In 2012 a broader variety of author communicated their joy and intensity using the alchemy that is art and literature in comic books. The wealth of great comic books published in nearly every genre made me happier than I can say and when I put in my votes for the CBR Top 100 Comics of 2012 I was hard pressed to pick only 10 comic books to vote for. So for you, I've compiled 16 mini-reviews of my favorite comic books published in 2012. These books were enjoyable, intense, personal, and / or an evolution of the the comic book medium (and now I can't wait to see what we're going to get this year!)
#16Buffy the Vampire Slayer / Angel & Faith / Willow Wonderland / Spikeby various authorsAlmost an honorable mention because I have a hard time admitting these are comic books, not because of the quality, but because they're spinoffs from a TV show and that is why I buy them. Before the Buffy series was a spinoff from the TV show, I never wanted to read it. I am only reading these books because they continue a story which I grew to love in another medium. In that way they aren't a very "true" use of the medium, in that these characters weren't created fleshed-out on the page. However, in the real world the actors and crew have all moved past the point where the show would be a viable concept, so this continuation is a nice little bonus which only comic books can offer me. This year as the titles proliferated and grew the quality moved on a little from last year, but the broader range has been fun and I'm willing to give Dark Horse more of my money for a larger range of stories with some of my favorite characters on TV who don't exist anymore. None of the books have reached the visual quality they displayed when the main title was drawn by Georges Jeanty, but all the authors share his ability to make me believe and that is the key.
#15Daredevilby Mark Waid and Chris SamneeOver the last year the much-lauded Daredevil has gradually become a little bleaker, descending back into familiar, unhealthy emotional territory (understandable given the character's history, and a nice touch by a writer capable of so much more, as exhibited in the creation of harrowing characters like Irredeemable.) In terms of art, I can't help but miss Paolo Rivera a little. I do understand why Samnee was put on this book; He's good, kind of fun and sweet with a stylized charm, though his work on Thor was so much more appropriate that it makes me miss him there even more. At times he can give the book a slightly more cartoony feel than last year, but given the bleaker content, perhaps this is a healthy balance. Overall, as a character Waid and Samnee have done a good job of evolving Daredevil this year, but I'm very curious to see whether this bleakness carries them down into some spiral of sadness (as it has almost every other author) or if Waid can surprise us. Honestly, I'm expecting the latter.
#14Are You My Mother? by Allison BechdelWith Are You My Mother? because of Bechdel's exhaustive note-taking and scrupulous honesty, we have one of the most complete portraits of an inner journey that I've ever read. It is personal and detailed to a degree that a person would ordinarily only share with a beloved friend or partner. Bechdel's honesty and self-deprecation are understandable in the wake of previous works, her need to uncover the "why" of everything force her to analyze her relationship with her mother in a classically analytical way - through psychoanalysis. Sharing the author's journey can be harrowing, and as readers, we must love the author just a bit, enough so that this information is personal and intimate to us, rather than intrusive. With less of the urgency and more of the personal than Fun Home, this is an easier and stranger book with no obvious conclusions, so that the readers must invest more (and so gain more too.)
#13Spider-Menby Brian Michael Bendis and Sara PichelliAs someone who works in marketing design, when I see a product which is so obviously created to try and milk a market segment, I balk. No matter what the quality, I was ready to hate this book on principle. What I hadn't counted on was how damn appealing Bendis would make the story, or how absolutely beautiful Pichelli's art would be. I'd missed her art on Ultimate Spider-Man, even if it was still a good book, so I picked this up just to see what I was missing. In that moment I was hooked. While other artists may echo her fluid lines and elegantly flowing action scenes, no one can actually match her abilities. Pichelli has become one of the great superhero artists of our time, her characterization of each hero in build and style of movement is perfect, and her use of the page to move the reader's eye around is like a dance. She's uses space like a choreographer and her work on Spider-Men might be some of my favorite work by her to date.
#12Not My Bagby Sina GraceA revealing first-person account of the cutthroat world of retail fashion, Grace allows all sorts of glimpses behind the curtain. Telling tales about a purposely hostile work environment doesn't prevent this from being a personal and it also offers mediations on the importance of great accessories, a weather-appropriate wardrobe, and avoiding men who are replacement father-figures. The charming art (familiar to readers of Grace's collaboration with Steven Struble; Li'l Depressed Boy) is descriptive and funny, and the small format of the book and brown paper cover art all contribute to a very complete slice of this man's life.
#11Hawkeyeby Matt Fraction and David AjaIf not for Aja brutally simplistic covers I would never have picked this up. But underneath those covers is a delightfully spartan interior telling the most basic of superhero stories for (arguably) one of the least super of the superheroes. I love the restricted color palette and the use of very dense grids of panels for moment-by-moment reaction shots. There have been issues which have felt like a French film; a simple slice of a very messy life, told as elegantly as possible. People have always talked to me about their love for this odd little character, so out of place in the Avengers, I think I finally understand why they like him. This comic book reminds me of the 1968 movie; Bullit, and Hawkeye inhabits Steve McQueen's role perfectly.
#10Legends of the Dark Knight #3by Steve Niles and Trevor HairsineI love one-shots. Most monthly comic books used to be one-shots and it was what we expected. It is rare now for a writer and artist to be able to pack in all of their story telling and character development into a single issue, and it is very difficult sort of magic trick to pull off for the sophisticated audience we have become. In this instance, Niles managed to use his single issue to give us the Batman we rarely see nowadays; A detective using his skills and intelligence to get things done with subtlety and speed. The interplay between Wayne and Alfred hints at so much more, and the love and warmth from both of them is a delicate undercurrent to the dialogue.
#9League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Century: 2009by Alan Moore and Kevin O'NeilBy this point, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is almost unrecognizable from where it began so many years ago. And yet the quality and committment to inventive and disturbing story telling is still there. References to western mythology, history, and story abound, and with this book we finally catch up to our modern era in a big crashing jump. Out of time, our heroes struggle has become one which seems increasingly familiar to our modern lives, and the culmination of their mission becomes almost incidental to the ongoing exploration of history and culture.
#8Wizzywig by Ed PiskorPiskor's tale of a fugitive hacker, demonized by the media, imprisoned and forgotten. As we look back over his life, a rich and well-researched history is charted, from a childhood taking apart phones to his life as on the run hacking into databases from the odd client in order to fund his meagre existence. With Piskor's detail-oriented style, the story is simultaneously sweet and seedy, unflinchingly aware of the sad tale he tells, but happily in-love with his character and the world he has created for him to survive in. The structure and concept are incredible well conceived, as is the physical quality of this Top Shelf published book.
#7Furyby Garth Ennis and Goran ParlovEnnis gives us the memoirs of Fury's well spent youth; going on "deniable" missions for the government, training the young and green, taking America's enemies out of the picture, and getting tortured. In the vein of Apocalypse Now or The Deerhunter, this is a ridiculously entertaining, grim and gritty book. It has become almost expected for Ennis to be able to step outside of the acceptable and shock us with brutality or gore, but his ability to show Fury in his own version of a long-term, intimate relationship with a woman, (however embittered and embattled) is a very interesting thing to watch. This is the past of the Nick Fury I like best, the hard-bitten, half-crazed, hard-as-nails colonel from Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz' Elektra: Assassin.
#6Henry & Glen Forever #1by Tom Neely, Ed Luce, Benjamin Marra, Igloo Tornado, and moreIf you do not enjoy laughing in public, this book is not for you. It is ridiculous and silly, the entire premise that Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig are roommates (something between "Bert and Ernie", and "The Odd Couple.") Various artists present their adorable take on this, Nelly at the forefront with his diminutive Glen always messing things up in classic "Dennis the Menace" fashion. Ed Luce's deeply intense, black-eyed Rollins is offset by his adoring kittens and the whole thing is just one extremely silly juxtaposition after another. (It might be humor, but it is entirely possible that Hall and Oates are actually kit-sacrifcing satanists. We'll never know....)
#5Love & Rockets #5by the Hernandez BrothersIssue #4's "ending" to Xaime's story left me wanting more and here it is, in spades, so much more. Between the development of Xaime's world and Gilbert's reemission in the people of Palomar, it really feels like coming home. Watching these people's lives change on the page, along with the gradual evolution of the Hernandez brother's art and writing is the closest thing to real life created in a comic book. Nothing on the screen could ever compare to the life and complexity these two men breathe into their characters year after year with such consistent quality and affection.
#4 Zegas #2by Michel FiffeIn the wake of Deathzone and Copra (Michel Fiffe's oddly personal twist on the superhero genre), I had to check out Zegas. He uses similarly dynamic line work and vibrant coloring to convey the intimate human story of the Zegas kids making their way in the world. Like his previous works, this has the same incredibly high quality printing, but it is bigger and more ambitious storytelling. His appropriation of the visual language of the psychedelic and superheroic world serves in "Zegas" to convey the fast movement of hyperbolic joy of life.
#3Fashion BeastBy Alan Moore, Malcolm McLaren, and Antony JohnstonA depressing, confusing, beautiful vision of the the future from Moore and McLaren. Work is scarce, and the culture has devolved to a Dickensian level. Gender identity is fluid and fashion is a terrifying business. Poverty and denial has led to this dystopian world and the story follows our would be model and designer from their one attempt to subtly undermine and sabotage each other to the next. If it didn't make me question my reality, then it wouldn't be an Alan Moore book.
#2Hellblazerby Peter Milligan, Simon Bisley, Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Stefano LandiniYet another year in which this book shone. I've been reading this for as long as it has existed, and following John for longer than that. Like last year, these three did an incredible job depicting my favorite asshole, growing increasingly skilled at giving us strange little peeks into the creepier side of life. Milligan's ability to create an engaging, aging character has been quite incredible and almost unheard of in mainstream comic books. Bisley draws the world as I want it to look, and Camuncoli (along with Stefano Landini) has really grown into the kind of artist who can work with the weird content of Hellblazer (i.e. he can draw the atmospheric, nasty stuff with _just_ enough detail to haunt, but not so much that it becomes ridiculous.) I am really going to miss this dirty, foul-mouthed, aging, sexually-charged, demon-manipulating bastard.
#1Building Storiesby Chris WareDisturbing and weirdly intrusive as a story, like rifling through a stranger's underwear drawer and finding out all their secret, lonely thoughts. The very act of reading it and the formats in which he has compiled it force a new perspective on the act of communication. It has an uncomfortable intimacy which creates a kind of affection for these loveless people, warmth and depth which might have been missing or less prominent in previous books in imparted by dint of the method of delivery. It further develops the medium, which is a truly great and rare thing.