Chris's Top Ten Comic Series of 2012
2012 Year End Lists
-Chris Bachalo, Jorge Molina, Nick Bradshaw, Mike Allred, Steven Sandberg
Fun is something of a dirty word in comics. Fans tend to read it as "fluff" or "skippable". However Jason Aaron's Wolverine and the X-Men has challenged the assumption that fun comics can't also be appointment reading. The Jean Grey School for Higher Learning has become the Hogwarts of the Marvel Universe, an outrageously unpredictable locale where anyone can pop for a substitute teaching gig, and the kids will be lucky to survive until graduation. The best part of this series has been watching the main cast, composed mostly of fan favorite x characters who have been sidelined for years, thrust into new roles that are way out of their comfort zones. Kitty Pryde has become a successful administrator, Beast is forced to embrace his animal side to defend those he cares about, and Iceman and Rachel Grey have had to step up as the powerhouses of the team. Best of all Wolverine has to struggle with his new role as a mentor to and caretaker of children, a job made even more difficult by the fact that his Headmaster title has completely dissipated the Wolverine mystique for his young charges. Jason Aaron has carved out his own section of the Marvel Universe where he can go anywhere and do anything. The school is running out of money? Wolverine goes gambling at an alien casino in outer space. Kitty Pryde has been infested by microscopic Brood? Beast, Iceman, and Warbird shrink down and enter her blood stream Fantastic Voyage style to exterminate them. Robo Barbarians are about to invade our dimensions and wipe out the School? Send in Doop and Howard the Duck to save the day. This book is wildly unpredictable while being very grounded by the emotional beats Aaron packs into each issue, a feat made even more impressive by the fact that the core cast consists of about 14 characters, and each receives their equal share of the spotlight. Bottom line, the only person having more fun with this book than its fans is Jason Aaron himself.
9.) Batman Incorporated
-Chris Burnham, Frazer Irving
After years of dissecting the storied Bat mythos and building his own epic out of the shadow's of some of the franchise's most baffling eras gone by, Grant Morrison has begun his endgame. With only six issues hitting the stands this year, Batman Incorporated shipped the least amount of issues of any book in the top ten. That alone should be an indicator of just how great Morrison and Burnham's work on this title as been. 2012 was the year that Bruce Wayne took his army of Batmen to war against the forces of Leviathan, led by the mother of his child, Thalia Al Ghul. Morrison has always had a knack for dredging up some of the most ludicrous elements of Bat history and presenting them in new and engaging ways. He continues that trend here with the inclusion of "Matches Malone", super pets (I'm sure Tumblr is having a love affair with Bat Cow), and of course the International Club of Superheroes. Turning characters like Chief Man of Bats and El Gaucho into stone cold bad asses is a tall order, but Morrison and Burnham make it look easy. Burnham utilizes numerous small panels to render fight scenes from multiple angles that especially enhance the fight scenes making them more kinetic and brutal. The highlight of their run to date is undoubtedly issue 4 , where Bruce's allies wage an all out assault on a Leviathan stronghold, fighting their way through legions of assassins and Man Bats. Morrison weaves a story that is both incredibly ambitious and remarkably tight. Already we have visited the past for a new spin on Thalia Al Ghul's origin, as well as the far future to witness Damian as the failed Batman of Gotham. The best word to describe Morrison's Batman work is epic, and the conclusion of his run in Batman Incorporated is shaping up to be nothing less.
-Grag Capullo, Becky Cloonan
It's a great time to be a Batman fan, as I'm sure you can tell by the inclusion of not one, but two Bat books on this list. Scott Snyder started the year by bringing his instant classic Court of Owls story to a strong close, leaving many fans wondering how he could top his critically acclaimed debut. Simple. Bring out the Joker. One of the boldest and most brilliant changes Snyder has made to the title was turning Batman into a straight up horror title. The best bat stories have always had this element present, but Snyder has fully embraced the trappings of the genre to tell more gripping crime stories. The Joker lends himself perfectly to the horror noir tone Snyder has crafted for this title. Evocative of Heath Ledger's portrayal of the character, Snyder's Joker viciously takes the spotlight of every scene he enters. Joker's chilling reintroduction involved blacking out the Gotham City Police Station, and taunting Commissioner Gordon as he slinked about the room breaking the neck of cop after cop. Snyder's message was clear: Joker's return would be bloody and deeply unsettling. Snyder has returned a sense of menace and air of fear to the character unseen since Morrison's early work with Joker. Greg Capullo's redesign of the character heightens the terror. Capullo's work on the title has been nothing sort of stunning, with his style evoking a grittier version of Batman The Animated Series, and his renderings of Gotham turning the city into an ever looming presence, but his figure work on the Joker has taken his craft to a whole new levee. It's difficult to stare at Joker for too long and that's exactly the effect the character should have, but is difficult to achieve with repeated static images. I am equal parts frightened and excited to see where the story goes next.
7.) Avengers Academy
-Tom Grummet, Andrea Devito, Karl Moline, Timothy Green
The best book of the Avengers franchise in 2012 (and for several years prior) was the title that was most overlooked by fans. Avengers Academy told the story of a group of damaged kids, being taught how to be super heros by a group of damaged Avengers. The Avengers Academy kids were not the brightest or most talented young heroes the Avengers could find, they were the kids most at risk to grow up to be super villains. However in the title's final year, the kids showed the Marvel Universe the true nature of their character, as Christos Gage tied together his narrative about the redemptive power of friendship, empathy, and the simple act of putting your faith in a another person. Gage's scripts and main series artist Tom Grummett's pencils gave this series a distinctly old school vibe which was incredibly fitting for a story that celebrated the idea of the Marvel super hero in its most classic form, while daring to improve on it. Yeah, they made mistakes along the way, but more times then not, the kids proved that they were well on their way to growing up to be the next generation of earth's mightiest heroes. They even proved to be more mature than their teachers at times, finding commonalities with other teenage superheroes, at a time when Avengers were punching X-Men. Gage's masterful final arc showed just how far the kids had truly come. Faced with choosing between a cure for their powers (detrimental to most of the students) or standing against a young man whose plan could either doom or save the world, they sacrificed their own happiness and made a tough call to maintain the status quo. Christos Gage set the bar high for teen super hero books with Avengers Academy, proving that there is a reason the core tenants of this genre have endured as long as they have. The final year of this title was an emotional roller coaster, and a heartfelt send off to some of the most interesting new characters to grace the Marvel Universe in years.
6.) Wonder Woman
-Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins
Wonder Woman was arguably the greatest success story to emerge from the DC New 52 Relaunch. Azzerello, Chiang, and Akins have given Diana a sense of purpose and relevance she hasn't enjoyed in over a decade. A major retcon (that makes so much more sense than the character's original origin, that I don't know if you can truly call it a retcon), that Diana is actually the illegitimate daughter of Zeus, has revitalized the title, giving Diana a whole new supporting cast, mandate, and instantly iconic rogues gallery in the form of the Greek Pantheon. Azzerello's scripts are nuanced and carefully crafted with subtle and layered dialogue. Artists Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins have outdone themselves creating some of the most unique interpretations of the Greek gods to ever be portrayed in any medium. Like Swamp Thing and Animal Man (two of DC's other highest quality books), to this day, Wonder Woman is essentially continuing the same story Azzerello and Chiang kicked off in issue #1. However their tale is so intricate, exciting, and perfectly paced that it is an easy fact to forget and one impossible to complain about. Azzerello's story continues to grow in scope. Not content to set in motion a civil war between the Greek God's for control of Zeus's throne, Azzerello has also planted the seeds for a larger conflict involving the return of Orion and the New Gods. Witty, explosive, and unpredictable, Wonder Woman is a can't miss title, and Azzerello, Chiang, and Akins run will be remembered as a definitive take on the title and the character for years to come.
-Brian K. Vaughn
Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples's creator owned series Saga from Image comics is simultaneously a love letter to comics and to the creative process. Vaughn and Staples have created an unprecedented fusion of science fiction and fantasy. They tackle mature and universal themes in a universe sized playground that appears to have been shaped and populated by the boundless imagination of a 7 year old. New parents Marco and Alaina are on the run. Born of two different species locked in a never ending war, their only crime is that they love each other and want to raise their child away from the horrors of war. So far the series has introduced readers to concepts like Rocket Ship Forests, lie detector cats, robot-on-robot sex, disemboweled ghost babysitters, and the life affirming power of fiction (even in the form of trashy romance novels). To say that Vaughn and Staples are cutting loose, would be a gross understatement. While I have said this in praise of several books already, more-so than any other book, it is true that Saga really can go anywhere and do anything, while still being grounded by Vaughn's meticulously considered rules for how the magic and technology works, and the universal themes of sacrifice for love and family. It's the rare kind of book that will appeal both to your adult cynicism and inner child. Saga is the comic book fan's comic book, and anyone not already onboard owes it to themselves to give this title a chance.
4.) Invincible Iron Man
No one nails self-loathing, self destructive heroes quite like Matt Fraction can. 2012 saw Fraction pull of the monumental feat of transforming the Mandarin from a goofy (and more than a little racist) anachronism into a truly despicable and formidable foe worthy of the title of Iron Man's arch-nemesis. The only problem was, Iron Man already had the perfect arch-nemesis: Tony Stark himself. In the course of his 5 year run on the title Fraction had introduced a lot of threads into the title, leaving himself the unenviable task of weaving everything together into a suitably epic conclusion. Through it all, even as the book became more and more crowded, Fraction continued his fascinating character dissection of Tony Stark showing that for all the man's charisma and good intentions, there is no other Marvel Hero more apt to shoot himself in the foot given the opportunity. For every brilliant strategic move Tony made, his own hubris and stubborn nature worked against him just as effectively as his newly souped up Rogues gallery. While Fraction's interpretation of Stark owes much to Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal of the character, the swagger, charm, and diction Fraction bestowed to the character will be a reference point for many writers to come. Salvador Larroca once again proved himself to be the hardest working artist in comics, keeping the book on a more than monthly shipping schedule without every missing a deadline or needing a fill in. A feat made even more impressive when you consider the sizable cast he had to juggle, the redesigns of all of Iron Man's old foes, and the need to vary his style to reflect various time jumps along the way. Fraction and Larroca's Invincible Iron Man ended it's run this year on a particularly fitting note, Tony having won a bittersweet victory, saying goodbye to the people who still loved him despite having let them all down once again, but promising to be better. One of the most consistently high quality books of the last half decade, Invincible Iron Man will be missed, but never forgotten.
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips's Lovecraftian Noir Fatale has consistently been one of the most chilling, unsettling, and engrossing reads of 2012. Ed Brubaker once again proves to be the master of pacing, keeping his readers almost completely in the dark, but parsing out just enough information to make each individual chapter satisfying. Fatale is the story of an ageless woman named Josephine, pursued throughout the decades by a mysterious cult that worships dark, unholy powers. Josephine has a curious effect on men, they become obsessed with her, willing to forsake and sacrifice everything they care about in order to be with her or even just make her happy. Sean Phillips's gorgeously gritty art seeds a an atmosphere of foreboding and darkness. Like Brubaker, Phillips is a master of pacing, letting scenes unfold slowly and working up to perfectly timed reveals of unforgettable images of true horror. Each issue of Fatale has an almost cinematic quality to it. Bruabaker's narration and dialogue are quintessentially noir, revealing of character while establishing an atmosphere of suspense and unease. Phillips packs each scene full of detail to establish mood and give life to the scene. So meticulous is Phillips in populating his panels with small touches to authenticate the scenes that you can almost hear background noise in your head to accompany each different locale. Fans of this title received an early christmas gift when it was announced that the story was expanding far beyond it's intended end early next year, as Brubaker and Phillips have decided to let their tale grow organically and continue to develop the frightful universe they have created. This adds to the excitement and unpredictability that were already strong elements of Fatale as perhaps not even the creators themselves know quite what's lurking around the next shadowy corner.
2.) Journey Into Mystery
-Mitch Breitweiser, Richard Elson, Carmine Di Giandomenico, Stephanie Hans
One of my favorite moments from the final issue of Kieron Gillen's cult hit Journey Into Mystery was when readers finally caught a glimpse at the titular book, the Journey Into Mystery and its sub-title: A comedy in 30 parts, or a tragedy in 31. I don't know if there is a more apt description to be offered of this book. Journey Into Mystery told the story of a reborn Loki, Thor's villainous brother. Only now, he had been reborn as a young child, mischievous yes, but with no memories of the horrors committed by his former self. He was just a smart little boy who didn't understand why everyone hated him so much, but was content to spend time with his dog (who hated and wanted to kill him), his best friend (who found him insufferable), and Thor, his brother and most beloved hero (who loved but did not dare trust him). 2012 saw Loki working behind the scenes to save Asgard and the Marvel Universe from catastrophes those that distrusted him would never know about. While the year began with Loki and Leah at their happiest, drinking milkshakes in Broxton, and having adventures throughout various mystical realms. And while Loki's innate talents made him a perfect secret agent for Asgard, the only way he knew how to achieve his agenda was through trickery and deceit, making deals and playing his enemies off each other. Finally, the consequences of his double dealings caught up with him, and Loki was left facing something very unfamiliar to him: a no-win situation. Following right on the heels of his very public redemption, Loki was forced to make the ultimate sacrifice, and in the process exposed the Marvel Universe to a hidden threat in order to save it from certain doom. Gillen and Hans's last chapter of this story will tear your hear out and beat you savagely with it. Journey Into Mystery was one of the most unique and emotionally charged books to ever be published by the big two. It represents one of those special moments when a publisher takes a chance on something very different, standing behind the quality of the work when it must know it would never be commercially viable. Full of heart, excitement, adventure, and tragedy, Journey Into Mystery is one of those rare comics that forces fans and creators alike to reconsider just what the medium is capable of at its best.
1.) Fantastic Four/FF
-Barry Kitson, Steve Epting, Ron Garney, Mike Choi, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Ryan Stegman, Juan Bobillo, Nick Dragotta, Gabriel Hernandez, Andre Araujo
There has been much discussion (some of it generated by Hickman himself) about Marvel's decision to remove the "Worlds Greatest Comic Magazine" qualifier from the cover of this book at the outset of Hickman's run. The truth is the book hadn't lived up to that promise in quite some time. For a tentpole Marvel franchise, Fantastic Four had been largely incidental to the more crucial stories of the Marvel Universe for over a decade. All of that changed when Hickman took control of the title, weaving a dark, intricate tale, cosmic in scope but always focused on powerful bonds of family. 2012 began with Hickman wrapping up the story he had began in his first issue of Fantastic Four, featuring the extended family at war with just about every adversary they had come into contact during Hickman's run. Crafting his narrative between two titles (Fantastic Four and FF) Hickman used the Forever story arc to bring his run to date full circle, including a brilliant thematic call back to the series prologue. At this point Hickman could have dropped the Mic and walked offstage, however the end had only just begun, as Hickman used the rest of 2012 to craft tailored epilogues, and simple done in one stories that tied up loose ends and planted seeds for future works. Some of my favorite moments of Hickman's Fantastic Four/FF came from this year of epilogues, including Reed refocusing himself on his family by having a couple beers with Ben Grimm following the revelation that Grimm was nearly immortal and would outlive all of them, or a week in the life of Peter Parker as he tries to work up the nerve to kick out the ultimate roommate from hell that is Johnny Storm. By far the highlight of an exceptional year of comics was Hickman's final issue: FF #23, that featured adult Franklin Richards imparting a final lesson to his younger self in a heartfelt story celebrating the bonds of family and the power of imagination. 2012 was the year Hickman earned back the "Worlds Greatest Comic Magazine." Truth be told it could have graced the book's covers throughout his run, because under Hickman's guidance, for the first time in years, that promise was kept.