So...Greg Burgas gets grouchy when we post "Best of Lists" before ALL THE COMICS HAVE COME OUT. I tend to not agree because the reality is that if I missed it by the last week of December, or didn't get it yet, I'm probably not going to have time to read it with all the chaos of the holidays and end of the year. But I capitulated to Greg's demands this year, and so here we are, January 2nd, with my Bests of 2011 (and a few worsts).
Please keep in mind as always that I didn’t get to read ALL THE BOOKS. A handful of books are sitting on my shelf just begging to be read (last year's The Return of The Dapper Men is this year's Habibi), and they might have all been contenders, not to mention all the books that I didn’t read that aren’t sitting on my shelf and won’t be read for ages. They all might have been possibles…but unlike our fearless leader Brian Cronin…I can never manage to read all the books (I don't know how he does it). I would say my most notable and glaring holes come from being behind on DMZ, Scalped, and Daredevil, all of which I like, and all of which I suspect might have made things tough for other books...but which I'm just not current enough on to include. Of what I DID read, here’s what I really loved the most...
Best Single Issue: DETECTIVE COMICS #874
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Francesco Francavilla
Publisher: DC Comics
This was probably the toughest category this year as I read a lot of really good single issues, in large part due to so many new series debuts. Of them all though, Detective Comics #874 made me sit up and remember exactly why I love comics. Horrifying and beautiful, thought provoking and perfectly plotted, Detective Comics #874 gave me goosebumps as I read, and by the end of the issue I was intrigued and moved, thoughtful and incredibly anxious to see what Scott Snyder would do next. Francavilla's art, with its deadly accurate pacing and moody colors showed us the pinnacle of a writer and artist working together to in perfect synch and it was a thing to behold.
As a result of so many great single issues, I’m doing a Top 25 single issues list later this week over on 1979 Semi-Finalist. I'll update this post with the links when they're live if you want to check back, but if you're on twitter you should follow me there so you can see when the post goes up.
Best Ongoing Series: UNCANNY X-FORCE
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist(s): Jerome Opena, Esad Ribic
Covers: Esad Ribic
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The title of this series is still completely silly to me however the sheer ballsy-ness of this series makes it impossible for me not to be impressed with it time and time again. The cast is odd (Fantomex, Deadpool, Wolverine, Archangel, Psylocke, and then because that's not odd enough we eventually add Deathlok? What?!) But it just WORKS. In the hands of a lesser writer, those voices would be overpowering and the book would be a mess - Deadpool, Fantomex, and Wolverine alone are strong voices that could overpower everyone - but it somehow just fits together like gears that were made to interlock - and the result is some of the best X-Men comics I've ever read. It helps that Remender has been allowed to live free of ridiculous events and tie-in crap, free to tell his stories, no matter how big and weird. That tends to be when we get the best comics quite frankly, when smart savvy creators are allowed to roam free. Let's see more of this Marvel.
Honorable mentions for this category: Detective Comics (volume 1) which were some of the best Bat comics I've ever read. Full stop.
Best NEW Ongoing Series: BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: SEASON 9
Creator: Joss Whedon
Writer: Andrew Chambliss
Artist: Georges Jeanty
Covers: Steve Morris
I created this secondary category this year for NEW ongoing series because I didn't feel that three, four, or five issues was enough of a run to compete with much longer runs like Uncanny X-Force and Detective Comics, but I felt with the sheer number of great new series out, I needed to recognize some of them. This was obviously a tough category thanks to DC’s company wide relaunch and some key Marvel re-launches (Ultimate Spider-Man, Wolverine & the X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, Daredevil, etc.). In the end, I went with Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 9 because I feel like for all the great new series that are out there right now, this one is the most willing to re-invent itself while somehow not jettisoning anything about the characters. So much of DC’s relaunch, even the stuff I really like, is interesting but flies in the face of much of what has come before (I’m looking at you Wonder Woman). But with Buffy…all the characters remain completely intact and true to what we know and love about them…and yet things still manage to change. It was true of Whedon’s series when it was on television and it remains true now…the series morphed every single season, becoming an entirely new animal and yet allowed the characters to remain intact and to grow and develop naturally. At the end of the day, everything is about the character and nobody respects their characters more than the Buffy Universe.
Honorable mentions for this category include: Batwoman, Wonder Woman, Birds of Prey, Rachel Rising, Angel & Faith, Wolverine & The X-Men, and Ultimate Spider-Man. I’m sure Daredevil would be on here as well had I been reading it.
Best YA Series (ongoing or mini-series): PRINCELESS #1
Artist: M. Goodwin
Publisher: Action Lab
While only three issues of this four issue mini-series have been released thus far, this was a huge out of nowhere surprise for me. While there are some great YA mini-series out there thanks to great artists like Skottie Young who draws the OZ series adaptations, Art Baltazar responsible for the always great (and now cancelled) Tiny Titans, as well as some great work from Roger Langridge for Boom!, this little book from Action Lab really took me by surprise in a wonderful way. With a smart script that defies regular story conventions, an empowering story for girls and boys, and wonderfully energetic art, Princeless is a must read for anyone interested in comics for kids. Princeless is also smart enough to be entertaining for adults, which is huge when it comes to a medium as small and insular as comics.
Best Mini-Series: WOLVERINE & JUBILEE
Writer: Kathryn Immonen
Artist: Phil Noto
How much I loved this mini-series shocked the hell out of me. I like Wolverine just fine, but he's totally overexposed for my tastes. And Jubilee? Well, I get the appeal, but she's never been one of my favorites. Add to that I knew she was recently stripped of her powers and turned into a vampire and let's just say I was eyeing this thing with one very skeptical raised eyebrow. But I like Kathryn Immonen as a writer very much, and I adore Phil Noto's work. And when Oliver Coipel's truly fantastic fist cover showed up, I knew I had to give this a try. Turns out it was AMAZING. Smart and funny, heartfelt, and drily sarcastic, while feeling cool and being stunningly beautiful. What else can you ask for in a superhero comic? The only thing wrong with this mini-series is that it ended.
Though Legion of Monsters by Dennis Hopeless and Juan Doe has not yet wrapped up, it would easily be an honorable mention for this category. Also notable as honorable mentions: American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy, Green Wake by Kurt Weibe and Riley Rossmo, and Loose Ends (also not yet complete) by Jason Latour, Chris Brunner, and Rico Renzi.
Best Original Graphic Novel: PAYING FOR IT
Writer/Artist: Chester Brown
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
One would think that a book called Paying For It that is in fact a memoir about a man’s experience soliciting prostitutes, would be at least mildly titillating. Instead it’s zero amounts of sexy and an insightful and fascinating look at love and sex that painstakingly examines philosophy and the very nature of romantic love itself. Brown ponders many deep questions in this excellent volume, from the meaning of romantic love, and where it originated from and what qualities make up a man’s own self-worth, to the decriminalization and potential regulation of prostitution as a sociopolitical issue. His art is bare and functional, with very small panels. It’s a style that well fits his purpose here, and the stripped down nature of the art allows the reader to focus on the truly heady questions that Brown is asking of himself, rather than getting caught up in sexiness, which would, quite frankly, derail the whole thing. Great autobiographical and memoir work manages to transcend the narcissistic and mundane, finding ways to become intimate and relatable. Despite being a woman, having been in a romantic relationship most of my adult life, having never been to a prostitute (and not to mention not being a Canadian) I found myself engaged (and engulfed) by Brown’s own questions to himself about romantic love, and the incompatibility of romantic love as a lasting and immutable thing. I pondered his questions intently, my own answers surprising me. It’s only in the best work that we are inspired to turn important questions back onto ourselves to truly examine and learn from them, and Paying For It is exactly that kind of work.
Best YA Original Graphic Novel: SHADOWEYES IN LOVE
Writer/Artist: Ross Campbell
Shadoweyes In Love continues the story of Scout Montana, a 17 year-old high school student with a good heart and a proclivity for activism living in the fictional city of Dranac. In Shadowyes Volume 1, community-minded Scout turns into a superpowered blue being after being hit in the head with a brick. With her new superpowered form and a serious sensitivity to light, not to mention the inability to turn back into her human form, Shadoweyes becomes a vigilante superhero. Her new role (and form) tests all of her relationships, as well as her feelings about right and wrong now that she has the power to do something significant about said rights and wrongs. In Shadoweyes In Love, Scout continues her vigilante ways, but her feelings about where she should draw the line looms ever larger as she kicks, punches, and stumbles her way into her new life. With new friends and love interests, as well as some serious moral hurdles in front of her, Scout is a superhero unlike many we get to see in comics, and its wonderfully exciting and exploratory work. As always with Campbell’s work, one of the biggest strengths are the fantastic visuals. Shadoweyes In Love is the latest example of Campbell’s consistently stunning artwork – a fluid, confident style of storytelling that is equal parts function and beauty. One of Campbell’s many visual strengths lies in his unique character designs, unlike so much of superhero comics, Campbell has lead characters of all shapes and sizes, ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations – a truly diverse world, much more like the one we all actually live in rather than what generally seems to be reflected back to us through media. Campbell imbues his characters with fantastic well-rounded personalities – filling them with strengths and weaknesses that well reflect real people you might know. Heroes in Campbell’s stories are just as fallible as anyone else and I love them all the more for it.
Honorable Mentions: I read a lot less great YA stuff this year than last, but Anya's Ghost by Vera Brogsol stood out as one of the best.
Best Webcomic: HINGES
Writer/Artist: Meredith McClaren
This could also easily go to Hark! A Vagrant, but since I'm recognizing Hark! below, I figure I'd spread the wealth. Meredith McClaren is the talented artist that has been tapped to do the upcoming volume of Jen Van Meter's much anticipated Hopeless Savages Volume 4. But in the meantime you can read her completely haunting and beautiful webcomic Hinges. The mastery of craft in McClaren's pages – from the well-developed drawing style, to pitch perfect color choices, to even her stylized execution of word balloons – is just phenomenal. The story of Hinges is frequently text free, relying on McClaren’s strong artistic chops to tell the story – but even without words it’s emotional and haunting. McClaren is a major new talent in comics and I simply can’t wait to see what she does next.
Honorable Mentions: Hark! A Vagrant, the always exceptional The Abominable Charles Christopher, Oglaf (NSFW), and Faith Erin Hicks Friends With Boys...which she has been publishing for free online and which has an early lead on winning best YA OGN for 2012 when it releases in print from First Second this coming spring.
Best Collected Webcomic: HARK! A VAGRANT
Writer/Artist: Kate Beaton
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Kate Beaton’s unique perspective, sharp sense of humor, and loose but deadly accurate drawing skills combine to create her brilliant Hark! A Vagrant webcomic, which has now been collected into a fantastic hardback volume by Drawn & Quarterly. In Hark! A Vagrant Beaton casts her biting satire across many categories: history, science, literature, and yes, even our beloved superheroes. When it comes to history, science, and literature Beaton takes her considerable knowledge and pairs it with a brutal funny bone to turn things on their ear to hilarious effect. When it comes to superheroes Beaton’s background in anything but superheroes works to her advantage as she puts creative spins on age-old favorites to create wonderfully unexpected results. Those unexpected results have launched Beaton into the mainstream superhero comics world significantly of late, with several pieces in Marvel’s Strange Tales II last year. Her work in Strange Tales were some of the best offerings of that entire volume, and so long as she can keep bringing her distinctive eye to superheroes, we’ll all be better for it. Beaton’s writing is smart and sharply funny, but it never feels mean, which is a relief. So much satire feels unnecessarily cruel these days, but Beaton rises above it all to find the gems without the nastiness. Beaton works in a rough kinetic style, imperfect and full of emotion. While the look, on the surface, might appear crude, those that pass it by are missing out, as her expression work is alone is sublime, sometimes selling the bit even without words. Beaton can get more mileage out of a character’s face than some of the most detailed and realistic of artists.
She also draws happens to draw amazing babies and fat ponies.
Best Trade: BATMAN: THE BLACK MIRROR
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist(s): Francesco Francavilla and Jock
This was quite simply an historic Detective Comics run by Scott Snyder, Jock, and Francesco Francavilla. Scott Snyder took everything that was excellent about the greatest detective, even with Dick Grayson in the suit and paired it with everything that makes for a good horror story, and turned Detective Comics into the best superhero comics hands down in 2011, and one of the best “Batman” runs of all time. Snyder couldn’t have done it however with the absolutely pitch perfect art team he had in the form of Francesco Francavilla, Jock, and David Baron. When reviewers talk about creative teams working in perfect synch, this is what they’re talking about. Though there was much controversy over the idea of Detective Comics being re-launched and re-numbered after such a long run, surely everyone can agree that it was a treat to watch it go out with such a brilliant bang. Scott Snyder’s Detective Comics run will surely be one of the most respected Batman runs for a very long time and the fact that Bruce Wayne wasn’t even in the suit makes it all the more impressive.
Best Short Story: AMERICANA (FROM THE UNEXPECTED)
Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Emily Carroll
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo
As a huge fan of both Brian Wood and Emily Carroll, hearing that they'd be pairing up for a short story in a Vertigo anthology was the kind of thing that made me giddy with excitement. When "Americana" came out, I was not disappointed. A unique take on a dystopian worldview caused by climate change, the story was full of surprising and beauty. Wood's sad but sweet story of a generation of women survivors after the world has been forever changed as paired with Carroll's lovely, clean, stylized art was a breath of fresh air. No pun intended.
Best New Character: MILES MORALES
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Sara Pichelli
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Nobody wants Peter Parker to die. Peter Parker is beloved the world over. Even as someone that doesn't read Spider-Man regularly, I still love Peter Parker...but the entire point of the Ultimate universe (as I understand it) is to get us some change in comics. To do some bold things that you couldn't do in the regular universe. And so I find the creation of Miles Morales as the new Spider-Man, a young kid of color, to be a huge step in the right direction and frankly, long overdue. In the hands of Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli I have read a nearly perfect superhero origin story in the form of the first five issues of Ultimate Spider-Man. Miles is a fantastic character that I already care for deeply and am hugely invested in and I hope he'll be around for a very long time to inspire both new and old comics readers.
Best Cover: DAREDEVIL #1
Artist: Paolo Rivera
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Like "best single issue" this category was a total bitch to try to decide this year. Unlike last year where Batwoman #0 was very obviously my perfect cover for a variety of reasons, this year, there were so many that I loved, and it was hard to distill which one captured perfection for me personally. In the end, I'm giving it to Daredevil #1 because the cover is one of the most clever and interesting ideas I’ve seen in a very long time, executed perfectly,
That said, there were so many great covers that I'm doing a list of my 30 favorite covers of 2011 over on 1979 Semi-Finalist. Like with the single issues list, I'll update this post when it goes live, but twitter is your best bet if you don't want to miss out!
Worst Cancellation: NORTHLANDERS
Writer: Brian Wood
Northlanders was quite frankly a brilliant series that constantly re-invented itself, showcased a vast array of incredibly talented artists, and thanks to its chapter breaks, was very new reader friendly. But alas, its life was cut painfully short by DC as they cut Vertigo off at the knees, letting editors go and cancelling books. Well, DC's loss is Dark Horse and Marvel's gain as Brian Wood takes his brilliance elsewhere - Conan from Dark Horse with Becky Cloonan, The Massive with Kristian Donaldson from Dark Horse and Wolverine & The X-Men Alpha & Omega from Marvel. All really exciting projects that I can't wait to read (and talk about).
Biggest Surprise: BIRDS OF PREY
Writer: Duane Swierczynski
Artist: Jesus Saiz
Publisher: DC Comics
I was incredibly hesitant about a new Birds of Prey. I felt that the re-launch in 2010 was badly mishandled despite Gail Simone's best efforts and obvious enthusiasm for the book and characters. DC never managed to get a consistent art team on the book, and quite frankly, it was the wrong art team to begin with anyway. By the time they brought on Jesus Saiz (the perfect artist for such a book) the book's fate had already been sealed and we were headed for ANOTHER relaunch. I was disappointed and skeptical when I learned Simone wouldn't be on that new book. I tried out the new series only because I'm a huge fan of Saiz. Imagine my surprise to realize this was easily one of the best new books of the new DCU? With tight plotting, a small more manageable cast, strong sexy art that was respectful of its characters, and some great character chemistry this book quickly moved to the top of my reading pile. Additionally, in a year in which Miles Morales doesn't debut, Starling might have won "best new character." There's a lot of great stuff here and if you haven't been reading, for any reason, I urge you get on board.
Biggest PR Snafu: The SDCC/Kryax2 Nightmare (and the ensuing fallout)
Everything about the SDCC/Kryax2 nightmare sucked. Except of course what ended up happening in the fan and critical community, which was a shocking number of columns, posts, and general discussion about the issue of women in comics - both characters and perhaps more importantly, creators. Though the reaction on the side of readers, fans, and critics has been interesting and some would say helped galvanize the issue of women in comics, the event itself still counts as a huge snafu. The idea that a major corporation like DC and its leaders would not only hold such small minded and ill-considered views on sensitive subject matters, but espouse them freely made them look not like major players in a billion dollar industry, but little boys that haven't grown up. Much to my dismay, given recent quotes and such small action following up the events of last summer, I've left feeling decidedly "glass half empty". We'll see what SDCC 2012 brings, but I hope that if they haven't actually adjusted their views over the last year, that they'll at least be prepared to appear as if they have, for their own sakes.
Worst Industry Development: Vertigo being cut off at the knees
This of course includes the firing of some fantastic editors and the cancellation of several books - including some titles that ended rather naturally and as expected like DMZ, as well as
prematurely ending a great series like Northlanders and replacing it with a whole lot of nothing. Vertigo is still able to bring us the excellent ongoings Fables, American Vampire, The Unwritten, and Hellblazer, and a few new series like the mini-series Spaceman and Willingham's upcoming Fairest as well as Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly's exciting Saucer County soon, but we're not seeing nearly as much new stuff from Vertigo. There's also a general feeling that Vertigo is just not looking for new work. Perhaps that feeling is partly misconstrued and based in rumor since we ARE still seeing some new books (like Saucer County) but in general we're not seeing nearly as much new work - both series and graphic novels - coming from Vertigo or announced for 2012. Additionally, thanks to the new 52 a lot of series that might have lived (and been a much more natural fit) under the Vertigo banner - Justice League Dark, Swamp Thing, Stormwatch, Animal Man, Demon Knights, Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E, and even Voodoo - are now firmly "DC" territory, with some of them struggling mightily to fit in that box. All in all, the layoff's, the strange cancellation of books like Northlanders, Madame Xanadu, and Unknown Solider and the general feeling that Vertigo isn't necessarily looking for lots of new work is a sad state of affairs indeed considering that Vertigo has consistently put out some of the best comics and graphic novels of the last decade. I'd love to be wrong about Vertigo. I'd love it to be around FOREVER. I'd love to see just as many, if not more titles forthcoming this year and in all the years that follow, for the brand to expand and new people to be brought on board, but it feels like they're contracting, not expanding, and that bums me out to no end.
Biggest DC Missed Opportunity: The opportunity to do real change within their relaunch.
While many fans and critics (yours truly included) worried about the idea of a re-launch in the first place, at the end of the day, if they were going to go for something so bold, I wish they had really embraced it. Starting over should have been the chance to REALLY start over. But instead, while we got some amazing new books, mostly we got a rehash of all the same old stuff that we had before - some of it good and some of it bad. In addition, while some of their new books are legitimately fantastic (I mean, it pleases me to no end to be able to love a monthly Wonder Woman book again) some of the mistakes they made were painfully bad and make one wonder what on earth they could have be thinking and who, if anyone, was on board for any kind of "quality control." While DC got some books right in incredible ways, some of their misfires, with books like Voodoo, Catwoman, Red Hood & The Outlaws, Mister Terrific, and Suicide Squad, were misfires of EPIC proportions. Some of the decisions made at a time when DC literally could have done anything they wanted, makes me wonder who, if anyone, is running the ship.
Biggest Marvel Missed Opportunity: Cancelling all their female led titles and failing to develop any female characters into a “Wonder Woman-like property”
While Marvel has been easily outshining DC on finding and recruiting top female talent, they have flailed badly when it comes to developing their female characters beyond being team players. With the recent cancellation of X-23 and Ghost Rider, Marvel has cancelled their only two female led books. And in the past couple years they have cancelled Black Widow, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Woman, Spider-Girl, and a variety of others. While female characters play impressive and important roles on a variety of team books - Hope is arguably the star of her team book Generation Hope, Rogue is absolutely the star of her team book X-men Legacy, Emma Frost regularly stars in Uncanny X-Men (among others), Ms. Marvel, Black Widow, Jessica Jones, and Spider-Woman and a variety of other Avengers lead their books on the regular, and Misty Knight led her canceled Heroes For Hire series - Marvel seems unable or unwilling to develop any of its ladies as a true "Wonder Woman-like" property. While scores of men headline multiple books at Marvel - Wolverine, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Hulk, Deadpool, Venom, Moon Knight, Punisher, Black Panther, etc - not a single female character is given the time, attention, and opportunity to be similarly developed. I understand that Marvel's not interested in losing money on a book that doesn't sell as well as they deem fit, but developing a character into becoming a true property takes time. You can't expect it to happen overnight, and male OR female it's hard to launch a new series and character in comics these days. But if you want strong female characters that can compete with their DC counterparts (Wonder Woman, Batwoman, Black Canary, Supergirl, Zatanna, Catwoman, etc.) you have to take the time to grow them. Given that Marvel is these days owned by Disney it seems an even bigger missed opportunity to let these superheroines flail in relative obscurity. Disney has made "Princesses" a billion dollar enterprise...no reason they can't do the same for the likes of Kitty Pryde, Storm, Rogue, Sif, Ms. Marvel, Jessica Jones, Black Widow, Captain Marvel/Monica Rambeau, Misty Knight, She-Hulk, Valkyrie, and Emma Frost. Well...okay, maybe not Emma Frost, but you get my point. It's kind of an embarrassment of riches...just...sitting there...wasting away.
Okay, well...with that last rant out of my system...we close up this year's best of list on She Has No Head! If you want to hear more "best of 2011" talk, make sure to tune in to 3 Chicks Review Comics next Monday when Sue, Maddy, and I will be discussing all our favorites of the past year.
Here's to a great 2012 for everyone - comics related or otherwise - and as always thanks to all of you for reading and supporting She Has No Head!