Comic Fodder

Tpull’s Top Ten Favorite Series of 2008

Ok, everyone knows at this point that I collect mostly DC and Marvel, so we’re covering the mainstream. Although there are a few independents I really like, it wouldn’t fill up a top ten list. I did have a couple of tough decisions, but let me know if you agree, or if I have horribly slighted a particular title. Here they are in alphabetical order:

1. Action Comics

Okay, let’s be honest: who in the world would have thought Action Comics would be in a top ten list? If you had told me this two or three years ago, I probably would have nodded politely while laughing on the inside. But Geoff Johns and Kurt Busiek set the stage for some good Superman stories, and the action in Action has been pretty good. Gary Frank has been trying very hard to draw a consistent Superman, and it is paying off. If there was ever a time in the last twenty years to be reading a Superman title, it is now!

2. Astonishing X-Men

This almost didn’t make the list due to its tardiness, but Joss Whedon’s stories were great, and John Cassady is definitely in my list of top ten artists. From his out-of-nowhere resurrection of Colossus (maybe we should call it a “rescurrection," since it rescued a favorite character from the grave), to a giant bullet being fired at Earth, to Kitty’s sacrifice, the pages were a cinematic joy to behold. Granted, there were some inconsistencies, and the newly-self-aware Danger Room could be considered a bit off-beat, but the real key was the characterization.

Whedon took the characters we know and love and gave them their voices back. Cyclops was the born leader again. Wolverine was the gruff teddy bear when he could relax, and a dangerous killer when the heat was on. Kitty and Colossus finally took their relationship to the next level. Kitty was an actual character again, rather than a place-holder! Her antagonism towards the White Queen was hilarious and true to form. Even despite Brubaker’s recent admirable attempts, nobody since Claremont himself has been able to bring these characters to life and have them portrayed as fans knew they should.

3. Captain America

I was against Bucky’s resurrection at the start. I saw a few holes in the story, but let’s face it: if you haven’t seen the body, it is possible. The longer Brubaker went on with his plot, the more I was drawn into it. By the time he was done, he had made a believer out of me. Last year he killed Steve Rogers, this year he had someone take up the mantle. Much like Batman only had one or two choices to truly fill his shoes, the list of people who could don the red white and blue is a very short one. Bucky was the first, and his return meant he was the best.

This year has continued to present some of Steve Epting’s best work, and it is no coincidence that some of my favorite artists are part of this year’s top ten list of comic series. Luke Ross has also been great. This year has put Bucky firmly into service as the new Cap, and the narrative will continue into 2009, flowing smoothly, which is the mark of a good read.

4. Fantastic Four

Here’s one that almost didn’t make the list. At first it was because of the disgusting stories put out by McDuffie, but then a creative team change came in, giving us Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch. Hitch has been in the top artist ranks for years, and letting him loose on Marvel’s greatest super family was worthwhile for both the characters and the artist. For a team that should be larger than life, Hitch’s cinematic habit has given us great spectacles with every issue.

Millar’s plots have not been the greatest in the world, and a couple places you could drive a tank through the holes, but despite that, they were still fun reads, every one of them. The good-natured rebel in Johnny came out to play, the gruff humor of Ben Grimm rang true, and some of the concepts, even if not perfectly executed, were still intriguing, and Hitch’s finishing touches on the pictures made us shrug and go with it. This is one time where you might actually be able to say it’s been a fantastic ride.


5. Green Lantern

You may start to notice a pattern for the DC titles that made the top ten list. They all just happen to have been written by Geoff Johns. I’m not certain, but I suspect Green Lantern is one of Johns’ most cherished characters. No one has done more to turn around a character and successfully restore him to his roots in a way that pleased all of fanhood (if it wasn’t a word before, it is now!). First Johns explained how Jordan went crazy in the first place; then he injected Hal back into the superhero community in a smooth and seemingly-effortless manner. This year, we got some magic.

Not only did we get an emergent Corps, with focus on a huge cast of alien Lanterns; we also got Ivan Reis at his loving best on art duties, with superb inking and coloring. as with most tiles, the lettering is good enough to be almost un-noticeable, adding to the story without attracting attention to the lettering itself too much. Geoff Johns focused the rest of the year on a visit to Hal Jordan's past, cementing the seeds for his upcoming multicolor Lantern epic, Blackest Night. Johns did some nice retroactive continuity, splicing a foundation into Jordan's origin without contradicting anything essential to the character, something Johns is becoming famous for at DC. And to think, this is all just a prelude to Blackest Night!


6. Guardians of the Galaxy

There have only been seven issues of this title, but it makes the top ten list? You bet it does! Things initially started off in 2006 with Annihilation, a cosmic odyssey comprised of a handful of mini-series. It was so successful, they were able to follow it up with Annihilation: Conquest, re-launching Nova, and bringing back a cool team name: Guardians of the Galaxy.

With video-game-like covers by Clint Langley that blend the best elements of science fiction and fantasy, it’s a guaranteed eye-catcher on the racks. Inside, Paul Pelletier, with accompanying inks by Rick Magyar, are arguably doing some of the best work in their careers. The dynamic team of DnA, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, make for awesome stories. The team itself contains elements of whimsy and humor, as half the cast is green, you’ve got a walking plant, a talking raccoon, and tons of tension between the team members. At the same time, the stakes are huge, involving threats to the universe.

DnA have managed to not just go with the flow, but they have charted a steady course that sets the stage for the team’s birth, brings in elements of the future Guardians like Starhawk and Vance Astro, plus they managed to participate in Secret Invasion in a way that added a significant dimension to the overall meta-event, without skipping a beat in the rest of the plot-lines they had developed. This is quite possibly one of the best books you‘re not reading.

7. JSA

Where to start with this series? It is an absolute joy to consider the Justice Society of America as one of the top ten books of the year. I have always had a soft spot for many of these characters that originated in the Golden Age, and it is nice to see somebody doing them justice (pardon the pun). Much like the fictional team itself, the creative team is composed of many generation sof comic talent. The veteran Alex Ross paints commanding covers every month, while fantastic talents like Fernando Pasarin and Dale Eaglesham grace the inside pages. The biggest veteran on the team is Jerry Ordway, who is in top form when he gets to do the alternate version of the team, the JSI.

There is a ton of stuff in just this one year, and just like the creative team, they blend the best aspects of today and yesterday. Take issue #13, for example. The head-shots of the characters around the cover border is something that they used to do many times in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but you don’t see much of now. Except for JSA, of course! The team is now comprised of some original members, and succeeding generations of super-heroes, all of whom have linkages to those that came before them in the JSA.

The writing is precious. The rest of the DCU has been wrapped up in confusion between editorial blunders like Countdown and Morrison’s tortuous run on Batman and Final Crisis. The JSA feels like it is inside its own pocket universe, blissfully undisturbed by all of the other DC nonsense. Geoff Johns has used this year to introduce many elements that bring the DC heroes ever closer to that possible future from Mark Waid’s and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come series. The events have unfolded in a planned way that Johns makes feel organic to the reader, as if it were only natural for things to happen just so.

As an added bonus, Johns has involved members of the Legion of Super Heroes. As a nice complement, the JSA title has now become the biggest team book out there, matching the Legion for its large cast of characters, and its admirable attempts to give enough screen time to all of the disparate heroes. In a time when the current Legion book is failing badly, this JSA possesses some of that old Legion magic. I’m pretty sure this book will be in my top ten at the end of next year, as well.

8. Nova

This was the first book, but if you combine this with reading the Guardians of the Galaxy, you’re in for a treat, trust me. The same writers, DnA, playing on the cosmic scale with one guy: Richie Rider. They have taken this man and shown us one of the best cases of character development in the history of Marvel Comics. And the coolest thing about it is, you can bet Mephisto will never ret-con Nova so that everybody forgets about him. Rider has changed from a somewhat clueless youthful man, trying to find direction, into a man with a mission. In the course of the past year, Nova has shouldered the burden of the entire Nova Force without going insane; he has also managed to handle little things like his home planet being invaded and a certain giant dressed in purple called Galactus.

Wellington Alves is drawing some crisp, clean characters, aided mostly by uber-inker Scott Hanna. The cover art is superb every month, whether it’s by Alex Maleev, Paul Davidson, or Francesco Mattina. This is a publication masterpiece every month, and the new year will be hot, with the re-establishment of the Nova Corps.

9. Thunderbolts

It’s too soon to tell if the new year will be as kind to the Thunderbolts; can lightning strike yet again with this title? Regardless, 2008 was kind to them, gifting the team with writing by Warren Ellis. The original team almost fully gone, the Thunderbolts have transformed from villains masquerading as heroes, to ex-cons trying to do the right thing, to Ellis’ version, with a couple of good eggs mashed in with a group of unsavory villains who get government sanction to hunt down superhumans.

It just so happens that some of the villains are Venom and Bulls-eye, whom comic fans just love to see in action. Mike Deodato, Jr. was the best choice of artist for this team, playing with his unique style of light and darkness. The villains were so bad, it’s a good thing a lot of the comic was engulfed in shadows. Marko Djurdjevic did some great cover art while Ellis took us on a trip through the tortuous machinations of a host of despicable bad guys and their endless attempts to come out on top. Christos Gage helped put a nice end-cap on the year by tying the title into the Secret Invasion event about as good as anyone else could. The title was as fun to read this year as it was when Kurt Busiek first started it.

10. Uncanny X-Men

Oh, happy times were here again! It had been so long since an X-book was one of my favorites, but I never stopped collecting, hoping against hope that a “main” title could reach those peaks one more time. The Astonishing title was a special exception, carving out a place of its own, separate from the congealed mess that had become the X-universe. In Ed Brubaker’s hands, we got to see teamwork again. We got to see fighting for a reason again, not just random villains thrown in for the sake of having some action in an issue. We got to see some favorite characters relating to each other in meaningful ways that the long-time fans could see as being both true to character, but not redundant.

Oh, and Marvel gave this flagship title some attention in the art department. Choi. Finch. Tan Frank D’Armata on colors. Danny Miki on inks. It is rare, in this day of rotating creative teams for a run to last more than six-twelve months, so this may be a flash in the pan, but I seriously enjoyed reading Uncanny again more than I have in many, many years.

Honorable Mention

Here are some that didn’t quite make it, for one reason or another. X-Men: Legacy, with a masterful grip of continuity being made relevant today (plus great art). Daredevil, with continued excellence by Brubaker. Thor, who is not back for a full year’s worth of comics yet, but is a worthy epic every month. Wolverine: First Class, which was much better than I thought it would have a chance to be, with decent/good art, and surprisingly readable stories. Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., which ramped into high gear the last few issues in its transition to give us a new War Machine series.

Is there a special reason why all of these mentions are Marvel titles? Maybe because DC is not yet firing on all gears with the necessary talent, or perhaps their editorial guffaws have seriously damaged a lot of the potential runner-ups for 2008. The reasons why this handful of Marvel titles did not quite make it into the top ten this year are too many and too different to cover here, and it’s all base don my personal taste anyway. Suffice it to say, it was a good year for comics, and despite my ranting against some of the (censored) that both publishers put out every month, if they continue to produce works like these, they will continue to have a reader for life.

If I can get to it, next up is my top ten list for mini-series, just so I don’t get any complaints here about the absence of Trinity…
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Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.

McDuffie's FF stories were disgusting? I thought they were awesome!!! His work with Pelletier was one of my runs series of 2007.

-- Posted by: Nick Marino at December 31, 2008 10:41 AM

Whooops, I meant "favorite runs" not "runs series" - HA!

-- Posted by: Nick Again at December 31, 2008 10:42 AM

Hey Nick, I should amend that statement and give some props to Pelletier. Not everything by McDuffie was bad, but I did have more problems than the average bear with his plots. See http://snipurl.com/hownot, for example, on one of my case studies on the subject.

Have a Happy New Year!

-TP

-- Posted by: tpull at December 31, 2008 4:29 PM

I enjoy your reviews, and I like the fact that you choose well between the Big 2. I enjoy independents as much as anyone, but there is always that draw to the heroes of our lives.....

-- Posted by: TonyJazz at December 31, 2008 9:19 PM