Friday, January 8, 2010

10 Best Comic Books (2000-2009)

After reading the various AICN comic geeks extol their personal picks for the ten best comic books of the opening decade of the twenty-first century, it became painfully obvious to me that these guys were all cut from the same cloth. Little to nothing represented mainstream comics on their lists, indicating that routinely dominating the Diamond top 100 sales charts earns little coin with these guys. Apparently their sole cup of tea is graphically mature books originating in either DC Vertigo, DC Wildstorm, Oni Press of Top Shelf (with a smattering of other publishers peppered in).

Look, everyone has an opinion and debating the perceived virtues of their own personal favorites notwithstanding, they collectively came across as highbrow, artsy-fartsy and snobby in their selections. Considering how large a swath "Ain't It Cool News" cuts, it didn't seem to me that those guys really tried to think outside of their own narrow box. Stuff like Scooter Girl, Owly, Teenagers From Mars and Blankets may resonate with a limited crowd, but I believe that those types of books would have been far more appropriately listed as alternate, small press or indie picks for the same decade.

At least reading their choices forced me to actually think about what would constitute my own ten best list, culled only from mainstream publishers, and honestly I either didn't buy or only cherry-picked an odd issue or two out of many of the titles that I finally did settle on. Am I right about these? You decide, but fair warning, I do plan on listing a different ten best list of titles from alternate, small press or other publishers in a few days. Perhaps that's simply hedging my bets, but I'm happier separating the groups. In no particular order, here are the Catacombs 10 Best Comic Books 2000-2009:

Captain America (Marvel) by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Mike Perkins & Luke Ross
The Walking Dead (Image) by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard & Tony Moore
Promethea (ABC/Wildstorm) by Alan Moore, J. H. Williams III & Mick Gray
Green Lantern: Rebirth (DC) by Geoff Johns & Ethan Van Sciver
Booster Gold (DC) by Dan Jurgens, Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz & Norm Rapmund
Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar
Negation (Crossgen) by Tony Bedard & Paul Pelletier
Hellboy (Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo
The Goon (Dark Horse) by Eric Powell
Bone (Cartoon Books) by Jeff Smith

After Marvel launched their latest Capt. America series, Brubaker and company turned it into a gritty, cutting edge action yarn, before doing the impossible and reviving Bucky Barnes, and then followed that landmark effort up by killing off Steve Rogers - with Bucky replacing his old mentor in the role of the Star-Spangled Avenger. The best single character series that Marvel publishes by far.

Robert Kirkman seemingly never sleeps with scripting chores on his heavy slate of comic book series for a variety of publishers, but when Image Comics introduced readers to The Walking Dead, not only was it informed by the very best of the zombie-genre films and other sources; it was a kick-ass ride of a book that had fans salivating for more of the carnage from month-to-month.

Alan Moore's deconstruction of the comics medium, combined with the visual experimentation of J.H. Williams III, gave Promethea, a visual style that was truly unique in its depiction of magic, mysticism, superhero mythology and spirituality. Williams wide-ranging experimentation with visual styles and art, featured ornate designs that accentuated either the emotional experiences of the characters or the themes of the passage at hand. Furthermore, Promethea often experimented with the fundamental element of comics storytelling—the panel. Sideways issues, Möbius strip layouts, completely panel-less issues, backwards or circular flow and other experiments occurred on a regular basis. The final issue is a complex document which can be read in a number of different sequences, including a double-sided poster when the pages are detached and placed together, which summarizes Moore's view on magic and fiction.

Perhaps no other single character dominated DC's fictional universe over the last decade than Hal Jordan and it all began with Green Lantern: Rebirth, which returned the slain hero to the land of the living and kicked off a run of popular mini-events that have culminated in the current, highly successful Blackest Night crossover series.

Booster Gold was a dud of a hero, everybody says so. However, creator Jurgens found an effective way to honor the classic periods in which crossover, mini-series events have become dominant by casting Michael Carter as the protector of the multiverse, taking cues from so many of these mega-events to string together an intricate series that continually toys with readers expectations and leaves poor Booster as "the greatest hero you've never heard of" and that's a shame, because this books rocks it out of the park each and every month.

The "original" Guardians of the Galaxy had their day in the sun during the 1970's, but following their Annihilation mini-series, writers Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning pieced together an entirely new team comprised of several cosmic heroes that had languished in Marvel limbo for far too long and demonstrated that at least somebody working under the House of Ideas purview, remembered what it was like to actually create an unapologetic "Marvel-style comic book", and then rode the ensuing sales chart success to the top of the heap, amidst wide critical acclaim for their efforts.

Crossgen the publisher is sadly gone, but among an impressive run of titles geared towards readers of all genres, Negation stood out as one of the best blends of super-heroics, high adventure and space fantasy of all time. The culmination of the metaplots of nearly all of CrossGen's other titles was set to play out in a crossover event called Negation War, which ran for two issues in Spring 2004, before the company declared bankruptcy and ended production on all their titles. It would have answered many, if not all, of the questions surrounding CrossGen's various metaplots, but the uncompleted mini-series ended with a cliffhanger.

Mike Mignola's Hellboy has spawned two popular motion pictures, but nothing captures the eerie mood and harrowing atmosphere like the series of one-shots and minis that comprise the Hellboy universe over at Dark Horse Comics, and it is also fun knowing that this cool demonic hero made his first comic book appearance in an issue of John Byrne's Next Men. Byrne initially wrote Hellboy for Mignola.

Dark Horse is also the home of Eric Powell's The Goon, a muscle-bound brawler who tackles evil zombie gangs, ghosts, ghouls, skunk-apes, aliens, and mad scientists. Powell has meta-fictionally hinted that the context of The Goon is a creation of pure fiction, taking place in a comic reality instead of implying that it is occurring in the "real" world. Who'd a thunk it?

Jeff Smith's charming ode to Pogo, Bone ended its fifty-five issue run during this decade and absorbed fans lamented the passing of this light-hearted comedy and dark-fantasy epic for all-ages. Smith moved on to his re-imagining of Shazam's Monster Society of Evil for DC.

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