Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

2012 Glass Eye Awards – Best Series & Graphic Novel

Posted by Don MacPherson on January 5th, 2013

In the first part of the 2012 Glass Eye Awards, I offered up picks for the best limited series and new ongoing titles of the past year. I meant to get to the next items on my best-of list right away, but I guess I dragged my feet. A couple of prominent comics-news sites have linked to that opening salvo of praise, though, so I figured I’d better get my butt in gear and get writing some more about the year that was.

This time, I delve into my thoughts of the top established ongoing series and graphic novels of 2012, but again, readers should bear in mind these are my picks based on what I read (and recall), determined by personal taste, access, free time and affordability.

Best Series: The big two super-hero-genre publishers each had a title that made my list of the best ongoing titles of 2012. Daredevil was my choice for the best new series of 2011, and it didn’t disappoint in 2012. Despite the fact writer Mark Waid lost a compelling storytelling partner with Marcos Martin’s exodus from the book, Paolo Rivera’s, Mike Allred’s and Chris Samnee’s contributions kept the smartly written series looking amazing as well. For the most part, DD has managed to unfold in its own autonomous corner of the Marvel Universe, and as long as Marvel Entertainment recognizes that and has faith in its creators, it should remain a critical and sales success. Over at DC, the title that stood out as the strongest of its New 52 is one that distinguished itself from the first issue in 2011. Like DD, Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins’s Wonder Woman seems to take place apart from shared super-hero continuity, and it’s clearly to the book’s benefit. The latest storyline sees Azzarello and company reintroducing Jack Kirby’s New Gods, but the emphasis is on myth and pantheons, not super-heroics. Azzarello’s embracing of the brutality and dysfunction of classic Greek myths is a lot of (dark) fun, and the artists’ modern spins on ancient gods are always inventive and attractive.

From other publishers, a couple of reliably compelling ongoing epics made my list as well. There’s no denying 2012 was the year of The Walking Dead, and not just because its 100th issue was a top seller of the year. The TV incarnation of the property has grabbed audiences, and while I enjoy it, I’m far more invested in the original, comic-book version. Writer Robert Kirkman and artist Charlie Adlard definitely go for shock value from time to time, but the story is set in a brutal world populated by brutal people. The harsh elements mixed with the more grounded, relatable moments of characterization make for a winning and compelling combination. And somehow, the seemingly never-ending quality of the narrative in the comic book doesn’t seem like a downside at all. More nuanced and stylish is Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt’s The Sixth Gun from Oni Press. The series has definitely become the publisher’s flagship series, and it’s earned deserved praise from professionals and critics alike. Bunn’s plot, with its blend of Western and supernatural elements, brings a mythic quality to the Old West. I think what makes the series really work is the character of Becky Montcrief. I know it seems as though the central hero of the title is the dashing rogue Drake Sinclair, but really, it’s Becky’s story. She’s the one “normal” person in the cast of characters, though obviously, she’s changed considerably since the series began. She’s the one centred, ethically grounded figure in the story, and she’s been drawn into something horrible and important by circumstances. Hurtt’s slightly cartoony visual style nevertheless serves the weird and dangerous world of ghouls and gunfighters incredibly well.

My choice for the best ongoing title of 2012 has to go to one of the biggest success stories in self-publishing of the year: Terry Moore’s Rachel Rising. I’ve been reading the book from the start in 2011, but 2012, especially later in the year, seemed be the time when people started to really take notice of what Moore was doing in the book (at least according to my Facebook feed). While Moore has had dark elements in his past self-published works (Strangers in Paradise and Echo), he’s gone much darker for this horror story about vengeful witches. At first, the appeal of the book was its sense of mystery. The audience really had no idea what was going on with all these resurrections and murders in a small American town, but we didn’t care. We were drawn in by the characterization, the surreal quality and yes, some of Moore’s trademark humor. But in the past two or three issues, the plot has crystallized. One character explained to another the broad strokes, and in the process, explained it to the reader, and I remain just as fascinated. Rachel Rising is the best Neil Gaiman comic book that’s not written by Neil Gaiman.

Best Original Graphic Novel: I definitely didn’t read nearly enough original graphic novels in 2012 and will likely be discovering (or rediscovering) strong works from last year in the months and years ahead. Still, I was fortunate enough to read several strong GNs, and when I assembled my list of my favorites, I realized most were the results of the efforts of Canadian creators. As a Canuck myself, I was pleased so much strong work came from my homeland, though I suppose it’s possible I might have gravitated toward Canadian works out of a personal (and unconscious) preference. When I started reading Jeff Lemire’s The Underwater Welder from Top Shelf, I thought the art was oddly flat, but then it became clear he was saving the more textured, haunted visuals for the underwater/flashback scenes. The shifts between the duller and fuller artwork helped to crystallize the main character’s inner turmoil. The story is a thoroughly relatable one, as it explores an expectant father’s insecurities and his feelings about his own father, whom he lost years before. Furthermore, Lemire introduces his readers to the culture of an unusual profession and the quiet routines of coastal town dependent on the employment provided by a nearby oil rig. It’s a great backdrop for a deeply personal story.

The writer/artists responsible for my next two picks can both be found in Nova Scotia, which happens to be one province to the east from where I live, the province of my birth and where my parents now reside. Not surprisingly, Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of Richard Stark’s Parker: The Score was one of the best graphic novels I read in 2012. Cooke’s work on those books is consistently excellent, compelling and entertaining. I found it interesting to compare his art on The Score to what we saw from him on Before Watchmen: Minutemen, as the former boasts a rougher, rawer quality than the more polished mix of super-hero and noir genres in the Minutemen project. Another creator whose graphic novels are predictably and consistently well-crafted is Faith Erin Hicks, and her Friends With Boys, released in early 2012, was no exception. I think what I enjoyed most about the book was how it was about something completely different than what I expected, though it was still a strong slice-of-life story that boasted a genuine, earnest tone. Hicks has been selected as a special guest for Comic-Con International in San Diego this coming summer, and the reason is clear: her work reaches beyond the confines of the traditional comic-book shop and connects with a wider audience, notably younger female readers. I attended a comics arts conference in Halifax last year, and Hicks was by far the biggest draw there (and this was a show that included such popular Marvel artists as Steve McNiven and Nick Bradshaw).

While most of my favorite books of the year were Canadian in origin, my choice for the best graphic novel of 2012 was crafted by an American writer/artist and featured a wholly American story. Crogan’s Loyalty is the third in the Crogan series from Chris Schweizer, who recently announced he was shifting to full-time comics work and leaving a teaching position behind to do so. That’s great news for lovers of the medium, as he’s never disappointed with this series, and Loyalty, published by Oni Press stood out as his finest effort to date. I’m really not much of a history buff (it was one of my least favorite subjects in school), but Schweizer manages to the almost alien culture and mindset of a war from more than two centuries ago come alive by filtering through a lens of familial conflict and connections. The story of two brothers who have embraced opposing ideologies in the American Revolutionary War not only explored sibling rivalry, but sibling respect and love as well. Furthermore, I was incredibly impressed with how the many sides in the war (and he demonstrates there were more than just two) are treated fairly and objectively. When it comes to this period in history, one is accustomed to a “U.S.A. is Number 1!” attitude, and Schweizer didn’t fall into that trap.

Check back here at Eye on Comics soon for my thoughts on the top comics creators of 2012, and if you haven’t read it already, click here to read my thoughts on other top comics of the year.

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