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Jason Schachat was bitten by a radioactive Baby New Year.
Now he has big ears.
Jason Schachat's Year-End Breakdown
Top Ten Comics (and MORE!) of 2004

Each week, Jason Schachat takes you along for his ride on the four-colored pulp pony. Feed the addiction, and the addiction feeds you.

Another year come and gone… let’s make a top ten list!

Now, before I start, let’s say the criteria for this was based on an old Howard Hawks method for rating good movies. We were looking for books that had three great issues and no bad ones. Naturally, any comic that did better than that scored higher.

Also, I fully acknowledge that there may be some great books out there I never got around to reading, but this is the best I can do without breaking off all human contact (believe me, I tried).

If you disagree with any choices, just say so on our forums!

Top 10 Ongoing Comic Series of 2004

The Spring thaw is going to suck.
1. The Walking Dead
Of course, it just had to be this one, didn’t it? I’ve made it well known that The Walking Dead has had me hooked from the start, so this probably shouldn’t come as any surprise. Fact of the matter is I never expected a zombie comic to work for me, much less have me wrapped around its finger.

What Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard, and their team have done is nothing short of a miracle. At a time when horror comics are expected to have bloodspray and monsters on every page, The Walking Dead has taken us back to the roots of the genre and shown us exactly what we were missing.

The Walking Dead Volume 1: Days Gone Bye

The Walking Dead Volume 2: Miles Behind Us

2. She-Hulk
There’s a popular wisdom that up and coming comic creators make their mark by reviving B-list characters with complete re-imaginings. Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Frank Miller’s Daredevil, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman have changed the idea of revival into major expansion of the character and their universe.

This year, we got that from Dan Slott, Juan Bobillo, and Paul Pelletier’s She-Hulk—but it was funny, too! I can only guess that its initial purpose was to compete with DC’s Plastic Man, but the title managed to rise well above that, coloring smart storytelling with humor and enough references to keep Marvel encyclopedists drooling for years. It looks to be wrapping up soon, but keep your eyes peeled for the next volume already in the works.

She-Hulk: Single Green Female

She-Hulk Volume 2: Superhuman Law

3. Ex Machina
Brian K. Vaughan has put out more quality product this year than any writer should be allowed to. Ex Machina tops this list for its perfect blend of smart story, political lessons, sly humor, and superheroics. Add Tony Harris’ eye-popping art into the mix, and you’ve got the book that’ll do for comics what The West Wing did for television.

This title didn’t even run through the full year and buzz about it has been practically non-stop. Like Vaughan’s other original books, it seems to be built so it could end at any moment, thus allowing for a complete story even if low sales take it out. But every issue has been a winner, and the future’s looking very bright for Mr. Vaughan, indeed.

Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days - Volume 1

I admit it -- I still miss Supergirl.
4. Fallen Angel
Peter David broke a lot of hearts with his recent run on Captain Marvel, but I think we can all agree he redeemed himself with his work on Fallen Angel. David’s been fond of bringing noir back to comics, and this title has been dripping with it. However, unlike so many other writers’ attempts to ape Frank Miller, he’s played it with a soft touch, more Casablanca than Kiss Me Deadly.

With David Lopez on art duties, the book has fleshed out the most fascinating DCU city since The Golden Age. The mystery is enthralling, the characters deliciously complex, and the plot keeps wrapping us around David’s little finger.

Fallen Angel

5. Conan
This is the one people were talking about all year long. The book that made the Conan franchise cool again by being more Conan than ever (Savage Sword enthusiasts, please direct the hate mail to Derek -- no, no, that's all right -- Jason accepts hate mail - Derek). We all knew good things could be on the way with Kurt Busiek at the helm, but who would’ve thought they’d find the perfect artist in Carey Nord?

Schwarzenegger may have killed off all hopes of a final Conan film, but, frankly, who needs him when we’re getting it this good? This is the Cimmerian barbarian the way he was intended to be: roughly hewn, relying on his wits as much as the sword, and wholly undiluted by market trends. These are the things that are best in life…

Conan Volume 1: The Frost Giant's Daughter And Other Stories

6. Gotham Central
Yes, the best “Bat-book” doesn’t feature Batman. It’s not about his young charges, superhero allies, or nemeses, either. But, damn, does it work. Somehow, Gotham always seems like a richer tapestry to work on than Metropolis or most other comic cities. The rotating teams on Gotham Central have used that to make what could simply be Law and Order: Gotham into an identifiable cop drama with a twist.

This year saw both small and large stories gracing the series, but probably the greatest achievement was managing to avoid the entire “War Games” crossover, yet still incorporating the fallout into Gotham Central’s history. It’s got just the right amount of grit to sell without being a Daredevil clone or another attempt at a grim eighties Bat-book.

Gotham Central: In the Line of Duty

7. Hard Time
I never thought the DC Focus line had a chance. I was right, but, wow, was I wrong about Hard Time. This series keeps you coming back every month. I’ve tried describing it as a nice OZ or a dark The Shawshank Redemption, but it almost defies description. The insertion of a super-powered boy into a maximum security prison almost sounds like a recipe for disaster. It isn’t.

Steve Gerber took a setting and situation that could be old hat and made it fresh and invigorating. Brian Hurtt’s pencil gives every line just the amount of softness to keep the prison from overpowering readers, and the overall production is spot-on. If there were more room, I definitely would have put this higher up the list.

Hard Time : 50 to Life

8. Fables
Fables suffered from a lack of momentum in the earlier part of this year, but culminated a massive arc with some huge payoffs. Fabletown has been turned completely upside down, now that readers have had time to fully absorb this world and its rules, and we can expect some more big happenings in 2005.

Bill Willingham put a lot on his plate doing this along with so much of the “War Games” crossover, but he managed to keep Fables aloft even as efforts on the Bat-books met with mixed results. All I ask for are more supplementary oneshots like Fables: The Last Castle.

9. Sleeper
Ah, the title that both got on this list for being multi-volume AND was knocked down the list for the same reason. Season One ended with such a phenomenal bang, I couldn’t deny it a mention, but Season Two started too late and with too little excitement for me to put it higher up the list. No doubt, things will improve.

Nevertheless, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips deserve a big wet one for sweeping the loose elements of the Wildstorm Universe into a neat pile and playfully stomping on them. Tao may have been a fun bastard towards the end of his WildC.A.T.s stint, but this interpretation is even more predatory than Alan Moore’s evil test tube baby was. Oh, and the hero’s good, too.

Sleeper - Volume 1 : Out in the Cold

Sleeper - Volume 2 : All False Moves

10. Y: The Last Man
Expected me to put this one higher up the list, after all the praise I’ve showered it with? So did I, but, fair is fair, and Y started the year with a whimper before kicking it into high gear during the midseason. We had some growth and soul-searching, but it almost seemed like the series forgot what it was doing for a moment.

Yet the strong writing of Brian K. Vaughan got him yet another spot on the list. Even when Y was idling, there was a lingering feeling that it could jolt to life at any moment. And it did. The return of artist Pia Guerra brought the series back to the familiar standard we all know and love, and Y is looking sweet as ever.

Runners-up (in alphabetical order)

Yes -- Loki is really Peter's father!
Amazing Spider-Man
People may have hated a lot of the developments this past year, but I have to admit that JMS did shake things up. Will it end up being for the better? Who knows; it was enough to make me consider it for the best list.

Astonishing X-Men
Here’s the book that re-invented the X-Men yet again by taking a good stinky look at the Claremont/Byrne years. I would’ve put it on the list, but the progression was just a bit too slow, despite John Cassaday’s phenomenal art.

Fantastic Four
If ever a comic deserved groupies, it was Mark Waid and Mark Weiringo’s run on Fantastic Four. Unfortunately, this year wasn’t entirely run by that team.

‘Cause Robert Kirkman made us love superheroes again, but he could’ve done it better.

Marvel Knights Spider-Man
It’s ending soon, but let’s give it one last hurrah for kidnapping Aunt May, retiring Venom and making The Scorpion rock our world again.

Plastic Man
My, what a wonderful series… So funny, so witty, and so appropriate to the character. If not for a few missteps and a lack of overall plot (brought on by the initial plan to do a miniseries), this would’ve ruled my world.

We started the year with a bad arc, but, otherwise, this would’ve been on the top ten. It got cancelled, and it STILL went out with a bang. Volume 2 looks very promising…

Ultimate Spider-Man
We love Bendis. We really do. The consistency and cleverness of this series is one of the reasons why.

Rucka gave him back his humanity, then Millar took away his heroism. Oh, that’s fun!

Wonder Woman
Like a DCU version of Ex Machina, the new adventures of Diana put the political and public life of the hero before the private and heroic. It works really well, but the pacing just wasn’t up to the competition.

Top 3 Comic Mini-Series of 2004

Hal Jordan thanks Geoff Johns for fixing his reputation.
1. DC: The New Frontier
This mini-series cost an arm and a leg, but it was well worth it. For perhaps the first time, we got to see the Silver Age through modern eyes without having to worry about gross interpretations or candy-coated nostalgia. This one hit the mark and currently marks the pinnacle of Darwyn Cooke’s career.

2. WE3
I haven’t even read the last issue of WE3, and I have to put it on the list. This was simply brilliant execution of a pure, simple story, The Incredible Journey gone cybernetic. Even sans ending, it was probably the most affecting read I had all year.

3. Identity Crisis
I’ve moaned, I’ve wailed, and now I’m giving some credit where credit’s due. Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales pulled off the best crossover of the year, and they changed the status quo. “X-Men Reload” was anything but, “Avengers Disassembled” was too much so, and “War Games” just wasn’t much fun. This one shook things up and gave us a thrill; you have to respect that.

Top 3 Comic Maxi-Series of 2004

1. Caper
Damn, did Judd Winick have some fun this year. On top of making over Batman, Green Arrow, and Outsiders in his own style, he put out one of the sweetest maxi-series we’ve seen in a long time. Told in three parts, it delivered even on the thoroughly unpromising “modern” chapter with a sense of wicked glee. If you missed out on this… man, I feel sorry for you.

2. Love Fights
I had to take this one down a few notches since it ended during the middle of the year, but I REALLY wanted to put it with the ongoing series. Sadly, the fickle market and Andi Watson’s keen mind didn’t allow Love Fights to last beyond twelve issues. I doubt there’s ever been such a well done love story with superheroes as a backdrop before, but, then again, I don’t think there’s much reason to even try finding another.

3. Demo
It took me a while to catch up on the rest of Demo but it was worth the hours spent rifling through bins and hounding clerks. In retrospect, I should’ve waited for the Trade Paperback, but then I couldn’t put it one this list! Granted, it may be hard for some to find this indie, but it’s well worth it. The single issue stories deal with superpowers in such creative ways, you’ll wonder why we’re still reading the same old books about strong guys who can fly.

Jason Schachat

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