Sunday, December 14, 2008


Merely liking a comic isn't qualification enough. It's not a race, not simply a matter of outrunning the competition. It means the work was notably better, in ways that can be explained, that it stands out from the other work in its milieu, that the author(s) brought something new to the table.

I don't want to know what critics and listmakers like. I want to know how trustworthy their aesthetic judgment is.

-Steven Grant, from Permanent Damage 12/10/08

Yep, the end of the year is upon us once more, which means that it is incumbent upon me to cobble together some sort of list of what I thought were the best comics of the last 365 days. I can't recall a year in which there has been more back-and-forth niggling about what constitutes a "best-of" list, or even if people should do them in the first place.

I say why the hell not? It's only natural to categorize and group things; to look back and reflect on another calendar year's worth of any sort of things that are related to entertainment in an easily categorizable way such as comics, movies, TV shows, and so forth. Me personally, I do this for myself as much as I do you guys, simply because it's interesting to me to come back to a whole calendar year's worth of stuff and see how I rated it...and if anyone is moved to investigate further, all the better as far as I'm concerned.

As I've done for the last five, this will be a list of the ten best books that I have personally read; which will unfortunately eliminate a lot of very fine titles, ably and most likely quite justifiably championed by others, you know- the people that Deppey and Carlson link to instead of me- that I simply haven't had the chance to read due to lack of funds or interest or connections with the appropriate publishers or all of the above. No Kramer's Ergots or Momes or name-your-indie-fave here, I'm afraid. So I'm not saying that these are the absolute best comics and comics-related publications of the past 12 months; it's just the best of what I've personally read, in my opinion, in that period of time. I think this ten is above the average, in general, of what has been, sorry to say, a mostly undistinguished year of releases. Note that word mostly, because like I said I am sadly unexposed to what I'm sure are a lot of extraordinary publications that I've seen on other lists. This will fail Mr. Grant's criteria, no doubt, but hey- I don't play in his league anyway so what the hell. OK. Disclaimer complete, lets do this, shall we? These are in alphabetical order, just so's you don't think that I'm playing favorites or anything. Relatively speaking, of course.

AQUA LEUNG by Mark Andrew Smith and Paul Maybury

In my review of this back in April, I said: Big, sprawling, ambitious epic adventure, loose and cartoonish and full of energy, and is obviously the work of two creators who are totally committed to bringing it to life. Yeah. Well, unfortunately the two creators couldn't play well together and therefore this will be, for the time being, a one-shot...what a pity.

B.P.R.D.: 1946 by Mike Mignola, Josh Dysart, and Paul Azaceta.

I knew about Azaceta from a Boom! series that I liked, Talent. I wasn't too familiar with Dysart's previous work. Together, working from a Mignola plot, they melded perfectly to bring us this adventure of Hellboy's mentor Professor Bruttenholm in the early days of the Bureau, post WWII, as he and his Russian counterparts (led by a demon in the form of a young ringlet-haired girl- it works better than you'd think) investigate a Nazi project codenamed Vampir Stürm...the nature of which you can probably guess. Azaceta shines on art, equally outstanding when creating mood as well as depicting balls-out action, and Dysart's matter-of-fact dialogue is perfect. Surely one of the best Hellboy spinoffs ever.

CRIMINAL 2 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Don't know what else I can say about this that hasn't been said a thousand times by pretty much everyone, myself included; outstanding writing, excellent art. In particular, for me it's always a pleasure to look at Phillips' unflashy but always satisfying work. I'm not always the biggest noir fan, in both film and prose, but I enjoy this, so I suppose that's saying something.

FREDDIE AND ME by Mike Dawson

Winning reminisce by Dawson, who combines his life story with his love for music, especially the rock band Queen. Review here.

HELLBOY: THE CROOKED MAN by Mike Mignola and Richard Corben

Several fine writers have taken a crack at Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. with varying results; most of them have done a good job either on their own or working from Mignola script ideas. But no one writes the big red guy like his creator, and this ranks up there with any of the best Hellboy stories from years past. Set in the 1950's Appalachians in Virginia, and drawing from the same backwoods supernatural legends vein that Manly Wade Wellman tapped for his Silver John/John the Balladeer stories, and distinguished by the unusual and (as it turns out) wise decision to have the title character take a back seat to the colorful cast and be a passive observer rather than an active participant, although he does get to do the requisite monster-fighting and a great scene at the end. By and large, it was a good year for Hellboy and its spinoffs, although In the Chapel of Moloch was dissapointing.

by Joe Casey and Eric Canete

Essentially a revamp of the first couple of meetings between the Mandarin and Iron Man waaaay back in 1963-64, a good job by Joe Casey, but galvanized by the dynamic art of Eric Canete. This one kinda got lost in the shuffle in the host of miniseries and such by higher-profile creators when the Iron Man movie made its premiere, most of which I didn't read so I can't tell you if this was any better than them- but I guarantee you that this is a very well-done and for me, very entertaining series thanks to Canete, an artist to watch.

LOVE & ROCKETS: NEW STORIES by Los Bros. Hernandez

Let's face it; pretty much anything the talented Bros. release in any given year is going to merit consideration on any year-end best-of list, because they're just that good. This was the only issue that was released this past year in its new, bigger format, and it was worth the expense. Best of the book for me was Jaime's epic Penny Century superhero adventure; I also got a kick out of Gilbert's Mitchell and Petrillo adventure fantasy.


It's been way too long since Brereton revisited arguably his most famous creations, so this would have been welcome in any respect...but by jumping right in and resuming old plot threads with a harder edge, this turned out to be something special. And of course, Dan's painted art was excellent as always. Hopefully, the wait for the next chapter won't be as long as it was for this one.

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN by Jonathan Lethem and Faryl Dalrymple

Easily one of the most atypical comics, in both content and style, Marvel has ever published, each issue of this revamp of the short-lived Steve Gerber/Mary Skrenes/Jim Mooney 1970's series was a veritable smorgasbord of food for thought. Gerber himself wasn't too happy about it, but I have to believe if he'd lived to read it, he would have acknowledged its quality, even if he wouldn't have taken it in this direction.

SCALPED by Jason Aaron, R.M. Guera and Davide Furno

Grim, down-to-earth dramatics involving Native Americans on a South Dakotan reservation. Unremittingly bleak, but it never rings false, and is Deadwood-like in its scope and ambition. Has been criticized for not ever showing its subjects in a more positive light, and that is a valid criticism, but it's no less compelling for this.

Honorable mentions: SUPER SPY, ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL 15-22 (naked fun with Catwoman and Batgirl!), THE VINYL UNDERGROUND (better than everyone seemed to think, and deserved a longer run, if you ask me), MEAT CAKE #17, THE BOYS, THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST (mostly the Brubaker/Fraction issues, but the Swierczynski issues had their moments despite lackluster art), MADAME XANADU (overcame a slow start, and artist Amy Reeder Hadley is the freshest thing to hit Vertigo in ages), MAINTENANCE, JACK STAFF, UMBRELLA ACADEMY: APOCALYPSE SUITE, GREATEST HITS, JOHN CONSTANTINE: HELLBLAZER (Diggle brought the goods), FABLES, 100 BULLETS, TOP 10: SEASON TWO, TINY TITANS (cute), NORTHLANDERS, CATWOMAN, HAWAIIAN DICK: SCREAMING BLACK THUNDER, MANHUNTER, INCREDIBLE HERCULES, SANDMAN: DREAM HUNTERS, JOKER'S ASYLUM: PENGUIN, SALT WATER TAFFY: A CLIMB UP MT. BARNABUS, FREAKANGELS (I've been reading the weekly webposts, but a collected version of this is available now) and STRANGE AND STRANGER: THE WORLD OF STEVE DITKO.

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