To celebrate the end of the 2010s, Entertainment Weekly’s Must List is looking back at the best pop culture of the decade that changed movies, TV, music, and more (catch up on our list so far, which includes the MCU’s big Snap, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s history-making hit, and Beyonce’s iconic Coachella set). Today, we round up the best comics of the past 10 years.
There were lots of comic books published this past decade — even when you leave out all the manga and webcomics. During a time when comics provided the source material for countless big-budget movies and TV shows, the genre’s creators still managed to produce a dazzling array of beautiful, terrifying, and refreshing new work.
Here are EW’s picks for the highlights of the decade in comics, with one clear No. 1 and 14 extremely good runners-up. Find them wherever books are sold.
Best comic of the decade: Saga (Image)
The 2010s transformed Star Wars from dorky cultural touchstone to mammoth corporate juggernaut; fans who used to wait years for movies (or even tie-in novels) now got blasted with a new one year after year. A similar thing happened to superhero comics, whose characters and stories filled multiplex screens around the globe and took the spotlight away from the books themselves. How, then, to take the space opera genre and the comic book format to make new ideas become real? Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga is the best comic of the decade because it produced sci-fi spectacle that defies even the idea of adaptation. Is there any visual in the new Star Wars sequels as arresting as Prince Robot IV (the most engaging antihero since Prince Zuko) and his royal family, with their TV screens for heads? How could film capture the adorable expressions of Ghüs the seal-man and all the other colorful alien creatures Staples created? On top of the cuteness and innovative world building, Saga also took seriously the “war” in Star Wars. This is a space opera where beloved characters die, often randomly or by accident or for no greater reason than the fact that they’re always surrounded by violence.
Of course, none of that would matter much if there wasn’t a singular family story at the center. Marko and Alana are star-crossed lovers from two sides of an intergalactic war between the horned magic users of Wreath and the winged soldiers of Landfall. But after encountering pacifist philosophies secretly encoded in a romance novel, they run off together and give birth to Hazel, the only being in the universe with wings and horns. Saga is Hazel’s story, starting from her birth on page 1 (“this is how an idea becomes real”) and taking us on through her adolescence, as narrated by her adult self. The comic is currently on hiatus after a heartbreaking cliffhanger that tops the series’ record of ending issues on a scream-inducing note. Fifty-four issues down, 54 more to go. We can’t wait to see what else Vaughan, Staples, and Hazel have left to show us. —Christian Holub
And now for the rest…
In this decade, DC gave us two contrasting yet very personal takes on the Dark Knight. During the disappointing New 52 experiment, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo harvested their fears about life’s dangers and parenthood to deliver a story that focused on Batman’s place in Gotham City. Yes, it’s easy to make fun of how often the series asked, “What is Gotham?” but that question fueled the entire run and introduced new and daring concepts to Batman’s mythos. On the flip side, certified wife guy Tom King, working with a killer roster of artists (including Mikel Janin, Joëlle Jones, Clay Mann, and more), used his marriage as inspiration for a poignant tale that looked inward at Bruce and explored how the mere idea of happiness could challenge him. There were some rough patches in the run to be sure, but the highs (“Rooftops,” “War of Jokes and Riddles,” “Double Date,” Batman Annual #2) are so heartbreakingly beautiful that they make it easy to ignore the lows. Batman is an 80-year-old character, and yet both teams managed to make him their own. In conclusion: Kite Man, hell yeah! —Chancellor Agard
Black Hammer (Dark Horse)
Lots of people tried to create superhero universes this decade. Some of them were better at this than others, but only Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston made it look easy. As of May 2016, there was no such thing as Black Hammer. Here at the end of the decade, we’ve got four volumes of the main title, multiple spin-off comics, and even a cross-company team-up with the Justice League. How did they do it? By diving into one of the most fascinating unanswered questions in superhero comics (“Where do characters go after they’re erased from continuity?”), playing into some of the genre’s most important dynamics (urban vs. rural, childhood vs. adulthood), and creating a cast of characters who each invoked a distinct era of superhero history while remaining freshly unique. Among them was Lucy Weber, whose search for her long-lost father perfectly channeled the superhero energy of this decade. When she finally found what she was looking for, it became clear who the real hero was, and how many stories Lemire has left to tell in this world. That’s the secret of Black Hammer: It was an origin story all along. —C.H.
Has there ever been a more beautiful interpretation of the philosophical concept “being-toward-death?” Maybe it sounds strange invoking Martin Heidegger to discuss a comic book, but Daytripper blurs all kinds of lines: father and son, fantasy and reality, life and death. Each issue tells the story of one moment in the life of obituary writer Brás de Oliva Domingos. Every chapter also ends in Brás’ death, only for subsequent issues to retain every plot detail except for the previous death. Here is what it looks like to treasure every moment as if it might be your last and live so that you’re content to greet your end with open arms when the last day finally does come. Heavy stuff, huh? Well, on top of everything else, twin brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá created a lovely homage to the diverse sights, customs, and culture of their native Brazil. —C.H.
The biggest movies of the 2010s looked like the comic books of 30 years ago, clashing infinite crossovers into the darkest of nights. Which, if I’m doing the math correctly, means the mainstream pop culture of 2040s will resemble the comic books of right now. And something about this short-lived Fantastic Four spin-off, relaunched for a 16-issue run amid the Marvel Now! initiative, still feels like the future. This is the spinniest of spin-offs, colliding multiple strands of Four lore into a tie-in team featuring familiar icons (She-Hulk! Ant-Man!) and minor characters renewed with personality to spare (Artie, Leech, and the Moloids!). Fraction’s cosmic farce blends self-aware cleverness with goofy-sweet humanity, and Allred’s trademark art-pop illustrations set the stage for his spaced-out work on the acclaimed Silver Surfer. —Darren Franich
Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye is to the titular archer what Chris Evans is to Captain America: the most definitive and iconic take on the character (sorry, Jeremy Renner). Over the course of 22 issues, the Bed-Stuy-set series turned Clint Barton into an everyman and explored what he does when he’s not busy being an Avenger, while shining a much-needed spotlight on his compelling protégée, Kate Bishop. It’s a very homey and grounded take on the Marvel universe that not only went on to set the standard for Marvel Now!, but also pushed the conventions of comics by telling an entire issue from the perspective of a dog, heavily incorporating American Sign Language into other issues, telling complexly constructed stories, and sometimes simply shifting the focus away from the eponymous hero. Looking back at the series, it’s easy to see the impact it had on superhero comics. —C.A.
House of X/Powers of X (Marvel)
Screw recency bias. Jonathan Hickman’s return to superhero comics with these parallel X-Men books took the industry by storm. It’s hard to remember the last time it felt like everyone on social media was feverishly reading the same comic every Wednesday and on pins and needles waiting for the next issue. Beyond their zeitgeist-seizing power, these two books — which chronicled mutantkind’s proactive attempts to insure their survival in a world that was literally trying to extinguish them — also revitalized Marvel’s X-Men line, infusing it with thrilling and powerful ideas (those data pages!) that will surely (or hopefully) generate fantastic stories for years to come. —C.A.
Last Look (Pantheon Graphic Library)
A fearfully strange epic of the mind from comics legend Charles Burns. X’ed Out, The Hive, and Sugar Skull appeared in two-year intervals like postcards from the deepest underground, revealing a story of lost romance trapped between bad memories, cartoon nightmares, and an all-encompassing mood of nefarious guilt. The result is an sharp yet elusive portrait of a man who’s somehow running away from himself even as he eats his own tail. —D.F.
Lumberjanes (Boom! Box)
Friendship to the max! As good as it is to have art that looks unflinchingly at the dark sides of human existence, it’s also important to enjoy warm, fuzzy stories that show you things you never even knew you needed. Lumberjanes was originally only supposed to be a four-issue series from writers Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, and Shannon Watters and artist Brooke Allen. But the adventures of Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley (the titular Lumberjanes, a.k.a Girl Scouts who punch monsters and solve ancient mysteries) proved so addictive that the comic has now published more than 60 issues. Here, feminist icons were name-dropped like legendary heroes (“Holy Mae Jemison!”) and same-sex love was portrayed with an easy warmth that would carry over into both Ellis’ subsequent comic Moonstruck and Stevenson’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power reboot. There were mysteries to solve (why are there so many monsters around this summer camp, anyway?), but at the end of the day nothing was more important than reveling in the beautiful friendship of these bright young characters. —C.H.
Mister Miracle (DC)
With this 12-issue limited series, writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads grounded and found intimacy in the cosmic and bombastic mythology of Jack Kirby’s New Gods by funneling the central intergalactic war through Scott Free and Big Barda’s struggles with parenthood. Furthermore, Scott’s inability to distinguish what was real and what wasn’t, confrontation with the absurd and dark nature of the world, and subsequent resolution to persevere anyway made Mister Miracle one of the most relatable comics of the past few bonkers and incomprehensible years. —C.A.
With their magical masterwork, writer Marjorie Liu and artist Sana Takeda have managed to fuse Miyazaki, Lovecraft, steampunk, and manga into a beautiful yet harrowing fantasy story about war and hunger in a matriarchal Asian society. This mythology is bursting at the seams with cat wizards, animal-human hybrids, and tentacled demon-gods from beyond the universe, but it all centers on Maika Halfwolf, a girl with a monster living inside her. Sure, the most terrifying of the monstrous Old Gods lives beneath her skin, but even Zinn pales in comparison to what Maika has become after a youth spent surviving war and concentration camps. Monstress was the perfect fantasy for a decade in which the internet’s omnipresence brought subliminal horrors to the surface and endless decentralized war became a fact of life. Which isn’t to say it’s all doom and gloom: Love is in the eye of the beholder, and flashbacks to the ancient romance between Zinn and the Shaman-Empress (Maika’s ancestor and lookalike) put even The Shape of Water to shame. —C.H.
Ms. Marvel (Marvel)
Kamala Khan is the best new superhero of the decade. As created by G. Willow Wilson, Sana Amanat, Stephen Wacker, and Adrian Alphona, she is the first Muslim character to headline their own solo Marvel title. But though she carries Carol Danvers’ old mantle, Kamala has already created her own legend. She is an icon not just for Muslims and Pakistani-Americans so often denied pop culture representation, but also for 21st-century kids struggling to balance school responsibilities with their jobs and personal lives, and for people young and old trying to master control of their goofy bodies. Creating a teenage superhero and giving her the ability to make her body parts ridiculously large or hilariously small is, simply put, a creative masterstroke. —C.H.
My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (Fantagraphics)
A masterpiece, an instant classic. What else is there to say? Well, it is worth noting how close we came to never reading this book at all. Emil Ferris only started working on her first graphic novel after a mosquito bite gave her West Nile virus and struck her with paralysis at age 40. Then, after she worked on it for 15 years as a way of recovering from her paralysis, all copies of My Favorite Thing Is Monsters were seized by the Panama government after the sudden bankruptcy of shipping giant Hanjin. It’s a miracle that we can read the story of Karen Reyes, the 10-year old girl living in 1968 Chicago who imagines herself as a wolf girl and loses herself in horror movies as a way of dealing with her mom’s sickness, her brother’s impending Vietnam draft, the mysterious murder of her Holocauast-surviving neighbor, and her own incipient sexuality. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is drawn as if it’s Karen’s notebook, the lined pages of which are filled with the colorful, monstrous doodles of her feverish imagination. It’s a feast for the eye and soul, and there’s still a whole other volume to go. —C.H.
The Nemo Trilogy (Top Shelf)
Alan Moore bid a long goodbye to comic books this decade, winding down The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and recrafting H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos into a linked series of horrors. All exceptional and apocalyptic work, but for pure ebullient energy, I keep returning to his playful and elegiac League spin-off trilogy. Janni Dakkar, the daughter of Captain Nemo, haunts the 20th century in these volumes, tripping between lost worlds of fantasy and freakish dystopian metropoles. The middle chapter, The Roses of Berlin, is my personal all-time showcase for Kevin O’Neill’s artwork, blending German cinematic expressionism and techno-futurism into an explosive wartime adventure. —D.F.
Young Avengers (Marvel)
The big two superhero publishers spent this decade trying one publishing initiative after another, but only Marvel Now! earned multiple slots on this list. One reason for that is the brilliant synergy of the creative lineups. Case in point: Writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie were the perfect choices to take the Young Avengers into the 2010s. Kid Loki predated Baby Yoda by several years and successfully synthesized the Machiavellian mastermind Loki of Marvel comics with the angsty heartthrob Loki of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. America Chavez broke the glass ceiling and kicked holes in the walls of the multiverse to prove an all-powerful superhero didn’t have to be a straight white man. Above all, there were Billy and Teddy, the world-breaking wizard and the orphaned prince from outer space, whose love was powerful enough to save us all.
Gillen and McKelvie collaborated on other comics this decade, such as their creator-owned The Wicked + the Divine for Image, and the latter designed the now-famous Captain Marvel costume since worn by Brie Larson, but this was their most tightly told story. Young Avengers successfully illustrated the connective tissue between superheroes and this decade’s youth culture while leaving fans hungry for more. —C.H.