This isn't a "Best of 2012" list, because (a) 2012 isn't finished yet, and (b) every time I attempt to put "Best of" lists together, I inevitably end up forgetting something that I utterly adore and feel guilty about it afterwards. Instead, inspired by Thursday's upcoming holiday and the fact that you might be thinking about buying things on Friday for some reason, here are five things in comics from this year that I'm thankful for.
Considering my initial disinterest in the news of the relaunch of a 1990s line I didn't know that much about, I'm consistently surprised by how excited I am about the Valiant line-up these days. From X-O Manowar through Shadowman, there's not been one bad book in the bunch, and Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons has assembled a magnificently strong creative team across the entire line (One that emphasizes quality and creative continuity over The Next Big Thing thinking, notably). Considering the slow roll-out of series, the ability to read each one individually but also get Easter-egg crossover commentary if you read them all and the variety of tones in each book as opposed to a uniform "Valiant house style," this is pretty much a model for how these kinds of things should be done in future.
The Galaxy's Greatest Comic has a tendency to go in cycles of quality, but right now, it feels as if it's as good as it's been in years, with Al Ewing's Judge Dredd storyline "The Cold Deck" -- which crosses over with two other series in the anthology, The Simping Detective and Low Life -- already standing up there with some of the best Dredd storylines of the character's history. Add to that, the mix of new series Brass Sun (featuring some amazing art by INJ Culbard) and classic thrill ABC Warriors (Again, with Carl Critchlow's art being the star of that show), and you're left with a science fiction anthology that feels like it's taking on all-comers with a broad approach to the genre and knocking it out the park every single time. Yes, metaphors were mixed for that last sentence; chalk it up to thrill power overload.
If Valiant is how to do a reboot right, Monkeybrain feels like how to do creator-owned digital comics right, mixing ongoing series (Edison Rex, Amelia Cole, Bandette) with one-offs and miniseries (Thoughts on a Winter Morning, Spirit of The Law, The Stars Below) and well-known creators with those who really, really should be more well-known. Like Valiant, the trick has been to keep the quality high; it's gotten to the point that the first issue of any MonkeyBrain is worth taking a look at at the very least, and at least three of its titles have turned into some of my favorite comics of the entire year. Not bad, for a publisher that's only a few months old, really. Plus, it's hard to beat the prices ...
The Nao of Brown
I'm sure I've said this before, but it bears repeating: If there's a more beautifully-illustrated comic this year than The Nao of Brown, I've yet to see it. Glyn Dillon's art in this book is just drop-dead stunning, and that it's paired to writing that almost matches it in terms of subtlety and sensitivity makes Nao something even more rare and worthy of being treasured and beloved. This is something more slow, less obvious, than many comics, as well as just plain smarter (Consider the repeated imagery of the loop, and the various ways in which it appears throughout the book, as well as representing Nao's mental state as she gets trapped in mental loops of imagined horror, for example), and probably my pick for book of the year. If I were doing that, which, as I've already said, I'm not.
Another digital surprise, and another anthology that has become a must-read in a remarkably short time, Zander and Kevin Cannon's monthly collection of Heck, Crater XV and whatever else they're working on at the time - Zander's True Tales of Jin, Aged 4 is a particular favorite - is not only great comics, but increasingly a great magazine as a whole; the back matter essays and back-up strips often being as entertaining if not moreso than the main attractions (The "Everything I Know About Storytelling I Learned From Star Wars" essay in issue 3, in particular, is a must-read). If you haven't picked this series up yet, what is wrong with you? We're halfway into the first (?) year already; spend your T-giving catching up on what you've missed.
(Proof that I always forget things: Where is Saga on this list? Or Multiple Warheads? Hugo Tate…? The Crackle of The Frost…? Man, I could go on…)