"It was the best of times; it was the worst of times..."
For now though, let us focus on the best; that is, the best our industry has to offer. Our reporters read stacks upon stacks of comics each month. They read according to their preferences, and they read for research into their reports. They are exposed to many kinds of works, and they are here to share their opinions as to the best of 2007 with regards to writers, artists, and comic books.
Naturally, we expected the lists to differ, but surprisingly, there was quite a bit of overlap. Now, if we had asked our reporters to generate "Worst of…" lists, well, we might have seen a fight on our hands, but that wouldn't be any fun (plus, we aren't that cruel). Instead, we're here to praise the great work put out in 2007 -- and it appears our writers are ready with their "Hallelujahs!"
Joining us for this event are CBR reporters Emmett Furey, Andy Khouri, Dave Richards, and George Tramountanas. They've made long lists of their favorites and then whittled them down to five per category (them's the rules). It was a struggle for each, so hopefully you'll appreciate the battles that raged in their minds.
"Best of" lists are highly subjective, so I imagine I overlooked something, but for my Best Writers I tried to pick writers who showed off their talent in a number of books and took me somewhere interesting. My top five artists depicted some phenomenal action sequences and added to the mood and tone of the stories they drew. And my books of the year were the ones that were so full of compelling "holy shit" moments, I sounded like I had Tourette's syndrome when I read them.
Best Writers of 2007
1) Ed Brubaker – Brubaker had a large body of diverse work this year and I read most of it. Budget reasons kept me from reading "Uncanny X-Men," but I loved his work on "Daredevil," "Captain America," "Criminal," and "The Immortal Iron Fist.," which he co-writes with Matt Fraction. In each of these series, Brubaker demonstrated his ability to tell entertaining and exciting stories populated with fully fleshed out characters.
2) Greg Pak – I never thought I'd find another writer who'd make the Hulk as fascinating for me as Peter David, but this year Pak proved his name belongs alongside David in the pantheon of great Hulk writers. He provided a powerful and heartbreaking finale for the "Planet Hulk" storyline, and in "Incredible Hulk" and "World War Hulk" gave readers a tale that managed to be visceral, powerful, balanced, and thought-provoking.
3) Arvid Nelson – With "Rex Mundi" and now "Zero Killer," Nelson has proven he's the master of the four color alternate history tale. Doing two series about how history may have gone differently is rare enough in comics and Nelson goes even further by creating fascinating and fully fleshed out worlds for his stories. Nelson's heroes, like Dr. Julien Sauniere from "Rex Mundi" and Zero from "Zero Killer," are human and haunted protagonists that we can believe in and root for.
4) Brian Bendis – Bendis makes my list every year because, in my opinion, he writes some of the best superhero books out there. He takes classic elements of the genre and brings them forward, while adding that great touch of tragedy and flaws that make Marvel's characters so enduring. His Spider-Man portrayals -- both in "New Avengers" and "Ultimate Spider-Man" -- are some of my favorite takes on the character. And with "Powers," a cool mash-up of superheroes and the police procedural genre, Bendis shows he's just as deft telling tales with characters he created.
5) Mike Mignola – Mignola didn't get many chances to show off his fantastic art skills this year, but he had plenty of opportunities to show off his skills as a writer. The long-awaited "Hellboy: Darkness Calls" proved to be worth the wait. "Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus" was eerie, pulp fun. And the "B.P.R.D." minis, which Mignola co-wrote with John Arcudi, were an awesome blend of action and fright. Mignola's strength as a writer continues to be the very human characters he places in frightening and fantastic situations.
Best Artists of 2007
1) Sean Phillips – I think Sean Phillips has been on my list since we started doing these lists. His artwork always adds so much to the mood of a story, and I think this year he stepped up his game even more. "Marvel Zombies 2" continues to be a haunting mix of macabre humor and dark character-driven drama. But where Phillips really shined this year was his work on "Criminal." The "Lawless" arc was amazing. The power and poignant impact of the tale was amplified by Phillips' art.
2) David Aja – When I saw the art from the first issue of "The Immortal Iron Fist," I knew I was seeing something special. On "Iron Fist," Aja has proven he can draw anything; from heavily armed Hydra agents with futuristic weapons to the highly skilled martial artists from the current "Seven Capital Cities of Heaven" arc. And Aja's action sequences are phenomenal. The subway car battle from "Iron Fist" #5 was one of the coolest action scenes of 2007.
3) Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano – These two have also appeared on my best artists lists numerous times as well. It's because they make the pulpy, noir-drenched world of "Daredevil" look so damn good – and this year was no exception. Daredevil's rage in the current "Without Fear" arc practically jumps off the page.
4) John Romita Jr. – In penciling "World War Hulk," artist John Romita Jr. had a Herculean task; pencil an epic tale with a huge cast of characters, awesome action sequences, and a phenomenal amount of destruction and still convey the intense emotions driving the characters. Romita rose to the challenge. The fight scenes in "World War Hulk" were exhilarating and the character moments were equally compelling. Plus, for my money, no one draws New York City better than John Romita Jr.
5) Lawrence Campbell – The only book I read this year of Campbell's was "The Punisher MAX Annual" #1, but it was fantastic. The way he conveyed the mood and tone of the tale was just phenomenal. It really did feel like I was watching one of Michael Mann's crime films, like "Heat" or "Thief." I hope Campbell gets a monthly book soon.
Best Titles of 2007
1) "The Nightly News" – I was totally unprepared for writer-artist Jonathan Hickman's six-part look at mass media and corruption, which I think made me love it even more. It was a miniseries that offered no comforts; no definite good guys or bad. Everybody was corrupt, and everybody had valid points. You were left alone to wade thorough the moral murkiness and make up your own mind. Plus, Hickman's original designs and art added even more power to the series.
2) "Scalped" – Writer Jason Aaron and artist R.M. Guera's Native American crime saga is packed with intriguing multifaceted characters in a very unique setting. Like all good crime fiction, the protagonists have ugly qualities you don't like, and just when you're ready to write off the villains and adversaries of the series, they do something noble. On top of its intriguing cast of characters, "Scalped" also features a unique blend of stories that manage to be action-packed, exciting, powerful, poignant and even funny sometimes.
3) "Criminal" – Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips' look at bloodletters and bad men continues to be a fascinating read. The "Lawless" arc introduced us to another compelling and haunted protagonist, and further fleshed out the world of the series. And on top of the haunting tales, Brubaker and friends kept my Netflix queue growing by delivering some great articles on cult crime films.
4) "Captain America" – Who would have thought a superhero series could have become even more intriguing without the presence of the title character? But that's just what writer Ed Brubaker and artists Steve Epting and Mike Perkins did this year with "Captain America." They focused on how Cap's supporting cast reacted to his murder, and the Winter Soldier -- one of the most interesting characters in the Marvel Universe -- took center stage. And on top of that, we got the villainous machinations of the Red Skull, which made "Captain America" a fun, epic, and compelling read.
5) "G.I. Joe: America's Elite" – This year, writer Mark Powers and artist Mike Bear began what just might be the best G.I. Joe story ever, "World War III." Powers and Bear have given comic readers the G.I. Joe epic they've always wanted. Cobra is on the cusp of its goal of world domination. Cities are destroyed and the world burns. Best of all, in telling a tale of such scope, Powers leaves room for characterization. The Joes remain very human and intriguing characters, and Cobra Commander has become one of the most fascinating villains in comics.
Best Writers of 2007
1) Joss Whedon – If it wasn't already clear, in the past year this third generation television writer proved that his talents are not limited to film and TV. His work on "Astonishing X-Men," "Runaways" and "Buffy: Season 8" has been consistently top-notch. I'm excited that Whedon plans to return to TV when the writer's strike wraps up, but am simultaneously disappointed that this will almost certainly result in a hiatus from his comics work.
2) Matt Fraction – When we posted our best of 2006 lists last year, I remember fans crying foul that Matt Fraction's name was nowhere to be found. At the time I was not very well-versed in the man's work, but that is an oversight I rectified in this past year. Books like "Casanova," "Immortal Iron Fist," and "The Order" have been consistently outstanding.
3) Ed Brubaker – Brubaker has become more prolific than ever in the past year and his work has not suffered for it. Who else but Brubaker could write a compelling run on "Captain America" with the title character conspicuously absent? His run on "Daredevil" continues to shine, and there's no book on the market quite like "Criminal."
4) Peter David – Comics have come a long way since the '80s and even the '90s. David is one of the few writers from that era who has managed to change with the times, and adapt his style to the changing paradigm of monthly comics without losing his distinctive flair or his edge. "X-Factor" continues to be one of my favorite monthly books, "Dark Tower" was riveting (despite the fact that I've never read the "Dark Tower" novels), and his run on "She-Hulk" is off to a promising start.
5) Warren Ellis – I buy literally almost every book Ellis puts his name to, and I am rarely disappointed. "Thunderbolts" has been a guilty pleasure, and "Doktor Sleepless" is off to a great start. Ellis has been incredibly prolific in recent years, and continues to produce a good mix of mainstream superhero fare and more experimental fare like "Fell" and his Apparat books.
Best Artists of 2007
2) Frank Cho – The release schedule might have been a little bit less than regular, but every panel of Cho's "Mighty Avengers" has been beautiful.
3) Simone Bianchi – Bianchi's work has just gotten better and better since his introduction to the American comics market a few years back – most-notably his standout stint on "Wolverine." I'll be watching this man's career with great interest.
4) Steve Epting – Epting continues to bring the dark, gritty sensibility required for Brubaker's outstanding run on "Captain America."
5) Stuart Immonen – Mark Bagley's mammoth run on "Ultimate Spider-Man" was a tough act to follow, but Immonen has proven himself up to the task.
Best Titles of 2007
1) "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier" – This book filled me with a joy I hadn't felt since reading the first volume of "LOEG." The references I did get filled me with glee (especially the little nods to "The Prisoner" and the works of H.P. Lovecraft), and the ones that went over my head did not detract from my reading experience in the least. And I may be in the minority, but I thought the prose sections of the Dossier were as compelling as the more traditional graphic novel portions.
2) "Criminal" – A solidly written noir, crime series, and a good example of something I harped on in the trends segment: a comic that is written with the comic medium in mind and takes advantage of the medium's strengths. "Criminal," as we know it, could not exist on network television. It would be an ensemble cast procedural, which would probably promptly devolve into a formulaic soap opera. Instead, "Criminal" is almost a crime fiction anthology, whose protagonists from one arc to the next may have little or nothing to do with the protagonists from the one preceding it. It's a genre book, more about the criminal enterprise in general than any one specific criminal…and a hell of a ride.
3) "X-Factor" – Smart, funny, original, groundbreaking – all words I'd use to describe David's run on "X-Factor." This book is what superhero fiction should be.
4) "Doktor Sleepless" – Based on the first few issues alone, this title could be some of Ellis' best work since "Transmetropolitan."
5) "Immortal Iron Fist" – Simply put, this book, consistently well-written by Brubaker and Fraction, is probably the most fun I've had reading a superhero book since Mark Millar's "Wolverine."
As Dave mentioned when he kicked us off, it's always tough to narrow down the huge lists of comics and creators we love to just five, but those are the rules. I mean, I seriously enjoyed many books written by Dan Slott, Peter David, Greg Pak, and Bill Willingham. And I saw art from Eric Powell, Phil Hester, Mark Buckingham, and Darick Robertson that made me cheer. I also thought the following titles were entertaining reads: "The Boys," "Justice," "Green Arrow," "Doctor 13," and "All Star Batman and Robin."
In the end though, there can be only five. Here are my handfuls in each category…
Best Writers of 2007
1) Robert Kirkman – Kirkman is more than just a writer; he's a gosh darn comic studio unto himself. By giving readers books such as "Brit," "Astounding Wolf-Man," "Invincible," and "The Walking Dead," he is actually leaving the comic industry a better place than he found it. I know he's opened my eyes to the fact that spandex superheroes don't only belong to the big two publishers. He's shown they can be done elsewhere, and done better. His books for Marvel – which include "Irredeemable Ant-Man," "Marvel Zombies 2," and "Ultimate X-Men" – are the most original titles being solicited by the publisher. I mean, a superhero that uses his power to watch women shower? Call me shallow, but I want to read about that lowlife hero.
2) Brian Bendis – Technically, Bendis could end up on my list every year. He's like pizza to me – even when he's not great, he's still pretty good. However, I feel he had an exceptional year in 2007. Both "Avengers" books were highly entertaining, the "Illuminati" miniseries was terrific fun, and the hand-off of "Ultimate Spider-Man" from longtime artist Mark Bagley to Stuart Immonen went off without a hitch. Plus "Powers" is getting back on track too! And I have a strong feeling that "Secret Invasion" is going to blow fans away.
3) Mark Waid – Waid is another writer who has earned a permanent place on this list for his body of work. He had an exceptional year with "Brave and the Bold" and "Potter's Field." And with his writing on "Flash," he proved that you can go home again. With a writing mind like Waid's, I can't wait to see what he'll do at the helm of Boom! Studios.
4) Dwayne McDuffie – Here is a writer who worked in the industry writing very good stories, went to write TV animation (in the form of "Static Shock" and "Justice League"), and came back to comics as a powerhouse. He took over two books ("Justice League of America" and "Fantastic Four") where a "known" writer had just completed their runs, and in my opinion, he outdid them both. I hope the publishers are smart enough to make use of McDuffie's talents for some time to come.
5) Ed Brubaker/Matt Fraction – This may be a bit of a cheat, but as the co-writers on "Immortal Iron Fist," I feel that the two together make the perfect writer. Brubaker is excellent at creating a dark mood with intricate plots ("Daredevil," "Criminal"), while Fraction's writing style is one of fun that revels in being a hero in the Marvel Universe ("Punisher: War Journal," "The Order"). I just love the "Frubaker" combo!
Best Artists of 2007
1) Cliff Chiang – Have you ever picked up a book, looked at the art, and just knew it was going to be a fun read? That's how Chiang's artwork feels to me. Between "Doctor 13" and "Green Arrow and Black Canary," he seems like an artist who is hitting his stride.
2) Gary Frank – To me, Frank has long been an undervalued asset in our industry. His run on "Incredible Hulk" with Peter David was one of my favorite, and to see him back on that book this year – albeit briefly – was heaven. And now to have him on "Action" with Geoff Johns? I don't feel worthy.
3) Sean Phillips – Whether you need realistic grit or wacky grossness, Phillips delivers. His work on "Criminal" and "Marvel Zombies 2" shows the range of his amazing talent, and I can't wait to see what he brings us in the New Year.
4) David Aja – Aja was a cool new discovery for me. I was late to the "Immortal Iron Fist" bandwagon, but once I hopped aboard, it was full speed ahead. Any artist that can make Iron Fists' green and yellow pajamas look fierce deserves to be on my list.
5) George Perez – Perez is my favorite artist -- period. He is the reason I started reading comics, so to have him on a semi-regular basis on "Brave and the Bold" is like a wish come true. If he could only draw every book -- ah, to dream.
Best Titles of 2007
1) "The Walking Dead" – This book is always in my Top Five, but it rockets to the first position this year with the current tale Robert Kirkman is spinning. The writer has always made it known that all of his characters are expendable, and this year, he's putting that notion to the test. The deaths aren't of the "superhero death stunt" variety, but they're poignant moments of sudden and shocking violence. Best zombie story ever – hands down.
2) "Fables" – Another regular on my list, but as long as Bill Willingham keeps writing the book, it's fairly safe to say that it will always have a place here. The writer has also managed to expand his "Fable's" universe with the highly entertaining "Jack of Fables" (co-written with Matthew Sturges). Who knew fairy tales could be so fun?
3) "Invincible" – In a time when the two big publishers are trying to outdo one another with huge events, this superhero book outdoes everything in their libraries by giving us readers what we want – a fantastic story with characters we can invest ourselves in. The book is hitting issue #50 soon, and I hope Robert Kirkman takes it all the way to #500 (and beyond!).
4) "Immortal Iron Fist" – The writers and artist were on my Best Of lists, so you had to know this book would make it. This is a book that has the fun of Spider-Man, the corporate concerns of Iron Man, plus kung fu! The additions the writers have made to the Iron Fist legend on top of Aja's art makes this comic a must-read (that means you!).
5) "Ultimate Spider-Man" – I was sad to see artist Mark Bagley go, but I'm pleased by the choice of Stuart Immonen as a replacement. Bendis continues his exploration of the Spider-Man mythos and turns everything we knew about the wall-crawler topsy-turvy…and I hope he never stops.
1) Geoff Johns - As I said, Geoff Johns has done a lot to both advance and destroy what we call the Event Crossover concept, but I'll discuss the "Sinestro Corps War" more specifically a little later.
In addition to his work on what seems to be everybody's favorite superhero epic of the year, in 2007 Johns turned his already popular "JSA" series into the very popular and must-read "Justice Society of America," which is no small feat for a title featuring disparate DC D-listers like Liberty Belle and Damage. Under Johns' control, these characters -- along with Stargirl, Doctor Md-Nite, Mister Terific and Power Girl -- have risen in stature in the DC Universe, and fight ably alongside legends like the Golden Age Flash, Green Lantern and Wildcat. Really, you'll be hard pressed to find any 2007 stories featuring DC's A-list that are as sophisticated and entertaining as Johns' "Justice Society of America."
2) Bill Willingham - His work on "Fables" alone will earn Bill Willingham a spot on this list for as long as he keeps writing that series, one of if not the most consistently rewarding in American comics.
3) Brian K. Vaughan - Ditto this writer, whose "Y: The Last Man" characters have become so near and dear to readers, the big mystery of the series -- why did all the men die? -- became all but a footnote in 2007, with fans chiefly concerned with the fates of the series' titular hero and his friends as the acclaimed Vertigo title draws to a close.
Brian K. Vaughan's "Ex Machina" also continues to stand above the rest, with this reader constantly asking himself, "How can a comic book about a super-powered mayor be so good?" Vaughan deftly weaves socio-political reality into his post-9/11, post-superhero series, and in a way that's neither didactic nor insincere.
4) Jonathan Hickman - Newcomer Jonathan Hickman authored one of the most important and most relevant comics in recent memory, "The Nightly News," and did so in ways not really seen before. Featuring a cast of cultist revolutionaries, unscrupulous media moguls and corrupt politicians, Hickman challenged his readers with a suspenseful non-linear narrative, loads of depressing research and more political and cultural allusions than you can wave a flag at. The technique of Hickman's approach was novel and even ingenious, but what earns this emergent talent a spot on the list was the substance of the unforgettable story he created, and the fiercely important questions he asked within it.
5) Ed Brubaker - I've been reading superhero books for more than 15 years, and with "X-Men: Messiah CompleX" #1, Ed Brubaker wrote the only X-Men comic book I have ever read and been able to completely understand.
1) Jonathan Hickman - It's not every year you see so startlingly new a way to tell a comic book story, but we did in 2007 thanks to Jonathan Hickman and his "The Nightly News." Depicted entirely in the form of two-page spreads, line-art, heavy graphic-design influences and a meticulously crafted chaos of text and info-graphix, Hickman broke most of the rules of traditional comicbookery, yet told his story more perfectly than any of the most accomplished veterans could have attempted to. Hickman's artwork transcends the notion of the comic book page simply depicting the actions of a character saying or doing something, giving the eye and the mind much, much more to see and think about while never succumbing to style over substance.
2) Mark Buckingham - The criminally unsung hero of "Fables," industry veteran Mark Buckingham has an opus on his hands with the popular Vertigo series. With every new storyline, "Bucky" improves his already consistently stylish yet no-nonsense artwork with brilliant character acting, luscious page borders and even cuter (or scarier) animals. If most comic book artists could be as skilled and proficient as Mark Buckingham, there wouldn't really be such a thing as a bad comic book.
3) Ivan Reis
4) Gabriel Ba - The visionary artist behind the pen and pencils of "Casanova" volume 1 improved his already impressive game in 2007 with Dark Horse's "The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite" from Dark Horse. As explained in effusive detail by his collaborators -- writer Gerard Way and editor Scott Allie-- in CBR's monthly feature UMBRELLA ACADEMICS, Ba has a talent for discovering crazy new ways to depict a scene, often in brilliantly simple ways -- so simple that he makes his fellow artists slap themselves in the face for not trying those ways first. But he also has a gift for background details and emotive character moments, giving his work a rare balance of dynamism and heart.
5) J.G. Jones - The timing of the series' release made "52" an obtuse fit in last year's best-of list. The bulk of the DC Comics mega-hit was released in 2006, but what some fans (and press) forget is that more than 20 issues were released in 2007, which is more than a year's worth of every other comic book series. And that means more than 20 pages of art by J.G. Jones, whose incredible "52" covers were typically the best looking on the stands in 2006 and in 2007.
Twenty pages is about the length of a single-issue comic book, and one single-issue comic book in the last 12 months is enough to give J.G. Jones the respect he deserves on this list of the best artists of 2007.
1) "The Nightly News" by Jonathan Hickman - At this point in the list, it's just math, really. As I said, Hickman's a fresh, visionary talent, and his debut graphic novel "The Nightly News" is by any standard excellent, and might have even created a new standard or two on its own. To anyone who's excited by innovative graphic art, fascinated by politics, disgusted with the Media, and just a fan of a great revenge story with lots of ultra-violence, "The Nightly News" is your new favorite comic book.
2) "The Sinestro Corps War" by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, and co. - When the most exciting, most excellent superhero epic of the decade turns up between the pages of two supposedly innocuous Green Lantern titles, one must give credit where it's due. Geoff Johns may have completely reprogrammed the crossover/event machine with his "Sinestro Corps War" story, which in just eleven issues depicted -- courtesy of the obviously inspired Ivan Reiss -- more action and adventure, more character growth and more status-quo-shattering revelations than other recent Event Stories came anywhere close to achieving with virtually limitless chapters and tie-ins.
And unlike other recent event storylines, "The Sinestro Corps War" actually concluded, but left readers hungry for more.
3) "The Boys" by Garth Ennis and Darrick Robertson - Initially billed as "the comic that would out-Preacher 'Preacher,'" Garth Ennis and Darrick Robertson have in 2007 made even that bold statement seem weak in the face (and ass, and crotch) of their fiercely anarchic superhero send-up "The Boys." Illustrated in often grotesque detail and just irretrievably vulgar, "The Boys" was so excessively offensive (read: funny), even DC Comics couldn't find an imprint suitable for it. Doing the license-heavy Dynamite Entertainment the biggest favor imaginable, DC let this instant classic go and comics fans are better for it. I hope it never ends.
4) "Fables" by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, James Jean, et al. - This modern Vertigo mainstay is the most consistently excellent American comic being published today, and I find it exceptionally unlikely that anyone reading this list hasn't read at least one "Fables" storyline yet. Genre trappings are usually what gets this modern fantasy title compared to Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman," but what the two have most in common is that rare creator who appears so relentlessly inspired to tell his stories as best as he possibly can, and with no shortage of innovation either. In a couple of years, "Fables" will hit issue #100, and its status as an American comic book classic will be cemented happily ever after.
5) "Girls" by the Luna Brothers - This 24-issue Image Comics sci-fi/horror story snuck under the radar for many genre fans, but with the complete series now available in trade paperback and a limited edition complete collection hardcover, I expect its reputation to grow swiftly in the coming year.
Within the framework of a genuinely exhilarating and disturbing beautiful-naked-egg-laying-women-as-horror-movie-monsters story, Joshua Luna and Jonathan Luna explored issues of gender politics, love, sex and family. Following a pattern similar to that of some of television's most acclaimed serials like "Heroes" and "Lost," the ongoing story of "Girls" helped readers get to know its sprawling cast of diverse characters with disparate views and motives. In just 24 issues, many of the Lunas' characters become as real to you as some of your own friends and neighbors, as each tries to deal with their feelings, reactions and, in some cases, attractions to the beautifully depicted action, violence and "Twilight Zone"-esque mysteries that surround them.
And the winner is…
…all comic book readers! Excellent writing, terrific art, and entertaining books should always be appreciated and recognized. And now that you've read our favorites from the past year, it's time to hear your "Best of 2007" lists. So be sure to hop on over to the CBR forums to let us know what creators and titles you feel readers should be checking out. It's always a good time to hear about a great comic!
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