Friday, December 21, 2012

Trade Waiting - Top 10 Comics of the Year

After the sky is falling attitude that sunk its dirty little hands into 2011, this year was a pleasant surprise. There has been some truly fantastic comic books released and no where more so than the ones that have spines, be it collections of previously released material, archival projects or dare I say it, original graphic novels. So many great books have been released this year that narrowing it down to ten has been a chore, so a quick honourable mention must go to Ron Wimberly's Prince of Cats, the continuing saga of Rick Remender's Uncanny X-Force, Fantagraphics respectful and beautiful EC Comics reprints, the Scott Snyder double header of Batman and American Vampire, every creator owned Joe Casey book, and the artistic tour de force that was The Strange Talent of Luthor Strode. (That's a lot of honourable mentions, but as I said, 2012 was a great year for comics.) So, without further ado, what are Trade Waiting's top ten books of the year? find out after the jump.

10. Batman Inc Volume One
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Yanick Paquette, Chris Burnham, and Cameron Stewart
Published by DC Comics

The beginning of the end for Grant Morrison's multi year run with DC Comics most popular character, Batman Inc takes the idea of Bruce Wayne being the beneficiary for a worldwide network of Batmen and runs with it. This allows Morrison to write the Batman book we know he wanted to write all along; over the top tales of international espionage and intrigue shot through a trademark off kilter lens. As with the rest of his run, Grant utilizes lesser known DC heroes and villains and, at times, adds a few more to the toy box. This is a book that rewards multiple reads, drip feeding you clues until the final big reveal, making you revisit the previous issues to prove that Morrison knew where he was going all along. Plus, we get to see the Man of Bats again, the Native American Batman and arguably the saddest, both literally and figuratively, member of Batman Inc. Adding to this are three of the best artists currently on the DC roster. Paquette turns in the best work of his career in the opening act with smooth lines and chiseled features. Burnham then steps up, bettering the work that he has previously done with Joe Casey, drawing with a line that is a complete homage to both Geoff Darrow and Frank Quitely. Finally Cameron Stewart handles the final tale of a St Trinians style school for villains and assassins that play to his strengths of big action and great direction. Plus Stewart gives us an unnerving headmistress that looks and dresses uncannily like Madonna. Cool and sexy, two words not usually associated with a Batman title in recent years, Batman Inc is the perfect collection for the more thoughtful superhero fan.

9. Secret Avengers: Run the Mission, Don't Get Seen, Save the World
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by (deep breath) Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson, Kev Walker and Frank Martin, David Aja and Raul Allen, Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano and Jose Villarrubia, Alex Maleev and Nick Filardi, and Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger  and Chris Sotomayer
Published by Marvel Comics

Warren Ellis' run on Secret Avengers might as well have been called 'this is what Global Frequency season three would have looked like if DC and I were still friends.' Each issue is a done in one tale that has a satisfying payoff specifically made for the comic book fan that is sick of the six issue arc structure that has almost reached epidemic proportions within the mainstream. With Steve Rogers taking the role of Miranda Zero, he recruits various members of the Secret Avengers team for their specific skill sets to fight back against the nefarious Shadow Council. Typical bonkers Ellis science is employed throughout the series, but even more intriguing is how Ellis hops from genre to genre whilst still managing to have that distinctive Ellis voice. Demon truckers, Cold War espionage, Slaughterhouse 5 style time travel, Toho monster movies and more are featured within this collection. Warren Ellis may be the draw, but the true stars of the show are the artists. Whether Marvel offered these artists to Ellis, or just as likely, Ellis asked for them, each one has a tale built to showcase their strengths and as these are some of the best artists within Marvel's talent stable at the moment, their strengths are many. Personally, I'm partial to the 'Beast saves the world with his big brain' Jamie McKelvie issue, and the Cap, Shang-Chi, and Sharon Carter trapped in an M.C Escher painting zaniness of the David Aja issue but if you were to say different no one would disagree. As a showcase for how amazing Marvel's artists are, you will not get better than this.  

8. White Clay by Thomas Herpich
Published by AdHouse Books

Thomas Herpich is one part of the hive mind that creates the ludicrously successful Adventure Time, (two asides, Trade Waiting favourite Jesse Moynihan and everyone else's favourite Michael Deforge are also part of the Adventure Time team and also, all the praise showered upon Adventure Time is well deserved. There aren't many shows, let alone cartoons, that handle friendship, life, death, and the whole why are we here argument better than the Cartoon Network smash.) With White Clay, Herpich has become a true comic book force to be reckoned with. A collection of short stories, White Clay succesfully handles big emotional and physical ideas with skill and panache. In fact, with what looks like no effort at all, (although there has definitely been a whole lot of effort put into to this,) handles bigger ideas than most so called 'intelligent' writers can ever come close to achieving  What makes it all the more profound is, like Adventure Time, its funny animal/scaled back art style disarms you into thinking the book is going to be a lesser experience than it actually is. I'm not going to pretend that I fully understood everything that was going on between the covers the first time I read it, but one thing is for sure, there is only one other book in recent years (that we'll get to later on this list) that stuck with me long after it was put down. Beautiful and Intelligent, White Clay is like being close to euphoria but just being too far away to obtain it.

7. BPRD Plague of Frogs book 3 and 4
Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Guy Davis and Dave Stewart
Published by Dark Horse

The sister book to Hellboy is possibly the best mainstream book on the stands. A horror book intelligently disguised as a superhero book, BPRD is touching, funny, and exciting. Unlike the Marvel and DC books that are trapped in their decades long history and and the shackles of being answerable to their owners, BPRD is answerable only to Mike Mignola. As such anything can happen and happen they do. Fan favourites die for good, turn to villainy for good, personalities change for good, basically all the things that big two books can't do without readers assuming the toys will be put back where they belong by the end of the next three year cycle. Within the final two BPRD hard covers, the Plague of Frogs story line that began all the way back in the first Hellboy stories draws to a close. Entire cities get torn to pieces, and things happen that can never be undone. Mignola's faith in Arcudi putting his babies through the wringer couldn't have been easy but by doing so has given these characters a lot of weight. Something else that is pretty amazing is how quickly Mignola's designs for these characters has been forgotten, that is how strong a presence Guy Davis has had on the title. One of the most underrated artists of our times, Davis is adept at doing all the things that makes BPRD great; strong character moments, great action, and terrifying monsters. These hard covers are without a doubt the best way to enjoy one of the better serialized comics of our times.

6. American Barbarian by Tom Scioli
Published by AdHouse Books 

Originally serialized on the internet, Godland artist Tom Scioli finally released his opus and love letter to Jack Kirby into a beautiful hard cover this year. Telling the tale of Meric and his battle with the evil Two-Tank-Omen, essentially a giant sphinx like character with tanks for feet, American Barbarian not only wears its influences on its sleeve but also its capacity for fun. The classic line work is matched by modern and incredibly funny dialogue, and the scenarios that Meric is thrown into allow Scioli to showcase both his dynamic art and brilliant sense of humour. Never letting up, American Barbarian moves at a break neck speed through the world that Scioli has created with Meric not only doing battle with the aforementioned Two-Tank-Omen but also Robot knights, Dinosaurs, and wait for it, Robot Dinosaurs also making alliances along the way with a surprisingly rounded out supporting cast. Preposterous scenarios and great humour are all well and good but American Barbarian would probably fall flat if not for the stunning Kirby homage that Scioli employs, adding a dynamism not seen since the King himself put pen to paper. Not content with just being a Kirby pastiche though, Scioli uses a multitude of other techniques to show he is not just a one trick pony. Fans of not only Kamandi and The Fourth World saga but also ones of The Masters of the Universe, Conan, and other eighties cartoons and films will be right at home with American Barbarian.

5. King City by Brandon Graham 
Published by Image Comics

Has anyone had a more successful year, both critically and commercially, than Brandon Graham? True, he will never sell Avengers numbers on his books, but he has managed to carve a niche for himself in an unforgiving comic book industry without having to compromise his style or vision. He had some porn comics and a few fantastic shorts in the Meathaus anthologies already out there but King City, and in particular this complete volume was when Graham had announced that he had truly arrived. King City is the tale of Joe, a cat master, and his weapon/pet/companion J.J Cattingsworth, and the adventures they embark on. But it isn't really because Graham makes sure that this isn't structured like any book you have read. Sure, there are a few moments of action but most of the big moments happen off panel, with Graham more interested in Joe's interactions with his friend Pete, his ex Anna and her new boyfriend Max, and his on off lover Beebay. This is where King City shines, as a treaty on love, friendship and being there for the people you care about. It helps that King City is a place where there are street gangs that dress like owls, there are zombie wars, and strange squid monsters roam, and that the cast treat these things like they are the norm. Intelligently, Graham uses these weird scenarios to deal with very real themes such as loss of love and loved ones, survivors guilt, drug use and others that we all have to deal with. It also helps that Graham's art is so unique and so unlike anyone else out there that every time you turn the page there is a new wonder to behold. If you haven't experienced King City yet, you need to do everything on your power to remedy that.

4. Prophet Volume 1: Remission
Written by Brandon Graham 
Art by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, and Giannis Milogiannis 
Published by Image Comics

Prophet, a muscles upon muscles style character so synonymous with Rob Liefeld was given a relaunch and a face lift this year and it couldn't have been any more different than what came before it. Graham has taken the opportunity that was given to him and, along with his artistic collaborators, created a book that has shown the American comic book reading audiences what they have been missing all these years. Influenced, not only artistically but conceptually by talents such as Moebius and Jodorowsky, Masamune Shirow, and Ray Harryhausen, Prophet has more ingenious and exciting ideas in one issue than most stories can muster in a lifetime. Telling the tale of different John Prophet's, both clones and the original, Prophet: Remission is confusing and astonishing in equal measure, drip feeding you the story of these characters whilst teasing a promise that it will all make sense eventually. If this top ten was based purely on art alone, it would be standing tall at the top spot. Everyone has their favourite artists but I dare you to come up with a living artist who could handle the scripts Brandon Graham provides better than the artists on this book. Simon Roy's Moebius and Hermann styled art starts you off and has a sense of scale that is just magnificent. Then we are given a chapter from Dalrymple, who, for people who have not seen his work before, has a soft almost pastel like line and palette. After this Graham himself handles a chapter, and then finally we are treated to Giannis Milogiannis. Picture one of the great manga practitioners such as Shirow and then marry it with a scratchy, kinetic style from someone such as Bill Sienkiewicz and you will get some sort of idea of the style that Milogiannis employs. This is an amazing and crazy comic that needs to be experienced by all.

3. Scalped Volume 9: Knuckle Up, and Scalped Volume 10: Trails End
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by R.M Guera and others 
Published by DC/Vertigo 

The final act of Scalped, like the ones that came before it, is beautiful, harrowing, and at times heartwarming. Both Dash and Lincoln have been put through the meat grinder by Aaron and Guera and these two volumes offer them both a chance of redemption. It's a testament to both Aaron's love for the characters and his astonishing ability to paint realistic characters that has made every volume of Scalped so great. Easy comparisons to The Wire and other multi character long form dramas have been made, but where in The Wire where good and bad is blurred but the line in the sand is always there, Scalped has no line. Whilst Aaron made Dash the star of the book, it is Lincoln Red Crow that is its most complex and interesting character; a man who only wanted what was right for the rez and unfortunately knew too well that to get it would have to paint himself as the villain of the piece. The inner turmoil that Lincoln struggles with is truly where this book shines, and by the end of Scalped Aaron lets you feel like you're the only person that really understands who Lincoln is. On top of all this, and this is where The Wire comparisons are justified, Aaron takes great pains to make you care for even the most minor of supporting cast members. Granny, Carol, Catcher, Dino, Rooster, Sheriff Falls Down and many more get their chance in the spotlight making the rez feel vibrant and alive. R.M Guera should not be discounted in making all the things mentioned above work so well. The style he employs in Scalped is ugly and brutal with thick brush work making the rez feel like the ghetto that Aaron describes it as. His ability with the emotions that the cast experiences are so good it often makes the need for dialogue or exposition redundant. Hopefully, this isn't the last we see of the Aaron/Guera team and it will be exciting to see what they tackle next.

2. Prison Pit 4 by Johnny Ryan
Published by Fantagraphics

What is there to say about Prison Pit that hasn't been said? One thing is for certain, it's sure to divide opinion at a dinner party, but that is more than likely Ryan's plan all along. The fourth book in a series of supposedly six, Prison Pit recounts the tale of CF, (as with most, if not all of Prison Pit, CF's name is decidedly too hot for TV, or as the kids all say nowadays NSFW,) a creature who has been dumped onto a barren planet filled to the brim with monsters, headcases, and all manner of nastiness, and that's about it. Johnny Ryan has no interest in how's or why's or even the most rudimentary aspects of story, but what he is interested in is fighting and hyper violence, which to be fair, would be more acceptable to the masses if it was drawn by Ivan Reis or another one of Geoff Johns' collaborators. The other thing Ryan may or may not be interested in is how hilarious and stupid comic book violence can be. Honestly, there isn't a comic that has given me more belly laughs in my entire life. It's the sort of book that you laugh at, your other half asks why you are laughing so you show them and they proceed to roll their eyes, finally realising what a juvenile idiot they have found themselves in a relationship with. Or maybe that's just me.

1. The Furry Trap by Josh Simmons
Published by Fantagraphics

It's hard to call Josh Simmons collection of short stories my favourite book of the year or even saying that I actively enjoyed it, but when pressed with trying to think if there has been anything released in 2012 that has been better, I come up short. The Furry Trap is pure exploitation; violent, disgusting, and bound to make you feel uncomfortable but it also does what the best fiction is meant to, it stays with you long after you have put the book down. To pull off horror in a comic book is tough; horror relies so much on dictating the pace to the person experiencing it that it often fails when put on the printed page where it is actually the reader that dictates the pace. Simmons gets past this by basically putting your nightmares onto paper. The eleven short stories contained within The Furry Trap start off as pieces of graphic violence but as the book goes on the violence becomes less overt and because of it, make these stories even more unsettling. The three highlights in a book packed full of them are 'Jesus Christ,' a wordless tale that shows a city sized monster laying waste to the landscape around him that really showcase Simmons artistic chops, 'The Mark of the Bat,' that shows Batman reaching his logical conclusion of ridding the streets of all crime, including in this case vagrancy with horrific results. The true star of The Furry Trap though, is 'Demonwood,' a tale about a man finding a cute, impish creature down a well after his car breaks down which is quite possibly the scariest thing I have ever experienced in fiction. Simmons subtly changes his art style and the techniques he employs to suit the needs of each tale; some have a day-glo colour palette, some are lush with detail, some are stark black and white, but each one really shows that Simmons is a cartoonist of the highest caliber. This is not a book for the faint hearted, but if you can stomach it will be a true experience. Not many comics can say that.

So there you have it, The Trade Waiting Top 10 Comics of the Year. Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think and also what your favourite books were this year.

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