THE TOP 20 COMIC BOOKS OF 2012

Yesterday, I wrote about the ones that were too new to tell or didn’t quite make the top 20 (or were flat out failures).  Today: My 20 favorite books of 2012.  These are the ones I most looked forward to reading, month in and month out, as well as a few graphic novels that really hit hard and stayed with me.

Hit the break to read the list, then drop me a comment to let me know if I missed any!

THE “BUBBLING UNDER” 5

Five comics that caused me pain when I cut them from my top 20.  If I’d done a top 25, they’d have so been there…Listed in no particular order: Morning Glories; X-Factor; Avenging Spider-Man; Avengers vs. X-Men; and The Massive.

THE TOP 20 COMIC BOOKS OF 2012

20.  Creep by John Arcudi and Jonathan Case.

On its face, it’s a simple little noir/private eye story—but the characterization of the suspects, major players, and, of course, the titular hulking creep is superb.  And the love Arcudi has for his characters is evident on every page.  Throw in the sorrowful, poignant artwork by Jonathan Case and you’ve got a miniseries that really shouldn’t be missed.

19.  Wolverine and the X-Men by Jason Aaron.

It’s just fun.  Everyone should have a few “fun” comics in their inventory, no?

18.  Crossed: Wish You Were Here by Simon Spurrier and Fernando Melek.

A series of short webcomics about Crossed survivors on an island. What I really like about this series is that it doesn’t spend too much time in the perversity of the Crossed universe—which has been done and done before (and continues to be done to death in Crossed: Badlands)—but instead focuses on the internal development of its character: A nerdy writer who has to learn how to survive in a world with no use for writing and storytelling.

17.  Batman, Inc. by Grant Morrison.

Yes, this deserves to be here and Scott Snyder’s Batman doesn’t.  I liked the “main” Batman relaunch, but it took too long to tell a story that was essentially the same one we’ve seen before: Batman gets beat up, gets down in the dumps, rallies, and returns.  It’s very good, but not great.  Batman, Inc., however, continues to be surprising, hilarious, and madcap.

16. American Vampire by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque.

How is it possible that this vampire book is still fascinating?

15.  Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja.

I was pretty cold on this when #1 came out and they turned Hawkeye into Bullseye.  Since then, though, the book has become increasingly hip(ster).  It’s got a clear, crisp sensibility that is unique and immediately recognizable—and in these days of increasing corporatization of Marvel’s books and characters, that’s really saying a lot.  In fact, the book feels like a response to Hawkeye’s role in The Avengers as a film/TV group: The character often flat-out denies his affiliation to the group, but rarely appears in costume or references doing “Avengers business.”  At the same time, the arc that’s developing as I write this is about a videotape of Hawkeye doing a black operation for SHIELD, and the effect that tape will have on the reputation of The Avengers as a team.  It’s a very interesting way of connecting to mainstream Marvel, and I’m happy to see that the book shows no signs of conforming or flattening out.

14.  Sunset by Christos Gage and Jorge Lucas (original graphic novel)

In a year without a new “Criminal” series from Brubaker/Phillips, Gage and Lucas filled the “noir” void with this story about an old mob enforcer coming to terms with his past.  Yeah, you’ve seen it before—and it’s easy to imagine Bogart or Eastwood as Nick Bellamy, but this one stayed with me.  Incredibly well done.

13.  Daredevil: End of Days by Brian Michael Bendis, David Mack, Klaus Janson and Bill Sienkiewicz.

How can a Daredevil book created by every top 4 Daredevil creator who doesn’t have the initials “FM” be bad?  Answer: It can’t.  This book started with a brutal bang, features some of the best artwork I’ve ever seen, and has an extremely focused narrative—which incidentally is something that Bendis’ work often lacks.  He’s like Stephen King in that way: Great ideas, but sometimes too long-winded in the telling.  I can’t wait to see where this book goes.

12.  Spaceman by Brian Azzarello and EduardoRisso (9 issues)

It’s easy to get annoyed by the stylized “future lingo” here, but if that’s the kind of science fiction reader you are, you probably don’t like A Clockwork Orange, either.  So get lost.  This book combined some intriguing pseudoscience with a human story about socioeconomic stratification and racism, all under the guise of one long chase scene.  It’s not the most innovative story of the year—the tale is fairly straightforward—but the pace was perfect and the art…Well, the art was the best Risso has ever done.  The series concluded this year, and is already available in a deluxe hardbound version.

11.  Captain Marvel by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Dexter Soy

Kudos to Marvel Comics for introducing a female-driven book that also features female supporting castmembers, and that’s written by…A female!  The first arc, a time-travel story, got a little bogged down in confusing melodrama about Carol Danvers’ personal history, but on the whole this was the first time since Avengers Annual #10 that I’ve found Danvers to be a relatable, three-dimensional character.  And issue #1 was probably the best character reboot of the year…And this was the year of Marvel Now! and DC’s second wave!

10.  Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire.

This continues to be a chilling postapocalyptic tale.  You can’t really “get it” if you start reading now, though, since it’s at its end.  I’m sure we’ll see a beautiful hardbound volume soon.  Get it.

9.  Action Comics by Grant Morrison.

Yes.  I said it. Grant Morrison’s Superman book isn’t pure genius in the same way that his All-Star Superman was, or his Batman work, but it was a truly fresh take on the character.  And other than #2 on this list, nobody else did that in the new 52.  (At least not successfully.)  In fact, the 2011 issues of this title were a poor warm up for how much this title improved in 2012.  I’ll miss it when it’s over, and the end is coming soon—Morrison has resigned from any new DC work for the foreseeable future.

8.  Punisher/Punisher War Zone by Greg Rucka.

Sadly, Greg Rucka’s run (with great artists like Marco Checchetto, Max Fiumara and Matt Hollingsworth) never got a solid audience, but it was a completely fresh take on the character.  I thought giving him a girl sidekick and an eyepatch would be stupid, but it turned out to be the first version of Punisher that actually made him feel human.  Ruthless and violent, sure.  But human.  Ennis and Aaron never did that.  And although at the time I’m writing this I’ve only read War Zone #1, I have to say: Best Punisher/Spidey fight ever.  Really great character work, and solid, believable action.  It’s too bad Marvel burned their bridges with Rucka—he’s truly a great writer.

7.  The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Chris Rathburn.

Yeah, it’s kind of the same story on and on, but I’ll keep reading it until they stop publishing it.  I almost stopped at #100—I just couldn’t get over the horrible death of one of the best characters in comicdom—but I’ll keep going.  Because I can’t stop.  Damn you, Kirkman.

6.  AvX: Consequences by Kieron Gillen and Scot Eaton.

I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but I think this series surpasses the “main event” that preceded it.  It’s much more intimate, and far more character driven.  While reading Avengers Versus X-Men I kept asking myself: Why would Scott Summers act like that?  Or Submariner?  Or even Emma Frost?  I hadn’t been keeping up with most of the X-books, so I chalked it up to character changes that happened in my absence, but I still felt their motivations were wholly undeveloped. I felt the same way about some of the Avengers—particularly Captain America.  That said, I enjoyed the event book more than most events, but in all it left me feeling kind of empty.  This series fills that hole.  I really enjoyed the focus on Cyclops in prison and his internal machinations, and loved his conversations with Wolverine.  But it was also the briefer updates and “set ups” for the next phase of Marvel, involving characters like Colossus and Abigail Brand and Magneto.  I think when the dust settles and folks break out their trade paperbacks in a year or so, people will look back and say that this was the right way to end an event: With a quiet series of conversations about what just happens and what it means to the future.

5.  Rachel Rising by Terry Moore.

I would read a Terry Moore comic book about the creation of the phone book, but thankfully I don’t have to.  From his magnum opus comic soap opera, Strangers in Paradise, Moore went on to the thought-provoking “Echo” series.  After about 30 issues of that, he was ready for horror.  And Rachel Rising is truly the creepiest, most suspenseful comic I have ever read.

4.  Wonder Woman by Brian Azzarello and (mostly) Cliff Chiang.

It’s funny: Issue one of this reboot kinda left me cold, but I picked it back up when the first trade came out this year.  When I read it in a big chunk, it became one of the books I most look forward to each month.  A great example of how a good writer can turn a character I never cared a whit about into something truly great.  It’s also no coincidence that this title tends to avoid crossing over into the rest of the mess of the DCU post-New 52.  Of all the new 52 titles, I’m only still reading three or four.

3.  Daredevil by Mark Waid.

Mark Waid and some great artists continue to kill it, month in and month out.  This book is genius just for the covers, but the content is great, too.  Waid is one of my favorite superhero writers: He doesn’t really change the game, he just plays by the super-hero rules to tell great stories.

2.  Mind MGMT by Matt Kindt.

If you haven’t checked out this book, you’re missing the most unique, genre-breaking comic book experience of the year.  The best comic books aren’t storyboards for movies (you reading this Geoff Johns and Mark Millar?).  No, the best are ones that make the most use of the art form.  Comic books are the only medium that easily allow you to jump between multiple internal narratives, through captions or thought balloons, while simultaneously providing a third person “view” of the action via the art.  Comic books can provide words and pictures that are odds with each other, or that don’t clearly relate—at least not at first.  And Mind MGMT does all of this.  Even more, it features espionage, time-jumps, mind powers, and mysticism.  It makes use of the margins—which feature messages to the reader about what might actually be happening in the panels (don’t believe your eyes!), the back cover, hell, even the letters page.  The only flaw in this book is that at times it can feel like a homework assignment, since you have to pay so much attention to every detail.  But hey, the only other comic writer who makes you work this hard is Grant Morrison.  And that’s good company to keep.

1.  Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples created the most beautifully drawn, unpredictable space soap opera of the year.  This is the kind of book that makes other comics embarrassed: It makes full use of the unique way comics can unfold using multiple narratives and perspectives without becoming cluttered or confusing, and Vaughan knows when to write a few words, when to lay out exposition, and when to shut up and let Staples’ wonderful art tell the story.  And it’s a terrific comic book about parenting.  Vaughan hits another home run, in a long, ever-growing streak of great comic books.  It seems like he’s just getting started, and yet already he appears destined for the hall of fame occupied by the likes of Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, and Alan Moore.

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