Wednesday, December 28, 2011

THE BEST OF 2011 - The Best COMICS Of The Year


- 2011 was, for comics, the real-world equivalent of the Crisis On Infinite Earths. For those not well-versed in geek-speak, this was a year where things got shaken up in a big, big way. For one thing, the digital revolution is happening in comics right now. Faster than a speeding bullet, comics have gone day-and-date digital, and suddenly, getting new comics each week is a simple matter of a few taps on one's iPad or Kindle Fire. That, to me, is awesome. Like I've said before, nothing can beat reading comics the old-fashioned way. But - there's also definitely something to be said for the benefits of digital. Digital comics means saving space. It means that comics - even more obscure ones - are available to people without easy access to a comic shop. It means that those with a curiosity about the medium have the ability to quickly and easily sample a title or two. In short, digital comics means that more people can read more comics. I'd even go so far as to say that digital could be the way in which comics finally go mainstream.

Now, do us true-blue fanboys even want comics to go mainstream - that's another question entirely. Personally, I think any paradigm change that gives the medium a little bit of a kick in the pants is a good thing. For too long, comics were just catering to an increasingly small, rapidly aging demo - and that was not good for anyone. It meant that comics companies like DC and Marvel could bleed the fanboys dry with thirty-five-part-crossovers that took advantage of the collector's completist tendencies. It meant that, rather than giving us new ideas and new characters, DC and Marvel would just constantly go back to the well, reviving concepts from the 60's, 70's, and 80's ad nauseum. I was lucky - I was a comics-reading kid during the last time that the biz was really experimenting with game-changing storylines and all-new characters - the 90's. Love 'em or hate 'em, the 90's birthed a new generation of characters that felt like "our" versions of the classic heroes.

In theory, DC's relaunch that occurred this past September was supposed to bring back that same level of creativity and newness - a fresh jumping-on point for new readers, and a lineup of reimagined characters that a new generation would take ownership of. Sales-wise, DC's New 52 has been an undeniable success story ... so far. It will be very interesting to see if sales hold up, and to what extent DC's been successful in hooking new readers, and not just getting the core comics market to snatch up a bunch of new #1's. Creatively, I think the New 52 has been a decidedly mixed bag. What's frustrating is that the titles that tend to be telling the best stories are the ones that are building off of past continuity - Batman, Green Lantern, etc. - or, the ones that could just as easily have launched pre-reboot - Swamp Thing and Animal Man come to mind. Less successful have been the titles that have done a hard reboot and started over from scratch - Superman, Teen Titans, Justice League International, Green Arrow, and more. It makes you wonder if the way in which DC went about things was slightly misguided. Instead of ditching continuity, why not embrace it and utilize it in a way that makes sense for new readers, but rewards longtime ones as well? Look at how successful writers like Geoff Johns have been with soft reboots of properties like Green Lantern and The Flash - instead of erasing those characters' histories, Johns made those histories seem cool, and rich, and fascinating.

And that's why I wonder - do we really need to read Superman's origin for the upteenth time? Do we really need to erase the history of the Teen Titans for no good reason? Was it really necessary to revert Barbara Gordon, a great character as Oracle, back to a version of Batgirl who was most popular almost 50 years ago? I think that continuity reboots are overrated - you're just back to where you started from within a few years anyway. But I think that what DC is learning from fan reaction is that there's something else at work in the comics-reading community that's much bigger than a desire for reboots - it's a desire for new characters, for diverse characters, for strong female characters, and for a universe that better reflects our modern world and the modern comics fanbase. Most of DC and Marvel's most famous characters were created in the 30's, 40's, 50's, and 60's. Most of the heroes are square-jawed white guys who were distinguishable more for their powers and costume colors than for their personalities. That's why younger fans expressed frustration as newer characters like Wally West and Stephanie Brown were discarded as part of DC's reboot - Wally West had become and awesome character, so had Stephanie Brown. In turn, they made The Flash and Batgirl, respectively, into better characters. To see them tossed aside in favor of more generic versions of those heroes - why would anyone want that, other than out of some sense of nostalgia?

At this year's San Diego Comic-Con - the modern mecca for all things comics and pop-culture - the outcries of the fans were clear: it's time for a new generation of heroes. That doesn't mean that you need to mess with Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent - those guys are classics. What it does mean is new female characters defined by more than skimpy costumes. It means racially diverse characters who can stand toe to toe with Superman or Batman. It means comics that are written for a wide audience, without losing the intelligence, imagination, and sense of infinite possibility that makes the medium unique.

Of course, the comics medium is capable of so many diverse types of storytelling. It's cool to think that, with the advent of digital, whole new masses of people can discover the classics like Y: The Last Man, Preacher, and Watchmen. In terms of new stuff, there is plenty of fantastic non-superhero stuff out there for all kinds of readers. Personal favorites include Sweet Tooth, Fables, All-Star Western, and of course, The Walking Dead.

Honestly, the DC reboot has been kind of jarring for me. I've been reading DC Comics since I was a kid, and the DC Universe has always been sort of a comfort for me. It was a place whose history I'd read about for years. I'd collected back issues and trade paperbacks of old stories to fill in the gaps. I knew all of its ins and outs and characters and contradictions. To pick up a book like the new Action Comics, or Justice League, and see all of those years of history suddenly erased? Well, it was definitely a weird feeling. I think, for better or worse, that feeling of detachment is making me more picky in the books I'm buying on a regular basis. Before, I might pick up a new Superman book just because, like I said, it was comfort food. It was a new chapter in a story I'd followed in some capacity for years. Now, if a new comics isn't grabbing me - even if it's a story about a character I might previously have had some attachment to - then I'm not wasting my money. Suffice it to say, I sampled the first issue or two of a large portion of DC's New 52, but very quickly, I dumped any books that didn't completely hook me - just as I would with a new TV show during the Fall season.

I think that, ultimately, the new accessibility of comics will make the medium better. Already, new fans are asking the questions that longtime fans took for granted. Why aren't there more great female and racially diverse characters? Why aren't there more *new* characters in general? Do we really need *so* many superheroes? And if we do, then can we at least get stories featuring characters with distinct personalities, interesting supporting casts, and plotlines that keep us coming back each month? Luckily, a new crop of writers seems to get it, and it's been awesome to see the speedy rise of great talents like Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire to the top of the heap in the last year, joining the top-tier that includes writers like Robert Kirkman, Ed Brubaker, Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, and Gail Simone. But these guys can only write so many books - there's still a need for more like them.

2012 should be a huge year for comics. We'll see how DC's New 52 pans out, and which books keep up the momentum from 2011. Brian K. Vaughan is set to return to comics with a new book at Image. A new Fables spin-off is coming. More comics than ever will be available digitally, and tablets will be more numerous and less expensive.

The good news is this: if you're new to comics, you're in luck -- there's a whole universe of amazing characters and fantastic stories awaiting you.

- Before I move on to talking about the the best comics of the year, I do want to take a minute to mention some of the great creators that passed away this year, as unfortunately the comics industry lost some true titans in 2011. The legendary Joe Simon - co-creator of Captain America and many other heroes of the Golden Age. The equally legendary Jerry Robinson, one of the defining Batman artists, and the creator of The Joker. This one was especially sad since I got to meet Mr. Robinson two years ago at Comic-Con, where he signed a drawing of Batman and Robin for me. Gene Colan, the great horror artist of books like Tomb of Dracula. And maybe the one that hit me the hardest - Dwayne McDuffie - who died way too young, only in his forties. One of the premiere writers of this generation, McDuffie helped usher in a new age of diversity in comics with the creation of the Milestone universe - a new world of ethnically-diverse characters, including the popular Static Shock. He also penned some of the great episodes of DC's animated universe, writing classic episodes of Justice League Unlimited, as well as animated movies like Batman: Under the Red Hood.

Comics have a rich and amazing history, so even as we enter a new era for the medium, let's remember those who helped build the foundation.

- And now, my picks for the BEST in comics from this past year ...



1.) Jonah Hex #69

- Before the DC Reboot, Jonah Hex was one of my favorite books month-in, month-out. Every issue, writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray delivered great, gritty tales of the Old West, starring the scarred bounty hunter Jonah Hex. But with issue #69, the second-to-last issue of the series before it was rebooted as All-Star Western, the writing pair delivered an absolute classic, a haunting, intense standalone tale in which Jonah Hex finally comes face to face with his father, who lies dying. Illustrated by Jeff Lemire, of Sweet Tooth and Animal Man fame, the issue is one of the most powerful single issues of a comic I've ever read - an emotional, dark, tale of a scarred man confronting his past and the sins of the father.

2.) Secret Six #36 (series finale)

- The shame of the DC reboot was that it seemed to happen so suddenly, that most books didn't bother with a true ending or finale before wrapping up. But writer Gail Simone, it seems, knew the end was approaching for cult-favorite book Secret Six, and holy crap, did she go out with a bang. In the epic two part series-ender, Batman villain Bane, determined to reclaim his status as a premiere force of evil and destruction, recruits the Six to launch an all-out assault on Batman and his allies. With one swift stroke, Bane aims to once-and-for-all take down the Bat. But, it turns out that the heroes of the DC Universe have been tipped off to Bane's plan, and so they come to the aid of Batman against the Six. What transpires is all-out war - The Six vs. Everyone Else. The Six know they're doomed, but they'll be damned if they don't go down fighting. My god, what a way to close out one of the best series of the last decade.

3.) Batgirl #24 (final issue)

- The end of the old DC meant the end of some beloved series, and the potential ending for some beloved characters. One of the saddest endings was for the Stephanie Brown version of Batgirl, who would be written out of the DC Universe during the reboot, replaced by original Batgirl Barbara Gordon. What I - and I think others - liked about Stephanie was that she was a character who seemed to scrape and claw her way into the limelight. Introduced years ago as The Spoiler, an ally of Robin, Stephanie was the daughter of a two-bit criminal who decided to defy her father by becoming a hero. Even though DC continually tried to write her out of the storylines and keep her sidelined - even killing her off at one point - Stephanie kept coming back, seemingly only because fans really dug her. She was the girl-next-door as superhero, and who doesn't love that. Anyways, Bryan Q. Miller, against all odds, crafted a great series around the idea that Stephanie had now graduated to the role of Batgirl. It was a fantastic series, and the final issue was amazing and heartbreaking -a glimpse at the future that we'll never see - a series of flashforwards that posited what might have happened to Stephanie had she enjoyed a long career in the cape and cowl. The finale seemed to directly address the fans upset with the impending reboot. "It's only the end if you want it to be," Stephanie told us. And with those words, a great run and a great character rode off into the sunset.

4.) Detective Comics #881 (final issue)

- To make a long story short, for the past couple of years, pre-DC reboot, Dick Grayson, the original Robin, had become the new Batman. A lot of good stories were told with Dick as Batman, but the best was in the pages of Detective Comics, where writer Scott Snyder wrote an arc called "The Black Mirror," in which Dick was confronted with a Gotham City that seemed to be going to hell in a handbasket. What started out as a standard mystery soon became a personal case for Dick - it turned out that Gotham's newest murderer was in fact a key member of the Batman supporting cast. This revelation was shocking, disturbing, and downright creepy. And the finale of this arc, in 'Tec 881, was a doozy - a page-turner of the highest order, and a worthy finale to one of the longest-running and most legendary comic books of all time. With this storyline, Scott Snyder cemented himself as the new, premiere writer of Batman.

5.) Animal Man #1

- The issues above are all pre-DC reboot, but here's one that was probably *the* defining moment of the New 52 relaunch, the moment where fans stood up and said "hey, there may be some damn good comics to come out of this whole shebang." With one issue, writer Jeff Lemire and artist Travel Foreman established a mood of unsettling horror and creeping dread. Because, from the get-go, we could see the contrast forming between Buddy Baker - family man, activist, and part-time superhero - and the world of horror that he was about to enter. Even as Buddy spent quality time with his wife and kids, a terrible evil lurked around him. With one issue, Lemire declared that Animal Manm perhaps unexpectedly, was the must-read book of the New 52.


1.) Sweet Tooth

- I didn't mention Sweet Tooth in my best single-issues list only because the series reads like the weirdest, most awesome HBO TV series you'll ever see, with one storyline flowing seamlessly into the next. Sure, the series had some truly standout issues in 2011, like one surreal chapter where the title character goes on a dream-quest in which he remembers his own origins - beautifully-painted by writer-artist Jeff Lemire. I've also absolutely loved the recent flashback arc where we see the backstory of the virus that brought about the apocalyptic plague that set up the premise of the book. But Sweet Tooth is just this amazing tapestry of ideas, characters, and ongoing plot developments - it's always my #1 must-read comic book these days. For those not in-the-know, Sweet Tooth is an ongoing book from DC's mature-readers Vertigo imprint, written and drawn by one of the rising stars of the comics industry, Jeff Lemire. The book takes place in a near-future where the world's been decimated by a plague. Humanity has been all-but-decimated, and the remaining people live in a world ravaged by violence and chaos, just trying to survive. In the aftermath of this plague though, a strange thing has happened - a wave of babies born since the plague have been mutants - strange human-animal hybrids, who are immune to the still-spreading plague virus. One of these hybrids, Sweet Tooth, is seen by some as the key to curing the plague, as he's the first known hybrid to have been discovered. And so began a mystery in which Sweet Tooth, accompanied by his badass guardian Jeppard, travels the globe in search of answers as to his origins. It's an epic, sprawling tale filled with action, mystery, and horror - and to me, it's the best book out there right now.

2.) Animal Man

- I talked earlier about what Jeff Lemire (there's that name again) has done with Animal Man, but I'll add this: even though he's a lesser-known character in the mainstream, Animal Man has quite the legacy in comics. Back in the day, Grant Morrison had a legendary run on the character. Even recently, there was a really good miniseries - The Last Days of Animal Man - that looked at the character as a middle-aged hero facing retirement. So for Lemire to come in and do a new take on the character that a.) incorporates what's gone before, but b.) feels totally new and unique ... it's quite an accomplishment. What's more, the book really set the bar for the New 52 - it showed that whatever issues people might have with how some of the more high-profile titles were handled, at the least, the new DC would be home to titles like this one - the kind of offbeat, dark, edgier stuff that DC was known for in the 80's and 90's, but that it had gotten away from in recent years. If there's one great thing about the new DC, it's that books like Animal Man now have a home there.

3.) Invincible

- One of my big reading endeavors of 2011 was to finally catch up on Invincible - you know, that *other* book from Robert Kirkman that isn't The Walking Dead. I did a marathon reading session through the various volumes that collect the comic's run to-date. From what I can gather, this is the way to go to catch up on the book, because there've been some delays in its monthly output. But reading it in trade format, man, I found myself totally hooked on Kirkman's funny-yet-epic superhero story. Kirkman just keeps upping the ante for Mark Grayson, aka Invincible, and as with The Walking Dead, he's never afraid to shake things up or throw us some major curveballs. And it doesn't get more major than The Viltrumite War, an star-spanning saga that began in 2010 and raced towards its blockbuster conclusion in 2011. It was in many ways the ultimate Invincible epic - Mark and his morally-questionable dad defending the earth from their own alien race, who are intent on enslaving earth. But what makes Invincible so addicting is the way that Kirkman writes it as both a traditional superhero story but also as something that feels 100% different from the books at DC or Marvel. The characters feel modern and well-defined, there's quirky humor, there's lots of imagination, and there are bouts of brutal violence that remind you that yes, this is a book where serious $%&% goes down. If you haven't jumped onboard yet, be sure to check out Invincible.

4.) Detective Comics and Batman - by Scott Snyder

- After writing one of the best Batman arcs in recent years during his run on Detective Comics, Scott Snyder picked up right where he left off, quality-wise, on the New 52 relaunch of Batman. A lot of people were worried about the fact that the reboot was prematurely ending Snyder's 'Tec run, starring Dick Grayson as the new Batman. But as it turns out, Snyder proved equally adept at writing Bruce Wayne. His Batman run kicked off with a bang, pitting Bruce against a secret cabal of Gothamites with a longstanding vendetta against the Wayne family (a thread that also ties nicely into Snyder's earlier Batman: Gates of Gotham series). Snyder's also had the help of some kickass artists i bringing his Bat-books to life. The dark, moody art of Jock helped make Detective as good as it was, and the lighter, more kinetic art of Greg Capullo has been a huge part of making the latest Batman arc feel like a big-budget blockbuster put to page. In short, 2011 was the year where Snyder became DC's MVP - especially when it comes to Batman.

5.) The Walking Dead

- I just recently caught up on the latest volume of The Walking Dead, and the same thing happened to me that always does with this book - I sat down intending to read just a portion of the story, and before I knew it, I read the whole thing in one sitting. The Walking Dead has a sense of forward momentum like no other comic out there, and it's also more unpredictable - I never know what Robert Kirkman has in store for these characters. That said, I felt like the latest batch of issues played things a little safe. After the shocking events of the previous volume, we got a lot of character stuff that was a little repetitive at times. It's funny, because I also definitely recognized some elements of the TV show beginning to find their way into the comics - which is both good and bad. One of the key romantic developments has probably been a long-time coming now, so that was cool to finally see happen. I just hope that the book doesn't tone itself down at all to be accessible to fans of the show. The Walking Dead grabbed me because it was intense, violent, dark, and often, just plain #%&$'ed-up. Let's hope it stays that way. Still, this remains one of the true modern-classics, and I'm always curious to see what happens next.

6.) Swamp Thing

- Scott Snyder does it again. Much like Lemire did with Animal Man, Snyder took a character that enjoyed a legendary run in the 80's (courtesy of Alan Moore), and brought him back into DC proper with a take that felt familiar yet fresh. What I'm loving about the new Swamp Thing is that Snyder is bringing back the weird horror and gothic romance of the Alan Moore run, but also delivering some great new twists. Most noticeably, the book so far has featured Alec Holland back to being a normal guy, with only vague memories as his time as the Swamp Thing. This makes for a strange relationship with his former love Abby Arcane, who's grown cold and hardened since we last saw her. I also love the lush, bold artwork from Yanick Paquette. And by the way, one cool thing about the new Swamp Thing and Animal Man books - both are working in tandem to plant seeds for an upcoming, epic crossover storyline. In some cases, that might be annoying, but with guys like Lemire and Snyder at the helm, you know you're in for an amazing story.

7.) Batgirl - by Bryan Q. Miller

- There's a certain kind of comic that tends to get underrated, and Batgirl was of that type. It was a comic where, sure, some big storylines would happen once in a while, and we'd get some big action and epic heroics. But month to month, the thing that made the book so endearing was simply that Bryan Q. Miller made Stephanie Brown feel like a friend that we'd check in with and just hang out with for a bit. The fact that I felt sort of buddy-buddy with (okay, and maybe had a slight crush on) a costumed adventurer sounds weird, maybe, but that's a testament to the writing of Miller. When his run on Batgirl ended, it felt like an old friend had gone away. But this was a book that was just really enjoyable - cool, clean art, fun adventures, fleshed-out characters, and a spunky, likable protagonist who was the rare (relatively) well-adjusted person in the always-dysfunctional Bat-family. It's only the end if you want it to be, Miller wrote, and this was an end that I definitely did not want. Let's hope that Ms. Brown resurfaces sooner rather than later in the new DCU.

8.) Secret Six

- Secret Six was one of the great comics of the last several years - a twisted take on supervillains where, somehow, writer Gail Simone made us root for a group of some of comicdom's darkest souls. Simone combined fan-favorites like Deadshot and Bane with also-rans like Catman and new characters like Scandal Savage. Somehow, she made those also-rans into awesome characters, those new characters into great ones, and made us remember why we loved those fan-favorites in the first place. This book was the place where Simone's writing was at its best - darkly funny, delightfully twisted, and action-packed. The two-part finale that I talked about above was a mini-epic for the ages. And, in the New 52, this book's absence left a huge void - a testament to its status as one of the best books on the stands from start to finish.

9.) Batman, Inc.

- Part of me cringes when I read Grant Morrison's psychedelic acid-trip take on Batman. My preferred Batman is a dark, grim character who lives in a neo-noir world. But Morrison's take on Batman-as-James Bond-on-crack was so entertainingly weird that I couldn't help but enjoy it, and his unique style and dense, cryptic narratives made Batman, Inc. a must-read for me each month. Yes, I sometimes read this stuff and wonder if you have to be on mind-altering drugs to fully comprehend what Morrison's going for. But that's also what makes these stories so mind-bendingly cool. Morrison just seemed to be in his own little corner of the universe - with near-indifference towards what was going on elsewhere in the DC Universe, Morrison was just doing his thing, telling his own sprawling, acid-washed epic in which Batman forms Batman, Inc. - franchising the war on crime so as to fight a global war against a terrorist organization known as Leviathan. Somehow, Leviathan is linked to the last several years' worth of Morrison-penned Bat-stories, and the various web of plot threads and crazy characters practically requires an encyclopedia to decipher (and in the recent Batman: Leviathan special, there actually is a giant appendix that tries to make sense of the story so far!). But that's the fun of it. Who else is doing comics like this these days. Morrison is basically saying screw accessibility, and screw mainstream interpretations of Batman - here's a Batman story that's insane, near-incomprehensible, and completely off-the-wall. In other words, god bless Grant Morrison for daring to be different.

10.) Batwoman

- First thing's first - there's no better artist working in comics today than J.H. Williams III. Each month, he makes new issues of Batgirl into works of modern art, crafting gorgeous pages full of beautifully-painted panels. His work is, quite simply, mind-blowing. What other artist changes style completely depending on whether the title's crimson-haired hero is in costume or in civilian garb? Williams is operating on a higher plane these days - it's crazy. But, we knew that Williams was a phenomenal artist. What we didn't know was that he could write - continuing the adventures of Kate Kane - the new Batwoman - that were so elegantly penned by Greg Rucka previously, and doing so without missing a beat. Williams' stories have a more surreal, dreamlike quality than Rucka's more hard-boiled crime stories, but Batwoman is still a great read. And it's one of the must-read books of DC's New 52 - buy it for the art, stay for the cool characters and intriguing plotlines.

Runners Up: Fables, Jack of Fables, Red Robin, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Jonah Hex, Green Lantern, All-Star Western


1.) Flashpoint: Batman - Knight of Vengeance

- This summer's Flashpoint event was billed as a huge, universe-altering storyline designed to bridge the gap between the old DCU and the new. As it turns out, the series itself was only okay, but some of the surrounding, spin-off series were, in fact, excellent. The best of the bunch, by far, was Batman: Knight of Vengeance. In this twisted series from noir writer Brian Azzarello and his frequent collaborator Eduardo Risso, we enter a world where Bruce Wayne is dead. Instead of Bruce's parents being shot on that fateful night, a young Bruce was tragically killed, and in response, a traumatized Thomas Wayne becomes the Batman. The story is a fascinating what-if scenario, and the reveal regarding who, exactly, is the Joker of this world is one of this year's great shockers.

2.) Unexpected

- Every so often, you'll see these giant short-story compilations come out, and you're never quite sure what you're going to get in these comic book equivalents of a box of chocolates. But this one-shot special from Vertigo was an awesome surprise, packed to the brim with cool sci-fi and horror stories that were the kind of wonderfully weird tales that made me love Vertigo in the first place. A strange story of zombie love and a cautionary tale of climate-change-gone-apocalyptic are just two of the highlights of this unexpectedly awesome special.

3.) Tie: Superior / Kick-Ass 2

- Give Mark Millar credit, the bombastic writer of Kick-Ass knows how to write comics that get people talking. Unfortunately, some of that talk inevitably revolves around the delays that his books tend to suffer, with several months sometimes passing between issues. But, towards the end of the year, Millar seemed to get his books back on track, scheduling-wise, and they also picked up some narrative momentum as well. Kick-Ass 2, for me, sometimes walked a fine line between entertainingly over-the-top and just plain offensive. But at the end of the day, I have to admit that I've been thoroughly enjoying the sequel to Kick-Ass for its sheer, brazen audacity and ridiculousness. Meanwhile, Superior has been an interesting read - a story about a disabled kid who is suddenly granted the powers of his favorite fictional superhero, but only gets to keep them by paying a steep price. Both books have their flaws, but Millar nonetheless makes them feel like must-read events.

4.) Batman: Gates of Gotham

- Here was a cool, clockwork mystery from Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins - a story that delved into the history of Gotham City, and how it reflects back on the modern day. The story flashes between the past and present, with a villain terrorizing Gotham whose roots go back to the city's founding. And so we learn about how the city was built, with its five most prominent families (including the Waynes, of course), making decisions that would forever alter the foundations of Gotham - literally and figuratively. Great writing by Snyder and Higgins, this was the rare must-read Batman miniseries, and it helped set the stage for Snyder's later run on Batman proper.

5.) Spaceman

- Spaceman is still in the middle of its 9-part story, but I feel confident that, by the time it wraps up, it will end up as one of the more intriguing and memorable series to come out of Vertigo in a long while. This dystopian sci-fi story from Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso (of 100 Bullets fame) is an atmospheric story of a future in which an environmentally-ruined earth is now breeding genetically-engineered, neanderthal-like grunts to do all of the dirty work that regular people don't want to have to deal with. Spaceman is the story of one such grunt who somehow gets caught up in a web of lies, crime, and scandal - far more than he usually deals with in his simple, blue-collar existence. Azzarello infuses the book with rhythmic future-slang that makes this dstopian world feel alien-yet-familiar, and Risso delivers his usual simple-yet-suggestive art. A highlight of late 2011, and certainly a book to keep an eye on in 2012.

Runners Up: Jimmy Olsen One-Shot, Flashpoint: Grodd of War


1.) Captain America
2.) X-Men: First Class
3.) Thor


- There's more good comics than one person can possibly read in one year, so there are a lot of books on my radar that I hope to get around to soon. One such book is LOCKE & KEY, which I've heard great things about. All I can say is, the first trade paperback has been purchased, and it's ready to be read. I've also heard amazing things about Ed Brubaker's crime book CRIMINAL. Since I'm a huge Brubaker fan, that is another one on my short-list.

- I also want to mention a long-time-coming book that just came out - a trade paperback that, finally, collects perhaps my favorite comic book of the 90's - CHASE - into one handy volume. Chase was the story of Cameron Chase, a dogged agent at the D.E.O. - the Department of Extranormal Operations. Chase's job sees her investigating the true motives and identities of heroes like Batman on behalf of the government, and in doing so, finding out a lot about her own intrigue-filled past. Chase was an amazing but tragically short-lived comic, but its influence is still felt today. In fact, Cameron Chase and the D.E.O. have been popping up of late in Batwoman, whose writer/artist J.H. Williams III cut his teeth as the artist of Chase back in the day.

- One other shout-out, in terms of great books I caught up on this year. If you have any interest in World War II, I can't recommend Garth Ennis' WAR STORIES highly enough. Collected in two volumes, these are short stories that cover all aspects of the war, with a mix of humor, horror, and extensively-researched historical detail. Check 'em out.


1.) Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth, Animal Man, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.)
2.) Scott Snyder (Detective Comics, Batman, Swamp Thing)
3.) Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead, Invincible)
4.) Geoff Johns (Green Lantern, The Flash, Flashpoint, Justice League, Aquaman)
5.) Brian Azzarello (Batman: Knight of Vengeance, Spaceman)
6.) Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray (Jonah Hex, All-Star Western)
7.) Grant Morrison (Batman, Inc.)
8.) Bryan Q. Miller (Batgirl)
9.) Gail Simone (Secret Six, Birds of Prey)
10.) Kyle Higgins (Batman: Gates of Gotham, Nightwing, Deathstroke)


1.) J.H. Williams III (Batwoman)
2.) Jim Lee (Justice League)
3.) Ryan Ottley (Invincible)
4.) Andy Kubert (Flashpoint)
5.) Yanick Paquette (Batman Inc., Swamp Thing)
6.) Marcus To (Red Robin, Huntress)
7.) Eduardo Risso (Batman: Knight of Vengeance, Spaceman)
8.) Travel Foreman (Animal Man)
9.) Charlie Adlard (The Walking Dead)
10.) David Finch (Batman: Dark Knight)

And that's it for the Best Comics of 2011. Excelsior and happy reading!

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