Top Ten Comic Book Debuts of 2012

A column article, Top Ten by: Danny Djeljosevic, Nick Boisson, David Fairbanks, Chris Kiser, Nick Hanover, Shawn Hill


Hi. Only a couple pieces to go in our 2012 comics lists. This one's the Top Ten Comic Debuts of 2012, where we cover our favorite comics that began in 2012. A bunch of y'all got mad because we left a bunch these out of the best ongoing lists -- that's because we were saving them for this list. Cool? Cool.

- Danny Djeljosevic



(Michelle Fiffe)


Copra managed to sneak in two issues at the end of 2012, but Issue #1 alone was enough to ensure its place on this list. A self-published, monthly follow-up to his bootleg Suicide Squad comic Deathzone!, Copra takes Squad analogues (and analogues of characters who aren't even remotely related to Suidide Squad) and puts them on the run, throwing more characters than an episode of Game of Thrones at us in a given issue -- but we can keep up because we read comics and keeping track of too many characters is what we do.



There's so much about Copra that excites me. The singular vision of Michel Fiffe with his striking color palette and fearlessness in going crazy with page layouts. The fact that it's a self-published action comic that straddles the line between art comics and action comics -- remember, this is pretty much a superhero comic, just one that's rendered in a very distinct style. The fact that it's a self-published action comic that isn't dogshit. Copra is a comic that exists not because somebody thought it'd be marketable or an arbitrary quota needed to be filled, but because the person who's making it wanted it to exist in the world. Which sounds obvious, but in comics it's pretty hard to tell sometimes.



Here's a telling fact: I was paying $2.99 month for Stormwatch and couldn't take it anymore. I'm paying $7 a month for Copra (including shipping) and hardly bat an eyelash. It's that good.

- Danny Djeljosevic



(Matt Kindt, Dark Horse)


Now, I have already said a bit about the first issue of Matt Kindt’s first monthly series, Mind MGMT, but it never hurts to say a bit more. Especially when it comes to such a beautiful, unique debut as this book had. From the opening page -- where you see a man and a woman approaching each other as lovers, but begin brutally attacking one another until they fall off a building -- you are sucked into Kindt’s world of mystery, intrigue and mindful discovery. And, believe me, that is far from the best scene in that first issue.



What Mind MGMT does phenomenally well is pull the reader in. Both Kindt’s well-crafted plot and beautiful watercolor artwork make for a story that you cannot help but completely delve into and wonder, "What’s going to happen next?!" You immediately care for what happens to Meru (the series protagonist) and her search for Henry Lyme, who may be the key to it all; to what she has been aimlessly searching for lo these many years. 



Honestly, nothing quite grabbed me the way Mind MGMT did in 2012 and I’ll be hard-pressed to find a debut comic to do the same in 2013.

- Nick Boisson


Manhattan Projects

(Jonathan Hickman, Nick Pitarra, Jordie Bellaire; Image)



When we first reviewed Manhattan Projects, I wasn't the biggest fan. I thought it was okay, but it didn't really blow me away. Despite the fact that we've only seen seven issues of the series this year, my opinion has clearly changed.

Hickman and Pitarra started off with a bit of a slow burn, and while I liked some of what they were doing, I wasn't sold on it until probably the second or third issue. That was around the time that we discovered just how sinister Hickman's Einstein is, just how intriguing his Feyman is, and just how unbelievably intense the series would become.



Now I point to Manhattan Projects and Prophet as evidence that Image is producing some of the best comics in existence right now, but also that it is entirely possible to do some pretty heavy sci-fi stories and still have a significant readership.

It feels like Manhattan Projects houses every idea that Hickman wanted to use in Fantastic Four and FF but was too "out there" for Marvel. It is this wonderful blend of science fiction and history and I simply can't wait to see where it's headed for 2013.

- David Fairbanks


Conan the Barbarian

(Brian Wood, Becky Cloonan, James Harren, Vasilis Lolos, Declan Shalvey, Dave Stewart; Dark Horse)


With the notable exception of our resident Conanhead Zack Davisson, many of us here at Comics Bulletin never gave a Crom about Conan the Barbarian. Prior to 2012, I personally never considered picking up a Conan comic or novel, and I certainly wasn't keen on ever watching the movie version where an Austrian politician walks around showing off his muscle boobs the whole time. I like superheroes and sci-fi, and on those rare occasions where I dip into fantasy, I mostly prefer stuff with wizards in it. But that was all before Dark Horse Comics decided to actively target me and my ilk, roping newbies into getting excited about the publisher's most prominent licensed property that isn't Star Wars. Needless to say at this point, the plan worked really well.



Writer Brian Wood is a pretty attractive lure to comics of any genre, mostly because of some great stuff he's written starring women or men who keep their shirts on. In Conan the Barbarian, he brings an accessibility to a title character I once thought completely unrelatable (at least to folks who can't bench more than 300 pounds and have never severed a human head with a sword) and has given him a personality and voice I can understand, all the while keeping him true to the unique morality of his warrior code. Becky Cloonan, too, is worth a gander any time she puts her pencil to paper, and her unique design for Conan has been both attractively sleek and strong. Even after she made way for other talented artists' contributions to the book, Cloonan's influence has continued to shape this iteration of Conan the Barbarian into something both inviting and creative.



Reading comics as extensively and for as long as I have, efforts to reach new readers can often come across as tedious and watered down. In Conan the Barbarian, it's great to experience the world of an established character with fresh eyes through the pages of a comic that in no way surrenders its depth.

- Chris Kiser



(Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Giannis Milonogiannis, Farel Dalrymple; Image)


Back when he first kicked around the idea of Fear Agent, Rick Remender's mission was to get himself noticed with a new kind of old pulp hero, rugged and ill-tempered and drunk but intellectual and well-read to boot. It would seem that Brandon Graham gave himself a similar mission when he was brought on to revive the long dormant Extreme Studios title Prophet, except in this case the pulp he pulled from was the druggy intellectual pulp of Philip K. Dick and his latter day acolyte Jonathan Lethem, a pulp of Dalieseque bipedal sapphic creatures and questionable futures and horrible fortunes. Working with a fleet of scarily talented artists, including Simon Roy and Farel Dalrymple amongst others (including Graham himself), Graham's Prophet "debut" heralded a new Moebius-infused future for pop indie comics even as its story heralded a broke down future Earth and beyond. 



Where Graham has previously been associated with the world of art comix thanks to his epic King City, Prophet ably proves that the creator has a knack for developing rich, highly detailed and unusual worlds that savvy readers can't help but be sucked into, occupying a terrain somewhere between easily digestible paperback sci-fi and intensely cerebral exploration. Graham, in essence, skipped the accessibility debate altogether by showing how his kind of cosmic fuckery could be just as easily immersible and addicting as anything mainstream, but with a much higher level of risk taking. Graham in the process also found a way to circumvent the modern day problem of artist delays and switchovers by utilizing a team structure, where he and his three artist collaborators handle different versions of the titular "Prophet," showing off the scope of the world Graham has developed and the uncanny vision he has for the character. 



These kinds of debuts are usually few and far between, but in 2012, Graham and his collaborators felt like especially vital pioneers at the front of a full on movement, as his fellow Extreme Studios reinventors Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell did similarly excellent work onGlory. The two series couldn't be more different, but what they shared was proof incarnate that reboots and remodels don't have to be stagnant and hollow, that risks can pay off and yield exciting, unusual successes.

- Nick Hanover



(Matt Fraction, David Aja, Javier Pulido, Matt Hollingsworth; Marvel)


Hawkeye could have been a very cynical piece of entertainment. Surely it exists because Hawkeye was in the Avengers movie and HEY SYNERGY, but the comic itself feels like it couldn't be further from that mentality, considering it's about Clint Barton doing everything except avenging things -- which is exactly the appeal of the book.



While it features a character from the biggest superhero movie of all time, Hawkeye is more in the spirit of Marvel's fringe books, where creators are generally allowed to cut loose and do things that they might not be allowed to do in the marquee titles. That's because the creators behind Hawkeye are Fraction/Aja/Hollingsworth, who collaborated on another fringe book, Immortal Iron Fist, nearly a decade ago. And so we get an amazing sense of playfulness from the title as the team offer a great design sense, bonkers sequential storytelling and jokes -- all told in self-contained issues or the odd two-parter, so anyone can pick up Hawkeye and join in on the fun.



Call it "this year's Daredevil," the critically beloved mainstream superhero comic that offers an entertaining, beautifully illustrated bit of counterprogramming to the rest of the superhero comics world -- a world we can visit where we don't have to think about decompression or countless crossovers. It's hard not to be excited about comics again after an issue of Hawkeye.

- Danny Djeljosevic


Adventure Time

(Ryan North, Shelli Paroline, Braden Lamb, Mike Holmes, lots of backup creators; BOOM!)


I was one of those people who didn't quite get the appeal of the Adventure Time TV show at first. I don't think I had seen a full episode, but what I did see made me think it wasn't for me. After giving the comic a shot, however, I went back and saw just how amazingly strange and surreal the series is.

Ryan North's writing feels right in line with Finn and Jake, with more than enough humor and the constant edge of darkness underneath it all, and I don't know that I've seen a series have more indie comics stars flock to it for variant covers and backup stories.



More than that, it is evidence of kid-friendly comics that adults love, much like the cartoon is adored by children and adults alike. It can be tough working in a comic shop and having parents come in looking for something for their young child, because so much of what is produced by Marvel and DC is just not suitable for young kids.

While Adventure Time tends to do four-issue story arcs, it feels like you can really jump in at any point, and unlike many comics these days, it's tough to spend less than 20-30 minutes on it because it is just so dense with both text and ideas. 



Readers wanting to give the series a shot but still not convinced that they can just jump in on any issue, issues 5 and 10 were one-shots, with the latter being an interesting choose-your-own-adventure tale.

- David Fairbanks



(Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips; Image)



There's a simple reason why Fatale is clearly one of the best debuts of 2012: it's "high-concept" done right. Brubaker and Phillips have impressed before with more straightforward noirs, and on the other side with stunningly good superheroics. But Fatale is a mish-mash of pop culture nightmares, a little bit like Doctor Strange in his 1970s Lovecraftian days, if he'd abandoned New York for Hollywood and run headlong into Robert Evans. The burgeoning naturalist renaissance in American cinema, yes, that's it! Last time I reviewed the title, I reached (graspingly) for a comparison to the old Goldie Hawn/Chevy Chase vehicle Foul Play, mostly because it also had serial killers, assassins, devil-worshippers and that funky West Coast vibe. But what Fatale has almost none of is comedy, so let's go for a better New Hollywood source: Bonnie and Clyde. Fatale is the story Arthur Penn might tell were he to remake Kiss Me Deadly with Peter Fonda and Farrah Fawcett; it's got whiffs of the Manson family, of Roman Polanski, of a me-decade of freaky excess and counter-culture weirdness, grounded in the older standard of film noir pulp reality, of hard choices and desperate fatalism.



It's a nearly impossible mix to pull-off, a believable detective story mixing with a scary horror story and not seeming silly, mawkish or just overwrought. But Brubaker has grounded his main characters in the immediacy of pressing human needs, not least of all anti-heroine Josephine, the femme who is so fatale to generations of men, including cops, actors, writers, all in thrall to her irresistible, inexplicable (even to herself) allure. When the cultists and the octopus-faced demons come, the violence is rash and gory, the fear not silly at all. It's a delicate balance, and it wouldn't work nearly as well without Phillips' ability to keep the main characters interesting (even the beautiful, vacuous women; even the seedy, aging men), and to fill out the canvas with memorable character roles who work just like Hollywood's stable of thankless supporting players always used to, coming in for a ready quip or a short spotlit moment that suggest worlds yet untold.

- Shawn Hill


MonkeyBrain Comics -- The Whole Damn Thing

(Grace Allison, Allison Baker, Nick Brokenshire, Kurt Busiek, Kevin Church, Colleen Coover, Jason Copland, Dennis Culver, Rachel Deering, Steve Downer, Eamon Dougherty, Rich Ellis, Dan Goldman, Mike Henderson, John J. Hill, D.J. Kirkbride, Adam P. Knave, Josh Krach, Steve Lieber, Jennifer L. Meyer, Michael Montenat, Ruiz Moreno, Ron Riley, Chris Roberson, Brandon Seifert, Matthew Dow Smith, Zack Smith, Paul Tobin, J. Torres, Joshua Williamson, Lauren Vogelbaum)



It's not fair to lump all these comics in one blurb, but MonkeyBrain Comics debuted in early July with a stable of new, affordable and diverse digital comics by, established pros, on-the-cusp talent and people working in the mainstream that you might not have been paying enough attention to. It's been a long-ass while since we've had a huge debut like this.



Overall MonkeyBrain's output so far has been great. Amelia Cole and the Unknown World tickled the part of my soul that years for things that remind me of Veronica Mars in even the most abstract ways, and offered great art to boot. Edison Rex managed to find a new, fun approach to the "Superman analogue with a twist" subgenre, which I didn't think was possible. Masks and Mobsters gave readers who missed the Justice Society a place to go for Golden Age superheroics. Bandette is the cutest, most fun thing. Even more whimsical stuff like Aesop's Ark and Action Cats might not seem like they would be my thing, but in digital form I'm willing to gamble a buck or two to find out.



Twenty years ago, a startup like this would come out strong, expand too fast, then implode. But these days, with digital comics being the thing to do (as they should be), MonkeyBrain can put out stuff as soon as it's done, bypassing the very stupid distribution system of print comics while reaching a much bigger audience that might be more interested in what the publisher has to offer than the weekly comic shop crowd. And, knowing what they're putting out this year, it's hard not to be excited for what comes out next.

- Danny Djeljosevic



(Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples; Image)



There may be plenty of pleasant surprises here on our list of the year's best new series, but Saga sure ain't one of them. All of us here in the comics-reading world may have resigned ourselves to the fact that Brian K. Vaughan, the best new writer of the twenty-aughts, had turned out to be the love-'em-and-leave-'em type, abandoning panel-based storytelling for the glitz of Hollywood, but we all knew that if he ever came back to us, it was going to be great. And when the Image Comics solicitations that promised such a return finally hit the 'Net, we were more than ready for another dose of the strong wit and characterization that made books like Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina instant classics.



But while Saga may have been coronated as king long before its debut ever occurred, there's no denying that the book itself deserves commendation for actually living up to its hype. From issue one, this comic felt like it contained a fully realized alien universe, one infinitely ripe for the picking throughout what will hopefully be a long, long run. Saga no doubt utilized the familiarity of its more obvious influences -- Star Wars and Romeo and Juliet being the most overt -- to draw its audience in, though it's Vaughan and the razor-sharp art of Fiona Staples who have given the book a heart all its own. Saga is a beautiful comic with an unmistakably powerful narrative voice. It's about love, it's about war, it's about magic space aliens, and it's about as great as you could expect any of those things to ever be.

-Chris Kiser




For more of our Best of 2012 coverage, check out:

Community Discussion