There were a lot of great stories to choose from this year, making the task of narrowing them down to 10 a bit of a challenge, and it bears mentioning that some of the items on this list were published as single issue in 2011, but the trades collecting them into complete and easy to read volumes weren’t published until sometime this year. So while many of the stories mentioned were already old news for some at the beginning of 2012, others had to wait a bit longer to read them. If they’re new to you, now’s the time to get started.
10. Superman Earth One Vol. 2.
Continuing the reimaging of Superman’s early years – started in 2010 – this volume introduces a new version of Parasite with a dark past full of creepy secrets, and also focuses on Clark’s attempt to fit into Metropolis.
J. Michael Straczynski’s depiction of a young and uncertain Clark still finding his place in the world is engaging, particularly in its addressing a notion long speculated upon by fans: whether or not Clark would be able to make love to a human woman without killing her. (It even goes so far as to make a reference to Larry Niven’s essay “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex.”) The art by Shane Davis is gorgeously eye-catching and conveys the might and vulnerability of Superman with a poetic touch that is elevated by Barbara Ciardo’s vibrant colors.
9. Batman Earth One Vol. 1.
A new addition to the ‘Earth One’ universe, this volume tells a new origin for Batman that is quite frankly one of the best Batman origins ever told. Geoff Johns manages to tie the history of Thomas and Martha Wayne into the fabric of Gotham City in ways not seen before: Martha is revealed to be descended from the Arkham family, which adds an interesting layer of back story, while Thomas is shown to be in the middle of a Mayoral run before his untimely death that may or may not have been orchestrated by incumbent Oswald Cobblepot. Alfred is reinvented as a badass Royal Marine veteran and head of Wayne’s security.
On top of adding interesting details to the past, Johns adds some new stuff to the present as well, most notably in the creation of a new villain called “The Birthday Boy”. The story is brought to life by Gary Frank’s sharp, crisp art that delivers some of the best Batman action scenes ever put to page. This quite simply a must read for any Bat fan.
8. Wonder Woman Vol. 1 – Blood.
One of the best books to come out of DC’s New 52 reboot, Brian Azarello’s reinvention of Wonder Woman is a sight to behold, as it takes her classic origin as a clay figure brought to life by magic and reveals it to be a lie meant to cover up a bigger secret. It turns out that Diana is the love child of Zeus and Hippolyta, who has hidden the truth for fear of the wrath of Zeus’ wife Hera, who has a nasty habit of taking out his bastard children. This reveal comes in the middle of Diana having to defend a young woman pregnant with another product of Zeus’ wandering eye. The action as rendered by Cliff Chiang gives Wonder Woman the epic treatment she deserves as a character; all of the ridiculousness caused by the New 52 upheaval is sort of made worthwhile just by the existence of this one book. Fortunately it’s not the only good thing to come about in the New DCU…
7. Batwoman: Hydrology.
One of the few characters to make it through the New 52 reboot unscathed, Batwoman’s story picks up right where it left off during Rucka’s ‘Elegy’. Kate Kane is still reeling from the recent revelation that her twin sister is alive, as a new threat emerges targeting children in Gotham’s barrio. Meanwhile Kate’s cousin is eager to get into the vigilante lifestyle as Flamebird, and Kate has to decide whether or not to take her under her wing. J.H Williams III continues to dazzle the eye with his rich and intricate layouts and characters while also stretching into some co-writing with writer W. Haden Blackman (who excellently continues what Rucka started).
One of the sorely underrated and forgotten gems of the 1990s, Xombi was a short lived series under DCs ‘Milestone’ imprint. The series chronicled the bizarre adventures of scientist David Kim, who through a series of mishaps is turned into an immortal magnet for weirdness. The wonderfully odd series was one of the many casualties of the mid ’90s market crash that was killed too soon.
Then, last year, DC gave John Rozum’s wonderful character a new lease on life. Sadly this new series had an even shorter run of only 6 issues, but fortunately those 6 issues were collected early this year. The story opens up with David being called in on an investigation of a break out at a tiny prison full of shrunken inmates. Things soon spiral out into bigger problems as the prison break turns out to be part of a complex scheme to steal a giant floating city. Rozum settles into unfolding the tale in a way that makes it easy for new readers to know who’s who and what’s what, while letting those who read the previous series feel like it never went away and enjoy the lush, vibrant art by Frazer Irving which perfectly matches the fantastical tone of the story.
5. Wet Moon Vol. 6 – Yesterday’s Gone.
In 2010, Vol. 5 of Ross Campbell’s gothic drama ended with a major cliffhanger as one of the main characters was brutally attacked and left on the brink of death. It took over two years for Campbell to deliver the next volume revealing Trilby’s fate, and readers were on the edge of their seats all the while. Fortunately the new volume was worth the wait, continuing the story of Cleo and her friends navigating the pitfalls of life and love. The art continues to be a delight with some of the best-drawn and most realistic female characters to be found as the story keeps ramping up to something big on the horizon, which we hope isn’t another two years away.
4. Scalped Vol. 10 – Trail’s End.
Jason Aaron’s gritty tale of corruption and greed on the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation came to its blood-soaked conclusion this year and the payoff was worthy of the build up. Undercover FBI Agent Dashiell Bad Horse has finally put corrupt Tribal President Lincoln Red Crow behind bars, but his problems are far from over. The man who killed his mother is still on the loose, and Dash means to repay blood with blood. Meanwhile somebody has dug up some dirt from his past that could ruin his future.
Five years worth of story threads are woven into a brilliant conclusion to one of the best noir series of the last decade and artist R. M. Guerra is as ever at the top of his game, bringing the saga to a close in the same jagged, gritty flavor that he started with.
3. The Boys Vol. 12 – The Doors Off.
Another series to reach its end this year was Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s critically acclaimed superhero deconstruction The Boys. Exploring the aftermath of the attempted superhero coup in volume 11, the tale picks up with the team being disbanded as Hughie starts to piece together Butcher’s hidden agenda. As he digs deeper, Hughie realizes that Butcher has been planning to make a fatal strike at the entire super population and won’t let anyone stand in his way, not even his own teammates. Everything comes to a head in a final confrontation full of tension and excitement.
2. Hellblazer – The Devil’s Trenchcoat.
John Constantine has faced some bizarre situations in his day, but nothing quite so strange as being separated from his favorite coat. Following a horrific misunderstanding involving his evil twin from Hell, John’s niece Gemma stole his trenchcoat and sold it online…leading to two problems. The first is that John’s magic has been going haywire and the second is that his trenchcoat (which, having been exposed to so much magic over the years, has taken on a life of it’s own) has started killing people. That story arc is followed by ‘Another Season In Hell’ where John tries to make amends with Gemma by going to hell to free her mother’s soul. Getting in over his head as usual, Constantine ends up making a deal with the devil that will surely lead to severe problems in the near future. Peter Milligan’s writing is brilliantly done and the art by Giuseppe Camuncoli fits his style perfectly – making it quite a shame that DC has decided to end the series next year with issue 300.
1. The Walking Dead Vol. 16 – A Larger World.
While fans may disagree on the quality of the AMC show, there’s no doubt that the comic which inspired it is still as strong as ever. Rick and his fellow survivors meet a mysterious new person who claims to represent a community of over 200 people willing to trade for supplies. Suspicion sets in immediately, but the prospect of being able to get some much-needed food and build a better future weighs heavily as well. Meanwhile, Rick is still figuring out how to deal with Andrea’s recent confession of love, and Carl has just woken up from a coma with a whole lot of missing memories. Robert Kirkman’s sprawling epic continues to push into exciting new territory and set up new conflicts for the future, while the art by Charles Adlard is as good as it’s ever been.