The Best of 2009: Marvel

2009 is almost over and we, like all nerds, are taking some time to reflect on the best comics of the year. Because there are four of us writing the blog this year, we figured it would be best to divide the list into four categories: Marvel, DC, Collections and Original Graphic Novels, and The Best of the Rest. We'll post one of these lists each day for the next four days.

Now, even though there are four of us, it doesn't mean that we've read everything. I know I trade wait a lot of really good comics like Incredible Hercules and Agents of Atlas that won't make the list just because I haven't gotten around to reading them yet.

As an aside, I personally think that Marvel triumphed over DC overall this year. This is mostly for three reasons: a plethora of hot young talent; a willingness to experiment with its characters and allow "outsider" creators play in the Marvel Universe, and minimal crossovers (more importantly, minimal titles being pulled into crossovers).

So here are our picks for the Best of Marvel, 2009. Dave and I are pretty much the only ones who read an array of Marvel titles on a regular basis, but Johnathan has a few contributions to this list.  - Rachelle 

Wolverine: Weapon X  by Jason Aaron, Ron Garney and Yanick Paquette
In my opinion, Jason Aaron is the comic writer of the year. He had three ongoing series in 2009, Ghost Rider, Scalped and Wolverine: Weapon X, as well as a number of one-shots and guest spots. He also started a brand new ongoing series in November, Punishermax. And here's the thing: they all rule. I really like Jason Aaron's writing because it's full of crazy, insane violence, but without any of the cynicism of, say, a Garth Ennis book. I can't verify that this is true, but when I read Aaron's superhero comics, I feel like he has exactly the right attitude about comic books: they are awesome, but shouldn't be taken too seriously. Every title he writes, (with the exception of Scalped, which is just a masterpiece), takes comics back to being sensationalist pulp entertainment full of insane fun. Wolverine is a character that Jason Aaron writes really well. The first storyline in Wolverine: Weapon X has Logan fighting evil super soldiers in the jungles of Colombia. And when I saw evil, I mean they have laser claws and guns that shoot bullets full of cancer. The second story has put Logan, suffering from amnesia, in an truly horrific insane asylum that he can only get out of if he remembers that he can pretty much kill he shit out of anyone if he wants to. This series is everything a Wolverine comic should be. -RG

Ghost Rider by Jason Aaron, Tony Moore, and Mark Robinson and Ghost Riders: Heavens on Fire by Jason Aaron and Roland Boschi
Jason Aaron's awesome run on Ghost Rider will sadly come to an end soon. It's a damn tragedy because I would have happily read this series forever. At the same time, though, I am excited to see what Aaron does next. I want to see his take on every character. Wouldn't you love to read a Jason Aaron Daredevil comic? Or see what he does with Superman? Or Supergirl? I know I would. In the meantime we'll have Wolverine: Weapon X and Punishermax to keep things awesome. Although they probably won't have U.S. 1 character cameos, and that's too bad. Adding Tony Moore as the artist for a short run on this series was a stroke of genius, by the way. -RG

Daredevil by Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark, and others
Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark wrapped up their flawless run on Daredevil this year. They took over the comic in 2006, faced with the challenge of picking it up after Brian Michael Bendis' insane cliffhanger finish that saw Daredevil's identity disclosed and our hero thrown in jail. Brubaker took a difficult task and turned it into a masterpiece. This year's stories were really excellent, beginning with Lady Bullseye and moving into the Return of the King storyline, and ending with Daredevil becoming the leader of The Hand. And you know what? Andy Diggle has been doing a great job since he took over, so it looks like Daredevil will continue to be one of my favourite comics as we enter 2010. Also exciting: The first volume of the Brubaker/Lark Daredevil Omnibus collection was released this year, meaning that the comic is beautifully presented on giant, heavy-duty pages. As it should be. -RG

Nomad by Sean McKeever and David Baldeon
It is just so exciting to see Sean McKeever writing for Marvel again. I don't want to call his time at DC a colossal failure, but,'s just nice to see him writing for Marvel again. And back writing fun stories about teenagers! Nomad is a completely charming mini-series that takes a fairly confusing character and put her at the centre of a very accessible and enjoyable story of teen anxiety. It's common for teenagers to have trouble fitting in, but Rikki Barnes has just arrived in town from an alternate universe, so her situation is a little more extreme. Worse still: her brother in this universe isn't her brother...and he has a big crush on her. Despite all this, she is still totally kicking ass with confidence using the skills she learned as Captain America's sidekick back in her old universe. Nomad is not a character that anyone should really care about, or want brought back, but Marvel was smart enough to hire McKeever for the job and that makes all the difference. Also: Nomad has one of the coolest costumes in comics right now.  -RG

Criminal: Deluxe Edition by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
There's really nothing I can say about this comic that hasn't been said already by a million people. It's a fantastic, perfect series of crime stories with compelling characters (my favourite is Leo) and great art. It celebrates the pulp crime genre by perfectly marrying it with a medium that can really do it justice: uncensored comic books. Now the first few arcs are collected in a big beautiful hardcover book and you should buy it. -RG  

Strange Tales, By Many, Many People
Strange Tales
was such a good idea - I'm surprised that it took this long to happen. Paul Pope, Tony Millionaire, Stan Sakai, Jhonen Vasquez... these are people who are going to make your comic anthology sing. Heck, Vasquez' "MODOK and Me" inspired my Halloween costume, the scamp. I was originally kind of grumpy about this title, and was going to award the coveted "Best of Year" title on issue number one only, but I just reread them all and I recant my cranky position. Basically everything in this series is really solid - the Dash Shaw Dr Strange yarn and Jacob Chabot's tale of Ben Grimm and his Chia mustache both just made me guffaw all over again, for example - but the distribution of stories among the issues was really uneven, with the bulk of the mind-blowingly pretty/funny stuff crammed into the first installment. Plus Peter Bagge's "Incorrigible Hulk" suffers for being chopped up into segments. But for all my complaining, this is some of the most entertaining stuff that I've read all year, with some of the best looking/most unorthodox super-hero art since, well, Bizarro Comics. If you haven't taken it in yet, just make sure to read all three issues at once and you won't have to suffer unwarranted nerd rage, like me. - JM

Invincible Iron Man by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca
The Iron Man movie kicked off the 2008 summer season, becoming one of the year's highest grossing pictures, rebooting Robert Downey Jr.'s career, and introducing the Armored Avenger to a giant new audience hungry to read more of his exploits. Unfortunately, 2007's Civil War crossover had turned the character into Marvel's biggest douchebag, a tin-plated dictator who made everyone give up their secret identities and was indirectly responsible for the death of his best friend, Captain America. Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca were given the unenviable task of relaunching Ol' Shellhead's series a few months later, and thankfully, they rose to the occasion with fast-paced action, snarky-cool technojargon, and snappy humour. The new ongoing series' opening arc returned the focus to Stark Industries and Tony's ongoing moral dilemma over how his technology was being used. Fraction and Larroca followed up with a stellar one-off issue guest-starring Spider-Man, and continued with the year-long World's Most Wanted arc, dealing with Tony Stark's fall from grace and following the fugitive hero's quest to destroy his own technology to keep it out of Norman Osborn's hands. In the wake of World's Most Wanted, the current Stark: Disassembled storyline is concerned with rebuilding the character and his relationship with the other Avengers, just in time for the upcoming Siege event (and, of course, Iron Man 2, in theatres next summer). -DH

Punisher, the current Franken-Castle arc by Rick Remender and Tony Moore
It seems that lately, whenever someone buys an issue of the current Rick Remender/Tony Moore Punisher from me, they inevitably groan and ask when the Franken-Castle storyline is going to be over, as if they're worried that Marvel is going to actually keep the character running around as a Frankenstein forever. Hey, if they did, I wouldn't complain--one of the best things about Remender's Marvel Universe-centric Punisher relaunch is how much it embraces the roots of its comic book silliness, making use of crazy superhero tech like Pym Particles, old storylines like the Scourge's massacre at The Bar With No Name, and now, teaming a reanimated, reconstructed Frank Castle (who was murdered by Wolverine's evil son Daken in a Dark Reign tie-in) with the Legion of Monsters (namely, Morbius, Werewolf By Night, and Man-Thing, to name a few). Throw in Remender's old Fear Agent collaborator and co-creator Tony Moore on the art, and you've got one of the most ridiculously fun and unpredictably crazy books on the stands. And hey, if you prefer your Punisher stories to be gritty and realistic, may I suggest Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon's new Punishermax series? It's got less Frankensteins and more popped-out eyeballs, but it's also a great read. -DH 

New Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen
The flagship Avengers title is sort of like a lost friend to me; it's done a lot of stupid shit in the last few years, but I really miss hanging out with it. Under Brian Michael Bendis, this series--which mostly follows fugitive Avengers like Spider-Man, Captain America, Luke Cage, Ms. Marvel, etc., as they try and stay one step ahead of Norman Osborn and his Dark Avengers--is still, on many occasions, profoundly stupid. For instance, why would a power-dampening device have any effect on powerless heroes like Ronin and Cap? Why does the same device give Luke Cage a heart attack, instead of robbing him of his invulnerable skin? Why does the solicitation info usually not match the final published issue? Why is Wolverine almost always on the cover, even though he's pretty much never in the book anymore? Never mind--I think I know the answer to that one. Despite all that, I've given in and started buying this book, and it's not for the writing; it's for the spectacular art of Stuart Immonen, who has always been a formidable talent but has stepped up his game big time over the last few years (since around Nextwave, I believe, where he pared his usually realistic style down to an angular, more streamlined look). I don't quite understand why this guy isn't a crazy superstar--his work here is thrillingly cool, amping up the ho-hum neverending chase-and-fight antics into something much more. And, unlike many of his contemporaries, he can actually meet a deadline! 2010 promises the return of Iron Man and Thor to these pages, and with Immonen on art chores, the timing couldn't be better. -DH

Honourable Mentions

Fin Fang Four Return: I will never get tired of the Fin Fang Four. "How Fin Fang Foom Saved Christmas" alone is enough to get this comic a mention here, as it is in the running for greatest Christmas comic of all time. - JM

Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers: Deserves a mention for being super-fun and having such a potentially-dopey-but-obviously-awesome-when-you-think-about-it concept and for featuring Speedball's cat (Hairball!), but even if it was terrible it would be here for introducing Frog Thor II/Throg to the world. - JM

M.O.D.O.K.: Reign Delay: Like Fin Fang Four Return, this was a really enjoyable one-shot by a very fun creator. Ryan Dunlavey, of Action Philosophers fame, delivers a very funny comic about a down-on-his-luck M.O.D.O.K. who has to move back in with his parents in New Jersey. - RG

Mighty Avengers: I really like the line-up, and I really like Dan Slott's writing. I don't normally read Avengers comics, but when the line-up includes members of the Young Avengers and Hercules and Cho, I can't resist. - RG

Amazing Spider-Man: Marvel's flagship title is still one if its best. The vast majority of 2009's issues (and there were a lot of them) were excellent. I especially love any issues written by Mark Waid. The comic went through a couple of rough patches this year, but the overall quality has been outstanding, and it's been coming out on time three times a month! Well done, team Spidey! - RG

The Marvel 70th Anniversary Specials: Marvel celebrated its 70th anniversary by releasing a whole lot of one-shots that re-visited their earliest titles and characters. Quite a few of these comics were excellent, especially the Sub-Mariner Comics special and the All Select Comics special that included a Marvex back-up by Michael Kupperman. - RG

Captain America and Captain America: Reborn: Steve Rogers is making a comeback. The return of a superhero never gets as much press or attention as a death, but so far Steve's return has made for some pretty excellent reading. So excellent that I don't even mind that my beloved Bucky will soon be redundant. - RG

Uncanny X-Men: Frankly, if Greg Land never drew any of the issues (he draws about half), then this would be one of the best superhero titles on the stands. But he does, and thus it's down here in Honourable Mention country. It's too bad. I highly recommend the Dodson issues, though. And really the whole series if you can stomach Land's art (I usually just read the speech bubbles without looking at the art) - RG