Saturday, December 24, 2011

Comics of 2011, A Summary - pt. 1

One of my biggest undertakings of the year involved becoming addicted to comics. Which I suppose isn't so much an accomplishment as a new expense. But still, over the last 12 months I've read over 300 graphic novels/trade paperbacks/collections - whatever you want to call them, I've read a lot of them, not even counting single issues or webcomics. Regardless, this isn't a post to recount my reading accomplishments, but more to recount my favorite books of the year past. So, onwards:

My favorite 10 books released before 2011 that I read in 2011
When I think of The Nightly News, I think about how much I loved the design, and the pure oozing of style that it exuded. Then I think of the kind of disturbing (but awesome), story Jonathan Hickman told. That story depicts a man whose life was ruined by sensationalist news  as he joins an organization determined to bring violence back to the people who caused their pain. It reminds you both that newscasters are people, and their mistakes can truly damage innocent lives, albeit in an over-the-top way. But while I love and appreciate the story, the presentation is what really hooked me.
Keeping in line with books about the news, Channel Zero seems to be a very fitting book for this year. Brian Wood tells a story set in a near future New York City, where the news media is completely controlled and limited by the government. The book is rough and gritty (I hate using that word), and just really damn cool.  It's about complacency and rebellion and our expectations of how the world is and should be, and it feels so fitting for the world we're living in, even though it was released more than a decade ago. It doesn't matter that the situation and the details are different, the struggle seems the same.
I read many, many, (seriously) many Warren Ellis books this year, and while I love basically all of them, it's Global Frequency that takes the cake. The story of an independent intelligence agency run by a Miranda Zero and coordinated by a woman called Aleph, each of the 12 issues tells a standalone story of an emergency that some of the 1001 members of the Global Frequency are called on to help fix. I love the nature of the issues - connected by a common thread, but involving different characters across the globe, each time done by different artists. Even with the group of people changing each issue, Ellis makes them deep enough that you care about whether they succeed or fail - and there obviously are consequences to every mission - and the changing nature of the book means that everyone is vulnerable.
Also taking on the idea of standalone stories, but in a much different way, is Daytripper by Gabriel Bá and Fabio Moon. The ten issues jump around the life of Brás de Oliva Domingos, an obituary writer, showing important moments in his life that helped shape him as a person. Both the story and the art are poignant and beautiful, and even thinking about it makes me want to read it again.
Jeff Lemire's Essex County has poignancy in excess. Three standalone but interlocking stories set in rural Essex County, centered around the Toronto Maple Leafs and the importance of hockey to the characters. While I am a blooming hockey fan, I feel like I would have loved this regardless, as it is more of a setting than anything else. Each piece is remarkable for its simplicity, and the connections really bring it all to life. (I'm cheating a bit, as it was collected for the first time this year, but too bad)
Return of the Dapper Men is another beautiful book, with Janet Lee's style, and the complex nature of her art process for each page, really bringing it alive. Jim McCann's story is set in Anorev, a place where the clocks have stopped and time does not progress. An unorthodox friendship between a human boy, Ayden, and a robot girl, Zoe, is essential to starting time again, something neither the other robots, nor the other children, really seem to support. While plenty of books make me think and calculate, this really evoked that sense of wonder about the world of these people. The art was so adorable, and the friendship was so apparent that while parts were bittersweet, I can't help but feel full of joy when thinking about it. 
The Arrival by Shaun Tan has no words, but it tells a complete story without them: a story of hope and charity, despite some haunting and ominous art. The book shows a new immigrant being helped by people in the wondrous new place he moved, and eventually able to bring his wife and daughter over from their dangerous homeland. Despite the familiar journey, the world is fantastical, as is many of its populous. There are many odd creatures and buildings and foods, and the realistic nature of the art serves as a way of grounding it all in a really amazing way. It's a completely different experience to have a story told just with pictures, and one that I haven't experienced in a long time.
The Finder Library Volumes 1 & 2 collect previously released stories by Carla Speed McNeil. They all share a common world and related characters, but the main protagonist, Jaeger, isn't featured in all of the stories. The joy and depth of the stories is in the world, which is filled with richly described and shown cultures and societies. The writer describes it as "aboriginal science fiction", with the reader standing in for an observing anthropologist, seeing the inner workings of vastly different groups of people. I love the complexity of it all, and how everything, no matter how wild it seems, is grounded in the rules of the universe.
Another book with a rich mythology is Promethea, by Alan Moore, J.H. Williams III, and Mick Gray. Based in mysticism, and drawing on the Tree of Life and tarot, it tells the story of Sophie Bangs, a young woman who is the next host of Promethea, a being that is able to live forever by manifesting Immateria, the home of imagination, for the people she embodies. While the back story and world are fantastic, it's really the art that elevates this book. The layouts are continually creative and unique, and just plain beautiful, something that is always true with J.H. Williams' art. I love how the book mixes magic and super-heroics, and I could just look at the book for ages.
And finally, while I haven't technically read all of Gotham Central, by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka, with art (mostly) by Michael Lark, I'm completely enamored with what I have read (#1-31 of 40). The stories focus on the detectives of the Gotham City Police Department, with arcs alternating between the day and night shifts. It's a different take on the world of superheroes and both Brubaker and Rucka are very good at making you care about the characters and their cases. Unfortunately, the book suffers when Michael Lark leaves after issue 25, mostly due to the jarring impact of different artists, rather than poor art, but that doesn't prevent me from obsessing over the book.

I also loved Grant Morrison's Animal Man, which was deliciously meta, and weird and fun, and Sandman, especially Endless Nights, by Neil Gaiman, because all of the Endless were so well characterized and so gorgeously realized.

Since this is already more than long enough, I'll extoll the virtues of continuing and new series in other posts (which might actually feature superheroes). Also, the books I am looking forward to and webcomics that I love.

So those are some of the books I read this year that I love. What are books from the past that you only just read, or re-read and still love?

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