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Confessions No. 77: My Favorite Comics of 2011

Logo by Dw. Dunphy

And now…it’s time for me to get in on the listmania at this special time of the year, and present to you my list of THE BEST COMICS OF 2011!

 

…best that I have read, that is…

 

Yes, even though I do peruse a veritable plethora of comics every year, El Guapo, I do not read everything…and thus my list will be woefully incomplete. But, what I can do is let you know what I thought was the best of this past year out of what I did read, and the results will be below. Lest I imply favoritism, I will list them alphabetically. I hope some will surprise you, and by all means please let me know how full of it I am if you so choose.

And it goes like this.

Batwoman (DC Comics)

Ostensibly one of the New 52, but in the works for much longer, we finally got the debut of Kate Kane in 2011. Too bad co-creator Greg Rucka isn’t still on board (I really would have liked to have seen him write Cameron Chase), but fortunately other co-creator J.H. Williams III is, and he makes this automatically worth the price of admission with his stunning artwork, even when the storyline doesn’t seem to have a lot of depth. Oh, hell, I can’t even be objective when Chase, one of my favorite comics characters, is involved…so while I’m a little nonplussed by Williams and cowriter W. Haden Blackman’s somewhat flat portrayal, I’m delighted to have her back just the same. Soon, pinch-hitting artist Amy Reeder will get her turn, and the advance art I’ve seen from her look wonderful…so this appears to be in good hands for the near future.

Carbon Grey (Image)

And now, here’s where I lose some of you, I think. Remember, I said this was my personal list, and it just so happens that this somewhat unheralded miniseries managed to combine several things which captured my fancy- the alternate-universe semi-steampunk World War I setting, for example; a group of (darned attractive, of course) sisters, pledged to protect the royal family but undermined by court intrigues; plus, the byline of Khari Evans, another creator whose presence always ensures my interest, and usually cash as well. The script, credited to four different people- Hoang Nguyen, Paul Gardner, Evans, and Mike Kennedy- teeters on the edge of incoherence at odd times but never falls in, and as I understand it this initial miniseries was just the tip of the iceberg as far as the big picture goes. 2011 saw the trade collection, where it does parse better (why yes, I bought the trade too- in for a penny) than it did in single installments, as well as the first issue of the 2-part Carbon Grey: Origins which (as you may infer from the name) explored the family history of the Grey sisters. Trouble clouds on the horizon, though- of the miniseries creators, only Gardner returned (though Evans did contribute a four-pager about the Greys’ father ). Anyway, we will see what we will see. Regardless, I can recommend the first trade for the creative committee-driven worldbuilding and the gorgeous art. I hope that it doesn’t give off too much of a Sucker Punch smell for the rest of you.
Chester 5000 (Top Shelf)
I’d been reading Jess Fink’s fun and sexy romp via her LiveJournal for a long time before this collection came out…it’s great to see it all in one place. She combines puckish humor and a impish cartooning style as she presents her wonderfully filthy robot-love story. Prudes need not bother.
Criminal: The Last of the Innocent (Marvel/Icon)
In which Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips take their noir-trope Criminal series in a meta-textual direction, simultaneously celebrating, mocking, and evoking Archie comics in this story of a fellow who contrives to kill his rich-bitch wife, set up his old friend/rival for the crime, take her old bastard of a father for a ton of money, and returns hom to his hometown to reconnect with the sweet, loyal girl he left behind, as well as his substance-abusing best pal. I think you can fill in the blanks without too much trouble. It’s the whole extra level (that some may find gimmicky, but to hell with them) that this has that makes it the best Criminal series in quite some time, and that makes it a very good thing indeed. But don’t take my word for it…
Daredevil (Marvel)

After years and years of angst-ridden, perpetually suffering Matt Murdock and the awful, awful burden of his alter ego, Mark Waid has decided that Matthew has done his penance and reimagines this title as a lighter-in-tone superhero adventure…but what sets this series apart from the run of the mill is that Waid seems to have done a lot of thinking before he undertook this endeavor; thinking about all the things that makes superheroes tick, lawyers practice law, and make effect follow cause, and the extra effort, incongruously enough for such a seemingly effortless, light read, pays off big time. Also, he’s been fortunate to have excellent art collaborators in Paolo Rivera, no stranger to thoughtful preparation himself, and Marcos Martin, he of the graceful line and dynamic layout. Read this Daredevil, and you will know that yes, Virginia, superheroes can be entertaining.

 

Habibi (Pantheon Books)

This gets over for me because of two things- Craig Thompson’s lavish art, and the heartening positivity of the final summup at the end. There are haters aplenty, for sure, and some of them even have a point…but the pros far outweigh the cons in my book.

 

Locke and Key (IDW)

Actually, 2011 saw the release of the last couple of issues of chapter four (“Keys to the Kingdom”), and the first couple of issues of chapter five (“Clockworks”), as well as a somewhat irrelevant but no less well-done one-shot special. Continued gripping fantasy/supernatural drama, by Joe (son of Stephen King) Hill, and spectacularly illustrated by Gabriel (son of Mr. Rodriguez, I suppose) Rodriguez. The TV series didn’t materialize, but it didn’t look that great anyway…here is where the action is.

 

Love & Rockets: New Stories #4 (Fantagraphics)

Jaime Hernandez in top form, following up his already-classic “Browntown” and the first part of  “The Love Bunglers”  with the touching finale of the latter as well as an equally marvelous return-to-Hoppers interlude, “Return to Me”. Jaime didn’t need the last couple of issues of L&R:NS to make his already stellar rep, but I’d think these stories will be revered and referred to for decades to come. Don’t mean to downplay Gilbert’s contributions- they’re as solid as ever- but the last couple of issues have been Jaime’s masterpieces and are absolutely essential if you’ve ever cared for Ray, Maggie, Hopey or any of these characters for the last three decades, and a hell of a good read even if you are unfamiliar with them except by reputation. After #3, I wondered what he would do for an encore, and my question was answered in spades. However, once more I find myself wondering…

 

Scalped (DC/Vertigo)

Sure, sure, it’s an amalgam of 70s B-movie and 90′s action thriller tropes, not to mention a generous dollop of soap opera, but no one has done it better, nor has anyone given us characters more brilliantly realized, than Jason Aaron and his art collaborator R.M. Guera. Heading into its home stretch before its conclusion, and over fifty issues in, I still have no idea what will happen and who, if anyone, will be left standing.

 

Sergio Aragones Funnies (Bongo)
Sergio’s been around so long, and has been so consistently good for such an extended period of time, that I think he’s getting taken for granted and that’s too bad…what we have here is six (so far) collections of convivially told stories- some biographical, some fictional, by a master storyteller who seems to just be getting warmed up. Hopefully, sales won’t get worse, so we will get to see where he goes from here.
Thunderbolts (Marvel)
While Daredevil is tough competition, I do believe that this is the best cape comic on the racks right now from any company. Jeff Parker has an unerring ability to make his diverse cast of nominal supervillians-compelled-to-be-”heroes” interesting, no matter what situation they find themselves in, be it earthquake, time travel (and I generally don’t care for time travel stories at all), or plain old superhero-fight. He seems committed and comfortable, and he never fails to disappoint, giving shades and dimensions to characters like the Fixer, Juggernaut, obscure Steranko Nick Fury opponent Centurius, and especially longtime favorite of mine Satana. I hope he writes this title for another ten years, and I bet he could. As usual, as so often is the case, he has some outstanding art collaborators- Declan Shalvey and Kev Walker alternate story arcs, and while both have somewhat dissimilar styles, they do compliment each other very well and are never less than stellar, bringing Parker’s nuanced side to light…and yeah, they are both aces with the action stuff as well. Can’t discount the work of the colorist, Frank Martin, who does wonders with the ol’ Photoshop. Dave Brothers makes my case better than I can.

 

Xombi (DC)

Perhaps my favorite comic series of 2011. I’ve read and enjoyed Rozum’s work before, most notably his earlier Vertigo series Midnight, Mass., but nothing prepared me for the sheer barking mad imagination he brought to bear on this short-lived series. Perhaps if I’d read the previous mid-90′s Milestone imprint run I might have (and I did not long after) been a little more prepared, but be that as it may, it’s cancelled now, yet another victim of the reluctant-to-experience-new-things mentality that dominates the marketplace. One big advantage that this series had that the previous didn’t was the wonderful digitally-painted art of Frazer Irving, who constantly amused and amazed, quite often on each page. If you missed the boat, a collection is coming. Hopefully it will sell well enough to make DC consider another go-round, but I won’t hold my breath.

Zegas

Michel Fiffe is an excellent interviewer and writer, and a hell of a talented artist, and this was the first of what I hope will be many more collections of his expressionistic, freewheeling series.

 

Honorable Mentions:

The Hidden: Richard Sala’s best effort in years, not the least because it tells a story which actually progresses as it goes along, rather than meanders all over the place from murder to murder. The art? Excellent as always.

Will Eisner’s The Spirit: This title kinda peaked late in 2010, with the outstanding “Frost Bite” story arc as well as the “Return of Jimmy Bauhaus”, which wrapped early in 2011. Later issues weren’t quite as strong, but they always had excellent art, by Moritat and others. Hats off to David Hine and Moritat for doing something a lot of fine creators haven’t been able to do- breathe new life into Eisner’s venerable character. Shame it got overlooked due to the rest of the underwhelming and underperforming First Wave line.

John Constantine: Hellblazer: Constantine’s series has been coming out for so long now, with a variety of people at the helm, that I think many are taking it for granted…and it doesn’t help that DC is giving us a Constantine Lite in its New 52 titles as well. Those who aren’t getting this have missed the strongest showing in many a moon for ol’ Conjob, courtesy of Peter Milligan and (mostly) Giuseppi Camuncoli. The latest issue, in which John-boy ruminates on the history of a sinister Satanic book of spells that was apparently once in the possession of none other than Marc Bolan, was one of my favorite of the year.

Anya’s Ghost: Nicely done long-form graphic novel debut for Vera Brosgol, featuring a less-than-endearing heroine and an even more troublesome ghost who attaches herself to her. Vera’s art is never less than outstanding, and I’ll always check it out, no matter where it appears.

21: The Story of Roberto Clemente: Imaginatively presented biocomic. The only issue I had with it was that it was a bit too reverent towards his subject, who really comes across as too good to be true…which, I suppose, is consistent with the now 38-year-old legend.

Mister Wonderful: More Dan Clowes angst and ambivalence, yet as always with him the presentation is the thing and I found myself, once more, interested in people I surely wouldn’t be in the hands of a lesser creator.

Who is Jake Ellis?: Wonderfully drawn by Tonci Zonjic, another of the Sons of Toth, Caniff and Sickles (see also Tommy Lee Edwards, John Paul Leon and others) that we’ve seen pop up in the last decade or two, and thank God for them. That said, I was a bit disappointed in the ending, which erred on the side of the potential sequel side. Still very much worth your time.

Paying For It: Chester Brown’s latest was somewhat distant and offputting, especially if you’re anti-sex work, but no less engrossing. Not for everyone, but I liked it.

American Vampire: Still plugging away at a high level, though what with spinoffs and fill-ins it seems to be losing momentum as its writer plays with Batman.

Snarked: A clever kid’s comic for clever kids of all ages.

Doom Patrol: I thought Giffen’s angst-ridden yet still darkly humorous take on this venerable property was the best since Grant Morrison so long ago. Apparently not many others agreed. The artist go round towards the end didn’t help, and the art was never the strong suit from day one. I will always be indebted to Giffen for bringing back Super-Hip, as he did with a couple of issues to go.

Gingerbread Girl: Colleen Coover is always, always worth your time…but this didn’t work for me like I wanted it to thanks to a hard-to-like central character and a meandering tone.

The Sixth Gun: This one succumbed to meandering, too in 2011. But the quality (especially the Brian Hurtt art) is still high and I am confident that writer Cullen Bunn’s long-range plan is a good one.

The Boys: Garth Ennis changed artists, but kept unrolling his labyrinthine deconstruction of the superhero genre. He decided to go the disappointing “team disintegrating” route, but they were never that tight anyway, plus I’m so invested that I’m in for the duration no matter what. Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker was a not-bad miniseries spinoff that gave us some background on arguably the book’s most interesting character.

Hellboy: The Fury: “THE DEATH OF HELLBOY”, trumpeted the advance hype, and that sort of audience intelligence underestimation kinda put me off to this otherwise fine installment of the ongoing, and I stress ongoing, Hellboy story. Otherwise, typically terse and well-done Mignola script, and Duncan Fregredo remains one of my favorite artists. But the great resolution was no great shakes, and the hype put me off, so honorable mention it is.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few, and I’ll probably add them if/when they occur to me. Anyway, thanks for reading, and I hope each and every one of you out there has a Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday, Happy Festivus, Happy Hanukkah, Kwazy Kwanzaa, or whatever you choose, if you choose. A Happy New Year, as well. See you in 2012!