Top Ten Best Comic Book Bests of 2011A column article, Top Ten by: The Comics Bulletin Staff
We're a couple weeks into 2012, but we wanted to give you one final year-end list for 2011 -- one where we count down some of the best things in 2011 that we didn't compile lists for. So consider this the best of the best.
10. Best Comic Book Movie That Wasn't Originally a Comic Book: Hanna
Joe Wright is one of those filmmakers I'm rooting for. Atonement seemed like it would be your average star-crossed lovers period piece, but actually turned out to be some seriously stylish filmmaking even if it didn't quite hold together as well as it should. Still, it was an enjoyable, welcome surprise. He followed that up with The Soloist, which was mildly enjoyable but problematic Oscar bait. I was afraid a potentially interesting director was being lost to a genre where every film has the primary description "nominated."
Then he came out with Hanna and relieved my fears. And again, it seems like another average entry in a subgenre -- this time being the Bourne Identity with _____ movie that manages to fuse James Bond with Weapon X. This time, it's Bourne Identity with a Little Girl, said little girl being mysterious teenager Saoirse Ronan, raised by Eric Bana in the woods to be an expert fighter-killer when government agents led by a smarmy, scenery chewing Cate Blanchett come a-calling to retrieve their errant property.
The result is something reminiscent of those three-issue Warren Ellis pop comics from the last decade (and maybe a more Ellis-like movie than the Red adaptation, all things considered) where the film sprints to its inevitable final showdown, aided by some astonishing, unconventional visual flair and a score by the Chemical Brothers. Not to mention some great action scenes (you will believe a teenage girl can murder grown men). The film isn't afraid to go weird, either, bringing its characters to a finale at a decaying Brothers Grimm theme park -- an obvious metaphor, sure, but it looks great.
At this point, he seems like Wright is alternating interesting movies with standard fare. IMDb says he's currently filming an adaptation of Anna Karenina (albeit one scripted by Tom Stoppard), so I'm really looking forward to whatever happens after that.
9. Best Free Comic Book: Atomic Robo: Free Comic Book Day 2011
Each year in May, on Free Comic Book Day, the goal of comics publishers and retailers alike is to foot the bill for an issue or two that, once placed in your hands, will have you coming back for more of the for-pay variety. Red 5 is no different, save for the fact that its version of that plan is pretty much always executed to perfection. That's because the publisher boasts Atomic Robo amongst its line of books, the undeniably enjoyable multi-volume series that has writer Brian Clevinger and artist Scott Wegener annually generating a fun-for-all-ages, one-and-done masterpiece for the FCBD crowd.
This past year's offering may have been their finest yet, hammering home every lovable element of the Robo series in just a single 16-page span. You had a heavy dose of the title character's hilariously sarcastic demeanor as he suffered the indignity of celebrity-judging a science fair, the touching and relatable side story of the elementary-aged girl who wanted nothing more but to impress her idol and, of course, the irresistible antics of Robo's most hapless archenemy, Dr. Dinosaur. The entire production was enough to make you want to beg Clevinger and Wegner for the right to pay actual money for it. Good news, burgeoning Atomic Robo devotee, for there continue to be plenty of blessed opportunities on the stands and online to do just that.
8. Best Site Redesign of 2011 (Vanity Division): Comics Bulletin
While we're taking a moment to discuss all the great work done by creators, companies and media over 2011, we should also take a moment to talk about something that we at CB are very proud of: our site relaunch. The beautiful and clean new design of CB that you've been enjoying since November was the product of a lot of hard work from a small group of really dedicated and dramatically underpaid CB team members who devoted amazing amounts of our ever-short free time to deliver an amazing new website.
All of us here on CB were tremendously excited to move off of our old, antiquated site design and site chrome, and to move CB into a much more modern feeling design. As you've seen, social networking and commenting have been built into the site from the bottom up, and many of you have taken advantage of the ability to interact with the content we publish on the site. We've also taken advantage of the new design to move movie, TV and video game content to their own sections of the site. That's allowed our editors of those sections of the site to highlight their own content in ways that excite readers. Though our name is Comics Bulletin, we have a deep dedication to geek culture in all its forms. We're looking forward to enlarging those sections of the site more in 2012 as well.
The unsung hero of CB's redesign is the tremendously talented Christopher Power. Chris did a whole bunch of heavy lifting as part of this project, spending way too much time and energy in getting everything to look great. So everything you like about the redesign is the result of Chris's superhuman hard work. I, your ever-friendly Publisher, did much of the site design and content management work, so everything you dislike about the redesign is the result of my infernal meddling and poor decision making, so blame me for whatever you don't like.
Best of all, Comics Bulletin will be improving even more in 2012. We've engaged a design firm to build on our current site chrome and provide some tweaks that we think will really light up when you get to see them. We're also continually working to add new writers, new content and new sections of the site. So if you'd like to join one of the most interesting and open pop culture websites on the Internet, please let us know.
But while we're excited to look forward to the changes we'll be making this year, we're also thrilled to have the chance to stare at ourselves in the mirror and admire our reflection. We think the reboot of Comics Bulletin ion 2011 was one of the real highlights of our year, and we hope it was one of yours as well.
7. Best Superhero Adaptation (Fun Division): Batman: The Brave and the Bold
When Batman: The Brave and the Bold first debuted on Cartoon Network in late 2008, it appeared on the surface to be a half-cocked attempt at drawing young viewers into the DC aisle of Toys "R" Us, devised by a bunch of studio heads who didn't really "get" Batman. By the series conclusion in 2011, however, it had proven itself to be a loving tribute to the Caped Crusader in all his incarnations, a kid-friendly half-hour chock full of nudge-nudges and wink-winks to those who grew up loving the character. Anything was fair game, from nods to the Giffen and DeMatteis Justice League International to Bats' confrontation with Superman in The Dark Knight Returns to an adaptation of Grant Morrison's The Return of Bruce Wayne. One episode even had Batman rescuing Abraham Lincoln from would-be assassin John Wilkes Booth.
In other words, it was the perfect counterpoint to the "so serious" Batman of the Nolan films, a much needed reminder that the core concept of the character is almost infinitely pliable. Nowhere was this clearer than in the series' final episode, "Mitefall," a torrent of self-referential metafiction in which Bat-Mite (standing in for those inflexible fanboys who can't take their grim avenger with a smile) plotted to get The Brave and the Bold cancelled and replaced with darker fare. Serving as one final jab at its detractors, the show closed with an affirmation of all the joy that could be had from beneath a pointy-eared cowl. Among the many great accomplishments in Bat-animation over the years, this one stands with the best.
Now, if we could only get that hypothetical CGI Batgirl show the series finale dangled before our eyes.
6. Best Superhero Adaptation (Serious Edition): Batman: Year One
Of course, if you've got to have your Batman cloaked in shadow and peering out from tiny white eye slits, then 2011 had just the thing for you, too. After an aborted attempt by Darren Aronofsky in the early 2000s, Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's Batman: Year One was finally given the reverent film adaptation it deserved by Warner Bros. Animation. The summer escapades of Captain America and Thor may have won the heart of the public at large, but the best superhero movie of the year came in the form of this direct-to-video gem.
Featuring a star-studded cast headlined by Bryan Cranston's inspired turn as Lieutenant James Gordon, Year One soars in all the ways the original comics did when they revitalized the Batman universe in the wake of DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths. Its Gotham City is a decaying neon slum with no hope of redemption, save for the two incorruptible spirits determined to save it. One of those, of course, is Bruce Wayne, who becomes the untouchable force for justice we expect, but, just as in Miller's original story, it is the second man who steals the show. Jim Gordon is the heart and soul behind Year One, and this soon-to-be classic will have you falling in love with him all over again.
5. Best Archival Reprint of 2011: Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes
2011 might have been the greatest year ever for archival reprints of comics. The list of amazing reprint books is so long and so impressive that it simply blows away any previous year's assortment of reprints. This long and impressive roster also makes a really strong case of Comics As Art, and more than that, makes a really strong case that Comics Have Been Art for a Long Damn Time.
Undoubtedly the most surprising comic strip reprint has been Fantagraphics's reprints of Floyd Gotfredson's classic Mickey Mouse strips. As our own Raf Gaitan mentioned, the adventures of that little mouse are really fucking insanely fun. They represent a long-lost era of the world's favorite mouse was actually an amazingly wild, gutty, intensely weird guy. This is great stuff, and a revelation for any fan.
But the best archival reprint of 2011 was of Mickey's Disney pal, Donald Duck. Fantagraphics began their deluxe reprints of the sublime work of the Good Duck Artist, Carl Barks, with the gorgeous Lost in the Andes. Universally acclaimed as one of the finest reprints of Barks's works by even the most exacting Duckophiles, Lost in the Andes finally presents an English-language collection of Duck stores behind two hard covers and with the typical exacting standards for which Fantagraphics is justifiably famous. The good people at Fantagraphics outdid themselves with this reprint, which will undoubtedly be a treasure enjoyed by fans for many years.
And the best part of all this? 2012 will offer even more classic reprints, from the Spirit Artist Edition to more volumes of Dick Tracy and Annie, Mickey and Donald, the rise of the EC Archives series from the dead and the continuing line of amazing horror reprints from the folks at PS Artbooks. We'll get collections of work by Bill Everett and Simon and Kirby and, inevitably, most everything that Stan Lee ever created. Truly, for any fan of old comics, this is a real golden age.
4. Best Line-Wide Relaunch of a Superhero Universe: Ultimate Marvel
At the same DC Comics was rushing out a reboot of their entire superhero universe, delivering semi-new takes on old properties that still felt kind of inaccessible and editorially fucked with, Marvel Comics was relaunching their entire Ultimate universe, which was originally supposed to be the accessible, casual-reader-friendly line of comics but in the span of a few years got developed such a mangled continuity as to render most of them entirely unreadable.
Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man: The flagship title of the Ultimate line has always been Spider-Man, which had writer Brian Michael Bendis remixing all the old Spidey lore (including maligned stuff like the "Clone Saga") into new, fresh, exciting stories. It's always been solid, popular stuff, so you'd think Marvel would adopt a "ain't broke, don't fix" policy. Wrong -- they killed off Peter Parker and replaced him with a half-black, half-hispanic teenager. More than a controversial publicity stunt, it made for great comics, as readers watched a brand-new kid put a new spin on an old superhero. People always said the most appealing thing about Spider-Man was that he could be anyone under that mask. Now it's more true than ever.
Ultimate Comics: Ultimates: When The Ultimates debuted in 2002, it was easily one of the ballsiest superhero comics at the time as Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch delivered a snotty, post-9/11 template for an Avengers movie that practically willed itself to become sentient and invade our reality in Summer 2012. But it was something that couldn't be sustained forever, so sequels and relaunches seemed to limp in comparison. Someone at Marvel had the genius idea of giving the job of relaunching the team to Jonathan Hickman (a writer entirely unlike Mark Millar), who teamed up with Esad Ribic to create some seriously large-scale sci-fi superhero action that has a distinct flavor from the original Ultimates but doesn't betray the original premise. Oh, and ditto the concurrent Ultimate Hawkeye miniseries, in which Hickman gives the same treatment to the team's resident sporting goods themed operative.
Ultimate Comics: X-Men: No franchise in comics has gotten fucked harder than Ultimate X-Men, as the book quickly lost direction over time and an entire crossover event killed off most of the team, leaving the franchise bereft of nearly all of its popular characters. This leaves writer Nick Spencer to work with a team composed of Kitty Pryde, Iceman, the Human Torch, Rogue and Wolverine's son, forcing him to pick up the pieces and try to figure out how to rebuild a popular franchise with few of the building blocks that made it a favorite. It's an unenviable position and the book isn't quite clicking yet, but it's slowly gaining steam with each issue.
So, ignoring miniseries, that's 2 out of 3 definite hits versus maybe (maybe) 12 out of 52. Most importantly, it's a sterling example of how to launch a successful line of comics: hire talented people and let them do what they do best, focusing on quality of quantity.
3. Best Erotic Graphic Novel: Celluloid by Dave McKean
So I asked if I could write up my pick for the Best Erotic Graphic Novel of 2011, and now that I'm actually writing it, I have to admit that I'm pretty uncomfortable doing it. My first problem is that everything I write in this context can easily be taken the wrong way (just look at the ending of this and previous sentence to see what I mean). This fact is causing me to second guess my entire thinking process.
Second, I'm not a big fan of erotica or pornography in general. In all truth, this stuff kind of makes me squeamish. It's not that I'm a prude, or have any sort of religious objections or anything, it's just... well... it's hard to explain. I was raised by nice Jewish parents in suburban Dallas, Texas – watching other people get off just doesn't do it for me. So why the hell am I writing about the Best Erotic Graphic Novel of 2011?
Two words: Dave McKean.
Dave McKean is a tremendous artist. He creates work of enormous emotional impact with a deftness and subtlety that is so often missing in modern art. McKean can tell an entire novel's story in a single picture. He's that good. Just look at the covers he did for Neil Gaiman's Sandman and you'll see what I mean.
As a fan of McKean's work, when I heard that Fantagraphics was publishing his new book called Celluloid in 2011, I instantly ordered it without knowing anything about it.
Turns out, Celluloid is an erotic graphic novel. It tells an obscure story about a woman's sexual journey through various "worlds." Each "world" is presented in a different artistic style, echoing surrealism or cubism, as well as using collage and photography. In each "world" the woman encounters a new sexual partner, and with this partner she assumes either a dominant or submissive role.
There are no words in the whole graphic novel -- the entire story is told through McKean's amazing art. His art carries the entire 232 page book.
Sean Edgar from Paste Magazine calls this "a coital masterwork," and I heartily agree with this assessment.Celluloid is beautiful and it is powerful and it is mysterious and engaging. It is art as defined by every iteration of the word. It is also another example of what comics can do that no other form of media can match.
As to why he decided to write an Erotic Graphic Novel, McKean said:
"There are so many comics about violence. I'm not entertained or amused by violence, and I'd rather not have it in my life. Sex, on the other hand, is something the vast majority of us enjoy, yet it rarely seems to be the subject of comics. Pornography is usually bland, repetitive and ugly, and, at most, 'does the job.' I always wanted to make a book that is pornographic, but is also, I hope, beautiful, and mysterious, and engages the mind."
I certainly can support this his rationale. I also think he succeeded in his goal.
So, even though I have read no other books that would fit into this category, I still feel confident in declaring Celluloid the Best Erotic Graphic Novel of 2011.
2. Best Comic That Never Happened: Firestorm by Brian Clevinger
In early 2011, DC Comics contacted Brian Clevinger, the man behind such beloved works as Atomic Robo and 8-Bit Theater, to draw up plans for a new Firestorm ongoing that would pick up where the events of Brightest Day left off. That miniseries had just set up a wonderful new status quo for the Nuclear Man that begged to be explored, and Clevinger seemingly had the wits and storytelling ability to do it. Problem was, DC forgot to tell him that his six-issue outline and completed first script were merely being pitched against those of another writer, Gail Simone, who would ultimately walk away with the gig. Or that the whole DCU was about to get rebooted anyway, thus rendering all of Clevinger's post-Brightest Day story concepts moot.
Thankfully, at least from a rabid fan curiosity standpoint, Clevinger later posted the details of his hypothetical Firestorm series on his blog. And, boy, did it sound like a book that would have been a blast to read. At its heart would have been the contentious relationship between Jason Rusch and Ronnie Raymond, the two young men whose joint control of the Firestorm Matrix could be the only thing keeping the total annihilation of the universe at bay. The choice of villain for the opening arc -- Solaris, the "tyrant sun" of DC One Million and All-Star Superman fame -- reflected Clevinger's appreciation for the publisher's history and promised to tie Firestorm closely to the larger DC Universe (as we once knew it).
So sad, then, that the ultimately published Firestorm series would be a New 52 book that has garnered such a tepid critical response. There were plenty of really great comics available on the shelves in 2011, but this one clearly stands to be the best of those that weren't.
1. Best Publisher of 2011: Image Comics
In 2011, Image Comics did not have a single line-wide reboot, or god-smashing crossover. They didn't have the death and rebranding of a decades' old flagship character or a gimmicky change in issue numbering. Instead, Image Comics conquered 2011 the old fashioned way: by publishing damned good comics.
Long time Image devotees are undoubtedly already familiar with how the publisher has grown up over the past two decades but 2011 felt especially vital, with the continuation of breakout series from the prior year (Morning Glories) to the launching of instantly classic new long term series (Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker) to an onslaught of incredible minis from promising new talents (Witch Doctor, Luther Strode, Green Wake). As if that wasn't enough, Image veterans and up-and-comers like Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer joined the ranks of industry titan Marvel while still remaining loyal to Image.
What made Image's success even more exciting, though, was that they ruled the year without a marketing budget, without corporate backing, and without a stable of characters older than your grandparents. Image's self-reliance and creator owned principles are quite possibly its greatest strength, allowing for a tremendous amount of flexibility and fostering a keen sense of experimentation.