Saturday, January 12, 2008

Top Ten Comics of 2007

2007 was another great year for comics. In my opinion, these were the best of the best.

10. Star Wars: Legacy
John Ostrander and Jan Duursema. Dark Horse Comics
This is the Star Wars series fans have been waiting for. Thrusting the series one hundred years into the future, the creative team has a lot more free reign, instead of just worrying about what to do with Han, Luke and Leia. I’m a huge fan of the original trilogy characters, but there is only so much you can say with them before you age them too much or contradict continuity and have the fans up your ass. Ostrander has kept enough ties to characters we love (Artoo is still around and the main character is a Skywalker descendant) but has also redefined the ‘rules’ of the Star Wars universe. The result is an exciting continuation of the Star Wars saga that appeals to fans of the original trilogy and those who prefer new characters in the expanded universe stories.

9. Ultimate Spider-Man
Brian Bendis, Mark Bagley and Stuart Immonen. Marvel Comics
Mark Bagley stepped away from the book after the exhilarating (and shorter) Ultimate version of the Clone Saga, but Stuart Immonen stepped in on art and the book didn’t miss a beat. ‘The Clone Saga’ storyline featured shocking revelations and twists with every issue and introduced a new character (in Peter’s female clone) that has a wealth of storytelling opportunity. Bagley’s final arc had Spider-Man teaming with the more urban heroes of the Ultimate Universe, after a short segue to introduce Immonen to the book in story featuring The Spot, the book got back to its grand storytelling with ‘Death of a Goblin’. Goblin brings back Norman Osborn, who appears to be even more dangerous when just making threats while in a three-piece suit than he does in his Goblin guise. After seven years and over 100 issues, this is still the best Spider-Man book on the stands.

8. The Boys
Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. Dynamite Comics
Garth Ennis let loose. DC Comics let go of the controversial, hype violent look at superheroes out of control and the people that are responsible for containing them, but the book lost none of its’ steam when moving to Dynamite. The first storyline of the year focused on the anti-hero team investigating the murder of a guy seemingly at the hands of a popular superhero. The investigation led them to uncover the horrific secrets of the Tek Knight and his relationship to his former ward, Swingwing, among others. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more violent, vulgar, genre skewering book on the stands that has this level of creativity and wit. A lot of creators try to show their chops by taking on the establishment, but Ennis still continues to show them how to do it in a most entertaining way.

7. All Star Superman
Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. DC Comics
Morrison makes Superman soar whether it’s finding a unique take on the Lex Luthor’s battle or sending the character off to Bizzaro World. He’s been able to put a new spin on stories that may seem like re-tellings by anyone else. Hell, even Quitely has managed to make Superman and Clark actually look like two different people with nuances in body language. Different creative teams come on board the Superman titles every few years in order to ‘fix’ the character or ‘bring him back to greatness’. They try and find the right combination that will make Superman a compelling or at least relevant character for today’s generation. Look no further than Morrison’s take to see how to make Superman compelling, relevant and highly enjoyable.

6. Y, The Last Man
Brian Vaughan and Pia Guerra. DC/Vertigo
We got a possible explanation on what caused the plague that killed all the men on the planet and while most readers were less than impressed with the revelation, a few months later some more information showed that maybe the truth behind the plague wasn’t revealed. The fact that we may never learn the truth is for the best, anyway, since the enjoyment of the series has been about the ride that we went on with Yorick Brown. The latter months of the book showed the long-awaited reunion of Yorick and the woman he loved. There was also the shocking and heartbreaking resolution to Yorick’s relationship with the agent assigned to protect him. Neither event ended the way anyone could have predicted. The final issue nearly upon us and I hope the conclusion is as satisfying as the ones all the fans have created in their heads. Good luck, Brian.

5. The Punisher
Garth Ennis, Lan Medina, Howard Chaykin and Goran Parlov. MAX/Marvel Comics
When Garth Ennis started writing the Punisher years ago the book took the form of a wild, over the top adventure featuring an obsessed maniac as its lead. Slowly after the book went under the MAX banner and away from the Marvel Universe, Ennis started adding layers of humanity to Frank Castle all while putting him through some of the most insane and horrifying adventures to date. In recent months, the Punisher had to contend with going up against a group of widows of those criminals he previously killed and was partnered by a woman scarred both physically and emotionally. The latest storyline has introduced a baby Castle didn’t know he had, who is being used as bait by the maniacal Barracuda (one of the most twisted, violent and evil villains Ennis or any other writer has creator) Ennis had the uncanny ability to humanize a character like Frank Castle so completely and to a much greater degree than just ‘the mob killed his family so now he punishes all criminals’ without changing his origin. He has added so much depth to the character that it’s really hard for me to imagine anyone else writing the character.

4. Captain America
Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting and Mike Perkins. Marvel Comics
One of the best superhero books on the stands didn’t feature its lead character for most of 2007 and that may have been the best decision. While there have been some great Cap runs, the true sense of who Captain America is and what he means to the country, his teammates and the people around him have gotten lost in the shuffle. By having him out of the picture, Brubaker has given the other characters the power to embrace (Iron Man, The Winter Soldier) or reject (The Red Skull) the ideals of Steve Rogers’ Captain. The latest storyline is going to feature someone new taking on the roll of Captain America and I trust it will give Brubaker another chance to exemplify the ideals and the sense of purpose that the character represents. If and when Steve Rogers returns, he will do so with a renewed sense of purpose and to a world crafted by Brubaker where his ‘mission’ is truly clear.

3. True Story, Swear to God
Tom Beland. Image Comics
Heartwarming, funny and amazingly honest, Tom Beland’s autobiographical look on his relationship with Lili is a ‘slice of life’ story done right. A lot of self published and small press creators go the auto-biographical route with their work. It takes a special talent to be able to stand out enough to get picked up by a company like Image (and be recognized for Eisner nominations) but it’s also an amazing feat to make one’s seemingly ordinary life compelling enough where you want to shell out three bucks to read it. Beland has that special ability to make his life worth reading about without resorting to being exploitive or arrogant. If anything in the series, he treats himself worse than any other character. I’ve never met Tom or Lily, but through TSSTG, I feel like I know them.

2. Criminal
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Icon/Marvel Comics
The title is getting re-launched with a new number one (for volume two of the series) and hopefully it’ll attract a few new readers with the move. The creative team behind Sleeper has been doing masterful work here using the freedom of the Icon line to tell gritty, intelligent, adult stories without resorting to gratuitous violence or sex. There is more character development in the small cast of characters in this series than some comic companies have in their entire line. While Criminal follows the thoughts, planning and execution of some ‘bad’ people, the characters Brubaker writes aren’t entirely without redemption. He isn’t writing about traditional comic book (or Hollywood) type villains. The characters here are extremely complex and layered. They don’t necessarily believe what they’re doing is evil or even necessarily wrong, but their actions are a means to an end for their own survival and twisted sense of purpose.

1. The Walking Dead
Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard. Image Comics
At this point in the story, the zombies are almost an afterthought. The characters in TWD have discovered that there are greater evils in the world than the undead and maybe getting chomped on by a walking corpse isn’t the worst way to go in this universe. This year we had a resolution to the Rick and Lori baby storyline, along with an interesting wrap up to the identity of the father speculation going on. The most anticipated storyline occurred towards the end of the year and is still in motion: the return of the corrupt Governor and his townspeople of Woodbury. It’s been speculated that this storyline will ‘change everything’ and Kirkman has proved that when it comes to The Walking Dead, that statement isn’t just hyperbole. Those who’ve complained about the lack of zombie chomping action are completely missing the point of the book. It’s so much more than a slasher type horror book. The psychological horror of the unknown, along with the true human nature of the survivors is what’s really frightening.

Best Event Book
The Sinestro Corps War
Geoff Johns, Dave Gibbons, Ivan Reis and Ethan van Sciver. DC Comics
DC could have easily turned this into a catastrophic mess, with a ton of meaningless tie-ins just for the sake of pulling in a few more bucks but they left well enough alone and let the creative team do their thing. This is the second part of the Green Lantern ‘trilogy’ that began with Rebirth, also by Johns and van Sciver. Sinestro, Green Lantern’s arch enemy and is tired of getting his butt handed to him by the Lanterns creates his own army of ring bearers, all using the yellow ring embodying fear. Again, this sprawling, sci-fi epic took all of about twelve chapters to tell within the two core Green Lantern series and a couple of spin-offs. The creative teams kept the series tight and it allowed for the story to be told in as concise a manner as possible. I was never that big of a Green Lantern fan (and really only read him in the Rebirth mini-series, but due to the work on ‘Sinestro Corps’ and the hint of things to come, I think I’m going to stick around longer.

Best Way to End a Marriage
Spider-Man: One More Day
JM Straczynski and Joe Quesada. Marvel Comics.
You’d think there wouldn’t be that many candidates for this but you’d be wrong. From the Green Arrow/Black Canary honeymoon murder…okay, I just wanted this category to recognize ‘One More Day’. Why? Well, because it’s not the end of the world scenario that some fans have made it out to be. I liked that Peter Parker was married. I liked the unmasking storyline. I would have preferred if the supernatural element was left out of the resolution. The truth is, though, I can see the reasoning behind the company wanting Spider-Man to be perpetually single. I can recognize that the unmasking was a mistake for the character and the events of the books subsequently proved it. And in a series where the main character was bitten by a radioactive spider, got cloned, went to a different planet and picked up a living costume and fought against gods I suppose the Mephisto connection isn’t that far fetched. Marvel needed to make Peter Parker single again in a way that didn’t make him or Mary Jane look bad (so no cheating, divorce, etc), that didn’t seemingly age him (no killing MJ off and making him a widower) or wipe out years of stories in a Crisis on Infinite Earths style event and this was the best way to do it. Time will tell. And I’m going to give them the time.

Best Book You’ve Never Heard Of
Brielle and the Horror
Jared and Jordan Barel and Alex Goz. Loaded Barrel Studios

You’ve heard of it if you read my older reviews, but all anyone really cares about is when I write about Ben Reilly so it doesn’t hurt to mention this book again in case you neglected the hype the first time around. This was the first issue of the attempted live-action graphic novel. The creators used real actors to portray the characters in the book and then photographed the panels in sequence to the story, then hand drew over the photos to create a pretty unique-looking piece of art. Aside from the cool artistic tricks, it’s got an interesting horror story, too. The comic follows a teenage girl, Brielle, who witnessed her father’s death five years ago. She’s trying to pick up the pieces of her life while doing the things that 16-year-old girls do. She goes to school and worries about boys and who she’ll go on a date with to the big carnival, etc.

Best Individual Issue
Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #23
Peter David and Todd Nauck
I’m a lifelong Spider-Man fan, and as I mentioned above, I actually enjoyed the storyline where he revealed his identity to the world and then had to deal with the ramifications of that decision. No writer handled the aftermath better than Peter David on FNSM and this issue dealt with the long awaited confrontation between Peter Parker and J Jonah Jameson. Jameson, who has built a publishing empire on trying to destroy Spider-Man (not to mention the times he was involved with actually trying to kill him) now knows that the identity of the man he’s hated for so long is someone who’s been on his payroll for years and whom he’s treated almost like a son. How can the confrontation between the two not be awesome? It was. And like the emotional, Amazing Spider-Man #400, this issue may have been ‘erased’ from continuity, but that by no means diminishes its power.

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