Saturday, December 31, 2011

Five Comic Picks of 2011

Okay. So, honesty first. I've not updated this blog enough. I've still got quite a lot to say, but the need to work has taken over most of my writing. If you don't also follow my art blog I share with my wife, I just put up a a good post explaining how much we're working on. 

In addition, as mentioned over there a ton but, it looks like, not really at all here, we launched our webcomic back in October! If you haven't seen it, please check it out. We're both working our butts off on it: Of Stars and Swords.

So that out of the way, here's a slightly different kind of post for this blog that fits in with the fact that it's the last day of the year. I don't like lists, and I don't like putting things in a ranked order, but I can at least mention some comics that were, for me, the best of the year. I'll keep it five, since any more than that and I'll just ramble on until another year has passed.

And in no particular order, here are my comic picks of the past year.

NOTE: Click the images to get a better look! (I feel terrible constantly saying that, but...)

Daredevil: Mark Waid, Marcos Martin, and Paolo Rivera have put a new life to a hero I always enjoyed but tended to mostly ignore overall. This book is on quite a few 'top comics of 2011' lists and for damn good reason. Mark Waid is telling a story that is fun, enjoyable, and not at all the painfully depressing stories that poor Daredevil has been stuck in the last two decades. Now, those dark stories aren't bad. Some of the best things ever are right in those by amazing writers, but the current Daredevil book is just a fun read. Heavy things happen, but it doesn't weigh the reader down.

And the art. Marcos Martin and Paolo Rivera have just killed on the art. It is one of the most beautiful books out there right now. I'm just going to pick one image for each artist to show off, but each issue is full of pages you can stare at for days. In a good way. How these two artists are finding ways to depict Daredevil's sonar vision constantly amazes me, as well as the strong uses of sound effects to highlight his hearing.

It's just all around good.

Journey into Mystery: Thor's evil half-brother Loki died a year or so back in the comics. He's been back as a kid lately, not so evil and trying to be good while still being the God of Tricks you'd expect. That basically sums up the main character, a kid trying not to be his former self. But there's so much more to this book and I have a hard time explaining why it's so good. It is another fun book, and that is always a plus to me. Loki as a kid is hilarious. He deals with technology in great ways (his early anger at being called an internet troll on forums and wondering how they could know that he's half-troll still makes me laugh).

But beyond just the fun of the character, the stories are good. This book actually has subplots, subtle character shifts and tons of moving parts that come together exactly when you wouldn't expect it in the perfect way. Nothing is left hanging, story wise. If something is left behind, you can bet there's still a story there and it'll be handled by Kieron Gillen very well when the time is right. Not to mention the one off-stories  being some of the best in comics: A literal "Devil walks into a bar..." story, an amazing Christmas story, and a great telling of the major Marvel even of the year, Fear Itself, through the eyes of the always-entertaining Volstagg.

And, again, the art is something else. This book has had a fairly large group of artists coming on and off the book in the past year, but there's been a consistent style held very well between all of them. Even when the artists change, the book feels very much the same. I'm partial to Mitch Breitweiser's art, so he's the example I'll show. That also has the plus of his wife, Elizabeth, doing the colors and she is one of the best out there right now.

The Flash: I'll admit it, I'm a Marvel guy. I always have been. That doesn't mean I don't have some DC characters I've always vaguely enjoyed without being too deep into the actual reading. Flash has always been a character I've loved the idea of, and DC's New 52 was the perfect jumping on point since everything is new again!

This book is only four issues in right now and it is absolute stunning. Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato are telling a very good superhero story and using Flash's powers in very interesting, unique ways. Not only that, but putting the Fastest Man Alive in a situation where an entire city is experiencing a simultaneous disaster is just perfect and exciting to read.

But I'll admit to there being one real reason why this book is amazing. It's all about the art here. Manapul's art has always been great, but this book is something else entirely. Page layouts are absolutely insane at times, telling things about settings just by how the panels themselves are structured. Each issue has a title page that is put together in ways I've never dreamed comics could do. And the best part? They all read absolutely perfectly. Crazy, unique layouts and perfect readability is a the holy grail in comic art for me.

FF: Much earlier this year, Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four died. But this didn't become a dead weight on the Fantastic Four as one might expect. Instead, Johnathan Hickman turned things around. The book was relaunched as FF (standing for Future Foundation) with Spider-Man taking the fourth spot on the team and then the entire cast of characters building up over Hickman's run joining together in one huge super-science super-hero team.

This book, along with Hickman's lead up to it with Fantastic Four, brought me back to the First Family of Marvel. Hickman is able to write the super-science well and tell some insane stories with it all. There are wheels within wheels within wheels here. The plots can get complicated, but never overwhelming. It just creates a way to always want to turn the page and then the hard wait for the next issue at the end.

Of the five comics I'm talking about, this is the only one where the art is not a big reason for my enjoyment. Now, that is hard to type without sounding like I hate the art. And I don't. FF has had some great artists, with Steve Epting being a guy I've always loved as an artist. His work is a highlight, and all the other artists that have been on the book have done stellar work...but with FF, for me at least, this is about the story. I'm in this for Hickman's wild story.

The Red Wing: Which leads perfectly into another Hickman work. I feel bad that this is my only indie book listed here, but it's been a damn good year for more mainstream comics in my view. The Red Wing is something else, too. It's a story about time traveling fighter pilots.

Just let that sink in.

There is nothing in that sentence that doesn't appeal to me.

The best part? That barely scratches the surface. The Red Wing is a four issue series, so it's short and straight to the point. But there is an insane amount of content in just these four issues. The plot is a mostly basic idea, but Hickman takes the time travel concepts to insanely logical lengths. This book gives headaches when you read it, and the good kind. What happens when and why are always there to be asked, and even at the end of it all...I'm not 100% sure how it all came together. But somehow, I like that. I can read it again, and I have, and see things connect in different ways and put pieces together.

The Red Wing makes you think. Hard.

And it is gorgeous. Artist Nick Pitarra goes crazy with designs of everything and there is not an ounce of laziness here. Backgrounds are as detailed as anything, and he visually shows the acts of time travel in amazing, wonderful ways. Can you tell I loved this book?

So yeah...there you go. My five favorite comics of 2011. If you haven't read them, I highly recommend them all. And if you have read them...well...weren't they awesome?!

p.s. to add one more book to this list without going into detail: Amazing Spider-Man. Read it. Just read it.