Guy’s Top 5 Comics of 2004

(ongoing series only)

1. Gotham Central – I’m a big fan of strong characterization and tight plotting, and this Batman-themed take on the classic police procedural, a la Hill Street Blues and Homicide: Life on the Street, features some of the strongest writing in comics. Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka are terrific, and Michael Lark’s gritty artwork matches them note for note. He’ll be sorely missed but I’m hopeful that DC will tap a replacement with similar sensibilities.

2. Teen Titans – I fully expected this series to take an immediate downhill turn for the worse after the thrill-ride of its first 11 issues, but Johns has continued to up the ante every month, even making the seemingly throwaway Beast Boy story (#14-15) work with his intricate juggling of multiple subplots that makes every issue count. The “Titans of Tomorrow” arc promises to establish an excellent foundation to build on as everything that happens afterwards will carry the subtext of “is this what sends them in the wrong direction?”

3. Conan – One of the hardest things to do in comics is taking on a well-known character loaded with history and making him seem fresh and exciting without “updating” or “ultimizing” him. Even moreso when the character isn’t at least somewhat based in the world we live in. Kudos to Busiek for pulling it off masterfully. Plus, Cary Nord was born to draw Conan and Dave Stewart’s coloring complements him perfectly, making this one of the best looking comics around, too.

4. Ex Machina – Though only 5 issues old, Brian K. Vaughn has crafted a parallel New York City that feels absolutely real and populated it with 3-dimensional human beings that go far beyond comic book stereotypes – a legitimate spiritual descendant of Alan Moore’s Watchmen. At this point, summarizing the plot would be selling it short, because there are multiple layers at work – superheroing, politics, the human condition – and Vaughn’s barely scratched the surface. If there was ever a comic book that could seamlessly transition to traditional fiction, this is it. Unfortunately, that would mean missing out on Tony Harris’ eye-popping artwork. As a native-New Yorker, I look forward every month to visiting this much more interesting version.

5. The Losers – This is “Hollywood Blockbuster” done right. The A-Team with a Three Kings edge, Andy Diggle writes intelligent action entertainment better than anyone, and his cynical take on world affairs gives this book a realistic, sharp edge that’s missing from most other stories in this genre. The characters may be a bit generic, but like a B-movie with A-list actors, Diggle’s scripting lifts each of them above their stereoypical cores. And Jock? His jagged, bombastic artwork evokes the hyperactivity of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. This is my high-octane, not-feeling-the-least-bit-guilty pleasure every month.

Honorable Mentions: Powers, Ultimate Fantastic Four, Spectacular Spider-Man, Batgirl, Amazing Fantasy.

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