Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Best Comics of 2011 - Part 3 (of 5)

30. Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes
Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes #1-3 (BOOM! Studios)
Written by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman; Art by Gabriel Hardman
Up until 2011, the Planet of the Apes movies and other assorted media were never my favourite thing. Indeed, had it not been for the one-two punch of the epic Rise of the Planet of the Apes movie and the announcement that Gabriel Hardman would be tackling creative control on an Apes comic book, I would probably have never delved into the universe beyond the original movie. Handing us some beautiful artwork (let me reaffirm: Gabriel Hardman is one of my, if not my, favourite artists working right now) and a story that blends the classic films with political intrigue, murder and mystery, Hardman and his wife, Corinna Bechko, hand readers a series that stands apart from all prior incarnations of the universe and yet blends so seamlessly with the original concept that you'll swear it was always part of the canon.

29. Batman: Noel
Original Graphic Novel (DC Comics)
Written by Lee Bermejo; Art by Lee Bermejo
Lee Bermejo has always been a name in comics, boasting a painted style that blends realism with cartoons and presents itself as sets of tapestries rather than comic book pages. Following two great stories focusing on supervillains, Joker and Luthor (although, that was a reprint of an earlier mini-series), Bermejo tries his hand at writing as well as illustrating for his latest venture, Batman: Noel. The story is a loose adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol and it boasts some of Bermejo's best artwork, while also presenting to readers some concrete evidence that he may be more than just an "art guy." The story is paced brilliantly and the way the words mesh with the artwork is truly admirable. It's a shame it takes Bermejo so long to come out with new books, because this only makes me more excited for the next one.

28. Flashpoint: Batman - Knight of Vengeance/Flashpoint: The Outsider
Flashpoint: Batman - Knight of Vengeance #1-3:
Written by Brian Azzarello; Art by Eduardo Risso
Flashpoint: The Outsider #1-3:
Written by James Robinson; Art by Javi Fernandez
Prior to the line-wide relaunch in September, DC released a ton of mini-series tying into their big event book, Flashpoint. While the main title fell flat, along with the majority of the tie-ins, two mini's stuck out as inventive, fun and engaging. Flashpoint: Batman - Knight of Vengeance gave the backstory on the Flashpoint universe's Batman, revealed to be Thomas Wayne, who turned to crimefighting after the death of his son in the infamous robbery. It's a great twist on the Batman mythology, with a version of the Joker who is truly horrifying and utterly twisted. Brian Azzarello paints a bleak picture through his words, while Eduardo Risso drowns us in his exquisite art. The other highlight was Flashpoint: The Outsider, a mini-series focusing on an entirely new character and offering us a glimpse at the potential the Flashpoint universe failed to cash in on throughout it's existence; the Outsider is a brutal villain, a Lex Luthor with even less of a conscience, and by the time the mini-series drew to a close, James Robinson had given no indication of which side this creation would fall on. The art by Javi Fernandez captured the brutal world perfectly and offered some of the best images to come out of the event.

27. The Shade
The Shade #1-3 (DC Comics)
Written by James Robinson; Art by Cully Hamner
James Robinson's Starman is one of my favourite series of all time; every issue is bursting with energy, takes a while to read and boasts gorgeous artwork to match the concepts. The characters from that series have largely faded into obscurity, but now my favourite supporting character has finally been granted his own twelve-issue series. The Shade follows the adventures of the titular Shade as he deals with an assassination attempt and attempts to unlock the various pieces of an increasingly complex and mind-boggling set of mysteries and puzzles. Cully Hamner supports the issues with some stellar art that reminds us why he is considered one of the greats. The highlight, though, comes in the form of the Shade, himself; dark, mystery and growing in complexity every time we revisit him, the character is always perfect when Robinson writes him. Not bad for a throwaway D-List villain from decades ago.

26. Witch Doctor
Witch Doctor #1-4 & Witch Doctor: The Resuscitation #1 (Image Comics)
Written by Brandon Seifert; Art by Lukas Ketner
How do I describe this series in a way that does it justice? I could tell you that it's the House of horror comics. In fact, that's probably the best way to describe it: A grisly, misanthropic doctor who deals solely in supernatural cases. The introductory mini-series was one I read on a lark and I'm absolutely thrilled that I did; every issue boasts a story that is largely self-contained, features a brutal creature of some kind, and develops the overarching narrative wonderfully. The writing by Brandon Seifert has the punch of a medical drama without resorting the babbling intelligence, while Lukas Ketner keeps things dark and brooding with some marvelous artwork, highlighting gothic tones and exaggerated features. This series is definitely worth a look before the next arc is released; the characters are great, the story is fresh and the experience is absolutely wonderful.

25. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8/Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9/Angel & Faith
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 #40 (Dark Horse Comics):
Written by Joss Whedon; Art by Georges Jeanty
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 #1-4 (Dark Horse Comics):
Written by Joss Whedon and Andrew Chambliss; Art by Georges Jeanty
Angel & Faith #1-5 (Dark Horse Comics):
Written by Christos Gage; Art by Rebekah Isaacs and Phil Noto
Since around the halfway point of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8, it started to show that the series was spiraling out of control. There were too many storylines spread over too great a timespan that readers were becoming confused and bored by the series. Then, in the final year they kicked it into overdrive, bringing the book back to it's initial brilliance and starting 2011 with a stunning finale. After a hiatus, the book returned, accompanied by a companion piece focusing on Angel & Faith. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 immediately felt fresh and original, with Georges Jeanty once more capturing the likenesses of the actors, while also infusing them with a cartoony style. As the arc in Season 9 progressed, the side-story in Angel & Faith infused it with a sense of urgency and engagement that made both books feel like necessary reads. This is how Season 8 should have been for it's entirety, and hopefully that's exactly what the creative team have learnt for Season 9.

24. Wolverine/Wolverine and the X-Men
Wolverine #5-20 and 5.1 (Marvel Comics):
Written by Jason Aaron; Art by Renato Guedes, Jefte Palo, Daniel Acuna, Goran Sudzuka and Ron Garney
Wolverine and the X-Men #1-3
Written by Jason Aaron; Art by Chris Bachalo
Everyone's favourite X-Man has had a hard run of it in recent years. Following a sales smash under Mark Millar and John Romita Jr, nobody seemed to know what to do with the character. The only solid patches in that dark period were penned by Jason Aaron, eventually earning him the side series Wolverine: Weapon X. When the main Wolverine title was relaunched in 2010, Aaron was placed on the book, but it wasn't until 2011 that we really got to see how well he writes the character. In 2011, Wolverine has battled the hordes of hell, had a cracking birthday party, fought the X-Men while possessed, had his inner demons unlocked by an intricate brain invasion, killed long-time nemesis Mystique, hunted his enemies, slaughtered his own children, attempted suicide and lead an investigation alongside a giant ape. The strength of Jason Aaron's Wolverine work won him the role as writer on the post-Schism lead X-title, Wolverine and the X-Men. In the first arc of that series, Wolverine opened the Jean Grey Institute and battled creatures from the deep and the new Hellfire Club. One thing is clear from all this; Jason Aaron gets the character of Wolverine and the announcement that he is leaving the solo series in 2012 is heartbreaking.

23. Sweet Tooth
Sweet Tooth #17-28 (DC Comics)
Written by Jeff Lemire; Art by Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt, Nate Powell and Emi Lenox
I've learnt in 2011 that Jeff Lemire writes some damn frightening comic books. I'll get deeper into it later on, but for now I just need people to marvel at the brilliance of Sweet Tooth, the post-apocalyptic series that boasts great characters, an intriguing scenario and some of the creepiest moments I've read all year. We kicked off the year with revelations about Jeppard's past, as well as reuniting him with Gus and establishing a handful of new supporting characters. As the year continued we journeyed deeper into the friendship between the characters, established a new status quo leading into a new threat and delved into the history and evolution of the hybrids. 2011 also saw the introduction of new artists into Jeff Lemire's world, something that added a fresh twist onto the old story elements and helped make the book a slice of pure excellence month in and month out.

22. Secret Avengers
Secret Avengers #16-20 (Marvel Comics)
Written by Warren Ellis; Art by Jamie McKelvie, Kev Walker, David Aja, Michael Lark and Alex Maleev
I'm being really specific with this one, because outside of these issues Secret Avengers has been an absolutely horrible book. Poorly written by both Ed Brubaker and Nick Spencer and featuring some of the worst excuses for artwork I've ever seen the series was a waste of time month in and month out. But then Warren Ellis came along, joined by a team of superstar artists, and in the space of five one shots, each highlighting a different art style, the book was transformed into one of the best reads every month. Ellis turned the team into a covert ops team that actually engaged in covert ops, each chapter dealt with a different element of science fiction and every chapter tied together to form a larger narrative but could be viewed as a one-off as well. Despite the fact that Ellis has voiced his distaste for the work, it really is some of the best superhero action Marvel has published in years.

21. Fantastic Four/FF
Fantastic Four #587-588, 600-601 (Marvel Comics):
Written by Jonathan Hickman; Art by Steve Epting, Nick Dragotta, Carmine Di Giandomenico, Ming Doyle, Leinil Francis Yu and Farel Dalrymple
FF #1-13 (Marvel Comics):
Written by Jonathan Hickman; Art by Steve Epting, Barry Kitson, Greg Tocchini and Juan Bobillo
Jonathan Hickman did the impossible to Marvel's long-dead Fantastic Four title. He transformed it into an epic adventure that went to far greater heights than any run had dared for years; 2011 kicked off with the death of the Human Torch, transitioning into the end of the Fantastic Four ongoing and the start of FF, bringing Spider-Man onto the team and creating an incredible new dynamic for the book and the characters. As the long-running arc continued through the year, Black Bolt returned as did the Council of Reeds, while the biggest twist came with the splitting of the book at FF #12, returning it to Fantastic Four #600 and offering up the reunion of the Four and the start of the Future Foundation's ongoing adventures in their own separate title. With the conclusion to Hickman's long-running opus imminent it's hard to comprehend how he will top 2011, but it's looking likely that he will vastly eclipse our expectations.