The Fab Five (or something like that)
It just so happened recently that my apartment needed unpacked; glad to do this, I proceeded like some great explorer. Taking time to carefully examine and unearth each worldly possession I hadn’t seen in some time, I finally came across the multiple boxes of comics I’d managed to accumulate in the last several years. As each page of printed entertainment came out and was reflected upon, I began building lists in my head of which ones were brilliant purchases (Guardians of the Galaxy!) and which ones could have been skipped over entirely (I’m looking at you, World War Hulk). Finally one pile began to be revered more than any of the others.
I began turning to this pile; the list of titles a good solid handful that I couldn’t imagine not having in my collection. These books felt as important as my Stephen King or J.R.R. Tolkien books. As I finished and began finding places to put them I realized what I had here — a collection of the best comics from the past five years the industry had to offer. These were books that either hit very close to home, were so well done you could use them as teaching aids for future comic creators, or were just the best examples the genre had to offer.
I’ve read each of them multiple times, cherish them and still collect them, even after cutting down my pull list to a scant few. Some had reached the end of their run, their entire story contained in one long over arching collection; others are still in publication to this day, and with a little luck, will continue to do so for the next five years. What follows is a collection of five titles. Of this stack these are the best of the best. The five books I will always recommend. The five best comics of the last five years.
5. Green Lantern: Yes I know, Green Lantern wasn’t started in the last five years, but during the last five he’s been brilliant. Under the writing of Geoff Johns, the man who can overcome great fear has overcome quite a lot. Never is this book not entertaining. When rumors of the film suggested it loosely followed the Secret Origins arc by Johns, I couldn’t have been more excited; granted the final product was nothing like that and really just a huge disappointment. Johns has taken an almost forgettable character in the Green Lantern, he’s not as strong or fast as Superman, not as clever or bad ass as Batman, his ass isn’t as great as Wonder Woman’s, yet he’s been the most relatable and human under Johns. He makes mistakes, he works hard to see good win out over evil and he has overcome great fear time and again.
4. Secret Warriors: This and #5 are the only two books from the big two on the list, and this one isn’t even about any major recognizable super heroes. Unless you count Nick Fury, who is still his original caucasian self in this book instead of his more easily recognizable Sam Jackson counterpart in the Ultimate universe. This book, written by Jonathon Hickman, caught me by complete surprise. I was originally going to give it a pass when issue one hit shelves. Convinced by a friend to give at least the first arc a look (give new comics a chance!), I’ve never looked back. Secret Warriors stars a team of heroes put together by a Nick Fury, who has gone off the radar; these are some of the only people he knows he can trust. What follows is some of the best spy/counter-terrorism/action writing seen since Casino Royale and the first two seasons of 24. Hickman quickly made my list of writers I will read even if he’s writing Aquaman, and his trademark last-page-mouth-agape-holy-shit moments still rank high on my favorite moments in comics ever.
3. The Walking Dead: A book that does zombies so well is a rare thing; more often than not the subject matter turns campy or boring if not handled properly. Robert Kirkman has made the ultimate zombie apocalypse available to all of us and has done so by not making the zombies the focus of the story. The best part of this book is the people in it; watching how each person changes and reacts to the end of the world as we know it. Each person reacts in a way that feels natural, we can easily imagine being in this situation with these people, and not only sympathizing but agreeing with what they do in order to survive. The knowledge that no one is safe is another big point in the book’s favor; at any time any member of the cast could die. Don’t get attached to anyone too closely; they might not be around down the road. Of course, a mention of the comic has to also touch on the show of the same name. The show, inspired by the comic, is just as amazing and well done as the printed source material. Even as zombies become more and more popular and begin to over saturate the market I know I will still be coming back to Kirkman’s incredibly well done story.
2 . Y: The Last Man: I knew a book by Brian K. Vaughn would be on this list, I just wasn’t sure if it would be this one or Ex Machina. My selection came down to a matter of being able to relate to the story. Yorik’s tale is much more relatable than Mitch’s time as the mayor of New York. Set in a world where a mysterious plague has wiped out every mammal on Earth with a Y chromosome except for a man and his pet monkey, Y presents a world that is alien yet eerily familiar. Never once do you question Yorik’s journey, his reasons, or his perceived end game. Simply this is the only thing he can do, so he must do it. The dialogue is brilliant, Vaughn writes people the way people talk, it all comes out natural and believable. The twists and turns in the story will keep you from being able to predict much beyond the current issue, and even then you only have a 50-50 shot of being spot on. The story’s climax literally left me holding the issue in stunned silence as I absorbed what was on the page, and the last issue was perfect; each page brilliantly crafted to lead up to the only real way the story could have ever ended.
1. DMZ: Vaughn almost got the top spot, my love of his work and Y: The Last Man is pretty high up there, but there is one book above all others that I hold in highest regard. Brian Wood’s brilliant story of another American civil war hits home in ways other books just seem to miss. The set up is, a middle class America is tired of their government supporting endless wars on foreign soil, taking their rights, not doing enough to help and support them, and constantly widening the gap between the upper and middle class. These people organize, rise up and take the fight to their government, finally coming to a stale mate and drawing the line in the sand at the island of Manhattan, better known as the DMZ. The story then follows a young reporter who accidentally lands the most exclusive job of his life, reporting on the war directly from the DMZ. Matty is forced to grow up quickly when he realizes everything he’s been told about the war and the people who still live in Manhattan is highly filtered lies and embellishments. The book wins the top spot due to subject matter and realism. This book is not only well written, it is also terrifyingly prophetic. This is a situation that could happen at any time. One wonders if this story isn’t written to be a timely warning to change our ways, much the same as Orwell’s 1984 was. I literally can not say enough good about this book; it entertains, educates, warns and reflects with each installment.
There we have it, the five books I would go back into a burning building to try to save. These five writers also happen to make my “If they write Aquaman, I’ll read it” list. I could write paragraphs about each one of these titles but tried to keep it quick, simple, and easy to digest. Keep in mind this is by no means a collaborative list, this is all just my top picks. Don’t see yours on the list? Think my picks are terrible? Want to add one? Take one away? Leave it in the comments, show us some love!