2011 was a year where new comics were released. The following is a list of my favorites and what I believe were the 26 best things that I had the pleasure of reading. If you can’t tell, I don’t feel like writing an intro. Thrown in with the list will be some other general thoughts about other things related to 2011.
26. Mystery Men- written by David Liss with art by Patrick Zircher
I’m going to be honest, this was just going to be a list of 25, but then I remembered that this book existed and had to throw it on. This was a fun pulpy miniseries that fills in some pre-WW2 Marvel universe history. I had never read anything written by Liss and was pleasantly surprised by how good he was. Another surprise was the fantastic art. This was one of Marvel’s best miniseries of the year and was a high quality book on all fronts.
25. All Star Western- written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti with art by Moritat
I had been meaning to start reading the Jonah Hex series for a while and the DC reboot gave me a good jumping on point. All Star Western feels like a throwback to years gone by, but also feels completely current at the same time. The art by Moritat has, at times, a quality that reminds me of a Dark Knight Returns era Frank Miller. I enjoy a good western and this is indeed a good western.
24. Tales Designed to Thrizzle #7- words and art by Michael Kupperman
I picked this up on a whim at work and I’m really glad that I did. TDTT is a weird and hilarious comic that is published, I believe, once a year. I can’t remember the last time I laughed this much reading a single comic. The jokes are set up well and keep paying off throughout the book. I should also say that this was the most well produced comic on this list. The paper quality was fantastic. Some people might have been scared away by the $5 price tag, but for the entertainment value, it was well worth it.
23. Action Comics- written by Grant Morrison with art by Rags Morales
I never thought I would be picking up a Superman book monthly, but here I am. Issue one blew the doors off and set the bar for the other new DC books. This was a take on Superman that we haven’t seen in a long, long, long, long time. Issue 2 continued to be great, but I feel the quality lowered on issues 3 and 4. That’s not to say that they were bad, they just weren’t as good. Sorry fans of Steel, but I just could not care any less about the character. Even with the speedbumps, this book has still been great and is one of the books that I look forward to reading the most.
22. Pearls Before Swine- words and art by Stephan Pastis
Yes, the newspaper comic. I don’t get to look at the paper every day, but I always try to read this. Pearls does stuff you don’t see in other strips. The creator is a recurring character and violence is a common occurrence. It gets really meta sometimes and I’m pretty sure it confuses the hell out of old people. If I remember correctly, one of the kids from Family Circus showed up and was an arsonist. This was the comic strip made for me.
21. Daredevil- written by Mark Waid with art by Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin
If I had enjoyed the first three issues of this new series more this would have ranked higher on my list. Waid really changed a lot about the tone of this book. The change was very jarring at first and I know several other DD fans who took a while to warm up to this new series. The strong art is what kept me around and I’m glad that I did, because the strength of the writing really kicked in around issue 4. It feels much more like Matt is trying to change the tone instead of Waid and now it is working. The most recent Christmas-y one and done story cemented the fact that this will go down with the other great runs on this series.
*2011 Music Interlude*
The state of rock music was kind of sad this year. Nothing has sparked my interest enough to actually buy it other than This is Gonna Hurt by Sixx AM (which my mom bought and I borrowed it from her) and El Camino by The Black Keys (which I haven’t got around to buying yet). Rock albums I actually bought this year were London Calling by The Clash, Release Me by The Like, The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance, and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars by David Bowie. Most albums from this year that I bought were rap. They were Hot Sauce Committee Part Two by The Beastie Boys, Camp by Childish Gambino, Don’t Get Killed by JFX316, Goblin by Tyler the Creator, Turtleneck and Chain by The Lonely Island, Undun by The Roots, and A Very She & Him Christmas by She & Him. I’d say Camp was the best album of the year.
20. Schism- written by Jason Aaron with art by Carlos Pacheco, Frank Cho, Daniel Acuna, Alan Davis, and Adam Kubert
I had fallen out of the X-books over the past year and a half or so, but Schism managed to bring me back in. Jason Aaron knows how to write the X-Men better than any other writer at Marvel right now. I heard some people complaining about certain aspects of the story, but it all felt in character to me. I wasn’t the biggest fan of there being a different artist on every issue, but really I can’t complain because every issue looked fantastic. I also like to add Aaron’s work on Wolverine and Wolverine and the X-Men to this entry on the list.
19. Who is Jake Ellis?- written by Nathan Edmondson with art by Tonci Zonjic
I hadn’t heard of either member of the creative team until this miniseries. Now they’re both on my list of creators to watch. Edmondson crafted a solid spy story with a supernatural edge and Zonjic gave it a look that separated it from the other books on the stands. I’ve heard that this miniseries may be expanded into an ongoing and I’m hoping that’s true.
18. Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE- written by Jeff Lemire with art by Alberto Ponticelli
This series is the most purely fun book that DC is publishing right now. It’s action packed and still manages to be funny. This is one of those books that I think can only work in the comic medium because of the size and scope of the action. This, along with All Star Western, is one of the books that makes me glad the DC reboot happened, bringing more genre diversity into the big two.
17. Morning Glories- written by Nick Spencer with art by Joe Eisma
Morning Glories is a series that I read in trades, so I’m not fully up to date on the recent issues, but I really enjoy the issues that I have read. This series is the replacement for Lost that I was looking for. I don’t know what is going on, but I’m okay with it because what is being set up is so fascinating. The art matches up to the high quality of the writing, making this one new series that I can’t recommend picking up enough.
16. Captain America- written by Ed Brubaker with art by Butch Guice, Stefano Gaudiano, Chris Samnee, and Steve McNiven
I’ve always been a Captain America fan, but Brubaker’s writing on the character has made it the best that it’s been in my lifetime. This year of Cap kicked off strong with Gulag story, which found Bucky trapped in a Russian prison, and ended strong with the series relaunch, which saw a story with a bit of a silver age feel. From superpowered Russian bad guys to giant Cap robots, it’s been a good year to be reading this series.
*Movie Talk Interlude*
I didn’t watch anywhere near as many movies as I would have liked to have watched this year. If I remember correctly I only made it out to the theaters twice to see Thor and Captain America. I’d like to go see Hugo, but I think that can wait until it’s out on DVD. I’d also like to see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but that’s a bit too rapey for me to want to see it with an audience. One that I checked out on DVD was Kevin Smith’s Red State, which is nothing like anything else he has ever done. I enjoyed it a lot, but I think my favorite movie of the year would be Super. It’s not for everybody, but I thought it was great.
15. Secret Six- written by Gail Simone with art by Jim Calafiore
The cancellation of this series was one of the only things I really dislike about the DC Reboot. It had everything I liked about superhero comics in it. It was funny, violent, the characters were complicated, the dialog was good, and the art fit the story. There was nothing not to like about this underappreciated series.
14. Moon Knight- written by Brian Bendis with art by Alex Maleev
Moon Knight is Bendis’ best work of the year, by far, in my opinion. In terms of how the story is being told and the feel of the dialog, this feels a lot like the Bendis/Maleev run of Daredevil. The first couple of issue were a little slow, but once the story kicked into gear it became a favorite of mine. One thing that really struck me about this series was how funny it was. It’s not surprise for Bendis to write comedy into one of his comics, but there was something about this series that made me think it would be a bit more serious or dark in tone. I’m hoping this run lasts for a good, long while.
13. Avengers: 1959- words and art by Howard Chaykin
I’m surprised that this series is on my list and that it’s so high up on this list. I know a lot of people were scared away by the art, but it is some of Chaykin’s best work in years. In terms of writing quality this is pretty close to his work on American Flagg. It’s an action packed spy story with some really badass Nick Fury moments. I liked the Avengers 1959 stuff that showed up in New Avengers, but this miniseries is even better.
12. Defenders- written by Matt Fraction with art by Terry Dodson
There were a lot of first issues this year, but I think Defenders had my favorite one of the year. In a time where decompressed storytelling is the norm, Fraction threw as much as he could into 20 pages. This single issue introduced all of the team members, brought them all together, established the threat they’ve banded together to fight, and set their adventure into motion. It took the first four issues of the new Justice League series to accomplish that (I’m not trying to take shots, but let’s be honest, it’s true). On the art side of things, Dodson’s work is gorgeous. I can’t forget to mention the small ads on the bottoms of the pages like in Marvel books of the 70’s. I always liked seeing those in older books and I’m happy to see them being brought back here. Defenders could easily turn into my favorite Marvel series if it keeps on track in 2012.
11. Our Love is Real- written by Sam Humphries with art by Steven Sanders
This was the single weirdest thing that I read all year. It wasn’t weird just for the sake of being weird though. Our Love is Real was a one shot that told a love story, it just so happened that the story involved sex with dogs, plants, and rocks. This book was one that I physically put into people hands to make them read it, because you can’t fully understand it until you actually read it. It’s funny, it’s weird, and it’s one of the most unconventional love stories that you’ll ever see.
**Something Else You Should Read Part One**
Go and buy the trade paperback of Daytripper by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon as soon as you can. It tells the story of an obituary writer who dies at a different point in his life at the end of every issue. While that may sound gimmicky or that it would grow tiresome, don’t worry because it doesn’t feel that way when you read it. The two brothers craft a touching story with beautiful art. I easily place Daytripper in the ranks of one of the best comics that I have ever read. One warning I have for you is that if you do read it, do it in the privacy of your home. It took everything I had to keep from crying in my college library while I was reading this.
10. Spider Island- written by Dan Slott with art by Humberto Ramos and Stefano Caselli
Event comics have become a staple of this comic market. While it wasn’t the biggest event of 2011, Spider Island was definitely the best. All of Amazing Spider-Man written by Slott this year was fantastic, but Spider Island was really the stand out story from this year. A story where everyone gets spider powers is really ambitious, but Slott made it work. I couldn’t think of a better artist suited for this project than Ramos. Those not reading ASM are really missing out on one of the best superhero books being released today. Go back and read Spider Island to find out what you were missing. Also, Marvel if for you’re reading this: the Deadly Hands of Kung Fu miniseries that went along with Spider Island was awesome, please make more.
9. PunisherMAX- written by Jason Aaron with art by Steve Dillon
PunisherMAX is another one of the few series that I read trade by trade so I’m not completely up to date with what’s going on and I’m not even sure what actually came out this year. All I do know is that Jason Aaron is telling one of the only stories to ever get me interested in the Punisher as a character. It’s a story so dark that I don’t recommend reading two hardcovers back to back in one sitting like I did. It was kind of soul destroying. The revamp of Bullseye makes for one of the most messed up villains on recent memory. While I may not be the biggest fan of Steve Dillon’s art, he’s the perfect fit for this series. With the series wrapping up in 2012 my main thought is that Frank Castle cannot make it out of this series alive.
8. Elephantmen- written by Richard Starkings with art by Axel Medellin, Shaky Kane, and Boo Cook
Since the beginning of this series it has been a favorite of mine. I described it once to a friend as a sci-fi noir with a bit of social commentary. This year the tones of the stories were all over the place. There were love stories, horror stories, Conan the Barbarian homages, and brutal tales of war. The changes in art clearly reflected the tones of the stories. This was especially shown in the all-around creepy issue that had art by Shaky Kane. In the beginning of the year Elephantmen offered a story that acted as a perfect jumping on point for new readers and I recommend going back to find those issues if you haven’t been reading. I’d call 2011 an experimental year for this series. Luckily the experiments have been working out well and Elephantmen has just been getting better and better.
7. Lil Depressed Boy- written by S. Steven Struble with art by Sina Grace
I love this book, I really do. I connect to this series on a personal level more than anything else on the shelves. At this point I figure I should say, I’m not depressed, that’s not why I connect with this book. Even though the main character is a sackboy he is incredibly relatable and the series as a whole is incredibly grounded. I feel like I know the characters or that I’ve known people like them in the past. Out of all the comics I read this year, this was the only one that got me to check out some new bands. LDB doesn’t get the recognition for being a great series that it deserves and hopefully that’ll change in 2012.
6. Infinite Vacation- written by Nick Spencer with art by Christian Ward
When most people talk about Nick Spencer, they mention Morning Glories. I talk about the Infinite Vacation. This universe jumping story was one of the smartest and most original things I read all year. In the first two issues it seems like this could be a love story, but by the third issue it takes a, for lack of a better term, really fucked up left turn. As great as the writing is, the art is what really stands out. Ward’s art doesn’t look like anything else on the stands. It’s gorgeous and really jarring at the same time. The most jarring pages in the series are those there the story is told with photographs instead of art. The only downside to this series was that it only put out three issues this year.
**Something Else You Should Read Part 2**
I enjoy the comics written by Grant Morrison, but I’ve found that it is more entertaining hearing him talk about comics than reading his comics. That is why you should pick up Supergods. This book is part history of comics and part Morrison biography. It’s a fascinating read and made me enjoy Morrison’s work more than I did before.
5. Echoes- written by Joshua Fialkov with art by Rahsan Ekedal
I’m not the biggest fan of horror comics, but this was awesome. It was easily one of the most well written things I read this year (which is why it was ranked this highly). If you’re not familiar with the miniseries it follows the story of a schizophrenic man who learns that his father was a serial killer and fears that he may be a killer as well. The series was creepy in a way that I haven’t seen or read anywhere else. The art helped convey the creepiness extremely well. There’s just something scarier about black and white. By the way, don’t go in expecting any kind of happy ending, because there isn’t one. At all.
4. Batman: Knight of Vengeance- written by Brian Azzarello with art by Eduardo Risso
For the most part Flashpoint was a fairly forgettable event. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great. The main series was very much overshadowed by one of the twenty or so spin-off miniseries. That series was Batman: Knight of Vengeance. I was sold when I heard Batman by the 100 Bullets creative team. In the Flashpoint universe things are different and Bruce was the person who was killed in the robbery gone wrong, not his parents. Thomas Wayne survives and eventually becomes the Batman of this world. Unlike the Batman we’re familiar with, this Batman won’t shy away from killing a villain. A more violent Batman for a more violent world. Azzarello crafted a story that changed the Batman/Joker dynamic, making it darker than ever. Risso’s art was more than a perfect match for this story. For as just okay Flashpoint was, this miniseries made the entire event worthwhile.
3. Detective Comics: The Black Mirror- written by Scott Snyder with art by Jock and Francesco Francavilla
I believe that this story should go down in history with the rest of the Batman classics. Put The Black Mirror up against any of them; The Killing Joke, The Long Halloween, Arkham Asylum, Hush. I think it matches up to them and, dare I say it, is better than all of them. Scott Snyder made Detective Comics into a must read series. Snyder, a relative newcomer to the comic’s scene, blew everybody away with his Batman comics this year. The Black Mirror was as dark as its title and at times bordered on being a horror. Snyder wasn’t the only person responsible for this story. He had help from two fantastic artists. Jock’s art has an incredibly gritty look that captured the spirit of the comic perfectly. His use of negative space is unmatched in the world of comics today. On the other hand Francavilla’s art is smooth and contrasted nicely against the work of Jock. Francavilla does amazing things with his page layouts. This creative team worked completely in sync and made, what I believe to be, a perfect Batman story.
2. Casanova: Avaritia- written by Matt Fraction with art by Gabriel Ba
Until I started reading Casanova, I really wasn’t a fan of Matt Fraction. In fact he was one of my least favorite writers. His work on the X-Men is what led me to drop almost all of the X-books I was reading. Then Fear Itself was announced. It sounded kind of cool, but with Fraction writing it, I was wary. The week Fear Itself was announced, the first issue of the Casanova: Glua reprints was released. I picked it up, hoping that maybe I would find something written by Fraction that I would actually like. It turns out that Casanova would be one of my favorite things that I had ever read. I caught up on the first two volumes of Casanova and waited eagerly for the new issues. While only two issues of Avaritia were released this year, I truly believe that it belongs in this number 2 spot on the list. In this volume of Casanova, Cass is jumping from universe to universe, tasked with the job to kill the same man, Luther Desmond Diamond, in every universe and if he is unable to kill the single man, he has to wipe the entire universe from existence using a sort of doomsday device. Killing the same person over and over begins to take its toll on Cass, eventually leading him to the discovery that genocide is much easier on his mind than personally having kill Luther over and over. There’s something about Casanova that just clicks with me. It’s clearly not for everybody; I’m literally the only person at my shop that reads it, no matter how hard I try to push it. Casanova is a really dense comic. The story never stops, the references come fast, and it challenges the reader. For as crazy as this spy story is, it is also a bit autobiographical for Fraction. Bits of him can be found in all of the characters and in issue two it feels like, in several instances, Fraction is talking directly to the reader. It was through Casanova that I really became a fan of Gabriel Ba’s art. His art is a perfect fit for this series. It’s so kinetic that it feels like it’s actually moving. For as great as Ba’s action is, he can handle the emotional and talking heads scenes just as well, if not better. His work can be so fantastically detailed at times. In reading Casanova, I’ve found one of my favorite writers, one of my favorite artists, and one of my favorite comics.
1. Criminal: Last of the Innocents- written by Ed Brubaker with art by Sean Phillips
If you know me, it’s no secret that Criminal is a comic that I love. This most recent volume is the best volume of the series and is also the best work in the careers of the creative team. Like every volume of Criminal, it stands on its own and can be read even if you haven’t read anything else from the series. Last of the Innocents centers around a man who goes home to bury his father. While on this trip he realizes how much he misses his home and just how much he hate the life he lives now. He determines the way to get out of his current life would be to murder his wife. I’ll stop with the synopsis there so I don’t spoil anything. While this is a crime/noir story I would say, more than anything, it is about nostalgia. Brubaker has called Last of the Innocents his most personal work and it is easy to see. It is all about the want to go back home and to live the life that we believe to be perfect. It’s a personal story wrapped up in murder and crime. Brubaker made a protagonist who, even though he is an awful person who plots to murder his wife, you want to succeed. You want him to murder his wife and get away with it because he’s just trying to get what we all really want; happiness. This story allowed Sean Phillips to stretch his creative legs more so than any past volume of Criminal. Phillips used his trademark gritty noir art style for most of the book, but he changed up his style in certain sections of the book that went into flashbacks. During the flashbacks, Phillips used a style that was very similar to what we see in the Archie comics. It looked so different from the norm for Criminal, but it worked so well. The Archie comics are usually seen as kid’s comics and this style of art really got across the feeling of nostalgia that this volume of the series was built around. The story was ambitious and in a way took a pretty large risk. This wasn’t the usual type of Criminal story. Brubaker and Phillips risked alienating their fan base and potentially pushing away the people who help get this series printed. Luckily the story worked and turned into the best issues of Criminal yet and the best thing that I read this year.
Well, that’s my list. I hope you enjoyed reading it and maybe it might influence you to pick up something you weren’t reading before. This took me an absurdly long amount of time to write. Never again will I do a top 26 list.
Happy new year everybody. I hope you come back to read more of whatever I post on here.