Top Comics of 2010

(Cross-posted, later than ever, from Raised By Squirrels)

Self-imposed rules mandate that I can't repeat titles from last year (though I'm exploiting a loophole), so this list comes up a bit short. Partly because I'm sticking with ongoing series, but also because I did experiment some more and it didn't always work out. But I'm glad I tried, though my list again, winds up being appallingly mainstream and definitely escapist, overlooking plenty of the worthy, nonfiction and independent comics released this past year. In no order:

1. Planetary by Warren Ellis and John Cassady — been collecting this in trade paperback (emphasis on the paperback, which was the last format released; thanks, DC), so it's been six years since I read a new installment. The reimagination of more than a century of pulp/pop history has always been way too much fun to read, an insider's reinvention of the comic world we know. But reading the whole run in one sitting, I was struck with what an impressively human, small-scale story Ellis was putting together; my criticism of him has always been he sacrifices the character development for the big idea, but the sprawling narrative turns out to be only the backdrop in this series.

2. The Sixth Gun by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt — this supernatural Western that stands out in a genre that isn't as uncommon as it used to be. A lot of moving parts that come together smartly with a few unexpected twists on the unexpected twists. The characters' personalities are just hinted at, but believable, with room to grow and more stories to tell. Artist Brian Hurtt was one of the things that drew me to the Free Comic Book Day preview — which was the full first issue and, for reference to those wondering how to do FCBD, pulled me into the ongoing series.

3. Stumptown by Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth — it's story of a down-and-out P.I. taking a case to get out of trouble, but running into more and getting beat around on the way while surrounded by colorful characters with their own baggage. What sounds like a familiar formula is given Rucka's deft interpretation, with a compelling leading character and a setting that brings depth to the tale. Matthew Southworth's art is a treat, beautiful loose brushwork that brings real personality to the characters and, as he details in his essays, meticulous research provides a sense of place that grounds the narrative.

4. Bulletproof Coffin by David Hine and Shaky Kane — a twisted, postmodern blend of fictional comic history and the real world that kind of defies easy explanation. It's all a big comics in-joke, but there's a story to carry through the self-reference that has you pulling for the main character through the punch line. Shaky Kane's art contributes a terrific feel to the story, evoking Kirby and others of the Golden Age, but with a strong, graphic line and approach.

5. Taskmaster by Fred Van Lente and Jefte Palo — this miniseries takes a C-list (though cool-looking) Marvel villain who, I gather, has gotten more exposure in the past few years and recasts him as a tragic player in Marvel continuity. Van Lente combines a spy thriller, a rewrite of history — and a healthy dose of slapstick, sophomoric humor in the way that he does so well — providing a wink and a nod to longtime fanboys while surreptitiously delivering a sympathetic story. Palo continues Marvel's welcome trend of loosening up, with gestural, expressive art that you wouldn't expect from the heavily rendered covers.

6. Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye 1: Hamster and Cheese by Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue — on last-minute impulse, as we were packing up at STAPLE, I ran across the aisle to buy this book from that table that'd been having way too much fun all day. And, at the last minute, had it inscribed to my goddaughter — a good thing, because she never would've gotten it otherwise. The tale of a guinea pig, reluctantly thrown into the role of investigator at a pet shop with a truly clueless owner, is a true all-ages treat. Not the kind that's for kids and throws in "clever" references to try and placate the adults, but the kind that's legitimately funny for smart readers of all ages.

7. Batman by Grant Morrison and assorted artists — last year, Batman & Robin was in the top ten; this year, I'm expanding to the whole suite of Batman work that Morrison's done over the past few years, starting with The Black Glove and using the 2010 release of Batman R.I.P. and The Return of Bruce Wayne as a way onto the list. He's spent the last years building a strange, obliquely told, interconnected, Silver Age-influenced tale that really provides a new way of looking at the mythos. It doesn't always succeed, but I do appreciate what Morrison is willing to leave out or leave unexplained, and the way he gives us a Batman that is no longer in Frank Miller's shadow.


Aw, really, it concluded in 2009?:
  • 100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso — I did finally sit down and read over five days of vacation; simultaneously the best way to follow the whole story and an unrelenting dark look at humanity. No mistake, it's a difficult read — but what it accomplishes, I feel, almost places it above criticism. The high-concept premise alone would fuel a series in Azzarello's hands; but it's not really about those 100 bullets (except when it is), as we discover through a shifting series of shifty characters and an unpleasant look at the world they inhabit in story where nothing's wasted and everything comes together. As the sole artist over those 100 issues, Risso's influence on its success can't be overstated, a master at capturing personality and laying out a page.


    Honorable Mention:
  • Ex Machina by Brian K. Vaughn and Tony Moore — I've followed this for years in the trades to its conclusion this year. Some of the arcs were formulaic, but it's always been a compelling take on the real-world superhero. Though I wasn't entirely satisfied with how it concluded, a trip worth taking.
  • Power Girl by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Amanda Conner — bringing back some fun to a character who's too often a punch line, with a well-crafted arc that brings up and ties together a range of stories and characters. Conner's facial expressions alone probably would've landed this in this list, with art that drives so much of what makes the narrative work.
  • The Brave and the Bold: The Lost Issues by Ross — even more inventive since it's become Marvel Two-in-One: The Lost issues, this blog delivers a daily teamup from an alternate comic world; Raph pointed me to it.
  • Fantasic Four by Jonathan Hickman and David Eaglesham — the imagination on display here is impressive, bringing a fresh take on the FF and, to me, a real reinterpretation of this classic group. The individual storylines though, aren't quite equal to the big ideas on display.
  • SHIELD by Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver — see above. A brilliant, big-picture reinvention of the Marvel Universe. The smaller scale isn't holding up as well, but the (re-) imagination at work here is amazing.
  • Frog and Owl by Molly Lawless — while we're waiting for her historical baseball comic, it's welcome to see her wry sensibilities on a regular basis.
  • This panel specifically (with an NSFW word) from Kate Sherron and Aaron Shoults-Wilson's 1322 Knob Lick Lane.


    Haven't read, but feel confident it would've been on the list if I knew about the release in time:
  • Castle Waiting Volume 2 by Linda Medley


    Recently discovered and now understand what the big deal is:
  • Jack Staff by Paul Grist


    Special goodbye:
  • My Cage by Ed Power and Melissa DeJesus — unceremoniously and unforgivably dropped from syndication. This daily strip brought fresh humor and a smart viewpoint to a medium dominated by the same old. And, seriously, does anybody think that Charles Shultz would be happy that his strip is still running while ones like this are disposed of?


    Current Thor miniseries that may, unexpectedly, find their way onto next year's list:
  • Ultimate Thor by Jonathan Hickman and Carlos Pacheco
  • Warriors Three by Bill Willingham and Neil Edwards


  • Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory
  • Chris Sims' blogging, now at Comics Alliance
  • Cul de Sac by Richard Thompson
  • Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton
  • Midnight Fiction by Richard Krauss
  • Richard Stark's Parker series by Darwyn Cooke; special mention to the filler The Man With the Getaway Face, a beautiful piece of design which, if not for my no-repeat rule, probably would've made the best of for just being such a well-done object
  • Scalped by Jason Aaron and various artists


    Where have you gone?:
  • Umbrella Academy by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá
  • 1 comment:

    Molly said...

    Thanks so much for the mention, Bram! I'm glad you're enjoying "Frog & Owl".