Since I’ve been terrible in 2012 about writing comic reviews, here’s a last ditch effort to get something in before the turn of the year. This is a brief list (in no particular order) of some great stuff I read in 2012 (although any particular book may have come out years before) and that I would highly recommend.
The Book of Genesis by Robert Crumb
Robert Crumb does his damnedest to recreate the King James Version of The Book of Genesis in comic book format; and he does a damn fine job of it. He presents the stories in all of their wonderful and gory detail, without snark or judgment, making a real effort to eschew personal interpretation or bias and to get the details right (apparently he redrew whole chapters because an historian laughed at his misguided vision of contemporary clothing).
Midlife by Joe Ollman
Midlife is a semi-autobiographical, semi-fictional look at a mid-forties writer/artist as he tries to make sense of how he ended up at this point in his life. Admittedly, the story is a bit well-traveled, and sometimes the secondary characters are more interesting than the protaganist, but anyone who has made it to forty intact will recognize the issues and find some sympathies here. Ollman’s art has a nice indy look to it while still being clear storytelling.
Unwritten 5: Ontogenesis by Mike Carey
Carey continues to knock it out of the park with his tale of fictional characters come to life and his treatise on the word made flesh. Anyone with an English degree will appreciate the themes and the tropes of this series. I always look forward to this book, and my only concern is that DC/Vertigo/Carey may try to drag this hit out beyond its natural conclusion.
Cartoon Introduction to Economics: Microeconomics and the companion book Cartoon Introduction to Economics: Macroeconomics by Yoram Bauman and Grady Klien
I love that comics can be used as tools for teaching, and these two books do a wonderful job in taking somewhat complex concepts (that most people consider “boring” or “too hard”) and presenting them in a clear and often amusing way. These books owe a lot to Larry Gonick’s trailblazing, but they stand on their own and are a worthy contender to actual required reading.
Xombi by John Rozum and Frazer Irving
Rozum revisits his 1990s creation of a guy made out of nano-machines and thus unkillable who consequently gets dragged into mysterious and horrible adventures. Remeniscent of Morrison’s Doom Patrol, Xombi encounters absurd and dangerous beings who cannot be defeated (or understood) in the normal sense. Irving’s painted artwork didn’t quite fit (especially after the original series’ scratchy slapdash style), and I felt that the story ran a bit long, but overall Xombi was enticing enough that I wanted to see more. Too bad DC has given up on Xombi (and creator visions in general).
Helblazer: Phantom Pains by Peter Milligan
As much as I want to hate what Milligan has done to Constantine—getting married is probably the scariest thing John has ever done—his stories of the working class mage continue to excel. Too bad it’s all ending soon.
Iron Man: Unfixable & Fear Itself by Matt Fraction and Sandoval Larocca
Fraction is winding down his epic Iron Man run. I think he’s got a good handle on Stark’s personality (his intelligence and hubris) as well as that of his cast. Larocca’s art is beautiful if sometimes a bit empty. These particular books were certainly lesser arcs (and I think the Fear Itself tie-in actually undermined some of forward progress of the series in terms of the personal and technical achievements Stark had made), but overall Fraction’s run is well worth a look.
Gotham Central 1-5 by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, Michael Lark
This was a re-read for me, which in itself should tell you I really like Brubaker and Rucka’s take on the Gotham Police Department. This is a typical 1970s police procedural a la NYPD Blue or Hill Street Blues, but with super-villains and Batman lurking in the background. Quite frankly, Batman is the least interesting part of the book, but it works because he’s also what gives Gotham’s finest such heartburn.
Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware
I read the Jimmy Corrigan saga as it came out in serial format, which means that I read it slowly over five or six years. This was the first time that I had read it all together. And I still hate Ware’s ability to tell emotionally bleak and damaging stories that nevertheless knock you off your feet. Jimmy Corrigan is a masterpiece, and yet I think I can safely say that Ware has gotten even better in later works.
Fantastic Four and sister book FF by Jonathan Hickman.
I continue to have a love/hate relationship with the Fantastic Four. I want to love them—they have all the right elements—but frankly, they typically bore me. Hickman’s take on the Four and it’s spin-off FF is a roller coaster ride of cool ideas, but like much of his work, it tends to jump straight from point A to point D, leaving the reader to fill in the middle. That means there is often an emotional beat or even a plot point that is completely missing and and you wonder whether you’ve missed some pages. Luckily, these stories are still fun and exciting, which is what I really want from my superheroes.
Superman: New Krypton by many people
Superman discovers that Brainiac has the long-lost Kryptionian city of Kandor trapped in a bottle. Superman saves it, only to suddenly have tens of thousands of Superman-like people running around. This was a cool series that examined all sorts of issues and complications arising from the clash of cultures, including emotional and political intrigue. Unfortunately, it ran for about 20 trades (amongst various titles and sub-plots) before it concluded, which meant that the story was not as tight or as well-thought out as it should have been, and there were definite periods where you are begging for it to end. Nevertheless, it was a welcome swerve in the Superman saga, which at close to 80 years of stories can be difficult to achieve.
Invincible by Robert Kirkman and Corey Walker
Kirkman continues to make this teen superhero comic both fun and “adult” enough to keep me coming back. I do worry that it may need to end sooner rather than later to maintain its edge, but so far, it seems that there’s a few more years of tales to be told.
Scalped by Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera
The premise of Scalped is similar to several B-list movies that you may have seen: estranged loner returns after many years to clean up the mess his hometown has become. But Aaron adds complexity and pathos to this tragedy of the American Indian reservation, showing not only the deep crime and abject poverty that is the everyday reality for so many Indians, but also the history of how we got here. Part melodrama, part indictment of American values, Scalped is powerful, engaging, and wrenching, and well-worth your time.
Moon Moth by Jack Vance and adapted by Humayoun Ibrahim
Ibrahim adapts Vance’s sci-fi murder mystery into comics format, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. The art is not great, but Ibrahim’s interpretaton is intriguing and pretty well-considered as he must graphically represent a culture that communicates by playing instruments. The story itself is also a bit flat as an out-of-his-element new-comer must tread between cultural barriers and legal trouble. But somehow it all seems to work, and the fact that I’m still wondering whether or not I liked it means that it had a real effect on me.
Doom Patrol 1, 2 by Keith Giffen and Matthew Clark
Doom Patrol has always been a comic that had difficulty finding a home. And after Morrison’s signature run on the book, no one could quite recapture the magic or put their own stamp on it. But Giffen makes a good effort, essentially by saying that all versions of the Doom Patrol count—and just don’t worry about any discrepancies. Initially, it was a bit hard to get into this series, but overall Giffen has a great handle on the characters, and his stories move along fast enough that they are enjoyable on their own with just enough call back to what went before to make them indebted to but not tied to the past.
The Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft, adapted by I.N.J. Culbard.
Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of the horror genre, but Culbard managed to win me over with his well-paced adaptation. He obviously owes much to Lovecraft (which I haven’t read), but he seems to find a good balance between text and art to convey the story. While his artwork struck me as a bit cartoony for a horror story, his clean linework and muted colors grow on you after awhile, and I found myself appreciating the fact that it was not dark and garishly “painted” like so many horror comics these days.
The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, and Nate Powell (review here).
Prophet by Brandon Graham
Graham takes a (let’s face it) stupid Rob Liefield idea from the 1990s and turns it into a weighty and stoic sci-fi barbarian story. John Prophet (or a clone) awakes in the distant future and must save(?) humanity. Honestly, this book didn’t quite work for me as the tone is a little too removed to be emotionally engaging and a little too light on the hard sci-fi to be intellectually engaging. But overall, I really appreciated the fact that this book exists, and I hope that it continues to do well.
Daredevil by Mark Waid
While not as amazing as the comic press seems to want to make it, Mark Waid has definitely made the sightless superhero fun again after a decade or more of dark and gritty crime drama (which by the way, I also really enjoyed).
Outlaw Territory 2 by Various
It’s rare that an anthology has greater than 10% good stories and even rarer than I enjoy a western, but this book brought some good writers and artists together to do just that.
Parker: The Score by Richard Stark, adapted by Darwyn Cooke
Cooke continues his adapting of the crime noir Parker series. This one had more of an adventure feel as a gang of crooks tries to rip off a small town. Cooke’s art and pacing shine, and he should stick to this work rather than shit like Before Watchmen.