Disclaimer: Alan Moore is not found or mentioned in this article. (Except for now)
Wizard magazine used to be both a blessing and a curse to comics fans. It had exclusive interviews with creators and fun features, like “Casting Call” and “Top Ten Writers and Artists”, but it was also criticized for mainly focusing on Marvel and DC and for pandering to a “mainstream” audience. In this column, I will revive the “Top Ten Writers and Artists” for a new generation of comic book fans. Every few months, I will evaluate the current comics writers and artists that are innovating in their field, find success in multiple genres, or just putting out interesting stories on a monthly basis. These creators will range from Marvel to DC to Image and other independent publishers and will be listed in no particular order.
Brian Michael Bendis Age of Ultron, All-New X-Men, Daredevil: End of Days, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Uncanny X-Men (Marvel)
Brian Michael Bendis is the godfather of the current Marvel universe and also has enough time to write his favorite characters: Ultimate Spider-Man (now Miles Morales) and Daredevil. Bendis imbues all seven of his projects for Marvel with witty dialogue and strong characterization. Some critics have accused all of Bendis’ characters sounding like teenage hipsters, but he has shown the ability to write younger characters (Ultimate Comics Spider-Man) and characters from the past (All-New X-Men; Age of Ultron). He has also done an excellent job of having common themes throughout most of his projects. In this case, it’s time and inter-dimensional travel, which is the main conceit of All-New X-Men and was even mentioned in vastly different book Guardians of the Galaxy. Miles Morales from Ultimate Comics Spider-Man even traveled to the main Marvel universe in Spider-Men, which is getting a sequel.
Justin Jordan Deathstroke, Superboy, Team Seven (DC), The Legend of Luther Strode (Image), Shadowman (Valiant)
A relatively newcomer to the comics industry, Jordan earned recognition for his offbeat, schlocky take on the teen superhero in the The Strange Talent of Luther Strode to which The Legend of Luther Strode is a direct sequel. This is the second book in a proposed trilogy, but Jordan hasn’t suffered from a sophomore slump and has continued to make Strode develop as a characters as his power level increases. For DC, Jordan has built up the history of the New 52 universe in Team Seven and turned Deathstroke into the fun action book it should have been. However, both books were cancelled due to poor sales, but Jordan has brought his talents to Superboy exploring that character’s origins and giving him a unique voice despite having to work with four pencilers. He also will begin writing Green Lantern: New Guardians in June.
Brian Wood Conan the Barbarian, The Massive, Star Wars (Dark Horse), Mara (Image), Ultimate Comics X-Men (Marvel)
Brian Wood is like the Swiss army knife of comics. He can handle almost any genre including political thriller, superhero, fantasy, sci-fi, and plays well with other people’s creations. Wood writes strong female characters and has made Leia and Kitty Pryde the centerpieces of his Star Wars and Ultimate Comics X-Men books. In June, he will start writing X-Men featuring an all female lineup. He is also interested in politics, both futuristic (The Massive) and ancient (Conan). Not a slave to the trade paperback format, Wood can write sprawling epics (The Massive) or done in one stories, like Ultimate Comics X-Men 23, which fleshed out Storm’s character. The combination of doing new takes on old properties (turning Ultimate Comics X-Men into a survival story) as well as doing personal, innovative work, like the genre bending Mara, makes Wood one of the best current writers in comics.
Rick Remender Captain America, Uncanny Avengers (Marvel)
Rick Remender’s writing is the mixture of the epic and personal. He isn’t afraid to use voiceover narration, bandy around words like “Ragnarok” or “Apocalypse”, and dig into Captain America’s past. But he has the ability to see what makes characters both famous (Thor, Captain America) and obscure (Sunfire, Havok) tick. He treats the 52 years of Marvel universe stories as a vast toy box to tell stories that span millenia and bring characters as disparate as Red Skull, Warren Worthington, and Wolverine into one narrative thread. Remender also exhibits chemistry with some the greatest comics artists, like John Romita Jr. (Captain America), Olivier Coipel (Uncanny Avengers), and Daniel Acuna (Uncanny Avengers) to bring these characters and world-shattering events to life.
Jeff Lemire Animal Man, Constantine, Green Arrow, Justice League Dark, Time Warp (DC)
Canadian indie darling Jeff Lemire, who wrote Sweet Tooth and the Eisner nominated Essex County, has brought the spirit of late 1980s and early 1990s Vertigo to the DC New 52. He added many new elements to the Animal Man title, such as the Red, which gives Buddy Baker his power as well as co-writing the “Rotworld” crossover with Swamp Thing‘s Scott Snyder. He also brought a personal touch to the title with Animal Man 19 which chronicled Buddy’s grieving process after his son’s death. As well as Animal Man, Lemire successfully re-introduced Neil Gaiman characters and concepts, like Tim Hunter, Black Orchid, and The Books of Magic into the DC Universe while setting the stage for the “Trinity War” crossover which he will co-write with Geoff Johns. As well as being the lynchpin of “The Dark” family of the DC universe, Lemire has also revitalized The Green Arrow book by building Oliver Queen’s character from the foundation up and introducing new supporting characters, like Magus and Henry Fyff.
Matt Fraction Hawkeye, FF, Fantastic Four (Marvel)
Under Matt Fraction’s watch, Hawkeye has become one of the most entertaining and critically acclaimed comics. With Peter Parker “dead”, Fraction has turned Hawkeye into Marvel’s premiere street-level hero crafting a book full of action and humor that isn’t afraid to get very serious (especially lately). He has also turned Kate Bishop into a worthy foil and supporting to character for Mr. Barton. Though not as acclaimed as Hawkeye, Fraction has brought his sense of humor and adventure to Fantastic Four and FF with the help of artists Mark Bagley and Michael Allred. He humanized genius characters, like Reed, Franklin, and Valeria Richards in Fantastic Four and got to cut loose with more “fun” like Miss Thing and Medusa. No matter what Marvel title he works on, Fraction is good for hilarious, character driven storytelling that you don’t have to read seven other books to understand.
Kelly Sue DeConnick Ghost (Dark Horse), Avengers Assemble, Captain Marvel (Marvel)
Kelly Sue DeConnick’s books might not be the most commercially successful, but she has one of the most unique, wittiest, and down to earth voices currently in comics. She tells stories that span both past and present using flashbacks to great effect in Ghost and Captain Marvel. Elisa Cameron and Carol Danvers are two incredibly power individuals, but sometimes DeConnick is content to move a story along with her ear for dialogue. Her ability to switch from conversing to punching aliens/robots/supervillains is uncanny. However, she never loses sight of the big picture and brought in characters from Carol’s,like Deathbird and Monica Rambeau,in Captain Marvel and utilizes Avengers Assemble to tell more intimate stories about the heavy hitters of the Marvel Universe like Iron Man, Hulk, and Hawkeye. DeConnick will bring her ability to mix dialogue, action, and characterization to the upcoming “Enemy Within” which begins this Wednesday with a special Avengers: Enemy Within one-shot.
Jonathan Hickman East of West, The Manhattan Projects (Image), Avengers, New Avengers (Marvel)
If DeConnick is the Emily Dickinson of comics with her ability to convey personal feelings in a beautiful way, Jonathan Hickman is the John Milton with the ability to tell lengthy stories full of depth, like his run on Fantastic Four and FF. His stories are huge in scope and are chock-full of original (and occasionally complicated) ideas, like when he brought New Universe characters to Avengers. For example, The Manhattan Projects is alternate history of The Manhattan Projects with a lot of hard science. (This can be expected for a book starring Joseph Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein among others) East of West is another science fiction, alternate history story, but with a much darker bent. If The Manhattan Projects is utopia, East of West is utopia. And Hickman brings his love for high concept sci-fi and lots and lots of characters to the Marvel Universe. Hickman’s Avengers roster has eighteen members, including Captain Universe, Superman stand-in Hyperion, and The Hulk. But he doesn’t just focus on universe rending concepts telling the story of the demise of Canadian superhero team Alpha Flight in Avengers 10 and a James Bond-style spy story starring the Avengers and A.I.M. in issue 11. Hickman tells the best serialized stories in comics in both his Marvel and creator owned books and will bring his penchant for the epic in the upcoming Infinity event for Marvel.
Mark Waid Green Hornet (Dynamite), Daredevil, Indestructible Hulk (Marvel)
Mark Waid is the elder statesman of this list and has been writing for the Big Two, smaller publishers, and doing creator owned comics for more than two decades. His biggest strengths as a creator are an encyclopedic knowledge of the characters that he is writing and the ability to shift the tone of a character’s book from the previous creator. Take Daredevil for example: after being demon possessed in “Shadowland”, Waid finally cut Matt Murdock a break and let him enjoy life again. His Daredevil has been a perfect mix of light and dark. Daredevil goes on dates and helps kids at Christmas, but also has to team up with the Punisher and gets into personal conflicts with Foggy Nelson. As far as his work on Indestructible Hulk, Waid gave Hulk armor and made him SHIELD’s ultimate weapon before making him fight Frost Giants with Mjolnir. He captures what fans loved about Hulk in the Avengers film and throws him headfirst into the Marvel universe. He also gets to re-invent an icon in Green Hornet in which he completely ignores the character’s convoluted back history and focuses on telling entertaining pulp tales that Dynamite is becoming known for.
Brian K. Vaughan Saga (Image), Private Eye (Panel Syndicate)
Brian K. Vaughan is the Thom Yorke of comics. He can do whatever he wants and charge whatever he wants for his work. If writing the most critically acclaimed book in comics (Saga) wasn’t enough, he decided to publish a book with an original concept (futuristic world without internet, only non-superheroes wear masks) by himself absolutely free. As well as being a great creator, Vaughan is an excellent innovator putting regular “season” breaks in Saga so that the trade paperback can come back. I’ve been talking a lot about books which are either “personal” or “epic”. Saga perfectly encapsulates both. It is about a family, but also about an intergalactic war. Vaughan brings the kind of storytelling found in Game of Thrones or Star Wars as well as his own personal experiences to the comic book format and succeeds. This success was built on acclaimed stories for other companies (Runaways for Marvel; Y: The Last Man for Vertigo), and now Vaughan has the ability to tell whatever story he wants in any genre for any company and charge what he wants.