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7th ANNUAL @$$IE AWARDS!
Welcome, all, to Day Two of the 7th Annual AICN COMICS @$$IE AWARDS, where comics best and brightest are recognized for stellar (and sometimes not so stellar) performances in comic bookdom. I’m Ambush Bug. There was a time when we could fit all of the @$$ies into one lengthy column, but the @$$Holes’ ranks have grown too big for that, so for the next week or so, a pair of @$$Holes will be presenting their picks for the best of the best in comics. Most awards are given around the turn of the year, but we think ours is special, so while those outside of the know celebrate the time of the Oscar, we here at AICN COMICS celebrate the time of the coveted @$$ie Award. In between picks, subcategories compiled by all of the @$$Holes will be interspersed. So sit back, crack the knuckles in your browsing hand, and scroll down as the @$$Holes pick the @$$ies!
(Click title to go directly to the reviewers’ picks)
Prof. Challenger’s @$$IE AWARDS!
Matt Adler’s @$$IE AWARDS!
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Prof Challenger here. This has been a very...interesting year for me in terms of comics. In terms of sheer numbers, my purchases dropped considerably. In terms of cynicism and frustration about the glut of pure garbage being churned out on a weekly basis it nearly hit the level of the late '90s for me, where I was only buying one comic a month. However, one of the hallmarks of 2010 for me was that by being as discerning as I was, I wound up with a nice stack of incredibly good stuff. From a publishing standpoint, comics are on a downslide in terms of overall quality, but I have to say, there is also a higher amount of amazing and fantastic creative work being produced out there than in the past if you just reign in your o.c.d. collector's mentality and actually pay attention to what you are buying. In fact, I found it difficult to limit myself in choosing winners this year because I found so much deserving of recognition.
Best Original Graphic Novel
SOUL STEALER BOOK THREE: LAST TO DIE (Black Watch Comics)
“Oxania. You are my Eden. My eros. My Elysium. Whether I live or die. I am you. I decay in you. I grow in you. I cover the earth.” – Kalan
For me, the SOUL STEALER story is a profound accomplishment in terms of fantasy as a graphic novel. Writer Michael Easton crafted an epic story of the transcendent power of love in all its beauty and ugliness. The story in brief is that one man is granted immortality and the ability to bring souls back from the underworld. He wanders the earth in search of the immortal love he had to give up so long ago. The story of the two of them and the dangerous forces and personae they must overcome in the name of eternal love is something that elevates the “graphic novel” to a level fully deserving of the label “literature.” Perfectly visualized by artist Christopher Shy, the one artist working in comics whose art can bring a tear to my eye and choke me up. A perfect blend of emotional expression in words and art provided a poetic and tension-filled conclusion to the saga of Kalan, The Soul Stealer, that began in 2008 with SOUL STEALER BOOK ONE: THE BEATEN AND THE DAMNED and continued with SOUL STEALER BOOK TWO: BLOOD AND RAIN. There really was no other choice for me this year.
Honorable mention and a tip of the Prof's hat, however, goes to THE DARK, an original graphic novel by writer Chris Lynch and artist Rick Lundeen. Not quite as profound as SOUL STEALER, this graphic novel, it is nonetheless a fascinating read as it weaves what is at the surface a super-hero story, but is in truth a Jungian examination of archetypal father/son relationships and ultimately an Id vs. Ego tale. To my knowledge, this book got more attention in the UK than it did here in the states and that should be remedied. THE DARK is available from Markosia Enterprises.
BRAVE AND THE BOLD #32 (DC Comics)
“They stand at the door in secret, making sure no one gets through...standing alone against all the powers of the elder gods...Fire and Water...Fire and Water...” – Whitford Crane.
Writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Jesus Saiz produced one of the most unexpected team-ups at DC Comics last year and came up with the single best issue of the year. I am talking about the Lovecraftian tale “Night Gods,” starring Aquaman and The Demon. This story was genuinely frightening with that deep-seated unease of true horror. Essentially, the tale comes down to a pairing of Aquaman and Etrigan who have committed to getting together once a year to battle back an attempt to invade our dimension by a monstrous elder, I mean, night...god and his hordes. This was a powerful issue as was the following issue telling the bittersweet tale of the night before Barbara Gordon/Batgirl was shot by the Joker and forever paralyzed.
That Batgirl issue of B&B would have been my “Honorable Mention” had not JONAH HEX #50 come out in 2010. This was as close to a “love story” as anyone could ever expect with Jonah Hex and Tallulah Black...and it is a doozy. Not for the squeamish, but definitely for anyone who wants to see just how good, and heartbreaking, a western comic book can be.
Alex Ross for VAMPIRELLA #1 (Dynamite Entertainment)
The single most stunning cover image I saw all year. Not only is it incredibly erotic, it also is a perfect combination of Vampi elements including the moon of Drakulon and the blood that runs in rivers like water on Earth. The subtle way that the blood dripping down her body hints at the shape of Vampi's classic costume...simply perfect.
HELLBOY/BEASTS OF BURDEN (Dark Horse)
Jill Thompson is one of my favorite artists. What she does with her watercolors is uniquely...her...and I love it. She has a talent for giving characters body language and expressions that make me smile whenever I read a comic blessed to have her as the artist. Teaming up Hellboy with the Beasts of Burden shouldn't work, but it does and a large part of it is how easily Thompson integrates Hellboy into the world of her Beasts. In this one-shot, the detective team of dogs and cats from the town of Burden hook up with Hellboy to take down the warlock zombie they've already killed twice. Lots of fun, genuine tension and danger, and great dialogue from Evan Dorkin and Mike Mignola.
Bruce Wayne (DC Comics)
Last year, I picked Dick Grayson's Batman as my favorite character. This year, I'm picking BRUCE WAYNE. I don't mean the Bruce Wayne Batman, I mean Bruce Wayne himself as portrayed in THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE. I have personally been sick to death of the character for awhile now and found the Dick Grayson turn as Batman to be a welcome change. However, in a most unexpected turn, Grant Morrison turned Bruce Wayne into a mythical force: an archetypal Prometheus...or maybe Odysseus...or maybe both. I appreciate the character on an entirely different level than I ever had before.
BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE (DC Comics)
In terms of the “Big Two” publishers, BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE, was hands-down the best. Grant Morrison used this millennia-spanning epic to not only return Bruce Wayne to the present, but he examined what it means to be “Batman” in a way that nobody else could ever have imagined. By the end of this series, Bruce Wayne is firmly established as almost a force of nature; a demigod of sorts. The ramifications of this story have rippled out into the Batman corner of the DC Universe in status quo upsetting ways. There is an excitement and energy to the world of the Batman Family of titles that has never existed before and THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE was where everything first came together to inspire the BATMAN INC. era. BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE is published by DC Comics.
Moving away from the “Big Two,” Radical Comics produced the exciting and thought-provoking TIME BOMB by writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray with art by the legendary Paul Gulacy. What happens when a long dormant Nazi “doomsday” bomb is triggered in the modern day and threatens all life on Earth and a team of soldiers attempt to go back in time to stop the bomb from getting triggered? Read it and find out. TIME BOMB is published by Radical Comics.
Chris Shy (SOUL STEALER, Black Watch Comics)
One of the hardest choices for me is choosing one artist to highlight every year. This year, however, the choice was easy. Chris Shy is an extraordinary artist whose paintings simply ooze with emotion. Nobody else in comics uses color to set a mood the way he can. To be able to create beautiful works of art that still flow seamlessly in terms of telling a story is a talent that both inspires me and makes me feel my inferiority. Imagine a chimera of Blake, Raphael, Botticelli, and Dali. That's Chris Shy. If I were going to choose one other painter who gave Shy a run for his money last year, it was veteran artist John Bolton.
A “shout out” to Sandra Hope who is consistently the best inker working in comics these days.
Michael Easton (SOUL STEALER, Black Watch Comics)
I narrowed down my best writer choices to three finalists including Grant Morrison for his amazing work with the BATMAN books and Jonathan Hickman for tickling my brain with his work on FANTASTIC FOUR and S.H.I.E.L.D. But ultimately I had to give my BEST WRITER designation to Michael Easton for his poetic SOUL STEALER, and also for his work with Peter Straub on THE GREEN WOMAN. It's rare to read a graphic novel and feel that the writer is writing directly to and for you. Easton does that for me. Not only is his writing intellectually stimulating, it pierces my soul and touches my heart. Never a sarcastic or manipulative tone, he has the luxury of writing for writing's sake and it being good enough to be published and shared with the world. I look forward to the next great thing from Easton.
It's a major love/hate relationship I have with DC Comics, but damn it, even though they piss me the hell off month after month, I have to begrudgingly admit that when they do things right...they do it right. This is the company that produced in 2010 collections like the ABSOLUTE ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, ABSOLUTE PLANETARY, LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES: THE GREAT DARKNESS SAGA (Deluxe Edition), ongoing series like FABLES, HOUSE OF MYSTERY, BATMAN & ROBIN, BRAVE AND THE BOLD, JONAH HEX, TIME MASTERS, RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE and merchandised themselves insanely -- grabbing hold of pop culture in ways that not even Disney is doing with Marvel. Nobody else is doing the job of publishing any better...even though they have lots of room to improve on the editorial end.
FANTASTIC FOUR (Marvel Comics) / JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA (DC Comics)In terms of ongoing series, I sat down and reflected back over the last year and decided to see which series did I always put first to read when I picked up a stack of comics. This makes it a tie between Marvel's FANTASTIC FOUR and DC's JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA. This last year, Jonathan Hickman's run on FF was consistently good, intelligent, and most of all creative with an adventurous spirit. James Robinson and Mark Bagley's run on JLA has battled forth from a sad position of being saddled with a second-string cast by editorial fiat and yet...2010 was the year it all came together and became the series I just loved reading and admiring from a writer and an artistic perspective. As I said in my recent JLA review, I know that eventually DC editorial will decide that the “Big 7” need to be reinstated as the proper JLA, but I hope that doesn't happen for quite awhile. If and when it does, however, I hope that Robinson can take this current line-up into their own title with a new team name and keep going.
Prof. Challenger was beloved by many, despised by a few, but always lived his life to the fullest. Never did he miss an opportunity to pet a puppy, kiss a pretty girl, or ignore a hobo. He is survived by a long-suffering spouse, 2 confused children, a ridiculously silly dog, and a pompous fat old cat. The things that brought him happiness in this life were his comics, his books, his movies, and string cheese. Had he passed from this plane of existence, he would expect the loss to the world to be severe. As it is, however, he has not passed and has no plans to pass for quite awhile. So visit his website at profchallenger.com and read his ramblings and rantings and offer to pay him for his drawrings. He will show his appreciation with a winning smile and breath that smells like the beauty of angels.
RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN (Archaia)
Everyone loves a good fairytale, and boy does this qualify. Writer Jim McCann (HAWKEYE & MOCKINGBIRD) and Janet K. Lee (EMMA) team to bring us a fantasy that's both modern and classic in its sensibilities. Do yourself a favor, and pick this book up; the comic industry needs more original ideas like this!
EX MACHINA #50 (DC Wildstorm)
A powerful close-out to a great series. I don't want to spoil the ending for anyone who hasn't yet read it, but I can say it's something those of us who have been following the series really did not see coming. Please BKV, more comics!
ASTRO CITY: THE DARK AGE BOOK FOUR #4 (Alex Ross, DC Wildstorm)
The 25th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster passed a few weeks ago, but for those of us who were young and in school at the time, the effect that it had on the adults around us will be stamped on our memories forever. Alex Ross is well-known for his iconic images, but this fusion of the real world and fantasy just makes it even more powerful. It probably wouldn't have gone down well at the time, but the space of 25 years allows us to appreciate the sentiment behind it.
OFFICER DOWNE #1 (Image Comics)
Joe Casey is pretty frickin' crazy, and this is the comic to prove it. Ultra-violent with a sick sense of humor to back it up, OFFICER DOWNE tells the tale of the ultimate in law enforcement; a bad-ass with a badge who's here to kick ass and take license plate numbers. Just turn off your high-brow sensibilities, relax, and enjoy this one.
Thunderstrike (THUNDERSTRIKE #1 One-Shot, Marvel Comics)
What can I say? Thunderstrike was one of my favorite characters back in the '90s, and DeFalco and Frenz have done a bang-up job with this latest miniseries of updating the character and fusing him seamlessly into the present day Marvel Universe. I know it isn't likely to get a follow-up due to the vagaries of this market, but I'll follow this character wherever he may appear next, particularly if this team is behind the wheel.
THANOS IMPERATIVE (Marvel Comics)
They gave us a bit of a scare with the apocalyptic tones of this mini, thinking this might be the swan song for Marvel Cosmic. But that just heightened the intensity and stakes in the conflict, and in the process, proving the power of DnA's writing. And now we've learned that we have the ANNIHILATORS team book to look forward to. Keep it up DnA, and we'll keep following your saga!
Steve Epting (CAPTAIN AMERICA, FANTASTIC FOUR, Marvel Comics)
From CAPTAIN AMERICA to FANTASTIC FOUR, it's pretty clear Epting is Marvel's go-to guy when you need to draw attention to one of your flagship books. And with good reason; he's one of the premier illustrators in the industry, and has been so for almost 20 years. Personally, I'm hoping with Marvel's CrossGen relaunch, we'll see more Epting work on EL CAZADOR.
Mike Carey (UNWRITTEN, DC Comics, AGE OF X, Marvel Comics)
Yeah, so I picked Mike Carey last year too. The man just won't quit; he keeps turning out top-notch work on everything from his creator-owned series THE UNWRITTEN to the current AGE OF X storyline. There's nothing I can do about it. Go talk to the man.
During a difficult economic climate and a turbulence within their own corporate hierarchy, Vertigo keeps turning out solid material. THE UNWRITTEN, SWEET TOOTH, HOW TO UNDERSTAND ISRAEL IN 60 DAYS OR LESS, AMERICAN VAMPIRE, DMZ, NORTHLANDERS, SCALPED, and of course, FABLES. They get the pick for continuing to advance the art form while most are playing it safe.
AVENGERS ACADEMY (Marvel Comics)
This book is just fun, folks. Good old-fashioned super heroics and character interaction. If you ever had a love for superheroes, this is the book you want; the characters aren't cynical, the action is fast-paced, and there are mysteries and shocks around every corner. I really can't say enough good things about this book, and I hope naming it Best Ongoing gives it the mojo to do just that--keep on going.
Matt Adler is a writer/journalist, currently writing for AICN among other outlets. He’s been reading comics for 20 years, writing about them for 7, and spends way, way, too much time thinking about them, which means he really has no choice but to figure out how to make a living out of them. He welcomes all feedback.
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G