Looking at this year's list, it's got a fair number of big names and big companies (who'd ever guess that I'd have three DC titles?) — to my chagrin. I think most of my choices are based mostly on the skill of the storytelling, since that's where my interest lies these days, and this is where I found it — but I'm going to make a concerted effort in '10 to seek out some more obscure stuff. Even more than last year, I'm cheating a bit in my definition of comics …
1. Batman and Robin by Grant Morrison and various artists — I'll bet that real followers of these characters will confirm that something about them is off, that everybody's taken on an outlook and speech common to Morrison's comics. But it's a fresh take on the Bat-world, delivering, as he promised, Lynchian weirdness mixed with '60s camp in a fast-paced page-turner that brings new characters into an established world to carve out a distinct identity for a new Batman and Robin. Frank Quitely's turn on the art in the first arc was a real treat, his character design and style really building the tone, his incorporation of sound effects into the art especially welcome.
2. Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory — A high concept: a character who can tell the history of anything he eats and is an agent of the FDA in a world where chicken is outlawed. But what sets this series apart is the craftsmanship. The art's all indie, but it's skillful storytelling; there's repeated panels, and there's wordy panels of voiceover, and they serve the tale perfectly; the tone is generally wacky, but shifts ably; and the bare minimum is presented, letting you fill in the details you're supposed to. These guys know how to put together a story in comic form, and have found and awfully fun one to tell.
3. Detective Comics Batwoman by Greg Rucka and JH Williams — Rucka's one of my favorite writers, but I never took to his superhero stuff, so I came to Batwoman with really no knowledge of the character and only the barest awareness of the 52 adventures that introduced her. Which doesn't matter, and may be a bonus — the way he's unspooling this story, intertwining past and present, is so inventive and the characters and little corner of the DC universe are so engaging. Williams' layouts are pushing even more boundaries, and the overall look and feel contribute so much to the tone. And when he switched styles for the flashbacks, I thought it was a different, equally talented artist. The last panel of this month's issue contained a surprise we all saw coming, but was so well staged and paced, I swear I heard the character's gasp for air.
4. Incognito by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips — the team behind Sleeper (one of my all-time top ten) and Criminal together in a series that totally plays to their strengths as storytellers. The pacing was a little odd, it may hold together better in trade, but kept confounding expectations and bending genres, combining crime and noir and superhero with an unexpected and important pulp component. I believe that these two creators are at their best when they work together, their talents playing off each other.
5. The Middleman Season 1 DVD — Not a comic, but based on a comic, this now-canceled TV show is pop-culture savvy, wryly self-aware, and a real guilty pleasure. It takes on of the tone of the comic (which I've read a bit of) and translates it ably to the screen for a story that's lighthearted but still smart; as an ABC Family production, I figure it had to offer something for both the kids and the parents, and it definitely skews to the latter.
6. Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke — Pretty much destined for this list (and everybody else's) from the get-go, with one of the best writer/artists taking on a tale that suits him perfectly set in an era he's helped define for modern comics. The art style, the design, even the lettering, flawless. His real skills are demonstrated in how he adapts the prose, combining wordless passages, dialog, and extended captions into a mix that creates something new out of the material while honoring the source. I expect I'll appreciate it even more once I read the novel, currently sitting on my nightstand.
7. Sugarshock by Joss Whedon and Fabio Moon — Easily the most fun 24 pages of the year. Showcasing Whedon's skill for character and plot development through dialog, full of smartass one-liners that have become catchphrases in our household, this galaxies-spanning rock epic delivers at least one solid laugh a page. And, of course, looks beautiful with Moon's lovely brushwork defining the characters and their world with stylized flair.
8. Wednesday Comics by various writers and artists — It was uneven, and the unevenness showed more and more as this twelve-week series continued. But as we're all figuring out our digital future, it was an unabashed love letter to print, giving giant pages of comics every week, most of which made inventive use of the format. From the classic to the experimental, this delivered a visual, tactile, and — perhaps, most notably, for good or bad — nostalgic pleasure every week.
9 / 10. The Invincible Super-Blog by Chris Sims / Midnight Fiction by Richard Krauss — Looking back, these Web sites have had a decent influence on this year's reading. The ISB is a fanboy romp through the best — and often the worst (which makes for some of the best commentary, e.g. The Annotated Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter) — of the mainstream comics out there; several of the titles on this page probably would've been overlooked but for Sims. At the other end of the spectrum, Midnight Fiction — which I have to point out has given good coverage to just about every comic project I'm involved in — concentrates on small press, zines, minis, and webcomics. Krauss is a long-time comix creator and a terrific supporter of independent publishing, sharing his history and reviewing all sorts of self-published works; his coverage of minis has prompted me to purchase a bunch of things I never would've even heard of.
Where have you gone?:
Based on the first issue, destined for next year's list: