The 10 Best Graphic Novels of 2011

read/RANT's Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2011

When I began compiling my list of the year’s best graphic novels, I found myself including dozens of books with little rhyme or reason. To help me narrow my list down a little bit, this is the rule I created: the first English-language collected edition or original graphic novel had to be released in 2011. And while this excluded some of my favorite books from the year (Waid’s Daredevil, Rozum’s Xombi, and Lemire’s Animal Man, to name three), it was a good guideline when I was constructing the list.

Obviously, we missed some things – sometimes great things. We don’t read every graphic novel that comes out (as much fun as that would be!). I even know for sure some major releases that I missed, like The Death Ray. So feel free to tell me just how wrong I am! What were your favorite releases this year? Because these were some of ours…

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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.

Foilball’s Review Roundup #48

100 Bullets #94 (****)

It’s so difficult to review a comic that’s part 94 of 100, so I’m not even going to try. The reason I’m spotlighting this baby is simple: Lono vs. Dizzy… FIGHT!!! This is like, 70 issues in the making and we don’t even get to see who wins??? You’re killing me! My money’s on Dizzy. She’s too hot to lose! Too cold to hold!

The Boys #21 (*****)

This could be the best issue in the series and The Boys aren’t even in it. We finally get the scoop about this world’s 9/11 and SHIT, it’s a doozy, folks. So, the Legend reveals that the Seven are a bunch of super cluster####s who in the process of saving the day killed a whole bunch of people on a plane. And then, out government covered it up. Oh, also, someone close to Butcher was killed in the tragedy. Man, no wonder he hates these bastards. The thing I like so much about this series, despite the heavy-handed political messaging, is how honest Ennis is with his characters, and by extension, his readers. Ennis’ super folk are just like us. The things they do to the normal people in this book are the type of things normal people would do if they were suddenly granted super powers. These guys are human first, heroes second. This makes them not just noble, but petty, cruel and most importantly, weak. I don’t read this as Ennis’ disdain for the human race as a whole, but only for that corrupt minority that makes like miserable for the reasonably good-natured majority. So, in conclusion: I love this book. I love it because it plays fair. It’s the type of comic I wish I could write, but I’m glad someone more talented than me is actually pulling it off.

Criminal #4 (*****)

New story! So there’s this dude, used to be a counterfeiter, among other things, and then one day he gets caught up with this sultry little number, who steals his entire pathetic little stash, but that’s okay, because at least it was fun, but she ain’t through with him yet, because, out of the blue, after a few weeks, her boyfriend shows up to kick his teeth in, only, not really, the dude overreacts which kind of forces this pissed off boyfriend thug type to beat on him, into unconsciousness, and when he wakes, brother, the girl is back and she’s been telling tales, because thug boyfriend wants this dude to hook a hiim up with some fake FBI badges… oh snap, just another Criminal tale!

The Walking Dead #51 (****1/2)

No, that rating ain’t no mistake. Issue #51 was solid from start to finish. Kirkman really surprised me with this one. The phone thing caught me completely off guard. I was expecting it to be the missing prison people, but no, I was totally bamboozled. And then the end, that little bit where Rick goes back for the phone? That was heartbreak. I wanted to cry, but then I remembered that I’m a dude, and dudes don’t cry. So instead, I gave a little grunt and a sigh.

Young Liars #6 (*****)

HOLY SHIT, SADIE KILLS A ROOM FULL OF BAD GUYS AND THEN DANNY TRIES TO KILL HIMSELF?!!? How does this book keep topping itself? I was worried there for a minute, since before we hit those last few pages, the story seemed to be winding down. And then… bam-bam-bam-bam! EXPLOSION OF AWESOME!!! To save money, I should definitely switch over to trades, but I love the idea that each of these issues is like a single off a record. Owning the floppies feels mandatory.

Quick Hits:
• Buffy The Vampire Slayer #17 (***): Uh, who are all these characters? I’M SO LOST!!! I shouldn’t have to read or reread the Fray series, Joss! Introduce your fracking characters! Oh, and O-B-V the dark and mysterious chick is Willow… DUH!!! This surprises no one, Mr. Whedon. BE BETTER, damn it.
• Eternals #3 (***1/2): The story takes a slight dip as we slow down to get a dose of Celestials back-story, but most of it is interesting so I’ll give them a pass. Plus, I’m not stupid enough to think it’s unnecessary. Stuff’s gonna git ‘uge, fellars! We gots to be prepare’d with the learnings and the bed timey stories.
• Green Lantern Cops #27 (***): Why does the art feel so dated? I like Luke Ross. Why does this suck? The story was fine. Boring, but fine. And then we get eyeball rain. WOOO!
• Iron Man: Viva Las Vegas #2 (**): Late books! Not gonna lie, this comic stinks.
• Jack of Fables #24 (**): This will probably be remembered as the worst issue of Jack in the entire run. It was boring, I was bored. The climax was the epitome of anti-climax. About the only thing I did like was the part where the kid gets his fingers bitten off. Other than that, it felt like the story went one issue too long, as if Bill and Matthew were as bored with it as I was. Still, good art, a nice Bolland cover and a page of Babe at the end, so I can’t complain too much.
• Spawn #181 (***): This was just weird, or oddly paced. The story definitely feels rushed here. Oh, I wonder why. McFarlane is returning to the book. Yay.
• The Twelve #7 (****): Yes! Phantom Reporter guy might actually do something about all the evil shit going down! Good for you, dude. Took you long enough. Also, the parallels JMS draws between Captain America and Captain Wonder where very cool, especially the stuff pertaining to their respective sidekicks… although, I doubt Bucky would off himself if faced with the same situation as Tim. Bucky’s too cool to commit suicide.
• Wonder Woman #23 (**1/2): Maybe this issue redeems this arc, maybe it doesn’t. Honestly? I could give a shit at this juncture. Bring on the next arc!

NOTE: The scanner works! Scans will return next week! Rejoice!

SeventhSoldier’s Top 10

So, you all have been doing your top 10 monthly books, and I feel bad, because I don’t read 10 monthly books!  Sadly, I can’t afford it.  I read Final Crisis, most of the Final Crisis tie-ins, and 4-5 monthlies, and when FC ends, I’ll jump on another few books, preferably minis, but until then…I really can’t join the fun, there.

Instead, I decided to think about ten books that deserve some love.  Most of them are done already, and while they’re pretty good, you may not have had a chance to check ’em out, yet.  No Sandman, Preacher, Watchmen, etc…here, but instead a selection of enjoyable books that I find most comic fans have never read.

10. The Book of Lost Souls

JMS can be a fairly controversial writer, and often an unpopular one.  I know that I’m not really a very big fan of his mainstream work, or what little of it I’ve read thus far.  And The Book of Lost Souls is a fairly large vanity project – a weighty series with excessive high school level symbolism with an effeminate hero and a bizarre mythology

Despite all that, though, this seems to be where JMS most shines.  There’s no editorial mandate, no continuity – just a palate for ideas, where nothing is really off the table.  Not everything sticks, especially the completely forgettable last issue, but the book remains a sweet, emotional book with more of a focus on healing than on hurting, which is a rare sight in comics.

9. Global Frequency

The premise behind Warren Ellis’s Global Frequency is irredeemably sci-fi, and falls apart at the barest prods, but it’s less a plot and more a structure through which Ellis is free to examine sci-fi tropes in comics.  Each issue is a stand-alone sci-fi story about one or more member of the Global Frequency, a world-wide organization of specialists who trouble-shoot the bizarre problems that are popping up as we gain more and more access to technology.  

The stories in the two trades range from an issue-long battle between two cannibal martial artists (in an issue helpfully titled ‘Ultraviolence’) to a memetic alien invasion, to bio-terrorist threats.  Some issues are action packed, while others are more thoughtful.  But all throughout, Ellis’s ability to keep the story contained lends it a clarity that many books lack.  Far and above one of the best purely sci-fi books you can find, especially if you generally appreciate Ellis’s work – this is one of his best works.

8. Promethea

Alan Moore made his name in comics a LONG time ago, writing some of the most enduring stories the medium has ever known, with a wide-stream appeal the medium may never know again.  Also, he’s crazy.  And while sometimes that madness manifests in angry rants and snake worshipping cult magic, sometimes it manifests in a book like Promethea, a modern magical manifesto, an exploration of all things mystic.

Yeah, Moore has done plenty since leaving Marvel and DC – on top of Promethea, he has the excellent Tom Strong and Top 10, and Top 10 especially is worth checking out – but Promethea stands out to me as the most uniquely Alan Moore project we’ve seen in years.  It’s a fascinating blend of adventure, mysticism, and coming of age, and through the book Moore almost off-handedly creates a vivacious super-heroic setting.

It’s understandable why Promethea doesn’t have a huge audience – with some issues done entirely in rhyme, and some taking place literally entirely in metaphor, the series requires you to put some effort in to it.  But if you do, and if you enjoy a healthy dose of bizarre mysticism, you should definitely read Promethea.

7. Crossing Midnight

Crossing Midnight was all set up to be Mike Carey’s next big Vertigo smash.  It had Japanese mythology, insane battles, monsters, everything – but it opened slow, and Vertigo books can’t do that, nowadays.  Readership dropped, and things fell apart.  Don’t let its quick cancellation fool you, though – Crossing Midnight was one of Vertigo’s best titles, and despite the fact that it didn’t live long, it definitely deserves a read-through if you have any interest in Japanese mythology, or in stories of mortal pawns in a war of the gods.

Crossing Midnight tells the story of a pair of twins.  One was born just before midnight, the other, just after.  This separation defines their relationship, as one grows up a perfectly normal young boy, and the other grows into a wildchild, especially once she learns that she cannot be cut or stabbed, for reasons unknown to her – the blade will slide away, or bend, but will never hurt.

The machinations of the gods are, of course, involved, and Carey does an excellent job of slowly introducing more and more mythological elements into the world these two seemingly ordinary Tokyo children live in, until they’re almost irrevocably swamped in it it.  Definitely a must read for fans of mythology, or of good urban fantasy story-telling in general.

6. Criminal

Brubaker gets a lot of nods here in this list, because a lot of his projects are quality books that get cut because they don’t meet the standard superhero mold, and Criminal is no exception.  While it has managed to scratch out a second season, things don’t look hopeful unless readership picks up – and the book definitely deserves to get picked up.

Featuring a rotating cast in VERY loosely tied-together arcs, the stories in Criminal are all about…well, criminals.  From thugs to master planners, each arc is an excellent, small noir piece.  There are no super-humans, there are no costumes.  There are just bad men, and men put in bad places.  But the characters Brubaker creates are realistic, the situations they get into are plausible, and it’s frankly a joy to read such carefully crafted stories of greed and vengeance in a medium that often treats such topics in a laughably juvenile manner.

5. Gotham Central

Gotham Central has a premise that should be fairly irresistible: what’s life like for the cops of Gotham City?  What is it like to deal with people like Two-Face, the Joker, and Mr. Freeze on a daily basis?  After all, you don’t have the billions of dollars worth of gadgets, or the decades of training, that Batman does, so just how can you show up to work, knowing what you could face down?

With excellent art my Michael Lark, Brubaker and Rucka team up to answer those questions, and to introduce you to some of the DCU’s bravest characters.  The story fleshes out a great (never used) supporting cast for Batman, but it also does a lot for the bad guys of Gotham – the Two-Face arc is great, especially the (admittedly not originating in Gotham Central) first meeting between Renee Montoya and Two-Face during No Man’s Land.

Gotham Central wasn’t a book for everyone, and ultimately it had a good run, but it’s still a book that you should definitely check out if you have any interest in Gotham City OR in crime dramas.

4. Sleeper

Ed Brubaker has long since made his reputation as a master of comic noir on books like Daredevil, the aformentioned Gotham Central, or the also mentioned Criminal, but this is among his strongest books.  Sleeper is the sequel to a Wildstorm mini called “Point Blank”, a tragedy about a few Wildstorm regulars.  Point Blank introduced us to Holden, a super-villain working in a massive, evil group…who happens to be a good guy at heart, working undercover for the government.  But when things go wrong and the only person who can verify his story slips into a coma, Holden is trapped as a super-villain, forced to live a life he never wanted working for an organization he despises, hunted by his former allies.

Sleeper is Holden’s story, start to finish.  Like all good noir, it’s a little bit comic, it’s a lot bit tragic, and the bad guys are the best part of the whole damn thing.  Characters like Miss Misery and Genocide Jones, horrific people who would in most settings be reviled, become sympathetic, even likable figures, as Brubaker does things to humanize villainy that few comic writers care to try.

3.Doom Patrol

Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol honestly might be the best team-superhero book ever printed, to my mind.  They were originally conceived of as a team of outcast heroes, who were set apart from humanity in some fundamental way – much like the X-Men.  And while the X-Men took the idea one way (towards making them all celebrity supermodels with awesome powers), Doom Patrol quickly went the complete other way.  The heroes were truly damaged, unable to function in normal society in some way thanks to the abilities they had.

Doom Patrol had some of the best character creation I’ve ever seen – from Crazy Jane, a woman with over 60 distinct personalities, each of which had its own superpower, to the Quiz, a Japanese woman with every superpower you haven’t thought of.  The enemies were every bit the outcasts the heroes were, and they generally weren’t even really bad people – they just didn’t understand the world.

Doom Patrol is a book for anyone who loves the outcast, or for anyone with a yen for something insane.

2. Death

Okay, I cheated a little bit.  I said no Sandman – well, this isn’t Sandman!  It’s Death, his older sister!  And, to be fair, while I find that many comic fans have read Sandman at some point in their lives, I also find that many have missed out on reading the best spin-off there is – Death: The Time of Your Life and Death: The High Cost of Living.

These two thin volumes represent some of Gaiman’s better works, especially The Time of Your Life, a continuation of the story of Sandman’s Foxglove and Hazel.  Like many of the books on here, it’s a little sad at times, but the book digs deep to show us just how much friendship can mean, and what we sometimes have to give up to be responsible for our loved ones.  It’s not as epic as Sandman, but it doesn’t try to be – his Death has always leant herself towards a more personal touch, and she’s made excellent use of in these two stories.

1. Astro City 

Kurt Busiek’s Astro City is, in many ways, his love song to comic books.  If you’ve ever wondered why Busiek, whose runs on Superman, Avengers, and other big titles were generally met with relative indifference, still gets referred to in awe, wonder no longer – Astro City is it.  Often billed as ‘the most realistic look at superheroes’, that isn’t quite right.  It’s a world of superhumanity from the point of view of the average guy, or the world of superhumanity when it isn’t strapped down with all the rules and regulations Marvel and DC place on it to keep their cash cows fat.

He’s done it all.  Astro City contains commentary on Crisis on Infinite Earths, on a Skrull Invasion, on the celebrity life-style of the Fantastic Four, and on just how harsh Superman’s day could be.  He’s answered the question, “Why on earth would ANYONE live in a city with superhumans?!”, and he’s tackled both street-level and cosmic scuffles.

Astro City is one of the best comic books ever printed.  Each issue is so packed full of love for the medium of superhero comics that you can’t help but smile the entire time you’re reading them.  While most of the series is solid gold, two particular issues stand out.  If you have a love of super-villains and the insane stunts they pull, the single issue story “I’ll Show Them All!” featuring the Junkman is one of the best, and if you want to see how something like Crisis on Infinite Earths might effect a normal person, look no further than “The Nearness of You”, a half-issue story that just might be the most heart-breaking comic you’ll read.