Friday, January 08, 2010

Best of 2009: Top Ten No More

I always like to star my best of the year posts by looking at the books (or their closest relative when applicable -- you'll see what I mean by that) that were in last year's top ten, but didn't make this year's list. Some books, of course, were one-shots or series that ended/didn't release an issue this year, so they're not discussed.

Batman and Robin by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, and Philip Tan (#10 in 2008 as Batman). Since this is pretty much a continuation of Morrison's Batman run, I'm counting it here. While I really liked the first arc, this relaunch was really hampered by that second storyarc and the general feeling of not being as 'important' as Morrison's previous work with the character. The plotting is a bit looser, leaning more toward fun, entertaining stories that began his run on Batman than where the book ended up. A good way to structure things, but not the way to produce fantastic comics. The difference between Quitely and Tan doesn't help -- I actually consider Tan the worst artist that Morrison has been saddled with while writing Batman so far... aside from the fill-in issues by Ryan Benjamin, I suppose. Just awful, ugly, nonsensical stuff. As this comic begins to build on the foundations laid here and kicks things into gear in 2010 with a line-up of great artists, I could see this making a reappearance in the top ten.

glamourpuss by Dave Sim (#9 in 2008). After an incredibly focused 2008 as Sim explored the art of Alex Raymond, 2009's issues were much looser and free-ranging. You never knew what you were going to get as they all revolved around Stan Drake in some way, but less on his art and more on the circumstances surrounding the comic strip "The Heart of Juliet Jones." Sometimes, this worked (the Margaret Mitchell issue) and, sometimes, it didn't (the most recent issue focusing on Drake's second marriage). The fashion magazine elements of the comic were as hit and miss as always. Sim's art remains gorgeous in stunning black and white as he doesn't just produce photorealistic drawings of models, but reproduces work by Drake and other fantastic artists. glamourpuss remains an engaging, essential, unique book, but wasn't as good in 2009 as it was in 2008.

Captain America/Captain America: Reborn by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Butch Guice, Luke Ross, Gene Colan, and Bryan Hitch (#8 in 2008). I really liked Captain America this year, but the year began with the better-than-average-but-not-great storyarc involving Barnes getting used to being Captain America while confronting his past. After that, things shifted into Reborn with a brief stop for an issue meant to be an annual years ago. Reborn has been entertaining, but suffers from an obvious ending and a slightly delayed schedule. As well, Hitch's art doesn't exactly fit into the tone of the comic to date, something that had been maintained incredibly well to this point. Like the others mentioned so far, this book was worse this year, but wasn't bad. It did do one thing, though, and that's make me notice Dean White's name any time it shows up in the credits box after his fantastic colouring job over Gene Colan's pencils in issue 601. I can't wait to see what Brubaker has in store for the title and characters in 2010, but this year felt a little like filler/necessary plot mechanics (done quite well, but still).

Incognito/Criminal: The Sinners by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Val Staples (#5 in 2008). Is it unfair to lump these two books together despite sharing the same creative team? They both harken back to a specific era, but different genres. Sure, Incognito took the place of Criminal on the schedule, but should they be stuck together? I'll say yes, because The Sinners wasn't going to make the top ten anyway, so why not talk about both? I've been enjoying The Sinners, but it isn't as good as previous Criminal stories. 2008 has the three excellent one-off stories that were connected through a crime and the "Bad Night" arc, which was also very good. Part of what makes Criminal stories work so well is how the final chapter always makes everything that came before it look a little different. If Incognito failed in any regard, it's that. It ended and didn't validate the previous issues' flaws or make the good parts better. Then again, I've realised that Incognito didn't work for me because of my expectations as much as the work that Brubaker, Phillips, and Staples did. The art in both books was some of the best you're going to find in any comics in 2009, but I'm more of a writing guy. No matter how hard I try not to be sometimes, if the writing doesn't wow me, a book can only rise so far in my personal rankings. If anything is unfair, it's that, but it's who I am.

None of these comics were bad this year, but none were as good as they were in 2008, which is why they fell from the top ten. The funny thing about all of these books is that I could see any of them making 2010's top ten. Guess we'll see.

Tomorrow, I'll look at some notable books that I think are worth mentioning that didn't make the top ten.