Thursday, December 29, 2005

AND NOW, THE JOHNNY BACARDI SHOW BEST OF 2005 IN COMICS!

As always, not what I'm saying were the absolute end-all and be-all best of the year, but merely the best that I READ in two double-aught five. Many worthy books did not cross my optical scanners in the 12 months previous, so I can't list 'em, sorry. But anyway, on Planet Dave, these were Nobel prize winners, there are a baker's dozen of 'em, and they're NOT in order of preference:

BAMBI AND HER PINK GUN #1 (Digital Manga)
Sexy, funny, violent as all get out and extremely well drawn by Kaneko Atsushi, this didn't exactly fly off shelves- which means that this just didn't appeal to the typical manga reader, and that's too bad for them.

DESOLATION JONES (DC/Wildstorm)
Warren Ellis gives us a downbeat, affecting character study in sci-fi espionage thriller clothes, and had the good fortune to attract one of the most innovative and brilliant artists working in the field today, J.H. Williams III. This isn't over yet, and Ellis may blow it before it's done, but this has been outstanding so far.

KANE: THE UNTOUCHABLE RICO COSTAS AND OTHER STORIES (Image)
Been waiting seemingly forever for this- the singles it collects are kinda hard to find- and although I have yet to hear a plausible explanation why this collection of late-90's stories took forever and a day to be released in 2005, it was definitely worth tolerating the delay. I discovered Paul Grist through JACK STAFF, and it's an excellent title in its own right, but the more I read of its predecessor, the more I think that this was/is his best work. Besides the usual Grist daredevil storytelling techniques, this features a nifty Sin City parody. I hope the next collection comes out before the decade's end...

PECULIA AND THE GROON GROVE VAMPIRES (Fantagraphics)
Richard Sala devotes an entire full-length graphic novel to his most charismatic and endearing character, not to mention sexiest, and it's a minor masterpiece of mood and fun.

SCOTT PILGRIM VOL. 2: SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (Oni)
Okay, maybe it didn't hit as many high notes as Vol. 1. I look at it this way- Magical Mystery Tour isn't quite as good a Beatle album as Sgt. Pepper's, either...but I love 'em both just the same.

SCURVY DOGS TPB (AiT/PlanetLar)
Couldn't have a "yar"-end review without listing this! Only a Philistine, or Rod Stewart perhaps, wouldn't think this was a hoot and a half.

SLEEPER SEASON TWO (DC/Wildstorm)
Proof positive that superhero comics don't have to be dumbed-down, melodramatic posturing and rehashed sci-fi/action movie clich├ęs. Many folks agreed with me, but sadly not nearly enough.

SMOKE (IDW)
This is the first thing I've read by Alex DeCampi, and it won't be the last. She took a number of well-worn themes and make them fresh, engrossing, and successful in its evocation of the spirit of classic British TV and films such as The Avengers, Danger Man, and The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, and it helped a lot that collaborator Igor Kordey gave us some of the best art of his career to date.

SOLO (DC)
This series was consistently excellent all year long, and the Paul Pope, Darwyn Cooke, Howard Chaykin, and Jordi Bernet spotlights in particular were magnificent. It's always great to see creators given the opportunity to wing it; sometimes a lot of wankery ensues, but often greatness is the result.

SUPERFUCKERS (Top Shelf)
Superfunny and supernaughty take on superheroes by James Kochalka. Lovers of Venture Brothers, South Park and Family Guy should be reading this, as should anyone with a sense of humor. Or, for that matter, a pulse.

TRUE STORY, SWEAR TO GOD : THIS ONE GOES TO ELEVEN (AiT/PlanetLar)
Once again, Tom Beland entertains and enchants with his openhearted storytelling and graceful cartooning. Even though he's a 49er fan, I'll always come back for more.

WE3 (DC)
Yeah, I know, I listed this one last year, but #3 of the singles and the trade came out in '05 so here it is. Grant Morrison wrung all the pathos and drama he could out of what was essentially a amalgam of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.H.M., The Incredible Journey, Milo and Otis, Soldier, and C.H.O.M.P.S. , and no doubt made a lot of comics readers' pets very happy when they were inordinately treated with lots of love and care after their owners read the agonizing, but thrilling, finale. Frank Quitely was also at his best, depicting the events with intelligence and wit. Pray that there won't be a sequel, or a movie version.


HONORABLE MENTION:

10 (Boom! Studios)
Surprisingly good exercise in the high concept; kept me guessing all the way through. This and HERO SQUARED were keepers from fledgling publisher Boom!.

ALL-STAR SUPERMAN (DC)
This was a bit too pat and pleased with itself for me to go nuts over, but I'll always line up for extra helpings of Morrison ideas with Quitely art sauce. After only one issue, I'm reserving judgement- but anybody that can get me all worked up enough to care about a Superman comic must be doing something right.

COURTNEY CRUMRIN TALES #1 (Oni): Between this and the also-outstanding POLLY AND THE PIRATES, Ted Naifeh was on quite a roll- he's got that vaguely Goth, brave little girl thing all sewn up to himself. CCT was a look at the early days of Courtney's Uncle Aloyisius, who is almost as interesting a character as his niece.

ELECTRIC GIRL VOLUME 3 (AiT/PlanetLar)
Likeable and clever, smart and fun enough for the youngsters and the young at heart, too. You'd think Disney or Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network would be all over this. Not that I'd care to see that happen, mind you.

ESSENTIAL KILLRAVEN TPB (Marvel)
A sentimental favorite- this is one of my absolute favorite comics series of all time, all in one sadly uncolored but otherwise complete location. Sure, it was kinda pretentious, long-winded, often ridiculous and suffered from wildly inconsistent artist fill-ins, but this series engaged my imagination, thrilled my teenage soul, and for a little while enabled me to dream of making comics of my own one day. It's not Don McGregor & Craig Russell's fault I never followed through on that.

FELL (Image)
Ellis' winning streak continues as he introduces us to the unassuming Richard Fell, more Clouseau slash Columbo than Desolation Jones' Elric slash Sam Spade, and all the more likeable because of it. The stories tend to follow a A-B-C pattern, but fortunately the events are mostly novel (unless you make a habit out of perusing the tabloids and weird websites that Ellis seems to draw most of his inspiration from these days), the city of Snowtown is almost a character in itself in its malignant, sprawling griminess, and you can't beat this as an exercise in storytelling, especially considering its price point. I'm enjoying the Sienkiewicz-meets-Kyle Baker art of Ben Templesmith, too.

FELT: TRUE TALES OF UNDERGROUND HIP-HOP (Image)
I'm about as white as a white boy can be, but I really liked this- Jim Mahfood's work has an angular, thick-lined style that is always visually pleasing and the storyline was energetic and often funny.

FLYTRAP (Sara Ryan/Steve Lieber mini-comic)
Outstanding self-pubbed mini-comic, involving a down-on-her-luck booking agent that gets involved with a traveling circus. Hope Ryan and Lieber can do more of these someday, and it absolutely deserves a bigger audience.

GOTHAM CENTRAL (DC)
While it had its share of ups and downs over the year, this was mostly good, with the "Death of Robin" storyline working very well until a rather arbitrary ending. The addition of Kano on art was a definite plus.

HELLBOY: THE ISLAND (Dark Horse)
Only Mike Mignola can make what was essentially a two-issue infodump so entertaining.

NAT TURNER (Kyle Baker Publishing)
Fascinating and powerful, like the best historical nonfiction can be. Only the fact that this is half complete as of this writing, along with some questionable graphic design choices and the worst paper stock since mid-70's Marvel keeps me from putting this in the top 12.

NEIL GAIMAN'S NEVERWHERE (DC/Vertigo)
First a TV series, then a novel, and now a comic book- and rarely does thrice-cooked fare go down this well. Thank adapter Mike Carey, who rewrites with a sure hand and writes florid Gaimanesque dialogue much better than the titular "consultant" ever did, and especially artist Glenn Fabry, who is turning in a painstaking, fabulous job of depicting the funky, freaky world that Gaiman dreamed up. This has gotten zero buzz, and it's a shame.

OWLY: FLYING LESSONS (Top Shelf)
Maybe I'm just an old softie, but Owly stories always warm the ol' cockles. And that's a hell of a thing in these uncertain, troubled times.

THE LOSERS (DC/Vertigo)
I wasn't especially impressed with the big master scheme of bad guy Max revealed this year; it just came across as too mid-80's James Bond for my taste. That said, it was the only sour note that Andy Diggle hit- well, on this title anyway. He and artist Jock together are a dynamite team and I hope they work together again someday. Colin Wilson did an above-average fill-in job on a few issues as well. Another victim of fanboy apathy, and I'll miss this one when it's gone.

SEVEN SOLDIERS (DC)
The introductory #0 issue was a great read, especially thanks to Williams on art. The subsequent miniseries have been hit-and-miss; I liked Zatanna the most, followed closely by Klarion, and really the only dud so far has been the Shining Knight, due to breakdowns in storytelling cohesion more than any shortcomings in the art department. The jury's still out on this as a whole, to say the least.

SMOKE AND GUNS (AiT/PlanetLar)
If I was as enthralled by the story, a blend of The Warriors, Streets of Fire, and 40's Noir tropes, as I was by Fabio Moon's excellent art then I'd be shouting its praises from the rooftops. Still, this was fun, wouldn't mind seeing a sequel someday, and you can chalk up another winner for AiT/P.

THE SURROGATES (Top Shelf)
Here's one which has flown under a lot of folks' radar, but it's a tight little exploration of duality and identity issues, not to mention human nature, all decked out in Philip Dick clothing. Unless they totally botch the ending, this one's well worth your time.

THE WINTERMEN (DC/Wildstorm)
I was absolutely blown away by the first issue, but the next two, while strong, were mild letdowns due to some garbled pacing. There are layers upon layers upon layers in the tale that Brett Lewis has concocted, and one is rewarded upon re-readings with strong characters and imaginative situations. Plus, Lewis has a good ear for fractured Russian-English speech patterns, even though I kept wondering why it was necessary for the Russkies to carry on conversations in this awkward manner- you'd think they'd converse in their native tongue. Anyway, it's also great to see John Paul Leon turning in the best art of his career to date- hope someone notices.

TRICKED (Top Shelf)
Movie version by Paul Thomas Anderson, anyone? Still don't buy the rock star character, but everything else was involving and I even liked and sympathized with Ray Zone, too, as long as I didn't try to find a real-life musician to compare him to.

ULTIMATES 2 (Marvel)
Another excellent year for the superhero book fanboys, especially aging fanboys, love to hate. Remains to be seen if Millar can pull off the resolution.

Well, that's it. Coming up, eventually: movies and music, maybe even TV year-end lists.

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