And so we come to it at last, my final Best of 2015 list!
A few days ago I began listing my Fifteen Favorite Comic Book Series of 2015, listing numbers fifteen through six.
Here now are my Top Five:
5. Velvet (by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting) — What if Moneypenny was actually a former double-oh agent, now assigned to a desk at HQ but forced back into the field by a terrible betrayal? That’s the brilliant hook of Mr. Brubaker and Mr. Epting’s phenomenal spy yarn Velvet. The year is 1973, and Velvet Templeton has been, for eighteen years, the secretary and right-hand woman for the Director of Arc-7, a super-secret British organization of spies. When their best agent (think James Bond) is murdered on assignment, Velvet finds herself framed for the deed and on the run from everyone she once trusted. Velvet is a rich conspiracy thriller and a loving homage to the mystique of sixties-era James Bond adventures Mr. Brubaker’s twisty story constantly has me guessing, trying to put the pieces together (just like Velvet herself is doing). Mr. Epting’s art, meanwhile, is jaw-droppingly astounding, filled with incredible period detail. I don’t know how he does it. I love this book and, as I wrote last year, I desperately need it to come out more frequently.
4. James Bond (by Warren Ellis and Jason Masters) — One of the few 2015 comic book series that was better than Brubaker & Epting’s Bond-inspired saga is Warren Ellis and Jason Masters’ take on the actual double-oh-seven himself! I’d never have expected to see the phenomenally talented Warren Ellis writing a licensed comic book series, but it’s a match made in heaven. This James Bond series doesn’t feel like any other licensed comic book series that I have ever read. This comic is brutal, take-no-prisoners story-telling. I love Mr. Ellis’ depiction of Bond as a merciless “blunt instrument” of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. And Jason Masters’ art is extraordinary, with clean crisp lines that nevertheless manage to incorporate a staggering amount of detail into every panel. It’s perfect for this series. I love this team continues chronicling the adventures of James Bond 007 for many more years to come.
3. The Fade Out (by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips) — The latest collaboration between Mr. Brubaker and Mr. Phillips, the best team in comics, is a riveting whodunnit set in Hollywood of the nineteen-forties. Hollywood screenwriter and drunk Charlie Parrish wakes up one morning to find himself in a room with the dead body of young starlet Valeria Sommers. As the story unfolds, Charlie finds himself in the middle of an ugly story whose tendrils stretch … [continued]
After having so thoroughly enjoyed the second Captain America film, The Winter Soldier (click here for my review), I have been re-reading Ed Brubaker’s lengthy run on the Captain America comic-book series that inspired the film. Click here for part I of my re-read, click here for part 2, click here for part 3, and click here for part 4.
Steve Rogers is dead and Bucky Barnes has assumed the mantle of Captain America. But that doesn’t mean that everyone’s troubles are over…
Time’s Arrow (Captain America #43-45) — following the dramatic conclusion to the eighteen-issue-long The Death of the Dream story-line (in Captain America #25-42), it’s not surprising that the next story-line felt like something of a letdown to me. Having a fill-in artist (Luke Ross) didn’t help either, that seems like a poor choice. When these issues were originally published I was very bored by them, though in hindsight they read much better. I can also now recognize that Mr. Ross does fine work on the artwork. He’s no Steve Epting, but his work feels very much of a fit with that of Mike Perkins & Butch Guice, the other two rotating artists on the book.
This story-line brings back classic Captain America bad-guy Batroc the Leaper, and while Mr. Brubaker & Mr. Ross try their best to take the character seriously, he’s still pretty silly. More interesting is the mystery connected to an old Invaders caper from 1942, in which Bucky and the Torch saved a Chinese boy genius. It seems that, years later, the Winter Soldier killed the man’s wife, and so the now-elderly genius is plotting vengeance on Bucky/Captain America.
At first this three-parter seems like a fairly inconsequential stand-alone story, but things change in the final pages of issue #45 as we see that Batroc’s employers have managed to acquire the remains of the original Human Torch, Cap & Bucky’s former ally in the Invaders during WWII. This leads right into the next three-parter:
Old Friends and Enemies (Captain America #46-48) — Steve Epting finally returns in issue #46, which caused me much rejoicing at the time that issue originally came out. That, along with a kick-ass cover of Cap fighting Namor, made me much more excited about issue #46 when it was originally published than I’d been about the previous three issues. (Though now I know that, sadly, issue #46 would be Mr. Epting’s final issue on the series. I wish he had continued through issue #50, but that was not to be, though he would contribute covers up through issue #49.)
With the remains of the Original Human Torch in the hands of the … [continued]
After having so thoroughly enjoyed the second Captain America film, The Winter Soldier (click here for my review), I have been re-reading Ed Brubaker’s lengthy run on the Captain America comic-book series that inspired the film. Click here for part I of my re-read, click here for part 2, and click here for part 3.
Following the murder of Steve Rogers/Captain America in Captain America #25, the focus of Mr. Brubaker’s Captain America run shifted dramatically. Cap #25 kicked off a long story-arc, The Death of the Dream, that was divided into three parts, each six-issues in length.
The Death of the Dream: Act 1 (Captain America #26-30) — Mr. Brubaker tries a new narrative device in these issues, one which I thought worked really well. He subdivided each issue into chapters, each with its own title, and each following a different character. In this way, each issue follows multiple different story-threads as we follow the chaos that reigned after Steve Rogers’ murder and the many different characters’ responses to that act. We see Bucky Barnes, who blames Tony Stark for Steve’s death and sets out to kill him, even though Tony has now been named the new head of S.H.I.E.L.D. We see Natasha Romanov, the Black Widow, who finds herself working for Tony against Bucky, a man who, we learn, she once loved before Bucky’s life as the Winter Soldier tore them a apart. We see Sam Wilson, the Falcon, mourn Steve’s death both publicly and with Cap’s former allies in the super-hero Civil War, now hiding underground and led by Luke Cage. We see Nick Fury, still hiding from the world, attempting to unravel the mystery of Cap’s death and Aleksander Lukin’s plot. We see Lukin/the Red Skull and their secret machinations, along with Dr. Faustus and Arnim Zola. We see the Red Skull’s daughter, Sin, wreaking havoc across America with her new Serpent Society.
It’s a great story, and I love the way Lukin/the Skull’s machinations have resulted in many heroic characters (Bucky, the Falcon, Sharon Carter, the Black Widow, Nick Fury, Tony Stark, etc.) all operating at cross-purposes. It takes until the end of this six-issue story-line for our heroes to get any sort of clue as to what is going on, and to get onto the same page. Even then, as usual for Mr. Brubaker’s story, they put together the pieces too late and, in the cliffhanger ending of issue #30, the still-brainwashed Sharon winds up taking out most of the good guys.
I love the idea of pairing Bucky and the Black Widow, and I loved the joint backstory that Mr. Brubaker created for the two of them … [continued]
After having so thoroughly enjoyed the second Captain America film, The Winter Soldier (click here for my review), I have been re-reading Ed Brubaker’s lengthy run on the Captain America comic-book series that inspired the film. Click here for part I of my re-read, and click here for part 2.
Civil War (Captain America #22-24) — Captain America #22 represents a dramatic change for the Captain America series as, between the last page of issue #21 and the first page of issue #22, Steve Rogers/Captain America ceased to be the main character in his own comic book series. Instead, Cap’s main story was being told in the big Marvel universe cross-over mini-series Civil War, written by Mark Millar and pencilled by Steve McNiven. In that series, a battle between super-heroes and super-villains winds up killing over 600 civilians, resulting in the passage of the Superhero Registration Act, requiring all super-heroes to reveal their identities and be licensed by the government. Tony Stark leads these efforts, but Captain America opposes them, feeling the law curtains important American freedoms. The super-hero community splits down the middle. S.H.I.E.L.D. and Tony Stark begin hunting down and imprisoning any super-heroes who refuse to register, resulting in Cap and his allies going into hiding. Civil War is a terrific mini-series that would have repercussions for years to come.
In the main Cap title, the story focused on Sharon Carter, who as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent suddenly finds herself on the opposing side of Steve Rogers, the man she loves. This is a great twist in the story, and it’s great to see Mr. Brubaker take the time to explore these ripple effects of the main story being told in Civil War. (Anyone not reading Civil War would find themselves terribly confused, though.) These cross-over issues have a lot of additional goodies as well. In addition to the focus on Sharon, Bucky also steps back into center stage. Bucky is on the run from both S.H.I.E.L.D. and the other super-heroes, but with a powerful ally: Nick Fury, who is also on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D. and the rest of the world. Nick was a major player in Mr. Brubaker’s early Captain America issues, but he dropped away between issues as the result of goings-on in other Marvel Universe titles. I love seeing Nick back in play here, and the pairing of him and Bucky/the Winter Soldier is inspired.
In these issues we also spend a lot of time with the bad guys, as we see Lukin/the Red Skull recruit a number of allies, classic Captain America villain characters Dr. Faustus and Arnim Zola. When reading these issues originally I remember thinking that these … [continued]
After enjoying the second Captain America film, The Winter Soldier, I decided to go back and re-read the comic-books that had inspired the film. Click here for my thoughts on the beginning of writer Ed Brubaker’s long run on Captain America, illustrated so gorgeously by Steve Epting.
Those first fourteen issues represent a brilliant reinvention of the Captain America comic-book series, in which Mr. Brubaker figured out exactly how to tell a classic, potent Captain America story for the modern day. I think Mr. Brubaker’s characteriziation of Steve Rogers/Captain America is absolutely perfect, giving us a man who is unceasingly heroic and noble but one who still feels the burden of his past and who remains somewhat not-at-home in the modern-day world. I love how closely Mr. Brubaker tied Cap to S.H.I.E.L.D., giving us a Cap who in many ways was basically the greatest Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. who ever was, and allowing Mr. Brubaker to tell super-hero stories that also felt like spy stories, with all the darkness and complexity you’d expect from that type of tale. (This tone, just as much as the plot of the Winter Soldier resurrection arc, was clearly a huge influence on the second Cap film.) I love the way Mr. Brubaker structured his stories, often telling parallel tales between the present-day action and Cap & Bucky’s exploits back in WWII. And, of course, I was impressed by the way Mr. Brubaker pulled off the resurrection of Bucky, the one comic-book character I never ever thought they’d bring back. What could have been cheesy was instead the basis for a complex, thrilling, years-long story.
All of this would have been moot had Mr. Bubaker not been so capably assisted by his partner Steve Epting, who did the best work of his career as the main illustrator for those first 14 issues. I truly don’t think super-hero comic-book illustration gets any better than the work that Mr. Epting did in that initial run. Just gorgeous, staggering work.
I expected this Winter Soldier story to be a fairly contained tale, but after originally reading those first 14 issues, it became clear that although Mr. Brubaker had wrapped up some story-threads, he had a much longer tale in mind. Those early issues were just the tip of the iceberg of a sprawling epic that Mr. Brubaker had planned. It’s been huge fun to re-read. Let’s continue onward, shall we?
Red is the Darkest Color/Collision Course (Captain America #15-17) — Mike Perkins steps in as the artist for these three issues. Issue #15 doesn’t feature Captain America at all, instead focusing solely on the villain Crossbones and his attempt to deprogram a young woman he knew to … [continued]
Back in 2005, writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting collaborated on a re-launch of the Captain America comic book. Their initial story-line would prove to be incredibly popular with fans, one that would define the Captain America mythology for years to come. It was such a popular and influential story-line that it was a clear choice for the second Cap film to adapt.
Before then, I had never read the Captain America comic book series on a monthly basis, and I didn’t initially read this story monthly, either. But after the first few months, I started hearing and reading more and more about Mr. Burbaker’s story-line. Eventually I picked up the first two trade paperback collections, and I was immediately hooked. Mr. Brubaker would go on to write Captain America for many years, and it was a great run. But it’s that initial story that was the very best.
The Winter Soldier Volume 1 (Captain America #1-7) — The first issue is fantastic, immediately setting up the dynamics of the story and Cap’s status quo, and then turning the whole apple-cart over at the end of the issue. Right away, we see several stylistic devices that will become emblematic of Mr. Brubaker & Mr. Epting’s long run on Cap. There’s the balance of a story set in the present-day Marvel Universe with a parallel tale set during Cap & Bucky’s adventures during World War II that elaborates upon the present-day story and provides critical back-story. There’s the beginning of the Red Skull & Russian General Lukin’s parallel secret evil plans, plans which will provide the backbone for the next fifty issues of story-telling. And there’s Mr. Brubaker’s brilliant reinvention of the character of Bucky.
Mr. Brubaker’s “Winter Soldier” story is well-known for his famous resurrection of Cap’s former partner Bucky, killed during WWII. Although death is usually a temporary thing in comic books, Bucky was one of the few characters to be considered permanently dead. Mr. Brubaker raised a lot of eyebrows with his decision to bring back Bucky, but his story was so good that now, far from being controversial, this “Winter Soldier” story-line is considered to be one of the most central pieces of canon in Captain America’s history. (It’s so important that it was a clear and popular choice to be adapted in the second Captain America film.)
But a huge part of what made this story-line work wasn’t just how he handled Bucky’s resurrection, but the subtle but important — and fiendishly clever — adjustments Mr. Brubaker made to … [continued]
We are nearing the end of my Best of 2013 lists! I hope you enjoyed my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2013 (click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three) and my list of the Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2013 (click here for part one and here for part two).
Yesterday I began my third Best of 2013 list — The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2013! Click here for part one, numbers 15-6. Here now are the top five:
5. Velvet — What if Moneypenny had actually once been a double-oh agent? That’s an overly simplistic summation of Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s magnificent new spy series, but I think it conveys the series’ extremely clever hook. Set in 1973, Velvet Templeton is the secretary for the Director of Arc-7, an organization of British spies. When several of the very best Arc-7 agents wind up dead, Velvet finds herself framed as the prime suspect. Of course, she resists arrest, and the story takes off from there. Every frame of this comic book is absolute perfection. I adore the world of James Bond, and Velvet taps right into that golden age of classic Bond stories. But don’t mistake this book as something derivative. With only two issues having been published so far, I am already hugely hooked into this world and these characters. The combination of Mr. Brubaker and Mr. Epting is a match made in heaven. (Oh man can Mr. Epting draw. Each panel is a work of gorgeous art.) These two men did extraordinary work together several years ago with their “Winter Soldier” arc on Captain America (a story-line that is, apparently, being heavily mined for this year’s Captain America sequel film), and seeing them reunited on an original, creator-owned project is heaven.
4. Powers: Bureau — I can’t believe how long I’ve been following Brian Michael Bendis’ Powers. I bought that very first issue, right off the stands, back in 2000. It was my first introduction to Mr. Bendis’ work, and I have followed him through countless issues of many, many different comic book series (both creator-owned stuff as well as a LOT of work for Marvel Comics). But Powers will always remain my favorite. The series has had quite a sporadic publishing schedule these past few years, but this fourth volume of the series, titled Powers: Bureau, has not only come out on a decently regular schedule this year, but it’s also represented a nice return to form for the series, with Deena and Christian once again paired up to investigate the deaths of superhumans. Except now they … [continued]
Yesterday I published part one of my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012. You can also check out my Top 15 Movies of 2012: click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three.
And now, on to the conclusion of my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012!
5. Batman: Earth One — A staggeringly entertaining ground-one reinvention of Batman, I can’t believe how much I loved this hardcover graphic novel by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. I don’t have too much patience for creators reworking classic super-hero origins — do they think they know better than the original creators of these long-lived, much-beloved characters? And if you’re going to re-tell Batman’s origin, how could anyone possibly do it better than Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s superlative Batman: Year One from the eighties? While I wouldn’t consider this origin story to be superior to Batman’s established origin, it’s a marvelously entertaining what-if version in which all of the familiar beats play out differently. (And it’s hugely superior to DC’s first “Earth One” graphic novel, J. Michael Straczynski’s woeful Superman: Earth One.) Mr. John’s tweaks to the familiar characters (I particularly love Earth One’s versions of Alfred and Harvey Bullock) plus Mr. Frank’s exquisite art make this a knockout. I hope they make lots more sequels so that I can return to this world for further adventures.
4. America’s Got Powers — This six-issue mini-series (of which four issues have been published so far) has been blowing my socks off. Superstar artist Bryan Hitch (for my money, the very best illustrator of super-hero comic books working today) and Jonathan Ross have teamed up to create this original, powerhouse new series. Something has gifted a whole generation of young people with super-powers. A fearful government has rounded up anyone exhibiting special abilities, but to keep them (and the general population) from focusing on the hideous human rights abuses, they have created a super-powered reality TV show in which the super-powered kids compete for fame and glory. No surprise, the behind-the-scenes reality is far different than the happy, televised spectacle. This series is deft speculative fiction of the very best kind, crossed with a terrific super-hero adventure story. I have loved every single page. I hope this series continues beyond the scheduled six issues.
3. All-New X-Men — The biggest surprise of the year for me has been Brian Michael Bendis’ new X-Men series. The Beast, fearing that his life is nearly over and distraught at the state of the X-Men, the world, and the actions of his former best friend Scott … [continued]
Now let’s jump into my second Best of 2012 list, my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012!
First up, some honorable mentions. They didn’t make by best-of list, but I really enjoyed The Manhattan Projects, Secret, The Massive, the publication of Alan Moore’s last scripted issue of Supreme, the conclusion of RASL, Ultimate Spider-Man (dropping off my best-of list for the first time since I started doing this, but still a great comic book), Daredevil: End of Days, and Peter David’s X-Factor.
15. Batman Beyond: Unlimited — I am loving this continuation of the world of Bruce Timm’s animated Batman Beyond series. The comic has picked up on many terrific story-lines left hanging by the show’s conclusion, including Terry’s membership in the Justice League, Superman’s return to Metropolis, Terry’s relationship with Dana, the tragic events that befell former Robin Tim Drake (as depicted in the Return of the Joker DVD movie), and at last the introduction of Dick Grayson into Batman Beyond continuity. With the Justice League and the New Gods front-and-center, as well as a revitalized Jokerz gang, the stories feel suitably big and epic. I love that each issue is double-sized, with several serialized stories running concurrently. The art is a little inconsistent on some of the features, but I love Dustin Nguyen’s work, and I am absolutely delighted to see the great Norm Breyfogle once again illustrating a Batman comic.
14. Winter Soldier — Ed Brubaker’s final Captain America story-line has been terrific, returning full-circle to where his Captain America epic began years ago, with a still-alive Bucky Barnes operating on the fringes of the Marvel Universe, trying his best to be a hero in the murky world of spies and shadows. I love the relationship between Barnes and the Black Widow. I love how heavily SHIELD and Nick Fury are involved in the story. I love Butch Guice’s spectacular illustrations, at once retro and very modern. This is a great noirish super-hero story, and I’m going to be sorry to see it end.
13. Batwoman — J.H. Williams III’s lavishly illustrated series continues to impress me. Without question, the main draw is J.H. Williams III’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous art, so creative in terms of page and panel layout, and his use of different artistic styles for different characters/settings. But Mr. Williams has also been doing fine work as the writer, spinning a great mystery yarn that is grounded but not afraid to embrace the supernatural or the super-heroic. The latest story-line, featuring … [continued]
Welcome back to the conclusion of my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011! Click here for part one. (And click here for my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2011: part one, part two, and part three.)
5. Moon Knight — I really enjoyed Brian Michael Bendis’ years-long run on Daredevil with Alex Maleev, and their relaunch of Moon Knight has been pretty terrific so far. I love the new conceit that the slightly unhinged Marc Spector is now hearing the voices of Spider-Man, Captain America, and Wolverine in his head. The result is some great comedy as the three super-heroes banter back and forth in Moon Knight’s head. (Comic banter is a Bendis specialty!) Seeing Echo back in a lead role is just icing on the cake. I never thought Moon Knight could be at all interesting, but I guess the character was just the right sort of tabula rasa for an exciting reinvention. I hope this is the start of a long run for Mr. Bendis and Mr. Maleev on the character.
4. RASL — I wish Jeff Smith’s sci-fi opus would come out a little more frequently, but I can’t really fault creator/writer/artist/self-publisher Smith, seeing as how he’s pretty much doing everything himself on this comic. It’s just that the series is so good! I want more!! This adventure/love story is just grounded enough in real scientific theories to anchor all of the fun flights of fancy involving parallel universes, lizard-men, and weird-looking little girls. Jeff Smith’s art is perfection — with a cartoony stylization that is endearing, but also an extraordinary amount of detail to give all of the settings and characters a distinct, “real world” feel. It feels like things are really starting to come together with the story, which is very exciting. The wait between issues is BRUTAL!! If you’re a comic book fan but you’re not reading this self-published gem, do yourself a favor and remedy that immediately.
3. Criminal: The Last of the Innocent — The work that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips do together just keeps getting better and better and better. I love all of their projects, but the crime-comic Criminal has always been my favorite, and The Last of the Innocent might be the very best installment since the first story-line, “Coward.” In this dark tale, we meet young man Riley Richards, who is married to a beautiful, wealthy woman. But he’s tremendously unhappy, and when he returns home and reconnects with his old goof-ball friend and the blonde girl-next-door he used to have a crush on, he realizes that he just might have chosen the wrong girl. … [continued]
Holden Carver has agreed to go undercover in an attempt to infiltrate the criminal organization run by Tao, a genetically-manipulated super-villain of enormous intelligence and brutality. In order to create a cover that would convince even the super-intelligent Tao, only Holden’s boss — the spy-masker John Lynch — knows that Holden is actually a good-guy. Holden’s infiltration of Tao’s organization succeeds, but when Lynch is shot and falls into a coma, Holden finds himself hunted by his former allies and continually at risk with being exposed to his new “friends.” With no one to rely on but himself, is there any way out for Holden? And if he has to behave as a brutal criminal in order to pass as one to Tao and his people, does it really make any difference if once, long ago, he was one of the “good guys”?
This is the story of Sleeper.
I was first introduced to the work of writer Ed Brubaker and illustrator Sean Phillips in this Wildstorm series (originally published as two twelve-issue “seasons” from 2003-2005, and these days available in four soft-cover collected editions) and I immediately knew that this was a creative team to be reckoned with. I have followed their partnership voraciously ever since (click here to read my review of their noir crime series Criminal, and here for my comments on their super-villain witness protection program story, Incognito) and have never been disappointed.
The genius of Sleeper is the way that Mr. Brubaker and Mr. Phillips bring their noir sensibilities to the world of super-hero comics. Although there are characters with super-heroes in this story, there’s very little brightly-colored spandex. This is a gritty, street-level story about a criminal underworld and the flawed, morally compromised men who would stop them. The moral choices are brutally tough, and the good guys seldom come out on top. Right from the first issue, in which Holden is forced to viciously murder another deep-cover agent, just to protect his own cover, it’s clear that is is not going to be a simplistic series with any easy outs for the main characters.
I’ve waxed poetic about Sean Phillips’ artwork before, and this series is an excellent showcase for everything that he does so well. He has a great eye for characters, and his slightly-stylized renderings truly bring each individual character to life. His backgrounds are lush and wonderfully realized. Not in a hyper-detailed sort of way, but in that he is able to include just enough specific detail to perfectly capture the environment being depicted. He can draw crazy shoot-em-ups as well as he can draw two characters plotting in a darkened room. Just fantastic work.
Ed Brubaker … [continued]
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 … [continued]
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 … [continued]
Leo has a great mind for planning heists, and seeing all the angles of a job. But he also has a strict series of rules that he has created for himself. He feels those rules have kept him out of prison, though they have lead others to label him a coward. When he’s lured into a risky jewel heist involving the widow of one of his former partners, Leo finds that he’s about to break almost every one of his rules.
Tracy left the rough streets of his home city years ago for a life in the military. But he left his brother behind. Now, his brother is dead and Tracy has come home to find out why. But there are a lot of ghosts to be found on the streets of the city, and Tracy is about to discover that his dead father casts a long shadow.
Jacob is a cartoonist whose character, Frank Kafka, PI, is a no-nonsense tough guy. Jacob is a different type of man: a lonely, broken-down, chronic insomniac who hasn’t recovered from the death of his wife (and the ordeal that followed in which he was blamed for her death). But a chance encounter at a diner in the wee hours of one dreary morning are about to bring his not-quite-buried past rushing back for him.
Leo, Tracy, and Jacob are just a few of the compelling characters of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ amazing comic book series, Criminal (which I mentioned a few months ago, in one of my posts about great comics).
Before beginning to read their latest Criminal story, The Sinners, I decided to go back and re-read the series from the beginning. Doing-so only further solidified my belief that Criminal is one of the greatest comic book series being published today.
Criminal is a collection of hard-boiled noir tales. Some stories run for 4-5 issues, while some stories are just a single issue long. The protagonists shift from story to story, although there is a great deal of interconnectedness to be found (as characters and locations from one story frequently pop up in surprising ways in later tales).
Ed Brubaker spins tough, take-no-prisoners yarns. While Criminal has focused on characters of wildly different types and personalities (the “coward” Leo, the tough and brutal Tracy Lawless, the boxer Gnarly, the hurt and vengeful Danica, etc.), what these characters all have in common is that, as we watch, their lives take several turns for the worse. Criminal isn’t a comic book about super-heroes, and it isn’t an adventure where supposedly ordinary Joes act all super-heroic (what I like to call the Bruce-Willis-in-Die Hard syndrome). None of these characters are … [continued]
I’ve written a few pieces, recently, about some of the great comic books that I’ve been reading lately. (Click here for my thoughts on 100 Bullets, and here for my reviews of three recent graphic novels adapted from the short stories of Alan Moore.) What else have I been reading lately that has tickled my fancy? I’m glad you asked!
Filthy Rich, by Brian Azzarello and Victor Santos — After finishing 100 Bullets, I was eager to check out some more work by Brian Azzarello. Luckily, this original graphic novel had just been published, so I snapped it up. Richard “Junk” Junkin used to be a football star. Now he sells cars. Not very well. When Junk’s boss asks him to work as the bodyguard for his spoiled, party-going daughter, Junk find himself swept up in the world of the young and the rich that he is at once envious of and disdainful of. Not surprisingly, things don’t go well. Mr. Santos’s black-and-white artwork has a bit of a cartoony, Bruce Tim bent which one might think incongruous with a gritty crime story, but I quickly found myself loving his detailed, quirky illustrations. There are a lot of characters in this story, but under Mr. Santos’ sure hand I never found myself confused as to who-was-who. This is a great, street-level gritty story (an Azzarello specialty), and if you’re looking for a break from comic book super-heroics, this is worth a shot.
Frankenstein’s Womb, by Warren Ellis and Marek Oleksicki — As noted above, last week I wrote about three Alan Moore graphic novels published by Avatar Press. But that’s not all that Avatar has to offer. Last month I had the pleasure of reading this recent graphic novel (or “graphic novella,” as it is labelled on its cover) written by the enormously talented Warren Ellis. The year is 1816. Mary Wollestonecraft Goodwin, her husband-to-be Percy Bysshe Shelley, and her stepsister Claire Clairmont are traveling across Europe. In Germany, they come across a strange and deserted castle. Castle Frankenstein. This wonderfully weird and quite haunting tale of where Mary Shelley REALLY got the idea for her famous novel is one of my favorite things I’ve read this year. Mr. Ellis’ clever (and quite grim!) script is perfectly supplemented by Mr. Oleksicki’s incredibly detailed, evocative black-and-white linework. Absolutely wonderful.
Incognito, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips — Taking a break from their stellar crime series Criminal, Brubaker and Phillips bring us the story (told in six issues) of former super-hero Zack Overkill. After his twin brother (and fellow super-villain) was killed, Zack served as a secret witness against the head of his criminal organization, … [continued]
But, you know, EVERYONE writes those sorts of top 10 lists! So today, I wanted to send some love in the direction of the best comic books that I read in 2008. 2008 was a PHENOMENAL year for comics, with a lot of great material out there. Here’s what I felt was the best of the best.
15. Top 10: Season 2 (issues #1-3 published in 2008) — One of Alan Moore (Watchmen, V For Vendetta)’s greatest works of the past decade was the first “season” of Top 10, published between 1999 and 2001. It chronicled the efforts of a police force in a bizarre city that seemed to be a meeting point for all sorts of fantasy characters from comics, TV shows, and movies. Although Mr. Moore has not returned for this second installment, talented writer Zander Cannon along with returning artist Gene Ha have crafted a story every bit as weird, complex, and compelling as Mr. Moore’s original. Ha’s art remains staggeringly complex and detailed, filled with lots of fun surprises in the background for an attentive reader.
14. Detective Comics #846-850, “Heart of Hush” — Although Grant Morrison’s “Batman: R.I.P.” storyline over in Batman got all the attention this year, it was writer Paul Dini (one of the guiding forces behind the amazing Batman: The Animated Series) who was behind my favorite Batman story of 2008. Enigmatic villain Hush returns with a complex scheme to take down the Dark Kight, while in a series of flashbacks we learn how the friendship between young Bruce Wayne and Tommy Elliott went wrong. Throw in Catwoman and gorgeous art by Dustin Nguyen, and you have a classic. (Collected edition available here.)
13. Ultimate Spider-Man (issues 116-128 published in 2008) — I cannot believe how much I continue to enjoy this Spider-Man book. Guided by the incredible writing of Brian Michael Bendis, who has been writing this reinvention of Spider-Man since issue #1, this is everything a super-hero comic book should be. It is filled with great action, terrific humor, and incredible continuity and character development. I don’t know of any comic that is consistently more fun, and the fact that such a high standard of quality has been maintained for 128 issues and counting is amazing. (The entire run of USM is available in collected editions. Here is the latest.)
12. Stephen King’s The Dark Tower (issues 1-5 of “The Long Road Home” and 1-4 of “Treachery” published in 2008) — A complex but coherent story and absolutely gorgeous art by Jae Lae and Richard … [continued]