It is New Year’s Eve of the first complete year of the existence of Crisis On Infinite Midlives. We have all the comics we’re going to get in 2012, so it is time to publish my list of the best comics of the year… mostly because with no new comics, there isn’t much to review, and the biggest comics news we’re likely to get between now and Wednesday is likely to be “Frank Miller Publicly Intoxicated, Yells At ‘Hippies.’ Must Be Tuesday.”
So here’s my list; Amanda’s will appear later today. It is in no particular order, it encompasses everything from single issues to multi-issue story arcs to series that started in 2011 and ended this year. And I know what you’re thinking: “Rob,” you’re thinking, “Why don’t you organize things a little more? And use some consistent criteria for your list?” Well, because fuck you, that’s why. Look: it’s New Year’s Eve, and I intend to be recklessly intoxicated within about 90 minutes from the time I press the “publish” button.
So without further (or any) ado: here’s my list!
- Batman Incorporated #5 – I’ve never been the biggest fan of Grant Morrison’s work on the Batman books – and before you get all uppity, let’s remember that Morrison was the guy who killed Batman right after Batman used a firearm to shoot Darkseid, and then made Bruce Wayne a caveman, a pirate, and most of the other members of The Village People before returning him to the Batcave. But Batman Incorporated #5, as a “fictional” final Batman story with Damian behind the cowl, Morrison pulls out the stops, making it clear that, if things have gotten so bad that Damian has to take over as Batman, thing have really turned to shit. It’s a surprisingly dark story, where Batman and Gotham fall, and was one of the best one-and-done’s of the year.
- Saga – Brian K. Vaughn’s and Fiona Staples have done all the world building of a thirteen-year-old nerd who’s addicted to Tolkien and Terry Brooks and whose idea of characterization is the pectoral size of the hero who will inevitably has his face (only with a chin)… and put that world behind a story of two young people who are new parents, not particularly good at it yet, and their unapproving family. It’s killer, big world sci-fi, but it’s about the real people who live in that big world. It’s great stuff.
- Batman #13 – Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo did a pretty solid job with their opening arc, Court of The Owls, even though at its core was a standard old “Batman gets driven insane” story. But with Batman #13, they reintroduced The Joker into the DC New 52 Universe with a new face, a new deadly attitude, and most importantly: a whole new obvious fear on the part of everyone who had to deal with him. It was a spectacular opening to the Death of The Family arc, which has turned out to be one of the best Joker stories since Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke.
- The Incredible Hulk #14 – Jason Aaron’s run on The Incredible Hulk was pretty hit or miss, and clearly mutated from whatever he originally intended (and God knows that the original intentions for the art went tits up when it turned out original penciller Mark Silvestri would need an army of inkers to complete even a few issues, let alone the whole year-plus run). But this single issue, which includes a weird and shaky relationship between Hulk and Banner, as well as neurotic and depressed Doombots and a monkey pilot in a “Keep On Truckin'” cap. I can’t recommend the arc as a whole, but this particular issue was a glorious, imaginative blast.
- Wolverine & The X-Men #17 – Another one by writer Jason Aaron. It’s an issue about a flying, porn obsessed living booger who is also a master spy and one of the most dangerous motherfuckers on the planet. Throw in art by Doop’s creator, Mike Allred, and you have about the most fun 20 pages of comics you’ll see in the entire year.
- The Strange Talent of Luther Strode – Sure, it started in 2011, but it ended this year, and it’s my Goddamned Website, so I’ll follow my own Goddamned rules. Writer Justin Jordan took what started out looking like a simple superhero origin story and twisted it into a perverse story about an 80s slasher film villain who was pushed and twisted into becoming that against his will. It takes a kinda goofy superhero origin concept – what it those Charles Atlas bodybuilding ads in the back of old comics actually worked? – and makes it an epic tragedy. And artist Tradd Moore delivers the blood you need for a slasher movie, adding it into real superhero action.
- Amazing Spider-Man 680 and 681– Sure, the conclusion of The Amazing Spider-Man in issue 700 got all the press, but these couple of issues, where Spider-Man and Human Torch go into orbit to fight space zombies and bicker with each other, are just a big, old-school Marvel action-packed good time. It was big, goofy fun, and one of the last gasps of the long-running friendship between Spidey and Torch… a friendship we’ll see again – after all, a couple years ago it was the Torch who was dead, and look how long that lasted – but still, it’s a double shot that seems bittersweet given the events in The Amazing Spider-Man of the last month or so. It’s not a game-changing story, but it’s fun, and sometimes fun is all you need.
- Hawkeye – On paper, Hawkeye should be a quick knockout comic to take advantage of new interest in the character thanks to the Avengers movie. And in other years, that’s what it probably would be. By writer Matt Fraction instead created a book where the lead character almost never appears in costume, and instead shows what he does when he’s not being an Avenger, from helping out his neighbors to going on international spy missions. It humanized the purple-headed warrior (and not in the Puppetry of The Penis kinda way), and makes for a compelling read on a monthly basis.
- O.M.A.C. #7 – Writer Dan DiDio and artist Keith Giffen were given far too little time to have fun with this comic series, and this issue is a prime example as to why it’s a shame that it was cancelled. An issue with Kirby style art (including big sci-fi machines with Kirby Krackle), a throwaway battle with Superman for the sheer, lunatic thrill of it, and weird man-monsters, the whole thing screamed “Bronze Age!” from cover to cover. It was never brain food, but it was big fun, in a way that most comics in the DC New 52 weren’t, and continue to not be.
- The Goon #39 – Published in April – smack in the middle of DC’s New 52 reboot and Marvel’s Marvel Now initiative (but not a reboot! Marvel doesn’t reboot! And Mary Jane has always wanted Doctor Octopus to chuck her the meat!), writer / artist Eric Powell mocks the entire concept of reboots, from costume changes to continuity switches to origin alterations. And he also uses his art, going from his normal style to a Kirby knockoff to a Liefeld clone, to make light of the entire “Now everything is different!” hysteria from each of the Big Two publishers, all the while hammering home the fact that nothing is really different, and doing it all hilariously. It was the perfect book at the perfect time to shine a funny light on the histrionics of superhero comic publishers and their fans.
So that’s the list, although there are a few honorable mentions that came close, like The Manhattan Projects, Moon Knight #9 and original graphic novel My Friend Dahmer, but all in all, not a bad year in comics. But in the meantime, other than Amanda’s list of her favorites of the year, expect the rest of the day to be dark… as we will be drinking ourselves into serious blackouts.
And on that note: Happy New Year, suckers!