2012 was another great year for comics and we saw the trend of strong storytelling continue. I picked my top 5 books for the year (not all horror), my favorite graphic novel, and some honorable mentions that stood out in my mind. 2012 was a real solid year for indie publishers, as my Best of 2012 List shows.
BIG J’S TOP 5 COMICS OF 2012
5. Ferals (Avatar Press)
Writer David Lapham took the comics world by storm with his gritty crime series “Stray Bullets” and quickly made a name for himself with his creator owned work. In recent years Lapham has been cranking out some fantastic horror comics for Avatar Press, including the company’s flagship book (“Crossed”) where he set new standards of depravity for a horror title. One of the best kept secrets in the comics world has been Lapham’s modernized revival of classic werewolf fiction in “Ferals”. Lapham along with artist Gabriel Andrade (“Die Hard: Year One”) have given horror junkies a reason to rejoice by making werewolves truly terrifying for the first time in years. Lapham’s fantastic characterization of lead protagonist Dale Chesnutt’s descent into a Feral along Andrade’s breathtaking panel work has made this a must read for horror hounds every month.
4. Saga (Image)
There isn’t much left to be said about Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples sprawling space epic that hasn’t already been said. If you are not reading “Saga” then there is simply something wrong with you, as month in and month out this has been a 5-star book. “Saga” is like Romeo & Juliet meets Star Wars with gratuitous scenes of robots having sex, but oh so much more. No matter how amazing fans or critics say it is, it’s virtually impossible to describe the epic magnitude of this book. Fans will look back years from now and be able to remember the exact moment they first read Saga, that’s how good it is.
3. Harbinger (Valiant)
It’s been forever since a team superhero book has given comic fans a reason to celebrate, but “Harbinger” has brought back a general sense of excitement that has been missing for quite some time. “Harbinger” has taken the classic series from the ’90s and gave it a modern twist for fans new and old. Writer Joshua Dysart is doing some fantastic character driven, emotionally compelling drama, coupled with some dynamic art by Khari Evans. Dysart and Evans have made readers care about Peter Stanchek (aka Sting) as he struggles with his newly developed psionically-powered powers and battles the morally corrupt Toyo Harada’s evil corporation Harbinger Foundation. Peter’s plight as an outcast speaks to the readers on a human and emotional level that makes it extremely relatable. When Peter is pulling together his team of misfit harbingers together it’s impossible not to stand up and cheer for him. While Marvel was busy trying to sell their mutants in the huge meaningless slugfest that was “Avengers Vs X-Men”, Valiant was putting out the best team book on store shelves month in and month out in “Harbinger”.
2. Mind MGMT (Dark Horse)
One of the best surprises of 2012 was reading Matt Kindt’s “Mind MGMT”. Previously, Kindt gained his fair share of critical acclaim with his 2010 Vertigo graphic novel “Revolver” and his 3-issue stint filling in on art for Jeff Lemire on “Sweet Tooth”. Now aligned with Dark Horse, Kindt has really spread his artistic wings with his new ongoing series “Mind MGMT”. In just 6-issues, Kindt has delivered a thrilling roller coaster ride that leaves readers on the edge of their seats with every issue. Each issue has been overflowing with action, mystery, suspense, and thrilling plot twists. Don’t let Matt Kindt’s loose and sketchy artistic style fool you, as “Mind MGMT” is one of the most complex and richly layered books being put out today. Everything about this book comes together perfectly to make for one of the most rich and rewarding reading experiences in comics, from the newsprint the book is printed on to the messages that are Kindt prints in the gutters. Fans of Jeff Lemire’s “Sweet Tooth” or great comics in general need to be reading and spreading the word about this book. You can get a taste of Matt Kindt’s “Mind MGMT” online digitally for free at www.digital.darkhorse.com
1. The Massive (Dark Horse)
For the past few years Brian Wood has consistently been one of the best writers in the industry. With his long running Vertigo series “DMZ” and “Northlanders” both wrapping up at DC, fans were anxiously awaiting what Wood’s next creator owned book would be. After aligning himself with Dark Horse Comics, Wood unveiled his latest opus in form of the post-apocalyptic environmental disaster epic, “The Massive”. Brian Wood is best at developing a deep emotional connection between the reader and his characters, which is exactly what he’s doing each month in “The Massive”. In just a few issues, readers have quickly found themselves attached to the crew of “The Massive” as they sail the open seas looking for supplies after the planet has been decimated by countless environmental disasters. Captain Callum Israel is a captivating lead protagonist for the series that audiences can identify with and relate to. This book has really picked up steam and become one of the best series out there.
Best Graphic Novel of 2012:
The Underwater Welder (Top Shelf Productions)
Like his epic graphic novel “Essex County”, Jeff Lemire delivers the most gut-wrenching graphic novel of 2012 with “The Underwater Welder”. Jeff Lemire is best when delivering deeply emotional stories about the human condition and “The Underwater Welder” captures love, loss, and the fears and anxieties that all men go through when they find out they are going to become a father. Lemire delivers one of the most heartfelt and emotionally gripping stories audiences will read this year. Closing the final pages of this book its apparent that Lemire has just pulled on readers heartstrings and left them with a beautiful and moving story about life, love and fatherhood.
Writer A.J. Lieberman and artist Colin Lorimer have crafted a dark, twisted and extremely terrifying tale about a rogue surgeon that finds himself over his head when he gets mixed up in the seedy world of black market organ harvesting. “Harvest” is pushing the boundaries of horror comics and instead of beating audiences over the head with gore, they have readers jumping out of their seats in fear.
Think Tank (Top Cow/Image)
Finally, a book that brings some fun back into comics! “Think Tank” is one part “Manhattan Projects” mixed with the movie high-tech thriller “Hackers” to create a book that all comics fans should be geeking out on.
X-O Manowar (Valiant)
Writer Robert Venditti and artist Cary Nord made “X-O Manowar” one of the jewels of the Valiant relaunch. If you haven’t check out this book its Iron Man meets Spartacus and the first trade is conveniently priced at just $9.99. This will consistently be on the top of your reading pile every month, as every issue of “X-O Manowar” so far has been top notch.
Biggest Disappointments of 2012:
Animal Man (DC Comics)
This series started off with a bang as writer Jeff Lemire and artist Travel Foreman completely knocked the first 6-issues out of the park. Since the first initial story-arc this book has completely fell flat with inconsistent artwork and plagued with pointless guest appearances by D-List DC characters that have completely stifled this book’s momentum. New artist Steve Pugh has turned in some competent superhero work, but his style is the polar opposite to what was doing on this Travel Foreman. Travel Foreman set a high benchmark with his work on this book and delivered some truly terrifying and grotesque art. This book went from being a must read and one of the best things DC was publishing to standard superhero fare that leaves audiences indifferent after reading a new issue.
Low Sales Force Cancellations On “Near Death”, “Glory”, “Last Of The Greats”, “PIGS”, and “Creator Owned Heroes” – Another major disappointment in 2012 was the lack of support for some great independent books. In order to sustain a healthy comic book industry it’s crucial that diversity be celebrated by readers and retailers. There will never be another book that achieves “Walking Dead” like success if the industry doesn’t give independent books chance to survive and find an audience. With that being said we bid a fond farewell to some great books that will be sorely missed in 2013. Writer Joe Keatinge and artist Ross Campbell turned old Extreme Studios throwaway character “Glory” into a fierce warrior and made it the best book on the shelf with a female protagonist, writer Jay Faerber’s “Near Death” delivered a fantastic twist on crime fiction, Nate Cosby & Ben McCool’s “PIGS” was great complex espionage tale about a KGB Cuban sleeper cell, Last Of The Greats was a great superhero book that dealt had some fantastic plotlines that were cut short too soon, and Jimmy Palmiotti and Steve Niles anthology style flip-book “Creator Owned Heroes” was a breath of fresh air in a sea of spandex.