Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Dave’s Top Twenty Comics of 2007

As with every year, there were some titles that I would have liked to read before the year’s end, but at some point, you just have to cut yourself off. The big titles I’d hoped to read but didn’t: Alice In Sunderland, Sundays with Walt & Skeezix, I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets: The Comics of Fletcher Hanks, and Krazy & Ignatz: The Cat Who Walked In Beauty. That being said, the following are my twenty favorite books published in 2007...

20. Cold Heat Special #1 (Frank Santoro & Jon Vermilyea) - This newsprint special of Frank Santoro’s Cold Heat features Jon Vermilyea’s pencils in a simple, yet beautiful comic that pits Castle of the regular Cold Heat series against demon-ghosts in the woods. Santoro does the plots and layouts, with Vermilyea also providing the story for an interesting interpretation of the world that Santoro has created in the Cold Heat issues that have been released (though no more single issues will be available, a collection will appear in the future to complete the story). While the Cold Heat Special is brisk, it’s impressive and quite haunting.

19. Gyo (Junji Ito) - I was surprised by just how creepy this little horror manga was. Junji Ito is the creator of Uzumaki and as I hadn’t heard of Gyo before its release and wasn’t especially impressed with Uzumaki, it was thrilling to become so mesmerized by the goings-on of this book. Fish walk the earth, terrorizing a young Japanese couple before the creeping dread of the initial chapters explodes upon the populace. Read my full review.

18. Elk’s Run (Joshua Hale Fialkov, Noel Tuazon & Scott A. Keating) - This book received a lot of buzz when issues were coming out from Speakeasy, but of course Speakeasy went bankrupt and the collection has only now come out courtesy of Villard, bringing the book to a startling conclusion. The story follows a small town where a group of Vietnam vets have created a haven void of the evils of the outside world to raise their families. When one of the citizens does something unacceptable, things get out of hand and a handful of teenagers fed up with the community attempt to escape, only to be hunted by their very neighbors. Very chilling. Read my review for more details.

17. The Walking Dead (Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard & Cliff Rathburn) - I hadn’t been too impressed with the popular zombie title The Walking Dead until this year’s volumes six and seven of the collections (issues 31-42). But I’ll be damned if it didn’t get awesome. It’s interesting how the best stuff comes from conflict with other humans, but it works for me. The character interaction keeps getting more interesting and there’s a real tension as the story builds toward an explosive climax. Read my reviews for volume six and volume seven of the series.

16. (Tie) Apollo’s Song (Osamu Tezuka) & Andromeda Stories (Keiko Takemiya & Ryu Mitsuse) - Both of these science fiction series were published by Vertical this year. Apollo’s Song, from the legendary Osamu Tezuka, follows a young delinquent with no heart who discovers love via a god who sees fit to torment him with love and loss over and over again for earlier misdeeds. Andromeda Stories blends fantasy and science fiction for a great story from Keiko Takemiya ,the mind behind To Terra (with help from acclaimed science fiction writer Ryu Mitsuse). When Princess Lilia’s peaceful kingdom is invaded by machines from outer space following a wedding ceremony to her betrothed, the top officials are quickly replaced and take steps to change the face of the entire planet, so long as the prophecy concerning the prince doesn’t come to light. Andromeda Stories is full of wonderful characters and thrilling events. Read the reviews here and here.

15. Buffy, the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight (Joss Whedon, Brian K. Vaughan, Georges Jeanty, Paul Lee, Andy Owens & Dave Stewart) - While I can’t say the initial story by Whedon met my high standards in wake of my favorite television series ever, it certainly wasn’t a disappointment either. And I expect the book to only get better. Following Whedon’s “Long Way Home,” where readers were reintroduced to the cast and the changes that had occurred since the show’s finale, a fantastic one-shot from the series creator, followed by a spectacular story featuring rogue slayer Faith (written by Vaughan), cemented the series’ place as one of the best books of the year.

14. Nana (Ai Yazawa) - A staple to my end-of-the-year lists for the past three years, Nana continues to thrill and amaze well into its run. While this year saw it’s departure from Shojo Beat in wake of more mature subject matter, readers can enjoy volumes as they are released quicker than ever, and laugh, cry and gasp along with the amazing characters and their situations in one of the best shojo manga out there.

13. Speak of the Devil (Gilbert Hernandez) - While only half of the six-issue mini-series from Love & Rockets co-creator Gilbert Hernandez has actually hit shelves, it’s left an impression. Hernandez’ art is as beautiful as ever as he relates the story of a young woman peeping in people’s windows wearing a ghoulish grinning mask (including watching her father and step-mother having sex). I know it sounds weird, and it is kind of weird, but this over-the-top horror title is just fun as hell. Read my review of the first issue.

12. Yotsuba&! (Kiyohiko Azuma) - I just discovered this charming comedy manga this year, though people have been rabid fans for much longer. Yotsuba&! Follows a young girl as she runs amok in her neighborhood, causing mischief and saying the wrong things, or just being utterly adorable. This book is hilarious and anyone who’s not reading it is truly missing out on something special.

11. Dragon Head (Minetaro Mochizuki) - There’s plenty of manga in the bottom half of my list, huh? Dragon Head is one of the best genre comics period coming out currently. It’s a post-apocalyptic title that follows a small group of survivors who, in wake of a collapse in a tunnel their train was passing through, find themselves striving to survive amid a harsh landscape and discover what has become of Japan. Surprising and action-packed, this manga contains some really frightening moments of horror. Dragon Head should be much more popular than it is.

Halfway there!!!

10. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier (Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill) - This ambitious new addition to Moore and O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen delves into the history of the team, as well as various incarnations. It’s a lot of fun to revisit beloved characters and meet new ones as readers are treated to a variety of different forms of storytelling, from postcards and maps to prose and comic strips. It’s a dense read, but quite rewarding. Read my detailed review.

9. The Complete Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy (Volume 2): 1933-1935 (Chester Gould) - Unfortunately, another book I didn’t get around to reading this year was volume three of this comic strip reprint project, because man, volume two was awesome! Dick Tracy is still missing many of the elements that readers think of when they drudge up images of the character (sci-fi devices, distinctive villains), but by this point, it’s an exciting read that just keeps getting more thrilling with every story. Very addictive. Full review here.

8. MW (Osamu Tezuka) - Another Tezuka translation from Vertical! I’m glad that Vertical keeps doing these, because I’m loving them, even minor works like this one. MW follows the two lone survivors on an island that was wiped out by MW gas. While one man, a priest, tries to forget the delinquent past that placed him on that island, he finds himself under the thrall of the other survivor, a man who has lost the ability to sympathize with others, indulging in murder and robbery, as he schemes and manipulates his way toward getting revenge. My review here.

7. Suburban Glamour (Jamie McKelvie) - I can’t help but love Jamie McKelvie’s (of Phonogram) new mini-series! Only two issues are out, but the art, fashion and character designs immediately captivated me, and I haven’t been able to tear myself away. The book follows a small group of teenagers from the suburbs who want nothing more than to leave it behind. And while most of the book is talking heads, it is top-notch dialogue, sharp and witty, with some supernatural elements coming into play toward the end of the first issue. Read my review of the first issue.

6. Laika (Nick Abadzis) - Laika is a graphic novel published by First Second Books that follows the first creature to venture into outer space: the adorable dog Laika. As events lead to the dog’s inevitable flight aboard the satellite Sputnik II into Earth’s orbit, readers shift between the perspectives of the satellite’s chief designer, Laika’s dog trainer, and even Laika herself, in scenes that are very moving. While Laika is pretty bleak overall, it’s completely riveting and enjoyable, and had me wondering at one point if it would be my book of the year. Full review.

5. Astonishing X-Men (Joss Whedon, John Cassaday & Laura Martin) - While Joss Whedon impressed many with his Buffy, the Vampire Slayer comic, his run on Astonishing X-Men is by far superior in my eyes. I love the addition of Hisako to the team, and he can write these characters like no one. Though the latest story arc suffered from Marvel’s decision to release issues bi-monthly, it’s an epic concluding chapter to his run with Cassaday and Martin, who have illustrated one of the best superhero comics in recent years, and my favorite of 2007.

4. Emma (Kaoru Mori) - The detailed, authentic background art of Victorian England is only one of the things that makes Emma such a standout title. This book follows a maid and her doomed romance to a man from a higher class, a romance that leads to plenty of heartache, verbal reprimands and shocking situations. This title boasts a wealth of supporting characters, and while there’s a lot of talking going on, things have a momentum to them that drive the title to some pretty brilliant places. As much as I love the title, it took a few volumes to warm up to, but honestly, every single installment of the series gets exponentially better. This is the best manga of the year, no question.

3. The Acme Novelty Library #18 (Chris Ware) - I’d read snippets of Ware’s “Building Stories” in the previous The Acme Novelty Library releases, and wasn’t too impressed, so I was surprised by how much I loved this volume, which exclusively features stories from that strip. Ware once again demonstrates his mastery over the medium as he forces readers to experience the life of a lonely handicapped woman. I love how he captures little moments in life, like an awkward situation that people try to pass off as normal, or replying to a co-worker’s inquiry of plans for the night. He does it with as much ease as he tackles the bigger things in life, like breaking up with a loved one. Chris Ware is just at the top of his game and while I didn’t think it would be the case, I believe that I like the “Building Stories” strip more than the feature of his previous The Acme Novelty Library installments, “Rusty Brown.” Read my full review for The Acme Novelty Library #18 here.

2. The Complete Terry & the Pirates (Volume 1): 1934-1936 (Milton Caniff) - The action/adventure strip Terry and the Pirates gets the complete treatment courtesy of IDW, and I am loving this reprinted classic. Terry and his pal, the lady’s man Pat Ryan, and their faithful cook Connie, battle and outwit pirates, kidnappers and murderers alike as they meet dames and femme fatales across a slew of exotic locales. Fast-paced and funny, this book is set to the beautiful, detailed artwork of Milton Caniff, and I am extremely grateful for the chance to enjoy this strip along with a new generation, in such a handsome, well-deserving package. Full review.

1. Shortcomings (Adrian Tomine) - Adrian Tomine’s Shortcomings follows Ben Tanaka as he grapples with life through his sharp-edged cynicism. He debates racism and stereotypes, and generally acts like an ass to those around him, in beautiful panels that sport art reminiscent of The Hernandez Brothers. The characters involved are really interesting and complex, and have stimulating conversations, resulting in a rich, layered work that left me spellbound and aching for an instant reread. I absolutely loved this book, obviously, and that’s why I’ve crowned it book of the year. Check it out!

That’s all, Folks! If you haven’t done so, please also check out Patrick’s favorite comics of the year!

2 comments:

Paul Karasik said...

Sorry that you were not able to yet read my book, "I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets: The Comics of Fletcher Hanks". Nobody had any idea that the book would prove to be so popular and the first two editions sold out fast. The third edition is now available.

Readers unfamiliar with Hanks’ work may want to slide over to the BONUS page of my website for a slideshow of a full length Fantomah story that does NOT appear in the book:

www.fletcherhanks.com

Fialkov said...

Thanks for the very kind words about Elk's Run, greatly appreciated.