There’s something ridiculous about year-end top ten lists, especially when they’re written by non-professional critics. Ordinary folk like me probably haven’t read a representative sample of books published in any given calendar year due to budget limitations, established genre preferences and a lack of time. The date restrictions also feels artificial – many of the books I enjoy most in any given year weren’t actually published that year. My real top ten would probably include Zot!, Eddie Campbell’s Bacchus, Tomb of Dracula, Jar of Fools, Mesmo Delivery and the six part Scott Pilgrim saga. In 2010 alone, I know that I missed out on Pluto and Duncan the Wonder Dog and all the cool things on Douglas Wolk’s list. I stopped reading Scalped after the first trade and am about two trades behind on DMZ. I don’t read manga, which should probably disqualify me from writing or talking about comics at all. In short, any “Best of 2010” list I can come up with would be woefully incomplete.
But…. I like list-making. So, here’s part one of a two part look at ten books published as single issues in 2010 that I found especially intriguing and/or moving that are not Daytripper (which I’ve written about ad nauseum):
10) Philip K. Dick’s Electric Ant (David Mack, Pascal Alixe: Marvel Comics)
Jon Stewart told Terry Gross that creativity comes from limits and restrictions. I don’t know if this is really true, but I think David Mack is at his best (as a writer) when he’s working within limits (see Daredevil). In this Marvel mini, an adaptation of the classic Phillip K Dick meditation on perception and reality, Mack effectively evokes the paranoia and uncertainty of the original while retaining his uniquely surreal sensibilities. The end result is some of Mack’s best writing in years.
This was also the book in which I discovered the work of Pascal Alixe, who successfully contrasts the expansion of protagonist Garson Poole’s inner space with the collapse of the real world around him. Although his work on the first two issues is a bit problematic — his character designs are over-idealized and his storytelling isn’t always clear — Alixe redeems himself with his work on the last three. As Poole pulls apart his identity and his surrounding environment, Alixe breaks out the traditional panel structure to mirror Poole’s experience. It’s interesting work, and I look forward to seeing more of it in the future.
9) S.H.I.E.L.D. (Jonathan Hickman, Dustin Weaver, Christina Strain: Marvel Comics)
This series is still a lot of fun despite it’s obvious flaws. The old-school superhero fan in me still enjoys a well-constructed exercise in world building, and Hickman’s work in his Marvel titles fits the bill. There’s still a big risk that his machinations will end in disappointment, but that’s a conversation for 2011. After a rough start, Weaver and Strain are doing a wonderful job. Earlier thoughts here and here. Oh yeah, and in these two posts.
8) Strange Tales II (Various: Marvel Comics)
It’s hard to go wrong when you corral this much talent for one book. Rafael Grampa‘s Wolverine story is an instant classic, as is Jeffrey Brown’s amazing take on Claremont’s mid-period X-Men. Farel Dalrymple‘s Spider Man/Silver Surfer story is a great take on Bronze Age Marvel and James Stokoe‘s take on Silver Surfer was brilliant. Kate Beaton, T. Cypress and Michael Deforge‘s contributions are genuinely amusing, while Alex Robinson‘s tale of Reed Richards’s lost love was really charming. There were many miscues, but the good far outweighs the bad.
7) Taskmaster (Fred Van Lente, Jefte Palo: Marvel Comics)
This book just works on every level. In four issues, Van Lente and Palo tell a little story about a marginal Marvel Universe villain that manages to walk the fine line between tragedy and farce better than almost anything else this year.
The book is filled with zany villains and cheap puns, but Van Lente’s storytelling chops are not to be underestimated – the book’s espionage/adventure plot is airtight and you believe in these characters by the final issue.
Palo’s depiction of the action scenes in this series were incredible – particularly in the final two issues, where the fight scene features superimposed tinted panels that identify the particular fighting style that Taskmaster is mimicking throughout the conflict. Taskmaster was the best of a number of recent fun Marvel minis, ranging from Paul Cornell, Tom Raney and John Paul Leon’s Black Widow: Deadly Origin to the Heroic Age: One Month to Live series and Kelly Sue Deconnick’s marvelous new Osborn book, and I hope to see this trend continue.
- Hulk (Jeff Parker, Gabriel Hardman, Marvel Comics) – Parker and Hardman transformed Marvel’s worst title to one of its best in a handful of incredible issues
- PunisherMAX (Marvel Comics) (Jason Aaron, Steve Dillon, Marvel Comics) – Jason Aaron does the impossible (following Ennis) by subtly shifting the tone of the book and this has to be the best Dillon work in a decade
- Deadpool MAX (David Lapham, Kyle Baker, Marvel Comics) – Baker’s finally convinced me that his experiments with digital art can result in great results and Lapham’s always amazing when he’s operating without any real limitations
- Uncanny X-Force (Rick Remender, Jerome Opena, Marvel Comics) – Remender’s mix of outlandish plots, grounded characters and thoughtful storytelling (which can also be seen in his work on Punisher) is a real winner, especially when combined with Opena’s
- American Vampire (Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, DC/Vertigo) – This book is a lot of fun – Snyder’s writing improves by leaps and bounds with each story and Albuqerque’s art is always stunning
- Deadpool Pulp (Adam Glass, Mike Benson, Laurence Campbell, Marvel Comics) – This may be the most overlooked mini Marvel’s put out this year
- Bulletproof Coffin (David Hine and Shakey Kane, Image Comics) – Hine and Kane’s work on this series is flat-out brilliant and would’ve been way higher if I hadn’t fallen so far behind in my reading.
Later in the week (time permitting): More listmaking fun! What should you read now? Hm. Check out “The Rise of the New Global Elite“, by Chrystia Freeland for the Atlantic Monthly, Tom Spurgeon’s interviews with Daniel Clowes and Jaime Hernandez. Then go listen to H.A.M., the first single from Watch the Throne. Now skedaddle!