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!
40) Nowhere Men by Eric Stephenson, Nate Bellegarde, and Jordie Bellaire
Ever since Watchmen, I’ve been obsessed with good comic book back matter. This could just be that I’ve become so conditioned to words and pictures that the mere presence of scholarly text feels like a shot of PHd straight into my corpus callosum. Or, what I tell myself, is that the ambition to flesh out a world with carefully crafted “in-world” materials is thrilling.
Either way, there’s something about comics creators so earnestly striving for the ambition of Moore, Gibbons and Higgins that I find delightful, and Nowhere Men is transparent in its aims. It’s a story about “Action Science” and its effects on the world, somehow making “What if The Beatles were scientists” a compelling ride. Nowhere Men doesn’t change the game, but it respects the hell out of those who did, which is much easier said than done.
39) Murder Falcon by Daniel Warren Johnson
On concept alone, Murder Falcon was always going to rock straight into my heart. The eight issue series is what happens when Tenacious D lands on a riff so tasty one of the greatest living comic book artists breathes it to life. Murder Falcon is so full of laconic humor, righteous metal, and genius one-liners (“I don’t need weapons officer. I brought metal”) that I could frame approximately 90% of the series on my office walls.
Daniel Warren Johnson is without question one of my favorite working comics creators, and his idea about metal machine music bringing anthropomorphic terminators to life to fend off the forces of darkness is his best work yet. If you’ve listened to Mastodon, Deafheaven, or Baroness any time in the last decade, you owe it to yourself to ask the question: “The cowbell of eternal flames! Where did you find this treasure?!”
38) Ultimates by Al Ewing and Kenneth Rocafort
Marvel’s post-Secret Wars landscape was rife with possibility, but no comic believed in the opportunity like Al Ewing and Kenneth Rocafort reimagining the Marvel cosmos in Ultimates. That a series rooted in the legacy of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s Ultimates could so brilliantly redesign Galactus and Marvel Cosmic is beyond belief.
Ultimates is the kind of modern success that instantly drives MCU theories, with a team of Adam Brashear, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, America Chavez, and Monica Rambeau that would be a welcome addition to the silver screen. Plus, you’ll never convince Ultimates fans that Galactus looks better in any color but gold.
37) Southern Bastards by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour
John Galati: For my money, Jason Aaron writes some of the best action setups in comics. It’s something in the way he telegraphs each situation that tells his audience “this is going to be good.” It’s uniquely satisfying to me, the way I’m assured of what’s about to happen. But there’s something more.
Aaron works from the tradition of the Southern novel. A method of highlighting the uncomfortable truths about the things we ignore, like the punishing reality of small towns, the violence in their sports programs, and our historic mistreatment of veterans. Southern Bastards does all of this while it weaves a story of the Tubbs family and their generational fight against the cruel, bigoted power structure of a small, Alabama town. A town Latour draws almost exclusively in shades of red. Blood red. Roll Tide red. Confederate red. Every panel has some part of that violent history in it.
36) Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, and co.
John Galati: Ewing, Bennett, and the rest of Team Hulk have essentially remade the big, green monster from the ground up. But the influences, lore, impact, and sheer craft of the book is too much for the room we have available to us here. Thankfully, Dave and I made a Deep Dive about it. Everyone should check this amazing book out.
35) Sheriff of Babylon by Tom King and Mitch Gerads
John Galati: There’s something about comic books as an art form that lends itself to (auto)biographies. Sheriff of Babylon is a magnificent case for that. On the surface, the book is about America’s impossibly complex relationship with the Middle East and about feeling like an outsider in your own life. But what really makes Sheriff work is the realism that Tom King brings to it with his history as a CIA agent with operations in the area.
Tom’s ability to access his experiences is something of a favorite topic of mine, and it’s on subtle display in this book. Mitch Gerads does an incredible job of working between those experiences, adding emotion to characters and subtle visual metaphors to their world. To me, this team of creators helped define this decade in comics.
34) Thor: God of Thunder (the Jason Aaron run) w/ Esad Ribic, Russel Dautermann, and Matt Wilson
John Galati: Historically, Thor can be a tough character to sell. He has a daunting amount of continuity to address with an enormous cast of characters. In the hands of the wrong writer or artist, he can feel hokey. Even defining who Thor is can be a challenge (is he an actual God? An alien? A mortal with a magic hammer? The answer depends on who’s in the editorial box). So when Jason Aaron was tasked with delivering the newest reboot for the character, I don’t think anyone was expecting the six-year journey that was to follow.
It starts here, with Thor: God of Thunder.
The story begins with building up Gorr the God Butcher, the villain Thor will face through these two arcs. Aaron turns down the volume on continuity or existing characters to make the book easy to pick up and cranks up Thor instead, delivering a young, contemporary, and an older king who interact with one another, giving readers an inspired look at the character through time. To assist with this, Ribic’s use of splashes and spreads for the first arc of the story feels painterly, half-classic renaissance. half Frazetta fantasy. Joe Sabino’s lettering subtly changes between characters, making crowded ale hall conversations much easier to follow.
From here, the book expands and grows, turning into 20 trade paperbacks that span events, universes, and even protagonists, all the while delivering adventure that could be set to Darkthrone’s and Skálmöld’s discographies. Best of all, Aaron gives a deeply considered look at Thor’s misgivings on himself and his role in the universe, leading to every part of Thor – from the person to the power itself – coming to understanding and acceptance.
33) Six-Gun Gorilla by Si Spurrier and Jeff Stokely
You know, if I had to guess, I’d put good money on Comic Book Herald standing alone on a best of the decade list that includes a sci-fi wild west mash-up starring an actual Gorilla. Sometimes you have to stick to your guns (heh) and include the delightfully fun comics that helped serve as a reminder what comic books can do when no one’s watching.
So yes, Si Spurrier has written comics that gave me more to think about (X-Men Legacy and The Dreaming come to mind), but few resonated with that childlike passion evoked by Six-Gun Gorilla. Comics should be weird. Comics should be fun. And for Grodd’s sake, comics should have more Gorillas!
32) Bedlam by Nick Spencer, Riley Rossmo, and Ryan Browne
John Galati: Hidden by Riley Rossmo and Ryan Browne’s phenomenal tri-color artwork is one hell of a monster. Bedlam opens on a character in a deranged mask, surrounded by children he’s apparently taken hostage. The scene is immediately familiar and we know by context clues that this is the book’s villain who will, at any moment, be defeated by a caped hero we’ve not yet seen. But that’s not how things go. The kids die, Hatter Red (the villain) dies, and the hero is left broken.
Only, that’s not quite true either, because we’re only half-way through the first issue.
The entire rest of the series revolves around a single idea: “is evil something you are or something you do?” Spencer, Rossmo, and Browne constantly build off that theme. Sometimes by putting Hatter Red through a gruesome version of a behavioral modification surgery, to showing his resulting struggles to understand emotions and morals, to his careless disregard for his own life and what meaning that life or his actions might now have. In Burgess’ A Clock Work Orange, young Alex teaches the audience that the price of free will is the possibility of crime. But that’s not the story Bedlam is telling. Unlike Alex, Hatter Red wants to good. It’s we the audience who are left to wonder if that has any value now.
31) DC Metal (Complete Event) by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
I’ve said on multiple occasions, without a hint of hyperbole on my breath, that Dark Nights Metal is the best DC comic book event of my lifetime, and really only short of Secret Wars for best Big 2 event of my comics collecting life. The reasons I hold those two in the same category are quite similar, as Metal is the years long culmination of a creative partnership Snyder and Capullo began on the New 52 Batman, made gloriously cosmic in the pages of a proper all-hands-on-deck event.
I love the referential nature of “Metal,” picking up on ideas Grant Morrison put forth in Multversity and “The Return of Bruce Wayne” (among dozens of others) and turning them into the likes of DC’s dark multiverse and the omnipresence of Barbatos. The influence of this comic is telling, too, as DC continues to push for The Batman Who Laughs and “Dark Multiverse” stories years after the final battle saw Batman riding a Joker-dragon.
Next: #30 to #21