Best non-Superhero Comics of all time: 41-50

 

We seem to be in the nerd part of the list, as 6 of the 10 books I’m talking about today are planted firmly within the science fiction genre.

Strike that, I just realized that this entire list is the nerd part of the list. Let’s get back into it, shall we?

50. Finder by Carla McNeil (Dark Horse, 1996)

finder-sineater05-02

I could write a hundred pages just about Finder, and it still wouldn’t be enough. One of the most detailed, comprehensively planned comics of all time, Finder isn’t so much a comic book, as it is a world. A worldmight I add, that we’ve only seen a tiny portion of. McNeil’s comics take me forever to read, as they’re not something you can skim through. Ever word has a purpose, and every panel has layers of thematic subtext.

49. Revolver by Matt Kindt (Vertigo, 2010)

Revolver
Matt Kindt seems to have hit the sweet spot between indie credibility & mainstream success. Super Spy got him mainstream attention, but it’s Revolver that really was his first great work. We’re in pure sci-fi territory here, with our hero jumping between two different realities, with a new jump each time he wakes up. While Kindt has now written dozens of franchise books for Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse, it’s only on books where also does the art, that I feel that his storytelling really opens up.

48. The Incal by Alejandro Jodorowski & Moebius (Humanoids, 1981)

Incal

The greatest incomprehensible mess in the history of comics. The Incal by pretty much any definition, is a terrible comic book. The plot makes no sense, the characters are one dimensional, and I couldn’t tell you what it’s about, even though I’ve read it numerous times. So why is The Incal considered such a great book? Because of Moebius, my friend.Because of Moebius. Now, I could have picked literally dozens of other Moebius comics that quite frankly are “better” comics than The Incal. But none of them really showcase his formidable chops as well as Jodorowski’s white whale does. One of the great “art” comics of all time.

47. Scarlet Traces by Ian Edginton & D’Israeli (Dark Horse, 2002)

scarlet2

Do you love War of The Worlds, but thought the wrong team won? Then Scarlet Traces is the comic for you. It’s essentially Edginton & D’Israeli’s sequel to one of the greatest science fiction stories of all time. And it is absolutely fantastic. I’m a huge fan of D’Israeli’s work, but Scarlet Traces might be the very best example of his steampunky brilliance. Check out the the prequel, and sequel, as well.

46. Hark A Vagrant by Kate Beaton (Fantagraphics, 2008)

Hark a vagrant

More of an ongoing anthology of comic strips than an actual comic book, Beaton’s witty & charming approach to history & literary criticism is a perfect pick for that friend of yours that just can’t get into comic books.

45. Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly, 2007)

Shortcomings

Tomine’s Optic Nerve has produced some great dramatic short stories over the years, but this 3 issue run may be his magnum opus. Tomine’s sharp, tight lines are a perfect complement to this tense exploration on relationships, race, and cultural identity. Although Ben Tanaka is a loathsome protagonist, our desire to see him “learn his lesson” keeps us engaged, and keeps cheering him on. Wonderful example of how comics can be used as effective character studies.

44. Casanova by Matt Fraction, Gabriel Ba, and Fabio Moon (Image, 2006)

casanova-cover

Fans of the twists & turns of Sex Criminals might be surprised to find that Matt Fraction has written something even more more complicated and obtuse. So much so, that it makes Sex Criminals feel as accessible as the Smurfs, in comparison. Part science fiction epic, part action thriller, Casanova wears it’s influences on it’s sleeve: Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius novels, Thomas Pynchon’s work, Alan Moore’s Watchmen, and dozens of others. Ba & Moon’s frenetic density showcase the unlimited storytelling possibilities capable by modern comic creators, like few comics ever have.

43. Pyongyang: A Journey In North Korea by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly, 2004)

pyongyang-translator

Delisle has done 4 graphic travelogues of variable quality, but it’s his in depth adaptation of his 2 month stay in North Korea that has stuck with me the most over the years. The sheer lunacy of a government that teaches it’s citizens that it’s leaders have superpowers is perfect fodder for a draftsman of Delisle’s talent.

42. King City by Brandon Graham (Tokyopop, 2008)

Kingcity

Even more than Casanova, no other comic on this list defies description quite as much as King City does. Technically it’s sexy, funny science fiction, but that really doesn’t do justice to just how whackadoodle King City really is. There’s a plot, kind of. And there’s characters, some times. But what it’s really about, is simply being a wildly inventive comic. What King City is, who the characters are, are fluid, and simply cogs in the mechanics of Brandon Graham’s brilliance.

41. Berlin by Jason Lutes (Drawn & Quarterly, 1996)

Berlin

This work of historical fiction is set in pre-WW2 Berlin, during the decline of the Weimar Republic. Although Jason Lutes has been working on this for almost 20 years, Berlin still has 6 issues to go before it wraps up. With Berlin, Lutes sets up a diverse cast of characters and puts them against the backdrop of one of the most important settings of the 20th century. There aren’t nearly enough comics like this on the stands these days, and every issue is a masterclass on how to tell small stories, in a big way.

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The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 47: Marvel Comics – Iron Man, Luke Cage, Longshot, Marvel Boy

Iron Man – The Five Nightmares, World’s Most Wanted Books 1 & 2, Stark Disassembled, Stark Resilient Book 1 and 2

Iron Man is the next contestant in what’s become my regular “Marvel Characters I Actually Don’t Give A Crap About” column. For those of who haven’t seen the movie, here’s Iron Man: He’s smart. He’s rich. He got shot/stabbed/punched in the heart, and invented armour to help him survive. So since the wealth and the supermodels weren’t enough, he now used that armour to turn himself into more of a pretentious douche than he already was.

My problem with Iron Man is simple. He has no motivation. He’s rich beyond belief, is one of the smartest people on earth, and could invent his way out of pretty much any problem that comes his way? So why dress up like a drunken Tinman and fight crime? It’s not something Marvel has ever answered properly, but the beauty of Matt Fractio’sn recent run on the character is that he doesn’t even try. Fraction’s Iron Man isn’t recently motivated by altruism so much as self-interest. He wants to save the world, but he doesn’t really care about the citizens of those world. He’d never admit it though. For him, it’s being able to solve problems that is his motivation. This is a refreshing take on the character, but it’s one that I doubt has much left in the bank. Fraction’s run is a decent, well-crafted thrill-ride, and Salvador Larocca has convinced me that he’s one of the preeminent pencillers in the superhero genre today. Good, modern-day take on the character.

KEEP

Iron Man – Extremis

Before Fraction’s recent run on Iron Man, Marvel hired noted comic book legend and all-around mad god Warren Ellis to attempt to spruce the character up a bit. He succeeded from a superficial standpoint with the Extremis storyline. In order to combat a new type of villain, Tony Stark injects himself with an enhancement organism called Extremis. It gives him new powers, a new lease on life, blah blah blah. Blah. This IS an entertaining story. It really is. And every panel by Adi Granov is pin-up worthy. But like most of Ellis’ mainstream superhero work, it comes across as written by someone who really hates superhero comics, as well as by someone who hasn’t read a Marvel comic in decades. Although I enjoyed the story for what it is, there isn’t a single action taken by Tony Stark here that fits into what we know of his history and character. This is a man who has literally fought gods with his bare hands, and we’re to believe that he would inject himself with a virus that could possibly kill him just because he had a tough time in a fight? And not call the rest of the Avengers?  As a stand-alone, this works. As a regular part of Marvel continuity, not so much.

KEEP

Luke Cage – Noir

I usually HATE this kind of story.  HATE it. This was Marvel’s recent attempt to capitalize on the recent interest in noir and crime comics. And so instead of creating new and interesting characters to play with, they took their old standbys, and dropped them into a James M. Cain novel. It shouldn’t have worked. Actually, it didn’t. For the most part, these were silly, forced contrivances that weren’t any better than the usual Marvel fare. Except for one. Except for Luke Cage.

I guess I shouldn’t have been that surprised. Luke Cage was created as a response to 1970’s blaxploitation movies, which share more than a passing similarity to some of the lighter noir fare. And so Cage not only works as a 1940’s muscle-for-hire, the character thrives on it. This won’t be competing with Brubaker’s Criminal or Azzarello’s 100 Bullets any time soon, but it’s much subtler approach to this type of story than I would have given Marvel credit for in this day and age.

KEEP

Longshot – Longshot

This was a bizarre little mini-series by Anne Nocenti and Arthur Adams that snuck under Marvel’s radar in the mid 1980s. It had enough goof and charm that the character has been used intermittently ever since, most often in some X-Capacity or another. I’ve been a big fan of Nocenti’s writing in the past, so I was a little surprised to find that I found this almost unreadable. Longshot is your typical “stranger in a strange land” scenario, with the lead character being an escapee from a hell-dimension that is trying to make a go of it on Earth, and runs into a few of Marvel’s more colourful characters while doing so. While the premise seems sound, the execution is so poorly paced, with such goofy characterization, that it’s almost impossible to take seriously. Everything moves at a breakneck pace, with Longshot getting into scrape after scrape with almost no effort to portray him as anything more than a fun-loving, kind-hearted chaos agent. That’s fine, but it also doesn’t stand up to repeated reading. And although Arthur Adams is one of the finest superhero artists of his generation, his art alone isn’t compelling enough to get me to keep this book.

CULL

Marvel Boy – Marvel Boy

About 10 years ago, Grant Morrison had a brief tenure at Marvel which he spent trying to whole heartedly destroy the X-Men. In the middle of that, he took the time to write Marvel Boy, an interesting little mini-series about an alien soldier who has been stranded on earth. I’ve been very tough on Morrison on this blog (and will continue to be so), but I remember this series fondly. So I was a little surprised to see that it’s as guilty of the usual shoddy storytelling his comics usually offer. If you read a lot of reviews about Morrison’s work, the following observation often comes up: Great concept guy, poor storyteller. And while it’s redundant to go back to that well, it’s really the best way to describe him. I would take it a step further. He’s a brilliant concept guy. Just freakin’ brilliant. The sheer depth of characters, concepts, and realities the man comes up with on a daily basis is astounding. And Marvel Boy is no exception. Morrison throws out so many expansions on the Kree (Aforementioned alien race) Mythology, that it would take Marvel a year to fully capitalize on them. Not to mention Dr. Midas, a truly great Marvel villain in search of a truly great story. But then you get to the other side of Morrison. The side who can’t seem to tell a simple story without adding more exposition than a U. N. Resolution about the evils of exposition.  That side is in full force here. And so what starts as a taut thriller, ends up as an incomprehensible mess. I know I’m spending a lot of time talking about a series that I’m culling, but I’ve taken a lot of shots at Morrison without really explaining why.

The man seems to be incapable of telling a coherent multi-issue story. The man loses track of characters and plot lines like I lose my glasses. It’s not that bad in something like Marvel Boy, but extremely noticeable in something like Final Crisis, a story so bad it makes Marvel Boy look like Middlemarch. There are comics he’s written I enjoy (All-Star Superman, and…well…I guess just All-Star Superman then), but they are too few and too far between considering his status as the most popular comic writer alive today. And he is. People love him. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why.

CULL

Next up: Moon Knight!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 46: Marvel Comics – The Inhumans, Iron Fist, and the Immortal Weapons!

The Immortal Weapons – The Immortal Weapons

These are supporting characters that spun out of Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker’s epic run on Iron Fist (more on that below), and so this book is disposable if you’re not a fan of that run. But it’s an essential companion piece for those who loved the original series, and several of the mysterious characters from that run get fleshed out here. This is essentially a martial arts anthology book, and so some tales stand up better than others, but all in all, this is a good kung-fu book.

KEEP

 The Inhumans – The Inhumans, Silent War

The Inhumans have been minor Marvel supporting characters since Jack Kirby and Stan Lee first created them for the Fantastic Four title in the mid 1960’s. They are a race of genetic superhumans that were created on Earth millenia by the Kree (Marvel alien race) to serve them. It never happened.

The Inhumans have always been an interesting concept, but have always played second fiddle to the X-Men in the superhuman genetic monstrosities department, and they have often been pushed to the back of the bus as a result. Until recently. Over the past decade or so, Marvel has been slowly rebuilding the concept of the group, to the point where they’re an integral part of numerous Marvel storylines. And it all started with The Inhumans, a 12 issue maxi series from 1998 by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee.

Paul Jenkins is one of the best writers in superhero comics. No question. However, as a plotter he leaves a little to be desired. Jenkins is a character specialist. He knows how to dig into the heads of characters like nobody else, and really gets to the essence of the people he’s writing about. Emotion is his trade, and he plies it well. The trade-off is that he takes 12 issues to tell 4 issues of story. But in this case I’m willing to accept it. Jenkins (with the help of the gorgeous art of Jae Lee), crafts an intense collection of character studies here, and really sets up what Marvel would do with these characters later on. The “outsider” angle is really pushed hard here, and Jenkins sets up Black Bolt (the leader of the Inhumans), as one of the great tortured heroes of the Marvel Universe.

David Hine & Frazer Irving told a similar story a decade later with Silent War, but it’s one that’s just as effective. This is a transition story, one designed to set the Inhumans even further apart from the mainstream that most Marvel heroes operate in. While it didn’t get a lot of attention when it came out, it’s one that is integral story-line wise to the events that the Inhumans would be involved with later.

KEEP

The Immortal Iron Fist – The Last Iron Fist Story, The Seven Capital Cities Of Heaven, The Book Of Iron Fist, The Mortal Iron Fist, Escape From The Eighth City

Here is the truth about Iron Fist: He’s awesome. He’s a kung-fu master, he once ripped the heart out of an immortal dragon, and can summon his internal energies to make his fist indestructible. Cool, right? Wrong. Despite his bad-assery, Iron Fist has never been what you would call a popular character, and is usually relegated to team-ups, bad mini-series, and failed team books. How Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction convinced Marvel to let them create this under-read gem of a series I’ll never know, but I’m glad.

This is pure kung-fu epic storytelling. Although the character is firmly set in the superheroics of the Marvel Universe, it’s the martial art side of the character that Fraction and Brubaker focus on here. Lost cities, epic kung-fu battles, and secret conspiracies: They’re all here. The origin of the Iron Fist isn’t redone here, it’s expanded upon, with the character’s history, mythos, and motivations made much clearer.  Fraction and Brubaker turn the story of the city of K’un L’un into one of political intrigue, human rights, and magic, and really make us care about the character they’re writing about for the first time. Definitely one of the better martial arts stories that Marvel or DC has ever told, and the quality remained solid even after Fraction and Brubaker left the book, though it was cancelled not long after.

KEEP

Next up: Iron Man!

Wednesday Comics Woundup: Fear Itself, NonPlayer, Green Wave, Jake Ellis, Orc Stain, Butcher Baker, and Undying Love

I thought I’d take a little break from the cull project, and talk about a few recent single issues that I’ve read recently.

Fear Itself #1 by Matt Fraction & Stuart Immonen

I’ve long since lost my fascination with the Big Two’s annual cross-over events, but I still succumbed to Marvel’s recent pimping of this, their most recent attempt to win the “HOLY CRAP DID YOU SEE WHAT THEY JUST DID” comic book sweepstakes.

The premise here is twofold: 1) The daughter of the Red Skull (Captain America’s arch-nemesis. Very bad. Has a Red Skull. ) gets possessed by an ancient Norse god of fear, and is planning bad stuff, and 2) Odin (king of the Norse gods), finally gets tired of his son’s (Thor, as in The Mighty) whippersnappery, and removes Asgard (King of The Gods. Like Vegas, with more mead, and less blackjack) to another plane of existence.

Fear Itself is one of those comic events that promise that THE MARVEL UNIVERSE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME OMG!!!. I can’t say that we’ve seen quite that level of hyperbole as of yet, but this was a good read, and did exactly what you would hope a number one of this magnitude would do: Have you breathlessly waiting for the next issue. Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen did a nice job here, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they have planned next.

Undying Love #1 by Tomm Coker & Daniel Freedman

Image has a bunch of new first issues I’ve been looking forward to, and it’s ironic that the one I was looking forward to the least is one I enjoyed the most. Undying Love is the story of John Sargent, an American spy/solider type trying to turn his Chinese vampire girlfriend back into a human.  Awwwww. Despite the horrible title, this was pretty good first issue. Tomm Coker’s Tim Bradstreet-inspired photo-realistic art is the perfect fit for this dark thriller, and I think Coker and Daniel Freeman did a nice job with how judiciously they paced out the exposition. They give just enough plot to ensure our return, but still keep a healthy sense of mystery about the whole thing. For a Chinese Vampire Romance comic, this was pretty good, though heavy on the schmaltz. I’ll definitely try a second issue of this.

Rating: B

Green Wake #1 by Kurtis Wiebe & Riley Rossmo

Probably the biggest disappointment out of all of the titles that came out yesterday. Not because it was so bad, but because I had such high expectations from it. Image has been on fire lately, but their laissez-faire attitude towards letting their creators do whatever they want, can sometimes mean that the editorial tweaks that a more hands-on publishing house like Vertigo could bring aren’t there. And so you have something like Green Wake, a great concept desperately in need of a new script. First of all, the art is really the reason to buy this book, and fans of Riley Rossmo’s work on Cowboy Ninja Viking will be glad to know that his style of colour-as-metaphor continues here, and is perfectly suited for the dark theme of the book. Where this fails is the script. Kurtis Wiebe seems to be overly impressed with the sound of his own voice, and isn’t content to let Rossmo’s atmospheric moodiness speak for itself. The premise is interesting: A murder takes place in Limbo. But Wiebe feels the need to preach, instead of telling his story. Preach about what? Death, I guess. And life. And mortality. Blah. Blah. And Blah. I’m just impressed enough with the look and tone of this book, that I may give it another shot, in hopes that things improve. I don’t mean to be harsh, this is an interesting first issue, just not one that lived up to my expectations.

Rating: C

Who Is Jake Ellis # 3 by Nathan Edmondson & Tonci Zonjic

I’ve written about this book before, and gave it a tentative thumbs up. With the third issue, I may have to revise my stance. Edmondson seems to be stretching out a razor-thin concept as far as he can, as this issue barely moved our story ahead at all. If you’re going to choose to do 5 issues, rather than 4, or 3, then have a reason. Each issue should fulfil a specific purpose, and there’s nothing in issue 3 that hasn’t been seen in the previous two issues. The premise (Former CIA agent with an invisible friend that only he can see) is still engaging enough that I’m going continue with the series, but I really hope that Edmondson fulfills the potential shown in the first two issues.

Rating: C

NonPlayer #1 by Nate Simpson

This is the big one. This is the one EVERYBODY is talking about, and although it just came out yesterday, is completely sold out everywhere, and is going on eBay for over $20.

Although I’m always excited when independent creators get attention, I’m not exactly sure why it’s happening here. This is usually where I would  tell you what the plot is, but it’s not really a plot so much as it’s a not-quite-realized concept: In the near future, it’s possible to plug your consciousness virtually into an artificial video game environment, so that you can basically  play real life Dungeons & Dragons. That’s it. That’s the whole thing. Yes, there’s a lead character, but we don’t know anything about her other than that she’s a bit of a dick. There’s no hint as to what her goals are, or motivations, or next steps. All we see is her playing in a game, waking up, and then going to work. Why would I ever read another issue of this?

The reason, of course, is the art. Nate Simpson’s art is the reason why this book is getting the attention it is, and to some extent that attention is justified. His backgrounds, monsters, and battle scenes are nothing short of spectacular. I don’t use this lightly, but the only person whose work I could compare this to is Geoff Darrow. His  detail work is so precise, with colour that almost blinds you. In a good way.  His art really something to see, and very much worth your money if you’re drawn to art first in your comics. Unfortunately, where the art falls short is any time the camera falls on an actual human face. Every person has the same bland, dopey stare, and other than hair and eye colour, there’s nothing to differentiate the characters from each other. I know all of this sounds like sour grapes, and I do think that Simpson is a major talent as an artist, and one that deserves more attention. But he’d be well served to start putting together plots with some character motivation if he’s hoping for long-term success with this comic.

Rating: B- I know it’s high, but the art really is incredible.

Jimmy Olsen Oneshot by Nick Spencer & R.B. Silva

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, and so  I just need to come out and say it: This is one of my favourite comics of the year thus far. Yes, it’s about Jimmy Olsen. The guy who takes pictures and gets bailed out by Superman all time. I’m as shocked as you are.

Nick Spencer is one of the hottest writers in comics right now, and while I’ve definitely seen the potential, I’ve been hesitant to lavish as much praise as some other sites and blogs have done. I think he’s a raw talent, and while his ideas have been quite interesting, there’s really nothing to show that he’s an actual writer’s writer. The word clumsy often comes to mind when reading his scripts. Until now, and it’s ironic that the best comic he’s written is one of the few that he didn’t actually create.

This is actually a collection of backup stories from Action Comics. And so it’s a series of 8 page vignettes about Jimmy dealing with a multitude of problems: Job, girlfriend, alien invasion. The usual. This is a funny comic book. Really funny. Spencer’s grasp of dialogue is extremely confident for such a new writer, and it’s rare to see a superhero writer use wordplay as effectively as he does here. Spencer’s Olsen is a little cooler than what we’re used to, but it’s a welcome change to the character. While this breaks almost no new ground, what it does is give us an extremely entertaining read by a writer that is finally starting to realize his potential.

Rating: A

Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker #1 by Joe Casey & Mike Huddleston

Image has been promoting the hell out of this, and while nothing in the previews particularly grabbed me, I thought I would give it a shot based on the strength of Casey’s work on Godland. Here’s the story: Dick Cheney and Jay Leno go to the last superhero’s house, interrupt him in the middle of a three-way, and ask him to break into a prison and kill all of the world’s super villains. This is exactly what it looks like: An over-the top tribute to violent excess. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There isn’t, and there’s nothing particularly “wrong” with this book either. It was entertaining enough. But in a world full of books like The Boys, and Casanova, and Deadpool, I didn’t find that it covered enough new ground to justify another look.

Rating: C

Orc Stain #6 by James Stokoe

One of the best books on the stands continues to get better. This is the fantasy epic that I hoped Nonplayer would be. The art is breathtaking, the violence is fierce, and most important of all, the book is extremely character driven. There’s only a handful of main characters, but their motivations are all very easily defined, and very clear. This is an action packed issue, but it’s not one that will make much sense unless you’ve read the first 5 (what are you waiting for? Go on then. I’ll wait). Awesome stuff.

Rating: A