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2007 IN REVIEW

As the year in comics draws to a close, it’s once again time to take a long, hard look at the good and the bad that hit the shelves along the way. However, rather than a “Best Of” list, I always prefer to take a broader look at things- few books actually achieve true greatness, but many reach the level of being very, very good. Let’s take a look at some books no one would be embarrassed to have on their shelves, shall we?

YEAR OF THE DOG: There were a number of terrific animal-centric books this year, but for my money, none better than Nick Abadzis’ LAIKA from First Second. This heart-wrenching tale of the first dog sent into space could have turned sappy had Abadzis given in to commercial thoughts and strayed from history, but he stayed the course and gave the story the ending it had to have and the one the story earned.

WEBCOMICS ROCK: a number of my favorite webcomics put out print collections this year, including the tragically underrated COOL JERK. But no web-to-print collection even comes close to Matt Kindt’s SUPER SPY from Top Shelf. Densely packed full of intrigue and excitement, World War Two hasn’t been this interesting in comics for decades. Characters you care about, plot twists you never see coming… as good a book as I read in 2007.

SPEAKING OF BYGONE ERAS…: There aren’t as many westerns on the stands as there might have been in the past, and there’s a good reason for that: a lot of recent efforts stunk. And the others still going have to live in the shadow of Brett Matthews and Sergio Cariello’s LONE RANGER from Dynamite Entertainment. Taking a character that was always, frankly, boring and making him cool was one good trick; making Tonto even cooler was a better one. Pastoral in its beauty, dark in its villains hearts, you never forget that the old west was a very, very tough place to live.

AND IF THAT WASN’T ENOUGH… MURDERERS! And even if you survived the trip across the Mississippi, there were other problems ahead. Problems like THE BLOODY BENDERS, from NBM. Rick Geary’s TREASURY OF VICTORIAN MURDER hit its high point with this amazing saga of a family who set up on the Kansas Trail and bumped off travelers for their money and worldly goods. Methodically researched and painstakingly drawn, Geary remains one of comics’ most under-appreciated creative forces.

REMEMBER WHEN COMICS WERE FUN? Fred Chao does, and JOHNNY HIRO (AdHouse) is the proof. Issue one found Johnny battling a giant dinosaur that kidnapped his girlfriend. Number two saw him battling chef ninjas across the rooftops of the city as he stole a lobster for his boss. Somehow, Chao has meshed his love of classic Asian film tropes with sequential fun perfectly, and the payoff is on every single page. I can’t wait to see what Johnny has to face next.

OH, AND ON THAT NOTE…: no book this year gave me a bigger nerdgasm than Marc Bernadin and Adam Freeman’s MONSTER ATTACK NETWORK (AiT/PlanetLar). An island where giant monsters attack all the time? Bitchin’! A special police force dedicated to diverting the monsters and rebuilding in their wake? Fuggin’A! That’s totally what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’m not one to pant like a dog for sequels in any medium, but this book? It needs one. Right. Fucking. Now.

MOST SEQUELS DISAPPOINT, THOUGH…: fortunately, the most anticipated comics sequel of 2007 did not. Bryan O’Malley delivered SCOTT PILGRIM GETS IT TOGETHER (Oni Press) late, which had some fans sweating. No need, though. The art was a leap forward, his confidence in the characters over his plot was obvious, and there were some genuine surprises along the way. In the beginning I had some doubts about whether or not he could maintain the quality of the books throughout the series, but those doubts have been quashed. I expect the book to go out in style over the last couple of efforts.

MAWWAGE… LOVE, TWUE LOVE…: It wasn’t a particularly strong year for Image Comics in 2007, as some of their better books (FELL, CASANOVA) took hiatuses. But they rebounded nicely with one of the more under-the-radar deals of 2007: the addition of the great Kyle Baker. Baker brought his publishing imprint to Image and immediately delivered the back half of NAT TURNER, then followed it up with the razor sharp satire of SPECIAL FORCES. One of the five best creators working today, and two books that demonstrate why. Let’s hope this partnership lasts for a good, long time. For bonus credit, they brought Mike Allred’s MADMAN in, too. Two huge wins for the folks in San Fran.

MIXTAPES: the other thing that went nicely for Image this year was the number of terrific anthologies they published. In fact, it was a very good year for anthologies, period. My fave? POSTCARDS (Villard Books), put together by editor Jason Rodriguez. It’s the concept that makes the book so damned good; forced into antiquing by his girlfriend, he discovered old postcards that had their messages intact. Intrigued, he began collecting them and then put his fellow artists and writers to work, giving them one of the cards and having them create their own story about what the words on the card really meant. Running the gamut from warm and touching to black as night, it is the best holiday gift suggestion you’ll see in this column.

FOR THE KIDS…: while my collection of manga has increased drastically over the past couple of years, it would be even worse if I didn’t donate some of the volumes I’m sent to review to kids. But as far as my keepers went this year, I was entertained most by Towa Ohshima’s HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS (DrMaster). Fast, funny, and lewd, GIRLS always makes me think fondly of those years in my life and that’s about the only thing that can. Plus, the anime hit North American shelves this year, and it’s a very faithful, funny adaptation. In fact, it’s the anime that pushes GIRLS ahead of last year’s winner, NODAME CANTABILE. But not by much.

SPEAKING OF HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS…: we all fell in love with Buffy Summers when she still was one. But after seven seasons, and a spell that left her one of only thousands of slayers on the planet, it looked like her best days were behind her. Gratefully, her creator Joss Whedon felt differently, and we’re seeing the benefit with BUFFY: SEASON EIGHT from Dark Horse. The numbers bear it out: fans were gagging for great new Buffy material, and this series has delivered, big time. The snappy dialogue, the great characters… it’s all here. Every issue has put a stupid smile on my face.

JOSS WHEDON: NOT THE ONLY TV WRITER KICKING COMIC ASS. This year also saw the third volume of MIDDLEMAN from Javier Grillo-Marxuach (currently show-running MEDIUM) and artist LesMcClane. Viper Comics struck gold when they brought this property under their roof, and if the strike ever ends, we’ll see the pilot for a TV version on ABC Family. Like BUFFY, the book features sharply written characters, zesty dialogue, and righteous action. But it does so without the name recognition. For now.

JAVI’S BIGGER PAYCHECK: Grillo-Marxuach also found himself participating in a major crossover while doing some work for Marvel this year. Fortunately, it was the one major crossover from either of the “Big Two” that didn’t suck donkey balls. ANNIHILATION was what an epic story should be: actually epic. Huge space battles, powers run amok, horrible villains, heroes pushed to their limits… and everybody acting within character. It was also reasonably well contained and the hardcover volumes are lovely. CIVIL WAR HULK’S 52 COUNTDOWN were enough to make you swear off reading comics forever. ANNIHILATION was the antidote.

IN FACT, DC DID ONLY ONE THING RIGHT…: and that was the MINX line. CRAPDOWN has been about as pleasant as an STD. They’ve alienated the potential readership for SUPERGIRL. Greg Rucka, one of their best writers, has ended his exclusive. They brought a great novelist, Jodi Picoult, in to write WONDER WOMAN, and then stuck her with an ill-conceived crossover event that wasted her talents. SUPERMAN storylines have stopped and started. The company is a disaster. Except MINX. Was every book great? No. But GOOD AS LILY, PLAIN JANES, and RE-GIFTERS were damned fine entertainment that I’d have no trouble giving to a 12-year old girl… which is pretty much the exact opposite of SUPERGIRL. What’s wrong with that picture, eh?

DID ANY PUBLISHER ACTUALLY HAVE A STERLING YEAR? Many smaller publishers had very steady, fine years. But the one to watch this year was Virgin Comics. Many publishers talk about creating product and opening up markets- Virgin does it. Their Shakti line plays in Asia quite nicely, thanks. Their Director’s line has put Hollywood names prominently on the shelves, and done so without the Tinseltown talent dragging down the books’ schedules; the creative duties have been carried out by some of the industry’s finest (Garth Ennis, Jimmy Palmiotti, Zeb Wells, Michael Gaydos, etc.) Then, just to thumb their nose at convention, they announced a book created by sexual icon Jenna Jameson, who has just a bit of an audience that will follow her wherever she goes. I expect 2008 to be huge for Virgin.

********

THE LOWLIGHTS…: The afore-mentioned CRAPDOWN from DC. I read the first twelve, just to prove I hate myself. 52 actually came out okay, but every lesson learned from publishing that book was flushed away in making this one. Ugh.

AFTER THE CAPE (Image) was the worst book from the publisher this year. Others may not have looked as good, but the overwrought, over-dramatized Lifetime movie plot made this one torture from page one to the end. And then they put out a sequel that’s even worse! Extra negative points on the sequel because they fall back on the old “kill his wife” trope. Painful.

The PAPERCUTZ imprint resurrected TALES FROM THE CRYPT, and it was (sorry John Cusack) better off dead. Tepid, uninteresting material, and then they put it out in trade in the digest-format making it harder to read and misunderstanding who the audience for the book might have been if it was good. A rare, but unusual, miss for NBM.

On the indy front, AGE OF INSECTS (Critical Mass) took the cake for bad art, incomprehensible plotting, and deception. Deception? It comes complete with a striking Ben Templesmith cover. But once you crack it open- amateur hour. I’m a pretty positive guy, so I “read” it front-to-back. It made no sense, but I gave it my best shot and my time. D’oh!

Other things of note… James Kolchaka, Jeffrey Brown, and Johnny Ryan continued their dubious streaks of never putting out a single readable, likeable book this year. I’d congratulate them, but I’m too tired to fake the sincerity… Pretty much every editorially driven storyline at Marvel continued to kill the publisher. CIVIL WAR. ONE MORE DAY. THE INITIATIVE. I was a Marvel kid, a Marvel teen, and (until the past few years) a Marvel adult. Now I barely recognize the company’s output. Creatively bankrupt in the worst way, I’ve given up on the idea of my favorite characters being readable until there’s a complete change of direction. These days, if Warren Ellis or Peter David aren’t writing it, I’m ignoring it. That’s a damned shame, and I know there are plenty more like me. And with DC actually worse (I read one ongoing DC title), on the bright side, I have more money to spend on small press books and manga.

That’s it- my wrap for 2007. I want to thank all of you who have found us this year. The Waiting Room has grown exponentially, and with the amazing crew of writers onboard, that growth should continue for a strong 2008. I’m excited to be a part of it, and I hope you’ll keep visiting us.

Best,
Marc Mason

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