The yearly “Best of…” list has become synonymous with ringing in a fresh 365 days. In this, our first ever Comics of the Year awards, you’ll be treated to some winners you just may not have expected. So go ahead, hit the jump, and be pleasantly surprised by the comics we thought truly made 2008.
BEST NEW or RELAUNCHED SERIES of 2008
Our first two categories have a winner from Marvel, DC, and an independent publisher. There’s a ton of new books launching every year from new publishers and established ones, and since so many were good, this is the only way I could see fit to honor them all. The following three books established themselves as must-reads with their very first issues, and should be on everyone’s pull list.
Invincible Iron Man (Marvel Comics)
Writer: Matt Fraction Artist: Salvador Larroca
Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca teamed to launch this book in conjunction with Marvel’s movie adaptation as a way to draw new readers to the character. Both longtime Iron Man fans and newcomers alike were treated with some of the best characterization the character had seen in years, and Matt Fraction’s opening story arc, “The Five Nightmares,” came out of the gates swinging and reestablishing Tony Stark as one of the most intelligent, sophisticated, and suave men in literature today. Of course, the impact of Fraction’s script was made even greater by teaming him with artist Salvador Larroca. Smooth lines, great facial expressions, and realistic body language (not to mention sleek armor) make Larroca’s take on the armored Avenger extremely easy on the eyes, and the book is worth the price of admission based on his images alone. The book is shaping up to be one of the best Marvel puts out monthly, and if the quality we witnessed in the first few months continues, these two could be a definite contender for Best Creative Team of 2009.
Secret Six (DC Comics)
Writer: Gail Simone Artist: Nicola Scott
Previously only enjoyed in mini-series form, writer Gail Simone’s rag-tag bunch of bad guys finally got a shot at a regular ongoing, and man is it a fun read. When the group got their first mini with Villains United, I dug the premise a lot. A group of B-list baddies strike out on their own against the wishes of what equates to the DCU Villains Union, and work as contractors for hire. Now in their own monthly, Simone continues the adventures of Catman, Bane, Scandal, Ragdoll, Deadshot and new teammate Jeanette, with artist Nicola Scott. It’s rare that a book featuring so many no-namers becomes successful, but with Simone’s writing, the book becomes a showcase for forgotten characters, and her characterization is terrific. Nicola Scott’s art is delightful, and I look forward to more from her in the coming year. She’s already grown since her run on Birds of Prey, and I can’t wait to see where she goes from here.
Scud the Disposable Assassin (Image Comics)
Writer: Rob Schrab Artist: Rob Schrab
So many years had passed in between issues of this series, I almost forgot it never ended. Then word came that Rob Schrab would be returning to his roots, giving fans a proper ending to the popular series. I honestly didn’t remember how much fun Scud was until the final arc, “The Return of the Over-Used Muse,” hit shelves. Rob Schrab may have moved on to bigger things (The Sarah Silverman Show, Monster House), but he showed the heart he put into Scud 10 years ago was still there. Each page was literally bursting with ideas that could barely be contained within the confines of the two dimensions. Scud’s adventures may be over for now, but it’s clear that Schrab still has the talent to deliver an awesome action-filled funny-book.
BEST MINI-SERIES of 2008
The Damned: Prodigal Sons (Oni Press)
Writer: Cullen Bunn Artist: Brian Hurtt
I loved the first Damned mini, and when this sequel came out, it not only lived up to the original, but surpassed it. Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt expanded on the mythos of their demon-infested 1940s in a way that not only made me want to see more of this world outside of Eddie, his brother, and the mobster monsters of his city, but had me hanging on the edge of my seat at the end of each issue. I was first introduced to Brian Hurtt during his stint on Queen and Country, and while the guy was good then, his work on this series establishes him as one of the best independent artists working today. His crisp black and white art creates an atmosphere that invokes some of the great noir detective/mystery flicks, and his work is totally worth the wait between series. Cullen Bunn’s scripting is sharp, smart, and would translate well to any medium. I’m just thankful we’ve got him in comics. You’d be a fool to not track this book, or the original mini-series, down at your LCS if you missed out on it.
Final Crisis: Rogues’ Revenge (DC Comics)
Writer: Geoff Johns Artist: Scott Kollins
Getting Scott Kollins back on a Flash-based title was a Godsend. The man’s art has never looked better than when he was working with the Scarlett Speedster, and even though this mini-series was all about the Rogues, you can clearly see how comfortable Kollins is working in this universe with Geoff Johns. This story was not only one of the better Final Crisis tie-ins, but also one of the best books DC put out this year. Similar to the Villains United mini that tied into Infinite Crisis, the story here focuses on the Rogues dissing Libra, and his plans to give the villains of the DCU everything they need to beat their arches. Nobody writes these guys better than Johns, and this book showed just how much life the Rogues can have when written properly. Even though I have mixed feelings about Final Crisis as a whole, Rogues’ Revenge delivered a solid story on par with some of the duo’s best from their days as the team on Flash, and I look forward to whatever they have planned next.
Captain Marvel (Marvel Comics)
Writer: Brian Reed Artist: Lee Weeks
Delivering a cohesive and worthwhile story that has to tie into a major company crossover is tough enough when you’re working on a regular monthly series, but to accomplish the same feat in a limited series is even more difficult. Especially when the work is as strong on its own as it is when considered with the rest of the crossover. Surprisingly, Brian Reed and Lee Weeks not only turned in one of the better Secret Invasion tie-ins, they also brought back a long-dead character with dignity and class. Brian Reed may have been introduced to us as Brian Bendis’ co-writer on the Ultimate Spider-Man video game, but he’s since gone on to write some of the best stories at Marvel in recent years. Even though not everything was as it seemed for the good Captain on his return (it rarely ever is), it was nice to have him back for a few months. Particularly since he was being illustrated by one of my personal favorite artists of all time, Lee Weeks. Reed’s script was made all that much better thanks to Weeks’ strength as a storyteller. It’s a shame he doesn’t work on a monthly, but just like Brian Hurtt, the wait between projects is more than worth it.
BEST SINGLE ISSUE of 2008
Invincible Iron Man #7 (Marvel Comics)
Writer: Matt Fraction Artist: Salvador Larroca
As the old saying goes, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.” That had never been more true than in this stand-alone issue that served as an epilogue to “The Five Nightmares.” Guest-starring Spider-Man, the issue focused on Tony’s attempts to help clean-up efforts at the demolished Stark Industries. Only problem is, the construction and clean-up crews don’t want his help. Figuring Iron Man can be useful in other ways, Tony and Peter spend a day or so putting the pieces together on how Stane could get his hands on Iron Man’s technology. Along the way they exchange the obligatory witty banter, but Fraction also makes sure to show there’s more to superhero-ing than smashing into homes in full costume. I’ve praised Larroca’s art before, but if you had any doubts, the photograph image that Peter takes should convince you of the man’s ability. There were a ton of great stories this year, but none told a better tale with just one issue.
BEST ORIGINAL GRAPHIC NOVEL
The Apocalipstix, Vol. 1 (Oni Press)
Writer: Ray Fawkes Artist: Cameron Stewart
Apocalipstix was pretty much the most fun I had reading a comic this year. Fawkes and Stewart’s tale of an all-girl rock band adventuring around a post-apocalyptic Earth is a terrific take on nuclear armaggedon, and provides a great story in a small package. Cameron Stewart is extremely talented, and since his run on Catwoman, I’ve pretty much bought everything he’s worked on. While he tends to change his style ever so slightly for whatever he’s working on at the moment, Stewart consistently conveys a kinetic feel throughout his pages, and gives the book life. Fawkes’ scripting is the perfect compliment to Stewart’s art. His quick dialogue, wacky situations, and characterization make Dot, Megumi, and Mandy unique characters that seem fun to be around (particularly when fighting off a horde of giant ants), and really grow on you in the short time you spend with them. Nothing else I read this year had me as excited for a follow-up as this book, and even though it’s still a ways off, you can almost guarantee that Apocalipstix, Volume 2 will be in the running for this award whenever it arrives.
BEST STORY ARC
“Valley Forge, Valley Forge” – The Punisher (Marvel Comics)
Writer: Garth Ennis Artist: Goran Parlov
We all know how well Garth Ennis can craft a story. Having written the Marvel MAX version of the Punisher for 60 issues, you’d think the man was out of ways to write a compelling arc about a guy who just shoots people. But over the course of the last five years, Garth and a slew of artists have made Frank Castle more relevant that he ever should have been. Hitting on notes scattered throughout his long run on the title, “Valley Forge, Valley Forge” served as the perfect conclusion to what has to be the definitive take on Marvel’s man in black. Frequent series artist, Goran Parlov, returned to close out the book with his best art to date, giving Garth, and fans, everything he could for this final tale. Ennis even managed to tie into the Born mini-series he wrote, which focused on Frank’s third tour of duty in Vietnam, by interspersing the comic with pages from a ficitional non-fiction book written by the brother of a man Frank served with overseas. Despite whatever your opinions on whether or not the Punisher is an acutal super-hero, there’s no denying how brilliant Ennis’ take on the character was. His conclusion not only bookended his run superbly, but also made the already difficult task of following him that much more impossible.
Hope you guys didn’t miss out on any of these stories, and if you did, now’s the perfect time to catch up.