MEMORABLE SINGLE ISSUES OF 2001
Short story anthology series are all but dead. The comics world is moving towards a larger format of trade paperbacks and original graphic novels. More and more comics are created with an eye towards a longer story.
That’s what makes the stories I’m mentioning in this column all the more remarkable. These are comics that, in the span of 22 pages, tell a story that sticks with you for any of a number of reasons. Maybe it made you laugh until it hurt. Maybe it made you reconsider the art form of comics. Maybe you learned something new about narrative storytelling. Maybe it just moved you.
This column is dedicated to those single-issue wonders that still easily come to the front of my memory at the end of the year.
This list is much more subjective than the Top 10 Series list I compiled earlier this month. I won’t even pretend to order these comics in any way. It’s difficult to keep 1000 comics straight, so I won’t pretend that this is a final list. Please add your suggestions to the Pipeline Message Board as you remember them.
These are books I’ve gone back to reread over the course of the year because they’re just that good.
Lone Wolf and Cub #6: I put this on the list only to highlight the story “Hunger Town.” It’s one of my favorites of the series so far, and perhaps for the most perverse reason. The story opens on Ogami Itto shooting blunt arrows at his son’s pet dog as a training exercise.
Spider-Man Tangled Web: Severance Package #4: You put Greg Rucka together with Eduardo Risso and magic is bound to happen. It did here, as Rucka tells the story of a henchman for the Kingpin who fails at his job because of Spider-Man and the fate that befalls him due to that. It’s a great gritty noir crime drama where Spider-Man is just the match that lights the flame.
Peter Parker: Spider-Man #33: Uncle Ben and baseball. It doesn’t get much better than that. If I were on the Eisner Award Judges panel (and I can see all of you breathing a sigh of relief that I’m not), this is the issue that I’d be pushing. The series is already on my Top 10 list. This issue is the highlight of it, though. It’s the story of a boy, his father figure, and the sport of baseball that binds them for eternity.
100 Bullets #27: This one is just further proof that I’m a sucker for a good baseball story. In this issue, Brian Azzarello delivers the goods in a thinly veiled Joe Dimaggio/Marilyn Monroe/JFK rewrite of history. Normally, I’d loathe such historical visitations. That era has been covered ad nauseum. I don’t need anything else set in that time period. Azzarello’s take, though, is so powerful and so personal that I’m making an exception. It isn’t so much about the conspiracy as it is about the affects it has on one man. The story is complete in one issue, and includes a couple of small subplots that get peppered through the issue. One is darkly humorous, and the other is left hanging until a few issues later. However, it stands on its own as a nice counterpoint to the main story and is satisfying in the small chunk we’re given here. Eduardo Risso works his usual magic on the interiors, making it all look terribly easy. Dave Johnson wraps it all up with a nostalgic (yet subtly warped) baseball cover.
Superboy #85: Superboy pairs up with both Robin and Batgirl in this issue and Joe Kelly goes to town with the jokes and pop culture references. Batgirl never talks and Superboy doesn’t know how to shut up. It’s a classic recipe for hijinks and hilarity! Most impressive, though, is the fact that there’s a real story at the heart of the issue. It’s something that gets to the core of Superboy’s being and shows him to be a stand up guy in a bit of an unusual way. Kelly was good at that, though. He crafted a story when you weren’t looking and threw in characterization when you didn’t expect it. It was a hallmark of his run on DEADPOOL and something he did with SUPERBOY, as well. It’s too bad he didn’t have a longer run on the title.
Wonder Woman #170: Joe Kelly lands another title in this list. Pretty impressive. This is the ultimate example that 2001 will go down as the year of the talking head and not the year of widescreen storytelling. People want more from their comics. They don’t just want more words, but they want more wit. There’s a trend right now towards books that pack more punch for your two or three dollars than in the recent past. You won’t find a 22 page comic from 2001 that takes longer to read through than this one. Combine that with some beautiful Phil Jimenez art and lettering by Comicraft in Tom Orzechowski’s style and you have an attractive package.
Codename: Knockout #1: Two people fight ninjas while naked. What more can you ask for? It might just get the chutzpah comic story of the year award, also. This one makes the list for being funny and being completely unexpected and over the top. The story is by Robert Rodi, with art from Louis Small Jr. and Mark Farmer.
Boneyard #4: It’s the grand conclusion to the first storyline of the new series by Richard Moore at NBM. He throws everything and the kitchen sink into this one, resulting in the funniest issue yet, filled with gags galore and a gripping story.
BONEYARD #5 came out this week. I’m happy to report that it does work as a jumping-on point for readers. Newbies will miss one gag, but can follow the rest of the issue with just the prompting provided on the inside front cover. It’s a terrific series and I hope more of you jump onto it.
Ultimate X-Men #6: While 2001 might be the year that the talking heads make a return, there’s still room for some widescreen comics. And this is what widescreen comics can be. Bold. Large. Over the top. Double page spreads. Cool art. Massive destruction. Action. Pathos. Melodrama. The whole gamut. It’s a great way to cap off the opening story arc, from Mark Millar and Andy Kubert.
Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #11: Brian Bendis gets credit for writing the best After School Special comic I’ve ever read with this book. Then, he gets double credit for getting Chynna Clugston-Major to draw it. Her specialty is drawing teenagers and her style serves the story in a way few others’ probably could have. It’s a great example of synchronicity of writer and artist, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The X-Men and Peter Parker meet up at a local mall on Senior Cut Day. Wacky hijinks ensue, including a great discussion with Jean Grey, Logan, and Peter Parker’s friends. It’s slightly off-the-beaten path and works like a charm.
Ultimate Spider-Man #13: This is the last of the Ultimate titles to make the list. I promise. Brian Bendis and Mark Bagley deliver a 22-page talking heads story here, as Peter Parker reveals his secret to Mary Jane. Everything clicks here, from the reaction on Mary Jane’s face, to the interplay between the two, to Aunt May’s hilarious appearance near the end. It’s all great stuff.
Defenders #6: It may be part of a larger storyline, but there’s enough dialogue to keep you caught up as you read. The highlight of this issue is the handling of The Hulk, by Erik Larsen and Kurt Busiek. If you like the big dumb Hulk at all, this issue should make you crack up fairly frequently.
Oni Press Color Special 2001: Brian Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming open up the special with a send-up of more indie comic faves than you can shake a stick at, from MADMAN to RED STAR to POWERS, itself. It’s the funniest story I’ve read all year, and the rest of the issue ain’t bad, either. For example, it includes the first full-color ALISON DARE story from J. Torres and J. Bone.
Gen 13 #69: For a brief, shining moment GEN13 was a character-driven book with a pseudo-science driven story. The art was the equal to the story, sexy without being painfully obvious or provocative. The Authority guest-starred in the book for good reason aside from just a sales grab. Frustratingly, Adam Warren pushed the big giant reset button at the end of the story. Still, it’s a good ride for an issue.
The Flash #178: It’s an artistic tour de force for Scott Kolins and Doug Hazlewood. When I saw the black and white photocopies of this issue at the San Diego convention, I was blown away. When I saw the issue in print and in color, my jaw still dropped to the floor. When I talked about this title as being one of my Top 10 for 2001, I specifically mentioned its use of dramatic splashes. There’s none more powerful that the double page spread on pages 18 and 19 of this issue. Even more impressive is that DC let this issue out of the barn right after the events of 9-11. In the course of Geoff Johns’ story, Gorilla Grodd escapes in the city and wreaks incredible havoc. Buildings fall, trucks get tossed around, and cars fly through buildings. The art by Kolins and Hazlewood rival the work of Geoff Darrow for pure detail in this issue. And it’s beautiful in its tragic destruction.
Superman: Action Comics #775: Why does a world which embraces a thinly-veiled Authority-like superteam need a Superman? Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke answer that in grand style.
Batman: Gotham Adventures #34: It’s tough to pick just one story from the run that Scott Peterson and Tim Levins have had on this book. I’m sure in a couple of days I’ll change my mind and want to go with another one. For now, I’ll stick with this issue, which features Maxie Zeus and enough stabs at Hollywood to keep Norman Bates happy. It’s a seriously warped story about the fine line that divides movies and reality.
Midnight Nation #4: Positive science fiction stories are too often frowned upon. I think that’s part of the reason so many people were disappointed with 2000’s JLA: HEAVEN’S LADDER. I thought Mark Waid and Bryan Hitch’s treasury-sized extravaganza was a wonderfully uplifting piece of fiction. Reviews otherwise were mixed. I think people want grim and gritty, as much as they won’t admit it because it’s not fashionable these days.
Nevertheless. MIDNIGHT NATION #4 is another one of those positive message books that doesn’t hit you over the head with it. Joe Michael Straczynski and Gary Frank here tell a story with the message, “If you don’t like the life you’re stuck in, get up and change it.” It’s not that difficult. Letting life beat you down won’t help. It’s a simple story with a deeper message.
MIDNIGHT NATION ½ is a very close second runner-up, complete with art from Michael Zulli. It’s one of the best examples I can think of to exemplify JMS’ writing style.
There you have it. 18 super issues of comics from the past year. These were selected from the nearly 1100 comics I bought last year. Certainly, I missed a few. (There’s an amazing lack of CrossGen books, or anything written by Chuck Dixon, for starters. There must be one of those that belong here.)
Please tell me which ones you think I missed over at the new and improved Pipeline message board. In case you didn’t see the notice on the front page of CBR, we’ve got an all-new and improved message board system in place. It runs lightning quick by comparison to the older system and looks extremely spiffy.
Next week is devoted to reviews. Both Tuesday’s and Friday’s columns next week will be jam packed with a fairly wide variety of comic book reviews. There’s something to please everyone coming up in the pipeline…
More than 350 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.