Sunday, January 06, 2013

Accentuate The Positive: 2012's Best In Comics

You may have read my previous rant post about 2012 and walked away with the idea that it was a terrible year in comics.

Au contraire!

While the Big Two had their share of stumbles, there were still many, many wonderful new series that made their debuts this past year, as well as many older titles that remained strong.

So, allow me to summarize, in no particular order, the best comics and comics moments of 2012:

Best Of 2012

Memorial/Memorial: Imaginary Fiends* - Chris Roberson and Rich Ellis introduced us to the kingdoms of Maybe, Memory, and Moment in the initial Memorial mini, and the story was both momentous and memorable. Besides lead character Em, an elderly Peter Pan, and his cat Schroedinger, where else this year could you see a team of Robin HoodHua MulanSinbad and Scathach fighting alongside one another? And the follow-up digital mini, Memorial: Imaginary Fiends, has been dealing with the concept of childhood imaginary friends in quite an....imaginative fashion.

Smoke And Mirrors - Imagine a world where magic and science are one and the same. Where spells charge mechanical appliances. Where there is a sorcerer equivalent to Steve Jobs constantly releasing newer and more intricate magic apps. Now imagine a non-powered stage magician from our planet being thrust into this world, befriending a young boy, and showing the boy his stage magic tricks. Now top it off with text pages explaining real life magic tricks written by magician Jon Armstrong. That should give you an idea how fun this 6-issue IDW mini was.

Mind MGMT - I usually don't care for the watercolor comic art style, but Matt Kindt's story of an agency specializing in mental manipulation was so gripping that I didn't mind it this time. Take the time to study all the  notes on the side page borders. You'll be glad you did. The only thing that would have made this series better is if the actual band MGMT had appeared in it.

The Manhattan Projects -  Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra give us a fascinating revisionist history where Robert Oppenheimer had a serial killer twin brother, Albert Einstein was replaced by an other-dimensional counterpart, FDR was resurrected as an artificial intelligence by Richard Feynman, Enrico Fermi wasn't human, and Werner Von Braun had a giant robot arm. Also, the atomic bomb was actually the smallest-scale project they worked on. Add to this a Freemason Harry Truman in full high priest gear and you've got one of the most unique comics that debuted last year.

Captain Marvel - At first I wasn't thrilled about the idea of Carol Danvers taking the mantle of Captain Marvel, as it seemed like just another way to flaunt winning the rights to the name in DC's face. But then I read the first issue and damn, does writer Kelly Sue DeConnick really sell it. Not only does this comic benefit from one of the best costume designs in recent memory (courtesy of occasional cover artist Jamie McKelvie), but DeConnick draws upon her own experiences as an army brat to flesh out Carol's character here. Kicking off a new series with a 6-part time travel story can be a risky move, but here it actually works thanks to Carol's unique "don't give a fuck" attitude about timestream ramifications and the characters she encounters in the past, including all-female WWII Air Force unit The Prowlers and Carol's own friend/mentor Helen Cobb. But then the comic really kicked into high gear with a superb 2-part team-up with old friend and former Captain Marvel mantle wearer Monica Rambeau, which left me asking the question "Why can't Marvel put Monica Rambeau in, well, EVERYTHING?"

Avengers Academy - This year this Christos Gage series concluded in grand style by wrapping up its "Alchemist" storyline. Not only did this series have interesting, relatable characters you could really care about, but it made us really think about the role superheroes can play in today's world. Which makes the placement of some of these young heroes in the Hunger Games ripoff Avengers Arena all the more infuriating.

Daredevil - Following Paolo Rivera on a comic can be daunting, but new Daredevil artist Chris Samnee has really stepped in and made the comic his own. It helps that his collaborator was the talented Mark Waid (you're going to be seeing his name and work mentioned several times in this post), who showed this year that he can really write a gaslighting. The friendship of Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson was put through the wringer, and the trouble's still not over. Waid particularly shines at finding creative uses for older villains' powers and abilities. He also strikes the perfect balance in loading the book with dramatic tension but not drowning out the fun in a sea of "grim and gritty". And as icing on the cake, we got to see a battle royale between DD and Stilt-Man with art by Mike Allred.

It Girl And The Atomics -  Speaking of Mike Allred, another favorite new comic was this spinoff to his and Laura Allred's Madman series. Although the Allreds were not personally involved here, It Girl embraces the inherent silliness, craziness and plain old fun in comics much like they do. (See: The Skunk's gas dispersal method.) And fans of the old Ryan Choi Atom series will really enjoy the work of its former artist Mike Norton here. 

Bandette* - One of the best books in Chris Roberson and Alison Baker's new Monkeybrain comics line is this series by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover about a master thief who sometimes works with the police. Sheer lighthearted delight from digital cover to digital cover.

Hawkeye -

clint barton, a.k.a. 


became the greatest sharpshooter known to man.

he then joined the Avengers.

this is what he does when he's not being sucked into stupid, pointless, editorially-mandated corporate crossover events.

seriously, people, you need to buy this series. it's fucking awesome.

Thoughts On A Winter Morning* - Kurt Busiek, with art from Steve Lieber, gave us a poignant stand-alone autobiographical story ruminating on his childhood and subsequent fatherhood. Yes, Kurt, that snowman really was as big as you remember.

Amelia Cole And The Unknown World* - She's a young sorceress who is trapped in an unfamiliar world where magic and science have different rules than her own, and defends the residents of this new world with the help of a magic monkey wrench and an 8-foot golem sidekick named "Lemmy". Also, unlike another sworcery fantasy comic starring a young female protagonist released this year by a certain Distinguished Competition, this had absolutely no attempted gang rapes whatsoever. What's not to love?

Wander: Olive Hopkins And The Ninth Kingdom* - Here's another fantasy-themed Monkeybrain comic featuring a female protagonist thrust into an unfamiliar-but-fantastic world. But other than also being awesome, that's where the Amelia Cole similarities end. Instead of a young sorceress, Olive Hopkins is a disgruntled former barista who wakes up in a sword-and-sorcery world following a drinking binge, where she forms an alliance with a hard-drinking dwarf metalsmith and an elf huntress with a love of shiny things. Grace Allison's art sets the mood perfectly for this D&D-type realm. The writing is by fellow comics blogger Kevin Church, who delivers a strong Issue#1 but then REALLY kicks it up several notches with Issue#2.

Masks And Mobsters* - Let me sum this series as follows:

Sin City + Superheroes - Whores!Whores!Whores! + Originality + Fun = This Wonderful Monkeybrain Comic

Aesop's Ark* - What if the animals on Noah's Ark agreed to get together to tell educational tales while riding out the great flood? This is a comic I will share with my son at the first opportunity.

This Double-Page Spread From Star Trek/Legion Of Super-Heroes#5 -

And yes, that is the Hot Tub Time Machine in the back.

This Scene In Superman#10 - 

Sure, Grant Morrison had some great nuggets in Action Comics, but in terms of the best Nu52 Superman characterization since the reboot started, I have to give it to Dan Jurgens for this scene above.

The setup: Her name is Anguish. She has an ability/curse that allows her to beat up on Superman without him being able to strike back. She also had an abusive father who kept a locket with her late, beloved mother's picture locked away in a safety deposit box in a Metropolis bank. When she robs said bank to get the locket and runs afoul of the police and Supes. When the locket gets broken in the fight, Anguish goes to take revenge on what she thinks is Superman's real family (actually the family of Spence Becker, an innocent whom Morgan Edge mistakenly outed as Superman's real identity.

Superman goes to Becker's home to stop her. You think he's going to stop her by figuring out a way around her power. But he stops her with a simple act of kindness instead.

Like ShadowWing Tronix said: That is how you tell a Superman story.

Smallville: Season 11 - This Bryan Q. Miller comic has all of the strengths of the TV show, (the Durancesque Lois and Rosenbaumesque Lex, Hartleyesque Oliver; character interplay between each of them and Clark), but with none of the weaknesses (it has flights, tights, and a smarter, more proactive Clark, as well as comics' freedom from special-effects budget constraints). Plus: guest stars like a certain Caped Crusader, Impulse, and a Barbara Gordon Nightwing, and villains ranging from Psimon to Hank Henshaw to Mr. Freeze and the Prankster to The Brain and Monsieur Mallah. Last, but not least? Those beautiful Cat Staggs covers.

The Goon #39 -

I'm not a regular reader of this series, but Eric Powell's hilarious and spot-on sendup of the various promotional gimmicks and foibles of modern-day corporate superhero comics was too wonderful to miss.

Dial H - This comic is like the original Dial H had it been written by Grant Morrison circa 1991. I'd rather read about Bumper Karla, Cock-A-Hoop, and/or Boy Chimney than Vibe, Katana, or Jason Todd ANY day.

Jonathan Hickman's Fantastic Four and FF - After introducing and building up a lot of disparate story elements, Jonathan Hickman brought everything to full fruition with the final year of his run. There were a lot of amazingly fun stories here, from Reed Richards viewing Ben Grimm's future fate to Peter Parker and Johnny Storm's roommate experiment to Bentley 23's reunion with his father to even a heartwarming Willie Lumpkin story. Hickman captured both the sense of wonder and the sense of love that are essential to these characters and produced perhaps the best run they have ever had. Successor Matt Fraction has some Galactus-sized boots to fill.

Wolverine And The X-Men - Picture a comic that's essentially about Hogwarts except with mutants. Don't let Logan's name in this book's title fool you. He's part of a large, eminently entertaining ensemble cast of both young students like Broo and Quentin Qwire and seasoned instructors like Iceman, Kitty Pryde, Beast, Husk, and even Deathlok. I hate resorting to a cliche like "this is a Wolverine comic for people who hate Wolverine comics", but, yeah, it's absolutely appropriate here.

Insufferable* - Mark Waid and Peter Krause tell the free weekly serial story of what happens when a hero and his former kid sidekick have a falling out and are forced to work together again. This would've been worth the price even if they'd charged for it, but it was totally free.

Clone - This Image series grabbed me by the balls from the first moment.

Spider-Men - On the surface this looked like yet another money-grubbing crossover event, but it was actually very well-written, entertaining, fun, and more than a little poignant. Bag on Bendis all you want regarding his other work, but here he shined like a diamond. He was really in his element dealing with both Spideys.

Superman Family Adventures - A much-needed lighthearted romp through the Super-verse. We got a better explanation for Superman's costume change in this comic than we did in the main Nu52 comics. And the final page of issue#8, which actually came January 2, 2013 but I don't care? Well played!

Justice League Dark - Once Jeff Lemire took over, this series really kicked into high gear. Lemire here is one of the few creators who's not afraid to explore the Nu52 and reestablish its characters in a way that's both original and faithful to the old continuity. The most recent arc had Johnny Peril, for heaven's sake!

The Stars Below* - Who would have thought that an all-silent comic about a pigeon would be one of the most entertaining comics of 2012? Creators Zack Smith and Rich Ellis, thankfully.

Stumptown Vol. 2:  The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case - The second volume featuring gumshoe and gambling addict Dex Parios came out this past year, and it was amazing. Greg Rucka can write strong, tough, three-dimensional, realistic female protagonists practically in his sleep at this point, he's so good, and Dex is no exception. Rucka's story is pitch-perfect. But it's Matthew Southworth who's the real revelation here. Perticularly outstanding is the chase scene in the fourth issue. I've never been a big car chase guy, but that may have been the most amazing one I've ever seen, and I've seen the "driving against traffic on the freeway" scene in "To Live And Die In L.A.". And between Batman#5, Saga#6, and this issue, I have to completely take back my prior intense hatred of sideways double-page spreads, which I had as recently as last December's  Justice League#4.

Oh, and last, but the opposite of least:

Saga - Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' science fiction....uh....saga is an interstellar Romeo and Juliet story featuring a ram-horn-headed "Montague" named Marko and a wing-backed "Capulet" named Alana. Rather than a simple family feud, though, Marko and Alana's entire planets are at war with each other, and they are soldiers on opposite sides. When the two fall in love, marry, and have a child together, however, they decide to run away from the conflict. In pursuit of them are various troopers and bounty hunters from both planets, as well as Marko's parents

To show you how great this book is, let me show you one of my favorite scenes of the series, and of 2012 comics, period, courtesy of Issue#5.

No, NOT that one.

(Although it's also a favorite.)

I'm talking about this scene below. Synopsis: Marko, Alana, and their baby are surrounded by troopers from Alana's homeworld who have orders to kill them all. When the troopers start blasting, one of their blasts hits Alana, which causes the normally non-violent Marko to go......ballistic.

As he defeats all the troopers, he is in the midst of letting his rage about Alana get the better of him when.....

In that scene, Vaughn manages to capture the spirit of marriage more perfectly than any of DC's Nu52 comics. One of the key benefits of having a life partner who knows you intimately is that they know you enough to keep you balanced, keep your excesses in check and keep you from pursuing actions you will regret. This has been the case on both sides of our marriage, albeit to far less of an extreme.

And Staples is equally compelling with her visuals, whether it's the leads or supporting characters like bounty hunter Stalk, ghostly babysitter Isabel, or our....seated friend above, Prince Robot IV. Among her other delights are a giant ogre who gives new meaning to the term "big-ballin'" and a widescreen double-page spread that guarantees you will never think of Crosby, Stills, and Nash's "Wooden Ships" in quite the same way again.

Honorable Mentions

A-Babies vs. X-Babies
 - Why couldn't the whole AvX story simply been this humorous one-shot?

All-Star Western - With 100% More Talullah!

Batgirl - Back when the reboot was announced, I could not have been any less sold on the idea of Barbara Gordon becoming Batgirl again. The fact that Birds Of Prey was being retooled and both Cass Cain and Steph Brown were placed in DiDio-imposed exile didn't help matters. However, Gail Simone took all those lemons and actually made some nice lemonade. Gail really gave us a guided tour of Barbara's analytical and emotional thought processes. 

Batman - While the book has been suffering a case of "eventitis" recently, and I wish Scott Snyder's ideas wouldn't be stretched into all 38 Bat titles, there have been a lot of great moments in this comic. I like that Snyder's Batman narrative voice is actually friendlier in tone than other Bat-narratives have been. And artist Greg Capullo continues to be the sole shining exception to the general failure of DC's bringing mid-90s Image artists into the new 52. I particularly enjoyed the stand-alone Becky Cloonan-illustrated story introducing new character Harper Row.

Nightwing - Series writer Kyle Higgins deserves credit for an actual well-planned origin change, which is something of an extreme rarity in the Nu52. Finally, somebody provides a plausible answer to the whole "child endangerment" issue involving Batman's use of kid sidekicks. It's quite simple, really: Without Bruce's interference, Dick Grayson would have pursued his parents' killers on his own anyway, so in taking him under his guidance, training him, and working alongside him, Bruce is actually protecting Dick. Quite brilliant!

I, Vampire - For anyone thinking this comic is just DC's attempt to cash in on "Twilight", you couldn't be more wrong. This was actually darker, more intricate, and much more entertaining. Artist Andrea Sorrentino was really a fantastic find. (He just left the book to do Green Arrow with Lemire.) We had a guest appearance by Batman alongside a crossover with Justice League Dark. Fialkov even threw in a few nods to The Pixies. But my favorite thing about this comic has to be Mary, Queen Of The Blood, Andrew Bennett's lover/collaborator/nemesis, who has proven to be completely awesome.

The Massive - Brian Wood's story of a pacifistic environmentalist crew struggling for survival in a post-environmental-disaster Earth has been a very compelling read.

Mind The Gap - A metaphysical whodunnit by Jim McCann that begins with a young woman named Elle being attacked and left in a coma, leaving the mystery to be investigated on two different planes of existence. Among the things I learned was that Morning Glories cover artist Rodin Esquejo really shines on interiors as well.

Edison Rex* - Chris Roberson and Dennis Culver's series is essentially "Megamind" played totally straight. A Luthor-like protagonist must become the Earth's new protector after his nemesis, a Superman-like hero, meets an unexpected end. Roberson plays the Superman-Luthor angle to its absolute hilt, yet it feels fun and not derivative.

Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt - Screw DC. This is the REAL "Before Watchmen: Ozymandias".

Masks - Yes, this is technically a Dynamite Comics crossover. Sort of. But how can you pass up a team-up of The Shadow, The Green Hornet, The Spider, Miss Fury, and others against a fascist New York City police state? Chris Roberson (him again), Alex Ross, and Dennis Calero have created a whole lot of fun here.

The Zaucer Of Zilk* - Without question, the most colorful comic of the year. Zychedelic!

Archer And Armstrong - I didn't read the original 90's Valiant series, but the new version by Fred Van Lente and Clayton Henry is a blast.

Thief Of Thieves - With the help of rotating co-writers Nick Spencer and now James Asmus, Robert Kirkman and artist Shawn Martinbrough have given us the story of master thief Redmond aka Conrad Paulsen, If you enjoy Oceans 11 style caper movies, this is the comic for you.

Morning Glories - The second year of this series about a mysterious academy had Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma relay a lot of the same story from a variety of different perspectives. That would be annoying as hell if someone like, say, Geoff Johns did it, but Spencer's characters are all so varied and interesting that it actually works. Especially once they added the Truants to the mix.

Rocketeer: Cargo Of Doom - Waid and Samnee team up to give us the Rocketeer fighting dinosaurs. Sometimes a concept just sells itself.

Action Comics - Even without Grant Morrison writing things like an alternate-world black Superman or the latest Superman story taking place simultaneously in 3 different time periods across 2 different dimensions, or dropping us nuggets like bringing Dr. Xadu or making Mr. Mxyzptlk's son a being made of music named Ferlin Nyxly, this comic would still be here for the wonderful backups written by Sholly Fisch. Especially touching was "Baby Steps", the tale of Ma and Pa Kent's pre-Clark struggles trying to conceive, which really touched my heart because it tapped into the exact hopes, doubts and fears my wife and I were feeling in real life at the time this comic came out.

Indestructible Hulk - A new series where Bruce Banner and his green-skinned alter-ego join SHIELD, written and illustrated by the team who gave us Superman: Birthright. How could I skip this? And "You're still rich" was one of my favorite Tony Stark scenes ever.

Comeback - This comic answers the question "What if Ed Brubaker wrote time travel stories?" And Ed's not even involved in this, so that's high praise.

Fatale - This comic answers the question: "What if Ed Brubaker wrote supernatural horror stories?" Here, however, Ed is involved, teaming up with his longtime collaborator Sean Phillips to give us a thrilling mixture of horror and crime noir.

Saucer Country - If you're still looking for something to satiate your long-lingering Ex Machina jones, you could do a lot worse than this Paul Cornell Vertigo political thriller.

Frankenstein: Agent Of S.H.A.D.E. - Although crossing over with "Rotworld" has slowed this comic's momentum a bit, Matt Kindt's take on the team has been a really wild ride.

Ultimate Spider-Man - Although it can be a bit decompressed at times (hey, it is a Bendis comic) it's also been very engaging, particularly the deadly showdown between Miles Morales and his uncle, the Prowler. And modelling the Ultimate Universe's Scorpion after actor Danny Trejo was an.... inspired take.

Freelancers - If you ignore the lead characters' design resemblance to the Body Doubles, you'll find this is quite an entertaining, ass-kicking series.

And there you have it.

Edited to add: * = Available through digital only.


At 12:51 AM , Blogger Saranga said...

Good round up. I will check out Hawkeye and Wolverine & the X-Men, Amelia Cole, andAesop's Ark.

Is Aesop's Ark an ongoing or was it a mini?

At 1:25 PM , Blogger SallyP said...

Egads, but you have read a whole lot of comics! And I agree with you completely about Hawkeye and Saga. I haven't read nearly so many others, but they all look intriguing.

And yes, Chris Samnee is amazing.

At 4:23 PM , Blogger notintheface said...

A lot of the stuff I listed was minis and 1-shots, and the digitals were mostly $.99 each, so it didn't damage the wallet as much as you 'd think.

At 4:19 PM , Blogger Siskoid said...

We read and loved a LOT of the same comics this year. And you make me want to check out the ones I missed from your list.

I thought you hit all the high points, and then threw in plenty more in the honorable mentions.

It WAS a great year for comics, all that New52 griping aside.

At 4:59 PM , Blogger notintheface said...

Siskoid: It's probably so similar to yours because I got clued in to quite a few of them based on your review tweets. I think Imaginary Fiends, Clone, Comeback, Rocketeer, and the new Archer & Armstrong are among the ones I can attribute directly to you.

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