The Best (and Worst) of Marvel: 2008

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On every Tuesday since its launch in January 2008, ComicsBulletin has provided its readers with Marvel themed commentary and interviews to go along with the most advance Marvel reviews of any site on the internet.

To commemorate the first full year of "True Believer Tuesday", ComicsBulletin's Marvel Comics Content Coordinators pontificate on Marvel's most notable creators, achievements and failures of 2008.


KEITH DALLAS: As regular readers of this site have learned long ago, ComicsBulletin's contributors are completely in the tank for Ed Brubaker and Jason Aaron, and we're mostly in the tank for Matt Fraction. My tongue was firmly planted in my cheek during that last declaration, but make no mistake, all three writers deserve as much acclaim as can be showered upon them, especially Brubaker who has proven that he can write several different genres with equal excellence.

Therefore, my choice for "Most Impressive Marvel Series" is Captain America. Far and away, it's been the industry's best comic book since the beginning of 2007 when Steve Rogers died in issue #25 (and I know many readers who would argue that it's been the best comic book since late 2004 when the new volume launched with Brubaker at the helm).

What makes the title so excellent is Brubaker's meticulous plot execution and deft characterization of both heroes and villains alike. "The Death of Captain America" was a three act story arc, comprising 18 issues, and at no point did the tale feel dragged out or decompressed. That's an unprecedented accomplishment, if you ask me. While Captain America has become Bucky's story, the characters he interacts with and confronts are just as integral and just as interesting: Sam Wilson, Natalia, Sharon Carter, Red Skull, Doctor Faustus, Arnim Zola, the Grand Director, Sin. And yes, despite his death 20 issues ago, Steve Rogers remains a felt presence.

It's been a particular joy to read this book throughout 2008.

DAVE WALLACE: For me, the most impressive Marvel series this year didn't involve Skrulls, Civil Wars or Annihilations on a cosmic scale. Instead, it was a fairly grounded look at one of the Marvel Universe's most controversial superhero characters of the past few years, by one of the medium's blossoming writing talents and one of its slickest artists: Invincible Iron Man, by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca.

Fraction's take on Tony Stark as a troubled futurist desperately trying to do the right thing in the face of increasingly advanced weapons technology and increasingly ruthless villains was reminiscent of Warren Ellis' excellent "Extremis" storyline. However, Stark's new status as director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and his personal link with new antagonist Ezekiel Stane gave the story an even stronger sense of urgency and of higher stakes then previous Iron Man stories. Fraction's grasp of Stark's character was self-evident, and he added all sorts of imaginative yet perfectly fitting detail to the character (such as Stark's use of chemical weapons technology to develop cancer treatments, or his purchase of Cola vending machines with a view to using them for the distribution of medicine in the Third World). Larroca's artwork also captured the character perfectly, and never shied away from depicting some of the more intense action sequences and uncomfortably familiar scenes of urban terrorism that came towards the end of the book's first storyline.

Of course, the series was also bolstered by the success of the Iron Man movie, and Fraction and Marvel cannily conspired to make the book as accessible as possible for newcomers to the hero who had been drawn to the book by Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr.'s excellent cinematic outing. However, that didn't stop Fraction from firmly rooting the series in the current Marvel Universe, with cameos from Thor and Spider-Man, a memorable reinvention of M.O.D.O.K. and the most enjoyable tie-in to "Dark Reign" so far. I can't wait to see how the "World's Most Wanted" storyline continues next year.

PAUL BRIAN MCCOY: Those are both excellent choices, and I just have to say that Marvel currently has what may be the strongest lineup that I've ever experienced from the company at one time. The cream of the crop includes not only both of your picks--Captain America and Invincible Iron Man--but also Immortal Iron Fist, Daredevil, Astonishing X-Men, Captain Britain and the MI:13, Criminal, Punisher MAX, Uncanny X-Men, and any number of other books I just can't afford to read. And that's not even including the continuous cycle of Marvel minis and event tie-ins. It is truly a great time to be reading comics, especially if you have a fondness for the Marvel brand.

Any one of those books listed could have taken the top spot for me, depending on the time of the year, but in looking back there were two that for me are tied in sheer fun and consistency, and I just can't choose between them, so I'm going to cheat a little and choose Incredible Hercules and Ghost Rider.

When World War Hulk wrapped, I was ready to stop reading Hulk comics. Pak is good, but not great, in my book. Then Marvel said they were handing over Incredible Hulk to a new character, renaming the thing Incredible Hercules, and we'd be following the adventures of the big drunken lout and his teenage sidekick, Amadeus Cho on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D. I said, okay, I'll give it a shot.

Little did I know that Pak was about to be paired with talented newcomer, Fred Van Lente and from that very first issue this would be one of the best books that Marvel published, month in and out. Every element of this book--from the sense of humor to the stop-on-a-dime shifts from goofy fun to violently serious drama to the way Pak and Van Lente integrate mythological elements from Hercules' past into current storylines--all come together in some sort of mysterious alchemical confabulation to create Comic Gold.

This year, we've seen Herc fight Ares and Eternals. We've seen Herc and Cho team up with a pantheon of gods to form The God Squad, where they fought and killed the Skrull gods (although you wouldn't have known it from Secret Invasion itself). And now, as the year winds up, Amazons are getting set to remake the world in their image, and only an amorous team-up between Herc and Namora can save the terminally horny Cho from his sexy, but hostile, Amazonian captors. I can't wait to see where it goes from here.

Let me make something clear about Ghost Rider. I've never liked him. Never read him when I was a kid; never read him when he was huge in the Nineties. Sure he was a cool design, but really, it was just kind of a stupid idea for a character. And don't get me started about the movie. There was just never anything about the character that I found intriguing. But then Jason Aaron arrived on the scene and something just clicked. Suddenly, the essential elements of the character that had always been there, dormant, waiting to be utilized properly burst to the forefront.

Using low-budget motorcycle movies and a Texas-style energy as his inspiration, Aaron decided that there was nothing too crazy for the world of Ghost Rider. And every issue has something that you just can't find in any other book on the shelf. In my first review of a Jason Aaron Ghost Rider comic, I wrote, "there's so much energy, the book literally vibrates in your hands," and, "Jason Aaron writes this book with fearless swagger and his chin out." Both still hold true. And if Aaron's twitter feed is to be believed, the book is as much fun to write as it is to read. You should check out his blog, too, to see his latest research for stories coming up down the line.


KEITH DALLAS: While I applaud Marvel's refusal to let creative directions stagnate (e.g. "The Initiative" ended at just the right time if you ask me), "Secret Invasion" ultimately proved to be much ado about nothing. That's not to say that the event was inconsequential. On the contrary, by the end of Secret Invasion #8 the status quo of the Marvel Universe changed in many ways: Janet Van Dyne died, Norman Osborn was labeled a hero, and Tony Stark fell from grace. Of the three, only Stark's downfall makes any sense. Janet's demise is dramatically pointless and ineffectual--principally because she wasn't a featured character in "Secret Invasion" (or any recent Marvel event for that matter)--while Osborn's ascension to power is arbitrary and illogical (let me get this straight: Osborn is the savior of the world because he shot the surrendered Skrull queen who Wolverine was about to kill anyway?).

What's more, the structure of the main Secret Invasion series was weak: six issues of decompressed storytelling leading to an unspectacular (and unimaginative) slugfest in Central Park. Improving the event somewhat were the "Secret Invasion" tie-in books, most of which were very entertaining and worthwhile. The same cannot be said of Secret Invasion proper though; ultimately, it serves as nothing more than a poorly constructed bridge between "The Initiative" and "Dark Reign."

DAVE WALLACE: Although Secret Invasion would ordinarily be tough to beat in this category, 2008 also saw the conclusion of one of Marvel’s most high-profile creative flops of the last few years in the shape of Ultimates 3.

Following up Millar and Hitch's Ultimates and Ultimates 2 with a creative team that would merely imitate what had come before was never going to be a good idea -- and I was happy to see Marvel acknowledge this in their pre-publicity for the third volume of the book. However, I can't believe that Jeph Loeb and Joe Madureira were the best possible alternative. In the space of a single issue, legions of Ultimates fans were turned away from their favourite book by shallow characterisation, clunky dialogue, murky artwork, transparently marketing-led "shocking" plot developments and arbitrary changes to the cast (the Wasp is no longer Asian? Thor suddenly speaks with a Shakespearean vocabulary?).

Loeb hasn't yet finished with the Ultimate line of comics, as his much-hyped Ultimatum crossover series continues to make major changes to the imprint’s shared universe (by killing characters off, naturally). Personally, I won't be returning to the Ultimates until he's done with them -- and the news that Marvel has drafted Mark Millar in to reboot the franchise with Ultimate Avengers once Loeb's miniseries ends seems like a tacit acknowledgement by Marvel that Ultimates 3 was a poor way to continue one of their most high-profile franchises.

PAUL BRIAN MCCOY: There were a number of high profile books released this year that failed to live up to their potential in my eyes. Obviously, Secret Invasion was disappointing, but that wasn't really surprising. And I never even looked at Ultimates 3. Howard Chaykin's relaunch of Squadron Supreme has been astoundingly wrong-footed, jettisoning nearly all the original characters and introducing a truly uninspired new cast. To me, anything JMS touched this year at Marvel was enveloped in a gloomy, obsessive depression. Each new issue of The Twelve tries to out bleak the previous issue (is he trying to make me want to kill myself when I finish reading?) and Thor has wallowed in father/son guilt, relationship guilt, cancer wards, and the absence of anything grand, noble, or god-like in the Asgardians.

But it was the crassly braindead and insultingly, even condescendingly, cliché and soulless Annihilation: Conquest that was the biggest disappointment of the year for me. Especially since the first Annihilation was such a successful experiment, and in the hands of Keith Giffen, it was actually well-written with excellent character growth and an exciting plot that seemed to grow organically from the mini-series lead-ins.

Annihilation: Conquest began with a nonsensical premise, fumblingly established in four minis (only one of which was worth reading, mainly because it was by Giffen and had Timothy Green II on art – but that was last year, technically), that was never explored or even explained. I mean, really, how did Kree space get sealed off from everything – even the Cosmic Power of Quasar's Power Bands? Oh, I see. It was a machine powered by souls. Of course. (???)

The series was populated with characters that were blandly written or simply caricatures of their previous incarnations, relied on plot points that seemed to have been drawn out of a hat, and each issue ended with a nonsensical cliffhanger ending designed not to make sense or reveal hidden motivations, but to create artificial tension and cool final page splashes. But worst of all, writers DnA (sigh) substituted mass murder for drama.

Not only was this series an insult to intelligent readers, it established the new Marvel cosmic guidelines to be the same as those for Marvel Magic. "It doesn't have to make sense – it's science fiction." So long as something blows up and someone switches sides at inopportune moments only for the sake of a twist ending, then it gets the DnA seal of approval. It was an appalling display of virtuoso ignorance of the genre and staggeringly bad writing from start to finish.


DAVE WALLACE: This is a very tough category. There are several Marvel writers who have turned in some excellent work this year, and their strengths often lie in different areas. Warren Ellis is probably the best sci-fi writer in comics, and I've enjoyed his work on Marvel's Astonishing X-Men and newuniversal this year (I just wish that both would come out more often). Mark Millar is a master of coming up with shamelessly commercial, high-concept ideas, an attribute that he has put to good use in the pages of Kick-Ass, Fantastic Four, and Wolverine's "Old Man Logan" arc. Matt Fraction has also turned in some excellent work over the past year, whether it's in the pages of Immortal Iron Fist, Invincible Iron Man, or his Thor books.

However, in terms of variety and sheer consistency, I have to nominate Ed Brubaker as my favourite writer. It's rare to find a writer who can adapt his writing style so effectively depending on the tone or subject matter of the book that he's working on - and it's even rarer for such writers to turn in such a consistently high quality of work on such a wide range of books. His Captain America run continues to be a defining one for the character; his Immortal Iron Fist run (with Matt Fraction) reinvented the character for a modern audience; his X-Men work is solid superhero stuff; his stint on Daredevil shows no signs of growing stale, and is on course to become just as epic and memorable as that of Bendis before him; and his creator-owned Criminal series (published under Marvel's "Icon" imprint) never fails to provide unique and compelling noir stories from the dark underbelly of society.

Brubaker is one of the most valuable assets that Marvel has -- and his creativity shows no signs of abating, with a second creator-owned series debuting from Icon in the form of Incognito. Brubaker is one of the few writers whose name on a book will encourage me to buy it regardless of any of its other attributes, and I look forward to seeing more work from him in 2009.

KEITH DALLAS: I agree with Dave that Marvel has some exceptional writers in its stable, and since I've declared Captain America as Marvel's "Most Impressive Series" of 2008, I of course have great admiration for writer Ed Brubaker. In fact, one day in 2006 I went to Marvel's offices to visit my good friend Andy Schmidt who was a Marvel editor at the time, responsible for adjectiveless X-Men, among other titles. I teased him that he was editing the wrong X-Men title since I was a big fan of Brubaker's "Rise and Fall of the Sh'iar Empire" story arc in Uncanny X-Men. In comparison, Mike Carey's work on X-Men made little impact on me (although I must confess that's most likely because I'm not fond of Chris Bachalo's artwork).

Two years later, I realize now what an underrated writer Mike Carey is. He's my choice for "Favorite Marvel Writer" of 2008 for the same reason why Dave chooses Ed Brubaker: on a consistent basis, Carey produces high quality work. I'm particularly impressed with the dialogue Carey crafts. It's never hackneyed, trite or artificial. It's always meaningful, nuanced and natural to the characters. Consider X-Men: Legacy #216 (November 2008) in which Charles Xavier and Emma Frost take a psychoanalytic walk down memory lane within the Professor's mind (and against his will, I might add). It's essentially a "talking heads" issue, but one that never gets boring or over-written. Instead, it's full of insight and import. Not many comic book writers can successfully execute an entertaining talking heads issue.

What's more, it's obvious that Carey has studied Marvel Comics history. Unlike some of his Marvel colleagues (who shall remain nameless), Carey doesn't ignore or casually revise Marvel's continuity. Instead he acknowledges and utilizes it in clever ways as evidenced by Carey's Secret Invasion: X-Men mini-series which concludes with the Beast employing the Legacy virus against the Skrulls. In the X-Men Origins: Beast one shot, Carey revisits Beast's recruitment into the X-Men without discarding the established roles of either Jennifer Nyles (Hank McCoy's high school classmate) or The Conquistador, undoubtedly one of the most ridiculous villains ever created that practically begs to be written out of continuity.

I'm looking forward to reading Carey's 2009 output as I'm assured it will be good.

PAUL BRIAN MCCOY: I agree, Marvel's writing bullpen is stellar this year. Ed Brubaker's runs on Captain America, Daredevil, and Criminal are consistently strong. Matt Fraction has teamed up with Brubaker for Uncanny X-Men and the great Immortal Iron Fist. On his own, Fraction had The Order, Invincible Iron Man, Punisher: War Journal, and the brilliant Secret Invasion: Thor and Thor one shots. Garth Ennis wrapped up his 60 issue stint on Punisher MAX without ever dipping in quality or consistency, and also reinvented the World War One hero Phantom Eagle in War is Hell.

But it is the work of Warren Ellis that makes my heart flutter. He wrote the only Ultimate Universe mini worth reading this year, Ultimate Human, with its perfect characterizations of both Tony Stark and Bruce Banner and Sandbaggers-influenced introduction of the Ultimate Leader, Pete Wisdom. He wrapped up his twelve issue run on Thunderbolts by giving readers the definitive Norman Osborn and the darkest of dark humor on a mainstream comic in recent memory. Although there have only been two issues of newuniversal: Shockfront, they showed more promise than some companies' entire lines.

But the jewel in his Marvel crown this year, has been Ellis' taking up of the Astonishing X-Men baton. I wasn't much of a fan of the Whedon iteration, but in only three issues (and two issues of tie-in short stories), Ellis has made the X-Men great again. And for me, that means it is elevated to the level of both the original Claremont/Byrne years, and the Morrison period. Ellis has fashioned a science fiction CSI-style mystery that has exploded the horizons of the X-Men mythos and each issue takes us further and further into unexplored territory. And, remarkably, each issue also gets better than the one before it. This title has finally become, quite simply, astonishing.


DAVE WALLACE: This is also a tough category, as Marvel has some very strong artists working on their many monthly books. Jae Lee and Richard Isanove continue to impress with their work on the Dark Tower series; Steve McNiven has turned in some excellent visuals for the "Old Man Logan" story currently running in the pages of Wolverine; and even some of the slightly less high-profile art teams like Daredevil's Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano are turning in fantastic work on a monthly basis (or thereabouts). However, my favourite artist continues to be Bryan Hitch, who this year began pencilling Fantastic Four under the pen of his Ultimates collaborator Mark Millar.

Much has been made of the high level of detail that Hitch brings to his pages, and whilst that's certainly laudable, his work is as attractive for its balanced composition and strong sense of storytelling rhythm as for the meticulous attention to backgrounds and textures that the artist brings to his work. Fantastic Four has also seen Hitch make some minor modifications to his style, with a slightly looser feel to his work that makes his pages a little more dynamic than his previous career-best work in Ultimates. Although the book has been through several inkers in the eight issues published so far, it's testament to Hitch's tightness as a penciller that the effect of these changes on the finished artwork has been minimal.

Although Fantastic Four hasn't quite been shipping monthly, fans of Hitch's artwork probably never imagined that they'd see work from him published on such a regular schedule. Either way, each issue feels like a treat whenever it arrives, and I look forward to the second half of his run on the book with Millar.

KEITH DALLAS: Several excellent artists contributed to Captain America this year: Steve Epting, Jackson Guice, Mike Perkins, Roberto De La Torre, and Luke Ross. Regardless of who pencils and inks each issue though, Captain America has a standardized aesthetic. The visuals are so consistent that even when Mike Perkins and Jackson Guice split art duties on issue #36, it's a challenge to determine which pages were drawn by whom. When I mentioned this to Perkins at this year's Wizard World Chicago convention, he credited colorist Frank D'Armata for creating and maintaining the book's artistic harmony. From that discussion, I began to realize that D'Armata contributed four color splendor to other Marvel books that I was enjoying, specifically Invincible Iron Man, Annihilation: Conquest and various X-Men titles. Therefore, D'Armata is my choice for "Favorite Marvel Artist" in 2008.

All colorists nowadays make good use of PhotoShop to produce various visual effects (e.g. blurs, dropped in backgrounds, et al.), but D'Armata's palette choice always establishes the most appropriate mood, tone and atmosphere. And he excels at giving the pencil and ink work a palpable texture.

PAUL BRIAN MCCOY: I'm not an art guy. I'll admit it. I'm all about the writing. So long as the art isn't ugly and I can tell what's going on (or if the art is supposed to be ugly and I can still tell what's going on), I'm usually happy. Traditionally, I've always had a fondness for the expressionistic painted art of people like Bill Sienkiewicz, Jon J. Muth, Kent Williams, and lately, Ben Templesmith. But none of them did any painted Marvel work this year.

That said, I was hard pressed to choose from amongst the number of impressive artists who are currently doing Marvel work that is beautiful and effective, like Steve McNiven on "Old Man Logan," and Jae Lee on the Dark Tower adaptations. Chris Weston's work on The Twelve isn't pretty, but it's still gorgeous, if you know what I mean. Steve Dillon does his workmanlike best on every book he touches, and Sean Phillips easily slipped from the noir-flavored realism of Criminal to the gore-dripping pages of Marvel Zombies 2 without missing a beat. And Simone Bianchi is just a hair away from being my favorite artist of them all this year. His work on Astonishing X-Men is dazzling, from the page layouts to the costume redesigns to the technology to the scenery. There are the occasional stumblings, though, which allows Timothy Green II to slip into my top spot.

Who? Yeah, you heard me. Timothy Green II. He only did two pieces this year, but they were hands down my favorites: the Abigail Brand chapter in Secret Invasion: Who Do You Trust?, "In Plain Sight" (written by Mike Carey, I might add) and this month's Immortal Iron Fist #21, introducing the Iron Fist of 3099. He's a young artist, based in California, whose work I first saw on last year's previously mentioned Annihilation: Conquest: Starlord, and if you look up my reviews of those issues, you'll see that I fell in love with his art at first glance. I'll also be repeating a lot of the same things I said then.

His art is heavily influenced by Moebius, giving whatever he draws a nice '70s European feel. There's also a little bit of Taiyo Matsumoto in there, as well as D'Israeli, and the stylistic sensibility of Syd Mead. He's completely at home with Science Fiction and brings a distinctive class and style that is nowhere to be found in any other mainstream comic. It is criminal how poorly Marvel has whored out their cosmic catalog, when they have someone like Green in the bullpen who elevates whatever he illustrates to timeless levels. I would do bodily harm to someone if it would ensure he illustrates an ongoing Abigail Brand series.


DAVE WALLACE: Marvel has published several enjoyable miniseries this year, including Sub-Mariner: The Depths, Marvel 1985 and their adaptations of the Dark Tower and The Stand novels. Better than all of those, though, was Matt Fraction's series of three Thor one-shots (entitled "Ages of Thunder", "Reign of Blood" and "Man of War").

Fraction tapped into the rich vein of religious mythology and folk stories that had originally inspired Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to dream up their incarnation of Thor, and presented three issues of stories that were set entirely in Asgard (with virtually no acknowledgement of Thor as a superhero character in the Marvel Universe). Fraction's stories felt timeless and uncompromised by the usual conventions of superhero storytelling, and his artists lent the books an equally timeless and mythical quality (special mention must go to Patrick Zircher for his detailed, dynamic visuals, especially the lead story in "Ages of Thunder").

I'd like to see more miniseries like this from Marvel, whether they feature Thor or other characters. Free from the shackles of continuity and regular monthly scheduling, Fraction and his artists were allowed to create a compelling and unique take on one of Marvel's core heroes, and I'd love to see other creators given a similar opportunity to provide their own distinctive takes on the company's superhero characters.

KEITH DALLAS: My choice for "Most Impressive Mini-Series" that Marvel published in 2008 is one that Dave already mentioned: Submariner: The Depths. Despite its title, this comic book is not, in any way, a super-hero story. Instead The Depths is part psychological thriller, part homage to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, taking place outside of established Marvel continuity. It features an arrogant scientist who slowly loses his mind aboard a submarine on a mission to recover an adventurer who sought to find the lost city of Atlantis.

Even though three issues of this five issue series have been published, Namor has yet to appear. He's the boogey-man who's been seen as a shadow on the submarine's hull, a fleeting impression on a window, a hazy figure in the distant murky ocean depths. Meanwhile, the story's true conflict occurs between rationality (as represented by the scientist) and superstition (as represented by the submarine's crew). As the ship descends deeper and deeper though, even the scientist's logical perspective begins to fray.

Despite its slow pace, this series is very engaging thanks to writer Peter Milligan's obvious extensive research into deep sea travel, his creation of a retro-futuristic world (that seemingly takes place in the 1950s), and of course, the awesome artwork of Esad Ribic whose precise shading and stunning underwater vistas reinforce the maddening mysteries confronting these characters.

PAUL BRIAN MCCOY: Marvel's minis and tie-ins were particularly strong this year, with nearly every Secret Invastion tie-in being better than the main series, particularly "Sacred Invasion" in Incredible Hercules. A number of characters and titles also returned vastly improved from earlier incarnations. For example, Keith's pick, Peter Milligan and Esad Ribic's Sub-Mariner: The Depths which mythologizes Namor and is miles beyond last year's Civil War tie-in mini. Fred Van Lente brought Marvel Zombies back from its oversaturated grave, providing the best of the zombified minis yet. And you can add Dave's choice of Matt Fraction's Thor comics to the list, which were a breath of fresh, yet oddly classic, air. Really, there's almost too many to choose from.

But what I enjoyed most of all was Jason Aaron's three issue guest spot in Black Panther, telling the story of what happened when the Skrulls tried to invade Wakanda. "See Wakanda and Die" was perfectly titled, and perfectly paced, squeezing more action, more well designed plot twists, and more character definition (on both the Wakandan and Skrull sides), than Secret Invasion proper even considered attempting. Aaron scripted some of the most brutal combat scenes since Braveheart and was able to create a Skrull general with personality and personal motivations far beyond what I was expecting. There was a palpable sense of tragic loss when he is defeated that serves to complement T'Challa's brilliant victory.

And Jefte Palo's art was gorgeous. He avoided realism for the most part, providing blocky, heavily shadowed figures, while still maintaining a strong sense of proportion and detail, but then was able to exaggerate the Super Skrulls and make it all work together. The ship designs were subtly inspired by sea creatures and the architecture made seem like a futuristic utopia. The combat sequences were bloody and brutal. That opening splash page of the Skrull heads on pikes set the tone, both visually and thematically, and the look and story never let up.

It was the most excited I've ever been about reading Black Panther.


DAVE WALLACE: My favourite new creator at Marvel is an artist with a distinctive style who has had a couple of high-profile gigs this year, illustrating the Hellcat miniseries and the third Ultimate Spider-Man annual. David Lafuente's style has often been classed as manga-inspired, but I think that there's a lot more to it than that. His work fuses the high-energy and exaggerated qualities of manga with a more realistic approach to objects and environments, grounding the characters in the real world whilst keeping his characters malleable enough that he can emphasise facial expressions and body language for effect.

Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #3, in particular, was a great showcase for his abilities, with some strong character moments and some very dynamic actions sequences. Hellcat, on the other hand, allowed him to inject some fairly psychedelic and surreal elements into his work, making for a breathtakingly imaginative read. Lafuente is definitely an artist to watch, and I expect him to move on to even bigger things in the months and years to come.

Honorable mention in this category should also go to Paul Cornell, whose Captain Britain and MI:13 series was one of the best things to come out of Secret Invasion, and who has branched out with other projects like his Young Avengers Presents special and his Fantastic Four: True Story miniseries. He's a writer with many strengths, whose vivid imagination is only matched by his witty sense of humour, and I look forward to seeing how his career with Marvel progresses.

PAUL BRIAN MCCOY: When it comes to new talent, most of my preferences aren't all that new, but this was a big year for them all. Fred Van Lente's work on Incredible Hercules along with Marvel Zombies 3 and the promising beginning of X Men Noir almost earned him my top spot. Simon Spurrier has been working for 2000AD for a few years, and this year showed a lot of promise with Marvel's Silver Surfer: In Thy Name, newuniversal: Conqueror, and his work on the Ghost Rider and Punisher: War Journal Annuals. Unfortunately, his Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch mini has knocked him out of the running.

It is the non-stop energy and consistent boot to the gut style of Jason Aaron that makes him my favorite New Marvel Talent this year. This year he provided one of the freshest runs on Wolverine in recent memory with the four-part "Get Mystique" story, and showed just what a horrible idea it is to try to invade Wakanda in Black Panther. He is also closing out the year with another Wolverine mini, Wolverine: Manifest Destiny, that is a violent romp through the conventions of Hong Kong action cinema. And next year, just in time for the Wolverine film, Aaron will be returning to the character and launching a new Wolverine ongoing series of his own. My only complaint is that I'm not the biggest Wolverine fan, but have to keep reading about him.

Regardless of all that, though, it is his revamping of Ghost Rider as a Grind House extravaganza involving haunted highways, cannibals, devil-worshipping nurses, prison riots, nunchuck nuns, and, oh yeah, a war in Heaven, that really puts him at the top of my list. And not only has he thrown all of this into the mix, he's also brought back Danny Ketch, a new Caretaker, and introduced a brilliant new element to the Ghost Rider mythos: International Ghost Riders. Think Iron Fist's legacy of Eternal Weapons, but for every culture around the globe. In just under a year, he's turned Ghost Rider into the most exciting title on the shelves.

And even though it's not Marvel, you should all be reading his Vertigo series, Scalped, especially if you like the sort of thing that Brubaker does with Criminal, only this is set on an Indian reservation. It is brilliant and tragic and everything in between.

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