July “Worlds in Panels”: Brian Wood’s New York

My latest column posted to PopMatters yesterday. I look at Brian Wood’s New York after the conclusion to DMZ.

New York is more than a backdrop for these characters, it’s a specific context, one where the sheer number and variety of other people, and possible ways to be, is both empowering and also ensnaring. Young people, when presented with choices, do not always make the ‘best’ ones. The breadth of opportunities in New York sets traps and opens doors. Wood’s work consistently shows all of these sides of being young in the city.

Read the full column.

June comics

In the tfaw box this month:

Single issues:

Shorter takes:

  • Angel Yearbook (IDW). I am still planning on writing a separate post about the IDW Anglverse.
  • Birds of Prey #12 (DC). Well, just playing out the string now.
  • B.P.R.D.: The Dead Remembered #3 (Dark Horse). Liz is forced to feel the full potential of her power, but also gets to be a kid. A nice story from Mike Mignola et al, and I see that more Liz is on the way.
  • Carbon Grey #3 (Image). Lots of atmospherics and deep mythology, which, I guess is enough, because I will be looking for the next mini.
  • Generation Hope #7 (Marvel). An affirming ending. I also like Kieron Gillen’s use of Kitty in these last few issues.
  • Hellboy: Being Human & Hellboy: The Fury #1 (Dark Horse). A creepy Southern gothic one-shot and the start of a new major arc in the Hellboy saga. A good month from Dark Horse.
  • iZombie #14 (DC/Vertigo). Finally picking up on the change in title formatting. I can see the different threads coming together in the narrative here, including the Dead Presidents.
  • The Li’l Depressed Boy #4 (Image). A revelation that suggests Jazz is not a Manic Pixie Dream Girl for sure. Now, the key will be how does LDB handle this news.
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 (Marvel). I am a little confused by the numbering here, but am happy for the contuation of the epic craziness that is this book.
  • Silver Surfer #4 (Marvel). More on this next month when the series wraps.
  • Spider-Girl #7 (Marvel). Penultimate issue. More next month.
  • Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #5 (Dark Horse). Part of the good month from Dark Horse, and I guess the were buffalo was real. Don’t have as much to write about this as I thought I would, but I look forward to more Edward Grey books. These stories help to expand the historical range of the Hellboy universe.
  • X-23 # 10 and #11 (Marvel). Happy/sad that these issues did not convince me to keep pulling the title. Happy because I need to economize on comics, sad because I would like to get behind the book.
  • Uncanny X-Force #10 and #11 (Marvel). New storyline focused on Warren, alternate realities, and Dark Beast. This title remains very cool.
  • Uncanny X-Men #537 (Marvel). Kruun’s revenge continues. Lots of action. More well plotted and paced work from Kieron Gillen.
  • X-Men: Prelude to Schism #2 (Marvel). Talky.

Longer take:

Avengers Academy #14 and #14.1 (Marvel). As I remark most months, this is A’s book, but I enjoy it, too. I’m always happy to see a stable creative team on a title, and this one has clearly benefitted as Sean Chen, Scott Hanna, and Jeromy Cox have been given time to create distinct identities for the characters, and Christos Gage has been allowed to explore a set of themes related to heroism and celebrity that I don’t think would have registered as clearly as they have without a coherent vision for the book. What started as a pull for my kid, has turned into one of my more consistent reads. Nice work.

TPBs:

Approximate Continuum Comics (Fantagraphics).

Forthcoming.

Batgirl: The Flood (DC).

Forthcoming.

Clonk Volume 1 (Kettledrummer Books).

Forthcoming.

DV8: Gods and Monsters (DC). Brian Wood uses these characters to ask questions about “powers” and how people see themselves and are seen by others and how that dynamic shapes identity. I especially like the subtle variations in how the central cast respond to the situation that they are put in by the Powers that Be. Gorgeous, powerful art by Rebekah Isaacs.

Even the Giants (AdHouse).

Forthcoming.

Hellblazer: City of Demons (DC/Vertigo).

Forthcoming.

Mystique by Brian K. Vaughn Ultimate Collection (Marvel).

Forthcoming.

Osborn: Evil Incarnated (Marvel).

Forthcoming.

X-Men: Age of Apocalypse Prelude (Marvel).

Some horrendous art in the first half of the book, bizzare, plastic-y anatomy on the women. Gets better. One of those collections that helps me to fill in some of my missing history.

Yeah! (Fanatagraphics).

It is probably due to the infectious power of Gilbert Hernandez’s art that this book feels a lot like a lost “Love & Rockets” chapter. The fact that I only having a passing familiarity with Peter Bagge’s work undoubtedly contributes to that feeling, too. There’s so much going on in the faces of the characters here, including in the background, tongues sticking out, eyes dilating, mouths agape – lots of fun. Strangely, I still found reading the book kind of exhausting, lots of chatter and narration to read, full of crazy asides and whacked out science fiction fantasy, but thick. Many of the ideas about, for example, space limos and odd planets, also seems very Los Bros Hernandez, and suggests that maybe(?) more of a joint authorship than the credits imply. Then again, I haven’t read much Bagge.

Starting next month I think I will be selecting a few comics to write about more extensively for these posts rather than doing the laundry list approach.

March comics

From tfaw:

Single issues:

Quick takes:

  • Angel #42 (IDW). Elena Casagrande (with an “assist” from Emanuel Simeoni) is back on pencils and inks, giving the issue a kind of familiarity. Most interesting aspect of this month is the reintroduction of Illyria, post-transformation (see below).
  • Annihilators #1 (Marvel). This looked like it might be fun, so I pulled it. Main story is a looong prologue, but Dan Abnet and Tan Eng Huat (with Victor Olazaba and June Chung) keep things interesting by structuring the narrative around hand-to-hand combat. The backup with Rocket Raccoon is fastpaced and well set-up by Abnet and Andy Lanning.
  • Atomic Robo: Deadly Art of Science #4 (Red 5). The plot with Edison thickens. Wry and funny rematch with the giant robot.
  • Avengers Academy #9 and #10 (Marvel). A looks forward to this title every month, so the double issues in the box for March was a nice bonus for her. Christos Gage continues to show strong storytelling weaving together plotlines inolving both teachers and students.
  • B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth: Gods #3. The last of Guy Davis’ big, weird beasts in the ongoing story. I hope to write more about Davis later.
  • Generation Hope #4 (Marvel). The new mutants catch a breather on Utopia. Kieron Gillen clearly has something big in mind with Kenji, and introduces some romance to the story. Still happy to be pulling this book.
  • Marvel Girl #1 (One-Shot) (Marvel). Part of a series of kind of strange tie-ins with the upcoming First Class movie; strange in the sense of involving characters who are not necessarily in the film. Not much new or interesting here.
  • The New York Five #2 (DC/Vertigo). After reading this, I find it hard to believe that four issues are going to provide any kind of resolution to the lives of the main characters. Brian Wood is hitting some interesting notes in Lona’s story and how some students react to being challenged in college.
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. #6 (Marvel). Remains fascinating to read and look at. The introduction of Michelangelo seems to bring the first chapter to a close.
  • Silver Surfer #1 (Marvel). One of my favorite characters from the Marvel Universe. Greg Pak writes an efficient introduction to the Surfer’s history, while also getting his voice right. Interesting premise.
  • Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #2 (Dark Horse). Okay, so not a were-Buffalo, but still looking to be a wicked Victorian Western. Mike Mignola and John Arcudi include some nice meta-commentary on pulps, and John Severin and Dave Stewart effectively evoke a sparsely populated, but strange and dangerous Frontier.
  • Spider-Girl #4 (Marvel). Not sure about the latest plot twist, but I like how Paul Tobin is using the title to deal with superheroism on a day-to-day kind of basis. I like Matthew Southworth (Stumptown) as an artist, but many of the characters here end up looking older than they should.
  • Spike #5 (IDW). Brian Lynch writes a really weird dynamic between Spike and Willow, way too familiar with each other.
  • Uncanny X-Force #5 (Marvel). Rick Remender starts a new story line. I read the beginning twice to make sure I got the set up. Despite the change in art team, character design continues to be a strength of for the title. Probably helps that regular cover artist, Esad Ribic, is on pencils now.
  • Uncanny X-Men #533 (Marvel). Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen find a new way to keep their main story interesting. Tired of complaining about Greg Land.
  • Wolverine & Jubilee #2 (Marvel). For me, stronger than the first issue, mostly because the story promised by the title begins to take off. Kathryn Immonen’s writing is sharp and poignant. Phil Noto’s character designs and artwork are gorgeous and real.

Longer takes:

  • X-Men: Legacy #245 (“Age of X” Chapter 1) and New Mutants #22 (“Age of X” Chapter 2) (Marvel). Mike Carey gets into the real story with this crossover, and I love the recasting of Rogue as “Legacy/The Reaper”. I also like what gets revealed about who Magneto has stashed away in high security prison. A very promising start, although like Kelly Thompson and Chad Nevett at CBR I am not sure that starting with last month’s Age of X Alpha issue was necessary or smart. Narratively, that installment does not provide much illumination; if anything it obscures certain aspects of the story that seems to be emerging. One thing I don’t understand about the character design for this world is how many of the characters are lacking for clothing (while at the same time looking far less porn star-y than anyone in Uncanny X-Men right now). A sign of deprivation or degradation maybe?
  • Angel: Illyria: Haunted #4 (IDW). This brings the mini to a close. Scott Tipton and Mariah Huehner wrote an interesting story that became my favorite Angel book, not just because the other titles are floundering in one way or another, but because they did something interesting with the character. How the changes they introduce play out in the main title is one thing I am looking forward to now. Elena Casagrande and Illaria Traversi draw some wonderfully cool and beautiful panels to show the new Illyria in all her glory. I should also add that Jenny Frisson’s covers have been gorgeous, and this month’s is the best.
  • Birds of Prey #10 (DC). Oracle dies so Barbara Gordon can live. In terms of the DCU this seems to mean that Barbara is recasting herself to work with a narrow circle of the Bat Family on the premise that Oracle got to be too much of a known actor to be effective. That wider work will be taken over by Proxy (a character I don’t know that well). This resolution opens a host of questions, such as, for starters, what happens when Proxy is in Oracle’s position? Won’t she also become a liability to herself in the same way? Or is she not as good at the job? And if that’s true, is it, in fact, better to “kill” Oracle? Best part of the issue: Black Canary and Huntress’ meet-up with Catwoman. Moments like that are why I pull this title.
  • Carbon Grey (Image). I picked this up on the basis of interesting-looking preview pages. The first issue is mostly set-up and prologue, some of which coheres and some of which does not. My fear is that the work will be more mythology than story. There is an amazing list of creators attached to this title in terms of numbers, a collective of five total, and whether that will prove to be a strength or not will only be seen in the coming installements, now that the set-up is done. The art, credited to Khari Evans, Kinsun Loh, and Hoang Nguyen, is gorgeous, and even playful in certain panels, but I wonder about the pastiche of influences in the design of the storyworld. I am most leery of what it will mean that WW I Germany seems to be a primary source of inspiration. Of course, that all depends on what our heroes are all about, and I’m not sure of that yet.
  • I, Zombie #11 (DC/Vertigo). The final page makes this out to be a chapter ender, and at an interesting moment, with a lot of stories and characters in flux. There’s a love for Eugene that is coming through in Michael and Laura Allred’s art that is becoming more and more important to the story as the title progresses. Chris Roberson and Michael Allred have also quickly morphed the book into an ensemble work, anchored by Gwen, but developing the other characters in their own ways, and not just in relationship to everyone’s favorite zombie gravedigger. I am happy that A and I read this together.
  • X-23 #6 and #7 (Marvel). Obviously, Mr. Sinister in female form will be resurfacing, and I don’t know what I think about that, but #7 is a good read. I think that titles like X-23, which attempt to develop a single character with more of a cult than a mass following, should have more issues like this, where there are connections into the larger story universe, but that are more about the main character than anything else. I also think that Sana Takeda’s art is a nice diversion, though too precious for more than an issue or two. The main theme for Marjorie Liu is Laura’s evolving sense of ethics. That also comes through strongly in both the interim conclusion to the Sinister narrative and the pirate story.

TPBs:

Astonishing X-Men Volume 6: Exogenetic (Marvel).

Given his interest in science and scientists, Warren Ellis is a natural match for an X-book, and thankfully it is one of the “boutique” titles rather than one caught in the mainstream of continuity. Love seeing Abigail Brand being put to good use, with only passing references to her romantic relationship with Hank. The payoff to this volume is somehow simultaneously interesting and underwhelming, which, to be fair, seems to be the characters’ reaction, too.

DMZ Volume 9: MIA (DC/Vertigo).

I always like seeing anthology stories in this series. Bringing in new artists and taking a moment to check-in on different characters and parts of the city helps to draw out the storyworld. But I am also interested to see how Brian Wood is showing Matty Roth’s maturity, and in the idea of someone deciding to personally hold themselves accountable for the mess that is New York (the fact that he is deferring that moment is important, I think, in terms of making him remain a fully developed and developing character).

Finder: Voice (Dark Horse).

My first venture into Carla Speed McNeil’s world, and I am looking forward to backing up and reading the earlier stories. The art is charming and vibrant, reminding me of the Hernandez Brothers in that way. The social dynamics of Anvard are complicated, and clearly draw on “our” world, but are deftly presented and part of a universe all their own at the same time. Rachel neatly encapsulates the tensions of contradictions of the story.

Freeway (Fantagraphics Books).

First off, I’m not sure that the back cover description does this book justice, at least in the sense that it seems to assume some clarity to the levels of reality represented that I’m not is definitive. Reading this book keeps you constantly off balance, in a way that is both frustrating and exciting at the same time, likely mimicking how Alex feels stuck in traffic. Mark Kalesniko experiments with a number of cinematic and comics conventions to transition between and connect levels of the narrative, and that also kept me reading forward, often past when I was ready to turn out the light and sleep. Puzzling over the nature of the different realities is one thing I am left with at the end of the book. Wondering why Alex is a dog is another.

Gotham Central Book 1: In the Line of Duty (DC).

My expectations were pretty high for this collection, which is probably why it took me awhile to warm up to it. The series takes off for me when the focus is placed clearly on Renee Montoya, and when I started to notice the Homicide homages. That latter insight is important not just for the cool, but also for how I reframed the book in my head as more of a police procedural and less of a badges and capes text.

Morning Glories Volume 1: For a Better Future (Image).

Forthcoming.

X-Men Forever 2 Volume 2: Scream a Little Scream (Marvel).

With this series ending this volume is a reminder of what I will miss most: Chris Claremont’s weird, but compelling efforts at sharpening and giving Kitty’s character a darker aspect. I also think it would have been interesting to see how the triangle of Mystique, Rogue, and Nightcrawler worked itself out. That being written the trade that follows this one is not a bad way to close.

February comics

From tfaw last month:

Single issues:

Quick takes (trying a different format here):

  • Age of X Alpha (Marvel). Prologue. I like the anthology format for this character-based beginning to the cross-over (which, yes, I am going to follow).
  • Angel #41 (IDW). Another change in the art team. Sigh.
  • Atomic Robo: Deadly Art of Science #3 (Red 5). Turning into a coming of age story for Robo. Interesting, and Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener capture the weirdness and awkwardness of the idea well.
  • Avengers Academy #8 (Marvel). I like how Christos Gage is bringing focus on the teachers as well as a the students. Adds narrative depth and texture. I do find the final page to be confusing as to who Tigra is wanting to kick out of the Academy, though.
  • Birds of Prey #9 (DC). Another month with a single group of artists. I like how Gail Simone allows Dinah to throw off her emotional paralysis by force of will. Consistent with how she writes that character.
  • B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth: Gods #2 (Dark Horse). Rewinds to what led to the reveal at the end the first issue of this arc. And now I know that this is Guy Davis’s next to last B.P.R.D. More on that after this mini finishes.
  • Casanova: Gula #2 (Marvel Icon). Zephyr is looking to be the big bad, or primary protagonist. Family drama on a cosmic scale.
  • I, Zombie #10 (DC/Vertigo). Nice art of the UO campus.
  • Scarlet #4 (Marvel Icon). Unfolding as a big morality tale, and right now in kind of a holding pattern story-wise. Great cover by Alex Maleev.
  • Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: Lost & Gone Forever #1 (Dark Horse). Were-buffalo!
  • Spider-Girl #3 (Marvel). Setting up a mystery for Anya to work on. I like the conceit with Sue Richards. Not liking the way the art is unsettled.
  • Uncanny X-Men #532 (Marvel). Greg Land manages to make Emma Frost look like a third-rate Bond girl from the Roger Moore-era on the cover. Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen’s story remains interesting.
  • X-23 #5 (Marvel). Marjorie Liu does appear to be getting to tell a story about Laura, while also finding reasons for Gambit to be hanging around. Not crazy about Ms. Sinister strutting around in stripper-wear.
  • Wolverine and Jubilee #1 (Marvel). I did not follow the vampire story leading up to this mini, but I’ll give anything Kathryn Immonen writes a try. Good use of Jubilee here as someone caught between different desires and influences.

Longer takes:

  • Angel: Illyria: Haunted #3 (IDW). Scott Tipton and Mariah Huehner regain hold of Illyria’s voice, and I continue to like how this series is exploring both the character and important pieces of the Angelverse left by the cancelation of the show. In this case, the mythology of the Deeper Well as well as of Illyria herself. Elena Casagrande (pencils & inks) and Ilaria Traversi (colors) are effective at rendering characters that walk the line between photo realism and more classic comic art. Best Angel book going right now.
  • Hellboy: The Sleeping and the Dead #2 (Dark Horse). Not destined to be a classic Hellboy tale, I think, but the conclusion does not disappoint in terms of becoming more than the set up implies. If Scott Hampton were to do more art for the series, that would take some getting used to. His work is slick and clean in a way that the series usually is not. In particular, the figures often appear to be static, less fluid. This works well for the B.P.R.D. guys telling tales at the pub, but less well when the action is unfolding. Dave Stewart shows his versatility in working in a more literal mode than is normal for Hellboy.
  • Hotwire: Deep Cut #3 (Radical Comics). Steve Pugh and Warren Ellis bring the second mini to a satisfying close with lots of action and witty commentary from Alice, who ends up outsmarting everyone. This is exactly what you would expect, but how the story gets to that point follows a jagged path, not a straight line. Best line of the issue: “So everyone gets a medal, and I’m finally getting my own private army. First we take out the astrologists, then I’m coming for the homeo-paths”.
  • Uncanny X-Force #4 (Marvel). Rick Remender and Jerome Opena bring the first arc of the series to a taught, smart close. What makes this issue particularly intelligent is how it uses the characters, and their damaged psyches, to such good effect, legitimately creating doubt about whether the original mandate for the Force would be fulfilled or not. I also think that this series is a good argument for putting together consistent creative teams, at least for the run of individual arcs (and here that includes Esad Ribic and the awesome cover art). Not just the best X-book I read. One of the best series I am pulling right now period.
  • The New York Five #1 (DC/Vertigo). Ryan Kelly draws New York beautifully. Amazing detail, but still clearly drawn by someone, making his work distinctly different from Greg Land or Scott Hampton, while still being “realistic”. Scott Pilgrim-like reintroduction of the characters is clever, and one suspects deliberate on Brian Wood’s part, as his cast is in similar positions to that of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series (a nod to Maddy from When Fangirls Attack and 3 Chicks Review Comics for highlighting this connection on the podcast).

Lastly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight concluded for me last month. Read more about that here.

TPBs:

Cowboy Ninja Viking Volume Two (Image).

This second volume was not the same “can’t put it down” fun of the first. The wry asides and visual play with the multiple personalities are still there, but the story gets bogged down in too much of Grear and Nix fighting over Duncan, which is boring and sadly unimaginative. Women do think of things other than men, dudes.

Hawkeye & Mockingbird: Ghosts (Marvel).

Forthcoming.

Iron Man Noir (Marvel).

Forthcoming.

Secret Six: Cats in the Cradle (DC).

It has been clear from the beginning that Gail Simone sees Cat Man as the moral center for the team, and this collection would seem to indicate that I am not particularly invested in that idea. Thomas Blake’s “crossing of the line” only hit me to the extent that the accompanying art by J. Calafiore and Jason Wright made my stomach turn. On the other hand, the Black Alice and Ragdoll dynamic is funny and touching. John Ostrander’s “most dangerous game” take is so slight, and so broadly drawn that I’m not sure what it adds to the Six’s story. However, the collection ends with Simone’s dark, weird, and engmatic western, which elevates this trade to pretty well worth it.

The Sixth Gun Volume 1 (Oni Press).

I can see why this series is popular. Cullen Bunn’s story starts out conventionally, holder of a mystical artifact dies and it passes to an unsuspecting “innocent” who now must face her new fate. As the volume progresses, and the characters are developed, everything becomes more complicated than how it started. Brian Hurtt populates the Frontier with a host of fearsome-looking supernatural characters, but who are nonetheless recognizaeable within the framework of the Western.

Favorite comics of 2010

I’ve already covered this ground at PopMatters, and will again at some point later this month, but as I suggest in my December column, those selections are more about the themes I address in “Worlds in Panels” than about what I really enjoyed this year.

And that’s what I turn to here. As with my TV selections, these reflect my own idiosyncracies, which is to say, I read what I like, or think I’ll like, and don’t read what doesn’t interest me.

My list is divided into long form works and/or series I’m reading in trade, and books that I read monthly or as uncollected serials. I narrowed my favorites to five for each format, but also have generous additions of ‘honorable mention’ and ‘special mention’ titles.

Long form/trade collections (in no particular order).

Duncan the Wonder Dog Show One by Adam Hines (AdHouse). It is beyond the scope of this blog post to unpack the imagery of this visually complicated, mixed media book, but what has resonated strongly with me on initial reading is Hines’s brilliant effort at imagining what animals would say if they could speak like humans. Most importantly, he differentiates between animals, giving birds different voices than monkeys, companion animals different voices than wild, etc., while clearly individuating between the animals as well. What is at issue in these differentiated voices is not so much how different species, and individuals speak, but how they think, and what they might value. Most affecting for me are the voices of the companion animals, especially the dogs. In Hines’s world, humans and dogs remain fully co-evolved, and co-dependent. The only difference is that we can have actual conversations, and not just imaginary ones. The story of Bundle struck so many chords with me that it made me cry for lost friends, and wonder more deeply about the thoughts and emotions of those still living with us.

The Saga of Rex by Michel Gagne (Image). My initial thoughts on this book can be found here, but as I continue to think about it, one of the additional points of interest is how effectively Gagne uses pages as panels. Maybe this makes Rex veer on the edge of ‘picture book’, but it is also appropriate to convey the scale of the story that the hero finds himself in. Saga indeed.

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld (Pantheon). I made this selection largely for the reasons given in the PopMatters column linked above, but also want to mention that I would not have thought that this book would be on this list after I first read it. But the fact remains that I think about the book a lot. Neufeld’s compositions and colors come to mind, often unbidden, leading me to recall the humanity of his art and his narrative. Maybe there’s nothing here that hasn’t been done by people like Joe Sacco already, but it is still done very well.

Batgirl volume 1: Batgirl Rising, written by Bryan Q. Miller, with pencils by Tim Levins, Trevor Scott & Lee Garbett, inks by Trevor Scott, Dan Davis, Aaron Sowd, Sandra Hope & Oliver Nome, colors by Guy Major, and letters by John J. Hill (DC).

Fun, fast-paced with an essentially likeable protagonist, this series offers much of what I read superhero comics for. I don’t have any baggage when it comes to Stephanie Brown vs. Cass Cain, and that undoubtedly helped me to approach this series with an open mind, and while I am not deeply invested in the Batverse, I do read Birds of Prey and followed the final (?) Manhunter story set in Gotham. This book makes good use of Oracle and helps to place the new Batgirl in context. I am looking forward to the next collection.

Fallen Angel Omnibus Volume 0, written by Peter David with art by David Lopez (IDW).

I have been interested in this series, and took this new collection as a perfect entry point. I loved every page. Liandra is a fantastically complicated lead character, and one whose femininity and sexuality are used mostly for good narrative purposes and not treated as liabilities or for spectacle. Even pregnancy, normally a way to place limits on a female character in this kind of context, is used in a constructive way, furthering both the story and the development of Liandra’s character in meaningful ways. I don’t know much about where the series heads after this, but if the Reborn mini featuring Illyria is any indication, I am hopeful that it remained worthwhile.

Honorable and special mentions:

In my most recent column for PopMatters, I cite DMZ Volume 8: Hearts and Minds (Vertigo) and Phonogram Volume 2: The Singles Club (DC) as among the “best” of 2010 and I want to mention them again here for more or less the same reasons as I give in the other piece. I also mention Scott Pilgrim Volume 6: Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour (Oni Press) in the column, but want to elaborate on that choice here.

What stands out for me about that series is how Bryan Lee O’Malley skillfully uses Scott’s circle of friends to make the guy seem worth rooting for. On his own, Scott is a pretty self-involved jerk, but the fact that all these other cool people want the best for him, want him to grow up, persuaded me to want that for him, too. I like the fact that the finale makes this part of the narrative clear, in that Scott needs to find a way to reward everyone’s trust in him, and also that it becomes a story about both Scott and Ramona getting over their pasts and trying to move forward together. Whether they stay together or not seems beside the point, another strength of the book. I do think that the final story could have been edited more judiciously for sharpness and length, and while Gideon’s ‘ghost in the machine’ trick provides a reason for why Scott and Ramona made the choices they made during the run of the narrative, it is also, at the end of the day, still a ghost in the machine.

I am also citing Marvel’s Strange Tales collection, and for more on that, read this. In addition, Kieron Gillen’s X-Men: S.W.O.R.D. – No Time to Breath (Marvel) collection was right there with Batgirl for the best superhero trade I read this year. Abigail Brand is a great character that, sadly, is now adrift given the cancellation of the series. Neil Gaiman’s Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? (DC) story is a nicely turned work of meta-fiction, and Andy Kubert’s and Scott Williams’s art is appropriately classic for a reflection on what Batman means. Marvel has been releasing Brian Michael Bendis’s and Alex Maleev’s Daredevil run in big Ultimate Collections, and I mention Book 1 here mostly for Bendis’s early collaboration with David Mack, which is a smart and beautiful meditation and deconstruction of comics and superheroes.

Finally, I have two special mentions of books from 2007 that I read for the first time this year: Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home (Mariner Books) and Adam Warren’s Empowered Volume 1 (Dark Horse), both of which have legions of fans and critical commentaries already available elsewhere, so I won’t go on about them here.

Monthly comics & uncollected serials (in no particular order).

Hellboy (Dark Horse). The mainline of the series, written by Mike Mignola with art by Duncan Fegredo and colors by Dave Stewart, continued the story began in “The Wild Hunt” with “The Storm”. This arc shows the series at its best, adapting folk tales and old mythologies to original characters and purposes, and featuring beautifully drawn figures and landscapes. Stewart’s color palette gives the art an other worldly, mythic feel, especially with how both vibrant and muted the choices are.

Aside from the major stories, in 2010 the title also featured two fabulous one-shots, “Hellboy in Mexico”, a collaboration with Richard Corben, and the crossover with Jill Thompson’s and Evan Dworkin’s Beasts of Burden, “Sacrifice”, both of which are funny, poignant, and beautifully rendered, and I read both more than once the first week I picked them up.

One thing I appreciate about Hellboy is how accessible I imagine it to be. I can pass the one-shots onto A knowing that she will understand the stories, and I suspect that you could pick up collections of the main arcs, read them, and enjoy the narratives without having the advantage of having read the rest of the series. The way that Mignola builds from established myths and legends is what makes this possible, I think.

B.P.R.D./B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth (Dark Horse).

While this selection maybe predictable given the one above, even though Hellboy and B.P.R.D. come from the same root, they are very different books. Where I think that Hellboy is accessible, B.P.R.D. is far more comic book-y in the depth of its original storytelling, and rewards close reading more than casual. While the change in title this year to B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth was initially puzzling, I also think that it highlights another difference between it and Hellboy: B.P.R.D. has always been more of the mundane world, while Hellboy seems to live in more of a mythic space. The title change signals an even tighter embedding of the B.P.R.D. with ‘real life’ (and, likewise, Dave Stewart’s colors are different in this title, more immediate feeling than in Hellboy, and Guy Davis draws the team on a much more human scale than is Hellboy).

What B.P.R.D. does share with Hellboy is an open narrative architecture, and this year that was shown in the Abe Sapien mini, “The Abyssal Plain”, another fascinating Cold War-era story from this universe.

Hotwire: Deep Cut (Radical Comics).

There’s one more issue to go in this mini-series, but as I mention here, this second outing for Warren Ellis’s and Steve Pugh’s Alice Hotwire, detective exorcist, has been fantastic, featuring sharp dialogue, quick action, and pointed cultural commentary about science and the state. The painted art style that Radical specializes in is not my favorite, but Pugh manages to make his figures appear more fluid or at least less stiff than is often the case with this form of the art. That and Alice looks so very much like the English chippy that some in the book mistake her for.

Fringe: Tales from the Fringe (Wildstorm).

I have the last issue in this mini-series waiting to be read, but I enjoyed the stories leading up to the final installment probably more than I should. As I write in my upcoming “Worlds in Panels”, these Fringe comics are exemplars of how licensed comics can be good, and mostly what makes these work is their commitment to telling stories that I imagine only fans of the show can really appreciate.

DEMO – VOLUME II (Vertigo).

The second outing in Brian Wood’s and Becky Cloonan’s series continues to stretch the idea of having ‘powers’ into the realm of everyday life, exploring both the idea of exceptional abilities in the context of ‘normal’ problems and dilemmas, #5, “Stranded”, for example, and also thinking about smaller scale quirks, #3, “Volume One Love Story”, for example, as ‘powers’. Cloonan and Wood work well together to tell their stories as much in images as words. Beautiful, thoughtful work.

Honorable and special mentions:

For reasons I spell out in the aforementioned and forthcoming column, I want to mention Gabriel Ba’s and Fabio Moon’s Daytripper (Vertigo), an excellent example of comics as a medium for short stories, but also one where I am still puzzling over the conclusion.

Michael Allred’s and Chris Roberson’s I, Zombie gets mention because it’s the best comic I share reading with A, and for the fun and stylish art. I’m citing the re-release of Matt Fraction’s and Gabriel Ba’s first Casanova (Marvel Icon) series for its frenetic style and self-conscious comic bookness that never tips over into preciousness. The first five issues of Black Widow (Marvel), written by Marjorie Liu and featuring art by Daniel Acuna, is stylish and densely plotted, and both of those creators are sorely missed now. G. Willow Wilson’s and M.K. Perker’s Air (Vertigo) ended this year, and will be missed for its sense of imagination and for Blythe’s unique character. I’m not sure I understand everything in Jonathan Hickman’s and Dustin Weaver’s S.H.I.E.LD. (Marvel) series, but every issue so far as featured gorgeous art and bizarre, inventive twists on history and historical figures. Greg Rucka’s and Matthew Southworth’s Stumptown (Oni Press) took a long time to get through four issues, but the storytelling was strong enough to withstand the waits, and I loved seeing Southworth’s Portland. As I discuss here, the Girl Comics (Marvel) anthology series has much to recommend it, even as it raises questions about what room the major publishers make for women and girls in their sandboxes.

Finally, Marvel produced a pair of one-shots that I was happy to have pulled, Sean McKeever’s and Emma Rios’s Firestar story, and Marjorie Liu’s collaboration with Filipe Andrade, Nuno Alves, and Jay Leisten on an X-23 story that delved deeper into the character, and in more imaginative ways, than has the start of the ongoing series led by Laura. More on Firestar at PopMatters later this month.

All of the graphic novels and trade paperbacks I read in 2010.

All of the monthly comics I read in 2010.