Frankly, comic fans and writers have too much to choose from to make a definitive top 10 list. I could expand the field to my top 100 and it would really say nothing objective or absolute.
Having said that, I’m all for flying my disclaimer flag that you will be getting my extremely subjective point-of-view on my comic reading experiences for 2012. This year was another great year for comic books, not only in traditional print but in the digital format too.
Now, let us dispense with the pleasantries and cue up that imaginary drum roll as I bring you my totally unscientific list of comics I simply couldn’t stop buying or reading.
Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons put together one of the best mini-series of 2012 by taking an obvious love of the James Bond style spy thriller and putting their respective stamp on it. Let’s just get this out of the way – Dave Gibbons remains one of the best sequential storytellers in comics – period. Millar’s tight scripts and depth of character wouldn’t come off half as good without Gibbons’ ability to capture the wrinkles and nuances of each character in this entertaining tale.
On the same token, Millar gives Gibbons a lot to work with by offering fully realized characters in this adolescent fantasy without coming off like an adolescent fantasy. The whole story runs with the unbelievable world of gadgetry and world saving heroics so fluidly that it makes it easy to suspend any disbelief you may have and just settle in for an action packed ride. You might as well make some popcorn for when you read this. I can’t wait for the movie. Yes, there will be a movie. Nuff said.
Newcomers Eric Grissom and Phil Sloan made good on this unique and quirky title that will return with a new run of issues early next year. If I could compare the style and flow of Deadhorse to anything, the closest comparison I could make would be to The Big Lebowski – a loosely plotted story that is inhabited by all sorts of strange characters oozing with quirks and kinks.
This is the ultimate freak flag of comics flying high above a world of formulaic and stale attempts at humor and uber hipness. Grissom simply has a way in telling his story that offers no easy comparison or definition even though it all feels casual and familiar. Ditto to Phil Sloan’s idiosyncratic art that makes each freaky little quirk in this story pop up like a pimple. Just read it. You’ll see what I mean.
No. 8 – Change
Ales Kot may be one of the most cerebral newcomers to comics with this multi-faceted narrative within the narrative of a story. While only the first issue of this four-part mini-series is out, I’m already committed to seeing where this fascinating, spiraling trip of a story heads to. It would be unfair to compare his approach to anyone else, but I think of his style in the same way that I would Grant Morrison’s more experimental work or even Robert Anton Wilson or Thomas Pynchon.
Morgan Jeske’s art compliments the story in a way that lends something to its already surreal aspects, but keeps it firmly tethered to this dimension so it doesn’t fly away into unknown regions. While I’m not sure how the division of labor breaks down for this title, all persons involved deserve some serious praise for adding something fresh and innovative to expand the boundaries of sequential storytelling.
The title that re-launched a venerated comic company’s rise back into relevance, Valiant Comics brought X-O Manowar back in high style by getting master storyteller Robert Vendetti and artist Cary Nord to bring back Aric of Dacia and his struggle against The Vine. While artists have changed back and forth a bit on the title (which hasn’t caused any drop off in quality), the steady hand of Venditti has taken this title to new heights with sophisticated storytelling and a depth of character rarely seen in comics.
Valiant played their hand well by rolling this out in the patient manner they have, especially by letting Venditti have the space and time to set up this story properly. Aric of Dacia feels much more realized as do The Vine and secondary characters like Alexander. Often times, reading a monthly issue of comics feels like it’s over before it begins with all of the light-on-story titles (sorry, DC and Marvel). You feel like you get your money’s worth reading Venditti’s writing, which offers a more engaging and rich story to sink your teeth into.
I know this isn’t a singular title, but the different titles put out by Madefire deserve equal praise. This Berkeley-based company makes digital only comic books for Apple based products like the iPad and iPhone, but delivers a reading experience unlike any other title by utilizing their proprietary motion book tool to deliver fluid sequential storytelling. The easy comparison is classifying these stories as motion comics, but that would be like saying a Ferrari is a form of transportation – a huge understatement.
Creators Liam Sharp, Ben Wolstenholme, and Dave Gibbons have taken the medium of comics and evolved them into something that looks and feels like the future. You are here, and they are light years ahead in a place where everything is better.
Titles like Captain Stone is Missing…, Mono, Treatment, and The Engine employ sophisticated and clever storytelling that offer one of the most immersive reading experiences in comic books today. The maturity and quality of story are accentuated by the amazing artwork being brought in by some of the best in the industry too. Besides Sharp, Wolstenholme, and Gibbons’ prodigious abilities, Madefire has brought in industry stalwarts like Dougie Braithwaite, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Brian Bolland, showing that the company knows where it’s at when it comes to making great stories.
Instead of waiting to be passed the torch by contemporaries Grant Morrison or Alan Moore, Kot took a page from Prometheus and snatched the fire himself, forging his own identity and signature on intelligent, experimental narrative. Wild Children is to readers what the red pill was to Neo in The Matrix. Once you begin reading, you have to consider a number of possible truths about life and culture that are so easy to ignore with all of the blue pill comics out there that reinforce fantasy. There’s nothing wrong with fantasy, but Kot offers a narrative that is just as adventurous by asking questions about reality in a way that requires even more imagination than fantasy.
An essential question is posed by Kot about the kind of values society places on dispensing and controlling knowledge. The struggle for the freedom to obtain knowledge without impediment in an honest way seems to be the heart of this story, told in a radically experimental narrative that shifts and snakes its way about like a spiral instead of a straight line. This is hands down the best stand alone story of the year and should age into a perennial most-influential title as more people discover this amazing story.
I could never say enough good things about Matt Kindt’s brilliance as a storyteller. His hypnotic narrative of a story has been a revelation this year, leading the charge in cerebral storytelling that reaffirms the power of sequential storytelling in the right hands. Kindt’s approach to Mind MGMT has been a slow burn in Meru’s quest to track down Henry Lyme and the subsequent fallout.
One of Kindt’s biggest strengths has been telling stories that fit his style of art. He will not turn out a comic with the technical dexterity of a Jim Lee or Greg Capullo, but his art shows an emotional complexity of characterization with each alluring panel, especially with the dreamy textures and colors in his story. Always smart, but never too smart for his own good, Kindt deserves a larger readership to support his clever endeavors.
To know Joshua Dysart is to love Joshua Dysart. He has injected more socio-political awareness into one issue of Harbinger than most comic writers can fit into a series. His take on superheroes remains firmly grounded in reality despite their fantastical abilities. Think of Harbinger as more of a generational discourse than a good versus evil story. There are multiple points-of-view that Dysart has brought to the table, creating a richly complex story that sparks a discourse that should be had at every dinner table, every night. You could argue that Harbinger reads like the newspaper if it was mixed with a drama about real life.
Each issue works like a brush stroke, filling in a masterpiece of a story on par with the stories told in Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights or a Diego Rivera mural. Dysart’s run on Harbinger, when finally put together, will be seen as a fully realized symphony of storytelling rather than a set of songs. It’s more of a concept album instead of a string of radio hits. Like a good beer, each sip of Harbinger gets better and more intoxicating. Newbies to the series can buy the trade collecting the first five-issue story arc next month. Do yourself a favor and check out this brilliant series.
Speaking of intoxicating, Fatale has been one of the surprise stories of the year for me. The first issue’s cover suckered me in, and I haven’t looked back since. Ed Brubaker’s writing and Sean Philips’ art inhabit a smoky, shadowy world where less is more and the substance is the style of the story. Philips tells a great visual story with his slippery flow from panel to panel, focusing on the important details much like Brubaker’s storytelling.
This tale is a distilled essence with a heady dose of atmosphere that feels like a classic black and white noir tale straight from the gritty fields where Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler grow wild in the shadows cast by Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. The lean, muscular prose of Brubaker finds a way to say so much with so little, letting Philips’ fantastic artwork suck you into this dark tale of desire and danger.
If I could pick one writer to spend a week with, picking their brain and seeing what makes their creative energy tick, it would be Brian K. Vaughan. For those of us brought up on a steady dose of Star Wars, Saga takes all of the promise of that series and transforms it into something the adult our inner child has grown into can appreciate with the same wide-eyed reveling in remarkable storytelling. Besides his insanely prodigious talents as a storyteller, BKV gets a huge lift from Fiona Staple’s remarkably fertile imagination when it comes to the visual appeal of this story.
Not many comic books strike a chord in the way that Saga has with its relentlessly entertaining storytelling and ability to capture the humor and pain of being born into conflict. A perfect balance of intellectual engagement and flat out fun has been struck by BKV and Staples. I would love to see this series eventually turned into a television show because of the fertile ideas springing forth and amazing visual elements each issue brings. Of course, it would have to happen on one of those edgy cable channels with all of the adult subject matter, but let’s just say I’m looking forward to the next year of this story more than the new Star Wars film coming out. Viva BKV and Fiona Staples!
Even with a shrinking industry, 2012 has been a great year for comic book fans. Here’s looking to 2013 for more great storytelling, more innovation, and more new talent to continue engaging and capturing the collective imagination.