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Best Comics of 2010

Best Comic of 2010: Batman & Robin

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I’m not sure if we would have pegged Batman & Robin as a potential top comic of 2010 at the start of the year – its first six issues had started extremely well (thanks in no small part to Frank Quitely’s art), but tailed off a touch (thanks in no small part to Philip Tan’s art). The book still held a lot of promise, but there remained plenty of questions unanswered as to just how significant the whole thing was going to be as regards Grant Morrison’s overall Bat-Epic (compared with the then-upcoming Return of Bruce Wayne), and whether or not the series was going to be an unmissable comic.

As it happened, the second half of the series turned out to be probably the most entertaining chapter of the entire four-year MozBats run so far – and perhaps, too, the most accessible, given that even longtime DC-sceptic James was prepared to vote for it as this site’s Comic of the Year to boot. And while RoBW had some strong moments, that miniseries almost ended up fading into insignificance – the real Batman comic worth reading this year continued to be the adventures of Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne, to the extent that although Bruce’s return cast a shadow over the final handful of issues, we weren’t really missing him by the time he finally showed up.

The arc that began the year, “Blackest Knight”, gave us the mouthwatering prospect of Batman and Robin visiting London – and was spectacularly entertaining, introducing the Knight and Squire in more detailed fashion (paving the way for the excellent Knight and Squire miniseries later in the year) as well as an array of UK-based villains (never’s the day I thought I’d see a line like “The broon‘s on me!” in an American comic), and also providing some surprising twists and turns in the tale of the thought-to-be-Bruce’s corpse from Final Crisis being resurrected via Lazarus pit. It was more of a stop-off than a significant chapter in the whole thing, but it struck absolutely the tone of humour and thrilling adventure we’d been hoping for from the series.

The development of Damian’s character had started to kick off in earnest with that UK-set arc, but it was with the following “Batman vs. Robin” that it came to the fore. Although the arc saw a less spectacular artist than Stewart and Quitely on the book, Andy Clarke’s work was at least solid, and consistent with the series’ general look in a way that Tan’s “gritty” style hadn’t been. An arc largely concerned with character movement, “Batman vs. Robin” – in addition to confirming Damian’s longer-term status as a fully-settled member of the Bat-family with some superb scenes as he renounced his links with the al-Ghuls – had as its final page perhaps the single greatest comics moment of the year, with the twist reveal of the identity of Oberon Sexton (and although it was largely guessable from publicity material for subsequent issues, I’m not going to spoil it in case anyone’s reading the book in trade). It was the sort of perfectly-seeded-in-advance moment that has been characteristic of Morrison’s run, and once again taught the reader not to take anything for granted.

With the third artist of the year, Frazer Irving, came perhaps the book’s highlight as a whole, as “Batman & Robin Must Die!” brought to a head not only the storylines of Batman & Robin itself, but – complete with its fourth coda issue – arguably marked the end of the story that had begun with the very first issue of “Batman & Son” back in 2006. While we thought that “Batman RIP” had done all that was going to be done with Dr Hurt, it was Batman & Robin – along with one of the subplots of Return of Bruce Wayne – that went so far as to finally uncover his true identity, show his final attempt to bring down the Waynes, and (one would suspect) do away with him once and for all. As such, the whole thing would have been a perfect end to Morrison’s run as a whole – were it not for that brilliant final page that launched us into the Batman Inc status quo, and instead confirmed that those first four years marked the first self-contained “chapter”, both narratively and thematically.

The question, of course, is whether the second chapter can in any way live up to the first – or whether Morrison should have left on the undoubted high that Batman & Robin presented. What’s not in any doubt, however, is that these ten issues were pretty much uniformly the standout superhero comics of the year – and that they can have offered a satisfactory resolution for a long-time Batman reader like myself, and entertained a newcomer like James, shows just how well they succeeded in being the best kind of monthly comics. We may have thought that earlier years had belonged to Morrison’s Batman – but it turns out that they were all just the warmup; 2010 is where we saw writer and characters at their very best.

Best Comics of 2010 – Runner-Up: Demo 2

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It was never going to be a particularly close call, for me. The original Demo was a series so good that when my local store in Oxford didn’t bother to stock it (on account of being a satirically shit example of a comic shop)  I used to get an £8 coach to London once a month, purely to buy the latest copy.

The second volume was every bit as good as the first – though admittedly, not as revolutionary. Demo influenced single issue comics in a tangible way, and several of my favourite series since – Phonogram 2 and Casanova to name but two – have followed suit, treating each issue as an object worth owning, distinct from the stories inside it. Demo 2, however, had something else going for it – namely, that Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan have both developed as creators since the original.

It’s hard to pick my favourite issue of Demo 2. Certainly, I’ve got a soft spot for issue #2 – a grisly short about love and cannibalism – and issue #3, a romantic mood piece about a girl with a strange form of amnesia – but every issue (even, in retrospect, the initially disappointing #1) is both original and engaging. Wood and Cloonan create true “graphic novellas”, creating a world, populating it with characters, telling a story and then dissolving it in the final pages. If there’s anything more to be squeezed out of the format, I’m unsure what it is.

One of my favourite things about Demo is that it allowed me to flex my critical muscles in a way that not every comic does. Reviewing comics – both here and for CBR – can be soul-erodingly repetitive at times, as you struggle to find the nuance or invention in the 521st issue of Incredible Hulk – but Demo always gave me something to dig my teeth into – as evidenced by my over-long and self-consciously deconstructive reviews of issues #1, #2. #3 and #4.

Encapsulating Demo any further than that is difficult, simply because every issue was so different. Largely, the only unifying thing about this series was that the truly supernatural elements that it displayed in most of the first series were banished in favour of a more subtle form of magic realism – although it is, of course, open to interpretation. Certainly, it kept me guessing, and that’s one of the things that I love about it.

Overall, it’s certainly not a bad result for a series that started life as a failed X-Men pitch. Easily my must-buy comic of 2010, and if 2011 sees anything even close to being as good as this was in 2010 (and Phonogram 2 was in 2009), I’ll be more than satisfied.

James Hunt | 1st January, 2011

Best Comics of 2010 – Runner-Up: Daytripper

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Although most of our Best of 2010 list has been in no particular order, we’ve each picked a standout favourite of our own as a “runner-up”, before the winning title upon which we’ve both agreed. Here’s mine, with James’ to follow.

When Daytripper‘s first issue came out, it initially seemed like a charming little tale about a Brazilian writer of newspaper obituaries, and his difficult relationship with his recently-deceased novelist father. The final pages, however, contained a massive sting in their tail – as the lead character, Brás, was killed in a tragically random restaurant stick-up gone wrong. This led readers to wonder exactly what the premise of the series was going to be – would we be looking at the last day of a different character each issue? The mystery was deepened with issue #2, which introduced us to a 21-year-old Brás – he’d been 32 during issue #1 – thus giving the impression that each issue would be about a different day in that tragically-cut-short life. Only… he died at the end of that issue, too. And at the end of the third (aged 28, this time). Each time, the closing caption of the issue would be a succinct and touching obituary in the style that Brás himself would have written.

And so, although online reviews of those early issues had tiptoed around discussing the fact that the “twist” of each issue was Brás’ death, in retrospect it’s far less of a spoiler to mention it – because it’s the hook of the entire series. Each issue of Daytripper shows the last day of Brás’ life, if he’d died at a particular age – and compares and contrasts how one simple man’s life would be measured if it were to come to an end at an assortment of varied and often arbitrary times. Once the concept was clear and settled into our minds, then, we the reader were left to enjoy the most wonderful, touching, thought-provoking and heartwarming comics series of this year – or indeed, possibly even of the last few years.

Like many who largely only tend to read English-language comics, my only previous exposure to the brothers Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon was with their work on Casanova and Umbrella Academy – so naturally, the quality of their visual work on this series was entirely expected, particularly when allied to a colouring job by the ever-outstanding Dave Stewart. The quality of the story, however, was less anticipated, simply because I hadn’t read anything the pair had written before. Though the series had started out with a certain amount of intrigue and charm about it, it was with two issues in particular that it suddenly exploded into being the outstanding comic of the year. First of all, issue #5 took an unexpected turn by introducing us to an eleven-year-old Brás. By this point, with the series’ premise clearly established, the reader was aware that the character would die at the end – and with him at such a young age, and so full of joy and hope and excitement about the future and the wider world, the closing pages were almost unbearably tragic.

Then came issue #6, which I’d probably mark out as my absolute favourite single issue of the year. For the first time, Brás’ career as an obituary writer, as established back in #1, becomes the focus of the story, as a huge plane crash in his home town of São Paulo sees him writing obituaries for the 93 victims, while all the while worrying whether his friend Jorge (introduced in issue #2, and reappearing to devastating effect in the following #7) might be among them. It’s the issue in which Brás own life is seen to have the greatest effect on other people (notwithstanding other stories that see him, later in life, becoming a successful novelist), and it once again makes the inevitable ending of the story even more saddening. This is further true with issue #8, in which Brás himself doesn’t even appear (save as a voice at the end of a phone) – we instead spend the page time in the company of his wife and infant son, and if the scene in which Miguel reads out his father’s final letter to his class at school doesn’t utterly break you, you’re clearly made of stone.

The real skill of the writers, though, is to find something almost uplifting in their treatment of mortality – although being so much about death, the beauty of Daytripper is about what it says about life. It’s a celebration of sheer humanity, of the things in life that are simultaneously small and insignificant yet personally the biggest and most important, and of the fact that our very mortality can be one of the most life-affirming aspects of existence. It’s a comic of a sort very rarely published – and one that you immediately know people will be talking about extensively in years to come – and its brief existence is something that should be cherished. Having already been responsible for co-creating two utterly phenomenal comics just as artists, the brothers may now have even topped both all by themselves.

Seb Patrick | 30th December, 2010

Best Comics of 2010: Avengers Academy

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The Avengers reboot at the start of this year was, admittedly, fairly strong. The thing is, after 7 years of Bendis’ New Avengers, I was done with it. Between the increased price, the gradual decline in enthusiasm and the fact that the franchise was getting a wholesale reboot, I figured that was the time to leave. If only to reassure myself that I’d never pick up an issue of New Avengers and find myself reading about The Hood for 75% of the story again.

That left a gap in my budget, and after some dithering, I decided to fill it with Avengers Academy. Although Christos Gage isn’t a writer who burns up the charts, his Thunderbolts fill-ins were enjoyable enough, and the new character designs that had been released as teasers really hooked me. Plus, it was launching at $2.99, and as much as I hate to admit that I might let finances get in the way of my love of the medium, price has become a genuine consideration for me since the $3.99 era began.

As it turns out, I’d probably have bought Avengers Academy even if it was $3.99. There’s nothing massively revolutionary about it – it’s just a really well-done slice of superhero-filtered teen angst/soap opera, much in the vein of Claremont’s X-Men or Runaways – but since very few books have that feeling these days, it gets away with it. It, like Generation Hope, feels more like X-Men than X-Men does right now – and as longtime readers of this blog know, I’ve got a soft-spot for the X-Men.

It helps, too, that Avengers Academy combines the X-Men-style soap opera with a high-concept twist half-stolen from Thunderbolts. At the end of the first issue (spoilers!) we discovered that these kids – ostensibly picked to be trained up as the next generation of Avengers – were actually picked because they’re the “problem” children, potentially headed down the path to super-villainy. It’s particularly interesting because the first issue’s main character – Veil – seems completely level-headed, if a little shy and socially reclusive. When we discover that she’s considered a potential villain, the audience feels the same betrayal that the character does, the same will that they be proven wrong. To get an audience invested like that in the space of one issue takes skill.

In an industry seemingly obsessed with events and stakes-raising, it’s always nice to find a book able to tell character-centric stories. I fully admit this is more of a personal favourite than a flawless technical masterpiece along the lines of Power Girl, but if you’re into superhero comics, I find it hard to imagine this one leaving you cold.

Best Comics of 2010: Power Girl

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Although I make an effort to shy away from the DCU books (one over-complicated superhero universe is enough for me, thanks) I do dip in on occasion. It was actually 2009 that I started picking up the odd issue of Power Girl, purely because it was one of those series that had been on the radar for years, but never quite come around, and I wanted to see what the fuss was about. I enjoyed it from the start, but it wasn’t until January’s issue #8 that I had to admit I’d gone from being casually interested to looking forward to it more than almost any monthly I was getting at the time.

Of course, less than 2 months later, it was announced that the entire creative team would be leaving the book following issue #12. Oh well.

It’s easy to see why Gray and Palmiotti decided to leave the book at the same time as Amanda Conner. Not since Kurt Busiek and George Perez teamed on Avengers over a decade ago have I seen what could easily have been generic, mid-level superheroics transformed so definitively into must-read comics. As a title, Power Girl was a bit cute, a bit funny, a bit sexy, a bit violent and a bit ridiculous – in short, all the things that Power Girl, as a character, embodies – and so much of that was down to Conner’s artwork and execution.

In fact, Conner’s work was so consistently entertaining and technically brilliant that she can easily be called one of the greatest pencillers working in the industry today. Every panel was packed with detail, personality and expression, and yet it always serviced the story first. She rendered grand alien landscapes alongside 70s sci-fi throwbacks and made you believe they belonged in the same world. I’m hard pressed to find even the smallest thing to complain about.

Perhaps the biggest surprise, of course, was that when the creative team left and Judd Winick & Sami Basri took over, it wasn’t half as terrible as I was expecting. Admittedly, I have no interest in the more DCU-centric stories Winick is telling, and dropped the book instantly, but at least, from what I saw, the quality remained reasonably consistent. It’s not a matter of living up to the standard of Gray, Palmiotti and Connor – few could – but, at least it wasn’t a pale imitation of their work.

As it was, for the first 5 months of this year, Gray, Palmiotti & Conner undeniably provided the starring role that Power Girl was born for. Although the 12-issue run was too short by half, at least it exists at all. A story so well-told that it deserves a place on everyone’s shelves, and the 5 issues (plus the collection, and a Conner-penned/pencilled short in Wonder Woman #600) that came out this year make the Gray/Palmiotti/Conner run one of 2010’s greatest comics without reservation.

James Hunt | 30th December, 2010

Best Comics of 2010: Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour

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To be fair, it would have taken a lot for Scott Pilgrim not to have been one of the best comics of 2010; and would have been pretty much impossible for it not to have been one of the most important. We’ve already talked about the book (and the film) in great detail here, of course, although I do note that rather than doing a straightforward review, or accentuating the positive, our comments centred largely on the aspects of it that we were pulling apart slightly, or on how the book as a whole fit in with the previous five and worked as a capstone to them. It might have given the false impression that we were both hugely disappointed with the book – and although James was to some extent (so much so that he’d be less likely to consider it in his own end-of-year list), it was still for me one of the most thrilling and significant comics of the year.

In a way, it was always going to be impossible for a series as good as Scott Pilgrim to have the ending that the quality of the previous books had promised – there was so much left to be covered and dealt with, and only those fans most dazzled by the good bits would refuse to admit that there were undoubtedly plot and character elements that suffered from underdevelopment or a lack of closure in the final books. This wasn’t helped by the sheer amount that was being packed in – not just resolution to existing strands, but new elements that were (perhaps ill-advisedly) being added in. Nevertheless, there’s plenty about it that was intensely satisfying, having followed the characters from book one – from the redemption of Young Neil (sorry… Neil), to Knives growing up, to the Stephen/Joseph twist, to Scott’s acknowledgement that actually it was his own flaws and regrettable actions that had been responsible for a lot more of his woes than he had previously realised. And emotionally, the culmination of the Scott and Ramona plot felt right – crucially, with their realisation that the only way past their previously fraught relationship was to move on and start again.

Aside from the closure given to longtime fans, however, it’s worth still remembering that in its own right Scott Pilgrim remained a terrific comic right to the end. Reviews and discussion of the last book have (unsurprisingly) centred around the character material and themes (I’m not even going to try to compete with this one), but let’s not forget that – although not quite as frequently as the previous volumes, due to all the plot that needed getting through – it’s still brilliantly funny at times. And it’s easily the best of the series from a technical point of view, with O’Malley’s art and storytelling construction simply getting better and better, to a point where he can be legitimately considered one of the most brilliant visual creators in the field. The ending might not have had all the elements everyone had hoped for, but it still made for one of the classiest and most talked-about comics of the year. Indeed, despite the relative box-office failure of the film, in the comics world 2010 was undoubtedly The Year of Scott Pilgrim – and 2011 and future years will be all the poorer for its absence.

Seb Patrick | 28th December, 2010

Best Comics of 2010: Chew

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After establishing itself as the best new series in comics in 2009, 2010 has seen Chew solidify its position as one of the most consistently entertaining and inventive comics out there. It’s the sort of series where single issues don’t tend to jump out on their own, but instead the ongoing narrative has developed depth and interest on a month-by-month basis. It’s probably the comic out there that most resembles a TV series (even down to the obvious real-actor casting of some of its characters), and this was perhaps most apparent with the excellent Thanksgiving-set issue #15, which felt particularly like an “end of season one” moment.

It now becomes clear that that first year-and-a-bit was all about getting the characters in place and set up for the reader – and even as it felt like major plots were happening, it transpires that in fact this was all setup for the plot itself to begin as of issue #16 onwards. #15 offered one last revelation about Tony’s background, introducing one last character to the core group, and confirmed in its closing pages that the story was moving into a scope bigger and wider than had previously seemed the case.

Through all of this, the series has remained devilishly witty – laugh-out-loud funny at times, even – and its strong emphasis on characterisation (in addition to the inventive ideas) is one of the things that sets it apart. Even though he’s (quite deliberately) made only fleeting appearances over the past year, there have been few better characters introduced in comics of late than Mason Savoy, and the promise of #15 – which featured him directly in scenes on his own rather than only showing him when he interacts with Tony – suggests that he will still have a major part to play in the book’s future, and that there’s still a great heap of moral ambiguity to come.

It’s odd that a series can make it as far as 15 issues and only then lay down a marker to say “Right, we’re getting going now” – but Chew has earned a great amount of goodwill by being such a solidly fun (and at times utterly demented) comic, with Layman admirably choosing not to just sit back on the one good idea (the series’ main hook) but instead scattering lots of great smaller ones throughout as well. I’ve enjoyed inhabiting its bonkers little world over the past year – it being one of those few series that I make sure not to miss the week it comes out – and the promise of the actual plot exploding into life makes it an appealing prospect to stick with for 2011 as well.

Seb Patrick | 26th December, 2010

Best Comics of 2010: S.W.O.R.D.

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As with Phonogram, we’ve given SWORD a fair amount of praise round these quarters, so once again, it’s time for a final piece of praise to round off the year and a last chance to finally close the book on one of those comics we never shut up about. Until the next time we think of something to say about it.

Although we spent the 2009 year-ender banging on about how great Gillen’s work on the series was, over half of SWORD actually came out in 2010. 60% of it in fact. Or, if you like, three whole issues. At this point, I could go into the standard pitch about how it’s a sci-fi rom com adventure (in Gillen’s words, His Girl Friday in space) but I feel like I’ve done that enough recently. So here’s an alternate take:

SWORD is a comic about one mutant’s attempt to eat breakfast muffins with his girlfriend. Before this happens, they have to hire a time-travelling cyborg bounty-hunter, deal with the arrival of an unwelcome family member, second-guess the manipulations of their sociopathic android prisoner, repel an alien invasion of earth and avert a diplomatic crisis using only tea and the art of stalling. If you don’t want to read that comic, then frankly, you don’t deserve it anyway.

It is, in many ways, a Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sort of story, in that an attempt to do a simple thing finds distraction, then the distraction finds distraction, and soon you’re trapped in a prison cell by hostile alien forces wondering where it all went wrong. Steve Sanders has the correct combination of storytelling ability and comic timing to pull off some impressively subtle jokes, while Gillen’s strong dialogue makes every line tell a story on its own.

Despite being a commercial flop, SWORD proved that Gillen had the chops to make it in the Marvel Universe, and it’s no surprise that a temporary stint on Thor and this truncated ongoing series led, in turn, to him becoming co-writer on Uncanny X-Men and being given a second, higher-profile series of his own. It’s not just his best Marvel work to date, it’s easily one of the best things Marvel put out in 2010, and at this point, if you haven’t got the message, I don’t think you ever will.

James Hunt | 25th December, 2010

Best Comics of 2010: Thor: The Mighty Avenger

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It feels weird putting a comic that I’ve only just got around to catching up on, and that I haven’t yet actually read all the extant issues of, into the bracket of the top ten comics of the year – but the fact that I am doing so sums up just how Thor: The Mighty Avenger has leapt into my affections, being as it is the most beautifully charming, wondrous, good-hearted and downright likeable comic I’ve read since… well, probably since All-Star Superman. Yeah.

I suspect the reason I hadn’t bothered getting around to it yet – despite the intense critical acclaim afforded to it – is that Thor books simply don’t come onto my radar (except for the brief period of time in which they’re written by Kieron Gillen). I’ve just never had any great interest in the character, which would also explain why the trailer for the upcoming movie doesn’t excite me a huge amount. Dismissing Thor: The Mighty Avenger as just another Thor-related book to be ignored was foolishness in the extreme, though – a point I really should have been aware of simply due to the presence of the great Roger Langridge as writer.

Nevertheless, it’s taken news of its impending cancellation and the general sobbing and hand-wringing that this has brought from the sort of corners of comics reading that did the same when Captain Britain and S.W.O.R.D. met the same fate (i.e. the corners that have good taste) to inspire me to finally get around to check it out (particularly with the knowledge that any TPBs that might ever emerge are probably six months or so away), and so I’ve managed to get hold of a few of the issues. And by gum, I wish I’d been reading it from the start. It’s delightful. It’s exactly the sort of comic you want to hold up to people to show them that comics are actually still capable of being fun, all-reader-friendly, character-driven, intelligent and witty stories about brightly-coloured heroes. I’d honestly put it in the same bracket as Pixar, Aardman and early-era Simpsons in that, although it doesn’t match their epoch-defining genius quality, it really does effortlessly appeal to and cater for an audience of just about any age or level.

Although ostensibly a retelling of the “classic” Thor origin, the book takes liberties not just with plot and detail (most notably, beefing up the role of Jane Foster and also giving her an entirely different career), but with the overall tone – and where it succeeds is that it isn’t really the story of Thor being cast out of Asgard and finding his way as a superhero on Earth. Instead, it’s the story of Thor, who happens to have been cast out of Asgard (although his history before reaching Earth is pretty much irrelevant to the story being told), meeting a woman who shows him all the wonder and beauty of a world he finds a strange and bewildering lesser prospect than his own. It’s a romance, in other words – a romance with punching and jokes and Ant Man, sure, but a romance all the same. And it’s lovely. The characterisation is the real key – this take on Thor, the likeable bewildered lost soul, is the most appealing I’ve seen, while Jane is nothing short of adorable. You wind up rooting simply for these characters to succeed in finding each other, because they’re so darned lovely. And the book is frequently (like you’d expect anything less from Langridge) very, very funny – most notably in issue #4, which not only features Volstagg, but also has a take on Captain Britain that’s every bit as funny as anything Cornell did (“Oh, it’s okay, [Brian’s] Captain Britain.” “What?” “He thinks his friends don’t know, but he’s terrible at keeping a secret, so we pretend we don’t notice.”)

It’s a triumph visually, too – it’s odd seeing something only written by Langridge rather than drawn by him as well, but it’s absolutely the right decision as his cartoony style simply wouldn’t fit this. But having only known Chris Samnee for doing a passable Peter Snejbjerg impression on The Mighty, he’s a revelation here – with gorgeous, clean, mock-retro work that’s in a similar ballpark to the sort of thing Marcos Martin’s been doing on Spider-Man. A lush, vibrant colouring job from the ever-brilliant Matt Wilson simply rounds out the package – the whole thing is bright, and pretty, and energetic, without ever having the tacky and garish sort of look you might expect from such old-fashioned, straight-down-the-line superheroics.

That it’s only ever going to be a comic of 2010 – one final issue next month aside – is a great tragedy, but I’m glad I got the chance to discover it when I did, even belatedly. It’s frustrating that Marvel keep on taking a punt on series like this with such dazzlingly inventive and pure-of-heart craft behind them, and that the comics-buying public just don’t take to them – but hopefully the critical acclaim afforded to this and others of its ilk will prevent them from thinking twice about taking such chances in the future.

Best Comics of 2010: X-Men Legacy

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Since the site’s just back to me and Seb, rather than do the whole “awards” thing like we have the previous two years, we’re just going to pick our favourite 10 comics (mostly in no particular order) and briefly give them a write-up explaining why we think they succeeded this year. We make no claims that this is a definitive list, and we certain’y haven’t read everything released this year – but this is what we enjoyed, and why. The posts start today and will hopefully run every day until the end of the month, when we’ll reveal our favourite comic of the year. Enjoy!

In many ways, the X-Men line is more diverse than it’s been in years. Almost every book has a distinct purpose and identity (with the possible exception of the vanilla X-Men title) and to me, X-Men Legacy is the one that recaptures the spirit of Claremont’s X-Men. While Uncanny X-Men focuses on the bigger name characters, and concentrates on telling the long-form arc that the rest of the titles hang off, X-Men Legacy is telling discrete, character-focused arcs that span the width and breadth of the X-Men universe, slowly building its subplots and taking the time to flesh out characters that have been hanging around in the background for years without much focus of their own.

The year started with a 3-issue Necrosha-X crossover (#231-#233) that actually stood alone quite convincingly. Proteus, back from the dead, versus a small group of X-Men, some of whom we haven’t seen much of in years – Husk, for example. Classic villains are a little thin on the ground lately, so it was good to see the return of both Proteus and Destiny. The arc also re-introduced Magneto, who had joined Utopia in Uncanny X-Men. This set the stage for #234 to clarify the current status of Rogue’s personal life (re: potential romances with Gambit and Magneto) as well as show Rogue using her powers to help the X-Kids, and start to spin out a plot involving Indra’s developing powers and his attitude towards them. #235-#237 were part of the second coming crossover, while #238-#241 return to Indra’s developing powers and move the character forward in big ways, as well as bringing back the Children of the Vault – some of Carey’s own villains – and making something a bit more distinct out of their motivations and status quo.

As you can tell, from the synopses above, there’s nothing especially epic about Carey’s run – no one moment that made me think “this, hands down, is the best X-Book” – but what it lacks in showmanship, it makes up for with consistency and content. Unlike any other writer, Carey seems able to exploit continuity as a springboard for new stories without forgetting to make his tale stand alone. His work could almost be called damage control – ever since the start of his Legacy run, he’s picked stories that need to be addressed and patched them up with care and attention that could only be delivered by someone who loves the stories they’re addressing. That, I suspect, is what makes X-Men Legacy so fun for me to read (although it doesn’t hurt that the central character, Rogue, is also one of my favourite X-Men).

Next year, X-Men Legacy spearheads the “Age of X” mini-crossover, which I’m not massively sold on – it seems like yet another riff on Days of Future Part/Age of Apocalypse, which the X-Books have done over and over. Also, it’ll be the title’s fourth crossover in 20 issues (from Utopia, which happened in #226/#227, to Age of X, which starts in #245), and that’s not a good sign that this book is doing well under its own steam. Carey’s overarching concept seems designed specifically to appeal to long-time X-Men fans, so it’s worrying that it needs propping up so often. Aren’t we supposed to be the core, die-hard fans? Perhaps it’ll survive in this manner, perhaps not – but either way, it’s been a good year for this, probably the quietest, least-hyped of the X-Books, and one that’s been a consistently enjoyable since it began.

James Hunt | 23rd December, 2010