5. East of West (Image)
Jonathan Hickman has created some great comics. He’s also created some dense, complex tales that are difficult (impossible!) to follow and lean way too heavy on exposition. E of W is one of the former. With terrific art by Nick Dragotta, the story starts right in the middle of the action and the reader figures out what is going on by watching—not be being told. It’s interesting to lay this comic against Hickman’s Avengers work and see how he can tell a cosmic story in two very different ways. Where Avengers is broad and dramatic, East of West feels personal and intimate. And where there are issues of Avengers with so much dialogue you can barely see the pictures between the word balloons, every word in E of W seems to be carefully selected for maximum impact. Clearly, one is for love and the other is (at least mostly) for money.
4. Mind MGMT (Dark Horse)
Matt Kindt’s series is now in its third year, and it’s still as fascinating as ever. Usually, a story as complex and mysterious as this starts to wear thin. I begin to get frustrated because I just want some answers. I quit reading Morning Glories, for example, because it just kept getting more and more obtuse without delivering any payoff. But unlike those “Lost” stories, Mind MGMT is really about the people, not the plot, and that’s why it works. That and the fact that every page has value: Notes in the margins, fake letters stuck into the letters page, advertisements for story-related products…Nothing is wasted in any issue. And the mysterious story and the bizarre events in it feel real: A hidden organization that controls the thoughts of everyone on the planet explains so many irrational and terrible things that happen in the world.
This is easily the most rewarding book on the market—I’m usually several issues behind because I can only read it when I have a good solid 45 minutes to focus. Great, great stuff.
3. Daredevil (Marvel)
Mark Waid deserves all the awards not just for how great his comic is, but also for his ability to keep a secret in the age of internet leaks. When he first announced he was taking over Daredevil, everyone asked him whether he’d be bringing back Bullseye—who had recently “died.” Waid said no. But this year’s stories clearly show that he knew, even back then, that Bullseye would return. And not how we thought. Previously Bullseye was a nutball who hallucinated and killed with wild abandon. This Bullseye is a planner, a plotter, a schemer—and he works through others. Yes, this is a comic about Daredevil, and it’s one that is informed by—but does not duplicate—the runs that came before. But it’s also a book about the maturation of DD’s greatest foe. It is an absolutely perfect superhero comic book, and should be held up as an example (no, THE example) of how corporate comic books can be fresh, fascinating, challenging, innovative, and groundbreaking while still operating within the confines of a licensed character who needs to be able to live on essentially unchanged for decades. Oh, and the art is stunning as well. As I said, the perfect comic book.
2. Sex Criminals (Image)
Is Matt Fraction the best writer in comics right now? Possibly. He’s versatile enough to write strong “standard corporate” comics (Fantastic Four), bright enough to tweak them into something fresh (Hawkeye, FF), all the while writing challenging, groundbreaking stuff like Sex Criminals. This is one of the few comics I read this year where at several points I had to stop, pause, think, and re-read.
And if you don’t know by now what I picked for #1, you can probably guess….