Best Comics Of 2012: Best Ongoing Comics

To qualify a book must have produced at least 5 issues in 2012. That is all.

20. Chew by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)

1234285Chew 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-Panzerfaust_4Peter 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)

Rachel Rising 11I’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)

Near-Death_6_FullIt’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)

Unwritten_Vol_1_34_TextlessThe 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)

hwky 2Probably 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)

UltSpid1201The 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)

fury-max-6This 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)

250px-Mind_MGMT_cover_1Matt 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)

IMG111091This 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)

conan1The 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)

Scalped_60_Full-671x1024It 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)

daredevil_18_coverAn 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)

goon42After 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)

The-Manhattan-Projects_7-455x700Feynman. 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)

17968B.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_29Prophet 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)

Saga8CoverProbably 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)

SIXTH-GUN-21-COVERThis 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)

nycc-brubaker-gets-fatale-20111014024818983-000A 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.

Honourable Mention:

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)

Best Comics Of 2012: Best Collections/Translations/Reprints

There is really only one rule that really matters for this category: It has to have been printed before, either digitally or physically. This could be a collection of previously printed comics, a translation of work that’s been available in other countries, or a compilation of work that’s been previously only available on the web.

10.  Torpedo Vol. 4 & 5 by Enrique Sanchez Abduli & Jordi Bernet (IDW)

Torpedo_Vol5One of the better translation attempts in recent years has been IDWs beautiful hardcover collections of these striking Italian crime comics by Enrique Sanchez and Jordi Bernet. On the surface, these are short black and white pieces about a tough immigrant hood trying to claw his way up the criminal ladder in 1930′s New York, but in actuality these are really slice of life stories, and they cover everything from crime, to the immigrant experience, to sex, and everything in between. In some ways this is a companion piece to Will Eisner’s Spirit character, just told from the viewpoint of the villain.

P.S. If what you just read feels a little familiar, it’s because it’s word for word what I wrote about Torpedo Vol. 3 last year. I regret nothing.

9. American Barbarian by Tom Scioli (Adhouse)

AmericanBarbarian-620x911Adhouse reaffirms their commitment to quality bookmaking with this beautiful hardcover collection of Tom Scioli’s bizarre adventure web comic. Although not the most accessible comic on this list, Sciollis love letter to the Kamandi era of Jack Kirbys’ resume has plenty to recommend about it. It’s post apocalyptic madness masked in a blanket of four colour craziness. Now that Godland is wrapping up I’d love to see Scioli play in this sandbox again.

8. Hellboy Library Edition Volume 5 by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)

18149I keep saying that as long as Dark Horse keeps producing these oversized collections of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics, I’ll keep putting them on my Best Of Lists. Well, next year’s Volume 6 might be the last time we see one for a while, as for the first time in Hellboy history there won’t be enough material in the can to produce the next volume.  There is plenty in this volume to keep us occupied until Mignola catches up, with Mignola and Fegredo’s The Wild Hunt & Darkness Calls being the centerpiece of the whole thing. It’s a little ironic that Fegredo’s last work on Hellboy for the foreseeable future ended up being the best work of his career to date.

7. Creepy Presents: Richard Corben by Richard Corben, various. (Dark Horse)

20025Collections like this are usually saved for artists at the end of their careers. But judging by Corben’s prodigious output in 2012 he’s just getting started. This book collects much of Corben’s early work for seminal 70s horror anthologies like Creepy and Eerie. As such, some of it is pretty raw, without the discipline that would be become a hallmark of his later art. But it’s that very roughness that drew people to his work in the first place. Much of this work still retains its creepy, gothic power even now, 30 years later.

6. Flex Mentallo: Man Of Muscle Mystery – The Deluxe Edition by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (Vertigo)

flexmentalloAlthough this is one of the most incomprehensible pieces of gobbledygook in Grant Morrison’s career (and that, my friends, is saying something), it also happens to be one of the best pieces of gobbledygook in Frank Quitely’s career, which is also saying something. I’m not sure why these two seem to be able to bring such memorable work out of each other, but I’m not complaining. Mentallo has been out of print in english for over 15 years, and so this beautifully put together deluxe hardcover was a welcome addition to  my library this year. It’s a dazzling piece of comic art that still holds up after all these years.

5. Blacksad: A Silent Hell by Juan Diaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido (Dark Horse)

18839It was a toss-up as to which category this would go under, but ultimately I chose reprints since it was published in Europe last year. There is always been a smell of gimmick around the Blacksad books, and  I don’t actually believe that there would be much interest in these generic noir detective tales if a talking animal wasn’t the star of them. But it’s that anthropomorphic sensibility that makes Blacksad work as well as it does. A Silent Hell lacks some of the emotional weight that previous Blacksad books have, but Guarnido’s lush artwork more than makes up for it.

4. King City by Brandon Graham (Image)

kingcity_tp_web72In a world where everything seems to be available all of the time, it’s a little odd that finding physical copies of Brandon Graham’s King City has been almost impossible up until now. After years of wrangling with King City’s original publisher, Graham finally was able to put out a soft cover collection of all 12 issues of this indie epic this year. Graham is really in a league of his own here, with a unique blend of dystopian sci-fi & indie hipness that you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere.

3.  MonsterMen & Other Scary Stories by Gary Gianni (Dark Horse)

18939Before the current crop of mediocre “monster hunter” comics stank up the stands on a regular basis, there was MonsterMen, a gothic masterpiece by one of the most underrated artists in comic history. This comprehensive collection of the entire MonsterMen oeuvre is long overdue, and to Gianni’s credit doesn’t feel dated at all. What the book lacks in plotting complexity it more than makes up for with Gianni’s detailed, meticulous line work, and experienced storytelling sensibilities. They literally don’t make them like this anymore, and the industry is worse off as a result.

2. Journalism by Joe Sacco (Metropolitan Books)

Journalism cover001By this point, Joe Sacco is considered to be  the father of comics journalism as we know it. He got that title by the strength of longer themed landmark books like Palestine, and Safe Area Gorazde. And so something like Journalism, a collection of shorter pieces he’s done for various publications over the years, comes as a bit of a departure. It shouldn’t though, as shorter works of journalism is something Sacco has been doing for years. What Sacco represents for me is the flexibility and possibility of comic books. It’s in many ways the ultimate storytelling medium. The fact that Sacco was one of the first to figure out that it could be used to capture realism for the purpose of journalism as well should be lauded more than it is. If I had to pick a favorite of Sacco’s pieces here, it would be “The Unwanted” , a 2009 piece about the recent influx of African refugees into Malta.

1. David Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil Born Again Artist’s Edition by David Mazzucchelli & Frank Miller  (IDW/Marvel)

david-mazzucchelli-daredevil-born-againAlthough “deluxe versions” of previously published material have been on the market for some time, I don’t think there’s a better showcase of the medium than IDWs absolutely stunning Artists Editions.  These over-sized collections are essentially the closest we can get to comics in their original form, and as close to “straight off the drawing board” as we can get in a commercially viable format. They remind us that comics, despite their storytelling potential, are ultimately a visual medium.  IDW released several of these this year, but to me their shiniest jewel to date has to be David Mazzuchelli’s Daredevil – Born Again. It’s one of the greatest superhero stories of all time, and this oversized black and white edition really showcases just how important Mazzuchelli was to the critical and commercial success of this book.

P.S. Yes, that’s actual raised Braille you see on the cover. This, my friends, is a cool fucking book.

Best Comics Of 2012: Best Anthologies

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)

Kick_GCv2_150dpi-234x300In 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)

20303It 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)

IMG120599If 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)

2012-06-02-rocketeer03Although 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)

21564A 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)

Creator Owned Heroes_5For 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)

JKP01_covercropThere 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)

ghostsAlthough 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)

1812Although 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)

17997At 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

Talking to Professionals: Ed Brisson

Ed Brisson is one of the hottest up-and-coming writers in comics. His first mini series is called Comeback. It’s a time travel/crime story, and issue one comes out on Wednesday. Ed is also also a friend of mine, dating back to the mid-90’s when I ran a record store down the street from the video place he worked at. I also owe him $5, which he probably thinks I’ve forgotten about.

He was nice enough to answer a few questions about Comeback, and his career in general.

A story about time travel and crime not named Looper.

Q: How mad were you when you saw the first trailer for Looper?

Steaming mad. Running down the street screaming, flipping over cars, burning down small villages angry.

When the trailer for Looper came out in April, we were already well into production of Comeback. The first issue had already been drawn and Michael was onto the second issue. So, when I saw this trailer, I kinda threw my hands in the air and was like: YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! It was funny because it didn’t feel like the concept was the same, but the opposite. In Looper people are sent from the future to be killed, in Comeback people are brought from the past to be saved. But even that was too close for me.

Thankfully, I’ve since seen the film and the two are completely different things. There’s very little that Comeback has in common with Looper, other than a gritty take on time travel. Even how past events affect the future are handled differently.

Q: I know you’ve been trying to land a creator owned series for a while now. How deliberately designed was your pitch? Did you have a dozen things that you threw at Shadowline, and this was the one that stuck? Or did you know how strong it was right from the get go?

I wouldn’t say Comeback was any less or more deliberate than any other pitch that I’ve done in the past. The primary thing is that the pitch has to be something that I’d want to read. I’ve approached all my pitches with the same process: what would interest me as a reader? What type of comic do I want to see that I’m not finding at my local comic shop?

With Comeback, it was one of those projects that, as soon as the pieces fell into place I thought: “This could be something really special.” Thankfully Michael Walsh (the artist on Comeback) and Jordie Bellaire (the colourist on Comeback) felt the same way.

Q:Tell me one thing about Comeback that no one else knows.

Right up until before we pitched it, it was called 67 Days. The title change was a last-minute thing.

Q: You decided to go full-time into comics a few years ago, and the results are starting to pay off, with things like Comeback. What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about the comic biz in that time?

I’ve learned just how small the industry is. It’s pretty amazing that once you’re working in the industry, you’re never more than one degree of separation away from anyone else in the industry. I’ve met and talked to a lot of people whose work I love and admire just because they and I have mutual friends and ended up hanging out at a convention.

As a creator, I’m starting to realize how much effort goes into promoting your work. I’ve been hustling for the past two months to line up interviews and reviews for the book and now, days before the first issue of Comeback hits stores, I’m doing 3-4 interviews a day. I’m not complaining, mind you!

Q: So far, your comic book stories are fairly finite. Any interest in a larger story? What are your next projects?

Absolutely. I’d love to do larger, 12 issue stories down the line. At this point though, I’m focusing on 5 issue mini-series and want to stay with that for a while. I am really only interested in working projects that have a definite ending. I don’t think it’s fair to a reader to keep stringing them along with cliff hanger after cliff hanger. If anything, I’d love to do a series of five issue minis where at the end of each fifth issue, we have what would be a satisfying ending if we decide to pull the pin on it.

But, for now, just five issue minis. If one is successful enough to warrant a follow-up, I’d be down for doing that – providing the series is one that has room for new stories. The last thing I want to do is force another series just for the sake of keeping things going, shoe horning in something that doesn’t really fit or retreading the same ground. It’d have to be something that works naturally. Also, I don’t think that I’d want to keep anything as an ongoing with 5 issue arcs. I’m more interested in the BPRD model where every new arc is its own series.

Q: Pro-Tip time: I think of you as a strong dialogue writer. With something like Comeback, what comes first: Fully forming a character, or dialogue, with character evolving from said dialogue?

It’s a combo of the two. I won’t start writing a character until I have a pretty good idea of who they are and what they’re about, but they never really come alive to me until I get in and start working their dialog. Once that happens, then they become more fully formed and the way that I write the dialog informs a lot of how I develop the character from then onward.

Q: In a lot of ways, Murder Book seems to have been the girl who brought you to the dance, comics wise. What’s next for Murder Book? Any plans to collect the whole thing?

I’m working on a couple of new Murder Book scripts that I’ll be sending out to artists soon. I’ve got one artist locked down for sure and will be on the search for another soon. My hope is that I can build it to about 200 pages of story and then see if I can’t find a publisher who’d be interested in collecting it all into one trade – would be amazing to get it out as a hardcover, but that feels like a bit of a pipe dream at this point.

Right now, I have approx 130 pages of Murder Book complete. I suspect that it’d be late 2013 before I have enough for the trade. It’s important to me that it’s a really thick book, that it’s a lot of bang for a readers buck.

Q: You’re also an in demand letterer for comic books. As someone who has to transcribe their words onto comic book pages, what’s the worst mistake you’ve seen another writer make. Please, name names.

I won’t name names, but the big thing I see with writers is over-writing. On average, you can fit about 35 words of dialog in each panel. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but 35 words fills a 9-grid sized panel full. With a lot of new writers, I’ll get pages that have something like 150 words per panel. Just not do-able. Also, a lot of writers tend to over describe with captions. In so many cases, you can remove almost all of the captions in a comic and still have it make sense (I’m talking strictly about new comic writers here). It’s a combination of not having confidence in your own writing and not trusting your artist’s storytelling abilities.

Another big problem is with new artists who don’t consider how much space text will take up in a panel or who is talking in each panel. Will get a lot of artists doing extreme close-ups in a panel that has 60 words of dialog or will place characters in the reverse speaking order, which causes a lot of issues when trying to letter in a readable way.

Q: What was the worst part about working at that video store on Broadway in the late-90s?


The boss was a weasel. He was always scamming us out of pay, never providing proper pay stubs and there was always this fear that the place would be seized for non-payment of taxes, rent, whatever. Always a lot of collection calls.

The parking lot behind the video store was patrolled by tow trucks constantly. I’m sure that the owner had a deal with them where he got a cut from every car towed from there. So, if someone parked there and went to another store: TOWED. Then we’d have to deal with the fallout. At least twice a day people would come in and scream at us about it. I once had this angry Russian dude who’d been towed lean over the counter and demand that I get his car back (which I couldn’t) because “he could make people disappear.”

Q: The best?

Working at a video store! I loved working at a video store. This was before I had any real world responsibilities, so I’d bring home and watch a couple of movies every night. Also, the store was never terribly busy, so I’d watch a ton of movies in store. I used to also get a lot of reading done there as well.

Comeback #1 is published by Shadowline/Image, and will be available at finer comic shops everywhere on Wednesday.  It’s quite good. You should buy it. 

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man directed by Mark Webb

At this point, we needed another film adaptation of the Spider-Man story about as much as we needed a movie that showed the secret stripper origin of Channing Tatum. Alas, this summer we somehow ended up with both.

The story is this: Peter Parker (played by Andrew Garfield, whose seems to think that he was actually rebooting Sleeper, since his entire performance here is a tribute to early 70’s Woody Allen)  is a really good-looking white kid from a middle class family who happens to be the second best science student at a high school that actually has science in its name. And so he gets crowned president of the school, and spends the rest of the film being carryed around on the backs of his fellow pupils. Oh wait, no. He actually gets picked on by the other kids, which is a little like Noam Chomsky being teased at an Occupy Wall Street Rally for being a little too far to the left .

That joke was originally a sports metaphor, but then I realized that no one would believe that I knew anything about LeBron James. Which is true.

But I digress. Parker lives with Martin Sheen and Sally Field, who have been taking care of him ever since his family abandoned him for a plot device to be named later. He happens to find some formulas (forumulae? Forumulets?) left by his dad, which leads him to look up his famous scientist father on Google for the first time ever. Or was it Bing? Or Yelp. Maybe ChristianMingle. One of those. So he tracks down his father’s science buddy, gets bitten by a irradiated spider, and then proceeds to gain spider powers. There’s also a talking lizard, and a love interest that’s actually somewhat believable, and Uncle Ben dies. Or was it Uncle Ben dies ? Damn spoiler buttons.

Anyways, here’s what I liked:

The relationship between Peter Parker & Gwen Stacey.  I put this first, as it’s the best part of the movie, and the strongest case Sony (and Webb) have for convincing me that this project needed to exist. Emma Stone & Andrew Garfield have a sexual charisma that is not only rare for this type of film, but is actually so palpable that one finds himself hoping that Sony realizes these two should have been remaking 9 1/2 Weeks instead. In every scene they’re in, they look like they can’t wait for the camera to turn off so that they can screw like bunnies.

Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, 5 minutes before making Peter Parker a man in the Midtown High bathrooms.

Secondly…Umm…I just realized that was the only thing I really liked about the movie.

It’s not that there is anything “wrong” about this piece. It’s fine, really. But if you are going to “reboot” a franchise in which the last film only hit theatres 5 years ago, you better have a pretty great reason for doing so. Sony has about 750,000,000 great reasons for doing so, but none of them matter very much to me. And it’s not as if I have fond memories of Sam Raimi’s bombastic trilogy either. There was plenty of fromage in all 3 instalments (though slightly less in the second, to be sure), with the last one being one of the worst superhero films ever made. There’s less that’s “wrong” here, and I think a strong case could be argued that the tighter dialogue, and stronger cast, definitely made this a slightly more accessible offering than Raimi’s films.

But there’s nothing here that screams out “I NEEDED TO BE MADE” here, and nothing that wouldn’t have fit in (with some tweaking, to be sure) as the fourth film in an existing franchise. It’s a slightly fresher take on the origin, but not so fresh as to convince me that Webb’s vision is so different from Raimi’s (As Nolan’s on Batman was from Burton’s, for example) that this film needed to be made.

That really doesn’t matter though. What matters is this: Does this movie stand on its own two legs as a credible adventure movie? The answer is sure. Barely, but sure. As stated, the characters have a depth to them that allows me to forgive the inexcusably bad CG (Seriously. How Sony can justify CG this terrible in 2012 is beyond me. I know Webb is a character guy first, but there’s really no excuse for the poor rendering, and choppy action sequences).

And the nice tweaks to the Uncle Ben sub-plot (The only absolutely indispensable part of any Spider-Man origin), as well as the very strong motivations for Peter post spider-bite, make up for the hackneyed “LET”S DESTROY EVERYONE JUST CAUSE ARGH!!” motivations of the villain. Rhys Ifans, Emma Stone, and Martin Sheen are the bedrock of a solid cast, and a decent script and some nice direction from Webb made this a fairly well-rounded summer action movie. It’s just not one you need to see. The action scenes don’t have much action in them, and there’s never any real sense of danger to any of the cast, even for the ones that actually die. In fact, it’s only when this action movie stops pretending to be an action movie, that it works on any level at all.

P.S. Peter Parker should not be cool. Ever.

Rating: B-

Best Comics Of 2011: Best Web/Digital Comics Of The Year

This is the first time I’ve done this category, which says more about me being an ignoramus than it does the format itself. However, due to my wife being the greatest wife in wife history and getting me an iPad for my birthday last year, and due to the fact that I’m actually writing one of these now, I now  can finally give this sub-medium the attention it deserves. A webcomic is a comic that is a) designed primarily for the internet, and is b) that’s about it. They can be one-shots, cartoons, or serial in nature. Most of the popular webcomics seem to essentially ape the old newsprint funnies format, which is 2-3 panels of set-up, and then punchline. They’re usually comedy based, with loose or non-existent continuity. In my experience, most of the popular examples of that style are pretty weak, and overly rely on a familiarity with the requisite subject matter. The one thing I’ve learned this year is that this truly is the future of comics, and that some of the work being done on the web is equal to (or sometimes better) than what’s happening in print. And best of all? Most of them are completely free.

20. BattlePugs by Mike Norton

Yes, it’s a barbarian riding a gigantic Pug. This REALLY shouldn’t work, and at first glance I thought this was another example of the overly cutesy one-note joke BS that can be found in most webcomics these days. But in truth this is a well-plotted, comedy fantasy series. The gigantic Pug is just an added bonus.

19. Bahrain: Lines In Ink Lines In The Sand by Josh Neufeld

Although relatively new to the limelight, Josh Neufeld has officially joined the ranks of professional cartoonist-journalists like Joe Sacco and Guy DeLisle. Bahrain is the story of two Bahrainian cartoonists caught on opposite sides of the ideological fence, and their  differing interpretations of the protests that happened in that country this year. Like Neufeld’s A.D. After The Deluge showed, he focuses more of the effects of large events rather than the causation of said events. In short, he focuses on smaller, more personal stories. This would have been higher in the ranks if not for it only being a one-shot 18 page piece, but it’s an extremely moving piece.

18. Touch Sensitive by Chris Ware

One of the few strips I can’t actually paste a link to, as it was created by Ware exclusively for the McSweeney’s app for the iPad. Look at me being all literary and stuff. This was a 14 page one-shot story, but I included it because a) it’s Chris Ware, and therefore: amazing, and b) it’s the only comic I’ve read so far that has fully utilized tablet technology to its fullest potential, in that each page has swipeable features that add to the context of the story. Although I wouldn’t recommend anybody purchasing this story unless they’re already a fan of Ware’s work, it’s a great example of what’s possible with new digital technology.

17. Freak Angels by Warren Ellis & Paul Duffield

Years from now, Freak Angels is going to be heralded as a giant in its medium, not only for it’s relatively high quality, but also for it being the frontrunner of a new business model for comics: Give away good product for free, and people will want to pay for a deluxe version of it. It’s simple, and in the case of Freak Angels, it worked. Although I can’t say I would rank it among my favourite Ellis comics, I think the sheer ballsiness of the concept more than make up for any other issues I may have with the strip. Freak Angels ended this year, but Avatar was happy enough with the success of it that they’ve got several other webcomics planned.

16. The Oatmeal by Matthew Inman

Although other comics might be higher on my list, none make me laugh out loud as much as The Oatmeal. There’s no serial story here, just random charts, graphs, and musings about grammar, air travel, and food. Inman’s sense of comedic timing is stronger than most of his comedic comic competitors, and that, combined with his simple and clear art-style, make The Oatmeal one of the sites I go to the most.

15. Gingerbread Girl by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover

Tobin and Coover have been getting a lot of attention in the superhero world in recent years, but they’re still setting time aside to tell the type of small, quirky stories that they each do so well. Gingerbread Girl is a character study of Annah Billips, a cute bisexual hipster who can’t decide whether or not she likes boys or girls, and in fact can’t even decide whether or not she’s crazy or sane. It’s a cute story, and Coover’s clean, classic art style is a breath of fresh air for those of us sick of overly dense comic storytelling.

14. Godsend by Jesse Bausch and Meg Gaundy

One of the most ambitious strips on the list, Godsend is about what happens when a prophecy fails, even though it’s absolutely essential that the prophecy comes true. That’s the dilemma posed to Jaime and Simon, the heroes of this strange and charming little comic. As with many of these strips, seeing if the creators can capitalize on a brilliant premise is half the fun of going back to it every week. So far so good.

13. Hard Graft by Peter Vine, German Erramouspe, and Jule Rivera

A look at present day Afghanistan, as seen through the eyes of two mercenaries and a photojournalist. This isn’t perhaps as polished as some of the other strips on this list, but it is getting better with every panel, and the commitment to accuracy and quality is obvious with every page. Fans of Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country would be well served by this ambitious strip.

12.  The Loneliest Astronauts by Kevin Church & Ming Doyle

This is the story of Dan and Steve. They are astronauts. All of the rest of their crew is dead. They are coping. Barely. And hilariously. This strip ended in November, in a depressing and funny way, which pretty much sums up the way I feel about the whole thing. The strip managed to be humorous, poignant, and nihilistic all at the same time.

11. Old City Blues by Giannis Milonogiannis

As a futuristic big city cyberpunk police-thriller, Old City Blues is hardly original in concept (see I Robot, Judge Dredd, Blade Runner). But in execution, its first rate. While the writing and plotting are fairly generic, it’s Milongiannis’ beautiful black and white action art which is the real star of this show. You may find more original webcomics out there right now, but you won’t find many that look this good.

10. Americus by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill

This one is cheating a bit as it’s not available online anymore. However, the web was its first home, and you can now buy it as a paperback from First Second books. It’s the story of Neal Barton, a young boy who wants nothing more than to read the latest installment of his favourite fantasy series: The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde.Unfortunately, Christian fundamentalists, having heard that kids are actually reading for pleasure (GASP!) want the book banned from the library in Americus due to its immoral content and heresy, and so it’s up to Neal to fight back against the forces of censorship and intolerance. Although a little sanctimonious at times, Americus is a story that more than anything glorifies the simple act of reading for pleasure. Highly recommended for kids.

9. Axe Cop by Malachai Nicolle & Ethan Nicolle

Axe Cop is the story of well….Axe Cop. He’s a cop that has an axe. He is joined by his partner Flute Cop (spilled dinosaur blood turns him into Dinosaur Soldier, but then an avocado and Uni-Baby’s misplaced horn turn him into Uni-Avocado Soldier. He returns to being Flute Cop, only to become Ghost Cop, Drag-Tri-Ghostacops Rex, and Viking Cop), Uni-Baby (a baby with a unicorn horn), Sockarang (he has socks for arms. They can be thrown like boomerangs), and Wexter (a Tyrannosauraus Rex with Gatling guns for arms) on their mission to fight evil. That’s it. Now, if that sentence didn’t convince you to go out and buy a thousand copies, then I think you’re a communist. On the surface, Axe Cop is the gimmickiest of gimmicks: a comic written by a six-year-old boy. When you dig deeper though, you realize that it’s really the ultimate tribute to pure imagination, unfettered by logic, by rationality, or by the rules of storytelling. Ethan Nicolle should be commended for taking the random musings of his younger brother and turning them into a true work of art.

8. World Of Hurt by Jay Potts

It’s tempting to dismiss World Of Hurt as a simple parody, but it’s anything but. What it really is, is an homage to a genre that gets paid tribute to often, but rarely as lovingly and painstakingly as it is here: Blaxploitation. The strip deals with the continuing adventures of Isaiah “Pastor” Hurt, street-savy hero-for-hire who regularly battles drug-dealers, revolutionaries, and corrupt cops in an effort to keep his streets clean, while trying to make a living by doing so. The dichotomy of Potts using 4 panel techniques used by the likes of Milt Canniff and  Alex Raymond in the 1930s and 1940s, while telling stories based on a genre made popular in the 1970’s should be unsettling, but it really works. Potts sense of timing, and his talent at storytelling is improving with every story arc.

7. Cura Te Ipsum by Neal Bailey And Dexter Wee

Imagine that you’re not alone in the universe. Imagine that you discover that there are numerous versions of you, in numerous permutations of what you consider to be reality. Then imagine that one of those versions is the worst villain in the history of the world, and that he wants nothing more than to destroy the very fabric of the universe as we know it, and it’s up to you to stop him. That is the premise of Cura Te Ipsum, and it’s a great one. Intrigued? Of course you are. Ambition is the watchword for this strip. Bailey and Wee have created a large, epic canvas on which to tell their alternate reality-hopping adventure, and it’s one that seems to be only growing in scope with every panel and page. And although I keep expecting the strip to collapse under its own weight one of these days, it only seems to be getting better and bigger. It’s an action-packed sci-fi thriller, in the truest sense.

6. Nathan Sorry by Rich Barrett

On 9-11, Nathan Sorry was supposed to die. He didn’t. This is the story of what he did after, and why he made the choices he did. Ostensibly a 9-11 story, what Nathan Sorry is really about is consequences. It’s a political thriller of sorts, but the thrills come more from the well-developed characters and their small-town dramas than they do any over-arching political message. It’s more Robert Ludlum than Tom Clancy in its approach to highs and lows, but fans of well-crafted comic books would be well-served by this smart, engaging ne0-noir.

5. Lady Sabre And The Pirates Of The Ineffable Aether by Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett

Pirates. Steampunk. Pretty girls. I doubt you need more than those three things to create a great comic, but to Lady Sabre Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett also add great characters, smart tension, and some of the best art you’ll see in comics at all this year. We’re starting to see more comic veterans follow Warren Ellis’ Freak Angels business model (give away the webcomic for free, then charge for the collections and merchandise), and Lady Sabre is proving to be an excellent example of what A list talent can do with the burgeoning sub-medium of webcomics.  I can honestly say that there isn’t a better looking webcomic out there right now. Burchett seems to be relishing the opportunity to show what can he do to a new audience, and every new page of this strip is a revelation in how to build an evocative fantasy adventure.

4. The Abaddon by Koren Shadmi

The Abaddon starts with a man named Ter. He knocks at the door of an apartment, looking for a new home. He’s welcomed graciously by the residents, but we find out quickly that mystery abounds. Not only do the residents not seem to know anything about the place they are living in, or how they got there, but even Ter himself doesn’t have any recollection of how he arrived, or even what his real name is.  To create real mystery, you must create real tension, and Shadmi weaves tension like a spider. Every panel strengthens the characters, and every line of dialogue enhances the mystery. The art is bold and unconventional, and it’s absolutely perfect for setting the tone that Shadmi is going for here. If you love a great mystery, this needs to be a regular stop of yours.

3. Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

 Rather than a continual serial story, Hark! is a series of unrelated strips, ranging from one panel to several pages. The subject matter ranges from pop culture, to politics, to literary fiction, but the main focus here is on history. Or if you’d like, making fun of history. Kate Beaton’s got a knack for finding the humour in pretty much everything, or to put it more accurately, creating humour out of pretty much everything. Although a lot of the work is slightly absurdist in nature, there’s an intelligent grasp of the inherent silliness in how seriously we take our selves, and how seriously we take our history. What I love most about Beaton’s work is how much it demands of the reader. If you don’t know the historical events she’s lampooning, you won’t get the joke. Same deal if you haven’t read Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. There were a lot of great Hark! strips this year, but my personal favourite might be Beaton’s take of what famous books might be about going only by their Edward Gorey covers.

2. The Abonimable Charles Christopher by Karl Kerschl

Kerschl is Stewart’s studio partner, though the only real similarity between the two of them is a constant commitment to quality. While Sin Titulo is a tight thriller, Charles Christopher is a meandering fantasy, and a beautiful one at that. Charles Christopher is, in fact, a sasquatch. Or a yeti. Kerschl never actually says, and that’s ok. He lives in a forest with a multitude of talking animals, who all have their own dramas and subplots. The strip jumps between the adventures of Charles himself, the denizens of the forest, and flashbacks involving Vivol, a bear that serves as an elder statesman of sorts for the strip. Although Kerschl is taking his time at unraveling some of the comics secrets, the journey he takes you on while getting there is the real reason I love this strip as much as I do.

1. Sin Titulo by Cameron Stewart

Stewart is getting a well-deserved reputation in the big leagues for his work on books like Batman & Robin, but Sin Titulo is where his heart is, despite the inconsistent updates. Here’s the plot: When going through his estranged dead grandfather’s personal belongings, a man discovers a picture of his grandfather with a beautiful young woman that he’s never seen before. Intrigued, he goes to his grandfather’s grave, only to see the same woman there. And the mystery begins. What ensues is one of the most compelling, complex, and sometimes convoluted mysteries I’ve read in comics this year. Stewart has said that his prime inspiration here was the TV series Lost. He wanted to create a narrative that had numerous seemingly unsolvable mysteries attached to it. He’s accomplished that, in spades. The only question now is whether or not he can deliver on the promise to actually shed some light on the previous 150 pages of weirdness and strangeness. If he does, he’ll have accomplished no mean feat: The best long form web comic to date.

Best Comics Of 2011: Best Anthologies Of The Year

Rules are fairly simple for this category. This could be a one-shot, a mini series, or an ongoing comic, along as multiple stories and creative teams are involved.

8. POOD edited by Geoff Grogan

A  new newsprint fold-out format style comic strip anthology zine that only lasted four issues, but man, what a ride. What I liked about this was the boldness of the concept. There’s no money to be made here, no grand experiment designed to revolutionize the industry. This is just people who love making comics, making comics. A shame it didn’t last longer.

7. Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword edited by Samantha Robertson, Patrick Thorpe, and Scott Allie.

Over 80 years later, the concepts created by Robert E. Howard still grab hold of our imagination like nothing before or since. This is a solid adventure anthology featuring famous Howard characters like Conan and Kull, and not so famous ones like El Borak and Sailor Steve Costigan. This is capital A adventure storytelling, with the likes of Roy Thomas, Gil Kane, Barry Windsor-Smith, and Tim Bradstreet doing the heavy lifting.

6. CBLDF Presents Liberty Annual 2011 edited by Bob Shreck (Image)

An oldie, but a goodie. The Comic Book Legal Defence Fund has been putting out these annual anthologies for a while now as a fundraising tool for their legal efforts. This year’s issue utilized the ‘It Gets Better” anti-gay bullying meme created by Dan Savage, and featured plenty of A list talent like Mark Waid, J.H. Williams, and Judd Winick. This was probably the best one-shot anthology I read this year, with way more hits than misses, and more than a few stories that stuck with me for days afterwards. I’m having a hard time picking one favourite, but Matt Wagner’s Sympathy From The Devil Grendel feature might have been the very best of a an exceptional bunch. I really wish that more anthologies of this quality were produced regularly. The fact that the proceeds are going to a worthy cause is an added bonus.

5. The Unexpected / Strange Adventures edited by Karen Berger, various (Vertigo)

Vertigo used to be the undisputed king of comic anthologies, but that’s gone away now that Axel Alonso is at Marvel, and now that DC seems to treat Vertigo the way you would the smart kid in your class who can’t speak english. There were two exceptions to this downward spiral this year, and both of these genre anthologies were often good enough to recall just how great this company used to be at this sort of this. The sci-fi themed Strange Adventures is the slightly superior title, with some stellar work by Jeff Lemire, Kevin Colden, Ross Campbell, and Peter Milligan, and with a great sneak-peek at Brian Azzarello and Ed Risso’s Spaceman. The Unexpected features more of a horror bent, with its very best stories coming early at the hands of Dave Gibbons, Josh Dysart and Farel Dalrymple, and Alex Grecian and Jill Thompson. Oh, and Denys Cowan. Yep. Now you wish you bought this, yes?

4. Rocketeer Adventures 1-4 edited by Scott Dunbier (IDW)

This was WAY better than it had any right to be, but I shouldn’t be surprised, because you get what you pay for. And in this case, IDW paid for the services of people like John Cassady, Kurt Busiek, Mike Mignola, and Mike Allred. For those of you not familiar with the Rocketeer, he was a pulp hero created in the 1980’s by famed animator Dave Stevens. They made a movie. It was good. Look it up. Stevens never did more than a handful of stories with the character, and so IDW tried to rectify the situation with this, the very definition of a labour of love. Not only are these stories a fitting tribute to one of the unheralded greats of 1980’s and 90’s adventure comics, but they’re also fantastic reads in their own right.

3. Papercutter edited by Greg Means and Jason Martin (Tugboat Press)

A new discovery for me this year, and one that’s going to be hard to continue, as Papercutter’s distribution isn’t exactly widespread. This is indie comics at their very best, and the shoddy amateur work that often dodges indie titles is nowhere to be found here. The quality of this is pretty much staggering, considering that almost no one is reading this. These are indie comics in every sense of the word, but that doesn’t mean that the bar isn’t set high. Fans of creators like Clowes, Tomine, and Bechdel will find much to admire here.

2. Dark Horse Presents edited by Mike Richardson (Dark Horse)

One of the greatest anthologies in comic history is back, and after a few rocky issues at the start, it’s shaping up to being almost as good as it ever was. At first, new Concrete stories by Paul Chadwick were about the only reason to pick this up, but getting new Finder stories by Carla Speed McNeil, new Beasts Of Burden episodes by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson, and new Skeleton Key pages by Andi Watson have made this a monthly kick-in-the-pants. I would still like to see more exposure to new and developing creators though.

1. 2000AD edited by Matt Smith (Rebellion)

I have a confession to make, but you can’t tell anyone. Until this year, I had never read an issue of 2000AD. Heretic! Yes, I know. In North America, 2000AD  just that thing with Judge Dredd on the cover that no one ever buys. But if you’re in the UK? If you’re in the UK and love comics, chances are that 2000AD was a seminal part of your comic book experience at least at some point, and it’s as influential to comic book readers in England as Batman and Spider-Man are to people here. Years before the world had read the superhero comics of people like Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, Alan Grant, Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons, Mark Millar, John Wagner, Grant Morrison, and Neil Gaiman, they were writing mind-blowing sci-fi for 2000AD.  When I saw D’Israeli’s work on Warren Ellis’ SVK this year, it made me realize how much I liked his art, and it motivated  me to look for more. Which brought me to 2000AD.  I’ve been reading as much as I can, and the craziest thing about this hoary old chestnut, is how good the stories are now. The work being done this year in 2000AD is superior to most of the work being done by either of the big 2 American publishers right now. Yeah, I said it. It’s that good. If you like your sci-fi batshit crazy, but with a serious focus on a constant flow of new characters and new ideas, 2000AD is for you. There were quite a few good Thrills this year, but for me some of the highlights have been Rob Williams and D’Israeli’s latest installment of the venerable Low Life series, Gordon Rennie and  Tiernen Trevallion’s take on the Caballistics spin-off Inspector Harry Absalom, and Ian Edginton and Simon Davis’ Victorian sci-fi comic Ampney Crucis.