As we near the end of the 2010s, for my final look back at the decade in comics, I’m going to be looking at the best comic runs of the 2010s. This decade had some of the best and worst comic series, but I’m here to celebrate the best runs. The 2010s had a lot of good runs that were somewhat unappreciated, that I feel deserve acknowledgement. This is the decade that I got into comics, so I followed a lot of these when they were ongoing. Yet, there is enough distance from most of these runs — most of which are complete — that I feel comfortable judging them as a whole.
For comic runs, the amount of creators and issues varies, but the general idea should be obvious — a bunch of comics where at least one creator has a big presence in the creative process. To qualify for this list, the run needs to have had most of its issues released in the 2010s. That means Grant Morrison’s Batman and Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern, both of which started in the mid-2000s but ended in the 2010s, are out, but Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four, which started in 2009 and ended in the 2010s, is allowed on. Essentially, the runs will have started in the 2010s, with a small handful of exceptions that had very few issues in the previous decade. The key part of it is that this is “runs” as opposed to a series — I’ll be copying a bit of CBR’s rules and say that miniseries do not count as “runs”, unless it’s a group of miniseries in some way; this is for the the best runs on a comic, not sprints. But it can be one ongoing series, something that had multiple series, or just a specific chunk of a series for whatever reason (maybe the creative team lost the artist or something). To keep things manageable, I’ll be focusing on writers and pencillers — not that inkers, colourists and letterers aren’t important, but it’s hard enough to get every artist down for some runs, and I’ll probably miss some, that this is just the compromise I have to make.
Anyway, with all the rules out of the way, let’s get on with it. Here, arbitrarily ranked, are the best comic runs of the 2010s!
(That I read).
Too new to count:
Die by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans
One of the newer comics on this list, Die is the tale of a group of adults taken back to the world they inhabited as teenagers — a world created for their Tabletop Role-Playing Game. Kieron Gillen uses this concept to its fullest, providing a unique, stylish world with twists on popular fantasy tropes and breathing life into these characters. Gillen’s dialogue is at its best here, knowingly smug and pretentious, but with an air of sophistication. Stephanie Hans’ debut as an interior artist is astounding to behold as someone who’s been a fan of her work for years, and she is able to bring this lush, beautiful, terrifying world to life. Die is a great modern spin on an old formula.
X-Men by Jonathan Hickman, Pepe Larraz, R. B. Silva and Leinil Francis Yu
Yeah, sorry, but this is just too new to be on here properly. I’m not going to pretend like it won’t be on here if I’m still doing this in 2030, but as it stands, Hickman’s world-redefining, high-concept reinvigoration of the X-Men into a top tier property once again, filled with interesting characters and telling stories that embrace the past while looking to the future… all of that doesn’t make the list. It hurts me too. But wow is this a good run, with great characters, genuine intrigue and phenomenal worldbuilding that does something new with the X-Men in a way that has me the most excited I think I’ve ever been to read the X-Men again. But… it’s not even half a year old yet, so it’s not allowed in the big boy club.
Animosity by Marguerite Bennett and Rafael de Latorre
A series that came out of nowhere and created quite a shock (get it?), Marguerite Bennett created an intriguing world from a simple concept: What if animals suddenly gained human-like sentience. The way this shifts the world — one that was formerly identical to ours — is profound yet also simple. Bennett squeezes her concept for all it’s worth, doing some amazing world-building focused on the change in economics, the effect this has on different families, the change in morality in the world and the various factions it creates. But she does this while never losing sight of her characters, namely Sandor and Jesse; a dog and his girl.
Darth Vader by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca
I’m not really a big Star Wars fan, but for a little while, I really wanted to be. In the lead-up to The Force Awakens, I nought every single Star Wars comic that Marvel released as part of the new expanded universe. I can’t say it was money well-spent… at all… and I fell out of this want to love Star Wars before The Force Awakens even came out, but one thing that was definitely a treat was Kieron Gillen’s Darth Vader run, which managed to effectively portray Vader as a menacing, brutal villain while giving him inklings of humanity, all in ways that didn’t feel redundant or mess with the films. The plot, as opposed to being pointless rehashes of stories we’ve already seen, involved the scheming conflict between Vader and the Emperor and touched on an ignored part of the original trilogy’s story. Plus, Gillen gave us the best new character in the form of Doctor Aphra, a rogue archaeologist who likes activating evil droids and is the best.
Green Lantern by Grant Morrison, Liam Sharp and Xermanico
Grant Morrison’s run on Green Lantern initially promised a return to simple space cop stories, but that wasn’t what we got. Instead, it’s a space cop story with high-concept sci-fi, but much stranger than what you would normally find in a DC book. The bizarre and outlandish worlds and characters Morrison introduces are used in equally interesting ways, and are backed by great character work that gets to the core of who Hal Jordan is, and introduces some interesting new supporting characters, like Countess Belzebeth, a cosmic space vampire who has managed to become one of my favourite Green Lantern characters in a very short time. The plot becomes a bit unwieldy, yet is still engaging, a great combination that shows off the best of Morrison.
Hawkeye by Matt Fraction, David Aja and Annie Wu
Matt Fraction has a reputation for being a bit of a hipster, but it turns out that’s exactly what Hawkeye needed. A reinvention of the character into the most working-class hero of all time, Hawkeye tells the story of Clint Barton and his life as what amounts to the loser Avenger fighting tracksuit gangs and weird painted assassins. Hawkeye makes Clint barton into the coolest loser you’ve ever seen. Also, Kate Bishop is along as his hyper competent sidekick and their dynamic is great, with a nice new take on a superhero and his sort-of sidekick. Also, there’s a pizza dog. It’s great.
Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett
The Hulk is a character that not many writers seem to know what to do with, but Al Ewing stepped up and has reinvigorated the character. Going back to the original inspiration for the Hulk, Ewing has crafted a story of cosmic horror, finding new ground to explore with the Hulk characters. This willingness to experiment extended even beyond that, and he is currently writing an anti-capitalist, pro-environment take on the character that feels just so fitting for the evil Devil Hulk side of Bruce Banner and the rational scientist side, and provides a good target for Bruce Banner’s endless pent up anger at the world.
Kill or be Killed by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Kill or be Killed was one of the most consistently great comics on shelves. Ed Brubaker’s crime thriller doesn’t end in the best way, but the series otherwise maintained an excellent quality — Brubaker is one of the best writers in comics for a reason. His deconstruction of vigilantism is gripping, tense and terrifying, but at the same time steeped in all too real human emotions and relationships. Throw in a bit of trippiness and an unreliable narrator and you have a tension-filled, gripping read that, even at its worse, was better than almost everything on comic stands, even if it played things a bit too safe.
Skyward by Joe Henderson and Lee Garbett
One of the newer series on this list, Skyward uses a simple premise to its fullest and is an example of excellent world-building. In a world where gravity has stopped doing its job, protagonist Willa finds herself at odds with her estranged father, who wants to return the world to normal. The character stuff is fine — carried by some great dialogue, that can be a bit grating at times — and they’re likeable, with some great twists and turns thrown in and some good dramatic moments, but it’s the world-building that makes me care about this. The simple concept is used to deliver some great visuals, fun moments and all altogether interesting and familiar world.
Venom by Rick Remender, Tony Moore and Stefano Casselli
Venom as a character is one I had very little interest in outside of his villainous role before Rick Remender came along. Starring former-high-school-bully-turned-war-hero Eugene “Flash” Thompson, Remender made Venom one of the best superhero comics of its time. With complex and engaging characters and an addiction metaphor pushed to the forefront, along with the signature dark stories of Remender, Venom reinvigorated the property and gave me a new favourite character. I salute you, Flash Thompson, you and your goofy first name.
15. Superman by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Doug Mahnke and Jorge Jimenez
The Superman line was in a bad place in the 2010s. The New 52 incarnation of the lead character was a flop, fundamentally misunderstanding his appeal. The supporting cast and villains had been gutted and replaced by one-dimensional versions of themselves. So, in what seemed like a move to clean the late… they killed the New 52 Superman. But… replaced him was the Pre-Flashpoint Superman, his wife Lois Lane and their son Jon. And it was a joy to read.
While Dan Jurgens laid the groundwork for what would come in Rebirth, using Convergence to give Clark and Lois a son and then transport them over to the main DC Earth, where he would write their continuing adventures in Superman: Lois & Clark, it was Peter J. Tomasi who really homed in on the Super-family as a concept. Not a family as in Supergirl, Steel, Superwoman, Power Girl and the like, but the Kent family with two Super people in it. He touched on Jon’s struggles growing up in his father’s shadow, Jon making new friends like Kathy Branden and Damian Wayne, the father-son adventures that Clark and Jon went on and his Lois Lane was just really fun.
The rotating art team was also phenomenal. While Gleason and Tomasi are known to work well together, Doug Mahnke does an excellent job holding his own and delivering a different, more horror-influenced aesthetic that still seamlessly transitions from Gleason’s lighter look. Jorge Jimenez goes the opposite route, embracing the optimistic tone of his stories, and is a perfect artist for the lighter, more heartwarming stories that he is given. This trio of pencillers is a perfect fit for this series and are used to their fullest.
Sadly, Tomasi’s run was cut short and always felt like it deserved more, but even as it is, it’s a fun comic that got a lot of people interested in Superman again. Sure, it was cut short and had a bit too many breaks thanks to fill-in writers, but it captured the sentimentality of Superman and was a refreshingly unpretentious take on the character, in a decade where the character’s symbolism and iconography was deemed more important than him as a character.
14. Wonder Woman by Greg Rucka, Liam Sharp, Nicola Scott and Bilque Evely
Wonder Woman as a character received some drastic changes in the 2010s. The New 52 saw the character’s warrior side played up, and the character’s Greek roots were emphasised in a way that gave the series a darker tone but took away the compassion that defined the character. Only a few writers were able to use this new Wonder Woman well, and DC Rebirth saw a return of the compassionate ambassador Wonder Woman — with some modernising here and there that updated the character for new readers.
Greg Rucka gave Wonder Woman a new origin that felt like it took enough from what people know, while making her an endearingly wholesome — but not annoying or bland — character and tying into the rest of his run. Her friendship with Cheetah that readers knew ended in tragedy. given the alternating arc structure that featured a human Barbara-Anne Minerva in “Year One” and a feral Cheetah in “The Lies”, was beautifully written and emphasised Wonder Woman’s compassion. The way Rucka utilised Ares, moving him away from the evil god caricature he had previously been, felt like a direct addressing of the positive reception to the New 52 Ares that fans would miss if he were removed. This run truly felt like Rucka was picking the best parts of Wonder Woman and combining them into an interesting story that set the groundwork for Wonder Woman for years to come.
The alternating pencillers of Liam Sharp and Nicola Scott were perfectly utilised. Sharp’s darker style fit well with the complicated story of “The Lies” and “The Truth”, emphasising violence whenever it happened in a way that didn’t glorify it. In contrast, Scott’s softer faces for her arcs emphasised Diana’s naivete and inexperience, and the beautiful faces lent the arcs a romanticism and optimism that sold Diana’s naive dialogue.
Sadly, DC didn’t really stick with what Rucka gave them, instead for some reason bringing back Diana’s New 52 origin… except not… it was confusing. But this run of Wonder Woman got me interested in the character after several failed attempts at reading her series, and with how it essentially lays the groundwork for future stories, it is also the perfect distillation of the Wonder Woman mythos and character.
13. Uncanny X-Force by Rick Remender, Jerome Opena, Esad Ribic, Reg Tocchini and Phil Noto
X-Force is a series that very rarely doesn’t feel like an artefact of the 90s. Back when all you needed was big guns and blood, and anything with an X on it sold, X-Force was one of the big guys on campus. However, after that era, it has very rarely not read almost embarrassingly… then Rick Remender came along and took a nuanced approach to X-Force, crafting what is one of the best X-runs ever written, and definitely the best X-Force ever written.
With mutantkind on the verge of extinction, Wolverine takes it upon himself to form a new X-Force to stop threats to mutantkind before they can occur. He forms the team out of those who have a drive to kill and intends to use that for good. However, the team’s first mission — the assassination of a child Apocalypse — sets in motion a chain of events that tests the team and the people they are, as that one act ripples throughout the series. Remender doesn’t just stop with strong plotting that makes expert use of X-Men history, he also manages to give every character on the team depth, everyone getting a fitting and well-executed arc in the story that reflected the themes of the run, from revenge to nature vs. nurture.
What really held the run together was the art. Every penciller brought something different to the table, but the one who defined the run for me is without a doubt Jerome Opena. Opena’s dark, angular characters fit perfectly with Remender’s script, and combined with the colouring’s darker hues make sure that the darkness in the run is relentless. Of course, the other pencillers do a fine job too, especially Noto in the series’ final arc that calls for more vulnerable and emotional characters, Noto doing an excellent job at balancing that with the excessive violence that is a key part of the series. Overall, the artists were used well in this run, with Esad Ribic given fantastical sci-fi imagery and Greg Tocchini given a more experimental, trippy story to play with.
Uncanny X-Force is a gem of an X-Men comic and required reading for anyone looking to tackle X-Force. It isn’t shallow or pointlessly violent — everything in it had a point, to aid in Remender’s saga and its themes, and the result is one of the most well-crafted X-Men runs of all time.
12. Deathstroke by Christopher Priest, Carlo Pagulayan, Joe Bennett, Diogenes Neves and Fernando Pasarin
Sometimes, companies try to push a character a certain way. In the case of Deathstroke, Dc has tried to push him as an anti-hero for an oddly long amount of time, and most of his series revolve around this interpretation. It’s not that this can’t be done well — Deadshot is an example of it working out — but Deathstroke as a character is just… not interesting as an anti-hero. Enter: Christopher Priest, who returned Deathstroke to his villainous roots while making it engaging and made the Wilson family interesting.
Priest’s Deathstroke is an unrepentant villain who lacks empathy. He is a murderer who kills for money and barely cares about the lives of others. While he has a moral code of sorts — mostly revolving around a view of children as innocent — it isn’t enough to keep him from being, well, a bad person. Slade’s journey in this run is coming to terms with who he is, with the villain he became and the family man he could be. Through weird dictatorships, fights with Superman and stints as a superhero, Priest’s run is at its core about how Slade tries his best to be the somewhat moral figure that many want him to be, the father figure that Joey Wilson, Rose Wilson and outsiders like Wallace West need him to be… and how he mostly fails, because of his own damage as a human being that has left him unable to let others in, which has left him a toxic influence who destroys everyone he touches. It is gripping, fun, hilarious and tragic to behold the saga of Slade Wilson, the World’s Worst Family Man.
Because of Priest’s non-linear storytelling and complicated plots, the artists he works with need to be able to make his stories as visually clear as possible, to avoid further confusing readers, and the artists of this run manage to do just that. Joe Bennett’s clean style, simple layouts and restraint fit perfectly with Priest’s writing, cutting loose every now and then at the appropriate time, and his designs for the characters feel nicely modern and sleek. His successors do a fine job making sure readers don’t get lost in Priest’s conspiracy wall of a plot, rather than delivering bombastic visuals or intricate layouts. With art for Priest comics, the name of the game is readability, and everyone knew to not muddy the waters here.
With this run having only recently ended, I already miss it. Deathstroke was a great run that understood the core traits of its cast but modernised them. It had an interesting structure and story, and while it was at times impenetrable, the character work always shone through as some of the best in superhero comics. So, kudos to the creative team for making Slade an interesting “wheelon”.
11. Grayson by Tom King, Tim Seeley and Mikel Janin
Tom King’s first foray into comics and one of the first mainstream titles of Tim Seeley, Grayson had a lot of things stacked against it. It was picking up the slack from the status quo setup in Forever Evil, removed Dick Grayson from the Batfamily and the premise of him as a secret agent sounds a bit random. What resulted is one of the best runs with Dick Grayson ever written.
King and Seeley take full advantage of the status quo set up by Forever Evil to tell a story of intrigue and espionage. While the story itself isn’t all too engaging, it does take an interesting look at superheroes and the various secretive organisations in the DCU, and more importantly takes Dick Grayson out of his comfort zone. Dick, being a character so heavily ingrained in the superhero community, is forced to adapt to the life of a spy, and King and Seeley use this to get to the root of Dick as a character. Even in this strange new environment of spies, super organs and hyperviolent Batmen copies, Dick stays true to who he is in a way that speaks of a fundamental understanding of his character on the writers’ part. The new family he builds, consisting of an edgier and more manipulative Helena Bertinelli, an ambivalent super spy in Tiger and a sometimes-ally in Midnighter, is very interesting, not only as parallels to the Bat-family, but in their own right. The plot becomes a bit unwieldy and ultimately goes nowhere, but that’s okay — the character interactions and development is what this series is about.
The main artist throughout the run is Mikel Janin, and it is probably his breakout role as an artist — and for good reason. His softer lines and attractive characters work for the spy fiction nature of the story, and just for Dick Grayson as a character. He delivers some fun layouts and action scenes, all of which lean into the slightly cheesy script, such as when Dick bounces a gun at someone’s head. The art in the series manage to blend the simple modern spy designs with the more outlandish, garish designs that lean into the superhero part of the comic.
Despite initial hostility, Tom King, Tim Seeley and Mikel Janin’s Grayson managed to come out on top as one of the best Batman runs of the decade. Grayson as a series doesn’t end particularly well — not helped by the creative team leaving to write follow-up projects — but the run that these guys did, it still holds up as the perfect Dick Grayson character study.
10. Snotgirl by Bryan Lee O’Malley and Leslie Hung
Snotgirl, from the outset, sounded like it would be a cookie cutter deconstruction of social media use. It follows Lottie Person, a social media sensation, who suffers from severe allergies, but who only posts the best parts of her life on the internet. But Bryan Lee O’Malley doesn’t go for an expected deconstruction of social media, instead presenting a fun, trippy thriller filled with humour and valley girl drama.
What really carries this comic is the dialogue. The story is solid and has some very unexpected twists and turns, and the characters are enjoyable for what they are, but O’Malley’s dialogue is what gives this comic its oomph. The timing of jokes is perfect, the frantic pace maintains a good momentum to the story and every joke lands. O’Malley’s balance of humour and drama is perfect, with some good self-awareness — and not in the basic “I’m acknowledging this thing I’m doing” way — manages to deliver an experience that will have you actually care about some of these terrible, terrible people and the awful, awful things they do.
Leslie Hung’s art maintains a delicate balance of sugar ‘n spice and everything nice and dark imagery. Most of the time, Snotgirl is vibrant and characters pop off the page, embodying the glamour that their social media pages do. These make the times that the series dips into murder and scheming all the more shocking and poignant, and the genuine emotions the characters feel all the more powerful. With Hung, O’Malley has found the perfect artist for his script, someone who can match his tonal shifts at every turn and somehow make it all come together.
Snotgirl is the perfect fun comic. It’s funny, but the humour isn’t too much. It has drama, but the stakes aren’t too high. It has characters you’ll like, but not characters you sympathise with. Everything about it screams a fun time, but in a well-crafted way. Snotgirl defied all my expectations and is just the perfect sugary treat of comics.
9. Venom by Donny Cates, Ryan Stegman, Iban Coello, Juan Gideon and Mark Bagley
Venom as a character is one I had very little interest in before Donny Cates came along. I liked the aesthetic and the idea of a superpowered Spider-stalker, but misuse and misunderstanding of the character stifled any interest I may have had. Then came Donny Cates and his story of cosmic dark gods and murder cults and Eddie Brock coming to terms with his relationship with his symbiote, which reinvented both the Venom mythos and Eddie’s dynamic with his “other”, and thus was born my Venom obsession.
Cates’ story is high concept, dark sci-fi, which suits him incredibly well. After his God Country miniseries, Venom feels like a more metal evolution of the ideas presented. Cates reinvents the symbiote mythos, introducing their creator, Knull, the god of the abyss. It’s all fun stuff that builds off of prior continuity in a very superhero way, and better yet serves as the catalyst for some great character development for Eddie Brock, who sorely needed it, with the introduction of his son Dylan and his separation from the symbiote for a time.
There are two regular pencillers on Venom, but both bring their own energy to the series. Ryan Stegman channels the best part of the 90s and revels in the violence and horror of the cosmic side of Cates’ script, and colourist Frank Martin does an excellent job giving it an extra layer of darkness and grime. Iban Coello handles the more character-focused stories, and while he can definitely do bombastic action scenes, rather than compete with Stegman, Coello is more focused on character expressions and sentimentality. Both artists bring their own flavour to the table, and Cates uses them to full effect.
Venom came out of nowhere and managed to become one of the best superhero comics on stands. It is inventive, it is bombastic, and it is fun — but always rooted in human emotion and character development. It’s a miracle that Venom has not only recovered from some prior runs, but come out on top, and I can’t wait for more.
8. Avengers by Jonathan Hickman
The dual titles of Avengers and New Avengers that composed Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers run are a behemoth of multilayered storytelling and a masterclass in plotting. Hickman’s story focuses on the inevitable death of the universe in New Avengers, which is being desperately fought off by the Illuminati as they sink deeper and deeper into moral depravity in order to save all they know. Avengers, in contrast, is an affirmation of the Avengers’ heroism as the team assembled by Captain America fights off threats that seek to change the world — threats that are more connected to the universe’s destruction than they initially seem.
While Avengers is definitely the weaker series of the two, Hickman manages to tell an epic story that brings the Avengers into a new age, filled with scale and pathos that can only be described as epic, all while not losing site of the important players in the multiverse-shattering — yes, it eventually escalates to multiverse — conflict that culminates in Marvel’s biggest event of the 2010s, Secret Wars. The sheer scale of it all is brilliant, and the cosmic chess game being played in New Avengers has this sense of foreboding that is all actually paid off, all while the characters are given fitting arcs, such as T’Challa and Namor moving past their cycle of revenge, or extensions of previus stories, such as Hickman’s work here playing off of the optimistic Reed Richards established in his Fantastic Four run. Every character in New Avengers it at least given a moment that is a declaration on who they are as a character, and it is a marvel that Hickman managed to juggle this cast as well as he did.
There are a variety of artists during this run — so many that it is just way too difficult to keep track of — and for the most part they all do a fine job. There are moments that are elevated by strong art, such as the mythical assembling of the Avengers by Jerome Opena in Avengers #1, the sentimentality of the issue focusing on the new Smasher and her grandfather as drawn by Adam Kubert and the ominous foreboding in the first scene of New Avengers, drawn by Steve Epting. It’s all wonderful, and for the most part works, though there are moments or stories here and there that definitely let things down a bit, but with something of this scope, and without a regular artist, that’s sort of unavoidable.
The Avengers are a team that I don’t have much experience with. I read a fair chunk of Brian Michael Bendis’ run with the team, but never took to it. Really, Young Avengers is the most I’ve ever cared about anything Avengers-related. But Jonathan Hickman made me care, by crafting a grand epic that built on itself and what came before to tell a grand story of multiversal destruction, morality and the games of gods.
7. The Li’l Depressed Boy by Shawn Steven Struble and Sina Grace
The Li’l Depressed Boy is a comic I stumbled upon by accident one day as I was scrolling through Comixology (where it isn’t available anymore). I read it and after the first issue fell in love. It is a touching look at the life of an introverted guy with depression as he tries to break out of his shell and find happiness. It is incredibly human, with a moving, slice of life narrative that tugs at your heartstrings and never stops.
Shawn Steven Struble’s eye for realistic dialogue and characters is what sells this comic and its relatively typical plot. The characters all have a snarkiness to them that feels real and not too refined, which is part of this comic’s charm. That’s not to say the plot is all straight-laced, however, as Struble does an excellent job defying genre conventions and audience expectations — especially in how main character LDB is used — that is shocking, and heartbreaking, but feels real. The Li’l Depressed Boy is a comic where all the emotional beats hit perfectly and all the moments land beautifully.
Sina Grace’s art is fittingly expressive and simultaneously understated. LDB has a solid design that allows anyone to place themselves in his shoes, while the pencils themselves are brought to life by Struble’s colours. The washed out look to everything adds to the slice of life feel of the comic and at first is befitting of the romantic side of the comic but eventually peels away to a more fleshed out colour palette as the story has LDB enter a more fully fleshed out relationship.
The Li’l Depressed Boy isn’t a comic for everyone, but it’s the comic for me. It takes a character who could so easily have fallen into any number of stereotypes and makes him layered and interesting, has some great moments and feels all too human and relatable. Following LDB on his journey is a rocky road that alters between painful and triumphant, and that is perfectly fitting.
6. Daredevil by Mark Waid, Paolo Riveira, Kano, Khoi Pham, Chris Samnee, Mike Allred and Javier Rodriguez
Daredevil as a franchise has always revolved around the titular character’s onslaught of pain and misery. Some of the best stories in the comic book medium and superhero genre have examined Matt Murdock by relentlessly destroying him, reconstructing him and affirming that he is Daredevil. By this point, it’s more of a surprise when a writer doesn’t destroy Matt so completely. Enter Mark Waid, patron saint of optimism in superheroes.
Whereas some writers seemingly can’t resist writing a comic that depresses the reader — looking at you, Tom King — Mark Waid has always had a strong undercurrent of optimism in his work. There are definitely darker works by him, such as Kingdom Come and Irredeemable, but his works that truly develop characters rather than the ideas around them carry that vibe. The Flash, Legion of Super-Heroes and now, Daredevil. Unlike Miller, Bendis and Brubaker before him, Waid was able to tell a great Daredevil epic while keeping from drenching the characters in darkness, instead using his past pain and angst to examine how the character moves past that and comes back into the light, with the help of loveable supporting characters like Foggy Nelson and Kirsten McDuffy.
The rotating artist all bring their own sensibilities to the comic while maintaining a consistent aesthetic — thanks to the very consistent colouring. The more cartoony and simple art styles employed keep the story from ever getting too depressing, even during some very dark moments, but are versatile enough to allow for some good ol’ beating up on Matt Murdock. The incredible use of shadows helps a lot in this regard, as does the aforementioned consistent colours, which change their palette just enough to maintain the core aesthetic while signifying a change in mood. Chris Samnee in particular is a standout artist during this run, depicting what is probably the most iconic 2010s images of Matt Murdock grinning as Daredevil while swinging in the light.
This run of Daredevil brought new life to the character, one who’d become somewhat predictable due to the common tropes of a Daredevil run. However, instead of just defying expectations or starting fresh, this run goes out of its way to not do that and instead present that as a negative thing, instead acknowledging the past and building a new life for Matt Murdock, which is a wonderful message in a run that deals with the character’s depression.
5. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
I don’t really need to say anything here, do I? You’ve read it. We’ve all read it. It’s practically an event when it doesn’t win a prestigious comic award in a year. Saga came out of nowhere and blew everyone away with its story of love and parenting in a galactic war, perfectly blending its romance and space opera to deliver a powerhouse comic that has well earned its status as one of the biggest comics of the decade.
Vaughan’s characters are always incredibly likeable, human and flawed, and that’s no less the case here. Main couple Alana and Marko aren’t just star-crossed lovers, they feel like people with their own baggage and quirks, from Alana’s addiction to Marko’s pacifism, that makes them more than just Hazel’s parents. But while it would be easy to focus on just these two, Saga features an extended cast of characters from all walks of life, all of whom serve to further the story’s focus on love and what it drives people to do, and all of whom feel relevant to the plot… which centres on Hazel growing up into a potty mouthed narrator.
Fiona Staples’ art is phenomenal and deserves all the praise it gets. Her designs are unique and a perfect blend of fantasy and sci-fi, giving the world of Saga an aesthetic all of its own. Everything in Saga looks like it carries its own story. The world feels fleshed out purely based off the strength of her art and the creativity on display with the various alien races and planets, all of which feel distinct but coherently part of this bizarre universe. Her characters are expressive and vibrant, and her art amplifies Vaughan’s already strong writing to new heights.
I said I wouldn’t include things that haven’t finished for the most part. This is the exception. While Saga doesn’t seem like it’s ending soon, it would just be heresy to not include it on a list of best comic series in the 2010s, because it basically owns all of the 2010s in comics. Its wide appeal is lasting and new readers flock to it all the time, and for good reason — it is an insanely well-crafted comic in all areas.
4. Alex + Ada by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn
There are some series that come out of nowhere and manage to hook you, and this is that series for me. Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn are two writers I never really read before Alex + Ada, and by the time the series concluded, I was willing to follow whatever they did next. The series follows the adventures of Alex, a human man a bit disconnected from life, and Ada, his robot companion. Once things get rolling, Luna and Vaughn do some great world-building, write some excellent character drama and set an intense, underground romantic tone that becomes insanely gripping.
The premise of Alex + Ada isn’t that original, focusing on the romantic relationship between a guy and an android. But what does work is the execution and careful worldbuilding that sets a tone of understated oppression, giving the entire story a fugitive vibe that is never overblown or made too unbelievable. The characters are likeable, and Ada is one of the few “trying to understand human culture” characters that I’ve ever liked, with a naivete that Luna and Vaughn manage to make endearing, rather than annoying. When it comes to sci-fi romance, this story hits all the beats, but hits them well and throws some nice curve balls into the mix.
The art is a bit more mixed, with Luna’s simplistic art being a bit of a barrier. It can be a bit stilted and feel too posed, but his facial expressions have a nice subtlety to them that lends some depth to the script. The simplistic backgrounds and designs work for this sleek, minimalist future presented and is nicely understated in a story that could otherwise have devolved into melodrama.
Alex + Ada isn’t as well-rounded a run as others on this list, but when it was good it was really good. Luna and Vaughn’s romance is a perfectly executed one that created an interesting, oppressive world in a way that felt refreshingly subtle and not cartoonish. Both have gone on to other works, but none of those have the same appeal to me that Alex + Ada has.
3. Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Doug Mahnke and Andy Kubert
Peter J. Tomasi is a writer who has only recently become really appreciated. Starting as an editor, he would become a writer and — using his expert knowledge of the characters he was writing — bring a humanity to his characters that made them truly engaging and inspiring. Nowhere is that more prevalent than in Batman and Robin, the story of a father learning to be a father and a son learning to be a boy.
Tomasi’s plots in Batman and Robin are almost tangential — what matters is how they allow him to explore the characters of Bruce Wayne and Damian Wayne. If there’s a new assassin in town wanting to corrupt Damian, how they go about that doesn’t matter — it’s what this does to Damian’s position as Robin and what it brings out in Bruce’s parenting of him. The new dynamic between this incarnation of Batman and Robin is darker, with a darker, more violent Robin who wrestles with his own villainous upbringing. Unlike Jason Todd, Damian’s moments of darkness never feel contrived or unsympathetic — they feel natural, and that makes how Bruce deals with them all the more interesting. Even after this run lost its Robin, Tomasi was able to wring some quality stories out of it, both involving how Bruce deals with Damian’s death, and with stories not involving Damian at all, such as what is probably the perfect Two-Face story — “The Big Burn”.
On art duties for most of the run is Tomasi’s frequent collaborator, Patrick Gleason. Gleason brings a dark aesthetic to the comic that perfectly captures the personalities of its protagonists, drenched in shadow and at times featuring some very dark imagery. However, Gleason proves his versatility in the tail-end of the run, where the shadows pull back and a bright colour palette is used after Damian’s return, as both characters embrace each other and the happiness in their lives. Doug Mahnke does a fine job substituting for Gleason, but it wouldn’t be until later that he did his own thing with Tomasi, and Andy Kubert does a good job delivering blockbuster superhero moments in a handful of issues focused on the resurrection of Damian, the character he co-created.
Batman and Robin is the best Batman run of the decade. It is a versatile run that embraces both the darker, Gotham-centric take and the superhero side of Batman. It explores and develops its characters in a way that has stayed with them and proves that you don’t need a young Batman to make him engaging or relatable. But most of all, its emotional storytelling is executed perfectly and poignantly, fully embracing the concept of Batman and Robin while delivering its own spin on things.
2. Silver Surfer by Dan Slott and Mike Allred
High-concept science fiction is a wonderful thing, but there’s always the risk of something losing touch regarding human characters. Dan Slott’s Silver Surfer never ran into that problem with its story about a girl from Earth and her road trip with the Sentinel of the Spaceways. Writing stories that wouldn’t be out of place in the Silver Age, Slott writes with modern sensibilities that, combined with the perfect pencils and colours of Mike and Laura Allred, bring that era’s sense of adventure to a new generation.
Slott’s run is one of the most episodic superhero comics of recent memory, largely revolving around the strange worlds visited by Norrin Radd and Dawn Greenwood. The worlds they visit are high concept science fiction given life, brimming with adventure and excitement. Dawn serves as the audience surrogate, gleefully — and sometimes horrifically — reacting to the strange sights around her while Norrin guides her. But eventually, Dawn becomes a character in her own right, as we learn about her hopes, dreams and family — yet she still maintains that relatability that marks her as human. The relationship between Norrin and Dawn is the real star of the show here, and the cosmos is just the tapestry it’s painted on — Slott weaves a beautiful relationship, from that awkward meet cute on a strange alien world, to the confession of deeper feelings to finally settling down. Slott’s Silver Surfer feels, fittingly, like a love letter to the Silver Age, but its focus on character over spectacle, on emotion and sentiment and everything great about character writing, that’s all Modern.
Mike and Laura Allred were the perfect art team for this series. They manage to capture the wackiness of the Silver Age while bringing in modern sensibilities in blocking and layouts. Their bright, colourful art is used perfectly throughout a series that was seemingly made just for them. However, beyond the trippy imagery and fun sci-fi battles, there’s a raw emotional overtone that never feels insecure about how weird the story or setting is, but, like Dawn as a character, firmly roots everything in this run in all too relatable feelings. That’s not to say that the art isn’t fun to look at, because it really is, but the Allreds don’t stop there and don’t lose sight of what the run is about.
Dan Slott’s Silver Surfer came out of nowhere and was an absolute delight. As someone who had no experience with Slott or Silver Surfer, I didn’t really know what to expect. What I got was a magic space adventure with an alien riding a surfboard and an adventurous Earth girl that proved to be one of the most enjoyable, rejuvenating experiences of my entire life.
1. Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman
Yes, it technically started in 2009. But the overwhelming majority of the run was in the 2010s and, honestly, it’s an amazing run that deserves to be here. As my first real exposure to Jonathan Hickman, this was… a whopper, because this run is without a doubt one of the greatest in modern comics. Fantastic Four is a franchise about adventure, family, discovery and optimism, and this series embodies all those things, and Hickman crafts an epic saga that spanned the multiverse but was all centred on one family.
Sometimes, the ideas are more important than the people, and the larger the plot becomes in the macro sense, the less someone can focus on characters… not here. Hickman never loses sight of what makes the Fantastic Four the timeless comic book it is — Marvel’s First Family. His high-concept sci-fi — such as the Interdimensional Council of Reeds — and grand epic story of angry space gods is all grounded by the Fantastic Four, and, specifically, Reed’s desire to be a better man. His all-consuming scientific side that is all too often mocked wrestles with his desire to be a better father, husband and friend, and Hickman really puts him through the wringer before delivering a climax that is ultimately a declaration that Reed, picking his family over his pursuit of absolute science, made the right choice.
The various artists on this run do an admirable job distinguishing themselves from each other. Dale Eaglesham in particular, despite presenting a weirdly buff Reed, is able to capture the aesthetic of Jack Kirby’s sci-fi and boxier characters while giving things a modern spin. Steve Epting’s darker art is well-implemented during the darkest part of the story, during and after the death of Johnny Storm. Nick Dragotta is a perfect fit for the kid-focused, lighter adventures of the Future Foundation once that saga is over. All of the artists do some great work fully realising Hickman’s vision, and this run used its artists well… all 100 of them.
Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four is the perfect Fantastic Four run. Blending high-concept science fiction with character drama and themes of morality and family, with a focus on optimism and hope, Hickman’s Fantastic Four run perfectly captures the spirit of the Fantastic Four for a modern audience. If anyone ever asks you why people care about the Fantastic Four, or how they could be made relevant today, you point them towards this run.
There we have it, my top runs of the decade that nobody will agree with me on. I hope this got out before the New Year came, but, even more, I hope that the 2020s gives us runs that are just as good. It’ll be hard to top the 2010s, but I hope it happens.
But who knows, I don’t have 2020 vision.
(I had to get one more in).