Sunday, May 2, 2010

100 Best Funnybooks of the Noughts, Part Three

Numbers 50-26! As we get into the top 50, we also get into a stranger mix of style and genre, which is really the stuff that keeps my funnybook juices flowing...

50. Street Angel by Jim Rugg. Ninjas, pirates, robots, Aztecs, spacemen, Jesus, and the world’s first homeless teenage skateboarding super hero girl. Oh, and Afrodisiac, too. It’s hard not to love this book. It’s a big blender-mix of B-Culture. Funny and outrageous, but not without sympathy for its poverty-stricken heroes.

49. Wanted by Mark Millar & JG Jones. An entertaining and beautifully-drawn book about a world where the super villains won. Funny and profane. I also like this book's thematic core: the fallen world the villains created after their victory is our own.

48. Tumor by Joshua Hale Fialkov & Noel Tuazon. The first comic series done for the Kindle. An intriguing noir tale with a detective lead whose brain tumor is pressing on his temporal lobe, causing him to experience both his final case and the following hospitalization simultaneously. The first print trade should be available soon, and you can also read it for free here:

47. Berlin by Jason Lutes. The story of the final days of freedom in Germany as the Nazis rose to power. Well-realized historical fiction that reads even better in collected form than it did as a serial.

46. SOLO by Various. A series of one-shots put out by DC Comics, each issue featuring work done by a single creator. The stories in each issue ranged from small personal stories to idiosyncratic takes on various DC-owned super hero characters. Luminaries such as Paul Pope, Howard Chaykin, Mike Allred, and Darwyn Cooke were given issues to fill, and though the quality varied according to the creator in the spotlight, this was usually at least interesting reading. Cooke's issue is probably the highlight.

45. King David by Kyle Baker. A fine retelling of the story of David, from giant-slayer to king. While not lacking in reverence, the book’s not a slave to it either, and that allows Baker to imbue the story with a life not often seen in Biblical fiction.

44. Civil War by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven. A book that asked some bold questions about the validity of super hero vigilantism (bold for a major franchise crossover series, anyway). Seeing such familiar figures as Iron Man, Captain America, and Spider-Man grappling with the nature of their chosen lifestyle was fascinating, and even upsetting, reading, and I have to applaud it for that. The fact that the story was botched completely outside the pages of the core book is beside the point. Civil War itself was a good super hero read.

43. The Last Musketeer by Jason. The mix of child-like fantasy with adult sensibilities always sells me on Jason’s work, and this book is a great example. Here, the last active member of the Three Musketeers (inexplicably still alive in the present day) must save the world from alien invasion in the face of apathy and his own inability to cope with life in the real world. Simultaneously whacky and terribly, terribly sad.

42. Ministry of Space by Warren Ellis & Chris Weston. A sort of wish-fulfillment alternate history story about the formation of a British space program. Great stuff, with absolutely brilliant work from artist Chris Weston on all the space vehicles.

41. Batman: Year 100 by Paul Pope. One of the better Batman books of the decade came from the idiosyncratic pen of Paul Pope. Set 100 years after Batman’s first appearance, this is the story of his re-emergence into a totalitarian future that only thinks it’s free. As much a look at the super hero’s relationship to personal freedom as it is a rousing adventure yarn, this book succeeds mightily at both. And it’s Pope, so it’s got some real purty cartooning, too.

40. Fables by Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham. Fables is modern fantasy driven by powerful imagination. Good-natured and fun, but with enough noir elements that it never stoops to the level of treacle. Month-in and month-out, for almost the entire decade, one of the most entertaining comics on the stands.

39. New X-Men by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely. The decade’s first collaboration for the Morrison/Quitely team. This run updated and streamlined the X-Men concept, remaining true to the spirit of the book’s 1970s heyday while dragging it kicking and screaming into the 21st century. That the book retreated into its comfortable bad habits immediately after Morrison left tells you everything you need to know about what’s wrong with mainstream super hero comics.

38. Nat Turner by Kyle Baker. The story of the Nat Turner slave rebellion, told in words and pictures. The words are Turner’s own, taken from his official confession. The pictures are Baker’s, bringing the story to life in a way that the bare court transcript never could. Quite good, and perhaps Baker’s best work of the decade.

37. Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson. This post-cyberpunk science fiction series was a definite product of the 90s, but it wrapped up in the Noughts. The series' ending felt a bit weak in comparison to its earlier highlights, but Transmet still launched both Ellis and Robertson into the new decade in fine style.

36. X-Force by Peter Milligan & Mike Allred. What to say about this book? Its examination of celebrity, and our obsession with it, was brilliant. Mike Allred’s artwork, with its melding of classic funnybook cartooning and alt-comics weirdness, was the perfect match for the stories. And that combination made it maybe the most interesting Marvel mutant series ever. The series faltered a bit once the title changed to X-Statix, but it was never less than a good read. The censorship controversy over the Princess Diana storyline ultimately sunk the series, which is a shame.

35. Final Crisis by Grant Morrison & JG Jones. A typically complex and difficult work from Morrison, Final Crisis is the As I Lay Dying of super hero comics. Starts off as a cosmic detective story, turns into an elegy for dying gods, and finally becomes a meditation on the transformative power of fiction. It’s a hot mess in places, and god forbid you read anything associated with it not written by Morrison himself (see my above comments on Civil War). But Morrison’s channeling of Kirby by way of Philip K. Dick is absolutely mind-blowing at times, and the series’ thematic core and philosophical underpinnings are strong. And, hell, the fact that I can talk about a big crossover book like this even having such things makes it a shoe-in for the list.

34. The Book of Genesis by Robert Crumb. The biggest name in underground comix adapts the first book of the Bible, cleaning nothing up but not sensationalizing anything, either. Crumb’s unapologetically earthy artwork simply brings the sensationalism and pure horniness of the book to the surface. Fascinating reading.

33. Cerebus by Dave Sim. One of comics’ all-time greatest achievements came to its end this decade: Dave Sim’s 30-year, 300-issue epic Cerebus. Sim’s work lost relevance this decade, as his late-90s outburst of misogyny alienated readers, and his satire lagged behind the times (a Spawn parody in the Noughts? Really?). But the quality of the work remained high otherwise, and the series wound down in fine style.

32. Love and Rockets: New Stories by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. The return in 2008 of the most famous indie comic of all time was a good thing indeed. The new series seems to have especially energized Jaime, whose Locas work, though still very good, had become pretty repetitive. Here, we see him doing super heroes of all things, and doing them very well.

31. Nextwave by Warren Ellis & Stuart Immonen. Just as Ellis’ work on Stormwatch and The Authority presaged the super hero comics of the Noughts, I think this book will do the same for the super hero comics of the Teens. Ellis (always a great sloganeer) called this style “kicksplode.” It’s super hero fiction that’s primarily about having fun with big stupid ideas. And about kicking things. And making them explode. I’m sure most of the books that follow this one will be absolutely bloody awful, understand. But the ones that aren’t will, like the book that inspired them, be grand insanity indeed.

30. Seven Soldiers by Grant Morrison & Various Artists. Seven super hero mini-series that interlocked and fed back onto each other to tell one giant epic story. A narrative triumph, and chock-full of great concepts and characters that have since been either ignored or poorly-handled by publisher DC Comics.

29. Alias by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos. The best work-for-hire series Bendis has done, and his second-best work overall. The story of failed super hero turned self-abusive private eye Jessica Jones, Alias treads somewhat similar ground to Powers’ super hero noir. But where Powers often goes big, Alias stays small, and it’s that intimacy that makes the book work.

28. Black Hole by Charles Burns. The story of a group of teens who contract an STD that causes strange deformities (a tail, an extra tiny mouth, etc), Black Hole is a metaphor for ostracism and growing up. With lots and lots of sex, drugs, and general debauchery along the way.

27. Young Liars by David Lapham. Complete insanity. A book that takes the idea of the unreliable narrator to the extreme, Young Liars is excellent and bizarre, and was cancelled far too soon.

26. 300 by Frank Miller. One of the first great graphic novels of the decade. An insanely bad-ass action-adventure story, but also a meditation on the power and importance of storytelling.

Final list to come...

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