I thought that for the 5-year anniversary of Comics-and-More that I would highlight some comic books that I feel have been overlooked. I feel like one of my most important contributions as a blogger is pointing people toward good books that may interest them. I decided to look at books that have come out over the past decade, so some books that I think are criminally overlooked from before that time, such as Keith Giffin and Erik Larsen's Freak Force, are not included here. These are thirty books that I feel, one way or another, should have received more attention from comic fandom in America, and deserved to sell more books.
Athena Voltaire (Steve Bryant & Paul Daly)
Mnemovore (Ray Fawkes, Hans Rodionoff & Mike Huddleston)
Mystic (Ron Marz, Brandon Peterson, John Dell, Aaron Lopresti, etc.)
Octopus Girl (Toru Yamazaki)
Sidescrollers (Matthew Loux)
30. (TIE) It was really difficult for me to narrow this list down to thirty (as you can probably tell by the five honorable mentions), so spot #30 is a tie for four titles that I just couldn't choose between knocking off of this list...
This mini-series from 2002 features Mike Deodato Jr. on art, with a style surprisingly as impressive as his work on more current titles like Dark Avengers. This specific book was four issues long and was part of a bunch of mini-series Marvel was releasing at the time focusing on Avengers and X-Men characters like Vision and Rogue in their own limited series. In her own book, the feline Avenger Tigra is deep undercover in a pretty grim story that has connections to her past and her late husband involving a group of vigilantes. This is a dark story that touches both aspects of her life (as superhero and with the authorities in her day job) with plenty of surprises for Greer Nelson leading to a thrilling confrontation.
30. Ms. Marvel
Brian Reed, Robert de la Torre, Aaron Lopresti, etc.
When not disrupted by the company's mega crossover events, Brian Reed's Ms. Marvel is a pretty solid superhero title, forcing Carol Danvers to confront her past (her family history is just as captivating as the villains that rear their ugly heads) and try to become the best superhero that she can be. Art chores switch hands a few times, as is the case with most of Marvel's books, but for the most part, they get pretty good names on this title. Aaron Lopresti is my personal favorite. The best storyarc is during Ms. Marvel's involvement with a group of heroes including Machine Man and Sleepwalker, and her bond with an alien entity named Cru, in Monster Smash.
Terry Moore is most known for the popular comic Strangers In Paradise, but his recent series Echo is a title that I, unfortunately, never hear people talking about. It's a science fiction story about a small group of people on the run from the government, trying to uncover a conspiracy and keep the weapon that's attached to Julie Martin's body from falling into the wrong hands. There's a lot of great dialogue and interactions between the characters and some really stunning art from Terry Moore - nice action sequences, scenery and just great human forms, from their hair to their clothes. It's all in the details and Moore has them down in this book.
30. Wolverine: First Class
Fred Van Lente, Peter David, Andrea Di Vito, etc.
There are usually several Wolverine titles going at once, so when one comes and goes, it's hardly noticeable, but this title was one that deserved more attention. Wolverine: First Class focuses on Wolverine during an earlier era, after Kitty Pryde had joined the school. Professor Xavier charges him with her training and, together, they get into a lot of mischief as they bond over the course of the book. It certainly doesn't hurt that I'm a huge Kitty Pryde fan, but this all-ages sort of title has great storylines, is often quite funny, and has some pretty neat ideas and guest appearances thanks to creators such as Peter David having an obviously good time with the characters.
Greg Pak & Greg Land
Making some pretty creative connections with the X-Men, Greg Pak (Planet Hulk) weaves a disturbing tale of The Phoenix Force following Grant Morrison's legendary run on New X-Men that put Jean Grey to rest. Morrison really made the X-Men cool again, and he's really good at getting back to the basic elements of a franchise, and has a knack for picking out obvious, but great ideas, and shaping them into classic, refreshing storylines. I feel like this five-issue mini-series had such an inspired story, with twists that were always part of the mythos, but were shocking in how they were used here, while obvious at the same time. Sometimes it takes a visionary to see what's right there, and a great writer to focus those ideas into a really compelling story such as this one.
28. Miss Don't Touch Me
Hubert & Kerascoet
This French graphic novel from a husband-wife team is a compelling murder mystery. A serial killer known as The Butcher of the Dances is cutting women to pieces in 1930's Paris, and a murder close to protagonist Blanche leads her to a high-class bordello to try to discover who the murderer is. While at the bordello, Blanche adopts the role of Miss Don't Touch Me, a stern pain-inducing English governess, and witnesses behavior there that shocks her. This book does a lot of really cool things and offers some really compelling characters that ooze personality. The art reminds me very much of Joann Sfar, with its willowy, expressive pencils, and you couldn't ask for a more conflicted protagonist than Blanche. A real overlooked gem of an import.
One of the funniest books that I've had the pleasure of reading, Leave It To PET!, follows the adventures of recycled robots who come back to help the people who recycled them when they were plastic bottles or bags or whatever they happened to be made out of before they were converted to helpful friends. PET (PolyEthylene Terephthalate - a type of plastic) is a particularly unhelpful robot who offers his services to the boy who recycled him, Noboru. He's well-meaning when he tries to aid him in difficult situations, but things hardly ever turn out the way he plans, often making more of a mess of any given situation than before he arrived. I rarely laugh when reading comics, but with this one, I literally laughed out loud several times over the course of the series. This manga is just a ton of fun, and great for kids of all ages.
Jay Anacleto & Brian Holguin
While the original fantasy comic book Aria was released in 1999, a few mini-series have been released since then and collected by Image Comics, including Aria: The Soul Market, Aria: Summer's Spell and Aria: The Uses of Enchantment. The series follows magical beings living on modern-day Earth. While the stories are exciting and magical, it's really Jay Anacleto's art that's the draw here. His pencils are stunningly beautiful and very lifelike, without seeming too stiff. He brings the real magic to the series through his drawings of varied people, exotic places, and strange creatures.
Marc Andreyko, Jesus Saiz, Michael Gaydos, etc.
Although it's been canceled and saved by fans a few times, still too few people picked up this DC title to keep it going in its own series (it's currently a back-up in Batman: Streets of Gotham). Kate Spencer, hard-as-nails lawyer by day, vigilante Manhunter by night, is one of the better female characters created in recent superhero comics. She tries to stop deadly criminals who have weaseled their way through the justice system and back out onto the streets, using alien technology and her own cunning. This title can venture into some pretty dark territory, but Andreyko consistently keeps Kate compelling as she juggles her life as a mother with her two other occupations.
24. Black Widow
Greg Rucka, Scott Hampton, Igor Korday & Devin Grayson
Greg Rucka did some great work with Black Widow over the past decade, beginning with his follow-up to the 1999 Marvel Knights story "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider," which introduced Yelena Belova to Natasha Romanoff as her successor as the Black Widow, trained in the Red Room as Natasha had been. The follow-up, "Breakdown" (2001) saw Greg Rucka pit the two ladies against one another in a cat-and-mouse game of stolen identities in the sort of spy vs. spy story that works best for the characters. Very violent and exciting, Greg Rucka knows how to build psychological tension and screw with the minds of his characters (and readers). The next Black Widow mini-series he worked on with Igor Korday was the MAX book called "Pale Little Spider" and focuses exclusively on Belova, giving insight into her past as she tries to uncover the secrets behind the mysterious murder of a father figure from her life. This is really good stuff, and proves that Rucka really knows how to work with impressive female characters, leaving them much richer when he leaves them.
L. Frank Baum, Walt McDougal & W.W. Denslow
Sunday Press has been known to produce some very high-quality comic strip reprints, most notably Little Nemo In Slumberland and Sundays With Walt and Skeezix, but the company also took on a more obscure publishing project in the form of this oversized collection, boasting the original size of the newspaper pages from when the Oz strips first debuted over a century ago. The illustrations are masterful, putting a lost treasure trove of stories back into the hands of fans of Baum's Oz books, as well as new readers, with lots of great supplemental material like an essay by Eric Shanower. Also included in this mammoth book are the complete comic strips of Scarecrow & the Tinman by original interior artist on the Oz books W.W. Denslow, as well as another Denslow comic, Billy Bounce. A real discovery for people in this golden age of comic strip reprints, and one that seemed to come and go with hardly a word from the comic community at large.
Fluffy is a very human story about a single man who raises a small bunny by himself, named Fluffy,who believes that the neurotic man is his daddy. This story is absolutely adorable, with Fluffy refusing to acknowledge that he's a bunny, going on about ice cream and stuff like he's a little kid. But it's also very insightful, as the characters fumble through their experiences to find some sort of meaning in life. A lot of this is done through humor, but also diagrams and awkward moments with family. There's a surprising depth to this comic once you look beyond the "cuteness" factor, with some very real characters.
Chickenhare is an all-ages series that follows an unlikely hero, a half-chicken, half-hare, who, together with his oddball friends, has all sorts of adventures and learns what friendship is all about. Grine has a great cartoony sensibility with nice character designs and absolutely fluid storytelling. The Chickenhare books have a Bone feel to them that are missing from other all-ages stories out there, coming across as very genuine, with a good dose of humor and action thrown into the mix. The second volume Chickenhare: Fire In the hole only improves upon the winning formula that Grine establishes with the first book.
Greg Rucka, Carlo Pagulayan, Joe Bennett, etc.
Beginning with issue #7 of the regular series that began in 2001 (through the Marvel Knights imprint), Greg Rucka took the reigns from Brian Michael Bendis and Chuck Austen, beginning a great run for the deadly assassin Elektra. Chalk-full of fantastic fight sequences and some real soul searching for the cold killer, Elektra hasn't been more exciting since Frank Miller worked on his creation. I'm a huge Elektra fan, Frank Miller's Daredevil and Elektra: Assassin being some of my favorite comics period. And while there have been a few other decent runs on the character (Robert Rodi's follow-up to Greg Rucka's work, Zeb Wells' Dark Reign: Elektra), nothing else resonates quite like the exciting stuff that Greg Rucka brought to the table on his run.
Jeff Parker & Steve Lieber
This mini-series from Jeff Parker (Agents of Atlas) and Steve Lieber (Whiteout) was recently collected and quietly placed on bookstore shelves. The story follows a couple of park rangers caught up in the politics of a small town, where a local businessman is attempting to transform local caves into a tourist attraction. It soon becomes a fast-paced adventure as the rangers are chased through the cave by armed men caught conducting illegal activities in the cave. Steve Lieber draws on his experience on Whiteout, where he had to illustrate the story creatively amid a snowy, very white atmosphere. Here, he has the opposite problem, having to illustrate under the constraints of the blackness of the caves they venture through. But Lieber really turns those hardships into absolutely impressive panels, masterfully using shading and light to illustrate this claustrophobic thriller.
Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir & Brian Hurtt
This 2002 mini-series from Oni Press sees an FBI agent working alongside a member of the Navajo Tribal Police to track down a serial killer. Amid plenty of racial tension and cultural differences, the two follow a man who may literally be skinning people in an attempt to wear their skins in an ancient Navajo ritual. It's gruesome stuff, and the book goes to some pretty surprising places, but it's action-packed with a great cast of characters, and interesting commentary on belief, tradition and politics.
Tim Fish is perhaps most known for his gay comic books like Cavalcade of Boys, and while there is a gay character in this title, it's more of a quiet story of friendship following three roommates in Saint Louis, Missouri (one boy and two girls). While the lone male works out his feelings for the boy next door, the girls both join bands and begin competing with one another. This is very much a slice-of-life sort of story of the lives of these three people in a moment of time, a point where they have to find out who they are. It's refreshing, very funny, and it's just a nice little tale, expertly told, about how these three friends touch each other's lives. It feels real and very honest.
Paul Cornell, Leonard Kirk, Pat Olliffe, etc.
This book got quite a bit of buzz building around it as it was being serialized, but not enough to stop it from being cancelled on a high note after fifteen issues. Originally pitched as a reboot of Excalibur, Captain Britain and MI-13 takes place in England, beginning with Secret Invasion, where a team is assembled by Pete Wisdom including Captain Britain, the vampire Spitfire and former Avenger The Black Knight, to keep the skrull forces at bay. It's kind of an odd series overall, but it really seemed to just get better and better as it went along. Great dynamic between the characters and plenty of fun action and plot twists.
15. Elk's Run
Joshua Hale Fialkov & Noel Tuazon
Elk's Run is about an isolated community formed by Vietnam vets who want a haven from the evils of the outside world. As families are being raised in this small world, the teenagers who've grown up here are beginning to rebel (the female-to-male ratio is unbalanced) and when a series of events cause the town to go into full lockdown mode, some of the teenagers make a break for it, and end up trying to dodge men they've known all their lives tracking them down with shotguns. This is a riveting multi-layered work that sees the horror and violence of war brought to a town where they wanted nothing more than to escape it. Solid writing all around.
Raina Telgemeier, Dave Roman & Anzu
While it may have moved enough copies to place on the New York Times Bestseller list for graphic books, this little licensed manga from Del Rey hung somewhere between manga fans and Marvel X-Men fans, not quite attracting either to the extent that it deserved, ultimately resulting with its first volume being its last. It's really a shame because the X-Men really lend themselves well to manga, and this shojo tale following Kitty Pryde attending a special school for kids with powers is damn impressive. The school happens to be populated only by boys until her arrival, and Beast resembles a Totoro, but the creators really put a lot of thought into what could make a concept like this work, with a great romantic triangle between Kitty, Iceman and Pyro, and some utterly breathtaking, almost iconic panels courtesy of Anzu's lovely art. It's really too bad that there won't be more coming out, as this is one of the best things to come out of the X-Men franchise since Joss Whedon and John Cassaday ended their run on Astonishing X-Men.
13. Suburban Glamour
Amid supernatural mayhem, Jamie McKelvie's (Phonogram) four issue mini-series Suburban Glamour is about a small group of teenagers who want nothing more than to get out of suburbia. Plenty of crazy magic and mayhem seep into the story, but it's really the thoughtful fashion, the unique dialogue and the characters themselves (and their sleek designs) that set this title apart from others like it, with Jamie McKelvie's clean, fantastic art being the icing on the cake. The entire package is crafted beautifully.
Warren Ellis, Mike Deodato Jr., Christos Gage, Andy Diggle, etc.
The new Thunderbolts that debuted with Civil War were something of a force of nature. A team of hostile superpowered individuals under the thumb of the government, used to track down unregistered heroes and criminals, sometimes to lethal results. Warren Ellis let loose with one of the darkest, most brutal books out there when this new incarnation of the book debuted. Anytime the team appears in other Marvel books like Spider-Woman, it's an "oh, shit!" moment. And yet, no one really talks about it. There have been some great writers and artists on this book, with some pretty compelling stories and characters on the team, with petty bickering between them and backstabbing and all sorts of great drama, and it seems to me that hardly anyone even noticed that Warren Ellis was writing Thunderbolts or that Deodato was drawing it. It's kind of been taken for granted in my book during one of the darkest times in the Marvel Universe, and now that Marvel has entered its Heroic Age, I doubt we'll see a book quite like it again anytime soon.
Barbara Kesel, Joshua Middleton & Steve McNiven
One of the first books published by ill-fated company Crossgen (who put out a few impressive books like Victorian mystery Ruse and Negation, with its rag-tag team of aliens thrown together to survive), Meridian remained one of the most compelling throughout its run, following a young girl, Sephie, who becomes minister of Meridian when her father dies. She also inherits a strange mark that grants her powers that she slowly learns to use, her power-hungry uncle having a similar mark and trying to usurp her title. There's great political intrigue in this title, compelling characters and fantastic landscapes and battles. Some great artists worked on this title, to some breathtaking results, and it remains a real shame that it ended so abruptly. The good news is that the collections are usually readily available in bargain bins at comic stores and conventions, so it's not too hard (or expensive) to track this rather impressive series down.
10. The Order
Matt Fraction, Barry Kitson, Khari Evans & Javier Saltares
Coming out of Tony Stark's 50-State Initiative during Civil War is this California-based team of heroes with a roster full of famous actors, pop idols and athletes, sworn to protect the state with temporary, artificially-induced powers. It has a great vibe, a cross between X-Statix, with its switching out members who perish, and Ultra: Seven Days with the whole celebrity superhero angle. And while there's a lot of action and scandals, as the premise would suggest, this book is very character-driven, painting each of these damaged celebrities with plenty of dimension, and beginning and ending each issue with an interview of a specific character. Very fun.
Mauro Boselli, Maurizio Colombo, Majo, Luca Rossi, etc.
IDW took on the reprint project of translating the Dampyr saga for American audiences a few years ago, but after eight digest volumes were released, sales didn't warrant its continuation. The long-running European supernatural series follows a half-human, half-vampire who battles hordes of the undead, including master vampires and ghosts, with a few travelling companions. Along the way, he begins to put pieces from his past together to learn exactly who, and what, he is. This is a very gritty comic with some genuinely scary moments, and very nice black-and-white high quality artwork.
8. Sky Doll
Allessandro Barbucci & Barbara Canepa
More European comics! Sky Doll is a fantastic, inventive comic from France that Marvel has published through its relationship with Soleil. And while I feel that all of the Soleil titles are being overlooked by comic book fans, Sky Doll is the cream of the crop. It has a deceptively cartoony quality to it, very Disney-esque, but harbors adult themes and contains a good amount of nudity and horny characters. In fact Noa, the sky doll that the story centers around, is pretty much a pleasure-bot. But beyond the blatant humor and sexuality of the book is a lot of substance in a strange universe that examines religion and oppression among other issues, amid a great amount of action and suspense. The characters are a lot of fun to spend time with, and it really becomes an epic story that's not soon forgotten. The artwork is a big part of the book, boasting fast-paced and cinematic panels, with thoughtful detail going into the worlds and the expressive characters who live in them.
There's a whole world of on-line comics to explore if you have the chance, largely ignored by most of comic fandom. And some of them are really high quality stuff that deserve a larger audience. Some books make the leap to the printed page, most recently Demons of Sherwood and BodyWorld, but there's still a ton of worthy books out there if people are looking for it. The Phoenix Requiem is one of the greatest works available on-line, an epic fantasy that takes place in a Victorian-esque town where a plague has broken out among the villagers. There are also demon-like shades that have begun to appear that may be linked to the disease, and perhaps to a stranger who was found in town bleeding from a bullet wound. Anya is the protagonist of this tale, a competent nurse who's trying to unravel the mystery of the plague before it consumes more of her loved ones and spreads, at the same time trying to figure out the secrets surrounding the handsome stranger. Ellerton's art is clear and crisp, and can be downright stunning in some instances, in a very cinematic-flowing comic. The characters may be broad at times, but the dialogue, action and suspense are thrilling. The book is currently going on 630+ pages (in volume four) and still going strong. Read it here for free.
The book that launched Archaia in 2002, founder Mark Smylie's Artesia is a real work of beauty. It's world-building at its best as Smylie develops his Warrior-priestess amid a fantasy world full of gods, magic and bloody epic battles. There's really nothing like this out on the market today, boasting lush painted artwork and a fully-realized environment with exceptional detail work. Artesia leads her army into bloody skirmishes, asking the gods for favor, performing Pagan rituals and offering them gifts, and interacting with them in chilling scenes. It's amazing seeing Smylie draw these beings amid the human battles, and juggling the politics of this world. This book is violent, sexy, scary, thrilling and utterly captivating. More people need this book on their shelves.
5. Spellbinders: Signs and Wonders
Mike Carey & Steve Perkins
The Spellbinders mini-series oozes atmosphere, and pretty much sets the tone for the entire book from the get-go, as a pair of teens experiment with magic they know nothing about to some horrific results. Full of haunting monsters and ending in a battle as epic as it gets, this book about teenage witches is one of the best the witch sub-genre will likely ever produce. I remember being on the edge of my seat the entire time reading through the second issue of the series the first time around, as the main character Kate is hiding from a man with a knife in her dark house, trying to keep quiet beneath a table as she listens to him move closer to her location. This book is a total treat with plenty of similar heart-pounding moments and surprises.
Tommy Kovak & Sonny Liew
This all-ages sequel to Disney's Alice In Wonderland is fun, witty and just plain gorgeous. Tommy Kovac and Sonny Liew continue Disney's version of the Lewis Carroll story with familiar faces, as well as some new ones. The protagonist of this new tale is Mary Ann, the White Rabbit's maid whom he mistakes Alice for in the original story. Mary Ann is a no-nonsense maid who happens to be obsessive-compulsive about making things pristinely clean. She's utterly likable and is drawn beautifully, as is the rest of the book, by Sonny Liew with delicate lines and cartoony characters, in stunning colors. Kovac came up with some pretty imaginative ideas for this sequel of sorts. In fact, it's brimming with creativity and you have to pause to admire the artwork often, while taking in fun panel arrangements and the craziness that comes with this backwards world that Alice left behind. Great for kids and adults alike.
3. Midnight, Mass: Here There Be Monsters
John Rozum & Paul Lee
This Vertigo book is from earlier in the decade, a six-issue sequel that improved on the original eight-issue mini-series Midnight, Mass (which is definitely worth checking out as well, but the sequel really ramps up everything that worked really well in the first book). The series takes place in Midnight, Massachusettes, thus the name, and sees world-famous monster hunters, The Kadmons, as they do what they do best: kill some monsters. This is a great dark book speckled with humor, with a fun dynamic between the husband-wife team. Art on this title is really nice, the panels perfectly paced for maximum effect in building suspense and illustrating the thrilling events. There are also some really chilling, crazy monster designs (especially in latter issues) that really struck me, as we see a bunch of monsters terrorizing a town, slipping out from under beds and closets, and murdering without discrimination. At the epicenter of all this chaos is the Kadmons' greatest foe, the demon Magellan, who sets his sights high and rallies the troops around him for a battle that is both epic and bloody. Unfortunately, there's no convenient collected edition of this material to pick up, so some back issue hunting is in order if you want to check out this great supernatural thrill ride.
Kieron Gillen & Steve Sanders
Spun out of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's excellent run on Astonishing X-Men, Agent Brand runs the Sentient World Observation and Response Department, the government's answer to threats from outer space, a compliment to their S.H.I.E.L.D. division. With a fun crew of characters, including X-Men Beast and Lockheed, this book was one of the funnest comics that I've ever had the pleasure of reading, right out of the gate, with a great balance of action, humor and verbal sparring, and clear storytelling courtesy of Steve Sanders. Gillen set up a great dynamic here between the characters and I was wholly impressed by what the creators did with each character right up to the end. The situations they came up with were riveting, and the premise and environment they set up for the characters to maneuver through were top-notch. Brand's battle with the bounty hunter Death's Head over the course of the first few issues is an instant classic. This book really did not get the attention it should have. It had the makings of a great, but was an underdog immediately upon solicitation, and was hardly given a chance to make its mark with only five issues released. It's a real shame that this book didn't take off, because I guarantee it's better than pretty much every other superhero book on the market right now.
Archaia has recently been putting this gem of a webcomic into print (two volumes now), exposing a fantastic fantasy series to a new audience. This all-ages book follows Antimony Carver, a fully-realized heroine who attends a strange school with magic and mystery around every corner, and danger waiting in the wings. The stories set in this wonderful dark, Gothic private school begin small and slowly build toward a more epic pitch, much like the art begins a little shaky and you can see Siddell grow confident in illustrating his world as he proceeds, taking those few great cartooning moments from the initial chapters and turning out consistently skilled, smooth art by the end of the first volume, outright stunning readers with his beautiful images by the second. I couldn't believe how quickly I fell in love with the tales told here and the characters that populate them, from robots and demon-possessed stuffed cats to living shadows and sarcastic little girls. And Antimony Carver is a wonderful protagonist. She's a bit awkward and strange, and ultimately very lonely, especially since her father has left without telling her where he's gone (although she deludes herself into thinking he will return by this time or that time, though he never does). She also takes things in stride. The school ghost in unable to scare her, but she quickly offers advice to him without missing a beat. It's all very fun and the thrills keep on coming, the story moving faster and faster as events proceed. It really isn't too often that something so magical and engrossing as this comes along to take readers by surprise, and it's little wonder that it earned a starred review in Publisher's Weekly and even has Neil Gaiman's stamp of approval. I've been swept away by this series and I think that anyone who gives this title a chance will agree with me that it is something really, really special. I don't know how a book like this gets so overshadowed by the mountains of nonsense that ships to comic stores every month, but even if I can point a few people in the direction of a high-quality book like this, this will all have been worth it.