REVIEW: Bedlam #1

Bedlam was actually a comic I first heard of thanks to ComixTribe.  Tyler James wrote a column about the series, laying out why he thought it had the potential to be the next big creator-owned comic success, and just the description of the high concept alone was enough to make me want to read this first issue: what if The Joker got treatment, was rehabilitated, and decided to use his unique insight into the criminal mind to help the police hunt serial killers?  Sold!  Take my money!  On top of that, looking at the creative team – written by Nick Spencer of Morning Glories and Thief of Thieves fame, with art by Riley Rossmo, who crafted some really intriguing work for Green Wake – told me this book had a strong pedigree of talent behind it too.  Plus, as I’ve said a few times lately, Image seem to really be on a roll with their new titles.  With all that taken into consideration, plus the great reviews and word of mouth I’ve been reading about it, and Bedlam found itself propelled to the top of my reading list for the week of its release.  I was really looking forward to getting my hands on this book!

After finally getting to read it, I have to say it wasn’t quite as brilliant as I was expecting it to be.  Perhaps it was a case of over-hype setting my expectations too high, as I feel that if this comic had taken me by surprise, I would have found it to be a solid debut.

I think it may be best to get what I didn’t like out of the way, so I can dwell on the multitude of positives available to discuss about this fascinating first chapter.  While the narrative has its share of genuinely great moments, largely surrounding the vile deeds of the villainous Madder Red, I think there are some problematic plotting issues in this first issue.  There are issues with clarity over exactly what is supposed to be going on at a couple of crucial plot beats that repeat reading didn’t do anything to alleviate.  Now, it could be that the ambiguity is deliberate, creating a mystery that will be revealed in future, but it didn’t feel like that to me.  It felt like I was generally supposed to know what happened, but the hows, whens and whys of that didn’t mesh together in palpable fashion, making it feel a bit clumsy.  I’m sorry for being vague in this, I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but hopefully when you read the issue  yourself you’ll see what I mean.

Another issue with the plotting is that it lacks urgency.  Or rather, that most of the high stakes and tension comes from the flashbacks, rather than the present-day “A-story”.  I’ve talked about how great a high concept Bedlam has, how that alone sold me on the comic.  Well, by the end of issue #1, it feels like we’ve only got as far as that elevator pitch, what we already knew about the book going in, without being given any additional hook to lure us back for issue #2.  It’s like if Morning Glories #1 had just ended with the kids stuck in the big school: we knew that would happen already from the synopsis.  Instead, there the first issue had the kids getting stuck in the school…. THEN you got hit with an additional monstrous twist that left your jaw on the floor and had you feeling you needed to see what happened next.  I think Bedlam #1 could really have used a beat like that to close.

But I don’t want this review to appear overly negative, as my overall impression of Bedlam was a positive one.  There was plenty to like about this first issue, most of all the fact that’s it all anchored around an incredibly compelling main character.  Madder Red is an excellent supervillain, with an instantly iconic design, and a personality reminiscent of The Joker: equal parts trail-of-consciousness lunacy of the comics and cynical dismantling of authority of the Dark Knight movie.  Only this is The Joker without the restraint of being published by DC, violently murdering children with wild abandon.  You can tell that Nick Spencer just has a ball bringing this horrifying individual to life, crafting his malicious and sometimes blackly comic monologues with pure relish.

But just as effective is the characterisation of Fillmore Press, Madder Red’s alter ego.  When we meet Fillmore, 10 years have passed since his killing spree as Madder Red, and in the intervening decade he has been locked in an asylum and been subjected to radical, behaviour-altering treatment to “cure” him, before being released back out into society to live a “normal” life.  In contrast to the loud, charismatic Madder Red, Fillmore Press is timid, withdrawn, a deeply damaged shell of a man.  He’s quite clearly mentally ill, but that manifests itself in drastically different ways than it did during his time as Madder Red.  Spencer plays a deft hand in managing to make this character oddly likeable, even after showing us the horrific things he’s done in the past.  I’d say that thus far, this is the big hook that is going to bring me back for issue #2: the chance to learn more about this most unconventional of protagonists.

Riley Rossmo’s art is a delight.  His distinctive visuals were the highlight of Green Wake for me, and marked Rossmo out as a talent waiting to break out with the right project.  Sadly, the early demise of Green Wake meant that wasn’t to be the vehicle to do that, but Bedlam just might be.  If anything, Rossmo’s work is even better, capturing the ethereal mood of his earlier work, but bringing with it more polish, managing to appear cleaner while still capturing that rough, offbeat spirit that characterised his work before.  And as mentioned before, the design of Madder Red is a triumph.  Rossmo is ably assisted by the colors of Jean-Paul Csuka, not just in the stark grayscale/red pallette of the flashbacks that most reviews seem to be raving about, but in the washed out, Seven-style aesthetic of the present day.

So, in closing, is Bedlam the next breathtaking creator-owned comics sensation?  Not quite yet.  However, there are enough promising elements in the mix here that, given time, it could very well develop into it.  Definitely worth a read.

Bedlam #1 is available to buy now in all good comic stores… if it’s not sold out already!

REVIEW: Mind the Gap #1

I had quite high expectations for Mind the Gap, despite knowing very little about it.  Really, all I’d heard going in was that it would be a horror/mystery type series, that it would involve a girl experiencing some kind of mental trauma, and that the cryptic teaser images were rather intriguing.  I have of course quite exhaustively documented how Image have been on a roll lately, and this seemed like it could be another stellar new issue #1.  Sadly, upon picking up Mind the Gap #1 this week, I found the end product to be a bit disappointing.

I think my main problem with the comic lies with the visuals.  It is drawn by the Morning Glories cover team of Rodin Esquejo and Sonia Oback, who have provided some lovely covers for that series, and give us a couple of similarly lovely covers for this one: I had difficulty choosing which variant I wanted to have!  But the downfall comes with the interiors.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s all very pretty.  The page layouts are skillfully handled, and the anatomy is flawless.  But it’s with the faces that things fall apart.  Too often, the facial expressions are just cold and glassy, like looking at a doll.  Even when the faces are technically detailed, they have this lifeless look that recreates a disconnect, this “uncanny valley” effect.  It’s strange: I have read comics with art that is technically inferior to this, but I’ve liked the art much more because they get the faces right, because even with less detail, the artist captures that spark of life and emotion that lets me, as a reader, connect.  And I just didn’t feel that here.

The problem is further exacerbated by the coloring.  This is entering the realm of the highly subjective here, but in terms of colors, the waxen, hyper-glossy tone employed throughout the book creates the kind of aesthetic that can leave me finding some Dynamite books hard to warm to.  It’s not something I typically associate with Image’s output.  I know this is reading like the ramblings of someone who doesn’t know much about art complaining about more qualified people’s artistic visions, and my reasoning for not liking it may not be much better than “I don’t like it”, but it’s just not my cup of tea.

I don’t want to be a total downer to the contributions of Rodin Esquejo and Sonia Oback, however.  There are some sequences they just nail perfectly, such as a character emerging from the shadows through the glow of his cigarette, or an eerie double-page splash where our lead character Elle is lambasted with snatches of voices from her lost memory.  As I say, though it may not have resonated with me, I can recognise the objective craft and skill that has gone into the artwork for this book.

Not all the problems with Mind the Gap are visual, though.  The relation to Morning Glories extends beyond the shared cover artists, as much like that series, I felt a self-conscious attempt in Jim McCann’s narrative to write a TV series in comic form, and in particular it feels like that slew of would-be cult dramas that followed in the wake of Lost: Flashforward, The Event, you get my drift.  Like them, comics like Morning Glories and Mind the Gap focus so much on piling on the mysteries and raising the questions that will form an epic, long-running mystery that they lose sight of first getting us emotionally invested in this world enough to care about the answers to these mysteries.  But Morning Glories managed to hold my interest for close to a year in spite of this flaw by having an engaging ensemble of characters, which Mind the Gap thus far seems to lack.  Yes, there is a collection of characters, and they all seem to be filling certain roles and raising certain questions.  But that’s all they really feel like at this stage: pieces on the chessboard getting moved to the points in the plot they need to be, rather than actual people.

I know it’s early days yet, and I’m perhaps being unfairly harsh.  Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood to enjoy this comic.  All I know is that I really wanted to like it, and this review is a day later than I wanted it to be because I wanted to take a day, and reread it to see if I liked it more.  But the story just isn’t grabbing me.  Like with the artwork, I can recognise the craft, and can see how technically proficient the plotting is, but it just feels cold and clinical.  As I neared the end of my initial read, I was just thinking that – in spite of this being a 50-page comic, and great value for a first issue – there was nothing about this world that made me feel compelled to come back for issue #2, when, in the last couple of pages, a twist is introduced to the concept that suddenly gives us a hook, and makes this mystery much more intriguing.  But was it too little too late to reel me in?  Probably.

I’ve deliberately not mentioned any of the plot.  This is a mystery book, and I think it’s best that you discover what the story is about yourself, if my review hasn’t put you off.  All I can say is, this wasn’t a book for me.  If you’re an avid fan of Morning Glories, or if you like Lost and its various imitators that followed it, you might be a lot more keen on Mind the Gap than I was.  If you’re on the fence, it’s still worth checking out.  50 pages for $2.99, it’s a great deal.  And really, I may be totally off-base here.  The comic is getting some amazing reviews elsewhere.  Maybe months from now I’ll be kicking myself for missing the Mind the Gap bandwagon.  So, if you’re at all curious, don’t let me put you off.

Mind the Gap #1 is available now from all good comic stores.

REVIEW: Chew #20

I must confess, lately I’ve been a bit annoyed by Chew.  Perhaps it’s just sour grapes, given that for two years in a row now Chew has defeated what I felt were superior books (Sweet Tooth in 2010 for Best New Comic and Scalped in 2011 for Best Continuing Series) at the Eisner awards.  Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m tired of people speculating that every Image #1 that gets released (and there’s been a lot in recent months, it seems) could be “the next Chew“, after this series became a surprise hit upon its debut in 2009.  Whatever the reason, I often find myself thinking that, aside from some moments of sporadic brilliance, Chew hasn’t quite been able to quite live up to the sheer excellence of “Taster’s Choice”, its first story arc, and isn’t as great as the hype would suggest.

So, I have all these grievances and grumbles about Chew in my head.  That is, until I actually read an issue.  Without fail, whenever I read a new issue of writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory’s oddball conspiracy comedy-thriller, I’m reminded (and perhaps that’s the problem – the big gaps between issues makes me forget) that Chew is one of the most consistently entertaining titles on the stands, and that rarely is there an issue that doesn’t offer at least one laugh-out-loud moment.  So really, begrudging it for beating Scalped at the Eisners is like begrudging No Country For Old Men for beating There Will Be Blood at the Oscars: my personal favorite in the category may have lost out, but the one that won was still very much a deserving award winner on its own merits.

For those unfamiliar with Chew, I might tell you that is a series set in a world where chicken has been made illegal, in the wake of a recent avian flu epidemic, and that our main character, Tony Chu, is a cibopath, someone who can eat something, and instantly tell you about the history of that thing – be it an apple, or a sausage, or a chunk out of a dead body.  But the sprawling narrative has expanded so far beyond that premise, giving us a detailed, far-reaching, yet utterly bizarre mythology that is still being uncovered, that the initial synopsis no longer does the scope and complexity of the series justice.

Indeed, because of the farcical, comedic caper nature of the storylines, it’s easy to overlook just how much of a labyrinthine plot Chew has.  It’s a credit to Layman’s skill as a writer that it all feels palpable, even simple, when in fact the plotting is deceptively intricate.  This is what puts Chew well ahead of Morning Glories (that most common recipient of the “next Chew” buzz) in my book.  Both are titles driven by mysteries and unanswered questions, but Chew doesn’t get so caught up in it that it forgets to make each issue a compelling, rewarding reading experience in its own right.  I’ve never read an issue of Chew, even one that leaves lots of questions hanging and mysteries unresolved, and thought, “Hurry up and get on with it.”  Because each issue has its own drama that makes it work as a standalone comic you can just pick up, read and enjoy, rather than simply being an exercise in getting to the next cliffhanger – a lesson Morning Glories could benefit from learning.

In the case of Chew #20, the “case-of-the-week” (playing against the backdrop of the larger mysteries that have emerged in this “Flambe” story arc) revolves around The Church of the Divinity of the Immaculate Ova (only in Chew), an egg-worshipping cult that Tony Chu and his cyborg partner John Colby are sent to investigate.  It’s an entertaining enough diversion, but ultimately it ends up feeling like that: a diversion.  Just something for Tony to do, while the real meat of the issue revolves around the bookend sequences at the start and end of the issue, featuring Tony’s enigmatic former mentor, Mason Savoy.

It is also in these sequences that Guillory really gets to cut loose, unloading with a barrage of lush double-page spreads that play on some familiar imagery from the opening issue.  Guillory continues to steal the show with his quirky artwork on Chew.  A lot of his character designs are just inately funny, so much so they could probably garner a chuckle even if Layman scripted them as doing nothing but silently reading the phonebook.  And I love the little details and Easter eggs (Easter Immaculate Ovas?) that he throws in.  For example, a few issues back we saw the cast of Fringe pop up in the background of one scene.  And here, take a look at the visual gag he adds with the Kool-Aid the cult is passing around.

Overall, this is a pretty unremarkable issue of Chew, mainly setting the stage for more interesting things to come.  But such is the nature of this series that even the less than stellar installments can still make for a fun read.  Next year, Showtime will be producing a pilot for a Chew TV series.  So, if you want to be one of the trendy kids who liked the series before it was cool, now’s the time to jump onboard.

My Top Ten Comics of 2010

Hey all!

Been a while since I blogged, so I figured I’d post this up.  I’ve also posted this as part of my Comic Book Club column over on Project Fanboy, but I figured I’d post it here too.  Hope you all had a Merry Christmas, and have a Happy New Year!

2010 was an interesting year in the world of comics. As the new decade began, both Marvel and DC seemed set to be making a move towards more optimistic storytelling and more heroic heroes, with Dark Reign giving way to The Heroic Age and Blackest Night giving way to Brightest Day. There was also a stated intention to move away from company-spanning crossover events, focusing more on smaller events within individual franchises. Neither promise seems to have held on long, with Brightest Day being as gore-addled and grim as any DCU story of the past few years and Daredevil turning evil for a while in Shadowland, and with Marvel recently announcing their latest big crossover event: Fear Itself.

It was a year where the comic book movie craze seemed to falter, with Iron Man 2 proving a disappointment, and both Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim VS the World (undeservedly) underperforming at the box office. But on the other side, it was a year where a new frontier for comic book adaptation – television – began to be exploited more fully. The Walking Dead was one of the year’s biggest TV success stories, breaking viewing records for AMC by a substantial margin and already finding itself nominated for a Golden Globe. This has in turn paved the way for a glut of comic book TV projects, ranging from remakes of classic TV superhero shows of the past (Wonder Woman, The Hulk) to adaptations of thus-far untouched comic book properties (Locke & Key, Powers, Alias).

As ever, it’s difficult to provide a concise summary for the year in comics as a whole. There were a few great comics, some awful comics, and a whole bunch that fell somewhere in between. This list of mine is by no means all-encompassing. Instead, it is a deeply subjective reflection of my own limited, largely mainstream-leaning reading throughout the year. Graphic novels, mini-series’ and ongoing monthly comics were all eligible for inclusion as I put my list together. Here’s what I came up with:

HONORABLE MENTION: THOR

It’s been a turbulent year for Marvel’s god of thunder. After J. Michael Straczynski’s great run came to an abrupt, disappointing close, we entered 2010 with a sense of “Right, let’s hurry up and get on with Matt Fraction’s run, get Kieron Gillen in to tidy up Straczynski’s mess.” But then Mr. Gillen surprised people by coming onboard with a run that was very good in its own right, far exceeding the expectations of the transitional writer between two A-listers and in fact surpassing much of the latter part of the JMS run. Of course, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to those familiar with Phonogram or SWORD that Gillen would not disappoint. His first arc, “Latverian Prometheus” – in which hostilities between Asgard and Dr. Doom came to a head and Straczynski’s incomplete saga was wrapped up – was great fun, and delivered on both the action and characterization fronts. Arguably the high point of Gillen’s run came with the event tie-in Siege: Loki, which simultaneously explained some of Loki’s actions before and during the events of Siege and set up the next storyline for Thor once the event wrapped up, all while giving us a masterful insight into Loki’s motivations and treating us to some lovely art from Jamie McKelvie. It’s a shame then that the Siege tie-in issues of Thor itself were so poor they almost cost the title its place in the top ten. I don’t blame Gillen: the job of writing an arc set in Asgard where he couldn’t actually progress anything because the main activity was happening in the main Siege book, unable to even use any of the title’s main characters as they were also being used in Siege, was a particularly thankless one, which is probably why Straczynksi left the book in the first place. Thankfully then, Gillen got to end his run on a high note with an additional closing arc after finishing the grunt work that saw Thor and friends take a romp through hell. And now that Fraction is onboard (aided by some high-quality art by Pasqual Ferry), we’re getting the beginnings of what seems set to be an intriguing new era for Thor.

10. CHEW

After a stellar beginning that saw me rank the series at #8 in my top ten of the decade at this time last year, Chew seemed to falter slightly this year. Particularly at points during this most recent arc, “Just Desserts”, the series appeared to be lacking direction. But even in its weaker moments, Chew never fails to entertain, typically guaranteeing at least one out-loud belly laugh per issue. Rob Guillory’s art remains fantastic, giving the book its own unique identity, and with the last couple of issues it’s become apparent that John Layman has been carefully crafting a larger mythology, even when it appeared like the book was lacking direction. The stage has been set for Chew to reach new heights in 2011.

9. INVINCIBLE IRON MAN

Here we have another case of a title that reached heady heights in 2009 but couldn’t quite keep it up going into 2010. After the epic “World’s Most Wanted”, it appeared that Matt Fraction’s Iron Man saga had lost steam with both “Stark: Disassembled” and the current “Resilient” arc. With its almost-funereal pacing, Invincible Iron Man at times feels like one of the most decompressed comics on the market. But even when it’s at its most plodding, Fraction keeps things interesting, his mastery of Tony Stark, Pepper Potts and co so refined that he can make an issue of them sitting in a café drinking coffee compelling reading: and there were a couple of issues that weren’t too far off that. But when the action does come, its kinetic, in-your-face, thrilling; Salvatore Larroca’s art (long a weak point in the series) greatly improving over the course of the year. Compliments also go to the fantastic Invincible Iron Man Annual, which gave us a Mandarin who was delightfully vile and free of any redeeming qualities whatsoever. And even when the narrative is moving along slowly, you get the sense that Fraction knows what he’s doing, that he’s carefully setting the pieces in place for something explosive down the line. So Invincible Iron Man still has my attention, and my praise, going into 2011.

8. MORNING GLORIES

I almost didn’t include this in my list. This is in fact a belated edit, after finally getting caught up on the series. I blame the oversight on the frustrating lack of availability the series suffered in its early issues, what with all the quick sell-outs. I managed to get issue #1 on its third printing, but had given up all hope on getting issue #2, and as such had given up on the series altogether. But I finally managed to get a hold of that missing second issue, and now I’m fully onboard. Of course, the plus-side of all those sell-outs is that Morning Glories is positioned as the breakout indy comics smash of 2010, much like Chew was in 2010. But while it was the original high concept that initially sold Chew, with this tale of a group of 16 year olds trapped in a prestigious prep school with dark secrets, it seems like Nick Spencer is crafting the comic book equivalent of a water-cooler mystery more typically associated with television. I’ve seen many comparisons to Lost, but with its off-kilter weirdness, comically monstrous characters and constant sense of lurking dread, I’d say it bears closer parallels to Twin Peaks. In the first issue, Spencer introduces us to six new characters and within mere pages makes them all feel rounded and nuanced. Artist Joe Eisna, meanwhile, provides visuals that deftly shift back and forth from cartoonish to horrifying. Each issue deepens the mystery, offering more questions in place of answers. It remains to be seen whether – much like Lost – this approach stops being tantalizing and starts being infuriating, but for now this series is off to a highly promising start.

7. ACTION COMICS

Caught up in the tepid “New Krypton” saga for much of the year, it would have taken something incredible to hit Action Comics over the latter half of 2010 for the series to rank in this list at all. Thankfully, then, Paul Cornell jumped on as writer of the book, and made Lex Luthor the star. Each month, we see Superman’s arch-nemesis pit against another popular DC supervillain in his ongoing quest to unlock the secrets of the black rings last seen in Blackest Night. Witty, charismatic, even likeable, but also unquestionably evil, Cornell has made Lex Luthor into my new favorite superhero. And the Gorilla Grodd issue was surely one of the best single comics of the year. If the comic hadn’t been subpar for the rest of the year, Cornell’s run could have earned Action Comics a higher placing on this list. We’ll see what next year brings!

6. SWEET TOOTH

Once again, I find myself saying that a comic that was amazing in 2009 wasn’t quite as good in 2010: is that the theme of this year? Sweet Tooth had a brilliant opening arc, but the second storyline, “In Captivity”, didn’t pack quite the same emotional punch. There was one grim period where I briefly thought I had accidentally bought the same issue twice, as I read my new purchase and thought it was so incredibly similar to what I had read a month earlier, offering as little as it did in the way of plot advancement. “In Captivity” did, however, expand the mythology of the series, and introduce new characters to the mix. And despite not being quite to the level of “Out of the Deep Woods”, there was still plenty of emotional, heartbreaking story beats to be found. The current arc, “Animal Armies” has been a big improvement, and over the last couple of months Sweet Tooth has once again become essential reading. It’s just a shame the boost didn’t come earlier in the year, or Sweet Tooth could have cracked the top five.

5. KNIGHT & SQUIRE

I love this series so much. Three issues in, and I already feel totally immersed in this quirky, idiosyncratic and very, very British world that Paul Cornell and Jimmy Broxton have created. A spin-off using characters originally revived by Grant Morrison, Cornell has nevertheless made Knight & Squire feel totally his own. Each issue so far has been so dense with in-jokes and subtle humor that they benefit greatly from multiple readings, and I’ve reread these comics perhaps more than anything else on this top ten list. If I were to use any word to describe Knight & Squire, it would be nice. This is a nice comic. Whenever I’m done reading an issue, I’m cheered up, I feel that little bit happier for reading it. And with the dark, emotionally-draining stuff that’s coming up as our countdown continues, something bright and joyful that captures all the weird, silly stuff that makes comics so much fun is certainly refreshing.

4. AMERICAN VAMPIRE

This actually started out a bit lower on my top ten. But as I wrote this summary of its merits, I kept on nudging it up and up until it finally settled here at #4, making it the highest-ranked new series of the year on my list. American Vampire debuted with much fanfare, billed as the first original comic written by Stephen King – that’s what first attracted my attention. And yes, King’s back-up story over the first five issues proved that the man’s creativity and knack for characterization and the building of dread is not limited to the prose medium. But the true revelation came with the core creative team. Immediately noticeable is the work of artist Rafael Albuquerque, producing some of the most gorgeous interiors of any comic on the stands right now. But more and more I’m coming to appreciate the input of writer Scott Snyder. It seems like every month, he moves the narrative forward in some way, be it through shedding new light on a character or expanding the mythology. He really shows an affinity for serial storytelling, with each installment both serving as a satisfying read in its own right, while having a cumulative effect as it builds on what came before and sets the stage for what is to come. And in the vicious Skinner Sweet, Snyder has created arguably the year’s best new character: one of the comic’s great pleasures is the way we are continually lured into thinking the eponymous American vampire could grow into an anti-hero, only for Skinner Sweet to turn around and do something utterly horrible and monstrous and remind us of what a villain he unquestionably is. 10 issues in, American Vampire keeps on getting better and better.

3. BATMAN AND ROBIN

A list of 2010’s best comics could very easily have been dominated by Grant Morrison’s Batman output. But in the interest of fairness, I limited myself to only including a single Bat-title on the list, and the winner by a narrow margin was Batman and Robin. The book was consistently strong throughout the year, but what really put it above Batman Inc and even the ingenious Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne for me was the concluding arc of Morrison’s run on the title: “Batman and Robin Must Die!” Serving as a kind of sequel to Batman R.I.P., we got to see Dr. Hurt and Professor Pyg make their welcome returns, and Frazer Irving floored us all with some spectacular art. But best of all was the long-awaited return of The Joker, and in particular Grant Morrison’s Joker, given that the Scottish scribe writes the character better than just about anyone. Grant Morrison’s extended Batman saga has made for one of the definitive superhero sagas of the decade and one of the finest runs in the character’s history, and I’m excited to see its next phase with Batman Inc.

2. THE WALKING DEAD

Aw, you gotta feel bad for The Walking Dead. Two years in a row now, it has ranked at #2 in my top ten. Looking at the series as a whole, I’d probably rate it as my personal #1 favorite comic. But based on the 2010 output alone, there is one comic I’d rate even higher. However, having said that, 2010 has still been a stellar year for everyone’s favorite zombie comic. We saw a shift in the dynamic this year as our survivors settled into Alexandria, the long sought-after safe haven they desired, populated by a community of largely good people striving to rebuild a sense of normal life. But the tragedy explored through the plights of various characters this year was that many of our survivors are so damaged by what they’ve had to go through to survive that they no longer have a place in a “normal” world. The result of this conflicted dynamic has been the steady escalation of tensions between the established cast and the new characters resident to Alexandria, all the while distracting us from the inexorable arrival of the zombie horde that now surrounds this “safe haven” as we head into 2011. “No Way Out” seems set to be a major storyline for the months ahead. When also taking into consideration the huge success of the TV adaptation, then I’d say it’s a great time to be a fan of The Walking Dead.

1. SCALPED

I heard alarming news lately, that – in the wake of the recent wave of house-clearing cancellations – Scalped is now currently one of Vertigo’s lowest-selling titles each month. That’s a real shame. Because it means people are missing out on one of the best books Vertigo has ever produced, and what was in my opinion the best comic of the year. 2010 gave us lots of quality developments within the pages of Scalped. The first few months of the year brought the heart-rending conclusion of “The Gnawing”, the storyline that has marked arguably the high-point of the comic’s history thus far. From there, the book adopted a change of pace (brave considering the amount of momentum build up off the back of “The Gnawing”) and gave us a collection of stand-alone stories that helped create a more rounded picture of The Rez and some of its inhabitants.

First came “Listening to the Earth Turn”, a single-issue tale of an elderly couple struggling to make an honest living on the outskirts of the reservation. This was a wonderful little story that challenged some of the negative assumptions that have been tossed in the direction of the series: that it suggests reservations are nothing but cesspits of crime and violence (the protagonists here are decent, law-abiding citizens) and that it is relentlessly bleak and miserable (this story had a happy ending). After that was a two-parter with the tongue-twisting title, “A Fine Action of an Honorable and Catholic Spaniard”, in which we got a little into the mind of Red Crow’s right-hand man Shunka, long one of the most mysterious members of the comic’s ensemble. The full page reveal of his man-on-man kiss was one of the more genuinely surprising page-turn twists of the year. Finally, and perhaps best of all, was “Family Tradition”, a single-issue tale notable on two counts. First, because it marked Jason Aaron’s return to the Vietnam War, the setting of The Other Side – the astounding comic that first made his name. And second, because we saw R.M. Guera (whose work started strong and has been steadily improving over the course of Scalped) reach a whole new level of excellence, with him delivering career-best work.

And after that interlude, it was back at last to the ongoing saga of Bad Horse and co. with “Unwanted”. Here, Carol Ellroy and the significant females of the saga, past and present, took centre stage, with Carol – having discovered she was pregnant at the conclusion of “The Gnawing” – agonizing over whether to have an abortion or to tell Bad Horse he could be a father, and in the process embarking on one of the few genuinely redemptive arcs we’ve seen in Scalped thus far. These issues of parenthood were further explored with the return of Wade Bad Horse, Dashiell’s deadbeat father, and a look at his difficult relationships with both his son and Red Crow. After that, we wrapped up the year with “A Come-To-Jesus”, another one-and-done, this time putting a spotlight on bit-part player Sheriff Wooster Karnow.

The unifying element throughout the year of Scalped was the raw, powerful, exhilarating writing skill of Jason Aaron, possibly the best writer working in the industry today. He’s done quality work over in Marvel in 2010 too, but his crowning achievement remains Scalped. I just hope that 2011 doesn’t mark the title’s cancellation, and that we get to see this epic narrative carry on until its intended conclusion.

So there we have it. My top ten comics of 2010. But I’m sure there are plenty of great comics I’ve overlooked. So let me know – what were your top ten comics of 2010?