I’m not going to write a definitive “best of 2012” post. There’s a lot of variation for taste and I didn’t read _every_ comic that came out in 2012, so I can’t muster the hubris for a “best of” list. But I did read a fair amount of comics and, in no particular order, here’s a few things that made my Happy List for the year.
Richard Stark’s Parker: The Score by Darwyn Cooke. Cooke’s adaptions of the Westlake novels have been a high point of crime comics. Wonderfully moody with a palpable sense of danger and two color art evoking memories of Ms. Tree. Plenty has been written about how good these graphic novels are. Believe the hype.
Dynamite’s pulp revival. I will confess an affinity for the old character pulps. Dynamite started putting out new series of The Shadow and The Spider in the late spring and I’ve been happy to get both of those. Garth Ennis put a twist on The Shadow when he wrote the initial arc. Less agents, more mysticism and more focus on The Shadow (as opposed to the agents being more of the narrative). It’s a tweak and it worked for me. Victor Gishler tagged in for Ennis and joined Aaron Campbell on the series and it’s still moving in the same general vector, though perhaps a little less mystical.
Then you have The Spider, one of the most under-rated comics on the market. While The Shadow is set on the eve of World War II in the classic time period, The Spider is updated to the modern world… or perhaps something just closely resembling the modern world. And it’s the best modern setting update of a pulp character I’ve seen. (And while I adore the Chaykin/Helfer/Sienkiewicz/Baker version of The Shadow, this Spider makes mostly minor tweaks to adjust for setting.) After an opening arc with the classic pulp feel of zombie gas and villains in the guise of priests of ancient Egypt, it’s been moving more slowly with background developments. A wonderfully dark series with a hero who will even admit he’s probably a little crazy, but there’s nobody else to do what needs doing. David Liss (like Gishler, a crime novelist who’s done work for Marvel) is writing and Colton Worley has been a great fit on the art.
With the word leaking out a couple weeks ago that Doc Savage is no longer licensed out to DC, I’m really curious if Dynamite will add that to their pulp rotation. (Nick: this is what is referred to as a subtle hint.)
The Sixth Gun by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt. This is one I pick up in tpb format and it’s looking like I’m a volume behind, but I sat down with Vol. 3 last week and it was still as good as the first year. This is a horror-western about the struggle over ancient artifacts currently manifesting themselves in the form of six-shooters in the wild west. With a wider scope than you might expect, there are several factions vying for the guns wanting to either hasten the end of the world, delay the end of the world or just accumulate a little power with a monastic order and a whole lot of dead people who won’t stay dead running around. And for a horror comic that has a lot of shootouts, there’s a fair amount of slow burn in between exclamation points. Highly recommended.
For mainstream superhero comics, you don’t get much better than Daredevil. Mark Waid’s been the constant on this critical darling and has transitioned from Paulo Rivera and Marcos Martin to Chris Samnee on the artist chores. Which is to say Waid is leading a charmed life. Samnee has a compatible style to Rivera and Martin and the reader isn’t experiencing any artistic drop-off, like you might otherwise expect. It’s a wonderfully seamless artistic transition. Waid and Samnee just wrapped an arc bringing a lot of the background elements of the previous two years to a head, and you can tell this was thought out well in advance. The best title coming out from Marvel by a wide margin.
The return of Valiant. Valiant makes me smile. They’ve been doing a slow rollout with consistent quality and a surprisingly wide variety of tones from the science fiction of X-O Manowar to the emotional darkness of Harbinger to the absurdity of Archer & Armstrong. Truth be told, Archer & Armstrong #1 and Shadowman #1 were two of the strongest debut issues of the year. I’m probably not the typical reader, as I tend to sit down and read the month’s Valiant titles in a single sitting. It’s nice watching the universe come together organically. There’s a crossover about to hit between Bloodshot and Harbinger, but it’s been on a collision course for a few months and nothing seems forced. If you’re on this site, you’ll know I’m not the biggest fan of crossovers, so we’ll have to see how Valiant executes the shared universe, but this has been a nice little rollout thus far and I’m hopeful it continues to be. (Now if we could get some more Quantum and Woody…)
Dial H is not going to be for everybody. Not that China Mieville describes his genre as “weird fiction” (OK, that’s exactly how he describes it), but this is a seriously weird comic. There’s a subtext about maintaining one’s identity while being someone else that elevates this above just plain old weird. Dial H fills a spot in my monthly comics habit that things like the Grant Morrison Doom Patrol run or, more recently, Xombie has occupied. Parts are weird and surreal for the sake of such things, but there’s more going on beneath the surface.
Chew is another old standby that continues to rise to the top of the read pile. As it reaches the halfway point of the run, we’re starting to get a little better picture of what’s really going on in this overly demented series. Even better, 2012 saw a one-shot featuring the death-dealing rooster/spy, Poyo. Chew has come a long way from its prohibition satire first issue, but brings the “wrong” like very few titles can.
Wonder Woman is the best title DC is putting out, for my money. Brian Azzarello is fortunate to have an art rotation of Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins tagging out and keeping the experience seamless while on a regular schedule. This title has had its share of controversy and people up in arms about changes, but I’m not one of them. Wonder Woman has always been best when embracing the character’s mythological roots. This time it’s just done in an urban fantasy/horror direction. And it totally fits. I’m not sure how this works for Wonder Woman’s appearances in other titles and I cringe at the idea of an Event being fit into the titles distinctive atmosphere, but that has cropped up yet. As I write this, Azzarello is once more playing with fire and introducing the New Gods, or at least Orion, into the New 52-verse. So far, so good and it’s still on the Happy List.
Finally, there’s Saga. This is probably the consensus book of the year. Brian K. Vaughan returned to comics and wanted to do epic science fiction/fantasy. And he appears to have self-actualized. Fiona Staples is an extraordinarily good pairing with him for a maddening amount of world building and a fascinating supporting cast. That rare book that’s superlative in every facet. Judging by the sales on this one, a lot of people will already have tried it, but if you haven’t, you really should take a flier on the collected edition of the first arc. OK, if you’re sensitive to horny robots (no, really) and depictions of breast feeding, this might not be a comic for you. Everyone else, though. It’s another one where all the hype is justified.
Were there more titles that made me happy in 2012? Sure. Prophet, Shade, Night Force, Winter Soldier, Rucka’s Punisher and Matt Fraction finally getting to finish an Iron Man arc that was interrupted waaaaaay too many times for Events. There’s always something you forget from this list, but the above will do for now.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.