kindt's sprawling, ambitious look at the human cost of the constant deceit that is the spy trade. He weaves an affecting, exciting story through a bunch of smaller stories, and it makes for a fascinating look at World War II and the moral and personal sacrifices his characters make. It's an incredible book, and I hope more people check it out.

Ongoing series and miniseries:

I think the previous list is my main one for the year, but I wanted to also point out some of my favorite books that I read in the serialized monthly format. I think I've conditioned myself to think of these issue-by-issue reads separately from the book-length graphic novels, so they get a separate list, at least until I decide to do things differently. I guess this also includes ongoing series I read in trade paperback format, since I know I'm getting a chapter of a longer work when I read them. I don't know if I'll have as much to say about these, but here's my take:

14. Army@Love



Rick Veitch came up with a hell of a satire here, lampooning consumer culture, technology, politics, corporate mentality, and whatever else he could think of. I probably would have ranked it higher, but I haven't read it since the end of the first storyline. I'm sure it will rise (in my mind) after I read the next collection.

13. 100 Bullets

Like several other entries here, this one suffers from only being read in yearly (or so) installments, but it's still awesome every time I read it. I'm obsessed with all the interconnections between characters (see my character chart for evidence), and Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso tell some compelling, horrific stories that don't pull any punches. I'm sure it'll be my favorite book again when the next volume shows up.

12. Madman Atomic Comics



I probably would have ranked this higher, but while I love Mike Allred's artwork, the storyline has been kind of meandering in this latest iteration of the series, getting bogged down in weird cosmic philosophy. Not that it hasn't been good (and the third issue, in which Allred aped the styles of what seemed like a few hundred great comics artists, was mindblowing from an artistic standpoint), but I just haven't enjoyed it as much as the entries higher up the list.

11. DMZ



This is another one that I've dropped in order to read in trade paperback form, so its lack of immediacy probably punished it. But it's really one of the best comics being published, with an important, relevant message and some harrowing stories. There needs to be a new collection really soon.

10. The Immortal Iron Fist



I stopped reading this one in monthly pamphlets after the first storyline, and now I'm eagerly awaiting a collection of the second storyline. Awesome kung fu comics by Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, lavishly and grittily illustrated by David Aja (and others). Doesn't get much better than this for your "pop" entertainment.

9. Glister

Cute, smart, beautifully-illustrated kiddie comics by Andi Watson. Not much else to say, except read them if you haven't been.

8. Fables



This is a series that I read in trades, and right now it's been several months since the most recent one, so my memory of the series' greatness has faded. If I was writing this right after reading the new volume (which better be coming out soon, dammit), I would probably rank it higher. But it's a great read every time, with an incredible sense of scope; Bill Willingham has mapped out quite an epic world here, and he could potentially keep building it for years to come. In fact, he's already expanded into a second title, Jack of Fables (along with co-writer Matthew Sturges), and I almost included it in the list as well. But I figure I'll keep it to just the core book, which is good enough for two entries.

7. Atomic Robo

Another surprising new entry, from the upstart publisher Red 5 Comics. It's along the same lines as some of the other entries here (Umbrella Academy, Iron Fist, Casanova), but it's unique enough to stand on its own, I think. Only three issues have come out so far, but they've all been incredibly enjoyable. I can't wait to read more.

6. The Umbrella Academy

This seems like the breakout hit of the year. Gabriel Ba again, accompanied by surprisingly good writing by Gerard Way (not to mention Dave Stewart's bright, pretty colors). Fun, wacky ideas and a sense of scale, along with some real emotional resonance make for some good comics. I can't wait to see what the team has in store.

5. Y: The Last Man

I'm probably ranking this higher than I should because I'm sad that it will be ending soon. But even so, this year saw some great stories, wrapping up plotlines, giving the characters (and the readers) closure, and shocking us with Brian K. Vaughan's trademark twists. I still haven't forgiven him for the ending of issue #58. Barring a disastrous ending (which I find doubtful), this will probably go down in history as one of my favorite comics of all time.

4. The Nightly News



Fight Club meets Network, illustrated in a completely unique style by a formidable new talent. Keep the comics coming, Jonathan Hickman!

3. Criminal

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips deliver a regular dose of crime goodness, and I wish they had the resources to do it twice as often. Don't stop anytime soon, guys!

2. Casanova



Matt Fraction and his trade-off art team of Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon deliver some of my very favorite regular comics reading. Awesome stories dense with neat ideas and cool action, prettied up with incredible artwork (the frequent nudity is a plus), and finished off with Fractions revealing backmatter make for a great read whenever it comes out. I'm dreading the upcoming hiatus between the second and third storylines...

1. All Star Superman



I don't think there's a series I anticipate more whenever it comes out. Grant Morrison's awesome, sweeping ideas and moving, funny stories, coupled with Frank Quitely's beautiful, unparalleled artwork make for some really great comics.

I probably could have mentioned a few others (Multiple Warheads, Brawl, The Spirit), but I think that's enough. Let's move on:

Manga:

It seems odd to shuffle Japanese comics off into their own category, but I don't know what else to do at the moment. Plus, I read several of these entries in Shojo Beat each month, which gives them a different feel from both the graphic novels and the monthly comics. That's my excuse, at least. So, anyway, here's my picks:

11. Yotsuba
10.
Monster

These would have ranked higher, but I don't think any of the volumes I've read actually came out this year. But I plan to keep reading both of them, so if I get caught up, they'll probably move up higher on next year's list.

9. Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service

I'm behind on this one too, but it's a really fun series, about a group on differently-powered investigators who solve mysteries from the recently-deceased. Good art and fun, weird stories. I gotta read more.

8. King of Thorn

Plague survivors (for now) struggle to outwit and outfight freakish monsters after being unfrozen in a post-apocalyptic world. Lots of action, pretty illustrations. I dig it.

7. Dragon Head

I'm behind on this series, but it's a good one, and I can't wait to catch up. Teens struggle to survive in a disaster-struck Japan, with freaky characters and strange situations. What happened? I must find out!

6. Apollo's Song/MW

I love everything I've read by Osamu Tezuka, and these two novel-length works, while not his best, make for pretty damn great reads. I want more of his stuff. Anything!

5. Parasyte



Surprisingly good drama about a boy with an alien hand. Kinda dodgy artwork at times, but compelling, exciting stories, and interesting exploration of the concept. Where's volume three?

4. Drifting Classroom



The pure, violent, chaotic, loud insanity of this series makes it an un-put-down-able read. I gotta get caught up...

3. Nana



I haven't read this series for a few months (I still need to pick up the just-released eighth volume), but it's still high on my list of really good manga. Sure, it's pure soap opera, all about two girls and their love lives, but it's the kind of thing that you just can't put down, and you have to know what's going to happen next. It's probably the memorable characters that Ai Yazawa details, but her unique artwork certainly doesn't hurt.

2. Sand Chronicles



A moving, intelligent series about growing up and stuff. Viz just put out the first collection, so get it while it's hot!

1. Honey and Clover



I unreservedly love this funny, heartwarming story about students in art college. Please, anybody else who hasn't read this, check it out when Viz publishes the first volume this spring.

Collections:

These are books that came out this year which collect older stuff into editions that I can actually read. Not really eligible for any "best comics of the year" lists, but I wanted to point them out anyway.

5. Popeye: I Yam What I Yam

I'm not done with this one yet (it's slow going for me when I've got a hundred other books to read), but it's awesome. I really need to try to expand my experience with old comic strips; some of them are surprisingly great.

4. Whiteout

I didn't read this when it came out, so I was glad to get my hands on it now. This is good comics.

3.
The Annotated Northwest Passage

As is this. I hope Scott Chantler gets around to doing a sequel soon.

2.
Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus

I dig Kirby, and the first volume of this series (I still need to get the subsequent ones, dammit) really made me realize his greatness. That link actually leads to my month-long appreciation of his artwork and storytelling; I hope to do something similar whenever I get the next volumes. Go Kirby! Death cannot stop you!

1. Love and Rockets "digest" collections

Some of the best comics I read this year were the books gathering the incredible works of Los Bros Hernandez. I'm still working on the third volumes in each series, and I feel like I could just keep writing stuff about them indefinitely. From the amazingly-realized characters, to the unique settings, to the beautiful artwork, these are some of the best comics ever made. I'm a fan for life after reading these books.

Comics I Didn't Read:

And here's the stuff I missed. From reviews I've read, many of these would probably end up on my list(s), but I never managed to get my hands on any of them. Hopefully I'll read them someday.

Alias the Cat
Aya

The Blot
Bookhunter
Chiaroscuro
House
I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets

James Sturm's America: God, Gold, and Golems

Mail
The Mourning Star
New Engineering

Notes for a War Story
Percy Gloom
Phoenix: Sun

Powr Mastrs

Red Eye, Black Eye

Runoff
Richard Sala books (The Grave Robber's Daughter, Delphine)
Sammy the Mouse
Shooting War
Town Boy
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms
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And that's pretty much everything. As always, any comments, recommendations, arguments, or complaints can be offered in the comments. If you think I'm wrong, let me know! Or commend my excellent taste, if that's your preference. I should hopefully be back tomorrow with more content, of some kind or another. See you then!