Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Best Comics of 2011 - Part 2 (of 5)

40. The New Teen Titans: Games
Original Graphic Novel (DC Comics)
Written by Marv Wolfman; Art by George Perez
The Marv Wolfman/George Perez run on New Teen Titans remains one of the greatest comic book runs in history, and after decades of waiting, the team have finally released their original graphic novel that ties up their run completely. As a standalone story, it is a perfect example of the characters and their world; as part of the larger story it is a dramatic end-cap, boasting some great writing and some even greater artwork.

39. Rachel Rising
Rachel Rising #1-3 (Abstract Studios)
Written by Terry Moore; Art by Terry Moore
In a year when Terry Moore wrapped up his sophomore effort, Echo, it was quite a thing for him to launch right into his third ongoing series, this time focusing on Rachel, a dead girl who comes back to life and encounters strange happenings in the world around her. While the series hasn't quite hit it's stride yet, it is certainly far more engaging than the slow, plodding Echo, which didn't reach greatness until it was collected. This is almost on the same level as Strangers in Paradise, and if Moore continues to ramp up the horror and drama it might even surpass it's predecessor.

38. Action Comics
Action Comics #1-4 (DC Comics)
Written by Grant Morrison; Art by Rags Morales, Brent Anderson and Gene Ha
Pre-reboot, Action Comics had been on the downward slide; following a great year-long arc from Paul Cornell focusing on Lex Luthor, the series hit a rut and descended into mediocrity ending with a whimper. Now on the upswing thanks to Grant Morrison and an engaging retelling of Superman's early days, the series is looking good. Clark Kent has become a more grounded character, his adventures more engaging and the villains more threatening. The shifting art team has been a bit jarring, but Rags Morales and Gene Ha both maintain excellence, with only one issue faltering through the weaker style of Brent Anderson. If you aren't reading Action Comics, make it a priority.

37. Hulk
Hulk #29-46 inc. #30.1 (Marvel Comics)
Written by Jeff Parker; Art by Gabriel Hardman, Ed McGuinness, Carlo Pagulayan, Patrick Zircher and Elena Casagrande
You wouldn't have been wrong in thinking that the adventures of General Thunderbolt Ross as the Red Hulk would wither and die, but somehow Jeff Parker has made the series a classic. For the majority of 2011, this has been THE Hulk book book. It's back-to-basics adventure with Ross going on the run from the military and facing off against various threats, culminating in an action-packed finale to Parker's initial arc and leading into the just as entertaining Arabian Knights influenced story that sees the year out. The art, for the most part, has been stellar with Gabriel Hardman showing off his insane skills in every issue he contributes to; the other artists do a great job, too, but Hardman is the true hero of this book.

36. DC Retroactive: Batman/DC Retroactive: The Flash/DC Retroactive: Justice League
DC Retroactive: Batman The '70s-'90s:
Written by Len Wein, Mike W. Barr and Alan Grant; Art by Tom Mandrake, Jerry Bingham and Norm Breyfogle
DC Retroactive: The Flash The '70s-'90s:
Written by Cary Bates, William Messner-Loebs and Brian Augustyn; Art by Benito Gallego, Greg LaRocque and Mike Bowden
DC Retroactive: Justice League The '70s-'90s:
Written by Cary Bates, Gerry Conway, Keith Giffen and J. M. Dematteis; Art by Gordon Purcell, Andy Smith, Ron Randall and Kevin Maguire
It took a long time to write out all those credits, but it was worth it. DC made a bold move between June and August this year by launching a series of one-shots focusing on various characters in different eras, and the above were easily the best. From the insanity of early-style Flash and Justice League to the epicness of a modern day Grant/Breyfogle Batman tale and a final Giffen/Dematteis/Maguire Justice League tale, these one-shots were some of the biggest delights of the year. If you're a fan of nostalgia, these are an essential purchase.

35. Near Death
Near Death #1-4 (Image Comics)
Written by Jay Faerber; Art by Simone Guglielmini
Jay Faerber has written some great series over the last decade, but this one might take the cake as being the best of the lot. Written in the style of an '80s action show, this is everything a TV nut like myself could want; the art is in a heavily-influenced Sean Phillips style, and the action is some of the best I've read in a comic this year. Each issue takes on a one-shot story making it accessible much like the TV shows it emulates; you can dip in and out, get a full story every time, and not feel like you're missing anything or don't find yourself engaging with the characters. If you don't enjoy this, you probably don't enjoy fun.

34. Moon Knight
Moon Knight #1-8 (Marvel Comics)
Written by Brian Michael Bendis; Art by Alex Maleev
Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev are a dream-team in my books; ever since their definitive run on Daredevil in the early 2000s, I have vowed to check out everything they work on, so when news hit that they were to reunite working in the same style with the often mishandled beast that is Moon Knight, I was incredibly excited. And in the eight issues we've seen so far, everything has been excellent; the characters are fun, with Moon Knight's schizophrenia and multiple personalities playing a pivotal role, the action and suspense has been top notch, and the comedy has been crisp and engaging. With the first handful of issues now available in collected form, there is no excuse not to try out this excellent, gritty crime thriller.

33. The Strange Talent of Luther Strode
The Strange Talent of Luther Strode #1-3 (Image Comics)
Written by Justin Jordan; Art by Tradd Moore
When Robert Kirkman tweeted about this series a few months ago, I didn't know whether or not to give it a try; often when you hear creators giving their personal recommendations, it falls into the realm of 'my friends wrote this.' But The Strange Talent of Luther Strode was a different thing all together. For starters, it takes the premise made famous by Kick-Ass and hands the character super-powers rather than a psychotic desire to do good, and then it ramps up the violence to the point where blood red may as well be the only colour used. At the same time, relative unknowns, Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore have weaved a tale that keeps me coming back, and I am certainly glad I took Kirkman's recommendation. This could very well be a book I buy for non-comic-reading friends in the coming years.

32. Venom
Venom #1-11 (Marvel Comics)
Written by Rick Remender; Art by Tony Moore, Tom Fowler, Stefano Caselli and Lan Medina
For years now, Venom has been the butt of many jokes; the character who ruined Spider-Man 3 and aided in the downfall of Marvel Comics throughout the 1990s, we now find him represented by a new protagonist. Enter Flash Thompson, Spider-Man's biggest fan and a supporting character in the Spidey books since the earliest issues; in recent years, Flash has lost his legs and been cast out of the military. So, how do we mesh these two ideas together? By having the military turn Flash into the new Venom. It's a simple concept and it works; every issue of this series has been solid gold, even the tie-ins to the dreadful Spider-Island event, which managed to carry more of a punch than any of the main title's chapters. While Rick Remender maintains excellence in every script, the art is the true hero, represented for the most part by the exquisite alternating team of Tony Moore and Tom Fowler. Their styles are vastly different, but carry the style of the book in such a way that it's hard to miss either of them when the other is doing such a good job of filling in.

31. Batwoman
Batwoman #1-4 (DC Comics)
Written by J. H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman; Art by J. H. Williams III
I'm going to get this out of the way right now. J. H. Williams III is a god among artists; every single inch of this comic book has been truly beautiful, and issue four pushed the boundaries of DC printing by having nearly every page be a double-page spread, forcing the adverts that plague most comic books to be shoved into the back portion of the book giving the story a constant flow. While his writing skills may not be on par with those of Greg Rucka, he and W. Haden Blackman have also managed to pen a stellar narrative; it gets better with every installment and the twists and turns are perfect, along with the generous amount of character development stuffed between the pages. I'm going to go out on a limb and say this is the prettiest book being published right now, and if you haven't seen the art then you owe yourself to check it out. Oh, and Kate Kane is already one of the best characters in comics, despite only existing in this form for maybe half a decade.

Next: 30-21

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