This column is intended to celebrate comics of all shapes and sizes. I just plain love comics of nearly every type, genre; writers and artists that others hate, I often find the good in. Last time, I intended to talk about the Summers family from the X-Men, but wound up focusing just on Cable. This time, I’d like to talk about the best superhero comics of the year. There are a lot of great stories being told in the land of tights and flights, and they sometimes get…overlooked. So, for your perusal, here are the ten best (plus some honorable mentions, sorry Sarah!) superhero books of the year, as determined by myself and Troy Brownfield, your crack panel of experts.
10) Legion of 3 Worlds: It may not have the most regular shipping schedule, and may only be halfway through, but this is one fun, fun comic book. The premise takes one of the weirdest parts of Legion of Superheroes mythos, that is the fact there’ve been several variations, and runs with it, bringing them together for one all out brawl. George Perez continues to prove he’s simply one of the best comic artists who ever lived, and it looks like Superboy Prime may just be a cool, viable villain (or is it hero?) yet.
9) Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8: Joss Whedon writing the characters he’s best known for. “Guest” writers like Brain K. Vaughan. Slayers galore, giant Dawn, wit, comedy, drama, death, destruction, monsters, demons, the US Army, and of course Xander, manservant to Dracula. Yup, it’s just like the TV Show, but bigger, more explosive, and of course, a comic book. One of the best female superheroes ever created is still kicking ass 16 years later, and hopefully will for 160 more.
8 ) All-Star Superman: See? Grant Morrison can still write great superhero comics! One of the things that’s tough to do for me is make Superman very interesting, as he’s nigh-invincible and the ultimate midwestern stereotype (one that I grew up with personally). Morrison and Quitely took their time with this book, and every issue proved worth the wait. The book hit a bunch of best-of-2007 lists last year, and it deserves to again this time around. Superman deconstructed in a way I’ve only seen once before, when we found out what happened to the Man of Tomorrow makes for a book that accurately places Superman firmly in the position of modern mythology.
7) The Umbrella Academy: The only thing worse than a rock star gettin a chance to write his own comic book is when it turns out to be really great. This was the best non-X-Men-X-Men story told in decades. Real emotion, great conversation, and oh yeah, cool action were accompanied by spectacular art by Gabriel Bá. Even better? The second series just kicked off last month, so when you finish the trade of volume 1, you can jump right in for more.
Here’s where it gets tricky. These next five are so close in quality, it was tough to order them, in the best way something like this can be tough.
6) Incredible Hercules: This comic is just silly awesome: wars between gods, the best kid sidekick since Robin hit the scene, and an entire issue where you could get the story just by reading the sound effects. Then, every once in awhile, there’s that moment of humanity that makes this larger-than-life millenia-old demigod seem like he’s a real guy. Over-the-top and subtle simultaneously is not an easy feat to pull off, but after the 12 labors, it’s no wonder Hercules is the man for the job.
5) FreakAngels: One of several awesome Avatar comics from Warren Ellis this year alone, this one holds a special distinction: it’s completely free. Sure, you can go buy the snazzy collection of the first six months, but in this troubled economy you can also simply go to the website and read the entire saga thus far, serialized weekly “like a proper British comic,” Ellis said to me last summer. Sure, the post-apocalyptic world has become an ultra-popular setting, (for the last few centuries or so), but this comic still manages to be unique, and Paul Duffield’s beautiful weekly output is a highlight of my Fridays.
4) Justice Society of America: Yes, Geoff Johns’s and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come follow-up arc has been going on for quite awhile. Yes, it still wound up spinning off into several one-shots. Yes, the JSA now has approximately eight times as many members as every incarnation of the Legion of Superheroes put together. This would all be annoying if the book wasn’t consistently so good, with great character interaction, god-sized action and intrigue, and the best uses of legacy in comic books.
3) Captain Britain and MI-13: Magic takes the forefront in this uniquely British superhero book, using elements of British mythology, bringing the other flag wearing nationalist superhero back to the top spot in his country. There are amazing characters with real emotions, including a devoted Muslim, a vampire speedster, and more than one reluctant hero. It simultaneously wields the fantastic and the realistic in a blend that shows Paul Cornell as the next great British import. As shown by the next pick, if Captain is in front of your name at Marvel Comics, you’ve had a pretty great year.
2) Captain America: So, remember when I talked about the best use of legacy in comic books? Here’s a close second. It was controversial to say the least when Ed Brubaker decided to bring Bucky Barnes back from the grave, and even more so when he gave him Captain America’s new costume after Steve Rogers’ untimely demise. However, the spy-thriller book that happens to star superheroes has been the absolute best super book on the stands since Brubaker’s #1 almost four years ago, and is the absolute reason for serial, monthly comics. Arcs, overarcs, and surviving the death of the main character has proven that long term storytelling with short term results can co-exist in a bastion of awesomeness.
1) Joker: We assure you, it has nothing to do with The Dark Knight. That’s the line from Bermejo and Azzarello, who created a graphic novel that after 4 read-throughs in under two months only gets better every time. The art shares an aesthetic with the billion dollar wonder, even giving us a peek at what other villains might look like in that world, but that’s a happy accident. The real wonder of this book is how a complete lunatic who has received so much attention can still be so damn interesting. The story told from the point-of-view of a henchman who just wants to get ahead shows a world that lives just barely outside the realm of the real. It’s creepy; it’s disturbing, it’s thought provoking. Without a doubt, this was the best superhero story told this year, and the focus wasn’t even on the hero. Someone at DC needs to lock these two in a room until they agree to continue these villainous deconstructions for the rest of their lives (If you like this and missed it, they first did a story featuring Lex Luthor). Even if neither of them put pencil to paper again, this would stand as one of the best single stories told in comics, and the best of its kind this year.
So there’s the top ten. What other books came up in our conversation? Glad you asked!
Honorable Mention Ten (in no particular order): Anna Mercury, Gravel, No Hero, Invincible, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Lone Ranger, Action Comics, Nova, Green Lantern, Detective Comics
It’s easy to be a non-jaded comics fan when this much good stuff is coming from just the superhero set, not to say anything of the oodles of non-super stories that’ve been told this year. Still, I’m betting there’s something you think we missed. Well? Sound off!