Comics Superlatives: The Expanded Best of 2009
A couple weeks ago we gave you our Top 10 favorite comics of 2009, but as you can imagine in any list that short and subjective, it was hard to fit in all the comics, graphic novels, strips, and webcomics worth talking about from the last 365 days. So the CA crew -- Laura Hudson, Brendan McGuirk, Jason Michelitch, Chris Murphy, Nick Nadel, and Chris Sims -- has taken a cue from high school yearbooks everywhere and made an expanded list of our Superlatives of 2009 -- a much more inclusive collection of the comics that were the most, best, biggest, craziest, and most brilliant in their own particular way.
Have a great New Year's Eve, enjoy our final wrap-up of 2009, and we'll see you on the other side.
Best New Superhero Comic: "Batman and Robin"
It shouldn't have worked. There's no Batman without Bruce Wayne. Nobody would really want to see what happened when Dick Grayson donned the cowl, after his mentor fell to very evils he spent his life fending off. It was only entertaining in the hypothetical. This was the going logic, at least until the superstar creative team behind All Star Superman of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely took control of the Bat-family and disproved all conventional-comic- common sense. The new Batman was given his own set of arch-rivals, the grotesquely mutilated Circus of the Strange, who were sublimely tailored to accentuate Dick Grayson's trapezing heritage. Next, Morrison (with help from the on-top-of-his-game Phillip Tan) brought back Jason Todd, and once again recast him into the role of the Red Hood. Coupled with the fact that Batman's bastard, half-ninja son was battling one Robin alongside another Robin while wearing his own Robin costume, the unique family-tree nature of the Bat-family was expertly folded into the book's central conflict. This titled thrived as the "Batman and Robin: Year One," book no one ever expected to actually see, and for that it was Comics Alliance's Best New Superhero Comic of 2009.
Best Motorcycle Race Involving Luchadores, Haunted Tunnels, Minotaur Matadors, Hitler Twins, and Delicious Human Hot Dogs: "The Annual Race to Benefit Various and Sundry Evil Organizations and Also the Homeless: Now with Beer and Hot Dogs" ("Shang Chi: Master of Kung Fu" one shot)
It's not surprising that Jonathan Hickman wrote a good comic here. But what is surprising is that Hickman, usually known for more serious, dramatic stories, put his comedic talents to use and ended up creating what may be the funniest story released by Marvel this past year. If you missed this one when it first came out, try to track down a copy.
Best New Indie Comic: "Chew"
We love everything about this book, from John Layman's beautifully executed high concept (cop who gets psychic impressions from food turns to cannibalism to solve increasingly bizarre crimes) to Rob Guillory's beautiful, expressive art. There's nothing else like it on the stands, and we can't wait to see where it goes next.
Best Mashup of Comics and Great Literature: "Masterpiece Comics"
R. Sikoryak's brilliant combinations of the great works of English literature with comics are instantly captivating. A sampling of the book's cross-media alchemy includes Kafka's "Metamorphosis" crossed with Charlie Brown, the Book of Genesis with Dagwood and Blondie Bumstead, "Garfield" with Faust's "Mephistopheles," "Waiting for Godot" with "Beavis and Butthead," "Macbeth" with "Mary Worth," "The Scarlet Letter" with "Little Lulu," Camus' "The Stranger" with Silver Age "Action Comics" covers, and in one of the books greatest strokes of genius, Dante's "Inferno" as told through the comics of Bazooka Joe, in ten concise strips. The bookshelf of every well-read comics fan has a hole in it where this book belongs.
Best Newspaper Comic Strip, Because Yes, Some of Us Still Read Those): "Cul de Sac" by Richard Thompson
Being the best comic strip in the newspaper today is a little like being the healthiest prisoner on death row. That said, I'm not grading on a curve when I call "Cul de Sac" the finest newspaper strip since "Calvin and Hobbes." Richard Thompson's skewed humor, exuberant linework, love of the absurd, and pitch-perfect observations of family life make his strip one of the only good reasons to keep a newspaper subscription these days.
Webcomic of Nonlinear Humor Deserving Wider Recognition: "Jumps Over the Lazy Dog" by Justin Fox
With a small but loyal following, Justin Fox has been producing free-form cartoons almost every day for two years now, and the results are something to behold. Not every effort is a gem, but the good-to-bad ratio is favorable, and the hits cross every point in the spectrum – goofy, quirky, oddly insightful, and surreal.
Best Cover Artist: Sean Phillips
The cover artist's task is to hook the reader by drawing the eye with bold images and providing some sense of what the comic is about. Wraparound miracles in step with best book covers and movie posters of all time not necessary, but appreciated.
Best Indie Reprint Volume - "You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation," Fletcher Hanks
The utterly insane adventures of the space wizard Stardust continue to be some of the most brilliantly surrealist comics around. These lost gems (edited by Paul Karasik) shed light on a troubled, forgotten creator from the Golden Age of comics. Basically it's Superman, if Superman went around tearing off his enemies' heads and chucking them into space.
Most Misunderstood Comic: "Final Crisis"
Look, Grant Morrison likes to challenge his readers, and most superhero nerds don't like to be challenged, but it's very simple: there's a bullet fired through time to kill a god, a song that saves the universe, and dialogue like "There is a black hole where my heart should be." It doesn't matter if you don't understand it. Like it, damn you.
Best Glimpse into a Terrifying Universe that will Haunt my Dreams for Years to Come: "Pim & Francie" by Al Columbia
Made from stitched together "unfinished" sequences and images that coalesce into a strange and fragile whole, Al Columbia's new book is most easily described as " What If David Lynch Ran The Termite Terrace Animation Studio?" But really, no easy descriptions could do this book justice. And besides, you remember it, don't you? Vaguely, in the back of your mind. You read it in a nightmare. You thought you would never have to see it again. But it's real. And it's waiting for you. Go ahead. Pick it up.
Best Thing about "Dark Reign": Zodiac
Bleeding-edge genre pop from Joe Casey and Nathan Fox, both sickeningly underrated and capable of making more money outside comics. Zodiac is an instant classic as a villain, and there is more style and exuberance in these three issues than the entirety of "Dark Reign." Here's hoping Casey and Fox come back for more.
Most Underrated Comic: "Mysterius the Unfathomable"
If you didn't read this one--and judging by the sales figures, you didn't--then you missed a sharp, clever, beautifully drawn adventure from Jeff Parker and Tom Fowler that essentially amounts to Dr. Seuss vs. Cthulhu at Burning Man. Shame on you. We expect better when the collection comes out this spring.
Best Farewell Issue: "Planetary" #27
"Planetary" concluded at long last this year, ending a twenty-seven issue run that lasted over a decade. And it was a fitting conclusion for one of the best series of the last ten years, wrapping up the final loose ends in the story and reminding us that the work of heroes isn't over simply because all the villains have been defeated.
Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition - Joe Quinones, "Wednesday Comics"
One of the bright spots of the hit-and-miss "Wednesday Comics" was Quinones Frank Cho meets Dave Stevens artwork on Kurt Busiek's Green Lantern story. Retro without being cutesy, Quinones artwork elevated a story that was more than a tad on the slow side. (Hal sure took his sweet time fighting that alien.)
Best Movie Review of "Watchmen" in Comics Form: Daniel Spottswood
"disquietville" architect Daniel Spottswood perfectly articulates everything wrong with quizzical flop in hilarious emulation of Moore-Gibbons classic. Difficult to do. Hurm.
Best Licensed Tie-in Comic, Like, Ever.: "The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror" #15.
The best parts of this comic are like the distilled essence of the gas-that-turns-you-inside-out bit from that one episode. Anthology Champion Sammy Harkham and his insane editor skillz pull together the heavy hitters of current alt comix to produce a Simpsons comic so awesome that its existence remains improbable and unbelievable. The only point of contention could be over which contribution is the best one (I'm down to Tim Hensley v. Paper Rad). Plus it's $120 cheaper than Kramers Ergot 7 and it delivers at least 66% overlapping thrills, so it's basically the bargain of the decade.
Best Revival: "King City"
Buying a story a second time should never be this fun. Brandon Graham's tale of a man returning to his homelands is, fundamentally, no better than it was when originally told in a digest format a few years back, but there is no denying the added value in this series' magazine format re-release. While the new covers and minicomics went a long way in the book's resilient enjoyability, the thing that most set it apart from its peers on the stands was the unbridled joy that permeated each page. No matter how hard one tries to siphon ever bit of enjoyment from every page of this story, Graham surely enjoyed creating it more. The commitment to maximizing each panel, each line, and each visual gag, made its merit self-evident. There are, in fact, new King City stories to be told, once the retelling is through, but even with primarily older content, this was still one of the best comics of 2009.
Best Appearance By a Real Person In a Comic Who Isn't Obama - Tim Gunn, "Models Inc" #1
Amid all the Obama hubbub, it should be noted that only one real life person got to wear the Iron Man suit this year.
Best Use of a Pen and Paper Role Playing Game as the Basis of an Exciting Plot: "Incredible Hercules 135"
Pen and paper RPGs have never really caught on as a spectator sport because, to be honest, they're not terribly exciting to watch even when you're actually interested in them. Which is why "Incredible Hercules" #135/s engrossing tabletop showdown between seventh smartest man in the world Amadeus Cho and sixth smartest man Pythagoras Dupree is so impressive. I had so much fun reading it that I'm even willing to overlook the obvious error when Cho is depicted using a twelve sided die to make a skill check.
Best Series For Fans of Richard Corben and Gratuitous Beheadings – "Starr the Slayer"
Pretty much everyone outside of Corben completists missed this violent, darkly funny Marvel MAX update of Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor Smith's other sword-wielding barbarian. A meta take on Conan, "Starr" finds a washed-up hack pulp writer being pulled into the bloody sword & sorcery world he created decades ago. Daniel Way reaches near Ennis-ian levels of grotesque humor in this wild romp, while Corben's distinctive, almost 3-D artwork is worth the price alone.
Best Use of a Creative Clean Slate: "Fantastic Four: Solve Everything"
"Fantastic Four" is a book that has difficulty being as good as it should be. Despite being one of the crown jewels of the Marvel stable, it is historically a title that struggles to maintain relevance. Jonathan Hickman and Dale Eaglesham bucked that trend with their first storyline as the book's creative pairing with "Solve Everything," in which Reed Richards searches for the single mathematical solution to all the world's ills. The arc hit on all the familial notes needed to define a Fantastic Four story, and did so while using the kind of outrageous super-science Marvel does best. It also provided the punch line to the age-old joke, "So an infinite numbers of Reed Richards' walk into a bar..."
Most Fittingly Matched Battle: Carl Sagan vs Unknowable Horror from Beyond Space and Time ("Atomic Robo and the Shadow from Beyond Time #4")
When Atomic Robo has a century spanning battle with a cosmic horror bent on unmaking the universe retroactive to the dawn of time, he could ask for no better ally than astronomer Carl Sagan. Sagan's passionate belief in man's ability to learn all there is to know about our universe faces a tough opponent in a Lovecraftian horror that seems to defy all reason. But just as he and Robo succeed in their task, Clevinger and Wegener succeed in lovingly portraying Sagan in their high energy adventure-comedy series.
Best 20-Year-Old Tim Sale Comic That Makes Up For Him Ditching Comics For "Heroes": "The Amazon"
One of the best, most socially relevant comics of the year was actually released in 1989. Dark Horse's reprint of Steven T. Seagle and Tim Sale's three-issue Comico miniseries (beautifully colored for the first time by Dave Stewart) introduced a whole new audience to a story that deserves to be mentioned alongside other "important" comics like "Maus" and "Persepolis." To those only familiar with Sale's superhero work, the crisp, clean storytelling of "The Amazon" is an eye-opener. (It's nice to journey back to the days when he wasn't going crazy with shading.) Hopefully when the collection comes out in early 2010, "The Amazon" will find the audience it so richly deserves.
Best Comic Marketed As A Bad Girl Book That Actually Turned Out To Be A Lot of Fun: "Marvel Divas"
You're excused if you skipped this one, considering the controversy that arose from the unfortunate title and the terrible, terrible cheesecake cover. (Though, to be fair, the covers vastly improved past the first issue.) But those brave souls who did pick it up found a fun, occasionally moving story featuring some underutilized Marvel heroines. (Who doesn't love a good Firestar story?) Sure, it was "Sex & the City" meets the Marvel Universe, but also miraculously way better than that tagline suggests.
Best comic to read when you can't sleep: "Ganges" #3
Glenn Ganges is still trying to fall asleep from issue #1. Join our hero in the fight of his life against his foe, Insomnia. But can he truly rely on his allies, Body and Mind? Or will they betray him, just like all the others? And what of Wendy? Will she ever again be conscious and have her face shown at the same time? Only issue #4 will tell! Maybe!
Best Weekly Comic: "Wednesday Comics"
14 x 20 full-color weekly comics by Kyle Baker, Mike Allred, Brian Azzarello, Paul Pope, Neil Gaiman, Kurt Busiek, Joe Quinones, Walt Simonson, Brian Stelfreeze, John Arcudi, Ben Caldwell, Lee Bermejo, Joe Freaking Kubert and more? Thank you, Mark Chiarello and "Wednesday Comics." Now: give. us. more.
Best Grant Morrison Comic: "Seaguy: The Slaves of Mickey Eye"
To: All applicants named Batman or Crisis. The position has been filled. Thank you so much for your interest. Please feel free to apply again next year. Some suggestions for your future success: try to develop more genuine foreboding, a better sense of unease. Keep a dream journal. Give a tuna a cigar. Have a swordfight with a bearded lady. And try to develop more spontaneously self-impregnating secret agents in a Mexican version of the Village from the Prisoner. Best of luck in your future endeavors. Sincerely, God.