Monday, January 05, 2009

Best of 2008: Not Quite Top Ten

In this post, I want to briefly discuss/praise some books that didn't make my top ten, but still made this year very enjoyable. Here, the actual quality isn't necessarily as important as just making an impact on me in one way or another. Hell, three of the books represented here fall in that 30-20 range in my rankings.

Thor by J. Michael Straczynski, Olivier Coipel and Marko Djurdjevic; Thor: Ages of Thunder specials by Matt Fraction, Patrick Zircher and many other artists; and Secret Invasion: Thor by Matt Fraction and Doug Braithwaite. Thor is one of the few characters who I will admit I'm a bit of a "fanboy" about. While I don't blindly follow the character, I always give whatever book he has coming out a shot. In this case, that means J. Michael Straczysnki's run, which began slow and had me convinced I would be dropping the title after issue six--my cut-off point for the book. However, Straczynski's slow-build has really paid off, especially with revelations like Balder's true father and the most recent issue where Loki showed himself to be a true mastermind. In January, issue 600 hits the stands and I can't wait.

But, if that wasn't enough, Matt Fraction delivered four specials and a three-issue series starring Thor that I rather enjoyed. Okay, it took until the final issue of Secret Invasion: Thor for me to really enjoy it, but that final issue was pretty damn good. The specials, though, showed a new side to Fraction's writing as he used little dialogue and relied mostly on a narrative voice that leant a certain mythic weight to the stories told, each engrossing and based in real myths. While I'm enjoying Straczynski's run on the main title, Fraction proved this year that when JMS steps down, there's a natural successor already in place (hopefully).

The Programme by Peter Milligan and CP Smith. I love abitious failures and this certainly was one. The story of old Cold War Russian superpeople being awoken and the chain of events that sets off always seemed one step away from brilliance and one step away from utter disaster. In the end, it was neither, managing to fall somewhere in between. Milligan's writing is sharp, but very busy as he seems to cram too much in at times. CP Smith's art began muddled and unclear, similar to that of Ashley Wood, but cleared up enough to work quite well by the end. While this book barely made my top thirty, it was one of my favourite books to read this year, because it was so ambitious and really tried to do something different--but ultimately didn't do much. The end of the series is an odd one, both cynical and optimistic... Really, this book wasn't that good, but it was very interesting.

Gravel by Warren Ellis, Mike Wolfer, Raulo Caceres and Oscar Jiminez. Really, I should throw in the various Strange Killings minis that came before since I got all four of them this year, too (I already had Strange Kiss and Stranger Kisses). I rather enjoy stories about William Gravel, combat magician. They're not terribly complex, but they have Warren Ellis's trademark English wit and bile. As well, Mike Wolfer does a fantastic job of turning Ellis's script treatments into full issues--to the point where Wolfer's involvement is invisible. The ongoing series has Gravel tearing through the Minor Seven, a group of magicians he belongs to--or did until someone said he was dead and they brought in a new member. Gravel's gimmick is that he pretty much fucks up everyone he comes across and it's got a very "mindless entertainment" vibe to it--and that works well. Oscar Jiminez came on board the book after a few issues and put it back in a decent schedule, although his depiction of Gravel is quite different from Wolfer's and took some getting used to.

Doktor Sleeples by Warren Ellis and Ivan Rodriguez. I've actually been amazed at how little discussion this books gets online considering its position as the thematc sequel to Transmetropolitan. Now, it would be easy to dismiss this book as Ellis doing the same thing again, but this series is quite different from its forerunner. While still ostensibly about "the future" and a man returning to the city and stirring shit up, Doktor Sleepless is not about the truth, not about making the world better--it's about a broken, bitter monster of a man who is determined to tear everything down... and those who seem opposed aren't actually much better. It's funny and told in eight-issue stories. The first was about setting up the main idea of the book, while the second seems more about exploring the world that is Heavenside--and the impact that the good Doktor has had upon it. While I'm the first one to say that this book isn't as good as Transmet, it's still very worthy of notice.

Pax Romana by Jonathan Hickman. I almost included this book in yesterday's post since it's Hickman's written/drawn/lettered/everything book for 2008 in the same way that The Nightly News was his 2007 book. This four-issue series tells the story of a group of time travellers who make it their business to make sure humanity evolves quicker, both in political and social terms. It's a book of ideas as Hickman explores politics and sociology, as well as religion. His art is very design-oriented and doesn't tell the story in a typical manner. Hell, each issue had two pages of text transcribing a conversation! It's very unique and Hickman has said that this is just the first book set in this world.

Captain Britain and MI:13 by Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk. This is the book that got bumped out of the top ten between my first list, which I gave CBR and my final list, which I did on January 1. I actually feel bad that this book got bumped, because it's a damn good superhero book. I know the phrase "gets better with each issue" is thrown around a lot, but this book does. Paul Cornell's comic writing ability grows by leaps and bounds in these issues and I have no doubt that the book will continue to get better in 2009. It's a very low key sort of book that does contain a lot of out there concepts and isn't afraid to do anything. Every issue ends with a cliffhanger that is legitimately shocking and leaves me wanting more--an art in and of itself. Also, Leonard Kirk's art is a great fit with Cornell's writing, because he is a very solid, very capable artist who, at first, helped make Cornell look better and, now, expertly depicts the crazy shit Cornell throws out there. If you're a fan of superhero comics and aren't reading this book, you are making a big mistake.

Later today, I'll discuss Joe Casey's 2008 comics.