15. John Byrne’s Next Men – When Mr. Byrne’s Next Men series was originally released back in the 90′s, it was one of my very favorite comic book series. Mr. Byrne’s illustration skills were at their peak, and the story was just “mature audiences” enough to peak my teenaged interest. I was also very, very taken by the fiendishly clever circular narrative. I was disappointed when the series ended, particularly since it was only supposed to have gone on hiatus for a few months, BUT I thought that, if it had to end, Mr. Byrne had wrapped things up beautifully. I never imagined the series would ever return to the comic book stands, but lo and behold, IDW brought the series back for a nine issue run this year. There were moments when the relaunch approached the greatness I had remembered (I enjoyed the twisted revelations about Bethany in issue 4), but for the most part, I wasn’t quite sure the point of this new story. It sort of muddled the perfect ending of the series, without really enhancing what had gone before. Ultimately, I didn’t quite understand the new time-travel machinations, and so was left a bit underwhelmed. Still, new issues of John Byrne’s Next Men!! How cool is that??
14. Ultimate Spider-Man – I hated the whole Death of Peter Parker story-line, but I am very much enjoying the initial issues with the new Spidey. The focus on this young kid and his classmates reminds me very much — without being derivative — of what attracted me so much to this series when it began, over a decade ago (wow). Ultimate Spidey has been one of the most consistently enjoyable comic book series I have followed ever since it began. Attentive readers will note it has slipped down in the rankings of my end-of-the-year list in the past few years, but it’s still on here as one of the stronger serialized super-hero comic books out there. And god bless Mr. Bendis and his various artistic collaborators (including the very, very talented Sara Pichelli) for their consistency in getting this book out on a regular basis, month after month, year after year!
13. Kick Ass 2 – Mark Millar and John Romita’s sequel is just as gloriously profane and juvenile as the original. Taking the concept of “escalation” (an idea explored in many comic books and also in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight film) to the extreme, the existence of Kick Ass and other young people deciding to be real-life super-heroes has led to other deranged folks deciding to be super-villains, with horrific results. Things happen in this series that I can’t believe. It’s possible that this comic is well past the bounds of good taste, but I must admit to quite enjoying it nonetheless.
12. X-Factor – Peter David’s off-kilter take on an X-Men book continues to be going strong. Mr David’s X-Factor displays the same incredible consistency, month in and month out, that I was praising in Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man, and which is so rare in comics these days. I love Mr. David’s tendency to bring in forgotten, C-level mutant characters and give them life and personality. Who’d have thought Shatterstar could be an interesting character? X-Factor is very funny, and there’s a tight continuity to the stories, over the years, that I find delightful.
11. Spaceman – I would have purchased the reunion of the 100 Bullets team of Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso whatever the project was, and that they’ve decided to tackle a sci-fi tale only made me more exciting. The sci-fi elements are at a minimum, though (despite the title). Instead what we get is another classic Azzarello/Risso tale of a weird, broken character trying to do his best to keep his head above water in a cruel and complicated world. I have no idea where this story is going, but I can’t wait to find out.
10. Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island – Love that title. Set in London, 1830, this comic is a rocking adventure featuring British pirates of the air riding electricity-powered flying sailing ships. I love Warren Ellis’ sci-fi work, and his grafting of sci-fi conceits onto a period story of the early London police force works like gangbusters. The story is ably told by Raulo Caceres’ art, which, with its expressive line-work, often resembles woodcutting.
9. Dollhouse: Epitahs — Picking up the story from Joss Whedon’s cancelled TV series, series writers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen craft a compelling story that reminds me of all the reasons I enjoyed that TV show (and wisely jettisons all the things I didn’t like about the show!). The two Dollhouse episodes “Epitah One” and “Epitah Two” presented us with a post-apocalyptic world in which the Dollhouse mind-erasing technology had gotten lose, pretty much destroying human civilization. This clever comic-book mini-series gives us a glimpse at how that happened: at the day in which anyone who answered their phone had their brain erased, and of all the violent craziness that followed. We get to see Mag, Griff, Zone, Alpha, and many more familiar faces from the show. I really hope this series continues!
8. Brian Michael Bendis’ Avengers and New Avengers – I respect and understand that Brian Michael Bendis’ talky take on Marvel’s premiere super-hero team isn’t for everyone, but I really love the epic that Mr. Bendis has been crafting, for years now, in the pages of these two titles. I love the way in which Mr. Bendis is able to handle these two comics’ vast cast of characters, giving everyone a unique personality and perspective. The comic is very, very funny, and also chock full of lots of good ‘ol super-hero adventures. Yes, Bendis characters do all seem to talk like Bendis characters — but I’d say the same thing about David Mamet characters or Aaron Sorkin characters. There’s a stylization to the dialogue, but when that stylization is so clever and so funny, I have no complaints whatsoever. I must also praise Mr. Bendis’ A+ artistic collaborators: John Romita Jr., Daniel Acuna, Renato Guedes, and Mike Deodato.
7. Dark Horse Presents – I’m so happy to see the return of this anthology series to the stands, and I’ve been consistently blown away by the diverse assemblage of stories in each hugely-long issue. Each issue of DHP is a MEAL! I’ve been introduced to some new creators, and I’ve relished the new short-stories by familiar DHP faces such as Paul Chadwick and Mike Mignola.
6. Batwoman – I was crushed when Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III’ Batwoman story-line in Detective Comics suddenly ended a few years back. So I was delighted by the news that J.H. Williams III would be relaunching the series. I miss Mr. Rucka’s involvement, but so far Mr. Williams III’s writing, working with W. Haden Blackman, has been very strong. The series’ first story-line, “Hydrology,” feels like it hasn’t missed a beat from the end of the Detective Comics run. Mr. Williams III’s lush artwork is of genius-level quality. He alters his style based on the scene and the character(s) being presented — and often within a single image he will have two characters, each drawn in a different style, interacting. This could so easily be a mess, but Mr. Williams III is able to blend the disparate styles with extraordinary skill. Each page of this comic is a masterpiece, gorgeous to behold.
I’ll see you back here on Monday with Part Two of this list, numbers five through one! That will be followed, soon after, by my Top 10 DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2011, and my Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2011. See you then!