I dug this. Free on Bandcamp.
Jim Steranko is one of those guys who everyone loved in the late 1960s/early 1970s but some reason he isn’t spoken of with the same kind of reverence as Jack Kirby, Gene Colan, Steve Ditko, and other name-brand artists of that same era. But he was one of the most original. Look at that splash page: Who was doing noir like that back then? Nobody. He was a master of panel- and page-design, highly stylized, and truly an artist of and for the 1960s.
Stan Lee got the writing credit for this issue, but it’s clear that Steranko either did some of the writing or his style greatly influenced the script. It went instantly from being an adventure book just last issue at the helm of Jack Kirby to one emphasizing spy gear and espionage.
Also: This is the first appearance of Rick Jones as Bucky and of Madame Hydra. Great issue.
I worked on several versions of this. First, I separated out the Marvel books from everyone else because I read way too much Marvel and because comparing, say, Superior Spider-Man to something as offbeat as Saga is really an apples to oranges comparison. But then I thought: Why shouldn’t Marvel swim in the same pool? And why should Marvel’s heavily corporate approach to characterization be considered artistically inferior to indie series that tend to develop organically and/or neo-realistically? Commercial art is as valid as groundbreaking art—and the lines between these are becoming increasingly blurred as Saga and Paul Pope’s Battling Boy regularly sell out on the stands.
And also I realized that combining Marvel and non-Marvel would make DC basically nonexistent, as Marvel would get its own list and DC would have to compete with much more interesting indie books. But I couldn’t make a DC-only best of list because there isn’t one. This year, DC took all the potential and good will (and sales) it created with the new 52 and leveled them. There were some close-to-great DC books this year, but both were written by Grant Morrison (Batman, Inc. and Action Comics). But startlingly few were better than mediocre. All Star Western was better than good, but even Wonder Woman, which I still enjoy, failed to make me stand up and say “wow!”
Perhaps most notable about this year’s list: No Walking Dead. That comic has made my list every year since I started comic blogging, but this year Robert Kirkman’s limited ability to write dialog became too distracting, and too obvious, in a drawn-out storyline that involved way, way, WAY too much cursing. It was lazy writing, sacrificing what in the past was strong character-based work to shock value and viciousness. Maybe it crossed over from artistic to corporate…
So, here’s my top 20. But first, a note on the not-top-20:
Notable, but not top 20
A few books are worth mentioning, but the pacing of the stories has been such that I can’t say they’re top 20 material (yet). The first is Jeff Lemire’s Trillium, published by Vertigo, which has been doing a great job playing with the comic book format in terms of page alignment and use of the flip-book concept, but not enough has happened in the actual comic yet to see whether it’s got the goods or just has some very creative gimmicks. Another one is Kinski, created by Gabriel Hardman and published by Monkey Brain. It seems to be about a small-time hood and a lost dog, and the story is unfolding in a very deliberate, moving way…But there just haven’t been enough issues published to see if it’s going somewhere. Still, a great start from this creator-owned book.
And finally, the great Jonathan Luna of the Luna Brothers has a new book that just launched in November, Alex and Ada, which (after one issue) is really great.
And now, the top 20: