Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Best Comics I Read in 2008

I'm eschewing the Top Ten format for this particular post just because I don't feel I can properly organize them by quality. I've been reading a whole bunch of "Top Ten" lists on comic book blogs, etc, and I stumbled across this particular article, Steven Grant's Permanent Damage, in which Grant proclaims that 2008 was a year of mediocrity and the only two comics he enjoyed were reprints.

He disagrees with the notion that there's tons of creativity in the field of comics now, saying that a "finely honed symbolist Batman story is still just a Batman story". He expands his point saying it's frustrating that the talent has missed the point of their cultural touchstone, Watchmen, in that everybody's pounding the road somebody else paved years before.

This argument is very easy to agree with. Even the God of All Comics, Grant Morrison himself is "debasing" himself and playing in the DC Universe sandbox, playing with their toys instead of making his own. He's writing Batman, a character still stuck in the Frank Miller-style as created twenty years ago in The Dark Knight Returns.

My problem with this particular argument is that the market doesn't always support new characters and concepts with the vigor that they support traditional characters done in new and interesting ways, or even in old-fashioned ways, which is the more likely possibility.

The market is notoriously difficult. Superhero fans are very loyal. We tend to read the same characters or the same writers. I cannot be excused from this particular behaviour, as I have loyally followed Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, and Brian Michael Bendis all year long. I read a ton of comics by Ennis, some new, mostly older, and I read every comic put out by Morrison this year.

Morrison and Bendis were playing in their large sandboxes, and Ennis was playing in his own little sandbox made to look different.

I've got nothing against that. People don't think that Sam Raimi was "debasing" himself with Spider-Man 2, one of the finest comic book movies ever. Alan Moore isn't "debasing" himself with Victorian superheroes in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. This being said, a lengthy introduction to somebody's "best of" list, I don't think that any comic on this blog being reviewed is of lesser quality if only because the writer is playing with somebody else's characters.

Especially with Morrison and Moore, who are saying new and interesting things with characters they didn't invent. Morrison is making a large statement about the proliferation of evil with the Fourth World characters and Moore is making a highly entertaining pastiche of literature that verges on Art with a capital "a".

So to summarize, I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with wanting to write with another writer's character(s), unless they're simply going through the motions and slavishly imitating. However, I do think that more creativity in mainstream comics is never a bad thing.

With that off my chest, let's look at the single best comic published in 2008 I read.

All-Star Superman 10 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely.

I almost went with Final Crisis or The Black Dossier, but I'm going with my gut on this one. This single issue hit me like a ton of bricks. Everything's great: the concepts, the execution, the art, the characters, the story, and it's mostly self-contained. This is a fantastic issue, and this series is one I would give to a non-fan to get them into the spirit. Awesome.

The best comic I read all year long, regardless of publication date?

Heartland by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

Another issue that hit me like a ton of bricks. What a comic. All of the angst, emotion, commentary, heartbreak and love for his country packed into one little comic. Garth Ennis' true masterpiece, standing alongside Preacher, is easily this comic. You can read the review for more hyperbole and more fanboyish mutterings, but I stand by Heartland. I love this comic.

There was a ton of good comics published this year, too, like The Incredible Hercules, Love and Rockets, Millar and Hitch's uneven but decent Fantastic Four, and even Ennis' The Boys. That leaves out all the indie stuff, some of which I read and didn't care for, and some I did, like Skyscrapers of the Midwest and Too Cool To Be Forgotten.

I love comics and what I read this year made me love them even more. Sure there was some duds, like Justice League of America, but there were some gems. Let's just hope that 2009 is even better, and it probably will because Final Crisis concludes and The Blackest Night starts. Yes. Let's do it!

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