Archive for the 'best of 2010' Category


Best of 2010: Two That’ll Make You Feel It

January 11th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Acme Novelty Library 20, Afrodisiac, American Vampire,It Was the War of the Trenches, King City, Parker: The Outfit, Pluto, Thunderbolts, Twin Spica, Vagabond 9

naoki urasawa – pluto: urasawa x tezuka 8

I don’t think I can top this, not really. But Urasawa’s masterpiece is about hate and love and what makes us human. It skips all the trite garbage every other robot story indulges in with regards to what makes a human being and just puts it right in front of your face. It trusts that you’re smart enough to get one of the simplest points in fiction.

Atom is a real boy. Gesicht is a man among men. They have real emotions, and they are just as real as you or I. These are facts. You can’t argue with them, because it’s plain as day right there on the page.

So, Pluto is about emotions. Those that are in us, the reader. Those that are within Atom and Gesicht. Those that lurk just beneath the surface of humanity, waiting to break free and burn everything down. It’s about control and hate and love, and it manages to do it without resorting to cheap tricks. It’s an autopsy on our emotions.

“Nothing comes of hatred.” You knew it was true going into the book, but that doesn’t make the message any less incredible.

takehiko inoue – vagabond vizbig 9

Inoue’s Vagabond is about growth. We see Inoue grow as he creates it, reaching heights a lot of people never well, and we watch Musashi grow as he gets into bigger and bigger battles. After the emotionally intense battle with Denshichiro of the Yoshioka school, you’d think that Inoue would give Musashi a breather after this fight and give the readers some cooldown time. Well, he does, but it only lasts a few chapters before Musashi is thrown right back into the mix.

Fearing the damage Musashi would do to their reputation if he gets away after killing the top two swordsmen in their school, the remaining members of the Yoshioka gang together to ambush him and take his life, no matter what. That’s seventy men against one. Impossible odds for an ambush. Thanks to pure luck, Musashi overhears their plan and decides to make his way out of town rather than face certain death. That was the mature decision. Anything else would be foolhardy.

The thing is, though, Musashi started out wild and undisciplined. He threw himself against better opponents like waves throw themselves against rocks, with no thought to whether he was worthy of the battle. He just wanted to prove himself in battle. He wanted to be the greatest. No matter what. He’s past that now, of course, and he’s begun to learn about kindness. He knows what he needs to do to become a good swordsman. He’s not driven by ego quite so much any more.

So when he turns around and begins running back down the mountain to meet seventy armed men in mortal combat, he knows he’s being stupid. But he’s also thinking about how he can take on seventy men and live and how tough the battle is going to be. He’s thinking about how the challenge is irresistible, and how, since they spared his life one year ago, he owes the past year to the Yoshioka. He owes it to them to meet their challenge, no matter how difficult it may be.

And then he steps out of the woods and into the middle of the ambush, catching his enemies by surprise. He disables one man, takes his sword, and then goes to work.

And in the end, after four hundred pages and one of my most favorite fight scenes ever, seventy men lie dead.

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Best of 2010: Two Love Stories

January 10th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Acme Novelty Library 20, Afrodisiac, American Vampire, It Was the War of the Trenches, King City, Parker: The Outfit, Pluto, Thunderbolts, Twin Spica, Vagabond 9

jim rugg & brian maruca – afrodisiac

Blaxploitation homages can go either way. You can nail it or you can fall flat on your face. Rugg and Maruca nailed it, and the addition of a ’70s Marvel comics stylo propelled it all the way out of the park.

Further thoughts here and here.

brandon graham – king city

When she asks “Why didn’t you try harder?” you’ll realize what the series is really about.

Further thoughts here and here.

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Best of 2010: Two Straight-up Good Comics

January 6th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Acme Novelty Library 20, Afrodisiac, American Vampire, It Was the War of the Trenches, King City, Parker: The Outfit, Pluto, Thunderbolts, Twin Spica, Vagabond 9

scott snyder & rafael albuquerque – american vampire


With the sole exception of the first two Blade movies, vampires don’t really do it for me. I get the myth and the metaphor–blah blah sex blah blah corruption blah blah mores–but it just doesn’t click for me. It wasn’t scary, and really, it wasn’t even interesting. Thin, pale men and women sucking the life out of others because… why? Who cares? It took Wesley Snipes and Stephen Dorff to make me care, and imagine my disappointment when I went back to those Gene Colan books and found out Deacon Frost was some wack regular vampire.

Turns out that Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque have the magic touch, because American Vampire is great. The central conceit of the series, that American vampires aren’t like European vampires, means that all of the stuff I hate about vampires, like the aristocratic demeanor and boringness, are left in the past. American vampires are newer, leaner, meaner, and more monstrous.

Skinner Sweet, one of the vampires the series focuses on, is proof positive. He’s a sadistic goofball, used to making money the easy way (meaning taking it from other people), and using violence to get his way. He’s casual, but there’s always that glint of menace lurking somewhere behind his eyes. Him and the European vampires don’t get along at all, and with good reason. He’s their antithesis. He’s gutter trash.

Snyder’s writing on the series is good, and Albuquerque’s art is great. He was talented before this series came out, but, in part due to colors by Dave McCaig, he’s a monster now. The facial expressions, layouts, action scenes, covers, and fashion are all on point. Albuquerque’s never looked this good, and I feel like he’s doing the kind of art now that you’ll want to sit down and examine later. What’s more is that he’s working in two different styles, and each suited to the time period he’s using them for.

McCaig’s colors are a huge help, and perfectly complement the mood of each scene. He even colors people differently–when’s the last time you saw white people in a comic with different skin tones?

American Vampire, from top to bottom, is well done. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Snyder was a writer worth paying attention to, and while I expected to like Albuquerque and McCaig’s artwork going into the series, I was stunned at the leap forward they took together.

jeff parker & kev walker – thunderbolts


Let’s be honest here: Jeff Parker is hands down the best writer in Marvel’s stable. He’s been working the side books for so long, the Atlases and Exiles of the line, but Marvel threw him to the front and center of their universe in 2010. That’s a move that paid off big. He turned Hulk from the best art showcase since Solo into a comic with a really compelling story.

Thunderbolts is one of those series, and concepts, that I’m super fond of, so it wins the year over Hulk. It’s one of the few 100+ issue series that I’ve read back to front because I was so into the idea. I feel like it went completely off the rails once Nicieza left that last time and Ellis came on. It became too mean, too much about villains being villains rather than villains working toward redemption.

Parker and Walker righted the ship, though, and they did it with ease. They stacked the crew with some classic choices (Songbird, Beetle, and Moonstone) and some brand new faces (Juggernaut, Crossbones, and Ghost) and created a situation where Thunderbolts actually feels like a new comic again, with just enough of a taste of the classic run to keep old heads like me interested.

First off: Walker’s art is great. It runs counter to what I think of regular Marvel comics as looking like. He’d do a killer job on, say, Punisher MAX or something at Vertigo, but on a mainstream Marvel book? He’s a weird choice, but the perfect one at the same time. The way he approaches action scenes and character work gives Thunderbolts a feel unique amongst the sea of mainstream comics. It’s a lot more interesting than what you might expect to see on a book starring villains. It’s not shiny, but it’s not all faux edgy, either.

What makes it work, at least in part, are the team dynamics. Crossbones is just a douchebag, Ghost is a paranoid conspiracy nut but not 100% a bad guy, Moonstone is what Emma Frost wants to be when she grows up, Beetle is trying to do the right thing, Songbird is trying to prove her worth, and Juggernaut is just hanging out until he gets a chance to leave. The way they bounce off each other, sometimes as allies, other times as enemies, and always in interesting ways. It’s not just a situation where everyone hates everyone else, or a subset schemes against others. Allegiances shift and slip as the series goes on. Thunderbolts is just a good comic to read, executed well and perfectly pitched. You can see the thought that went into it, and that’s something I’m pretty happy about.

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Best of 2010: Two Surprises

January 5th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Acme Novelty Library 20, Afrodisiac, American Vampire, It Was the War of the Trenches, King City, Parker: The Outfit, Pluto, Thunderbolts, Twin Spica, Vagabond 9

chris ware – acme novelty library #20

official page

I’ve never been able to get into Chris Ware. I’ve liked the odd bit of context-less art. I think there was a New Yorker cover that I liked and maybe some spot illustrations elsewhere. I could recognize the skill, it just never hooked me. I even bought Jimmy Corrigan at one point, and it’s sitting in my closet unfinished. I tried it, didn’t like it, dropped it.

Acme 20, though. I haven’t read any of the prior volumes, and to be honest, I barely even know what the series is about. I’d heard some advance buzz from some reliable friends, though, and that led to me throwing it on my Amazon list, which is where I put everything I’m thinking of getting. My good buddy Lauren Davis picked it up for my birthday as a surprise (she is the first person to a) reveal that she knows I have a wish list and b) actually buy something off it).

I read it on a long train ride and was blown away. I knew nothing about it going in, other than it was about a dude and each page was a single day in one year of his life. Acme 20 goes from pre-verbal to death for this guy Lint, and it’s just an amazing work of comics art.

Rather than doing the cheap thing and presenting a highlight reel of Lint’s life, where we see him win at hide and seek, be prom king, marry a hot model, or whatever, Ware instead focuses on a range of events and emotions. We see sadness, happiness, and later on, we find out that some things we’ve seen are far from the whole picture.

Ware uses the page-a-day to his benefit, hiding facts and truths between the pages and between the years. Reality slips and slides as time goes on, with jarring shifts in Lint’s status happening completely off-screen and sometimes never even being explained at all. You have to take things as they come, a lot like you do in real life.

In the end, Ware didn’t make a story about lies or sadness or guilt or happiness or whatever. He just told the story of one guy’s life, for better or for worse. And it was fantastic.

kou yaginuma – twin spica

preview, official page

When I was a kid, I was really, really into certain things. I liked arachnids, especially scorpions (in theory). I liked turtles, and even had an ornery pet painted turtle. I liked drawing. I also really, really liked space. I never had a telescope, but I tore through library books about astronomy. Reading about stars, thinking about walking on the moon, and checking out comparison charts of planets… I ate all of that up. It was cool, and really hard to truly understand. It was so different, right? But you grow up and you grow out of things. I can’t remember the last time I sat down and drew something, you know? Things fade out.

I hadn’t thought about that in years, but Twin Spica brought it all back. I didn’t expect to like it. The art looked way too cute, the lead was this tiny little girl, and it didn’t look like the kind of book where people smoked cigarettes in dark bars and got shot in alleys. I’d seen it around, judged it by its cover, and was like, “Well, maybe if I get bored.”

I got bored one day and read it. Reaction: stunned surprise. Yaginuma made me remember a little bit of what it was a like to be a kid and be endlessly fascinated by the unknown. The endless memorization just because, the spacey daydreams, and just trying to wrap your too-small hands around as huge of an idea as “outer space” come across with a clarity I didn’t expect.

There’s a real love for the subject matter in Twin Spica, but rather than being cloying, overly subservient, and impenetrable, it’s delivered in a way that the love is transferred to the reader. You can tell exactly how much Asumi, the main character, enjoys space. It’s a little bittersweet, too, due to the presence of Mr. Lion. He’s the representation of the dangers of space travel and past tragedy, but even then, he’s there to support Asumi and nurture her interest in space. In the end, her sacrifices and setbacks stand right next to her triumphs and all of it just reinforces her resolve.

As far as showing you what it’s like to be a kid and just entranced with something, just positively drowning and not even caring because it’s endlessly fascinating and infinitely wonderful, Twin Spica nails it.

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Best of 2010: From My Two Favorite Genres

January 4th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Acme Novelty Library 20, Afrodisiac, American Vampire, It Was the War of the Trenches, King City, Parker: The Outfit, Pluto, Thunderbolts, Twin Spica, Vagabond 9

jacques tardi – it was the war of the trenches

I’ve liked war comics since I was a kid. My uncle had some Sgt Rocks that I tore through, sometimes literally, and I thought the action was really great. I liked normal people doing things, and being in a military family, it was cool. Not enough about the USAF, I figure, but good enough. Garth Ennis adjusted my view of war comics years later, by focusing on the people, rather than the action.

It Was The War of the Trenches works in that same lane of emotion over action. Tardi delivers several short anecdotes about World War I, with large panels and clean rendering. He’s not doing anything particularly flashy, but he is creating an effective and believable world.

The characters in the book are transient and almost anonymous, with only their names and locations separating them. We get a brief moment to get to know them before being subjected to the horror or inanity of war. Men die screaming for days upon days, others are shot for having human reactions, and still others let themselves become monsters. We don’t see the Germans all that often, but when they do appear, they’re just as normal as the French.

That anonymity works in the book’s favor, particularly in terms of delivering the book’s point about war. You’re left feeling like you just read about the same person experiencing several different events, trapped in a hell not of his own making. It Was the War of the Trenches isn’t as mean as something like Kyle Baker’s Special Forces, which just laid on the sarcasm so thick you can read it as being played perfectly straight. It is, though, a mean book, one with no patience for the ideas of glory in war, a just war, or any war, period. Nobility? Honor? Patriotism? It’s all a joke, and the punchline is dying while trying to hold your own guts in, weeping quietly and asking for your maman.

Tardi depicts war as a faceless meat grinder, one that destroys you and your loved ones regardless of how they feel and who they are. There’s very little in the book that tops the scene where a man who is clearly a vet is battered by a crowd who is angered by his talk of peace. It’s that sort of thing, that willingness to stand behind nationalism and send your boys off to war, that Tardi opens up and dissects. No one’s happy to be in this war. They’re tired, filthy, and sick of dying. And in the end, who wins the war doesn’t matter, because everyone who fought it is dead.

darwyn cooke – parker: the outfit

I bought The Outfit the day before New York Comic-Con. I’d intended to read it on the plane, but things didn’t work out. Instead, I read a third of it sitting on the convention floor, the final third elsewhere, and the middle third during one of Marvel’s panels. I’d finished copying down whatever scant news they’d generated and gotten the post ready to go by about halfway through the panel. Corporate panels are mostly boring, though, especially the Q&A parts, so I figured I’d wrap up a book that I was enjoying.

I think I hit the part in the middle, Book Three, while Peter David was talking about some comic I don’t read. And everything tuned out after that, because I was hooked. This is how comics should work. They can take something very simple, like two men robbing a night club or the life of a crime boss, and turn it into something incredible. It doesn’t have to be something with gutters or melodramatic dialogue. The art doesn’t have to stay the same throughout, as long as the shift makes sense thematically.

Cooke shifts styles several times in Book Three. Structured mostly under the concept of “The Lowdown,” a weekly crime mag, Cooke details several heists and they each get their own style. One’s a novel excerpt (positioned as a true crime story) with spot illos. Another looks like a those goofy cartoons where everyone’s face is always facing the camera and grotesque. Styles upon styles upon styles is what he has.

The contrast between what I was reading and the announcements I’d just written down for Marvel were striking. The Outfit is based on a novel that’s over forty years old, but it was full of old ideas made fresh and clean. The experimentation in format took those ideas and fired them at your face, rocketing off the pages at escape velocity. Mean, vicious, and undeniable.

The Outfit isn’t a graphic novel. It’s not even just a good story, another solid graphic novel from a guy who already has more quality under his belt than most people get. It’s a classroom. It’s a lesson in storytelling, in how to put together a comic, and how far you can stretch the formula before it isn’t a comic any more.

Here’s the answer: it will always be a comic. Comics can do anything. All you have to do is stretch.

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