Bell’s Top Fourteen Comics of 2010
Seasons greetings everybody! Whilst we get the much-anticipated Best of 2010 retrospective together for you, our dear reader, what better time to look back and have a look at my personal fourteen (there’s no particular reason for this number) favorite individual comics of the past year – not a hoax, not a dream, not ongoing series, just for my money, the best single issues (or in one case collected edition, and in another case a two issue miniseries) that have found their way into my longboxes in the past 365 days – your mileage may vary.
So, in no particular order:
Tales Designed to Thrizzle #6
Forever the funniest of funnybooks, Michael Kupperman’s Thrizzle finally made the jump to full colour with its sixth edition, and like the collected and recoloured issues 1 to 4 before it, it benefits from the addition. Kupperman’s versatile drawings took on a whole new level of insanity when shown in full colour, like so:
Whilst the golden-age flavoured Jungle Princess was a welcome addition to the Thrizzle stable, the highlight of this edition had to be Mark Twain and Albert Einstein’s Michael Bay’s Armageddon-style adventures, which were as ridiculous as they sound. Even though you’re lucky to get an issue a year, Thrizzle never disappoints and this was no exception.
Although my speculations as to what had been happening in Brazillian twins Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba’s amazing series turned out to be a little wide of the mark, my gut feeling on what it was actually all about held true. Daytripper encompassed not only the life of writer Bras de Olivia Domingos, but the whole gamut of the human experience – what it is to be someone’s child, parent, lover and friend – although it’s been amazing to see the amount of readers that have taken something different away from it. No two readers were affected in exactly the same way, and no comic studied the human condition more in 2010. If you don’t already have it, Daytripper will make an excellent, one-sitting read when finally collected in trade next year.
Action Comics #893
Paul Cornell and Sean Chen’s Action Comics 893 was a masterclass in serialised storytelling, giving a complete story with a dramatic conclusion whilst advancing the overall arc. Genuinely funny (witty, even), thrilling and surprising, Cornell’s (with regular artist Pete Woods) tour of the DC Universe’s heirachy of villainy is at its best in this issue, as Lex Luthor tries to outwit the telepathic, murderous Gorilla Grodd, with mixed results. As in, he takes a laser blast to the chest and comes face to face with Death. Oh, and there was this:
COMBAT SPOON! The single best page of 2010. Action 893 is also noteworthy as the debut of Nick Spencer’s Jimmy Olsen back-ups, which evolved into a thing of awesomeness in its own right. Good stuff all round!
Ex Machina #50
Brian K Vaughan and Tony Harris’ Ex Machina concluded this year with a gut-punching finale, as protagonist Mitchell Hundred lost everything he held dear in his quest to parlay his supernatural power into political, and ended up settling for less than he ever wanted. It was tragedy writ large, just as the very first issue promised back in 2004, and for refusing to compromise that promise and give their protagonist the happy ending many readers would’ve hoped for, Vaughan and Harris must be commended. Look out for Harris’ new work Whistling Skull in the New Year, and feel free to join me in camping out on BKV’s doorstep begging him to come back to comics.
Invincible Iron Man Annual 1
Invincible Iron Man writer Matt Fraction has been known in the past for some endearing honesty in the backmatter of his Casanova, and sometimes that honesty can sneak its way into his work – when his solo Marvel debut The Order was in the process of being wrapped up after a brief ten issues the villain of the piece, as he attempted to kill the comic’s heroes, was seen to declare ‘Goodbye Order – you were a bad idea from the start‘ – possibly relaying some regret in Fraction’s role in the comic. What then were we to make of this – the story of a creative genius kidnapped away from his life’s work of making films by a super-powered terrorist who then forces the film-maker to make a biopic of the villain’s life, but the film-maker is blocked and threatened with death any time he veers from how the terrorist wants his story to be portrayed? Was this a cry for help from Fraction, laboring away under editorial mandate on his work on flagship Marvel title Uncanny X-Men? Don’t be silly – the whole idea was pinched from Kim Jong-Il’s coercing a Korean film-maker into making a socialist version of Godzilla, which you can read about here.
Invincible Iron Man Annual 1 was equally interesting, and particularly notable as being Marvel’s first comic to be simultaneously released in print and digitally, perfectly echoing the futurist leanings of both Fraction and his protagonist Tony Stark. This issue laid the groundwork for the return of The Mandarin in next month’s landmark Invincible Iron Man 500, which will presumably tie into the author’s Fear Itself event in the Spring. It was also pretty much the best comic Marvel published in 2010.
The Unwritten 17
Mike Carey and Peter Gross stormed ahead this year with what I will continue to refer to as ‘the closest thing to Sandman since Sandman’ – The Unwritten. In the book’s second year they were more than happy to start playing with the format of the book – whilst The Unwritten 12 was notable for being an amazing mash-up of the aesthetics of Beatrix Potter and some of the choicest profanities in modern language, 17 tore up the rule book and moulded the story into a Choose Your Own Adventure-style romp (or Pick-A-Story, for legal reasons). Seamlessly furthering the mythology of The Unwritten and continuing Carey and Gross’ exploration of all forms of literature, it was a delight from start to end, whichever end you finished up with.
Coming off the back of their not-great run on Spiderwoman, Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev launched Scarlet as if they had something to prove. It’s fair to say that the two creators behind one of Daredevil’s most defining runs have little to prove to anyone, but in Scarlet we found them in re-energised form, creating a world and a gun-toting anti-hero of a character that was wholly theirs. The bravura storytelling throughout the book is perfectly exemplified in this, three pages summing up their heroine’s life (click for bigger):
Welcome back, Bendis and Maleev. Comics are a better place when you guys are around. Look out for more of their creative magic on a new Moon Knight title in 2011.
Rafael Grampá‘s full-length comics debut was originally released in 2008 in a swiftly snapped-up print run of two thousand – so you can thank Dark Horse for picking it up and re-releasing it to a wider audience this year. A Twilight Zone-esque tale of a goofy ex-boxer and his Elvis-loving knife-wielding senior colleague as they drive an initially unspecified cargo to its unspecified (but strongly hinted at) destination, Mesmo Delivery is a showcase for the unparalleled art of Grampá, some stunningly choreographed fight sequences, and his wicked sense of humour. Grampá has hinted at continuing Mesmo as a series of anthology stories revolving around the company’s trucks, and we can only hope based on this that he follows through.
T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents #1
Nick Spencer had a fairly ubiquitous 2010 – from his (deservedly) runaway smash Morning Glories, a stellar Jimmy Olsen co-feature in Action Comics, to the announcements of his writing both Supergirl and Iron Man 2.0 in the New Year (although Supergirl has since fallen by the wayside, presumably because Nick just simply can’t write every comic going). For my money, his most entertaining output in 2010 was the first issue of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, resplendent here with a Frank Quitely cover. Based around the premise of a shadowy intelligence agency giving people superpowers with the understanding that it will eventually kill them, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents excels in it’s character moments and plotting. This first issue was a no-holds-barred head first dive into the book’s concept, and it didn’t wait around to hold your hand or explain anything, and was all the better for it.
The Man With The Getaway Face
As much as I’ve dug Darwyn Cooke‘s exemplary work in adapting the adventures of Richard Stark’s anti-hero Parker to comic book form (in both last year’s The Hunter and this year’s The Outfit), it was this brief slap to the face of a book that stuck with me over the year. The Man With the Getaway Face is the second of Donald Westlake’s twenty four Parker novels written under the pseudonym of Richard Stark, and although Cooke orignally aimed to adapt the first four sequential novels, he found that there were other Stark books he was more excited about adapting to a full graphic novel, and so instead of releasing …Getaway Face as the second of his Parker adventures he condensed it to a prologue and let IDW release it for a bargain $2 as a beautiful, oversized 24-page trailer for The Outfit. It’s a classic heist gone wrong tale improved vastly by the addition of Stark’s Parker, who is for all purposes, an out and out cold-hearted beast, and in turn again improved again by Cooke, an out and out genius. Short and brutal, I would love to see Cooke try something like this on a monthly basis.
Batman & Robin #13
Grant Morrison’s ongoing bat-saga simply could not set a foot wrong this year, but it was Batman and Robin 13 that was the high-water mark for me. Frazer Irving‘s grimy artwork made a perfect complement for the triple threat return of three of Morrison’s most reliable villains, and the whole issue was just huge moment piled on top of another huge moment – Dr Hurt’s back! He’s shot Batman in the head! Robin’s been left alone with the Joker! Professor Pyg’s been sprung! Damian Wayne’s brutal ‘interrogation’ of the Joker and the Joker’s realization of Damian’s heritage was a particular highpoint for Irving’s terrifying artwork and the comic itself. Other issues of Batman and Robin may have told more of the story, but in terms of a well-paced, action packed issue leaving the reader begging for the next one, this was pitch-perfect.
Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour
2010 was Scott Pilgrim’s year, we just lived in it. Bryan Lee O’Malley brought his saga to a suitably epic end with the aptly-named Finest Hour, with enough closure for every character you could’ve imagined (hello, Young Neil), some left-field twists (hello, Stephen Stills) and even the answers to some questions I was never particularly bothered about (hello, strange head glow). Oh, and there was this:
Don’t act like you’re not going to go and try it out.
World War Hulks: Spider-Man Vs Thor
Kieron Gillen was another up-and-comer doing well for himself in 2010 – with runs on S.W.O.R.D. (cancelled far too swiftly), Thor, wrapping up Phonogram (lamentably for good, if Gillen’s to be believed) launching Generation Hope and nabbing a co-writing credit on Uncanny X-Men. And then there’s this – a two issue cash-in tie-in to a Hulk event featuring Spider-Man and Thor, who have little to do with the plot of the book they’re spinning out of. Spidey and Thor find themselves turned into Hulks in the middle of the Smithsonian museum, and find themselves regressing to child-like states in what’s a genuinely nuanced, funny story (Choice quote: ‘Spider-Hulk want to be left alone. TO READ.‘) with tremendous art by Jorge Molina, and is just generally better than it has any right to be. Plus: smashing.
Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites
Easily the best book Dark Horse put out all year, and the best animals versus the supernatural book that anyone could wish for, Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson’s Beasts of Burden originally appeared as an unnamed collective of local pets that bandied together to investigate the haunting of, and subsequently exorcise, one of their kennels in 2003’s The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings. This story was so popular that they returned annually for longer stories in the following Book of Witchcraft (where they tangled with a coven of witches and their cats), Book of the Dead (zombie-dogs!) and Book of Monsters (a werewolf!), all of which expanded both the characterization of the animals and the comic’s horizons itself. It was no surprise then, when Dark Horse announced that the characters would be returning in their own devoted comic series, and they would finally have a title, albeit some three years since they last saw print.
The resulting four-issue miniseries, collected here with their first shorter adventures, picked up where there previous appearances left off – continuing the lushly painted adventures of the domesticated pack of pets as they defend the town of Burden Hill from all manner of supernatural threats. You would be forgiven for thinking that this would lead to all manner of cutesy animal hi-jinks, but you’d be forgetting that this is a Dark Horse publication, and a true horror comic at its core. For every humorous rain of frogs, there’s a terrifying dog-eating frog-cthulu. For every cutesy dog ghost, there’s a dog ghost that will possess other dogs and force them to rip out a pet-killing teenager’s throat. Dorkin’s writing and Thompson’s beautiful art work avoid anthropomorphism, instead relying on strong and clearly-defined characterization for each of the pack – Pugs, the pug, is wisecracking and abrasive; Ace, the husky, is stoic and a natural leader and so on. If push came to shove, this is the one book I’d be grabbing from my house in the event of a fire, and then trying to convince the firemen to read.
And for me, that was 2010! What books did you guys take to heart? Let us know in the comments below!
This post appeared in its original form on the author’s own website, It’s Bloggerin’ Time!