To qualify a book must have produced at least 5 issues in 2012. That is all.
20. Chew by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)
Chew still manages to entertain AND surprise each month, no mean feat for an indie book that just surpassed 30 issues.
With its rotating cast of mutant super tasters, bisexual cyborgs, and gladiator chickens, Chew still remains one of the most eclectic books on the stands, while never sacrificing it’s commitment to character and storytelling. And we still have 30 issues to go, with no evidence of a drop in quality in sight.
19. Peter Panzerfaust by Kurtis Wiebe & Tyler Jenkins (Image)
Peter Pan as seen through the eyes of WW2 French war resisters may not have been an obvious pitch, but it sure as hell was an an effective one.
Kurtis Wiebe is really on to something here, with a WW2 adventure tale that’s just slightly familiar to those of us who grew up on the Disney version of Pan. Peter Pan is the ultimate anarchist, and so putting him in the role of French resistance leader is nothing short of brilliant. Looking forward to seeing if this can maintain its quality and intensity.
18. Rachel Rising by Terry Moore (Abstract Studios)
I’m not entirely convinced that this horror tale isn’t going to collapse under the weight of Terry Moore’s storytelling hubris. Every issue seems to be expanding Moore’s epic about a small town gone wrong exponentially, and only time will tell before we know if Moore can start solving some of the puzzles he’s posed.
In the meantime, Moore’s expressive pencils make a gorgeous pairing with the horror genre, and Rachel Rising still happens to be a far more enjoyable read than most of the monthly “horror” books on the stands.
17. Near Death by Jay Faeber & Simone Guglielmini (Image)
It’s a shame that Near Death wasn’t able to get more of a readership before its untimely demise, as I think that it’s the best comic work Jay Faerber has produced to date.
I’m going to really miss this love letter to 80s TV crime staples like Rockford Files and The Equalizer, as Near Death really captured their tone perfectly. Just the right mix of episodic adventure, and big picture motivation, with some nice work by up & comer Simone Guglielmini
16. The Unwritten by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (Vertigo)
The Unwritten dropped any pretense of being anything but a full blown fantasy title this year, with talking unicorns and other fantasy tropes on almost every page.
Plus, the books usual literary references expanded to things like superhero comics, noir novels, and everything in between. If unbridled ambition in storytelling gets you off, then The Unwritten should be your fetish of choice. With Sweet Tooth, Scalped, and Northlanders wrapping up this year, The Unwritten might be the last great Vertigo book left.
15. Hawkeye by Matt Fraction & David Aja (Marvel)
Probably the title I was most surprised to find on this list, as the words “Hawkeye” and “Great Comics” don’t usually end up in the same sentence together. That my friends, has changed. What’s also changed is Matt Fraction’s seeming inability to launch a great superhero title at Marvel, despite numerous opportunities to do so.
The big difference here is David Aja. In Aja, Fraction has an artist that is able to capture a fraction (ha!) of the energy & inventiveness that Fraction brings to his creator-owned titles like Casanova, but rarely seems able to carry over into his Marvel work. These are simple “chase & grab” stories, thus far. But Aja & Fraction use the medium to it’s fullest, and bring a visual complexity to these stories that is a welcome addition to superhero comics right now.
14. Ultimate Spider-Man by Brian Bendis and various (Marvel)
The popularity of Spider-Man has always been as much about Peter Parker as it is about the cool costume and the web-slinging. So the fact that Miles Morales is really the only Spider-Man I really care about these days is a bit of a surprise. It’s also a compliment to Brian Bendis’ careful shepherding of the character he created.
Despite the man’s professionalism, you can always tell which comics Bendis truly cares about, and his obvious love for Miles Morales is pretty easy to spot. This really is a simple coming of age story, with some superheroics thrown in for good measure. Bendis has had some very capable artist partners on this title thus far, with Sarah Pichelli being probably the most notable.
13. Fury Max: My Years Gone By Garth Ennis & Goran Parlov (Marvel)
This is a trip through the 20th Century, as seen through the eyes of the greatest soldier in comic book history, and as told by the best war storyteller in comics today. It’s Ennis at his very best, with the blend of crucial character development amidst big world-defining battles that he can be so good at, when he puts his mind to it.
Goran Parlov is the secret weapon here, I think. There’s some Joe Kubert, some Carmine Infantino, and some Gil Kane in his work, but he brings a modern intensity to his action sequences that really makes him an up and coming star in his own right.
12. Mind MGMT by Matt Kindt (Dark Horse)
Matt Kindt has been one of the greatest unrecognized talents in comics for several yeara now, but Mind MGMT is his first monthly (ish) book as a writer/artist. It’s well worth the wait, as Kindt’s expressive combo of paints and pencils are an interesting backdrop for this truly unique espionage epic. It’s still early days, and so it’s too soon to tell if Kindt can deliver on the many plot points that he’s started. But for now this book’s slow boil of questions and answers brings me back every month.
11. Glory by Joe Keatinge & Ross Campbell (Image)
This might be the greatest Wonder Woman story of all time. Its not being marketed that way, for obvious reasons. But it’s what its turning out to be, and if DC was smart they’d sign Keatinge and Campbell right quick.
Glory has just the right mix of superhero smashery, emotional pathos, and epic storytelling, with Ross Campbell really stretching his wings out and showing a different side of his artistic sensibilities. Glory didn’t get as much critical attention as some of the other books on this list, and I’m not really sure why.
10. Conan The Barbarian by Brian Wood, Becky Cloonan, others (Dark Horse)
The pairing of indie darlings Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan initially seemed to be an unconventional choice to spearhead the adventures of one of fictions premier action heroes.
But it ended up breathing new life into Conan, adding new dimensions of intrigue and sexuality to an already multi-faceted character. Wood & Cloonan were responsible for some of the very best pure adventure stories the comics medium saw this year.
9. Scalped by Jason Aaron & RM Guera (Vertigo)
It never seemed to get the acclaim of contemporaries like 100 Bullets or Criminal, but Scalped more than proved that it should be thought of in the same way that those books are.
Although the end of the series seemed a little drawn out, and possibly even forced, there is very little doubt that Scalped should now be considered one of the great crime comics of all time.
8. Daredevil: The Man Without Fear by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee (Marvel)
An early exit from the vaunted art team of Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin may have knocked some wind out of the sails of this book a little earlier than Mark Waid might have hoped. But Chris Samnee is proving to be a worthy replacement, and Daredevil continues to be something that’s apparently almost impossible to produce these days: an entertaining superhero comic.
If you find yourself complaining about how superhero comics “just aren’t as good as they used to be”, this might be the book you need to try. Not that it’s stuck in the past, however. It’s a thoroughly modern book, but one that’s not afraid to look back at a slightly simpler time in comics, where superheroes weren’t ashamed to look like superheroes, and writers weren’t afraid to treat them as such.
7. The Goon by Eric Powell (Dark Horse)
After a years-long hiatus, Eric Powell’s Goon is back, with new stories that showcase Powell’s ever-evolving commitment to character and story.
Since its return, The Goon has focused much more on smaller, character driven pieces than the “chock full o’ monsters” epics that it had become known for. The gorgeous art and expressive humor has stayed the same, but there’s a poignancy surrounding Powell’s creation that may not have been there before. If you’ve always heard about The Goon but weren’t sure where to start, this year’s issues would have a good jumping on point.
6. The Manhattan Projects by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Pitarra (Image)
Feynman. Einstein. Oppenheimer. Names that shaped a century, at least scientifically. But what if they weren’t quite as altruistic as we thought they were?
What if instead, the US government funded a shadowy cabal of mad scientists with motives so twisted they’d make Dr. Doom blush? And worst of all, what if there were no Reed Richards to combat them?
Those are the dark questions posed by The Manhattan Projects, a much welcome return to the world of creator owned comics for Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra.
Although lacking a sympathetic lead character, Manhattan Projects more than makes up for it with its premise of science gone terribly wrong. Pitarra’s Quitely-ish thick lines are the perfect foil for Hickman’s dense script.
5. BPRD: Hell On Earth by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Tyler Crook, and various artists (Dark Horse)
B.P.R.D. moved to an ongoing format this year, which is a testament to the most consistently excellent shared world in comics today.
While the term “post-apocalyptic”gets used a lot in genre fiction (so much so that it’s morphed into a genre of its own) these days, B.P.R.D. is a unique beast in that’s its actually the tale of an ongoing apocalypse. This, quite literally, is the story of how a world ends. That its a world very similar to our own, makes it all the more terrifying.
4. Prophet by Brandon Graham and various artists (Image)
Prophet was originally a character created by Rob Liefeld in the 1990’s. I’ve never read any comics starring him since he’s a character created by Rob Liefeld in the 1990’s. Enter Brandon Graham. Whomever came up with the idea of putting one of indie comics hottest artist/writers in charge of a failed never-was character from the ’90’s that absolutely no-one wanted to see again, deserves a raise.
Graham has put together a massive, galaxy-spanning story here, with different versions of the same character starring in each issue, with each of those characters being drawn a different artist (all of whom are absolutely fantastic).
The thing I love about Graham’s approach to this is that he never forgets that it’s a comic. This is big sci-fi…so big that Larry Niven would be jealous. But it’s a comic first, and Graham’s “Medium Is Just As Important As Message” approach to storytelling serves this bold and ambitious book well.
3. Saga by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image)
Probably the most surprising thing about Brian Vaughn’s much anticipated return to comics is that it’s exactly as good as we hoped it would be.
It’s the story of Hazel, a baby born to a couple on opposing sides of an intergalactic civil war. And of her parents. And of the people who are trying to kill her parents. And so on.
Vaughan kept mentioning Star Wars as a major influence in the press build up to this series. That’s’ a fair comparison, especially since Vaughan realizes that huge battles and crazy aliens don’t matter much if you don’t have a character arc that the audience cares about. Theres’s also a major Romeo & Juliet influence, as this book takes the term term “star crossed lovers” to a literal level.
Fiona Staples’ work is astounding here, both in her brilliant monster designs, and her ability to convey a wide range of character emotions.
Saga is the most aptly titled book in comic shops right now. Every issue feels like an epic in its own right, and it’s embraced the serial nature of the art form whole heartedly. If you’re judging on pure entertainment, this might take the cake.
2. The Sixth Gun by Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt (Oni Press)
This comic doesn’t get that much attention these days. It should, just for the fact that its an indie book that’s made it past 25 issues. It also happens to be the best adventure comic on the stands.
Sixth Gun is a horror comic. Its also a fantasy story. It’s also a western, written by a writer that pays as much attention to character development as he does to cool concepts. This book literally has it all, put together by a fantastic artist who really could be cutting his teeth on much bigger books.
P.S. Issue 21 might be the best single silent action comic ever produced.
1. Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Image)
A brilliant mash up of horror and noir, Fatale is the product of two masters at the height of their powers.
It’s also the story of Josephine, a beautiful femme fatale that doesn’t seem to age, and seems to be able to get men to do almost anything she can imagine.
Part L.A. Noir a la Ellroy, part horror epic a la Stephenson, Fatale might be the most carefully crafted book on the stands. Brubaker and Phillips work together so well by now, that’s it’s easy to forget that they’re two different people. The plotting is tightly crafted and precise. The art is moody, yet descriptive.
Best of all, I still have no idea where this book is taking me. This, my friends, is an old fashioned mystery. The trappings might be unconventional, but it’s a mystery just the same. And I’m hooked.
Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire (Vertigo), Batman by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo (DC), Lil’ Depressed Boy by Stephen Struble & Sina Grace (Image), The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard (Image), Mudman by Paul Grist (Image), Mind The Gap by Jim McCann & Rodin Esquejo; (Image), Snarked by Roger Landridge (Boom),Wasteland by Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten; (Oni), Courtney Crumrin by Ted Naifeh (Oni), Batgirl by Gail Simone & Adrian Syaf (DC), I Vampire by Joshua Hale Fialkov & Andrea Sorrentino (DC) , Animal Man by Jeff Lemire & Travis Foreman (DC)
Series that would have been considered if they had put out more issues in 2012:
Northlanders by Brian Wood & various artists (Vertigo), Secret by Jonathan Hickman & Ryan Bodenheim (Image), Punisher Max by Jason Aaron & Steve Dillon (Marvel), Rasl by Jeff Smith (Cartoon Books), Powers by Brian Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Icon), Reed Gunther by Shane Houghton & Mike Houghton (Image), Godland by Joe Casey & Tom Scioli (Image)