It wasn’t my intention to group similar books together, but it seems to have worked out that way. Thus, this will be the comic post because I read quite a few graphic novel collections this year.
Alan Moore is one of the most highly-respected writers in the comic medium. He has also gained an infamous reputation for slagging off virtually everything in the comic industry that isn’t his. And whether or not you agree with is criticism of the modern comic industry, there is no accusing the man of being a hack. Alan Moore has done much to influence the comic industry and propel it beyond escapism into postmodernism and philosophical territory. This year I read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for the first time. Of all his work that I have read (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The Killing Joke, and that Green Lantern story that has fueled most of Geoff John’s run), League may well be the most fun. I enjoy the concepts of British Victorian Adventurers forming a secret league to fight evil, specifically evil that threatens the British Empire. Not only was the first collection a fun read, it has made me curious about the other characters that I have not read, from Fu Manchu to H.G. Wells’ First Men in the Moon. I also can’t help but wonder if Moore was influenced by Philip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton Family, or if he came up with this similar but distinct idea on his own. Regardless, linking together these similar examples of adventurers is a fascinating exercise and the world Moore created is a fun conceptual playground. His use of the Invisible Man is a bit disturbing, however.
Spurred on by the premiere of Once Upon a Time, I decided to revisit a series with a similar concept. Bill Willingham’s Fables comics series by Vertigo likewise deals with fairy tale characters in our world, but that is where the similarity ends. While the characters in Once Upon a Time have forgotten their pasts due to the curse enacted by The Evil Queen, Fables shows a group of exiles forced out of their homeland by a mysterious adversary who has been conquering the fable world. The collections Legends in Exile and Animal Farm set up the two primary mundane world locations, the Fabletown ghetto in New York City and The Farm in rural upstate New York. The city location houses the human fables, The Farm houses the non-humans. These two collections lay the groundwork for the series. It is quite imaginative and a lot of fun. The first collection reads a bit like a television pilot. It is the weaker of the two. Animal Farm, however, finds its footing quickly as Snow White and her sister Rose Red must put down a rebellion led by the Three Little Pigs. Animal Farm also introduces regular series artist Mark Buckingham, who is just brilliant. If you don’t like the typical comic art cliches of men with six-pack abs and women with busts larger than their heads, Buckingham is your artist. His characters look realistic and are realistically proportioned. A warning, however: As Fables is a part of the Vertigo imprint, it is meant for mature readers.
The most-represented author on my reading list for 2011 was Grant Morrison. I read six of his books this year. You can probably tell I am a fan. For Christmas I got the first volume of New X-Men: The Ultimate Collection. In this title, Grant Morrison turns his deconstructionist eye to Marvel’s X-Men and attempts to re-imagine them for the new millennium. Not all readers enjoyed what he did, but I feel he breathed new life into characters that were growing stale and uninteresting. It seems that The X-Men were not developing beyond their 1980s archetype portrayal, and Morrison was not satisfied with this. He changed their costumes. He shook up Scott and Jean’s marriage. He introduced a score of new mutants who couldn’t possibly pass as human. And he introduced the idea that humanity was dying out, slowly being replaced by homo-superior and that a new race was evolving from homo-superior, one that would be more powerful than the mutants that humanity feared. There is a wealth of interesting concepts here. But with Grant Morrison, there always is.
The second Morrison book was volume two of his run on Animal Man. It is a bit hard to review this work as I haven’t read volume one. I found this one in a used book shop and bought it for fear of it not being there on the next visit. Animal Man was one of the works that catapulted Morrison to stardom and it is well written. The central concept seems to be about comic characters becoming self-aware as their Silver Age past is re-written for the darker modern era. Suddenly faced with two sets of memories, sentience starts to dawn. I’m eager to finish this series one day.
Finally, we have Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory, all four volumes of which were a birthday gift. Outside of his work on Batman, this may be my favorite Grant Morrison project. He revives the long defunct Seven Soldiers team by bringing together seven very different, some forgotten, heroes to fight a race f ofuturistic insectoid scavengers known as the Sheeda. The Sheeda ravage the earth every few millennia to supply their own society with technology and sustenance. Then they allow humanity to rebuild for the next harrowing. The four volumes were collections of seven miniseries with bookends and the pieces of the plot were scattered across the various books, often given out of order. This is a series that rewards multiple readings. Each hero encounters his or her own pieces of the puzzle and no more. The reader must do the work of putting everything together in the end. Each hero is even ignorant of his or her own place in the team as the Sheeda attack any gathering of seven for fear of the prophecy that would usher in their destruction. Thus, the Seven Soldiers of the title are working as individuals with no knowledge of one another, their actions guided by a mysterious group of men that exist just outside of reality. I’ve given away enough of the plot, but there is so much more that I haven’t even touched. If you enjoy high-concept fiction and don’t mind putting effort into piecing together complicated plots, you will probably enjoy this series.