Can you believe we’ve reached the end of the decade? The first decade of a new millenium, no less! It was a momentous time in our history, featuring grand and often controversial changes to our status quo.
And I’m just talking about the comic books.
In the spirit of all the “Best of decade” lists that have been appearing on the web and multiplying like jackrabbits, we thought we’d do a list of our own. Only we thought we might do something a little different, especially in light of the controversy surrounding some “best of” lists. We’re picking our FAVORITE comics of the decade. We know we haven’t read EVERY comic of the ’00s, and we also know our tastes aren’t going to line up with everyone else’s. However, we also know that we enjoyed a LOT of comics this decade and, as it draws to a close, we thought it would be great to look back at the ones we really liked.
We’ve composed a list of 15 or so comics and have split it evenly amongst the original Warriors Three/blog team (davidry, spiffyithaca and myself). Which comics did we pick? Only one way to find out, readers!
Blankets: Craig Thompson
Although we love superheroes like we love our mothers* (and fathers, since we’re equal opportunity like that), great stories can be found in all genres. Take Craig Thompson’s autobiographical graphic novel Blankets, which guides us through Thompson’s childhood– with special emphasis on his first romance. Thompson is surprisingly forthcoming about his upbringing, from his zealously religious parents and his abusive babysitter to his own struggles and questions about his faith. However, it’s all done in such a gentle manner, helped no doubt by Thompson’s soft lines (he draws AND writes) and his decision to make his relationship with Raina the center of the story. Without becoming overly sappy and sentimental, Thompson is able to convey the– dare I say it– MAGIC of love. Thompson’s art work is gorgeously minimalistic, allowing for moments where he can transition between scenes and objects by literally morphing them into something else. If I had to pick the best comic of the decade, Blankets might be it. (Goki)
*especially Spiff’s mother
Daredevil: Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev
Matt Murdock is no stranger to having his life turned upside down. So what makes Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev’s run stand out from the rest? I think the real question is: what doesn’t? From the getgo, Bendis and Maleev proved they were determined to shake up Matt’s world– as well as that of his archfoe, the Kingpin. They refused to let up, especially during their first half of their run, which began with a brutal assassination attempt on Wilson Fisk’s life and immediately followed up with the public revelation of Daredevil’s secret identity. The twists and turns only kept on coming, from Matt cutting off ties with a longtime friend and supporting cast member (to protect him; don’t worry, said cast member comes back in a big way) to finding a new love interest in Milla Donovan, who’s as sharp as Silver St. Cloud and sees the world much like Matt does (emphasis on “see”). All while the criminal underworld struggled to fill the void left by Fisk’s absence. Don’t count Fisk out, though– I won’t say whether he survived (although people currently reading Daredevil know the answer), but his enmity with Matt remained at the heart of the series, culminating in two of the biggest twists in Daredevil history. Without spoiling too much, let me just say that, as Omar Karindu pointed out, Bendis and Maleev were ultimately telling a story about the Kingpin; not just the man, but the position. Or, as Omar aptly called it, the “throne.”
What made Bendis and Maleev’s run work wasn’t just the story, but the execution. Bendis was at the top of his game, using his years of experience writing crime stories to craft a gritty, compelling narrative. His command of realistic dialogue was at its peak, neither overbearing (as in some of his early Powers work) or formulaic (see certain parts of his New Avengers run). On the art side, Alex Maleev was able to achieve a near perfect blend of photorealism and abstraction, faltering only during some of the action scenes (although this improved over time). I know some people say Brubaker and Lark’s run on the series was stronger; frankly, I disagree. Bendis and Maleev’s run was bolder, its character dynamics were stronger and in general was just more focused. It definitely had its stumbling blocks– the Black Widow story went on for too long, “Golden Age” ended somewhat anticlimatically and the identity of the “Decalogue” villain was kind of a letdown– but all in all, the good far outweighs the bad.
Also worth checking out is the Daredevil story Bendis did with David Mack, “Wake Up.” It’s just as good as Bendis’ work with Maleev, and Mack’s art is absolutely droolworthy. In fact, Bendis and Mack are co-writing the upcoming Daredevil: End of Days, so consider “Wake Up” as a taste of what’s to come. (Goki)
Deadpool/Agent X: Gail Simone, UDON artists
I had never read Deadpool before, and really, I still haven’t, because Gail Simone’s foray on the title was really for only one arc, and Agent X was something entirely different (or was it?). But there’s little wonder I loved it: sarcastic, one-liner spouting mercenaries are the tits. The Deadpool title was suffering, and so Simone was allowed to finish the title and then reboot it under the name Agent X. Instead of just a lame attempt to boost sales, it was a sensational maneuver that instead boosted creativity and hilarity. In a way, Simone can be thanked for the big presence Deadpool has in Marvel today. He was on his way out, but after Agent X finished, he resurfaced with the series Cable & Deadpool, and with Ryan Reynold’s breakout role in X-Men Origins: Wolverine as Deadpool, we’re sure to see a lot of the snarky gun for hire in the coming years (a movie’s in the works). And Simone made us realize that was a damn good thing.
Simone and the talented group of manga artists named after a rice noodle (UDON) achieved so much on their too short run together. Simone showed an uncanny knack for guest stars, from the Rhino, Dazzler and the Taskmaster (who is apparently the subject of many a UDON wet dream and became a regular during Simone’s run), an ability to seamlessly insert original characters into the mix as well (Outlaw) and UDON rendered them all beautifully, shattering my preconceptions about their style.
Sadly, with Agent X suffering in sales and overall support from Marvel, Simone clashed with her editorial staff, leading to her abrupt departure after issue #7. The series was ably filled in, and finished, by Evan Dorkin, Juan Bobillo and Marcelo Sosa until its last issue, #12. But, even so, it just wasn’t the same. Marvel had robbed more greatness from a breakout writer, who would blossom for their rival, DC (see: Birds of Prey and Secret Six). But Marvel couldn’t rob her of this simple fact: Simone, along with the talented artists at UDON, had produced the funniest comic book I had ever read (and JLI is the only thing that’s ever come close). (Spiffy)
Eagle: The Making of an Asian-American President
I’m going to dedicate a full post to this later, so I’ll be brief: Eagle is the story of Barack Obama if he were Asian American and running in the 2000 and 2009 elections scrunched together. Okay fine, that’s only slightly accurate, so here’s something 100 percent on the money: Eagle is an extremely compelling, meticulously researched political drama, with multilayered characters abound. The most fascinating of course, being our Asian-American presidential candidate, Kenneth Yamaoka. I haven’t read through the entire series yet, but what I’ve read has been absolutely spectacular. (Goki)
Green Arrow: Kevin Smith and Phil Hester
After the X-Men movie hit theatres in 2000, I found myself shortly thereafter in a comic book store, thumbing through the racks. While I predictably chose X-Men first, it wasn’t until Kevin Smith and Phil Hester’s magical resurrection of Oliver Queen that I considered myself a comic book fan and reader. Their run cemented my obsession in stone.
I had never read DC comics before this book, and Smith was able to delve deep into its long and storied history without ever losing me for a moment, providing a manual on how to resurrect a character beautifully and completely. And in so doing, Smith allowed me to discover my favorite (and the most underrated) family in comics: the Queen’s, with Dinah, Connor, Mia and Roy along with Oliver. Phil Hester’s simple but manic style meshed perfectly with Smith’s funny yet emotion-packed adventure. This was heavy stuff, and while I’d consider Hester’s style light and frothy, it still worked beautifully here.
Before Smith’s comic book work was defined by lateness and big breasted women, “Quiver” was high art. It made Ollie my favorite character in all of comics (right up there with Doom), and gave me a reason to know how to spell onomatopoeia. (Spiffy)
Gotham Central: Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, Michael Lark, et. al
How do you come up with one of the freshest Batman comics in years? By not making it a Batman comic, of course. Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker took their love of cop dramas (such as the excellent Homicide: Life on the Street) and combined them to give us a look at the members of the Gotham City Major Crime Unit, regular cops who have to deal with the likes of Mr. Freeze and the Joker on a normal basis. Not so easy when you don’t have ninja training or Bat-gadgets at your disposal. Gotham Central brought an even greater sense of realism to the Bat-universe, aided by Lark’s grounded, noirish style and the writers’ accurate depiction of police life. The series had a large, ensemble cast, but the characters, from Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen to Marcus Driver and Maggie Sawyer, were compelling and distinct. Who’dve thought the girl who turns on the Bat-signal would be so interesting? Couple that with its strong, provocative stories (Renee’s outing as a lesbian, Joker’s sniper spree, Harvey Bullock’s return) and you’ve got yourself a quality comic series.
Gotham Central was never a huge seller, which is a shame. Sure, it could have used a roll call once in a while (so many characters!), but it was without a doubt one of the best Bat-titles of the decade. Maybe even one of the best Bat-titles… ever? (Goki)
New X-Men: Grant Morrison
What do you do after spending years emulating a franchise’s most enduring author? As they say in Monty Python, “Something completely different.” When Grant Morrison was brought in to revamp the X-Men, the franchise was in a dire state. After years of forcing X-Men writers to write in Chris Claremont’s style, the X-Offices decided to bring back Claremont himself, in hopes of giving the franchise a shot in the arm. However, Claremont’s return was met with mixed reactions. On top of that, the X-Men titles completely failed to capitalize on the success of the 2000 X-Men film; it probably didn’t help that the movie and the comic seemed almost as different as night and day.
Enter Grant Morrison. Unlike the writers that came before him, Morrison was given almost complete freedom when he was given the X-Men series in 2001. And boy, did he take advantage of it. Change came fast and furious, as the colorful costumes disappeared, Genosha faced its worst disaster in history and Magneto… well, you’ll find out. 😉 It was out with the old and in with the new, as Grant Morrison introduced numerous new characters and concepts, such as Cassandra Nova, Xorn, the U-Men, Weapon Plus, Sublime, a new Angel and Beak (one of my favorites). He also brought in Emma Frost, who quickly became one of the most entertaining and fascinating members of the cast. Most importantly, however, Morrison peeled away all the detritus and returned the X-Men to its core metaphor: that of the oppressed minority. Under his pen, mutantkind became more like a real world minority than ever before, with its own culture and style. Not to mention figureheads like Magneto, of course; for just as Bendis and Maleev’s Daredevil was their ultimate Kingpin story, Grant Morrison’s New X-Men was his ultimate Magneto story. Which is surprising, considering… woops! Almost let the cat out of the bag again. 😉 (Goki)
Runaways: Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona
The premise sounds cheesy: a bunch of teenagers find out their parents are supervillains and try to take them down. But it’s so much more than that (they all have different gifts/powers and a pet velociraptor!). Borne out of an attempt to connect to younger readers, Vaughan didn’t pander. He transcended the barrier and made a book for all ages that dealt with some serious subject matter. Vaughan, perhaps the most talented young writer in comics and making a name for himself elsewhere (see below), had an ear for dialogue and penned some of the most relatable and realistic youngsters in comics in these pages. There was young teen love, betrayal and death all wrapped together in a delightful package by the talented Adrian Alphona. And as customary in Vaughan’s work (there’s a reason he writes for LOST, people), there are cliffhangers and surprises galore. This is perhaps the most criminally under-read book of the 00s, and one of my absolute favorites (though I suppose it being listed gives that away). (Spiffy)
Superman: Secret Identity: Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen
The 2000s gave Superman many great stories (All-Star Superman, Red Son, Action Comics #775, Jeph Loeb’s Superman run and “Up, Up and Away!” to name a few), but the best one doesn’t actually star Superman at all. Well, at least not the Superman we’re used to. I’m not talking about Steve Seagle’s excellent It’s a Bird… but Kurt Busiek’s and Stuart Immonen’s Superman: Secret Identity. Set in the real world, it stars Clark Kent, a young man named after the famous fictional character by parents with a sense of humor. Thing is, Clark’s not too fond of the joke; he’s not into Superman comics and wishes people would just treat him as a normal person instead of someone named you-know-who.
So naturally, he ends up with Superman’s powers. He even starts saving lives while wearing a Superman costume. Don’t expect the average Superman origin story, however; Busiek and Immonen’s story is firmly set in the real world, without a supervillain in sight. Secret Identity is squarely concerned with the human side of the Superman concept. We watch as Clark finds love (you’ll NEVER guess who he falls for ;)), has children and grows older. All while he continues to use his powers for good and struggle over whether or not to reveal his abilities to the world. Secret Identity is probably one of the most human, mature and heartwarming Superman stories I’ve read. It also looks as beautiful as it reads, as the versatile Stuart Immonen trades in his “cartoony” style for a softer, more detailed and realistic approach. Whether you’re a Superman fan or not, I highly recommend Superman: Secret Identity. (Goki)
Ultimates: Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch
After Green Arrow, it was Marvel’s Ultimate line that really made me fall in love with comics (does that make me a blasphemer?). While Ultimate X-Men and even Ultimate Spider-Man to a certain extent dragged on (and continue to do so, as far as I know), the size and scope of Ultimates was perfect (I’m going to graciously ignore the vomit that is Ultimates 3). Millar and Hitch remade the Avengers in a way that was more different than their original counterparts than both Spider-Man and X-Men and all the more interesting for it. This shit was fucked up. Not only did we have the Samuel L. Jackson Nicholas Fury (who has now become the film version of the character), we have Steve Rogers fucking the Wasp, people.
Millar was unflinching in his attempt to bring the Avengers into the modern zeitgeist, and the result is really one epic movie. This is honestly what Marvel should be doing with their Avengers franchise. It’s that good. And they already have the blueprints visually with Hitch at the helm. While he takes a long time to do it, his pencils are some of the most detailed and intricate in comics, and his work pays off hugely here. Beautiful stuff. In fact, Ultimates might be some of the most beautiful all around packages I’ve ever seen. (Spiffy)
Y: The Last Man: Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra and J.G. Jones
Winner of three Eisner awards for good reason, Vaughan and Guerra’s masterpiece is probably my favorite comic book ever, if not the best I’ve ever read with equal parts funny, brilliance, unpredictability and heartbreak. Also, special props to the ultra creative J.G. Jones, one of the best cover artists in the business.
I don’t think I can say it any better than I have before. In fact, the series is so good that both David and I have gushed about it in separate lengthy posts. Check them out:
THOSE THAT COULD/SHOULD HAVE MADE THE CUT: Meltzer’s Green Arrow, Bendis and Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man, Millar/Hitch’s Fantastic Four