With 2013 upon us, it’s time here at Eye on Comics to observe our (mostly) annual tradition of spotlighting the high points of the past year. Perhaps the most exciting one came when my wife and I found and closed the deal on our first house. We can’t wait to move in and… Oh, the Glass Eye Awards are about picking the best comics of 2012 and the creators who stood out from the crowd with their stellar efforts in the medium. Right, got it.
Before I delve into my selections for the best work and artists of the year, I would urge readers to seek out as many best-of lists as they can on other websites as well. No one list is going to be definitive or even comprehensive. My comments about the Glass Eyes are merely made up of my best recollections of the comics I read in the past year, and there’s no way for anyone to read everything new in the medium. My comics reading in 2012 (as in the years before) would only have scratched the surface. With that in mind, let’s celebrate comics…
Best Limited Series: Among the best limited series of 2012 were a couple of titles from DC Comics, one that generated a lot of controversy and another that seemed as though it wouldn’t go the distance for its full run. Though set in the continuity of DC’s New 52 line, The Shade was really a big payoff for those of us that followed and loved the 80-issue run of writer James Robinson’s Starman series beginning in 1994. Robinson’s return to the supporting rogue from the series answered a lot of questions about his take on the character, but it really offered a delicious sense of the style that made Starman such a draw. Given the reputation of that Starman series, it’s not surprising Robinson was joined in this recent effort by a stalwart line of comics-industry talent. One of those artists was Darwyn Cooke, who also, as it turns out, was the man responsible for my next pick: Before Watchmen: Minutemen. Setting aside the debate about the ethics of DC’s decision to explore the Watchmen characters anew, against the wishes of Alan Moore, when one looks at the craft involved in Minutemen, there’s no denying its strength. Of course, since Cooke wrote and drew it, the suggestion it’s one of the best examples of comics storytelling of the year should come as no surprise. He pays tribute to the source material while telling new stories and fleshing out supporting characters in consistent and interesting ways.
No one does espionage and intrigue these days better than writer Nathan Edmondson, and his and Nic Klein’s Dancer serves as proof plenty of that assertion. Their maudlin and offbeat story about assassins, love and cloning was paced perfectly. It was riveting, and despite the outlandish premise, the writer and artist teamed up to make it seem plausible. I was reminded of Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country, and I loved the tragedy of an aged black-ops agent having his elusive happy ending slip through his fingers. Klein’s simple style didn’t stop him from fostering a strong sense of place, which was vital to the success of a story that unfolded all over Europe. Further proof of the strength of Edmondson’s writing is to be found in my pick for the very best limited series of 2012: Where Is Jake Ellis, the sequel to the stellar Who Is Jake Ellis? (which made my list of top limited series for 2011). We’re only two issues into Where, but it’s already demonstrated itself to be a fantastic followup. If M. Night Shyamalan and Doug Liman were to team up to make a movie, this (and its predecessor) would be it. The Jake Ellis comics have something to offer everyone. For the connoisseur of the comics medium, Tonci Zonjic’s panel layouts and linework will impress. For people who dig action and adventure, they’re to be found in spades. And for those who appreciate a plot that engages the reader’s intelligence, it delivers as well.
Best New Series: There was a time when I really didn’t pay much attention to what was coming out of Image Comics, but that time is well behind me now. As someone who grew up on DC and Marvel super-heroes, and still loves the genre for which those two publishers are best known, 2012 saw me bringing as many Image titles home from the comic shop each week as I did Marvel and DC books (sometimes more). Among them was Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra’s The Manhattan Projects. The alternate-history yarn transforming some of the greatest and most noteworthy scientific minds of the 20th century into action heroes and nefarious villains is smart, bizarre and morbidly fun. I was also stunned at how much I loved comics featuring retooled and reinvigorated properties belonging to Rob Liefeld. Glory by Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell is a surreal story about alien invasions and warrior women based on what was essentially little more than a Wonder Woman knockoff. But instead of derivative, their work transformed the title character into something daring, dangerous and different. It was recently revealed the creative team will be bringing the series to a conclusion in the next few months, but it will be much more fondly remembered than the 1990s comics that established the character and concept in the first place.
One of the best new ongoing titles to debut in 2012 was criminally overlooked by many, and I’m at a loss as to why. Oni Press has turned a lot of heads with The Sixth Gun in recent years, and I thought its The Secret History of D.B. Cooper by Brian Churilla serves as something of a spiritual sibling-series to the supernatural western story. Set in the 1970s, Secret History also boasts weird, supernatural elements that one wouldn’t normally find in its genre, which in this case is a period Cold War-espionage piece. It should be reaching the same audience as The Sixth Gun, given the tone of the plot, the surreal qualities of the story and the stylized linework and designs offered by its writer/artist. Now, the next title on my list of picks for the top new title of 2012 enjoyed plenty of attention and acclaim. Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye stands out as the writer’s most focused and relatable current work and a leap forward for the artist when it comes to playing with design. It’s a risky approach to the title character, which was catapulted to mainstream pop-culture awareness through the blockbuster Avengers movie. We really don’t see Hawkeye in costume, being an Avenger. Instead, he’s stumbling through the mundane moments of his life and managing to find trouble in the process. And it’s no stranger to these top lists of comics for 2012.
My pick for the best new series of the year will come as a surprise to no one (a) who has been paying attention to North American comics over the past 12 months and/or (b) who’ve checked out the many best-of comics lists already floating around online. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga was not only a critical success but a major creator-owned sales breakthrough (and further evidence of the afore-mentioned success of Image Comics). Retailers can’t keep the title in stock, as new readers keep discovering it. And the demand is well deserved. Saga has no doubt catapulted Staples to comics stardom. She has crafted such a beautiful cosmos in which the story unfolds. The softness of her characters’ features and the colors throughout each issue is matched only by the monstrosity and weirdness of other players in the drama. Vaughan has crafted a science-fiction epic that has so much more going for it: fantasy, humor, mind-bending designs, strong characters. But ultimately, what makes it such an engaging read is the love story that serves as its foundation. And not just the love the two protagonists have for one another, but for their newborn baby as well. Saga is not only incredibly entertaining but incredibly touching as well, and that explains how it has connected and resonated with such a wide and growing audience.
In the past, I’ve rounded out this first part of the Glass Eye Awards with my picks for the best ongoing series and original graphic novels of the year, but I think I’m going to change things up a bit. I’ve written up my thoughts on those “categories” in a separate post (which can be found here), and as my selections for the top comics creators of 2012 will be forthcoming. Stay tuned…
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