Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 20 Comics of 2010

Here we are again.  Another year, another best-of list.  These are my favorite comic books from 2010, including manga, superheroes, graphic novels, reprints, etc.  I try to be as true to how I feel about a book as possible when ranking them, which is why it may seem odd for some to see a superhero title hardly anyone read rank over an acclaimed graphic novel.  If I enjoyed my experience of reading it more, it was placed higher on my list.  I hope you enjoy my list of twenty choice books.  I read a lot of great comics this year and certainly encourage you to pick up any of the wonderful graphic novels that made the cut this time around.  Without further adieu, here are my favorite comics of the year...

Honorable Mentions
A Drunken Dream and Other Stories (Moto Hagio)
Ooku: The Inner Chambers (Fumi Yoshinaga)
Set To Sea (Drew Weing)
Stumptown (Greg Rucka & Matthew Southworth)
Weathercraft (Jim Woodring)

20. Twin Spica (Kou Yaginuma) - The manga that starts out my list has a retro feel to it, following a rather innocent protagonist who dreams of one day traveling to the stars, and so she enrolls in the Tokyo Space School, where she will be prepared for her chosen field.  This book has a gentle, often melancholy quality to it, as Asumi is faced with plenty of obstacles and hardships.  Yet she is constantly surrounded by people who watch out for her and makes friends as she goes along, drawing people to her with her caring nature and determination to see her dreams come true.

19. X'd Out (Charles Burns) - The first volume in the new comic book that Charles Burns is creating sees Burns experimenting with the medium in a David Lynch-like, unsettling story that bounces between three different narratives that seem to follow one character as he's: young and rebellious, a little older and weening himself off of pills, and as he traverses a more cartoony landscape as a Herge-inspired character while he's dreaming/hallucinating.  Probably.  Either way, it's quite a trip to read, even if it is disorienting and nightmarish.  That's what Burns does best anyway.  And this time around, we get it in full color.

18. Avengers Academy (Christos Gage & Mike McKone) - The best Avengers title out there consists of a cast of new characters who have been experimented on by Norman Osborn, and now handpicked to be on this new team - not because they're the best and the brightest, but because they have the potential to be dangerous to society, and need to be tempered and perhaps defused.  It's nice and refreshing to have a whole new batch of plucky characters to get to know in this bright superhero series, with a little edge, a little darkness to them.  And these are some of the best character designs that I've seen in recent memory.

17. Black Widow (Marjorie Liu, Daniel Acuna, Duane Swierczynski & Manuel Garcia) - Beginning with a mystery that has its roots in the Widow's past, then diving head-first into a world full of espionage, back-stabbing and superheroics is this new Black Widow series.  Liu makes Natasha into an interesting, very likable character, something that's often missing when it comes to the character in recent incarnations, and Liu also knows how to spin a good yarn with exciting plot twists.  Swierczynski has picked up on what Liu has set up as he continues the series with dynamic secondary characters and riveting action.

16. If 'n Oof (Brian Chippendale) - This thick graphic novel from Brian Chippendale features two lovable buddies as they maneuver their way through a very lethal landscape full of odd characters and creatures.  The story is told with one panel on each page, forcing you to turn the pages feverishly in a comic that you just have to experience for yourself.  It's often over-the-top, always unpredictable, and just plain fun.  A whimsical adventure in a strange land.

15. Miss Don't Touch Me (Volume 2) (Hubert & Kerascoet) - The first Miss Don't Touch Me graphic novel placed quite high on my favorite comics last year, so it's really no surprise that the second volume reared its head here this time around as well.  The husband-wife creative team return to Blanche, where they left her at a high-class bordello as the virginal stern headmistress Miss Don't Touch Me.  This is a different beast than the first story however, without the murder mystery and origins into the shady business, although this one certainly delights in its own ways.  Blanche meets a handsome eligible bachelor in her latest adventure at the same time as her mother returns to her life.  Blanche is delighted with both relationships, however nothing is as it seems, and more mysteries await her as the story progresses and new facts come to light.

14. Artichoke Tales (Megan Kelso) - This multi-generational story follows the women of the Quicksand family, who carry on their apothecary business while a war is raging between the north and south.  The war keeps lovers apart, causes tension in the family, and sees sacrifices along the way in what feels like a rather epic story.  Kelso's simple lines beautifully capture the emotional turmoil of the characters and move the action along fluidly.  This title caught me by surprise with how much I enjoyed it - it looks deceptively simple, but there's a lot going on in this ambitious book.

13. Smurfs (Peyo & Various) - Papercutz' reprints of Peyo's Smurf comics, which inspired the cartoon that millions have come to know and love, are the first time many readers have been able to read the Smurfs comics in America, including myself.  I spent hours upon hours watching Smurfs on television on Saturday mornings growing up, but I had no idea that they'd been based on a popular Belgian comic until this archival project was announced.  But the comics are every bit as magical and entertaining as I remember the smurfs from my childhood being, and are just a lot of fun to read as an adult.  The way Papercutz is reprinting them, the original story that introduces the smurfs is actually reprinted in the second volume they've released, in The Smurfs and the Magic Flute.  The first volume released is The Purple Smurfs, containing the classic story that the volume is named for, and perhaps the best story of the bunch.  The Smurf King was also released this year, with more on the way.  These are just great little stories surrounding the little blue guys who have a knack for finding trouble.

12. Underground (Jeff Parker & Steve Lieber) - This is a really exciting little action comic that follows two park rangers who catch some dangerous men hired to set off explosives in Stillwater Cave, and are driven deep into the cave to escape them in a desperate bid for survival.  Along the way, they encounter walls of rock, high water and near misses in this fast-paced, claustrophobic read.  I think that Steve Lieber's artwork is what really makes this book work.  He had the experience on Whiteout and Whiteout: Melt to make a harsh environment come to life with the obstacles of making it look very cold, and also to make the art exciting when sometimes the pages would be just full of the white snow.  Here, he brings that same sort of technique to life in the opposite manner, having to use the sparse light from the character's flashlights and flares to force back the deep shadows of the cave.  It's a very dark book, lots of black, but the panels are expertly lit with shade.  And the action is really intense and often brutal, so the story just flies by.  Lieber paces the story with ease, drawing out tension, and making the protagonists' desperate plight come alive.

11. Sand Chronicles (Hinako Ashihara) - No book gets me more emotional than this shojo manga does.  Every time I crack open a volume, it's inevitable that tears are going to follow.  This smartly-written manga with troubled, fully-realized characters, follows Ann, whose mother committed suicide when she was young, and has had that experience hanging over her her entire life, sometimes subconsciously causing her to do things that hurt her or those around her, and sometimes making decisions that aren't necessarily the healthiest.  Her story is full of love, loss, depression and feeling generally directionless.  But just as fascinating as the places that Ann goes in this story are the back stories of the characters around her, all of whom have their own issues to contend with.  The revelations keep coming as this series winds towards its conclusion, but this is one emotional roller coaster that I'm glad I had the opportunity to experience.

10. The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (Volume 1) (Jacques Tardi) - A lot of people have been talking about Jacques Tardi's other work from this year, It Was the War of the Trenches, but I preferred this whacky book of mystery and double-crossing that collects the stories Pterror Over Paris and The Eiffel Tower Demon, both of which star the very capable Miss Adele.  Adele is a fearless woman living in Paris in the early 20th century, plotting crimes for her own purposes and trying to uncover the insidious plots of others.  This story is full of broad characters and is really silly, but it's a really riveting, often funny book that you can't help but love to spend time with, featuring some of Tardi's best art period.  Plus pterodactyls in Paris!

9. Batwoman: Elegy (Greg Rucka & J.H. Williams III) - Collecting content from Detective Comics, this story features a gay woman who puts her military training to good use after she's booted out over "don't ask, don't tell."  With some additional training and a little help from friends, Kate Kane becomes quite a force as Batwoman in this fun, dark story.  This title features some amazing art from J.H. Williams III, which is the big draw here, with some really nice elaborately-designed splash pages.  Rucka does an equally amazing job from his end, providing readers with a three-dimensional heroine to lead this action-packed title from the shadows of Gotham City.

8. not simple (Natsume Ono) - One of the best discoveries of the year for me has been Natsume Ono, as Viz has released a good amount of material from the artist this year, introducing the creator to American audiences with some fantastic work.  Ono's art is pretty stylized, probably in not simple more than any of her other works, featuring bug-eyed characters and simple cartoony lines.  It doesn't look like anything anyone else is doing, but it looks really cool.  Her storytelling is equally as enthralling.  not simple tells the story of Ian, a strange, passive character who seems a little too innocent and naive, just going with whatever life throws his way.  A majority of this book sees him trying to achieve a goal he's set for himself so that he can see his sister again, to fulfill a promise he made to her.  But right away, things are fuzzy, as Ian himself isn't even sure if his sister is really his mother.  And once a little inconsistency like that is examined, there are a lot of other revelations that follow suit, coloring in quite the unbelievable life for this soft-spoken guy.  There are many shocking revelations, and interesting turns, in this highly emotional tale that often ventures into territory that's pretty depressing, but makes for a compelling story.

7. Gunnerkrigg Court (Volume 2): Research (Thomas Siddell) - This all-ages graphic novel began as a webcomic, but like other high quality material out there in cyberspace, made the leap to print, courtesy of Archaia.  This is one of those books that really has something for everybody: magic, mystery, an epic scope, a demon-possessed toy cat and a great protagonist in Antimony Carver.  Siddell has really grown comfortable with illustrating his world by this volume, providing some truly amazing artwork.  And this second volume builds on the story and mythology established in the first book, bringing the thrills to new heights, while letting readers spend more time with the fun inhabitants of the dark hallways of Gunnerkrigg Court, and all of the magic and danger that lurks there with them.
6. Love and Rockets: New Stories #3 (Gilbert Hernandez & Jaime Hernandez) - The Hernandez Brothers' third annual release of Love and Rockets is their best yet.  Gilbert Hernandez has long been a favorite artist of mine and he offers some pretty dynamic stories this time around as well, including another comic adaptation of one of Frtiz's "B" movies, "Scarlet by Starlight."  While Gilbert's stories are high-quality offerings with fantastic art, it's Jaime who really stands out this time around.  "The Love Bunglers" is a two-part story that follows Maggie as she goes on a few dates with a friend from the past, but the "Browntown" epilogue to that story is where Jaime really offers a show stopper.  The tale is about Maggie and her family when they were younger and several life-changing events that occur to them that would shape their future.  Jaime develops his characters effortlessly as he produces what may be one of the best offerings of his career.

5. Ayako (Osamu Tezuka) - My favorite manga of the year was written by the god of manga in the early 1970's, and follows a family in a post-WWII world.  Clocking in at about 700 pages, this mammoth story has a little bit of everything in it: action, suspense, romance, mystery.  Ayako is at the center of all of the action, a little girl born from the sins of her family and kept a secret, everyone turning their back on her in one way or another.  While some members of the family have blood on their hands, some are guilty for their inaction, and this little girl grows up under horrible conditions to become a very confused, broken adult.  This book goes to a lot of grim and dark places, but it's wildly entertaining as it moves along, providing a wholly satisfying story by its conclusion.
4. Castle Waiting (Volume 2) (Linda Medley) - The second volume of Linda Medley's Castle Waiting carries on where the first volume ended, at a castle taken over by a ragtag group of people, all doing their part to form a nice little community.  This book is overflowing with great characters, the story unfolding cinematically to Medley's beautiful cartoony art.  The domestic life that readers glimpse with these volumes is an absolute pleasure to behold, and I really enjoy the time I spend with the people in this title, as they explore the castle and unlock some of its mysteries while settling in.  A real treasure.
3. S.W.O.R.D. (Keiron Gillen & Steve Sanders) - While S.W.O.R.D. only lasted a mere five issues before it was canceled, it left quite the impression in its wake, and I would have loved to see where the creators would have taken things had it continued with what they'd set up.  As is though, we get a wonderful story that follows an odd cast of aliens, mutants and humans who help Agent Brand run S.W.O.R.D.'s base, which is stationed in Earth's orbit, serving as protector for the planet, from alien threats.  X-Man Beast and the alien Sydren provide comic relief, as does the bounty hunter Death's Head, whose battle with Brand and her friends is one of the best battles I've encountered in comics in recent memory.  I think that what I love most about this title is the tone of the book, that perfect balance between humor and action, with great characters, that perhaps recalls some of the best early issues of the original Claremont/Davis run on Excalibur.  It's a perfect little story that has easily become my favorite superhero comic of the year.

2. The ACME Novelty Library #20 (Chris Ware) - The latest installment of Chris Ware's The ACME Novelty Library follows a character from birth to death, that of Jordan Lint, who is a minor character in the larger Rusty Brown saga.  Lint is a pretty despicable character, making plenty of poor decisions throughout his life that come back to haunt him later.  Ware masterfully develops this character, from the clever illustrations of his early memories, to his troubled childhood, to his latter years, where he reflects back on things we've seen earlier.  Ware knows just when to bring up a memory or hint at a similarity to something from the past, or give a subtle reaction to something said, to make a very impactful scene that loads a page down with meaning.  It's subtle and beautifully crafted, and in the end, you can't help but empathize with this horrible person as we see him develop through awkward moments and painful situations.  Another winner from an amazing creator.

1. The Littlest Pirate King (David B. & Pierre Mac Orlan) - My favorite comic that I read this year is David B.'s comic adaptation of the prose story by French writer Pierre Mac Orlan.  The story is a simple one, about a pirate ship manned by an undead crew, who wish for nothing more than to end their existence once and for all, that is until they come across a human child, whom they raise as one of their own and plump him up in preparation for the day they actually make him one of them.  It's really David B.'s beautiful pencils that transform this story into something really magical.  From the first scenes of the pirate ship cresting swirling waves, to the ship's trek underwater with all manner of sea creatures floating by, to the amazing designs of the pirates themselves, David B. elaborately illustrates this world with amazing mastery of the craft.  The coloring, the pacing and panel arrangements, and the world of these pirates pillaging ships and being general menaces all make for a fun, engaging experience.  This book contains some of the most beautiful panels that I've seen in years, and confidently sits at the top of my list for best of the year.

And that's the end.  Thank you for reading, and I hope I've pointed you toward some interesting works.  Check out my best manga and superhero lists if you're looking for more recommendations, and I look forward to doing it all again next year.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Pick of the Week 12/29

Here is the book you should be paying attention to, in comic shops on Wednesday...

Crickets #3 - A good old-fashioned alternative comic book!  At one point announced as being cancelled due to Diamond's new minimum order policy, Sammy Harkham's highly-anticipated third installment of Crickets finally comes to stores this week!

Other Noteworthy Releases
Batman: The Dark Knight #1
Bigfoot HC
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tales HC
Hellboy: The Sleeping and the Dead #1 (of 2)
John Carpenter of Mars: Weird World TP
Ka-Zar by Mark Waid & Andy Kubert (Volume 1) TP
The Man of Glass GN
Red: Eyes Only #1
Tomb of Dracula Omnibus (Volume 3) HC
X-Force: Cable & The New Mutants HC

Sunday, December 26, 2010

10 Best Manga of 2010

2010 was another great year for manga.  The following are my favorite ten of the year, the best of which will also be ranked on my forthcoming overall best comics of the year.

1. Ayako (Osamu Tezuka) - He's the god of manga for a reason.  Ayako was crafted in the early 70's and contains plenty of World War II commentary as Osamu Tezuka beautifully unfolds this story of a family unraveling.  This story has action, murder, intrigue, love, mystery - everything you could ask for in an epic family drama.  Often brutal and dark, this unpredictable story is just another example of clear, compelling storytelling from an immense talent.

2. not simple (Natsume Ono) - Natsume Ono has constructed an amazing story here full of turmoil.  Very intense stuff.  She uses simple cartoony lines to illustrate her book, one that looks more alternative than most manga out there, and almost reads more like a graphic novel than what you'd expect picking something out of the manga section in the bookstore.  It almost looks deceptively juvenille at first glance, but the story is very mature, with deep issues touched on with finesse.  This is fantastic material: surprising, touching and refreshing.

3. Sand Chronicles (Hinako Ashihara) - This shojo series constantly impresses me.  It's very emotional, full of wonderful characters with deep emotional scars with revelations that keep coming as far as nine volumes into the series.  Not only is the main character Ann fascinating, but the secondary characters all have their hang-ups that can be just as interesting.  A truly amazing book.

4. Twin Spica (Kou Yaginuma) -  Twin Spica is about a girl who wants to be enrolled in the Tokyo Space School, where she would be trained to go on missions to the stars.  There are plenty of obstacles in her way, but with the help of friends she meets along the way, she may just realize her dream.  There's an old-fashioned feel to this book, from its soft cartoony art to the gentle tone of the story and the wide-eyed innocence of its protagonist Asumi.  As I was reading it, it just felt like I was reading a classic.

5. Ooku: The Inner Chambers (Fumi Yoshinaga) - This title from the creator of Antique Bakery just seems to keep getting better as it goes along.  Following an alternate history during Japan's Edo Period, where a disease has steeply declined the population of men, women take on important roles in society, including the all-powerful ruler, the shogun.  The inner chambers are full of men who serve at her leisure, with plenty of politics, and laws in place to ensure things remain proper.  A gripping historical drama.

6. A Drunken Dream and Other Stories (Moto Hagio) - Moto Hagio's artwork is stunning.  Her storytelling is fluid, her characters expressive, and her drawings in general are beautifully arranged and look effortless.  Each and every one of the ten stories in this "best of" collection of short stories featuring the talented Hagio are enchanting, full of warmth and wonderful characters, and brimming with emotion.  Fantagraphics does a fine job of presenting Hagio's work to American audiences, as they sample works from different decades to illustrate how her artwork progresses.  A very necessary project, done right.

7. Honey Hunt (Miki Aihara) - From the creator of Hot Gimmick is this shojo manga that follows celebrity-in-the-making Yura, who's trying to rise from the shadows of her two famous parents, and juggle a love life at the same time.  I'm constantly entertained by what Aihara has unfold in this book, which is full of complicated, messed-up characters.

8. Chi's Sweet Home (Konami Kanata) - These slim color volumes from Vertical are just delightful.  Chi is a little kitten who is adopted by a family who aren't supposed to have pets in their building, but can't resist Chi, who quickly becomes a member of the family.  The little kitten does plenty of cute things as he tries to figure things out, often to very humorous results.  Chi's Sweet Home is beautiful to look at and hard to resist.

9. Bakuman (Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata) - From the creators behind the super-popular Death Note is this drama about two kids who want to become professional manga creators.  It's a fascinating glimpse into the behind-the-scenes of the manga industry, and all set to that beautiful detailed art of Obata's.

10. House of Five Leaves (Natsume Ono) - Another Natsume Ono title.  This one follows a samurai who gets pulled into a criminal organization called "Five Leaves."  The story's full of great characters who kind of function as a family with one another despite their loathsome occupation.  Ono's art looks better than ever in this, her latest series.

Honorable Mentions
Arisa (Natsumi Ando)
Ax Anthology (Edited by Sean Michael Wilson)
Black Blizzard (Yoshihiro Tatsumi)
Saturn Apartments (Hisae Iwaoka)
Yotsuba&! (Kiyohiko Azuma)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Little Prince GN

Joann Sfar & Antione de Saint-Exupery

Joann Sfar's The Little Prince graphic novel adapts the classic children's story by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, retaining much of the whimsy and magic of the original story.  I never read the prose version of The Little Prince when I was a child, so perhaps that's why the story never really meant much to me.  It's kind of meandering, following a pilot who's trying to repair his plane in a dessert and meets a small boy who recalls his adventures on his little planet and floating through space meeting strange people.  It's kind of a sad tale, and a little weird for kids, but I can see why a lot of people really enjoy this tale - I just wasn't really struck by it.  This graphic novel by Joann Sfar, however, really does work well with the story by Saint-Exupery, bringing it to life in a cinematic way with his loose, cartoony art that really captures the whimsical tone of the prose story.  Joann Sfar is kind of the perfect choice to adapt the story for the medium, and his use of colors, and the designs he creates for the odd creatures and people in the story, really jive well with the story.  I would say that this is a very successful adaptation, faithful to the source material, even if The Little Prince isn't one of my personal favorite children's stories.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

10 Best Superhero Comics of 2010

The following are my favorite superhero comics published this year, the top titles of which will also fall into my forthcoming best comics of 2010 list. 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. S.W.O.R.D. (Keiron Gillen & Steve Sanders) - Spinning out of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's excellent run on Astonishing X-Men is this short-lived superhero story that takes place on a space station in Earth's orbit, where the very capable Agent Brand protects the planet of extraterrestrial threats.  With a fun crew of characters, including X-Men Beast and Lockheed, this book is one of the funnest comics that I've ever had the pleasure of reading, right out of the gate, with a great balance of action, humor and verbal sparring, and clear storytelling courtesy of Steve Sanders.  Gillen set up a great dynamic here between the characters and I was wholly impressed by what the creators did with each character right up to the end.  Easily the most memorable superhero book I've read in years.

2. Batwoman: Elegy (Greg Rucka & J.H. Williams III) - Collecting content from Detective Comics, this story focusing on Kate Kane, aka Batwoman, is ridiculously entertaining.  Greg Rucka fleshes out some pretty great characters in this book, and provides a fun, dark story for J.H. Williams III to illustrate the hell out of.  Williams really works the medium, with traditionally-laid out panels when the story focuses on Kane's civilian life, to a more fully-realized painted look with elaborately-designed splash pages for when Batwoman is doing her thing.  This is eye-popping stuff.

3. Black Widow (Marjorie Liu, Daniel Acuna, Duane Swierczynski & Manuel Garcia) - Espionage and intrigue don't get much better than this.  The series begins with a mystery surrounding the Russian spy's past that involves shady characters, and continues with plot twists and revelations as it proceeds.  Natasha hasn't been this entertaining since Greg Rucka's run on the character, with the cat-and-mouse games, backstabbing and danger-around-every-corner vibe that makes a spy story like this so much fun.  I'm continually impressed with what the creators bring to the table in this pulse-pounding title.

4. Avengers Academy (Christos Gage & Mike McKone) - An all-new team of young heroes emerges in this Avengers title, trained by familiar faces like Tigra and Hank Pym.  The compelling young cast has its share of drama and action as they face old foes and inner demons alike.  The art is smooth and flows nicely, with some of the best character designs I've seen in a very long time.  Easily the best Avengers book out there right now.

5. Fantastic Four (Jonathan Hickman, Neil Edwards & Steve Epting) - One minute epic with Galactus whisking Reed across the universe, the next down to earth as Ben experiences life without a rock-hard exterior, this book has struck a chord with readers in one of the best runs that the title has seen in years.  Hickman goes to really interesting places while bringing back a wealth of popular villains with new cool ideas.  And Epting and Edwards both did fantastic jobs bringing Hickman's vision to life.  It feels like breath of fresh air.

6. Batman Incorporated (Grant Morrison & Yanick Paquette) - Only two issues of this new series hit the stands before the end of the year, but it's already begun with a bang, courtesy of Grant Morrison's quirky writing and great story ideas, plus Paquette's nice, dark art that complements it nicely.  Batman Inc. over-the-top and action-packed as Batman travels the globe recruiting allies in various countries to fight crime the Batman way, beginning with a two-issue story that sees him in Japan facing off against the ghoulish Lord Death Man.  This book is quite the ride.

7. X-Women #1 (Chris Claremont & Milo Manara) - This 48-page one-shot packs in a lot of story, following several of the women from X-Men as they maneuver through several exotic locales in a rather compelling story.  The big attraction here is the art, which is stunningly illustrated by legendary European artist Milo Manara, who's known for his sexy cartooning.  He doesn't disappoint with his flirty women and realistic, detailed art, and neither does this overlooked comic that sort of reminded me of a Terry and the Pirates adventure strip in a weird way.

8. Firestar #1 (Sean McKeever & Emma Rios) - Another one-shot, this story focuses on a very three-dimensional Angelica Jones as Sean McKeever balances her superhero life with plenty of drama at home when her father begins to date the mother of a girl who made her life hell in high school.  Emma Rios blindsided me with her fantastic art on this title, providing a cartoony style with lots of movement, while managing to keep the panels looking rich and elegant.  I love the poses that Rios gives Firestar as she flies around in her bright red and yellow costume.  This was just a perfect pairing of creators.

9. Savage Dragon (Erik Larsen) - Easily the most unpredictable book out there, Savage Dragon surprises week after week with fast-moving storylines that hardly give you a moment to catch your breath.  Lately, Larsen has really stepped up his game with shocking plot twists in an ever-changing world where truly anything can happen, without relying on a reset button like other creators would fall back on.  This series has been going for such a long time that I think people kind of forget that it's still out there - but not only is it still around, but it's better than ever.  Not enough people talk about this title that boasts stupendous action in a rich superhero world.

10. Superboy (Jeff Lemire & Pier Gallo) - Connor Kent, the current Superboy, tries to make a life for himself in Smallville, never mind that he was cloned from the DNA of Superman and Lex Luthor, in this new series from Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth) and Pier Gallo.  Plenty of familiar faces grace the pages of this title, including villains like Parasite and Poison Ivy, while pairing Kent with a sidekick who'd love nothing more than to be a mad scientist, and keeping his distance from Luthor's hot niece.  This is just a fun, colorful new superhero title.

Honorable Mentions
Avengers: The Children's Crusade (Allan Heinberg & Jim Cheung)
Knight and Squire (Paul Cornell & Jimmy Braxton)
Secret Avengers (Ed Brubaker, Mike Deodato, David Aja & Various)
Secret Warriors (Jonathan Hickman, Mirko Colak & Alessandro Vitti)
The Sword (Luna Brothers)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Best in Music 2010

Here are my favorite albums and singles of 2010....

10 Best Albums

1. We Are Born by Sia - Playful and wild, you can tell that Sia's having fun with her music.  It's refreshing, emotional and unique to anything that's out there.  Many of her songs are ridiculously contagious, even if it's a little hard to make out what's being said at times.  This is a fantastic, inspired album.  Anyone who hasn't heard this is missing out.  Key Tracks: Clap Your Hands, Bring Night, Hurting Me Now.

2. Hands by Little Boots - One of the most danceable CDs in years, Little Boots brings a retro flavor to great club music, with some interesting sounds and clever little songs (even if the lyrics are a little shallow). There's a consistency across the whole album here that seems unheard of nowadays in music, providing plenty of instant dance classics. Little Boots is a welcome new voice to the dance scene. Key Tracks: Remedy, Ghost, Mathematics.

3. Animal by Ke$ha - Obnoxious, offensive and blatant, Ke$ha's CD struck a chord with millions, including me.  The songs on this CD are catchy, playful and just a lot of fun.  Ke$ha's a talented young artist with a unique voice, and proves effortlessly that it really is fun to be a bad girl.  Key Tracks: Tik Tok, Take It Off, Kiss 'n' Tell.

4. Catching a Tiger by Lissie - With an amazing, strong voice set to great hooks, it was only a matter of time before Lissie made it big.  After years of having her music played in shows like Veronica Mars, Lissie released a full-length album that proved that she's the real deal, with a down-to-earth, lovely sound.  Key Tracks: Record Collector, In Sleep, Loosen the Knot.

5. Dust (EP) by Cara Salimando - This five-song EP from newcomer Cara Salimando is a beautiful collection of songs with lovely lyrics and strong vocals. There's a good dose of piano in the music found here, where you can see the influences of artists she admires, like Regina Spektor, although the songs have their own unique sound. This really is a very exciting debut from the singer-songwriter, especially considering that she's only eighteen years old. Key Tracks: Dust, The Way We Are, Anything At All.

6. My Best Friend Is You by Kate Nash - The Brit returns with the cussing, in-your-face style she debuted with in Made of Bricks, making a name for herself. But with her new album, Nash has refined her sound, bringing a nice pop sound to many of her catchy, vibrant songs, but still seeming as relevant as ever. Key Tracks: Paris, Kiss That Grrrl, Do-Wha-Doo.

7. You Are the Night by Deluka - With dozens of artists trying to recapture Lady Gaga's success, Deluka is one dance artist who rides that wave to fantastic results, providing a classic dance club sound with fun, sexy sounds and a powerful voice.  Sometimes venturing into Ke$ha territory with some unique beats, Deluka debuts with quite an impact.  Key Tracks: OMFG, Nevada, Come Back To Me.

8. Body Talk by Robyn - Collecting songs from EPs that she has been releasing throughout the year, this collection has the best of the tracks with amazingly catchy and often heart-felt dance numbers.  Robyn knows how to craft a great song to make you move.  Key Tracks: Dancing On My Own, Love Kills, Indestructible.

9. Spirit School (EP) by Anya Marina - Anya Marina returns from the high of being on the Twilight: New Moon soundtrack with more unique songs set to her raspy, sexy purr of a voice.  She sounds more polished with her latest release, yet retains her rough-around-the-edges sound. Key Tracks: You Are Invisible, Whatsit, Spirit School.

10. Release Me by The Like - With a sound that's a throwback to the fifties, The Like has a female empowerment theme that runs through the heart of this CD full of fast-paced fuzzy music.  Instantly catchy, this album dares you not to tap your foot to its fun, flirty beats.  Key Tracks: Wishing He Was Dead, Release Me, Catch Me If You Can.

20 Best Singles

1. Black Sheep by Brie Larson - My favorite song of the year hails from the hipster movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.  It's a rocking, sexy song with a great hook.  While Black Sheep is available on the soundtrack to the movie, it's performed by Metric on it, and while Metric does a fine job, I really prefer Brie Larson's voice from the movie, it has less of an edge and is just cleaner and sexier for the song.  You'd think with Beck re-doing half a dozen songs for the soundtrack, that they could include Brie Larson's version of this song on the deluxe version of the soundtrack, but no dice, so if you want the best of the best, you'll have to visit YouTube.

2. Frame Me Right by Anni Rossi - I love the refrain of this song.  It's a rather simple song, but really elegant and pretty much amazing.

3. Dancing On My Own by Robyn - The dance song of the year. Great hook, great sound, and full of restrained emotion.

4. Tik Tok by Ke$ha - A song portraying a loathsome party girl also happens to be a highly-entertaining danceable number with fun, trashy lyrics that are hard not to admire.

5. Record Collector by Lissie - Lissie's voice is amazing and this is a perfect showcase for it, often restrained, but building to a fervor in some moments.  Great song with a great beat.

6. Dust by Cara Salimando - This is an absolutely beautiful melody with a great hook and thoughtful lyrics.

7. Fade Like a Shadow by KT Tunstall - Tunstall's raspy voice is perfect for this upbeat song that's one of the most addicting of the year.

8. Bring Night by Sia - The happiest song of the year - you gotta love it when Sia really lets loose with the singing.

9. Animal by Neon Trees - A great summery song that makes you want to turn the radio up and sing along.

10. Parachute by Ingrid Michaelson - A very poppy, insanely listenable song.

11. Coming Back Home by Ellen and the Escapades - This folksy song is much more subtle than most of the songs on this list, but is utterly beautiful.

12. Broken by Chely Wright - An honest, soul-baring song from country music's first openly-gay country singer.

13. Ready by Reni Lane - A really fun dance groove from newcomer Reni Lane that always has me tapping my foot and smiling.

14. Mouthful of Diamonds by Phantogram - I love the sound of this song. Very unique, very haunting.

15. In My Veins by Andrew Belle featuring Erin McCarley - A lovely ballad that kind of snuck up on me to become one of my most frequently played songs so far this year. Lovely hypnotic melody.

16. Don't Stop the Music by Jamie Cullum - This is a fantastic remake of the song originally performed by Rihanna - Cullum shows us how to recreate a song right in this really sexy rendition from the pianist.

17. Hold Me by St. Lola In the Fields - A fun pop song with a beat that hits all the right notes that you want in a great song.

18. Farmer's Daughter by Crystal Bowersox - I'm not an American Idol fan, but you can't say that some talented artists haven't emerged from the show.  Bowersox is no exception.  She has crafted a really emotional song that perhaps goes a bit too far at times, but is nonetheless powerful.  This is a nice showcase for a really strong voice that also proves that a great songwriter is behind this music.

19. Paris (Ooh La La) by Grace Potter and The Nocturnals - This is just a great classic rock number with great guitar play.

20. Blue December by Kate Tucker - Kate Tucker knows how to pour emotion into her music, and this song is no exception.  It's a slow-moving song that feels raw with feeling.  Absolutely beautiful.

Pick of the Week 12/22

Here is the book you should be paying attention to, in comic shops on Wednesday....

A Single Match HC - From Drawn & Quarterly, this is a 240-page collection of short stories from Oji Suzuki, alternative manga artist whose work has appeared in GARO.

Other Noteworthy Selections
Black Widow: The Name of the Rose HC
Cyclops #1
Mice Templar (Volume 3) #1
Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword #1
Tank Girl: Bad Wind Rising #1 (of 4)
Tikitis HC
Ultimate Comics: Doom #1 (of 4)
Vampirella Archives (Volume 1) HC

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Forgetless TP

Nick Spencer, W. Scott Forbes, Jorge Coelho & Marley Zarcone

The trade paperback of Forgetless collects the entire five issue mini-series from Image Comics, as well as the back-up story illustrated by Marley Zarcone.  The main story has art by W. Scott Forbes and Jorge Coelho, with two styles of art very different from one another.  One style is very sleek and a little stiff, with a little Luna Brothers vibe going on, while the other is loose and detailed with more character to it, usually popping up in flashback sequences that go into the history of a character.  Actually, this story jumps back and forth in time a lot, and oftentimes a book can get a little muddled that way, but it works for this story, slowly teasing out mysteries and the how's and why's of the situation.  The book follows the last night of the nightclub Forgetless in New York City, where a newbie assassin has been charged to kill a boy that will be in attendance.  The back-up story, which boasts my favorite art of the book, by Zarcone, is about some underage kids trying to fake their way into the club by any means necessary.  Both stories, written by Nick Spencer, were actually really well done, the back-up being much more straight-forward than the main story with its many secondary characters and asides.  Forgetless is funny with plenty of good ideas, and pretty suspenseful, and always over-the-top.  This book is all about excess, and if I had to compare it to anything, I would actually compare it to Ke$ha's music - really addicting and compelling and quite proud of itself, but also a little trashy and, well, obnoxious.  It's loud, crude and often offensive, but somehow remains ridiculously entertaining throughout.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Mouse Guard

Mouse Guard: The Black Axe #1 (of 6)
David Petersen

I finally finished the Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard mini-series just in time to pick up the first issue of the new series!  And while I appreciated sampling other artists through the anthology, it's nice to see Petersen draw a full story again and not just interludes.  He crafts his world beautifully - I love the designs of all the little guardmice, and the animals he incorporates into his stories, especially the birds that he depicts in this issue.  In the first issue of this new series, which is a prequel to the two previous Mouse Guard books he's released, we get to see the vicious ferrets that were before only hinted at.  The ferrets are merciless hunters who wear trophies from their kills, whether it be patches of hide, skulls or shells.  They're kind of creepy and serial killer-ish, especially when one of them sniffs after a pair of mice and a drop of blood drips from his mouth right in front of where two mice crouch, hiding from him.  The story moves fluidly along with the beautiful scenery, and I'm really interested to see how The Black Axe became who he is in later years, as the weapon is only mentioned at this point.  A great start to the new book.

Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard HC
David Petersen & Various

Like I said earlier, I appreciate seeing other artists depict this world that Petersen dreamed up, even if I do prefer Petersen's familiar style with the guardmice.  I talked about the first issue of the series already, and felt the same then as I feel now, that the showcase of talent on this anthology was pretty spectacular.  Even if a creator only had a few pages to work with, they all did a nice job, although, like all anthologies, I preferred some stories to others.  It was a nice touch to have Petersen illustrate the covers and the pub scenes that tied the book together, as it makes it fit in with the other books nicely that way.  The story behind Legends of the Guard sees June, the owner of a pub, propose a contest for her patrons.  Whoever can tell the best story will have their tab paid in full, while the losers will have to pay their tabs in a short amount of time instead of continuing to let them build up.  I was satisfied with the way the story ended, which was no small feat, considering the talent involved with the stories, but it was a smart way to go.  Overall, my favorite contributors, who were all showcased in biography pages in the back (along with a character gallery and other extras) were Jeremy Bastian (Cursed Pirate Girl) and Mark Smylie (Artesia), who did nice jobs with story and art for the allotted pages.  Other creators involved in this mini-series were Ted Naifeh (Courtney Crumrin), Terry Moore (Strangers In Paradise), Alex Sheikman (Robotika), Gene Ha (Top Ten: The Forty-Niners), Guy Davis (B.P.R.D.) and Jason Shawn Alexander (Queen and Country), among others.  I'm glad that the series was successful enough to allow for another anthology (coming next year), as I enjoy seeing the different artists and their varying styles.  I know that based on Bastian's contribution here, I will definitely be seeking out other work from the creator, and I hope to discover other such talent in the forthcoming anthology.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Crossgen comics are back!

Marvel has announced their new Crossgen imprint, including the first two books, launching in March, Ruse and Sigil, as well as the creative teams behind them.  (Ruse: Mark Waid & Mirco Pierfederici, Sigil: Mike Carey & Leonard Kirk)

The Littlest Pirate King

David B. & Pierre Mac Orlan

This new graphic novel from creator David B. is adapted from French writer Pierre Mac Orlan's story, and is one of the first in a wave of European comics that Fantagraphics is publishing (Stephane Blanquet's Toys In the Basement is another, with more coming next year).  David B. made a big splash with his debut graphic novel, the autobiographical Epileptic, a few years ago, but it seems that his storytelling prowess isn't limited to non-fiction, for he brings to life the eerie world that Orlan creates with ease, to fantastic results.  I was really blown away by this graphic novel, featuring a pirate ship manned by the undead, who wish for nothing more than to end their existence once and for all, that is until they come across a human child, whom they raise as one of their own and plump him up in preparation for the day they actually make him one of them.  It actually takes awhile before the little human comes into the story, as David B. sets the tone of the book and fills in the backstory for half of the book, elaborately illustrating the pirates with wonderful designs and illustrating the sea with swirling waves and hundreds of lovely sea creatures.  The art here is amazing, the kind you just love to stop and stare at, and take your time with because you don't want it to end.  In fact, one thing I wanted in this book was just more of it.  I had a really fun time living in this world of pirates, pillaging other vessels and being generally mischievous, and I wished when it came to a rather abrupt ending that it would have continued.  David B. definitely proves that he's a force to be reckoned with here, that he really is a master of the medium.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tower of Treasure

Three Thieves (Book One)
Scott Chantler

In the first graphic novel in a new series of books, Scott Chantler (creator of the acclaimed Northwest Passage) introduces readers to the three thieves the series is named for.  Dessa Redd is the main character of this title, an acrobatic orphan whose snatches of memories hint at dark moments from her past.  She's a very likable protagonist, walking that fine line of being a good girl and getting into mischief, traveling with the circus that raised her.  But she succumbs to the tempting arguments her friends make, especially when she finds herself in a dire situation, and joins them as they attempt to rob a tower of treasure, where the queen's gold is kept - piles of it, despite the many peasants starving in the streets of the kingdom.  The other two thieves rounding out the trio are Topper, a juggler, the instigator of the scheme, who loves bragging about his thieving skills, and Fisk, a strongman who tags along with a childlike innocence.  I actually really enjoyed this story.  The art is very cinematic, clean and easy to follow, especially during action sequences.  The coloring also stands out, particularly when it comes to the lighting and shading of scenes, whether it be by torchlight, or underwater.  The events in the story can get a little silly, but it's all in good fun, and keeps the story moving along at a brisk pace.  There's a good amount of humor injected into the story as well, and enough of a mystery to keep things interesting, with secondary characters who haven't quite come into their own at this point, but it's apparent that they play a bigger role in the series at large.  Chantler does an excellent job of establishing a medieval world full of castles and knights, and it's just an overall fun all-ages adventure story.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Comics on Nook & Nookcolor

I just received an announcement today that DMI titles are now becoming available on Barnes & Noble's e-reader devices, beginning with Hideyuki Kikuchi's Vampire Hunter D.  Check out the details at their blog.  Volume one will be available in two parts for $3.99 each, while the same title on Amazon's Kindle is $7.95.  A few cents cheaper through Amazon, but I, for one, would like to split up the content as it's available on Nook - if I don't like the manga after a few chapters, I won't have to hash out that extra money for content I don't care to have.  It's going to be a nice way to sample a lot more manga at an affordable price.

Pick of the Week 12/15

Here is the book you should be paying attention to, in comic shops on Wednesday...

John Byrne's Next Men #1 - A new ongoing series that brings back John Byrne's beloved creation Next Men! I know a lot of people are big fans of this series that ran from 1991-1995, and while it was exciting to see IDW collect his complete run into two volumes, it's even more exciting to see new stories produced by the creator.

Other Noteworthy Releases
Batgirl: The Greatest Stories Ever Told TP
Conan: The Road To Kings #1 (of 6)
Generation X Classic (Volume 1) TP
Light (Volume 1) TP
Magus #1 (of 5)
Mouse Guard: Black Axe #1 (of 6)
Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! (Volume 1)
The Occultist #1
Showcase Presents: Our Army At War (Volume 1) TP
Steve Ditko Archives (Volume 2): Unexplored Worlds HC
Superman: Secret Origin Deluxe HC
Yotsuba&! (Volume 9)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Manga Monday: Ayako

Osamu Tezuka

Ayako is another compelling page-turning thriller from Tezuka, written in the early 70's with plenty of post-WWII commentary.  Beautifully illustrated as usual, Tezuka's latest US release sees a family's slow downward spiral into ruin, beginning when son Jiro returns from the war, where he was a POW, to witness strange behavior in his family.  His new young "sister," Ayako, eventually witnesses something that the family wants to keep secret so that the family name isn't tarnished, and it is decided that she be confined to the cellar until she dies, and is pronounced dead and buried by the family physician before the police can question her.  Ayako lives longer than expected and when in her twenties, she is released from her prison, but is emotionally unready for the world she ventures into as a young woman.  There are a lot of complex characters in this book, mostly members of Ayako's family, most of whom harbor horrible secrets and guilty consciences.  All of the different plot threads come together for a very satisfying story, with a stunning finale that sees many of the duplicitous individuals getting their just deserts.  The story can kind of meander, with perhaps some aspects of the story unnecessary to the whole, but for the most part, it's all pretty vital to the story at large - it just goes to some strange and unexpected places.  If you can say anything about his book, it's that you can't really predict what's going to happen next.  There are a lot of mature themes throughout this book, from sexual crimes to plenty of murder and intrigue, not to mention the nudity, so that 16+ rating that Vertical slapped on this book isn't for show.  It's actually rather appropriate to have a cover with a naked woman, and the dangling feet of a person who's been hung on the back cover.  But if you don't mind the dark subject matter, you're in store for a family saga unlike any other.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Return of the Dapper Men HC

Jim McCann & Janet Lee

Return of the Dapper Men is an original graphic novel about a land where time has stopped, populated by children who don't grow up, but live and play in an underground city, while robots inhabit the houses up above.  Nothing progresses, but one human boy and one robot girl, Ayden and Zoe, aren't content with the way things are, and are eager to change things, despite the ignorant children who chide them.  That change comes quickly when dapper men appear in the sky.  McCann weaves a story that feels timeless (and, well, is) and feels more like a fairytale than a comic book.  There are fun characters, such as the robot Fabre obsessed with a clockwork angel that stands motionless in the sea.  McCann has created a fine, imaginative world with a nice history and backstory.  But really, it's that amazing art by Janet Lee that makes this book stand out so much.  I was fortunate enough to see the wooden blocks of art that make up this graphic novel first-hand at C2E2 last year, and I knew then that they were something special, as they were really just gorgeous.  Here, Archaia has done justice to the art by releasing it in this oversized hardcover, where the illustrations and vibrant colors have room to breathe and be appreciated.  There's a feature in the back of the book that describes Lee's painstaking process of producing this art, including cutting out lumber and painting the wood with the background colors before putting the paper illustrations over it (minus some parts of panels cut out to show off the paint on the wood).  This is a real labor of love and you can tell from all of the different pieces that come together for one lovely final product.

Saturday, December 11, 2010