In some ways the Vertigo side of DC Comics has to be my favorite. Three of the top series are from Vertigo with a lot of other titles that are very good and the new line of OGN that have been coming out from Vertigo.
Scalped has to be one of the best all time series. It started out slow but has been building ever since. At this point it appears the proverbial crap is going to hit the fan as Dash’s identity as an undercover FBI agent who has infiltrated Red Crow’s organization is going to be exposed. But there is so much more to this story. Red Crow is the Chief of the reservation and the owner of the new casino. Dash has recently been strung out on heroin and been banging Red Crow’s drugged out daughter. Dash’s Mom (who was killed a few issues back) used to run with Red Crow when they were sort of Native America rebels fighting the US Government. It all got mixed up with a FBI agent who is now Dash’s boss. Of course Red Crow borrowed money from the Hmong’s for the casino and then got tired of their hit man screwing around in the reservation so Red Crow shot him and now the Hmong’s are after Red Crow. I told you a lot was going on. The raw emotions are what stay with you, one little scene where Dash has hit the wall and he is punching a car until the door is dented and his hands are bloodied was riveting. The fact is that this book seemed to be focused on Dash and slowly Red Crow has become the center of the book. No one is 100% a bad guy and no one is 100% good and the shades of gray run the gamut up and down the spectrum. This series is the seminal work of Jason Aaron’s young career and hopefully is a harbinger of future great works. The main artist on this book is RM Guera and his work is outstanding as he delivers the emotion and power of Jason’s story. As it was last year, it is again this year as one of the best series of the year.
Next up is Madame Xanadu from Vertigo and this is also one of my best series of 2009. Matt Wagner has crafted an excellent story and has been slowly telling us the origin of Madame Xanadu and then started to just flow right into her life once she hit the 1940’s. What has been another great element of the book is the way that Matt has refused to stay out of the DCU proper. She has run into the Phantom Stranger, the green lamp that would ultimately power Alan Scott, Sandman, The Spectre and John Jones (the Martian Manhunter’s human identity). I love that we have a Vertigo title that is in fact part and parcel and the regular DCU. This year we had a “fill-in artist” for five issues and the fill in artist was Michael (frigging) Kaluta. I mean this guy is a master artist and I loved his five issues, but Amy Reeder Hadley owns this title. Mike’s work was great but his style is very different from Amy’s and her work is the prettiest artwork in all of comics. I’m in love with Madame Xanadu as she is drop dead gorgeous when Amy draws her. Her style is so fluid and has such grace, but she knows how to design a page and tell a story at the same time. She also can do expressions and tell more with a character’s look that five paragraphs of exposition could ever tell us. With a writer who is also an artist it works perfectly as Matt Wagner knows when to let the pictures tell the story.
The third series which falls under the radar at times for me because it is not one long story is still one of the best series on the stands. Northlanders has been ignored by me at times because it can have one shots and story arcs of three or four or eight or whatever number of issues is right for the story. Each arc has a different artist, but they are all tied together as they are stories of the Viking People and are set in the 10th and 11th Century if memory serves. Brian Wood has been telling some great stories that give you a sense of the time and is based on historical facts, but focuses on the people of the time. As you come to know each character you hate to see an arc end. This year we got a one shot story following up on Sven from the first arc, a sort of ten years later type deal and with the original arc’s artist back. The current story line about the Plague Widow is a fascinating look at a culture trying to deal with a viral outbreak and is rather timely as we are still dealing with the Swine Flu in the world this year.
Okay so that is three best series from one tiny segment of the market and DC could make some big bucks off of me by publishing some hard cover collections of these books, but I may have to pick up the trades just to keep them on my own shelf.
Quickly coming up in the ranks is Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire. A decidedly different take on the post apocalyptic world story where our main hero is a clueless young man who appears to be part animal with his Antlers (at least he is a six point buck). Vertigo gives us Fables which while not blowing me away is still a solid entertaining title and had their first hard cover collection come out this year, which I bought. Cinderella has a mini-series going, House of Mystery is decent and Hellblazer continues to be a very good series. Add in some OGN and the crime OGN and you have a great mix and brand that has produced a lot of classics.
Since I’m covering all of the corners of DC Comics I would be remiss to not mention Wildstorm and the fact that Planetary finally got the last issue out and we have the second collection coming out in July 2010 (why so long I have no clue). One of the best all time series has finally concluded and I can’t wait to read it over the course of one week.
Wildstorm has had fits and starts and while I enjoy some of their books the WU has never been able to sustain any long term direction and is rebooted more often then Hawkman. One day they will get the right formula and take off from there. It is interesting as Wildstorm is still building up the way Dark Horse, IDW and Boom have with license deals for video game based comics. I’m curious to see what Wildstorm will do for 2010.