Best of 2012: Best Titles

best titlesWe generally avoid quantifying our enthusiasm around here — we’ll gladly praise or condemn comics as our tastes dictate, but turning that into a grade or a score makes us uncomfortable. As there are in our pull-list, there are holes in this ‘Best of’ list. Mea culpa. We’ve had some great experiences with comics this year, and these are the series that were consistently fun, thoughtful and beautiful. Too subjective for a year-end list? Ignore the rankings. Any way you slice it, these are fantastic series that deserve the scrutiny we heap on everything. Each is a rewarding read and well worth your attention. Our picks for the top 12 series of 2012:

12. Before Watchmen: Minutemen 

We had our reservations about Before Watchmen, but Darwyn Cooke’s detailed look into the world’s first generation of costumed heroes more than earned its place on this list. Cooke’s charming art offers a compelling counterpoint to this increasingly grim tale, but it’s his nuanced character work that truly steals the show. The Minutemen were one of the least-explored areas of the Watchmen universe, and this series quickly found its footing exploring how their oversized personalities would grind against each other. Excelling far beyond its prequel trappings, Before Watchmen: Minutemen is one of the most effective, affecting character studies we read this year.

minutemen 2012

11. Swamp Thing

When Swamp Thing premiered in 2011, it curiously didn’t feature the titular Swamp Thing. As the series rounded the corner into 2012 (and issue 5), Alec Holland had yet to make his transformation. Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette finally revealed their new design in issue 8 (a full four more months later), and patient fans were treated to an epic battle that has more or less been playing out ever since. It was a risky move, but one that was absolutely essential to creating the massive stakes that have defined this title. Comics often go for operatic high-notes, but this is the rare example where that sense of drama is actually earned.

swamp thing 2012

10. Batgirl

Gail Simone knows Batgirl. And she proves it every issue by writing the clearest, smartest, most honest caped crusader you could ask for. Simone’s instant credibility has given her opportunity to flesh out an expansive world around the titular heroine, not only delving into the rest of the Gordon clan, but also inventing dynamic new villains wholesale. Simone’s proven herself so adept at building a Rogues Gallery that she’s out-shone her Bat-peers in characterizing the baddies of the last two Gotham cross-over stories. Batgirl’s Talon is the only one of those characters to stick around after the Night of the Owls and it’s hard to imagine a more chilling Joker than seen in Batgirl’s Death of the Family issues.

batgirl 2012

9. The Flash

Kinetic fun. That’s what Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato’s Flash series is about. Each newly re-introduced Rogue brought a fresh excuse for brightly-colored character to zip around the page. As much fun as it’s been, the real payoff has been in the way Manapul and Buccellato use their series to comment on the very comic they’re writing. From Barry’s muddled role in the DCU to editorial interference; from fan reactions to overly dense stories, there’s seemingly no meta-commentary The Flash can’t handle. Oh, plus he runs really fast or something.

flash 2012

8. Animal Man

Jeff Lemire’s run on Animal Man began as an exploration of the simple concept: “what if a superhero had a family?” But it didn’t take long for that premise to spiral as definitions of both “family” and “hero” began to broaden. As a key player in the deathpocalypse event, Rotworld, Buddy Baker has had to team up with the strangest band of merry men in the DCU, solidifying Animal Man’s place in the modern pantheon of DC heroes. To boot, the aggressively grotesque art-style laid out by Travel Foreman set an absolutely disgusting standard that artist Steve Pugh is more than up to the challenge to replicate. It’s a measure of the quality of storytelling that the gore isn’t THE selling point of this series. Because gross.

animal man 2012

7. Daredevil

About two years ago, Matt Murdock — under the pen of Mark Waid — debuted a brand new attitude: cheerful, upbeat, but no less-ready to kick ass. It made for a charming first year of the series, but Waid’s been playing the long game, and it’s only now becoming totally clear what the ramifications are of Matt pretending to be something he’s not. Time and again, Daredevil isn’t able to trust his perception of reality, and that’s taken a toll on the bright outlook he’s been putting on. As the subject matter darkens, the action remains as crisp and exciting as ever with artist Chris Samnee choreographing clear, clever fight scenes. It’s become trite to claim that Daredevil is a can’t-miss series, but it’s true — and the crazy thing is: it might just be starting to hit its stride.

daredevil 2012

6. Batwoman

Batwoman has never been about plotting. Which is weird for a serial action comic. J.H. Williams III’s ethereal artwork suggested early on that the character’s adventures were about tone and style, but in the last two story arcs (focusing on fractured chronology and Batwoman’s adventures with Wonder Woman) have revealed impossibly deep characters at the heart of Kate Kane’s world. Issues 0 and 15 gave up any pretense of plotting and became quiet meditations on Kate and GCPD Detective Maggie Sawyer. But Williams and co-writer W. Haden Blackman investigate every corner of their supporting cast, until the reader knows — and loves — everyone. It’s a gorgeous series whose beauty turns out to be more than skin deep.

batwoman 2012

5. Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre

Like his work with the Minutemen, Darwyn Cooke has found surprising new facets to explore in Laurie Juspeczyk’s story, justifying the series’s existence while creating a series that would stand alone just fine. Following Laurie as she runs away from home and explores the counterculture of late 60’s San Francisco, Cooke plumbs the depths of teenage rebellion, turning in an incredibly moving essay on the relationship between children and their parents. It’s a surprising subject, but is absolutely fundamental to Laurie’s character, as her mother bears influence over her life in ways both known and unknown. These are heady themes, but Amanda Conner’s mesmerizing art sells every single line with her characteristic charm and invention. The “Before Watchmen” designation may have scared folks away on principle, but as one of the best series we read this year, we can’t recommend it enough.

silk spectre 2012

4. Hawkeye

It’s a testament to the charm of Hawkeye that, with only six issues, it has become one of our favorite series of the year. Between the low-stakes premise, Clint’s “aww shucks” good-naturedness, and a razor-sharp sense of humor, Matt Fraction has delivered the antidote to Grim’n’Gritty. It’s an absolute revelation, wrapped in the jawdropping package of David Aja’s design-inspired art. The result is slick as hell, but never dips into detachment — there’s a real emotional core (grounded by Clint’s maybe-not-entirely platonic relationship with co-Hawkeye, Kate Bishop), which keeps the action from flying off the rails. It’s fun that only feels frivolous.

hawkeye 2012

3. Batman

Batman started the year in a pit he didn’t think existed and ended it heading into Arkham to deal with a claim he doesn’t believe. Scott Snyder has found a great deal to mine in Bruce’s denial, which seems to stem from some of Batman’s most essential principles: fearlessness and logic. This focus on the most basic elements of Batman have given Snyder’s run a timelessness that matches its instant-classic status. Paired with Greg Capullo’s inventive and subtle art, this series has the uncanny habit of outdoing itself each issue, making it one of the most anticipated each month. Dark, smart, and thrilling from top-to-bottom, this title reminds us why we love Batman in the first place.

batman 2012

2. Wonder Woman

With decades of comics continuity, there’s a world of complexity for historically-minded writers to mine in new ways. In Wonder Woman, Brian Azzarello has found success mining an entirely different history — that of classical mythology. Beyond the mythological characters and settings, Azzarello — and his collaborators Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins — have also managed to update the symbolism of Greek myths, creating worlds brimming with meaning. As it enters the new year, the series has begun to weave in elements from Jack Kirby’s New Gods, suggesting a whole new world of possibility just on the horizon. That level of complexity would crush most comics, but Wonder Woman has demonstrated time and again that it’s capable of things few other titles are.

wonder woman 2012

1. Saga

We’ve been reading Saga since the first issue, but it took us half a year to decide to start writing about it. The world is so complex, the characters so rich and the story so simple that it’s nearly impossible to have anything insightful to say about it. Brian K. Vaughan wields every cog in this magnificent machine with such grace — and with no airs of pretension or cleverness. When it comes time to process the text, we’re often blinded by the otherworldly art of Fiona Staples. Vaughan reportedly gives her all the freedom in the world to express the most idiosyncratic corners of his vivid imagination. The result is electric — simultaneously alien and mundane, but always honest.

saga 2012

13 comments on “Best of 2012: Best Titles

  1. We know our pull is DC-heavy, so we’ll have to look to the comments for great series we might have missed from other imprints. Even without absolute comprehensiveness, I would recommend every series on this list. It’s been a fantastic year in comics, and I’m excited to hear about whatever amazing titles SHOULD have been on this list.

    • YES YES YES! A THOUSAND TIMES YES. I always like conversation and disagreement about what we write, but I know we missed a lot. For as much as we’ve thrown ourselves in the deep end here, this is literally the first year that Drew, Shelby and myself have been reading current monthly issues. We’ve done an aggressive job of scrubbing some blindspots, but I know we still have A TON.

    • Nice list, guys. The only other titles I would add are American Vampire and Captain Marvel. Otherwise, my favorite titles are on there (Batgirl, Batman, Batwoman, Daredevil, Hawkeye, Saga & Swamp Thing). My pull list tends to be very DC-heavy as well, but I’m loving DeConnick and Fraction at Marvel right now. You should definitely check out FF as well.

      • Cap’n Marvel is just one such blind spot I hope to rectify in the new year. I don’t believe in resolutions, BUT I do resolve to read that series. Also more Marvel (I’m not made of stone and they have Fraction AND Waid in their stable). Thanks Suzanne!

        • If you like witty banter and strong characterization, then Captain Marvel is a book for you. I love DeConnick’s dialogue, a close cousin to Simone’s style. Do yourself a favor and pick up the trade.

  2. Half of your list covers books that I’m not pulling (Batwoman, Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Hawkeye, Daredevil) so this ought to be radically different. In no particular order (and I’ll start with our notable overlap):

    Batman
    Flash
    Wonder Woman
    Batgirl

    Aquaman
    Action Comics
    Demon Knights
    Green Lantern (it was the Baz story initiated in GL Annual #1 that placed this book for this year)
    Kirby Genesis
    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
    X-O Manowar
    Walking Dead

    • I had TMNT and Green Lantern: New Guardians on my short list (that didn’t make in on our proper list) – but GL:NG I meant specifically referring to issues 0 – 15. Both GL and GL:NG have been firing on all appropriate cylinders. Something about Green Lantern: when it works it just fucking works. But both series did sorta stumble earlier in the year, which I think is why they were both edged off our list.

      Also you can make any argument you want for Aquaman as best comic of the year, that fucking issue where Mera went to the store came out in 2012. IMMEDIATE DISQUALIFICATION. (Just ribbin’ ya – but I did hate that issue).

      I know Walking Dead had a good year, and I’d love to get in on that, but I don’t know where to jump in. Yes, yes, I don’t read Walking Dead already: there’s something wrong with me.

      • Walking Dead has had a hell of a year, indeed. The current arc that starts with issue 97 or 98 and is currently in full swing is the most electric thing to happen to the book since the famous prison arc. I have to admit, you’re not the first person I’ve heard complain about the Mera non-sequitur, but I remember really liking it. I’d have to go back and read it more attentively. But the whole idea of Mera running errands as Mera (cause, you know, no secret identity) and having a fish-out-of-water misadventure is the type of pop nonsense that I could see someone hating based on the inherent ridiculousness and yet that’s precisely the kind of thing that makes me happy. Like in the recent Wonder Woman when Hera was caught up in the ‘Kourtney Kardashian refuses a DNA to resolve the fatherhood mystery’ drama on Keeping Up With The Kardashians on TV and most comic fans were like “ugh” I was the rare reader who loved it. I just get my kicks thinking that the big bad Godess of Olympus has been spoiled on exploiting humanity for centuries and that if she’s stuck being reduced to a mortal then that show would be her idea of making the best of it. That’s just me, though; hell, I’m a 32 year old, out-of-shape pop obsessor who owns a 3D Blu-Ray of Katy Perry: Part Of Me.

  3. I am writing this while just skimming above so as not to be influenced. I have more than 12 titles set aside to put on my top 12 of ’12, so I have some eliminating to do.

    12: Batman. This almost didn’t make the list. With the New 52, I bought all 4 Bat-titles even though I have never been a huge Batman fan. That was a bad idea. I’m glad this comic was consistently great or I’d have given up on Batman all together (and missed what I think is the start of a fantastic run on Detective, although y’all here disagree). The Joker/Harley backup was possibly the most. . . hell, I don’t even know what it was . . . that I read this year. Sad? Disturbing?

    11: Thor: God of Thunder. I don’t care that there were only 3 issues. This is the leader of the pack of Marvel NOW so far and I’m not sure it’s close. I’ve enjoyed other NOW titles (Fantastic Four and FF are both solid so far, Iron Man was better upon rereading, Red She-Hulk is great, X-Men Legacy is really interesting but got a little preachy in issue 3), but this one. . . gosh. I almost cried on the city bus reading this. Innovative story telling and such a compelling story I have no idea how it wraps up in two issues. Plus, it’s about a god doing god things, which feels right. Just fantastic so far.

    10: Kirby Genesis: Captain Victory. I think I was one of about seven people who read all six issues of this ill-fated venture. Scheduling delays and low sales and artists changing and it was still six issues of space opera beauty. Saga (to be mentioned later) is a light and airy space opera with bright and vibrant colors and images. This, while also a space opera, operated in the blackness and dark of space. Filled with harsh, dark colors and murky imagery, Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers was a dark comic filled with seventies style and a fight until we die attitude. Probably my biggest surprise of the year and I’m ready for Dynamite to do more Genesis stuff, but I doubt they will.

    9. Manhattan Projects: I don’t even know how to describe this. It’s World War II and. . . golly, there’s a bunch of scientists and aliens and teleporters and dark rituals and genocide and it’s so absurdly brilliant that I’ve reread the 8 issues so far about 10 times and still don’t even know what to say about it. It’s certainly not for everyone but it’s so so good.

    8. Planetoid. Just stunning visually. Imagine a Han Solo type space-wrecked on a junk world that was layer upon layer upon layer of machinery. And finding what might live amongst the ruins.

    7. Hawkguy. Yeah bro, it’s good.

    6. The Shade. The whole 12 issues didn’t come out completely in ’12 (I think the first 3 were ’11), but I don’t care. I didn’t know anything about The Shade going into this comic, but I picked it up on a whim (I am getting rid of a lot of my ‘regular’ books that are only ok so I can take more gambles like this). It never says if it’s part of the New 52 continuity, but I hope it is so he’ll turn up again. This was a really good book that told a great story. I want more Shade. And not that lame one that was all weepy in Justice League: Dark. This one.

    5. Saga. Everyone knows this is awesome. I don’t need to say why.

    4. Ultimate Comics Spider Man. It’s saying something that this is on the list and Amazing Spider-Man isn’t. This comic is so good it’s hard for me to wait to get to the car to start reading. Not home, not to a restaurant or a coffee shop, I have a hard time getting from the comic store to my vehicle that is 23 feet away before stopping and pulling out my Spider Man comic.

    3. Daredevil. I’m actually due for a Daredevil rereading. It’s late or I’d do it now.

    2. Dial H. Such a smart, well written comic. I wish it sold better so I wouldn’t keep reading about how it’s going to be on the chopping block soon. There aren’t too many comics where I have no idea what is going to happen when I turn a page – this is one of them. (Saga is like this at times.)

    1. Invincible. The best this year. Practically an entire year about things other than the main character and it was perfect all year long. Great art, great stories, side characters that scream for more pages (which they got with Guarding the Globe out the last quarter of the year). . . It’s probably too bloody and violent for the masses, but this is the one comic that hit every right note all year long, every time for me.

    Notable misses: Animal Man/Swamp Thing (good comics, but they just move too slowly for me. I am in no hurry to go back and reread them)

    Batwoman (gorgeous but dang it takes forever for things to happen)

    Wonder Woman (I didn’t like the Wonder Woman in Hell conclusion (I love everyone! is dumb) and I really think this is going to rock in ’13 now that the world is in place)

    Amazing Spider-Man (there must have been 25 Amazing Spider-Man comics in ’12. A lot of it was great, but some of it was not great).

    Scarlet Spider (this one pained me. It’s been really, really good. Better than Amazing. More people should read this)

    Justice League Dark (The only Justice League I read. Would have been on the list but I hated about 3 or 4 issues while really liking the rest. Just a bit uneven. Last issue was great, though)

    Hulk/Red She-Hulk (The best Hulk stories of the year. The start of the year sucked with the monster thing, but Mayan Rule was really good and the new Red She-Hulk is fantastic.)

    • Invincible in at #1, huh? We’re starting our coverage at 100 (EVERYBODY DIES) and I’m keeping myself willfully ignorant of the previous 99 issues for the purposes of writing the piece. I’ve heard a lot of good – from you and others – so I’m looking forward to digging into the back catalog (just after we get wildly different perspectives on issue 100).

      Not that I’m reading it – but I’m surprised to see Ultimate Spidey on this list. Can you get in to what sorts of stories it tackles that made it so much fun to read every month?

      • I strongly recommend reading 98 and 99 to lead into 100. They explain why everyone is going to die. It will still be confusing as all get out (Invincible’s relationship with Dinosaurus, for example), but I can’t imagine it will be understandable without having some kind of background.

        Of course, it’s a comic book. It’s got pictures. It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out what is going on.

        ——-

        Ultimate Spider-Man: I could be way too wordy with this. Short answer – it’s fun. It’s very, very fun to be there the first time Spider-Man (now Miles) fights the Rhino or meets Captain America, or runs out of web fluid. I like the dynamic between Miles and Ganke (his best friend) and how Miles is dealing with his parents.

        It’s a good reminder that comics don’t need to be dark, with tortured heroes struggling through dismal times. It’s about a kid who can do great things and wants to do great things, but without hurting those around him. Plus, it’s got fantastic art, an already developed (if somewhat screwed up) alternative world, and Bendis does have a good ear for dialogue, especially in his solo books.

        I guess it’s Spider-Man (which is my all time favorite), yet it’s new, and it really, really doesn’t suck. I’m sad Venom is the new villain (I’ve never understood why everyone liked Venom, he’s at the bottom of my list of Spidey-foes), but it’s one that everyone I’ve had read it has liked.

        • I was trying to get a straight answer out of Mikyzptlk about how far back I should read for bare-bones context and he kept sending me back a couple trades (and I was like “no thank you”). I’m grab 98 and 99 tonight – thanks for the rec.

          Re: Ultimate Spider-Man – that sounds so marvelously like what all these reboots and relaunches are attempting to do – return to the immediate appeal of the character and have fun doing so.

        • Invincible: I’ve read everything since about 60, and there are still story lines that I’m not 100% on – Kirkman is insane and has about 8,000 plates spinning. But 98 and 99 are enough to see what’s going on in the world. I’d recommend more (because more Invincible is better, I really think it’s that good), but that’ll hopefully make 100 make sense.

          Spidey: To be fair, it is its own relaunch. Ultimate Spidey lasted 150+ issues. Then Peter Parker died, and this is the follow up. A new Spider-Man, but for different reasons. The world even knows Peter Parker was Spider-Man, and he was a hero. It makes for a cool story. I strongly recommend it, and I’d pick it up from issue one. It’s a really good super hero origin story.

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