Six

6.) Hawkeye (Marvel) 2012 – present — by Matt Fraction and David Aja with a few guest artists here and there. 

Now, I’m not going to let my infatuation with Jeremy Renner and his guest appearance in the episode “Somnambulist” of Angel and subsequent Hurt Locker and Avengers awesomness affect my disposition here…BUT I TOTALLY AM.

Like many people, I didn’t give the character Hawkeye much thought until he was played by the extremely charismatic Jeremy Renner in one of my favorite movies, which is probably why I picked up Hawekeye: My Life as a Weapon when I saw it at the comic store.

Boy, howdy, is this a fantastic comic. It’s part of the Marvel Now! series (sort of like the new 52 a la DC, but instead of revamping everyone’s plot, it’s more of just a modern take on some classic heroes with new artists and some reconning and what have you.) It follows the everyday life of Clint Barton aka Hawkeye, and his partner/sidekick/non-‘love’ interest Kate Bishop aka Hawkeye and Pizza Dog when Clint is not part of the Avengers and is just hanging out, fighin’ hurricanes, rescuing his neighbors and getting in trouble with the local Russian mob.

Hawkeye is at his normal-dude best as he struggles with his new-found popularity as an Avenger, like needing Tony’s Stark’s help to set up his DVD player. He’s not too bright, not too strong, is a dead-shot for archery sure, but is a highly relatable normal guy who wants to do the right thing, but sometimes does wrong and that’s okay too.

The artwork is probably one of my favorites, next to Mignola’s Hellboy. The color scheme is muted, very 60s mod (as are the fashions and feel of the entire series), and so minimalist, it’s amazing that such emotion can be conveyed through just a simple small frame of Barton’s unimpressed face.

The comic is self-aware, in that Barton is narrating and, instead of having someone speak Spanish in a speech bubble, it says, “Something Spanish?” Or, my favorite: when a naked Clint Barton (the stories always start with him saying how he didn’t mean to get himself into a bad situation, it just happens) flies out of a bed, it’s censored by the old-timey Hawkeye face that they would put on the front of the comics to let you know who was in them. This sort of brilliance and post-modernism is a rare treat in a medium that sometimes doesn’t realize its own ridiculousness. It’s refreshing to have a comic that understands what is it and what it isn’t. No, this isn’t highfalutin modern art, but that’s not what it’s trying to be. (But I would still pay money to see some of those panels in a museum, that’s how much I’m in love with this art.)

It’s alternatingly hilarious and heart-breaking. Very rarely does a comic have so much character building with so few words or panels, but did I ever get attached to Hawkeye’s neighbor “Grills.” Or, even, his dog, who has an entire issue from his perspective. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME A COMIC ALLOWED ITSELF TO BE NARRATED BY A DOG? And still have a dang good issue, in spite of (or perhaps because of) that?

Simply put: Hawkeye is masterful at storytelling in its many altering perspectives and is a great comic for those who know and love the archer well, and for those looking to break into comics.

Of course, there’s backstory between Barton and Bishop, but it isn’t necessary to have read any Hawkeye comics before this, since most of the past can be understood through their current interactions. And there aren’t any other Avengers, not really, though cameos do pop up (like Spider-man and Wolverine), and that could distance some, but this comic isn’t called Avengers, it’s called Hawkeye.

EIGHT

8.) Chew (Image) 2009-present — by John Layman and Rob Guillory. What’s exciting about Chew is that, like Sweet Tooth, anything (and sometimes everything) can happen in the crazy creative and zany world presented through the character of Tony Chu, cibopath and FDA agent extraordinaire.

A cibopath — and the only reason why I knew this beforehand is because I like the band Cibo Matto, and only then, because of Buffy of course — is someone who gets a psychic impression of whatever food he is consuming. Like when a psychic touches someone’s hand and gets a glimpse into their unknown, a cibopath knows where his food comes from and what has happened to it in the recent past. Understandably enough, Tony is a vegetarian in a world where chicken is illegal and a black market has sprung up to deliver the illicit poultry.

Tony gets drawn into many food and murder-related adventures, finds many other people — those who can describe a meal so well that others feel full when reading about the encounter, those who can cook memories into their food (similar to Like Water for Chocolate, I guess) — both allies and villains, embroiled in the cases he’s investigating. Which is maybe the best premise for a cop-type of comic drama I’ve ever heard of. When an idea can be stretched and pulled to cover so much territory that the possibilities will never became stale, you know the idea is rock-solid.

Chew also has an interesting story technique: each issue starts out with a seemingly random first page that somehow relates, either as a flash back or a flash forward, or sometimes just an amusing side story, to the larger plot. So, not only is the slightly-satirical story out-of-sync, it also oftentimes begins in media res, my favorite kind of res. Nonlinear narratives for the win!

The art is pretty amazing — being just realistic enough so as to make the squigier scenes pretty squigy and just enough comic to give depth to the more flamboyant emotions with a cartoon-like flair, the witty dialogue is on par with any Joss Whedon show, and of course, the wacktastic happenings are enough to keep even the most out-there minds entertained. When I have a hard time continuing to read a comic or a novel because of my jealousy, I know I’ve found something good and Chew is no exception. It has just enough humor to keep it lighthearted, just enough gore to keep it comic-y enough for the hardcore fans, and just enough creativity to outlast most all other comic writers, which is saying something.

It’s an ongoing series, so who knows what’s still left to happen. I’m still pretty early on, since my comic book fund was severely depleted by my buy-a-house, buy-a-business, and then get-married fund, but Chew is in the top contenders always for my money. Also, having the main character be of Chinese descent is a nice twist in the white-dominated main character arena. What’s even more refreshing is that the creators wished for Chu to be “a totally unstereotypical Asian-American.”1 Many of my friends find the concentration of a fictional character’s entire essence into one personality aspect (i.e. being gay, being a woman, being of a different ethnicity) will be pleased to note that Chu is not defined by his nationality, but instead just…is.

I don’t even really have any qualms with the series, either. It’s solid, interesting, and still has lots to explore, even a few years in. Do yourself a favor and (requisite pun) give this one a nibble.

Number 9 on the Comics! List

9.) J Michael Straczynski’s Thor (Marvel) 2007-2009 — Now, JMS I HAVE heard of. And maybe you have too. Babylon 5 is his most famous piece of work and he’s also the second television-writer-turned-comic-book-aficionado on this list as well. Which speaks well for the guy, actually. Adam has a theory that all movie stars want to be rock stars and all rock stars want to be movie stars. The same holds true for television guys wanting to be novelists and novelists wanting to be movie directors and so on. Which is why some things are fantastic books (Queen of the Damned) but absolutely horrendous movies (e.g. Queen of the Damned); they are simply different formats and it’s hard to make what works for one work for the other. By succeeding in multiple ways, it shows that the creator truly knows what makes a story tick and conveys that to an audience well.

Which is why JMS’s Thor is spectacular. Guy knows how to tell a story and tell it well. Captain American has just died, the Avengers are disassembled, Asgard has been destroyed — don’t worry ’bout it, ’cause with comics, sometimes you just dive right in — and Thor, sharing a human body with Dr. Donald Blake (eh?) — has to undo the events of Ragnarok. But, oh noes! Loki is back too — and HE’S A GIRL. Promising not to betray Thor (have we heard this before?), Loki offers his help in restoring the Asgardians to a new home: Oklahoma. From there, it’s all about the interactions and how a small dustbowl town deals with an influx of gods and their enemies.

It’s a nice intro into the Thor mythos, if you’ve never read a Thor comic, and is just a darn good plot. Time travel, Dr. Doom, love triangles, Iron Man getting pwned…It has everything! Oftentimes comics fall short in the emotions category and, looking through my choices, the ones that have a good ability to express and make the readers feel tragedy, loss, and longing are what make this list. A superhero like Thor — really, just Marvel’s version of Superman — can be hard to identify with and even harder to make interesting, but JMS has done it and I feel he really breathed new life into a character that can be, at times, stagnant.

Oliver Coipel’s art — especially the looks that Lady Loki gives — will stop you cold. I have never personally been afraid of a panel of ink drawings, but holy guacamole, does Coipel know how to draw a woman that Thor hath scorned. I got goosebumps — GOOSE FLESH — all up and down my arms with some of the panels and the sprawling Oklahoman landscapes almost don’t do justice for the wide-open vastness that Coipel achieves. Usually I’m not a big fan of realistic comics — I want artwork, not Renaissance Faire fantasy drawings — but Coipel makes it work for me with his little touches of elegance. Having Heimdall’s cloak turn into the vastness of space, even to the lack of eyebrows on Lady Loki all are such little details that others wouldn’t have necessarily put thought into.

A drawback is the somewhat slow pacing of it all. Loki’s eventual betrayal (believe me, that’s not a spoiler) takes some time to build in which everything almost seems as if it’s just a day in the life of. Which, I mean, if that life is Thor’s and the day is when he decides to rebuild Asgard in Oklahoma, that’s interesting, but it’s still comics and explosions are still demanded at least every twenty pages. Once the plot does get going and Dr. Doom’s presence ramps up, it’s hard to find any fault at all.

However, I was less than impressed with his Midnight Nation, so don’t lose any sleep over that one, m’kay?