Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here! With the end of the year fast approaching, the crack-shot reviewers of the Best Shots Team are looking back at the past twelve months of comics with the Best of Best Shots 2010!
And 2010 might be remembered as a year of transition, of comings and goings. DC revamped its organizational structure with Dan DiDio and Jim Lee as publishers and brought the return of Bruce Wayne to the DCU, while the company also said goodbye to imprints such as Wildstorm and Zuda. Marvel ended Norman Osborn's Dark Reign and reconfigured its Avengers, Spider-Man, Hulk and Wolverine franchises during the Heroic Age and even resurrected the long-defunct Crossgen imprint, but also announced the endings of Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: The Mighty Avenger and even the conclusion of that sweet purveyor of the hilarious KRAKKAJAMMA, The Incredible Hercules.
Outside of the Big Two, Mark Waid stepped down as chief creative officer from BOOM! Studios, even as the publisher expanded its lineup with a vengeance with a critically acclaimed run on Darkwing Duck as well as a trio of Stan Lee-created superheroes. Image saw the rise of Nick Spencer with Morning Glories, Top Cow released two separate runs of Pilot Season books, and Dark Horse decided to "do vampires right" with books like Baltimore: The Plague Ships, Let Me In, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, while also resurrecting the Gold Key superhero lineup with Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom and Magnus, Robot Fighter.
Yet the recession brought plenty of other changes to the industry as a whole: Yen Press saw several layoffs, Fantagraphics laid off longtime blogger Dirk Deppey, and both Marvel and DC announced that prices would be cut on new books (with DC even announcing that books would go from 22 pages to a standard 20). But opportunities also abounded: The comics industry saw the first C2E2 convention in Chicago, weighed in on footage and photos from next year's Captain America, Green Lantern and Thor films, and even saw a trio of animated series with Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, Firebreather and Young Justice. With so much going on in 2010, the Best Shots team has had a lot to look at — so let's see what made the best of the best for 2010 for your crack-shot reviewers!
Erika D. Peterman:
Bronze — 7 Days from Hell (Top Cow): This book didn’t win Top Cow’s annual Pilot Season contest, but it should have. 7 Days from Hell packed more thrills and imagination into a single issue than some comics deliver all year, and I’ll be surprised if it isn’t greenlit eventually. Bryan Edward Hill and Rob Levin’s story about a cursed mercenary who must kill criminals was thoughtful and memorable and, artist Phil Noto made it visually striking. The comic embodied the fresh-faced spirit of Pilot Season, and though it didn’t take the prize, it won a lot of discerning fans. I have my fingers crossed for a 2011 comeback.
Silver — Morning Glories (Image Comics): This new comic earned its deafening buzz this year with a fascinating concept, sharp writing and plot developments that made readers say, “Holy crap! Did that just happen?” Morning Glories chronicles the harrowing adventures of teens at an evil boarding school, but it’s much more than a Shock of the Month book. Nick Spencer’s story is suspenseful, darkly funny and unsettling, and he’s created a rich cast of characters whose stories have only begun to be told. While we’re dying to know exactly why Morning Glory Academy essentially jails and torments its students, there’s been a satisfying payoff — or at least an intriguing breadcrumb — in each issue. Joe Eisma’s illustrations give the players real personality, and the deceptive prettiness, along with that soothing color scheme, make the sinister moments all the more effective. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never associated lavender with attempted murder. Kudos to Image for publishing a fresh, exciting comic book that justifiably has made the industry sit up and take notice.
Gold — The Return of Bruce Wayne (DC Comics): Grant Morrison and Batman made beautiful music together in 2010, and this comic miniseries was a perfect vehicle for the writer’s intricate brand of storytelling. There was never any doubt that Bruce Wayne would make it back from the past, but Morrison managed to make the story hum with intrigue despite the foregone conclusion. Though Bruce played multiple roles (caveman, Puritan, pirate) in various time periods, he remained Batman at his core — an exceptional detective and a man who never, ever quits. Some installments were more impressive than others, and a certain illustrator named Frazer Irving took the reader experience to a new level. But even when this series wasn’t pitch perfect, it was never less than compelling. You know a book is good when you hate to see it come to and end, and each cliffhanging issue leaves you wanting more.
Item to Watch in 2011 — Lady Mechanika (Aspen Comics): In just two issues, Joe Benitez’s creator-owned comic about a steampunk heroine has made a major splash — and for good reason. This is a drop-dead gorgeous book that Benitez, along with colorist Peter Steigerwald and letter artist Josh Reed, has handled with great care, and it’s setting up to be a hell of a story. The title character, a human/tech hybrid, is a lightning rod for her London community’s arguments over science vs. superstition, but she’s also a woman in search of her past. Along the way, Lady Mechanika seeks justice on behalf of others like her, or who suffer simply for being different. Did I mention that this book was gorgeous? Lady Mechanika provided one of the year’s most stunning new characters in the form of Commander Winter, the bloodthirsty redhead who will be Mechanika’s nemesis. Issues #0 and #1 indicate that 2011 will be a big year for this steampunk indie.
Bronze — Tumor (Archaia Press): Over the last couple of years, crime stories have had a nice revitalization in comics, so I was kind of surprised that Joshua Fialkov and Noel Tuazon’s follow up to 2007’s Elk’s Run slipped out this year under the radar of most comic book fans. The story about Frank, an old criminal unable to tell the difference his life today and his memories of when he was a young man, is a rough, scratchy book, but that’s what Frank’s memory is as well. Trapped in his own past, he has to clean up the mistakes he made as a young man even as his own old mind lies to him.
Silver — The Sixth Gun (Oni Press): Dollar for dollar, Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt’s The Sixth Gun was the most enjoyable comic of 2010. Bunn is turning into a chameleon writer, doing gangsters in The Damned, wrestling in Deadpool Team-Up and now a supernatural western story, adapting to each style as he finds the perfect story for the genre. What’s he going to do on Superman/Batman? Brian Hurtt is a clean and crisp artist who puts so much character and energy into each panel of The Sixth Gun. When he was doing arcs of Queen and Country and issues of Gotham Central, I don’t know if I would have picked Hurtt to draw demons and monsters, but he makes them look so good.
Gold — Avengers Academy (Marvel Comics): The world of the Avengers, in 2010, was ruled by some of the biggest names in the business. Between Brian Michael Bendis on the New and adjectiveless Avengers titles, Ed Brubaker on Captain America and Secret Avengers, and Matt Fraction on Thor and Iron Man, little room remained for relative up-and-comers to make their mark. Yet that’s just what Christos Gage did with the release of Avengers Academy, by far the best Avengers book currently on the stands and one of the best books Marvel is currently publishing, period. Gage has defied the odds, crafting a team book full of brand new characters so distinct it feels like they’ve been around for years. The book’s premise is equally solid – these aren’t just random kids thrown into superhero school, they’re kids with traumatic pasts who their Avengers professors (all of whom possess checkered pasts of their own) must guide them toward the light of heroism, rather than the darkness of potential villainy. Gage’s facility with Marvel continuity is unparalleled: he knows how to bring in just the right characters and history to serve his story and give it emotional weight, rather than using continuity for continuity’s sake. And Mike McKone’s art has given the book a clean, bright look, with teenagers who really look like teenagers and creatively rendered superpowers. As 2011 dawns, I urge any hesitant readers to look past the intimidating mass of Avengers titles and pick up Avengers Academy. You won’t regret the choice.
Item to Watch in 2011 — Steve Rogers (Marvel Comics): This seems like a no-brainer. Since his return from the dead in Captain America Reborn and his installation as the new Nick Fury/Tony Stark/Norman Osborn in charge of U.S. security in the wake of Siege, Steve Rogers has regained his role as Marvel’s flagship character. As Commander Rogers, he’s formed several Avengers teams, induced the president to give Scott Summers the Medal of Freedom, and attempted to protect his former sidekick (and current Captain America) Bucky Barnes from prosecution. But though he appeared in almost every single title Marvel published in 2010, 2011 is the year Steve will really get to shine. The year marks the 70th anniversary of the creation of the character, a date that will be celebrated by a series of one shots (including one by Kelly Sue DeConnick!) and the continuation of the various series and miniseries Steve has headlined this past year. But more importantly, 2011 will see the release of the first big-budget Captain America movie, Captain America: The First Avenger, sharing his World War II origin and amazing strength of character with the moviegoing audience for the first time. Steve Rogers is my all-time favorite fictional character, and hopefully, in 2011, the rest of the world will understand why.
Bronze — Stargate Universe (SyFy Channel): Taking a tip of the hat from the Reverend OJ Flow’s picks from last year, I’m leading with a TV show, not a funny book. Stargate Universe has filled the gaping void in my TV life that Battlestar Galactica left. Is it the best sci-fi show on TV? No, it’s not — off the top of my head, Doctor Who and Fringe both have showcased better writing and better acting this past year. SGU doesn’t have grand pretensions — though it is wildly ahead of the other members of the Stargate franchise in terms of smarts — just a mandate to provide good, solid military sci-fi engagement each week. It delivers. If you’re not watching it (and Fringe, too) you’re missing out.
Silver — Batwoman (DC Comics): Batwoman, solo and in Detective Comics. J.H. Williams’ lavishly drawn Batwoman feature was a high-water mark for superhero comics this year. Considering this was a year in which we suffered through the grimly loud “Brightest Day” series; the even worse “Justice League” and “Superman” story arcs (by “name creators” no less;) and the abysmal “Shadowland,” “Doomwar” and “Curse of the Mutants” storylines, some may see this as damning with faint praise. I don’t mean it to be. Mr. Williams justifiably won the Eisner this year for his work on this book. His panel layouts alone are worth the price of admission, seeing as they offer a de-facto clinic in how to design a gorgeous comic book page. Greg Rucka’s smooth scripts for the Detective run have largely been overlooked in favor of Williams’ contributions, but they were arguably the best of his career. There’s a larger discussion to be had here about just how daring Williams will be with the character in coming months (more, I hope) but the fact of the matter is that just on artistic merit alone, this book is tops of the spandex set.
MuppetShow04Gold — The Muppet Show (BOOM! Kids): BOOM! Kids’ comic from Roger Langridge was consistently, hilariously excellent. I’m old enough to remember the Muppet Show when it aired — and thus old enough to fret the comic wouldn’t get the tone right. I needn’t have worried, ’cause Langridge nailed it month after anarchic month. Not only is Langridge a genius scripter, he’s a brilliant draftsman as well, making this title one of the handsomest books on the market to boot. Sweet yet subversive, this is one comic you should be picking up every month.
Item to Watch in 2011 — Digital delivery: How the industry as a whole deals with it in the next 12 months will have far-reaching implications. Comics are being “pirated” left and right, and most releases are widely available, for free, the day of release. I say “pirated,” in quotes, because unlike traditional bootleggers the scanners aren't selling books — they are giving them away. Some creators, like "Pickle" author Dylan Horrocks, think this helps their sales, much in the same way that .mp3s have helped musicians. Others — including the publishers — see it as destroying them. Let’s make no mistake: piracy is illegal. But it’s happening, so we need to deal with it. The solution for comic books is radical: Stop printing weekly comics. Printing costs are the biggest bite on a publisher’s bottom line. So, take that out of the equation and make monthly issues available digitally through a shared marketplace. An ideal marketplace would offer subscription pricing, reasonable single-issue sale price points (say, $.99 a book?) and use the common formats already in use: .cbr and .cbz. Hardcore fans would be delighted to pay a Netflix-esque set fee per month to read their books; millions of other folks — who haven’t been near a comic book store in their lives — could be enticed to try the product. The direct market could still survive. I wouldn't release issue collections digitally — only in trade paper — and I’d also print up highly limited paper runs of each issue for the die-hard collector market. But remember, technology is complementary, not cannibalistic. Radio still exists (and is very popular, mind you); newspapers still land on my doorstep, and bookstores are still open. Vinyl records are making a comeback — partly because they are aimed exclusively at collectors, not the mass market. So, the future of the direct market is curation. The future of the mass market — and thus the sustainable bottom line — is digital.
Bronze — X- Factor (Marvel Comics): Yes you heard me right. X-Factor. Zipping along in its own little corner of the Marvel mutantverse, Peter David’s Whedon-esque saga of the hardscrabble mutant detective agency was the best book no one was talking about in 2010. Perfectly poised between full-spandex superhero flamboyance and a quirkier, TV-pilot ready aesthetic of detective fiction tropes, X-Factor only stumbled this year when forced to participate in Marvel editorial’s “second coming” crossover. Even then David managed to keep his characters in focus and his sensibilities intact amidst the mandated plotting. Throwing in clashes with non-mutant Marvel heavies like Dr. Doom, Baron Mordo, and Hela, has given the book a much needed anything-can-happen-vibe that other mutant books lack. The consistent work of penciler Valentine De Landro has also alleviated X-Factor’s most persistent past drawback: spotty, unfocused art. In fact, it’s probably best to ignore that “X” at the beginning of the title altogether, and take X-Factor for what it is: a stellar detective fiction/superhero genre mashup.
Silver — Batman and Robin (DC Comics): Grant Morrison’s “everything counts” approach to the mythology of The Dark Knight has been contentious to say the least, but Morrison should get his due for truly finding a unique perspective on a comics icon all too susceptible to falling back on well-rutted stereotypes. The centerpiece of Morrison’s efforts to re-contextualize the Batman Family has been Batman and Robin, a book that, despite its genesis in the convoluted “Batman RIP” arc and its relation to the overcooked limited series The Return of Bruce Wayne, has stayed relatively self contained and lucid (well, lucid for a Grant Morrison joint…). Putting Dick Grayson behind the wheel of the Batmobile has added a dramatically electrifying note of uncertainty to the Dark Knight’s adventures and Morrison’s fine-tuned characterization of snotty little neo-Robin Damian Wayne has shaded depth and charm onto a character who might have very easily become the next Jason Todd. The dual artistic punch of Cameron Stewart, followed by the creepy visuals of Frazer Irving have made Batman and Robin a visual showcase as well, and a lesson in the advantages of modern day comicdom’s ethos of revolving artists. The only drawbacks were a series of unfortunate delays and a year-end shuffle of creative talent on the title, making it unlikely that Batman And Robin will maintain its top-flight status in the coming year.
Gold — Fantastic Four (Marvel Comics): Sometimes maddeningly diffuse, but always ambitious, Jonathan Hickman’s run onFantastic Four is poised to pay colossal dividends in the new year. Hickman’s run has wrapped high concepts around a unique philosophical core while never flinching from building big, cosmic scenarios that should be at the heart of every FF run. This past year saw the brilliant conceit of Reed Richards establishing a foundation to unite the greatest young minds of the Marvel Universe, a looming war between Atlantean sub-species, Galactus preemptively investigating his own death at the hands of Reed years in the future, and pages and pages of sharp interplay between the First Family of Marvel Comics. At times, Fantastic Four has seemed overstuffed to the point of distraction, but the closing issues of this stellar 2010 run are showing readers that Hickman is perfectly orientated in the thicket of branching plots he has grown over the past 12 issues. Now it only remains to be seen if Hickman can take two of comicdoms most hackneyed gimmicks: the impending “death” of a major player and a ballyhooed re-numbering of the title, and turn them into something great in 2011.
Item to Watch in 2011 — B.P.R.D./Hellboy (Dark Horse): With the conclusion of B.P.R.D.’s “Scorched Earth” trilogy and the climax of Hellboy: The Wild Hunt, Mike Mignola and company had all of their Hellboyverse players poised at dramatic brinks that promised some momentous events for 2010. Alas, the Hellboy follow-up series The Storm and B.P.R.D.’s subsequent “New World” arcs seemed like narrative wheel spinning. A surplus of fine-tuning delayed the conflicts fans have been aching for for many installments, and B.P.R.D. in particular began to lose its focus. Perhaps its just publisher driven hype, but Dark Horse is promising momentous events for 2011. In B.P.R.D., the war against the supernatural forces that besiege the Earth has moved out of the shadows and well into the public, as monsters burst forth in plain sight of the citizens of the world, while in Hellboy it’s been all but stated outright that Big Red will be hooking up with the B.P.R.D. again real soon, and his upcoming war with the Queen of Blood will up the apocalyptic stakes for everyone. I’ve often had misgivings about modern comics’ strained EVERYTHING CHANGES FOREVER! storytelling, but Hellboy and B.P.R.D. have earned the right to crack the world wide open by virtue of years of planning, nuanced characterization and careful, gradual world building.
Bronze — Action Comics (DC Comics): By putting Action Comics in the capable hands of Paul Cornell and Pete Woods, DC Comics made one of the smartest decisions they made all year. Beginning at Issue #890, the series belongs to Lex Luthor, one of the DCU’s most compelling villains. Cornell not only focuses on Luthor’s villainous search for a Black Ring, nor does he simply create a parade of villains past (though there certainly is that), but he examines Lex Luthor the man. It this insightful exploration of character that gives the title its power right now. Pete Woods does nuanced work as well, particularly in the way he draws faces, and a lot of what gives the characters their depth is their reactions to things: a knowing glance from Lex, or an eyebrow raised by LoisBot. Woods’ style is at once robust and stately (just the way Lex would like it) and a bit silly (how fun must it have been to draw Bazooka Lois?!). Superman returns to Metropolis from his Forest Gump-esque walk across America at Issue #900, and I’m looking forward to how Cornell and Woods tackle the Man of Steel.
Silver — Superior (Icon Comics): Mark Millar’s the tough guy who brought us Kick-Ass, Old Man Logan, and War Heroes. *MANLY ROAR* Yet, it’s his latest offering, Superior, that will stick with you over the long-term. It tells the story of a young boy in a wheelchair who idolizes a movie superhero, only to have the chance to become that superhero through the power of a magic wish. It’s like a comic book version of the movie Big, and it’s wonderful. However, it isn’t saccharine. There’s plenty of the trademark Millar snark, but it’s used to tell a sweet story, and the protagonist is a person whose voice we don’t get to hear too often - a boy suffering from multiple sclerosis. Leinil Yu was a perfect choice of artist, and his work looks as though it could have come out of the pages of a children’s book, effortlessly blending the mundane and the magical. I don’t know if there will be a Superior movie, but I hope that it lasts a good long while as a comic book. It’s a kind of story the medium needs.
Gold — Scarlet (Marvel/Icon): Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev are one of the best writer/artist teams working today, and this year they’ve given us not only a brilliant creator-owned series, but a wonderful female protagonist in a medium in which nuanced female protagonists are a rarity. Scarlet tells the story of a young woman in Portland, Ore. who, after being shot (and her boyfriend killed) by a corrupt police officer looking for a scapegoat, wakes up from a coma having firmly decided to start a revolution. What makes the book unique is that she addresses the reader directly, not allowing them to sit on the sidelines while the world goes to pot. We are implicated in the mess the world is in, and we are going to fix it. Scarlet isn’t perfect, nor are her ideals, but she is someone with conviction in a world that has become apathetic. Bendis has created a character and a world that it’s impossible to turn away from. Maleev’s artwork is fantastic as always, depicting a gritty world in a beautiful, elegant way. Do yourselves a favor and pick up Scarlet.
Item to Watch in 2011 — Paul Cornell: 2010 was a good year for Paul Cornell. He signed a two-year contract with DC Comics and got started with a vengeance, breathing new life into Action Comics by giving us a comic about Lex Luthor, giving us a taste of English superhero life with Knight and Squire, and creating an awesome new villain for a three-part Batman and Robin story. He’s also been working with a guy you might have heard of, Stan Lee, on a new title for BOOM! Studios called Soldier Zero, which went on to become the biggest-selling comic in BOOM! history. Oh yeah, and he was nominated for two Hugo Awards. So, why is he the one to watch in 2011? In Action Comics, Superman will be coming back around issue #900, and we’ll get to see how Cornell writes the Man of Steel on an ongoing basis. January will bring us the final part of his Batman and Robin story featuring The Absence, who when last we saw her was about to cut out Vicki Vale’s eyes with a huge pair of scissors. He’ll be bringing his characters-first sensibility to DC both to new titles and to already established properties, and I think it’s a jolt of human drama that DC Comics needs. October will also see the release of a new urban fantasy novel by Cornell published by TorUK, for all you genre fans. So, keep your eyes peeled, because this year’s awesomeness was just set-up for what’s to come in 2011.
Bronze — Hawkeye & Mockingbird (Marvel Comics): This year, my Bronze medal goes to the book that featured my favorite Avenger, Hawkeye & Mockingbird. It's easy to give some accolade to this book if only because it showcased a return to form for Clint Barton, but the story that was told in the six issues that we got was fun, sad, exciting, and intriguing to boot. For longtime fans of Hawkeye & Mockingbird, the story was a great callback to their heyday, and the fact that Jim McCann (sure to be receiving numerous accolades for his Marvel work, as well as his creator-owned “Return of the Dapper Men” this year) actually had the wherewithal to progress their relationship actually made the book feel like it was worth reading. The clean, dynamic, and just plain fun art of David Lopez didn't hurt either. Here's hoping the next phase of their work with the characters is just as fun.
Silver — Action Comics (DC Comics): What can I say about Paul Cornell's Action Comics? Like his lead character, the man is a dastardly genius. I know people will clamor that Action Comics without Superman is hardly the same, but if you ask me, Cornell's story of Luthor's quest for the power of the emotional spectrum is better than anything that's gone on in the title, Superman or no, for years. It balances just the right amount of that classic Silver Age weirdness, such as gimmicks like Luthor's girlfriend/assistant, a robotic Lois Lane, with solid, innovative, modern storytelling. Everything Cornell touched this year was brilliant, but Action Comics takes the cake. Also important to note, the Jimmy Olsen back up story by Nick Spencer and R.B. Silva actually rocked. I never thought I could ever care about Jimmy Olsen, but if that back-up were, itself, an ongoing monthly comic, I would read it for sure.
Gold — Thor: The Mighty Avenger (Marvel Comics) : My gold medal this year belongs to the unsung masterpiece of modern superhero comics that is Thor: The Mighty Avenger. As I write this, there's only one issue left, and a bigger crime against comics there could never be. Everything about this book is perfect. Seriously, honestly, perfect. There are enough nods to continuity to keep longtime fans hooked, but the story is independent and free from outside edict. This is the book that I could recommend to ANYONE this year, be they familiar with comics or not. Roger Langridge's script and characterization are witty and irresistible, and Chris Samnee, with major help from colorist Matt Wilson, knocks the art way, way out of the park. It is beyond shameful that this book did not receive the numbers it deserved, and if I could give a “worst prize,” it would be to myself and other critics for not ensuring that the public knew that they missing out on the best thing going this year.
Item to Watch for in 2011 — The Amazing Spider-Man (Marvel Comics): It may be the safe bet, but I can guarantee that Dan Slott's Amazing Spider-Man will be making huge waves all year. Only three issues into the run, it already seems to be drawing those who jumped ship after what I'll simply call “the incident” (and you all know what I mean), while simultaneously appealing to those of us who were on board for the last two years. With big stories on the horizon, and the return of classic Spidey tropes such as the Sinister Six and the Hobgoblin leading the charge, expect Amazing Spider-Man to be Marvel's flagship title of 2011.
Bronze — Scott Snyder: Talk about one hell of a year. I had seen promotions for American Vampire at my LCS leading up to it coming out. I didn't pick it up at first, just because I was worn out from the whole vampire genre basically being shoved down my throat. It wasn't until I found myself reading, and enjoying, Iron Man: Noir that I decided to take the gamble with a new title with a relative unknown. Vertigo titles rarely lead me astray, and I fell head over heels for the new envisioning of what the American vampire is and Snyder's own theories and spins on the myth and folklore of the ancient creature of the night. Soon after buzz surrounded American Vampire, Snyder became a DC exclusive writer, and soon after that, was announced as the writer for Detective Comics. Though, at press time only one issue of 'Tec under his direction, I just have a feeling Snyder will give the title some of its best stories yet. Quite an impressive year indeed.
Silver — Strange Tales II (Marvel Comics): With the first issue opening up with a Wolverine as a lucha libre wrestler in a deathmatch-style arena, all the while the narration of a letter written by a lost love echoes throughout the story you realize, this isn't the normal Marvel fanfare. Nope, this is Strange Tales II, the second collection of stories that takes popular independent creators and artists like Kate Beaton and Jhonen Vasquez, and let's them play in the Marvel sandbox. The stories range from touching, to downright hilarious. I missed out on the first series, but I made sure to check this one out. I mean, how could you not purchase the second issue of this series based off the cover alone?
Gold — The Unwritten (Vertigo): Déjà vu, much? Yes, I'm aware I gave this book my gold medal last year, but the thing is, there is not a single book on the market that has captivated me as much as this one. Mike Carey and Peter Gross's creator-owned title has earned its place as Sandman's heir, and I feel set the standard for contemporary, mature storytelling. It's been quite the year in the world of Tom Taylor, Lizzie Hexam, and Savoy including Joseph Goebbels' phantom, vulgar rabbits, the return and sudden death of Tom's father, Wilson, and the revelation of the final Tommy Taylor book — suspense, drama, genuine humanity, and an engaging story that has me wrapped around its finger.
Item to Watch In 2011 — Artifacts (Top Cow): With only four issues out, I couldn't really give this a place on my list, however, I am certain this is the mega-series we will be talking about next year. With Hope still missing, and the bearers of the Artifacts coming closer together, the end of the world draws nearer and nearer. While Ron Marz and Michael Broussard have given most creative teams a run for their money, I cannot wait to see what the remaining nine issues hold for the Top Cow characters and the universe at large.
David Pepose, Best Shots Captain:
Bronze — The Sixth Gun (Oni Press): The Bronze was one of the toughest calls for me — because I have to say, Dynamite's The Lone Ranger is an underrated, consistently excellent read — but the sheer inventiveness and deft characterization of The Sixth Gun ultimately made the Oni Press book my favorite western of 2010. Cullen Bunn's sense of story structure is rock-solid, and the little bits of great dialogue he throws in there — particularly ne'er-do-well Drake Sinclair double-crossing a group of ghostly oracles, telling them "you ought not to be surprised... you know what kind of man I am" — give you a poetic sense of just who we're dealing with here. But — with all due respect to Bunn — the force that puts some swagger in this book's step is artist Brian Hurtt, who makes Bunn's six- and seven-panel pages flow absolutely effortlessly. I've always been a sucker for character design, and so it's great to see how distinctive Hurtt makes every single person in this story. If you haven't been reading this surprisingly sturdy series, you owe it to yourself to saddle up with The Sixth Gun.
Silver — Batman and Robin (DC Comics): What's Batman's secret weapon? Forget time-travel suits or New God technology, the real power behind the Dark Knight's punch in 2010 was Frazer Irving. Delivering a frighteningly fantastic vision for Gotham City, Batman and most of all the Joker, Irving was the perfect partner for Grant Morrison as the duo wrapped up the mystery of Batman R.I.P. once and for all in "Batman and Robin Must Die!" Great moments abounded in this book, whether it was the final fate of Oberon Sexton, or Damian Wayne turning a gag on its ear by beating the Joker to a pulp with a crowbar. This is a perfect case of artist fitting the tone of the story, with his shocking imagery and stellar colorwork making every page pop. And another interesting note: In many ways, Morrison stepped back from Dick Grayson throughout this arc, shining the spotlight instead on Damian and the Joker, two sides of the same homicidal coin. When ostensibly "supporting" characters steal the show and make it their own like this — not to mention the surprise ending that launched Batman Incorporated — it makes for a fitting coda to the second stage of Grant Morrison's Batman epic.
Gold — S.H.I.E.L.D. (Marvel Comics): "This is not how the world ends." Visually dynamic, thematically defiant, S.H.I.E.L.D. was no-contest my favorite book of this year. Jonathan Hickman is a man with a plan, and that sureness of storytelling keeps you hooked, as we delved deeper into the mysteries of the Night Man, the Eternal Dynamo and the secret of the Celestials hidden deep within the sun's core. Little touches like an ancient Egyptian set of Avengers — complete with a shield-bearing Imhotep, the original Moon Knight and a young Apocalypse — are just the beginning of the flourishes of continuity Hickman brings. And let's not forget the artwork here — Dustin Weaver is a true talent, and teaming him up with Laura Martin means that this book looks as gorgeous as it reads. This book may only come out every other month, but there's something about S.H.I.E.L.D. that keeps me hooked. An ambitious, star-spanning mystery, S.H.I.E.L.D. is a book about inventiveness, about creativity, about finding your place in the Marvel Universe. And it's more than earned my top spot for 2010.
Item to Watch in 2011 — Young Justice (Cartoon Network): Consider the ante upped. Bring together Greg Weisman as a producer and Phil Bourassa as lead designer — and then let them play with every single character in the DCU — and this cartoon could be the next big platform for bringing in new readers. Repeat watching is key here, as is the level of care that Weisman and company bring to the characters — and I think that's got a lot of potential here, just based on the first double-length episode alone. Seeing Kid Flash's problems with momentum, or the acrobatics of Robin (Dick Grayson, natch) gives a tactile sense to all the superpowers, and I have a feeling that the character dynamics between all involved will do more to increase DC's goodwill among the general populace than anything else. One of the single best moves that DC has made in the past 20 years has to have been Batman: The Animated Series, which rivaled Marvel's X-Men cartoon as the gateway drug for kids and comics. If Young Justice shows as much heart as it does style, this could be DC's crown jewel in 2011.What are your personal bests of 2010?