Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Top Ten in 2010

I have been writing this column in my head for quite some time. As I got closer to year end I keep thinking what series are going to make my best of list. There are no rules for this top ten, it is the books, one shots, mini-series, whatever that I think are the best that the comic book industry had to offer in 2010 and I chose 10 of them. In no particular order I will give a list and my rational for why they made it.

American Vampire – This was an easy choice, Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuqueque have sold me on a genre that I would have told you was impossible for me to care about. Something about the whole Twilight and True Blood phenomena had turned me off on the whole Vampire thing. Going in I thought I was not going to like this and I was dead or perhaps undead wrong. Scott Snyder with Stephen King (yes that Stephen King) each did a separate story. King conveying the origin of the first American Vampire Skinner Sweet and Scott doing his creation proud telling the story of Pearl who is our second American Vampire. King did a great job, but Scott shows a passion and intelligence in writing comics like very few writers I have seen. Scott seems to have been waiting all his life for a shot at writing comics and he is a true rising star and a talent in this field that is one to watch. The marriage between word and pictures has been outstanding. It has exposition where needed, letting the artist convey the message when needed and everything in-between. Rafael has gone from being the Blue Beetle artist to showing off how much he could do in a book that calls for more realism and a darker mood. Each issue Rafael has been growing as an artist and I can’t wait to see what he can do next. I went from a doubting Thomas to a true believer. Now often I might call this a seminal piece of work, but I suspect (and Detective Comics is my proof) that Scott has a lot of great stories for us in the months and years to come and should have many seminal runs on series of his own and company owned. Bottom line this book is one that should be on your list.

Killer Modus Vivendi – Matz and Luc Jacamon’s follow up to one of the best books from a couple of years ago. Since this is a translated edition we know it is completed, but I can’t wait for the second half of this book. The Killer is a morally ambiguous person who after retiring has gotten bored and got back into the game. Where the first volume was a narrative that gave us a non-judgmental look at an assassin this book has dived into all sorts of politics. In many ways it is still giving us a picture of a morally ambiguous set of values, it is just that we get to see countries as well as the Killer have them in spades. Matz shows us all sorts of situations between countries and how each side may view the other and it reinforces the idea that history is a story told by the winners. Too often atrocities committed by nations are sweep under the carpet for various reasons both right and wrong. At the same time Matz is espousing this via the Killer we can often see the wheels turning in his head as he now has a son to care about. The book manages to do all of this and keep up the action at the same time. Jacamon’s art work is deceptive in that you almost don’t notice it. I know that sounds odd, but it has such a strong narrative flow to it that you have to stop and look at the work to appreciate all the camera angles and page design that makes this book come alive. Go buy the collected editions of the first series and you may have to wait for a collection of the first part of this series, but when you are caught up you can wait with me for the next part of the story.

Echo – Hard to say enough good things about this book. Terry Moore who has Strangers in Paradise already under his belt is producing a series that could easily be considered one of the best graphic novels of all time. Moore is creating illustrated literature. The story of Julie Martin and Anna Trotter is a science fiction novel in the best tradition of putting us just a little bit into the future and then running with some very interesting and cool ideas. I think what strikes me the most is how real he makes his characters. I feel like I could meet Julie, Dillon and Ivy and immediately know them. This is seminal work and one that I believe will stand the test of time. A lot of writers would do well to look at this and remember the most powerful stories have a beginning, middle and an end. I hate that it is ending, but love that it has an ending.

Parker The Outfit – Darwyn Cooke blew me away with his first adaptation, but I think this one was even better. I’d rather get one full novel a year from Cooke then see him do six or eight issues of a regular comic. Cooke is a master story teller. His animated style of art works surprisingly well considering the source material he is adapting is a noir type action story. In this adaptation when Parker calls in his friends to hit the Outfit each job that they pull is done in a different story telling style. The true brilliance of this book is that if someone wants to make a movie of the Parker books the entire screenplay and storyboards are already completed. You could literally shot a movie from this adaptation shot by shot straight from the book and it would be a winning movie. I have personally cast Vince Vaughn as Parker as long as I can get him to pull off the tough guy bit and actually act as opposed to walking through his movies being Vince Vaughn. I was heartbroken when I saw in the back of this book that it will be 2012 before the next one. I know Darwyn will be putting forth his best effort, so I can wait.

Walking Dead – It is hard to know what else to say about this long running series. It has been a book that is a great character study of how people may react in an impossible situation of dealing with a world after an apocalypse. A book that continues to garner fans as the series lives on. Now with the advent of a successful TV series being made about the series its popularity has soared. It is nice to see a creator owned project do so well and a creator who could have just as easily ended up on the scrap heap of comics has become a minor celebrity outside the world of comics. Robert Kirkman has worked for all the success he has garnered. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person from where I’m sitting. All that being said he still pours his heart and soul into Walking Dead and Invincible giving comic fans great entertainment each and every month.

Scalped – Jason Aaron’s seminal work and it was his first series. Scalped was good when it started and it has just continued to get better and better and better. One thing this year that blew me away was the fantastic single issue about an older couple who lived on the reservation. In the span of 22 pages we learned who this people were and come to care about them, one hell of an accomplishment. Dash and all of his problems, Red Crow and all that he tries to do and all the rest that goes on in-between makes this series an emotional roller coaster that you can’t wait to get back on each and every month. The raw emotional power that Jason puts forth is an almost physical force that you feel as you read the chapters. Dead Mothers was a very emotional and powerful arc. This book would be a hit TV series on AMC or HBO if they just stay true to the source material. The main artist RM Guerra deserves a ton of credit as all of that powerful script and raw emotion would not be half as palatable without his beautiful artwork. If you aren’t reading Scalped you are doing yourself a disservice as this book is going down as one of the best of all time.

Locke & Key – Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriquez are crafting a wonderful tale of fantasy, horror and childhood in a 36 issue masterpiece. Fox has green lighted a pilot episode for a TV series based on the book, but I’m not sure they can do this series the justice it deserves. Joe Hill has crafted a series that I put into the graphic literature category (along with many others on this list). It was a revelation as when I started this book I had no idea how much I would love it. Bode and his older siblings are characters that I’m constantly rooting for and hope they can beat the darkness and evil of the main bad guy/girl. One of the best things about this book while there is an overall story almost every issue manages to stand on its own. The magic of the keys keeps this book steeped in both the fantasy and horror genre, but never overpower that the story is about the Locke family.

Daytrippers – The best story and best philosophy about life and death I have read in a long time. The story of Bras and his many deaths is one that will stay with me for a long time. One thing this book did is made me sit down and actually contemplate my own life and brought into sharp relief my own views on life and death. It is especially poignant as I have never had to deal with the death of anyone close to me. Three of my grandparents died when I was very young and I was never close to my other grandmother and she died while I lived out of town. My parents are both very old (88 and 91) and I will eventually have to deal with their deaths and this book made me think of those type of things and many others. Not always the most pleasant of thoughts, but a book that made me think and made life sweeter. It defined life though death and makes one value life all the more.

Grant Morrison’s Batman – Since Grant’s work winds through Batman, Batman and Robin, Batman The Return of Bruce Wayne and Batman Inc. it has to be called Grant’s Batman. What I find so appealing about what Grant has done is that he has put Bruce Wayne through some personal crisis that has really impacted him. In Batman Inc. this is a different Brue Wayne whose journey through time has caused him to have an epiphany. It is great to see that the storyline was not one to just create an adventure, but one that had a fundamental impact on the character. In the midst of that he has also given us the most dynamic duo of all with Dick Grayson as Gotham’s Batman and Damian as a great Robin to Dick’s Batman. In many ways it has reinvigorated the entire Batman line and at this moment I’m enjoying almost every book under the Bat banner. The downside is the way DC is handling Grant’s work. In Grant’s book some things happen that have no impact on the other books. We also have DC doing Battle for the Cowl and Bruce Wayne the Return as mini-events that in hindsight show limited coordination with what Grant is doing, it almost gets an Elseworld feel to it. Finally DC has forced me to buy all of Grant’s work on Batman as a series of smallish (six issue hardcover collections) where Marvel does a great job collecting runs like Aaron on Ghost Rider in nice complete collections or multiple volumes if the run is too long. None of that diminishes that Grant has made Batman a character that we are constantly talking about as fans and that was not the case before Grant. I hope Grant stays on Batman for years to come.

Doom Patrol – I love this series. I almost dropped the book and skipped an issue or two and then read about the Rita Farr issue and picked it up. It took some time for Giffen to get this book firing on all cylinders but it is. Giffen has created the next great run on these characters that is holding up to the original and Grant’s fantastic run on the book. I think it took me awhile to catch on because we have super hero style art with an almost Vertigo type take on the characters. Rita has been retro-conned into being as big of a freak as any of the characters, Mento’s creepiness is now off the charts, Larry is great as comic relief and a real character, the Chief is a egomaniacal manipulator of the worse sort and Cliff a robot with a human brain is the soul of the team. This book is one that I can’t wait to read every month.
Honorable Mention and Runner Up – If none of the top ten can accept the role or have a fall from Grace - Thor The Mighty will serve in their place. It only got eight issues, but it was the best interpretation of the character I have seen in a long time and made Thor more relatable than ever before. It was a lyrical series that will go down as a classic.

So it was a top eleven instead of a top ten, but if you remember I said there were no rules. Tons of other great stuff and series that I enjoy and love but these are the ten that rose to the top in my mind. I like to thank all the creators behind these books and their publishers for providing some truly outstanding entertainment in 2010. Can’t wait for 2011.

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