2011: The Year That Was Last Year – Comics

Let’s try and speed these entries up a bit, shall we (not the entries themselves, but rather the frequency at which I publish them)? It’s January 27th and I’m only about halfway through. Considering the number of 2011 movies I’m still catching up on, it will definitely be February before we reach the end.

Anyway, it’s time to move on to comic books, my second favorite artistic medium. I always hope to read more comics each year. I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but one of my goals every year is to fill as many gaps as possible in my comic book literacy. Due to my perpetual near-brokeness, almost my entire comic budget goes into my weekly fix of single issues. I set a list for myself a year ago of the comics I hoped to read in 2011. I didn’t do very well.

That said, here are my favorite non-2011 comics I finally read last year.

The Unwritten (vol. 1-3)

I’m not really up on my current Vertigo series (I’ve read one volume of Sweet Tooth, about half of Fables, and not a single page of Scalped or American Vampire), so by default this is my favorite. As far as I’m concerned it’s the first real post-Harry Potter fantasy fiction. A worthy successor to the legacy left by Vertigo series of the past.

Tintin

Yup, somehow I never read a Tintin comic until last summer. I’ve only read the first three books, and they are, as most everyone is well aware, delightful. I love the relentless pace of them, with Tintin nearly dying on almost every page. The stories move so quickly that the protagonist’s thin characterization is a total non-issue.

John Byrne’s Fantastic Four

I’ve only read the first half of Byrne’s legendary run, but so far it’s pretty much a perfect superhero comic. Every issue works as a stand-alone story, but fit beautifully together into a continuous narrative. There’s a perfect balance between the reality of the family drama and the extraordinary imagination on display, throwing massive sci-fi concepts at the characters in every issue. “The Trial of Reed Richards,” in which Odin and the Watcher arrive at a Shi-ar court as witnesses to tell the story of how Galactus came to be, might be one of my all-time favorite comic book moments.

The End of Planetary

Perfect. One of the great comics of all time.

Ghost World

I don’t read a whole lot of stuff in the Daniel Clowes/Chris Ware/Adrian Tomine family (I always mentally associate these guys with one another), but with a $5 price tag when Borders was shutting down, I couldn’t say no. While I ended up liking a movie a lot more, Clowes’ comic still struck me as surprisingly funny and moving.

Vol. 7 of The Invisibles, Vol. 4 and 5 of Transmetropolitan, and vol. 3-6 of Invincible

I finally reached the end of The Invisibles. I grasped very little of it, and confirmed that reading this series in sporadic installments over five years is the wrong way. A full re-read is necessary. I’m now halfway through Transmet and it’s still great. Likewise for Invincible. The minor issues I have with Kirkman’s style are overshadowed by how energetic and fun it all is.

Moving on…

This was a big, strange year for comics, and by that I mainly mean it was the year of the DC relaunch. I’ve been a big supporter of this endeavor, and as a result of it I’m reading more monthly titles than ever before. As many comics as I read, I still didn’t read enough to be in a position to formulate a proper, comprehensive top ten list, so here’s how I’ll do this. I’ll give a top 10 list for DC’s New 52, followed by my favorite other comics. Okay? Okay.

My 10 Favorite New DC Titles

1. Batman
w: Scott Snyder
a: Greg Capullo w/ Jonathan Glapion

Snyder, who has a masterful grasp on this world, is writing a story here that uses everything that’s great about Batman (the Bat-family, the villains, Gotham City, Bruce Wayne) while adding to the mythology in a huge way. It’s a huge, epic Batman story that, instead of relying on classic villains, adds to the mythology and creates a legitimately threatening new enemy. Of course, Greg Capullo’s art, a beautiful, dynamic cross between Bruce Timm and Todd McFarlane, is as good a compliment to the story as one could hope for.

2. Animal Man
w: Jeff Lemire
a: Travel Foreman

There’s no other book out there with monsters as grotesque and disturbing as the ones drawn by Travel Foreman in Animal Man. Jeff Lemire has gone in a totally different direction than Grant Morrison’s legendary run, keeping the core family drama but turning the book into a thrilling supernatural story. It’s not like any other superhero book out there.

3. The Flash
w/a: Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato

The best case scenario of having artists write a series as well. The visual storytelling going on here is serious next-level stuff, with every issue containing at least a few sequences that do things with the comic format I’ve never seen before. The story is a blast, but it’s the way the art is used to tell the story that makes this so exciting.

4. Swamp Thing
w: Scott Snyder
a: Yanick Paquette

Finally, a Swamp Thing run that lives up to what Alan Moore did 25 years ago. Snyder (him again) has made the series into a sort of supernatural gothic horror tour of America, It’s a perfect companion piece to Animal Man, and the impending crossover between the two is one I’m really looking forward to. Special attention must be given to the stunning artwork by Yanick Paquette, who has brought his already-excellent game to an entirely new level with this book.

5. Wonder Woman
w: Brian Azzarello
a: Cliff Chiang

Ladies and gentlemen, we finally have a great Wonder Woman book. By adding a healthy dose of horror (there’s a lot of that in the new DC, which I’m very much enjoying) and amping up while grounding the Greek mythology, Azzarrello has made Diana and her world fresh and exciting in a way I’ve never seen. And we all know by now how terrific Cliff Chiang is.

6. Batwoman
w: J. H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman
a: Willams

We all knew that this would pretty much be the best looking of the new DC books (although Flash gives it a run for its money). The question mark was the writing. Greg Rucka was so much a part of why the previous Batwoman run in Detective Comics worked that it seemed we might have a pretty but empty book here. Nope. This is more than a worthy continuation of what came before, and Kate Kane remains one of the most compelling protagonists at DC right now. And did I mention the art? I did? Well, it’s worth mentioning again.

7. Action Comics
w: Grant Morrison
a: Rags Morales

If nothing else, the DC relaunch must be commended for finally giving the trinity of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman great solo books at the same time. Morrison’s t-shirt-clad, working class Superman is both newly relevant and a ton of fun, and as of the most recent issue is finally getting into the classic Morrison weirdness I’ve been waiting for. This has been terrific so far, but I think in the coming year it’s going to get a whole lot better.

8. Demon Knights
w: Paul Cornell
a: Diogenes Neves

The Arthurian fantasy equivalent of a superhero book. Adventure, epic battles, sorcery, dagger-wielding velociraptors, and it even ties heavily into the DC Universe (the team features the Shining Knight, Etrigan the Demon, Madame Xanadu, and Vandal Savage). I love this book.

9. Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E.
w: Jeff Lemire
a: Alberto Ponticelli

One of my favorite things Grant Morrison ever did was take Frankenstein’s monster and turn him into a Milton-quoting globe-trotting monster hunter. Jeff Lemire is running wild with the concept, creating a relentlessly-paced supernatural adventure comic that’s essentially DC’s answer to Hellboy. Bonus points for a truly creative use of Ray Palmer.

10. Aquaman
w: Geoff Johns
a: Ivan Reis

Yes, it’s true. Geoff Johns made Aquaman cool (see Justice League for more of this). So far this is classic Johnsian superhero stuff with absolutely gorgeous work by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado, but my favorite thing about it might be the relationship between Aquaman and his wife Mera, It’s nice to see a stable superhero marriage at the center of a book like this.

Moving on…

Outside of DC’s New 52, there were lots of great comics in 2011. Here are my favorites.

Daredevil
w: Mark Waid
a: Paulo Riviera, Marcos Martin

Saying that this is a spectacularly fun comic feels like faint praise. But these are superhero comics, and a comic as fun as this should be the goal of most creative teams. One of the core ideas of mainstream superhero comics is that of a shared universe, a continuous story built onto over time that will be around forever. Taking this into account is part of the reason that this comic so special. It breaks sharply from the furiously downbeat tone of this series over the past 25 years, yet its playful tone and the new attitude of the title character make perfect sense. Of course, that’s just the abstract hook. What’s really important here is that Mark Waid is telling exciting, brilliantly-paced superhero stories illustrated by some of the most talented artists in comics today, whose bright, 60s-esque styles perfectly match the writing. The hype is totally justified. This is like the comic equivalent of perfect pop music.

Batman: The Black Mirror
w: Scott Snyder
a: Jock and Francesco Francavilla

Oh look, it’s Scott Snyder again. This was my introduction to his writing, and immediately I learned that I should buy anything with his name on it. As huge a fan as I am of Grant Morrison’s sprawling psychedelic Batman saga, this is the definitive “Dick Grayson as Batman” story. As great as the primary story is, my favorite thing about it is that it’s also one of the great Jim Gordon stories. The Gordon sections, which deal with the return of his potentially psychotic son, James, contain some of the most truly suspenseful sequences I’ve read in years.

Severed
w: Scott Snyder & Scott Tuft
a: Attila Futaki

This is the last Scott Snyder mention, I swear (I still haven’t read American Vampire, otherwise I’m sure that would be on the list, too). Severed has been a great break from my usual heavy dose of superhero stuff. It’s both a beautiful period piece about the American midwest in the early 20th century and a truly disturbing slow-burn horror story. I excitedly tear into each issue despite the overwhelming feeling of dread I have every time I turn the page.

Ultimate Spider-Man
w: Brian Michael Bendis
a: Sara Pichelli/Mark Bagley

Since I bought the first issue when I was 13 years old, no comic has been closer to my heart that Ultimate Spider-Man. Seeing the death of Peter Parker, a character I’d essentially grown up with, was something of an emotionally difficult experience (no, I did not cry), but the original team of Bendis and Bagley told it so perfectly that I couldn’t help but be happy he got the send-off he deserved.

Every so often the thought will pop into my head, “I wish Peter were still around.” It’s not something that nags at me, though, and I attribute that to Miles Morales. By the end of his first issue, it wasn’t that I no longer missed Peter, but rather I immediately liked this new guy so much that I just wanted to read a series about him. Bendis (and spectacularly talented series artist Sara Pichelli) has done something amazing here: creating a new character to replace one of the most popular superheroes in existence who lives up to that legacy while continuing it. This is not a clean break from what came before.  Peter Parker very much remains a presence, and is tied directly into Miles’ origin. This is exactly the kind of reason the Ultimate comics exist, and I haven’t been this excited about Spider-Man in a long time.

Wolverine and the X-Men
w: Jason Aaron
a: Chris Bachalo

I haven’t truly enjoyed an ongoing X-Men series since Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men. For some reason even my favorite writers seem to freeze up and deliver mediocre stories when they try to take on Marvel’s biggest franchise. Jason Aaron didn’t do that. I didn’t read his big event X-Men: Schism, which set up the new status quo. I just picked up this first issue since the preview looked cool. I fell in love immediately. This is an X-Men book that’s all about Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, Beast, Iceman, Nightcrawler, and Rachel Gray (who I honestly don’t know much about) trying to run a school. And crazy things happen. There’s a new Hellfire Club run by an evil 12-year-old genius billionaire. Quentin Quire is a student at the school. Doop is a staff member. Toad is the janitor. I love this comic.

The Infinite Vacation
w: Nick Spencer
a: Christian Ward

This is a book that has had many delays, but that’s okay, because all three issues have been fantastic. Nick Spencer, whose rise to the top of my “favorite new writers” list has been slowed by how Marvel has mostly wasted him, is generally excellent at catchy high-concept sci-fi premises, and this might be his best. Taking the idea of an app that allows the user to switch places with his or her versions in any of countless alternate realities, Spencer follows it to its logical possibilities, which in issue #3 end up in some truly horrific places. Much credit must be given to artist Christian Ward, who provides the comic with the heavy dose of psychaledia it deserves.

Jimmy Olsen
w: Nick Spencer
a: R.B. Silva

This was on last year’s list back when it was a series of backups in Action Comics. Early in 2011 it was both collected and concluded in a big one-shot, and it is pretty much exactly the comic I would want to write if I were ever given the chance to write a comic. This is as purely fun a comic book as I’ve read in years, a sci-fi adventure romantic comedy set firmly within the DC Universe. The story, entitled “Jimmy Olsen’s Big Week,” follows the famous Daily Planet photographer as he tries to win back his girlfriend while saving the world from party-obsessed aliens and dealing with an unexpected marriage to a crazy fifth-dimensional sorceress. If I were the God of All Comics I would pry Spencer away from Marvel immediately and put him on a Jimmy Olsen ongoing series.

Xombi
w: John Rozum
a: Frazer Irving

The casualty of The New 52 I’ll miss the most. John Rozum and Frzer Irving’s wonderful supernatural adventure story was probably too weird and awesome to last very long, so I’m glad to at least have that one story.  I miss reading about characters like Catholic Girl or Nun of the Above. I miss the floating skull-shaped cities. Most of all I miss Irving’s truly gorgeous artwork. The collection will be out in a couple weeks (for only $10!). Please buy it. You’ll love it. And if enough people do maybe it will come back one day.

The Amazing Spider-Man
w: Dan Slott
a: Humberto Ramos (and many more)

ASM has been pretty terrific for some time now, but I have to mention the big summer event, Spider-Island, simply because it was so, so much better than it had any right to be. A story about everyone in New York City getting spider-powers that heavily features terrible 90s characters like The Jackal, Spider-Queen, and Kaine should not have been this good. But it was. It was a total blast, largely because it made fantastic use of every member of the massive supporting cast, from J. Jonah Jameson to Reed Richards to the crew at Horizon Labs to, most significantly, Mary Jane Watson. And to make things better, I didn’t have to read a single tie-in to enjoy it!

Also, issue #655, featuring career-best artwork by Marcos Martin, was one of best single issues of the year.

The Red Wing
w: Jonathan Hickman
a: Nick Pitarra

My introduction to Hickman’s work (yes, I somehow missed all his Marvel stuff), and I definitely get the appeal. In four issues he told an epic story of time traveling wars and generational family conflicts. Upon a much-needed second reading, I confirmed that this was some of the most fresh and exciting science fiction released in 2011. Also, where did Nick Pitarra come from? There’s a heavy Geoff Darrow and Frank Quitely influence, and in a matter of time this guy could be right up there with them.

Flashpoint: Batman: Knight of Vengeance
w: Brian Azzarello
a: Eduardo Risso

While the main Flashpoint event was fairly entertaining, it was mainly a good excuse for a bunch of Elseworlds books (anyone else miss those?) that were all over the place in terms of quality. This was not only the best but significantly better than the main event. Azzarello and Risso, the 100 Bullets and now Spaceman team (Spaceman will probably appear on 2012’s list) have told one of the great alternate universe Batman stories. The premise is simple: what if Bruce Wayne died in Crime Alley instead of his parents? The execution, as one would expect from this team, is extraordinary, and they treat what could be a common event tie-in as something much more.

Batman Inc.
w: Grant Morrison
a: several awesome ones, namely Chris Burnham

We didn’t get as many issues of Morrison’s Bat epic as I would have liked, and the last one (with the all-CGI art) was pretty weak, but several of those issues were truly amazing, and what I’m expecting was just a warm-up for what will be an amazing year when the series returns in a couple months.

Casanova: Avaritia
w: Matt Fraction
a: Gabriel Ba

There have only been two issues. Those two issues have been extraordinary. I love this book with every fiber of my being. More, please.

Aaaaaaaaaand that is it for the comic list. I’ve been debating whether or not to do this next part, since so much of it factors into money, but I think I will. Here, once again, is my list of comics I hope to finally read this year…

THE REST OF…

-The Walking Dead
-Invincible
-Transmetropolitan
-Fables
-Invincible Iron Man
-John Byrne’s Fantastic Four
-Criminal

FINALLY READ

-Starman
-Chew
-American Vampire
-Darwyn Cooke’s Parker books (hey, they rhymes!)
-Ed Brubaker’s Captain America…and actually, all the Ed Brubaker stuff I haven’t read
-Asterios Polyp
-Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol

That’s a lot of comics. I could have put a bunch more on, but then it would just be ridiculously unrealistic. It probably already is.

NEXT UP: TELEVISION, OF WHICH I DIDN’T WATCH AS MUCH AS PREVIOUS YEARS

12 Comments

Filed under Comics

12 responses to “2011: The Year That Was Last Year – Comics

  1. Alix

    This is… substantial. I want all of them, top to bottom! But mostly I want to read your copies and buy the ones I like best. WHERE IS MY TIME HOODIE!!!

    • Yeah, there’s a lot. And they’re all great. For you, I’d recommend Casanova (you can pick up the first 2 volumes for about $10 each), The Unwritten, Animal Man, and Demon Knights.

      • Alix

        Better late than never?! (I was never notified by wordpress that you had responded, even though I checked the box, but thank goodness I came back!) I’m going to the comic store today and will try to pretend that I know what I’m talking about, but it will probably come out that I have a nerdy friend behind the curtain… Kidding! You know I meant ‘geeky’! And thanks so much for the recommendations! Truthfully: a little scared of ‘Animal Man,’ but I’ll give it a look; strangely fascinated by ‘Severed’ and the art of ‘Xombi'; will probably also pick up at least one ‘Aquaman’ because he is secretly my favorite. DON’T TELL ANYONE.

        • Yay! Comics! Severed just wrapped up and is straight-up fantastic. And scary. And if you can’t find the first 4, issue 5 of Aquaman is the start of a new story, and it’s great. Let me know what you think, and tell me if you want any more recommendations (although you can really just go by what I said in that huge post).

          • Alix

            I flipped though the store’s most recent issue of Severed and it looked way too fucking scary. Preacher was about as much as I could ever take or want in that department…! They did not have (in trade paperback) Animal Man or even the first issue of Casanova, so I ended up getting: the first trade in The Unwritten and the first four issues of Demon Knights. Unwritten is awesome. It’s really smart, and while the art is just so-so at times, the sketches by the Japanese guy in each chapter are stunning. Demon Knights is hilarious. I love Arthurian fantasies, and while I don’t really understand what’s happening, I think I will by the end, haha. Oh, and they did have the newest issue of Aquaman (not sure if it was #5!) but I wanted to start at the beginning; also, a single Xombi trade (floating skull castles!), but I was being rushed at that point by my ride, so I never figured out: was it the first? Is there only one paperback of Xombi? Do you have any other recommendations that are finished or nearly so? I hate waiting the most. The only thing that’s kept me coming back (so far) is The Walking Dead!

            And: Thank you!

            • Yay! You’re getting so much good stuff! I’ll address all your points now:

              -Severed is really scary. Like the scariest comic I’ve read. Maybe you should avoid it, although the collection is out in a couple months if you’re feeling brave.
              -None of the new DC are collected in trades yet. Animal Man will be out in May, so for now you might want to check for the single issues.
              -Get this: http://www.amazon.com/Casanova-Vol-Luxuria-Matt-Fraction/dp/0785148620/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1330223171&sr=1-3
              -Glad you’re digging The Unwritten and Demon Knights.
              -All of Xombi is in one book.
              -More recommendations: The Goon, Ex Machina, Nextwave, Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run, All-Star Superman, and…actually, give me an idea of the comics you’ve really liked so far. I’ll be able to come up with more that way.

  2. Alix

    (Bonus) True story: I randomly picked up the series “Northlanders” by Brian Wood last year, and it’s pretty darn good (kinda like if Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘Valhalla Rising’ was made into a comic book). Heard of it? Two new issues have come out since, but I can’t find it in any bookstores!

  3. Great list! I’m already mentally adding things to my pick-up list. If you like Hickman, you owe it to yourself to catch up on his Fantastic Four. I don’t like it as much as some folks do– it moves very, very slowly– but its epic size and smart character work make it a worthy continuation of the book’s tradition (and he writes a good Torch/Spider-Man relationship).

    • I’ve heard really good things about his run, and I’m hoping to finally read it this year. Apparently his earlier Image stuff is really good, too. That’s the thing about comics; there’s always more stuff to catch up and spend money on.

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