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The year's coolest comics

Here are the best characters, series, writers and artists for 2007

IN A YEAR that saw comic book sales reach heights not seen in a decade — thanks to an ever-growing list of quality titles — it was very difficult to pick the best.

But Comics Guy realized there was one book that entertained me more than any other.

"Red Sonja."

"You make a good distraction," says Sonja's friend Osin to her. "I mean, distracting to the men we fight, dressed like that."

Yes, Sonja is stunning and wears little clothing. That's why so many artists jump at the chance to do a cover for one of her books and why fanboys salivate when they see them.

But there is a vital, exciting character here as well. This was evident in the anthology "Savage Tales," which had writers like Ron Marz and Christos Gage penning her adventures and the pulse-pounding "Red Sonja: Doom of the Gods" miniseries written by Luke Lieberman and Ethan Ryker.

However, what tipped the scales to make the character my Heroine of the Year and her flagship title Series of the Year is the truly epic Kulan Gath storyline that has been running through the book for a year and a half.

For starters, the arc has made Kulan Gath, a most villainous sorcerer/magician, Sonja's arch-nemesis. In the past Gath has battled heroes as diverse as Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Avengers and the time-travelling Exiles, but is best known for going against Conan, another character originally created by Robert E. Howard — but Sonja has far less back story.

"Red Sonja" writer Michael Avon Oeming has taken advantage of this in the Gath storyline by delving into Sonja's origin, which includes her family being killed and Sonja being raped as a young teenager.

Far from turning her into a victim, the rape became a catalyst that would literally change her into a warrior and symbol of female empowerment.

"Now they shall have a champion," the Goddess said, "with a blade in her hands. That champion shall be you, young Sonja. You shall give voice to their suffering. That blade shall be yours. The blade of justice — red as blood — left the pain of this world for the peace of the next."

We later learn that one of the conditions for Sonja if she wants to "become the blade" is that no man can ever have her unless he bests her in combat.

"I shall bless you with wisdom and war," says the Goddess. "Do not defile that blessing with another less than yourself."

The Goddess then gives Sonja tasks to test her — similar to Hercules — and one forces Sonja to not mourn her family or give them a funeral pyre.

Sonja declares that her life will be their mourning, that her deeds will constitute their funeral and that she will build a fire with the bodies of her enemies.

And you thought your teenage years were tough.

Sonja's fighting ability and lack of fear serve her well in her battle against Borat-Na Fori, a god so powerful and vile he entered the world by ripping open his mother's belly and "baptizing himself" with her blood.

But after an amazing journey in which she retrieves a special blade, Sonja defeats Borat-Na-Fori, her greatest enemy. One could say, he loses his head over her.

Time to celebrate, right?

Wrong. Unbeknownst to Sonja, the sacrifice of Borat Na-Fori, who slaughtered her family and took her chastity, was required to set an even more formidable adversary, Kulan Gath, free upon the world. And it turns out Gath was controlling Borat-Na-Fori all along.

"It was my hand that sent men to your village, my will that slaughtered your mother, father and brother like pigs," Gath says. "My will that spit their blood and brains onto the land! Onto the very land where I spitted your virginal blood, again with my will."

As Gath and Sonja continue hurtling toward their inevitable final conflict, the Goddess informs Gath that Sonja and he are destined to die together. Taken aback, Gath admits that he had a vision that they will both kill each other in the coming battle.

As issue No. 28, the last published in 2007, ends, Gath appears. Seeing as how Dynamite is promoting issue No. 30 as "kicking off a whole new event," it seems likely that this vast epic is coming to a close or going in a bold new direction.

Either way, it will be hard for the She-Devil with a Sword to top this storyline, which simply made it the Best Series of 2007.

Hero: Iron Man

Love Tony Stark or hate him — and there are plenty of fans who can't stand him these days — there can be little doubt that he and his red-and-gold armored alter-ego are more prominent in the Marvel Universe than ever before.

Name a big event in 2007 and he was involved in it. He fought Captain America before winning Civil War; he was the first hero to confront the Hulk on his return to Earth (and of course Stark was one of the Illuminati who voted to send the Hulk into space in the first place, which caused the whole thing).

He even had a role to play in Spider-Man's "One More Day" storyline.

Name a big fight fans wanted to see and there was a great chance he would be one of the participants. Readers couldn't wait to see the Hulk unleash his fury on one of the primary architects of his betrayal and exile.

Likewise, when Thor returned, they were anxious to see what the Thunder God's reaction would be when he learned his longtime friend had cloned him and that clone had hunted down former allies and killed in his name. Better yet, both battles were worth the wait.

Stark also had a significant role to play in the aftermath of Captain America's death, which many believe he is at least indirectly responsible for.

This was also the year Iron Man became head of S.H.I.E.L.D., the biggest spy agency on Earth. He was also a member of the Mighty Avengers, hunted the New Avengers, and birthed the Initiative and the Super-Human Registration Act which gave rise to the New Warriors, who oppose the SHRA.

Toss in a super annual and the fact that his regular ongoing series is more interesting than it has been in years, and it is clear that 2007 was truly golden for Iron Man.

And in 2008, he's Marvel's big summer movie.

Team: Justice Society of America

With the conclusion of the opening arc, writer Geoff Johns' love for this team was quite apparent. The only question was whether after such a flawless beginning, even Johns could keep that high a level of quality.

The answer? Pretty much.

A crossover with "Justice League of America" highlighted the gap in quality between those two books. In the current arc, we get to see no less an iconic character than the Kingdom Come Superman arrive to shake things up.

What really makes the JSA special is that they are written with a unique purpose; the artwork is outstanding; their lineup is diverse and colorful; there is sharp dialogue; spot-on characterization; they work as a team; they have worthy adversaries and their adventures are fun.

What more could anyone want?

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Comics Guy tries to be a leader and not a follower. So I didn't want to automatically honor the guy it seems everybody is honoring.

I strongly considered both Brian Michael Bendis and Peter David for a while. Both had multiple, quality books and had high-profile titles that brought in boatloads of new readers ( Bendis had "Halo:Uprising," David had "Dark Tower: Gunslinger Born"). Both also had well-received creator-owned projects ("Powers" and "Fallen Angel" respectively).

But Brubaker's Death of Captain America issue ("Captain America" No. 25) was an instant classic and sold tons. Remarkably enough, he kept the book going forward without its title character and there was not any appreciable loss of quality.

"Captain America" became and stayed an absolutely-must-have book, joining Brubaker's book, "Daredevil" in that category.

His "Uncanny X-Men" was a notch below but still told memorable stories with cool moments. Even "Immortal Iron Fist" kicks butt.

And "Criminal," Brubaker's creator-owned book, may be the best of them all.

Artist: John Romita Jr.

Romita truly made "World War Hulk" Marvel's summer blockbuster.

No one is better than he at conveying epic scope and power in a panel. When the Hulk and Iron Man collided in the first issue, I went, "Ooooh!" and he never let up for an issue or even a panel. If anything, he kept upping the ante. The series looked like the storyboards for the most awesome superhero movie ever.

While his style has often been called Kirbyesque he is rapidly becoming recognized for his work on its own merits. Rightfully so. To top it off, he's never late getting his work in. Truly the complete package.

Event: The death of Captain America

Nothing else came close.

Moment: Tony Stark's 'Confession'

In "Civil War: The Confession" Tony Stark admits to Steve Rogers that the Civil War was not worth what it had cost him, including Rogers' friendship.

Unfortunately, it's too late. Four little words and a haunting image stick in your mind forever.

Other winners

Crossover: "First Born."

Revival: "Booster Gold."

Single Issue: "Civil War: The Confession."

Miniseries: "World War Hulk."

Non-traditional Team: "Stormwatch: P.H.D."

Movie Based On A Comic: "300."

Comic Based On A TV Show: "Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight" *