Published on January 16th, 2012 | by Michael Harris0
A Week Late #16 – 2011-In-Review
BIG OL’ DISCLAIMER: This article contains major spoilers regarding many series of the last year in both Marvel and DC comics. If you would rather not have things spoiled, don’t read this quite yet. Also, I do understand that many of the covers that I used for the article came out in January this year, and it was mostly because I was too lazy to get the last one from December. Sorry.
Here at the Website of DOOM, we like to keep our readership updated on the goings and comings of the world in a timely manner. This is why I have waited until it was nearly irrelevant and almost ridiculous to provide the world with my choices for the best comic books of 2011.
My article output for this year has been, quite honestly, horrific. I have managed to produce less than 10 articles in a 12 month span, and most of those were within the same 3 month period. Rather than promise improvement and tell you other lies like “Santa Claus is real” and “he [Santa] doesn’t hate you” I’m going to simply not talk about it anymore.
To be fair, I am a very busy people and, unlike Aaron, I lack the will to post at all hours of the day about all sorts of things. I attribute this to many things. Most recently, my excuse has been insecurity with the quality of my rantings as opposed to lack of time which I have had an abundance of while on break from school. Much of that time has been spent catching up on comic books, reading, and receiving gifts and praise from my adoring fans.
Top 10 Ongoing Series of the Year:
Following last year’s impressive run, Nicieza brought out the very best in Tim Drake and produced some great comics. Red Robin was never a perfect comic book, there was some forced modernization with the use of twitter and occasionally l33tspeak dialogue creeped in, but it was always a fun book to read. It characterized the doubt that Tim felt with his desire, more than any other Robin, to be his own kind of hero. Impressively, Tim goes toe-to-toe with Ra’s Al Ghul and his league of assassins and thrives. While the series was cut short of its full potential by the reboot, Nicieza still wrapped up the story as nicely as can be expected while maintaining some resolution about Tim’s father and Captain Boomerang. Sadly, this Tim did not survive the reboot and can now be seen whining about borrowed sweaters and wearing an all-too-complicated costume with wings. Marcus To continues to be the one of the few people who can draw a believable teenage superhero without it looking ridiculous.
Of the 8 issues that this series has produces, only 5 of them came out last year, however, despite unreasonable inconsistency, this book has been one of my most anticipated stories on every purchase. Heinberg and Cheung have done a fine job of creating a book with incredible scale and magnitude without seeming like a keystone event in the Marvel universe. Looking at the timeline, and being completely geeky about it, taking into account costuming, team setup and team consistency, this event takes place either way before the events of Fear Itself or way after, either of which makes it impressive that its still so very relevant. The crux of the story is the discovery of the very much alive Scarlet Witch after the events of House of M and the reaction of various groups to this news. The reactions of some characters are probably the weakest point of the story, whether it be Scott’s overblown “I’m taking her whether you like it or not” reaction or Wolverine’s “kill her and ask questions later” approach, it all seems a little bit silly. Yes, the mutants will have strong opinions about the woman that etch-a-sketch’ed almost the entire species, but this conversation has taken place many times since House of M and always ends up with regret and a lot of people being grumpy. I have to wonder if this book is going to lead directly into the AvX book in March or if it will simply be used as another background story.
Atomic Robo, for those who are unfamiliar, is a chronicling of the multiple adventures of an Atomic powered robot, invented by Nikolai Tesla, now about a hundred years old and with the experiences that one would expect of a dinosaur punching, vampire shooting, science hero. Each Atomic Robo story takes place over 4 – 6 issues with a break in between and according to their Team Robo Promise, they continually produce clever, funny, and often touching comic books that are absolutely delightful to read. That being said, 2011 was a big year for Atomic Robo. We had the conclusion of Atomic Robo and the Deadly Art of Science story arc, their annual Free Comic Book Day issue, and the first four issues of Atomic Robo and the Ghost of Station X. The one and only drawback to this otherwise perfect comic book is the delay between series. Yes, this keeps the quality at a high, but there are Robo withdrawls that take place during the greater part of the year while waiting.
There are two things that I’m fairly certain of in comic books. 1) Grant Morrison will always frustrate the hell out of me and 2) I will follow Grant Morrison to the ends of both Earth and Earth 2. In Batman, Inc. Morrison started what seemed like a fairly straightforward story of a worldwide organization dedicated to the evangelizing of the Batman culture. However, this quickly turned into a series of plots twists (retconning Kathy Kane into a secret agent) from villains that you’ve probably never heard of (Lord Death Man and Scorpiana) working for Doctor Daedalus and ultimately an even more powerful Leviathan, that are ever more nefarious and go back further than you’ve ever imagined because Grant Morrison writes the super longplay plotlines that take about a decade to fully develop (and fully read). The series never disappointed and was simply an amazing work of plotting and character development. I can’t wait to read more of it in the second wave of the 52.
I could weigh this series on its own, but seeing as how Scott Snyder has done such amazing work on Batman with Detective Comics #871-881 and Gates of Gotham, both of which also ended in 2011, it becomes necessary to view them as one work. Snyder understands what is necessary of great Batman storys. It doesn’t need to be overtly gory or excessively violent (I’m looking at you David Finch/Tony Daniel) but it should be a good mystery and should remember that Batman is the world’s greatest detective and one of the worlds smartest men and not simply focus on his ability to beat up henchmen and thugs. Snyder has created a villain(s) in the Court of Owls that not only tests his detective nature by making a mystery that Batman has never solved, but also ties the mystery back to Gotham’s and the Wayne family history, all while creating a threatening physical opponent. I can’t wait to see where he goes in issues 5 and beyond.
The Walking Dead is ubiquitous to the point of frustration in the average life of a nerd. The comic book is everywhere, in bookstores, in libraries and in my home and the TV show is constantly being talked about and debated on television, in comic book stores, in workplaces, and in my home. I can’t seem to get away from the behemoth that Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore created nearly 10 years ago. To be honest, I will be one of the first to line up and tell you the problems I have with both the show and the comic, but I’ll also defend them to a fault. Yes, the characters talk. A lot. Yes, the zombies are often few and far between for a book named after them, but the zombies are never what was interesting and never the intended stars of the story. What makes this one of the best comic books this year and every other year is Kirkman and Moore’s ability to create a unique horror-survival story that is surprising, powerful, and above all very human while the rest of the comic world seems to be pushing for the superhuman.
Looking at this entry, you might be asking yourself a few questions. Am I forgetting Ultimate X-Men? No, I am not. Did I cheat by using all three of these books instead of just picking one? Maybe. Did they deserve it? Absolutely.
I tried to look at the the new Ultimates universe as a whole instead of the disparate parts. It became a problem when I tried to also include the X-Men, which has been disappointing for a few reasons. 1) Nick Spencer and the powers that be at Marvel have turned the mutant x-gene into midichlorians, which is something I cannot abide. 2) Styrker is a frustraing villain in many respects. I never enjoyed reading books where he was the villain and his son is no exception, Ultimate universe or not. 3) Xavier looks like Lex Luthor and thinks he’s God, none of this seems ok.
But the reason why this is number 4 on my list is because Hickman and Bendis have done an amazing job at reviving a universe that had been absolutely floundering. Ultimate Spider-Man was great, but seeing them push into unknown territory with Miles is fun. Its great experiencing a new hero’s origin story and having it tie in so well thematically with whats going on in the other books. Ultimates and Hawkeye are great simply because Hickman has such an eye for high-end science and the grand scale necessary for the Ultimates universe. Reed Richards returning at the head of an army of bio-engineered humanoids that seem to be perfected genetically and Xorn being introduced as twin brothers at the head of a new Chinese nation run by genetically modified super-mutants. Its just beautiful stuff.
It’s hard to put some of the 52 on the best of list. They were only introduced near the end of the year and with only 4 or 5 issues, the stories are hardly done, but the intertwined storylines of Swamp Thing and Animal Man (Animal Man far more than the latter) are far and away the most impressive and surprising thing I saw out of DC last year. Animal Man refreshed a series that was sitting on the backburner of DC properties, having had much of its potential seemingly burnt out in Grant Morrison’s incredible run. However, Jeff Lemire showed us that its not all about punchin’ bad guys and saving the day. Sometimes, you have to deal with supernatural forces that want nothing more than to use your daughter as an avatar for their power that is based upon the animals of the world to defend against the counterpoint of life, “the rot”. In the first issue of Animal Man I knew I was reading something special. The story was new and shocking and the art of Travel Foreman was a perfect match to the story. Swamp Thing was slightly less impressive, and wouldn’t be on this list on its own, but because the stories are so intertwined, I feel that I have to put them on the list together.
Last year, I felt that I couldn’t put Uncanny X-Force on my list because there was only the one issue released by the start of 2011. Impressively, Remender and the artists manage to put out 14 issues for this year, 14 absolutely stellar issues that brought back to the fore one of the best things that Marvel has done in the past…ever with the Age of Apocalypse universe. With a team of incredible artists that all worked nearly seamlessly together to create an atmosphere of darkness and desperation for this killer team, Remender has presented a storyline that has made him instantly and permanently one of my favorite writers. Great things were accomplished in this run including the reinroduction of Deathlok in a big bad way, killing and revitalizing Apocalypse as a villain/hero, shedding some light on the origins of the mysterious Fantomex, giving Psylocke some very strong character moments, and writing the least annoying and frustrating versions of Deadpool that I’ve encountered. This is definitely something I can’t wait to read more of and hope that it isn’t cancelled anytime soon.
*GASP*! I didn’t make Uncanny X-Force #1!? How could I possibly not make Wolverine’s X-Force, the most highly regarded comic book of the year, that was at the top of nearly every other top 10 list for the year, my personal number one comic book? Because I am a whore for Jonathan Hickman.
Over the past year Jonathan Hickman has written better stories, more stories, and more entertaining stories than any other writer. If I could include S.H.I.E.L.D. on here, I would, or even Secret Warriors which had a very satisfying and epic ending that makes me miss Nick Fury all the more in this restructured Marvel universe. However, I didn’t add those books to the list because they wouldn’t have worked and I really couldn’t justify their addition. These two, on the other hand, are absolutely amazing. With 4 issues of Fantastic Four and an additional 11 issues of FF released and the anniversary #600, the writing and art of the whole team is nothing short of prolific. Hickman has woven a truly epic story over the course of his 30 (so far) issues which has redefined the strength of the Fantastic Four, established Johnny Storm as an astonishing hero in his own right, created a perfect little team out of Franklin, Valeria, Dr. Doom, and Nathaniel Richards, and turned Galactus into an improbable hero in a battle between the Kree, the Inhumans, Johnny Storm’s Annihilation Wave, the mysterious Celestials, and the League of Reed’s. I can’t say enough about how incredible this book has been, from the simple fun of finding a temporary cure for Ben Grimm to the wives of Black Bolt and Sue Storms command over the five armies. Just…read it.
I, of course, could give you a recommendation for Graphic Novel of the year again. Blanket’s author Craig Thompson has done some near-perfect work on Habibi that I haven’t finished reading. Daniel Clowes did something…interesting with The Death-Ray that I read and really didn’t care for and I know that Hark! A Vagrant and Big Questions have been getting some great reviews that didn’t match up with the books that I read. Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate the use of comics as a literary tool to tell any type of story and not just have the comics medium limited to superhero stories by the big publishers. I just can’t deal with the pretention of Daniel Clowes or Chris Ware fans and people who praise books like Blankets, Habibi or Asterios Polyp while criticizing and ridiculing “superhero” books as being “only for kids” never having given them a chance. The worst offense is that these people recommend the books to libraries, where they are ordred without consideration because of this recommendation only to sit on shelves, never checking out and hiding in the corners while great books, amazing stories like Promethea, Daytripper, and Northlanders never get a chance for exposure in the library system because USA Today and The Guardian and Salon.com all gave great reviews to these more “legitimate” and “acceptable” comics that just so happen to be the same books that will never bring in new readers under the age of 20. (run-on sentences are fun)