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Top Ten Comic Book Miniseries of 2012

A column article, Top Ten by: Keith Silva, Nick Boisson, Steve Morris, Zack Davisson, Shawn Hill, Danny Djejosevic, Daniel Elkin, Chris Kiser

 

Just a few more lists, I swear. Here are the best comic book miniseries of 2012, a year where some comic stories were serialized in a small, finite number. Yes, one of these is a story arc in an ongoing series because we are cheaters and it's our website. Suck it, America.

- Danny Djeljosevic

 

Ragemoor

(Richard Corben, Jan Strnad; Dark Horse)

 

Every hack and horror meister tries to fuse E. A. Poe's psychological terror with H. P. Lovecraft's cosmic horror; most fail. Those few who can produce a spark and get the corpse ambulatory strike a bargain with these 'Old Gods' that is both homage and blood sacrifice. Artist Richard Corben and writer Jan Strnad make that devil's bargain in Ragemoor. These two sick minds bet everything on the house; and as every degenerate gambler and down-on-their-luck cardsharp knows, the house always wins.

 

 

The power of Ragemoor rests in its simplicity; a living castle, an unholiest of abodes abides terrors, horrors and untold insanities. Those who cross its threshold and die a quick death are the lucky ones. For the less fortunate, Ragemoor has other plans... The poor souls that call this hell hole home, the reluctant Herbert and faithful Bodrick, serve as mere thralls to this beast of implacable wrath. The skull-faced baboons, chitinous fiends and those other far worse abominations that preform Ragemoor's dirty work endure as its true legacy and as the hand maidens of its madness.  

Strnad is Ragemoor's majordomo, a sick gentleman and a scholar of the gothic. He knows how to twist fear and how to make it mutable enough to seem familiar until it bursts apart in a shower of blind maggots. Horror scars. Ragemoor infects. 

 

 

What Strnad imagines, Corben brings to life. The art of Ragemoor exhibits squishiness; pustular and swollen, a thing you know "ain't right" the moment you see it. The bulbous-quality of Corben's human figures further adds to the distortion and makes a caricature of normalcy. His true medium, however, is the monstrous, the grotesque and the plain gross. Corben's art induces honest-to-God squirms and revulsions that make the reader complicit in Ragemoor's atrocities.

The evil that Corben and Strnad do within (and without) the walls of Ragemoor lives after them; as for any of the rumored good "oft interred" within the bones of a thing, well, you see, this is Ragemoor, the bones are the worst part. Ragemoor is pure (delightful) evil.

- Keith Silva

 

 

Godzilla: The Half-Century War

(James Stokoe; IDW)

 

 

Comics seem like the perfect place for Godzilla and his monster buddies/enemies -- while there's an undeniable charm to the rubber suited kaiju trappings of the films, it'd be a waste not to have artists who are fans of the genre taking a crack at the characters. Good think IDW has the Godzilla license right now, and great thing that they've enlisted James Stokoe of Orc Stain to deliver his interpretation of the franchise.

 

 

With each issue following its protagonists (and monsters) in a different decade over the span of fifty years, Godzilla: The Half-Century War is decidedly a James Stokoe comic with its wild, hyper-energetic art -- one that avoids the pitfalls of its source material by delivering on the kaiju action rather than spending too much time on the humans doing boring human stuff for budget reasons. It's exactly the kind of frenetic action we hoped for when word got out that Ryuhei Kitamura was directing one of these movies, but drawn by James Stokoe so it's actually kind of better. Lots of shit gets smashed and it's a blast.

- Danny Djeljosevic

 

"Archie Meets KISS" (Archie #627-630)

(Alex Segura, Dan Parent; Archie)

 

 

Oh no, guys! Some uncool monsters have come into town and are going to suck the fun right out of our little burg. Well, we better call the paranormal-pouncing rock squad: KISS!

As a guy who had not read Archie comics since his dad would buy them for him at the supermarket as a comics-loving lad, I was debating whether or not I should start picking them up regularly again. After all, I kept hearing that Archie Comics were churning out some of the best, most relevant comics in the past couple years. I just didn’t know where to start. Then, they announced their upcoming story-arc, "Archie Meets KISS." While not in any way a fan of the made-up musicians who promise to rock 'n' roll all night, I was intrigued by how KISS would fit -- in any way -- in Riverdale with Archie and the gang. But Alex Segura and Dan Parent concocted one helluva story!

 

 

Veronica accidentally makes Sabrina (the Teenage Witch) cast a projection spell rather than a protection spell and causes four monsters to appear in Riverdale with the sole purpose of making Riverdale the most uncool place in the dimension. Quite a task considering it is the home of Josie and the Pussycats, am I right? But in come KISS, who are paranormal exterminators and keepers of cool in all dimensions or something. Let’s just say that it really makes the costumes and makeup make sense after a while.

All in all, it just makes for a fun comic book, which seem to be on short supply in our post-9/11 society. Also, Archie as a mindless zombie! Need I say more?!

- Nick Boisson

 

Memorial

(Chris Roberson, Rich Ellis; IDW)

Chris Roberson had a tremendous time of it in 2012, launching his own comic book publisher, leaving work-for-hire comics largely in the dirt, and announcing new books with publishers like Image. But his finest achievement of the year, as far as I'm concerned, was the first miniseries for Memorial, which he created along with Rich Ellis. Memorial creates a world brought to life by Ellis' art and the bright, inviting colors of Grace Allison. The artistic team are asked by Roberson to create simple landscapes which seem vaguely familiar, whilst at the same time being something completely different and new. The idea of memory and imagination is the core of the story, and the team make sure that everything here seems reassuring whilst being anything but. 

 

 

Characters from famous stories rub shoulders with new creations and monsters is unusual landscapes and form unlikely partnerships and rivalries.

The centre of this IDW miniseries is Em, the lead character, a somewhat lost young woman who stumbles through a door she shouldn't have, and finds it leads her into another world. While trying to get out -- and in the process learning a few things about herself -- she encounters shadow people, monks, mobsters and talking cats, and has to take it all in her stride when it becomes apparent there's more to this fantasy world than she first imagined.

 

 

What separates Memorial from other books with similar ideas is the thought that went into the world. Roberson splits the book into many different areas, each of which have different rules and people. It's suitable for anybody, without violence or swearing, and I can imagine kids spending hours poring over maps of the World, creating their own stories and ideas about what might be going on in each place. Because that's exactly what I did.

Inspiring and fun, Memorial was a charming story with superb art and delightful colors. All-round, it was an excellent series, and I'm looking forward to more Memorial in future!

- Steve Morris

 

King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword

(Tim Truman, Tomas Giorello, Jose Villarrubia; Dark Horse)

If you took all of the Conan comics from every creative team and from every era and sorted them by quality, King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword would be right near the front. It is, simply put, one of the best Conan comics—one of the best fantasy comics—ever made. 

Tim Truman is a craftsman, a writer, a storyteller. He has been working on Conan for years; learning how to build on Robert E. Howard's original works; learning how to capture the story while transforming it into something original on the comics page. He distills Conan down to its most perfect essence, then reaches into his own extensive knowledge of history to add details and polish. And it is perfect.

 

 

Tomas Giorello's art is phenomenal. He never ceases to amaze me, and it is easy to see why he was nominated for a Robert E. Howard Foundation Award . Giorello has entered the pantheon of the great Conan artists, along with Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, and Cary Nord. It is a limited club and Giorello is a welcome member.

In The Phoenix on the Sword, Giorello surpasses his already incredible style. He builds up linked triptychs and double-page spreads that give a sense of grandeur and awe. While not a fluid action artist, Giorello poses his figures and scenes like a Renaissance master. I love his ability to bring things from a very large, very wide scale atmosphere down to a single pair of glowering eyes. He invests this series with a sense of artistry, not just drawing. 

 

 

His artistic partner, Jose Villarrubia, is a true "color artist" rather than a "colorist." Villarrubia' s muted pallet punctuated with bright magic has set the tone for this series, and I couldn't imagine anyone—not even the King of Colors Dave Stewart —doing a better job.

There has been a lot of talk recently about corporate comics vs. creator-owned comics, and to me Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword is corporate comics done exactly right. It is a harmony of character and creator, with respect accorded both ways. It concentrates on building something that will last, rather than just taking a quick shot at raising sales figures with faddish stylings and "new and improved" taglines. This comic clearly shows the difference between a story told with love and care and respect for character, and a job for a work-for-hire paycheck. This is the Casino Royale of Conan comics.

- Zack Davisson

 

The Shade

(James Robinson, Cully Hamner, Darwyn Cooke, Javier Pulido, Jill Thompson, Frazier Irving, Gene Ha; DC)

James Robinson hasn't quite lived up to the potential that seemed so 1990s and Vertigo-esque on Starman. Team books may or may not be his thing, but when it comes to Opal City, he's on surer footing. This is the second Shade series to benefit from Robinson's gifts at collaborating with amazing artists. The first, in 1997, was four issues and four very different vignettes. This one is a larger expansion, episodically exploring the immortal title character's family ties over the centuries. It ends with his origin, and begins in an occult film noir mode a little like Fatale. That collaboration with Cully Hamner sets up the premise (someone is interested in The Shade's blood), but things get weird when we get to 1944, and meet an unlikely heroine realized in period style by Darwyn Cooke. This little slice of Nazis in the New Frontier includes a Vigilante cameo, and he won't be the only DC universe hero to stop by this decidedly self-contained story. We'll also see heroes of Spain and England, including Knight and Squire, a firedrake, and Charles Dickens before the tales are told.

 

 

In Barcelona, under the nimble pencils of Javier Pulido, we meet Shade's daughter, a vampire crime fighter called Le Sangre whose dark mirror adversary is known as the Inquisitor. His crimes in the course of fighting her are far worse than hers will ever be, and here Robinson captures the flavor of Busiek's doomed vampire hero from Astro City. That he rescued her from a pirate ship beset by vamps (so that he's only her adoptive parent) is the weirdest, most fun way to start this sequence, which includes Gaudi's Le Pedrera apartment building and lives up to its singular style. Then Jill Thompson takes us to the opium den (shades of From Hell), which is also where we find inspiration for the final tale of trapped interdimensional Egyptian gods and the secret society who have imprisoned them under London. Here Shade is betrayed by a family member, not something he takes lightly. Frazier Irving knows just how to mix the cosmic with the sublimely silly, complimenting the cynical dandy pose of the fallen but ever resourceful Victorian former villain.

 

 

Robinson knows that if you have a main character as omnipotent as the Shade, one way to keep him interesting is to oppose him to foes that are so much more vile. That's certainly the case in his origin story, beautifully envisioned by long-time ally Gene Ha, where we meet the diminutive Culp for the first time, and finally find out how Shade got this way. Or at least when. It's a nostalgic coda to end on this series which was almost all "Times Past," the mode that Robinson always excelled on when mixing Opal City with the rest of DC's vast world. Call it a sleeper.

- Shawn Hill

 

Infernal Man-Thing

(Steve Gerber, Kevin Nowlan; Marvel)

 

 

Steve Gerber wrote this.

Does much more need to be explained? The unintended epilogue to a marvelous career, the three-part mini Infernal Man-Thing features "Screenplay of the Living Deadman", a sequel to a story first published in 1974. In that tale, a writer named Brian Lazarus finds himself haunted by the insanity of creation, and encounters the Man-Thing and a dancer named Sybil who help him reconcile his dangerously real demons.

In Infernal those demons return with renewed vengeance, and the sulking Lazarus most certainly reads as a stand in for Gerber. Lazarus feels he is a creator without worth, has made nothing meaningful and lives in a world that is too chaotic to make sense of. Desperate to find solace Brian unexpectedly reunites with both Man-Thing and Sybil, and the results are unexpected.

 

 

Originally written in the late '80s and intended to be released as a graphic novel, the project grew dust on artist Kevin Nowlan's drawing board for decades before getting a final editorial push for release this year. Nowlan's distinct style and fully painted pages accent one of Steve Gerber's seminal works. It took a really time for him to get it all done, but it looks great, particularly in highlighting the more absurd qualities of the script about a script.

"Screenplay of the Living Deadman" is in no way a happy story, but it is a very good one. When our resident Gerber aficionados reviewed it they liked it a lot, and again we recognize it as a top release of 2012.

- Jamil Scalese

 

Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred

(David Hine, Shaky Kane; Image)

When Keith Silva and I originally reviewed David Hine and Shaky Kane's 2012 miniseries Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred, I wrote the following:

 

It is so easy to become complacent, to become lazy in our thinking, to define and label and box and construct a priori while ignoring what is actually in our hand -- especially with art, where sometimes what has been created is so outside our experience that we must indolently rely heavily on our intellectual past to make sense of the present or else go mad in the face of incomprehensibility.

 

This is where this series took me, writing ponderously about my own laziness as a reader, fighting against Hine and Kane's buoyant obfuscation, trying to put pieces together while accessing aspects of my thinking that I had not thought before.

 

 

Reading this series was a challenge. It demanded the reader's participation in the series' own narrative (both figuratively AND literally). The box in which its purpose was purposed is a coffin, a bulletproof one at that, and, as readers, it was with our own shovels that we did the disinterring. And that's one of the things that, for me, made this series one of the best of 2012. It spurred the creative urge. Hine and Kane played the joyous tricksters, bearing presents for those who were willing to unwrap them, and explosions for those who were not. Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred was a series that self-consciously stood outside of the mainstream, festooned with garish colors and a face full of clown make-up, dancing on the edge of our peripheral consciousness and trusting that those of us who cared would cue up another song and join in wearing our own oversized shoes.

 

 

Reading this series pumps us with creative juices. I call this the Bulletproof Coffin Effect and you can see it manifest in our review, or even better when Silva wrote this. The Bulletproof Coffin Effect, it just makes you want to go create once it gets hold of you.

Everything about this series was either an embrace or an assault; it was up to you to decide the tenor of the meeting. I think we can all agree that it is in this decision and the trust inherent on both sides it entails that elevated Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred onto this list. This series took the conversation between creators of comics and readers of comics to a different level, perhaps a higher plane, and I thank Hine and Kane for that nod of respect both to me as a participant and to the medium I love.

- Daniel Elkin

 

Punk Rock Jesus

(Sean Murphy; Vertigo/DC)

 

"I am anti-Christ // I am an anarchist" -- Anarchy in the UK, The Sex Pistols

 

Punk Rock Jesus is a tough sell; bold, brassy and unapologetic, not to mention, black and white (in every way), about its politics, its intentions and (even) its own bullshit, punk through and through. 

 

 

The story's conceit is as humble (wink wink) as its title: if a genetically cloned Christ could exist, what then? What would you believe? Who would you believe (in)? Belief binds. It's the search for belief that makes Punk Rock Jesus a difficult and challenging work of art. And I thank God for it. 

Punk Rock Jesus jams many middle-fingers in many faces and has its thumbs in many pies. As one might expect religious fanaticism/fundamentalism takes one in the head and two in the gut. Murphy has a lot of contempt for the faithful (the faith, perhaps, less so) as well as barrels of bile for blind devotion of every stripe. In a work this audacious the fact that nothing is off limits is by design and laudable.

Even for those who may "hate the sin" of Punk Rock Jesus (or are not willing to engage its edginess) one has to love the sinner. Murphy's skill as a cartoonist is beyond reproach. He flat-out attacks a page. His lines are always strong and deliberate and each panel is a masterpiece of visual art, draftsmanship and sequential storytelling.

Murphy's devotion to his craft and how he leaves "everything on the page" is evident in every panel of Punk Rock Jesus. One image that stands out, in particular, occurs in issue #2 when Thomas, the muscle and most devout of PRJ's flock, recalls his youth during 'the troubles' in Northern Ireland. His parents are dead and his benefactor, Sully, brings boy-Thomas to a bar on "our side of the street." Sully's face dominates the page. He tells Thomas about honor, loyalty and God's plan for Thomas. This is heavy stuff. So weighty, in fact, that Murphy's own thumbprint can be seen in Sully's face; less an endorsement of Sully's bilious piety and more of a commitment of the artist to his art.    

 

 

Murphy has one last issue before the series concludes and it promises to be a burner. Chris a.k.a the Punk Rock Jesus is off to the holy land, to Jerusalem for one final show. As he tells his band: "If we play Jerusalem, we'll know that we pushed this as far as it could go." Murphy's fearlessness pushes this series to ask difficult questions that don't have easy answers, and that, is the true mark of a believer.  

- Keith Silva

 

The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom

(Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, Jordie Bellaire, Shawn Lee; IDW)

Mark Waid and Chris Samnee have been no doubt tearing it up all year on the continually amazing Daredevil, but they somehow also found the time to crank out one of 2012's other great comics, the Rocketeer miniseries Cargo of Doom. From the time the project was first announced, expectations for the pair were certainly high. Their ability to tell fun stories that hearkened back to the comics of yesteryear have been on full display with Marvel's Man Without Fear, so a stint working on a throwback character like the Rocketeer seemed like a natural fit. Now that all four issues in the can, it's clear that such assumptions were dead on.

 

 

With a story taking place during World War II, Waid imbues the book with a classic feel that could've come straight out of the era of its setting. Major plot elements include exploding ray guns and dinosaurs wearing jetpacks, but it's all played completely straight. Whereas many books today might revel in the absurdity of these situations as punch line fodder, the humor in Cargo of Doom mostly stems from the title character's hapless attempts to please his demanding, hyper-jealous girlfriend. It's a trope that would likely seem stereotypical for many other comics properties, but it's a perfect match for The Rocketeer.

 

 

So too are Samnee and colorist Jordie Bellaire, who turn in work that's up there with the brightest and most beautiful of their careers. The archives of original Rocketeer creator Dave Stevens are excavated for some nice variant covers, but it's hard to argue that they look any more timeless or pure than what the series' regular artists come up with. Inside and out, Cargo of Doom screams retro in all the right ways. It's nothing new to see a comic these days that aims to counteract the cloud of grim-and-gritty that still hovers over the industry, but few did it in 2012 as well as this one. 

- Chris Kiser

 


 

 

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