The Best of 2009: DC

Part two of our Best of 2009 review! This time we look at the best of what the Grand Old Lady of comic books, DC Comics, had to offer this year. Er, sorry. Make that DC Entertainment. We were some stuff. Here's what we liked:

Jonah Hex by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Various Artists

Maybe when the movie comes out next year Jonah Hex will finally get the respect he deserves. He is one of the coolest characters ever created, and the current Jonah Hex series has been one of DC's best comics since it began. Unfortunately, the sales on this title have been lacking, but fortunately it has persevered. If it had been canceled, we would never have gotten the superb issue #50 that came out this month, with art by Darwyn Cooke. That issue was hands down one of the best single comics of the year (and one of the most heartbreaking). Jonah Hex also got experimental this year, trying out a six-part storyline when the comic had previously been almost entirely one-shots. The storyline was great, but I doubt it helped boost sales much. Here's hoping the movie does the trick, because these trades should be flying off the shelves. Check out my interview with Jimmy Palmiotti here. - RG

Secret Six by Gail Simone and Nicola Scott

I am so happy Secret Six is an ongoing series. It's equal parts hilarious, insane, gross, sexy and just plain fun. It also packs more character emotion into each issue than pretty much any other superhero comic without being melodramatic. It's a team of violent, self-serving misfits who, despite their best efforts, are adorably loyal to each other. Gail Simone is up there with Jason Aaron when it comes to creating situations that make you say "holy shit!" out loud while you're reading. And I like that in a woman. I also like Nicola Scott's beautiful art. She can draw a sexy Deadshot. - RG

Batman: Streets of Gotham by Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen; Marc Andreyko and Jeremy Huan

I had no intention of reading this series. For one thing, it is a Batman story, minus Batman, that includes Hush. For another, I was pretty underwhelmed by Paul Dini's run on Detective Comics. My plan was to just ignore all Batman titles not written by Grant Morrison until Bruce Wayne is back and someone good is writing him again. A few weeks ago I read the first issue of Streets of Gotham,  mostly for the Manhunter back-up. A couple of days later I went to the shop and bought the rest of the issues, and added the series to my pull list. I have been pretty mopey about there not being any Batman stories lately, but this is a really good Batman story! Unlike a lot of comics I have been reading this year, there is really nothing boring about it, and I always look forward to the next issue to see what's going to happen. Nguyen's art has been great, and the Manhunter back-up story by Marc Andreyko and Jeremy Haun, is also really good. It's making the wait for Bruce Wayne's return a little easier. - RG

Power Girl by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Amanda Conner

There is no reason why any self-respecting feminist should care about Power Girl. Her costume is designed purely for drooling fanboys: a white, high-cut bathing suit with a giant hole that exposes her comically enormous breasts. Everything about her has always screamed "Stay away, females! This character is not for you!" That is until Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray launched Power Girl's first ongoing solo series earlier this year. Paired with Amanda Conner's beautiful and adorable art, this series has been fantastic since issue #1. They gave her a distinct personality, a job, an apartment, a stylish-yet-casual wardrobe, a cat, a gal-pal, and they have made her a hero that self-respecting women can not only root for, but relate to. And that feat should make this an award-winning series on its own. I have read every issue of this comic with giddy delight, and I love that many issues will feature pages of content that consist of Power Girl calling up her pal Terra to go to a movie or grab something to eat. Delightful! Also you should check out the Terra miniseries by the same creative team if you haven't already. - RG

Batman Confidential: King Tut's Tomb by Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Kevin Nowlan

In the year without Batman, Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir blindsided us with one of the single best Batman stories that I have read in a long time. And it was well hidden in a title that has been mostly lackluster since it's beginning, Batman Confidential. Their three-part story gives us the Batman comic debut of King Tut, a silver age-inspired villain who is obsessed with ancient Egypt. It's a fun story that has Batman doing actual detective work, and teaming up with the Riddler to do it. It also features fantastic art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Kevin Nowlan. Not too shabby! The story is being collected into a trade, which is great news. Check out my interview with DeFilippis and Weir here. - RG

Scalped by Jason Aaron, RM Guera and others (Vertigo)

This is easily one of the best comics on the stands. I love everything Aaron is doing over at Marvel, but this thing is a masterpiece. You could say that this would make a great HBO series, but the truth is that it is already being presented in the perfect medium. It's bleak as hell, but you can't put it down, especially if you buy it in trade format, which I recommend. It's been going strong for three years, and here's hoping for at least another ten. - RG

The Nobody by Jeff Lemire (Vertigo)

This has been a huge year for Canadian indie comic heartthrob Jeff Lemire. His Essex County trilogy (Top Shelf), one of my favourite things I have ever read, was collected into one giant, attractive volume in both hardcover and paperback, he launched his first ongoing series, Sweet Tooth with Vertigo (more on that from Tiina in a minute), AND he released The Nobody, an original graphic novel with Vertigo. The Nobody is a re-imagining of the classic H.G. Wells story, The Invisible Man, set it in a tiny Michigan fishing village. The reactions of the locals to the bizarre new resident, who has taken a permanent room at the local motel, range from fear, suspicion and hatred to curiosity and, in the case of one bored high school girl, fascination. Told with Lemire's instantly-recognizable artwork, The Nobody is a quiet-yet-powerful tale with richly developed characters and dialogue that you can hear every word of. Check out my interview with Jeff Lemire here! - RG

Superman: Secret Origin by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank

I keep hearing this: "Do we really need another Superman origin story?" The answer is yes, we do. "Really?" Yes. Shut up. And get me sandwich. While some people are so jaded they can't enjoy a retelling of where our boy, Superman, came from, I've been losing it over this mini-series. I guess we need another Superman origin story when IT'S PERFECT. Johns (who I assume is my distant relative), makes each issue rich with story, so it feels more like a trade than a single issue. I think that Superman has so much potential for emotionally moving stories and Johns just absolutely goes there. Frank is unbelievably good. I'm a big Christopher Reeve fan (who else thinks Christopher Reeve deserves a posthumous Oscar? Let's start a Facebook group!), so I love Frank's Reeve-y Supie, and seeing a young version of him made me squeal with delight. I love how Frank draws the facial expressions, especially on young Lex and Clark. I love the look of Legion's costumes. Really, I love the look of this comic so much that I want to cut it up and glue it to the ceiling of my bedroom so it's the first thing I see in the morning.
While the story obviously feels familiar—from a young Clark Kent on a farm in Smallville, to Supes catching Lois falling from a building in Metropolis—it's one that I don't ever tire of. I would be so happy to gather together every December 25th and read about this comic about origins of the best guy ever, SUPERMAN. -TJ

Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade by Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones

I had been getting frustrated with how difficult it was to find an all-ages superhero comic with a girl main character. It was actually embarrassingly difficult. There are tons of non-superhero-y stuff that girls totally devour, so why aren't Marvel and DC all over this totally viable market? But then Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade busted in and saved my day. This is absolutely the funnest book of the year, and totally appealing to young girls, without being about, y'know, ponies. Walker and Jones succeed in this comic where so many other creators falter—the story includes bits of DC continuity with old favourite characters and past story-lines—while still remaining fresh and accessible to new readers. This Supergirl has a new (and arguably less confusing) origin. She lived on a Kryptonian moon colony that survived the destruction of Krypton. After a fight with her parents she hid on rocket bound for earth, but once she arrived, she realized she was stuck there until Superman could figure out how to get her home. The story finds Supergirl stuck in 8th grade, and draws on the important thing that makes us able to relate to a more-than-human character—she's an alien, and an outsider, just trying fit in.

It's an all-ages comic that kids will love, and crusty old nerds will secretly adore.-TJ

Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire (Vertigo)

My favourite new series of the year, hands down. Set in rural, post-apocalyptic Canada (or Nebraska or wherever), Sweet Tooth follows little Gus, an antler-headed boy born into a world where a plague has wiped out just about everyone. All the kids are supposedly humans with animal parts like Gus (although we've only seen Gus so far), and many of the adults are awful douches who hunt these kids. When his father dies, Gus leaves his log cabin home in the woods, and sets out to find the Preserve—a safe haven for animal-kids that may or may not exist—with the help of a huge, scary and violent dude named Jeppard. Much of the story is a mystery, as we see the world through lil' Gus's eyes, and his information is mostly rumors or stories from his religiously devout father. The story and art are fiercely original and totally engaging. In Gus, Lemire has created a character that I immediately care about. I'm getting stomachaches each issue from worrying about that little guy. What the heck is going to happen to him?

As Rachelle mentioned, Jeff Lemire is just totally killing it this year. Also, a Google image search has lead me to believe that he's totally cute too. Dude is a catch, and Sweet Tooth rules. -TJ

Mysterius the Unfathomable by Jeff Parker and Tom Fowler (WildStorm)

As much as I enjoy a story about an upstanding proponent of Truth, Justice and the [insert your nation of origin] Way of Life triumphing over evil or maybe a persecuted loner who fights on the side of the angels no matter what the world throws at him, there's just something about reading a tale featuring a total bastard doing what's right. It's just so... satisfying, not least because a bastard's brand of wrong-righting hews a lot closer to what you or I might get up to in the same situation - I certainly wouldn't be able to resist enriching myself or really sticking it to my foes, given the super-powered opportunity. Enter Mysterius, an ageless and mercenary sorcerer who makes his living doing stage shows and seances, both to pay the bills and as a form of hiding in plain sight. He's just basically duped the latest in a long line of assistants into joining up with him, he never pays a cheque and he'll do just about anything to get his own way. He relentlessly screws over person after person in this series, and yet he also ends up saving the day when it really counts. Plus: highly entertaining plot elements featuring sinister magical renditions of Burning Man, Dr Seuss, the Amazing Randi and David Blaine. Plus plus: it all looks fantastic, in an unconventionally wonderful, all the dudes have bellies, all the dames have big butts way. Plus plus plus: it was, I am sure, crafted out of pure delight, or at least reads that way. -JM (Check out our interview with Jeff Parker about Mysterius here).

Blackest Night by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis

The latest DC crossover event is getting a lot of flak for jumping on the zombie bandwagon (DC Zombies is the most oft-repeated zinger, implying that DC is ripping off Marvel's recurring hit), but Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis are up to something a lot more interesting than that here. The revolving-door aspect of death and rebirth that has become increasingly commonplace since Barry Allen's ultimate sacrifice almost 25 years ago is, it turns out, part of a larger plot perpetrated by obscure Green Lantern nemesis Nekron. Spinning out of events in Johns and Reis' Green Lantern, Blackest Night is notable because it's the first DC crossover to feature the Hal Jordan GL and the Barry Allen Flash as its chief protagonists, rather than usual suspects Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Most of the tie-in miniseries and issues are largely unnecessary--it's pretty clear that Blackest Night was originally supposed to be simply a story running through the Green Lantern books, and there's honestly not that much story to go around beyond that. However, if you stick with Blackest Night, Green Lantern, and Green Lantern Corps, you'll be treated to a darkly suspenseful superhero epic that builds nicely on many of its predecessors. And Ivan Reis shows that he has picked up the artistic reins of earth-shaking action that people came to expect from Authority-era Bryan Hitch. -DH

Wednesday Comics by a Whole Pile of Creators

More exciting for its retro, Sunday Funnies-format and killer lineup of creators, this was one of my most anticipated reads of 2009...and yet it was, in some ways, one of my most disappointing. Ultimately, the bad and the mediocre strips tended to outnumber the good, and the whole affair was more tiresome than exciting. I still feel duty-bound to include it because I think DC should be applauded for attempting such a bold (and likely very expensive) experiment. Some strips that seemed like sure things, like Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred's Metamorpho and Kyle Baker's Hawkman, fell flat, while left-field offerings like Paul Pope's Strange Adventures and Karl Kerschl's Flash, took advantage of the weekly strip format and managed to stay fresh and cool throughout.  -DH

Planetary #27 (WildStorm): This makes my year-end list more for the cumulative effect of the entire series, which I revisited in the weeks before the much-anticipated, much-delayed finale of Warren Ellis and John Cassaday's magnum opus arrived. I can only imagine that the oversized conclusion, which technically acts as more of an epilogue to the famously infrequent series (issue #26 shipped three years earlier!), wouldn't make much of an impact on its own. However, taken in its proper context, it provides a fitting and emotionally resonant capstone to a towering, ambitious work that folds pretty much all fantastic fiction--pulp magazines, superhero comics, Hong Kong action films, Japanese giant monster epics, and much, much more--into a fascinating shared universe. -DH

The Unwritten by Mike Carey and Peter Gross (Vertigo)

This book is a wonderful example of the power of a) previews and b) the "first issues are only a dollar" policy that Vertigo books had for a while, both of which tactics ensured that a hell of a lot more people picked this up than might have otherwise. Which is great, because this is a wonderful series and I sincerely hope that it gets to be one of those epic comic book endeavors that gets to follow its intended path and end just where its creators want it to. The Unwritten is concerned with the life of Tom Taylor, the son of a man who wrote the insanely popular adventures of Tommy Taylor, student wizard, before mysteriously vanishing. Tom lives off of his father's reflected fame, appearing at conventions and the like, and generally does very little with his life. And then, as tends to happen, things get weird. Elements of fiction start to bleed into the real world, the question of whether Tom is merely the basis for Tommy or the real McCoy arises, secret societies creep from the shadows and horrible murders are committed. Fiction and inspiration are starting to emerge as of major importance to the state of the world of The Unwritten, and it all makes for the kind of fantastic comic that hopefully every nerd worth his/her salt will have the collected volumes of on their bookshelf in ten or fifteen years. Issue five is devoted to the literary adventures of Rudyard Kipling! And of course it looks fantastic, from the cover onward. Goes without saying, really. - JM

North 40 by Aaron Wilson and Fiona Staples (WildStorm)

An epic battle between good and evil, as personified in the forms of a comic-style nerd and a goth chick! Once again, someone has been reading my dreams. The first (hopefully of many) story arc of this book just ended, and I couldn't be happier. Here's the skinny: said Comic Nerd and Goth Chick managed to get their hands on a Lovecraftian tome of arcane power (through the ever-frightful Interlibrary Loan system - when will it cease destabilizing human civilization?) and were transformed into something akin to demigods. Goth Chick, being evil, or at least callously indifferent to the rights of others to exist, set out to remake the world in horror, while Comic Nerd made it his mission to stop her, to which end he erected a barrier around Conover County to contain them both. Both also set about transforming the people of the county into champions of their respective sides, but since Comic Nerd had to expend so much of his power in erecting and maintaining the barrier, there are a great deal more horrible monsters than superhumans roaming the countryside. Meanwhile, an ancient witch with ties to the source of their power mobilizes forces to stop them both. And that, my friends, is the backdrop. The real fun of this series is watching the various factions of the county react to the fact that everyone now has crazy powers, regardless of whether they were granted by the Nerd of Good or the Goth of Evil. Suddenly, the redneck family in the hills or the high school's popular kids or the guys running the drug lab in the junkyard all have the power to be on equal footing with each other and with the county's traditional authorities. Lines are drawn and continue to shift as the series goes on - there's a zombie prom queen whose day has not yet arrived, for instance. So: action, a large and interesting cast of characters, ancient evil, modern evil, super-heroes (kind of), octopoidal god-things, mystical junk-bots and mutated hill-folk. If it hadn't started in the Summer then this would be my favourite Christmas present. - JM

R.E.B.E.L.S. by Tony Bedard and Andy Clarke

Ah, space comics. Struggles between whole civilizations! Vast fleets of starcraft! Champions of alien worlds employing fist-based diplomacy! DC has a wonderful cosmic setting, drawing as it does on the antics of Hawkman, the Green Lantern Corps, the Omega Men, the Justice League, Adam Strange, Captain Comet and on and on. And of course the Legion of Super-Heroes, which retro-spawned L.E.G.I.O.N., which begat R.E.B.E.L.S. and its leading man Vril Dox, the Biggest Bastard in Comic Books. Dox is on the run once again, having had the reins of space police force L.E.G.I.O.N. stolen from him and his own robo-police turned to the task of hunting him down. Happily, his Thirtieth Century descendant Querl Dox (aka the Legion of Super-Heros' Brainiac 5) sends him some future-knowledge to help him survive and get on with the important job of being an ancestor. Everything excellent about the last fifty years of outer space DC comic books is making its way into this series, from Kanjar Ro and his Gamma Gong to Despero to the surprisingly scrappy Gil'dishpan to Amon Hak doing his best impression of Legion foe Tyr to Vril Dox getting his very own Sinestro Corps ring for a couple of issues. Sure it's a pretty rooted-in-continuity kind of story because of all of that but frankly, I don't care. It looks great, it's well-written and it features a terrific reinterpretation of Starro the Conqueror, something that I wouldn't have really believed was possible before now. - JM

Adventure Comics by Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul

This one is a simple equation: having an Adventure Comics series in which Superboy lives in Smallville and has run-ins with a scientifically-minded youngster while splitting his time between heroics and high school is a good idea. It might go off the rails in the new year, especially if/when Johns leaves, but up until now it's been a very satisfying book to pick up every month (and featured what might very well be the ultimate comeuppance of the much-loathed Superboy Prime!). All this and a Legion of Super-Heroes second feature! It's more than i could have hoped for. - JM

Batwoman in Detective Comics by Greg Rucka and J H Williams III

When Batwoman (two? three? four?) first appeared in 52 a couple of years ago she was kind of a neat character: gay, of course, which is still something of a super-hero rarity, visually striking with her black and red colour scheme, mysteriously motivated. Then she pretty much faded from sight, or at least got lost in one of the far too many 52 and Countdown and Final Crisis tie-ins. When she turned up as the lead in post (mortem) Batman Detective Comics my initial reaction was mild interest. Oh, the folly of youth. First up, the first two story arc have been great. Batwoman versus the Crime Religion and its leader who only speaks in quotes from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass? Teaming up with half-human members of a splinter Crime sect to prevent Alice and her minions from poisoning everyone in Gotham City? A squid man? And that's all before the current arc began, the current arc that is in the process of explaining why and how a seemingly spoiled debutante ended up becoming the latest in a long line of dark avengers of the Gotham night, and doing it believably (for a comic book value of believability, of course) and well. All that would probably be enough to have this title in my stack every month, but what really ensured that Batwoman in Detective Comics would be on this list is the fact that it looks friggin' amazing. J H Williams III starts out strong, with fantastically arresting visuals that emphasize the red/black Batwoman colour scheme (and here I must point out that John's Favourite Colourist Dave Stewart is playing a big part in all of this as well), which would be great in and of itself, but then you turn the page and discover that Kathy Kane's private life is illustrated and coloured in a different style and then you read the recent flashback issues and they're in yet another style. And it all looks amazing. On top of all of that, the panel layouts are positively the most original that I've ever seen - Batwoman fights and the panels become bolts of lightning, she leaps and they're bats. Alice's madness renders the edges of her panels into insane wisps of smoke. The way that the story is being told and the story itself interact in an astonishingly effective way. COMIC BOOKS! Oh, and I haven't even mentioned the second feature, delightful in and of itself and featuring Renee "The Question" Montoya in a good old fashioned "do your homework, solve the crime, stomp the bad guys" yarn. What fun! - JM

Batman and Robin by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely - There has been some debate over exactly how successful a job Grant Morrison did of breaking Batman down in Batman RIP, but it's a lot harder to dispute the fact that Batman and Robin has been completely awesome.

Wait, I forgot. We're all comics nerds here, aren't we. Disputes are being composed as I type. Well, stow 'em, because you aren't going to convince me that Dick Grayson and Batman's horrible son Damien teaming up as Batman and Robin, as illustrated (usually) by Frank Quitely and versus a new batch of villains straight from the fertile brain of Grant Morrison isn't delicious. Happy-go-lucky Batman and hard-nosed pre-teen Robin is the biggest shift in that team's dynamic since the Eighties, and that can only be a good thing in my eyes.

Sure, Jason Todd, the bane of my Bat-existence, did invade the second story arc, but I'm feeling forgiving. After all, a) we're now one step closer to being rid of the pissy bastard once and for all and b) he had an amazingly designed new Red Hood costume.

As someone who basically buys Batman comics as a reflex, this title has been a positive gift - JM

Honourable Mentions

Victorian Undead, by Ian Edginton and Davide Fabbri - "Blah blah blah tired of zombies blah blah." Yes, I have heard that this is the case with many of you, that you have been overexposed to one of the basic monster types and can therefore derive no more joy from their shambling antics. Poppycock, says I, and produce these three pieces of evidence to the contrary: 1) I still like them. 2) The zombie is the blankest of monster canvasses and can be used to tell any type of story, from any era, in any style of writing. Like Batman. 3) Victorian Undead. How can you resist class-obsessed Londoners being devoured by corpses? And featuring the best-written comic book Sherlock Holmes that I've encountered in years (sorry Leah Moore)! - JM

Final Crisis Aftermath: Run! By Matthew Sturges and Freddie Williams with terrific covers by Kako - I simply had to mention the covers on this series, as they were fantastic. This was the Final Crisis Aftermath series that truly accomplished what it set out to do, which was to have the Human Flame drive his life into the ground, alienate the entire world and ultimately come to justice. Very cathartic for those who love the Martian Manhunter. - JM

Astro City by Kurt Busiek and Brent E. Anderson - Look, as long as Astro City keeps on coming out and doesn't magically transform into a comic about a man reading the phone book to his cat, it will be on my "best of" list. This year saw the end of what I think is the penultimate chapter in the epic Dark Age storyline, plus the two-part Astra special, and every single time it provides me with joy. - JM

Seaguy by Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart - Not actually one of my "best of year" books, but this deserves a mention because a) there were a fair number of folks who never ever thought that Seaguy would ever return in a million years and b) this could very well be the reason that Grant Morrison wrote Final Crisis, so that he could return to what is perhaps his most completely and unabashedly messed-up creation. - JM

Batgirl by Bryan Q. Miller, Lee Garbett and Trevor Scott - This series hasn't been spectacular yet, but it has the potential to be very fun. I'm going to mention it here and then watch carefully. - JM

Wonder Woman by Gail Simone and Aaron Lopresti - This was on my Best of list last year, and I'm still loving it this year. It's the perfect creative team matched with the perfect character. - RG

Superman: World of New Krypton by Greg Rucka, James Robinson and Pete Woods - I dropped both Superman and Action Comics this year because I was finding them to be both dull and boring. But World of New Krypton I have actually been enjoying since the beginning. Maybe it's because it's the only Superman title that Superman is actually in. Or maybe it's because Superman looks hot in that military uniform. - RG