Thursday, January 8, 2009

Ryan's Best of 2008: Part 1

Last show Quincy and I promised to put together a list of our top 10 books for 2008. I've decided to start revealing my choices on the blog. The plan is to talk about two per day, and my top two books would then hit the web on Monday, January 12 when we record the next show.

Lists tend to be artificial by nature. Do I really like my #7 book more then my #8 book? I don't know. This was hard for me to do. My number one choice was very easy, and it all goes downhill from there.

A few words about how I constructed my list. Firstly, it's important to recognize that when I'm ranking books, art matters but not very much. Larry Stroman is so bad he can make a good story less enjoyable. Steve McNiven is so good he can help you overlook how trite a book might be. But mostly, I'm judging the quality of a book by the quality of its writing.

Secondly, I'm using many criteria to judge the writing on a book, but my most emphasized element is this: how badly did I want to get my mitts into that next issue and dive in? I like plot complexity and depth of symbols and development of character. These all translate in some way toward quality.

But there are books you read that you can set aside and wait a few days or few weeks or few months and read later. You know they'll be good, but you can wait. The books on my list for 2008 were the books I could not wait for. I HAD to have them - now. That's what all that quality is supposed to translate into.

Thirdly, I need to point out that like many of you, I don't have a budget that allows me to read 100 books a month. So my list is obviously limited to those titles I have read, and I will admit that excludes a lot of mainstream highly acclaimed books.

So don't get mad at me for not including something like Walking Dead. I'm not saying it isn't good, but I haven't read it. So it's not on the list. So without further ado:

# 10: Unknown Soldier - DC Comics (Vertigo)

Scripts: Joshua Dysart
Pencils: Alberto Ponticelli

Unknown Soldier is the # 10 book of 2008 because it was a unique blend of provocative social commentary that included more psychological punching than pretentious preaching.

Joshua Dysart is an on-again off-again pacifist writing about the value of violence in problem solving. It's deep stuff, as befits a Vertigo title.

Dysart spent a good deal of time researching Uganda, which is the setting of the story. Uganda is a political quagmire of splinter groups and contradictions. It would be easy to get lost in this as an outsider, but Unknown Soldier is very good about providing glossaries for terms, lists of names and groups to refer to in the back of each issue, and website help for more depth if you're interested. Dysart is putting a lot of time and essence into this story, and it shows.

The great danger for a title like this would be to pander. This is not a "give peace a chance, all you need is love" sugar pop. This is a compelling look at real life contemporary issue viewed through the eyes of a fictional man named Lwanga Moses. Oh, and he seems to be possessed by somebody who knows an awful lot about the art of killing.

This is a book filled with brutal and beautiful images. It's a book about human beings under intense pressure making impossible choices. It's a book that asks the question; can you fight monsters and stop evil without becoming monstrous and evil? Unknown soldier feels like it matters, and I look forward to it every month.

# 9: Locke & Key - IDW

Scripts: Joe Hill
Pencils: Gabriel Rodriguez

Locke & Key was the # 9 book of 2008 because Stephen King's son Joe Hill stepped up to the plate and announced his comics ascendancy with a genuinely creepy horror tale that pulled no punches.

Try to imagine being Babe Ruth's son and then having to take batting practice in front of the world. This is what I imagine it's like to be Joe Hill and write horror stories. How in the world will you NOT disappoint under those circumstances?

The weird thing is that Locke & Key doesn't disappoint. The dialogue was top notch, the themes were mature and powerful. And those covers were gorgeous.

Some of the symbols and names were hammy and heavy-handed, but at least you knew where you were at with them. Bode Locke and Sam Lesser were particularly well done, both disturbing in very different ways.

Some mysteries are still to be discovered in the next series, "Locke & Key: Head Games". But this is no "Lost", where every question is answered with three more questions. Locke & Key brought it every issue and satisfies on its own merits nicely.

- Ryan

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