The SyFy channel is celebrating 25 years of being in existence, and they’re hitting us with a bunch of “nerd culture” Top 25 lists. I thought I’d check out some of the comics-related ones, just for fun, as lists are guaranteed to angry up the blood! Unfortunately, their lists aren’t ranked, as they just list their 25 best, so we can’t argue about that, but we can question the inclusion of some of the things! So let’s check them out!
The 25 Best Comics Stories of the Last 25 Years. All-Star Superman, DC: The New Frontier, Kingdom Come, Planetary, and the Winter Soldier storyline are probably slam dunks, but the rest are open to dissension. “Annihilation” and “Annihilation: Conquest” is a nice, under-the-radar pick (although, with the Guardians’ unexpected prominence, perhaps not so much anymore), but it’s a really good story. I’m still not on board with Asterios Polyp, but it’s nice that SyFy isn’t just doing mainstream superhero stuff. I haven’t re-read Grant Morrison’s Batman work, but sure. “The Court of Owls” is trash and is one instance (not the only one!) of people being dazzled by something shiny. The Long Halloween is overrated and should only be remembered for Tim Sale’s art. I’ve never read “The Death of Oracle” in Birds of Prey, so I can’t comment. Christopher Priest’s Black Panther started strong and petered out, and is probably only on this list because Black Panther has some cool cachet these days (the write-up almost admits as much). “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” from Deadpool is another surprising choice – I wouldn’t have included it, but it’s a pretty good story, although not as fun as the earlier Deadpool stories in that series. Fraction’s and Aja’s Hawkeye run is another trendy pick, one that has some stellar issues but seemed like a lot of sound and fury (this pick is for the first arc, but the entire series is basically one arc, so …). I haven’t read the reboot of Harbinger, so I can’t comment. Hellboy in Hell is a weird pick, because why not all of Hellboy? I haven’t read that specific series yet, but I’m sure it’s as good as any other random Hellboy story, so I’m fine with it. “Planet Hulk” is another solid choice, helped by, once again, its current cachet with the new Thor movie coming out that looks like it lifted plot elements from this story. “Until the End of the World” from Preacher is fine, even though all of Preacher is overrated. I haven’t read the Sinestro Corps War, but I can’t believe it belongs here. I heard good things about Kieron Gillen’s and Salvador Larocca’s Darth Vader, but it’s not on this list if Star Wars hadn’t been rebooted. The Vision is one of the best books Marvel has put out in the past few years, so sure. The death of the Ultimate Spider-Man … meh. I still haven’t read Usagi Yojimbo, but putting a story – “Grasscutter” – from the series on this list doesn’t bother me. X-Factor #87 is one of those issues that’s perfectly fine, but has taken on a veneer of brilliance over the years that far outstrips its merits. It’s a good issue, certainly, but “might be the best single issue of an X-Men comic, ever”? Really? And Y: The Last Man is really, really overrated, so any story from it wouldn’t be on my list.
Notable oversights: The Candlemaker story and the finale from Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol. Most of Morrison’s DP falls outside the 25-year window, but the final few issues don’t, and they’re brilliant.
Anything from Hitman. Garth Ennis’s true masterpiece, Hitman never gets the attention it deserves.
Anything from John Ostrander’s The Spectre, James Robinson’s Starman, Grant Morrison’s JLA or X-Men.
Anything from Image. That’s weird.
Anything from B.P.R.D. I know they covered Hellboy, but B.P.R.D. is phenomenal, too.
There’s a lot more, but those are the big ones that I thought of. Moving on!
25 Comic Crossovers We Love. Well, I think all comics crossovers are pretty stinky, so I don’t care too much about this list. “Age of Apocalypse” was pretty cool, I guess. “Death of the Family” is hot garbage, at least the main part from Batman. Flashpoint was okay, especially compared to the other crossover of 2011, Fear Itself (which they don’t list, thank goodness). Infinite Crisis was junk. Other than that, these are all pretty blah.
Notable oversights: None, really. Crossovers stink.
The 25 Greatest New Comics Series of the Past 25 Years. This is weird, because I’m not sure what the criteria is. If they mean “new series” as in “things that had never existed before,” they missed the boat. Check out the list. Astonishing X-Men? I mean, sure, it’s a “new” X-Men comic, but it uses all the old characters. Scott Snyder’s Batman? Not only is it just a Batman comic, it’s a terrible Batman comic. Brubaker’s Captain America? The Marvel Knights Daredevil? Geoff Johns’s Green Lantern? Garth Ennis’s Punisher? None of these are really “new,” except that they had new creative teams. When Roy Thomas took over for Stan Lee, were those “new” series? Anyway, those kind of make this list almost invalid. 100 Bullets isn’t as good as everyone thinks, because most people think of the excellent first few arcs and forget how badly it devolved toward the end. The Authority – yeah, I can buy that (although Ellis’s StormWatch is better). Fables is a perfectly cromulent addition to the list. Hellboy is pretty great. I’ve never read Kick-Ass, and due to my Mark Millar boycott, I probably never will, but it sounds awful. Ms. Marvel is quite good. Planetary is awesome. Preacher is fine, if overrated. Promethea, “considered by many to be Alan Moore’s best modern work,” is wildly overwrought and isn’t particularly close to Moore’s best “modern” work. Runaways is pretty keen. Saga might be the most overrated comic in history. Starman is great. I still haven’t read Strangers in Paradise, but I’ll get around to it. Transmetropolitan is good. Ultimate Spider-Man is fine, but overrated – I mean, it’s basically the 1960s Spider-Man with some tweaks, so how “new” can it really be? The Walking Dead is blah. Wanted is pretty good until the final issue, when it becomes one of the most insulting comics ever and led directly to my Mark Millar boycott. Y the Last Man is crap.
Notable oversights: Stray Bullets, Noble Causes, Rex Mundi, Scalped, Phonogram, Young Avengers, The Sixth Gun, Ex Machina … man, they really missed the boat with this one, trying to honor all these “new” series starring 50+-year-old characters!
The 25 Greatest Comic Writers of the Last 25 Years. Ah, now we come to some subjects that I can rant about – writers and artists! Frankly, I don’t have too big a problem with the writers. Jason Aaron, Ed Brubaker, Kurt Busiek, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Neil Gaiman, Jeff Lemire, Mike Mignola, Terry Moore, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka – no real problems with them. I can see why Brian Azzarello, Brian Michael Bendis, Geoff Johns, Gail Simone, Scott Snyder, and Brian K. Vaughan are on the list. I like a good amount of Bendis’s work; Simone has written some excellent comics; Azzarello is overrated but fine; I don’t get the appeal of Geoff “Let’s decapitate someone else!” Johns, but I know a lot of people do; Snyder is the hot name and is a good idea guy even if he doesn’t do endings very well; and Vaughan has written things I like and even more things that other people like. SyFy puts Raina Telgemeier on the list, which is pretty cool – Telgemeier is a huge star among people who don’t read superhero comics, and it’s cool that a lot of mouth-breathing comics junkies don’t know who she is even though she might be the most successful writer on this list. But then we get to the others. Kelly Sue DeConnick? I’ve never been impressed with DeConnick’s writing, but maybe that’s just me. Her husband, I might add, is noticeably lacking from this list, and he’s a far better writer than she is. Jody Houser? Really? One of the best comics writers of the past 25 years? She’s written an average superhero book, Faith, that is notable solely because Faith is a large young woman, and she’s written Mother Panic, which is okay but not really setting the world on fire. Even if both of those comics were brilliant, can her body of work really stand up over some others from the past 25 years? Marjorie Liu? Again, really? I actually like Liu’s writing well enough, but again, she’s never done anything so brilliant that it trumps some of the other writers over the past quarter-century. She’s toiled in the Marvel salt mines, and now she’s writing a creator-owned series, Monstress, which is not bad but special almost completely because of the artwork. Liu is pretty good, but let’s check in on her in a decade or so. Jeph Loeb is popular, but does that make him any good? No, it does not. Loeb excels at writing stories that are completely tailored to allow his artists to draw whatever the hell cool stuff they want, which is why so many artists want to work with him. His books always look great, but they’re like Devil Dogs – they taste really good at first bite, but they’re empty calories. Jimmy Palmiotti is a hell of a nice guy, but he’s a fairly standard writer – he has solid plots, but he rarely does anything that you don’t expect with them. His stories are enjoyable but not terribly memorable. Noelle Stevenson is another writer who seems to be the choice of younger staffers who haven’t read a lot of comics. Nimona is great and Lumberjanes was very good, but she doesn’t have much of a track record, does she? Finally, G. Willow Wilson is another relative newcomer who has one terrific comic (Ms. Marvel), one pretty good graphic novel (Cairo), and one mediocre series (Air) under her belt, but is that enough to put her on this list?
Notable oversights: Um, have these people heard of Alan Moore? Also, Matt Fraction. Kieron Gillen. Jay Faerber. Jason Lutes. Jeff Parker. Peter Milligan. Probably some others. And yes, my list skews male and I have issues with more women on the list than I do with men. But it’s just a fact that for years and years, far more men wrote comics than women. Women are writing more comics these days, and that’s great, but my objection to the women on these list is that they haven’t been writing long enough to build up a bibliography that touches some of the men left off of it (except for DeConnick, who I just don’t like). I mean, Kelly Thompson has written more and better comics than Marjorie Liu and Jody Houser, so where is she?
The 25 Greatest Comic Artists of the Last 25 Years. This is a strange list, because it comes with a qualifier: George Pérez and Walt Simonson are not on the list, and SyFy says they know about it, but asks us to “please remember that we’re just talking about seminal works from the last 25 years, and the legendary works we are highlighting only go back to 1992.” That’s weird, because both Pérez and Simonson continue to do amazing work, as SyFy points out, and just because Simonson isn’t drawing Thor doesn’t mean his work on Orion and Ragnarök (to name two great comics from post-1992) aren’t better-looking than almost anything out there. So that qualifier is just stupid. If the artist has gotten worse since 1992 (I would argue that Chaykin, Miller, and Adams have all gotten worse since their heydays), then fine. But Simonson and Pérez haven’t, so put them on the damned list, SyFy! They go on to write that:
We based our criteria on a balance of unique creativity, distinct or influential style, longevity, and impact, as opposed to quantity or how big the profile was of said project(s). Their interior artwork had to be their biggest contribution (even though their cover art may be depicted below or be fondly celebrated) during this era, and it must inspire, evoke emotion, and/or transport the reader to a far-off vivid world and keep the reader dreaming when they close the book.
Okey-dokey. Do the artists they picked measure up?
Mike Allred is fine. He’s quite good. Then … Greg Capullo? Motherfucking really? I mean, Capullo has gotten better since he was desperately trying to draw like Jim Lee 20 years ago, but he’s a fairly standard superhero artist. His work is perfectly fine for superheroes, but it doesn’t really do much else except get you from Point A to Point B. Greg Capullo? Sheesh. Okay, moving on.
John Cassaday is fine. He’s very talented, and Planetary is a gorgeous comic. Then … Becky Cloonan? Again, really? I mean, Cloonan is quite good, but again, she doesn’t do too much that’s unique, either with materials or layouts or styles. I like Cloonan’s art a lot, but best of the past 25 years? I don’t know. Okay, moving on.
Darwyn Cooke. Definitely. Geoff Darrow. Definitely. Then … Steve Dillon? Really? Again, I like Dillon’s art a lot, but it’s meat-and-potatoes to the extreme. If you want someone to tell a story in as “realistic” a way as possible, with no changes in style and barely any in page design, Dillon’s your guy. It’s very nice art, but come on. Okay, moving on.
Francesco Francavilla. Hell yeah. Tony Harris. Shit yeah. Jae Lee. Sure, I guess. He’s not my favorite, but his art is pretty keen. Jim Lee. Yeah, I guess. He’s the epitome of a “superhero artist,” which is a lot harder to do than it looks, and he’s very influential. Plus, when he does feel like stretching himself, he can do lovely, un-Lee-like work, which I wish he’d do more often. I really like Jim Lee’s art, but I’m not completely sure I’d have him on this list. Then … Alex Maleev. Um, I guess, if you like Photoshopped photographs used over and over again. And I actually like Maleev’s art! But that’s a stretch. Okay, moving on.
Mike Mignola. Hell yeah. Frank Miller. This is a tough one, because his 1990s work is so good, and his 2000s work is … not. I would probably leave him on, but he’s gone downhill a lot since his artistic peak. Michael Avon Oeming is next. That’s another tough one. He’s quite good, but I’m not sure about “Top 25” good. I’ll allow it. Then … Sara Pichelli. Really? Here’s another choice that seems to be made by people who haven’t read a lot of comics. Pichelli is quite a good artist, but she hasn’t really done anything that makes you go, “Holy crap, that’s amazing.” She’s a good storyteller, she has a good fluid line, but she’s just kind of a standard superhero artist. Again, not as easy as you might think, but she really hasn’t stretched herself all that much. Okay, moving on.
Paul Pope. Shit yeah. Frank Quitely. Definitely. Eduardo Risso. He’s the only reason the second half of 100 Bullets is tolerable, so yeah. John Romita Jr. Sure, but I find it hilarious that he makes the list but not Pérez and Simonson, when you could argue most of Romita’s “seminal” work came before 1992. Tim Sale. He’s the only reason a lot of Jeph Loeb’s work is tolerable, so yeah. Then .. Fiona Staples. Really? She gets here on the strength of Saga, and her work on that book does make it slightly less overrated, but again, that’s all anyone can point to when they’re putting her on the list. Her work on DV8 and Mystery Society is quite good, too, but this feels like another “recency bias” pick. Okay, moving on.
Jill Thompson. Shit yeah. Chris Ware. Ugh, Chris Ware. Ware annoys the shit out of me. And finally, Skottie Young. I probably wouldn’t put him on the list, but I don’t really have a problem with it.
Notable oversights: Jamie McKelvie and Juan Ferreyra are two of the most exciting and interesting artists working today. How about J. H. Williams III, whose work was cited as a big reason why Promethea was on the other list? Norm Breyfogle did some boundary-stretching Batman work post-1992. Simonson and Pérez (I can put them on lists even if SyFy won’t). Bryan Talbot. David Mazzuchelli (even if Asterios Polyp is overrated, artistically it’s amazing). Dave McKean. Juanjo Guarnido. Juan José Ryp. Mike Huddleston. Kevin O’Neill. Guillem March. Jiro Taniguchi and Naoki Urasawa, if you want to get into manga. Shit, Steve Mannion. Jason Yungbluth. James Stokoe. If you want to pick recent women, Emma Rios and Meredith McClaren are amazing, better than Pichelli or even Cloonan. Sheesh, Sophie Campbell is superb! I don’t know – there are a lot of artists that it seems could make this list. But that’s just me.
Anyway, lists are fun to argue about, because they’re so subjective but come across as so objective. The lists at SyFy – even the ones that aren’t comics-related – are fun to check out, and I could go through far more of them, seeing as we’re a pop culture blog in general. But that’s a lot to do, so I’ll just stick to these. Rant away in the comments, everyone!