Top 5 Best Comics of January 2011

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I read 12 comics in January, and these were the best.

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Top 5 Best Comics of October 2010

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I read 26 comics in October, and these were the best.

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The Unread Canon #12: The Walking Dead: This Sorrowful Life

As a beginning note, this may be my last installment on The Walking Dead, at least for now.  While I do have “The Calm Before” and “Made to Suffer” (they’re the last volumes of my collection) and I am enjoying the series, it doesn’t lend itself terribly well to this sort of critique, or at least it doesn’t the way I’ve been doing it.  The flaws remain the same: the forced, stilted dialogue in particular is something I doubt Kirkman is going to get over after 36 issues, nor his tendency to overexplain character’s motives.  Meanwhile, the story has slowed down considerably and looks to be going in a slightly more traditional path.  I’ll make my final decision in the next two weeks, after reading “The Calm Before”, but rest assured – should The Walking Dead be removed from the roster, it won’t be forgotten.  I fully intend to keep reading, and may jump in should I notice a particularly large shift in tone, some interesting new themes, or anything along those lines, I might jump in with an Unread Canon Interlude sometime.  And in the meanwhile, I’ll be taking some suggestions for what to follow next: right now, front runners include Ultimate Spider-Man and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  Have any thoughts on the subject?  Chime in in the comments.

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Top 5 Best Comics of May 2010

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So incredibly late on these, but I will catch up soon. Never fear! I read 27 comics in May, and these were the best.
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The Unread Canon #9: The Walking Dead: The Best Defense

“The Best Defense” is the fifth volume of The Walking Dead, and it’s pretty different from what’s come before.  Previously, each volume was a solid stand-alone story.  Yes, each one built off of everything that came before, and did so VERY, very well… but they were nonetheless essentially standalone stories.  You could conceivably read, enjoy and understand “Safety Behind Bars” without having read “Days Gone Bye” or continuing on to “The Heart’s Desire”, and while you’d miss out on some interesting and important character development, I think you’d find each story enjoyable in its own right.  But while “The Best Defense” is an engaging, enjoyable read, it’s also almost purely wrap-up from the previous arc and set-up for the next one.

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The Unread Canon #6: The Walking Dead: The Heart’s Desire

Everyone has a set of entertainment by which they’ll swear, the ones they’ll eventually convince every friend to watch/listen to/read.  Sometimes, those suggestions are echoed time and again all over the place, and even the most jaded, world-weary or dirt-poor fan of the medium has to get curious about just what all that fuss is for.  That’s why I’ve started The Unread Canon, my attempt to experience a great deal more of comics than I already have and take a look at the books that, over the past few years (or, in some cases, decades) have achieved passionate, vocal critical and fan supporters that have nevertheless managed to slip by me and to try and look at how they grew, how they aged, why they work, or why they might not work so well anymore.

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The Unread Canon: The Walking Dead: Safety Behind Bars

Everyone has a set of entertainment by which they’ll swear, the ones they’ll eventually convince every friend to watch/listen to/read.  Sometimes, those suggestions are echoed time and again all over the place, and even the most jaded, world-weary or dirt-poor fan of the medium has to get curious about just what all that fuss is for.  That’s why I’ve started The Unread Canon, my attempt to experience a great deal more of comics than I already have and take a look at the books that, over the past few years (or, in some cases, decades) have achieved passionate, vocal critical and fan supporters that have nevertheless managed to slip by me and to try and look at how they grew, how they aged, why they work, or why they might not work so well anymore.

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The Unread Canon: The Walking Dead: Miles Behind Us

Everyone has a set of entertainment by which they’ll swear, the ones they’ll eventually convince every friend to watch/listen to/read.  Sometimes, those suggestions are echoed time and again all over the place, and even the most jaded, world-weary or dirt-poor fan of the medium has to get curious about just what all that fuss is for.  That’s why I’ve started The Unread Canon, my attempt to experience a great deal more of comics than I already have and take a look at the books that, over the past few years (or, in some cases, decades) have achieved passionate, vocal critical and fan supporters that have nevertheless managed to slip by me and to try and look at how they grew, how they aged, why they work, or why they might not work so well anymore.

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Top 5 Best Comics of October 2009

The end of the year is coming fast! I read 17 comics in October, and these were the best.

5. Detective Comics #858

JH Williams III, arguably the best artist in the biz, and Dave Stewart, arguably the best colorist in the biz, grace Detective Comics’ interiors. Those two are literally a dream team. Yes, Rucka can’t quite produce a script that can match their ability, but who can? Morrison can’t write everything. This issue dips a toe into Kate’s origin, building off of last arc’s twist. Kate’s story is simple and adorable, which spirals into terrible tragedy. Rucka’s writing is strong, reminiscent of his Queen & Country days, but it’s the aforementioned dream team that really gives this issue an emotional punch.

4. Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #7

After last issue’s startling revelations, The Wild Hunt is steamrolling towards its conclusion. This series has indeed changed Hellboy. Hopefully, this doesn’t mean the series is ending. Fegredo’s Hellboy is strong, as always. He’s with Mignola every step of the way, as this issue brilliantly illustrates the core nature of Hellboy’s character. He’s always trapped in a cyclone of destiny, fighting with every breath to do good.

3. Invincible Iron Man #19

As the solicitation reads, “Everything ends.” At last, Fraction’s year-long epic concludes. Unfortunately, Larroca is still around. So, this issue doesn’t look great, but only someone like Larroca could render a “year-long epic” in less than a year. With this oversized culmination, Tony’s heroism shines bright. He spends most of the issue lumbering around like the Hulk, with even less brainpower. And when he utters his last words of the story, we cheer.

2. The Walking Dead #66

The Walking Dead doesn’t have many two-page splashes, but when they’re used, they make for some of this great series’ best moments. Besides the general awe of Adlard’s work, and Rick’s terrifying words, “Hold him down.” What makes the image so effective is the shading of Rick’s left eye. Remember this guy? He’s the dark mirror of Rick. So, whenever Rick’s a bit of a bastard, I suspect we’ll see his left eye shaded a bit. Besides all that, this issue concludes the “Fear the Hunters” arc, Carl confesses, and another character dies. That all makes for one of the strongest Walking Dead issues of the year, if not the best.

1. Dark Reign: The List – Wolverine

Yeah, done-in-one stories rule this format, especially when they’re produced by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic. Aaron, who channels the humorous, kickass writing you can see in his Ghost Rider. And Ribic, who abandons his usual, painted style in favor of kinetic linework, which captures the insane energy of this story perfectly. Aaron loves Grant Morrison. So, when handling his characters, Fantomex and Noh-Varr, it’s a labor of love. Aaron insisted that he wasn’t attempting to write like Morrison, but this is the best treatment these characters have received, since Morrison first wrote them. This comic is tons of fun!

For more comic goodness, go here.

Bruce Castle’s Mini-Reviews

I’m down, but not out!

Blackest Night #2

I was right there with Lebeau on the first issue, and you can find a bigger, better review of this issue from him. Johns definitely decreased the needless exposition this time around, but it’s not enough. This event is still moving at a dead snail’s pace. He spends too much time relishing in ghastly, deceased heroes terrorizing live ones. However, you can still find scenes to enjoy here, especially if you’re already fond of Johns’ particular brand of fun. Nightmarish sharks devouring Atlanteans here, a two-page, vertical splash of a resurrected Spectre there. The most impressive element of Blackest Night so far has been the images rendered by Ivan Reis. He’s officially a superstar.

Grade: C+

The Boys #33

Why is John McCrea drawing this? Shouldn’t he be drawing Herogasm? I’m not complaining. Carlos Ezquerra’s art has been sloppy the last few issues, and while McCrea is no Darick Robertson, his work here, and especially on Herogasm, is more than satisfying. Although, he’s still not the right artist for the job. This is a dark, violent arc of The Boys, and McCrea’s images are too cartoony. Ennis’ writing, however, is still top-notch. This issue was a blast. Watching Butcher systematically take down the Boys-filtered Avengers was very entertaining. The fact that this arc is so action-heavy makes it all the more upsetting that Robertson is absent.

Grade: B-

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #5

It’s nice to have Hellboy back. The reason for the delay was Duncan Fegredo’s, and the wait paid off. I re-read the previous four installments before this one, and Fegredo’s work is simply stunning. The Wild Hunt has featured a fight in just about every issue. It makes each chapter stand on its own as an episodic action series. Fegredo draws the hell out of the battle scenes, while Mignola crafts a menacing threat for Hellboy in the background.

Grade: B+

Ultimate Comics: Avengers #1

Off the heels of the biggest event in the Ultimate Universe’s history, at the start of a brand new status quo, is this issue exposition-heavy? @*&# NO!!! In true, Millar style, he kicks this series off in summer blockbuster fashion, featuring an extended fight scene, and a last-page shock to punch you in the face! As I mentioned with The Boys, if a comic is action-heavy, you have to provide pretty pictures. Well, Carlos Pacheco, in his glorious return to Marvel interiors, is just the man to provide such pictures. He handles all of the action, including some tricky helicopter scenes, with professional ease. Looking for pure, pop bliss? You got it!

Grade: A-

The Walking Dead #64

Dale’s situation provides a wickedly funny beginning. Then we get a typical and sentimental revelation from Dale’s lover, Andrea. I say typical because we’ve seen a lot of it in The Walking Dead, but it is a natural reaction to grief, and we’ve sure seen plenty of that in this series. The rest of the issue is mostly spent planting seeds for future events that culminate in a tremendously badass moment for Rick. Another enjoyable issue, for sure, but this is mid-arc. So, it does suffer from the necessary plot-building.

Grade: B

Uncanny X-Men #514

We’re two issues away from this crossover’s conclusion, and I don’t think it’s the event anyone was really expecting. This isn’t mindless Dark Avenger-on-X-Men action. No, with Matt Fraction at the helm, we’re getting a highly developed and well thought-out story that presents realistic situations for these characters to deal with. The downside to all that is that we’ve had more set-up than payoff, but with an oversized, Mike Deodato-drawn conclusion in the near future, I’m sure we’ll get the carnage that we crave soon enough.

Grade: B

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Everyone Likes Sketches

You may have liked my recent Comic Con 2009 post. Well, I recently had to upload some more sketches for reasons that may or may not involve money. So, I thought, since I went through the trouble of uploading them, I may as well post them here. So, enjoy!

Charlie Adlard’s Rick Grimes!

Darick Robertson’s Annie! NSFW

David Mack’s Echo!

Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon!

Ethan Van Sciver’s Barry Allen!

Ethan Van Sciver’s Hal Jordan! Word balloon provided by Geoff Johns!

Joe Linsner’s Dark Ivory!

Philip Tan’s Dr. Light!

Ryan Ottley’s Atom Eve!

Todd Nauck’s Emma Frost!

Review: The Walking Dead #63/Chew #1

 

Writing: We’re knee-deep in “Fear the Hunters” now. Kirkman continues to twist the knife, but, thankfully, my delicate stomach remains intact. Kirkman suffered some criticism for pitting his survivors up against man, so soon after the horrific events of issue #48. That hasn’t bothered me at all. It’s part of the transition between prison life and the harsh, new world. Yes, prison life was good in The Walking Dead.

Art: Don’t think that just because this arc is human-centered that Adlard won’t get a chance to draw some cool zombies. Expect one in here, and it looks good. I also enjoyed seeing a lighter side to Adlard’s art when he gets the chance to render some eye-rolling. And, as always, Adlard provides an unsettling last page.

Final Word: I must stress this again, these new enemies differ from the Woodbury folk. Besides a different approach in attacking, we get a peak at the hunter’s motives in this issue. They’re much more basic and understandable than Phillip’s lunacy. Another solid installment, for sure.

Grade: B+

Writing: Layman puts a unique spin on a tired genre, one that I’m not too fond of, actually. The main character, Tony Chu, is Cibopathic, which means that when he eats something, he can sense its origins. Oh, and Chu is a cop, so you can see how his ability could be useful, and unusual. Layman exploits the possibilities nicely.

Art: Judging Guillory’s art is a bit unfair, since this reprint is lacking the colors it should have. I once owned a black & white TV that I used to watch “The Simpsons,” so I know the flaws that come with material that should be colored but isn’t. However, since this is a review, I have to say that I’m not impressed with Guillory’s work here. It looks so bland, like an Image house style. You’ve seen this art before, but you don’t remember it. Of course, as I said, I’m looking at incomplete visuals here.

Final Word: Image was very generous by offering a reprint of this sold-out issue for free, and it’s attached to an even better comic. Layman’s writing is impressive. He manages to execute some twists & turns and adds a dash of political commentary to the background. This comic is worth checking out.

Grade: B-

For more comic goodness, go here.

Review: The Walking Dead #62

This is it! The beginning of the “Fear the Hunters” arc! Boy, The Walking Dead has just been dishing out the awesome lately, huh? As you should know, we haven’t had a death in this book for a while. Well, except for the harrowing last issue! Robert Kirkman even commented on possible future deaths.

So how was this issue? Well, great, as always, but this was, to use an old phrase, “the calm before the storm.” I think the most interesting thing about the last year of The Walking Dead is Carl’s evolution. He’s always been a good, headstrong kid, but lately he’s truly beginning to act like his old man. Unfortunately, he’s acting more like “Rick to the Extreme!” With his actions last issue and his reaction in this issue, one wonders if Rick will actually have to take down his own son. However, Carl does display a bit of humanity near the climax of this issue. Speaking of climax, like almost every issue of The Walking Dead, this issue has a good one.

Even though this is just the beginning of the new arc, it’s quick and hard-hitting. I eagerly await the next issue. Oh, when I picked this up in the shop today, a guy asked me if this was good. So, for those of you who haven’t read this comic, the trade is only ten bucks, and it should get you hooked.

Grade: B+

For more comic goodness, go here.

Top 5 Best Comics of May 2009!

Continuing the feature I started last month, here’s my list! I read 17 comics in May, and these were the best.

 

5. Green Lantern #41

I’m sorry. I haven’t written a review for this comic, and two others on my list, but this was a great Green Lantern issue. This issue, like most of the Johns-penned Blackest Night preludes, is packed with interesting information. On top of that, Johns continues to make Larfleeze (Larfreeze sounds so much cooler) a really interesting villain. But the absolute awesomeness of this issue can be found on the last page. Oh, what a last page.

 

4. Irredeemable #2

Oh, I love this feeling in comics. The book is new, and it just feels like the best thing ever. Ok, so Irredeemable isn’t flawless, but it’s a damn fine book. When we reflect on the man’s career, this could be the best Mark Waid comic. He’s writing the hell out of this book.

Here’s my review.

 

3. Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk #6

It’s sad. I think a lot of people dismissed this after the delays. I can certainly understand their reason for doing so, but if you did drop this book early, you missed out on a great series. Lindelof, while being a bit too unchained, actually wrote Wolverine and Hulk as fully fleshed-out characters. You know where they stand. And it’s so refreshing that the real “Wolverine vs. Hulk” of this series was much more psychological, instead of just a flurry of punching. Yu’s art is easy on the eyes as well.

 

2. The Walking Dead #61

Often thought of as my favorite ongoing series, instead of thinking “Will this issue be good?” I wonder “Just how good will this issue be?” This is definitely in the top-tier of The Walking Dead issues. There’s some bad stuff that happens here. If you aren’t reading this series, you should be.

Here’s my review.

 

1. Wolverine #72

Wow! Two Wolverine books in one month? That never happens! That’s because, with so many damn Wolverine books, most of them are repetitive and/or mediocre at best. But that’s exactly why “Old Man Logan” is so good. Millar takes a character that has been severely overused, and breathes some new life into him. Ok, so his actual characterization of Wolverine is more like Clint Eastwood than anything else, but this is a Wolverine story that is actually innovative. This series is packed with off-beat, fresh ideas. Oh, and Steve McNiven’s art is GORGEOUS!

So there it is! Agree? Disagree? Please, let me know!

April’s list

For more comic goodness, go here.

Review: The Walking Dead #61

Walking Dead #61

I’ve read everything Kirkman has ever written. I’m serious. Space Ace, Jubilee, Magdalena/Vampirella, you name it, I’ve read it. Because of that, I’ve seen the ups and downs of Kirkman’s career. I know that now, Kirkman is skilled enough to tell an issue like this. This issue of The Walking Dead is very compressed without missing an emotional beat. Yeah, this is a hell of an issue.

On the cover, you see a new character. There was a time when the whole issue would be devoted to this guy. Father Gabriel Stokes’ arrival is one of four big events. Again, I’m serious. I never really think about the harshness of The Walking Dead. That’s probably because I love it, and I’m happy when I read comics I love, but this issue is a kick in the teeth.

Charlie Adlard doesn’t get enough praise on this book. Yeah, the biggest part of The Walking Dead is the characters, and Kirkman puts words in their mouths, but Adlard brings these survivors to life. Not only can he handle the usual last-page-splash with ease, he has to make all the talking heads scenes work. With those talking heads is emotion, and this issue is packed with it. Well done, Adlard.

I’m often asked “What’s a good jumping-on point for The Walking Dead?” There aren’t any. Now, that’s usually taken as a bad thing, but it shouldn’t. The reason why there aren’t any jumping-on points, is because that would be like getting to the movie an hour late. You’re missing out on some of the journey, and I love these characters. Kirkman makes it rewarding. There’s a call-back to something that happens in the first trade, in this issue. So, please, jump on the zombie train, the trade is only ten bucks. For the rest of you, go read this great issue.

Grade: A

For more comic goodness, go here.

Top 5 Best Comics of April 2009!

This is a new feature. Let me know what you guys think. I read 26 comics in April, and these were the best.

But first, let’s kick things off with the worst book of the month:

Batman: Battle for the Cowl #2 (of 3)

Batman: Battle for the Cowl #2

Written by Tony Daniel

Illustrated by Tony Daniel

Published by DC Comics

No, this wasn’t actually the worst book of the month, but it was the worst I read. And the fact that it’s so high-profile, gives me all the more reason to bash it. But, to be fair, this isn’t a terrible comic. In fact, I wish it were a terrible comic, because then, at least, it’d be a bit interesting. What we have here, is forgettable, generic hogwash. I suppose, if you were a huge fan of Tony Daniel, you might have a bit of a good time. I’m not that fan. Again, Tony Daniel isn’t terrible. In fact, if we were ranking mediocre 90’s, Post-Jim Lee artists, Daniel is near the top of the list. However, that’s still not nearly enough to keep me entertained while reading a story completely written for the art. Why the hell did DC let Daniel write this? “Hmm, what writer should we get to follow Grant Morrison? I know! Tony Daniel!” I could write more, but I’ve bashed this comic more than enough. This book isn’t even that fun to hate.

Secret Warriors #3 (Wolverine Art Variant)

5. Secret Warriors #3

Written by Jonathan Hickman & Brian Michael Bendis

Illustrated by Stefano Caselli

Published by Marvel Comics

Wow! Who knew I was craving a book like this? Oh wait, I did! I’m awesome! Only three issues in, and Secret Warriors is arguably the best comic that Marvel is currently publishing. It’s definitely the most exciting. First, we got that kick in the pants about Hydra. Then, we got the return of the freakin’ Gorgon. This issue’s Dum Dum reveal really wasn’t that exciting, but who knew that some of Phobos’ prophecies from the second issue would already come to pass? Oh, and Gorgon said something like, “Someday, I will kill a god.” Yeah, whenever a badass talks about killing gods, it’s always pretty cool.

Boys #29 (Cover B)

4. The Boys #29

Written by Garth Ennis

Illustrated by Darick Robertson

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

This was the conclusion of “We Gotta Go Now,” an arc that spent a little too much time on masturbation jokes. But man, did this issue blow the damn doors down. First, we get the chilling truth about the G-Men. Then, Hughie gets his badass moment. And…well, the shit pretty much hits the fan after that.

Walking Dead #60

3. The Walking Dead #60

Written by Robert Kirkman

Illustrated by Charlie Adlard

Published by Image Comics

It’s always hard to rate The Walking Dead on an issue to issue basis. That’s probably the reason why most people read it in trade. However, with this issue featuring  the conclusion of that horde business, the ever-growing madness of Morgan, and the feeling that Dale may finally turn on Rick, this was a terrific installment.

Read my full review here.

Secret Six #8

2. Secret Six #8

Written by Gail Simone

Illustrated by Carlos Rodriguez

Published by DC Comics

Ah, Secret Six, a title that never fails to put a big, stupid grin on my face. Actually, I wasn’t too impressed with the last issue. It wasn’t bad, but for the conclusion of the first arc, which was pretty awesome, it just wasn’t completely satisfying. This issue, however, was sweet and charming, while still managing to provide all that sick, twisted humor that the book continues to deliver. Oh, and Tiny Secret Six? Classic.

Detective Comics #853

1. Detective Comics #853

Written by Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by Andy Kubert

Published by DC Comics

So, I guess this arc wasn’t nearly as well-recieved as people hoped, huh? Then again, a lot of people don’t care for Morrison’s run, either. So what the hell do people know? Gaiman managed to pack everything he could about Batman into just two issues. He does a good job expressing the appeal of Batman, touching on everything from his love to his mortality. However, the undisputed star here is Andy Kubert. He produces possibly the best work of his career. Well, I don’t know if it’s better than Batman #666. I love that issue.

Read my full review here.

Pretty even between Marvel, DC, and Indies, but DC did snag the top two. Then again, DC was also responsible for the worst book of the month. Overall, I’d say that April was a pretty good month for comics. All five of these books were a hell of a read.

Review: The Walking Dead #60 – Spoilers!

Walking Dead #60

(****1/2)

Let’s Get The Plot Out Of The Way: As we saw last issue, a huge horde has surrounded Rick, Carl, Morgan, and Abraham. They’ve been running on the road, but then Rick realizes that he doesn’t want his pals getting eaten. So they try to ditch the horde in a house.

The Good Stuff: Inside the house, they try to search for things to make noise to keep the horde occupied. Morgan searches upstairs and finds something terrible. Oh, what the hell, this is a spoiler review: The kids were poisoned and drilled in the head. The wife was shot and the husband blew his head off. Morgan’s humanity is already in a horrible state, what the hell will this do to him? Will this push him over the edge? Maggie gives Glen a heartfelt explanation for her earlier suicide attempt (Which pretty much lets us know that there is no God). Also, Dale really wanted to stay at this barn. He couldn’t; so he blames Rick. It’s been sixty issues, and Dale is finally starting to turn against Rick.

Final Word: Once again, I’m more worried about the humans than the zombies. Well played, Kirkman.

At the end of the issue are some teasers for the new story starting in #62. They’re in black & white, but you can see them here in color!

The Walking Dead Picture

The Walking Dead Picture

The Walking Dead Picture

The Walking Dead Picture

Looks like characters might start dying again.

Review: The Walking Dead #58

Walking Dead #58

(****1/2)

Wow! I can actually do a Walking Dead review without spoilers! Why? Because this issue is mostly a series of depressing conversations and there’s no need to spoil things. In this issue, the “unthinkable” was promised. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but there are definitely some unthinkable acts discussed. Seriously, this will bring you down. If you’re feeling too happy, read this issue.

You know, I don’t praise Charlie Adlard enough in these reviews. It’s probably because he’s so consistent. Adlard does a great job on this book. He draws terrifying zombies and handles the facial expressions wonderfully. This issue is packed with emotionality, so Adlard gets to show off.

Though it may rip your heart out and leave you in a puddle of tears, and blood from that gaping hole in your chest, this is another terrific chapter of The Walking Dead.

Top Ten Best Comics Of 2008

Better late than never, eh? This is my list for the top ten stories of 2008! 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 2008. They could begin at any time, but as long as they concluded in 2008, 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 Fraction books, etc. So a writer/artist will only appear once on the list. Same thing goes for characters. I’m not going to have a list made up of a bunch of X-Men comics or in the case of 2008, Superman books. Lastly (Sorry, #3 is a long rule), I tried to spread the love even when it came to companies. You will see Marvel, DC, and even indies on this list.

Wow, with all those rules, how did I come up with a great list? Well, I hope I did. Anyway, let us begin the fun!

The Crooked Man #1

10. Hellboy: The Crooked Man (Hellboy: The Crooked Man #1-3)

Written by Mike Mignola

Illustrated by Richard Corben

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

I sound like a broken record. I’ve written for this site for about seven months now. In that time I have reviewed nearly every Hellboy comic. And over and over again I have to point out how wonderful Mike Mignola really is. It’s not just his art. He’s a terrific artist. What fascinates me more are his words. Though Mignola’s obsessed with the past, his comics constantly evolve. 2008 was a fantastic year for Big Red. A new movie that not only didn’t disappoint, it was better than its predecessor. A new comic actually drawn by Mignola himself, the start of the longest Hellboy journey yet and of course this little gem that I’m here to talk about. The Crooked Man, like most Hellboy stories, is deceptively simple. It’s difficult to express one’s love for Hellboy comics because they all have similar beats. Hellboy goes to some marvelous landscape. He encounters a mystical problem. He then beats the crap out of everybody until they fall down. But unlike most Hellboy yarns, The Crooked Man doesn’t take place in some faraway land. It’s set in deep Deliverance hick hell. It’s not about old artifacts or odd Guillermo Del Torro creatures. This is about the classic struggle between man and the devil. It’s about facing your fears and temptations. Hellboy is almost a supporting character for God’s sake! And of course who better to bring this horrifying masterpiece to life than Richard Corben. He’s a perfect fit for this book. The man is 68 years old and he’s still pouring his soul into his projects. This Hellboy tale is not to be missed.

Joker HC

9. Joker (Original GN)

Written by Brian Azzarello

Illustrated by Lee Bermejo

Publisher: DC Comics

Available here. Do you want to see the bloodiest and most brutal Joker story ever? This is it. Joker is a gritty crime graphic novel that’s all about the titular character through the lens of sanity, Jonny Frost. Lee Bermejo spent two years working on this project. This book looks perfect. And in a Joker comic that means the book looks like hell. Bermejo and Mick Gray share the inking duties. Gray has a softer look while Bermejo has a terrifying painted effect. I began to dread Bermejo’s inks as it meant something gruesome was ahead. Azzarello throws us into a mad dark world with realistic versions of classic Batman rogues. The Dark Knight does appear but he only says three words. This is a fascinating yarn and the fact that Bermejo’s Joker mirrors Ledger’s makes it all the more creepy.

Made To Suffer

8. The Walking Dead: Made to Suffer (The Walking Dead Forty-Three through Forty-Eight)

Written by Robert Kirkman

Illustrated by Charlie Adlard

Publisher: Image Comics

Collected here. The Walking Dead is a comic that suffers in this format. In fact, I even feel uneasy putting it here because it doesn’t really have arcs. Walking Dead is one giant story, but it deserves to be on this list. For several years it’s been one of my favorite comics for its character exploration in a brutal and harsh situation. Though this story does contain one of this series’ few blunders (The return of the character you see on that cover), it was undeniably excellent. Testing these poor characters once again, Kirkman created the most suspenseful story of the year. The amount of hell inflicted on these men, women, and children was unsettling and powerful. Clearly, this is a landmark in a fantastic monthly book.

Northlanders #5

7. Northlanders: Sven the Returned (Northlanders One through Eight)

Written by Brian Wood

Illustrated by Davide Gianfelice

Publisher: Vertigo

Collected here. On the back of the trade (That’s only ten dollars! Eight issues for ten bucks is so awesome) there are quotes comparing this tale to Conan and 300. If that’s what you need to hear then I’ll agree with that comparison and even throw Braveheart into the mix. But really, this is the classic tale of the man born in the wrong time. It’s more than the modern language (You like the F-word right?) and evil uncle (That brings Hamlet to mind). Sven is a modern man trapped in a society based on dying with honor. Would you charge an army of one thousand if you were alone? I don’t think so. Yes, on the surface this is an enthralling adventure with Vikings, boobs and blood by the barrel full. But beneath the flare is a classic tale with a fantastic and unexpected conclusion.

Scalped #17

6. Scalped: Dead Mothers (Scalped #13-17)

Written by Jason Aaron

Illustrated by R.M. Guera

Publisher: Vertigo

Collected here. Dash Bad Horse and Chief Red Crow are incredibly intriguing characters even though they don’t have a lot to say. That’s one of Aaron’s strengths as a writer, he knows when to shut up and let his artist shine. Guera provides the usual rough style of art you’re used to seeing in these types of comics, but with a twist. It’s hard to put into words. You’ll just have to see it for yourself. Scalped, like Walking Dead, is an ongoing epic that’s hard to judge from arc to arc. But Dead Mothers is particularly amazing. And by amazing I mean heartbreaking. It’s hard not to spoil things, but Dead Mothers is about well, what do you think? Two people have lost their mothers and their murderers need to be brought to justice. But it’s so much more than that. Scalped is a crime western history epic filled with shocking twists and turns.

Black Summer Litho Juan Jose Ryp San Diego Ed #1

5. Black Summer (Black Summer #0-7)

Written by Warren Ellis

Illustrated by Juan Jose Ryp

Publisher: Avatar Press

Collected here. I dare everyone to read issue #0 (It’s one freaking dollar) of this series and not pick up the trade. It will pique your interest. Heck, you may have even seen this comic on the news if your town is small enough. Though it may be deemed by some to be liberal propaganda, you must remember this is written by Warren Ellis. It’s much more complex than that. This series is also enriched by the amazing and detailed visuals of Juan Jose Ryp. Though the story may devolve into a big action blockbuster (It does have summer in the title after all), I doubt you’ll find another blockbuster more thought provoking than this.

Criminal TPB Vol. 04 Bad Night

4. Criminal: Bad Night (Criminal Vol 2 #4-7)

Written by Ed Brubaker

Illustrated by Sean Phillips

Publisher: Icon

Collected here. I got into this book late, very late. I wouldn’t have believed it, but Criminal really is Brubaker and Phillips’ best work. I’m sure you’ve heard of this book’s general accomplishments, so that gives me the opportunity to talk about Bad Night specifically. The first volume (Coward and Lawless) offered crime stories that seemed familiar but were told well. Brubaker provided lovable baddies and established the mood and tone wonderfully. And as for Sean Phillips, there’s a difference between pretty art and art that belongs. One can be replaced and one can’t. Phillips belongs in the latter category. I can’t imagine anyone else on this book. Phillips’ quality continued in the second volume, but Brubaker stepped it up a notch. He began to tell more unconventional crime stories. Bad Night was his most experimental and his best to date. He demonstrated true noir. I’m not talking about the watered down crap you’ve seen in the last few decades. I’m talking about the gritty old-school, where every character is scummy. Bad Night is about lust, creativity, and obsession. Its finale packs quite a punch.

Punisher #54

3. Punisher: Long Cold Dark (Punisher #50-54)

Written by Garth Ennis

Illustrated by Goran Parlov, Howard Chaykin

Publisher: MAX Comics

Collected here. This is the year that made all Punisher fans (And anyone who appreciates great comics) cry. Garth Ennis left the big scary skull dude. But still, even in the winter of Ennis’ Punisher years, he managed to produce some damn fine comics. In fact, Long Cold Dark and Valley Forge, Valley Forge are two of his best. Now, Valley may be a better story for those who read the whole series, but Long Cold is for everyone (Except maybe children, old people and the squeamish). The first issue is drawn by the legendary Howard Chaykin and the rest of the arc is cinematically rendered by Goran Parlov. This is fun, twisted, and full of no holds barred action. And I really do mean that. Barracuda (The big black guy, not the Heart song) returns and has a piece of Frank’s past with him. I won’t spoil anything, but it’s a hell of a plot device. Possibly the Punisher’s best villain finds a way to get under Frank’s skin. It’s a terrific and bloody ride. 

All Star Superman TPB Vol. 01

2. All Star Superman (All Star Superman #1-12)

Written by Grant Morrison

Illustrated by Frank Quitely

Publisher: DC Comics

Collected here and here. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely are phenomenal. These two Scots collaborate again and again and every time they produce pure magic. All Star Superman is the best Superman story. Some would say that this is the only Superman comic one would ever need. To me, every Superman tale actually improves because of this. All Star Superman breathes new life into a seventy year old character. But this is more than nostalgia or a Silver Age throwback. It’s a unique and fascinating tale that’s extraordinarily memorable. Superman and Lois kissing on the moon. A man playing cosmic fetch with his dog. Superman saving that kid from suicide. Earth Q, the world without Superman. It’s all so beautiful. So if this is my #2, what the heck is my #1?

Casanova #14

1. Casanova: Gula (Casanova #8-14)

Written by Matt Fraction

Illustrated by Fabio Moon

Publisher: Image Comics

Casanova, that’s what. I do not put Casanova ahead of Morrison’s Superman lightly. I put much thought into this decision and in the end, Casanova’s (Or is it Zephyr’s?) charm won me over. This book is purely transcendent. From its cost of two dollars to the fact that every issue is packed with more information, emotion, etc. than most mainstream six-issue arcs (And I’m just talking about Gula. The first arc, Luxuria, was even denser). Casanova is genuinely groundbreaking.  It won’t be as easy to recreate as something like The Dark Knight Returns which is why it will probably never receive the credit it deserves. And speaking of the Dark Knight, what sets Casanova apart from its genre defining (Or redefining) counterparts is its undeniable sense of fun. Casanova, on top of everything else, is funny! So please, each issue is only two bucks if you want the floppies (Which you probably should since each issue is filled with wonderful back matter from Fraction himself) and the first trade is a little more than ten dollars. Casanova is worth your time.

Legacy of Vengeance (Marvel Must-Have)

Honorable Mentions

Incredible Hercules: Sacred Invasion (Incredible Hercules #117-120)

This was the best thing to come out of Secret Invasion. Well, it wasn’t a great new series, that was Captain Britain. But it was the best story with the words “Secret Invasion” on the cover. Incredible Hercules is a fun, humorous and refreshing comic. Sacred Invasion features the awesome God Squad! It also contains the most shocking Skrull reveal ever (That was ruined on the cover of the trade)!

Superman: Brainiac (Action Comics #866-870)

Superman had a fantastic year. Along with All Star Superman, Geoff Johns wrote three wonderful Superman tales. Superman: Brainiac was my favorite. Gary Frank’s art is worth the price alone. He captures all the sci-fi, horror, and emotion perfectly. Superman’s ensemble cast also shines here. And those last few pages are heartbreaking. It’s too bad I couldn’t get Geoff Johns on the list this year, but with Blackest Night coming up, it’s a safe bet he’ll make the list for 2009.

Thor: Ages of Thunder (Thor: Ages of Thunder, Thor: Circle of Blood, Thor: Man of War)

The best Thor story in years, it explores the Thunder God’s early years. Fraction delivers some giant-slaying fun. If you’re looking for a good time with Gods, Monsters, and lascivious Odin, this book is for you!

Thunderbolts: Caged Angels (Thunderbolts #116-121)

I love this run so much. Why did I put Black Summer on my list instead of this? Black Summer isn’t well-known, Caged Angels is only half of the story, and Black Summer has complete creative freedom.

X-Force: Angels & Demons (X-Force #1-6)

This was on my list for so long. I do love it and isn’t that cover awesome? I figured I could only use one for the honorable mentions and that is by far the best. This is the dark and bloody version of the X-Men. X-Force also gives us a few continuity surprises. Clayton Crain renders some stunning images.

So there it is. That took a lot of time, so much so that we’re already in the second month of the new year (Time flies). I think it’s a pretty good list. I’m sorry Marvel fans. There aren’t any traditional Marvel comics on my main list (Though Punisher and Criminal kind of count), but at least you have my honorable mentions. Other than that, I think I spread the love, right? 2008 wasn’t that great for the real world (In fact, it was pretty horrible), but at least the comics were good.