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Tansy Rayner Roberts

2011: A Year in Reading (Graphic Novels Edition)

December 31st, 2011 at 21:53

It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m curled up with my family watching the animated adventures of Batman. As you do. It seems oddly appropriate considering how my year in reading ended up!

In September, it looked unlikely that I’d even hit 100 books read this year, let alone equal the 120 books I read in 2010. But then I took an interest in the DC Reboot, and one of my best friends rediscovered comics and started raving about the Ultimate Spiderman, and one thing led to another, and my house spontaneously filled with graphic novels.

So, yes. My total books read for the year is 143. Of which 61 are graphic novels/manga, all but one of which were consumed in the last three months. YEAH BABY.

Let’s talk about those first. I’ll do a separate post about the actual prose books, for those people (cough, Alisa) who aren’t interested in comic books.

My stand out graphic novels/trade paperbacks for the year were:

Justice League: Generation Lost #1 & #2, by Keith Giffen & Judd Winick with art by Kevin Maguire, Aaron Loprecki & others. This was a just and fitting coda to the glorious Justice League International that was retrospectively ripped up and spat on by a variety of DC creators. It doesn’t make up for the death of Ted Kord but it’s still a fine, powerful story that shows that the real value of Justice League International wasn’t (just) the bwa-ha-ha humour, but the characters of that era. I particularly liked the way Fire and Ice have been re-imagined over the years to become stronger characters, though I did find the girlie-body-in-armour pages hilarious.

speaking of which…

Justice League International #1-4, by Keith Giffen, J.M. Matteis & various artists. When I first heard these were trades now, I was dismissive, because I have a filing cabinet full of single issues. But then I remembered that I have GAPS, damn it, and I couldn’t resist. Re-reading these, with my occasional missing issue gloriously present, has been a great joy of the last few months. I’ll be ordering more!

Power Girl: A New Beginning & Power Girl: Aliens and Apes, by Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray, with art by Amanda Conner. Thanks again to Grant for recommending these, it’s a lovely run that sums up the character I enjoyed in the 90′s and manages to balance so many important elements of her character and backstory into a dignified whole. The sense of humour and the feminism in the writing and the art is fantastic and I’m only sad they didn’t stay on the book longer. It feels like a complete piece over the 2 volumes, though.

Ultimate Spiderman Vol. One (Peter Parker) #1-#10, written by Brian Michael Bendis, pencils by Mark Bagley. Damn, this is a good comic. This one was pushed on me by my friend Iz, who read them all through the library and is now acquiring the GNs at a rate of knots. I love it to bits. This Peter Parker is basically the male version of Buffy, and it’s interesting to me that it was written concurrently to that show, and reflects so many of the same themes and issues. The women in the ensemble are fantastic, crunchy characters and I have a particular attachment to the Ultimate Gwen Stacy, who is an amazing, well-rounded character. Also this has to be the best version of Aunt May ever. This is the comic that got me reading Marvel, and the Marvel Ultimates universe in particular.

Questionable Content #2, written & drawn by Jeph Jacques – My only complaint is that they’re not putting out the trades of this great webcomic faster! One a year is not quite enough for me. Having reread the series at least twice before, I am very much enjoying re-reading it again in this format, with commentary, and this is certainly a key era for the Questionable Content gang, especially Faye, my favourite character. Probably my favourite. I do like that basically this is the story of a skinny indie boy who doesn’t get it together with his best friend, and while not getting together with her, slowly gathers a huge group of amazing, interesting female friends, very few of whom he wants to sleep with. It had a few uneven moments in the early days (a couple of rape jokes, for example) but has grown into a splendid, female-friendly soap opera about people who sell coffee (of doom) and people who drink coffee (equally doomed).

Runaways (Vol 1, the entire first run of 18 issues), written by Brian K Vaughn, art by Adrian Alphona – what a cool comic series! The premise is great, about a diverse, misfit gang of teenagers who discover that their parents are super villains, and run away so as not to be part of their schemes, but the characterisation and the writing (and the gorgeous art) rises to become a memorable and powerful book that shows how good graphic storytelling can be. I especially liked the feminist & anti-sexist touches, and the portrayal of the female characters in particular. From what I’ve heard, some things happen in the later volumes of this book that make me less keen to continue, as this had a perfect ending in any case, but I might suck it up at some point and pursue the later storylines just because… I love these characters so much!

She-Hulk #4, Rules of Attraction, written by Dan Slott – this clever story of a female lawyer at a firm that deals with superhero cases (who happens to sometimes turn green and super-muscled) completely sold me on Jennifer/She-Hulk and I’m now busily tracking down more of this particular run of She-Hulk, and other recommended runs with this character. She’s marvellous – powerful and intelligent, and I like that her version of the Hulk powers is so much less destructive, to the point where she is almost willing to spend her whole life in the She-Hulk body. As long as she gets to carry her brief case too. I love her!

Powers #1: Who Killed Retro Girl? by Brian Michael Bendis, pencils by Michael Avon Oeming, a film noir style police procedural about how the cops deal with superhero crime. I liked the central characters of this very much, especially the spunky Deena Pilgrim, and the world is detailed and interesting enough to make me want to check out other books in this series.

The Ultimates & Ultimates 2, written by Mark Millar, art by Bryan Hitch – this is the series that, finally, made me care about the Avengers. A gritty, intelligent take on a militarised super team which doesn’t pull punches about the fact that Iron Man is an alcoholic, the Wasp and Giant/Ant-Man have serious marital issues, Bruce Banner is a selfish arsehole (regardless of whether he is the Hulk or not), Captain America is basically your grandpa in the body of an underwear model, Thor is (possibly) crazy, Betty Ross has… issues, and don’t get me started about Black Widow! All this, threaded through with a snarky sense of humour, and Nick Fury is Samuel L Jackson long before he actually was played by Samuel L Jackson.

The Ultimate Fantastic Four
, written by Mark Millar & Brian Michael Bendis, Warren Ellis & others, art by Adam Kubert and Stuart Immonen – I’ve never been remotely interested in the Fantastic Four, and the fact that they are awesome and crunchy and strange in the Ultimate universe just goes to show what a great universe it is. I really like the teen SFnal aspect of this and the bright, mostly blue artwork.

Batgirl (vol. 3, Stephanie Brown) – Batgirl Rising & Batgirl: the Flood, by Bryan Q Miller – okay I’ve already used up my ‘it’s like Buffy’ card, but it’s hard not to love an action adventure series about a snarky blonde who fights crime and goes to college and has a hardworking single Mom. I’ve missed Steph’s various runs as Robin and Spoiler but oh, I love her as Batgirl. Also as a Birds of Prey fan of old, I really like this portrayal of Oracle as Steph’s mentor. The big surprise was Damien Wayne, a character I was determined to loathe, who turns out to be psychopathically adorable. Like if Angelus was Buffy’s 10 year old adopted brother instead of the evil side of her immortal boyfriend! Yeah, that. Hanging out for the rest of this run.

Secret Six: Six Degrees of Devastation, by Gail Simone – this one’s just weird. It’s a very dark, very twisted take on the superhero team, featuring characters that are so far into anti-hero that they’re out the other side. And I love it. There are lesbians (actual lesbians!) and crazy people and all manner of villainous comrades, but most of all, there is banter. Simone is the queen of dark-edged banter, and this book is a great vessel for her talents. It’s WEIRD.

The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, adapted from the C.S. Lewis original by Robin Lawrie – I hesitate to recommend this one, because it’s going to be all but impossible for anyone to get their hands on, as it’s from the 90′s and barely makes a dent in Google. It’s a wonderful, faithful adaption with packed information on every page, an old fashioned illustrative style, and a whole lot of verbatim quotes from the novel. I read this one with Raeli over about 7 bedtime stories and it was a marvellous experience for us both.

Thor: the Mighty Avenger Vol 1: The God Who Fell To Earth, written by Roger Langridge, art by Chris Samnee – this is just lovely. It’s a lot like the movie but the lack of half naked Chris Hemsworth in the mud is made up for by a Jane who makes sense! She’s a lovely character, a historian running a museum, and this is basically a slightly mad romantic comedy about the Norse God who crashes into her life.

Catwoman: Crooked Little Town, by Ed Brubaker – I like this version of Catwoman a lot, with her gritty noir world, her leather catsuit and her independent style. I’m not overly keen on Catwoman as a vigilante (shades of Helena Wayne!) as I do prefer classic catburglar Catwoman, but as vigilante Catwomans go, this one is pretty awesome.

UPDATE: I realised going through my book list that I forgot to include two graphic novels I read far earlier in the year: the extraordinary Fun Home & The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For, written and drawn by Alison Bechdel, which are the best non-fantastical comics that I think I will ever read. Brilliant stuff.

In single issues, I especially enjoyed the new DC 52 versions of Batgirl, Batwoman, JLI, Blue Beetle, Superboy and the Huntress mini-series, as well as some older issues of Zatanna. At Marvel I liked the first few issues of the Miles Morales Ultimate Spiderman. With my six-year old daughter, I have been delighted with individual issues of Tiny Titans, Teen Titans Go! and the Cosmic Adventures of Supergirl, all on the iPad.

Now, other books. There were some!

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4 Responses to “2011: A Year in Reading (Graphic Novels Edition)”

  1. Kevin Says:

    I’m interested in how you reacted to some of the harsher moments in Ultimates. I’m thinking of the Bug Spray scene in particular. I think Ultimates is one of Millar’s strongest works though it always walks a very thin line between satirizing and glorifying the military industrial complex.

    Runaways, I think volume 2 by Vaughan is excellent (though maybe not as perfectly structured as volume 1 is) and I’m a bigger fan than most of the Joss Whedon arc. The Terry Moore arcs in volume 3 aren’t great but the arc written by Kathryn Immomen which closes out the volume is fun if a bit jumbled (and setting up a lot of plots she didn’t get to see through.) Hopefully their guest appearances in Daken: Dark Wolverine and Avengers Academy will lead to a new Runaways series.

    If you liked Ultimate Fantastic Four, I’d recommend trying out the current mainline Marvel U run written by Jonathan Hickman (starts with the trade Solve Everything) which really focuses on the idea of the Fantastic Four as a family and Reed and Sue’s kids Franklin and Valeria are major characters.

    I haven’t read it, but the general sense I got from reviews was that Power Girl was pretty solid for the rest of it’s run being written by Winick, up until it ended due to the New 52 reboot.

  2. tansyrr Says:

    Hi Kevin

    I thought that the way they dealt with the issue of domestic abuse was really interesting, and that scene was so strongly built up to and then dealt with afterwards, that I certainly didn’t consider it gratuitous. It was enough to go make me read up on those characters and their history, and now I’m a huge advocate for the Wasp.

  3. tansyrr Says:

    Damn it, posted too fast! I wanted to add that the Avengers animated movie was interesting because it used the Ultimates interpretation of the characters but in a more family-friendly way. I liked that the frisson & tensions between the Pyms were still there, and that they dealt with a PG-rated version of that storyline – also that other elements of Janet’s personality were emphasised, rather than using her relationship as an excuse to make her look weak.

    I especially like the bit where Janet is the one that the government wants at first, and they take her husband under sufferance – much preferable to the mainstream Marvel universe where, in Civil War for example, the intelligence of Reed Richards and Hank Pym is mythologised to an immense extent (likewise the importance of how smart Sue Richards is comes across better, to my mind, in the Ultimates universe).

    I have the Judd Winick next volume of Power Girl – I’ve just been hesitant to read it because I loved the previous team SO MUCH! I will be brave soon :D

  4. Kevin Says:

    For a fan of Ultimate Wasp, I’d recommend staying the hell away from Ultimatum. Vicious series which only really has anything of value for people into disaster porn.

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