Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I haven’t had a whole lot of time to contribute to our blog lately (as in, since my hopeful but naive review of Jeph Loeb’s “Hulk” #1 way back in February 2008). There are a variety of reasons for this, but my most recent excuse probably has a lot to do with the little addition we made to my family on October 1st. Typing with just the one hand is annoying and often unfruitful, but I’ll do my best here and try to clue you in on what got me excited in 2009. Here goes!

Top 5 Comics of 2009 (in no particular order):

[These are the series that make me, a full-grown adult with all sorts of responsibilities, want to keep reading and collecting comic books.]

1. “Northlanders” by Brian Wood & Leandro Fernandez [Vertigo/DC Comics]

This is a Viking comic, but not like you’d probably think. Specific to the current “The Plague Widow” arc that began in “Northlanders” #21, the currently ongoing story involves a woman in a trading village that has closed itself off from society due to the Black Death. This is a character-driven book, and really, we’ve yet to see any axe-swinging barbarians with horned helmets at all. Leandro Fernandez is an artist who, it seems, has really come into his own with this series. He's really been nailing these issues, especially his facial expressions and the snow-filled, desolate backgrounds. Generally speaking, each story in this series is completely unrelated, and they can be read in any order you’d like, but I’d start from the beginning if I were you. I can’t recommend this series any higher.

2. “Stumptown” by Greg Rucka & Matthew Southworth [Oni Press]

Okay, sure; only one issue has come out so far, but it absolutely knocked my socks off. This first issue takes place in reverse order, as we see a crime happen, and then trace it back through a day in the life of private investigator Dex Parios, who happens to have a knack for trouble and a not-so-insignificant gambling problem. Everything about this comic screams quality, from the thick paper stock to the gorgeous art to the cover design. Rucka promises about 8 issues a year of this, and they can’t come out too soon. They announced this book in 2007, and I’ve been waiting on the edge of my seat ever since. It didn’t disappoint.

3. “Criminal” by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips [Icon/Marvel Comics]

A lot has been written over the past few years about this comic, so it’s hard to do anything but simply add to the applause. It’s a crime comic, but from a different angle than “Stumptown.” Brubaker and Phillips spin a bunch of interrelated yarns about thugs and ne’er-do-wells in the pits of society. And again, this is a series that you can pretty much pick up any story arc and enjoy it as it is. However, you’ll get the most pleasure from simply starting from the beginning and seeing how each character arc feeds off of each other, both literally and figuratively. Such an excellent book.

4. “Sweet Tooth” by Jeff Lemire [Vertigo/DC Comics]

“Sweet Tooth” is a unique book in that it’s the result of the singular vision of writer/artist Lemire. I was initially attracted by the premise: a deer-antlered boy named Gus makes his way through a post-apocalyptic wasteland to a potential sanctuary for animal hybrids like himself. Again, we’re still early in the series, only three or four issues in, and I really have no idea what’s going to happen. What a great ride it’s been thus far, though, and I’m looking forward to a nice, long read with a beginning, middle and end. Lemire recently stated that the story will be between 30 and 40 issues long, and there's something about serial comics that have a planned end that is really attractive to me. I’ve also recently read Lemire’s other major works, “The Nobody” and “Essex County,” and both are equally enjoyable. They're similar in tone, but quite different in subject matter. All are worth checking out, at the very least.

5. “The Unwritten” by Mike Carey & Peter Gross [Vertigo/DC Comics]

This is another creator-owned book that takes the literary milieu of, say, “Harry Potter” and expands it to all of literature. Put simply, “The Unwritten” is about the son of the author of a “Harry Potter”-like novel series who shares his name with the protagonist of the books, who finds out that he may or may not be a product of fiction himself. There’s a lot going on in this book that I don’t quite understand yet regarding fiction and its relationship to and interaction with nonfictional reality, but it’s clear that the creators have a plan, and they’ve got me hooked.


- New Avengers & Dark Avengers (Bendis/Immonen & Bendis/Deodato)

- Spider-Woman (Bendis/Maleev)

- PunisherMAX (Aaron/Dillon)

- Scalped (Aaron/Guera)

- Secret Warriors (Hickman/Caselli/Vitti)


Top 5 Albums of 2009 (in no particular order):

[I can’t stop bumping these albums, no matter how hard I try.]

1. “Veckatimest” – Grizzly Bear

So very different from their previous album, “Yellow House,” but indisputably by the same band. I guess they decided one day that it was okay to rock out a bit on their new album. Not only that, but “Veckatimest” features some of the most gorgeous songs I’ve ever heard, and I’ll have this album on repeat for some time to come. I knew it was a classic pretty much from the moment I heard "Two Weeks."

2. “The Century of Self” – … And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead

Like just about everyone else, I was immensely disappointed by Trail of Dead’s “So Divided” in 2006. (Really, what were they thinking?) So, I was trying to stay optimistic, but not really expecting a whole lot when I heard that they were coming out with a new album this year. And wow, they definitely came through with an album that was a return to epic, rocking form. It’s not quite the classic that “Source Tags & Codes” was way back in 2002, but it’s a comeback album in almost every possible category. If you’ve never heard Trail of Dead, I’d check out “Source Tags” first, but don’t sleep on this one, either.

3. “Blood Bank EP” – Bon Iver

My favorite "lonely guy with a guitar" discovery of 2008 put out this brief EP in 2009, and I’ve probably listened to it as much as the full-length. Each one of these four songs is more beautiful and haunting than the next, culminating in the acapella/autotune experiment of “Woods,” which I nominate for my song of the year. Also, if you can manage to pick up what Justin Vernon's putting down on this one, you should definitely check out his Volcano Choir - "Unmap" project where he really lets loose, creatively speaking.

4. “Octahedron” – The Mars Volta

I really wasn’t sure what to make of this album at first, except for the fact that I didn't really like it. It’s Mars Volta’s first experiment with more-or-less traditional song structure, leaving behind much of the guitar noodling and excess of the past few albums. I’ll be honest; like I mentioned, after the first few spins, I wasn’t too impressed. However, it didn’t take too long after those initial listens to fall in love with this release. The “rock” is there on the album, it just takes a little while to get there. Possibly their best, and most mature release. I’m very interested to see where they go from here. Also of interest: El Grupo Nuevo De Omar Rodriguez-Lopez - "Cryptomnesia", where he teamed up with some friends from Mars Volta and Hella to make a really interesting album, and from whose studio sessions I am excited to report there are apparently enough for at least two more releases to come as well.

5. “Curse Your Branches” – David Bazan

You may or may not have heard of the band Pedro The Lion. David Bazan used to front that band, but personnel/personal conflicts resulted in him heading off on his own path, somewhat ironically in that it was in an effort to save his friendships with the other member(s) of the band. So, this is Bazan’s first full-length solo release, and it’s a confessional doozy, mainly focusing on his faith – or, really, the fairly recent lack thereof. Even though I listen to music all the time, David Bazan is more or less, for better or for worse, the only artist that I really dig into his lyrics, which are thought-provoking and sublime. I guess if I wanted to, I could complain that the music on this album tends towards the safer end of things. I prefer the indie-rock sound of his other releases. But that said, it's really only a minor problem compared with the wonderful complexity and gentle nuance of this album.


- “Embryonic” – The Flaming Lips

- “Born Like This” – DOOM

- “Actor” – St. Vincent

- "Manners" - Passion Pit

- “OK Bear” – Jeremy Enigk

- “Beat Konducta Vol 5-6” – Madlib

- “Oh No vs. Now-Again” – Oh No


Top 5 Movies (in no particular order):

[I probably saw less movies this year, in the theater or otherwise, than any other year of my adult life. So, I kind of kept to the safe choices, viewing-wise. But what choices they were! You probably know what the posters for these movies look like, so I'll save you the bandwidth.]

1. “Star Trek” (dir. J.J. Abrams)

This movie was dangerous for me in that it threatened to reawaken the slumbering “Star Trek” fan in me. I haven’t really watched any of that particular brand of sci-fi since I went to college in 1995. However, once I saw it the first time, then couldn’t stop thinking about it, then even bought the official tie-in cereal and had a huge bowl of it before going to a second, Saturday afternoon showing. This movie is the real deal, and probably the best time I had in a theater all year.

2. “Inglourious Basterds” (dir. Quentin Tarantino)

However, “Inglourious Basterds” was probably the best movie I saw all year. While it was nothing like the movie I thought I was heading to the theater to see, upon reflection it’s really a piece of cinema art. "Kill Bill" may have a special place in my heart, but I suspect that this is Tarantino's true masterpiece, at least thus far in his career. While I would absolutely love to get another movie specifically about the Basterds scalping Nazis undercover in WWII Germany, (as Quentin has hinted is a possibility,) this film exceeded my expectations in almost every way, especially once I threw my original ones out the window.

3. “District 9” (dir. Neill Blomkamp)

I’ve described this as “a videogame movie, except it’s really good.” Of course, it’s more than that, and works on a couple different levels. It’s no secret that “District 9” started out its development as a “Halo” pitch, but it’s completely its own animal, with surprising depth of characters and story. There are great prospects, story-wise, for either a prequel (“District 8”?) or a sequel (“District 10”?) and you can count me in for either. I really need to watch this one again.

4. “Moon” (dir. Duncan Jones)

"Moon" is a beautiful, quiet, 70’s-style film about loneliness and fatigue while mining on the Moon. Sam Rockwell, basically performing a virtuoso solo act here, really makes watching this film a pleasure. But really, the thing that I loved the most about this film wasn’t even so much his performance as the revelation about a certain robotic intelligence that goes against our prevailing sci-fi tropes. I also loved that actual models were used for the special effects scenes instead of huge amounts of CGI, and that director Duncan Jones apparently has more movies in this vein up his sleeve.

5. “Watchmen” (dir. Zack Snyder)

This might be a controversial choice for some, but I really didn’t have a whole lot to complain about with the movie version of “Watchmen.” I hadn’t read the comic series in a while, so I was riveted for the entire movie, only remembering the final twist at the last minute. I recently purchased the “Ultimate Cut” of this movie with the “Tales of the Black Freighter” cartoon edited into the film, so all I need now is three-plus hours of consecutive free time to check it out – hopefully sooner than later.


[Movies I wanted to see, but did not, that should probably be somewhere on the above list.]

- “The Road”

- “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”

- “The Hurt Locker”

- “Where The Wild Things Are” (UPDATE: Saw it on 12/26!)

- “The Box” (perhaps out of morbid curiosity?)

... I guess I’ll just have to catch them on Blu-Ray at some point.

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