Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 10 Comics for 2012

Happy (almost) New Year!

It’s Dec. 31, so it’s time for my “Best of 2012” review, with the usual note that: 1) I don’t read everything, so this is actually the “Best of what Chuck read in 2012” list; and 2) Your top 10 list is probably very different. This is just my opinion at work.

Before we get to the best, let’s get the “Worst of 2012” out of the way. This year I gave no “F” grades at all (always a good sign), a “D+” and three “D’s” – so it’s between Amazing Spider-Man #692 and #700 and Phantom Stranger #0 - a tough choice, as they’re all truly bad. I really thought “PS” was going to win this in a walk - but last week’s Spidey #700 snatched away the trophy at the last second.

Now, back to the good stuff! These are comics that either earned an “A” or should have - or were memorable enough to be included. Only one comic earned an “A+” this year.

Among the “Honorable Mention” comics that could easily have been in the Top 10 are:

- Avengers Assemble
- Before Watchmen: Nite Owl
- Captain America
- Defenders
- Fatale
- Hellboy in Hell
- Indestructible Hulk
- League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century 2009
- Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom
- Shade

And now, our Top 10 for 2012:

10. King Conan #1

I was both surprised and delighted to see this latest adaptation of Robert E. Howard's stories about King Conan.

Delighted because it marks the return of writer Tim Truman and artist Tomas Giorello, both of whom turned in outstanding work on the recent "Scarlet Citadel" series (among others).

They're a perfect match, with Truman delivering hard-hitting action and Giorello providing amazing, lush artwork.

I was somewhat surprised, though, to see the Howard story "The Phoenix on the Sword" is the basis for this mini-series, because the original story is very short one.

But to their credit, the creative team has expanded on the story without it feeling bloated or padded. We meet the older Conan, now King of Aquilonia, as he relates the story of an early attempt to take away his throne. It also features Conan's oldest and most dangerous enemy.

It's always been a favorite of mine, and surprisingly enough, it's actually the first Conan story published (in 1932). Howard retooled a King Kull story, added a supernatural element and cast his newest creation, Conan, in the lead role. The result is a classic!


9. Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #1

This is the second comic in the Before Watchmen series, and so far the score is 2-and-0.

Silk Spectre excels thanks to the "A-list" creators working on it, including co-writers Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner (who's also the artist) and colorist Paul Mounts.

It's a story that's both tender and tough, as we meet Laurie Jupiter, the daughter of Sally Jupiter and the inheritor of the Silk Spectre role.

It's not an easy life, given that her mom has such a... forceful personality, and a less-than-wholesome reputation.

The story's all about rebellion, revelation and romance. It's a strong start.

The art is a pure delight. Amanda Conner is one of the best in the business, creating expressive characters who are believable and sympathetic. The design of the book follows the "feel" of Dave Gibbons' cinematic work on the original series (just as the script evokes original writer Alan Moore's work), while giving it an original spin.

By the way, there are some adult themes in here, so this series isn't recommended for young kids.

I'm still torn over whether or not it's proper for DC to bring these characters back under different creators - but there's no denying that this is an outstanding comic.


8. Avengers #1

Of all the "Marvel NOW" titles, this is the one I've probably been looking forward to the most.

That's because writer Jonathan Hickman has been doing such impressive work on books like Fantastic Four, SHIELD and the sadly-underrated Secret Warriors.

Now he's tackling The Avengers, following a long and successful run by Brian Bendis on the title, and he wastes no time in carving out his own spot.

This issue starts with an Avengers line-up that's taken right from the film, as Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, Hawkeye and the Black Widow investigate a strange attack - and an ever stranger menace - that has set up shop on Mars.

You'd expect this powerhouse team to have no problem dealing with any menace - but that's just part of the surprise waiting in this story (which we won't spoil here, of course).

The story sets the stage for a sea change with the team - and as that final page indicates, it's going to be very interesting to see what happens next!

The art for this issue is by Jerome Opena, and I have to admit it took me a while to get used to it. His style is very organic and unique, with some echoes of the great Mobius. By about halfway through the issue, I was sold.

Hickman specializes in big, sprawling stories, and that's exactly what we're getting here. I love it!


7. Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1

I have to admit that I'm torn by the whole Before Watchmen idea.

On one hand, it seems rather crass to go creating new stories using characters so intrinsically linked to their creators - Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Also, the original Watchmen is such a gem in the comics firmament - does it really need to be expanded on?

On the other hand, DC Comics owns the characters and has been sitting on a potential cash cow for decades. Also, comics is by tradition a medium that allows many interpretations of characters. Would we have the Avengers or the Justice League or Wonder Woman (etc.) if the "no one but the original creators can use 'em" concept was still in effect? And maybe it should be.

Well, whether right or wrong, Beyond Watchmen is a reality - and kudos to DC for at least turning the characters over to some of the top creative talents in comics.

Leading the way is Minutemen, written and drawn by Darwyn Cooke. And let me just say, so far I've never seen any work by him that wasn't well worth the investment.

This comic continues that string.

The story is told by the original Nite Owl, who recounts the origin of the team - and an unusual tale it is. Sometimes grim, sometimes funny, always clever, it shows us the unique heroism - and sometimes raw commercialism - that brought together the team that preceded the Watchmen.

Even more than the story, the art recalls the style Dave Gibbons perfected on the series (without being a slavish imitation), with panels that evoke similar geometry and classic film technique, all to tell a fantastic story set in the real world. It's wonderful work.

Some people will hate this series (does Casablanca need a prequel?) - and some will love it.

My gut feeling is that it's wrong to be cashing in on this classic - but I have to admit that I love this comic just the same.


6. Daredevil #15

For over a year now, the creative team on Daredevil has been doing consistently excellent work.

For proof, look no further than the recent Eisner Awards, where the Man Without Fear walked away with three awards: Best Continuing Series, Best Single Issue for Daredevil #7, and Best Writer to Mark Waid.

And there's a reason for all this: it's one of the best comics being published today.

It's a simple combination. Great characters, original stories, excellent artwork, clever solutions to difficult challenges, and a healthy dose of humor.

Daredevil has faced overpowering opponents, five crime cartels at once, solved grisly crimes and seduced beautiful women (though not all in the same issue).

But in this issue he may finally face defeat. Last issue he was spirited away to Latveria, where an underling of Doctor Doom's performed an experiment that slowly destroyed his senses - including his radar sense.

Cut off from the world, how can Daredevil hope to survive, much less escape?

The answer lies in yet another clever tale from writer Mark Waid, loaded with surprising twists and turns.

The art is by Chris Samnee, and it's wonderful - he's quickly become one of my favorites, and this issue is loaded with clever visual styles, some dramatic confrontations and powerful layouts.

If you have any interest at all in superhero comics, you should be buying this one. The creative team puts on a clinic in each issue in how to do comics "right."


5. Avengers #32

OK, this is one of my favorite comics of the year because it features the return of one of my favorite characters, one who's been "missing" for far too long.

It's also a story that revives a favorite setting that dates back a few decades ago, unnamed here (as well as the hero) to avoid spoiling a delightful story.

Writer Brian Bendis is wrapping up his long run on this title, and it looks like he's making an effort to wrap up some loose ends before he goes.

There are a few gaps in the logic of this issue, but those are picky points - this is a fun romp as the story gets back to basics.

Throw in some great art by Mike Mahew and the criminally-underused Brandon Peterson, and you have an issue that's not to be missed.


4. Saga #1

Well, this one definitely isn't for kids - but it's mighty entertaining.

Saga follows the time-honored tradition of telling a big story from the very beginning - namely, the birth of the main character.

The humble birth is the result of a forbidden love between a couple from different races - and as a result, many powerful forces are aligning against them and trying to hunt them down.

To tell more would spoil the fun that awaits. The story written by Brian K. Vaughan is a delight, with great dialogue, loads of surprises and wonderful characters.

The art is by Fiona Staples, and it's wonderful - expressive, personal and panoramic all at once, with great character designs and powerful layouts.

My only complaint is that it's very difficult to review this comic without giving away too much. It's a heck of a deal, with 44 pages for a mere $2.99!

All that and a cliffhanger ending - I can't wait to see where this goes from here!


3. Action Comics #13

This is actually the only comic that received a grade of “A+” this year, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to give it the “best of” award this year - but it was an excellent comic.

What I love about it is the backup story (more on that in a moment), and that the main story is a solid Halloween tale that brings one of my favorite bits of Superman lore to the modern day - the Phantom Zone - and returns one of my (sentimental) favorite characters to the title (here unnamed to avoid spoiling the surprise).

The story is a clever bit of business by Grant Morrison (though I seem to have missed the part where Superman builds his Fortress of Solitude), introducing some Kryptonians to Clark's world.

The art by Travel Foreman is quite good - moody and dark, as even a science fiction horror story requires.

But my favorite part, by far, is the touching love story at the heart of the issue. That is brought to the fore in the backup feature by writer Sholly Fisch and penciler Brad Walker.

I don't want to give anything away, but it's a surprisingly sweet and touching tale that brought genuine tears to my eyes. How often does a comic book do that?

A special issue, and highly recommended!


2. Fantastic Four #604

When it was printed in March, I wrote: Fantastic Four #604 is the best comic of the year.

So far.

Being a manly kinda guy, there are some things I hate to admit - but full disclosure requires me to tell you that the ending of this issue made me shed an actual tear. Maybe two.

Pretty amazing (and rare) when a comic book manages that.

What we have here is nothing less that the wrap-up of one long storyline that Jonathan Hickman has been weaving since he took over the title. We see how a decision Reed Richards made at the beginning of the story has played out into the possible destruction of Earth and the extended FF family.

All the pieces are in place - the four cities, the Negative Zone, the Council of Reeds, the Inhumans, Johnny Storm's death (and return), the Future Foundation, Dr. Doom, Galactus, the Mad Celestials and some guest stars.

The art is by Steve Epting with Rick Bryant, and it's outstanding work, covering everything from massive cosmic battles to small personal moments and everything in between.

I can't talk any more about the comic without giving the events away, but let me just say: it's wonderful to see such a complex story pay off in such a satisfying way. Loved it!


1. Batman #5

With seven issues of this series earning an “A” this year, there’s little doubt that this is the best series for 2012 - and this issue was the best of the bunch.

It's rare for a creative team to manage a new way to play with the comics medium - and to their credit, that's just what they've done with this issue of Batman.

Writer Scott Snyder and artists Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion continue to build a new mythology in Gotham City around a organization known as the Council of Owls. The implication is that the group has been operating secretly in Gotham practically since it became a town, and they have many secrets.

One of them is a vast underground maze where Batman has been wandering for days. Is it real, is he dreaming or drugged? We don't know, but it's shocking to see the World's Most Dangerous Man struggling to survive.

This is more like a horror story than a superhero comic, and isn't recommended for young readers.

The art is terrific, with Capullo doing some amazing, clever things to tell this nightmarish story.

I don't want to say too much or give anything away, because it's a terrific comic - one of the best since the "New 52" started.

Highly recommended!


So that's my list - feel free to send yours in to us, either by email to or in the comment link below.

As always, thanks for reading - and here's hoping for a great 2013!


Hoy Murphy said...

Journey Into Mystery was my favorite series, at least while Little Loki was the star.

Chuck said...

I liked that series, too - very cleverly written. I should have included it in my "Honorable Mentions" at least.

El Vox said...

2012 was a good year for comics it appears. Here were some of the reads I enjoyed:

1. The Walking Dead--still at the top of my read list. I didn't care for issue #100 either, just too mean spirited and killed off a nice character, but it's still a compelling adventure.
2. Saga--nice art and compelling SF story.
3. Mystery Men--technically a 2011 comic, but I didn't read it until 2012. Very pulp inspired so that was the draw for me. Pretty enjoyable up to the ending, which was a bit anti-climatic, however I still would like to see a new series of this group. Here's a free preview:
4. Conan the Barbarian--Dark Horse, I've enjoyed this new run of Belit & Conan, with various artist.
5. Fatale--so far just read the first collect book, but it was a fun read over Halloween sort of noir, sort of H P Lovecraft and mystery.
6. Harvey Pekar's graphic novel, Cleveland--an ode to a city.

Chuck said...

El Vox, excellent choices - I like the new Conan book a lot, but had to lean toward the more classic version Truman did. I haven't gotten into the Walking Dead series at all (comics or TV series), but my son gave me the computer game as a Christmas present, so we'll see how that goes.