The Five Greatest Trade Paperbacks of this Century

Posted: December 3, 2014 in Comic book reviews

My last couple of posts have been more serious than I’m comfortable with. So I’m going to write about something fun. Comic books. I only read comics in trade paperback form (they’re usually complete stories, and WAY easier to transport and maintain.) Also, I read a lot of them. These are my five favorite from this Century. In no order:

1) Hellboy: The Crooked Man and Others – Hellboy’s my favorite comics, and if I were to be true to myself, this list would probably just be Hellboy stories, but that would be no fun. Hellboy is a wonderful mood piece that invites you into a world that is terrible and beautiful at the same time. I find it as engrossing as any novel I’ve ever read. Hellboy stories tend to fall into two camps; overarching end-of-the-world stories, and one shot meet-the-monster-and-stop-it stories. They are both terrific, but this one leans towards the later. In this trade he fights a witch, maybe the devil, cancer, and I’m pretty sure depression. It’s fantastic. Maybe not as great as some of the late 1990’s stories, but still better than almost everything else.

2) Y The Last Man #10 – It’s kind of cheating to put the conclusion of this giant story down as one trade, but with Y, more than any of the Brian K Vaughn books (which are all good,) the ending is spectacular. If I had to select a different trade it would be the first one, which is almost equally lazy. I felt Y dipped in the middle. The characters became unlikable, and the story became illogical at times, but it wrapped up so nicely, I’ll forgive it. This truly refreshing end of the world story is vastly different, and yet strangely similar to other dystopian future stories. It blends practicality with idealism, and it’s great. Few books make you think the way Y does, and its conclusion is just perfect.

3) The Ultimates: Vol 1 – Avengers Assemble! This reboot comic book will make you believe in reboots. The classic Captain America thaw out/origin story done in a post 9-11 world. This story is comic writing at it’s finest. This comic book isn’t just good, it’s challenging. It touches on the awful pro-war bullshit that took place all through the Bush 2 years, it creates fresh versions of old characters that are in no way just recycles, but also don’t abuse beloved heroes. It’s clever, it’s funny, it’s action packed. The second Volume is also terrific, but this first one is just so much fun, and such a great dose of classic heroes in believable stories that I have to put it first. The Ultimates has the sweet advantage of not existing a world that’s “too big” which often detracts from Marvel and DC stories. These heroes can shine under “the city’s going to be destroyed” circumstances, without the need to out do previous catastrophes. It also presents situations with real world tragedies and turmoil in ways you can believe, without feeling lectured to. I recommend it to anyone just getting into comics. It’s accessible, but still true to the spirit of the Marvel Universe.

4) Criminal: Coward – Ed Brubaker’s “real life” stuff is so much more extraordinary than so many outer space, alien, superhero horseshit stories it’s embarrassing. The world he creates is gritty and honest and impossible to put down. You don’t just like these characters, when you read them, you become them. It makes you want to buy a trenchcoat and start loosing teeth. The world isn’t beautiful, it’s ugly and you want out of it, but you can’t get out. It’s part of you now. It’s an amazing creation that you can’t exactly explain. It would make a boring movie, but is the edgiest comic I can think of. No character is assured to survive, and they shouldn’t be. You’re not even sure you want them to… but you love them. It’s an introspective piece and a glimpse into parts of us too easy to ignore. I believe any Criminal trade could be on this list, but this first one was also the first one I read, so I love it best.

5) The Umbrella Academy: Vol 1 – So much fun! Almost dark, almost satire, almost camp, The Umbrella Academy is one of the most interesting super hero worlds I’ve encountered. The heroes are brand new takes on powers and behaviors. It’s a story about family but also about aliens and monsters. It doesn’t feel compelled to answer every question, instead it explores the nuances of an impossibly fascinating world. The main hero’s a survivor of some impossible tragedy that’s never addressed, and somehow, isn’t important. The comic has that intangible ability to make you feel like a little kid first discovering comics, stepping into a big fanciful world you want to explore every inch of. It gives you just enough to let you know you want to be there, but not too much to ever let you lose your fascination. The second volume’s great. The first one’s better.

Honorable Mention:

DC’s “52” Volume 3 – a great take on the DC Universe and just super fun stories. All of 52 should be read, but 3 I think has the most Ambush Bug… so it’s the best.

The Sentry – a brand new take on comics for me. What a fun, weird, sad story. I hate it that they pushed it into mainstream continuity. It was better as an idea than application.

Saga Volume 1 – Terrific, but Y was already on this list and it hasn’t finished yet, so I’m still a little wary.

The Walking Dead: Vol 7 – I forget how much I liked this comic book before I got tired with it. It’s not its fault it’s incredible, and turned into a phenomenon. The Walking Dead’s great, I just got over-saturated. This story, right before the shit hits the fan, is so tense and good I can remember why I used to love it. Perhaps I’ll got back and finish up once it’s done.

Locke & Key: Vol 2 – I love this book. It’s legitimately scary. The Monster in it is as infuriating as any villain I can think of. You want it to die more than you want The Joker, or Ultron, or even Prof. Umbridge to die. The story possibly gets a little too big at the end, but as far as great horror comics, check out Locke & Key.

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