Top 10 Comic Books of 2008
1. I Kill Giants
While we’re in the business of ranking things, to say that Joe Kelly is on fire right now would easily be the understatement of the young year. If 2009 were to end tomorrow, the author would have no less than three titles ranked near the top of any potential year-end list. Yet of all his outstanding work released over the last few months — with the possible exception of Four Eyes – none of this year’s gems can even hold a candle to what the author did with I Kill Giants.
A bizarre mixture of anime overtones with a scheme thematically similar to Calvin and Hobbes, I Kill Giants is the rare book that strokes the imagination while playfully wreaking havoc on a reader’s adult sensibilities. Not only was this title the best series of 2008, it easily ranks among the best independent comics of the decade.
A hardcore crime book for hardcore crime fans, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Criminal is much more of a character study than it is an action yarn. Shifting the second volume’s focus to a multi-part drama, Brubaker tells easily his best Criminal tale to date, working with a protagonist every bit as lovable as he is weak. While “Bad Night” is certainly steeped with the seedy aroma of the underworld, it’s also surprisingly relatable to any man with a beating heart and an over-anxious libido.
Working for another publication, a certain wonderchroma editor was quoted on the back cover of Issue #6 with a blurb that remains true six months later. “Brubaker and Phillips have mastered the hard-boiled crime genre in ways the comic book medium has never seen.”
3. Pax Romana
While it’s hard to blame Jonathan Hickman for ascending the comic book ladder to the top rung of iconic characters and Top 10 franchises, it remains slightly disappointing that books like Pax Romana might fall victim as the inevitable trade-off.
Telling the story of a group of time-traveling cardinals hell-bent on preserving monotheism, Hickman’s counter-culture assault works so perfectly well under the umbrage of his science fiction bubble.
You’d be hard pressed to find a better battle of doctrinal ideologies anywhere in any medium. Pax Romana is a one-of-a-kind experience that will leave you scratching your head even as you marvel at its beauty.
Critics like to tab Scalped as “the Sopranos taking place on an Indian reservation.”
Yet to pigeonhole the series as a crime drama is a bit shortsighted.
A complex web of muddied alliances and covert police work, what really makes Jason Aaron’s Vertigo title tick is his set of utterly desolate characters — a cast as fully realized as any in comics.
As Dashiell Bad Horse comes to grips with his past, his future becomes paved with blood — making for a smart, sophisticated thriller, nearly unrivaled in its interplay between inspired plot lines and its take-no-prisoners attitude.
5. All-Star Superman
One part pastiche, one part archetypal exposition, All-Star Superman would have topped this list if it had been released predominately during the 2008 calendar year. As it is, the four issues that were released in 2008 were far too good to fall victim to any formalities.
Highlighted by Issue #10 — which easily ranks alongside the best single issues of any title released over the last decade — the last year of Grant Morrison’s epic was easily its best.
More than just a breakdown of the titular character himself, All-Star Superman served as a stunning examination of how quickly the reverence we hold toward our heroes can transform into deification.
Working as a satire on modern times, DMZ is about as pertinent as any comic book on the shelves. Yet, while Brian Wood’s voice is certainly perceptible in the pages of his political thriller, the way he approaches debate is nearly unprecedented in its unbiased presentation.
Telling a story about a journalist embedded in a war-torn New York, the book itself reflects the basic framework behind fair and accurate reporting.
As Wood explores issues ranging from the sacrifice of ideals to the role family plays in the shaping of one’s basic beliefs, he never fails to present a given struggle from all possible angles. What results is a hauntingly insightful book with the inherent power to make you question what you believe.
7. Locke and Key
Writing under a not-so-secret pseudonym, there is no doubt that the son of Stephen King has written one of the best horror comics in recent memory.
Though to label Joe Hill’s Locke and Key as a simple tale of the macabre isn’t exactly fair.
While the supernatural thriller aspects certainly serve as the book’s hook, the dramatic past of the Locke family is so unbelievably haunting, it’s hard not to be thoroughly and emotionally connected to them by the time the book’s villain makes his move. This focus on character and the family dynamic easily made Locke and Key one of the most engrossing titles released in 2008.
Perhaps the biggest surprise on this list, Brahm Revel’s Vietnam War satire is deceptively deep considering its ostensibly campy outer appearance.
Touted as a story following a group of scientifically altered primates as they wreak havoc on the behalf of the U.S. government, the initial issues of the series focused more on the mind numbing effects of the suburbanization of American and the indelible differences between two generations of patriots.
Coupled with Revel’s outstanding pencils, the story hits a somber but reflective note, never failing to take advantage of the comic medium’s unique storytelling opportunities.
Jeff Smith’s first true follow up to Bone, RASL may have suffered from a few scheduling woes, but the series certainly lived up to its nearly incalculable hype that awaited its release.
While at first, Smith’s inter-dimensional drama worked as a bewildering enigma of sorts, the cartoonist’s endearing quirks eventually consumed the book, making it one of the most satisfying reads of the year.
Smith’s character work is nothing short of spectacular, his pencils creating a wholly unique blend of classic illustration and avant-garde science fiction, like some twisted cross between Dr. Seuss and Alice in Wonderland.
10. Atomic Robo: Dogs of War
While Brian Clevinger’s outstanding first volume of Atomic Robo shined in large part do to its self-contained roots, Dogs of War proved landmark in that it established the franchise’s ability to thrive as a multi-chapter epic as well.
While Atomic Robo certainly doesn’t contain the heavy emotional punch of many of the other titles on this list, it more than makes up for any breeziness with its pitch-perfect blend of humor and pseudo-campy action.
In a modern world of predominately gloomy comics, Robo serves as perhaps the best diversion on the shelves, being the perfect change of pace to laugh away a Wednesday afternoon.
By Daniel Crown