Monday, December 30, 2013

The Illumi-Nerdi's Best of the Best in 2013- Part 1

New Title of the Year-
Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Grey (Image Comics)
Writer: Frank Barbiere, Artist: Chris Mooneyham

          Too many times have I read a premise for a story and said that sounds phenomenal only to be disappointed by the actual product. Something is almost always lacking; the art doesn’t fit the story or is just crappy, the writer came up with a good idea for a story but writes hacky, predictable dialogue. It is so difficult to make the jump from great idea for a comic, to producing a great comic based on that idea. So many times well established veterans come up with boring, it’s-all-been-done-before stories and get to see them made only because of who they are. This makes the story of Five Ghosts all the more impressive. It’s made by a couple of guys who have very few credits under their name yet somehow produced one of the most shockingly original ideas in recent memory.
           I love traditional-type stories “with a twist”. I’m sick of seeing your standard cape story or boring, by-the-numbers procedural crime story. Five Ghosts takes on a tried American art form, a pulp serial, and turns it on its head. The writing is absolutely fantastic and it tackles everything from giant spiders to evil Chinese mages. It is a true page turning adventure with a backstory that has you demanding answers and an ongoing story that renders you unable to wait for the next installment. The art by Chris Mooneyham completely captures the spirit of the genre. I can’t picture another artist doing it nearly as well and don’t really want to (Issue 6’s art by Garry Brown was more than serviceable but I look forward to Mooneyham’s return ). It was originally only slated for five issues, and thank god it got picked up for more. 

Best Brian K. Vaughan Title that ISN’T Saga-
The Private Eye (Panel Syndicate)
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan, Artist: Marcos Martin

          It would be really, really easy to give practically every award this year to Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' sci-fi/romance/comedy/drama/epic/story-that-makes-me-weep-pretty-much-at-the-end-of-every-issue comic. Everyone’s top comic list of 2013 NEEDS to include this title. That’s exactly why I chose not to include it (although I think I sort of just did?). That being said, Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin have created an amazingly unique story with The Private Eye.
          Had this story been written any other year and had the creator’s chosen to market this story differently (I absolutely agree 100% with how it was made, by the way), this could easily be in competition for Title of the Year. Unfortunately, it is slightly overshadowed by Vaughan’s contemporary probable-magnum opus, Saga, and could be easily missed by some of the less avid comic book readers because of the way it is being published: by relative unknown Panel Syndicate, and exclusively online in a “pay what you can” format. I simply love that Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin chose to publish it this way. They could have charged absolutely anything they wanted (as far as comic book prices go) and people would have paid if only for the fact that it was made by two giants in the industry. But, let’s not gloss over the fact that it is one of the most original and captivating mystery/sci-fi stories to be written for the comic book medium. We’ve seen noir done before in comics. We’ve seen the future societies where shit has gone south before. But never before have the two genres come together quite as well as in The Private Eye.

The “What Were They Thinking and How Did it Work so Damn Well” Award-
Afterlife with Archie (Archie Comics)
Writer: Robert Aguirre-Sacasa, Artist: Francesco Francavilla

          I read Archie when I was a kid. I used to ask my mom to buy me the Double Digest at the Waldbaum’s magazine stand. Of course, she’d oblige (being a good mother), owing to the fact that Life with Archie and the Jughead Double Digest and Betty and Veronica were generally tame, safe choices as far as comic books go. It was a series inexorably connected to the 50’s and a more (perceived) innocent time. How Archie got Betty and Veronica to slobber all over him when Reggie was right there next to him, I’ll never know. But writer Robert Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Francesco Francavilla decided to take a daring risk with Archie and the gang in 2013 and ask the question: what if zombies came to Riverdale? Chaos instantly ensued.
           The comic is f***ing fantastic. It took two tried and true, yet wholly opposite forms of comic books and combined them in a way that revitalized both. I for one was kind of sick of the zombie genre. But when I heard that it was being brought to the Archie universe, I could not have been more excited. It almost felt logical. The two types of stories had been around for so long separately, why not bring them together? And the fact that Sabrina the Teenage Witch was in the Archie Universe made the next step in this ridiculous sounding pitch seem completely logical, if not necessary. The best part is, this comic is actual horror. It is by no means corny or tame or soft which some people may associate with the relatively light early Archie stories. It is straight up, balls to the wall, horror. The blood and gore and violence depicted by Mr. Francavilla is surprisingly appropriate for the story. It would have been easy for both writer and artist to have taken that pretty cool “zombies-meets-Archie” pitch and find a way to keep it PG rated. But this story is genuinely terrifying and I cannot wait to see where the duo take it going forward. 

The “How the Hell Did They Make Mermaids Scary” Award-
The Wake (Vertigo)
Writer: Scott Snyder, Artist: Sean Murphy

          What in the world is going on in this story? When I first started reading this I have to admit, I was only interested because of the creative team. Scott Snyder hasn’t written a dud yet and Sean Murphy’s Punk Rock Jesus may be the most unique comic of the last few years. I didn’t think the initial pitch sounded all that great. But when you get a collaborative team together like this, you just have to give it a chance. And goddamn it, I’m glad I did. Every single issue takes the story in a different direction. 
          Mermaids are not scary. Period. Yet somehow, someway, between Scott Snyder’s writing and Sean Murphy’s unbelievable art, they made mermaids terrifyingly creepy. My absolute favorite part is the heavy integration of folk tales. Every time a new folk tale is mentioned I jump online and see if any of it is true. Funnily enough, every single word figures into some civilizations’ folk tales. I have no idea how they integrate so many different civilizations’ fascinating histories into a story about freaking mermaids. If you aren't reading this then I don't know what the hell has you interested in comics this year. The end of issue five has me hooked more than ever and I cannot wait for more in 2014. 

The “I Did Not See That Coming” Award-
Ghosted (Image Comics)
Writer: Joshua Williamson, Artist: Goran Sudzuka

          Ghosted is another one of those truly unique stories by a writer I can’t wait to get more out of. I think it’s pretty clear that I am a big fan of horror comics, as pretty much all of my picks have fit into that genre. But Ghosted takes the cake. This is one of those rare stories where the art and writing really truly complement each other. They really work so perfectly together. When reading the end of issue five I found myself really, really disappointed. Not because of where the story went, how the writing was done, or any of the other factors that go into readers hating the end of comics. I was disappointed because I felt Williamson and Sudzuka wrapped the story up too well. It really was a perfect end to a story. All the different characters went their separate ways, and it was completely satisfying. Unfortunately, we want more out of this story. We are not satisfied with hearing the end of Jackson Winter’s creepy criminal history. That’s why I was ecstatic to see the end of the issue promising more Ghosted. I just hope the creative team can find a savory way to bring back Jackson’s Ocean’s 11 of Paranormal Activity in a satisfying way.  

Lifetime Achievement Award-
Locke & Key (IDW Publishing)
Writer: Joe Hill, Artist: Gabriel Rodriguez

          Tears. Just- tears streaming down my face. It was so difficult to say goodbye to one of the best series that has ever hit the shelves. There are certain titles that you simply demand more of. Locke & Key did not come out on a regular basis. It wasn’t forced to the shelves once a month. It came out when it was fucking ready. I think that says a lot about a title. Despite the masses clamoring for more, it came out when it was ready to be read, and not a second before. Whenever I attempt to get someone into comics I point them in the direction of Locke & Key. I think it is one of the most captivating stories (not just comic books mind you, but stories) ever written. People weren’t waiting as eagerly when Dickens’ published Great Expectations once a month. Now, I’m not comparing Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez to Dickens. Actually, hell, I am. This comic was just that good. It’s one of those books that has so much going on, you get something new out of each time you read it. The best part is that Keyhouse has such a rich and storied history, more one-shots will inevitably be produced. And if I can never read another comic book again apart from these one-shots, I think I’d be okay.

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