Another year is coming to an end, and what better time than this to look back on the year that was in the world of comics. Of course, the biggest news this year was Disney’s purchase of Marvel Comics and its vast library of characters, with the reorganization of DC comics being just as big a story. In terms of actual product, this was a big year for DC. With Grant Morrison owning the first half of the year with the end of Final Crisis, leading into Batman R.I.P. and the start of Batman and Robin, and Geoff Johns taking over for the last half of the year, with the re-launch of Adventure Comics, reintroducing Barry Allen to the DCU in Flash: Rebirth, and the event he has been building to since bringing Hal Jordan back, Blackest Night.
Across the street at Marvel, things were mostly tied up in the Dark Reign storyline, which has largely been a disappointment for me (how many times can I read the same story? We get it, Norman Osborne is a jerk; it’s time to move on.) There were some bright spots though, with Mark Millar and Steve McNiven mixing Wolverine with Mad Max and The Unforgiven to create Old Man Logan. We also got the return of Steve Rogers (kind of) in Captain America: Reborn and another (mostly) decent year of Amazing Spider-Man, but for me, it was kind of a down year in terms of my excitement for Marvel books.
The land of independent comics was ruled by Chew from Image Comics. This little book that could went through multiple printings of its first and second issues, with early printings going for large amounts before the supply caught up with the demand. Sadly, there weren’t a lot of other Big with a capital B indie books drop this year, although as always, there were pockets of greatness.
So here are the things I have decided were best this year in comics. All these were nominated by me, voted for by myself, and are now presented by I. I have used no scientific measures for these, they are neither fair nor balanced, and were decided largely by my buying habits, which means if I didn’t buy it, it’s probably won’t be nominated. Hey, I mean, I can’t buy everything and even if I could, there’s not enough hours in my day to read everything. Without further ado…
Best Single Issue
Winner (tie): GI Joe Cobra Special #1 and Daytripper #1
Runners Up: Adventure Comics #1, Batman and Robin #1, Captain America #50
I’ve never been a big fan of comic books based on licensed properties, but I gave IDW a chance when the relaunched the GI Joe comic series this year, and I have been very impressed. Standing above the main series was the GI Joe: Cobra miniseries, which dealt with undercover Joe Chuckles, in a story that was more 24 that it was GI Joe. Standing above the miniseries was this special issue that came out after it, GI Joe Cobra Special #1. The special dealt with GI Joe enemies Tomax and Xamot, and pretty much recreated them from what they were in the old cartoon. This felt nothing like a goofy kids show, but was a very adult look into two terrorist’s minds. What made this issue special though, was the way it was laid out. Each page mirrors another page in the comic, so that page 1 reflects what’s going on in page 22, page 2 reflects page 21, and so one, until both stories meet up in the middle. You can read this issue numerous times, and see something different each time. I was blown away when this issue came out, and if you haven’t read it, you HAVE to find this issue.
I had already decided that the Cobra Special was my winner for best single issue, but unfortunately I was forced into a dilemma when Daytripper #1 came out in late December. I have loved, loved, loved the art of both Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba since I first discovered their work. These twin brothers from Brazil have turned in amazing work on Casanova and Umbrella Academy, and I also fell in love with their writing when I picked up De:Tales, a collection of personal short stories written and illustrated by the brothers. De:Tales has the two chronicling life in Sao Paulo, and Daytripper seems to be following a similar tact. The first issue follows Bras, a young obituary writer with a famous father and a dream of being a novelist. We follow him around on his 32nd birthday, and come to understand his feelings of isolation and his desire to step out of his father’s shadow. Ba and Moon tell a very minimalist story, but everything you need to know about the character is right there on the page. This is easily the best thing that I have read all year, and I think it’s going to be a series that I will remember for the rest of my life.
Best Ongoing Series
Winner: Green Lantern Corps
Runners Up: Detective Comics, Chew, Glamourpuss, Scalped, Criminal
I have struggled with trying to decide who should win this one for several weeks, and I don’t know if it’s just that there haven’t been that many GREAT ongoing series, or if I’m just feeling very apathetic towards them, but I could not figure out what was my favorite series of this year. There were several series that I could have gone with. Detective Comics has had a great run of stories from Greg Rucka and JH Williams III, and while I am over the moon about the art, the story just hasn’t filled me with that much excitement. I have the opposite problem with Scalped, where I can’t wait to read the next part of Jason Aaron’s story, but have always been left cold by the art of R.M. Guerra (not to say it’s bad, it’s just not my taste). Chew came out of nowhere and blew me away with fantastic art and an amazingly well written story, but is 6 issues enough for this award? I like half of each issue of Dave Sims’ Glamourpuss. The comics history section is fascinating, but I tend to skim the half where he goes off on random rants about fashion or whatever the hell he’s taking about. Criminal was also great, and I considered combining it with Incognito to make a full ongoing, but that just felt like cheating.
In the end, I went with what may be an odd-ball choice, but I’m an odd-ball kind of guy. If you told me 10 years ago that I would be reading Green Lantern and loving it, I probably would have laughed in your face. If you then told me that I would be reading a whole line of Green Lantern books, and loving them all, I would still be on the floor laughing. What Peter Tomasi has done with this book is take a wide cast of characters and made the reader care about all of them. While the main Green Lantern book may be focused on Hal Jordan and his place in the DCU, Green Lantern Corps focuses on the other guys, the rest of the Corps, and it has been an absolute pleasure to read about them and come to know them. The stories have mainly focused on human Lanterns Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner and it’s through their eyes that we see this amazing universe. Tomasi has really shined when it comes to showing the alien worlds that the characters visit, and sees how they are similar to our own, yet still maintain their alien feel. Of course, with a cast as large as this book has, everything could get confusing, but Tomasi and regular artist Patrick Gleason always make sure that everyone is different and easy to recognize. There’s nothing flashy about the book. Like a lot of my other favorite books all it does is deliver exciting stories with interesting characters and great art month in and month out, and that’s really what I’m looking for from an ongoing series.
Winner: Geoff Johns
Runners Up: Ed Brubaker, Jason Aaron, Grant Morrison
In terms of story, DC has been knocking it out of the park this year, and the man behind most of DC’s great series is Geoff Johns. Johns has had an amazing year, starting off with the great finale to his run on Justice Society of America. This was one of the books that really got his career going and his absence from the book has left it mostly a shadow of its former greatness. We also got a great miniseries from him on Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds which saw him bring back Superboy. Johns resurrection-fest continued in the summer with the start of Flash: Rebirth which will succeed in bringing back the original Flash, Barry Allen, and more importantly, making readers who never followed Allen really care about him. Capping off his year is the massive event, Blackest Night. This is the story that Johns has been building to in the pages of Green Lantern since he took over that book and you can tell that he is putting everything he has into it. Add to that great stories in Adventure Comics and Superman: Secret Origins and you can see why this has been the year of Geoff Johns.
Winner: JH Williams III
Runners up: Francis Manapul, Ivan Reis, Doug Mahnke, Darwyn Cooke
Again, DC surprises me with the amount that they have taken over with this category. It used to be that I would look to Marvel for the artists that I really enjoyed, and while they have many talented pencilers, when I look back at this year, my favorite art showcase books have been released by DC. Leading the pack is the work that JH Williams III has been doing on Detective Comics. Williams is revolutionizing panel layouts in this book. He has made the way each page is drawn a vital part of the story, and no one can do it the same way he does. It shouldn’t be a surprise that his layouts are so good, since he’s been doing similar work since his days on Alan Moore’s Promethea. Not only have the layouts been spectacular on Detective Comics, but Williams uses two different styles when drawing, one for present day scenes, and a different scene for scenes in the past. His style for the past scenes is highly evocative of Dave Mazzuchelli’s work in the landmark Batman: Year One which is appropriate since these scenes are essentially Batwoman: Year One. JH Williams III stands out as producing the best art this year.
Best Graphic Novel
Winner: Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter
Runners up: Hellblazer: Dark Entries, Scott Pilgrim Vs the Universe
This was a tough category for me to pick, mostly because there are a great number of Graphic Novels that either flew under my radar, or I just haven’t had time to pick up yet, so I’m guessing there is some staggering work of genius that I am missing. That being said, even if I had read everything, I would still probably pick Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter (that’s a mouthful). If you’ve seen Cooke’s work before, you’ll already know how great he is, but he takes his work to another level. The first twenty or so pages have no dialogue, but those pages tell you everything you need to know about the main character. The blue tone on every page sets the mood for the story, and makes the book stand out from most anything else. Having read the book this is based on, I can say this is a totally faithful retelling of the story. I can’t wait to see what Cooke does with the sequel Man With The Getaway Face and fortunately, we should be seeing that in 2010, which probably means Cooke could win this again next year.
Best Reprint of Older Material
Winner: Starman Omnibus
Runners Up: Saga of the Swamp Thing, Preacher HC, Complete Essex County
DC and Marvel have been very good recently with releasing some of their older works that have fallen out of print or were never collected in the first place. I am especially grateful to DC for releasing older classics that I had never bothered to pick up, such as Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, The Question, Hitman, and I am most grateful for the release of James Robinson’s Starman. DC has done a great job with the presentation on these books, with beautiful new covers by Tony Harris, insightful information from writer James Robinson on the creation of the series, and very nice, glossy paper that shows off the artwork. Oh, and we also get one of the greatest series’ produced in the 90’s. The story involves Jack Knight, the most recent in a long line of heroes stretching back to the Golden Age, and we watch as he comes to embrace his place in that lineage of heroes. Perhaps one of the best things about the series is seeing the art of Tony Harris improve from the somewhat rough early issues to his clean and dynamic style that we see today. The only problem is the somewhat long delay between when each collection is released, but it is completely worth it.
Special Award for Originality
DC’s Wednesday Comics
I think we as a comics buying market had grown tired of DC’s weekly series by the time Trinity had finished, but DC and largely editor Mark Chiarello proved that they still had one last series in them. Wednesday Comics was an interesting experiment. 4 dollars got you 16 single-page stories, printed on newsprint, measuring in at 14 by 20. It was a hard sell to many fans, but those that did purchase it were given some of the best art and most unique stories of the year. The creator line-up was a who’s who of great storytellers; Neil Gaiman, Brian Azzerello, Eduardo Risso, Ryan Sook, Joe Kubert, Dave Gibbons, Paul Pope, Walt Simonson, and Kyle Baker, just to name a few. While not all of the stories hit with me, I had a blast reading the majority of them, and I have to give DC credit for trying something interesting. If you missed it when it was coming out, you will want to pick up the Hardcover that will collect them all next year.
So, those are my picks for my favorite comics that came out in 2009. Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think was most worthy of attention last year, and here’s to another great year of comics.