Best of 2007: Graphic Fiction

Best of 2007: Graphic Fiction By Michael C. Riedlinger Editor-In-Chief
            2007 was a banner year for the comics industry, which only made this list more difficult. Both of the big companies released great trade collections, and continuing series at both indie and major companies were top notch all around. Some of this list may surprise you, some of it may infuriate you. Good. Maybe your favorite obscure title, the one that made the TIME or NEWSWEEK lists, isn't on here. Go yell from the mountaintop about how no one's reading it, but maybe there's a reason for that. Maybe there are a few titles here that you disagree with entirely, that's fine too. Let the debate begin! 10. All-Star Superman             Grant Morrison is a genius; let me point that out at the onset of this list. His take on Superman mixes a British Sci-fi sensibility with his own signature bizarre plot twists and humor. Always a pleasure to read, All-Star Superman’s only real drawback is its quirky, bi-monthly release schedule. If you wait for collections, however, you are in for a real treat. 9. 52, Vols. 1-4             The collected versions of this DC milestone really bring home the amount of work that really goes into publishing comic books. Each issue is followed by a look behind the scenes that is almost more entertaining than the book itself. The story of a world where Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman have left to find themselves comes together nicely under a team of DC’s top writers and artists, and I think time will show this to be just as important to today’s comic book industry as Crisis on Infinite Earths and Secret Wars were to the comics of the 1980’s. 8. Courtney Crumrin and the Fire-Thief’s Tale             Ted Naifeh’s stories about a grumpy little girl who discovers sorcery through her eccentric uncle continued this year in The Fire-Theif’s Tale. Like many of her previous adventures, Courtney learns about very adult subjects (racism and miscegenation) through the world of the supernatural. You can share this with your kids, but you’ll enjoy reading it just as much, if not more, than they will. 7. Fables/Jack of Fables             Bill Willingham writes a mean fairytale. In the case of Jack, a very mean, spiteful fairytale. In either book, Willingham’s story of literary refugees is always engaging and enthralling. Though most of this year seems to have been a build up to a potential final showdown with the characters’ nemesis, the story has still shown us that sometimes the most amazing facet of any of our favorite characters is that they are distinctly human. Even Jack, whose own book is as self-absorbed as he is, manages to eke out moments that touch us because we’ve likely experienced them ourselves. Quite a feat for a man who survived being impaled upon Excalibur! 6. Batman             Did I mention Grant Morrison is a genius? This year has been a banner year for him as a writer, and his work on Batman has been exceptional. Bruce has a son named Damian? Ra’s al Ghul is resurrected? Damian eventually will kill dad and plague Gotham as an Immortal replacement for the caped crusader? Holy shit, Morrison is insane! Bat shit insane, in fact. His run on this signature DC character is as dark and moody as it should be without the unnecessary bleakness of Frank Miller. When this hits trade form, pick it up because it is the best Batman has been since Hush! 5. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier             What happens when Alan Moore stops lampooning Victorian fiction and tackles tropes from the 1950’s? The Black Dossier, that’s what. Though the story is fairly simple, it is The Black Dossier itself that features most prominently as a character in this latest LXG installment. Moore changed the face of graphic fiction with Watchmen, making it possible for high-brow types to read a book like this in the open. Truly a study of literary styles and publishing means from the first part of the 20th century, this book almost requires you to be a Lit major, but is still loads of fun. Where else will you see a Tijuana Bible, 3-D glasses and a lost Shakespearian manuscript in the same place? Fire up Wikipedia and sit down for a long read. This one is worth every minute! 4. Ex Machina             Politics in comics are often either obtuse (V for Vendetta) or couched in heavy metaphors (damn near anything from Vertigo these days), but Brian K. Vaughn stabs right at the heart of issues. Through Mayor Hundred, Vaughn gives us an evenhanded look at contemporary issues without leaning too far left or right. His superhero-cum-politico story is just the right mix of action/adventure and cerebral musings to keep you wanting the next issue month after month. With a little less than two years left of this book’s limited run, play catch up with the trades and get ready for an interesting election year. 3. Absolute Sandman             Once upon a time, a British author helped launch a new imprint with DC comics called Vertigo. Over a decade later, some of the best writers in the world fill in the void left by Neil Gaiman and his now defunct series. These Absolute Editions raise the bar both artistically and literarily, and any fan of either should consider themselves lucky to own Sandman in such a format. Much like a penultimate directors cut DVD collection, this edition doesn’t miss a beat or scrimp on the extras, so with tax time coming up, maybe you should treat yourselves! 2. DMZ             The aforementioned political metaphor in comic form has never been as touching or poignant as when Brian Wood puts Matty Roth through his paces as a freelance journalist in the war torn streets of Manhattan. The future setting, taking place after a second American Civil War, allows us to look at life during wartime honestly. There are no easy answers, and when the enemy’s combatants are also us, we cannot help but think long and hard about what life under military rule must be like for people around the world. This is a story that could take place in Kabul, Baghdad, or Sarajevo, but it doesn’t, and that makes it all the more compelling without being preachy. As Wood heads into the third year of this story, we should all sit down and look in the mirror he presents us, if only to catch a glimpse of where we never want to be and should only place others with the greatest of caution. 1. The Boys             First, it was at Wildstorm, and then it was canceled because it was too raunchy. Somewhere between a hamster in someone’s bum and a distinctly anti-superhero story, Wildstorm gave up one of the edgiest comics ever to a small publisher called Dynamite, and Billy Butcher made it back to the streets. The fact that these blokes would be villains in any other hero comic makes them more interesting by default, but their motivations are all justifiable. Wee Hughie, our main protagonist and Simon Pegg stand in, watched the love of his life get crushed by a superhero and has been presented with a chance to get revenge, but he does not do so lightly. The first time he kills a man, in self-defense mind you, he vomits. It is that kind of “humanity in a world of insanity” that Garth Ennis first captured on Preacher, and now brings us in The Boys. Sex, Drugs, and Rockstars with capes abound, but you will be rooting for the straight men and women who dress like you or I. Though there is some serious emotion involved, Ennis still manages to inject his own ironic humor into every issue and the lampooning of familiar characters makes each issue a page-turner. Hell, the story of Batman/Ironman knockoff Tek Knight as he tries desperately to not have sex with his young male sidekick, Laddi-O, will have you rolling on the floor even as you wonder why no one has ever really dealt with issues like gay-bashing superheroes before. Pick it up in 2008. You will NOT be disappointed!

Comments

Hmm where to start.

Hmm where to start.

All Star Superman/Batman & Son:
I honestly have been avoiding this book like the plague as the All Star Batman is such a horrible eye gouging piece of tripe. The fact that Morrison is on the book doesn't do much to entice me as I still haven't gotten over the bad taste his run on X-Men left. Although I have been surprisingly not disappointed by his run on Batman so far, however I'm expecting a monumental third act fail from the man to complete his trifecta of third act fails with X-Men and 52.

52:
Could not have been more disappointed with this offering from DC. I'll agree that it was an interesting format (one book a week for fifty-two weeks) but the execution hurt the story. Nearly all the arcs suffer from some form of third arc critical failure in the story. This was a series that I had huge hope for in the beginning that just let me down with its inability to finish strong. Also, the big finale with Black Adam is completely negated hardly a month later in Countdown, a weekly series DC started before 52's corpse had been laid to rest. The big two need to stop crapping over their own continuity like incontinent puppies on laxatives.

The Boys:
While I liked Ennis and Robertson's first arc on The Boys I'm getting a real, real sense of been there done that and in far, better ways. At this point the alternate/"warped" take on classic icons has been run into the ground. Had this book come out in the late 90's it would have been called a breath of fresh air but with The Authority, Top Ten, Planetary, and even Powers, Ennis's new book comes off as the guy purposely given the wrong directions to a party where the last blow job for a line of coke was given out years ago. Even DC has used this gimmick in the pages of Superman; a book that, to paraphrase Batman, "hasn't been relevant since [Superman] died".

Aside from the character of Hughie you can't even begin to identify or care about any of the protagonists, they all come off as one dimensional assholes that beat the crap out of other one dimensional assholes so that some kind of miserable perverse status quo is maintained for various national governments. It feels like Ennis is rehashing the over the top violence he did in Preacher (...and Fury...oh and Punisher) with elements from better books. I can take or leave Robertson's art, he gets kudos for nailing Pegg but he suffers from Quitely syndrome in that half the time everyone's face looks like it's under a dirty fishbowl.

Fable/Ex Machina:
Agreed. Two of the best series out there.

I do have to ask though, where was Y: The Last Man, Planet Hulk, 100 Bullets, Birds of Prey, Invincible, the Sinestro Corps War, and the good portions of Civil War....ok that last one was a lie since I'm still having a hard time finding the good parts of Civil War...