Monday, December 31, 2012

The Year in Comics - 2012

2012, what a year in comics.  DC Comics continued their New 52 initiative to varying degrees of success, and Marvel brought nearly all of their long-running series to a close and relaunched almost their entire line with Marvel Now.

It's been a great year to be a fan of comics, because for the first time in a few years, it actually feels as if both of the major publishers are trying to really take their characters into drastically new directions.  While some have not been particularly fond of some of the changes that come with such creative thinking, for the most part I feel that the comic book industry has nailed majority of the landings.  From the deaths of Charles Xavier and Peter Parker, to the merging of the X-Men and the Avengers in Uncanny Avengers, all the way to the Court of the Owls, to the Joker's creeptastic return in the pages of DC Comics, there have been plenty of major moments from this year that their repercussions will continue to be felt for years to come.

Marvel wrapped up a long-running story, that sort of started all the way back with House of M, by tackling their best event in years, Avengers vs. X-Men.  The story saw the return of the Phoenix Force to Earth, the fall of Scott Summers from hero to renegade, the death of Charles Xavier at the hands of Cyclops, and created a new status quo for Marvel in general, with Marvel Now.

In the aftermath of the events in Avengers vs. X-Men, Marvel renumbered almost all of their books at number one, from The Avengers to Fantastic Four, but unlike DC Comics' New 52 from last year, Marvel Now managed to welcome new readers without having to reboot and rewrite years of continuity.  It's a marvel in and of itself that Marvel managed to successfully pull off Marvel Now, without rebooting their universe like DC did, but each number one issue brought the reader up to date without jumping straight into complicated jargon, and let the longtime fans know that everything that had come before is still there, it just is a new beginning for the Marvel universe with the X-Men and the Avengers finally teaming up, with Captain America wanting to lead the charge in creating a bridge between mutants and humans.

Then, there's the death of Peter Parker, not Ultimate Peter Parker this time, but the real Peter Parker from The Amazing Spider-Man that started back with Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in the '60s.  Personally, I felt that The Amazing Spider-Man was in dire need of a kick in the pants for a long time.  Writer Dan Slott had sort of just been spinning his wheels for about the past two years, with no story really bringing anything new to the table for Peter Parker, and honestly, I feel that Slott managed to deliver his best story yet with the finale of The Amazing Spider-Man.  Yes, The Amazing Spider-Man has ended with issue 700 and the death of Peter Parker, released just last week, but I mean, does anyone seriously think that Peter Parker will stay dead forever, and that The Amazing Spider-Man wont someday return with a new number one in perhaps just one years time?

To be completely honest, I'm excited for the kick-off of The Superior Spider-Man next year, seeing how the newly reformed Doc Ock will be a better Spider-Man than Peter Parker ever was.  Yes, I said Doc Ock as Spider-Man.  Doc Ock transplanted his consciousness into the body of Peter Parker, with all of Peter's memories, and put Peter Parker's consciousness into his dying body, that of Doctor Octopus.  Ock's body finally gives out, right after Peter manages to show Doc Ock why Spider-Man is needed. Sure, you have to roll with all of the complicated sci-fi aspects of this story, but it was so well executed, and it is the first, truly original thing that's happened in the Spider-Man comics in nearly a decade.  So for now, I'm good with this being the new status quo.  But enough about Marvel, what about DC?

Well, DC really just continued their New 52 initiative that started in 2011.  Personally, I found it refreshing that DC did not try to do a big event this year, so soon after rebooting all of the characters, I mean, many of the DCU characters are still trying to find their footing post-New 52, and honestly, that's the biggest problem that the New 52 has brought to light.  Now that each book has kind of shown all of their cards and the newness has worn off, the characters that were having problems before the New 52 are still having problems, such as Superman, and the characters that weren't having problems before are still going strong, such as Batman and Green Lantern.  While certain characters have picked up more steam since the New 52, such as Aquaman, writer Geoff Johns is just continuing the awesomeness that he started before the New 52 with bringing Aquaman back to life in the event, Brightest Day.  Even still, many DC characters had amazing years.

The mythology surrounding Aquaman was brilliantly fleshed out and made even more cooler this past year, with big revelations such as Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, having killed archnemesis, Black Manta's father, and the realization that Atlantis was possibly sunk by Atlanteans themselves.  Then, Batman saw the epic finale of the Court of the Owls storyline with the crossover across all of the Batman books, titled Night of the Owls, which brought about huge changes for Dick Grayson's Nightwing, learning that he was next in line to become an assassin for the Court of the Owls until Bruce took him in.  Then, there was the return of the Joker in the ongoing Death of the Family storyline, which has to be the creepiest Joker story ever written, thus far.  The entire Bat-family of books has just had a banner year, and I cannot wait to see what they bring next year.  But enough chit-chat, the real purpose here is for me to highlight what I thought were the best comics of 2012.

While I do not read Indie comics, when it comes to superhero books from DC and Marvel, I try to read almost every major issue that comes around.  But to be perfectly honest, all this list is, is my personal favorite comic books from the past year, highlighting my favorite artists and writers, all at the same time.  So, without further ado, I give out my 2012 Comic Books Awards:

Best Writing - Brian Michael Bendis, All New X-Men

There were many well-written comics this past year, but leave it to Brian Michael Bendis to not only make the X-Men accessible again, but also honor the rich history of each character and the events of Schism and Avengers vs. X-Men at the same time.  His writing is funny, in particular his Bobby Drake, but it's the plot and the what if's of its concept that have made his run so memorable:  What if the X-Men from the 1960s traveled to modern day to see what they've become?  More intriguingly is the showdown between idealist Cyclops, and renegade Cyclops who murdered Charles Xavier.  Bendis delivers all of these moments with the right amount of epicness and clarity, which is why he is the Best Writer of 2012.

2.) Scott Snyder, Batman
3.) Stuart Moore, Web of Spider-Man
4.) Kyle Higgins, Nightwing
5.) Geoff Johns, Aquaman

Best Art - Eddy Barrows, Nightwing

There was no artwork from this past year that really knocked my socks off, but Eddy Barrows' consistent work in Nightwing really won me over.  What I love is Barrows sense of realism in his characters, and his embellishment in the environments.  In particular, his Gotham City is probably the most atmospheric of all of the Gothams currently being drawn in the Bat-books.  Not to mention, his attention to the details of human anatomy and how the body moves, bring the acrobatic sense to Dick Grayson that separates him from the rest of the Bat-family, while he also draws fight scenes that flow from panel to panel.  There is such clarity to how he draws the body movements, your mind automatically fills in the blanks between fight panels.

2.) John Romita, Jr., Avengers vs. X-Men 
3.) Stuart Immonen, All New X-Men
4.) Ivan Reis, Aquaman
5.) Mike Allred, FF

Best Cover - Justice League #12

Probably the most talked about cover in comics this past year, with the smooch between Superman and Wonder Woman plastered all over the internet and even in tabloids.  This issue kind of felt like a gimmick to try and sell more books by promising a hook-up between two of the more recognizable superheroes intertwined on the cover, but so far writer Geoff Johns has managed to not just make this kiss be a gimmick, and has made it the new relationship status quo for both Superman and Wonder Woman.  Watch out Steve Trevor and Lois Lane.

2.) The Amazing Spider-Man #700
3.) Green Lantern #0
4.) Batman #15
5.) Nightwing  #8

Best Back-Up Story - "Shazam!" Justice League

Ever since DC kicked off the New 52, almost all of their major books feature back-up stories every month -- a back-up story being a small four-to-eight page story that is in the book after the main 32-page story has ended.  The brilliance of a good back-up story is when it is either utilized to flesh out the story events from that issue, or in the case of the, "Shazam!" arc in Justice League, it works to re-introduces a classic character, making his origin more epic, funny, heartwarming, and enjoyable than ever before.  I really dig the character of Billy Batson, the way Geoff Johns has written him, and I can't wait to see him either get his own book or team up with the rest of the JLA, which has been teased at all year long.

2.)  "Tomorrow," Batman
3.) "The Fall of the House of Wayne," Batman

Best Story Arc - "Someone is Killing the Brooklyn Avengers," Web of Spider-Man

Every now and then an old comic is resurrected from the dead for a special story.  With 2012 being Spidey's 50th Anniversary, Marvel decided to bring back old Marvel writers to write special issues in the style of old, cancelled Spidey books, one of these being the two-parter for Web of Spider-Man written by Stuart Moore.  What was so brilliant about this story arc, was that it wasn't just a cheap cash grab, but it was the best Spider-Man story I'd read in years.  It was funny, got to the core of who Peter Parker and Spider-Man are as characters, while introducing a whole new slew of characters in the form of the Brooklyn Avengers, the most inept and pointless superheroes you'll ever meet, with powers like being able to shoot paint out of their hands.  Before Spidey ever made it as a member of the Fantastic Four or the Avengers, we see in flashbacks how he joined the Brooklyn Avengers thinking they were legit, and they were just a bunch of somewhat superpowered kids who were playing dress-up and he always had to save their butts while also taking down the bad guys.  This arc was just good, clean fun, and the finale where the Brooklyn Avengers induct Howard the Duck into their ranks, was priceless.

2.) "The Court of the Owls," Batman
3.) "Death of the Family," Batman
4.) "The Others," Aquaman
5.) "Avengers vs. X-Men," Avengers vs. X-Men

Best Event - "Night of the Owls" - Bat-Family Event

This was a fairly light year for event comics, with DC not even doing a DC-wide event like they'd done in previous years.  Majority of the events this past year were just events targeted around a particular grouping of books, such as an event that transpired across all four Superman books, etc.  The event, "Night of the Owls," that spanned across seven or eight different Batman-related titles was by far the most epic of all events.  Gotham is overrun by assassins called Talons, out to kill some of Gotham's most notorious citizens, including Bruce Wayne!  From Nightwing to Batgirl, ever story involving the Court of the Owls was top-notch, tying in perfectly with the arc each individual character was experiencing in their own book at that time, while also tying into the larger story of Bruce's own struggles with the Talons.  Just one of the best orchestrated events I've read in the longest of time.

2.) "Death of the Family" - Bat-Family Event
3.) "Avengers vs. X-Men" - Marvel Universe Event

Best Individual Issue - Web of Spider-Man #129.1

As I said above, the storyline involving Spidey and the Brooklyn Avengers was just so entertaining and so funny, I can't say that I enjoyed a comic more this year, aside from the second part of this story that was nearly a close tie.  This issue just had it all.  A perfect characterization of Spider-Man.  Brilliant art.  Wonderful humor.  And tons of originality, which is something that seems to be lacking in the main Spider-Man books as of the past few years.  I for one would love to see more stories starring Spider-Man and the Brooklyn Avengers.  Who knows, maybe they'll even get their own comic series, and if they do, please let Stuart Moore come back and write it.

2.) Green Lantern #0
3.) Web of Spider-Man #129.2
4.) Nightwing #8
5.) The Amazing Spider-Man # 700

Best Series - Batman

Come on.  If you've been reading Batman, you'll realize why it deserves this honor.  No other series this past year was more consistent, more epic, and flat-out more awesome than Scott Snyder's run on Batman.  From the jaw-dropping conclusion of, "The Court of the Owls," storyline that left Batman's faith in Gotham shaken, to the creeptastic return of the Joker, claiming to know all of the Bat-Family's secret identities, there is no other book on store shelves that amazes this much, month after month.  Scott Snyder is slowly proving himself a Batman legend with his writing and creativity.  Not only does it feel like Batman is in the best shape it's been in years,  but it's the first comic I've read in a long time that I feel as if I'm getting in on the ground floor of classic stories that will be remembered for decades to come.

2.) Nightwing
3.) All New X-Men
4.) Green Lantern
5.) Aquaman

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