#20: THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: THE BLACK DOSSIER Probably one of the most eagerly awaited comics of the year (because it was actually due in 2006), the sequel to Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's metafiction high adventure comics brings back Mina Harker and Alan Quatermain into the strange and bizarre world of 1958 Britain (curiously enough, a 1958 that's post-1984). As always, part of the fun is in spotting the literary allusions and characters that sneak inI howled with delight when I spied a Winged Avenger comic book from the Avengers TV series, and Moore writes one of the funniest, and perhaps most hapless, James Bonds since Ian Fleming. If I gotta make a few quibbles? Well, most of all, it doesn't really seem to tell a story, being more concerned with a series of documents within the book which tell past histories of the League. To my eyes, Moore's pastiche of P. G. Wodehouse crossed with Lovecraft, which I have to review one of these days, isn't especially convincing on a literary level, but it's at least fun. And if the ending is the equivalent of a big splashy Broadway musical number that wraps up the story but doesn't really make any sense, well, then at least it's in 3-D. Any book that comes with 3-D glasses? I'm so there.
#19: GROO 25th ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL He's back! The greatest barbarian of the modern comics age returns with a vengeance, aptly drawn by MADman Sergio Aragonés, with Mark Evanier doing whatever it is that he usually does. One of the great joys of a new Groo story is that it's almost exactly like every other Groo story, and there aren't many series in which you can say that as a positive. Plus, plenty of special features, including a funny and clever "Groo Alphabet." And it leads into the first Groo series in years, Groo: Hell on Earth, which ain't half as dismal as it sounds. Groo is always silly, never stupid, and as long as Evanier and Aragonés keep puttin' 'em out, I'm standing in line with my dimes to buy 'em.
#18: SHAZAM: THE MONSTER SOCIETY OF EVIL Jeff Smith proves there's life after Bone in this delightful, colorful, and sometimes creepy reinvention of the Captain Marvel legend, which , while making changes to the mythos, preserves more of the joy, charm, and adventure of the original C. C. Beck creation than the current dark-spirited The Trials of Shazam mainstream DC comic does. Smith's tale springs from the classic Monster Society serial of yesteryear but adds his own touches, including the most charming Mary Marvel ever put on paper. Shazam is one of those rare comics that'll appeal to adults as well as children, and I repeat my original request when I first reviewed this: pick up a copy for a kid as well and I bet you'll get him or her hooked.
#17: POPEYE VOL. 2 "WELL BLOW ME DOWN!" For the first time since comic strips were regularly and frequently published in mass market newsstand paperbacks, we're living in a Golden Age of newspaper comic strip reprints, and the range and quality of the projects is enough to please even the fussiest of collectors and fans. Dick Tracy, Peanuts, The Far Side, Gasoline Alley, Dennis the Menace, Pogo, and many more to come are all being reprinted in beautiful archive editions. I'm a big fan of all of 'em (tho' I likely won't be buying The Complete Mary Worth, Volume 1: Mary Meddles in The Affairs of Others). But by far my favorite new reprint project has been Fantagraphics's monolith-sized reprints of Thimble Theater starring that spinach-chawin' sailor man, Popeye. Volume 2, as beautifully designed as the first (with a hard-board cut-out cover and large pages that preserve a full week's worth of continuity). The Popeye stories in this book are some of the best comedy and adventure tales told in the medium: The Rough-House War, King Popeye, and Skullyville (Toughest Town in the World!) Plus, nearly two years of full-page, full-color Sunday strips (including the lower-tier "Sappo" strip by Segar), and an extensive historical essay by Donald Phelps. Pure joythe only way this could be better were if the book had a scratch-'n'-sniff spinach-scented cover.
#16: THE SIMPSONS MOVIE Eighteen years in the making (sorta) made The Simpsons Movie eagerly awaited, and it didn't disappoint, unless you're one of those cynical, curmudgeonly critics who claim the series hasn't been funny since Mister Plow. Me? I howled with laughter, cheered with excitement and sniffled during the sad bits. It's a bigger and broader story than your average 22-minute TV episode, with more detailed 3D animation and backgrounds but still the same loveable characters (and a few new surprises). You might lament that your favorite didn't get much screen time (me, I was disappointed there wasn't more to do for Mister Burns), but how can you not love a movie that introduced The Sensational Character Find of 2007: The Amazing Spider-Pig:
#15: EMPOWERED Let's get this out of the way right from the start: little stuffed bulls shouldn't be reading Empowered. Uh uh. No way. Not until they're at least late-teenage stuffed bulls. There's enough sex, violence, and near-but-not-complete nudity to rate this a "mature audiences only" and safely shrink-wrap away the naughty bits. But if I were allowed to review this, I'd probably tell you not only how sexy but how relentlessly funny it is: the adventures of a superheroine with serious self-esteem issues (she more often hostage than hero), her burly boyfriend Thugboy, BFF Ninjette, and TV-addicted interdimensional conqueror The Caged Demonwolf. Adam Warren (Dirty Pair, Gen13) is turning out some of the most beautiful work of his career, gorgeously reproduced to look like the original pencils, and the sexy girls and guys stretched out across the pages don't distract from Empowered being one of the most incisive and satirical looks at hero worship and the cult of celebrity in a world with superbeings. It's a pity that superhero fans probably won't pick this up because it looks like mangaand a pity that manga fans won't pick this up because it looks like superheroes. They're missing out on one of the comic delights of 2007 (with more volumes to come in 2008).
#14: TORCHWOOD SERIES 1 Rearrange the letters of "Torchwood" in the correct order and you know what you wind up with? That's right: Hot Rod Cow. For those of you who aren't interested in the weekly series about a little stuffed race car driver, check out Torchwood, the Doctor Who spin-off that's done more for Welsh tourism than any production since How Green Was My Valley. John Barrowman is back as Captain Jack Harkness, surrounding himself with a crack team of experts to investigate the crimes beyond the skills of the Cardiff policeor indeed, the imagination of most mortal men. Darker and grimmer than Doctor Who, but never bleak, Torchwood brings sensibility of The X-Files into the twenty-first century with a compelling cast of characters whose stories grow and intertwine throughout the season. And when it clicks, it strikes dead aim at your heart and brain at the same time: stand-out episodes like "Captain Jack Harkness" and "Random Shoes" had me on the edge of my seat and reaching for my handkerchief to sniffle in at the same time.
#13: COVER GIRL Remember those old To Tell The Truth episodes where a panelist would exempt himself from the final round because he already knew the secret contestant? Well, in the interest of true and honest disclosure, Cover Girl co-creator Kevin Church (mastermind of BeaucoupKevin(dot)com) is a pal o' mine. And yet, I'm including his comic in my Fun Fifty. Or, as an instant message conversation 'tween yours little stuffed truly and that paragon of Pet Shop Boys fandom went:
bully: i have to decide what comics I'm going top put in my year-end Top Fifty.
kevin: Well, that's easy.
kevin: COVER GIRL #1-5
kevin: TEN TIMES EACH.
Well, I did have 49 other choices, Kevin, but you get one slot right here for your, co-creator Andrew Cosby, and artist Mateus Santolouco's fast-paced, funny, and beautifully drawn action adventure of an up-and-coming movie star and the gorgeous and deadly bodyguard assigned to protect him after he saves the wrong girl from a car crash. Cover Girl is both fast-paced and densethis is not a fast five-minutes-per-issue read, and Church's genuinely funny yet believable dialogue rewards re-reading. For my money, it's the most entertaining Hollywood-based comic book since Crossfire. Someday, this will be a Hollywood film, and you can say you read it in comic book form before you bought the action figures and got the McDonald's Happy Meal.
Now can I have my tricycle back, Mister Church?
#12: THE ART OF BONE Jeff Smith goes for the hat trick and makes his third appearance on the Fun Fifty list with this dazzling oversized gift book covering the design and evolution of his award-winning Bone series. Beautiful full-color reproductions of covers minus logos, penciled roughs, extensive history and commentary, plus a large collection of Smith's college-era "Thorn" comic strips which inspired Bone. If you're a Boneophile, this is the closest thing to pure heavenat least until Smith starts work on the sequel Bone 2: Electric Boogaloo.
#11: HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS In the course of the Fun Fifty, I've mentioned a few eagerly anticipated 2007 projectsbut none have been so intensely awaited worldwide than the concluding volume of J. K. Rowling's Happy Potter series. We've followed Harry from age 11 to age 17 and bought billions of his books, and if you're a fan, the final adventure doesn't disappointthe last standoff against Voldemort and his minions, a search for mystic talismans as well as the mysterious past of Dumbledore, and more deaths than an issue of What If?. I could be Scroogesque and complain about the massive infodump chapters, including one that brings the climatic battle to a complete halt while we rewind to the past of Harry's family, and that Rowling really could have used an editor in some sections, but I can't deny I awaited this book with increasing excitement the nearer its release approached, and that I devoured it in one night of eager reading...and that I read it all over again the next day. No spoilers here from me if you haven't read it, but the final three words of Deathly Hallows are not only a summation of Harry's life but also a reflection of our contentment with the entire saga.
Well, that's all, folks! The most fun comics, movies, books and all kindsa other stuff in 2007. I sure hope you enjoyed it, and you'll join me around this time next year when I look back at 2008 and tell you how much fun we had reading that Secret Invasion and Final Crisis thing, and how much we laughed in relief and joy when Stephanie Brown, Steve Rogers, and Mary Jane Watson-Parker all showed up together in the shower in the morning after a terrible long nightmare...
Oh, wait! Not done yet! There's ten more to come! So, tune in tomorrow and we'll take the final swing through the Ten Most Fun of 2007. There'll be laughter, and tears, and Skrulls. And this time...it's personal!