So, I’m ashamed to say 2012 was not a terribly adventurous year for me when it comes to comics. For better or worse, I ended up sticking with relatively mainstream comics. That said, there were a number of excellent offerings from both DC and Marvel, and these comics are absolutely capable of competing with more creator-friendly work, as long as they’re in the right hands. At any rate, there was some serious competition this year for the number one spot, but ultimately there can only be one! Curious to find out if what you’ve been reading is the epitome of the medium or crap not worth even a momentary glance? Read on, and see for yourself…
GEORGE SHUNICK’S TOP 10 COMICS OF 2012
10. Action Comics (DC Comics)
Grant Morrison is a polarizing writer in comics. His work is undeniably distinct, complex, full of subtext, but not without its flaws. Still, Morrison’s strengths manage to outshine those imperfections in most of his work, and “Action Comics” is no exception to that. It’s been interesting to see how Morrison – who is fascinated by what superheroes mean to popular culture and our collective consciousness – has approached Superman. Superman is the archetype of the modern superhero mythology, and in Morrison’s hands it’s not just a matter of Superman punching bad guys so much as it’s an analysis of what a superhero should be. Of particular note is the issue that poses the question “what would happen if the President was Superman?” “Action Comics” isn’t perfect – the art has been inconsistent, and the pace of the story has led characters to be underdeveloped. But it’s commentary on superheroes and its complex, non-linear story push “Action Comics” into the top 10.
9. Daredevil (Marvel Comics)
Mark Waid’s “Daredevil” has been, in my opinion, the best comic Marvel’s put out all year. (So, uh, no more Marvel on this list). It’s also the best “Daredevil” run since Brian Bendis’ work on the series a few years back. And in large part, this is due to Waid focusing on the characteristics that make Daredevil an appealing character; his personal relationships with his friends and significant others, and his wit. Daredevil’s rogues gallery has never been a strongpoint, so the burden falls to the hero – and with exceptional dialogue and clever scenarios, Waid brings out the best of Matt Murdock. Hell, he even manages to introduce a decent villain or two while he’s at it. It beats a guy who wears a fishbowl for a head.
8. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 2009 (Top Shelf Productions)
I could tell you that this is an excellent comic because it’s written by Alan Moore. I could say it’s because it’s the continuation of Moore’s original “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, which was a unique take on English pop culture icons in the context of a superhero team up. I could clarify that no, this has absolutely nothing to do with that atrocious movie with Sean Connery. Or that this particular iteration of the League focuses on more contemporary, and relatable, figures in English culture and current events through the eyes of some of the original members. But really, there’s only one thing that needs to be said – the villain is Harry Potter and he shoots lightning out of his dick. The only question you should have is why this didn’t manage to get ranked higher.
7. Swamp Thing (DC Comics)
It would have been inconceivable to suggest Alan Moore’s seminal run on “Swamp Thing” would be capable of being equaled or surpassed, given how rich virtually every aspect of that series was and how instrumental it was in defining the character. Well, Scott Snyder’s run might not be there quite yet, but it’s certainly within its grasp. Snyder and Yanick Paquette’s “Swamp Thing” is excellent in virtually every single area – characters, art, story, etc. The Rotworld storyline with “Animal Man” is easily the best crossover of the year. The only flaw holding “Swamp Thing” back is when other artists step in, they don’t quite live up to Paquette’s standards. Other than that, there’s little to complain about. Plus, how can you not dig Swamp Thing’s new antlers?
6. Animal Man (DC Comics)
Speaking of Rotworld, Jeff Lemire’s “Animal Man” clocks in one spot ahead of “Swamp Thing”. Like Snyder on “Swamp Thing”, Lemire’s work is evoking comparisons to the most revered run in “Animal Man’s” history, Grant Morrison’s. Not that this series is anything like that one; Lemire’s succeeds because of its focus on Buddy Baker’s relationship with his family, the morbid, twisted storyline and the fabulous art from Travel Foreman and, more recently, Steve Pugh. Like “Swamp Thing”, “Animal Man” possesses an extraordinarily distinct artistic style, but ultimately has a larger cast of stronger characters and depicts themes that are more relatable than those in “Swamp Thing”. Simply put, both books are excellent, but we identify more with Buddy Baker’s desire to save his family and protect them from forces they do not deserve to deal with than we do with Swamp Thing’s quest to rid the world of Anton Arcane. That gives “Animal Man” the edge.
5. The Manhattan Projects (Image Comics)
John Hickman’s “The Manhattan Projects” is a new, delightfully insane series from Image. It concerns the “other” experiments of the ostensibly named research conducted during World War II; the weird, violent, truly dangerous ones. The series evokes the visions of Warren Ellis in its contemplations on the potential of technology and science, its pratfalls and its odd results; I doubt a higher compliment could be paid to a science fiction comic. But above all else – and there’s a lot of “else”, with fascinating plot and characters – it’s a morality play on the limits of human engineering and what direction we should take and which directions we actually do. It’s a comic that makes you understand what it’s about, even if you’d rather not.
4. The Boys (Dynamite Entertainment)
2012 marked the end of “The Boys”, and what an end it was. I don’t suppose I can spoil anything, but suffice to say that all the loose ends were tied up and justice was served to those who deserved it… well, somewhat. One of the best and most refreshing aspects about Garth Ennis’ “The Boys” was that it eschewed the artificial satisfaction comics so often seek to offer us. But “The Boys” wasn’t just a vulgar satire of superheroes and comics – although it was that – nor was it merely a mediation on the corrosive effects of power – though it was that as well. It was a story about characters we came to care and root for, to scorn and despise, and certain characters we felt both ways about. In particular, Billy Butcher was one of the greatest characters comics have offered in the past decade. He and the rest of “The Boys” will be missed.
3. Batman (DC Comics)
15 issues in, Scott Snyder’s run on “Batman” is already one of the best ever. After a bold first story arc, which saw Snyder opt to introduce completely new foils for Batman in the Court of Owls and Lincoln March, the Joker has returned. And where the Court of Owls bent but did not break the Batman, Joker already looks well on his way to accomplishing the latter. It’s a testament to excellent writing that characters are forced to endure suffering so we can get a glimpse of their resolve, ability and how they cope with loss. Too many comics are content to allow the status quo to remain the same, and rarely actually make you feel as if the characters are in any serious danger. “Batman” doesn’t do that. It’s one of the few books out there where there are consequences to be felt. That impact is conveyed in Greg Capullo’s astounding artwork, which has to rank among the best of the year. So how did “Batman” finish third? Well, as it turns out, there are only two people who can write better than Scott Snyder right now…
2. American Vampire (Vertigo)
OK, I lied. Scott Snyder is just that damn good. Seriously, just look at the sheer amount of work – exceptional work no less – he’s churned out this year. A decent amount of that work has been on “American Vampire” alone; in addition to the main series, he did a mini series on Dracula, with astounding art provided by Dustin Nguyen. Yeah, you read that right; mother*#%@ing Dracula. And that wasn’t even his best work on “American Vampire”; the latest story arc saw the return of an old villain, life or death stakes (mostly death), and focused on the core relationship between protagonist Pearl Jones and antagonist Skinner Sweet. The series has always been intelligent, and careful to identify various aspects of American history with the theme of “vampirism” and parasitism. But now that the series is 30 issues deep, it’s really beginning to flesh out the characters that make this series so good. In an alternate universe, I could easily give this the number one spot.
1. Saga (Image Comics)
But in this universe, that spot belongs to Brian K. Vaughan’s utterly amazing “Saga”. “Saga” is still in its infancy; it’s only 7 issues deep. But in such a short amount of time, it’s managed to establish an extraordinarily unique universe and strong, characters. Alana, Marko, The Will, Hazel… all of these characters are already fleshed out, with strong voices, motivations and conflicts they must strive to overcome. (OK, maybe less so with Hazel. Don’t hold it against her, she’s only a baby.) Fiona Staples provides exceptional art throughout the series, creating a completely original tapestry of scenery, and characters both beautiful and disturbing. It’s one of the boldest comics there is, with its ambition clearly evident in every panel. And unlike many comics, this one doesn’t just attain the goals it has set forth; it’s surpassed them. Seriously, what are you still doing here? Go out and read this comic! You’re welcome.