One of my friends did a list of her top 12 books from 2012 for her library. I saw her list and went, man, we read very different stuff. I’d heard of four of her books and read none (though a few are in my interminable and not written down anywhere “to read” list). But here’s my list of books I really liked that were released this year. All the links go to my reviews if you want more information than might be conveyed in the specific prize each won.
What were your favourites?
So DMZ is done. The Five Nations of New York closes out the story of Matty Roth and the civil war that defined his life. It’s interesting when a story like this ends, because it’s the story of how Matty stopped being an entitled journalism punk who picked up a gun and got into politics, but it’s a story of how he tells a story, and how he fucks up telling the story.
By the end of this book he’s taking the blame for things he didn’t legally need to, and [SPOILER ALERT] goes to jail for life. Which isn’t an altogether unhappy ending. I mean, I can see how it’s not. Because what is Matty going to do now that the war is over? The character we got to know through these 12 volumes can’t really exist outside the DMZ, and parlay his six years into punditry and all the rest. Anything he’d become would be so different from who we know. Prison gets to seal Matty Roth in lucite, having learned something about life, having his only opinion that matters, and then he’s gone from the stage. This isn’t the model for a life, but it’s a good way to seal off a story.
As far as long-form comics go, DMZ ranks right up there with Transmetropolitan for me, but then I would love science fiction journalism comics, wouldn’t I?.
DMZ is almost done. In trade paperback form. I think the final floppy has already arrived, but I read them on delay. Free States Rising is the 11th trade paperback and it fills in a bit of background with a two-issue prequel about the Free States and moves Matty Roth forward on his redemptive path (after being a total asshole a few volumes previously). Loose ends are being tied up, along with the war.
I don’t have any real criticism of the book at this point. If you haven’t tried it yet and you like stories about journalism and about a sense of place, you really really should read DMZ. I give individual volumes 4-star ratings but taken as a whole it’s in my top-5 comics ever. (And yes, the post when I’m done volume 12 will probably be very similar to this. Sorry.)
The Cross and the Hammer is a self-contained Viking story that is less about a Viking and more about an Irishman who’s murdering his way through the countryside trying to kill off all the occupying Norsemen he can find to save his daughter and his homeland. It’s really violent. The Norseman who’s tracking him is well-educated and sends lots of letters back to his king who is fighting a war while he looks for this killer. There’s a very interesting father-daughter relationship going on, which is different from the Bonnie and Clyde stuff from Metal. It isn’t my favourite Northlanders book but there’s nothing wrong with it.
This is the volume where Matty Roth deals with the aftermath of getting involved in politics and where he makes the decision to get back to what he originally went into NYC to do: journalism. I’m not feeling bad for all of his poor choices any more, because he’s trying to set things right. When he talked about that kind of stuff in Collective Punishment I didn’t have the background of this new decision and it all felt weak. Of course, the people he’s dealing with in that book didn’t get to see all the stuff that happened in this one either, so maybe I had a more authentic DMZ-inhabitant experience when I read it with this hole in my knowledge.
Before that redemption-filled part of the story, there are a great bunch of supershort vignettes with different artists.
Metal is the fifth volume of Brian Wood’s excellent Northlanders series. As per usual, it’s got multiple stories in the book, each one with a different illustrator. I wasn’t such a huge fan of the story about the merchant captain who took his boat on a voyage of exploration instead of trade. I mean, it wasn’t bad or anything; it just didn’t grab me the way the big story, Metal, did.
Metal was about a crappy blacksmith who’s chosen by one of the old gods (while he’s tripping out on hallucinogens) to stop his village from bowing down and letting the Christians have their way with them just because they’ve got sacks of money. He rescues a woman the Christians are holding and then burns everything down. The two of them head off like an ancient day Bonnie and Clyde. They’re pursued by a hired sword who takes his job very seriously, and it’s violently excellent.
One thing I love about this series is how it is not tied to any sort of chronology. There are hundreds of years separating different stories, but they’re all Viking tales. It also means they’re easy books to recommend since you don’t need to read them in any really specific order.
Gods and Monsters is Brian Wood’s story about a fractious team of young superheroes who are tossed onto a bronze age tech planet with the ability to speak to the residents.
They use their powers to set themselves up as champions of their respective tribes, becoming gods and outcasts and more. The fact that none of the heroes really like each other helps set their different tribes at war.
It’s a fascinating read about the abuse of power superheroes could perpetrate, and since it’s done with characters you don’t know so well, there’s real uncertainty about how they’ll react, though the framing device of a debriefing does let you know someone does actually survive this Lord of the Flies situation. Very cool book, though it might be better with a bit more background knowledge of the DV8 team, which I didn’t have.
Collective Punishment is Volume 10 in Brian Wood’s sf series about a near-future civil war in New York City. This volume is a collection of shorter bits mostly about some secondary characters as the city gets the shit bombed out of it. It’s following the aftermath of what Matty Roth hath wrought in his time in the DMZ. I love this series, but so much of my love is based on a lot of identification with Matty Roth, it’s hard reading these books after he’s fucked up badly, especially since I don’t know how it ends yet. I care about this version of New York and the people in it, and it sucks what’s happened in the story. You know, the way war does.
Blood in the Snow is part of Brian Wood’s Viking comic series, Northlanders. It’s a collection of short stories set in different time frames. One is about three women fighting a pillaging horde, one is about a Saxon boy who hates his father and his Nailed God religion, and one is about a duel.
All three of the stories are good, but the duel one is my favourite, probably because it doesn’t show the story, just this fight. The coolness is all about the narrator’s background and context for how these two clan champions are fighting. It oozes research, but also a wry modern tone (with images of the old ultra-violence). So good. Brian Wood just writes awesome stuff and all his artists in here work really well.