10. The New Avengers: Breakout
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis, Artist: David Finch
The first chapter of the Avengers’ resurrection as a brand in 2004 following the divisive Disassembled event (which made some readers wish failure on New Avengers) finally put Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, Wolverine et al into the kind of star-studded superhero team that I dreamt up with crayons as a kid – seeing it happen, while bolstered by a great supervillain prison break storyline, was a highlight of reading comics in the past decade. With Bendis and Finch, this high-profile relaunch had the talent it needed to make the Avengers a smash hit for Marvel once more.
9. Alias: Ultimate Collection Volume One
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis, Artist: Michael Gaydos
A dark mirror image of the Marvel Universe, ex-Avenger Jessica Jones lives just on the fringe of superhero culture, a private detective who encounters various comic-book lowlifes in her line of work. This collection’s second arc, ‘Come Home’, which offers an intriguing exploration of the idea of mutant prejudice in a small American town, encapsulates what Alias did better than any other Marvel book: capturing the seedy, realistic side of the Marvel universe in a way that makes the life of a D-list character seem so compelling.
8. Astonishing X-Men
Writer: Joss Whedon, Artist: John Cassaday
Joss Whedon’s X-Men got me back into comic-books after an extended absence, cutting away the continuity and getting down to the business of telling great stories with a smaller, iconic team of mutants. Astonishing X-Men is buoyed by Whedon’s trademark witty dialogue, balance of humour against drama and relentless passion for his characters, ensuring the book found a willing audience in his Buffy/Angel/Firefly fanbase. John Cassaday’s shiny, photo-like artwork is a perfect match for what feels like a back-to-basics run in the image of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men.
7. Captain America: Winter Soldier
Writer: Ed Brubaker, Artist: Steve Epting
A perfect contemporary Captain America story and a superb espionage thriller, this book deals with the return of a figure from Steve Rogers’ past, bearing a deadly new identity as well as casting doubt on his memories of World War II. Ed Brubaker manages to build something entirely new from Cap’s history without rewriting it, as well as portraying Steve Rogers as a positively-motivated patriot in the face of an increasingly cynical America. Winter Soldier showcases the limitless potential of a modern Captain America story; no wonder the movie’s sequel is using it as a narrative touchstone.
6. The Immortal Iron Fist: The Last Iron Fist Story
Writers: Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, Artist: David Aja
Brubaker and Matt Fraction confidently treated the lore of Iron Fist as if the character was Marvel’s biggest icon. The storytelling is so refined in this run that it’s easy to get invested in the part-mystical, part-entrepreneurial world of Danny Rand, as well as the Buffy-like “into every generation…” concept behind the Iron Fist. The first volume is a particular high point, with David Aja’s Jae Lee/Frank Miller-infused art having the rare quality of transcending different styles of storytelling, crossing over noir, gun-fu action and even Golden Age-style flashbacks. Fraction and Aja’s new book, Hawkeye, is already showing signs of being just as strong.
5. Ultimate Comics Spider-Man Volume One: Who Is Miles Morales?
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis, Artist: Sara Pichelli
Having a new Spider-Man makes so much sense when you read it in context. Bendis imbues the newly spider-bitten Miles Morales with the defining benevolent and comedic aspects of Peter Parker, while giving him a whole new set of personal problems that puts a refreshing angle on the book’s characterisation. Miles is yet another great addition to the Marvel canon by Bendis. Strangely, the death of Peter Parker may well be the best thing that’s ever happened to the Ultimate Universe.
4. Runaways: Pride & Joy
Writer: Brian K Vaughan, Artist: Adrian Alphona
A valuable addition to the Marvel Universe, Runaways follows a group of young kids who find out their parents are supervillains, leading to them going on the run as they discover their own superpowers. It’s a fantastic combination of coming-of-age story and classic Marvel-style origin tale, a contemporary interpretation of superheroes that underlined the potential of new creations within the publisher’s roster.
3. The Ultimates: Volume One
Writer: Mark Millar, Artist: Bryan Hitch
A near-perfect contemporary interpretation of a post-9/11 superhero world, The Ultimates re-energised the Avengers by drawing upon the flaws of its characters and repositioning the team as a kind of anti-terrorism unit. Captain America is a depicted as an angry conservative soldier out-of-time, Tony Stark throws up in his suit and the Hulk is a psychologically terrifying menace rather than just a big green giant that lobs stuff around. A retroactively wonderful touch, in this volume, is a foreword from Joss Whedon that highlights the cultural significance of The Ultimates – years before he directed the third-biggest movie of all time…
2. Civil War
Writer: Mark Millar, Artist: Steve McNiven
Easily the most important event of the revamped Marvel, Civil War saw the heroes divided over a government act in which masked vigilantes would have to declare their identities to the public, with Iron Man leading the side supporting it and Cap leading those who oppose. As the name implies, it all turns a bit nasty, and while superheroes having a scrap isn’t necessarily new or interesting in itself, Civil War’s use of a realistic subject matter elevates the story with a horribly compelling, political angle, which gives this enormous battle some real weight. If only every event comic could be this essential.
1. Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis, Artist: Alex Maleev and others
Available in three parts and a person-sized Omnibus edition, this is the best post-Frank Miller run of Daredevil there is, putting Matt Murdock firmly back in the noir framework and dragging his life through the dirt in endlessly creative ways. There are a number of highlights throughout this run, but the ‘King of Hell’s Kitchen’ arc, which sees Daredevil teaming up with Spider-Man, Iron Fist and Luke Cage to bring down a particularly nasty gang, makes the most of Maleev’s beautifully grim artwork. A fascinating character piece for the unique Marvel icon.
And the rest.
So, so many, and too many to list in full. Thor by JMS re-established that character’s importance in the Marvel Universe; Mark Waid’s Daredevil and Ed Brubaker’s Daredevil are both great; Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man is a cool, esoteric take on that character, and New Ways To Die is the peak of Dan Slott’s Spidey run so far. The original Ultimate Spider-Man by Bendis and Mark Bagley is excellent, but there’s so much of it to catch up on that new readers might as well get involved with the Miles Morales version instead. Old Man Logan is an excellent Wolverine story set against the backdrop of a supervillain-ridden future, while on the other end of the scale, Origin was a key title in Marvel’s editorial resurrection during the last decade. Dan Slott’s She-Hulk is a Marvel-tinged spin on Ally McBeal (but way classier). Fabian Nicieza’s hilarious writing on Cable/Deadpool made me appreciate the former character for the first time in his dodgy, technovirus-ridden history. I also considered including Morrison’s New X-Men run, but Whedon’s work pipped it to the post for me.
Peter David’s X-Factor remains a consistently strong team book. The one-off, miniseries The Sentry is the type of self-contained Marvel story they should do more often. The high school-set Mary Jane series is underrated, since it demonstrates that Marvel publishes great stories that aren’t necessarily focused on superheroes (even though it obviously has Spider-Man in it). And, finally, Kieron Gillen’s fairytale-like Journey Into Mystery, reincarnating Loki as a child. Phew! This should definitely be enough to get you started, or alternatively, give you some nice suggestions if you’re looking for what to read next. Marvel has such a broad array of different stories to tell within the realm of superheroes – there’s something for everyone (unless you really can’t stand the sub-genre).
There are definitely more I’ve missed out, but hey, that’s what the comment section below is for. Let us know your favourite Marvel books!