THE STAR-STUDDED MILLARWORLD AWARDS 2002
Welcome to the 17th edition of The Column or, as my friends have described it, Millar's Weekly Effort To Burn His Bridges. Columns are weird things and best written by eager newcomers who don't yet depend on comic-books to pay their rent or by comics veterans who have been sidelined by the mainstream companies for younger, supposedly fresher faces. Writing a column when you're being embraced by the comic-book establishment feels weird because, by their nature, columns really need to be anti-establishment to have any credibility. The best columns critique as much as praise, but is it fair for a guy who's made nice royalties from four of this month's top 10 books to be mouthing off about people who might not even be in the top 100? Can my opinions regarding the current market really be trusted when I've thrown my weight behind one company in particular and have publicly waged war on the other main publisher for their comic-book equivalent of Human Rights abuses? I don't know, but it's with these garbled thoughts that I hit you with my review of the year and the much-coveted Millarworld Awards for excellence over these past twelve months. Please note that this was an exercise in anti-democracy and the voting, I'm afraid, only took place within the little, secret voting-station of my own head. With that minor disclaimer taken care of, let the ceremony begin.
BEST SCOOP OF 2002
The news story that caught me most off-guard had to be Jim and Jeph doing Batman as a regular monthly for DC Comics. The fact that they managed to keep this a secret despite myself and several others standing in Jim Lee's studio last year and looking at his nicely-drawn fucking BATMAN pages is all the more incredible, but they really pulled off a pretty sweet coup with this one and I doff my cap to their tight-lipped powers of restraint. CAPTAIN AMERICA: TRUTH was another nice story, especially when you take the mainstream news coverage into account, but the overall Bobby Dazzler of 2002 has got to be THE RAWHIDE KID; both in terms of mainstream news coverage and message-board mania. I mean, this is the Rawhide bloody Kid we're talking about here and I had hundreds of messages about it on my OWN message-board. Whether this translates into sales, I don't know, but this was definitely the straw-into-gold story of 2002 when you consider that even the majority of COMIC-FANS hadn't heard of this leather-clad straight-shooter before Thanksgiving Weekend.
WINNER: THE RAWHIDE KID
BEST COMIC-BOOK SERIES
This is a tricky one, given that all my instincts here are to vote for my own books and that PLANETARY (my favourite ongoing monthly) wasn't published in 2002. That said, we weren't exactly short of good shit this year with Amazing Spider-Man, Transmet, X-Statix, Agent X, New X-Men, Batman, Hulk, The Punisher, JSA, Green Arrow, Ultimate Spidey, The Flash, 100 Bullets, Daredevil, Alias, Powers, Y The Last Man and the re-jigged Fantastic Four leading the pack in terms of sheer fucking quality. Best book is therefore a very tough call and I'm almost closing my eyes and touching one of the above here when I say that I probably enjoyed Bruce Jones' Incredible Hulk more than the others. Like I said, it's a close call and like choosing a Best Man for your wedding but, in terms of both writing and art, I'd have to say that the Hulk as been the most consistently perfect book of 2002 AD.
WINNER: THE HULK
BEST ONE-SHOT OR LIMITED SERIES
Again, it's a testament to how many good books we've had this year, but I'm pretty much spoiled for choice between The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (which I'm loving), Cage (Az and Corben together make pretty much the most formidable team in comics), The Filth (Morrison and Weston doing SHIELD meets The Invisibles), Mek (Warren being the last guy alive who can make me read science fiction), Automatic Kafka and Global Frequency. Warren Ellis does superheroes better than anyone else in the industry at the moment and Global Frequency would have scooped the prize were it not for two of my favourite comics in years; The Dark Knight Strikes Again by Miller and Garth, Amanda and Jimmy's The Pro from Image. I'm really, really torn between the latter two because I admired their balls for doing something different and I hate the way people lashed out at Miller for actually trying something new. But The Pro was just sheer class and deserves the award and, hopefully, another printing for anyone who wasted their money elsewhere last summer.
WINNER: THE PRO
BEST NEW SERIES
Again, we're really spoiled for choice here with The Ultimates, Global Frequency, Y The Last Man, X-Statix, Agent X, Captain America, Fantastic Four and WildCATS 3.0 all wriggling forth from the pseudo-vagina of their respective creative teams, but FF volume three bitch-slaps us around like we're Halle Berry. Even if I WAS including my own books in this poll (and DAMN they're good books) I'd still rocket this prize into the hands of Waid and Wieringo for the best Fantastic Four since Stan and Jack were still on speaking terms. Their first issue had more wit, character, ideas and heart in twenty two very straightforward pages than some people have in their entire careers. FF is just an incredibly likeable book and, best of all, unlike anything else out there at the moment (which is always a good thing).
WINNER: THE FANTASTIC FOUR
Everybody just kind of accepted that Two Towers was going to blow everything else away when it really just kind of… blowed. Yeah, it was fairly spectacular and all that, but was I the only one who thought it all felt kind of EMPTY? Like looking at pixies through the wrong end of a telescope? I've never read the books and have little interest in these kind of things, but LOTR failed to live up to even my low expectations. Danny (Trainspotting) Boyle and Alex Garner's low-budget UK zombie pic, however, exceeded even my highest ones. 28 Days Later must surely be up there with The Wicker Man as one of the greatest horror movies of all time, edging slightly ahead of Dog Soldiers; a fantastic British werewolf movie with a scene I'll take to my grave where a brave, young, unarmed squaddie defends himself for ten minutes by convincingly BOXING the lycanthropes. Other great movies this year were Minority Report, Spider-Man (nice genre flick with the best heart since Superman The Movie),Vanilla Sky, Signs (his greatest ending yet and possibly even better than Unbreakable), Bowling for Columbine , The Good Girl and Blade 2. My mate Jamie and I got stoned and sat through that opening 30 minute fight scene for Blade 2 just smiling to each other and saying 'Blade is THE MAN. Blade is THE FUCKING MAN' every time he carved himself a piece of vampire ass. Can a recommendation come any higher?
WINNER: 28 Days Later
It's Rich. No two ways about it. Rich's column here at CBR is the most widely-read, widely-loved, equally-feared and consistently-entertaining web-page in the industry. Some friends and I were talking recently about who could replace the fuzzy man if he fell under the wheels of a passing Batmobile and the short and simple answer is NOBODY. What makes RJJ so deadly to the big companies is that they can't buy him. He isn't INTERESTED in that Killer Croc one-shot or that Tigra mini-series. He doesn't CARE if you blacklist him from your crummy company because he makes a nice, tidy living elsewhere and comics are just a lark to him. Something he does in his spare time and for his own amusement. Of course, having some commercial success these last couple of years affords me a little freedom in what I say in public because companies might consider me a valuable asset at this moment in time, but like just about every other columnist out there, I'm aware of the fact that these companies are the reason I could afford a nice haircut this afternoon. Rich comes from another planet altogether and he can say whatever the fuck he likes, God Bless Him.
Three other important writers at the moment are Steven Grant, also at CBR, Paul O'Brien at www.thex-axis.com and Alan David Doane at www.comicbookgalaxy.com. As much as I love the Wizard-style features and the much-needed playfulness this brought back to comics, these three columnists consistently provide me with that same heavyweight counter-balance which magazines like The Comics Journal used to provide when I first considered working in the medium. Like I said, this is how I make my living so I appreciate the seriousness and thought that goes into their dissections. They might lack the must-read feeling we get from RJJ every week, but they're essential nonetheless.
WINNER: LYING IN THE GUTTERS
I've never quite understood the idea of asking the readers who their favourite editors are because they have no first-hand experience of what the editors bring to the books. Likewise, freelancers tend to only work with one or two at a time, but we get pretty reliable word of mouth from our friends and I think the following choices are pretty accurate. Basically, Bob Schreck, Axel Alonso and Ralph Macchio were the most impressive editors of 2002. Schreck, despite having a scary German name, was responsible for DC's three strongest books this year (Dark Knight Strikes Again, Green Arrow and the Loeb and Lee Batman coup). Axel made Banner, The Hulk, X-Statix and Cage (what the fuck?) pretty much my favourite reads of the last twelve months. But Macchio delivered the biggest punch of them all with four little titles in his Ultimate line being responsible for a rumoured 30% of the industry's total sales this month. Besides (ahem) Ultimates, pretty much all these books ship on time too and they're critically well-received. Add to this the fact that his team also edit Alias and you have a pretty convincing argument for The Italian.
WINNER: RALPH MACCHIO
It's no coincidence that I've been working with five of what I consider to be the six best artists in the industry over the last eighteen months. I stalk these guys like I'm Mark friggin' Chapman and keep them around with an expensive diet of coke and lady-boys. Therefore, if you think for one PICO-SECOND that I'm going alienate any of my art-bitches by choosing one over the others then I'm afraid that you, sir, are out of your tiny fucking mind. Choosing between Bryan Hitch, John Cassaday, Adam Kubert, Andy Kubert, Frank Quitely and Chris Bachalo is like choosing between a titty-fuck from Brian Bendis or a hand-job from Mister Alan Moore. In a nutshell; NOT ADVISABLE.
WINNER: ME (FOR DUPING THEM INTO WORKING WITH ME FOR ONE MORE YEAR)
Again, very tricky. We always like to think comics were better in the past, but they were, for the most part, bollox an awful of the time. For every Kree-Skrull War and Dark Phoenix Saga, we had twelve issues of Spider-Man fighting The Baboon and Superman touching-up Lois in his Super-mobile. We always had a couple of great writers in any given period, but a very large number of mediocre ones too. Unlike today, where I genuinely feel that we've never had such an enormous ratio of seriously talented people working on a relatively small number of books; which clearly bodes well for the industry and is why we're experiencing the early stages of this ludicrous upswing which is going to make comic-store owners the dot-com billionaires of the year 2006. Like I said, a HUGE number of good writers around at the moment, the cream of the crop being Brian Bendis, Warren Ellis, Pete Milligan, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Kevin Smith, Azzarello and Mark Waid. It's difficult to choose because they all have their particular strengths, but I have to go for that mini-Kingpin Bendis for his consistency, his output and his ridiculous bloody quality in the face of four monthly books and a new baby Bendis to deal with.
WINNER: BRIAN BENDIS
As mentioned earlier, weigh up my opinion that I'm friends with the guys who run Marvel and have had an acrimonious couple of years with certain figures at DC Comics. That said, I think I've been pretty fair about this by detaching myself from the personalities involved and just looking at the output. DC has had a MUCH better year than 2001. I know their sales are still floating in the toilet, but the spikes have been significant and, for the first time since 2000, I can smell excitement from their line again. Dark Knight Strikes Again, The Flash, Green Arrow, Batman, Y The Last Man, Garth's Vertigo projects and some of the line-up for 2003 sounds like Schreck combined with DC-VP Dan DiDio might be their best hope of getting into the ring with Bill and Joe once again. But will the conservative forces in management hold them back? Bear in mind that this is the company who bought Jim Lee's brilliantly innovative little line back in 2000 to gain market dominance overnight, but eroded that majority within twelve months, turning Wildstorm into Mildstorm; Thundercats and Fundamentalist Christian comics where we used to have The Authority.
By contrast, Marvel needs to be in the money-making game to survive and, for Bill and Joe, all publicity is good publicity. Like DC back in 1986, the creators are encouraged to go wild and gain maximum exposure and there's a lot of people out there rising to the challenge. X-Statix, New X-Men, Ultimate X-Men, The Ultimates, Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate Adventures, The Punisher, Alias, Daredevil, the Hulk, Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker, Cage, Banner, Fantastic Four, The Avengers and some books I've undoubtedly forget are all being published every month. This is a fucking awesome line-up of material when you consider that they're all on the shelves every four weeks and not simply part of some overview of the decade. Marvel's monthly books have NEVER been this consistently good. Not at any time in the company's history and for this, as well as pulling Marvel's ass from red into black in the last quarter of 2002, Bill and Joe by far deserve the prize here. Like the radicalism that inspired DC when they rebooted their line in the late 1980s, we should just sit back and enjoy this little period of excellence before the inevitable drug-busts, suicides, Hollywood contracts and nervous breakdowns of all concerned.
PLEASE NOTE: As you may have noticed, I've been ludicrously modest throughout this column and failed to mention that Ultimate X-Men, The Ultimates, Ultimate War and Mark Millar (me) are all wonderful choices for Best Book, Best Mini, Nest New Comic, Best Writer, etc, in all the awards and polls which kick-start in the New Year. I didn't really mean it when I chose Bendis, Macchio, etc. I was really just being nice and hoping you'd feel sorry for me. In fact, fuck all those guys mentioned above. Most of them have shelves FULL of awards whereas I've only got four (two of which are British and therefore meaningless). Just vote for me.