5. Incognito: Bad Influences – Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ sequel to their terrific series, Incognito, has only just begun but I’m already deeply hooked again on the story of former super-villain Zack Overkill. At the end of the last series, Zack had thrown in with the S.O.S. (the agency that tries to hold the line against the super-villain crime gangs). Now they’ve sent him back undercover into the criminal world, in an attempt to contact another S.O.S. undercover agent who has apparently gone rogue. There’s no way this is going to end well. Mr. Brubaker’s fusion of super-hero and crime stories is as engagingly clever as ever, and Mr. Phillips gritty, evocative art (aided by Val Staples’ gorgeous colors) makes each page a real work of art. Phenomenal stuff.
4. Baltimore: The Plague Ships — Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden bring their vampire-hunter character, Baltimore, from the pages of their novel (Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire) into the comic-book world, and the result is a wonderfully creepy mini-series. In France in 1916, Lord Baltimore hunts the vampire, Haigus, who destroyed his family. But when he and the Gypsy young woman traveling with him find themselves shipwrecked, they discover a graveyard of German submarines and an even more terrible threat. Ben Stenbeck’s illustration work and Dave Stewart’s colors work together beautifully to bring this dark, suspenseful tale to life. It’s a compelling horror story that has really stuck with me since I finished reading the series. I am very excited for the next Baltimore mini-series, coming this year!
3. S.H.I.E.L.D. – This series took me completely by surprise. I almost didn’t buy the first issue, but thank goodness that I did! Jonathan Hickman’s story about the secret origins of the Marvel Universe — from Leonardo DaVinci’s encounter with a Celestial to Galileo’s fight with Galactus to the secret work that Anthony Stark and Nathaniel Richards (the parents of Tony Stark — Iron Man — and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four) did together, this series is stuffed to the gills with interweaving characters and story-lines that span centuries, and a heck of a lot of BIG ideas. Mr. Hickman’s story is complex, inventive and unique, and the artwork by Dustin Weaver and Christina Strain is absolutely gorgeous.
2. Serenity: Float Out and The Shepherd’s Tale — Dark Horse Comics only released two short stories, this year, set in the universe of Joss Whedon’s beloved sci-fi series Firefly/Serenity, but they were both magnificent. First was Float Out, a one-shot written by comedian Patton Oswalt, set following the death of Wash. Through a series of vignettes, we get to explore the life of that wonderfully off-beat character. Then came The Shepherd’s Tale, a hardcover story written by Joss Whedon himself that focused on the other character who perished in the Serenity feature film. This gorgeously illustrated story gave us, at long last, the true story of the origins of Shepherd Book. Although it was double the length of Float Out, this story was still way shorter than I would have hoped. Still, it was an emotional tale that perfectly captured the “voice” of Shepherd Book, and it was was a beautiful gift to fans like me who had long-since given up hope of ever learning the truth of Shepherd Book’s origins. I have already re-read it several times. It’s pretty damn great.
1. Hellboy – Last year I felt that B.P.R.D. had without question become the main title in the Hellboy universe, but I was delighted that this year the big red guy’s main series zoomed back into the spotlight. The three-part mini-series The Storm moved Hellboy’s main story forward in several big, big ways. It feels like Mike Mignola is finally unleashing story developments that he’s been building towards for YEARS, and Duncan Fegredo’s artwork is extraordinary. But this year also saw the publication of a wealth of fantastic other Hellboy stories, including Mr. Mignola’s collaboration with Richard Corben on Double Feature of Evil, as well as the first-part of a terrific, spooky tale called The Sleeping and the Dead. I never know quite what to expect when a new Hellboy series or one-shot hits the stands, but I ALWAYS know that I’ll be getting a comic book of extraordinary quality that is unlike pretty much anything else on the stands. Comic books don’t get any better than this.
C’mon back soon for my final 2010 Top 10 list — my Top 10 Episodes of TV from 2010! See you then!