Sunday, December 30, 2012

Ten (13) for 2012

A list of 10 favourite comics for the year isn’t just an easy way to fill up blog space, it’s also a real chance to take a proper look back over the year. With the speed of modern media turnover, a comic that came out in March can already be forgotten by December, and it is nice to reflect on the most entertaining and enlightening comics of 2012.

There are the usual huge-ass caveats to this list - my comic consumption is severely limited by financial restrictions and library availability, so I haven’t had the chance to read things like Charles Burns’ latest book, or Saga, or the new Brandon Graham comic or the end of Scalped or a dozen other titles on a dozen other year-end lists. Forget Building Stories, which retails for about $120 around these parts, I haven’t even got around to reading the latest Dork comic yet

I can only talk about the stuff I did get to read in 2012, and I’m pretty sure some of the stuff I’m talking about here might have come out in 2011, and it just took me a while to get around to it.

And it’s not a ‘best of…’ list, it’s a list of my favourite comics, and I’m hard-wired to enjoy intense, stylish and thoughtful action comics with energy and laughs and violence. I do feel a little bad about the fact there is only one female creator in this list, but I cannot tell a lie – I enjoyed Judge Dredd far more than I enjoyed Fun Home. (I also feel a bit stink about the fact that they’re all British and American comics, but again, that’s just the stuff I tend to like.)

So, with all that in mind, these are my ten (well, 13 really) favourite comics of 2012:

Judge Dredd 
By John Wagner and chums 

This list is in no particular order, because picking ten was hard enough without having to rank them as well, but if I had to pick an absolute favourite comic, it would undoubtedly be Judge Dredd. The end to creator John Wagner’s Day of Chaos mega-series was literally stunning, and I’m still processing it, months afterwards. (“He… he lost?”)

But then, just when it looked like Dredd was going into the usual year-end cycle of fairly meaningless (and Wagner-less) short stories, it unexpectedly blossomed into something new, with the next generation of Dredd writers using the form of an anthology comic in unexpectedly refreshing ways to tell a single story across three different strips. Great stuff, and an excellent sign for the future.

Nikolai Dante
By Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser

Same thing as Dredd, really. Still a bit blown away by that ending, and intending to go back and re-read the whole story over the next few weeks. It’s a summer kind of comic.

My Friend Dahmer 
By Derf Backderf 

A truly significant work by Dert Backderf, a huge leap in quality and depth from his earlier comics that manages to be incredibly creepy and terribly sad. Also proof that when it comes to comics, there really is something for everyone.
Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland 
By Harvey and Joseph Remnant 

The older I get, the more I like Harvey’s work.

Fury: My War Gone By / The Boys 
By Garth Ennis and chums

2012 was another terrific year for Garth Ennis comics, and his work is always the first I read when I get into the shop every Saturday morning. The Boys reached the kind of super-apocalyptic climax it was always reaching for, and then saved all the real carnage for the last storyline, which ultimately led to a quiet plea for a little kindness.

There is very little kindness in Fury, but loads of efficiency – the scene in the latest issue where Fury and Frank Castle come across a kid in the Vietnamese jungle is the most brilliantly terse piece of comic storytelling I read all year.

Reset / The Lovely Horrible Stuff
By Peter Bagge and Eddie Campbell

With extremely unique senses of humour and style, Peter Bagge and Eddie Campbel might not seem to have a lot in common, other than a burning desire to make their own kind of comic books. But both creators also suffer from the Hernandez (los Bros) syndrome – they’ve been doing so much good stuff for so long, it feels like there is nothing much to say about their latest work, no matter how good it is.

Admittedly, I’ve been on a huge Bagge kick all year, catching up on Hate and plunging back into the Neat Stuff stuff, but Reset – his latest series - really did feel like classic Bagge. Full of regrets, recriminations and people flipping the fuck out, with a sweet centre hidden beneath a thick layer of cynicism.

And I’ve also been gorging on Campbell’s work in the past year, after filling in some irritating Bacchus blanks, and The Lovely Horrible Stuff – his latest book - also felt like classic Campbell – informative, whimsical and more than a little rambling. Sharp, but comfortable.

They’ve both been doing it for years now, and I’d rate their work as good as ever.

By Jeff Smith 

It certainly wasn’t no Bone, but it was never going to be, and by the end of the surprisingly short series, Rasl was very definitely its own comic. The last few issues managed to be both genuinely horrifying and a little touching, all tied up neatly with the usual fluid Jeff Smith action.

The Secret Service
By Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons

Mark Millar and Dave Gibbon’s Secret Service has some dodgy class issues, and nobody really talks like Mark Millar characters talk, but it’s also the slickest piece of entertainment I read all year, and sometimes I like a little tasty shallow nothingness in my comic diet.

It also reminds me of a Hollywood remake of The Invisibles and I, surprisingly, do not have a problem with that.

Love and Rockets New Stories #5
By Los Bros Hernandez

Still the best, even after all these years.

Dotter of her Father's Eyes / Grandville: Bete Noire
By Bryan and Mary Talbot 

Bryan Talbot does two things very well – Balls-out action and straight, clear and honest historical representation with a dash of emotional resonance, and both of Bryan’s strengths were highlighted in 2012.

The third Grandville book – which only just arrived before the end of the year - spends some further time expanding the world of Detective Inspector LeBrock, and the longer story is heading in a definite direction, but it’s the sharp action storytelling that continues to make Grandville so enjoyable, as motorcycles fly through the air and giant death-robots are unleashed on Paris.

There are also more grim jokes in Grandville: Bete Noire with the use of the anthropomorphised animals, with Toad Hall twisted into something weird and dangerous, while it is actually fairly disturbing to see a smurf gunned down at a human rights march. But it’s still a cracking adventure comic more than anything else, and Talbot delivers again in that regard.

He also delivers some fine real-life work in Dotter of Her Father’s eyes, illustrating his wife's story and the strange connection she feels to James Joyce's daughter. It's about as far from the world of Grandville as you can get, but both are recognisably Talbot, in their own ways.
 Honourable mentioning

These ones could have been on the list, but weren’t for one reason or another – The Manhattan Projects, Sweet Tooth, Batman Inc, Wolverine and The X-Men (this one was surprisingly close), Hit-Girl, that excellent Ghosts 80-pager from Vertigo, All-Star Western, the latest Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service book, Fatale and half a dozen titles I’m suddenly going to remember thirty seconds after I click on the publish button...

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