The Boys – Garth Ennis and Daryck Robertson (Wildstorm)
The Boys poses the classic post-Watchmen question: What if superheroes suddenly appeared in a world not unlike our own rather than one where it's just as likely to get superpowers from a cereal box as an alien spacecraft? In Ennis' world, someone with the strength to punch through a building is just as likely to punch through a person, and the way his the dark, ironic sense of humor deals with the violence is frightening as often as it is funny. Robertson's gritty, lifelike artwork contributes to the feeling of "realism" in the outrageous universe, making The Boys one of the best new series' of the year.
X-Factor- Peter David (Marvel)
Spinning out of Marvel's mediocre 2005 event, House of M, and featuring a cast of C-list mutants, X-Factor had a lot of things stacked against it from the get go. Thankfully, writer Peter David overcame these obstacles with remarkable ease, producing the best work in his long career. Concentrating on the group of mutants who form the titular detective agency, X-Factor is a stunning example of what superhero comics, and comics in general, can accomplish. Holding everything together with a noir feel, David focuses more on light-humour, genuine emotion and character development than he does super-powered throw-downs, making these infrequent eruptions of violence visceral instead of commonplace. The only real problem with X-Factor is that it makes other superhero comics seem as juvenile as most people already think they are.
Nextwave – Warren Ellis and Stuart Imonen (Marvel)
Among several other projects, Famed sci-fi/humor writer Warren Ellis sailed through 2006 with Nextwave, another, well, sci-fi/humor book. Nextwave follows the adventures of five superhero misfits as they "heal America by beating people up," drawing attention to the absurdity of most modern superhero franchises as they do. While it would be easy to credit the book with some of the funniest laugh-out-loud moments in comics, it also sports some of the best action sequences and smartest dialogue. It won't change the way comics are written, but Nextwave is, at the very least, one of the funniest super-group series' available.
Daredevil- Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark (Marvel)
When Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev announced their departure from Daredevil after five years to work on other projects, fans were apprehensive. Could the new creative team, crime fiction veterans Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark, live up to the award-winning reputation of their predecessors? The answer has proven to be a resounding "yes." If the names of the makers weren't printed on the cover, you wouldn't have known they had changed. Beginning with Matt Murdock stuck in a federal prison after being publicly outed as Daredevil, the book evolves into something much more than a common superhero comic.
DMZ- Brian Wood and Ricardo Burchielli (Vertigo)
Given current affairs, a second Civil War in the United States is a great draw. Luckily, Brian Wood and Ricardo Burchielli's DMZ capitalizes on this hook, becoming one of the more intriguing comics on the market today. The story follows Matty Roth who is sent to demilitarized Manhattan with a news crew. When the rest of his crew is killed, Matty becomes the only journalist stuck in the middle of a war zone, struggling to survive and understand what's happening around him. The series' real strength lies in Wood's delicate approach to conflict writing. He portrays the various sides involved skilfully, never explicitly condemning or condoning any viewpoint. In fact, the only group in the war who ever come across as right are those who are trying to salvage some notion of regular existence while surrounded by chaos.
Phonogram- Keiron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie (Image)
Making a black and white comic about magicians and Brit-pop isn't the best way to ensure a massive readership-especially in North America where Brit-pop basically amounted to Blur's "Song 2," Pulp's "Common People," and a handful of Oasis singles. This is unfortunate because Keiron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's Phonogram deserves mass devotion. Everything about this comic is simply too well constructed to be ignored; the story is a twisted mystery, the main character is a perfectly loveable jackass, the album cover pastiches are gorgeous and the extensive end-notes offer a great window into the culture the book is based upon. Even though Phonogram is admittedly about a somewhat esoteric subject for a comic book-which are esoteric enough for most people-it's simply a great story, whether you know the difference between Echobelly and Sleeper, or just like singing "Whoooo-hooo" when the Flames score.
Criminal- Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Wildstorm)
While most comic books delve into the capes and tights of the good guys, Marvel's newest ICON book examines the lives and motivations of those on the other side of the law. Written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Sean Phillips, the gritty drama follows professional criminal Leo as he's coerced into planning a big heist. Despite the subject matter, Brubaker's approach remains grounded in the real world. This isn't a shoot-'em-up crime thriller, but instead, a rare look into a world where the stakes are always sky-high and the consequences are either incarceration or death.
Fell- Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith (Wildstorm)
The latest experimental offering from Image Comics, Fell has been championed by fans for its slightly-lower page count and cost. As a bonus, the series has also turned out to be quite spectacular, earning four Eisner Award nominations last year. Departing from Ellis' usual science-is-funny storytelling, Fell centers around a detective in a very bad, very surreal neighborhood called Snowtown. The sense of unreality is heightened with Templesmith's bizarre style, forcing readers to peel through layers of twisted anatomy and murky colors to glimpse the mystery of this new, exciting universe.
American Virgin- Steven Seagle and Becky Cloonan (Vertigo)
Mixing comics and sex should be a no-brainer. Comics are a visual medium, after all, and there is a dearth of crappy comics clamouring to show off anatomically impossible boobs. What there aren't a lot of is comics that actually examine sex instead of just showing it. Steven Seagle and Becky Cloonan's American Virgin does just this, following the life of the young, pro-abstinence evangelical Adam Churchill after the death of his girlfriend. Through Adam, Seagle manages to scrutinize our sex-obsessed culture nimbly, demonstrating both the absurdity of the rush towards sex and the harms sexual repression can produce. Fortunately, it's not all dry social observation as Cloonan proves the perfect artist for a title like this. Fittingly, her line work is downright sexy and, as an added bonus, anatomically correct too.
All Star Superman- Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly (DC)
Too often do Superhero comics dwell in the self-important pathos of their characters, sacrificing punching for brooding, lasers for heartfelt introspection. In one issue of Morrison's All Star Superman, the legendary hero fights an army of subterranean dinosaurs, arm wrestles two greek gods at the same time and saves Jimmy Olson from certain peril. At it's core, All Star is everything a superhero comic should be, but Morrison's post-modern narrative trappings and silver age deconstructionism add a deep layer of intelligence to what might otherwise be simple tripe. With industry vet Frank Quietly manning the pencils, All Star Superman is quickly becoming the best iteration of the character in years.