TOP TEN OF 2002 REVISITED
In his blog last week, John Jakala reviewed his Top Ten list of 2002 in lieu of a new Top Ten list for 2003. It's such a great idea that I'm stealing it for this column. Thanks, John.
There are a couple of reasons I didn't compile a list this year. First, I found myself without the extra time to create such a beast this year. Secondly, it was a tough list to come up with. You may remember from my past lists that I limit the list to on-going series that I kept up with from month to month. When I came up with such a list of books for 2003, I discovered that there just weren't that many of them. The world of comics, for me, has morphed into a world of trade paperbacks, one shots, mini-series, cancelled series, and books that I read in fits and starts. In the past, I'd have up to 50 books to pick from. For 2003, my first pass came up with just over 20. At that point, I realized it would be akin to coming up with a Reading List rather than a Top Ten list of any sort.
I also wanted to change the list this year to include the best trades and graphic novels as part of the top ten. The only problem I had there was in coming up with a canonical list of books I read up in 2003. I didn't track that. I would have to rely on books I've already reviewed with just a dash of my memory. I didn't trust either.
Thus, I scrapped the Top Ten of 2003 list.
Instead, let's look back a year to see what books I put on my list for the year 2002, and see where they stand today:
ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN: This one would have been a no-brainer for the year 2003, also. Brian Bendis and Mark Bagley continue their march to 100 straight issues without a hint of burnout or the sense that they're resting on their laurels. This title is just exciting now as it was a year, two years, or even three years ago. It's an accomplished title that Marvel should be proud to have as a cornerstone of its lineup. The hardcover editions that collect a year's worth of stories at a time are amazing volumes, as well. The packaging looks great, and the bonus materials are worth the read.
THE PATH: Whoops. I wrote last year:
"Staying on this list in 2003 will be a tough task for THE PATH. CrossGen recently announced that Sears will be leaving the title to concentrate on his Art Director duties. The art is the big draw of the book. New penciller Matt Smith has some pretty big shoes to fill here."
Self-fulfilling prophecy. Sears left and took the momentum with him. Smith didn't do a bad job, but the book lost its momentum for me, and I dropped it. It read best in trade format, anyway, but now CrossGen is having a hard time publishing those.
I listed SCION as a near-miss for the year, and it became a bigger miss in 2003 as Jimmy Cheung and Ron Marz left the title. The near-constant fill-ins for Cheung didn't help before that, either.
SUICIDE SQUAD: It was cancelled before the column was even written last year. N ever fear, though, as Keith Giffen moved on to another successful series, REIGN OF THE ZODIAC. Ah, jeez, that didn't work out too well, either, did it? FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE, however, proved that you can go home again. Reuniting the original creative team for that series was a brilliant move, and led to a mini-series that easily would have made a Top 10 of 2003 list.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK: I'm still waiting for a second hardcover.
DAREDEVIL: I'm not a huge fan of David Mack's collage art. It's not my cup of tea. But everything leading up to his storyline in the title was a big hit for me. DAREDEVIL is one of the best superhero titles currently being published. Once Bendis and Maleev return to it, I'm sure it'll march its way towards 2004's Best Of lists.
RUSE: Despite the falter of CrossGen, RUSE kept on publishing on a regular schedule with its regular creative team. Sadly, I fell behind on it and haven't read it now in a few months. I'll get back to those issues eventually, I'm sure. Butch Guice has moved on to a new HUMANOIDS series that I'll be looking forward to, assuming DC doesn't shrink it down to a size indistinguishable from the rest of the comics on the shelves.
Things aren't all bad over at CrossGen, though. EL CAZADOR is simply the most gorgeous book on the market, even ahead of Brian Hitch's ULTIMATES. KISS KISS BANG BANG has a strong first issue that shows a bright ray of hope.
LONE WOLF AND CUB: It's done now. The manga world is a better place with all of those volumes sitting on shelves across America. It's not too late to get into it, either. Those books are still available. Give it a try. You won't be disappointed. (It reads from left to right, if you're worried about that.)
THE ULTIMATES: Five issues made it out in the year 2003. As entertaining as they were, I would not have qualified the series for the list this year. The newness of the whole thing was enough to qualify it last year. Still, it's a beautiful book and I can't wait for the hardcover edition later this year.
NOBLE CAUSES: Continues to be a great series when it comes out. Sadly, low sales pushed it to a black and white mini-series this year. But it still held all of the melodrama and superhero hijinks that I loved about it last year. Don't let the greytones ruin the book for you. It's still worth a read.
MY MONKEY'S NAME IS JENNIFER: It's now available in a trade paperback from Slave Labor Graphics, and I highly recommend it. It's delightfully insane.
That's what happened to 2002's books. Off the top of my head, I would give strong consideration to the following titles for favorites that I read in 2003, forgetting the usual restrictions about monthly output: LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN 1 and 2, EMPIRE, FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE, DAREDEVIL, SLEEPER, EL CAZADOR, ALIAS, THE WALKING DEAD, WILDCATS 3.0, UNCLE SCROOGE, THE FLASH, and FANTASTIC FOUR.
One thing I know I can say about 2003: Pipeline's Man of the Year would be Robert Kirkman. Coming from a small self-published title (BATTLE POPE) he became a one-man industry in 2003, producing entertaining stories for multiple companies every month. Just look at a list of the titles he wrote over the course of the year: INVINCIBLE, TECH JACKET, HE-MAN (or a spin-off thereof), CAPES, TALES OF THE REALM, THE WALKING DEAD, BRIT, CLOUDFALL. It's an increasingly diverse list of titles that are all enjoyable to read and very entertaining. He's a classic example of a creator with a do-it-yourself attitude: create new books, use new talent, letter it yourself, self-publish, and then use all those skills to publish through Image, CrossGen, Epic, and the like.
While SLEEPWALKER looks to be cut short from Epic, I'm sure there are other projects coming up to wow us in 2004. Image has REAPER in March, for starters. I can't wait to see what's next.
REVIEWS OF ART
LEX TALIONIS is a new one-shot from Image Comics. Created by Aneurin Wright, it's a sure-fire best-seller. Who, after all, can resist a comic about gorillas? Oh, OK, so this isn't a talking one with delusions of grandeur, but since when has that stopped a comics fan?
The 48-page package starts with an African safari gone horribly awry, and then pedals back a bit to explain how it happens. It's a simple and straightforward story with a bit of a twist near the end. Wright's dialogue serves the story and points us in all the right directions, but it's the overall look of this book that proves to be the most interesting part.
Wright's art has a beautiful style that I can't properly describe. Digital painting, maybe? It doesn't look like Richard Isanove's 1602, so perhaps that's not a fair comparison. The colors have been held to prevent any black lines from showing through, and the art shows through in large color-keyed blocks. You can see some samples of it on Image's website, which includes a five page preview of the book.
The book is bound on the side, like any of the MarvelScope books (remember those?) or Image's comic strip compilations. It's even squarebound to hold the extra signature required for the book.
The storytelling is strong, as well. There are some silent sequences that don't need any words to explain themselves. Wright restrains himself from using captions or melodramatic monologues to explain what the art so clearly shows. That's the typical beginner's mistake, and he's shown some level of maturity in his craft by skipping past that.
Wright's art doesn't use the wide pages to great effect. At the same time, however, the story never gets confusing in an attempt to be flashy on the wider page layout. The storytelling is very easy to follow, usually reading straight across from left to right. Multi-tiered pages are rare.
Priced at $5.95, it might be a bit steep for the relatively simple story it tells, but it's definitely worth a look. Even if the subject material doesn't interest you, the art should prove interesting.
Adam Kubert's creativity and inventiveness attract me to his artwork. With ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #1, he has proven once again that the well isn't dry. It's a simple enough trick that he uses in the book, pushing the margins in at the sides. In a time when everyone is working so hard to approximate the widescreen look of the movies, Kubert pushes for a taller page in most of this first issue. The results are surprising. Rather than creating pages that look claustrophobic and squeezed, the new landscape appears to give him more space to tell the story. I wonder if we haven't all been trained so well in reading the smaller pages of manga and digest-sized books that this new smaller panel layout doesn't look more natural now than ever. It's not important anymore to show the art at a larger size, as we had with Kubert's run on ULTIMATE X-MEN. Instead, the goal is to squeeze as much action in per page as possible, given the writing styles of Brian Bendis and Mark Millar.
The story sets up solidly, blending in some cute high ideas (including the uber-geek Reed Richards and his science fair experiment) and Ultimate Universe style storytelling. While it's not a complete story, it's enough of a story that I'm interested in seeing where these characters go next, even though we can already predict some of what will happen.
CORRECTIONS TO LAST WEEK'S COLUMN
The St. Mark's Comics store that I reported closed last week was the wrong location. The one in the Village is still up and running. It was the one on Chambers Street that closed down a couple of weeks ago, to be folded back into the home base in Brooklyn. Thanks to Christoph and Kevin for pointing that out to me.
Finally, the long-thought-lost microfiche link came from Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin blog. It's worth a visit just to see a real live SMURFS comic pictured there.
VARIOUS AND SUNDRY 2.0
I upgraded the software this weekend that I use on my blog, Various and Sundry. While the strong point of the new software is some of the features on the back end that will enable me to post more often and more conveniently, there's a brand new front end to look at, too. Drop on by and let me know what you think and what suggestions you might have. I'll be tweaking it in the days to come, and am curious to hear what you think.
Pipeline Commentary and Review returns next Tuesday. It's anyone's guess what I'll write about then, but I often tease it on the Pipeline message board a day or two in advance.
Various and Sundry has new reviews of NBC's THE APPRENTICE, James Burke's CIRCLES, David Mamet's newest movie's trailer, another GARGOYLES to DVD story, and much much more in the wake of the upgrade.
Nearly 500 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.