KC: Best of '07

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(WoW JAN 08)

IS IT ANOTHER YEAR ALREADY?

Okay, time for one of those year-end things that everybody loves. Except I don't know what to call it because, well...

I can't call it a "Best Of..." list, because I didn't read everything this year (not even close), so I'm sure I missed a few things. And I was in a real superhero mood this year, so I still have plenty of good indy-type stuff to get to (some day). Plus, I'm not even sure that what I liked actually qualifies as being a "Best" of anything, my tastes often being quite... odd. (But then again, who is qualified for such judgments? And who judges them?) (Conflicted much?) So with all that in mind, I'm pleased to present, in glorious random order:

To link to this column, use this link (right click and copy)

KC's MILDLY INTERESTING, YEAR-END, SORT-OF "BEST OF" (BUT NOT REALLY), NOT-QUITE TOP 10 LIST OF STUFF HE READ AND THOUGHT WOULD BE FUN TO WRITE ABOUT LIST-THINGY!

Take it away, Don Pardo...

FANTASTIC FOUR: THE END - Usually, these "The End" specials are such dreary affairs. The hero battles gallantly for the fate of the Universe/dinner/something and sacrifices himself for the betterment of mankind/dessert/something and dies a hero. Yawn.

In Fantastic Four: The End, writer/artist Alan Davis gives us something different -- an upbeat, inspirational, and life-fulfilling conclusion. (Sorry to give away the ending, but here the journey to the conclusion is what makes this series so good.)

And yet, it all starts out so badly (at least for the characters). In the (near?) future, a fight with Dr. Doom goes VERY wrong and the Richards children, Franklin and Valeria, are accidentally killed in the battle. Completely devastated, the Fantastic Four fall apart - for good. Johnny ends up with the Avengers, while Ben retires from heroing, marries Alicia, and settles down on Mars (with the Inhumans) to start a family. Saddest of all, Reed and Sue separate, she to begin extensive archeological study in Atlantis (which of course leads her to reconnecting with Namor, the Sub-Mariner), while Reed, typically, has fled to deep space to bury himself in research work. It looks like it's The End for the Fantastic Four.

But that's just the beginning of the story, which winds through six fast-paced issues of adventures, intrigue, introspection, and finding that spark of what makes life important. And it just happens to include practically EVERY character or concept that is important to the FF, from Wyatt Wingfoot to Galactus (even Herbie is thrown in for good measure). All of it is intricately worked out to drive the point of the story home, that nothing is more important than family. Thanks to comics' consummate family man, Alan Davis (along with his long-time artistic partner, inker Mark Farmer), we have this story to remind us of that.

Fantastic Four: The End is currently available as a hardcover collection, with plans for a trade paperback edition sometime in 2008.

HELLCAT: THE GIRL WHO COULD BE YOU (From Marvel Comics Presents #1-4) - Sometimes the best stories sneak up and surprise you when you're not looking. Such is the case with this story, tucked away within the pages of Marvel's new anthology title, not the place I would normally expect to find something this quirky. Stunningly illustrated by Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger, as we've come to expect from these two talented gentlemen -- and who get plenty of praise elsewhere, so that's enough about them. I want to dwell for a moment on the writing talent of Kathryn Immonen, who's the one hauling in the big buckets of quirk and flinging them freely all over the place.

The core idea is brilliant in its simplicity. Hellcat aka Patsy Walker aka "The Girl Who Could Be You" (her old tag-line from her pre-Marvel Universe, pre-superhero, romance comic days) comes in contact with "mystic forces" which cause her to divide into separate manifestations of her various personalities. Since she's had so many different identities over her decades in Marvel comics, ranging from Beast sidekick to standard romance heroine to Defenders team member to Avengers mascot, in picking Patsy, Kathryn sure picked the right character!

The whole story is played for fun (gasp!), with Patsy attempting to re-ignite her social life, as her hapless first date in a long time is inundated with five different Patsys (my favorite: "prom queen" Patsy, with her horrible French-by-way-of-Oklahoma accent). Each of the Patsys has her own speech pattern - a detail too frequently overlooked by other writers whose characters all talk the same way -- and the dialogue is so fast and witty that this could stand with the very best screwball comedy.

 height=Unfortunately, I'm not sure how Marvel's going to be able to reprint this storyline on its own - the whole thing is only 24 pages -- so you'll have to track down the four individual issues. But if you want to see more stuff by Kathryn (and that guy Stu too), you should check out their way-cool self-published comic Never As Bad As You Think, which just happens to be available from the fine folks here at Westfield. The Immonens also have more self-published goodness at their website at http://www.immonen.ca.

 height=DC: THE NEW FRONTIER ACTION FIGURES: SERIES 2 - OK, these go on the list for a couple of reasons. First, I love these figures. They are the only action figures that I've bought for years -- mostly because I've tired of the endless variations of Superman and Batman that DC Direct puts out these days and, gosh, I just can't bring myself to put out $$$ for figures that look like steroid freaks. I like The New Frontier figures for three reasons: First, they are simple and straightforward. I love the fact that they are not over-rendered to death, and they look like actual people. Plus, the boxes they come in are very smartly designed and can serve as an attractive way to display them for those who don't want to take them out of the packaging (although Woody will never be your friend if you don't play with your toys!). Finally, some of the figures are actually smiling. They like being heroes! What a concept!

 height=They're based on Darwyn Cooke's highly recommended DC: The New Frontier, the Absolute format version of which would also be on this list, had it not come out in November of '06. Cooke's detailed annotations, the dozen-or-so extra pages of story, and the excellent extra features are more than worth the price for the super-sized format. The figures also make an excellent "teaser" for the upcoming animated DVD version (listed on the current order form), which is the biggest thing that I am looking forward to in 2008. (Go for the Deluxe version: It's got a commentary track by Cooke, which should be worth the extra couple of bucks.)

DOCTOR 13: ARCHITECTURE & MORTALITY - Collecting the best back-up series in comics since Archie Goodwin & Walter Simonson's Manhunter series. This one snuck up on everybody! For me, it was truly a "What the heck--?" experience, since I was behind in my reading and didn't get to this series (published in the anthology mini-series Tales of the Unexpected) until three issues were out. And having to sit through the first three tedious episodes of the Spectre, the lead feature of the book, made this shine like a lost jewel.

 height=The back-story goes something like this: having been "guilted" into doing this backup series, writer Brian Azzarello was given a list of obscure DC supernatural characters which were deemed unusable in the DCU for being (pick one) too odd, too silly, too obscure, or forgotten completely. After choosing Dr. 13 for the leader of this motley crew (a character not on the list), Azzarello was both informed that he had been recently killed off in Seven Soldiers of Victory and also told that it would be okay to use him. Thus, Azzarello realized that not only did the characters not matter, but also the story he wanted to tell with them didn't matter to his bosses either. Which suddenly turned this frustrating situation into one that was totally liberating. After getting artist Cliff Chiang (a quirky collaborator whose seemingly simplistic art style contributes greatly to the madness) onboard, there was just no stopping this story from getting a life of its own!

And what a story it is! Overflowing with dedicated skepticism, bad puns, satire, convoluted logic, rubber boots, outrageous accents, plucky females, Nazi apes, lots of dead guys, stacks of dimes, inside jokes, visits by characters from other companies and from the "real" world, and - no kidding - cameos by Aquaman's seahorse Storm and Tusky the walrus! Once the story gets rolling, it just never stops!

The trade collects all eight chapters, plus there's a great gallery of Chang's sketches and preliminary drawings. (My favorite is the mocked-up DC Archives cover, featuring a parody of Giant Size X-Men #1.) Sadly, there's no introduction or additional text. Too bad. This is one of those works that would have benefited from a little context. Still, it's an essential story for those who like their comics weird, but fun!

 height=X-MEN: FIRST CLASS - I'm a sucker for the "let's tell stories set in the old continuity, but with modern storytelling techniques and sophistication" style of series (and there really needs to be a better name for that beyond "continuity implant"). But this book is so much more than that, as it's another great example of a book that is obviously publisher-directed at younger readers but steadfastly refuses to talk down to them (see also Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane).

X-Men: First Class tells us new stories of the original five X-Men (Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast, and Iceman) as well as their teacher, Professor X. They're set in the period where they are still students, learning not just how to use their powers correctly, but also learning teamwork and tolerance for a society that sometimes fears them. All of the characters' well-known personalities are in place, but a few of them have been tweaked slightly. Warren is a bit more blas about his tremendous wealth, which fits in well with the clever use of that wealth as a plot device for the series. When anyone needs emergency money, it can just be scooped off Warren's dresser (and paid back later, of course). But the most work has been done with Jean, expanding her previous one-note role as object of desire for the pack of hormonal young boys (which is still there, but cleverly downplayed). This Jean is much more powerful, and slightly fearful about that, but that just spurs her to become more confident and self-reliant -- and not just to control those powers. She is the character to watch here.

Jeff Parker's dialogue sparkles. The kids are hip, sarcastic, and cool, but also knowing and smart. And respectful, not just of their professor, but of each other and every one they meet. It's telling that when they discover the tortured connection between Bruce Banner and the Hulk, they walk away from the government-sanctioned mission to bring him in, telling the feds "we couldn't find him." The stories are small, generally mission-oriented, but the problems are big, and that keeps them from being too "old school" (although "old school" is kind of a relief in today's world of biggest, baddest, most powerful, universe-crushing stories in most other superhero comics). Roger Cruz is the regular artist, and he does a great job drawing classic superheroic action while keeping his characters looking like the struggling teenagers that they are.

This is not your typical Marvel superhero comic. It feels like it's coming from another place, with an indy sensibility, perhaps due to Parker's earlier self-published work, such as his Interman graphic novel. Or it may be another example of the rare book that is "flying under the radar" and able to flourish because of it. Make sure you check it out before somebody finds out!

The first eight-issue mini-series has been collected into a trade paperback. There was also a special one-shot, and the current ongoing series published #7 in December.

 height=CAPTAIN AMERICA #25 and GREEN LANTERN #25 - Two of the very best single-issue superhero comics published this year were Cap at the beginning of the year and GL as a surprising conclusion to 2007.

Cap #25 provided the crushing conclusion (or is that epilogue?) to the Civil War event with the assassination of Captain America. It was also the high point issue of an incredible two-year run of high-quality stories by the team of Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. They used the issues to turnaround the status quo of the book, and then produced another year's worth of excellent stories -- this time without the lead character. Shredding expectations has been the focus of this title, from the can't-believe-they-did-it, much less did it well, return of long-dead Bucky, to pumping new life into a rich cast of supporting characters who had fallen into disuse, including the Falcon, the Black Widow, and Sharon Carter, Cap's long-time girlfriend and now-assassin. Plus, the Red Skull is cool again. Nice job, guys!

 height=GL #25, on the other hand, was a total surprise, at least for me. I had tired of the revolving door of artists and delays that had plagued this book for too long, so by the time the Sinestro Corps War storyline began, issues of this series were piling up, unread, on my comics table. I finally got to them about a month or so ago, and I was pleasantly surprised at how coherent it all was (something that DC was not doing a very good job of with other "event" projects this year). The climax in GL #25 pretty much blew my socks off and gave me close to the feeling of seeing the first Star Wars movie back in 1977. A lot of the elements are the same -- intergalactic battles, heroic intensity to the nth degree, mustache-twirling villains, come-from-behind victories, and a huge feeling of esprit de corps. But a couple of things made the issue special and unique to the series. First was the deliberate refusal to use lethal force by Hal Jordan, a crucial moment in the redemption of this battered man. Second, watching an entire city of ordinary people, in the face of -- for them -- savage and unimaginable evil, rise up as one to support their hero in his time of greatest need, was inspiring as they turned the tide of the battle for Earth. An amazing, touching moment which almost made me forgive the "event movie"-styled "trailer" for the next big GL storyline (which, by the way, isn't happening until 2009. Holy expectations, Batman!). Still, a fine, fine issue!

 height=TELLOS COLOSSAL - One of the sadder events of the year was the publication of this book, which began to appear in shops just a week after the passing of artist Mike Wieringo. This book, originally intended as a celebration of a deluxe printing of the complete original series, became instead a tribute to a fallen friend. I'm sure that I'm not alone in relating the dread and trepidation in receiving this book. At first, I didn't want to open it for fear that the magic of it might escape into the wind (and memories of Mike along with it). Then, after screwing up the courage to crack it open, I spent several incredibly dark nights just sadly flipping the pages -- not even reading Todd Dezago's phantasmagorical words -- once again amazed at the beauty and humanity of Mike's incredible artwork, while simultaneously stunned that there would be no more.

Enough. Time has passed. Let's consider the book's original intent -- the celebration of adventure that is Tellos! A rollicking fantasy about a boy named Jarek, his half-human, half-tiger companion Koj, and various friends and foes pitted in a desperate battle between good and evil. The "Legend" says it best (and does so without giving up the many twists and surprises of the story): "Tellos is a magikal patchwork world made up of a myriad of different realms, populated by Creatures of Myth and Legend, a Fantastic Land filled with Adventure around every corner and Danger at every turn!"

This is a gorgeous volume, beautifully designed and jam-packed with fun extras, including fascinating notes by Todd, all of the various covers and scattered short stories, and incredible sketches by 'Ringo. Unfortunately, the hardcover edition is totally sold out, but the new trade paperback edition is available on this month's order form. It deserves to be on your bookshelf. Or, your kids bookshelf, as Todd points out that "this is the perfect format for the perfect bedtime story - for children of ALL ages!"

So, there you have it. I have probably forgotten dozens of things. So...

What did YOU like last year? Let us know about the comic or series or collection that meant the most to you in 2007, and why! We'll run the best comments right here in a few weeks, so be prepared to share with everybody!

Simply send your emails to AuntieKC@WestfieldComics.com.

KC Carlson reads comic books. Once, in another time and place, he had something or other to do with the creation, publication, distribution and selling of comics - but that was a long time ago.