Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Best Comics of 2008

Here are the Ten Best Comics of 2008. These are the books that stuck with me and jumped off my shelf when I was putting together this list. When I finished each of these comics, I felt satisfied but also didn't want it to be over. They all nailed me in my head, my heart, and my gut.

10. Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday

That's right, let's lead off with this one. Honestly, I'm a little torn about putting this on the list, considering that only two issues came out in 2008. But here is why it makes it: it contains everything I want in an X-Men story. The action and adventure, the romance and the drama, the snappy one-liners and the noble sacrifices and the overcoming of great odds and the bad-ass use of mutant powers = pure superhero pop confection. Oh yeah, and the fact that John Cassaday can draw anything and make it look fabulous doesn't hurt.

9. Alan's War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope by Emmanuel Guibert

Emmanuel Guibert's fascinating presentation of the memories of his friend Alan Cope is brought to life by beautiful artwork and Cope's own detailed, thoughtful narration. Here is my full review.

8. Ganges #2 by Kevin Huizenga

Kevin Huizenga captures both the all-consuming nature of video games where you blow away your friends and what it feels like when the layoffs begin at your workplace. Formally daring and with a good heart. Here is my review.

7. Black Jack by Osamu Tezuka

Osamu Tezuka's black market doctor dazzles with surgical wizardry, while Tezuka himself shows off his considerable artistic talents. Each episode peels back another layer of the onion that is Black Jack, while pushing the nutso barrier further and further. Here is my review of the first two volumes in the series.

6. Northlanders: Sven the Returned by Brian Wood and Davide Gianfelice

Sven is one mean mofo, yet it takes eight solid issues of killing dudes in the frigid North for him to claim the title of Baddest Viking You Ever Saw. But he gets there by the end. Full review here.

5. Essex County volume 3: The Country Nurse by Jeff Lemire

You can't help but root for these good people who are living unhappy lives because of ill fortune and their own mistakes. A sad story that spans decades but remains deeply personal, this one goes right for your heart. Here is my full review.

4. Scalped by Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera

It already started out strong, and now Aaron's writing seems to be hitting that sweet spot where he could take this story in any direction at any point and the readers will follow him without question. He's earned it with his fearless plotting and rich character work. Plus, this world is so well-constructed and organic that it feels like (1) Aaron's not inventing characters and scenes so much as uncovering what already was there to be found; and (2) he could tell stories about these people for a long, long time. And yet, I know that it will have to end one day, as the series is inexorably building to the ultimate confrontation between Bad Horse and Red Crow; it's going to happen eventually, and while I already know that it will be incredible, I also already know how much I will miss this series when it is over.

3. The Punisher by Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov

Kind of like how I miss this one. 2008 saw the release of the last part of the "Long Cold Dark" story as well as all six issues from Garth Ennis's final Punisher MAX story, "Valley Forge, Valley Forge." Ennis manages to tie together his unbelievable run with a story that has callbacks to nearly every page of the series, while providing us with one more look into the dark, dark world that is Frank Castle's life. And on top of it all, Valley Forge, Valley Forge is both a tribute to American soldiers and a condemnation of the American military, an excavation of Vietnam and a sobering reflection on our current war. It's pretty rare for a mainstream comic book to aspire to be social commentary, and rarer still for that comic book to succeed as such. That The Punisher manages to do so without losing an ounce of suspense, dark humor, or balls to the wall action is a testament to the masterful ability of Ennis. Plus, over the course of the series he's created some of the most villainous villains that I've ever seen grace the comic book page: these dudes are so evil, and yet it seems entirely possible that people like them exist in our own world. Scary stuff. This comic is so, so good.

2. Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw

A gripping story about a family unpacking a lot of emotional baggage and coming to terms with divorce. Superb storytelling, especially in the dynamic scene of the older son crawling through the claustrophobic tunnel of splinters to the treasure chest of memories. And that reveal of the younger son's true face killed me. Here is my full review.

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

Where else could I put the best superhero comic book of the decade? Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely knocked this one out of the galaxy. You just won't find anything better.

Honorable Mentions:

I don't read everything that is published, and I know that there are many good books out there that I haven't uncovered, books that probably would have had a good shot at making this list. There also are several books that I own but haven't yet read, including Omega the Unknown, Lynda Barry's What It Is, and the recent volumes of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' Criminal. And I don't own but am itching to see Nate Powell's Swallow Me Whole, Art Spiegelman's Breakdowns, and Eddie Campbell's The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard. Finally, I'm really, really hoping that Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Niimura's I Kill Giants and Brett Lewis and John Paul Leon's The Winter Men get collected editions in 2009, since I didn't get the singles.

But although I may have missed out on a few great books -- and man, that list above seems daunting -- I did read a lot. And there are many books that I liked and recommend but did not put on this list, for one reason or another: Posey Simmonds' Tamara Drewe, the Linda Barry-edited The Best American Comics 2008, Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba's The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite, Matt Fraction and Barry Kitson's The Order, and Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark's Daredevil. Also, I'm really enjoying Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant, a goofy and hilarious webcomic strip. (Here are some of my favorites from this year: Foundin Fathas, Boat!, Playing With the Boys, For Candace, In Service of the King, and E For Effort.) I'll put all these comics in the "honorable mention" category.

That's it for 2008. Thanks for reading.


  1. Wow! Just completely excellent. I take your word for it. You are extremely persuasive and, as always, thorough and articulate. And funny. Great job, Sandy!


    Glad to see the X-Men up there!, and also that thought provoking, unique Bottomless Bellybutton which you brought to my attention.

    Happy 2009!

  2. I am ordering the Essex Country comics on your recommendation. That's the mark of a damned good Best Of list.

  3. Hey thanks! It's nice to know that somebody out there is reading. Also - keep an eye out for the collected edition of Essex County (all three volumes in one book). I think it's coming out in the spring or early summer.