Best Shots 2008: Best Of...
Best Shots 2008: Best Of...
The Reverend OJ Flow
BRONZE: All Star Superman
Why 3rd place, you ask? Because it was almost too easy to put it at the top as almost everyone in the industry is apt to do, plus I have to give the powers that be at DC at least one or two demerits since the series is now over as we know it, or on indefinite hiatus. This was unquestionably Grant Morrison bringing his A-game for all twelve issues, and Frank Quitely's art was sublime enough to pardon the fact that the series was released more as a quarterly over the last three years. Colorist Jamie Grant deserves a lot of the credit too for All Star Superman's creative success as he produced a dazzling color palette that complimented Quitely's pencils and inks that made one easily believe in the impossible and fantastic. I'm always a sucker for the little things in a good book, and one thing I thought was a nifty touch was the movie poster layout they always did for the creator credits, from my perspective underscoring the epic, cinematic elements to the stories. In my review of the final issue, I lamented over the idea that as timeless as Morrison & Co. made these Man of Steel tales, it didn't immediately lend itself to readers with a relatively low "comics I.Q." Fortunately I recently found that coveted person with a high I.Q. who I knew was unfamiliar with the book and was due a birthday present, and I'll leave you with her feedback: "...thank you... for All Star Superman. I love the portrayal of Lex Luthor. Such self-righteous narcissism!"
I actually want to pair this book up with the stellar DVD release that was definitely an eagerly anticipated event in the early part of 2008. Quick background on my experience with this series: I was somewhat delinquent in following the book in its initial run, not getting every issue. I knew I wanted to revisit this in a collected volume, and my wish was granted when a relative, totally taking a chance on what to get me, gave me Volume 2 of the TPB Christmas of '07. I got myself Volume 1 to round it out shortly after. I took them with me on a Presidents Day weekend vacation two months later, and the concluding volume got me through an hours-long layover at the San Francisco International Airport when I was riddled with flu the day my wife and I were returning to Chicago. Definitely one of those things where you remember your surroundings at the time of reading a special book. Anyway, to coincide with the DVD release (I'm like virtually everyone else who felt that it was an excellent production that deserved a longer running time to do the epic story more justice, no pun intended), DC produced a special edition of The New Frontier with all-new stories. The book could've easily been a cheap rehash of older material to cash in, but Darwyn Cooke & Co. delivered several terrific supplemental tales that only added to that Silver Age universe in all positive ways. The highlight here is easily Cooke's own detailed account of the original book's mostly off-the-page story of Superman vs. Batman. Not sure if Cooke had this all drawn out from the beginning when he first did the book, but it's a gem either way.Action Comics
Between "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes" and "Brainiac," Geoff Johns and Gary Frank made the Man of Steel cooler, and at times a little grittier, than he's ever been without once ever forsaking the nobility, charm and virtue that make him an inspiration for any superhero that's followed. Johns and Frank's time on this title (something, sadly, we can already refer to in past tense) will unquestionably be held in reverence for at least three reasons: 1) Johns, once again, played rainmaker in making an A-list supervillain relevant again, tis time bringing Brainiac to the forefront. Johns personally assured me a couple of years ago that making Superman's Coluan adversary kickass was on his to-do list, and he checked that off emphatically; 2) the Legion are back! All due respect to the monthly book just wrapping up, it never felt like mine, and Action Comics resurrected the Levitz/Giffen lineup of a couple decades ago in rousing fashion and set the table for easily the best spinoff series from Final Crisis, Legion of Three Worlds (another series deserving a medal); 3) a generation from now we may somehow see the character's return, but Jonathan Kent has shed this mortal coil in the Modern Age, and one of the book's least surprising plot twists was handle movingly. Seeing as Pa Kent's passing has been rendered in virtually every medium over the last 70 years, it seems to me that this handling was done by the right team for the right book. Best of luck to the writers and artists who have to follow what's been one of the best Superman runs ever.
For me, 2008 has been the year of the trade paperback and the library. With discretionary funds drying up and the local libraries embracing comic book literature and clotting their shelves near to hemorrhaging with current graphic novels and trade collections, my library card has never gotten so much of a workout. I thought the year was rather typical, with more misses than hits, and my pull list over at Heroes Cards and Comics in Norwalk, CT has actually shrunk year over year, and I’m growing to embrace the independent publisher more and more. I have high hopes for 2009, and twelve short months from now we’ll see if they’ve been well-placed. If I had to award medals for the past year, however, here’s who would stand on the podium:
Matt Fraction, Salvador Larroca, Iron Man. I really need to say no more. Of all the series that have started in 2008, this is the one that came out of the gate with a bang and never let slacked off. Matt Fraction is arguably in the top five of current writers in the Marvel stable, and I would say that Iron Man hasn’t looked so good since Adi Granov penciled “Extremis”. Again, consistency is key to my grading, and this book has it in spades. 2009 will be interesting, given the developments of Secret Invasion and now Dark Reign, but with this team in control, it is pretty much guaranteed to be nothing less than spectacular.
SILVER: Radical Comics
I used to think that Grace Kelly was the benchmark by which the concept of ‘gorgeous’ was measured (for instance, Heidi Klumm is an ‘8’ on the Grace Kelly scale; Alex Ross’s artwork is a ‘9’). Then came Radical Comics. Hercules: The Thracian Wars was simply stunning, both in script and visuals. Little did I realize that they are a company of over-achievers, what with the alternate vision of the King Arthur myth in Caliber and the kinetic frenzy of action that is Freedom Formula. Even the books that don’t resonate with me, like City of Dust, are still a fantabulous orgy of visual immensity. The company recently released hardcover collections of Hercules and Caliber and I would question anyone’s self-sticking label of “comic book fan” if both of these books were not on your shelves. But, like Al Jolson said, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Look for Shrapnel, due out next week, to be probably their best book yet.
Here we go again. Jeff’s banging the Brubaker drum for a third year in a row. I have to. It’s still the best book on the market, consistently worth every cent thrown across the counter. Kvetch all you want about Bru’s work on the super-spandex scene, there is no one even close to touching his brilliance in scripting sagas of sin and redemption. He’s the Raymond Chandler of comic noir, and his characters are broken, flawed, ugly, and afloat in netting of tightly woven plots that even novelists could take notes from. Of course, Bru is only part of the overall equation. The equally incomparable Sean Phillips on pencils makes each issue sing in dulcet tones of melancholy and violence, Goldilocks in its presentation. This series continues to be the best reading on the market and I’m sure that next year the team’s Incognito is going to challenge for the top spot.
It's been a big, if not mixed, year for comics. As a fan and reviewer, it hasn't been easy to pick my favorite three anythings, much less quantify them. Nevertheless, here we are.
Robert Kirkman has been writing the hell out of this book. As we've seen, nobody in this book is safe. Even main characters have met inglorious ends. This past year has been the best yet. I fell in love with this book at issue 1, and it's only getting better.
SILVER: Geoff Johns
I openly and freely admit that I'm an old-school DC fan. As such, I'm so happy that Johns has managed to bring the original Legion back, and do it convincingly. Green Lantern, from the Sinestro Corps Wars to the upcoming Blackest Night, has been a must-have title since Johns took over. And despite a couple unexpected mis-steps, Justice Society of America has been my favorite team book on the shelves today.
GOLD: Marvel 1985
As I said in my review, this hit every chord perfectly with me. It was an amazing combination of nostalgia and fantasy, bringing me right back to my childhood. Mark Millar and Tommy Lee Edwards wrote a small masterpiece with this book. It's a damn shame that with Secret Invasion being the focal point of the year that Marvel didn't give it the attention it deserved. One of the best Marvel books this decade, and my favorite series of 2008.
BRONZE: Phonogram: The Singles Club #1 (Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Image)
Among many, many other wonderful things (gorgeous Jamie McKelvie color art! feminist explication of Nick Cave lyrics!) this comic reminded me how much I love to go out dancing. For that alone it's worthy of mention here.
SILVER: Local (Brian Wood, Ryan Kelly, Oni Press)
To be fair, Local is only in second place here because most of it came out in years past. I don't think I'll ever get tired of writing about this book, or rereading it. Each time I do, I catch something new--some impossible detail in Ryan Kelly's art, some nuance of the story--that I missed before, that makes this book such a treasure.
Scalped is the book that I wait for impatiently each month, the one that my friend who works at the comic shop texts me about when he gets to read it before me. It's both a perfect crime noir book and a supernatural mystery, a story packed with nastiness that somehow never takes the easy way out. Each time I think I know where the story is going, it twists back on itself and shows me something that I never saw coming, but that suddenly is the only way things could've happened. Jason Aaron's writing is so good that I'm tempted to pick up the superhero books he works on, even though I'll have no idea what's going on, and R.M. Guera's brooding, nightmarish art sets the tone without losing its characters' humanity. This is the best book on the stands, for sure.
Michael C Lorah
Gold: Alan’s War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope, by Emmanuel Guibert. First Second
Guibert’s biography of expatriate American G.I. Alan Cope is simply stunning. Illustrated in soft, gray water tones, perfectly suited to capturing the haze of memory, the book depicts the spiritual and emotional maturation of a remarkable man. From a brief stint on the battlefields of World War II to life as a civilian employee of the U.S. Army in Europe, Cope’s life is eye-opening and challenging. Guibert’s elegant artwork suits the tenor and majesty of the story to a tee.
Silver: Little Nothings: The Curse of the Umbrella, by Lewis Trondheim. NBM
Hilarious one-page observations on life by the master cartoonist, Little Nothings is one of the sharpest and funniest books of any year. Taken from Trondheim’s online webjournal, each strip finds Trondheim displaying his hypochondria, celebrating the pleasures of lightsabers, or pranking journalists at Angouleme. Reading this will be one of the most pleasurable and positive afternoons of any reader’s life.
Bronze: Berlin vol. 2: City of Smoke, by Jason Lutes. Drawn & Quarterly
The second installment of Lutes’s trilogy detailing the fall of the Weimar Republic, City of Smoke finds Marthe wrapped up in Berlin’s hedonist nightlife, a group of African-American jazz musicians dealing with duplicitous business partners, and struggling Jewish and Communist workers (and sympathizers) eking out subsistence livings. It’s a remarkably virtuoso performance, funny and tragic, political and artistic, exciting and mundane. Berlin remains one of the great portraits of human social existence, captured in all its nuanced beauty by the elegant lines of a master cartoonist.
In third place, I suggest 1985. Written by Mark Millar and art by Tommy Lee Edwards, 1985 tells the tale of a young boy named Toby, who one day starts seeing Marvel Comic characters, from the "Secret Wars" era. He uncovers a plot devised by Dr. Doom and Red Skull to take over his world, the real world, our universe. It's a thrilling story with a fairy tale-like ending. I thought the story was pretty cool and kid-friendly, the art though may not be for everybody.
SILVER: “Heart of Hush” arc of Detective Comics
In second place, the "Heart of Hush" arc in Detective Comics. Wow. Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen make a dynamite team on one of DC's flagship titles. Batman has never been more dynamic and a woman's revenge has never tasted sweeter. The sad thing is that this title was overshadowed by Batman's main "RIP" arc. Hush has always been a sort of bland villain, but Dini showed us what he is truly capable of and an origin story that seems it would have come out of Hitchcock.
Gold: Green Lantern
The best book of 2008, hands down, is Green Lantern. True, the title mainly consisted of telling Hal's New Earth origin in the "Secret Origin" arc, but it was needed to support the Blackest Night story coming out next year. As well, it was needed since Hal has not received one since Infinite Crisis. Geoff Johns talent is beyond superb. Not only did he show us how heroic Hal is, but how imperfect he is as well. He showed how Sinestro, one of comics' classic villains, was once the greatest of the Green Lanterns. Johns' words were aided amazingly by Ivan Reis, Oclar Albert and some of the best coloring in the business by the Major Brothers. Green Lanternis THE best super-hero book DC puts out right now and, in my opinion, the best ongoing series on the market. It's never late and always there for you to pick up and enjoy.
BRONZE: Fables #73 – #75
For six years, Bill Willingham has built up the power of the Adversary and the animosity between Fabletown and the Empire. In these three issues, Fabletown launched a preemptive strike against the Empire and managed the victory with the aid of allies established throughout the series. For a series that has run this long, this arc was an incredible payoff ot the loyal reader.
SILVER: Booster Gold #1,000,000
Within these 22 pages the reader gets a tie-in to a past crossover, Booster receiving Batman's approval, the return of Goldstar (Booster's sister), an endearing revelation of Rip Hunter's true identity, and an enticing four panel teaser page for the year to come. This was the best single issue of a comic book on the stands in 2008.
In his own title and through the Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul and Batman R.I.P. events, Tim Drake has hit the accelerator in his journey as a crimefighter and vigilante in 2008. He has been tested over and over again in the past year from dealing with legitimate temptations offered by Ra’s al Ghul to celebrating and coping with the return of Stephanie Brown, the Spoiler. While I think the Red Robin costume suits him better than the Batman costume, his role in Battle for the Cowl is no longer laughable.
GOLD: All-Star Superman (DC Comics)
Between the imaginative words of Grant Morrison and the exquisite art of Frank Quitely, All-Star Superman actually made me believe a man can fly. I have never been a Superman fan but thanks to the wondrously scenic environments, quasi-pseudo-scientific fantasy elements and emotional weight brought to the character within these pages I finally understood what makes Superman such a great character and the potential story possibilities that revolve around a person of his power and stature. There are so many great scenes strewn through-out the series but the one that had the most impact for this reader is one that had the least amount of Morrison zaniness; Superman saving a suicidal girl. Even while juggling multiple crisis’s, the least of which being his imminent demise, Morrison and Quitely are able to capture Kal-El’s humanity in succinct fashion.
SILVER: Joker OGN (DC Comics)
Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s look at the Joker’s motives, hint – there are none, was a fascinating read that perfectly captures an element of the Joker that is so often missing from most depictions of the character, the utter randomness of his madness.
After years of obscurity, Marvel's mightiest is finally acting like it, and that is something that demands notice.
SILVER: Justice Society of America: Kingdom Come/ Gog Saga
Silver Star goes to the book that harkens back to the Silver Age, even if only to illustrate just how far we've come from it.
Justice Society of America is the book that explores our definition of heroism. It taps the stories of the past to try and teach us something about the stories of the future.
Over the last year, the Justice Society of America has been as compelling a straightforward superhero story I've ever read. This title proves that grand scale is not something dictated by the mega- marketing of events, but rather that it grows from the story itself. The Justice Society of America Gog/ Thy Kingdom Come saga is one such of those instances, and is a certifiable cosmic comics' classic, where the threat of global danger takes a back seat to the weighty substance of story.
There could be no bigger story than a sequel to my single favorite DC comic, Kingdom Come. Kingdom Come was DC's most important comic of the 1990's because it was the most resonant. In an era where style was fast superseding substance, Mark Waid and Alex Ross told a story about what heroes should be, and what they used to be. It broke down the world's greatest heroes, and illustrated just what heroism aught to mean, contrasting it to its contemporaries.
Geoff Johns once again proves his standing as comics' elite with this grand tale. Tying substance intrinsically to style is a sure-fire formula to making comics that work. In this story, there are no fill-in artists, only differently-abled artists, each asked to accomplish something different. The Thy Kingdom Come storyline has been a celebration of comics' history and style.
In this huge-scale epic, each artistic style is employed to tie to an era. Jerry Ordway's classic sensibilities come to serve as an anchor for the whimsical Earth-2, a world that hearkens to our glossed over sense of yesteryear. Alex Ross' painted realism ties scenes visually to KC, showing an Elseworld of potential gone awry. Dale Eaglesham's shining modernity solidifies the standing of today, coherent differentiating between the eras.
The dominoes start to fall with the introduction of the inconceivable Gog. A predecessor to the New Gods, Gog is a being of massive power from the old universe. His power and history is self-evident, given the Kirby-pastiche of his design. Kirby's style is the starting block for powerful comics' storytelling, and Gog pays proper tribute to that with his pristine, celestial grandeur.
Of course, whether comics' fans want to acknowledge it or not, it was Kirby's style that begat that of Rob Liefeld, with far greater importance on dynamic, bombastic style far, instead anatomy or logic. Given that, it is fitting that Magog, a tip of the hat to the 1990's overwrought sense of style, is the herald of Gog. Magog first arose in an era of extraneous, meaninglessness, artless style ran rampant, and his design reflects that. His pathos as a blind servant to power might also reveal just what the creator's feelings on the era.
Gog plays god, but when Power Girl is pulled into the retro-feel Earth-2's rabbit hole, we begin to learn that perhaps these clashing styles actually cannot peacefully coexist. Earth-2's wholesome shine seems to come at the cost of any shades of gray. KC's world, as Superman remembered it, was defined by its unrelenting violence, a biting commentary on the heroes of its day. The modern DCU seems to be defined by its proclivity to introspection. Current comics reflect at length on the history of comics, its morality, and what it all means to readers. Maybe we're in the Self-Actualized Age of comics.
In the end, the KC Superman offered the gift of eternal hope. This was a story of Kal-El at his lowest. His world destroyed, his people gone, (as far as he knew...), he continued to be committed to making the world a better, safer place, even if it wasn't his world. Even at his worst, Superman resiliently perseveres. In the end, when KC Supes finally defeats Gog, eliminating the possibility of this DCU following the path Earth-22, he is justly rewarded. When finally he returns to the cataclysmic climactic scene of Kingdom Come, he has learned, from his time with the JSA, just how much he needs his friends. Those final farewell panels to the KC Superman are as memorable a sequence in Superman's history, and are a well-deserved respite for the multiverse's most suffered Superman.
Impressive is that throughout this entire story, that pushes on a non-stop action rampage, the development of the young, undefined characters of the series is fully organic. Magog was a startling evolution, and Damage and Citizen Steel unveiled their true selves in this sprawling epic. Changes that come due to the actual plot-moments of a story are organic growths, and these heroes have fully proved their mettle
Exploring heroism means exploring how it is one can help people. This long-form JSA story offers that the solution is for individuals to be the example or heroism, and that one person's righteous beacon can shine throughout, not only this world, but the whole damn multiverse.
GOLD: All Star Superman
The gold award goes to the comic that proved to be the gold standard in comics this year, DC's All Star Superman, by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant. Finally, the greatest hero has met his greatest story.
The book reads like the blueprint of what makes Superman the granddaddy of them all. From the Lois/ Clark./ Superman triangle, to the adversarial dynamic of the world's greatest man versus the the world's greatest alien, or Superman's relationship with his own legacy, All Star engages our imagination, reminding us of that it is this limitless well that comics tap better than any other medium.
With each chapter exploring the components that make up the premiere super guy in tights, this story gives readers the definitive take, not only on the Man of Steel, but also of his entire supporting cast, world, and potential. It draws on the long history of the character while actively growing its future. If every comicbook was executed with this much consideration and care, well, it'd be Super.
Wholesome, challenging, powerful, and uplifting- this book gives us the best Superman has to offer, showing us the best superhero comics can be in the process. I credit it as this year's best, but it is probably the best of many, many years.
Brendan McGuirk's favorite comics could totally beat up your favorite comics.
This comic came out of a crossover, has been involved in three more crossovers, has had the main character infected, depowered, repowered, elevated to godlike status and brought back down to his most basic humanity. All this, and the book is only 20 issues in. Every single issue has been a great read, too, as DnA (Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning) somehow managed to not fall victim to crossover-itis, a disease that frequently kills comics when they have to be crossed over into other stories too often.
SILVER: Y: The Last Man #60 (Vertigo)
It barely squeaked by, coming out in January of 2008, but it lasted 12 months as my favorite single issue of the year. For me, it was the perfect culmination of a five year journey. I was stunned by the poetry of the ending (especially that final page, which was reportedly written just a few months into the series’ creation). I know some people had issues with the lead-up to that last tale in the world of Y. It was everything I wanted, and a perfect masterpiece by Brian K Vaughan and Pia Guerra.
GOLD: Joker OGN (DC Comics)
I’ve written at length about this book a couple times, and Brendan wrote a novel for his entry, so for simplicity’s sake I’ll leave it at this: this book is fantastic, and fans of comic books as a medium should all read it. Not just superhero comic fans, not just Batman fans, but anyone and everyone who likes to read comics. It’s that good, and it’s that simple to boil down.
The standard leader of the Best Shots team thinks he’s special. He thinks he’s better than us. So, he has multiple winners in each Medal group. I asked him why, and he told me that when we made it “Medal Winners,” then in his head, there were multiple events. Against my better judgment, I asked what event Walking Dead, for example, was in. He said, “Skeet Shooting,” laughed maniacally, and hung up. Anyway, here are his picks:
Guardians of the Galaxy: Much like Hercules, a book that emerged from a big event to be consistently entertaining. And you have to love Rocket Raccoon.
That Salty Air: Another winner from Top Shelf; they have never let me down. A man battles the churning waters of his own soul as the sea itself provides an even larger antagonist. A tremendous read.
Gravel: Atmospheric, action-packed, and attitude-filled, this is what it looks like when Warren Ellis has a good time.
The Incredible Hercules: The most pleasant surprise to come out of World War Hulk is also one of Marvel's most entertaining books in years. Amadeus Cho and Hercules make a hilarious team, and the sound effects are brilliant.
Skyscrapers of the Midwest: What is it about the anthropomorphic animal comic that strikes a chord? I'd say that it allows the creator to hit true emotions while providing some distance. Nevertheless, the core of sadness and wonder that pervades this book is about as emotional pure experience as you're going to find this year. Fitfully depressing, but consistently wonderful.
All-Star Superman: Is there anything left to say but "one for the ages"? A high-point for Morrison, and the crowning achievement of Quitely (so far).
The Walking Dead: If, for nothing else, the most shocking page in mainstream comics this year. I'd figured for years that one of them would get it, but the other? And in that way? Heartbreaking. And creatively invigorating.
That’s what we’ve got. What do you agree with? What did we leave off that you think should’ve been on the lists? Sound off here, and let us know, so we know what to read again or if we’re lucky for the first time. Now let’s get 2009 started!