December 20, 2019

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James' Favorite Comics of the 10's

Here's a list of 30 comics I really loved this decade. I read a ton of other great comics this past decade and I originally intended for this to be a smaller number. However, even limiting it to 30 was tough. A lot of creators did some wonderful work.

As always, these aren't the BEST comics (I have no idea what *best* means when evaluating something as subjective as art), just some personal favorites (listed in alphabetical order).

4 Kids Walk into a Bank by Matthew Rosenberg, Tyler Boss, Claire Dezutti, Courtney Menard, and Thomas Mauer, published by Black Mask Studios
4 Kids Walk Into a Bank is one of the coolest, most stylish, clever books I've read in years. Think Stand by Me meets Goodfellas with a healthy dose of Wes Anderson thrown in.  It's a story of 4 kids who decide that the only way to prevent one of their dads from robbing a bank is to...rob a bank. Needless to say, writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Tyler Boss do a phenomenal job of telling a story of some messed up kids trying to prevent some messed-up grown-ups from doing a terrible thing. Rosenberg is such a great writer of funny, believable dialogue. There are some incredible discussions between the various kids in the story.  But he's not just funny. The relationship between the main protagonist and her dad is warm and real and understandable. And Boss is a serious talent to watch. This book is loaded with incredible visual humor, along with fantastic and inventive visual storytelling.  4 Kids Walk Into a Bank is hilarious and poignant and memorable.

Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Brian "Box" Brown, published by First Second
Andre the Giant: Life and Legend is a moving, thoughtful, wonderfully illustrated and thoroughly researched biography of Andre Rousimoff (a/k/a Andre the Giant) which doesn't attempt to cover every episode or event in Andre's life, but instead highlights significant events in his life to create a sense of who he was, based on interviews, stories, books, video, and some amount of creative interpretation. The story covers the high points while also not shying away from some of the darker part's of Andre's life. The end result is a story which illuminates while still retaining the mystery of a giant among men. Brown's art here is black and white and can fairly be described as a "cartoon" style; he successfully balances both humorous and serious elements in his art. While the depiction of characters is not "realistic" in nature, there is a great deal of emotional honesty in the art; Brown's ability to convey feelings in facial expressions and scene-setting is first-rate.

Avengers/New Avengers/Infinity/Secret Wars by Jonathan Hickman and Numerous Contributors (including Salvador Larocca, Leinil Yu, Jim Cheung and Frank Martin), published by Marvel Comics 
Jonathan Hickman (in collaboration with many talented artists) doesn't do things halfway. When he took over the Avengers and New Avengers titles in 2012, he built an enormous story, encompassing nothing less than the end of everything everywhere, in all universes. You know, no big deal. How epic is this story? Well, it includes the miniseries Infinity (which came out in 2013 and which I loved), and in that story, the Avengers team up with the Kree, Skrulls, Spartax, Shi'ar and others to face the incredibly ancient, incredibly powerful Builders, oh, and Thanos takes over Earth - and that ENTIRE story is a sideshow from the real threat. That's how big of a story it is. So, this is an amazing, long-form story about the battle to prevent the end of everything. You need to be reading it. The art varies from arc to arc and issue to issue, but some of the standout contributors include Leinil Yu, Jerome Opena, Steve Epting, Stefano Caselli, and more.  This whole series culminates in the incredible Secret Wars, which is an incredibly fun mashup of alternate versions of various heroes, and a huge, climactic conclusion not only to Hickman's Avengers, but also his Fantastic Four. This is big, epic superhero storytelling at its best.

The Black Monday Murders by Jonathan Hickman, Tomm Coker, Michael Garland and Rus Wooton, published by Image Comics
Jonathan Hickman often explores certain themes, including (i) complex social settings and systems, (ii) the powerful and secret elite that are the hidden hands moving the chess pieces of society, (iii) the ultimate failure of that elite to focus on those goals and to maintain (or protect) society, and (iv) the inevitable descent into selfishness, fighting, and betrayal. All of these themes show up richly in The Black Monday Murders. It's an amazing story about how dark magic is actually what fuels money and finance in the world, and the alliances, betrayals and bizarre rituals behind the power of Wall Street. The Black Monday Murders is telling a big, intricate story with a lot of moving pieces; it's got a whole lot of morally gray protagonists, which you'd expect in a story about the secret history and powers of the world. All the while, it's wonderfully illustrated by Tomm Coker with terrific, thoughtful colors from Michael Garland. Their artwork is great at conveying moments of stillness along with moments of action and violence, and really sets the dark, ominous mood of the book. There are also a number of text pages that tell parts of the story. The Black Monday Murders is great, complex, comic book storytelling for grownups.


Daredevil by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin, Javier Rodriguez, Michael Allred, and more, published by Marvel Comics
Daredevil was not a character in which I have historically had much interest. But the big, sprawling, hilarious, dramatic and engaging story told by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin and more, well it changed my mind. When Mark Waid began writing Daredevil, Daredevil/Matt Murdock was in a pretty weird place.  Most recently he'd been possessed by an evil spirit, was leading an army of ninjas, and had built a giant temple/fortress in the middle of Hell's Kitchen. Murdock is also dealing with the fact that his secret identity was revealed to the public, and this has affected his law practice. You might think all of this would lead to a dark story, but it doesn't. Brought to life first by the duo of Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin, and then eventually (for the most part) by the spectacular Chris Samnee, Daredevil is a joy to read. Whether it's battling against new or old foes, or dealing with his public identity, Waid and his co-creators tell a story that has humor adventure, charm, wit, and emotional resonance. Matt Murdock sometimes does succumb to his fear and depression, and we see him come out of this through the love of friends and family. In the latter part of this series, Matt and friends move out to San Francisco. While it's weird to think of Daredevil out of NYC, it's a wonderful conclusion to a fantastic series.    



Deadly Class, Rick Remender, Wes Craig, Lee Loughridge, Jordan Boyd and Rus Wooton
Deadly Class is so many things, all of them great. It's a period piece set in late 1980s San Francisco, about teenage punks, rebels, criminals and misfits (all the most awesome people). It's a story about a teenager without hope getting a second chance (at a tremendous cost), as he's taken into a secret high school for training assassins (like Breakfast Club meets Fight Club). It's also one of the most honest, brutal explorations of depression, loneliness, and the anxieties and fears of being a teenager that I've read in a long time. Plus the art from Wes Craig (with colors by Lee Loughridge, and then Jordan Boyd) is staggeringly good. The layout, design, sequential storytelling, all of what Craig and Loughridge/Boyd do in this book will blow your mind (and not just the issues where the main character is high on acid). This is a punk rock book, done at a virtuoso level.

East of West by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin, published by Image Comics
What makes East of West such a special book? Well, it has elements of alternate history, it's a futuristic western, there's religious and apocalyptic drama, it's a complex story of multiple nations and their intricate politics, it's a love story, and all of that is in the first few issues. It's at turns dramatic, funny, intense, action packed, cynical, optimistic, and always vast in scope. This is a huge world of many competing interests that Jonathan Hickman has crafted, but the biggest selling point in why to pick it up is that the art is out-of-this-world good every month, and has only gotten better over the course of years. Nick Dragotta is an absolute master of kinetic action, violence, physical humor, and drama, but also the quieter moments. He's got an incredible ability to control the pace of the book, speeding us up or slowing us down through the action. And the colors in this book have consistently exploded off of the page. The colorist is Frank Martin and he's really done special work in this book (some of my favorite color work). Color is such an important part of this book - each nation is associated with different colors, and colors have both thematic and also atmospheric elements to them. The "realism" of the colors is also often ratcheted up or down depending on the context. This book is an absolute gift and one you absolutely need to be reading.

The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser, published by Image Comics
Few writer/artist teams inspire as much confidence as Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Fatale, Sleeper, Incognito), and in The Fade Out, that confidence is completely justified. This is a highly compelling murder mystery noir story, and a broader look at late 1940’s Hollywood, and the way in which something tragic (like being a soldier and seeing battle) doesn't really leave you. The lead character (a screenwriter) clearly has some secrets of his own, and there’s a great supporting cast of characters in this story. Brubaker and Phillips bring a lot of credibility to the world they've created; the atmosphere feels very authentic to the time period. This is a great, emotional story, beyond just being a murder mystery. If you liked L.A. Confidential, you'd enjoy this comic. If you didn't like L.A. Confidential, wow, I really don't know what to say.

Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman, Dale Eaglesham, Steve Epting, Nick Dragotta and many others, published by Marvel Comics
Jonathan Hickman shows up a whole lot on this list, and with good reason. His work really speaks to me. He's working with huge ideas in all of his stories. They're big and intricate and ambitious. But my favorite story by Hickman is, and remains, his run on Fantastic Four. I think that what makes this run so special is that it combines enormous, heady sci-fi ideas, with a family-focused story that has a ton of heart. Reed and Sue's relationship, Reed's relationship with his own time-traveling father, Reed and Sue's relationship with their children, Ben and Johnny's bond (really, their brotherhood), the complex relationship between Reed and Victor Von Doom.  As I say all this it might seem like this is all Reed's story. And while he does get a lot of great moments (the first storyline concerns a whole council of Reeds from across the multiverse), every member of the FF gets a chance to really shine. Sue is a diplomat and an incredible badass, Ben has some wonderful moments, and Johnny has (in my estimation) never been better or more heroic. I love Hickman's voice on all of these characters -at this point I have trouble accepting Victor Von Doom written by anyone other than Hickman. There are a number of talented artists on this book - while I do wish the art had stayed a little more consistent, some of the best stories are brought to life by some of my favorite artists, like Steve Epting and Nick Dragotta. This is comic book superhero storytelling at its finest.   

The Flintstones by Mark Russell, Steve Pugh and Chris Chuckry, published by DC Comics
The Flintstones is an absolutely phenomenal, fiercely intelligent, and sometimes brutally satirical comic. But it's also a comic about the value of friendships and community. It's not what you'd expect a Flintstones comic to be. It's very funny and engaging, but each issue also tackles some complex social issues. Writer Mark Russell and artist Steve Pugh do fantastic work here, and you'll want to reread each issue a bunch to make sure you catch all of the detailed visual humor in each panel. If you'd told me that one of my favorite books of the decade would be The Flintstones, I would have laughed at the idea. I enjoyed the Flintstones cartoon (and super sugary vitamins) when I was a little kid, but there was no way a comic about Fred, Wilma, et al. was going to appeal to me as an adult. I couldn't have been more wrong.  The smartest, sharpest, most pointed social commentary I've read in years was in The Flintstones. Writer Mark Russell (Prez, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, Second Coming) had no fear in taking on all sorts of topics ranging from warfare, the way we treat veterans, election politics, religion, lack of interest in science, consumerism, marriage, animal cruelty, and many other topics. But the book isn't a dry social critique, rather it's a brutally hilarious look at ourselves through the lens of "prehistoric" life. Steve Pugh and Chris Chuckry do terrific, hilarious, surprisingly emotional work in each issue. It is a wonderful book, and each issue is packed with great gags and visual humor.


Giant Days by John Allison, Max Sarin and Whitney Cogar, published by Boom! Studios
Giant Days is a hilarious, heartfelt, absurd and very insightful book, which concluded this year. It’s the story of three women who’ve become best friends at university in England (along with their assorted friends and significant others), but that really doesn’t do it justice. Over the past few years I’ve come to love Esther, Daisy and Susan, along with their friends McGraw and Ed and others. Each has distinct personalities and great stories, and I promise you’ll come to love them as well. These are characters that I've loved to spend time with, and that's a tribute to writer John Allison and artist Max Sarin. The art in this comic has been such a gift. It's "cartoony" and stylized, but Sarin has such a gift for facial acting, body language, and interpersonal interactions that it will feels as "realistic" as anything. Sarin's grasp on visual humor is first-rate, which is a good thing because this comic is hilarious. Giant Days is inviting, smart, empathetic and compassionate, and I believe you will come to love the cast of characters as much as I do.

Godzilla: The Half-Century War by James Stokoe, published by IDW Publishing
I have to admit I was never much of a Kaiju fan growing up. Godzilla stories didn't particularly interest me. And then I saw Godzilla: The Half-Century War (written and illustrated by James Stokoe), and I (likely) said "HOLY $%^T THAT IS THE COOLEST THING I'VE EVER SEEN".  Even if stories of giant monsters don't typically interest you, I think you'll feel similarly. This story chronicles a few of the people who first encounter Godzilla in 1954 when he marches a destructive path through Tokyo, and each issue moves approximately a decade ahead, as new threats emerge and the anti-monster force keeps fighting what seems like a futile battle. Retaliation just brings further escalation, and in the end Godzilla proves to be more of a force of nature than a monster or enemy. So, great story, very compelling, etc.  But the real reason you need to read this book is that it has some of the most detailed, stunning visuals you'll ever see in a comic. There are pages in this book that make me think "this one page must have taken Stokoe three years to draw", but there a bunch of pages that are just as intricately detailed. Stokoe incredibly brings the world of Godzilla to life, illustrating him and other monsters, and cities, and people, all in painstaking detail.  There are stunning images on the page on display in this story. But Stokoe doesn't just create memorable images, he's also a hell of a sequential storyteller, as there's a ton of action and it always makes sense, and he does fantastic work conveying the sense of perspective as these monsters dwarf the humans around them. An incredible read.

Halcyon by Tara Butters, Marc Guggenheim, Ryan Bodenheim, Mark Englert, and Dave Sharpe, published by Image Comics
Halcyon is a terrific, dark story about superheroes, written by the accomplished show running team of Marc Guggenheim and Tara Butters, with art from Ryan Bodenheim and colors from Mark Englert. The central premise of the story is "what happens when the eternal fight for truth and peace and justice is over?" Let's just say this transition doesn't exactly go well for the superheroes of this world. It's an extremely compelling story. There are analogs for a number of prominent superheroes (Superman, Batman, The Flash, Beast, Captain America), but there are enough differences so it doesn't feel too on-the-nose. Ryan Bodenheim does spectacular work in this book. He's got a gritty, kinetic, detailed style that works well for both action and quieter scenes. He's complemented with strong coloring from Mark Englert who shows a great range in this series, from the desert to undersea to weird prisons, all vividly colored. I'm not sure whether the creative team here will ever revisit these characters and this world; the way the story ends it's well set up to tell more stories. Regardless, Halcyon is a fun, exciting, compelling read and one of my favorites. If you like Watchmen, you'd enjoy this.

Hawkeye by Matt Fraction, David Aja, Annie Wu, Javier Pulido, Francesco Francavilla, Matt Hollingsworth and Chris Eliopoulos, published by Marvel Comics
The pitch on this book is essentially "what does Hawkeye do when hes not being an Avenger" and the answer one of the best comics to be published in the past decade. This is a truly special, memorable book. This isn't "classic" Hawkeye, but this is a story with a ton of humor, heart, and some of the best comic storytelling you'll read. So what does he do?  He buys a building, goes up against the track suit mafia, runs into some much bigger problems, alienates his protege Kate Bishop, goes on a few missions, drinks coffee straight from the pot, gets an incredible dog named Lucky (a/k/a Pizza Dog) and stands up for the people against the forces of greed and evil. Most of the issues are illustrated by David Aja who was already fantastic but is an absolute master on this comic. There is some of the most clever visual storytelling you'll see in a mainstream comic. There are also some creative risks, such as an entire issue told from the perspective of Pizza Dog (with amazing use of symbols), and an issue mostly told in American Sign Language. There are a few other artists involved in this series, and while it is occasionally a little jarring to move from one artist to another, that fact that the other artists are Annie Wu, Francesco Francavilla and Javier Pulido makes it a lot easier. As does the consistency in lettering, design and colors from Chris Eliopoulos (a key contributor on design in the Pizza Dog issue) and Matt Hollingsworth. This is a moving, funny story with a ton of heart. Hawkeye has my highest recommendation. 


Lazarus by Greg Rucka, Michael Lark and Santi Arcas, published by Image Comics
Lazarus could (like many of my other favorite series) be fairly described as a slow-burn, but once you start this book you're not going to want to stop. The scope of this book can go from the very personal, to the big-picture global view, all in one issue. This is less a book about high-flying or intense action (those the team of Rucka and Lark are highly skilled at capturing those moments), but more a book about simmering tensions, subtle alliances, small gestures, wheels within wheels, and some of the best, most meticulous world building you'll read (in a comic book or otherwise). There have been several issues that are just rich texts filled with information about some of the various families in this world.  It's also a depressingly realistic dystopian vision of the future that's an astute commentary on right now. All of this is accomplished with tremendous skill by the art team of Michael Lark and Santi Arcas. Lark's noir-tinged style isn't the obvious choice for futuristic science fiction, but it suits the somewhat dystopian nature of the book perfectly. Lark is a master at human emotion, complex interactions, and subtle gestures. At the same time, he depicts brutal and intense violence more effectively than just about anyone. This book looks at a future where the rich got richer, and the rest of us are "waste". It also has a fantastic female lead protagonist in Forever Carlyle (this should not be a surprise to anyone, given it's Greg Rucka). She's smart, capable, impulsive, imperfect, loyal, inquisitive, and still very much a teenager. It's a book you need to be reading.

The Manhattan Projects by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Pitarra, Jordie Bellaire and Rus Wooton, published by Image Comics
If you want to know the real truth behind American history from the middle of WWII to the beginning of the Vietnam War, you're not going to get it in a PBS documentary, nor are you going to get the true nitty-gritty from reading a history textbook. No, you need to be reading The Manhattan Projects, one of the most inventive, perfectly crazy series you'll ever read. From creative interpretations of well-known historical figures (Cannibal Oppenheimer! Einstein wielding a chainsaw, killing aliens! Harry Truman at the center of a gigantic, murderous orgy ritual! Robot FDR!), to twisted takes on significant historical events such as the dropping of the atomic bomb and the assassination of a certain beloved president, no topic is off-limits or safe from the view of the creators of The Manhattan Projects, Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra. The colors from Jordie Bellaire in this book are bright, big and also a very important part of the storytelling in this book. This story continues Jonathan Hickman's exploration of the idea of a powerful secret elite, and the ways in which they can try and fail to advance scientific goals (and shape the world). An amazing, frequently hilarious, sometimes shocking and disgusting book that also happens to read better in collected editions.

Mind MGMT by Matt Kindt, published by Dark Horse Comics
Mind MGMT is a story about many things, but it is, at least in significant part, a story about our limited ability to perceive the reality around us. Our perception and observations about reality are unreliable, they can be manipulated.  That (unsettling) premise is the hook for Mind MGMT, one of the most interesting, distinctive, and thought-provoking comic series I've ever read.  Kindt illustrates the book using watercolors, and it's hard to imagine the story being told in any other way. Kindt's watercolors add an amazing sense of unreality and distortion to the whole series. His style works perfectly with the tone of the series. Additionally, nearly every page of Mind MGMT appears to be a report page on official stationery to the Mind Management organization (as it contains bureaucratic instructions at the top of each form), so the book reads as if it is prepared by an agent of the organization.  Mind MGMT demands something of you, as each page may require multiple rereads in order to understand how the additional text/comic fits in with the main body of the story. Kindt makes creative layout choices in that sometimes the panels are meant to be read across first and then down, and sometimes they're simply meant to be read vertically in order. Part of the fun and challenge of the book is figuring out, structurally, how an issue is meant to be read. Moreover, from issue to issue there's not necessarily a linear focus on story, so the reader is never quite sure (at the start of an issue) where the story in that issue is going to go. This adds to the general sense of disorientation, which may be unnerving (to someone expecting a more linear narrative) but it's keeping with the themes and ideas of the story.It's an amazing, unsettling read, and its themes of lies, propaganda and manipulation are more relevant than ever.

Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads, published by DC Comics
I knew that Mitch Gerads was super-talented at bringing highly detailed, realistic worlds to life, from his work on Punisher and The Sheriff of Babylon. But I had no idea he could turn those talents into something so unsettlingly weird and existential unease-inducing. But that's Mister Miracle, a fantastic book from Gerads and talented writer Tom King (not the last time you'll see him on this list). King and Gerads are telling a story about the New Gods, but what it feels to me like they're really doing is taking a deep dive into both depression and delusions, and the way that mental illness can alter your very sense of reality, and make you your own unreliable narrator.  The story chronicles the life of Scott Free a/k/a Mister Miracle, after a suicide attempt. He's seeing things and experiencing things that aren't there. Or are they? He and his wife Big Barda are making a life for themselves in Los Angeles, starting a family. But the also have obligations to the New Gods of New Genesis in their war against Darkseid and the forces of Apokolips. This book really brings to life the struggle of wading through your life while being a high-functioning depressed person, in an incredible way. It's full of heart and humanity and weirdness.  Gerads' art is just next-level good and weird and wonderful. Mister Miracle is an amazing read

Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa, Nico Leon, Diego Olortegui, Marco Failla and others, published by Marvel Comics.
Ms. Marvel was consistently one of Marvel's best and most important books this decade, and their most impactful creation (the character was created by writer G. Willow Wilson and editor Sana Amanat). Kamala Khan is an amazingly well-rounded and fully realized character, brought to life by writer G. Willow Wilson and a series of talented artists. Ms. Marvel is Exhibit A for why I will always ultimately prefer Marvel over DC. The characters live in a real place (Jersey City), Kamala's family are practicing Muslims (depicted with knowledge and compassion) who originally hail from another real place (Pakistan), and the comic takes on incredibly real problems (authoritarianism, racism, gentrification, anti-immigrant bias). And while the book sometimes has to tie into the superhero crossover event of the week, Willow and her artistic collaborators have been able to do so in a way that preserves the terrific, moving and great stories they've been telling. I still don't care about the Inhumans though. 

The Multiversity by Grant Morrison, Joe Prado, Ivan Reis, Doug Mahnke, Scott Williams, Jim Lee, Karl Story, Chris Sprouse, Marcus To, Frank Quitely, Cameron Stewart, Ben Oliver, and Nathan Fairbairn, published by DC Comics
The Multiversity feels like the story that Grant Morrison was born to tell.  It's big, sprawling, metatextual, confusing, funny, terrifying, and full of heroism and humor. The series is bookended by stories of heroes battling against the forces of evil, and the rest of the book is a series of one-shots that moves from one earth to another. Each of these is completely different, but they all involve earths under siege by the same forces of darkness and terror. The art is incredibly varied, with contributors like Chris Sprouse, Ivan Reis, Cameron Stewart, Jim Lee, and the pinnacle of the series, the "Pax Americana" issue, illustrated by Frank Quitely.  It's clear to me how much Morrison loves DC Comics, whenever I read any of his work.  Much like in Final Crisis, Morrison really just embraces the weirdness here, and along with his artistic partners, is clearly having a wonderful time.  Each issue is incredibly varied, and is a joy to read.

Noah by Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel, Niko Henrichon, and Nicolas Senegas, published by Image Comics
Noah (the graphic novel), is neither a faithful adaptation of the Biblical story nor is it a children's tale. Strictly speaking, it is an adaptation of the first draft of the screenplay of Noah (the movie), written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, based (loosely) on the Biblical story of Noah. This is a creative and ambitious book, which attempts to fill in a number of the gaps in and expand upon the Biblical story (which is pretty bare-bones) and wrestle with what the decisions undertook in that story would have meant (and felt like) to the people living around Noah and his family. The look and feel of this story are visually striking, starting with the sky, all the way down to the ground. Niko Henrichon and Nicolas Senegas make everything in the sky far larger than in a "real" sky; it feels like this takes place in a time that is much closer to the time of creation when all the heavenly bodies were still bunched together, before everything settled into what is our world. You also really feel, through the art, that the whole world is being destroyed and everyone other than those on the Ark has been condemned to die. Much like in scripture, there's a lot to wrestle with in this story. Regardless of whether you enjoyed the movie, or have an interest in the Bible generally (though some religious people may find much of the story objectionable), Noah is well worth a look

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden, published by Avery Hill/First Second
There are stories you enjoy and then soon forget. But there are other stories that stay with you. On a Sunbeam feels like it’s going to be the latter for me. It’s a gorgeous story that’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking, and it’s full of tension punctuated by lovely moments of romance, friendship and the beauty of found family. It’s also one of the most gorgeous comics I’ve read in a long time. There are pages of this book that I count help but longer on because they were so beautiful, and that’s not something I normally do when reading a comic. Creator Tillie Walden is a remarkable talent, and I really can’t recommend On a Sunbeam highly enough.  On a Sunbeam is set sometime in the indeterminate future, where humans have the ability to travel the stars. People seem to be scattered all over the place, living on various planets, moons and asteroids. This isn’t a 10,000 foot-view-story (a la Jonathan Hickman or Star Wars), so we don’t really learn anything about the broader state of humanity, or galactic civilization, or anything else of a more “macro” scope. Rather, this is an incredibly grounded story (ironically, one set in space) which is really just focused on the lives of the characters in the story. For a story with a vast scope, it feels quite intimate. And it’s kind of a science fiction story, but one where the creator doesn’t waste any time bothering with the science of it all. Because that’s not the story; the story is in love and loss and courage and memory and isolation and family. This was a joy to read.

Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson and Jared K. Fletcher, published by Image Comics
Paper Girls has turned out to be so much more than I had originally anticipated (and I already knew from the beginning that I would love it, just based on the creative team). I knew from the get-go that the combination of Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang would make for something great, but it become such a special, beloved book for me. My love of this book started with the 80's setting (I'm the exact same age as the characters), but it's so much more than a nostalgia trip. This is an incredible science fiction story where it truly feels like anything can happen, and it pretty much does. Insane time travel, multiple versions of characters, wonderful bonds of friendship, young romance, it's all there. Every once in a while a comic comes along and feels like it really has the magic, and Paper Girls is one of those books. The art on this book is consistently stunning, courtesy of the virtuoso Cliff Chiang, whose gorgeous, heartfelt illustrations bring crazy ideas to life on a page where he's equally adept at capturing humor, sadness, and the full range of human emotion. Matt Wilson on colors is a rock star, giving this book it's wild, neon, atmospheric colors that are so memorable. And every issue looks and feels terrific thanks to the design work of Jared K. Fletcher. Given that Brian K. Vaughan s writing, this is probably not a surprise. He's the author of some of the most popular and deservedly beloved comics of the past 15 years. Runaways, Y: The Last Man and Saga had that magic, and so does Paper Girls. That amazing alchemy that comes from an incredible combination of writer and artists and creative team, where what they make feels like something with its own life to it. I absolutely adore this comic, and you will too.

The Private Eye Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin and Muntsa Vicente, published by Panel Syndicate and Image Comics
The Private Eye is an ambitious sci fi/detective series, which was originally published online by co-creators Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin under the Panel Syndicate banner, and eventually released as a hardcover by Image Comics. The story is set in the year 2076. This is a world which looks somewhat like what you'd imagine the future to be (tall buildings, futuristic cars), but there's no online connectivity. At some point (but well prior to the events of the story), there was an event where "the cloud" burst and for forty days and forty nights, all of everyone's deepest, darkest secrets became public. After that, no one trusted the internet anymore. Privacy is highly valued in the "present" time of the story; people go out of their way with masks and pseudonyms to hide their true identities in order to maintain their privacy.  This is a richly designed and detailed world, full of amazingly rendered touches. We don't know all that much about any of the characters in the story (as they come from a world where privacy is highly valued), but we're given enough to make them interesting. The art from Marcos Martin and colors from Muntsa Vicente are vibrant, detailed, and remarkably rendered. Every character has a tremendous amount of detail, and the setting (a futuristic world where most people where elaborate masks and costumes when outside) lends itself to the artistic team really getting to let their imaginations run wild.  Like the best science fiction, this story may take place in the future but it's about right now. The way these characters live (zealously guarding their privacy, not trusting any form of online communication) is a great commentary on how we live today, where we share everything online and trust in the security of the cloud.The Private Eye is more timely than ever.

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples and Fonografiks, published by Image Comics
It's hard to say too much about Saga that hasn't already been written. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples continue to be pretty much peerless in their ability to craft stories full of exciting and weird science fiction concepts, moving, complex and real characters, engaging, dramatic, intense and heartbreaking plot, all presented visually by one of the best in the business. This book is raunchy, intelligent, and fearless. The introductory pitch on this book is that it's like an R-rated Star Wars meets Romeo and Juliet. That doesn't do it justice, but you should also know that while the scope of this book is big, the focus is always squarely on the characters. Vaughan is as good as anyone at creating characters you'll come to care about. Vaughan has an incredible partner on this book in artist Fiona Staples. I've been engaged more by certain story arcs and less by others, but my enthusiasm for Staples' art has never waned. She continues to produce, on a regular basis, some of the finest art in any comic. Her absolute mastery of emotion and expression is something to behold (just look at the raccoon-type people on the right-hand panel above), and she makes every character seem interesting and important and alive. As absurd as characters can be (such as robots that have televisions as heads, or some of the even more absurd or disgusting characters she's depicted), Staples' art makes you take them seriously. She also has a great, varied color palate in illustrating her work, and along with great skill and care in depicting backgrounds and locations, she makes the world of Saga one that feels truly real.

Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, published by Image Comics
I probably don't need to tell you why Sex Criminals is a great book, but here you go: Sex Criminals is one of the most outrageously funny (and just plain outrageous), raunchy, emotionally honest, intelligent, thoughtful comics that has been published in a very long time. It's a story about people who can freeze time whenever they orgasm, and those two people meet and decide to rob banks. But it's so much more than that. Matt Fraction is a really gifted writer and he lays out a sometimes painfully honest, astute comic (really an amazing look at depression and other psychological disorders). His partner, Chip Zdarsky, does incredible work on the art in this book. It's outrageous and hilarious and full of information and jokes and details, but also searingly emotional and clever. It's a terrific read. But it's more than just a raunchy book (though it is that) - Sex Criminals is a pretty profound exploration of a number of profound issues such as intimacy, depression, and a compassionate look at the adult film industry. But I mean it's also got people hitting each other with dildos, lest you think it is too serious.

Silver Surfer by Dan Slott, Michael Allred and Laura Allred, published by Marvel Comics
Silver Surfer (from writer Dan Slott and artists Mike and Laura Allred) is one of the stories from the past decade to which I have the biggest emotional attachment. I've never really been all that interested in the Silver Surfer as a character, but this comic made me a believer. This is a story where every page is filled with so much fun and wonder and emotion, I read and I remember why I love comics. Really, this book is a love letter both to silver-age comics generally, but also to the concepts of wonder and imagination. It's also a (very compelling) love story.  The Surfer and his companion Dawn Greenwood go on all sorts of incredible, amusing, remarkable, sometimes sad adventures throughout the universe. Mike and Laura Allred's art has never been better (in my opinion) - they have a way of conveying joy and sadness simultaneously in their art, and it's something special. There are pages you'll just stare and stare at, marveling at the detail, the color and the life that comes off of the page. And there are some mind-blowing sequences, including a comic told as a Moebius strip.  I can't recommend Silver Surfer highly enough.

Supreme: Blue Rose by Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay, published by Image Comics
There are comics that ease you into a new world, comics that drop you right into that world, and then there's Supreme: Blue Rose (the sense of disorientation and placement into a weird and different world is part of what I love about the book so much). By way of background, Supreme was originally created by Rob Liefeld in the early 1990's as a Superman analog, and subsequently written by others (including Alan Moore!). However, not having read any of those issues should not be a deterrent to picking this comic up. This is a complex, dense story, with all sorts of layers and clues and mysteries. With his usual wit and skill, Ellis brings to Supreme: Blue Rose some of the ideas that concern him most; he's using an old superhero character as a jumping-off point to build a remarkable world involving mathematics, alternate realities, time travel, and the hidden nature of reality. This story has a highly intriguing, dream-like, stream-of-consciousness quality, and the reason for this appeal is the artist, Tula Lotay. She is a serious talent. Her work here is like some combination of Fiona Staples, Sean Murphy, Mike Allred and some sort of psychedelic fever dream. Lotay's work has a soft, watercolor appearance to it which also adds to the dreamlike feeling. What you first notice about Lotay's art in this book is the women. She draws some of the most beautiful, striking women I've ever seen in a comic book; faces you can't look away from. For a light-hearted, easy-to-follow superhero romp, don't pick up Supreme: Blue Rose! However, do pick it up if you're intrigued by a stunningly gorgeous, complex mystery involving superheroes, mathematics, alternate realities, the future and maybe the entire universe

Thor: God of Thunder/The Mighty Thor/Thor/King Thor by Jason Aaron, Mike Del Mundo, Esad Ribic and more, published by Marvel Comics
Jason Aaron has been telling a huge, epic, very impressive story about Thor, Asgard, and the other realms, over the course of seven years. This story began in the wonderful Thor: God of Thunder, illustrated by Esad Ribic, who more than anyone brings to life a muscular, adventurous world of fantasy and danger. This was a terrific story involving Thors of multiple time periods (including a King Thor from the distant future) and a terrific antagonist in Gorr the God Butcher). Aaron continued his amazing story of Thor by introducing a completely different Thor, that being Jane Foster, in The Mighty Thor. That was a spectacular series, as it raised many other issues and ideas that couldn't be explored with Thor Odinson. And that series was brought to life by the equally spectacular Russell Dauterman, whose beautiful linework and creativity are only matched by his skill as a sequential storyteller. But it's all coming to a close. Years of storytelling were building up to the War of the Realms, a fantastic miniseries, and so this year we had the conclusion of Thor (mostly drawn by the talented, Mike Del Mundo, whose dreamlike style brings an other-worldliness to the story) which brought to a close the story of the current-day Thor, now the leader of Asgard. This was a moving, powerful story. But Jason Aaron wasn't done. To conclude his saga, Aaron reunited with Esad Ribic, and returned (in King Thor) to the story of King Thor, Loki and Gorr the God Butcher. This last series is dramatic, huge, intense, and very metal. It's great to see this epic run come full circle, and it's been an incredible ride. I recommend every book in this saga.

The Vision by Tom King, Gabriel Walta and Jordie Bellaire, published by Marvel Comics
Tom King has really burst onto the comics scene in the past few years, writing some wonderful stories (like Mister Miracle (also on this list), The Omega Men, and The Sheriff of Babylon), but my favorite one of his comics thus far remains The Vision.  The premise of The Vision is that the android Vision (you know, Paul Bettany from the movies) decides to move to the suburbs and build himself a family. He's got a wife, two kids, and even an android dog. But, things pretty quickly start going horribly wrong. A lot of weird stuff happens in this book.  The book has an incredibly pervasive sense of existential dread throughout the series, and King's dialogue is some of the insightful I've ever read in a comic - I've loved his use of androids to make pointed observations about the nature of humanity.  King's artistic partners on The Vision are supremely talented artists Gabriel Walta and Jordie Bellaire.They do incredible work in bringing the story to life. Walta has an interestingly "static" style that actually works perfectly for the subject matter.  Walta's art evokes images of smiling, happy faces, but with incredibly weird things going on behind the scenes. Walta and coloring master Bellaire bring the story to life with terrific skill and thoughtfulness.  The Vision is an absolute must-read.