Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best of 2013 Comics - Collected Editions

No notes this time, because there's just too many and I ran out of time. But here's a list of 25:

1. Daredevil Vol 1 HC
2. Hawkeye HC
3. Black Beetle Vol 1 HC
4. Saga Vol 2 TP
5. Sixth Gun Deluxe HC
6. Absolute Top 10
7. Solo HC
8. Chew Omnivore Vol 3 HC
9. Thor The Mighty Avenger Complete TP
10. Complete RASL
11. Revival Vol 1 HC
12. Hellboy Library Vol 6 HC
13. Avatar Last Airbender The Promise Library Edition
14. Marshal Law Deluxe HC
15. Scott Pilgrim Vol 3-4 HC
16. Courtney Crumrin Vol 3-4 HC
17. Daredevil Vol 4-6 HC
18. Oz Road to Oz HC
19. Mind Mgmt Vol 2 HC
20. One Trick Ripoff HC
21. Godzilla Half Century War TP
22. Star Wars Agent of the Empire Hard Targets TP
23. Uzumaki HC
24. Planetoid TP
25. Superman Family Adventures Vol 1 TP

The New Year's Resolutions Post 2013-2014 edition

It's that time of year. In a couple hours, I'll be having dinner with my wife and several friends, a couple hours after that I'll be at a party with another group of friends and an hour after that I'll be singing karaoke with another group of friends. And the next day, I'll be having lunch and playing boardgames with yet another group of friends. And in the course of all that, there will still be people I love that I don't get to see until the New Year. I'm spoiled rotten in terms of the number of friends and loved ones I've got surrounding me.

2013 was a really shitty year in some ways (surgical recovery is no fun, and involved many trips to the hospital where I started to wonder if I'd ever feel well again, and finding out that the cancer was still there after the surgery is a pretty giant bummer) and a really great one in others (finally did recover enough to feel more like myself, made new friends, saw a few friends get into great new relationships, had a really good year for the store, spent a lot of time with friends and family, played a lot of great games, read a lot of great comics, watched a lot of great TV and ate a lot of great food). On balance, even with cancer having sort of a heavy thumb on the negative side of the scale, I'd have to say this was a pretty good year.

Last year's resolutions:

1. Don't get any major diseases - Whoops. But the cancer is technically a resurgence, not a new disease, so maybe I get credit there?

2. Recover from the surgery - More or less. Still occasional pain, and parts of me just won't ever work the same or have been actually removed, but I'm in much better shape now than I was in January 2013.

So... resolutions to make 2014 even better? Here we go:

1. Don't die. It's clear that "not getting sick" isn't really in my wheelhouse now. So I'm gonna lower the bar a bit.

2. If I do die, regenerate as a ginger. Wait... that's actually from The Doctor's resolutions list. Scratch that.

3. Learn Spanish. This is the outlier, I'm not sure I actually have the inclination/time to pull this off, but I want to try maybe some sort of audiobook-in-car type program or something. One, because there's a fair amount of Spanish spoken in Texas and it could be handy. Two, because I'd like to visit Spain and it'd be a hell of a lot easier if I spoke Spanish. Three, if I can show my kids that even after forty you can learn a new language, maybe it'll encourage them... I sure wish I'd learned other languages when I was younger and it was theoretically easier.

4. Read at least 12 books. Book books, without pictures. One book a month. I can do that. It's kinda sad that I haven't been able to do it in the last couple years.

5. Be 10% less of an asshole. We all have our moments. I'll hope to have fewer of them.

6. Spend time with as many of my friends as possible, as much as possible. I've been doing this one, actually, but more of it. More lunches, more movie nights, more game nights, just more time with the people I love.

7. Play at least 12 new board/card games this year. For someone who owns a game store, I play woefully few new games each year. I think this year I tried out Legendary, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game and Carcassonne South Seas, the latter really being more of a variation on one I already played. One new game a month seems doable.

8. Stay under 200 lbs. Actually, if possible I'd like to get back down to 170 or so, but with my weight creeping up to 195 lbs., it's time to start seriously cutting back on snacks and exercising more. After how much weight I lost when I was sick, it's good to be back to something more normalish, but I don't want to have to buy bigger size shorts, jeans, t-shirts, etc.

9. Go bike riding with my kids. Both my kids got bikes for Christmas. I really need to get mine fixed up (or get a new one) and go out on rides with them.

10. Travel. I've been too sick to go anywhere for a couple years now. We've got a little money, and so I want to take a trip this year. Maybe for our 15th wedding anniversary in May, maybe to a comic convention I haven't attended, maybe out of the country, maybe all three. New Orleans, Denver, Disney, Spain, Italy, France, Heroes Con, Emerald City Con,one of the cons in Toronto, these are all possible destinations.

That's it. Happy New Year to everybody, I'll hopefully be checking in monthly on progress of the books/games resolutions and on the other ones as well.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Best of 2013 Comics - Original Graphic Novels

1. Bandette Vol 1 HC
OK, maybe this is cheating, because it was digital first, and technically could be called a collection, but... it's my list, and I'm cheating. Bandette is a fantastic new tale of a young thief with a European flair, with elements of Tin Tin in the mix, really fun and light and inventive. Gorgeous art by Colleen Coover, who I've always liked but who has done some really amazing stuff with her colors here in particular, and she and her husband Paul Tobin have created a super-fun cast of characters in Bandette, her urchins, rival thieves, gangs of assassins and so much more.

2. Bad Houses
Sara Ryan has not written a lot of comics, but I've loved every one she has written, so I hope that changes in the near future. Some of the best characters in the business with intricate, well thought-out plots about the simple (and not-so-simple) interactions of human lives along with fascinating settings, from a high school drama department (in her mini Me & Edith Head) to a small Oregon town and the business of estate sales. Mix with art from unsung Indy art hero Carla Speed McNeil, whose epic Sci-Fi/fantasy series Finder I sorely miss, and you've got one of the best graphic novels of 2013

3. Monster on the Hill
1860s England, each town has their own monster, and the folks at Stoker-on-Avon are not super-keen on theirs. But when they draw the attention of a really dangerous monster, a young boy needs to convince the monster to show a little pride and defend his town. All-ages fun with fantastic art by newcomer Rob Harrell, this was a big surprise for me this year.

4. Parker: Slayground
Darwyn Cooke's adaptation of Richard Stark's novels are always favorite reads of mine. This one is a smaller story than the previous ones, with master thief Parker stuck in a closed amusement park with the take from an armored car heist and some corrupt cops and crooks ready to come in and take it from him. The smaller scale doesn't really hurt it, and there's some really nifty elements here, like a full map of the park and some inventive traps from Parker. It's like Home Alone, but with a hardened criminal instead of... no, I guess it's just like Home Alone.

5. We Can Fix It
Jess Fink's smutty steampunk tale Chester 5000 was one of my favorites, and her follow-up, a "time travel" memoir that answers the question we've all theoretically asked ourselves, "What mistakes would I try to fix that young me made if I had a time machine?" Sexy and funny with great cartooning, it's a joy to read and I can't wait to see what Fink does next.

6. DC Super-Pets Encyclopedia
Did you know that Captain Boomerang has a pet koala? How about Solomon Grundy's Pogo-inspired swamp crew? That is only a few of the characters covered in this super cheap ($8 for a big 'ol color book) of Super Pets, which ranges from the familiar (Comet, Beppo) to the invented, all courtesy of Tiny Titans co-creator Art Baltazar. This one should go in every kids' stocking at Christmas this year.

7. Boxers & Saints
Gene Luen Yang's two volume tale of the Boxer Rebellion is a historical period I didn't know much about, told in a unique way with each volume being a different perspective, and some interesting magical realism, particularly in the Boxers volume. I've enjoyed a lot of Yang's work, and this one, a mix of history, fantasy, interesting characters and pretty uncompromising storytelling, is no exception.

8. Battling Boy
A great read, reminiscent of Grant Morrison or Alan Moore's ABC work, with Pope doing amazing art as usual and some fun world building to boot. It's only the first chapter in a longer work, which may turn out fine but given how long this took, I'm not sure when we'll see volume two or if we'll ever see an ending. If this is chapter one of a superhero masterpiece, that'll be great. If it's the teaser for an unfinished tale with more questions and potential than answers and resolution, it'll have to settle for merely "really damn good."

9. Heck
10. Crater XV
These two were the tales from awesome digital collection Double Barrel, one a sequel to Kevin Cannon's tale of Canadian seafaring arctic adventure (you heard me!) and the other a story of a guy who can go into Hell on business for clients, this time an ex-girlfriend who wants to communicate with her dead husband, by Zander Cannon. Great cartooning, unusual premises and lots of twists and turns in the stories, plus the usual strong Top Shelf production values.

Just outside the top 10 list are a new volume of Fred Chao's Johnny Hiro Skills to Pay the Bills and the colorful pulpy adventure Delilah Durk and the Turkish Lieutenant from First Second.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Best of 2013 Comics - Ongoing Series

I could only put together a top 8 of ongoing series for 2013. Part of this is that a lot of my reading has switched to collected editions, so I'm not really keeping up with, say, Sixth Gun or Hellboy. Part of it is that a lot of the single issue series I read this issue were new, and are covered on my Best New Series list. And part of it is that a lot of what DC and Marvel publish just doesn't interest me these days. There are certainly other books I read, and even like, but not enough to consider them "Best Of" material.

1. Saga (#9-17)
Saga's second year is just as successful as its first. The second story arc fleshed out more of the early days of Alana and Marko while developing Marko's parents into very interesting supporting cast members, not to mention further expanding on their nemeses The Will and Prince Robot IV and introducing new supporting character Oswald Heist. The third story arc, which won't wrap until 2014, is a quieter story, letting the main characters catch their breath and talk about their pasts a bit  more while their enemies face their own difficulties and continue to close in on them. Saga continues to be a rich, expansive world with some of the best characters in comics.

2. Daredevil (#22-33)
Kicking off the year with a great use of Superior Spider-Man, and then leads into the culmination of everything Waid has been building to with new foe Ikari and the revelation of who's behind both him and indeed much of what's been going on for the first 25 issues of the run. After that, the story adds in a new Sons of the Serpent tale, a really fun one-shot with Silver Surfer, and continues to deal with Foggy's cancer. Chris Samnee's art is as terrific as always, and as the book goes into what we now know will be a close and relaunch, it's easy to rank this with the great runs of Bendis, Brubaker and Miller.

3. Hawkeye (#7-14)
Matt Fraction was on fire with this book, and the fantastic artwork by David Aja was supplemented by issues from Javier Pulido and Francesco Francavilla. There's the continuing story of Hawkeye vs. the Russian mobsters, and there are also a ton of great standalones, from the New York hurricane issue to the story of the harlequin-styled assassin to the experimental and awesome Pizza Dog issue. There was an unfortunate delay in the middle of the year, but it came back strong with a two-parter focusing on Kate Bishop's adventures in L.A.

4. Chew (#31-38)
After the death of a major character, Chew's "Bad Apples" story finds Tony Chu in a vendetta kind of mood, and it's a different side of the character that I liked a lot. The second part of the year finds us halfway through "Family Recipe," which continues to shed light on the expansive Chu clan. As always, the book is weird, beautiful to look at and always a lot of fun, but there's a really interesting underlying plot and serious character work going on as well.

5. Fatale (#13-18)
Fatale, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' noir/horror book, opened 2013 with one of my favorite issues of the run, a flashback to the lead character in the old west, followed by a World War II flashback, before returning to a modern-day story that deals heavily with bank-robbing musicians at the height of '90s grunge. It's got some labyrthine plotting and characters who could probably stand to pop a little more in each issue, such that I really prefer it in chunks of trade paperback storytelling, but it's always a great read.

6. Revival (#6-16)
I really enjoyed Revival from the outset, but this year the book got its hooks deeper into me, as Seeley and Norton further develop their cast and start shedding a little more light on the "ghosts" haunting the town, all while moving forward the various stories of the Revived characters we know and mixing in some real suspense with a group of criminal lowlives, a paranoid survivalist and lots more. Like Fatale and Manhattan Projects on this list, it's best enjoyed in trade paperbacks, but it's good stuff that I keep up with monthly as well.

7. Indestructible Hulk (#3-15)
Waid's take on Hulk is not as amazing as his run on Daredevil, but it's a solid premise (Banner joins SHIELD as a science advisor/WMD) and this year's run has taken the book to some interesting places. Most notably a time travel trip to Asgard with art by Walt Simonson, which was the best arc of the book so far. It suffers a bit from not having the same caliber of artists as Daredevil, with Leinil Francis Yu being a little hard-to-read and Matteo Scalera being solid but not much more, but it's full of great ideas, from the aforementioned Asgard arc to the extended time travel story that took up most of the year.

8. Manhattan Projects (#7-16)
To be honest, I have almost moved to reading this one in trade, because it's gotten so dense in its second year that I'm having trouble remembering all the characters and plotlines on an issue-per-issue basis. But Hickman's sheer level of wacky insanity using famous scientists and Nick Pitara's detailed, beautiful artwork make it a favorite of mine. It's got Hickman's usual scope with a more playful and less serious tone.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Best of 2013 Comics: Best New Series

It was a damn good year for new comics, especially Image Comics, which has a full half of the top 10 this year.

1. Sex Criminals #1-3 (Image Comics)
Not only is this my favorite new series of the year, nothing else really even comes close. Black Beetle and Afterlife with Archie (the next two in line) both have Francesco Francavilla art, which is awesome, but neither is as inventive, as crazy weird and as much damn fun as Sex Criminals. And given that those two books feature pure perfect pulp and a zombie apocalypse in Riverdale, that is saying something. Fraction has unleashed the dirtiest part of his mind and Chip Zdarsky sort of lives in that headspace, and the result is this book about two young lovers who can stop time when they have orgasms and naturally decide to rob banks. That's all we know from there, there have only been three issues, but c'mon... isn't that enough? No? How about almost an entire issue devoted to an inventive and hilarious karaoke rendition of Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls?" How about it's so dirty iTunes banned it, and it's so popular it's in multiple printings? I love, love, love this book so much.

2. Black Beetle #1-4 (Dark Horse Comics)
Black Beetle is technically a miniseries, beginning in Dark Horse Presents and continuing in this four issue miniseries, but since the next mini, Necrologue, is hitting next year, I'm inclined to call it an ongoing. The biggest thing Black Beetle has going for it is Francesco Francavilla's inky, gorgeous artwork and stunning Eisner-esque layouts. But it's also a brand new pulp character that feels like he could fit right alongside The Shadow, Green Hornet and the rest. While Dynamite is producing solid but largely unremarkable new tales of the pulp icons, Francavilla has nailed the exact tone and style of those characters with his new creation.

3. Afterlife with Archie #1-2 (Archie Comics)
What could easily have been a dumb gimmick has, at least so far, been a dark, moody zombie apocalypse that gets bonus points for using the extensive Riverdale cast and locale. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is not a writer I've been a huge fan of, but his history with Archie (he had a play, Archie's Weird Fantasy, which depicted Riverdale's most famous resident coming out of the closet and moving to New York, before Archie Comics shut it down) shows through here, as he subverts the original characters while simultaneously getting to the heart of their concept, and Francesco Francavilla delivers spooky, beautiful artwork that accentuates the iconic nature of the cast and the horrific nature of the zombie apocalypse.

4. Superior Foes of Spider-Man #1-6 (Marvel Comics)
Honestly, I'd have given this one a spot just for a welcome monthly dose of Steve Lieber's artwork, but even better, Superior Foes is the sad sack loser supervillain flipside to Marvel's Hawkeye series. Nick Spencer occasionally verges on too-snarky for me, but it's hard to complain about Boomerang, Speed Demon and the rest being portrayed as kinda losers. It's sort of an Elmore Leonard take on supervillains, and it really is must-reading for those enjoying Hawkeye and Daredevil at Marvel.

5. Velvet #1-2  (Image Comics)
Too early to really tell the future for this one, but this '60s espionage piece by the Captain America creative team of Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting is off to a strong start, with great action and conspiracy plotting plus gorgeous, gorgeous artwork.

6. Lazarus #1-5  (Image Comics)
I occasionally feel like I'm getting lost in the depth of Greg Rucka's politically-aware sci-fi world, as he's taking a William Gibson-esque "throw you in the deep end" approach, but there's no denying that the near-future world of Lazarus is smart, compelling and a little too plausible for comfort. Michael Lark is a terrific talent whose realistic style complements Rucka's down-to-earth narrative (if you can call a book about an unkillable corporate soldier down-to-earth, and I can, it's my list) and I feel like at five issues, we've just barely dipped our toe into the water here.

7. Injustice Gods Among Us #1-11 (DC Comics)
This one is a surprise. It starts with Joker murdering Lois Lane along with a lot of Metropolis and Superman retaliating by killing the Joker. It's dark, based on the ugly-as-hell designs of the Injustice video game and seems like the kind of thing that, tonally, would not be up my alley. But Tom Taylor's moment-to-moment writing, especially on one of my favorite characters, Green Arrow, gets the DC Universe in a way that not even a single New 52 creator has, and this Elseworlds tale of what happens when Superman and Batman are pushed to far reminds me of everything I liked about Kingdom Come. I wish the art was stronger and more consistent and not married to some really awful designs, but I can forgive a lot, especially when you've got the weirdly perfect and unexpected relationship of Green Arrow and Harley Quinn. Check out the annual, where Harley Quinn and Lobo go head-to-head (in another unexpectedly perfect pairing), to get a sense of the series at its best.

8. Alex + Ada #1-2  (Image Comics)
Another new series that could peter out before it earns it's top 10 spot, but the first two issues, featuring art by Jonathan Luna and co-writing from Sara Vaughn, are really intriguing stuff. A future with telepathic instant messaging and companion robots and a young man who finds himself dealing with both bits of technology leads to a strong, character-driven story with plenty of neat things to say about what it means to be human in a world where technology is blurring the lines.

9. Superior Spider-Man #1-24 (Marvel Comics)
I know a few of my friends might disown me after seeing this on my top 10, but despite the godawful premise (Doctor Octopus takes over Peter Parker's body), the frustrating defensive arrogance that Dan Slott keeps showing online (although after you get a few death threats, I think you can forgive being a bit prickly about fan reaction) and the constantly-changing art team, there's more here I like than don't. A new relationship between Spidey and Jonah, a reinvented Peter Parker (and Spider-Man), a guest turn by Spider-Man 2099, a gang of Goblins both Green and Hob... every issue there's something that makes me groan, but there's also something that I think is interesting or cool. Like pretty much everyone else, I'm marking time until we get the real Spider-Man back, but honestly, I'm kind of enjoying this as a temporary diversion.

10. East of West #1-7 (Image Comics)
This one almost doesn't make the list because I'm starting to feel the same spinning out of plot that has happened with all of Jonathan Hickman's work for me, but... the premise and world is so interesting, the art is so good that even if I wind up losing track before the end, I'm always going to love the promise that this post-apocalyptic western about the Four Horsemen had at the start.

Also in contention: Image's Burn The Orphanage #1-2 is a fun take on videogame tropes, Trillium #1-5 is a strange experiment in sci-fi comics from Jeff Lemire and Vertigo, Rat Queens #1-3 is a fun D&D-esque fantasy tale from Kurtis Wiebe and Roc Upchurch, and Itty Bitty Hellboy #1-3 is the Hellboy universe from Tiny Titans and Aw Yeah! creators Franco and Art Baltazar. All just narrowly missed the top 10.