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Why Not? Jeff’s Best-Of Picks for 2005.

Brian Hibbs

Didn’t feel much like writing reviews today so I thought it might be fun to dig through my entries for 2005 and pull together a “Best of” list. Way back when (before we used blogger), Brian put together a best-of list that was impressively complete–by assigning numerical values to each grade, he was able to crunch numbers and statistically confirm his picks for the best books of the year. I thought it’d be a hoot to do that, even if I just sorted through my Picks of the Week and grabbed stuff.

Of course, it’s never that easy. I neglected to even make picks for the first few months of the year. So after spending the morning skimming through the 80,000 words I wrote for this blog this year (that’s not a number pulled at random, by the way–I pulled all my entries into Word so I could do searches and decided to do a wordcount as well), I came up with the following:

Ongoing and minis
Banana Sunday: Colleen Coover and Root Nibot’s four issue mini was great all-ages fun with delightful characters and awesomely cartooned monkeys. I cannot wait for the trade as I hope to handsell a bunch of these.

Berlin: We only got two issues this year of Jason Lutes’s masterly study of the city of Berlin at the dusk of its decadent days, but they were two very solid issues. If I was a bigwig at, say, Pantheon Books, I’d give Lutes lots of money so he could focus on this series fulltime. Great stuff.

Death Jr.: This videogame tie-in wasn’t as strong as Ted Naifeh’s solo work maybe, but his art looked amazing in full-color and the story was enjoyable all-ages work. Would that all tie-in work was this strong (although I don’t think even Whitta and Naifeh could have saved, say, Marvel Mega-Morphs).

Desolation Jones: The first issue blew my mind. And although the rest hasn’t come close, it’s still a strong read, filled with heartbreakingly beautiful art, and a hero that revisits and deepens Ellis’s “chainsmoking, miserable bastard” archetype.

Fell: This is equally strong work from Ellis–in fact, I would say it’s even stronger since the three issues to date have been done-in-ones with shorter page counts–and the best work I’ve seen by Ben Templesmith by far. Deserves all the attention and sales it’s been getting.

The Goon: I’m still working for a good high-concept pitch to explain Eric Powell’s book (currently, I’m fond of “Imagine Bernie Wrightson drawing E.C. Segar’s Popeye” but that’s not it either) but that’s probably because Powell, like Mike Mignola, has created something that draws on all of his interests and strengths that he can execute with complete confidence. One of my big faves.

Gotham Central: Surprisingly, this book popped up as my Pick of the Week a lot in 2005. I thought it would have worked better as a straight procedural stuff–it had just a tremendous line-up of talent the whole way through, and Brubaker and Rucka lavished a lot of time and care on their scripts even when they had bigger gigs to attend to–than as the “Batbook-but-not-really” approach. But what do I know? Maybe it would have sold even more poorly without superheroes and supervillains splashed all over it. I’ll be sorry to see this one go.

Hellboy The Island: This miniseries really humbled me because I outright loved it and yet would be hard-pressed to explain anything that happened. Also, I had strangely complex emotional responses to the work even while not understanding it. I hope that means there’s more than just “some guy natters on at Hellboy until punching begins” to the piece. Even if not, it’s mind-blowing cartooning.

Little Star: Every issue of this I encounter in a kind of free-fall: I read it, love it, am unable to find out while in the store how many issues it is and how close it is to being finished, and then hang in limbo until the next issue. In a way, it’s a nice match for Andi Watson’s quiet examination of a family man caught between his career dreams and daily life, but I also find myself greedy for the trade to see how subtly Watson worked his themes throughout all the chapters.

Planetary: Not quite sure how many issues we got this year (two? three?) but I admire how Ellis and Cassaday take a slow-but-steady approach to this regardless of impatient fan clamor.

Seven Soldiers: I’m not crazy about the whole thing (at least not yet) but the zero issue, and the Guardian and Klarion miniseries kicked my ass soundly with their dark humor, ambition and fun. That Morrison can live up to his own hype as often as he does is a remarkable achievement.

Solo: All the issues have been great, but those issues three through five (Paul Pope, Darwyn Cooke and Mike Allred) were tremendous works by idiosyncratic artists with things to say about DC characters and DC concepts. I hope DC keeps all of these in print, because we could probably sell those three issues ’til the end of time.

Shaolin Cowboy: Geoff Darrow’s rousing series has had two issues that just knocked me off my feet, but all of it is worth time and attention as Darrow takes his trademark meticulous art and uses it as a straight man to his enjoyably deranged story concepts. This stuff made me laugh even while holding me in awe of the talent at work. Wow.

She-Hulk Vol. 2: Dan Slott reteams with Juan Bobillo for another round of impressively crafted stories that manage, by dint of talent and affection, to simultaneously send-up and honor all manners of superhero craziness. I can’t tell how glad I am this team and title got another chance.

Young Avengers: More or less ditto with Allan Heinberg’s stuff here, although it’s not quite as satisfying as Slott’s work. It’s hit a stumble or two (The Patriot drug thing, the time-travel stuff which always hurts my brain) but for the most part he’s taken an absurd premise and made it one of my favorite titles on the stand each month. I’ll take it over New Avengers any day.

Stand-outs & One shots:
Action Philosophers All Sex Special: Dunlavey and Van Lente tackle the lives (and sex lives) of St. Augustine, Thomas Jefferson and Ayn Rand, and allow the reader to infer how their subjects’ philosophies meet and differ. Really knocked me out.

Following Cerebus #5: Dave Sim, in pondering his thoughts about how an editor shapes the work, calls up guys like Paul Pope, Chester Brown and Craig Thompson to see what degree it’s played for them. Shows the suprisingly expansive and inquisitive sweep of this magazine to all areas of the comic field, not just Sim’s work.

Love & Rockets Vol 2 #14: I always love Jaime and Beto’s L&R, but Jaime’s work in this issue captured all the bittersweet joys of being middle-aged and seeing life unfold around you. Awesome.

Moxie, My Sweet: A collective of artists tackle a handful of stories by Mark Campos which allows for the sweep of an anthology but the focus of a personal vision. A little pricey maybe but worth it.

Spider Man Human Torch #3: I liked all of this mini by Slott and Templeton but I loved this issue in particular: The Spider-Mobile, The Red Ghost and The Super-Apes and Hostess ads are some of the greatest and goofiest things about comics in the ’70s and this issue has them all in a perfectly constructed story.

Ultimate Fantastic Four #19-20: Mike Carey and Jae Lee take old tropes from early FF comics–the Baxter Building under attack, the FF running down hallways in different directions and facing super deathtraps–and update them with wit and panache. Unlike a lot of Ultimate books, this doesn’t try to shatter your brain with over-the-top widescreen action and radical reinvention. It just works, and works very well.

Trade Paperbacks, OGNs and Collections
676 Apparitions Of Killoffer HC: I dissed this at release because it was too fucking big and too fucking expensive, but goddamned if some of the imagery hasn’t continued to haunt me. It’s a stunning achievement worth seeking out, and Killoffer is one of those cartoonists I can’t wait to see more of, but couldn’t this have worked just as well at a smaller size and price? So I can recommend to people who don’t have money falling out of their pockets?

Beck Mongolian Chop Squad: I’d like to think I would have loved the first two volumes of Harold Sakuishi’s rock and roll coming of age manga without first reading O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim, but I’ll never know for sure. 2005 is the year I’ve really gotten hooked on manga and the joy of a big, unfolding story. Unfortunately, because this is currently my favorite, it just can’t get released fast enough for me. (I also debated about whether to put manga in the ongoing section or the trade section–since they’re episodic, most manga are just big floppies in some ways, but I opted to put them here because it’s how they categorized, by and large).

Black Hole HC: I still haven’t reread it all in one go, but just having this book on my shelf is a triumph. How many publishers did this series outlast? In a way, this is such a distillation of all of Burns’ obsessions, I’ll be curious to see what his next major work ends up being about. The same things reconfigured? Or will this put some ghosts to rest?

The Best of The Spirit TPB: As I said a few weeks ago, having a greatest hits book and a library of work for completists is the sign of a more diverse marketplace, and I love being able to read some of my favorite Spirit stories without either spending some serious coin or flipping through longboxes for my Kitchen Sink issues. I wish two of the big releases of this year–The Push Man and Walt & Skeezix–could have had the leisure to introduce their artists in such a fashion, rather than starting at the very beginning of their careers and working forward.

Essential Fantastic Four Vol 4 TPB: Similarly, having a inexpensive collection of the best work of Lee & Kirby (and Sinnott–I think Sinnott is what really helped kick Kirby into overdrive on this title) was great. James Masente was shocked I didn’t give this an Excellent rating when I first reviewed it, and in a way he’s right–it’s just right near the tip-top of the best comics work ever done–but that’s because, as lovely as it looks in black and white, it’s not in color as originally intended.

Ice Haven TPB: Dan Clowes’ reworking of his influential standalone issue of Eightball added needed highlighting to themes and subplots (I needed it, anyway). I wish it wasn’t so much more expensive than the original issue considering there’s not that much more added to it, but it’s an important work and having it in a format that can end up in libraries and classrooms is a vital step–one that makes me hopeful the medium has undergone a sea change in public perception that will not be undone.

Kinetic TPB: Thank god this got collected. Too subtle to build a readership, Kelley Puckett and Warren Pleece’s very odd book about a teen that gets superpowers is a genuinely affecting work. I can’t help but wonder where it might have gone if it’d continued publication, but it was offbeat enough that its sudden conclusion felt fitting.

The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck TPB: I can’t tell you how many of these I’ve handsold this year. In fact, for me, it’s been the crucial missing element to our all-ages section. Between this, the one-volume Bone, and the three volumes of Leave It To Chance, I’ve got a substantial selection of work to show parents. Not only do they usually pick up at least one of those titles, but I feel confident they’ll be back for more. This is just a great read for anyone–it’s filled with history, action, comedy and characterization. In a way, it’s Origin done right and I’m glad it’s finally easily accesible. This sucker has got to stay in print.

Love Roma Vol. 1: I’m very much a manga neophyte but even I could tell Minoru Toyoda’s love story among two seventh graders is unique. Since it’s a romantic comedy of manners, I also have to give kudos to Del Rey for providing the right amount of cultural context for the reader to get it. This is another one where I’ve been impatiently waiting for the next volume for months.

Perfect Example TPB: Like Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, this collection of John Porcellino’s tales from the ’80s was previously available as a trade. I’m grateful to Drawn & Quarterly for getting it back into print. Porcellino is unique in his ability to glean the beatific just under the skin of the mundane and to show how each depends on the other.

Scott Pilgrim Vols 1 and 2 OGN: Volume 1 came out in 2004 but it was one of the first things I read in ’05. Bryan Lee O’Malley is a major talent, and his tale of a Canadian slacker’s love life effortlessly works nearly every major pop culture diversion of the last forty years into his material yet still makes the work effortlessly smart and funny. But the bitch of it is, that’s just scratching the surface. This may just turn out to be one of the best bildungsromans seen in any medium, A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man that’s delightful and accessible to everyone. Probably my favorite work of the year, overall.

Sgt. Frog vols. #1-10: I owe John Jakala a bottle of good Scotch or something for hooking me on this absurd and enjoyable comedy series about a group of incompetent invaders ostensibly readying to attack Earth. Mine Yoshizaki and crew are able to do so much with so little, and have mastered the formula of introducing a new element whenever things start to lag. (I think there’s also some weird subtext going on in the book, but that’s a topic for another day.) This series is a true guilty pleasure for me, and recommended for anyone who likes the deeply silly.

Seaguy TPB: Speaking of deep and silly, this is the collection of Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart’s Vertigo mini from 2004, where an unimportant hero ends up on an essential quest in a world that’s seemingly forgotten such things. A lot of people seemed to get tripped up on all the wackiness, but this wasn’t just a lark. Seaguy is also a sad and knowing parable about how comic companies retard the growth of even their lamest icons (and, by extension, the people who read them). Great stuff.

Sexy Voice and Robo: Iou Kuroda’s offbeat set of stories detail the adventures of a smart teen phone club worker who has adventures with gangsters, killers, mad bombers, and a hapless otaku type. It’s the closest I’ve found yet to a comic equivalent of Haruki Murakami’s enjoyably odd novels.

Top Ten: The Forty-Niners OGN: Alan Moore and Gene Ha return to Neopolis, this time to its founding, to show a world and a young man in transition. As (almost) always, Moore effortlessly retools the superhero milieu to heighten the humanity of his story, and in Ha, he’s found a perfect collaborator to take his amusingly baroque approach to new levels. Fun, fun, fun.

Trailers HC: Far from perfect, this OGN by Mark Kneece and Julie Collins-Rousseau, about a young man cracking under the pressure of keeping a dark secret in a white-trash trailer park where secrets are impossible, had great art, a strong story and a very decent page-to-price ratio. A very solid read, and I hope this team gets a chance to tell more stories and strengthen their chops.

Tricked TPB: Like Box Office Poison, Alex Robinson’s latest tale is nearly peerless in making its reader care about what happens to his characters. Although somehow, like BOP, I found this an engrossing, intensely enjoyable read despite being oddly empty: I can’t say it left a lasting impression despite its ambition. But a good read is a good read, and crafting an enjoyable page-turner of this size is no small achievement.

Ultra Vol 1 Seven Days TPB: Girls isn’t really doing the trick for me, but this collection of the Luna Brothers’ first mini from 2004 is a witty mix of Sex and the City and superheroes. It doesn’t sound like it’d work, like it would be too calculated, but I thought it did work, and well.

WE3 TPB: And finally, this collection of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s three issue mini of animals in battlesuits trying to escape the military is a masterfully crafted shot of heartfelt adventure.

Wow. I thought that would be easier than reviewing this week’s books! That’ll teach me.

What’d I overlook? What made your list?

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