Disclaimer: I don’t buy anywhere near enough comic books to be able to post a ‘Best Comics of 2010’ list. I don’t buy anywhere near enough comic books in floppy format on a weekly basis, and I tend to buy a lot more trade paperbacks. This means I haven’t read many of the books that end up on these sorts of list (although I would recommend Greg Burgas’ list of his best comics of 2010 for a good and realistic selection), and there are some of those books that I will be reading in trade form some time in the future. For example, I’ll definitely be buying Jason Aaron’s PunisherMAX, Ed Brubaker’s Secret Avengers, Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, Fred Van Lente’s Taskmaster and Brian Michael Bendis’ Scarlet, which means I can’t talk about them yet. The other disclaimer is that these are my favourite books that I read in 2010, either in comic or trade form, which means that I include things I bought in that year even if it was published earlier. Finally, this is not in any order of preference; just the ten books that stood out over the course of the year.
I’ve only read the first collection of the creator-owned Vertigo book from Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque (with a back-up origin story from Stephen King) but it was very good. A novel take on the vampire mythos, an intriguing central character, a sense of history that allows for different time periods (the origin is set in cowboy times, and the first story is in the 1930s), and great art from Albuquerque.
This is a special mention for the great comic books series from Jeff Parker and Gabriel Hardman that unfortunately ended this year. Always interesting, always well written and well drawn, Parker created some great stories from old characters (although he spent most of the year in crossover mini-series with more popular characters), and I’d hoped that the new series would be the one that would take them to the next level. However, Parker himself brought the series to an end himself, after realising that they weren’t going to catch on with the comic-buying public, despite all the help that Marvel had provided. Much equally excellent The Incredible Hercules (which almost made this list but was slightly too fractured this year, and it at least still lives on with a new series for Hercules), it was a quality book that always had trouble finding an audience.
Even though I said I wasn’t going to express a preference, I would have to say that this was my favourite book from 2010. John Layman and Rob Guillory have created something really special with their wonderfully oddball book about a cibopath (someone who can pick up psychic impressions from anything he eats) in a world where chicken is a banned substance. Funny, smart, unique, offbeat and with quirky art, it continued to charm beyond the unusualness of the central conceit. I enjoyed the two trades (the second and third collections) so much, I’m tempted to start buying the individual issues.
Despite the 100th issue costing as much as a trade paperback (it was a good comic but that’s expensive), Fables was a consistently entertaining book. The Dark Man provided a much-needed focus for the characters to face, and Bill Willingham continues to have fun with fairy tales and the cast. Month in, month out, this was a book that was a pleasure to read and to keep reading, which is impressive for a title in its ninth year.
I still haven’t caught the bug of reading comics online – I read webcomics but the dimensions feel wrong and the ability to flick back and forth between pages in hard copy is a simple pleasure that I feel has been lost. I know that I might be a Luddite but I can’t help the way I am. However, the entertainment value of Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield’s (mostly) weekly six pages of free online comics means that it earns a place on my list. Without the need for artificially created cliffhangers to keep the reader coming back, the story keeps up a constant flow of information, dialogue, action and interesting characters, helped by the consistent four-panel layout. Kudos to the creators and for doing it for free.
Grant Morrison’s Batman comics
I didn’t particularly take to the first books in Morrison’s run on Batman, but he found his stride on the way, particularly with Batman and Robin. I know that these books found their way on to many end-of-year lists, but it did deserve it for finding something interesting and new to do with an old character, and Morrison had a lot of fun over the course of the year investigating Bruce Wayne in The Return Of Bruce Wayne and what Batman means in Batman and Robin, as well as the first issues of Batman Incorporated. An impressive achievement for such a big franchise character.
The Nightly News
This is a bit of a cheat because this book has been out for some years but I only finally bought and read the trade this year, but I had to include it because it was so good. Telling an interesting story in an interesting way (I hadn’t seen that combination of design and information dispensing, with footnotes and text, done in that way anywhere else before), it was unlike anything I’ve seen and I can see why people were talking about it and why it got him writing for Marvel so quickly in his career. I had been reading Fantastic Four and Secret Warriors and SHIELD, which is what convinced me to buy the book, and it is even better than those admittedly very fine comics. I can’t do The Nightly News justice because it requires something with more skill and understanding to explain its many excellent qualities, but I can highly recommend it (along with everyone else who has praised it).
This year I have felt starved of Scalped because I read it in trade paperback, and this year saw the release of only one (book six, Gnawing) because the seventh collection, Rez Blues, collects so many issues and is coming out soon. Despite that, it earns a place on my list for that one trade because it was so good and because it is so consistently good. Jason Aaron is writing a brilliant story in Scalped and the five issues of Gnawing were such brutally brilliant comics that the wait for the next collection has been agony.
Although it started in 2009 and has only featured four issues so far, this series by Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth earned a place on my list on merit alone. The book is about Dex Parios, a female private investigator in Portland, Oregon (Stumptown is the nickname for Portland), who has a gambling problem but also a knack for having simple cases turn into something more complicated and dangerous, in the grand tradition of fictional detectives. Rucka has created another interesting female protagonist, and Southworth provides the perfect art style to accompany the story. I can’t wait for the next instalment.
Every year this book is excellent and every year it amazes and slightly depresses me that it isn’t more successful. Stan Sakai continues to create perfect comic books, which just happen to be about a rabbit ronin set in feudal Japan, and yet its consistent brilliance is ignored by the majority of the comic book audience. It sells less than 5,000 issues in individual issues, which is a crime, so it makes my list for the double reason of its excellence and because it needs to given the extra boost (not that I flatter myself by suggesting that I can have any effect). Usagi Yojimbo is a fantastic book and demands your attention.