Top 5 Comics of 2012

Hey folks, how was your Christmas? Mine was great! I got to see my new baby cousin, the first season of Homeland, and over $100 in Barnes & Noble gift cards!

Speaking of books, if you’ve been following here for a while, you’ve probably noticed by now that I like comics. A LOT.

But rather than try and count down my top 5 comic book issues of the year (because that would be really hard and several people are much better suited than I for such work), I figured I’d just list my top 5 favorite ongoing series. OK? OK, here we go…

#5–Superman/Superman Family Adventures

In talking with a friend about Superman recently, I mentioned that DC policy thus far has been to rotate the creative team every six issues, which equals out to the length of one storyline generally.

“So, basically, ” he said, “it’s an anthology?”

I said yes at the time but now I think it’s more like each arc is an episode of a TV show: each team is telling their one largely self-contained story (the current crossover being the exception), with their own style, while still contributing to one vision. It’s not always the most interesting or captivating book, but it’s entertaining and has got plenty of shots of Supes fighting the good fight, which I like.

Family Adventures, while having that whole episodic feel– each issue is self-contained, but there’s obviously some big plan being cooked up by Lex Luthor–is still a bit of an anomaly. I honestly never thought I’d be buying a kids comic, let alone one drawn and written by the dudes behind the famously-drawn-in-crayon Tiny Titans series, but when I saw the buzz it was getting, I had to check it out.

Man, is this book fun. Clean drawing, simple yet brilliant stories, really fun tweaks on the Superman mythos, like, say, Otis from Superman: The Movie becoming the Parasite…this book is great. Check it out for sure.

#4–Action Comics

Because it’s written by famed author Grant Morrison–best known for turning out the incandescently amazing All-Star Superman and being incredibly damn weird–Action Comics had the biggest hype arguably of anything going into DC’s New 52 relaunch because people were wondering which version of Morrison would show up. Well, with one issue left to go in his stated 16-issue run, I’d say by and large it’s been the one who can turn out amazing; at his best, Morrison writes high-concept stories that still feel understandable to the neophyte while celebrating the love of the longtime fan. Although the run hasn’t always been perfect (a head-scratching two-part story with the Legion of Super-Heroes comes to mind), it’s always been intriguing and the backup stories by Sholly Fisch have done a great job filling out the world and its inhabitants. This run will no doubt be discussed by comic book scholars for years to come.

#3–Captain America

If you had told me I’d be reading a Marvel book in 2012, even with the roller-coaster of awesome that was The Avengers, I’d have laughed. See, by and large, here’s how the storytelling policies of Marvel and DC Comics work. DC tries to make stories about gods (Superman, Wonder Woman) and god-like humans (Batman, Green Lantern) very simple and straightforward; Marvel, on the other hand, tries to make stories about simple humans with powers (Spider-Man, Wolverine, etc.) as complex and interconnected as possible.

Laugh at DC all you want for having rebooted 3 times in the past few decades, but they understood that their continuity had gotten too complicated for layfolk to understand; Marvel, on the other hand, has a “sliding timescale” policy similar to the newspaper comics comic books sprung from: i.e. the stories are always set in the present, but everything that has happened to their characters, unless stated, has always happened, creating a giant web of context that’s darn near impossible to navigate.

So why do I like the new Captain America so much then? Because it takes place outside of that web. In the first issue, Steve Rogers, investigating an abandoned subway line that’s mysteriously begun operating again for S.H.I.E.L.D., boards the train–which turns out to be full of monsters–and is whisked away due to another dimension, escapes his captor, the fanatic Armim Zola, and with a genetically engineered baby of Zola’s design, wanders the alien landscape trying to figure out a way home and how to survive. So yeah, it’s The Road but with spandex, basically.

John Romita, Jr’s art is well suited to the surreality of “Dimension Z” as it’s called, as well as the flashbacks to Rogers’ ’20s Bronx childhood that Rick Remender’s scripts call for. Speaking of Remender, while I’ve never read anything of his before, this is great: his pacing and the way he constructs his scenes are great; only 2 issues in and I’m already reeling from a cliffhanger that cries out to be delivered in a splash page, but isn’t. Instead, it’s a wide panel at the bottom of the page. It’ll cost you only $7 to pick all 2 issues of this up and I’d heartily recommend it.

#2–Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye

I’ve been a fan of Transformers since I was eight but I’d been holding off on diving full-throttle into the current comics because of the strange way they were published but this series allowed me to dive in with full force. The great thing about this book is that, like Captain America, it’s largely set apart from the rest of what’s going on.

Here’s the setup: the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons is over, with the two sides back on Cybertron trying to rebuild their damaged planet. Meanwhile, Rodimus–the guy in the middle there–has gone off  with several other Autobots to try and find the fabled Knights of Cybertron–the first inhabitants of the planet who were sent off on a mission of piece eons and eons ago, fyi–and persuade them to come back. But shortly after takeoff, they accidentally go through a wormhole and wind up roaming the galaxy all by themselves. Of course, it only gets crazier from there…

Key to the series is the astonishing artwork of Alex Milne for sure but the real star is the script power of James Roberts. Although everyone who works in comics nowadays is a fan-turned-pro, Roberts is particularly special: a founding member of the huge Transformers UK fanfiction community, Roberts eventually wrote Eugenesis, a novel-length fanfic that actually has astonishing literary skill behind it, believe it or not, and sunk about 1000 pounds of his own money into putting it into print. Eventually, when IDW Publishing had picked up the license, he was tapped to write a few stories here and there and then given full control of this book. What makes his writing work for me is that he imbues all these characters–some new, some established characters–with enough personality and charm that they stand on their own, even if you aren’t familiar with them. As somebody not familiar with the ’80s Transformers continuity, this is a big help for me and I look forward to this book every month.

But there’s one I look forward to even more…

#1–Saga

I had heard of writer Brian K. Vaughn (Y: The Last Man for Vertigo and Runaways for Marvel) and artist Fiona Staples (Marvel’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents) but I had never read anything by them until I saw the first issue of this science fiction series for $1.99. I picked it up as an impulse purchase, but one look at the terrific worldbuilding and gorgeous gorgeous artwork and I was hooked. Just look at this stuff:

If her art doesn’t get nominated for anything big next comics award season, I’ll hate everything.

At its heart, this is a star-crossed lovers story. Marko–the ram-horned guy–and Alana–short-haired chick who, although you can’t really see it, has wings–are soldiers on different sides of a bitter interstellar war. Alana hails from the technologically-advanced planet of Landfall, while Marko comes from the magic-using people of the planet’s moon Wreath: the two planets have been in endless conflict but when Alana, a prison guard, and Marko, a prisoner, fall in love, bust out and have a baby named Hazel (who narrates the series as an adult), the war gets a new focus. In addition to their own peoples hunting for them, they also have bounty hunters on their trail and Prince Robot IV from the Robot Empire following them. So yeah, pretty tense yet typical stuff. But Vaughn’s terrific scripts and Staples’ amazing art make this stand out from the rest.

The series only has 8 issues right now because it started in March and, after the first story arc, the book took a 2-month break to allow the two to rest and for Staples to get ahead on artwork. But the first trade collection is out now and it’s only for $10 so you have no excuse, people. Check it out.

Well, that was fun. Given my update schedule, I won’t post another one of these until after New Year’s Eve, but hey, I know y’all won’t mind.

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3 comments on “Top 5 Comics of 2012

  1. wwayne says:

    2011 and 2012 gave us a lot of wonderful ongoing series. My favorite one is… I’m wavering between Animal Man and Swamp Thing. Let’s say that Swampy is slightly better, because it has a faster story progression. So 1st prize to Swamp Thing, 2nd to Animal Man.
    The 3rd one… I’m wavering between Blue Beetle and Grifter. I really liked both of them, but the first story arc of Blue Beetle was more or less a revision of the first stories starring Jaime Reyes, so the first story arc of Grifter, being more original, deserves the 3rd prize.
    As for the 5th prize of my personal Top 5 of 2012… well, each issue of Batman: Arkham Unhinged is pure awesomeness, so this series deserves a spot in the Top 5.
    Special mention for Daredevil, Hawkeye and, most of all, The Lone Ranger. It pleases my eye each month with its wonderful art, and the plot is great as well.

    • tomspeelman says:

      I just started getting into Jeff Lemire’s work with Sweet Tooth, and I know he’s writing Swamp Thing now, so I’ll have to check that out. Is he still writing Animal Man?

      Your 3rd place pick surprises me a little; I hadn’t really heard anything about Grifter and assumed it had faded out, pardon my ignorance. Is there a trade out?

      As for the rest…I’ve been meaning to get into the new Daredevil for a LONG time. Will probably have to pick up Hawkeye with all the buzz it’s been getting.

      As for the Lone Ranger, is each issue really a stand-alone story? Because Jonah Hex, my favorite comic of all time, did that and I’ve sorely missed that type of storytelling. If you say it’s worth checking out, I’ll look into it.

      • wwayne says:

        “Is he still writing Animal Man?” Yes! And he will start writing Green Arrow from the 17th issue. Can’t wait to read it!
        ” I hadn’t really heard anything about Grifter”: He probably is the most underrated comic book character ever. I’ll try to explain you why.
        Do you remember the action movies in the 90s? There was a Rambo – like leading character (usually played by Stallone himself, or by Schwarzenegger) forced to fight against innumerous enemies: any other man would have been doomed, but our hero, with his guns, muscles, fight techniques and (last but not least) brain, was always able to find a way out.
        Grifter is exactly like this: no matter how many enemies he has to face and how complicated their plans are, you can be sure he will find a solution to all his problems. Like Batman, a big part of Grifter’s charm is his talent in getting out of troubles despite being a normal person, without superpowers. There’s only one, big difference between them: Batman is a hunter, while Grifter is a prey – but he’s the shiftiest prey you’ve ever met.
        These are the reasons why Grifter is one of my favorite comic book characters. The others are Batman, Daredevil, Green Arrow, Nightwing, the Punisher and the current Blue Beetle (listed in no particular order).
        “Is there a trade out?” If you want to read a worthy comic book starring Grifter, this is the one you should get, in my opinion: http://www.dccomics.com/graphic-novels/grifter-vol-1-most-wanted.
        “As for the Lone Ranger, is each issue really a stand-alone story?” I love stand-alone stories too, but unfortunately each issue of the Lone Ranger is part of a story arc. But it’s a worthy series anyway. Thank you for your reply! : )

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