One of the fastest (and sometimes cheapest) ways of reading a series (particularly an older one) is through trade paperbacks or collections, or by reading only an arc or run by a particular writer. Here are several I really enjoyed this year.
Red Hood and the Outlaws (2011-2013, #1-18)
Written by Scott Lobdell
In the wake of recent controversies over Lobdell, I’ve seen a resurgence of hatred for the man. And undoubtedly he earns much of the criticism for his attitude and behavior. Moreover, I’ve read some pretty lackluster (to downright terrible) writing from him this year. But Red Hood and the Outlaws stands out as the exception. In hindsight, I think that’s because I started out with the first trade. While others, picking it up on a per-issue basis, seem to have dropped it after the second or third, I was in it for the first complete arc, and the things that may have made me toss it by the wayside (here’s looking at you, Starfire) were either resolved or aiming towards resolution by the end of Volume 1: REDemption. This led into an arc all about Starfire’s strength, answering questions about her so-called memory loss, and bringing the band of misfits together in a way I hadn’t really seen coming. It’s a testament to what Lobdell did with these characters that my chief complaint about his replacement was how Tynion seemed hellbent on undoing everything I’d come to love about the book. I’m not saying this is the greatest thing ever, but Lobdell’s RHatO was a blast while it lasted, distinctly lighthearted (though it had its moments of darkness) in the midst of a fairly bleak selection of Bat books, with a fantastic and heartfelt resolution in Lobdell’s final issue.
Catwoman (2002-2003, Vol. 1 & 2 trades)
Written by Ed Brubaker
Especially in the wake of the past couple years’ worth of Selina Kyle being driven into the ground, it’s easy to forget that, at least at one time, Catwoman was one of DC’s more popular characters. Years of pushing her sex appeal over any kind of substance led me to an honest embarrassment being seen in public holding a book with “Catwoman” on the cover — but that embarrassment subsided almost immediately as Brubaker’s writing won me entirely over. It’s not just Selina, but her supporting cast, from her best friend Holly to the grizzled P.I./friend/would-be lover Slam Bradley, that bring the dirty, poorer streets of Gotham a vivacity unlike any I’d ever seen from the rooftops and gargoyles of other Bat-books. I’ve been reading this in trades — two volumes down, the third comes out next year — and I am very much glad to be doing so.
Batwoman: Elegy (2010)
Written by Greg Rucka, Art by J.H. Williams III
Many people recommended this to me. So I finally bought it, expecting to be disappointed or put off. Instead, I was absolutely blown away. Frankly, I think ideology will impact your experience of the Batwoman story, but in my case I found the impact to be positive: this book challenged some of my latent assumptions and turned them on their heads. Why? Because Rucka and Williams portrayed a Kate Kane who is powerful, inspiring, and above all real. This book packs a powerful emotional punch and made me think about real-world implications for people with experiences like Kate’s. Extremely tight writing and simply gorgeous artwork make this one of the most easily-recommended books I’ve read all year.
By Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
I was among the legions of filmgoers who saw the 2009 film in theaters. Thematically, I appreciated it, but I wasn’t overly impressed by the movie, and couldn’t imagine why everyone spoke so enthusiastically about the book it was based on. This summer, I finally got around to experiencing Watchmen as intended, within the medium for which Moore & Gibbons created it. And it blew my mind. Like Astro City, the clincher is the non-hero perspective, in this case the frequent sequences featuring a newspaper vendor and the man who buys comics from him (and the comics themselves). The commentary, direct and subtle, on the state of the world, of heroes, of life, blended perfectly with the people responsible for that state, the heroes or would-be heroes who can save the world or destroy it. Many have praised Watchmen far more eloquently than I could, so I’ll just say that it was indeed one of the greatest things I have read, this year or any other, and if you haven’t read it yet you should rectify that immediately.
X-23: Innocence Lost (2005)
Written by Craig Kyle & Chris Yost, Art by Billy Tan
For many fans of Laura Kinney, Marjorie Liu’s X-23 run was the best. For others, Target X is the standout, with its gorgeous Choi/Oback art and the introduction of Kimura (arguably one of the most frighteningly evil, and thus memorable, villains in Marvel’s canon). But having read those, and so many other, stories about Laura, Kyle & Yost’s origin story remains the hallmark, the goal to strive towards for those who want to understand this character and why people like me get so defensive about her. This was the book that sold me, permanently, on X-23. It made her my favorite character, a title no other has come close to taking from her. And for those who have seen her in other things but don’t know where she comes from, reading this is a fantastic eye-opener. I can’t guarantee you’ll fall in love with the character like I did, but I still consider this required reading for anyone who seeks to understand my tastes in comics.