A short breath before the end of the 00s, here’s a personal look at my favourite ones from the past ten years.
25. The Immortal Iron Fist
(Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker, David Aja & various)
Kung Fu Millionaire! Proof that any character has the potential for awesomeness. Three golden plot tricks. 1. He’s not the first one, but part of a legacy. 2. He’s not alone, there are six more similar yet different champions from other heavenly cities. 3. They all compete in a super-martial arts tournament a la Dragonball.
24. The Other Side
(Jason Aaron, Cameron Stewart)
Jason Aaron’s first complete work, following the parallel lives and nightmares of an American and a Vietnamese soldier from the moment they leave their homes to the fatal moment they meet each other in he battlefield of the Vietnam war.
23. The Authority
(Warren Ellis, Mark Millar, Bryan Hitch, Frank Quitely, & various)
The superhero title that led the Wildstorm revolution. The model that dictated the way super-hero books would look, talk and act for the rest of the decade. Gay Batman and Gay Superman tying the knot and adopting the spirit of the 20th century. Would be higher if not for DC’s snivelling censorship.
22. Maria’s Wedding
(Christina Weir, Nunzio deFilippis, Jose Garibaldi)
The comic equivalent and superior to ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’. When Joseph Pirelli married his boyfriend Jonathan some members of the Pirelli family boycotted the ceremony. Now in cousin Maria’s wedding the family will come together again with explosive results. A beautiful, funny and heart-rending story about family and acceptance that still has me bawling in tears every time I sit down and re-read it.
(Warren Ellis , John Cassaday)
The quintessential Warren Ellis, his true magnum opus. The Archaelogists of the Impossible piecing together a puzzle of high concepts. Ellis reinventing the single issue story in the era of decompression (that he himself instigated). And Cassaday creating worlds at his fingertips that put Avatar to shame.
20. The Eternal Smile
(Gene Luen Yang , Derek Kirk Kim)
Fiction and reality in a dangerous dance. A son hiding away in a fantasy world to avoid the consequences of his reality. An ordinary office-worker finding love through a spam e-mail from an African prince requiring her urgent assistance. And a smile in the sky bridging the gap between Carl Bark’s Uncle Scrooge and The Truman Show.
19. Vertigo Pop: Tokyo – London – Bangkok
(Peter Milligan, Philip Bond, Seth Fisher, Jonathan Vankin)
Three topical mini-series connected under a common Vertigo banner. An aging has-been rockstar in London trading bodies with a young musician to relive his glory days. And in Tokyo, Seth Fisher blowing our minds with his worldpop view as an all-American loser gets tangled up with a cosplay fetishist and the Yakuza.
Robinson’s phonebook sized graphic novel following the individual stories of six disparate characters, in successive short vignettes, who may or may not be connected to each other, but whose lives change when they inevitably meet in the final chapter of the story. A rock-star, a forger who lies to his family about his work, a high-school girl looking for her father, A masterpiece of storytelling, character building and comic book pacing.
17. Formerly Known As the Justice League
I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League
(Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and friends)
Otherwise known as the Giffen/DeMatteis bracket. The talented duo that led the Justice League to great heights of popularity in the 90s with their off-beat approach to the team, returned to their characters in two mini-series which reinvented and refined their style into the perfect mix of sitcom humour, comedic and dramatic intensity.
After their fun take on the Justice League heroes was met with disdain from the grim and gritty DC publishing establishing, the duo took their business elsewhere and infused their fun writing style into their creator-owned property ‘Hero Squared’ for Atomeka and then Boom! Studios. H2 followed the adventures of a hapless everyday two-timing loser whose apartment is invaded by his buffoonish do-gooder (maybe queer) superhero counterpart from another reality. Add to that his girlfriend and her alternate reality world-devouring super-villain counterpart, mix and match into a mind-boggling love square and voila!
16. Death Note
(Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata)
Sure I could have chosen my other guilty manga pleasures in Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service or MPD Psycho, but Death Note was the clear nail-biter amongst them and won its place in my top list.
A rather psychotic high school student comes into possession of a notebook granting himthe power to kill anyone whose name he writes in it. He uses this power to kill criminals and create the persona of a new media-fueled God ‘Kira’ for himself. What follows is a brilliant strategic game of cat and mouse between the boy and the authorities, each trying to use trickery and logic and lay traps or diversions to uncover the other’s weaknesses and secrets.
15. Human Target
(Peter Milligan, Marcos Martin, various)
Christopher Chance is a bodyguard and a master of disguise, hired to impersonate people threatened or stalked by criminals, and take their place. To that effect he studies them and gets in their mindset, often forgetting who he really is in the process. Peter Milligan dared to delve into the psychotic mind of a man who is able to dive into, understand and mimic the personality of any person but is unable to keep hold of his real self.
(Mike Carey, Peter Gross, Dean Ormston, various)
A spin-off from the absolute 90s Vertigo series Sandman, featuring the character of Lucifer the devil, became its own beast. A 75 issue mega-story about Lucifer’s daddy issue. After quitting his job as Hell’s innkeeper, Lucifer opens a piano bar, deals a nasty hand of living Tarot, tricks and plots his way to creating his own world outside God’s existence. Carey took a fairly B- Sandman character in a “Presents…” mini and created a new mythology and vast cast of characters spanning the entire history of the world since before the Garden of Eden that is in many ways Sandman’s equal in story and scope, and in some even superior.
(Brian K. Vaughan, JossWhedon, Adrian Alphona, Michael Ryan, various)
BKV’s parting gift to Marvel. Six teenage kids who go on the run when they discover their parents are really super-villains in a secret cabal that controls crime in L.A. The kids of mad scientists, evil robots, time-travelers, mutants, warlocks, and aliens, coming together while on the run from their evil parents and the government. They will find love in the most unexpected combinations, they will betray each other, they will die (and maybe reunite in ‘heaven’) and they will reveal their darkest secrets. But mostly they’ll be kids and we’ll love them and cry for them without letting small things like their fictionality stand filter our emotions.
12. Astonishing X-Men
(Joss Whedon, John Cassaday)
Joss Whedon’s continuation of the Morrison X-revolution, taking the same core group and making them the new super-stars of the Marvel set. Who knew Emma Frost had such depth in her, who knew Cyclops could ever realize his bad-ass potential, or that a character’s death even in today’s state of affairs in comics could elicit such strong emotional reaction with every reading? Whedon rediscovered the soul of the X-Men and in the meantime even added a few new tricks in the rule book of comic book storytelling.
11. New X-Men
(Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Igor Kordey, various)
The series tha rejuvenated and redefined the X-Men franchise for this decade. Grant Morrison threw ideas and concepts at the reader at lightning speed. He focused on the core 6 of Scott, Jean, Emma, Wolverine, Xavier and Beast and introduced a whole new generation of young X-Men, ones that would rebel against the world around them and the professor himself, who would make mistakes, fall in love, get knocked up, and come to their own. He ‘outed’ the Xavier Institute, instigated a ‘mutant baby boom’ and a mutant genocide, created the first real new X-nemesis in years in Cassandra Nova and left a legacy of stories and concepts that were (and still are) being used for years after his departure from the book.
10. Top Ten (and Smax)
(Alan Moore, Gene Ha, Zander Cannon)
A police procedural drama featuring a squad of super-powered officers keeping the order in a city where every single citizen has a different super-power! Alan Moore took this crazed concept and explored themes of sexual identity and expression, racism, euthanasia, religion, child molestation and even bestiality (!), while always having fun and honoring the great history of super-heroic comics. Gene Ha’s (and later inker Zander Cannon’s solo efforts in the spin-off ‘Smax’) artwork rewarded second and third and fourth rereadings for the rich detail and astounding number of inside jokes and comics junkie references and cameos in each panel.
(Warren Ellis, Stuart Immonnen)
Warren Ellis again, this time redefining comic book AWESOME. A who’s who of superhero has-beens (a mutant mallrat, a sidelined former Avengers leader, an alcoholic robot, the daughter of a famous monster hunter, and a failed super-soldier with no sense of identity) unite against the most insane super-villain high concepts to ever come out of a writer’s mind, the Unusual Weapons of Mass Distraction from the terrorist H.A.T.E. organization. There’s unashamedly no plot, character development or sense of direction. Just big silly threats, ultra-violence, cool posing, and loud explosions! …and they have a theme song. It’s everything fun about comic-books in six bright-coloured bloody funny and entertaining 2-issue story arcs.
(Matt Fraction, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon)
A cheap mono-colour floppy monthly comic book, with self-contained stories each issue filled with action, espionage, sex, giant robots, super-science and pop references and loads of sketches and creator commentary back-matter for under 2 dollars . Matt Fraction rose to super-stardom through this experimental series with a loathsome protagonist in Casanova Quinn and a plot that boggles the mind (the renegade who jumps dimensions to an upside down dimension where he replaces his moralistic counterpart and does unspeakable incestuous things with his evil sister).
7. Y the Last Man
(Brian K.Vaughan, Pia Guerra, various)
I had a review quote published on a cover of this series during its first year of publication. It read: ‘Unless you don’t know how to read, there’s no excuse for not picking up this book‘. I still stand by what I wrote back then for this landmark 75-issue series that became Vertigo’s flagship for this decade. A mysterious plague hits the earth, killing every man with a Y chromosome… except one. The story follows Yorrick Brown, the last man on earth in his quest around the world to be reunited with his girlfriend, accompanied by his pet monkey Ampersand, the last surviving male cappucin monkey, his mysterious government bodyguard and a doctor who may hold the secret to the plague’s origin. BKV proved here that he was a master world builder, with his well thought out examination into how the world would cope in the event of such tragedy, a master character writer, developing the tragically flawed character of Yorrick Brown and his relationship with the remaining women in his old and new life, and the unsurpassed master of the cliffhanger, leaving readers on the edge of their seats each month and earning him a place in the writing team of the hit LOST show, for obvious reasons. Pia Guerra proved she can REALLY draw the heck out of bloody noses… and monkeys.
(Ed Brubaker, Darwyn Cooke, Mike Allred, Cameron Stewart, Brad Rader)
I’m surprised this hasn’t turned up in any other lists anywhere. Ed Brubaker took the perennial sexist joke character of the DC universe and turned her into the ultimate female urban vigilante. Darwyn Cooke provided the most popular character redesign since… ever, ditching the camp outdated full-body leotard in favour of a functional, fetishy and sexy skin-tight leather outfit with a new iconic mask and goggles. Suddenly Catwoman became the ultimate DC crime/noir book, with Selina Kyle taking up the role of Gotham City’s East End’s protector, investigating crimes, hunting down drug dealers and human exploitation rings, and going up against the Black Mask in the ‘Relentless’ arc, the most gruesome mainstream super-hero story (where the villain captures Catwoman’s sister and makes her eat her husband’s eyeballs). Brubaker redefined Catwoman and her supporting cast (her new love interest, the aging P.I. Slam Bradley from DC’s golden age, and her gay ‘sidekick’ Holly) for the new decade.
5. Tom Strong
(Alan Moore, Chris Sprouse, various)
Alan Moore updated the concept of the ‘World’s Greatest Magazine’ of the Fantastic Four with the super-adventurer family for the new millennium. Tom Strong incorporated every single serious, wacky, scientific, magical and cartoonish aspect of comic books into one cohesive universe. Moore proved he can do anything the big two can, on his own, and better. Brave new worlds, parallel realities, family drama, crazy adversaries and a final Crisis to put every other one to shame.
4. The Walking Dead
(Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, various)
A continuing tale of zombie survival horror. The key word here? ‘continuing’. Kirkman posits a great question here. What happens to the survivors of a zombie plague after the credits roll? What happens next? What if writers were forced to ‘live’ and deal with the consequences of the horrible things they do to their characters? If there is no ‘the end’ in the horizon, you can’t just kill a character’s family or amputate their hand and leg for shock effect, you need to stick around with them and see how these tragedies affect their character. Kirkman starts off with a fairly average protagonist and supporting cast who in the process of the story are transformed into human monsters by the atrocities they are forced to commit to survive in this unfriendly new world.
3. Strangers In Paradise
The higher I get on the list the harder it is to write these things. Strangers in Paradise followed the lives of best friends Katchoo and Francine, and their special friendship/relationship through its ups and downs. Would they or wouldn’t they? Should they? How would the young David fit in he love triangle? And his ruthless crime-lord sister? SiP was a momentous undertaking in comics self-publishing and an astounding emotional character arc. Although some would argue its glory days were in its origins in the previous decades, this decade brought us a better focus on the busty airhead sex-addicted supporting character of Casey who became an integral part of the series and my eventual favourite character of the lot through Moore’s unexpected characterisation choices.
2. Scott Pilgrim
(Bryan Lee O’Malley)
Scott Pilgrim, young, video-game addicted, slacker, garage band rocker and -well- not that bright falls in love with Ramona, the inter-dimensional Amazon.ca delivery girl. To be happy with her though, he must first defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends in lethal (and quirkily video-gamey) one on one combat to prove himself. After the release of his first album, SP quickly became the indie comic equivalent of Harry Potter in terms of fan commitment, hype and anticipation. With the release of the feature film later next year, he’s about to become a world-wide phenomenon.
(Pete Milligan, Mike & Laura Allred, Axel Alonso, Philip Bond, J. Bone, Darwyn Cooke, Paul Pope, Nick Dragotta, Duncan Fegredo)
Was there ever any doubt this would be my #1 choice? During my fledgling internet years, the first news and preview images from Milligan and Allred’s reimagining of the X-Force team name shook me in an unprecedented way. These were two creators I was completely unfamiliar with, doing stories about new characters I knew nothing about in a ‘dodgy’/original concept: media darling mutant super-heroes who do anything for fame, including risking (and very frequently losing) their lives in black-ops missions. I was hooked. I was hunting down and collecting every scrap of information and preview art I could find on the book. I decided I should showcase this info on my first fan-site, which I named ‘Retro-X-punk’ after the effect Allred’s art and designs had on me. How could I be so enthralled by a comic I hadn’t even read?
Then the first issue came (and a series of unfortunate circumstances that ended up bringing me in contact with the book’s creative and editorial team), and these deeply flawed characters filled my brain, and then that last page. The entire team we just met dead or dying in the most graphic way by the end of the first issue? And in the second issue, all-new characters, more rich, more engaging… and they two starting to perish fast in the altar of fame and money.
A tragic love affair, a tale of sexual awakening, the nature of fame, the hunger for power, the power of fate. More than twenty dead mutants. The first gay kiss in mainstream comics. Or gay sex. Or relationship. A suicidal team leader playing Russian roulette every night, desperately in love with the narcoleptic drug-addicted blue girl next door with guilty past and dreams of success. The black man who grew white and wants to scrub his colour clean, dead-locked in a path of self-destruction, paired with the dead girl come back to life who is afraid of staying dead alive alone forever. An ivy league boy pretending to be ghetto pretending to be gay and an oxford bookworm werewolf discovering their sexuality through a failed publicity stunt. A girl without a body ordering acustom-built rubber body to lose her virginity in. A flying green homicidal blob with the power to defeat gods and a nightmare universe inside his pores.
A set of characters so real that they take over the writer’s imagination and begin to write themselves and try to stave off their fates. Artwork that brought the characters to life, living, breathing on the page, each expression on their face a treasure of hidden emotion. Famous, Mutant and Mortal. And the best comic book I’ve ever read in my life.