18 December 2012

top 10 books of 2012/ year in review


(Sorry.  I thought I could pull that off but seeing it in print... yeah.  Sorry.)

Hello.  What is up?

Better, I hope.  Anyway, it's that time of year again, when the 'berg looks back at the year that was.  I think I've changed the rules for grading the Top 10 books every year I've been doing this.  This is basically the first year that I've been all digital all year.  I have read some Trade Paperback collections but not many, and mostly of older material, so I have excluded those from consideration.  OGNs do count and have been considered.  Also: since I've been reading series as periodicals, I've ranked titles rather than arcs.  So you won't see, to pick an example that happened in a previous year, two Amazing Spider-Man arcs listed.  I've treated the entire year as one entry to be considered.

Another thing - and I say this a lot of years but it's never been more true than this year - I had a REALLY hard time with this list.  There's a lot of stuff I really like that didn't make the cut.  Apologies to any good books that were excluded.  Neener neener to the bad books that were excluded.

Honorable Mention

Saga (Brian K. Vaughan/ Fiona Staples - Image Comics) - I'm not quite as ga-ga about this one as a lot of people seem to be, but don't mistake that for disinterest.  This book is very very good.

Batman (Scott Snyder/ Greg Capullo - DC Comics) - Kind of amazing this one missed the top ten because I really do love it.  If it was just the Joker story there's no way it would've missed.  I liked the Owl story but I did find it flawed in some respects - so looking at the whole year, this one misses out.

Punk Rock Jesus (Sean Murphy - DC/ Vertigo) - I knew Murphy could make a book look good, but I've been impressed by his writing as well.  Still needs a little work honing dialog but he's got chops.

Scalped (Jason Aaron/ R.M. Guera - DC/ Vertigo) - Came to an excellent conclusion this year.

Near Death (Jay Jaerber/ Simone Guglietta - Image Comics) - Sadly this one failed to find an audience and got canceled, but it was a very good crime comic.  I'd actually rank this one ahead of either Fatale or Stumptown, both of which seem to get far more press.

All good books.  It's a honor to be nominated, right fellas?  No?  Nertz.  Moving on, then, the top ten:

10. Masks & Mobsters (Josh Williamson/Mike Henderson  - Monkeybrain) - I suspect a lot of these digital-first books are going to get overlooked on these lists, and that's a shame.  This is a very cool black-and-white series dealing with organized crime's response to the rise of superheroes.  It's far smarter than the usual way this is depicted (read: they do more than just hire supervillains to kill the heroes), and it looks great.

9. Batman Incorporated (Grant Morrison/ Chris Burnham - DC Comics) - It's weird that we've got two of the best-ever Batman runs going at the same time.  Not sure that's ever happened before.  This one's not missed a beat since the relaunch.  It's totally unlike any of the other Batman titles.

8. Fury MAX (Garth Ennis/ Goran Parlov - Marvel Comics) - I shouldn't say "all" digital, I guess, because I've been getting the issues of this one since Marvel won't release it digitally.  Ennis writes war stories like no one else, and Parlov seems to bring out the best in him.  Far better than either of Ennis' two previous Fury runs.

7. Chew (John Layman/ Rob Guillory - Image Comics) - Last year's #1 takes a tumble but still charts.  Erratic shipping has hurt this book this year but it's still outstanding.  My go-to book for wrong humor.

6. Underwater Welder (Jeff Lemire - Top Shelf) - Just a terrific piece about the angst associated with becoming a father, with 140+ pages of lovely Lemire art.  I like his collaborations but he's at his best when he draws his own stuff.

5. Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre (Darwyn Cooke/ Amanda Conner - DC Comics) - Lost in all the hubbub over the Before Watchmen books was the fact that this one was really amazing (except for the final scene which was hilariously on-the-nose).  Conner's art is just incredible.  The Minutemen series was good too, but this one was a cut above.

4. Daredevil (Mark Waid/ Chris Samnee et al - Marvel Comics) - This one just keeps plugging along.  There's a school of thought that the comics community gives this one too much praise just for being consistently good, which is of course the minimum standard to which any comic should aspire.  This isn't just consistently good, though - it's consistently VERY good, and that's a lot harder to pull off than it looks.  It appeared for awhile like it might be going off the rails art-wise, but Samnee has been a nice stabilizing influence.

3. Sweet Tooth (Jeff Lemire - DC/ Vertigo) - The other long-running Vertigo series to wrap this year, and man it was a doozy.  Lemire can break your heart every time.  And yea, this was the Year of Lemire.  His superhero stuff is uneven at times but his independent or non-superhero books are all worth reading.

2. Mind MGMT (Matt Kindt - Dark Horse) - Kindt is another guy who has, over the years, become a must-read for me.  This is a hugely imaginative series about folks with psychic-ish powers and the ways they change the world.  Love it love it love it - it's stellar.

1. Hawkeye (Matt Fraction/ David Aja/ Javier Pulido - Marvel Comics) - If you'd told me at the start of the year that a book about Hawkeye, who I've never cared much about, would be #1 I'd have laughed.  If you'd told me a Matt Fraction book would be #1, I'd have laughed.  Fraction's work had suffered in my eyes over the previous few years, especially around the time of Fear Itself.  But paired here with two wonderful artists, and given what appears to be free reign to carve out a niche away from all the events and continuity and whatnot, he has produced a gem.  The thing that puts this over the top?  SHORT STORIES.  One-and-two parts.  Not everything needs to be six issues.

So that's my list this year.  I was surprised once I finished by how mainstream-y it is.  I've actually enjoyed quite a lot of non-Marvel/ DC books this year, he said defensively.  I'm also sitting on two OGNs (Coldest City and New York Mon Amour) that I think might be really good but weren't counted because, y'know, I haven't read them.  I know I'm spending a lot of time gushing in this post, but I've enjoyed comics more in 2012 than in any recent year, so much so that I'm having to be really ruthless in trimming my pull list to a manageable level.  Like many, I've been digging a lot of the new Image books - I could list a half dozen that are really good but didn't quite make my list.

I decided not to do a separate year in review post this year because laziness.  I did have a few other superlatives I wanted to mark, though:

Best Collection of Probably Mediocre Material That Nevertheless Scratches a Big Nostalgia Itch for Me: A tie between Incredible Hulk: Pardoned and Incredible Hulk: Regression, which collectively collect 32 issues of the Bill Mantlo/ Sal Buscema Hulk run plus an annual.  This is the whole "Banner gains control of the Hulk, gets pardoned, then slowly loses his shit" storyline that I loved as a kid.  Thank you for these, Marvel - please consider a "Crossroads" collection to wrap up the run at some point.

Best Book That Would Probably be Really Awesome if it Ever Came Out: Jonathan Hickman and Ryan Bodenheim's Secret from Image Comics.  Managed to get out all of two issues this year.  I know people swear by Manhattan Projects but I actually thought Secret had even more potential.  And yet - two issues.  Hickman said recently it's unlikely to ever get back on a regular schedule.  Sucks.

Best Relaunch in a Sea of Relaunches: The Valiant one.  None of those books made my best-of list but I'm digging Bloodshot and X-O Manowar a lot, and have been trying out Shadowman as well.  Valiant had a really cool digital sale on Black Friday where ALL their books were 99 cents, including the ones that had just come out that Wednesday.  They've found a winning formula here.

Best Use of Super Powers: Spider-Woman using her pheromone powers to get the Hulk to make her a sandwich in Avengers Assemble #9.  "Hulk hope you like!"  What?  If I had pheromone powers, that's how I'd use them too.  By the way, no book has "leveled up" for Marvel NOW! more than Avengers Assemble, which went from unreadable to excellent.

Best Book That Was Pretty Good But That I Nevertheless Dropped: Tie between Supergirl and Green Hornet.  Both pretty good books, neither had a bad issue that I read.  And yet both found their way off my list during 2012.  Dunno what to say except that it's a harsh world.  Sometimes Pretty Good just isn't enough.

Best Artist You're Not Paying Much Attention to But Really Should Be: Riley Rossmo is just frickin' amazing.  How this guy is not considered A-list is beyond me.  Green Wake?  Looked great.  Bedlam?  Also looks really great.  If you like Bill Sienkiewicz's work, you need to check out Rossmo's as well.  By the way Bedlam #1 is double-sized and is $1.99 on Comixology.  Apropos nothing.

Best Digital Sale Other Than the Valiant One I Already Praised:  DC's Legends sale.  Legends was pretty terrible but a lot of the tie-ins were good and I love the idea of releasing all of them digitally.  I bought up a bunch of those.  Honorable mention to the Grant Morrison sale (which included all of Seaguy), and special props to Image for making all of their recent #1 issues free because that's just amazing.

Best Comic-Related Video Game: Well I really only played one, and it came out in 2011 - but I *finally* caught the Riddler in Arkham City.  I totally love that the game has you rig the defeated Riddler up to the same torture device he was using on the kidnapped cops, and then you can jump in front of him and make him think he's going to explode.  Serves him right.  (Uh.. I totally didn't spend five hours jumping in front of him over and over.  Because that would be crazy.)

Thanks to all who've dropped by this year.  This will be the last post of the year because, as noted above, laziness.  I'll be back in 2013, though - have had the writing itch for awhile now and this is the primary way I scratch it.  I expect 2013 to be the Year of Vibe, of course - making any other predictions seems like a waste of time.  Hope you all have a happy holiday season and some (I'm sure) much-deserved downtime.


Dan Coyle said...

Oooh, nice list.

While I just can't bring myself to enjoy Jeff Lemire's art, as a writer he's quite devastating. The reprint of Lost Dogs just knocked me flat.

What I like about Near Death is that Faerber's not afraid to have a protagonist who's flawed and genuinely off putting, and he doesn't ask us to root for him. In that way I find him preferable to the romanticized lushes Rucka continually foists on us.

I bought the two Mantluscema bricks; they have their problems but it holds up well. I know Mantlo's work is hated by a lot of people, and when you read Alpha Flight and Micronauts, it's hard not to see how that hatred was justly earned, but he did great stories with the Hulk and Spider-Man. The Ruffalulk in Avengers felt like a Mantlo era Hulk.

If you like single issue stores, I highly recommend the Activity by Nathan Edmonson.

It's hard to fault most of your choices, though I just can't be in love with Snyder's Batman as much as most people are. I found that whole Owls stuff deadly boring, and smacking of trying to hard to spackle something that didn't need to be spackled, though it could be worse, as Green lantern has taught us.

Dan Coyle said...

Also agreed on Avengers Assemble, there's something delicious about a woman taking over for Bendis on at least one of his titles. Dear god, she actually wrote a scene for Jessica Drew that wasn't her being humiliated or drowning in self-loathing! I can hear Bendis' teeth grinding all the way over here in PA.

My best books of the year are Prophet and IDW's Transformers books. Which either speaks to the state of how terrible my taste is (the TF books aren't Alan Moore quality, just ridiculously well thought out, drawn, and executed for what they are), or- no, it pretty much speaks to how terrible my taste is.

Dan Coyle said...

I'd also put King City on this best of list, though I'm not sure that counts.

matches said...

I still need to read King City. Multiple people whose opinions I respect have recommended it to me. Just haven't gotten around to it yet. Maybe 2013 will be the year.