The Best (and Worst) of Marvel: 2009A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: ComicsBulletin's Marvel Comics Content Coordinators
The end of 2009 marks the end of the second full year ComicsBulletin has been running its "True Believer Tuesday" feature. Besides providing the best Marvel previews and advance Marvel reviews you'll find anywhere on the web, this year also saw the introduction of three on-going Marvel-focused columns at CB: Paul Brian McCoy's "Marvel Mondo", the retrospective F.O.O.M. (Flashbacks of Ol' Marvel), and our examination at Marvel's future releases "Marvel Spotlight"!
Like we did at the end of 2008, ComicsBulletin's Marvel Comics Content Coordinators jumped at the opportunity to pontificate on Marvel's most notable creators, achievements and failures for 2009.
JASON SACKS: Wolverine: Old Man Logan totally surprised me in pretty much every way possible. I jumped in to this book, all intrigued by the ideas of Logan the pacifist, Logan the family man, and Logan the fallible man set loose in a post-apocalyptic America ruled by super-villains. And, amazingly enough, this comic far exceeded my expectations.
Part of why it exceeded my expectations was that my expectations were actually set fairly low. I kind of run hot and cold on the work of Mark Millar. I've loved some of his work (Ultimates), hated others (Ultimate Avengers), and have been kind of in the middle on others (Kick Ass, Marvel 1985). And I pretty much hated the art job that Steve McNiven delivered on Civil War.
But the two of them together deliver a really spectacular story in Old Man Logan, a thrilling adventure yarn that pretty much hits perfectly on all its note points.
I loved the destroyed America that Logan and Hawkeye inhabit. It's a nasty and dirty place, but also totally rich with Easter eggs for longtime Marvel fans. The world is filled with spectacular giant skeletons littering the desolate landscape and horrible criminals in charge. The battle in Fisk Lake City has a spectacular twist to it, the transformation of the Mole Man's subterranean friends into really scary creatures is stunning, and the final scenes (the Iron Man armor?!) are amazing.
It's the transformation at the heart of this book that gives the book its real power. It's almost impossible to imagine Wolverine becoming a pacifist, but the scene in which Millar and McNiven describe Logan's trauma is just perfect. In their hands Logan's trauma is all too clear, and is all the more scary for the way that we can easily see Logan reacting in the way he does. But Millar doesn't stop with the trauma. He uses the book to show how Logan can grow by the end, how Logan can overcome his ordeal to become a real hero and bring hope to a desolate world. It even ends with Logan fading into the sunset like a classic western hero. How satisfying an ending is that?!
And McNiven's art, which I found to be stiff in Civil War and pretty much missing any shots that would establish setting, is perfect for this book. So much of its power comes from McNiven's ability to establish interesting settings for his characters to live in. Every place we go in this book has a life and energy and feeling that really sets them apart from what we normally see. Maybe I judged you too soon, Mr. McNiven. Thanks for teaching me a lesson.
So yeah, my expectations were really low for this book. But what makes it great isn't just that it exceeded my expectations. What makes it great is that this is just a really solid and thoroughly entertaining comic book.
SHAWN HILL: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (DnA) have made cosmic Marvel their special territory these days, dealing with characters and concepts involving alien races, celestial beings, alternate dimensions and time travel in ways that the current Earth-bound versions of the Avengers and the X-Men seldom do anymore. War of Kings saw them inheriting two major concepts: the Inhumans (angered by Civil War and betrayed by Secret Invasion) from the Fantastic Four and Vulcan, i.e. the Third Summers Brother, from the X-Men.
DnA excellently dramatized the change in the Inhumans' status, gone from being forgotten footnotes left alone on the moon to being an angered nation betrayed by terran forces (mostly thanks to Quicksilver stealing some Terrigen crystals in the wake of House of M) and then horribly violated by the Skrulls, who kidnapped Blackbolt and invaded the Royal Family (and bedchamber). This had the unexpected result of putting Crystal and Medusa on the offensive, and as they're the two most outgoing members of the Royal Family, they emerged as able leaders at Blackbolt's side as they took over the shattered Kree leadership in order to fight the Vulcan-led Shi'ar.
Never mind that Vulcan is something of retcon designed to allow Brubaker to complicate the relationship of Scott to Professor X when he was writing Uncanny; he and Philip Tan carried out a wonderful twelve-issue space arc of their own ("The Rise and Fall of the Shi'ar Empire") that saved the then moribund X-Men from misguided wheel-spinning and transferred Polaris and Havoc to the Starjammers.
All of those threads come together in the main War of Kings series, which captured as if for the first time the intent of the X-Men's first sojourn into the middle of the Shi'ar space opera back in the Claremont/Cockrum days. Of course, we have Gladiator and the Imperial Guard, but who does he serve? Is it Araki and Vulcan, or is it his former Empress Lilandra? He emerged as much more than a Superman-analog.
Furthermore, this series was rocked by several major events. Not just the marriage of Crystal to Ronan the Accuser (a diplomatic move that turned out to have surprising emotional resonance for both parties), but the deaths of Lilandra, Araki, maybe Vulcan and probably Blackbolt himself, who spoke--from one "king" to another--right into Vulcan's face. Brilliant covers from Brandon Peterson captured the space wars vibe wonderfully, and inside Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar reveled in details of sci-fi hardware and extreme emotion. Medusa's hair was a writhing mass of anxiety on page after page, and the violence, when it came, was gory and operatic, then tragic and devastating at all the right moments.
PAUL BRIAN MCCOY: I've always loved Marvel's approach to espionage comics, but over the past few years, from Nick Fury's disappearance to the dismantling of S.H.I.E.L.D., it's an area that has gotten the short end of the stick. However, it wasn't until Fury was taken off the board, and kept off the board for a while, that he became a character whose appearance could again create a narrative impact. And oddly enough, it wasn't until S.H.I.E.L.D. was disbanded and HAMMER took its place that it became clear just how important the agency was to the Marvel Universe.
But then Fury returned with a team of young heroes, his "caterpillars," at his side in Secret Invasion, and when that was all said and done, Bendis teamed up with new Marvel writer Jonathan Hickman to work out how to get Fury and his team back involved in the MU. Together they co-plotted the first six issues of Secret Warriors, with Hickman taking on the scripting and the crafting of the series bible. Hickman plotted out a 60-issue outline, that has since been tightened up, and has brought Fury, as well as his Howling Commandos, back to the center of Marvel's sci-fi spy action. Artists Stefano Caselli and Alessandro Vitti are trading off narrative arcs, providing stylishly detailed, drop-dead gorgeous pages that allow Hickman to tell a huge, globe-spanning epic.
Fury is rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D. as an independent agency meant to counter HYDRA, HYDRA is back and being run by a cabal of frighteningly re-designed maniacs, and we've just discovered that there's an even more dangerous organization, called Leviathan, also in play. There are ancient legends saying S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA have always been forces against each other. There are mysterious prophecies being hinted at by factions of HYDRA's leaders. There are other secret cells of Fury's "caterpillars" out there, trained by Fury's son Mikel.
This is a densely packed, intricately plotted, long-form sci-fi spy narrative that not only brings Nick Fury back to the frontlines of the Marvel Universe, but is enmeshed in S.H.I.E.L.D. continuity while expanding it at the same time. This is the kind of series that I've been waiting for, even when I didn't know I was waiting for it. As far as I'm concerned, Jonathan Hickman's name belongs alongside Stan Lee and Jim Steranko when it comes to seminal Nick Fury storytelling, and Secret Warriors might just be the best Fury story yet.
CHARLES WEBB: Right out the gate I wasn't exactly dazzled by Jonathan Hickman's first issue on Fantastic Four – #570 back in August. But his time on the book has grown on me with a big-ideas-weirdness that's the core of the FF franchise.
Of course, part of it could be that I'm enjoying the book for not being the work of Mark Millar. Millar's run was full of big-idea-weirdness as well, but it was also lacking in any sort of heart or personality. Characters drifted through emotional beats without, you know, evincing actual emotions, because the book was more focused on the Extreme. New. Villain! (and some nonsense linking this, Old Man Logan, and 1985).
But I'm not here to bury Millar but to praise Hickman. Those emotional beats I mentioned before actually bear fruit during the Nightly News writer's early start on the title. A lot of that has to do with pulling the focus in closer without slowing things down on Mr. Fantastic, who's been pretty hard to figure out since his dick moves during Civil War. Whereas Millar's Reed Richards was a distant and off-putting "big picture"-type, Hickman's is a harried, but ultimately loving "big picture" type. Same picture, different guy.
Again, the book took an issue or two for me to warm to it (especially given Dale Eaglesham's brawny visualization of Reed) but the rehabilitative effect has been worth sticking with it.
SHAWN HILL: My vote is for Marvel Zombies 4.
Heck, let's throw in Marvel Zombies 3, too, which finished in early 2009. Both series were sequels delivered by the impressive team of Fred Van Lente and Kev Walker, and they rocked despite being laden with horrendous Greg Land covers (though the 28 Days Later parody in the first series was sort of funny, it was back to faceless bimbos by the end of the second). You know how, regarding zombie movies, there's always inevitable sequels, and every once in a while one surprises you by being quirky and good? That's what Van Lente offered on the supposedly exhausted Marvel Zombies franchise. The first series had the wit to use Machine Man (and other zombie-impervious Marvel robots) to fight off an invasion from Zombie Marvel led by the Kingpin, and Van Lente clearly copped to Ellis's brilliant take on the perpetually peeved Machine Man from Nextwave and peppered the script with sarcastic one-liners that matched Walker's scratchy, expressive art work. Marvel Zombies 4 kept things interesting by bringing the invasion to the Caribbean, and bringing in the "Midnight Sons" (Werewolf by Night, witch Jennifer Kale, Zombie, Man-Thing, Hellstorm, and vampire Morbius) to fight what had become a very hungry plague cloud. Alternately silly and scary, it was a very good use of Marvel's neglected supernatural side, and even tied-in to current continuity with creepy guest spots from the Hood and Zombie Deadpool's … uhm, well just his head, but creepy enough!
MATTHEW J. BRADY: As much as the hype surrounding Marvel's mega-plot for 2009 promised the villains being in charge, the comics themselves have kind of failed to pay off on that in any substantial way. Norman Osborn has been a slightly more evil version of Nick Fury, and a few skirmishes with the New Avengers aside, he hasn't really done much to warrant being made such a big deal of. The three-issue Dark Reign: Zodiac miniseries by Joe Casey and Nathan Fox makes for a great example of what the event could have been, pointing out what an ineffectual villain Osborn has been and doing the reveling in such nihilistic sex and violence that it makes Osborn seem kind of pathetic in comparison. It ends up being kind of disturbing, with a completely amoral character carving a bloody path through heroes and villains alike with the sole purpose of sowing chaos, and making a fool of Osborn is a bonus. That's what has been missing in the big event: a feeling of danger and uncertainty. Even with the bad guys in power, it's not much different than a standard-issue conspiracy with shadowy forces at the top of the heap. Casey shows us what we could have been seeing, giving us a glimpse of violent anarchy, and it's scary stuff. It certainly helps to have Nathan Fox drawing it, since he brings a sense of wild chaos to his artwork, and when it comes time to depict big events like an attack by a giant Shogun Warrior robot or the threat of Galactus, he sells it wonderfully, making the threats seem huge and dangerous. If only the entire year had been this thrilling, Dark Reign would have been a fascinating trip through the depths of human depravity, rather than just another stage of the usual Marvel events. Maybe it's better this way; we wouldn't want to upset our delicate sensibilities too much. At least we can still get something that feels unpredictable and scary; let's hope Casey and Fox can do it again with the next event.
DAVE WALLACE: I hesitate to nominate "Dark Reign" as one of the most disappointing Marvel events of the year as it has resulted in some admittedly decent storylines: for example, Matt Fraction's "World's Most Wanted" mega-arc in Invincible Iron Man or the Dark Reign: The List one-shots involving Punisher and Daredevil that helped to establish the new status quo for those books.
However, as a whole, there has been a sense that "Dark Reign" never really developed beyond its initial concept. After a clunky start (with Norman Osborn's rise to power failing to feel like an organic development that grew out of the end of the Skrulls' "secret invasion"), Osborn's influence has been more or less limited to identical guest-appearances in which he plays the role of the harsh, militant leader but rarely actually advances the status quo of his "Dark Reign" by any degree. This, combined with the collapse of his "cabal", has made him look rather ineffectual and toothless—indeed, it's only with the recent Dark Reign: The List one-shots that we've started to get a sense of him actually setting out to achieve something with his new powers.
Let's hope that the new "Heroic Age" that Marvel is promising in the wake of the Siege event turns out to be a more satisfying overarching story than Osborn's "Dark Reign."
DAVE WALLACE: After the disappointment of last year's Ultimates 3, not many people expected Jeph Loeb's big Ultimatum crossover to be anything to write home about. However, if anything, the book turned out to be even worse than many of its naysayers predicted. Loeb's casual disregard for continuity (and for the differences between the regular Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe) irritated those who had embraced the Ultimate Universe to their bosom, and his cliché-ridden dialogue and habit of substituting empty shock tactics for genuinely interesting or complex developments made it a less than entertaining read for any casual readers who were simply looking for a good superhero comic.
Instead of giving the Ultimate Universe the jump-start that it needed in order to regain reader interest, Ultimatum very nearly killed any potential that remained in the once-great imprint. It's telling that the relaunch of the "Ultimate Comics" line saw the return of original Ultimate Universe architects Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar to Spider-Man and Ultimate Avengers respectively. Marvel clearly want to recapture the spirit of inspiration and unpredictability that the Ultimate Universe once possessed, but casually killing off many of its star characters in a poorly-written epic disaster storyline wasn't the way to do it.
SHAWN HILL: It sounded like a plan in 2008; Matt Fraction, fresh off some impressive work on Immortal Iron Fist, paired on Uncanny X-Men with a shifting artist team of inexplicable fan favorite Greg Land and the X-familiar Dodsons. For some of us the danger of every issue being a pin-up pose-athon was apparent, but fingers were crossed as the X-Men seemed poised to move into a newly assertive position with an "out" headquarters in San Francisco and, ultimately, a sovereign island off the cost of their own.
But the ride has been much bumpier than expected, and I count only one great issue in all of 2009: #512, which was a one-off steampunk excursion into the origins of new cast member Dr. Nemesis. That issue featured a clever retro and tattered cover by guest artist Yanick Paquette, whose abilities with backgrounds, storytelling and anatomy left the regular artists in the dust. The story was poignant and profoundly connected to the mutant metaphor.
It's not like big things didn't happen this year. Dark Archangel, Psylocke and Magneto all returned. Namor signed on. Pixie began to emerge as a formidable player from the next generation. Emma and Scott seemed poised to break up as Emma went dark again, but actually were a solid team staging a surprising coup. Not as surprising as Xorn really being Magneto, but still a pretty decent twist, with the happy outcome of giving a well-deserved finger to the Dark Avengers.
But the rest of the time was spent in holding patterns, or with the important plot events happening in other series or in one-off issues like "Exodus" and "Utopia." The various crossovers were distractions from the core stories Fraction is more suited to tell, involving character development rather than just high concept plots.
The villains have been the worst. Aside from the Monster Island funnies of the Beast and his science crew, we've had a laughable Sisterhood of Evil led by an unrecognizable Spiral (featuring a tired echo of Maddy, a tasteless tease of Jean in her coffin, and rounded out by a collage of pornographic pin-ups from Land's most self-indulgent and lazy fantasies). I think Empath and Lady Mastermind and somebody with glowing snakes were present, but I couldn't even follow whom Emma was yelling at half the time, or even be sure if it was Emma or one of the other identical blondes. Only Domino came off looking halfway decent in this gaggle of gals, due mostly to Fraction's understanding of her probability powers (and the fact that her scenes were outside so she could wear a coat).
Now the team is being beset by a group comprised of people with names like Thug, Burst, Lobe, and worse, who collectively make Scalphunter and the Marauders look classy. Fraction needs to get on with it and tell the steam-punk science hero story burning within him. And while he's at it, beg for Paquette to replace his shallow art team, who undercut any dramatic momentum he tries to build up time and time again. Especially Land, whose nadir was a supposed intense conversation between Scott and Logan in #510, where the cuts from one head shot to another looked more like Mystique morphing into eight different people than a conversation between two.
CHARLES WEBB: Fuck Cable. Seriously, this book needs an old-timey cop standing in front of it, hustling bystanders by with a "Move along, nothing to see here!" For real, this book is a train wreck made of dumb with an inept villain, an inscrutable hero, and an insufferable kid bouncing through progressively drab hypothetical futures.
I'm not one to hate. Honest. I try to see the best in people, and I want to be your glass-is-half-full guy. But there is not a single redeeming quality to Duane Swiercynski's plotting which has taken an (at best) four issue concept and strung it out over almost two years. Cable is lost in time with Hope (screw you, whoever's idea that was) the future of mutant kind who might be Jean Grey or something reincarnated (no seriously, two middle fingers). The duo are chased by Bishop who has spent the last couple of years aggressively not making it clear why it's so important why he murder a baby.
Let me clarify: this book has spent the last couple of years not giving readers any idea what its antagonist's motivations are. Presumably this was done so the book could kind of noodle around for a while before the other X-books had time to deal with its sequel to Messiah Complex or some other poorly-planned reason. It's plodding and dumb (reductive, I know), and if you spent the last year reading it hoping something might, you know, happen, you're a bigger idiot than me.
DAVE WALLACE: I'm going to be very predictable here, and nominate the same writer in this category as I did last year: Ed Brubaker.
My reasoning for this choice remains the same as last year: I don't know of any other writer who can turn in such consistently strong work across such a wide range of books. Whether he's showing his aptitude for complex plotting and authentic characterisation in straightforward superhero books like Captain America and Captain America: Reborn, demonstrating a strong awareness of shared continuity and history in his retelling of the origins of the Marvel Universe in The Marvels Project, or turning his hand to more idiosyncratic projects like the dark noir of Criminal or the retro pulp superhero antics of Incognito, Brubaker's name is a guarantee of quality that very few other comics creators can match.
My only Brubaker-related disappointment of the year has been the fact that he stopped writing Daredevil, which is possibly my favourite of his recent books (this year's issue #116 is still one of my favourite single issues of the year). Still, if your only disappointment with a productive writer like Brubaker is that he isn't working on even more books to read, that has to mean that he's a very special talent.
PAUL BRIAN MCCOY: My favorite writers of previous years are still doing good work, Jason Aaron with Ghost Riders, Wolverine: Weapon X, and Punishermax, and Warren Ellis with Astonishing X-Men and Ultimate Comics Armor Wars. But to be quite honest, with only a couple of exceptions each, none of those comics really hit the heights to which each writer is capable. This year, however, a new Marvel writer debuted and--as far as I'm concerned--knocked everything he wrote out of the park.
Jonathan Hickman, the successful independent writer of titles like The Nightly News, Pax Romana and Transhuman, was offered the chance to bring Nick Fury back into the Marvel Universe thanks to the urging of Brian Michael Bendis. He jumped at it, developing a detailed 60-issue outline and a series bible that expanded the history of S.H.I.E.L.D. with far-reaching results. After eleven issues, we're just starting to see how huge these revelations really are. See my Secret Warriors comments above for more information about what I think is the best series Marvel is currently publishing.
His five-issue mini-series Dark Reign: Fantastic Four served to introduce the reading world to his take on Marvel's First Family and was packed with imagination, adventure, and a surprising focus on Franklin and Val, as the kids defended the Baxter Building from Norman Osborn and HAMMER while their family was being shunted through an insane number of alternate realities. Hickman was then handed the reins of The Fantastic Four after the run of superstars Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch ended, and after just five issues, Hickman has completely eclipsed most of the writers who have come before him on the title. This may be the best thing to happen to The Fantastic Four since John Byrne's classic run. Granted, it's still early, but Hickman has already shown a dedication not only to mind-bending science fiction ideas, but also to refocusing on the family aspect that makes The Fantastic Four distinctive and great. Who would have thought that Franklin and Val were just as interesting and entertaining as the rest of the family?
MATTHEW J. BRADY: It seems like Marvel is finally realizing what a talent they have in Jeff Parker, as he's writing series all over the place for them, from fairly major stuff like Thunderbolts and Fall of the Hulks, to more quirky things like Spider-Man: 1602 and a surprising number of comics related to his Agents of Atlas, which is odd, considering that the series has been cancelled. It's definitely good for fans of quality comics, since Parker is one of the best writers Marvel has, able to craft interesting characters, entertaining dialogue, and exciting action, all while utilizing the rich depth and history of forty-plus years worth of stories. His signature series has to be Agents of Atlas, in which a de-aged Cold-War-era spy, a spaceman, an Atlantean queen, a goddess, a killer robot, and a gorilla pretend to run a villainous empire while struggling to do good, but he has plenty of other irons in the fire, taking whatever assignment Marvel throws at him and making it sing. Do something interesting with the 1602-verse? All right. Try to make sense of Jeph Loeb's bizarre plotting in the Hulk books? Sure, and why not come up with another one of those secret groups of influential characters working behind the scenes that are so popular at Marvel lately, and actually make it work? Try to wring some success out of the umpteenth iteration of the Exiles franchise? Well, they can't all be winners, but at least he made it fun. It seems like he can handle any type of story Marvel wants him to do, and since he's started putting out some creator-owned series with other companies, they should probably try to keep him in the fold. Why not put him on one of the X-Men books, or make him part of the regular Spider-Man writing team? Or even go big and let him do one of the big crossover events? Just don't keep shuffling him off to backups and kiddie titles; the more he writes, the more we all win.
DAVE WALLACE: Whilst Steve McNiven is probably still best known as the artist of Marvel's Civil War miniseries, it's for his work on "Old Man Logan" (another Mark Millar story) in the pages of Wolverine that I nominate him as a favourite Marvel artist of 2009.
Whilst his run on Wolverine was plagued with delays (eventually necessitating the conclusion of his and Millar's story to be published in a separate one-shot), it was once of those occasions where the end product was worth waiting for. McNiven's detailed reinvention of the Marvel Universe as a post-apocalyptic wasteland never failed to deliver at least one truly memorable visual in every issue, with plenty of crazy ideas and over-the-top ultra-violent action--and his grizzled take on an older Wolverine instantly became one of the defining versions of the character.
McNiven's next project sees him again collaborate with Millar on a creator-owned title called Nemesis. Whilst I'm looking forward to that book, I'm also hoping that we'll see the artist return to the Marvel Universe before too long.
CHARLES WEBB: Yeah, so once I met Steve Dillon at a signing. Really nice guy. I was (very) nervous and racked my brain for something, anything to ask him while he was signing my book. "When are you going to do more humorous books?" This I asked the guy who helped Ennis give us Arseface back in the day. The guy who drew an elderly woman getting tossed to polar bears. The guy who illustrated Wolverine vs. Deadpool as tragic-comic Looney Tunes nightmare for Daniel Way. I asked why he was so light on the humorous work.
Anyway, that's just a long way of saying that I really dug his conclusion to Ennis' Punisher swan song, "The Resurrection of Ma Gnucci" and Dillon's completely brutal return to Frank Castle alongside Jason Aaron in Punishermax. Different treatments of the same character and both visualizing precisely what is so compelling about the franchise from each angle.
Funny Dillon gives us one of the funniest closing sequences in the former with a liberated, hard-nosed, lesbian cop stripped nude and shooting mobsters alongside the Punisher. Then, cold, bleak Dillon gives us the harrowing origins of the Max version of Kingpin unwillingly acting at the third track of Tool's Undertow in the most recent issue of the relaunched and renumbered series.
Dillon's control of facial emotion (from the deadpan to the panicked) is one of the reasons why he's one of the most interesting and talented artists working today. He seems to "get" that line between tragedy and farce in his work, turning things on an emotional dime along with his writers. Hell, he even made me not hate something Cable-related with his work on the inexplicable backups featuring Cable and Hope that were sort of randomly inserted in some X-books this year.
PAUL BRIAN MCCOY: This was the hardest decision I had when getting this column ready, so I wimped out and am going to double-dip and pick two artists, neither of whom produced a lot of Marvel work this year, but what they did produce was fantastic.
I first became aware of Esad Ribic when I read 2005's Loki, for which Ribic provided fully painted art that just blew my mind. Then, in 2007 he painted Silver Surfer: Requiem, and while I didn't care for JMS' story, it was beautiful to look at. In late 2008 he teamed with Peter Milligan to re-imagine Namor in Sub-Mariner: The Depths, and the series ran into this year. It's the haunting, painted submarine settings and the disturbingly alien Namor that helped to make Ribic one of my favorite artists this year. In addition, this year we also saw his pencils and inks for the first time, in Dark Reign: The List – Wolverine, which demonstrated an energy and exaggeration that was a joy to read. Every panel was perfection, making this comic one of my two favorite single issues of the year.
My second pick is Tony Moore, who on Ghost Rider #33-35, illustrated my other favorite single issue of 2009. Issue #34's stylized horror as Ghost Rider battled The Highwayman (based visually on truck-driving song stylist extrordinaire Dick Curless) was perfectly paced and just made me happy reading it over and over again. In addition to that, the Japanese horror influence on the disturbing Skin-bender in Ghost Rider #35 was gut-wrenching. The detail and imagination that Moore brought to each and every panel was extraordinary and his work on the latest couple of issues of Punisher--bringing Frankencastle to life and reworking the Legion of Monsters--are just as good. If you want to see insane horror brought to the page, Tony Moore is your man.