The Best Comics of 2008

December 16, 2008

I’m sure many of you who stop by to read what I have to say mainly in regards to my music, political or religious articles probably scratch your head over the comic thing. Nevertheless, I know preachers, teachers and stoners alike who enjoy what the modern graphic novel medium produces lately, and there’s something for all of them on this year-end round-up.

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10) Zorro by Matt Wagner and art by Francesco Francavill

Dynamite entertainment gave Matt Wagner, famed creator of “Grendel” and writer of things like “Batman and the Mad Monk,” a chance to re-envision Zorro for a new set of readers. Really, though, his take is nowhere near a re-imagining or re-envisioning. Dyanamite’s “Lone Ranger” is radically amped up and done so successfully in the only way such a character could become relevant to modern readers, but Wagner maintains the classic elements of Zorro that work for readers of all ages in all time periods. Zorro is a warrior for the downtrodden and a fist against the oppression of a corrupt and controlling government presence. The art, directed by Wagner and executed by Francavilla, is majestic, the story is effective and the hero is noble. A better book for boys from 8 to 80 who enjoy action, history and westerns doesn’t exist.
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9) Batman RIP by Grant Morrison art by Tony Daniel
Sure it was messy, confusing, a bit implausible and totally out of left field. It was Grant Morrison, so that’s to be expected. Morrison never bothers to give you all the details, like some sort of existentialist novelist he makes you catch up without stopping to elaborate. Between issues in this story things have occurred, often in each issue things seem to occur in between panels and pages and out of sight and we as readers are left to figure out just what is really going on. All the while, Morrison pulls from every bit of the story he’s built over the course of his 25 plus issue run on the title. That old, 3-part seemingly throwaway story in which Batman is solving a mystery on an island? Highly relevant, though we didn’t know it at the time. In fact, he pulls not only from his work but from major and minor details from the entire 60 odd year history of Batman, using story elements and characters that most of us assumed had been written out of continuity and forgotten about. Not to mention the gorgeous pencils of Tony Daniels. It’s been reported that the delays between issues were a result of Daniels painstaking attention to detail, and if so it was worth it. So sure, this was a love it or hate it proposition, and now Bat fans are left without their main character for what’s being said to be a year, but all in all it was one of the best events of the year.

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8. Amazing Spider Man by various

“Amazing Spider Man” has been one of the most consistently enjoyable lightweight and fun books on the racks this year. Fans moaned at the results of the “One More Day” storyline which dissolved Peter Parker and Mary Jane’s marriage as a result of a pact with the devil (the Marvel Universe‘s “Mephisto“) Parker made to save his aunt’s life. Ultimately, that was silly, but now Parker exists in the same world, albeit one in which he and Mary Jane never married. So, several other details in his life are now different as a result. It’s a post “One More Day” world, and the now thrice monthly “Amazing Spider Man carried the banner “Brand New Day ” for months to notify folks. Harry Osborn is alive and currently friends with Parker. Parker is single and settling in an apartment with his cop roommate after moving out of his aunt’s house. May is alive and well working in a homeless shelter. The new direction strips the story down. What Stracynski had been doing for the past years on the title had been good, but increasingly too dark and dramatic for a character like Spider Man. Now we have a mid twenty Parker who’s a struggling photojournalist and a doting nephew, who’s juggling his superheroics, his dating life and his journalism job for Front Line (after the Bugle was sold out from under JJJ and became a tabloid.). New villains, new acquaintances and a revolving creative team incorporating the best up and coming writers and artists (check out Marcos Martin‘s phenomenal non traditional art) as well as the best veterans (Mark Waid, Roger Stern). Fun, humorous, action packed and all-ages enjoyment, exactly like “Amazing Spider Man” should be.

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7) Locke and Key by Joe Hill and art by Gabriel Rodriguez
Joe Hill has consistently proven himself to be quite capable in any writing exercise. His first novel, “Heart Shaped Box” was terrific, his collection of short stories, “20th Century Ghosts,” is the best short story collection I’ve read in years, and now he’s trying his hand with comics to the same success. “Locke and Key” is human and heartfelt, spooky and occasionally violent, realistic yet supernatural and fantasy based. It’s beautifully illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez (who equally excelled in illustrating the Beowulf comic adaptation IDW released last year). It tells the story of a woman and her three kids who move across country from California to New England after the woman’s husband and the children’s father is murdered by two of the students he worked with as guidance counselor at the local high school.  The family move to the childhood home their deceased father grew up in, which his brother still lives in and care-takes. It’s  a sprawling old mansion named “Lovecraft.” Once there, the youngest of the children discovers a certain door in the house that passageway through results in the person becoming a ghost.  That door is but one of many that leads to odd places, and I’m sure we’ll get to read of more of them when volume 2 picks up in the spring.
The entire first volume is one story arc, collected in  a nice hardcover that came out a few months ago. Check it out.
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6) Final Crisis (and tie ins); main series by Grant Morrison, art by J.G. Jones
Although Secret Invasion is over and Final Crisis still has a little to go, I already pick FC as the blockbuster comics event of the year. Secret Invasion sprawled across most Marvel titles yet managed to delay all major revelations and twists as long as possible. As it ends, parts of its conclusion are satisfying and what it sets up to follow seems more interesting than the actual event itself, but in comparison we see DC delivered much more in much more concentrated doses. Better art, more shocks and ultimately a better story was found in Final Crisis. Secret Invasion’s only real fatality is the Wasp? Well, FC took away Martian Manhunter in the first issue, followed through in subsequent issues by bring back Barry Allen, capturing Batman, reintroducing the multiple versions of the Legion, setting up “Blackest Night,” fully realizing Darkseid’s earthly presence and the list just goes on and on. Plus every tie-in miniseries was excellent, from “Rogue’s Revenge” to “Revelations.” Sprawling, thought-provoking and entertaining.


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5) Young Liars by David Lapham

“Young Liars” is David Lapham’s latest tale. The first 8 issues of this series arrived monthly this year and at the end of the year the first 7 issues were collected into an inexpensive trade paperback. A lot of people wait for those collected editions with Vertigo. By doing so they’re usually missing out on the best monthlies, but especially so in the case of Liars. The first few issues sometimes had portions set in the present, actually dated on the date that issue was released in shops. This made those issues very timely and added an extra layer of enjoyment. This story is one of the most unpredictable and random stories I’ve ever experienced in any medium. Time jumps around quite Tarantino-esque: in one issue it might jump from the present day, back a month, back 5 years, back two weeks. It never reveals all of the details but usually doesn’t let you know that its avoided them. What I mean is that after reading an issue or two you’ll think you know where the characters have been and where they’re going. Then the next issue will flashback to a point often right between other events you were already aware of but will reveal aspects of the story you never would have suspected. I finally thought I knew what was going on then issue 8 told a tale that seemed to move the story in a completely new direction. Then, I read the next issue and found out I was closer in my first assumption. Aside from the unexpected, there’s also plenty of visceral shock: the insane lifestyle of Sadie’s father, the failed suicide of Danny, the “midget and mr. Johnson,” the item Cee Cee carries in her purse in issue 10…there’s plenty of out of left field shock and awe. Music permeates the series as well, whether it’s the mixtape selections listed at the beginning of each chapter, the work Danny and his band do for their band, or the concerts the liars occasionally see. Ultimately, Danny and the gang are almost void of admirable qualities yet they remain tragically flawed and likable. So check out Lapham’s latest gusto filled effort. Hopefully this one will reach a natural conclusion in a few years, unlike his on hiatus “Stray Bullets” series.

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4) “Joker” by Brian Azarello, Art by Lee Bermejo

Who else to pen a Joker crime noir tale than the mastermind behind Vertigo’s ultimate long running noir “100 Bullets.” I suppose off of the success of the Heath Ledger portrayal of Joker in “Dark Knight” DC comics wanted to capitalize from it by issuing such a tale rooted in the same version of the character. “Joker” could be a sort of sequel to Dark Knight in many ways, although the prominent presence of one character that died in Knight would create a problem for that in the overall sense. Anyway, all of the villains present in this graphic novel seem to be Nolan versions of their comic characters. They all look grounded in a sick shady reality, portrayed scarily realistic: Killer Croc, Penguin, Joker, Harley Quinn, even the Riddler. The central tale focuses on the Joker being released from Arkham. He enlists a low-level hood to drive him around as he seeks to regain his criminal empire. The Joker is calculating yet impulsive, driven yet distracted by psychotic urges and always untrustworthy. The story is quick, fast and fun. It’s noir in the true sense of the word, and there’s really no great resolve or overarching victory or message. What really sets “Joker” over the top is the artwork by Lee Bermejo. Bermejo has done some of the best covers of the past year or two, specifically his “Hellblazer” covers and its great to see him do full interiors that pop right off the page. His style fits this version of the characters perfectly.

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3) “Y the Last Man vol. 10: Whys and Wherefore’s by Brian K. Vaughn art by Pia Guerrera
Brian K. Vaughn finished his epic series Y the Last Man and the final story arc was collected and released this year as “Volume 10: Whys and Wherefores.” The entire series has been unbeatable, full of shocks turns, twists and emotional resonance. If you’ve never read it, go back to volume 1 and follow the adventures of Yorick Brown and his pet monkey, the last two males to survive the ‘gendercide’ that kills off all others carrying the Y chromosome. Its funny, scary, and surprisingly realistic at most moments. This last volume gives us one of the saddest single moments the comic medium has ever produced as well as the most poignant last page a series has ever had.

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2) Wolverine- Old Man Logan by Mark Millar and art by Steve McNiven
This has been Mark Millar’s year. He penned an enjoyable mini-series, “1985” the last issue of which (and the last page specifically) was a career highlight. He released the first few issues of the creator owned and controlled series “Kick-Ass” under Icon, and is already helping oversee the film version of that (although finishing the series first would have been preferable, talk about delays). To top it all off, he penned two mainstream Marvel titles, taking them in new and great directions–Fantastic Four and Wolverine. “Wolverine,” was the most anticipated monthly action adventure series this year. “Old Man Logan” tells an alternate future story in which Logan (aka Wolverine) has retired from his pubic life and embraced a pacifist existence (in an obvious homage to Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven.”) He hooks up with the now blind Hawkeye for a cross country adventure in a world where the heroes are all dead or retired and the U.S. is carved up and owned by the villains. Not to mention an “anti-virus” of primordial dwelling goblins who’ve surfaced to cleanse the overpopulated planet. Millars story nods to every corner of the Marvel universe and its history and runs games with fan boys wishes. McNiven’s art surpasses his previous work on “Civil War.” Although there are a few issues left to go and the inevitable hardcover edition is yet to come, this belongs near the top of the best 08 had to offer. Which means if it ends as strongly as it’s been thus far, it could be back here next year.

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1) Local by Brian Wood art by Ryan Kelly

I could write pages about the excellence of “Local,” but I’ll be brief. This maxi-series was supposed to run a year, but delays prompted it these twelve issues to spread across 2006, 2007, and the final 2 issues came out earlier this year in 2008. Months later the entire run was collected in a nice Hardcover that is the perfect gift to give a comic fan looking for something outside of the box or for a casual comic fan, say someone who’s only read “Watchmen” and the like. It’s a series of 12 short stories, all work alone yet all go together. The same girl is in each story, sometimes as the central focus and sometimes merely as a background character. Each issue is set in a different city spread across North America, from California to Virginia to Canada. Readers see her age from a 16 year old girl to a 28 year old woman; the final page really kicks you in showing her as a full grown woman who finally finds her place in the world. Each story is cram packed with detail–Kelly and Wood visited each city they set their story in, each panel is minutely and beautifully detailed, local qualities each city has appear continuously. The stories are about everything from a rock band returning to their hometown after a career abroad to a violent confrontation between brothers over a family inheritance. Do yourself a favor and pick up “Local.”

There were many, many close contenders: “Criminal vol 2” by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, “Thor” by J.M.Stracynzki, RASL by Jeff Smith,Green Lantern: Secret Origins by”Hellblazer” by Andy Diggle

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One Response to “The Best Comics of 2008”

  1. David Gilkey said

    I accidentally commented all the way down under the definition of pro life. I commented on everything though.

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