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Best of 2000

Anyone who says that comics is a dying artform is either confusing "artform" with "industry" or hasn't looked hard enough. 2000 was the best year for comics that I can remember, with new titles to please a variety of tastes and interests, and many old titles and concepts reinvigorated by creators at the top of their game.

2001 promises to be equally interesting, with a new Love and Rockets series in the works from Fantagraphics, a new Dark Knight Batman miniseries from Frank Miller and DC Comics, Warren Ellis's new line at Image, and Joe Quesada's planned infusion of new blood at Marvel Comics.

Aside from the mainstream companies, 2001 promises plenty of indy pleasures as well, including new issues of Myth of 8-Opus from Thomas Scioli, and James Kochalka's long-awaited Cartoon Diary from Top Shelf.

Here then are my thoughts on what some of the best comics of 2000 were.


The Best of the Mainstream (Whatever that means!)


Deadenders

By Ed Brubaker, Warren Pleece, et al
Published by DC/Vertigo

One of the greatest pleasures of 2000 is Deadenders. The title tells the story of Beezer, who started off as an obnoxious drug dealer, but who is now clearly on a classic heroic journey to becoming a hero in the best, most traditional sense of the word.

Brubaker and Pleece have created a cohesive, credible world for these engaging characters to live out their lives, and an intriguing mystery as to the true nature of that world. The reader is swept along on the voyage by the charming genuineness of all the characters here, with Pleece's crystal-clear storytelling at once recalling both traditional and alternative comics styles.

Best of all, and a rarity in today's mainstream comics, there is an overarching sense that Brubaker knows exactly where he is taking this story. If you have ever been in the sway of a master storyteller, you have some sense of what it is like to lose yourself in the world of Deadenders for a few minutes...or a few hours.

There is a trade paperback that compiles the first few issues of this series, but the back issues themselves are likely available too at a reasonable price, as well. Pick up at least the first issue and give it a chance. I'm sure you'll find yourself wanting to know, as Kurt Busiek so aptly sums it up when speaking of these things, "What happens next?"


X-Man

By Steven Grant, Ariel Olivetti, et al
Published by Marvel Comics

Marvel's best single-character book this year could have been Daredevil. David Mack managed to create a clone of Elektra (fittingly codenamed Echo), and with artists Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti created a story arc that promised more thrills and thoughtfulness than even Kevin Smith managed to give us in his relaunch of the title.

But since we only got a couple of issues Mack's Daredevil this year, X-Man was given a wide berth in which to establish itself as top dog, and it did just that.

Steven Grant and Ariel Olivetti, with plots initially provided by Warren Ellis, took the ludicrous Nate Grey and made him Shaman of the mutant race. In the wink of an eye, X-Man went from a book you could not pay me to read to one that I despair at the thought of losing.

Unfortunately, as Marvel restructures under new Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, no one has bothered to read X-Man #63-71, or if they have read them, no one knows what makes for good comics.

X-Man has been gripping, thrilling, creepy, and above all, astonishingly unique. There's no other title that's ever been quite like it, although The Authority is a clear influence.

It looks like it's too late to save it, with Marvel saying #75 will be the last issue. For a company trying to save itself, that's a stupid move. Someone ought to look at the nine incredible comics we've gotten from Grant and Olivetti this year, and find a way to keep X-Man alive.


The Authority

By Warren Ellis, Bryan Hitch, Mike Millar, Frank Quitely, et al
Published by DC/Wildstorm

The Authority continued to steamroll over the competition, remaining the best superhero comic book being published today.

Readers got the best of both worlds in 2000, with Warren Ellis, Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary wrapping up their spectacular final arc The Outer Dark, and Mark Millar and Frank Quitely coming in and transforming an already-beloved title up to another level of quality entirely.

There were some off moments this year, notably two Chris Weston-drawn issues that delayed momentum in Millar's second story arc, and the ending of Millar's first arc, in which the team makes a deal with the murderous Dr. Krigstein, a move I continue to maintain Jenny Sparks would never have made, and one that is out of character for the rest of the team as well.

Despite those minor flaws, moments of sheer bliss abounded in The Authority this year, including Hawksmoor's exchange with a holographic Bill Clinton, and the Midnighter's divine revenge against Apollo's rapist. I'm doubtful that a third regular creative team can match what Ellis, Hitch, Neary, Millar and Quitely have accomplished over the past couple of years, but there's no question that in 2000, this was the place to be for grown-up superhero kicks.


Powers

By Brian Michael Bendis, Mike Avon Oeming, et al
Published by Image Comics

Brian Michael Bendis has more than earned his reputation as one of the best writers currently working in comics. There's no better example of why than the electric dialogue and plotting he has consistently turned out in Powers.

The mystery of Retro Girl's death that occupied the first six issues was merely a hook on which to hang the outstanding characterization at work here. Whether it's a small girl or a hardened cop, Bendis has an ear for dialogue and a sense of humour that makes this book a joy to read.

The artwork by Mike Avon Oeming is outstanding. Oeming clearly owes a debt to Bruce Timm, but his style has a maturity and sophistication all its own that takes it up a level from mere homage. The characters in Powers move in a world at once dark and wondrous. The most recent issue, featuring a guest-starring character by the name of Warren Ellis, was simply brilliant. It shows how this series will give Bendis and Oeming opportunity to tell just about any type of tale they'd like. Given the talent of the creative team, that's a dangerous and wonderful proposition.



The Avengers

By Kurt Busiek and George Perez, et al
Published by Marvel Comics

I still can't believe it's over. Kurt Busiek and George Perez spent most of the last three years giving me back my childhood, as I fell in love all over again with Marvel's greatest superhero title.

That ended this year, when Perez bowed out due to health problems. He went out on a high note, though, with Busiek's Count Nefaria/Madame Masque storyline coming very, very close to their previous peak, last year's Ultron multi-parter that established Avengers as Marvel's best team title, and one of the two or three best superhero comics currently being published.

For three years, Busiek and Perez consistently gave us a great, traditional superhero saga that compares favourably with Marvel's all-time best works. I'm grateful for the terrific work the creative duo gave us in 2000, and looking forward to seeing what they do, together and seperately, in 2001.



Promethea

By Alan Moore and J.W. Williams, et al
Published by DC/Wildstorm

I was torn between giving this slot to Tom Strong or Promethea, because they are both great reads. Tom Strong is Alan Moore's apotheosis of the superhero comic, but at its heart, it's as much about tradition as it is innovation.

Promethea, on the other hand, is a luminescent wonder that stretches both the boundaries of the artform and the imagination.

Anyone who thinks Promethea is a mere homage to Wonder Woman in the way Moore's Supreme was to Superman, simply has not read it. Promethea, the character, is a magical female heroic icon that is consistently interesting and entertaining. That certainly has never been true of Wonder Woman.

Ironically, Moore pulled it off by explaining through his story why Wonder Woman has never entertained me for long. Wonder Woman's character has always been entirely dependant on the creators working on her, seeming not to exist as a seperate character with an objective personality.

Moore uses that very premise to establish the myth of Promethea, a heroic myth created and recreated throughout history by the very act of belief.

In the most astonishing issue yet of this series, Moore explored the depths and heights of human sexuality, using comics in a way that no one ever has before. It's a tribute to Moore's genius that he was able to pull it off. Given DC's recent suppression of Moore's creativity, I despair of seeing such extraordinary work again any time soon, but if anyone can continue to sneak brilliance under the radar, it's Alan Moore.



Orion

By Walt Simonson, et al
Published by DC Comics

The first few issues of this title had me unsure what I was in for. Walt Simonson is a creator I trust implicity, given an outstanding track record that includes some of the high points of the artform, including his Thor run at Marvel, and his Alien adaptation, one of the first American graphic novels and one of the best movie adaptations ever (not to damn with faint praise).

Turns out, Simonson's first few issues here were mere set-up for a brilliant conceit that promises to entertain for months to come. Orion has defeated Darkseid and taken over Apokolips.

Simonson is one of the few creators able to work convincingly with Jack Kirby's characters. John Byrne tried it and failed mightily with Jack Kirby's Fourth World. But where Byrne's take on these characters was cold and distant, Simonson is running hot and right in your face. Ground-shaking battles and furious emotion fuel Orion.

The fact that Simonson is drawing better than at any other point in his career is an added bonus. Readers have also been treated to back-up stories illustrated by some of the greatest artists in comics, including Frank Miller, Dave Gibbons and Howard Chaykin. All in all, Orion is a great value and a welcome treat every month, and I strongly encourage you to give it a look.



The Best of the Alternatives (Whatever that means!)


Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth

By Chris Ware
Published by Pantheon Books

Chris Ware's Acme Novelty Library is a book I am somewhat embarassed to admit I still have never read, but the collection of the Jimmy Corrigan stories from that title made for one of the best books of 2000.

I had been put off by Acme's complexity and strangeness, but this outstanding compilation proves Ware is a creator with a bold sense of story and the ability to create intriguing characters and plotlines with a deceptive ease and simplicity.

The Jimmy Corrigan hardcover is a beautiful book, unlike any comic you're likely to have ever encountered, and the story within is unique and heartbreaking. As I pointed out in my review earlier this year, virtually every page is a work of art unto itself, entirely suitable for framing. The saga of Jimmy and his tragic family is sprawling and dense; it will take you hours, or days, to read, and longer still to fully absorb. If you haven't read it, please do. I am confident you will find it one of the most rewarding reading experiences of your life.



David Boring

By Dan Clowes
Published by Pantheon Books

Another fantastic hardcover collection this year was David Boring, collecting a story first serialized in three parts in Eightball #19-21. It represents perhaps the best work yet in the amazing career of Dan Clowes.

David Boring is a complex tale that fulfills the promise of Clowes's earlier work, with the cartoonist allowing us unprecedented (for Clowes) access to his protagonist's inner life.

The story starts with Boring having sex while his narration shows his distance and disinterest in one of life's most intimate acts. David, we learn, suffers from a dual obsession (certain types of women and his long lost father) that haunts his consciousness and prevents him from connecting with anything in his current life.

David Boring's intricate and often surreal journey through life is depicted with the skill and wit of a master. Clowes truly has earned the title, as he easily shows us a world full of insecure perverts and capricious plot-twists. Sound like real life? It reads that way, too--but with the twisted perspective that is the unique ground staked out by one of the finest comics creators ever.



Sunburn

By James Kochalka
Published by Alternative Comics

At one point during this revelatory journey, cartoonist James Kochalka observes "My body is a weird machine of grinding bone and spurting blood." His, and everyone else's, of course. What seperates Kochalka from you and me is his ability to create great art from such a subtle and gross observation. This year, Sunburn gave readers a look inside the inner workings of Kochalka's head, a truly fascinating place to poke around.

In his many works, Kochalka has shown himself to be arrogant, insecure, worried, and confident. He is large, and certainly contains multitudes.

In many ways, 2000 was The Year of Kochalka, with other great offerings including the Carrot Boy CD/comic package, Peanut Butter and Jeremy, and the mindbendingly delightful Monkey vs. Robot.

Sunburn, though, offered the most honest artistic statement Kochalka has given us to date, though, and as such, was one of the best comics he's ever done, and certainly one of the best comics of the year.



Radio: An Illustrated Guide

By Jessica Abel and Ira Glass
Published by Fantagraphics Books

A comic book about a radio station and how it works. It was hard to imagine a better comic book for me to review, given that I have worked full-time in radio for close to 15 years now.

Radio is not a comic book story in the usual sense. There is a narrative flow, and it's extremely entertaining and informative, but at its heart, it's a guide to how public radio works, specifically a single weekly program called This American Life.

We learn in minute detail how the show is assembled, from the early planning sessions to the final editing (and tedious re-editing) that occurs right up until the program is broadcast.

Abel and Glass are generous with tips, suggestions and insight, making Radio essential for NPR listeners, and would-be broadcasters.

This is an extremely unusual use of the comics medium, unlike any comic I have ever seen. Abel's technique throughout is to allow the characters to tell their story, without her style getting in the way of what they have to say.

Even if you're not a broadcaster or interested in getting into the business, it's a fascinating look "behind the curtain" and just about every aspect of putting together this type of show is covered. Abel, Glass and Fantagraphics are to be applauded for turning out such an experimental use of the artform.



Weasel

By Dave Cooper, et al
Published by Fantagraphics Books

This title was one of the most unexpected treasures of 2000. It's a small story, intense and personal, but the ongoing "Ripple: A Predilection For Tina," is one of the most compelling comics stories I have ever read.

Ripple focuses on an artist who becomes obsessed, perhaps even falls in love, with a physically repulsive model who allows the artist to subject her to numerous humiliations in the pursuit of his art.

It's difficult for me to imagine what anyone would find attractive about Tina, the muse at the heart of this story, and yet Cooper convinces me that Martin really can't control his overwhelming passion for her.

Cooper illustrates the story in a primitive, sketchy style heavy on scribbling but generous with the background details of Martin's environment. The comic is printed on heavy, cream-coloured paper that lends an air of gravity to the tale. Overall, the effect leaves one thinking not unkindly of some of the better pieces to appear in RAW.


Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts on the Best of 2000. If you get a chance, stop by the Message Board and tell us what you loved (and hated!) this year.

-- Alan David Doane



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