With 2010 over and 2011 arrived, I thought I'd put together a list of some of my favorite moments of the past year. Instead of just putting together a list of ten books that I enjoyed or five writers that impressed me, I'm going to give awards of a sort. So without further ado, I give you the first ever PING! motherbox PING! Best of the Year Awards!
Best Unexpected Source of Enjoyment - The Punisher (Dark Reign)/Franken-Castle by Rick Remender et al.
I have always been a fan of the Punisher, but to say I've applied the same fandom to Marvel crossover events would be a lie. Over the past few years, Marvel crossovers have been nothing if not disappointing. So when I kept hearing that the Dark Reign issues of Punisher by then unknown to me writer Rick Remender, was one of the best books on the rack, I decided to take a look. The rumours were definitely true. Remender's grasp of the character was incredible and his story of Frank Castle thrust into the role of unwitting freedom fighter in the wake of Norman Osborn's usurpation of power was incredible. It had one of the greatest climaxes of any comic I've ever read, with Wolverine's hellion child eviscerating the old man and leaving him dead. Like for real dead, or as for real dead as anyone ever gets in a comic book. They could have left it there, put Frank on the shelf for a while, let the smoke clear and then bring him back in some half-conceived retcon, but Remender did something much better instead. Marvel rolled the dice, let Rick Remender and Tony Moore (Fear Agent) do what they do best, and the results were incredible. What followed was Franken-Castle, a blood-filled monster comic to rival some of the best books of its kind. I was as skeptical as most people about the Frankenstein Punisher concept, but Remender and Moore knocked it out of the park and gave us a climax as good as the death that sparked all that awesomeness in the first place. I was so moved by Remender's Punisher that I went on to read and enjoy a great deal of the Dark Reign event. Without this surprise success, I'd never have done that.
Best Crossover - Dark Reign/Siege
I wasn't sanguine about the follow-up to Secret Invasion, which I would say disappointed me about as much as any crossover event could. So when I began picking up Dark Reign titles, I wasn't expecting much. Man, was I surprised. Thunderbolts, Captain America, Punisher, Fantastic Four, Agents of Atlas and Secret Warriors, all of these titles brought it and really captured everything that can be good about a crossover. The stories were great and could be enjoyed easily on their own, but the subtle ways in which they played into one another and the slow burn they all employed when creeping toward the epic battle that was Siege was masterful. Marvel listened to the critics of Secret Invasion, that the story felt like a big cash grab, that nothing really changed and nothing good really came of it, and they made a concerted effort to correct it. Dark Reign, climaxing with the excellent Siege mini-series, was everything great about big, epic superhero storytelling.
Best Book To Be Unfairly Cancelled - Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee
I'd been aware of Chris Samnee for a while, mainly through the Comic Twart blog, but I wasn't ready for what he brought to Thor: The Mighty Avenger. Of Roger Langridge I was less aware. I'd scanned his Muppets book for BOOM! and was aware of the success he'd had with it, but I hadn't really read him until TTMA. His treatment of the the Thunder God was my favorite since Simonson took up the hammer and it was aided beautifully by Samnee's gorgeous art. From issue one, I was telling people that TTMA was everything that comics was supposed to be. If you know me, you know that I believe the only way this industry truly grows in this next century is to create new fans. Though the perception of comics from the outside looking in is often that it is a children's medium, that perception is often pretty far from the truth. One of the issues I see with the industry today is the lack of serious effort on the part of publishers to make good, universal comics with their superhero icons that can be enjoyed by current fans as well as the younger generation interested in the medium. While there are great titles for kids (most of them from BOOM! Studios), they are too few and far between. So when I read TTMA, I read a book that was everything I believed superhero comics should be. It appealed to current fans (so much so that there was a watershed of support for the title when news it was being canceled hit the net) while offering a story that a young comic fan could instantly love and understand, all without dumbing itself down. I'm sad to see it go, but I look forward to the work of both of these fantastic creators in the future.
Best Series That Just Keeps Getting Better - Hellboy
I've stated in previous posts that Hellboy is my favorite comic of all time. There hasn't been one issue of the entire series that I didn't enjoy thoroughly, not one story arc that didn't leave me desperate for more. The latest, The Storm, was no different. In fact, The Storm was my favorite arc of the story yet. Dripping with Celtic mythology and Arthurian legend, The Storm was the beginning of what could prove to be a very terrifying end for Hellboy. Not to say the character is likely to end up dead, but things are definitely going to change for Big Red and heads, of various sorts, are definitely going to roll. With The Storm, Mignola brought us closer to the depths of the Hellboy mythology than we've ever come and what comes next promises to be epic. Add to that the fairly likely return of Hellboy to the B.P.R.D. alluded to in the The Storm, and you've got the potential for a massive crossover event that could shake the foundations of the Hellboy world for years. In short, it's epic storytelling at it's best and it just keeps getting better.
Best Artist That Should Have a Monthly Book and Doesn't - Evan Shaner
In the interest of full disclosure, Evan Shaner is a friend of mine. To be fair though, I was a fan of Evan's before I was a friend. I became aware of Evan because of his involvement in the Project Rooftop website. Instantly, I was amazed. Evan has a talent that recalls some of the best artists in the history of comics, with a style that is at times reminiscent of Darwyn Cooke, owes more than a little to Jordi Benet and even manages to reach Toth-like heights at its best. Anyone familiar with the industry knows that breaking in is a long, difficult journey, but I have to hope for the best for my friend Evan. He's a phenomenal talent just waiting for a book. Once he gets it, I have no doubt he'll take the industry by storm.
Best New Leaf Turned - John Constantine
Perhaps there is no more consistent character in comics than John Constantine. The consummate anti-hero, the rake at the gates of Hell, you always know what you're getting with Constantine. Most often, that means pain, heartache and disappointment, despite the best of intentions. Constantine is a badass, a relentless bastard and an uncompromising force of nature. We love him, because he does, says and lives all the things we want for ourselves. A true outlaw, a genuine rebel. But over the past year that hard heart softened (if only a tad) and Constantine found love. The circumstances surrounding that love were just as tumultuous and terrifying as anything that surrounds the Hellblazer's life, but the results have grown the character in ways that he hasn't grown in a long, long time. Credit to Peter Milligan, the writer currently giving Constantine his stories, for proving that old dogs can learn a few new tricks. And congratulations to John Constantine on his pending nuptuals. Move over Peter and MJ, this is the comic book wedding of the century. Or just a massive disaster waiting to happen. Either way, great storytelling.
Most Underrated Writer - Jeff Parker
Jeff Parker is one of the good guys. He's battled giant crossover events and the cancellation (twice) of his labor of love, (Agents of) Atlas, but despite the roadblocks, Parker hasn't wavered in his devotion to the medium or excellence of storytelling. His contribution to the Hulk mythos has become a can't miss book and his take on the Thunderbolts, arguably one of the most difficult team books to try and pin down, has been one of the best surprises of the post-Dark Reign titles. Despite the quality of his books, Parker still seems to fly slightly under the radar. While his core group of fans are very devoted, the fanboy community at large has been slow to completely embrace him. Hopefully that will all change as Marvel continues to put him on books with such iconic characters as the Hulk and Luke Cage and his contribution to the overall mythology of the Marvel Universe grows. Jeff Parker writes a damn good book, even better if that book is a team book, and here's hoping to 2011 being a huge year for the man.
Best Elder Statesman - Walter Simonson
Comic books are a labor of love. Choosing to make a career in this medium requires a deep rooted love of the medium itself. Walter Simonson is possessed of that love, and it's that passion for what he does that makes him the best spokesperson for comics I've ever met. His energy is contagious, his honesty refreshing and his zeal inspiring. Walter Simonson is always the best guets on any panel he is on, the best interview you can do (if you're lucky enough to get him) and far and away the person I was most honored to share a drink with (okay, so I drank and he talked and I listened) at a convention. Even at his age, he (along with wife Louise) still shows so much passion for the industry in which he made his life. In comics, you can't find a better success story, a better elder general to lead us all into the next generation, than Walter Simonson.
Best Creator to Watch In 2011 - Jason Latour
When I was a kid, the WCW (World Championship Wrestling) held a championship tournament which they dubbed Future Shock. Future Shock was meant to finally settle, once and for all, who the best wrestler in the WCW was, who would lead the company into the future. If we were to hold such a tournament in the comics industry today, it is my belief that Jason Latour would emerge as the victor. Knowing Jason a little bit, I know he'll appreciate the analogy. What I appreciate, and what every fan of the medium should learn to appreciate, is just how talented this guy is. 2010 was a pretty big year for Latour, as his artwork popped up in various one shots and back-ups, including his excellent Peter Milligan collaboration on Daredevil Black & White, the story that really got him some much deserved recognition from fans. Latour, who can pencil, write and color with the best of them, is poised to strike, a hair's breath away from becoming a serious big hitter in the industry. He's the kid to keep an eye on in the coming year.
That's all the stuff that stuck out to me in 2010 and some of the stuff I'm excited about for 2011. What did you guys love about this year, what drove you crazy and what are you excited about in the future?