2017 Reading - The High Points
Every year or two I make list of my favorite books of the previous year. I always find this a little difficult because a lot of the things that I read and really enjoy in a particular year were actually published in prior years, or even prior decades. And, as such, I often find the 'Best Comics of 2017' lists to be difficult to put together. There's lots I'd love to recommend, but then I realize that it was actually a new comic in 2013 or something like that.
So this year, I'm not gonna play that game. This year, I'm just looking at things that I picked up in 2017. Some of them are from 2017. Some of them are not. But all of them made this past catastrophe of a year more more bearable to me.
And since I'm not going to limit myself to 2017. Then I'm also not limiting myself to comics. All reading media is fair game in my list here. But I will say that most of what I read is comics, so this is still going to be largely a list of comics.
So! Things I enjoyed in 2017 in roughly, but not strictly, chronologically order leaving out the things I found just okay or actually terrible! Onward!
The Vision (Volumes 1, 2 & 3)
I'd been hearing a lot of positive buzz around The Vision for a bit, but I didn't really ever get around to reading it in the single issues. It's a story about a family of robots grappling with the eccentricities of human society. And, as such, it's a compelling tale of learning love and loss and wrestling with the challengers of being different in an American suburban community. All those fun existential questions.
Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling
Delilah is a victorian-era woman born into wealth. She's too clever and resourceful to enjoy life as a wallflower, so she leaves her posh life for the more exciting life of wandering the european countryside with a friend she met in Turkey. It's a familiar sort of tale to most of us. What sets the Delilah Dirk stories apart is his open and fun they are. I'm tempted to call them simple, but that's not quite what it is that makes them so fun. There's just a vitality to the Delilah Dirk tales that I find enjoyable.
The Black Panther (1-4)
I saw Te Nehesi Coates speak at the University of Oregon this year. I was so impressed with his talk, I decided to take his Black Panther run for a spin. I've read the first four volumes this year and I've enjoyed it a great deal. Coates and his artist Brian Stelvfreeze have been delivering a masterclass in world building detailing out the society and conflicts within the nation of Wakanda. Also, Coates' Black Panther and the Crew was really one of the tragically under-read books of this year.
Descender 3 - 4
I think a lot of people thing Descender ran out of steam after the first few volumes. I, personally, did not find that to be the case. More of that 'robots try to make sense of humans and turn out to be more like them than the humans find comfortable' sort of stories that I love. Descender is really the book that the movie A.I. could have been if it was better written and plotted. Also, Dustin Ngyen's are is outstanding. I'd think you could find enough to enjoy about this comic in the art alone.
Broken Earth Trilogy
I started a little novel by NK Jemisin this year called 'The Fifth Season'. When I finished it, I discovered there was more. The second book was already out and the third was going to be released in a few months. I tore through these novels faster than anything I'd sat down to read in years. The setting is fascinating. The narrative pulls no punches. The characters I fell in love with or grew to fear. The whole narrative is painted out by Jemisin in meticulous detail. Sometimes it's a very difficult read. This series of novels also led me to the conclusion that most authors shy away from really putting their characters in peril and I began to think a lot about how to improve my own writing as a result of the things I saw Jemisin do in her novels. I've said it before and I'll keep saying it. I CANNOT recommend these books enough!
Hulk 1: Reconstructed (I refuse to call it She-Hulk)
In Marvel comics these days, Bruce Banner is dead and Jennifer Walters has taken over his title 'Hulk'. As a result of recent event, she's become a more conventional anger-hulk instead of her better known carefree life as a giant green woman. She now only has access to her powers when angry like Bruce is better known for and becoming her hulk form is such an unpleasant experience for her that she only transforms under duress. The book is a fascinating examination of PTSD and how society views and treat women in general. In the collected editions, Marvel decided to retitle the book as She-Hulk-- which I find really annoying. But it's still a great book.
The Ring of the Seven Worlds
This was a random translation of a french comic that I picked up in Powell's Books because it looked interesting. It's a wierd, atmospheric piece that reminds me of a mix of City of Lost Children and the Red Star with some obvious visual callbacks to Studio Ghibli's work. The plot's not much to write home about, but all those other elements came together to make something really interesting and enjoyable to read.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a really enjoyable homage to the old EC-era horror comics. The art is classic and the storytelling itself hearkens back to older horror comics. But the comic itself draws on a lot of more modern techniques; the modern writing for the five-issue trade that allows for a more detailed and expansive story and the pacing that allows more complex character development. So it's one of those books that manages to feel nostalgic without all the limitations that often plagued the older comics.
Delicious Dungeon 1
I picked this manga up on a whim this year and found it delightfully entertaining. A strange hybrid between a dungeon crawl and a cooking show, Delicious Dungeon is about an adventuring party that loses all their gear in a defeat and need to get back to the monster that beat them as quickly as possible to retrieve one of the party member's corpses so they can have them resurrected. But because they have no provisions they decide they'll eat the monsters they kill on their way back through the dungeon. The comic lingers over the proper preparation of giant bat and living armor as the characters progress deeper and deper into the dungeon. It's preciciely the best kind of silly.
The Valerian Complete Collection 1-3
There was a terrible movie this year based on this old 1960s-era french comic. I decided before the movie came out (and before I knew it was terrible) to read through the comic that inspired the movie. And while it was an artifact of it's time, the comics were a lot of fun to read. Some of the stories were much better than others, but I went into the movie with a sense that something special could come out of it. And, well, I think it's saying something when the gender politics of a 1960s French comic are more progressive than a movie in 2017. And even withouth the damning gender politics, the movie was just... not good. But, hey, the comics were a lot of fun.