Monday, March 14, 2016

Best comics in 2015

The last year I spent largely away from the blog and the wider blogosphere, mostly concentrated on reading the actual comics and news sites. In an effort to maintain the blog, I've returned with a review and this yearly survey. Hopefully, the site will continue with more regular updates.

Best Event Series

In a feat that surprised all but the biggest fans of Marvel and Jonathan Hickman, the company's 2015 line wide event has managed to live up to the hype. "Secret Wars" supplanted most of the company's titles for the duration of the summer and has in turn managed to produce some fairly interesting books. More importantly, the main series has provided a very strong spine to the entire event. Serving as a coda to the writer's runs on both "Fantastic Four" and "the Avengers", the event series has maintained a strong level of craft throughout. With the exception of the first issue that should have been relegated to a prologue special, both Hickman and Ribić have provided what may well be the best superhero work of their careers. "Secret Wars" will likely remain an event to be remembered far longer than Marvel's typical summer offering and certainly longer than the company wide relaunch that succeeded it.

Best Storyline

It's hard to set aside a single storyline in an industry that is slowly orienting toward complete runs as definite artistic statements on company owned characters. In terms of storylines definitely marketed as something new and largely separate from the preceding issues, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's latest Batman arc comes to mind. "Superheavy" features a complete overhaul of the Batman mythos in an as of yet unprecedented move that has seen commissioner Gordon become a mecha Batman following Bruce Wayne's apparent death in the previous arc.

The ludicrous premise strayed far from the typical Batman storyline, being on the surface more akin to "Robocop" than the Bob Kane/Bill Finger co-creation. Inheriting more than just the Powers corporation from the cyberpunk "Batman Beyond" animated series, "Superheavy" has seen Gordon trying to rise up to the pressure of being a police sanctioned Batman in the city that faces new and terrible threats. That the new crime boss specifically targets Gordon and starts becoming a uniquely weird new creation only adds to the uniqueness of the setup. Also of note is the subplot involving a version of Bruce Wayne which has been increasingly relevant as the story inches towards the inevitable ending.

The end of "Superheavy" is also billed as the finale of Snyder and Cappulo's run on "Batman". Whether the two reunite on "Detective comics" following Capullo's collaboration with Mark Millar, "Superheavy" will likely remain a definite highpoint of their run of the title, following the "Court of owls" arc which stands as their best realized traditional Batman story.

Best Ongoing Title

In a market dominated by a large number of solid ongoing series, 2015 was a year preceding the full scope of the relaunches at both Marvel and DC, with the competing companies likewise more concentrated on branching out with new titles than maintaining the solid pace of existing books. Yet, there are still titles like "the Humans" which has started out with a very clear idea that has logically progressed in the most interesting direction.

Written by Keenan Marshall Keller and drawn by Tom Neely, best known for "Henry and Glenn Forever", "the Humans" is a comic that finds its creators eager to enjoy the atmosphere of true freedom filled with a dangerous mix of sex and death.

Presenting the reader with a motorcycle gang of anthropomorphized apes in a full on late 60-ies period piece certainly seems fresh and entertaining. The counter culture bent is never as realized as in "Easy rider", the controversy is never as pointed as authentic undergrounds, yet this Image entry really believes in its version of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll ape gangs warring with each other.

In a field riddled with high concepts trying their best to capture the attention of readers jaded by a deluge of all kinds of genre fiction, a book with a simple premise and believable characters who manage to be both silly and dangerous feels like a breath of fresh air and certainly ranks with the most solid titles every time it comes out. Hopefully, the creators will find it in their interest to continue working on a series that has yet to find its audience.

Best Mini-Series

When Ed Brubaker and his longtime creative partner Sean Philips were winding down their post-modern noir "Fatale" series, Image issued an announcement heralding their next project. The writer and artist were to be reunited in "the Fade out", a more traditional noir story set in the seedy post-war Hollywood scene.

Featuring a hard drinking writer harboring a secret involving a blacklisted colleague, the series started with the murder of an actress and grew to become a cynical look at the studio system. "The Fade out" draws most of its energy from its protagonist's status as an amateur detective driven to find redemption by solving the mystery.

Foregoing the over the top genre tropes associated with this kind of a detective story, the book maintains an air of style and intelligence, while never letting up the pace. A stellar effort in the duo's distinguished latter day collaborations, "the Fade out" is a triumph of first person narration and well realized modernist comic book storytelling.

Best Single Issue

It's safe to say that "Airboy" was certainly not a book that many fans expected to read once they heard of James Robinson's involvement. A longtime comic scribe best remembered for his "Starman" run, he has since been associated with a string of books that failed to equal the acclaim garnered by his most famous series.

Image marketed "Airboy" as a surreal comedy in the vein of "Fear and loathing in Las Vegas". Once "Airboy"#1 finally debuted, it immediately put a stop to any claim about false advertising.

In many ways, the series was a spiritual successor to "Auteur", in that it involved a frantic look into the creative process. Robinson and Hinkle's story went one step further, by presenting their work as autobiography, as it in some way featured a warped look at the writer's "lost weekend". Greg Hinkle, a relative newcomer to the field had provided a tour de force artistic presentation aimed at maximizing the comedic impact in a way that was both fresh and stylish.

And while the subsequent issues drew ire from the controversy surrounding transsexual representation, their one major flaw was the failure to continue the superb form witnessed in the debut. Seeing the fictionalized versions of Robinson and Hinkle trying to revive the Golden Age hero but getting sidetracked in a self-loathing drug bender ending with a delightful cliffhanger remains a as good a #1 as James Robinson has had in many years. With "Airboy", the venerable writer has earned a new set of eyes regarding his next creative endeavor, while providing the newcomer Hinkle with a high profile debut for his impressive artistic skill.

Best Graphic Novel

Working on the heels of "An age of license", Lucy Knisley has returned with an even more focused travelogue. This time, her efforts go to depict an ocean cruise she took with her elderly grandparents. Dispensing with the diary aesthetic that characterized her previous effort, "Displacement" is divided in chapters summarizing each day on the cruise ship, filled with equal times drama and comedy.

The graphic novel is a challenging read as its real world inspiration leads to a neurotic dash across the details that make for a very memorable vacation. Eventually, the well cartooned pages of "Displacement" build up to a very strong ending that stays with the reader.

The book's greatest quality is that it goes beyond the particulars of the writer/artist's relationship with her grandparents and becomes an artistic look at the process of aging, and the love tying the generations together.

Best Writer

Working in the capacity of a co-writer on "Grayson", Tom King has enjoyed high acclaim which he has aspired to build upon by lending his talents on books at both DC and Marvel. And while "Omega Men" has met with lukewarm sales despite the creative acclaim it accumulated, "the Vision" has grown to symbolize the company's current benchmark for quality storytelling.

The key to King's success lies in his ability to execute ambitious and fresh takes on some of the companies' most well worn characters. Recasting the original Robin as the superspy with conscience has finally enabled the character to grow from his role of the well adjusted junior Batman. The character's stealth takeover of the Batman line as symbolized by his central role in the "Batman and Robin Eternal" weekly series cements the popularity of King's makeover.

On the other hand, "Vision" serves as a finite story with a narration that is both grim and playful. Coupled with Gabriel Hernandez Walta, the writer has set out to tell a morbidly curious tale about the drastic fallout of the robot superhero's decision to start a family. As stylish as it's pretentious, the title has set out to complete its story without the crossover interruptions that have took so much away from the artist's previous run on "Magneto".

It remains to be seen how the industry's focus on King will impact on his work, but judging by the acclaim his first entries in the market have garnered him, the former CIA operative can look forward to a very successful second career as comic book writer.

Best Artist

Oliver Schrauwen was brought forward from relative obscurity thanks to his late 2014 graphic novel debut. Ostensibly adapting his grandfather's colonial adventures, the writer/artist uses the canvas of a lengthy biography as a showcase for his command of comics as a visual language. Working in faux-travelogue mode, "Arsene Schrauwen" allows the author complete control of the narrative, revealing him as a master of the form.

A formalist masterpiece posing as a narrative, Schrauwen's graphic novel delights in challenging and infuriating the readers. Ostensibly a love story and a jungle survival pulp, "Arsene Schrauwen" is delightfully sincere in staying true to itself and its author.

The fact that the writer/artist has decided to stay in comics despite the meager financial rewards associated with experimental books, and has gone on to publish a new comic in 2015 speaks to the fact that he truly enjoys working in the medium.

No comments: