Tuesday, June 28, 2011
I’m going to stand by the fact that 2011 has been a good year for comics. If you pull down a dozen titles a week then you’re going to run into plenty of dreck but if you only want the cream from the top then there’s plenty to choose from. I’ve got 10 great choices for my comics of the year, across a multitude of publishers, and I’ll drop a few honourable mentions as well. Hit the jump to see what I think have been the best books so far this year and which two books tie for the top spot.
Disclaimer: I don’t read everything on the shelves. There will be great titles I miss because I don’t pull them down. Please tell me about them and why they are great in the comments. Thanks.
These comics are pretty damn good and rate a mention. You should definitely give them a go, if you haven’t already.
Butcher Baker – this psychedelic head trip is a lot of fun to read and the art by Mike Huddleston is amazing in parts. It is NSFW, what with the dangling member of the universe often on display and the wanton sexuality, but there’s some serious intellect behind it all.
Kill Shakespeare – I’ve always been a big fan of this book and it’s certainly had a few issues of spectacular quality. The art is always working to include quality page structure in the narrative and some of the characters have really entertained. It’s only one issue away from concluding so pick up the first trade and then eagerly await the second one.
The Intrepids – a retro-pulp spy book full of gadgets, guns, and plenty of game. This mini from Image has been a load of fun and Scott Kowalchuk’s art is some of the best of the year. I still think his page of Crystal taking out the bear is one of the finest pages in comics this year.
Irredeemable – a comic that is consistently good and yet does not get the press it deserves. A shame because people are missing out on a book that is smart, fun, and shooting way beyond its initial pitch concept. At the moment, we have the Plutonian staging a jail break from a crazy ward within a sun. C’mon, that’s awesome.
Secret Warriors – I’ve had my ups and downs with this title but I have to admit it’s still always been good enough. There have been some very cool issues and moments this year and with one issue to go we are all waiting to see how it wraps up.
Planet of the Apes – even I was surprised at how good this licensed property from BOOM! is. I did not expect much going in but it really is well put together. There’s a murder mystery at the heart of the book and the characters, all original, are really engaging. Check this one out if you haven’t already – trust me.
Journey Into Mystery – Gillen wrote one hell of a Thor book (which I reviewed here) while Fraction got his eggs in a row and now he’s back writing a Thor book, by way of Loki. This book reads like a mix between a spell and a children’s picture book. It’s lyrical and smart and the art by Braithwaite is phenomenal. Pick it up when the trade drops as it will read collected quite well.
Cap/Thor FCBD one-shot – I missed out on the good ship Thor: The Mighty Avenger but am catching up. This one-shot was exactly what a free comic should be; accessible, gorgeous, clever, and downright fun. I hope you picked up your own free copy in May.
Now, onto the Top 10.
10. Robert E Howard’s Savage Sword
There have only been two issues, and one was released late December, but this makes the cut because over those two issues there has been enough content to keep me busy for six months. The premise is an anthology based around the creations of pulp legend Robert E Howard. He created Conan but he also brought to life Sailor Steve Costigan, Dark Agnes, Bran Mak Morn, El Borak, and plenty of other quality fun.
These thick issues include short stories, both serialised and standalone, that have a really great strike rate of entertaining. Most anthologies will be hit and miss but because this one is built around a theme you know all the tales will fit a certain genre mould, or at least tone. If you are a Howard fan then you must be reading this book because creators like Joe Casey and Marc Andreyko are bringing true quality to these old properties. They are also reprinting some old tales from the Marvel Savage Sword of Conan and seeing the Barry Windsor-Smith and Gil Kane is worth every penny.
This is easily the best anthology on the stands right now. It’s packed full of action and it’s the best way to use these characters (who would not support their own titles) and honour the master who created them.
This book is so good. It’s a mystery spy tale with a hero running for his life with only the wits and knowledge of his imaginary friend, Jake Ellis, to help him out of some tight spots. It’s an interesting premise but then Edmondson does some very cool stuff with it. The action feels straight out of a Bourne movie but with a twist.
The art from Tonci Zonjic is amazing, to put it bluntly. His character designs are great with the lead spy, Jon Morris, looking decidedly average and Jake Ellis being a grey blob that is one of the most intriguing designs of the year. The action set pieces pop through the art and I find I get swept up in every issue and always finish wanting more.
This is one of the best new series to debut and it’s a great thing Image promoted it to some sort of ongoing/maxi series level. Five issues was never going to be enough.
8. Cap One-Shots – Crossbones and Batroc
There was plenty of Captain America material on offer in the first half of this year as we geared up for the movie to be released in July. Plenty of it wasn’t great, as you’d expect, but then there was this series of one-shots. Not all the one-shots were amazing, and one I didn’t even buy, but the ones focusing on Crossbones and Batroc were simply sublime. I know, who would have thought it would be this way? Neither of them even really feature Cap.
The Crossbones one-shot is easily the best 80s action movie I read in comic form this year. I’m a fan of Crossbones as a character, you can blame the old ‘Streets of Poison’ storyline for that one and so I definitely get the character. He’s not the brains of the bunch and he’s not always the leader, he’s just the big muscle and the determination to whatever he wants. In this tale, he uses these abilities for some good and overall the tale is just a big ball of fun. I could sit down and read this one-shot plenty more times, and I’ve no doubt I will, and that’s what we call bang for your buck.
The book is definitely lifted by Declan Shalvey’s artwork, of which I am always a big fan. He draws the best Crossbones on the market and his use of negative space really allowed some great subtextual ideas to bleed through the page. The efforts of William Harms to put great lines in Crossbones’ mouth also should not be forgotten. I’m telling you, greatest 80s action movie in comics this year.
Then there’s the Batroc one-shot which is much more this introspective heist style character study. Think of it as the quiet moments of Heat with Batroc now in them. Most people don’t understand why anyone would care about some French guy who jumps but after this one-shot you can’t not care. Kieron Gillen infuses him with nobility and pathos and it’s nice to see even a gag villain treated with respect.
This issue looks at the whole game of people in costumes trying to pummel each other and allows it all make a little real world sense. You get inside Batroc’s head and what you find there is not what you expect. He’s just a squirrel trying to get a nut and we can all understand that, even if we’re not all after this same nut.
Renato Arlem’s art worked to the benefit of this issue and overall it presents as one of those defining moments for a character that is worth reading because it could hopefully bode well for more to come in the future. If nothing else happens for Batroc then at least he’ll be findly remembered after this one.
An X-book that is actually good. Not just good for an X-book, or good for a cape book but an actual X-book that is good because it’s smartly written and amazing to look at. Rick Remender picked up the relaunch of the X-team that kills and made them mean something. He doesn’t rely on the high concept to sell this book but instead works hard to make character interaction and actual consequences from actions mean something. This is no small feat when the book deals with death amidst a universe that constantly retroactively laughs in the face of mortality.
Half of this team are oversaturated poster children for the excesses of comics and yet here they work in league to show us that if written well you can handle any character on the page. Deadpool is a character I don’t care for, Duane Swierczynski has tried twice and lost me, but Remender sells it because he doesn’t overplay it. It’s not about throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks but rather only selecting the best possible lines. The rest of the characters each have a distinctive voice, set of skills, and reason for being on the team.
There’s a glorious majesty to the violence involved in this book and the different artists have all worked extremely well with Remender’s scripts. Even Billy Tan has shed the scales of Shadowland and brought some decent pages to the table. If you are going to get one major X-continuity book then it has to be this one because it’s offering bang for its buck. It’s high art, pure and simple. Enjoy.
If you want Batman then there’s all sorts of Batman going round DC for you to sample. Grant Morrison is kicking off the next global tour of his Batman saga but off to the side, not interacting with any other titles, Scott Snyder’s run on Detective Comics is shaping up to be something truly special. The run hasn’t been perfect, a few issues have been decent but not spectacular, but when engine revs into the red you’re in for one hell of a ride.
The opening arc gave us Dick Grayson under the cowl and a Gotham ready to bring him his worst nightmares. This involved a creepy auction house and Snyder managed to make the book both criminally absorbing and down right creepy. The mix of words with Jock’s art certainly bring a tone to the book you might not find in many other Bat-titles right now. This is like a David Fincher movie in that you feel slimy after seeing some of it.
The best issues have been the first two of the first arc, and the James Gordon Jr one shot. Those issues were spectacular and if Snyder had managed to finish that first arc stronger this book might be higher on the list. Either way, this is a run that is going to look quite pretty when all is finished. As far as Dick goes under the cowl (for who knows how much longer), this run is going to be one of his better tales. It’s all about Dick and the police working to clean up a Gotham that refuses to sud up in the water.
Word on the street is this title is running out of new things to say. I can only surmise this speculation is stemming from the mouths of those hearing about the book and not actually reading it because the latest storyline set in the gated community has been spectacular in parts. This isn’t like the prison arc at all. This has some superficial similarities but overall is a very different character experience.
When The Walking Dead is great, there are only a few ongoing titles that can keep up. This is a classic comic, and a brilliant ongoing run, that will surely stand the test of time. To have built nearly 100 issues of amazing zombie drama is a feat no one else can speak of. My only issue is, Robert Kirkman doesn’t seem to bring this game to any of his other titles. The guy who writes this book surely doesn’t write any of the other ones. But the question remains unanswered, is it the real Kirkman writing TWD or does he write everything else? And why does this book differ so greatly to every single one of his other books?
When an issue is brilliant you’ll usually find it is so because of the character work commit in those 22 pages. Kirkman creates all his characters so flawed and so real and watching them interact, evolve, and react is a horrific delight every time. There has been more growth in a few years of this book than there have been in decades of other titles. It’s nice to see a book where everything means something and will have an effect later down the track.
Recently, there was a very big moment that occurred in the book. No, I won’t spoil it because that’s against the first rule, the first two rules really…but we don’t speak about those rules. Anyway, this big moment happened, it garnered all the TWD attention and yet a few pages before it was a moment I considered more shocking and bold as a narrative choice. That’s the sign of a good book, where you don’t know exactly where the culturally defining moment occurred in that one issue. TWD is the business and it’s not higher to the top because of its very recent handling of that big moment. Everything screams cop out and while I want to have faith I still haven’t enjoyed the exact details after the fact these last few months.
I have yet to hear a person argue against this book being one of the best on the stands right now. It’s rare to find someone indifferent to it. There’s a reason for that. This book is chock full of superb writing and heartbreaking art each and every month. This book is all about emotion and desire first, plot second, and whatever the hell else you want next. It might be a brutal sequence of violence or a silent moment of love.
Jason Aaron is a good writer, and if Marvel didn’t always saddle him with a $3.99 price tag I think more people would realise this. If you think any of his other work is good then you don’t know exactly what he can do until you’ve sampled Scalped. This book is a crime tale, to its core, but it’s one of those rare crime stories that also wants to be smart and progress character arcs while still giving up the vibe of explosive possibility of every turn. This book isn’t quite pulp, and it might be Grindhouse, but at its heart it defies definition. Years from now, Scalped will become a definitional term and our kids will describe other books as being the new Scalped. And when that days comes we’ll know things turned out alright in the end.
Another feather in the tipped Vertigo hat, American Vampire has yet to deliver a dud issue. It simply spends each month, which it always ships regularly for, being a really good book up to a great one. Snyder is crafting a vampiric bite on the American landscape and creating true icons as he does it. The new mythos of the American vampires might stick with us for a while but it’s the likes of Skinner Sweet and Pearl Jones who will be truly immortal.
The latest arc, Ghost War, looks at vampires in WWII and with this great mash up at its base, the book goes into full on revenge plot mode and throws a few new ingredients into the pot. There are even more new breeds of vampires, these suckers being reminiscent of Aliens like Ripley would love to see dead, and there’s plenty of dramatic irony and suspense as Sweet gets very close to an enemy but one who has never met him and so doesn’t know he’s right there.
Each issue of this arc works hard to keep you guessing right up until the final page and then it sucker punches you so hard time seems to slow before the next issue drops. This book has too many amazing ideas in it but it’s the genius delivery that holds your attention. It’s hard to ignore a book that reads so well and you really shouldn’t be trying. Not to mention the art, Rafael Albuquerque produces a book that shouldn’t ship monthly, it looks that good. His vampire designs are as nasty as they are gorgeous. This is the sort of comic horror fans have wanted for a long time. Dine in.
There has only been one issue of this book this year, it’s true. But when the issue is this good you have to stand up and say something. I know, I’m not the first person to tell you about how good Criminal is but I can tell you this mini isn’t just good, it’s possibly the best one of the lot so far. The top spot is something I’d easily give to Bad Night but The Last of the Innocent is certainly close to joining it up there, if not usurping it. Let’s just see it stick the landing.
There are so many reasons to love this mini. It’s a comic that can only really be a comic. You could adapt this, sure, anything can be adapted to the screen, but it would never be as good. You could never quite get this to work anywhere this well except on the comic page. Sean Phillips brings a dual nature to the present, which is actually the past of 1982, and the past for these characters, which is the 60s and 70s. The book looks gorgeous and the look means a lot because the wholesome view of these flashbacks is subverted through some serious drug related and sexual chicanery.
The real star of this comic, though, is the writing. Brubaker is writing from a personal place, a place of truth. He’s dropping knowledge and it’s the sort of thing anyone can understand but if you’ve ever been there before then you know exactly what he means. Exactly what he means. And it’s hard to put that sort of heart across to other people and not have it come off as navel gazing. Brubaker doesn’t make this feel too introspective at all, and even manages to weave a very tight pulp plot around it all. This is comic perfection and if you haven’t picked it up, or you’re waiting the trade that doesn’t have any of the back matter, then I flat out call you a fool. This book is perfection, the best arc of a classic comic, and you don’t need to know anything jumping on because it stands alone. What more do you want?
1-Tie. Green Wake
Green Wake is pure bliss to read even when it’s making you cringe or want to cry. Kurtis Wiebe (who I spoke with twice) has launched out of Image strong and this title is the jewel in his nascent crown. Green Wake is a town outside of reality (or something) where people can’t escape, and they have no idea how they got there. It’s a very cool premise but then you swirl in some very tight noir of dead bodies, a reluctant gum shoe, and a femme fatale who lives up to the description and you’ve got what I call Cronenbergian Hammett. It’s exactly what you want that phrase to mean.
For every dead body gruesomely mutilated, or monstrous anomaly stalking the streets, there are also pages of unbelievable love, and lust and moment of sheer regret and guilt. This book is all about the truth of the world around us, the very dirty and hard to forget truth.
It’s no coincidence that this book, like Criminal, is coming from a place of truth from the writer. Wiebe has drawn from real life events to inform the tone of this book, if not so much the events. The lyrical prose of the captions captures you and doesn’t let go until it’s broken you, made you reveal all, and then sit huddled amidst the ruins of your life waiting for it all to end. It’s a meaningful book but the narrative is also gripping like a vice. And this book will become a vice for you.
Riley Rossmo, of Proof and Cowboy Ninja Viking fame, brings a solemn disgust to these pages and the colours and inks work to make you feel like you might not escape this town either. The darkness is claustrophobic and the bright red hair that illuminates the room is just as liable to kill you as love you, if not both.
This debut mini-come-ongoing from Image is the best comic so far in 2011 because it manages to shock you with both the depths of its depravity as well as the heights of its love. This book is a coin, spinning in the air, and you worry it might never land while praying for the exact same thing.
These are my favourite comics so far in 2011. You might not agree with all of them, or the order might be off, but I truly believe if you haven’t tried any of these titles yet then you should dip a toe. If you like some of these comics hit the Amazon links all over the article. There’s some amazing entertainment, and enlightenment, to be had. It’s nice to look back over the year and see so many pleasing experiences. Here’s to six more months of the same. What’s your top ten for 2011? I'm absolutely dying to know. Maybe you might show me something I hadn't caught at all. Let me know in the comments below.