Saturday, December 29, 2012

Best and Worst Comics of 2012

2012 was the year I bought all of my comics completely in digital format via Comixology which actually resulted in me buying more comics this year than I have in almost a decade.

Here's my take on the Top Ten Best (followed directly by the Top Five Worst.)

10: Coming in at the bottom of this list is Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang's Wonder Woman.

While I've cooled off a bit on this title during the last year, I still love the artwork and the supporting characters (Hera and Zola) keep the book fresh. With an upcoming arc featuring the New Gods, I'm looking forward to another year with this comic.

9: Tie - Synder's Batman and Morrison's Batman Incorporated.

It may be a bit of a cheat to "tie" these two titles, but if you had told me three years ago I would be reading two Batman comics in 2012 and loving both of them, I would have thought you were crazy. While I enjoy Batman as a foil for other characters in Morrison's Justice League, I've never been a big fan of his solo series. Even when Morrison started writing his solo series a few years back, I was just never compelled to try the title. (Though I did pick up a few of the first volume of Batman Incorporated, but I think the publishing schedule and my old erratic comic shop caused me to wander away from the title.) I tried the first couple of Snyder's New 52 run on Batman and it didn't quite grab me (though I did like the visuals and the idea of the Court of Owls.) It wasn't really until Batman Inc. was relaunched and Snyder started in on his Joker arc that I really started buying either of these on a regular basis. For the time being, I'll continue on with both series. Batman Inc. is fast paced and imaginative. Batman is refreshingly scary.

8: Rick Remender's Captain America.

Of all the Marvel Now comics I tried, this is the one that felt like it tried to do something different - by doing something old. I've always been a big fan of the Jack Kirby eras of Captain America (Silver Age and after he left DC) Something about the way Kirby would just throw Captain America into a wild science-fictiony story always work struck me as a good way to go. It allowed Kirby to show us some neat concepts and visuals (his strongsuit) and then have Cap fight his way to a solution (Cap's strongsuit) with an occasional bit of heroic rhetoric. (Kirby's Omac worked a bit this way too, didn't it?) Well, Remender's Cap has our hero stranded on hostile alien world ruled by Arnim Zola populated with strange and dangerous bio engineered creatures. The first issue was a bit of wonky setup, but the second issue delivered on the premise in spades. I was afraid it was going to be a bit like Planet Hulk starring Captain America (not really a bad thing albeit...) but so far it hasn't gone that route.

7: Darwyn Cooke's MinuteMen

I was one of the people curious about how some of the Before Watchmen mini-series would turn out (some good, some bad, as I thought) but the real winner was Minutemen. Of all of the series put out under that banner, only Minutemen feels like a true spiritual companion to the original story. Regardless of your feelings on the matter Watchmen ownership, I would say that Cooke's series does everything comic fans ask of a great comic. His artwork on this series is every bit as good as anything he's done in his Parker series or New Frontier (I actually think it's better than New Frontier.) Check out this page:

And as I said, the storyline Cooke has come up with is the only one that seems a worthy addition to the original mythos. (Amanda Connor's Silk Spectre series is also good in many ways, but it's a bit light on content.)

6: Valiant's XO Manowar relaunch by Robert Venditti and Cary Nord.

Yeah, this was another surprise for me. Like a lot of people, I had my doubts about another Valiant relaunch since the last one under Acclaim had been so bad (and Dark Horse's dalliance with Dr. Solar and Samson seemed to go nowhere) but I'm happy to report that the new XO Manowar is a fitting revamp for fans of the original series. Venditti's take on the character jives perfectly with Jim Shooter's original version and Cary Nord is killing it on art. If you were a fan of the old series, then try the first couple of issues of this relaunch.

5: The Lookouts by Ben McCool and Rob Mommaerts

This is an independently published series that I picked up for my daughter but ended up enjoying myself. I've reviewed it in depth on this blog before. It has a sort of Asterix and Obelix feel to in in both tone and pacing, so if that is the sort of thing you enjoy, you'll like this as well.

4: Eric Shanower's Oz Series

This is actually an older series that came out from Dark Horse between 1986 and 1992 (A time when college and economic hardship was cutting into my comic reading quite a bit.) Fortunately for me, Dark Horse re-released the series on Comixology where I discovered it while casting about for cool kids comics. I was amazed at the quality of the art and how true to the spirit of the old Oz books these comics are. I initially bought them for my daughter but don't let the kid-centric nature of the story material fool you. While the stories are fanciful, the characters come across as very real. I would hardily recommend to anyone of any age.

3: The Only Living Boy by David Gallaher and Steve Ellis

Some people might see this as the third "kids" comic in my list but I would say that's a bit like calling Kamandi or Runaways kids comics. The Only Living Boy is the story of Erik Farrell, a 12 year old boy who runs away from home, sleeps in a cave and then wakes up on a much older earth where he finds himself fighting in an alien gladiatorial arena alongside a blonde haired insect princess and a mermaidian amazon. It's a hodge podge of fantastic and compelling characters that reminds me a bit of Marvel's Micronauts and of Neil Gaiman's Sandman. The exotic cast of characters allows Gallaher to really stretch is legs as a writer. He gives each character a distinct voice not shying away from attempting alien dialogue like so many modern writers do these days. Steve Ellis also is allowed to shine in this series as he gives us some innovative designs and fun creatures. Check out this page sample:

I see stuff like this and I'm like, That is what the New 52 should have brought us! So far, only one issue has been release, so this is a good time to jump on to the series if you haven't heard about it. Issue 2 should be coming out in January.

2. Garth Ennis' The Shadow

Man, I really had my doubts about this series, mostly because in recent years, I have felt like Ennis has strayed away from the things that drew me to him in the early days (his grasp of complex characters) and was sort of coasting on Grand Guignol bombast (especially in some of his recent Marvel work and The Boys) so, I passed on this series when it originally started up this year, but as time went on, I kept hearing good things about it on various comic podcasts, so during a .99 cent sale from Dynamite on Comixology, I tried the first couple of issues and was surprised to find myself really enjoying it. Ennis has tried very hard to capture not only the vibe of the old pulp comics, but the history of the era. The level of historical detail in the art and the story is well welcomed! The first storyline ran a bit long (6 issues) but it gave Ennis time to show us a fully fleshed out Lamont Cranston (and Shadow) who is far more than just Batman's inspiration.

1. Jason Aaron's and Esad Ribic's Thor

Like Ennis above, I had sort of lost faith in Jason Aaron. My wife swears by Scalped, but I found it got a bit over the top and had seen nothing in his Marvel work to date to separate him from Fraction or Bendis in my mind. (That is to say, a guy writing by the numbers stories that don't really do much besides punch a few fanboy buttons with a token reference to older continuity and lax characterization.) It was really because of Esad Ribic's artwork that I considered picking up the first issue of this Marvel Now relaunch. Ribic has a painterly style that makes all of his characters distinct. His Thor looks mythical but not in an overly cartoony way (which is how a lot of artists seem to go with bigger characters now days.)

And while it may have been the promise of seeing more of Ribic's Hela that got me to buy the comic, it was the story by Aaron blew me away. Here he presents three stories told at different times in Thor's life: As a younger, pre-Majolnir Thor, A modern space faring Thor and and older, Odin successing Thor. All three stories are tied together by battles with a being known as The Butcher of Gods. As the issues unfold, we see Thor battle this creature while we are giving hints to how one battle's aftermath may have set forth a horrible pattern of events afterwards. The writing is top notch. Shunning the conventional take on Thor started by Bendis, wherein Thor talks pretty much like any other 21st century male, Aaron is embracing the more traditional faux-Shakespearian speaking Thor. While it may not be completely realistic, I feel like that approach lends the comic more verisimilitude. Overall, I'm not normally a Thor reader, but this storyline has me hooked for now.

So, that's the top ten, here are the bottom five.

5. DC's 52 Amethyst relaunch

I had big hopes for this series as I'm always on the lookout for anything that might be something my daughter and I could enjoy, but as it turns out, DC has found a way to make a magical jeweled princess adventure comic that no one of any age could enjoy. Imagine the Disney Channel trying to make a young teenage version of Game of Thrones but without distinct characters or a good plot hook. Rumor has it this series will be cancelled soon. What is most disheartening is that Renae De Liz actually proposed a much more interesting looking Amethyst relaunch prior to this series.

4. Marvel Now's All New X-men

I read the first two issues of this series (enough to see it's basically Back to the Future fanfic staring the original X-men) before giving up. Bendis just really doesn't seem to care who says what how. Check out this dialogue from Emma Frost (who has always been written with an English accent.)

3. Earth 2 by James Robinson

Wow, did I have high hopes for this. Robinson's The Golden Age is one of my favorite takes on the Golden Age DC heroes and his Starman is legendary. Unfortunately, so far this series has just been another run of the mill superteam book with nothing to really distinguish it. It might as well be the umpteenth relaunch of Alpha Flight (or Freedom Fighters)

2. Space 1999

Here's a little known fact about Jim Shelley: He want's to put out a 1970's styled Science Fiction comic some day. Something along the lines of Logan's Run or Land of the Giant's. So it was with great expectations that I picked up this Space 1999 comic from Archaia. Bad move. At first I thought the the comic had a lot of exposition it had to dispense with, but as I kept reading, I realized it was just flat out overwritten. It felt like they had adapted a radio play verbatim. Check out this page as an example.

On the flipside, this may be just a case of European comic style not jiving with my American Sensibilities.

1. Geoff John's Justice League

It may seem unfair to single out this series as being any worse than any other modern superhero series, but with this book coming in at the number one spot on Comixology's top ten list so often this year, it feels like the badness was amplified by comicdom's acceptance of it. This should be DC's flagship title not only in sales, but in quality, and as it is, the storylines John's has been dishing out have really been horrible. First the anti-climatic climax to Darkseid's first appearance, then a villain who attacks you with your worst fears (or something equally cliched) and finally a battle royale between the Justice League and...wait for it...The Cheetah. Yep. You read that right. I think something like three issues were devoted to the Justice League taking down the Cheetah. Not exactly epic fare is it?
Anyway, that's my list for the year. I hope next year brings us more amazing comics and less bad ones.
- Jim


GACN said...

I took to the new X-O Manowar quickly and really enjoy it. I think this is the fourth Valiant Universe so to speak and should be the most challenging due to a lack of Solar, Turok, and Magnus. Shadowman is a favorite also, but I'm not sold on Bloodshot or Harbinger.

I dropped the new Captain America after the first issue. I had hopes for the story due to Remender, but Romita Jr.'s horrid art (I know its his ongoing style, but I prefer his earlier style) and a story that made me roll my eyes, I dropped it with no guilt.

As a rule, when DC decided to leave longtime fans like myself in the dusk so they could produce the horrid Earth-52 line, I dropped books taking place in that line. That said, Minutemen is quiet good. I enjoy it very much, and even tapped the Moloch mini.

Enjoying The Shadow (and the Masks tie-in), but I am sensing that Dynamite is about to bastardize the series ala Green Hornet by offering a zillion Shadow related titles and specials. That will most likely see me dropping the series, although I am going to try out The Shadow Year One title.

Not totally sold on Thor though. Happy to see Fraction's horrible run end, but not yet into the newness of this new run just yet.

All-New X-Men is a winner for me. I love it. Before DC's 52 travesty, you'd never see me reading X-books, but now I really enjoy them thanks to some talented creators laboring on them. Wolverine and the X-Men is also a winner that folks should consider.


MattComix said...

I really can't agree with you at all on Snyder's Batman. The thing with the Joker's face is as gratuitous as it is stupid and really just kind of indicative of the modern idea that there's no dark that's too dark for Batman. The average Batman comic now looks and feels like the lovechild of Spawn and an EC comic. Which, if you really into the idea of Batman being a horror book I guess it's fine, but I prefer Batman as a superhero detective in a superhero comicbook. With maybe the occasional horror element like ManBat or fighting a vampire.

Wonder Woman loses me because I don't think Azzarello and superheroes are a good mix at all. See Superman: For Tomorrow. His Wonder Woman stuff is just sort of Buffy meets mythology to me.

Totally agree with you on Bendis. I'm surprised the page you showed wasn't just another nine panel grid of talking heads. Cyclops is such a ruined character.

I've never been a big fan of JRjr since he switched over to his current artsyle but I may check out the current Cap based on your review. I still HATE his New Marvel NOW design.

I am however in full and total agreement with you about Justice League. The team is little more than a bunch of short-tempered and snarky teenagers being passed off as heroes. ..and you know I get not wanting to have the team be too blandly friendly, but at the same time this is the perfect example of the opposite extreme. Where the bickering superteam thing is being pushed so hard they all look like people too damn rock stupid to see they're on the same side. They're less a Justice League than a collection of miserable assholes.

Earth 2 was just another Didio Comics house standard slaugherfest.

Jim Shelley said...

@GACN - I understand how you feel about Captain America as I heard a number of the guys on ComicGeekSpeak say the same thing (about rolling your eyes.)

Like you, I read the Moloch mini. I have mixed feelings about it. I liked some stuff but didn't like some other things.

Didn't know that about the Shadow (Dynamite spinning off a lot of titles.) Yeah, I'm inclined to think that might burn people out on the series before it can really reach peak momentum.

Jim Shelley said...

MattComix - I would strongly suggest you give XO Manowar and The Only Living Boy tries. You might really enjoy those!

Trey said...

There are only really two comics that I purchase (via download usually) as soon as something reminds me that came out and that's Batman, Inc. and Action. I've also been pleasantly surprised with Prophet, Dial "H" for Hero, Journey Into Mystery, and Star Trek, though.

Jim Shelley said...

@Trey, yeah, Journey Into Mystery (the run with young Loki) has gotten a lot of rave reviews. I need to give that a shot.

I just discovered some of the newer IDW Star Trek stuff over the holidays as there was a .99 cent sale. I got one mini series written by Ty Templeton which was extremely good. It was so good, I got another (based on the Assignment Earth episode) which I have not read yet.

I'd like to see them do one on the Eugenics War.


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