A LOT OF GREAT reading material hit comic-store shelves in 2008, but there was one book that was easily the cream of the crop and unquestionably the best comics had to offer.

The Title of the Year is "Scalped."

This title from DC's Vertigo line has been described as "Sopranos on an Indian reservation." That, however, doesn't do it justice. It's better.

The book's central figures are the same now as when it started: Dashiell "Dash" Bad Horse - one of the most confident, convincing and crazy bad asses ever put in print - and Red Crow, a former "Red Power" activist turned powerful crime boss.

When Dash was introduced, he was armed only with his hellraiser attitude and nunchakus. Catching Red Crow's attention, Dash was made a cop and tried to fight for what's right in a world of gambling, gunfights, G-men, Dawg Soldierz, massacres, meth labs, trashy sex, fry bread, Indian pride, Thunder Beings, the harsh beauty of the Badlands and - of course - a scalping or two.

It was quickly revealed that Dash was an FBI special agent who came back after a 15-year absence to gain Red Crow's trust in order to take him down eventually.

Red Crow is also interesting. His idealist-turned-ruthless-realist is multilayered and fascinating. He wields so much wealth, political power and criminal muscle it leads him to proclaim, "Around here . . . I'm the Father, the Son and the Holy F---ing Ghost all rolled into one."

But far from being portrayed as a typical crime boss - he also is trying to make the lives better for his people.

The book is given more depth by its women: Carol is Red Crow's daughter and Dash's "lover," and Gina is Dash's mother and a former associate of Red Crow.

Carol is a train-wreck who represents everything wrong about life on Native American reservations: She's a whore who drinks too much, does drugs and pretty much tries anything she can to make the pain in her life go away.

Gina, meanwhile, is someone who wants to keep the traditions and spirit of her people alive and fight their injustices. A major reason Dash left the reservation and has serious mommy issues is that Gina missed so many moments that were special to him protesting for Native American causes.

Rather than the usual one-dimensional portrayal of Native Americans as either savages to be mowed down by the "good guys" in B-westerns or the equally shallow depiction of them as pious saints in films like "Dances With Wolves," the depictions here are of well-rounded, real people.

By daring to depict this ignored part of America, writer Jason Aaron risks being called politically correct. At the same time, by refusing to paint all the Native Americans as sympathetic victims - indeed, by insisting that they all have a choice in how they live their lives - "Scalped" is refreshingly un-PC.

There are many mafia, gangster and gangsta books and films out there, yet this is the first time I can remember anyone exploring in a fictional work some of the harsh realities facing many of those who lived on this land first. It's very powerful stuff.

Aaron and Artist of the Year R.M. Guera bring a detailed world to life that is fantastic and gritty, that makes your adrenaline rush and your eyes well up with tears. It is topical with an "everyman" feel and has some of the most kinetic dialogue and appropiately shadowy, subdued art you will ever see.

"Scalped" is one of the best comics ever created and definitely the best published in 2008. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Hero of the Year:

Iron Man

Tony Stark was again the most prominent hero in the Marvel Universe, championing the Super-Human Registration Act, fending off the Skrulls' "Secret Invasion," launching a second solo title and starring in one of the biggest films of the year.

Heroine of the Year:

Ms. Marvel

With titles starring female characters dropping like flies this year, Ms. Marvel not only survived but thrived with "Secret Invasion" tie-ins. Her battling a horde of Super-Skrulls is the type of epic battle that defines a character - and that has been sorely missing from most, including a certain Amazonian princess published by DC.

Hopefully, she'll have more competition next year.

Team of the Year:

The Boys

What makes this book special is that through thick and thin, they are there for each other. That, and the over-the-top violence and sex scenes. Seriously, this is a team with what so many lack - a heart. That, plus the tenderness displayed in the romance between Annie and Wee Hughie and the hilarious humor are reasons to love this book. And showing that absolute power does indeed corrupt absolutely and the need to "take down the supes" as a result is a somewhat fresh idea executed beautifully.

Writer of the Year:

Garth Ennis

With excellent titles like "The Boys," "Battlefields: The Night Witches" and "Dan Dare," as well as the explosive end of his landmark run on "The Punisher," Ennis never ceased to shock, amaze and awe. He edges Aaron by having more variety and a bigger volume of work in 2008.

Event of the Year:

The return of Barry Allen

While Comics Guy didn't agree with this resurection, the return of the Silver Age Flash sure did send a shockwave through fandom. Time will tell if DC does it right.

Other winners

Moment of the Year: Wee Hughie realizes he needs to buy his girlfriend a calendar.

In what was the most hilarious scene of the year by far, Wee Hughie of The Boys happily consummates his romance with Annie and makes sure to please her in a special way. The next morning, when looking at the mirror, he realizes by looking at his nose and beard there may have been a "timing issue." Great stuff that made Comics Guy laugh out loud.

Crossover of the Year: "Secret Invasion" overwhelmed "Final Crisis"

Single Issue of the Year: "Supergirl" No. 34 made the character relatable, recognizable and readable again.

Revival of the Year: "Deadpool."

Movie of the Year Based on a Comic: "Iron Man" edged out "Wanted" and "The Dark Knight." It was simply more fun.

Comic of the Year Based on a TV Show: "Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight." *