The Pull List: Best Comics of 2009

comics09With 2009 coming to a close, the challenge was to pick and rank the 10 best comics from the entire year. I’ve estimated reading approximately 1,500+ issues over that time frame, so obviously it wasn’t the easiest task to complete. Still, after much deliberation, these are my picks for the 10 best comics of 2009.

JONH Cv50 ds1. Jonah Hex #50
DC Comics
Writers: Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist: Darwyn Cooke
Originally reviewed on December 3, 2009

Perfection. Defined as the highest degree of proficiency, skill or excellence, perfection is near impossible to achieve, especially when every comic ever printed is subjective in nature. You know, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and all that jazz. Still, when I thought about all the comics I’ve read this past year, this issue of Jonah Hex kept coming back to me. While not perfect (frankly, what is?), it’s pretty close.

A wonderful done-in-one tale following our “hero” as he diligently goes about his day job, in this specific case while hunting down 50 various bad guys who had it coming to them. A fine story on it’s own. Now add a dash of romance – or the bounty hunter’s version of it – to the mix, sprinkle in a little personal vengeance, and top it off with a jolting reminder of how cruel life can be, and you’re left with a portrait of a man who makes no excuses for who he is or what he does, life expectations be damned.

In an industry that relies heavily on the hottest characters, creators and mega-wide events, an issue like this can fall through the cracks quite easily. Thankfully there’s a legion of reviewers, like myself, and fans that use their power of word-of-mouth, also like myself, to ensure that rare gems like this issue get the attention they deserve. And after reading and re-reading this issue, I can’t think of another issue that was released this past year that deserves more attention.

sugarshock-cover2. Sugarshock One-Shot
Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Joss Whedon
Artist: Fãbio Moon
Originally reviewed on October 22, 2009

They say that there’s nothing original left to be created; that the same ideas are being recycled over and over again by merely switching a character here, a plot point there. To those people, I present Exhibit A: Sugarshock. Now, I have to say that I’m slightly cheating by including this in the best of 2009 list, but technically, I can get away with it.

Originally appearing in 2007 as part of Dark Horse Comics’ MySpace anthology, the story was presented in separate chapters, both online and in print through the pages of MySpace Dark Horse Presents. In this past year, however, the entirety of the story, along with sketches and notations, were collected for the first time in this special one-shot issue.

Sugarshock is just like any other band, looking for their big break, to make the move from garages to stadiums. Looks can be deceiving, though, as various aliens and robots make up the roster. Taking an even sharper turn into the weird, the band gets their coveted arena gig, except that this happens to be a real battle arena set on another planet, and the battle of the bands will determine whether or not the planet Earth survives. Original, funny, beautiful and endearing, Sugarshock was an easy inclusion to this list.

daredevil-501-cover3. Daredevil #501
Marvel Comics
Writer: Andy Diggle
Artist: Roberto De La Torre
Originally reviewed on October 8, 2009

When Marvel promised major changes for Matt Murdock, blind lawyer by day and costumed vigilante Daredevil by night, they weren’t kidding. Hype machines rarely make good on their promises, but in this case all expectations were thrown out the window. And while the anniversary #500 issue and Dark Reign – The List: Daredevil one-shot may have been on more readers’ radars, it was this issue that really got the ball rolling.

I don’t think casual comic readers understand just how unique the character Daredevil is, or more importantly, how it bucks most conventional trends. With events like “Civil War,” “Secret Invasion” and the upcoming “Siege” seemingly sucking every member of the Marvel Universe into it’s clutches, this character has remained on the outside, content with dealing with his own issues and problems. This is one of the major reasons why the dramatic changes this character has faced, as of late, actually work.

One of his oldest adversaries, The Hand – a never-ending pain in Daredevil’s side – pops up again, but this time, thanks to some trickery and the double-crossing of another member of his rogue’s gallery, the Kingpin, Daredevil now has keys to the Porche. Now in control of the massive group of ninjas, Daredevil sets out to bring crime to its knees, and is willing to take more drastic steps in making that a reality. A must-read issue, this will almost assuredly hook you for the foreseeable future.

xfactor-200-cover4. X-Factor #200
Marvel Comics
Writer: Peter David
Artists: Bing Cansino, Marco Santucci, Karl Moline
Originally reviewed on December 17, 2009

It seems like it was only yesterday that I had the pleasure to read and review this anniversary issue of X-Factorit was – but despite the freshness of the comic, it still warrants a spot on this best of 2009 list. But let’s look at a little bit of history first by going back to the true start of this series, 2004’s Madrox. That’s where it all began, as that fantastic mini-series led to 2006’s re-launch of the X-Factor ongoing series. After 50 issues – and 2 one-shot specials – the title took over the previous numbering of the original 1986 series with this anniversary issue.

Which brings us to today. Known for great characters and constant twist and turns, X-Factor has been one of the more consistent titles of the past few years. Rarely a dull moment can be found within the pages of this title, as dramas ranging from teammate issues to mysteries and murders are continuously mixed together. Events like the X-centric “Messiah CompleX” and the aforementioned “Secret Invasion” did little in slowing these characters down.

Despite all of that, this is the issue that rose to the top of the X-Factor pile. This was the issue that took everything we knew about these characters and, with a gentle push here and there, spun new lights on what these characters will have to deal with next, both individually and as a team. And finally, this was the issue that let us readers know that, regardless of everything that has happened in the past 5 years, the story is merely beginning.

blackest-night-5-cover5. Blackest Night #5 [of 8]
DC Comics
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Ivan Reis
Originally reviewed on November 26, 2009

Virtually any of the five issues that have been released so far could have made this list, but I felt that only one, specific issue should be included, and after making a decision that rivals picking between my kids, I settled on the most recent release: the fifth issue. Tough to decide when this mini-series has been better than any event from any publisher in the last few years.

This mini-series, which started off firmly placed in Green Lantern’s neck of the woods, has quickly become the single most important story from DC Comics since, arguably, Crisis On Infinite Earths more than two decades ago. If my hunches and theories are correct, the ending of this story will create a new status quo for death in the DC Universe, and will be a real game-changer.

Emotion is a strong pillar to build any foundation on, and Blackest Night uses emotion to its fullest effect. Not to be outdone, it’s hard to get worried about [insert generic super-hero] because, of course, they’ll find a way to win. However, with the way this issue left our heroes in a dire predicament that I’m sure readers didn’t see coming, it’s becoming painfully obvious that we’re seeing something different … special, but terrifyingly different.

detective-comics-854-cover6. Detective Comics #854
DC Comics
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artists: JH Williams III, Cully Hamner

When the announcement came down that Detective Comics would have co-features spotlighting Batwoman and the new Question, Renee Montoya, following the events of “Batman R.I.P” and Final Crisis, many readers decided that was good enough reason to jump off the title. Little did they, or anyone for that matter, know that Detective Comics would emerge as the best Bat-title of the past year.

Sure, an argument could be made for the new Batman and Robin title, and while it did start strong, it wasted little time in coming down to the rest of the playing field. Starting with this issue, Detective Comics has been a study in how to make an incredible comic, and the same could be said for both co-features. More impressive still is the fact that each issue released since has maintained the height that this opener set the bar at.

Every month the expectations raise just a little, and incredulously, those expectations are met and surpassed every time. What once started out initially as “I have to read this!” has now become “What will they do next,” so reading comics like this becomes a pleasure all onto itself. And you know how the saying goes; you never forget your first.

dark-reign-the-list-punisher-cover7. Dark Reign – The List: Punisher one-shot
Marvel Comics
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: John Romita Jr

Following “Secret Invasion,” 2009 brought Norman Osborn’s “Dark Reign” to the Marvel Universe. While tying into numerous titles throughout the line, a series of 8 one-shots served notice that Osborn had a hit list that he intended to target. While these one-shots ranged from average to the final installment focusing on Spider-Man earning a Pull of the Week, it was the Punisher-themed one-shot that had the biggest impact.

Believe me, I’m as surprised as you are, but there’s no questioning just how enthralling this one-shot was. Bloody to the bitter end, this issue also contained enough heart-felt moments that many fanboys may have reached for a tissue. See, Frank Castle doesn’t immediately spring to mind when you think of tragic characters, and yet his origin reeks of tragedy. Having lost his entire family in one fell swoop, Frank’s been dishing out his own brand of justice, with extreme finality, ever since.

So when we catch up to Frank, worse for wear and on the run from Norman Osborn and his H.A.M.M.E.R. operatives, you start getting that tickling sense of dread building on the back of your neck. The stakes become larger still when Wolverine’s bad boy son, Daken, and Frank square off on the roof of a building. And while the unthinkable happens, you realize that, in the end, Frank wouldn’t rather be anywhere else. Once you’ve finally put this issue down, you’re more than likely to have the same reaction I did: I can’t believe they actually did it.

young-liars-18-cover8. Young Liars #18
DC Comics/Vertigo
Writer: David Lapham
Artist: David Lapham

It’s human nature to want something new, to experience something unfamiliar and to look at things with a fresh perspective. At least, it should be. Young Liars brought all that, and much, much more. Launching in 2008, the title revolves around a group of “friends” who are all hiding secrets from each other. While some of the secrets fall under the usual categories, other secrets are literally out of this world, and yet, throughout all of this, the group is almost always willing to be supportive.

To say this series was ambitious would be to undersell it; it was that and then some as, at times, I’ve described this series as brilliant, insane, magical, fascinating … you get the idea. If I had to wrap the series up in a nutshell, I’d say that it was a rollercoaster ride of relationships, truth and the bizarre.

And in this final issue of the series, “The Death Of Good,” the entirety of the series comes crashing down into one, final realization, and that is that this fantastic body of work should be read again and again, each time discovering new details that do nothing but inflate the greatness found within these pages. A fitting send off, and equally fitting title for the end of this series.

wolverine-old-man-logan-giant-size-cover9. Wolverine: Old Man Logan Giant-Size one-shot
Marvel Comics
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Steve McNiven

The final chapter in the “Old Man Logan” story was every bit as big as advertised, culminating in this over-sized one-shot to wrap everything up in a nice, blood-soaked bow. In a desolate future, Logan has vowed to never unsheathe his claws again, electing to run a farm with his wife and children instead. Naturally, things go terribly wrong.

A fan-favorite from the get-go, “Old Man Logan” had all the makings of a winner. A cross between Thelma & Louise and The Road Warrior, this story made the right choice in dealing with topics like loyalty, honor and ultimately, revenge, while paving the way for a new dawn in the Marvel Universe, even if it is many years in the future. Once the proverbial dust settled with our triumphant hero and requisite sundown shot, you still had the sense that you’ve just read one hell of a story. It just goes to show that even clichés, when done right, work amazingly well.

The rewards for readers were abundant in this final chapter as Wolverine shows that he’s still the best at what he does (you know the rest), and for the more devoted fans, the connections between “Old Man Logan,” Fantastic Four and Marvel 1985 become crystal clear. Enjoy this one, you’re not likely to see something this encompassing for quite some time.

wednesday-comics-1-cover10. Wednesday Comics #1 [of 12]
DC Comics
Writers: Brian Azzarello, Dave Gibbons, John Arcudi, Dave Bullock, Vinton Heuck, Kurt Busiek, Neil Gaiman, Eddie Berganza, Paul Pope, Jimmy Palmiotti, Dan DiDio, Ben Caldwell, Adam Kubert, Brendan Fletcher, Karl Kerschl, Walt Simonson, Kyle Baker
Artists: Eduardo Risso, Ryan Sook, Lee Bermejo, Dave Bullock, Joe Quinones, Mike Allred, Sean Galloway, Paul Pope, Amanda Conner, José Luis García-López, Ben Caldwell, Joe Kubert, Karl Kerschl, Brian Stelfreeze, Kyle Baker

In a stroke of genius and an homage to the history of comics, DC decided to look back, for a change, and resurrect the comic strip. What resulted after 12 weeks was a collection of stories by a veritable who’s who of the comics industry – look at that creative line up! – that looked at the notion of “print is dead” and slapped it in the face.

Popular characters like Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and Teen Titans are present alongside the less-known but equally interesting like Kamandi, Deadman, Metal Men and Sgt. Rock. Stories designed to entertain those in the know and introduce these timeless characters to a new audience worked incredibly well, in spades. Readers and creators alike praised and applauded DC Comics for their risk taking in this project.

While the future of comic strips is uncertain at this point, what we’re left with is still an amazing collection, and example, of everything that makes comics great. If you’ve missed the boat on this, don’t worry as DC Comics will be collecting the entire series, along with bonus never-before-printed materials, in early 2010.

Thanks to every creator, editor and publisher who continue to weave these wonderful stories day in and day out, and thanks to all our readers out there. Without any of you I’d be transporting bodies from a morgue, or something equally as depressing, so believe me when I say that doing this is so much better. All the best this holiday season, onward to 2010!

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