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Top 10 Best Of Comics 2001, Part 1

CINESCAPE looks back at comics in the year we didn't make contact

By Arnold T. Blumberg     December 29, 2001


Direct market cover to THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN #1
© 2001 DC Comics
OK, so 2001 didn't exactly herald the arrival of a mysterious alien Monolith or the beginning of the next stage in human evolution, but for comic book fans, and Marvelites in particular, there was an Earth-moving moment of revelation and a joy no less cosmic in scope. Joe Quesada completed his first year as Marvel's latest Editor-in-Chief this fall - just as the company was celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Marvel Universe - and in the space of those twelve months he re-energized the House of Ideas and spearheaded the release of some of the best material the publisher has offered in years, from the long awaited origin of Wolverine to the new mature readers line, MAX. Hey, he brought Howard the Duck back with Steve Gerber at the helm! The man deserves canonization!

But it wasn't all about Marvel this year (although press coverage, including my own, may paint a different picture). DC too was continuing to hold its number one position, although its weak summer crossover event, "Our Worlds at War," failed to grab readers (apart from one particular issue, ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #596). Fortunately, the 60th anniversary of Wonder Woman and Kevin Smith's GREEN ARROW balanced the scales. And if the Big Two weren't enough for you, Image and Top Cow were pushing forward with groundbreaking titles from creators like J. Michael Straczynski and Brian Michael Bendis, and Dark Horse expanded its fan-friendly line of STAR WARS and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER tie-in comics, partly with the help of Buffy's own progenitor, Joss Whedon (although a similar spate of PLANET OF THE APES projects fizzled pretty quickly).

Certainly one of the biggest success stories outside of the "Big Three" (Marvel, DC and Image for the uninitiates) was CrossGen. The Florida publisher that could created a full-fledged fictional universe from scratch in the last couple years, attracted many high-powered creators with its studio style environment and shipped every book on time. Beyond the fringe, independent comics and series from other publishers that often slip under the radar charged valiantly ahead, with Terry Moore turning out some spectacular work in STRANGERS IN PARADISE, Mark Crilley delighting readers of all ages with AKIKO, and Dave Sim trudging closer to the #300 mark with CEREBUS. There was controversy as well, with Sim himself at the center of a brouhaha concerning his many bizarre editorial comments in the pages of his series. Marvel's seemingly bold move of dropping the Comics Code also garnered a substantial amount of coverage and debate in fan circles, and the continued fallout from the mistreatment of classic comic book creators like the late Dan DeCarlo (who was unceremoniously fired from Archie Comics for daring to ask for compensation, having done them a tiny service like creating Josie and the Pussycats) generated countless conversations in the pages of the comic book press and on the web.

Ah yes, the web. If there's one thing that has forever altered the comic book industry, it's the Internet, particularly in the areas of commerce and collecting. For those who treat comics as commodities, the web has introduced a whole new way of buying, selling, and trading the precious four-color treasures, opening new markets and expanding the distribution of comics and comic book stories (one hopes) to all areas of the world. While the collecting aspect of the industry sometimes (oh, let's be honest, always) overshadows the accomplishments of talented creators pushing the boundaries of the medium, there was little doubt that comics seem to be on the road to recovery. CINESCAPE invites you to take a look back, celebrating some of the events, issues and people who made 2001 such a stellar year for comics.

Marvel Comics' FANTASTIC FOUR

#10) THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN - Perhaps one of the most anticipated announcements in comics (second only to the long rumored and now scheduled JLA/Avengers team-up, to be written by Kurt Busiek and illustrated by George Perez) was the return of Frank Miller to the Dark Knight himself, Batman. THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS made history, thrust the medium into the mainstream spotlight, and cursed the superhero genre with countless "grim and gritty" knock-offs for years to come. Now promising a kinder, gentler Dark Knight, Miller has crafted a sequel to one of the most celebrated superhero stories of all time. THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN #1 has already made sales history - but will it leave its mark on posterity?

Wonder Woman as illustrated by writer/artist Phil Jimenez

#9) Wonder Woman at 60 - She's long suffered a bit of gender discrimination; Hell, she started out as the Justice Society's secretary in 1941, and she was an Amazon warrior for Hippolyta's sake! But Wonder Woman, sometimes known as Diana Prince, is one of the Big Three in the DC Universe and one of the most enduring and recognizable pop culture icons in comics. She serves as a shining example of our most cherished ideals - honor, courage, intellect, and beauty - all wrapped up in one golden, star-spangled package. Long considered a role model for female readers, Wonder Woman should be seen (as current writer Phil Jimenez asserts) as a role model for all readers regardless of gender, age, or ethnic background. She's a beacon of hope and a symbol of freedom and justice. After 60 years in the hero business, she doesn't look a day older than when she first arrived in the world of Man. Now that's a wonder.

The Fantastic Four celebrate 50 issues...again...in a "'Nuff Said" special.

#8) THE FANTASTIC FOUR at 40 - With a poorly planned trip into space to "beat the Commies," Reed Richards, his pilot Ben Grimm, Reed's girlfriend Sue Storm and her hotheaded brother Johnny, left the Earth for a date with destiny. Plummeting back to the surface in that first issue back in 1961, the four adventurers found themselves altered forever by cosmic rays, and naturally their first inclination was to band together to protect the innocent and battle against injustice. The Fantastic Four, and indeed the Marvel Age of Comics and a whole new way of telling superhero stories, was born in a flash of rocket exhaust and a burst of radiation. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Fantastic Four introduced a spark of real humanity to superhero storytelling. The first hundred issues are some of the finest tales ever told in the genre, and the team remains a potent force in the annals of comic book literature. Even their arch-enemy Doctor Doom would have to agree.

Yes, this doesn't seem like an even break in the list, but nevertheless, next time we proceed with #7 down to the top moment of comics in 2001!

TO BE CONTINUED

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