And so it begins. Every year I do a series of (somewhat) comprehensive “Best Comics of the Year” posts. Rather than just limiting myself to one list, I do several, separated into 6 different categories. They take a long time to do, and no one reads them. But I like doing them, and they help organize my cluttered brain.
First category is anthologies. There aren’t that many rules for this one. To qualify a comic has to feature various comic creators doing different stories. It can be one issue, several issues, or a graphic novel. There aren’t that many books that qualified this year, as anthologies don’t exactly fly off the shelves these days.
10. The Graphic Canon Vol. 1 & 2, edited by Russ Kick (Seven Stories Press)
In theory it seems like a fairly simple concept: The world’s greatest literary stories, translated into comic book form. In practice, it proved to be almost impossible to pull off. Although Russ Kick’s idea seemed like a strong one at first blush, the reality of the project proved too unwieldy. Although both volumes (there’s a third on its way) are interesting from a historical perspective, there is very little in the way of actual great comic book making here. And the stories that Kick is attempting to adapt are often so huge, and so important, that condensing them into abbreviated snippets seems disrespectful, and often doesn’t do the source material justice. These aren’t comic books, they’re text books. And while they might be perfectly fine for someone trying to make these important works accessible to modern audiences, the scope of the project is too big for any comic fan to really sink their teeth into.
9. Creepy, edited by Shawna Gore (Dark Horse)
It doesn’t get as much attention as some of Dark Horse’s other horror books, but this black & white horror anthology is in many ways the corner-stone of DH’s entire horror line. It provides DH stalwarts like John Arcudi, Steve Niles, and Eric Powell somewhere to cut their teeth between larger projects, while giving horror comic fans an opportunity to relive the comics of the 1960s and 1970s horror heyday that they love so much. Besides, Richard Corben seems to be producing more comics than Dark Horse can actually put out these days, and any chance to see more Corben horror should be immediately seized.
8. The CBLDF Presents Liberty Annual 2012, edited by Eric Stephenson (Image)
If your idea of fun is to be yelled at about the evils of censorship for almost 50 pages, than CBLDF’s annual anthology is the comic for you. Although a little preachier than 2011′s installment, this years volume was still a hell of a lot of comic. Although the Walking Dead short story is what garnered all the attention, because zombies, it was James Robinson’s & J Bone’s sneak peek into their Hunter series that really got me excited. That, plus work by the likes of Brandon Graham, Roger Langridge, Terry Moore, Sina Grace, and Ben Templesmith, made this a worthy addition to CBLDF’s fight to protect the rights of comic creators.
7. Rocketeer Adventures Vol. 2 #1-4, edited by Scott Dunbier (IDW)
Although IDW could be accused of milking The Rocketeer cow to death, I would say that they can be forgiven their opportunism considering that the quality of their Dave Stevens tributes has remained somewhat high. The creative talent here tends towards the B+ list more than the A list like Vol. 1, but there’s still enough pulpy fun to warrant a third installment. Although not much more than a fun adventure anthology, Rocketeer Adventures remains a VERY fun adventure anthology. And we can never have enough of those.
6. Once Upon A Time Machine, edited by Andrew Carl and Chris Stevens (Dark Horse)
A bizarre mix of sci-fi & children’s fantasy, as seen through the eyes of people like Brandon Graham, Jason Copeland, Carey Nord, Khoi Pham, and Jill Thompson, Once Upon A Time Machine ended up being almost as great as the sum of its parts. That’s a pretty rare achievement for an anthology as massive & ambitious as this one, but OUATM delivers, for the most part. There really is a cumulative effect here, as the strong editorial vision of Andrew Carl really keeps this thing from flying off a cliff.
5. Creator Owned Heroes #1-7, edited by Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray (Image)
For those of us thinking that a glorious new reality of creator owned comics was upon us this year, the cancellation of Creator Owned Heroes after only 7 issues was a stark wake up call. In some ways an appeal to a more populist audience than Dark Horse Presents, COH featured some fairly high-profile creators like Steve Niles, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Darwyn Cooke.
But the book was never quite as editorially as consistent as something like DHP or 2000AD, and as a result I found that the quality of the book veered considerably from one issue to the next. That being said, there were some solid adventure stories here, and I’m very much hoping that we haven’t seen the last of concepts like Meatbag or Black Sparrow.
4. Joe Kubert Presents #1-2, edited by Joe Kubert & Bobby Chase (DC Comics)
There isn’t any better indicator of the current state of DC Comics than the fact that the best book they have on the stands right now was created by a dead man. Although the word “Legend” gets used a lot in this industry, Joe Kubert deserved the label more than most, and this anthology series might be the greatest tribute someone of his stature might hope for. Although only 2 issues in so far, it’s notable in how much it reminds me of what DC used to be: Creative, colourful, and above all, fun. And despite the strong sales figures, one can’t really argue that “fun” has anything to do with DC’s current slate of dour sourpusses.
There is lots of Kubert here of course, but he’s not the only creator involved. The work of Kubert, Brian Buniak. and Sam Glanzman is featured in every issue, with each installment containing both original stories, and adventures featuring DC characters such as Angel & The Ape and Hawkman. If you’re one of those complaining about how the “New 52″ ruined the DC that you love so much, then this really needs to be on your pull list.
3. Ghosts / Mystery In Space, edited by Karen Berger, Shelley Bond, Gregory Lockhard, others (Vertigo)
Although I’m trying to be optimistic, it’s hard to imagine that Vertigo will put out another anthology at the same level of quality as either of these again. As of this writing, Karen Berger “resigned” from Vertigo a few days ago. While some are calling this the death of Vertigo, for me it’s more like the headshot to the zombie that Vertigo’s rotting corpse has been for several years now. They haven’t been the standard-bearer of good comics that they used to be for quite a while, and I find that true quality projects like Mystery In Space are really the exception there these days, rather than the rule.
I’m not sure there is anyone in the business other than Berger that could put together such a diverse collection of talent like this and still make it be accessible to populist audiences, and that’s really a shame. Although Mystery In Space is definitely readable, it’s Ghosts that’s the real star here, with a wide range of fantastic horror tales by the likes of Joe Kubert, Al Ewing, Phil Jimenez, Paul Pope, Gibert Hernandez, & Paul Pope. Almost every story is a winner, but the real standout might be “Ghost For Hire”, by Geoff Johns & Jeff Lemire.
2. 2000 AD/Judge Dredd Megazine, edited by Tharg (Rebellion)
Although my friends at the 2000AD forums will be undoubtedly livid with me for dropping their beloved Prog a notch this year, I feel it’s justified. There were just one too many clunkers in the pages of England’s greatest comic for me to give it the top spot this year. There were obviously more great stories than not, but it seemed that for every fantastic Day Of Chaos or Lowlife strip, there were a dozen near-misses like Brass Sun, or even outright stinkers like Cry Of The Werewolf or ABC Warriors. But when it hit, it hit very hard indeed.
I’m not sure that people on this side of the pond really appreciate exactly what 2000AD is. We’re talking 32 pages. Every single week. With four stories in each issue. Featuring a myriad of artists and writers that are at least the equal (and in many cases a little more equal) than those we see in the pages of DC or Marvel comics each month. With adventure stories that always seem to just a little fresher, just a little more exciting, and just a little bit better, than the fare that the Big 2 seems to be forcing down our eyeballs these days. Highlights this year for me were the most ambitious Judge Dredd strip of all time (and that’s saying something), Brendan McCarthy’s Zaucer of Zilk (more on that later), and a new Simping Detective strip by Simon Spurrier.
1. Dark Horse Presents, edited by Mike Richardson (Dark Horse)
At less than 10 cents a page, this is easily the best value for the money on the stands right now. The fact that it’s one of the most enjoyable monthly reads I can think of is gravy. And with creators like Paul Chadwick, Mike Mignola, Brandon Graham, Evan Dorkin, Paul Pope, Carla Speed McNeil,Richard Corben, Jill Thompson, Peter Hogan, Geof Darrow, Steve Niles, Eric Powell, Stan Sakai, Duncan Fegredo, Sam Kieth, & Harlan Ellison contributing regularly, it’s mighty tasty gravy indeed.
This is pretty much everything you could ever want in an anthology comic. It’s got action, romance, horror, funny animals, and those are just in McNeil’s Finder stories. Does everything work? Of course not. But it’s rare misses were far outweighed by hits like The Creep, Resident Alien, and everything that Richard Corben did. For me, every issue feels like an event. There is no theme that’s obvious, no agenda that’s on display, other than to make great, well-rounded comics. And these are great, well-rounded comics indeed. If I had to pick a favourite from this year’s crop of stories, it would be John Arcudi’s The Creep (more on that later), but for me it’s really the total experience of this book that I love.
Once a month I can flip through 80+ pages of creative, exciting comics for less than $8. If that’s not the recipe for incredible comic book making, I don’t know what is.
Next up: Best Collections, Translations, and Reprints