Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top Twenty Comics of 2009

Here it is - the culmination of all of the reading and reviewing I've done over the past year, from superheroes to manga, graphic novels to comic strips, these are the books that I enjoyed above all else.  I try to be as honest with myself as possible in regards to what excited me the most, and deliberated each rank seriously before moving on to the next.  Truth be told, this year was especially hard to come up with my number one book, as I went back and forth with the book that ultimately landed at number two (which was number one until shortly before I sat down to type them out).  I think it's just great that comics are such a diverse medium, where so many different kinds of books of such varying material can be lumped together under the greater umbrella of "comics."  I won't hesitate to recommend any of the following books.  Please enjoy my list for best comics of 2009...

Honorable Mentions
The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb (R. Crumb)
Cul de Sac: Children at Play (Richard Thompson)
Green Lantern (Geoff Johns & Ivan Ries)/Blackest Night (Geoff Johns, Philip Tan, Doug Mahnke, Ed Benes & Marcos Marz)
Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 (David Petersen)
Stitches (David Small)


20. X-Men: Misfits (Raina Telgemeier, Dave Roman & Anzu) - Say what you will - this is a damn good comic.  I wasn't expecting much from this title when I first picked it up, but it really won me over, and is a first-rate example of a reimagining done to fantastic results. Perhaps it's the superhero fan in me, but I love the shojo elements warped from things already present in the X-Men universe, throwing girl-next-door Kitty Pryde into a school populated by mutant boys who are fashion-forward and often oversexualized, with a good amount of humor and tension thrown into the mix. Some manga readers may be put off by the superhero invasion into the manga format, and some superhero fans may be aghast at the transformations of their beloved universe, but I was, happily, very pleased with the imaginative result of the creators, and was constantly excited to see what else they had in store for the mutants. The art is also executed to great results, from the designs of the reimagined characters to the clear action. I often gazed at panels for awhile before moving on, particularly early scenes of Kitty phasing through walls and floors (and there's one later scene of her phasing through the mansion wrapped in Pyro's arms). This book is just an utter treat and I have no qualms with naming this one of my favorite books of the year because I loved every moment of it.


19. S.W.O.R.D. (Kieron Gillen & Steve Sanders) - S.W.O.R.D. is a fantastic new comic book series with a great premise. Spun out of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's excellent run on Astonishing X-Men, Agent Brand is running the Sentient World Observation and Response Department, the government's answer to threats from outer space, a compliment to their S.H.I.E.L.D. division. With a fun crew of characters, including Beast and Lockheed, this book is one of the funnest comics I've read in a long time, with a great balance of action, humor and verbal sparring, with clear storytelling courtesy of Steve Sanders. Brand's battle with Death's Head is an instant classic. I hope plenty of people come onboard for this series, because only two issues in, it's already got the makings of a great.

18. Swallowing the Earth (Osamu Tezuka) - While Swallowing the Earth was written during a transition period for the god of manga, that of his tales moving from children's stories to that of the more serious, mature works of his later life, Swallowing the Earth is still a very rich tale where Tezuka has a lot to say about society, greed, government and gender inequality. It's a story epic in scale, beginning with smaller events and mysteries that slowly spiral passed the sum of its parts into a whirlwind of disaster for the world's economy and governments, complete with plots of revenge and unexpected love. Tezuka populates his beautifully-illustrated world with characters that are bursting with emotion and reactions to the odd situations they find themselves in. This book is top-notch and should really not be missed by anyone who considers themselves a fan of manga.


17. The John Stanley Library: Melvin Monster (John Stanley) - The first book in Drawn & Quarterly's line celebrating a cartooning legend, The John Stanley Library, features a little green monster named Melvin who lives in Monsterville with his Mummy and Baddy, and wants nothing more than to be a good boy, much to the chagrin of his parents. To be honest, it took a few comics to grow on me, but once it did, it wasn't too hard to see why people have enjoyed these stories for decades.  This is a really cute comic, with obvious echoes of Casper the Friendly Ghost, with clear storytelling and top-notch cartooning. It may seem a little old-fashioned, but I think it holds up really well and kids anywhere would probably love to read this sort of book. I know I certainly did. It's just a charming premise with plenty of opportunities to do fun, imaginative things with, which Stanley obviously realized and took advantage of with endearing ongoing gags and a feisty little protagonist.

16. The Walking Dead (Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard) - Things that had been brewing for volumes finally came to a head in The Walking Dead post-apocalyptic zombie comic.  Brutal and unrelenting, no one was safe in a year that saw humanity's worst come out in the survivor's of Kirkman's world, particularly in the form of the villainous Governor.  I like how this book focuses on how the survivors make out amid the devastation, carrying on the human race in pathetic tatters.  Things just keep getting more desperate in this series, with slim glimmers of hope through the heart-breaking scenes and earth-shattering events.


15. Batman and Robin (Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely & Philip Tan) - When Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely work on a project together, they execute really great ideas to spectacular results. Morrison's stories are both weird and classic at the same time, and are always full of lots of energy and enthusiasm, and Quitely perfectly executes the writer's vision. Unfortunately, Quitely is not the only artist on this series. I wish that weren't the case because he seems the most capable of conjuring up the iconic, impactful images that Morrison envisions. And while Tan does a compentent job, what artist could really follow up Quitely without some criticism?  But that being said, I love the dynamic between the new Batman and Robin, as they've really breathed a fresh breath of air into the tired relationship of student and mentor.


14. (TIE) GoGo Monster (Taiyo Matsumoto) - Easily boasting the best packaging for a manga this year, GoGo Monster stands out on a bookshelf with a handsome design, and with a story just as rich. Inside, you'll find quirky characters, particularly Yuki Tachibana, who may or may not have a gift to communicate with spirits at his elementary school. This book is a vivid, slow-building work with an utterly compelling story. It's the kind of book that sent shivers up my spine, with some nightmarish images that won't soon be forgotten. A strong, creative vision from a talented creator unafraid of putting difficult, lasting material out there.

14. (TIE) Cat Burglar Black (Richard Sala) - This mystery featuring a teenager raised as a master thief by a horrible matron at an orphanage, is full of action and drenched in Gothic atmosphere. Sala is amazing at spinning this sort of suspenseful tale, quirky and strange and very reminiscent of my favorite Sala work Peculia. The addition of color is used to nice effect in this latest effort, which is executed fluidly and paced to perfection.


13. Ooku: The Inner Chambers (Fumi Yoshinaga) - From the creator of Antique Bakery comes a tale that imagines an alternate history for Japan during the Edo Period. During this time, a plague wipes out most of the male population, forcing women to take on roles formerly held by men, including the role of shogun. To protect the royal lineage, the shogun's inner chamber has been converted to house the most beautiful men in the country, where they serve her until death. The premise is creative and very rich, making for some intense, fascinating stories.  And Yoshinaga illustrates the tale masterfully with soft, beautiful lines.

12. Honey Hunt (Miki Aihara) - Honey Hunt is a shojo manga from the creator of Hot Gimmick, that follows the daughter of cold, distant celebrity parents. To be taken seriously and meet her mother on her own turf, Yura strives to become an actress to rival her mother's abilities in a manga full of some really messed-up characters. It may contain some echoes of Ai Yazawa's Nana, but this series is so well-executed and beautifully-crafted that I can't help but be utterly addicted to the title, constantly on the lookout for the next installment to come out.


11. The Incredible Hercules (Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Clayton Henry, Salva Espin, Rodney Buchemi, Dietrich Smith, Ryan Stegman & Takeshi Miyazawa) - Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente know how to write a great straight-forward superhero book. I never really expected to like a book like this, featuring a big oaf with brute strength as a protagonist, with a smart nerdy sidekick. Sure, there are some flaws in the storytelling, and it may be a little hard to put into words what I like about it so much, but I just love reading it. The stories are great: battles with Amazons, teaming up with Namora, going on an odyssey with other gods to take down a skrull god...they're just a lot of fun and I really look forward to reading more. If it weren't for the word-of-mouth this book has been getting, I probably never would have picked it up. I'm just happy that some others see it for what it is.

10. The Collected Doug Wright: Canada's Master Cartoonist (Doug Wright) - This archival collection features a very talented and genuinely funny cartoonist, the likes of which you'd be hard-pressed to find in the funny pages today.  Doug Wright's Nipper strips are presented here in a beautiful overall package, courtesy of Seth and Bob Mackay, with an introduction by Lynn Johnston, and plenty of supplementary material.  Wright perfectly captures suburban life of the past with his mischievous Nipper and the neighborhood he vividly brings to life through his short, wordless tales.


9. Spider-Woman (Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev) - Bendis and Maleev's new Spider-Woman ongoing series is a very dark book, featuring a troubled protagonist who is having a hard time adjusting to a post-Secret Invasion world, as well as her abduction and subsequent replacement during the event. I love Maleev's art. It's very gritty, but beautiful, rendering Jessica Drew and her various locales with plenty of detail and thoughtfulness, using color to fantastic effect. I think Maleev's style on this title is one of the reasons I felt a strong sense of deja vu with Bendis' Alias, which was drawn by Michael Gaydos, and was also dark with similar pacing.  In this book, Jessica Drew uses her detective skills (and superhero background) as an agent of S.W.O.R.D., hunting down alien threats (of the skrull variety), which makes sense given her recent history. Drew's various affiliations of the past also make for fun conflicts, as Hydra comes into the fold very quickly, and her loyalites are, as always, tested. Jessica Drew hunting down skrulls is a great hook in itself and so far, it's been executed in such a high quality way that it's earned the top slot for a superhero title on this list.

8. West Coast Blues (Jacques Tardi) - Adapted from the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette, French cartoonist Jacques Tardi brings to life a crime story unlike the kind that readers are familiar with.  Gone are the expected gritty noir elements, replaced by a story that subverts expectations at every turn and features a protagonist who does whatever the hell he wants.  Fantagraphics is just beginning to adapt Tardi's graphic works for American audiences, beginning with this gem, giving the gift of a talented cartoonist who isn't afraid of showing readers a wild ride with uneven pacing, a wide range of lively characters, and fantastic illustrations of both fast-paced action and the slow moments of domestic life.  Tardi is a master at drawing out suspense and offers one unique reading experience with this amazing work.


7. Miss Don't Touch Me (Hubert & Kerascoet) - Another French graphic novel, this one comes from writer and colorist Hubert, and Kerascoet, a husband-wife art team who reminded me very much of Joann Sfar, with pencils that are loose, willowy and expressive.  This book kind of does several different things, and to fantastic effect, but ultimately, this is a murder mystery. Someone is cutting women to pieces in 1930's Paris, dubbed the Butcher of the Dances, and those murders prompt Blanche to eventually enlist with a high-class bordello in order to get closer to the truth behind them.  She adopts the role of Miss Don't Touch Me, a stern pain-inducing English governess, and witnesses behavior that scandalizes her.  It's interesting to see what this character will do to satisfy her questions, and how far she will compromise herself to uncover the truth.  This book is full of terrific environments and secondary characters who come into their own along the way, each with quirks and oozing personality. This book has mystery, horror, drama, suspense and is completely riveting throughout.

6. A Drifting Life (Yoshihiro Tatsumi) - Telling the story of his life, manga giant Yoshihiro Tatsumi also paints a history of manga for readers in this massive autobiography. Tatsumi was immersed in the manga world from a young age, and as such, had a special view of the development of the medium, and being a master cartoonist, helped to shape it into what it is today. Through this chronicle, Tatsumi captures the struggle of a blossoming artist, with all of its hardships and rewards alike, as he strives to follow in the footsteps of his hero, the great Osamu Tezuka. This book is insightful, inspiring, and you can see his love for manga on every page of this great work.

5. Gunnerkrigg Court (Vol. 1): Orientation (Thomas Siddell) - This award-winning webcomic saw print for the first time through Archaia earlier this year, expanding the book's readership to include people such as myself who don't read too many comics on-line.  This all-ages fantasy follows Antimony Carver, a fully-realized heroine who attends a strange school with magic and mystery around every corner, and danger waiting in the wings.  The stories of this first collection begin small and slowly build toward a more epic pitch, much like the art begins a little shaky and you can see Siddell grow confident in illustrating his world as he proceeds, taking those few great cartooning moments from the initial chapters and turning out consistently skilled, smooth art by its end.  I just could not believe how quickly I fell in love with this world and the characters who maneuver through it.  It's not too often that something so magical and engrossing as this comes along, but I think Gunnerkrigg Court will surprise many people who pick it up.


4. Wonderland (Tommy Kovak & Sonny Liew) - Fun, witty and just plain gorgeous, Tommy Kovac and Sonny Liew continue Disney's version of Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland with familiar faces, as well as some new ones. The protagonist of this new tale is Mary Ann, the White Rabbit's maid whom he mistakes Alice for in the original story. Mary Ann is a no-nonsense maid who happens to be obsessive-compulsive about making things pristinely clean. If she gets dirty, she gets a little crazy - if she sees a dirty dirt road, she'll dust like no tomorrow. She's utterly likable and is drawn beautifully, as is the rest of the book, by Sonny Liew with delicate lines and cartoony characters, in stunning colors.  Kovac came up with some pretty imaginative ideas for this sequel of sorts, touching on the fate of the royalty from other suits of cards, and reintroducing favorites like the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat, and a butterfly-morphed caterpillar. This book is brimming with creativity and you have to pause to admire the artwork often, while taking in fun panel arrangements and the craziness that comes with this backwards world that Alice left behind (and the repercussions of her visit are felt in every corner of Wonderland). This is just an absolute treat for readers of any age.


3. Pluto (Naoki Urasawa, Based on Astro Boy by Osamu Tezuka) - My highest ranked manga sees master of suspense Naoki Urasawa reimagining Osamu Tezuka's world from the classic Astro Boy story "The Greatest Robot on Earth" in a realistic fashion, updating the beloved character in a story that's drawn out to let the characters live and breathe in a fully-realized environment. Urasawa has a real gift for pacing, which fans of the creator have experienced since Monster first began to be translated into English a few years ago. With Pluto, Urasawa takes that pacing to a whole new level, injecting genuine suspense, a complex mystery and characters that develop before readers' eyes in a story that the master artist teases out for fans, leading to big reveals and making moments (like the introduction of Atom) seem that much cooler. Urasawa also happens to be one stunning illustrator, making for some beautiful action scenes (or hell, just beautiful talking heads) amid some of the most crystal-clear storytelling out there. The overall package is a manga nearly perfect on every level.


2. Asterios Polyp (David Mazzucchelli) - Asterios Polyp is a perfect example of a creator really taking the reigns of the medium of comics, using it to do things that can not be done in any other medium, and executing his vision to superb effect. Mazzucchelli really proves his mastery over cartooning, using panels to create suspense and mood, and conveying a story through his art that showcases original ideas, with characters that are all flawed, three-dimensional and brilliantly handled.  And when the artist's ideas are conveyed through the lines and squiggles and colors to get across a philosophy he has, followed by readers watching that play out with the characters through the book, it really becomes something special.  Mazzucchelli has an eye for how to use simple techniques to add impact to a scene, often making seemingly ordinary circumstances seem extraordinary, and intensifying the emotions surrounding them.  I really enjoyed the experience of reading this book and devouring a work lovingly and thoughtfully crafted especially for the medium that I love.


1. The Squirrel Machine (Hans Rickheit) - A quirky, beautiful, sometimes frightening graphic novel, The Squirrel Machine is a stunning tale about two shunned brothers living in a small town and the grotesque art that they create that the townsfolk don't understand. It has a really eerie vibe all throughout, with some disturbing images that could have easily stumbled right out of a David Lynch film, culminating in some pretty shocking scenes. But the story is oddly sort of touching, despite the overt oddness of the brothers. There are some panels of the book that I'm still not sure what to make of, or how I feel about them, like one of my favorites of one of the brothers dressed in nothing but a boar's head covering his own, and some sort of a musical device with a crank covering his privates, with a proper young woman reaching out to touch it. It feels wrong, but is still very striking, and the whole book raises a range of emotions in me that often contradict one another. But one thing can very easily be said about this graphic novel, and that is that Rickheit's art is phenomenal. From the arrangement of panels, to the elaborate designs of the brothers' creations and the secret rooms of the mansion they live in, to the execution of the characters as they move through environments full of atmosphere and often, a good amount of tension.  The Squirrel Machine is a haunting story that won't soon leave readers, with many images left burned in this reader's mind.  And it's quite deserving of the title of best comic of the year.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Manga Monday: Swans In Space

Swans In Space (Volume 1)
Lun Lun Yamamoto


Swans In Space is an energetic manga for kids about an elementary school girl, Corona Hoshino, an overachieving class representative who's nice to everybody.  One day, strange classmate Lan Tsukishima, who's an avid fan of the science-fiction television show Space Patrol, gives Corona a watch from the show and she suddenly finds herself a part of a real-life Space Patrol, reporting to a blue bear who gives her her cosmic assignments.  It's a cute premise, with Corona determined to be successful and whip lazy Lan and her video game-obsessed Instructor into shape.  The adventures that the girls go on aren't very dangerous or scary, but they are pretty entertaining, although this book seems more interested on Corona's home life and how she juggles that with her new secret life, to be honest.  Swans In Space is in full color, making the book very vibrant and perhaps making up for the rather simple, unimpressive art.  I kind of like the simplicity of the art, but without the crazy assortment of colors that make the book overall feel pretty funky and retro, the illustrations (a little retro themselves) would look pretty lackluster after awhile, especially as Yamamoto seems content with holding back on a lot of crazy space stuff, opting for the Space Patrols to clean up spills or perform menial tasks over high-flying adventures.  The swan vehicles are a nice touch, though.  Without that cover featuring the girls driving a swan, I probably wouldn't have given this book a second glance, but it certainly demonstrates that Yamamoto has quite an imagination.  One further weakness of Swans In Space is the dialogue.  It's utterly atrocious.  It's stiff and unnatural, making for a clumsy reading experience overall.  If someone out there is looking for a manga to give their kids, I'd probably gravitate more toward the books put out through Viz's kids line.  The overall wackiness and striking colors of this book will certainly please them, and it's generally a fun story, but this book has a lot of problems, which the full color does not atone for.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

10 Best Superhero Comics of 2009

The following are my favorite superhero comics published this year, the top titles of which will also fall into my forthcoming best comics of 2009 list.  There are some titles I didn't get around to checking out this year, unfortunately, such as Gail Simone's Wonder Woman, Jonathan Hickman's Fantastic Four, and Robert Kirkman's Invincible (still)...but other than those few stray series, I was pretty immersed in the various universes of superheroes throughout the year.  I like to do a separate list for superheroes (and manga) because literary comics tend to overshadow genre works, even though I really, really love superhero books too.  I feel I need to highlight the best the year had to offer, so here are my personal favorites...

1. Spider-Woman (Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev) - Bendis and Maleev's new Spider-Woman ongoing series is a very dark book, featuring a troubled protagonist who is having a hard time adjusting to a post-Secret Invasion world, as well as her abduction and subsequent replacement during the event.  I love Maleev's art.  It's very gritty, but beautiful, rendering Jessica Drew and her various locales with plenty of detail and thoughtfulness, using color to fantastic effect.  I think Maleev's gritty style in the overall comic is one of the reasons I felt a strong sense of deja vu with Bendis' Alias, which was drawn by Michael Gaydos. That MAX series was also dark, with a similar pacing to the panels. I don't think it's a coincidence that Bendis originally wanted to use Jessica Drew in Alias before folding Jessica Jones into the title. I think this is using a character he loves in the way he originally intended, and doing it to quite magnificent results.  But in this book, Jessica Drew uses her detective skills (and superhero background) as an agent of S.W.O.R.D., hunting down alien threats (of the skrull variety), which makes sense given her recent history.  Drew's various affiliations of the past also make for fun conflicts, as Hydra comes into the fold very quickly, and her loyalites are, as always, tested.  Jessica Drew hunting down skrulls is a great hook in itself and so far, it's been executed in such a high quality way that it deserves the crown of best superhero book of the year.

2. Incredible Hercules (Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Clayton Henry, Salva Espin, Rodney Buchemi, Dietrich Smith, Ryan Stegman & Takeshi Miyazawa) - Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente know how to write a great straight-forward superhero book. I never really expected to like a book like this, featuring a big oaf with brute strength as a protagonist, with a smart nerdy sidekick. Sure, there are some flaws in the storytelling, and it may be a little hard to put into words what I like about it so much, but I just love reading it. The stories are great: battles with Amazons, teaming up with Namora, going on an odyssey with other gods to take down a skrull god...they're just a lot of fun and I really look forward to the next collection the moment I've finished with one. If it weren't for the word-of-mouth this book has been getting, I probably never would have picked it up. I'm just happy that some others see it for what it is.  One big flaw for me is the inconsistency of the art.  I feel like Marvel doesn't bother pairing the greatest artists on books like this, that may have lower sales than books with bigger name characters and a team of heroes.  I also wasn't a fan of the "Dark Reign" arc.  I like events in the superhero universes for themselves, but when other titles have to tie in to those events, those books tend to suffer as we saw with Incredible Hercules and Ms. Marvel.

3. Batman and Robin (Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely & Philip Tan) - When Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely work on a project together, they execute really great ideas to spectacular results.  Morrison's stories are both weird and classic at the same time, and are always full of lots of energy and enthusiasm, and Quitely perfectly executes the writer's vision.  Unfortunately, Quitely is not the only artist on this series.  While I'm fine with Tan on a lot of other superhero titles (including Green Lantern), he just doesn't seem capable of conjuring up the iconic, impactful images that Quitely does.  But what artist would be able to follow up Quitely without criticism?  And so what could be an excellent series falls into the realm of a great series due to the inconsistency that seems to plague Morrison, as we saw on the art with New X-Men as well.  But that being said, I love the dynamic between the new Batman and Robin, as they've really breathed a fresh of breath air into the tired relationship of student and mentor.

4. S.W.O.R.D. (Kieron Gillen & Steve Sanders) - S.W.O.R.D. is a fantastic new comic book series with a great premise. Spun out of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's excellent run on Astonishing X-Men, Agent Brand is running the Sentient World Observation and Response Department, the government's answer to threats from outer space, a compliment to their S.H.I.E.L.D. division.  With a fun crew of characters, including Beast and Lockheed, this book is one of the funnest comics I've read in a long time, with a great balance of action, humor and verbal sparring, with clear storytelling courtesy of Steve Sanders.  Brand's battle with Death's Head is an instant classic.  I hope plenty of people come onboard for this series, because only two issues out, it's already got the makings of a great.

5. Green Lantern (Geoff Johns, Philip Tan, Doug Mahnke, Ed Benes & Marcos Marz) & Blackest Night (Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis) - I've spent a good amount of time over the past few months reading Green Lantern comics (starting with Green Lantern: Rebirth) to get caught up so that I could read Blackest Night and know what the hell was going on.  And I'm very, very glad that I did.  Geoff Johns really brings Hal and his friends to life in epic tales, particularly in events leading up to the endgame, which sees the dead rise and face their former friends and colleagues.  Johns demonstrates that he puts a lot of thought and care into both story and character development as he spins his stories, and he really knows how to stage a great universe-spanning event and execute it without disappointing.  I love the different colored rings and the aliens he has wielding them and what they stand for, and even the complicated relationships of the secondary characters.  All-in-all, I think I prefer Green Lantern to Blackest Night because I enjoy the events leading up to the big battle, and also Green Lantern focuses more on what Hal is doing with the bearers of the other rings to find a solution to the Black Lantern menace, while Blackest Night seems to be more a stage for the other heroes of the DC Universe to confront those they've lost along the way, and hold down the fort until Hal returns.  Which is still a damn good time.  The titles are pretty closely-linked though, so I decided to rank them together, and I think we can all agree that Geoff Johns is brilliant, and I can't wait to see what other ideas he has in store for his readers.

6. War of Kings (Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Paul Pelletier) - Full of shocks and surprises and great, epic scenes, the latest cosmic superhero conflict from Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (Annihilation: Conquest) sees a battle between royalty as Blackbolt, the Inhuman king of the Kree, and Vulcan, ruler of the Shi'ar empire, declare war, a conflict that has been brewing for some time.  Meanwhile Lilandra seeks to reclaim the throne of the Shi'ar with the aid of several X-Men including Havok and Polaris, as well as the Starjammers.  There are several twists throughout this six-issue mini-series, the most shocking of which occurs at the end of issue four, which probably takes the crown for biggest surprise of the year for me.  I also really enjoyed Paul Pelletier's art, which reminds me quite a bit of one of my favorite superhero comic artists, Alan Davis.

7. Agents of Atlas (Jeff Parker, Gabriel Hardman, Carlo Pagulayan & Dan Panosian) & X-Men vs. Agents of Atlas (Jeff Parker, Carlo Pagulayan, Gabriel Hardman, Chris Samnee & Carlos Rodriguez) - The main Agents of Atlas title is very retro, with a gorilla man, a robot and flying saucers, but Jeff Parker uses these elements very well and has plenty of surprises up his sleeves. The premise is very Fifth Season Angel, as the agents run an evil corporation while trying to do good things with it, and presenting themselves as villains to the likes of Norman Osborn and even the "good" Avengers to keep up appearances. I love the whole cast, even if the women steal the show in my eyes.  The two-issue X-Men vs. Agents of Atlas is also quite excellent - I actually prefer it to the main series a smidge.  Parker certainly has his Atlas characters nailed down, but he proves that he can write the X-Men just as capably in a fun little story that sees a misunderstanding forcing the teams into combat.  Fun stuff.

8. Captain Britain & MI-13 (Paul Cornell, Leonard Kirk, Ardian Syaf, Mike Collins & Adrian Alphona) - Paul Cornell's series just kept getting better as it chugged along, culminating in the fantastic "Vampire Nation" arc featuring Dracula on the Moon, its finale. There's an interesting feel to this book that you don't really get with other superhero comics. Must be the whole British thing it's got going on. Great cast, great villains, and a great annual featuring Captain Britain's wife, former Excalibur member Meggan.  I'm sorry to see such a great title canceled so soon, but it had a wonderful run and ended on a high note.


9. Ti-Girls Adventures #34: Parts Three & Four from Love & Rockets: New Stories #2 (Jaime Hernandez) - Jaime Hernandez gave Penny Century the powers she always wanted in the first Love & Rockets: New stories, and completes that story in the second annual issue of the book he shares with his brother Gilbert.  Jaime brings an extraordinary amount of creativity to his work, and it seems like in a science fiction/superhero book such as this, he pushes that innovation to the Nth degree, with quirky rival teams, evil time-traveling future-selves, and all sorts of odd goofball action thrown into the mix.  Jaime illustrates this story beautifully, demonstrating once again that he is one of the most gifted cartoonists working in the medium, often playing with the art and offering striking images that ensnared my eyes as they passed over them, and made me recall them long after I'd read the story.  Even flipping through the pages as I wrote this review, I found myself enchanted by the panels all over again.

10. Dark Avengers (Brian Michael Bendis & Mike Deodato) - Norman Osborn's team of Avengers are mostly villains, much like the Thunderbolts (many of them were Thunderbolts, in fact), but are dressed up like classic and current Avengers, taking on their codenames and being endorsed by Osborn as the "official" team. Hawkeye is actually Bullseye, Ms. Marvel is actually Moonstone, etc. It's great to watch the team bickering and doing villainous things when nobody's looking, and I love Osborn's right-hand girl, the steely, capable Miss Victoria Hand, whom I hope to get to know more of in future issues.  I particularly enjoyed the most recent storyline surrounding Molecule Man, and as always, Deodato's art is a treat to behold.

Honorable Mentions

Irredeemable (Mark Waid & Peter Krause)
Dark Reign: Elektra (Zeb Wells & Clay Mann)
Echo (Terry Moore)
The Sword (Luna Brothers)
Green Lantern Corps (Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Miss Don't Touch Me

Hubert & Kerascoet

Miss Don't Touch Me is a French graphic novel from writer and colorist Hubert, and Kerascoet, a husband-wife art team who have done work on some of Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar's Dungeon books.  Speaking of Joann Sfar, the art on this book very much reminded me of the type of pencils I would see him turn out, loose and willowy and expressive.  This book kind of does several different things, and to fantastic effect, but ultimately, this is a murder mystery.  Someone is cutting women to pieces in 1930's Paris, dubbed the Butcher of the Dances, and Blanche warns her close friend Agatha to quit attending the dances in the suburbs where the murders are occurring.  However, it's something much closer to home that the girls need fear.  While alone in her room one night, Blanche witnesses something chilling through a hole in the wall that looks into the abandoned building behind her.  What she sees will upend her world and send her to uncover the meaning behind the senseless death of her dear friend.  To get closer to the truth, Blanche adopts the role of Miss Don't Touch Me, or a stern punishing English governess, at the Pompadour, a high-class bordello where the Butcher's last victim came from.  Once there, she witnesses behavior that scandalizes her, and makes the acquaintance of several fascinating characters, and many enemies, whose petty jealousies force her to commit acts she didn't think herself capable of.  I love the character of Blanche.  She compromises some aspects of herself to accomplish her goals, but is resilient as ever in working toward them.  She's a capable woman with an honorable endgame, but her methods are certainly questionable, and downright vile at times, yet you can't help but get a certain satisfaction when she does do something a darker character would do, despite her early naivety.  It's a thrilling look at a woman in a difficult situation who no longer has anything left to lose, even if it is all over-the-top and silly in the end.  This book is full of terrific environments and secondary characters who come into their own along the way, each with quirks and oozing personality.  This book has mystery, horror, drama, suspense and is completely riveting throughout, leading to a satisfying climax after all is said and done.  This is a very impressive work that people aren't talking about enough.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

In Stores 12/23

Here are the highlights of books available at comic shops tomorrow!

Pick of the Week


Footnotes In Gaza HC - Comics journalist Joe Sacco illustrates an event in Rafah that ended with the death of 111 Palestinians, while painting a larger picture of Gaza that spans fifty years.

Other Noteworthy Releases

Agents of Atlas: Dark Reign TP
Angel Annual #1
Angelus #1 (of 6)
Art of Herge: Inventor of Tintin (Volume 2) HC
Atomic Robo (Volume 3) TP
Blackest Night: JSA #1 (of 3)
Brian Michael Bendis: 10 Years at Marvel TP
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow One-Shot
Captain America Reborn: Who Will Wield the Shield?
Criminal Macabre: Cell Block 666 TP
Daredevil by Bendis & Maleev (Volume 2) Omnibus HC
Dark Reign: The Hood TP
Dark Reign: Sinister Spider-Man TP
Dark Reign: Skrull Kill Krew TP
Dark Reign: Young Avengers TP
Fall of the Hulks: Gamma
Gantz (Volume 8)
Garth Ennis' Battlefields: Happy Valley #1 (of 9)
The Great Anti-War Comics SC
Green Lantern Chronicles (Volume 2) TP
Guardians of the Galaxy (Volume 3): War of Kings: Book 2 TP
Halo: Blood Line #1 (of 5)
Hellboy: Bride of Hell One-Shot
Image United #2 (of 6)
Incredible Hercules: Mighty Thorcules HC
Komplete Kiss HC Set
Marvel Masterworks: Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD (Volume 2) HC
Marvel Masterworks: Uncanny X-Men (Volume 2) TP
Marvel Zombies Return HC
The Mighty (Volume 1) TP
Ms. Marvel (Volume 8): War of the Marvels HC
Nexus Archives (Volume 10) HC
Runaways: True Believers HC
Scourge of the Gods: Fall HC
Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures In the Eighth Grade TP
Wall-E #1

Monday, December 21, 2009

10 Best Manga of 2009

2009 was a fantastic year for manga releases.  And as I've read more manga this year than ever before, there were many books that did not make it to this pretty exclusive top ten list, many that I admire greatly.  My top choices will land on my overall comics end of the year list which will be out shortly.  Anyone looking to expand their library, I recommend the following books wholeheartedly.


1.  Pluto (Naoki Urasawa, Based on Astro Boy by Osamu Tezuka) - Reimagining Osamu Tezuka's classic Astro Boy story "The Greatest Robot On Earth," Naoki Urasawa interprets Tezuka's world in a realistic fashion, updating the beloved character in a story that's drawn out to let the characters live and breathe in a fully-realized environment.  Urasawa is a master of pacing, which fans of the creator have experienced since Monster first began to be translated into English a few years ago.  With Pluto, Urasawa takes that pacing to a whole new level, injecting genuine suspense, a complex mystery and characters that develop before readers' eyes in a story that the master artist teases out for fans, leading to big reveals and making moments (like the introduction of Atom) seem that much cooler that ever before.  Urasawa also happens to be one stunning illustrator, making for some beautiful action scenes (or hell, just beautiful talking heads) amid some of the most crystal-clear storytelling out there.  The overall package is a manga nearly perfect on every level, and well-deserving of the title of best manga of the year.

2. A Drifting Life (Yoshihiro Tatsumi) - Telling the story of his life, manga giant Yoshihiro Tatsumi also paints a history of manga for readers in this massive autobiography.  Tatsumi was immersed in the manga world from a young age, and as such, he had a special view of the development of the medium, and being a master cartoonist, helped to shape it into what it is today.  Through this chronicle, Tatsumi captures the struggle of a blossoming artist, with all of its hardships and rewards alike, as he strives to follow in the footsteps of his hero, the great Osamu Tezuka.  This book is insightful, inspiring, and you can see his love for manga on every page of this great work.

3. Honey Hunt (Miki Aihara) - Honey Hunt is a shojo manga from the creator of Hot Gimmick, that follows the daughter of cold, distant celebrity parents.  To be taken seriously and meet her mother on her own turf, Yura strives to become an actress to rival her mother's abilities in a manga full of some really messed-up characters.  It may contain some echoes of Ai Yazawa's Nana, but this series is so well-executed and beautifully-crafted that I can't help but be utterly addicted to the title, constantly on the lookout for the next installment to come out.

4. Ooku: The Inner Chambers (Fumi Yoshinaga) - From the creator of Antique Bakery comes a tale that imagines an alternate history for Japan during the Edo Period.  During this time, a plague wipes out most of the male population, forcing women to take on roles formerly held by men, including the role of shogun.  To protect the royal lineage, the shogun's inner chamber has been converted to house the most beautiful men in the country, where they serve her until death.  The premise is creative and very rich, making for some intense, fascinating stories.

5. GoGo Monster (Taiyo Matsumoto) - Easily boasting the best packaging for a manga this year, GoGo Monster stands out on a bookshelf with a handsome design, and with a story just as rich.  Inside, you'll find quirky characters, particularly Yuki Tachibana, who may or may not have a gift to communicate with spirits at his elementary school.  This book is a vivid, slow-building work with an utterly compelling story. It's the kind of book that sent shivers up my spine, with some nightmarish images that won't soon be forgotten.  A strong, creative vision from a talented creator unafraid of putting difficult, lasting material out there.

6. Swallowing the Earth (Osamu Tezuka) - While Swallowing the Earth was written during a transition period for the god of manga, that of his stories moving from children's stories to that of the more serious, mature works of his later life, Swallowing the Earth is still a very rich tale where Tezuka has a lot to say about society, greed, government and gender inequality.  It's a story epic in scale, beginning with smaller events and mysteries that slowly spiral passed the sum of its parts into a whirlwind of disaster for the world's economy and governments, complete with plots of revenge and unexpected love. Tezuka populates his beautifully-illustrated world with characters that are oozing with emotion and reactions to the odd situations they find themselves in.  This book is top-notch and should really not be missed by anyone who considers themselves a fan of manga.

7. X-Men: Misfits (Raina Telgemeier, Dave Roman & Anzu) - I wasn't expecting much of this title when I first picked it up, but it really won me over, and is a first-rate example of a reimagining done to fantastic results.  Perhaps it's the superhero fan in me, but I loved the shojo elements warped from things already present in the X-Men universe, throwing girl-next-door Kitty Pryde into a school populated by mutant boys who are fashion-forward and often oversexualized, with a good amount of humor and tension thrown into the mix.  Some manga readers may be put off by the superhero invasion into the manga format, and some superhero fans may be aghast at the transformations of their beloved universe, but I was, happily, very pleased with the imaginative result of the creators, and was constantly excited to see what else they had in store for the mutants.  The art is also executed to great results, from the designs of the reimagined characters to the clear action.  I often gazed at panels for awhile before moving on, particularly early scenes of Kitty phasing through walls and floors (and there's one later scene of her phasing through the mansion wrapped in Pyro's arms).  This book is just an utter treat and I have no qualms with naming this one of my favorite manga of the year because I loved every moment of it.

8. 20th Century Boys (Naoki Urasawa) - Like Monster, this suspenseful series is really complex and boasts a huge cast of characters that bounce back and forth in time as mysteries unfold (thank goodness for recap pages) as quickly as new ones pop up.  One has to keep on top of this series to keep the thread of the story, but for those who do, it's very rewarding.  Urasawa is a master cartoonist and has the ability to transport readers into the worlds he weaves, particularly into the lazy summer days of the childhood the characters in this series experienced.  Events unravel in a way that have you on the seat of your chair, and creativity explodes from the pages of this remarkable tale.

9. Yotsuba&! (Kiyohiko Azuma) - I think everyone who's ever picked up this series in the past breathed a little easier when Yen Press began to publish this series where ADV left off (and reprinted the five previously-released volumes as well).  I may have gasped or jumped for joy myself, because Yotsuba&! is a fantastic book that often makes me chuckle or just laugh outright.  Yotsuba is the cutest wide-eyed girl and captures an innocence from childhood that's difficult to recreate.  Azuma is amazing for having created this book and sustaining it with energy for so long, coming up with new adventures for Yotsuba to go on as she learns and grows.  Manga would be a much darker place without the little green-haired girl in it.  Thank you, Yen Press.

10. Leave It To PET! (Kenji Sonishi) - I have been consistently impressed by the offerings through Viz's new VizKids line of manga for children, and this title is the cream of the crop.  The book follows Noboru Yamada, who recycled a plastic bottle, and that plastic bottle returned to him as PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate, which is a type of plastic), a recycled robot who grants Noboru a favor every day as a way of thanking him.  Unfortunately, things don't always go the way they should.  Actually, they hardly ever do.  PET is lazy, mischievous and just plain bad at helping out, which makes for a pretty hilarious manga.  I don't think I've ever laughed so hard reading a comic as I have reading this book.  Sonishi's pacing and timing is superb, and any child who finds this in their hands is a lucky child indeed.

Honorable Mentions

The Color of Earth (Kim Dong Hwa)
Children of the Sea (Daisuke Igarashi)
Red Snow (Susumu Katsumata)
Happy Happy Clover (Sayuri Tatsuyama)
Hikaru No Go (Yumi Hotta & Takeshi Obata)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Chew (Volume 1): Taster's Choice

John Layman & Rob Guillory


Image Comics' Chew is a certified hit after going through several reprints in floppy format, then topping the comic store graphic novel chart in November.  Admittedly, the premise is pretty neat.  A cop has the ability to receive psychic impressions from things he eats.  As a side effect, he doesn't eat much since the pesticides of fruit or the last moments of an animal are things that fill his mind whenever he does.  Except when he eats beets.  This power also makes Tony Chu a valubale asset to the FDA, who hire him and make him do some pretty disgusting things.  Or I should say, eat some pretty disgusting things.  Survivor was nothing compared to what this guy has to go through, usually involving cannibalism or something that's been rotting for days.  Chu also lives in a world where poultry has been outlawed, as many people allegedly died in some sort of chicken flu epidemic.  Because this prohibition is in place, the FDA has a lot of power and are always on the lookout for poultry smuggling, and likewise, most people hate the FDA for it, often treating Chu and his fellow officers with disdain, intentionally hampering investigations or slinging words their way (including Chu's own brother).  It's a neat sort of alternate reality Layman created here, and Guillory's fun, cartoony art lends itself well to the dark humor of the book overall.  This book loves to go for the gross-out moments, but it's also full of action, fun characters, and mystery.  As many people already know, if those sales numbers are any indication, this is a great idea for a book, and Layman and Guillory don't disappoint with the first collection.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

3 Comics I Had the Misfortune of Reading This Year

Here are reviews for the three worst comics I read this year.  I'm sure there were worse out there, but these were the worst that I personally weathered.

1. Models Inc. (Paul Tobin & Vicenc Villagrasa) - "Borrowing" the name of an ill-fated television series (a spin-off of Melrose Place, at that), Models Inc. launches at Marvel, a mini-series that brings together several of the top models in Marvel's universe for a cheeky little Sex & the City gossip-fest that turns into a murder mystery by issue's end. Together on this fashion shoot are Toni Turner, Jill Jerold, Chili Storm, Patsy Walker (Hellcat), and the focus of this debut issue, Millicent Collins aka Millie the Model. Not only does this series "borrow" the name of its book, but also the faux-magazine covers that were the trademark of The Luna Brothers' breakthrough series Ultra: Seven Days. And the rest of the issue kind of goes with that theme, showing nary an ounce of originality by the chapter's conclusion. Even the dialogue, which was heavy in this story with nothing else really for the models to do, was mediocre. Trying to make things a little edgy, the creators threw in a lesbian model (oooh, scandalous) and a grab-happy security guard. I don't know what Marvel was thinking publishing this. Trying to gain interest from female readers is one thing: putting out a product that would make them blush at the stereotypes is another. To make matters even worse, there's an utterly embarrassing back-up story featuring Tim Gunn (by Marc Sumerak and Jorge Molina), using as many catch-phrases from the pop culture icon as possible before throwing him in an Iron Man suit to give him a reason to be there. And it's a bad drawing of Tim Gunn at that. The only thing I liked about this part of the book (or the book in general, really) is incorporating Wasp's fashion history into the story via a Janet Van Dyne Memorial Wing of the New York Fashion Museum. That was a nice little touch. Otherwise, this was a pretty lame attempt to garner media attention, with superhero cameos for the sake of tying this book loosely to a universe that's infinitely more interesting than this piece of half-hearted "art." The TV series was better, and that's saying something.

2. Wolverine: Prodigal Son (Antony Johnston & Wilson Tortosa) - It was only a matter of time before Wolverine made the leap to OEL manga, and here it is under the care of Antony Johnston (Wasteland) and Wilson Tortosa (Battle of the Planets), who retell Wolverine's story and origin for their manga universe. In this version of his backstory, Wolverine was left at the door of "Quiet Earth," a school that teaches young students how to defend themselves, and shares earthy wisdom. A wolverine was standing over Logan in the doorway, thus his "codename" was attached to him. When Wolverine first joined the school, he bested the original champion of the school, who immediately left in disgrace, but of course, his story isn't over as he brings the real threat to Logan at their front door much later in the story. Wolverine, like in his superhero appearances, is not a people person: he's a broody loner who goes off into berserker rages when things don't go well for him. But he makes a few friends and his teacher sees the potential in him, which is how Logan became the first student to pass the "Wind, Wood and Water" test. All of this is fine, but it really lacks imagination. It seems like both of the creators on this book had an idea of what manga should look like and applied them to this work. Johnston's ideas are so basic and par-for-the-course when it comes to action manga that it's utterly tame and boring when held up to other works with schools that train students to fight - this is a complete embarrassment when held up against something like Naruto. And Tortosa's art doesn't fare much better. While the sketches in back show a lot of potential for the character designs, when executed it just looks hastily executed, with seeming little intuition for what looks aesthetically pleasing. And the action scenes are a mess, the artist resorting to action lines constantly to the point that it's difficult to see past them to the actual action being depicted. I think there is a lot of potential in Wolverine the character to translate to manga in a good way, but this just isn't it. And any characters beyond Logan in this title are complete throw-away characters with no personality or character traits of their own whatsoever. One thing I can give this book is that the artist and writer seem well suited for each other...

3. Domo: The Manga (Clint Bickham, Rem, Sonia Leong, Lindsay Cibos & Jared Hodges, Created by Tsuneo Goda) - Domo is the mascot for a Japanese television network, and his popularity has led to his being plastered all over t-shirts, mugs, toys and now, his own manga series for kids. Basically, Domu is portrayed in this book as a lovable oaf. He doesn't understand things and gets so excited that he's constantly breaking things, making people angry, and being a general nuisance. Ultimately, he's pretty annoying. I'm not sure if I should be rooting for him when he's causing so much havoc, and he doesn't seem to learn from any of his mistakes whatsoever. I was more sympathetic with the supporting cast, who I wouldn't have minded seeing kick his brown furry butt, special needs or not. I like how many of the stories revolved around the television, either video games or television programs, as Domu got his start on TV, and the art was surprisingly pretty consistent with so many creators working on the manga together, alternating art chores with chapters. Since this is a kids' comics, it was appropriate to release this in color, and the cartoony style worked well, as each of the creators was able to graft their style with the character designs and environment pretty seemlessly. But aside from the obnoxious protagonist, the stories are all pretty dopey. Really silly. I didn't care for the humor myself, but I can see children really enjoying this sort of book, and as this is for them really, I would say it's a success in that regard. Unfortunately, the vibe I got from this book overall, with the talking forest creatures living in what's basically a human world, made me feel like the creators grafted the figure of Domo to a generic Saturday morning cartoon, like Arthur or Franklin, and didn't really have anything else to say. And as Domo isn't a forest animal, I'm not sure it was the right fit either. Overall, there's nothing really original to the concept behind this manga. It's executed competently, kids will probably enjoy it, but their time is better spent with something more substantial and original.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hulk: Winter Guard

David Gallaher, Steve Ellis, Peter David & Dale Keown

Winter Guard is a team of superheroes from Russia consisting of Red Guardian, Ursa Major, Crimson Dynamo and Darkstar.  This one-shot establishes the modern-day incarnation of the team, courtesy of David Gallaher and Steve Ellis, while a flashback to Incredible Hulk showing a past version of the team, from Peter David's run, with art by Dale Keown.  I wasn't a big fan of the content from Incredible Hulk #393, which was originally published in 1992.  It looks very dated when compared to the sleak cinematic storytelling of today's superhero comics, in particular when sandwiched in a comic book such as this one, between two shorts told in that modern style.  And perhaps it's just because I'm used to the modern style of superhero comics, but I preferred those shorts, which mostly focused on Darkstar, the superhero that Grant Morrison killed during his legendary run on New X-Men.  The Darkstar appearing in this one-shot is a different person, Sasha Roerich, who has taken on the name of Darkstar on the Winter Guard, a team that rotates out each position when one of them dies.  The current Crimson Dynamo, for example, is killed in the first chapter and promptly replaced by the time the press conference rolls around, to keep up appearances that everything is normal and that they are reliable, god-like heroes who watch over Russia.  This sort of thing has been done before, most notably in X-Statix, but I do like the idea of the specific mantle being passed on to a new person each time.  Kind of neat.  I also like how Gallaher plays with the stone that charges Darkstar's energy, and how the new bearer can feel the predecessor inside herself.  It's a neat element to play with to give that character some depth.  For some reason, I'm really drawn to these superhero teams that protect any given country.  Like Alpha Flight.  It's just kind of cool knowing that if Marvel characters travel to Russia, they're in these guys' jurisdiction.  Anyways, Hulk: Winter Guard doesn't offer anything really new, but it's a fun little superhero read, and I look forward to future appearances by this team throughout the Marvel U, perhaps even in another book of their own.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Black Widow & the Marvel Girls #1 (of 4)

Paul Tobin & Salva Espin

This is pretty much throw-away material.  Clunky writing and dialogue, second-rate art:  Marvel wasn't exactly looking to sell a masterpiece with this one.  I'm sure the only reason a project like this even exists is because Black Widow will be appearing in Iron Man 2, and Marvel wants to capitalize on that with as much of a backlist as possible.  Well, hopefully they will collect some of Greg Rucka's mini-series featuring the character again because this is going to turn away any potential new readers.  And I mean running-away-screaming turn away new readers.  Tobin uses little imagination when it comes to using Black Widow in this book.  Unlike Paul Cornell, who is writing the other Black Widow mini-series running currently, Black Widow: Deadly Origin, which actually incorporates some good ideas, it seems like Tobin didn't know what he was doing when he took this on, beginning with a cringe-worthy opening scene where Black Widow infiltrates some compound, to the flashback scenes of her training in the red room.  It's predictable, lazy and awkward through and through.  The only other "Marvel girl" in this debut issue of the series is Enchantress, who plays with the Russian spy during her training.  She's pretty much a non-presence who has that generic excuse of an immortal being "bored" as her motivation.  Assuming that another female character (or two) in the Marvel Universe is going to appear in every other issue of this series, hopefully better care is given to make their appearance more of an event.  But if this first issue is any indication, this series is just insulting, from that name (I'd like to see a Hercules & the Marvel Boys comic. Maybe that won't make this "girl power" image they're trying to portray here seem so lame and desperate.) to the execution of a half-baked script.

Iron Man 2 trailer

It's up!  See Whiplash and Black Widow (and Tony, of course) in action:  http://www.apple.com/trailers/paramount/ironman/

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Best In Music: 2009

My Favorite 20 Songs of 2009

20. "Nobody" by Kate Earl - With a little bit of an 80's edge to it, and a good amount of soul, this makes for a good little pop song overall.

19. "Young Adult Friction" by The Pains of Being Young at Heart - A rock song with a good hook and a really fun climax.  Very youthful and fresh.

18. "Telephone" by Lady Gaga featuring Beyonce - Lady Gaga has a knack for overdoing everything, and producing some catchy dance grooves.  This is my favorite.

17. "Watcha Gonna Do" by Imelda May - Imelda May has a CD full of soulful, flirty songs on "Love Tattoo," and this energetic song is the best of the bunch.

16. "Sweet Sweet Heartkiller" by Say Hi To Your Mom - This restrained song is delivered with a heartbreaking lovely voice, and contains some pretty great lines.

15. "Once Was Love" by Ingrid Michaelson - "Everybody" has a bunch of great singer/songwriter type of songs, really fully-realized and executed with some playful sounds and lyrics.  "Once Was Love" stands out for me just because I love the refrain.

14. "Boom" by Anjulie - Brimming with sultry sounds and a conflict of conscience, this sexy song is easy to lose oneself in.

13. "The Rainiest Day of Summer" by Elizabeth & the Catapult - This depressing song with an angelic chorus is a beautifully-written song, one of many on the album "Taller Children."

12. "Dreams" by Brandi Carlile - Brandi Carlile has been creating fantastic music for awhile now, so it's no surprise that the songstress hit another one out of the park with this new jam that showcases her great voice and musical arrangements.

11. "Not Fair" by Lily Allen - Amid a fantastic album, Lily Allen released this great song with a wonderful hook and smart, sassy lyrics.  I love songs with big bell chimes in them for some reason.

10. "Hearing Damage" by Thom Yorke - Yorke's electronic, experimental sound is haunting and beautiful, and really proved it could enchance a fight sequence in a movie (one of the only good things about New Moon).

9. "Relator" by Pete Yorn & Scarlet Johansson - This single has more bells and whistles than Pete Yorn's other songs, but Yorn never seemed to have so much fun in a song just made for the summer. Scarlett holds her own alongside the rocker with a subdued, distorted sound.

8. "Oh, No" by Andrew Bird - One of the most mainstream songs by songwriter Andrew Bird is a cheerful-sounding tune full of hums and whistles for a perfectly agreeable package.

7. "Zero" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Zero" is a rocking song with a lot of energy. It's infectious as hell and dares you to move to its beat.

6. "God Help the Girl" by God Help the Girl - This whimsical song written by Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian is a wonderfully simple song that soars with Catherine Ireton's cheeky vocals.

5. "Whatever You Like" by Anya Marina - Remaking the rap song by T.I., Anya Marina brings new energy and a new perspective to the lyrics with a very danceable, pop-laden rendition.

4. "French Navy" by Camera Obscura - This song is incredibly catchy with great swells of sound and an overall fun retro vibe.

3. "Satellite Heart" by Anya Marina - Anya Marina was a real find for me this year.  With the singer/songwriter's addition to the New Moon soundtrack, I hope she finds a whole new audience.  This dark song full of strings is just beautiful.

2. "As It Must Be" by Joey Ryan - This fantastic soft ballad by singer/songwriter Joey Ryan is delivered via a beautiful voice that's just heartbreaking set to the strings and piano in this single.  An instant classic.

1. "Sweet About Me" by Gabriella Cilmi - This country-soaked song from soul-singer Gabriella Cilmi is one of the, if not the, best song I've heard in the past five years. A strong voice, complimented by sassy lyrics for one unforgettable overall package.

My 10 Favorite Albums of 2009

10. "Wait For Me" by Moby - Full of haunting experimental sounds, Moby's latest may be his most ambitious yet. Electrifying and original. Key Tracks: "Pale Horses," "Shot In the Back of the Head," "Walk With Me."

9. "Red Revelations" by Jace Everett - Jace Everett, whose song "Bad Things" is on people's minds, as it's the theme song for HBO's True Blood, has a dark, moody sound on this intense country-rock album chalk-full of great broody music. Key Tracks: "Possession," "Burn For You," "One of Them."

8. "Lessons To Be Learned" by Gabriella Cilmi - As I mentioned already, "Sweet About Me" is one of the best songs I've heard in a long while, but also speckled throughout this CD are bluesy songs that really showcase Cilmi's amazing voice. Key Tracks: "Sweet About Me," "Awkward Game," "Cigarettes and Lies."

7. "Everybody" by Ingrid Michaelson - As I stated above, Ingrid has a knack for writing playful, fully-realized songs on this CD full of great music.  Key Tracks: "Once Was Love," "Sort Of," "Everybody."

6. "Bomb In a Birdcage" by A Fine Frenzy - With the second CD, I feel like A Fine Frenzy kind of cut loose and made a consistently great album, really showcasing what A Fine Frenzy is capable of:  stunning songs.  Playful and melodic.  Key Tracks:  "Electric Twist," "The World Without," "Happier."

5. "Campfire Songs" by The Tall Pines - This is just a new classic country-rock album. Strong, solid songs with great tunes and fantastic vocals (by both men and women, but primarily from the stunning Connie Lynn Petruk). Not to be missed. Key Tracks: "Up!" "Good Woman," "Love You Better."

4. "Love, Save the Empty" by Erin McCarley - McCarley's breathy vocals are perfectly suited for this pop-tinged CD with infectious beats and surprisingly dark lyrics. This is a new talent to keep your eyes on. Key Tracks: "Hello/Goodbye," "Sleepwalking," "Love, Save the Empty."

3. "It's Not Me, It's You" by Lily Allen - In UK artist Lily Allen's latest, the sassy singer-songwriter develops some amazing hooks with bold lyrics and blunt political references. From her tribute to George W. Bush ("Fuck You") to more personal songs about love and sex, Lily Allen hits a home run that's even better than her critically-acclaimed debut that put her on the map. Key Tracks: "Not Fair," "Back To the Start," "Fuck You."

2. "Amanda Leigh" by Mandy Moore - On her latest CD, Moore produces an album inspired by music of the 60's and 70's ("Song About Home"), as well as musicals ("Pocket Philosopher"), to produce some riveting sounds about love and heartache. She established her song-writing abilities with her previous album "Wild Hope," but her voice has never sounded better than it does on this album, where she exudes a confidence in her writing and singing that really signals something special. Key Tracks: "Everblue," "Love To Love Me Back," "Nothing Everything."

1. "...With Its Roots Above and Its Branches Below" by Joey Ryan - This UK import CD contains the wonderful "As It Must Be" listed above, and contains some songs from older EPs released by Joey like fan-favorite "California." His voice soars in songs like "Like A Cloak" and croons powerfully through many of the bare folk songs. This CD is very simple but irrefutably beautiful. Buy it here. Key Tracks: "As It Must Be," "Like a Cloak," "No One Else Like You."