Monday, January 01, 2007

A Personal, Not-At-All Definitive Top Ten Comics of 2006 List

So, it's that time again where everybody and their mother does a "Ten Best" something list. And, as a comics blogger, I'm pretty sure I'm legally required to do a "Ten Best Comics of 2006" post. The thing is, I'm also pretty sure I haven't read the ten best comics of 2006. I mean, c'mon, this is me we're talking about here. My first comic book was ALF #2, fer chrissakes. I once bought an issue of Brigade of my own free will. The art in Wonder Man #1 didn't bug me.

Looking at others' lists, this hunch of mine is confirmed. I'm waiting for the trade on Mouse Guard. I haven't read American Born Chinese. I didn't even hear about Fun Home until, like, last week. And I just plain lack the Tales Designed to Thrizzle gene. I read a lot of comics in 2006, probably more than I have in a single year since 1996 (when I made the horrible mistake of buying every Onslaught tie-in), but what I read wasn't the best and brightest.

Of course, I could just make like Terry Morrow of the Rocky Mountain News and make my ten favorite comics the ten best. But that would make me a tool, wouldn't it?

On t'other hand, I did like what I read. A lot. Comics did well by me this year (although mostly avoiding Civil War and Crisis of Infinite 52 Years Later probably helped improve my opinion). So, y'know, fuck it. Here are my ten favorite comic series from 2006. I don't claim they're the best, and I'm not even gonna rank 'em numerically, but dammit, I want you to know that I think they kicked ass.

All-Star Superman (DC)
By Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

Morrison said in an interview that his only goal with this story was "to be worthy of Superman." It's amazing what such a seemingly simple mission statement can provide under the right hands: One of the best Superman stories in decades. After reminding us of who Superman is and why we love him in a way that Bryan Singer should have taken note of, they thrust him headfirst into the adventure that comes at the end of every hero's career: the battle with his own mortality. Along the way, they've reexamined (like reimagining, but harder) Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Lex Luthor, giving us insight, not just into the characters, but into what they mean to Superman. Which, of course, only makes us love the big lug even more. Yeah, it only came out four times this year, but it still managed to beat most series that did a full twelve.

Dr. Strange: The Oath (Marvel)
By Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin

Sometimes, "back to basics" is all a character needs to get a shot in the foot. After several abortive retries over the past few years, Vaughan has finally struck on a take on the Doc that works, by seamlessly melding the sorceror and surgeon aspects of his life into a story that reawakens the mythic qualities of the character. Deftly interspersed with new details on who Stephen Strange was before and immediately after the accident that ruined his hands, Vaughan's story brings Strange back to the roots of what made him a hero, and shows us what he fights for. Marcos Martin's art blends classic Ditkovian noir with a flair reminiscent of Darwyn Cooke, but possessed of enough originality so as not to be derivative. And hey, it brought back Night Nurse. How could I not like that?

Fallen Angel (IDW)
By Peter David and J.K. Woodward

I suspect Vertigo is now kicking itself in the pants for passing up on this title. Peter David, on the other hand, took advantage of the new volume and publisher to advance the story forward 20 years, bringing the story of the eerie city of Bete Noir and it's not-quite-protector to a major turning point. Along the way, he revealed the story of Lee's background, and, even more disconcerting, an answer to the "problem of evil" question that's frighteningly plausible. With a rich cast of characters and a murky morality where everyone has an agenda, David shows that doing the right thing is never more important than at the moments when we have no idea what the right thing to do is. And with Woodward's breathtaking painted art, noir never looked so good.

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man (Marvel)
By Peter David and various

Spidey's had quite a year, with his editorial direction being sandwiched between crossovers and determined by someone who's not even writing one of his books. Nonetheless, the creators on his regular books have found a way to make it work, and in my estimation, it's the team at Friendly Neighborhood that's pulled it off best. Folding the changes and revelations into its own stories, the series has produced some shockingly good yarns. It also broke the cardinal rule by bringing Uncle Ben (albeit an alternate-reality doppelganger) back into Peter's life, and, shockingly, making it a pretty good story about parents and children. Add in stalkers, wrestling, three Mysterios, a tell-all book, the funniest J. Jonah Jameson scene in quite a while and Todd Nauck, mix well, serves eight.

Runaways (Marvel)
By Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona

Anyone who says this book isn't as good as the first volume is wrong and stupid and wrong. Runaways was chock full of goodness this year. Molly's solo adventure. Old Lace's fascination with donuts. Transgendered alien lesbians. A giant monster destroying chain stores. Gert's death. Victor Mancha stealing pretty much every scene he was in. Nico and Gert trading insults. The New Pride. Teenage angst that doesn't overwhelm the teenage whimsy. The pigeon scene. We'll miss you, Brian and Adrian, but thanks for a great sendoff!

Rurouni Kenshin (Viz)
By Nobuhiro Watsuki

Okay, this is almost a cheat, since the series originally wrapped up in Japan in 1998, but it took Viz until this August to finish the English translation of this 28-volume epic, and that's how I'm counting it. The final arc, "Jinchu," reaffirms and recasts the series' themes of guilt and redemption, bringing each of the characters (including the villains) to their own final moments of epiphany. Unlike most "fight" manga, RuroKen made its flamboyant fight scenes and convoluted martial arts relevant to plot and characterization, elevating the narrative into a story that stands up as one of the best examples of the genre. It's very few artists who can maintain that kind of quality over 200+ episodes, and Watsuki-san deserves a toast to his efforts.

Seven Soldiers of Victory (DC)
By Grant Morrison and various artists

This one's even more blatantly a cheat, as most of the series came out in 2005, under several different titles, and the lion's share of what came out this year was massively delayed by Morrison's work on other DC events. Still, a reading of the trades made it clear that this is one big 30-issue series in disguise, and since the trades all came out in 2006 (except the final volume, due in two weeks), I'm saying it counts. In a year swamped with stories desperately wanting to be epic, and failing spectacularly (I'm looking at you, Civil War and Infinite Crisis), this one actually succeeded, telling a story of apocalyptic alien invasion that managed to also be about seven very different people finding themselves amidst the chaos. Take your heroes, give them an obstacle, have them overcome it. He just makes it look so darn easy, doesn't he?

The Thing (Marvel)
By Dan Slott, Andrea DiVito, and Kieron Dwyer

Fuck all of you who didn't buy this book. Fuck you and die. Packed with everything comics fans say they want (fun action-oriented stories, tight plotting that packs a lot into each issue, self-contained stories, reliance on the shared universe without slavish devotion to it, a giant teleporting dog), it was passed over in favor of cynical, overblown, sprawling, derivative, lackadaisically-plotted crossovers, and cancelled after eight issues. Wotta revoltin' development.

X-Factor (Marvel)
By Peter David and various

The little X-book that could, X-Factor has the dubious honor of being the only X-Book that's really doing anything with the Decimation, in terms of growing stories out of it. Other books have contented themselves with showing which mutants have suddenly become puny humans (some of whom have already been repowered, dashing pretty much any promises that this is a real, no-foolin' permanent change). This book, on the other hand, has the heroes taking an active role in uncovering the mystery, and showing what's happened to so many of the former mutants, and how the power vacuum has affected the world at large. Thrown into the mix is the standard David mix of clashing but well-realized characters, as former ciphers Layla Miller and M have been given unrevealed depths, and male lead Jamie Madrox has continued down the path of getting control of his powers back. A shameless sequel to the famous "X-Aminations" story didn't hurt, either, nor did finally settling down with regular penciller Pablo Raimondi, who has finally given the book the firm visual style it's been lacking. An X-Men book for people who don't generally read X-Men books, this series is one to watch out for.

X-Men (Marvel)
By Mike Carey, Chris Bachalo, and Humberto Ramos

And on the other side of the coin, we have what is perhaps the perfect X-book for people who used to read X-Books, but haven't in a while. The first title since Grant Morrison's run to dare to find its own voice, Carey's X-Men is off to an excellent start, bringing together a crew of eclectic mutants (and some who aren't) and redirecting the book away from soap opera and back to pulse-pounding action-adventure stories. (Not that there's not a little soap opera, because, c'mon, it's Marvel.) New enemies, new allies, and even a new headquarters for this particular team, all combine to make the X-Men something it stopped being on the way to becoming the franchise that wouldn't die: dynamic. The art of Bachalo and Ramos, while an acquired taste, fits the book's style well, and their willingness to experiement is always a plus. The year to come promises more surprises, more mutants, and more punching of things, so check it out. This ain't your father's X-Men, but it is pretty damn good.

Honorable mentions: Two books that I couldn't include for technical reasons, but are still spiffy, are Darwyn Cooke's The Spirit (only shipped one issue, but what an issue it was!) and Brian Vaughan and Niko Henrichon's Pride of Baghdad (the best OGN I read all year). They are good, too, so read them, ya bastards!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"I could just make like Terry Morrow of the Rocky Mountain News and make my ten favorite comics the ten best. But that would make me a tool, wouldn't it?"

Not sure what that is supposed to mean.