Top Ten Best Comics of 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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Top 5 Best Comics of December 2009

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.

-Bruce Castle

Top 10 Artists Of The 00’s!

In such a great decade for comics, you always hear an awful lot of praise for the writers.  When you hear people talk about Watchmen, a great deal of attention is paid to Alan Moore; when you hear people talk about Wanted, lovers and haters all talk about Mark Millar.  But a comic book is primarily a visual medium, and a talented artist can make a so-so book better, a good book great… or a great book only average.  Witness the art problems that plagued, for example, Grant Morrison’s ground-breaking run on New X-Men.

But this decade had its fair number of stars, art-wise, artists whose style and intensity nearly defined the titles they worked on.  These are our picks for the Top 10 interior artists of the 2000’s.

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Top 5 Best Comics of November 2009

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.

-Bruce Castle

Review: Detective Comics #859

“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.

Grade: A-

– Cal Cleary

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Detective Comics #858

Detective Comics #857

Mini-Reviews

Arkham Reborn #1 (of 3)

Arkham

With the popularity of the absolutely stellar Batman: Arkham Asylum and the recent relaunch of the Bat-franchise, it should come as no surprise that Gotham’s infamous Arkham Asylum would get its own miniseries.  After the mass breakout from the Asylum and subsequent explosion, Jeremiah Arkham, ancestor of the Asylum’s original designer, has taken it upon himself to continue the grand, bumbling legacy of the world’s only criminal institution with a revolving door.

Hine does a good job building the book slowly, despite the fact that the entire mini-series is only three issues long.  Here we meet Arkham’s new staff, specifically Jeremiah Arkham, who believes in curing Gotham’s madmen with love and respect; Alyce Sinner, sole survivor of a massive suicide cult and expert on the criminally insane; and Aaron Cash, now Arkham’s head of security and one of the tragic figures to come out of Dan Slott’s excellent Arkham Asylum: Living Hell.  Jeremiah has met with some small success in his bid to rehabilitate, but we know that the laws of comic book storytelling says that that can’t last – Dr. Sinner soon betrays him, revealing the Asylum’s dark, heinous underbelly in a bid to keep things crazy.

There’s nothing unpredictable here, but Hine does a good job setting the mood and introducing everyone, while artist Jeremy Haun turns in excellent work on all fronts, designing a few new characters and an all-new Arkham and still managing to craft a few extremely memorable images.  The pair seem well-suited, and while it seems that the entire mini’s purpose is to keep Arkham Asylum the same hellhole it has been these past few years, at least they seem to be having plenty of fun with it.

Grade: B+

Detective Comics #858

Tec858

Years after the character was introduced and months into her first solo title, “Go” marks our first foray into the origins of Kate Kane.  Growing up moving from military base to military base, Kate and Beth Kane really only had each other growing up.  A few issues back, it was hinted that something bad happened to her growing up, and now we see what that is: after earning a post in France, Mrs. Kane, Kate and Beth were kidnapped by terrorists during a security alert.  While Kate couldn’t see what was happening to her mother and sister, the aftermath certainly left an impression.

Rucka’s storytelling is far more solid here than in the previous arc, perhaps due to the shortened arc’s tighter focus.  Whatever the reason, the issue provides a quick, tragic glimpse of an origin that didn’t go at all where I thought it would, and was wrapped up in a single issue, leaving next month for the fallout.  J.H. Williams III makes an abrupt shift in style for the bulk of the issue, giving the flashback to Kate’s youth a vastly more structured layout and color-palette.  The contrast between the two time-periods is gorgeous and memorable, once again suggesting Williams as one of comics’ top talents.

The Question back-up finally wrapped up its opening arc with this issue.  The lack of room the story had, confined as it was to these back pages, took away from some of the suspense the story might’ve had if it had had more room to build up an atmosphere or throw us a plot twist or two, but it has nonetheless remained a consistently entertaining action comic, thanks in part to Rucka’s collaborator, Cully Hamner, whose layouts and art make it a joy to watch Renee in motion.

Between the issue’s two parts, Detective Comics features a pair of artists at the top of their games, anchored by strong writing of two fascinating new heroines.  It’s well-worth your time.

Grade: B+

Astro City: Astra Special #2 (of 2)

Astra2

Astro City: Astra Special concludes on a high note.  Anyone who has graduated college can relate to what Astra is going through as she continues to tell her boyfriend Matthew about the increasingly bizarre possibilities open to a young woman of her immense talents.  From mundane jobs with research institutes on Earth to a chance to untie, one world at a time, a series of realities knotted together by a madman’s destructive last act, Astra has, for the first time in her life, no idea what to do next.

While the other part of the book will probably resonate less with others, using a now-grown child heroine to look at and condemn our deranged obsession with celebrity culture largely works.  Though there are a few painful, relatively clunky moments, Busiek works hard to keep the emotions honest and keep it all part of Astra’s story.

Astro City: Astra Special combines Jack Kirby’s flare for bizarre cosmic world-building with a more grounded, human story.  Anderson’s pencils are much improved when he’s dealing with these larger-than-life concepts, and together the pair brings us a small-in-scope, massive-in-scale story about the pains of growing up.  It isn’t the most memorable Astro City story, but it’s honest and entertaining, and continues to flesh out the best setting in comics.

Grade: A-

Blackest Night: Superman #3 (of 3)

BNSuper

Blackest Night: Superman, which started out so much vastly stronger than the other “Blackest Night” related books, ends here more with a whimper than with a bang.  The book does have some interesting revelations about the weaknesses of the Black Lanterns, as well as an explanation for what New Krypton is up to throughout the event, but it amounts to little more than that, in the end.

Despite its failure to live up to its own eerie opening issue, Blackest Night: Superman #3 nonetheless offered solid action illustrated by Eddie Barrows doing what he’s most comfortable doing, with (perhaps sadly) the best writing Robinson’s been doing, lately.  Robinson continues to use the emotional spectrum’s color-coding to vastly more effect than the main mini to give us a neat, inside peak into the characters heads in otherwise wordless scenes, a trick that works especially well with Psycho Pirate in the mix.  Ultimately, Blackest Night: Superman isn’t bad.  It’s just forgettable.

Grade: B

Mini-Grade: B

– Cal Cleary

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Astro City: Astra Special #1

Blackest Night: Superman #2

Detective Comics #857

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!

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