Comics were reborn in the last decade. On the brink of extinction, comics clawed their way back to the surface, and we got ten years of comic book renaissance. Creativity flourished, and we saw the the best that comics could be, from mainstream to independent, the 2000's were full of quality. Here are my picks for the best of the decade, in no particular order.
The Authority (DC Comics/Wildstorm) – At the beginning of the decade, Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch, followed by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely, set the tone for what superhero comics would be in the decade to come, in tone, scope, and presentation. If you're wondering why The Ultimates isn't on the list, it's because The Authority did it first, and did it best. It was a wonderful group of characters, mad imagination, and was really a new type of superhero comic book.
Captain America (Marvel Comics) – Ed Brubaker, along with artist Steve Epting, revived Captain America, showing us what was so great about Steve Rogers, just before killing him. The Winter Soldier story, and ensuing Bucky storylines were as good as comics get, and did the impossible: I didn't miss Steve Rogers. It was a long term command performance, and it showed how good comics can be.
Astonishing X-Men (Marvel Comics) – I am not an X-Men fan, and not really much of a Joss Whedon fan, but this superb story made me both. Finally, we have a modern X-Men story that can be given to people who just want to read some good mutant adventure, but that still takes advantage of all the wonderful undercurrents of the X-Men. The dramatic pages by John Cassaday compliment and raise the game completely.
Box Office Poison (Top Shelf) - Stories about real people in their real lives are my favorite kinds of comics, and Box Office Poison is my favorite of those kinds of comics. Reading the whole thing in one day, I could not put it down back in 2001. The giant volume has yet to be matched in the real life, human drama, or comedy category. The book does so many things right, and is a perfect way to challenge people's expectations of what comics can be.
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (Pantheon) – This is the book that broke out and showed the world the potential of comics. It's a book that is so much more than it first appears to be. The art is both simple and complex, and there is so much emotion conveyed in the tiny round heads and delicately designed pages that I was very emotionally affected when I read it. This is a treasure, and a seminal volume from the 2000's.
We3 (DC Comics/Vertigo) – This story about three technologically enhanced animals consisted of three perfect issues, with pages of perfect art, and one perfect story. It didn't need to be a panel longer than it was, and without many words at all, I was devastated at the end of this one. The pages burst and crackle with speed and energy, and made me a massive Frank Quitely fan, and reinvigorated my faith in Grant Morrison.
Palestine (Fantagraphics) – More than any of the documentaries or news stories I've seen, Palestine shaped my view about what things are like in the Palestinean territories. Joe Sacco spent time with the people who live there, and explored the sticky, nearly untenable situation that persists today. Sacco's cartoons put a human face on the people involved, and it's a stunning work, comics or otherwise.
DC: The New Frontier (DC Comics) – As if he had a fine scalpel, Darwyn Cooke cut to the quick of what makes the DC Universe what it is with his camelot-era story of the forming of the Justice League of America. Before Geoff Johns came along to revamp Hal Jordan, Cooke did he best Green Lantern story I'd ever read. On top of that, he also happens to be as fine a cartoonist as there is in the world, and the book is simply beautiful.
Y The Last Man (DC Comics/Vertigo) – By the end of the first issue, the world knew it had something special on its hands. Brian K. Vaughan was a star from the get go, and Y was his masterpiece. Over sixty issues, we went on a roadtrip across the world, had some laughs, shed some tears, and did some heavy thinking about how things are and could be. It ended as strong as it began, and crossed the cultural lines, serving as a comic book for people who don't read comic books.
Identity Crisis (DC Comics) – No one saw this one coming. I'd been out of DC Comics for years, and with seven issues, Brad Meltzer reeled me in hard. It was a murder mystery spanning the DC universe and continuity that managed to teach me about the things it was referring to, and surprise everyone with the deep subject matter, and exploration of who these characters actually are. It's safe to say that DC was not the same after Identity Crisis.
Scott Pilgrim (Oni Press) – Bryan Lee O'Malley's story of a 23 year old slacker fired a shot across the bow of comics, signaling that the future had arrived, and he lived in a single room with his gay roommate. Scott Pilgrim is quirky, funny, compelling, and fascinating. It can't be explained exactly what it is that makes Scott Pilgrim what it is, but what's clear is that there is nothing else like it, and that people can't get enough of the bass player from Toronto.
52 (DC Comics) – This was the experiment that shouldn't have worked. 52 weekly issues in a row, written in collaboration by Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, and Grant Morrison just seemed like too much. But by the end, we could not get enough of the giant, winding story, and mad alchemy of imagination. They beat the odds and produced something that was more than the sum of its parts, and that was one hell of a sum.
Young Avengers (Marvel Comics) – I ignored this story as a gimmick by a TV writer that I wouldn't like. That was a bad move. Young Avengers is a love letter to Avengers comic book fans. Enjoyable for fans with no idea of the history, and giggle inducing for long time fans, Young Avengers delivered on every page, as well as introduced me to the beauty of Jim Cheung's artwork. From the moment Kang showed up, I knew this was something special.
Green Lantern (DC Comics) – It's hard to remember just how dead Hal Jordan was just a few short years ago. It was difficult to think of a seminal story for the character, so Geoff Johns decided to make one. Incorporating the Green Lantern Corps, and keep Hal to his space cop roots, Johns crafted an epic three part opera we're not even done with yet, and made Green Lantern more popular than anyone ever imagined.
Walking Dead (Image Comics) – Walking Dead is the comic book about zombies for people who don't like zombies. People who do like zombies like it too though. Rick and his motley, bedragged gang wander the dying roads of America searching for safety, and Robert Kirkman won't let them have it, not even for a moment. The book is still going strong, surprising readers with every issue or collection, depending on how you choose to read it. It is also the most successful black and white comic book this industry has seen in a very long time.
Wildcats vols. 2 and 3 (DC Comics/Wildstorm) – When you look at what The Authority did for bombastic comics, Joe Casey took the Wildcats in the opposite direction. The book was subtle, low-key, and thoughtful, but no less brilliant. Picking up the pieces from a weak relaunch, Casey reinvented Wildcats not once, but twice, exploring the convergence of superheroes, technologies, and corporations, as well as introducing me to artists Sean Phillips and Dustin Nguyen.
Gotham Central (DC Comics) – What do you get when you combine a superhero comic book with no superheroes, Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, and Michael Lark? You get the sublime Gotham Central, and honestly, you really need nothing else. Batman barely showed up in this one. Hell, Jim Gordon barely made an appearance, but the Major Crimes Unit of the Gotham Central Police Department was all we needed. It was almost good enough to make you just stop reading comics when you were done with it.
Ultimate Spider-Man (Marvel Comics) – Brian Michael Bendis, more than anyone save Joe Quesada, was the pilot of Marvel Comics over the past decade. He did a great many comic boks, and it was difficult to pick just one to highlight. But if I had to pick on that was the most impressive, and the most consistent, and most defined what Bendis does right in this Marvel work, it's Ultimate Spider-Man. For over a hundred issues and still going strong, Brian Michael Bendis just did great Spider-Man story after great Spider-Man story. It's a legendary run, and people will talk about it for years to come.