Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Top 20 Comics of 2012

These are my favorite comics of 2012, including manga, superheroes, graphic novels, reprints, etc. I try to be as true to how I feel about a book as possible when ranking them, which is why it may seem odd for some to see a superhero title hardly anyone read rank over an acclaimed graphic novel. If I enjoyed my experience of reading it more, it was placed higher on my list. I did feel odd including a book like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Deluxe Edition, since the comics are fairly recent, and it's not like people couldn't get their hands on it, unlike something like Carl Bark's Uncle Scrooge comics, which really needed to be collected. It felt more like I would be ranking its new packaging more than anything, so I left things like that off of my list (even though I enjoyed it a lot). Anyways, these are my favorite twenty comics of the year. I hope you enjoy my list, and hopefully check out some books that may have eluded you.

Honorable Mentions
All New X-Men (Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen)
Cat's Cradle (Book 1): The Golden Twine (Jo Rioux)
Fatale (Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips)
Glory (Joe Keatinge & Ross Campbell)
Three Thieves (Volume 3): The Captive Prince (Scott Chantler)

20. Fables (Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Various) - Fables had an excellent year, with superb stories unfolding surrounding the fairy tale characters.  Inherit the Wind and particularly, Cubs In Toyland, were dark, edgy stories with shocking moments, cool new characters and designs, and imaginative arcs for some of the most beloved faces of the book.  These two stories focused on Snow White and Bigby Wolf's brood of feisty cubs, and the creators proved that having their story brew in the background for years has pulled off as they take the book by storm.

19. Batman (Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo) - Relaunching Batman as part of DC's New 52 without one of Batman's famous villains was a bold choice for Snyder, but one that worked shockingly well, earning praise for originality and innovation. Through solid storytelling and focusing the lens on Bruce Wayne's past, Snyder created a sense of mystery and paranoia in this book that drew readers in and hasn't allowed them to leave since. Gotham City and her secrets haven't been this exciting in a long time.

18. The Underwater Welder (Jeff Lemire) - Jeff Lemire, who's been busy writing books for DC like the excellent Animal Man and Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., proves that he can create an exciting graphic novel drama just as easily as an action-packed superhero title in this slow-moving, dream-like work from Top Shelf.  The story follows a young man, an underwater welder, who is starting a family, and begins to recall his own experiences with his father growing up.  The edges of reality begin to blur as he works through his father's death and perhaps brushes up against some paranormal elements.  Paced perfectly, this is an impressive story that's both haunting and beautifully illustrated.

17. Pippi Moves In (Astrid Lindgren & Ingrid Vang Nyman) - Astrid Lindgren's Pippi, which debuted in 1957, features a rambunctious little girl who moves into a quiet neighborhood, turning things on their head and showing the nearby children a great time with her crazy ideas.  Pippi Longstocking is an odd character, but Lindgren injects her with such creativity and oddness, that you can't help but love this girl.  The stories included here are adorable and the art is just fantastic.

16. The Understanding Monster (Book 1) (Theo Ellsworth) - Theo Ellsworth's Capacity was one of my favorite comics from 2008, so I'm very excited that he's begun a new project with The Understanding Monster.  As people who read his previous work would expect, this new graphic novel explores a crazy imaginative world, populated by strange beings and creatures, all lovingly illustrated.  Ellsworth really pours the creativity into this book by the bucket load, and works his magic with very detailed drawings and just stunning designs.  This is pure eye candy wrapped around a psychodelic story.

15. The Smurfs (Peyo & Yvan Delporte) - Papercutz just keeps going on these reprints of Peyo's Smurfs comics, and I'm really happy about it because these comics are excellent.  Anytime I feel blue (ha!), I seriously just have to pick up one of these little books and I'm in a good mood again.  They just radiate happiness, and they're a ton of fun to read.  I hope Papercutz continues putting these out for years to come.

14. Uncanny X-Force (Rick Remender, Billy Tan, Mark Brooks, Greg Tocchini & Phil Noto) - This black-ops X-Men title is one helluva book. Remender really puts these characters through the wringer on his run of this title, but the wealth of imagination poured into this title really demonstrates that Remender understands the various corners of the Marvel Universe and can use them for great show-stopping stories. He puts his own unique twists on familiar concepts while he has this team of X-Men confront horrible creatures, as well as their dark pasts. There's a lot of blood and death in this book, but if you can take it, this is one crazy-fun journey.

13. Courtney Crumrin (Ted Naifeh) - I love the Gothic atmosphere and look to the characters of Ted Naifeh's comics.  And while I really enjoyed his work on Polly and the Pirates and The Good Neighbors, I am really happy to see him back to work on his trademark character, Courtney Crumrin.  And not only that, but we get to see her in an ongoing color series!  I always point to Courtney Crumrin as one of my favorite all-ages fantasies, and Naifeh doesn't disappoint with the new stories he tells featuring the glowering, powerful little witch, and events that have been building for some time come into play in her latest adventures, making for some riveting comics.

12. Nonnonba (Shigeru Mizuki) - I love autobiographical manga, and this one, by master Shigeru Mizuki, is a real treat, exploring his childhood in a small town where soldiers are revered by the children, and sickness surrounds him as he begins to explore his creativity in the form of comics. It's his relationship with his grandmother that is really touching, however, as she relays stories of yokai (spirit monsters) that share their world with them, setting fire to his imagination, and shaping his youth.

11. The Voyeurs (Gabrielle Bell) - Collecting material from her series Lucky, this fantastic memoir gives us a peek into the life of an indie cartoonist, including her travels overseas, and at comic book conventions.  The best parts focus on her exploits with fellow indie artists, but the whole package is great, varying from depressing self-deprecation to laugh-out-loud funny.

10. 5 Centimeters Per Second (Makoto Shinkai & Seike Yukiko) - This beautiful, cinematic story based on the manga of the same name is an emotional powerhouse that explores the relationship of two children who fell in love in elementary school, but moved away from one another. They try to keep in touch, but slowly drift apart despite great efforts to stay in one another's lives. This is a moving portrayal of love as their lives are shaped by this early relationship, in positive and negative ways. It reads very honestly and moves along in a breezy, dreamy fashion, like a summer romance.

9. Message To Adolf (Osamu Tezuka) - Tezuka takes on a story pretty epic in scope with this manga, which follows the lives of three characters named Adolf, including the Nazi leader himself, around the events of World War II. Tezuka knows how to suck his readers in with this story full of mystery, suspense, intrigue and heartache. Friendships are tested and lives are ruined in this amazing story. Sometimes the story meanders a bit, but that only serves to make this seem like a much bigger story, surrounding a secret that could deal a great blow to Nazi Germany. Message To Adolf moves along at a feverish pace, and is riveting throughout as it dances between the lives of various characters, showcasing this time period from different points of view.

8. Walt Disney's Uncle Scrooge: "Only a Poor Old Man" (Carl Barks) - As much as I enjoyed Fantagraphics' collection of Carl Barks' Donald Duck comics last year, "Lost In the Andes," I love these great funny action comics featuring Uncles Scrooge even more.  Together with his nephew Donald and Junior Woodchucks Huey, Dewey and Louie, Scrooge devises schemes to keep his money safe from the Beagle Boys, and ways to make his money bin even larger.  These are fantastic stories for the whole family, presented in a nice deserving package.

7. Angel and Faith (Christos Gage & Rebekah Isaacs) - One of the most consistently well-executed books out there currently is this spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Nine, and what I think is the best thing to come out of Buffy in comic form period. This book has a lot of heart and while it draws from its past, it's not bogged down by it like Buffy: Season Eight seemed to be. Angel and Faith is a focused comic, circling the death of Giles, Buffy's watcher. Angel feels guilty for his death and Faith is helping him to find a way to resurrect him, and so they are searching for ingredients and fragments of his soul to make that happen. Along the way, they meet familiar faces like Druscilla and Conner, and Faith confronts her own troubled past, but even the new characters are fresh and welcome, like Giles' family. This is just a really thoughtful character-focused work that is beautifully executed on every scale.

6. Avengers vs. X-Men (Various) - It's not very often that company-wide crossovers are executed well. Usually many "tie-in" titles are bogged down with it for months upon months of half-cooked stories for a semi-interesting final product. Not so for Avengers vs. X-Men. In this thoughtful mini-series event, not only were there great story notes that they hit along the way, from shocking moments to great character scenes, but any books tied into the main story could easily create a story around a pretty basic premise: battles between mutants and Avengers. And books like Uncanny X-Men and Avengers Academy shined amidst the chaos. But the real winner was the main story in the mini-series that pit Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk and friends against the likes of Cyclops, Emma Frost, Colossus, Namor and Magik. It highlighted some epic fights people have been waiting to see, and had shocking moments and a satisfying conclusion, with plenty of gray area left in the dust of battle. This is perhaps the single best crossover in superhero history, as it worked on so many levels, and so well.

5. Nao of Brown (Glyn Dillon) - Perhaps the biggest surprise for me in terms of graphic novels this year was this gem of a book from Glyn Dillon, who released this labor of love.  Told through stunning jaw-dropping images, and enhanced by vibrant water color, this story of Nao, a woman with OCD, is just engrossing.  This is one of those books where you to stop to just stare for minutes at a time at pages upon pages because they're just so beautiful, and the character of Nao is just fascinating, with all sorts of great secondary characters in her life.  This book is very cinematic, and often strange, and is paced masterfully.

4. Young Miss Holmes (Kaoru Shintani) - This Victorian mystery series follows Christie, the young niece of Sherlock Holmes, as Shintani retells Doyle's famous stories in new and exciting ways. Christie is a bright young girl who somehow manages to worm her way into her uncle's investigations, demonstrating an intuition and skill equal to that of her uncle's. Together with her very capable maids, Christie is a force to be reckoned with, and faces danger and solves the toughest mysteries with a sweet smile and a curtsy. The art is very detailed, and the characters have a retro look to them, all of which fit nicely into this world that Shintani has created, which is often funny and ridiculously suspenseful. I love the supporting cast of this book as well as Christie, but it's that articulate, whip-smart little girl that really makes this story superb, particularly her relationships to those around her. You can really see an Osamu Tezuka influence in the art and pacing of these stories, especially in a story that focuses on Christie's maid Nora, who is taught to be a criminal by gypsies. But I can't stress enough how much fun I had reading these excellent stories, with a fantastic female protagonist at its heart.

3. Wolverine and the X-Men (Jason Aaron, Chris Bachalo & Nick Bradshaw) - In one of the more unique superhero comics coming out currently, Jason Aaron produces a blend of action and humor, perfectly suited by alternating artists Bachalo and Bradshaw. Even when caught up in crossover events, Aaron manages to steer this book into high quality territory, evolving his characters during that conflict, and producing some great dynamics and relationships from out of it. Of course, it's best when he's left to his own devices and is able to focus on the interesting students at the Jean Grey School, as well as the oddball faculty. This year saw micro-Brood invade Kitty Pryde, Wolverine venture to an intergalactic casino with Quentin Quire, and a beloved student shot down, along with all of the Avengers vs. X-Men craziness. But it's really the amount of character Aaron injects into subjects like Kid Gladiator, Broo and Rachel Grey, and the artists drawing the hell out of this book, that pushes it into the category of a "classic." It's fun, whimsical and surprisingly moving at times, and it's easily the best superhero title of the year in my eyes.

2. Soulless (Gail Carriger & Rem) - Adapted from the novels by Gail Carriger, by artist Rem, Soulless follows Alexia Tarrabotti, a preternatural in a Victorian Era London populated by vampires and werewolves, as well as humans. Preternaturals are rare, but the gift that Alexia has makes her a formidable opponent, as well as a target, as she has the ability to make a supernatural being completely human for as long as she touches them. And while that is certainly a cool part of the story, and comes in to play quite a bit, it's really the relationship between Alexia and the sexy werewolf Lord Maccon that is the thrust of this story. This series is action-packed, funny and sexy - the perfect package. But it's really Rem that makes this gem of a manga shine. She adapts this story perfectly, hitting the right notes, letting the story unfold slowly and bringing the characters, secondary as well as primary, to life. I haven't been this excited by a supernatural manga in a long time.


1. Building Stories (Chris Ware) - This ambitious work by master of the medium Chris Ware easily tops my list for the best comic of 2012.  This box of comics comes with newspapers, a little golden book, and mini comics, as well as full books of comics.  Most of the stories surround an apartment building, exploring its residents, although some side stories explore Branford, a bee outcast from a nearby hive, and continue examining the lives of characters after they've moved out of the building.  It's all fascinating stuff, as Chris Ware has a knack for getting at genuine emotions through his characters, in stories that ring true and are powerful.  A lot is packed in to the pages here, and I love the dense stories, and how some little moments mentioned in one comic will sort of carry over and appear in another.  Reading this is an experience, and it's designed in a stunning package that does justice to its content.

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