So last time I took a look at the original Top Ten Best Reviewed Comics of the Year on Dick Hyacinth’s meta-list.
Since then D.H. has tabulated a couple more votes (specifically those from the Comics Journal best of the year issue) and given us a full on Top 100.
“Neat!” sez I “I’m going to try to read as many of these as I can.”
So here are the results of my quest.
To start with here are the Top 30 best reviewed books on the meta-list. Click here for the full 100.
1. Exit Wounds (1085)
2. Shortcomings (941)
3. All Star Superman (908)
4. I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets (850)
5. Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (660)
6. Criminal (640)
7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 (541)
8. Alias the Cat (452)
9. Perry Bible Fellowship: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto (444)
10. Powr Mastrs (439)
11. Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus (409)
12. Chance in Hell (386)
14. The Arrival (383)
15. The Blot (361)
16. Immortal Iron Fist (357)
17. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier (343)
18. The Professor’s Daughter (339)
19. Shooting War (323)
20. Essex County series (313)*
21. Apollo’s Song (293)
22. Achewood (290)
23. Y the Last Man on Earth (275)
24. King City (274)
25. Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil (269)
26. The Complete Terry and the Pirates (267)
27. Crecy (256)
28. Aya (251)
29. EC Segar’s Popeye (248)
Of this list I already reviewed the original top ten, which are now 1-7, Perry Bible Fellowship at 9, the Arrival which dropped down to 14 (Which sucks. Great book) and Iron Fist which plummeted down to 16.
So, on this list I haven’t read:
10. Powr Mastrs: This is a smaller press book, and I haven’t been able to find a copy in Iowa City. I WOULD buy it if anybody had it, but I’m generally too lazy to order stuff. But I generally like epic fantasy in comics form (although I’m terrified of the 7 volumes of 800 pages each series that seem to pass for epic fantasy in books ) and a bunch of people who’s tastes align with mine REALLY liked it. So I’ll probably order it, as soon as I remember and have 20 bones to spare and am willing to make the effort. (Read: Sometime between now and 2021.)
15. The Blot: Another teeny small press book. I have it on interlibrary loan, but I’m not betting on this working. Again, it looks like it’s got a kind of sarcastic magical realist vibe that makes it the kind of thing I like.
But Hey, if anyone wants to send me a
of either of these, I’ll give ’em a big ‘ol write up.
645 S. Lucas St. Apt. 8
Iowa City, IA 52240
Hint. Hint hint hint hint hint hint hint hint hint.
17. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier The library has it and I have it on hold. I’m not sure I’m looking forward to it. Loved the actual LOEG comics, but the text pieces were a slog and a half to get through… But it IS Alan Moore, who’s pretty unfuckwittable. We’ll see.
18. The Professor’s Daughter: Library has it, I just haven’t got round tuit.
22. Achewood: Webcomics; not really my thing. Comics just lose that certain… Jeu ne quai somethin’ for me if I can’t comfortably read them on the crapper.
23. Y the Last Man: I read, what, the first six or seven trades and didn’t see any signs of actual story progression. No longer interested.
26. Terry and the Pirates: Man alive I love Pirates, but old comic strips are outside my major area of reviewing chops. I’m sure I’ll read it someday.
27. Crecy: I tend to see Ellis’ avatar stuff as either really bad, or technically good but mostly there to mind-fuck the audience I loved Transmet and the Authority, but skipped this one.
29. Popeye: Listen: I’m sure it’s a classic but the panels were too small and made my head hurt.
So, onto the stuff I DID read. I’ll go in list order, except for a few I grouped together and stuck at the end for compare and contrast purposes. I did mention when specific books were on the “best of the year” list of bloggers I really like. So first let me dish out some links to the lists I noted:
8. Alias the Cat: (Hardcover Collection of Limited Series) Kim Deitch
# 8 on Dick Hyacinth’s Best Comics of 2007 list.
# 6 on Tom Spurgeon’s Best Reprint List
What Is It? Here’s what I said when I reviewed it last time:
It’s an autobiographical comic that… just…. stops being autobiography at some point. Although I’m still not sure where. It’s a PARODY of an autobiographical comic, it’s a superhero comic, it’s a chunk of Kim Deitch continuity, with subtle ties to all his past work, it’s an examination of the fine line between fantasy and reality, and it has midgets.
Was It Good? Pretty spectacular, actually. Deitch is one of my three/four absolute favorite cartoonists, and AliDaKitty shows a clarity of focus I don’t always see from him. Like much of his previous work Alias is about the subtle divisions between fantasy and reality, but here Deitch starts off with a story that feels like any true to life autobiographical comic… Which makes everything more shocking when the REAL story starts and things get weird fast. It really did mess with my brain (in a good way) as the original review attests.
Why Is It On the List? Deitch has ALWAYS been damn good, and he’s been doing this forever, and now he’s got a fancy book contract and people are noticing. I’m wondering if there’s a subtle bias towards the more common autobiographical or genre forms that kept it from being even higher on the list.
11. Chance In Hell (Original Graphic Novel) Gilbert Hernandez.
# 1 on Jog’s top Ten List
# 14 on Matt Brady’s Best Graphic Novels
Gilbert Hernandez was Tom Spurgeon’s Cartoonist of the Year
What Is It? Gilbert Hernandez is trying to abandon his Palomar cast, but can’t quite let go. This book, along with Speak of the Devil, is an adaption of a non-existent exploitation movie supposedly starring Fritz, one of the major figures in the latter half of his Luba story cycle. This one is the life story of a girl named Empress, charting her ascension from being an impoverished orphan somewhere in Central America through her adoption, marriage, young-woman hood and marriage. The most unique aspect of CiH is the way it’s told: the story moves in machine gun style bursts, giving us only short glimpses of the characters before bouncing ahead in time. It’s a great idea, however….
Is it Good? Well, it IS Gilbert Hernandez, who I’d argue has produced the strongest total body of work of any American cartoonist, ever, full stop. And this book certainly plays to two of his greatest strengths: his capacity to deliver sudden, extremely brutal violence, and his probably unequaled understanding of how to communicate big ideas in just a couple of panels. There are several absolutely devestatingly effective sequences.
But. The story never really coheres into… anything, really. It’s one blindingly quick sequence after another, with precious little room for, like, character development. Or plot. Of the two fictional Fritz stories, I much preferred the less literary and more all mo’fuckers getting they eyeballs chopped out all the time-centric Speak of the Devil. The unique narrative structure and spotty characterization just lost me somewhere around page 56.
Why Is It On the List? Apparently a bunch of people disagree with me, including Jog(!) (Jog is much better at this reviewing thing than I am. Presumably the ballsy narrative choices which turned me off are what boosted the book so high.
12. Superspy (Original Graphic Novel (?) Was some of this previously reprinted?) Matt Kindt
# 1 on Greg Burgas’ Best Graphic Novel List
# 1 on Matt Brady’s Best of the Year List
# 5 on Tom Spurgeon’s Undervalued Comics list.
What Is It? An interesting mix of literary and genre fiction that’s structured not-so-differently from Chance in Hell. Except not in chronological order which REALLY makes it a bitch to read. Each of the 52 interweaving “dossiers” tell a short (often REALLY short) story about spies in WWII. But while the name would lead you to expect traditional James Bond style shoot-em ups, Superspy takes a different, much quieter approach: These stories are most prone to deal with quiet loneliness and the boundaries that define personal identity, and even the action sequences are understated and more concerned with the psychological costs of violence than in doling out cheap thrills.
Was it Good? Yes, quite, but it loses a few points on the MarkAndrew scale ’cause I didn’t grok the main narrative plot thread. I read it once in story order and once in chronological order (the “dossiers” are numbered in the order that they happened, which is different than the order they’re shown to the audience – Which is pretty cool) and I’m still not entirely sure of the gist of the overall storyarc. I did enjoy trying to suss out the hidden connections, and taken on their own many of the individual sequences are near-heartbreaking…
But, shit, don’t ask me what the damn thing is about.
Why Was It On the List? It’s the most innovative and original work of narrative construction that I’ve read in comics this year maybe ever. And it should be rewarded for that. And I notice that Tom Spurgeon put it on his best of list to lure other people into trying to make sense of it… If a LOT of people did the same, I can justify it’s number 12 status.
19. Shooting War (Muchly expanded collection of serialized Webcomic) Anthony Lappe and Don Goldman
What Is It? Multimedia heavy near future story a far-lefty blogger drafted into journalistic duty in US occupied Iraq, circa 2011.
Was It Good? Sort of. There’s a thin line between incisive political writing and simplistic charicature, and Shooting War plops itself right in the middle of the two poles. The book has a REALLY strong concept.
But it’s a strong concept that needs a subtle hand to avoid devolving into trite political lecturing, which Shooting War kind of does, alright, sort of, mostly. It acknowledges that the war in Iraq is an extremely complex situation, but doesn’t offer much in the way of real insight. Likewise the art, which incorporates photographs, maps, and drawings in a valiant effort at incorporating advancing technologies.. works sometimes and fails sometimes. And doesn’t look half as good as Alice in Sunderland.
Why Was It On the List? I’ve seen a lot of folks who loved this book, (albeit none of my blogger friends) I’ve see a lot of folks who hated it. Since the latter group don’t detract points, here it is. And it IS a great concept.
24. King City (Original Graphic Novel released in Manga size and format trade) Brandon Graham
# 6 on Matt Brady’s Best Graphic Novels List
What Is It? Sci-fi love story about a thief, his various girlfriends, and his techno-magic shape changing cat who gets superpowers when shot-up with drugs. It’s somewhere between Scott Pilgrim and Transmetropolitan, except not really. But it’s late and my descriptive mojo is failing.
Was it Good? *Joygasm* Lurvlurvlurvlurvlurvlurvlurv. King City is exquisitely crafted, absolutely hillarious, just a little bit sad, and presents one of the most consistent and well-thought out fictional worlds in comics. Pretty much every panel of this manga sized, 190 page book has some cool sci-fi gadget or clever bit of dialog or cute cat trick or some little slice of awesome. Graham confidently straddles the American Comics/Manga line, and adds in a healthy measure of Kung Fu B-Movies, activity books… and pop-up video?
Bottom line: It’s the most flat-out enjoyable comic I’ve read all year. (In fact, this book probably needs it’s own post. Coming soon.) It’s only ten bucks, US, so if you like things that are awesome you pretty much need this.
Why Was It On the List? Can’t explain better than I just did. Dick Hyacinth mentions some distribution problems that might have kept it from charting higher.
25. Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil (Collection of Mini-Series) Jeff Smith
One of Johnny Bacardi’s Best of the Year
# 1 On Tom Spurgeon’s Best Mainstream Serial Comic List.
What Is It? Bone creator Jeff Smith writes and draws the hell outta the origin of Captain Marvel, and creates a truly all ages comic you can read with your six year old. Plus bonus unsuble political commentary!
Is It Good? I’m not sure Jeff Smith can do bad. He’s got insane cartoonist chops, veering between Kurtzman style physical/emotional comedy, genuinely creepy mood pieces and full-throttle action sequences at the flip of a panel.
But on the other hand – Nobody’s reinventing the wheel here, and this reasonably faithful retelling of the forties Captain Marvel origin doesn’t conjure the same sense of discovery that reading Bone does. Also the twenty-five dollar price tag is going to keep this collection, oversized and packed with extras as it is, out of the range of kid’s allowances.
Why Is It On the List? It IS good fun, and given the runaway populariy of BONE, it wouldn’t surprise me if even a minor work from Smith turns out to be the most widely read and significant DC project from the last couple years.
And, now for the batch reviews…
11. Jack Kirby’s New Gods Omnibus (Collection of four Classic Comic Series) Jack Kirby
# 18 on Timothy Callahan’s Best of the Year List
# 2 On Matt Brady’s Best Reprint List
# 5 on DIck Hyacinth’s Best of the Year List
21. Apollo’s Song (Long, loooonnnnng Manga book, previously serialized in Japan thirty some-odd years ago) Osamu Tezuka
# 6 on Matt Brady’s Best Manga of the Year List
30. MW (Long, looooonnng Manga book, previously serialized in Japan) Osamu Tezuka
Number nothing on nobody’s list.
What are they? Three highly personal, genre-defying, and downright bizarre late-period works from Jack Kirby and Osamu Tezuka, both defined by a confidence of vision that comes from being considered, (arguably in Kirby’s case) the best in the world at what you do.
Fourth World: Sci-fi and myth marry and have a baby. The four volume New Gods Omnibus reprints Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen, Forever People, New Gods, and Mister Miracle comic series written for DC in the early seventies together in chronological order. All four of ’em are framed by the war between the denizens of the good planet of New Genesis and the evil planet Apokolips, showing especially how it spills over onto earth. Together they show how the conflict affects the lives and psyche of both the soldiers and innocents alike.
MW: A relatively minor work from the undisputed most important manga artist ever. MW works as an interesting counterpoint to Godzilla or Spider-man style atomic radiation stories: After being an innocent victim of an attack by the MW chemical weapon, Michio Yuki is psychologically altered to live without a conscience. MW is basically the course of his attempts to end human life on earth, a project he overtakes simply for his own amusement.
Apollo’s Song is… well, pretty far beyond my piddly powers of description. Go read Jog.
(Really. Go read. That’s a spectacular piece of writing.)
Are they Good? Yes. All three are varying degrees of absolutely batshit insane and I wouldn’t argue any of ’em are great literature. But great literature and great comics are different critters, and Fourth World and Apollo’s Song are certainly the latter. I appreciate Kirby’s work more but that’s due to my background. I know the pulp and move tradition’s he’s coming and railing against, and I’ve got enough mythology under my belt to know a ground-up construction of a personal myth system when I see one. Also, as Scott Shaw! points out, they’re funny! showing off a kid’s sense of whimsical wordplay throughout. And Kirby’s STILL untouched in the art of making his characters and scenes look BIG and powerful Sure Kirby’s dialog reads like nothing else, and the sheer dint of ideas on display make for some intense reading… But I doubt there’s a more flat-out creative work in American comics, um, ever.
And these Omnibusi are very designed collections indeed, giving the sense of holding hot off the presses comics right in one’s hands. I’m still not convinced that these series work better all jammed together than as seperate collections of individual titles, and I’m wary of the fifty dollar price tag.
Of the two Tezuka works, I definitely preferred Apollo’s Song: It was absolutely as strange as Jog makes it out to be… But, hell, I wouldn’t be reading comics if I didn’t have a healthy appreciation for the crazynuttycuckoo. Note that the book STARTS OFF with 50,000,000 human/sperm hybrids running through chasing a Goddess egg that grows into a salamander/woodchuck/baby and goes from there… Still, it’s never hard to follow: Tezuka’s storytelling is crisp and clear throughout, and occasionally breathtaking, like the four pages of shit blowing up that end the book. My Tezuka experience is limited, and I’ve generally heard this called one of his lesser works, but it’s still an extremely confident, often inspired, and supremely entertaining lecture on love and sex and death.
MW was harder for me to swallow. It’s the same creator as Apollo’s song, about the same size (both in paper dimensions and length) and unflipped. Kethylia didn’t like it much. I thought it WORKED, at least, both as a unified story and an examination of evil and EVIL, but the cynical tone, copious violence, and less fanciful tone turned me off a bit. It simply wasn’t as engaging or as fun as it’s companion.
Why are they on the list? Well, as I see it as Kirby’s Fourth World stuff is finally being inducted into the Comics canon proper, as the equal of his more restrained Marvel work. The aging of the audience probably helped usher ’em in.. I remember trying to read these books as an older teenager and just getting a headache, but now parts of Mister Miracle and the New Gods rate with my absolute favorite mainstream comics.
MW and Apollo’s Song might be considered minor Tezuka works, but they’re still a hell of a lot more cohesive, wide-reaching, and adult than anything else we saw in American comics in the seventies. And Apollo’s Song, especially, stacks up really well against anything you’ll find in the “Whoah! That was WEIRD” genre of comics now-a-days.
As for why these were the highest ranked Manga on the list? Because they’re single volumes and tell a complete story. Critics seemed to avoid “volume 16 of 37” in general, and that’s the format most Manga comes in.
20. Tales From the Farm (First part of a Trilogy of Original Graphic Novels) Jeff Lemire
28. Aya (First in a series of Original Graphic Novels, Translated from French) WRITER: Marguerite Abouet/ARTIST: Clement Oubrerie
Runner up to Dick Hyacinth’s Top Ten Best of the Year
# 16 on Dirk Deppey’s Top Fifty List
What Are They? Tales From the Farm is the first of a trilogy of vaguely interconnected stories based around author Lemire’s hometown of Essex, Ontario. In many ways it’s a traditional “kid learns a lesson” story, but distinguished by the Canadian-ness of it all. It’s all wide shots of empty vistas and brooding, solitary figures against a landscape of swirling white.
The second volume, Ghost Stories, has been released but I don’t think I’ve read it… So no review for you!
Aya is a breezy, character based comedy-drama set in Africa’s Ivory Coast circa 1978, during a time of economic prosperity (Which has sadly passed.) Aya dreams of being a doctor, but mostly sits back and watcher her girlfriends deal with love, cheating, pregnancy, shotgun weddings, and class dynamics.
Are They Good? Well, they’re perfectly well crafted. Lemire jumps back and forth between (count ’em!) five different art styles, spots blacks like a madman, and absolutely nails the LOOK of loneliness.
And Aya brings it’s fictional world home as well, though though artist Oubrerie’s skills lie in frentic, but never hard to follow camera-work, and absolutely spot-on coloring.
But: Well, I read ’em earlier and didn’t remember much about either when review time came. Tales From the Farm just moved…. so…. slowly, and so intently towards bringing us to the central “kid grows up” moment that there wasn’t any room for much actual story. We never see the characters hangin’ out, shooting the shit, we never see what they DO in their natural environment. Every action just moves the story closer to moment of realization, and the whole project feels claustrophobic because of it. Honestly, I read this once and completely forgot everything about it ’till I picked it up again for this piece. (And I’m still not sure if I read volume 2.)
Aya, which I liked better, suffered from almost the opposite problem. A LOT of different stuff happened, but it was all kind of ephemeral: Much of the problem comes from Aya herself, who’s cast as the main character of the story but is so distant from the travails of her friends that she sucks the emotional heft right out of the narrative. I can see this working well as build-up to a sequel, but taken on it’s own it makes for a story that’s hard to connect with.
So two sides of one coin Tales From the Farm needed to let go and let the characters loose a little, and Aya needed to reel ’em in and make the story more personal.
Why Were They On the List? Other people liked ’em better. 🙂 And I don’t want to undersell the pure craft involved in either of these. I thought they were both fairly forgettable, but in both case I’m eager to see where the series goes next.
So that’s what I read so far. Might be back later as I head on down the list.