Sunday, May 2, 2010

100 Best Funnybooks of the Noughts, Part Four

Here we are at the end. I've given the top ten books a bit more discussion than the rest of the list, as befits their top status. The number one pick even gets multiple paragraphs. Fancy! So now, without further ado... Here are the top 25 books in my list of The 100 Best Funnybooks of the Noughts!

25. The Goon by Eric Powell. This book has everything you could ever ask for in a comic: tough guys, zombies, retards, vengeful ghosts, evil fish-men, and more knife to the eye jokes than you can shake a pointy stick at. Funny, profane, and completely awesome. Real purty to look at, too.

24. Planetary by Warren Ellis & John Cassaday. A meditation on the heroic fiction of the 20th Century, Planetary was also a nice piece of science fiction mystery writing, and a state-of-the-art super hero series all at once. A grand experiment that didn‘t end as well as it might, but that was an entertaining ride along the way.

23. Top Ten by Alan Moore & Gene Ha. A super hero version of Hill Street Blues. Possibly the most under-rated of the America’s Best Comics efforts, this book showed off Moore’s talent for character writing to good effect with its large ensemble cast.

22. The Authority by Warren Ellis & Bryan Hitch and Mark Millar & Frank Quitely. The 21st Century started here. For super heroes, anyway. It introduced mainstream Western comics readers to manga storytelling (through techniques that got labeled “decompression” and “widescreen action”), and began the trend of looking at the role of super heroes in the geopolitical landscape. In the early years of the decade, this was the biggest comic going. It was a huge seller, and was hugely influential on everything that followed it. So of course, DC took it out behind the barn and shot it in the head like a rabid dog. These days, it’s just yet another shitty comic nobody cares about. But once… Once, it was great.

21. Judenhass by Dave Sim. A one-shot outlining the history of anti-Semitism, centuries of hatred accompanied by an unflinching depiction of the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. Brutal, accusatory, and disquieting reading.

20. Asterios Polyp by David Mazzuchelli. This book is topping many “best of” lists, both for 2009 and for the decade as a whole. And it is good, I can’t deny it. There’s some deft writing going on here, as Mazzuchelli peels back the layers of his title character through jumps between his past and his present. He’s also tackling some interesting ideas on art and relationships, and illustrating them quite literally through his visuals. But I often felt like he was trying too hard to be literary, and (as someone who's worked in academia) that always sets my teeth on edge.

19. Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot. A complicated, time-jumping documentary comic about Britain’s Sunderland area and its most famous son, Lewis Carroll. It makes what should be rather dull material an interesting read, and opens up new possibilities for non-fiction comics. See also: Warren Ellis' Crecy and Frankenstein's Womb.

18. The Ultimates by Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch. Following up on the lessons taught by The Authority, this was the book that changed the face of mainstream super hero comics for the decade. From its emphasis on plot over action, to its patient character writing, to the quality of the action sequences when they did break out, Ultimates was the super hero book every other had to keep up with, or risk looking outdated.

17. Batwoman by Greg Rucka & JH Williams. A better-than-average super hero comic that transcends itself through the artwork of JH Williams. Gorgeous, intelligent, and filled with visual symbolism. The kind of book that will be inspiring new comics creators for years to come.

16. Batman and Robin by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely. The most recent collaboration for the Morrison/Quitely team sees them forcefully slamming together the various disparate takes on Batman we’ve seen over the character’s long history, bringing the noir detective elements together with the sci-fi sheen of the 50s, and enhancing the day-glo insanity that’s lurked in the corners of the series from day one. It’s breath-taking work, and would rank even higher if Quitely (who turned in his second-best artistic performance of the decade) were drawing the entire run.

15. Lost Girls by Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie. High class porn from the funnybook Shakespeare and his wife. Literate, intelligent, and absolutely filthy.

14. Seaguy by Grant Morrison & Cam Stewart. Morrison’s take on the heroic journey as super hero coming of age story. Funny, surreal, and deceptively simple, Seaguy reads like a fable, and is as much allegory as anything else.

13. The Boys by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson. So human, so funny, so grotesque. The Boys is among the best super hero series of the decade.

12. We 3 by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely. The story of three household pets (a dog, a cat, and a rabbit) turned into cyborg killing machines. This is blockbuster sci-fi action, told with intelligence and compassion, that transcends its pulpy premise through sheer excellence. Morrison abandons his usual narrative tricks and turns the storytelling spotlight over to Quitely, who responds with a virtuoso performance. Keeping the cameras at pet’s-eye-view angles whenever possible, he visually takes us into the world of the lead characters much more effectively than we could have been through narration. This is probably the best work of his career; he pioneers visual techniques that haven’t yet been digested into the funnybook toolbox, but should be. His explosion of tiny panels expressing action in a compact space is stunning, efficient, and a joy to read. Good, simple, and effective.

11. The Dark Knight Strikes Again by Frank Miller. The controversial sequel to the most famous Batman comic of all time. Miller took it BIG here, and also took a lot of chances with his artwork, delivering raw, primitivist cartooning to match the raw power being unleashed in the story. Not what anyone was expecting, and panned by many, but I think it’s bloody brilliant.

10. Bone by Jeff Smith. Bone combines the creativity of Carl Barks with the epic scope of Tolkien, and the results are pretty stunning. Easily the best all-ages comic of the decade, and possibly of all time. Though the color collections are very nice, I’d recommend the mammoth Complete Bone: it’s got the whole series in its original black and white, and is really the best buy for your funnybook dollar.

9. Stray Bullets by David Lapham. The best crime comic of the decade. Rather than leaning on noir standards, Lapham focused instead on the effects of crime on innocent bystanders, and on the petty everyday bad behaviour that lurks beneath suburbia‘s veneer of respectability. So alongside actual criminals like Spanish Scott (who unwittingly starts a domino effect in an early issue that leads to much sadness later), you’ll find a collection of horny housewives, small-town dope dealers, amoral bitches, and banal backyard sociopaths. You’ll also meet the series’ best character: Virginia Applejack, a little girl who seems destined to grow into nothing but trouble. Sleazy, funny, and terrifying in equal measure, this book is the real deal.

8. Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O'Malley. A thoroughly 21st Century sort of comic, Scott Pilgrim is deceptively simple. Its mix of manga storytelling, video game plot structure, and crazy action hides a rather smart look at life in your 20s. It almost seems destined to become the prototype for the future of American action comics, and if that happens, we could do a lot worse.

7. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neil. With this book, Alan Moore wove his penchant for obsessive research into one of the best pure fun comics to see print this decade. It’s ugly, tawdry fun to be sure, filled with all sorts of naughty things. But it’s fun nonetheless. The Martian issue that starts off series two remains one of my favorite launches of the decade, and Hyde’s solution to the problem of the Invisible Man one of my favorite moments. Moore’s development of Mina is also a highlight, as is his examination (however brief) of the jaded hedonism that might come with immortality. Kevin O’Neil turns in some truly fine work here, too, bizarre and profane and absolutely perfect for the stories. Now if only somebody would release that song they recorded for Black Dossier…

6. The Amazing Screw-On Head by Mike Mignola. Best one-shot comic of the decade, maybe of all time. I love this comic so much that I buy copies of it whenever I see them, just so I can give it to people who might not have read it. I own two or three for myself, just in case I lose one. It’s the complete stream-of-consciousness insanity of it that I love so much, I think. It reads like a dream somebody had, or a story plotted by a little kid. It’s just so balls-out strange, so effortlessly weird and funny. It may be my perfect funnybook.

5. Casanova by Matt Fraction, Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon. My favorite new book of the back half of the decade. Fraction and his genius Brazilian twin brother art team gave us a brilliantly fun and complex funnybook spy series. It seriously has everything: anagrammed spy agencies with cool-ass logos, a morally-conflicted hero, femmes fatales, hot robot girls, a guy wrapped entirely in bandages with evil plans for world domination, psychological complexity, time- AND dimension-hopping, nods to Diabolik and Steranko, and… the list goes ever on. Plus, the second series has, bar none, the single best ending of the decade. Maybe the best I’ve ever read. No shit, it’s that good. If you haven’t read this book, do yourself a favor and pick up the new full-color trades that will be coming out soon. You will not regret it.

4. The Filth by Grant Morrison & Chris Weston.

The Filth is:

Like some Freudian nightmare version of 2000 AD.
A surrealist mash-up of James Bond, bad porn, and Philip K. Dick.
Toyetic! But in a way that would make even the most well-balanced children cry for reasons they weren’t remotely equipped to explain.
The evil twin of Morrison’s Invisibles.
A look at the heroic side of fascism.
A commentary on the dark side of even the most well-intentioned revolutionaries.
A meditation on the untested innocence of the super hero concept.
Shockingly meaty and sexual, even in the parts that aren’t supposed to be.
A cat person.
Obsessed with negativity and the grotesque.
Wrong in every conceivable way (it even has 13 issues!).
Ready to toss bucket-loads of truly heinous shit right in your face.
Secretly about compassion.

3. Promethea by Alan Moore & JH Williams III. My favorite of the America’s Best Comics series, Promethea went from being an updating of the Wonder Woman archetype to being a primer on magical philosophy. It was incredibly dense reading, sometimes taking on what might have become a dry academic tone if it weren’t for the gorgeous visuals and inspired layouts of JH Williams III. Having seen a couple of Moore’s scripts, I know that much of what made this book’s incredible two-page spreads work came from his mind, but Williams not only pulled Moore’s ideas off, he embellished and improved upon them. Williams was an accomplished comics artist before this, but his work on Promethea caused him to stretch and grow far beyond anything he’d done before, and honestly beyond anything seen in mainstream comics before (lessons he‘s taken on to Batwoman, making that comic ten times better than it has any right to be). A triumph for both its creators, Promethea remains an astounding comics experience.

2. Powers by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming. An amazing achievement in long-form storytelling, this police procedural with capes is all about truths delivered slowly over time. It’s a comic that’s as much about what the characters aren’t saying as what they are, about the lies we tell and the truths we try to live up to. It’s about super heroes as a cultural force, about right and wrong and the sometimes-hazy line between them. It’s also about less lofty matters, like sex, addiction, celebrity melt-downs, and messy messy deaths. It’s about snappy dialogue, too, and even snappier artwork. Powers is deliriously drawn by Mike Oeming, whose page design is the best in comics: always clear, always dynamic, and never for a second stopping to rest. Each series has been a novel unto itself, and the gut-punch at the end of series two hurts more than it really should. The best work of both its creators’ careers.

1. All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely. The single best super hero comic of the decade, certainly, but the single best comic of the decade in general? I think so. Sure, it’s a licensed book. Sure, its creators have no stake in it beyond whatever royalties they managed to negotiate. But it’s still an intensely personal work. Morrison renders Superman as a secular Christ, a man who helps and sacrifices and does what’s right not because God tells him to, but because the perspective of his advanced senses makes that the only sort of behaviour that makes sense. This expression of agape love is something Morrison’s been building to all decade, and the fact that it finds its most direct expression in a Superman comic speaks volumes about how much the man adores the character.

But Superman is not left as some lofty paragon here; in fact, this may be the most relatable Man of Steel we’ve seen in ages. Beyond his enhanced perspective on reality lies a big-hearted Midwestern farm boy with concerns about love and death just like anybody else’s. The series’ throughline, after all, is a plotline about the super man dying of super cancer. So while he searches for a cure, we also see him doing what any father-figure might in these circumstances: he puts his affairs in order, and makes sure that those who’ve come to depend upon him (in his case, the entire world) will be cared for after his passing. It’s an all-too-human story writ large, and it serves the character well.

Quitely also turns in nice work here. Maybe not his best of the decade, but the sort of clear, open, imaginative art the story and character call for. The series is a virtuoso performance from both men, though, with few if any false notes, and high points that shine so bright it’s hard to see the imperfections anyway. This is a lovely, life-affirming comic about the whole world’s dad dying, an adult story written for adults who remember what it's like to be a child. I can’t think of anything more deserving of the top spot.


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