It’s that time of year when writers list the year’s best things. This year, some people are listing the decade’s best. And, oh, my temples ache because if there’s someone who manages to read every comic every year for a decade, let alone every comic setting fans a-twitter, that someone’s not me.
Aside from the decade thing, this year is more difficult because I’ve already written about some of my favorite comics. Worse, some, like The Secret Six (DC), were on my list last year.
But if someone flashed some kind of comics badge demanding I choose either David Mazzucchelli’s formalist masterpiece, Asterios Polyp (Pantheon, 2009), or Tatsumi Yoshihiro’s memoir, A Drifting Life (Drawn & Quarterly, 2009) as best comic of the year, I’d choose A Drifting Life every time. But, again, I’ve already written about it.
So before I get into any more trouble, here are 10 comics I liked in 2009, in alphabetical order to protect the innocent.
Atomic Robo: The Shadow From Beyond Time (Red 5, 2009) Brian Clevinger, writer; Scott Wegener, artist; Ronda Pattison, colorist; Jeff Powell, letterer.
Danger: Action Science! An exoversal, transdimensional alien intersecting space and time at multiple points explodes from H.P. Lovecraft’s head in 1926 hungry to devour the earth and destroy history itself. Only Nikola Tesla’s creation, Atomic Robo can save us, with help from Charles Fort, Carl Sagan and all the Robo’s along the creature’s timeline. Sure it sounds awesome, but the realization of potential is a tricky thing. The Shadow From Beyond fulfills its fun potential with great art and colors and entertaining dialog.
The Color of Earth (FirstSecond, 2009) Kim Dong Hwa; Lauren Na, translator.
In his introduction, Kim Dong Hwa calls his manhwa, “little gems from my mother’s life at sixteen.” It’s a sensitively written and exquisitely drawn pastoral story about Ehwa and her mother, a widowed tavern-owner in rural Korea, as Ehwa matures and both fall in love. Beautiful, beautiful work that I love even more for focusing on a young girl’s coming of age. I don’t have enough good to say of this book.
Criminal: The Deluxe Edition (Icon, 2009) Ed Brubaker, writer; Sean Phillips, artist; Val Staples, colorist
Crime comics have had incredible vitality over the last year—the last decade, if we’re playing that game. And Criminal is the best, telling sympathetic character-driven stories of femme fatale revenge and heists gone wrong with fantastic art. This edition collects the first three trade paperback and includes the monthly extras, like essays on Johnnie To (my favorite director) and Out
of the Past (one of my favorite movies) as well as gorgeous portraits of tv and movie tough guys.
The Goon (Dark Horse) Eric Powell
I waited too long to read The Goon,
given my fondness for noir, the 1930s, things with tentacles, skunk
apes and bowler-sporting, stogie-sucking spiders named, “Spider.”
Raised a carnie, haunted by love, The Goon is a mug keeping order in
a neighborhood overrun by zombies, threatened by a well-intentioned mad scientist and coveted by rival gangs. Powell’s painting is amazing, but I especially like his inking and blacks reminiscent of 1970s inkers like Bernie Wrightson. Read it before Bruce Willis ruins it.
The Killer / Le Teuer (Archaia) Matz, writer; Luc Jacamon, artist; Maitz and Edward Gauvin, translators.
The Killer has hits and fights but it’s more about rationalization and decaying
sanity than righteous or unrighteous killing. There’s nothing cool about this hitman’s job; it’s more Jean-Paul Sartre than Chow Yun-Fat. Much of the text is the hitman’s internal monolog justifying his killing. He waits in dark apartments or hotel rooms smoking, alone, and dreaming of escape in Venezuela with no one to bother him.
Masterpiece Comics (Drawn & Quarterly, 2009) R. Sikoryak
Sikoryak should win an award for his astonishing ability to write, draw, even letter in any style. “Classics and comics collide” as Sikoryak retells Wuthering Heights as “The Crypt of Bronte,” an EC Comics weird tale. Albert Camus’ The Stranger is told through a series of Superman Action Camus (nee Action Comics) covers. And poor Gregor Samsa becomes good ol’ Charlie Brown.
R13: Colossus! #1 (Blacklist, 2009) Thomas Hall, writer; Daniel Bradford, artist.
It’s probably premature and irresponsible to include R13 #1, but it looks promising: Skull-headed robots, massive leviathans of the deep, amnesiac creations, mad science, art reminiscent of the Mike Mignola’s Hellboy/B.P.R.D. stable. None of these elements are new, but they’re put together really well. The first issue is a beautifully rendered fight between a robot and a sea monster and it’s good enough that if every issue were a fight between R13 and a new monster, that would be fine with me.
Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941 (Fantagraphics, 2009) Greg Sadowski, editor.
According to Jonathan Lethem’s introduction, Supermen! traces the cultural phenomenon of comic book heroes, putting current comics in the context of heroes like The Flame, Marvelo the Magician and Spacehawk as well as creators like Jack Cole, Basil Wolverton and Fletcher Hanks. You can read it that way, but you can also read it as an amazing collection of Golden Age comics and heroes, beautifully restored.
The War at Ellesmere (Slave Labor Graphics, 2009) Faith Erin Hicks
Faith Erin Hicks comes into her own with The War at Ellesmere, her graphic novel set not just in the horror of middle school but an all-girl private school next to a mysterious forest. Our hero Juniper is the new, not rich kid and she takes on all the evil a private middle school can throw at her, including the mean rich girls. Fun and solid.
The Winter Men (Wildstorm, 2009) Brett Lewis, writer; John Paul Leon, artist; Dave Stewart, colorist.
Yeah, I’ve written about The Winter Men. But the last issue, Winter Men: Winter Special, finally came out this year and the whole run was just released in trade paperback. So I’m agitating for it once again. The Winter Men follows Kalenov, a
Moscow cop, poet and former rocket man, as he investigates a shooting and kidnapping and takes us through post-Soviet Russia’s touchy oligarchy, mafiya, cola wars and the legacy Project Winter, a program intended to create Soviet super soldiers. It’s smart and well-made.
Carol Borden is a hyperdimensional entity that, if left unchecked, will expand to devour not merely the universe but history itself from an unknowable point in the future. With a gun.