Top 10 Individual Comics of 2010

A column article, Top Ten by: Shawn Hill

These are in no particular order. My reading tastes may not overlap much with popular opinion. But perhaps my critical standards will at least be a little clearer. As always, I still read comics as issues rather than as collections. It's my preferred form of accessing super-heroes (more than movies, more than video games, more than graphic novels, which are so bulky and take so long to read). 

I look for a perfect 22 pages, a lunch-time pass-time, to breeze through in 15 minutes or so, marveling at the art, entertained by the plot, and fully satisfied by the end of the coffee break (or whatever) that I got a full story from beginning to end. Not necessarily a complete one, because I'm also a big fan of serialization, but with enough action and excitement and fun to quench my hunger for that moment at least. And leave me wanting more of the same. The best creators can give you a very solid beat within an ongoing story, tweaking the flavor from month to month (and hopefully not mix as many metaphors as I).

These are the comics that did that for me in 2010. The ones I couldn't wait to read, the ones that most rewarded a placement at the top of the pile.

10. Doom Patrol #13 

How long has it been since Rita Farr was the focus of an issue? I think we have John Byrne to thank for bringing her back, in his misfire at a "continuity-free" version of the team. Then all continuities smashed together in Infinite Crisis and she remembered (parts of) her past. In this issue Giffen makes a decent run at explaining what really happened since Elasti-Girl was the only one NOT to survive the series-ending island blow-up, and it's a painful, poignant look at a damaged survivor. Well in-line with his take on the entire cast, actually.

9. Secret Six #17 

This was the middle of a Blackest Night Suicide Squad crossover, all three issues a seamless collaboration by John Ostrander, Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore. Nobody made better use of the angry dead coming back to life than Simone and Ostrander, who even invented a cowardly assassin in order to kill and resurrect her as a kind of object lesson in how to fail at being as bad-ass as the Six usually are. This issue also features an epic battle to near fatality for both between Catman and Bronze Tiger. Calafiore made sure the story was one coherent saga with his usual strengths in emotional expression and stylized action.

8. Batman and Robin #12

Robin is being run by Slade (like a puppet, it's a whole spine transplant thing) as part of battle for his soul cooked up by his mom Talia, but the Dick Grayson Batman has a few tricks up his sleeve. He knows how to fight his old Teen Titans foe and protect his new protégée, just one of the myriad ways he's proved his worthiness to wear the cowl. Robin makes up his own mind this issue (as Robins usually do), while Talia reveals she always has a contingency plan. Devastating family dynamics, old rivalries, multiple corners of the Bat and DC universes bouncing all over the place, and action all the way through.

7. Power Girl #7 

A very funny issue in a series that was silly but never dumb, with a unique mix of irreverent writing team Palmiotti and Gray and buxom babe artist extraordinaire Amanda Conner. Their collaboration was like nothing else on the stands at the time. The whole first year was stellar, but casting this issue's villain as an embarrassingly indelible Sean Connery clone was a home run.

6. Astro City: The Dark Age: Book Four #4 

I wasn't sure whether to put this issue or one of the two parts to the conclusion of the Silver Agent's backwards in time adventure, as both were the conclusions of very long-running story arcs for Busiek's most personal and powerful creation. But I'll go with the story of two brothers, initially on opposite sides of the law because of different ways of dealing with super-villain tragedy, who end up not just as vigilantes, but vigilante heroes. The Agent's story is a tragedy, but the Williams brothers did something with their lives in every era (16 issues worth of eras, in which we watched them grow up), and brought out some of Busiek's most nuanced and compelling writing. Not to mention artist Brent Anderson's most creative character designs for their many foes. It's nice to see two traumatized men make the right choice when it counts, and they even get to live to reflect about it in their mature years.

5. Thunderbolts #150 

Who ever thought this series would reach a "sesquicentennial" anniversary? Not without some bumps along the way (some best forgotten), but the concept is pretty much still intact 13 years (and 7 or so writers) later. This anniversary issue featured an off-beat little story where some of our villains and some Avengers are stranded in a fable-like never-land, where all their true natures emerge in high relief. Jeff Parker is clear about who's worthy of redemption and who isn't. It was deft writing, ably illustrated by the ever-inventive Kev Walker.

4. Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #2 

The series as a whole showed us that Bruce is always Batman with or without his memory, but this romp through a puritan past recalled Morrison's unforgettable revision of Klarion the Witch Boy as a Soldier of Victory (mostly due to Fraser Irving's beautiful painted art in both), but now riffing on repression in order to explore the Bat mythos. We also get a fresh look into Bruce's always doomed involvement with the fairer sex, here a beguiling witch caught in a bad situation.

3. The Astounding Wolf-Man #22 

Every issue of this short-lived series was a calamity for protagonist Gary Hampton, from the early loss of his wife at the beginning to the murder of his most loyal ally Dunford in this issue. Kirkman trades on shock and surprise, but amidst the chaos Gary stands up to his lupine stalkers, protects his daughter, and manages to find love again (as indicated by the ridiculously romantic cover of the embracing couple, another attention-getter from Jason Howard). All of this and the recurrent threat of the repugnant vampire Zechariah, now with a robot-death-hand!

2. Batman: Hidden Treasures #1 

Ron Marz and Kevin Nowlan gave new life to some archival Bernie Wrightson material and together create a compelling and memorable illustrated story of a younger, more innocent Batman. Pairing it with a 70s appearance in Swamp Thing by the same artist made the package a rare treasure actually worth the higher cover price.

1. The Boys #47

Some may think Ennis is only spinning his wheels and repeating himself with his endless rants against the heroic set. But I give him credit for having planned out a 60+ issue series, one with appalling jokes along the way, sure, but one also peopled by characters we've gotten to know better and better as they developed. 

All the divergent threads are piling on top of each other now. We've seen Hughie come clean to Butcher about his relationship to Starlight, who came clean to him about being a super (but not so clean about her sexual past), which is what Butcher took care of for her last issue in one of his most vicious acts ever. We also see Homelander advance his plan, which has something to do with getting free reign to do anything at all he wants, which it seems like he already has except for an abiding dependence on parent corporation Vought-American.

After all the atrocities previously witnessed, seeing Homelander's treatment of a family of believers (who "won" a prize at a quasi-religious super-hero revival that is described as "a scam designed to separate halfwits … from [their] money") is one of the series most chilling moments yet. It's sort of literally casually tossed off, as it were, in Ennis' best deadpan parodic mode.

Events are so momentous Hughie will need a second series of his own to go home and heal from his breakup with Annie (and he still hasn't dealt with the events of the previous spin-off wherein he was probably sexually violated by the enigmatic Black Noir). Ennis tells a story of betrayal on several levels, where no one wins or gets what they want, and Russ Braun illustrates every excruciating moment with care.

I thought I was going to include something from Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8, but Meltzer started year 3 with a horrible, game-ruining arc about Twilight (how is it that he doesn't notice when he does that to comics?) and the series has yet to recover. 

And my vote for worst single issue goes to X-women #1, which is the least empowering issue one can imagine in a year that Marvel meant to celebrate its super-heroines. Milo Manara's art is just ridiculous pseudo-soft-core porn, an inappropriate distraction in a one-shot (small blessings!) that shows Claremont trying and failing to make his favorite characters recognizable by scripting alone.

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