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The Top Fifteen Comic Book Series of 2015 — Part One!

I’m excited to wrap up by Best of 2015 lists with my look back at my Fifteen Favorite Comic Book Series of 2015!

There were a TON of amazing comic books that I read in 2015 that didn’t make this list.  Powers by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming.  Trees by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard, and Injection by Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey.  Nameless by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham.  Chrononauts by Mark Millar and Sean Gordon Murphy, Huck by Mark Millar and Rafael Albuquerque, MPH by Mark Millar and Duncan Fegredo, and Starlight by Mark Millar and Goran Parlov.  Guardians of the Galaxy by Brian Michael Bendis and Valerio Schiti.  Justice League by Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok.  Batman by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo.  Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang, and We Stand on Guard by Brian K. Vaughan and Steve Skroce.  Black Magic by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott.  And so many more.

Also, there are several series that I have fallen way behind on, and so I am waiting to find the time to go back and do a major re-read to catch up on these titles.  These series include Stray Bullets by David Lapham, Astro City by Kurt Busiek and Brent Eric Anderson and Jesus Merino and others.  The Manhattan Projects by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra and Ryan Browne, and East of West by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta.  Had I been up-to-date on these titles, I have no doubt that they would all be on this list, and probably very high on it.

OK, onward!

15.  Groo and Friends (by Mark Evanier & Sergio Aragones) — I’ve been reading Groo since I was a kid, when the series was published for a long run under Marvel’s Epic imprint.  Somehow, Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones are able to keep making the continuing adventures of the witless barbarian and his faithful dog companion thoroughly entertaining, even after all these years.  There aren’t too many truly great humor comics out there, but Groo is always dependable, and the dazzlingly intricate illustrations by Sergio Aragones are always a feast for my eyes.  This twelve-issue miniseries (a very long run for a Groo tale these days) was great fun.

14. The X-Files Season 10/Season 11 (by Joe Harris and Matthew Dow Smith and others) — I have always considered The X-Files to be one of the great unfinished stories in the modern entertainment landscape, and so I was excited for this series which was designed to be a tenth season for the show.  About mid-way through this year that tenth season concluded and an eleventh season began.  The series has been fun, though … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Kingsman: The Secret Service

I was thrilled when I head that Matthew Vaughn would be directing an adaptation of Mark Millar & Dave Gibbons’ wonderful comic book series, The Secret Service.  I adored the original comic, and I had loved Matthew Vaughn’s previous adaptation of a Mark Millar-written comic-book: Kick-Ass.  (Click here for my original review.)  That Matthew Vaughan would be adapting another Mark Millar comic book was very exciting to me.  As the release of the film adaptation grew closer, my excitement only grew.  I felt that I was privy to a secret that few knew.  I couldn’t wait to see movie-goers, who were unaware of the comic, have their heads spun by this deliriously profane, violent twist on the James Bond mythos.

But while I have read a lot of glowing reviews of Kingsman: The Secret Service, I found myself disappointed.  It felt like all the elements of a great film were there.  I love the central hook of the story.  (Both the idea of playing with the cliches of the James Bond films as well as the notion of a guy-centric, violent take on My Fair Lady.)  The casting of the film was spectacular, most notably the genius idea of casting Colin Firth in the role of the fearsome British super-spy.  The film looks great, and there are some terrific moments in the movie.

But I never felt the film quite lived up to the potential of its premise.  It didn’t capture the fun of the jaw-dropping twists and turns of the original comic, nor did it live up to it’s central idea as a spin on the concept of the James Bond-like super-spy.

I think my biggest over-all complaint is that the film is overly convoluted.  It felt like the filmmakers took the fairly simple, straightforward premise of the original comic and complicated-it-up with a lot of unnecessary meandering.  Here are two examples.  First, it’s a predictable idea that, in this sort of film, the mentor is eventually going to get pushed aside by the story so that the young protege can save the day.  In the film, that happens TWICE.  Colin Firth is introduced as the super-spy agent Galahad, mentor to the young Eggsy (Taron Egerton).  But then he falls into a coma, and Eggsy is left on his own in a dangerous world.  But then Galahad gets better, and so he and Eggsy can partner up again.  But then Galahad is again knocked out of play so that Eggsy can be the lone hero for the climax.  Why give us this same plot twist twice?? Consider also the film’s introduction.  In the comic book, the series opens with a James Bond-type agent attempting to rescue celebrity … [continued]

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“World’s Greatest” — Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch’s Fantastic Four

After re-reading Jonathan Hickman’s run on The Fantastic Four, I decided to continue — moving back a step, actually — to re-read Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s 12-issue run on FF that immediately preceded Mr. Hickman’s taking over the series.  I didn’t follow Mr. Hickman’s run when it was originally published monthly, but I did buy all 12 issues of Millar/Hitch’s run when it came out.  I went into their run with high hopes — the two men had each worked on some of my favorite super-hero comics of the prior few years, and they had collaborated on the incredible first two series of “The Ultimates,” the Ultimate Universe re-boot of The Avengers that wound up proving so influential to the Marvel movie universe.  (It was in Millar/Hitch’s Ultimates that they began to use Samuel L. Jackson as the visual model for Nick Fury, which eventually became incredible reality when the real Samuel L. Jackson took on that role at the end of 2008’s Iron Man.)  But my recollection is that, in the end, I had wound up being very disappointed with Millar/Hitch’s run on FF.  I was eager to re-read their story to see what I thought of it, with a little distance.

Their twelve-issue run was divided into four four-issue story-lines:

World’s Greatest — FF #554-557 — This was a very strong beginning to Millar/Hitch’s run.  Their first issue, FF #554, was a bold statement of tone for their run.  Mr. Hitch’s jaw-dropping, incredible artwork took center stage, and Mr. Millar gave Mr. Hitch some incredible sequences to illustrate.  Mr. Hitch gave each of the FF characters his own individual stamp, making slight tweaks to everyone’s look.  I really liked his versions of the FF uniforms, adding some little touches here and there (some ribbing and seams on the costumes; finger-less gloves worn by Reed and Sue) to make their costumes look just a little more realistic and a little less like spandex leotards.  Mr. Millar also gave each of the FF characters a slight tweak of characterization.  His versions of the classic FF four-some are faithful to their history, but Mr. Millar is able to spin everything just a little bit in order to give the characters a unique feel under his authorship.  I was most taken by his version of Reed Richards.  Reed is sometimes depicted a a nerdy, awkward almost-recluse.  But Mr. Millar writes Reed as, basically, one of the coolest men in the Marvel Universe.  He’s got an incredible intellect, amazing tech, a gorgeous wife, and a self-confidence that makes him a leader of men without tipping over into being an arrogant jerk.  This is a great version of Reed.

In this first … [continued]

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I hope you enjoyed my Top 15 Movies of 2012 list!  You can click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three.

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 SoldierEd 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. BatwomanJ.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]

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The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011 — Part One!

My Best of 2011 lists roll on!  Here are the links to my Top 15 Movies of 2011part one, part two, and part three.  Now on to my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011!

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 … [continued]

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The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2010 — Part One!

I hope you all enjoyed my Top 10 Movies of 2010 list (click here for part one, and here for part two) and my Top 10 DVDs of 2010 list (click here for part one, and here for part two)!  Now on to my list of my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2010!

Honorable Mentions: Hoo boy, did I read a lot of really fantastic comic books this past year.  In addition to the titles listed in my Top 15 list (I couldn’t even keep this list contained to a Top 10), I also really enjoyed: The Marvels Project, X-Factor, X-Factor Forever, New Avengers, Avengers Prime, Batman: Streets of Gotham, Batman and Robin, The Stand, Astro City, RASL, Ultimate Thor, Ultimate Mystery, Ultimate Doom, and the final issues of Ex Machina.  I’m also pleased beyond words that John Byrne’s Next Men has finally returned to life (even though I don’t think the first two issues of the relaunch have come anywhere close to the greatness of the original Next Men series).

15. Superman/Batman Annual #4OK, this isn’t a series, but an incredible single issue.  The Batman Beyond mini-series that DC published this year was great, but this one-shot annual was absolutely phenomenal.  Set some-time after the conclusion of the Bruce Timm-masterminded TV series Batman Beyond, this issue picks up story-threads left dangling by the show’s Justice League two-parter “The Call.”  An older Superman comes out of the fog of years of mind-control to attempt to pick up the ruins of his shattered life, and Batman (Terry McGinnis) must confront the man who took over Metropolis in Superman’s absence: Lex Luthor.  A great story by Paul Levitz with gorgeous art by Renato Guedes and Jose Wilson, this was a real winner.

14. Nemesis This profane and extraordinarily violent four-issue series from Mark Millar and Steve McNiven was gloriously outrageous fun.  The premise is simple: what if Batman, instead of being a hero, had used his incredible mind and enormous fortune to become the world’s most dangerous super-villain?  Fourteen-year-old me would have thought this was the greatest comic book ever created, and the older, balder version of me also thought it was a heck of a lot of fun.  (It would have been higher on this list if not for the last few pages of the final issue which, to me, didn’t make any sense.)  They’re not on this list, but I also enjoyed Mark Millar’s series Superior and Kick-Ass 2 (of which one issue has been published so far).

13. Star Trek: Leonard McCoy: Frontier Doctor John Byrne was the first comic book artist/writer who I ever … [continued]

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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]

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Well, I hope you enjoyed my lists of the Top 10 TV Shows and the Top 10 Movies 0f 2008.

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]