As 2020 begins we end our look back at the decade that was by picking our favorite independent comic books from 2010 to 2019. The independent scene blew up in the last decade with many creators being empowered even more to work on creator owned projects. Through that we got a lot of incredible creator own projects that explored a wide variety of topics and settings that you would not see from Marvel or DC Comics. That includes some great work from the independent licensed projects, whose quality was elevated what licensed comics can be moving forward. All told this past decade provided a lot of excellent reading experience. Here are our selection of our favorite independent comics from 2010 to 2019.
Publisher: Image Comics
Issues: Bitch Planet #1 – #10
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Artists: Valentine De Landro, Robert Wilson IV and Taki Soma
Tackling political subjects is always tricky. It’s become even more of a minefield in the period of time we are in now with how everyone has a comment about what is going on politically. It takes a special talent to handle political topics in a manner that doesn’t break the narrative of the story. That is what makes Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s Bitch Planet standout so much. At no point do they lose the narrative or how each action is supposed to progress the characters that we follow throughout the story.
Through their ten issue run DeConnick and Landro are able to create a rich sci-fi world that tackles many real world topics. Each topic tackled, such as domestic violence or women being used as players for Hunger Games-style combat sport, is about how the characters involved deal with the hand they are given. Staying character first allowed for the topics to be tackled in a manner that you don’t feel preached to. Instead it is about how things are in this universe and your hope as a reader that Bitch Planet’s protagonist can overcome everything they face. That all allows even a big sci-fi setting like Bitch Planet to feel grounded because of how DeConnick gets you to care for the protagonists of the series.
Adding DeConnick’s storytelling is Landro’s unique artstyle that isn’t normally what you find in a superhero series. Landro taps into how horrible of a situation the main characters are placed in. His overall style hits on how grounded the storytelling is while having this bigger narrative of space travel around it. The shifts between the direction the artwork takes from scene to scene helps breathes extra life into the story DeConnick tells through her writing. – Kevin Lainez
Publisher: Image Comics
Issues: Black Science #1 – #43
Writer: Rick Remender
Artists: Matteo Scalera, Dean White, Moreno Dinisio
I first started following Rick Remender when he was at Marvel, specifically with Uncanny Avengers, and I was pretty impressed. Had a lot of cool science fiction in those scripts, particularly with the whole end of the world plotline and Planet X. Then he took over Captain America and sent Steve Rogers to Dimension X, a very pulp-tastic slice of sci-fi craziness. I loved that as well, and wondered what Remender could do if let free to do his own science fiction tale, free of established universes and even the need to be kid-friendly. Well Image Comics gave him that chance, and Black Science is the glorious result.
There’s a thing writers like to do, especially in TV, where they take a character and write them into a corner that they have to take the season break or break between films to find a solution to. Well, what Remender and artist Matteo Scalera have done is make an entire series just about that, as self-described anarchist scientist Grant McKay creates a device that punches holes into other dimensions for ease of travel. Believing that this will help humanity by giving them access to every potential resource, what Grant doesn’t realize is that his hubris has set the omniverse on a collision course with destruction. Turns out he’s not the only Grant McKay out there, and this mistake is bringing all of the nastiest, cruelest and just plain evil creatures across time and space to power. It’s a spiral of bad decisions as Grant and his team must find some way to fix their mistake, only to realize that they’ve made everything worse. The series is still ongoing, but every time I wonder how it could possibly get worse, Remender tells me to hold my beer. To say I am constantly bowled over by this series is a huge understatement.
What makes this series great isn’t just what I described, but the sheer imagination and creativity on display here. Scalera does a fantastic job showcasing all the different realities and all the different creatures, but his true genius is with the different versions of our heroes, making them all unique and distinguishable. His art truly propels Remender’s masterful script-writing, as Grant and his shattered family must overcome their own demons for the sake of reality. In the midst of all the craziness it’s the human elements that really stand out, where even a few villains get to be humanized, often right before Remender crushes your heart with a shocking death or upsetting plot development. Make no mistake Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera are master sci-fi craftsmen, but it’s the work with the characters, and the heart and passion they pour into their stories, that makes Black Science stand out from, and above, the rest of the pack. – Steven Glover
Publisher: Image Comics
Issues: Deadly Class #1 – #42
Writer: Rick Remender
Artists: Wesley Craig, Lee Loughridge, Jordan Boyd
Rick Remender’s Deadly Class has been one of those series that constantly is taking a turn with how I feel about characters from issue to issue. The main character, Marcus Lopez Arguello, is a perfect example of that. As with most main characters Marcus started off as a character we see things through in this world Remender creates. But as things go on Marcus can come across as an unlikable asshole or hero of the story. It has all depended on the situation that Remender throws at Marcus and his friends. But that is part of the magic of this series.
The rest of the cast in Deadly Class have also been developed incredibly well to all be multi-layered people. As Remender peels back the layers of Saya, Willie, Maria, Master Lin and so many other characters you grow to love or at least understand what they are doing. That is a great show for the care that is placed in building out a world that continues to engage the reader with each issue.
A huge credit to the success also has to go with Wesley Craig’s artwork throughout this series. Craig’s artwork perfectly captures the punk rock style of the 1980s world that Remender goes for in the way that he develops characters through his writing. Each character also has a distinct look that captures their personality well in the way they are drawn from panel to panel. Little things like getting down character movements and reactions in a comic book is big in helping develop each character in Deadly Class. – Kevin Lainez
Publisher: Image Comics
Issues: Descender #1 – #32
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artists: Dustin Nguyen
You can probably count on one hand the number of writers who had a better decade than Jeff Lemire. Already popular in the indie scene because of his excellent work on Sweet Tooth, Lemire blew up first with DC and then expanding to Marvel and then to Image and Dark Horse. Now the guy has his own universe in Black Hammer, good titles from both of the Big Two like Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. and Old Man Logan, and still takes on work as an artist including A.D.: After Death with fellow 2010’s breakout Scott Snyder. But if you were to ask me what his best title was, the answer is actually pretty simple. It’s Descender, his quiet, thoughtful sci-fi title with Dustin Nguyen on art.
The story follows a young robot named Tim-21, designed to be a companion robot to children and families across space, who wakes up to find a calamity that has seemingly killed an entire colony. Unsure of what has happened and hoping against hope to find his adopted family, Tim-21 and a ragtag band of scavengers, malfunctioning robots, and scientists set out from this world. Unfortunately for them, what lies in wait for them is a universe filled with danger, corruption, and evil, and the forces at play have sinister intentions for Tim-21 and his friends. We’ve seen plenty of stories about robot kids (A.I. comes to mind), but what Lemire gets that some don’t is how to make us truly empathize with them. Tim-21 doesn’t seem like a robot, he is basically a child himself trying to make sense of a bad situation, and your heart really goes out to him. Lemire also manages to endear you to the rest of this crew, whether it’s the lovable yet slightly dense Driller or the shady creator of the Tim robots, Dr. Quon, and he really shows off his range here. These are all different characters, with different motives and surprisingly complex backstories, and rather than use cliché or tropes to make them a unit, Lemire really digs in and organically forms the connections that drive the story forward.
I have to give special credit to Dustin Nguyen on art, because his work is just fantastic. I love the sci-fi settings and the action scenes (some of which are very brutal), but some of these layouts are just great, and his use of white space is incredibly creative. It’s a unique look that fits this book perfectly, and I knew I was sold just by the page splash shot in Issue #2 of Driller holding the temporarily deactivated Tim-21. So much emotion in that scene, you can feel it radiating off the page at you. The storytelling overall is top-notch sci-fi writing, and comes together to form a truly beautiful, emotional and contemplative read. If you love these types of comics, Descender is a must-have. – Steven Glover
Publisher: Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment
Issues: Invincible #70-144
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artists: Ryan Ottley, Cory Walker, Cliff Rathburn, Mark Morales, Jean-Francois Beaulieu and Nathan Fairbairn
When it comes to the superhero genre, I would place Robert Kirkman’s Invincible right up there with the best of them. In the 2010s, the reader got to go on a journey with Mark Grayson as he grew from a boy to a man. We got to go on this experience as Mark discovered his place in the universe. We then got to see Mark become a husband. Then we saw Mark become a father. Then, Kirkman delivered an ending to this title that hit the reader straight in the feels. It is rare that a writer is able to stick the landing, but Kirkman delivers an ending that few readers will question.
What made Kirkman’s Invincible so special was the title’s heart. Invincible had such a huge heart. There was so much genuine emotion pouring from the pages of this comic. To be sure, there was action. And violence. And gore. So much violence and gore! But, there was far more to Invincible than that. The engine that powered Invincible was the amazing character work, the excellent chemistry between the characters and the genuine emotion that permeated each issue.
Of course, another huge part of Invincible was Ryan Ottley’s art. There is no way that Invincible would be considered one of the best superhero comics of all time if it was not for Ottley’s amazing artwork. Ottley poured his heart and soul into this title and the result was powerful and emotional art that brought Kirkman’s story to life in vivid fashion. – Rokk
MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Issues: Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (2016 – Present) #1 – #30 and #40 – #46
Writers: Kyle Higgins and Ryan Parrott
Artists: Hendry Prasetya, Daniel Bayliss, and Daniele Di Nicuolo
I have always been a fan of the old Power Rangers TV show. However, when the news was announced for Kyle Higgins’ new Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers comic I kept my expectations low. It certainly was not a slight on Higgins. He is a talented writer. It was more about how comics based on licensed properties often miss the mark.
Well, that’s for damn sure did not apply to Higgins and his run on Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers! Higgins delivered a story that was pure unadulterated fun. Higgins demonstrated such a wonderful feel for all of the various characters. It was also clearly evident that Higgins had a genuine love for the Power Rangers franchise. Higgins was able to deliver exciting and action packed stories with quality character work and good team chemistry.
Everything came to a crescendo with the big Shattered Grid event. Higgins just knocked it out of the park with the best Power Rangers story I can remember. Higgins then parted the franchise on a high note. The title took a drop in quality and I feared that we might not get what we once had with Higgins’ run on this title. That fear was unfounded. Cue up Ryan Parrott who is a ball of fire and delivering incredibly well written issues that are right up there with what we got from Higgins. Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers certainly earns its spot on this list. – Rokk
Publisher: Image Comics
Issues: Monstress #1 – #24
Writer: Marjorie Liu
Artist: Sana Takeda
Monstress is a series that I only recently started reading and catching up to current issues. And boy am I glad I did. Marjorie Liu has never disappointed with delivering stellar reading experiences from her past work over at Marvel. That career led Liu to her most well-known work to date with Monstress alongside with the wonderful Sana Takeda. The mix of 20th century Asian culture with supernatural and steampunk elements have been beautifully merged by Liu and Takeda.
As someone who digs manga and anime I love how Liu has created a story that has Maika Halfwolf learning to control and harness her inner power. Maika’s struggle with her powers adds to how fantastical and political everything else is around her. Through strong world building Liu has created a universe that is very flexible in what type of stories Monstress can tackle. The politics that go into the different structures of human and magical creatures in this world has been expertly handled. Liu is able to tackle greater issues that work to strengthen Maika and the world around her to always keep you engaged in what is going on.
Making Liu’s work on Monstress even more notable is that it led to her being the first woman to win an Eisner Award for Best Writer in 2018, an accolade she received along with Tom King that year. It’s crazy that it wasn’t until 2018 that a female writer won the Eisner Award for Best Writer. Adding that to the Hugo, Harvey and other awards that Monstress has won since first being published Liu has earned recognition from critics, peers and fans all across the world.
Publisher: Image Comics
Issues: Saga #1 – #54
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
With the Big Two floundering about on reboots, endless events, and constant relaunches, Image Comics stepped up to the plate. The 2010’s was really when they finally broke out on their own, planting their flag in the sand and declaring to the world that if they wanted consistent, quality and innovative storytelling, it was right there at Image. And no book solidified that Image was in this to win it like Saga, Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’ masterful sci-fi epic. Without any hyperbole, Saga truly did change the game for independent comics, launching them into the mainstream consciousness at long last.
Saga tells the story of Alana and Marko, two people from two planets at war with one another, who fall in love and find they have conceived a child. As they race across the galaxy avoiding their pursuers, they encounter strange phenomenon, eccentric hitmen, and a pink ghost, amongst other wild and wonderful things. Blending things like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones, Vaughn and Staples have created a universe that remains truly and wholly unique, a vibrant and alive place with secrets and danger around every corner, yet still maintains a beauty and mystique that has been lost in a lot of science fiction. They have a perfect eye for details, separating each world and each species in a way that makes them truly unique and memorable. Vaughn’s script is equal parts epic and subtle, with each character interaction feeling genuine and real (and very emotional at times) while the big action pieces could easily be turned into a blockbuster movie. And these characters are unique and fun to follow, from the arrogant Prince Robot IV to the Han Solo-esque (at first) The Will to even characters like Marko’s parents, all relatable to us in their own ways, and just brilliantly written. I didn’t just feel something for a few characters, I actually genuinely felt for every single one, a very rare feat in a comic like this.
I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to spoil anything accidentally, but this book literally has everything you could ever want: action, romance, suspense, intelligent sci-fi, good humor, brilliant artwork, amazing scripts, it’s all right here. I said in my article for the best comics of last year that reading Saga to me must be like what reading Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns first run was like, because it is just that good. Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples have created one of the finest comic books ever put to the page, and I think it will definitely go down in history as the best of this decade. I can’t wait for them to return to finish this story, even though I know my heart isn’t ready for that yet. Check it out if you don’t believe me, folks, and you’ll see what I mean. – Steven Glover
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Issues: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 – #100
Writer: Tom Waltz, Kevin Eastman
Artists: Dan Duncan, Mateus Santolouco, Andy Kuhn, Kevin Eastman, Sophie Campbell, Cory Smith, Michael Dialynas, Ken Garing, Dave Wachter and Damian Couceiro
Colorist: Ronda Pattison
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a franchise I’ve loved since I was a kid thanks to the cartoons and movies from the 80s, 90s and early 2000s. That said I don’t have a big connection to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a comic book franchise since it was very tough to find issues of any of their series growing up. That’s why it was good to be able to go through this past decade having the opportunity to read new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series from the very first issue. Add in how IDW’s TMNT series is one of the best comic books of the decade my love for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has only grown.
What’s worked so well with IDW’s version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is how Tom Waltz and company have been able to take chances while maintaining all the classic elements that have made the TMNT franchise so beloved. From the first issue on we are shown a tweaked version of the Turtles and Splinter’s origin that not only is refreshing but is given fantastic development. Each issue of this series fleshes out each Turtle more and more as their personalities shine.
As the series has gone forward stories in IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have got more intense. Whether is New York City gangs at war or a galactic adventure with the Utroms and Triceratons, there is a great sense of escalation with each story. At the same time Waltz and company understands how to slow things down to give strong character moments for the Turtles and their supporting cast. That is best exemplified the conclusion of “City of War” that closed out the decade for IDW’s TMNT. The ending was emotional and set-up a strong future for the series going into 2020. – Kevin Lainez
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE
Publisher: Image Comics
Issues: The Wicked + The Divine #1 – #45
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artists: Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson
It’s often said that comic books are today’s mythology, with their titanic tales and morality lessons alongside larger than life, godlike characters. It’s interesting that so many of these stories take from the old myths, featuring straight up god characters like Thor, Zeus, Hercules and Ares, or god-adjacent characters like Wonder Woman, Shazam, or Beta Ray Bill. But rare is the comic that decides to take the actual myths and put them into something as unique as The Wicked + The Divine. It’s like superstar creative team Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie are looking back at us from the front seat telling us to buckle up, because I can confirm that this book is one wild ride.
Twelve gods, mixed and matched from the various pantheons, return to Earth every 90 years as young people, meant to inspire the masses and then pass on after two years. In our time, of course, they return as pop stars. Minerva is a teen idol, Baal is 100% Kanye West, and Sakhmet is a Rihanna type, amongst all the others. Following the footsteps of fangirl Laura, who is slowly led into the complicated, messy and downright disturbing (at times) lives of these gods, this girl who always dreamed of being somebody special is about to get the shock of her life. Without spoiling anything, let me just say that this series goes to such strange places and has such shocking twists and interesting developments that I would need a few pages to accurately go through it all. This comic book is absolutely bonkers, but in the best way possible, as rather than flying off the rails or being crushed by ambition, Gillen and McKelvie know exactly what they’re doing. Under their steady hand, the craziness abates and reveals a story with a huge heart and love for all its characters, even the evil ones. It’s truly a magnificent feat of craftsmanship.
Rest assured, there is plenty of action involved, mostly rendered through McKelvie’s gorgeous artwork and inspired by the absolute best of superhero comics. It also can be very clever and funny at times, particularly with their renditions of these gods and how they fit into this world. But there is so much more to it than that, and it is definitely a book that will be remembered and analyzed for years. It’s not just a crazy, joyous ride through the minds of two of our very best creatives, it’s a true work of art, and it is not to be missed. – Steven Glover
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