12.11.2007

Top 10 of 2007 - Ongoing Series

Wasteland (Oni Press): Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten’s grand epic has employed the “slow burn” method of storytelling. There are periods of dialogue, introspection, character development, and general fleshing out of The Big Wet universe, which are then poignantly punctuated by wild action and moments of sheer terror. This is the best, most overlooked, book on the stands; it’s full of subtle nuance, drama, sex, politics, and religion. It’s a post-apocalyptic, but thoroughly modern cauldron of escalating intensity.

Scalped (DC/Vertigo): The best Vertigo book on the stands, and that’s in the face of ridiculously strong competition from Brian Wood’s DMZ. Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera give us the rare opportunity to peer into a collapsing society full of corruption, greed, and moral ambiguity. You could argue that 100 Bullets does this too (although the narrative arc has become so convoluted, who knows what’s really going on?), but Scalped does this reveal within the context of a larger story that needs to be told. The plight of this dwindling portion of (Native) American society, which is being lost and ignored, a history lesson that simply isn't taught in typical K-12 curriculum. Though this tickles all of the delightful fanboy crime, sex, and violence buttons, it’s also a complex study of a microcosm of closed society that is imploding in on itself.

DMZ (DC/Vertigo): The (other) best Vertigo book on the stands, with a brilliant analysis of the ancillary human stories resulting from warfare. There are portions which are hard-hitting analogues to the US occupation of Iraq, but mostly we see small individual battles being waged on a daily basis amid the larger conflict. Wood gives us his trademark sharp, pungent, political observations like he did in Channel Zero, and pairs them with slice-of-life nuggets of wisdom and dialogue-rich personal moments concerning growth and identity like he does in Local. For me, it’s the perfectly brewed Brian Wood book, the balanced epitome of all the things he’s great at. DMZ isn’t just good, it’s important and socially relevant.

Astonishing X-Men (Marvel): Wannabe detractors would say that Joss Whedon is simply perpetuating his infatuation with the adolescent female latent power fantasy with his adoration of Kitty Pryde. But, doesn’t that make him the perfect candidate to write some damn fine X-Men comics? We’re really getting a stripped down version of these characters from someone who understands the pathos of youth and power, their identity, strengths, weaknesses, and how their interpersonal interactions might realistically play out. He tinkers with many of the X-Men (sub-) genre tropes, all with modern wit, charm, and a certain affable joie de vive and coherence which has been missing for way too long. Unite these characteristics with John Cassaday’s unbeatable art, and you’ve just created the most definitive X-Men stories that the new millennium has witnessed. These will become coveted in the future, like the precious Byrne/Claremont run, it’ll be one of those held up as an ideal version of this 40 year old property, proving that under the right guidance the property still has some fresh legs… that can phase through walls.

All Star Superman (DC): The caveat is that I’m a passive Superman fan at best. To me, there’s just no inherent gravitas in a near-invulnerable offworlder, no darkness or drama with a guy that can do just about anything. However, the theme with Morrison’s run here (and what I finally find interesting) is that he seems to be examining Superman from many different perspectives (a hyper-condensed origin, Bizarro World, dying, Jimmy, Kandor, etc.) so that we can look at him from every angle presented in the Silver Age, but infuse it with manic entertaining Grant Morrison and illuminate things we may not have considered before. The big reveal is that the character may just be more complex than anyone originally gave him credit for. What we have here is a creative duo that brings out the best in an otherwise tired property. With the addition of Quitely’s lean lines, to me, we have the perfect counterpoint to Marvel’s Astonishing X-Men; that rare gem of a flagship property done perfectly.

Casanova (Image): Never has a comic existed which has possessed more satisfying back matter. Combine that with the bargain basement price of $1.99 in the new “slim line” format, Matt Fraction’s zany ideas, the irreverent, fourth-wall breaking moments, and sexual misadventures which are all recycled together seamlessly with bits and influences from other works, and you have a book that actually probably shouldn’t work that well on paper. But, with Fraction’s charm and inventiveness, this is an instant hit that defies conventional expectations and has become greater than the sum of its parts.

The Lone Ranger (Dynamite Entertainment): At the moment, I can’t think of a finer re-imaging of an old property (not in comics anyway, Battlestar Galactica was the only other thing that seemed to come to mind, I mean did you see Razor? Soooo good, but I digress…). Brett Matthews and Sergio Cariello, with covers and art direction from John Cassaday, have captured the essence and grounded appeal of this beloved character. The prolonged chronicling of the origin story is a brazen move, but done with such style and grace. This book is quietly getting better, and it’s a shame nobody seems to be noticing, since it’s a very genuine coming of age story that’s also infused with other genres. We have the western genre, bits of romance, vengeance, crime, and all the lost genres that used to dominate the market in lieu of superheroes, being coalesced into one book. It seems to me that with the right focus and marketing spin (notice they’re starting a Zorro book next year in the same vein as this re-imaging), The Lone Ranger could be poised to bring about a renaissance of these once towering stories that other publishers have failed to capitalize on.

Immortal Iron Fist (Marvel): My taste for straightforward superhero fare seems to be waning quickly unless they’re just done so well (ala Astonishing X-Men or The Brave & The Bold) or contain some kind of meta commentary (ala All-Star Superman or Black Summer). That said, Iron Fist delivers with a plot that’s grounded in characterization and some subtly unique art from David Aja. If you need to scratch an itch that involves basic kung-fu action with a soul, and rendered in a lush style, then you could do much worse than this title.

The Brave & The Bold (DC): I had a few minor quibbles with the latter issues of this series from a continuity standpoint, but it admittedly reads much more cohesively in collected format. Its ability to capture Silver Age fun (without seeming trite, hoary, or campy) and ability to juggle multiple plot lines and introduce characters (while still flowing somewhat organically) make this one of the books that I most look forward to reading. I get that feeling I got as a kid, thinking how cool it was when characters I liked got to hang out and team up, they were friends and respected each other (Batman and Green Lantern being two childhood faves). It’s a seldom seen, precarious balance of universe building. I mean, they actually knew each other independent of their solo titles or some stupid company crossover. It’s just sheer entertainment, with gorgeous George Perez art, and a hearty sense of adventure that makes me remember why I started reading comics as a kid in the first place.

Ex Machina (DC/Wildstorm): For me, after the critically acclaimed The Escapists, this is consistently Brian K. Vaughan’s best body of work. Like any long running series, it has natural highs and lows, but when taken as a whole, is a profound piece of storytelling. It’s reminiscent to me of The West Wing (well, the first four seasons helmed by Aaron Sorkin anyway), presenting complex social issues in a way that engages the disenfranchised and politically savvy alike. It has the ability (some would say bravery) to raise the level of public debate in this country in a productive and healthy way. Throw in some crafty dialogue, a bold alternate reality in which only one of the World Trade Center towers came crashing down, Tony Harris’ best work to date, amazing lush colors, and you get a story that aptly depicts the noble, but flawed character of New York City; a saga for the ages.

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