Top 10 Artists Of The 00’s!

In such a great decade for comics, you always hear an awful lot of praise for the writers.  When you hear people talk about Watchmen, a great deal of attention is paid to Alan Moore; when you hear people talk about Wanted, lovers and haters all talk about Mark Millar.  But a comic book is primarily a visual medium, and a talented artist can make a so-so book better, a good book great… or a great book only average.  Witness the art problems that plagued, for example, Grant Morrison’s ground-breaking run on New X-Men.

But this decade had its fair number of stars, art-wise, artists whose style and intensity nearly defined the titles they worked on.  These are our picks for the Top 10 interior artists of the 2000’s.

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Top Ten Best Comic Artists

Why this list? I don’t know; I like lists! This is something I’ve thought about for awhile, but I’ve never had the organization skills to execute this idea. Well, I stopped bothering with some things (Sure, the west half of my house is on fire, but who cares?!?) so I could finally create the awesome list you’re about to experience.

Just to be clear, these are my top ten working artists. All ten of them produced interior work on at least one comic last year. Enjoy!

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10. Ed McGuinness

McGuinness is the Wolverine of comic artists. He’s the best there is at what he does. And what he does is draw big muscular cartoony fun! Hulk is the PERFECT book for him. The man was born to draw it. Throw in an extensive Superman (And later Batman) run and you’ve got plenty of pretty beefy heroes to look at. Did I mention that his art is a fantastic model for toys as well? Check it out! Sure, he doesn’t have much range and he’s a bit lazy, but if I ever need anyone to find a vein on my arm, I’ll go to him!

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9. Frank Cho

After criticizing EM’s range, I put Frank Cho? Am I crazy? Maybe, but Cho does actually have some range. Go check out his Spider-Man issues with Mark Millar. Sure MJ had big boobs, but his Venom was badass. He also renders some fantastic animals. Who draws Dinosaurs and monkeys better than Frank Cho? And yes, he draws some bodacious babes, but is that really such a bad thing? Yes they’re a bit crude, but it works with an American audience. We’re a bit too uptight when it comes to the female form. Cho just puts it out there. Too preachy? I like big boobs. Better? The fact is his women are tough, sexy, and usually pretty muscular. They can kick the shit out of the men. That’s a kind of female power, right?

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8. Steve McNiven

Good, we’re away from the cartoons. Steve McNiven is pretty new to the art scene. Ok, he’s been in the biz for about eight years, but I can count his projects with my fingers. I’ve always considered myself a fan of the man’s work, but his most recent project, Old Man Logan, is what got him on the list. Have you seen that stuff? It’s fucking epic! He’s created an entire future Marvel Universe, aged character designs, and zany stuff like a Venom T-Rex. He’s nailed them all. There’s no doubt in my mind that in ten years when fans discuss the best Wolverine artists, McNiven will be mentioned in the same sentence as Frank Miller and Barry Windsor-Smith. As if that weren’t enough, he also did a stellar job on Civil War, and whether you enjoyed that event or not, at least you were treated to some gorgeous images.

7. Tim Sale

Say what you want about Jeph Loeb, but when he and Sale get together, you get magic. I just picked up that new Daredevil Yellow hardcover a few weeks ago and Sale’s art was absolutely mystifying. His Daredevil is poetic. Sale captured the fallen hero, Battlin’ Jack Murdock, perfectly. Don’t even get me started on his Karen Page. Lois Lane, Mary Jane, Gwen Stacy, Selina Kyle, Tim Sale has rendered some of the most iconic women in comics and yet he always brings something new to the table. Sale is an expert at taking old characters, blowing off the dust, and making them look all shiny and new again.

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6. JH Williams III

Whoa! JH Williams III is number six? How the hell did that happen? Because Williams is awesome, that’s why. He’s an artistic chameleon. If you read his three-issue arc in Batman recently, you’ll know that every member of the Club of Heroes had a different art style. El Gaucho is Howard Chaykin, The Knight and the Squire are Ed McGuinness, and so on. On top of that, Williams has some of the most interesting layouts in comic history. If you want to see some expert graphic design, Williams is your man. How he presents his art is almost as intriguing as the art itself. Heck, the only reason why Williams isn’t higher on the list is his lack of content (Or perhaps my lack of reading his content), but with an absolute Promethea volume and his long-awaited Batwoman run coming up, Williams is sure to make my top five soon.

5. John Romita Jr.

And speaking of Williams’ lack of content, here’s a man who has too much content. Romita has been in the biz for nearly three decades. That’s awesome, but what usually happens to artists over time is that their style gets boring. Not so with Romita, his style has evolved. Going from the traditional look of his Iron Man days, to the Kirby/Miller amalgam, Romita has proved that he’s still one of the best. Want proof? While some of the artists on this list (Even those ahead of him, sadly) produce only a few issues a year, Romita is the opposite. In just two years, he worked on a Neil Gaiman project for seven issues, a mega Marvel event for five, a six-issue return to Spider-Man, and an entirely new property with Mark Millar. Throw in directing part of a movie (An illustrated Kick-Ass segment) and you have one fabulous work ethic!

4. Joseph Michael Linsner

This is where you can stop calling my list predictable. What can I say? I feel a deep connection with Linsner’s work. There are times when I think he’s my favorite artist. His style is Cartoony yet realistic. Linsner’s women are cheesecake, yet independent and strong.  The man’s work is truly transcendent. I can just stare at for days and days. The Hulk is probably a poor example (Though funny), but please go check out his work. If you feel half the connection with it that I do, it’ll be a wondrous experience.

3. Alex Ross

What’s a “best comic artists” list without Alex Ross? Actually, when I was compiling this list, his name slipped my mind. Terry Dodson was on for quite a while, but eventually (Sorry Terry), an image of Kingdom Come Superman blazed across my mind. How is it, that a character that said so little and was part of so few stories can be as incredibly inspirational as Kingdom Come Superman? I blame Alex Ross. He brings such power and solitude to the grey-haired Man of Steel. It was hammered home this year; KC Superman is the symbol for the man who has unimaginable power, and yet he can’t save the ones he loves. A much bleaker ending than the one Jeph Loeb gave him in Absolute Power, but it’s still undeniably moving. Though Ross spends a little too much time rendering covers and writing nostalgic tales for my taste, Justice, Marvels and Kingdom Come are so well-crafted that he easily earns a spot on the list.

2. Frank Quitely

Remember what I said about Sale and Loeb being magic? Well, that goes triple for Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. See that picture above? Why did I choose that instead of something like New X-Men and All Star Superman? Because you already know those are great, but you may have never heard of We3. You should definitely read it because it’s fantastic, and that’s what every project is that Quitely works on. His art is truly unique and I mean that in the best possible way. Quitely handles everything, action, facial expressions, and emotion, all of it, like the master he is. The only reason Quitely isn’t number one is because his art has greatly evolved into marvelous beauty within the last five years. My number one, however, has always been at the top of his game.

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1. Jim Lee

I never thought Jim Lee would be my number one. It makes sense; Batman is my favorite hero, so it’s only natural that the quintessential Batman artist is my favorite. Lee has always demonstrated greatness. Whether your first experience was X-Men, WildC.A.T.s, Batman, or even way back to Punisher War Journal, you were probably impressed. He’s worked on a few bad projects, sure. That won’t stop you from gazing at his beautiful interiors though. Why do you think All Star Batman and Robin is a best-seller? Its gloriously groundbreaking dialogue? I think not. Whether the words accompanying his art were good or not, I’ve always enjoyed Lee’s renderings immensely.

So there’s the list. I doubt you’ll agree completely. “Good art” is purely opinionated. I only wish that if you haven’t heard of one of these talented men (Why isn’t Amanda Conner on the list?), you’ll go check them out. Hopefully, you’re in for a treat.

-Bruce Castle

Bruce Castle Presents: American Icons

4 stars = Stop reading review and go buy now!!!!
3 and a half stars = Great issue and make room on your trade shelf someday soon
3 stars = Recommended and maybe even trade worthy
2 and a half stars = Recommended
2 stars= Not the best, not the worst, not recommended
1 and a half star = Terrible issue and vocalize your disgust at your next social event
1 star = Awful awful awful and you may want to consider dropping this title
0 stars = Next con you attend where the writer and/or artist are present you should throw this issue in their face

Action Comics #867– This is part two of the Brainiac arc from Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. Frank is still knocking the artistic ball out of the park. We’re still getting that old school sci-fi feel to the book and he even gets to draw Supergirl this time. The emotion his characters convey is astounding! It still seems like a simple story to me, but it’s simple and sweet. Perhaps I’ve been reading too many books that feel like you’re standing at ground zero in some major disaster. I’m looking at you Final Crisis. It’s nice to get a simpler tale filled with seemingly real characters that emote and communicate while still having the time to unfold a story. We get a bit less humor in this issue and more action. It’s a fair trade, but I do admit I certainly do enjoy some humor in my comics. There are a few pages without dialogue, but the issue ends on a cliffhanger. The story is being told a bit slowly, and at first I contemplated whether the content was worth the price of admission. But after reviewing it I found more than enough moments that informed me, more than enough stunning panels, and more than enough enjoyment. I definitely enjoyed this book.

3 and a half stars

Captain America White #0

I’d like to first if I may, comment on this issue’s content and price. It’s a bit odd to see an issue 0 priced at 3 bucks. In fact, this book was originally supposed to be priced at 4 bucks with more packed in there. I currently hold in my hands an issue that contains 17 pages of story and 15 pages of an interview with Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale and some original sketches of the book’s covers for all 6 issues. We get about 5 or so pages less than a usual 3 buck comic and actually one page more than we get in the one dollar Conan issue 0. But we also get 15 pages of “extras”. So just to inform you guys, if you’re looking for story in here you may be a bit disappointed. If you like reading interviews and looking at sketches, then you’ll be all good. As far as the actual story in here, it was pretty standard stuff. It was a decent origin setup and actually covered a lot of time at least in what little pages there were. I thought that most of the series was going to be about this stuff. So it gives me hope that maybe we’ll get quite a lot of good stuff in a full-size issue. The very last page of this comic was a bit disappointing. It seems issue 1 isn’t coming out until winter. So why the heck are we getting this like 4 months or so ahead? That was a bit weird to me. Tim Sale’s art looked pretty good. It’s still his usual unique style, but it looks aged and fits well with this 40s yarn. Jeph Loeb’s writing isn’t as bad as people may expect either. It was a more than adequate book and I actually did enjoy the interview stuff. Still, it seems a bit too pricey.

2 stars

Invincible Iron Man #3– I think I’m really warming up to this now. The first issue was a bit shaky and the second issue was really good, but I think I’m really starting to love this stuff. The story is a bit weak. We’ve seen the AIM splinter groups quite a lot and the villains aren’t all that menacing, but there is still a lot to love. It really feels like a true Iron Man book. The dialogue is snappy and the characters are all handled with care. We may not agree with their actions or beliefs, but we understand them. I think Fraction is doing a great job grasping the tone of the highly successful Favreau movie, while still telling his own story in his own style. This is the perfect book for those who either love Iron Man or found yourself enjoying the movie and feel like stumbling into your local comic shop ready for some stories about the Golden Avenger.

3 and a half stars

Iron Man Legacy of Doom #4

And so ends the tale that was old-school, zany, well-written, well-drawn, and above all else fun! I loved the first two Doomquest arcs. They are probably two of the best Iron Man stories in my opinion. I feel that Iron Man and Dr. Doom are two of the best Marvel characters and it was fantastic to see them together involved in a great story. I was hoping that this story would live up to its predecessors and would be able to stand proudly adjacent to that Doomquest hardcover on my shelf. I think that mission was accomplished. The only complaint I have about this book was the somewhat goofy villain, but then I remembered that this is an old-school tale and we tend to forget there was a lot of zany villains in our superheroes’ past. He still serves as a device to get the two armor glad individuals to stand together and fight side by side against overwhelming odds. These two iconic characters are treated with the best of care and their most admirable qualities truly shine. We are reminded of Doom’s moral code and how at times he isn’t that bad of a guy. And it’s always awesome to see a bad ass fighting on the side of the angels. We also see Tony, a character who is at times morally compromised especially as of late, demonstrate an act of true nobility despite being doubted. I’m a big fan of Iron Man and it’s nice to see him act like a hero again.

4 stars

The Archives: Dark Victory

This book is the sequel to The Long Halloween and it definitely works with that in mind. When it stands alone, this book isn’t nearly as good as it is without its predecessor. Much like the first story’s ending seems a bit unfinished without this collection. When these two combine however, you have a truly epic Batman adventure.

This book’s format, length, look, style and even its plot are very similar to The Long Halloween. Again, this is a “who done it” about a killer who murders people on holidays. Instead of mobsters, death finds the cops. Instead of getting shot, the victims are hanged. Clues are again left, but instead of involving holidays, they portray the game of Hang Man with different phrases written on them. Also, all the clues point to Harvey Dent as the killer.

In the first book, Loeb relied heavily on the mystery and who was behind the killings. In this story, the mystery takes a bit of a back seat to deal with the characters involved in the mystery. The “who done it” is easier to solve in this collection than the last one, but this time, almost every character is focused on and we are given good reason to either love or hate them. Also, we see a lot less of Bruce Wayne because Batman is more in control this time. We also get to see the origin of Dick Grayson played out and we see his slow transformation into Robin. Tim Sale’s art was already miraculous in the first book and his art has continued to evolve. The characters still have that unique stylization that brings a bit of magic out of everyone.

I suppose in addition to the mystery being a bit easier to unravel, the story’s length also hinders its enjoyment a bit. Especially when combined with the first story. Still, it doesn’t affect its impact nor does it detract from the quality of the story. By the end of both books we are tired of all the murder and corruption in Gotham, but I suppose that’s how Batman feels.

I really enjoyed this book. Even though it doesn’t receive as much praise as The Long Halloween, there is still plenty to love and I may have even enjoyed this story more.

4 stars

The Archives: Batman The Long Halloween

It’s a bit pointless reviewing something that has already been read by just about everyone in comics. Still, I felt compelled to read it again in preparation for the new movie and thought I should put my two cents up here anyway. If nothing else, perhaps you could all get a little bit nostalgic seeing the beautifully crafted work of Tim Sale decorating the cover of a very well praised book.

I know there are a lot of people who look down on Jeph Loeb. To a lot of people, his once promising career has been sullied by many of his later books. Still, that shouldn’t and doesn’t detract from the quality of this book. It had been a while since I had read this. Like most mystery stories, they don’t really demand to be reread often once the mystery has been solved. However, even though the story and the outcome were familiar, it was still one hell of a ride.

I’m sure most of you know the plot. It’s a “who done it” that revolves around holidays. You may even be able to guess what they call the killer. Loeb makes everyone a subject. The story has been seen before, a few things don’t make much sense, and sometimes Loeb uses cheap gimmicks to get himself out of the corners he’s written. But there is a lot of gold in here. Something that impressed me when I reread it was that, as I mentioned in my review of Haunted Knight, it feels like the Ultimate Batman Universe.

It takes characters and concepts from Batman Year One, but it is in no way a sequel of that classic. No, it’s more of an amalgam of different Batman concoctions mixed together to tell a story set in the early years of Batman. Much like Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, it’s technically an elseworlds tale, yet it feels as though it could exist within the character’s continuity. Also, I think a big help in making this book a modern classic was the art of Tim Sale. Even though this book was produced over a decade ago, it still stands the test of time due to Sale’s prowess. He gives each and every character a unique style that makes them seem new and fresh.

As I mentioned earlier, nostalgia does come into play here. Personally, this was one of the first Batman comics I ever read. That makes it near impossible to give it a negative review. I tried to look at it at the most critical angle I could and it still seems to be a tale worthy of its praise. It’s not flawless, but it is still a lot of fun. If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and go slam down twenty bucks for this trade. You’ll be in for a wild ride.

4 stars

The Archives: Batman Haunted Knight

Well, now that I’ve finally finished rereading and reviewing the Hellboy trades, it’s time to move onto Batman. I’m going to be reading a few choice Batman stories in the next week or so. Now, you may be looking at the title of the book I am reviewing with some puzzlement. What does this story have to do with the movie? Well, nothing I suppose, but I wanted to reread the Long Halloween because I’ve heard a lot of that will be adapted on the screen. Mostly the Two-Face stuff I suppose. Joker was also in that, as well as Falcone who was in the first movie. So I thought I might as well reread Dark Victory while I’m at it. Then it occurred to me that I didn’t own the other Jeph Loeb Tim Sale Batman story. I had never read this trade before and it seemed fitting to read this first because it was released first.

The first story in this collection is called Fears. Since I just mentioned the Batman movie earlier, I’d like to mention that one of the things I noticed while reading this is the direct quote from Batman begins. From the Scarecrow “Professor Crane isn’t here right now. But if you’d like to make an appointment”, this line was taken from this story and put directly into Christopher Nolan’s movie. So for those of you who feel that Jeph Loeb can’t write dialogue but who also like Batman begins, you may want to rethink things. This was indeed the best story in this book. The Scarecrow is a perfect villain for Halloween. There is also a subplot involving a love interest of Bruce’s. I love the twist in this story. Not in the traditional “what a twist” kind of way, but a twist away from conventional storytelling.

The next story is called Madness. The villain is the Mad Hatter and of course it draws heavily from Lewis Carroll. There is a nice story told in flashback about Bruce’s childhood. This is also one of the few stories where the Mad Hatter is genuinely terrifying. He’s usually more of a goof and any story that portrays him otherwise certainly deserves a little credit.

The last story is called Ghosts and I suppose this is the worst story here. I imagine the people who read this book and dislike it will mostly complain about this story. It is a simple story and in a way is merely a retelling of a classic Charles Dickens’ story. But there is also a nice subplot about Lucius Fox that I really enjoyed. That is one of the things I enjoy most about these stories and Long Halloween and Dark Victory is the retelling of Bruce Wayne’s early life drawn beautifully by Tim Sale. This is about as close to an “Ultimate” Batman as you can get (All Star Batman and Robin doesn’t count). Also, in regards to the Dickens adaptation, I rather enjoyed it. I always enjoy some literature in my comics. So I enjoyed that in this story as well as in Madness. This Batman yarn is simple yes, but I found it oddly profound. It actually made me think a bit due to the comparisons between the original tale and the one that is presented here.

Yes overall I rather enjoyed this trade. It’s nice to see some early Sale as well as early Loeb. I hope that their upcoming collaboration is as good as or better than this one. They seem to bring the best out of each other. At first, I wasn’t sure how many times I’d reread this, but due to the length of Long Halloween, I think that between the two, I may reread this. 3 and a half stars