There are but two rules for this category, and they’re important: To qualify a series had to 1) be 2-8 issues long ( though I was flexible with that one), and 2) it had to END in 2012 (though not necessarily start in 2012). And so unfinished series like Brandon Graham’s Multiple Warheads, Howard Chaykin’s Black Kiss Vol. 2, and Grant Morrison’s Happy weren’t considered for this year’s list, but some comics that started in 2011 (or earlier), but ended in 2012, were.
20. Locke & Key: Clockworks by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
This is the 6th Locke & Key mini-series, and one suspects that Joe Hill didn’t really think this one through before he pitched this to IDW so many years ago. While this remains one of the most ambitious projects on the stands, its close to collapsing under the weight of its own hubris. There are only so many references to magic keys and teen angst that one can stand, and Hill seems to be packing more and more non-essential story into each successive chapter. While I’m still enjoying it as a whole (Rodriguez’ elaborate spreads in particular seem to get better with every mini-series), I’m just hoping for an ending that makes me think that Hill knew what he was doing all along. Cough…Lost….Cough.
19. The Shade by James Robinson, Various (DC)
It’s getting harder to remember just how many great comics DC produced in the late 90′s-early 2000′s. From Kingdom Come, to New Frontier, to Mark Waid’s work on Justice League, to Gail Simone’s on Birds of Prey, DC seemed to be in a bit of a golden period for the company, at least creatively. That’s all over now of course, and so this throwback to the DC that was, is a welcome relief.
James Robinson is at his most James Robinson-y here, with both the good and the bad that comes with that. There’s a commitment to high drama that I love about his work. You never know if his characters are going to fight or fuck, especially with an anti-hero like Shade as his protagonist of choice. But there’s also a haphazard approach to plotting that comes with any Robinson comic, and this series is no different. Still, with artists as diverse as Gene Ha, Darwyn Cooke, Javier Pulido, and Jill Thompson helping Robinson with the heavy lifting, this rambling journey through a DCU that doesn’t really exist any more, was a lot of fun.
18. Spider-Men by Brian Bendis & Sarah Pichelli (Marvel)
What in the bowels of Stan Lee is a mainstream superhero comic doing on this list? As a fan of Brian Bendis’ work on Ultimate Spider-Man for the past decade, I just couldn’t resist this team-up between the Spider-Men of alternate universes. The fact that it ended up being pretty good was a bonus. What I liked about it is that it didn’t feel forced. This was a team-up between two fully realized versions of the same character, and one that needed years of set-up to execute properly, even if Bendis didn’t know he was setting those things up at this time. It’s also notable for having some of the most effective character moments to be found in any superhero comic this year. Sarah Pichelli is probably the best young superhero artist on the planet right now.
17. Reset by Peter Bagge (Dark Horse)
Guy Krause is a washed up movie star who has lost his career, his wife, and his fortune. But he has one last chance to make some money as a guinea pig for a secret government project designed to test radical interrogation techniques. And so Krause is put through endless variations of events from his life that are designed to test his stress levels, with the government hoping that one day he’ll crack.
Peter Bagge’s work is always eminently entertaining, and his nigh sci-fi premise adds some sizzle to with what could have been a fairly drab character study. Although I didn’t find it quite as engaging as Bagge’s work on Hate, or for Reason, it’s still a more than worthwhile addition to his bibliography.
16. The Rocketeer: Cargo Of Doom by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee (IDW)
If you like your pulp heroes with a little more Indiana Jones, & a little less The Shadow, you might want to try IDW’s recent Rocketeer revival over darker fare such as Lobster Johnson. Waid & Samnee have been racking up awards on their run on Daredevil as of late, and the light-hearted touch that makes that book such an enjoyable read can be found here as well. I’m not sure the Rocketeer is an interesting enough character to really deserve all of these apocryphal stories, but it’s an entertaining romp nonetheless. Cargo adds some fantastical elements to the Rocketeer mythos that might be disconcerting to fans of Dave Stevens’ original work on the character, but Samnee’s art deco take on a Los Angeles dinosaur invasion should put any reservations to rest.
15. Resident Alien by Peter Hogan & Steve Parkhouse (Dark Horse)
It’s Quincy meets Starman in this interesting little slice of small-town America. The alien in the title is Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle, a stranded extraterrestrial disguising himself as a retired doctor. He’s trying to keep a low profile, until the small town that he lives near find its sole doctor murdered. And so Harry is roped in, both as the town’s physician and as an amateur sleuth. It’s not an overly ambitious concept, and Hogan & Parkhouse really do a nice job of keeping it simple. This is more small town murder mystery than sci-fi epic, but fans of 2000AD will still find much to enjoy here. A mini-series in desperate need of a follow-up.
13. The Zaucer Of Zilk by Al Ewing & Brendan McCarthy (Rebellion/IDW)
Although I technically covered this already in the 2000AD entry in my “Best Anthologies” post, IDW saw it upon themselves to reprint this as a two issue mini-series. And so I had a great reason to write about it on its own. Well, two great reasons. The first one being that it’s one of the most visually striking comics of the year.
But it’s Brendan McCarthy, so you knew that already. He put the batshit in batshit crazy comics, and we love him for it. But McCarthy was smart enough to engage Al Ewing to handle the script here, and it’s really a complementary pairing. I can’t think of another writer that could turn the psychedelic stream of fantastical consciousness that McCarthy’s art evokes into a readable adventure story quite as well as Ewing does here. Zaucer is best described as Mr. Mxytptlyk meets Alice In Wonderland, and as such you know going in that this isn’t going to reach 100 Bullets levels of plotting complexity. This is fantasy unmoderated.
12. The Cape by Joe Hill, Jason Ciaramella, & Zach Howard (IDW)
This was originally a short story by Joe Hill that IDW had the brilliance to adapt into a single issue comic. It worked FAR better than these things usually do, and ended up being one of the best single issues of 2010. And so we now have a fleshed out mini series, exploring the adventures of a world’s only super villain.
And it’s quite good. We’ve seen villains motivated by base emotions in mainstream superhero comics before, but it’s rare to see them actually achieve their goals. Eric just wants revenge for his perceived slights, and is prepared to do anything he can to get it. And if that means dropping a live bear onto the car of his brother, so be it. Ah siblings…Amirite?
This was an well-executed, and often disturbing peek into the mind of a super powered psychopath. A sequel recently wrapped up this year as well, though it isn’t nearly as engaging.
11. Choker by Ben McCool & Ben Templesmith (Image)
It took almost 4 years for this bizarre little superhero/ crime mini to finish up, and I’m happy to report that it was worth the wait. Choker is about a failed police detective trying to make it as a non powered PI In a town where all the cops have super powers.
There is more than a little sensationalism in McCool’s script, and at times it feels as if he is trying just a little too hard to shock us with the macabre fatalism of this world. He has grown as a writer since the early issue of this series, but the some of the first issues come across as overly raw. Templesmith’s pencils more than make up for any subjective shortfall in the script however, with maturity that isn’t usually associated with his work. Fun series.
10. Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre by Darwyn Cooke & Amanda Conner (DC)
Let’s put aside the discussion about whether or not this comic should actually exist. It does, so suck it up, whiners. Lets discuss it on its own terms, which are those of a second generation costumed heroine struggling to find her own way in the turbulent 1960s.
On those terms, this is a fantastic comic, and to my mind, officially the moment that Amanda Conner became known as an A list mainstream comics artist.
This is a simple coming of age story, But it’s one that’s told with a narrative inventiveness that’s non-existent in anything else with the initials D or C on it these days. Highly recommended, despite what Alan Moore says.
9. Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, & Tonci Zonic (Dark Horse)
It’s a good time to be reading comics if you like pulpy adventure heroes, and Mike Mignola’s Lobster Johnson might be the greatest of them all. What started as a throw away character in a Hellboy story over 10 years ago has grown into a strong leading character in his own right, with John Arcudi developing him into a credible 1930′s adventurer that fans of Wagner’s Sandman Mystery Theatre, or Motter’s Mr. X, would enjoy.
Super villains and mindless cannibals set the tone here, but the strip never delves into parody, and always takes its subject matter very seriously. In short, it’s a bit of rollicking pulp. Tonci Zonic was born to illustrate Lobster Johnson.
8. The Secret History Of D. B. Cooper by Brian Churilla (Oni)
The premise of one of Americas most celebrated criminals secretly being a telepathic assassin for the CIA isn’t just sound, it’s brilliant. And Churilla’s artwork here is almost kinetically stunning. There is so much energy in his pencil that it almost leaps from every page. But from a storytelling perspective this mini series never gets much past the initial concept, and I have to say that getting a more seasoned writer to help with some of the heavy lifting might have been considered.
Still, it’s one of the best looking, and one of the most inventive comics of the year, with better action sequences than any book being produced by either of the big 2 publishers. Visually speaking, Churilla is at the top of his game.
7. Spaceman by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso (Vertigo)
Another of 2012′s strong sci-fi offerings, brought to us by the team that gave us 100 Bullets. So the bar was pretty high for this, and I would say that for the most part, Azzarello and Risso delivered.
The Spaceman we are talking about it is Orson, part of a group of genetically engineered post-humans specifically designed to survive a trip to Mars. It’s years later, and Orson is struggling to find his way in this post apocalyptic world. And he does, until the young star of the most popular reality show on television literally drops into his lap. Through Orson, we explore this interesting future that doesn’t take too much creativity to imagine as our own.
But accessible it ain’t. Azzarello literally creates a future slang from scratch for this series, and I would say that it’s a large part of the reason why it didn’t do better on the market. Azzarello forces you to actually READ his comic book in order to understand what’s going on, and that seems to be an unforgivable offence these days. That’s a shame, since Spaceman is a thoroughly engrossing comic that deserved a wider audience.
6. The New Deadwardians by Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard (Vertigo)
Dan Abnett is playing in a different sandbox here than the epic sci-fi adventure genre that I usually associate him with. Vampires Vs. Zombies as a metaphor for post-Victorian class struggle is an original spin on a tired concept, and it’s a welcome one. And so we have the “Restless” (Lower class citizens who are victims of a zombie infection), and “The Young”, (upper class citizens who have turned themselves into vampires to escape the virus). Added to the mix is a murder mystery that Chief Inspector George Suttle is tasked to solve. No easy feat in a world where almost everybody is already dead.
But this series isn’t all clever metaphor. Suttle is a fascinating leading man, glad to be still technically alive, but desperately missing the desires and needs he had before he was turned. Basically, he wants a reason to keep going. It’s what drives all of us really, but even more so when you’re an immortal super being, I suppose. Entertaining as hell.
5. Mondo by Ted McKeever (Image)
How he manages to both be so creatively unconventional while still managing to stay (relatively) commercially viable, is beyond me. Mondo is easily one of the most visually stimulating comics I read this year, and what it lacks in convoluted plot or character development it more than makes up with sheer frenetic comic joy.
4. Ragemoor by Jan Strnad & Richard Corben (Dark Horse)
It’s also a gothic purist’s wet dream, though one that is also terrifying and blood soaked. At it’s heart, Ragemoor is essentially a haunted castle story. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Ragemoor is THE haunted castle story, as it effortlessly encapsulates every other version of that ageless trope you’ve ever heard or read.
Ragemoor isn’t scary so much as its legitimately horrific. If Shirley Jackson and HP Lovecraft had ever met and had a Cthulhu baby that made comics, that baby might have made Ragemoor. And then destroyed Rhode Island. But first, Ragemoor. This, my friends, is a truly disturbing horror comic.
3. The Creep by John Arcudi & Jonathan Case (Dark Horse)
I don’t think it took me more than a few pages for me to fall in love with this unconventional murder mystery when I first saw it in the pages of DHP. And after a four issue run my appreciation has only grown. First of all, I don’t think there is a more economically effective writer in comics today than John Arcudi. There isn’t a single word in 5 issues that didn’t absolutely have to be there. The man knows when to stay out of the way of his artist. Especially when it’s an artist on the level of a Jonathan Case.
The Creep features Oxel Karnhus, a private detective suffering from a rare degenerative condition called acromegaly. He’s holding it together though; or at least he was until asked by an old flame to investigate the death of her son.
Character development is the name of Arcudi’s game here, with Karnhus being an effective foil. Oxel isn’t just down on his luck, he’s at the end of his rope, with this case representing a way back to a life Karnhus abandoned a long time ago. He also happens to be my favourite character in comics this year.
I know it’s too much to ask for these two just to do more Creep stories for the rest of their careers….but one can hope.
2. Casanova: Avaritia by Matt Fraction & Gabriel Ba (Icon)
Part Jerry Cornelius, part James Bond, Casanova Quinn might be the greatest hero in contemporary adventure comics. Matt Fraction seems to have his finger on the pulse of cutting edge science fiction comics right now, and that’s saying something in a year that’s been as strong for sci-fi as 2012 has.
Avaritia is a change of pace from Casanova’s last volume, but change is the very point of Casanova. It’s sci-fi, sure. But it’s also sex. And death. And time travel. Sometimes in that order. Although possibly a smidge less emotionally impactful than volume 2, Avaritia is still a hell of a thrill ride, with some stunning work from Gabriel Ba.
1. The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred by David Hine & Shaky Kane (Image)
For me, there really aren’t many series out there that really shows just how creative and unconventional comics can be. This, the second BPC mini series by Hine & Kane, is a powerful exception, and one that I get more out every time I read it.
What’s it about? In a word, comics. In a few words, silver age comics. In a sentence, it’s about the seamy underbelly of silver age comics…those horror, romance and crime books that deserve just as much attention as your copy of Fantastic Four #51, though they never seem to get it. These 6 issues are only loosely connected to one another, as it’s tone rather than story that brings this mini series together. And so an anthology EC tribute issue like “Tales From The Haunted Jazz Club” leads quite nicely into “84″, a non linear story that would have to be among the top contenders for best single issues of the year.
Legion Of Monsters by Dennis Hopeless & Juan Doe (Marvel), Dorothy Of Oz by Eric Shanower & Skottie Young (Marvel), Atomic Robo: The Ghost Of Station X/The Flying She-Devils Of The Pacific (Red6), Fatima: The Blood Spinners by Gilbert Hernandez (Dark Horse), Stumptown: The Case Of The Baby In The Velvet Case by Greg Rucka & Matthew Southworth (Oni)
Next up: Best Ongoing Series!