Rather than give myself fits trying to define the undefinable, I decided to go with the practical. These are the works I like the best, the works that take greatest advantage of the possibilities of integrating text and image, the ones I'd likely to re-read over the years (I considered putting the end of 100 Bullets on the list, but it was crowded out by Bonds).
Simple. Clean. I can live with it.
To recap the top 10, then:
9. Lone Ranger #18
8. Black Jack Book 3 hardcover
7. Brave and the Bold #29
6. Sweet Tooth
5. Bonds #3
4. Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?
3. Sandman: The Dream Hunters
2. The Unwritten
And the #1 comic of 2009:
Part superhero, part SF pastiche (past issues have incorporated characters representing Doc Savage and the Fantastic Four, and have joyfully incorporated Japanese monster movie motifs), all high-tech dystopia, this story, along with The Authority, expand on Alan Moore's concept (articulated in Watchmen and Miracleman) that superbeings will either be hunted to extinction or create an enforced utopia, whether we mere humans like it or not.
This issue, appearing some 2 1/2 years after the previous issue, wraps up the storyline, at least for now. Our hero finds a way to enter a time bubble and rescue a comrade long thought fallen. But the risk is reality itself.
John Cassaday's art on this is spellbindingly precise, as is most of his work. His work kept me coming back to Desperadoes through a rather bleak storyline. He reminds me of the silver and golden age masters of precision, Curt Swan and George Perez.
I must confess that I've only read about a third of Planetary. But I have found a fair amount of the work of Warren Ellis that grabs me. He infuses impossibly bleak scenarios with characters who act with undying hope.
A couple cases in point. First, the graphic novel Orbiter, about the death of the space program after the disappearance of a manned shuttle, and the rebirth of possibility in its reappearance years later, with only one of its occupants aboard, in perfect health (physically). Elegant, strong art by Colleen Doran, whose A Distant Soil blog is linked to elsewhere on this page.
Then there's Global Frequency. An autonomous worldwide network of specialists in the impossible, responding on a central frequency to dangers, operating apart from government structures. Ellis wrote a chilling, convincing SF/horror story of bionics for the best of the 12-issue run.
Then there's Fell, a detective with hope living in a hopeless city. This was done by Image as a cheap title run. I'm using one of the collections as a text in my upcoming Comics History course at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, to represent the sensibilities of the modern era of comics.
That sums up the best of Ellis.
"No one can help me."
I was never the fan of Transmetropolitan that most were, but looked at in light of this model, as a character more brittle than cynical, I owe Spider Jerusalem another chance.
So it's time to put the old year away at long last- hold onto the best and learn from the worst, as we always try to do.
It was a hellish year for me in personal terms, but family, good friends, teaching and finding work of this caliber helped me make it through.
I suspect there will be comics aplenty this year. The demise of the comic book has been predicted since its creation, yet it has endured and thrived. The retail models for floppies are tentative, but graphic novels, online comics, TBP collections and hugely spiffy and pricey archive editions are holding their own, even in this treacherous economy.
So here's to Warren Ellis, a force of nature in comics writing whose stories and their denizens always find something noble in the most desperate, cynical situations.
Now back to writing syllabi, cleaning house and reading funnybooks.
As Nexus artist Steve Rude once said, it's a lot of work, but hey, what else you got to do with your life?