For 2011, I've told myself to only buy masterpieces, or comics that are as good as I remember comics being when I was a kid. Reviews of such comics-- under the cut!
So there's this comic, right? And it's kind of a sci-fi action adventure-y comic, about a wisecracking hero that doesn't really have a face, so any expressiveness has to come through his eyes, and his body language. And he fights weird menaces and enemies and hangs out with a cute redhead. Okay? But it's not Spider-Man, it's Atomic Robo. Now, Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener would rock the hell out of a Spider-Man comic, but instead, they're working together on their baby, which just so happens to be a comic about a robot that uses science!, exclamation point necessary, to fight monsters. By doing so, they're being more creatively fulfilling, if not making as much money grinding out the further adventures of Peter Parker. Anyway.
I'm quite enjoying this '30s-era portrayal of an excitable, adolescent Robo, as compared to jaded adventurer Robo of later eras, and earlier issues. It's funny, the art's pure dynamite, there are vampires from another dimension and robots and a fun riff on the Green Hornet and just buy the damn thing already.
I know I just named Axe Cop the Best Comic of 2010, so I'll keep this short. Here's the print collection of most of the first year of Axe Cop, fitting 70 "episodes," as well as 42 installments of "Ask Axe Cop," between two covers. It includes every secret attack, every bad guy, every laser high-five. Surely, it is an epic for our times. But that's not all! Artist Ethan Nicolle includes commentary on every "Ask Axe Cop," as well as interstitial explanations between chapters of the ongoing Axe Cop narrative. The whole shebang reads much more smoothly when bound in one volume; just the ability to flip the pages and read whatever catches one's eye adds to the awesomeness and hilarity of the book. Due to the circumstances of its creation, Axe Cop is a very inspiring comic, and having all this stuff in one handheld object (it smells like crimefighting!) makes me so dang happy.
If you don't buy this, you must be a bad guy. And we all know what happens to bad guys.
Batman Incorporated #2 by Grant Moribund, Yanick Paq-man, Michel My Bell, Nathan "Born in a" Fairbairn, and John J. Hill, esq. (DC Comics)
Grant Morrison's especially good at beginnings. Remember "E for Extinction"? He tends to ramp up the excitement, throw in a lot of fun little ideas and details, and secretly set the stage for an epic to be named later. Well, he does it again here with the opening two-parter of Batman, Inc. Batman and Catwoman come off like Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn from Charade slotted into an anime directed by Sam Raimi, a madcap adventure with sinister undertones but overtones of invigorating adventure. Yanick Paquette's art is at its best thanks to Michel Lacombe's powerfully thick inks, which, along with Nathan Fairbairn's bright colors, makes this comic an eye-popping candy bar of superhero fiction.
Anyway, it came out ages ago and you've all purchased it by now, so I'm just telling you what you already know.
Knight and Squire #3 by Paul Cor-Blimey, Jimmy Broxton-on-Trent, Sir Guy and the Major, and a fish called Swands (DC Comics)
Some folks around the blogosphere-- don't worry, I won't name names, Chad Nevett-- haven't been "feelin'" this comic. This is one of those "fun" comics, after all, and those comics are for silly men. Well, tough; Knight & Squire is delightful. Paul Cornell has crafted a charming little rollicker that's incredibly, mind-bogglingly British, but done with a level of self-awareness usually unseen in superhero fare.
In this issue, for example, the clone of Richard III decides to reclaim England the only way he knows how-- by force. With the help of a small army of cloned kings of England, and a lot of social networking, he attempts an invasion from, er, within (so what's that, then? An envasion?). Naturally, it's up to the Knight, the Squire, and their very British compatriots to save the day. How Cornell tells the story, however, is what gives it its strength. Richard is every bit Shakespeare's villain in the story, sans the hunchback (mostly). He speaks in iambic pentameter, and delivers soliloquies and asides through the fourth wall. He also utilizes the methods of today's era, using public relations against his enemies. When the other kings show up, the book becomes very funny-- you've never seen hatred of Scotsmen so hilarious! Cornell also continues introducing us to new British superheroes, including The Cidermen, who are 100% awesome. Broxton's art remains weaker than the script, but there's a sort of malleable cartooned line to it that sells the book's British Comedy feel; any character could be dropped into a Wallace & Gromit short and not look out of place, which I think is a pretty solid compliment.
Knight & Squire: It's delightful, it's deluxe, it's delovely.
Vertigo Resurrected: Hellblazer #1 by Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, Jason Aaron, Sean Murphy, and then there's Maude (DC/Vertigo)
I've been greatly enjoying these Vertigo Resurrected collections, hybrids of single issues and trades that nevertheless come with spines (and now text on the spine! Hurray! Now if only the book itself explained what it was to the consumer, rather than a press release on the internet). This format's a neat way to put out smaller, cheaper collections of stuff that either won't fit neatly into a trade, has been forgotten about, or has been sitting in a drawer somewhere-- plus these probably do higher numbers in the direct market than a larger trade collection would. (I would still like to see them in bookstores, if they aren't already. It's not like I need to leave the house anymore. By the way, tissue boxes make great shoes.)
Anyway, so Ennis and Dillon have a two-issue story in the front half of the book. It's Ennis, and Dillon. You know it's good. That's not why I bought this, though. No, I bought it for Aaron and Murphy, whose two-issue stint on the title from a couple years back is reprinted here for the first time.
And you know, I did a silly thing with this comic. I read it in bed, under the covers, with a flashlight. And that's exactly how this thing is meant to be read.
Aaron's story features an American documentary crew doing a series on forgotten bands of yesteryear, who are currently exploring Mucous Membrane, which just happens to be John Constantine's old punk outfit, who disappeared after-- well, after a kerfuffle with a demon, who shows up again when they come calling to Newcastle. Naturally, Constantine surfaces to clean his mess up. And he does, showing almost no pause or remorse for the shit he brings to everyone around him, even folks who accidentally wander into his wake. He's the Anti-Doctor-Who, the bastard who always shows up and makes everyone worse off for it. Filmed testimonials from old acquaintances attest to this fact in the narrative, providing evidence of Constantine's charmisa, as well as his talent for destruction.
This grimy, damned world wouldn't come off half as effectively were it not for Sean Murphy, who's the real star of the piece. The art's just fantastic, and illuminated by the sickly light of a fading flashlight whilst hidden under a blanket in the dead of night, just inches from the monsters laying in wait beneath the bed, combined with those suitably moody Lee Loughridge colors, it just comes off real horrorshow. We see from Murphy's process that he's not a digital kinda guy, that he is as beholden to the ink as the ink is to him. In my favorite detail, he uses his own inky fingerprints as texture-- in backgrounds, on faces. His Constantine's a rough old bastard, all sharp edges, especially compared to the younger, softer John from Dillon's half of the book. This Constantine's lived longer, seen worse, and he's stoic, driven-- but what internal demons drive him, we're not privy to.