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.
- Best book about art: The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan
- Best book about love: Ask The Passengers by A.S. King
- Best book about politics: The Five Nations of New York by Brian Wood (Technically this is only the end of a much longer tale spanning many years of story, but it was a damned good ending.)
- Best book about sex & politics: The Complete Lockpick Pornography by Joey Comeau (Technically these are older books than 2012 but putting them together in one volume, as was done this year, makes the experience different enough to make the list.)
- Best book about war: The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
- Best book about mechanical bees (with spies): Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway
- Best book about giant moles (with philosophies): Railsea by China Miéville
- Best adaptation of a book: A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel by Hope Larson and Madeline L’Engle
- Best adaptation of that feeling you get from the best episodes of the Twilight Zone into a book that isn’t really an adaptation at all: The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire
- Best book about a society I would no-shit never ever ever want to live in: Dark Eden by Chris Beckett
- Best book about high school (with ghosts): Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks
- Best book about books (with immortality, data-visualization, friendship and epic fantasy quests): Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
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.
So it turns out the reason I was a little underwhelmed by Collective Punishment was because I’d somehow skipped the DMZ book preceding it, M.I.A.
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.