Welcome to Comic Book Herald’s countdown of the best comic books of the decade! Dave and John have been unveiling the best 70 books of the 2010’s, all building up to this moment where we reveal our top 10!
As you’d expect, many of these will come from Comic Book Herald’s 500 best comics of all time, of course editing for those that have been released in the past 10 years. The list will inevitably leave out plenty of very exciting comics, so let us know what would make it onto your list in the comments!
Chew’s first seven issues saw print release dates in late 2009, but otherwise the John Layman and Rob Guillory production ran for 60 issues and two Poyo one-shots throughout the 2010’s.
Chew is the serialized TV show you wish you were bingeing every time you give up and throw on a Parks and Rec rerun. Although the franchise’s TV rights have seemingly been in limbo hell for as long as the book’s been popular, Rob Williams’ iZombie has significantly more in common with Chew than it really ever does with the actual iZombie comics. The formula of a few parts gross cannibals-against-crime, a few parts absorbed memories, and a cast of zany, lovable characters is pure Chew.
Of course, there’s plenty that Layman and Guillory put into the long running series that make it specifically well-suited for the medium from Guillory’s easter egg art (it’s like Where’s Waldo but for puns), to his cartoonishly proportioned bodies (far too angular to ever be sexy in the way comics tend to portray people), to the team’s madcap commitment to Poyo Warrior Chicken (the gag that keeps on giving). Apart from impossibly charming humor and feeling quite unlike your typical long running comic book, Layman and Guillory’s master trick is making their main detective aggressively prickly, and only building reason to care much for Tony Chu slowly over the course of the story.
John Galati: Sean Murphy’s sci-fi dystopia begins with the Catholic church becoming a mega-corporation and media conglomerate. One which has produced the newest reality show which follows the childhood of Chris, the child they created from Jesus’ divine DNA. The whole story is told through Murphy’s recognizable semi-gestural style, which he’s augmented here with halftone printing, giving everything the low-fi, photocopy-on-newsprint aesthetics of punk ‘zines. These two styles blend and work incredibly well to reinforce the cyberpunk themes of the book.
But what I was most impressed by was Murphy’s display of bravery and confidence here. Punk Rock Jesus was his big debut as a solo creator for the Big Two, and not only did Murphy dare talk about religion and politics in polite company; he delivered an incredibly thoughtful story filled with smart and subtle nods to the original Biblical text. A feat which he then maybe palatable through the “impolite” style of punk (itself a clever nod to Christianity’s disruptive, lower-class beginnings.)
John Galati: Saga isn’t really one genre; it’s all the genres. It’s a sprawling sci-fi/fantasy tale that’s equal parts part sex comedy, war epic, and family drama. Vaughn has a special talent for crafting worlds that feel simultaneously enormous yet also intimate and personal. But by pairing up with Fiona Staples, he’s able to push that skill to the extremes. Staples really sells the emotions in the book, the humor, and the absolutely transcendent weirdness. That Saga is such an enormous hit seems wondrously impossible and a foregone conclusion at the same time.
Gene Luen Yang has developed an absurdly impressive pedigree.
Following American Born Chinese in 2006, Yang’s 2010s have included excellent Avatar: The Last Airbender adaptations, a fantastic New Superman addition to the DC Universe, and most recently an instant classic in the form of 2019’s Superman Smashes The Klan. The most remarkable feat to me has been Boxers and Saints from First Second publishing. Boxers and Saints is technically two graphic novels, eventually revealing one story from two perspectives that overlap.
As the title indicates, the series follows two young POV characters through China’s early 1900’s Boxer rebellion, from the perspective of the rebellion and Chinese Christians and missionaries. The end result is a heartfelt, gorgeously rendered vision of China’s history, religion, and complexities. Boxers and Saints is a remarkably confident work, and one that made me a firm believer in anything Yang chooses to produce from here on out.
I’ve been a sucker for comics within comics since Tales of the Black Freighter, and Bulletproof Coffin pulls from all the right influences to ensure a home in my heart. There are comics that I’m more likely to share as gifts or recommendations (Blacksad and 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank are high on my “try some comics, kids!” list currently), but David Hine and Shaky Kane’s work across The Bulletproof Coffin is the rec I’ll share if I think you’re my comics soulmate.
The Bulletproof Coffin is a look at superhero comics come to life, injecting protagonists, creators, and at times even the readers into the metanarrative. Take Moore and Morrison, mash them together with Golden Age pulps and pre-code horror mags, and sprinkle in a dose of unreality for one of the most joyously surprising reads this decade. Plus, Hine and Kane embrace all the weird, warty details of strange adventures, making it impossible to mix up their deranged superhero universe from anyone else’s.
John Galati: This is one of those books where I opened up and immediately thought “well, of course.” As in: “Well of course you’d take the least popular Avenger, make his enemies a gang of street toughs in bad tracksuits and worse haircuts. And for sure, you should do all of this with infographics. Yes, this is how comics are made.” Matt Fraction and David Aja’s take on Hawk Guy is the most back-of-the-class pitch I’ve heard since Slapstick, but the book just works flawlessly. The humor is so good it holds up after re-reads. The art is witty yet crystal clear. The characters are charming and effecting, and their struggles feel both laughable and heart wrenching. So yes, of course, this is how comics should be made.
John Galati: Every once in a great while—and yet more often than you’d think—a comic book won’t just surprise me; it will shock me. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters goes somehow beyond with a story that begins before the beginning.
In 2001, Emil Ferris was a freelance toy designer and illustrator for magazines, books, etc. In 2002, she was paralyzed and lost the use of her dominant right hand. Then, in 2017, Emil Ferris published her debut graphic, a labor she’d painstakingly undertaken left-handed. And it’s gorgeous. I mean 3 Eisners gorgeous. Hugo nominated, Fauve D’Or winning gorgeous, filled with absolutely stunning illustrations Ferris meticulously hand-rendered in overlapping fields of colored pencil. It’s the story of a young girl growing up amid the racism, gender, and class violence of 1960s Chicago. Ferris takes this tale and presents it through the eyes of a young girl struggling to understand the adult world. Through this little girl, everything becomes beautiful monsters—real and metaphorical—which have been made gentle by Ferrris’ volumetric style and rendered innocent by appearing over the blue, wide ruled lines of a child’s notebook.
Emil Ferris went from being a complete outside unknown even to her publisher to the creator of an uncompromising indie book that changes the world. Comics are amazing. The world is amazing. And more often then you’d think.
3) Mind MGMT
To this day, I couldn’t tell you what made me pick up a copy of Mind MGMT #1 from a comic shop near my office. This was in my nascent days of comic book collecting before I knew the first thing about pull lists or the acronym LCS. Something about artist Matt Kindt’s painted cover, the distinct visual id and declaration of a journey about to start.
Either way, from the first issue of Matt Kindt’s secret worldwide conspiracy thriller it was clear Mind MGMT was going to change the way I thought about comics. Everything about an issue of Mind MGMT is carefully considered, whether its the paper feeling like it’s only recently been pulled from an evidence locker, the true-to-life sinister advertising, or the black-and-white short stories running on the inside front and back covers of the book. And that’s before we even get to the story, where the side gutters on every page share secret information from a mysterious source, sometimes with instructions for special agents, sometimes with additional stories.
The whole package is masterful at evoking the feeling of being suddenly immersed in a vast life-altering reality of idiosyncratic superpowers and spies, everything hidden in plain sight and impossible to miss once your eyes have been opened. It’s the only comic that I buy in every released format, including the recently kickstarted minicomic and vinyl read-along.
John Galati: A few decades ago, I read an autobiography from a young woman trying to make sense of unfathomable, unspeakable tragedy. A subject she made her own by discussing how the events affected both her and her husband. Revealing in poetic detail how anger and fear take on a new scale as a shared experience. An enormous terror. One too big to fit inside the bodies of a small woman in a little apartment next to a small man in the same little apartment. Worst of all, she says, is the belief that such a terror targeted she and her spouse exclusively.
This approach to tragedy is part of why Mister Miracle mesmerizes me. The book builds on this idea that Scott Free and Big Barda both suffer from a shared trauma delivered by the hands of Granny Goodness and Darksied. It develops into a story about how, exactly, two would deal with pain and conditioning that have grown malignant and enormous. One that has metastasized into a war beyond the scale of either of their bodies. How that anxiety and guilt invades every private moment on the couch, every shower, each and every conversation, becoming an Armaggedon that’s exclusively their own.
Mister Miracle then becomes an intensely small book. One focused on how two characters must recognize every reason to hurt and fear. About Free and Barda knowing how and why those reasons apply to themselves, each other, their relationship, and the whole world. How history and fate can seem indistinguishable.
It’s about all of this and it’s about still finding the courage to bring more love into the world.
This is what Mister Miracle means to me right now, today. But it changes every time I think about. Tom King and Mitch Gerads have created a work so intensely personal, fascinating, and well-considered that I can’t ever put it down. Even with all I’ve written about it already, Mister Miracle is the kind of life-changing book I hope to write about for years to come.
At the end of the day, I’m a Marvel fanatic. Comic Book Herald exists because of an obsession with cataloging the Marvel Universe in all its complexities. So while there are certainly tighter comics and graphic novels, nothing in big messy superhero comics plays to my endless fandom like the work of author Jonathan Hickman with Marvel Comics.
From 2010 to 2016, Hickman and various collaborators delivered the following:
- My favorite Fantastic Four run since Jack Kirby and Stan Lee
- My favorite Nick Fury stories since Jim Steranko
- My favorite Justice League story masquerading as an Avengers story in forever
- My favorite comic book event of all time
Then in 2019, Hickman returned from his creator-owned sabbatical (come on down fellow best-of the decade entries like East of West and The Black Monday Murders) to straight up reinvent the X-Men with the incredible House of X / Powers of X.
Through it all there’s a glorious sense of long-term planning and connective tissue that makes every story in this shared playground feel like it’s building towards something revelatory. And in Secret Wars, Hickman even managed to stick the landing, a feat nearly unheard of among Big 2 creators throughout the 2000’s.
While I don’t expect or hope for creators to follow all of Hickman’s stylistic tics, there’s a roadmap to plotting superhero sagas here that we’re already seeing greatly influence the crowd-pleasing work of Donny Cates. There’s also a mission statement about what superhero comics can and should be, at least in the way that I want to obsess over in the decades to come.