Best non-superhero comics of all time: 21-30

At the beginning of the year, I said that 2015 would be my year to start blogging again, and that I’d be blogging every week. What I didn’t mention is that I’m using the Martian week, which really means once every 6 months.

Ok. Let’s try this again. We’re almost done.

30. Pluto by Naomi Urasawa (2003, Viz Media)

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Just like people will say they don’t like jazz, but still have some Miles Davis in their collection, Urasawa is the manga creator of choice for white people that don’t like manga. Although I’ve liked all of the Urasawa that I’ve read, Pluto gets the nod for me for one simple reason: It’s the shortest. It’s still 8 volumes, which racks up to well over a thousand pages. But Urasawa’s other works like Monster and 20th Century Boys take 1000 pages just to introduce the main characters. A modern reimagining of Astro Boy, Pluto is that rare beast: A character driven epic.

29. Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson (1997, Helix)

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Transmet is pure, unadulteread Ellis, for better or for worse. Nowhere near as tightly plotted as other Ellis books like Planetary or Global Frequency, Transmetropolitan stars a slightly fictionalized version of Hunter S. Thompson, struggling to report on a transhumanist science fiction future that I hope never comes.  Ellis & Robertson make a perfect team here, with each creator seeming to be the perfect incubator for the other’s ideas.

28. WE3 by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (2004, Vertigo)

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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: WE3 is the best comic that Grant Morrison has ever wrote. It’s not the best comic that Frank Quietly has ever drew, since every comic Frank Quitely draws is the best comic that Frank Quietly ever drew. And it’s no coincidence that both the best (WE3), and the second best (All-Star Superman) comics that Morrison has produced were both drawn by the same person. WE3 literally has everything: Action, Pathos, and Cybernetic Puppies.

27. Concrete by Paul Chadwick (1994, Dark Horse)

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The premise behind Paul Chadwick’s little masterpiece is simple: A political speechwriter gets turned into a super powerful giant rock monster by alien beings. And now he has to deal with it. The elegant simplicity of the pitch is what makes it work so well. And Chadwick uses the sci-fi backdrop as a launching pad to tell pretty much any kind of morality tale he wants, as well as to use the character to warn us about things like over population, ruining the environment, and even just being a dick to each other.

26. Maus by Art Spiegelman (1980, Pantheon)

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I’m pretty sure it’s against the law to do a list and NOT include Maus. To be fair, by this point it’s almost impossible to really gauge how good this comic is. It’s the Beatles of comics: So much was influenced by it, that’s it’s hard to remember comics without it. But what I can do, is remember what it was like for me to read it for the first time. And I remember that it absolutely blew my mind. I grew up in a German household where the effects of the Holocaust were more than a little downplayed (“It wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone says” was a phrase often quoted), so to see the other side of it, to see this side that showed the absolutely devastating human cost of the Holocaust, literally changed the way I thought about the 20th Century.

25. Habibi by Craig Thompson (2011, Pantheon)

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There was more than a little controversy about this when it came out a few years ago. Charges of racism & sexism were plentiful when this came out, and it’s easy to see where they came from as the lead character is Arabic and seems to spend most of the 600 pages of this book getting raped by other Arabs. But Thompson’s job on this book wasn’t to create a realistic character. It was to draw and write a 600 page romantic adventure epic. And he did. Spectacularly. If you are looking for an example of just what comics can accomplish from a visual storytelling perspective, I can think of no better book than Habibi.

24. Essex County by Jeff Lemire (2008, Top Shelf)

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Lemire has gone on to write a lot of shitty comic books for DC since he did Essex County, but when he writes & pencils his own material, there isn’t a creator more capable of tugging at your heartstrings than Jeff Lemire.

23. Louis Riel by Chester Brown (1999, Drawn & Quarterly)

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I didn’t plan on putting Riel & Essex Country together, but it’s fitting considering that they are two of the greatest Canadian comic books ever made. Louis Riel is the story of Louis Riel, either the greatest hero, or the greatest villain, my country has ever known, depending on who your parents are and where you went to elementary school. Brown’s unflinching look at arguably the most interesting character in Canadian history is a must read for all Canadians, and all comic lovers.

22. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (2006, Houghton Mifflin)

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I think I can say with confidence that this is the only book on this list that has been turned into a Tony-Award winning musical (Keep trying, Grant Morrison!) But before it cleaned up at the Tonys, Fun Home was a heart wrenching look at one woman’s experience in coming out to her family, only to find out that her family’s secrets were buried far deeper than she could have ever guessed.

21. Richard Stark’s Parker by Darwyn Cooke (2009, IDW)

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A fairly high ranking for an adaptation, but I can read these over and over and never get tired of them. That automatically jumps them pretty high in my book. Cooke’s design-heavy, cinematic art style is the perfect choice to adapt Donald Westlake’s perfect little crime stories, and I’m hoping he continues to go back to that well for years to come.

New DC 52 Review: Action Comics, Detective Comics, Stormwatch, and a bunch of others…

Let’s review: DC Comics (home of Gorilla Grodd, Blue Beetle, and Ragdoll. Oh, and Superman and Batman) decided to reboot their entire line of comics. Every comic they published started from number one again, including the comics that had been running non stop since the 1940’s, and nothing that we have ever  read in a DC comic has actually happened before. The goal is to streamline their admittedly very confusing continuity, in order to make DC’s comics more accessible to new readers.

I’m a little surprised that I’m doing this, as I met the whole DC reboot thing with a resounding shrug of indifference. I’m not really doing much superhero reading these days, and continuity means less to me than ever before. I was reading exactly 5 DC comics before the reboot, and they were all cancelled (though to be fair, they probably would have all been cancelled anyways.) But as the day to the reboot got closer and closer, I have to admit that I got a little excited. Why?

Because superhero comics is what I grew up on. They’re what got me hooked on this medium, and no matter how many independent autobiographical graphic novels I read, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for superheroes. They were my first love, and you never forget your first love. The thing is, it takes a LOT for a superhero comic to impress me these days. When reading these, all I wanted was a good, enjoyable story. That’s it. I didn’t care about how the continuity didn’t jive with what happened before, or who the characters were. All I wanted were good stories.

Did I get my wish?

Batgirl #1 by Gail Simone and Adiran Syaf

A quick summary for those not familiar with Batgirl: For decades, she was Commisioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara. Who was then shot in the spine by the Joker, and ended up in a wheelchair. Barbara then became an information broker/IT support to DC’s superhero set under the name of Oracle, and as a result of the work that Gail Simone did with her on Birds Of Prey, proceeded to become one of the more interesting parts of the DCU. Other people went on to become Batgirl.

I had mixed reactions going into this book. Although I have all the confidence in the world in Gail Simone, I did think that this book was unnecessary. Bryan Miller had done an excellent job in getting me to love Stephanie Miller as Batgirl, and Gail Simone had also done an even better job over the years in getting me to love Barbara Gordon as Oracle. I loved that one of the more interesting players in the DCU was in a wheelchair, and I thought that putting her back in the Batgirl suit was gimmicky at best, superfluous at worst.

I hate to say it, but I think I was right.

Batgirl is a fine comic. There are some nice dialogue bits (always a Simone trademark), and I really liked Adrian Syaf’s action sequences a lot. And I really loved the concept of Batgirl being terrified to be Batgirl. We take it for granted that every superhero is a bucket full of courage, so it was nice to see one actually freeze up in the face of danger, and for good reason But I think one of the main things that the new DC books need to do is to show exactly WHY they should be replacing the books that they do. And there was nothing in Gail Simone’s Batgirl that accomplished that for me. You could have told the exact same story with Miller’s Batgirl, and in fact it might have made more sense, considering that character’s age, and lack of experience.

I think that Simone was put on this book because of her background with the Barbara Gordon character, but it’s pretty obvious that this isn’t the Barbara Gordon we know. Shared experiences aside, there is a casualness and joy about this version of the character that hasn’t existed in the character in decades, and it really feels like a step back for the character, not a step forward. And I guess that’s the point. But as far as I can tell, this Batgirl isn’t much different from the series it replaced, except that A)  The name of the character is different, and B) it isn’t quite as good.

Rating: C+

Batwing #1 by Judd Winick and Ben Oliver

This is one of the most underordered of the new DC books, but I picked it up based on the strength of Judd Winick’s skills. I’ve always liked his superhero writing, and while his talents are obvious here, I don’t think they are going to be enough to really make this book a success.Although the setting of Africa is somewhat untapped for a superhero book, at the end of the day, it’s just another costumed guy fighting other costumed guys. There is nothing “bad” about this book whatsoever, but there’s also not enough that’s unique about it to justify more than a first read.

Rating: C

Detective Comics #1 by Tony Daniel and Ryan Winn

While Daniel’s talents as an artist are obvious, his skills as a writer have been lost on me thus far, and unfortunately Detective Comics #1 doesn’t do much to change my mind. As with most of the other DC books I read today, this was a fine superhero comic book. Rights get wronged, bad guys get vanquished, etc. etc. But the dialogue here is overly heavy-handed at times, and there are a lot of words that most likely were best unsaid. For the most part, there seemed to be almost no difference between this Batman, and the Batman we knew two weeks ago, except that A) his costume sucks, and B) everyone is about 10 years younger.

But what’s getting people talking is the final page. And don’t get me wrong, it’s an AWESOME final page. One of the best cliffhangers I’ve read this year in fact. Unfortunately I had to slog through 24 average pages to read it.

Rating: C

Justice League International #1 by Dan Jurgens and Aaron Lopresti

The JLI is a beloved concept among DC fans. In its hey day, the title represented an excellent mix of humour and action, both of which are traits that are sadly absent in today’s first issue. It’s hard to see just how DC got this one so wrong. It wasn’t even 6 months ago that Judd Winick was finishing up probably the best JLI story NOT written by Keith Giffen. The team was re-energized, sales were good. And then this. It’s hard to imagine a comic less fun, less funny, and less full of the spark that got people invested in these characters in the first place. That this was actually published does not give me confidence in DC’s editorial team.

Rating: D

Stormwatch #1 by Paul Cornell and Miguel Sepulveda

When talking to people online, this seemed to be the book people were most curious about,probably because it involved the most obvious changes to DC continuity. Like I’ve said before, I don’t care about the changes so much. I have no problem with change. All I care about is good stories. And this, my friends, is NOT a good story. In fact, this was a terrible story. Kudos to DC for trying to bring back old Wildstorm characters, but what DC doesn’t seem to understand is that the original Ellis/Millar run on Authority had NOTHING to do with the characters. It had everything to do with what was happening in the world at the time, and in comics. Authority wasn’t about superheroes, it was a reaction against them. And with all due respect to the talented writers who tried to salvage the Authority after Mark Millar left the book, but it’s a comic whose time has passed. Every interesting story you could tell with a group of heroes who have positioned themselves above even earth’s premier superheroes has been done, and with the all-ages mandate that DC has, there is NO way that they’re going to be able to tell the edgy, dark stories that the concept demands. Paul Cornell is a writer that has been given much praise as of late, but there’s been nothing since his days on Captain Britain that has really impressed me. And this clumsy, half-baked, watered down attempt at reviving a concept that should have stayed dead does nothing to change that opinion.

Rating: D

Swamp Thing #1 by Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette

I’ve never really cottoned to the Swamp Thing character. I know, I know. It’s the character that first introduced Alan Moore to North American audiences, and so there will always be a soft spot in people’s heart for the concept. But it’s never done that much for me, and I’ve ignored most attempts to update the character. So if I don’t care about Swamp Thing, then why did I pick this up? Two words: Scott Snyder. His run on Detective Comics really surprised and impressed me, and his new series for Image is intriguing as well. Unfortunately, he seems to be saddled with a LOT of baggage here, as the editorial committee at DC seems determined to cram a lot of back story down our throats. So even though in theory all continuity has been rebooted, there are still stories that apparently happened, and so most of this issue is about telling us how all of that stuff matters, even though it shouldn’t. This book looked pretty, but there was nothing in it of any real substance, and nothing that would convince me to get a second issue.

Rating: C

Men Of War #1 by Ivan Brandon and Tom Derenick

There have already been comparison’s to Garth Ennis’ work with this title, but I can’t see it. Other than the fact that it’s a book about military men, there is none of the emotion, or tension, or drama that you would find in an Ennis book when he’s at the top of his game. What you do get here is a solid, Sgt. Rock update. And while I have no problem with a solid Sgt. Rock update, and appreciate that there is room in this DCU for non-superpowered folks, this is simply just another ok book, among a lot of other ok books that were released today.

Rating: C

Animal Man by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman

This was probably one of the most anticipated of the new books, and I’m happy to report that its also easily the best of the bunch. By a lot. Why? Because this was the only title of the lot today that actually took any chances, and that was anything more than just a run-of-the-mill DC superhero book. And  it was also the only one to really try to take advantage of the slimmer continuity and try to really reinvent it’s character in a real way. I mean, any superhero comic book that starts with a full-page of TEXT, and then continues with 5 full pages of a family talking around a breakfast table has to be something special right? Or terrible. Thankfully in this case it’s the former. Jeff Lemire continues to show why he is one of the brightest young stars in comics today with a book so full of  emotion, drama, and character development, that I kept thinking I was reading a Vertigo book. So far, it’s only one of two of the new titles that actually made me excited to read the second issue.

Rating: A

Action Comics by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales

When reading online feedback about this reboot, variations on this theme kept cropping up: “At least Action Comics by Geoff Johns will be great right? “. It was nice to see that at least one prediction regarding this relaunch came true. At first glance, Superman is DC’s character most in need of a reboot. He stands for truth, justice, and is a black and white figure in a world full of greys.In other words, the character doesn’t really fit in today’s world. And so what does Grant Morrison do? He exaggerates every single one of the character traits that make Superman anachronistic to this era. Morrison’s Superman is a cocky, yet naive man-child stumbling from adventure to adventure, never once thinking about the consequences of his actions. There are bad guys. They need to be stopped. The end.

That’s the way Morrison’s Superman thinks, and it’s a wonderful character flaw to have in a character that has no actual weaknesses. The other thing that Morrison does here is to capture the sheer wonder that everyone in Metropolis regarding the miracles that Superman performs on a regular basis. On page after page, we see characters react in disbelief at what this man of steel can do. It’s a refreshing take on a world that is usually pretty blase about these sorts of things. I also need to mention Rags Morales here. He’s been one of my favourite superhero artists ever since Identity Crisis, but I think he surpasses that work here. He captures the dynamic energy of our hero so perfectly, that I can’t believe he hasn’t always been doing this book.

If it took upsetting the entire DC apple cart to get this book, it was worth it.

Rating A-

To sum up: Out of the 9 books I read today, I loved 2, liked one, despised two, and thought the rest were ok. The one thing that I think DC missed the boat on is to really start from scratch with these characters. Most of these books take place about 5 years after the first superheroes were sighted. So even though OUR history with these characters didn’t exist, they still do have a history, and too many of the books needed more exposition than should have been necessary for comics attempting to entice new viewers.

Still, not a horrible first week, I guess.

 

DC New 52 Review: Justice League #1

The new Justice League, 3 of whom aren't actually in this issue.

So if you’re at all interested in comics, or sleeping with someone who is, you know all about the big DC relaunch that’s coming. DC Comics is essentially wiping the slate clean, and rebooting their entire universe. None of the stories that you loved growing up actually happened, and they are rebuilding their entire continuity from the ground up. It’s like Greedo shooting first, but on an epic, cosmic scale.

I find myself in a perpetual state of not giving a shit. To me, good comic stories are good comic stories. The minute I stopped caring so much about things like continuity, is the minute I started really enjoying comics. And besides, I’m not reading much superhero stuff these days anyways, so they could put a Superman suit on a gay monkey and I probably wouldn’t notice. But because EVERYONE is talking about it, I decided to read the very first issue of the new reboot: Justice League #1. This issue is the first real peak that DC is giving us into their new universe, and as such should be designed to absolutely blow new readers away, and to give old readers a real sense of ‘HOLYCRAPICANTBELIEVETHEYDIDTHATTOSUPERMAN’

This issue succeeds on neither front.

Mediocre is a word that gets thrown around a lot, with usually a more negative connotation than it deserves. But sadly, it’s the perfect word for this sleepy, sleepy comic book. First of all, if you’re going to have a comic book about a team of heroes, I expect to see that team in the book. No? How about half the team? Just barely? Sigh. This issue focuses almost exclusively on Batman and Green Lantern, and one might suspect that writer Geoff Johns thought that his Green Lantern movie was going to be a hit when he wrote this, and thus decided to showcase the two heroes most recognizable to modern audiences. So basically Green Lantern and Batman team up to go after evil aliens, and find themselves on the run from the cops for most of the issue. This gives them plenty of time to snark at each other, and then at the end of the issue a guy shows up that I think is supposed to be Superman but couldn’t be because there is NO way that DC would ever allow such a bad costume design to actually get into one of their comic books.

And that’s pretty much the issue. Two people team up to take down a bad guy, and then another person shows up at the end. Hardly a world building blockbuster. This book wasn’t “bad” in the traditional sense. Jim Lee is considered one of the great living superhero comic book artists for a reason, and he makes pretty much every page pop here. And Geoff Johns put together a decent ‘Heroes put aside their differences” story. But this book is essentially the pilot for the biggest comic launch the business has seen since 1986.. Words like “decent” and “average” shouldn’t be used for this book. Words like ‘Skullripping” and “EyeballExploding” should.

Let me clarify: My negativity isn’t a backlash against the continuity changes they’re making here. I don’t care about any of that. I don’t care that it’s different, all I care about is that it’s good. And this ain’t.

I will still give some of the new issues that launch next week a chance. When it comes to superhero comics these days, It’s creators I care about, not characters. And so since people like Peter Milligan, and Gail Simone, and Nathan Edmonson, and Jeff Lemire, and Matt Kindt, have new books, I will definitely give them a try.
But if Justice League #1 is indicative of what’s in store for me, I’m not holding out much hope.
Rating: C