20 (Or So) Best Comics of the Decade: Brendan’s Supplementary List
A new decade has begun, and with it, High Five! Comics will soon be unveiling our special “20 (Or So) Best Comics of the Decade” event (take that, Siege). But before we reveal the big list, we’ll start with a series of supplementary entries from HF!C’s contributing writers about those comics we each individually loved, but that didn’t quite have the mojo to make the final ranks.
Today, Brendan talks about some of his personal favorite books from the last decade.
Daredevil – Brian Michael Bendis; Ed Brubaker (Brendan’s #4)
Don’t let our list fool you- this decade belonged to Brian Michael Bendis. Before DC handed the keys to their mainstream continuity to a handful of writers in the mid 2000s, Bendis was setting the trend with his monolithic presence at the publisher across the street. But before he was running every annual blockbuster (New Avengers, House of M, Secret Invasion) he built his cred by raising street-level characters like Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist to new prominence in the Marvel U. Bendis’ four-year run with primary Alex Maleev on Daredevil was his most critically-acclaimed, and best, superhero writing in the 2000s. That Ed Brubaker took the reigns to continue a pitch-perfect showcase for the Man without Fear cemented its place in my top five for the decade.
The Goon – Eric Powell (Brendan’s #12)
Eric Powell’s “The Goon” initially appeared to be merely another attempted successor to Hellboy’s brand of smash-‘em-up paranormal adventure, but quickly managed to separate itself as an entirely different animal. Sure, The Goon would be plenty of zombie-thrashing fun even if Powell only played up the title for action and yuks, but after 40-some issues and assorted specials, the most memorable impression that it makes is for a deep-seated pathos underneath its surface elements. To experience the darker-than-noir world of The Goon is to immerse yourself in a place for gown-ups that’s scary in the way things were scary to you when you were a kid, when everything was big and spooky and unknown.
Daredevil: Yellow – Jeph Loeb (Brendan’s #13)
Jeph Loeb didn’t exactly have a quiet decade, per se. He certainly wrote a lot of stuff. But the things he wrote didn’t seem to resonate with audiences the way his best work has in the past (Soulfire, anyone? Anyone?) If you need evidence, look to his flash-then-fizzle 5 issue arc following Mark Millar on The Ultimates, a borderline disaster that might have single-handedly derailed any plans for a fourth installment any time soon. But Loeb did capture the old magic once or twice by doing what he arguably does best: roots-revisionism of classic character continuity. Cherry-picking the biggest moments from a hero with such a singularly piquant history, Loeb and artist/soul mate Tim Sale connect a modern storytelling sensibility with retro crime comic style that manages to never feel gimmicky or cheap. Instead it does the character a faithful service, adding to the richness of that lush backstory and to the depth of the man behind the horns.
The Ultimates – Mark Millar (Brendan’s #14)
Ultimate Spider-Man kicked off the Marvel’s “Ultimate” universe, and Ultimate X-Men broadened its horizons, but The Ultimates is the series that kicked its popularity into the stratosphere. Three years before Earth’s Mightiest Heroes were “Disassembled” and eventually made “New”, Mark Millar’s two-series run on The Ultimates was a reimagining of those classic characters in a form so dramatic and astounding that we couldn’t help but sit up and take notice- and be in awe- of them again. Those epic 26 issues gave us more than one indelible moment, but is perhaps most notable for giving Cap his most famous line of dialogue since he called the Avengers to assemble: “Surrender? You think this letter on my head stands for FRANCE!?!” Feel it.
The Authority – Warren Ellis; Mark Millar; Robbie Morrison; Grant Morrison; Garth Ennis (Brendan’s #15)
Yes, the action is as insanely over the top as it is awesome. Yes, the characters evoke comics’ archetypal icons only to openly subvert them. And yes, a lot of the critical ground it stakes was covered by, like, everybody since Watchmen. But people too often confuse and conflate abstractions like deconstruction and irony. Just as Robert Kirkman’s Invincible did for the true believers and classicists (main list spoiler!), DC/Wildstorm’s The Authority spent the better part of the decade being the modernist’s favorite study of the superhero. And the fact that it’s also just totally fun to see them fuck some shit up is just a bonus.
Hellblazer – Brian Azzarello; Mike Carey (Brendan’s #16)
Anyone who reads comics can tell you that John Constantine is one of the medium’s absolute best characters. But despite his more than 20 years of continuous continuity in his own title, not many people can agree on what has been our favorite run with the occult detective/part-time sorcerer in Hellblazer. During his ridiculous hot streak early this decade, Brian Azzarello took a stab at John that brought him stateside and into new depths of deviousness, before Brit writer Mike Carey brough him back to England and shifted Hellblazer more definitively back to its horror roots. All told, the 2000s gave us 6 years of John Constantine at his best, setting a bar that every writer since has gloriously strived to surpass. Fans of Hellblazer couldn’t be happier.
Powers – Brian Michael Bendis (Brendan’s #19)
Independently, both superhero sagas and police dramas often deal in similar themes: justice, social order, honor, and the nature of public service, to name a few. In this creator-owned series Bendis marries the two genres to create an atmospheric, engrossing slow-burner of a book, something much closer in tone to his earlier crime thrillers than his Marvel megahits. Compared to all the flash and spectacle of a title like New Avengers, Powers is downright austere, but it’s also frequently tense, exciting, and (despite its general dourness) wryly funny. Most of the credit for its success is due to the series’ main characters- the laconic Christian Walker and live wire Deena Pilgrim are the heart of the book, and watching mysteries from their personal backgrounds unfold as they struggle to relate to one another through the Job is just as compelling as the cases they work to solve. Walker and Pilgrim made Powers a book to keep coming back to, even almost 70 issues in, just to see more of the decade’s most dynamic duo in comics.