Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Best of 2011

These are my favourite comics of 2011.  You can click on the comic's title for a link to buy them (though some are unavailable at the moment; check your local comic shop!)



Criminal: Last of the Innocent by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

I didn't think Criminal could get any better. The last series - The Innocents - was probably the title's weakest (though still very good!) but from the very first issue, Last of the Innocents was clearly something special. Melding old-style Archie nostalgia inserts representing the characters' cherished (idealized?) childhood memories with the swampy dark noir of the modern day, this series marked the absolute height of two creators' at their respective peaks. A story about regret, jealousy, vanity and murder, featuring a protagonist who is probably the least likeable character in a host of unlikeable characters, Criminal is real comics. The duo's new series - Fatale - has just started from Image Comics and the first issue sold out before they even went on sale.

Hellboy: The Storm & The Fury by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (w/ Dave Stewart)

The culmination of over a decades worth of story groundwork and continuity, Mike Mignola's Hellboy reached a (sort of) conclusion that few were expecting or saw coming. I won't talk much of the plot as I don't want to spoil anything but the final issue was a sight to behold and one of the most dense and beautiful comics my eyes have seen. This also marked Duncan Fegredo's last issue as artist and he went out on an absolute high with the best work of his career (assisted by Dave Stewart's frankly amazing colouring). Mignola returns to his character in the next few months, taking up artistic chores after a very long absense.

I don't know if these would be classified as Ongoings - maybe ongoing mini-series' - but it's my list and I'll do it how I like.


Uncanny X-Force by Rick Remender & Jeremy Opena (w/ others)

Recommended to me on this very forum, Rick Remender's X-Force got me back reading an X-title after a very long absence. Brilliant plots, outrageously brilliant art and a writer who knows that it's the characters that really count, this was a really fun, high-octane adventure comic. The latest issue also featured one of the most touching and well-executed scenes I've seen in a superhero in quite some time.



The Red Wing by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra

Currently gathering acclaim for his runs on Marvel's Fantastic Four/FF and The Ultimates, Hickman's most daring work is always his creator-owned stuff. The Red Wing is a futuristic science fiction tale about time-travel, family and duty. The real star here is art from Nick Pitarra with some amazing design work and cool visuals. The last issue floundered a little in my opinion but it might work better read as a trade, since there was so much going on it was hard to follow over the four month period!


Nonplayer by Nate Simpson

OK so only one issue was released but what an issue!  Nate Simpson's futurist tale about RPG-style immersive gaming got off to a hugely impressive start.



Daytripper by Gabriel Bá and Fabio Moon

This was originally published as a 10-issue series by Vertigo and I didn't hear about it till towards the end of its run.  The trade collects the whole thing in one go and it's truly one of the most ambitious and best comics I've read this year. Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon made their names as artists on Gerard Way's excellent The Umbrella Academy and as alternating artists on Matt Fraction's creator-owned Casanova. Here they partner on writing/art duties and it's a wonderful combination.  Daytripper revolves around a writer Bras de Oliva Domingos and each issue centres on an important moment in his life. Any more detail might spoil it but it's a very touching and heartfelt comic about life, death and all the important things in life. Ba and Moon aren't afraid to experiment with the narrative or visuals but it's never overbearing, only adding to the impact of the story.  Each issue is self-contained yet they combine to tell an overall story (it's kind of hard to explain!) that I challenge anyone not be to affected by. We need more comics like this.




Paying for It by Chester Brown was a thought-provoking comic about the author's somewhat unconventional life choice to forswear relationships and emotional attachments in favour of partaking in purely sexual relationships with prostitutes (prostitution being legal where he comes from).  Dark Horse released the first English translation of Blacksad, a fantastic antropomorphic noir detective story owing a visual debt to early Disney films.  I also really enjoyed the latest collections of The Unwritten and the B.P.R.D. hardcovers (vol. 3 out soon!)  Two trades/series I've read this year (but were released earlier) were the excellent Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco, comics journalism covering the Bosnian war and genocide, and the Hernandez Bros. excellent and classic Love & Rockets series.


Note: Anything included in the post above has not been included here. So you can take some of these as second/third place titles, if you'd like. Though they're all exceptional!


Best: Secret Avengers #16 - Current: Warren Ellis and a rotating team of artists create explosive self-contained hi-concept action comics for the 21st century.
Honourable Mention: Wolverine & the X-Men - Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo inject some much-needed fun into the X-World.



Best:  B.P.R.D. - John Arcudi and Mike Mignola continue the BPRD in a post-Plague world. Great action, great characters and one of the best team books around.
Honourable Mentions: Buffy Season 9 -  I'm as surprised as you are. S8 quickly devolved into over-the-top and unrecognizable farce but S9 has gotten things right back on track and delivered on those earlier promises. Buffy is at its best when it's fun!



Best: The Strange Talent of Luther Strode - A nice surprise, this. Like a more mature, less offensive Kick-Ass, this new series got off to a strong start with some strong expressive art and a story that doesn't let up steam.
Honourable Mention: The Intrepids - A fun tale about a team of gifted but flawed characters whose job it is to stop the worlds' evil scientists. Gigantic brainwahsed bears are always fun villains.



Best: Animal Man by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman - DCs best relaunch title owes more than a debt to Vertigo. 
Honourable Mention: Batman: The Black Mirror (Detective Comics #871 - #881) -  Scott Snyder's pre-relaunch Detective Comics with Jock and Francesco Francavilla were some of the best Batman stories of recent years, regardless of Bruce Wayne not being under the cowl. Snyder and Capullo's current run on Batman is fantastic as well.



Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant. Hilarious shorts based on historical and literary figures, Beaton's popular webcomic's growing popularity meant it's been picked up by a publisher and released in physical form to huge acclaim, reaching the top of many best seller and crtitics' lists. She's still making 'em and they're still damn funny.


Watchmen 2  - If it's true, it's a terrible, terrible idea and a real blow to creator rights and respect.


Image in 2012: A company focused on creator-owned comics, the publisher is now at their strongest since its founding days when Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen and others took the risky jump from working for the Big Two to make the comics they wanted to make.  2012 marks their 20th Anniversary and they have a slew of amazing books coming out from some of the very best creators working in comics today. Brubaker/Phillips on Fatale, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples on Saga, Brandon Graham on Prophet, Hickman's new projects (Manhattan Projects being one), Hell Yeah.   Also they have the continuing hits like Chew, Mudman, Pigs, Morning Glories, The Walking Dead, Invincible, Reed Gunther, Gladstone's School of World Conquerors and The Strange Talent of Luther Strode. Hell, maybe they'll even get Gutsville out! 

If you like comics, then Image are the publisher to look at in 2012.If you like comics, then Image are the publisher to look at in 2012.






Special mention goes to 2000AD for being consistently brilliant!

It's the comics 35th anniversary this February and 2012 looks like another amazing year with the end of Nikolai Dante (the best UK comic of the last decade), more explosive Dredd stories in Day of Chaos (and the release of a new film!), Indigo Prime, Zombo, Low Life and much, much more.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Comic Book TV Invasion

With Hollywood's blockbuster output of the last decade heavily reliant on superheros and comic book movies (moreso the former than the latter!), the advent of comic books hitting our small screens is finally upon us with AMC's Frank Darabont-helmed The Walked Dead, based on the increasingly popular Robert Kirman/Charlie Adlard/Tony Moore comic book of the same name from Image Comics.

Comics books have never fared too well on the small screen with smaller comics like The Middlemen and Human Target being chosen more for their concepts than brand-recognition.  Heroes was initially a smash hit, a mish-mash of various comics like X-Men and Watchmen, that quickly petered out after it's first season.  The Walking Dead is a first, however; the show is spearheaded by a big-name director, Frank Darabont, and is being broadcast not on sanitized network television but cable, with channels like HBO, Showtime and FX creating a golden-age for grown-up, well-made television that recalls the American cinema of the 70s.  AMC is, in many ways, the new kid on the block but their three headline shows - Mad Men, Breaking Bad and now The Walking Dead - have quickly pushed them to the forefront of this new breed of television, their sights clearly set on the biggest of the bunch, HBO.

Two episodes in and The Walking Dead is already AMC's most successful venture and this week, they commissioned a second season (http://www.comicsbeat.com/2010/11/08/the-walking-dead-shambles-to-another-season-setting-ratings-records/).  In much the same way as Hollywood began scouring the comic book shelves for the next big thing after Spider-Man showed them how it's done, television executives will surely soon be doing the same, most likely favouring the kind of comics that combine complex, mature narratives with intriguing concepts and multi-arc storytelling.

So here's my list of comics, paired with interesting directors/showrunners, that the likes of HBO and the other cable networks should be eyeing up for turning into the next Walking Dead.

100 Bullets (Brian Azzarello/Eduardo Risso)
Showrunners:  Darren Aronofsky & Martin McDonogh

In many ways, a no-brainer; this comic screams out for a television series adaptation that can deliver on it's narrative complexity and explore the moral ambiguity at its heart without sacrificing it's strong grasp on character and dialogue, in a way that a single two hour movie could never do.  The simple but brilliant concept: a man gives you a briefcase, an untraceable gun and 100 bullets in which you can finally gain revenge on that son-of-a-bitch who destroyed your life. Love, lust, revenge; any reason will do.  The comic perhaps diverged too far into the central conspiracy of The Minutemen by its end but the ingredients are all their for a modern-day noir TV show that can deliver both episodic or multi-arc narratives.
Aronofsky's visual style and newly-acquired naturalistic acting style would give this comic it's look but it's McDonogh who could deliver that mix of noir tragedy/comedy that the comics does so well.  His film In Bruges was a tightly plotted, effective noir that, though set in a provincial and beautiful European city and ostensibly a comedy, still managed to deliver on those quiet, tormented moments of horror facing two professional killers laying low after a hit.

Criminal (Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips)
Showrunner: Andrew Dominik

Criminal is a noir crime comic with tight, thoughtful plots and a tough, grimy cast of characters from Brubaker complimented wonderfully by evocative, moody art from Philips. It's a lean, dirty comic with moments of lyricism and poetry. Who better then than the director of the film based on Australian real-life crime superstar Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford to bring this to life. Andrew Dominik may not be a household name but he has the chops to bring Criminal, bruised and battered, to the small screen.

Scalped (Jason Aaron/R.M. Guera)
Showrunner: David Simon

Life on a Native American reservation: corruption, drugs, gambling, family, tradition.  A large cast of compelling characters and thoughtful, mature storytelling that doesn't shy away from the realities and contradictions of a people still struggling with the past, this would make a rather captivating companion piece to Simon's other masterpiece, The Wire.

Sandman (Neil Gaiman/Various Artists)
Showrunners: David Lynch & Terry Gilliam

A film may never do it justice but television may be a better fit for what is considered one of the very best comics series out there. The choice of showrunners may be ambitious but they're a perfect fit: Gilliam's fantastical whimsy and Lynch's unravelling of reality's dark underbelly, as well as both director's abilities to convey the humanity of eccentric, often bizarre characters would fit Gaiman's world well.

DMZ (Brian Wood/Riccardo Burchielli)
Showrunner: Paul Greengrass

Set in the not-too-distant future of New York City, where a civil war between the federal government of the United States and the 'Free States' armies has turned Manhattan into a demilitarized zone.  The central character is a photojournalist who gets separated from his news crew after an attack and reports from the inside of the DMZ.  Incredibly prevalent (the Free States army are a bunch of ideological secessionists, mostly made up of right-wing militants. Sound familiar?), this series would allow for an exploration into the political, social and economic problems of today under the cover of a high-concept, dystopian thriller.Greengrass is the perfect choice for this show.  Possible second choice: Nick Broomfield, whose recent films, Ghost and Battle For Haditha, are similar in style to Greengrass but arguably even more 'real' in tone.

Transmetropolitan (Warren Ellis/Darick Robertson)
Showrunner: Alfonso Cuaron

This much-missed series was one of the most fun and inventive comics of the last twenty years, crammed full of science-fiction ideas, great characters and an irascible sense of humour that owed a heavy debt to Hunter S. Thompson.  Cuaron's Children of Men, while more of a dystopian, realistic film, was an astounding cinematic achievement that crammed multiple ideas into a series of ambitious single takes, delivering information not through exposition but visually, in much the same way as Darick Robertson crams as many ideas into the background of his panels as possible without sacrificing the central narrative at the forefront.  Icing to the cake: get Warren Ellis to write for the show.  He's a one man House of Ideas.

RASL (Jeff Smith)
Showrunner: Richard Kelly

Admittedly, a slightly odd choice on both counts, Jeff Smith's post-Bone time/dimension hopping comic may be more suited to the cinema screen but the world he's created in only eight issues of RASL is so imaginative and full of creative possibilities that it could easily be adapted into an adventurous, science-fiction show. Kelly, the director of indie hit Donnie Darko and the best-forgotten Southland Tales could nail this comics evocative mix of sci-fi, adventure and horror.  I almost suggested Christopher Nolan but figured his tight, restricted formalism may take away too much from Smith's at times chaotic narrative.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bio Comics

I've been reading a lot of memoir/autobiography type comics lately. While usually very readable and entertaining, they all have certain similarities which become repetitive over time: many of the authors have similar personalities and traits: they're mostly narcissistic, slightly weird or obsessive, socially awkward types.  That is part of the charm, of course. I thought I'd list some of the best or most interesting ones that are worth checking out:--

The Poor Bastard - Joe Matt

 Philadelphia-born, Toronto-based cartoonist Joe Matt is very much like his peers/friends and co-stars in this book, Seth and Chester Brown, but he's at the more extreme, perverted end of things.  This book collects the first six issues of his comic 'Peepshow' and primarily centers around his unrealistic aspirations towards the female form and crippling obsession with pornography that invade and destroy, yet also drives, many of his relationships with women. Matt is quite gifted at making you care and almost sympathize with him by being quite insightful (though, in the comic, dismissive) of his own shortcomings and insecurities.  It may not be pretty but it sure is honest. His art is like a more refined Peter Bagge though his characters and their motivations, are just as ugly.  This comic primarily focuses on the end of a relationship with one girlfriend - due to his own selfishness and laziness that is posthumously realized by the author but now necessarily his comic alter-ego - and his search for a new girlfriend; this search intensified by his ex's new life and love with a new man.  It (sadly) rings true of real human experience, though his exacting standards and desperate behaviour are probably a bit more exaggerated than a normal, healthy individual!

Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi

 This one is probably familiar to a lot of people from the film that was released a few years ago; the comic is very much the same, but contains more character and historical details that presumably had to be passed over the the constraints of the film's running time.  This memoir follows the character's childhood in Iran post-Revolution, through Iran's war with its neighbour Iraq, and later the Iranian people's struggle against their own, increasingly restrictive government that parallels with her own personal rebellion as a woman in a stifling, aggressively patriarchal society.  It works as both historical drama and memoir, an insider and outsider's view of Iran (she travels to Europe in her late teens and returns to Iran as an adult).  It also shines a light on a much-understood society, that is far too often marginalized and/or misunderstood by Western media; here, Iranians disagree and rebel against the Iranian government, recognizing the inherent dangers of religious ideologues in power and the loss of freedom, both individual and as a society at large, when those ideologues turn to radicalism and isolationism.  There are no easy answers provided, but one does gain an understanding of Iran's people, as opposed to the dominant picture drawn by Western governments and media of a united country of extremists out to eradicate our way of life.

I Never Liked You - Chester Brown

A very effective tale of teenage love/lust, awkwardness and growing up.  What separates this from other coming-of-age tales is that the Brown's comic alter-ego isn't a pathetic, self-pitying narcissist but just an average, slightly nerdy guy in teenagery situations. 

Stitches - David Small

 A brilliant, haunting and insightful take on a young boy (Small) with throat cancer (largely the fault of his radiologist father who dosed him with x-rays at a young age to relieve him of a minor sinus problem), with lots of sketchy and evocative art, poetic imagery that lays bare a tragic, harrowing family life. The author is literally left speechless after a major operation at a young age and observes the disintegration of his family whilst also suffering emotional cruelties at the hands of his parents and elders in his life.

The Girlfriend Trilogy (Clumsy, Unlikely, AEIOU) - Jeffrey Brown

Jeffrey Brown's art is sketchy and almost child-like, and his alter-ego is the epitome of that pathetic, self-pitying character type that's so prevalent in books of this kind. Yet it's also one that rings very true in many cases: everyone will recognize something they themselves have gone through in a relationship (though Brown tends to fall in love with some extreme cases here!)  It's funny, sad and thoughtful all at the same time.  I highly recommend checking out 'How to Be A Man' mini after reading Clumsy; it's a recreation of many scenes from Clumsy but with the benefit of hindsight and humour: Brown goes back to many of the book's scenes and replaces actual events with what he would have liked to have said. It's reprinted in his new collection Undeleted Scenes.