The following comics stood out to me this year; all had a release or were ongoing in some fashion in 2008. And though there are repeats from last year's list, I'm also trying to call attention to some that might have been overlooked. In no particular order:
1. The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite TPB by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba I was not exactly filled with confidence when the highlight of this solicit was "written by the lead singer of My Chemical Romance." When I started hearing good things from surprising (and trusted) sources, figured there'd at least be some great artwork. There is, but there's also tight storytelling with a terrific tone, odd humor, and familiar elements in the right places that combine to make for an original, enjoyable tale, with the promise of more weirdness to come.
2. Cul de Sac by Richard Thompson the early days of Thompson's strip are now collected into a book, and the adventures of the suburban Otterloop family are available daily at gocomics.com/culdesac. With a wry, affectionate sensibility and approach to everyday life that is familiar yet fresh, it brings new energy to the daily newspaper strip and, I think, could be the best one going on now. Plus, the linework alone is often funnier than just about every other daily. You can follow his blog at richardspooralmanac.blogspot.com.
3. Diesel Sweeties (dieselsweeties.com) by Richard Stevens Monica introduced me to his daily syndicated newspaper strip just before Stevens retired from it to fully concentrate his energies on the Web version. So he's still offering a contemporary take on the modern comic strip, daily doses of geeky humor, contemporary wit, and a skewed glimpse at modern romance, all while wringing every bit of expression possible out of those limited pixels.
4. Hark A Vagrant (beatonna.livejournal.com; also posted at katebeaton.com) by Kate Beaton literary humor, Canadian (and some American) history, fishmongers, saucy mermaids, dandies, Miyamoto Musashi somewhere in there, and, of course, Fat Pony. This occasional webcomic never fails to amuse with its obscure references and intelligent storytelling. The artwork is deceptively simple, well-paced and expressive. Found via The Comics Curmudgeon.
5. Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday and
6. Immortal Iron Fist by Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and David Aja both titles appear for a second (and last) time because they each take characters with extensive history and continuity and bring something new to their mythologies. They offer different approaches: X-Men's, a sharp, character-driven story that puts the fun back in the old galaxy-spanning epics; Iron Fist's, a smart, mystical/martial arts adventure that that introduces new elements and characters who are such a such a perfect fit, it's tough to imagine they haven't existed all along.
7. Scalped: Casino Boogie TPB by Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera a difficult story, full of unappealing people making tough choices and generally doing bad things with unpleasant consequences. And probably one of the finest examples of what comics can achieve. Grittily realistic and evocative, it jumps around time and in and out of reality, interweaving characters and revealing more about their past and relationships in a way that would be tough to pull off in any other medium.
8. The Martian Confederacy by Jason McNamara and Paige Braddock laugh-out-loud moments in a sci-fi tale about a quirky cast caught up in a caper on a future Mars. It's a simple premise, well told. The inventive characters and their dialog really drive the humor and fun in the story, which is really a great fit for the pacing and art. Credit goes to Monica for picking it out.
9. Helen Killer by Andrew Kreisberg and Matthew JLD Rice not without its flaws, but it takes a pitch Alexander Graham Bell gives Helen Killer a device lets her see and hear as well giving her super-strength and agility, which she uses to protect the president that just seems ill-advised and turns it into a well-paced, historical sci-fi adventure. There's a lot of classic comic storytelling in there, a real love of the medium, but also a modern sensibility that manages to play it completely straight while reveling in the absurdity of it all. Thanks to The Invincible Super-Blog for calling attention to it.
10. Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front by Todd DePastino and the accompanying collection Willie and Joe: The WWII Years OK, so, the DePastino book is a biography and, technically Mauldin is a cartoonist working in single panels, but they both call attention to a true master of storytelling through combining words and pictures. I usually avoid biographies, but this is a fascinating, gripping read of an exceptional character in unusual times. The collection traces his development as a draftsman and observer, all the more amazing when you learn the conditions he was working under.
Honorable mentions: Black Summer (mostly for its lush art); Criminal; Elephantmen; Fantastic Four (Millar and Hitch's); Doonesbury's B.D. storyline; B.P.R.D. and Hellboy; The Secret History of The Authority: Hawksmoor (a surprising story with beautiful, atypical supehero art); All-Star Superman; Invincible Iron Man; Comic Book Comics; Girls With Slingshots Volume One and webcomic at daniellecorsetto.com/gws.html; Patsy Walker: Hellcat #1 (2 and 3 haven't lived up to the promise, but that first issue is crazy fun); Gutsville; Guerillas (off to a promising start); and 100 Bullets is only missing from the list because now I'm just hoarding the trade paperbacks to read when it's all done.