Thursday, July 5, 2012

Top 10 Thursday Special - The Best Comics of 2012, So Far

I like assembling this list because there is no real pressure. This is just what's catching my eye right now and so far this year. The ten books after this jump are all rock solid gold. I'll gladly stand by any of these choices for you, so long as you are moderately interested in the genre. I've got superheroes, bare knuckle brawlers, capes, and keys, five different publishers, and a plethora of mighty fine words and art. The criteria is, all these books are ones I cannot wait to open. These ones don’t sit on the dresser for very long, these ones I tear into. Have a peek and see the best 2012 has to offer, so far.

As a quick preamble, let’s rate some honourable mentions:

American Vampire – continues to be a special book and is still finding new places to explore
The Walking Dead – I am still enamoured with this book and the latest storyline is giving me great moments consistently
Road Rage – this comic adaptation of two short stories benefitted from the source material but the art was also dynamite
Animal Man – this is still a strong book but it missed out on the top ten due to a bit of wheel spinning lately
Conan the Barbarian – man, so gorgeous but Brian Wood is also killing it with the words
Birds of Prey – having never read the title, nor the characters, before, Swierczynski is really selling me on the fun here
Fatale – there’s no doubt Brubaker and Phillips are crafting something magical here but it just misses the list because it honestly feels like it’s always more when you read more than one issue at a time
The Strange Talent of Luther Strode – violently crazy and insanely inventive
The Activity – this was a book I didn’t truly ‘get’ until I read the first 3 issues in a sitting, and now I’m hooked
Winter Soldier – the other great Marvel book coming out right now
Daredevil – that Mole Man story is going to haunt me

Okay, those are the runners up, let’s get with the big show!

10. Heart

A sports comic with heart that'll make you feel. Yes, this certainly is that but if you feel you have any preconceived notion of what this actually is then you need to set that aside because I guarantee you it is so much more. Heart isn't just some Rocky for a new age and more brutal style of fighting. This isn't Rocky, isn't Wildcats, isn't Mighty Ducks, this isn't the sports flick set to paper you might be worried about. This comic is incredibly well told and insanely emotional.

Blair Butler makes you feel about our lead character and his narrative arc is sensational right up until the very last page. Kevin Mellon's art is rough and loose and perfectly suited to this tale. He makes the fight scenes, of which there are many, feel natural while also fulfilling the requirement they act as art and pages of storytelling as well. The balance is just right and once you start this story you will be sucked completely in to what happens.

9. Season One: X-Men

This is the perfect superhero gift you could buy anyone at entry level and build a lifelong love with spandex comics forevermore. This is the strength of how Dennis Hopeless and Jamie McKelvie took the spirit of Stan and Jack and made them into something modern and yet retro, a Valentine while also a new calling card, and a throwback while a look forward at just what can be done and how to do it.

This book is a teen romance, no bones about it. There is some brilliant action and some deep character moments but ultimately this is a romance book and you love the book for this not despite of it. McKelvie’s style has the ultimate ‘yearning heart’ feel to it and in the end this book is fun. You won’t start it without finishing it. You won’t finish it without feeling something. This is an emotive comic and that this can be done not just with a superhero story but with one that has ostensibly already been around the block is a testament to everyone involved in its creation.

I do not currently read any X-Men books and haven’t for some time and yet this book was exactly what I needed and wanted. This isn’t an X-book, shake that stigma off, this is just a very good book and one openly accessible to absolutely anyone.

8. Prophet

Imagine a sci-fi/fantasy novel from 100 years ago being adapted by the European comics scene from 30 years ago. That mindset will start you off on the ground floor of Prophet in its newest incarnation. Then, once you’re on board, you'll see this elevator goes right to the moon. There's something awe inspiring about a book that simply wants to express and create and feel without being constrained by the formulas of the medium. Brandon Graham, with Simon Roy, make this book unique without it seeming to want to be defined by its difference as its major characteristic. Ultimately, this is a book that's smart/fun/zany/brilliant/choose your own superlative.

Graham doesn't seem to care about the past too much because the future is a more dazzling place in which to be. Prophet might be spawned from the old Liefeld property but this incarnation is definitely something only Graham could do. The creativity isn't just limitless, it's actively hunting down other aspects of creativity and gutting it to put the plaited trophy on its helmet. This is a book not content with doing anything you might feel you know is coming.

The style of storytelling is also a world apart as Graham tells this prose tale set to images and lets the narrative form loosely over great set pieces. If you want comics to try something new, get on board here. And if you want to try something new with comics then you need to tuck your chair in, sit up straight, and listen because school is in session.

7. Uncanny X-Force

How do you follow up a modern classic? Rick Remender brought us The Dark Angel Saga and delivered everything such a title should have. One of the greatest superhero tales of the modern era, it nailed every aspect of what a cape comic should do. So, again I ask, how do you follow that up?

Remender has played it smart by not going for the amazing epic again but rather this time managing to tell a very personal tale in the guise of a bombastic high fantasy epic. While the landscape changed to Otherworld and suddenly Wolverine was fighting bone dragons and majestical mages were summoning arcane strength, the base of this tale was Psylocke coming to grips with what has happened and what she's done. This arc was a tale of emotion hidden behind pages of high rock opera. It wasn't as epic as the Saga before it and it purposefully shouldn't have been. The foot has to come off the pedal, the audience needs time to come to grips with everything as much as the characters do.

Uncanny X-Force easily continues to be Marvel's greatest book right now.

6. The Secret History of D.B. Cooper

I did not see this book coming at all. Pretty sure I only heard about it in the week before it came out. I got my Google Fu on and realised the book sounded cool, surely cool enough to try on ComiXology, right? Yes, Past Ryan, very right. The resulting book has quickly become one of my favourites and I can tell this because I really look forward to it the week it drops and it always crests the top of my reading stack, where the awesome stuff I can't wait to read resides.

The book is about the ethereal historical figure D.B. Cooper and Brian Churilla decides to present him as a mystical master of the brain melting espionage we never knew existed. Imagine if Cronenberg adapted a le Carre novel - yeah, pretty damn cool. At the centre of the book, Cooper is made to be a fantastic and intriguing lead. There's a cool charisma to his actions and mannerisms. This guy is in charge even when he maybe isn’t and certainly shouldn’t be.

I am also elegantly intrigued by his sidekick on the wandering brain wilderness and find the molten madness of the action sequences is equally a draw against the central mystery of the plot. This is the sort of book only a few read, and certainly not enough, but every single one who does will actively rave to friends about it. Take heed, we are passionate for a reason – this book is a must read.

5. Scalped

This one almost got left off. Almost forgotten. It is just assumed this is good and always will be and so when it is it doesn't exceed expectations. We always demanded the very best and we always got it. Jason Aaron has crafted a true modern classic with R.M. Guera and it won't be forgotten soon.

Scalped is nearing the end and it has been delightful to watch as it brings its A game sprint to the finish line. Scalped plans to go out with a bang and this final arc is ensuring that happens. There are certain titles that define a period of history in comics and Scalped will most certainly be one of those titles. This is timeless, classic, and perfect.

4. The Manhattan Projects

This book came out of nowhere and reminded us what Jonathan Hickman can do when he's unfettered, working with his brain, and maybe just a little bit angry. This hyper-science book is a bastardly delight of murderous intelligence and intelligent murderers. Everything here is presented as a high concept, a thought provoking idea, and yet the book never feels clogged. Hickman weaves these narrative elements elegantly through the single issues so we experience a monthly dose of the sublime while also building the blocks for a tower not only higher than we can see but higher than we knew could be seen.

The use of real historical figures was the X element for me and with the very first issue Hickman assuaged fears and showed me he knew exactly what he was doing. For every reason why S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't work this does. The figures aren't tweaked to fit any other history, this is Hickman building from the ground up with toys he has borrowed and broken and bent like some grown up version of the kid in Toy Story. The result is a mixture of you needing to research as well as you need to open your mind. Oh, and you'll also have a hell of a lot of fun because Hickman is not trying to be didactic here, he's just out to entertain and stretch his creativity as far as it will go.

It helps that Nick Pitarra is delivering some seriously amazing art and Jordie Bellaire is backing up with colours that set the tone completely. This is the sort of comic tale you'd hope to find in Weird Science and you'd then spend your childhood reading it until the pages crumbled in your fingers. If you like super high quality sci fi mixed with fantastic comics then I guarantee you this comic is needed in your life.

3. Locke & Key

There weren't even that many issues eligible for the year but when they are honestly this good it's hard to look away. I admittedly only recently got caught up on Locke & Key but I can completely confirm the book as a whole is one of the best things in comics ever. Seriously. This is everything you wish to love about comics and wish there was more of. Character, plot, setting, dialogue, page structure. This is a master class on comics and we all need to be paying attention.

The miniseries just wrapped up was a historical lesson on the foundational structure of the book's mythology. Secrets were shared, knowledge was dropped, and not a foot was put out of place. This is about as good as it gets with longform story telling.

2. Batman

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are delivering this year's superhero masterpiece. The Court of Owls is consistently fantastic every month, but each month it's for a different reason. It started in January with Batman stuck underground in #5 - still my favourite single issue of 2012, so far. A guy running around in black bat armour shouldn't be such a well told book but the structure, flow, dynamism, and overall level of entrainment is hard to beat. This is the kind of book lifelong loves are spawned from.

There have been many great Batman stories recently but this one has the scent of a classic on it. I'd stand The Court of Owls right up against The Cult any day - a fantastically freaky double bill if we ever got one from the caped crusader. This story blends the line between great prose fiction and insanely cool super heroic action. As much as I like DKR and Year One for the high level of artistry brought to those tales, I also liked the action sequences. Year One played it raw but DKR went way over the top. Court of Owls pitches, mostly, somewhere in between. There's some massively unique and awe inspiring action sequences but there's also some deadly scary parts that drip with tension and a terse flow only Gotham can inspire.

Capullo's consistent approach to showing Bruce Wayne's descent has made this an amazing title to watch purely on an artistic level. He generates a page that has style and flair but also keeps the storyline at heart. I love the stubble but the reveal of Batman's new armour was just one of those 'aw, yeah' moments you have to reserve for once a year, or more, and all parties involved nailed it. Special mention should also go to the tempo and timing of the back up tales which have been superb. Rafael Albuquerque is a divine choice to bring more Gotham and Pennyworths to life.

1. Saga

Wow, this feels like such a cliche.

Trust me, I weighed this one up completely, almost like I was trying to not let this one be the top slot, but in the end it simply had to be for far too many reasons. This is a spectacular comic that is delivering an amazing story but is also making me fall deeper in love with comics. A study of a relationship amidst a sci fi terrain that aggressively knows no limitations. Brian K Vaughan is so confident in his abilities to experiment he isn't reining himself in on anything. This is an unfettered imagination let loose.

You can view Saga on any scale and it is exquisitely brilliant. The massive scale of the love between Marko and Alana - which to me is wider in scope and possibility than the fantastical element of this book - elliptically broadens in areas of dark and light. This is exactly how new relationships go. For as much as our leads feel destined to be together, and assume they are, there is an uncertainty on the page because there is an uncertainty in their hearts. They haven't had time to completely fall because they don't yet completely know. Such inherent understanding of how emotions work is what drives the grunt behind this comic.

If you tighten your view on the book to the micro, you could pick just about any page and find the delicate way BKV and Fiona Staples structure their tale is stunningly amazing. There are so many examples of pages where the pace and plot rises and crests and falls into us like a molten wave. Saga drags you out into the field and makes you vomit your emotions. It then kicks the shit out of them while you watch. Sure, it's astounding to see such a feat actually performed but it also drains you. You've been warned, in the very best of ways.

Saga is the very best kind of sequential narrative because it engages you wholly each month, satisfies, but leaves you wanting more. And then it delivers on the wider tale. The varied cast is great, the ideas and imagination are off the scale, and you can sit back and have so much fun while being smartly entertained. There's your comic of the year right now, this one will be hard to beat.

These are my Top 10 choices of favourite comics so far this year. If I've missed one then you must tell me about it so I can check it out or prove you wrong, whichever is needed. Hit me up in the comments with your own Top 10 list.

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Anonymous said...

I'm torn with Batman. Wholeheartedly agree with you on Capullo's art. The craft of Snyder's writing is great. The story, though? In between DKR and Year One? Not in my opinion.

Nearly a year's worth of Batman outmatched physically and mentally for what, a new Owlman who thinks he's Bruce's brother? No thanks. I will give you that it's one of the best titles DC has of 2012, though.

Anonymous said...

Same as the above poster really. Not feeling Batman as much as Snyder's other work, I even dropped the title actually. Even though it's the same writer, it just doesn't get me as much as his Detective Comics run did.

Loved the first 2 issues of Saga, since my local shop closed down I get my comic fixes in 3 to 4 months intervals when I place an online order. Usually I don't get to read everything before the next shipment comes in as I buy a lot in one go, and since I am of the "save the best for last" variety, issue number 3 is at the bottom of my current pile along with unread Fables and the Walking Dead issues. No small feat.


CombatSpoon86 said...

Manhattan Projects and Saga made it yes.

Knowing Nick Pitarra personally, I'm so happy that book is getting alot of great awesome reviews. I love the book and glad everybody loves it too.

Klep said...

Batman is good, but it's nowhere near as good as Winter Soldier or Fatale in my opinion. I enjoy reading Batman, but I'm completely enthralled by the other two. I'd also easily put Batwoman and Wonder Woman ahead of Batman on the list.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Anon 1 - Oh, no, I didn't mean the story was between Year One and DKR, I meant the level of violent action was somewhere in between.

Interesting to see Batman tear the crowd up so much. I like seeing this sort of feedback. All I can say is, every issue of Batman completely grabs me and i cannot wait for the next one. To me, that's the sign of a great comic.

brandon said...

Good list.

1) Walking Dead
2) Chew
3) Star Wars Dawn of the Jedi
4) No Place Like Home
5) American Vampire
6) Batman
7) Scalped
8) Saga
9)Planet of the Apes
10) Uncanny X-Force

Honorable mention: Elephantmen, Wolverine and the X-Men.

Dustin Lesperance said...

Thanks to this post, I'll be looking into numbers 8, 7, 4 and 1. And maybe I'll finally read the Locke and Key issues I have (maybe).

I'm another who doesn't fully support Batman on this list -- for the same reasons Anon 1 mentioned, really. Admittedly, I'm not a huge Batman fan and have only added him to my pull list with the New 52, I just wasn't wowed (most of my other Batman reads have been critically acclaimed).

Random blogger question: how do you get your pictures to line up so well with the text? Is it conscious design choice to write selections long enough to wrap around the images, or is there something more to it? I find when I try to do something similar, I make a huge mess of it.

Aaron Martinez said...

I love the list and agree with most of it, the ones that I not it's because I haven't read them yet but I wanna try them.

I being in love with Saga and The Mannhatan Projects, don't know wich I like the most.

Batman it's being awesome, and I give Snyder a lot of credit because this storyline alone it's being going for 10 issues and I haven't been tired evern once, always waiting for next issue,

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Dustin - in regards to the images, I do consciously try to make the sections long enough to accept each picture entirely. It doesn't always work, and Locke and Key is one example above, so there I just enter down a few times before starting the next section. Then the images are just aligned to the right.

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