Tonight, we continue my top 10 list with my top 5 superhero comics of 2008. As an added bonus, I'm typing tonight's post with a cute snuggle kitty named Zoe on my lap!
5. Final Crisis
Like Batman: RIP, Final Crisis has been another Grant Morrison series that many readers have complained is too confusing. However, with the last couple of issues, the pieces have started to fall into place, and Morrison's plan has become evident. If Batman and Final Crisis teach us anything, it's that Morrison does have a plan, and persistence and attention will be rewarded.
In this case, the series started off slow, with DC's superheroes following small clues that point to something going on with the New Gods. However, What Morrison has done is launch us, and the heroes as well, into a scenario where, no matter how quickly they put the clues together, it is already too late. The sense that the heroes have failed before they have begun gives this universe-spanning crossover its weight.
Plus, there are moments, like when one of the Guardians tells Hal Jordan that he has "24 hours to save the universe," that genuinely give me goosebumps and remind me why I still get a kick out of superhero stories.
Nonetheless, this series will ultimately be a flawed masterpiece for Morrison due to the inconsistent art and publishing schedule (though the latter won't matter when the collected edition comes out). I wish J. G. Jones had been able to finish the series himself because he has already proven with the Marvel Boy series that he gets Morrison. Alternately, Carlos Pacheco's pages in issue 5 are fantastic, and he would have made a fine artist for the entire series.
4. Action Comics
It's been a very long time since I was excited about Superman comics. But the work of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank on this series have been consistently good from the "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes" arc to the "Brainiac" story. In each case, Johns has taken some convoluted continuity and made sense out of it, which is basically his stock in trade. But he's also telling great stories, with entertaining twists on some old concepts. Johns's script and Frank's art combine to give us Superman in his purest form: noble, heroic, but also human. And that "humanity" gets further explored in the "New Krypton" crossover, where Superman has to deal with the presence of 100,000 Kryptonians on Earth.
Also, the latest issue saw the return of the Creature Commandos and G. I. Robot, and we all know how I feel about those characters.
This year saw several good series get cancelled by DC, including Manhunter, Birds of Prey, and Blue Beetle. But no cancellation was more regretable for me than Catwoman. For 2 1/2 years, since DC's "One Year Later" bump, this has been one of the most consistently well written and drawn series from DC. Even when it was saddled with unfortunate crossovers, like this year's for Salvation Run, the Catwoman issues proved superior to the main series. And it was one of only two monthly series for which I had a real sense of anticipation every month. The reason for that anticipation is two-fold. First, writer Will Pfeifer made Catwoman a morally complex character genuinely worth caring about, making scenes like the one where Selina gives up her baby a real emotional shot to the gut. No other comic this year gave me the same emotional reaction. Second, Pfeifer knows how to write action, and almost every issue ended with a real cliffhanger that I couldn't wait to see resolve.
And, I would add that Pfeifer writes the hell out of Batman. Every cameo Batman made was a gem, especially because the situation with Selina and her baby brought out a side of Batman that does not get explored in his own books.
Will Pfeifer and David Lopez did manage to end the series on a classy note, including cameos of themselves in the last issue. DC is continuing to collect this series in trade paperback, so anyone who missed out on it can still check it out.
Also, this was Zoe's favorite series this year as well, and she threatened to jump off my lap if I didn't place it higher on the list.
2. Captain America
2008 was the year that comics made me care about characters for which I had little past interest. This was especially true for Marvel Comics. I have long been primarily a DC reader, but this year I read more Marvel series than I ever have. Hercules, Sentry, Iron Fist, Iron Man--thanks to writers like Jeff Parker, Matt Fraction, Paul Tobin, Greg Pak, and Fred Van Lente, I'm enjoying the heck out of a lot of Marvel comics. But no series this year kept me more excited from month-to-month than Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting's Captain America, which spent most of the year working through the latter 2/3 of the epic 18-part "Death of Captain America" story. Brubaker has made Bucky an interesting character as the new Cap, and he has also filled the series with a great supporting cast and a collection of formidable villains.
In addition, Brubaker was extraordinarily prescient to come up with a story where the Red Skull manages to attack America by creating a banking and mortgage crisis. Cap has always been best when he's relevant to the current state of American culture, but this plot was nothing short of uncanny in its currency.
I've also especially appreciated that this book has kept outside of the larger Secret Invasion crossover that has dominated Marvel this year. Brubaker got to take his time with a long story, and yet it managed to stay well-paced and exciting throughout the year.
1. All-Star Superman
With this list, it's going to look like I'm in the tank for Grant Morrison. But All-Star Superman is a true masterpiece, and it will go down in comics history as one of the great works of the superhero genre. It doesn't necessarily transcend the genre, but that is not a bad thing because Morrison is clearly trying to create the definitive Superman story here. And unlike Batman: RIP and Final Crisis, this series hit with a clarity of purpose from issue 1. The premise was simple: Superman was dying, and he had to complete 12 labors before his life came to an end. But within that simple framework, Morrison created some mind-expanding superhero stories.
And also unlike Morrison's other work this year, he was working with an artist in Frank Quitely whose imagination and talent can keep pace with the writer's wild ideas (Quitely is on a short list of artists, along with Cameron Stewart, J. G. Jones, Doug Mahnke, Chris Weston, Richard Pace, and Charles Truog, who seem to "get" Morrison's scripts in a way that a lot of other artists seem to struggle with). Quitely's art is just stunning on this series. Though I like Gary Frank's realistically muscular Superman in Action Comics, I also enjoy the sheer hugeness and solidity of Quitely's Superman. This is a book that just gets better with each reading.
Like I said in the previous post, 2008 was a great year for superhero comics, and there were a lot of series that would have made the list in any other year, including The Immortal Iron Fist, Invincible Iron Man, Green Lantern, Booster Gold, and Secret Six. I expect the latter three series will be strong in 2009, especially Booster Gold, which would have made the list if not for some pretty mediocre fill-in stories. True Believers was another series that almost made the cut, but the later issues didn't quite live up to the promise of the first, though I still enjoyed it.
As always, suggestions for series I may have missed this year will be greatly appreciated. I'll be back soon with my thoughts on some graphic novels and indy comics from 2008.