December 19, 2019

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Sean’s Favorite Comics of the ‘10s

Black Hammer / Justice League #5 as drawn by Sean’s daughter, Isla

 Here we are, staring at the last moments of the 2010s wondering how in god's name it went by so fast. It seems like not too long ago that I was putting together a room full of new baby furnishings as my wife and I awaited the birth of our son, our first child. That was 2008, and for the next few years I built several things that came with picture instructions from the "local" IKEA that was nearly three hours away. That was then. This is now. Skip forward about a decade and here we are, but now is not the time to reminisce or drift off in nostalgia. Now is the time to reach back and remember which comic books I've read over those years and shared with anyone who'll listen which ones I felt were most worth another read, a repeated recommend, or simply a modest list of comic books that defined this decade for me in this corner of the universe. And, yes, this is yet another self-serving with a purpose list of favorite things from a specific period of time.

Here are my ten (give or take) favorite comic books over the last ten years.

Enjoy!

Honorable Mentions:

Petals
by Gustavo Borges & Cris Peter
published by BOOM! Studios

Petals is a story of a family of foxes who meets a wandering bird among the snowy landscape of the forest. The wanderer, a tall and well-dressed bird of sorts, takes it upon himself to become caretaker for a fox in the family who has been struggling with illness. The is a story that represents that of which should be the level of kindness that we ought to strive for within ourselves. It is simple and it is concise, but what is revealed beneath the layered story beneath the silent tone is a parable of others over self. Share this one with the children in your life.

Wasted Space
by Michael Moreci, Hayden Sherman, Jason Wordie & Jim Campbell
published by Vault Comics

I hesitated to include this title as one of my favorites of the decade. It is a young book and only just now reaching a dozen issues, but when a book is this good all rules set by me for these period piece best-of lists goes out the window. Take one part Star Wars and mix it with equal parts Preacher and any self-aware satire on modern society then you'd have a fairly good idea for what this book I am sharing with you now is about. Hayden Sherman is my favorite current illustrator that no one knows yet, and his ability to sketch life into characters that Michael Moreci writes is enough reason to keep coming back for more. This is a modern literary classic, and by no means am I attempting careless presumption in that description. It really is.

The Underwater Welder
by Jeff Lemire
published by Top Shelf Productions

My first exposure to the mind of Lemire was with little Gus in Sweet Tooth around about 2011. I ran across this story from the decade before at a local second hand shop and fell in love with Lemire's artistic style that turned out to be something all his own. Soon after this discovery I managed to find another book of his called The Underwater Welder and at that point I knew that I had found something special. Jeff Lemire's ability to tell stories with paint brushes and pens are beyond everything I could have imagined. This book in particular is a graphic novel telling a story of the relationship of father and son painted in an almost supernatural and religious gesture. Lemire is at his best when he tells stories of the interpersonal kind, and this is at the top of that subset.

Alone
by Christophe Chabouté & translated from French by Ivanka Hahnenberger
published by Gallery 13 

I am kind of breaking a rule again here by including this. Alone was originally published in France in 2008, but was brought to the U.S. and translated to English in 2017. I find this loophole necessary so as to include this quiet book of visual poetry telling a story of one man's visceral coping of solitude. This is a critique of aloneness and what inhibits our motivation to avoid it, or rather to escape it. Chabouté tells this story almost entirely with black and white visuals, but don't let that stop you from digging deep into what is being said. It is an imaginative, heartfelt, and honest depiction of what it means to be human, or how to finally get to that place where it once agains feels good to be there.

The Immortal Hulk
by Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, Lee Garbett, Martin Simmonds, Paul Mounts and company
published by Marvel Comics

Including something as relevant to a decade in comics that is as new as The Immortal Hulk was not very difficult to do. This was easily one of my favorites for 2019 and because of it's transformative nature to the character, I see this run by Al Ewing to be one that creators for many years look back to for reference and foundation for what will come after. Bruce Banner and his alter persona, Hulk, have become much more than they have ever been, and Joe Bennett and company are bringing their best work to put together some of the most horrific images seen in mainstream comics. The mythos of the Hulk is being transformed before our eyes. This chapter in Hulk will be among some of the best of any character of fiction. Good thing for us.. the story is bleeding into the next decade for us to continue the ride. 

I wish I could keep going with honorable mentions of the comic books I enjoyed. These last several years have been a joy to keep up with all the great stories being told, and do not hesitate to track me down and ask if you are interested in knowing more of what I'd recommend to read. 

Otherwise, here are the ten comics from the last decade of which I considered to be the ones that defined it. 


The Top Ten:


10) Ms. Marvel


writer:
G. Willow Wilson
artist:
Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa, Nico Leon, Mirka Andolfo, Francesco Gaston, Marco Failla, Diego Olortegui
colorer:
Ian Herring, Irma Kniivila
letterer:
Joe Caramagna, Travis Lanham
publisher:
Marvel Comics

I read the entire Wilson run of Ms. Marvel over the course of a few months with my nine year old daughter. We would take turns reading each volume and gush over what Kamala Khan was going through in each issue. I find this character creation in Marvel comics to be incredibly timely and powerful knowing that to be a female in a male dominated... anything is still a struggle today. Add to this unfortunate truth with our newfound superhero to be a person-of-color AND of Muslim descent and an entirely new thread of struggle is explored. This is a character written by a female for females.. and to any male willing to throw toxic masculinity to the curb and let the girls to the fighting. Kamala Khan isn't the first Ms. Marvel, but she is my daughters Ms. Marvel. I can only imagine how special it is for young girls with similar upbringing as Kamala's when they read this comic. Seeing my daughter, who does not share these things, enjoy it to the degree that she does helps me understand the cultural relevance and importance that it serves. Currently we have moved to a new period in Kamala's life as a new creative team has recently picked up the script, and I urge all who have not read the origin of this all important character to do so soon. There is a bright and courageous future for this young superhero and a generation of young readers cheering her on with a smile on their faces and a lightning bolt on their (possibly) homemade t-shirt.

9) The Park Bench


writer and artist:
Christophe Chabouté
publisher:
Gallery 13

Just last night one of my kids turned and said: "daddy, isn't it crazy how I am me?" Funny to hear my own child say a strikingly similar thought that I once had as a kid that has continued into my adulthood. Why am I me, and why are you, you? It can envoke a serious string of emotions when you consider such profound and almost spiritual things. This graphic novel, by French author and cartoonist Christophe Chabouté, explores a version of this question as we travel through 300 pages of the life of a park bench. Through the "eyes" of this bench we experience fragmented pieces of the lives of others as they happen scattered but nearby. Chabouté has a special ability to reach into our thoughts uninhibited as his stories tell such moving and touching stories in his illustrations. This book has no words. The entire story of the bench is told visually and there is seemingly no other way it could be any more sentimental. It is breathtaking how this linear story is able to be told in a way that makes a complete circle. I adore this book and what it speaks to. The Park Bench is among the short list as the most influential stories of the decade. It will make you consider things about life and existence that you would not have otherwise, or if you had you wouldn't have done so with the silly perspective of a park bench.

8) Punk Rock Jesus


writer and artist:
Sean Murphy
letterer:
Todd Klein
publisher:
DC Vetigo

I read this book at a time when I was not yet familiar with Sean Murphy. His contributions to comics were still left for me to discover, and discover his catalogue I did. One afternoon while perusing shelves at a bookstore this title caught my eye, and when I flipped through the pages I simply had to take this one home. I was naturally pulled into his artwork and his profound sense of detail was easy to get lost in. Murphy's art is now among my current favorites. His line work and attention to geometric detail are visually stunning and I simply cannot not look away. Punk Rock Jesus is the story of controversial outfit known as the J2 Project clones Jesus Christ and documents the entire process for the world to experience through around-the-clock televised exposure. Explorations of the morality of cloning, religious response to the process, and the reaction of the clone of Christ himself are all wrapped up in a twelve issue response to theology when merged with power that comes with money and fame as the effects it has on faith tear away at even the savior of man himself. This comic holds its importance for the decade as being a representation of what our world has become. Our obsession with constant content and the emerging and normalizing of American Christian zealots. If this were to come out today I wouldn't be surprised if it were to get petitioned and scared away from a mainstream publisher. No matter, as we need not worry.. it is already available for anyone to pick up and read.

7) Daredevil Vol. 3 & 4

writer:
Mark Waid
artist:
Marcos Martin, Joe Rivera, Paola Rivera, Kano, Khoi Pham, Marco Checchetto, Chris Samnee, Mike Allred, Álvaro López, Jason Copeland, Peter Krause
colorer:
Muntsa Vicente, Javier Rodriguez, Matt Hollingsworth, Laura Allred, John Kalisz, Matthew Wilson
letterer:
Joe Caramagna
publisher:
Marvel Comics

Mark Waid and his team of artistic talent brought a breathe of fresh air to Daredevil when the 2010s first began. For decades prior this character was a notoriously brooding hero, doomed and destined to always be in the dark. I sometimes would wonder if this lazy metaphor for a blind superhero was parading on for too long. Make no mistake, some of the best stories came from this dark age of Daredevil initiated by Frank Miller back in the early 1980s, but it was beginning to feel routine and the stories felt less engaging. Just as Miller transformed the character into a dark age, so too did Waid as he brought him to light in the early 2010s. It wasn't a forced evolution or a transformation that ignored its past either, because Waid managed to weave into the narratives small strands of smart dialogue to support the realization Murdock had realizing that in order for him to survive he literally needed to smile. It is true that sometimes this era of Daredevil felt Spider-Man-esque as the gloom and doom were replaced with the quips and smart wits. It was a welcomed change of pace and I was taking it all in. Daredevil is the character in the Marvel Universe that tends to get overshadowed by the likes of larger personalities and flashier costumes, but I will always tell people that if they want a good story with years of depth to explore then look no further than right here.. with good ol' Matt Murdoch as the man without fear: Daredevil.

6) March Vol. 1-3


writers:
Congressman John Lewis & Andrew Aydin
artist:
Nate Powell
publisher:
Top Shelf Productions

There are some graphic novels that beg to be immortalized in our education system as required young person reading. This is one of those books. Congressman John Lewis graciously tells us the story of his youth spanning the events of the Civil Rights Movement including his meeting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. among other trademark moments. March, a three volume set of graphic novels, is told mostly as flashback stories as present day John Lewis converses with those he is with. Each page is a picture worth a thousand words regardless of how few are used to tell what is on them. As a first hand telling of a past hopefully never forgotten, I proudly hold this set of books on display as a reminder of where our country came from and as a hope that we don't return. Congressman John Lewis is one of the last living faces of that time who had such a strong impact of where we are today. Reading his story will encourage readers everywhere to find what you believe in and stand up in the name of all that is worthy. As everything seems divided down the center these days it is a helpful reminder that in order to bring justice it does not always require change through violence. A progress made with peace and a voice with compassion is how things were made better. Though we are a long way from perfection, it is comforting to read this and imagine an entire generation of young people exposed to the life that John Lewis led in March as they use it for an example all their own.

5) Giant Days


writer:
John Allison
artist:
Lissa Treiman, Max Sarin, Julia Madrigal, Liz Fleming
colorer:
Whitney Cogar
letterer:
Jim Campbell
publisher:
BOOM! Studios

Giant Days was a massive surprise hit for me. I didn't expect to enjoy something of this nature as much as I did, and it was because of that which brought reason to why I had a rather late start reading it at all. It was not until it's final year of publishing when I finally brought myself to enjoy this down-to-earth and more-real-than-real-life story of three unlikely friends. If you were to tell me a few years ago that I were to soon start reading a comic about three college age women who become unlikely friends who manage to entertain its readers with simple everyday college life, then I'd say you were borderline crazy. Turns out that I was the crazy one because Esther de Groot, Susan Ptolemy and Daisy Wooten (those previously mentioned three) have become some of my favorite characters of fiction over the last several years. Three friends growing up during those first days away from home; meeting new friends, and losing old ones only to gain them back again. Giant Days is about those larger than life moments that we all had before we knew what they were: our college age years. Regardless of whether you went away to college, or took that first job right out of high school, those were the days that you had nothing to lose and everyone to do it with. This newly completed saga of Esther, Susan and Daisy has been a very special moment in comics, and to see this come to an end this year was rather bittersweet. This is an important contribution to the comic world and with that I'll end by saying -- do not skip out on this rather enjoyable trip through life in Giant Days.

4) The New 52 Batman



writer:
Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Marguerite Bennett, Gerry Duggan, Brian Azzarello
artist:
Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, Rafael Albuquerque, Jason Fabok, Becky Cloonan, Andy Clarke, Sandu Florea, Jock, Danny Miki, Wes Craig, Alex Maleev, Matteo Scalera, Dustin Nguyen, Andy Kubert, Derek Fridolfs, Sandra Hope, Craig Yeoung, Drew Geraci, Jack Purcell, Sandu Florea, Marc Deering, Yanick Paquette, Sean Murphy
colorer:
FCO Plascencia, Dave McCaig, Peter Steigerwald, Nathan Fairbairn, Dave Baron, Ian Hain, Brad Anderson, Lee Loughridge, John Klasz, Matt Hollingsworth
letterer:
Richard Starkings, Jimmy Betancourt, Sal Cipriano, Taylor Esposito, Nick Napolitano, Dezi Sienty, Steve Wands, Patrick Brosseau, Dave Sharp, Carlos Mangual, Jared Fletcher, Deeron Bennett
publisher:
DC Comics

This is the comic book series that solidified my obsessive return to the comic book world as an adult. As a kid I had random copies of various issues that I didn't understand the sequence for. I read those comics for the pictures inside. I would draw the caped crusader and the man of steel over and over and over again until I had no pencil left to hold onto. Fast forward a couple decades or so later and I grew up; I moved on and lived life in other capacities with other outlets of entertainment. Somehow, for reasons beyond my immediate recollection, I became aware of and read some of Jeff Lemire's early content (among others) as previously mentioned. It wasn't until the second part of this last decade that I discovered this run of Batman by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, and when I did I could not put it down. I was mesmerized. It was Bruce Wayne in an existence that I never knew before. It was dark and it was interesting as it had a reoccurring exploration of Gotham as a living character. Some of my favorite moments in the mythos of Batman happen in Snyder's run; the emergence of Bloom, the creation of the Court of Owls, seeing the manic breakdown of the Joker, and even witnessing Commissioner Gordon take on a role that no one ever expected him to take on. One of my favorite Batman story arcs takes place also during this period which was titled Zero Year and it explored loosely the where-to's and when's of the period before Batman: Year One. What Snyder and Capullo et al. did with this new version to the origin of Batman gave the character new ground to spring from and revived my love for comics. I was back reading them again just like I did as a young child, and I haven't looked back since only this time my compulsive disorder won't allow me to own random issues that I don't understand sequence for.

3) Paper Girls


writer:
Brian K. Vaughan
artist:
Cliff Chiang
colorer:
Matt Wilson
letterer:
Jared K. Fletcher
publisher:
Image Comics

Paper Girls
is the first comic book that I can say I read from the very beginning. It was late 2015 and the cover was impossible to look away from. For real though, find a cover of Paper Girls and just try to not lose yourself in a gazing stare. Each one of them holds a unique and vintage styling to it while they explode with bright and vivid colors. On display on many of these covers are one or all four of the young characters that I would eventually grow to love. Erin, MacKenzie, KJ, and Tiffany began this long running series delivering newspapers one early morning after a Halloween night in 1988 and ended it saving themselves from what at times seemed like the world. Experiencing this story and watching these four young acquaintances become friends so close that no element of surprise is able to tear them apart. I enjoyed the hell out of this book. Every single issue manages to end in a simple twist of fate wrapped cleverly inside a cliffhanger that always takes you by surprise. It was very difficult for me to see this series come to an end earlier this year, but Vaughan and Chiang managed to deliver beyond expectation and wrote the ending that every faithful reader of this cherished story deserved.

2) Black Hammer

writer:
Jeff Lemire
artist:
Dean Ormston, David Rubín, Max Fiumara, Rich Tommaso, Wilfredo Torres, Emi Lennox, Matt Kindt, Michael Walsh
colorer:
Dave Stewart, Sharlene Kindt
letterer:
Todd Klein, Nate Piekos, Marie Enger
publisher:
Dark Horse Books

Jeff Lemire is no stranger when it comes to me writing about which comics I read that I think you should also. You quite literally could pick up anything with his name on it and be more than pleasantly entertained, if not also challenged to self-reflect. Black Hammer is not so much a cause for reflection as it is a homage to the medium of comic books, the Golden Age in which it was built upon, and all the cliché that came after. This series began with a small idea of a group of superheroes finding themselves living in a version of purgatory after their untimely comic book-y deaths. They have no idea why they are there, how they had gotten there, or how to get out. From this point on the story manages to get larger and weirder. (Quite literally too as one of the group members goes by the name of Colonel Weird). With this groundwork of story development, Lemire and Ormston lay parts to the pieces necessary for a much larger story to be eventually told. What comes to be are numerous spin-offs and collaborations that do everything to enhance the world that started with the initial gang back in the mysterious farm in Black Hammer. Lemire uses his entire arsenal of creative energy to fully embrace this masterpiece that he has put together with his team of equally talented individuals.


1) Daytripper



writer & artists:
Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá
colorer:
Dave Stewart
letterer:
Sean Konot
publisher:
DC Vertigo

Imagine reading a book with twelve chapters. Now, imagine that book in graphic novel form drawn and painted in vivid detail over the course of twelve months in single issue installments. Finally, imagine each month you read about the same man die twelve separate ways in twelve alternate times over the course of his life. Now read this and I dare you not to choke on tears you try to hold back. Double dog. You will lose, I promise. This is seriously one of the most elaborate and touching stories of fatherhood and mortality that I have ever read. It breaths new life into the meaning of existence and provides a new and timely importance to the phrase "be here now". The main character in Daytripper, Bras, lives his life over the course of these twelve issues and with each one we see him at a different age from before. Each time it ends the same, but in each instance he has no recollection of the eventual ending from the last. This story is imaginative and inventive in how it tells its story and I will always refer to it when I am feeling a need to humble myself within my own tendency toward self-righteousness. This book will always be close to my heart and I will always recommend it as a must-read. It neutralizes and examines self in ways not many other pieces of work are able. Daytripper is a true modern masterpiece that I chose easily as my favorite from the 2010s, and I highly recommend this as mandatory reading.