CBR's Top 100 Comics of 2011, #50 - 26

Each year, CBR wraps its coverage of the comics industry with a virtual nerd cage match to determine the very best comics of the year. Every single CBR staffer -- from our crack news team to our well-researched columnists and from CBR's many daily bloggers to our legion of comic reviewers -- had the chance to chip in their favorite books of the year with only the highest vote-getters ranking up on our massive Top 100 Comics list, and as always, neither the staff nor the comics disappointed.

The watchword for the comics market in 2011 was "soft" as sales continued to shift in a weak economy and publishers faced challenges from retail upheaval to digital distribution. But no matter what came along to impact the business of comics this year, the creative work proved to stand as tall as ever. From groundbreaking graphic novels to the reinvention of a number of flagging franchises to the quieter entries from the manga field to the all-ages excitement in print and on the web, comics had an impressive year by any critical standard.

And while it's nearly impossible for even the combined staff of CBR to have read every single ongoing series, miniseries, one-shot, graphic novel and webcomic published in and throughout 2011, we are confident that you'll find no better indicator of the breadth and quality of the industry as it stands today than right here. Be sure to check out the earlier installments of the countdown covering comics #100 through 76 and #75 through 51, and then continue on to today's installment as we highlight some of the old and new mature readers titles tearing up the charts, look inside the smartest genre serials of the modern age and uncover some of the most personal projects from today's big name mainstream creators.

50. Fables

Written by Bill Willingham

Drawn by Mark Buckingham

Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

"'Fables,' pure and simple, is as good as it gets. Long-time comic book readers adore it, and yet it's the perfect entry point title for new readers, too. Every time creator Bill Willingham is asked about the inevitable end of 'Fables,' he laughs off the question and says with his cast of folkloric heroes and villains, it would be darn near-impossible to run out of story ideas. And that's a good thing. Like a warm glass of milk or snuggling up with your lover next to the fire, 'Fables' makes you feel good, real good, inside."

-- CBR Staff Writer Jeffrey Renaud

49. iZombie

Written by Chris Roberson

Drawn by Mike Allred

Colors by Laura Allred

Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

"If you don't like Mike Allred and Chris Roberson's quirky counterculture series about a crime-solving hipster zombie girl, her supernatural best friends, and a plot to end the world hatched up by the Bride of Frankenstein, then you're dead inside. Ironically, if that is the case, then you should doubly be reading this series."

-- CBR Staff Writer Josie Campbell

48. Ganges #4

Written & Illustrated by Kevin Huizenga

Published by Fantagraphics Books

"To call Kevin Huizenga's ongoing chronicle of titular everyman Glenn Ganges' attempts to beat insomnia cerebral comics would be an understatement. But it'd also be something of a misnomer. While the graphically inventive and languidly paced stories in 'Ganges' #4 certainly engage the mind as much as they eye, the artist's stories never wander into purely analytical (and by extension purely boring) territory. Instead, the reader drifts along with Glenn's insomniac flights of fancy and Huizenga's luch and mindbending deconstruction of the comics page for a reading experience that is not only engaging but also strangely empathetic."

-- CBR Senior Editor Kiel Phegley

47. Severed

Written by Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft

Drawn by Atilla Futaki

Published by Image Comics

"'Severed' quickly became one of the most atmospheric horror comics around this year. The combination of slow burn writing and a growing sense of dread along with Futaki's paint-like pencils creating dark shadows for evil things to hide in, has made for one of the more interesting books this year. We're fully invested in Jack's search for his father and the inevitable confrontation between him and the mysterious, shark-toothed salesman.

-- CBR Staff Writer TJ Dietsch

46. Green Wake

Written by Kurtis J Wiebe

Illustrated by Riley Rossmo

Published by Image

"'Green Wake' is a gloriously melancholy descent into the ethereal unreality of emotion. This Cronenbergian adaptation of a Hammett whisper grips you with its first moody page and doesn't offer a chance of letting go. 'Green Wake' is a comic written with truth at its soul."

-- CBR Reviewer Ryan K. Lindsay

45. B.P.R.D.

Written by Mike Mignola & John Arcudi

Drawn by Guy Davis & Tyler Crook

"While some followers may spend their time debating whether the team-centric half of Mike Mignola's Hellboy Universe constitutes a superhero serial or a horror series, I think it's best to just recall how 'B.P.R.D.' remains one of the smartest, sharpest, emotional comics published right now. Period. In a year that saw both the transition out of the long-running 'Plague of Frogs' super story and the departure of longtime artist Guy Davis for other projects, the connected string of miniseries that make up this book remained amazing consistent and always impressive. Arcudi's work on the scripts have made the new 'Hell On Earth' cycle every bit as engaging as what came before, and Tyler Crook has proven himself worthy to wear big shoes already."

-- CBR News Editor Kiel Phegley

44. Optic Nerve #12

Written & Illustrated by Adrian Tomine

Published by Drawn & Quarterly

"Tomine jumped back on the pamphlet bandwagon with this new, self-contained comic. While the story 'Amber Sweet,' originally seen in 'Kramer's Ergot' #7, holds up find even in a smaller, black and white format, it's the other story, 'A Brief History of the Art Form Known as Hortisculpture' that's the real gem, as Tomine explores in humorous fashion the travails of attempting to create art and the nagging underlying feeling that you are completely ill-suited to do so."

-- Robot 6 Writer Chris Mautner

"Generally, getting 12 issues of a comic book over 16 years is not a great average, but when the book you're getting is as good as 'Optic Nerve,' you'll wait as long as it takes and you'll like it. Published by Drawn & Quarterly since 1995, 'Optic Nerve' #12 was released this year and with it, yet another wonderful peek into the mind and heart of one of the best creators in the business, Adrian Tomine. Collecting two wildly different fictional pieces that somehow still feel nicely connected, and adding to them 40 brilliant perfectly constructed autobiographical panels about independent comics publishing, 'Optic Nerve' continues to be one of the best independent books around. While I would welcome a gorgeous hardcover collection, or better yet a big beautiful graphic novel from Mr. Tomine, it's nice to see someone still pushing the floppy form, and showing everyone exactly what it's capable of."

-- CBR Reviewer & Comics Should Be Good Columnist Kelly Thompson

43. Graphic Classics

Written by Tom Pomplun

Drawn by Various

Published by Eureka Productions

"This is simply the best take on the Classics Illustrated idea anyone's ever done. Instead of trying to get an entire novel scrunched down into 32 comics pages, as people have tried in the past, 'Graphic Classics' concentrates on a genre or an author, putting out beautiful anthology paperback volumes of a hundred-plus pages on a more-or-less quarterly schedule. Each volume is packed with comics adapting classic short fiction and novelettes by a variety of great comics artists -- Trina Robbins, Nestor Redondo, Dan Spiegle, Kyle Baker, and dozens of others. This last year brought 'Christmas Classics,' 'Western Classics,' 'Tales of Mystery' featuring Edgar Allan Poe, and 'African-American Classics,' all of which I thought were terrific books. As it happens, I teach 6th and 7th grade, and I assure you -- these books are a huge hit with my students as well."

-- Comics Should Be Good Writer Greg Hatcher

42. Pepper Penwell & The Land Creature of Monster Lake

Written & Illustrated by Steph Cherrywell

"This biting satire of teen detective fiction is both hilarious, action-packed, and actually has a decent mystery for the title character to solve. It's good for both teens and adults, as Cherrywell pack it with side jokes that might go over some younger readers' heads, and the fact that it's drawn in a slightly manga style makes it all the more adorable and disturbing when things get evil."

-- Comics Should Be Good Writer Greg Burgas

41. PunisherMAX

Written by Jason Aaron

Drawn by Steve Dillon

Covers by Dave Johnson

Published by Marvel Comics

"This year, we learned about Frank Castle's life after he returned from Vietnam, and it was chilling. Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon continued to paint a complex and disturbing picture of the Punisher in 2011."

-- CBR Reviewer Chad Nevett

40. The Fantastic Four Comics of Jonathan Hickman

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Drawn by Steve Epting, Nick Dragotta, Mark Brooks, Barry Kitson, Greg Tocchini, Scott Hana, Scott Koblish, Jay Leisten, Mark Pennington, Juan Bobillo, Carmine Di Giandomenico, Ming Doyle, Lenil Yu & Farel Dalrymple

Published by Marvel Comics

"Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting 'get' these characters. 'FF' expanded its reach this year to the plot threads Hickman began in his "Fantastic Four" run. It's been a joy this year to further explore those stories and to read about the shenanigans of Franklin, Valeria, Alex Power and the other kids."

-- CBR Staff Writer Steve Sunu

"Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting kicked the year off by making me care about and really like my least favorite member of the Fantastic Four, Johnny Storm. Then the creators and a talented group of guest artists weaved together a fun, complex, intriguing and epic tale involving secret cities, inter-dimensional beings, intergalactic empires, and cosmic entities. They then turned the current tale up to 11 with the mile stone issue 'Fantastic Four' #600."

-- CBR Staff Writer Dave Richards

39. Criminal: Last of the Innocents

Written by Ed Brubaker

Illustrated by Sean Phillips

Published by Icon/Marvel Comics

"'Criminal' has long been one of the best comics on the stands, and this mini might well be its masterpiece. Right up there with 'Bad Night,' this pulp redo of the Archie mythos takes a wholesome concept and doesn't just subvert it for cheap exploitation but instead wrings it dry until you are left hating with such passion you know the book succeeded. This anti-noir will take you for everything you're worth."

-- CBR Reviewer Ryan K. Lindsay

38. Lose

Written & Illustrated by Michael DeForge

Published by Koyama Press

"There's a reason Michael DeForge is the buzz of the art comics world, and why his comics have appeared all over the place over the past two years: he has his own distinctly sharp artistic voice, and he's not afraid to use it. The third issue of 'Lose' is beautifully tragic, and in a year without a new Chris Ware comic, DeForge doesn't have much competition for that kind of story."

-- CBR Reviewer & Columnist Timothy Callahan

"The last time you saw a cartoonist this good and this unique this young, you were probably reading the UT Austin student newspaper comics section and stumbling across a guy named Chris Ware. All four of DeForge's best-ever comics -- his divorced dad story in 'Lose' #3, his shape-shifting erotica in Thickness #2, his self-published art-world fantasia 'Open Country,' and his gorgeously colored body-horror webcomic 'Ant Comic' -- came out this year, none of them looking anything at all like anything you could picture before seeing your first Michael DeForge comic. It's almost frightening to think where he'll be five years from now, ten years from now...or even just this time next year."

-- Robot 6 Writer Sean T. Collins

37. Ivy

Written & Illustrated by Sarah Oleksyk

Published by Oni Press

"Sarah Oleksyk's book may be small in scope, but it's also perfect. One of those stories of adolescence that feels so real and raw that it dredges up those emotions we buried long ago and events that we've tried to forget. There were times I cringed upon turning the page, but I always did. Oleksyk's art is beautiful, she's a subtle writer with a great sense of character, and it's hard to believe that this is only her first book."

-- CBR Staff Writer Alex Dueben

36. Hulk

Written by Jeff Parker

Drawn by Gabriel Hardman

Published by Marvel Comics

"Name another modern day superhero in which the writer works in a moment where the lead character expresses his admiration for George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Parker remains one of the strongest writers working at Marvel with the Hulk being his best runs to date."

-- Robot 6 Writer Tim O'Shea

35. Batgirl Vol. 3

Written by Bryan Q. Miller

Drawn by Dustin Nguyen, Pere Perez

Published by DC Comics

"Miller pulled off the impossible and not only made Cassie Cain's successor as popular as her, but completely redeemed Stephanie Brown as a character and member of the Bat family. Solid storytelling and art, this is Batgirl writing at its finest."

-- CBR Staff Writer Josie Campbell

34. Deadpool MAX

Written by David Lapham

Art by Kyle Baker

Published by Marvel Comics

"With every issue, I'm surprised (and delighted) that Marvel continues to publish this insane, vicious and hilarious comic. Kyle Baker's art looks effortless and makes every gag, every character, every single moment better than it would be if drawn by any other artist."

-- CBR Reviewer Chad Nevett

33. Morning Glories

Written by Nick Spencer

Art by Joe Eisma

Published by Image Comics

"Some comic book stories about gifted kids and private schools make being a teenager seem special and exciting, but Spencer and Eisma's series about the students at Morning Glory Academy continues to be one of the scariest and least predictable titles on the racks. This year, they introduced a few new characters, more sinful flashbacks, and even more questions about the deadly secrets behind the school's history. Part 'Gossip Girl' and part science/horror comic, 'Morning Glories' hasn't missed a beat since it started, and the last year has been well worth the going for readers."

-- CBR Contributor Brian Warmoth

32. Amazing Spider-Man

Written by Dan Slott, Fred Van Lente, Rob Williams, Christos Gage, Paul Benjamin, Frank Tieri & Todd Dezago

Drawn by Humberto Ramos, Reilly Brown, Paulo Siqueira, Ronan Cliquet de Oliveira, Stefano Caselli, Marcos Martin, Nuno Plati, Ty Templeton, Javier Pulido, Lee Garbett, Barry Kitson, Mike McKone, Emma Rios, Javier Rodriguez, Giueseppe Camuncoli, Todd Nauck, Max Fiumara & Ryan Stegman

Published by Marvel Comics

"In 2011, Dan Slott showed the world how much he loved Spider-Man. He began the year with some exciting and poignant stories that rocked Spidey and his supporting cast to the core. These stories were complimented by occasional fun back up tales from other creators. Then in the spring, Slott launched the 'Infested' mini-sodes, which paved the way for one of the grandest spider-Man epics ever, 'Spider-Island.' These stories were made even more amazing by the work of a number of talented artists particularly Humberto Ramos, who drew all six parts of the 'Spider-Island' saga."

-- CBR Staff Writer Dave Richards

31. Planet of the Apes

Written by Daryl Gregory

Drawn by Carlos Magno

Published by BOOM! Studios

"How often does a licensed comic exceed the standards of its source material? We can't say 'never' anymore. Carlos Magno's lush, detailed art draws the reader into a Planet of the Apes more fantastic than anything we've seen on screen. Once there, Daryl Gregory's story balances adventure and social commentary better than any of the film versions too."

-- Robot 6 Writer Michael May

30. Infinite Kung-Fu

Written & Illustrated by Kagan McLeod

Published by Top Shelf Productions

"They really don't make them like Kagan. Obviously OCD to a dangerous level, readers reap the benefits of his latest obsession and he creates his own, loving homage to the cheesiest of kung fu movies."

-- Comics Should Be Good Writer Sonia Harris

"In 'Infinite Kung Fu,' Kagan McLeod takes what could be seen as a simple story about kung fu and turns it into this epic tale filled with both a celebration of the martial arts genre as well as an expansion of the genre, with everything but the kitchen sink thrown in along the way. McLeod's fluid and expressive artwork eschews double page spreads for a much more dense reading experience, as each page is packed to the brim with action and characterization. A stunning piece of work."

-- Comics Should Be Good Editor Brian Cronin

29. Finder: Voice

Written & Illustrated by Carla Speed McNeil

Published by Dark Horse Comics

"Carla Speed McNeil's 'Finder' leaps from self-publishing to Dark Horse in time for a fascinating tour through the strange, science-fantasy world of Anvard, where the main character Jaeger is curiously absent and a member of the supporting cast is in a desperate search for not only him but also her heritage. The world of 'Finder' is an enthralling but complex one, and McNeil's graphic novel gives new readers the perfect introduction to it, through a pampered and shielded woman who is suddenly forced to plunge into the heart of the city on an impossible quest.

-- CBR Reviewer Greg McElhatton

28. The Sixth Gun

Written by Cullen Bunn

Drawn by Brian Hurtt

Published by Oni Press

"In its second year, 'The Sixth Gun' hasn't let up yet in its relentless mix of westerns and horror. Cullen Bunn continues to create a compelling back story to match the events unfolding each issue, and Brian Hurtt's art continues to look beautiful month after month. People who won't sample non-'Big Two' titles are missing out on something truly incredible."

-- CBR Reviewer Greg McElhatton

27. Journey Into Mystery

Written by Kieron Gillen

Drawn by Doug Braithewaite

Published by Marvel Comics

"'Journey Into Mystery' is an incredible good time, and very possibly the best book Marvel is putting out. The heights of impish excellence this book achieves are even more remarkable considering that, for the entirety of its run so far, it has been deeply intertwined with -- some might say weighed down by -- the 'Fear Itself' event. Young Loki is one of comics' great devils under Gillen's pen, and I honestly can't wait to see what he gets up to next year."

-- CBR Staff Writer Shaun Manning

26. Chew

Written by John Layman

Illustrated by Rob Guillory

Published by Image Comics

"Layman and Guillory's insane tale of a cop who can read the history of any food he eats continued to up the ante this year, with individual issues that went strange places even as Layman's grand plot continued to come into focus. Guillory continues to improve, as well, adding more and more Easter eggs in each issue and shifting in inking and coloring styles to relay different times and moods."

-- Comics Should Be Good Writer Greg Burgas

Come back tomorrow for the penultimate chapter of our Top 100 as we count down #s 25 to 11!

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