1 Jan 2009

Mini Reviews - Best Of 2008

2008 may not be looked upon as a vintage year when the comics history books are being written, but as always if you look in the right places you’ll find a lot of phenomenal stuff being produced. Rather than attempting an exhaustive rundown of all the highs and loves of the last 12 months we’ve decided to go for a simpler approach: we’ve gone through our reviews from the year and picked out ten comics we consider (at the time of writing!) to be a favourite issues of 2008. Below we reprint the original reviews and along with additional comments…

Matt T’s Top 10 Of 2008

In a year when the Avengers seemingly took some time off being Avengers, The Initiative showed some clever touches of dropping brand new heroes in to pick up the slack. Great stuff.

AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE #8 (review originally published 13/01/08)
Writer: Dan Slott & Christos Gage
Art: Stefano Caselli & Daniele Rudoni
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: The best Avengers book. By a loooooong shot. Some very interesting characters and great action are punctuated by the new Ant-Man, who’s pretty much as far from a super-hero as it possible to be without going to the other side. This book has a great feel, an individual look and at least five killer plots on the go at once. 9/10

Booster Gold is huge fun from start to finish, managing to combine action, comedy and sci-fi with a decent slice of drama. The usage of classic storylines to create new plots is clever and entertaining.

BOOSTER GOLD #15 (review originally published 14/12/08)
Writer: Dan Jurgens
Art: Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund
DC $2.99

Matt T: This book is, without doubt, the funnest read I'm picking up at t
he moment. Even when the time travel drama is getting too heavy, Booster still finds time to bicker with his sister or misuse his powers to pick up Italian food. The storytelling is extremely clever, and I'm loving the fact that even the most minute of details can come back to bite the title character on the ass. The art is similarly jovial, but fortunately doesn't detract from the superb storylines. Good Stuff. 9/10

Cable has been one of those undiscovered gems that has spawned from a major event in the X-Men: Messiah Complex, but is still managing to hold it's own.

CABLE #9 (review originally published 07/12/08)
Writer: Duane Swieczynski
Art: Ariel Olivetti
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: I bloody love this comic. For such a small title there are so many big, clever ideas that I wondering why it isn't on everyone's pull-list every month. Bishop is getting more devious, but somehow still remains sympathetic, and Cable is the conflicted soldier he always was, but is steadily becoming more of an emotional whole rather than a bemuscled behemoth with no conscience. The time travel is used intelligently, and for once a Wolverine guest appearance doesn't ruin things. Awesome work all round. 9/10

What can I say about Captain America that hasn’t been said before? The writing, plotting and character development have been superb as the year-plus long arc paid off with the revelation of Bucky as the new Cap.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #35 (review originally published 02/03/08)
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Butch Guice & Mike Perkins
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: God I love this comic. It’s got everything a fanboy would want, and the spine of strong plot throughout. Not to mention great characters, intrigue and it rewards long-term readers. What don’t I like? It doesn’t come out every day! 10/10

The preview issue of Crossed made it look like little more than a slightly twisted interpretation of the zombie genre, but Garth Ennis really pulled it out of the hat with the series proper, producing something far more intelligent.

CROSSED #1 (review originally published 12/10/08)
Writer: Garth Ennis
Art: Jacen Burrows
Avatar $3.99

Matt T: After reading the introduction issue I kind of knew what to expect, but there was plenty about Crossed that still caught me off guard. The occasional horrific spread and the dramatic impact of one of the characters reaching their end was expertly paced for maximum shock value, but didn't feel like it was done for that reason alone. The rest of the issue was more like a standard survival horror book, but I'm intrigued by how the 'infected' differ from your common or garden zombies, as there're hints at far more intelligence and organization involved than with the regular shambling dead. 9/10

The consistent quality of Dynamo 5 has made it one of my favourite titles of the last few years. An entertaining read with some great artwork, and intelligent twists on traditional superheroics.

DYNAMO 5 #18 (review originally published 23/11/08)
Writer: Jay Faerber
Art: Mahmud A Asrar
Image $3.50

Matt T: The way things have been building up in Dynamo 5 it's been clear that everything is going to go tits up pretty soon. The new team made up of mysterious vigilantes, a mother and daughter team, and a nutter who can create earthquakes, isn't exactly well balanced, and someone finally put together the right kind of combination to royally hand their asses to them. What I wasn't expecting was the big final page reveal, and what is could mean for the rest of the series. Granted, the original team will be back up and running in an issue or two but there's a fair few bombshells to address in this fun, entertaining book before that happens. 9/10

I doubt many people were waiting for Freddy Vs Jason Vs Ash quite to the extent that I was. And when it finally arrived in comic book form I was preparing myself to be disappointed. I wasn’t.

FREDDY VS JASON VS ASH #6 (review originally published 30/03/08)
Writer: James Kuhoric
Art: Jason Craig
Wildstorm $2.99

Matt T: Blimey, that was one heck of ride. Just as I was starting to lose faith in the comic incarnations of Army of Darkness this superb book pulls it out of the fire. Granted, anyone who's seen a halfway-decent horror flick knows how this should, and does, end, but it doesn’t mean it hasn’t been fun. Freddy at his malevolent best, Jason being harder to kill than a cockroach and Ash kicking ass and taking names. What more could you want? 9/10

Harold Sipe’s Screamland seemingly came out of nowhere, as a five-issue run of some of the best storytelling I’ve seen in a long, long time, catching up with the Universal Monsters after decades in obscurity. Pick up the trade. Trust me.

SCREAMLAND #4 (review originally published 15/06/08)
Writer: Harold Sipe
Art: Hector Casannova
Image $2.99

Matt T: Much the last issue, Screamland concentrates on a single character from the monsters brigade and fleshes out the legend with some very human character flaws. As it turns out Count Dracula has been living a secret life under the radar of Hollywood, hiding his homosexuality from the press for fear of being shunned. Things take a turn for the awkward when a former one-nigh-stand interviews him on a major entertainment show, leading to some poignant flashbacks. The satire in this book is wonderfully biting at times, and the Wolfman’s appearance shows some superb possibilities for a conflict in the last, and sadly next, issue. 9/10

When the new T’Bolts team was announced, Ellis had me worried. How could this team possibly function? Well, it couldn’t. But the fallout was both spectacular and very, very entertaining.

THUNDERBOLTS #120 (review originally published 15/05/08)
Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Mike Deodato
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: Well, it had to happen. Just as the T’bolts have gone to crap, Norman Osborn goes mental. With the psychics in the basement playing merry hell with the team of criminals the green tights go back on, and pumpkin bombs are flying hither and thither. It seems like no one is safe, and that spells a consistently entertaining read. Here’s to hoping the next issue is just as unpredictable and Normie is still mad as a bag of spanners. 9/10

Being released within extremely close proximity of a very similar concept in Alex Ross’ Project Superpowers, The Twelve featured Golden Age heroes thrust into the modern day Marvel U. A superb concept expertly realized by JMS.

THE TWELVE #1 (review originally published 13/01/08)
Writer: J Michael Straczynski
Art: Chris Weston & Garry Leach
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: An outstanding first issue, which doesn’t dwell on trying to introduce characters (thank god for the internet) but manages to establish personalities and some semblance of a future plot without ruining the pacing. The different looks, not just in costume, of the characters and gritty art really help give the comic something of a timeless feel, and the ending hints at an excellent story for the next eleven issues. Count me hooked. 9/10

Matt C’s Top 10 Of 2008

It’s been a great year for Superman comics and no more so than in Action Comics. Geoff Johns and Gary Frank make the perfect creative team for the Man Of Steel and their Brainiac arc was the most thrilling Superman story I’ve read in several years.

ACTION COMICS #866 (review originally published 15/6/08)
Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Gary Frank & John Sibal
DC $2.99

Matt C: Now this is what I’m talking about! On top of the phenomenal art from Frank, Johns seems to be firing on all cylinders here, supplying everything necessary for a great Superman comic: well-defined characters, a healthy dollop of humour, and some gloriously visceral action sequences! If this opening act of the new Brianiac arc is an indicator to what’s to come, then we’ve got some damn fine comics heading our way over the next few months. 9/10

2008 saw Bucky don the mantle of Captain America and the Red Skull finally defeated. Superb writing from Brubaker who’s completely reinvigorated the character for the new millennium.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #34 (review originally published 3/2/08)
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Steve Epting & Butch Guice
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: When the only major criticism you have is that Black Widow’s hair is way longer than it is in Mighty Avengers, well, you really are clutching at straws. I still find it incredible that this series hasn’t sagged when, 34 issues in, we’re still ensconced in the Red Skull storyline that began in #1. While I may miss Steve Rogers, the first splash page featuring Bucky as the new Cap is a showstopper, and the ensuing fight sequence is expertly staged by Epting. There’s no better book on the stands right now. 10/10

Released to tie in with the rather disappointing animated adaptation of the modern classic DC: The New Frontier, this was another opportunity for Darwyn Cooke to play with the Silver Age icons.

JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE NEW FRONTIER SPECIAL #1 (review originally published 9/3/08)
Writer: Darwyn Cooke
Art: Darwyn Cooke, J. Bone & David Bullock
DC $4.99

Matt C: I think I must be genetically programmed to love anything Darwyn Cooke produces, and The New Frontier Special is no exception. Three stories, all tonally different: a kind of “deleted scene” from the original series, with the Dark Knight and the Man Of Steel duking it out; a neat little tale featuring Robin and Kid Flash with Rebel With A Cause vibe; and an amusing look at Wonder Woman and Black Canary striking a “mighty blow for Women’s rights” by tearing up a Playboy club. The affection Cooke and his collaborators, J. Bone and David Bullock, have for the Silver Age drips from every beautifully illustrated panel. The only downside is that this is a one-off. If DC had sense, they’d get Cooke back working in this little pocket Universe he’s created as soon as possible. 9/10

The quality’s slipped a bit of late, but when it was on form it stood out as one of Marvel’s most criminally overlooked titles. Abnett & Lanning’s steady handling of the publisher’s cosmic heroes is a godsend for fans of the until-recently neglected likes of Warlock, Silver Surfer and Nova himself.

NOVA #11 (review originally published 16/3/08)
Writer: Dan Abnett & Any Lanning
Art: Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: This issue sees the welcome additions of a new interior artist (Pelletier) and a new cover artist (Maleev) to this consistently brilliant series. Still trying to get shot of the Phalanx virus that’s tearing up his insides, Richard Rider arrives on the Technarchy’s home planet where he bumps into a very surprising guest star, one that should bring a smile to the faces of old-school New Mutants fans. One of the best books Marvel is publishing, just a shame that the quality doesn’t equate to high sales. 9/10

Searingly brilliant tales of life an death on the Prairie Rose reservation, Scalped may be hard going at times but is never anything less than compelling.

SCALPED #22 (review originally published 26/10/08)
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: R.M. Guera
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Matt C: Another book where it’s becoming increasingly difficult finding new ways to praise its genius. Scalped kind of snuck up on me: I was enjoying it, thought it was very good, and then all of a sudden it became obvious that it’s an absolutely stunning piece of work. I guess I subconsciously knew that all along, and I don’t know when the exact moment was when I realised how fucking amazing it is, but from now on there’s no question about it. It’s a fact. Nuff said!! 9/10

Darwyn Cooke bids adieu to The Spirit with an issue of sublime beauty. The series continued to provide entertainment but never scaled the same heights following his departure.

THE SPIRIT #12 (review originally published 13/01/08)
Writer: Darwyn Cooke
Art: Darwyn Cooke & J. Bone
DC $2.99

Matt C: This tale of fate, love and missed opportunities is wonderfully written and beautifully drawn. From the cover onwards, every page, every panel, is an exquisite work of art. It’s also Cooke’s final issue on the series. I can pretty much guarantee that the next creative team – no matter how good they are – won’t come close to watching the perfection Cooke’s achieved during his tenure. 10/10

Straczynski’s run on Thor, although beset by delays, has been exceptional and the writer has been ably backed by the skills of Coipel. The stately pace of the first few issues has paid off as all the pieces began to fall into place in a breathtaking manner.

THOR #12 (review originally published 28/12/08)
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Art: Olivier Coipel & Mark Morales
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: The grand scale of Loki’s machinations are finally revealed as he crosses space and time to position himself in the perfect place to bring Asgard to its knees. And, just as the breadth of the God Of Mischief’s ambitions comes into focus, so to does Straczynksi’s immaculately crafted storytelling blaze into full intensity. I’ve said it before but it’s deserves repeating here: I firmly believe this to be Straczynski’s finest work in the comic book medium. Ditto for Coipel, whose art in this issue is nothing short of stunning. 10/10

Jason Aaron came in and nailed the character almost instantly. Millar’s current Old Man Logan arc may be engaging, but it was Aaron’s stint that had the grit and edge.

WOLVERINE #63 (review originally published 16/3/08)
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Ron Garney
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: I guess I was sucker-punched because, after my lukewarm review of last month’s instalment, I certainly wasn’t expecting to be completely knocked for six by Wolverine. This was an absolutely stonking issue that amply displays how Aaron’s hard-boiled writing style is a perfect fit for Logan’s gruff persona. I haven’t been this excited about the character in quite some time, and not even Vaughan’s new Logan series thrilled me quite as much as this did. For me, Ron Garney’s always been one of those artists who’s done good, solid work, but never a name that jumps out of the pack… until now. The art in this book is fantastic, simple but potent imagery that brings the different time periods to glorious life. Unexpectedly, the best book I’ve read this week. 9/10

It’s not finished yet, but so far this X-Men mini has been one of the major surprises of the last year: intelligently written and emotionally affecting. Don’t let the words “X-Men” in the title put you off; this is powerful, moving stuff.

X-MEN: MAGNETO TESTAMENT #3 (review originally published 16/11/08)
Writer: Greg Pak
Art: Carmine Di Giandomenico
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Things steadily go from bad to worse, but then you don’t have to be a historian to know that was coming. This book is something of a minor revelation: considering how misjudged it had the potential to be, the fact that it tells its story without relying on melodrama and avoids oversimplifying the horrors of the Holocaust ensures it’s light years away from anything normally associated with the X-Men. The final few wordless pages are where Di Giandomenico produces some of the most powerful imagery I’ve seen in any comic book this year. Outstanding, and the unquestionable highlight of Pak’s comics career so far. 9/10

Vaughan reached the final issue of this outstanding series and didn’t fluff it. A modern classic.

Y: THE LAST MAN #60 (review originally published 3/2/08)
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan Art: Pia Guerra & Jose Marzan Jr DC/Vertigo $4.99

Matt C: It reminded me of the feelings I get when watching the final episode of one of my favourite TV series: a bittersweet farewell; you’re sad to see the characters go but you can’t stop being moved by the conclusion. Y: The Last Man has been consistently brilliant, a high-concept pitch that worked wonderfully thanks to Vaughan’s thoroughly believable characterizations and Guerra’s expressive line work. After the heartbreaking previous two issues I had no idea how the writer was going to wrap things up, and although how it played out was unexpected, it was a wholly satisfying denouement. I will certainly miss Yorrick’s adventures, but the five-year journey since the debut issue has been an amazing, perceptive and emotionally affecting ride. 10/10

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