If there is any “best of” list I feel eminently qualified to write, it’s the one for best comic book series of the year. There are a few rules about my list, mini-series are not included (sorry “Marvel 1985″) and it has to be a series I read in the single issues and not just in the collected trade format (sorry “Y: The Last Man”). If there’s a theme to my list, it’s that it features a bunch of Marvel characters I never cared about as a child. At various points in my childhood, I was obsessed with the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and Spider-man. The one corner of the Marvel universe I could never get into was the Avengers’ books. And now I’ve made a list that includes the big three of those Avengers: Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor. Here’s the list:
1. Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 8 (Writers: Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard. Artists: Georges Jeanty, Karl Moline.): Feel free to scream, “Bias!” Yes, I’m a huge Buffy fan, but if you had ask me to make this list last year, Buffy would not have received the top spot. While the first year was pretty good, there were some growing pains in switching mediums in those first issues. This second year, however, has been near perfect. Goddard’s arc, “Wolves at the Gate”, bounced between hilarious and tragic with ease. And Whedon’s return to the world of future slayer Fray did not disappoint.
2. Captain America (W: Ed Brubaker. A: Steve Epting): Ed Brubaker has to be given credit just for writing a book called “Captain America” for so long without the title character appearing. This year ended the 30-plus issue story arc that started Brubaker’s run on the title and finally introduced us to the new Captain America, Bucky Barnes. Brubaker has a knack for taking absurd villains and turning them into credible threats. There’s actually a robotic bad guy with a television in his chest and a camera for his head. I never knew Cap had such a lame rogue’s gallery, but Brubaker makes it work.
3. Thunderbolts (W: Warren Ellis, Andy Diggle. A: Mike Dedato, Roberto De La Torre.): For the record, I’m choosing to ignore the disappointing Secret Invasion tie-in issues. Warren Ellis’ reboot of T’Bolts was a thing of brilliance. I know hardcore fans of the old Thunderbolts may not love the distortion of the original concept, but the idea of an Avengers-style team of villains worked perfectly in Ellis’ hands. With his noir style, Dedato, who I’m not a huge fan of normally, was the perfect artist for the book. Ellis’ decision to leave the book left me worried, but then Andy Diggle came on board and managed to deliver some of the darkest, most intense issues of the reborn series.
4. The Immortal Iron Fist (W: Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker, Duane Swiercynski. A: David Aja, Travel Foreman.): Here’s another book, like Thunderbolts, where there was a mid-year switch of creative teams and the quality of the book didn’t suffer. Before Brubaker and Fraction started this book, I didn’t have any feeling one way or the other about Iron Fist. After their first story arc, I painted him on my closet door. Duane Swiercynski took over the writing duties and with his first arc managed to continue the momentum started by Fraction and Brubaker. And then he wowed me with a futuristic Iron Fist issue which I’d list as one of my favorite single issues of any comic this year.
5. All-Star Superman/Astonishing X-Men (W: Grant Morrison. A: Frank Quitely. / W: Joss Whedon. A: John Cassaday.): This may totally be cheating, but I can’t give these books separate spots on this list. Combined, five issues of the two series were released in 2008. That being said, those five issues were insanely good. Morrison/Quitely and Whedon/Cassaday were two of the best creative teams over past few years (both their runs are now complete). They also seemed incapable of sticking to any kind of strict release schedule. While both books are brilliant, they couldn’t be more different in terms of structure. All-Star Superman consisted of a series of very elaborately plotted stand-alone stories. While Astonishing X-Men was basically a giant 25-issue story arc driven almost entirely by great character moments. Both series are available in beautiful hardcover formats now, go pick them up!
6. Thor (W: J.M. Stracynski, A: Oliver Coipel.): 2008 was the year of Thor. Not only did he star in this brilliant title, but he also appeared in a great series of one-shots by Matt Fraction. Growing up, I never understood the appeal of Thor. And I certainly didn’t get why a Norse god spoke like a character out of Shakespeare. But Stracynski decided to drop the ‘thou’s, recreated Asgard as a floating city in the Midwest, and transformed Loki into a woman. Stracynski is at his best when he’s creating a new world or recreating an existing one, and he does that perfectly here.
7. The Invincible Iron Man (W: Matt Fraction, A: Salvador Larroca.): More than any other book on this list, I’m recommending Iron Man exclusively based on the writing. I really dislike Larroca’s work here. If an artist is going to rely so heavily on photo reference, why not use reference of the actors from the hugely successful film featuring these characters? Larroca casting Nicole Kidman as Pepper Potts is just distracting. Fraction, however, wrote one of the best Iron Man stories ever in his first arc. And if you were a huge fan of the Iron Man movie, the first trade serves as a great introduction to the Iron Man comic books.
8. Criminal (W: Ed Brubaker, A: Sean Phillips.) If you like noir, this is a must read. Actually, if you like noir, you’re probably already reading it. But even if you’re not a big noir fan, it’s worth checking out. Currently the book is on hiatus while the creative team works on their pulp title INCOGNITO, so now is the perfect time to catch up by reading all the trades.
9. Captain Britain and MI:13 (W: Paul Cornell, A: Leonard Kirk.): I know Marvel publishes a ton of team books. So why should you read this one instead of one the 5 Avengers titles or 6 X-Men titles? Well, first it’s set in Britain, so you get cool British slang. Second, it features one of my favorite underused Marvel characters, Pete Wisdom. Third, it spun out of a huge crossover event (Secret Invasion) and managed not to suck. Fourth, the villains powers are all based in magic, so it has a very different feel than all those other Marvel team books. Fifth, it’s written by a television writer who can actually finish his scripts on time! And sixth, it’s just plain awesome.
10. The Boys (W: Garth Ennis, A: Darick Robertson.): Was is often juvenile? Yes. Did it often enter the realm of bad taste? Absolutely. But Ennis loves to deconstruct the super-hero genre and he does it with great success here with each and every issue. And that’s why The Boys makes my list; it’s like Watchmen with excessive violence and plenty of dick and fart jokes.
Honorable Mention: Ex Machina, Daredevil, Jonah Hex, Booster Gold, Action Comics, Wolverine: First Class