2010 in Comics (UPDATED)
Now we come to the final list, and my last piece for the year 2010, a look back at comics.
These are going to be largely superhero centric as all the mature reader stuff I tend to read as trades and collections since they read a lot better like that, but I really enjoy the episodic, cliff-hanger nature of cape and cowl books.
I would remind you that my year-in-review list is probably the only one that has the A-Team and Black Swan highly recommended on it.
Having said that, Chew a book about a detective that can eat something and immediately know everything about it, where it was grown, how it died, who touched it, etc. The plot is him handling crimes in the seedy world of food investigation, and it is probably my favorite new book that I discovered this year, however I am reading it collected and not month to month, so I have no idea which parts of it came out during what year.
It’s a great book, with a distinct art style that everyone should be reading.
Okay, now to the adolescent power fantasies.
Jonathan Hickman – I completely forgot about Hickman during my first run through, mostly because I left the original list on what I’d write about in LA. Thanks to Doug Shank for reminding me of the enormous body of work that Hickman has put out this year.
I first became familiar with Hickman’s work on the Nightly News, an illustrated wake-up call about where we get our information, who controls what, and what’s at stake as people and corporations begin to move behind the scenes to secure power in the new world of instant information.
The next thing I read was Pax Romana, about a modern army traveling back in time to the time of Constantine to help the Catholic Roman Empire stand against the barbarians, the Muslims, and everything else that was to come. An interesting idea, and a brilliant piece of speculative fiction, Hickman soon got the notice of Marvel Comics. Marvel let Hickman, a guy with a gift for big ideas and hard science fiction, run wild in the Marvel Universe.
First he worked on Secret Warriors, a spy book about the covert ops in the Marvel Universe, and what history’s greatest spy, Nick Fury, does in a new world where the bad guys didn’t just win, but they won decades ago. It’s a brutal book where Fury takes kids, literally, in one case, and trains them to be his strong right hand. These unknown and unsung superpowered operatives would bring the fight to whoever stood before Fury anywhere in the world. The book’s a nice mix of intrigue, danger, and the kind of bigger than life ideas only found in comics.
Next up was the Fantastic Four. The run by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo in the early aughts is one of my favorite stories, ever, and is, in my opinion, the definitive account of the Four since Lee and Kirby, and Hickman is making a run for that top spot. The Fantastic Four were never heroes, though they’re always heroic. The Fantastic Four were explorers and scientists, and lived on the cutting edge of human achievement, and with Hickman’s ability to work in sci-fi and excel there, the book is refreshing, new, and exciting. This is a classic run, and is going to be remembered as such for a long, long, long time.
Finally he’s working on SHIELD, the secret organization that’s been defending humanity since ancient Egypt. You think Galactus waited until superheroes showed up to try and eat Earth? Why would aliens eons more advanced than us not show up during the Renaissance or the American Civil War to try and conquer us?
Well, SHIELD was there to stand in the gap. It is the secret history of a fictional world filled with aliens, time travel, alternate dimensions, and superheroes.
“This is not how the world ends.”
SHIELD is a great book with fantastic art by Dustin Weaver, that sadly comes with a price: the book comes out whenever it damn well wants. Jonathan Hickman’s ability to combine grand ideas with respect to history is making him Marvel’s Grant Morrison. Let’s hope Marvel treats him better than they did Morrison.
Grant Morrison – I will read anything Grant Morrison writes or tells me to read. It’s almost always worth my time, even the stuff I don’t like as much still impart so much entertainment and insight, both into writing and life.
It’s interesting how you can chart Morrison’s life and his progression as a human being to what he writes about in his stories, but even in stuff like the Filth or We3 or the Invisibles it all stills manages to end up positive. Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, and Alan Moore, all fantastic writers, tend to decry the world around them and condemns what humanity has done, Morrison acknowledges it, but in the end, nearly all of his work tends to be a celebration of what we can be.
Morrison had two great books this year, Joe the Barbarian a story about a young man going into diabetic shock and the fantasy world he keeps falling into as he tries to save his own life, and whatever the hell has been going on in Batman.
Joe the Barbarian is a strange book. A young man who recently, or maybe not so recently lost his dad, falls asleep at the top of his house, and needs to get downstairs to his fridge to get a soda to right his insulin levels. As his body begins to weaken, he starts to lose focus, and finds himself in a fantasy world, populated by all of his toys and drawings that is slowly being consumed by a great force of darkness which he may have also created. As the book continues and the danger mounts, the fantasy world, mapped out over his home, begins to overlap, and things from the other side come to us.
As for the life of Batman, let’s see: an international criminal conspiracy who play a game to corrupt and destroy a good man set their sights on Batman, destroying his life at every level and trying to control his mind, except Batman had a plan for that and years ago created a back-up personality that was unpredictable and hyper-violent and would take over if his psyche was ever compromised. He did battle with the universal definition of evil and emptiness, hurt it, got cast into the time stream and hunted by creatures from other dimensions, outfought time, outsmarted the greatest evil the universe has ever known, and defeated the black sheep of the Wayne dynasty, an immortal devil-worshipper. In response to these threats Bruce Wayne told the media that he’d been funding Batman for years, and would now travel the world to create a world wide network of crime-fighters in the mold of Batman.
The dude has had a very busy year.
Here’s the amazing thing, at no point did any of these stories short-change any aspect of the Batman’s personality. Some guys make Batman a street-level crime fighter and ignores the fact that the JLA, a team of people with the ability to wipe out entire worlds routinely turn to him for advice. Or they make him something like a James-Bond-esque globe-trotting adventurer and ignore the fact that his favorite hobby is hanging pimps upside down in alleys, and has staked a few vampires.
Morrison combines all of those parts to create a greater whole, and despite being haunted by the death of his family, reminds us that being Batman is probably the coolest fucking job in the world.
If you went back, starting with the Batman and Son collection and then worked through all of Morrison’s work with the character, you’d have the makings of a great reading weekend.
Morrison has been my favorite writer since he started on JLA (checks Wikipedia)… in 1996! Jesus, this guy has been my favorite writer for going on 15 years. He constantly evolves his style, writes different characters, and makes characters around since the ’30’s seem fresh and new. There’s nothing new under the sun?
Not on Morrison’s planet.
Jason Aaron – Jason Aaron is one of the best writers working in the business.
The first thing he wrote that I got my hands on was the Other Side a mini-series about the Vietnam War following a young marine and NVA as they being their training, and the course of their lives until their paths inevitably cross. It was dark, gripping, gritty, without the “grrr grimdark” that so often pervades books when they try to be dark and gritty.
His work on Wolverine has made the character his most readable in years. Mark Millar wrote some entertaining stuff with Logan prior to Aaron, but Aaron’s the first writer who managed to make Wolverine an unstoppable killing machine with pathos. He’s a killer, down to his bones, and the best he can do is be a killer of bad men, even if all their blood can’t drown the fact that he’s one of them. He’s been alive for over a hundred years; he’s killed thousands of men, and those deaths don’t weigh on his conscience, and that’s what bothers him. Wolverine: Weapon X was a lot of fun, and really interesting, especially considering the growth Ron Garney has shown as an artist, but the new Wolverine series which has a first arc that involves Logan going to hell while demons possess his body on Earth has been excellent.
Let’s not forget the fact he’s really the only man who could follow Garth Ennis on Marvel’s R-rated Punisher Max, and I wish it would come out more regularly, but when it shows up, it’s great. My only complaint is that he’s spent more time fleshing out Kingpin and Bullseye, but there’s not that much left to Frank after Ennis’ 60 issues.
Finally, his short-lived run on Ghost Rider was sadly canceled because no one was reading it, which is a shame. Like Morrison on Batman, Aaron managed to find a new angle to write Ghost Rider’s character, and instead of making him a haunted emo kid carrying a demon inside him, put the Spirit of Vengeance on a path of vengeance where he would defy Hell and storm the Kingdom of Heaven. I highly, highly, highly recommend picking up his run on Ghost Rider as it the best the character has ever been.
Thor – Thor has a movie coming out in 2011, and Marvel is flooding the shelves with Thor books. There’s the actual title, several mini-series, some for kids, some for superfans, and some that are closer to the style and theme of actual Vikings myths.
I can’t comment on all the series, though I hear the new reader-friendly, and recently canceled, Thor: the Mighty Avenger is good, but years ago, ever since J. Michael Straczynski took over the character, the flagship title has been one of Marvel’s consistently great titles.
From JMS’ run into Kieron Gillen’s arc, and now into Matt Fraction’s run, Thor has never stopped being one of the most exciting, well-drawn, and well-written books on the shelves.
Matt Fraction – This guy can flat-out write. He respects the history of the characters, but manages to make every book he’s on a forward thinking, action-packed story about witty characters doing awesome things.
Iron Man, Thor, the X-Men, and his own series Casanova about a secret agent trapped in a parallel universe, are everything comics should be. Fun, funny, with great art, cool characters, and packed with dense ideas. They seem hokey now, but Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s work in the 19060’s was mind-blowing stuff about alternate dimensions, ancient astronauts, genetic weapons, and lost kingdoms under the ocean and on the moon. Fraction continues in that tradition.
What’s more, instead of just writing great characters, Fraction doesn’t shy away from modern issues. Tony Stark tries to make renewable energy free to the masses, and Thor explores what happens when the gods fall to Earth, and whether or not they have any responsibility to people, regardless of belief system.
Casanova, a heavy book, filled with dangerous ideas, is cooler than anything else I’ve ever read. It’s the kind of book that reminds you why you read comics, and scares the hell out of you if have any ambition to be creative for a living. It’s fantastic. Find it.
No More Green Lantern or the Hulk – My Top Five Favorite comics book characters are:
- Captain America
- Green Lantern
- the Hulk
For the first time in seven years, I’m no longer buying any Green Lantern books and I’m walking away from the Hulk for the first time in four years.
I just don’t care. They’re burying both characters by filling the DC universe with characters that have red Rage rings or yellow Fear rings to contend with the Lantern’s green Willpower rings, and every single person in the Hulk’s supporting cast is now a gamma-irradiated monster.
They’re so boring to read now. Green Lantern’s a cosmic corp of space police, all with rings that are supposedly the most powerful weapon in the universe. However to make them seem dangerous, the villains all manage to murder dozens of Lanterns until the main ones show up. Except now it’s no longer shocking. No Green Lantern seems cool or competent, just lucky.
As for the Hulk, how can he be dangerous when everyone’s a Hulk? Where’s the threat? The Hulk’s the strongest one there is. That’s his whole thing, so you know no one else is going to hurt him, and since everyone around him has superpowers, there’s no danger of them being hurt either by the Hulk’s mindless rampage or villains trying to get him.
What’s the fucking point?
Incredible Hercules – Coming out of the World War Hulk was kind of a strange thing, Marvel’s Hercules was massively entertaining.
Usually written as a blowhard who was strong, but not as strong as the Hulk, or noble and god-like, but not as noble and god-like as Thor, the character was usually just presented as a loud mouth drunk. Greg Pak, who made the Hulk readable again, until he wasn’t (see above), went on a one-man crusade to make Hercules relevant, and he succeeded.
By applying Hercules’ classical labors and the mythology to the rules of Campbell’s hero’s journey, he makes Hercules a compelling and grounded, while giving us the best new character in a while, Herc’s sidekick, Amadeus Cho, the seventh smartest person on the planet.
It’s looking like Pak’s run is wrapping up with this year’s Prince of Power and the Chaos War mini-series that sees Hercules wage war to save the universe from Nothingness itself. While it sucks that he’s done, and the character will probably get pushed into the background again; it’s been a great run. It actually ends in 2011, but the bulk of the last stretch happened in 2010.
It was practically a course in how to refine a second-tier character, and as an Asian-American, it was great to see not only Amadeus, an Asian character rise into prominence , but also an Asian-American writer with the Korean Pak.
Thanks, Greg. Good to see one of us knock it out of the park.
Scott Pilgrim – The last volume of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s opus came out this year, and what an ending it was. Not only did he wrap up Scott and Ramona’s storyline, but he showed us Scott grow up by tearing him down.
This book wasn’t as fun as previous volumes, because growing up generally isn’t. Scott had to do away with his own treasured self-image of him being the raddest dude alive surrounded by people who just didn’t get it, and instead he stands revealed as a stubborn, short-sighted jackass, not to his friends, but to himself.
Only after he reconciles his own flaws, is he able to forgive himself, and become someone who can enter into a real relationship with Ramona.
He spent the entire book fighting her past, working through her mistakes, and he does wrap up the last Evil Ex-Boyfriend, but the end of the book is about his past, and his mistakes, and trying to be worthy of Ramona’s love. Yet too be worthy he didn’t need to outdo her old boyfriends, he had to be better himself.
“Scott has gained the power of understanding,” indeed.
FrankenCastle – Rick Remender who’s been making a name for himself writing off-center, super-violent books was handed the reigns of the Punisher but not the one in the Max universe that gets to be R-rated. No he got the Punisher that exists in the same place as Spider-Man and Captain America.
This is not an enviable position. The Punisher’s MO is that he murders bad guys, but you can’t wipe out the Green Goblin or the Red Skull, it’s just not done. Then again, you can’t throw D-listers at him or just make up new characters he can kill at the end of the arc because it either means nothing to the audience, or they’ll always see it coming.
So Remender had Wolverine’s asshole son, Daken, kill Frank, cut him up, and flush him down the sewer.
Then the remains were found by monsters, actual creatures of legend, vampires, werewolves, swamp beasts, etc, and Frank was reassembled as a patchwork monster to defend them from a zealous cult out to destroy all beasts regardless of whether they’ve murdered people or not. These men were led by someone who was wronged like Frank was but became even more twisted by it.
Ennis’ run on Punisher was a lot of things, but it was never fun. Remender’s take was fun, exciting, and the guy managed to find characters who needed defending that weren’t covered by the Avengers, outcasts that the X-Men never noticed, and filled the book with villains that Frank could kill wholesale, but were still a credible threat.
On paper it seems like a dumb idea, but it is sublimely ridiculous, and Remender walks the line perfectly. One of my favorite story arcs of 2010.
Spider-Man’s Brand New Day – Spider-Man is readable, again. Now how they got to this point, Peter and Mary Jane selling their marriage to the Devil to save his beloved Aunt May’s life because for some reason that was the best way to reboot the character, truly sucked.
When it happened I read somewhere it was like “a space-ship landing in Middle Earth and offering to carry the ring to Mount Doom for Frodo.” Spider-Man, a sometime scientist, a guy who’s origin is rooted in science, and traverse’s New York in webbing he made himself, dealing with a problem by supernatural means.
It was dumber than hell (see what I did there).
However, in the aftermath they stacked the creative teams, made Peter a single guy just barely hanging on, fleshed out his supporting cast, and made all of his villains motivated and lethal, again.
I’m working my way through the collected editions of Spider-Man: the Gauntlet and they are some damn good comics.
Earlier, I praised JMS for his work on Thor, but man did he fuck up Spidey. He did some crap with Spider Totems choosing him to hold it’s power, predators that hunt the totems, some retcon work where the Green Goblin knocked up his first girlfriend, Gwen Stacey, and apparently it got worse, but I checked out after that.
The point is JMS’ entire run essentially burned down the forest, poisoned the well, etc, and I can understand why drastic measures where taken to get him back to his roots, and while I don’t agree with the means, the end is totally worth it.
Spider-Man is funny again. He’s fighting dangerous villains again. His life as Peter Parker is just as interesting with just as much at stake as Spider-Man’s crime-fighting, and between the rotating writers and artists, you’re guaranteed to find a story you like.
Spidey, welcome back to my pull box. It’s been awhile.
Cosmic Marvel – Starting in 2006, writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning were handed the keys to the Marvel’s space characters with the mini-series Annihilation. With some help from Keith Giffen, and despite stumbling with the follow-up Annihilation: Conquest, the two have made characters that are unbelievably powerful incredibly entertaining.
Here’s the thing, is each character has been around for decades, so there’s a ton of history there, but these guys aren’t Iron Man, Wolverine, or Captain America. It’s guys like Nova, Black Bolt, Rocket Raccoon (seriously), Darkhawk, Gorgon, Star Lord, and Drax the Destroyer, who are all familiar to fans, but were never done well or taken seriously, at least not for years. Here they are, and get to shine.
They can die, and Abnett and Lanning weren’t shy about having characters be wiped out, or have stories and plot points that affect the entire line with no easy outs or ways to reset those changes in sight. Characters who were always bland or in the background, were fleshed out and given motivations, and real threats that affect the entire universe simply by existing were thrown at them.
By constantly putting the characters’ backs to the wall, we got to find out what they’re made of, and I don’t know if it’s going continue after the most recent storyline, the Thanos Imperative, which pitted Marvel against Cthulhu, but they had an excellent run of great stories and awesome characters. Annihilation, Annihilation: Conquest, which wasn’t great, but certainly wasn’t bad, War of Kings, and the Thanos Imperative plus all the tie-ins, and the two series Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy are all worth reading.
There’s a lot of books to pick up, so it ain’t cheap, especially if you have to go back and find all the issues, but it’s been four years of great comics.
Taskmaster – This is the best mini-series of 2010. It’s probably my favorite book of 2010. It’s funny; like, I laughed out loud alone in my room reading it. It’s well-drawn. It fleshes out a character that’s been around for years, but expands the Marvel universe in a big way, without undoing or retconning anyone else’s work.
Here’s the rundown, Taskmaster has a photographic memory. He can fight like Captain America, swing like Spider-Man, shoot like Hawkeye, and dodge like Nightcrawler. Granted he doesn’t have their speed or strength, but when you combine everyone’s moves with cunning, he’s a dangerous opponent.
He mostly farms himself out to various organizations to train their henchmen, but he’s also done things like work the government to train replacement Captain Americas, and even worked with Iron Man to train the next generation of heroes.
The mini deals with a rumor circulating that he’s been a mole for the government for years so every evil cult, terrorist organization, and militia group he’s ever come into contact with try to kill him. Couple that with the reveal that his powers come at a price, his skills eat up his memory, and you have an action-packed mystery every Marvel fan should check out.
For example, he might know Spanish or German fluently, but he can’t remember where, why, or how he learned it. He knows how to fight in every kung-fu style known to man, but can’t remember if he’s ever been married.
The book is hilarious, exciting, and tragic.
My only complaint is they used the original costume and not the updated one by Udon Studios, but that’s minor and kind of dumb.
Fred Van Lente killed it on this book. He’s going to be a writer to watch in the future. When this four-issue mini gets collected, I’d advise all of you to get it.
Boom. The year 2010 through the eyes of a nerd.
Also, I’m taking next week off.
See you in 2011
Posted on December 30, 2010, in Comics, Lists, Matt Loman and tagged best of, comics, HAIL AARON, HAIL FRACTION, HAIL MORRISON, Matt Loman, matt pretty much has a crush on Fraction and Batman which is weird, READ TASKMATER. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.