Comics of 2011

Christmas and New Year’s Eve are typically the time for end of year lists and reviews and so not being one to break with tradition here are some of the comics I’ve enjoyed this year:

#1 Criminal: The Last of the Innocent by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips


Criminal The last of the innocent

What if a matured comic-book fan decided to off his cheating wife so that he could be with his childhood sweetheart?

That’s the question that Ed Brubaker tries to answer as he takes us on a journey about the dangers of getting drunk on nostalgia. Riley Richards’ life is out of focus as he returns to his home town.

Here he reminiscences about a simpler life than the one he has today, which involves working for his father-in-law, who thinks Riley is a loser.

As Riley falls in love with a childhood sweetheart he hatches a bloody plot to be free of the confines of his current life in hope of returning to the life he wishes he had.

What Brubaker accomplishes is guilt by association with the lead character: undoubtedly there are comic book fans out there who would like to return to simpler times, or for whom buying and reading comics forms part of some fond nostalgia. Cleverly, this is the motive that drive Riley. The fact that the world weighs down heavily on Riley Richards makes his attempt to escape his situation even more empathetic, even though what he goes on to do is deplorable.

The book was one of the few that had a strong built in need-to-know: how will this all turn out for Riley? This made searching for it each month a must requirement. The truncation of the story between key events and scenes and narration also lent it a speedy yet considered pace which meant the story never felt overly drawn out or bogged down in the character’s internal monologue.

#2 Crossed Psychopath by David Lapham and Raulo Caceres

Before I pour praise on David Lapham for coming up with arguably one of the best comic villains of all time, I have to talk about Raulo Caceres’ bloody imaginative art.

Not since Fist of the North Star have I seen such disturbingly violent scenes played out in comics form with such glee. This is a good thing. Too often you can flip through a comic in store and find nothing that actually stands out and grab you. I mean, Jim Lee drawing a splash page of Batman in Justice League is all good and well, but when compared to a Beano-style double-page spread of a slaughter orgy occurring in an apartment complex, well, all of a sudden the Dark Knight doesn’t look so impressive.

Be warned: Crossed has some seriously fierce stuff in it that may stop you from picking it up altogether.

But it’s Lapham’s writing that really makes the series interesting. He takes a bog standard premise of a survivors against zombies (the crossed aren’t zombies, but that’s the best description I can give) and throws in a psychopath amongst the group of survivors.

The psychopath in Crossed is super devious and the weakness he displays amongst his fellow survivors coupled with his devilishly dark thoughts and plans make him an appalling human being, but one I kept tuning in for each month to see just how far he’d go next.

#3 Optic Nerve 12 Adrian Tomine

Tomine is one of those creators I could wait years for, and if I saw his name on a book, would still pick it up.

Optic Nerve 12 manages what so few single stand-alone comics manage to do, namely; it tells a story that on the surface is straightforward but which resonates with the deeper complexities of being in an adult relationship.

Tomine’s art in this issue resembles a newspaper-style comic strip breakdown typically using a 2 by 2 layout for most scenes and using the comic book itself as a graphic novel.

As the the lead character Harold finds a renewed passion in his life through Hortisculpture, we chart the relationship with his wife as he attempts to make it in in the fancy world of artistic landscape gardening.

That might not sound like an end of the world style premise for a plot but believe me this little story has big things to say about pursuing success blindly and about the need for public validation for one’s sense of self-esteem.

Plainly rendered but with a perfect story that’s emotionally deep and which rings true on a human level, seeing Optic Nerve 13 come out renewed my faith about what’s possible in 41 pages.

#4 Punisher Kingpin Marvel Max

Jason Aaron’s run on this book has made it the ongoing title I’ve kept up with the most frequently over the last two years despite a few lapses in picking up the odd issue here and there.

Re-entering the series with #13 this year we saw a hollowed-out version of Frank Castle –one who had given up on life and his mission altogether – and seemingly willing to accept his fate in jail after being arrested.

Mixing flashbacks from from Frank’s early years returning home from the war with his current situation of being stuck in prison and in danger of being murdered by prisoners, Frank has to find some reason to carry on living and fast.

Aaron extends the Punisher legend by giving us a glimpse into how Frank was unable to fit back into civilian life following his tour as well as the final few days leading up to the fateful incident in the park.

#5 Witch Doctor Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner

I’d feel a tad bad for labelling this “Doctor Who but as a Witch Doctor” if the writer hadn’t thanked Steven Moffat in the opening pages of the collected edition.

Witch Doctor was one of those rare treats that you see few of in comics: an honest to goodness let’s go have an adventure book and shove as much weirdness as we can into it.

It wasn’t cynical, it wasn’t self-referential, it was what it was: sheer fun.

#6 ScreamLand Harold Sipe, Christopher Sebela and Lee Leslie

A Hollywood tale of what happens to famous movie monsters after the cameras have long stopped filming them, Screamland was a murder mystery that contrasted the golden age of Hollywood prestige with the comic conventions that celebrities who have long since been forgotten now have to endure.

Beneath the jokes about sullied legacies and the indignities now suffered by its cast of invisible men, werewolves and creatures from the black lagoon, the series was also about the dangers of idolising movie stars, who, as the series turns out are just as fallible as Joe Schmoe.

#7 Honourable mentions have to go to:

Brain Michael Bendis for making The New Avengers talk like people you know while maintaining perfect comic book need-to-know plot lines. Dan Abnett on Resurrection Man for making the new series as good as the old one. Grant Morrison for keeping Batman Incorporated as nutty as always and for Mike Mignola’s Being Human Hellboy story which was as profound as it was an exciting yarn. Finally, The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror #17 had arguably the creepiest and cleverest short story about a kid and a horror comic. If you can still find a copy, do go check it out.

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