Category Archives: top 10 comics of 2009

The Top Comics of 2009 countdown! Number 1 – Sweet Tooth (Veritgo) & The Walking Dead (Image)

In the end, I could not choose between these 2 titles, so I cheated and chose both of them. My blog, I make the rules 😉

This year The Walking Dead proved to be surprising and maintain a level of interest and excitement post-Woodbury / Prison siege (aka the ‘No-one is Safe’ arc) that is a tribute to the strength of the creative team of Kirkman, Adlard, Rathburn & Wooton. There were some pleasant surprises – they kept to Kirkmans promise of ‘On time in ’09 (great), as a result there was a distinct lack of whines about The Walking Deads release schedule (also great).

The big ‘event’ of the year, ‘Fear The Hunters’, but expecting a mass cull of characters was wide of the mark. What it did achieve was a major shift in the attitude of the main players. Rick, Abraham, Andrea, Michonne have deteriorating moral compasses – some may be deteriorating quicker than others. Rick, for example, is as savage and unforgiving as any surviving human left in the world. Although the ‘Fear’ arc cold not match the raw intensity and profound sadness that marked out the ‘No-one is Safe’ arc as the finest of Kirkmans work so far, it did provide enough tension and drama to sustain its 5 issue run.

Few new characters have arrived, but new arrivals have slotted in and they (and others) have faded into the background, (Father Gabriel, Rosita, Maggie, Sophia). Others have briefly emerged into the spotlight and then are quickly moved back to the fringes again (Eugene remained underused, then after his ‘secret’ was revealed, the repercussions were relatively unexplored).

One other character has developed alarmingly – Carl is a mirror of his Father in the way he has adapted to his hostile, unforgiving environment, a youth in age but with the knowledge and experiences of an embittered veteran. His progress in 2010 should be fascinating, as long as the Father / Son duologues between Carl and Rick are used with economy – I felt there tended to be an over reliance on these in 2009, and while they were mostly very good, they started to become a little trite.

While Kirkman has provided some memorable plot and dialogue, Charlie Adlard has proved his equal, providing consistently great art, with some images staying imprinted on my memory. The one I can’t get out of my head is of ‘The Hunters’ in conference sat around a picnic table on a typical suburban patio area in a back garden. Being able to infuse the mundane with such unease is a great gift. Charlie Adlard has that gift. And he does a great cover.

Some issues have been stunning, others very good. I can think of one issue that was a slight disappointment, but that is only because the standard and expectation is so high – by most standards in comic books, a ‘good’ issue of The Walking Dead stands head & shoulders above the vast majority of titles. When it is excellent it is pretty much peerless. 2010 promises a change of location and a potentially combustible environment for Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors. No doubt, like 2009, 2010 will prove to be another brilliant year for The Walking Dead. Let’s hope for a regular shipping schedule…

Review of Walking Dead #57

Review of Walking Dead #58

Review of Walking Dead #59

Review of Walking Dead #60

Review of Walking Dead #61

Review of Walking Dead #62

Review of Walking Dead #64

Review of Walking Dead #65

Review of Walking Dead #66

Review of Walking Dead #67

Review of Walking Dead #68

Then in August 2009, a title from Vertigo really made me take notice. ‘Sweet Tooth’ is a post apocalyptic fairytale. It is charming, beautiful, tender, heartbreaking, bloody and it envelops you. I wrote in my first review that it reminded me of both Pinocchio & The Road, and that was meant in a very flattering way. The best thing about the first issue was that when I picked it up in Amsterdam for 1 euro I was reading one of the best single issues I would read in 2009. For 1 euro. Cheers Vertigo / DC.

The story is set in a post apocalyptic America after a devastating (but as yet unexplained) Pandemic. Gus – the ‘Sweet Tooth’ of the title – is an 11 year old Human / Animal hybrid, raised in total isolation by his (now deceased) Father. Importantly, he is immune to the pandemic. Curious to see what lies beyond his Fathers imposed isolation in the woods, he moves out beyond his previous confines, is hunted down, but saved by a hulking, mysterious man known as ‘Jepperd’. His role of Guardian to Gus is fundamental to the success of the story, and his ambiguity (especially in his role as ‘Guardian’) is providing gripping entertainment.

Jeff Lemire is both writer and artist on this title, and it is his portrayal of innocence and innocents in a world of encroaching darkness, with depravity and despair seeping inwards from the corners, that stuns and delights. In his scratchy, slightly wonky art, he effortlessly convinces of Gus’ innate goodness and fragility. In Jepperd, he summons a creature who may be more than man – like something hewn form granite – and more than the protector. Maybe someone with more darkness and a direct danger to Gus?

4 issues in, and Sweet Tooth has not dropped a beat. Its quality is undeniable, it has easily become required and anticipated reading, and I think it is the finest title to debut this year by a country mile. I love it. Please buy it so it can continue for many years.

Review Sweet Tooth #1

Review Sweet Tooth #2

Review Sweet Tooth #3

Review Sweet Tooth #4

The Top Comics of 2009 countdown! Number 2 – Unknown Soldier (Vertigo)

There is little doubt in my mind that this title will go down as an all time classic, and month by month its stature grows. Set in and around war-torn Uganda in the early 90s, the ‘Unknown Soldier’ of the title is Dr Moses Lwanga, a pacifist who, having seen so much horror, becomes quickly embroiled in conflict. The main arc this year, ‘Easy Kill’, had a controversial, contemporary storyline – the potential assassination of a Hollywood actress in Africa on a Goodwill visit – and a cinematic vision that delivered this tense, gripping tale. The writing and art are exemplary, and I have, on a few occasions, urged people to get into this comic book, as I believe most people who enjoy comics would get something out of this. It is a superior title, an intelligent, thought-provoking, challenging work. I will let the wonderful cover art and my reviews (linked at the bottom) of this years Unknown Soldiers do the rest. A highlight of the year and (no doubt) a highlight of next year. Review Unknown Soldier #7 Review Unknown Soldier #8 Review Unknown Soldier #9 Review Unknown Soldier #10 Review Unknown Soldier #11 Review Unknown Soldier #12
Review Unknown Soldier #13 Review Unknown Soldier #14
Review Unknown Soldier #15

The Top Comics of 2009 countdown! Number 3 – The Strange Adventures of HP Lovecraft (Image)

This was an unexpected highlight of the year, and maybe more surprising was the fact that it was on Image, when I would have figured it to be a better fit for Vertigo. No complaints though, as Image do a superb job – from the outside in, the whole package exudes quality, with those stunning pulp covers drawing you in. The higher cover price was justified, as each issue felt like a genuine event.

The tale itself is concerned with a tale of Lovecraft, who in his early career as a pulp hack, suffers with a lack of self-esteem, an unrequited love for a girl and has a fair amount of self-loathing. His mis-fortune continues, with him suffering a beating at the hands of sailors on shore leave. However, an encounter with a book brings the horrors of his imagination into the real world, with devastating results. And only he can rid these abominations from our reality….

As you can see from the page of art below, the artist on this title, Tony Salmons, gets the mood just right, conjuring up the eerie glow of an old Universal horror movie….

I loved the book, and you can read reviews of 2, 3 & 4 at the links below; Issue 2 reviewed Issue 3 reviewed
Issue 4 reviewed

I have a slight gripe because issue 4 came out several months after its solicited date, but apart from that, I have nothing but praise. A brilliant achievement courtesy of the pen of Mac Carter and the pencils of Tony Salmons (who created Aeon Flux for MTV). I hope that the purported movie adaptation
, if it gets off the ground, lives up to its source material. It deserves to be treated with respect.

The Top Comics of 2009 countdown! Number 4 – Old Man Logan (in the main Wolverine title) (Marvel)

Okay – it started way back in June of 2008, and there seemed to be gigantic pauses on the way to its titanic, fantastic climax, but I don’t care – Old Man Logan deservedly gets a top 5 placing in my list of the years best comics. I don’t read too much Marvel nowadays, just lost interest in the whole Marvel Universe save for a few characters, who, with the right creative team, pique my interest. Old Man Logan was one of those stories that really grabbed me. 50 years in the future, America is a broken country, with the majority of Super Heroes dead, felled by a union of Super Villains who came together with a single purpose – to defeat their hated rivals.

Wolverine survived the cull, but is now simply Logan, living with his wife Maureen and children Scotty and Jade on a plot of land in California, on territory owned by Bruce Banner and his kin. Banner was one of the winners in the land grab after the Super Heroes were victorious, and Logan struggles to pay his rent to live in ‘Hulkland’.

What starts off as a typical wasteland courier / Damnation Alley / Cursed Earth adventure where Logan teams up with Hawkeye, eventually turns into a grim, gripping tale of revenge. It all comes together in Septembers finale, the Giant Size Old Man Logan #1, where the Banner clan are faced with a resurrected Wolverine, fuelled by hatred, blood lust and the need to avenge the fallen. The action is thrilling, the art is sombre and evokes the Wild West and Spaghetti Westerns (and at the end, Lone Wolf & Cub / the babycart films).

Mark Millar keeps the story simple enough to let the story breathe, the anger simmer and rise, the fury unleashed with Giant Sized Old Man Logan…

For post apocalyptic revenge thrillers, this one takes some beating. Probably non-canonical, definitely non-continuity in the Marvel Universe, which means it is not tied down with all the attendant baggage, this is a simple comic book story told very well. It entertained me so much I read it through again, and I have just re-read Old Man Logan #1 tonight for a fourth time. It does not lose any of its power or ability to absorb you. And the ending is fantastic, one that makes you want to stand up and cheer.

The Top Comics of 2009 countdown! Number 5 – The Boys (Dynamite)

A quick summary of the years activity on this title. It’s on my pull list, has been for a couple of years and so was always going to make the top 10. Here are my thoughts;

They got it superbly right with the X-Men piss-take that-had-a-gob-smacking-ending, ‘We Gotta Go Now’ & the almighty dust-up that was ‘The Self Preservation Society’. It was great to see Carlos Ezquerra doing some art on the latter storyline, where he made Billy Butcher look more East End thug than Robertson has ever managed. If I had to choose the storyline of the year, it would be the latter. You got to see Butcher really lose it, and it made for some gripping entertainment.

The origin issues towards the end of 2009 have been hit and miss – a Hit for the first part of MM’s story, the second part was less so, but The Frenchman’s back story was insubstantial, and felt like filler.

Then there was Herogasm, the first Boys spin-off, a huge in-joke about the big summer crossover events. Maybe it was an excuse for Ennis to insert (*ahem*) lots of porn all over the issues. I cannot really remember what The Boys themselves were doing there – my attention was usually elsewhere, on various configurations of Supes getting off together, on their own etc… Was Herogasm a success? As far as I am concerned, no. It could have been wrapped up in 2 issues, but the 6 parts it occupied felt like a bit of a trial by the end of it.

‘The Boys’ is in good health – none of the main characters show any signs of appeal fatigue, there is enough in the background to suggest that 2010 will bring more conflict between The Boys & The Supes. A well deserved Top 5 finish. And the covers for the main title have been magnificent this year. Bravo!

The Top Comics of 2009 countdown! Number 6 – Young Liars (Vertigo)

Like ‘Captain Britain & MI13’, ‘Young Liars’ was also taken from us too soon. A brilliant, transgressive work, the ending was too soon, but at the same time we were lucky to get 18 issues of this resolutely non-mainstream title.

I will not even begin to explain what ‘Young Liars’ is about. But if you want to read 18 issues (or 3 trades) of some of the most mind-bending, occasionally frustrating, true spirit of rock n roll filtered into a comic book, then please, indulge yourself. There were so many times throughout its run that I literally gasped at the audacious manner with which David Lapham (writer and illustrator) told this tale. You will probably gasp too. And don’t expect any clear resolutions, any definitive endings, any closure – but read it and cherish it for ‘Young Liars’ is (was) something unique – a comic book title that dared to be very different, and so refreshing from the mass of generic superhero titles that frankly, in the main, leave me cold. ‘Young Liars’ was a triumph of storytelling, and the medium suited it perfectly. ‘Young Liars’ was a highlight of the first half of 2009, and has been missed in the second half of the year. A deserving place in the top 10.

The Top Comics of 2009 countdown! Number 7 – Captain Britain & MI13 (Marvel)

We lost a few good titles this year due to ‘poor’ sales – but I believe that none were more keenly felt than the loss of Captain Britain & MI13. One of the best (in fact, probably the best) thing to come out of the 2008 Marvel crossover ‘Secret Invasion’, the story went from strength to strength, with ‘Vampire State’ being a highlight of the early part of this year, and ultimately a triumphant swansong for the title.

The plot is stunning, thrilling, high concept brliiance – Dracula, named as the ‘Greatest General of his Generation’ by Captain Britain & MI13 writer Paul Cornell in an interview with Newsarama, and his Vampire army (with aid from Dr Doom) leave their Moon sanctuary to invade Great Britain, with an armada of Space Galleons.

Let me repeat that because I enjoy writing to so much – Dracula and his Vampire Army (with help from Doctor Doom) plot to invade Britain from their Moon base in space Galleons.

I don’t know if I need to persuade you, but if you have not been touched by this comics brilliance then the trades (3 volumes) are available – Secret Invasion, Hell Comes To Brimingham & Vampire State.

Cornell’s ability as a writer is all too evident – he effortlessly integrates marginal / forgotten / out of fashion Heroes with some of his own memorable characters. The title was a real ensemble piece, with Captain Britain, Pete Wisdom, Blade, Black Knight and Faiza Hussain all having the space to develop and flourish. This was never done at the expense of gripping action produced with a flourish.

Without the right artist, I feel that this title would have been a noble failure (good writing needs the right artist). Luckily, Leonard Kirk was up to the task, delivering some superbly cinematic visions and creating an atmosphere of dread and disaster when called for. He also drew a great Dracula.

A crying shame this could not have gone on, but what we do have is 15 issues (and an annual), 3 trades and a lot of quality. There was not a bad arc, and as 2009 was just concerned with ‘Vampire State’, it easily hits the top 10 of the year.

Gone, but not forgotten.

Reviews of some of the ‘Vampire State’ issues can be seen here and here and here

Top 10 comic Titles 2009: Number 8 – 2000AD (Rebellion)

I came back to 2000AD in the Summer of this year, 20 years since I last picked up a copy. What attracted me was a cover;

it just got under my skin. 2000AD is a very British comic regardless of where the strips are set (space, future earth etc). The fact that they were embracing this Britishness by setting a story on a sink estate really got me interested. And Cradlegrave (the cover story that got its hooks in me) lived up to its promise.

For the first 2 issues you would not see anything fantastical or horrific, other than the horror that can be other peoples lives, as Cradlegrave is set in the Ravenglade Estate (nicknamed “Cradlegrave” after the ‘ravenglade’ sign loses a few of the letters and an enterprising soul renames the estate).

It is set somewhere in Lancashire. It follows the story of teenage Shane Holt, who has recently been released from Thorn Hill young offenders institution. What you get is a well paced drama of a young man coming to terms with life outside of the offenders institution and trying to stay on the right side of the law, avoiding falling into old habits, and negotiating that while keeping on the good side of best mate Callum. The detail that goes into all this is superb (and the devil is in the details) – like Shanes mom, whose idea of a celebration of his homecoming consists of a few ‘tins’ of lager and a night in front of the television.

As the series progressed at a slow burn, the intensity was suffocating, and John Smith (the writer) kept enough back while giving enough away to keep me hooked. Although it was over fairly quickly (12 issues – progs 1633 to 1644) it was quality, with superb detail provided by the brilliant art of Edmund Bagwell.

Elsewhere, the thrills were abundant;

Pat Mills’ Zombie Hunter ‘Defoe‘ in his third outing in the dank and diseased Queen of the Zombies (progs 1640-1649)

Shakara (progs 1650 to 1661). A mind bending tale of revenge with fantastical aliens – set in space!

in “Call of the Wild” (prog 1650 to 1661) tells the thrilling and darkly humorous future Earth adventures of genitically engineered Dog Soldier Gene the Hackman. Words cannot do it justice, as the writing and art are sublime. A real treat.

Strontium Dog ‘The Mork Whisperer’ – Wagner & Ezquerra & Johnny Alpha & lots of other Strontium Dogs (but minus Wulf). There is not a lot more to say than the combination of Wagner & Ezquerra is the fundamental key to this series success. While they are producing the tales of Johnny Alpha, success is guaranteed.

Finally, Judge Dredd in one of his customary ‘epics’. ‘Tour of Duty’ (prog 1650 onwards), while still ongoing, is already one of the all-time greatest epics. This follows on from “Backlash” in which senior, hard line judges wage a campaign to elect a new chief judge who will repeal the new (& controversial) pro-mutant laws. Their chosen candidate is Judge Dan Francisco, who in “Backlash” survives an assassination attempt by mutants. Despite the fact that Dredd discovers that the assassination was engineered by anti-mutant activists in order to increase support for their own agenda, Francisco goes on to defeat the Chief Judge, Hershey, by a landslide.

Following on from “Backlash”, “Under New Management” shows Francisco’s first day in office as the new chief judge. He quickly marks his mark, as he replaces the entire Council of Five, prohibits all mutant immigration, and instigates a policy of deporting all mutants already in Mega City One to 4 new build townships in the Cursed Earth. Deputy Chief Judge Sinfield assigns Dredd to oversee this operation, with Beeny as his assistant. It is this story that acts as a lead in to “Tour of Duty,” which started in the next issue.

The first episodes seem like a homage to the original ‘Cursed Earth’ epic, with Dredd and a small posse of Judges riding out into the irradiated Badlands, encountering hostility and dispensing Mega City One instant Justice. As the story has unfolded though, it becomes much more than a tale of a journey into the Cursed Earth – it is more like a series of HBO’s The Wire sent forward into time. There are numerous storylines (the tensions between the individual Judges, the task of resttlement of Mutants, the politics of Mega City One, an insight into the power the Chief Judge holds, and procedural drama such as Rico and his assessment of a rookie Judge) and they weave around each other effortlessly. This story – “Tour of Duty” – above all other stories this year in 2000AD, has been the most satisfying and the one I look forward to the most. It could be the greatest Dredd story…..time will tell. It, like Strontium Dog, is produced by the powerful Wagner / Ezquerra creative team, and in my opinion, Ezquerra is becoming the definitive Dredd artist with every prog. Top quality thrills.

I have returned to 2000AD and it is in rude health. There is quality in abundance, so much so that you can forgive the odd clunky or boring strip, as there is so much in each issue to absorb you. I am glad to have it on my pull list.

The Top Comics of 2009 countdown! Number 9 – Resurrection Volume 2 (Oni Press)

Resurrection was nowhere near my top 10 of the year until last month. When the reboot (and god only knows why it was ‘rebooted’, the previous volume seemed perfectly able to continue) of this title launched in the summer, it started off well, but quickly lost my interest. There were some redeeming factors – the addition of the ‘Burns’ (humans who were experimented on by the Aliens aka the ‘Bugs’) and the ‘Road Agents’ (human brigands basically, who seem to like attacking with bows and arrows). Most tellingly, this second volume began with Bill Clinton, back during his Presidency, announcing via an emergency broadcast that the Earth was being invaded. This initial scene packed a real punch, giving the story a footing in reality and quickly engaging the reader. For most of the rest of the issue, it was pretty much ‘so what?’. Issues 2 & 3 were pretty lame, so bad that I couldn’t even be bothered to review them, barely touched when I received them through the post. One sticking factor was the art of Justin Greenwood, which seemed overly stylised (I described it at one point as being ‘filtered through that old Dreamcast game ‘Jet Set Radio’. I could make no connection with it as a way of telling this story of survival on a devastated Earth.

However (and I better get onto the good stuff before I give the impression that this title is utterly without merit) things improved drastically. There was a glimmer of hope at the end of issue 3, where a Father has to make a terrible choice. This was a short story, seperate from the main story, but hinted that there was some hope that Resurrection Volume 2 was not going to be an unmitigated disaster. Issue 4 continued the recovery, with a gripping ‘Road Agent’ attack on a human ‘sanctuary’ called Red Lion (which sounds like a typical British boozer, which itself can be seen as a sanctuary).

Then issue 5 came along, and Resurrection completely (*ahem*) ‘resurrected’ itself. The fact that Bill Clinton, who really saved the first issue, was back again, in a central role was a key factor. You may not think that having an ex-President of the United States as a central character in comic book is a good idea. I beg to differ. Clinton has enough real-life charisma that his inclusion is a bonus to the comic, and the fact he is in it places all the characters in an era-defining event. This is the World trying to get back on its feet. A few key survivors are in one place, with one intention – to stay alive and try and bring order to the chaos that the Alien invaders left behind. The other characters are now being fleshed out, and some tough choices, all concerned with survival (both the individual and collective) are having to be made. Tensions are running high, and the threat of the Road Agents is ever present.

This title is now something I look forward to. It took a while to get going, but Resurrection Volume 2 is telling a gripping story (and the art has grown on me) that promises much in the near future.

Review of issue 1 here

Review of issue 4 here

Review of issue 5 here

The Top Comics of 2009 countdown! Number 10 – Dead Run (Boom!)

A mini series from Boom that was basically a mash up of Mad Max 2, SpaceHunter, Damnation Alley and those trashy Italian post apocalypse movies of the early 1980s – ‘Dead Run’ was a blast from start to finish. The plot is as simple and straightforward as those Italian low budget flicks that clearly inspired this series. Nick Masters is a ‘courier’ – he delivers whatever, wherever in this dangerous new world. He lost a drug consignment that belonged to a ‘Mr Big’ called Kane and Kane has kidnapped Masters’ Sister, and in order to get her back safe, he has to make a ‘Dead Run’, with a consignment of whatever it is that Kane wants him to courier. Joined by a girl whose Father was a courier who made the ‘dead run’, they set off into post apocalyptic hell. That is all you need to know. Other than the art is art great and really captures the spirit of post apocalyptic fiction (you know, like customised cars and bad guys in leather, people wearing goggles on their head for no good reason etc).

Oh, and the dialogue is B-Movie cheesy and actually adds to the experience.
I don’t know if a trade is coming out for this – but you can probably still collect the singles. If the likes of ‘Y The Last Man‘ and ‘100 Bullets‘ are your big budget, intelligently scripted blockbusters, then ‘Dead Run’ is your low budget straight to DVD production. But sometimes, all you want is a straight to DVD actioner. For those reasons, ‘Dead Run’ makes it to no.10 in my top 10 titles of the year.

I reviewed the first issue here, and the third issue here.