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Best Comic Books of 2011

Comic Books

Best Comic Books of 2011

Comic fans have nothing to complain about after 2011 gave us all a huge fangasm. Thor, Captain America and Green Lantern all starred in their own movies, X-Men got a new movie that wasn’t half bad, DC Comics rebooted their entire universe, Batman: Arkham City topped the previously greatest comic book video game (the first Arkham installment) and is strong contender for game of the year, and Marvel committed to something nobody was willing to do by introducing a Hispanic Spider-Man.

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  Best Comic Books of 2011

Next year may actually top this past one for drool inducing awesomeness. Five more comic book movies hit, three of which will probably explode undeveloped nerd brains: the “Impossible to meet all expectations” Dark Knight Rises, the “Oh it’s Totally a Money Making Ploy but it Looks Kind of Cool” The Amazing Spider-Man and the “OMG They are Actually Making a Team Superhero Movie Yes YES YES” The Avengers. Heck, even Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is good news since its schlocky and manic lead actor Nicolas Cage can make any turd of a film halfway fun. A recently released trailer for the semi-comic property, G.I. Joe: Retaliation actually looks good too.

As far as comics themselves, fans will probably see some interesting developments when Image celebrates its 20th anniversary, Marvel celebrates Spider-Man turning 50, Brian Bendis FINALLY leaves his Avengers books with the giant X-Men versus Avengers Summer crossover and by years end we’ll see just how successful DC’s reboot ends up being.

Best Original Graphic Novel

Best Comic Books of 2011

Congress of The Animals
By Jim Woodring
104 pages, black and white
Published by Fantagraphics

Best Comic Books of 2011
Some of the images could create deadly nightmares.

If you’re familiar with Jim Woodring you’ll know he’s a visual genius. His heavy ink style lends to the complex world he vividly creates. Creatures are extremely odd and sometimes physical impossibilities, yet they carry a weight and scope that sends your imagination wild. There are no words in his books, but words would be redundant. This is visual storytelling at it’s best. The cat like character Frank, who appears in Woodring’s other books, goes on a twisted and acid trip-like journey. Digesting each image takes work on the readers part which makes experiencing his books interactive to some extent. First to imagine what you’re seeing, and then to decipher its meaning. By story’s end the reader can’t help feel something about the story. A story that boils from imagination itself and churns your imagination as well.

Runner Up

Best Comic Books of 2011
Notice underneath the authors name it says “author of Blankets”. Yeah, that book is so popular it dons the cover of his other books. Yeesh.

by Craig Thompson
672 pages, black and white
Published by Faber & Faber

If you’ve read a comic in the last 10 years you should have heard of Craig Thompson. His last work, Blankets, was the go to book for anyone wanting to introduce comics to friends, family or sexual partners. It was a master work that contained raw emotions, great art and above all else meaning. Habibi, his longest work, has all of these things, but the story grows so tall it ends up falling down on itself.

I for one was looking forward to this book for the last 4 or so years, but quite honestly was a bit frustrated with this work. Of course this frustration is almost unfair as the book is still an impressive read that shouldn’t be missed. While the art tops anything Thompson has done before, and at times even does a better job than Woodring’s visual storytelling, the story is just too bloated. The story starts as a simple story about a girl living a hard life in squalor. She meets a young boy who she takes care of, complicated sexual tensions build and after she is stolen off things get much more complicated than they should. Sex changes and sexual slaves are only half of it. A great read but also a bit of a disappointment.

Best Series

Best Comic Books of 2011
Venom with a gun? It’s more complicated than this image implies.

Venom (Marvel)
Written by Rick Remender
Art split between Tony Moore and Tom Fowler

Venom was everyone’s favorite anti-hero in the 90’s. If you’re between the ages of 24 and 30 you’ll know what I mean. The character is just beautifully insane, chaotic and interesting. Some might say it’s all due to the look, but I like to believe it has something to do with someone living with an extra skin and the complicated addiction problems the suit brings. Remender takes this overly done character, one that was so dried up and boring Marvel threw it out and made an Anti-Venom, and injects new life into it. This time Venom is being used by famous Peter Parker bully Flash Thompson, back from the Iraq war with 2 less legs and an alcoholic father.

Best Comic Books of 2011
Now with super action spikey fingers!

The US Government gives Flash the chance to use Venom in order to go on secret ops military strikes. Flash says yes for the good of the country but is he doing it also because his life has been reduced to nothing? It’s an interesting story arc to say the least, and Remender puts Venom in some interesting situations. Venom now sports a military ops look and uses weapons and seems to always have a mission which increases it’s single issue readability. I recall Punisher donning the suit once before similarly, but Flash’s story is what sells this book.

What you get here is a lead character going through personal struggles and the action is set to high octane and Remender is always exploring the emotional ramifications of situations As long as Remender continues writing the book this is a good choice to pull of the stands each month. Remender has also been lighting it up with Uncanny X-Force and should be a writer to watch for in 2012.

Runner Up

Best Comic Books of 2011
Notice the square around Batman’s logo as if it’s a country in itself. Hmm… foreshadowing?

Batman Incorporated (DC Comics)
Written by Grant Morrison and art by various artists

Finally Batman goes on an adventure! Grant Morrison takes Batman out of his city, the one place he feels comfortable, and takes him and the reader on a wild ride. Does it all make sense and add up? Not really, but then again it’s going to continue on in 2012. The very fact that the New 52 preserved this storyline means the powers that be like where it’s going. This series lasted 8 or so issues before The New 52 butted in and needed to do some reboot work, but look out for a recent $7 dollar double sized issue that hit the stands last week that was used to finalize some threads before it comes back again next year.

If you’re unaware of Grant Morrison here’s a quick primer. The man made waves in the 90’s with The Invisibles, doing things with comics people found fascinating and trend setting. Known for political, pop- and sub-cultural references in all his works, Morrison continues his genre bending antics with Batman Incorporated doing things with story that nobody else is. After doing a throwback to the golden age with All-Star Superman Morrison was given the keys to Batman. As if DC said, “Please go forth and multiply the genius.”

Best Comic Books of 2011
Not to mention a Native American Batman. Nuff said?

And that is what Batman Incorporated is: a bit of genius. Batman hasn’t been fun in a long time and that’s partially to due with the setting, the fact that he’s a detective, but also nothing new has been done with the character since Bane broke his back.

Incorporated budded from Morrisons work on Batman and Robin, where Morrison introduced Bruce Wayne’s son growing up so that readers got something new. No longer the youthful playboy Morrison took the next logical step Batman should take into the 21st century; a world wide incorporated Batman. While the story doesn’t necessarily touch on the roots of Batman and may rub many the wrong way everyone must admit it’s something new and fresh for the character. Art by Adam Kubert only helped his cause, and at the end of the day, when our tried and true heroes are doing something different that’s a good thing.

Best Art

Best Comic Books of 2011
Liquid X-Ray machine or sexy bone image maker? You decide.

Batwoman (DC Comics)
Art by J.H. Wiliams III
Color by Dave Stewart

J.H. Williams III is a master of the two page spread. The man just knows what he’s doing on so many levels. You want something pretty and interesting to look at? Check. You want something that can tell the story visually with creative transitions? Check. You want something that makes the story flow as if it’s a fairy tale told by the Brothers Grimm themselves? Check. Case in point:

Best Comic Books of 2011

Please draw your attention to the black and white x-ray boxes. Notice wherever someone is getting punched you’ll see their bones. Ouch. Also notice Batwoman’s cape flowing across the page giving the reader the title of the story being told. Brilliant. Now notice the sepia Bat-People at the top of the page. Batwoman is mentioning the worldwide Batmen. Nice touch.

Runner Up

Best Comic Books of 2011
This image is getting its creep on.

Locke and Key (IDW)
By Gabriel Rodriguez
Written by Joe Hill

Rodriguez doesn’t get enough credit for his stellar work on Locke and Key. The book is consistently inventive and interesting to look at, but I suspect since it’s a bit cartoony people give it a once over and turn back to the hyper realistic comics. The story painted in Locke and Key is an inventive place where there are a plethora of keys that can do any wonders such as open someones head in order to pluck out or insert in memories. A key that opens a door so that you may enter the realm of spirits or one that makes you giant. Rodriguez paints all these scenes extremely well so that they are at once understood and interesting to look at. The story, written by Stephen King’s son Joe Hill, deals with a family who has lost their father and husband, and when it began seems like a haunted house yarn.

Best Comic Books of 2011
Feel the emotion in the drawings. FEEL IT!

It has since budded into a interesting and fascinating story that revolves around a rich history and flourishes in the imaginative moments its fantasy readers so desire.

Best New 52 DC Comic

Best Comic Books of 2011

Demon Knights (DC Comics)
Written by Paul Cornell
Art by a bunch of folks

Finally a comic book set in a fantasy realm that works. The one gem that has come out of The New 52 is the back story the universe needed. Now Gotham has a history that goes back to the old west and it appears this book is writing the history for the entire universe set in the Dark Ages. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s stuffy though, as the book mixes magic and old fashion blood and guts.

Best Comic Books of 2011
Ah, Dino fighting in the Dark Ages. History 101 for anyone who hasn’t read a book.

The book takes your standard Ocean’s Eleven or Seven Samurai story of a bunch of warriors and bands them together to fight a common evil. While it’s not going to win a Pulitzer it’s a fun ride in a world that desperately needs some representation in the comic word.

Runner Up

Best Comic Books of 2011
In all honesty this image screams, “I’m a suicidal maniac!”

Wonder Woman (DC Comics)
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Cliff Chiang

Brian Azzarello is writing a very good leading female book and quite honestly I knew he could do it. With his work on 100 Bullets Azzarello is a master of dialogue and pacing and that makes him a master at genuine characters and genuine speech. Wonder Woman this go around isn’t a cliched super model or a noble idiot. She’s a warrior who’s conflicted about her childhood and upbringing. The story has yet to pan out, but things are looking to get even more interesting in the next few issues. Artist Cliff Chiang is creating a very gritty world for Wonder Woman, which is important as she’s clearly being written as a berserker type warrior who knows how to fight. The Greek Gods tying into her back story and universe could be considered a bit silly at face value, but so far is believable enough.

Best Comic you’re probably not reading

Best Comic Books of 2011
Aaaaaand boom goes the dynamite.

Secret Avengers (Marvel)
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by a bunch of folks

This book delivers you’re classic one in done adventure typically with some nice golden age nonsense to spice it up. Warren Ellis continues to add great dialogue to a cast that is a motley crew to say the least. To see Beast rib Captain America, or Moon Knight go bonkers while attempting to disable a bomb is a thing of beauty. Each issue is fun, exciting and contains more bang for your buck each week than 95% of the books on the shelves. This is a great purchase as long as Ellis is writing.

Runner Up

Best Comic Books of 2011

Green Wake (Image)
Written by Kurtis Wiebe
Art by Riley Rossmo

If you’re a fan of David Lynch you might dig this book. Set in Green Wake, a place that is very odd and seems to be a type of purgatory, the protagonist is a detective working on solving some strange activity in the already strange Green Wake. The painted pages are dream like in nature, and if the story confuses you the panels will surely keep you wanting more. It’s definitely a book for grown ups.

It might get better yet…

What a year we had in comic books, and quite honestly it’s been a surprising one. I found myself reading more indie books and far less of the big two’s books. The story that came from Marvel’s bloated and long winded Fear Itself summer event was tired and wasted it’s stories with Thor for the year. When you have two giant movies hitting theaters why stick the characters in an unfriendly to new reader storyline? It also killed the almost perfect run Matt Fraction has had on Invincible Iron Man. X-Men Schism reads like another wasted attempt to grab dollars and say nothing. Wolverine and Cyclops are fighting again and really who cares? And no matter how many good books that came out of The New 52 it budded from a summer event that was desperately uninteresting known as Flashpoint. For some odd reason DC Comics feels the need to instill overly complicated and convoluted storytelling in their big event books. Blackest Night started interesting, but then decided to get so complicated a reader needed to purchase 200 dollars worth of comics to understand the most minute decisions made by the heroes.

Best Comic Books of 2011
Coming in 2012. The Marvel/DC Comics event: Boring Bloated Bonanza! A 17 part series!

These woes ended up giving me some interesting reads I wouldn’t normally have tried after dropping many books from my pull list. The desperately weird Green Wake, the cinematic yet slow Severed and the morality-play that is HALCYON would all have gone unread if my budget didn’t get slashed from the big two creating unreadable event books. I previously never read DC Comics, but the New 52 has breathed new life into many series. This can probably be attributed to great writers like Brian Azzarelo and Scott Snyder taking over some flagship books, but a new direction made seemingly stale characters more interesting over night.

Now that DC Comics is bringing in more revenue than ever, and stealing much of it from Marvel, here’s hoping next year see’s better storytelling across the board from Marvel and at the same time DC Comics continues it’s upward direction.

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