You know, this past year did absolutely nothing except reaffirm what I’ve been thinking for a while now – small publishers might not publish as much volume as the “big two,” but they are most certainly making their mark as far as quality goes. Anyone that doesn’t agree, isn’t reading enough small publisher books. I was one of the naysayers a couple of short years ago, but recently, and especially in 2012, the smaller publishers blew Marvel and DC out of the water. No matter a relaunch or reboot, it didn’t matter. I could drone on for hours, but instead, I’ll refresh your memory from some of the great books I’ve reviewed over the last twelve months. Enjoy!
10. Conan The Barbarian (Dark Horse Comics) – Brian Wood has brought his unique style to a book that might not seem to fit initially, but he’s proven me and everyone else wrong. He’s humanized Conan, brought him down to a level where it seems as though the thieves and wizards actually stand a chance against him in a brawl. Also, Conan has fallen in love with a woman who can match his thirst for action! Typically, Conan has many lovers, but none that he would ever consider to be his equal. Wood has also shown us that impossible dynamic, too. A few different artists have been on duty, but that hasn’t broken the continuity of this title all year.
9. Dead Man’s Run (Aspen Comics) – Greg Pak’s story of a brother and sister that made a wrong turn and ended up in Hell, is nothing short of brilliant. The setting isn’t your normal fire and brimstone, devil-horned ruler, flames everywhere type of Hades. It’s a multifaceted prison, but also a very complex story that shows corruption down below, and this happening as the siblings try to escape an ending that should not have been. The slow pace of shipping is the only thing stopping this fantastic title from being even higher on my list. Artistically speaking, it has no flaws, period.
8. Frankenstein Alive, Alive (IDW) – As with the previous book on the list, this one would rank way higher if it came out more often, but that doesn’t stop horror mainstay Steve Niles and legendary artist Bernie Wrightson from delivering an extraordinary take on Mary Shelley’s monster. It’s quite an intriguing book with its look at the monster after the classic novel has ended. You really couldn’t ask for a more heartfelt story that shows the monster in a really sorrowful light. Do I really need to say more than Bernie Wrightson is on art? Let’s hope not, because the guy has an extremely gifted aptitude for making his artwork appear like a photograph in a book.
7. Night of 1000 Wolves (IDW) – This three issue mini-series packed a wallop this year, and honestly, most people (like myself) would have loved to see at least a four issue series if not more. The creative team was unknown to me, so other than the cover art, it was a blind pick. Yes, I love werewolf books typically, but I hadn’t read a ton of that specific sub-genre or IDW books in general, so it was slightly risky. A story with a rich background that made you believe in it was all you needed to crave this book’s arrival in your pull box. As if that wasn’t enough, the artist did a phenomenal job doing everything right. Backgrounds, people, and of course wolves, he got it done!
6. Baltimore (Dr. Leskovar, The Play – Dark Horse) – If you still haven’t entered the world of Lord Henry Baltimore, you’re missing out, big time! If you have read either Plague Ships or Curse Bells, this year’s issues being awesome should be no surprise. We were blessed with a two issue mini called Dr. Leskovar’s Remedy, a very crazy book that included monsters, mutated crustaceans, and everything in between. Later in the year, we saw The Play, and it was a masterpiece! The cool characters and theatrical aspects of the one-shot were excellent. Mignola and Golden know how to present a story. Artists Ben Stenbeck and Dave Stewart are another reason to pick this up, and when you see the way the characters are drawn in many different emotional sequences, you’ll be more than impressed.
5. Colder (Dark Horse) – This book has one of the craziest beginnings of a mini-series I’ve ever seen. No joke. A fire in an insane asylum and the residents going absolutely bananas made the first issue completely awesome. The introduction to a character named Nimble Jack didn’t hurt the book, either. He’s from another dimension where chaos rules, and he’s trying to bring that chaos to the mainstream. Paul Tobin has really amped up the action in this series, and artist Juan Ferreyra is nothing short of spectacular. The characters especially look great, so do yourself a favor and grab this series.
4. Dark Shadows (Dynamite) – This property has always been engaging, and the announcement of Mike Raicht (The Stuff of Legend) taking over the writing duties left no doubt in my mind that it would be good. Well, it’s been better than good. Not only do we see great horror elements like a vampire fighting a werewolf, but there’s also a mystery/detective book feel (Sherlock Holmes slightly) to this title. The writer has taken Barnabas Collins and turned him into a vampire who’s having a moral dilemma, but still being a borderline savage, too. Artistically, there are great panels, but the real gems are the covers by Francesco Francavilla!
3. The Strain (Dark Horse) – Continuing with the theme of vampires, but totally going in a different direction with this pick. This title is about as hardcore a title as I’ve ever read or probably will read, but that being said, it has a rich back story, strong characters, and a creative team that is second to none. David Lapham is adapting a crazy tale about vampires, but these aren’t your momma’s vampires. They’re a wild looking beast that can infect you with one lashing from their infected tongue! Add the solid art of Mike Huddleston, and covers by E. M. Gist, and you have a spectacular horror book that is flawless!
2. The Victories (Dark Horse) – Other than the praise I’ve given this series in my reviews, I honestly don’t know what else I can say about the magnificent work of Michael Oeming. This guy has got to be one of the hardest working guys in the comics biz that gets nowhere near the respect he deserves from the industry as far as media goes. He writes and draws this edgy series that is half superhero book and half psychological thriller, like the type you’d see by reading a novel written by a NY Times best selling author. It’s really that good. I challenge anybody to read this book and not get emotionally involved, and not become attached to it on some level. Oeming’s cartoony but accomplished style of drawing is definitely one that stands out from a crowd. You can tell he’s not trying to emulate someone else, but making his own mark in the industry.
1-b. Riven -Tpb (Dark Horse) – This werewolf story has set a new standard for horror graphic novels. It literally gives you the feeling you’re reading a typical novel one minute, then a visceral, bloody horror book the next. The thing that impressed me the most was the depth of the characters and story. We see plenty of material that leads us to the point of which things begin to make sense and pick up steam. The mental aspects of this book are really what made it worth its weight in gold. The illustrations were second to none, too, and we have the creative team of Bo Hampton and Robert Tinnell to thank for this fantastic genre breaking book!
1-a. The Spider (Dynamite) – I bought this book on a whim, with no idea of what to expect, only that my friend and fellow ComicAttack.net writer Infinitespeech told me that David Liss was doing great things in comics (Black Panther). Big thanks to him for turning me on to Liss, because this crime/noir book is one of the best series I’ve ever read. Why, you ask? Simply because I count down the days until the next issue ships. It’s literally the book I read first, and want the most every month. I honestly haven’t felt like that about a comic book in a while (I think I’m professing my love for a comic book). The artist, Colton Worley, has a smooth style that really resonates with you when you see the panels. Especially the action scenes where The Spider is kicking the crap out of the villains. He’s also very good at the scale of the surroundings. Some artists really get that wrong, either the buildings look too big or small in contrast to the heroes and villains, but not Worley. The covers have been a real treat, as well, starring such names as Francavilla, Cassaday, and Ross.
Well, that’s the list (Yeah, I know I cheated with 11 picks!). Agree or disagree? I’m sure many will disagree, but only because they read other great titles that I don’t, or they don’t read these, because these were fantastic and worth every penny! Here also are my honorable mentions!
1. B.P.R.D. (Dark Horse)
2. Broken Pieces (Aspen)
3. Charismagic (Aspen)
4. Ex Sanguine (Dark Horse)
5. The Black Beetle (Dark Horse – zero issue dropped in December)
6. Beasts of Burden (Dark Horse – one-shot “Neighborhood Watch”)