2011 has been a bumper year for comics. With the re-launch of 52 DC titles to much fanfare, a few relaunched titles from Marvel with much less fanfare, a slew of great independent publishers producing great books, and some truly outstanding single issues, mini-series and brilliant on-going series. I was going to pick a top ten (which would have been easy to do) but I decided to make life hard for myself. To be honest on another day a totally different top 5 could be here. There's just been so many good comics this year. Anyway, let's kick off with:
5. The Punisher. Greg Rucka, Writer. Marco Checchetto, Artist. Matt Hollingworth, Colour Artist.
Frank Castle, as written by Greg Rucka, is a great character. A true anti-hero in the comic book world. Punisher is not a character I’d read much of until now. This relaunched Punisher, written by Rucka and illustrated by Marco Checchetto, is a brilliant introduction to the character. And I have huge respect for a comic book writer who gives his main character no dialogue at all in the first 3 issues. It’s risky move, but calculated because it works brilliantly. Frank Castle is a man of action, defined by his obsessive need to avenge his family’s death. And the illustrations by Checchetto give him all the voice he needs. I’ve really enjoyed reading Punisher and it looks gorgeous. Which is why it is one of my top 5 books of the year.
4. Animal Man. Jeff Lemire, Writer. Travel Foreman, Artist.
I wasn’t really familiar with Animal Man until I started reading Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman’s DC New 52 version. What a great character he is, written beautifully by Lemire, and drawn spectacularly by Foreman. It’s refreshing to see a superhero from a different perspective; in this case through the lens of his long-suffering family. Buddy Baker is a family man. This is unusual for a superhero and it’s really interesting to see how his life as a superhero interacts with his life as a husband and father. Jeff Lemire is doing a wonderful job in creating a believable world for Animal Man, even when it delves into the Red, the lifeblood, with fantastical accompanying images by Travel Foreman. Foreman’s art seems to be something people absolutely love, or just can’t get with. I love it. It’s weird, wonderful and a refreshing change from typical superhero imagery. Judge for yourself below. I’m really enjoying Animal Man, and can’t wait to see where these guys take him.
3. Batwoman. JH Williams III, Co-Writer, Artist. W. Haden Blackman, Co-Writer.
Wow. Just wow. A review of JH Williams III’s Batwoman could just consist of images from the comic itself. They would be enough to make anybody go and seek it out. But I’ll say a few words too. This was one of the most eagerly anticipated New 52 titles from DC, and it has certainly lived up to the hype. It is one of the most beautiful comic books I have ever held in my hands. Williams’ artwork is extraordinary, and to produce this level of art every month and sell it for $2.99 a pop. Man, that’s astonishing. The writing, by Williams and W. Haden Blackman, is brilliant too and shouldn’t be overlooked. Kate Kane is a complex character. She is flawed, like most superheroes, and I’m eager to see how she develops. To have a lesbian comic book character right at the heart of DC’s mainstream line is something to be celebrated. I look forward to Batwoman every month, and that’s how it should be with comics.
2. Batman. Scott Snyder, Writer. Greg Capullo, Artist.
First off, Batman is and has always been my favourite comic book character. I’ve got more Batman comics than any others. I love the films (most of them anyway) The first comics I ever read were the Fleetway Editions Batman comics that I used to buy at my local newsagent when I was about 10 years old. The Dark Knight has been with me for most of my life. So yeah. I’ve got a lot of love for the Bat. When I heard that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo were going to be the creative team on the New 52 Batman, I knew that the character was going to be in good hands. Snyder’s run on Detective Comics had been very well received, and rightly so. Snyder brings the detective element of the character to the fore, and for me, as a crime fiction fan, that’s great. In the new Batman the dark elements are present and correct, and the run has started off with a cracking story involving the very sinister Court of Owls. The most recent issue, number 5, was absolutely astounding. Batman is shown to be vulnerable, cracking from lack of sleep, and paranoid and, dare I say it, a little bit scared, in a horrendously disorienting labyrinth. Batman scared? No way. Well he’s damn close to being scared. I was terrified reading it. The way Capullo has drawn this issue is brilliant, turning the pages on their side and then upside down, and back again. I got so engrossed in the story, that I went backwards and re-read a double page spread before I realised. The detail in the panels is painstaking and I’m sure I’ll need to read it a few more times before it all sinks in. So yeah, Batman’s in good hands. But it didn’t quite make my number 1 spot.
And so to my, and many other people's, number 1 comic of 2011:
1. Daredevil. Mark Waid, Writer. Paulo Rivera, Artist. Marcos Martin, Artist.
What can I say about this comic which hasn’t already been said over and over again by numerous reviews, comic blogs, die-hard fans and recent converts? Probably nothing new. But you know what? The relaunched Daredevil, written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin, is so damn good that all the praise that’s been heaped upon it bears repeating. DC’s line wide relaunch may have been the biggest ‘event’ of 2011, but the best comic relaunch, by a mile, was Daredevil. I’ve always been a fan of the horned red fella, and I really enjoyed Bendis’ run a few years ago. What Mark Waid has done with this latest re-launch is to bring the fun back. Big Time. The scene with Matt Murdock walking into a room full of party-goers wearing a jumper emblazoned with the words “I’m Not Daredevil” may be one of my favourite images in a comic book ever, never mind last year.
After everything the character has been through it’s really refreshing to see a lighter side coming out, without it seeming forced or awkward. Waid truly has done a fantastic job here, and I’m grateful for it. As for the artwork on this book. Well, the quality of the writing is equalled by the beautiful illustrations of Rivera and Martin, who have shared the art duties on the book. Just take the cover of issue 7 by Rivera, which has Daredevil lying on a snow-covered roof making a snow angel. And he’s grinning like a crazy person! The fun I was talking about. That’s it right there. Beautiful.
Reading Daredevil is so much fun, and it’s an experience like I used to have when I first started reading comics over twenty years ago. Right down to the fact it has a proper letters page. I miss letters pages at the back of comics. It enhances the overall experience I think. With Daredevil Waid, Rivera and Martin have created a comic that deserves to be read, enjoyed and loved by a wider audience than just comic book fans. If you’ve never read a comic book in your life or you’ve fallen out of the habit, I urge you to pick up Daredevil. You’ll fall in love. Guaranteed.
So that's it. A little later than I'd planned! As I said it would have been easy to do a top ten, and more. It's been a great year for comics. Hopefully 2012 will be bigger and better.