Top Ten Best Comics of 2009

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Better late than never, eh? This is my list for the top ten stories of 2009! Woo hoo! Now, before we get to all the fun of me voicing my opinions and you disagreeing with them, I have to get a few rules out of the way.

1. These are the top ten stories/arcs/whatever. Not comic in general, not trade, but best stories (What can I say, I’m trying to be somewhat unique).

2. These are stories that ended in 2009. They could begin at any time, but as long as they concluded in 2009, they’re eligible.

3. I tried to keep the list as diverse and reader-friendly as possible. I love certain writers, but it would be boring if it was three Morrison books, two Kirkman books, etc. So, a writer/artist will only appear once on the list. I tried to spread the love evenly. You will see Marvel, DC, and even indies on this list.

Wow, with all those rules, how did I come up with a great top ten? Well, I hope I did. Anyway, let’s begin the fun!

10. Battlefields: Night Witches

Written by Garth Ennis

Illustrated by Russell Braun

Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment

Collected here. Garth Ennis is a controversial writer. Hell, just about everyone who’s any good is controversial. But, when Ennis is writing war stories, everyone can gather round and enjoy. Ennis is a veteran writer, and he proves here that he’s a master of the craft. His ability to consummately dramatize historical events, coupled with the massive amount of research Ennis does, really makes him the perfect writer to breathe life into these forgotten events in World War II. I highly recommend you purchase the Battlefields hardcover, as it contains two other war stories almost as good as this one, as well as Ennis’ enlightening commentary on each tale.

9. Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk

Written by Damon Lindelof

Illustrated by Leinil Yu

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Collected here. Lindelof’s comic debut proved that he is able to write the best mainstream superhero comics can offer. The main players all feel like real people, including the often-boring canucklehead. Lindelof realizes that generic fighting can be extremely boring, with the titular match resolved in a more philosophical manner, rather than with fists and claws. However, Lindelof also demonstrates a love for comics, remembering that at the end of the day, these spandex adventures should be pure fun, dripping with zany exuberance. We all know this series took years to complete, and as such, we witness the evolution of Leinil Yu. This series is already responsible for one of the most iconic images in comics. If people actually take the time to read it, they’ll find there’s a great comic surrounding that image.

8. Destroyer

Written by Robert Kirkman

Illustrated by Cory Walker

Publisher: MAX Comics

Collected here. You probably didn’t even hear about this comic. I myself barely picked it up, but I’m glad I did. Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker bring Keene Marlow back from Limbo. When all the other Golden Age pansies had retired, Keene kept on kickin’ ass. Kirkman packs all five issues with more awesome than you can handle, while Cory Walker and Val Staples provide career-best work. In a way, this is the greatest Captain America comic, and you’ll just have to read it to find out what I mean.  Destroyer is a wildly entertaining action comic that carries depth and soul, while remaining true to its fun spirit.

7. No Hero

Written by Warren Ellis

Illustrated by Juan Jose Ryp

Publisher: Avatar Press

Collected here. No Hero is the second in Ellis’ superhero trilogy at Avatar Press. The first, Black Summer, made my list last year, so it’s only natural that the second makes this new list. Now, Ellis riffing superheroes is always a sight to behold. Hell, Ellis eating a turkey sandwich is a sight to behold. Anyway, you know this story’s going to be packed with brilliant ideas, memorable characters, and a few stomach-churning moments. Indeed, No Hero has all of those things. Ellis’ artistic partner, Juan Jose Ryp, masterfully renders Ellis’ madcap ideas with his post-Geof Darrow style. That you should be enough to sell you on this book, as that’s about all I can tell you directly. The rest of No Hero’s brilliance is up to your own interpretation. There’s something to be said about the protagonist’s similarities to ourselves as fanboys. There are comments to be made about the superhero business as a BUSINESS. There are connections to Ellis’ previous work, particularly his decade-defining Authority run. Again, I leave the specifics to you, but one thing’s for sure, No Hero is worth your time.

6. I Kill Giants

Written by Joe Kelly

Illustrated by JM Ken Niimura

Publisher: Image Comics

Collected here. What a wonderful tale this is. It’s a beautiful meld of fantasy and reality that many comics strive for. What appears to be an extremist work immediately fools us into believing it’s minimalist, only to prove both assumptions wrong, leading to the old idiom, “don’t judge a book by its cover”. Like many great stories of adolescence, that idiom is one of IKG’s primary themes, along with dozens of others. Not to be outdone by Joe Kelly, Ken Niimura’s bold, energetic art fully realizes the world of Barbara Thorson. His work looks especially gorgeous in the Titan Edition that’s well worth your money. IKG is a beautiful story that will capture the hearts of both adults and children.

5. Detective Comics: Go

Written by Greg Rucka

Illustrated by J.H. Williams III

Publisher: DC Comics

Collected here. JH Williams III and Dave Stewart are the best art team around, and people are finally starting to realize that. “Go” is Batwoman’s second arc, and not only is it better than the first, it actually enriches it. Rucka finally gives us Kate’s origin, and it’s wonderful. It begins with a tragedy that mirrors Batman’s, continues with Kate’s dreams ending, along with Rucka’s thoughts on DADT, and concludes with an epiphany, and new purpose. This origin is actually being told for a reason relevant to Kate’s story, and Rucka keeps track of present day events, events that culminate in Shakespearean fashion. All of this, masterfully rendered by the aforementioned best art team in comics. Detective Comics is, hands down, the best superhero comic of the year.

4. Scalped: High Lonesome

Written by Jason Aaron

Illustrated by R.M. Guera, Davide Furno, Francesco Francavilla

Publisher: Vertigo

Collected here. Aaron takes an in-depth look at Diesel, Nitz, Catcher, Dash, and a new character. All of them have their own issue to shine, while the unique historical narrative technique that Scalped is known for is used to cover a casino heist. Aaron uses beautifully foul dialogue and presents original and powerful characters. We learn the secrets of Nitz and Catcher, which have only been hinted at thus far. And Aaron’s brilliant dark humor has never better. Scalped remains the best crime comic around.

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3. Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe

Written & Illustrated by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Publisher: Oni Press

Collected here. Our little Scott’s grown up. No more sharing a tiny bed with a gay man. He’s got a job. The epic, super-awesome fight scenes have moved to the background, while characters like Kim Pine move to the foreground. All of this achieved, and Scott Pilgrim still hasn’t lost its youthful video game spirit. We know Scott will defeat the twins and their robots. He’s Scott Pilgrim! What we don’t know, however, is what the universe is going to throw at him next. Ramona’s past continues to literally smack Scott in the face, but the problems are deeper this time, and Scott’s got demons of his own. The penultimate Scott Pilgrim chapter focuses more on Scott’s manhood, and by this point, he’s earned it, ready to beat everything the universe has to throw at him.

2. Final Crisis

Written by Grant Morrison

Illustrated by J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Doug Mahnke

Publisher: DC Comics

Collected here. Final Crisis is the most misunderstood major comic event ever written, and it’s also the best. I was going to call it “polarizing,” but that’s not right. People tend to hate what they can’t comprehend, and that’s where most Final Crisis detractors stand. But many, including myself, understood and loved Final Crisis for its dense narrative, unconventional storytelling, and uncompromised sprit. If Final Crisis ever feels jarring, and it does, it’s because a comic about a god’s fall, descending the multiverse into oblivion, should feel jarring. Final Crisis does have its flaws, mostly in its art. Jones didn’t have time to finish it all, but what he did was beautifully memorable: the original superhero’s first contact with a god, Turpin’s descent into Darkseid, the Martian’s execution, to name a few. Final Crisis is also a kind of “Best Hits” album from Grant Morrison, a summation of ideas going back much further than Batman: R.I.P. At its heart, Final Crisis is a story that loves stories, showing the heroes facing the most terrifying villain of all, the blank page.

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1. Asterios Polyp

Written & Illustrated by David Mazzucchelli

Publisher: Pantheon

Collected here. I’m sure you’ve heard of this comic by now. You do owe it to yourself to read it. If David Mazzucchelli wasn’t already considered one of the greatest talents in this medium, he is now. Asterios Polyp is a perfect example of what comics can achieve. It’s a graphic novel in every sense of the term. Mazzucchelli uses everything: physical appearance, word balloon, even interior appearance, to convey his characters. They’re all drawn the way they are for a reason. Asterios Polyp is a symbolic, literary beauty, and a comic, through and through. I strongly urge you to give it a try.

Honorable Mentions

Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes (Collected here)

Whedon’s wildly acclaimed run was good, but ultimately a watered-down version of Morrison’s X-Men run. Well, Warren Ellis is here to blaze his own trail, using a highly concentrated dose of mind-melting awesome. Simone Bianchi is his partner for this opening salvo, and he brings a beautiful and unique style, giving Ellis’ ideas the look they deserve. Truly, this was the start of what will be a great X-Men run.

Fantastic Four: Solve Everything (Collected here)

Speaking of the beginning of great runs, Hickman makes his mark early with this tale. Hickman tells a Reed-centric tale that ultimately combats the recent focus on Reed’s character. Hickman’s known for his brilliant high concepts, and certainly a team of multiple Reed Richards’ defending the multiverse is a good one. But, at the end of the day, Hickman reminds us that the Fantastic Four is about family, and that Reed may not be the cold, calculating genius he’s always made out to be.

Parker: The Hunter (Collected here)

This is an adaptation, and it’s an extremely cold work. However, Darwyn Cooke’s incredible imagery makes up for that. The artistic design is absolutely stunning. Cooke is at the top of his game here, just make sure you have something happy to read after you’re finished.

Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye

This is, without a doubt, one of the best comics of 2009. Sadly, because of my dumb rules, it can’t make the list. I didn’t think it was possible, but I believe the second chapter of Seaguy is even better than the first. You people just have to read this thing so that the trilogy can be completed!

Wednesday Comics (Collected here)

Like Seaguy, this would’ve absolutely made the list if it weren’t for my dumb rules. I hope you read Wednesday Comics on Wednesday. If you didn’t, you did miss out on some fun. However, with that proper hardcover coming out, you won’t look like a complete idiot once you buy it.

And there you have it! My extremely late list! Hopefully next year I can get my act together a bit sooner than this. Thanks for reading!


Top Ten Best Comics of 2008

-Bruce Castle

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15 Responses to Top Ten Best Comics of 2009

  1. With the way you worded rule number 2, I knew Ultimate Wolverine Vs Hulk would be on the list. Other than that, I only read Ghost Boxes from your honorable mention list, so I don’t really have much of an opinion. I did like both of those, though. The list looks good.

    • brucecastle says:

      I wrote rule number 2 over a year ago. I just copied and pasted the rules from my 2008 list. In fact, Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk was somewhat of a last minute addition.

      The list looking good is all that matters.

  2. Yunus Wajdi says:

    Great list. The vitriol spewed at Final crisis versus the massive enthusiasm for Blackest Night has left me quite depressed about the state of comic books.

    • dclebeau says:

      No kidding!

      Although, I will say this much about the response to Blackest Night: Even the most die-hard Geoff Johns apologists out there seem willing to admit that the final issue was disappointing.

      But, yeah, it was disheartening to read people calling it an “instant masterpiece” after one issue (which was pretty much all re-cap anyway.)

      • ywgonzalez says:

        Yeah. I mean I’ve read Green Lantern since rebirth. I liked Sinestro War. Hell, there we even several fun moments in Blackest Night. Its not the worse comic I’ve ever read, definitely not Countdown bad.

        It’s really this “instant masterpiece” hype that annoys me. Mediocre is the new classic apparently.

      • dclebeau says:

        That was one of the frustrating things about writing about BN (and to a certain extent it’s true just about any time you write about anything Geoff Johns has written). So many fans these days seem convinced that everything Johns touches is gold that they are unwilling to accept any other viewpoint. People were proclaiming the greatness of Blackest Night from the time it was teased in Sinestro Corps War. When you are dealing with this mindset, you can say “Blackest Night was an above-average cross-over” and still come across like a hater.

        I just don’t get being so blindly devited to a creator or a character that you are unwilling to accept any assessment other than “instant masterpiece”. (maybe I forgot to add water…)

        Shrug. I’m glad BN is over. I decided not to go back and get into it in depth. I’m moving on. Hopefully, Brightest Day will bring better things.

      • brucecastle says:

        Really? There’s literally nothing about Johns on this list, and yet every single comment has been about him.

        Don’t let him control your lives!

  3. brucecastle says:

    Thanks! Don’t worry! There are a few people who adore Final Crisis, just like there are a few people who hate Blackest Night.

  4. I like Stryfe says:

    I just read Secret Origin a week ago and was amazed that Johns basically made out Abin Sur’s entire death about researching this event.

  5. Good list, Bruce. There’s some things on there that I have to pick up.

  6. Good list, Bruce. There are some books that I have to check out from there.

  7. [...] Top Ten Best Comics of 2009 [...]

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