Best Comics Single Issues of 2012
2012 Year End Lists
10.) The Sixth Gun #21
The current comics climate is so writer driven that at times the contribution of artists can be overlooked. It's important to acknowledge that in this visual medium artists are equally responsible for storytelling and no book illustrated by two different artists working from the same script would tell the same story. The Sixth Gun #21 is a silent issue, featuring no dialogue or narration captions, only sound effects. Hurtt had already caught my eye as an artist not just for his impressive figure work, but for the rare talent he possesses of choreographing exciting gun fights in a medium where gun play usually falls flat and grinds the proceedings to a halt. It is extremely difficult to make static gun fights interesting but Hurtt does it in nearly every other issue of this series. And while this rare talent was on full display here, Hurtt uses this issue to prove his storytelling prowess and innate star power. The narrative unfolds in some of the most stunning and precise panels Brian Hurtt has delivered to date. Becky Montcrief's infiltration of the Knights of Solomon's fortress is intercurt with Drake Sinclair's escape, culminating in a heartfelt reunion, and a major revelation/series turning point. All of the action, emotional beats, and plot points are crystal clear, and gorgeously rendered. And while I love Cullen Bunn's unfolding narrative and skill with period dialogue, for this issue, words would have just gotten in the way of Brian Hurtt's magnificent craft.
9.) Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #12
-Brian Michael Bendis
This issue featured the long awaited showdown between new Spider-Man Miles Morales, and his morally bankrupt Uncle Aaron a.ka. The Prowler. While Peter received love, support, and inspiration from his Uncle Ben, Miles received nothing but lies, manipulation, and impossible choices from his Uncle Aaron. As a 13 year old boy, it would have been easy for Miles to stray down a bad path under the constant pressure of his Uncle to use his powers for their personal gain. However in issue #12 of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man Miles finally stood up to his Uncle, ordering him out of his life, despite Aaron's threats that Miles's parents wouldn't love him anymore if Aaron told them Miles was the new Spider-Man. Infuriated by Miles's refusal to help him further his criminal agenda, Aaron attacked Miles, viciously beating him. However the inexperienced Miles was able to get the upper hand in the battle which ended in the death of Uncle Aaron through circumstances that appeared as if it was Miles who had killed him. This issue makes the list both for the moment where Brian Bendis shows us the kind of man Miles will be, and the horrifying shock ending, where it seems that Miles's triumph has been snatched away from him as at 13 years old, he may have just become a murderer.
8.) Captain America #19
After eight years scripting the adventures of the first Avenger, Ed Brubaker finally said goodbye to Cap with Volume 5, Issue #19 of Captain America with the help of returning longtime art collaborator Steve Epting. While most of Brubaker's run had been defined by gritty espionage, and thrilling suspense, this issue was a quiet conversation between Steve Rogers, and the "mad Cap" of the 1950s, a dedicated soldier driven insane by tainted super soldier serum and a desire to live up to an impossible legend. A frequent player in many of Brubaker's Cap stories, the replacement Captain America of the 1950s was one of the writer's few remaining loose ends. Brubaker used the character to weave a touching bookend to his long tenure on the title as Steve Rogers sat down with his adversary and explained to him what it meant to be Captain America, and that he understood why he had suffered so much under that burden. These sequences are beautifully illustrated by Steve Epting in montages of some of the greatest moments from Cap's storied history. Finally, Steve promised that his one-time foe would receive the best psychiatric care available, relieved him of his duty as stand-in Cap, and rode off into the American countryside on his motorcycle. Captain America #19 is Brubaker's lover letter to the character, and an emotional send off for the writer who has become synonymous with this title.
7.) Daredevil #12
Daredevil has been a critical darling ever since Mark Waid relaunched the book, with an emphasis on swashbuckling action, but with darker psychological undertones and compelling character work. It would be easy to read this entire issue, and not even realize the Daredevil costume only makes a brief cameo until long after you had closed the book. Following a slow boil of flirtation between Matt and Assistant D.A. Kirsten McDuffie, this issue features their long awaited first date. The opening scenes feature a hilarious misdirect and Samnee's gorgeous depictions of an evening out at the state fair. Waid's dialogue and Samnee's expressive art sell the excitement and awkwardness at the beginning of a relationship, and instantly invests the reader in the affair. But the true greatness of this issue stems from Waid's take on the origin of Matt and Foggy's friendship. Told through flashbacks as conversation during the date, Matt details the event that cemented a lifelong friendship between him and his law partner Foggy Nelson in a sequence that includes their wildly fun "first trial" together. So much of the Matt/Foggy relationship has been one sided in recent years, with Matt's life turning Foggy's into a living hell as he slid further into the darkness of Daredevil. You often have to wonder why Foggy still points up with the guy. Here, Waid lays the cornerstone of one of the best bromances in comics, showing just how well these guys vibe together, and what they are willing to sacrifice for each other.
6.) Action Comics #9
The best issues of Grant Morrison comics are those where the mad genius holds nothing back. Action Comics #9 certainly fits that bill, as it features an African American Superman whose secret identity is the President of the United States, facing alternate reality spanning crisis, that serves as meta-commentary for how the mainstream comics industry treats work-for-hire creators. This issue tells a complete Superman epic in 20 pages that makes a definitive statement about the greatness of the character without actually ever featuring Clark Kent. The love Grant Morrison holds for the character of Superman, and the transcendence of what that character can mean is palpable on these pages. Morrison goes on to make a statement about the corrupting influence of business on art, specifically relating to characters straying greatly from their core values and the original intent of the artist under the direction of the corporate interests that own the rights to that character. Reading these pages, it's hard not to reflect on the recent struggles between creators and companies in this year and those past, especially the moves to make all characters "extreme" during the 90s, and the original raw deal handed to Superman's creators Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster.
5.) Swamp Thing #7
While it's hard to single out just one issue from Scott Snyder's Swamp Thing as the entire series to date has been a continuation of the story be began in the book's first issue, issue #7 stands out among this consistently excellent run of comics. This issue features a dying Alec Holland pleading with the Parliament of Trees to transform him into the Swamp Thing, a destiny he had until now fought against, so that he could save Abby Arcane from the Rot. Here Alec Holland fights for his survival, taking the ancient Parliament to task for failures in their judgement just as they reprimand him for his failings. In the end Alec convinces them to give him another shot, using the chemical compound he developed as a scientist to trigger the transformation that the Parliament are too weak to catalyze on their own. The entire affair is gorgeously rendered in some of the most unconventional and stunning layouts to date for this series from artist Yanick Paquette. Eschewing the traditional panel grid, the story flows across the pages divided by winding vines, leading the eye from scene to gorgeous scene. Snyder delivers a riveting verbal battle between the Parliament and Holland as well as a visceral and unsettling description of Holland's transformation into the Swamp Thing, marking a major turning point for the series.
4.) The Unwritten #41
Following Tom's cataclysmic confrontation with Pullman and Leviathan, the series shifted focus and jumped ahead in time before eventually returning to the exploits of Tom and Richie. The Unwritten #41 filled in the gaps of what happened between then and when we next saw these two characters. Taking refuge at the Villa Diodati, the location where everything really started to go off the rails for Tom, the guys take some time to rest and lick their wounds. Tom is basically catatonic, destroyed over the loss of his best friend and lover Lizzie Hexam, leaving Richie Savoy, journalist turned vampire to try and put him back together again. Haunted by the ghosts of those innocents killed in Tom's wake, Richie begins to piece together the strange power surrounding Tom, and comes to a horrifying revelation of how it also effects him. Essentially, Tom is the focal point of a belief fueled narrative, and can change reality around him through the collective faith of his followers and the needs of his story. As a result, Richie has become a supporting character in Tom's story, subject to his will and needs. Having entered Tom's life looking for a story, Tom always held Richie at a bit of a distance suspecting he was being exploited by the ambitious writer, however this issue flipped the relationship's dynamic on it's head revealing just how much Tom had subconsciously been exploiting Richie all along. Carey and Gross's fascinating examination of the power of stories continues to be one of the most intelligent and engrossing reads on the stands, and this issue succinctly illustrates all of the book's many strengths.
3.) Casanova Avaritia #4
To call Casanova a dense book would be a gross understatement. Hell, to call it a self-aware, time and space spanning love letter to the espionage genre, packed with references to pop culture and music, and serving as meta commentary for Fraction's own struggles with the creative process would be an understatement. Casanova Avaritia #4 closed out the third volume and first act of the series. Each page is an intricate tapestry of details, expertly arranged by Gabriel Ba creating a visual feast, that I quite honestly believe would have been a complete mess in the hands of any other artist. Trapped aboard a crashing Hellicarrier type base, Casanova and his allies are under assault by old enemies and former friends alike. In the midst of it all Casanova Quinn has to find a way to save his mortal arch-enemy (whom he just might love), his current lover, his father, and then find a way to disappear forever, somewhere where he can't do anymore harm. Fraction had scripted a much darker, morose Casanova for most of this volume, and while that darkness is ever present in this issue, it was both welcome and fitting to see him attempt to cover it with the character's trademark cavalier flair. In the end, it's unclear how events really shake out, and where our hero and the supporting cast will find themselves in volume 4. The only thing that is certain is the entire current status quo has been chucked in favor of the new and a fresh beginning. Casanova is many things, but above all it has always been one of the most unpredictable book on the stands, and Avaratia #4 reminded readers of this fact, flipping over the table, and then flipping it two or three more times to boot.
2.) Uncanny X-Force #34
It might come as a surprise that one of the smartest, most well executed examinations of murder, violence, and escalation ever written in comics, came out of the big two, and from a book with "X-Force" in the title no less, but fans of Rick Remender's masterpiece would expect nothing less from the book's swan song. Uncanny X-Force #34 will tear your heart out. The only three original members of the team finish their showdown with the new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and the terrible price for forming a secret kill squad is paid by all. The fact that the utterly insane Deadpool emerges the least tainted and damaged from the experience should tell you just how far X-Force tore down Wolverine and Psylocke. Even the moments that should have been fist pumping celebrations of bloody retribution, like Deadpool avenging Fantomex took on a sour note, as Remender's final arc had so expertly hit home the idea that murder only begets murder. Instead of thinking the villains got what they deserved the reader is left wondering what horrible consequences their actions will sow. Phil Noto's final panels of Psylocke's steely resolved expression showcase just how much the character lost during this experience and how she will be forever sullied by the dark choices she made. And then there is the final battle between Wolverine and Daken, wherein Wolverine is forced to kill his son, intercut with scenes of Logan's imagination of what their life could have been if he had been given the chance to raise the boy right. And your heart will break.
1.) Hawkeye #3
Matt Fraction and David Aja's Hawkeye has been one of the most perfect synergies of art and script in recent memory. This book is a beautiful character study and completely unconventional super hero story. The beauty of Hawkeye lies in it's simplicity. When Clint leaves the apartment to buy labels for his trick arrows (the ridiculous kind that explode into nets, boomerangs, and glue bombs), he ends up sleeping with a woman who wants to sell him her car. When the woman is kidnapped by Russian mobsters, Clint and Kate give chase through the streets of New York City, battling the Russians' automatic weapons with a disorganized mess of trick arrows. Clint and Kate's dialogue is razor sharp and bubbling over with wit. Aja defies conventional wisdom by making a car chase scene exciting and kinetic, an achievement that is no easy feat with the static image. Matt Holingsworth glorious color work bathes the pages in warm reds and purples giving the book a distinct visual identity and artistic flair. Oh, and there's a scene where Clint is naked and his junk is covered by a classic costume Hawkeye Head censor bar. Hawkeye #3 features everything readers have come to love about this series: A crisis born of Clint's terrible decisions, witty banter between Hawkeye and his sidekick Hawkeye, a dog that loves pizza, excessive use of the word "Bro", Aja's experiments with layouts, and Fraction's trademark hilarious meta-flourishes. It's about the most fun you can possibly have in 20 pages, and RTBN's favorite single issue of 2012.