Posted by Don MacPherson on January 2nd, 2008
The floppies and the books have made their way down the red carpet and have taken their seats for the second annual Glass Eye Awards, in which Eye on Comics names the best comics and graphic novels of the year… at least, the best that I’ve read and that I can recall. I’ll be following up this first list of the best comics and graphic novels with lists of the strongest creators in the industry in 2007. But these lists are hardly exhaustive. My comments are limited by various factors, such as access to materials, memory capacity and the lack of hours in each day. These comments are my personal reflections on the comics I read in 2007; I encourage readers to respond with their own picks.
Best Limited Series: My pick as the best limited series last year was Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly’s Local (Oni Press). There were far too few issues in the run released in 2007, but each one we did see were so well crafted that they kept Local near the top of my favorite titles this past year. The grounded, melancholy stories of the everyday are far from the escapism many look for in the medium, but they were undeniably powerful and compelling. Another title on my list is a spinoff from the successful, movie-spawning 30 Days of Night franchise from IDW Publishing. 30 Days of Night: Red Snow, penned and illustrated by Ben Templesmith, captured the dark imagination of the original property while bringing past history and other cultures into the mix, and to great effect.
The next two comics on my list are both firmly entrenched in the super-hero genre, but both managed to temper adventure and energy with human sides. Dark Horse Comics teased readers with a glimpse of Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba’s The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite on Free Comic Book Day, and after the first issue hit the stands this fall, they had an immediate hit on their hands. And while those creators struck all the right chords with a new creation, writer Garth Ennis and artist John McCrea resurrected one in the two-issue Justice League/Hitman series (DC Comics). Despite taking the Tommy Monaghan character into a cross between the sci-fi and horror genres, the book nevertheless captured the same dirty but brutally honest street-level humor and drama that made Hitman such a compelling series in the 1990s.
However, the best limited series of 2007, in my view, is one of those rare developments in the industry: a comic book that lived up to its hype. Writer/artist and Bone creator Jeff Smith showed everyone that he could bring originality and magic to an established property just as he’d done with his own creation in the four-part Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil. While others at DC Comics have faltered in their efforts to do something with the Shazam! characters in other titles, Smith took them down a new path that nevertheless maintained the tradition and innocence of the original source material.
Best Original Graphic Novel: 2007 was the year DC launched Minx, its graphic-novel line aimed at female readers, and many will agree the best one of the bunch (and there were several this past year) was Re-Gifters, by Mike Carey and Sonny Liew. A strong blend of American and Korean culture, this predictable but charming story of a young girl finding her center and learning an early lesson about love couldn’t help but win over readers with its personality and energetic cartooning. Conversely, we saw harsher but just as well-crafted material from writer/artist Kyle Baker as he wrapped up his historical recreation of a slave rebellion with Nat Turner Vol. 2 of 2: Revolution (Image Comics). Another interesting aspect of that project, aside from the riveting contrast between the detached tone of the script and the brutality seen in the artwork, is that it marked a series transition from the traditional floppy comic-book format to a graphic novel. Another foray into historical storytelling in the graphic novel format also grabbed my attention in 2007. James Vining’s First in Space, also from Oni Press, humanized its animal protagonists without resorting to cartoony, overt personification tricks, maintaining the realism that was key to the story.
I came across a number of shorter, self-contained comics in 2007 — too long to be just considered one-shots and a bit short to be considered full graphic novels. Several creators used this original graphic novella format quite well. Take, for example, writer/artist Ted Naifeh, who further the adventures of his young witch heroine in Courtney Crumrin and the Fire Thief’s Tale rather than in a limited series, as he’d done before. The Oni Press publication stood out as one of his best Crumrin stories, and all have been strong, entertaining reads. Writer Damon Hurd, whose past slice-of-life comics have always impressed, was back in 2007 with artist Tatiana Gill. Their original graphic novella, Pictures of You from Alternative Comics, was the second in a series of three books about the two lovers, this time delving into their past. It’s easy to recognize one’s own portrait in Pictures.
My favorite graphic novel of the year was something unlike anything I’d read before. King City Vol. 1 made me an instant Brandon Graham fan. The Tokyopop book featured Japanese, European and American influences, and the writer/artist blended them all to arrive at a wholly originally and surprisingly riveting read. The sci-fi setting and concepts dazzled while the characters’ voices were unlike anything I expected: namely, down to earth.
Best Ongoing Series (New): When I did up the Glass Eye Awards last year, I didn’t differentiate between new titles and established ones, but when I did up my notes for the 2007 feature, I had way too many titles about which I wanted to write. Dividing the category seemed an equitable way to address my problem. Furthermore, maintaining an audience with an ongoing title and capturing one with a new launch can be two different matters. One of 2007’s best new titles was Multiple Warheads, again by Brandon Graham. The Oni Press title would likely have been a shoo-in for the top pick in this category, but we only saw one issue released in 2007. Still, what an issue. Warheads stood out as a wonderful sister title to King City.
Jay Faerber and Mahmud Asrar impressed fans of the super-hero genre last year with Dynamo 5. While Stan Lee and Jack Kirby presented us with a nuclear family of adventurers in the 1960s in the form of Fantastic Four, Faerber presented us with the dysfunctional family of the 21st century in the role of heroic champions instead. Balancing traditional genre elements with a more modern, cynical edge, Dynamo 5 proved to be a modest hit by industry standards but a big one for Image. Another impressive super-hero title debut was a relaunch of a character that had faltered for years after his introduction and initial run in the 1970s. Marvel’s Annihilation brand breathed new life into Nova, and writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning fostered that spark into a flame. Along with artist Sean Chen, the writers offered exciting adventure and bountiful energy, balanced with some strong characterization.
My pick for the best new series of 2007 is another Marvel Comics title: The Order. Originally meant to be titled The Champions (and renamed when Marvel realized someone else had the name trademarked), The Order has proven to be the best thing to come out of “The Initiative,” Marvel’s new company-wide direction, the result of fallout from its Civil War event. It seems that writer Matt Fraction has offered up a new super-hero team book, but The Order is really a commentary on American culture, from politics to celebrity. Barry Kitson’s art reinforces the more serious side of the book with a realistic look, and Fraction’s subject matter is tempered nicely by a solid sense of humor and compelling, well-realized characters.
Best Ongoing Series (Established): Criminal has been a critical darling since its debut in late 2006, but the title, from Marvel’s Icon imprint, has effectively been transformed into a limited series, coming to an end with #10 with a vol. 2 relaunch planned. Still, it was launched as an ongoing and despite the plans for a new #1, it’ll be the same, strong series. Ed Brubaker’s writing and Sean Phillips’s art have converged perfectly to offer a fascinating foray into the underworld that boasts noir appeal with a convincing, genuine tone. Over at Image Comics, that publisher’s best title continued to be Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. Along with artist Charlie Adlard, the writer chronicled the details — both mundane and horrific — of the lives of a group of post-apocalyptic survivors, who face conflict from within as well as the insatiable hunger of the zombies who wait at the periphery of their sanctuary.
The next two titles on the list both arise from DC’s mature-readers imprint, Vertigo. Brian Wood’s work earns another well-deserved mention here, as his DMZ, a tale of urban warfare in an imaginary (but potential) vision of America, continued to impress. Along with Riccardo Burchielli and other artists, Wood offered up complex political and martial scenarios and allowed us to experience and understand them through the eyes of figures that seemed more like people than characters presented in two dimensions. And then there’s American Virgin, by Steven. T. Seagle and Becky Cloonan, a thoroughly left-wing, globetrotting adventure through culture and faith, featuring a wholly right-wing protagonist. Sadly, the title’s been cancelled, but it’s still encouraging that such an edgy, risque and informed character study was brought to audience by one of the highest profile comics publishers in the industry.
In recent years, when one peruses “Best of” lists such as this one, it’s common to encounter the work of Darwyn Cooke, and this year is no exception. Though 2007 brought news that Cooke was only going to work on 12 issues of The Spirit rather than the planned 24, it didn’t weaken his storytelling one bit. Though a revival of the late Will Eisner’s everyman vigilante, The Spirit, under Cooke’s guidance, proved to be an accessible read that paid tribute to the original material while bringing new, updated touches that brought the 1940s hero into the 21st century. Cooke’s satirical writing and attractive artwork are more than enough to make The Spirit the best ongoing series of 2007.
Click here for the second part of the 2007 Glass Eye Awards, in which kudos are offered up to the best creators of the year.