Whether it was aliens invading or heroes dying, 2008's comics definitely aimed for bombast - but how many of them were actually great? As the year stumbles to an end, we take a look back.
In terms of SF comics, 2008 feels a bit... lacking, to be honest; there was nothing with the energy of King City or Wonton Soup, and a lot of the best books were final issues, instead of the start of something new (Collections and reprints-wise, it was a great year, however - I'd point you in the direction of Skyscrapers of the Midwest, The Babysitter and Jack Kirby's OMAC, to begin with - but they weren't really created this year...). It might just be a necessary lull; next year has new work from Paul Pope, Bryan Lee O'Malley, Brandon Graham, James Stokoe, et al, after all. But it did make this year seem curiously anemic in retrospect. So here is the pick, perhaps, of a poor bunch:
Quite simply, the best superhero comic of the last few years. Tapping into the awe-filled tone of the 1950s and '60s Superman stories while still seeming contemporary, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's twelve-part reinvigoration of the Man of Steel finished this year with the perfect send-off: Something positive, optimistic and just a little melancholy.
Matt Fraction's sci-fi superspy series filled its second run with time-travel, sex and gigantic reality-altering weapons before, in its final issue, folding in on itself with a reveal that, at first, felt like a cheat but ultimately recast everything that had gone before and made you need to re-read it like you need to breath. If only everything was this fearless.
(Fraction almost ended up on this list twice; his Invincible Iron Man series for Marvel was, to my mind, the ideal follow-up to the movie, finally figuring out a way to make the character interesting without making him an asshole.)
Fight Or Run: Shadow Of The Chopper
You can argue amongst yourself whether this silent series of strips is really science fiction or not, but Kevin Huizenga's videogame-inspired shorts that bring two surreal characters face-to-face to see their response works both as an exercise in comic formalism and experimentation, and as a funny, surprising reading experience. Me, I'd probably run.
Yes, there have been a lot of problems with DC's big 2008 "event" - the seeming inability to hit deadlines and switching of artists midway through the story, to start with - but despite it all, Grant Morrison and company's slow-motion apocalypse has been creepy and hypnotic, all the moreso for the way in which it refuses to play by the rules.
Love & Rockets: New Stories
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis analogs slaughter aliens. Surely I don't need to say anything else.
Patsy Walker: Hellcat
I don't know if it's the lightness of Kathryn Immonen's writing, the pop of David LaFuente's artwork, or just the sass of the book's star, but there's something wonderful and unexpected in this lowkey miniseries from Marvel about a fashion model-turned-superhero fighting magical demons in Alaska. In the middle of the publisher's highly successful year, this hidden gem is easily the best thing they put out.
Again with the "unexpected" thing, I didn't expect much from Alex Ross and Jim Kruger's 1940s superhero revival... and certainly not the most strange and unusual superhero series of the year. The US government creating zombie soldiers in the Middle East? Lying ghosts with hidden agendas? An evil corporation of robots manipulating everyone that just so happens to have the same name as the parent company of the publisher? It's all here, my friends. Just don't ask me what it all means.
Teen Titans: Year One
It took animation writer Amy Wolfram and artist Karl Kerschl to finally fulfill the potential of DC's team of sidekicks, by offering a story that stayed on the right side of cartoony, but kept an undercurrent of angst and insecurity to provide characters who actually acted like teenagers, for a change. Add some of the best art to appear in any comic book this year and you have a very underrated winner.
Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes
A strange one, this. It's not really the quality of the comic strip itself that lands it in "Worst" position - although the comic strip itself was nothing to write home about, pretty much generic "alternate world"isms from Warren Ellis and friends - but the format. Charging $4.99 for 16 pages of comic book would be a bit much for a small indie company with a lot of overhead and little say in the matter... but for Marvel to do it, especially without letting fans or retailers know that that's what they were doing...? Kind of an unnecessarily low blow.
It started so well, but... well, finished so badly. There's very little way to look back at RIP without getting frustrated at the lack of resolution and all the unfulfilled potential left untouched. It's called Batman RIP people - Couldn't you have done something with that that didn't have a villain who may or may not have been the Devil and the most unconvincing, inconclusive death scene ever? Or, for that matter, had a story that actually ended in its final chapter?
Countdown To Final Crisis
DC's Final Crisis may be flawed but great, but the 52-part prelude series kind of missed out the "but great" part of that idea. As well as missing out the "coherent plots, interesting dialogue and story you feel involved in" bits. And, to make matters worse, it outright contradicted multiple points of the series it was created to lead into. Worst of all, perhaps, was the fact that it took the goodwill that DC had gained from their first weekly series 52 and pissed it away in record fashion. An own goal of almost cosmic proportions.
DC Universe: Last Will & Testament
What do superheroes do when they expect to die the next day? Exactly what you'd expect them to, sadly, according to this uninspired, ponderous comic. While not as much of a disaster as Countdown, Last Will & Testament may have actually been a worse comic by dint of just being... well, not unlike well-illustrated fan-fiction.
Jenna Jameson: Shadow Hunter
From its very conception, you knew that a comic that recreated pornstar Jameson as a comic book demon hunter was a bad idea, but only the comic itself could convince you just how much of a bad idea it actually was. Confusingly written, with overwrought narration and a plot that didn't really go anywhere, this was a celebrity tie-in that made Ed Burns' Dock Walloper look like a good idea.
One More Day
This is, of course, a bit of a cheat; One More Day started in 2007, and the final issue came out in the dying days of that year (December 27th, I believe)... But nonetheless, the full effect of it was what started off this year in comics, and pretty much sabotaged the start of Marvel's (remarkably not-as-bad-as-you-think) Spider-Man relaunch - all because Peter Parker made a deal with the devil just to get a divorce (Note: This may be a somewhat biased take on what actually happened in the story itself). Who would have thought that a boneheaded, out of character move that turned your everyman character into a Satan-handshakin' single man would have been one of the big comic news stories of the year? Oh, that's right - everyone.
Yes, it was hugely successful, and yes, it was on-time (unlike Final Crisis). But if there was a point to Secret Invasion beyond "Let's try and sell lots of comics," I must have missed it. With a story that lacked plot - or, for about half the series, anything actually happening - based around a premise that was abandoned almost immediately (What if aliens had invaded without us knowi- Oh, wait, they've started blowing things up and coming to Earth as giant green monsters), this was slick, showy... and entirely hollow.
I was no fan of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's Ultimates, but Jeph Loeb's follow-up was a mind-blowing miscalculation that offered fans of the series almost no continuity with its previous incarnation, garish art outshone only by insanely overblown dialogue and, in a reveal that still boggles the mind, a Black Panther who turns out to be the most white of all superheroes. Pretty much an entire series of WTF that led into Loeb's Ultimatum