Punisher MAX by Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon (Punisher MAX 1-22)
When rising star Jason Aaron took over the Punisher with Steve Dillon it seemed like a perfect match, and it was. Dillon’s clean art style was a perfect contrast to the violent world of Frank Castle. Yes, I know this wasn’t the first time he’d drawn the character, but the two really knock it out of the park.
This series is really about two things. The rise of the Kingpin, and the end of Frank Castle. As Wilson Fisk rises to power, he just can’t seem to get rid of the Punisher. He employs the deadly assassins Bullseye and Elektra, but Castle takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Killing Wilson Fisk just may take everything he’s got, yet he won’t stop. And that is what the Punisher is all about.
Parker by Darwyn Cooke (The Hunter, The Outfit, and The Score)
Unlike the other entries on this list, Darwyn Cooke’s Parker series was not a monthly series. It’s a trilogy of original graphic novels (With a fourth on the way!) adapting the work of novelist Donald E. Westlake. Cooke takes his favorites of the “Parker” novels and retells them through his highly visual art style. The first book doesn’t even have words until sixteen pages in, yet it’s quite gripping.
These books are so good you can’t afford to miss them. Parker is a professional thief. He has a code, he has his own rules, and he’s been double-crossed. The Hunter is all about him taking care of that. At times he can seem ice cold, at others strangely vulnerable. The next book The Outfit deals with the fallout of those actions. The third and thus far final book The Score, sees Parker teaming up with a crew of the best thieves he knows for the wildest score of his life.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Darwyn Cooke’s wonderful water-colored art. Anyone familiar with his art knows he has a style of his own. I especially love the way he draws women, with cute round faces and full figures. These are stories that take place in the early sixties, a period Cooke has mined time and time again, and with work this good, I see no reason to stop.
Batman by Greg Rucka (Detective Comics 732, 735, 739-753, 755-775, Batman 565, 568, 572-574, 587)
For fans of the Gotham Central series it will come as no surprise that Greg Rucka’s Batman run is phenomenal. His take on the series featured a hard boiled police caught in the middle of Batman’s war. We saw Harvey Bullock get promoted to Lieutenant after No Man’s Land, and his partner Renee Montoya enjoyed more time in the spotlight.
Yet it wasn’t just the G.C.P.D. Rucka focused on, he brought a lot to the table for Batman as well. One aspect emphasized was the difference between Bruce Wayne and Batman. A lot of writers overlook Bruce Wayne as another costume, and in a way he is, but here Bruce enjoys himself. It’s this distinction that makes the series such a joy to read.
My favorite story has got to be “Bruce Wayne: Murderer?” A woman is murdered inside Wayne Manor, and Wayne is held responsible. While he waits patiently for his associates to solve the crime and get him out, it’s not long before he decides it’s a case for the world’s greatest detective. There is no greater panel than Bruce angrily staring outside the bars of his cell at the Bat-Signal lighting up the sky. That scene still sticks with me, and says everything about his sense of duty.
Hitman by Garth Ennis and John McCrea (Hitman 1-60, Annual 1)
Hitman is a story set firmly in the DC Universe about a group of beer-drinking hitmen that are best friends. Tommy Monaghan is the ring leader of the group. After a day’s work these guys all go to their favorite bar Noonan’s and shoot the breeze. Because if Hitman is anything, it’s a series about friends.
Another hilarious aspect of this series is basically any interaction with DC’s heroes. We get a hilarious team up Tommy and Green Lantern, who end up sharing drinks at Noonan’s. We see them hole up in the bar telling stories during Batman’s mega-event No Man’s Land, and we’re even privy to their thoughts on Superman’s long hair.
One could go on and on about the colorful cast of characters, especially fan-favorites such as The Defenestrator, Dogwelder, and Baytor, the bartender from hell, literally. As the series begins these people seem like a punchline to a joke, but as things move forward I was surprised to find out how much I care about these guys and this wacky corner of Gotham.
Judge Dredd Epics by John Wagner (The Cursed Earth, The Day the Law Died, The Judge Child, The Apocalypse War)
Where to begin? For over thirty years John Wagner has written the character of Judge Dredd, hell, he created him. I think it’s safe to say 2000 A.D. wouldn’t exist to this day without old stoneyface. Knowing there’s so much history and so many great story I had to pick a time period that represents the best Dredd has to offer, and that time period is 1978-1982.
Starting with The Cursed Earth, Dredd has to travel with a caravan to deliver a cure to Mega-City Two, whose population has been infected with an airbourne virus. It’s here that Dredd is pushed to his limits as they journey to the west coast, which is no simple task. The group is attacked on a regular basis, and in the end it is Dredd who won’t give up. It’s not in his DNA, and it’s what makes him a hero.
Upon his return to Mega-City One begins the next epic, The Day the Law Died. Judge Cal has taken over as Chief Judge and is ruling the city with an iron fist. Citizens are being killed in droves by his gestapo-esque footsoldiers. Dredd knows it’s not his place to question the orders of the Chief Judge, but when is it enough? Can he break the law, the very thing he stands for, to save the city?
The next story on my list include The Judge Child, in which our hero travels across the galaxy to retrieve a child prophesized to save them. But is it all it’s cracked up to be? I love this one because it’s another adventure where Judge Dredd continues to show us what he’s made of, and presses on no matter what stands in his way.
Finally there is The Apocalypse War. I feel confident in saying this is the greatest Judge Dredd story of all time. Block wars are breaking out all over and the judges are have trouble containing the violence. It’s as if everyone is going insane. It’s revealed to all be a preemptive strike by the Sovs who then launch a nuclear strike on Mega-City One. Everything is decimated in the attack, and it’s up to Dredd to pick up the pieces and show the Sovs whose boss. Aided with the artwork of the great Carlos Ezquerra, this story set the bar so high I don’t believe it can ever be surpassed.