Enjoy as Dan and I take on the best of the best in comics for 2012!
Top Marvel Book This Year
Fantastic Four/FF (Jonathan Hickman)
I’m going to cheat and consider both of these to be one book because, plot-wise they were. Hickman used them in the same way that Chris Claremont used the X-Men/Uncanny X-Men books in the 90s – as a way to double-ship a story and tell it from two different perspectives. This year we saw an end to his run on these two books and what an ending it was. But what put these books into the runner up category for me were the epilogues Hickman wrote. Standouts included the alternate universe where the Fantastic Four worked for Nazi Germany. What makes Hickman rise above the rest is the attention to detail. Ben Grimm is one of the famous Jewish characters in the Marvel universe and so in this alternate world he is an unwitting member of the Fantastic Four. And while he is best friends with Reed in our world, Nazi Reed looks at him with disgust. All of that was pretty great on its own, but the way Hickman tied it into his Reed council sealed the deal on that story.
Another great epilogue issue is where we find out that because of Ben Grimm’s mutation, he will outlive all of the other members of the Fantastic Four. He would live forever were it not for the Future Foundation coming up with a way for him to be a human once a year. The pathos that Hickman puts into Grimm as he sees a future far removed from our own is a great change of pace from a character that most use for comic relief. So, that’s twice that Thing is used emotionally in the epilogue.
Finally, the issue with Doom in the Reed Council region is a triumph. As you’ve no doubt read here and in our blogs, Dan and I have a love for Dr Doom and Namor. They are both so bombastic, both so into their own greatness that it circles around from audacity to greatness. (Similar to how movie violence in a Tarantino movie goes from gruesome to visceral fun as it becomes so exaggerated) To see Doom finally have the means to his hubris in which he creates an entire universe in his image was my dream come true. And I think, without a doubt, the best line of a comic in 2012 was Doom’s: “I was a god and I found it beneath me”. It’s such a Doom way of thinking to not admit his mistake, but rather say that being a god is overrated.
You MUST read Jonathan Hickman’s entire Fantastic Four/FF run once it’s collected in an Omnibus edition or just grab all the trades. It is a science fiction masterpiece that, like GREAT science fiction, is focused more on the characters and what we can learn through them than it is on the science itself. He appears to drop the ball on a few plot points, but given the scope of his work, it’s definitely not a big deal.
X-Factor (Peter David)
X-Factor is the most under-rated book at Marvel right now. It’s a detective agency filled with mutants, but it has nothing to do with the X-Men. (especially since M-Day and Manifest Destiny when the mutants all went to San Francisco) I always compare it to the show Angel and it’s about internal character struggles as often as it’s about actual cases they’re working on. Peter David’s been on this title since 2006 and it’s been a series of small stories joined together by a larger narrative. He does a great job balancing the dramatic and the funny and when Dan read an issue of They Keep Killing Madrox during Week 13 of the POW! he had a pretty favorable opinion.
Top Marvel Book:
Uncanny X-Force (Rick Remender)
Dan hates the 616 X-Men, but I will somehow convince him to read this book. At least I have one thing in my favor: this book was off on its own from the rest of the X-Men continuity. In fact, it seemed to give a lot (at least two to three other X-Men books were affected by events of Uncanny X-Force), but didn’t seem to receive anything. Remender did the rare thing where he had a team book and yet he developed every one of the characters. I didn’t think anyone could make me care about Deadpool, but Remender’s writing, especially in the last arc of Uncanny X-Force did a LOT to grow the character.
This year we had three big storylines: Otherworld, the one where they go to the future, and Final Execution. Otherworld had some very important growth moments for Psylocke and Fantomex in an otherwise pretty confusing story arc. The arc in which they went to the future started off seeming a bit corny, but was actually setting up for an important reveal in Final Execution. Final Execution was the logical culmination of everything that had been building up from the previous ~30 issues. It was emotional and it hit hard. The ending really has to potential to have seriously changed a few characters – especially if the deaths remain permanent. Remender also gave Marvel the gift of a pretty lethal bad guy that comes out of the whole thing and is revealed in a quick couple of panels of the last issue.
Remender deserves the top spot for taking a book that recreated the spirit of the murder team of Chris Yost’s original X-Force and really focusing on the consequences of death. In a lot of ways the entire run is about the consequences of the first life they take and that’s a bold idea for a book. Because of the nature of comics we rarely get to see any consequences to all the death surrounding the violent world of super heroes and super villains. And many times when we do, it feels cheap because it’s a writer saying, “Hey, remember this guy that was in one panel of a 1960 Batman issue? No? Well, now he hates Batman and is a villain” or something like that. In this case it’s a much more linear cause and effect and it has a lot more impact for that. As the final cherry on top, I think Remender has given these characters more growth in 35 issues than a lot of characters have had in twice as many issues in the other X-Men comics.
Daredevil (Mark Waid, Marcos Martin, Joe Rivera, Paolo Rivera, Kano, Khoi Pham, Marco Checchetto, Chris Samnee, Mike Allred)
Last year’s best Marvel book would have taken the title again this year, but for an exemplary freshman effort in Hawkeye and the book’s inability to settle on an artist until they landed on Samnee. The comics industry tends to give artists short shrift a lot of the time (even I’m not giving colorists enough props), but I can’t stress enough how vital a consistent visual style is for a book. Daredevil’s got a great artist in Samnee with his all-american comic look and his ability to mimic the unique “Daredevil Vision” that Rivera and Martin established.
Waid’s take on the eternally unlucky Murdock was a breath of fresh air from the get go in 2011 and he flipped it on its ear this past year with Foggy’s paranoia getting the best of him. It’ll be great to see how the two continue to feud in 2013. I was also quite taken with the date issue that Waid and Samnee put together where Matt went out with Kirsten McDuffie.
Top Marvel Book:
Hawkeye (Matt Fraction, David Aja, Javier Pulido)
Listen, bro. There’s only one book at Marvel that’s a no-brainer purchase each month and it sure as hell wasn’t a part of AvX. Bro, look…Hawkguy takes all the best things about Matt Fraction’s Casanova series that I loved so much last year, takes out some of the existential angst, most of the harsher profanity, and all of the nudity, but packages it into a story about a superhero without all the super heroics. I’m not messing with you, bro, Aja’s covers and the way he draws everyone, from Hawkguys Clint and Kate to the tracksuit mafia has just the right level of chill to it. Add in Fraction’s outstanding sense of humor and I think I’m gonna have to break your legs if you don’t start buying this comic, bro….BRO!
Top DC Comics Book This Year
Penguin: Pain and Prejudice (Greg Hurwitz)
This beautiful mini-series wrapped up in 2012 with the last two issues coming in early in the year. The Penguin has evolved a lot since the 1960 Adam West portrayal when he was yet another gag villain with umbrella-based weapons. I’m not sure which happened first – the comics or Batman: The Animated series, but eventually his character evolved to a gangster with a legitimate front business in the form of The Iceberg Lounge. He has had a symbiotic relationship with Batman where Batman turns a semi-blind eye because of the tips he can get from Mr Cobblepot about what’s going on in the criminal underworld. But we hadn’t really had a good story told from the Penguin’s point of view.
Hurtwitz updated Penguin’s origins – they were mostly the same as they’ve been for a long time, but the cruelty and teasing he suffered as a boy has made him extremely sensitive and caused him to demand respect. And so he delivers disproportionate vengeance for slights real and perceived. And it was this part of his personality that Hurwitz presented that was most creative and also explained how he was able to maintain his control of the criminal underworld. Hurwitz is also careful to keep from making his cruelty lopsided – to the caretaker who takes care of his invalid mother he lavishes all gifts and punishes all who would do her harm.
Yes were some cliches to this book such as the blind lover who doesn’t know she’s with a bad guy or ugly guy. But it was very creative, it was very beautiful, and it had some incredibly hilarious one-panel gags showing off how insane The Joker is (at least one per issue). The only thing that keeps it off of the number one spot is that the ending was a little too anticlimactic.
All Star Western (Jimmy Palmiotti)
If you had told me I would like a comic book about the old west I would have called you crazy. Sure, I’d come across Jonah Hex in Batman: The Animated Series and in some of Grant Morrison’s work, but I wasn’t exactly a Jonah Hex fan.
This book, at least in 2012, followed Jonah Hex, Amadeus Arkham (future founder of the famous Gotham asylum), and Tallulah Black – Jonah’s Girlfriend and fellow cowboy. I think what I enjoy about this book is that it’s essentially a buddy-cop book between an intellectual fancy pants and a roughneck cowboy and Palmiotti keeps them accurate to our expectations of what people spoke like back then. I love the erudite answers and protests to Hex’s ideas. I love that Hex loves to play around with Arkham and make him a little uncomfortable. And I love Jonah and Tallulah’s inability to keep their PDA to acceptable levels.
It’s a very fun little book and I really enjoy the art style. It’s not doing anything particularly groundbreaking, but it’s doing everything at a very high level so that the sum is greater than the parts. Definitely worth checking out.
Top DC Book:
Batman Vol 2 (Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo)
I started off DC’s New 52 buying all five of the Batman titles (plus many of the ancillary titles such as Nightwing and Batgirl). I am now only regularly buying this one. (Although, to be fair I intend to collect some of the others as trades) The reason is Scott Snyder’s writing paired with Greg Capullo’s pencils. Those two have been creating comic book art at its finest. Yeah, it isn’t the most “art-like” like Multiple Warheads, but within conventional comics they are pushing the boundaries. The only comic that is competing on matching great story with compelling art is Batwoman – especially with the gutter work on that book.
2012 opened with Batman #5 which I chose for the Week 11 POW!. In that issue Scott Snyder messed with Batman in a way that I’ve never seen before. (Although Grant Morrison’s The Black Glove comes very close) Batman is literally driven insane by his tormentors at the Court of Owls and Greg Capullo ups the ante by making the reader party to the insanity as images transform and panels flip so you have to turn the issue around. And this continued to one of the biggest surprise reveals of 2012. Not only that, but between the backup stories by Snyder protege James Tynion IV (which Bruce Wayne DOESN’T know about) and what we are told in the main story, the reader’s actually left unsure of what is true and what is false.
The year ended in the middle of Death of the Family – Snyder’s return to Joker after a pretty scary Joker in the pre-New 52 run on Detective Comics. This Joker story is turning out to be even better than the previous one because of the intimate nature of the Batman/Joker relationship. Snyder mentioned in an interview I did with him (and also in every interview he did in 2012) that Joker sees himself literally as Batman’s jester and that it’s his responsibility to keep Batman in top shape. If that arc had finished in 2012 it might have been my best DC story arc of 2012. Snyder is doing something special with Batman. Even Dan was impressed during that Week 11 POW! and he usually hates Batman.
Batwoman (Haden Blackman, J.H. Williams III)
Another book plagued by constantly shifting art staffs. If Williams had done the art for every book I wouldn’t have considered dropping it multiple times this year. Blackman and Williams don’t necessarily have the strongest writing going on here, but the art was so pretty that I couldn’t help but love this book.
Top DC Book:
Wonder Woman (Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, …)
Prior to the New 52 you couldn’t have found a DC book that I would have paid money for. There just aren’t any characters on their roster that I have an affinity for, you know? With the reboot I thought I’d check out a few, Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Batwing, Batwoman, Batgirl, Static Shock, and Wonder Woman. Of all those books, the only ones I pull are Batwoman and Wonder Woman and the only one I’d say is exemplary, well, I bet you can guess.
It all starts with the refocus on the Classical mythological component of the Amazons and Diana. Instead of dealing with more conventional DC villains, the cast is comprised of Zeus, Hera, Hermes, etc. It’s right in my wheelhouse and it’s perfect for comics. I mean, they’re just soap operas, aren’t they?
Even without Azzarello’s bold new direction, Chiang’s art stands in stark contrast to the terrible portrayals of Diana in the rest of DC’s lineup. Diana looks like an Amazonian warrior. She looks strong and powerful. She looks like a real woman. Chiang’s interpretations of Hades, Hephaestus, Apollo, Hera, Diana, Ares…they’re all brilliant deconstructions of their traits and their motifs. It’s all so brilliant.
Top Indie/Creator-Owned Book This Year
Chew (John Layman, Rob Guillory)
If you read Comic POW! at all then you already know how much we both love Chew. We’ve gushed over and over about Guillory’s cartoony, yet gruesome art and the details that Layman and Guillory pepper throughout each and every issue. Every month is a treat with Chew and this year marked the halfway point. We’ve lost a little momentum on the alien plot revelations from the first fourth, but the recent death in the book promises to propel the book forward at a breakneck pace through 2013.
The Massive (Brian Wood, Kristian Donaldson, Garry Brown)
What if the world “ended” in an eco-disaster like no other? This isn’t that sci-fi a book, really. It’s a tale of a post-climate change world where rising water has destroyed the world as we know it. The eco-group (or eco-terrorist, depending on whom you ask) 9th Wave is now wondering what to do in a world where they’ve essentially failed. Worse still, their mothership, The Massive is missing.
I wouldn’t call The Massive the most exciting comic. It’s a slow boil filled with a complex crew with all kinds of disparate motivations. I can’t say I know where the story is going, but I’m 100% for Brian Wood’s well-thought out ideas about what a post-disaster planet would look like. The isolation of a lone ship in the sea among lawlessness also adds immeasurable tension to each issue. Definitely one of my favorites this year.
Top Indie/Creator-Owned Book:
Saga (Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples)
What a surprise, Dan! Guess what, guys? Everyone loves Saga. I’m not taking a bold stance in saying that Vaughan’s Romeo and Juliet-esque epic about a couple from opposite ends of a war and the powers that are struggling to keep them, and their daughter, apart is the best book to hit this year. Take Vaughan’s incredibly naturalistic dialogue reminiscent of his best work on Y: The Last Man and combine Fiona Staples’ breathtaking art and you’ve got the perfect book.
The Manhattan Project (Jonathan Hickman, Nick Pitarra)
Another Jonathan Hickman helm book. All but one of the 8 issues of this series came out in 2012. I first started reading this book because it was written by Hickman and because it takes place during World War II at Las Alamos during The Manhattan Projects. I slowly came to realize that this doesn’t take place in the same world as ours. This is a world where the Japanese have teleportation technology powered by Death Monks.
The series started off with a slow burn as Hickman introduced us to the principles one at a time. Not only that, but the early issues were discontinuous as each one jumped forward a few weeks or months, seemingly leaving tons of loose ends without tying them up. But with the alien issue it finally started having a more conventional narrative structure.
The series has a very creative use of color in flashback scenes where everything is either completely blue or completely red, symbolizing whether it’s good or evil. It’s a book that deserves a few reads in order to completely get the story.
Chew (John Layman, Rob Guillory)
I’ve been eating this series up ever since Dan introduced me to it via the first two trades. This year a good chunk of the story was focused on the “Space Cakes” story arc. It probably could have taken the top spot with its earlier story arcs. While I enjoyed delving into Toni’s history (especially as pertains to Cesar), it just wasn’t quite as good with Chew out of commission (thanks to the Major League Chew arc).
Top Indie Book:
Saga (Brian K Vaughn, Fiona Staples)
Just like Dan, I chose Saga as my top creator-owned series of 2012. I’m a little hazy on the timeline – I’m not sure if I came across Saga #1 (second reprint) or started reading Y: The Last Man first. I’m pretty sure it was the former because what attracted me to the issue was the crazy cover. It was pretty weird because I’m not usually drawn to fantasy-style characters, but reading the first couple pages at my shop I knew I had to have it. After finishing Y: The Last Man, I knew I had to make sure Saga was in my pull box at my shop.
Dan chose Saga because he loves BKV’s storytelling and Fiona’s art. (More on that art in a second) I also enjoy BKV’s storytelling, but what hooked me on Saga and has me buying the comic no matter what else I have to drop from my comic budget is how close it hits to home. I discovered Saga right around the time Scarlett was born and so I really felt close to Marko and Alana – also new parents. Although comic-book time has meant that I am now nearing a year as a parent while Marko and Alana are probably closer to a week or a month of parenthood, it still continues to resonate – especially in the recent issues as they deal with meeting Marko’s parents.
Fiona’s art is so incredible that it’s one of the two comics I refuse to buy online and still buy it in a physical format.
Top Overall Comic Book This Year
Uncanny X-Force (Rick Remender)
For me the top two contenders for this spot were Saga and Uncanny X-Force. Saga connected to me as a parent and it delighted my eyes with its beautiful artwork. Uncanny X-Force took a set of mainstream characters and the concept of a hit squad to a whole new level and it, too, delighted my eyes with its beautiful artwork. (Final arc was by Phil Noto)
In the end I give it to Uncanny X-Force because it ended this year and, in doing so, proved that Remender could end this epic tale in a non-disappointing way. Saga has only just begun and while BKV has a good track record, who knows if he can bring this story to a satisfying conclusion? We’ll see in 2017.
Hawkeye (Matt Fraction, David Aja, Javier Pulido)
I weighed a lot of options for this category. You’ve got the hyper-creative Chew, always pushing and stretching the boundaries of acceptable storytelling or the (almost literally) epic Wonder Woman and the incredible space opera of Saga, but the greatest thing happening in comics has to be Hawkguy.
What are the biggest complaints about mainstream comics? Too many costumes. Too much continuity. Too much conventional storytelling. Yeah, plenty of the aforementioned books buck that trend, but Hawkguy takes the cake by virtue of being, well, a Hawkeye book. It’s accessible, well-drawn, and hilariously written and it’s the best thing Marvel has done since Daredevil.
Now, you might be asking, “Eric wouldn’t the best story arc come from your best book?” Good question! The answer is – not necessarily. There might be a book that had one great story line that stood out in an otherwise ordinary book. Conversely, some of the best books might not have any one story arc that is amazing on its own, but the sum of all those story arcs together tells one amazing story. Which is kind of another way of saying – it works better as a trade that collects the entire run. So, while it wasn’t the criteria Dan and I used while compiling the best books, I think that’s probably a good way of distinguishing the two. For the previous category you might want to find the hardcover edition and for the current one you might want to find the trade that has just this story arc. That said, it’s entirely possible that the Top Story arcs match the top books. I guess we’ll see.
Top Story Arc at Marvel This Year
The Devil and the Details (ASM/Daredevil Crossover)
This fun little crossover throws Black Cat into the mix as Spidey deals with Carlie breaking up with him over figuring out his secret during Spider-Island and Daredevil deals with possession of an important super-hard drive. This crossover has all the best kind of humor. Spider-Man, fresh off a breakup, tries for a booty call with Black Cat and she smells the stink of his being dumped. Not only that, but eventually she ends up with Daredevil! (In full view of Spidey) And as Matt Murdock tries to convince someone that he is not Daredevil, Spidey comes asking for his help as Daredevil. (You’d think Spidey would be more sensitive about secret identities!)
In a year in which I enjoyed a lot of very serious story arcs, it was great to enjoy one that was pure fun.
Top Marvel Story Arc :
Final Execution (Uncanny X-Force)
So much was so good in Uncanny X-Force – it made my top comic book for the entire year. But the final arc of this book brought together everything Remender had been building up and resolved it. It was a bittersweet ending, like real life, and that made it all the more effective. The scenes between Daken and Wolverine were so powerful, again even more so now that I am a father and tried to imagine what it’d be like were Scarlett and I in that situation. Very powerful year for parent-child relationships.
Divided We Fall (UXM Brian Wood, Nick Spencer)
The relaunch of the Ultimate line into the Ultimate Comics line (slow down, guys. That’s almost too much of a name change!) had an insanely awesome level of promise. Everything was boned up in the Ultimate world post-Peter Parker death and the Ultimatum wave, so we were due for something awesome, right? Well it was going pretty well until Hickman was pulled off The Ultimates. The promise of a civil war in America was amazing, but the election of Captain America to president sparked so much jingoistic nonsense in The Ultimates and distracted from the ridiculously more interesting high school story of Miles Morales.
It paid off best in only one book, Nick Spencer and Brian Wood’s Ultimate X-Men. Telling the story of Kitty Pryde’s ascendance from scared teen forced out of Midtown High by post-Ultimatum, anti-mutant paranoia to terrorist threat and freedom fighter. The year closed off with Kitty negotiating mutant reservation land from President Captain America (so stupid) and leading the 20 remaining American mutants in populating their new home, Utopia (so creative…). Some chapters were bumpier than others, but overall I’d say Brian Wood has done something interesting here with purposefully remixed pieces.
Top Marvel Story Arc:
Spider-Men (Brian Michael Bendis, Sara Pichelli)
Remember how Marvel made a big stink of saying that a 616/1610 crossover would mean they were out of ideas? I sure do. The prospect of Peter Parker interacting with Miles Morales was amusing, but not groundbreaking until about issue #4 where Peter reunites with Aunt May and Gwen Stacy. Seeing his interaction with the Spidey supporting cast I love most (I’m a shameless Ultimate Spider-Man fan. Don’t get me started on how much I can’t stand Dan Slott’s Spider-Man…) thawed my icy heart and showed me that this was less ill-conceived than I’d thought. Plus Pichelli’s art (my favorite of any Marvel artist) adds so much to the affair with her uncanny handle on emotions…Now if only Bendis would stop dithering about revealing to Miles that Jessica Drew is a clone of Peter and, you know, actually integrate her more into the comic…
Top Story Arc at DC This Year
Court of Owls Tie-Ins (Batgirl [Gail Simone], Batman and Robin [Peter J Tomasi], Detective Comics [Tony Daniel], Nightwing [Kyle Higgins], Red Hood and the Outlaws [Scott Lobdell], Birds of Prey [Duane Swiercynski])
This was DC’s first big crossover event in the New 52 and I think they handled it very, very well. For starters, they weren’t greedy. You only had to read Batman if you wanted to get the main story. In fact, other than Nightwing, most of the stories were separate enough that for the few that weren’t that great, I felt silly for having bought them. I was used to a more Marvel type of crossover and thought I’d be missing out on key plot without getting every tie-in. The level of integration in Nightwing and Batman was perfect and also made sense given that a key plot point of the Court of Owls is that they were using Haley’s Circus to train their Talons. It was great to see that Batman could mobilize all of his “family” in a crisis and it made Gotham seem more integrated than it seems on a monthly basis.
Top DC Story Arc:
Court of Owls (Batman Vol 2)
I’m going to do a slight cop-out on this one only because I spent most of the best-of section of the DC Comic of the year talking about Court of Owls. I guess I will take this spot to say that the last issue was a little too much exposition like they all had verbal diarrhea in a way that Scott Snyder is usually careful not to do. It makes the comic seem a bit old fashioned – like back when they’d have these incredibly long monologues while fighting, but Snyder does have a lot of story he needs to fit into here and I can excuse that one issue for the rest of it being pretty incredible.
Swamp Thing Annual (Scott Snyder, Scott Tuft, Becky Cloonan)
It’s not an arc, per se, but the Swamp Thing Annual is getting props from me for telling the sweet story of how Alec Holland met Abby Arcane, but tragically lost his memory of the encounter. Really it gets most of it points from having the super talented Becky Cloonan on art duty. No disrespect to Paquette, but Cloonan’s softer, more Disney-esque aesthetic works way better for the love story Snyder was trying to tell here. As a book I may not be interested in Swamp Thing anymore, but the Annual reminded me of how good it could be with the right story behind it.
Top DC Story Arc:
The Zola Pregnancy in Wonder Woman (Azzarello, Chiang, …)
Is it cheating to say that the entire year’s worth of story was my favorite DC arc of 2012? Introducing a new scope for a character is no easy feat, but Zola, Diana, and Hermes made a fantastic team as they tried to keep poor Zola safe from Hera. There was deception, heroics, and just the right level of family dysfunction and it all climaxed in a double cross no one could have expected. You may think Wonder Woman is not the book for you, but I think you need to start picking up trades before you decide.
Top Story Arc at Indie/Creator-Own Labels This Year
Helmutt’s Trials (The Manhattan Projects)
OK, so The Manhattan Projects doesn’t really have story arcs in the traditional sense, but there is a character there, named Helmutt, that is quickly becoming the butt monkey of the series. We first see him when the Americans go to get Werner von Braun, who had poisoned all the other scientists so the Americans would have to choose to save him. Helmutt was shown hiding and avoids the poison. I kept thinking he’d show up because of the rule of Chekhov’s Gun, but after a few months I forgot about him. Then when we caught up with him again, it turns out he was caught by the Soviets and made a slave there. Eventually he was promised freedom only to have von Braun show up and deny it to him. (After, we learn, having been abusive to him during the Nazi days) Then, in the most recent issue von Braun promises his freedom if he cooperates to open the death gate, but then denies it to him in an act of cruelty.
Usually I hate those types of stories. I usually can’t stand the cartoons where Donald Duck is the chump. (I’m ok with him getting his in the episodes where he’s a jerk) But something about this universe that Hickman has created full of insanely cruel men just makes the cruelty against Helmutt something of a running gag.
Top I/C-O Story Arc:
Getting off the Planet (Saga)
Saga also doesn’t truly have story arcs in the traditional sense, but I did enjoy the storyline that wrapped up a few issues ago where the main characters were trying to find the rocketship forest. They face setback after setback, but it doesn’t feel contrived. After all, they’re escaped felons on the run from the government on a planet (or moon?) that is at war. They also have two separate bounty hunters after them. Given how BKV messed with the readers so much in Y: The Last Man, it was conceivable they would spend a large chunk of the book on that planet. But they got off in a reasonable amount of time. We also got the reveal that Marko might be a bigamist. Finally, we got the bonus side story of The Will at the prostitute planet. That side story was awesome for so many reasons.
Alabaster Wolves (Caitlin R. Kiernan, Steve Lieber)
Writers from the literary world don’t always translate into good comics, but somehow Caitlin R. Kiernan snuck onto the scene with a dark, Southern Gothic tale of a girl and the forces of evil. Dancy Flammarion is not your typical demon hunter. She’s young, slight of build, and none too smart, but she’s got a guardian angel and a tenacious need to do the work she has been chosen to do. But what happens when Dancy stakes her life on a bet, but reneges on her word? What do you think happens…her guardian angel abandons her right in a den of (were)wolves and it takes everything she has to complete her mission.
There aren’t that many comics that take place in the south or that deal with issues of faith and corruption like this one and whatever others might exist are certainly not as well executed. Kiernan’s fantastic writing is paired with Steve Lieber’s grimy art. There’s nothing glamorous about Dancy’s life. At times it seems like she can barely read or defend herself against the demons that beset her on every side and Lieber knows that showing that weakness is what makes Dancy so intimidating. I struggled with choosing this mini-series as my arc of the year, but I thought that Saga barely edged it out. If you wanted my honest opinion I’d recommend picking this up if you ever see it in the store or online. It’s quite good.
Queen of the Black Coast (Conan Brian Wood, Becky Cloonan)
Wow, there sure is a lot of Brian Wood here from me. I guess it’s because he does such exceptional work. His debut arc on Conan the Barbarian caught my eye thanks to Becky Cloonan’s impeccable style. Instead of a roided out bruiser, she drew a lithe, but powerful Conan and her choice for Bêlit exudes sex and sexiness along with a barely contained savagery. They are a perfect match for each other and it’s obvious the first time you see both of them on the same page.
It’s that electric chemistry that compelled me to buy a comic about a character I could not have cared less for and, based on my other top arc, it appears to be something that Cloonan draws particularly well. Wood’s writing also sells me past the inherent hamminess of the pulp fiction nonsense that is the Conan world. This is the “meet-cute” story of a man and woman whose love is so violent and murderous that they take on the rest of their world. It’s pretty neat stuff.
Top I/C-O Story Arc:
Saga (Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples)
The first arc of Marko, Alana, and Hazel’s story is so superbly told that it’s unfair to compare it to anything else that came out this year. With only a single misstep on the prostitution planet (I’m sorry, Eric, but that bit was hammy as hell), the story of two fugitives fleeing the law and the planet is relentlessly paced and about as much fun as you can have reading a funnybook. Come for the weird robot people sex, but stay for the emotional resonance of a fun, quasi-functional family.
Top Story Arc
Final Execution (Uncanny X-Force)
I’m going to give it to the Final Execution story arc as it’s a large reason why I gave it the top book of 2012.
Saga (Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples)
I’m gonna use this section to describe my favorite things about the principals:
Marko – Dude is a pacifist. It’s pretty neat to see a comic book character who foregoes violence. Of course Chekov says he’ll probably have to do some killing before the book’s done, but I really do love that about him.
Alana – She’s more willing to get her hands dirty than Marko is, but she’s not just an copy of Agent 355.
Hazel – The cutest narrator you’ve ever seen.
Izabel – Funny in a way that Yorick used to be in Y. Cool name too.
Prince Robot IV – Robot sex is never not funny
The Will – Lying Cat is the best.
Best Old Comic I discovered This Year:
Incorruptible/Irredeemable (Mark Waid)
Dan introduces me to a lot of comics. I’d have to say he has a pretty awesome track record. I think I’ve loved nearly all of them. This year he introduced me to Y: The Last Man, Irredeemable/Incorruptible, and Deathnote. All of these were great comics. I think I want to see if there’s an omnibus version of Y: The Last Man because it’s the kind of great story I want to read again and that I want to share with Scarlett when she’s older.
Death Note is a comic that took quite a few recommendations from Dan before I gave it a shot. The premise sounded dumb and way too manga-y. But it turned out to be a great story about two geniuses that were each trying to outdo the other. Light Yagami discovered a death note which is a notebook used by Shinigami (Japanese gods of death) and decides to use it to rid the world of evil. However noble this intention may be, that’s not how we do things in a democracy so the other genius is trying to capture him. It gets pretty complex and you have to somewhat suspend your disbelief at how brilliant these guys are, but if you put that aside it’s a great story. I was a little disappointed with the third act which is why it’s mentioned here, but not taking the top prize.
Irredeemable was mentioned in the Week 6 POW!. That issue REALLY intrigued me. Just like with Fantastic Four and FF I’m counting Irredeemable and Incorruptible as one unit even though they aren’t quite as cohesive as Fantastic Four and FF, they are best understood as one unit. At the very least, Incorruptible makes a LOT less sense if you aren’t also reading Irredeemable.
Irredeemable can be seen as a followup to the ideas Mark Waid started with in Kingdom Come. He comes up with his own version of the Justice League along with a Superman analogue known as The Plutonian. Mark Waid is, on the surface, exploring the idea of Superman in the real world. For example, Waid deconstructs that the Kents would have been able to raise a super child. The Plutonian is shuttled from foster home to foster home as he scares the crap out of his foster parents and other children. That is one of the scars on his soul that leads to his eventual madness. On a deeper level he’s exploring ideas of trust how secrets can be quite damaging to relationships and, in this case, to the entire world because those being damaged have super powers. It takes the top spot in 2012 because I think Mark Waid has exceptional follow-through on the story. The ending is quite satisfying and it explored a topic that I’ve always found fascinating – what would be the real world consequences to Superheroes in today’s cynical world.
Incorruptible is about a supervillain in the same world as the Plutonian; in fact he’s one of his rivals. When the Plutonian goes rogue, Max Damage feels he needs to become a hero to balance out the scales. While the reasoning behind Damage’s heel-face turn is a LITTLE bit of a stretch, Waid takes it and runs with it. It gave Waid a place to have a bit of humor in the world – particularly in the way in which Max Damage decides to go clean. He torches all of his millions because it was ill-gained and he feels that’s what he should do. (He could have just as well donated it or something) He also immediately quits his underaged girlfriend, Jailbait, who doesn’t understand the rejection due to her immaturity. (A great argument for why the age of consent is where it is) The comic is mostly affected by events in Irredeemable while being mostly separate from it other than a crossover moment. I’d say you need Irredeemable to understand Incorruptible, but the opposite is not true. Still, I’d encourage you to read both to see Waid’s talent as he crafts two tales in the same world with pretty different tones.
Reading these books put Waid on the map for me and made me want to check out his Daredevil run as well as anything else he works on. For that, I give Irredeemable/Incorruptible the top spot. (Note: yes, the last four issues came out in 2012, but that’s a small fraction of a series that started in 2009 so I’m going to count it as a an old comic.)
Naoki Urasawa’s Monster
I wish I’d read more old comics this year, but the only thing I really checked out was the first volume of Naoki Urasawa’s Monster, so, as they say on Mêlée Island, “When there’s only one candidate, there’s only one choice.”
What I love best about Monster is the way that it takes a good act and turns it on its head. Dr. Tenma decides to save a young boy and girl after a massacre at their house leaves them orphaned at the expense of the mayor of Dusseldorf against the wishes of the hospital bigwigs and, consequently loses his status as top surgeon, his fiancee, and his social standing, but he did the right thing, right?
Except that shortly after the children recover, the hospital director and all the doctors impeding Dr. Tenma’s career path are mysteriously murdered. The implication of course being that the young boy probably murdered them. This suspicion is not confirmed until nine years later when a criminal patient of Dr. Tenma’s goes missing. Tenma tracks him down and sees him murdered before his eyes by the boy he saved, the titular Monster.
Of course then it turns into a mystery manga as the Doctor and police attempt to track down this mass murderer, but that all takes place in volumes I haven’t read. It’s a neat read though. Worth checking out.
Biggest Surprise in Comics This Year
This is the loosest category in this post. It can be anything as small as a moment in a particular issue that really surprised us, a story arc that surprised us, all the way up to a book that we didn’t expect to like becoming our new favorite.
Avengers vs X-Men was the huge Marvel event of 2012. It started off slowly, but the second half was pretty good. A lot of the tie-ins in the regular series were also pretty good. But the big surprise was that AvX: Consequences was actually good. Who would have thought an epilogue series to an event could be good? But this series, which built up and documented the completion of Cyclops turn from a Professor X (MLK) style to a Magneto (Malcolm X) style. Each was better than the last and I think Kieron Gillen put a great end to his time with the X-Men.
Hawkguy #3 cemented it as the absolute best series that Marvel put out this year, no matter what other people on this site tell you. Everything about this book, from the sweet car to the pretty femme fatale, the trick arrows or the Hawkeye mask censoring is absolutely brilliant. I liked Hawkguy #1 and 2, but this is where it all gelled for me and made me stop and say, “Whoa, my favorite Marvel book is about Hawkeye?!”
See the video follow-up here.