THE BEST COMICS OF THE DECADE: Part Three: 2004
Today, a whole post dedicated to one year. 2004 began the current comic book renaissance (which blossomed fully in 2005), and it takes an entire post just to cover this one year. And most of the reason was Marvel. Let’s get started.
Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness
In 2004, D.C. launched a new title featuring its two best known, most popular character. The first story arc, titled “Public Enemies,” was trusted to one of their best writers and one of the greatest “muscle” artists of the past twenty years. The book started—literally—with a bang. Issue number one consisted of a frightening sequence involving Metallo, reborn as a grave-robbing cyborg with a shovel for an arm, shooting Superman with a kryptonite bullet. The story also involved Lex Luthor becoming President, superheroes working for the government against Bats and Supey, and a meteor coming to destroy Earth. Sound like Civil War? Sound like Armageddon? Yep and yep. Great ideas gotta begin somewhere. From issue #7 on the book waxed and waned in quality, telling some interesting stories (like the end of kryptonite on Earth), but never reaching these heights again.
Note: This book is the story source for the new “Public Enemies” DVD.
Joss Whedon and John Cassaday
After falling in love with Firefly, I became a big Joss Whedon fan. It’s not that the man can do no wrong – he can – but when he does right, he’s unstoppable. Whedon’s run on the Astonishing X-men, the first year in particular, is some of his best work to date.
What makes these 25 issues sing (#1-24 and a “Giant-Size” finale) is that Whedon does relationships just as well as does action. “Fastball specials” and space aliens by themselves are pretty kick-ass, but couple them with the evolution of the Kitty/Colossus love story (decades in the making) and the Emma/Kitty cat-fights (new, but oh-so vicious), and you’ve got a complete package.
– Miguel of TheHeroBlog.com
Also picked by . . .
Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the greatest serialized television drama ever on a network, and Astonishing X-Men is the greatest X-series in history. Period. Joss Whedon brings all of his Buffy-level humor and his Firefly-level “thinking man’s science fiction” to bear here, with astounding results. I have never–ever–read a story about computers becoming sentient that made more sense than this one. And I’ve never read an X-Men series that had such humor and heart–say what you want about Marvel’s mutie books, but they’re pretty bleak. And Cassaday’s art cannot be oversold. If I were to pick one book for the best book of the entire decade, this would be it.
Wormwood: Gentlemen Corpse
Originally started as intermittent serials in Lo-Fi Magazine in 2004; those were collected by IDW Publishing and released in comic book format in 2006; subsequent new mini-series have come out since then on IDW.
You may know Templesmith from some of his arguably more well-known works like 30 Days of Night, but Wormwood: Gentlemen Corpse is by far my favorite work of his. Templesmith adds a lighter, more comical touch to this storyline, and it pays off in spades. The comics revolve around an ancient parasitic worm that takes over dead bodies as he currently resides on Earth. Though he seems only to want a beer and a smoke while he hangs out at an interdimensional strip club run by Medusa, time and again alien invasions largely caused by our intrepid anti-hero’s earlier misdeeds seem to interupt him. Obviously, he’s surrounded by a colorful cast of characters, including a robot that continually bitches about not having any genitalia, assorted ghosts and a hot stripper-turned-bodyguard. Oh, and they’re often plagued by sexually deranged, hideously deformed, piss drunk leprechauns. That’s OK, I’ll give you a moment to read the last couple of sentences again. The stories are further cemented by Templesmith’s incredible artwork, a mixture of pencils and watercolors that’s stunning to the eye. Sure, it’s a bit creepy, too, but that’s part of the charm.
-CD of Les Enfants Terribles
It goes without saying that superheros live in a different reality. A reality where saving the Earth from mutants, aliens, or mad scientist is a common occurrence. It’s what makes them great, but what can also make them unrelatable. Once in awhile though comes a story that places our favorite heroes in a reality so close to our own that it can leave us shocked and speechless. Identity Crisis, through it’s horrific murder mystery, literally sent shock waves through DC Comics that can still be felt today. Out of all the “Crisis” titles it was the first, the events in the story helped fuel one of DC’s biggest events ever (Infinite Crisis), and the level of humanity that Brad Meltzer put all our heroes at has yet to be forgotten. Over the last decade a lot of great stories have been told and a lot of new titles and ideas have sprung forth, but no single story may have had the impact that Identity Crisis did; on the industry, the characters, and the reader. -John Barringer of A Comic Book Blog
Captain America (Vol. 5)
2004-Present (as “Captain America Reborn”)
In 2004, the Captain America series was hurting. The dark tone of the post-9/11 Volume 4 (under the “Marvel Knights” banner) showed promise initially. Unfortunately, Marvel decided to turn the series back into a more traditional hero book – meaning more action, less development. It died shortly thereafter. Enter Ed Brubaker. He had a vision and, thankfully, Marvel was smart enough to let him run with it. Sales skyrocketed with the “Death of Captain America” – which was one of the best kept secrets in comic book history. Few people saw it coming. (By the way – when it comes to hero death, I much prefer this “surprise” method to the over-publicized “Batman R.I.P.” method.)
But just killing a major character isn’t enough to get a title on my “Top of the Decade” list. You’ve got to have solid plot to back it up. And this book has it in spades. It’s also got one of the better developed casts of supporting characters in mainstream comics today. There are so many instances in the comic world where a title doesn’t live up to the hype surrounding it (I’m looking at YOU, Final Crisis). This is not one of those instances.
Miguel of TheHeroBlog.com
Also picked by . . .
Marvel has tried many times to “rebirth” Captain America. Roger Stern and John Byrne did a decent job in the 1980s, and I also liked DeMatteis and Zeck’s run, but Brubaker’s relaunch is the one to beat. First, he took Cap’s supporting cast and gave them depth and history, particularly Bucky, who he showed to be a covert assassin even back in the days of WW2, making his transition to Winter Soldier seem inevitable. And he was able to portray Steve Rogers as a man out of time, cynical and depressed about the state of the country, without going to the extremes that Mark Millar did in The Ultimates. And surely nobody has ever had a longer, clearer concept of an extended story arc than his careful plotting of Caps 1-50. It’s becoming clear, in Captain America Reborn, that Brubaker new from page one where he was headed with this character, including both Cap’s death and rebirth. A word about the art: Much of what made Brubaker’s concept work is the noir-y art of Mr. Epting–it was dark enough to capture the mood of a hero who was so much bigger than those around him, trapped in a time that no longer embraced idealism. The reason I used a page from the book to illustrate this entry, is to show how Epting can tell a tale through panels in a way that few others can. I don’t know why Brubaker didn’t use Epting for Captain America reborn, but I’m definitely sad about it.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Bryan Lee O’Malley
In a few months, you’re probably going to be sick to death of Scott Pilgrim, since Michael Cera is going to play him in the upcoming movie adaptation, but before you let that sour you on the comic, book, I’m here to tell ya, it’s something else. The indie comic out on Oni Press deals with a slacker in a band who has to fight the the seven evil ex-boyfriends of his new girlfriend. O’Malley draws the entire thing in a pseudo-80s video game/manga style, and completes the gag with continuous video game nuances throughout, such as the boyfriends essentially acting as the boss level at the end of each book. His sense of humor doesn’t hurt, either. Here’s hoping the movie doesn’t suck.
-CD of Les Enfants Terribles
Hellboy: The Right Hand of Doom
A trade published in 2004 that really should be called “The Best of Hellboy,” one of the greatest indie comic series of all time. It’s got some great early stories (like the two-pager, “Pancakes,” from 1999, which is my absolute favorite) and later weirdness like “Heads” and “Box of Evil.” Is it cheating to include a book that came out this decade but reprinted stuff from the 1990s? Maybe. But I’m pretty sure some of these stories also came out in the 2000s, so suck it up. Plus, nobody even picked Hellboy and I thought he oughta be represented.
Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch
I am of the opinion that the original Ultimates was one of the best series of the decade. So why didn’t it make my list? Because Ultimates 2 blew it out of the water. Of all the titles I listed here, this was my favorite of the decade. It has action, strong writing, superb character development, mystery, great art, outstanding dialog…basically, anything that I raved about in my above picks – this book pulls them all together and wraps a nice big bow around them.
Is Thor literally insane? Is Tony Stark just drunken idiot? Is Captain America the biggest loser in history? Can Banner live with the blood he has on his hands? Mark Millar takes this dysfunctional team, rips them apart, then forces them back together to tackle the greatest threat the world has ever known. It’s an exhilarating ride and it represents everything that is great about the comic book medium.
-Miguel of TheHeroBlog.com
Also picked by Ekko.