Sunday, May 2, 2010

100 Best Funnybooks of the Noughts, Part One

Sometime back after last Thanksgiving, I lost my damn mind and decided that it would be fun to compile a list of the 100 best comics of the decade. And it was fun, pretty much. It gave me an excuse to play with my funnybooks for a few weeks, excavating and revisiting books I'd almost forgotten I'd read. I posted the whole thing up in 25-book segments for friends in the days leading up to New Year's, and got some very gratifying responses to it.

One friend urged me to make the list more widely available, which was the "critical mass" urging I needed to finally create a blog. And here, a mere five months later, I'm finally putting it up for a wider audience. A slow-moving creature am I, like some kind of comics-reading tree sloth...

So, yeah. The 100 Best Funnybooks of the Noughts. Or the 100 best funnybooks I read, anyway. I'm sure I missed out on some stuff. And, I suppose this goes without saying, but the picks are based entirely upon my own taste. I like quality comics, but I do have favorite writers and genres, and those are going to win out. The order is rough, and a bit arbitrary in places. I feel most confident about the bottom of the list, and the top. But in the middle... I was kind of going on feel in there. If I had to sit down and put them all in order again tomorrow, I might do it differently. But holy crap I'm not doing that again. Alright. Without further ado...

The 100 Best Funnybooks of the Noughts!!

100. Spider-Man's Tangled Web by Various. A Spider-Man anthology series, featuring stories from a variety of critically-acclaimed creators taking a look at Spidey and his supporting cast from different perspectives than you‘d see in the regular series. Not every issue or story arc was genius, but it did produce some fine comics along the way.

99. Runaways by Brian K. Vaughn & Adrian Alphona. A refreshing mid-decade attempt to breath new life into the super hero genre by borrowing dramatic elements from teen manga. The first series is fun, the second less so, and don‘t bother with anything beyond that.

98. Punisher by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon. Garth Ennis‘ initial take on this character is like a noir-tinged Judge Dredd: comically hard-assed and totally awesome. Only the first mini-series is truly great; the rest is uneven (though Ennis’ later treatment of the character as a heroic sociopath is fascinating, if less entertaining, reading).

97. The Spirit by Darwyn Cooke. DC’s relaunch of Will Eisner’s classic Spirit strip was initially in good hands with retro stylist Darwyn Cooke. Reverential of the original while still bringing it into the present-day. Though far from perfect, this book was a lot of fun and very pretty to look at.

96. Fantastic Four by Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch. This book’s appearance on the list is something of an indulgence on my part. There may have been better books I could be talking about, and it’s also marred by a rushed, incomplete ending. But it’s a damn fine FF run nonetheless, taking everything that made the book great in its Lee/Kirby heyday and updating it for the 21st century. I had to include it, if only because I think it’s been underappreciated.

95. Orion by Walt Simonson. I’m just gonna toss this out there: Walt Simonson’s Orion was better than his Thor. There. I said it. I said it, and I ain’t takin’ it back. This book was ten kinds of awesome, a worthy successor to Kirby, and by far the best thing DC Comics proper published this decade that wasn’t written by Grant Morrison. Old school super hero comics at their very best.

94. Dork! by Evan Dorkin. The storing-house series for all of Evan Dorkin’s short stories and one-page gag strips. The home of Milk & Cheese: Dairy Products Gone Bad, Eltingville Club, and (my favorite) the far-too-seldom-seen horror sitcom The Murder Family. Dorkin has worked increasingly outside of comics this decade, which is a shame, but the rare appearances of Dork! on the racks were always welcome, and memorable.

93. Captain America by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting. One of the better long-form super hero stories of the decade. This pulp-tinged run has done the two things a Captain America book should never do: resurrect Bucky Barnes and kill Steve Rogers. And in the process, it’s become one of the two or three best Captain America runs of all time.

92. Human Target by Peter Milligan, Javier Pullido & Cam Stewart. A relaunch of a classic (if somewhat obscure) 1970s character, a master of disguise who takes the place of clients who fear they’re about to be murdered. It’s a perfect set-up for a writer as obsessed with matters of identity as Pete Milligan, and he turned in some fine noir writing based on it.

91. Shaolin Cowboy by Geoff Darrow. Beautiful, funny, and published with ever-decreasing frequency. I doubt Darrow will ever actually finish any sort of story in this book, but honestly… That’s beside the point. This one was all about the ride.

90. Phonogram by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie. A nice little indie-rock comic with a killer premise: music is magic. The first series sets the premise up well, but falters in its resolution. The sequel, a series of character studies all revolving around the same night in the same club, turned out to be the stronger book.

89. Jack Staff by Paul Grist. A rejected proposal for a Union Jack comic that writer-artist Paul Grist turned into one of the most inventive and pure fun super hero comics of the decade. The cast is huge, the stories sprawling and strange. I don’t necessarily wish all super hero books were written like this, but hot damn I’d love it if there were at least a few more.

88. RASL by Jeff Smith. The first adult work by Jeff Smith. RASL is alternate reality science fiction, about a scientist turned art thief. Only a few issues have come out, but they’ve been strong enough for me to include the series on the list.

87. Wednesday Comics by Various. The most interesting venture from any of the mainstream publishers this decade, Wednesday Comics was a weekly newspaper-style funny pages. The strips varied wildly in tone and quality; some weren’t even worth reading. But the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. Each issue was a nice little art object unto itself, and it was great fun to follow it every week. I hope they do it again this year.

86. Banner by Brian Azzarello & Richard Corben. Richard Corben was born to draw the Hulk, but what makes this book appeal the most to me is Brian Azzarello‘s unflinching take on Bruce Banner as a man too cowardly to kill himself for the greater good. Horribly unfair, and incredibly compelling.

85. Local by Brian Wood & Ryan Kelly. A spiritual sequel to Wood’s series Demo, Local is a series of one-shots chronicling the movement of a single character from late adolescence to adulthood. Simple, affecting fiction, though it‘s telling that the best issue doesn‘t involve the lead character at all.

84. Elk’s Run by Joshua Hale Fialkov & Noel Tuazon. A really excellent little story about an isolated community that seems like a normal small town until things start to go wrong. This book’s troubled publishing history (losing two different publishers to bankruptcy before being published as an OGN by a major book company) lead its creators to seek options outside the direct market for their next project. I’m not much on the artwork, but the writing is sharp.

83. Tom Strong by Alan Moore & Chris Sprouse. An updating of pulp characters like Doc Savage for Alan Moore‘s America‘s Best Comics line. I never thought the execution was as strong as the concept, but it never failed to be great fun to read.

82. Sleeper by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips. Super hero spy noir from the same team who currently do Criminal and Incognito. Sleeper changed a lot of people’s ideas about what could be done with super powers books, and set the stage for this team’s current (and I think superior) work.

81. A Treasury of Victorian Murder by Rick Geary. This series of OGNs has been running for over 20 years now (!). Each volume details a different Victorian murder case in detail that would seem gruesome if not for Geary’s cheerfully macabre tone. Signs are that he may be running out of Victorian murders to cover, though; the most recent volumes have been entitled “A Treasury of 20th Century Murder.”

80. Iron Fist by Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker & David Aja. This book gets my vote for the decade’s best relaunch. It took everything that made Iron Fist cool, ignored the crap, and expanded the character’s world from there. As primary series writer Matt Fraction put it, “Kung-Fu Billionaire. What more needs to be said, really?”

79. Selina's Big Score by Darwyn Cooke. A Catwoman one-shot that keeps the title character out of costume, instead serving up a stylish and entertaining heist comic.

78. War Stories / Battlefields by Garth Ennis & Various Artists. Serious-minded, well-researched war comics from the modern master of the genre. Really the same comic, published under different titles by two different publishers. “Dear Billy” is the highlight.

77. Criminal by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips. Excellent hardboiled crime noir. This series has been described as “Sin City minus the steroids,” and that’s as good a description as any I could come up with.

76. Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev. Though there were some missteps along the way, this was an astounding four-year, fifty-issue run. Despite all its pyrotechnics and mob violence and ninjas, this book was really just an in-depth look at Matt Murdock. A character study with tights.

The next 25 to follow...


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