The comicbook that’s more of a soap opera with every issue!
The comicbook that’s more of a soap opera with every issue!
Greg Rucka, Michael Lark, and Santi Arcas craft an awfully compelling debut issue about a reluctant super-soldier in a dystopian future.
I’ll admit, part of the reason you haven’t seen too many reviews of The Punisher popping up lately is, I lost interest. Though the book opened strong, a detour featuring the Vulture was too campy to keep up the tone of the book, and a tightening financial situation made me decide to drop it. But I like Rucka and Lark too much to stay away for long, and with sales on the title dropping like a rock and a bit of Christmas cash in my pocket, I decided to dive back in and see where things stood while I still could.
I mentioned briefly last month that The Punisher #1 read more like a horror comic than a conventional action book, but I never said why. Though The Punisher #2 is a much more conventional issue than the formally daring opener, that idea holds: not only is The Punisher seemingly being written as a horror comic, but as a horror comic in which the monster is the good guy, and everyone else is even worse.
Let it never be said that Marvel doesn’t know how to launch a book. Following hot on the heels of Bendis’ dark, well-received Moon Knight and Waid’s lighter, pitch-perfect Daredevil comes the third in a series of heavily hyped relaunches: Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto, working together on The Punisher. Three high profile books, three high profile creative teams, and three high profile success stories so far. The Punisher isn’t the strongest of the books, but Rucka and Checchetto’s innovative take on the character is just as daring and fascinating as either of the other two.
Twenty-two pages fills up fast. There’s no denying that. Action sequences often eat up huge chunks of a book, and you can only fit so much dialogue on the page before it becomes cluttered, not to mention how much of the probably excellent art you’ll be covering up by doing so. So, understandably, most writers will have their stories run in arcs, often using well over 100 pages to let it unfold. It’s not hard to see why, but the tendency to keep expanding the story is part of what makes it so rewarding when you come across a single issue that manages to not only exemplify what it is you so love about that particular book, or even comics in general, but that manages to do so with an impressive economy of storytelling. One Shot is meant to take a close look at why those issues work as well as they do, the way they do.
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!
Well, any of you who read Read/RANT with any semblance of frequency have probably noticed, but we like Greg Rucka. Not everything he does – Action Comics of a particular was deeply flawed, in my own humble opinion – but he can be relied on to turn in some damn fine work, and rarely was it finer than his too-brief run on Detective Comics, during which he managed to turn Batwoman into an interesting, lively character.
Unfortunately, due to something internal at DC, Batwoman isn’t headlining Detective Comics for the full length that Rucka and Williams had hoped she would be. What’s more, from the sound of it, Batwoman isn’t even getting the solo series Rucka and Williams had suggested they wanted to work on earlier in the year… or, if she is, it’s not with them.
Definitely sad news for comics fans.
Read more at Comics Alliance.
Superman: World of New Krypton was always doomed to have a disappointing conclusion. The best issues of the series has little ongoing plot other than to explore New Krypton, to familiarize us with the unique problems of this alien world. While there was always, in the background, a metaplot going on, the most exciting moments often came when Superman and Zod clashed: neither wrong, but both with a fundamentally different understanding of what the planet needed. With Superman: World of New Krypton #12, we once again have to abandon a great deal of the exploratory aspect of the book to plot, though it’s handled much more deftly than it was in previous issues. A traitor is revealed, and it all finally ties back to earth. War is imminent, but not before a final page reveal that leaves the fate of the the Kryptonians in some jeopardy.
Pete Woods and Ron Randall, provide some excellent concluding visuals, like the surprise one-panel visit to a Starro-ruled planet or a glimpse of Krypton’s Jewel Mountains, overflowing with lava. While the mini concludes on a cliffhanger that does little save set up the next event prelude – Superman: Last Stand of New Krypton – the final issue is at least largely a satisfying read in its own right. That an event is coming so inexorably is a sad thing. Superman: World of New Krypton could have been so much more than a competent, enjoyable prologue.
– Cal Cleary
Superman: World of New Krypton #11
The Question #37 continues the trend of disappointing Blackest Night tie-ins that aren’t so much bad as they are incomplete. Teaming up Denny O’Neil, renowned Batman-family scribe and writer behind The Question’s longest-running solo title, and Greg Rucka, the writer who shepherded Vic Sage to his ultimate fate and has written his legacy ever since, was a brilliant idea at heart, allowing the two eras of the Question to be reconciled a little more fully. Unfortunately, given a full issue to work with, O’Neil and Rucka, working with art team Cowan and Sienkiewicz, end up turning in what feels like half a story.
Cowan and Sienkiewicz turn in atmospheric art that works well in the build-up, but slows the action down a bit too much. The three-way fight between these gifted martial artists (or the preceding one-on-one fight) should not be quite as static as it is, and while Cowan and Sienkiewicz have the bleak, oppressive “Blackest Night” feel down pat, they don’t quite manage to balance it with the actual content of the book.
Ultimately, The Question #37 feels more like the beginning of a very traditional arc. The creative team is extremely comfortable with it, and it shows as the issue is quite polished, a smooth, quick read that builds off pre-established relationships without too much exposition. Finishing the issue, however, just leaves you with a vague emptiness. Reviving beloved fan-favorite titles from cancellation was a brilliant marketing concept, but a one-issue round of fisticuffs just doesn’t satisfy the same niche that these books did when they were alive. Just like the Black Lanterns they came back with, this latest month of tie-ins has all the trappings of the beloved titles, but lacks heart.
– Cal Cleary
Wonder Woman #40
Simone and Lopresti start their new arc, “The Crows”, with #40. Featuring the Amazonian children fathered by Ares, Simone does a fine job setting up a new and fascinating conflict for Diana. Much like all the best issues of Rucka’s run, Simone presents the heroine with a new kind of challenge: public relations. Of course, there it was because Wonder Woman released a particularly incendiary book, while here, it’s the Crows’ supernatural influence to spread the seeds of war, but the fundamentals remain the same.
Lopresti remains an impressive talent, and he’s given the Crows a suitably creepy feel. For a character so dedicated to spreading hope, love and tolerance as Wonder Woman, the Crows are a natural enemy, and one I hope Simone does not abandon lightly. Coming fresh of the heels of a few excellent arcs, however, I think it’s safe to say that she’s earned our trust on the book. The set-up here is more exciting than some of her recent arcs on the book, and it combines Simone’s excellent characterization with a quicker pace and some fun new enemies. Definitely a winner.
Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #3 (of 3)
Ah, Blackest Night: Wonder Woman. You started so strong, a stellar display of a fine heroine confronting her past in a sensible, exciting manner. But the more ties you had to the main Blackest Night mini… well, here you end. Blackest Night: Wonder Woman is less a story than a series of three largely unconnected one-shots intended to fill in the questions the main mini never touched on. If you very, very desperately need to know what Wonder Woman is doing between the panels of Blackest Night (the answer: fighting Black Lanterns), the mini is for you. Otherwise, however, it largely squanders a pair of great talents on a middling-at-best issue with no real reason to exist.
Scott still turns in exciting, gorgeous work, though even she has trouble making Wonder Woman’s Star Sapphire costume look right. Despite Scott’s work and Rucka’s talent, however, Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #3 remains a mundane, unnecessary tie-in, too bound by continuity to explore anything particularly fascinating but not nearly important enough to matter to the main narrative.
– Cal Cleary
For those that hadn’t heard the news: Detective Comics #860, the final, fabulous issue of Batwoman’s origins, was also the final issue of collaboration between Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III. In fact, Batwoman herself only has a few short months remaining, with David Hine launching a two-part arc continuing his story about the rebuilding of Arkham Asylum with #864. And while Rucka and Williams III have stated that they are interested in and are fighting for a Batwoman ongoing, for now, it seems like the character’s brief, critically acclaimed time in the spotlight may be coming to a close as DC attempts to wrap up its surprisingly bold moves on their flagship titles. This issue, launching an arc titled “Cutter”, sees Williams replaced by the talented Jock and Batman largely taking over from Batwoman, though Rucka remains as writer, and Hamner stays on art duties for Renee Montoya’s back-up feature.
Jock occasionally tries a little too hard to mimic Williams’ style, and while he achieves a surprising amount of success, he just doesn’t have Williams’ eye for memorable, creative scene and structure. He does seem, however, to have inherited Williams’ rather stiff action segments. Still, he proves a surprisingly apt replacement for Williams. While he doesn’t help raise the quality of one of Rucka’s more mundane scripts up, the pair nonetheless work well together, and suggest that Detective Comics is in good hands for now.
The back-up continues to run along the same, lengthy story as we continue to deal with the fall-out of Renee’s recent attacks on the mob. With Tot and the Huntress at her back, the Question deals with the assassin who trailed them, leading to some questionable decision-making (and characterization). Rucka and Hamner both display confidence, here, though the need to set-up the next part of the conflict and the cramped environment play to neither creator’s strengths. Like the main feature, the work is quality, just not up to the level to book has led us to expect.
– Cal Cleary
Detective Comics #859
Superman: World of New Krypton continues its renewed creative upswing with this issue. After floundering a bit in the middle, #11, the penultimate issue of the series if I recall correctly, suggests a fine return to form as it has a little bit of everything that made the title so very fundamentally enjoyable. Nothing gets wrapped up in these 22 pages, but an awful lot gets set-up for what will hopefully be a stellar finale. Adam Strange and Superman team-up to find out who attempted to assassinate Alura. Though evidence suggests the leader of the Labor Guild, neither Superman nor Strange believe it. The Council is divided on what the attacks mean and how he should proceed, and Zod seems to be on the way to a speedy recovery. And just what is that mysterious, lead-lined military structure that they ‘forgot’ to mention to Kal-El when he took over?
It’s a lot to cram in here, but Rucka and Robinson make it work. Pete Woods continues to turn in excellent work, delivering exciting action sequences and a bizarre panache of sci-fi scenery to give Krypton an alien feel. Rucka and Robinson have escaped the formula that so made the middle of the series drag, and have instead returned to the book’s strongest elements: the collapsing politics of an alien planet. Anyone who claims to be a Superman fan should be reading this book, but it’s reach is beyond that: despite a few slip-ups, Superman: World of New Krypton often delivers a fun, engaging pulp sci-fi adventure that digs into Superman’s character without hinging upon it to drive the book.
– Cal Cleary
Superman: World of New Krypton #10
Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #1 was an exciting, well-written dive into Wonder Woman’s character. There were some clunky moments as Rucka tried to shoehorn in the fact that Diana very clearly would become a Star Sapphire in the near future, but otherwise, it was one of the event’s few true bright spots. Comparatively, Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #2 is a fairly confused mess of an issue.
Beginning after Wonder Woman became a Black Lantern in an incomprehensible scene in Blackest Night #5, BN:WW#1 doesn’t even attempt to fill its readers in of this fact, confident that everyone alive is reading Blackest Night. This gives it more a feeling of the second one-shot in a series of three than any sort of ongoing narrative. Rucka manages to give Wonder Woman more of a personality than we’ve seen any Black Lantern thus far display, which manages sidesteps the idea that they are peresonalitiless husks being worn by the black rings. It also means that most of the issue’s genuine conflict is taking place beneath the surface of the fairly placid Black Lantern Wonder Woman exterior, which Rucka and Scott never quite get to work as well as it could. A late game twist makes sense for the character and the mythology, but takes away any sense of consequence for the issue, while also reintroducing one of the character’s most boring romances.
Scott’s work remains utterly gorgeous (though not even she could save the hideous WW Star Sapphire costume). Her crisp rendering of Black Lantern Diana, the BL insignia now etched into her tiara and ax, is a lovely sight to behold, and her action scenes are smooth, exciting and, at times, surprisingly brutal. Her work, and Rucka’s ability to write a powerful, intriguing Diana save the issue from hitting the depths it otherwise may have, but make no mistake: Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #2 is utterly trivial.
– Cal Cleary
I read 20 comics in December, and these were the best.
5. Hellboy: Bride of Hell
Another classic Hellboy one-shot. Richard Corben, showing the whippersnappers how terrible they are, produces wonderful work that surpasses his Eisner-winning accomplishment on Hellboy: The Crooked Man. That alone makes this comic special. But, Mignola’s there too, providing a riveting, tragic tale.
4. Captain America: Reborn #5
This might as well be the conclusion of Reborn. We all know how it’s going to end. Even before Marvel ruined it, we knew. I’d rather have it end here. Sharon Carter in the hands of Red Skull. Sin destroying Vision with an Arnim Zola contraption. Crossbones, and his army of robotic killing machines, shooting the heroes. Red Skull, in the body of Steve Rogers, battling Bucky on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, while the Red Skull duels Steve in his own brain. This, rendered by Bryan Hitch and written by Ed Brubaker, is good stuff.
3. Astonishing X-Men #33
Ellis & Jimenez make larger-than-life superheroics look easy, when few books actually do it well. Fraction may be writing a great, diplomatic Cyclops over in Uncanny X-Men, but Ellis’ Cyclops is a bitter, war-forged mutant with the power of a nuke in his eyeballs. He cuts through a Brood-fused Krakoa like butter. Ellis provides humor, entertainment, and enough X-history to make the fanboys squeal, and Jimenez makes it all look pretty.
2. Irredeemable #9
Nine issues in and Waid continues to keep things fresh. This is extremism at its finest. Demons crawling out of mouths, villains hiding in friends, and “upgrading” used for torture, are just a few of this issue’s memorable moments. If Waid’s not commenting on Internet trolls, he’s commenting on the corruption of power. But, have no fear, there’s plenty of entertainment to be found. The subtext is just the icing on the cake.
1. Detective Comics #860
The final part of Kate’s origin feels more than a little Year One-esque, and Williams continues to give his best rendition of Mazzucchelli. We see the natural progression of Kate’s vigilantism evolving into so much more. Kate and the Colonel bond over the experience, which makes the issue’s Shakespearean conclusion all the more painful. Of course, Williams and Stewart, the best art team around, are the stars of the show, but Rucka pulls his weight and then some. With Batwoman at the helm, Detective Comics is, once again, the best comic of the month.
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!
After last month’s surprisingly disappointing entry, Superman: World of New Krypton is largely back on track. Rucka and Robinson’s entry still feels more formulaic than the often unpredictable early issues did, but it’s still reliably fun and still capable of stepping out of its established trend to tell a decent story. WoNK #10 returns us, lightly, to some of the Kryptonian intrigue that made the early issues such a joy as Adam Strange is quickly cleared of his murder charges and enlisted to help Superman solve New Krypton’s first murder.
Rucka and Robinson do a good beginning to sell New Krypton’s increasing tensions, as merely showing up to question Labor Guild representatives very nearly causes a riot to break out, but the story lacked the weight it should have had, thanks to the need to shoehorn another through the revolving door of cosmic guest stars. New Krypton’s first murder (and, potentially, first assassination) does not come across as as big a deal as it probably should have, but the story was otherwise better than the book’s had in months.
Woods, this time with help from Randall, continue to do fine work on art, improving with almost every issue. With the next event in place – War of the Supermen with, sadly, Barrows on art for the opening issue rather than Woods – it seems that World of New Krypton is pretty definitely leading towards war. Hopefully, the impending crossover won’t distract Rucka and Robinson from continuing to tell a decent story here, as World of New Krypton has, last issue’s failures aside, been a remarkably enjoyable examination of Superman and his second home.
– Cal Cleary
Superman: World of New Krypton #9
Much like Blackest Night: The Flash #1, Wonder Woman #1 is set entirely in the build-up to Blackest Night #5. And much like Blackest Night: The Flash #1, Wonder Woman #1 offers a fair bit of continuity reminders, though it never stops the story completely to give them and they’re never unnecessary. Unlike the week’s other Blackest Night mini, however, Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #1 also offers a fairly interesting look at one of comics’ hardest heroes to write, and it does so with very, very few flaws.
Narrated to mimic Simone’s current run, Rucka makes a good impression right off the bat. It continues throughout, as he combines a narrative that cuts to the character’s core with plenty of enjoyable banter. Few writers have grasped Diana quite the way Rucka has, and even working off of Simone’s recent model of the character, there’s little doubt in this single issue what she stands for. An enemy that would give most heroes a great deal of pause for angst is instead dealt with in a logical, strangely mature manner here as Wonder Woman displays that she’s more than come to terms with killing Maxwell Lord, and Rucka leaves me genuinely curious as to how he’ll deal with Black Lantern Diana next month.
Nicola Scott does absolutely lovely work here, as she always does. Her action segments are smooth and clear without ever seeming static, her characters are all distinct. Brief sigh gags, like Lord meditating, head on backwards, introduce brief moments of levity, but Rucka mostly uses the issue as a character study of Diana, and Scott is game to provide all the drama and emotion he wants underlying the large scenes of mayhem and carnage.
With “Life is much more than seven simple colors,” Rucka cuts closer to the heart of Blackest Night and the War of Light than any writer thus far. Wonder Woman is a complex character, and Rucka smartly acknowledges that completely independently of where she exists on the emotional spectrum. Wonder Woman cares, and that in no way hampers her ability to fight the Black Lanterns. Rucka and Scott do more with Wonder Woman in this one issue than the last three events combined have managed. I can’t wait to see what they do next.
I read 19 comics in November, and these were the best.
5. Astonishing X-Men #32
Yeah, that’s a badass sentinel, a badass, brood-shooting-from-fingertips sentinel, the bastardization of Beast’s theoretical research. It’s Ellis being Ellis, writing pitch-perfect X-Men. Each issue is episodic, building a plot as it goes. This chapter involves the aforementioned sentinel, with lines like, “We don’t need weapons. We have science!” It’s glorious fun.
4. Fantastic Four #573
Hickman’s Fantastic Four is even better than his Secret Warriors? How’d that happen? But it’s true, even when Dale Eaglesham takes a break, and we’re left with a “filler” issue. Neil Edwards fills Dale’s shoes, and it’s a fine fit, with Edwards’ post-Bryan Hitch style and Paul Mounts’ colors, you’ll hardly notice the difference. But Hickman’s distinguished voice is the star here, penning a done-in-one adventure that could’ve easily sustained a four-issue arc. Hickman plays with, and adds to, Millar’s toys, exploring a black hole-ravaged Nu-World. This is a dense, grand adventure, and the new letters page, hosted by Franklin and Val? Absolutely adorable.
3. Invincible #68
The regular art team is back with a vengeance, allowed the opportunity to create Kirkman’s zany, new Dinosaur villain. This is about as playful and unique as villain dialogue gets. Kirkman then continues to show off his dialogue skills when he gives Atom Eve’s father the scariest monologue Mark could ever imagine, concluding with one hell of a funny sight gag. The issue concludes with a few classic Kirkman twists. All in all, this is one hell of an Invincible issue.
2. Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #8
Another Hellboy chapter concludes, and Alice sums it up best, “Well, I didn’t see that coming.” Mignola embraces Hellboy’s entire mythology here, Alice herself being the baby from the beloved “Hellboy: The Corpse.” What occurs within these pages has been a long time coming, and it unfolds unpredictably, yet resolves with the doomed conclusion we all knew was coming. Every major Hellboy player progresses, even poor Gruagach, who’s almost as tragic a character as “Big Red” himself. A stunning effort from Mignola and Fegredo.
1. Detective Comics #859
Since Rucka & Williams’ run began, almost every issue of Detective Comics has made my “Best of the Month” list. This issue is the best of the run, so it’s only natural that Detective finally tops my list. We’re still taking a trip down Kate’s memory lane, this issue containing another episode of her life. We learn of Kate’s rise and fall at West Point, her utter loss of purpose, how that leads to trouble with the love of her life, and what finally makes Kate’s life whole again. And there, making it all epic poetry, is Williams and Stewart. And as you can see in the above scan, when Kate’s Mazzucchelli-styled life clashes with Batman’s rich, painted aura, it’s beautiful and profound.
“Go” continues with this issue, and it’s even better than the last. While it lacked the emotional gut-punch of Kate’s family’s fate, it in many ways surpasses the previous issue. Following Kate from college through her relationship with Renee Montoya, part two of “Go” briefly examines the very real preposterism of the army’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policies and how easy it is to get lost after you leave school without knowing what to do, all while intermingling it with the continuing story of the Crime Bible, even introducing a nice twist in the proceedings.
After being kicked out of West Point when she’s revealed to be gay, Kate finds herself with nowhere to go. Rucka treats the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy seriously, as it deserves, and illustrates the bigotry of the policy. From there, the book moves quickly through Kate’s fall as, directionless, she becomes a wealthy layabout, a hedonist unable to stick with anything she does until a chance encounter in an alley suggests that she might have some way to use her skills after all.
It is hard to review this comic issue by issue, at least when it comes to the art – while the quality of Rucka’s story may vary from month to month, J.H. Williams III remains consistent as one of the industry’s strongest talents. Along with colorist Dave Stewart, Williams gives the book a unique, exciting visual style that never fails to please. This issue is no exception in that regard.
The back-up remains solid, introducing another supporting character for Renee to bounce off: the Huntress. Rucka smartly continues his first story, building his entire back-up run into a lengthy thriller and giving it the feel of a longer book. Hamner’s art is quite well, and while the issue doesn’t give him as much opportunity as normal to show Renee in motion, which has become a pleasure to watch under Hamner’s pen, he does an excellent job at the book’s longest action sequence.
– Cal Cleary
Detective Comics #858
Detective Comics #857