Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 10 Comics of 2010

As I’ve mentioned before, I think "Top 10" lists are complete crap.

They’re always subjective and I never agree with them. But we can’t let a little thing like that stop us, can we?

My list is in no way inclusive, since there are hundreds of comics that were published in the past year that I didn’t read. As always, these are the top 10 of the hundreds of comics I reviewed for this blog. Your mileage may vary.

I gave out quite a few “A-” grades this year, but only 30 “A” grades - and no “A+” grades, which means none of the comics I read this year really knocked my socks off (last year I awarded four "A+" grades).

First, some honorable mentions, any of which could easily have found a spot in the top 10:

Astro City: Silver Agent
Avengers: Prime
Batman and Robin
Conan the Cimmerian
Dark Avengers
DC Universe Legacies
The Flash
Green Lantern
The Incredible Hulk(s)
Jonah Hex
New Avengers
Power Girl
Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour
Secret Avengers
Secret Warriors
Thanos Imperative

Lots of good stuff there! (Oh, and if you're looking for the worst comic of 2010, it was Wolverine: The Best There Is.)

Here’s my list of the best (in reverse order, natch):

10. Warlord #12

Here’s a comic that (sadly) apparently flew under everyone’s radar.

I've always been a big fan of Mike Grell's Warlord.

At times, the book has been handled by other creators, and the results were usually disappointing. But with Grell writing and drawing, the comic has almost always been excellent.

This revived version of that character's adventures has been entertaining, but seemed to struggle under the weight of a lot of backstory.

It's been surprising to see Grell working so hard to squeeze in so many characters, trying to bring readers back up to speed on the mythology of the character.

In this issue, we see the reasons behind Grell's haste, as the title takes a genuinely shocking turn. It was almost three decades ago that Grell set up the story that reaches its climax in this issue, and it's amazing to see it unfold.

More than that I will not say, except to add that the art is exceptional. I could quibble with a few page layouts, but the fact is, Grell is still the master of this kind of swashbuckling action/adventure story.

Any reader who fondly remembers those original Warlord stories owes it to himself (or herself) to buy this issue. Don't say I didn't warn you.

9. Thor The Mighty Avenger #6

It never fails - you find a new comic you really like, and it's snatched away by the old devil named "cancellation."

As I mentioned in this review, I arrived late to this comic - but am I glad I found it before it disappeared!

Marvel announced this week that it was canceling Thor: The Mighty Avenger with issue number 8 because of low sales, and that's not surprising.

Well, it's surprising because it's such a good comic, but it's not surprising considering that Marvel is flooding the market with Thor-related comics these days (you'd think there was a movie in the works). It's easy to see how this gem could get lost in the sea of product.

It's such a fresh take on the character, placing him in a reality separate from the usual Marvel digs. He's been banished from Asgard and forbidden to return - but he doesn't know why.

While that mystery plays out, he's become involved with Jane Foster, a museum curator and a much more developed character than the original version (forgive me, Stan). Their relationship is sweet.

But don't think the series is action-free. Thor gets plenty of chances to sling his hammer, and has a memorable confrontation in this issue with Heimdall, the guardian of the Rainbow Bridge. That character shows off some amazing (and previously unknown) skills here, and you have to like any fight that includes an appearance by Fin Fang Foom.

The writing by Roger Langridge is terrific, and Chris Samnee's art is original and refreshing. It's different, and it's not the usual blustering God of Thunder that some writers and artists have portrayed - but it's a clever take on the concept.

If you've missed the comics, and you're a fan of Thor, you can pick up the collections that are on the way. I'm a big fan of the original Thor comic, but I enjoyed this one a lot.

Chances are that you will, too.

8. Siege #3

This is the point in this mini-series where we move beyond mere story and launch into that most beloved of Marvel traditions: the knock-down, drag-out, no-holds-barred, bare-knuckles brawl to end all brawls.

All the players have been assembled and moved into place - all that's left is a fight on a huge scale.

Writer Brian Bendis gets in a few good shots of sharp dialogue, but this issue hinges on the art, and Olivier Coipel (with inker Mark Morales and colorist Laura Martin) delivers a haymaker here.

He gets to run wild with splash pages of heroes and villains lunging into action, and great scenes of absolute carnage.

Need I mention what a delight it is to see (the real) Captain America and Thor doing what they do best?

This issue almost flies by too fast, and we're left with a cliffhanger that unleashes the ultimate menace - a fight that I have no idea how the heroes are going to survive.

Isn't that great?

This issue is lots of fun - a cool splash of water after the long dreary trudge of the Dark Reign. I'm looking forward to the grand finale!

7. Ozma of Oz #1

As a longtime fan of L. Frank Baum's Oz, I've been thrilled with Marvel's adaptations of the first two books in that series.

And now here's the first issue in the adaptation of the third book, Ozma of Oz.

While I enjoyed Baum's second book, The Land of Oz, I have to agree with those readers who felt he'd made a mistake in not including Dorothy Gale in that story.

It's an oversight that is corrected in this book, as Dorothy finds herself thrown overboard during an ocean voyage (she's sailing with Uncle Henry to Australia), and she washes up on the "shore" of Oz.

She has a companion - Billina, a talking chicken. About their adventures (and their amusing debates) I'll say no more, except to urge you to give it a read.

Writer Eric Shanower is a long-time fan of Oz and his enthusiasm shows in his adaptation of the original story - it really has the "feel" of that classic story.

The art by Skottie Young continues to be a pure delight - part innovation, part animation. The characters are lively and delightful, and the scenery is creative, unique and otherworldly (in a great way).

I'm going to keep raving about this series until you try it, so you might as well give in. I'd hate for anyone to miss this.

6. Batman: Return of Bruce Wayne #1

It's interesting how similar this storyline - on the face of it - is to the recent death and return of Captain America.

Since the writers of both series (Ed Brubaker and Grant Morrison) are comics pros and darned good writers, the similarity must be a coincidence - and comics history is loaded with similar events (Man-Thing and Swamp Thing, anyone?)

If memory serves, Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne picks up from the climax of Final Crisis, wherein Batman was apparently destroyed by Darkseid's Omega Effect blast - but instead was sent back in time to the dawn of man.

It sounds like a problem easily solved, and Bruce (Batman) Wayne leaves a message on a cave wall designed to bring some time-traveling help - but that would be too simple. There's a lot more going on here that Batman (and we the reader) aren't aware of.

What we do have is a surprising and often brutal battle for survival, with Morrison providing lots of twists and turns along the way.

The art is by Chris Sprouse and Karl Story, and it's outstanding. Powerful layouts, great character designs, brutal fights and several outstanding splash pages - really impressive stuff here.

I should add that other than the "lost in time" element (and the hero's inevitable return), this story really has nothing in common with Captain America's recent return - other than great art and story, that is.

5. Hellboy / Beasts of Burden

So here's a comic that, on the strength of the concept alone, would make it one of my favorite comics of the year.

After reading it, I'm happy to report that it's even better than I hoped it would be - which is pretty amazing, because let's face it, most team-up / crossovers end up being crap.

Perhaps this one works because both comic creations - Mike Mignola's Hellboy (the demonic creature who was adopted by mankind and fights on its side against horrors of all kinds) and Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson's Beasts of Burden (dogs in the neighborhood of Burden Hill carry on the long tradition of protecting the people in the town from supernatural horrors) - are a similar mix of horror and humor, triumph and tragedy.

The two are brought together in a touching way. as a mysterious dog tugs on Hellboy's coat and leads him - somehow - to the dogs and cat who make up the "Beasts."

Somehow Hellboy can understand them. In their own comic, the Beasts can talk to each other, but not to humans (think Watership Down), though this is never exactly explained.

They go in search of a horror that lives deep underground, and the lives of our heroes hang in the balance.

You might expect horrific images in a Hellboy story, but don't let the inclusion of cute dogs and a cat fool you into thinking this is a fuzzy animal story - the Beasts of Burden tales are just as grisly, horrific and often heartbreaking as any comic I can remember reading.

This issue is written by Evan Dorkin and drawn by Jill Thompson, and it's just amazing. The characters are expressive, the settings haunting and beautiful, the monsters horrific - it's just a scary delight from start to finish.

If you're not a fan of horror, then this isn't for you.

But if you enjoy it, this is a comic you must not miss.

4. Fantastic Four #586

Writer Jonathan Hickman has been waving several big stories over his run on the Fantastic Four, and those threads reach their breaking point with this issue.

Mr. Fantastic is dealing with Galactus (though someone should tell cover artist Alan Davis that Reed no longer wears the short-sleeved uniform). The Invisible Woman is caught between two warring undersea nations. The Thing and the Human Torch are facing an overwhelming alien invasion.

And next issue, one of the four will die. (I'm still guessing the one killed will be the Human Torch, but that's just a wild guess.)

The art by Steve Epting is excellent, loaded with lots of big events and intense moments.

As I've said before: you really should be buying this series. It's big, bold and daring - and it keeps moving in unexpected directions, pushing the boundaries of the super-hero saga. What's not to like?

3. Blackest Night #8

Do I even need to review this issue?

Surely anyone who's been following the Blackest Night story wants to see how it all wraps up.

This issue features the final showdown between the forces of light (and life) and the forces of darkness (and death). There are quite a few twists along the way and more than a few surprising turns of events.

Writer Geoff Johns has crafted a solid ending to the series, with lots of good scenes along the way that will bring a smile to the face of most fans.

Penciler Ivan Reis with inkers Oclair Albert and Joe Prado and colorist Alex Sinclair deliver stunning visuals here, with numerous full-page and double-page splashes, every one stunning in detail and powerful images. Kudos to the art team for doing fantastic work and delivering it on time!

The ending leaves plenty of room for future storylines, and the series itself serves as a good springboard for the future of DC Comics.

It's shaping up to be a brighter tomorrow, thanks to this series (and despite its dark and sometimes grisly moments). I'm anxious to see what the future holds for DC, and fans should thank Geoff Johns for his efforts in getting DC's house in order.

Now if only the other creators can go forth and do likewise...

2. Avengers #4

The Avengers, like the Fantastic Four, always seem to work best on a big stage - and the setting for the ongoing story is about as big as it gets.

Time has come undone, so different eras (and different menaces) are piling up in the streets of New York City. To solve the problem, the Avengers have taken a classic approach - they've broken into two teams.

One has gone into the future (where they see a super-powered battle that's right out of a fanboy's nightmare), and one group is still in the present, fighting a holding action against the time-tossed intruders.

The end result is, this is an issue that's a heck of a lot of fun even if you're not familiar with the Next Avengers, who first appeared in a direct-to-video adventure.

They are the children of the Avengers (at least in one alternate reality), and their part in all this is still a mystery.

You really get the sense that Brian Bendis is having a great time writing this comic - the story is over the top, the dialogue crackles, and the action is intense. And it's always great to see Killraven again!

Of course, it never hurts having artists like John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson working on your comic - they turn in some stunning pages here, and I especially enjoyed watching Thor cut loose on the bad guys - something we don't see often enough.

If you haven't been following this story, you'll want to wait for the collection - but this is one of my "read it in the car" comics. In other words, after I pick up my comics at the shop (usually over my lunch break), I drive back to my parking space at work, and if it's an issue I'm anxious to read, I'll do so before going back to work.

This is one of the few that I always read in the car - that's how much I look forward to it. So, highly recommended!

1. Man With the Getaway Face

Recently I finally got around to reading The Hunter, the first graphic adaptation featuring Richard Stark's Parker, and it was a surprise.

I hadn't read the original books, so after a quick skim it looked like a hard-boiled detective story. It has that feel to it, but Parker is not a heroic figure at all - he's a hardened criminal who lives by his own code, and uses his brains and his incredible toughness to overcome any obstacle.

Here we get the story of an attempt to rob an armored car, and the struggle to put together a team that can work together. It's not my favorite kind of story, but one thing guaranteed I'd be reading the story: it was adapted by Darwyn Cooke, one of the top writer/artists working in comics today.

And since Frank Miller seems to be taking an extended break from Sin City, it's good to finally have another testosterone-loaded story floating around.

If you were put off by the high price on The Hunter ($24.99), then here's a real bargain for you - The Man With the Getaway Face can be yours for a mere two bucks! It's 24 pages long, printed on oversized paper with a two-color process.

It's raw, hard-edged and impossible to put down. Cooke shows his storytelling chops by crafting a story with relatively little action, but loads of tension and drama, great characters and a story that will keep you guessing.

Cooke is that rare breed - few writers are great artists, and few artists are great writers - but Cooke does either craft with equal skill, and my rule of thumb is simple - if he's working on it as artist, writer or both, I'm buying it.

He hasn't disappointed me yet.


Anonymous said...

Hey, three of your top ten choices
were mine as well! (Great minds
think alike?)
Sad reality: I couldn't find Hellboy/Beasts of Burden or Cooke's
Man with the Getaway Face locally.
Area comic shops are cutting back
on title orders. My son Jake found
both issues for me in Minneapolis.
If you order great books and put them out there, they will SELL.

Happy New Year, Chuck!

Sam Kujava

Chuck said...

Sam, that's a problem for me, too - I don't know how many times I picked up the only issue (or one of the few) like that at my local shop. I doubt any but the biggest shops can order everything - but you're right, it's hard to believe it would be difficult to sell issues like that.

This was a tough list to put together - I went back and forth on quite a few titles many times. Lots of good stuff this year, although not a lot of great stuff - if you know what I mean.