Monday, January 07, 2008

The 10 Best Comics of 2007

I've been writing for the past few weeks about how great 2007 was for comics, and now it's finally time to share my Top 10 Comics of the Year list. These are the comics (and by "comics," I mean graphic novels, comic books, collected editions, whatever I happen to think is worthy of the term) that I liked the most and I thought were substantial works of art and/or entertainment. I've written about plenty of other great comics from the past year, many in tremendous detail, but these ten are the best, and probably don't need as much explanation:

THE BEST COMICS OF 2007

10. Dr. 13: Architecture and Mortality
I was floored by this when it came out in the back of that abysmal Spectre miniseries. Dr. 13 certainly didn't read like anything I'd ever read by Brian Azzarello, and it didn't seem to rip off his obvious forebears, like Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, who have tread in similar territory more than once before. When I reread this as a trade paperback, I found it a bit hasty--the chapters move along briskly, but the read like short serials rather than a whole work, and I think that makes the collection a bit less satisfying than I expected.

It still makes the Top 10, though, simply because Cliff Chiang is a phenomenal artist and he got to draw some amazing things in this comic. From Infectious Lass to Anthro to a Vampire Nazi Gorilla, Chiang was able to apply his wonderfully think brush stroke with verve. It might be the best-looking comic of the year (I can't think of anything that looked better), and that alone is worth something. But couple that with Dr. 13's refusal to accept the evidence in front of his face and Azzarello's mockery of DC continuity, and you end up with something that is worth regard as one of the best comics of the year.

9. American Elf Vol. 2
I thought the first volume of American Elf was a poetic and funny exploration of life, but Volume 2 is even better (in every possible way). It just plain looks nicer, with Kochalka's striking use of color to complement his clear and simple lines. As much as I like Superf*ckers, and as much fun as I had reading Squirrely Gray to my kids, American Elf is Kochalka's masterwork, and it's a wonderful glimpse of the little moments that make up the world of a parent, a comic creator, a human being. If that sounds to sappy, screw you, you cynical bastard!

8. Scalped
When the first issue of Scalped came out, people complained about the muddy artwork, and I went so far as to go on the Barbelith board to say, "I don't know. I think R. M. Guera is quite good." I also commented that I liked the twist at the end of issue #1. Since then, this series has become something far greater than I ever expected, and I've tried to get people to read it because I want to see what Jason Aaron will do next. I don't want this series to end.

Aaron has developed, in Scalped the most effective character-driven series in recent years. It's the kind of thing Brian Michael Bendis tries to do, but he hasn't succeeded the way Aaron has here. I've said it before, but Scalped is like an Altman movie but with a tighter, more genre-laden plot. Yet it has that Altmanesque sense of narrative overlap, that sense that these are characters whose lives are unfolding before us, and its fascinating.

So appreciate it as a crime book. It's excellent in that regard. But also realize that Jason Aaron has created a setting and characters (and the setting IS a character, in a far more meaningful way than even Brian Wood attempts in DMZ) who have real substance. This is the type of comic book Vertigo was designed to foster, and they've finally done it, with Scalped.

7. Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together
I am so glad that Scott Pilgrim FINALLY got it together, because for the first 3/4ths of this book, I wanted to slap him. Bryan Lee O'Malley and I go way back (Comic-Con 2004, Bry--remember that?), and I've followed his career closely over the years. I thought Lost at Sea was a poetic evocation of adolescent longing and regret, and his Scott Pilgrim books have consistently been some of the favorite things I've read each year. Even when Scott Pilgrim didn't have it together, and he was an unmotivated whiner, I still liked reading about his exploits because O'Malley has mad cartooning skills and a great ear for dialogue.

But now that Scott HAS got it together, watch out world! I don't know if you can handle the awesome.

6. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier
This is the kind of thing I'm predisposed to like. First of all, it's Alan Moore, who is always fascinating, and it's Kevin O'Neill, who I like so much I own Nemesis the Warlock in multiple forms, plus the Metalzoic graphic novel (which, by the way, is pretty insane in its own right), in addition to everything else he's done. It's also a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book, which sounds just fine to me. And it's a pastiche of great literary styles of the past, including comic strips, erotic novels, and Shakespeare.

I only got about half the references without Jess Nevins's annotations, but I still thought it was a lot of fun even without knowing that one of the characters was supposed to be Emma Peel, or that some image was from a mid-20th century propaganda film. That's the key, by the way, for it being in my Top 10. I thought it was fun. The portrayal of James Bond, the Orlando sequence, and even the 3D section at the end--all were fun. I didn't love every page, of course, but the book had so much going on, that one or two missteps barely impacted any of my enjoyment.

5. Powr Masters
I have read this book three times since it arrived at my doorstep. After a single reading, I wrote a blog post, describing how it was "Just Outside the 20," meaning it wasn't quite good enough to rank as one of the Top 20 Comics of 2007. But, in writing about it, I had the nagging sense that I should reread it, and let its absurd illogic wash over me again. When I did, I realized that not only wasn't the comic illogical, but it deserved a spot near the top, and when I reread it a third time I was convinced. So here it is as the fifth Best Comic of 2007.

(By the way, I rarely reread comics or graphic novels. I have hundreds of unread comics, Archive editions, Masterworks, DVD compilations, and other miscellany sitting on my shelves, unread--so I don't feel compelled to spend my time rereading much of anything. It's a testament to Powr Masters that I went back to it more than once, in the span of a single week.)

Artist and writer C.F. has been praised in other places for the world-building he exhibits in Powr Masters, but my favorite part of the book is the dialogue. It's wonderfully innocent and strange, and it would be a disservice to quote any of it out of context, because it is so essential to the sequential art. If you haven't picked up this book yet, give it a chance. Read it a few times, and see if you don't agree that it's one of the best things to come out in 2007.

4. The Immortal Iron Fist
Although I was a devoted fan of anything Power Man and Iron Fist-related back in the 1980s, I never fully appreciated the character of Danny Rand until I began reading this series. This series made me want to go back and read the Essential reprints, and discover their gloriously mad exploitation stories. In turn, those stories helped inform my appreciation of what Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction are doing in this new series.

The Immortal Iron Fist is more fun than it has any right to be, David Aja's art is more beautiful than you'd ever expect, the stories resonate more than any other Marvel comic on the market, and the writing is swift, precise, and exquisite. It's a comic that doesn't connect directly to anything that's going on in the Marvel universe right now, but it's deeply imbued with a sense of Marvel mythology, from which it gains depth and substance. I love everything about this comic.

3. Casanova
Casanova is so good, it should probably be ranked #1. It's probably the fact that it's been so consistently amazing each time it hits the stands that I take it for granted already. But it's ever so very, very good.

"Luxuria," both in single issues, which gives you Matt Fraction's essential-to-read back matter, and the hardcover, which makes the stories look prettier than ever, is an amazing work for a young comic book writer to start with. I know Fraction's been around for a while, and he's produced some excellent stuff over recent years, but Casanova is his first major comic book work, really. And it's a masterpiece. You all know how good it is, and it has remained at that level since issue #1. I have no doubt that when Casanova ends its run, and people look back on it generations from now with their Comic Book Reader brain implants, the series will be regarded as one of the great comics of the early 21st century. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but it's definitely going to happen. Trust me.

2. All-Star Superman
Grant Morrison is obviously a master of the medium because there's a book out there that says so. On top of that, he produced a few more issues of All-Star Superman this year with the phenomenally talented Frank Quitely, and the gorgeous hardcover collection of issues #1-6 came out in 2007 as well. All-Star Superman might be my favorite Morrison work of the past decade. It combines his understanding of what made the Silver Age work with his own mythic take on the Superman family. It's not a deconstruction of Superman at all. Instead, it's a celebration. A highlight reel of adventures that never were, but should have been. A glorious look at everything superhero comic books should be capable of achieving but seldom reach. It's great, great comics, whether read as individual issues or collected into a hardcover edition.

By the way, All-Star Superman #6 is the best Superman story ever published.

1. Acme Novelty Library Vol. 18
I hadn't even realized this came out in mid-December until I saw it listed as an Amazon.com recommendation. Is the expectation of Chris Ware excellence so pervasive that a splendid work is ignored just because it's from someone so good all the time? Or are people eagerly anticipating the next Rusty Brown installment and don't care about the interlude presented here? Or is there a Ware backlash for some inexplicable reason?

All I know is, this issue, which collects some previously published material from a variety of obscure and semi-obscure sources is the most powerful and formally interesting work he's done since Jimmy Corrigan. In the linked stories presented here (and there are a few inconsistencies, demonstrating that these stories were done at different times for different purposes--one of the inconsistencies being the age of the girl when she fell in love, but maybe that shows the fallibility of the character's memory), a young woman anguishes over lost relationships, most specifically with her first love and a family she once worked for. The stories are exactly what'd you'd expect from the great Chris Ware, and that's a good thing, because he is the most innovative and humanistic comic book creator working today. He's one of only a handful of writers or artists who is a true master of the comic book medium, and Acme Novelty Library Vol. 18 shows that his range and power is undiminished.

To see how my Top 10 list compares to my bloggers-in-crime, check out Chad Nevett's, Marc Caputo's, and Geoff Klock's lists as well. Years from now, look back on these lists and see who actually got it right.

4 comments:

Chad Nevett said...

10. Almost top ten for me. I think our opinions are pretty in line here, it's just that the art carries more weight for you.

9. Have yet to get into Kochalka's work, mostly because I used to do a comic called "Superfucks" that totally came out before "Superf*ckers."

8. I've heard good things and will check out if I see the first trade somewhere.

7. I have the first two books and just haven't gotten three and four. Dunno why.

6. Basically #11 on my list.

5. I'm buying this as soon as possible.

4. Hells to the yes.

3. #1 on my list.

2. I just can't get into this book. Everyone else loves it and I'm sitting here wondering what I'm missing. I think the book is alright, but nothing that special. It reads like Morrison trying to do Morrison more than anything else and lacks any real depth. The only issue I really dug (the second Bizarro one) is the one that everyone else seemed to dislike most. Baffling.

Marc Caputo said...

10. Did not like it when it was serialized and I usually like Azzarello.

9. Too goofy for me.

8,7,5. Off of this, I'll seek them out with a little mad money.

This was all a lot of fun, Timothy and Chad. There was another guy, Matthew Elmslie - where does he blog at?

New Year's resolution - more comics, more writing!

Timothy Callahan said...

Matthew's at:

legionabstract.blogspot.com

Marc Caputo said...

What an idiot I am! I didn't equate Matthew E with Matthew Elmslie. Could there have been more clues?

And I've got the guy on my blogroll, too!