Friday, January 08, 2010

Best of 2009: Not Good Enough

Today, I'm going to highlight a few books that I liked throughout the year or found noteworthy for some reason, but didn't make my top ten books of 2009. These aren't books eleven, twelve, thirteen, etc. so don't confuse them as such. Just books that I feel like pointing out for whatever reason.

Captain Britain & MI:13 by Paul Cornell, Leonard Kirk, Mike Collins, and Ardian Syaf. Two years in a row, this book makes one top ten list and fails to make another. It made the top ten I gave CBR, but has fallen off from the final list thanks to me reconsidering the order and, well, I bought and read Asterios Polyp. It's a great comic and, this year, it had some of its best writing and art. The "Vampire State" storyline was refreshing and surprising throughout. A vampire story -- hell, a Dracula story that was original and innovative. I'm tempted to name this the best comic of 2009 for that reason alone. Okay, not really tempted, but it's the sort of thing one says in these situations. It doesn't make the list, because the Meggan-centred annual was mediocre and, honestly, it doesn't hold up as well in rereadings. When I reread the entire Captain Britain & MI:13 series for the blogathon this summer, I didn't enjoy it as much as I did the first time around. I've seen it missing from a lot of lists (including the CBR one), which is surprising since it was praised heavily when it was coming out. I think it's a victim of people forgetting that it existed when it came time to make the lists and I just wanted to show that I didn't forget it... it just didn't make the cut. Barely. I wonder if it would have had it not ended...

The Unwritten by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. I want to like this book more than I actually do. It should be on my top ten list, honestly, given my academic background. A comic about the power and wonder of literature... gee, could it be any more of a wet dream for a guy with a master's in English? But, there's something lacking. Maybe it's the slow pacing, the cold, clinical way it's told... that I'm still not entirely sure what the book is actually about... Maybe it's that the book seems like it's trying very, very hard to be clever and smart, and it's hard to love something that's so screaming for attention like that. I don't mean to harp on the book's negatives since I did come here to point out that it's very good. I look forward to each issue and have no doubt that this could become my favourite comic in any given month. It just hasn't yet.

"Boo-tleg" by Ben Jones from Bart Simpsons's Treehouse of Horror #15. I had originally meant to discuss the whole book, but I reviewed enough anthologies this year for CBR to learn that I hate talking about anthologies. Focus on one thing too much and it seems like an uneven review, but making room for everything means there's no depth. Anthologies make me spend the other time trying to find that balance between breadth and depth, and I don't want to this time. I want to point out "Boo-tleg" by Ben Jones as I fucking love this story. I reread it last night and, man oh man, did it make me laugh. It's weird and wild and off-the-wall... in it, bootleg, cheap candy sold at the Kwik-E-Mart begins killing people, so Apu has bootlegs of the dead people made... and it's just fucking weird. And funny. Jones makes fun of The Simpsons, American culture, and also uses the sort of jokes you'd find in The Simpsons. It's an odd line to walk and, by the end, it becomes some 'misguided' mixture of odd cultural stereotypes, like he took a character from every crappy Simpsons knock-off worldwide and stuck them in the same show. Each time I read it, I a different bit makes me laugh. Like, on the first page, the thing I find funniest is that Chief Wiggum died at some point prior to this story -- and, like, the idea that the fat, bumbling cop being alive/dead is the key difference between this reality and the true Simpsons reality. Somehow, he would have stopped Apu and it wouldn't become Da Slimpsonz... what a fucking absurd idea, but it makes me laugh.

Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape by Ivan Brandon, Marco Rudy, and Cliff Richards. How the fuck did this comic get published? I feel bad for using the word 'weird' to describe Ben Jones's "Boo-tleg," because it seems downright middle of the road compared to the weirdness of this series (not really, but, again, that sounds almost good). The first issue of this series left people scratching their heads, wondering what was going on. Nemesis wakes up in Electric City and is held a prisoner with others as reality shifts around them... but it's all test. You escape, you've proven yourself worthy. The series is him working out the puzzle and escaping. It doesn't add up. The Global Peace Agency is never really explained and, honestly, the loss of Marco Rudy makes the book suffer. While everyone was talking about JH Williams III and his great layouts (and rightly so), not many were noticing the work Rudy was doing in the same vein. Not as sophisticated or well done as Williams's work (especially the actual drawings in Rudy's art), but still great effort. Escape promised a lot and failed to deliver completely... but, man, I'd give my left nut (not really) for more books from Marvel and DC to try this hard. Then again, I love my ambitious failures and Escape is one hell of a one. I can't wait to see what happens in the follow-up Nemesis mini-series by Brandon and Richards this year.

Final Crisis/Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D by Grant Morrison, Doug Mahnke, JG Jones, Marco Rudy, and Carlos Pacheco. I'm mentioning for the sole purpose of telling you why a comic I really liked was never even considered for contention, because Final Crisis wasn't. I never considered it as a possibility for my top ten, because it's a 2008 comic that got into 2009 on a technicality. It ran late and bled into the new year. Others include it on their lists and that's fine, but it's a 2008 comic in my mind. When I saw it one other lists, I had to remind myself 'Oh yeah, that did finish in January!' It sort of got screwed that way: it didn't finish in 2008, which kept it off last year's best of list most likely... and, now, I see it as a 2008 book. Well, life isn't fair and these lists don't mean that much anyway. I'm sure no one involved is sitting at home reading this and seething with rage that I'm excluding this work. So, no Final Crisis. (And, yes, the collection came out this year, but I read it in singles, so that's what I judge it by. So, no, it doesn't make it based on that technicality either.)

Tomorrow: a rundown of the Joe Casey-penned comics of this year and I'll also spend a few brief moments discussing my favourite comic critic of 2009.