The 25 greatest comic writers of the past 25 years

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Lucas Siegel
Sep 18, 2017

September 2017 is SYFY's 25th anniversary, so we're using it as an excuse to look back and celebrate the last 25 years of ALL science fiction, fantasy, and horror, a time that has seen the genres we love conquer the world of pop culture. For us, that means lists! ALL THE LISTS! We’ll be doing two “25 greatest” lists per day all throughout September, looking back at the moments, people, and characters that shaped the last quarter century. So keep checking back.

Please note: Our lists are not ranked; all items have equal standing in our brains.

What items in our lists were your favorites? Did we miss something? We welcome respectful debate and discussion, so please let us know in the comments!

Comics art can be awe-inspiring, but without the story to back it up, it’s just a bunch of pretty pictures. Here are 25 talents who’ve helped elevate the art of writing for comics to the next level over the last quarter-century.

Jason Aaron

Noted for: Scalped, The Other Side, Star Wars, Wolverine, Southern Bastards, The Mighty Thor

Every time you think you have Jason Aaron’s writing style figured out, he moves to a new book and does something completely different. His work on creator-owned series like Scalped and Southern Bastards is deeply personal; it’s no surprise his work gets optioned and is in development for TV, because it feels like you’re watching a high-end cable or premium cable show already. His Thor epic should go down as one of the all-time greats, and he also got to, you know, start the new continuity of Star Wars, telling the first three years' worth of stories for the flagship title.

Brian Azzarello

Noted for: 100 Bullets, Spaceman, Joker, Wonder Woman, Hellblazer

Azz has had a crazy career, with dark, intense thrillers like 100 Bullets balanced with epic mythology in Wonder Woman. His knack for putting characters in morally compromising situations is outstanding; it makes every story sure to have a twist at any time that can change everything. He’s also great with villains: his Joker graphic novel and Luthor mini-series with Lee Bermejo are master classes in telling stories from a unique point of view.

Brian Michael Bendis

Noted for: Powers, Avengers Disassembled, Ultimate Spider-Man, Alias

Bendis didn't singlehandedly save Marvel Comics from bankruptcy, but he had one heck of a hand in it. By being the writer part of launching the Ultimate comics line, then coming onto Daredevil, then onto an epic Avengers run with several crazy crossover events, then X-Men, then Marvel Cosmic … yeah, there's not much of the Marvel Universe of today that doesn't have Bendis' stamp on it. Add to that his excellent superpower crime creator-owned series Powers and his work as a consultant in the early days of the MCU … yeah, Bendis has hooked us up with some great stories.

Ed Brubaker

Noted for: Criminal, The Fade Out, Captain America, Gotham Central, Sleeper, Catwoman

He brought Bucky Barnes back and made everyone love it. He helped reinvent the Gotham City PD (and made it a much more diverse environment). At arguably the top of his game, he dropped out of Marvel and DC altogether and went to Image to write killer crime stories. Whether you're looking for noir thriller or superhero stunner, you're set with Brubaker.

Kurt Busiek

Noted for: Astro City, Marvels, Autumnlands, Avengers

Kurt Busiek is a writer who everyone seems to know for something else; maybe you've loved his Avengers stories, like the time-spanning Avengers Forever, or you're a die-hard fan of Astro City. Maybe you marveled at his mini-series with Alex Ross (see what we did there?) or you're really old-school and just loved you some Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Busiek's excellence is definitely in juggling huge casts and somehow making every single member of them feel like the main character. If you haven't read Astro City, yet, you now have homework. Go. Read it. Go!

Kelly Sue DeConnick

Noted for: Bitch Planet, Captain Marvel, Pretty Deadly

We talk about Kelly Sue on this site a lot, and that’s because she seems to have a Midas touch. Bitch Planet is a subversive feminist title that also serves as an exploitation adventure – just google "non-compliant tattoos" if you want to see what a cultural impact it's already had. Meanwhile, her reinvention of Carol Danvers in Captain Marvel has brought the character to new heights, and that version of the character is being played by Brie Larson in the MCU … so, yeah, she's done some stuff.

Warren Ellis

Noted for: Planetary, Nextwave, Transmetropolitan, Hellblazer

Warren Ellis has left his mark on Marvel and DC heroes like the X-Men, Thunderbolts, Avengers, Batman, and the JLA. But it’s when he’s allowed to cut loose - whether with licensed properties like Hellblazer, Moon Knight, and Nextwave, or his own creator-owned series like Transmetropolitan, Planetary, Trees, Gravel, FreakAngels, and oh so many more - that he really shines. It’s genuinely easier to name 10 outstanding Warren Ellis comics than two bad ones. Planetary, alone, with its perfect deconstruction of superhero comics, would get him on any of this sort of list.

Garth Ennis

Noted for: Preacher, Hitman, The Boys, Punisher

Garth Ennis – particularly when paired with Steve Dillon – has shown such a mastery in creating hard-hitting crime and supernatural stories with a stark realism. Their list … Preacher, Punisher, Hellblazer … is already a substantial resume. Add Hitman with John McCrea, War Stories, The Boys and Fury with Darick Robertson; if you want a hardcore story, Ennis is here for you.

Neil Gaiman

Noted for: Sandman, Death, 1602

While Sandman obviously started before 25 years ago, it went well into our time-frame for this list (and with the prequel series Sandman: Overture firmly sets itself here). The series probably has the greatest impact on comics as a whole in the last 25 years, making adult, horror, introspective comics survivable in the mainstream. The spin-off series for Death were possibly even better as individual stories, too. 1602 let Gaiman play in his very own Marvel Universe, and heck, he even wrote a couple of pretty great Spawn stories, creating a character there in Angela that did something unprecedented: switched universes and became a full-on Marvel Comics character.

Jody Houser

Noted for: Faith, Mother Panic, Star Wars adaptations

The last two years have seen Jody Houser rise to prominence like a rocket. Her tales with Faith, an unassuming girl who gets superpowers after wanting nothing more than to be a hero her whole life, are arguably the best work they've put out. From a joyful, optimistic hero, she moved to Mother Panic, a dark, nearly Vertigo-style book set in the main DC Universe about a girl in Gotham who’s a socialite … that was once tortured and conditioned to be a brutal killer. Houser has also had her hands on official comics for James Bond, Star Wars, Orphan Black, and more, and we can't wait to see what she does next.

Geoff Johns

Noted for: Green Lantern, Flash

Geoff Johns is now the Chief Creative Officer and President at DC Entertainment and co-head of DC Films, but his career as a writer laid the groundwork for all that multimedia success. Johns revived The Flash, reinvented Green Lantern and Aquaman, and put his stamp on Batman, Superman, and the Justice League, and that's really just the tip of the iceberg. Johns' stamp on the DC Universe is one of the largest in the company's history, let alone over the last 25 years.

Jeff Lemire

Noted for: Essex County, Sweet Tooth, Descender, Underwater Welder, Black Hammer, Animal Man, Bloodshot

Yes, essentially everything Lemire has written was nominated for this list, and they are some very different comics. If we had to pick a first Lemire book to read, we'd recommend Sweet Tooth, a post-apocalypse comic about a boy with deer antlers and ears, but Bloodshot, Descender, Animal Man … basically, the rest of his work wouldn't be far behind. He’s a talented artist, which helps even when he’s not pulling double duty as he’s able to craft his writing to work with his artist, and he’s probably writing some of the best pure sci-fi on shelves in the last ten years.

Marjorie Liu

Noted for: X-23, Daken, Monstress

If you like X-23, the female clone of Wolverine, you have Marjorie Liu to thank. She didn't create the character, but for all intents and purposes, Liu is Laura's real mother, having raised her from practically a one-off to blossom into the amazing character she’s become. She also took on Wolverine himself, and his other child, Daken, in which title she was unafraid to tell the story of a villain who was quick enough to use his sexuality (with basically anyone) as his claws to get what he wanted. Her creator-owned series Monstress brings fantasy and Kaiju into a new dimension, and will genuinely scare you just before bringing you to laughter and then to tears. She’s also written Han Solo, Black Widow, and more in some of their best adventures.

Jeph Loeb

Noted for: Batman: Hush, The Long Halloween, Superman for All Seasons

While today Jeph Loeb is Head of Marvel TV and not really doing any comic writing anymore, there was a span of about 20 years that you couldn’t go two months without hearing about another major Loeb release. His twin Batman epics, Hush and The Long Halloween, both of which send Batman through a gauntlet of supervillains, have been endlessly referenced in other comics and even other mediums. His frequent collaborations with Tim Sale have resulted in some of the best stories ever for the respective characters they’ve covered, from Batman to Superman to Daredevil to Hulk. Personally, Cable Vol. 1 #20, the last issue before Age of Apocalypse hit, is one of the best single issues of superhero comics ever.

Mike Mignola

Noted for: BPRD, Hellboy

The only person on our writers list that’s also on the artists list, Mike Mignola is a master creator who uses the comic book medium like simply no other here can. Mignola’s world of supernatural, horror, superheroics and ancient gods and demons and creatures is something to behold. The fact he can do both the writing and art sides equally well … is probably unfair.

Terry Moore

Noted for: Strangers in Paradise, Echo, Rachel Rising

Not enough can ever be said about Strangers in Paradise and its impact on comics. The GLAAD-award winning series (now in development as a TV show, finally) was slice-of-life, but also had some of the craziest plot twists of its time. Echo told a truly modern superhero story that felt like it could take place in a world just adjacent to our own. He’s even gotten into straight-up supernatural horror with Rachel Rising, which bucks the trend of anything you’d expect from a zombie story, pulling influences from horror and adventure comics of the past into a modern tale.

Grant Morrison

Noted for: We3, Justice League, New X-Men, All-Star Superman, Batman, The Invisibles

Grant Morrison will go down as a once-in-a-lifetime kind of creator thanks to the way he’s able to so completely make stories with characters that have existed for 60, 70 years feel like they are Grant Morrison stories. His long runs on New X-Men and Batman helped bring those characters into the 21st century. All-Star Superman made the character both godly and heroic, all at once. His creator-owned work … completely freaks us out, but we love it, too.

Jimmy Palmiotti

Noted for: Harley Quinn, Power Girl

Jimmy Palmiotti has been a mainstay in comics for quite a while, now, but when he switched from being an accomplished inker to writing stories of his own – most often with writing partners Justin Gray and creative partner/wife Amanda Conner – he truly took off. Most fans right now know Jimmy and Amanda for their work on Harley Quinn, where they’ve been guiding her stories since 2013, taking her on quite the ride and making her comic one of the most consistent sellers this side of Batman. Jimmy (and partners) have also done a ton of creator-owned work under their PaperFilms label, left their marks on Jonah Hex and Power Girl, and continue to push what comics can do forward in a meaningful way.

Greg Rucka

Noted for: Whiteout, WW, Lazarus, Detective, Gotham Central

A lot that was said about Ed Brubaker can be said about Rucka – they worked on Gotham Central together, they both largely left Marvel/DC work behind when they were thoroughly in demand so they could focus on creator-owned work. Rucka also did great creator owned work before some of his best work with DC, on Wonder Woman, Detective, and 52, or Marvel, with his excellent run on Wolverine and Elektra. Since then, he came back to basically completely fix Wonder Woman, and launched the excellent Black Magick with fellow WW alum Nicola Scott. Oh, he’s also an accomplished novelist and has contributed to Star Wars canon.

Gail Simone

Noted for: Secret Six, Clean Room, Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman

Gail Simone takes a lot of s**t on the Internet, but she dishes it out pretty great, too. This is another writer for whom you can pretty much "do the list," with series like Secret Six, Birds of Prey, Batgirl, and Wonder Woman all leaving an indelible impact on the DC Universe. Her run on Red Sonja is considered a definitive run with that character, and her run on Deadpool, some of her earlier work, is wildly underrated. Creator-owned work like Clean Room and Leaving Megalopolis is her current focus, and it’s stretching her in vastly different directions. Don’t read Megalopolis while eating is all we’re saying (but do read it. It’s so good).

Scott Snyder

Noted for: American Vampire, Batman

Scott Snyder came into the scene like a wrecking ball. This teacher from New York was suddenly writing one of the best Batman stories ever in the pages of Detective Comics. Then, he launched a horror comic in which the story idea was so good, Stephen King agreed to co-write the first arc. Then, the New 52 launched, and he was basically put in charge of not just Batman but the whole line (all the other books revolved around it and weaved in and out of it throughout the run). Snyder continues to write epic Batman and has played with great Superman stories ... and his career is really just getting started.

Noelle Stevenson

Noted for: Lumberjanes, Nimona

Nimona was the perfect modern example of “Want to make comics? Then make comics!” Stevenson saw a hole in the comics world and she filled it, publishing the series herself on Tumblr before completing it and collecting it as a graphic novel. The sci-fi/fantasy series includes shapeshifters, mad scientists, knights – and is told from the supervillain point of view. Meanwhile, she somehow “broke out” twice, as Lumberjanes from BOOM! took the world by storm with its unafraid ability to simply embrace the fun. The series feels like you’re watching an '80s adventure movie and is an absolute delight.

Raina Telgemeier

Noted for: Smile, Sisters, Ghosts

While Telgemeier does far more work in slice-of-life and autobiographical comics than she does in genre, her library speaks for itself. Whether she's telling a deeply personal story about growing up (and winning awards and charting on the NY Times best seller list while doing it), or exploring the Day of the Dead from a child's point of view (a couple years before Pixar, too), it’s pretty impossible to pick up a graphic novel by Telgemeier and not finish it in one sitting. She has a very natural knack for compelling readers to the next page, and then the next book.

Brian K. Vaughan

Noted for: Y: The Last Man, Runaways, Ex Machina, Private Eye, Pride of Baghdad, Saga

OK, so basically every series that BKV has conceived of in the last decade and a half or so got him a nomination from more than one writer or editor at SYFY WIRE. BKV is a genius, plain and simple, always able to tell you something new about humanity while also telling exciting, epic adventures in fantasy, superheroes, sci-fi, and any other genre he feels like touching.

G. Willow Wilson

Noted for: Ms. Marvel, Air, Cairo

When Air hit and put Wilson on the map, it was easy to see why. If people who don’t read many comics are Lost fans, this would be a top recommendation, easily. It also got to tell a complete story, something that’s thankfully becoming less rare in comics as people plan out their full tales in advance. But it’s Ms. Marvel, one of the top new characters of the last 25 years, that puts Wilson firmly on this list. The character has a cultural importance, being the first American Muslim character to headline a book at Marvel, sure, but she’s also very real, very fun, and very lovable. She’s helping to show people another side of life in America, and learning to be a heck of a hero while doing it.

Those were OUR choices from the last 25 years. What are yours? Keep in mind that while there are lots of great comic writers, this list is of people who've made a big splash since 1992. Let us know in the comments which comic writers of the last 25 years you’d put on your list?

And make sure to check out all of our other "25 Greatest" lists here.