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Blue Plate/Cleaning the Plate Year End Extravaganza: Best of 2008

Another year is coming to a close, and with it, some pretty big ups and downs from the big two. This week my comrade and I will give you our choices for the Top 5 best in both major companies. And though we may not agree on what was good, I think it’s safe to say we both agree that it was a relief to see neither company going before Congress begging for money. So without further ado, here’s my list of the best of 2008!

DC manhunter.jpg

Cleaning the Plate Top 5
5. Manhunter
Granted the run on this wasn’t as top notch as before its break; it still ranks as one of DC’s most consistently well written and beautifully drawn books. Kate Spencer and clan have had a very bumpy ride; one that is sadly about to end, but it has also been a very fun ride. I just hope we get to see more of Kate elsewhere.

4. Teen Titans
Sean McKeever is really one of the best unsung heroes in the business. His “Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane” put him on the map, but his take on a very popular franchise has been excellent. A smart man, he’s kept Robin as the center of the team, but allowed many of the new members to shine. TT had a rough patch during the second Crisis, but thanks to the capable hands of Mr. secretsix.jpgMcKeever, this team is doing better than ever.

3. Secret Six
Okay, fine, the series has barely started as the year ended, but it doesn’t matter. Gail Simone has taken some very B list villains and made them the talk of the town. With their bizarre humor and self-centered approach, Gail has turned the concept of a team book on its head. I’m predicting this title will probably be even higher on my list by the end of next year!

2. Trinity
First we had “52”, DC’s first weekly run that gave us one really powerful group of stories. Then they gave us... that second weekly series... anyone remember what it was? Me either, but who cares! Now we have Trinity, and Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley are giving us exactly what we need. This is a very involved story with some of the best art I’ve seen Bagley do in a long time. Even the back-up stories are an integral part of the main piece. If DC decides to do a fourth weekly series, let’s hope they take a page from these two’s play book.

1. Geoff Johns
There’s no doubt about it, Mr. Johns has his fingers firmly on the pulse of the DC Universe, and what he touches turns to gold. His JSA run has been strong (albeit not as legendary as his first run), and Superman has never been in better hands; creating updated versions of Metallo and Braniac as well as helping steer Supergirl towards a much better place. Still, this has been the year of the Lantern, with no end in sight as we gear up for Blackest Night. Top it off with the announcement that Geoff will once again be at the helm of Flash, and there’s no question that he’s made the best of DC in 2008... Well... the best!


Blue Plate Top 5
5. Rejuvenation of DC’s Big 4
Hold up, did I say Big 4? Yes, I did (and those of you familiar with my tastes will know where this is going). Historically, if you asked Joe Blow on the street to name 4 DC heroes, your most likely answers would be Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman & Robin, with that Robin of course being Dick Grayson. While the first three are the company’s heavyweights, they suffered greatly in 2007 from bad stories, HORRENDOUS shipping schedules, and other problems. And poor Nightwing has just suffered about five years worth of miserable character assassination and near-death from his top editor, Dan Didio. But DC turned all that around in ‘08. Superman has all-star creative teams and a new direction which, while I am not a big fan of nor am I following New Krypton, I can admit has rejuvenated the franchise and fan base. Wonder Woman has finally been given the creative team she deserves, and Gail Simone has me actively excited for the next issue of that book for the first time since a guy named Perez was handling the reins. And love or hate R.I.P. (I did equal parts of both, I think), you can not deny that Batman’s main title turned into a water-cooler thrill ride, and Dini churned out some excellent work on Detective in the meantime. Add in Trinity, which started very, very strongly, and the Big 3 received a bit of a renaissance this year...although who knows what ‘09 will bring? And as for my boy Dick Grayson, Nightwing was also finally given the creative team he deserved, and Tomasi, Rags and Kramer turned in a fantastic run, maybe even better than Dixon’s. And with Battle for the Cowl looming and all signs pointing to a turn under the mantle of the Bat, ‘09 may be even bigger for the former Boy Wonder.

4. Final Crisis tie-insfcresist1.jpg
Oh, if only the actual mini were as good as its satellite books...Final Crisis has been in my opinion a poorly-written train wreck from the word go, but its tie-in books (for the most part) have been nothing short of exceptional. From Requiem to Rogues’ Revenge to Revelations to Resist to Rage of the Red Lanterns (did anything start with a letter other than “R”?) to Last Will & Testament and on and on, these books have featured gorgeous art and fantastic superhero writing. And I’ll even throw you Legion-lovers a bone, Legion of 3 Worlds has outstanding art! The only tie-ins I’ve felt have not been up to par have been surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) the two written by FC’s architect, Grant Morrison, Submit and Superman Beyond. But other than those two, these have all been homeruns.

greenlantern.jpg3. Green Lantern franchise
DC’s space cops just kept on rocking this year, as Johns’s GL book tied up the Sinestro Corps War, gave us the Alpha Lanterns, the Secret Origin of Hal Jordan (and somewhat Sinestro as well), and kicked off the Red Lanterns. Featuring ever beautiful art by Reis, this is easily one of DC’s two or three best books. And yet, GL Corps may actually be even better. Tomasi and Gleason gave us the stories of the rest of the Corps, and what stories they were, featuring Mongul, the Star Sapphires, Mother Mercy, and the single creepiest villain I’ve seen in a long time, Kryb. However, the best news is that both of these books are still on the upswing as they lead to next year’s Blackest Night. ‘09 should be the Year of the Lanterns.

2. Return of the Secret 6
I don’t care that this book has only had 4 issues, those 4 are good enough to already make this possibly DC’s most fun book. I freely admit I’m a Simone fan...other than the two-issue stink bomb in Teen Titans her name was attributed to (which I blame fully on Liefeld); I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve ever read by her. She’s a good spandex-comic writer, always mixing equal parts humor, action, character, and quirky weirdness. But when she writes these characters and this concept, she elevates herself to a great writer. Seriously, read these first four issues, think about the ramifications of a legit “Get out of Hell free” card for this group and the many DC villains on their trail, and tell me this isn’t a great book; I defy you to do so. And Nicola Scott’s artwork is just the icing on the cake. This is one to watch for as long as Gail is on it.

1. Booster Gold: Blue & Goldboostergold.jpg
This book is always fun, especially the first 12 issues, but this story arc was the single best story I read from either company this year. Quite possibly the blueprint for how to tell a SUPERhero story. I laughed, I moved to the edge of my seat, I saw characters in new ways, and I even teared up a little by story’s end. Johns, Katz, and Jurgens packed a little bit of everything into this story about time travel, being careful what you wish for, friendship, and getting exactly what you deserve exactly when you weren’t asking for it. Just a tremendous arc.

Honorable Mentions:
Tom Peyer’s Flash arc – yeah, I know Flash has struggled since Johns left, but this six issue arc ranks right up there for me with pretty much anything Johns or Waid (the first time) ever wrote with Wally West

Waid’s Brave & the Bold – Perez’s last arc didn’t finish as strongly as I’d have liked, but the following issue with Batman & Jay Garrick, Deadman, Green Arrow, Hawkman, & Nightwing, and then Superman & Catwoman, were all outstanding examples of why Mark Waid just “gets” the DCU and ALL its characters better than just about anybody.


Marvel

Cleaning the Plate Top 5
5. The Recap
You got it. It’s not a book, or writer, or even an artist that starts my list. It’s the wonderful recaps that start every issue of a Marvel comic. For someone who reads fifteen to twenty comics a week, it’s nice to have that first page to remind me what had gone on before. Some stories I remember, others I didn’t, but Marvel was ironfist_17.jpgthere to help me out when I didn’t. DC needs to take a hint here.

4. Iron Fist
Truth be told, this isn’t really one of my personal favorites. I don’t wait anxiously for it each month, but I’m not an idiot. I know a great story, great art, and excellent writing when I see it. Even with the departure of Brubaker, this book has lost none of the quality that made it the surprise hit that it is. Danny Rand and team have never looked better.

3. Secret Invasion
It seems like you just can’t escape these big sprawling epics anymore. Both companies have inundated us with them for the last few years. It’s like a rollercoaster that just won’t end (even though some of us are screaming for it to stop). Still, giving credit where it is due; Secret Invasion has been the best of the bunch in a very long time. There were enough twists and turns to keep everyone guessing up until the very end. To be fair, it will also be in my Top 5 worst list as well, but I’ll explain why next week. Still, as events go, this one has been the best written in a long time. It wrapped up several storylines, brought our heroes together for the first time in ages, and brought back some old favorite characters as a nice little present.

2. The X-Universeuncanny.jpg
The Uncanny X-Men was the book that brought me into comics in the first place; and has also had the most ups and downs of any comic franchise in the history of comics. And with three little words (yeah you all know them by now), it seemed that the powers that be had dusted it like a vampire with a stake through the heart. Then four exceptionally gifted writers came along and turned it all around: Brubaker, Faction, Carey, and David. Now the entire X-verse is once again brimming with possibilities. Each character is once again coming into focus, and even the weaker books seem fresh and fun to read again. Here’s to more years of Marvel’s Merry Mutants.

captainamerica.jpg1. Captain America
Without a doubt, this is the number one book Marvel put out this year. The year without a symbol became the year with more heart and patriotism than any before. Ed Brubaker has out done himself with this run, and this very well could go down in the annals of Comic history as the definitive Captain America run. Who would have thought that with the death of Steve Rogers, the story would have gotten even better as the newly revived Bucky Barnes took over the star and shield. I would be hard pressed to find any comic that shone as brightly as this one in 2008.


Blue Plate Top 5
5. Captain America
I’ll be honest...I miss Steve. I don’t like Bucky. I was severely disappointed by how Bru’s big “Skull takes over America” arc ended. But that’s mainly because the first 35-39 issues of this book were just so freaking good that anything that dips even a fraction below that level becomes disappointing. Even disappointed, I can still admit this is about as good as modern superhero books get.

4. Guys named Stern and DeMatteis return to writing Spider-man stories
Again, I’ll be honest...I hate BND. I hated OMD, I hate the new status quo, I hate the new villains, and I hate that everything feels like I’m in the mid-70s again when I read Amazing. But when you have in my opinion the two best writers Spidey’s ever had (yes, better than Stan, I said it) writing Spidey stories again (even if, in JMD’s case, they’re “early career” tales in Spider-Man Family), even I will plunk down money to read that. And y’know what...the old masters still know how to do it. Well worth the price of admission, even amidst all the other stuff I don’t like.

3. Dark Reign/post-Secret Invasion status quo
For the first time since just before Civil War started, I’m actually optimistic about Marvel’s overall direction again. The bad guys are back, Thor’s back, the classic Avengers are for the most part back, Mockingbird’s back (yay!), the Inhumans are reunited and looking to kick tail, Iron Man’s no longer a fascist overdog (I even bought an IM book for the first time in about three or four years last week...and ENJOYED it!)...things are looking up. Mighty Avengers sealed this for me last week, as for the first time ever I thought Bendis finally “got” Hank Pym and Clint Barton, and treated them with a little respect. It took a while, and a lot of water under the bridge, but as an old-time/long-time reader I finally like where Marvel is overall again.

2. Marvel cosmicguardians.jpg
Talk about a renaissance...the aftershocks of the glorious comic storytelling that was Annihilation just continued into and through 2008, as Annihilation Conquest concluded, Nova kept getting better, and Guardians of the Galaxy was re-born better than ever. Whodathunk has-beens from the 70s like Nova, Star-Lord, Warlock, Mantis, and the like (plus 80s castoff Rocket Raccoon) could be this much freakin’ fun? Obviously DnA did, that’s who. And with the Inhumans getting involved through the forthcoming War of Kings, Marvel cosmic should continue to rock through ‘09 and beyond.

1. Immortal Iron Fist
Another 70s sensation, and simply put, my favorite Marvel book since its inception, and not even a complete creative change could slow it down. Fraction, Bru, and Aja turned in a masterpiece with “7 Immortal Cities of Heaven”, and then followed it up with the best single issue I read all year from Marvel, “Happy Birthday, Iron Fist”, which should forevermore be the standard for how to end a run and lead into another; they tied up their run and set the stage for Swierczynski and Foreman, who have kept the book rocking right along ever since. As good as superhero comics get.

Honorable Mentions:
Secret Invasion – had its ups and downs, but overall this was the most enjoyable Marvel event in many years

Next week we will bring you the worst of the year.


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