2011 is here, and various members of Hot Congress are volunteering up lists of their favorite music, art, movies, and other cultural ephemera from the year that was 2010. Today’s list of favorite comics and grapchi novels of the year comes courtesy of Justin Couch, one half of the timekeeping duo for Lil Slugger as well as co-curator of The Movie Advocate.
Hi, my name’s Justin. I play drums for Lil’ Slugger and write for The Movie Advocate. Lucas asked me to share some of my favorite comics from this year. Here they are with the caveat that there’s a lot of stuff I wasn’t able to read and that my taste in superhero comics skews heavily DC.
Favorite Serial Comics
Honorable Mention. Blammo! – Noah Van Sciver – Kilgore Books
I love, love, LOVE Blammo and want to give it a mention. Noah gets better with every issue. Punks vs. Dinosaurs killed me and I think I was at the comic convention he wrote about in this one. Think of this less as an honorable mention then as a special award because it only came out once this year.
10. Chew – John Layton and Rob Guillory – Image Comics
Chew tells the story of a cibopath – someone who gets psychic signals from eating food who works for the FDA in a world where possession of a chicken is illegal. The book is always entertaining and Guillory’s artwork is always superb.
9. Spider-Man: Fever – Brendan McCarthy - Marvel
This book stars Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, my two favorite Marvel characters as they go on a psychedelic journey to retrieve some spider aspect or something from Spidey’s sub-conscious. The book is beautiful and crazy. This was a mini-series that is now available in trade.
8. Flash – Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul – DC Comics
Last year, Geoff Johns reintroduced the 25 years deceased Barry Allen back as The Flash with Flash Rebirth. This year, we have some of the best Flash stories ever put to paper as Barry re-establishes himself and gets re-oriented in the DCU. Francis Manapul’s water color inspired art is beautiful and catches the speed of the character in a really special way.
7. Northlanders – Brian Wood and various artists – Vertigo
I’m reading this in trade, but every time I get a new volume I literally jump for joy. You can pick up any volume of this and be fine because each story arc is independent of the others. In short: Northlanders is about Vikings kicking the shit out of people. It rules.
6. Scalped – Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera - Vertigo
Another book I’m reading in trade. The short version of this one is that it’s like The Wire on an Indian reservation. The long version is that it navigates the endlessly fascinating and often treacherous world of politics and intrigue on Indian reservations. While being fiction, the book is loosely based on some real world occurrences and is equal parts sad and terrifying. The story is emotionally powerful and suspenseful. There are several trades out now. If the first one doesn’t grab you, the second one will in a big way.
5. Jonah Hex – Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and various artists – DC Comics
This is the most consistent monthly comic that comes out each month. I know the movie sucked, but the comic is fantastic. Palmiotti and Gray use a rotating stable of artists to tell great single issue stories about the ruthless bounty hunter, Jonah Hex. The best thing about this book is that you can literally buy any issue of this and know what’s happening. Each story is told in one issue. When I get my comic shipment each month, this is always the last book I read because no matter what, I know it’s going to be good.
4. Batman and Robin – Grant Morrison, Frazier Irving, Cameron Stewart, etc. – DC Comics
Grant Morrison is building the best extended Batman story ever told. Batman and Robin was until last month the flagship book for his story. Morrison’s (relatively) light hearted take on the material rescued Bats from the grim and gritty morass he had been mired in for far too long. These are great comics.
3. Action Comics – Paul Cornell and Pete Woods – DC Comics
While J.M.S. had Superman off being lame in his eponymous book, Dr. Who and Captain Britain writer Paul Cornell got to play with Lex Luthor in Action Comics. The result far exceeded everyone’s expectations. Luthor is the evil genius he was always meant to be as he takes on some of the other great DC super villains with the aid of his Lois Lane robot. Also, Death from Sandman made her long overdue return to the DCU in the pages of Action.
2. Legion of Super-Heroes – Paul Levitz and Yildiray Cinar – DC Comics
This is the comic I most look forward to and read first each month. When Paul Levitz resigned as publisher of DC Comics, he was able to get his old job back as writer of The Legion of Super-Heroes, and there’s no one better for this job. The book is classic comics and just plain old fun.
1. Phonogram – Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie – Image Comics
This may be a little bit of a cheat as the series was pushed into the beginning of 2010 and wrapped up. I love this comic and it means a lot to me as a comics lover, a musician, and a music lover. I wrote an extended piece for this for Tome to the Weather Machine. My biggest comics wish is that we get more Phonogram now that Gillen and McKelvie both work for Marvel.
Favorite Original Graphic Novels
10. The Playwright – Eddie Campbell and Daren White - Top Shelf
This book bills itself as a dark comedy about the sex life of a celibate middle-aged man. It’s a funny book and the art is beautiful. The story may have been a bit predictable but the execution more than made up for it.
9. Dong Xoai: Vietnam – Joe Kubert – DC Comics
An interesting war comic from the war comic master, Joe Kubert. What makes this comic so special is that it was done in the style of a combat sketch book. There are no inks in this comic, just Kuberts pencils. Fun fact: Kubert is __ years old and he can draw circles around just about everyone.
8. A Treasury of Twentieth Century Murder: The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans – Rick Geary – NBM
Rick Geary continued his true crime series this year with the story of The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans. I love Geary’s work and I will buy any treasury book that comes out because they are so entertaining and fascinating. Geary somehow managed to top his recent run of The Lindbergh Child and Famous Players with Axe-Man. This tells the story of a serial killer in New Orleans in the 1910’s. The Axe-Man killed immigrant grocery store owners and there was even an early jazz song written about him.
7. Dungeon Quest – Joe Daly – Fantagraphics
This funny little comic by British by way of South African writer/artist, Joe Daly mashes up real life with a pen and paper role playing game. This is a must if you’ve ever played D&D or Gurps. Kind of like XKCD but with a more adult and counter culture bent – also it’s funnier.
6. Jonah Hex: No Way Back – Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Tony DeZuniga – DC Comics
The best thing about the Jonah Hex movies is it got some DC executive to order this stand alone OGN that has nothing to do with the movie. This tells the story of Hex meeting his long lost brother who is a preacher. Things obviously go very poorly from there. Original Hex artist Tony DeZuniga handles art duties. It’s a joy to read.
5. Parker: The Outfit – Darwyn Cooke - IDW
The second of 4 books in Darwyn Cooke’s series of adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker novels. This one contains the second book (The Man with the Getaway Face) as well as The Outfit. The art is amazing as you would expect from Cooke and the story is also extremely entertaining. I’ve read the source material as well and can vouch for the authenticity here. I’d recommend checking this and the previous volume, The Hunter out if you’re a fan of Mad Men. This takes place at the same time and Cooke’s art work is modeled after early 60’s advertisement art work. Both books are also available as e-books for you high tech people.
4. Scott Pilgrim V. 6 – Bryan Lee O’Malley – Oni Press
The Scott Pilgrim saga ended as well as it began. I hope O’Malley takes a long vacation and then gets back to work so I can get my mitts on more! In preparation for this, I read volumes 1-5 in a row the night before. As a whole Scott Pilgrim was very cohesive. Watching O’Malley’s already strong story telling chops evolve as the story progressed was a treat. If I was ranking the Scott Pilgrim series as a whole, it would easily be number 1.
3. X’ed Out – Charles Burns – Pantheon
Charles Burns made his long overdue return to comics this year with the first of three parts of his new story mixing his usual dark fantasy style with elements from Herge’s Tin Tin. The story is evocative and moody while Burns’ art is as fantastic as we’ve come to expect. I imagine that when we can look at the whole story, this will be ranked higher.
2. Wilson – Daniel Clowes – Drawn and Quarterly
Wilson was a grower for me. I don’t think it reaches the highs of Ice Haven, but this story of one ridiculous bastard’s middle years is compelling and very funny. It’s fascinating to watch Clowes’ drawing style become simpler and more iconic as the years pass by while somehow retaining the energy of his early work.
1. Acme Novelty Library 20: Lint – Chris Ware – Drawn and Quarterly
I wasn’t expecting to put Chris Ware on my list, and I didn’t think that he would be so high up on it, but that’s how good this book is. Ware is seriously like a good wine. The man gets better every single year without fail. I thought for sure he would have hit the ceiling of goodness by now. Lint fits into the larger Rusty Brown narrative but also stands on its own. It tells the story of one man who is a pretty big bastard from life to death. Lint is as dazzling as it is moving.
Honorable Mention. Axe Cop – Malachi and Ethan Nicolle - Dark Horse Comics
This is the funniest comic I’ve ever read. This reprints the webcomic that the brothers Nicolle produced. The schtick is this, Ethan, a 29 year old draws the comics after the stories that his Malachi, a 5 year old comes up with. It’s like being 5-10 again and playing make believe. Has to be seen to believed. Honestly at the time of writing I haven’t finished reading the trade because I have to put it down from laughing too hard. Axe Cop is a cop with an axe, a dinosaur and some weird friends who goes around chopping and poisoning the bad guys.
10. Wonder Woman Chronicles V.1 – William Moulton Marston – DC Comics
Finally: an affordably priced collection of Wonder Woman’s earliest adventures in light bondage and other weirdness. Wonder Woman’s creator, William Marston was also the inventor of the lie detector (lasso of truth anyone). The pop psychologist argued that comics were bad because of the lack of women in them, National Comics then hired him to write one. The foundations he laid still inform WW comics today.
9. Showcase Presents: Doom Patrol V. 2 – Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani – DC Comics
I’m awarding this to include last year’s volume 1 as well. Doom Patrol is one of things that make me think that life isn’t so bad. These volumes around 500 pages each of black and white reprints chronicle the adventures of the wheelchair bound chief, Rita the Elasti-Girl, Larry AKA Negative Man – a sort of radioactive mummy thing, and Cliff – the robot man – who is a human brain inside a robot body that gets mangled beyond recognition every other issue or so. Their rogues gallery is just as ridiculous and the stories are a joy to read. Proof: http://www.mattfraction.com/archives/002773.php
8. Alec – Eddie Campbell – Top Shelf
I can’t honestly remember if most people are considering this an ’09 or ’10 release. What matters is that this massive brick of a book contains some of the best autobiographical comics ever written. Campbell is a craftsman like no one else. If you like his work with Alan Moore on From Hell, you owe it to yourself to check this out.
7. Wednesday Comics – Mark Chiarello ed. – DC Comics
This oversized collection re-prints last year’s weekly anthology, Wednesday Comics wherein some of the best comics creators working today created giant newspaper sized stories at a rate of one page per week. In this anthology, you get Mike Allred and Neil Gaiman’s Metamorpho, Kyle Baker’s Hawk Man, Joe Kubert doing Sgt. Rock again, and Paul Pope doing Strange Adventures. My personal favorite was the Prince Valiant style take on Jack Kirby’s Kamandi by Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook.
6. Thor Omnibus – J. Michael Straczynski and Oliver Copiel – Marvel
Babylon 5 and Superman: Earth One writer did an amazing take on one of the weirdest and hardest to pin down characters in the Marvel universe, Thor. This is THE Thor book to read to get excited about the upcoming movie. Thor relocates Asgard to floating 7 feet above Oklahoma. Hilarity ensues as Asgardians mix with rural Oklahomans. This book made me love Thor.
5. Body World – Dash Shaw – Pantheon
Dash Shaw’s monumental web comic was published this year. This story was amazing and weird. Everything I’ve come to expect and love from Shaw, one of the best comics makers working today. The colors Shaw uses are AMAZING. This tells the story of a hallucinogenic drugs blogger who encounters a new psychedelic that allows the imbiber to become psychic to those around him. My one complaint is that the book opens long ways and that made it a little frustrating to read sometimes.
4. Legion of Superheroes: The Great Darkness Saga – Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen – DC Comics
At long last the ultimate Legion of Superheroes story is collected. This tells the tale of the teenagers from the future up against Jack Kirby ultra baddie Darkseid. A story that’s so good and so well told that it transcends what serial superhero comics are capable of doing.
3. Pluto – Naoki Urasawa – Viz
Viz Media continued their series releasing Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto series in the USA this year. The manga is a retelling of one of Osamu Tezuka’s most beloved Astro Boy stories. Don’t let that discourage you though; this is more of a murder mystery than a robot manga. The most advanced robots in the world are being killed by something resembling the god of death. Along the way we have very touching ruminations on the nature of humanity, life, and death as well as the most coherent criticism of the war on terror I’ve seen in any popular media. I’ve read 5 of the 8 books as of writing.
2. Cages – Dave McKean – Dark Horse
Most people know Dave McKean only from his work designing covers for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. Cages is an enlightened and adult look at art and the cages that we build for ourselves. Long out of print, Dark Horse’s new edition is affordable and essential.
1. Stuck Rubber Baby – Howard Cruse – Vertigo
This is the moving story of a closeted gay man in the 1950’s in the south trying to come to terms with who he is and to find his place in the civil rights struggle. This book moved me more than any other this year. Though Stuck Rubber Baby originally came out in 1995 and tells a story that takes place in the 1950’s, the message of civil rights for homosexuals is just as important and present today. However, though this book has a lot of sorrow in it, I found it very uplifting. There’s a lot of joy here as well.