Top Ten Single Issues of 2012

A column article, Top Ten by: Danny Djeljosevic, Steve Morris, Shawn Hill, Zack Davisson, Chris Kiser, David Fairbanks

 

We're doing a TON of best-of lists for 2012. A lot of amazing comics came out this year, y'know?

We're starting off with the Best Single Issues of 2012, with an emphasis on a fairly diverse number of self-contained stories in the typical comics format. We tried to be diverse in our selection, considering self-published, "foreign" and digital material as well as the unavoidable corporate superhero stuff, which we're not ashamed to admit we read and like.

So read on, and please let us know what YOU thought was the best single issue of 2012.

- Danny Djeljosevic

 


 

Hawkeye #2

(Matt Fraction, David Aja, Matt Hollingsworth, Chris Eliopoulos; Marvel)

 

 

Here's the thing about scripting comics -- as a writer, you can't/shouldn't ask an artist to draw certain things. For example, a page with 15 panels is pretty much a no-no -- it's way too much work and if you're not going to do it, why task someone else? -- but here's Hawkeye #2, a mainstream Marvel comic where artist David Aja draws a 24-panel page that reads amazingly. Then there's Page 3, where the time that it takes for our hero to aim and shoot and arrow is measured by each mouth movement of his partner saying "Well that's cool."

 

 

Which is some flashy shit, but Aja brings it on ever page of this issue, even when he's not pulling recognizably clever tricks. He draws action with clarity and an amazing sense of design -- both bolstered by Matt Hollingsworth's purple-heavy color palette. This is the sight of creators going above and beyond their need to receive paychecks. 

 

 

Pretty much any issue of Hawkeye could have made it to this list, but Hawkeye #2 was THE ONE. Fraction's comics are at their best when he's working with an artist he can actively collaborate with and the energy and excitement surging through the pages of any given issue of Hawkeye is infectious. If there's any issue to be given to a curious party, it's Hawkeye #2.

-Danny Djeljosevic

 

2000 AD Prog 1812

(British People, 2000 AD)

 

 

Yes, it only came out this month, but issue 1812 of 2000 AD was the culmination of months of planning, a spectacular ending to a storyline nobody saw coming and which changed the game for the long-running British publication. There had been teases that this issue would be important, with rumors and promotional images suggesting that something big would be happening to Judge Dredd over the coming months. But what nobody saw coming was that 2000 AD were seeing a far bigger picture than anyone had predicted, and were leading us all along a dead end road. Rather than give us a big Judge Dredd event, 2000 AD -- without warning -- suddenly threaded three of their ongoing stories into one giant story, leading into each other and building up and up into something massive.

Al Ewing and Henry Flint started things off, with "The Cold Deck." a Judge Dredd story which suggested at some kind of conspiracy going on under the Lawman's nose. When he finally set about catching up with the people plotting against him, he kicked down the door to their flat and... we found ourselves in the second comic strip, The Simping Detective, watching Dredd break in from the perspective of the people inside. Most notably, we realized that Dredd was coming into conflict with the Simping Detective himself. An unannounced crossover pitting the different protagonists against each other? All very well and cool, but then Rob Williams and D'Israeli brought their character Dirty Frank into the bigger picture as part of the THIRD story, and suddenly things went crazy.

 

 

Issue 1812 follows up from the shock surprise crossover reveal to do something very rarely seen at 2000AD: it's one story. Written and drawn by the three different creative teams, the different pieces of the plot all grow together to create a brilliantly gripping, surprising and twisting climax, with superb character work and dialogue. Si Spurrier and Simon Coleby present a ridiculous noir which butts heads with the gritty melodrama of Judge Dredd, which in turn crashes into and against the insane nonsense of Dirty Frank. I'm not giving away how the story resolves, but the 2000 AD creative team managed to craft a brilliant issue of comics, which builds on a legacy and threatens at every step of the way to overturn it and leave it in ruins.

But you'll have to read the issue to see what remains at the end.

- Steve Morris

 

Adventure Time #10

(Ryan North, Shelli Paroline & Braden Lamb; BOOM!)

 

 

Adventure Time the comic book is amazingly true to its source material. Not only does it offer what we've come to expect from Pendleton Ward and company (adventures, punching, a boy and a dog saying stuff while kicking), but it's decidedly a comic book -- which is the key to a tie-in to a show made by comics people. 

Issue #10, "Hot Deals in Ice Kingdom" -- the "Choose Your Own Adventure" issue -- is some ballsy comics, playing with the format of the series to offer something readers aren't used to, and something that couldn't sensibly be done on TV. In true Adventure Time fashion, the conceit is diegetic, the result of a botched bit of villainous sorcery gives You the Reader the power to choose what Finn and Jake do. Naturally, it gets increasingly nutty, with extra hilarity added when you see what's going on in panels for paths you didn't take. Naturally, at least four rereads are in order. It's easy to imagine Ryan North collapsing after scripting this issue.

 

 

And you know what's nuts? The story's only 15 pages -- don't worry, there's a backup story -- but it feels like reading 60 pages. That $3.99 price tag doesn't feel like a ripoff when you can get so much out of repeat readings. True to the cartoon, Adventure Time #10 might be the comic that warps the minds of an entire generation of children.

- Danny Djeljosevic

 

Wonder Woman #0

(Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang; DC)

 

 

One little joke gives it all away. On the first page, in the heavy panting breath of the over-excited narrator, we're told we're reading a reprint from "All-Girl Adventure Tales for Men #41." That explains this quasi-origin story of Diana of Themyscira, "a mysterious island devoid of men that women call Paradise!" and justifies the telling of this teenage adventure of the princess once thought to be made of clay (and who turned out to be Wonder Girl rather than Woman, but that was in another continuity a lifetime ago). Chiang is the perfect artist to call us back to the Andru/Esposito era of the Amazon's history, because he's capable of referring to their graphic immediacy without aping it. And Azzarello does his best to make the dialogue as full of exclamation points as possible, because that's what works for us vicarious male readers! 

 

 

The story is one of Diana's true parentage, when War (not Hercules -- thank you New 52!) looks kindly on his daughter with Hippolyta, wondering if she might one day grow to take up his weary mantle. He starts training her on the lunar cycle, secretly, and ultimately puts her to a crucial test. Which she fails (or passes, depending on which parent you are), sealing her fate and the charged relationship to the gods she currently experiences. The story is exactly as formulaic as it pretends to be, and doesn't really end, but that's okay as it's just an interlude in Azzarello's inspired run. The simply told and tension-filled test works just fine as a symbol of all that's been right about his choice to make Diana not a victim of Olympus, but a living member of the very modern pantheon in her own right.

- Shawn Hill

 

Baltimore: The Play

(Christopher Golden, Mike Mignola, Ben Stenbeck, Dave Stewart; Dark Horse)

 

 

From its not-so humble beginnings, Baltimore has quickly risen (vampire pun!) to become one of my favorite modern comic series. Writers Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola and artists Ben Stenbeck and Dave Stewart meticulously build a brilliant, beautiful, and sometimes shocking Gothic horror series that keeps topping itself with every new release.  Baltimore is like the craft cocktail of comic books -- slightly nostalgic and musty with tradition, yet alive with innovation, and deep with flavor.

So it means something when I say that Baltimore: The Play is one of the best issues of one of the best series in comics today.

The Play is only a single, self-contained issue, but that one issue contains more story than entire runs of most other comics.  Golden and Mignola are obviously well-read, and they layer The Play with literary allusions and allegories that build on the main story of the vampire lord Haigus and his pursuer Lord Baltimore.  There is everything here -- comedy, love, tragedy, drama, horror, and Edgar Allen Poe’s head in a jar.

The Play flips the coin from the usual series -- the focus is on Haigus, an evil creature who usually haunts the periphery of the ongoing series. But like every Beast, he has met his Beauty and been undone. Haigus has fallen in love (or at least fallen in desire) which a woman who commands emotions in him he cannot understand, and long thought dead.

 

 

The art in The Play is as stunning as the writing. It’s hard to believe I wasn’t a fan of Ben Stenbeck’s work on the first Baltimore series. He is proof of the value of letting an artist grow with a series; his work has transformed into something wonderful. And the King of Colors Dave Stewart -- this guy colors like 10 books a month, but he doesn’t color them all equally. He plays favorites. With Baltimore, he seems to give the comic extra love. And with Baltimore: The Play he just reached out and hugged the pages and let his magical colors bring everything to life. 

Seriously, the character of the Masque of the Red Death is something to look at.  Stenbeck and Stewart have really outdone themselves.

One-shots are almost a lost art in comics today. I’ve been told it is because they don’t make money -- people buy continuing series, and skip the peripherals. So when a one-shot comic comes out, it is usually because someone very talented has something very specific they want to say.  That’s exactly the case with Baltimore: The Play.

- Zack Davisson

 

Batman #12

(Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Becky Cloonan, Andy Clarke; DC)

 

 

For its first 11 issues, the New 52 Batman relaunch unfolded a sprawling epic that permanently expanded the already rich mythology of Gotham City and featured a foe who brought its iconic hero to his knees. How to top that, then? How 'bout with an accessible, personal standalone story that downright shocked jaded DC readers like yours truly? It turns out after all that someone at the company still remembers how to put together a comic that's not merely incremental fodder for a $25 hardcover collection five months down the line. And while you're at it, throw in the services of one of the industry's hottest artistic talents -- the first (!!!) woman to ever draw an issue of Batman or Detective Comics -- and you've easily got one of the finest floppies of the year.

 

 

Batman #12 will no doubt be remembered chiefly for its inclusion of Becky Cloonan's signature manga-influenced style, but give credit to head writer Scott Snyder for crafting a story that meshed with it so well. Cloonan's look was the perfect aesthetic to acquaint us with the equal parts tough-as-nails and compassionate Harper Row, a Gotham bystander with a zeal for helping out Batman -- whether the Dark Knight asks for it or not. (Spoiler: he doesn't.) The charm of Harper's tale is the way in which it highlights how the heroism of Batman connects with and uplifts all manner of society's downtrodden. It's a truly emotional and engaging achievement, one that doesn't slow down once it shifts from Cloonan's pages to Andy Clarke's equally solid -- albeit incongruous -- pencils.

More like this please, DC, and we'll stop riding you so hard week in and week out. Promise.

- Chris Kiser

 

LP

(Curt Pires, Ramon Villalobos)

 

 

If you asked me to narrow down my personal top ten single issues for the year, I would have a pretty tough time, I think. There have been quite a few, but LP certainly stands out so well from everything else I've read this year. In a mere 20 pages, Curt Pires and Ramon Villalobos crafted a fast-paced, balls-to-the-wall pseudo-mystical action story that blows 95% of the comics market out of the water.

There are weird magical aspects, including the titular LP, sword fights, a group of white collar criminals wearing animal masks, and protagonist whose name we never really learn (he's called "F," but that's it). LP feels like if Grant Morrison and Quentin Tarantino got together and made a comic about a musician.

 

 

I've been a fan of Villalobos for some time now, and his art is easily at the top of its game, giving me the feeling of Darrow, Quitely, Burnham and, by extension, Moebius. He's doing some really nifty stuff with colors, too.

I hadn't heard of Curt Pires before this book, but I will certainly be keeping my eye on him for some time. Dialogue and captions in LP are sparse, letting the panels tell the story in quite a few places, but when the captions do show up, they serve simultaneously as F's thoughts as well as more philosophical musings on just what's going on in the story. Put simply, they give you another lens to read the story through, which adds a depth you usually don't find in six-issue story arcs, let alone a 20-page comic.

- David Fairbanks

 

Batman: Li'l Gotham #1

(Dustin Nguyen, Derek Fridolfs; DC)

 

 

These days, if you're a tree, it can't get much worse than being chopped down and shipped off to the paper mill to be turned into a DC comic. I mean, as far as tree deaths are concerned, the list of worst possible outcomes has to go something like: Nazi propaganda flier, toilet paper, issue of Savage Hawkman. Thankfully, the situation isn't so bleak on the publisher's digital-first front, where the stale, plodding character of the New 52 gives way to some genuinely innovative, interesting and fun storytelling. And the best of the bunch has been this all-ages Halloween special from Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs.

 

 

If you're a regular to our site, you may have seen that I already pretty much made a stadium jumbotron marriage proposal to Li'l Gotham #1. From the get-go, I was amazed at how dissimilar it was to the unappealing product the typical mainstream superhero book has become. Teenaged male demographic be damned, Li'l Gotham boasts hyper-cute watercolor art and dares to play the Bat-verse for some rare post-Dark Knight laughs. It's almost enough to make you question which major comic book publisher is actually owned by Disney. Yet, even as Li'l Gotham swims so hard against the prevailing current, it remains true to its source material. This is exactly how Bruce and Damian Wayne would act in an issue of Batman Incorporated that happened to be about the true meaning of Halloween.

(It's candy, if you were wondering.)

- Chris Kiser

 

Bandette #1

(Paul Tobin, Colleen Coover; MonkeyBrain)

 

 

Here's your resolution for 2013: try some more of those MonkeyBrain comics out, you guys! They're damned good value for some damned unique comics. Bandette by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover could very easily have fallen off the edge into a twee black hole, but instead turns out to be a charmed, lovely piece of work. Focusing on a female thief -- Bandette herself -- the first issue sees her dallying through France, engaging in thievery and getting into the crosshairs of the local police. Tobin's script is lighthearted but with enough edge that there are stakes for the lead character, who is drawn with typical manic energy from Coover. 

 

 

The joy of Bandette is that while it feels like the kind of material which could play into camp, there's a modern touch to proceedings which keeps things zipping along against convention. The villains aren't dim for the sake of it, and Bandette doesn't have freak luck at every opportunity. She simply races along with grace, flying from one adventure to another, with glee and delight. There's no violence, swearing, no nudity. There's light sex, but this IS France we're talking about. It's a story pitched squarely at the demographic of "everyone," and is going to make for one heck of a trade once the stories are collected. Bandette is probably the comic book which had the most FUN this year, and issue #1 was a dazzlingly entertaining statement of intent.

- Steve Morris

 

Avenging Spider-Man #7

(Kathryn Immonen, Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Gawbadger, Matt Hollingsworth, Joe Caramagna; Marvel)

 

 

Avenging Spider-Man #7 is a potent vision for what the average issue of a superhero comic should be. As Kathryn Immonen writes a story where Spider-Man and She-Hulk deal with a giant fish creature in the sewers, a weird cult in a museum, a swarm of kitties and an Egyptian feline goddess, we get a self-contained romp with fantastic pacing, narrative drive, plot escalation and solid characterization, all making for a thoroughly entertaining read. We need more of these done-in-one issues -- not every story needs to be serialized and the ones that are multi-part epics would carry a lot more weight if there were more quickie stories to offset them.

Yeah, the issue is also fun. It's amazing how few superhero comic books are "fun" without being ghettoized into "kid stuff" or "comedy." Darkness is fine, but we're talking about populist entertainment -- superhero comics should be enjoyable to read, especially when they involve people who wear bright primary colors in broad daylight.  

 

 

On the visual side, Stuart Immonen's art remains supremely underrated. It's expressive, capable of comedic and serious moments, kinetic when there's things that need to flip and explode, meticulous where it counts and consistent in ways that should make the "superstars" of any era jealous. It's the platonic ideal of modern superhero comic art, but it's also distinct -- you'd never mistake Immonen for any other artist.

The result is a comic book that's fun without feeling frivolous, funny without being farcical, bright without being juvenile, and uses old-school techniques without being "retro." Hey, Superhero Comics -- Avenging Spider-Man #7 is your New Year's Resolution for 2013.

- Danny Djeljosevic

 


 

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