Well, it’s that time of the year: the time when every obsessive with an Internet connection (and some obsessives, like me, without one) make lists. Best Album of 2012 leads into Worst Album of 2012 and culminates in Best Comeback Performance in 2012 Of An Artist Who Started His Career in the 1980s But Suffered Setbacks In The 90s.
We here at read/RANT like to keep things pretty simple. We talk about what we know: comics. Also, sometimes, TV and movies. We’re Renaissance Men, capable of being interested in many things at once. But, admittedly, it’s mostly comics.
Last year, there was just a single list: The 10 Best Graphic Novels of 2011. This year, I’m splitting my Top 10 into two separate lists: Top 10 Ongoings – what you are reading now – and an upcoming book on the Top 10 Graphic Novels. There are some books that may be thrilling as ongoings, but only very good as collections – or books that had a fantastic year, but don’t yet have a collection released!
So I’m hoping this will help bring a little diversity to the lists. We’ll see. Anyway, click through for the first list: The Top 10 Ongoing Comics of 2012, then chime in down in the comments and let me know what your favorite books were this year!
10. Glory (Image)
It may lack the sophistication of Image’s Prophet (also a part of the Extreme Comics relaunch), Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell have crafted a thrillingly readable, ultraviolent take on Wonder Woman, which reimagines the character as a savage warrior goddess who lives as Earth’s only defender between two rival alien armies. Thanks in large part to Campbell’s art – particularly his designs for both the monstrous foes Glory faces and his ‘roided up version of the heroine with a doll-like face – Glory is one of the most viscerally readable books on the shelves today. Bloody, fun, and just a little bit off, Glory is action comics for people who got sick of how tame and repetitive action comics often are.
9. Wonder Woman(DC)
Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s Wonder Woman is divisive, uneven, and, frequently, absolutely thrilling. Azzarello’s over-reliance on corny wordplay and occasionally slack plotting does hurt the book a little, but then you get things like Wonder Woman #12, which reintroduces the New Gods to the DCnU in thrilling fashion while wrapping up a year-long story arc with some fantastic action sequences. Chiang’s designs for the Greek gods are wonderful – they may lack the elegance of the gods from Rucka’s run, but I like the inhuman nature they have in this volume. Azzarello’s run may be flawed, but it’s still a joy to read a Wonder Woman book interested in world-building, a book that looks forward rather than reflecting on the character’s complicated past.
Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have had a bit of an uneven year on the title. Some issues – like the fantastic Batman #12 – have been almost unbelievably good, while others – like the embarrassing Batman #11 – border on unreadable. But, overall, the title has been good – very good, in fact, or it wouldn’t be on this list. The “Court of Owls” storyline had some genuinely creepy, fantastically memorable issues – the labyrinthine Batman #5 stands out – and his reintroduction of the Joker near the end of the year has come with some of the best work of Capullo’s career. Like Wonder Woman, the book is disappointingly uneven; also like Wonder Woman, when it’s on, it’s almost unbeatable. Here’s to hoping Snyder and Capullo stay this ambitious and exciting.
7. Daredevil (Marvel)
Mark Waid’s groundbreaking Daredevil has shown that the character has a great deal of life left in him, even outside the strict template legendary writer Frank Miller set for the character nearly 30 years ago. Abandoning the dark, gritty art for something with a little more pop and giving Daredevil himself a devil-may-care attitude shouldn’t have worked, but in the title’s second year, Waid continued to push the title in darker and more unpredictable directions, without ever abandoning his fundamental changes to Matt’s world. There are almost no characters with as many stone-cold classic runs as Daredevil, and Waid shows every single month why he deserves to be on that list. Daredevil #12, featuring a date between Matt and new love-interest Kirsten McDuffie, is a highlight of Waid’s lighter touch, while Daredevil #15, which follows Matt on the run in Latveria, has as dark an ending as anything Miller, Brubaker or Bendis ever dreamed up. One of Marvel’s most consistently excellent titles.
The only reason Hawkeye isn’t higher on this list is because it’s so new – Matt Fraction and David Aja have crafted what could very well become Marvel’s best book in a hurry, and if they keep it up, will be one of the company’s most well-respected runs ever in just a few short years. Part of that is Fraction’s writing, which follow’s titular archer Hawkeye when he’s not with the Avengers – Fraction characterizes Clint as a fun-loving everyman, the hero of the common people, and bringing Kate Bishop into the title was exactly what the book needed to keep growing – but the real star of the book is the art team. David Aja proved on The Immortal Iron Fist that he is one of the best artists working today when it comes to action; here, he expands his repertoire by including innovative, exciting page layouts and a playful sense of energy that few comics ever maintain. This is one to watch for.
5. I, Vampire(DC)
I, Vampire writer Joshua Hale Fialkov knows his way around a plot twist. In an era of clumsy last-page kills masquerading as cliffhangers, Fialkov knows how to twist and manipulate the status quo into new and baffling shapes, while remaining true enough to the characters to keep the book recognizable. Whether it was the genuinely shocking conclusion to I, Vampire #12 – which changed the story from an underdog superhero story to a survival horror one in a single, masterful stroke – its brilliant follow-up in I, Vampire #13, or the shocking twist at the end of I, Vampire #6 that set it all into motion, Fialkov has built up a set of memorable, distinct characters and then put them through hell. None of it would work without Andrea Sorrentino and Marcelo Maiolo on art, who together have crafted an incredibly moody, atmospheric style that fits the book flawlessly. Hands down, I, Vampire is the best book DC is publishing on a monthly basis.
4. Prophet (Image)
Prophet is difficult to describe but thrilling to read. A relaunch of Rob Liefeld’s old Extreme Comics series, Brandon Graham takes the book in a retro Eurocomics direction that works wonders, breathing fresh life into stale characters and crafting an epic, expansive science fiction story. The book follows a mostly-silent hero trekking across the blasted wasteland of an alien planet on a mission that could help save Earth — or does it? Only a few issues into the series, Graham dropped a bombshell plot twist on us that completely changed the nature of the book, and opened up a whole host of new storytelling possibilities. Joined by some of the most talented indie comic artists available, Graham’s Prophet sometimes resembles an artier take on grindhouse fare, but the mastery displayed by Graham, Dalrymple, Roy and others on the title cannot be denied. There are few books I’m more excited to see on the shelves every month.
3. Adventure Time(Boom! Studios)
Adventure Time the show is a lively, energetic cartoon that can appeal to people of all ages and has a sly, expansive sense of humor; Ryan North’s Adventure Time comic is, somehow, even more anarchic and unpredictable. Most recently in a gut-bustingly funny Choose-Your-Own-Adventure issue (#10), the series has someone magnified the already-intense comedy of the show by figuring out what gags work best on the page, rather than simply mimicking the style of the TV show. Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics were a great example of making a lot with a little, but this is where he really shows that he knows his stuff. Adventure Time isn’t comics for kids, it’s comics for everyone with a pulse and a sense of humor.
2. Saga (Image)
I don’t know where Brian K. Vaughan finds artistic contributors like Pia Guerra (Y: The Last Man) or Saga‘s Fiona Staples, but every time her does, he puts the talent search folks at Marvel and DC to shame. Saga is not just some of Vaughan best work, combining comprehensive world-building with a surprisingly tender sci-fi story, but it’s also the mainstream ongoing debut of Fiona Staples, one of the best new artists I’ve seen in a good long while. Her creature- and world-design are brilliant (The Stalk is one of the most horrifying creatures I’ve ever seen, made all the better by Vaughan’s work at humanizing her later), her action is fluid and exciting, and her characters have personality, body-language, and distinctive features. I can’t wait to see how the book grows and changes, and I fully expect to see it on this list again next year.
1. Journey Into Mystery(Marvel)
This is possibly the highest compliment I can give to a comic: Journey Into Mystery often feels like a lost Vertigo classic. The fact that it’s in the mainstream Marvel Universe makes it all the more impressive, because Kieron Gillen’s high-concept fantasy book defies just about everything you expect from a Marvel book, and somehow manages to nevertheless feel like a vital part of the setting. Kid Loki will go down as one of Marvel’s iconic young heroes, a tortured-but-unbreakable kid with a heart of gold and a sly sense of humor… which makes his eventual fate all the more heart-breaking. Gillen’s run on the title recently came to a close in one of the year’s most tragic issues, cementing the book’s place in the pantheon of my all-time favorites. It was a tough decision for me to place this over the similarly fantastic Saga, but I’m pretty comfortable calling Journey Into Mystery my favorite comic of 2012.
– Cal Cleary