I left off archival works and compilations, so no Herbie Archives or Great Outdoor Fight. If I included those I'd have to include all of DC's Jack Kirby Omnibi, or Popeye Vol. 3, or the latest Peanuts books, and then my top ten of 2008 list would contain nothing originally published in 2008. I fudge that a bit with the top two, since both appeared elsewhere before being collected, but I feel both were underpublicized enough before collection and both stand strong enough as unified wholes to justify ignoring that self-imposed rule. Or something. Anyway!
1. Skyscrapers of the Midwest, by Josh Cotter
Probably not a surprise. We both raved over this one back in July, and everything we said then still stands. Beautiful, moving, ambitious yet relatively restrained, etc. You should probably read this book, if you like things that are great.
2. Ganges #2, by Kevin Huizenga
My first experience with both Huizenga and the Ignatz line. I love the size and two-tone printing, which pretty much perfectly complement Huizenga's early 20th century newspaper strip style. Ganges is thoughtful and reflective without becoming boring or pretentious. "Pulverize", about a group of coworkers addictively playing a multiplayer first-person-shooter during the dwindling days of the first internet boom, elegantly examines the delicate interplay between professional and personal relationships, and how tenuous the latter can be. I've seen this book, and "Pulverize" specifically, on a number of best-of lists, and for good reason.
3. Little Nothings, by Lewis Trondheim
We talked about this, too. It's still awesome.
4. All-Star Superman, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
Not just a perfect distillation of seven decades of Superman, more than just a tender and heartfelt appreciation of the most important superhero ever, All-Star Superman is the rare book that strikes to the very heart of why most of us started reading comics in the first place without devolving into schmaltz or shameless nostalgia. The hope and optimism of All-Star Superman is the perfect antidote to the cynicism and self-satisfied "edginess" that's all too common in modern genre comics.
5. Criminal, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Brubaker and Phillips have the talent to take genre elements that are completely clichéd and easily mishandled and somehow turn them into art as good as their influences. The three oversized issues that make up the third trade, The Dead and the Dying, feature their best and most heartbreaking storytelling, and the four-issue arc that ended the year had a great noir twist ending. And the great essays and reviews in the back make this one comic you should definitely buy every month.
6. Casanova, by Matt Fraction and Fabio Moon
The second "album" of Fraction's mind-bending spy-fi farce ended on an emotional high without crapping out on its typical culture-mad sprightliness. Moon's beautiful art is just as fluid and detailed as his twin brother Gabriel Ba's, without really resembling it much at all. And Fraction's back-matter essays are also pretty great, even if he pulls the curtain back a little too far on his creative process. It feels like a Warren Ellis comic written by somebody who isn't a miserable grouse.
7. Tales Designed to Thrizzle, by Michael Kupperman
I always assume Kupperman can't keep it up, that each new issue of Thrizzle will be the one where I can finally see the effort behind Kupperman's hilarious absurdity and thus lose interest. #4 is just as amazing as the first three issues, though.
8. Final Crisis, by Grant Morrison, JG Jones, and Carlos Pacheco
The most elliptical major crossover ever might confound readers who think The Death of Captain Marvel is great literature, but I'm fascinated, both by how consistently Morrison lets major events unfold off-page, and by how slowly and steadily the apocalyptic dread escalates as Darkseid crushes all hope and individuality. I've heard good things about Simonson's Orion series, but Final Crisis is the best use of the Fourth World mythology since Kirby.
9. Incredible Hercules, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, and various artists
The hilarious and action-packed Incredible Hercules is the best straight-forward superhero comic of 2008. Second- or third-tier books like Hercules benefit from low expectations, sure, but also from the freedom creators have to make a genuine impact upon the character and establish new status quos. You can't get too crazy with the Batman, but with decades-old, yet relatively untapped, properties like Hercules, an enterprising writer (or two) can stretch out and tell some unexpectedly great stories. We saw it last year with Iron Fist and Nova, and maybe right now with Ghost Rider. But so, unifying modern-day Herc with his mythological past expanded the emotional range of a previously one-and-a-half-note dude, and the oddly poignant relationship between him and his teenage sidekick Amadeus Cho is one of the most believable depictions of male camaraderie you'll find from either Marvel or DC.
10. Umbrella Academy, by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba
Whoa, another one we talked about. Imagine that. Like Hercules, Umbrella Academy is just an awesomely fun superhero comic, but with fantastic artwork from Gabriel Ba and a broken family / frustrated potential angle that always makes me think of both The Royal Tenenbaums and Asia's "Heat of the Moment." Good stuff.