After covering my favorite movies of the decade, I'm now moving on to my favorite superhero comics of the year. I'll have one more list this week with my favorite original graphic novels of the year coming up later.
First, though, a couple of things not on this list that probably should be. This year, I switched to trades on Invincible Iron Man and The Incredible Hercules, mainly because I found that I was getting more enjoyment out of the series reading complete story arcs, while finding it much less satisfying to follow these series from month to month. Also, when Marvel switched both Incredible Hercules and Agents of Atlas to biweekly schedules, it just became too cost-prohibitive to keep following both series. But, as it stands, I haven't read the 2009 issues of Iron Man and Herc, so they didn't make my list, though they probably would have otherwise.
Another Marvel series that ranked highly last year fell off the list: Captain America. I think the regular issues of this series were good enough this year to make the list, but I've been disappointed with the Reborn miniseries, which has been moving too slow to get to a fairly inevitable conclusion. And now that the series has been extended an issue for no good reason--compressing the early chapters to hit all the important story points in five issues would have been the preferable route--I'm inclined to leave Cap off my list this time.
Also, I toyed with the idea of putting Wednesday Comics in the number 10 spot, as several of the strips, including Kamandi, Strange Adventures, Metamorpho, and the Flash were among the best comics I read this year, but taken as a whole, there were enough weaker strips, like Wonder Woman, Superman, and the Teen Titans, to shift the balance.
Anyway, here's the list of my ten favorite superhero comics of the year, in reverse order:
10. Captain Britain and MI13
One trend you'll see on this list is good series that were cancelled this year. I'm not really going to speculate much on the market forces that caused these series to fail, but it was disappointing to see several awesome series that were heading in interesting directions get the axe. One of these was Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk's Captain Britain and MI13, which had in 2009 a great storyline about Dracula's attempt to take over England from his base on the moon. This series was filled with crazy ideas from Paul Cornell, who spun this book out of his Pete Wisdom miniseries from a couple of years ago. One thing I loved about this series, and what made it fun to read from month to month, was how Cornell would put the team into situations from which it seemed impossible to escape. Then, we'd find out later that Pete Wisdom had the whole thing under control all along, and it didn't feel like cheating. Also, each character on the team had their own individual subplots which were prematurely stopped when the series was cancelled with issue 15. I do hope that we get to see Cornell return to these characters in 2010.
9. Dominic Fortune
I've been a Howard Chaykin fan since American Flagg! first came out and I was way too young to be reading it. This year's Dominic Fortune miniseries from Marvel's Max imprint felt like it came straight from that era, as if Chaykin had not missed a beat. Fortune, a pulp-era mercenary that Chaykin created for Marvel back in the 70s, is the prototype for most later Chaykin heroes, and it hits all the points one would expect with the creator: randy, oversexed hero; beautiful women; nice period detail; and anti-Semitic villain bent on destroying America. This series may, in fact, be nothing new from Chaykin, but it's still fun to watch a master do what he does best.
8. Madame Xanadu
This series made my list last year, and it's still going strong this year, with the conclusion of the opening story arc, another drawn by the great Michael Wm. Kaluta, and a current arc set in the 50s, with the return of artist Amy Reeder Hadley. Writer Matt Wagner is getting to play in the larger playground of DC's mystical heroes, which is normally off-limits in the Vertigo line, so it feels like this series could easily fit into the DC universe proper. The Kaluta story even reunited Wagner with the Golden Age Sandman, which was nice to see for any fan of Sandman Mystery Theatre. The current storyline feels a bit like "What if Betty Draper from Mad Men were were possessed by Morgaine le Fey?" which, on its own, is a great hook for a story. And even though Wagner is playing out these stories in long arcs (the first went 10 issues, and the current one is promised to go at least 8), it's still a series that holds my interest from month to month. So, while I've switched to trades on almost every other Vertigo book, I'm still keeping this on my pull list.
7. Booster Gold
After Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz left this book following the first year, original creator Dan Jurgens has really kept this series going, maintaining a fun, high-adventure tone to the book. If readers are looking for fun superhero comics from DC, this is the best there is, with the hero solving time-related problems throughout the history of the DC universe. And, as an added bonus, Matt Sturges and Mike Norton are doing a great job with the Blue Beetle co-feature, maintaining the momentum Sturges had built when that regular series was cancelled last year (though this co-feature is said to be ending soon). I'm also a big fan of Dan Jurgens's art--few artists do classic, dynamic action as well as Jurgens.
6. Agents of Atlas
This is another series cancelled too early, though Marvel has done a lot to keep this property alive, with X-Men and Avengers crossover miniseries and guest appearances in other books. With his work on this series and the miniseries that preceded it, Jeff Parker is on my list of writers whose work I follow no matter what. With this series, Parker has created a team book that's fun to read because the team gets along with each other so well, and the series doesn't have to rely on annoying antagonism between team members to create artificial tension. I also enjoyed how this series fit in so well with the overall Dark Reign storyline going on in the Marvel universe,with the Atlas Corporation pissing off Norman Osborn after intentionally botching an arms deal. I hope that Marvel's attempts to generate interest in these characters pays off, because I'd love to see this series come back for another go.
Also, I would add, this series introduced me to the work of artist Gabriel Hardman, who has since done some bang-up work for Marvel.
5. The Mighty
The last of the prematurely cancelled series, and the one that probably had the least chance of surviving from the get-go. There have been a lot of Superman analogs over the past few years, including good work that Mark Waid is doing at Boom!, but The Mighty felt like it could be the premise for an awesome TV series, and writers Peter Tomasi and Keith Champagne paced it as such, starting with a fantastic first issue that read like a great pilot episode and had me hooked from the get-go. This was the one series that I couldn't wait to read from month to month because the writers kept ending each issue with an unbelievable cliffhanger while also creating a slow-burn of tension throughout the series. We start to get the inkling early on that something is not right with Alpha One, the world's only superhero, and as more and more information is revealed about just how screwed up he is, the more the reader is left wondering about how this story gets resolved. In the years to come, this will be one series that readers will be looking for in dollar bins, as it makes for a very satisfying 12 issues of comics.
I'd also point out that artist Chris Samnee has done a kick-ass job on the art, seamlessly taking over from orignal artist Peter Snejberg. Samnee's clean style makes Alpha One look like a classic superhero, which adds to the story's intensity when we find out that he's anything but. Samnee is another artist that I will be following in 2010, and I hope his profile increases from this great work.
4. Fantastic Four
Growing up, I was more of a DC reader than a Marvel one, so I don't tend to have nostalgic attachments to Marvel characters. However, Marvel has been luring me over to their comics more and more due to the strength of the writers they've been putting on their books. In addition to Matt Fraction on Iron Man, one of the best match-ups this year has been Jonathan Hickman on Fantastic Four (Hickman is also doing a great job on Secret Warriors, though that book has been a bit bogged down in continuity from the Avengers books in recent issues, making it difficult to follow on its own.). Following a great Dark Reign: Fantastic Four miniseries, in which Hickman laid the groundwork for his run on the regular series, Hickman has focused in on the family element of the team. One of the biggest surprises of that focus is how much fun Franklin and Val are--Hickman gets these kids as kids, instead of as precocious adults, even though Val is technically smarter than any character in this book. In addition, the first "Solve Everything" arc had some great ideas involving the multiversal team of Reed Richardses, and the setup for the long haul on this series seems promising.
3. The Unwritten
Mike Carey and Peter Gross's The Unwritten feels like the natural successor of the great supernatural books from Vertigo. So far, it's teased out just enough information about what is going on in the life of Tommy Taylor--the son of the writer of a popular children's series that looks a lot like Harry Potter--to keep things interesting and allay confusion. I also like how Carey has structured this series around story arcs that are punctuated by single issues that reveal the impact of the story's overall conspiracy on the history of literature. This series combines the best parts of Sandman and Fables, as well as Carey and Gross's other great series, Lucifer. In that sense, this series fills a gap in the Vertigo line, and I hope this becomes the next popular franchise from there, as Carey's premise seems to have unlimited potential.
2. Batman and Robin
Much has already been said about the fact that Bruce Wayne is missing from the main Batman titles, yet this year has seen some fantastic Batman comics nonetheless (I would include here Judd Winick's run on the main Batman title, where he capitalized on the interesting dynamic between Alfred and Dick Grayson that has developed out of the absence of Bruce Wayne while also showing how easy it could be for some of Batman's major villains to realize that a new Batman was in the costume). Grant Morrison showed just how much potential entertainment there could be in having a more fun-loving Batman teaming up with a darker, more intense Robin. I'm also enjoying the heck out of all the new villains Morrison has created for Batman so far. In addition, Frank Quitely's art on the first three issues shows a dynamism and experimentation that pushes his work to new heights. In fact, it is only Philip Tan's rather problematic art on the second arc that keeps this book out of the number one spot.
1. Detective Comics
Years from now, we're going to be talking about Greg Rucka and J. H. Williams III's Batwoman series as one of the high points of the superhero genre. Williams's art is frankly amazing here, and Rucka is writing stories that capitalize on the artist's incredible design sense and his ability to change styles to suit the tone and action of a given scene (also, Dave Stewart's coloring is a perfect fit for Williams's art, seamlessly shifting along with the artist's style changes). It was a bold move on DC's part to turn over its flagship title to this character, but in doing so, they have helped create a work of lasting importance and are giving it a larger audience than it might have had on its own (though I am looking forward to the promised Batwoman regular series to come).
The Question backup, with nice art by Cully Hamner has also been a great read. I had previously been disappointed with the Renee Montoya incarnation of this character, but this story finally taps into the character's potential. Rucka proves with this comic that he's great with writing stories that fit his artist's strengths, and Cully Hamner draws some great fight sequences. With these two stories running in each issue, Detective Comics is simply the best comic on the market right now.
Feel free to comment on some of the comics you liked this year, especially if it's something I didn't pick up!