January Comic Book Awards

It is a tad ironic that the new years’ general optimism is paired with the farewell to likely my favorite comic book run in my short but substantial history of reading comics. This refers to Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers/New Avengers/Secret Wars saga which began three years ago and is now concluded with Secret Wars #9. It’s never a good time when a beloved series ends, but this one in particular holds an unmeasurable amount of meaning to me on creative, literary, artistic, inspiring and even sympathetic levels, to say the least. I’ve been caught up in reading this storyline since its debut, as probably many others have, too, so I hope that puts into perspective just how poignantly bittersweet for me this is. Because it won every award, this edition of my Comic Book of the Month Awards for January 2016 will be a thorough overview of every layer of Secret Wars #9. But, before we get into how masterful a comic book it was, there are other books worthy of attention.

If Secret Wars #9 hadn’t swept this month’s awards, Uncanny Inhumans #4, The Astonishing Ant-Man #4, Invincible Iron Man #5, and Star Wars #15 would’ve been the top nominee picks, hands down. The fourth issue of Uncanny Inhumans, wrapping up the book’s opening arc, is squarely a fantastic issue. The pacing and panel-work reminds me of that classic superhero comic book style in many ways. The Beetle flew in to distract Scott Lang once more while he does his best (ever the trier) to protect his daughter Cassie from a wannabe super-villain in The Astonishing Ant-Man #4 and Madame Masque is beaten in a bombastic clash by an unlikely team-up of iron Man and Doctor Doom (now assumed “redeemed”). Star Wars #15 returns to exploring Obi-Wan Kenobi’s adventures on Tatooine during his exile and following up on Star Wars #7’s events. Mike Mayhew was absolutely an ideal choice for this issue and I hope as these issues centering on Obi-Wan release in the future that higher-tiered artists are brought in. The first issue of Star Wars: Anakin & Obi-Wan, Star Wars #14, Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Year Two #4 and #5, Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor #3, Aquaman #48, and Doctor Strange #4 also released. And, last but not least, Scarlet Witch #2 made its way into my pile only because Marco Rudy was the featured guest-artist of the issue (buy it!).
So what’s the big deal about Secret Wars #9, you might ask? Make way, make way…

Cover of the Month Award: Secret Wars #9 

Cover By: Alex Ross

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If you don’t know by now, Secret Wars #9 marks the end of every Marvel Comics Universe of the past 75+ years, with a new one emerging in its wake which combines remnants of future or alternate timelines and universes into one universe, including the original. With that said, we’re allowed one last glimpse of what has come before on Alex Ross’ sentimental cover for the issue. Surrounding the climactic clash of Mr. Fantastic and Doctor Doom are memorial-themed shards of legendary events and moments of the MU’s unforgettable past. Towards the middle-left records when Jean Grey first returned as The Phoenix, with a view of Asgard, the patriotic Howling Commandos, and Elektra’s gruesome death by the hands of Bullseye in close proximity. The top right corner is the classic image from Iron Man’s “Demon In The Bottle” storyline from the 80’s as a recovering Tony Stark looks at himself soberingly in a mirror, and we also can make out the Gamma-bomb detonation that turned Bruce Banner into the Hulk, the birth of Franklin Richards, a floating Attilan, Steve Rogers moments right after he’s taken the super-soldier serum, and others on this nostalgic, marvelous cover for Secret Wars #9. It’s relatively hard to miss, but you’ll notice the pure white outline of who appears to be Molecule Man dividing these pieces of Marvel’s history; Mr. Fantastic and Doom meeting at his chest and shoulders. This cleverly adds additional structure to it.

I’m very proud of Alex Ross for contributing his talent to Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Wars throughout all nine issues. He’s single-handedly brought so much value and weight with him being a part of this series and there is not one artist better suited, with all his ability and endearing classical style, to open up the final chapter of the Marvel Universe as we have always known it.

Art of the Month Award: Secret Wars #9

Artist: Esad Ribic

Color Artist: Ive Svorcina 

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From reading interviews when promoting Secret Wars, writer Jonathan Hickman is very vocal on his love for Esad Ribic as an artist (having had a working history with him). They’re a formidable team when it comes down to the comic book page and the 34-page, extra-sized ninth issue for Secret Wars stretches Ribic’s unflinching commitment to the book. Now, there is a lot at stake visually when wrapping up a major comics event on this scale and you can tell Ribic’s interpretation of Hickman’s script is dead on from the outset. His pages consist of both traditional and, at times, unconventional panel work for the series. Page 16 is a classic example of this. The heart of the issue concerns the timeless struggle of Mr. Fantastic and Doctor Doom’s personalities and page 16 combines their faces into one complex, all-too impressive collage. Ribic does a crack job on the rest of the issue as well. While he has never had a hand for detailed pencils and inks, allowing brilliant colorist Ive Svorcina fill in what is lacking, his angles and proportions are gorgeous. The panels with no dialogue/narration are just as powerfully engaging as the one with dialogue/narration; an incredible feat for an artist to achieve.

Looking through Secret Wars #9, I couldn’t tell you what my favorite page is because there are so many. The optimism of the issue shines forth from Ribic and Svorcina’s work with beautiful results. Personally, with all the other art teams out there, I wouldn’t have chosen this particular team to close out Hickman’s epic run, but seeing how it has turned out to be this outstanding, I don’t mind one bit.

Story of the Month Award: Secret Wars #9 (“Beyond”)

Writer: Jonathan Hickman

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Secret Wars #9 is not your traditional final issue of a major comics event. You would imagine the conclusion of any major comics events to end in fireworks, and, while Secret Wars #9 does, it is more on an intimate level in the form of Mr. Fantastic and Doctor Doom’s impending encounter for the ages. The raging war on Battleworld takes a backseat to let these men, who have so much in common but, strangely, so little, too, go at each other in a bare-bones battle that I’ve been wanting to see since Hickman was writing Fantastic Four/FF from 2009-12. The issue begins as Black Panther, wielding an Infinity Gauntlet, and Namor confront God Doom in the midst of all-out devastation. But this soon goes sour for the men and, following a mythological-like quarrel between Black Panther and Doom, he heads off to confront Reed Richards. Meanwhile, Reed, along with The Maker (Mr. Fantastic’s Ultimate Universe doppleganger), enter Molecule Man’s isolated location and have a deceitfully planned falling out on The Maker’s part. Doom and Reed then meet at last and what transpires henceforth is a dramatically-charged fight of ideologies with fists. Hickman’s dialogue for these two characters is spot-on, brilliantly written and paced. It is the ultimate final battle in many respects. This isn’t where the issue stops, however. Without giving away how, the Marvel Universe rebirths for a new tomorrow and we see where some of our heroes (and a certain villain) end up. 

Throughout the span of Avengers and New Avengers has been this theme of the death of everything, touching on serious and depressing issues of mortality. Secret Wars #9 resolves these themes into probably one of Jonathan Hickman’s positive comic book issues to date in a truly, dearly phenomenal way.

Issue of the Month Award: Secret Wars #9 (“Beyond”) 

Writer & Designer: Jonathan Hickman

Artist: Esad Ribic

Color Artist: Ive Svorcina 

Cover By: Alex Ross

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By critically establishing the exquisitely stirring cover from the great Alex Ross, the powerful artwork from Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina, and genius storytelling from a creative crafter of the past decade, Jonathan Hickman, there isn’t much else left to point out from Secret Wars #9’s abounding richness. It is a multiple-award winning comic book and why has clearly been presented. The end to my favorite comic book storyline of all-time has concluded and what is next for Mr. Hickman in Marvel has yet to be unveiled. What we can now do is appreciate this long journey for what it is: a timeless treasure of superhero and comic book artwork and literature.

Before I wrap up, I would like to express my thanks and gratitude for writer Jonathan Hickman. If you’ve been following my blog the last year or so, you’ve likely noticed my diehard affection for his writing and adventures. This is is because I honestly consider him to be the best comic book writer of the past decade and possibly of all-time (for me, at least). From Nightly News, Secret Warriors, Fantastic Four/FF, Red Mass From Mars, East of West, Manhattans Projects, S.H.I.E.L.D., etc., he’s a constant overachiever in the business and has absolutely transformed the way I look at comics as a serious job and art form. HisAvengers/New Avengers/Secret Wars run of the past three years has been one of the most exciting, interesting, and enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had in reading comics.

All I have left to say is, “Thank you, Jonathan Hickman.”

And now thank you all for checking out my awards for January 2016 and be sure to check back sometime next month for February’s edition of my Comic Book Awards (what will I do without a Hickman-written comic in my pile?!) Until then, hopefully you and I will continue to be reading comics!

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