I was recently asked to participate in a poll for reviewers and critics that asked for our list of the ten best graphic novels we read during 2008 and I'll post a direct link to that finished article when it hits the Internet in its finished form, but I thought I'd share my choices with all of you right now. It's a good bet that my capsule descriptions will be trimmed somewhat by the editor to make the published final product a manageable length (bear in mind that there are several writers contributing to it), but here's the full skinny in no particular order:
EMPOWERED Vols. 3 & 4
Loaded with charm to burn and bolstered by the singular talents of Adam Warren, this genuinely funny ongoing saga of hapless C-list superheroine Empowered offers risqué fun for mature audiences. EMPOWERED has it all: ridiculous superhero battles, genuinely funny dialogue, the best cast of characters to come along in ages, top notch anime-inspired art that's better than its inspiration, and a heroine with whom it is simply impossible not to develop a huge soft spot for.
I know I cheated by listing two volumes of EMPOWERED, but having recently discovered it and been totally kicked in the ass by love I say to hell with the rules of the poll! In fact, I'll take this opportunity to recommend the whole damned thing from Volume 1 up! Seriously, this series is so good, buying it isn’t even like spending money.
SCREAMLAND Vol. 1
The idea of classic movie monsters depicted as a minority — those from the Universal stable in particular — is nothing new, but this take on Frankenstein, the Wolfman, Dracula and the Mummy is the freshest working of the concept in decades and details the wistfully funny modern-day tribulations of the once-great movie fiends in a CGI-driven Hollywood that now shows them very little love or respect. The Frankenstein Monster's a borderline alcoholic who's been reduced to starring in nudie flicks directed by Ed Wood, the Wolfman's barely eking out a living on the convention circuit, Count Dracula's a closeted homosexual who must stay one step ahead of the tabloids to maintain his rep as a ladies' man, and the Mummy has gone AWOL in the wake of 9/11, but the monsters' fortune take a turn for the better when a new film potentially starring all of them, "Monsterhunter 3000," goes into production. But the film's director proves to be a douchebag of the first order and there's only so much a bunch of old school monsters are willing to tolerate... A real treat for fans of old school horror archetypes, this one comes from straight the heart and deserves more reader attention.
An often-hilarious tale of what would happen if a young woman with the powers of a god set out to solve all the world’s problems. Visually appealing and funny as hell, this is well worth your time.
MISS DON'T TOUCH ME
Cartoony in visual style, serious as a heart attack otherwise, this excellent French import takes readers along on a young woman’s journey through the underworld of a high-class Parisian brothel in search of the killers of her best friend. First rate in every way.
HOWARD THE DUCK OMNIBUS
A heavy potential-murder-weapon of a tome collecting the entirety of the 1970’s Howard the Duck material, written by the incomparable Steve Gerber and featuring excellent art by Frank Brunner, John Buscema, Val Mayerick and former Daredevil artist Gene Colan turning in some of the finest work in his career. Absolutely vital for any serious collection and just plain fun for the curious, this was perhaps the most unique series from the 1970’s Marvel and should be read by all who suffered through the horrendous and justly reviled film version so they’ll know just how badly that filmic opportunity was squandered.
THE FABULOUS FURRY FREAK BROTHERS OMNIBUS
The pre-Cheech & Chong bible of stoner humor, this massive collection is simply hilarious, with or without the aid of certain, er, “party favors.”
THE HERBIE ARCHIVES Vol. 1
A strong candidate for the title of “weirdest American comic book series of all time,” Herbie has been all but forgotten these days and must be seen to be disbelieved. The incredibly bizarre and genre-defying adventures of Herbie Popnecker, a “fat little nothing,” traverse all realms of the imagination and leave readers in incredulous awe at the sheer lunacy on display from panel to panel. If you have no idea what it’s about, pick this one up immediately and be prepared to be amazed.
THE COMPLETE RO-BUSTERS
One of the early classics from Britain’s venerable sci-fi weekly 2000 A.D., this series about the adventures of a “disaster squad” of robots who handle assignments that would make the heroes of Thunderbirds blanch is pure entertainment from start to finish and features early work by future Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons. Gibbons’ stunning art on the segment featuring sweet-natured giant robot Charlie’s savage defense of his harbor home of Northpool against a horde of evil and destructive “Terror-Meks” has heart to burn and is guaranteed to reduce the reader to unashamed blubbering by the story’s conclusion. Bet your ass that it's a total tear-jerker, and it's one of the most moving ever seen in comics. Available via import.
USAGI YOJIMBO Vol. 22: TOMOE'S STORY
Stan Sakai’s long-running funny animals/samurai epic may just be the finest ongoing American comics series, and this volume is a fine example of why that’s the case. Clean and accessible artwork, well-researched, culturally accurate depictions of feudal Japan and wholly-believable characters make this series tops in its field and you owe it to yourself to be reading it. Oh, and her name's pronounced "Toe-Moe-Eh."
BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY-THE COMPLETE NEWSPAPER DAILIES: Volume 1 1929-1931
Considered by many to be the most important science-fiction comic of all time thanks to it setting off shock waves of interest in the genre eighty years ago, this handsome edition collects the seminal series from the very beginning and will probably surprise readers with its initial post-apocalyptic setting and total lack of space adventure for nearly the entirety of its first year; the space stuff kicks in with the arrival of the Tiger men from Mars and only snowballs from there.