Sometimes it’s easy to forget why I like comics and 2010 was a particularly tough year, in comics and otherwise. But here are 10 that reminded me why I do like them. There’s a lot of crime, anthropomorphic animals, gorgeous art, silly fun, people dealing with things the best they can, and plenty of Greg Rucka and Gail Simone.*
1. ATLAS (Marvel, 2006-10) Jeff Parker, writer, and Gabriel Hardman, Carlo Pagulayan, Dan Panosian, Paul Rivoche, artists.
I always love things on the margins, things that aren’t quite right, but are, therefore, awesome. ATLAS / Agents of ATLAS is the Marvel comic voted most likely to be Doom Patrol. And ATLAS is no more. But you can still get the back issues and trade paperbacks and you should—if you like flying saucers, killer robots, dragon advisors playing a Great Game, a guy trapped in the body of a gorilla, and/or secret agent Jimmy Woo who put this team together back in the day to save President Eisenhower and has since become the inheritor of Genghis Khan’s secret empire. I’m becoming a fan of Carlo Pagulayan. And Parker is a smart writer, smart enough to make me rethink the value of reclaiming a yellow peril character.
2. Batman and Robin (DC) Grant Morrison, writer, and Frank Quitely, Philip Tan, Jonathan Glapion, andY Clarke, Dustin Nguyen, Cameron Stewart, artists.
In my heart there is only one Batman, Bruce Wayne. Sure, sometimes people cover for him when he’s injured
or AWOL, but they’re just covering. Further, I do not like that Bruce Wayne has a biological son. My Batman uses protection, even protection against Talia al-Ghul stealing and cloning his DNA. So you understand that I should hate a book where Dick Grayson, the first Robin, becomes Batman and Bruce Wayne’s biological son, Damian, becomes his Robin. But somehow Frank Quitely and Grant Morrison make comics that I love unreservedly. And I love this book. The cover with Damian about to behead Dick Grayson represents everything I love about superhero covers. The flying batmobile represents everything I love about superhero comics.
3. Beasts of Burden (Dark Horse) Evan Dorkin, writer, and Jill Thompson, artist.
Last year, I almost wrote a list of dedicated to crime comics because it seemed to me that the best, most original and interesting comics in the last decade have either been crime or children’s comics. Beasts of Burden seems to cover both with dogs and cats solving paranormal mysteries. And it’s very good. Very, very good. Hellboy and Richard Adams good. Maybe even better, because it’s its own thing. But despite anthropomorphic animals and picture book illustration, Beasts of Burden isn’t a good book for young children. It’s gory and frightening and wonderful. The 2010 collection includes 2009’s four issue run along with short stories Dorkin and Thompson created for the various Dark Horse anthologies.
4. Blacksad (Image, 2010) Juan
Díaz Canales, writer and Juanjo Guarnido, artist.
Private investigator John Blacksad is a cat working cases in 1950s America in Blacksad, a gorgeously illustrated collection of 3 French noir stories reminiscent especially of James M. Cain. And yes, he’s literally a cat, a (mostly) black cat, in a 1950s America filled with anthropomorphic animals–some of them deeply racist. The book is nearly perfect and, in fact, if I have any problem with Blacksad, it’s that I’ve watched too much noir, so I know what movies the stories refer to. But that’s my problem, not the book’s, andlikely to affect only a few people. Even then, the art, the style and tone are worth it. After all, noir is all about style and tone.
5. Castle Waiting (Fantagraphics, 2010) Linda Medley
I began my wait for Castle Waiting‘s second volume right after I finished writing about the first. I feel like it’s been forever. I don’t understand how Medley can write and draw so well. The story is entertaining and well-paced. The art is spacious, smooth with expressive lines. I have no idea why Medley hasn’t won every award everywhere. Volume two picks up where the first left off, telling the stories of a group of people who have retired to Castle Waiting, a refuge in a difficult, quasi-medieval world.
7. Stumptown (Oni) Greg Rucka, writer, and Matt Southworth, artist.
When I heard that Greg Rucka was writing a crime comic influenced by the old Rockford Files tv series, I knew I’d have to read it. I like private investigators who get a hard time, but keep trying. And bisexual Native American detective Dex Parios does have a hard time, in her life and in her search for the local casino owner’s granddaughter. Rucka writes women well and it’s a pleasure to read this book. But Rucka also writes scenes without dialogue well. And I appreciate that he lets the art speak for itself in Stumptown.
6. “The Metal Men” (published in DC’s Doom Patrol) Keith Giffen and J.M.
DeMatteis, writers, and Kevin Maguire, artist; and “The Question” (published in DC’s Detective Comics: Batwoman) Greg Rucka, writer, and Cully Hamner, artist.
To cut costs and “Hold the line at $2.99” prices**, DC is discontinuing its Second Features, short continuing stories that ran in the last few pages of larger comics. In memoriam, I thought I’d mention my two favorite features—“The Metal Men” and “The Question.” “The Metal Men” proves that smooth lines and silliness are virtues in stories of the mundane, suburban lives of Dr. Magnus and his neurotic robotic creations. “The Question” follows the investigations of Renee Montoya, a former Gotham Central detective and the woman who dumped Batwoman Kate Kane. “The Question” read like my favorite issues of Birds of Prey. Hopefully, both serials will be collected.
8. The Outfit (IDW Publishing, 2010) Darwyn Cooke and Richard Stark/Donald Westlake
The Outfit continues the story begun in Parker: The Hunter, as Parker seeks his revenge against well-protected organized crime bosses. Stark’s novels have been adapted before, but Darwyn Cooke translates Richard Stark’s 1960s Parker crime novels into a new form and it is an amazing accomplishment, perfectly blending of art and writing. An adaptation is one thing, but I feel like Cooke’s transcended the original format. Cooke’s formalism enhances the story. I sincerely hope this is the future of books.
9. Welcome to Tranquility (Wildstorm) Gail Simone, writer, and Horacio Domingues
While Greg Rucka is all over my list this year, Gail Simone is easily most consistently my favorite comics writer. She made me read Wonder Woman. Her Secret Six is the comic I can’t bear to wait to read in trade paperback. Now, she’s brought a little light to a world dampened by so many comic cancellations. She’s returned to Birds of Prey, a comic she owns as far as I’m concerned, and Welcome To Tranquility. Tranquility is set in a superhero retirement community and all of Simone’s strengths are evident—her characterization, her imagination, her humor and her horribly wrong, wonderfully squicksome ideas.
10. World of Hurt (self-publshed) Jay Potts
World of Hurt is “the Internet’s #1 Blaxploitation” comic. I’d be willing to say that World of Hurt is the #1 Blaxploitation comic period. Isaiah “Pastor” Hurt helps people who have nowhere else to turn. The comic’s carefully researched, carefully drawn and filled with excitement. It reminds me of old action/adventure newspaper strips like Modesty Blaise and the art reminds me of 1970s artists who I love to see in b/w now—Tony De Zuniga, Angelo Torres, John Severin. And it also makes so clear that Blaxploitation is the inheritor of hardboiled detective fiction. A straight, solid crime comic.
**I can’t read this slogan without thinking of a 2am tv ad for a furniture warehouse.