Best Non-Superhero comic books of all time: 51-60

It’s been a while since I could get back to this project, mostly because summer. I haven’t gotten a lot of reaction to it, but what little I have gotten has been interesting,  so I’ll definitely continue. I’m sure once I get to the superhero list, that more people will share and comment. In the meantime, let me know what I got wrong:

60. Age Of Bronze by Eric Shanhower (Image, 1998)

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Shanhower seems to have all but abandoned this minute-by-minute retelling of the Trojan War,  considering that it’s taken him 16 years to finish 32 issues. Even if he never actually completes it, he’ll have left behind an immaculately researched, wholly engrossing piece of historical epic storytelling. Shanhower is a stunning draftsman, with a level of detail to his artwork that seems to be rare these days. Combine that with the amount of research that must go into each page, and you can (almost) forgive him the time between issues.

59. Box Office Poison by Alex Robinson (Top Shelf, 1997)

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I like to think that I’m fairly objective about the subject matter of the comics I read. I don’t have to drink blood to like a good vampire comic, and I don’t have to be a 14 year old girl to appreciate a good romance comics. But Box Office Poison was a book that spoke to me specifically BECAUSE of the subject matter. As someone who spent most of the 90s and 2000s working in various music and movie retail stores, the bookstore microcosm that is the setting for BOP, was particularly appealing. That High Fidelity-like backdrop, and the 90s angsty melodrama, makes this a nice snapshot of the era.

58. Scalped by Jason Aaron & R.M. Guera (Vertigo, 2007)

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Scalped was possibly the last great Vertigo epic that we’ll ever see (though fans of Unwritten & Fables might disagree). A South  Dakotan crime opera set on an Indian reservation, this deftly written masterpiece was largely inspired by the real story of Leonard Pelletier. I wouldn’t argue too much against someone that wanted to position Scalped as the greatest crime comic book of all time, and I’m sure this will make it’s way to our TV screens sooner rather than later.

57. Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor (Drawn & Quarterly, 2012)

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I was originally going to use Piskor’s Wizzywig for this list, but as I’m a sucker for well made comic books about music, and as HHFT is an exceptional comic book about music, it gets the nod. Essentially an oral history of the early days of hip hop, in comic form, HHFT shows the highs and lows of everyone from Grandmaster Flash, to Sylvia Robinson, to Debbie Harry, to KRS 1. Originally published as one-pagers on BoingBoing.net, Drawn & Quarterly has been collecting these in handsome, oversized volumes that are a must for all music lovers.

56. Xenozoic Tales by Mark Schultz (Flesk Publications, 1986)

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XT (often known by it’s other handle, Cadillacs & Dinosaurs) is a post-apocalyptic pulp that marries the episodic melodrama of old Tarzan & Flash Gordon serials with a modern ecological mission statement. How Mark Schultz isn’t considered one of the greatest artists of all time is beyond me, but he keeps himself busy as the writer of Prince Valiant and other modern strips. Fans of Dave Stevens’ The Rocketeer, or Dark Horse’s Indiana Jones comic books,  will probably find lots to love here.

55. Torpedo by Enrique Sánchez Aulí and drawn by Jordi Bernet (IDW, 1981)

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Originally published in Spanish horror comics in the early 1980s, Torpedo has become internationally known as one of the all-time great crime comic books. Every story stars Luca, an Italian American hitman in 1920’s mob controlled Manhattan. He’s a douche, and does douchie things. Sometimes he’s just a dick to women, and sometimes he’s a vicious killer. But he’s always entertaining, with levels and levels of subtext hidden deep.  There’s lots of other Jordi Benet books good enough for a list like this, but it’s this particular pairing of craftsmen that makes this one special. With Torpedo, these two masters show how to tell short, concise stories that still pack a whallop.

54. Black Hole by Charles Burns (Pantheon, 1995)

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Fresh from a cameo in Dawn of the Planet Of The Apes, it’s the weirdest comic you’ve never read. You’ll see this as the lone graphic novel on the bookshelf of many a grad student circa 2005, but it’s essentially timeless, and still engenders a visceral reaction in new readers that’s almost physical. The concept? An STD that triggers mutations in 1970’s Seattle. That’s it, but it’s a juicy one. Burns’ unflinching gaze at the realities of teenage adolescence is widely considered one of the great graphic novels of the last 20 years.

53. Queen & Country by Greg Rucka & various artists (Oni Press, 2001)

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Soon to be a major motion picture! Soonish, at least? Greg Rucka’s espionage magnum opus still holds up well decades after publication. The geopolitical situations may have changed, but dumb people still do dumb stuff all over the world, so it’s fairly easy to imagine Tara Chase in a more contemporary setting. Tara Chase is one of the great female characters in adventure comic history, with flaws so big you could drive a truck through them.

52. Lucifer by Mike Carey & various artists (Vertigo, 2000)

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I have a secret. It’s one that very few people know. People usually get mad when I tell them, so you have to keep it a secret. Ok?

Here goes: I like Lucifer more than Sandman.

Phew. That was hard. Especially considering that Sandman is actually higher on this list than Lucifer. Why? Because although I personally think Lucifer is a better read, it literally wouldn’t exist without Sandman. So much of the narrative, pacing, and conceptual approach to story that Lucifer comes from Neil Gaiman’s work on Sandman, that to rank it higher seems disrespectful, in a way. But Carey is doing some great work here, with wonderful character development set in front of a cosmologically epic backdrop. This is premium dark fantasy.

51. Daytripper by Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba (Vertigo, 2008)

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This Brazillian team of brothers has been producing A+ work since pretty much the day they started in the business. Daytripper remains the crown jewel in their creative resume, at least for now. Each issue features the same character, or at least a version of the same character: Bras de Oliva Demingo. In some issues he’s married. In some, he’s single. In some, he’s old. And in others he’s young. The only thing all of these different Bras have in common, is that they die at the end of their story. The art is really stunning here, and is the perfect compliment to this beautiful exploration of alternate realities.

 

 

 

The Best Non-Superhero comic books of all-time: 61-70

70. Kane by Paul Grist (Dancing Elephant Press, 1996)

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Not sure how this happened, but these 10 additions to my list seem packed with excellent crime comics like Kane. Paul Grist is woefully under appreciated on this side of the pond, but his work hits the sweet spot between mainstream & indie, and no artist outside of Mike Mignola uses shadow & lighting as effectively as he does.

69. Perry Bible Fellowship by Nicholas Gurewitch (Dark Horse, 2001)

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I don’t think anyone has ever crammed so much story into 3 panels as Nicolas Gurewitch. Each strip feels like just a 3 panel peak into a 350 page epic that we’re just getting a taste of. Quite possibly the funniest comic strip ever made.

68. Phonogram by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie (Image, 2006)

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It’s easy to label this as the best comic about music ever made, but in reality, it’s the best comic about passion ever made. Because that’s what Gillen is working with here: Love. Love of music, to be sure, but love nonetheless. Gillen & McKelvie have evolved into one of the strongest creative teams in the business right now.

67. Battlefields by Garth Ennis & various artists (Dynamite, 2008)

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Garth Ennis gets way more attention for works like Preacher, or more recently, Crossed. But Battlefields really showcases that combination of action & character that makes Ennis such an important writer, and tones down the dumb attempts at toilet humour that he seems convinced needs to be part of much of his work. War & Comics have always been a well matched pair, and Battlefields is one of the better recent examples of that.

66. Fell by Warren Ellis & Ben Templesmith (Image, 2005)

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While Ellis & Templesmith continue to be harassed as to when the next issue is coming out, I’m content with what we’ve got: 9 issues of detective comic weirdness. In some ways Fell is a great companion piece to Kane, at least tonally, though Templesmith’s moody collages couldn’t be more different than Grist’s cartoony expressionism.

65. Mister X by Dean Motter & various creators (Vortex, Dark Horse, 1983)

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Impossibly dense, impeccably stylish, and perfectly crafted, Mister X is a truly timeless comic book. Motter’s art deco illustration combined with his twisty noir approach to storytelling, make Mister X one of those rare comics that you can learn new things from, every time you revisit it. Motter drew inspiration from Bauhaus art & Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and Mister X’s influence can be felt on everything from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, to everything that was influenced by Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.

64. 100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso (Vertigo, 1999)

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Yep, another crime comic. But 100 Bullets isn’t just any other crime comic. In fact, more than a few people consider this to be the best crime comic ever made. I’ll beg to differ, but there’s no arguing that Azzarello & Risso are a phenomenal creative team, who seem to produce their best work when creating together. 100 Bullets is one of the great epics of modern comics.

63. Petrograd by Phillip Gelatt & Tyler Crook (Oni Press, 2011)

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Historical fiction is an overly used genre in comics, but it’s usually used as an excuse to add fantastical elements to familiar stories (What if JRR Tolkien fought dragons? What if Napoleon was a zombie?). Petrograd resists that temptation, and grounds it’s speculation firmly in fact; Namely, the fact that British spys were in Russia at the time of Rasputin’s death during WW1, and may have been responsible for said death. Phillip Gelatt deftly plots this supposition to it’s logical conclusion, and Tyler Crook became a comics art superstar immediately upon publication due to his incredibly confident pencil work. A real gem.

62. The Wrenchies by Farel Dalrymple (First Second, 2014)

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The only book on this list that hasn’t actually been released yet. I’m hesitant to talk about this one too much, but if this doesn’t end up being my favourite graphic novel of the year, I’m going to eat my hat.

61. The Creep by John Arcudi & Jonathan Case (Dark Horse, 2011)

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A modern noir classic, that didn’t get nearly enough attention when it came out a few years back. Our hero is Oxel Karnhus, a private detective with advanced Acromegaly. It’s a debilitating condition in which excess growth hormone causes sometimes deforming growth. Oxel’s college sweetheart calls him to help solve her son’s suicide, and so John Arcudi spins up 4 issues of some of the best noir ever put to page in modern comic books. Jonathan Case is a superstar in the making. I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best non-superhero comics of all time: 71-80

80. Y The Last Man by Brian Vaughan & Pia Guerra (Vertigo, 2002)

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This was an unabashedly loved series during it’s run, frequently being hailed as one of the greatest adventure serials in the medium’s history. While still enjoyable, (How Pia Guerra hasn’t landed a major series since this is beyond me), this series about the last man alive on a planet full of women loses some impact when read in one big fell swoop. That being said, it’s entertainment factor still holds up extremely well.

79. Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse (Pirahna Press, 1995)

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A groundbreaking work, on a lot of levels. A major landmark in the graphic bio genre, this ended up also being an important mainstream look into aspects of gay culture.  Cruse gives us a peek into growing up in 1960’s Birmingham, not exactly a hotbed for the gay folks at the time. His brutal honesty, in addition to the brilliant density of his cross hatching technique, makes this one of my favourite autobiographical comics.

78. The Nao Of Brown by Glyn Dillon (Harry N. Abrams, 2012)

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Part romantic comedy, part meditation on Buddhism, and all stunningly beautiful painting. That’s The Nao Of Brown, a deceptively deep look at the life of a half-Japanese woman struggling to find success in her career, in romance, and in life in general.

77. The Cowboy Wally Show by Kyle Baker (Marlowe & Company, 1996)

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Choosing just one of Kyle Baker’s graphic novels to include here might have been one of the more difficult tasks I set myself when putting together this list. One thing gave Cowboy Wally the nod over more well known works like King David, or Why I Hate Saturn: Laughs. Big time laughs. While the media landscape that this book savagely lampoons has drastically changed, the North American love affair with being famous at all costs is eternal. Cowboy Wally’s trappings may be a little dated, but it still holds up admirably well.

76. Doonesbury by Gary Trudeau (1968)

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You’re not going to find many strips on this list that have had the cultural or political footprint that Doonesbury has had. While it’s ability to influence public discourse has obviously diminished, it’s overall impact is still felt, and still significant.  Through wars & social unrest, through political scandals & cultural change, Doonesbury has been providing witty commentary to it all. And best of all? Still funny as hell.

75. Duncan The Wonder Dog by Adam Hines (AdHouse, 2010)

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A huge, sprawling graphic novel, ambitious in scope, but extremely detailed in approach. It’s the story of a world similar to our own, with one major exception: Animals have learned to talk. And so an already complicated discussion regarding our relationship to the food that we eat and the environment we live in, becomes even more complicated.  Hines is there every step of the way, providing arguments, counterarguments, and setting the stage for a series that hopefully matches the extremely high quality of this book.

74. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon, 2004)

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Persepolis is arguably one of the two most important biographical graphic novels of this still new century, and probably the most influential. It’s  the story of the Iranian Islamic Revolution, as seen through the eyes of one teenaged girl and her family.  Heartbreaking & poignant, silly & sensitive, Persepolis is one of those rare graphic novels that broke through to mainstream audiences, spawning both a sequel, and a critically acclaimed film. Another one of those books to recommend to your friend that “doesn’t read comics”.

73. Human Target by Peter Milligan & various artists (Vertigo, 1999)

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This was a perfect blend of character & concept, and one of the best action comics ever created. This may seem like a strange Peter Milligan comic to pick considering how prolific he’s been as a creator, but so much of his work crosses over into the superhero world, in varying degrees.  An updated take on an obscure 1970’s DC Comics character, Milligan’s Christopher Chance is a tragic hero at heart. He’s so used to pretending to be the people that he’s trying to protect, that he’s lost all of his own sense of self. Considering their recent output, it’s hard to remember that DC comics ever made comics this good.

72. Afrodisiac by Brian Maruca & Jim Rugg (Adhouse, 2009)

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On the surface, Afrodisiac is pure blaxploitation, fitting nicely on the shelf alongside your Pam Grier & Rudy Ray Moore DVDs. But what it really is, is a love letter to comics of all types: superheroes, kung-fu, romance, you name it.  It’s all fair game for Maruca & Rugg. Our hero is a pheromone-laden pimp, complete with a myriad of origin stories that changes from chapter to chapter. He fights a motley cure of villains, including Hercules, God, Death, giant cockroaches, and worst of all: Richard Nixon. This comic is a tribute to style over substance, but it’s that very style that makes me go back to this comic again and again.

71. Beasts of Burden by Evan Dorkin & Jill Thompson (Dark Horse, 2009)

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I’m going to go out on a limb here, but this is the best comic book about a group of dogs (and one cat) that solves supernatural mysteries, ever made. Both Dorkin & Thompson have impressive back catalogues ripe for the picking for a list like this, but BoB has the perfect blend of heart & adventure for me. Thompson is one of the finest painters in the history of the medium, and Dorkin’s decades of experience spearheading seminal books like Milk & Cheese, give this series an emotional heft not often seen in modern comics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Best non-superhero comic books of all-time: 81-90

90. Buddha by Osamu Tezuka (Vertical INC., 1972)

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This extremely ambitious series of 8 graphic novels really is a must read for those that are interested in just how large the scope of comics can be. Buddha is essentially an origin story for one of the most famous and influential characters in human history. That Tezuka’s version is essentially bullshit just makes it all the more the interesting. I don’t know enough about the details of the Buddha’s life (of the Himalayan Buddhas) to pick apart the historical accuracy of Tezuka’s version, but considering half the characters have superpowers, and there are talking animals in pretty much every scene, tells us Tezuka wasn’t going for realism here. The best way to treat a story as big as this is as a massively gorgeous, fantasy epic, and it’s executed well here.

89. MonsterMen by Gary Gianni (Dark Horse, 1996)

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If we’re judging just on art, this might have been near the top of my list. MonsterMen isn’t as well known as some of the titles I’m covering on this project, due it mostly being a series of back-up stories for Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics. And from a characterization standpoint this isn’t quite as interesting as Hellboy, or other, more famous supernatural investigator books. But the art is so stunning that you’re halfway through before you realize that you’re not even bothering to follow the plot. If you ever want to get depressed about your own art skills, check out Gary Gianni.

88. Northwest Passage by Scott Chantler (Oni Press, 2005)

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Part historical novel, part adventure comic, and all Canadian gold. That’s Northwest Passage, a fictional epic set in 18th Century Hudson Bay. Scott Chantler’s pencils are a national treasure, highlighting both action and drama with equal fervour. Chantler seems to be getting more attention for his attention to detail & historical accuracy than he is for his artwork, but he really is one of the finest pencillers in comics today. You won’t find a more entertaining historical adventure comic than this one.

87. Heck by Zander Cannon (Top Shelf, 2013)

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If it wasn’t for the fact that this is so recent, I would probably have listed this much higher. This, my friends, is what I consider a perfect comic book. It has absolutely everything I need in an adventure strip: An engrossing character arc, a great high concept, and thought provoking art from Zander Cannon. Our hero is Don Heck, a former high school football hero that finds a portal to Hell in his recently deceased father’s house. And so begins the ultimate adventure: A trip to hell to talk to his unrequited loves dead husband. I can’t recommend this highly enough, and the fact that Cannon’s profile isn’t higher is a shame.

86. Orc Stain by James Stokoe (Image, 2010)

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I think in 10 years it will be very difficult to pick just one comic of Stokoe’s for a list like this. But at this point, it’s Orc Stain. If Lord Of The Rings was directed by Ron Jeremy, it might look a little something like this. Stokoe’s art is so incredibly dense, yet so effortlessly vibrant, that it’s easy to discount the fact that he’s telling a hell of a yarn here as well. The scariest thing about Stokoe? He just seems to be getting better and better. Pax Gronka, indeed.

85. Understanding Comics by Scott McLeod (Tundra, 1993)

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If I ever made a list featuring just comics ABOUT comics, this would probably be at the very top of the list. McLeod’s books about how to understand, read, and make comic books have become a defacto bible for those of us who want to know exactly WHY we love the comics we love. Whether or not you’re a passionate amateur, or a jaded professional, McCleod’s treatise on what makes comics tick is pretty much industry standard these days.

84. Button Man by John Wagner & Arthur Ranson (2000AD, 1992)

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One of the finest strips 2000AD ever produced, and that is saying a lot. John Wagner’s (probably best known for History Of Violence, and for co-creating Judge Dredd) action writing has been largely ingnored  on this side of the pond, but if you can only pick up one book by him, it really needs to be this one. Wagner weaves a classic cat & mouse assassination tale here, with an absolutely bad-ass lead character that is just begging to be played by Brad Pitt in the inevitable film version. Arthur Ranson’s stellar photorealism is put to good use here, with a realistic approach rarely seen in the subject matter he usually works on.

83. Strangers In Paradise by Terry Moore (Abstract Studios, 1993)

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It will be hard to find many books on this list that are quite as loved as SiP is by it’s devotees. While there is some validity to the criticism that SiP just went on a little too long, the fact that fans are still clamouring for more is a tribute to Moore’s strong character work. From a penciller’s perspective, it’s an absolute treat to see Moore’s lines start strong at the beginning of the series, and just continue to get better as the series goes on. There’s rumours of sequels coming as well…

82. Road To Perdition by Max Alan Collins & Richard Piers Rayner (Paradox Press, 1998)

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It’s a cliche by this point, but this is one of those instances where the book really is better than the movie. Max Alan Collins doesn’t really get as much credit as he should for his crime writing skills. He’s at the absolute top of his game here, with a story drenched in family melodrama, and true crime intrigue. With all respect to the Brubakers, and Cookes, and Azzarellos, and Bendis’ of the world, this might be the very best pure mob comic book ever written. While Richard Rayner seems to be just a footnote now, I doubt there’s a mainstream artist from that era whose works stands the test of time as well as his does.

81. I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly & J.M. Ken Nimura (Image, 2008)

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Spoiler Alert: There’s a little girl, who kills giants. Or at least she tries. We’ve seen countless variations on the female monster hunter trope in recent years, but I’m not sure many are as well-loved as Barbara Thorson. When we meet her, she’s bullied, friendless, and fearless. And she knows that the giants are coming. She knows it in every fibre of her being. Only problem? There is no such thing as giants. At least not yet. A fantastic exploration of loneliness draped in the trappings of traditional fantasy, I Kill Giants is one of those books you give to people who claim to hate comic books.

 

I was just about to press send on this, when I realized that almost all the comics in this edition are black & white. Huh.

More to come…

 

 

 

 

The best non-superhero comic books of all-time: 91-100

Ok, I’m probably going to regret this, but here goes.

I thoroughly enjoyed Rolling Stone’s recent blog regarding the 50 best non superhero graphic novels of all time. I thought it was a nice blend of populism & art house douchebaggery. And of course I thought they got a lot wrong. So….I decided to make my own list. And of course I couldn’t just keep it to 50. And of course even whittling down to 100 was hard. I’m going to post the list gradually over the next couple of weeks/months, but first, here are the rules/things to remember:

  • Any type of comic book could qualify to be on the list: single issues, trades, collections, original graphic novels, newspaper comic strips, mangas, webcomics etc. Sometimes one arc made the list, sometimes an entire series.
  • I tried to keep this to one book per creative team. Otherwise the list would have looked something like this: 1-20: Chris Ware. 21-40: Dan Clowes, etc.
  • This is not even remotely comprehensive, or even fair. For example, there aren’t that many comics on the list from before the 1970s. Or even before the 80s or 90s. It obviously isn’t because there weren’t great comics before then…that’s just when I fell in love with comics. Still, I think it’s a fairly diverse list.
  • There are probably at least 3 or 4 books on this list that could have/should have, been considered on a list of the best superhero books of all time. Bah.You and your rules.

P.S. Yes, I plan on tackling the superhero genre next. In about 6 months. Here goes.

100. Nightly News by Jonathan Hickman (Image, 2006)

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This kind of slapped me in the face when it came out almost a decade or so ago. Although somewhat clumsy compared to some of the work that Hickman has done since, Nightly News still delivers a visceral gut punch, as well as valuable social commentary, that’s rare among modern mainstream comics. The only sad thing here, is how valid the criticisms that Hickman levels against modern media still are.

99. Birth Of A Nation by Reggie Hudlin, Aaron McGruder, and Kyle Baker (Three Rivers Press, 2005)

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In 2005, it was still unpopular to criticize America Foreign Policy, especially as interpreted by George Bush & Dick Cheney. And so Birth of A Nation was a welcome breath of fresh air. In Kyle Baker, Aaron McGruder finally had a cartoonist talented enough to give his vicious barbs some depth, and Reggie Hudlin gave the project gravitas that it wouldn’t have had otherwise.

98. Den by Richard Corben (Fantagor, 1973)

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Before Cerebus, before Bone, and before Hellboy, Richard Corben’s Den put the E in epic. Part Princess of Mars adventure story, part Robert Howard Cthuluian horror yarn, Den easily escaped the handcuffs of the genres it was inspired by, due to the vibrancy & buoyancy of Corben’s artwork.

97. Elephantmen by Richard Starkings and various artists (Image, 2006)

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Even after 8 years on the stands, Elephantmen still manages to zig when you think it’s going to zag. Originally conceived as a fairly straight forward sci-fi detective story, Starking’s exploration of modern bioethics & geopolitics has evolved into a masterclass in world building, with some of the most exciting artists in modern comics providing a stunning visual centerpiece.

96. The Last Musketeer by Jason (Fantagraphics, 2008)

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I picked The Last Musketeer, but really any of Jason’s bizarre little anthropomorphic character-mysteries could have gotten the nod. Athos (the Last Musketeer, duh), is our hero here. He’s hundreds of years old, and down on his luck. A martian invasion gives Athos one last stab at heroism and redemption. Jason’s whimsical approach to adventure storytelling only serves to heighten the emotional impact.

95. Smoke by Alex De Campi & Igor Kordey (IDW, 2005)

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The political thriller is a relatively unexplored genre in the comics field, and De Campi’s take on an England not far from our own, remains one of the best of the modern era. This sits on the stands very nicely with other antifascism landmarks such as V For Vendetta, Maus, & The Dark Knight Returns, and Kordey turns out some of the tightest lines of his career.

94. The Adventures Of Barry Ween Boy Genius by Judd Winick (Oni Press, 1999)

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Although Winick’s reality TV stint in the early 90’s manages to still keep him from being taken seriously in comics, he really is a compelling character writer. Barry Ween was his first foray into fiction comics, and it still stands up as a thoroughly entertaining (not to mention extremely funny) adventure comic, but with a character focus not often seen in the genre. He deftly combines booby jokes and action storytelling with a serious peek into what utter loneliness looks like.

93. Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido (Dark Horse, 2004)

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The idea of talking animals serving as a metaphor for mid-20th Century race relations is a compelling one, but it’s Guarnido’s lush painting that really is the star of this show. If it weren’t for how stunningly beautiful every page is, I’m not sure we would be considering this as much more than just another decent detective story. But each page is stunningly beautiful, and so a run-of-the mill gumshoe yarn becomes a gorgeous work of art. Such is comics.

92. DMZ by Brian Wood, Riccardo Burchielli, and various artists. (Vertigo, 2006)

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Even years after it’s end, DMZ still serves as an effective response to the modern marriage between big government & multi-national corporations, and really shines a bright spotlight onto the current leaning towards isolationist tendencies that can be found all over current American politics. What makes this series special however, is that is gives us a lead character that is so likeable, and so empathetic, that we forget (for a time), just how serious the subject matter that we are discussing is. He makes us believe that we’re reading just another thriller, when in fact we are looking at a very possible future for our continent.

91. Green River Killer: A True Detective Story by Jeff Jensen & Jonathan Case (Dark Horse, 2011)

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Part autobiographical memoir, part true crime thriller, Green River Killer is one of those books that really shows just how transcendent the medium of comicscan be. Jeff Jensen is the writer here, and the son of one of the detectives assigned to the Green River Killer case.  The road he takes on here is utterly unsensational. There is no big “Ah Ha” moment, no violent chase scene. It’s the story of one part of a years-long investigation, and the toll it took on a family. This small story approach gives even more weight to the bigger story, showcasing just how important the details can be in storytelling. Jonathan Case is the perfect artist for this biography, utilizing shadow & light effectively, yet sparingly.

Next up: The Mob, giant killing, and Buddha!

Movies I watched: Snowpiercer, by Bong Joon-Ho

SnowpiercerStill-thumb-630xauto-36253Due to the failed environmental policies of this guy, and this guy, and this guy, the nations of earth decide to inject a chemical into the atmosphere in a desperate gamble to counter the effects of global warming. This fails, and most life on earth is wiped out.

The only people left alive, are the rich folks that managed to buy a ticket on the Snowpiercer, an awesome train that is planning on circling the globe for the rest of eternity, as well as the poor people who manage to sneak on at the last minute.

17 years later, the poor people aren’t happy, and they turn to Chris Evans to save them.

imagesThat’s the premise of Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer, an(mostly) English language film that has been a massive hit in Korea and other asian countries. It’s a premise full of promise & potential, and has been a bit of a cause celebre among film fans this year, as evil Harvey Weinstein had previously refused to release Joon-Ho’s cut of the film in North America. He has since acquiesced, but only in limited release.

I can see why.

Joon-Ho is so enthralled with his concept here, that he can’t seem to figure out what kind of movie to make around it. Should he make a balls-to-the-wall thriller? The bones for that are here, and one could see how Harvey Weinstein would have thought that’s what he was getting when he picked up the rights.

Or should he make a cerebral Brazil/12 Monkeys homage? Joon-Ho goes as far as to name one of his lead characters Gilliam, so his preference is fairly clear. But Snowpiercer is far too actiony, and it’s characters too one-dimensional, to fully take its place among such other dystopian classics like Blade Runner or Children of Men.

And it’s too preachy, and too sentimental, to be compared to other excellent modern thrillers like Looper & Source Code.

So what does Snowpiercer get right?

snowpiercer_tilda-swintonFirstly, it’s exciting. We know what the stakes are, and the desperation of Chris Evans’ crew is palpable. They are literally fighting for the future of the planet here. They’d rather die, than accept another day under the status quo.

Secondly, Tilda Swinton. Her role as the public face of the evil villain who is actually running the train, is absolutely inspired. Her character’s over-the-top fascism is probably the film’s strongest link to movies like A Clockwork Orange or 1984. The movie suffers every time she’s not on screen.

Thirdly, the concept of the piece. I’ve mentioned it before, but the concept is so strong, and so timely, that it really does make up for any other perceived shortfalls.

Quite frankly, this film is screaming for Showtime or AMC to turn it into a TV series. There is so much backstory left on the table here, and so many unanswered questions, that I found myself making up scenarios in my head to answer them.

There is plenty about this film that is entertaining and worth discussing, mostly having to do with the fact that we may only be decades away from a similar fate. However, all I could think about was how much the film left unsaid.

Rating: B-

 

 

Movies I’ve Watched: Captain America – The Winter Soldier by Joe Russo & Anthony Russo

Captain America: the Winter Soldier, is like the Raid: Berendal, in that it’s that rare sequel that overshadows the original, if not out right decimates it. This isn’t just the best Captain America movie ever made…it’s arguably best movie Marvel has produced thus far.

Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers, a WW2 super soldier who spent 70 years in a coma, and is now doing captain-america-chris-evans-avengers-600special ops for SHIELD, a super spy organization run by Nick Fury (played by Samuel Jackson, in easily his best work as the character to date). Evans thinks Jackson is a fascist thug, and Jackson thinks Evans is a naive dilettante. They’re friends, but they’re the kind of friends that send pretty women to move in across the hall from the other person just to spy on each other.
They’re joined by the Black Widow, a Russian superspy played by Scarlett Johansson, and the Falcon, a former U.S. paratrooper played by Anthony Mackie. They, and SHIELD, are fighting against Hydra, a WW2 era deep science Nazi organization, that seems to want to free the world, by killing a lot of people. They never really explain their plan very well.

black-widow-posterThis is being compared to 70’s thrillers like Day of the Jackal and the Parallax View, though I think this movie is far too action-oriented to really compare it apples-to-apples to those classics. But there’s a conspiracy, and race against the clock to uncover it, so now it’s a John Le Carre movie, apparently.

Although not technically a “thriller”, Winter Solider is absolutely thrilling. It puts its boots to your neck the minute you walk into the theatre, and it doesn’t let up. The action and fight choreography is several steps up from the already considerable standards set by the first film, and it appears that a real effort was made into adapting the acrobatics seen in the late 80’s Mark Gruenwald run on the Cap comic book. The fight scenes between Captain America and the Winter Solider, who DEFINITELY ISN”T SOMEONE FROM THE FIRST MOVIE THAT WE THOUGHT WAS DEAD are really exceptional, and are easily the equal (and probably the better), of any similar fight scenes scene in the superhero comic movie genre we’ve seen to date.

55a6e3f3_4a4wxtwEven more so than usual, Marvel spends as much time on character development as it does on action scenes here, and at least 4 of the main characters end up significantly different people at the end of this film, than they are at the beginning. This isn’t an inconsiderable achievement in this genre, and you really get the sense that in terms of the continuity that Marvel is creating in their cinematic universe, that this one is a game changer. They will be building on the character and plot development from this one for a long time.
For the comic lovers among us, we get Batroc the Leaper (BTW, 12 year old me would like to sincerely thank Kevin Feige for making it possible for 40 year old me to see BATROC KICKING IN A MOVIE!), Arnim Zola going full Zola, Crossbones, a Doctor Strange reference, and some after the credits geekiness that I won’t spoil for you, but we finally see someone who comics fans know as the true leader of Hydra, as well as a sneak peak at some future possible Avengers that DEFINITELY AREN”T THE MUTANT CHILDREN OF MAGNETO.

On a related note, apparently I’ve been waiting my whole life for Robert Redford to play a Marvel villain, and I didn’t even know it. In this film, he sets the bar so high in the “Former critically acclaimed leading man who now plays the villain in action movies so as to lend credibility to said movies” category, that I’m not sure that even Michael Douglas will be able to catch up.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable action movie, and Marvel needs to be signing up the Russos to a long term deal, right quick.
Rating: A