Friday, January 4, 2013

Top 5 Comics of 2012

I probably buy too many comics, but I can’t help myself. I’ve been a fan of the medium since I was a kid buying Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles books. Every time I’m in a comic book store I get so enticed by everything I see. Sometimes it’s the art, other times it’s the writing, often it’s both. I’ll take a chance on almost any book and more often than not I get roped in for the long haul. I did try to cut down a little bit in 2012, but then Brian Wood decided to come out with several new titles, and there was a Marvel crossover that I couldn’t miss due to it’s major involvement of the X-Men and it’s promise to potentially reverse one of the biggest X-universe plot twists of the last decade. All this along with the random new titles I pick up and the fact that I’ve gotten into several Star Wars books now, has me spending a lot of time and money on my comic book habit. I enjoy it though and there are honestly a lot of quality books in the market today. As long as I’m being entertained I guess I can’t complain and these 5 are some of the comics that have entertained me most this past year.

1. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
I never got into Y: The Last Man, Brian K. Vaughan’s much lauded 2002-2008 running monthly book. Even still, I always recognized his talent and when I heard about Saga and saw Fiona Staple’s brilliant artwork I knew it was a book I’d want to be picking up. Saga is a science fiction epic that’s part Romeo and Juliet, part Star Wars, and entirely captivating. Saga tells the story of Hazel, a child born to parents whose worlds are at war with each other. The tale to this point is told by Hazel in 3rd person from some point in the future, as her parents attempt to flee the forces who see their union and offspring as an abomination. Vaughan’s writing is natural and succinct and his characters feel remarkably three dimensional without ever overstating themselves. Fiona Staples art is a wonder to behold, capturing gestures and emotion with spare, balanced line work and brilliant washes of bold color. Out of 2012’s new books this is the one that overall has impressed me the most on all fronts.

2. Conan the Barbarian by Brian Wood and various artists
I’ve been a fan of Brian Wood’s since Channel Zero way back when I was in college and since the end of his relationship with DC/Vertigo last year he’s been busy putting a lot of new work into the field. I should start off by saying that I’ve never been a fan of Conan, but neither have I ever held any ill will toward the property. Pre-war sci-fi and fantasy has always been an area that I’ve never really warmed to and (despite mainly being known due to to movies from the 80’s) Conan as a property falls into this category. Brian Wood is one of very few writers that I will follow to any book however and based on his excellent medieval Norse-themed book Northlanders I figured I had a good read on what I could expect from a Conan book. In Conan the Barbarian Wood uses his Northlanders experience to color his writing, but approaches the character and the world of Hyboria from a direction tailored specifically to them. The end result combines Wood’s expertise with tone and depth of character with Robert Howard’s pulp mythology in a way that satisfies and strengthens both.

3. Wolverine and the X-Men by Jason Aaron and various artists
At it’s heart, X-Men comics are about two things: 1)A persecuted minority that seeks to protect a world that hates and fears them and 2)Teenagers with newly developed super powers going to a school where they can be educated in peace and learn how to control their abilities. Wolverine and the X-Men focuses mainly on the later and concentrates of the lighter, but also more outrageous aspects of the setup in featuring both heroes and villains with bizarre powers. The whole thing takes on an almost Joss Whedon-esque feeling as it recalls both the absurdity and seriousness of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Teen mutants find themselves navigating the rigors of high school while simultaneously saving the world, all before study hall. The end result is incredibly fun and easily one of the best things to happen to the X-Men (and Wolverine) in a long time.

4. Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja
Nobody ever says they’re a Hawkeye fan. In his own words he's "an orphan raised by carnies, fighting with a stick and string from the paleolithic era." A comic about Hawkeye’s life when he’s not with the Avengers should be about as successful as Baywatch: Nights but (perhaps knowing this) Fraction manages to make Hawkeye off duty, more interesting than he has any right to be. Armed not just with arrows, but with wit and guile, Fraction and Aja illustrate Hawkeye’s extra-Avenger actions in brilliant fashion as he deals with both the absurd and mundane. All of a sudden a character that most people previously couldn’t have cared less about becomes part Spiderman, part James Bond, and part Robinhood, all wrapped in a slick package by Fraction’s excellent dialog and Aja’s uncluttered, expressive visuals.

5. The Unwritten by Mike Carey and Peter Gross
Not a new comic for 2012, but one that is still going despite what seems to be the culling of DC’s Vertigo label. Unwritten has been one of my favorite books ever since I picked it up on a whim several years ago. If there is any one book that can claim to have picked up the mantle of Sandman and be worthy of it, this is it. Following the misadventures of Tom Wilson as he unravels the secret truth about the nature of story and his own mysterious origins, Unwritten glories in the world of narratives much in the same way Sandman often did. In 2012 Carey and Gross stepped up their game in a big way both in publishing what I believe will serve as the climatic arc to the overall story, but also 6 additional support stories (featuring different artists) that filled in a lot of the blanks we had been left with to that point. As 2013 dawns, Unwritten marches boldly into it’s next chapter and with the stakes higher than ever I find myself eagerly awaiting each issue and whatever revelations may be held within their pages.

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