Marvel NOW!: Who Stands with Doctor Strange and the Avengers' "Quitters"?
Yes, the new year can’t really begin until I chime in with my ill-informed and under-informed and generally all-around mis-informed Best Comics of 2012! Cronin may have posted one, Kelly may have posted one, but can we really trust those East Coast Liberal Elitists? Sonia may have posted one, but can we really trust those foreigners? I think not! Luckily, from the West comes an independent voice, one you can certainly trust! If you can’t trust someone who lives in Arizona, really, who can you trust????
As I do every year, I try to decide which comics should make the cut, eligibility-wise. I decided to change up this year a bit, because I’ve begun getting so much in trade that I can’t say if an ongoing is the “best of the year” if the trade doesn’t come out until the next year! So this year I decided to do something a little different. I am going to mash all the usual categories together – no more Best Ongoing, Best Mini-Series, Best Graphic Novel, and the like – and just list my 50 Best Comics. These could be ongoing, mini-series, graphic novels, single issues, stories in an anthology, or trade paperback collections of series that came out last year. I also decided to figure out a way to include manga, so I decided to include books that were published in English for the first time – meaning the sweet Fourth World Omnibus books I bought this year aren’t eligible, but The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is, as are some European comics that I’m fairly certain have never been translated into English before. Does that sound good? Maybe next year I’ll go back to categories, but I’m feeling anarchic this year, so there! As always, this is not in any way a comprehensive list – it’s just my opinion! I still haven’t read Building Stories, for instance, because that thing is just … well, it’s massive, and I’ve been busy. So no Chris Ware on this list! Sorry! I’m sure you can find that book on plenty of other lists! I bought almost 500 single issues this year (down a bit from last year, but that’s because I’m reading more in trade) and just over 200 collected editions or graphic novels (up a bit from last year, as I figured it would be), so even if you think my choices are really, really terrible, it’s not because I didn’t read enough comics! So let’s dive right in, beginning with #1 and zipping down to #50!
The best comic of the year is really two stories, one that Seagle and Kristiansen translated together, and one that Seagle attempted to translate on his own, not knowing any French. The result is two different stories using the same artwork, and both are gripping tales about secrets and discovering who people are and why we hide parts of ourselves from others. Kristiansen painted the book, and the art is beautiful and haunting and stark. Seagle and Kristiansen have worked on a brilliant graphic novel before (It’s a Bird …, their tremendous meditation on Superman) and they have another book coming out this year, and this is just another example of how good they are when they get together to make comics!
I know it’s boring that Chew always shows up in my Top Five, but that’s because it’s always so damned good! This year, Layman cranked up the drama a bit, as Tony ended up in a coma thanks to the beating he took in “Major League Chew,” which allowed his sister, Toni, to take the lead in “Space Cakes,” which ran from issues #26-30. The final issue of the year, issue #30, was a huge punch in the gut for readers, but it’s a testament to Layman’s work on the book that it’s so effective. The book remains hilarious, too, even when the drama is high, and, of course, Rob Guillory is a huge aspect of the book’s success. His brilliant cartooning makes this a wilder ride than even Layman’s scripts indicate, and his double-page spread of Poyo in Japan has to be the best panel of the year. Other books I like go through some ups and downs in quality, but over 30 issues (plus the Poyo special), Chew has been excellent. I will keep telling you to check it out until you succumb!
Here are the posts tagged “Chew.” Will we ever get tags back on the posts? Only the Grandest Poobah, Jonah himself, can say!!!! But they’re awfully handy!
I’m not sold on Joe Keatinge as a writer yet, but his work on Glory is superb. He writes big epics well, I guess, and the characters in this epic are fascinating, from Riley’s charming naïvété that has slowly burned away and turned her into a harder-edged person, to Glory’s somewhat rueful warrior. Keatinge mentioned that he had dozens of stories about Glory to tell, but with the series concluding in a few issues, it’s clear he managed to distill the essence of the character into these tales, and while it’s too bad that the book is going away, it’s been a tremendous ride. His partner in crime, Campbell, has been a good artist for years, and it’s nice that he got a larger platform, because his art has been amazing. His Glory is a giant, crashing through the world without care for anything, while her sister, Nanaja, is lithe and slithery. The monsters in the book are horrifying and disturbing, and Campbell’s violence is truly astonishing – brutal and terrifying, with Glory’s battle against her sister in issue #30 a ballet of violence that ends with another candidate for best panel of the year. I would love for this book to last 100 issues, but I’ll take what I can get!
4. King City (Image) by Brandon Graham.
Brandon Graham started King City several years ago, but he only finished it in 2011, and this trade was finally released in 2012. It’s a marvelous comic, far more concerned with the characters in the city than any overall plot, although Graham does put the characters through several strange situations. The writing is dazzling mainly because Graham creates all sorts of strange phrases and wonderful metaphors. His art is superb, as he commits entirely to this world and populates it with dozens of fantastic characters and strange places, all making up the magical world of King City. There are a few main characters – Joe the “catmaster,” Pete, Anna, and Max – but there are so many other fascinating people in the book, too. It’s a book that’s just a pleasure to read, even if Graham seems to wander quite often. Who cares when the pages are so much fun?
Only one issue of Gødland shipped this year, but it was a transcendent one, with 50 (!) pages of story, a bunch of double-page spreads that put the ones in DC books to shame, and Casey destroying the universe. Because why not? Gødland has long been one of the best comics out there, but the penultimate issue is simply dazzling. I hope that Casey and Scioli can bring it all home in the final issue!
I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Art of War – it’s Roman and DeWeese’s first graphic novel, so they didn’t have much of a track record – but I was really impressed by it. The story is set 20 years in the future, when China has bought up a great deal of Manhattan, and it’s about an ex-soldier named Kelly Roman (that way Roman didn’t forget the name of his character!) who heads to New York to investigate the suspicious death of his brother. It’s a really interesting book – there’s a good amount of violence, but Roman is also very good at giving us fascinating characters who act like people rather than stereotypes, which makes the book, which could have fallen into a xenophobic rant, much more nuanced. DeWeese’s artwork is rough in places, but overall, it’s very detailed and convincing, and he makes the world Roman creates come alive. I didn’t see any reviews of this on other comic book websites, but you can trust me – this is an excellent comic!
I don’t know if there’s much more to say about this than it’s Walt Simonson drawing stories that take place at different points in DC history, but Simonson also gives us a fascinating story about one of the coins used to pay Judas to betray Jesus and how it affects events throughout history. Simonson does different things with the artwork, too, including a black-and-white “newspaper strip” starring Two-Face and Batman, and manga style for the story in the future. It’s a tremendous achievement, and I wish DC would do more graphic novels like it.
I’m going to keep writing about how good Ken Krekeler’s comics are until more people believe me, so you might as well get used to it! His latest, Westward, is a steampunk story about Victor West, a dissolute scion of an industrious family who is in an accident and falls into a coma for ten years. When he wakes up, things are … a bit different. I won’t give away the spoiler in issue #2 (although I did in my initial review!), but so far, this is a very cool science fiction story that has some fascinating characters and a lot of intrigue. Krekeler uses models and photography to create his art, but don’t let that dissuade you – he’s very good at making it look organic, and his use of machinery is very impressive. You can order these directly from Krekeler, and I encourage you to check it out, because it’s a very good comic.
Every year I’ve done these lists, I’ve excluded mini-series that aren’t finished yet, because they might turn out poorly. This year, however, I decided against that (see above – Westward is a ten-issue series) because I figured if the issues that came out are good, I can count that, right? So it with Colder, which has an intriguing premise and keeps getting better (issue #3, which doesn’t count because it shipped in January, is the best issue so far). Tobin tells a creepy story of a man who can somehow alleviate the suffering of the insane and another man who likes to “feed” on the minds of the insane. He’s done a very good job creating the three main characters (the first character, Declan, is being cared for by Reece, a woman who is curious about his strange condition – his body temperature is dropping, hence the title), and Ferreyra’s artwork is absolutely stunning. Ferreyra has been a good artist for years, but he keeps getting better, and this book is absolutely gorgeous. Tobin might screw up the ending, sure, but so far, this is a wonderful book.
10. Sharaz-De (Archaia) by Sergio Toppi.
This is the first selection that I really considered skipping, because the comic is from 1979, after all. But as far as I know, this is the first time it’s been available in English, so I’m counting it as “new.” Plus, it’s phenomenal. It’s the first Toppi comic I’ve read, and I love it. The stories – modeled on the stories Scheherazade tells – are pretty good and usually feature some kind of ironic twist, but it’s Toppi’s artwork that is staggering. I’d suggest you check out my review to see some samples, because they’re breathtaking.
11. Prophet (Image) – the first trade, “Remission,” by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Giannis Milonogiannis, Emma Ríos, Joseph Bergin III, and Ed Brisson. This trade collects issues #21-26.
Prophet is the second relaunching of an old Rob Liefeld creation on this list, and like Glory, it’s a pure blast of comics awesome. Graham’s story of several clones of John Prophet waking up all over the universe is weird, exciting, creepy, and full of cool ideas and bizarre creatures and great moments. He’s abetted nicely by Roy and Milonogiannis, who have different styles but are suited for the dirty, clunky, rough futuristic world that Graham has created, and Graham’s art is in this trade, too, which is always nice to see. I hear that Prophet has continued to be superb, so I’m looking forward to the next collection!
Here’s my longer review. I should point out that the first trade is ten bucks. TEN BUCKS! Good stuff for less money! It’s shocking!
I would never in a million years have thought a Deadpool comic would end up on my “best-of” list, much less be the best comic Marvel published this year, but that’s what happens when you put good writers and a great artist on it and let them go nuts. Posehn and Duggan’s first arc involves all the dead presidents returning from the grave and trying to destroy the U.S., and Deadpool’s efforts to stop them. It’s hilarious and ridiculously violent and surprisingly (for a Marvel book) filthy – I’m impressed how much Duggan and Posehn got past the censors. Moore is a big reason for the book’s success – he’s tremendous on the book, his cartoony style fitting the general goofiness and making the gore seem less horrifying than it would with someone more “realistic” on the book. I have no idea what’s going to happen after the first arc, because I can’t imagine this idea has legs, but we’ll worry about that when the time comes. For now, we should just enjoy Undead Teddy Roosevelt punching a bear and Deadpool making dick jokes. That’s what comics are all about, right?
As you might know, I’m not as in the bag for Hawkguy as some people, but I’ve read every issue because it’s been enjoyable, at least. The latest issue, though, is superb, everything that all the others have been claiming Hawkguy is since its first issue. It’s absolutely beautiful, of course, as Aja has been killing it on this book (enough that Javier Pulido, who drew issues #4 and 5 and is a very good artist in his own right, is a poor replacement for him). His page layouts and design are wonderful, and it’s really too bad more artists don’t try what he’s doing on this comic. Fraction’s script is wonderful, too – his biggest problem in Hawkguy so far has been the fact that his plots have been pretty dull. This one isn’t the greatest, but it’s less of an action movie kind of thing and more of a “Clint defends his turf” thing, which adds to the tension. The book is structured non-linearly, which works very well, and it’s damned funny, too, which helps deflate some of the tension that Fraction builds. Fraction’s Marvel work has been a mixed bag, but this issue is phenomenal. And it’s done in one, so you don’t have to worry about buying any others to enjoy this!
My original review is here, in case you’re interested.
I’ve liked The Sixth Gun since it launched, but in 2011 it dipped a bit in quality – not too badly, but a bit – and this year was a fine return to form. Both “A Town Called Penance” and “Winter Wolves” (which hasn’t finished yet) are strong arcs, with the mythology of the book moving forward but with plenty of interesting characterization. Bunn wisely got his two leads, Becky and Drake, back together (they’re not romantically involved, but they were separated for the arc before “Penance”), and they continue their mission to figure out what the heck is going on with the demonic guns they carry. Hurtt has been superb, as usual, with the silent issue #21 a highlight of his artwork, although all of them have been wonderful, and Tyler Crook’s fill-in issue (#23) is pretty good as well. The Sixth Gun is a cool comic, and I’m glad that Bunn hadn’t lost the plot and was able to bring it back to greatness.
15. Mind Mgmt (Dark Horse) by Matt Kindt. Issues #0-6 (the zero issue came out after #6, though).
Matt Kindt is a really good creator, and while Mind Mgmt hasn’t quite reached the heights of a few of his graphic novels, that’s okay, because it’s the kind of comic that’s just a lot of fun of read. Kindt tells the story of a government agency (or is it?) whose agents do all sorts of esoteric crap, including mind-reading and other sorts of weird crap. The main character, Meru, spends the first arc trying to find out the answers behind some strange events and eventually discovering the existence of Mind Management. Meanwhile, Kindt also has short stories on the inside of the front and back covers, and he puts stuff in the margins that are fun to read, too. It’s a fun experience, and while I get that Kindt’s art is an acquired taste, he has a nice, unique style that gives the book an interesting look and his colors are wonderful. Apparently Mind Mgmt is doing pretty well, which is nice because it appears that Kindt has quite a bit to write about, so it’s good that he’ll probably be able to do it. I hope it goes on for as long as he wants it to!
This is the tale of the battle of Marathon and the efforts of Eucles, the dude who ran all over Greece trying to alert the allies of Athens that the Persians were attacking. Yakin tells the story with not a lot of embellishment, but he does a fine job with making the characters people we root for and care about, even though we know how it ends. Infurnari is excellent, as his artwork shows a bleak, desert landscape that tests its people and rough-and-tumble people themselves, and his battle scenes are superb. I first saw Infurnari’s artwork a few years ago and enjoyed it, but he’s gotten much better since then, and this is a beautiful book.
17. Elephantmen (Image) by Richard Starkings, David Hine, Axel Medellin, Tony Parker, Dave Sim, Ladrönn, Blond, Rob Steen, Juan Ulasco, Tatto Caballero, J. G. Roshell, Gabriel Bautista, and Kevin Hartnell. Issues #37-44, plus Hip Flask: Ouroborous.
Starkings and his collaborators (mostly Medellin, this year) continue to do excellent work on Elephantmen, as Starkings keeps delving deeper and deeper into this amazing world he’s created. This year we had a murder mystery wrap up with a brutal confrontation between killer and cop, and then Starkings began to examine the idea of female humans having sex with the elephantmen and the public’s reaction to it, which is a incisive commentary on our own times and how prejudiced some people can be. The mystery behind who can control the hybrids is still around, of course, and Starkings checks in on that occasionally. His artists are excellent, too – Medellin has really gotten better and better from when he started (he was pretty good then, but not nearly as good as he is now), and Parker did a phenomenal job when he stepped in. Even Hine drops by to write and draw a creepy horror story that still fits into the “Elephantmen” universe. And we get a new issue of Hip Flask at the end of the year, which is always nice. All in all, a good year for the comic, and I can’t wait to see where Starkings continues to go with it.
Like a lot of comics, Scalped didn’t end perfectly, but it ended pretty well, and the issues leading up to the final two were so good that I can almost forgive Aaron faltering just a bit. This has been a tremendous comic pretty much from the beginning, as Aaron never allowed it to become what critics said it was, which was “The Sopranos on the rez” – the book had a lot of layers, and while the crime aspect was always front and center, the other parts of the book – the culture on the rez, the problems of the Indians, the uneasy relationship with the federal government – became more and more important as the book went on. Aaron created several great characters, including Lincoln Red Crow, one of the best characters in comics over the past decade. Guéra and Brusco were there for most of the run, giving the book a beautiful look that managed to be a bit cartoony while depicting horrendous violence and the roughness of life on the reservation, and Guéra did some amazing things with page layouts to pack each issue with a lot of content. Scalped is a great comic, one that will probably gain in stature as the years go on.
This was a tough choice, because some of Batman, Incorporated really doesn’t work for me, but when it’s on, holy crap is it a good comic. The God of All Comics kind of muddled around in the first two issues, and then the momentum of issue #3 was blunted by the dumb zero issue, which I don’t count against him as it was editorially-mandated, but then issues #4 and 5 (and now 6, but that’s a 2013 comic) have been really intense as Morrison gears up for the end run. So part of this is a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for what I’m sure will be, when it’s all said and done, a truly impressive run with the Caped Crusader, but there are several really good moments in these issues, too. Chris Burnham does a lot to put this into the top 20, as well, because his work just keeps getting better and better, and he’s one of those artists who can make a page look interesting yet still completely legible. Batman, Inc. is a very good comic due in a large part to Burnham, and it’s nice that Morrison is able to finish his run with an artist of such quality.
The second Witch Doctor mini-series is shaping up to be as good as the first, which is nice. Seifert’s imagination runs wild on this series, as he throws all sorts of weird horror stuff at Dr. Morrow, who seemed unflappable in the first series but in this one is infected with something nasty, and he’s slowly losing his cool. It’s fun to see Morrow and Gast change roles just a bit, as it deepens the budding relationship the two have. And Penny Dreadful is still creepy, although her presence in Morrow’s life may have changed just a bit, and not for the better. Ketner, meanwhile, is just as good as Seifert, giving the book a fine, Victorian-horror feel – the instruments Morrow uses alone are superb – with really nice facial expressions that get across the characters’ feelings very well. Seifert and Ketner say they have dozens of stories to tell about Vincent Morrow, and I, for one, can’t wait to read them!
Blue Estate finished its first “season” this year, and Kalvachev and Osborne did a very nice job pulling it all together. They came up with a bunch of plot threads, and it was impressive to see them juggling them all and still managing to wrap it all up, even leaving a few lingering things that might be picked up for a second “season,” if indeed they manage to wrangle another 12-issue arc. This is a clever, violent, and funny comic (a horse gets stoned in one issue, because why not?), and the fact that Kalvachev was able to get all the artists to work on it and keep the book fairly consistent (he colored the book, so that probably helped) is impressive, too. I’m looking forward to more, and I hope it comes down the pike soon!
Ben Truman’s story of a grizzled Western bastard who bears no resemblance at all to Jonah Hex is pretty good, as Kitchell Hawken tracks down the employer who betrayed him, killing anyone who gets in his way. He also sees and talks to the ghosts of the people he’s killed, which allowed B. Truman to fill in his back story a bit, as he’s not very forthcoming with actual people. It’s a fine, bloody affair, but it’s his father’s artwork that really makes this a fine comic book. T. Truman’s black and white pencil work is astonishing, as he uses different kinds of pencils and brushes and shades the book wonderfully, making it something you just want to stare at for minutes while you soak in the goodness. I’ve been a fan of Truman’s art for years, and this might be his best work. It’s a good story, but the art makes it even better.
This web comic started in 2011, but it finished in 2012 and it didn’t get published until 2012, so I’m counting it! Parker and Moen’s love letter to Portland begins with a massive MacGuffin and used it just to chuck a lot of interesting characters into wacky situations and turn them loose. The plot doesn’t matter, because it’s basically just a bunch of people having weird adventures, and Moen’s cartoony style fits the tone perfectly. Parts of it are a bit blue, but that’s part of what makes it fun. The published version has some extra pages, so there’s that, but you can still read it on-line if you want to. It’s a ton of fun.
I thought about putting Orc Stain #7 on this list, but there was only one of those, and three issues of this, so there you go. I appreciate the fact that Stokoe has managed to make this a compelling story about a man who put together a task force to fight Godzilla, but really, it’s James Stokoe drawing Godzilla. It’s utterly brilliant.
25. Iron: Or the War After (Archaia) by S. M. Vidaurri.
Vidaurri’s story of anthropomorphized animals is fascinating – it’s about a Resistance after a war has ended and their continuing struggle against the regime. Vidaurri populates his comic with a lot of well-developed characters, all of whom have many different motivations for what they do. It’s an interesting meditation on war and when people should stop fighting – some characters want to move on with their lives, while others, obviously, want to keep up the struggle. Vidaurri focuses on different characters even as he tells a single story – an early main character dies, but then Vidaurri follows others who try to complete his mission. The members of the regime are well done, too, so they’re not just faceless oppressors. The haunting art helps create a mood of contemplation and tragedy, which fits the tone well. It’s a very good comic.
This is the first of three volumes, so it’s somewhat of a set-up book, but Rogers tells a compelling story nevertheless. A monster hunter who lives in the titular city and his female companion get caught up in a scheme by the leader of a cult to rid the desert of the monsters. All goes well, it seems, but there’s a price to pay, and whether or not the people will want to pay it remains unknown. Rogers does a nice job with the characters, and her sketchy and rough artwork fits the setting very well. I’m already looking forward to the next two volumes!
27. Crogan’s Loyalty (Oni Press) by Chris Schweizer.
Every time Schweizer puts out one of his “Crogan’s” books, I’ll probably put it on my “best-of” list, because they’re just so good. This one isn’t quite as good as the previous one, about the French Foreign Legion, but that’s just splitting hairs, because it’s still very good. This time, Schweizer tells the story of two brothers in the Revolutionary War, who are of course on opposite sides. During the course of the book, they both make very good points about why they’re fighting for the side they chose, and Schweizer, of course, surrounds this with plenty of high adventure. His art is both cartoony and fluid but very detailed. You can’t go wrong with any of the three books Schweizer has put out in this series so far, so check one of them out!
28. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (Dark Horse) by Eiji Otsuka, Housui Yamazaki, and Toshifumi Yoshida. Volumes 12 and 13.
I haven’t reviewed these volumes of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service here on the blog because it’s a pain to review single manga volumes, but that doesn’t mean it’s not excellent! Otsuka continues to deliver some seriously twisted horror stories, but he never forgets to add a lot of humor, especially in the repartee between the main characters. Ao Sasaki is one of my favorite characters in comics, and the revelation regarding her and Karatsu offered some interesting plot points for the future. Meanwhile, Yamazaki continues to do solid work on the art, making the horror seriously creepy and doing a great job with the characters, especially Yata and Kerellis, the latter of whom is, yes, an alien possessing a sock puppet. I’m so glad that the series is back – Dark Horse didn’t publish any volumes in 2011 – and I hope we’re able to get the whole series in English eventually!
I wasn’t sure if I’d like this comic even though Layman writes it, and I like Layman, but I picked it up and was glad I did. Layman and McCrea seem to having a blast on it, with Layman throwing all sorts of weird crap into the book yet making it work, while McCrea is absolutely fantastic on art (Elder’s colors are quite good, too). This is ridiculously violent, of course, but strangely, it doesn’t feel as exploitative as some of the gorier DC books. I didn’t love the way the first arc (issues #1-5) ended, but it was still quite good, and the new arc is off to a fine start. Layman and McCrea are only on the book through issue #10, I believe, so start reading now before it’s all over!
Hickman’s “Justice League of Scientists” is a weird, alternate history story of a group of real-life scientists who use the actual Manhattan Project as a cover to explore all sorts of bizarre scientific crap, and it’s as awesome as it sounds. There’s bad-ass Einstein, crazy Oppenheimer, robotic Wernher von Braun, and the evil genius Laika (yes, the dog). Plus, FDR as an artificial intelligence and a feckless Harry S Truman who just wants to hang out at his Masonic orgies. It’s insane but a lot of fun, ridiculously violent but still clever. Pitarra is doing a fine job with the art, and all the colorists, but mostly Bellaire, who started on issue #3, have been excellent. Hickman might be getting more readers with Avengers, but The Manhattan Projects is better. Trust me!
Metro is a good comic not only because it’s pretty exciting – ostensibly it’s about a bank robbery and a murder – but also because it’s less about that plot and more about living under a dictatorship, even one that doesn’t seem as horrible as places we think of a “real” dictatorships – I’ve mentioned that I visited Egypt when Mubarek was still in power, and it didn’t seem all that oppressive (although, I admit, I’m an American tourist – what are they going to do, throw me in jail?). The main character, Shehab, can’t break out of his place in society because it’s so rigidly maintained, and El Shafee uses his predicament to examine the small ways the regime oppresses its citizens. His art shows Cairo very well, too, as Shehab wanders around trying to get out of his situation. It’s a very political book, but not overtly, which makes it more hard-hitting.
You might recall that when I reviewed this, I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. Grant seems to think that Australian racism is, if not a good thing, then maybe a benign thing, and I couldn’t really figure it out. So why is it on my “best-of” list? Well, it’s a beautiful comic, for one, and commenters convinced me that Grant didn’t mean that, but even if he did, it’s still a challenging graphic novel, and who doesn’t love challenging, thought-provoking graphic novels? There’s a lot to like about Blue, and while I might have to re-read it and see if I’m just too dumb to see what Grant is really doing, it’s still a very good comic.
33. Blacklung (Fantagraphics) by Chris Wright.
Wright’s pirate comic is a strange animal – it’s extremely graphic, both violently and sexually, yet it’s a bizarre meditation on religion and good and evil, all with characters who don’t look quite human. It’s a gripping, harrowing tale of a school teacher who accidentally gets kidnapped by pirates and is only able to survive because the captain wants him to write down his memoirs. The captain is a fascinating, evil creature, surrounded by vile men, but they also debate what it means to be good or evil and whether any of them can be redeemed. Blacklung is a comic that deserves a lot of thought, so you might as well read it and think about it!
34. Sailor Twain or The Mermaid in the Hudson (First Second) by Mark Siegel.
I didn’t love Sailor Twain when I first read it, but like Blue and Blacklung, it’s a book that makes me think, and that counts for something. Plus, I did like most of it, I just thought Siegel didn’t end it as well as he could have. It’s one of those books that, despite its length, I felt it could have been another 50-100 pages longer and still been gripping, and it might have cleared up some of the things I thought needed clearing up. But for the most part, Siegel writes a weird, mystical book about mermaids and their powers and the men who obsess over them. It’s nicely drawn, too, although Siegel has some issues with the artwork. But it’s well worth a look, if you’re in the mood for something that delves into folklore pretty well.
I’m not sure if the first mini-series is better than this one, but I’m not here to argue the point – both are really good, but this trade came out in 2012, so it’s on the list! Hine and Kane use all sorts of cool storytelling techniques to create their comics, including the one that they encourage you to cut in 84 separate panels and arrange any way you want. Reading The Bulletproof Coffin is a surreal experience, but don’t we all need that occasionally?
I really miss Casanova. I don’t know how long it’s going to take Fraction to finish this sucker, but I hope he does, because whenever an issue shows up, it’s so good and it reminds me that he hasn’t really done anything for Marvel that even comes close (yes, I know Hawkguy #6 is higher up on the list than these two issues, but unless he continues with that kind of story, he’s catching lightning in a bottle with it – every issue of Casanova is as good as that issue was). The only reason this isn’t higher on the list is because “Avaritia” was not quite as good as the first two arcs, but that doesn’t mean this arc was bad, just not as good as we’ve seen before. I really miss Casanova. Man.
After two years or so of wandering in the wilderness, where it certainly wasn’t a bad comic but its scheduling and lack of consistent art meant it wasn’t as gripping as it was for the first 25 issues, Wasteland came back nicely this year, with Johnston re-focusing on Abi, the series’ best character, and her quest for a mythical land where … well, we’re not sure what will happen if she finds it, but it’s important! Meanwhile, Greenwood and then Roehling provided some good art – Roehling is the best artist on the book since Christopher Mitten – and let’s hope Johnston has the art chores squared away – I certainly wouldn’t mind if Roehling stayed on the book. While Wasteland isn’t quite as good as it was in the second year of the book, it’s still one of the better comics out there, and I look forward to where Johnston is going with it.
38. The Zaucer of Zilk (IDW) by Al Ewing, Brendan McCarthy, Len O’Grady, and Ellie de Ville. Issues #1-2.
Ewing and McCarthy’s story about a character who holds the title of Zaucer, of a strange land called Zilk, is perfectly fine – it’s fun and weird and a bit unexpected, but it’s McCarthy’s superb artwork that makes this a comic to check out. McCarthy doesn’t do enough American comics, so when his artwork crosses the pond and we get to see it here, we should appreciate it. It’s just a pleasure to stare at this comic, and the fact that the story is pretty good is just icing on the cake.
I’m a bit surprised that Gone to Amerikay didn’t get more publicity when it was released, but such is life. It’s a really good graphic novel that takes place in three different time periods – the 1870s, the 1960s, and 2010 – and it tells the story of Irish immigrants who come to New York to make new lives. The first two stories might be linked, which is why the third story occurs – its principal characters are in New York to unravel the mystery. McCulloch goes beyond a simply mystery to examine some of the cultural and societal pressures that the immigrants (and not just immigrants) faced, and Doran does a very nice job depicting all three time periods. It’s too bad not more people were talking about this, but it’s certainly worth a read.
This is an interesting comic – it’s kind of a post-apocalyptic horror story that happens to be set in the Old West, in which the main character, Bloody Chester himself, is hired to burn a town down because it’s in the way of a railroad. There’s no one living in the town, he’s told, but when he gets there, he finds out that a few people are still there, and that a plague has wiped most of the residents out. Chester discovers the terrible secret of the town, which doesn’t help him at all. Petty tells the story in as unsentimental a way as possible, and Florido’s harsh artwork helps out. It’s a weird, creepy comic, and it’s pretty darned cool.
Giallongo’s first graphic novel is firmly within the sword-and-sorcery tradition, so if you like that kind of thing, this is right up your alley. If you don’t, Giallongo gives us really well done characters with whom any reader can sympathize, and the action, while fantastical, is visceral and raw. Giallongo tells the story of Zora and Broxo, who are trying to stop an invasion of strange undead things, and Ulith, a witch who has a secret connection to Broxo that will all lead to tragedy, naturally. Giallongo has been a good artist for some time now, but this is really good, as he does action very well and is quite good at telling the story through his drawings, which is always helpful in a comic. Giallongo, I hope, will continue to get a higher profile, and this is a good place to start checking his work out!
Scioli’s weird post-apocalyptic tale is completely and utterly ridiculous, but if you’re willing to go along with it, it’s a wonderful ride. The story is about simple revenge, but it takes Meric, the barbarian of the title, the whole book to gain it, and he has a lot of adventures in the meantime. Scioli’s Kirby-esque art is crazy, as well, and the book is gorgeous. As I noted when I reviewed this, it’s really goofy, but that’s also part of its charm. You can still read this on-line, it appears, so you can do that, but who doesn’t love actual books?
I haven’t finished reading Kieron Gillen’s Journey into Mystery yet (Marvel, in its infinite wisdom, isn’t going to release the final trade before Young Avengers comes out, because … they’re stupid?), and while I like it, I can’t really pick out any of the trades as really, really good, so I think it will read better as a whole. Yes, I know I’m placing this on the list when it’s only 40% done, but these are really good issues, and one of the problems of Gillen’s run is the inconsistent artwork, and Schiti’s work is tremendous. Immonen is a pretty good writer, and she’s done two issues full of excitement, tension, mystery, and humor. I imagine this is one of Marvel’s bottom-feeders, so they might pull the plug with issue #650, but if we get five excellent issues out of it, it will have been worth it!
Parker’s Thunderbolts was usually pretty good and often brilliant, even though it declined slowly once it changed names to “Dark Avengers,” until the final arc before the reboot was just dull, shockingly for people who had read it earlier. But right before it declined, we got some superb issues, and #176 is the highlight. The team is falling backward through time, and when they reach the Pleistocene Era, they find … Doctor Doom … fighting two giant sharks (Megalodons, if you must know). That’s just the beginning of the awesome, as Man-Thing gets reborn with … an unusual ability, and the ‘Bolts realize that saving Doctor Doom might not have been too smart. It’s a very funny issue, too, and Walker kills on it. Parker is still writing the book (now fully committed to the “Dark Avengers”), but I had to drop it. Too bad – this issue, plus a few others, just show how excellent the comic was when everyone was firing on all cylinders.
Valen the Outcast is better than it probably should be – it has a great hook, as Nelson is basically telling the story of “undead Conan,” but lots of comics have good hooks, and Nelson does a really nice job making this far more interesting and complex than you might think. Nelson creates some very interesting characters and some very tense situations, and although one part of the story ends a bit predictably, there are a lot of surprises, too. Scalera is excellent, too, bringing Valen’s world to vivid life. This is a cool comic that probably deserved to last a bit longer than eight issues, but Nelson does manage to tell a complete, awesome story in those eight issues.
I wrote in my review that Luther Strode is close to being a great comic, but it’s good enough to make this list, I’ll say! Jordan and Moore are in the middle of a sequel, and I hope it’s a bit closer to what Jordan claims the first volume is about – he says it’s about the allure of power, but it’s really about lots and lots of violence. That’s okay, though, because Jordan commits fully to that idea, and Moore’s intricate art is phenomenal. His cartoony style means that the bloody violence isn’t quite as disgusting as it could be, but the impact of the violence is still felt. I’m keen to read the sequel, and I know that both guys are getting notice from the Big Two, but it would be nice if they could keep doing stuff like this together for a while.
As Hellblazer speeds toward its conclusion, let’s remember that Milligan’s work on the book has been really, really good. This year wasn’t quite as good as others, but it’s still a high quality comic. The major plot of this year was John’s search for his sister and then his nephew, and it wasn’t as compelling as some of the plots, but Milligan’s actual writing didn’t suffer, and the fact that John’s wife, Epiphany, continues to have a major role in the book makes it so much better. For the first issue of the final arc, Milligan killed John, so with two issues left, we’re going to find out how that will play out. I never miss comics when they get cancelled, but I do wonder if Milligan is ending his run when he wants to. If so, then we’ll have 50 issues of very good comics to send the comic off before DC foolishly integrates John more into the regular DCnU.
48. X-Factor (Marvel) by Peter David, Emanuela Lupacchino, Leonard Kirk, Neil Edwards, Paul Davidson, Guillermo Ortego, Karl Kesel, Craig Yeung, Rick Ketchum, Jay Leisten, Ed Tadeo, Matt Milla, Rachelle Rosenberg, and Cory Petit. Issues #230-249.
X-Factor keeps trucking along, with 20 (!) issues coming out this year, and I wonder if it doesn’t get more attention because David doesn’t do anything fancy with it – he just tells good stories, usually in very good serial fashion (that is, his single issues all work well as single issues even if they’re part of a larger plot). The relentless pace of this comic (as well as other Marvel books) doesn’t help, I’m sure, but there was quite a bit going on in the book this year, and David does it all with humor and excitement. He managed to get pretty consistent art on the book, too – Lupacchino did the first three issues of the year before she got too big for the book (confound it!), while Kirk managed to draw 11 issues this year. David still has a lot of plans for this title (we’ll see how his stroke affects his output – apparently he’s already back working, but who knows if he needs more recovery time), so we should be in for another year of good comics!
49. Mondo (Image/Shadowline) by Ted McKeever. Issues #1-3.
McKeever’s ridiculously fun comic features all sorts of weird stuff – a giant chicken, a satellite plummeting toward Venice Beach, a psychotic roller skating chick, tiny naked monks, and Catfish Mandu, who is transformed into a Hulk-like creature who fights evil. It’s insane. It’s a blast to read, and McKeever’s artwork is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s in Image’s nice “Golden Age” size, and it’s about as pure an expression of COMICS! as you’re going to find this year. Check it out!
50. Shinku (Image) by Ron Marz, Lee Moder, Matthew Waite, Michael Atiyeh, and Troy Peteri. Issues #4-5.
Shinku started off really well last year and finished its first arc strongly this year, despite the fact that only two issues came out. One of the creators had some family health problems, so they delayed the release of the final issue until that could get sorted, and I assume they’re trying to get more in the can before soliciting further issues of the series. If you missed it, I would suggest hunting down the trade – this is a kick-ass vampire comic set in Japan, and the main character is the baddest vampire hunter you’ve ever seen (badder than Wesley Snipes!). Moder’s art is, I would say, the best of his career, and Atiyeh’s colors are phenomenal. It’s a ridiculously violent comic, but what do you expect from a vampire comic? I’m looking forward to more, and I really hope that Marz, Moder, et al. have more to give us.
Honorable mention! Usually I pick 40 comics – 10 ongoing series, 10 mini-series, 10 graphic novels, and 10 single issues. This year I added collections, so that would have been 50 comics. Here are the next 10 that would have made the list1
Orc Stain #7, Stumptown: The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case #1-4, Avengers Academy #24-39, The Secret History of D. B. Cooper #1-5, Batman: The Brave and the Bold #16, Morning Glories #15-23, Atomic Robo: The Ghost of Station X #5, The Silence of Our Friends, Judge Bao and the Jade Phoenix, Sparko.
I had a really hard time ranking my comics this year – I could easily have 30 other comics on this list, and it wouldn’t be that hard to make a case for them. That’s because comics are AWESOME!
Okay, it’s time for the BEST COVERS OF THE YEAR!
1. Colder #1 by Juan Ferreyra.
If there’s a creepier image on a cover this year, I didn’t see it. At first you think it’s just some dude holding his hand next to his face, which happens to be bleeding. Then you look closer and see that his fingers are actually going up under his skin and into his eye. Ferreyra’s beautiful pencil work makes this work, as Declan’s expression is one of rage and pain, while Ferreyra’s superb colors give the scene a stark contrast. Ferreyra’s interior work is excellent, of course, but that cover is brilliant.
2. Batwoman #5 by J. H. Williams III.
I’m pretty sure this comic came out on the first Wednesday of the year, and when it did, I figured this cover would be close to the best one of the year. All of Williams’s covers are pretty special, but this one is phenomenal, with all the layers of faces and the tension at the point where the two characters are about to meet. It’s a wonderfully designed cover, too, as everything circles around the small space between Medusa (that’s Medusa, right?) and Kate, drawing our eye in expertly. Whatever you think of the series, you can’t blame the covers!
3. Bad Medicine #5 by Christopher Mitten.
I almost didn’t count this, as it’s a homage, but it’s still pretty darned impressive (it’s a homage of a mid-1990s X-Men comic, if you didn’t know). Mitten gets across the transformative process of a person into a werewolf really well, and the terror in the character’s eyes as it happens is superb. The coloring helps, too – the eyes stand out, especially the different colors, against the brown background. It’s a scary yet tragic cover, and it’s a rare homage that improves on the original.
4. Scalped #58 by Jock.
While all of Jock’s covers for Scalped are good, there’s something unsettling about, with Lincoln Red Crow (presumably, as Dash shaves his head in this issue) at the cemetery, with the tombstones forming Gina’s mouth. Or is that Carol? Either way, the mouth is creepy enough, as it signifies the amount of death in this series, but it also resembles a zipper, signifying the secrets that so many people carry around (which is why it might be Carol – Dash learns a pretty big secret about her in this issue). It’s a chilling image loaded with meaning – pretty much what you want from a cover!
5. X-Factor #232 by David Yardin.
Yardin has been a fine cover artist for X-Factor for some time now, and this cover is the best example of that. I wrote when it came out that artists can do so many interesting things with covers but they often don’t, especially the ones at DC and Marvel, and I appreciate that Yardin made this one groovy and psychedelic and just downright weird. The colors are wonderful, too, and the spiral centers on Jamie’s face, drawing our attention to that. It’s a well designed cover in addition to being keen. Come on, cover artists for DC and Marvel. Step up!
6. Hellblazer #294 by Simon Bisley.
Another great cover artist is Simon Bisley, and his covers for Hellblazer are always interesting. There were a few that were very good this year, but this one is not only good, it’s totally freaky. The interior is actually not as insane as the cover, although Bisley does imply what’s going on inside. There’s a lot that’s disturbing here: the way the blood on the wall slowly becomes fainter, John’s dripping hand, John’s eye staring out at us accusingly. Bisley’s cover art is a big part of the awesomeness of Milligan’s Hellblazer run, and it’s too bad we only get two more.
7. Avengers Academy #34 by Giuseppe Camuncoli.
Hazmat’s “cure” for her power, which she receives this issue, is depicted rather dramatically by Camuncoli (it’s not quite that way inside), and it’s just a gorgeous image that really gives us an idea of what people with superpowers might go through. She’s not happy at all, and the energy is just pouring out of her. It’s a good, visceral image, as were many of Camuncoli’s covers for this series (he did a few).
8. Point of Impact #1 by Koray Kuranel.
I know the title bar had to be there, but I kind of wish it hadn’t been, because then we wouldn’t be able to see the murder in the top right corner as well. The skyscrapers in the back lead our eye straight down into the whited-out miasma of the lower streets, and it’s only after we look around that we spot the murder. The title bar, however, blocks our eye and almost forces us to look up. Without the title bar, the murder is a big surprise, a “holy shit” moment. With it, it’s still a powerful cover, but maybe not quite as much.
9. The Sixth Gun #24 by Brian Hurtt.
This is another cover that would have been improved by shrinking and moving the title, but this has been the motif of the covers since the beginning, so that’s okay, I guess. It’s still a tremendous cover, as Hurtt goes minimalistic to give us a good sense of how isolated Becky and Drake are. The fact that snowflakes are partially obscuring them is nice, too – the snow might be deep, but it hasn’t stopped falling yet!
10. Fatale #9 by Sean Phillips.
Phillips adds a bit of color to this cover, which helps the overall aesthetic, and it’s just a terrific drawing. Josephine is partially shadowed, showing that she has a dark side, and the shadows of the striking tentacles are excellent. Plus, I just love the idea of Elvis getting eaten by Lovecraftian monsters. That’s always fun!
I’m going to skip some awards this year, just because I can. So no “Nuke LaLoosh” Award for the talent who ought to be in the big leagues, and no “Fell” Award for longest-missing book. There are certainly candidates, but I don’t feel like tracking them down. Orc Stain has been missing for a while, but that’s obviously because Stokoe is making some actual money doing Godzilla: The Half-Century War. It would be nice if Loose Ends ever finished, and of course, Jay Faerber’s Gemini is approaching Fell-like status of late books. Every so often, the Mothership checks in on books that were once in the pipeline, but I’m going to skip it this year. I will end with the
“SHARK-MAN” AWARD FOR AWESOMEST COMIC OF THE YEAR AND PROBABLY EVER.
Of course it’s Faust! I can’t show both covers of the issues that came out without warning people that they’re not safe for work! David Quinn and Tim Vigil’s ultra-ultra-violent opus finished up this year, and it was as insane as you might expect. If you’re in the mood for a comic about the Devil and the dude who tries to kill him and some truly horrific violence and lots and lots of nudity and sex, you really can’t go wrong with Faust. It’s a complete blast. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a 15-issue SUPER-OMNIBUS!!!!!
That’s my big year-end list for 2012. I’m sure not many of them are surprises, given how much I rant about some of these comics throughout the year. But I hope you find some things you might have missed, and if I didn’t pick your favorites … well, maybe you should have better taste! Oh, I kid! We’re all friends here, right?
Will 2013 be another awesome year in comics? Why wouldn’t it be? Comics are, after all, awesome!
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