Friday, January 28, 2011

Best of 2010: The Top Ten

Well, here it is, the top ten. These are the ten comics that I loved the most in 2010. I won't pretend that they're the actual ten objectively best comics or that if I had read everything that came out, some of these wouldn't get booted off the list. But, this is the ten best comics from my very subjective perspective out of what I read from 2010.

10. Prison Pit Vol. 2 by Johnny Ryan. You know what this comic got me to do? Flip through a pdf. See, I reviewed this for CBR using a pdf copy. Usually, with pdfs, I read through them, use them to reference character names and events if necessary and, then, delete the fuckers because I hate reading comics on pdfs. It's a necessary part of the gig and I'm always grateful for pdfs when they allow me to read something I wouldn't have otherwise, but give me paper any day of the week. With Prison Pit vol. 2, I kept opening the pdf and just flipping through the pages, stopping here and there, and enjoying the book. I did that for the week following my review of it. I couldn't leave this book alone -- it kept calling me back. Never had that happen before with a pdf copy of something. Prison Pit satisfies that part of me that loves stupid violence. The comic opens with a big fucking monster taking a shit and it's hilarious! I showed the opening to Michelle and even she laughed. This book is so focused, so direct in what it's about that it's hard not to be taken in. It's just SCENE OF VIOLENCE, slight pause, SECENE OF VIOLENCE, slight pause, SCENE OF VIOLENCE, and that's a little refreshing. No pretenses, no excuses, just fucked up shit right away. Johnny Ryan's art is simple and direct in the same way. He has a good sense of visual timing. I still love the parts where Ladydactyl is slamming the main character into the rocks. The way Ryan draws that is perfect. Not for everyone, but I loved this book.

9. Supergod by Warren Ellis and Garrie Gastonny. As the conclusion to the thematic trilogy that began with Black Summer and No Hero, Supergod is the colest, the one most focused on ideas. The other two were grounded in characters to differing degrees, but this... this was just Ellis outlining a different approach to post-humans. It partly seems like taking Alan Moore's Dr. Manhattan to the next level, that idea that a post-human wouldn't think the same as a human, and seeing how far it could be pushed. Combine that with the idea of post-humans as gods -- even more than that, created in this world to be gods -- and it's a very interesting result. A lot of reviews of the first issue took it for task for not being a compelling narrative. That's rectified somewhat was the series continues, but that never bothered me. It wasn't meant to be one. It's an intellectual exercise, a comic of theories and arguments. And why not? This book looks like a blueprint for future comics by different people, a way of writing superhumans and superheroes that isn't done really. If there's something that holds the book back, it's Garrie Gastonny. I like his art and find it serviceable with it sometimes knocking it out of the park. But, those fantastic pages only happen once or twice per issue. He does handle some of the more challenging visuals well, like the post-human with tactical time as a power. That's just a weird-looking creature and Gastonny nails it. I do wonder how this book would have looked if done by one of the industry's top artists. Still, a comic that made me think about superhumans/post-humans in a different way -- the sort that could unfairly change how I think about them and, thus, take it out on books that don't live up to that standard. When a comic does that, that's something special.

8. Demo Vol. 2 by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan. This coming back was a nice treat for the year. The first Demo series was a favourite of mine and seeing Wood and Cloonan reunite to show off their growth was cool. It occurred to me that Demo has become such an open concept that I wouldn't mind seeing the two return to it every five to ten years for a short little tenure like this. A check-in to see what they can do with the open idea of self-contained short stories. Actually, this go around reminded me of short films more than stories. The second issue in particular seemed like a ten-minute movie. That's a different sensibility than you usually see. Cloonan showed off a variety of styles, switching it up for every issue. There's a softness to her line work that brings her character's down to earth that I like. She and Wood strike a nice balance between emotional investment and craft... sometimes, I like an issue for one more than the other, but it's usually a mix of both.

7. Grant Morrison's Batman stuff by Morrison, Frazer Irving, Matthew Clarke, Dusting Nguyen, Cameron Stewart, Tony Daniel, Andy Kubert, Franky Quitely, Scott Kolins, Chris Sprouse, Yanick Paquette, Ryan Sook, David Finch, Lee Garbett, Pere Pérez, Georges Jeanty, and Chris Burnham. (Did I forget anyone?) Is this a surprise? A lot of Batman comics by Grant Morrison came out in 2010. Issues seven through 16 of Batman and Robin, Batman #700-702, Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #1-6, Batman: The Return #1, and Batman, Inc. #1-2. That's, what, 22 comics? Many of which were longer than usual. That's a lot. And that was really nice, wasn't it? A huge chunk of Morrison's story unfolded this year as Bruce Wayne returned, semi-outed himself with regards to Batman, and started up Batman, Inc. Throw in some time traveling, some lingering effects of Darkseid, some Joker, some Simon Hurt, and more talented artists than you could imagine and, yeah, these were some good comics. The complaint about them that always makes me laugh is that Morrison is just writing about Batman. Well, kind of... but, even so, what's wrong with that? He's writing Batman! Why not write about Batman? But, if you can't find that extra depth, that's not my problem. It's a take on the character that I find intriguing and it's a run that will be worth looking at in the context of his other work. 2011 may feel a little empty without all of the Morrison Bat-books.

6. Punishermax by Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon. I loved Jason Aaron's writing on Scalped, but he's always been a little hit or miss otherwise for me and, heading into this, I didn't really think anyone could do the character after Garth Ennis, especially in a MAX book. Ennis's run on the title is epic, a great novel of the 21st century about the death of the American Dream. Marvel followed that up with mystery and thriller novelists showing they haven't figured out how to write comics yet. Punishermax wasn't help when it was revealed that the first two arcs would introduce the 'Max' versions of the Kingpin and Bullseye. This book seemed like one I would buy two or three issues of before dropping entirely with mutterings of "It was fine" and "Just not my thing," while secretly thinking "What a piece of shit." Instead, Aaron fucking nailed it and did it with Ennis's my famous collaborator. And I love that. There's something ballsy about it that appeals to me. The rise of Wilson Fisk and, then, Bullseye's hunt for Frank are intense, funny, and fucked up stories. I'm amazed at how surprising and cold they can be. Bullseye's dedication to getting into Frank's head is... frightening. And Steve Dillon draws him with such an innocent look. Often, Bullseye looks like the happy idiot. It's so disarming... and then he does something so crazy and fucked up. Fisk, so determined to acquire power, gives up everything. Meanwhile, Frank is pushed again and again until he crosses a line that he's never crossed. Probably the best surprise of the year for me was this book being fantastic.

5. The Boys by Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson, and Russ Braun. For a while, this was lower on my list and, then, when it came time to write about it, it didn't feel right to have it so low. I looked forward to and enjoyed this comic more than every comic lower on the list. Possibly more than some above it. If pressed, at this point, I'd possibly call The Boys my favourite ongoing comic series right now. But, that's in the most subjective manner possible and, while I say that's where all of this comes from, I do try and balance things with an objective appreciation of craft. The weird space between 'favourite' and 'best'... that's what I try to navigate. The Boys kills everything when it comes to 'favourite.' The Boys is always the first comic I read on the week it comes out. Always. Because I have to know what happens next. It's gotten to that point -- I'm hooked, I love the characters, and I need to know what comes next. But, it's not just that. People wrote off the book as simply making fun of superheroes and I won't deny that that was a big part of the series, but it's amazing to see how much of that laid the foundation for what's happening now with Hughie and Annie, Butcher and the Seven, and the rest of the characters. It's been a build-up to where we are now. The Hughie/Annie relationship finally imploded and you knew it was going to happen, it was inevitable, and it still broke my heart. It was a gut-wrenching, awful scene to watch unfold. That ability to deliver on something so obvious while still making it emotionally impactful is a wonderful talent of Ennis's, one that's often underappreciated. This year also introduced Russ Braun to the book and he's been amazing. He's adapted his style to match Darick Robertson's and is fantastic at character acting. I miss Robertson, but Braun is such a close second that I usually don't think about it. This is my serialised soap opera comic and I can't wait for every issue.

4. Parker: The Outfit by Darwyn Cooke. I guess you could technically include the oversized The Man with the Getaway Face as part of the reason why this book gets the #4 spot for 2010. That oversized 'preview' was pretty awesome. The complete opposite of the presentation of the hardcovers. A smart way to whet the appetite for The Outfit. What impressed me most about this book is that, more than The Hunter, this was a comic book. Cooke played around with styles and layouts and compositions in a way that only works in comics. He really worked at adapting the prose story to the comics medium. And I'm not just talking about the heist portion of the book although that's the easiest to spot area where Cooke uses different styles. But, look at how he lays out the armed truck robbery or when Parker breaks into the Syndicate's boss's office. Just masterful storytelling and art. It makes me anxious to see the next book to see what Cooke does next.

3. Scalped by Jason Aaron, RM Guéra, Jason Latour, Davide Furnò, and Danijel Zezelj. Making its third straight appearance in the top ten and failing to make it to the top spot again. Okay, that sounds harsh, like we should pity Scalped. "Poor awesome comic, you're really great and all, but you're never the best! You only got beat out by Chris fucking Ware!" I'm sure Jason Aaron is reading this and crying, because he has two books in the top ten, but not the #1 spot. I'm sure he even cares. (And, yes, I'm making fun of myself right now, no one else.) People take Scalped for granted. It just appears on top ten lists automatically almost, because it's the best monthly comic book coming out right now. It just is. Jason Aaron, RM Guéra, and their stable of guest artists kill it every single month. Every single month. It is a fearless comic. It is a passionate comic. It's a comic that surprises me every single month. Just when you think you've got it all figured out, something changes, and you're back playing catch-up. The characters are complicated and unpredictable except for their simple, predictable ways. You can count on them to act a certain way. In the midst of this we got Dash's father appearing, looking like he's the Native Boggart. We've got Dash and Carol both trying to get it together but not able to get together. Red Crow is Red Crow. Fuck, I love this comic. This comic gets read last every week it comes out, because nothing can follow it.

2. Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá. This book was number one until just after Christmas. For Christmas, I got the number one book and it bumped the Twins. I knew I'd like Daytripper since a comic drawn by the Twins would be worth it for the art alone. If the writing was decent, bonus. Well, the writing was phenomenal. It was passionate and affecting. It was allusive and elusive. It was a simple structure that left itself open to so many possibilities. My favourite issue didn't even have the main character in it -- yet he was on every page, in every panel. It takes so much talent to be able to pull that off. It was a comic about death that was really about life and love and family and writing and storytelling. The points were so specific, but felt universal. The Twins knew the score: universality in specifics. Share your specific memories of something and people will associate it with their own. The issue about going to grandma's just made me remember my childhood going to my grandma's. Brás spotting that perfect girl in the supermarket made me think of all those perfect girls I've seen over the years. This book was an emotional punch to the gut sometimes. And, in all of that, there was the art of Moon and Bá. Moon handled most of it and I think he's my favourite of the two. But that's maybe because he handled the art. It's one of those things where the one whose art you've seen last is your favourite. You can't choose. But, Moon put in so many soft touches, was able to capture facial expressions so well, backed up by Dave Stewart's expert, moving colours. *sigh* I get sad and excited even thinking about Daytripper. It was just a stunning work.

1. ACME Novelty Library #20 by Chris Ware. I look forward to a new edition of ACME Novelty Library more than anything in comics. I don't read it right away, though. I like to wait until the right time and the right place and, this year, I blew that. I read it at work. I wasn't planning on it, but I had it and... well, it was read. Sitting at a desk while waiting for more shipments to come in for me to clear. Maybe because I want it to be, it feels appropriate that I read it that way. Like The Outfit, this year's edition of ACME Novelty Library could only have been a comic. The way that Ware uses each page to give us a glimpse into that year of Jordan/Jason's life, the way he layers the pages, and uses the lettering and the colours... it all screams COMIC BOOK! In some ways, this is a cute story. It's a gimmick. One page, one year. It could be cold and superficial, but it somehow reaches into depths, partly because we just get these brief glimpses. We don't see the whole picture, we see as Jordan/Jason misremembers things, how he changes... only two pages ago he was a complete jerk! Now his family's been abandoned! Now he's got a new one! It all happens so fast that it's jarring. It's shocking. What seems to take forever in real life, happens by small increments and steps... it's just done here.

Ware's art is some of his best here. His usual style is represented, but he also delivers work in a few different styles. The looser, proto-style that he uses for birth and the early years, the incredibly nuance and deep art he uses for a photograph later in the book... the art for Jordan/Jason's son's book... he pushes himself and tries to evolve with the life he's showing us. Using one style and doing things in one way would be wrong almost. The art reflects the man.

I've been trying to think about the larger construction of the "Rusty Brown" story and I can't see it yet. How does this book fit into a single narrative with #19? With #17? How does it fit together besides associations? Or is that all? "All"... like that's not enough. Like associations aren't everything sometimes. I'm not sure I can tell you really why this is my favourite comic of 2010. Yes, it's the level of craft. Yes, it's the depths of emotions. Yes, it's the formal playfulness that appeals to me. But, there's more there. I say this every year, but when we get into the top five or so, we're really just splitting hairs. It's instinct and quick judgment calls that determine the order. This being the number one book feels right. And that's good enough for me.

Thanks for reading. Later.