Welcome back, Eisnerites! Following last week’s debut column, our reviewers have labored tirelessly at their keyboards to bring you the second edition of our 2010 Eisner Countdown. The big show is just 15 days away!
This week, we’re examining the Best Writer category (where everyone seems to be copying off each other’s papers) along with the eclectic mix of nominees for Best Single Issue. As always, we aren’t content to stop at what’s on the ballot, coming at the Eisner committee with a full barrage of Biggest Snubs!
The nominees are…
- Ed Brubaker, Captain America, Daredevil, Marvels Project (Marvel) Criminal, Incognito (Marvel Icon)
- Geoff Johns, Adventure Comics, Blackest Night, The Flash: Rebirth, Superman: Secret Origin (DC)
- James Robinson, Justice League: Cry for Justice (DC)
- Mark Waid, Irredeemable, The Incredibles (BOOM!)
- Bill Willingham, Fables (Vertigo/DC)
Deserves to Win:
The “Best Writer” category is most baffling this year. Save Blackest Night, none of Johns’ listed material is particularly beloved, which signals a weak year for the writer. Did the last issue of Rebirth even come out? This year shows more promise with The Flash and Green Lantern, so Johns will deserve it more when 2011’s nominations are announced. And while James Robinson reminded us that comics didn’t have to be shitty in the nineties with Starman, Cry for Justice is not good. At all. I don’t even bother with Bill Willingham comics.
Ed Brubaker wins not by default, but by virtue of being the best writer of the bunch — I mean, Criminal AND Incognito? No contest. Though I won’t throw a hissy fit if someone decides to give Mark Waid some much-needed love. For a guy so prominent, we really take him for granted. Let’s stop that, us.
Women. Non-whites. People working outside of mainstream comics. Failing that, where’s Jason Aaron?
Deserves to Win:
If you’re looking for witty zingers about James Robinson’s nomination in this category for Cry for Justice, you’ve come to the wrong place. Gotta have your fix? Fine. Take five minutes to open up a new browser tab and Google the term “JUSTIIIIIIICE!!!” Satisfied? Good. Now get off the guy’s case. He once wrote Starman and The Golden Age, okay?!?!
Having been a DC guy for as much of my life as I can remember, I’d love to toss Dan DiDio’s golden boy Geoff Johns my vote here, but I just can’t justify it based on 2009’s output. Also, I find it terribly perplexing that among the four books listed as part of Johns’ nomination, his best effort of the year, Green Lantern, is nowhere to be found. With “Rage of the Red Lanterns,” “Agent Orange,” and the first group of Blackest Night tie-ins (which were often better than the main series), Johns continued to pump enough new mythology into the GL franchise to fuel it for the next decade.
Yet, instead of honoring that achievement, Eisner hands a nomination to Flash: Rebirth. Now that’s a reason to cry for justice! (Okay, so maybe just a little Robinson joke.)
With Johns out of the picture, that leaves this category’s other Big Two superstar, Ed Brubaker, to bring home the Bru-bacon. Any of the five books next to his name could have earned him a nomination alone, thus their cumulative effect is staggering. I’ll simply focus on my favorite of the bunch, Daredevil, where Brubaker wrapped up his stint on the series with a coda that rivaled even Brian Michael Bendis’s acclaimed finale.
Not a year goes by that Grant Morrison couldn’t deservedly end up on this list, but I’ll refrain from letting this write-up sound exactly like the one I did last week for Best Limited Series. Instead, I’ll simply plagiarize Danny’s picks for that category and give my Biggest Snub to Jonathan Hickman. Between Fantastic Four and Secret Warriors, few writers matched his perfect balance of off-the-wall ideas and traditional superhero sensibilities.
Deserves to Win:
Of the 2010 nominees, Ed Brubaker is the strongest in the group by simple virtue of consistency. If it sounds like I’m damning the prolific writer of Captain America and Criminal, I’m not. A singular talent in the industry, he’s excelled over the last few years at solidifying the modern street-level hero in the Marvel U. His ear for dialogue and touch with characters drive the slow-burn stories that fill out his bibliography, making it curious that Bendis, and not Brubaker, has consistently been tapped as the architect of the large-scale Marvel events. A win for Brubaker would validate methodical, tightly-plotted storytelling that has even non-comics readers talking about his work.
At the same time, I’m uncertain as to how James Robinson’s nearly universally-derided work on Justice League: Cry for Justice made it on this list. This was, simply put, a bad book that added nothing to DC’s portfolio aside from the embarrassment of junior high school morality wrapped inside a ridiculous revenge story that birthed what is shaping up to be the worst book of 2010 (that would be The Rise of Arsenal). Furthermore, Robinson’s work on Superman was middling to decent but nothing that I can recall with any degree of accuracy.
Best Single Issue (or One-Shot)
The nominees are…
- Brave & the Bold #28: “Blackhawk and the Flash: Firing Line,” by J. Michael Straczynski and Jesus Saiz (DC)
- Captain America #601: “Red, White, and Blue-Blood,” by Ed Brubaker and Gene Colan (Marvel)
- Ganges #3, by Kevin Huizenga (Fantagraphics)
- The Unwritten #5: “How the Whale Became,” by Mike Carey and Peter Gross (Vertigo/DC)
- Usagi Yojimbo #123: “The Death of Lord Hikiji” by Stan Sakai (Dark Horse)
Deserves to Win:
Okay, I see what’s going on here. Because there are hardly any self-contained stories in comics anymore, there is a painful lack of great nominees. I haven’t read Ganges yet but I assume it is the best, being a book that doesn’t have superheroes in it.
For how old school “Blackhawk and the Flash: Firing Line” is, it’s surprisingly joyless and rote and ends just as it’s beginning. It’s not quite the wretched “girls night out before Barbara Gordon gets Killing Joked” Brave & the Bold issue, but it doesn’t quite hold up as a particularly good self-contained story. If anything, it makes a case against single issue stories.
“Red, White, and Blue-Blood” fares better among the superhero stories, but the beautiful Gene Colan art is the real winner here. The weirdly-paced story resorts to opening with a needless framing device that insecurely tells readers just why anybody should care about a World War II-era Captain America story at a time when everyone really just wants to know when Cap is coming back.
“The Death of Lord Hikiji” doesn’t have that “very special issue” vibe that the other ones do. Instead, it tells a violent, heartbreaking story that fits within a single issue as well as within the series at large. Feeling neither compressed nor decompressed, the story lasts as long as it needs to.
But “How the Whale Became” was a pretty good issue of Sandman, no?
Everything else, honestly. I’m sure there’s an issue of Scalped that would fit just fine here. But I’m going to be self-indulgent and suggest Uncanny X-Men #512, “The Origins of the Species,” in which the X-Club goes back to early 20th Century San Francisco to battle a steampunk Sentinel, among other things. It doesn’t feel forcibly compressed unlike some of the nominated stories nor does it feel like an inessential bit of filler.
Deserves to Win:
When reading over 200 individual comics per year, it’s easy to lose track of which issues were the best, even the really great ones. That said, if you’d have asked me my opinion of the greatest single issue to hit shelves in 2009, I’d have had no trouble pinpointing The Unwritten #5 as the one to beat them all. Even without looking to the Eisner ballot or critics’ “Best of” lists as a cheat sheet, “How the Whale Became” easily stands out as some of the best 22 pages printed in recent memory.
Purely as a piece of historical fiction, it demands respect. A creative imagining of a literary rivalry between Oscar Wilde and Rudyard Kipling, Carey and Gross’s story is an insightful look at the interplay between politics and literature, highlighting the capability of either one to destroy the ambitions of the other. By the time you’ve read it all, the line between art and agenda appears all the more fine.
Joined to the Unwritten series as a whole, though, this issue also shines. While the first story arc hinted at the presence of a conspiracy somehow tied to the production of the world’s fiction, “How the Whale Became” demonstrates how far the influence of this cabal has truly reached. Raising the stakes for subsequent storylines, this issue also introduced a quickly beloved tradition for the fledgling Vertigo series: awesome one-shots. Whereas the readers of most titles come to dread their writers’ departure from the “main” story, I find myself often counting the days until the next Unwritten standalone.
Neil Gaiman’s Batman #686 may have elicited more excitement from me than any other issue of the year, but it was merely chapter one of “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader,” a two-parter that lost its steam in the second half. I might have nominated Planetary #27, if only Warren Ellis could have done a better job explaining the time travel paradoxes at the heart of his series finale. All things considered, Green Lantern #43, featuring the origin of Black Hand, is probably most deserving of a spot on this list. It’s certainly better than that Barry Allen issue of Brave and the Bold, that’s for sure.
Deserves to Win:
No offense to JMS, Stan Sakai, Ed Brubaker or especially the great Gene Colan, but there can only be one winner in this category, and it’s probably the one that you know the least about: Kevin Huizenga’s Ganges.
Huizenga is probably the most thoughtful and creative cartoonist working in the medium today, and Ganges is his playground. Every page he creates is a monument to creativity and imagination, to extremely thoughtful page design and an eye for the perfect moment and image.
This issue is simply a depiction of the torture that main character Glenn Ganges goes through as he battles a nasty case of insomnia. That means that this issue isn’t highly plot-based, but it is the perfect idea for an incredibly well-produced meditation on the kind of battle that we all go through occasionally.
This comic works, and works beautifully, because Kevin Huizenga is a magnificent and incredibly imaginative storyteller. His panel and page arrangements are among the most thoughtful and innovative of any creator seen recently.
That’s important because so much of this issue depends on Huizenga’s storytelling abilities. He has no plot to speak of here, so the success or failure of the comic depends on his use of recurring images, clever page layouts, and, of course, his ability to make readers feel interested in literally wandering around the inside of Glenn Ganges’s mind.
In other words, Huizenga sets himself a very high level of difficulty. However, being a world-class cartoonist, Huizenga delivers on his promise.
Ganges #3 is really nothing but an extended interior monologue. And at that, it’s an interior monologue with little grounding in reality. As such, it could have been deadly dull. But Huizenga, one of the finest cartoonists working today, delivers a fascinating and deeply involving book. Ganges #3 is a brilliantly conceived and delivered comic that provides a virtual clinic on great comics storytelling.
Jonah Hex #50 is the story that the crappy Hex movie should have told. It has everything you might want in a Hex tale. Creators Gray, Palmiotti and Cooke deliver a story filled with vengeance, murder, a bit of romance, a touch of humor, and the stalking of 50 bounties by the ever-intense Jonah Hex. It’s a totally satisfying product, from the gorgeous cover to the humorous conclusion. Darwyn Cooke’s art is amazing as ever, adeptly complemented by Dave Stewart’s coloring, and the story chugs along like a steam train crossing the prairies. It’s a crime that this comic wasn’t nominated for Best Single Issue.
Are you on board with our picks? Take issue with our guys’ collective man-crush on Ed Brubaker? We’d love to hear from you on our message boards. Plus, don’t forget to visit us again next Thursday for an art-centric edition of the countdown, featuring our selections for Best Penciler/Inker, Best Cover Artist, and Best Digital Comic.