The Pinnacle – Part 1

The release of the movie adaptation of Watchmen seems to have brought with it more comics discussion with my non-comic reading friends than any other movie released before it. I imagine this has to do Watchmen being practically unknown by many of those outside of comics, unlike Batman, Spider-Man and other properties who have already had mass media exposure.

One recurring theme in these discussions is the idea that Watchmen is the end all, be all of comics among regular comic readers, and those who disagree are in a very slim minority. I imagine the marketing campaign for the movie is at least partially responsible for this. I argued that I didn’t believe this to be true, and that opinion on what would be considered the best in comics would be incredibly varied. Still, I couldn’t help thinking that maybe I was wrong, and with a little prodding from my friends I asked a few of my favourite bloggers what they would consider the pinnacle of the medium. I had no plans to do anything with the answers I received, other than rub my friends’ faces in it, but at least a few participants in my informal survey were curious as to what the responses were, so here they are.

Just to be clear, this isn’t meant to be some sort of knock on Watchmen. Most of the respondents admitted to being admirers of that book, and I can appreciate why many people believe that it truly is the best of the medium. This also isn’t some sort of scientific poll or alchemical ritual where we divine the Greatest Comic Of All Time. I just think it’s interesting to see just how varied comics, and our views on them, can be.

The Fortress Keeper – Fortress of Fortitude

That’s a tough one. Watchmen is a very good piece of work to be sure, but I’m not sure I’d even consider it the pinnacle of Alan Moore’s oeuvre.

My answer could change depending upon my mood and the genre of comics I’m talking about. (The first 20-25 issues of Lee/Ditko Spider-Man could well take the cake for super-heroes, but one EC short-story story entitled “The Master Race” may well out-do just about everything ever produced by the Big Two. And what about Tezuka?)

For my money, though, i’ll say it’s Will Eisner’s The Spirit, which began life as a cool, noir-ish adventure strip and later became a rather neat encapsulation of post-World War 2 urban America through its use of short, character driven tales. When I first encountered The Spirit in the b&w Warren magazine from the 1970s, it provided my first realization that “mature” comics could be about more than just super-heroes with angst. The art of course, was also eye-opening. Eisner’s use of shadow and faux 3-D (those wonderful logos) convinced me that pictures could literally “move” even if they were static.

Teresa – In Sequence

My answer is: “Eiland,” Issue #3, by Stefan J.H. Van Dinther & Tobias Tycho Schalken. “Watchmen” is often cited as a comic that is untranslatable to film because its storytelling is so particular to the medium of comics. I do think “Watchmen” stretches the medium, but its still firmly planted within a certain well understood storytelling tradition. “Eiland” Issue #3 is a beautiful example of the medium showing how much further the concept of sequential art can be taken.

Maxo – Great Caesar’s Post

Man, that’s kind of a tough question, ain’t it? My first reaction to a question like, “What is the best comic ever?” is to ask, “What kind of comic do you mean?”

There are so many different genres of comics — superhero, “real life,” historical, autobiographical, comedic, horror and on and on — that it’s hard to nail down what I would consider the pinnacle of the medium. I hate to even point to a single creator; choosing, say, Eisner, shouldn’t take away from others such as Kirby, Steranko and even Miller. Even if you were to narrow down the criteria, it would be a tussle to come up with a definitive answer.

OK, OK — that should be a sufficient amount of ass-covering.

I’ll be honest; I made a list of some of my favorite books, many of which are generally agreed on as being “important” and some that are just books I love. I was going to subject you to that list, but I’m just going to bite the bullet and say — at the moment — the pinnacle of the comics medium is “Y: The Last Man.”

Alan Moore’s “Watchmen,” without a doubt, is one of the greatest comics ever created and like all great literature will be considered a classic by history. But one thing “Y” has that “Watchmen” doesn’t is accessibility. ANYONE can pick up “Y” and almost instantly relate. The title is stylistically and thematically consistent throughout, and deceptively complex, but draws a reader in so subtly that before you even realize it, you’re in deep. It’s ambitious and epic in scope, but the core cast of characters and sure-handed scripting by Brian K. Vaughn also makes the whole thing extremely intimate.

For some readers, especially those who are not regular comic readers, “Watchmen” can be surprisingly dense, and I’ve known people who refuse to read it just because they flipped through and saw a superhero book (no matter how much I told them that the tights were really just the vehicle carrying the real story). “Watchmen” is undoubtedly important, and I’d be the first to agree it’s certainly more ambitious, but I’d argue that in some ways “Y” reaches readers that “Watchmen” does not.

I feel I should make a point here; I’m not picking out “Y: The Last Man” because it’s popular or because it’s “easy.” It is, however, a good example of what comics can be, especially for new comics readers. And in the end, the title offers nearly everything — a love story, an adventure, a mystery, a road story and a buddy movie, all ending with a conclusion as magical as the escape artist-title character himself.

So, there it is. I know as soon as I hit “Send” I’m going to be second-guessing myself, and by tomorrow I may even change my mind completely, but for now I keep coming back to “Y: The Last Man.” Whenever someone asks me, “What comic book should I read?” it is always at the top of my list.

And just for the sake of my own peace of mind, here are the other books that floated to the top:

Watchmen
Maus
Transmetropolitan
Sandman
Swamp Thing (Alan Moore)
Lone Wolf & Cub
The Spirit (Will Eisner)
Persepolis
Jack Kirby’s Fourth World

I could go on and on about “Y: The Last Man,” “Watchmen” and the slippery nature of what constitutes “the best,” but I think I’ll end it here and go tackle an easier question, like how to bring peace to the Middle East or end world hunger.

Steve, here. I just wanted to thank The Fortress Keeper, Teresa and Maxo for taking time away from their own blogging and providing such thoughtful answers. Please consider visiting their sites. All three are miles better than I Was Ben, and I can think of no better way to escape this blog than by following a link to one of theirs.

I’ll have more responses tomorrow, so please check back, and if you’d like to leave your own response to the question “What would you consider the pinnacle of the medium?”, do so in the comments below or email us as iwasben@gmail.com. Thanks!

Illustration from Eiland #3 by Dinther and Schalken.

5 Responses to “The Pinnacle – Part 1”

  1. Maxo Says:

    Funny – days later I’m still rolling this question around in my head! Thanks again for including me in the discussion, and especially for sharing some of the other points of view here — it’s great to hear thoughtful opinions on good comics.

  2. Jim Hall Says:

    For my money the top of the heap was the Avengers Kree-Skrull war arch. It had everything – heroic action, sci-fi, nostalgia, Roy Thomas, & Neal Adams. For me, comics just don’t get better than that.

    Jim

  3. Steven Says:

    Thanks, guys!

    That’s a bold choice, Jim!

  4. Jim Hall Says:

    Thanks Steven – I’m going to take that as a compliment.

    Jim

  5. Steven Says:

    It certainly is.

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