Comics of 2004

Continuing with my year-end wrap-up posts (Part of Speech of the Year? The gerund!) here’s the comics I found notable this year. These aren’t the only ones I read, of course, but they’re the ones that had the biggest impact on me.

Usagi Yojimbo – Borrowed from TJ, I caught up with this character and now wish I had enough money to buy the entire run of trades. I can’t express enough how well-done this series is. I really think there’s something in it for everyone.

Seaguy and WE3 – Grant Morrison returns to my good graces after the extremely disappointing series The Filth. Seaguy was a riotously fun superhero book with more content crammed into its three issues than many books put into twenty. I’m not sure why it was considered so “weird” — is there anything in there that would have seemed out of place in a Kirby book? WE3 was gorgeous and chilling, a story of animal experimentation gone horribly wrong, working on several levels simultaneously. The third and final issue is not out yet but this incomplete miniseries stands well above many full runs from the year. These two books reminded me of Morrison’s mastery of the form so much that I am now preparing to re-read The Filth and discover that I was completely wrong about it.

Street Angel – This was the darling of the comics blogs, and for good reason. It started out as a zany, silly, over-the-top parody comic with ninjas and evil geographers, continued with pirates, and then suddenly veered off into very different locations, frustrating many readers. However, the unexpected departures in tone signaled to me that everything I had said about Street Angel was right, and that this comic was not my monkey, dancing for my entertainment. My respect went up immensely and I eagerly await where this comic will go next.

Safe Area Gorazde and Persepolis – New to me, at least, and introduced me to the world of political comics. Joe Sacco’s insider’s look at the war in Bosnia was gripping and heartfelt, and taught me a great deal about the area and the conflict. Marjane Satrapi’s autobiography about growing up in Iran took autobiographical comics into an area where the life stories within said so much more than “look at what a tragic loser I am!” I very much want to read more books of this ilk, and have pegged a few titles I’m going to try to get my hands on. Whenever you find a new genre of comics you are once again reminded that comics are not themselves a genre, but a medium.

Ex Machina – While the continuing issues have lost my attention and disappointed me, I can’t say anything bad about the first issue. One of the best single issues of a comic I’ve ever read, and I wish that the situation it sets up had been followed up better.

Demo – Another critical hit, this series started out strong and had some truly remarkable issues. Unfortunately it kind of lost steam towards the end, reduced too many times to yet another story about young hipsters in love in New York City. When it was on, though, as in “One Shot, Don’t Miss,” “Emmy,” or “Stand Strong,” it was rock solid.

Flight Anthology vol. 1 – Image Comics have come a long way since their testosterone-heavy debut, but even so, few people would have expected this book from that company. This is a gorgeous sampling of a wide variety of independent creators, all doing stories about the concept of flight. Most anthologies are hit-or-miss, but I found this one pretty consistently good all the way through. Volume two is due out soon and I can’t wait to get it as well.

Colonia – A boy and his uncles somehow slip through into a world in which the colonial era unfolded quite differently than it did in ours. They’re in a world with pirates, conquistador ghosts, mermaids, fish-men, and talking ducks, and the year is 1999. This book is an absolute delight and deserves a far wider readership than it has. The first five issues are collected in a trade paperback from AIT/Planet Lar (or you can try to win it here and the remaining issues are available from Colonia Press.

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, volume 1 – Any description of this book is insufficient. It’s laugh-out-loud funny. It’s heart-tuggingly sweet. It’s arctic-knife cool. It walks a line between superhero comics, autobiographical comics, manga, Archie, and Bollywood. As I said before, if you don’t like this book then you must not like life itself. In the immortal words of the King: “Don’t ask, just buy it.”

Tales From the Bully Pulpit – Another laugh-out loud madcap book in the spirit of the previous, this was also another unexpected delight from Image comics, and one I’m starting to think that only I bought or at least enjoyed. Teddy Roosevelt and the ghost of Thomas Edison go to Mars in a stolen time machine to fight evil — what’s not to like here?

Hikaru No Go – My manga consumption, never overwhelming in the first place, slowed down considerably, but this is one new book I picked up and loved right away. It’s the story of a young boy and the Go-playing ghost who inhabits his body. Fun and funny, it’s also very accessible to anyone wanting to dip their toe into the world of manga.

Doctor Who: The Iron Legion – I was thrilled to see these reprints of strips from Doctor Who Magazine. Though I’ve read all of these and have them in other forms, I’m so glad to have them finally collected in a nice package. With art and stories from some great creators, this is some of the best Doctor Who material out there.

Runaways – I ignored this book as single issues and only got the digest version because I found it available at a price too low to walk past. This is some good superhero comics. A group of teenagers discover their parents are supervillains. They run away, but not before swiping some of their dubious legacy. How they deal with these revelations and each other shows some quality storytelling and character development. Falls off a bit in the second volume, but still quite enjoyable. Reminded me a bit of the still-mourned Young Heroes in Love from DC.

Daisy Kutter: The Last Train – Cattle-punk? Robo-western? How do you describe a book with six-guns, saloons, robots, and holograms? Whatever the genre, this is a spry, delightful book featuring a great central character. Daisy Kutter, retired gunslinger, loses her general store in a poker game, and then has to go on one last job to get it back. But the job goes south, and things aren’t what they seem. Great art, an exciting story, and strong characters. The trade for this book will be out soon, so if you didn’t get the single issues, be sure to pick it up. You won’t be sorry.

Thieves and Kings – Finally, another long-running series I borrowed from TJ. This is a sprawling fantasy epic with outstanding characters and a great spirit to it. The artwork is charming as well. This is another book that deserves a lot more attention that it’s getting. You can find out more information and order it from the publisher’s website.

There’s the comics that really spoke to me in some way this year. There were still plenty of other good ones I enjoyed. Many other blogs have lamented that this was a bad year for comics. I couldn’t disagree more. I had a great time, largely because I stayed away from the big names at the Big Two.

While I’m here and on the subject, let me also note the passing of three of comics’ greatest creators. Julius Schwartz passed away in February and was a huge influence, practically creating the Silver Age single-handedly. In December we lost Bob Haney, who made everything he touched into fun.

Now we’ve lost one of the brightest stars in the comics universe, Will Eisner. A master of the form he practically helped invent, he passed away on January 3rd. His influence on the medium cannot be overstated, and the comics world is poorer without him.

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