Friday, January 4, 2008

2007: The Year in Comics (2)

Welcome to the other side. I hope your introduction to 2008 was pleasant, and the subsequent hangover not too ugly.

Without further ado, a few more comics I enjoyed last year.

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Joe Casey, Chris Weston, et al. Fantastic Four: First Family. The creators go back to the concept's beginnings and tell a story set immediately after the Fantastic Four's origin as told by Lee and Kirby back in 1961. Unlike Casey's Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes books, however, First Family is not a retro piece, but a modern, mature, free-standing narrative about family, responsibility and humanity. Chris Weston's artwork is breathtaking - his innovative interpretation of the four protagonists in particular. The book came out in 2006, but I didn't get to it until last summer. (Marvel Comics, paperback)

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Paul Cornell, Trevor Hairsine, Manuel García, et al. Wisdom: Rudiments of Wisdom. The grumpy English black ops agent Peter Wisdom was introduced in Excalibur back in 1995. Not surprisingly, his creator Warren Ellis has remained the only writer who's made the character interesting. I'm not quite sure that's changed with Paul Cornell's Wisdom, to be frank. What I can say, though, is that his story very successfully mingles superhero and soap opera tropes with elements from British myth and popular culture and the kind of mad ideas you expect from Grant Morrison (meet, for instance, the Skrull Beatles). Cornell has delivered a smart, delightfully British superhero book in the tradition of Alan Moore, Alan Davis, Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison. (Marvel Comics/Max, paperback)

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Warren Ellis, Raúlo Cáceres, et al. Crécy. This haunting chunk of historical fiction constitutes an inventory of the British forces participating in the Battle of Crécy, as given by an English archer doubling as a meta narrator, who addresses the reader directly. With methodical care, Ellis engages his audience by relating, step by deliberate step, all the minutiae of the British soldiers' origins and backgrounds, their weaponry and equipment and what's at stake for them. In other words, he's basically dumping his research on us in a shameless, slickly dramatized way that walks the thin line between successful world-building and boring info dump with amazing grace. Crécy is probably the boldest thing Ellis has done to date, stylistically. (Avatar Press, paperback)

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Warren Ellis, Mike Deodato Jr., et al. Thunderbolts. I didn't expect much from this, to be honest, but it's turned out to be the best traditional (with a perverse twist or two) superhero team book I read in 2007. Combining a cast of guilt-driven anti-heroes, sadistic freaks and outright lunatics with intense psychological conflict and brutal urban superhero warfare, Ellis' interpretation of the Thunderbolts concept is the most thrilling and engaging the title has seen. By digging up various D-list characters and revamping them as credible, often idealistic opponents to the corrupt Thunderbolts, Ellis also acknowledges the significant role that Marvel Universe continuity has always been playing in the book. Mike Deodato, meanwhile, contributes the best artwork I've seen from him. (Marvel Comics, periodical)

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Warren Ellis, Stuart Immonen, et al. Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. Another superhero team book from Ellis, I wouldn't quite call this one "traditional." Rather, it's sort of like the demented little brother of Ellis' Authority - where the latter's deadpan satire of the superhero genre was largely lost on the audience, Nextwave's is ludicrously laugh-out-loud funny, and incessantly so. It's a shame that the book didn't sell better, but then again, much of its humor was probably impenetrable to anyone but the hardcore Marvel readers (it has characters like Irving Forbush and makes fun of the conclusion of the most recent Machine Man title, for instance, which was read by approximately twelve people). And, in any event, I doubt Ellis and Immonen could have kept it up for much longer. Nextwave is one of the few comics that gave me some hearty chuckles lately. It was great fun while it lasted. (Marvel Comics, periodical)

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Warren Ellis, Ben Templesmith, et al. Fell. The people of Snowtown are a cowardly and superstitious lot. They don't give a toss about each other, and, consequently, the crimes there are the most horrible you can imagine. Quite why Detective Richard Fell has been transferred to Snowtown we don't know, but he must have done something terrible to deserve it. The protagonist's unrevealed background and the supporting cast represent ongoing threads in this mystery thriller, but mostly, the creators are concerned with telling supercondensed done-in-one detective stories in the 16-pages-for-two-bucks format that Warren Ellis invented for Fell. The result is a fantastic crime book which doesn't come out nearly often enough. (Image Comics, periodical)

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Garth Ennis, Gary Erskine, et al. Dan Dare. I've lost interest in most of Ennis' work recently, because whatever I did try felt like he was treading water. A new series revamping the old British science fiction hero Dan Dare seemed different enough to ignite my curiosity, however. As it turns out - judging from the first issue, at any rate - it's a surprisingly good book: Rather than to go the obvious route and play the thrashy 1950s concept for laughs, Ennis went in the opposite direction, building a straight, convincing sci-fi war narrative around the square-jawed hero that reads like a British version of the new Battlestar Galactica series. Forget about the comic, though - the best part is the back cover: Appropriately, it's an advertisement by Virgin Galactic asking me to book my seat in one of their upcoming commercial space flights - presumably so I can personally visit and enjoy with Dan Dare a nice cup of tea on his private little asteroid. Glad to see that Virgin Comics is in lockstep with the rest of the Branson empire. (Virgin Comics, periodical)

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God willing, more tomorrow.

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