Saturday, December 21, 2013

Best Graphic Novels of 2013: Part 3 of 3

Best Graphic Novels of 2013 Part 3 of 3

The 10 best graphic novels that were published in 2013:

The Black Beetle Volume 1: No Way Out - Francesco Francavilla (Dark Horse)

Francavilla has recently become one of my favorite artists of the past few years. You get the feeling with this first volume of The Black Beetle that Francavilla is giving us the barest of introductions, which is fine with me. Colt City could be any noir city, and while The Black Beetle has certain noir hero characteristics as well, we really don’t learn much about him in this installment. Again, that’s okay with me, because Francavilla’s art is so wonderfully matched to the noir genre. 

Copra Compendium One - Michel Fiffe (Bergen Street Comics Press)

I bought Copra on a whim at my local comic shop and was just blown away at all the energy, action and imagination on display. It might be a little hard to find, but it’s worth seeking out. Read more about it

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant - Tony Cliff (First Second)

If you want the short review, it’s two words: pure fun. If you want to know a little more, then I will pontificate

The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story - Vivek Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson (Dark Horse)

I am absolutely in love with the art in The Fifth Beatle and think the story works well in most places. It's good to see Brian Epstein get some well-deserved praise. For more on this title and Tiwary, check out this interview with the author at The Comics Alternative Podcast. 

Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon - Matt Fraction, David Aja (Marvel) 

I don’t read a lot of Marvel titles, but I enjoyed both My Life as a Weapon and Little Hits

The Massive, Vol. 1: Black Pacific - Brian Wood, Kristian Donaldson, Garry Brown (Dark Horse) 

Probably my second favorite book of the year. Read more about it. 

Mind MGMT - Matt Kindt (Dark Horse) 

Mind MGMT is the perfect read for people who enjoyed the TV show Lost until it reached a certain point, then became disgusted with it. Mind MGMT’s first volume, The Manager, is very, very smart, as is its second, The Futurist. Both are highly recommended.

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales - Nathan Hale (Harry N. Abrams) 

One Dead Spy

Okay, I’m cheating a bit here. The first two books were released in 2012, but I didn’t read them until 2013. I’m bending the rules because not enough people have heard about these great books that make history fun and fascinating. Don’t miss them!

Nowhere Men, Vol. 1: Fates Worse than Death - Eric Stephenson, Nate Belegarde (Image)

Here it is - my pick for the best graphic novel of 2013. No other title stayed in my head and made me think of all the implications in it quite like Nowhere Men. Find out why.  

The Spectral Engine - Ray Fawkes (McClelland & Stewart)

The Spectral Engine might not be your typical horror graphic novel, but its dark stories, combined with stark black and white art, make it a gripping read. Find out more

Honorable Mentions

The First Kingdom, Vol. 1: The Birth of Tundran - Jack Katz (Titan Comics)

The First Kingdom isn’t really new; it first appeared in the 70s in single issues, but 2013 (and into 2014) marks the first time the six-volume black-and-white series will be reprinted in its entirely in handsome hardcover editions. And it’s epic. Read more about it

Heck - Zander Cannon (Top Shelf)

Looks can be deceiving, and in this case, that’s a good thing. Intrigued about this black-and-white graphic novel? Read on...

Lazarus, Book One: Family - Greg Rucka, Michael Lark (Image)

It’s too early to tell how good Lazarus is going to be over the long haul, but for now, it’s quite good. Investigate more

New School - Dash Shaw (Fantagraphics)

Intrigued. Often fascinated. Confused. Eager for more. 

Those are the four words and phrases that best describe my reaction to Dash Shaw’s New School, my first exposure to Shaw. Thanks to the guys at The Comics Alternative, I decided to check out this coming-of-age story set in a strange, distant land. Shaw is showing us something about sibling rivalry, but also how to navigate a world we don’t really understand. I am amazed at Shaw’s storytelling, but am not quite sure how to interpret his uses of color. This is a definite read-again book.

The Reason for Dragons - Chris Northrop and Jeff Stokely (Archaia) 

Another book for younger readers (approx. ages 12 and up) that I hope finds its audience. You can read more about it

So... Tell me about the best graphic novels you read published in 2013.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Best Graphic Novels of 2013: Part 2 of 3

Best Graphic Novels of 2013 Part 2 of 3

The 10 best graphic novels I read this year that were published before 2013:

DMZ: Vol. 1: On the Ground (2005) Brian Wood, Riccardo Burchielli

In DMZ, a second American civil war has turned Manhattan into a demilitarized zone. A mostly clueless reporter named Matthew Roth stumbles into an assignment that literally opens his eyes to the ways of life and death in the DMZ. Part of my 2013 tour of Brian Wood comics, this was one of the best. 

Gotham Central, Book One: In the Line of Duty (2004) Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, Michael Lark

Gotham Central, put simply, is the Gotham Police working on crimes when Batman isn't around. Of course, it's more complicated than that, but that's a good starting point if you're considering whether you should pick this up (and you should). 

Rucka and Brubaker are both excellent writers and Lark's artwork is the perfect match for their stories. It becomes clear from the first story how difficult and frustrating it is for the police not only to solve crimes in Gotham, but also to work in the shadow of Batman (who does appear briefly). 

The Incal (1988) Alejandro Jodorowsky, Moebius

This is a mind-blower. You can read my previous thoughts on this one

Maus (1986/1991) Art Spiegelman

There’s not much I can tell you about Maus that you haven’t already heard. What I will tell you is how I saw a group of guys react to it for the first time. The Guys Book Club that I lead at our library read the first volume for our June selection. Most of these guys (ranging in age from teens to guys approaching their 80s) had never read a graphic novel of any kind. We talked about the story itself and how graphic novels work. Several of the guys said that the format took them awhile to get used to, but they soon realized how the format made the story more powerful than it perhaps would’ve been in a text only format. 

We also had some great conversation about the themes of the book, including family, survival, guilt, how difficult it is to escape from the past, and of course, the Holocaust itself and everything connected with it. Although I had only asked them to read Volume 1 (our library system has several copies of Volume 1 and not as many of Volume 2), most of the guys went ahead and read Volume 2 anyway. If nothing else, these guys now have a greater appreciation of what the graphic novel format can do. I’m quite happy with that. 

Queen and Country: The Definitive Edition, Vol. 1 (2007) Greg Rucka, Steve Rolston, Brian Hurtt, Leandro Fernandez

Thanks to my good friend John for recommending this one. Previous thoughts.

Rachel Rising: The Shadow of Death (2011) Terry Moore

Recommended by my friend Derek at The Comics Alternative, Rachel Rising is a horror comic that has now become a must-read. (And if anyone is still looking for a Christmas present for yours truly, volumes 2 and 3 would be most welcome!) In black and white (and all the creepier for it), Rachel is the creation of Terry Moore, whose Strangers in Paradise I enjoyed, but always felt if Moore got a little edgier, I might enjoy his work more. May I say that with Rachel Rising, Moore has delivered. 

Rust, Vol. 1: Visitor in the Field (2011) Royden Lepp

One of several great titles for young readers I encountered this year. Read more about it.

The Spirit Archives, Vol. 1 (1940) Will Eisner

Stumptown, Vol. 1 (2011) Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth

I know it seems like a Greg Rucka love fest here at Graphic Novel Universe, but the guy can write a story, especially a noir one. Dex Parios is a Portland, Oregon private eye who’s trying to pay off a gambling debt and look out for her brother who has Down’s Syndrome. When Dex gets a call to find the missing granddaughter of a casino owner, she thinks maybe things are starting to go her way. Of course, she’s wrong.   

Greg Rucka has slowly but surely crept onto my list of “must read” comic book writers. Not only does he consistently write strong female protagonists, his sense of crime/noir fiction is well-grounded in tradition, yet willing to explore and push boundaries. Stumptown may be one of Rucka’s more conventional outings, but it’s nonetheless excellent storytelling. 

Super Spy (2007) Matt Kindt

Spies again, huh? Well, what can I say? I saw this awhile back and thought it might be a good diversion while waiting for Kindt’s next collected edition of Mind MGMT, another espionage tale. Published before Mind MGMT, Super Spy is a neat collection of interconnected short stories all focusing on espionage and the human element involved in deception. Kindt is always an interesting creator who gives you much to think about.  

Please tell me what you read this year that was published before 2013. 

Best Graphic Novels of 2013 Part 1 of 3

Best Graphic Novels of 2013 Part 1 of 3

I’m going to have to do this in three installments, otherwise it’s going to be a very long blog post! Later, I’ll go into my Top 10 graphic novels published before 2013, then those published in 2013. But for now, I’d like to do two things: 

1) List the graphic novel titles that I continued reading in 2013 that started before 2013, such titles as:

Daredevil - Mark Waid, Chris Samnee

Fatale - Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips

Manhattan Projects - Jonathan Hickman, Nick Pitarra

Peter Panzerfaust - Kurtis J. Wiebe, Tyler Jenkins 

The Steve Ditko Archives - Blake Bell, ed.

Sweet Tooth - Jeff Lemire

2) Books that may or may not be graphic novels as such, but are related to them in some way:

American Comic Book Chronicles, 1960-1964 (2012) John Wells

A painstaking look at all comics published in America during the years 1960-1964. Dense and filled with important facts and events; if you're interested in comics history, these volumes are a must-read. 

The Art of Joe Kubert (2011) Bill Schelly, ed.

One of my goals in 2013 was to learn more about artist Joe Kubert, who sadly passed away last year. This collection is a great introduction to the man and his work. 

Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe (2013) Tim Leong

The nerdiest book I read this year, and just maybe the most fun! 

Superman: The High-Flying History of the Man of Steel (2012) Larry Tye

Tye's history covers Superman's beginnings, his ventures into radio, television, movies and more. Highly recommended, even if you're only a casual Superman fan. 

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (1993) Scott McCloud

I'm embarrassed it took me so long to read this one, but I'll never look at comics the same way again. If you haven't read it, move this to the top of your list immediately. 

Next post: The best graphic novels I read this year that weren't published in 2013.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Graphic Novel Goal for 2014???

My friend Chris over at the Collected Comic Library challenges himself each year to spend a significant amount of time reading a new or unfamiliar title, character, writer or artist in the coming year. Two years ago, I read Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. for the first time and loved it. This year, I read works by and about legendary artist Joe Kubert and had a great time. 

I struggled a long time over what to tackle in 2014. I've always wanted to get into Love and Rockets, but that task is so daunting, I think I'm not quite ready to dedicate a year to that series (or even just the first four or five volumes) just yet. 

What might be a more manageable task is Neil Gaiman's Sandman. Yes, I have never read beyond the first volume and that was years ago, so I'll need to re-read that and keep on going. Plus, if I time it right, I might finish in time for the completed Sandman Overture

So do you have a reading goal in 2014?  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Graphic Novels Read in November

Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus (GN 2007) Stan Lee, Steve Ditko

I know this is blasphemy, but I often think the first 38 issues of The Amazing Spider-Man are all we need, period. Don’t get me wrong, I like many of the later issues and storylines, but beyond about issue #125 or so, it’s all over for me. That’s the old guy in me speaking out, I guess, but there’s something timeless about the Lee/Ditko issues (all collected in this omnibus) that really never was recaptured again in quite the same way: the quirkiness of Peter Parker, the isolation, loneliness, the pure fun of being Spider-Man and the heartbreak it caused. I love these issues. (Still, although it’s good - and here’s another blasphemy - this is not Steve Ditko’s best work. We’ll reserve that conversation for another time.) Yes, there are some clunkers here, but there’s also magic. If you’ve never read these first 38 issues, do yourself a favor. 


Mind MGMT Vol. 2: The Futurist (GN 2013) Matt Kindt 

Discussed at The Comics Alternative 


Star Trek: Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor (GN 2010) John Byrne


Star Wars, Vol. 1: In the Shadow of Yavin (GN 2013) Brian Wood, Carlos D’Anda 


Both titles discussed at Graphic Novel Universe

Mara (GN 2013) Brian Wood, Ming Doyle


Impossible Tales: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 4 (GN 2013) Blake Bell, ed.


The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books the Government Didn’t Want You to Read! (NF 2010) Jim Trombetta, ed. 

The Horror! The Horror! is an informative look at the horror comics “scandal” (for want of a better term) of the 1950s for those of us who weren’t there (like me) and those who were. Trombetta has assembled an impressive representation of many of the offending stories (or types of stories) and covers that created all the fuss. Trombetta’s essays, while interesting and informative, do tend to run a little long at times, but they’re certainly worthwhile. Less worthwhile, however, is the accompanying DVD (a 30-minute television documentary on the dangers of these comics), which is a mildly interesting curiosity at best. One of the more annoying aspects of books like this is certainly present here: text descriptions of comic covers that are either not included in the book or several pages away without citing the page number. Still, this is an important volume for comics history.  


Molly Danger Book One (J GN 2013) Jamal Igle

Discussed at The Comics Alternative 


Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant (GN 2013) Tony Cliff


Rachel Rising: The Shadow of Death (GN 2011) Terry Moore

Recommended by my friend Derek at The Comics Alternative, Rachel Rising is a horror comic that has now become for me a must-read. In black and white (and all the creepier for it), Rachel is the creation of Terry Moore, whose Strangers in Paradise I enjoyed, but always felt if Moore got a little edgier, I might enjoy his work more. May I say that with Rachel Rising, Moore has delivered. 


The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story (GN 2013) Vivek Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson

Not only is The Fifth Beatle a wonderful tribute to Beatles manager Brian Epstein, it’s also a very moving story gorgeously illustrated by Andrew Robinson. Sometimes Tiwary pushes the metaphors a little too much, but the book still works quite well. 


Monday, December 9, 2013

To Read or Not to Read? Licensed Comics


Recently The Comics Alternative Podcast featured a segment on licensed comics (comics book incarnations of properties originally introduced in another medium, usually film and/or television). At the time (and completely by coincidence), I was reading two such graphic novel collections, Star Wars Vol. 1: In the Shadow of Yavin (2013) by Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda, and Star Trek: Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor (2010) by John Byrne.

Now you should know that I am a casual Star Wars fan and a huge fan of the original Star Trek series, yet I’d never sought out comics from either universe before. What made me want to start now? 

In the case of Star Wars, I was intrigued that In the Shadow of Yavin was written by Brian Wood, a writer I’ve discovered and enjoyed this year in The Massive, DMZ and other titles. At this point, I’d probably read a Brian Wood graphic novel based on the molecular structure of soil samples in 17th century Yugoslavia. He’s that good a writer. 

As for Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor, I always thought McCoy got the shaft in the TV series, taking a backseat both to Kirk’s shenanigans with the ladies and Spock’s ongoing logic vs. emotion conflict. Here’s a doctor with Southern roots working on a starship using technology he doesn’t completely trust, but with a humanity you can’t ignore; an interesting dude to say the least. So I was excited to see a volume devoted exclusively to him. 

I’d always thought, however, that most (or all) of the significant stories in both the Star Wars and Star Trek universes happened in the movies/shows and what might appear in the comics, while they might be fun, were at best peripheral. I mean, anything of any real consequence would be saved for the big (or small) screen, right? Yet, for the reasons mentioned above, I decided to give these volumes a try. 

Star Wars: In the Shadow of Yavin begins with the main Star Wars characters (Luke, Leia, Han) right after the events of the movie Episode IV - A New Hope, so even if that’s all you know of the Star Wars universe, you’ll have enough to go on for this volume, which is nice. 

What’s not so nice is how text-heavy the book is at the start. Luke and Leia spend the first several pages flying around in their fighters, telling us an enormous amount of backstory. Eventually things get interesting, but the main focus of the book is twofold: the search for a new home base for the Rebel Alliance and Darth Vader’s being relieved as the primary commander of the Imperial fleet. Other subplots feature Han Solo and Chewie as well as the construction of the new Death Star. There’s a good amount of action, but you feel like Wood is taking his time in setting up all the pieces of the playing field. After finishing the volume, I’m mildly interested in seeing what comes next, but not rabidly awaiting the next installment. So will I pick up the next volume? Maybe. 

Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor is a bit of a different story. Byrne, clearly a Star Trek fan, has given McCoy fans a huge reason to celebrate. This volume takes place after Kirk has been promoted to Admiral, so Kirk’s basically reading a collection of letters from McCoy detailing his adventures in the Frontier Medics Program. In these adventures, we see several familiar characters from the original Trek universe, some of whom will be instantly recognizable even to casual fans, others who may be unrecognizable. There may be enough of these unrecognizable characters (In all fairness, there are really only two), however, to frustrate new readers. In some of the stories, McCoy is the guy who saves the day; in others, he’s more of a bystander. Still, these stories are fun. 

I suppose my concerns with licensed comics are who is the audience and how much do they want? As the guys in the previously mentioned podcast point out, fans of the movies/shows might pick up these volumes, but would someone new to the Trek or Star Wars universes necessarily want or care about them? Is there enough attraction for a new reader and enough of a feeling that something significant is going on for a veteran fan? Put another way, do fans feel enough of an itch that needs scratching between new movies? Some, no doubt, will. Look at all the novels and graphic novels from both universes that are already out there. It’s like trying to number the stars. And if there’s that much out there, how much of it is really significant?

Right now I don’t personally feel the need to read any more graphic novels in the Star Trek universe. I’m content with the shows and movies, but in all fairness, I do plan to re-read Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor. I also plan to re-read In the Shadow of Yavin, but I’m more inclined to read more graphic novels from the Star Wars universe than the Star Trek one. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Star Wars/Star Trek universes in graphic novel form and licensed comics in general....