Welcome to Comic Book Herald’s countdown of the best comic books of the decade! Throughout the remainder of 2019, Dave and John will be picking the best 70 books of the 2010’s, and writing a few thoughts on their picks.
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!
30) Rat Queens by Kurtis Wiebe, Roc Upchurch, et al
There are several hilarious works on this best of the decade list (see: Sex Criminals and Werewolves of Montpellier below!). At times, though, when I’m in the thick of battle with the four Daves, or another bender with Dee, Rat Queens is the one book to out humor them all.
It’s the humor and humanity that sets Rat Queens apart because let’s face it, Sauron knows there are way too many comics trying to break into the D&D sword and sorcery territory. It’s an extremely difficult feat to walk onto Tolkein’s fields and claim them as your own, and Wiebe and various talented collaborators achieve exactly that with fantastic character work across all of the Queens.
29) The Omega Men by Tom King and Barnaby Bagenda
John Galati: Tom King’s first solo miniseries comes straight from his experiences in Iraq and a practice in contradictions. It’s a smart book that makes great use of the nine panel grid. A difficult format that King seems remarkably adroit at, going so far as to plan its panels in the first six issues one way, then have those panels reverse themselves in the last six issues.
And at the same time, Omega Men is a harrowing look at the state of the world. It’s a story of a violent, media influenced terror campaign that has roped in the most powerful (and least popular) Lantern.
28) Shutter by Joe Keatinge, Leila Del Luca, Owen Gieni
Shutter might be the front-runner for my “Why wasn’t this a bigger hit” all-stars this decade. In a lot of ways its mid-decade timing led to overshadowing by some of the decade’s other major hits. In particular, Saga takes a similar approach to vast world-building full of inventive creatures and family drama. Shutter even has “Alarm Cat” to rival Saga’s “Lying Cat!”
Ultimately the books aren’t that similar, and in my view Shutter remains quite underrated. Kate Kristopher is a once and future adventurer uncovering a secret family history. More than anything I love the creature-feature world created by Del Duca and Keatinge. Shutter isn’t afraid to get weird and messy, and while this can lead to confusion, I’d argue it’s exhilarating more often than not.
27) Invincible by Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley
Invincible is the rare entry on the best of the 2010s where it’s essential to note there are sixty-seven issues of this comic book before the 2010’s hit! As a result, it’s a uniquely challenging series to rank. I have Invincible extremely high on my list of the best comics of all time, but how much of that is from those world-building and character-defining early arcs?
With that in mind, I still have to credit Invincible from issues #70 to #144, achieving another decade of a superhero ongoing that somehow maintained thrills and unexpected turns so deep into its life. Kirkman and Ottley have their share of misses, but that primarily stems from always trying the next big shakeup that can turn the story on its head. Invincible has always been a superhero universe about doing the things the Big 2 simply can’t, and those dark crevices are brought to light throughout all of Invincible’s second decade. Plus… Dinosaurus. Gods, what a character!
26) Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
John Galati: Human beings seem programmed to create ridiculous euphemisms and metaphors for sex. This way of talking around intercourse is a global preoccupation with countless manhours spent on developing newer and weirder language technology to add to their vernacular. Meaning you can tell a lot about a people by the way they don’t talk about sex. The French frequently describe intercourse in terms of death while the Italians may speak of locks and theft. “Doing it” in Mandarin can mean rounds in a fighting tournament. All of these are liminal spaces, the non-time between “before” and “after.” As in hidden, changing, becoming.
But here in the United States, we often describe sex in terms of pizza. As in “even when it’s bad, it’s still good.” An idea so unabashedly American that I demand it replace The New Colossus and apple pie as our national creed.
Sex Criminals is about the hilarious gulf between these two ideas. The story revolves around two Americans who have discovered that when they climax, they stop time. When they become lovers, this effect multiplies, which naturally leads to them committing crimes. And of course, fighting other superpowered perverts. The book is sidesplittingly funny, lampooning the fetish nature of costumed superheroes and our cultural views towards superpowers. But mostly, the book is a look at how American culture views sex (or rather, doesn’t.) Fraction and Zdarsky free sex up to be the beautiful, ridiculous, power, immature act that it can be. And why Americans don’t feel comfortable admitting this. For a dirty book, it’s amazingly funny, deep, and sex-positive.
25) Werewolves of Montpellier by Jason
I read Werewolves of Montpellier as part of a month-long free daily comics giveaway Comixology was running, and I was blown out of the water. I’ve come to realize since that you could award this best of the decade ranking to virtually any Fantagraphics graphic novel by Jason and lose little by way of quality, but it was the werewolves who bit me first.
Wes Anderson comparisons are easy, which is a vote of confidence for Jason’s way with laconic humor and the delightfully absurd. Werewolves of Montpellier follows a thief pretending to dress up like a werewolf who ultimately discovers real werewolves in Europe. It’s slight, simple, and delicious.
24) Multiversity by Grant Morrison and a billion collaborators
John Galati: There’s a theory in social evolution which says that some inventions may be inevitable. Fire, moving type, cloth textiles, the dumpling. These things so perfectly address a human need that for us to exist, they must exist. And I’m not joking when I say that for comics, Multiversity is such a thing.
Here, Morrison finally settles DC’s love-hate relationship with their own multiverse by solidifying it to 52* worlds, as picked and populated for maximum relevance to the main continuity. In other words, it works because there are always Superpeople, Dark Avengers, Lanterns, etc at play. This brilliant strategy doesn’t just clean up the mess of infinite worlds, but actually adds coherence to the books. Something Morrison proves by making each issue showcase a different world, with the middle chapters being able to be read out of order and still work.
Then there’s the actual narrative of the book: The Gentry, a group of cosmic parasites, are attacking every Earth in the multiverse and our only hope is a group of heroes plucked from each reality. It’s something of a standard comic book setup, but I believe that’s exactly what it had to be. If Multiversity is to be a correction, commentary, and guidebook for the multiverse going forward, then it should be a “standard comic book.” That framework and convention become critical commentary and instruction.
The book is an enormous achievement in a career full of achievements.
23) The Black Monday Murders by Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker
John Galati: Every once in a while, a comic author will dig deep into our global unconscious and pull out the perfect nightmare. To me, Black Monday Murders was that book this decade.
After the global financial crisis, we were all terrified of just how powerful the markets were and the worse realization that no one understood them. Hickman takes that modern fear and wraps it around an ancient dead of black magic and human sacrifice. A feat that’s achieved by his signature use of research, reinforcing the wild fiction of the book with just enough fact to make the audience shiver. It’s that resonance of truth that I find the most exciting in his work, particularly when it’s delivered so confidently and directly through plotting, graphs, and notes.
That said, I think Tomm Coker might just steal the show. Coker’s artwork feels like a maturation of Hickman’s own illustration style. Hickman’s brilliant first book, The Nightly News, made heavy use of lightboxing, a smart technique for a first book but one that can leave it feeling, well, like a first book. Coker takes that book as an influence, but updates the style, adding in cinematography and his own artistic flair.
And then there’s the color. The coloring in this book is next level in terms of subtly and information transmission. Carefully picked schemes that are neither flat nor shaded have every page feeling like a slick fashion shoot that was lit by George Romero. A terrible, glossy marketing brochure for the end of the world.
22) Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye by James Roberts, Nick Roche, Alex Milne
I can’t overstate how surprised I am to include any Transformers comics anywhere on my best of the decade list. It’s not even a knock on the property so much as my own lack of engagement with the franchise for my entire life. I think the closest I came to Transformers fandom prior to this series was fascination with those cool 90’s CGI animations, or a generally ambivalent experience watching Shia own the stage in the first film of the series.
More than Meets The Eye takes everything I thought I knew about Transformers (stoic alien machines that smash) and imbues the franchise with charismatic personalities, pathos, and a whole lot of space-faring science fiction. I’m still not sure I’m actually a Transformers convert, but More Than Meets The Eye convinces me I should be one issue at a time.
21) Uncanny X-Force by Rick Remender, Jerome Opena, Dean White
John Galati: I don’t know how he does it, but Rick Remender surprises me every time. And this is especially true with Uncanny X-Force.
I say this because to my mind, the X-Force team (and title) have never had a consistent vision. They’ve always felt stuck between the drama of Louise Simonson’s New Mutants and the bad plots of Rob Liefeld’s X-Force tableaus. In other words, often visually exciting, but seldom deep (or even comprehensible.) And when the team underwent yet another reboot in 2010 to become Cyclops’ wetworks team, it really seemed like one last desperate grasp towards the pouches era. A Hail Mary run by the most try-hard mutants around (minus Cable.)
Yet somehow, amazingly, Remender turned the book into an exciting, high-concept book with some of the most meaningful character development around. He leaned into everything fans hated about these characters and turned those weaknesses into incredible strengths. Deadpool stopped being the manic meme machine and instead turned into a man truly struggling with his mental illness. Archangel stopped being the aloof, puddle-shallow playboy and became a former soldier trying to fight his reprogrammed nature. Psylocke moved from mindless sexpot to an actually good character. Wolverine isn’t the headliner!
Add to that Jerome Opena and Dean White’s spectacular artwork that’s colorful, cyberpunk-ish, and intensely volumetric. A gorgeous, realistic style that, uh, simply wasn’t there in the “90s golden era.”
Writing and artwork in concert to make one more first for the title: consistent pacing. This book balances the Simonson and Liefeld influences to make a series that feels like a marathon instead of a sprint. An X-Force that could sustain itself for this long is maybe the biggest miracle of all.