Originally Published at Comics Bulletin on April 30, 2014.
I realized didn’t have a copy of this archived anywhere, and with the new management at Comics Bulletin, then this whole recent CBR shake-up serving as a reminder, you just never know where your content is going to go! It remains one of a few pieces of writing that I’m very proud of and I wanted to preserve it.
Were I to rewrite this list today, sort of the big glaring omission from the last couple years of output is that Starve would now surely be placed in the Top 3, if not higher, which means that Supermarket would likely get bumped off.
I’d probably also try to move Conan The Barbarian up higher on the list, this run has really grown on me with time, especially considering the needle Brian was trying to thread and all of the art talent on display.
Would I be able to also move DV8 up slightly higher on the list?
How very gauche it would be to include your own work, but the thought occurred to me that some day Rome West could be mentioned in the same breath as these works by some other critic.
I’d probably rewrite the entry for The Massive since the series hadn’t wrapped when I wrote the original article, and we’ve also since had the Ninth Wave mini-series to supplement it. I could potentially see The Massive moving down a slot or two to accommodate Starve.
I’d also want to comment on Star Wars, how I think it’s still better than any of the Marvel Comics work since the transition, both in terms of achieving the right artistic tone from Carlos D’Anda and the efficiency with which Brian crammed so many ideas into a single book.
Would there be room to include Moon Knight? Even though it’s another work-for-hire project and I tend to favor creator-owned, I’m very fond of that run. I mean, Greg Smallwood for crying out loud.
I always struggled with how to include the Americana short, with art by Emily Carroll, from Tales of The Unexpected.
Would there be room to include Rebels? Is it weird putting books on the list from people you now work with? I guess that’s part of the reason I’m no longer a critic.
As the body of work grows larger, 10 selections obviously becomes very limiting, and maybe that’s the point? I’ll probably try to make it a point to revisit this in 5 or 10 years to see where things stand.
Channel Zero would stay in the top slot just on principle, for all the reasons I cite in the original piece.
10. Supermarket (IDW)
The frequent collaborations between Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson all started with Supermarket, the story of young Pella Suzuki caught between her familial ties to the street-racing organized crime underworld of the Yakuza, and the Swedish Porno Mob in near-future Japan. Sometimes the way you can sell a book is to make film comparison sound bytes, so consider this Brian Wood’s Run Lola Run. It’s rife with his go-to theme of choice, the identity quest, as Pella is presented with a pivotal life choice on the teetering precipice of change. The story that occurs is her defining moment, all entrenched in youth culture, paranoid futurism, and rampant consumerism. Supermarket uses garish Day-Glo colors from Donaldson and a socially relevant script as a wireframe for intense action and generational drama.
9. Conan The Barbarian (Dark Horse)
Conan is perhaps the best example in Wood’s oeuvre of deliberately taking an outsider’s perspective, and bringing some of the creator owned indie magic to a well-tread company owned joint. While the 25-issue run is generally critically lauded, it’s not been without some controversy. This interesting dynamic saw Wood take some flak for basically doing exactly what he was hired to do, a different interpretation that deviates tonally to some degree from the well-respected REH source material. In these pages, Wood crafts a younger, more inexperienced, less cocksure Conan. REH Purist Bro Dudes whinged that it was “Emo,” “Barista,” “Fag” Conan, whatever the hell that means (I’m not making this up, these are actual descriptors used in the Message Board Pits of Hell, By Crom!). But, this was merely a Conan who was still learning, one who was on a journey. This was a Conan who sometimes got his ass kicked, made some horrendous miscalculations, and shoot, he even went and fell hopelessly in love. This Conan has a tendency to leap before he looks, physically and emotionally, culminating in the classic story “The Death of Belit.” The fated run is both heart-warming and gut-wrenching, showcasing a different side of everyone’s favorite barbarian brawler.
8. Star Wars (Dark Horse)
Star Wars is easily the book containing the most sheer fun on this list. At some point, Brian Wood became known for writing strong, realistic, multi-faceted female leads, so like the work-for-hire arrangement with Conan The Barbarian, LucasFilm, via Dark Horse, specifically requested Brian Wood to take a purposeful approach with a book starring Princess Leia Organa. With WildStorm alum Carlos D’Anda co-piloting, they bring an indie sensibility to an extremely well-tread property. Star Wars positions Leia as the blaster-wielding, X-Wing piloting, politically active operative who anchors the book. It takes place in the interstitial space between ANH and ESB, moves the beloved characters from their fleeting victory at the Battle of Yavin as rebels on the run, witnesses the birth of Rogue Squadron by rightfully elevated b-character Wedge Antilles, and runs up just prior to the settling of Echo Base on Hoth. Wood demonstrates an ability to walk the sweet spot between indie swagger and mainstream appeal, pushes nostalgia buttons to service fanboys, all with the creative joie de vivre of world-building in an already well-built galaxy, far, far away. With the Star Wars licensing deal reverting to Marvel subsequent to the Disney acquisition of LucasFilm, this will go down as the last great Dark Horse contribution to Star Wars.
7. DV8: Gods & Monsters (DC/WildStorm)
I used to really freak people out and say that DV8 is Brian Wood’s Watchmen. I understand that probably sounds provocative or hyperbolic, but it’s actually not far off the mark, taking place in the waning days of the WildStorm imprint. With some old Warren Ellis “Gen-Active” characters in tow, Wood weaves a superhero deconstruction parable that examines what realistically fallible people would actually do, the types of decisions they’d make if a random group of otherwise “normal” kids were suddenly able to wield godlike powers. Gem Antonelli (aka: “Copycat”) is a remarkable character because her own identity crisis is front and center, contending with the fractured personalities of “Soldier,” “Spy,” “Nihilist,” and “Little Gemma.” For a creator who has worked in near-total rejection of the industry’s most prevalent genre, DV8 ultimately demonstrates what a flawed paradigm the superhero genre is, subsuming it from within. With interiors by rising star Rebekah Isaacs, it also featured striking covers from a (then) relatively unknown artist named Fiona Staples, years before you ever heard of a little book called Saga.
6. Demo: Volume 01 (DC/Vertigo)
Brian Wood readily admits that he’s fascinated with the dynamic that occurs when characters are positioned on a momentous precipice of change. Demo should certainly be considered a foundational work in light of that, because it literally showcases many of these moments in a series of vignettes that feel like a supremely grounded low-fi version of X-Men, with young characters manifesting weird abilities that irrevocably alter the course of their lives. There are many interesting one-shots tucked away in both volumes, but for my money, few single issue stories capture the majesty of tertiary information delivery that occurs when art is paired with words as well as “Mon Dernier Jour Avec Toi” in Demo: Volume 01 #12. Demo is also notable for blipping a young artist named Becky Cloonan onto everyone’s collective radar screen, and cementing Wood’s relationship with this frequent collaborator.
5. Northlanders (DC/Vertigo)
I’ll go on record as saying that Brian would probably put this series in the #1 slot if anyone ever forced him to make a list like this (but, he’d hate that). Northlanders is essentially a series of mini-series, jumping around in time, place, and lead characters. For a writer fascinated with identity, the book became part of his own. It’s near and dear to his heart, a personal, emotional book, chock full of historical research about the shifting paradigms of commerce, class, ethnicity, religion, women’s rights, generational conflict, you name it, a full-fledged treatise on progress marching on, whether people come willingly or not. Northlanders may be his first “adult” work, in the sense that it’s the work of a writer who is a father attempting to reconcile optimism for his kids’ future with all of the awful shit that goes on in the world. There are so many incredible artists to choose from, but I’ll recommend Volume 01: “Sven The Returned” with Davide Gianfelice, and Volume 04: “The Plague Widow” with lush chilling work from Leandro Fernandez that best exhibits Brian Wood “The Father.” Northlanders is also significant because of the impact it would have on the approach to some future series, like working in high-impact 3-issue arcs in The Massive, channeling residual energy on his Conan run with rotating artists, or a rumored historical fiction series set in the Revolutionary War era that will utilize a similar open-ended temporal/setting/protagonist framework.
4. DMZ (DC/Vertigo)
Full Disclosure: Working as a freelancer for DC Comics since 2012 on the final TPB collection and now the new Deluxe Edition Hardcovers, and having created an entire site dedicated to this book where I pored over interviews, scripts, concept art, and pitch documents, DMZ is the Brian Wood book I’ve spent the most time with, so I’ll be the first to admit some bias. That said, DMZ is the second part of an extremely loose thematic trilogy formed by Channel Zero, DMZ, and The Massive. If Channel Zero was the story of a girl and her broken city, DMZ is the story of a boy and his broken country. While the narrative focuses on would-be journalist Matthew Roth stuck in Manhattan during the Second American Civil War, DMZ ultimately serves as a love letter to the enduring spirit of New York City in a post-9/11 world. With co-creator Riccardo Burchielli acting as principal artist, DMZ is also Brian Wood’s longest running series at 72 issues, sitting like a critical keystone in his library. It’s no surprise SyFy recently optioned it for TV.
3. Local (Oni Press)
Megan McKeenan is one of the great modern female characters. Megan is an everywoman, but Megan is special. Megan is a woman capable of disarming charm, but one who is also capable of making ugly mistakes. Megan is a woman full of contradiction and layers who grows up right before our eyes over the course of 12 issues occurring in 12 different cities, featuring “locals” scattered around North American haunts, and ends up forging her hard-earned adult identity. Local is what those of us from the old-school used to call a “maxi-series” and allows for detours like my favorite issue focusing on the rise and fall of a band called “Theories & Defenses” in a VH1: Behind The Music inspired single housed in Local #3. Local is important for cementing a relationship with frequent collaborator Ryan Kelly, oh, and by the way, it also serves as a coming-of-age bildungsroman in the tradition of To Kill A Mockingbird. Yeah. I just said that. It is Brian Wood’s “Great American Novel.”
2. The Massive (Dark Horse)
Follow the thread… Channel Zero is the story of a girl and her broken city. DMZ is the story of a boy and his broken country. The Massive is the story of a man and his broken world, as Callum Israel helms the Ninth Wave Marine Conservationist Direct Action Force. It’s my current favorite Brian Wood book, one that extrapolates relevant environmental concerns toward the future our children will inherit, and marries them with the grand scale adventure of a crew traversing the globe searching for their missing sister ship, just after things have gone all post-apocalyptic. I’ve analyzed every single word and panel with severe scrutiny attempting to crack the code of the three central mysteries (What caused The Crash? Where is The Massive? What’s up with enigmatic Mary?), and have even teamed up with fellow CB’er Keith Silva to address “The Rule of Three” as it applies to The Massive, but the most revealing information is happening RIGHT NOW in the most recent “Sahara” arc with Croatian artist and frequent collaborator Danijel Zezelj. The Massive is Can’t-Miss Comics.
1. Channel Zero (Dark Horse)
It’s tempting to be coy and say that the best Brian Wood book is simply the next one, whatever’s next in the pipe, but that’s a cheat. Channel Zero deserves the top slot on the Top 10 list because without it, there just might not have been any others. Brian Wood’s first bold effort at DIY art terrorism spun out of a final project at Parsons School of Design and was the result of a self-described analog artist who only decided to try his hand at writing so he’d have something cool to draw. In the process, a writer was born amid the story of pirate broadcaster Jennie One (nee: Jennifer Havel) railing against totalitarian policies run amok (a thinly-veiled pastiche of then-mayor Rudy Giuliani's policies), all while craving dim sum. Channel Zero established some of the core themes running through Wood’s books as connective tissue over the years, namely politics, fervent love for NYC, dystopian tendencies, prescient social awareness, and a protagonist navigating their own identity vis-à-vis their place in a larger complex system.