Sunday, May 2, 2010

100 Best Funnybooks of the Noughts, Part Two

Keeping the ball rolling on my blog launch, here's entries 75-51 of... The 100 Best Funnybooks of the Noughts!!!

75. New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke. Cooke’s best super hero work, New Frontier tackles Silver Age DC with style and aplomb. The core plot of the thing is honestly kind of lame, but the themes Cooke tackles with it, the transition from the blood-and-sinew heroes of World War II to the atom-age super heroes of the Silver Age, are dynamite.

74. Incognito by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips. Pulp adventure noir from the Criminal team. This book applies the noir feel to a world of heroes, villains, and weird science. Though only one storyline’s been completed, it might be better than its sister title.

73. Demo by Brian Wood & Becky Cloonan. Good indie-rock funnybooks. Demo presents a series of slice-of-life one-shot stories, originally focused on the idea of young people getting some kind of super power. But by the end, the fantasy elements have dropped out almost completely, as Wood moves on to exploring things like social and personal power instead.

72. Hellboy: The Conqueror Worm by Mike Mignola. Published in 2001, this was, for my money, the last truly great Hellboy adventure. After this, the movie intruded on the funnybook, introducing unwelcome angst and brooding to a comic that had been refreshingly free of it. This one's a hum-dinger, though, featuring space Nazis bent on recreating the world. It also introduced everybody's favorite forgotten pulp hero, Lobster Johnson!

71. Billy Hazelnuts by Tony Millionaire. An astoundingly strange OGN about a man made of suet, yeast, and discarded mincemeat pie, and his adventures trying to find the moon. The story works off demented, child-like dream-logic, and is illustrated with Millionaire’s usual lush cartoony detail, making for a very satisfying package.

70. Whoa, Nellie! by Jaime Hernandez. When it comes to the Hernandez Brothers, I generally prefer Gilbert to Jaime these days. But that wasn’t always the case, and this book, following his women’s wrestling characters, hearkened back to the early Locas stories, where he was more likely to weave his character studies into stories with a touch more plot. Plus, hey! It’s a smart comic about wrestling! How could I not like this?

69. Rocketo by Frank Espinosa. A fun, and beautifully-drawn, retro sci-fi series from Spanish cartoonist Frank Espinosa. A sequel series was supposed to have appeared by now, but hasn’t materialized. Which is a shame.

68. Sin Titulo by Cam Stewart. One of the only web comics to make the list, Sin Titulo is a noirish mystery series that owes a tonal debt to David Lynch. Stewart’s been doing this for free between paying gigs at Vertigo, but it should be seeing print in a trade collection sometime soon. In the meantime, you can read it on-line here:

67. Ex Machina by Brian K. Vaughn & Tony Harris. This book is often called “the super hero West Wing,” and while that sums the premise up pretty neatly, it doesn’t quite do the series justice. I love it for its look at politics outside the two-party straitjacket, and for Tony Harris’ beautiful super hero still life artwork.

66. Catwoman by Ed Brubaker, Darwyn Cooke, Cam Stewart, and Javier Pulido. The first two years of this book were some of the best super hero noir ever produced, dark and edgy stories matched up with stylish artwork. The Black Mask arc at the mid-way point, and its soul-searing aftermath, are the high points, along with the self-destructive, star-crossed affair between Selina Kyle and Slam Bradley.

65. Queen & Country by Greg Rucka and Various Artists. This British spy series was a funnybook companion to shows like Spooks (aka MI-5), a realistic look at the modern spy game. Excellent work, with one of the most fucked up lead characters of the decade.

64. Unstable Molecules by James Sturm & Guy Davis. An intriguing mini-series that purports to be the biography of the “real” Fantastic Four, the people Stan Lee based his super hero team on. There were no such people, of course, but Sturm’s exploration of the FF characters rendered human is good reading.

63. Sock Monkey by Tony Millionaire. The kids’ comic version of Millionaire’s Maakies comic strip is charming and strange, and disturbing in a way that only innocent tales of magical talking toys can be.

62. Bizarro Comics by Various. DC Comics turned the luminaries of the alt comics world loose on stories featuring their licensed characters. The resulting anthology was uneven, as all such things are bound to be, but overall this was one of the more entertaining OGNs of the decade.

61. Umbrella Academy by Gerard Way & Gabriel Ba. What could have been a whiny emo super hero comic instead turned out to be imaginative and inventive on a grand scale. A worthy successor to the X-Men’s cultural niche.

60. Parker: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke. A brilliant adaptation of the first of Richard Stark’s Parker novels. It opens with a bravura wordless sequence that sets the tone perfectly, and never lets up. Not the best comic of the decade, but a flawlessly-executed one.

59. The Abominable Charles Christopher by Karl Kerschl. One of only two web comics to make my list, this is a really nice all-ages strip that’s one part Pogo and two parts Once and Future King. Funny, occasionally scary, and beautifully-drawn. This strip has the potential to be spoken of in the same breath as Bone, but I’ll have to see more of its themes and plotlines play out to say for sure. Read it here:

58. Gotham Central by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, and Michael Lark. A police procedural companion piece to Brubaker’s Catwoman work, this book followed Gotham City’s Major Crimes Unit. Brubaker and Rucka traded off writing story arcs, each handling one work shift, with the two writers collaborating for “red ball” cases. “Hard Targets” is the highlight.

57. Fell by Warren Ellis & Ben Templesmith. As if in apology for coining the term “decompression,” Warren Ellis used this book to introduce “super compression,” a series of done-in-one stories, individual comics as self-contained units of entertainment. Stories with all the fat cut away, told in 16 pages and sold at the comparatively low price point of two bucks. It was a great book, a police detective series with gorgeous artwork from Ben Templesmith. And it failed utterly. Which made me sad.

56. I Killed Adolph Hitler by Jason. A man with a time machine travels back to WWII to kill the Fuhrer. One of the better takes on this old time travel chestnut I’ve seen, but also one of the saddest. There’s an answerless existential void at the heart of much of Jason’s work, and it seems best-exemplified here.

55. Grip: The Strange World of Men by Gilbert Hernandez. I loved almost all of Beto’s non-Palomar Noughts work. While Palomar seems stuck in neutral, his other work is all about his obsessions with weird mystery, bizarre mobsters, and the UFO culture, and that makes a heady mix for me. Honestly, I could have listed any of those series here; Grip gets the nod primarily because it’s got the best title.

54. Fantastic Four: 1234 by Grant Morrison & Jae Lee. Grant Morrison’s take on the FF digs into the team’s psychology, drawing on Stan Lee’s much simpler early version of the characters as the basis for a much deeper look at what makes each team member tick. Not an easy read, but a good one.

53. Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson & Killian Plunkett. An Elseworlds book asking what might have happened if the rocket carrying the infant Superman had landed in Soviet-era Russia instead of the American heartland. Well-conceived and intelligent.

52. Marvel Boy by Grant Morrison & JG Jones. Morrison’s take on Jim Steranko. This book introduced an awesomely snotty and powerful new heir to the mantle of Captain Marvel while also telling cool stories about cool stuff. A great prototype for next-gen super hero writing that was ignored and then botched completely after Morrison fell out with Marvel.

51. Global Frequency by Warren Ellis and Various Artists. A really nice action/adventure comic about a global rescue team whose operations are structured like bit torrents, or collective computing: they recruit whatever operatives are needed for whatever situation they’re dealing with on a moment’s notice from the available pool of international talent. It was a genius premise, and a great little comic. Too bad it didn’t sell well enough to continue.

More to come...



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