Monday, April 16, 2012

Best of 2011: The Top Ten

Finally, only four months late... If the blurbs seem a little brief it's because I just want this done. And because it's hard to capture the feelings I had when I made this list back in early January -- and to separate some of the books from what's happened in them in 2012. As far as credits go, they'll vary from title to title how detailed I get. And, of course, this list draws upon the comics I read in 2011. I almost surely missed out on tons of great stuff, but, alas, I am but one man with one wallet and one pull list. Let's get to it...

10. Secret Avengers #16-20 by Warren Ellis, Jamie McKelvie, Kev Walker, David, Aja, Michael Lark, Alex Maleev, and others.
I'm amazed it took this long for a comic like this to pop up: Warren Ellis doing Global Frequency with Marvel characters. He took a title that never quite hooked me (and one I would have dropped if he hadn't come aboard) and made it a vibrant, energetic, inventive, must read every month. Each month, it was him and a fantastic artist telling a single story of crazy superhero espionage, usually with a few moments that stopped me dead in my tracks. Ellis has hit the point where he can play to artists' strengths better than almost any writer in mainstream comics. He can mix big expository scenes and KICKSPLODE! I would gladly read a comic like this every month forever.

9. Daredevil by Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin, and others.
I admire the approach Mark Waid took with this relaunch. It was thoughtful and smart, aimed at taking the book in a different direction than it's been for... well, years (decades?). And, paired with two incredibly talented artists, it was a great pop superhero comic this past year.

8. Holy Terror by Frank Miller.
Not to be too simplistic, but it's a graphic novel drawn by Frank Miller. Forget the story, the characters, everything. It's a big book of new Frank Miller art. It may be Batman pastiche, it may get a little sloppy in parts, it may feature some of his weakest writing (goddamn, that ending is lame), but this is a book that I can flip to any page and find something to stare at, to pour over, to love completely. Most of the books on this list have some great art, but this is the only one that made it here almost solely on the art.

7. Ultimates by Jonathan Hickman, Esad Ribic, Dean White, and others.
Speaking of great art... Esad Ribic and Dean White became one of my favourite art teams this past year thanks to their works on Ultimates. Stunning, gorgeous, lush pages that manage to show a strange, foreign world that's large and insane, while still filled with these small, human moments. Thor's beard dripping with beer... Nick Fury looking completely fucked... the Black Widow's streaky mascara... the City in all its glory... the Children killing Asgard... this book lives in the extremes. Jonathan Hickman took all of two issues to completely hook me, to make me think that this is a comic that may live up to its potential and go completely batshit crazy. It was the best blockbuster comic of the year bar none.

6. Punishermax by Jason Aaron, Steve Dillon, Matt Hollingsworth, and others.
I have said this many times, but I am astonished that someone could follow Garth Ennis on this title. Ennis's run was so fucking good, such a definitive take, that the idea of others trying to write 'mature' Punisher stories in this little universe seemed destined to fail. And it did for a time after Ennis left the title. Under Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon, though, Punishermax has thrived, managing to add to and equal Ennis's run. Aaron's take on Frank Castle after he returned from Vietnam is chilling, especially with how he relates to his family. And, what's worse, is that it doesn't feel like a wrong approach to the character. It feels natural and that's insane. I don't think this title will make next year's list, so let's just pretend that the final two issues came out at the end of 2011 and remember this as one great comic. That final battle with Fisk and the final issue were both brilliant (though I still don't like the last couple of pages...). It brought Frank Castle's story to a fitting end. I still can't believe the balls in getting Steve Dillon to be the artist on the follow-up to Ennis's run, either. Awesome.

5. Batman, Incorporated by Grant Morrison, Yanick Paquette, Chris Burnham, Cameron Stewart, Scott Clark, and others.
Originally, this didn't make my CBR list of the top ten comics of 2011. That was a mistake. By the time December rolled around, this series was woefully behind and the last issue we'd gotten was that putrid Internet 3.0 issue. You can understand why, when it came to make that list, I passed Batman, Incorporated over. And, then, I talked to Tim and thought about it and Leviathan Strikes came out and reread the series and... well, here we are with it going from 'not on the list' to number five. That's because it's a damn entertaining comic. Thoughtful, energetic, crazy, layered, nuanced... and with great art by everyone not named Scott Clark. It's the next step in Grant Morrison's Batman and it genuinely comes off as something new and exciting -- something more than just a regular Batman comic. To me anyway.

4. Deadpool MAX by David Lapham, Kyle Baker, Shawn Crystal, and others.
Damn, this comic made me laugh. It was subversive and absurd, never going where you thought it would. The approach Kyle Baker brought to this comic was a combination of 'not giving a fuck' and pure straight man. Everything looks so serious that it adds to the absurd comedy. His Cable blows my mind with how it captures the over-the-top Rob Liefeld design while undercutting it with the monocle and sense that this is some prissy old dandy underneath it all. Every issue that this series went on, I was surprised that Marvel was still publishing it. I'm just sorry they never got around to using Captain America somehow...

3. Vengeance by Joe Casey, Nick Dragotta, and others.
These lists are always subjective, but this entry strikes me as more subjective than usual. Vengeance, from beginning to end, felt like a comic that Joe Casey wrote for me. He didn't obviously, but it's a comic that's so steeped in his work at Marvel that it feels that way. This is a comic so perfectly aimed at me, filled with allusions and references, starring characters that I haven't read about in years... Beyond that, it's a damn entertaining comic -- epic in scope, wonderful in its humanity, and filled with some of Nick Dragotta's best work of his career. He's quite adept at switching up his style in subtle ways. But, really, this is the comic I've been waiting years to read and it makes it this high on the list because... well, how often do you get something that seems so squarely aimed at you and only you?

2. Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker by Joe Casey, Mike Huddleston, and others.
I agree that the Eisners didn't need to nominate anything for the "Best New Series in 2011" category -- because they should have just given the award to the goddamn Righteous Maker. If Vengeance was the comic my inner Joe Casey obsessive fan was waiting for, Butcher Baker was the comic that the Automatic Kafka fan inside was waiting for. An all-out look at superheroes that wasn't afraid to shy away from the 'adult' stuff without simply putting it out there for the sake of it. A hero comes out of retirement to kill all of his villains, except some survive and he pisses off a highway patrol man... Mike Huddleston is channeling Ashley Wood to a degree, except you can understand everything he draws. Everything about this screams thematic sequel to Kafka and, yet, it also manages to be its own thing.

1. Scalped by Jason Aaron, RM Guéra, and others.
And Scalped finally makes it to the top of the list after how many years of coming oh so close... Actually, it hit the top this time by a wide margin. When I make my lists, I tend to write down all of the comics I bought that year and begin putting contenders in a separate list. Once I do that, I begin eliminating things that I don't think make the top ten while also putting ones that will for sure make it near the top. There was a lot of movement this year for every spot, except the number one spot. Nothing else I read this year could challenge Scalped for the best comic of the year. Constantly surprising, moving, and just damned impressive... I don't know what to say. It's a book that gets better every year and, as it moves towards its end, it was at its peak in 2011. Maybe it will top itself in the first half of 2012.