I generally DO have issues with ‘Best of the Year’ lists, because so many of them come out before the year is even over. Where’s the fun in that? There’s also the tradition of dividing things into categories—best writer, best artist, best character, and so on. I’ve done such things, and I admire their formality. But here at FM, I would simply like to highlight triumphs in storytelling structure and visual awesomeness, however that may manifest itself.
Thus, I bring you ten comic book series that made me proud to be a comics fan in 2012. (If it seems I have surreptitiously left some more obvious titles out—SAGA, FATALE, etc.—it’s because I see other websites giving them due praise, and I felt the need to point out several underrated gems.)
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion
If you had told me even a year ago that I would go totally gaga over a Batman book, I would have stared at you, raised my eyebrows, and walked away shaking my head. The fact is that I have never been much of a Batman fan. But then Scott Snyder happened, and Greg Capullo, and some of the best damn twisted storytelling this side of Kaori Yuki, and here I am, fifteen issues deep and still scratching at each new one like a dog at the kitchen door. I love this sucker so much I made a fifteen-song playlist for it full of Gotham-inspired goodness, which is my ultimate sign of affection. Bruce Wayne still bores me, but as long as this Batman keeps surrounding himself with surreal and disturbing scenarios—and Snyder is there to put affecting words to them—I’ll be buying.
2. PUNK ROCK JESUS
Writer: Sean Murphy
Artist: Sean Murphy
It sounds like a gimmick: Jesus Christ is cloned for a reality show and grows up to rebel against his captors and the show’s creators, causing chaos along the way. But this book is full of some of the most fascinating philosophical implications and character portrayals I’ve ever encountered. Sean Murphy keeps it in black and white, which works beautifully in context (and symbolism), and for such a far-out premise, the conflicts are harrowing, emotional, and completely human. The tragedy is inevitable, but you can’t stop reading. Plus, what’s not to love about a story with a “power-up” monstage consisting of science, modern history, and collecting vinyl records?
Publisher: Dark Horse
Writer: Paul Tobin
Artist: Juan Ferreyra
Let’s face it: if you haven’t yet checked out COLDER, the third issue of which just hit this week, then you must not like comics very much. This is a book that does EVERYTHING right—from conception to artistic execution. And it doesn’t take breaks. Every issue offers something new and terrifying. This week’s installment even has an element of delicate romanticism towards the middle, which might seem out of place in a horror comic, but the script and art are so spot on that the moment rides along as smoothly as the nightmarish scenarios involving Nimble Jack. It’s a shame that there are only two issues left, but I’ll be waiting with ready praise on the tip of my tongue.
4. DIAL H
Writer: China Miéville
Artist: Mateus Santoluouco
It’s obvious, really, why this title hasn’t made it onto very many ‘best of’ lists. To do some quoting of the Prodigy, this is some funky s—. It’s totally bizarre, slightly manic, and more than a little ridiculous. It’s also penned by China Miéville, whose strange cultural fantasy novels fit the same criteria and still never fail to blow my mind. Following the exploits of an overweight former druggie who “dials in” to different superpowers feels almost like a video game—one day he’s got pistons for arms, the next he’s a chicken with a hula hoop for a body (no, really). And amidst all of this, Miéville manages to keep his impeccable prose style intact. The complexities here are admirable, if not universally accessible to traditionalists. But who wants to be traditional?
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Writer: Simon Spurrior
Artists: Jeffrey Edwards, V. Ken Marion
Without trying to wrap your head around the intricacies of pseudo-physics and superhero satire that permeate these pages, just consider this: at the end of the world, a snarky supervillain and his obnoxiously moralistic nemesis are forced to work together against nebulous aliens and their own natures. Could be boring and generic, but not with Simon Spurrier at the helm, who could turn organic chemistry into an episode of MONTY PYTHON. The hilarity that results in this team-up is worth reading aloud several times just to relive the charm of the language and absurdity of the situations. Only one issue to go (out of eight), and I plan to relish every moment of it.
6. NIGHT OF 1,000 WOLVES
Writer: Bobby Curnow
Artist: Dave Wachter
Make no mistake: I am super picky about werewolves. The werewolf is “my” monster, the one that I grew up with. And I don’t mean Wolf Men, mind you—I mean honest-to-god wolves that walk upright. So imagine my glee upon discovering this criminally under-read gem written by the editor of GODZILLA and drawn by the co-creator of web comic THE GUNS OF SHADOW VALLEY. This story and its wolves aren’t trying to be hip or emotional—a tribal family is attacked by vicious spirits, and the wolves remain horrifying. It’s classic, old-fashioned storytelling with action, terror, and necessary sacrifice. A grey palate of greatness that celebrates savagery in all of its primal glory. And check out those werewolves. Yikes.
7. X-O MANOWAR
Writer: Robert Venditti
Artist: Cary Nord, Lee Garbett, various others
Emotional stories are all well and good, but where to go for excitement, aliens, and an ancient suit of magical armor? Look no further than… a reboot of a twenty-year old superhero franchise. Yes, you read that right. Valiant first launched its flagship title in 1992, and now they’ve freshened the pot with new creators and fewer gravity-defying outfits. X-O MANOWAR is everything you ever wanted out of an adventure book. It’s slick, exciting, and full of fist-pumping “YESSSS” moments more satisfying than mashed potatoes and gravy. Creepy aliens, brute force, smarmy officials, and a badass ninja. It’s so much fun you’ll forgot to turn the coffee pot off. Oh, whoops.
8. FASHION BEAST
Writers: Alan Moore, Malcom McLaren, Antony Johnston
Artist: Facundo Percio
People see FASHION BEAST and think: oh, Alan Moore. They think classics like KILLING JOKE, FROM HELL, and WATCHMEN. But what makes this script adaptation so beautiful is its complete and utter irrelevance to what most deem as “comic book material”. The fashion and nerd worlds are thought to be miles apart, so what to make of this gender-bending, Tarot-reading, glamour-killing voyage into deep designer space? Monsters can be anywhere, be it upstairs or outside in a picket line waiting to strike. Pathos can be wrought from the least likely places. The “disembodied overlord” effect takes on a whole new context next to nude mannequins and nuclear winter.
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: David Aja
I thought about leaving this one to the other websites, but then… HAWKEYE is the single most condensed example of pure joy that comics are capable of bringing. Matt Fraction creates the kind of off-the-wall atmosphere previously only at home in 70s cop shows you watched in your basement. David Aja’s paneling and character expressions bring quirk to a new level. The everyday context of Clint Barton and Kate Bishop’s adventures adds hilarity and punch, particularly in the constant (ironic) use of words like “bro”. It’s just fabulous all around, and worth buying even if your last comic book purchase was an 80s issue of MASTER OF KUNG FU.
10. THE GOON
Publisher: Dark Horse
Writer: Eric Powell
Artist: Eric Powell
The indie racks filled with countless quality options in 2012, but Eric Powell’s staple series that lands somewhere between EVIL DEAD and a retro buddy comedy continued to shine. With moonshine, that is. And giant baby-monster blobs, circus freaks, American history, and genuine moments of emotion. That’s the beauty of THE GOON, see: it can be anything it wants to be. It’s a perfect example of what I love so much about the comics medium: take the right combination of visuals and narration and you’ll get a genre-defying masterpiece capable of raising $400,000 on Kickstarter. Natch.