Friday, January 4, 2013

Best of Comics in 2012

When it comes to new releases, 2012 was a year where I had access primarily to mainstream American publications. The bulk of my reading consisted of older material, which I found of much higher inherent value than the current works I came in contact with. That said, these are some of my 2012 reading highlights, broadly categorized with my comments underneath the images.

Best Event Series 

I felt that "Everything Burns", Marvel's crossover between "The Mighty Thor" and "Journey into Mystery" managed to tell a reasonably entertaining story that also served to wrap up the current incarnations of the two Thor-related titles in a satisfactory way. The Kieron Gillen/Matt Fraction nevertheless chose Loki as their focal point, and used the series to finally explain the supposed paternal relationship between Loki and Hela. The Asgard/Vanir war looked delightful in the chapters illustrated by Alan Davis, but suffered when paired with the imcompatible work of Carmine di Giandomenico.

Best Storyline

"The Court of Owls" debuted as the most dynamic of DC's "New 52" opening storylines, featuring a well done Batman mystery that managed to slowly build a very ominous mood, threatening to undermine the underpinnings of the company's most marketable character. Following up on the episodic nature of his previous "Detective Comics" run, writer Scott Snyder proceeded with a much more concentrated narrative, that was illustrated in a remarkably fitting caricatural world of Greg Capullo. Unfortunately, the arc was continued with a mini-event in "the Night of the Owls", and ended up setting up a new villain, whose inclusion swiftly overshadowed the events leading up to it.

Best Ongoing Title:

I felt that Image's "Prophet" best fulfilled the role of an ongoing series where each issue was both a dense, self-contained read, as well as part of the greater whole that worked to update Rob Liefeld's character in a way that made him truly relevant to the medium. What was once a clone of Cable, modified to enable the writer/artist to continue with the character he created after he left Marvel, became a much different title in the hands of Brandon Graham and a cadre of artists sympathetic to his art style. Starting with Simon Roy, Brandon Graham continued to write scripts for Farel Dalrymple, Giannis Milogiannis, as well as illustrating his own stories, all informed by a truly idiosyncratic aesthetic. Bringing to bear influences ranging from "2000 AD" and "Heavy Metal", Graham has found a way to tell his own stories using the long dormant 90-ies property, presenting a title that is continually challenging and entertaining.

Best Album

Dark Horse's reissue of the latest "Blacksad" entry counts as perhaps the most visible reprint of a Francophone mainstream  publication. Abandoning the more political themes of the series' previous two entries, "Silent Hell" features the return to the traditional noir of the title's debut. This time, the anthropomorphic characters play out their crime drama on the streets of mid-century New Orleans. Once again, Juanjo Guarnido's gorgeous artwork presents the absolute highlight, but Juan Diaz Canales' still gets to write an interesting story, that stays true to the characters, allowing the Americana elements to slip in the background as the book's heart continues to center on sociopolitical issues.

Best Mini-Series

In deciding to publish James Stokoe's proposed "Godzilla" series, IDW has given the independent sensation his first high profile release. The "Orc Stain" creator charts the story across the decades of the kaijo movies continuity, grounding the story in the relationship between a soldier, who gets to know the monster through decades of rampages. The story's primary appeal lies with the visuals, which are both impressively detailed and highly personalized takes on the original Toho property. That the writer/artist (who for the most part also colors the work) still serves a solid story, which forgoes the fan service for a respectful and entertaining narrative that stands on its own, serves to round out the project as a rare licensed comic that truly stands out as an artistic achievement.

Best Webcomic

2012 was the year Koren Shadmi turned to Kickstarter to fund the second part of his webcomic. Having secured the financial support, the writer/artist continued with his Sartre-inspired story, once again pairing flawless cartooning with a curious, very accessible story. Hopefully, "Abaddon" will soon continue to grow his audience once it's finished and finally collected, but until then, it remains of the most interesting free sequential offerings on the Web.

Best Single Issue

Last year's Angouleme Festival saw Boulet try another 24 hour comic experiment. The result was "Darkness", a complete and endearing story, every bit as potent and well realized as a typical indy comic. The French cartoonist's highly subjective and charming narrative regarding his roommate's romantic persona was a definitive highlight when it comes to successful stories told in short form. Hopefully, we'll hear more from the artist born Gilles Roussel in the years to come, whether it comes to work in short form, or longer stories.

Best Graphic Novel

After taking 2011 off to complete his work on "the Score", Darwyn Cooke and IDW prepared the new Parker adaptation for the San Diego Comic-con debut. Designed as a heist story on a grand scale, the book shows a writer/artist's consolidating all of his talents in service to storytelling. The reader is entertained with a complicated story told in the clear and playful manner, assured at all times that he is in the hands of a veteran visual stylist. Cooke is literally doing the work of his career on these adaptations, in the process bringing Westlake's writing to a whole new audience, and "the Score" might just end up being the best of the series.

Best Colorist

As part of their "Marvel NOW!" initiative, the publisher has formally acknowledged the quality of Dean White's work. By reuniting the "Uncanny X-Force" colorist with the series' original artist Jerone Opena on "the Avengers", the company has fully embraced the layered painted style which has brought consistency to the former title, even when it was pencilled by artists as diverse as Billy Tan and Greg Tocchini. White currently enjoys the profile previously held by Richard Isanove, and it will be very interesting to see how he continues to improve his craft and his profile in the medium. 

Best Inker

Tom Palmer has enjoyed a long career as inker and embellisher, working on titles such as "the Avengers", and providing visual continuity between genre greats such as John Buscema and John Byrne. His continued efforts in helping Mark Millar and John Romita jr. round out the most potent version of the "Kick Ass" franchise (along with the "Hit-Girl" spin-off) serve as yet another reminder of the importance an inker can make to the final product. Credited with both finishes and ink washes, at this stage in their collaboration, Palmer is just as responsible for the final look of Romita jr's art, as was Klaus Janson, who has inked so much of the artist's output.

Best Writer

Finishing "The Boys" for Dynamite and starting the critically acclaimed "Fury MAX" series for Marvel, Garth Ennis has been having a very strong year in writing genre comics. The writer has firmly stuck with his interests, and has continued to hone his own unique creative voice, while staying away from typical opportunities provided for his peers. And while his brief run on the "Shadow" may count as the closest he gets to a typical work for hire assignment, he has continued to write passionate, well realized scripts, that make use of his gifts for characterization and dialogue. "Fury" is yet another example of the unique blend of highly personalized, historical fiction inspired genre work from Ennis, who has still to announce his new next long form creator owned project.

Best Artist

In the year in which he has reworked "Building stories" from an interesting side project to a full blown major work, Chris Ware has once again come to the forefront of the medium that has long hailed him as one of its premiere innovators. In the years since coming into his artistic prime, the writer/artist has even seen such important figures as Daniel Clowes and Seth producing work following the same storytelling techniques, and it's tempting to say that at this point Ware works in a league of his own. In any event, the Pantheon published box of comic and artistic objects presents the creator continuing to work out his themes and obsessions in an even more ambitious form, bridging the gap between comics and fine art in a way that is both widely successful and completely personal.

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