Comic Book Fix Wed: Best Comics of 2011
Last Updated on Thursday, 22 December 2011 10:33 Written by david golbitz Wednesday, 21 December 2011 11:00
Nothing was more impactful on the comic book industry in 2011, or received greater media attention, than DC Comics’ summer announcement that the 70-year-old company was rebooting its entire line of superhero comics in September. Spinning out of the much-hyped Flashpoint miniseries, DC unleashed “The New 52″ upon the world and suddenly the world was paying attention to comics again. Sales of the top tier “New 52″ books, like Justice League and Action Comics, reached levels not seen since the industry’s heyday back in the mid-’90s.
But lost amidst all the hoopla over Superman’s new costume was a lot of great comics not starring men and women wearing tights and capes. Which is not to say there weren’t amazing, wonderful superhero books released in 2011. There were. I even have a couple on my year-end list. But there’s a much bigger world of comics out there, everything from crime to horror to humor, and I thought I’d take this opportunity to share with you not only some of the best comics of 2011 but some of my favorite comics ever.
Check out my list after the jump, and be sure to come back next week for the titles I’m most looking forward to in 2012.
Animal Man, by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman and Swamp Thing, by Scott Snyder, Yanick Paquette (DC Comics)
Right from the start of DC’s “New 52,” Animal Man and Swamp Thing stood out from the rest of the new number ones. Writers Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder have been subtly weaving Vertigo-level horror into the mainstream DCU with their intertwined tales of Buddy Baker and Alec Holland, two reluctant heroes with deep, resonant connections to the world they (we) inhabit.
Buddy Baker, the Animal Man, receives his powers from The Red, the heart of all living animals on earth. Alec Holland, the once and future Swamp Thing, is a part of The Green, the earth itself, the grass, the trees, the soil. And both The Red and The Green are under siege by what is known as The Rot, death and decay, the necrotic absence of life. Animal Man and Swamp Thing are on a collision course to save the world and neither really knows what’s going on yet. But they’ll find out soon enough.
Batman: The Black Mirror, by Scott Snyder, Jock and Francesco Francavilla (DC Comics)
At the end of Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis, Batman was nothing more than a charred skeleton, obliterated by Darkseid’s deadly Omega Beams. Unwilling to let Gotham City be unprotected, Dick Grayson took up the cowl and became the Batman in his mentor’s absence. Writer Scott Snyder took the reins of the Batman franchise’s flagship title, Detective Comics, and crafted a dark, chilling psychological thriller on par with any Batman story of the last 25 years.
Joined by artists Jock and Francesco Francavilla, Snyder worked over Grayson in true pulp style, forcing him to question his friends, his city and his sanity, as a series of brutal murders leads Batman to a killer who lives a little too close to home.
Casanova: Avaritia, by Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba (Marvel/Icon)
A samurai fighting panda bears. Enough said.
Criminal: The Last of the Innocent, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon)
With the Criminal stories, Ed Brubaker created his own little sandbox in which he could write the morally ambiguous, pulpy, crime-ridden stories he always loved to read. Artist Sean Phillips gives breathtaking life to men and women who can’t stop their personal collision courses with that dark corner of the world that destroys your soul even if it enriches your bank account. And The Last of the Innocent is the best Criminal story to date.
Brubaker takes the kids from Riverdale, you know, Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica, and transplants them into the seedy world of Criminal. What happens when those seemingly happy, perfect kids grow up and face the really real world? Part homage and part pastiche, Brubaker and Phillips tale of love, murder, friendship and betrayal seeps through your pores and gets under your skin so slowly and effortlessly, you don’t even realize it’s happening. But by the time you’re done reading, you’ll never look at Archie, or your own childhood, the same way again.
Daytripper, by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba (DC Comics/Vertigo)
The Brazilian Twins, Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, are perhaps best known in America as the artists of Gerard Way’s Umbrella Academy (Ba) and Matt Fraction’s Casanova (Ba illustrates volumes 1 and 3; Moon illustrates volume 2). But with Daytripper, their beautiful, intricate, intimate story of Bras de Olivias Dominguez, they planted their flag at the top of the comic book industry as two of the most imaginative, magical creators working today.
Each chapter of Daytrippers takes place during a specific period of Bras’ life, capturing the best and worst moments, the good and bad, the love and heartbreak, the happiness and sorrow, of his life. And each chapter ends the same way: with his death. By killing off Bras at the end of each chapter, Ba and Moon highlight the mundane, ordinary facets of our existence and magnify them into something extraordinary. The Twins’ message seems clear: cherish each moment, for it might be your last.
Echoes, by Josh Fialkov and Rahsan Ekedal (Image/Top Cow)
The more I think about Echoes, the bleakly addictive psychological thriller written by Josh Fialkov and illustrated by Rahsan Ekedal, the more it reminds me of Christopher Nolan’s breakout film, the neo-noir Memento. Both utilize unreliable narrators to craft stories of unimaginable pain and horror, but you’re never quite sure what’s real and what’s only in the narrator’s head. What happens when you’re hunting a monster and the monster turns out to be you?
(For a lengthier review of Echoes, check out my blog.)
Infinite Kung Fu, by Kagan McLeod (Top Shelf)
Hands down, the most fun 450-page kung fu comic you’ll ever read. A post-apocalyptic martial arts zombie-infested wonderland. Kagan McLeod’s intricate, effortless brushstrokes make you feel like you’re watching a movie unfold before your eyes. The most awesome 1970s kung fu horror exploitation movie never made.
Locke & Key: Clockworks, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
Locke & Key is perhaps the best horror comic book ever. The Locke family is tormented by an evil creature named Dodge who wants the mysterious, magical keys that are hidden all around the family’s estate, the Keyhouse. But why? And where did Dodge and the keys even come from in the first place? Clockworks promises the answer those questions by taking us back in time to the American Revolution, when the keys were first created. Find out what the Locke ancestors did to cause their descendants so much pain.
Our Love Is Real, by Sam Humphries and Steven Sanders (Image)
A balls-out, insane sci-fi love story set in the not-too-distant future where your right to love whomever or whatever you want is under siege from a fascist government hellbent on denying equal rights to, well, you’ll just have to read it to find out. One of the most imaginative and enjoyable comic books in years.
The Sixth Gun, by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt (Oni Press)
I’m a sucker for a good western. Throw in some crazy horror hoodoo and I’m hooked for life. Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt’s The Sixth Gun delivers compelling characters, wild west action and supernatural shenanigans against the backdrop of a post-Civil War America.
During the war, six mysterious and mystical guns came into the possession of a wicked outlaw. After the war, the sixth gun vanished, only to turn up in the hands of a young woman who has no idea of the power she now wields. And now the outlaw, long thought dead, has come back to claim what he believes is rightfully his.
Stumptown, by Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth (Oni Press)
Before becoming one of the top comic book writers working today, Grug Rucka cut his teeth crafting tightly wound crime thrillers with a series of novels about a bodyguard-for-hire named Atticus Kodiak. And despite his foray into the world of capes and costumes, crime and mystery stories have remained an important part of Rucka’s oeuvre through the years, culminating in the near-perfect missing persons case encapsulated in Stumptown.
Dex Parios is a private investigator in Portland, Oregon. And she couldn’t exist anywhere else. Artist Matthew Southworth’s lush, vibrant pencils give life to a city like few other artists can. Stumptown is a story about a missing girl, but it’s so much more than that. Rucka’s intricately layered, highly detailed world is brimming with real, complex characters you can’t help wanting to know more about. While the missing person case is the heart of the story, there is so much more going on just off to the side, out of frame, behind Dex’s eyes. This is a world I want Rucka to return to time and again, because I want to go back and possibly never leave.
Sweets, by Kody Chamberlain (Image)
Another crime caper rounds out my list of Best Comics of 2011. Written and illustrated by the talented Louisiana native Kody Chamberlain, Sweets is a murder mystery set in the Big Easy. This isn’t the tourist trap New Orleans of Mardi Gras or the French Quarter. This New Orleans is the dark and gritty cesspool of crime and corruption, set days before Hurricane Katrina makes landfall. A spree killer is on the loose and it’s up to a down-on-his-luck detective to solve the murders before the evidence, and the city, are washed away.
Chamberlain’s attention to detail is so precise and exact, from his dialogue to the gas lamps that light up historic Jefferson Jackson Square, every page of Sweets is dripping with authenticity. You can almost taste the beignets and hear the jazz music over the howls of the incoming storm.
So there’s my list. What were your favorite comics of 2011?
I would be remiss if I neglected to mention the passing of the legendary Joe Simon, co-creator of Captain America, last week at the age of 98. Simon was a Jewish kid from Rochester, NY who got his start working as art director and drawing cartoons for a local newspaper. Captain America is his most iconic creation, though he had a hand in the births of countless other superheroes. To me, he will always be remembered as the man who punched out Hitler before the United States was even involved in World War II:
Sadly, the day after Simon died, the comic book industry lost another member, 57-year-old Eduardo Barreto. An artist, Barreto penciled many titles for both Marvel and DC, including the 1993 “Elseworlds” story, Speeding Bullets, written by J.M. DeMatteis, that imagined what might have happened had it been Thomas and Martha Wayne instead of the Kents who found little Kal-El and raised him as their son. It was a story of Batman with Superman’s powers and full of many enduring images. It was my first exposure to Barreto’s artwork and it’s stayed with me throughout the years.
Both Simon and Barreto left behind lasting legacies and a multitude of fans. They will both be missed.
Top Picks of the Week
- Baltimore Vol. 1: The Plague Ships TP, by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden and Ben Stenbeck (Dark Horse)
- Batman #4, by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo (DC)
- Invincible Iron Man #511, by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca (Marvel)
- Justice League #4, by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee (DC)
- Memorial #1, by Chris Roberson and Rich Ellis (IDW)
- Wolverine and the X-Men #3, by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo (Marvel)
- Wonder Woman #4, by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang (DC)
- ArtsBeat Blog: ‘Batman’ Soars to No. 1 (artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Joe Simon, who co-created Captain America, dies (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
Tags: Animal Man, Avaritia, Batman, Best Comics of 2011, Black Mirror, Casanova, Clockworks, Criminal, Daytripper, DC Comics, echoes, Ed Brubaker, Eduardo Barreto, Fabio Moon, Francesco Francavilla, Gabriel Ba, Gabriel Rodriguez, Greg Rucka, Hark A Vagrant, icon, Image, Infinite Kung Fu, Jeff Lemire, Jock, Joe Hill, Joe Simon, Josh Fialkov, Kagan McLeod, Kate Beaton, Kody Chamberlain, Locke & Key, Matt Fraction, Matthew Southworth, Oni Press, Our Love Is Real, Rahsan Ekedal, Randall Munroe, Scott Snyder, Sean Phillips, Stan Humphries, Steven Sanders, Stumptown, Swamp Thing, Sweets, The Last of the Innocent, Top Cow, Top Shelf, Travel Foreman, Vertigo, xkcd, Yanick Paquette