2010 Eisner Award Countdown – Week 1

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In just over three weeks, the Eisner Awards will once again be presented at Comic-Con International in San Diego. Voted on exclusively by professionals in the business and named after one of the most revered creators in history, the Eisners are most assuredly the Oscars of comic books.

To celebrate this year's edition of the industry's top honor, Comics Bulletin is proud to announce its 2010 Eisner Countdown, a weekly series of columns leading up to the big show on July 23. Each Thursday from now until the winners are announced, our reviewers will be giving you their take on who deserves to take home the prize in each of the major categories.

As a bonus (and because we can't resist some good-natured complaining), we're also highlighting our favorite books and creators who were unfairly left off this year's list of nominations. Try as they might, the committee doesn't always get it right, so we're hoping to rectify the situation a little with our picks for Biggest Snub.

To kick things off, we're taking a look this week at the Best Limited Series or Story Arc and Best New Series categories. Let the countdown begin!

Best Limited Series or Story Arc

The nominees are...
  • Blackest Night, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, and Oclair Albert (DC)
  • Incognito, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Marvel Icon)
  • Pluto: Urasawa X Tezuka, by Naoki Urasawa and Takashi Nagasaki (VIZ Media)
  • Wolverine #66-72 and Wolverine Giant-Size Special: "Old Man Logan," by Mark Millar, Steve McNiven, and Dexter Vines (Marvel)
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young (Marvel)
Danny Djeljosevic:

Deserves to Win:
The good thing about a dismal choice of nominees is knowing what will clearly win. Hint: it won't be Blackest Night (free toys win customers, not critical acclaim) or "Old Man Logan" (I'm sorry...why this story, exactly?). I haven't read the Oz comic but I'm sure it's full of prison rape. If I had read more Pluto, I'd be campaigning for Urasawa so hard right now. If it does win, I'd be happy. Manga too often gets ghettoized as something completely different from comic books even though it's the same thing, and I fear this bias (which a lot of Western readers have) will play into voting for this category.

That said, my favorite of the bunch (and not just by default) is Incognito, which was a bit like a dirty version of Bru's Captain America run mixed with a better version of Wanted with a thick slathering of pulp all over it. In other words, it's a mean, violent superhero comic that still manages to have science criminals and -- my favorite -- bodies in containment tubes. If that weren't enough, it has the incomparable Sean Phillips handling art duties with downright neon coloring work from Val Staples. What did we do to deserve such a great comic, and how do we keep doing it so we get more?

Biggest Snub:
I'm perfectly fine with populist choices among the nominees, but Blackest Night and "Old Man Logan" aren't even the best superhero story arcs that came out last year. My gut reaction would for Biggest Snub would be "Stark: Disassembled" but Invincible Iron Man won Best New Series last year and repeat offenders are boring. In lieu of that, I would have loved to see Jonathan Hickman and Dale Eaglesham run off with an Eisner for "Solve Everything" (Fantastic Four, #570-572), a beautifully crazy kickoff to their run which featured Reed Richards teaming up with alternate reality versions of himself. Also, Eaglesham draws the manliest Reed Richards you ever saw. For once, we can think that Sue married a hunk instead of a guy who looks a bit like Dad.

Chris Kiser:

Deserves to Win:
Like Danny, my first impression was that this was quite the sorry set of nominees. Blackest Night, while doing plenty of things right as far as overblown crossovers go, ultimately left great on the table to settle for being merely good. I could easily yank "Old Man Logan", along with its seen-it-before depiction of a post-apocalyptic superhero future, off the list as well. However, the other three stories, despite their relative lower profile, actually do make the grade as Eisner-worthy.

Pluto is emotionally deeper than I once thought Manga could get, even if I don't completely buy its genre-beholden assertion that hundreds of mourners would ever gather together to sob over the death of a robot. Surprisingly, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz comes across as feeling more original than an adaptation should. Most of this is due to Skottie Young's uncanny ability to put his own unique stamp on a cast of characters that the majority of his audience has already encountered many times over in another medium.

The winner in this bunch, though, has to be Brubaker and Phillips' Incognito. It may not have been the innovative pulp reinvention that it strove to be (because, isn't every superhero comic a pulp reinvention?), but it was certainly one of the best reads of 2009. Underneath its coating of Mature Readers Only grit, it's the purest hero story of any of Brubaker's creator-owned works. Unlike the murky ethical situations found in his and Phillips' similarly-themed Sleeper, Incognito wraps up on an unexpected note of moral clarity. Of course, Bru and company will have plenty of chances to muddy the waters again in the obviously-teased sequel, most likely gunning for repeat honors in this spot by 2012.

Biggest Snub:
With two nominees so blatantly undeserving in this category, it's a bit depressing to thumb through the stack of books that could have taken their place. No Hero was as good as anything Warren Ellis has written outside of Planetary, and Umbrella Academy: Dallas could have easily nabbed another blue ribbon for Gerard Way. Most tragic of all, though, is the committee's continued refusal to honor Seaguy by snubbing the second volume, Slaves of Mickey Eye. Just because voters are too thick to understand Grant Morrison's offbeat exploration of heroism in a consumerist society, must it be denied an Eisner?

Kate Trippe:
Deserves to Win:
Hands down, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz should win this category. I cannot stress how fun this series was to read; it is visually stunning and the story itself is captivating. This is a charming adaptation that really gets to the heart of the original Frank Baum story. This story has all one can ask for in a limited series--great story, great art and great pacing. Shanower really found the right pacing to fit the original story into the format and avoid a couple filler issues; every issue is worth picking up. Skottie Young's art is so unique, fitting the whimsy of the story so well. It is hard to find fault in the execution of this comic.

Another reason I am rooting for Oz is because it is unique among the nominees. This isn't the type of story that one expects to be recognized with awards, but the work put into making this series should be recognized, because anyone can pick up this comic book. I could give this to either my grandmother or a seven-year-old and they would both enjoy it. A comic doesn't have to cater to a wide audience to be deserving of an award, but I think it is worth mentioning in this case because this comic shows a side of comic books that most people don't see. This isn't about superheroes, it is just a charming fantasy story, and it highlights the source material that is so often overlooked due to the well-known film adaptations. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz deserves to win because it shows how versatile the medium of comic books can be. It isn't just for action and sci-fi thrillers, as it can be used to tell any story and do it better than other mediums.

Biggest Snub:
Why was Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson's Beasts of Burden not nominated for this category? It was one of the most touching comics I have ever read, and the art was gorgeous. I know that it was nominated for Best Publication for Teens, but I think this is a gross understatement of the quality of this comic. It was so much more than a comic for teens. The stories were moving and the art was incredible. Dorkin's characters had the perfect balance of human and animal qualities that made them relatable and their tragedies all the more heartbreaking. This comic is supernatural detective comic writing at it's finest, and Jill Thompson's watercolors are impeccable. All I can say is: pick up the hardcover and read it for yourself.

Best New Series

The nominees are...
  • Chew, by John Layman and Rob Guillory (Image)
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick, art by Tony Parker (BOOM!)
  • Ireedeemable, by Mark Waid and Peter Krause (BOOM!)
  • Sweet Tooth, by Jeff Lemire (Vertigo/DC)
  • The Unwritten, by Mike Carey and Peter Gross (Vertigo/DC)
Danny Djeljosevic:

Deserves to Win:

First of all, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is Phillip K. Dick's original text transcribed into comic form. Is that really an appropriate nomination? Then again, if Robert Rodriguez's Sin City were nominated for an Academy Award I wouldn't bat an eyelash -- well, not the "It's just a verbatim repetition of the source material!" eyelash, at least. I like -- not love, not yet, it's too soon for me to make that commitment, let's give it some time -- Sweet Tooth, and Irredeemable is a great subversion of what we've come to expect from Mark Waid. And, as much as I like The Unwritten, I feel that whatever it's saying is a bit "Here is the theme!" surface level -- for a comic based in literature it's strangely literal. Does that make sense?

Chew, then, is my pick for "Best New Series." It's not only well-made, but shows us exactly what's so special about comics -- not that you can illustrate a prose novel or appropriate other people's characters without getting sued (most of the time) because nobody reads comics, but that we can do things in comics that we're just not allowed to do in other mediums. Imagine John Layman trying to pitch to HBO a show about a cop who eats dead people to gain their memories and not getting escorted from the building in handcuffs. Somehow, given a paragraph and a few pages of artwork, you can convince the guys who publish Savage Dragon to sell this comic book. And then HBO will let you into the building.

Here's your pull quote, Image Comics: If Chew doesn't win an Eisner I will personally eat every member of the Eisner Awards Panel.

Biggest Snub:
Ugh, "Best New Ongoing"? Do you know how few books are ongoing these days? In that case, I'll go with Grant Morrison and Co.'s Batman & Robin, which doesn't always have the best art in the world (it just usually has the best art in the world), but those first three issues make up for any future trespasses the series may (but probably won't) inflict, what with their Frank Quitely art that cleverly incorporates the sound effects. In an age where superheroes do drugs and shoot the noses off of bad guys, Batman & Robin is bright, utopian fun. This is what pop art feels like. Breathe it.

Chris Kiser:

Deserves to Win:
All too often, this category reminds me of the time Homer Simpson presented the Cable ACE Award for Most Promising New Series to "old Starsky and Hutches."

Anyone who's ever set foot in a comics shop knows that the industry generates more than its fair share of #1 issues featuring characters and concepts that are anything but "new," yet that hasn't stopped renumbered re-launches like Invincible Iron Man from taking home the hardware. I applaud the Eisner board this year for limiting its selections to mostly original creations, the transcription of a 40-year-old science-fiction novel notwithstanding.

If this category were simply about coming up with the most unprecedented, off-the-wall new story concepts, Chew would emerge the victor in a knock-down drag-out with Sweet Tooth. However, I like to think that this award honors not only ingenuity but also long term potential and staying power. Ten years from now, I have to believe we'll still be talking about The Unwritten and Irredeemable, my top two picks for Best New Series.

At this point in time, Irredeemable has possibly evolved into the more consistently good read from month to month, but these Eisner Awards are meant to recognize books published in 2009. Prior to January, Mark Waid's saga of Superman gone wrong had yet to really generate some forward momentum. That wasn't a problem for Carey and Gross's The Unwritten, which burst out of the gates in fully realized form. Teetering on the edge of pop culture commentary and literary analysis, The Unwritten follows its Vertigo predecessor Y: The Last Man to both entertain and educate. Reading it is like majoring in English without having to sit through the inane lectures!

Biggest Snub:
I sure hope the committee excluded Batman and Robin merely due to its franchise familiarity, because that's the only reason it shouldn't have been nominated in this category. In light of that, I would have loved to see Marvel's Secret Warriors get some mainstream love on this mostly creator-owned list. Rarely does an issue go by without an eye-popping panel of awesomeness or three. Writer Jonathan Hickman is carving out a superb long form original epic all within the confines of the established Marvel Universe.

Jason Sacks:

Deserves to Win:

This is an interesting year in the Best New Series category, with the smash-hit Chew next to a Philip K. Dick adpatation, a twist on super-heroes written by Mark Waid and two new series from Vertigo. There are some intriguing choices on this list, but it's easy to pick my favorite of the choices: Jeff Lemire's haunting new Sweet Tooth.

Yeah, we've seen a lot of post-apocalyptic adventure stories before, but we've never seen one like this – and maybe more importantly, we've never seen one by Lemire. As he demonstrated on his magnificent Essex County Trilogy, Lemire is a master of depicting small moments that feel incredibly intense.

There's a hauntingly powerful quality to Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth that makes the comic tremendously compelling and unique. Part of that quality comes from the book's main character, the sheltered elk-horned boy Gus, who is a true naοf thrust into events from which his father had specifically tried to protect him. Gus has been so sheltered all his life that the smallest little event becomes something new and unique to him. When his father dies and a strange man comes to abduct him, Gus is thrust into a world of huge and terrifying events. The surprising ways that Gus deals with his fears are tremendously compelling.

Gus has an intense inner life, and we see the effects of that life lining Gus's face in every scene. Through his fear we are able to see the apocalypse as a fresh, new and profoundly scary event. And with the events that wrap up the first story arc, we're ready to experience even more horrific events through Gus's eyes.

Sweet Tooth is both haunting and wildly entertaining, and I'm anxious to see where Jeff Lemire takes us readers. Wherever we go, we can be sure that it will be a very intense experience.

Biggest Snub:
Wednesday Comics may not have been the most spectacular and complete success, but it was unique and special and did contain some really amazing work – especially Paul Pope's breathtaking take on Adam Strange. It also was an attempt by DC to do something completely different with their comics. It's a real shame that this comic wasn't nominated – not even in a special category.

What say you? Is our panel of reviewers on the mark or way out of line? Did any of your favorite books from last year feel the sharp, stinging slap of an Eisner snub? Voice your thoughts on the message board. And check back next Thursday, when we'll be taking on the Best Writer and Best Single Issue categories!

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