Comics: The year's best titles
Ken Tucker and Jeff Jensen each pick 5 faves, from an exploration of Israel to the climax of a sci-fi saga
Because one is the loneliest number, we bring you no less than two best-comics-of-the-year lists! Below, EW’s Ken Tucker and Jeff Jensen weigh in on the choicest titles of 2007.
KEN TUCKER’S TOP 5
1. Exit Wounds
(Drawn & Quarterly)
The Tel Aviv-based artist and writer Modan tells a tale of contemporary Israel through two characters: Koby, a young taxi driver, and Numi, an Israeli soldier. They are linked by the fact that Koby’s father, presumed dead in a suicide-bomb attack, was romantically involved with Numi. There is no heavy-handed dissection of the Israel-Palestine conflict here; rather, Modan is interested in crafting a short story about the everyday possibilities of violence, and about the way terror becomes a grinding, constant presence of its own. Her figures are pasty, often pudgy people — intentionally non-comic-strip-heroic-looking — and humans and their background settings (the inside of a cab, small shops, and cramped living quarters) are rendered with minimal lines, inked with pale, fading tints. The result is a triumphant book about not-so-quiet desperation.
2. Popeye Vol. 2: ”Well, Blow Me Down!”
In addition to the much under-reported reissues of Hank Ketchum’s Dennis the Menace (how can comics devotees resist Ketchum’s sleek drawing line and the way his technique contrasts so beautifully with the idea of his sloppy bad-boy character?), this collection of Popeye newspaper strips is one of the year’s most valuable, revelatory efforts. Creator Segar worked at this point (1931 and 1932) primarily in six-panel black-and-white daily strips and 12-panel color strips. Within this formal grid pattern, Segar worked anarchic wonders. One of the best storylines concerns the hiring of Popeye to join the ”brave” forces of King Blozo of Nazilia (a thin, stooped-over, stringy-bearded idiot) to defeat his kingdom’s enemies, the ”cowardly” Tonsylvanians. Popeye soon discovers sedition in the ranks; Blozo’s chief general Bunzo plots to overthrow the king. Each strip pays off in a fine gag, yet the narrative accumulates to reveal a good satire of war politics. This is the mark of a great daily cartoonist, and Segar raised the bar in quality of art and dialogue, such as Popeye’s endless stream of grammar- and pronunciation-crunching observations. One of my favorites: ”When a obstickle pops up, I removes it — tha’s what makes life intrestin.”’ Words to live by…
Written by Grant Morrison; art by Frank Quitely
I just adore the way Quitely draws Superman, the way he makes the Big Blue Cheese’s chest puff out and shrinks his head a little — frequently giving the most iconic superhero the intense frown of a quizzical man. Quitely reminds you that Superman came from another planet, and no matter that he’s been here since infancy, he doesn’t…quite…fit…in with these humans. In collaboration with author Morrison, Quitely returns alter ego Clark Kent to his buffoonishness — the spectacle of a bespectacled beefy man stuffed into a business suit, always chasing a story whenever he isn’t stumbling over one. Most of all, there’s a luxurious air of calm about this book — as Morrison has Superman say in the December issue, ”I am a scientist’s son. It’s in my nature to observe and to learn.” And whether that learning is about the history of Krypton or the eternal riddle that is Lois Lane (a nicely mussed, aggressive Lois, often accompanied by an epicene, more supercilious and adult Jimmy Olsen than usual), Superman leaps into action only when provoked.
(The other DC book I was happy to become lost in — but didn’t quite make this list — was the second volume of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus, a marvelously edited collection of Kirby’s ”New Gods” tales, many of which appeared in, of all places, the 1970s Jimmy Olsen comic book. Superman plays a side role in these books — only Kirby could move Superman to the corner of a comic book, because he’s actually invented bigger super-powered beings to take prominence. As a kid, I had no use for the ”New Gods” saga, dismissing them as the ramblings of a genius artist with no gift for narrative. Now I see them as Kirby’s engrossing take on post-counterculture America, with a kind of fantasy storytelling that’s far more propulsive and captivating than the work of most prose fanatics.)
(Drawn & Quarterly)
Maybe it’s because I enjoyed writer-artist Tomine’s critique of a certain kind of contemporary personality — so much clever sarcasm, so much self-absorption, so little engagement with the workaday world — that I was immediately taken with his portrait of Ben Tanaka. Tomine draws Ben the way he does most of his protagonists, with a serenely smooth line and delicate worry lines. Ben is smart, he’s a horndog, and he’s lonely, which makes him a quietly formidable man. Tomine raises questions of race by having others suggest that his Asian protagonist is more interested in dating non-Asian women, which proves a novel (for a graphic novel, at least) way to provide conflict. But this is not, ultimately, what Shortcomings is about. Look at the title: This is a poignant, dryly funny story of people grappling with their flaws, bending them into strengths, with occasional outbursts of emotions all the more effective for the contrast they offer to the artist’s tidy drawings.
5. I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets!: The Comics of Fletcher Hanks
Edited by Paul Karasik
Even if Karasik didn’t provide us with a biographical prose portrait of a hard-drinking, often mean, abusive man with a streak of misanthropy he gilded with Ayn Rand-y selfish Objectivism, this collection of Fletcher Hanks comics would still be jaw-dropping. Hanks worked for minor-league comics companies in the late 1930s/early 1940s. He drew heavily muscled super-beings of his own creation, pin-headed heroes like the Super-Wizard Stardust and a huge-headed villain, Destructo. His drawings lacked (on purpose?) depth and perspective; they were flat, florid figures that made appropriately flat, florid statements, such as the exclamation that is the title of this book. What comes across is Hanks’ free-floating, near-constant outpouring of rage and paranoia — rage that there is evil in the world, paranoia that it was coming to silence his heroes…and in effect, himself.
NEXT PAGE: Jeff Jensen’s top 5…