Top Ten Comics of 2009

Once again, I'm cross-posting this from Raised By Squirrels.

Looking at this year's list, it's got a fair number of big names and big companies (who'd ever guess that I'd have three DC titles?) — to my chagrin. I think most of my choices are based mostly on the skill of the storytelling, since that's where my interest lies these days, and this is where I found it — but I'm going to make a concerted effort in '10 to seek out some more obscure stuff. Even more than last year, I'm cheating a bit in my definition of comics …

1. Batman and Robin by Grant Morrison and various artists — I'll bet that real followers of these characters will confirm that something about them is off, that everybody's taken on an outlook and speech common to Morrison's comics. But it's a fresh take on the Bat-world, delivering, as he promised, Lynchian weirdness mixed with '60s camp in a fast-paced page-turner that brings new characters into an established world to carve out a distinct identity for a new Batman and Robin. Frank Quitely's turn on the art in the first arc was a real treat, his character design and style really building the tone, his incorporation of sound effects into the art especially welcome.

2. Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory — A high concept: a character who can tell the history of anything he eats and is an agent of the FDA in a world where chicken is outlawed. But what sets this series apart is the craftsmanship. The art's all indie, but it's skillful storytelling; there's repeated panels, and there's wordy panels of voiceover, and they serve the tale perfectly; the tone is generally wacky, but shifts ably; and the bare minimum is presented, letting you fill in the details you're supposed to. These guys know how to put together a story in comic form, and have found and awfully fun one to tell.

3. Detective Comics Batwoman by Greg Rucka and JH Williams — Rucka's one of my favorite writers, but I never took to his superhero stuff, so I came to Batwoman with really no knowledge of the character and only the barest awareness of the 52 adventures that introduced her. Which doesn't matter, and may be a bonus — the way he's unspooling this story, intertwining past and present, is so inventive and the characters and little corner of the DC universe are so engaging. Williams' layouts are pushing even more boundaries, and the overall look and feel contribute so much to the tone. And when he switched styles for the flashbacks, I thought it was a different, equally talented artist. The last panel of this month's issue contained a surprise we all saw coming, but was so well staged and paced, I swear I heard the character's gasp for air.

4. Incognito by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips — the team behind Sleeper (one of my all-time top ten) and Criminal together in a series that totally plays to their strengths as storytellers. The pacing was a little odd, it may hold together better in trade, but kept confounding expectations and bending genres, combining crime and noir and superhero with an unexpected and important pulp component. I believe that these two creators are at their best when they work together, their talents playing off each other.

5. The Middleman Season 1 DVD — Not a comic, but based on a comic, this now-canceled TV show is pop-culture savvy, wryly self-aware, and a real guilty pleasure. It takes on of the tone of the comic (which I've read a bit of) and translates it ably to the screen for a story that's lighthearted but still smart; as an ABC Family production, I figure it had to offer something for both the kids and the parents, and it definitely skews to the latter.

6. Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke — Pretty much destined for this list (and everybody else's) from the get-go, with one of the best writer/artists taking on a tale that suits him perfectly set in an era he's helped define for modern comics. The art style, the design, even the lettering, flawless. His real skills are demonstrated in how he adapts the prose, combining wordless passages, dialog, and extended captions into a mix that creates something new out of the material while honoring the source. I expect I'll appreciate it even more once I read the novel, currently sitting on my nightstand.

7. Sugarshock by Joss Whedon and Fabio Moon — Easily the most fun 24 pages of the year. Showcasing Whedon's skill for character and plot development through dialog, full of smartass one-liners that have become catchphrases in our household, this galaxies-spanning rock epic delivers at least one solid laugh a page. And, of course, looks beautiful with Moon's lovely brushwork defining the characters and their world with stylized flair.

8. Wednesday Comics by various writers and artists — It was uneven, and the unevenness showed more and more as this twelve-week series continued. But as we're all figuring out our digital future, it was an unabashed love letter to print, giving giant pages of comics every week, most of which made inventive use of the format. From the classic to the experimental, this delivered a visual, tactile, and — perhaps, most notably, for good or bad — nostalgic pleasure every week.

9 / 10. The Invincible Super-Blog by Chris Sims / Midnight Fiction by Richard Krauss — Looking back, these Web sites have had a decent influence on this year's reading. The ISB is a fanboy romp through the best — and often the worst (which makes for some of the best commentary, e.g. The Annotated Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter) — of the mainstream comics out there; several of the titles on this page probably would've been overlooked but for Sims. At the other end of the spectrum, Midnight Fiction — which I have to point out has given good coverage to just about every comic project I'm involved in — concentrates on small press, zines, minis, and webcomics. Krauss is a long-time comix creator and a terrific supporter of independent publishing, sharing his history and reviewing all sorts of self-published works; his coverage of minis has prompted me to purchase a bunch of things I never would've even heard of.

Honorable Mention:
  • Battlefields by Garth Ennis and various artists — I know that Ennis is over the top, that's kind of his thing; but he shows some restraint this difficult look at various fronts in WWII, making it even more powerful.
  • Captain Britain and MI13 by Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk — A clever take on what makes the heroes and legends of Great Britain unique. Not enough Tink, though it did have vampires in space.
  • Fantastic Four by Mark Millar and Brian Hitch — Brought back the crazy inventiveness of the Lee/Kirby years, or at least Byrne's take on the Lee/Kirby years.
  • Fables by Bill Willingham and various artists — Now that the whole Homelands plot that's driven the story from the beginning has been wrapped up, it's more clever and solid than ever.
  • Incredible Hercules by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente and various artists — Just got loaned the whole run to date, and it's a deft mix of Marvel and classical mythology that takes neither too seriously.
  • Invincible Iron Man by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca — Way too decompressed, but a terrific reinvention of the character.
  • My Cage by Ed Power and Melissa DeJesus — This daily strip is one of the best out there, but the storyline where Norm gets dumped by his girlfriend really shines.
  • Mysterius the Unfathomable by Jeff Parker and Tom Fowler— Further demonstrating Parker's range and inventiveness, with an illustration style out of the golden age of Mad Magazine.
  • Rip Haywire by Dan Thompson — Only really just started following, but the art hooked me immediately.

  • Cul de Sac by Richard Thompson
  • Diesel Sweeties by Richard Stevens
  • Hark A Vagrant by Kate Beaton
  • Scalped by Jason Aaron and various artists
  • Umbrella Academy by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá

    Where have you gone?:
  • Gutsville by Simon Spurrier and Frazer Irving
  • Guerrillas by Brahm Revel
  • Infinite Horizon by Gerry Duggan and Phil Noto

    Based on the first issue, destined for next year's list:
  • Daytrippers by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Bá
  • Stumptown by Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth

    Maassive said...

    OK, so, now I will have to go an catch up on Fables. I loved that series but gave up shortly after the sheherezade special edition. Good, good, good to know. OK, now for Doctor Who...

    Bram said...

    Start with the Boy Blue stuff that wrapped up the Homelands war, it's pretty beautiful.

    And, yeah, I've followed Fables from the beginning — not always enthusiastically, but it's always been respectable — but the new storylines are the best yet.

    Hope all's well out in San Diego.