The Massive (Dark Horse Comics): The Massive is essentially everything I want from a modern comic book. It’s wrapped in an immensely cool and diligently researched world-build, with realistic action scenes amid globe-trotting adventure, intriguing atypical characters speaking memorable lines, unforgettable art solidifying its social relevance, innovative back-matter and even a companion process site, from a creator whose ethos I actually respect. In many ways, the romance of environmentalists trying to doggedly redefine themselves and their mission after they’ve already lost this devastated world is the sum of Brian Wood’s creator-owned capabilities poured into a single project.

Danger Club (Image Comics): My pitch for Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones’ dark post-apocalyptic mess is that “it’s like Warren Ellis riffing on 1960’s Teen Titans,” in that it’s the best post-modern superhero deconstruction currently happening in the field. As the undisciplined inherit the Earth, this creative team proves that there’s still worthwhile nooks and crannies left unexplored in the industry’s most mined genre. The exception proving the rule, sharp readers will notice that it’s the only ostensible “superhero” book on this list.

Prophet (Image Comics): This sprawling European style sci-fi fantasy epic is from the fertile mind of agile creator Brandon Graham. Prophet was the flagship leading the charge for Image Comics’ creator-owned resurgence, proof-of-concept that deliberately blurring the line between mainstream and indie is a viable paradigm yielding remarkable results. With a horde of artistic talent on display like Simon Roy, Giannis Milonogiannis, Farel Dalrymple, et al, from its complete unpredictability, to Hemmingway style prose, to lack of insulting exposition, to utterly inventive cool factor, there’s a reason it’ll be on nearly every critic’s best-of-the-year list.

Scalped (DC/Vertigo): Paging every premium cable TV executive, like, everywhere: If you’re not seriously looking at a Scalped adaptation as the next big Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead style phenomenon, you’re just not doing your job. Scalped was on my best-of list every single year it was being published, with more “holy shit!” moments than any other book in recent memory. As we finally say goodbye to its dark majesty, we should remember it for being not just one of the best crime books ever, not just one of the best Vertigo books ever, but just one of the best books ever. Period. It’s best when examining the cyclical nature of crime and violence with startling and heartbreaking intensity, amid a decaying and often disregarded stratum of American culture.

Mind MGMT (Dark Horse Comics): I’m surprised at how many comic book aficionados turn out to be closeted foodies. Weirdest segue ever? Maybe. But in the era of craft beer and eclectic gastropubs with widespread appeal, here’s an example of “craft comics” from a mainstream publisher, propelling “the guy who made all those cool indie comics” into the well-deserved spotlight. Everything about Matt Kindt’s one-man-band coming out party feels lovingly handcrafted to tell a tale of pulpy espionage and the secret sun-bleached histories permeating our global society.

Godzilla: Half Century War (IDW): James Stokoe wasn’t so much hired as he was unleashed onto this property. With his trademark eye-candy detail insanity, he repurposes what is frankly a stale old monster convention and uses it as a through-line backdrop to tell more personal stories about the military men assigned to take down the beast. In doing so, we learn what it says about the people and their insecurities, and by vicarious extension our civilization’s collective fears as a whole, with each issue cascading through the waning decades of the 20th Century.

My Friend Dahmer (Abrams ComicArts): Derf Backderf doesn’t go for the easy path and present the shock value serial killer we’ve all seen in popular media, but digs deeper to examine the more systemic horror. My Friend Dahmer depicts a disturbing portrait of the holistic society that failed young Jeffrey, including his family, friends, teachers, and local law enforcement who were all given ample warning signs and opportunities to intercede. With my criminal justice background, I’m no apologist, I refuse to blame anyone else for a perpetrator’s actions, and sometimes evil is just evil beyond help. Yet still, the truly disturbing aspect of this case is that it may actually say more about the perpetual breakdown of our familial bonds and isolationist social units in our culture than the nature of one man’s horrific compulsion.

Goliath (Drawn & Quarterly): Tom Gauld’s story of David & Goliath, this time from Goliath’s somewhat conscripted point of view, is an exceedingly successful exercise in minimalism and restraint. With stark imagery, he presents a time-lost tragicomedy of a reluctant and surprisingly introspective man, offering a subscriptive vs. prescriptive reading experience in the process. Goliath is thin on dialogue and exposition, but high on emotional potency and visual impact.

The Making Of (Drawn & Quarterly): Brecht Evens’ long-form tale is full of heart, full of humor, and full of gorgeous undulating washes. It’s an intelligent and honest story about one singular realization of truth, that the artistic process is as valuable, if not more so, than the end result it seeks to produce. Art is a goal unto itself, but the sheer momentum of the journey is where actual knowledge and experience lie. Evens makes it known by developing his own visual language to convey dreams, personality, and emotion, in what is probably *the* most beautiful example of comics-making this year.

Wasteland (Oni Press): Artists have come and gone in different capacities, but writer Antony Johnston’s post-apocalyptic vision has endured. Johnston has conjured a strong world-build as a primary feature, but the series has legs beyond the hook because of the universal themes of religion, love, betrayal, belonging, the quest for our origins, and pure survival, all timeless to the human experience. As we near what should be approximately the last two years worth of issues, it’s the series I’m most excited to devour when a new issue hits, because it defies prediction.

20TH Century Boys (VizMedia): Post-WWII reconstructionism in Japan is the underlying fuel that influences this epic narrative, as a group of youngsters attempt to take control of their destiny and build themselves the future they were promised. 20TH Century Boys is the twisting and turning generational tale of what goes horribly wrong when they do. I’m excited to see how what is hailed as “the Watchmen of Japan” wraps up for the final two volumes which have transitioned to 21ST Century Boys.

Get Jiro! (DC/Vertigo): In this urban Mad Max style culinary apocalypse, Anthony Bourdain and Langdon Foss position cult chefs as the new center of power in the crumbling culture of Los Angeles. It’s a non-stop ride full of social commentary and, obviously, food, which is always an entry level method of surveying cultures. Like the late Seth Fisher, Foss’ expressive art is an immersive experience that just makes you believe. The creators are careful to point out that extremism of any kind is dangerous, and I loved the notes about doing the mainstream sell-out work in any profession to fund your more personal indie losses.

Punk Rock Jesus (DC/Vertigo): I came superficially for the intricate Sean Murphy art, but also got an unapologetic examination of hot button religious issues. Murphy is an all-around entertainer, weaving in great action sequences, memorable poignant moments, and a rich cast of characters. It’s hard to say this when I haven’t read the final issue, but it’s the kind book you want to see develop with additional mini-series or an ongoing treatment. One of the few bright Vertigo spots left in the wake of DMZ, Northlanders, Scalped, and other departing critically-praised series.

NOTES: It was a great year. This is the only year I remember having far more contenders than available slots. It was really a toss-up for that last slot, which could have just as easily been Think Tank (Image Comics) by Matt Hawkins and Rahsan Ekedal. I literally had to go back and count which got better reviews, and with more issues in the can, Punk Rock Jesus edged out Think Tank by a very slim margin. I tried so hard to get Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity (Image Comics) by Brandon Graham on the list. At one point, I thought I’d just be contrarian and slide it in instead of Prophet. But, I only saw two issues of Multiple Warheads and that seemed slim by comparison. I also wanted to stick with my loose guideline that no creator should have more than one entry in order to spread the love around, otherwise half of my picks would honestly just be Brian Wood books. Speaking of, there’s no reason that his Conan The Barbarian (Dark Horse) adaptation or adjectiveless X-Men (Marvel) run with artist David Lopez would look out of place on this list. I enjoyed Saga (Image Comics), but it felt more like a Top 20 selection. I enjoyed Secret (Image Comics), but with a pitiful two issues from Jonathan Hickman before stalling out like so many of his creator-owned series, it just didn’t feel right to reward a woefully incomplete tease. I was very into the Juan Jose Ryp art and introductory premise of writer David Schulner’s Clone (Image), but with a partial project underway, there were other contenders with more skin in the game. While it ended up being a creator-owned extravaganza, the company-owned title that came closest, and was even on the list at various points throughout the year as the exception that proved the rule, was Batwoman (DC) by JH Williams III, who is one of the premiere artists of our time. He’s taken what is otherwise a simple set of themes and added so much psychological gravitas through his unique layouts and aesthetic. On the GN front, I also failed to find places for the terrific American Barbarian (AdHouse) by Tom Scioli, Coldest City (Oni Press) by Antony Johnston, The Strange Talent of Luther Strode (Image Comics) by Justin Jordan & Tradd Moore (though I have a good feeling about The Legend of Luther Strode for 2013!), and yet another one from Brandon Graham, King City (Image Comics).


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