Sunday, January 9, 2005

Yeah, I'm like a week late with it, but anyway, here's my Nik's picks for Favorite Comic Book Moments of 2004 (remember that faraway year?)

Some days the snark-filled comics blogosphere seems to be mostly about bagging on current comics and superheroes and a general sense of disdain about the medium these days (not EVERYONE, note, just a general theme though). But I admit, I'm a meat 'n' potatoes comics guy, who likes a good ol' Spider-Man comic just as much as I do Dan Clowes, R. Crumb or Craig Thompson. Anyway, I'll try not to dwell on the negative here (so little shall be said about "Identity Crisis," "Avengers Disassembled," "Sins Past," and several other overhyped lowlights this year). Instead, here's just a handful of things that made me remember why I dig comics so much this year:

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL/COLLECTION: It's hard to pass up "McSweeney's Quarterly Concern" #13, a massive, utterly gorgeous hardcover collection edited by Chris Ware. This may be the best LOOKING comic book of the year, with Ware's usual intricate design and a who's who of alternative comics, plus noted authors chiming in on their love for comics. A lovely old catalogue of a book that you can dip into again and again.

BEST SINGLE COMIC: For sheer weirdness, surrealism and pulpy fun, you couldn't beat Grant Morrison's "Seaguy" #1-3, about -- well, I'm still not quite sure what it's about, but it's a zappy trip to read, multiple times. An honorable mention to his incomplete but astounding "WE3," and the sheer comic-book spandex world-saving goodness of "JLA: Classified" #1. Morrison's madness and invention will be on full display in 2005, with his 30-part "Seven Soldiers" series for DC, a "Superman" series, and another intriguing miniseries, "Vimanarama!", plus the final issue of "WE3." I can't wait. Runner-up, "Eightball" #23, not quite as great as some of Dan Clowes' other comics, but still miles above most.

BEST REPRINTS: For years, I've hoped to see a comprehensive collection of Charles Schulz's masterful "Peanuts." Finally saw it this year, in the first two volumes of a 25-book, 50-year series done with impeccable style by Fantagraphics. I can't wait for more. Runner-up, Marvel's Essential series, which began delving into hidden corners of the 1970s "Bronze Age" of comics with big honkin' phone book reprints of series like "Iron Fist" and "Super Villain Team-Up," in highly affordable packages. This year, "Defenders" and "Marvel Two-In-One" are on the way, huzzah!

BEST ONGOING SERIES: While trade paperbacks are slowly taking over, there's still a good handful of comics I have to buy each month, even if the trend of stretched-out serials is making that less pleasurable than it was. Series I'm still enjoying every month include "Daredevil," "Ex Machina," "Y: The Last Man," "Supreme Power," "Marvel Knights Spider-Man," "Planetary," "Powers," and "Astonishing X-Men." This year, no one series really jumps too far out of the pack, but if I had to pick one comic that goes to the top of the read pile each month, it's still Bendis' "Ultimate Spider-Man," with its loose, funny and realistic take on a teenage Spider-Man, who remains my favorite comic book character, and this remains the best current comic starring him.

BEST BENDIS COMIC: He didn't have his best year, getting a little overextended methinks, but writer Brian Michael Bendis is still reliably one of the best mainstream comic writers right now. A lot of folks would pick "Powers" as his best comic, but IMHO it's a little too cynical and unpleasant, although I do enjoy it. "Ultimate Spider-Man" didn't have the best year, either, with the meandering Carnage storyline and a lot of OK team-ups, and "The Pulse," while strong, isn't as good as "Alias" was so far. I'd go with "Daredevil," which despite the naysayers remains a thoughtful character study of Matt Murdock covered up in superhero clothing. Best DD since Frank Miller, and Alex Maleev's woefully underrated impressionistic artwork.
(*Yeah, I'm aware there's a contradiction in naming "Daredevil" my favorite comic yet "Ultimate Spider-Man" by the same writer my favorite overall comic, but hey, I'm a man of contradictions.)

BIGGEST COMEDOWN: Dave Sim's "Cerebus" is the first "independent" comic I ever read, way back in 1985 or so. I still think the first 200 issues or so are some of the strongest achievements of comics, a dense, satirical and epic tale of one megalomaniacal aardvark's journey in a cynical world. But Sim started to meander off into increasingly wacky tangents on religion, anti-feminism and rhetoric, and by the time the series concluded at #300 this year, few people really cared. I hung on to the end, but the last 100 issues of "Cerebus" and its bleak final issue really have to be seen as a failure. No matter what you think about Sim's views, the main problem for me was that the views overwhelmed and obscured his storytelling ability, undermining what could've been a great piece of work for the ages.

BEST NEW SERIES: Brian K. Vaughan has had a good year, with the always-excellent "Y: The Last Man" and his underappreciated "Runaways" from Marvel, but his new series, "Ex Machina," holds promise of being the best yet. A political thriller with superhero overtones, it's topical and smart, with gorgeous art by "Starman's" Tony Harris. Runner-up: Marvel's witty and lighthearted "She-Hulk."

BEST BOOK ABOUT COMICS: "Comic Creators On Spider-Man," edited by Tom DeFalco (TItan Books) was a huge treasure trove of information for any Spider-Man fanboy like myself, with more than a dozen interviews with Spidey writers and artists over the last 40 years ranging from Stan Lee to Brian Michael Bendis. Insightful, trivia-filled and not afraid to criticize, a fun read indeed.

LOOKING FORWARD TO: 2005 has some great sounding stuff coming, such as the aforementioned Grant Morrison's "Seven Soldiers," plus Morrison and Frank Quitely on Superman, Frank Miller and Jim Lee on Batman, more "Peanuts" collections, new "Black Panther" and "Defenders" comics, new Alan Moore "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" and "Top 10" graphic novels, the goofy-sounding-but-potentially good "Young Avengers," the "Sin City" movie and "Batman Begins" (I'll skip over the "Fantastic Four" movie, which I'm slightly hopeful for, but it sure feels like "Catwoman 2" to me).
It's a good year to be a 33-year-old eternal fanboy, methinks.

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