Monday, January 3, 2011

A Year of Super-hero Comics


This blog is less than a year old (it launched in March 2010) and my interest in comic books only precedes it by a few months. So I am absolutely not qualify to speak about the quality of comics this year compared to previous years. What I can say, though, is that from the perspective of a relative noob - a live specimen of the "new reader" comic publishers and retailers dream about, but rarely encounter these days - I'm amazed at how quickly this new interest turned into a full-fledged obsession. So comics must have been doing something right. (Which doesn't mean they also did a lot of things wrong, or that they couldn't have done a lot of other things better.)

In any case, I'm not calling any of the following lists "best of 2010," but rather "favourites," because in spite of having paid a lot of attention to the industry and read as many books as I could get my hands on, I still feel like I only sampled a small portion of it. At least three quarters of what I read was published by DC or Vertigo, with the rest divided between Marvel, Image, Dark Horse and various smaller publishers. The area in which I am most ignorant is that of the graphic novel. I certainly paid a lot of attention to the press coverage of indie books like Daniel Clowes' Wilson, Chris Burns' X'ed Out, or Chris Ware's ACME Novelty Library, but I never got around to reading any of them. When I look at some of the year-end lists appearing on blogs everywhere (like this one from Sean T. Collins, to pick an almost random example), it's clear that by focusing on super-hero comics, I've missed out on a lot of really great comics this year. This is something that I will try to fix in 2011, but hey, we all have to start somewhere.

And now the lists...


1. Sweet Tooth (Jeff Lemire; Vertigo)
2. Orc Stain (James Stokoe; Image)
3. Action Comics (Paul Cornell and Pete Woods; DC Comics)
4. Batman and Robin (Grant Morrison and various artists; DC Comics)
5. Northlanders (Brian Wood and various artists; Vertigo)
6. Casanova (Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba; Icon)
7. The Flash (Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul; DC Comics)
8. Thor (Matt Fraction and Pasqual Ferry; Marvel)
9. Red Robin (Chris Yost, Fabian Nicieza and Marcus To; DC Comics)

Sweet Tooth was such an obvious pick for my favourite series of the year. Every issue that comes out seems better than the previous one or brings something new to the series. Writer/artist Jeff Lemire is constantly pushing himself out of his comfort zone and experimenting with both form and content, making this by far the most consistently rewarding comic of the year for me.

Orc Stain has been a total blast, unlike anything else I've ever seen. Paul Cornell's Lex Luthor story in Action Comics is consistently entertaining and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, with nice clean art from Pete Woods. Grant Morrison's Batman and Robin has seen some ups and downs and was plagued by delays, which wreaked havoc for the entire line of Batman titles, but for the most part it was exciting, challenging and satisfying. Frazer Irving's art was particularly well-suited for the final, creepy story arc. Brian Wood's Northlanders is unique, exceptionally well written, and always features beautiful art from rotating art teams matching each  story line.

I wasn't sure whether to put Casanova in the ongoing or limited category, since the first four issues that came out in 2010 seem to work as a self-contained limited series and a next arc starts with a new numbering and Fabio Moon taking over the art. But either way, it's a great comic, really dense and challenging.

The last three comics on the list are there mostly because of the beautiful art, although the stories have been enjoyable as well. The Flash has a light tone that sets it apart from most other flagship DCU titles and suits the character perfectly. Thor is epic in scope, off to a very slow start but obviously building toward something great. And finally Red Robin was near perfect when Chris Yost was writing and Marcus To was drawing. The series has gone downhill since Fabian Nicieza picked it up from Yost, but To's art remains spectacular.

Notably absent from the list: Birds of Prey features consistently strong characterization from Gail Simone, but suffers heavily from the lack of a stable art team. Meanwhile, Ed Brubaker's Secret Avengers keeps hinting that it could be great, but so far remains average.


1. Detective Comics (Scott Snyder, Jock and Francesco Francavilla; DC Comics)
2. Superboy (Jeff Lemire and Pier Gallo; DC Comics)

The new writer/art team on Detective is only a couple of issues in, but it's an instant hit. Back to basics is exactly what I needed from a Batman story after all the crazy Grant Morrison shenanigans. This is my favourite current Batman title.

Jeff Lemire's Superboy ongoing kicked off with a bang and I like where it's going.


1. Bulletproof Coffin (David Hine and Shaky Kane; Image)
2. Daytripper (Fabian Moon and Gabriel Ba; Vertigo)
3. Strange Tales II (various artists; Marvel)
4. Hellblazer: City of Demons (Si Spencer and Sean Murphy; Vertigo)
5. Superior (Mark Millar and Leinil Yu; Icon)

All of these have concluded except Superior, so keep in mind that last one still has the potential to go south before it ends.

Notably absent from the list: Grant Morrison's Return of Bruce Wayne had some great moments, but delays, last-minute fill-in artists, and an anti-climactic ending that came after Bruce had already been walking around in regular titles for over a month, tarnished my overall appreciation of it.


1. Beasts of Burden/Hellboy (Evan Dorkin, Jill Thompson and Mike Mignola; Dark Horse)

This was just perfect.


1. Pluto (Naoki Urasawa; Viz)

This is totally unfair, because Pluto is pretty much the only manga I read this year (except for the first volume of Children of the Sea, which I also enjoyed). But this was such a monumental achievement that I couldn't not mention it in my year-end list. I still have plans to write at length about this brilliant series. Until I get around to it, I'll simply say that it's amazing and that you should read it.


1. Revolver (Matt Kindt; Vertigo)
2. Mesmo Delivery (Raphal Grampa; Dark Horse)
3. A God Somewhere (John Arcudi and Peter Snejbjerg; Wildstorm)

These are the only new graphic novels I read this year, so I can't say that these are better than any of the many, many other graphic novels out there that I didn't read. But I did enjoy all three of them.


1. Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites (Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson; Dark Horse)
2. Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga Deluxe Hardcover (Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen; DC Comics)

The Beasts of Burden hardcover from Dark Horse is just beautiful. I have to confess that I haven't finished reading the Great Darkness Saga yet, but I feel confident that it deserves its spot on the list for not only collecting one of the greatest super-hero stories of all time in a deluxe oversized hardcover format, but also including a lot of previously uncollected issues from Levitz's early run leading up to the saga.


1. Batwoman: Elegy (Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III; DC Comics)
2. Thor: The Mighty Avenger (Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee; Marvel)
3. X'ed Out (Charles Burns; Pantheon)
4. Wilson (Daniel Clowes; Drawn and Quarterly)
5. Duncan the Wonder Dog (Adam Hines; AdHouse)
6. Secret Six (Gail Simone and various artists; DC Comics)

I never got around to picking up a copy of the Batwoman hardcover, and it's now out of stock at As soon as I have the funds and the book becomes available again, I will be ordering it.

Thor: The Mighty Avenger is of course the tragically cancelled book nobody was buying but that everybody now agrees was excellent. It's unfortunate that Marvel didn't give it a chance, as I was planning to follow it in trades. This just seemed like a stupid move, regardless of weak sales.

The Charles Burns and Daniel Clowes graphic novels were both critically acclaimed and I'll probably buy them both sooner or later. I actually have a copy of Duncan the Wonder Dog on my bookshelf right now, but just haven't had time to read it yet. Just from browsing through it, I can tell this is probably going to be amazing.

Secret Six is a series I know I should be reading, but I just hate to jump into the middle of it. I plan to catch up in trades, but I just haven't had time (or money) to invest in it yet.

FAVOURITE COMICS BLOGS (alphabetical order)

1. 4thletter!
2. Comics Alliance
3. Comics Comics
4. Comics Reporter
5. Comics Should Be Good
6. Comics Worth Reading
7. DC Women Kicking Ass
8. Death to the Universe
9. Every Day Is Like Wednesday (as well as Caleb's posts at Blog@Newsarama)
10. Robot 6

All of the above are much better blogs than mine.


1. 3 Chicks Review Comics

Well, this is the only podcast I ever bother to listen to. These chicks are amazing.


Sexism in The Walking Dead: An Ongoing Discussion

That post got 1,043 hits in 2010, and it continues to attract visitors every week. That probably doesn't seem like a lot compared to the kind of traffic even mildly successful blogs get, but it's way above any other post I made, with the next-highest clocking in at a mere 216 hits.


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