Top 10 Comics of 2011

I could probably drone on and on about what a year it's been for comics.  I'll spare you all that.  I will say, however, that the year was defined, for me, by two things: 1) the DC relaunch and 2) the rise of the creator owned comic.  Creator owned books are pushing the 1/3 mark for market share and this can only be seen as a good thing.  They are the future (and make up 6 of the 10 books on my list).

For what it's worth, these are not in any particular order.

1) Echoes

In a year of great horror comics, this was the best.  It should be no surprise that Joshua Hale Fialkov's star has been rising, or that this book seemed to propel him to another level.  It is creepy as hell, thanks in no small part to the work of artist Rahsan Ekedal.  The ending actually made me upset, and it's rare these days for me to have an emotional response to a comic book.

2) Criminal: Last of the Innocent

 Believe it or not, this was my first foray into Brubaker and Phillips' Criminal, and I was soon asking myself why it had taken me this long to try it.  This was yet another book that actually gave me an emotional response.  I felt guilty when I read it, as if I was the one who had committed the crime.  It was just so perfectly executed that I felt like I was the one who was living with that hanging over my head.

3) The Sixth Gun

 The Sixth Gun is a regular on my list of great comics.  You would think that, at some point, the shine would fade, but Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt have yet to let that happen.  They've expanded the mythology of the series this past year and each new addition has made the book that much better.  This is a title that seems like it could go on for years, if only the creators are financially able to make that happen.

4) Sacrifice

Purely from a business standpoint, it would be hard to understate what Sam Humphries did this year.  I have no idea if Humphries and his collaborators (Steven Sanders on Our Love Is Real and Dalton Rose on Sacrifice) even broke even on their investment, but the fact that these books got so much publicity and sold out multiple printings was impressive.  These books were about as self-published as you can get.

I went with Sacrifice over Our Love Is Real because I think it has more potential.  It has the makings of the best of Grant Morrison, combined with the best of Kieron Gillen, funneled through Humphries' DYI sensibilities which, perfectly enough, is exactly what Dalton Rose's art looks like.

5) Daredevil

This book, at least for me, came out of nowhere.  I think Ruse was the only Marvel book that I had read all year (not including Criminal from their Icon line).  And perhaps it was reading Waid's Ruse that convinced me to follow him to Daredevil, a character I had never really cared for.  I took a chance on the first issue of this series and found the best first issue of a comic book I've read in years.  It never let up.  I could go on and on about how great Daredevil is and how we need more comics like this, but it's been praised to the heavens by basically every comic book web site out there, so I'll leave that to them.

6) Bat books

Okay, fine, I'm cheating a bit here.  But earlier in the year we had Grant Morrison on Batman, Inc., Peter Tomasi impressing me on Batman and Robin, and Scott Snyder bursting on to the scene with Detective Comics.  I had never read so many Batman books in my life.

Of all the characters that had something to lose with the DC relaunch, however, Batman had the most.  I was really concerned at how everything was going to be handled, fearing that all the great work that had been put into the books over the last few years would suddenly be erased.  Fortunately, DC decided to keep more or less all of it.  The most notable change was this ridiculous "Batman has only been around for five years" idea, which does absolutely nothing but hurt the books.  Honestly, I could be the next Kyrax2 on the convention circuit soon, but I'll be dressed as Robin and shouting "no 16 year old would ever wear this!" (Supposedly, in the new DCU, Dick Grayson started being Robin at 16, which would allow him to be 21 now).

Part of what I enjoy about these books lately is the handling of the dynamic between the four, black haired males that make up the Wayne family.  It's no secret that I thought Dick Grayson and Damien Wayne as Batman and Robin were perhaps the greatest thing in comic book history, but that interaction has carried over to include Bruce Wayne and Tim Drake.

Granted, that dynamic also serves to underscore the other big mistake in the relaunch of the Bat books: the disregard for Robin #4, aka Spoiler aka Batgirl, Stephanie Brown.  I'm not a big fan of the current Batgirl book, which makes Stephanie getting the boot even harder to deal with.  I have a suggestion, though: make Stephanie Oracle.  Give her a new suit, perhaps heavy on the white, and set her up in the tower.  Make her an Oracle that can also go out and kick some ass, if need be.  Then bring Black Bat aka Cassandra Cain to Gotham and get Batgirl, Batwoman, Oracle, and Black Bat in a room together so we can see THAT dynamic, too.

7) Wonder Woman

I haven't regularly read a Wonder Woman book in, oh, probably eight or nine years.  And before that I don't think I'd ever read a Wonder Woman book every month.  Not only have Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang made me interested in the character, they've made me interested in the entire mythology.  There's a certain amount of a Vertigo vibe going on in this book, wrapped in Greek/Roman mythology, and so far without a hint of superheroes.  I'm actually looking forward to the day when Diana is submerged in the long underwear universe, as I think it will be handled well.  I'm in no hurry, though.

8) Butcher Baker

And the award for most bat shit insane comic of the year goes to this gem from Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston.  It's not that this book is redefining the genre or changing the medium, but it's giving us the type of kinetic action book that we seem to only get from Casey these days.  This is basically conveyed to us in two ways: Huddleston's amazing, constantly changing artwork, and Casey's often bizarre, always intriguing dialogue.

As if the comic itself wasn't entertaining enough, the essays by Casey that make up the back matter are worth the price on their own.  If somewhere down the line, Image or someone else decided to collect them into a book, I'd gladly pay for them; they're just that good.

9) Green Wake

Yes, Echoes was the best horror comic of the year, but Green Wake came in a close second.  It's a completely different kind of horror comic, though, one wrapped in the supernatural. I'm not entirely sure what Green Wake is; in some ways it's purgatory, in other ways it's not.  But I'm fine with that.  I'm fine with the fact that I don't understand the rules of this world, because Kurtis J. Wiebe and Riley Rossmo drop enough bits and pieces to keep me interested.

Strangeness aside, the key to this book is the emotional core.  Whatever Green Wake is, it seems attuned to those who have had some kind of tragedy in their life, and putting people like that together in a room -- even a strange, confusing room -- makes for good stories.

10) Vengeance

In a lot of ways, this series felt like Joe Casey's good-bye to the Marvel Universe.  Over the last decade or so, Casey has managed to tell his own strange little stories using Marvel characters, and in Vengeance, all of those stories come together.  These are characters and plots that no one else at Marvel seems to care enough to touch, to the point of placing them at odds with what's going on in the rest of that shared universe (like, for example, the fact that there's already a team of Defenders, one that was established years ago).  This is fine with me, as it's allowed Casey to create his own little Casey-verse.  I also can't think of a better artistic partner than Nick Dragotta for this final act.  Dragotta makes the overload of story in this series manageable and still beautiful to look at.  The new Teen Brigade has real angst, but still looks cool.

There's my top ten for the year.  It's interesting to note that, aside from 6 of these books being creator owned, only four of them are superhero titles.  Not that I'm the average comic book reader, but I think this is a great sign for the industry.  The more quality genre diversity we get, the better.