So here is where it all begins, the First Annual Nexus Awards. We start them the first Monday after the Golden Globes so as to not eclipse either major movie award shows as we know how testy those celebrities get when comics steal the spotlight from movies (and, in the case of the Globes, TV).
Before we begin, just a couple of things to bear in mind. First, these were voted on by the Nexus staff and, using an archaic and mind boggling scoring rubric created by the dearly departed Ben Morse, the votes were tabulated and champions were crowned. If a work you loved does not make the list, it is not because we hate you. We do hate you, but it is an event that is independent of this voting system.
We invited creators to offer “acceptance speeches” this year and many of them took us up on it. If your favorite creator does not comment, it is for one of these few reasons: we could not find any way of contacting them or they were simply too busy entertaining all of us to find the time to respond. Either way, no slight intended from either side.
Our commentaries are offered in italics, acceptance speeches in green. We’ll be running these babies all week so commit that code to memory.
In the case of this award, Best Limited Series of 2004, the majority of the series needed to occur in 2004. This means that it could have started in 2003 or being finished in 2005, but so long as the majority of it took place in ’04, it was allowed to be considered.
Best Limited Series
1.) DC: THE NEW FRONTIER
(by Darwyn Cooke)
The thematic sequel to “The Golden Age”, New Frontier is a masterpiece. Silver Age icons Barry Allen and Hal Jordan truly shine in a story set in the era they were conceived in. Martian Manhunter also gets an amazing portrayal. Darwyn Cooke’s thoroughly researched miniseries also deserves credit for introducing the issue of race into the DCU’s Silver Age. It’s an amazing read that truly captures the voice, look and feel of a bygone era.
The New Frontier was Darwyn Cooke’s one-man love letter to comics; if you’ve ever picked up a comic book and been in awe, been a kid again, gotten lost in the magic and the wonder, New Frontier was everything good about comic books.
These were our Silver Age champions stripped down to their essentials and presented at their finest. Superman as the unquestioning believer in the American way and the nigh unstoppable force for good; Wonder Woman as the beautiful warrior who could hit as hard or drink as long as any man; Batman as the dark and intimidating avenger of the night. They weren’t burdened by years of continuity or needless tethers of realism, they were DC’s icons at their most iconic, as their creators imagined them.
But it wasn’t the big three that made New Frontier what it was, it was the bit players of the Silver Age that provided the most heartfelt pieces of the tapestry. The fearless sacrifice of The Losers; the rough-hewed patriotism of Rick Flag; the devil may care escapism of the Challengers of the Unknown; the no nonsense butt-kicking of Slam Bradley; it was these oft-overlooked lesser icons that made New Frontier both epic and human at the same time.
And Cooke could not have chosen two better narrators than the two men who in so many ways embody the Silver Age: J’onn J’onzz and Hal Jordan.
If there is ever another series or mini-series for The Martian Manhunter, I nominate Darwyn Cooke as the writer; the childlike innocence, fear and curiosity of one of the most powerful heroes in the DCU was possibly the best portrayal I have ever seen of the character. I felt his joy at the discovery of television, his terror when Batman lit that match, but, most of all, his drive and passion to do right by his adopted home; these are the things that have made J’onn J’onzz a benchmark of the DCU for almost half a century.
People have always had a fascination with Hal Jordan I’ve never quite understood; I mean, I’ve always liked him well enough, but never seen him as some sort of patron saint of all things good in comics, but I think New Frontier brought me as close as I can come to understanding the obsession. When we’re kids, we all like to think we’re invincible, but Hal Jordan never quite grew up. In the New Frontier, with his unbreakable spirit, his boundless enthusiasm and his refusal to do wrong, I saw why so many fans see Hal Jordan not only as the one true Green Lantern, but also as the definition of the word hero.
And, of course, as a major Flash fan, I loved issue number two, devoted to Barry Allen, the fallen Scarlet Speedster in all his glory. Barry the nerd, Barry the square, and Barry the stalwart hero with the coolest power of all who still gets the girl.
Through the eyes of all these characters and more, we saw an adventure of epic proportions unfold and human men and women dance with gods. It was Silver Age heroics, Silver Age scale, told with a modern intelligence and sensibility. No need for labels like “Elseworlds” or anything else, DC: The New Frontier was just good, nothing else needs to be said.
2. Identity Crisis
(by Brad Meltzer & Rags Morales)
“Needless to say, Identity Crisis has been something I’ve waited my whole life to do. Like all of us, I used to sit around with my friends, hunched over a comic saying, “Y’know what would be cool…?” So thanks to all the readers out there who shouted back, “Yeah, that would be cool.”
-Writer Brad Meltzer
What do you say about a book that is vying for change in an industry that fears it? As a non-DC guy, I was initially tentative to pick up Crisis, mainly because I didn’t want to get involved in learning each of these characters’ involved histories.
What I was given instead was a book that by the second issue, I understood the motivations and beliefs of as many of the characters I had met. When a writer has you feeling for character’s whom you’ve just met, and upset at their losses – you know you have a winner.
Don’t forget to mention Rags Morales, who has taken these iconic characters and made their pain seem so much larger than life, but so real. If Meltzer gave us sympathy for these icons, it was Morales that made us empathize with them too.
Identity Crisis performed some amazing feats for the DCU. 1) It made the Calculator a viable villain. 2) It made Deathstroke even more of a threat. 3) It even allowed some humanity to creep into the DCU. It even managed to sidestep expectations by remaining true to the “mystery” form. One would be remise if they neglected to mention that there were cries of misogyny, that certainly bear some looking into. But at the end of the day fans may have lost Sue Dibny, but they gained much more, the least of which was a great story by Brad Meltzer with the spectacular art of Rags Morales and Michael Bair.
When news of this miniseries first broke, I commented in my column that I remained cautiously optimistic. It sounded good, but a few big “status quo changing” DC miniseries had sounded good to me in the past and they just never seemed to deliver. I said that I was hoping this one wouldn’t let me down. Meltzer was kind enough to drop me a line saying that mini would deliver on my expectations.
Guess what? The man is no liar.
ID Crisis unearthed secrets, exposed lies, and resolved problems in the DCU that I wouldn’t even had thought existed. It was smart, literate, and intensely engaging. Rags Morales proved that the potential he had displayed in Hourman and Hawkman was no apparition by offering up his best work to date. Even the much maligned Michael Turner created some excellent covers for the series.
The hype was huge and the story still delivered. How’s that for meeting expectations?
It was billed as the event that would shatter and change the DCU forever, proclaimed a story that would dwarf all others with its creative brilliance and even given the vaunted Crisis label…how could Identity Crisis possibly live up to the hype?
Ask Brad Meltzer, Rags Morales and the rest of the creative team, because it did.
I can’t possibly sum up how good Identity Crisis was in a few paragraphs, not even in a few pages. It was one of the most meticulously well-planned, shocking and emotional works of fiction, comic book or otherwise, I have ever read. Everything is truly different now; the Silver Age is not the bright shiny beacon of perfection we once thought it to be and neither are its heroes; the villains of the DCU are no longer a joke, they are a professional and organized brotherhood; and nobody, not friends, not family, can be trusted.
Just a few of the things I loved about Identity Crisis:
-It didn’t matter if you were a fan of the Silver Age Flash, Justice League Detroit, Justice League Europe, Formerly Known As The Justice League or if you had never heard of the character: by the end of Identity Crisis #1, Brad Meltzer had you caring about Sue Dibny like she was family. By the end of Identity Crisis #1, this Silver Age relic, this third tier supporting character, was one you couldn’t bear to part with. By the end of Identity Crisis #1, you cared about the relationship between Ralph & Sue Dibny; you saw why those few proud Elongated Man fans (I’m talking to you, Michael Hutchinson) regard the Dibnys as comics’ premier romance. Meltzer took you deep inside the Dibnys’ love affair and made Sue’s death hit you like a kick to the goodies in 22 pages; Identity Crisis #1 was the comic with the most bang for your buck of 2004.
-“and the Justice League will never be the same;” that phrase is tossed out at least once a year, but this time around, it was true. The beloved Satellite League, the most fondly remembered era of the JLA to many, did not make a clear good or bad decision when they altered the mind of Dr. Light and transformed him into a joke, it was one painted in a murky shade of gray, an act that can be praised as quickly as it is condemned. But after seeing the lengths to which these heroes were willing to go to, even Barry Allen, the bastion of Silver Age innocence, even at the expense of one of their most respected members, Batman, to walk that good intention-paved road, we can never view these classic heroes the same way again.
-Ok “sophisticated” new agey comic readers who will only read something if it’s put out by a company I’ve never heard of or written by somebody British, take a seat, because no matter how many talking head scenes you throw in my face to show me what comics “should be,” I will take this statement to my grave: the Deathstroke vs the Justice League battle royal kicked ASS!
-Jack Drake and Captain Boomerang: two loving fathers and two very different men. From the minute you saw the cover to Identity Crisis #5…heck, from the minute Jack was featured in the series, you knew his death was coming, but did it not still hit you as he embraced his son a final time and called out to him in his moment of desperation? And Captain Boomerang, the joke of the Rogues and the Suicide Squad, willing to risk anything to gain the love of his son (ironically, a love he already had), did he not go out in memorable fashion? I e-mailed Brad Meltzer to tell him how much I loved this issue despite knowing the outcome before reading and he responded with Hitchcock: “It’s not the bang of the gun, it’s the anticipation;” well said.
-And in the end…two women…two totally normal women. Jean Loring: a forgotten character everybody hated. Sue Dibny: everything Jean was not and everything we loved.
Nosy wives/girlfriends are the black sheep leftovers of the Silver Age; annoyances that have mostly been written out or killed off as comics became less formulaic (or in a few cases matured and evolved); who would have thought what ultimately boiled down to one of the most reviled of these irritants killing off one of the few beloved ones would be the impetus for the greatest murder story in modern comics and change the DCU forever? In the end, it was not flashy battles miles above the sky or hard hitting battles that defined Identity Crisis, it was one normal human being killing another; the oldest and most simple of murder stories, and in so many ways, still the most powerful.
Start to finish, panel to panel, from the most powerful and known characters to the most human and the most obscure, Identity Crisis was a triumph.
A classic whodunit told with superheroes in a sequential comic format, and it worked! With his second comic project Brad Meltzer proved himself to be one of the best in the industry. Identity Crisis has numerous classic moments, outstanding characterization, a death-toll with meaning, and repercussions that go beyond window dressing. The final revelation of the killer was surprising and made sense. Artistically, Rags Morales and Michael Bair gave the power of Brad Meltzer’s writing shape and depth. Without the amazing dual-contributions of writing and art, Identity Crisis would not have reached the level of greatness it did. This was one ultra-hyped event-comic that met all expectations.
3. Secret War
(by Brian Michael Bendis & Gabrielle D’ell Otto)
Remember back in the day when you would own countless books that had ‘SECRET WAR CONTINUED IN THIS ISSUE’ in that upper right corner. This went on for years with SWII and has been parodied quite a few times. Well, Bendis & D’ell Otto want you to enjoy a new kind of Secret War.
From the minute they disclose that it’s an unknown who is funding these high-tech supervillains – you smack your forehead and ask ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ and that in and of itself is the sign of a good hook. Toss in some of the biggest hitters in the Marvel Universe, and you are well on your way to telling a great story.
Much like ID Crisis, Secret War answered questions that I hadn’t ever even thought to ask. And did so in a way that made me think, “Wow, that makes perfect sense.”
Bendis brought together some of his favorite characters to tell the story and his love of them shines through. Spidey, DD, Cage, Jessica Jones, Fury, Cap, Wolvie, etc all have distinctive voices that make them come alive on the page.
D’ell Otto’s painted artwork looks better with each issue, the supervillains storming the hospital scene standing out as the visual highlight of the series (and one of the highlights of the year). It doesn’t hurt that he is painting some of Marvel’s brightest stars and most dangerous villains, either.
4. The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty
I am both surprised, and happy to see this book reach so high on the list. Its art style is non-standard. It’s storytelling is also non-standard. It is, though, a great book that deserves every bit of praise that it can rally. In a time when western stories generally get ignored, Ballad has done it’s best to keep it’s head above the pack – and done it well.
The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty has been pitch perfect, thus far. It’s not often in this day-and-age that we are treated to a well-told western in any popular medium, let alone comic books. While it has an old west setting, The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty can’t be pigeon-holed in any one genre. Simply, this is one of the best westerns, fairy tales, and action-adventure stories that have come out of the comic world in a long time.
Gabriel Benson’s weaving a rousing tale with unique characters across a grand tapestry set against the backdrop of the old west. Topping off any well written comic is fine artwork. Mike Hawthorne is keeping up with Gabriel Benson’s fast-paced story at every turn. The world Hawthorne’s created is visually fantastic, and one I’m thrilled to gawk at every month. The covers by Jeff Amano set the tone for each and every issue, and for a true comic rarity, actually give a “picture” of what to expect inside.
Cover-to-cover this has been one of the finest books all year. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
5. Common Grounds
(by Troy Hickman, Dan Jurgens & various)
The only bad thing about this series was that we knew from issue one that it would have to come to a conclusion. There was not one bad story in the lot and I hope that we can see a regular monthly series based on this book sometime in the near future.
Having been a manager of a coffeehouse for a few years – and knowing the kind of drama that the regulars bring in, Common Grounds is probably the closest I will ever know to being a superhero. Each of the stories had their own vibe, their own feeling, like each of the people that step into a place like that.
I look forward to more stories from the Common Grounds folks – as there is an unlimited amount of potential in their idea.
Common Grounds featured some of my favorite moments in comics this year. The most beautiful and poignant story that I’ve ever read (“Glory Days”) appeared in issue #4 of this six-issue anthology. This book is equal parts “Astro City”, “Seinfeld”, and Dunkin Donuts. Troy Hickman writing managed to reinvent the wheel in terms of writing for superheroes. He creates characters who seem as ear as the person next to you in the checkout line a the supermarket. He’s joined by a cadre of artists ( Perez, Pacheco, Bachalo, Van Scriver, Keith, and Oeming) as well as regular penciler Dan Jurgens. This was my favorite miniseries of the year.
It took me a few months to pick this miniseries up, but when I did, I was floored. Superhero stories are quite redundant in many cases these days. Books like Astro City, and now Common Grounds, which feature different characters all the time, are often far more engaging than the mainstream characters that have been through everything, a thousand times. Common Grounds uses the backdrop of a coffee shop to tell some of the most brilliant, character-centered superhero stories you’ll find today. Troy Hickman and a cast of the top artists in the industry made the Common Grounds miniseries a feast for the eyes and the mind.
(by Todd Nauck)
When my Wednesday comes around, I will sift through my pile of comics and pick one or two to read right then and there. It’s kind of a reward for a day well survived. The rest get put back into the bag to enjoy the next day on my commute. Wildguard is historically the only book that I would read once at night – and then once in the morning.
I watched online as the polls for ‘who the fans voted in” was cast.
I, too, made quite a few votes (for Wannabe, who didn’t make the cut sadly). It ranks as one of my favorite concept books of all time – and I look forward to its next incarnation.
A reality TV show with super-heroes…it’s one of those great ideas you can’t believe somebody didn’t come up with sooner. But you know what, it’s a good thing somebody didn’t come up with it sooner, because it’s unlikely they could have done the concept anywhere the near justice done by Todd Nauck with Wildguard.
It wasn’t enough that Todd created dozens of original characters exclusively for this series all on his own, he also decided to write, draw and produce Wildguard all on his own, perhaps the most impressive Herculean effort of 2004.
Wildguard was a fun, clever series that could appeal to readers of all ages and fans of multiple genres. Each character was fleshed out and interesting, making the plot thread of who made the cut more than just a cheap gimmick, you were actually invested in who would make up the team. The characters ranged from multi-layered starlets (Ignacia and Four) to lovable scrappers (Red Rover and Lily Hammer) to fun gimmicks (Wannabe and Travel Agent) to much much more.
And of course the art was fantastic.
It would have been easy for Todd Nauck to half ass it and put out a decent but forgettable body of work based around a surefire gimmick, but he did far more than that: he created an enjoyable and intelligent comic book that demonstrated his tremendous effort and love for what he was doing. We haven’t seen the last of Wildguard and that’s good news for everybody.
Anyone here like the Twilight Zone? How about The Other Side? DC’S Elseworlds?
Finally, Marvel gives us a book that can sit proudly with those names. It has been so long since the House of Ideas attempted to take their heroes and cast them in different worlds (not counting the Ultimate universe). The result was a story that made you a little confused, a little hesitant to where it was going, but riveted all the same.
Marvel may have brought us a fifth week style What If…event a few weeks ago, but the real rebirth of the format in the Marvel U. began right here. In a world disturbingly similar and yet far too different to the superhero universe we were used to, we watched as Matt Murdock locked horns (pardon the pun) with the Kingpin again, with far worse results. We saw Peter Parker succeed where Spider-Man was never able to. We witnessed Frank Castle nearly escape his past pain only to be derailed by yet another tragic death. We observed Logan unravel the secrets of his past, a luxury never afforded to the 616 version of him.
It was heartbreaking and hopeful, just like the Marvel Universe proper. Or ours.
(by Peter David & Pablo Raimondi)
I enjoyed X-Factor somewhat in the ’90s, but I was never a huge fan. To be honest I’m not much of an “X” fan. Right now the only X-Titles I’m reading are Exiles and NYX. It takes something special for me to grab something featuring Marvel’s mutants. Peter David’s Madrox, like The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty is doing something totally different from nearly every other book on the stands. Peter David is telling a classic, hard-boiled noir-thriller with a mutant private eye. Jamie Madrox is a fun character, and Peter David is using his Multiple Man abilities as a wonderful device to enhance, and not overpower his tale. If you’re not reading the mini, pick the trade up in a couple of months.
9. Julius Schwartz Presents
Phantom Quarterbacks. Ray guns that erase a person from history unless they can inform thousands of people of their plight within minutes. Batman staying at home to watch himself on TV. All these ideas and more had once been spun by Julie Schwartz once upon a time and were explored again by his friends and admirers in this series. Stan Lee, Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns and the closest thing we’ll ever get to a Justice League of Comic Book Masters all paid tribute to one of the fathers of the genre with this series. And a grand tribute it was. Rest in Peace, Julie.
– Matt Morrison
10. Rose & Thorn
(by Gail Simone & Adriana Melo)
Gail Simone proved herself capable of doing drama/thriller style comics just as well as she does comedy and action with this series. No surprise to those of us who have been fans of Gail’s work for years. Her masterful writing was equally matched and well paired by Adriana Melo. This is another limited series that I would welcome a chance to read every month.
I’ve said countless times that I don’t know DC very well. I know I like Gail Simone though, and I have a weird thing for Poison Ivy – so when I saw a Poison Ivy-ish character being written by the girl who gave me Agent X… I was hooked.
Now, comics are a form where you are finally allowed to judge a book by its cover, and there should be a special thumbs up to Adam Hughes for making some of the sexiest, darkest covers since I dropped all of the Eros titles off my list. Add in the excellent interior work by Adriana, both clean and easily decipherable, but there was enough little details (such as Rose’s ever changing eye color) that kept you watching intently.
Gail and Adriana have proven to me once again though, I have a weird obsession for crazy girls. Thanks.
Join us tomorrow for Best Team of 2004! Will Power Pack win?! You’ll never know unless you read! (Although, in the case of Power Pack, they most assuredly will not).