THE TOP 10 COMICS OF 2001 - PART ONE
I bought more than 1,000 comic books this past year, and that doesn't count trade paperbacks, graphic novels, magazines, and books about comics. Needless to say, I have a lot of material to wade through in creating a Top 10 list of any sort. To make my job a little easier, I've decided to make this a Top 10 list of on-going series. The only series that would be eligible for the list are those that have been out for at least six months, and have put out an appreciable number of issues.
However, you won't see the top 10 this week. It starts next week and carries over to the week after. First, I want to narrow it down a little. This week I'll start by talking about a selection of titles that made the first cut, but didn't make the top 10. I'll present my reasons for this as best I can. Many don't fall into the narrow definition I created for the list. Others suffered from changing creative teams or weak story arcs. I only wanted the strongest and best stuff in the Top 10. These are the books that made the top of my reading stack each week.
One final word: I'm consciously not using the word "Favorite" or "Best" for this list. I don't want to differentiate between the two. I read the comics that entertain me. The comics mentioned in the next couple of weeks are the ones that entertained me the most. Whether that amounts to "critical acclaim" or "fanboyish glee," I don't care. This isn't about value judgments. It's about the books I gain the most entertainment from and are, thus, the most likely to get favorable reviews from me. They're also books I think more people might like. I hope you give some of the books a chance if you're so inclined.
Onto a list of some of the near-misses for the year 2001:
BONEYARD (NBM Publishing) is a title I'd love to put in the top 10, but Richard Moore only did 3 or 4 quarterly issues this year. If you're looking for a beautifully drawn and hilarious fantasy title, though, this one is for you. It's a small town versus the cemetery inhabited by all sorts of movie monsters and scary creatures who are just misunderstood. When a human gets in the middle of the conflict, sparks fly.
SCION is the best of CrossGen's original launch titles. It's kept its creative team mostly intact so far. (The defection of Caesar Rodriquez to SOJOURN did hurt it. Justin Ponsor took a while to get his legs, but looks to be straightening himself out now.) Jim Cheung is an underrated talent today, whose art style seems custom made to this type of medieval sword fantasy tale.
Ron Marz's story is deceptively simple. As time goes by, you can see the layers adding one on top of the other. The interpersonal conflicts and romantic interests and societal clashes intertwine. Things are getting pretty complicated, yet remain easy to follow. The most recent couple of issues, in particular, have done a great job in pointing out the levels of conflict. It's for those two issues that SCION almost made the Top 10. The book narrowly misses the top 10 because, in the end, it just seems to move so slowly like so many of the CrossGen books. Whole issues go by where all you get is backstory filled in or small struggles highlighted or origin stories told. When seen from afar, it works as a novel. When read from month to month, it can be frustrating.
That's the same reason SOJOURN didn't make the list. Greg Land and Drew Geraci's art is gorgeous. It's some of the prettiest stuff in comics today, bar none. But, again, Ron Marz's story at times moves at a glacial pace. There have been whole issues, it seems, where nothing happens. It's nice to spend 22 pages developing a part of the past continuity that we'll need to know for the future, but if that story is told through exposition, it lessens its impact and bores the reader.
RUSE might make the list next year, but it's too soon to add that here. I'm not sure where CRUX falls, to tell you the truth. At the time of this writing, it might just crack the Top 10 list.
DESPERADOES: QUIET OF THE GRAVE (Homage) I wanted so badly to include on the list, but it was only a five issue mini-series. It didn't fit the limited definition. Nevertheless, Jeff Mariotte's supernatural western tale had a great five issue run this year. We can only hope there's more coming soon. The art this time around came from industry veteran John Severin. It was some of the prettiest stuff I've seen in comics in quite sometime. It subtly told the story complete with grimy cowboys, dusty dirt roads, and naturalistic landscaping. WildStorm FX did a great job with the colors, as well, perfectly highlighting the amazing art. With any luck, a trade collecting it will be coming sometime in 2002. It'll be something to look out for.
Other titles which didn't make the cut only because they were mini-series: ANGEL AND THE APE, ROBIN: YEAR ONE, and AREA 52.
ALISON DARE, LITTLE MISS ADVENTURES (Oni Press) is the best all-ages book being produced today, in my opinion. It didn't come out often enough in 2001 to make the list. J. Torres has his breakout hit here with the story of a little girl whose curiosity and adventurous streak come straight from her parents – the one an archaeologist and the other a super-hero. Jason Bone's art is sure to thrill and delight. It's got a clean line that plays perfectly in black and white.
DAREDEVIL missed out for a couple of reasons. The first is that I was underwhelmed by the story from Brian Bendis and David Mack. It felt too stretched out. The second is that Bob Gale's storyline had a couple of fill-in art issues. Phil Winslade did an amazing job with the art on Gale's story, but those two fill-in issues interrupted it too much for me with art that wasn't up to Winslade's level.
Bendis is now on as regular writer of the title and the first issues have been promising. The book has a chance of making the list next year.
BIRDS OF PREY had an off year. Part of its problem is that it got tangled up in three too-many crossovers (Our Worlds At War, Last Laugh, and Officer Down). Part of it is that with Butch Guice's departure, it's been flailing around looking for an artist. (Rick Leonardi begins his run next month.) Finally, it had a lot to live up to from its run in the year 2000.
Similarly, NIGHTWING suffered the greatest loss of Chuck Dixon's books when Greg Land was replaced with Trevor McCarthy, whose art is awkward at best.
Joe Kelly's reign on SUPERBOY was too short, and interrupted once too often for crossovers. He and Pascual Ferry deserve far more credit for the fine work they did on this title than they usually get. They proved to me that someone other than Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett can do the book justice.
I enjoyed THE SAVAGE DRAGON this year as I always have, but it failed to make the final cut. I didn't get the same amount of giddy glee out of taking a new issue home this year that I've gotten in previous years. s
ULTIMATE X-MEN had a very strong first 6 issues. The sixth issue may even make my best single issues of 2001 list. After that, though, it got soft on me. Changing art teams also hampered it on its way to the final cut. NEW X-MEN lost its chance due to the rotating artistic team, also.
Humberto Ramos' OUT THERE is a pleasant surprise for the year. 6 issues came out. The artwork and coloring (from Studio F) were both beautiful, and the story is interesting if not entirely engrossing. Too much is going on all at once without explanation.
100 BULLETS continues to be a great book, but it's one I find myself waiting for storylines to finish with before I read them. My guidelines in creating this list included books that I wanted to crack open as soon as I got in the door from the comic shop every week. If this list were based on some more stringent criteria of storytelling technique and use of form, the book would probably make the list.
RANDY O'DONNELL IS THE MAN only lasted three issues at Image, but Tom De Falco and Ron Lim's story of a teenager sucked into a fantasy world to do great things was a treat. The book was completely passed over by fandom, and its aim at younger male readers lost it the vast majority of today's comic reading population that is past that age. Nevertheless, the book was colorful fun and deserves my respect and a mention here.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK may get the best comeback award of the year, but we're only three issues into Bruce Jones' run. We'll look at this again next year.
As long as this list is, there are another dozen worthy candidates that didn't make the cut. I didn't forget them. I just didn't want to drag this out any further.
Next week I'll get to the books that did make the final cut.
TWO SHORT PREVIEWS
Highest possible reading recommendation goes to ULTIMATE MARVEL TEAM-UP #11, released today. Brian Bendis and Chynna Clugston-Major team up for a combination After School Special/Teen Comedy Romp that has to be read to be believed. It's a great issue and one I'm tempted to put in my Top 10 Single Issues of the year. (That list will come after the series are out of the way in a couple of weeks.)
Joe Kelly's first issue of JLA (in stores today, as well) is worth a read, although the POWER COMPANY backup story is a little light. If you're picking up the book solely for the POWER COMPANY backup, don't bother. You're not missing enough to fret over.
Full reviews of both books are coming in Wednesday's edition of Pipeline Commentary and Review. (The reviews are already written. Alas, they're on another computer that I don't have access to at the moment. Ah, the woes of being a columnist…)
Don't forget to come back next Friday for the first half of my Top 10 of 2001 list.
Pipeline returns on Wednesday after the New Year's break with more reviews. Best wishes for a safe, healthy, and prosperous 2002!
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.