Top Ten Ongoing Comics of 2012A column article, Top Ten by: Shawn Hill, Danny Djeljosevic, Chris Kiser, Jamil Scalese, Zack Davisson, David Fairbanks
Oh god, more lists I'm so very tired. This time it's The Top Ten Ongoing Comics of 2012. This is basically a rundown of comics that began before the year 2012 and were still good during 2012. If you're miffed that this is pretty much almost exclusively Big Two stuff, the upcoming Top Ten Comic Debuts of 2012 will rectify that.
- Danny Djeljosevic
(Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins; DC)
Brian Azzarello's reinvention of Diana's mythology continued to deliver amazing benefits in 2012. Simply by getting Hercules out of the picture, and revealing the current versions of the pantheon to be as fickle and error-prone as (for example) the Endless, Azzarello has given himself infinite story potential. Nothing actively contradicts what long-time readers know about Diana (for after all, the gods have many guises) but this decidedly soap operatic, infighting-prone infinite family is full of personality quirks, shifting allegiances, and more power than these fickle and capricious beings should rightfully have.
Azzarello has been aided infinitely by Cliff Chiang, who has given each old god a stunning new look. Hera struts around in her peacock cape (and little else), while Hermes is gray and avian; Strife is all the worst sides of Desire, Death and Delight at once, while Apollo is ebony and imperious, Ares wizened and bitter, and Poseidon a very big fish. Tony Akins' guest spots kept up the good work, introducing Lennox, Diana's indestructible half-brother, one of several who survive apparently. So while there's no Hercules per se, Diana and all her siblings are demigods in his stead. And that's a doorway we can just keep opening.
This year the doorway was to Hell, but Diana had allies such as Hephaestus (with Ben Grimm's hands) and Eros (with golden guns rather than a bow and arrows), which she needed against the surreal horrors of a betrothal to Hades himself. Akins made the underworld come alive with Gothic details, and he and Chiang kept things interesting when Diana confronted her namesake, Artemis, and bested her in battle back on Olympus. The heavens shook as Apollo acquired his father's throne, with most of the conflict focused on Zola (Zeus' last conquest) and their unborn sire. But the real point was much more expansive; Diana is one of seven demi-gods on earth, and we're probably going to meet them all in 2013. Who needs guest stars from the JLA when you're building your own pantheon?
- Shawn Hill
(Matt Fraction, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson, Jamie McKelvie, Mirco Pierfederici; Marvel)
There's a disturbing lack of crazy shit in superhero comics. Which is insane because, unlike TV shows or Marvel Studios movies, there are no budget restrictions in comics. You can literally do whatever you want so long as the artist can draw it, yet too many superhero comics feel like they were originally written as screenplays -- very long, very boring screenplays.
Nobody read it, but Defenders was a shining example of how to do superhero comics. Written in a version of the "Marvel Style" -- an artist-driven storytelling method previously thought to be passé in the writer-driven era -- Defenders was a mainstream comic that showed the strengths of both writer and artist. Writer Matt Fraction was able to deliver single issues that felt dense and, thankfully, not "written for the trade," and the Dodsons (followed by Jamie McKelvie and Mirco Pierfederici) were able to stretch their artistic muscles a bit more than if the series followed the usual assembly line approach to making comics.
Moreover, Defenders was full of the aforementioned crazy shit as we saw a group of B-list favorites (Dr. Strange, Iron Fist, Silver Surfer, Namor, Red She-Hulk) tackling an unknown cosmic threat that sent them tumbling through alternate universes and odd scenarios. As a result, we got all sorts of weird Marvel Universe stuff -- tiger soldiers, Prester John, Steranko-era Nick Fury and post-apocalyptic scenarios where Ant-Man is the last bastion of humanity.
The final issue of Defenders dropped November 2012 -- a depressingly short run, but it was a weirdo fringe Marvel book with zero promotion outside of spinning out of the lukewarmly received Fear Itself, criminally priced at $3.99. If fucking Thunderbolts can't keep readers at a dollar less, what hope did Defenders have? Alas, it's too late for Defenders, but hopefully there will be future titles that follow its lead in delivering comic books that feel like comics.
- Danny Djeljosevic
(Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, Paolo Rivera, Michael Allred, Marco Checchetto, Javier Rodriguez; Marvel)
Daredevil as one of the best ongoing series of 2012?!? You CB dorks are soooo last year.
Fair enough, although we're willing to take that massive hit to our burgeoning hipster cred and stand our ground. Yeah, it's true that Mark Waid's Murdock revitalization project was the golden child of 2011 and has the Eisners to prove it, but let's think for a second about what it achieved in 2012. Daredevil shook off the sophomore slump you might have thought was inevitable upon the departure of both of its amazing artists, Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martín. It withstood both the looming specter of crossover participation and Marvel's hyperactive double-shipping schedule to remain one of the few must-read superhero titles on the market.
Credit that to an influx of also-talented guest artists and a new series regular. If you're a professional comics artist with strong fundamentals and the (sadly rare) understanding that superheroes are supposed to look fun, chances are you did an issue of Daredevil this year and it was awesome. That's certainly true of Mike Allred and Marco Checchetto, as well as current full-timer Chris Samnee, who took the visual style established by Rivera and Martín and added his own flair to it. So, we're still treated to all the exciting pink-striped radar-sense panels that we were before, and we get to enjoy Samnee's strong command of shadows and dynamic figure drawing, to boot.
Of course, Waid himself isn't to be forgotten in all this, his pander-free nostalgia the engine behind all of Daredevil's success. He deserves the utmost commendation for keeping the single issue relevant even in the midst of multi-part arcs, and he keeps the book's sentimental heart beating as the action and mysteries unfold. Under Waid's watch, Matt and Foggy have continued to carry on the most turbulent bromance in all of comics, while even some of the bad guys earned readers' sympathies. The Mole Man story from early in the year was downright Batman: The Animated Series-level in the tragic villain department. Heck, this is a book that even made me feel emotions for the Spot. The Spot! Bless you, Mr. Waid.
- Chris Kiser
(Jeff Parker, Kev Walker, Declan Shalvey, Frank Martin Jr., Neil Edwards, others; Marvel)
It's not an illusion. One of the best comics this year was Thunderbolts, and in fact, if it wasn't for the strong start of many New 52 titles it might have snuck onto last year's list.
Our collective guilt here at Comics Bulletin forced us to include the final seven issues of Jeff Parker's Thunderbolts on our Best Ongoings list. With a whopping 23 issues released in 17 months, the comic about Marvel's noble jailbirds was for a time one of the most prolific entertainers in the industry. The book worked on so many levels, and that means there are several things to praise. After writing about this comic many, many, times I think I'll start with the most important.
The art duo of Kev Walker and Declan Shalvey represent the shining example of why Marvel's recent method of rotating teams can be more than successful. Walker and Shalvey possess incredible talent, each respectively distinct though similar enough to coexist in the same arena. Along with color artist Frank Martin Jr., whose spectacular creative choices added a special flash to each issue, the entire team made Thunderbolts an aesthetic delight no matter what crazy corner of the MU it went to. Every edition of the title relished being a superhero comic.
In their last year on the title Parker/Walker/Shalvey/Martin Jr . (and others) collaborated in delivering the best issues of the entire series, ranking right there with the darker, Osborn era by Ellis/Deodato and the original Masters of Evil turned attempters of good from original creators Busiek/Bagley. The last storyline of the series (#172-174) featured a mix of those two concepts, with the escaped. time-tossed convicts of the Thunderbolts program running into the original, Zemo-led team. Celebrating its 15 year of existence, a milestone that stands out due to so few novel comic ideas surviving the '90s, the "Like Lighting" arc set a gold standard for the franchise.
But for real though, it was all about the characters, a varied cast with a pitch-perfect balance that should serve as a blueprint for similar ventures. Mix in some bigger names, fan favorites, no brainer characters , a couple D-listers and a few new creations and you can satisfy a multitude of audiences. Parker wrote one of his best works with this team book and became adept at providing all members quick bursts of page time. 2012 gave us spotlights on Luke Cage, Songbird and Fixer and still featured plenty of others like Mr. Hyde, Gunna the Troll, Centurius and of course, Boomerang.
Thunderbolts never sold well (Parker's Hulk regularly moved more units), that why it's called Dark Avengers now, but it received above average reviews from critics and positive feedback from fans. Supervillains can make for some grand comics, and this one had a tone, look and appeal that set a new standard for capes and colloquialism.
- Jamil Scalese
(mental patients; Dynamite)
Here's why the Boys was one of the best comics of 2012:
#62: Yes, that's a Queen Maeve comic covered in spooge on the cover. Susan Rayner's demise begins here. The Homelander ralphs at his own audacity. And I think the team kills Cyber-Force.
#63: Queen Maeve dies so that Starlight can escape. Hughie kills the Flash who killed his girlfriend. And I think the team kills the Teen Titans.
#64: Homelander brings his A-game to Mr. Stillwell. It's meant to seem as if Kid Miracleman was going to follow up London by destroying New York. Stillwell would laugh in his face, but that would take away from the dismissive complete disinterest (I guess still wells run the deepest of all). So the deluded baby heads for the White House instead. Boys and their toys.
#65: The military kills everyone. The truth about Black Noir is revealed, and is worse than we thought. Butcher cries, and apologizes to his dead wife.
#66: Butcher kills Stan Lee. Or maybe Jack Kirby.
#67: Butcher kills Love Sausage.
#68: Butcher kills Mother's Milk.
#69: Butcher kills the Frenchman and the Female.
#70: Hughie powers up, with the blessing of Mother's Milk, but Butcher doesn't kill him.
#71: Hughie kills Butcher.
#72: Hughie, with Butcher's blessing, does what he can to take down Rayner and Stillwell. Without killing them. A bridge is restored. A kiss is enjoyed. A long interrupted dance is resumed. And an epic of some six years of sustained storytelling comes to a satisfying end.
- Shawn Hill
(Rick Remender, Greg Tochinni, Phil Noto, Dean White, others; Marvel)
In 2012 the question was answered: Could Rick Remender and company top "The Dark Angel Saga"?
It's definitive: no, they could not. And that's what amazing about Uncanny X-Force, it took a dip in quality and still kicked all types of corporate comic ass. The final 15 issues of the unanimous fan favorite dropped this year. None of them were bad, most were great.
Despite the loss of a guiding editor, a rotating cast of pencilers and the departure of crucial colorist Dean White the book continued to redefine the potential of all those digressive X-titles. Even though the "Otherworld" story arc read a little shaky, particularly in the way of art, Uncanny rebounded hard with "Final Execution", a ten-part epic that managed to utilize all the numerous pieces strewed throughout the run.
In his Marvel work, Rick Remender repeatedly demonstrates an ability to create highly accessible, extremely engaging stories that masterfully weave heaps of continuity and Marvel lore into every issue. This year, the best X-Men book doing it continued to deliver big action, grave consequences, ultra impressive character interaction and a few surprises. Personally, I really loved when the guy that looks like Nightcrawler teleported a shark in the guy that looks like the Blob.
The fact that this title delved deep into its core concepts kept it exciting and engaging. The creative team made exploring the soul of an assassin a monthly joy. It looked great too, with Phil Noto deserving a major round of applause for stepping up and drawing 8 of the last 15 issues. Noto possess a somewhat vibrant style, but he handles violence and injury more than well. Paired with master colorist Frank Martin Jr., the last crop of issues of this seminal Marvel book finished strong, and made us remember how good superhero comics can be.
Most of all, the characters that built the thing, from Wolverine to Fantomex, Deadpool, Psylocke and Apocalypse, all got very satisfying endings to their stories, and now star in different stories across the line. What started as a ongoing series designed to isolate itself from the rest of the line ended up becoming one of the company's most important. Now go read Uncanny Avengers.
- Jamil Scalese
Journey Into Mystery
(Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans, Richard Elson, Carmine Di Giandomenico, Alan Davis; Marvel)
Normally, a book plagued by constant crossovers would hardly be "best of the year" material, but Kieron Gillen's a really good writer and managed to make the series work in spite of its ties to other comics -- even more surprising when, two years ago, the idea of making a comic all about a child version of Loki would seem ill-advised. True to its protagonist, Journey Into Mystery is a series of unlikely factors coming together to produce entertaining comics.
A series that began during Fear Itself, Journey Into Mystery took part in two crossovers this year. The first, "Exiled" with New Mutants, was pretty alright. The second, "Everything Burns" with The Mighty Thor, fared much better since it was all characters who showed up in Journey Into Mystery anyway and offered a climax to both Thor and Journey's runs, leading into a heartbreaking final issue of Gillen's run.
With Journey Into Mystery, Gillen took a character that seemed like a temporary stunt -- Loki's a kid and kind of a hero? In a year where there's an evil adult Loki in the movies? C'mon now -- and made him a fan favorite, so much that Marvel would be facing their own Stephanie Brown situation if they changed him back. It seems like Marvel's committed to the character, and while we'll get to see more of him in Young Avengers we'll look back fondly on the days when he had his own devoted title.
- Danny Djeljosevic
(Terry Moore; Abstract Studios)
To borrow a line from Zoolander, horror comics are so hot right now. In fact, I'd wager to say that the genre is as dominant a force in the industry as it has been since the pre-Code days. In the past year, The Walking Dead constantly proved that its popularity ceiling is infinitely extendable, series like The New Deadwardians continued to offer clever twists on classic monster tropes and "creature" books like Swamp Thing and Animal Man -- their waning momentum notwithstanding -- formed one of the stronger segments of DC's New 52. Yet one horror comic stood above the rest in 2012, given life by a DIY indie force who had already conquered two markedly different genres in the medium.
Who could have predicted that the brilliance of Rachel Rising could have stemmed from the mind of Terry Moore, so seemingly settled in the romance niche back on Strangers in Paradise and again so well-matched with the sci-fi flavor of the acclaimed Echo? No longer can there be any doubt that Moore is a genuine genre chameleon, injecting Rachel with as much suspense and intrigue as anything you've ever seen from Steven King or George Romero. Don't let the occasional laughs and lovable characters fool you, this is no rom-com in Exorcist's clothing. It's a true creepy tale with the stakes (and title character) ever rising as its serialized plot has deepened and thickened.
Rachel Rising is also one of the most beautifully drawn books on the stands, and that's entirely thanks to Moore as well. I've got no doubt that his series of How to Draw books are top-notch, though it's hard to wonder if he's undercutting his own profits by giving away so many lessons on visual storytelling in the pages of this series. Month after month, Moore beautifully renders men and (especially) women of all shapes and sizes, creating a world of people who look a lot like the ones you and I know in real life. And that just serves to make all the murder, demon possession and corpse-walking he throws at us even scarier.
- Chris Kiser
B.P.R.D: Hell on Earth
(Mike Mignola, people Mike Mignola is cool with; Dark Horse)
With B.P.R.D: Hell on Earth -- The Return of the Master #100 Dark Horse finally admitted what we fans have known all along -- that B.P.R.D. is not a random series of mini-series but an ongoing series that encompasses some of the best comic book storytelling ever to appear on the comics rack.
And in 2012, B.P.R.D. did something even more special. They pulled off a multi-year-long, massive, Universe-changing multi-epic crossover the likes of which usually has me groaning and sounding the death knell of comics. Seriously, I used to be a huge DC/Marvel fan; superheroes where my bread-and-butter. But I got sick to death of constant continuity reshuffles, of Big Events that contributed nothing to the storyline and were designed by committees and marketing as a way to squeeze a few extra coins out of already poor pockets. After all, what better way to try and scam you into spending more money that you intended than by parsing out a storyline across multiple books. And then at the end, you just reset everything to status quo.
B.P.R.D: Hell on Earth has proved that a giant-crossover extravaganza doesn't have to be an empty money grab. It can actually be an important, game-changing use of long-form storytelling. Under the guiding hands of writer Mike Mignola and editor Scott Allie, Dark Horse has been producing gem after gem, exploring every avenue of a world where the good guys have lost, and Hell reigns on Earth. From small, intimate portraits like The Long Death to action-adventure rides like The Devil's Engine, and Russia, building up to the long-awaited yet unexpected Return of the Master, every chapter delivers something decidedly different and exciting.
One of the most brilliant aspects of B.P.R.D. has been that they removed their regular cast. If you look at a B.P.R.D. poster or T-shirt, it's sure to include the same familiar faces. But in Hell on Earth, the B.P.R.D. is desperately short on superheroes. Abe Sapien is still recovering from a near-fatal gunshot. The gasbag Johann Krauss has been suspended for his recent lapse in judgment. Liz Sherman is missing. Hellboy is dead. To fill in the ranks, Agent Devon has brought in the pre-cog Fenix, but she's a long way from being an agent. These are all raw recruits.
Which makes this massive even all the more risky. Mignola essentially cleared the slate of all of his famous characters, then spent almost two years playing around with the supporting cast, exploring the stories of the unknowns, the humans, the average Joes. Can you imagine DC/Marvel doing that? "Yeah, let's get rid of all of our marketable properties, and just follow the adventures of Jarvis the Butler and Sharon Carter for a couple of years." Man, that just blows my head a little now that I think about the risk Dark Horse took with this series. But they rocked it.
It's that kind of innovation and experimentation that shows that Dark Horse still lives up to its name. It's tempting sometimes to see Dark Horse as another flavor of corporate comics due to their success, but things like B.P.R.D: Hell on Earth show that there are creators at the controls, not a marketing department. And that the creators are still interested in making cool comics, not setting up potential movie deals and property licenses.
And of course, any mention of B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth must include my standard love letter to the King of Colors Dave Stewart. A multi-series event like this requires many hands behind the wheels, many cooks in the kitchen. Mike Mignola and Scott Allie are there ensuring story continuity, but comics are a visual medium. With so many different artists, there is the risk of dissonance for the reader. But Dave Stewart's careful coloring creates continuity of art, ensuring that no matter who is drawing what, every single comic in Hell on Earth LOOKS like the B.P.R.D. universe.
I'm excited as well to see what Dark Horse will do with the trades when this is all over. Will we get a B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth Ominbus that includes all of the various chapters, the one-shots, the bonus features? I hope so. But one thing I have learned with Dark Horse and B.P.R.D is that I never know what to expect. Other than it will be something awesome.
- Zack Davisson
(Mike Carey, Peter Gross, a fair number of others; Vertigo/DC)
I had the pleasure of attending a reading on Mike Carey's book tour 5-6 years ago. This was before The Unwritten was even announced, right in the middle of Crossing Midnight. During the Q&A, he revealed that he had short and long-term plans for his Felix Castor series of novels, to the tune of 5-6 books and then an 18-book long game. If you weren't sure of it from his work on Lucifer, Carey is clearly a planner.
So, when Crossing Midnight went under and it was announced that Carey was getting back together with Peter Gross, his collaborator on Lucifer, I was more than a little excited. When I heard the premise of their new comic, something called The Unwritten, I knew this would be their epic, quite possibly eclipsing Lucifer. One thing that they handle amazingly is ensuring that the reader rarely, if ever, feels lost despite the abundance of literature informing the series.
The Unwritten has yet to disappoint me. It's been one of the most consistently enjoyable books I've read, and only the best of the best come before it on my "to read" pile whenever a new issue comes out. This year, however, offered us quite a bit more than previous years. Not only did we get a handful of extra issues, filling in back story and telling other tales in the universe, but we also received the conclusion of one of the largest conflicts of the series.
They have been building the confrontation between Tom and Pullman since the beginning, and resolving it with the immensity that is Leviathan was incredibly well handled. It was also something that was getting built up enough that I expected it to be the conclusion to the series, making it all the more surprising to have it at what feels like a halfway mark.
While Carey and Gross gave us some answers, they sparked many more questions, indicating that Tommy's trials are far from over, but that he's on the long path to discovering who (or what) he really is. The Unwritten is so much more than a fun, dark, literate fantasy series, though.
There's a poet by the name of Robbie Q Telfer that I'm particularly fond of. A stanza from his poem, "Awkward Scars" details pretty well the importance of The Unwritten:
Stories are deceptions
but if we tell the right ones,
tangible progress, in all its forms,
Carey and Gross are telling the story of a man discovering himself and his friends. It's about accepting responsibility and how that makes you a better person. It's about the importance of stories, because it's easy to show people how they can literally save a life in The Unwritten, making it a bit easier to understand how they can save real people, real lives.
It's simply one of the best books on the stands and the fact that it still stands out among all the amazing competitors out there this year is testament to that.
- David Fairbanks