1. Fables (2002)
The single most consistently excellent comic book of the ‘Aughts. Fables became the face of Vertigo and defined the imprint as much as Swamp Thing or Sandman. It introduced Snow White as a politician, Cinderella as a spy and the Big Bad Wolf as a noir detective, romantic lead and father of the year. Fables spun off secondary series, mini-series, graphic novels and even a prose novel. It was, quite simply, the best.
No superhero series told big stories better than Green Lantern. From Hal Jordan’s Rebirth in 2004 to the Sinestro War in 2007 to Blackest Night in 2009, Green Lantern has delivered blockbuster after blockbuster. Sometimes lost in the fireworks, Geoff Johns has also rehabilitated a menacing rogues’ gallery including Hector Hammond and the Black Hand.
If Green Lantern tells the biggest stories, then Captain America has mastered the grand epic. It seems as if this title has been telling one long story for seven years, and telling it with astonishing skill. From Out of Time to Winter Soldier, from The Death of Captain America to the reign of the Red Skull, Captain America has charmed and captivated its audience.
Who says they don’t make great superheroes like they used to? Invincible may have seemed like just another costumed teenager when he arrived on the scene in 2003, but Robert Kirkman turned Invincible into one of the greatest heroes in comics and one of the greatest comics on the stands. We’ve watched him come of age and overcome great odds. And we’ve enjoyed the supporting cast and the oddball villains almost as much as the lead.
I tried to avoid titles that were defined by one or two great runs but that weren’t consistently excellent for the duration of the decade, but there’s no ignoring Astonishing X-Men. Though they only combined for 24 issues over 4 years, Joss Whedon and John Cassaday crafted one of the greatest superhero comics ever. Resurrections, questions, new characters, aliens, surprises and sacrifices- Astonishing was certainly amazing.
6. Fantastic Four (1998)
This is another title whose decade was defined by one great run. When Waid and Wieringo worked on this title together starting in 2002, the Fantastic Four could honestly bill itself as “the world’s greatest comic magazine” once again. An early run by Carlos Pacheco in 2000 and a late run by Dwayne McDuffie in 2007 also contributed to a very good decade for comics’ first family.
Comics had adapted movies, television shows and even toys before. But Buffy introduced a wonderful new concept. The comic continued the television series, supervised by the show’s creator, with contributions from many of their regular writers. However, it wasn’t just a wonderful idea. It was also a wonderful comic book with drama, tension, humor and action.
It could have been pretentious- main characters named after Shakespeare. It could have been too high concept to work- a plague wiped out all of the men on earth except one. Instead, it was an incredible comic. It was emotionally poignant. It was often riveting. It raised interesting questions. And it was always interesting.
Following the success of JLA, DC turned to the first ever superhero team for a follow-up title in 1999. But this was no second-rate spin-off: JSA often surpassed the former title in terms of quality. It spanned generations, providing an interesting mix of old and new characters. It contained great stories like the Return of Hawkman, the rise and fall of Black Adam and the battles against Eclipso, Mordru and Obsidian. There was no better superhero comic over the course of the full decade.
I admit that Dynamo 5 is one of my pet causes. However, I honestly think this series is this good. It’s like the team version of Invincible. It’s true to our times, when it seems like almost everyone has a blended family with half-brothers or step-sisters. But it’s not a message comic. It’s an awesome adventure comic with great fights, and a strong foundation of interesting characters who are trying to build both a family and a team.
Lost in the commotion, controversy and collapse of CrossGen the company was the fact that they made great comic books. They reintroduced science-fiction and fantasy. They dabbled in horror and mystery. Their most successful and most widely read series was Sojourn. Sojourn was a straightforward fantasy quest that elevated the company and the genre thanks to enchanting characters, a strong story line and especially Greg Land’s art.
Dark Horse produced a lot of great Star Wars comics during the past decade in titles like Empire, Republic and Knights of the Old Republic. Yet the best of the bunch was Legacy. Set in the far future of the Star Wars chronology, Legacy crafted an intricate social and political situation. The Sith and the Empire were separate, warring powers. The Republic military was on the run and the Jedi were in hiding. And the stars of the series were smugglers who weaved between the sides of light and dark while trying to keep themselves alive.
How do I praise Age of Bronze without making it sound like a term paper? Eric Shanower carefully researched the Trojan War, the time period and the many literary sources. As a former English major, I love that stuff. But this is no dry textbook. It’s a riveting tale of passion, conflict and betrayal. It’s beautifully drawn and intricately told. It’s a testament to the art of comic books. And it’s a real good story, too.
It was the little comic that could. She-Hulk was launched in 2004 to little fanfare and cancelled with its 12th issue. But it was quickly resurrected due to fan demand. Dan Slott’s humorous take on superheroes, self-referential comic books and the legal system was a surprising delight and a successful small comic in an age of big epics.
BPRD is a truly unique comic. It’s a supporting cast that somehow stands on its own without its lead, balancing a bushel-full of eccentric characters. It’s a series of mini-series that still manages to tell one long epic (and that comes out more regularly than some series billed as monthlies). It’s quirky. It’s haunting. It’s different. And it’s one of the best comics of the past decade.