Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Best Comics of 2004.

The end of the year is nigh...and now, that moment you've all been breathlessly awaiting...


Or, to be precise, the comics that I read in 2004 that I liked the most and/or in most cases were ranked consistently high in my reviews. I freely admit that as always, there were many excellent titles that came out in 2004 that I just didn't pick up on for a myriad of reasons, and therefore can't and won't include. It's my party and I'll cry if I want to. These are listed alphabetically, not in order of preference. So without any further...

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us100 BULLETS by Brian Azzurrello and Eduardo Risso (DC/Vertigo). 100 Bullets floundered early this year, suffering a incoherent story arc and a delay in schedule caused by Azzurrello & Risso's stint on Batman, but then rebounded strongly with an excellent issue 50, and the so-far great "Wylie Runs the Voodoo Down" story arc which advances the underlying Minutemen vs. the Trust plot. 100 Bullets is, in my eyes anyway, a solid title and Risso is an amazingly talented and prolific (nothing to sneer at these days) craftsman.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usCOURTNEY CRUMRIN IN THE TWILIGHT KINGDOM by Ted Naifeh (Oni Press). Another interesting chapter of Ted Naifeh's surly young witch, this time getting her involved with the darker side of the Fairie world, not to mention the darker side of some of her classmates. Naifeh has crafted an intriguing little world for his character, and his moody, angular art style keeps getting better and better.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usHAWAIIAN DICK: THE LAST RESORT by B. Clay Moore, Steven Griffin and Nick Derington (Image). Well, maybe you can resist the combination of witty scripting, gorgeous color, sun & sand, gangsters, private eyes, beautiful girls and ghosts, but I can't. I'm enjoying this second Dick series as much as I did the first one, and unless Moore totally pulls a Meltzer on the ending, I think this will be another keeper.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usTHE LEGEND OF WILD MAN FISCHER by Dennis Eichorn, J.P. Williams and others (Top Shelf). Engrossing biocomic on one of the most obscure and oddball people to ever pick up a mike and take the stage. Fischer was one in a million, and this manages to capture his kaleidoscopic eccentricity, while making a strong case for his artistry at the same time. For more from me on this, go here.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usTHE LOSERS (DC/Vertigo) by Andy Diggle and Jock. Even though we had to endure three less-than-stellar fill-in issues by inferior artists, The Losers was still excellent whenever Diggle and Jock teamed up. Sharply dialogued and intensely illustrated, full of action, laughs, and excitement, I never feel ripped off when I've finished an issue they collaborate on. I hope it can go on at least long enough for me to put it on this list next year.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usOWLY Vol. 1: THE WAY HOME and THE BITTERSWEET SUMMER by Andy Runton (Top Shelf). I only read this last weekend, so I really haven't had a chance to hold forth on this charming, sweet, and clever (and cleverly illustrated) story about a good-hearted owl and his buddies, two hummingbirds and an earthworm. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection, and look forward to many more.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usSAME DIFFERENCE and OTHER STORIES by Derek Kirk Kim (Top Shelf). Hm. I certainly have several Top Shelf books on this list, don't I? Anyway, I have to confess that I'm cheating a bit by including this on my list; I don't own a copy of this collection. Kim published this on his own website for several months prior to its publication, and I read and enjoyed it very much there. Amazon lists the version with this cover as having been released in 2004, so I include it here! One of these days I hope to pick up a copy; in the meantime, take my word for it, whydoncha?

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usSLEEPER SEASONS ONE and TWO by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (DC/Wildstorm). Is this a spy/espionage comic with superheroes, or vice versa? Is this a twisted version of a romance comic, as some have suggested? Yes. Another thing it is is always excellent, and just when you think that you have figured out where it's heading, it will always take another left turn and add another layer of intrigue. As good as it gets for mainstream comics, I think.

URSULA by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba (AiT/PlanetLar). A winningly open-hearted and warm fable about love, fantasy/reality and growing up, written and illustrated with aplomb by the tag-team of Moon and Ba. Buy this for someone you care about- makes an excellent Valentine's Day gift!

Image Hosted by  ImageShack.usWE3 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely (DC/Vertigo). I underrated issue #1, but by #2 I had re-evaluated my original stance and have come to regard this as one of the most straightforward, powerful and thought-provoking stories this gifted craftsman has ever given us. And of course, Frank Quitely takes full advantage of what he's given, providing inspired visuals like the time-lapse, segmented attack on the soldiers on pages 6 & 7 of #2. Again, #3 hasn't come out yet, but I seriously doubt that there is any Meltzer in Grant Morrison, so I'm not worried. Very gud, as Bandit would say.

...and there are quite a few...

FLIGHT Vol. 1 by various artists (Image).
A veritable plethora of Indie and webcomics artists, including the amazing Vera Brosgol, Clio Chang and Jen Wang do their thing illustrating stories based on the theme of, you guessed it, flight. One to look back on, say, 10 years from now and see where these creators have ended up.

DAREDEVIL by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev (Marvel).
The comic comic bloggers love to hate maintained a solid level of consistency, and while there were a couple of valleys, there were a lot more peaks.

PROMETHEA by Alan Moore, J.H. Williams III and Mick Gray (DC/Wildstorm).
Moore is pulling out all the metaphysical stops as he winds down his (in a lot of ways, I think) most "personal" epic, and he's fortunate to have a gifted artist like J.H. Williams III (ably inked by Mick Gray, as always) to provide brilliant, breathtaking visuals. Probably should have been in the top 10, I suppose; only the convoluted nature of the narrative kept me from putting it there.

DC: THE NEW FRONTIER by Darwyn Cooke (DC).
Another book which just missed the top 10 cut. I flat out love Darwyn Cooke's art style, and this is a fine tribute to the less, shall we say, shades-of-grey type stories and characters that I grew up with. Only some inconsistencies in the script kept me from ranking it higher.

SCURVY DOGS By Andrew Young and Ryan Yount (AiT/PlanetLar).
Absolutely hilarious, nutball, surreal pirate comics. More fun than a barrel of pirates, monkeys, ninjas and robots. I can't remember reading a stranger comic since the halcyon days of the Flaming Carrot.

MY FAITH IN FRANKIE by Mike Carey, Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel (DC/Vertigo)
Fun fantasy-drama about a young lady with her own personal god, who is a bit on the over-protective side. Great, energetic art by Sonny Liew, nicely inked by JB Show fave Marc Hempel.

WARLOCK by Greg Pak and Charlie Adlard (Marvel)
I suppose if you want to be all cynical about it, this is another attempt to re-create an older Marvel character to make him more palatable to movie producers. But this turned out to be more than that- Pak has taken the tired old Starlin version and has reimagined it, while nodding to the 60s and 70s at the same time. Nicely drawn by Charlie Adlard, the Tommy Lee Jones of comics art.

OCEAN by Warren Ellis, Chris Sprouse and Karl Story (DC/Wildstorm)
Deliberate sci-fi with a 2001 feel, with a typically smart and terse Ellis script and outstanding art by another JB Show favorite, Chris Sprouse. Not over yet, so it's possible that Ellis may still jump the shark- but so far so good.

STREET ANGEL by Jim Rugg and Brian Marucca (Slave Labor).
This comic, the current darling of the Comics Blogosphere, made an awful lot of best-of lists...but it's just so all-over-the-place, tone-and-subject-matter-wise, that I couldn't do it. It's still a solid book, well drawn, often clever- but I want to see if Rugg can pick his poison before I start singing louder praises.

PLANETARY by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday (DC/Wildstorm)
Actually came out on something resembling a regular schedule this year, and that made me happy. One issue wasn't quite up to par, but the others were excellent as Ellis and Cassaday inexorably crawl towards the eventual resolution. Take your time, gentlemen- I'm willing to wait if this is the result of your deliberation.

JINGLE BELLE by Paul Dini, Jose Garibaldi, Stephanie Gladden, and Jason Bone (Dark Horse)
There have only been two issues out of the four so far this year, but they've been very high-quality. I still can't believe how much more I like Jose Garibaldi's color art than what he's given us previously. An early Christmas present for me!

EIGHTBALL by Dan Clowes (Fantagraphics)
Well, of course we know that only one issue came out this year, #23, and it was as overrated by many as it was underrated by others (me included). Clowes' deadpan style keeps me at arm's length even as he impresses me with his cleverness, but it's this distance that keeps me from embracing #23 as much as I did #22, perhaps one of the best comics published in the last 40 years.

LUCIFER by Mike Carey, Peter Gross, Ryan Kelly, and Dean Ormston (DC/Vertigo)
More valleys than peaks this year, I'm afraid, but overall this is still an impressive run by author Carey. The art, except for one stellar fill-in by Marc Hempel, is competent if not inspired. But I really do like this book, really!

FABLES by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, and others (DC/Vertigo)
I like how Willingham has (and continues to) reimagine these traditional characters, and am always engaged if not always blown away. The art, as with Lucifer, is competent but unexciting.

GOTHAM CENTRAL by Brubaker, Greg Rucka, Mike Lark, Steven Guadiano and others (DC)
The low-key approach this title uses doesn't always make for the most compelling reading, but I'm always rewarded for my effort. Usually always solid, especially when Brubaker scripts. I'll miss Michael Lark on art...I wish Lee Loughridge's ghastly colors would accompany him.

WALKING DEAD by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard (Image)
I've managed to stay interested in this book, even though that's begun to wane a bit as the plot is beginning to spin its wheels. I was sufficiently impressed by this to rate it highly most of the year, so here it is. This being said, I'm dropping it after the next issue.

POWERS V1 and V2 by Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming (Image/Marvel/Icon)
Another interesting year of Powers, along with a publisher switch. Bendis may get more attention for his cranked out Marvel stuff (Daredevil excepted), but I think this is the book he likes to write.

DEMO by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan (AiT/PlanetLar)
Overall very high quality series, even though I liked some issues (#8 (my fave), #'s 3, 4 & 11) more than others (#6, #10), and while I was often very frustrated at the vagueness of many of the scripts, I came away loving Becky Cloonan's chameleon-like art and appreciating this quite honest attempt at doing something different, which never gets old.

PLASTIC MAN by Kyle Baker and Scott Morse (DC)
This is Baker's show, and while I don't really understand why he's bothering (I suppose he's just paying the bills) I was entertained by the issues I read. I wish he wouldn't take such a slapdash approach to his art; it often clashes with the fast and funny approach he's trying to maintain by being sloppy and indistinct. Morse contributed two fill-ins, one fair-to-middling and the other not so hot. I still think the scene in which Superman uses his heat vision to burn President Luthor's belt and cause his trousers to drop off should be canonical.

DAISY KUTTER: THE LAST TRAIN by Kaz Kabuishi (Viper)
This has been an overall fun series, and I like the title character. Sometimes Kaz isn't always 100% successful at combining cartoony fantasy with more down-to-earth subject matter, but that's a difficult trick to pull off even by the greats. This mini is a little pricey, but it's printed on good paper and I don't really feel ripped off.

JOHN CONSTANTINE: HELLBLAZER by Mike Carey, Marcelo Frusin and Leo Manco
All in all, a good year for Carey and ol' Conjob. I'll miss Frusin, who really grew into the character.

B.P.R.D.: PLAGUE OF FROGS by Mike Mignola and Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
These Hellboy spinoffs have been extremely hit-and-miss, but with Mike Mignola scripting and Guy Davis just killing on art, this mini was a winner.

I'll try to do a movie and music best-of list, too, but don't stand on one leg waiting...

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