Yep, like the title says, it’s time for me to do that list-making thing that we internet pundits do so love to do.
And, as I always have done on my own sadly neglected blog, I feel I must preface this list with a disclaimer. The following entries are in no way intended to be the be-all and end-all absolute best comics and/or graphic novels of the past calendar year. There are many, many fine, worthy and worthwhile publications both physical and on the World Wide Internet that I did not have the opportunity, for whatever reason, to partake of. I like to think I read and keep up with what’s au courant, but alas, issues of time, money, and interest tend to hinder me in pursuit of that goal. I enjoyed all of these more than any others I read this year, and recommend them highly. Simple as that.
OK, disclaimer complete, here’s my Personal Best of 2010 list. An even dozen. I shall cite them alphabetically so as not to imply (or infer, or whatever) favoritism.
We’re all a little oversaturated with vampire stories these days, but there’s always room for a fresher take, especially one done with energy and imagination. At first paired with slumming writer Stephen King, who scripted a backfeature for the first few issues, writer Scott Snyder soon came on strong on his own and proved that he had something to bring to the table. He lucked out by getting up-and-coming Rafael Albuquerque on art; he has a unique style of his own- a little gritty, a little sloppy, a little Nino/Filipino influenced, but always dynamic. Maybe it’s because I’m just a sucker for a weird Western (see more on this below), but I think this is some high-quality pulp. Now, if only DC would get off its ass and put out the first softcover trade. (DC/Vertigo)
EMPOWERED vol. 6
Adam Warren continues to beat the odds and persists in getting better and better with his spicy superhero romp, adding new layers of characterization and raising the stakes for his hapless, self-deprecating heroine and her ever-burgeoning cast. This volume gets some sly digs in at the infatuation with zombie versions of superhero characters, and much more. You’re not reading this, you’re missing out. And of course, his art is a marvel. (Dark Horse)
HELLBOY/BEASTS OF BURDEN: SACRIFICE
It stood to reason that the best way to divert some attention to Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson’s intrepid band of canine and feline supernatural investigators would be to hook them up with another, somewhat more popular supernatural investigator that is arguably the company’s best known character, and fortunately for all of us the results were very well done. Sometimes fun but not frivolous, sometimes dramatic but never leaden and dull, and for once the spotlighted characters all got opportunities to show what made them both special. And of course, the gorgeous Jill Thompson watercolor art is worth the price of admission alone. (Dark Horse)
Many will no doubt wonder why the heck, what with all the wonderful titles out there, staples of many other best-of lists so far, would I pick this, what certainly (on the surface, anyway) seems like yet another bloodless license perpetuation, another attempt to make a group of superhero characters fondly remembered by a small section of aging fanmen (and yes, a somewhat slightly less aging subsection of Grant Morrison devotees), relevant and/or readable again. All I can say in response is that this is why I stress that this is a personal best list…while this is no artcomic, far from it, this is that rarest of rare things- a licensed superhero property revival that has heart, soul, and attitude, without devolving into complete condescension a la an Ennis or Millar revival. By mixing and matching various segments of the long and unwieldy history of this particular property, Keith Giffen has consistently managed to keep this lively and interesting, throwing us continuity bones even as he throws us some very down-to-earth and sharply realized character beats between the four constants- Niles Caulder, Rita Farr, Larry Trainor, and Cliff Steele, but also doesn’t neglect his strong suit, a sense of humor. Keeping one eyebrow cocked throughout, Giffen provides ballast for what would be standard superhero comic melodrama, and while it may be a fine-lined distinction, I’ve read a shitload of comics that couldn’t finesse this and were nigh unreadable as a result. Sure, it took its time getting started- didn’t really kick in, in my opinion, until the Blackest Night crossover of all things- and the art (in general) has been only slightly above the norm for a Big Two comic (though Matt Clark does draw a smashing Rita), but he’s managed to not get in Giffen’s way, and that’s a good thing. Giffen and long-lost Al Milgrom did draw a fill-in issue a month or so ago that was fast-paced and frenetic, an almost note-perfect swipe-not-theft of Kirby-circa-1973, and was a total blast. Anyway, aesthetes may turn up their nose, but this is a damn good superhero comic book, and I only wish more people knew it. (DC Comics)
KNIGHT & SQUIRE
Here’s another superhero book that will probably only appeal to a certain cross section of Anglophiles, and I am certainly in that group. Paul Cornell, who excels at this sort of thing, writes this Batman spinoff with a wry sense of humor and the single-minded determination to squeeze in as many obscure and not-so obscure Brit-centered popular culture and folklore references that he can. Plus, I love the Squire in an embarrassing way. (DC Comics)
LOVE & ROCKETS: NEW STORIES #3
Featuring Jaime Hernandez’ remarkable “Browntown”, perhaps the best thing he’s ever done. Which makes this absolutely essential. (Fantagraphics)
Same as it ever was; rock-solid dramatics and characterization and evocative art. Much of this year has been given to individual issue portraits of supporting characters, which sometimes is the kiss of death to lesser books, but in the capable hands of Jason Aaron they’re as engrossing not only in a stand-alone fashion, but as part of the larger tapestry, which did not get ignored, but continues to take on new dimensions. (DC/Vertigo)
SCOTT PILGRIM VOL. 6: SCOTT PILGRIM’S FINEST HOUR
Bryan Lee O’Malley manages to wind up his 6-volume saga with aplomb; it couldn’t have been easy, with at least six years’ worth of escalating expectations as well as the distraction of a filmed adaptation to deal with, too. Some may quibble (some will always quibble, the jerky knee comes so easily) but I always found this fresh, clever and fun even though I am miles away from the target demographic. And I continue to wonder- what will he do for an encore? (Oni Press)
THE SIXTH GUN
As I said above, I tend to be a sucker for offbeat westerns, and this is certainly a prime example of that. Writer Cullen Bunn has crafted an imaginative and fast-moving mix of cowboys, demons, and monsters with the occasional golem mixed in, all based on the acquisition of and desire for a set of supernatural six-guns. So far, we’re just getting to know everybody, and I’m sure Bunn has a lot more where that came from. He’s ably aided by artist Brian Hurtt, whose clean and precise style, in the fashion of, say, 1950’s Ditko or 70’s Joe Staton inked by 1950’s Wallace Wood, brings the proceedings to life with gusto. I think it only gets better from here. Now, if only someone would get that second The Damned trade, by this same team, out. I’m tired of waiting! (Oni Press)
STARSTRUCK: THE EXPANDED UNIVERSE
All tricked out and souped up for a marketplace that still stubbornly resists. I’ve always considered this one of the best comics series ever published, and nothing in this representation caused me to reconsider that stance. A career high point for both writer Elaine Lee and artist Mike Kaluta. Also, you can check out the stage version (which came first, actually), cleverly recorded in radio style. (IDW)
Greg Rucka and Matt Southworth’s nifty modern noir, set in the streets of Portland Oregon, gives us an instantly memorable lead in private investigator Dexedrine Parios, who is one of the more fallible, which is to say she’s got her share of, shall we say, personal issues- one of which is compulsive gambling and the attendant debt, which gets her in the pocket of a local casino owner and eventually a local mob boss, both of which who hire her to find a missing girl…and it escalates from there. By the time this one’s done, you feel a bit tired and bruised as well as Dexie goes above and beyond the call in search of the girl, as well as to get her own ass out of trouble. This is all brought to life in excellent fashion by Southworth, who brings a solid Mike Lark/Steven Gaudiano style to bear; I really wish there was a Gotham Central comic being published so Matt could draw it. I hope this isn’t the last we see of Ms. Parios. (Oni Press)
This one’s going to be on practically everyone’s list, so why should I be an exception? Dan Clowes, letting down his guard for once and writing warm as he gives us the titular misanthrope, trying to deal with life, death, family and many other things, done in a rotating artistic style. Must be getting soft in his advancing years.
Honorable Mentions, i.e. ongoing and mini-series of a consistently high quality and graphic novels/trades that were above average, listed in no other order save as they occur to me: Mercury (Hope Larson), Smile (Raina Telegmeier); Criminal: The Sinners; Incognito: Bad Influences; Fables; Spider-Man: Fever; Detective Comics #861-863, 871; the various B.P.R.D. series, most notably Abe Sapiens: The Abyssal Plain; Baltimore: The Plague Ships; Kick-Ass 2; X’ed Out (Only one issue each of these, kinda early for me to make up my mind); The Unwritten; Thor: The Mighty Avenger (alas, we hardly knew ye); Strange Tales II; Batman and Robin; Batman, Inc.; King City (even though I only actually read one of the twelve, what I’ve seen of the series as a whole is obviously high quality and I will remedy that soon); Turf; Hellblazer: City of Demons; Invincible Iron Man; House of Mystery Halloween Annual 2; Joe the Barbarian; Black Widow #’s 1-5; I, Zombie, Parker: The Outfit, Girl Comics, Underground (excellent series, the bulk of which came out in 2009…but one issue came out in ’10, so I list it here); Power Girl (the Palmiotti/Connor issues); The Weird World of Jack Staff, Phonogram 2: The Singles Club (see Underground), CBGB.
Collections/Bios of Note: Bill Everett, The Submariner and The Birth of Marvel Comics, From Shadow to Light: The Life and Art of Mort Meskin, Blazing Combat, Dick Breifer’s Frankenstein. I’m sure that Alex Toth book would have been among this number, if I’d read it…
Webcomics: Cleopatra in Spaaace!, Girls With Slingshots, Freakangels, Hark! A Vagrant, Hijinks Ensue, Overcompensating, Tune: Praxis and Allies, Valentine, Bad Machinery, Sinfest. I’m sure I’m forgetting some. Achewood has had its moments this year, but has tried my patience with the abruptly-abandoned Teodor in Nice Pete’s Van storyline.
Conspicuous by its Absence: Wally Gropius: The Umpteen Millionaire. I’m sorry, I just didn’t get the point the author/artist was trying to make. I’m dense like that sometimes.
OK, that’s it for 2010! I’ll be back in January with more reviews and whatnot. Thanks as always for reading, and happy holidays and new year to all.