Sunday, February 01, 2015

Best Graphic Novels of 2014: 10-8

So onwards with the list that literally six of you are reading....

10a. Captain Marvel: Higher, Further, Faster, More
10b. Ms. Marvel: No Normal

Yes, I'm cheating already. But these two books are linked. Recently, Marvel Comics noted that there are more than white guys in the world and that some of them might like comic book characters that were more like them. Such as women. Or non-white people. So they're in the middle of a push to diversify some of their line. She-Hulk, Elektra, Black Widow, Ghost Rider (hispanic male). Thor is now a woman. Captain America is black.

This is not gone over well in some narrow minded geek circles, and not all of these books have succeeded. But they've all gotten pretty good critical attention. My two favourite of the bunch are these two books.

This is the second run of Captain Marvel by writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and it's much better than the first. Her first time on the Captain had some iconic moments (punching a dinosaur is always a win), but the writing was a bit erratic, and the art ranged from awful to quirky. She was also handicapped with too many cross-overs that took away momentum.

This time she has a top notch artist with David Lopez who brings a fun, energetic and clean art style to the book. And DeConnick seems like she has a better idea of where she's bringing the story. Sending her into outer space so she's helping people being harassed by pirates and threatened by a galactic empire works much better. Throwing in the Guardians of the Galaxy as guest stars doesn't hurt sales either. The book is much more fun this time around, but just as importantly, much more focussed.

Ms. Marvel is following a tried and true Marvel formula - misunderstood teenager gets super powers and decides to fight crime. It's almost impossible to do it better than Spider-Man. But G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona come pretty damn close. I've read a lot of teenage superhero origins. This is one of the best I've ever seen.

Kamala Khan is a teenage girl in New Jersey, who has a huge heart, but between her strict Muslim parents who are terrified of what impact western culture is going to have on their daughter, and people at school who mock her because she's "different" it can be hard. Then, like you would, she gets super powers (she's technically an Inhuman, if you care about such things). She can change her appearance, heal quickly and grow or shrink in size.

Some wrote this book off as Marvel trying to political correct, which is insane. I'm not the target audience for this book, but you can still see quality from a mile away. It's fun, it's got energy and Khan might be the best new comic book character, and costume design, I've seen in years. As I said, she's got a big heart, but right now she's terrible at being a super hero. Which she should be. I'm just glad to see Alphona back doing comics after Runaways. And Wilson is crafting something special.

Peter Parker's mantra has always been "With Great Power comes Great Responsibility." In a stroke of genius Wilson quotes the Quran as to what drives her. "Whoever kills one person, it is as if they have killed all Mankind and whoever saves one person it is as if he has saved all Mankind." And that's why she chooses to be a hero.

They're both ones to watch. Captain Marvel gets her own movie in 2018. If there's any justice Ms. Marvel won't be far behind.

9. Moon Knight: From the Dead

From the Dead is the kind of book you want to study and rip open the guts of if you want to be a comic book writer or artist. Learn from it and steal it's magic.

Moon Knight is a character Marvel hasn't been able to figure out what to do with for decades, coming off as a poor man's Batman. Even the great Brian Michael Bendis couldn't get a series to last longer than a year, a rare misfire for someone who hasn't had many in the past 15 years. But writer Warren Ellis specializes in taking damaged characters, fixing them up and given them to others to play with.

From the Dead isn't even Top 10 Ellis, really (When you have Transmetropolitan, Planetary, The Authority and Global Frequency on your resume, the bar is set pretty high on new work). It seems deceptively slight. I burned through it pretty quick my first time through. But the second read is when I started paying attention. Ellis is always trying to find new ways to tell a story. This might be the least talky book Ellis has ever written. Instead, he lets artist Declan Shalvey do the heavy lifting.

There are six, stand alone stories in this book. The art is marvelous in all of them, but has a unique feel. Each story sees Ellis and Shalvey trying new techniques. But one has something I've never seen before. Eight people being targeted by a sniper. The way their story is told, and how their deaths are handled is a masterclass in storytelling. Shalvey deserves awards for his work on that story alone.

As for Ellis, as always, he finds the angle to make the story work. And it's a simple one. What kind of man wears a bright white suit (literally, in this case. It's a white three piece suit with a hooded mask) and goes out at night to fight crime when you can see him coming. That he wants his opponents to see him coming. Is he just plain crazy, or is he the kind of crazy you want to run away from very, very quickly?

There are a few answers to that question hinted at here. And like he's done before, Ellis is happy to lay the groundwork and offer hints before moving on. Moon Knight was never a character I cared much for. Six issues was all it took for me to wish Ellis and Shalvey were sticking around.

8. Magneto: Infamous

The best X-Men book of the year is about their greatest villain.

Lord knows there's no shortage of X-books. There was All-New X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, Amazing X-Men, X-Men, and then spin-off books with Nightcrawler and Storm. Plus however many dozen Wolverine books there were. And I read a few of them. But Magneto was top of the class.

Then again, he's always been the most interesting character in that universe. A deeply conflicted man who went through horror as a child, grew up vowing "Never again" only to discover that he had the power to make good on that vow. He's been cast as a villain, a hero, a teacher and now he's just dangerous. Enemies of mutantkind are re-emerging, more dangerous and clever than before. He won't allow that to happen.

The premise is that due to a big crossover that you should in no way care about, his powers are broken. He can no longer throw tanks into orbit with a flick of his finger. Moving the smallest metal thing require effort. And somehow this makes him more dangerous. He can be terrifying using, literally, a paperclip.

There's clever writing going on here. It's a fascinating character study of a man who knows he's far from his glory days, finds dark humour in it, but is still determined to do what he thinks his right, no matter what the body count or his own personal damnation. There's smart story structure. My favourite being the hook in the open few pages, where a Starbuck's employee compares what he does to what Magneto does. And it absolutely works. It even gets reference later in the story in a clever way

Gabriel Walta and Javi Fernandez but provide solid, occasionally very flashy artwork. It's nice stuff. But it's Cullen Bunn's story that sings. I'm looking forward to see where he takes Magneto next.

Last Five
1. Tighten up - The Black Keys
2. Lost together - Blue Rodeo*
3. VCR - The XX
4. Go to sleep - Sarah Harmer
5. Alice Springs - Liz Phair

No comments: