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The Smackdown Awards have a short and sordid history. Last year at this time I was a columnists for SpinnerRack.com, and I got an email from my pal Eric Stephenson about "best of" lists for 2001. I've always been the kinda guy who talks up naughty as well as nice, so I founded the Smackdown Awards in that light. The lineup has changed some from last year, as nobody makes the rules but me, and I also acknowledge that there's lots of stuff I don't read -- my wife is appalled that Strangers in Paradise isn't universally lauded, and I admit my ignorance on things like Bone or Dragonball Z. As my comics pushers can attest, I spend hours poring over materials I don't even like, in an effort to be a better informed comic book reader (they particularly saluted me still reading Marville after they couldn't finish issue 1). If you like what I say, great, if not, ah well, what did it cost you? Let's jump right into the fray, shall we?
THE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR AWARD:
Tough race, leading to a huge tie between NOBLE CAUSES, FABLES and MICRONAUTS. Nobody expected anything from Micronauts, and here comes Karza, a charismatic visual presence whose magnetic appearance in any panel makes it happen. Between the creepy finale of the first NC mini and the glorious Valentino-drawn homage cover in the second, this book is firing on all cyllinders. As for Fables, perverting the myths of America every month for fun a profit -- who could dispute the coolness of that, especially with art as crisp as this book presents.
THE VETERAN'S DAY AWARD:
PETER DAVID ON CAPTAIN MARVEL. Unbowed and unbeaten, Captain Marvel stands with both feet firmly in continuity, remaining enjoyable every single month. As much fun as the "old" series was, the "mad" Captain Marvel is even more fun, unpredictably so.
THE HAMMOCK AWARD:
VERTIGO'S LUCIFER/DARK HORSE'S STAR WARS: EMPIRE. Listen up, kids -- the Devil himself has made his own universe, battled discarded angels in Hell sans his powers, and done it all with each blond hair on his infernal head in place. Plus, how did it take so long to figure out that stories about Vader in power are cool? It's all about the bad guys, y'all.
THE "DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE" AWARD:
BRUCE JONES ON THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Bill Bixby better be getting some residuals or royalties or something, as "Mister Green" updates the old Ferigno-riffic steez with a laptop and a wink. In preparation for this awards ceremony, seven issues were read. Nothing special. Not bad, and entertaining, just not worth the alleged praise.
MOST IRRITATING PERSONALITY IN COMICS:
Eliminated this category in order to keep Jemas from dominating the rankings. Let's move on.
THE DICK GIORDANO AWARD FOR DIGNIFIED EXCELLENCE:
CHRISTOPHER PRIEST. Taking a page from the Book of Spider Jerusalem, the master has retreated from his public stance to focus on the work -- some in private, which we know nothing of, some in public, his talk of Panther on digital-priest.com. Going from the genial message board maven to the enigmatic digital shaman, let's see where he goes next.
BEST SUBJECT MATTER FOR A VH1 "BEHIND THE ..." SPECIAL:
GRANT MORRISON'S LIFE. If the comics industry has a rock star, it's this UK-bred madman. Really, seriously -- flip through an issue of The Filth. It's madness. Can't you see it in a few years -- a bloated Morrison surrounded by half-naked starlets in a lycra jumpsuit, singing at the top of his lungs? You should warm up the VCR now.
BILL JEMAS. I partially believe he worked so hard to skewer the ratings and save other people from such honors. How many ways can we talk about the horror that is Marville? Let's move on to the next category and see.
MARVILLE. It was a really tough competition in this category, with HOWARD THE DUCK, the indecipherable ESTABLISHMENT and INFINITY ABYSS in the running all the way. The promised six issues from Jemas aren't even done, and he's set the art form back a decade. Narrative structure, irony, plot development ... there's none. You would be hard pressed to find an area of literary criticism where this book doesn't come up as "awful." The sole good thing about this book is MD Bright's art (why doesn't he get more work?), but even that is obscured by the godawful text that surrounds it. Even his intimidating talent can't save this mess. Then, when Jemas engineers a controversy over Iron Man almost uttering a slur (he had to inform the world by way of an open letter responding to "numerous emails" *wink wink, nod nod* he got, as so few people read the book it went unnoticed), it goes from merely shockingly bad comic book to staggeringly immature and goofy smear on the industry. One day, in a shining, glorious future, an issue of Marville will be burned at the shrine of Stan-n-Jack every year, to show just how low we sank. Gah.
CONCEPT MOST DESERVING OF CAREFUL DEVELOPMENT:
IMAGE'S SUPERHERO UNIVERSE. Continuity has gotten a bad rap in recent years. IMNSHO, continuity is a good thing -- when Phantom Girl kisses Superboy on the cheek at the end of an LSH issue and in the next Superboy comic, somebody asks him why he has lipstick on his cheek, that's freakin' great. Remember those "In FF #188 -- Editor" boxes? It only became a pain when back issues started topping fifty bucks. Otherwise it meant the opportunity for some delicious bin diving, and what comics fan doesn't enjoy that? All that said, when Rusty Noble confronted Citizen Pain in Noble Causes: Family Secrets #3, I considered it a watershed moment. Australia is burning. The Dragon is holding it down in Chi-Town (in some dimension or another). There's a custody agreement enforced by UN peacekeepers. An immortal reluctantly slides into spandex in Los Angeles. That's a world chock fulla possibility, true believers, and this fan is happy to see it.
THE "I HAVE THE MOST FUN JOB OF 2002" AWARD:
JIM LEE. "Me? Oh, I'm high muck-a-muck of a prestige imprint at DC, I made a ton of money in the speculator boom era and held on to most of it, a single panel from me can send fanboys into fits of hysteria, my stable of characters includes the beloved Authority, oh, and I'm breaking down the doors saleswise drawing a little known book called Batman. Nothing special."
"HOW DID THIS MAKE IT PAST THE PITCH MEETING" AWARD:
GUN FU. An Asian detective who speaks solely in hip hop slang ... except he lives in pre-WWII era times, and nobody seems to notice. Oh, and the art is goofy. No. Let's move on.
THE "BLOOD SYNDICATE" MEMORIAL "SO CLOSE, AND YET SO FAR" AWARD:
TRANSFORMERS G1. When Megatron's hand reached out and crushed that guy in the jungle, whoo. When Optimus called out and Autobots started climbin' out of the ocean, man. It had so much room to be so good ... but was saddled down by a whole lotta anonymous looking humans (Pat Lee's robots are staggering, his humans all look exactly alike ... I expected the lady in the red sports car from RID to make an appearance) and dangerously underpowered (Wheeljack couldn't have tapped some geothermal power to stop the mecha version of the Legacy Virus?), the series suffered from some weak writing moments and overwhelming expectations. Almost every story with mechanized life forms feels a need to inject fleshies in at every possible turn, which robs a lot of the real wonder from a kind of being who can change his outer body more easily than we change clothes. Still, everybody got paid, though, so nobody's too mad.
THE TIGHT SWEATER AWARD FOR BIGGEST TEASE:
The Truth from Marvel, which has been staggeringly boring thus far. According to Newsarama, many retailers may expect Rawhide Kid in this category next year.
CHARACTER MOST IN NEED OF PERMANENT RETIREMENT:
WOLVERINE. Let him go all Ultimate. Liefeld stays online, reminding everybody how much better his Wolvie sold than, oh, virtually anything that's been done on the main title in the last two or three years. MU Wolvie is a joke of himself, and now in a dissing contest with Punisher. Blah. I know Rucka is coming. Still -- I've been bombarded by images of this hairy canuck since I was in grade school.
THE JULIUS SCHWARTZ AWARD FOR IRIDESCENT COOLNESS:
JIM VALENTINO. Rex Mundi. Dominion. Hawaiian Dick. Venture. Masters of the Universe. Liberty Meadows. Age of Bronze. When creators came calling, Jim Valentino picked up the phone and said "yes," helping create the industry's most diverse line of books. Oh, and by the way, lots of them are really good. Valentino gets the nod this year because, more than anybody else, even if it may not work, Image is open to saying, "well, hell, let's try!" Noble Causes came in on a one sentence pitch and was approved. Plus, he's down there in the trenches, hollering back on message boards. Keep up the fine, fine work sir.
THE CHUCK DIXON AWARD FOR OVEREXTENDING HIMSELF:
WARREN ELLIS. Some time ago, I wrote a column saying Warren should be allowed to do virtually anything he thinks up. I should have put a caveat: as long as he finishes. Did Ministry of Space #3 ever come out? Anybody remember Planetary? Morning Dragons? Sure, Global Frequency is an insane amount of fun, but the nagging fear the series could go MIA hangs over it like it was Youngblood. Let's get a support staff into that house and help the man out -- massage his feet, fetch his coffee, something.
THE "JEFF GOLDBLUM MEETS WILL SMITH" INDEPENDENT'S DAY AWARD
SIMON FURMAN ON TRANSFORMERS: THE WAR WITHIN. The master of mechanized madness is back. Grimlock has never been as compelling. Starscream has never been as intricate. Prime ... Prime is ready to found a legend. This is some good, good stuff.
MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE:
THE AUTHORITY: SCORCHED EARTH (honorable mention to Battle of the Planets). Just when Kev shot you through the head and convinced you that the world's most dangerous superteam were yesterday's news, a warm breeze blows in an old friend from somewhere much hotter. Robbie Morrison has a grasp on the characters (his Jenny Q is fun, his Hawksmoor has some bite, his Doctor is solid, etc.) even if he hasn't fully gotten into the high octane desire of the group. Let's cross our fingers and hope he can keep it going.
THE "DAH-DUM, DAH-DUM," JUMPED THE SHARK AWARD:
RISING STARS. We waited for this? Three issues left, and running on fumes -- this is like reading issue #2 and 3 again, in terms of tone. It's hard to show the "group of metahumans with a mad-on to fix the world" gag after Squadron Supreme, Authority, and so many others have paved the road. C'mon JMS, let's get this done, you're more into spinning webs now anyway.
THE "MAKE IT HAPPEN IN 2003" AWARD
VERTIGO: FABLES/Y THE LAST MAN
The Cinderella Story, pardon the pun, and the real surprise from the maker of The Hood. Pia Guerra should be doing more work, if she can ever tear herself away from this book (not that I want her to, just in case she has some lag time, you know). Bill Willingham is an evil scientist who should be encouraged at every turn. Keep this up, y'all.
DC: GOTHAM CENTRAL/WILDCATS 3.0
Joe Casey was not doing it on X-Men, was nothing special on Superman ... but he sure as hell woke up on the right side of the word processor when it comes to Halo. Sure, some may say it cribs notes from Morrison's Hexus the Living Corporation, but it's got a charm and a seductiveness that can't be denied. Rucka hits the streets of Gotham? I'm there. Let's turn it up a notch in '03.
MARVEL: BLACK PANTHER/AVENGERS
It's probably not coincidental that a man named Christopher Priest inspires faith: his track record gives ample evidence to make me believe he's gonna rock it 'til the wheels fall off in Black Panther. Meanwhile, Geoff Johns has taken self-same T'Challa and infused him with some of that scene in Purple Rain where Prince goes to see Appolonia at her first performance, as well pulling at the heartstrings with Cap, giving Namor some fun lines, and generally having a real go at it. The T'Challa/Stark rivalry bears watching (and is more rewarding for BP readers), so these are two books to keep an eye on.
IMAGE: DOMINION/REX MUNDI (special mention to VENTURE)
They wouldn't let him blow up England, but Keith Giffen won't be stopped. This book, by virtue of its possible ripple effect on the rest of the fledgling continuity, bears close inspection -- that and the fact Giffen is vastly entertaining. Rex Mundi, OTOH, is a very deep and involved self-contained world unto itself (check Brother Matthew on their site), and there's so much going on there it makes your head spin. All that, and Jamal Igle rocks the house? Go Image.
DARK HORSE: STAR WARS EMPIRE/STAR WARS REPUBLIC.
In the one you have a chance to tell all the cool, little stories that make us love the Dark Side of the Force. On the other, since Lucas is skipping the actual Clone Wars themselves, you can bring Garth Ennis-level reality to interstellar combat. We're keeping our fingers crossed for you guys.
CROSSGEN: THE PATH/NEGATION (honorable mention for Sojourn's Ankharans -- how 'bout a Dawn Warrior solo book?)
Why is the Path, a real slow burn and a very muddy visual book, so damned compelling? I just don't know. This book is a good one, though. Plus, who can say enough about the baddest Black man to come out this year, Obregon Kaine? No powers. No special technology. He's even balding. But who can get busy like this man? Between him and the truly breathtaking visuals on the Ankharans (w-o-w) y'all should keep drinking the Kool-Aid, kids, you're getting it together down there in Tampa!
INDIE: TRANSFORMERS/QUEEN & COUNTRY
There's so much room to get TF right. Here's hoping they do. Queen & Country is like the Jerry Rice of comics -- when you're ready to count it out, wham, it's back and sticks it to ya. Here's to a monthly run of this brilliant and timely book in 2003.
PARTIAL REVIEW OF LAST YEAR'S WINNERS:
MOST IRRITATING PERSONALITY IN COMICS:
BILL JEMAS (still a pain, but somewhat toned down this year)
DICK GIORDANO AWARD FOR DIGNIFIED EXCELLENCE:
ERIK LARSEN (The Dragon is at a better point in the public eye than it's been in years, and things look good)
BEST SUBJECT MATTER FOR A VH1 "BEHIND THE ..." SPECIAL:
THE LEGION OF SUPERHEROES (a good book despite some weirdness, a great Ra's Al Ghul appearance, still struggling to find a voice that gibes with its history)
FRANK TIERI (still widely reviled online, off Wolverine soon, off Iron Man, still over in Weapon X ... ah well)
CONCEPT MOST DESERVING OF REALLY CAREFUL DEVELOPMENT:
PLANET DOOM (Waid promises something amazing from the good Doctor, he had a nice appearance in Johns' Avengers as T'Challa's pal, but whither Counter Earth? Bah.)
THE "I HAVE THE MOST FUN JOB OF 2001" AWARD:
KEITH GIFFEN ON SUICIDE SQUAD (anybody having that much fun can't last, alas)
BEST BOOK FOR KIDS THAT ADULTS CAN ENJOY TOO:
IMPULSE (dead, dammit)
THE "JEFF GOLDBLUM MEETS WILL SMITH" INDEPENDANT'S DAY AWARD:
THE EXEC (well, the new B.A.B.E. Force is ... something. Let's move on)
LAST YEAR'S MAKE IT HAPPEN AWARD WINNERS:
TRANSMETROPOLITAN went out with ... well, not a bang or a whimper, but it was a solid conclusion. QUEEN & COUNTRY is slated to go monthly, which is just splendid, G.I. JOE is growing into a new voice that honors the ways of the old. BLACK PANTHER and THUNDERBOLTS, however, got kicked in the teeth and had their lunch money stolen with all new revamps (though we still recommend PANTHER), CAPTAIN MARVEL went mad and we love it. HARLEY QUINN jumped the shark somewhere along the line, DETECTIVE COMICS lost Greg Rucka but JSA is still good. SCION whupped some major butt, but then slid into a kind of a static rut.
We have to thank Minister Sephie of Caladan for letting us use this space, and our tabulations were calculated by the accountants at The Power Company, who also provided security for the awards ceremony. Special effects were provided by the Associated Guilds of Ciress, Patsy Walker returns for a second year as set decorator, and we always appreciate the unswerving support of the Luthor White House, who provided the lovely centerpieces in all the luxury skyboxes. Thanks for coming out, we'll see you next year!