Welcome! As the decade comes to a close, just about everyone under the sun begins to bust out their BEST OF THE DECADE lists. Best books, best TV shows, best movies… well, we here at Read/RANT are nothing if not trend-followers-setters! So, with that in mind, and with a few weeks left in 2009, we bring you the first of three BEST OFs.
This decade was undeniably good to comics. Besides seeing old favorites like Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore return in some drastically new capacities, we also saw an awful lot of breakout talents. Masterpieces were produced. Internet outrage was shouted from the rafters over everything from implied rape in a Spider-Man comic to Final Crisis being strange. Both Hal Jordan AND Barry Allen came back to life, while both Batman and Superman left the planet. Marvel’s ULTIMATE line grew, flourished, weakened, literally drowned, and was reborn only months ago. Captain America became a vital character. It was, all things considered, a busy, crazy, wonderful decade of comics.
Who are our Top 10 writers this decade? Well, read on…
10. Gail Simone
Gail Simone is certainly one of the decade’s breakout creators. While her name doesn’t pull in the same numbers as a few other creators on (and even off) our list, her creative output still stands up to scrutiny. Simone’s stories tend to be a little quieter, a little smaller in scale, than many of her counterparts on the list, focusing instead on a bizarre, character-driven combination of humor – sometimes incredibly dark humor – and action. Books like Birds of Prey, Agent X and Secret Six perfectly exemplify these trends, attracting loyal cult fan bases and critical praise. At her best, Simone is capable of switching from laugh-out-loud to heartbreak without any warning, and without detracting from either. Despite an uneven run on Wonder Woman – and even that is leagues above most folks’ handling of Diana – Simone has improved a great deal over the course of the decade. While a number of her books ended earlier than they deserved (The All-New Atom and Welcome to Tranquility, to name two of the strongest examples), none of them have been anything less than a pleasure to read. In an era dominated by high-concept, big-action blockbusters, Simone’s quiet humor and obvious love for the craft have been an oasis.
9. Greg Rucka
Greg Rucka, it’s safe to say, has a ‘type’, a fact that quickly became evident this decade. Filling your books with savvy, ass-kicking female heroes is a surefire way to flop in today’s market, but Rucka has proved time and again an exception to this rule. Whether it’s writing one of the strongest runs Wonder Woman has ever seen or trusting fans to understand Renee Montoya’s progression from a cop in Gotham Central to P.I. in the excellent 52 on through her new superheroic identity in two or three more books, Rucka spent the years finding increasingly fresh ways to help his heroines grow, change and find an audience. Meanwhile, over the course of the decade, Rucka also wrote nearly 40 issues of the excellent Queen and Country with Oni Press, netting him an Eisner and a dedicated fan base. His increased profile is evident from his latest assignment: he’s the first writer ever to simultaneously write DC’s flagship titles, Action Comics and Detective Comics. Astonishingly prolific, timely and with a gift for espionage and crime comics, Rucka has been a defining voice for the decade’s heroines, as well as a damnably fun writer to read.
8. Matt Fraction
Only writing in the latter half of the decade, Fraction has already proved himself as a cut above the rest. His breakout work, Immortal Iron Fist, ended up becoming one of those great, character redefining runs that only come around every five years, if that. Besides making Danny Rand cool, Fraction successfully reintroduced Frank Castle into the Marel U proper. Realizing that the Punisher’s not meant for such a zany world, Fraction avoided the grim & gritty. Instead, Frank fought absurdly stupid villains, with hilarious results. Immediately following those successes, Fraction took the Uncanny X-Men reigns, producing the finest work that title has seen in over a decade. And, last but not least, Fraction helmed Invincible Iron Man, following the wildly popular movie. He managed to easily match the quality fans expected after seeing Favreau’s film. So much so, in fact, that Jon Favreau actually consulted with Matt Fraction for Iron Man 2. As if all that wasn’t enough, Fraction’s independent comic, Casanova, is one of the finest works of the decade. Fraction has a fresh, powerful voice, unafraid of filling his comics with women and, most importantly, fun.
7. Garth Ennis
In the beginning of the decade, Garth concluded his magnum opus, Preacher. Most creators take a break after completing something so brilliant. Not Ennis. He just keeps on writing, immediately moving onto another great project. I’m talking about Garth’s Punisher run, of course. Frank Castle’s been around and loved since the 70’s, but nobody’s left a mark on him like Ennis. Hell, both Punisher movies and a video game were inspired by Ennis’ work. Writing around 100 issues with the character, Ennis took Frank to dark, humorous places, creating one of the most reliable comics of the decade. Never missing a beat, when Ennis stopped writing Punisher comics, he already had a start on his next popular series, The Boys. Ennis’ writing is well-known for its intense, human drama, so it’s only natural that Garth’s passion, War Stories, would be so damn good. Utilizing extensive research, Ennis always writes fabulous recreations of often-unknown battles. There are several worthwhile pojects I haven’t even mentioned. Garth Ennis is a true professional, writing great comics month after month.
6. Brian Michael Bendis
Easily one of the most influential writers of the decade, Bendis IS Marvel, and it all happened in the 00’s. Exploding at the start of the millennium, Bendis wrote several great works that will be remembered: Alias, Daredevil, Powers, and Ultimate Spider-Man. Bendis’ Daredevil is the best work Murdock’s seen since Miller in the 80’s. Ultimate Spider-Man broke the Lee/Kirby longevity record, and it gave Spider-Man fans a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Sadly, Bendis’ work in the latter half of the decade is hated by many, and rightly so. But even if the poor characterizations and decompression are bringing you down, Bendis can still be admired for his wonderful ideas. There’s a reason why he’s been behind nearly every Marvel event this decade. His high concepts are exciting and ambitious. With Bendis’ return to Powers, Ultimate Spider-Man surviving Ultimatum, and that Daredevil project on the horizon, Bendis may have another great decade ahead of him.
5. Robert Kirkman
Breaking onto the comics scene at the birth of the new millennium, Kirkman took the world by storm with Battle Pope! Ok, maybe not, but a couple people at Image liked it, and after a few years, Kirkman was given the chance to write two ongoing books for the company in 2003. Invincible, an amalgam of every superhero trope in the benday dot covered book, and Walking Dead, a George Romero-inspired zombie epic, eventually became two of the most successful Indie books ever. Then, like all fresh-faced comic writers, Kirkman spent some time at Marvel, penning books like Marvel Team-Up and the insanely popular Marvel Zombies. Also like many writers, Kirkman grew tired of Marvel. However, few leave in such intriguing fashion. Along with that startling video came the news that Kirkman was made a partner at the company he loved so much. That was only a year ago, and already Kirkman’s been instrumental in making Image cool again. Teaming up with Todd McFarlane to create the monstrously successful Haunt, and reuniting all the Image founders on Image United, Kirkman’s like the young D’Artagnan, inspiring the old Musketeers.
4. Brian K. Vaughan
Brian K. Vaughan was a relative unknown at the start of the decade, having penned a few single issues here and there. In the early 2000s, he was still working on a string of small arcs, jumping from book to book, though the profile of the books – Wonder Woman, JLA, X-Men, Batman, Detective Comics – had risen significantly. Still, it wasn’t until 2002 that he really broke out. With the release of Y: the Last Man, Vaughan proved himself. 60 issues later, one of the defining comics of the decade came to a conclusion with a few of the most heartbreaking moments we’ve seen. If Y were all he achieved this decade, it would still be a rock solid body of work, but Vaughan also created Ex Machina over at Wildstorm, an impressive post-9/11 political superhero story, and the powerful Pride of Baghdad. He also had a successful time over at Marvel Comics with the enjoyable (if ultimately unsuccessful) Dr. Strange: The Oath and Logan, and the vastly more successful The Hood. Finally, he did something that has become nearly impossible in today’s stagnant modern environment: he created a successful new franchise for Marvel in Runaways. Vaughan’s work has run the gamut from teenage rebellion to the end of life as we know it, and throughout, he’s kept it honest, emotional and fun.
3. Ed Brubaker
Ed Brubaker’s pre-2000 work largely consisted of a string of mostly unknown independent single issues. In the late 90s, however, a few small Vertigo projects apparently got him enough attention to net him a few small issues on Batman, Robin and Detective Comics, and it wasn’t long before Brubaker took off from there. An impressive array of noir-influenced crime superheroics followed, from his surprisingly successful and critically acclaimed relaunch of Catwoman to his collaboration with Greg Rucka on the stellar Gotham Central. Meanwhile, over in Wildstorm, Brubaker began to push things in a different direction. Ideas like Point Blank and the following Sleeper began to take a more active interest in meshing the superhero genre with the pulp criminal underbelly. There, he could push things further and do what he needed to do to his brilliant cast of dark characters and he managed to shape the Wildstorm Universe for a good few years. His move to Marvel seemed at the time to be a strange fit, but no one can deny that his relaunch of Captain America has been the single most successful take on the character in years, and he proved an inspired choice to follow Brian Michael Bendis on the surprise hit Daredevil. Working with Matt Fraction, he turned The Immortal Iron Fist into a successful franchise that lasted beyond the creative team’s departure. And, finally, he reunited with the gifted Sean Phillips to lend some much-needed gravitas to Marvel’s ICON imprint with two books: the pulp supervillain story Incognito and the superior critical darling Criminal. Following a loosely-connected group of crooks in exciting, heartbreaking standalone arcs, it is almost hard to believe that Criminal has gone on as long as it has, but it remains an impressive accomplishment, and one of the decade’s most enjoyable books.
2. Warren Ellis
Warren Ellis came out of the last decade on an impressive high note: halfway through his stellar Transmetropolitan and having just completed his brief, game-changing run on The Authority. Transmet was a near immediate success, being taught in Political Science courses, a rare mainstream success for comics, and it would have surprised no one if he’d channelled that success into more high profile, mainstream work at the Big 2. Instead, he used his new pull to launch a string of relaunches and creator-owned projects that ranged from good to absolutely stellar. Nextwave was a gloriously fun satire on the genre. Global Frequency was a brilliant combination of sci-fi and horror, and if the premise didn’t entirely make sense, the execution more than made up for it. His creation of The Authority in 1999 and run that lasted well into 2000 quite nearly defined how mainstream action comics would work. Meanwhile, he repeatedly launched increasingly impressive array of books with Avatar Press, from the gritty supernatural Gravel books through the dark examination of super-heroics in Black Summer and No Hero and on into glorious sci-fi worldbuilding books like Doktor Sleepless and Anna Mercury. Very few writers have displayed the sheer versatility that Warren Ellis has, and the decade saw him gather an impressive array of titles under his belt. It’s my humble opinion that he could’ve made the list off of nothing but Transmetropolitan and Planetary, but Ellis is hardly the type to rest on his laurels.
1. Grant Morrison
I don’t think it’s a secret that we’re all big Morrison fans. We could produce a “Top Ten” list using Morrison’s work alone, and that list would have more quality than half the lists you’ll find on the Interwebs. Kicking off the decade with the most radical X-Men run ever produced, breaking away from the dusty, old Claremont mold and replacing it with a new shadow for the franchise. Many fans prefer the safe, crowd-pleasing Whedon run, which is amusing, since Whedon’s run couldn’t really exist without Morrison’s. Before leaving Marvel, Morrison wrote Marvel Boy, a wonderful Marvel love letter, while maintaining that Morrison freshness. Many people have forgotten it, especially since Noh-Varr has recently been bastardized, but Marvel Boy is a great example of what Marvel’s Ultimate Comics line should’ve been. Returning to his beloved DC, Morrison produced the experimental Seven Soldiers, a bold comic introducing several great, new characters. Moving into the latter half of the decade, Morrison began his run on Batman, pitting Bruce Wayne against madness, Satan, and his bastard son, Damian. Morrison also helmed his first major company event, Final Crisis. It’s a summation of nearly every Morrison work to date, and it was too earth-shattering for many to handle, but it’s one of the finest events ever produced. Though Morrison’s known for being odd and extreme, few could complain about All Star Superman, a work so tender and pure. Not only is it Superman’s finest adventure, it somehow enriches every other Superman comic. So much accomplished, and I haven’t even gotten to Morrison’s fabulous Vertigo work, which includes We3, The Filth, and Seaguy. Morrison remains one of the strongest, boldest voices in the medium, and his enormous amount of successful output makes him a perfect candidate for best writer of the decade.
… and there you have it! Our TOP 10 list has what I’m sure many people will consider to be some significant omissions. Like any Best Of, it’s limited by what we read, how we assessed it, the context in which is was read. It was limited by the consistency with which they produce their best material, and how much we keep talking about it, months or even years later.
So, anyone who’s interested: what’s your Best Of list look like? Who were comics’ strongest writers, this decade, and why?
Join us next week as we bring you our Top 10 Artists of the decade, and have yourselves a happy holiday season!