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The Top 10 Comic Books of 2009!

Time to wrap up my Best of 2009 lists!  I hope you all enjoyed my lists of the Top 10 TV Shows of 2009, the Top 10 DVDs of 2009, and the Top 10 Movies of 2009!

Now here we go with my list of the Top 10 Comic Book Series of 2009!

First, let’s start with some Honorable Mentions:  RASL, Ex Machina, Young Liars, Astonishing X-Men, Batman: Streets of Gotham, Superman: Secret Origins, Supergod, Aliens, The Dark Tower, and X-Factor.  All of those are series that I absolutely love — and if you’re not reading them, you should be! (I also have great affection for Powers, but since only one new issue saw the light of day in 2009, it was hard for me to justify including it on this list.)

OK, now here we go with the Top Ten:

10. Witchfinder: In The Service of Angels (issues #1-5 published in 2009) — I am an enormous fan of the Hellboy universe, and I’ve picked up every single Hellboy-related limited series or one-shot ever since Seed of Destruction way back when.  But somehow I almost missed this series about occult investigator Edward Grey, set in London in 1879.  Boy oh boy I’m glad I remedied my error and picked up all five issues.  Not only is it a terrific, creepy adventure tale, but issue #3 connects some ENORMOUS dots and basically gives us the secret history of the Hellboy universe.  This is a critical piece of the unfolding Hellboy saga, and not to be missed.

9.  Stephen King’s The Stand (issues #2-5 of Captain Trips, issues #1-5 of American Nightmares, and issues #1-2 of Soul Survivors published in 2009) — I’ve never read Stephen King’s epic novel The Stand, but I have been absolutely devouring the series of mini-series based on that work.  Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa deftly handles the enormous canvas, weaving multiple story-lines in and out of one another with ease, and Mike Perkins’ beautifully rendered artwork brings a devastated America to glorious, haunting life.  I am chomping at the bit to know what happens next — so much so that I went out and purchased Mr. King’s novel last month!   Now I just need to decide if I want to experience the story through the comic adaptations first, and THEN go read the novel… or dive into the novel right now.

8.  Astro City: The Dark Age Book 3 (issues #1-4 published in 2009) — This four-book Astro City saga has been taking its sweet time to reach a conclusion, but boy is each installment worth the wait.  The Dark Age is the story of two brothers, Charles and Royal Williams.  After their parents were killed during a super-hero battle in the late ’50s, Charles decided to become a cop, while Royal fell in with the criminal element.  But here in Book Three, set in the 1980s, Charles and Royal are working together in an attempt to find the man who killed their parents, while at the same time trying to prevent themselves from being swept under by the escalating tide of super-hero/super-villain conflicts.  The Dark Age balances a very simple, personal story with an epic super-hero saga that mirrors the darkening of comics in the 80’s (when violent vigilantes became far more popular than the boy-scout heroes of old).  Kurt Busiek and Brent E. Anderson have been weaving a rich tapestry of Astro City stories for over a decade, and The Dark Age is a terrific continuation of the saga.

7. Star Trek: Romulans: Schism (issues #1-3 published in 2009) — The third and final installment in John Byrne’s Romulans trilogy, Schism tells the tale of the unraveling of the Klingon/Romulan alliance that was hinted at in the third season of the Original Series.  A great many familiar faces pop up (Kor, Koloth, Number One) as various competing plans and strategies come together.  Filled with compelling action and interstellar intrigue, as well as extraordinary attention to the details of Star Trek continuity, Schism is the best Trek comic book to come down the line in a great many years (probably the best since Peter David was writing the DC Star Trek series oh so many years ago).  Byrne fits beautifully into the Trek universe — I very much hope he has more Trek stories to tell.

6.  Detective Comics Featuring Batwoman (issues # 854-859 published in 2009) — Greg Rucka has been spinning a brutal, edge-of-your seat story as we follow the skilled and mysterious Kathy Kane’s efforts as the new Batwoman.  I’m intrigued by this young woman, and have particularly enjoyed the last several issues that have provided a heartbreaking look into her childhood.  J.J. Williams III’s art is breathtaking, as he constantly switches styles and layout-techniques, resulting in pages that I could stare out for hours.  Each page truly is a stunning work of art.  Magnificent.

5.  Incognito (issues #2-6 published in 2009) — Zack Overkill testifies against his former super-villain colleagues and is placed in a super-hero version of the witness protection program.  Given drugs that suppress his abilities, he is told to live a normal, ordinary life.  But the crushing mundanity of his new life as an office drone proves impossible for Zach to adapt to, and when he discovers that getting high negates the effects of the powers-suppressing drugs he’s been given, Zach quickly finds himself drawn back into his old world.  Ed Brubaker sure knows how to spin a tough-as-nails yarn, and Sean Phillips’ art will grab you by the throat.  I was expecting quality from this team, but was bowled over by just how terrific this limited series was.  I hear that Brubaker and Phillips have more tales set in this world in the works — I can’t wait.

4.  Ultimate Spider-Man (issues #128-133 of Ultimate Spider-Man, issues #1-2 of Requiem, and issues #1-4 of Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man were published in 2009) — Month after month, year after year, Brian Michael Bendis demonstrates that he has mastered the art of long-form comic book storytelling while, at the same time, always making sure that each monthly installment packs a ferociously entertaining punch.  I have never loved Spider-Man more than I love Bendis’ Spidey, and frankly there are few long-running super-hero comic books that I have ever read that have captivated me more.  But while Mr. Bendis’ understanding of the character of Peter Parker is impressive, what really makes this book stand out is the extraordinarily rich supporting cast that Bendis has crafted.  Mary Jane, Gwen Stacy, Aunt May, Kitty Pryde, Johnny Storm, Kong, Flash, Liz… these characters are more interesting and fully-realized than the MAIN characters of most super-hero comic books.  I love each and every one of those individuals, and can’t wait to read about what happens next in their lives every month.  Stuart Immonen, who was the Ultimate Spider-Man artist for most of the year, is one of those guys who seems like he can draw absolutely anything — from intimate conversations between two teenagers to an action-adventure spectacle that results in the complete devastation of New York city.  Mr. Immonen’s crisp, clean line-work and detailed rendering leaves me in awe.  I’m not quite as taken by the more cartoony style of his replacement David Lafuente (on the newly renamed Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man — and I’m not quite taken with that verbose new title, either), but I’m willing to see how things develop.  This series continues to be the gold-standard in super-hero comics, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

3.  Criminal (issues #1-3 of The Sinners published in 2009) — Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (the same team responsible for my #5 selection, Incognito), return to their crime series Criminal with another tense, can’t-look-away crime saga.  Tracy Lawless finds himself back in the city, working as a hit-man for Sebastian Hyde, just as his father once did.  He’s a killer who can follow orders, but he’s proving to be something of a pain in the ass for Mr. Hyde.  Tracy dreams of cutting ties and getting out of that world, but finds himself continually getting dragged further in.  When Mr. Hyde assigns Tracy a new task, it just might be his ticket out — or into a whole new world of trouble.  Criminal is a relentlessly compelling crime series that is the very definition of a page-turner.  It’s one of the most unique and compelling comic books on the stands.  Brubaker and Phillips make this look so easy.

2.  B.P.R.D. (issues #1-5 of The Black Goddess and issues #1-5 of 1947 published in 2009) — Years of story-telling began to reach their culmination in the mesmerizing mini-series The Black Goddess, as the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense struggled to rescue Liz from the enigmatic Memnan Saa, while the world-wide war with the frog-creatures escalated even further.  Shape-shifting mystical Yetis, enormous living machines from beneath the Earth, golden dragons, and a whole boat-load of other weirdness factor into an enormous battle on the snowy Russian-Chinese boarder that might just determine the fate of the world.  Oh, and the Lobster returns.  Meanwhile, 1947 is the second volume detailing the early years of the Bureau.  Nazis, witches, and vampires spell trouble for Professor Bruttenholm and his team in this spooky mystery story.  In these two very different mini-series, Mike Mignola and his extraordinary team of collaborators continue to flesh out the world of Hellboy, and each new stitch in the growing tapestry helps make clear that they have created one of the richest fantasy universes I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying.  And speaking of Hellboy…

1.  Hellboy: The Wild Hunt (issues #2-8 published in 2009) — Mike Mignola has blown the doors off of the Hellboy universe over the past few years, and I have been loving every single minute of it.  Both Witchfinder and B.P.R.D. found places on this list, but I was thrilled to see the core Hellboy title return to center stage in 2009 with the phenomenal mini-series The Wild Hunt.  The miserable pig-creature Gruagach sets in motion a chain of events that leads to the unleashing of a terrible, ancient evil, and the war long-simmering between heaven and earth (that we’ve seen brewing for years now in various Hellboy mini-series) erupts.  Meanwhile, Hellboy is at a crossroads, unwilling to face the hints of his terrible potential for evil that have been growing harder to ignore.  In issue #6, we (along with the Big Red Guy) learn an entirely new aspect of his origin that absolutely blew me away.  I’ve been reading Hellboy comics since the very beginning, and I never suspected anything like this.  And yet — it just feels right.  It’s an astounding revelation that sets the stage for the next act in the story (which I await with an insane amount of anticipation).  Mike Mignola has long been known as a terrific artist, but his work these last few years have solidified him as one of the best writers working in comics today.  Duncan Fegredo’s insanely detailed artwork proves a perfect companion (and makes me stop missing the days when Mignola would illustrate every Hellboy issue himself).  The man can draw creepy gatherings of witches in their dens as well as he can draw a vicious brawl between giants in the English countryside.  The combination is perfection.  Pound for pound and page for page, there was no finer comic book series published in 2009.

Hope you all enjoyed my Best of 2009 lists.  Have a great weekend, everybody!

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