Since the 00’s are over and done with (thank God), the internets are currently being flooded with every fool’s opinion of the best of everything from these last, horrible, utterly disgusting ten years. While clearly I am no different, comics are the fuel to my fire, and the greatest sequential achievements in the last decade cannot go unrecognized.
While Erik went with the most influential games for his collection of Best Games of the Decade, I will be going a different route. Surely, these are the books that will influence the next generation of comic book scribes, but they are not necessarily a revolution in and of themselves. Plain and simple, whether they be a mini-series, graphic novel or a certain creator’s run on a monthly book, these are the comics that made one of the worst decades in human history worth shoveling through.
Obviously, there are some things missing on this list. It’s impossible to include everything. Get over it. But as always, feel free to yell at us and let us know if we missed something that you hold near and dear to your heart so we can laugh and look down upon you. Kidding.
Brian Bendis & Alex Maleev’s Daredevil
Y: The Last Man
Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth
Sweet, holy hell. I’ve said it before, and surely, I’ll say it again. Whedon and Cassaday’s run of Astonishing is the end of the line. There is no X-Men story that could ever come close to it. None. It’s epic, it’s emotional, it has substance. For all of the race/gender/civil rights issues that should go along with being a mutant, it’s surprising how many X-tales wind up being no more than pseudo-science garbage.
Which is why, the changes and developments that these characters go through – ones we’ve known for years – are so significant. Whedon makes them mean something, and more importantly, he writes the characters as real people instead of superheroes. Astonishing is not unlike Daredevil in that it is everything a superhero comic has the potential of being, except on the other end of the spectrum. Instead of the grit of Hell’s Kitchen, we get the vastness of outer space. In place of beating the hell out of people with sticks, people are punished with laser blasts and adamantium claws.
If you happen to be reading this list in the hopes of finding an entry point for comic books and have always liked the X-Men, be it from the cartoons or the movies, I warn you: do not start here. Why? Because everything you read afterwards will simply pale in comparison. Of course, most would start with Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men, but I want you to actually continue reading comics, not be turned off from the whole idea.
Another great graphic novel work that was included on our Top 10 Best Indie Comics list, Craig Thompson’s Blankets, published by Top Shelf, is a deeply personal look at the author’s own “coming-of-age”. It’s well written and more importantly, beautifully drawn. The themes here are certainly nothing new – spirituality, sexuality, family, love – but it is in Thompson’s ability to articulate his experiences that draw upon excellence.
I love Blankets because it’s unlike a lot of other things I’ve included on this list. It’s not about “the big picture”. There’s no metaphysical discussion or exploration of archetypes or ethical dilemmas. It’s simply an artist doing his best to express the most immediate and arguably the most important occurrence of all: growing up.
The recent recipient of our illustrious Best Mini-Series of 2009 award, Magneto Testament is a heart wrenching look at the origin of one of Marvel’s most popular villains. Set mostly in the concentration camps of World War II, Testament is historically accurate and for the most part, hardly recognizable as an X-Men tale at all.
There are only a few subtle allusions to Magneto’s mutant abilities, and that was a wise choice from writer Greg Pak. His choice to focus on the humanity, and horror, of Magneto’s time in the Nazi camps is what gives Testament its impact, while being respectful to the non-fictional accounts of the Holocaust.
When Grant Morrison started writing duties on Batman back in 2006, I knew that he’d have some crazy stories to tell, but I never imagined that four years later he’d still be telling them. Since his run began, Morrison has concocted the most elaborate intertwining of events ever seen in a Batman book, referencing things in the very beginning of his run that wouldn’t be seen by readers until years down the road.
Beginning with “Batman & Son”, leading through “RIP”, Final Crisis, Batman & Robin and the upcoming The Return of Bruce Wayne, the “death” of Batman may not have been what some expected, but it’s the most original and engrossing look at The Dark Knight since Morrison’s own Arkham Asylum.
Those of you that have bashed Morrison’s Batman work; I urge you to re-read the entire run. This is what comic book storytelling is all about. Morrison has realized the potential of using the monthly periodical format to pace his story, slowly building up the ultimate villain with the ultimate conspiracy, all the while showcasing the essence of Bruce Wayne and his never ending battle against injustice.
Darwyn Cooke is one of the best cartoonists working in comics, and we should all be thankful that he’s chosen to work with superheroes. The New Frontier is not only one of the most beautifully drawn books in the last decade, it’s one of the best analyzations of both the superhero archetype and American culture that comics gave us these past ten years.
Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, Senator McCarthy’s red-hunting Un-American Activities Committee, and the space race, New Frontier tackles the DC Universe in a transitional phase from the Golden Age to the Silver Age, as the heroes of old are frowned upon, but a new generation of capes and cowls await their time to shine.
Brian K. Vaughan strikes again (along with artist Tony Harris) this decade with Ex Machina, bringing his character building skills and witty dialog to a post-9/11 New York City. When Mitchell Hundred, former superhero vigilante and savior of the second tower during the terrorist attacks, is elected as mayor, political intrigue and civil rights discussions ensue.
In much the same way as Vaughan’s own Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina truly has everything. It’s funny but with a political punch, it’s got super heroics and complicated relationships. And just as the cause of the gendercide is the overarching anchor of Y, the source of Mitchell’s abilities to speak to machines is Ex Machina‘s.
This isn’t a book meant only for the politically savvy, and it’s also not preachy nor a soapbox for Vaughan’s own agenda. It’s a story with characters that are confronting the same issues that the rest of the world was, and still is, dealing with after this decade took a turn for the worst.
I’m ashamed to say that my bigotry towards the music of My Chemical Romance and their brethren kept Umbrella Academy off my radar for quite some time, as I stupidly believed that Gerard Way (lead singer of My Chemical Romance) could not possibly present me anything of value. Sure, Gabriel Ba was the artist, but still. Then I found myself flipping through the trade paperback when it came out only to find a foreword from my lord and savior, Grant Morrison. I bought the book on the spot.
I’d like to offer my official apologies to Gerard Way, Gabriel Ba, and Dark Horse Comics for ever doubting them.
Umbrella Academy is a series with unlimited potential and quirky, original characters that are unlike anything you’ve ever read before. With a story being told in six issue runs, we’ve only gotten two of them thus far, Apocalypse Suite and Dallas, both of which seem to be only the tip of the iceberg on where this series could be headed.
Way’s writing and Ba’s handiwork are quite literally a match made in heaven, and I hope their partnership continues through this upcoming decade as well.