Here are my ten favorite superhero comics from 2011, the top-ranking of which will also be featured in my forthcoming overall best comics of the year list.
1. Animal Man (Jeff Lemire & Travel Foreman) - Jeff Lemire really struts his storytelling skills in this deliciously dark superhero title that oozes atmosphere and is drenched in horror. Introducing really cool concepts into the Animal Man mythos, Lemire creates scary villains in a story that sees him protecting his family, and his daughter as she comes into her powers, from those who would harm them. Foreman designs some great-looking baddies, and illustrates this creepy comic beautifully.
2. FF/Fantastic Four (Jonathan Hickman, Steve Epting, Greg Tocchini, Juan Bobilo, Barry Kitson & Others) - The new title FF launched this year, focusing the events of the Baxter Building on the Future Foundation, and bringing Spider-Man into the mix, as Human Torch was presumed dead in The Negative Zone. And then Fantastic Four relaunched at the end of the year in a thick anniversary issue that brought the culmination of years worth of storylines together in an epic battle on different fronts, involving The Inhumans, The Kree, The Negative Zone and a whole mess of villains and allies. Jonathan Hickman's run on Fantastic Four has been entertaining for years, but he's really paying things off at this stage in two books that remind us why we love superhero comics so much.
3. Angel & Faith (Christos Gage & Rebekah Isaacs) - A part of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Nine, Gage and Isaacs focus their attentions to Buffy's former flame, the vampire with a soul, Angel, and the badass slayer who has quite the history of recklessness and villainy. Together, they make a formidable team in a world where magic has been cut off from the creatures that prowl the streets of Earth. Gage gets the dialogue perfect from the get-go, and Isaacs draws Angel and Faith great, for a resemblance to the characters as we know them, without getting caught up in it. She kind of makes them her own. This is a fantastic comic, with tense action and a lovely chemistry between the characters. And it's, frankly, better than anything we saw in the Season Eight comics of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
4. Wonder Woman (Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang) - Wonder Woman seems to have been a comic that creators have had a hard time writing over the years, but Azzarello and Chiang get it right with their new incarnation of the Amazon princess, with a cool origin story and fun villains. They've found a nice balance of Diana in the real world and the mythological aspects of her story, for a lovely overall package that looks great and reads like an instant classic.
5. Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes #1 (Grant Morrison, Cameron Stewart & Chris Burnham) - Grant Morrison's oversized issue that picks up on events from the Batman Incorporated series sees elements come together in an action-packed story here as Batman uncovers the identity of Leviathan, and agents he's recruited over the series make appearances in a high-stakes battle. But I have to say that my favorite part of this issue was chapter one, which focuses on an all-girls school that trains villains. It has stunning art by Cameron Stewart, and I just love the hell out of this kick-ass story.
6. Ultimate Comics: X-Men (Nick Spencer & Paco Medina) - They aren't afraid to shake up the continuity on these Ultimate titles, which is why decades of hinting at a Days of Future Past type era in the regular Marvel Universe has come to pass in this Ultimate X-Men book where mutants are condemned to concentration camps and can be shot on sight. It's this boldness that gives the team a breath of much-needed fresh air. On a book like this, they don't have to be concerned with the status quo, but shake things up in cool ways, and Spencer and Medina know how to tell a story for emotional impact, focusing on a tight-knit team of young characters that play off of each other well.
7. Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. (Jeff Lemire & Alberto Ponticelli) - I loved reading about Frankenstein in Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers, and Lemire resurrects the big guy, and his lovely bride, in this new series that follows a secret organization, S.H.A.D.E., that deals with supernatural threats. Lemire has also assembled a great supporting cast of characters around Frankenstein, for a team that resembles the classic Universal movie monsters. This title is a lot of fun, with lots of personality to each of the monsters, and a crazy, eccentric organization overseeing them.
8. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz, Dan Duncan, Brian Lynch, Franco Urru & Andy Kuhn) - It's great to have the Ninja Turtles back. And despite a drawn-out origin, this has been a solid beginning to a new era for the green guys. Especially once the origin was out of the way, it seemed the creators were ready to cut loose, incorporating elements from the original Eastman/Laird era of comics, as well as from the popular animated series. It's really cool stuff. And particularly great is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Micro-Series, each issue featuring one of the turtles in a solo adventure. Only Michael and Raphael have come out so far, but they've been fantastic little stories written by Brian Lynch, with cool characters introduced into the books. This series is just getting going, but it seems like it's already building a rich story very quickly, reminding readers of why they loved these guys in the first place. IDW, who is publishing these new issues, has also done a superb job collecting the original stories in deluxe editions, in case you can't get enough.
9. Moon Knight (Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev) - An A-list creative team makes this gritty little superhero book a consistently great comic every month. I never really cared for previous Moon Knight series, but Bendis and Maleev really draw out the cool elements of this character in a story that's constantly surprising, with a fun supporting cast of characters. It's sexy, action-packed and looks great.
10. Demon Knights (Paul Cornell & Diogenes Neves) - This title takes place in The Dark Ages, for a superhero book that has a more traditional fantasy feel to it than anything. The Demon stars in this title that sees other familiar faces from the DC Universe in its pages, fighting for their lives, such as The Shining Knight and Madame Xanadu, who has a relationship with both The Demon and his human personality, for a unique love triangle. The action rarely slows down in this title, and it's unlike anything else out there in the market currently.
Action Comics (Grant Morrison & Rags Morales)
Avengers: The Children's Crusade (Allan Heinberg & Jim Cheung)
Batwoman (J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Nine (Joss Whedon, Andrew Chambliss & Georges Jeanty)
Uncanny X-Men #532-544 (Keiron Gillen, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson, Ibraim Roberson, Matt Fraction, Greg Land & Jay Leisten)