It’s the end of the year and everybody’s got their Top 10 list, and since I went to journalism school I’m obligated to list mine. I’m looking at titles that were released in 2011 because cover dates are meaningless. I’m not looking at original graphic novels or reprint projects, even though in dollar volume they constitute the majority of my purchases. Besides, original graphic novels are done to very different standards. Finally, some of these titles are done by friends of mine; I refuse to disqualify them because they just might buy me lunch. Having said all that…
#1 – Life With Archie Magazine (Archie)
Top of my list for the second year straight. Two stories – Archie marries Veronica, Archie marries Betty. Parallel worlds which converge, but that’s not why this book is great. There’s very real character development here, layered on personalities that existed for 70 years without it. We watch them grow, not into adults, but as adults. Better still, the most interesting character in both series is Reggie Mantle! Paul Kupperberg writes this, with art from Norm Breyfogle, Fernando Ruiz, Pat and Tim Kennedy and a host of others.
#2 – Tiny Titans (DC)
If you see this as a kid’s comic, that’s great, particularly if you’re a kid. If you see this as a brilliant loving satire of DC Comics and its convoluted universe, that’s great too, particularly if you’re an “adult.” Art Baltazar and Franco are pushing towards 50 issues here, and there ain’t a clunker in the bunch.
#3 – Elric: The Balance Lost (Boom)
Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion has been in the hands of a lot of comics creators and a lot of comics publishers, and the output has been… inconsistent. This latest series is among the very best: all of the various shades of Elric are here, and interweaved through the storyline are very contemporary elements and environs. Good stuff from Chris Roberson and Francesco Biagini.
#4 – Daredevil (Marvel)
Once again, Mark Waid does what he does best: he takes a well-established character that, like all well-established comics characters, has been covered in paint about a dozen too many times and strips it back down to the wall, preserving everything that made the character work while imbuing it with a contemporary environment. On this series, he’s going just that – and he’s doing it better than ever. Penciler Marcos Martin ain’t no slouch, neither. This is a real superhero book.
#5 – Justice League Dark (DC)
This one’s my surprise of the year. While very little of DC’s New 52 answers the question “why bother,” this one takes a bunch of characters of a somewhat mystical nature and thrusts them, Justice League like, into a trauma vastly larger than any one of them… and maybe all of them. Sort of like The Defenders, with all the style and John Constantine’s wit. Peter Milligan’s DC work has been inconsistent for me (I tend to prefer his U.K. work), but I’m glad I checked this one out. Mikel Jann draws the series. Very different… and very good.
#6 – Fly (Zenoscope)
I reviewed Raven Gregory and Eric J’s series about a recreational drug that gives kids the power to fly way back here. I liked it then, I like it now. Of course it’s out in trade paperback, so if you blew me off in August, give it a shot now.
#7 – Red Skull (Marvel)
Retrofitting a backstory onto a well-established character is a gambit that is often ill conceived and, worse, boring. Not this one. Greg Pak and Mirko Colak take us back to the villain’s adolescence where we learn – definitively – where his allegiances truly lie… and why. The fact that it’s got the best covers I’ve seen on a mini-series in a long while doesn’t hurt, either.
#8 – Batgirl (DC)
I don’t have a clue about how this series fits into any continuity, current or past. I’m told it does. What I do know is that this is a series about a young woman who’s trying to reestablish herself as a superhero after enduring traumas that shattered her body and soul. She’s not necessarily great at being a superhero, but she’s giving it all she’s got. This is exactly what I expect out of Gail Simone, and that is a very high standard. Adrian Syaf offers solid and exciting storytelling.
#9 – Action Comics (DC)
I went here because of Rags Morales’ art – I’d buy Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes if Rags drew the box – and I stayed for Grant Morrison’s innovative and engrossing script. This is the all-new young Superman, before he figured out what to wear on the job. It’s set well before the all-new older Superman in his eponymous title. I don’t know how this leads up to that, and I don’t care. This is supposed to hold up on its own, and it does. I’ll get over the slap in history’s face with the numbering (if such lasts); this is the best-produced Superman title in a decade-and-a-half.
#10 – To my friends who didn’t make this list: each of you came in tied for #10. Now go fight it out.
Notice how there aren’t any teevee or movie tie-ins? I never warmed up to that stuff. Not even as a kid. Which means it took me a while to realize Steve Ditko actually drew Hogan’s Heroes.
I have no doubt that within weeks at least two of the above-named will start to suck. Like all commercial media, comic books are subject to the whims of the lords and ladies of irony. But as a professional cynic, these titles and perhaps another half-dozen meet and exceed my bizarrely encrusted standards. Your opinions might differ, and that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wrong.
Of course not.
Extra: Happy birthday wishes to fellow columnist Marc Alan Fishman, who turns 30 today and, therefore, is old enough to know better. His son turns 0 in about a month.
Extra-Extra: Thanks to Gatekeeper Glenn for saving my life this year.
THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil