The Best non-superhero comic books of all-time: 81-90

90. Buddha by Osamu Tezuka (Vertical INC., 1972)

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This extremely ambitious series of 8 graphic novels really is a must read for those that are interested in just how large the scope of comics can be. Buddha is essentially an origin story for one of the most famous and influential characters in human history. That Tezuka’s version is essentially bullshit just makes it all the more the interesting. I don’t know enough about the details of the Buddha’s life (of the Himalayan Buddhas) to pick apart the historical accuracy of Tezuka’s version, but considering half the characters have superpowers, and there are talking animals in pretty much every scene, tells us Tezuka wasn’t going for realism here. The best way to treat a story as big as this is as a massively gorgeous, fantasy epic, and it’s executed well here.

89. MonsterMen by Gary Gianni (Dark Horse, 1996)

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If we’re judging just on art, this might have been near the top of my list. MonsterMen isn’t as well known as some of the titles I’m covering on this project, due it mostly being a series of back-up stories for Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics. And from a characterization standpoint this isn’t quite as interesting as Hellboy, or other, more famous supernatural investigator books. But the art is so stunning that you’re halfway through before you realize that you’re not even bothering to follow the plot. If you ever want to get depressed about your own art skills, check out Gary Gianni.

88. Northwest Passage by Scott Chantler (Oni Press, 2005)

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Part historical novel, part adventure comic, and all Canadian gold. That’s Northwest Passage, a fictional epic set in 18th Century Hudson Bay. Scott Chantler’s pencils are a national treasure, highlighting both action and drama with equal fervour. Chantler seems to be getting more attention for his attention to detail & historical accuracy than he is for his artwork, but he really is one of the finest pencillers in comics today. You won’t find a more entertaining historical adventure comic than this one.

87. Heck by Zander Cannon (Top Shelf, 2013)

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If it wasn’t for the fact that this is so recent, I would probably have listed this much higher. This, my friends, is what I consider a perfect comic book. It has absolutely everything I need in an adventure strip: An engrossing character arc, a great high concept, and thought provoking art from Zander Cannon. Our hero is Don Heck, a former high school football hero that finds a portal to Hell in his recently deceased father’s house. And so begins the ultimate adventure: A trip to hell to talk to his unrequited loves dead husband. I can’t recommend this highly enough, and the fact that Cannon’s profile isn’t higher is a shame.

86. Orc Stain by James Stokoe (Image, 2010)

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I think in 10 years it will be very difficult to pick just one comic of Stokoe’s for a list like this. But at this point, it’s Orc Stain. If Lord Of The Rings was directed by Ron Jeremy, it might look a little something like this. Stokoe’s art is so incredibly dense, yet so effortlessly vibrant, that it’s easy to discount the fact that he’s telling a hell of a yarn here as well. The scariest thing about Stokoe? He just seems to be getting better and better. Pax Gronka, indeed.

85. Understanding Comics by Scott McLeod (Tundra, 1993)

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If I ever made a list featuring just comics ABOUT comics, this would probably be at the very top of the list. McLeod’s books about how to understand, read, and make comic books have become a defacto bible for those of us who want to know exactly WHY we love the comics we love. Whether or not you’re a passionate amateur, or a jaded professional, McCleod’s treatise on what makes comics tick is pretty much industry standard these days.

84. Button Man by John Wagner & Arthur Ranson (2000AD, 1992)

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One of the finest strips 2000AD ever produced, and that is saying a lot. John Wagner’s (probably best known for History Of Violence, and for co-creating Judge Dredd) action writing has been largely ingnored  on this side of the pond, but if you can only pick up one book by him, it really needs to be this one. Wagner weaves a classic cat & mouse assassination tale here, with an absolutely bad-ass lead character that is just begging to be played by Brad Pitt in the inevitable film version. Arthur Ranson’s stellar photorealism is put to good use here, with a realistic approach rarely seen in the subject matter he usually works on.

83. Strangers In Paradise by Terry Moore (Abstract Studios, 1993)

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It will be hard to find many books on this list that are quite as loved as SiP is by it’s devotees. While there is some validity to the criticism that SiP just went on a little too long, the fact that fans are still clamouring for more is a tribute to Moore’s strong character work. From a penciller’s perspective, it’s an absolute treat to see Moore’s lines start strong at the beginning of the series, and just continue to get better as the series goes on. There’s rumours of sequels coming as well…

82. Road To Perdition by Max Alan Collins & Richard Piers Rayner (Paradox Press, 1998)

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It’s a cliche by this point, but this is one of those instances where the book really is better than the movie. Max Alan Collins doesn’t really get as much credit as he should for his crime writing skills. He’s at the absolute top of his game here, with a story drenched in family melodrama, and true crime intrigue. With all respect to the Brubakers, and Cookes, and Azzarellos, and Bendis’ of the world, this might be the very best pure mob comic book ever written. While Richard Rayner seems to be just a footnote now, I doubt there’s a mainstream artist from that era whose works stands the test of time as well as his does.

81. I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly & J.M. Ken Nimura (Image, 2008)

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Spoiler Alert: There’s a little girl, who kills giants. Or at least she tries. We’ve seen countless variations on the female monster hunter trope in recent years, but I’m not sure many are as well-loved as Barbara Thorson. When we meet her, she’s bullied, friendless, and fearless. And she knows that the giants are coming. She knows it in every fibre of her being. Only problem? There is no such thing as giants. At least not yet. A fantastic exploration of loneliness draped in the trappings of traditional fantasy, I Kill Giants is one of those books you give to people who claim to hate comic books.

 

I was just about to press send on this, when I realized that almost all the comics in this edition are black & white. Huh.

More to come…

 

 

 

 

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Favourite Comics Of 2010: Best Ongoing Comic Series

The rules are for this category are a little vague as well, as the very concept of an “ongoing” series is changing all the time. Here’s the rules I used for this category: If it’s over 10 issues, and at least 2 of those issues took place in 2010, it’s an ongoing. Some of these are new series, and at least two of them ended this year. The way the industry is going I could see half of these being cancelled next year, so make sure you get and out and support the comics you love.

20) Birds Of Prey by Gail Simone and Ed Benes (DC Comics)

Gail Simone is back on the dance floor, with a relaunch of the comic that brough her to the party in the first place. Nobody writes kung-fu treachery like Simone, and this is a breath of fresh air in the increasingly stagnant swamp that is the DCU.

19) The Sixth Gun by Calen Bunn & Brian Hurtt (Oni Press)

The team that brought us the criminally underrated The Damned is back with a weird western ongoing that combines horror, action, and western bad-assery. Combining supernatural horror and western gunfighter drama is a tricky proposition, but Bunn & Hurtt do a bang up job of keeping the tension up.

18) Punisher Max by Jason Aaron & Steve Dillon (Marvel)

I can’t believe I bought a Punisher comic. On purpose. It’s been years since I’ve read anything about this utterly 2 dimensional character that interested me, but I’ve heard so much about this version that I thought I would give it a try. And I’m glad that I did. For those of you unfamiliar with Punisher Max, the concept is this: Man has wife and kids. Mob kills wife and kids. Man spends 30 years killing mob. Mob isn’t happy. That’s all you need to know. No superheroes, no mutants, no nothing other than pure, violent revenge. Enter the Kingpin. Aaron introduces the Kingpin mythos into the Max format so effortlessly and so realistically that you end up believing that this was the origin the character should have had all along. Jason Aaron is quickly becoming the next big name in comics, and for good reason.

17) Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge & Chris Samnee (Marvel)

Um, sorry?  Like a lot of people, I didn’t hear about this until it was cancelled. It’s a shame, as this is a perfect title for both kids and adults, the likes of which are becoming quite scarce. It’s a retelling of the origin of Thor, but done in such a bright, optimistic way that makes you miss the feeling you had reading superhero comics as a kid. Anybody that complains that “they don’t make comics the way they used to” hasn’t read this.

16) The Unwritten by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (Vertigo)

Although I can’t say that I’m as hardcore about this book as a lot of people, I do think it’s actually improving in quality, and I’m now at the point where I can give this book my highest compliment and say that I can’t wait to read what happens next. It’s the story of Tommy Taylor, the son of the author of a fantasy series so popular it dwarfs Harry Potter, Narnia, and Twilight combined. When the fiction of the novels start to seep into Tommy’s real life, he freaks out. A lot. Like I said, I’m enjoying this a lot, but maybe not as much as I hoped I would, considering how much I like Carey’s two previous Vertigo ongoings (Lucifer, Crossing Midnight). That being said, if you stopped reading comics after Sandman was cancelled, this might be your way back in the door.

15) Secret Six by Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore (DC Comics)

A book so good you won’t believe it’s published by DC. Gail Simone seems to excel (prefer?) operating on the outer fringes of the regular DCU, and this book is one of those rare superhero books that seem to get better with every issue. Every superhero writer should use this book as a textbook on how to build interesting characters.

14) Justice League:  Generation Lost by Judd Winick, Keith Giffen, and Aaron Lopresti (DC Comics)

I had resigned myself to never following a book with the word ‘Justice” in the title again, and then along came this superb team book, resurrecting some of DC’s most beloved, yet most maligned characters, the JLI. Although this book is very continuity heavy, and no non-DC fan would have any idea what is going on with this extremely plot heavy book, Winick also makes sure that character motivation is the books priority. This group always works best as a group of underdogs, and Winick pushes that aspect of their history heavily. Lots of fun and action.

13) Echo by Terry Moore (Abstract Studios)

I’m not entirely sure that this should have gone past issue 12, as this is starting to ramble a little. But Moore’s attention to character detail still make this science fiction drama worth following as it comes to an end next year.

12) The Sword by the Luna Brothers (Image)

Argh! This was probably the most disappointing end to a comic series I’ve read in years. Not because it was so bad (it really wasn’t), but because the rest of the series was so damn good. After one of the great reveals in recent comic book memory, this action packed series ended with an issue of monologuing so hackneyed that even Doctor Doom would have been embarrassed to spout it. The series as a whole still stands up though, and I can’t wait to see what the immensely talented Luna Brothers come up with next.

11) Chew by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)

Whew! This was a close one. This was one of 2009’s best comics discoveries, but started to rapidly decline in quality after its initial arc. Thankfully Layman has toned down the “HOLYCRAPDIDIDYOUSEEWHATHEJUSTATE!!???” hijinks and replaced them with some nice character building instead. There are still some pacing problems, but it’s definitely still worth your time and money. Still the best gastro-detective story on the market.

10) The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard (Image)

Still around? Yep. Still great? Yep. New TV series that happened to launch as the most successful cable show of the season? Yep. This was Robert Kirman’s year, and it’s a testament to his commitment to the girl who brought him to the dance in the first place that he’s worked so hard at keeping the greatest zombie comic of all time as good as it’s ever been.

9) Unknown Soldier by Joshua Dysart and various artists (Vertigo)

One of my favourites of 2009 ended this year. Unfortunately, I feel as if it dropped a little in quality, as the last 2 arcs just felt rushed. There were still enough great moments to put this on the top 10 this year though. There aren’t that many fiction comics that deal with current events in believable ways, and unfortunately two of them (this, along with Ex Machina) closed up shop this year. Think Manchurian Candidate meets Hotel Rwanda.

8) Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire (Vertigo)

This may be the most depressing post-apocalyptic road movie never made. This year brought new depth and back story to the great characters that Lemire introduced last year, while still creating a sense of cautious dread about what’s to come. The joy never evaporates completely though, and small sense of optimism is growing as Lemire’s mini-epic continues.

7) Powers by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming (Icon)

Although this book has departed quite a bit from its original “Normal cops in a superhero world” concept, Bendis and Oeming’s hearts are still in this book. Although the books gets increasingly more “superheroey” with every arc, it still very much a “character first” book. Bendis and Oeming remain one of the most dynamic teams in the business.

6) Rasl by Jeff Smith

The only reason this isn’t higher on my list is its infrequency, but that shouldn’t stop you from picking up this little sci-fi gem of a potboiler. Due to the strength of Bone, Smith has become of one of the grand old masters of the comic book form, and deservedly so. What’s most impressive about Rasl is that it’s so intentionally different from the work that Smith is most well-known for. Smith is taking some serious creative risks here, and it’s paying off. If you like your sci-fi tense, smart, and character driven, this is the book for you.

5) Orc Stain by James Stokoe (Image)

Vancouver native Stokoe is doing some innovative world building here, and this has become one of the most unique books on the stands VERY quickly. It’s the slow-burning story of One-Eye, an orc with one eye (Ha!) that’s just struggling to get by in an orc-eat-orc world. This is modern fantasy storytelling done right, with artwork that threatens to jump off the page and punch you in the junk. Poxa Gronka!

4) Ex Machina by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris (Wildstorm)

A case could be made that this should have ended 2 years before it did, but then we might not have gotten such an appropriate, bittersweet ending. This may be the best political comic book of all time, and I really hope that Vaughan and Harris do something together again soon. There are things about the ending that I liked, and things that I liked not as much, but all in all I can’t imagine a more perfect finale.

3) Scalped by Jason Aaron & R.M. Guéra (Vertigo)

With all due respect to Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka, Scalped remains the best crime comic on the market, and for good reason. This book is a masterclass in tension-building, and I can’t count the times that I’ve been hesitant to turn the page in fear of what these horribly flawed characters are going to do to themselves next. I know that Aaron is becoming quite popular for his superhero work, but I hope that he never loses his dedication to this crime fiction classic.

2) Scarlet by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev (Icon)

I hate you. Yes, you. You are the person who reads Avengers, and Ultimate Spider-Man, and pretty much everything else that Brian Michael Bendis touches and turns into superhero gold. Why do I hate you? Because you are the reason why he doesn’t have time to do more books like this. This was my favourite “new” ongoing of the year, and might have even taken the top spot if it had more issues under its belt. This title is that rare comic beast: It’s based on current events.  There aren’t enough comics that tackle social issues. I don’t mean in a “Don’t do drugs kids!” way, but in a meaningful dialogue that acknowledges that most difficult problems have difficult solutions. It confronts reality head on, with very little filter. If my sole measuring stick was how big my emotional response was to a comic, this would have been number one. Not to mention that this is as well crafted a comic as you’ll see this decade. Oh, and Alex Maleev is a frickin’ genius. There are the only 2 people on the planet that could have produced this comic book, and I’m glad that they did.

1) Northlanders by Brian Wood and various artists (Vertigo)

The best Viking anthology comic of all time is still that good. In fact, this series seems to be getting better with every arc, although I’m not sure how that’s possible. I think that Brian Wood’s trick is that there is no trick. Just plain old-fashioned storytelling. I’ve said elsewhere that Brian Wood is probably my favourite writer in the business right now, and one of the main reasons is his utter fearlessness in terms of challenging himself, by telling stories that may be out of his comfort range. As a result, his style keeps evolving, and his books just get better and better.

Honorable mention: New Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen (Marvel), Jonah Hex by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Grey, and various artists (DC Comics),  X-Factor by Peter David and various artists (Marvel), King City by Brandon Graham (Image)

Next up: Best original graphic novel!