Review Fix 2009 Year End Awards: Comic Books

Galaxy Comics and Collectables III Co-Owner Robin Buckwalter joins the Review Fix staff to share his thoughts on the best comics of 2009!

Best TPB:

Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader?: Neil Gaiman has gone on to write New York Times Bestselling novels and produce and write major motion pictures, but his roots have always and will always be in comics. Taking his first stab at writing Batman, Gaiman gives as thoughtful a goodbye to a major comic book character as any that has come before. A funeral attended by both friends and enemies is just the tip of what is presented here as we are given an intimate glimpse into not only what it means to be Batman, but what it means to be Bruce Wayne, and why he fought the good fight for as long as he did.

Sleeper Season 1&2/Point Blank: Yes, Sleeper has been over for years. Yes, it has been collected before. Yes, Brubaker’s work has already been nominated in some of the other categories in this list. However, bringing these stories back into print to showcase just what made him so famous and popular in the first place forces this book into consideration for best TPB. All of Brubaker and Phillips’ work on Criminal and Incognito can be seen seeded in these pages, and anybody who has missed out on the saga of Holden Carver needs to reward themselves with a trip to the local comic book shop.

Old Man Logan: No book over the past few years has generated as much interest as Old Man Logan. From the creators behind Marvel’s Civil War, this book is as well-known for its lateness as for its brutality and sheer blockbuster action. When you begin a series starting with the premise of Wolverine, one of the most violent characters in the Comic Book industry, giving up violence for the sake of his family, you know that it’s only a matter of time before he is pushed too far, you just know that things are not going to end up well for whoever is in his past. Never has a double page spread done solely for a sound effect been so appropriate.

Winner: Sleeper: When trying to think of the year’s best TPB, a few things have to be considered. No matter how good Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader? was, it was only two issues worth of story, and no matter how good those issues may be, the breadth of the work is just too small. Sleeper and Old Man Logan certainly go against this thinking and provide us with stories on a truly epic scale, but when looking at the everything as a whole, Sleeper has the edge. Crime noir has had a resurgence in the comic book industry, and the origins of this can be traced back to multiple people over the years, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips among them, but it seems to have reached a fevered peak this year. For that reason alone, Sleeper comes out a winner, but something tells me a judge may have been bribed somewhere along the way…

Best Ongoing Series:

Green Lantern: Ever since the end of The Sinestro Corps War, Green Lantern has been laying down the building blocks for the current Blackest Night storyline, one of the most eagerly anticipated company wide events in recent memory. Everything that Geoff Johns has been planning for in the past several years can be seen in the pages of this title, an extraordinary achievement for any writer. From the smallest details and the earliest seeds, Blackest Night has been an enormous success for DC, and without the consistency and excellence of Green Lantern to provide the framework for this massive crossover, this could not be possible otherwise.

Invincible: As anybody who has watched our video podcasts knows, I am not ashamed of my love for this title, but for good reason. No other series has been as consistent at building up its characters and showing them grow and adapt with the challenges that they face, no matter how brutal they may be, and believe me, this was a brutal year. With The Viltrumite War approaching and Invincible’s deadly confrontation with Conquest, Robert Kirkman continues to prove that he is willing to go where few others dare. Let’s just hope that he will continue on this pace in the future.

Scalped: From the very beginning, Scalped has been heralded as one of Vertigo’s premier titles, and it has continued to impress. No character is one-dimensional in this story of an undercover American Indian returning to the Reservation in which he was raised to weed out corruption from the inside out. No matter how seemingly innocent or malicious these characters may be, there is always more to learn about their motivations and more than one way in which we can relate to them. With the body counts rising and the stakes raised, it is clear that we have reason to care about each and every person, knowing full well that none of them will survive unscathed.

Winner: Green Lantern: All three choices faced three very different challenges and had three very different strengths. Whereas Green Lantern had to look at superheroics on the epic scale of the entire DC Universe, trying to lay down the groundwork for stories to come, Invincible was by no means less epic, but it chose to do so in a world that is much more personal and character driven, much like Scalped’s take on the citizens of the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation. While Invincible shined when its heroes were faced with the tough decisions on a global scale, Scalped excelled at the moments in between, at the moments when its characters are at their weakest and most vulnerable. Ultimately, little fault can be found in any of these books, but to be able to accomplish its mission statement on such a grand scale gives Green Lantern the edge.

Best Mini-Series:

Final Crisis: Plagued by lateness and a plot so thick and complicated that a wikipedia entry had to be created to try to make sense of it, Final Crisis certainly has a lot riding against it, but when looking at it as a whole, one can not ignore its greatness. Grant Morrison has already well established himself in the DC Universe over the years, tying in most of his major previous work into the story of Darkseid rising from the ashes and discovering the fabled Anti-Life Equation, the sheer scope of which boggles even my mind. However, it is far better to be daring rather than feeble, and no one can dispute that this undertaking was anything but ambitious.

Incognito: Having already delved into crime noir in their series Criminal and looking at the world of super-powered double agents in Sleeper, Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips continue to explore new possibilities. What happens when a super-villain goes into the witness protection program? Better yet, what happens when his former bosses figure out that he is still alive? These questions set the stage for this six issue mini-series that leaves the reader only wanting more.

Wednesday Comics: People can criticize DC all they want, but they can’t argue with the fact that Wednesday Comics didn’t try to push the boundaries of what people thought was possible in comic books. Bringing together some of the medium’s brightest stars and most experimental artists, DC really strove to accomplish something new. Bringing all of these people together and printing their stories in a newspaper format, guaranteeing that the issues will come out every week for three months was just icing on the cake. Time will only tell if this experiment has any lasting power, but it was sure fun when it came out.

Winner: Incognito: Read as a whole, anything Grant Morrison creates reads better than most anyone else’s, but when considering the inconsistencies and delays that were associated with it when it was released in its original format, there are just too many things tying it down. Wednesday Comics faces a different problem. While it really excelled at what it was trying to do, provide short stories by numerous creative teams in a weekly format, there was little to tie everything together. No matter how good and intricate the individual stories are, without a larger framework to connect everything, its full potential could not be reached. After having literally years under their belts collaborating together, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips know exactly what their strengths and weaknesses are and know how to deliver exactly what is necessary to make a story work, and Incognito is no exception. What more could you ask for?

Best New Series:

Batman & Robin: Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely have already proven to be a dynamic force on “All Star Superman” , so when given the task of having Dick Grayson and Damien Wayne taking over the mantle of Batman & Robin once Bruce Wayne died, few people doubted just how impressive the series would be, and deservedly so. This book has brought a new energy into mainstream Batman comics, one that had only been hinted at on Morrison’s previous work with the character. Reading a series like this is a classic example of how the sum of its collaborators is far greater than its parts, and we continue to be excited every month in anticipation of the next issue.

Chew: Solving murders is no easy task, but doing so by eating the flesh of the victim in order to psychically learn who murdered him is a tall order, indeed. Such is the case with Tony Chu, a detective for the FDA who lives in a world where Chicken is outlawed and people will do whatever they have to get a side of wings. After going through multiple printings and a massive marketing push from its publisher, Chew remains one of the most eagerly anticipated books on the shelves, and it’s only on its sixth issue.

Irredeemable: What would happen if Superman decided that the people of earth no longer appreciated how much he sacrifices to save them, that they no longer deserve his protection but rather his rage? Such is the case with The Plutonian in Mark Waid’s new series “Irredeemable”. We encounter a world filled with heroes and villains trying to come to terms with the fact that the rules of the world in which they live no longer apply and must face the fact that they must either adapt to his new worldview or die. Discovering how they manage to do this winds up being just as fascinating as finding out what made him snap in the first place, and we have just begun to scratch the surface of what Waid has in store for us.

Winner: Batman & Robin: Out of all the other categories, this was the easiest to find the nominees but was also the hardest in which to pin down a winner. Should we go for the proven creative team, working on a dream project that is instantly adored by the public? What about one of the medium’s true masters Mark Waid and his effort to redefine where a superhero comic can go? How about the dark horse title, starting with a truly original presence and continuing to gain new readers and buzz with the release of each successive issue? All three choices have the ability to be at the top of this list, but only one can, and that one is Batman & Robin.

Best One Shot:

The Goon Vs. Deathklok: Dropping the world’s bloodiest metal band into the world of a man who can deck out God with a swing of his mighty ham-fists? Sounds like fun to me. Never have two entities been more perfect for a crossover. Whether you’re just a fan of the Adult Swim show or if you scream “Knife To The Eye!” whenever you wake up from a dream, this book was made for you.

Planetary #27: Being the twenty-seventh issue of an ongoing series may disqualify Planetary from being in this category, but the fact that we had to wait two plus years for it to come out erases any doubt about technicalities. Warren Ellis’ and John Cassidy’s magnum opus has finally reached a conclusion, and few can argue with how satisfyingly it was accomplished. If this series is about anything, it is about making sure that good people are not forgotten, and when Elijah Snow decides that he will bring one of his dearest friends back to life, you had better believe that he will find a way.

Dr. Horrible: Who would have thought that a series of webisodes featuring a Supervillain’s musical bloggings would be so popular? Joss Whedon, that’s who, and he continues to give us what we want with this story of how Dr. Horrible decided to become Dr. Horrible. Written by Zack Whedon and drawn by Joelle Jones, this single issue perfectly captures what was so entertaining about the online series and sheds new light on the motivations of the titular character. Let’s just hope that this won’t be the last trip into this universe.

Winner: Planetary: Since one shots by definition are only one issue long, you need to pack as much awesomeness as you can in a single story. Both Dr. Horrible and The Goon Vs. Deathklok take this as an opportunity to have fun with the characters, to put them in situations where you can really explore what makes them so entertaining. While they both do an amazing job of this, they also leave you wanting more. While this is good in the sense that you may want to have the reader excited for the next issue. However, when we’re talking about one shots that don‘t have that luxury, you have to leave the reader with a feeling of resolution for it to really succeed. Planetary does this better than any other in recent years; it had better considering how long it took to come out. There are few stories out there that end with as much of a feeling of accomplishment as this book does, and that’s why it wound up on top.

Best Independent Collection:

Essex County: With the recent popularity of The Nobody and Sweet Tooth from Vertigo Comics, Jeff Lemire has finally begun to be recognized by a larger audience, but for those of us who have read his work from the beginning, seeing Essex County finally collected in a single volume is a truly impressive feat. Focusing around the interweaving story of three different people set in the same community, Essex County presents a haunting story of the isolation and loneliness that people unknowingly share. You may think that once you put this book down, the journey will be over, but you will soon find that it has left you with an emotional connection that will last longer than most any other work ever has.

Asterios Polyp: Having been missing from the forefront of the comic book industry for years, David Mazzucchelli returns with the story of an unsuccessful architect, trying to find structure and meaning in a life that has started to fall apart. What at first glance seems to be a rather straightforward and simple story quickly turns into something more complex and befitting of a master craftsman who is obviously greatly enjoying experimenting with the medium. Mazzucchelli spent years focusing on creating such a challenging work, and once you sit down and give it the time it deserves, you will come to appreciate like few others.

“Parker: The Hunter”: Adapting the work of a long running series of novels is no easy task, but when done in the deft hands of Darwyn Cooke, there can be little doubt about how good the finished product will be. Having already firmly established himself as one of the most talented writers/artists in the industry with his work on DC: The New Frontier, Cooke is now free to work on just about any project he so chooses, knowing that whatever he decides to do, the fans will respond, and this is no exception. Building on his work of resurrecting The Spirit franchise, Cooke’s crime noir resume should leave little doubt that anything he does with the beloved character Parker will be nothing less than exceptional. From the very beginning of the story, we are presented with twenty plus pages of story, dialogue free and perfectly capturing the style and feeling of the novels. Have no doubt: you will be sucked in whether you like it or not.

Winner: Asterios Polyp: Much as I love Essex County and the work of Darwyn Cooke, this wasn’t even close. No other collection, original graphic novel or otherwise this year came even close to approaching the level of ingenuity of Asterios Polyp. If you don’t believe me, believe just about every other reviewer out there who has gotten their hands on it. I dare you to find one who says otherwise. From the very beginning of his career with his work on Daredevil and Batman with Frank Miller, Mazzucchelli has shown great promise. It’s a wonderful thing to see that the man can actually live up to the hype.

Best Retcon:

Captain America’s Time Bullet: Everyone knew it was just a matter of time before Captain America was going to be brought back from the dead, but nobody knew how. In the pages of Reborn, we learn that The Red Skull’s plot to kill our nation’s greatest hero was far more complex then it first had seemed. Rather than simply killing Cap, he decided to shoot him with a specialized gun that would separate his soul from his body, sending him adrift in the timestream throughout his past, having to relive his greatest tragedies without the ability to change their outcomes. No matter how painful this must have been, it gave his friends and allies the opportunity to bring him back and it gave the readers back a character that has grown to represent all that is good and true about what we can be.

Resurrection of Superboy/Kid Flash: Probably one of the best things to come out of the Final Crisis crossover was this miniseries within a miniseries: The Legion of Three Worlds. Not only did it return George Perez to some of the characters he helped make popular, it gave DC an opportunity to correct some past mistakes and return former heroes Superboy and Kid Flash to the land of the living. While many will debate over how their deaths and lives leading up to their deaths were either handled or mishandled, few can argue with DC’s willingness to reboot their continuity so that these can be allowed to shine again. There is hope on the horizon as Superboy has returned to Smallville, searching for his place in the world, and as Kid Flash continues on his quest to find out just where he fits in with the Flash extended family. Both characters have been given new life, and not a moment too soon.

Reverse Flash: Homicidal Time Traveler?: Once Barry Allen was brought back in the pages of Final Crisis, it was only a matter of time before his archenemy, The Reverse Flash, came back as well, but as with any rejuvenation, the stakes have to be raised. In Flash: Rebirth, we get just that. Not only does Professor Zoom make a reappearance, but he also reveals that every tragedy, every misfortune that Barry has ever faced has been because Zoom has gone back in time for the sole purpose of destroying everything that he has ever loved. And what is the worst part about it? The whole reason why Barry became a cop, the whole reason why he was exposed to the accident that gave him his powers? It was because he wanted to prove that his father was innocent of killing his mother. I’ll give you one guess as to who was actually responsible.

Winner: Captain America’s Time Bullet: Ultimately, when considering what makes a good retcon, it’s just as necessary to consider how far-reaching it is as how well it’s done. In the case of these three nominees, there’s no question as to their quality. All the creators involved have been major forces in the industry for a long time and will continue to be so for years to come. However, the death and rebirth of Captain America is something that not only affected the comic book industry, but also the world around it. Not since the death of Superman has the media been so involved in the happenings of one of our heroes. People who had never been in a comic book store in their entire lives suddenly found themselves reading in the local paper that an American institution had died, shocked that such thing could happen. Captain America was and probably always will be more than just a simple comic, and because of that, his return can not be underestimated.

Best Fad:

Deadpool: No character has gained such prominence in the public eye after five minutes of screen time in a major motion picture than Deadpool. After his appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Deadpool has been one of the hottest commodities in the comic book industry, so much so that there’s barely anything Marvel can do to keep up with the demand. In the past year, Deadpool has had three miniseries launched about him, has had two ongoing series hit the shelves, multiple one-shots and guest appearances written and older stories finally reprinted in the Deadpool Classics string of TPBs. If they could find a way to market “The Merc With A Mouthwash,” I’m sure Marvel would already be shipping cases of the stuff out to Duane Reades across the country.

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Photos by Ron Hatcher.

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