2010's Best Comics and Graphic Novels

An assassin for Christmas, or maybe some witchcraft and depraved subordia?

Neal Adams set equally high standards in the 1960s and ’70s with masterful renditions of characters as disparate as Jerry Lewis, the Green Lantern, and Batman. In 1978, Adams yanked out all the stops to portray the era’s most incandescent personality in Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, which DC has reprinted in a lavish facsimile edition (80 pp., $39.99) that provides a nostalgic respite from our current national malaise. The plot opens in the ghetto as the Champ plays hoops with a multiracial gaggle of kids, but it’s not long before an alien armada arrives to lay waste to Earth. Things get progressively wiggier as Supes and The Greatest take their lumps in the ring against the humongous invaders; Adams’s hyperkinetic action sequences are barely contained by the page margins. The book closes on a poster-size spread as the two heroes shake hands after truth, justice, and superior fisticuffs have straightened those freakin’ aliens right out.

So maybe there’s hope for the American way, after all.

Web Extra!

And here are a few online bonus items to round out our admittedly idiosyncratic baker’s dozen of the year’s best:

Simon and Schuster’s new “Pulp History” line digs into America’s seamy past, with Devil Dog (160 pp., $19.99). U.S. Marine Smedley Darlington Butler (1881-1940) fought bravely against Germans, Chinese, Nicaraguans, and anyone else he was pointed at before writing an exposé entitled “War Is a Racket.” David Talbot chronicles Butler’s shift from self-described “muscle man for Big Business” to supporter (and, by some accounts, savior) of Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, while comix luminary Spain Rodriguez provides flamboyant illustrations to complement archival photographs, period posters, and news clippings.

Amping up tropes from The Stand, The Road Warrior, and other post-apocalyptic jaunts, Jeff Lemire’s ongoing Sweet Tooth (Vertigo, vol. 1, 128 pp., $9.99, vol. 2, 144 pp., $12.99) envisions a ravaged world populated by roving gangs tracking down hybrid human-animal babies in order to determine the cause of a global plague. Gus is a sweet-tempered, doe-eyed tyke with antlers growing from his head; when his religious-fanatic father dies, Gus travels with a former NHL brawler who, in exchange for his dead wife’s corpse, trades the kid to a militia performing experiments on the new breed of children. Lemire’s disheveled line work, somber palette, and angular black silhouettes keep this surprisingly touching story entirely believable.

While set in the here and now, A God Somewhere (Wildstorm, 200 pp., $24.99) climaxes with apocalyptic slaughter, as tales of gods generally do. John Arcudi’s grim narrative of delivery-man Eric Forster’s accidental ascent to omnipotence is bolstered by Peter Snejbjerg’s expressionist violence and overt visual references to such classical compositions as Michelangelo’s Christ the Judge, from the Sistine Chapel. Families, generals, and presidents suffer as Forster’s good intentions are outstripped by the power his ego can’t contain. His dearest friend, wishing that the chain of events leading to widespread carnage had somehow been different, finally despairs, “There is no ‘if.’ There is only ‘is.’ ”

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