Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Were there any good comics in 2003?


Since this is the New Year and all, I guess I really ought to play the ego game and pretend my opinions about things matter to anyone else and put up some best of 2003 lists.

I don't know that any of this should be taken as anything other than the rambling of a middle-aged gay man who likes to hear himself babble. It's not like civilization is going to rise or fall based on my opinion. (If that were true we'd have ditched Bush, Britney, and the X-Men ages ago.) At the same time, though, I enjoy reading other lists like this, if only for the sake of saying "I can't believe they liked THAT." Hopefully someone will get that same pleasure out of this set of lists.

Actually, I think the real reason people do these things is for the personal benefit of reliving the year one more time. Taking the time to say "wasn't that great?" or "man that sucked." one more time seems like a good way to lay the old year to rest. So with that in mind, here are some thoughts from me. I'll start with comics and do some other stuff later.

So what were the best comics in 2003? Damned if I know. I just can't recall that many stand-outs off the top of my head. Some of the more acclaimed works of the year (Blankets for example) are still sitting in my reading pile. I've thumbed through them enough to see that the buzz is more than just hype, but without reading them fully, I'm not going to be including them on any lists. Other than that small handful, nothing else leaps out at me. I'm guessing it just wasn't a banner year for comics.

The disappointments of the year stand out more strongly for me, and there were several of those. 2003 is the year I divested myself of almost all the Vertigo titles I was following. Lucifer and Hellblazer seem to be the same issue after issue. If there was ever an overarching plot, I've long since lost touch with it. Y the Last Man continually blows its promise and potential by failing to rise above the typical "last man on earth" clich├ęs. Fables hangs on for the moment, but I'm wavering. I don't think that any of the Vertigo mini-series this year were worth the time and money I put into them. They all sounded much more interesting than they actually ended up being. Human Target is the only Vertigo title I am enjoying right now without reservation, but that hardly seems like a criteria for inclusion on a "best of" list.

The biggest let down of the year by far was 1602. The whole book is nothing more than a wet dream for anyone who does annotations on the web to tell people things about the book that anyone who had a decent world civ class in high school should know. Gaiman's laughing all the way to the bank on this one. So is Marvel.

Most of the stuff I enjoyed reading was the same old, same old: Bone, Finder, Age of Bronze. I guess it's nice that there are some reliable comics out there, but that doesn't say a whole lot about the newer stuff I tried, does it? (Sounds like I'm hitting that comics malaise thing about two months after everyone else…)

After typing all this up and giving the matter some more thought, I have been able to put together a small list of the better books of 2003. It's not much, but it's something.

  • Courtney Crumrin and the Coven of Mystics: Courtney still rocks! This series took a darker turn than the first one, as Courtney has to learn that hard lesson that people are people even if they do have magic powers.

  • How Loathsome: Ted Naifeh and Tristan Crane bring transgender life to comics with this introspective and provocative mini. Surprisingly, GLAAD chose to recognize it with a nomination this year. I keep waiting for the apocalypse.

  • Age of Bronze: The tension in the Sacrifice story keeps winding tighter and tighter as it moves to its horrifying climax: the sacrifice of Iphegenia by her father. We know it's coming and badly want it to be over with, but Eric Shanower is taking us there step by deliberate step, taking great pains never to rush. Each step closer ratchets up the drama and the tension and the reader is as involved in the story as the characters. Beautifully done.

  • Maria's Wedding: It could be subtitled The Comic Most Likely to be Overlooked by GLAAD and Most Gay Comics Readers, but this one-shot OGN about the events and family interactions at a wedding was really good. It managed to deal with the issue of gay unions without being about the issue of gay unions, by making the issue just one of a revolving series of sub-plots swirling throughout the book. While it does have one bad TV movie of the week moment, overall it avoids the overly sentimental and maudlin approach.

  • Same Difference and Other Stories: Derek Kirk Kim just blew me out of the water with this one. The lead story deals with the choices we make, their consequences, and how we address the regrets caused by past actions. It's a touching, engrossing coming of age story that was one of the best things I read last year. The art is a fascinating mix of European, manga, and American alternative comic stylings, which Kim manages to pull together using the storytelling strengths of each tradition, without letting any one dominate.

  • Unstable Molecules: Best Fantastic Four story in decades because it wasn't about the FF! The central conceit of the story, that the FF were actually based on real people, is something that not many writers could pull off. James Sturm not only manages it, but in the process turns in a glimpse into American culture of the 50's. This is a prime example of the Jemas regime at Marvel at its best, and a prime example of the kind of thing we're not likely to see any more from Marvel.

  • Forlorn Funnies: If there was a better comic published in America in 2003, I don't know what it was. Surreal storytelling devices and shifting art styles give this character study of a young boy watching his father slide into depression and despair after the death of his mother real emotional power and impact. If I had to point to one book that came out last year as the reason I still read comics, this would be the one.

Okay, that's the best I could do. I guess it wasn't that bad a year for comics, but it sure could have been better. Here's to 2004.


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