What Were the Best Comics of 2011?

You know how people talk about “Oscar season” with movies? The basic idea is, all of the major studios release their prestige pictures around the same time so that the judges at the Oscars will remember them clearly when it comes time to vote. I used to hate that idea–why not intersperse the good films throughout the entire year? Now I can see the logic in it. I’m right now trying to think of what the best moments in comics were from 2011, and about all I can remember is stuff from the Fall.

Anyways, based on my foggy recollection, here’s a list of my favorite comics from the previous year. These are in no particular order.

Barbara Gordon Can Walk! 

In a lot of ways, the DC reboot seemed silly to me. It was like DC not only killed the Golden Goose but also cooked it. Now I’ll say the fact that Barbara Gordon can walk again has made the reboot almost worth it. I’m surprised her crippling at the hands of the Joker wasn’t undone a long time ago. I mean, Batman was crippled by Bane, and he was up and walking within a few issues. I think the return of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl will hopefully also mean a strong return of a female fanbase to comics. So many other female superheroes are made to appeal more to fanboys than girls (i.e. characters like Catwoman, Power Girl, Starfire, and Harlequin, characters who either wear next to nothing or are covered in form-fitting outfits leaving little to the imagination).  Barbara Gordon though, during her time as Oracle, proved to be a strong willed character instead of a femme fatale. Now, she’s able to step into the limelight with her own two feet.

There Was Nothing To Read Except Fear Itself

A lot of fans were divided by Fear Itself. I for one loved it, and consider it to be among the best big events in years. I’m speaking here mainly of the central 8 part series. I didn’t buy many of the spin-offs. What I liked about Fear Itself is that it reframed the average superhero story into being very blatantly a case of good vs. evil. With many of the other Marvel events, the dividing line has been less clear. Here, Matt Fraction combines Nazism with a Lovecraftian villain to create a vision of evil that isn’t easy to forget. My only complaint is that the last issue of the series was a bit anti-climactic.

 

Hellboy: The Fury Saved The Franchise

Ever since Darkness Calls I’ve been a little underwhelmed with Hellboy. I’ve read every issue of the series, but for a while I didn’t feel like rushing out to get the new ones as speedily as I did before. Part of the problem for me was that I felt the story arcs weren’t coming to satisfying conclusions. I didn’t realize that Mignola was planning for the last few story arcs to come together in The Fury. A lot of the loose ends from the past few years are tied up in just three issues. Duncan Fegredo also supplied the best artwork of his career for this, which is going to be his last work with Hellboy for a while, as Mignola announced he’d be taking over drawing the series in 2012.

Xombi Rises From the Dead but is Buried Again

When I think of amazing comic book artwork, a handful of names come to mind: Frank Quitely, J.H. Williams III, Mike Mignola, Yuko Shimizu, and on the opposite end of the spectrum Jacques Tardi, George Herriman, Bill Watterson and Carl Barks. After purchasing just one issue of Xombi I knew I had another name to add to the list: Frazier Irving. His style is hallucinatory and yet highly detailed at the same time. He’s an artist whose work I’ll look at and immediately think “I could never do something like that.” Xombi was a highly enjoyable series and I’m sad to see it go.

Fables: Rose Red I Re-Read Twice

I can’t remember for sure if this came out in 2011 or late in 2010, but whatever. This arc stands out to me as the best Fables story to happen after the fall of the Empire. It’s largely a flashback to Snow White and Rose Red’s relationship before the events of Fables issue 1. Since the series began, it’s obvious there’s some bad blood between the sisters, but the writer Bill Willingham kept their past a secret until around issue 98. This is a story that will delight Fables devotees like myself but also works as a stand-alone volume, which is pretty rare with this high-concept series.

The Simpsons Keep the Laughs Coming

Okay, so I’ve been a fan of The Simpsons for almost my entire life now. I can recall staying up past curfew as a child just to watch it (I remember it was on Thursday nights at 8 in the beginning). I was too young to understand a majority of the jokes, but I watched it anyways. In the intervening years, I’ve collected a pretty large amount of Simpsons merchandise, but not until this year did I really get into the comics. In the past I was snobbish, looking at the comics and thinking they were non-canonical. Snobbishness though is just a limitation you place on yourself. This year I approached a Simpsons comic with an open mind and found I really do like the series. Maybe in 2011 the comics were better than they were before, or maybe I’m just seeing them differently.

The Unwritten Demands to Be Read

I’m ashamed to admit this, but I didn’t discover Neil Gaiman‘s series The Sandman until 2010. I’d certainly heard of it, and I knew a lot of people loved it, but when I skimmed through the graphic novels, it didn’t seem like the comic for me. Then, after reading just about everything else from my local library’s graphic novel collection, I decided to go ahead and give The Sandman a shot. In short, I loved it. Within about two months I read the entire series, plus most of the spin-offs. Afterwards though came a vague sense of disappointment, as I realized there was no other comic quite like it in terms of scope or depth or the complexity of the story. That changed when I first read The Unwritten. While it’s not as amazing as The Sandman, it has a complex and involving story that keeps me coming back for more. Similar to The Sandman, it deals with metafiction and the ways that stories affect us.

The Avengers Save Superhero Comics

Here’s yet another case of discovering something awesome in comics belatedly. Prior to this year, I never bothered to follow The Avengers. In the entire time that I collected comics, I bought only 2 or 3 issues of the series. To put that in perspective, let me point out that I own 8 issues of The Atom and 6 issues of a Duck Tales comic series. What got me to give the series a chance was when I saw an issue in a dollar bin with artwork by John Romita Jr, whose work I’ve admired ever since he used to draw Spider-Man all the time. Right away, I knew something special was going on. The issue had rhythmic dialogue and actually contained humor! In short time, Brian Michael Bendis became a name to watch. His series New Avengers is probably my favorite ongoing comic. As luck would have it, I got to meet Brian Michael Bendis briefly after he gave a fascinating lecture at Powell’s Books a few months ago.

Batwoman Achieves Equal Opportunities

Batwoman was a character most comic book fans wouldn’t expect to see a comeback from. She was hastily added to the Bat-family back in the Silver Age when ultra-conservatives were maliciously slandering Bruce Wayne‘s unique relationship with Dick Grayson. Batgirl was added around the same time to round out the family, making Batman and Batwoman seem like the parents and Robin and Batgirl were the children. Oddly, Batgirl would go on to have a life of her own, and has had many different incarnations over the years, but Batwoman was quickly fazed out of the franchise, never to be heard of again until she returned out of the blue during the epic series 52. Greg Rucka thoroughly retooled her character, making her no longer Batman’s lover, and made sure there was no possibility she ever could be, as she became one of superhero comic books’ few homosexual characters (an earlier example would be Rainmaker from Gen-13). After playing a big role in 52, she disappeared again, only to return after the “death” of Bruce Wayne. She took over Detective Comics for about 12 issues, and immediately developed a strong fanbase, in large part because of J.H. Williams III’s awesome visuals. There had been talk of giving her her own series, but that idea was shelved until the recent reboot. Similar to Batgirl’s return, I’ll say giving Batwoman her own series made the reboot almost worth it.

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If you’re looking for something new to read that’s not a comic, do me a favor and give my work a shot. I’ve written two books now, The Madness of Art: Short Stories and A Rapturous Occasion, both available on Amazon. Check out my author page on Amazon for more info.

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As I mentioned at the start of this long article, there’s a lot of comics I’m sure I’ve forgotten about, so I’d like to go ahead and ask you what your favorite comic moments of 2011 were (feel free to write your thoughts in the comments box below–I approve just about every comment).

 

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