Friday, January 11, 2008


or “What Stood Out to One Guy in Santa Monica”
by John Judy, a.k.a. One Guy

For all the X-overs, weekly let-downs, and assorted temptations to kick this three-dollar a hit habit there was some amazingly good stuff out last year. I’m sure I’ll miss a few but here’s what I remember with gratitude and awe:

1. SCALPED by Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera. This was the Discovery of 2007 for me. A hard-boiled, crime-noir graphic novel set in the squalor of a fictional Indian reservation, SCALPED follows the story of Special Agent Dash Bad Horse as he returns to the home he’s spent his life trying to escape. Uncomfortable reunions ensue. The first trade collection, INDIAN COUNTRY, came out in August and the next one, CASINO BOOGIE, is in the pipe for February. Absolutely not for kids, but recommended reading for everyone else.

2. ALL-STAR SUPERMAN by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. A shamelessly out-of-continuity title that got the magic of Krypton’s last son and rendered it in style. The ALL-STAR titles both take forever to come out but this one was always worth the wait.

3. WARREN ELLIS, the guy whose words makes Comet Cleanser feel like aloe lotion. He was all over the map but managed to land spot-on with titles as diverse as NEWUNIVERSAL, BLACK GAS, WOLFSKIN, BLACK SUMMER, DOKTOR SLEEPLESS, THUNDERBOLTS, FELL, CRECY, and the much lamented NEXTWAVE: AGENTS OF H.A.T.E. Oh, and he wrote a little novel, too: “Crooked Little Vein.” He’s mentioned it once or twice on that internet thingy the kids keep talking about.

4. JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA by Geoff Johns and Dale Eaglesham. Ever since James Robinson revived Starman a few years back, DC Comics has done pretty well by their golden-age characters. Not as well as they could, but certainly a lot better than they’ve done for the guys who created these characters. But that’s another article.

5. GARTH ENNIS, who can still chill your blood and make you laugh in the same panel. Ennis turned out CHRONICLES OF WORMWOOD, 303, PUNISHER, BARRACUDA MAX, DAN DARE, and, after some trouble with original publisher DC, the darker than dark BOYS series for Dynamite Entertainment.

6. WELCOME TO TRANQUILITY by Gail Simone and Neil Googe. Imagine a Mayberry or Bedford Falls full of super-heroes. Or maybe even Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” with capes. Clever, well-drawn stuff.

7. DARWYN COOKE, the brilliant writer-artist who gave us DC NEW FRONTIER also took up the reins of DC’s re-launch of THE SPIRIT. Sadly, he’s moving on from that title. Happily, it’s being taken over by Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier.

8. CRIMINAL by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Lovers of noir haven’t had it this good at the candy store since the Fat Man was thin. With two story-arcs under their belts and the promise of more to come this one is appointment reading every issue.

9. JOSS WHEDON, who brought back BUFFY and ANGEL for extra seasons in comic book form. This on top of scripting ASTONISHING X-MEN and RUNAWAYS. He also does some kind of work involving pictures that move, but who cares about such lesser mediums?

10. REGINALD HUDLIN, who takes time from being President of Entertainment for BET to write some of the best Black Panther stories ever. He even got T’Challa married to the X-Men’s Storm. This is the Panther who belongs on the big screen.

11. IMMORTAL IRON FIST by Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and David Aja. A martial arts comic that doesn’t suck and looks great! Truly we owe them our gratitude!

12. ASTRO CITY: THE DARK AGE by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson. Another one worth the long waits between issues, ASTRO CITY is a universe all its own, pretending to be a superhero comic while leaving us pondering its meaning long after we’ve turned the last colorful page. It’s not surprising that “Dark Age” is the arc coming out during the last years of the Bush regime.

13. DARK TOWER THE GUNSLINGER BORN by Peter David and Jae Lee. If you’d told me in 2006 that one of next year’s biggest sellers would be an adaptation of one Stephen King’s most intricate, long-running serial epics… Goes to show you how much I know. Sequel due in 08!

14. SHAZAM: MONSTER SOCIETY OF EVIL written and drawn by Jeff Smith. The creator of “Bone” knocked one out of the park in another out-of-continuity delight. My three-year old made me read at least one issue per night to him for most of 2007. I didn’t mind a bit.

15. THE EC ARCHIVES hardcover series including TALES FROM THE CRYPT, TWO-FISTED TALES, WEIRD SCIENCE, SHOCK SUSPENSTORIES, and VAULT OF HORROR. They’re up to two volumes on some of these and I search the sofa cushions with a renewed sense of Mission every time. Not cheap. Worth every penny.

16. Y THE LAST MAN by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra. Coming to an end too soon! This must be a movie. Better yet, an HBO series. One more reason for the producers to settle the strike and pay up already!

17. THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD by Mark Waid and George Perez. Two great creators who love the Silver-Age heroes and know how to do them right.

18. DAN SLOTT the writer behind some of the smartest, funniest super-hero comics in a long time. Following Peter David’s lead of taking heroes who have fallen into Second-String Country, Slott took SHE-HULK to a creative pinnacle while simultaneously giving us new takes on the GREAT LAKES AVENGERS and the various members of the AVENGERS INITIATIVE. Slott is a writer whose name always warrants a look.

19. ACTION PHILOSOPHERS by Ryan Dunlavey and Fred Van Lente. A great series of strips that should have the makers of college Cliffs Notes looking over their shoulders. Sadly AP is no longer an on-going title, but it’s being replaced in 08 by ACTION PRESIDENTS! If you liked the Philosophy you’ll love the History!

20. Did I mention BRIAN K. VAUGHAN already? The creator of RUNAWAYS, EX MACHINA, PRIDE OF BAGHDAD, and Y THE LAST MAN continued out-doing himself with each of his titles being distinct from each other in focus and tone. Their unifying quality was excellence.

21. Writer/Artist KYLE BAKER for the historical drama NAT TURNER and the current dark satire SPECIAL FORCES.

22. FRANK MILLER for reminding us that nobody’s perfect.

23. BOOKS WITH PICTURES by a spunky young talent named Sina Grace. Okay, seriously, I know Sina and he’s written and drawn an admirable first effort set in an environment most of us know well: a comic book store full of quirky employees. It’s about more than that and if “BwP” is an indicator young Mr. Grace will have much more to say in his career to come.

24. ROBERT KIRKMAN, who writes the best zombie comics around. From the morbidly hilarious MARVEL ZOMBIES 1&2 to his own WALKING DEAD series, Kirkman takes characterization seriously and keeps the surprises coming. He’s also doing some fine non-zombie work on his latest creation THE ASTONISHING WOLF-MAN over at Image.

25. MATT WAGNER and his return to his signature character, the amoral crime-boss/novelist GRENDEL in the new mini BEHOLD THE DEVIL.

26. GEOFF JOHNS, who in addition to the latest JSA book is also turning in amazing work on a re-vitalized BOOSTER GOLD and GREEN LANTERN. GL is turning into a great space opera/police procedural mix and BOOSTER has redeemed the time-travel motif in comics. Who’d have thunk it?

27. Believe it or not, a couple of WOLVERINE stories proved it was still possible to write the character well. WOLVERINE #56 was a fill-in by Jason “Scalped” Aaron and Howard Chaykin and ANNUAL #1 was an ambitious setting of a Logan story to the tune of T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” written by Greg Hurwitz and illustrated by Marcelo Frusin. Just goes to show you that occasionally there are diamonds hidden in the coal.

28. HARVEY CLASSICS, a couple of trade collections of the iconic Harvey characters CASPER THE FRIENDLY GHOST and RICHIE RICH. Great for all ages and very fun.

29. THE QUESTION by Dennis O’Neil and Denys Cowan being collected in trade. This thoughtful, noir, martial arts adventure series had almost nothing in common with Steve Ditko’s original concept but some names and the “power” of having a faceless mask, but it was great reading back in the eighties and still holds up today.

30. GREG RUCKA for writing, among other things, THE CRIME BIBLE: THE FIVE LESSONS OF BLOOD, certainly one of the best names ever for a comic book. The fact that the book lives up to the title is just that much more pleasing on every level. It wouldn’t surprise me if a few crazies out there have already started worshiping Rucka as a Prophet of a Criminal God. You heard it here first.

31. ALAN MOORE for not compromising his madness in the latest “LEAGUE OF EXTRODINARY GENTLEMEN: THE BLACK DOSSIER.” Moore falls into the same category as his fellow eighties icon Frank Miller in that his genius requires you to examine even the work that you find lacking the power of his earlier milestones. (I still wish he’d get his dosages right, though.)

32. NORTHLANDERS by Brian Wood and Davis Gianfelice. The epic of Prince Sven, the prodigal Viking returned to claim his inheritance in the 10th century. This is shaping up to be the next great Vertigo series from the creator of DMZ.

33. FANTAGRAPHICS for their high-quality hardcover reprints of classic strips like PEANUTS and POPEYE as well as their collections of IVAN BRUNETTI, JACK COLE, ROBERT CRUMB, and many others.

34. JAMES STURM for his spare but moving stories set in America’s ever-present past. 2007 saw the publication of JAMES STURM’S AMERICA: GOD, GOLD, AND GOLEMS and SATCHEL PAIGE: STRIKING OUT JIM CROW.

2008 has a tough act to follow.

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