Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Year In Review: The best and worst of comics in 2006

My first post of 2007, but I'm still rattling on in my "Year In Review" from last year. What with the move to New Zealand and the incredibly high price of comics here ($4-$5 US on average), I've had to cut wayyy back on the regular titles I buy. Meaning you've got to wow me, dammit, to get me to blow my (well, my wife's) money on your comics. That said, it was a pretty good year for the comics I do buy. Here's a brief (well, not really) tour of highlights and lowlights:

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingBEST GRAPHIC NOVEL: "Lost Girls" by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie. I reviewed this massive opus last summer, and it's still the most thought-provoking ode to sex I've seen in comics. It's almost absurdly over-the-top and graphic, but there's still a genuine beating heart to Moore's lusty tale, which takes the old characters of Dorothy of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and Wendy of "Peter Pan" and imagines their sexual awakenings. Absolutely not for everybody, and you almost suffer from triple-XXX overload if you try to read it all at one go, but it tried to say something in a way few comics do today. And Gebbie's storybook-charming art was fantastic.

BEST ONGOING SERIES: All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Photobucket - Video and Image HostingIt might not be the most frequent comic (only 4 issues this year I think) but it's well worth the wait. It combines the way-out weirdness of Grant's worldview with Quitely's spare, epic art with a genuine love for the kooky ol' Superman comics of the Silver Age. I've been particularly impressed with how we've gotten fresh perspectives on long-running characters like Lex Luthor and Jimmy Olsen. More inventive and insane than most superhero comics - Grant really gets that imagination has no boundaries.
Runners-up: Daredevil by Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark. I loved Brian Bendis' long run on the title, even if sometimes he meandered a bit much for his own good. Brubaker took on the writing reins with a bang, adding to Bendis' grit a propulsive plot and far more content per issue. The Daredevil-in-prison multi-parter was hardball, kung fu comic noir. Meanwhile, Ultimate Spider-Man rebounded from a slump with its wacky, everything-including-the-kitchen-sink "Clone Saga" storyline, where you've got multiple warped Spider-Man clones running around everywhere and a real sense that anything could happen. Top-notch superhero fun.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingBEST MINISERIES: Beyond! - An obscure homage to the 1980s "Secret Wars" comic, this time re-enacted with third- and fourth-tier heroes (Hank Pym, Firebird, Deathlok) stranded on an alien planet and forced to fight each other to the death. Plus there's a very clever Spider-Man appearance. I love Scott Kolins' detailed, retro art and Dwayne McDuffie's kinda light touch. Like a 1950s monster movie mashed up with a superhero comic – junk pleasure at its best.
Runner-up: Jeff Parker's Agents of ATLAS from Marvel was retro without being stodgy, and terrific fun.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingBEST NEW SERIES: Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen's spit-take satire on superheroics is a delightfully askew parody with far too many quotable lines to ignore ("fleshy ones" is now my favorite epithet). The grade-D cast (Machine Man, the black Captain Marvel, an obscure X-Man and more) rampage through a comics universe that's utterly insane and joyous, with Ellis's trademark darkness tampered down here to a biting wit, the voice of the smartest kid in class cutting up from the back row. And they brought back Forbush Man!

BEST COMIC MOVIE: "Superman Returns" - While I had fun with the splashy if slightly hollow "X-Men: The Last Stand," Bryan Singer's emotional, visually stunning take on the man of steel left more of an impact on me. Despite its considerable flaws (which the original "Superman" movies of the 1980s also had in spades, I might add), it was even better on a second viewing once I knew what to expect.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingBIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Justice League of America (DC Comics) - I have a soft spot for the idea of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, etc. all together in one comic, but five issues in, this latest relaunch of the venerable concept is a ridiculously slow-paced, pretentious bore. You get the impression prose author Brad Meltzer is trying to write a comic like a novel, but he has little understanding of the language of comics. Muddled narration, terrible transitions and awful pacing. There's some cool ideas here and I do rather like the art, but far too little payoff for my reduced comic spending dollars. Grant Morrison's JLA in the 1990s did epic, fast-paced and world-shattering adventure much better.
Runner-up: Infinite Crisis (DC Comics) – Impossibly complicated plot, blood-soaked gore and little of the sense of fun and epic derring-do the original "Crisis On Infinite Earths" had.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingLONGEST-AWAITED: Dork #11 or Peepshow #14 (tie). There's been a several-year delay between issues of both of these long-running indy comics, but both returned this year briefly. (Ah, it brought out fond memories of the 1990s, when new issues of Hate!, Eightball, Naughty Bits and more were coming out all the time.) Dork was a huge whomping stew of silly gags and pop-culture riffs of the sort Evan Dorkin is a master of, while Joe Matt's Peepshow was more of an explanation for the long delays and a kind of shame spiral of his life so far. Both were great comics, and made me wish they were coming out a lot more often.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingBEST ONLINE COMIC: "365 Jay" by Jason Marcy. My old small-press buddy Jason Marcy puts out some grittily naked confessional autobio comics, and his online daily (more or less) comic is a great fix in between his longer graphic novels. While daily strips have become cliché, Jay's always make for a good read. It's one man showing himself often utterly naked at his lowest ebb, voicing his fears and id in a way that evokes R. Crumb or Joe Matt, but has a refreshingly everyguy tone. Go read his strip and then order some of his books too.

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