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Josh’s Favorite Comic Book Series of 2018 — Part Three!

Please click here for part one of my list of my Favorite Comic Book Series of 2018, and click here for part two.

5. Saga (by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples) — This wild and crazy, funny and deeply moving sci-fi fantasy adventure continues to surprise and delight me at every turn and just seems to get better and more emotionally rich with each passing year.  Mr. Vaughan is a Joss Whedon-level master at creating characters that we fall in love with, and then putting them (and therefore the audience!) through torturous hell.  There’s no other comic book out there that is anything like Saga, with its roller-coaster-ride style of storytelling, merging an overwhelming amount of stunningly original ideas and concepts with deeply affecting character arcs.  Saga is funny and weird and terrifying and heartbreaking.  Fiona Staple’s gorgeous artwork never disappoints, and is evidence, panel-after-panel and page-after-page, that she is one of the very best illustrators working in this business.  This Saga only gets richer and more emotionally wrenching with every issue.  I adore it.  (And the back-of-the-book letters page is the best in comics today.)  (The best place to begin is with Saga Book One, available on Amazon.)

4. Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses (by David Lapham) — I have been a fan of Stray Bullets since I first picked up issue #1 of the original run back in 1995.  The series went away for almost a decade in the aughts, but miraculously returned in 2014 for a new run that has been just as compelling and heartbreaking as those original stories.  This series is the greatest comic book noir I have ever encountered, filled with hard-luck cases for whom life usually goes from bad to worse.  This latest run is theoretically a mini-series, subtitled Sunshine and Roses, but it’s been going on for over forty issues and doesn’t seem to show any sign of stopping.  Which is fine by me!  This latest story has looped back in time to depict the adventures of Orson, Beth, and Nina, on the run after stealing money and coke from a group of criminals.  We already know their fates from the early issues of Stray Bullets’ original run, and I wouldn’t have thought there was any more story to tell.  Boy was I wrong!  This is one of the most brilliant, idiosyncratic books out there.  I am so glad it has returned from the dead.  I will have a much longer post about Stray Bullets to share soon!  (Click here for a much longer post in which I sing the praises of Stray Bullets!)  (Dive into the sage with the first, and still probably the best, … [continued]

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The Top Fifteen Comic Book Series of 2015 — Part Two

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]

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

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]

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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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Tale From the Longbox: Comics I’ve Been Reading!

Here are some of the comics I’ve been reading lately:

Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis — It took such a long time for Warren Ellis and Kaare Andrew’s five-issue mini-series to come out, I decided to wait for all five issues to be published before reading it all in one go.  I’m not quite sure why this was a miniseries, as opposed to just being published as part of the regular Astonishing X-Men series, but whatever.  A decently entertaining story really rose in my interest mid-way through with a surprising twist that connected the narrative to a long-forgotten Captain Britain story-line: the Jaspers Warp.  I adore those old Captain Britain stories, and getting to see Warpies and the Fury again really tickled my fancy.  I do wish this story had lasted a few more issues — after a slow-burn build-up, everything got wrapped up surprisingly quickly.

Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #1 — The first Witchfinder mini-series, about paranormal investigator Sir Edward Grey’s adventures in London in 1879, was phenomenal, so I was very excited to read the first issue of the follow-up.  The switch in art-styles and setting (this adventure is set in the Old West!) threw me for a bit of a loop, but by the end of the issue I was hooked on this new tale.  John Serverin is a comic-book master illustrator, and seeing him work in Mike Mignola’s world is a thrill.

Powers #7 — After a weird detour during the first few issues of this third volume (that Rat Pack stuff just did NOT do it for me), with this issue I felt we were finally back with the Powers series that I knew and loved.  I’m not sure where all of this Golden Ones stuff is going, but Christian Walker is back investigating the grisly death of a super-hero, and I couldn’t be happier.  Plus, this issue sported a gorgeous cover by Michael Avon Oeming. I wish this book came out more frequently, but I’ll happily take what I can get.  (And if the Powers TV series actually gets made, I will be super-excited!!)

Secret Warriors #25 — Puzzle pieces are falling into place fast and furiously as Jonathan Hickman’s series rushes to its conclusion.  This issue was fun on every page as we learned a lot of key pieces of information about the linked histories of S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra, and Leviathan, and the story finally connected with Mr. Hickman’s superlative millennia-spanning S.H.I.E.L.D. series.  I have no idea where any of this is going, but I’m enjoying the hell out of the ride and I’ll be sorry to see it end.

John  Byrne’s Next Men #4 — I found the first three issues of this … [continued]

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More Great Stories From the Marvel Archives!

Last month I wrote about some of the great Marvel Premiere hardcovers I’d been reading, collecting some classic Marvel comics from days gone bye.  I had so much fun reading those that I decided to dive into several other Marvel trade paperbacks that had been sitting on my “to-read” bookshelf.  These aren’t quite as snazzy as the premiere hardcovers, but they’re some slick new collections of some great old comics.  Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Excalibur Visionaries: Warren Ellis — This three-volume series collects some of Warren Ellis’ earliest work for Marvel comics, helming the continuing adventures of the British X-Men spin-off, Excalibur.  Chris Claremont & Alan Davis’ original run on Excalibur was one of the very first comic book series that I ever fell in love with.  It was also the series that taught me how sometimes the magic of a comic book is due to it’s creative team, as once Claremont & Davis left the book, the subsequent writers/artists could never capture the spark of their run.  Those were some bad comics.  Just when I’d about given up on the series, Alan Davis returned (this time as artist and writer) for a lengthy run that tied up many of the loose ends left hanging by his original issues with Mr. Claremont.  Those were some GREAT comics!  But once Mr. Davis left the book, Excalibur again plunged right into the crapper.  It only took a few issues for the follow-up writers/artists to destroy the book (killing Cerise, replacing Captain Britain with the moronic “Brittanic”) and I dropped the title.  But I would always keep my eye in the book, and I did occasionally pick up some future issues.  Several of them were written by Warren Ellis, and while I didn’t like the direction in which Excalibur had been taken, those Ellis issues weren’t bad.

Cut to present day.  I’m a HUGE fan of Mr. Ellis’ work.  He initially caught my attention as the writer for Wildstorm’s Stormwatch, The Authority, and the incredibly amazing series Planetary (read my review of the series here), and he’s also written some really top-notch Marvel comics, particularly in the Ultimate universe.  (His Ultimate Galactus story ranks among my favorite super-hero comics of the last decade.)  So when I saw that Marvel was collecting his early run on Excalibur from 1994-96, I was intrigued.  What would I think of those issues, looking back on them today?

All in all, not bad!  This is definitely not the Excalibur team that I fell in love with, and these stories don’t hold a candle to Chris Claremont & Alan Davis’ work.  Still, it’s interesting to see these sort-of proto-Warren Ellis stories.  … [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]