Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Best of 2012 Thing (Not a List)

Over the past few weeks, all of the "Best of 2012" or "Top Ten of 2012" or similarly-titled comicbook lists have started to emerge, and I always enjoy reading them. You see a lot of the same titles showing up, but there's also plenty of variance and, even in the cases of series that everyone seems to adore, their reasons for said adoration differ. So I wanted to do my own take on what worked in 2012, but without making an official list of any kind. I don't read enough to definitively tell anyone what the ten (or even five) best comics of the year were, and even if I only pulled from the series I do follow, I'm not sure how to best compare/rate them. Do I split it up by limited and ongoing? What about individual issues that were astounding in the midst of not-so-spectacular runs? Do I award artists, writers, and books separately, since I sometimes love the art of a shittily-written series or vice versa? These are the kinds of needless questions I can't prevent myself from asking, so instead of doing a real list, I thought I'd just talk more loosely about my personal year as a comicbook reader and what stands out in my memory here at the end of it.

I gotta start with Rebel Blood. Now, I did a fairly extensive discussion on the blog last month about much of what I loved about this mini-series, so I'd just as soon not get into that again here. And while I am not setting this up to be a numbered list, Rebel Blood was, without a doubt, my #1 favorite comic from 2012. So, so, so much of that is because of Riley Rossmo's artwork, which I always love and was particularly on point in this book. Nobody does chaotic-but-clear like Rossmo, whose work has a very powerful kinetic energy to it. But the artwork alone doesn't put this title at the top of my list. It's a psychological character study buried in a zombie horror/action story, expertly plotted and paced by Rossmo and writer Alex Link. It has a likable but deeply flawed lead, a whole lot of dark humor, some truly brutal violence, and more than one major twist/surprise. If that doesn't sell you on it...I don't know what to tell ya. Personally, I reveled in every page of all four issues, and was left wholly satisfied while at the same time wishing there could be more. The strongest title I read all year.

As far as ongoing series from 2012, my top pick is probably Prophet. I know it's a reboot of a Liefeld character, but I have zero familiarity with the original version, so I couldn't compare the two. But even though it's not technically his character, Brandon Graham has been slowly building a one of the year's most original and interesting stories, accompanied by some truly breathtaking visuals from an amazing group of artists like Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, and Giannis Milonogiannis. A strange sci-fi war story about a man (John Prophet) fighting an empire that uses an army made of of his own clones, the greatest part of Prophet is the expert and expansive world-building. The story planet-hops regularly, and Graham's succinct and stylized descriptions of each new location are some of the best shit I've ever read. His imagination is vast, and literally every issue introduces numerous new places, races, cast members, and/or conflicts. It's been a surprising and rewarding experience so far, with no real missteps or moments of weakness.

If any series gives Prophet a run for its money, it would have to be Terry Moore's Rachel Rising. The first few issues of this were published in 2011, but this year was when the bulk of the series came out, and it has been consistently excellent. It's missed a month or two here and there between issues, but has always been more than worth the wait, and it's definitely the title that sticks in my mind the longest after I read it every month. There's a lot going on and the whole cast is so rich; it's easy to get caught up in and hard to forget. Again, this is a title I've already blogged about, so I don't need to repeat myself now, but Rachel Rising is also right at the top of my list when it comes to current ongoing comics.

For the last several years, a book that was similarly reliable and always a favorite was Scalped, which reached its expectedly violent and grim conclusion this year. I didn't adore where everything ended up in the final issue, but the lead-up to it had a lot of moments and events that I'd been waiting to see for ages, so all told it went out with a bang. I still haven't gone back to the start for a glorious 60-issue reread of the entire series to see how the final storyline holds up in context, but I'm highly looking forward to doing so.

If I'm talking superheroes, this summer saw the relaunch of Valiant comics, which included Joshua Dysart and Khari Evans' Harbinger. Although arguably not a superhero comicbook in the strictest sense, it's an exceptional series about a young man trying to deal with having superhuman abilities. What's so great about Harbinger is that Peter, the hero, is pretty shitty at handling himself and his powers. He's a well-intentioned and intelligent young man, but too inexperienced and angry to be responsible with what he can do, which is basically control people's minds, along with some crazy-powerful telekinesis and scary glowing eyes. Watching him make massive mistakes and then have to deal with the fallout makes for a much more realistic and compelling kind of superpowered narrative. And there's a strong supporting cast that's growing steadily even stronger and larger, plus a villain who you just can't see ever being completely defeated. Like Prophet, this is a reboot of a title I've never read a page of, but even coming into it cold it has been a gratifying and unique read.

The biggest surprise of the year would have to be Infernal Man-Thing. I've read a Steve Gerber Man-Thing story or two, but not "Song-cry of the Living Dead Man" to which this was a sequel. A sequel that was written decades ago, but only completed and published now. There is some ambitious and beautiful writing from Gerber, but Kevin Nowlan's painted pages steal the show. The way he chooses to depict Man-Thing is particularly effective, as is his a blend of the gruesome, the depressing, and the cartoonish. Much like Rebel Blood, this book is an exploration of one man's insanity and the power it has over him and those around him. I didn't really have any expectations when I started reading this, but figured a three-issue commitment for some new Gerber would be worthwhile no matter what. Luckily, it turned out to be a standout series for the whole year.

Some titles I would stick in the Honorable Mentions category are Spaceman, Dial H, Uncanny X-Force, Daredevil, Wonder Woman, and Garth Ennis' run on The Shadow. While none of these books rocked my world, they were all far more good than bad this year, and are series that I'd strongly recommend to others.

Finally, 2012 was my first and only full year of reading Hellblazer. I only jumped onto that series in the middle of last year, but Milligan's work made me fall in love right away. I was looking forward to a long future with what seemed like the stablest book on the shelves, but alas, we're now only three issues from the last one ever. I'll have to be happy with what I got (and eventually catch up on the 250+ issues that precede my introduction to the series), and what I got was several very strong stories with some brilliant, memorable, unsettling art. Most of which was drawn by Giuseppe Camuncoli, who I love. So 2012 will always be a significant one for me and Hellblazer, whether it was one of the year's best series or not. I imagine that's true for many fans, since this is the year we found out it was ending.

I guess that's it for the comicbook highlights of my year. On to the next one.

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