As we close out another great year in comics, it’s time for the inevitable Top Ten list that spotlights my picks for top books in 2011. If I thought things were hard putting together last year’s list, then it was even harder for this one. Several companies stepped their game up and threw in a few surprises for fans who are constantly demanding more. From all ages titles to the more mature reads, it seemed as if there was plenty of quality to choose from week after week in 2011. Not only that, we have an event that shined without having to whore itself out with a plethora of tie-ins and a few new titles that stole the show issue after issue. Hopefully this list sparks up some conversations and maybe introduces you to a title you’ve never heard of. But enough of my yammering, and let’s get into what you came here for!
10. G.I. Joe: Cobra Civil War (IDW): Having just about given up on G.I. Joe comics, IDW goes and does something that changed the game in the franchise. Cobra Commander was assassinated by Chuckles, and with the position vacated the search for a new Commander would begin. This wasn’t one of those silly fake deaths either that have become passé in comics over the years. This was something that was going to stick and do something that is rare in comics: make the death of a high profile character actually matter! It also pushed the story by not only introducing new characters, but giving the fans something new and fresh to enjoy about the G.I. Joe franchise. Several high ranking members of Cobra would now engage in a contest against each other with the Joe team as their target to see who would become the next Cobra Commander. This ran through G.I. Joe, Snake Eyes, and Cobra titles, and as the various Commander hopefuls attempted to outmaneuver one another, they made life hell for the Joes. Chuck Dixon, who penned the G.I. Joe and Snake Eyes titles along with Mike Costa on Cobra, delivered some great stories that never seemed to stray off course. Each title had its own identity and delivered some of the best G.I. Joe moments in the franchise’s history with both sides suffering casualties. But most importantly it was a damn fun ride that’s still delivering some great issues in all three of these titles!
9. Vescell (Image): This is one that not only took me by surprise, but impressed the hell out of me with its blend of sci-fi, fantasy, noir, and very adult situations. Vescell writer Enrique Carrion has been delivering some of the most unique events in this young series which have made for some very memorable moments already. The characters are engaging and nothing is too predictable in the world of Vescell, which only makes reading this title that much better. If you attempt to guess what might happen, just know that somewhere in the story you will get a curve ball that just crushes your assumptions. John “Roc” Upchurch is the guy responsible for making this book look as good as it has been issue after issue. He handles the various genre spanning characters and settings just as well as Carrion does the story. If there’s a reason to look beyond the Big Two for quality in comics, Vescell is one of those. It also doesn’t hurt that you’re getting a lot more than 22 pages for $2.99 either!
8. Spawn (Image): I was one of those fans that had stopped reading Spawn for years because it wasn’t fun to me anymore. So when fans were promised something new and exciting was coming, I decided to give it another shot, and I’ve been hooked once again since issue #185! With the introduction of a new Hell Spawn by the name of Jim Downing and the death of Al Simmons, the battle between Heaven, Hell, and everything else in between just became a lot more fun! Fast forward several issues and we’re now getting some of the best stories this series has seen in a long time courtesy of writer Will Carlton, with great art from Szymon Kudranski. These two have the perfect symmetry and consistently deliver a dark, moody, and exciting story that creatively builds on what McFarlane gave us almost twenty years ago. This is also another example of a high profile character death done right in comics. It gave new and old readers of Spawn something fresh to look forward to as it led us down a familiar but different path.
7. Gladstone’s School For World Conquerors (Image): When it comes to the all-ages titles, I’m quite the picky reader. Many of them are dumbed down and don’t take into consideration how smart the younger audience is. Well, after being introduced to this title on an episode of Tales From the Water Cooler, I haven’t stopped reading it since. Smith balances the necessary wit and fun with action and a great plot that does nothing but improve with every issue. As good as the plot is, it’s Smith’s ensemble cast of characters that have consistently been a joy to get to know. Whether they’re flirting in study group or foolishly sneaking out to take on one of their parents’ biggest foes, not one issue has been a let down. Villavert’s artwork is another strong point in this series since the slightly animated look and bright colors are nothing short of awesome page after page. These guys seem to be having a great time with this title, and it shows in the work they put into it for the readers to also enjoy. Regardless of your age, Gladstone’s School For World Conquerors should be on your pull list just because you’re a comic collector!
6. Ulitimate Comics: Spider-Man (Marvel): When you’re going to kill off one of Marvel’s beloved and high profile characters in ANY universe, you better make sure that what comes next is just as good if not better than what came before. So when fans heard that Marvel’s Ultimate Universe would loose Peter Parker and he would be replaced by Miles Morales, they went nuts! Whether it was because they didn’t want to see Peter die or they were angry he was being replaced by a character who was Puerto Rican and African American, they took to message boards and let their voices be heard. Well, Bendis seems only concerned with putting out quality stories much like the ones that impressed the masses during his original Ultimate Spider-Man run, regardless of the ethnicity of the character. Mainly because it seems like the only people concerned with Miles’s skin color are the press and fans. Since the first issue, this series continues to impress as we’re introduced to Miles who is just as confused and scared as Peter was when he received his powers. Though it’s when Bendis brings things full circle in the fourth issue and establishes a connection between Peter and Miles that the title’s strength really shows. Let’s also not forget about the stunning artwork from Sara Pichelli that has made every issue one of the best looking titles on the shelves. This is some of the best artwork I’ve seen all year that’s highly complimented by Ponsor’s colors.
5. Amazing Spider-Man (Marvel): For the better part of 2011, Dan Slott made Amazing Spider-Man fun once again! He did it with great stories that had things actually go RIGHT in Peter’s life for once, great supporting characters, and the return of some classic villains. With artists to assist him such as Humberto Ramos and Stefano Caseli, fans got to see some of the best Spidey stories in quite some time. Slott in some ways is responsible for “growing Peter up.” He’s got a job that actually pays his bills, and for some time had a girlfriend that wasn’t Mary Jane. Now, just when you thought that things couldn’t have been better for this series, Slott sneaks in the Spider Island event that did a damn good job of outshining Marvel’s “big” event, Fear Itself. Slott is having a great time with this series and it definitely shows, especially in the latest issue that closed out 2011 and set things up for Spider-Man in 2012!
4. Artifacts (Top Cow): A very long time ago when there was an event in a title, it ran through that ONE book and was still able to dazzle and captivate the reader. You didn’t have to go and find 50 tie-ins to complete the story, because you were able to get a complete tale by the time the event ended. Well, Artifacts is a return to that era of telling a strong and focused story in one title. Top Cow’s first ever event is penned by Ron Marz, but he’s also joined by Michael Broussard, Whilce Portacio, and Jeremy Huan, as these artists handled four issues each, and Dale Keown was the artist for the thirteenth issue. The story is strong, the art is even stronger, and it was done in a classic way that just proves that a big company event can still be an awesome thing in comics instead of a chore to read.
3. Seeds (Com.X): Amid all of the costumed hero and villain books and fantastical tales, there’s always something that comes along and kicks you in the chest with a dose of reality. Seeds was that book for me. Ross Mackintosh shares his experience in dealing with his father’s diagnosis of cancer in a very touching story. The subject matter is one that has touched many people in one way or another, and there are times while reading this that you may get a bit choked up. It’s when companies like Com.X take chances on books like this that makes me still have a glimmer of hope for the industry and the quality of work that is put out. If I could I’d thank Mackintosh for sharing something so personal and grand to the ever so finicky comic reading public.
2. Uncanny X-Force (Marvel): With the plethora of X titles in Marvel’s stable, Uncanny X-Force is THE one that stands heads and shoulders above them all. Forget all of the renumbering and Regenesis ploys, this title needs none of that stuff. Rick Remender has taken the team of Wolverine, Fantomex, Psylocke, Archangel, and Deadpool, and given us a believable wetworks group that has been a joy to read issue after issue. Their job is to take it their enemies and end the problem before it begins, or to put a final solution to any problem in progress that threatens mutants and humanity. His interpretation of each member is damn near perfect, and I’m most impressed by his Deadpool. Remender still has him occasionally break the 4th wall and crack jokes, but this version is a bit more grounded like he was when he was first introduced into the Marvel Universe. He also took Archangel and made him a fantastic villain in the recent The Dark Angel Saga. The art has been consistently awesome, but my favorite has come from Jeremy Opena. His first few issues set the pace and tone for what was to come in the series as it continues to impress the fans. This is the X title the other X titles want to be when they grow up!
1. Locke & Key (IDW): Once in a while a series will come along that is so good you don’t want it to end, but in order for you to truly enjoy it you know it has to. For me that series IS Locke & Key. From the family tragedy to psychopathic killers to mystical keys, it’s been one hell of a ride for the Locke family as well as fans. Joe Hill’s tale has been one of the most engrossing reads and eagerly anticipated books to hit shelves, only getting better with every issue. Mainly because of the rich character development that has taken place over the series of books. From the principal cast to the supporting characters, this is as much about them as all of the horror and mystical elements that kill them off, send them on drinking binges, and at times make them appreciate their own lives a little bit more. Series artist Gabriel Rodriguez has consistently drawn every issue of Locke & Key, and still manages to not only impress, but surprise the reader with his visual storytelling. The things he pulls from Hill’s scripts are fantastic, and a lot of the fun is looking for the hidden details in his artwork. The imagery and symbolism are subtly worked into everything that only gives this title so many more levels of enjoyment and satisfaction for anyone lucky enough to be reading this series. Colorist Jay Fotos rounds out this creative team, and as consistent as Gabe has been with the artwork, Fotos has been nothing short of excellent making those panels look that much better time and time again. Currently in its fifth volume titled Clockworks, the series just keeps getting better as Hill sets us up for the inevitable end of Locke & Key in its sixth volume. Locke & Key proves that you don’t need guys in tights and women with triple D cups to sell a comic. The symmetry of a good story and great artwork will do just fine.
Now go argue amongst yourselves about what you think the top ten books should be, and hopefully I’ve introduced someone to a new title that they will enjoy. You can’t keep complaining there’s “nothing good in comics” if you don’t get out there and at least try something out of your comfort zone of books!