Top Ten Time Returns -- The First Five
Copyright © 2012 Rick Klaw and Mark London Williams
Hello folks! Like children's birthdays, or graduation dates, or even election seasons (really? four
years gone by already!?), it's time, once again for the Nexus Graphica Top Ten List which
means that a whole year has gone by since Rick and I did this last time.
And while things change, ebb, flow, fall and rise in the world at large, some things, still, are
immutable. At least, the basic caveats for this list. Which, if you need a reminder, means that neither
Rick nor I are claiming these are the "ten best" among all the comics work released last year -- on
paper, in digital form, on web sites, etc. -- but rather, of all the things we've read and reviewed in
this space, these are the ten that have stuck with us by year's end. (And in most cases -- though not
all, as you will see -- most of what Rick and I read was different!) Also, in my case, there's a big
chunk of list entrants you haven't seen me review yet -- some late additions, things Rick reviewed first, etc.
So without further ado, here's the first half of the list -- numbers 10 - 6, from each of us:
Action! Mystery! Thrills! Comic Book Covers of the Golden Age 1933-1945 edited by Greg Sadowski (Fantagraphics)
Editor/designer Greg Sadowski returns to his tireless exploration of the comic book with this
magnificent collection of 176 full color covers, dating from the Golden Age. As in his previous
volumes (Supermen!, Four Color Fear, and Setting the Standard), Sadowski
supplies copious end notes and annotations. Though this time, the information additionally reads as
an entertaining history of early comics. Perhaps the book's only flaws rest in the lack of an index
and that the annotations might better serve the subject if printed alongside the images. Sadowski
once again delivers an essential book for anyone with an interest in comics history.
Take What You Can Carry by Kevin C. Pyle (Henry Holt)
This was a year where I seemed to read more "YA" graphic novels than usual, and this was one of
the first I reviewed, back in early spring. Pyle's dialogue is spare, and the lines simply drawn
and generally evocative in a story linking two initially separate tales of the World War II-era
relocation of Japanese-Americans into camps, and 70s-set "juvenile delinquent" hellraising. At first
it's not clear how the stories will intersect, then suddenly it is. And while that intersection may
not seem entirely surprising in retrospect, a small quiet epiphany at the end -- about bending the
rules, and most of all, a kind of forgiveness -- makes the spare story pay off. Even the title pays off, too.
Explorer: The Mystery Boxes edited by Kazu Kibuishi (Amulet)
Kazu Kibuishi's follow-up anthology to the award-winning Flight series, Explorer: The Mystery
Boxes continues in much the same vein with an eclectic mix of beautiful stories geared toward
readers of all ages. While the seven shorts, all centered around mysterious boxes,
feature excellent art and superior storytelling, several of the tales excel. The creepy
opening contribution "Under the Floorboards" by Emily Carroll, the clever "The Keeper's Treasure"
by Jason Caffoe, Rad Sechrist's charming "The Butter Thief," and Kibuishi's foreboding "The Escape
Option" showcase some of the best of the form.
A Wrinkle In Time adapted by Hope Larson (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux)
I told you I'd read a lot of YA comics work this year, both adaptations and originals, and here
we have a brazen choice of source material -- as Larson translates the beloved prose classic
into comics form. Picking it up, I thought Larson's style might be too cartoony to do the source
material justice. And after all, most of us (the one film version of the book aside) have been
living with imagined versions of these characters -- the Murry clan, Mrses. Whatsit, Who, and
Which -- in our heads for years or decades. But then, the more "tabula rasa" aspects of the
cartoon style still allows the reader to fill in their own blanks, if you will. More
importantly, Larson conveys that palpable sense you get from the book -- of characters being
drawn together in cosmically inexorable ways for a Larger Purpose than they can fathom. Reading
the graphic novel, I grew excited about the source material all over again, which is perhaps
the highest compliment you can pay.
The Comic Book History of Comics by Fred Van Lente, art by Ryan Dunlavey (IDW)
Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey, creators of the unexpected and exceptional Action Philosophers,
return to the nonfiction comics realm with this hilarious and insightful history of their chosen
medium. Much like in Philosophers, the duo effectively use exaggeration and humor. Van Lente
employs asides and one-liners. Dunlavey relies on the best techniques from his cartoonist
forebearers. Perhaps nothing benefits more from this style than the events involving EC. They manage
to display M.C. Gaines as a visionary, victim, and buffoon, often all at the same time. Though not as
thorough as other similar prose histories, The Comic Book History of Comics covers the highlights in an
energetic and exciting fashion of the convoluted, chaotic, and often tortured history in a unique
and informative manner.
Batman: Court of Owls, vol. 1 by Scott Snyder (script) and Greg Capullo (art) / Batman Noel by Lee Bermejo (DC)
There isn't a lot of superhero stuff on my list this year -- mostly because I'm admittedly behind
in my cape-and-spandex reading, what with all this retooling of universes going on. But I know there's a
lot of interesting work going on with the pantheon. I did catch up with the first collection
of Snyder & Capullo's retooled new Batman series. (or is it the "new new" Batman? Hard to keep track
of the iterations, sometimes), Snyder adds some great new sinister (and vaguely Eyes Wide Shut-like,
except with violence substituting for sex) layers to Gotham lore, with the city's 1%ers here unleashed via
a "star chamber" of sorts -- which we find has existed for decades -- which pronounces death penalties
as it sees fit, around Gotham. When Batman falls into their clutches, there's a great sequence of an
imprisoned Bats dancing on the edge of sanity -- and going over (more so than usual, I mean). Compelling
stuff, and it's all set up for the "Big Twist" which comes later in the series (though which we didn't
get to in this year's columns!)
I also wanted to give a shout-out to Batman Noel, by Lee Bermejo, which I almost put in this slot, except
that strictly speaking, it came out late last year (even if I didn't review it until my first column of this
year!) The story is set during one hard-knock, bitter Gotham winter, as an unseen "teller" recounts a Christmas
involving a skinflint boss, brutal economic conditions, and ghosts of Christmases past, present and future -- namely,
Catwoman, Superman and Joker, It's a quite moody, quite good retelling of A Christmas Carol, in Bat-terms,
and writing this now makes me realize it's time for a seasonal re-reading!
The Hive by Charles Burns (Pantheon)
Returning to the surreal universe first experienced in 2010's X'ed, Burns, creator of Black Hole
and famed contributor to the legendary anthology series Raw, expertly reveals more of Doug's intriguing
story in The Hive. As with the previous one, the beautifully disturbing, non-linear tale leaps
effortlessly between the real and unreal. Though in this installment, the lines further blur as elements
from the bizarrely apocalyptic reality and the "normal" collide. Inspired equally by the works of Hergé
and William Burroughs, Burns once again provides one of the best graphic novels of the year.
The Hive by Charles Burns (Pantheon)
What can I say? I went back to double check Rick's list to see how many spaces apart we were
on The Hive (he wasn't even sure it would be on my list!) -- and guess what!? We both had it
at Number 7! As ever, Mr. Klaw says it eloquently. We are even more weirdly through-the-looking-glass
here than we were in X'ed and you should probably read that first if you want this to even make
the most rudimentary sense. Then again, if you were after the merely linear, you probably
wouldn't be reading Burns to begin with.
Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery written by Grant Morrison, art by Frank Quitely (Vertigo)
Inspired by the long-running Charles Atlas "The Insult that made a Man out of Mac" comic book
advertisements, popular 1996 four issue series languished uncollected thanks largely to a Charles
Atlas company trademark infringement suit. The suit was eventually thrown out citing fair use in a
parody, freeing the way for this collection. Flex Mentallo, refugee from another reality, fights
crime using "muscle mystery." He can literally manipulate reality by flexing his muscles. Suddenly
other elements from Mentallo's home world pop up, spawning his quest for the truth. Simultaneously, in
typical Morrison fashion, a despondent, drug-addled artist struggles with his own reality issues. In
their first collaboration, Quitely's lush art beautifully illustrates the bizarre twists and turns of
Morrison's tale. Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery reinforces why Morrison and
Quitely (All Star Superman, Batman and Robin, JLA: Earth 2,
We3, New X-Men) are the best and most reliable tandem in comics today.
Danger Club, vol. 1: Death by Landry Q. Walker (script) and Eric Jones (art) (Image)
This is one of the "new entrants" on the list. I'd been reading this in single issues throughout
the year (tipped to it by my comics-writing son), and it's pretty engaging stuff. Especially if you're
a fan of superhero deconstruction stories. And particularly if you're a fan of,
say, Rick Veitch's Brat Pack, as this too also deals with the very dark side of being a
sidekick. In this case, the premise is, essentially, what if the Justice League (and/or Avengers -- there
are ideas/tropes/ doppelgangers from each) disappeared, leaving only their teen sidekicks to fill the
superhero niche. While trying to figure out, at the same time, why the heroes have vanished. It's a good
mystery, and the instantaneous betrayals and falling-out among the Danger Clubbers -- imagine a really
bitchy, hormonal high school where everyone has superpowers -- makes for a very compelling read. And
this review is going out before the new, 5th issue comes out (the book collects issues 1-4), so I'm
still waiting to see what happens next.
I also want to note the recent passing of fabled Zap! Comix artist Spain Rodriguez, whose work I grew up
reading, mostly at newsstands, all over my native Berkeley, back in those fabled 60s and 70s. We'll have
more about that work in one of our new year's columns, but for now, if his pissed-off revolutionary street
hero Trashman wore a hat, we'd tip one just like it. Except of course, Trashman just had a big mane of
hair. And I've lost a wee bit of mine, since those newsstand reading days.
Meanwhile, that's all folks, until we get to the "final five" when it is Rick's
turn in two weeks! Happy seasonal light, wherever you may find it!
Professional reviewer, geek maven, and optimistic curmudgeon, Rick Klaw has supplied
countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications
The Austin Chronicle,
The San Antonio Current,
The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Moving Pictures
RevolutionSF, King Kong Is Back!, Conversations
With Texas Writers, Farscape Forever, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains
Universe, and Steampunk. MonkeyBrain Books published the collection of his essays, reviews,
and other things Klaw, Geek
Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century.
He can often be found pontificating on Twitter
and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.
Mark London Williams wrote the Danger Boy time travel series,
all of which are on sale, for 99 cents a download, until "Twelfth Night." (That will be a theme in the series finale,
due to be released in summer of 2013). Info on his work can be found atmarklondonwilliams.com. His story "Greystone"
about L.A., magic, silent movies, and hippies on the Sunset Strip, just appeared in the "Magical Mayhem" anthology.
He gets Twittery @mlondonwmz.