Top 10 Eisner Awards SnubsA column article, Top Ten by: Chris Kiser
Since their inception in 1988 as a replacement for the defunct Kirby Awards, the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards have existed as the highest prize attainable in the world of sequential art. Those creators whose works have been named among its winners are recognized as the best of the best, and even those who finish as runners-up wear their nominations as a badge of honor.
For the most part, the complete set of books nominated for Eisner Awards comprises a list of the most beloved and well-crafted comics of the past 22 years. Still, as with anything so subjectively judged, there are always a few deserving stories that fall through the cracks. And, when discussing awards, nothing is more tempting or more entertaining than talking about who got snubbed.
In light of that, and in honor of the upcoming presentation of this year’s awards, the following is a list of the ten biggest Eisner snubs of all time. Each of them is an indispensible contribution to comics history, yet none of them were even given a chance to join the industry’s most hallowed circle of winners.
10. “Kraven’s Last Hunt”
Eisner Year: 1988
Nominated Instead: Grendel, Love and Rockets
Plenty of classic Spider-Man stories feature Peter Parker experiencing some sort of emotional trauma in his life, but “Kraven’s Last Hunt” is one of the few that delivers tragedy for the villain. Traditionally one of Spidey’s sillier foes, Kraven the Hunter was given a somber send-off in 1987 by creators J. M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck.
Driven to the brink of madness by years of failed attempts to hunt down Spider-Man, Kraven finally embarks upon a scheme that actually works. Though the wall-crawler ultimately survives the ordeal, the villainous hunter believes that he has at last proven his superiority in their rivalry. Upon this perceived victory, Kraven commits suicide, having finally achieved the inner peace for which he once longed.
Poignant and memorable, “Kraven’s Last Hunt” failed to earn an Eisner nomination less on the merits of its own shortcomings and more due to the structure of the awards themselves at the time of its release. In 1988, the Eisner Awards’ first year, the slate of categories was nowhere near as robust as it is now. The award for Best Serialized Story, an Eisner staple in later years, didn’t yet exist, and the publication of this tale as a crossover effectively supplanted the notion of any of the individual Spider-Man titles being considered for Best Continuing Series.
9. Green Lantern: Rebirth
Eisner Year: 2006
Nominated Instead: Nat Turner, Ocean
Looking for an explanation as to why Blackest Night topped comics sales charts for much of the past year or why next summer’s most hyped movie event features a guy with a glowing green ring? A lot of it has to do with this mini-series by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver, which brought Green Lantern Hal Jordan back into the role he once made famous.
Not merely a “rebirth” for Jordan himself, the series reinvigorated the Green Lantern franchise with a much needed wave of imagination. With a renewed emphasis on the centrality of willpower and fear to the Lantern universe, Johns built an innovative new mythology upon the series' existing foundations. Though it was all purely a new invention, the concepts introduced here felt as if they’d been building to a climax ever since Hal’s first appearance during the Silver Age.
The refusal of the committee to recognize Johns and Van Sciver’s story as a triumph of mainstream comics is an especially vicious slap in the face when you consider the number of Best Limited Series nominations actually handed out in the year Rebirth was eligible. Though both 2005 and 2007 featured five books nominated for that honor, only four made the cut in 2006. Inexplicably, Eisner chose to leave the customary fifth slot unfilled rather than give this seminal series its due.
Eisner Year: 2006
Nominated Instead: Desolation Jones “Made in England”, Ex Machina “Fact v. Fiction”
If other creators’ references to a particular story can be considered an indication of its quality, then Warren Ellis and Adi Granov’s “Extremis” surely stands among the greats. Crafted as the debut arc for the fourth volume of the Iron Man ongoing series, “Extremis” reengineered both the past and future of Marvel’s premier hi-tech superhero. It featured a retconned origin for the character that better mirrored contemporary world politics, eventually becoming the basis for the 2008 smash-hit Iron Man film. Additionally, it introduced a massive upgrade to Tony Stark’s Iron Man weaponry, transforming it from a simple suit of armor into the unstoppable technological force it is today.
If any single factor is responsible for eliminating “Extremis” from Eisner contention, it is most likely the succession of severe delays that plagued the original release. Though spanning only 6 issues, the entire arc took ages to complete, with the final chapter arriving in stores over a year after the story’s debut. Granov’s beautifully painted artwork may have been worth the wait, but the decision of Marvel's editorial staff not to stockpile finished issues in advance was questionable at best. Though Eisner rules do not require that a serialized story reach its conclusion before it is eligible for nomination, such erratic shipping schedules are a safe bet to put even the best comics out of the committee’s mind come selection time.
7. Fantastic Four by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo
Eisner Years: 2003-2006
Nominated Instead: The Goon (2004-05), Stray Bullets (2005), Astonishing X-Men (2005-06)
Beloved by fans for nearly five decades, the Fantastic Four are surely a staple of the comic book industry. In reflecting the ups and downs of the franchise over the course of those 50 years, FF aficionados typically point to three key periods as the best of the bunch. Two of these, the original Stan Lee/Jack Kirby era and the John Byrne years, were published well before the Eisner Awards’ debut. Not so for the third, the collaboration between Mark Waid and the late, great Mike Wieringo. Despite being an immensely popular and fondly remembered run, it somehow never won its way into the hearts of the Eisner committee.
Waid and ’Ringo’s tenure on the book so resonated with its readers that public outcry over the announcement of Waid’s firing in mid-2003 essentially forced Marvel to reverse their decision. As with most successfulFantastic Four endeavors, Waid's stories recognized the importance of Victor von Doom as the ultimate nemesis of the Four’s Reed Richards. “Unthinkable,” generally considered this creative team’s finest effort, thrust Doom into the spotlight and brought his unquenchable thirst for power to new depths.
With his status as an A-list writer for much of the last 20 years, Waid has enjoyed plenty of Eisner recognition in his career, winning once forKingdom Come and standing a chance at taking home a second award this week. Barring an unexpected Hall of Fame bid, however, Mike Wieringo enjoys no such possibility for redemption, having tragically passed away shortly after his time on this book.
6. Wednesday Comics
Eisner Year: 2010
Nominated Instead: Abstract Comics, Bob Dylan Revisited
Last year, I read nothing in the medium more artistically relevant than DC’s Wednesday Comics, the groundbreaking anthology series that harkened back to the old days of newspaper serials. At the time, I was sure it was on path to win an Eisner Award or two, and I was shocked (along with the rest of the comics Internet) when it didn’t garner a single nomination.
Granted, not every strip in Wednesday Comics’ repertoire was of high quality, but so many of them truly were! Any one of Paul Pope’s Strange Adventures, Gibbons and Sook’s Kamandi, or Karl Kerschl’s The Flash alone would have been justification enough for an Eisner nod, and that’s without mentioning several other strong contributions that made this series a delightful reading experience. Even some of the weaker stories, like those told in the Green Lantern and Metal Men strips, became delicious eye-candy when spread open across the kitchen table.
It would have been one thing if the unique format of Wednesday Comicshad posed problems for its placement in one of the established categories, but the modern Eisners have a place for everything, not the least of which is Best Anthology. Though plenty of deserving books get nominated from year to year, it is omissions like these that cause you to question whether the committee members even like to read comics.
5. “The Return of Barry Allen”
Eisner Year: 1994
Nominated Instead: Naughty Bits: “Abortion Trilogy”, “Reign of the Supermen”
Ask any longtime DC Comics fan to name the best runs in the publisher’s history and Mark Waid’s tenure on Flash is sure to be among those mentioned. Ask again which specific stories from that era stood out as the best and your answers will be even more uniform. Without question, “The Return of Barry Allen” is the flagship arc in a series of comics that offered much to be adored.
For years, it had seemed like Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash, was one of the few dead characters in comics destined to stay that way. Serving in his place as the current Scarlet Speedster was former Kid Flash Wally West, who was slowly growing to become a beloved hero in his own right. All of that seemed threatened, however, when Waid had Barry show up at Wally’s doorstep, seemingly alive and well. But this was no mere resurrection tale, as Wally’s painful dealings with the returned “Barry” would eventually come to define him as a character for the next decade and a half.
Nowadays, stories like the one Waid wrote back then are few and far between. Rather than moving away from the past to develop new characters, the Big Two are more apt to bring back the old ones, regardless of whether a previous writer once killed them off (for a prime example, look no further than the actual return of Barry just two years ago). Mark Waid’s Flash was all about turning the new guy into as beloved a hero as his predecessor, and it was never more Eisner-worthy than in this gripping story.
4. “Guardian Devil”
Eisner Year: 2000
Nominated Instead: Eightball: “David Boring”, 100 Bullets: “100 Bullets”
Over the years, Daredevil has been a mainstay among Eisner Award nominations. In the mid-90’s there was Miller and Romita Jr.’s The Man Without Fear. More recently, Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker have been recognized for the excellence of their lengthy runs. Those last two, however, may have never occurred were it not for the groundwork laid by Kevin Smith, who in turn was notnominated for an Eisner.
(To be fair, Daredevil did receive nominations during Smith's run for Best Cover Art and Best Lettering. But, let’s be honest here, that doesn’t really count, does it?)
Apart from the Miller mini-series, the Daredevil of the 1990’s was barely a blip on the industry’s radar in either commercial or critical terms. Marvel had even resorted to giving the character the “Knightfall” treatment, as Matt Murdock faked his death and reappeared in a new costume. Nevertheless, interest remained minimal. Thankfully, along came an indie film director with a professed love of comics named Kevin Smith to push the series into a positive trajectory--one from which it still reaps the benefits.
Smith’s approach was to restore the element that had once made Daredevil such a success—utter tragedy. By the end of Smith’s 8-issue arc, “Guardian Devil,” the spirit of the Miller years had returned, and Matt Murdock’s life had once again been torn apart. The story was a genuine page-turner, complete with a mystery villain that no one saw coming. Kevin Smith may not have invented the classic Daredevilformula, but he certainly used it well, as evidenced by this memorable entry in the DD canon.
3. Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth
Eisner Year: 1990
Nominated Instead: Nothing
Boasting such heralded books as The Killing Joke, The Long Halloween, andMad Love, you can almost use the catalog of Eisner nominations to create a checklist of the most essential Batman stories written since The Dark Knight Returns. One notable exception (amongst two…), however, is Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum.
Often cited as an inspiration for serious portrayals of Batman outside of comic books, the Arkham graphic novel sits at the apex of the grim-and-gritty movement. It’s an exploration of Gotham City’s rogues as literally insane, complete with the disturbing psychological symptoms you’d find only among society’s most hopeless cases. In addition, the backstory that explores the asylum’s dark origins is responsible for perhaps the scariest scene I’ve ever read in a comic.
Why, then, was this spectacular achievement never honored with an Eisner nomination? Chalk this one up to a technicality. In 1990, as Comic-Con International was readying to take over the awards, someone fumbled the handoff. To date, it is the only year since the Awards’ inception that the Eisners were not presented, and, thus, all editions ofArkham Asylum were forever denied the opportunity to print the words “Eisner Nominee” on their covers.
2. JLA by Grant Morrison and Mark Waid
Eisner Years: 1998-2002
Nominated Instead: Akiko (1998), Avengers (1999), Age of Bronze (2001)
In 1997, DC Comics finally grew tired of letting second-stringers crowd the ranks of its premier superhero team. The existing Justice League: Americaseries was cancelled and relaunched as the acronymic JLA, complete with a star-studded roster worthy of the franchise’s iconic reputation. A creative team of equal magnitude was brought on board to match, beginning with Grant Morrison and Howard Porter and later including Mark Waid and Bryan Hitch.
The series was an instant commercial success, thanks in no small part to Morrison’s singular approach to superheroes. With the same techniques he later utilized in the Eisner-winning All-Star Superman, Morrison overloaded each issue of JLA with unparalleled imagination while still maintaining a traditional DC Comics feel. Almost all of his stories are now considered classics, most notably the reality-bending “Rock of Ages” and the two-parter featuring the League’s battle with Prometheus.
When Waid joined the book as a temporary fill-in writer, he quickly proved himself capable of going toe-to-toe with Morrison in the realm of Big Ideas. This earned him the right to become Morrison’s successor, where he crafted the perfect template for the League’s interpersonal dynamics in stories like “Tower of Babel,” wherein Batman's paranoia was transformed into a weapon against his teammates.
To this day, Morrison and Waid’s JLA is the standard by which all subsequent Justice League stories are measured. It’s a must-have for anyone interested in seeing how exciting mainstream superheroes can get, yet it’s a series that would go sadly unseen by anyone restricting their reading list to Eisner nominees.
1. “Batman: Year One”
Eisner Year: 1988
Nominated Instead: Concrete, Nexus (writer Mike Baron)
That snubbed Batman story I hinted at earlier? It’s none other than thedefinitive tale for the character in the modern era, one that consistently appears on critics’ and fans’ lists of the top comics/graphic novels/whatever you wanna call ‘em of all time. In the years since Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli delivered their post-Crisis reboot, the ripples of “Year One” have been evident in virtually every incarnation of the Dark Knight put to paper or screen.
As if you needed me to tell you that. Even if you haven’t read the story firsthand, you’ve no doubt experienced a reiteration of its key elements in series like The Long Halloween or Ed Brubaker’s Catwoman, themselves both Eisner nominees. Supposing you’ve never picked up a comic book, you’re still likely to have felt “Year One’s” impact upon 2005’s Batman Begins, which relied upon Miller and Mazzucchelli’s ideas heavily.
Like “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” “Year One” is a victim of the sparse category list of the Eisners’ first year. Nonetheless, it seems inconceivable today that such a beloved and widely referenced story didn’t lead to a Continuing Series nod for Batman or a Best Writer nomination for Miller. Just as the twentysomething Bruce Wayne suffered a few bruises and scrapes during his initial efforts at vigilantism, so too does it seem that the Eisner committee make its fair share of mistakes in the early days.
I’m not sure exactly where I’d rank “Batman: Year One” on a top ten of comics’ greatest stories, but it’s the only book listed here that would definitely be there. That fact alone should clue you in on how easily it beats out all other contenders for the biggest Eisner snub in history.