I included some series that began in the late 1990s if most of their run occurred in the 2000s.
10. Fables by Bill Willingham.
Fairy tale characters have been evicted from their Homelands by a relentless Adversary and must get by on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, at least until they figure out how to fight back. Fun as hell.
9. Powers by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming.
I’m including Oeming (the artist) here because Powers, the story of an ex-superhero cop and his partner trying to police supervillains, mainly makes my list on the strength of its page layouts. The scripts, included in many of the trade paperbacks, show that Bendis described those layouts in great detail, but Oeming realized them.
8. Berlin by Jason Lutes.
It’s the late 1920s, before the Nazis take over, with Brownshirts and Communists fighting in the streets. The book is beautifully drawn and written, if a little slow. I just wish he’d actually publish it more than occasionally.
7. The Goon by Eric Powell.
A comedic cross between zombie and crime fiction, early issues of The Goon feature such unforgettable concepts as a mule prostitute and “fish squeezin’s.” If Powell had kept up the insane energy of the first fifteen issues, I’d probably have this even higher, but the last dozen or so have been disappointingly serious.
6. DMZ by Brian Wood.
Another one that could be higher on the list if it hadn’t declined a little recently. The Iraq War has precipitated the United States into another civil war, and the two opposing armies face each other uneasily across New York Harbor, the rump United States in Brooklyn, the Free Staters in New Jersey. In the middle is the DMZ of Manhattan, and from there junior journalist Matty Roth files his reports.
5. Queen & Country by Greg Rucka.
In the late 1970s, the British network ITV ran a series called The Sandbaggers, a spy show that mostly took place in the headquarters office building and dealt with bureaucratic headaches but was nonetheless totally gripping. Greg Rucka revived the concept for Queen & Country, though he put in a bit more action and centered the story on one of the field agents rather than the Director of Operations. Still gripping.
4. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore.
It’s a concept so perfect and obvious you can’t believe no one ever thought of it before: assemble the greatest heroes of 19th-century popular fiction into a steampunk SuperFriends. The first two volumes were excellent, though Moore’s attempts to extend the idea into the 20th century have so far felt a tiny bit strained.
3. Rex Libris by James Turner.
From my review of Vol. 2: “Rex is a 2,000-year-old librarian at the Middleton Public Library, the greatest library since the the burning of the Library of Alexandria, where Rex started his career. He is a member of Ordo Biblioteca, the secret international order of librarians charged with guarding human civilization, and Rex Libris the comic is his autobiography, published by minor comic magnate B. Barry Horst of Hermeneutic Press.”
2. Palestine by Joe Sacco.
Palestine was originally published in a series in the 1990s, but no one read it until it was collected in a trade hardcover in 2001, so I’m counting it. An examination of daily life in the West Bank and Gaza under Israeli occupation, Sacco’s comic does the invaluable work of humanizing Palestinians for an American audience.
1. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.
Unquestionably the best of the decade and in the top five ever, Fun Home is also probably the smartest graphic novel or comic book I’ve ever read. Not only is the writing erudite and richly layered—Bechdel uses Proust and Joyce to navigate her way through her own history, retelling the same episodes over and over in light of new understanding (something like the protagonist in The Good Soldier)—the art is incredibly careful and sophisticated.