What a turbulent year for comics! One of the biggest publishers in the industry decided to start its entire line over from scratch, one of the biggest outlets for graphic novels went out of business, and companies across the industry are scrambling to figure out the right balance between digital and print editions. But with turbulence comes change, and change is the catalyst for the birth of something new. As a result, there were plenty of new books to choose from for this year’s Best New Books list, and yet we must narrow them down to 10. George Carlin said so.
#10 – Action Comics
The appearance of Action Comics on this list really sets the tone for this year; how can one of the most venerable titles in the history of comicdom be considered new? And yet that’s just what Grant Morrison and Rags Morales have accomplished, not just with the title, but with its main character, Superman. For years, Superman was considered the ultimate boyscout, the safe, friendly superhero, champion of law and order, protector of the status quo. But that’s not what his creators intended, and Morrison and Co. have recognized that, transforming him into a two-fisted brawler who is not afraid to take on the corruption and evil in society, even when they are protected by the law. To Morrison’s Superman, Truth, Justice, and the American Way is more than just a slogan; it means that when a system fails to respect its own people, it’s time for a revolution– and Superman just happens to have the ability to start one single-handedly.
Not to be confused with The Boys miniseries of a similar name (although that too is a great read), this series from Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston has to be seen to be believed. Casey likes to take his stories over the top, and Butcher Baker doesn’t disappoint. Imagine Smokey & The Bandit taking place on several different levels of reality, and you begin to get a hint of the insanity that is being provided here. The protagonist, Butcher Baker, makes the Watchmen‘s Comedian look temperate by comparison, putting him to shame in both the sex and violence departments. And seeing Mike Huddleston depict the wild shifts in characters and settings makes it hard to imagine anyone else drawing this book; his style is at times reminiscent of the best of Sam Kieth, but with a distinct flavor that he makes his own. Just pure fun and madness, and highly recommended to anyone looking for a roller coaster ride of comic.
Gladstone’s School For World Conquerors is one of those series that plays its cards close to the vest; initially starting off with a fun but uncomplicated premise– what if there were a school to train the next generation of super-villains? And it seemed initially as if it would solely be focusing on the humorous aspects of growing up a supervillain-in-training. But as the series has continued, we’ve learned there’s a lot more to it than that. The kids of the school are actually a diverse bunch with differing motivations; a recurring theme is the desire to please their parents, many of whom are supervillains themselves. Some kids take supervillainy more seriously than others, and they have varying degrees of a moral code, which leads to some hard situations for them, particularly given the revelations in subsequent issues. Mark Andrew Smith and Armando Villavert clearly have a lot more up their sleeves for this series, so I was pleased to hear that a second 6-issue miniseries will be forthcoming, following the B.P.R.D. model. For once, going back to school will be fun.
#7 – Batman
Scott Snyder started this year in the midst of his acclaimed “Black Mirror” arc in Detective Comics, but then the DC relaunch happened, which allows me to put Snyder’s work on the relaunched Batman on this list. And it’s good thing too, because Snyder has been doing consistently amazing work with the character, and I’d hate to have to overlook it because of a technicality. Not slacking off at all from the intense “Black Mirror”, Snyder brings to the fore the conspiracy of the Court of Owls in his opening arc, which he had planted the seeds for in his Detective run. Joining him is Greg Capullo, whose dynamic panels and expressive faces complement Snyder’s story perfectly. Even if you’re not particularly a Batman fan, you’ll be able to enjoy this on the level of its compelling mystery alone.
#6 – FF
As most know by now, FF no longer just stands for Fantastic Four, Fast Forward, or even French Fries. It’s also the Future Foundation, as conceived by Reed Richards and implemented after the Human Torch’s death. Add Spider-Man in a spiffy white costume to the mix, and you’ve got a brand new series, one that will continue even now that the regular Fantastic Four title has returned. As always, Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting are bringing you the finest in comic book storytelling, throwing wild idea after wild idea at you with no chance to catch your breath, in the best Lee/Kirby tradition. This book is all about looking ahead to the future, and after each issue, that’s just what we’re doing– looking forward to next month.
#5 – Spaceman
Where FF looks ahead to a future filled with wonder and possibilities, Spaceman takes us to a future where that’s gone sour. But it’s not really about the future so much as it is about one man’s (and yes, Orson is a man, despite outward appearances) struggle with aspects of life that we all face; alienation, and the feeling that things haven’t quite turned out the way we hoped. “The future ain’t what it used to be”, or so a sage once said, and yet Orson hasn’t completely given up hope; he’s still determined to achieve his destiny, though it surely won’t turn out exactly as he’d dreamed it. This is really 180 degrees away from Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s work on 100 Bullets, and yet just as compelling, which clearly demonstrates their versatility in their craft.
#4 – Rachel Rising
Terry Moore doesn’t need a lot of words to tell this story. His artistic skills are more than capable of communicating his intent on every page. But just because it’s sparse on dialogue doesn’t mean it’s a quick read; the detail and subtlety of his work means you’ll want to linger over each panel of Rachel Rising, a horror/suspense thriller that is creepy in its quietness. Moore is crafting a truly spooky tale here, and while we’ve certainly seen elements of this before in the horror genre (the dead returned to life, seeking their killer) there’s so much more going on here, all balanced with just the right amount of ambiguity and tantalizing hints that keep you wanting to come back for more. A creator of Moore’s stature, with several successful independent works under his belt, could be tempted to rest on his laurels. But his latest work shows he’s just as determined as ever to push his boundaries and provide his audience with solid, gripping read in each outing.
#3 – Animal Man
Anyone who’s read Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth shouldn’t be surprised that he can tell good stories with DC’s Animal Man. It seems like a natural fit. Yet Lemire has gone beyond expectations, crafting an extremely human story that still makes use of the character’s roots. One of the most intriguing elements is the way in which a new mythos is being developed which ties the character into Swamp Thing, currently being written by another writer on this list, Scott Snyder. From Moore and Morrison to Snyder and Lemire– these characters really couldn’t be in better hands. But it’s Lemire portrayal of Buddy Baker and his interactions with his family that are at the heart of this series– amid all the weirdness and creepiness ably depicted by Travel Foreman, Lemire still maintains the relationships that allow us to connect with this series.
#2 – Habibi
The latest OGN by Blankets creator Craig Thompson, Habibi is just so different from everything else on the market right now. It is simultaneously real yet fantastical, modern yet old, deeply personal yet far-reaching in scope. It’s a fable that draws upon the culture, history, and religion of the Islamic world for its setting and background, but is ultimately about the bond that is formed between two people who have known each other since childhood, and have endured unimaginable circumstances both together and when torn apart. It doesn’t shy away from sex and sexuality, but the purpose isn’t to titillate; it’s shown as one facet, an important facet, of human existence, and how it can serve as a means of survival, self-gratification, and sometimes as an expression of a deeper bond. This book may be controversial, and may offend some people given its intertwining of the subjects of religion, politics, spirituality, and sexuality, but it’s clear from the way Thompson has lovingly put so much detail and effort into this book, both through the exhaustive research on the subject matter, and many incredibly detailed drawings, that he has an important message he wants to communicate here. He doesn’t hit you over the head with it though, and there’s plenty of room for different readers to draw different conclusions. Which is the mark of a truly great book.
#1 – Daredevil
To quote one of my favorite websites, The Marvel Chronology Project, “Do you realize that, by Daredevil #350, Matt Murdock/Daredevil had been the victim of a parade of mental illnesses for almost fifteen years?!” Now add to that the fact that Daredevil #350 itself came out 15 years ago, and that’s almost 30 years of gut-wrenching, never-ending pathos. That’s why Mark Waid’s relaunch of Daredevil is such a breath of fresh air. It’s not that he takes Daredevil and turns him back into a happy-go-lucky Silver Age character; instead, he realizes that not every story needs to dwell on how miserable Matt Murdock is. He CAN be the guy that uses his agility and heightened senses, paired with his formidable rhetorical skills honed as an attorney, to deal with any threat that faces him. In short, it’s OK for him to be a superhero again. Combine that with the amazing Marcos Martin, whose every panel is a clinic in comic book storytelling, and what you’ve got is truly a new Daredevil for a new generation.
Matt Adler hopes for more great new books in the coming year.