[2 January 2008]
Contra Costa Times (MCT)
If you wanted to be cool in 2007, you wrote a graphic novel.
If you wanted to make a hit film, you bought the rights to a comic and made a movie out of it.
Publishers caught on to this trend and started releasing lines of graphic novels.
But did this sudden comics explosion result in quality, not just quantity? Surprisingly, yes.
For that reason, keeping a list of the best graphic novels of the year to a mere 10 was a tough task.
Here, then, are my favorite graphic novels from 2007.
10. “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier,” by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill (America’s Best Comics, $29.99): Excessive? Yes. Frustrating? Yes. Brilliant? Undoubtedly. The enigmatic creator of “Watchmen” and “V for Vendetta” tends to be a showoff, and that’s what makes his books irresistible. With the raunchy and dense “Dossier,” Moore did test my patience by piling on humongous back stories about his extraordinary league of literary icons, including Nemo and Quatermain. Too many details slowed this puppy down, but just when you’re ready to toss it out the window, Moore hits a grand slam, the most impressive coming in a 3-D-glasses climax that makes the film “Beowulf” look even dumber than it is.
9. “Maxwell Strangewell,” by Matt and Shawn Fillbach (Dark Horse, $19.95): Gotta hand it to these irreverent brothers. They know how to cook up one weird comic sci-fi actioner and garnish it with a message or two. This alien invasion saga is so loopy, it even summons the aid of a pack of monks to save our heroes. Now, really, how could you resist that?
8. “The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born,” by Peter David and Robin Furth, art by Jae Lee and Richard Isanove (Marvel, $24.99): Numerous big-name authors and celebs ponied up to the comics gravy train in 2007. For my money, the best of the star power lot was this marvelous adaptation of Stephen King’s dark fantasy series. Sumptuously illustrated and strikingly inked, “Dark Tower” creates an alterna-world that is as seductive as it is deadly dangerous.
7. “Planet Hulk: The Incredible Hulk,” by Greg Pak (Marvel, $39.99): Superheroes underwent needed facelifts this year, including the saggy “Superman,” courtesy of Grant Morrison. “All Star Superman” definitely rocked, but it was this adventure with the big, mean green one that so engrossed me that I turned into a hermit one weekend to read it. Pak blasts the Hulk to a bloodthirsty planet caught up in a brutal caste system. This is epic, grand storytelling, on a par with “Gladiator” and “Lord of the Rings.” A book that never lags, never disappoints.
6. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home,” by Joss Whedon and Georges Jeanty (Dark Horse, $15.95): C’mon, Buffy fans, quit complaining about how life lost all meaning when Buffy and company went off the air. You now have the next best thing to a Buffy movie—it’s called Season 8 in comic book form. The best news is that it’s just as fun, addictive and clever as one of this decade’s best TV shows. Hats off to Whedon; the guy’s a genius.
5. “Shooting War,” by Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman (Grand Central, $21.99): Webcomics strutted their downloadable stuff in 2007, with a few breakout titles published as books. That’s the lucky fate of Lappe’s near-perfect satire that encompasses the Iraq war, the media, the “hey look at me” nature of the Web and Dan Rather. Yes, you read that last bit right: Dan Rather. The veteran newsman plays a pivotal guest role in this tale about a hottie videographer hired by desperate network bigwigs to cover the Iraq war. “Shooting War” strikes nerves, but uses a stiletto, not a jackhammer, to get its points across.
4. “Dogs & Water,” by Anders Nilsen (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95): A nameless man embarks on a lonely odyssey through a desolate, temperamental world. This haunting and episodic story has been permanently lodged in my psyche since I read it last spring. Nilsen is a comics poet, writing a story that perfectly captures moods, feelings and metaphors. Do read this man.
3. “Criminal Vol. 1: Coward,” by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Marvel, $14.95): I’ll buy anything with Brubaker’s name attached. He has never let me down, and in 2007 he was operating on all four cylinders. Along with “Criminal,” he brought some anguish to “The Immortal Iron Fist” and Marvel’s “Captain America Omnibus” (I’m devouring it right now, so go away please). The cherry on top remains this taut, exciting homage to film noir, an adult read that recalls the very best of Jim Thompson (“The Grifters”) and Charles Willeford (“Miami Blues”). Like “The Dark Tower,” “Criminal” found the perfect union of artist and creator, with Phillips and Brubaker making one of the best teams out there.
2. “Shortcomings,” by Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95): Say you’ve created a mini-comic and framed it around a cantankerous lead character who is not only smug, but a bit unlikable. How in the heck, then, do you make readers care? For the answer, dive into Tomine’s “Shortcomings,” an on-target look at the disintegration of an oxygen-deprived relationship. The lead—Ben Tanaka—deserves to go down as one of the most intriguing and well-written characters encountered in literature. But other supporting characters are equally unforgettable. Made me dying to seek out Tomine’s “Optic Nerve” minicomics.
1. “Exit Wounds,” by Rutu Modan (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95): Darn that “Persepolis.” Nearly every publisher scurried around in 2007, trying to mirror the success of Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical work. Appearances would seem to suggest that “Exit Wounds” would be a sort-of Israeli version of Satrapi’s book. That would be wrong. Modan defies those expectations with an elegant—and fictional—story that rotates around a Tel Aviv taxi cab driver trying to find out if his dad was killed in a suicide bombing. Beckoning him to uncover the truth is his father’s complex younger lover, Numi. You assume you know where Modan is headed with the story—which vividly depicts everyday life in Israel. But you will be wrong. This is an assured book that speaks quietly whenever you expect it to shout its demands. You’ll instantly want to reread it, not only to better appreciate its grace, but to see how effortlessly Modan pulls off such a delicately balanced story arc.