Despite that, I always read them - what can I say?
Here, then, is my personal list of the best of 2009. I looked through the (approximately) 300 reviews of new comics I wrote this year (!!), and selected the ones with the highest grades for the final cut. I was surprised to find that only four comics received the highest grade (A+) - so that's where the top four came from.
(By the way, if you're wondering what the worst comic of the year is, it's Ultimatum.)
I will cheat a bit and list some "Honorary Mentions" - darn good comics that just missed the cut. They are:
- Blackest NightNow, on to the finalists:
- Invincible Iron Man
- Secret Warriors
- Jonah Hex
- Scott Pilgrim
- New Avengers
- Power Girl
- Ultimate Spider-Man
#10 - Planetary #27
It was a mighty long wait for this one, but well worth it.
Planetary tells the story of a small group of super-powered heroes who roam the world, solving mysteries and putting together the pieces of a universe-shaking puzzle.
The series was the perfect team-up of two terrific talents. Writer Warren Ellis managed to work in an amazing number of references to past comics, pulps, science fiction and films, all bound together by a compelling story that stretched the bounds of comic books.
Artist John Cassaday used this comic to show that he's one of (if not THE) best artists working in comic today. With a style of his own, he also manages to combine the best of Steranko, Severin, Wood, Perez and McGuire. His images are big, bold and dynamic, and he brings iconic characters to life, evoking the inspiration without copying outright. If you doubt it, just pick up the comic and look at the fold-out cover, which recaps the series all by itself. What a poster it would make!
This final issue intelligently wraps up one last plot point and points the characters into the future in a touching way. I'm not sure it would make a lot of sense to anyone who hadn't read any of the previous issues, but to fans, it's a great wrap-up to an outstanding series that should enjoy a long life in collected form.
#9 - Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #3
If there was an award for "geekiest comic book series of the year," then Legion of 3 Worlds would win by a landslide.
And I don't mean that in any sort of derogatory sense - I write those words with respect to a team who is writing the ultimate Legion story.
I imagine writer Geoff Johns smiling the whole time he was writing this comic. He's loaded it with all kinds of characters from the Legion's past, he's infused it with drama and humor, and tons of in-jokes and asides that only diehard Legion fans will get.
I suspect artist George Perez had that same smile on his face while he was penciling these pages, loading them with insane amounts of detail, dozens and dozens of characters, both familiar and obscure, and putting together not one but two team splashes with an army of Legionnaires filling the panel. He also provides a double-page battle splash that has to be seen to be believed.
In fairness, I also suspect inker Scott Koblish had a near-heart attack when he saw how detailed some of these pages are. But he still did an amazing job.
The story? It boils down to all the bad guys teaming up to fight all the good guys. It's a terrific series, and one no Legion fan should miss.
#8 - Green Lantern #46
Geoff Johns is one of the most successful writers in comics today, and one of the reasons for that is: he knows how to plant seeds. Which is to say, he manages to place information in earlier stories that seem to be insignificant at the time. Then he adds more information as the story builds, until he finally unveils the secret behind that seed, and the reader can only say, "Wow."
A good example in this issue of Green Lantern goes back to an earlier story that mentioned the loving couple at the heart of the Star Sapphires. They are unidentifiable and frozen like statues, and it's a bit of background information you don't give much thought to - until the secret behind their true identity is revealed, and all you can say is... well, you know.
And that's just a small part of this issue, as the Black Lanterns attack, Sinestro finally faces Mongul for control of the Yellow Lanterns, and... well, lots of stuff is going on here. It's to John's credit that despite the numerous storylines running, you never feel lost as you follow along, and the story just keeps building on itself.
I don't want to overlook the outstanding work being done by artist Doug Mahnke, who's turning in excellent work on a heck of a challenging assignment, given the huge cast and the big events he's depicting. And that double-page spread at the climax of the fight between Sinestro and Mongul - it's the kind of thing that makes you say "Wow," too.
#7 - Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #7
One of the many real delights in stories about Hellboy is how he reacts when faced with his dark destiny.
Can he change his future? Do the whispers in the shadows truly reveal the end of the world? Can a creature like Hellboy fight fate, or is he doomed to follow the path laid out before him?
That's the powerful story Mike Mignola is unfolding before us, and it's one not to be missed.
And if Mignola only has time to draw the covers, we can be thankful that the interiors are in the skilled hands of Duncan Fegredo, whose style complements Mignola's while offering his own dark, detailed and powerful visions.
Here Mignola draws Hellboy into one of England's most potent mythologies (and my personal favorite), and there's no telling where the story goes from here.
Isn't that great?
#6 - Conan the Cimmerian #13
Here's a comic that seems to fly under the radar of most fans.
That's a shame, because Conan of Cimmeria is consistently an excellent read.
This issue wraps up the six-part adaptation of Robert E. Howard's story Black Colossus, and it's outstanding. Writer Tim Truman has an excellent grasp of the Hyborean Age, the brutality of armed combat and the dark magic that fills the shadows (and our nightmares). I'm not sure how much of the comic script is Howard and how much is Truman, but it all reads like Howard, and that's the highest compliment I can pay any writer.
The art is by Tomas Giorello, with color by Jose Villarruria, and what a fantastic job they do here, especially considering it's one of those jobs that has to be a nightmare for any artist. "Draw 500 horsemen racing down a hill toward an invading army of thousands of Stygians." But they manage it with great power and skill. They evoke horror, fear and brutality, and still manage to draw one of the sexiest women in comics with the barely-covered Princess Yasmela.
Back when Roy Thomas left the Conan books in the '80s and other writers took his place, I thought the series could never be that good again.
That's one of those rare moments when I'm glad to be proven wrong. Kurt Busiek got this series off to a great start, and now Truman is carrying the banner high. If you're not reading this series, you're missing out.
#5 - Captain America: Reborn #1
We can be thankful that fiction isn't bound by the same rules as the real world.
In the world of imagination, death is overturned all the time, and characters who had gone to join the heavenly choir are often able to make the trip back to join the living.
After a couple of years, Marvel is finally doing just that to Captain America.
It's hard to imagine any fans out there believing that Cap's death was any more permanent than Superman's was or Batman's will be - but the true test of a story is how the dramatic twist is resolved.
Spinning out of issue #600, we have a special Reborn mini-series explaining just how Cap could still be alive - quite a trick, since we saw his cold dead body.
Thankfully, they're not copping out with a silly explanation - the reveal provides a story that has a good science fiction legacy (paging Mr. Vonnegut), and has the comic's entire supporting cast working to solve the mystery and bring Steve back from the "other side."
As always, writer Ed Brubaker provides an outstanding script, and the book features top-of-the-line art from Bryan Hitch, one of the best in the business, and Butch Guice, an artist who used to be really good, but now I'd categorize as nothing less than great. His recent work has reflected his growth as an artist, and his work packs a powerful, realistic punch. The styles of both artists mesh very well - they're the perfect team to work on this book.
#4 - Detective Comics #853
This is the second half of Neil Gaiman's "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" story (the first half appeared in Batman #686).
This issue of Detective Comics almost defies reviewing - or at least it's difficult to talk about without revealing key points. And what a unique, unusual and original story it is! So nice to see Gaiman's work in comics again.
He's well matched with the art of Andy Kubert, who manages to meld together a number of different art styles, characters and settings to create one of the most unusual Batman stories ever. Just amazing work here.
As to the story, it continues where the first issue left off. Characters from Batman's long history gather at what appears to be Batman's funeral. Each one gets up to speak about how Batman died, and each one tells a completely different story.
As the mystery unfolds, we learn more about why this is happening - and we learn about the true nature of Batman.
I suspect this story will divide fans to some extent, in that some will love it and some will not, but I see it as a clever testament to the eternal nature (and the eternally-changing nature) of the Caped Crusader.
#3 - The Wonderful Wizard of Oz #4
I'm quickly running out of superlatives for this comic.
The retelling of the original Wonderful Wizard of Oz story is just a delight (which should be no surprise, since the original has ever been thus).
Eric Shanower adapts the story with great skill, and Skottie Young's artwork just seems to get better with each issue.
In this story the quartet - Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion - arrive in the wondrous Emerald City, where they finally meet the Wizard of Oz - and if you haven't read the original book, you might be surprised at his appearance.
I can't recommend this book highly enough. A real delight.
#2 - Sandman: The Dream Hunters #4
It's sad to see this series come to an end, because for each of four months it was the best comic around, and the one I've looked forward to the most.
The final issue wraps up the adaptation of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: The Dream Hunters. The series has featured some of the best work yet from artist P. Craig Russell, with pages of stunning beauty, quiet horror, raw emotion and sensuality.
I've said it before, but it bears repeating - in a long and distinguished career of outstanding work, this may be the best of Russell's career.
It seems to be a simple enough story, as a mystical fox falls in love with a young monk. But their love is threatened by an evil magician with schemes of his own. Reading that back, it sounds corny and old-fashioned, but it's a timeless tale in the hands of a masterful writer.
Something about working with Gaiman seems to bring out the best in Russell, and this series is a testament to the talent of both men.
It's a sweet, sad and moving story of love, murder and revenge - and just when you think you see where the story is going, it moves into an unexpected direction.
Now if we could only coax more Sandman stories out of these two...
#1 - The Flash: Rebirth #4
You may be surprised at this selection, since the overall series has been getting some mixed reviews (and I share some of those qualms about the other issues in the series). But this issue was my favorite comic this year.
When reviewing the third issue of The Flash: Rebirth, I wrote:
What this series really requires of the reader is patience and trust that the creative team knows what it's doing. I wouldn't go along with that idea for most comic books, but with this issue, I'm on board.And this issue, judging by the genuine chills, cheers and emotional moments, pays back that trust. After the surprisingly slow build-up for this series, and the threat of a dark, grim and gritty future for the character, this issue delivers the goods in spades.
It does this by finally introducing the mysterious villain behind the disruptions in the Speed Force - our old friend, the Reverse-Flash.
Here writer Geoff Johns finally starts revealing those plot points he's been carefully keeping just out of sight, and artist Ethan Van Sciver turns in another outstanding issue, with striking layouts, emotional splash pages and high-powered pencils. Colorist Brian Miller also deserves lots of kudos for his outstanding work here.
Finally, the mysteries around the true nature of the Speed Force are revealed, and that's when... well, stuff really starts happening.
I know Barry Allen has been back since his appearance in the first issue of Final Crisis, but with this issue, we see the return of The Flash. (No offense intended to those who think Jay Garrick or Wally West are the ones deserving of the title.)
If you're a Flash fan, you must read this issue - it's the best comic of 2009.
In my book, anyway.