20
Dec
2012
Jordan's Top 10 Comic Series of 2012
2012 Year End Lists
Jordan
10. Defenders
 
There was no book on the stands this year that felt as willing to go anywhere and everywhere, as committed to its characters and its sprawling narrative, nor as exciting and revolutionary. Defenders was the team book that sadly couldn't, getting cancelled after only 12 issues, yet in the little time it had, it made one of the best arguments for comics as a medium with limitless possibilities. Following Doctor Strange, Namor, Silver Surfer, Iron First, and Red She-Hulk on an adventure that spanned continents, decades, and eventually even universes, the book took some of the less appreciated oddballs in the Marvel Universe and through them into an adventure with stakes both intensely personal and universal. A book that felt like it could literally go anywhere, Defenders shone brightly and briefly, but in its brief run, it showcased some underused characters to great effect, displayed the variability and vitality of the Marvel Universe, and made a passionate case for basic human kindness as a force powerful enough to move mountains and save worlds.
 
9. Animal Man/ Swamp Thing
 
If Defenders acted as a showcase for the Marvel Universe, the combined narrative that has played out in Animal Man and Swamp Thing did the same for the DCnU. It may seem like cheating to allow these books to share a slot on my list, but anyone who has been reading them knows they have been telling an intertwined story from the beginning. 2012 saw Buddy Baker weathering family strife as he fled from the Hunters Three and searched for Alec Holland, a quest that took him from California through Utah and the American southwest. Meanwhile, Alec Holland finally accepted his role as the Avatar of the Green, becoming Swamp Thing and battling his nemesis Anton Arcane from the bayous of Louisiana into Texas, with detours to South America and Eastern Europe. And once the two heroes met to do battle against the rising force of the Rot, things were carried to the next level as both were forced to contend with a reality in which the Rot has won and almost all of civilization has been wiped out. Rotworld (the current event that ties the two books even closer together) has seen both heroes traveling the DCnU on quests to save a broken world, visiting everywhere from Central City and Metropolis to Gotham, and meeting various heroes both iconic (like Batgirl and Green Lantern) and tertiary (Beast Boy, Frankenstein, and Deadman have all become important to the narrative). In a comics landscape full-to-the-brim with one-and-dones and quick to the climax arcs, these books have been an old school epic, taking their time to gradually raise the stakes and enveloping much of a new universe into their narrative. In a universe as segmented and disconnected as DC's, Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder have been creating the one story that makes me feel the DC Universe is a lived-in world with a variety of heroes and villains each serving their purpose in a larger battle. The stakes couldn't be higher, and when all is said and done, it is clear that Rotworld will be the defining epic of the early DCnU.
 
8. Avengers Academy
 
This year saw the kids of Avengers Academy in conflict with the Runaways, the displaced youth of Utopia, and the students of the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning, and each time, our heroes managed to avoid conflict and come to peaceful solutions. Avengers Academy began its life as a book about a group of young super-powered individuals the Avengers considered the biggest threat of becoming the next generation of super-villains, but it ended its run as the story of the Marvel Universe's greatest young heroes. Its epic climax, "Final Exam" saw the kids offered a chance at a cure for their (mostly dangerous or disabling) powers, and forced the mall to make heroic sacrifices to keep that cure from being used to de-power every hero on earth. In the process, some lost their powers forever, others were cursed with regaining theirs, some loves were cemented and other friendships inexorably damaged. In other words, it was a great story from a great team book, the best argument on the shelves for the vitality of the next generation of super heroes, and a book that will be truly missed now that it has ended. Smart, funny, exciting, and realistic in its depictions of the conflicts, anxieties, hopes, and dreams of its teenage cast, Avengers Academy was the best book about being a teenager I read in 2012, and one of the best examples of a super hero book done well.
 
7. Fatale
 
Existing at the crossroads of noir and Lovecraftian horror, Fatale tells the story of Josephine, a woman with a dangerous power over men and the complicated web she weaves  as she tries to navigate the world and leave as little wreckage as possible in her wake. The book's frame tale structure allows its story to play out across decades, and over its first year, we have watched Josephine do battle (or, more often, get the men in her life to do battle on her behalf) against the demonic cult-leader Hansel from San Francisco in the 1950's (where she became entangled with a reporter and ran afoul of a former-lover who'd made a deal with some dark forces) to the Hollywood of the 1970's (where a washed-up wannabe actor was pulled into her thrall). The book deftly combines supernatural dread with a more grounded, gritty noir story, detailing the struggles of a woman with power over men against a man who will do anything to take it from her. It's dark, compelling stuff, and the news of the book's expansion (from an initial 15 issues to somewhere in the neighborhood of 25) can only give Ed Brubaker's complex narrative more room to spread as Josephine draws more people into her struggle, and as more sacrifices are made by whoever gets involved.
 
6. Wolverine and the X-Men
 
Over the course of 2012, Wolverine and the X-Men gave me everything I never knew I wanted from an X-book. No comic was more consistently fun and more reliably hilarious this year, whether it was telling stories of serious weight (like Kitty's infestation by an alien race, or Warbird's struggle with her artistic side) or engaging in flat-out absurdity (like a runner involving Toad's position as the school janitor, Kitty's efforts to replace the departing Husk and subsequent interviews with a stable of supremely unqualified Marvel characters, or the stand-alone issue that revealed Doop's status as the secret guardian of the Jean Grey School). Though the book was waylaid for a large portion of the year as it was forced to serve as a tie-in to the Avengers vs. X-Men event, it still managed to find some interesting takes on the material, and in the months before and since, it has been nothing short of stellar. Hilarious, propulsive, and surprisingly heartfelt (look no further than break-out character Broo), Wolverine and the X-Men is doing something unique in comics, balancing a go-for-broke sense of fun with a weightier story about a flawed man trying to make good on his mentor's dreams of a place for mutants to learn in peace. If you're not reading this book, you're missing one of the best stories in comics at the moment, and should rectify that post-haste.
 
5. Fantastic Four/FF
 
This year saw the end of Jonathan Hickman's run on Fantastic Four and the sister-title he created, FF. The first few months of 2012 saw him closing out the epic he had been crafting since his first issue on the title, with the Fantastic Four and the gaggle of genius children Reed has amassed and named the Future Foundation doing battle against The Council of Reed Richards' from across the multiverse with help of some of the group's greatest rogues, including Victor Von Doom and even Galactus. Following the stunning conclusion, Hickman has used his last issues on both titles as a slow victory lap, telling interesting, funny, and heartfelt stories that tie up any loose ends left over from the epic he had concluded. Whether they involve the hilarious misadventures that occur when Johnny Storm moves in with Peter Parker, the heartfelt relationship between Valeria Richards and young Wizard-clone Bentley, Doctor Doom's possession of the Infinity gauntlet (it's a really long story), or the eventual fate of the Inhumans and the denizens of Nu-World, these last issues served as a terrific send-off to one of the great runs in modern comics. And if the final issue of Hickman's FF, a small story about Franklin Richards with vast implications, didn't bring a tear to your eye and a smile to your face, I think you should re-read it, or possibly see a psychologist to make sure you still feel human emotions.
 
4. Saga
 
Set amidst a generations-long war between two species and hailing the return of Brian K. Vaughn (Y: The Last Man) to comics, Saga follows Alana and Marko, lovers from opposing sides of the war who desert to raise their child Hazel"”a child the higher ups behind both species would like to capture. Narrated by an adult Hazel, the story spans species and galaxies, showing off Vaughn's expansive imagination of  stylistic verve. Whether he is depicting cold-blooded assassins like The Will, naïve ghosts like Hazel's babysitter Izabel, or aristocrats with television screens for heads like the aptly named Prince Robot IV, Vaughn has a sense for character details that quickly acclimates readers to even the strangest of locales. Over the course of its first seven issues, it is clear we have only seen the tip of the iceberg, and the world being built in Saga is likely to expand exponentially as the series continues. For now, the story is the tale of Alana, one of the biggest bad asses in comics at the moment (and a narrow miss on our Best Characters list), Marko, a pacifist with a violent past, and the way that their love for Hazel transforms them and everyone that crosses their path. It's a breathless epic just picking up steam, a wildly imaginative thrill ride with a sense of humor and its heart in the right place. In short, Saga is a likely classic in the making, and if its quality remains this high, it will be a titanic achievement in comics.
 
3. Wonder Woman
 
There was much talk as DC prepared for its re-launch of the resurgence of Aquaman under Geoff Johns, and while that book has been solid throughout, it seems clear that the biggest winner of the relaunch is Wonder Woman. Under the guidance of creative team Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, Diana has become one of the best characters in comics, and her book one of the biggest must-reads on the stands. When Wonder Woman discovers that she is actually the daughter of Zeus and Hippolyta, she becomes drawn into the conflicts of an entire pantheon of Gods, with grudges and alliances millennia in the making. When Hera sets her sights on the unborn daughter of Zeus and a young woman named Zola, Diana takes the girl under her protection, putting her into conflict with Hera, Poseidon, and even Hades as a result. Steeped in one of the most vibrant mythologies of all-time, Wonder Woman has finally found a narrative with a scale worthy of its title character, and Diana has been forced to use both her might as a warrior and her skill as a diplomat to fill her newfound role as a demigod. The book is smart and excellently paced, with a sense that anything can happen, but Chiang's art, which gives each member of the pantheon a redesign worthy of their mythic status and adds a sense of excitement to the appearance of each new god, is also a highlight. For the first time in years, Wonder Woman can stand aside Batman and Superman as a tentpole of the DCnU, and Wonder Woman is a title worthy of her stature.
 
2. Batman
 
After wrapping up an amazing run on the Dick Grayson-centric Detective Comics, it was clear that Scott Snyder knew his way around Gotham City. But over the course of this year, he has given us two epics that are modern classics in Bruce's battle against the shadowy Court of the Owls and in the return of the Joker across the Death of the Family event. Snyder has pitted Batman against foes that, like all great Batman rogues, pit the Dark Knight against the darker parts of his personality. Bruce's arrogance has repeatedly gotten the better of him this year, and revealed that his grasp on the city he protects may not be as firm as he likes to think. Dark, thrilling, and more than a little bit horrifying, this is the Batman I have always wanted to be reading, and one I hope to have in my stack for a long time coming.
 
1. Journey Into Mystery
 
At its best, Journey into Mystery was high-fantasy that could be compared to the work of Neil Gaiman, combined with quick, self-referential storytelling that would fit in on well on a great comedy series. This book was an epic that spanned worlds and dimensions, and also a coming-of-age story for a very unlikely hero. Kid Loki was reborn carrying the name, and the reputation, of his former self, and as he struggled to remake himself as a hero and do some good in the world, he made both friends and enemies in unlikely places. Journey Into Mystery sent its hero to  Hell and back (literally), but it also showcased his developing relationship with Hela's maiden Leah, with "best dog in the world" Thori, and with his brother, the God of Thunder. Whether Loki was outsmarting Fear Lords, playing both sides off each other in a war between two pantheons of Gods, or trying to stop the entire universe from burning, the book perfectly balanced heightened stakes and hard-earned emotions with a madcap sense of fun and a quick wit. Ultimately, it asked important questions about how much any of us can change and what we would be willing to give up to protect those we love (and, in some cases, those we've never even met). Kieron Gillen promised, at the start of his final issue, that with Journey into Mystery he had brought us "a comedy in thirty parts, or a tragedy in thirty one," and he lived up to that promise, delivering a finale that was a punch to the gut, even as it perfectly underscored the book's larger messages. No comic book in 2012 had the imagination of this book, nor the verve, and nothing on the stands this year made me laugh harder, think more, or hurt as much as this one. Journey into Mystery was the best book of 2012, a modern comics classic that showed the potential of the medium to tell rich, complex, and endlessly entertaining stories that are as fun as they are weighty. This was a story that ran its course perfectly, ended without a hitch, and stands as a titanic achievement in storytelling. Journey into Mystery took me places no other book did this year, and like any great trip, it changed me for the better in the process.
 
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