In the waning days of a year which saw mainstream relaunches aplenty and an indie comics scene that’s seemingly stronger than ever, the staff of Comics Bulletin convened to select the finest the industry had to offer. And, well, even though it’s now 2012, we aren’t quite finished letting go of the amazing year that just passed us by. Today, we’re counting down our top ten writers of 2011.
10. Jonathan Hickman
In an era when the value of work-for-hire comics is decreasing in the face of increasing creator-owned opportunities, Jonathan Hickman showed us all how it’s done as he straddles the two worlds. At Marvel, he writes Fantastic Four, FF and S.H.I.E.L.D., stirring crazy sci-fi ideas into the Marvel Universe like some kind of mad mixologist, crafting distinct comics that couldn’t come from any other writer.
In the “independent” sector, Hickman’s output is of at least equal caliber. Unsatisfied with resting on his laurels in the big leagues, he’s still producing insane creator-owned material like The Red Wing, where pilots in the future fight their wars by flying through time. If that weren’t already awesome, Hickman’s ideas come with a spoonful of pathos — often dwelling on themes of family — to appeal to those of us who didn’t major in quantum mechanics.
2012 promises more creator-owned work in the form of comics like The Manhattan Projects and Feel Better Now, and I couldn’t be more excited for their release. If they’re anywhere near the caliber of Jonathan Hickman’s work this year, then they’ll be mind-blowing.
9. Jason Aaron
If you consider yourself a Marvelite and actively read comics in 2011, then there is great chance you picked up something from Jason Aaron. The man has many rented rooms in the House of Ideas. Famously starting his career a decade ago by winning a talent search with a Wolverine backup story, Aaron now writes more of the Ol’ Canucklehead than anyone else in recent memory. As he currently finishes up his Wolverine run, Aaron also serves as the writer for one of the two major X-titles, Wolverine and the X-Men, an idea which spun out of the major X-Men game changer Schism, a series Aaron also wrote.
That’s not to mention the surprisingly zany Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine, a limited series that finished in the 2011 calendar year. The two most recognizable characters in the Marvel stable have teamed up numerous times before, but the time travel craziness and return of Logan’s charter rival Dog set this series apart from others featuring the famous odd couple.
I’m supposed to keep this to two hundred words, so let’s just jam in there that, in 2011, Jason Aaron also launched the extremely well-received Incredible Hulk, a title that examines the big green meanie from a fresh angle. Aaron is also approaching the swan song of the work that propelled him into popularity, Scalped, his lone non-Marvel offering of 2011. As his career moves in a decidedly upward direction, Jason Aaron deserves recognition as one of the best of year, not only for the quality of his stories, but also for his unrivaled productivity.
8. Joe Casey
In a year where there was no shortage of “Comics are Dead” proclamations, Joe Casey seemed hell-bent on annihilating that statement. From his Watchmen sampling Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker to the faux-crossover madness of Vengeance to the cheeky monster story Doc Bizarre, MD, Casey effortlessly expanded the potential of pop comics. But Butcher Baker stood out as Casey’s greatest achievement of the year, its Watchmen-fueled breakdown of superheroics made all the more relevant by the looming spectre of DC’s rumored decision to revisit that “untouchable” Moore work. Yet unlike Watchmen, Butcher Baker was alternately biting and brutally funny, as Casey never sacrificed the vibrancy of the form to make his point.
Joe Casey has had plenty of great years in the industry, but in 2011 he seemed to be getting closer to his prime rather than further away from it, edging closer to the pantheon of all-time masters of the medium.
7. Kieron Gillen
Without a Phonogram to show off this year, it’s easy to consider 2011 an off-year for Kieron Gillen. But that would be writing off an entire year of work for the writer, who’s been delivering solid work seemingly without as much fanfare or gimmick as some of his peers.
Writing Uncanny X-Men can be a thankless job, one that chews up and spits out even the best of writers, as subhumans on message boards complain that their lifetime obsession is yet again ruined. Gillen, taking over for Matt Fraction on the title, performed admirably in that role, infusing the proceedings with his requisite wit while taking part in a bittersweet and artful finale to an era as the Schism crossover split the team in two. In the relaunched Uncanny, he’s setting up to tell a story about an X-Men that actually makes splashes in the world it inhabits, uniting the most powerful mutants on Earth into a team to rival the other superhero coalitions in the Marvel Universe.
Speaking of the Marvel Universe proper, he wrote Captain America and Batroc, a lovely Captain America anniversary special that gives a new and vital and — most importantly — fun dimension to Batroc the Leaper of all characters, painting him as more than an excuse for lame French jokes. Then there’s his still-in-progress Journey Into Mystery, the requisite superfluous “We gotta cash in when there’s a movie out” title that actually threatens to be more essential than its own parent book as Gillen chronicles the adventures of Asgardian pariah Kid Loki with humor and trickery.
Hopefully we’ll see some more creator-owned work from Kieron Gillen over the next year, but even if we don’t we still have some incredibly enjoyable mainstream comics to look forward to.
6. Rick Remender
Quick! Go find someone that doesn’t like Uncanny X-Force.
Back yet? Yeah, didn’t find anyone did you? That’s why Rick Remender is on this list. Representing one of the two Marvel titles on our Top Ten Ongoing Titles list (you’ll have to wait until Thursday to find out the other!), Uncanny X-Force stands as one of the most excellent X-books to hit the stands in nearly a decade. With involved, layered story-telling and the delightful smarm of Fantomex, Remender wove one of the sexiest plots of the year from issues #4 to #19, which were conveniently all released within the calendar year.
However, as you’ll see in the case of almost all the entries on this list, you have to pull more than one shift in order to make Employee of the Month. Rememder’s other big project and success in 2011 is Venom, the brand new spin on one of the oldest elements of the Spider-Man mythos. Forget what you know about your favorite shiny, black symbiote — in Rememder’s version, the government controls the use of the suit, and the host is none other than your Friendly Neighborhood Bully, Flash Thompson.
Remender’s success derives from the superb execution in portraying the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises through a dark lens. Anti-heroes are initially a blast, but they take some work to sustain. So far, these two books have gleamed in a period during which there are a lot of jewels to pick from. That said — and it has no bearing on his ranking within this list — Rick Remender is in for a huge 2012 with year two of X-Force, the oddball Red Hulk/X-23/Ghost Rider/Venom team up in Circle of Four and the tantalizing Secret Avengers with Gabriel Hardman. Don’t be surprised if you see a number higher than six next to his name in 2012.
5. Nick Spencer
Unlike most of the other writers on this list, Nick Spencer is relatively new to comics. But in his short time in the industry, Spencer has become one of its brightest stars, a young writer who shares Brian K. Vaughan’s capacity for long term planning and Ed Brubaker’s deft plotting with a genuinely fresh outlook. It doesn’t hurt that Spencer’s style is similar to what fans are used to seeing on television at the moment, where brilliant writers have ushered in a Renaissance for that medium at the same time that comics seems poised to be reaching its own. Spencer’s breakout series Morning Glories, in particular, continues to evolve and expand like noted Spencer influences Lost and Battlestar Galactica, while his exclusive contract with Marvel has yielded such dynamic critical hits as his Cloak and Dagger mini and the revival of Ultimate X-Men.
Like other Image vets Jonathan Hickman and Brian Michael Bendis, Spencer seems to be heading towards superstar status at Mighty Marvel, and it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a household name for comic fans everywhere.
4. Mark Waid
2011 was kind of a strange year in terms of the number of comics creators from the late 90’s/early 2000’s who seemed to spontaneously emerge en masse back onto the scene. Mostly thanks to the DC relaunch, names like Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld were back in the spotlight on mainstream titles, causing most of us to scratch our heads and ask each other, “Who knew those guys were still around?”
Mark Waid, of course, is classes beyond any of those aforementioned talents, but — until recently — he was still perhaps primarily thought of as a product of their era. Ask any comics fan to name Waid’s greatest works and they’re likely to rattle off Flash, Kingdom Come, or Fantastic Four, the most recent of which concluded in 2005. But not only has Waid continuously written plenty of quality comics since that time, he’s possibly been getting better and better at it.
Daredevil, as you may have read everywhere on the Internet, is the crown jewel of Mark Waid’s 2011, but it’s really only one piece of what has been a wholly amazing year for him. Not only did he completely revise the paradigm of what makes a Matt Murdock story great, but he slipped two additional gems under the radar on us in Ruse, the delightful revitalization of the old Crossgen property, and Irredeemable, the dark commentary on superheroes that picked up major steam as the year drew to a close.
So, yeah, we all knew that Mark Waid was one of the greatest writers of ten years ago. Thanks to his output in 2011, however, it’s safe to say that he deserves mention among the greatest of all time.
3. Jeff Lemire
Jeff Lemire is a relatively new addition to mainstream comics. His unorthodox, autobiographical storytelling first garnered him attention just a few years ago when Top Shelf released The Essex County Trilogy. Most recently, Lemire began a relationship with DC Comics, first with his Vertigo book Sweet Tooth and then onto authoring more mainstream titles such as Superboy.
2011 has cemented Lemire as one of the year’s standout writing talents, thanks to his continuing Sweet Tooth and his two New 52 DC books, Animal Man and Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. Lemire is one of the best young writers in the field today and it’s always encouraging to see one of the Big Two utilizing talents with independent sensibilities.
2. Grant Morrison
This year saw Batman Incorporated (the gift of an international team of Batmen that grew organically out of Morrison’s earlier work in “Batman: RIP”, Final Crisis, Return of Bruce Wayne and Batman and Robin) deliver several distinctive issues — each with its own artistic aesthetic — before being interrupted by the launch of the New 52. Morrison proved his accommodating professionalism by contributing to the young Superman myth in Action Comics with Rags Morales instead, and ceding Bat-leadership to his protégé Tony Daniel (whose artistic evolution had been spurred by Morrison’s Bat-stories) and Scott Snyder.
All of which didn’t necessarily mean that Batman Incorporated was a dead concern, as we saw with the stunning trade DC delivered just last month as its best Christmas present. Just look at some of the endless creative diversity offered in the issues of the series released this year: team-ups with the Batmen of Argentina, Great Britain, Africa and the Native American Midwest. Distaff guest-stars galore included Batwomen 1 and 2, Black Bat and two Batgirls, each met with
a sense of hope, intimacy, trust or adventure as appropriate.
Villains ranged from El Sombrero and Scorpiana to Doctor Dedalus and the mysterious mastermind possibly behind it all, Leviathan. Each new issue gave a fresh artist a chance to shine, with ideas pouring off the page — often both profound and Silver Age-goofy in equal measure. We’ve already chosen the Man-of-Bats and Raven Red story in #7 as one of our best single issues of the year, but even slight missteps like the dated virtual reality story of #8 couldn’t keep Morrison from bouncing back with Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Madonna training assassins at a school for girls in the final double issue, which also featured a psychedelic assault on all Bat-things (and –people) that promised so much more to come in 2012.
1. Scott Snyder
A year ago, Scott Snyder was sitting pretty as one of the hottest new talents in the comics industry. His Vertigo book American Vampire was on its way to winning the Eisner for Best New Series, and his run on Detective Comics had just gotten off to a very promising start. It was hard to imagine things getting any better for a creator in the fledgling years of his young career.
Well, in 2011, they got better.
With the riveting wrap-up to that long arc in Detective, it became instantly clear that Snyder had penned a classic, just as he now looks to be doing a second time in the pages of the New 52 title Batman. What’s more, Snyder’s innovative revitalization of Swamp Thing has quickly proven to be a strong anchor to DC’s “Dark” line, and the Image miniseries Severed, co-written with pal Scott Tuft, is the most reliable source of hair-raising chills you’re bound to find on the stands today.
Snyder’s skills at utilizing horror techniques to generate suspense in his stories is nigh unparalleled in the comics medium, and his mastery of relating history — both real and imagined — give his books an always firm foundation and wide scope. In essentially just two years time, Snyder has emerged as a writer whose stuff is automatically worth reading, anytime, anywhere, on the basis of his name alone.
Agree with our picks? Or would you rather see this list get written out of continuity? Either way, let us know in the comments section, and don’t forget to check out the rest of our Best of 2011 selections, linked below!