Friday, December 29, 2006

Best of 2006 (the longest post ever)

Every nerd and their nerdy dog is posting a list of the best graphic novels of 2006, so I'm going with a slightly different approach. I'm listing the best comic things of the year. Anything to do with comics is fair game.

I'm sure I'll miss stuff that was great, but I don't have time to read everything. These are not ranked in any particular order. I am going to post a quick list that you can glance at if you are short on time and don't feel like reading the detailed notes that took me, I'm not kidding, over four hours to write. It's a long post.

In short:

1. All-Star Superman
2. Batman: Year 100
3. Superman Returns
4. The return of Astonishing X-Men
5. The Escapists
6. Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness
7. The new Jonah Hex
8. 52
9. The new Justice League of America
10. The Green Arrow on Smallville
11. DC podcasts
12. The Diary of Ralph Dibny
13. The Baby-Sitters Club in graphic novel format
14. The New Frontier action figures/Absolute New Frontier
15. The Justice League animated series on DVD
16. Batman and the Mad Monk
17. The Hall of Best Knowledge
18. Superman/Batman Annual #1

Alright. Here we go:

1. All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

Grant Morrison + Frank Quitely + Superman = one of the funnest series I have ever read. Fun. The way comics are supposed to be. And the fact that it's slow coming out is overshadowed by the ultra-slowness of its stupid, ugly brother, All-Star Batman and Robin.

In particular I liked issues #3 and #5. Issue #3 (May '06) was a delightful Silver Age throwback that had Superman reluctantly facing off against Samson and Atlas in a series of Super-Feats of Strength (the prize supposedly being Lois Lane's affections, but Lois, being a modern woman of today, is mostly just amused by all this). Lois also has superpowers for the day, a birthday present from Superman. Again: delightful throwback.

Issue #5 (Sept '06) was possibly my favourite issue of any comic to come out this year. It had a wonderfully nerdy and awkward Clark Kent interviewing a wonderfully obsessed and self-satisfied Lex Luthor in prison. Despite many obvious clues throughout the interview, Lex still doesn't figure out that Kent = Superman. This comic also contains not one, but two hilarious eyebrow-related jokes. And that's got to be a record.

The writing is smart and funny. The artwork is stunning. I wish it were coming out faster, but I'm just happy it exists at all.


2. Batman: Year 100 by Paul Pope

Right off the bat I'm going to say that I'm not usually a fan of stories (Elseworld or otherwise) that set superheroes in the future. I'm more into the past. As long as no one is a vampire. Man, that gets tired.

Paul Pope totally rocks the house with Batman: Year 100. I loved so much about it. I really like his artwork all the time, for starters.

It's set in 2039. Gotham is more or less a police state, with heavy surveillance on every citizen. The days of superheroes and secret identities are over, with stories of a Bat-Man in Gotham being dismissed as urban legend. Jim Gordon's grandson, a GCPD detective, begins to discover that there might be truth to the legend, and that his grandfather had been closely tied to Batman. The most interesting thing about this series is that Batman is not only still operating in Gotham 100 years later, but he also still seems to be Bruce Wayne. So it ends up being a really great manhunt story where the ultimate prize is learning who is wearing the mask, and how it's possible that he even exists.

Awesome characters. Awesome motorcycle chases. I really like the creative choice by Pope to make Batman's costume and weapons more primitive, rather than more futuristic. I love that he wears fake fangs and that he can't really talk when he's wearing them:

Gritty, interesting, imaginative and fun to read. Totally one of the best books of the year.

3. Superman Returns

I went opening night, knowing surprisingly little about what the plot of this movie was going to be. I had only seen the teaser trailer, and the occasional milk ad with Brandon Routh sporting a milk mustache. (As Tiina complained, "Who is this guy? I don't know this guy as Superman yet." It's true. As far as we were concerned, he was just some guy in a costume with milk on his face. We hadn't been properly introduced).

Anyway, I had a giant smile on my face for this entire movie. I wasn't able to see it in IMAX 3D, but I saw it in theatres twice. Seriously, after years of terror from reading all the drama associated with the new Superman movie, this was such a relief. I knew things would be ok as soon as I heard Bryan Singer was taking over, and that an unknown had been cast in the lead role.

Brandon Routh was great, both as Superman and as Clark Kent. And he's hottt. Kevin Spacey was fantastic, channeling Gene Hackman somewhat, but also giving Lex his own style (eerily calm and slow-talking). Sam Huntington was hilarious as Jimmy Olson. And I was fine with Kate Bosworth. I thought she was pretty good. Way too thin, but pretty good.

Screw all the haters, this movie is as much fun as you can possibly have at the theatres. I loved it. And I want to marry Brandon Routh.


4. The Return of Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday

I don't read a lot of Marvel these days, but I have always enjoyed a good X-Men book. Tiina lent me the first two trades of this series, which she got into because of her complete and utter devotion to Joss Whedon. It really is a fun series. And we finally got to see some new issues come out this year. I know some people don't care for its Kitty Pryde-centric storyline, but I think he's made her into a really great character. And I never gave a damn about her before.

I still think that the first six issues of Astonishing were the best six issues, but it's still a really fun read and I get very excited every time a new issue comes out.


5. The Escapists by Brian K. Vaughan, Philip Bond, Eduardo Barreto, Steve Rolston and Jason Shawn Alexander

Oh man. Would you believe I didn't read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay until earlier this year? I have no idea what kept me from reading it (no pictures, maybe?). It's truly one of the best books I have ever read. And it turned out that my timing was perfect because shortly after I finished it, Dark Horse announced a mini-series called The Escapists. Written by Brian K Vaughan, no less!

The Escapists follows the struggle of Maxwell Roth, a 19-year-old comic fan who buys the rights to the now-defunct character, The Escapist. He teams up with a young artist and his best friend, who happens to be an excellent letterer, to create some new Escapist comics. There are so many layers to this awesome series. It details the struggle of the independent comic producer. It criticizes the big business of major comic publishers. It has a comic-within-a-comic, as each issue gives you a few pages of the Escapist comic they are working on, and sometimes a page or two from supposed vintage Escapist comics. All the artwork is rad, and there is a nice variety of styles, including some hot covers by guest artists like Paul Pope and John Cassaday. I could go on but you should really just read it. And read Kavalier and Clay too.


6. Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Book #3 of everyone's favourite indie comic.

There is nothing not to love about this book. As a 20-something Canadian video game lover who is also in a band, I guess I find this book very comforting. It takes place in Toronto, but I know it's being written and illustrated here in Halifax, and the title character takes his name from a song by the late, great Halifax band, Plumtree. But who wouldn't enjoy this series? It's completely hilarious and book #3 is possibly the best book yet. But that's a tough call. It certainly did feature vegans with special powers, and a battle inside baffling Toronto mega-store, Honest Ed's.

The really brilliant thing about the Scott Pilgrim series is the way O'Malley seamlessly splices totally insane battles and video game moments in with mundane evenings of band practices and renting movies. You often forget that Scott is a superhero, of sorts. Most of the time, he seems to forget it too.


I would also like to give a special mention to the Free Comic Book Day Scott Pilgrim comic because it was a lot of fun (in particular, Scott taking forever to choose a beverage).

7. The New Jonah Hex

Technically this started up in late 2005, but for the most part it has been a 2006 series. A series that I am totally down with.

I love Jonah Hex for its simplicity: Hex rides into a town full of assholes. Hex kills the asshole(s). Hex gets money. Hex leaves. The writing is great. The art is beautiful. Jonah Hex is one of the greatest characters ever.

Maybe it's just refreshing to read about a hero who does not have a code against killing. Because sometimes you just want to see a horrible person die in the worst way imaginable. (This may also explain why I love The Authority).


8. 52 by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid and Keith Giffen

What a brilliant idea, DC. Get your best writers together and have them pump out a mega comic every single week. It's confusing, it's epic, it's got the internet abuzz with theories. Who is Supernova? Is Ralph Dibny ever going to be sane again? Is he crazy now? Is he actually dead? Is Superboy really dead? Is Rene Montoya going to be the new Question? Who's going to die? What the hell is 52?
It's essentially served as a soap opera for comic fans, and has effectively boosted discussion about the entire DC cast of characters.
I'm a fan of the entire Infinite Crisis/52/One Year Later model that DC went with for 2006. I'd also like to give props to Douglas Wolk over at 52 Pick-Up for doing such a great job of re-capping and explaining every single issue. It's really been helpful for someone like me who maybe doesn't have complete encyclopedic knowledge of every single corner of the DC universe. I've also been enjoying J.G. Jones' Cover Blog over at Wizard.com. The covers have all been totally awesome. Especially these ones:

52 has been a fun ride so far, and I think, as we enter the home stretch, it is only going to get more interesting.
If anyone cares, I am leaning toward the theory that Supernova is Ray Palmer, but that might be wishful thinking. I miss Ray.

9. The New Justice League of America by Brad Meltzer and Ed Benes

I think I read Justice League of America #0 about ten times. I really loved it. Brad Meltzer is just so great at writing superheroes as real people, but without it being corny or boring. I know some people would argue that it is corny and boring, but I disagree. And, yeah, maybe we've seen enough of the big three looking at (ridiculous) photographs of potential league members and voting them in or out, but it's seriously been a great series so far, and I expect it to get better. (I could do without the Michael Turner covers, though).


10. The Green Arrow on Smallville

Ok, like, it's not the best portrayal of Oliver Queen. But it might be the most attractive. And anyway, I'm just glad that FINALLY, after five long seasons, there is an honest-to-gosh superhero on Smallville. In a costume. Fighting bad guys. And he's suggesting that Clark get off his ass and start using his powers to help people. It's about time someone pointed this out to Clark.
The Green Arrow costume is totally cool looking. He has a fun variety of arrows. He replaces Lex as Clark's new hot billionaire "friend." And coming up in January: a Justice League episode of sorts! Clark, Green Arrow, Aquaman, Cyborg and Flash (Impulse?) will team up.
Martian Manhunter has also made one teaser appearance on the show which was very exciting. I can't wait to see more of him.
Six years of watching a mediocre show are starting to pay off!


11. DC Podcasts

Yay! Now I can feel like I was at one of the major comic cons! This was a really good idea: DC recorded many of their panel discussions and talent spotlights at the NYC and San Diego comic cons and turned them into downloadable podcasts for all to enjoy! I'd heard good things about the 52 Panel Discussion in San Diego, and then I was overjoyed to learn that I could listen to the whole thing!

You can check them all out here.

12. The Diary of Ralph Dibny

I can't even tell you how many times I have laughed out loud reading this. It's just brilliantly written and a really, really great idea. I would especially suggest the Halloween entry, where Ralph gets a visit from the Phantom Stranger and Dr Thirteen.
It's written by British comic writer Al Ewing, and he does a great job of making the posts follow the 52 series storyline, but also veer off into imaginary crazy adventures when Ralph doesn't get enough material that week. So it certainly helps if you read 52 and supplement it with this hilarious blog, but you could certainly enjoy it on its own.


13. The Baby-sitters Club in Graphic Novel Format by Raina Telgemeier

I was so crazy about The Baby-sitters Club when I was a kid. Right up until I started babysitting and realized it actually kinda sucked. I was totally thrilled when I saw this new graphic novel version of the beloved series. It's a great way to update it for a new generation, and it's awesome to see my childhood fictional best friends as comic characters. The artwork is really fun, with a great sense of humour. The girls all look great, each with their own style that stays true to the books (it lets girls choose the babysitter that most resembles themselves. I always felt I was a combination of Kristy and Mary-Anne).

There are two books out now, Kristy's Great Idea and The Truth About Stacy. I love them. I hope they do the whole series in comic format. I can't wait to see that dreamboat Logan!

14. The New Frontier Action Figures/Absolute New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke

Anything to do with Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier is going to get my stamp of approval. I'm not really a collector, so I don't get particularly excited about Absolute editions of things. But as soon as I saw the Absolute New Frontier I totally wanted it. And I'm glad I have it. It's so big and pretty. I can't wait for the animated movie to come out next year.
I'm also not much of an action figure person. I mean, I like them, but if I only have $20 I'm going to spend that on something I can read every time. I totally want all of the New Frontier action figures, though. They are so nice looking. I love the colouring and I really love how they got the little fabric folds and creases (one of my favourite art details about New Frontier is the way all the costumes are tucked into the belts, and the fabric bunches a little). I got the Green Arrow figure for Christmas. This is when I learned that these figures are very fragile. I immediately broke his bow, his arrow, and all of his back-up arrows. Then I learned that everyone's New Frontier action figures are breaking like eggs. Booooo. But still...pretty. Here's what it's supposed to look like:


15. The Justice League Animated Series on DVD

Man, am I every happy to finally own these. Justice League and Justice League Unlimited is a truly awesome show. Smallville wishes it was a third as good as this show. Like, you think Batman: TAS and Superman: TAS are awesome (and they are), but then you watch this show and it's just so good. I eagerly await the final box set to complete my collection.



16. Batman and the Mad Monk by Matt Wagner

I frigging love Matt Wagner. I loved his Batman and the Monster Men mini-series and I love that he has followed it up with this series. And they come out in a timely manner that pleases me. Well done, Matt.
It's not finished yet. There are still two issues to go, but I am taking a risk and naming it one of my favourite things of the year. I think Wagner writes Batman better than almost anyone. And I could look at his artwork all day. I always like a good early-years Batman story, and I am really enjoying him fighting horrific villains. Plus, throwing in a doomed romance only sweetens the deal.


17. The Hall of Best Knowledge by Ray Fenwick

This was a local comic by a local artist that ran in the local weekly paper. It started in 2005, but sadly finished in 2006. It was completely amazing and brilliant and hilarious every single week. You can view the entire run here, and I only hope that they will someday be published as a book.


18. Superman/Batman Annual #1 by by Joe Kelly, Ed McGuinness, Ryan Ottley and Dexter Vines

Again, I just want to applaud DC for being bold enough to make the very first Superman/Batman annual completely over-the-top ridiculous. I loved every second of it. To all the haters, let me just remind you of how funny Deathstroke was in this. It was just pure crack, and a delight to read. And frankly it was better than most "serious" issues of Superman/Batman.


Ok, so that's the list.
I'd also like to give special mention to the following things, some of which only didn't make the official list because it's too early in the series to be so bold as to name them among the best of 2006:
  • Superman Confidential by Darwyn Cooke and Tim Sale
  • The Spirit by Darwyn Cooke
  • Midnighter by Garth Ennis, Chris Sprouse and Karl Story
  • The Grant Morrison run on Batman
  • Batman and The Spirit by Jeph Loeb and Darwyn Cooke
  • Mike Holmes' Buy Friends Easy comic in The Coast
  • Runaways, Y: The Last Man, and Mary Jane for continuing to rock
  • All of the DC Showcase Presents books. I haven't read them all, but I will and I love them. Thanks for making them so affordable.
Oh my God. I'm done!

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nope. THIS was the best comic book scene from 2006.

thedeadpenguin said...

Thanks for the link to the podcasts, that "don't tokenize me!" rant that Grant did in the first 52 podcast made my night ;)

rachelle said...

Oh, I know. That Morrison freak-out was amazing. I had heard about it before I listened to the podcast and I was worried that it was going to be way more scary and "white man's burden-ish," but it was fine. I laughed.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the mention, Rachelle. I'm keepin' some mighty fine company there.

-Mike

the library girl said...

I would like ot be able to borrow your Babysitter's Club GN if you still have them. I could read them for my YA class. Please let me know. Thanks!

Viagra said...

I would say that Superman Returns is not a good add to the list. Altogether it is not a bad movie, you get entertained for a while but to my eyes there's only 1 Superman... and this guy seemed a bit too Gay.

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