The “Other” Top-10 Graphic Novels of the Decade

It’s been a little bit since my byline has darkened the doorways of Geek In The City. I apologize for that. Things have been…busy, to say the least. But I still listen, I still visit, and still contribute when I can.

Or when I’m compelled to.

You know what they say about lists, right? It’s the same thing they say about opinions and assholes. Unfortunately for everyone else, I’m always right and my shit doesn’t stink, so much like Desmond Hume, “The rules don’t apply to me, brotha.” So while Aaron’s “Top 10 Graphic Novels of the Decade” list was an admirable attempt, littered with quality books, all worth owning and poring over repeatedly, he was, I regret to inform you, wrong.

Wrong.

Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.

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And so, for the sake of the site and its legacy as a haven of sanity in the whirlwhind of idiocy that is pop-culture discussion online, I was compelled to right this wrong. And like all great pieces of disposable internet writing, this list is borne from something I angrily shat onto the internet via a comments page.

Now, to be fair, I used the same criteria Aaron did, which is basically “If it was collected as a graphic novel, it counts” and using that stringent rationale, I have compiled my own list, which, unlike any other list on the internet, is totally unassailable and beyond reproach. If you disagree (and you won’t, because I’m awesome) by all means, use that comments section as God intended you to.

THE HONORABLE MENTIONS: “Blankets” by Craig Thompson, “American Elf” by James Kochalka, “The Great Outdoor Fight” by Chris Onstad, “nextWAVE” by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen, “JSA: The Liberty Files” by Dan Jolley and Tony Harris.

10 – Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and Joe Cassady

Of course, Whedon ends it the way he ends most everything anymore: By killing things that you love and rubbing your nose in it. But for as silly as this should have gotten at times, the fact it played pitch perfect with nary a misstep the entire run is a minor miracle. That it came out roughly at the same time as X-Men 3 only helped: On the one hand, Whedon is juggling continuity porn, cosmic plotting, teenage romance and beer guzzling badassery. On the other, Brett Ratner ends his film with a grinning Wolverine doing a Maxwell House commercial at Xavier’s Mansion. Even if Whedon’s book wasn’t great, it sure as hell would have looked it comparatively.

9 – DC: The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke

I love this comic for more than a few reasons; solid characterization, snappy dialog, drop dead gorgeous art. But I love it mostly for this – it’s BETTER than the age it’s trying to pay homage to. This is the best Golden Age story I’ve ever read. Honestly, I know this is unfair: The guys in the Golden Age were hustling for bucks, writing disposable kids stories with no conceptions of creating lasting works of art. They were the vanguards. Everyone else then stood on their shoulders and refined, innovated and perfected from there. I know this. But some of that shit is almost impossible to read now. The New Frontier harnesses the essence of that era, distills everything good about it, then distills it again. And then again. Until you’ve got this hundred proof knockout of a book that gets you drunk on nostalgia and mythology.

8 – The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathbun

This might have gotten top 5 if not for that sorta sluggish dead spot right around the time our heroes survivors made it to the prison. I didn’t mind the shift to a more domesticated, soap-opera-ish kind of book, but a lot of people completely missed out on the Governor and the fresh hell he brought with him, due to that arc. The book sometimes feels a little too stretched out, a mite unfocused, but I forgive it because 1) Kirkman writes great dialog (he’s probably better at this over in INVINCIBLE, but still…) and 2) When he introduces fecal matter to the working propeller mechanism of an oscillating fan, this book does terror like nothing that’s ever hit a comics rack before.

7 – Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Pure, concentrated fun. Multiply the hp x2 if you grew up mainlining NES and Sega Genesis. Level that shit up if you not only recognize the references, but the story about emotionally stunted boy-men slowly coming to terms with the idea that you can enjoy being an irresponsible dip shit for only so long before you’re just an annoyance at best, a disappointment at worst. How will you choose to define yourself? Most comics aren’t asking these questions of their readers. They instead pander to the stubbled, Miller-esque id sullenly raging against adulthood. O’Malley is trying to get at something more worthy of examination while taking care not to weigh it down with the sort of “Garden State” angsty navel-gazing that comes along with it. There’s nothing that says self-examination shouldn’t come with 1-ups.

6 – The Goon: Chinatown and the Mystery of Mr. Wicker by Eric Powell

On the flipside of that emotional maturity I was just talking about, The Goon. Imagine Chuck Jones, in the depth of an ether binge, shitty drunk off moonshine and playing Deliverance on loop in the other room, and you’re getting close to the genius Eric Powell promises and delivers with every issue. Chinatown is where this hulking lunk bares his soul, and has it mangled. There’s a beautiful three page montage wordlessly depicting the Goon at his weakest, and it’s like watching your father cry for the first time. I knew Powell was a brilliant artist, and a gifted comedic storyteller, but I didn’t know he had the depth on display here.
Plus, I like it when Franky shivs motherfuckers in the eyeball. That’s fun.

5 – Fables by Bill Willingham and various artists.

There aren’t too many instances in the comics world where Alan Moore happens upon an idea, puts pen to paper, and leaves people thinking “oh. Well, that was nice, but I’m sure someone will come along and do that better.” Moore didn’t invent the concept of taking literary characters and dropping them into his own stories, but with “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and “Lost Girls,” he definitely pushed the bar way out of reach, high enough for most people to just shrug, say “screw it,” and try something else. Bill Willingham’s “Fables” leaves those two works in the dust, and there’s not much similar in any medium that’s even coming close to approaching it.

4 – Superman: Secret Identity by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen

For as much as people bitch about Superman’s blandness as a character, and for as much as people trumpet Morrison’s “All-Star Superman” as one of the defining takes on the character, I still find “Secret Identity” best gets why the mythology works, and the main character isn’t technically even Superman. Immonen’s art is gorgeous, and the emotional wallop provided by the final few pages is tremendous. If people don’t understand why I like Superman, I don’t lend them “Red Son,” or “Birthright,” although those tales are fantastic representations. I lend them this.

3 – Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra

The closest thing to a perfect monthly series ever published. As Aaron himself wrote, there are a couple frustrating moments where the focus shifts and the stories Vaughan is focusing on aren’t as compelling or vivid as when Yorick and 355 are front and center, but this book goes places even Ellis, Ennis, Morrison and Moore haven’t been able to navigate as nimbly as Vaughan. Almost as remarkable as the run itself? The ending. Not much in this world can be described as perfect. The way Vaughan and Guerra finish Yorick Brown’s story is just that.

2 – I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Nimura

Kelly’s story walks the line between fantasy and reality assuredly, and Nimura’s art is both hyper-stylized and intimate at the same time. It needs to be, as Kelly so explores the inner turmoil behind the bravery of Giant-Killer Barbra Thorson, that a “safer” art style might have lent the story a saccharine quality. But it looks as ragged as it feels sometimes, and it’s all the better for it.

1 – We3 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

Grant Morrison has done a lot of things in his long career. He’s posed a lot of questions, given some shocking answers, but there’s nothing he’s done that’s ever approached the power of this 3-issue book. The story of three escaped government experiments – A dog, a cat and a bunny – We3 is tender, visceral, horrifying, comedic and heartbreaking in equal doses, the disparate tones never distracting, only enhancing and building upon each other. For as good as Morrison is, Quitely turns in the work of his life. We3 is the best the medium had to offer in the 2000’s.

Thanks for reading,
Bobby “Fatboy” Roberts
www.cortandfatboy.com

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3 thoughts on “The “Other” Top-10 Graphic Novels of the Decade”

  1. I don’t know man, what have I said about giving Grant Morrison more credit? It just goes to his peote stuffed head! He’s gonna’ turn into a post-modern Frank Miller… Wait, that might not be a bad thing.

    Kinda’ surprised your list is even heavier with the “capes”. In fact, I would have assumed your list would place Blankets far higher than you did. Although that makes you and I universally loathed on the Internet, as pretty much EVERY list online puts Blankets in the top 5, if not #1.

    Well done. Kinda’ amateurish, but your list is a good start. 🙂

    As for Astonishing X-Men, I am with on that. I did enjoy Joss’ run better than Grant’s. In all honesty, if Grant hadn’t pulled (by choice or order) the whole “Hey, Zorn is Magneto – Wha-Whaaaa” it might have placed. Then again, saying a book is great because it WASN’T Brett Ratner’s X-Men isn’t that much of a compliment, is it?

  2. Wait a minute – my list only has 3 superhero books on it. Superman, X-Men and New Frontier. That’s not very cape-heavy.

    I’m still sorta surprised Box-Office Poison didn’t make my cut. I was championing that to everyone I knew a couple years ago.

    Chew and Phonogram have good arguments for inclusion, as well.

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