Friday, January 02, 2009

TTMA's Top Nine Comics of 2008

I don't suppose I can get you to believe I was intentionally holding off because today was technically the last comic day of 2008, can I? Yeah, didn't think so.

Same as usual: This is a completely subjective list based entirely on my reading habits and preferences. If you want a “Best of” list, go find the blog of someone narcissistic enough to make one. (Shouldn't be too hard a search, should it?) Only nine this year because when I looked at the list, that was how many I genuinely enjoyed enough to call “favorites.” And also because The Man won't give me ten.

All-Star Superman: I could make this just issue 10 and be completely justified; it may just be the best single Superman issue ever. The whole 12-issue epic is certainly the best Superman story since “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow,” and Morrison and Quitely brought it to a fine conclusion this year. The list of moments is almost an entry in itself, but among them were Superman's tiny message of hope to the world in the form of a depressed teenage girl (“You're stronger than you think you are”), the sacrifice of the Sun-Eater, and Lex Luthor getting a brief glimpse of how Superman sees the world (which, you have to figure, would only drive him more insane). Truly a work that's more than the sum of its parts, and given the grandeur of its parts, that's saying something. Grant Morrison has given the twenty-first century its first great fable, and it's a doozy. To quote the man himself: “Superman loves you. Don't you feel great?”

Astonishing X-Men: After successfully turning a monthly series in to a bi-monthly series of mini-series, Joss Whedon and John Cassaday wrapped up the Breakworld storyline with a Giant-Sized issue that made me want to see them do, oh, every other Marvel character. (Especially Spider-Man.) Kitty will be back of course, and in the meantime we have Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi doing their riff. Three issues in, Ellis has already thrown wacky sci-fi ideas (mutants from multiple universe, a spaceship graveyard in Southeast Asia, an electronic dead zone in China, Beast and Agent Brand sinning against nature), shown he gets these characters better than anyone since Grant Morrison, and made Storm tolerable again. (I kid, mostly; Dwayne McDuffie made her tolerable in last year's FF.) Bianchi's art is way the fuck out there; he's got some work to do on his panel-to-panel, but I love that he's not afraid to experiment, and anytime Ellis throws him a splash, it's a beauty to behold.

Captain Britain & MI 13: Hey, look at that, a superhero comic where the heroes act heroically! And it's from Marvel, yet! Paul Cornell, one of the few working writers who “gets it,” has taken the ashes of the last several failed Excalibur reboots and mixed them up into a book that's finally about something. Specifically, it's about grand figures doing grand things, and doing them with style. (And also humility; after all, they don't like to make a fuss.) The somewhat ragtag cast works surprisingly well; Faiza Hussain only escapes being the sensational character find of 2008 by dint of not being a telepathic Russian dog. Blade finally doesn't suck again, Pete Wisdom finally doesn't suck period, and I can even forgive the untimely death of John the Skrull. Leave it to a Brit to show us Yanks how to do it right (albeit with the help of red-blooded non-metric Leonard Kirk).

Incredible Hercules:
Definitely this year's winner of the “Way Better Than The Concept Would Have You Believe” award. Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente have succeeded in blending classical Greek mythology with modern superheroics in this book, as Herc's ancient adventures supplement and reflect ; if my school copy of Bulfinch's Mythology had been like this, I might've actually read the damn thing. Amadeus Cho has gone from annoying wunderkind to minor supervillain (really, wouldn't he make a great nemesis for the Runaways?) to spunky sidekick, growing a personality along the way. And his coyote pup Kirby turned out to be a Skrull, which is just all kinds of awesome. The beauty of this book is that, by not taking itself too seriously, it manages to somehow be more weighty than most of the “serious” superhero books choking the racks today. (Although not too weighty; this is the ongoing story of history's greatest frat boy, after all.) Round-robin artistry has actually helped the book, as the artists apparently use their break time to take quantum leaps in skill. I barely even recognize Clay Henry's art on the most recent arc (believe me, that's a good thing).

Rasl: Jeff Smith's new project couldn't be more unlike Bone, and I for one couldn't be happier. Seeing Smith stretch his muscles with a more mature-oriented (real maturity, not the fake “tits and blood” kind, although there is a dead hooker in the second issue) story and science fiction themes only reinforces his position as one of the modern masters of the form. Although the release schedule is plodding (three issues since February '08, with the fourth due in March '09), the story itself grows with each installment, as we follow the eponymous reality-hopping art thief on his truly bizarre hero's journey. Already, motifs and symbols are beginning to emerge, and although it's too early to quite tell where it's going, it's certain to be a hell of a ride. If you like any of the above things, or if you just like damn good comics, you need to be reading this book.

Secret Invasion: X-Men:
Hey, somebody remembered that Nightcrawler's supposed to be a Catholic! That's always nice. Anyway, this argument for the replacement of the mini-series with the original graphic novel (is there any reason this needed to be broken up into four issues? No.) is a compelling cross-section of the X-Men's new status quo as paramilitary social activism group, as they form the core of San Francisco's resistance against the Skrull invasion. Mike Carey juggles the rather large cast well, and Cary Nord's painted art is gorgeous (props must also go out to colorist Dave McCaig for knowing what he's doing with the digital coloring, which is a nice change from every other book where the digital coloring does the work of the inker). Much more so than the terribly uneven Uncanny, this book is the go-to primer for everything you know about who the X-Men are, what they stand for, and how far they're willing to go to protect mutantkind in the post-Messiah Complex world. It's also a dman fine action story, which doesn't suck either.

Secret Six:
After all the bitching I do about dark superhero comics, you'd think I'd hate this, because it's maybe one of the most disturbing books DC puts out. But for some reason, I love it, I guess because Gail Simone manages to take some utterly broken people and humanize them. As superheroes demonstrate our potential heights, the Six demonstrate our potential depths, and it's fascinating to look at in a cracked mirror kind of way. The returning cast members are augmented by Bane, in what's finally a compelling characterization for one of the more one-note villains in recent memory, and Tarantula, who by all rights ought to be driving me screaming away from the book. (I don't count the new chick quite yet, because she hasn't done much, but I'm sure that'll change.) The first arc has featured a truly creepy new villain (I don't even care what his basckstory is at this point, he's awesome enough already), the most inventive McGuffin I've seen in quite a while, and the obligatory fight between Batman and Catman (not as homoerotic as you'd expect). Nicola Scott is a rising star to watch, and this is surprisingly one of the most fun reads from DC this year. It's good to be bad sometimes, I guess.

Wonder Woman:
It's official: Gail Simone is the best writer Wonder Woman has ever had. Somehow she manages to cobble together elements of the many disparate visions of Wonder Woman throughout the years, surgically remove the women's issues of the up-to-now male writers, and come up with a character who finally makes sense. Each storyline so far has built upon a portion of Diana's symbolic potential: Her identity as a daughter and sister, as an assertive peacemaker, as a warrior protectress, and as a role model to women. And now that that's done, Simone has launched Diana into a transformative and cataclysmic event that, for once, is about her instead of her status quo. She's also built up a winning supporting cast with Etta Candy, Nemesis, both Wonder Girls, and a group of albino gorilla bodyguards. Let me repeat that: Albino Gorilla Bodyguards. (She's also demonstrated that she understands the Teen Titans and Justice League better than apparently everyone else at DC, and that's just in the most recent issue.) I never thought I would understand, respect, or admire Wonder Woman this much, which only goes to show that Gail Simone can do damn near anything.

X-Men: Legacy: After Messiah Complex, the book formerly known as “Adjectiveless” has been rechristened “legacy” and become a Professor X solo book. Y'know what, sorry, Herc, but *this* is the winner of the 2008 “Way Better Than The Concept Would Have You Believe” Award. After getting rather unceremoniously shot in the head at the end of the crossover, the slightly amnesiac Professor has been going on a half-physical, half-mental odyssey, rebuilding his memories and identity by visiting people and places from his past. Mike Carey uses a rather deft device of inserting flashback scenes from a round robin stable of artists (Scot Eaton handles the present-day scenes, which are the lion's share of the material); rather than being haphazard continuity cavalcades, though, each scene is recontextualized within the greater frame of Xavier's journey, and the particular aspect of his personality that's being played up in each chapter. It's heavy stuff, definitely not your usual X-fare, but that just makes me like it even more; it's been a damn while since an X-Book has had a message other than “Boy, aren't the X-Men an exciting franchise that's a metaphor for social inequality and justice?”. There have been some stumbles (if anyone out there knows why the world needed Miss Sinister, please don't tell me), but overall it's a dang good read, particularly the done-in-one Juggernaut issue (I have a soft spot for contentious brother stories; can't imagine why). The journey wraps up in '09, after which the book will undergo another metamorphosis; little has been revealed as yet, but with Carey at the helm, I'm definitely in for the long haul.

And that's it: My 9 Favorite Comics of 2008.

Now, what's next?

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