By Dan Horn
June 30, 2011 - 11:50
While I've come to the painful realization that the prototypical exercise of listing one's favorite things has become nothing short of exhausted over the years, I myself am not immune to the charms of enumerating great comic books, music, television shows, and other pop-culture oddities. Neither are some of my other co-writers who have contributed a few of their picks for exemplary works within those fields in the first half of the year. So without any further adieu, The Comic Book Bin's Best of 2011 (Thus Far)!
Finally someone managed to make The Fantastic Four an interesting and engaging read again. Jonathan Hickman's run on Fantastic Four actually got me interested in a book that I've never read seriously and only was peripherally aware that it was still being published. Now with FF (Future Foundation) Hickman continues to bring new life and interesting situations and ideas to the Marvel Universe's First Family.
The Mission (Image Comics)
Psychological supernatural horror of the rare kind these days in comics, The Mission is relatively light on blood, gore, and dismemberment. The Mission is the story of a man and his seemingly God given mission to kill people he doesn't even know or suffer severe consequences, like strangely appearing hereditary cancer. Given orders by a mysterious man named "Gabe," who might just be THE Gabriel of the Heavenly Host, and not much by way of explanation or positive motivation, Paul is told he's on the side of the angels, but would the angels go so far as Gabe does to get things done? The perfect alternative to mainstream splatter horror and superhero comics, The Mission is just one of Image Comics' growing line of intelligent alternative comics. If they keep this up, they just might give DC Comics' Vertigo a run for its money.
How does one follow up a work that was so good and thought provoking that it was quickly made into a big screen movie starring Bruce Willis? Surrogates writer Robert Venditti does so by writing a story that should be made into a big screen movie even faster. The Homeland Directive is a top notch political thriller that not only makes some profound statements on the politics of fear and freedom vs. security, it reads so cinematically that one can almost hear the projector sprockets clicking away in the background. Powerful characters, shadowy and overpowering government bad guys, and a thrilling game of cat and mouse the consequences of which border on the apocalyptic, The Homeland Directive has it all except a stamp on the cover stating "Now a Major Motion Picture!" Hopefully, it will have this going for it soon too.
He might be a bit long winded and takes his time getting to the point in his stories, but the man is single handedly resurrecting the Fantastic Four from the doldrums, weaving an entire new and intricate history of the Marvel Universe in S.H.I.E.L.D. and bringing to a close the most interesting series to spin out of Marvel Comics' mega crossover events of the past few years, Secret Warriors. Mythology, occultism, mystery, science fiction, magic, and super technology and top notch intelligent storytelling all combine in varying degrees in his three major Marvel Comics works, and every one of them are must reads.
X-Men: First Class
In a year packed with comic book movies, X-Men: First Class is hands down the best. In fact, it is the best comic book movie ever made next to The Dark Knight. Yes, it really is that good. Getting back to the roots of the whole Marvel Comics' mutant metaphor, X-Men: First Class not only is poignant in theme, it is packed with excellent special effects, a retro-1960s setting which harkens back to the dawn of the Marvel Age in print, and the best acting in a superhero movie ever (again with the only exception being The Dark Knight). This one has it all: intelligent, thought provoking, moving, uplifting, and hopeful idealism tempered with some dark realism, X-Men: First Class isn't just a great comic book movie. It's a great movie. Period.
A perfect jumping on point that shakes up the X-Universe's status quo without ditching it entirely. Cyclops and Wolverine go ideologically head to head over the best course of action the X-Men should take in order to continue and promote Xavier's Dream. Splits, reintroductions, and claw slashes vs. force beams will be the norm this Fall as SCHISM gets under way. Looks like for all the faults Marvel Comics' exhibits overall, they still know how to get quality movies made out of their properties and launch long lived characters in new directions intelligently without having to reboot their entire comic book hero universe. Kudos.
Most Dreaded Event of 2011: The DCU Reboot.
I've said pretty much all I can say on this potentially disastrous move by the biggest and longest lived publisher of some of the most iconic heroes of all time. Let me make one thing expressly clear: I want it to work. I just don't think that the radical changes, and the retro-1990s artistic and thematic injection of "energy" into characters like Superman, Superboy, Supergirl, and The Teen Titans is necessary or even right. I'm seriously afraid that we aren't going to recognize these characters come September and even worse...won't care that we don't. The 1990s are over. X-Men are still big, and they ruled the 1980s and 1990s true, but pick up any X-Men comic now. None look like a bad copy of their 1990s visual incarnations. Jim Lee's art was, and still is, great and groundbreaking...but a rehash of what we've already seen...and moved on from isn't the way to the future.
Best Rock Album Thus Far in 2011
Have to say that Foo Fighters' return to the record shelves, or more aptly to iTunes downloader, is easily the best rock album so far this year. It's fantastic single "Walk" was included in the spectacularly good Thor this year, and it has quickly become the soundtrack to my summer 2011. It's great to see the old grunge vets still rocking out and carrying the rock flame brightly into the future. Check back for The Bin's Best of The Year though...the new Red Hot Chili Peppers album, due on August 30th, just might unseat the Foo's mighty Wasting Light. Stay tuned...
S.H.I.E.L.D.: Architects of Forever (Marvel Comics)
Typically lead by Nick Fury, SHIELD has always been the U.N.-sanctioned backbone of the Marvel comic book world, dealing repeatedly with superhuman threats since 1965. Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver's "too good to pass up" ongoing series dares to explain the super secret origin of the spy organization. Part recounting of fictionalized history, part conspiracy theory, and part detailing the fringes of war, "Architects of Forever" is one very appetizing piece of a much larger puzzle. Those of you familiar with the format of the TV show Lost or the works of Grant Morrison will feel right at home. Unlike most books that attempt to reassert long-standing properties, SHIELD goes beyond the hyperbole of your standard universe reshuffling. It's a series that not only examines and elaborates on the Marvel U. but dares to realize the full potential of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's creative trailblazing from the 1960s.
Superman: The Black Ring Vol. 1 (DC Comics)
There is a belief that a hero is only as good as his villain. With that understood, whoever opposes the Man of Stale (yeah, I said it) has to be a diabolical stand out in order to counteract Superman’s blandness. Enter: Superman: The Black Ring, a testament to the arch-enemy to end all arch-enemies and (for my money) the most engaging aspect of Big Blue's mythos: Lex Luthor.
After I read his work on Wisdom and Captain Britain and MI-13, writer Paul Cornell made my short list of favorite writers pretty quickly. Now, with Superman: The Black Ring, Cornell joins Brian Azzarello, Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns and Richard Donner on another list: The list of creators that can actually make me enjoy a Superman comic.
Daytripper Collection (Vertigo)
There is life after death for Bras de Olivia Domingos. After wasting his entire writing career typing obituaries for Brazil's dearly departed, Bras meets his own untimely death (oh, stop whining...it's not a spoiler). A lifetime of missed opportunities means an afterlife of re-experiencing each and every one of those mistakes. However, this personal hell also comes with a side alley that features a life fulfilled.
With Daytripper, Brazillian brothers Gabriel Ba (The Umbrella Academy) and Fabio Moon (Casanova) are only interested in talking to you. In exchange, they ask for nothing more than your thoughts on culture, fortuity, death, family, life, self-worth, and love (okay...and $19.99 before taxes).
It's such a personable storytelling experience that, by the time you reach the final chapter, you truly do feel connected to Bras de Olivia Domingos (for my money, Domingos rates up there with Peter Parker in terms of relatable everyman status). Moon and Ba eloquently allow their graphic novel to be a conversation between the creator and the consumer and Daytripper is definitely a book worth sharing and discussing.
The Sixth Gun Book 1: Cold Dead Fingers (Oni Press)
In life, Hume was a real bastard --- an amazing war strategist that became the stuff of Union nightmares. Despite his boogey man status, Hume didn't escape Northern aggression, but he did escape the after-life by manipulating the dark arts. Resurrected by his ageless wife, Oilandar is in pursuit of one of six guns that can unlock a “treasure” buried inside an abandoned war prison. In his way is Drake Sinclair, a former member of Hume’s posse turned ghost/bronco buster.
The Sixth Gun feels like a western but is paced like a big-budget blockbuster. The action is consistent and furious (especially its massive finale) and is supported nicely by Hurtt’s sense of motion and distinguishable character designs. It’s evident that the writer and artist are totally in sync (they previously worked together on The Damned) and that this series will honor the struggling Western comic book genre by injecting it with infectious enthusiasm and tons of atmosphere.
Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth (Image Comics)
The book’s six-year-old writer (Malachai Nicolle) is fortunate enough to have no preconceived notions about story structure (admirably enough though, you can tell he's figuring it out). This lack of concern takes Axe Cop and Dinosaur Soldier on a journey that involves talking hammers, psychic giants, a good guy machine, Hard Boiled-inspired dinosaur action, ninja brains, lobster men, local law enforcement, and, yes...a Bad Guy Earth.
Surprisingly, all this madness seems to build to a truly epic conclusion despite the book’s constant narrative shifting (props to Editor Shawna Gore for making all of it stick). Malachai's free-wheeling imagination is underlined perfectly by his older brother's visual sense of humor. Together, they've created a book that distances itself from the barrage of mediocre titles that congest the shelves, and rises to the challenge set by some of comic's contemporary imaginers.
Aaron and Ahmed (Vertigo)
Jay Cantor (writer) and James Romberger (artist) tell a story so encompassing that it is able to punctuate tragedy with dark humor, paranoia with unpredictability, and provide an alternative perspective without alienating (although, I'm sure someone will find something to complain about). All this provides the reader with a very strong argument. One that broadly states that, whether it be a war of politics or a war of faith, the recruitment process all boils down to courting.
The Walking Dead (Televison)
The Walking Dead was one of the standout TV shows of the year so far. We didn't get it in the UK until April, and it was a looong wait and myself and many others had to be very patient. When they say patience is its own reward, this is the kind of show that lets you know that 'they' are so very right. Well acted, produced and directed, this was a veritable gem of a show. I can't wait for the 13 - part second series to be aired, so that we can get it over here afterwards!
Detective Comics (DC Comics)
This is easily the best run of Detective Comics in over twenty years. It may very well be the best Batman story in just as long. Snyder, Francavilla, Jock, and Baron have crafted a taut, textured noire saga that does something truly incredible: it lives up to the title's namesake. Balancing a suspenseful, perplexing subplot and signature Dark Knight exploits into the seediest corners of Gotham with a rotating cast and keen character studies, Snyder gives Jock and Francavilla the perfect canvas on which to detail their macabre epic.
Remender is a sort of comic book enigma. He came from indie success to mainstream and immediately set about blurring the line between his raucous Image work on titles like FEAR Agent and his Marvel work on heroes like Punisher, Venom, and the cast of Uncanny X-Force. He brought a certain measure of modishly modern humanity to each character, a depth that transcended comic book norms, an inquest of violence and its psychological repercussions, while simultaneously reveling in archetypal comic badassery. Punisher: In the Blood, Venom, and Uncanny X-Force were some of the best books of 2011 thus far by leaps and bounds, and so I had to give credit to Rick Remender for bringing readers these near-perfect comics.
Breaking Bad Season 3 on BluRay
While not sporting the earmark congruous episode openers of the first twenty-six chapters, Breaking Bad's third season embodies all of the dark drama and disturbing humor that made this show the best (hyperbole not included) series on television. AMC's vanguard crime saga stars Bryan Cranston in an Emmy-winning performance as Walter White, an insolvent high school chemistry teacher who's been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. After a fateful ride-along with his DEA brother-in-law, Walter resolves to cook the purest crystal meth Albuquerque has ever seen in order to leave behind some money for his wife Skylar, his son Walt, Jr., and his unborn daughter in the event of his death. To accomplish his goal he enlists his junkie former student Jesse Pinkman, brilliantly portrayed by Aaron Paul. All sorts of shit hits the proverbial fan in the first two seasons, landing Walter in the drug manufacturing equivalent of The Show and Jesse in rehab at the opening of season three. This year starts off admittedly slow when compared with the previous installments of the series, season three guided by a dizzying amount of strategic posturing and maneuvering, but the flourish of violence and emotion in the closing two chapters is a gut punch that rivals the best moments of the two previous terms. The episode title "Kafkaesque" could adequately sum up the entirety of this sublimely cynical tragedy. Breaking Bad is as insanely addicting as the crystal it chronicles. Season four begins July 17, 2011!
Workaholics (Television series)
This year really seemed to be the year of Image Comics. Sure The Walking Dead, Invincible, Morning Glories, and other great series have put Image Comics at the forefront of indie comics before, but 2011 saw Image Comics transition into a creative powerhouse, churning out myriad books with a consistent quality, however divergent these books' themes were. Gladstone's, Green Wake, Infinite Vacation, Super Dinosaur, Who Is Jake Ellis, The Mission, Intrepids, Axe Cop, Witch Doctor, and so on: it's honestly a bit overwhelming and nearly implausible to keep up with all of these fantastic titles. Look at those books I've just listed and tell me that doesn't rival the amount of books in your pull list that come from Marvel or DC. The first half of 2011 belongs to Image Comics.
The Unwritten (Vertigo)
I have a real soft spot for the creative team of Carey and Gross. You see, being a bit younger, my tastes for "grown-up" comic books really hadn't developed until well after guys like Gaiman and Morrison had changed the landscape of comic books forever. At that time The Avengers, The Mighty Thor, Batman, etc. etc. composed what I still held to believe in my naive prepubescent mind to be all that comic books could ever amount to. It wasn't until junior high school that I would discover Mike Carey's Lucifer series, a mature, ethereal epic that would come to include the artistic talents of The Unwritten coconspirator Peter Gross.
The Unwritten is definitely a departure from Lucifer's phantasmagoria of pervasively strange and disturbing motifs and imagery. A lighter fantasy, which isn't saying much, considering the comparison and the metaphysical climes The Unwritten braves, Carey and Gross's The Unwritten is a staggeringly comprehensive serialized thriller that uses all of literature as an expansive backdrop.
The Iron Age (Marvel Comics)
If you've ever thought that Marvel's continuity isn't half as vibrant as DC Comics', The Iron Age will happily prove you wrong. Pitting Tony Stark against a B-list villain that eventually destroys the world, this time-travelling adventure does for the Marvel U what the Booster Gold series did for DC. And c'mon, sober Tony Stark having to put up with drunk degenerate Tony Stark, and then sober Tony trying to convince The Avengers that he's not drunk; he's from the future? Well, that's just a stroke of genius. I only wish that this series would be longer, but it's also refreshing that it's so terse. This is the epitome of what a fun, summer comic event should be, something that Flashpoint could have taken a few pointers from.