#4 Peter David
Well known for his work on comic books and novels, Peter David is one of the first comic book writers I’ve ever read back when I was reading the old DC line of Star Trek. His ability to tale a long-lasting and overarching theme throughout his writings have helped keep me hooked on many of his works, including the current running Marvel title X-Factor. Though a lot of his most recently done work has been related to Star Trek novels and various television show episodes, I still will always consider him to be a defining influence in my enjoyment of comic books and as a writer myself.
#3 Geoff Johns
It wasn’t until I started reading DC’s The New 52 comics that I really saw Johns’ work, but ever since I’ve read what he’s done with Aquaman, Justice League, and Green Lantern, I have been hooked on his writing style. He has a way of defining his characters deeply, of letting the reader see into the personal lives of these iconic heroes, and how they deal with what goes on around them. I was never much of an Aquaman fan until I read the new line, and I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to know about the Flashpoint even that spurred The New 52 . . . until I discovered it was written by Johns, which immediately drew my attention. In fact, his portrayal of Hal Jordan as Green Lantern is one of the defining factors of making me a Green Lantern fan (though I still admit I like Kyle a lot better).
#2 Chuck Dixon
Someone who’s been around the block in the comic book industry is good, ol’ Chuck Dixon, a man who has written in so many different genres and companies that I’ve honestly lost count. Responsible for some of the most interesting storylines I’ve read and characters that I’ve seen, Dixon is so well-rounded that he’s become a bit of a lesser-known icon, because he’s moved around so much. Creator of the much-beloved Stephanie Brown (At least I like her, and I know Kristine does.) and writer for the last two recent incarnations of G.I. Joe, Dixon has been a vision in my quest to understand comics and their popularity.
#1 Brian Michael Bendis
Probably the most singular influential reason that I have become such a comic book geek the last couple of years, Bendis’ portrayal of the Avengers and his work in the Ultimate Marvel line really spoke to me. He has such a great way of humanizing the characters he writes about, making them flawed and interesting instead of dynamic and indestructible, causing me to see them as more than just superhero archetypes. It isn’t hard to understand why he’s the go-to person at Marvel for crossover arcs, and his work on Avengers/New Avengers was the longest running by a single writer, an aspect that really influenced my enjoyment of the team(s). I will admit that I am not liking his transition to television writer/consultant for the Ultimate Spider-Man show, but I still adore his ability to captivate me with his personalization of characters.
#4 J. Michael Starczynski
I hated Babylon 5. There. I said it! While J. Michael Straczynski's (JMS for short) television work did not impress me, I've really enjoyed his work in the comics industry. His work on titles like Wonder Woman, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Thor have always been enjoyable, and his reimagining of some characters like Spidey and Thor were fun, wacky, and an interesting, if controversial, change-up.
What I adore JMS most for are his original creations where he was able to create without a heavy hand from executives. Midnight Nation may have started out weak but quickly finds its feet as it tells the story of a spiritual journey treated as an adventure. Midnight Nation raises questions about religion, and the meaning of life and death that resonated with me and is a title I still think about to this day. Rising Stars is a nigh perfect comic. After a meteor flies overhead, 113 individuals in utero at the time are born with incredible powers, and the comic follows the journey of these characters from birth until death. It's an incredible ride that manages to be complex and wholly satisfying with a perfect ending. If there is one thing JMS is good at as demonstrated by both Midnight Nation and Rising Stars, it's nailing the ending.
#3 Brian Michael Bendis
Brian Michael Bendis (BMB for short) is head writer for a ton of Marvel's stories for a reason, but let's cut the crap. BMB is on this list for two reasons: Powers and Ultimate Spider-Man.
Powers is Bendis' original comic project of a world with superheroes and the very real and mortal police officers that try to hold everything together while staying within the bounds of the law. Powers is a mystery series with superpowers. The realistic portrayal of powers is gutrenching at times as Powers addresses questions like, “What happens if I grab a teleporter's arm as he's dematerializing?” and, “If I can pick up buildings and I punch this normal looking guy, how badly am I going to hurt him?” with the most terrible answers every time. Powers can be a little too dark and serious at times and the first few arcs start to feel repetitive, but it's a solid comic everybody should try.
The big one though is Ultimate Spider-Man. Peter Parker was never my Spider-Man; that honor belonged to Ben Reilly, because I was that odd kid who started reading Spidey during the Clone Saga. There was always too much Spider-Man to read it all, and the '60s issues were hard to read looking back. Enter Bendis with a reimagined Spider-Man set during the modern day with a teenage Peter Parker, excellent dialogue, a more active Mary Jane and Aunt May, and the same classic Spidey problems. I was hooked. Ultimate Spider-Man was an easy comic to keep up with unlike his prime universe counterpart, and although I wished at times that Peter would age, change, and grow, I was happy with the evolution of the character and all the adventures he got into. However, Bendis is not afraid of change. When he killed Ultimate Peter Parker, it was one of the saddest and most perfect ends to a comic I've ever read. Peter's journey had come full circle, and Bendis had transformed him into a legacy character with Miles Morales taking up the webs. Though Miles has yet to grow on me the way Peter had, it's a learning process and I admire BMB for having the guts to replace Spidey and to introduce some diversity into Marvel's A-list. Also, I love so much the way Bendis reimagined my beloved and overly complicated Clone Saga and the creation of Ultimate Spider-Woman that I will buy any issue that so much as touches on that entire are of the Ultimate universe. BMB, I tip my hat to you.
#2 Alan Moore
The great Alan Moore. Somebody had to mention him for Watchmen alone. While I may not admire Moore's heavy handed attitude towards scripting, I can't help but acknowledge what he's contributed to the comic world. Stories like Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and From Hell have been incredibly strong, multi-layered tales. There's a reason why they were all selected to be turned into films.
Moore's ability to reimagine and alter existing characters to create something new that lasts is incredible. Oftentimes, it's forgotten that the characters of Watchmen were originally meant to be some of DC's lesser known heroes. He changed the core of what Swamp Thing was, a change that lasted until the new 52. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (also made into a movie, albeit another bad one) took classic heroes from early science fiction and put them all together into a great and horrific action tale.
Perhaps two of my favorite works of his are Batman: The Killing Joke and Top 10. The Killing Joke changed Barbara Gordon forever, and even if Moore was not the one who put her in the wheelchair and handed her a computer, the action and brutality he demonstrated with the Joker led to that evolution. More than that, The Killing Joke is a quintessential Batman story, so focused on what Batman and the Joker mean to one another and the actual “killing joke” says more about those two characters than anywhere else. Top 10 was a world of superheroes policed by superheroes. The characters were so creative and strong and the books are hilarious. Moore is normally known for telling rather dark and serious stories but his sense of humor shines in Top 10 and is one of my favorite humorous comic series of all time.
Alan Moore may be a crazy, bearded, snake worshipper, but he's one of the greatest writers comic books have ever known, and if you haven't read the highlights of his work, you're missing out.
#1 Brian K. Vaughan
Brian K. Vaughan was a big part of why I came back to comics. In college I read some graphic novels here and there, mostly Star Wars. I picked up the Marvel comic Runaways on a whim and I was hooked. The characters were so well written and the plot so engaging that I quickly read all there was and was disappointed as the series was passed on to less capable writers (not talking about you, Whedon). Y: The Last Man was my next Vaughan project. The way it examined gender was incredible, and I've always been a sucker for a good post-apocalyptic story. The journey of Yorick was secondary compared to the evolution the world underwent without men. Ex Machina, the story of a superhero running for mayor, taught me to appreciate political issues in my entertainment and raised such a valuable question about how we can all make the biggest difference in our world. Pride of Baghdad was a perfect metaphor, hitting me hard and, once again, getting me to think on a topic. Saga has been less thought provoking but no less fun taking me on a wild ride and is one of the only comics I read that always manages to surprise me. The Private Eye is a return to form, raising valuable questions about social media, our use of the Internet, privacy, and whether people should start wearing giant tiger heads around.
Brian K. Vaughan has an incredible gift for starting stories. The beginning of each of his books is perfect, grabbing readers immediately and then securing them with his rich and diverse characters. If Vaughan has one weakness in his writing, it's landing the ending. His longer projects have always faltered a bit for me near the end, such as Y's lackluster reasoning for the plague, but this weakness does not tarnish the work as a whole.
I also have to give a major thank you to BKV for having the guts to include LGBT characters whenever he can and the writing chops to pull them off. Karolina and Xavin in Runaways were there for me at a challenging point in my life, and though it would take some time before I learned what the word “genderqueer” meant, Xavin is a perfect example of that in comic form and is a character to this day I admire and want so badly to return to the Marvel universe. Runaways was not the last time he touched on these issues in his work. For all of this and more Brian K. Vaughan is my favorite comic writer, and I will read anything he writes.
As time goes on, and we read more and more comic books by different writers, we may evolve our list to include or substitute others, especially as the dynamic of storytelling continues to change over time.