It’s the first day of a new year and so that means we’re doing our “best of” listing of the top comic books for 2012. Generally these are comic books that came out in 2012, though some are from earlier times and I got around to reading them, or limited series that continued. Keep in mind, this is what I have read. If it’s not on here, I just might not have read it.
Best Super Hero Comic – Hawkeye
Hawkeye, Marvel Comics’ least likely hit is as cool as the minimalist covers by David Aja. Written by Matt Fraction with art by Aja, Hawkeye follows the Avenger and shows him not as his cockiest (as portrayed elsewhere), but instead as a character who isn’t totally sure of himself. The series is a deconstruction of this hero, putting him at the street level, as likely to take on Hydra as his is some petty street thugs who say “Bro” a lot.
The series shares a lot with last year’s winner Daredevil. Both have a pulp sense about them, but there’s something with Hawkeye’s simple story telling that makes it stand above the rest. The art, the story, the covers, it’s all there blending perfectly.
There’s a fantastic mix of action, humor and simple human interaction that pulls together to make it the best super hero comic I’m reading, but also one of the best debuts of the year. Hopefully the comic finds the audience it deserves as accolades are poured upon it, but if nothing else, this is a series that’ll be looked upon as at the top of it’s game, no matter the year.
- Daredevil – Last year’s winner is still one of the best comics on the market. Mark Waid’s writing is fantastic as he took Matt Murdock down holes (literally and metaphorically). We again questioned Murdock’s sanity and Waid was able to mix in pulp fun with super heroes and not make it all seem silly when we got our reveal at the end.
- Idolized - Aspen Comics’ first entry into true super heroes was a comic I looked forward to reading each month. Centered around a reality tv super hero contest, we’re given a character we can relate to, cheer on as well as scold all at the same time. The art is top notch and here’s hoping it lasts for quite some time.
- Batman - Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have put together a Batman run that’s up there with the best. This year they’ve given us the Court of Owls and Talons which are villains that feel appropriate for Batman but also his equal in every way.
- Wolverine & The X-Men - Wolverine is now the headmaster at a school that’s as chaotic as him in beserker mode. Each issue I walk away smiling after a few laughs. In a year of uneven “X” books, this one has been consistent fun.
Best Non-Super Hero Comic -The Massive
Writer Brian Wood‘s DMZ won last year, so is it any surprise his new series by Dark Horse is this year’s winner? This to me is not just the best non-super hero comic, but also the best “new series” and “best series” of the year. It’s that damn good. It’s the future after a massive environmental disaster and aboard a ship the Kapital is a crew of environmental activists on a mission to survive as well as find their sister ship The Massive.
The comic is as good as they come, with an amazing cast of characters that we slowly get to learn more about as layers pealed apart issue by issue. The world is destroyed and while familiar, the environmental devastation has left it so that we’re kept on our toes.
The cast of characters are some of the most realistic and interesting in any comic out there right now. It’s diverse and varied in backgrounds, motivations, attitudes, everything. There’s someone for everyone to cheer for and hiss at. We have heroes and villains and motivations that still remain murky and elusive.
The Massive is the one series I immediately read upon release no matter what I have going on. The downside is, I have to wait a month to do so between each issue.
- Saga - Brian K. Vaughn has written some modern classics and Saga looks like it’ll be right up there with his past works. An epic in the making that’s a mix of science fiction and fantasy following two enemy soldiers who fall in love, have a kid, and go on the run. Each issue keeps you on your toes as to what expect next.
- Revival- Did you hear zombies are still big in entertainment? This new series follows a town locked down by the CDC after the dead come back to life. What’s the cause? What exactly is going on? Little by little we’re finding out, but the focus is really the realistic characters dealing with this strange world.
- Mind MGMT- Matt Kindt is an amazing writer and this series involving mind controlling secret agents is trippy and exciting as they come. The art is his usual water color like style, unique and recognizable in today’s comics. The comic feels like Ah-Ha’s Take On Me music video, with psychics and world traveling, aka, it’s awesome.
- Rachel Rising – Another horror comic that’s fantastic each and every issue. Another people coming back from the dead comic that again keeps you on your toes as what’s going on plays out slowly over each issue. This is a slow build, page turner.
Best Limited Series or One Shot – Princeless
Fairy tales are rather played out. Girl needs a prince to rescue her from the tower and to do so, the prince must defeat the dragon. Then, comes in Princeless, which takes all of that and skewers it with some of the best female empowering political/societal skewering this year. The lead is a female black princess out to save her sisters. It’s girl power and it’s awesome.
The sly commentary about society and gender roles makes this first volume and it’s two one-shots stick out. The fact it’s done in a package that’s as fun for kids as it is for adults, makes it one of the best of the year.
The comic has gotten praise, landing on a few other lists and even receiving Eisner nods, all the accolades are deserved. We get a second volume in February, and you better pre-order it to make sure you get a copy.
If you’re looking for a comic to hand to your kids, female or male, this is a great one to start, but lets be honest, it’s so entertaining, you’ll be the one reading it.
- Point of Impact- Image Comics released this series which is only in it’s third issue, but it’s basically Law & Order, the comic book. The story is as solid as you’d see on that show and should be a great crossover to draw fans of that television series over to comic books. If you’re a fan of that tv show, even a casual one, go grab this series if you can find it.
- Stumptown Vol. 2 – Greg Rucka brings back his detective series for a second volume. This one focusing on musicians and the drug trade. The series is still playing out and man it’s good. The series also decided to try some things new visually, like having you turn the pages during a car chase. Solid story and innovative art to boot!
- The New Deadwardians – Vertigo’s limited series is the British upper crust meets vampires and zombies. Did I also mention that it’s a detective thriller?
- Archaia Free Comic Book Day – You have to give Archaia props for this free comic, not just due to the excellent content within, which included Rust, The Return of the Dapper Men and more, but it also was a hardcover comic. The absolute best presentation and giveaway for Free Comic Book Day ever.
Best Single Issue – Batman #5
Scott Snyder‘s Batman epic event Court of Owls was an amazing read, giving us a villain that seemed the equal or better of Batman. Something that hasn’t been felt in a long time. But, the story was helped by Greg Capullo‘s art. If you need evidence of how important that was, then go back to this issue. Though it came out in the beginning of the year, it’s stuck with me since.
Batman is captured and dumped in the Owls’ maze. As he’s drugged and descends in to madness, we’re taken with him. Before we know it, we’ve turned the issue on it’s side, then completely upside down as we go down the spiral with our hero. We’ve scene that sort of visual before, in movies, on television, but the tactile holding of the book, instead of the passive watching ads an element that drags us into the experience.
It’s a perfect example of the marriage of story and art and why comics are an entertainment medium unlike any other.
Worst Single Issue of the Year – Thunderbolts (Marvel Now) #1
I’ve loved Marvel’s Thunderbolts in ever version we’ve gotten over the years. Even their latest time travel spin, while silly at times, ended well enough to justify the trip. Marvel NOW! was supposed to be the best creative teams creating some of the best comics, but this first issue is such a stinker, it’s sad and I wonder how it got approved.
The issue is the very non-creative gathering of the members of the team. In a movie, it’d maybe be 10 or 15 minutes, and possibly covered in the opening credits. Add on top of it we wonder how General Ross is getting from place to place, the entire issue is poorly plotted, thought out and just beyond boring. Add in a waste of art talent and I can only hope things get better going forward, cause this was really bad.
It’s a shame to see such cool character be used so poorly with a set-up that is predictable and at the same time, make no sense. The fact this is supposed to get people excited and draw them in since it’s Marvel NOW! just makes it even more of a travesty.
- Deadpool (Marvel Now) #1- Deadpool versus zombie versions of past Presidents. The story arc is silly and just pointless. This is not Deadpool at his best.
- Happy! (any issue) – If there was an award for the most use of “fuck” in comics, this would win. If that’s supposed to be edgy and entertaining, I’ll pass.
Best Graphic Novel/Trade Paperback – Economix: How Our Economy Works & Doesn’t Work
Take a complicated subject of economics and most people’s eyes glaze over just before they fall asleep. What this graphic novel does, is take a complicated and dense subject and makes it easy to understand, and somehow does it in an entertaining fashion.
The graphic novel begins in the early stages of economics and follows through to modern times, including the fiscal meltdown over the last decade. Not only are the philosophies that impacted the thought of the time discussed, but the major events of the time are added in to give us a perspective as to how it all fits together.
The graphic novel isn’t preachy at all, instead it allows us to make up our own mind as to how it all works together. We’re presented with the history without the personal opinion or perspective (for the most part).
This is a graphic novel that should be a required reading in all high schools and colleges. Not only does it educated, but it also entertains. In one read, I learned more on the subject than all of my education put together. For that the graphic novel deserves accolades.
This is a prime example of how graphic novels and comics have transcended their origins and are more than silly heroes in tights.
- My Friend Dahmer – Want to know the “origin” of Jeffrey Dahmer? Well here you go, directly from a person who knew him in high school. This graphic novel will leave you scratching your head and disturbed at the killer and monster he was, but also wonder how anyone could of stopped it.
- Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City – Guy Delisle’s latest about his time spent in Israel. The commentary and perspective of his experiences is amazing and really gets you to think. A travel guide like no other, Delisle’s work is beyond entertaining perfect for comic and non-comic fans alike.
- Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland and Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me – These are some of Harvey Pekar’s last works before his passing this year. Both are as personal as they come discussing his faith and growing up in Cleveland. Masterpieces both.
- Building Stories – The most praised release of the year is a collection of stories in a box the size of a board game. The interconnected stories make you rethink what comic books are and could be.
Best Writer of the Year – Brian Wood
The Massive would put Wood in the running this year, but add in his run on Conan the Barbarian and his release of Mara and Brian Wood is the best writer this year. Each series is varied in topics and characters, but what they all have in common is strong characters.
Wood, throughout everything he’s written has focused on that. They voices he writes through run through the spectrum, and through it all he tackles some great socio and political commentary. His writing is a commentary in the world we live in or a world we could live in.
All three series are some of the top of the year, and with Star Wars on the horizon in 2013, there’s a good chance he’ll be towards the top of the list then too.
- Mark Waid – Waid is a master writer turning anything he touches into gold. He’s got Daredevil, last years best series, and take the reigns on the Indestructible Hulk, plus there’s his work at Thrillbent. I can’t wait to see what he releases in 2013!
- Scott Snyder – The man has injected excitement and new ideas into Batman, giving us new bad guys that seem like a threat and the return of the Joker. On top of that there’s his work on American Vampire and Swamp Thing. 2013 sees Man of Steel from DC comics, we’ll see if he can give us the Superman we deserve.
- Matt Kindt – Mind MGMT has gotten Kindt on to the list. The story and how it’s laid out, with fake ads and small details in the margins makes it a series that sucks you in, in every way.
- Brian Michael Bendis – The man wrapped up his epic run on the Avengers and gave us the All-New X-Men after juggling the epic battle of Avengers Vs. X-Men. Probably the most controversial person on the list, he’s taken concepts that shouldn’t work and some how have made them so.
Best Event of the Year – Court of Owls
Scott Snyder’s Batman event has given us a threat that really makes us think Batman has met his match. Talons, undead assassins are unleashed on Gotham to cleanse it and bring in the reign of the Court of Owls a secret society that’s been around since the cities’ earliest of days.
We got some retconning and wedging in of the concept, but it all works. Snyder pulled it off giving us a hell of an exciting story and one I wish went on longer. It’s only downside was it was too short, but I’m sure it’s ramifications will be felt in the long run, setting up a plot line for Batman that’ll be around for years.
- Rotworld – Swamp Thing and Animal take on the Rot, which might consumer us all. The least talked about event and story-arc of the year is one of DC’s best.
- Avengers Vs. X-Men – It should of been horrible, but every battle, every fight was entertaining and filled up that small part of us that want to see comic characters beat the crap out of each other. Oh yeah, and the Phoenix returned. It gave us the new Marvel status-quo, so it was also one of the most important story arcs.
- Uncanny X-Force: Final Execution – Will Kid Apocalypse turn evil? This is what the series has been leading to, and in the end it’s all a comment on nature vs. nurture.
- Return of Valiant – Valiant is back! And while the comics are all over the map in quality, they’re all good to great. 2013 sees the publisher’s first big events, so we’ll see where they land next year. Welcome back Valiant, you’ve been missed!
Best Genre of the Year – Indie Comics
Is it a “genre”? We can argue about that, but lets face it, 2012 was a year we saw major creators shrug off the big two, instead launching creator owned series at other publishers, digitally or through Kickstarter. We saw more comics, in more varieties, on more subjects and more ways to consume them, than any time before. It really wasn’t the year of the Big Two, this was a year that we as consumers could find something that’d fit our tastes.
With more channels for distribution and more ways to produce comics, we’re in a golden age where the old ways of publishing no longer hold back the creativity that abounds.
- Zombies – Zombies have become a cultural phenomenon, lead
marching shuffling along by The Walking Dead. Revival changed the genre a bit, with so many releases giving us so many other spins and perspectives. The genre has crossed over in to movies, television, books, toys and more. We’ll see how soon before it all comes grinding to a halt.
- Digital Comics – Digital first. Digital exclusive. Web comics. This was the year digital comics began to break through. Lead by the platform comiXology, we also saw some creativity in how to sell digitally by Viz. This distribution method will only grow in 2013 as more ways to gain revenue from it are explored.
Best Comic Tie-In of the Year – The Walking Dead Episodes 1 to 5
The game has gained numerous accolades in the video game industry. It released as episodes, mimicking comic books and the television series it built off of. You make choices and try to survive in a world filled with zombies, with your decisions impacting the story. It also was a break through for episodic video game content, something toyed with, but not really ever gaining the acceptance it deserved.
This is the video game based on a comic book that didn’t suck. Something rare when it comes to video games. A second volume is out in 2013, so expect this to make numerous lists then too.
- Marvel and DC Lego Sets – How awesome are these? I have all the sets released, plus the key chains and some of the limited edition figs. All are awesome, and there’s more out in 2013!
- The Walking Dead (Facebook game) – Take The Walking Dead and make it a fun social game you can play on Facebook. A fun time sink that plays off it’s source material perfectly.
- Minimates – Kind of like Lego figures, but more points of articulation and so many choices to make. There’s over 50 sets out and the characters and properties they cover is massive. A great niche form of toys and one I got in to in 2012.
- Marvel Universe – The out put this year seems to have dropped of these G.I. Joe like toys. But, the quality was up there. Topping the list for me was my Guardians of the Galaxy toy set with Rocket Raccoon and Groot!
Best Comic Book Related Movie/TV Show – The Walking Dead
This was a juggernaut. The television series based on the Skybound/Image Comics comic dominated television, putting up ratings that haven’t been scene before in a cable television series. It crushes the competition in key demographic categories and only seems to be getting bigger and bigger.
It become a focal point between AMC and television cable companies in their battles this year. It also has driven people to pick up the source material. The Walking Dead television series has done what no other movie or television series based on comics has done, it’s driven people to buy comics. The Walking Dead trade paperbacks have been in the top ten of lists for much of the year and stores can’t keep them in stock.
Issue 100 of the series was one of the biggest selling comics of the last decade driven by the popularity of the television show. It’s back in February and I’m expecting only bigger ratings and fandom to come.
- Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope – A celebration of fandom, the movie took us to San Diego Comic-Con and helped us understand the buzz and comic fans, never talking down about or making fun of them. A documentary that truly celebrates it’s subject.
- Avengers- The movie was flawed, but Marvel and Joss Whedon pulled off what many thought was impossible, pulling together Marvel’s characters and creating a cohesive comic movie universe. That gets it to make the list.
- The Dark Knight Rises- The end of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy fails to stand on it’s own, but it’s a great end cap to the three movies wrapping up it’s themes nicely. The whole is stronger than any individual part.
- Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 – The source material is fantastic, so not a shock the animated feature is any less. Now I want part 2!
Best Surprise of the Year – Image’s come back
Image celebrated it’s 20th anniversary this year, and it came back and kicked ass. Each released seemed to create bigger and bigger buzz with constant sell-outs. And should it be any shock this was the case? Image drew some of the biggest talent in the comic industry as creators threw off the shackles of the big two and instead released quality indie comic after indie comic.
There was something for everyone this year from Image, and they moved passed their reputation of big guns and pecks comics, instead bringing us varied titles that at times pushed the medium.
Biggest Disappointment of the Year – Marvel NOW!
I’ll start off by saying there’s some great comics in Marvel NOW!. But, there’s also some real stinkers. We were promised the best creative teams tackling the best characters, but so far, this big shake up has seemed like business as usual. Sure, there’s solid comics, All-New X-Men, Thor, Avengers, but for each good one, there seems to be some turds too.
Add on top of that, a promise of promotion that hasn’t been scene. There was Jimmy Kimmel, but that seemed to make fun of comic books. There was Jeopardy that every contestant avoided like the plague.
What should of been a huge multi-media event instead turned into another launch point aimed at people already reading comics, offering nothing new or different. Just the same old comics, with different creative teams.
Sure there’s the Marvel augmented reality, but do I want to pull out my phone to read a comic? It’s a toy added to what should be the real draw, the comic story and art. This just feels like an accessory to the action figure that’s not needed.
We also have a release schedule that makes me slap my head. Some issues see their fifth issue out in less than two months. Some are a weekly release, some are monthly. This is overload of the worst kind when it comes to releases.
Instead of innovating and challenging what comics are and who reads them, we get what’s come before with some new polish.
Best Character – Callum Israel
Callum Israel is the main character of Brian Wood‘s The Massive. A former mercenary who worked for a Blackwater like operation, is now the leader of an environmental group trying to find their sister ship in a world destroyed by ecological disaster.
We’re still learning more and more about this character, much like everyone in Wood’s amazing read. We know were he’s from, that’s brought up a lot. We know a bit about his past and partially why he stopped his former life. There’s a gap however between then and when he became an environmental crusader and so much else we don’t know about.
A leader whose mysterious and tough. Israel is a character I want to learn more about.
- Batman – A successful comic series and event(s) plus a successful movie that end caps a fantastic movie trilogy. That was followed up about rumors as to how he’ll be handled in the upcoming Justice League movie. This was Batman’s year when it comes to super heroes.
Publisher of the Year – Kickstarter
I thought long and hard about who should have this mantle. I decided there should be a couple of factors when choosing the “Publisher of the Year.” I wanted a “publisher” that not only put out solid comic books, but in this digital age, pushed the envelope some how. While not technically a publisher Kickstarter did both.
Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform where individuals put up projects and people submit pledges to help those projects meet their goals. Pledges may contain various gifts back, like digital comics, printed comics, posters, prints, t-shirts or more.
Kickstarter is now roughly the third largest publisher in it’s output each month, but what’s more amazing is that it’s democratized the creation process. In the past the publisher was the one that decided what was printed and what the masses could read. Sure there was indie comics, but for the most part the the decision process was top down.
Instead, Kickstarter is a publishing platform, allowing creators to pitch their ideas and creations and allow the masses to decide what gets funded, and by being funded, what gets printed. It destroys the creation process and throws out the out-dated beliefs.
Comics you’d never see otherwise are now getting created and in to the hands of fans. Some of the most buzzed about projects are starting there first and then going to publishers. Some of the industry’s biggest creators are going there to get their projects out there.
Kickstarter has really gotten the ball rolling in a change that will fundamentally change the entertainment we enjoy and will eventually lead to a publishing process years from now we don’t even recognize today. What’s more amazing is, it’s just getting started.
- Image Comics – Image has had a banner year, getting past stereotypes of the type of comics you’d expect from them and drawing in some of the industry’s biggest creators. It gave us some of the most talked about comics of the years, creating some of the biggest buzz. All of which during it’s 20th anniversary.
- Dark Horse – Conan, The Massive, The Strain, the Goon, Dark Horse Presents, Mind MGMT, Ghost and I could go on and on. Dark Horse gave us some amazing monthly series, but also collections of modern comics as well as classic comic archives.
- Viz Media – I don’t read Manga. I’m not the biggest fan, but I’m checking it out more and more. Why Viz Media makes the list is because they’re changing up revenue models. Not only did they launch Neon Alley, but they have given a digital Manga platform which you can pay for or read digital comics by watching ads. Add in a deal with CafePress and this is a company willing to try new things and see what works.
- Archaia – Archaia has put out some of the most beautiful comics this year. They went digital first, which I think hurt a bit, but the comics themselves are fantastic. They really have something for everyone and if you want to get someone in to comics, this is a company to start with. The presentation alone will get people to change their minds. When I think of Archaia, I think quality.