Comic Fodder

Tpull’s Top Ten Favorite Series of 2009

I know Ryan mentioned he wanted my take on the past decade, but that would be too redundant; he already did an excellent job, and I agreed with so much of it, there’s not much I could add. Instead, I will continue with my ancient, hallowed tradition (meaning I did it for the first time last year), and share my top ten titles for this year. Since it is too hard and subjective to list an absolute favorite, I just put them in alphabetical order again:

1. Booster Gold
Right away you can tell that not all my favorites are necessarily at the top of the sales charts. Still, the art team of Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund has been consistent, punctual, and always pleasant. The series was started by Geoff Johns as an outgrowth of the consequences of the weekly 52 series, and often a change in the creative team after the initial inspiration can spell gradual decay for a title. Instead, Jurgens has crafted some fun stories with a compelling overall narrative.

Extra kudos for including the new Blue Beetle in the second feature, and special merit for the last couple of issues, where they ditched the second feature format entirely and gave us 30-page issues with Blue Beetle as a co-star. It is eerily reminiscent of the classic Green Lantern and Green Arrow run. Plus, they managed to give us more Ted Kord! But wait, there’s more: the creative team flowed effortlessly into the Blackest Night crossover. This series has given us bombshells, character development, nostalgic references, and intrigue. More DC fans should be reading this title.

2. Green Lantern
Was there ever any doubt? For the second year in a row, Geoff Johns has given us a fearless, confident space adventurer who serves faithfully, but does not blindly follow the Guardians. This entire year has thrown us deep into Blackest Night, and the build-up gave us multiple color corps, along with a massive cast. Unlike other series that have large amounts of hoopla in the background of no consequence, all of these characters have firm bios, and the writing is good enough that you care about almost all of them. In some cases, the story actually moves too fast, and sometimes you want to slow down and focus on some of the background characters more often.

The art team has been top-notch talent. Doug Mahnke can do pretty, he can do monstrous, he can follow whatever emotional content is associated with each color corps. The lettering and coloring jobs all synch up to perfection, in a title where color makes up a large part of the core of the concept. Philip Tan, Ivan Reis, and Ed Benes have all played in this sandbox this year, and every one has been excellent.

3. Green Lantern Corps
I have to admit, I did not expect great things from this title at first. I hoped for good stuff, because the lore and scope of the Corps is huge, and has a lot of potential, but it took a while to get off the ground. This year, they really found their footing. Patrick Gleason has improved on the art, and even though I wish he could do faces better and be more consistent, he shines with any alien scenery.

Peter J. Tomasi is not perfect, for he has too-human dialogue come from alien tongues far too often, but using the Blackest Night saga as his background, he has done a fantastic job of making this book an essential companion title to Johns’ regular GL title. It allows more room for the interstellar cast to move around and gain exposure. Many people from the various color corps have died already, and you know the story is working when you start talking out loud about how you wish that character had gotten more screen time. But then, with the resurrection theme for this meta-event, who knows who will be walking around again when all is said and done? Cross your fingers for Kryb!

4. Incredible Hercules
I did not bother with this title at first, because it was a big ol’ bait and switch, to my way of thinking. Still, each month I would see it on the stands, and the cover was always somewhat interesting. Before too long, I was scanning it and putting it back on the rack. Then it was going home with me. Then it was officially on my pull list. There’s no denying it: what started out as a guilty pleasure has become a favorite book.

They start with great covers. Sometimes they are reminiscent of ‘80s covers, other times they are whimsical. Lately, they are stunning designs by Adi Granov and others. They always merit a second glance. Next, the recap page: it’s fun! Rather than boring white letters on a black background to catch you up, they are funnier than most Sunday comic strips, but still relay all the relevant information in an entertaining manner, much like the late, lamented Agents of Atlas series. Speaking of which, the Agents are in a backup feature now for this series, and that has already proven to be a great addition.

Artists such as Reilly Brown and Rodney Buchemi have been able to craft wonderful art, at times imposing, other times hamming up the hilarity of the situation. This can be tricky, but they pull it off, managing to convey the importance of everything at stake, but also exaggerating the absurd moments for comedic punch. Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente make for a powerful writing duo, and who other than our boisterous Hercules can it be fitting for us to read tales of cosmic import, while laughing at his constant clumsy success, and his expected man-slut ways.

In short, we have a series that is funny, fun, all within continuity, and it still manages to make itself relevant to meta-events like Dark Reign. All that, and I didn’t even talk about Amadeus Cho, one of the best new characters in Marvel to date. There are precious few places to read comics these days and avoid the grim-and-gritty boilerplate. This is a great stop for entertainment without it being too silly.

5. Madame Xanadu
Am I “allowed” to go Vertigo for these picks? Try and stop me! DC has allowed the creative team to take a much-ignored character and do something magical (pardon the pun). Matt Wagner is writing some of the best stuff in his career, in my opinion, giving you a back-story to one of the most enigmatic creatures in the DC Universe, and without destroying that same mystique. We got some great art by Michael Kaluta this year, before it went back to the simple-yet-elegant styling of Amy Reeder Hadley.

Throw in other figures from the DCU such as the Phantom Stranger, and you have a wonderful tale of mystical fantasy, exciting adventures through ancient lands, and previously-hidden details of DC history that enrich your experience. If you’re a history buff of DC continuity, there are some nice Easter eggs in this series for you. For a change of pace, depart from the hyper-realistic stylings of the caped variety and delve into the intrigue that is Madame Xanadu (I think DC’s marketing department should give me a call at this point, don’t you?).

6. Mighty Avengers
That’s right, I said it. New Avengers and Dark Avengers can be in the top for sales, but Mighty is almost always in the Top 30, and that’s not too shabby. Originally an awkward concept by Bendis, this year it was taken over by Dan Slott, who mercifully got Hank Pym out of the hands of writers who did not understand him at all. Christos N. Gage has gotten a few script credits too. The art has been sporadic, with what seem like fill-ins by Stephen Segovia and Sean Chen, but the main course seems to be Khoi Pham, who people either love or hate. Although a case can be made for a different artist, Pham has grown over the last year on this title.

The writing is more what springs this book into the top ten, with an interesting collection of members. Scarlet Witch killed Ant-Man, and Ant-Man's daughter Stature is a member of the team? But it’s not Scarlet Witch at all, it is Loki, creating yet another Avengers team disguised as the Witch. Tell me this isn’t going to blow up in his face before it’s all over! Isn’t doing the same thing over and expecting a different result a sign of insanity? I think you can argue that Loki really is mad…

The broad brushstrokes outlining the series are great: the team can transport themselves almost anywhere instantly, as high-science by Hank Pym allows the group to overshadow any others, appearing in multiple places daily, defeating super-villains by morning and helping stop natural disasters before lunch. An ever-present thorn in Norman Osborn’s side, the series touches on Dark Reign without being overwhelmed by it. Slott works in humor throughout, and for the most part builds faithfully on existing continuity to add meaning to the characters’ interactions.

7. Nova
Another winner for the second year in a row! Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning are usually referred to as DnA everywhere these days, and they have used Nova as a springboard to paint a cosmic scale utilizing the entire Marvel Universe as a landscape. Alternating artists Andrea Divitio and Kevin Sharpe have been marvelous, and the coloring is consistently top of the line.

DnA have used the last year to successfully transition away from what could have been slow stagnation, giving Worldmind a new personality matrix, and letting Richard Rider take the lead in developing a smarter version of a Nova Corps. Is it a coincidence that the Green Lantern Corps is also in the top ten? Is there something about this concept that is simply a winner? (Ask Bendis, he has made Christian Walker into a Corps member of sorts over in Powers.)

Nova played a central role in the War of Kings event, met several new and interesting characters, and has helped develop Darkhawk from out of the limbo of the ‘90s. Now he’s meeting up with the Sphinx again, and has encountered his lost love, the departed Namora, in a time-travel adventure. With great art and constantly interesting stories that form a solid foundation to Marvel’s fabric, this series is rich (and I’m not just talking about the name of the star).

8. R.E.B.E.L.S.
No, I’m not crazy. This book deserves to be here. Tony Bedard is an underestimated writer who is not afraid to tackle remote regions of the DC Universe and make them interesting. It can be a challenge to make these topics noticed, since they often don’t touch on the big guns like Superman or Batman, but he is doing for DC what DnA are doing for Marvel: successfully exploring the largely-unused backdrop of the intergalactic regions of the universe to develop rich content. Starting out with Andy Clarke’s wonderful dotted-line artwork, Bedard brought the band back together, along with introducing a couple of interesting new characters. Inspirations alluding to the future Legion of Super-Heroes era, retro-actively originating in this title! Claude St. Aubin has also done a lot of the art this year, helped out by one of my favorite inker, Scott Hanna.

This series has it all: a large cast, each of whom receive good amounts of exposure: a fierce opponent in the newly-revealed conqueror Starro; a seamless segue into the Blackest Night meta-event; and one of the most deliciously brilliant and ruthless personalities in any comi today, Vril Dox, Brainiac 2. This year they have already exposed us to Supergirl, Adam Strange, Captain Comet, the Omega Men, and more. I can only hope DC continues to support this title, because I would love to see what happens next!

9. Thor
Moving up from Honorable Mention last year, this series is not without its controversy. Marvel editorial wanted to do another crossover event to close out Dark Reign, but it had to interrupt the plans of head writer J. Michael Strazynski to do it. The fans wanted Strazynski to have a free hand and continue on his path. He had successfully taken a classic hero that had been poorly handled for years, and pulled off a successful reboot to catapult Thor into the headlines in the comic world. Awesome art by Marko Djurdjevic and Olivier Coipel compelled your attention, and Strazynski’s masterful storytelling made you eager to see what would happen next.

Loki’s machinations have never been so delightful, nor so devilish, such as hiding out in Sif’s body while she almost perished; manipulating Balder into the throne and Thor into exile; and teaming up with Doctor Doom to move Asgard from America to Latveria. Loki has been a scene-stealer, a proven liar, but like a slippery lawyer, nobody can really catch him in it, and he always manages to slip out of the hangman’s noose and do it all over again. As mentioned above in Mighty Avengers, I think I have a good argument that not only Loki, but all of Asgard just might be a little insane…

As bitter a pill as it was to swallow that we lost Strazynski to editorial policies, (and after he was already a victim to whimsy that turned an awesome Spider-Man run into one of the worst mockeries of all time), the new creative team is doing well. Kieron Gillen is deftly maneuvering the title into position for the coming Siege storyline, accompanied by powerful graphics by Billy Tan. The only thing that could have made this book better is if it came out more often (and by that I mean timely! There’s a good reason the company changed their name from Timely to Marvel…).

10. the Unwritten
Once more, into Vertigo! Only the first eight issues out this year, but already it has proven to be a gripping read. Mike Carey has put a lot of thought into this subject, making for a unique subject that nobody else comes close to covering in comic book format. Peter Gross is adept at varying his artwork depending on the subject matter, with child-friendly renderings for the Harry Potter-type novel readings, to streamlined (but with good background detail) for the main course, to ‘40s style brushwork when focusing on stories from a hundred years earlier. His talent for altering the style to form a mood appropriate to the setting is unparalleled.

The story itself is multi-layered. The son of a successful author who has written children’s novels paying homage to the Harry Potter books, Tom Taylor is famous for the literary character, Tommy Taylor, and the world seems to blur the two from time to time. Not only does he have to put up with the crazed fanatics who read too much into the stories and dress up as characters from the books, mistaking Tom for Tommy, but some of the characters seem to be stepping out from the books into real life now!

Tommy has been instructed by his father (before said father’s mysterious disappearance) in literary geography: knowing where and when certain authors were when they wrote their famous books, and where scenes from the books took place. This trivia is actually going to be crucial to tom’s survival, as those details contain clues to reveal the magical conspiracy against him. Carey adds in the modern cultural zeitgeist, giving up to-the-second commentary via internet entries that show us the many viewpoints from the entire world, for anyone who cares to comment, much in the way our modern news and social networks allow, giving us several sides of the coin, and hiding a nugget or two of story developments.

Blended in with actual historic events, Carey and Gross are weaving a masterful worldwide conspiracy that reveals their own unification theory behind the literature of the world. Are the characters from the books real? Is Tom also Tommy? Is Tom’s father friend or foe, or can he be both at the same time? The only thing I don’t like is the constant advertorial blurbs that tarnish the cover of each new issue. Keep those ad blurbs on the advertising pages inside, please! Aside from that, I welcome each new issue, eager to see the conspiracy unfold, and learn anew what it all means.

Honorable Mention
Here are some that didn’t quite make it, for one reason or another. X-Men: Legacy, for the second year in a row, because the recent issues were good, but not great. Detective Comics, with J.H. Williams’ innovative art layout, captivating eyeballs with something visually different. The Brave and The Bold, with Strazynski crafting some good stuff already for DC. Daredevil almost makes it again, for an intriguing transition to Andy Diggle’s story of Matt taking over the Hand. Others from last year that have fallen quickly, like Guardians of the Galaxy due to a glacial slowdown in story and change in art for the worse; and JSA, for getting into the top ten for the first time last year, and the change in creative team resulting in blah. The Fantastic Four went off the deep end, but is making a wonderful comeback under the helm of Jonathan Hickman, and will bear watching for 2010.

For other special mentions, the marriage of Archie to Betty and/or Veronica made me pick up Archie for the first time in decades, and has been the easiest thing to spread to other people, kids and adults alike. For Independent titles: Gigantic and End League by Rick Remender are fun; Conan is a monthly must; Project: Superpowers has great potential; Astro City is an automatic purchase whenever it comes out; and Mark Waid’s Irredeemable and Incorruptible are great fun. I hear good things about Walking Dead, and Scalped is a favorite of some friends, although the adult language may turn off parents and warn away younger readers.

Regular readers will note that last year, seven of the top ten were Marvel comics. This year, six are DC, another signal I remarked on recently about DC’s changing fortunes for the better. Next year looks promising, and for all the dreck out there, I can safely say there are some good reads that keep me going on my weekly vigil to the comic store without it feeling like a chore, but more like looking forward to fun escapism and entertaining stories. Here’s hoping for an even better 2010.

Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop. Click for last year's top ten series here and top ten miniseries here.