Friday, January 6, 2012

Tales from the Long Box: Best of the... Rest...

Every week Seth goes into his back issue bins, picks out a single issue, story arc, or creative run, pours through it and then writes about it. He calls it Tales from the Long Box. Though old and now either retconned out of existence or made irrelevant by the latest event, these books still share something in common... they're bagged, boarded, and a part of comics history.

So it's now 2012 and by now most comic bloggers and journalists have moved on from "best of" lists. Not me! Oh no, at this rate I'll still be writing Best of 2011 lists well into next year... or until the oncoming apocalypse. Today I wanted to spotlight some books that I love but haven't found the chance/time to write about during the past few months. It's been a fantastic year, quality wise, for comics. The big two were pumping out some high quality books that were matched by the smaller publishers.

At IDW Locke & Key remains one of the most consistently good books on the stands, not just in terms of writing and art but in the wonderful hardcovers that are released soon after the story arcs wrap up. IDW also published the Rocketeer Adventures hardcover recently which collected the mini series with contributions from the likes of Mike Allred, Alex Ross, Darwyn Cooke, John Cassaday and writers like Mark Waid and Kurt Busiek. Rocketeer Adventures was in the running for best mini series of the year and if that decision had been based solely on fun and pretty visuals it no doubt would've won. It's a lovely book and the hardcover makes a beautiful addition to my library.

At Image came to lover newer books like Moriarty, Who is Jake Ellis, Morning Glories, and The Intrepids, while Invincible remained a standard of my pull list. Moriarty is a clever little book with a sketchy, dark look to it. Who is Jake Ellis was also in the running for best mini of the year. On the whole it was probably the best executed story out there, from the art to the story and dialogue. It was also a book just oozed "cool". Like a great spy movie from the 60's. The Intrepids was likewise, a fun little mini that got lost in the shuffle of higher profile Image titles. Morning Glories remains the closest to a comic book equivalent of lost as you can come. While I'm still not taken with the art the story is enough to keep me onboard and Nick Spencer continues to improve as a writer.

At Marvel I fell hard for four titles (other than FF) this year. First up was Mark Waid's Daredevil. I listed Matt Murdock as my favorite character of the year on our 2011 retrospective list and he certainly deserved it. Thanks to Mark Waid/Paulo Rivera/Marcos Martin the word "fun" has become synonymous with Marvel comics again. Seriously, their seems to have been an editorial mandate over at the House of Ideas after the saw the success of this book and I for one couldn't be happier. Not only has the grime been brushed off of Daredevil but Waid and his artistic partners are turning in some of the best work of their careers. Seriously, this is the book that reminded me of why Mark Waid was once my favorite superhero writer. He blends action, character building, and twisting plotlines better than nearly any other writer.

Wolverine and the X-Men also made the leap onto my pull list this year. This was big for me, if only because I'd never pulled an X-title in my life. Usually the sticky continuity and confusing character backstories keep me away from this corner of the Marvel U but Jason Aaron and Chris Bacchallo are doing wonderful things here. Only 3 issues into their run and it's already one of my favorite superhero titles and one that constantly brings a smile to my face. Aaron is also doing interesting things on his Incredible Hulk title which reminds me of this weird cross between Island of Dr. Moreau and Conan the Barbarian. Aaron isn't writing the classic Bruce Banner story here, instead opting to create a big, action heavy, mad-scientist story.

Finally, the best title Marvel published this year that wasn't written by Jason Aaron or Jonathon Hickman was Rick Remender's Uncanny X-Force. The crazy thing about this title isn't just that it's so darn cool but that Remender managed to inject so much emotion into it. Just read those last few issues of the Dark Angel Saga and you'll know what I mean. It's in no small part to the artists involved, from Tony Moore to Esad Ribbic to Jerome Opena, that this book is as good as it is.

Of course at DC I've written plenty about the new 52 but a few of the titles that I haven't given much play to on here are The Shade, Birds of Prey and All Star Western. The Shade, though not a part of the initial relaunch, is probably the best book DC is publishing currently in terms of story telling. This is the James Robinson that I want to read. His dialogue-heavy writing style may throw some spandex fight seekers for a loop but I can't get enough of it. And with Cully Hamner pencilling the city scapes of every where from Star City to Paris it's as beautiful to look at as it is to read. Birds of Prey, meanwhile, seems to have been lost in the shuffle a bit. Its a well-written action book with a spy feel that verges on Bourne with super powers... and lipstick. I believe it's one of the best books to come out of the New 52 and hope that it reaches some measure of success so it'll stick around for a while. The same goes for All Star Western. A brutal little book with it's roots firmly planted in DC continuity; this book is doing as much to set up the history of Gotham as it is to prove Jonah Hex is one unrepentant piece of crap. I love it.

Naturally, I stepped outside the realms of superhero and action books this year as well. I read some titles that had been released before 2011 but I had never gotten around to reading such as Local and Johnny Hiro... I can't recommend either highly enough. I also read Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly's New York Four (previously published under the DC owned Minx imprint back in 2008) and New York Five (released this year under the Vertigo banner) and adored them both. Brian Wood has a handle on character that few writers attain and Ryan Kelly cemented himself as one of my favorite artists with these books. Kelly's ability to set a scene through atmosphere and detailed city streets match his knack for drawing characters going through emotional breakdown, stages of grief or raucous laughter. I loved getting to know the characters in these books and can only hope one day we'll see them again.

So there you go, a quick run down but I got to put a plug in for some titles I've enjoyed this year. They might not have made the usual critical smash that books like Persepolis or Blankets have in years past but they worked their magic on me and helped to make 2011 a banner year in comics enjoyment for me. I'm sure I'll write up at least one more "best of" list before January is over so be on the look out for that.

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