Monday, November 30, 2009

The Splash Page: Almost the Best of the '00s (Part 1)

[We have returned! And we totally aren't continuing from where we left off last time! Why? Because we didn't feel like it. Ah well. Enjoy anyway...]

Tim Callahan: It looks like I'll be doing a big-time two-part "Best Comics of the Decade" festivapaolooza thing at the end of the year as part of my "When Words Collide" column, but the word on the mean streets of Comic Book Town is that you won't be doing any sort of "Best of the 00's" list at all. What's with that? Is your new wrestling column sucking up all your free time? Do you not like any comics of the past decade? Are you afraid that listing ten consecutive Joe Casey comics followed by a few Warren Ellis runs will cause you to lose friends and un-influence people?

Because I'm telling you right now, my Top Ten of the Decade is ALL Morrison. (I may be lying about that.)

Chad Nevett: I don't feel qualified, honestly. I only read comics in a large enough amount during the second half of the decade when I actually had money to spend on them on a regular basis. But, more than that... I don't want to? I really don't feel like doing a best of the decade list. I'm happy to do my regular best of the year list and leave it at that with maybe some variation on the best of the decade post. Besides, it would be a lot of Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, and Joe Casey... and I did top whatever lists of Ellis and Casey's works this past year, so there's a big tip-off. Plus, I just had to do a top ten storylines list for Brian Cronin's thing over at Comics Should be Good. And, yes, the wrestling gets in the way as I need to do lists for best of the year stuff there, too. How many lists must I do, Tim? When will you be satisfied? When?

TC: When we've listed everything. Then, I rest.

But since you're not into the whole list thing, what we need to do is talk about what might have been in contention for a possible list that you would have theoretically made at some undetermined point, maybe. And I can talk about the stuff that made my "under consideration" list, but didn't crack the Top 20, and therefore won't appear in my WWC column.

Because I came up with over 40 worthy comics, easily. And I want to talk about some of the not-making-the-cutters. Like DC: The New Frontier, for example. I enjoyed it upon first release and fell in love with it in its Absolute Edition, but it didn't make my Best of the Decade Top 20. Darwyn Cooke's a pretty powerful force in the comic book art world -- he really made his mark in this decade, but the series is just a bit too light to make the cut. It's a brilliant celebration of the DCU, of the Silver Age, but that's kind of all it is.

Would it have been in contention for your possible list that you refuse to make?

CN: Not New Frontier, which I got the first trade of shortly after it came out and didn't enjoy. Then, I recently reread that first trade and was still unimpressed. A few nice scenes that don't really fit together. Maybe it reads better as a whole, but I'm not inclined to give that shot. That's a bit of a tangent.

Some books that would probably make my list... Transmetropolitan would be there even though its best days were pre-2000. Wildcats volume two by Joe Casey and Sean Phillips would be there -- and, if I didn't combine it with Wildcats Version 3.0, it would rank higher than the subsequent series since it's, well, better. Automatic Kafka would rank high as would Marvel Boy and Punisher MAX and Casanova and many, many others. The obvious suspects, really. See, I don't need to make a list -- people who've been following my writing for more than two weeks could figure it out on their own.

So, I'll throw out a title that would surprise some: The Dark Knight Strikes Again. It's almost become fashionable for online critics to proclaim their love for this fantastic series, but trust me when I say I've been a fan since it came out. I love the insane energy of the book, the sheer balls that Miller displays in fearlessly doing with those characters as he wishes, and just having fun. When people were bemoaning Batman being too grim in his book, Miller just made a fun Batman comic that's bright and shiny and stupid. Hell, I'd maybe throw All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder in there as well since I have a fondness for that. (And, yes, it would still rank higher than All-Star Superman... just to spite you...) Would The Dark Knight Strikes Again come anywhere near your list or was it brushed aside?

TC: By the time our conversation hits the eager internet public, you'll know that I just wrote a whole column about Dark Knight Strikes Again for CBR. [Edit: Ooops...] That is, if I ever get around to writing it, which I'm planning to do, um, sometime today, maybe? This is like witnessing time travel.

Dark Knight Strikes Again just misses my Top 20 cut, though. It comes in at #22, just after X-Statix. Is DKSA more important than that Milligan/Allred camp fest? Sure, but I'll take Allred's art over Miller's current style anytime. I do enjoy DKSA for its madness, for its spectacle, for its rambling attacks on liberal America and the way Miller wraps his love for DC's Silver Age icons into a lumpy allegory about more things than an allegory should probably be about.

I need to stop talking about it, otherwise I'll use up all my commentary before I write my column. Anyway, see that for more of my DKSA thoughts.

All-Star Batman and Robin was on my preliminary Best of the Decade list, but it didn't crack the Top 40 when I started ranking things. I miss that comic, though. It was something to look forward too, no matter how awkward and discordant some of the individual issues were. It has gained a kind of happy glow in its absence. Mainstream comics are distinctly lacking in strong authorial voices these days.

Better than All-Star Superman, though? Well, even you must know that such an idea is ludicrous. I'm waiting for the day when you realize what a masterpiece All-Star Superman is. I mean, the Quitely art alone makes it one of the best comics of the decade, surely.

Still haven't read Transmet or Wildcats vol. 2, but I do have a complete Wildcats 3.0 run that I always intended to finish. So those won't make my list out of pure ignorance and laziness. Automatic Kafka I do like, but not enough to crack even the preliminary list. You won't see that on very many Best of lists I'm afraid, which is why you NEED to make one. You need to balance the scales of ignorance and anti-Caseyism.

Here's one that was pretty damn good but didn't make my final list: Umbrella Academy. I think the second arc is even better than the first, but their combined awesomeness still didn't catapult the series into my Top 20. Would it show up on your non-list at all?

CN: I've yet to read it, honestly. It's on the list of things to get, but that list is long, my friend... And Quitely's art on All-Star Superman is indeed great, but there are other series where he does the art that I like a whole lot more.

I couldn't agree with you more about All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder (full title, dammit!) and Miller's strong authorial voice. It's one of the reasons I have a fondness for his recent work as he just does exactly what he wants with no apologies. Hell, I even liked The Spirit for that reason. You so rarely see work that uncompromising and pure in its intention/execution. It may falter at times, but it's interesting. And, as Steven Grant said this week, interesting trumps good most of the time.

Automatic Kafka topped my ten favourite storylines list, so it's represented elsewhere by me. And it was on Tom Spurgeon's preliminary top superhero books list.

Here's a technical question in the matter of this sort of list-making: are you including just new works that were released during the past decade or also including repackaged works where the collections came out during the past decade? I've always had a certain dislike for reprints of old material being included in 'best of' lists since they weren't really works from that time period. Then again, when I used to do lists of my favorite albums of the year, I always had a category for albums I bought that year that were from previous years to recognise that that year's music experience was broader than just the new releases. So, what's your view on reprints being included? An example I'd be tempted to include: Absolute Authority, which, of course, collects material that can't make the list since it came out in 1999 (though the last two issues of the Ellis/Hitch run came out in early 2000 -- but, come on, it's a pre-2000 book), but the collection is gorgeous and wonderful. Is it fair to include it in its collected form despite the individual issues (excluding the final two issues) not qualifying?

TC: If the serialized version was in no way published in this decade, I think it's unfair to list it. Which is one of the reasons my list will contain less manga than it should. Not that I've read a whole lot of manga anyway, but Drifting Classroom would definitely be on the Top 10 of the Decade IF it were actually released in this decade. The fact that it was translated and repackaged for American audiences thirty years after its original release doesn't make it a Best of THIS Decade kind of book.

Same goes for the Kirby reprints or the Absolute whatevers. They can get a different list, but it seems foolish to put the reprints next to the stuff that was actually first released in this decade. I mean, you wouldn't just put whatever new Shakespeare or Joyce or Nabokov reprint on the list of Best Books of the Year, so why would anyone do it for comics?

You really need to get on Umbrella Academy. I suspect you'll like it more than I'd like Transmet, though that's totally without basis in fact. But as far as speculation goes, it's a sure thing!

[To be continued at Tim's blog!]