Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Year in Review: My Favourite Comics of 2011

Favourite Ongoing Series: Amazing Spider-Man continues to be reliably solid under writer Dan Slott. His massive “Spider-Island” tale this year was both ridiculously goofy and a lot of fun, as the entire population of Manhattan mutates into “Spider-People.” Slott knows the balance of humour and action is important in Spider-Man. While not every issue is a home run, the comic is the best it’s been in years, welcome news for this longtime Spider-fan. Runners-up: Batman Inc. by Grant Morrison; Criminal/Incognito by Ed Brubaker.

Finally got sick of: Brian Bendis' Avengers books. There was a freshness and novelty to The Avengers when Bendis took over and added characters like Wolverine and Luke Cage to the mix. But I’ve gotten really sick of his dialogue tics, his spinning out one issue worth of story into six, and his overuse of the ridiculous villain Norman Osborn (who should’ve stayed dead back in the 1970s, dammit). Enough already.

Best gamble that paid off: The "New 52" by DC Comics. As monthly comics face dwindling sales, there’s going to be more drastic action in the future. DC relaunching every comic was the first shot fired. Not every book was a winner but there's been enough to enjoy here and some particularly fun offbeat series -- the "horror hero" books like Animal Man, Swamp Thing and Frankenstein are my favorites.

Best overlooked book: Red Hulk by Jeff Parker & company. The Red Hulk is one of those awful-sounding comics concepts like the son of Wolverine that shouldn’t work, but under talented writer Parker, his book has become a real gem. The Red Hulk is the “green" Hulk’s former foe General Thunderbolt Ross, who has, as you do, become the thing he most hated. What I like about the Red Hulk is the character behind him - a frustrated, 60-something military man who now has to be a superhero. It's not revolutionary Hulk comics, but there's something unique in Parker's spin on the character and Red Hulk has become an inventive, exciting ride each month.

Disappointing: Some of my favourite alternative comics creators delivered heavily hyped, but unsatisfying new work this year – Chester Brown’s bizarrely cold and clinical memoir of patronizing prostitutes, “Paying For It,” which suffered from a very dry, emotionally distant art style. And then there’s Frank Miller’s “Holy Terror,” which has very quickly assumed almost legendary flop status. Rushed art, juvenile writing, and a paranoid world viewpoint that seems torn directly from the furthest fringes of the far right.

Biggest bomb: Fear Itself. Yet another overhyped, overpriced "event comic." Each time I get disappointed by a "Siege" or "Secret Invasion" I say I'll stay away, but the muddled, overblown calculated chaos of Fear Itself finally convoked me to stop buying the hype.

Best new series: I love Daredevil, but the grim, rain-soaked loner facing constant tragedy bit got very old. So it’s a delight to see Mark Waid deliver a more happy-go-lucky take on the Man without Fear, which doesn’t abandon the past but embraces a more optimistic view. And artists Marco Martin and Paolo Rivera have, for the first time in Daredevil’s nearly 50-year-history, come up with some amazing and inventive ways to illustrate a blind superhero’s perspective of the world. Runner-up – a bold new take on Animal Man at DC Comics, with a creepy, Clive Barker-meets-David Lynch sensibility and some truly disturbing art. Not sure it’s got enough steam for the long haul yet, though.

Best writing about comics: The good folks at TwoMorrows Publishing continue to put out some great reading. Back Issue magazine is the only mag about comics I get anymore (now that the Comics Journal is once every year or two). And their books are even better -- I just got The Quality Companion which is a retro-fan's delight of information about the comics from this Golden Age publisher – from Plastic Man to forgotten oddballs like The Jester, Bozo the Robot and The Whistler. Great stuff!

Best reprint series: We truly do live in a golden age of great comics reprints, when even my old 1980s guilty pleasure West Coast Avengers gets deluxe hardcover treatment, but I was especially pleased this year to see Fantagraphics kick off a massive reprinting of Carl Barks’ delightful Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics, easily some of the best kid-friendly comics ever created. Reading the first volume, “Lost in the Andes,” with the boy was a great experience, and knowing there’s a flood of future volumes to come is great. Beautifully designed, full of content and at a reasonable price.

Best Comic Book Movie: I've got high hopes for The Adventures of Tintin, coming in a week or so, but until then the most enjoyable comics-based movie this year was Thor - with X-Men: First Class and Captain America not far behind. Green Lantern and Cowboys Vs. Aliens, we won't speak of.


  1. I didn't get to read many comics this year, unfortunately, but perhaps this will inspire me :)

    I loved West Cost Avengers in the 80s too! Fun characters in that series. And the Canadian hero team, can't remember their names, but they had the cool/freaky water girl who turned out to be alien. And Sandman later, of course :)

    I'm also waiting for the Tinting movie. I hope it can live up to the hype. One of my favorite series ever :)

    Merry Christmas!

  2. Meant Tintin- but you knew that :)