In response to Friday's post on the quality of superhero comics, a few names were brought up. And it's not a bad list at all, actually. In fact, you're going to find most of them on my own upcoming Best-of list for 2008.* Still, are they really good enough to fulfill the criteria?
To restate the challenge: Are there any pop comics writers whose recent work you think was so good that it's up to literary standards? So great that it absolutely has to appear on any self-respecting Best-Comics-of-the-Year list? Are there any recent pop comics works that weren't just entertaining, but also offered genuinely profound truths and insights? In other words, are there any recent works that transcend their given genre, like, say, The Sopranos or The Shield or Deadwood do?
(Of course, this begs the question whether the non-genre books that are on those lists fulfill these criteria. Since I didn't read any of them, I'm the wrong guy to be talking about that, though. Maybe next year. More well-read and thoughtful critics and reviewers like Dick Hyacinth or Douglas Wolk or Sean T. Collins or Tom Spurgeon might be able to answer that one, though.)
Now, before I'm going through the names that are mentioned in the comments section, I should say I'm aware that I was talking about superhero comics last week; those were the subject of the Blog@Newsarama essay I was responding to. On reflection, though, I guess it makes sense to expand the discussion to "pop comics" (or "genre comics," if you prefer) in general. First up, it's obviously not like superheroes is the only pop genre that seems to be absent from most "serious" Best-Comics-of-2008 lists. Second, for all intents and purposes, the people who make crime, espionage, sci-fi, horror, etc. comics largely seem to be the same ones that make superhero comics, anyway.
But now, let's look at some of the names that were dropped.
Grant Morrison: Well, yes, he's the one I was referring to - the one writer working in North American pop comics I could think of to whose work I would assign the adjective "literary" without hesitation. Not all of his work, mind you. I'm really only talking about All Star Superman here, as far as 2008 is concerned. And before that, maybe Seven Soldiers? As far as Final Crisis and Batman are concerned, I'm reserving judgment until they're done. "Batman RIP," at any rate, really did have a rubbish ending (if any ending at all, so far), so it's out of the race as a separate story.
Peter Milligan: When he's on form, Milligan comes close, probably. I think some of the better Human Target and X-Force/X-Statix stories might make the grade. The only things I've read by him this year, however, are a few issues of Infinity Inc. and the Moon Knight: Silent Knight special from a couple of weeks ago; both of which were much better than the average dross, granted. But they're also pretty light stuff and not free of flaws, either. I wouldn't insist they deserve spots on any general Best-Comics-of-2008 list by any stretch. Am I missing something more substantial Milligan's done lately?
Garth Ennis: My exposure to Ennis was limited to Dan Dare this year, and while I liked that book tremendously, it's not what I would call profound. I didn't follow The Boys or The Punisher or anything else he did this year, though, so maybe those were better. Overall, though, I don't recall reading anything particularly insightful from Ennis recently.
Ed Brubaker: I consider Brubaker the most consistent, most polished genre writer in American comics right now, and I can't think of any other comic besides Daredevil or Criminal or Captain America of which I enjoyed more issues more thoroughly this year. Even so, I would shy away from asserting that those books offer the kind of literary insight I regard as obligatory from anything on a general Best-Comics-of-the-Year list. Thinking of Brubaker and "literary," I can only come up with Sleeper. But hey, that's something, I guess. (Yes, I've read Brubaker's Uncanny X-Men. The less said of that one, the better. The Immortal Iron Fist is on top of my stack - hopefully I'll get around to it in time for my own Best-of-2008 thing.)
Warren Ellis: No, no, no. I don't think so. Doktor Sleepless has been Ellis' most ambitious comics work this year, probably. But, honestly, it's not his best by a long shot, and it would need to be to make the grade, where I'm concerned. Black Summer and particularly Thunderbolts were fun, but certainly not literary. He was on a roll last year with Nextwave and Fell and Thunderbolts and Crécy, where good pop comics are concerned, but this year has seemed like a retreat for Ellis, and his output not what I consider prime-list material by a long shot. But then, I didn't read everything he's done. Did I just miss the good stuff? No Hero, maybe? Or Newuniversal? Aetheric Mechanics? Ultimate Human? Any good, any of them?
Matt Fraction: Casanova comes very close, I have to admit. Call me crazy, but I genuinely think it's the best thing to happen to Anglo-American comics since Watchmen. I still find it too rough and haphazard for a genuine masterpiece, however; the ingredients are all there, but they're not refined enough. And, unfortunately, since Fraction's priority right now - much like Brubaker's - seem to be solid but largely unambitious things like Invincible Iron Man, I wonder whether he'll ever fulfill the promise inherent to those first fourteen issues of Casanova. I can understand why it's happening: A lot of these guys have families to support and Marvel offers a solid paycheck. I would do the same, probably, under the circumstances. It's still a bit of a shame, though.
Jason Aaron: Wolverine, Scalped, Black Panther - all very solid and entertaining genre work, certainly, but not more. Which is almost disappointing in the case of Scalped, by the way, since everybody keeps hyping it like it's the second coming of Christ. Is it a good crime series? Absolutely. Is it as good as, say, The Sopranos? Well, not exactly, so let's all calm down for a second. Aaron's Ghost Rider - yes, let me say that again, because it's so weird and unusual for me to speak these words: his Ghost Rider! - I just love to pieces for the mad, cocky, blasphemous hellride of a comic that it is. But, you know, to be perfectly honest? I'd much rather see Aaron come up with something that builds on his 2007 trailblazer The Other Side. Once he does, let's talk again, okay?
Okay, this is getting longish, so I'll have to come back to it later this week. In the meantime, I'd like to thank everyone for their thoughtful comments; they're much appreciated.
* Which, I hasten to add, will not presume to be anything but a list of the best new pop comics I have read this year, so put away the knives.