The Year’s Best … Two Years Later

Since we’re nearing our year-end awards here at Doomkopf, I thought I’d share another collection of year-end recognition.

Year’s Best Graphic Novels, Comics & Manga is what it sounds like – a collection of excerpts from the year’s best graphic novels, comics and manga.

It’s from 2005, and I found a copy at a Borders outlet store for $4.99, marked down enough from the regular cover price of $19.95 that I thought it was cheap enough to justify a try.

While designed to honor the best of the year — and it was a nice read — it’s also purchased marketing. While entertaining, it does certainly play the role of introducing the reader to things he or she might’ve missed (and in my case, things I missed more than two years ago).

So since I finally had time tonight to read through the “Graphic Novel” portion of the collection, I thought I’d share whether or not the anthology sold me on pursuing any of the winners further.

Superman: Secret Identity
by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen; DC Comics

This just confused me. From the nine pages included here, I’m left to gather that there is a character named Clark Kent who is also Superman — but it’s set in some kind of postmodern world in which everyone knows that Superman is a character called Clark Kent, so this Clark Kent gets set up on a date with a “Lois” as a joke.

I’m a huge Kurt Busiek fan, but I don’t really know what’s going on here, and I don’t particularly care to go further.

The art looks great, though.

Verdict: It may have five stars on Amazon, but I’m content letting this stay a secret.

by Craig Thompson; Top Shelf Productions

Part of why I picked up this collection was because I’d heard so many great things about Blankets. I figured this would be a convenient way to give it a tiny test.

It’s 11 pages of a guy and a girl sharing stories of using blankets as children. Now I’ve seen this book in person before, and I have seen that it is much longer than 11 pages, so that leaves me to wonder if the whole book is about blankets or what. That gimmick seems like it could get old.

But dang, this was a great 11 pages to pick. The stories they share are sweet and fun and they build to a great short-story finale. This felt like a self-contained story, and as such, worked as a great commercial for the book. I also loved Thompson’s artwork.

The verdict: I may be the last person to realize it, but I want to read this book.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (War of the Worlds)
by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill; America’s Best Comics.

I read a previous League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series (I’m not sure how many there have been) and I remember liking it, but I also remember feeling like there were awkward uncomfortable scenes that seemed to be injected solely to remind us that these were hardly heroic protagonists. The constant need to express a flawed nature of the characters stuck with me more than whatever the storyline was.

So it was with disappointment that the sample of this story included a little bit of plot advancement (discovering that there were big alien tripods walking the countryside) and the rest was either insulting individuals and countries or the invisible man beating and possibly raping some woman.

The verdict: Nope.

Scott Pilgrim: Precious Little Life
by Bryan Lee O’Malley; Oni Press

This was stupid.

It was like 12 pages of stupid fighting.

I got the impression that maybe it was supposed to be some kind of ironic parody of teen angst, but wow, I felt like 12 pages was at least 11 pages too much of it. If there’s something deeper it went totally over my head.

The art was crap too. I’m all for different styles, abstract expressionism, letting the reader add meaning through deconstruction of the form, etc. But this was just sloppy and crappy. This seriously looked like there was some kind of race to draw a parody of a stupid kid’s comic.

I really hope that I just misunderstood this.

The verdict: I have serious questions as to why this was among “the best.”

Blab! Vol. 14
by CP Freund and Peter and Maria Hoey; Fantagraphics

I couldn’t really tell from this sampling what this book was. Maybe some kind of anthology?

There were four pages of some kind of poem with robots in an Escher-like setting. It was interesting, but I hope it was only four pages long. Then there was a one page story of a guy who outsmarted an insurance company. It was cool and funny.

But I really don’t have any idea what “Blab” is.

The verdict: I’m curious enough to want to find a copy in real life and flip through it. It seemed like it had the potential to be very cool, though I wasn’t sold based on these excerpts alone.

Last of the Independents
by Matt Fraction and Kieron Dwyer; AiT PlanetLar

This was by far my favorite of the samples. It’s a glance right in the middle of a bank robbery gone wrong (or maybe not), but it had a great balance of giving a lot away while keeping some intrigue.

I only know of Matt Fraction from Iron Fist (at least I think that’s where I remember his name), but I love Kieron Dwyer’s art. These pages are drawn on some kind of grainy splotchy paper with only black ink and white highlights. It’s just super awesome. Reading these pages made me want to track this book down immediately.

The verdict: Yes, I would like to read this. Very much so.

Queen & Country: Operation Storm Front
by Greg Rucka and Carla Speed McNeil; Oni Press

While reading this excerpt, I felt like I was perhaps looking over someone’s 24 Hour Comics project. I’m guessing that’s Ms. Speed McNeil’s “style,” but the art just looks hasty and unfinished. There were some great facial expressions in there, but the rest of the art is simple enough that it almost makes them seem accidental.

The story also didn’t grab me. Maybe it’s great, but this window into the bigger book just didn’t pull me in enough to want to know what else is going on.

The verdict: I’ll trust them to solve the mystery.

To be continued…