- Continuing my Best of 2009 series, I'm back to talk about the year that was in comics. I know, I know - it's almost February. But hey, that's why I'm putting my nose to the grindstone to get out a couple more Best-Of lists before it gets too deep into 2010.
THE BEST COMICS OF 2009:
Now, about comics. I think it was a pretty okay year for comics, although there have definitely been times when I found myself missing the sheer breadth and depth of high quality work that characterized much of the last decade. In 2009, Y: The Last Man, my pick as comic of the decade, was over and done with. Fables, another of the decade's best works, was still chugging along, although it hit a couple of rough patches with a few less-than-amazing story arcs. Some of the major superhero lines (Superman, for example) produced decent work, but nothing that really stood alongside last year's All-Star Superman in terms of being genre-defining. Speaking of All-Star Superman, 2009 saw Grant Morrison stuck in the Batman universe, where his out-there concepts seemed an odd match for such a dark and gritty character. Sure, Grant produced some memorable Bat stories, but his run on Batman has also helped to make the argument that Morrison is best left to his own self-contained universes, rather than telling stories that are at the heart of a continuity-heavy shared universe. Case in point: last year's much-hyped "Death of Batman" storyline that has played out throughout '09 and continues into 2010. It seemed like all the other writers who had to piggyback on Grant's story had no clue what he was up to, so finally the Bat-books just sort of each went their own way. Let Geoff Johns sort it all out in some future universe-spanning crossover.
And that brings me to Geoff Johns, who singlehandedly made superhero comics worth reading in '09. Johns has been a DC Comics mainstay for years now, but in an off-year overall for the genre, Johns' comics stood out more than ever. You could argue that perhaps the guy had finally spread himself too thin - what with Green Lantern, Blackest Night, Booster Gold, Flash: Rebirth, Superman: Origin, Adventure Comics, and any number of specials and mini-series. And yet ... while not every Johns work is a masterpiece, his writing is incredibly solid across the board. Green Lantern and Blackest Night in particular were really exciting in '09. Easily the two "must-read" mainstream comics month in and month out.
Personally though, I want to see some more new, breakout writers in 2010. With very few exceptions, it felt like there weren't a lot of Big Two comics really worth reading in '09 aside from thsoe written by a small handful of elite writers. Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, Paul Dini, Palmiotti and Gray, Gail Simone. A couple of old favorites have stepped up - Dan Jurgens on Booster Gold, for example. And a couple of new writers have captured my attention - Bryan Q. Miller, Sterling Gates, Eric Trautman. But I want to see more new talent step up and be given opportunities. I mean, Geoff Johns can't write everything, can he?
Finally, I give credit to guys like Mark Millar and Robert Kirkman who are doing some of the most exciting stuff in comics right now. Books like Kick-Ass and The Walking Dead push the limits of the medium, and try new things. Kick-Ass wasn't necessarilly a classic, but it was definitely unlike anything I've read before. I can't wait for the film version. And Robert Kirkman is probably the most fun writer in comics today. The guy mixes real-feeling characters with over-the-top, holy-$#%& moments like no one else. It's why Walking Dead is easily my favorite ongoing series right now - I have no idea where it's going, no idea what will happen in a given issue. The zombie-apocalypse premise is familiar, but Kirkman puts a wholly unique spin on it. It's no wonder that AMC is turning it into a TV series - The Walking Dead is, to me, the most compelling serialized fiction in pop culture today.
DANNY'S TOP 10 COMIC BOOK SERIES OF 2009:
1.) The Walking Dead
- I've been reading Walking Dead in graphic novel form, and whenever I buy a new volume, I have to hold off on diving in until I know I have a couple of hours to spare, because once I start reading, I literally cannot put the book down. The ongoing story of a ragtag band of survivors in a world overrun by zombies is just that compelling. So much of that is the anything-can-happen feeling that writer Robert Kirkman creates. Anyone could die at any moment. The whole dynamic of the series has changed multiple times so far, and could change again. It's a comic that never fails to shock or leave your jaw on the floor. Awesome stuff.
2.) Detective Comics
- I was skeptical of Greg Rucka's latest run on Detective Comics, at least at first. I mean, the new star of the series, Batwoman, was introduced back in 52 more as a gimmick than as a real character. She had a cool costume, sure, but no real personality to speak of. I guess I shouldn't have doubted Rucka. He's given Kate Kane an awesome origin story and made Detective into one of DC's best reads. And ... holy lord - JH Williams' artwork on this series is absolutely phenomenal, some of the best I've ever seen. Even if the story wasn't good, this book would be a must-buy for William's stunning art alone.
3.) Blackest Night / Green Lantern
- After the confusing and messy Final Crisis event, many were reluctant to buy into yet another epic crossover from DC. And yet ... if anyone could pull off something as big and ambitious as Blackest Night, it was Geoff Johns. In the pages of Green Lantern, Johns has been laying the groundwork for this storyline for years, and it served as the giant conclusion to his GL trilogy that began with Rebirth, continued to The Sinestro Corps War, and then, finally, to Blackest Night. The GL issues leading up to the event were awesome, and the event itself, so far, has delivered. Johns just has that uncanny knack for clean, solid storytelling that mixes epic, high-concept superheroics with just enough in-depth characterization to get you highly invested in all the melodrama. If there was one phrase that shook the comic world in '09, it was the call of the Black Lantern rings as they summoned dead heroes and villains from the grave: "RISE!"
4.) Fables / Jack of Fables
Fables is an interesting one. Undoubtedly one of the landmark comics of this past decade, Fables just keeps chugging along with no signs of slowing down. There have now been spinoffs, novels, and more, but the core Fables book has remained top-notch. Okay, so maybe the critically-panned "Great Fables Crossover" story wasn't the series' finest hour, but the book has since rebounded, with some really cool storylines, like the recent "Witches" arc. Meanwhile, the companion book, Jack of Fables, seems to improve every month. With its edgy humor and satirical bent, Jack is just a fun read. And the awesome Brian Bolland covers don't hurt, either.
5.) Secret Six
- Gail Simone has been kicking ass on Secret Six, and over the last year it's grown into one of my favorite comics. The fact is, this darkly humorous, action-packed book about six deviant supervillains-for-hire is a joy to read because Simone clearly loves writing for the badguys. I mean, they may be decidely evil, and yet, characters like Catman, Deadshot, and Scandal Savage have become some of the most multidimensional in comics.
6.) Sweet Tooth
- What an awesomely weird comic. Sweet Tooth is a stylized post-apocalyptic roadtrip comic, and half the fun so far has just been slowly figuring out what the hell is going on. We have some vague notion of a great disaster that decimated the earth, and we know that there are children, transformed by the disaster, who are being hunted by the remaining normal humans. Jeff Lemire writes and draws, and he also belongs on that list of breakout talent of 2009. It's been really fun following this exciting new comic from Vertigo.
- I think the knock against Kick-Ass is just that it took so damn long to come out. It definitely left a bad taste in my mouth - months between issues, even as the movie was completed and screened at film fests. That said, Kick-Ass is probably one of Mark Millar's best comics yet - it is totally bombastic and over-the-top, yet fun as all hell. It feels like the Tarantino version of a teen superhero movie. And, now that the first volume is finally complete, I can look back and say that yes, Kick-Ass was one hell of a ride.
- I'm at the point now where I'll try out almost anything by Walking Dead writer Robert Kirkman. While some of his new projects in '09 failed to impress (The Haunt, for one) others, well, kicked ass. Destroyer, for one - an over-the-top superhero story for Marvel that chronicled an aging hero's final crusade to fight the good fight before his creaky old ticker finally goes out on him. I mean come on, who doesn't love a good yarn about a badass old man kicking ass one last time?
- It's been kind of sad, I have to say. After emerging as one of the best and brightest comic book writers to come along in years, Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man) has been spending most of his time with movies and TV, penning awesome episodes of shows like Lost. But, we've still been getting new issues of Ex Machina, Vaughan's other big series which has been barrelling towards its conclusion, set for later this year. The saga of Mayor Mitchell Hundred has been an awesome read - politics mixed with sci-fi - and I only wish it came out more frequently so that I could remember what the hell was going on when a new issue hits.
10.) Jonah Hex
- Jonah Hex is one of those comics that I always look forward to, simply because you never know what you're going to get. With so many ongoing comics, it's the same thing - wash, rinse, repeat - six issue storyarcs, dragged-out storylines that take forever to conclude, etc. With Hex, we get self-contained, badass Western tales that could involve action, adventure, mystery, horror, or romance. In 2009, we got the series' first-ever multi-part arc, an epic story called Six-Gun War. But we also got lots of great one-and-done stories, including a memorable anniversery issue, that reaffirmed the series' greatness.
- I can't exactly include Planetary on my main Top 10 list, because only one issue of the series came out in 2009. But what an issue it was. After a years-long wait for the acclaimed series' final issue, we finally got it in '09. And it was a doozy. The writing of Warren Ellis was sharp, the art from John Cassady was spectacular, and the adventures of Elijah Snow, Jaquita Wagner, and The Drummer were wrapped up in epic fashion. A fitting close to one of the decade's best comics.
- Booster Gold
- Batman & Robin
- Batman: Streets of Gotham
- Batman: Gotham City Sirens
- Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?
- The Flash: Rebirth
- Power Girl
- Black Lightning: Year One
- Green Lantern Corps
- Superman: Secret Origin
- Superman: World of New Krypton
WRITERS OF THE YEAR:
1. Geoff Johns (Green Lantern, Blackest Night, Flash)
2. Robert Kirkman (Walking Dead, Destroyer)
3. Greg Rucka (Detective Comics, Action Comics)
4. Paul Dini (Streets of Gotham, Gotham City Sirens, Batman: Arkham Asylum)
5. Matthew Sturges (Jack of Fables, Run)
6. Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray (Power Girl, Jonah Hex)
7. Gail Simone (Secret Six)
8. Mark Millar (Kick-Ass)
9. Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth)
10. Peter Tomasi (Green Lantern Corps)
ARTISTS OF THE YEAR:
1. JH Williams III (Detective Comics)
2. Ivan Reiss (Blackest Night)
3. John Romita Jr. (Kick-Ass)
4. Frank Quietly (Batman & Robin)
5. Charlie Adlard (Walking Dead)
6. Mark Buckingham (Fables)
7. Gary Frank (Superman: Secret Origin)
8. Doug Mahnke (Green Lantern)
9. Tony Daniel (Batman)
10. Eddy Barrows (Superman: Blackest Night)