“Best of…” lists are difficult, and that goes double for comics. There are thousands of comics out there, and even though we read lots of comics (lots and lots), we can’t read them all. Still, people seem to like these “lists,” so the CBR News staff has given it a go. If nothing else, they open a discussion about great writers, artists, and books, and may even introduce you to a book you weren’t aware of. And hey, if we’ve done that, we’ll consider this a successful mission.
Joining you on this venture are staff writers Andy Khouri, Dave Richards, Emmett Furey, and George Tramountanas. They have each come up with their Top 5 Writers, Artists, and Comic Books for the year. Look them over, and then join us at the CBR Forums to let us know what you think of their lists, and what you would put on your Top 5 list. Trust us, it’s not as easy as it seems.
Best Writers: For me, the best writers of 2006 were the ones who gave me stories that were both fun and compelling, as well offering something new…
- Ed Brubaker – Ed really shined in 2006. He delivered a variety of compelling and fun tales. His stories in “Daredevil” met and often exceeded the level of quality set by previous writer Brian Bendis. His “Captain America” stories have been a fun blend of superhero action and military-style thriller. And he launched one of the coolest crime comics ever, “Criminal.” I have yet to read his “Uncanny X-Men” work, but I’m sure it will be just as good as his other books.
- Brian K Vaughan – Brian was on my list last year and appears again this year because he kept up the same excellent level of work. His characters are always authentic and genuine-sounding, and they bring to life such diverse stories as “Runaways,” “Ex Machina,” “Y the Last Man,” “Dr. Strange: The Oath,” and “Pride of Baghdad.”
- Mark Millar – Nobody did “big” this year like Mark Millar. “Ultimates 2” and “Civil War” are both entertaining and interesting stories with huge scopes. Millar’s scripts provide high stake action and interesting characterization (Iron Man may be a dick, but he’s an incredibly interesting one). Some people may have problems with the lateness of “Ultimates 2,” but unlike many books, I find it’s written in a way that pulls you right back into the action and refreshes your memory.
- Brian Bendis – Bendis is also a returnee from last year because he kept up with the same output of quality. “Ultimate Spider-Man” is one of the two best Spidey books out there (the other one being Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s “Sensational Spider-Man”). With “New Avengers,” Bendis gave readers stories packed with action and character development. In “The Illuminati,” he gave us another character-driven and utterly fascinating story. And “Powers” continues to be a great and believable blending of the police procedural with the fantastic world of superheroes.
- Fabian Nicieza – Fabian is one of Marvel’s most underrated writers and in 2006 he wrote two of the most unique and interesting books out there. “Thunderbolts” featured a cast of dark and compelling characters warring with each other and their own natures. And over in “Cable & Deadpool,” Nicieza gave readers stories that managed to be action-packed, heartbreaking, socially-relevant and laugh-out-loud funny.
Best Artists: For me, it was all about action and mood when it came to choosing the best artists of 2006.
- Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano – The work these two have been doing on “Daredevil” matches and often exceeds the work they did on the amazing and dearly missed “Gotham Central.” Lark and Gaudiano expertly bring to life the gritty action-packed world of Daredevil
- Steve McNiven – McNiven had a very tough job this year in “Civil War,” but he managed to pull it off with flying colors. His action scenes leap right off the page. Captain America’s escape from the Hellicarrier in issue #1 of CW was breathtaking. McNiven also expertly brings to life the dark tone of “Civil War.”
- Mike Perkins – Perkins is another artist who draws amazing action scenes. I found both his work on “Captain America” and the recently completed “Union Jack” miniseries to be thrilling and beautiful.
- Sean Phillips – Nobody does mood and tone like Sean Phillips. His art work has brought to life a number of fascinating and diverse stories this year, such as “Marvel Zombies,” “Black Widow 2: The Things They Say about Her,” and “Criminal.”
- Clayton Crain – Crain’s work on “Sensational Spider-Man” expertly evokes a gamut of emotions from horrific to inspiring. His covers on the books always stand out, and when he does the interior art it’s always something special.
Best Books: And here we have the toughest category of them all. These books had to be both thought-provoking and solidly entertaining to make it here.
- “DMZ” – In “DMZ,” Brian Wood continues to tell relevant, powerful and poignant tales about the power of journalism. The book’s fascinating setting provides a great showcase as to the best and worst human beings have to offer.
- “Pride of Baghdad” – “Pride of Baghdad” is another fascinating and an utterly unique look at the effects war has on society. The cast of characters may all be animals, but they each have their own authentic voice and are easy to identify with.
- “Civil War” – So far, “Civil War” has been one of my favorite “event” stories ever. It’s an action-packed and powerful story with dire consequences. Some people might complain about the darker characterizations in the story, but to me, that’s the point. “Civil War” is a story about the mistakes made by heroes on both sides of the conflict. We love the Marvel heroes because of their flaws, and “Civil War” provides a great and fascinating showcase for these traits.
- “Criminal” – Okay, sure…there were only three issues of “Criminal” put out in 2006, but they were three amazing issues. “Criminal” is a great noir tale filled with flawed and compelling characters trying to survive in a dark and twisted world.
- “Agents of Atlas” – Simply put, “Agents of Atlas” was the most fun superhero book of 2006. At the heart of “AoA” is a poignant and believable friendship among a fascinating and wild cast of characters. Writer Jeff Parker gives each character their own authentic voice and plunges them into a wild story filled with mystery and plenty of twists and turns. You get all that plus a wisecracking, heavily armed Gorilla!
Okay, I cheated a bit. I’m giving you my Top 5 in each category, but there’s no particular order to my lists. The following are all the cream of the crop in my book.
Brian K. Vaughan – I’d be shocked if this man wasn’t on all four of our “Top 5 Writers” lists (and he is). In the past year, “Runaways” has become one of my favorite books, and “Y the Last Man” and “Ex Machina” have been going strong, to say nothing of “The Escapists.” I happen to know that Vaughan is not beholden to the fanboy mentality of maintaining the status quo, and that’s always a plus in my book. I’m excited about his new position at “Lost,” and only hope he won’t forget his comic book roots.
Grant Morrison – Morrison continues to be one of the most innovative writers in comics. In the past year, his “Seven Soldiers” rounded out with a bang, his entertaining run on “All-Star Superman” continued in earnest, and he began a great run on “Batman.” It’s too early to say much about his “Wildcats” and “Authority,” but I have high hopes for both.
Warren Ellis – I’m not sure there’s been a year since this man has been in the business that he hasn’t deserved a “top five” nod. I know some have said that for Ellis, ’06 seemed to be more about quantity than quality, but I have to disagree. While none of his numerous projects has had the impact of, say, “Transmetropolitan,” his work continues to be almost Hitchcock-ian in its experimentation, and runs the gamut from mainstream superhero to decidedly indie. In fact, he is one of the few big-name writers who is bucking the trend of long, drawn-out story arcs and writing self-contained stories that begin and end in one issue, particularly in books like “Fell” and “Planetary.” Even “Nextwave” only has two-issue story arcs, so many of his books are tailor-made for new readers to jump in at any point.
Paul Jenkins – Jenkins put up a solid showing in ’06. The resolution to the second “Sentry” miniseries, though not quite as riveting as the first, was still a wild ride. I enjoyed his re-telling of some of Marvel’s biggest characters in his “Mythos” series, and have been loving “Civil War: Front Line.”
Best Artists: There were many artists that did a fantastic job in 2006. Here are four that blew me away…
Sean Phillips – 2006 saw quality work from Phillips on both “Marvel Zombies” and “Criminal.”
Ed Benes – Relative newcomer Ed Benes’ work on “Justice League” is the perfect compliment to Meltzer’s rock-solid storytelling.
Steve Epting – Continues to wow me on “Captain America.”
“Nextwave” – The most consistently hilarious book of ’06, complete with superhero send-ups, your monthly requirement of Ellis-isms and beautiful artwork by Stuart Immonen. Ellis has said that, as far as Marvel is concerned, the book’s sales have not been enough to justify Immonen’s vast payday, and in a refreshing show of loyalty, the writer would rather see the ongoing series cancelled than take on another artist. So while I’m sad to see the monthly go, I’m looking forward to the miniseries follow-ups in the coming years.
“Runaways” – With “Runaways,” Vaughan has done the nigh-impossible by introducing not merely a single new character, but an entirely new superteam which has grown to become a viable property, a prospect which has long been daunting in the old boy’s club that is the Marvel universe. Its depth of character and engrossing stories are unparalleled in mainstream comics today.
“X-Factor” – In my opinion, “X-Factor” is everything an X-book should be. Peter David has managed to achieve spot-on characterizations for a cast of heroes who have been, up till now, largely one-note. The story has been compelling, and it is far-enough removed from the concerns of the more popular superhero books to give the writer more or less free rein to steer the book in the direction he wishes to take it. David has taken what began so many years ago as a cheap X-men knock-off and turned it into a standalone page-turner in its own right, in much the same way that Peter Milligan revolutionized “X-Force”/”X-Statix.”
“Seven Soldiers” – I know the majority of “Seven Soldiers” was published in ’05, but I wasn’t a writer for CBR back then, and damn it, I still think the resolutions to “Bulleteer,” “Frankenstein,” “Mr. Miracle,” and “Seven Soldiers” were among the best stories published in ’06. It is a rare feat when a writer can produce a series set in the Marvel or DC universe that is so different and self-contained that it seems almost detached, and Morrison has done just that with this series. I’ve also always been a fan of structural experimentation, and the fact that a reader can read any one of the series’ seven titles and get a complete story, but at the same time read the others and thereby make the experience all the richer, is brilliant and groundbreaking. Between each series’ standalone nature, and the relatively manageable four-issue arcs, it is almost the ideal compromise between the one-shot and the hopelessly-decompressed mega-arcs that have become so popular in recent years.
Best Writers: Here we go…
- Brian K. Vaughan – Much has been said about the skill of this writer, and it’s all true (except, of course, if anyone said something like “Brian K. Vaughan sucks!”). His ideas and characters are brilliant. Even better, he’s consistently brilliant. In 2006, every Brian K. Vaughan book I read became one of my all-time favorite comic books. It’s just that simple! “Y: The Last Man,” “Ex Machina,” and “Runaways” are all among the best serials in the entire industry; each one brimming with complex characters, intriguing social commentary and hugely addictive plots. And what’s to be said about “Pride of Baghdad” that everyone from CNN to MySpace hasn’t said already? There just isn’t anyone else on my radar in this category. Vaughan pwnz.
- Bill Willingham – Second only to Vaughan in his ridiculous ability to come up with idea after idea of fierce cleverness, emotion and humor, Willingham is a genius. If “Fables” debuted in 2006, it would take all my picks, as it would if it debuted in 2007. Like “The Sandman,” “Fables” is a book that we will never stop hearing about, even after it’s gone. Thankfully, Willingham announced at San Diego Comic Con that he’ll continue writing the title indefinitely.
- Geoff Johns – Possibly the strongest force in DC’s march to relevancy in the 21st century, Johns has been slowly building his empire since he started work on “JSA” and hit a climax with “Infinite Crisis,” which I’ll talk more about in a second.
- Mark Millar – “My name is Peter Parker, and I’ve been Spider-Man since I was fifteen years old.” Cue J. Jonah Jameson collapsing to the floor. Arguably the best and/or funniest scene in superhero comics in the last ten years.
- Frank Miller – “I’m the goddamn Batman.” Arguably the best and/or funniest line in superhero comics in the last sixty years.
- Darwyn Cooke – The only artist whose work I will buy regardless of the title or other collaborators. Cooke’s style is a unique synthesis of virtually all of the medium’s giants, from Alex Toth and Alex Ross. You can look at a Cooke page and see something completely new yet instantly classic in every panel. His “Solo” issue – which won the Eisner Award for best single issue – is going to be a collector’s item one day, you mark my words. Also illustrated by Cooke in 2006 was the “Batman/The Spirit” book as well as Cooke’s new “Spirit” ongoing, both of which are so cool.
- Tony Harris – I’ve had a love affair with Tony Harris’ artwork since “Starman” #0 back in 1994. I must confess some ambivalence in Harris’ post-“Starman” days. It seemed as though he were trying to move away from his high-contrast, graphic-design heavy style, and I was resisting the change. No real reason. Just fanboy entitlement. With “Ex Machina,” Harris’ transformation is complete and now defies any description I can come up with (unless “impossibly gorgeous” counts). Every issue of “Ex Machina” is like watching an Oscar-winning performance.
- Keith Giffen – For providing “52’s” layouts every single week – and, I suspect, a little more – Keith Giffen, one of my all-time favorite writers, is getting my props for his artistic muscle in 2006.
- & 5. Gabriel Ba & Riccardo Burchielli – These promising newcomers of the year are the artists of “Casanova” (Ba) and “DMZ” (Burchielli). Both came out of nowhere (at least to American readers), are derivative of no one, and have helped propel their respective books into the stratosphere of critical acclaim.
Best Books: I’m going with a “Top 3,” because these were the books that had me really geared up. This was a hard thing for me to do, and I know I’m going to be rained down upon with a rain of fire, but I’m giving my vote to best book of 2006 to….
- “Infinite Crisis” – I’m not sorry. The last time I had this much fun reading comics was when I was twelve years old. From “Identity Crisis” to “Countdown” to books like “Rann-Thanagar War” and “Villains United,” the entire Infinite Crisis saga was such a ride. I love “Crisis On Infinite Earths” and this sequel was exactly what I wanted. Alex Luthor tries to destroy the universe! The original Superman, the first superhero ever, is murdered! By Superboy Prime! Now the single most deadly villain ever! To say nothing of the sweeping commentary of superhero comics, of DC itself, and of fans. “Infinite Crisis” was totally mental, and so well-executed, I just can’t in good conscience pretend this comic by Geoff Johns wasn’t at the top of my reading list during its run.
- “DMZ” – This Vertigo title is the culmination of Brian Wood’s last seven years of work up to this point. All his graphic design, photography, writing and illustrating have been building towards the inevitable result of “DMZ,” the best work of his career. Teamed with Riccardo Burchielli, Wood has created a wholly credible, relevant, thought-provoking work that defies genre classification. At some points, “DMZ” is a political thriller. At others, dystopian science fiction piece. Occasionally, “DMZ” is a slice-of-life romance/coming-of-age book. However, at all points, “DMZ” is always 100% real. You’ll be seeing a lot more about “DMZ” on CBR in 2007. It’s the must-read book for the new year.
- “Pride Of Baghdad” – Brian K. Vaughan’s “Pride” was the most authentic family story of the year, which is pretty good for a group of anthropomorphized lions. The art; the relationships between the characters and their reactions to the war around them; even the graphic novel format – everything about the book was refreshing and beautiful.
Best Writers: As always, a lot of terrific talent did great work this year. James Robinson did a fantastic Batman arc, Will Pfeiffer is quietly making Catwoman one of DC’s most entertaining reads, and Geoff Johns brought Wendy, Marvin, and Mas Y Menos to the “real” DC Universe. That said, the rules state I have to choose five.
- Brian K. Vaughan – It doesn’t seem like this man knows how to write a bad book. From “Y The Last Man” to “Ex Machina” to “Runaways” to the best Dr. Strange story ever, he can do it all. Now that he’s joining the writing staff of “Lost,” I know fans of the show are in for a treat.
- Robert Kirkman – He could be on the list for “The Walking Dead” and “Invincible” alone, but “Marvel Zombies” was a ton of fun and he’s showing us a different kind of hero in “The Irredeemable Ant-Man.” And Kirkman is also keeping “Ultimate X-Men” hopping on a monthly basis.
- Ed Brubaker – Following Bendis’ run on “Daredevil” would’ve made most men quake, but Brubaker has seamlessly taken over and made the book his own. He’s also writing one heck of a “Captain America,” and managed to make fans cheer the fact that Bucky’s back from the dead. And he’s still keeping his indie edge with “Criminal” – yay!
- Dan Slott – “She-Hulk” continues to be one of Marvel’s most entertaining books, and every issue of “Thing” made me smile with joy.
- Rick Remender – Remender is a virtual library of comic genres unto himself. This past year alone, he gave us apocalyptic visions with “Strange Girl,” outer space craziness with “Fear Agent,” pirate horror with “Sea of Red,” and still managed to work on the art for “The Last Christmas.” He rules!
Best Artists: Again, lots of great artists to choose from – Leinil Yu, Michael Lark, John Cassaday, Tony Harris, and Darwyn Cooke (to name just a few!). Heck, if covers qualified for this category, you know JG Jones would get a spot. But once again, I had to narrow it down to a handful…
- Tony Moore – Here’s the artist who can draw anything. He had already given us cool zombies in years past with “The Walking Dead,” but now he’s shown us he can draw aliens and killer robots in “Fear Agent” and creepy bugs in “The Exterminators.” I can’t wait to see what’s next from him.
- Darick Robertson – I thank the comic gods that someone finally put Robertson back on a monthly book. His work in “Boys” is gross-a-licious thanks to terrific scripts by Garth Ennis.
- Steve McNiven – There are very few artists who could make a concept like “Thor clones” palatable; McNiven is one of those. ‘Nuff said.
- Ryan Ottley – “Invincible” is a superhero book that relies largely on the audience’s belief in the emotions of its characters. Thanks to Ottley, I believe.
- Mark Bagley – After drawing over 100 issues of rooftop meetings, awkward teenage moments, and redesigns on a very well-known cast, Bagley earns a place on this list (and in my heart).
Best Books: I think it says something when publishers have dozens of books that tie into a mega-crossover, yet the comics I look forward to most each week aren’t tied to any major event. Just an observation…
- “Invincible” – The comic industry’s greatest hero, hands down. Every issue ranges from good to great, and if you’re not reading it in one of the dozens of formats available (floppies, trades, collected editions), I weep for you.
- “Ultimate Spider-Man” – Over 100 issues, and no signs of slowing down. Brian Bendis has taken the Spider-Man mythos, turned it upside-down, and slapped it on the derriere. Hey, he made the clone saga cool!
- “The Walking Dead” – This series gave us the most heinous villain of the year – the governor. No book has more dead body parts than this one. Read it!
- “Fables” – These ain’t your momma’s fairy tales. Bill Willingham consistently gives us entertainment that is thought-provoking, romantic, adventurous, and fun. Fans even got a wedding issue this year!
- “Runaways” – The best superhero team out there, bar none. Each member of the team is so fully “fleshed out” that the consequences they experience just seem heart-breaking. Brian K. Vaughan has created a masterpiece here, and I can’t wait to see what Joss Whedon does when he takes over.
Thanks for joining our staff for a look at their Top 5 lists. Remember to swing by the CBR Forums and let us know what you think. We can’t wait to read your lists!
Tomorrow, the guys return with a look ahead at 2007.