Monday, January 28, 2013

Best of 2012: Pre-2012 Comics

Something that always seems to get lost in year-end lists is that no one experiences just new things. You always have a mix of new and old and the old always get lost. So, mixed in with my top ten comics of 2012, I will discuss five comics (in alphabetical order) that are from before 2012 that I read in 2012 and loved.

100% BY PAUL POPE! In the summer, my shop had a big sale and I picked up two Paul Pope hardcovers, Heavy Liquid and 100%. I was thinking about 'cheating' and including them both here, but decided to limit myself to just one. I love them both, but 100% edges out Heavy Liquid for reasons that I could never properly explain. I love the way 100% meanders from character to character, from story to story, and feels like Pope picked two random moments to begin and end. There's a real sense of being dropped into this world and then taken out at a whim. You want to know what happened before you got there and what happens after you leave. I mean, there are reasons why it begins and ends where it does... but forget that crap.

I'm amazed at the way that Pope interwaves these stories and makes them all compelling. In 'anthology' ensemble stories like this, there are usually ones you love, ones you hate, and then some that fall in the middle. I don't recall anything in this book that didn't grab me, didn't pull me along with the rest. I felt disappointment when he would leave characters and it would fade almost immediately because I was getting to see these other characters that I liked just as much. It's like going from hanging out with one groups of friends to another. A blessed life.

The world that Pope creates seems real. Things are different in the details, but close enough. The characters all seem like people you could meet. I don't know any of these people in my life, because I live a different sort of life from what's in 100%, but I've come across them in quick meetings. While I seem obsessed only with myself, I do love seeing people who aren't me and Pope makes them come alive. He's very good at leaving things unsaid, of creating a sense that there's history and depth in his characters.

And his art! Paul Pope's art... I don't even know what to say. Part of the way his characters look real is similar to what I said about Guerra's art in Scalped: they're kind of ugly and grotesque. And so are real people. Most artists draw generic beautiful people, while guys like Pope draw attractive, imperfect people. That works in harmony with his writing to create that sense of reality and depth that I spoke of. There's so much energy in Pope's art. They feel like his hand was struggling to keep up with his brain while not looking dashed off in any way. There's so much detail and nuance that I can open any page and see something that I haven't seen before. And I've looked at this book quite a bit.

But, why this comic specifically? It made for a nice evening reading it. I drank some coffee, had some music on, and lost myself in these pages. I didn't come out for days despite reading it all in a single evening.

CRÉCY BY WARREN ELLIS AND RAULO CACERES! I missed this when it came out for whatever reason or other. Ordered it when I pre-ordered Gun Machine by Ellis to reach the $25 free shipping mark. I had heard good things and I enjoyed this. I like the idea of an essay/long talk used in comics like this. Basically, a single character talking us through a situation above and beyond his station in a sense. Ellis used that technique again in Supergod and I would like to see more of it. It's similar to Harvey Pekar's approach to writing comics -- or something like Alice in Sunderland. But bigger than Pekar's comics and narrower than Talbot's. Somewhere in the middle. Crécy made me wonder if Ellis could pull this off at Marvel or DC with one of their superheroes. Not even would they let him try, but could he actually make it work. I don't know. I'd like to see him try. And have it not turn into some extended history lesson on the character in question. An issue-long recap. Fuck me.

No, could this form be used to tell an engaging story? It does here. There's warmth and humour and drama within this narrative -- and there's information. It's more than a simple lecture on what's going on at Crécy. The same thing happened with Supergod, except Ellis allowed himself to fall into the narrative a bit more there, if I recall correctly.

This comic gets a mention because it makes me wonder about stuff like this. Not many other comics did that this past year. Everyone do better.

THE METABARONS BY ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY AND JUAN GIMENEZ! This is one fucked up comic. It deals with a topic that I find rather interesting when it comes up: the idea that a family line has to come first. One of the things I liked most about Gormenghast was the way it looked at that idea -- even season two of Justified explored that to an extent. The Metabarons deals with it rather explicitly, going so far as to introduce little rituals and bullshit codes into what being part of the family line means. Most people would see a couple of freak accidents that result in requiring cybernetic prosthetics as things to avoid in the future, but these insane people turn that into a requirement. Want to be the new Metabarons, you need to lose part of your body and, then, kill your dad. The final Metabaron is the only sane one when he decides that he will be the last Metabaron, ending that cursed, fucked up family forever. Of course, if he were serious, he would have committed suicide. But, he's a weak one that boy.

This is space opera, emphasis on the opera. Large, generational, dramatic, and so damn addicting. I had read parts of The Metabarons before this year, but the recent hardcover release (the smaller, cheaper hardcover) was the first time that I read the entire thing. I could barely put it down. Also, the way that the robots' story actually factored into the overall plot was great. The slow build to the reveal was very well done and surprising.

Juan Gimenez is amazing. I'm not always the biggest fan of painted art in sequential narratives, but it's hard to not love Gimenez. Though, as Tucker Stone said, it's hard to notice him too much when you're reading about these fucked up things Jodo is writing. You almost need to stop and force yourself to forget that he's drawing a scene of sci-fi incest to appreciate his actual art. I wish I gave it more attention, honestly. But, the writing distracts far too much. It's kind of hard to get over.

That generational story. That focus on the idea of the family line... it's compelling and something I've yet to tire of.

NEXUS OMNIBUS VOL. 1 BY MIKE BARON, STEVE RUDE, AND OTHERS! I heard great things and they were right. This was not at all what I was expecting. I was expecting something more superhero-y, I suppose. Instead, this reminded me a lot of Dreadstar in its tone. Not the art, but the feel of the series. That makes sense since they were done around the same time and, eventually, shared a home at First Comics. They were both series that took place in a cosmic setting with a protagonist that held certain superhero trappings. Nexus more obviously so, but Vanth Dreadstar became more and more like Superman as the series progressed. There was a lightness in both books contrasted with the extreme dark. In Nexus's case, it was his dreams and the compelling need to kill mass murderers. That sounds like a superhero, right? My kind of superhero, maybe...

There's a very freeform way to the way that Nexus is paced in these issues that's surprising. While the tone is similar to Dreadstar, the adherence to Starlin's issue-to-issue storytelling isn't there. There's a much looser feeling to this comic and a willingness to go where the story need to, damn what page it is. Also, Horatio Hellpop is a fantastic name.

The big appeal of this volume is watching Steve Rude become so good so quickly. I love his art now and watching him improve on an almost panel-by-panel basis is remarkable. He becomes more and more confident in his line work, more inventive in his approach to the page, and creates a visually stunning comic. The more confident he becomes, the looser the writing becomes, like Mike Baron knew he could trust Rude to keep things grounded and make it work. The 11th issue is a marked improvement over the 1st. You can't always say that. I can't wait for the second omnibus volume. Where will they go next? How good can this comic get?

"THE SPIDER-CLONE SAGA" BY MANY, MANY PEOPLE! When "The Spider-Clone Saga" was happening, I read some of the comics, but not nearly all of them. What kid is going to be able to buy four or five comics a month like that? And what kid, if they can, is going to focus exclusively on one group of titles -- no matter how interesting the story is. This year, I bought all of the trades for "The Spider-Clone Saga" along with the six volumes focused on Ben Reilly when he becomes Spider-Man. I haven't made it past the first volume of that set. I really enjoyed "The Spider-Clone Saga" material, though. I knew a decent chunk of it. It's a story that began strongly and had a smart end point with Ben becoming Spider-Man, allowing Peter and Mary Jane to go off and have their family. Things didn't work out that way in the end, but it was a good idea.

What struck me was how little Peter Parker and Ben Reilly interacted at first. They each dealt with their own problems and mostly stayed apart. Those issues were incredibly strong with Peter trying to stop being so lost inside of the Spider and Ben trying to figure out what he wants to do -- and who he wants to be. Where the books close their way is by focusing on the bullshit surround the clone stuff. Focusing on who is the real Peter Parker, introducing more clones, reintroducing the Jackal... oh, that stuff is just dreadful and is such a huge misstep. It's a big ball of "Who gives a fuck?" I certainly didn't all those teases and promises of answers did was turn a perfectly good story into something tedious and awful.

If they had kept it simple and contained with just Peter and Ben, it could have been a lot better. Stuff like "Maximum Cloneage" was so misguided, so wrongheaded. I found it cool as a kid, but really bad as an adult.

This year, I plan to finish it by reading the Ben Reilly stuff. Those books are on the shelf beneath the Kirby stuff.