Prominent comics commenter Tom Huxley writes for Bleeding Cool:
Ten comics for ten years: some of my favourite comic book series of the 21st century so far. Bear in mind this is a narrow and personal list, NOT an authoritative one. It is limited particularly because most of the great comics I read this decade were actually from the 20th century (and there’s a great big stack of highly-acclaimed books on my shelf I just haven’t got around to reading), but there’s some gems here that deserve highlighting – they all have great writing and great artwork that blends together seamlessly; every single one of them adds something special to our tiny little lives.
Alias (2001-2004) Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Gaydos
What was groundbreaking about Alias was not extensive swearing in a Marvel comic or the scene of interracial sex that graced the first issue. What was truly groundbreaking about Alias is that Brian Bendis and Michael Gaydos created a very real living, breathing person, stuck her smack bang centre in the Marvel Universe, almost against her will, and enabled her to exist on the page without any filters. And then built up a series of intriguing, entertaining and deeply engrossing detective stories around her and her situation. The series hit its peak as it delved deep into the character’s backstory (which ranged from the sublimely cheeky to the downright horrific) – and that was the point at which Bendis decided to call it time. He transferred a lot of this approach to superhero storytelling, along with the Jessica Jones character, into his work on New Avengers, but the prospect of Bendis and Gaydos reuniting on an Alias project next year has me almost giddy with anticipation.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (2007-) Joss Whedon, Georges Jeanty, Brian K Vaughan, Drew Goddard etc
Just when we thought great media tie-in books were firmly behind us, along comes Joss Whedon who pushes his most famous character further into this medium than anybody expected, raising the bar for TV tie-ins in the process. While he might rotate his writing staff like he does on his TV shows, he has entrenched Buffy’s world firmly into the sphere of comics, taking the absence of budgetary limitations and run with it. To maintain a consistent look, they have sensibly held onto Georges Jeanty who in drawing the characters successfully straddles the line between accurate likenesses and dynamic figures. And for all that, the finished product is just as compelling as the television show was – which (along with Jo Chen’s exceptionally beautiful covers) is how it’s managed to draw a whole lot of new readers into the market.
Criminal (2006-) Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips
In an era where superhero comics are all the rage, and virtually all you can see (apart from the zombie comics of course), a comic book about something else that’s both well written and well drawn is simply a breath of fresh air. This book is an insight into not simply a life of crime, but any life of crime. The world this team creates is so layered and deep and richly designed (with surprisingly detailed characters flittering from the background into the central role and back again) I am constantly taken aback. And the stories are perfectly drawn by Sean Phillips, with a love for the material that just shines through. This should be on everybody’s reading list – the fact that people seem to be more interested in their supervillain book Incognito seems to me, pardon the pun, criminal…
The Escapists (2006) Brian K Vaughan, Jason Alexander, Steve Rolston
Speaking as someone who has never read Kavalier and Clay, but is a huge comic book and Brian K Vaughan fan (to the point of being a proud ex-Caballero), I approached this six-issue miniseries with a complete lack of knowledge of the supposed backstory, which wound up being compensated by my somewhat vast knowledge of the making of comic books. Not that either was needed, nor knowledge of how to repair an elevator – but all three came very much into play in this delightful tale of two guys, a girl, an unloved comic book character, ambition, Cleveland and a big corporation. If you haven’t read it, Dark Horse recently put it back out in paperback and I could not recommend it more highly.
Promethea (1999-2005) Alan Moore, J H Williams III
The sheer amount of experimentation with the form in this series must set some kind of record. J H Williams makes every page, every panel, look not only gorgeous but completely different every time. Alan Moore’s weird and wonderful traipses through imagination certainly captured mine, and for all that I can forgive the ending (which I found a bit lackluster after that brilliant epic journey).
She-Hulk (2004-2007) Dan Slott, Juan Bobillo, Rick Burchett
Let’s face it: She-Hulk is a ridiculous character with a stupid name. Wanna make something of it? Dan Slott certainly did. Planting the character into a superhero law firm and turning it all into an affectionate spoof turned out to be a masterstroke. This previously unknown writer turned into a heavy-hitter overnight, chiefly and deservedly because of his very funny work on this series. The fact that he was able to drag out a whole series of ridiculous characters and elements from the Marvel Universe and put them through hilarious situations without intrinsically damaging any of them is little short of astonishing. It is, weirdly, a comic immersed in fanboy culture that ‘ordinary’ people can equally enjoy.
Sonic the Comic (1993-2001) Lew Stringer, Richard Elson, Nigel Kitching
It was the British children’s comic that saw me through my childhood and in 2001 I was sorry to see the comic fold (after a few years of featuring reprints more and more heavily – to the point at which they were printing nothing else). But the thirteen new seven-page strips that graced the first half of 2000 were some of the finest the comic had ever seen, raising the stakes and offering reward to those who’d stuck through despite the reprints. A failed dictator turned genocidal and then depressive, a planet in immediate danger from man-made climate change, the death of a central and longstanding character, the war-fuelled devastation of an entire species – it was more than you’d expect for a licensed children’s comic about funny animals even one that had at one point been written by Mark Millar. Then again, after 200 issues, its readers expected no less.
Ultimate Spider-Man (2000-2009) Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Bagley, Stuart Immonen
So aggressive is the Marvel marketing machine when it comes to this book that I doubt there is a single person who reads this column and hasn’t at least sampled some of this series. And maybe at this point some of those early issues seem a bit ordinary (largely because what Bendis did has been so widely imitated!). The fact is, this is surely the most influential superhero comic of the past fifteen years. And what is even more surprising is that in its remarkably long 133-issue run I cannot remember reading through an issue, finishing it, and thinking anything less than “that was fun”.
The high concept of a world where all the men have mysteriously died was what drew me into Y The Last Man, but (especially when the answer I initially sought never really came) it was the hugely endearing cast that kept me there. The stories develop in the manner of a really great television show without ever feeling dull or cramped or forced onto the page. In particular, the shocking twists and turns of the final story arc had me on my knees (the final image of issue 59 resonates hauntingly). All this goes on while Pia Guerra fittingly subverts gender stereotype by drawing motorcycles, ninjas and monkey shit with enthusiasm and style.
Young Avengers (2005-2006) Allan Heinberg, Jim Cheung
Allan Heinberg took a silly concept and made it meaningful. And then Jim Cheung came along and made it all look gorgeous. ‘Nuff said!
- Tom Huxley