Saturday, December 26, 2009

The JBS Personal Best of 2009.

Or, to be more accurate, the works of sequential fiction from which I derived the most pleasure in the past calendar year, gleaned from the various Spinner Rack Junkie columns I've inflicted upon you in the last 11 months.

As always, this is a highly subjective, entirely personal list; in no way is it intended to be comprehensive or any sort of guide for the unwary consumer looking for enlightenment. There are many, many excellent works that I have not read, for a number of reasons. You won't find too many critical darlings here- no Ganges, no Footnotes in Gaza, no manga (haven't read a single thing from ol' Nippon this year), no Pim and Francie, no The Hunter. I'm sure they're awesome, but I haven't read 'em. Maybe someday, but not in 2-double aught-9, so they're not on the list. No webcomics, either, though I do read 'em and love many. I don't own any of the physical printed collections, so I don't put 'em up here.

So anyway, here they are, 12 total, because most people do 10 and I like to be different, in alphabetical order so I can avoid the appearance of ranking one over the other.

ASTERIOS POLYP, the long awaited GN by David Mazzuchelli, is such an audacious burst of creativity that one hates to take shots at it- the protagonist isn't terribly likable (although he does improve), quite often the art reminded me of Chester Gould meets Hank Ketcham (a far cry from the MillerTothisms of his Batman: Year One days, for sure) or reading certain chapters of Understanding Comics, plus there's a strong Lifetime Movie of the Week vibe to its basic story - but no matter. The narrative as a whole becomes absolutely engrossing, with the creator taking opportunity to hold forth about a great many philosophical and esoteric notions, and I appreciated the uncynical tone of the ending, even though it's another of those ambiguous types that drive me up the wall. This one, though, kinda depends on your perspective, one of the themes of the story as a whole. Mazzuchelli's unorthodox art gymnastics take on a definite bravura, and it's exciting to see what kind of daredevil (no pun intended) leap he takes next. It may be a bit, just a bit, overrated- but it's still worth your time, I think.

BEASTS OF BURDEN: Evan Dorkin playing it (mostly) straight, and Jill Thompson turning in some absolutely stunning watercolor art in service of one of the odder story ideas in recent memory- talking animal (well, talking among themselves) occult detectives. No Scooby-Doo Mysteries here, though- this is on the level, and after a tentative first issue we got two back-to-back excellent, often moving supernatural adventures. I may be jumping the gun by including this since I have yet to read #4, but I've no doubt it will be right there with the others.

CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND MI-13: Paul Cornell's Anglo-centric superhero saga went out on a gonzo high note, as the team faced off with a very vicious and very overconfident Dracula, with assistance of a kind from Dr. Doom, and it was (as so often the case) well-written and illustrated enough to not sell enough copies to avoid cancellation. What a shame, and yet another example of how some radical rethinking needs to be done if the market won't support this sort of comics.

EMPOWERED: Adam Warren's gorgeously illustrated R-rated superhero exploitative cheesecake satire has been good since issue one, but was represented in 2009 with its best issue yet, as well as a nicely done one-shot at years' end.

HELLBOY: THE WILD HUNT: I know, what with all the various spinoffs and side projects under the BPRD/Hellboy banner, it's beginning to get a little confusing. That said, this particular branch, even though there was a long delay in the middle of the run, was never less than clever scriptwise (with Mike Mignola taking the opportunity to add to H.B.'s mythos a bit) and illustrated in excellent fashion by one of Mignola's best collaborators (besides Corben and Guy Davis), the underrated Duncan Fegredo. Best Hellboy adventure since last year's Crooked Man, the only one in recent memory that was better. Plus, a couple of issues featured Gary Gianni's Monster Men series, always great.

POTTER'S FIELD: STONE COLD: Under-the-radar one-shot from Boom! that I enjoyed very much when I read it earlier this year. Interesting premise (that TV, not surprisingly, co-opted via the Christian Slater vehicle The Forgotten) and excellent art by favorite Paul Azaceta. Hope there will be more.

SANDMAN: THE DREAM HUNTERS: Anytime we get this much new Craig Russell art, especially in the service of the sort of things that Neil Gaiman cooks up, it's a good thing. This was a masterful re-presentation.

SCALPED: If ever a series deserved the tag "grim and gritty", I guess it's this one...even though the term has taken on a pejorative tone in the last decade or so. This gripping account of crime, pride, greed and desperation in a Native American reservation has been consistently excellent all year long.

SCOTT PILGRIM V5: SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE UNIVERSE: I suppose it points to the fact that 2009 just didn't send me a lot of comics that blew me away that I include this very well done but somewhat forward-looking chapter in this list. All the stuff that makes O'Malley's protagonists so endearing and yet so frustrating are here again, and that makes it good enough for me...but "good enough" really shouldn't be on this list.

STARSTRUCK: I hoped for years that Elaine Lee and Mike Kaluta could somehow get around to giving us more of the inventive, clever, densely detailed world that I fell in love with back in the mid-80s, but eventually I had to face facts and give up. I am pleased to report that the unlikely did indeed come to pass, and it looks beautiful thanks to the colors by Lee Moyer. Sometimes, I suppose, you can come home again.

UNDERGROUND: Down to earth (no pun intended- well, maybe a little pun intended) saga of park rangers vs. greedy locals, written with satisfying verisimilitude by Jeff Parker and drawn for maximum tension by Steve Lieber, who's never done better work that I've seen, anyway.

WINTERMEN WINTER SPECIAL: Long-awaited finale to the outstanding, albeit indifferently presented, Soviet supersoldiers miniseries by Brett Lewis and John Paul Leon. Despite more editorial and company interference than any five series should have had imposed on it, what did come out in fits and starts was always engrossing and often flat out brilliant.

Honorable mentions: Showcase Presents: Bat Lash (I did not buy this, but I do still have the originals, which are not diminished by the lesser mid-70's reprints included in this long-overdue collection.); B.P.R.D: 1947, Greatest Hits, Incredible Hercules, Ghost Riders: Heaven's on Fire, Fables, Criminal: Sinners, Sir Edward Gray, Witchfinder: In the Service of Angels, Marvel Divas, The Mighty, Guardians of the Galaxy, Madame Xanadu, Phonogram: The Singles Club, Solomon Kane: Castle of the Devil, Invincible Iron Man, Incognito, Immortal Weapons, Umbrella Academy: Dallas, 100 Bullets, Jack Staff, The Boys, Terra, Sub-Mariner: The Depths, Power Girl, Detective Comics feat. Batwoman, Agents of Atlas, Doom Patrol (V5).