Welcome to a new segment of Sparrows With Machineguns that I like to call Counting to Midnight!
Okay, its a pretentious name for my top twelve lists, I admit that. But anyone who has read anything I have written prior has knowledge of my love for elaboration. My coverage of Marvel NOW! has been nigh all-consuming, so I decided to shake things up with this segment. For our first Counting to Midnight, I am going to cover my top 12 favorite comic book series of 2012. A bit of explanation on this topic: these are my personal favorite and sorted by my own preferences. While I consider myself a reader of quality, some titles may have ranked a higher slot than others by virtue of simply being more entertaining. Once I had the list of candidates I had an extremely difficult time ranking them. Some I was able to say “Did I really enjoy X more than Z?” however with other titles I had to look at them by their length. If a comic had more issues than others and had a bad issue that was fine, however a smaller series would rank higher than a series that I felt had a boring story arc. Another very important aspect was only judging a comic by issues released this year, something I feel that many other reviewers neglect and allow continuing favorites to be elevated by some residual nostalgia.
Without further ado- My personal favorite comic series of 2012:
Swamp Thing is a storm of contradictions. He is a large brutish character but one of the most soulful characters in DC’s stable of characters. Swamp Thing is a character that most people actually have heard of due to his uncanny media saturation: 2 films, a surprisingly long running TV show, and an animated series, however few people would be able to tell you there character’s name or any details than “Uh, he was the plant guy right?”. Many comic fans know the character when through a renaissance under the pen of Alan Moore and became something great and wondrous… However I like many other comic fans have not read Moore’s Saga. Yes I know, I am a terrible person. Focusing on the matter at hand though, this current incarnation may well end up being the new definitive telling of the Swamp Thing.
At the start of this year, Alec Holland was still on the run from the Rot, the forces of decay and death that had sent horrific creatures after him and his lover Abby Arcane. Alec had yet to take up the mantle of Swamp Thing, denying the power in order to remain both a human and himself. As an audience it was hard not to root for Alec,we wanted him to manage to stay himself and win out against his fate. Just as much though we wanted to see him become the warrior-king he is destined to become. The issue where he finally is forced to kneel to his fate is my favorite of the series to this day. Abby is revealed to be the avatar of the Rot, just as Alec is to the Green, and she is captured and begins her transformation into an abomination. Meanwhile, the Rot has moved and set blaze to the Parliament of Trees, the place where the Green pulls its strength from… oh and Alec then takes a chainsaw to the chest. Finally willing to undergo the transformation in order to save his life and give him a chance to save Abby. With the Parliament burning, the Green lacks the strength to trigger the transformation and only has the power to slow Alec’s death, drawing out his last moments with the realization that this could have all been avoided had he embraced his heritage earlier. Naturally our hero comes out of it, and I am happy to say that due to Alec’s own ingenuity is he able to spark his transformation, becoming the Swamp Thing.
Taking a moment aside to talk about the art. This book is gorgeous, the colors are lustrous, the Rot-monsters are sickening and horrifying, and the designs throughout are spectacular. Of particular note is the design of the new Swamp Thing. Usually depicted as a being that expresses both horror and melancholy of Frankenstein’s Monster, this new incarnation is the multiple time referred to as the Green’s Warrior King, the design fits that perfectly. There is not sorrow in this design, it is glorious, fully elemental and powerful. The little touches such as moss growing on him and the branched crown on his brow really sell things, however it is at the end of his birth when he grows leafy wings and swears to the Rot that “he will show them war” that we realize how magnificent this creature truly is. The layouts in this book are great throughout this arc, showing brilliant creativity. The first time Swamp Thing takes flight we get to see through his eyes, the outline lines around the panels creating the lines of the Swamp Thing’s face as we see the desert below us springing into green life.
The beginning arc that was finished this year was a personal favorite and turned me into a fan of this series and this would have ranked much higher if I enjoyed the later issues nearly as much. Eventually Swamp Thing would team up with Animal Man, the Knight of the Red, teaming up to fight the Heart of the Rot. They end up being tricked by the Rot’s newest Avatar(the Rot is a cheater and has like three) and both the Green and Red’s champions are thrown into the future where the Rot has already won. Which in itself is a good premise, hell I loved it on Samurai Jack. The problem being that these two are not the only heroes in the world and this would have made a GREAT event comic. Screw the upcoming Trinity War(hooray MORE superheroes fighting each other) lets have the heroes of our planet united underneath Swamp Thing and Animal Man fighting to save the world from the forces of death and decay! However I can understand why they wouldn’t go that route with the similar event, Blackest Night, still being fresh in people’s minds. The main problem here is that with the Rotworld arc, we see Swamp Thing in a post apocalyptic DC universe and fighting against corrupted heroes and villains who boil down to pretty bland cameos half the time. However this story is self contained between two books that are now set in the future where all the heroes are dead, so yeah guess what is going to happen? They are going to end up fixing things and winding back up in the past again. That is how this will end. We all know it, nothing will change and it will have zero impact on the other books. I know this fact shouldn’t make me as angry as it does but the Rot was built to be such a huge threat that we want to see the fight between it and the rest of the world, that is the story we want to read… Instead the entire thing is hand-waved and instead we get to see our heroes fighting in order to retcon the enemies from winning. That coupled with the fact that later books just aren’t as entertaining or engrossing as the earlier issues this year, regrettably drops Swamp Thing down to the number twelves spot on this year’s list.
I loved this series so much and the fact that it was thrown to the side for Thunderbolts is a tragedy. Frank Castle, much like John Constantine, is a character that tends to suffer from something of a split characterization where you have the more serious, down-to-earth stories where they are grounded and age realistically and then others where they fall into the ageless category that most superheroes wind up. For years my favorite run of a Punisher series was Punisher MAX by Garth Ennis and it fell firmly into the former, with the key touchstone of Frank’s age being that he served in the Vietnam War. This book falls into the latter category and does a magnificent job of fitting the Punisher into the Marvel Universe.
If they were ever to make a Punisher TV series, this series should be its template. Not so much starring The Punisher in many issues so much as the world he inhabits. The main characters are the victims, cops, and criminals and how they are affected by the Punisher. Frank Castle here isn’t so much a character here, as he has already become something primal, he is Godzilla, this natural calamity that sweeps through and on its own its exciting, but the drama comes from how people react to its wake. Key among them is the character I would name the main character, Rachel Cole-Alves, a veteran whose circumstances mirror those of The Punisher’s own. It is all a very intelligent way at viewing the Punisher mythos as very rarely are we ever seeing the book from Frank’s point of view but almost always are seeing him while following others, whether its a cop describing a shooting he was involved in or a young boy who is sneaking food to the strange veteran who has taken residence nearby.
As I had stated earlier, this book is heavily engrossed in the Marvel Universe and it does this exceedingly well. Throughout most of this run Frank is heavily bandaged and healing from a run in with The Vulture. Soon he ends up going toe to toe with Megacrime, a collaboration between various supervillain organizations like A.I.M. and Black Spectre. This confrontation with Megacrime leads into the Omega Effect, a 3-way crossover between The Avenging Spider-Man, Daredevil, and The Punisher. I really, REALLY enjoyed most of this crossover, it made sense how they got these three working together, I loved how Spider-Man was written as unable to keep himself from joking even though he is scared shitless by Frank and how everyone is unsure what the hell to call Rachel(Punisher-ette?) However at the end of the arc, it ends with nothing having progressed and the arc would simply be wrapped up later in the Daredevil series, leaving a rather bland taste in everyone’s mouths. The last portion of this series deals mostly with the Punisher helping Rachel, you can tell that he is seriously considering taking her on but still hoping that she isn’t as broken as him and that she has a choice about not being… him. The last few issues are wonderful, with Frank and Rachel spending one issue simple pulling a heist on a Supervillain auction in order to get supplies they will need. You know you should be scared when the Punisher gets his hand on adamantium.
This series ends on a bittersweet note as far as Frank and Rachel go however I really liked how things end up shaking out. If you enjoyed this series then there is an ongoing epilogue called Punisher: War Zone which follows the aftermath of the main series that has created a situation where Frank is being hunted down by the Avengers. I really loved this series and it was killed off far too quickly in order to push Frank onto the Thunderbolts. We can only hope that someday soon Rucka and Castle will be reunited.
I never thought I would have Aquaman become one of my favorite comics but its hard to dislike such a quality series. Adhering to the mantra of “There are no bad characters…”, Geoff Johns has turned Arthur into one of the premiere heroes of the New 52 and is quickly turning popular perception of Aquaman on its head. Arthur is a man struggling against how his homes view him. Atlantis wanting him as their king but not needing him, and the surface needing him but ridiculing him to his face. His perseverance throughout is one of his most admirable traits. His wife Mera is a full partner throughout the series, possibly even more powerful than he is, she is a character in her own right without having to rely on her husband. Every scene between these two is a joy and they are remain my favorite couple in the current DC universe.
This year in Aquaman was focused entirely on Atlantis. Arthur and Mera had just taken down the Trench, a race of powerful, cannibalistic monsters when Aquaman’s past comes back to haunt him. Beginning with an Atlantean hit squad coming after Arthur and attacking him in the desert, things kick into high gear with the introduction of Arthur’s old team, the Others and emergence of his nemesis, Black Manta. Manta is one of those characters who can be either horrifically goofy or incredibly imposing depending on the team behind him and he quickly establishes himself in the latter. Hunting down on of the Others, a woman with pre-cognitive abilities, he establishes himself as a cunning hunter who may just be a match for our Atlantean hero. The Others themselves are all varied and interesting, of particular note is The Operative who needs his own series right-the-hell now! Reuniting after years as Arthur’s past is dredged up and we discover the reason for his fued with Black Manta. They killed each others’ fathers. Manta had been going after Aquaman and discovered his dad instead who fought him off but died of a heart attack. In retaliation Aquaman kills Black Manta’s father and scars Manta’s face. It is a really dark turn but it irrevocably locks these two in a cycle of vengeance and it shows our hero in a more tragic light. Any flashback we see him amongst the Others, he is so full of rage that he could hardly be called a hero, it is wonderful to see how he came from that angry young man to one of the world’s finest. I also really enjoyed the last moment’s of Aquman and Black Manta’s duel, with Aquaman sparing his life to be the better man that day but acknowledging the fact that he knows that he will have to kill him someday.
More recently we have been introduced to Orm the Ocean Master, current King of Atlantis. Again, Johns knocks the characterization out of the park. Orm does not in any way come across as a villain but as law-abiding monarch who truly does care about his older brother. The final issue of the year ends up placing the two at end with an event crossing over with the Justice League series. First off, how awesome is it that the first crossover event for the Justice League isn’t with Batman or Superman but with Aquaman?!(Answer: Very) Atlantis is attacked by the surface world and war is declared with Aquaman caught in the middle between the two nations. It is building up to be a very cool event and hopefully it will a worthy addition to this series. One major gripe from me on that issue and its Justice League counterpart is that for some reason Mera decided to rip off a quarter of her costume to be more revealing. I adore Mera and she was already sexy with her skin-tight scalemail… the fact that she shows up wearing this outfit when they are at war is groan-inducing and really leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Archer & Armstrong
Archer & Armstrong is so much fun that it every time you open a fresh issue it may as well play its own theme music and dispense candy. A long, long time ago, on a Tuesday, three princes changed the world. The youngest, Gilam, had died in battle and the eldest had decided to activate a strange device known as the Boon to save him. The middle child, Aram fought to stop its activation, scared of the price it would ask. Aram strikes too late and his older brother Ivar activates the boon. Their kingdom is wiped off the planet and only they remained.
Cut to modern day where we have a fundamentalist theme park in Middle America where there is a secret assassin training regime in the model of Noah’s Arc.
Go ahead, feel free to read that again and let the happiness take over. Inside the arc our hero Archer is beginning his final exam, fighting off all his adopted brothers and sisters in a battle royale. Archer wins easily due to his super power, which may be one of the best abilities I have ever heard of in a comic. Archer can tap into humanity’s racial muscle memories, essentially tapping into skills that people have used at different points in the past or present. Lockpicking, Karate, obscure Greek wrestling developed by Hercules, all are at his disposal. Given a golden artifact, he is sent to hunt down the anti-christ… who turns out to be Aram. Our ancient prince has put on many pounds over the years and is currently working as a bouncer in a biker bar under the name of Armstrong. The boon granted him with the ‘gift’ of immortality, which he has been using to drink, read, sleep, and be awesome. Both of our heroes are soon set upon by one of the many Sects who are out to reconstruct the Boon and gain immortality. It is during this time that Archer realizes that his parents don’t care for him, that he is merely a pawn in their quest for power and so he and Armstrong set off to ensure the Boon is never re-assembled.
Since becoming partners their troubles have only increased and have since fought against Da Vinci’s deathtraps, deadly nun-jas, and a Sect of Shaolin Nazis. This series specializes in its own brand of irreverent irrelevance that just makes it a true gem. The series has just started its second arc and is still going strong. This series had no bad issues or missteps in it, and if it had run all year it would have been a serious contender for the number one spot(we will see about 2013). For now though its five issues earn it the number 9 spot and a serious recommendation from myself.
It can be a slow and painful thing to watch a man who takes himself to seriously. Daredevil was in serious danger of falling into that chasm. Thank God for Mark Waid. Returning Matt Murdock to the happy swashbuckler from days past, our hero decided to stop being sad and be awesome instead.
Daredevil’s year began with the Omega Drive, a strange device that was once a “4” badge from a Fantastic Four costume. As their costumes are made from unstable molecules and have been exposed to unknown radiations and energy from their travels, it had become something more, a data drive with unlimited capacity. It was in this unassuming vessel that Megacrime placed their secrets. During his first adventure of the year, Matt gets his hands on the Omega Drive and Megacrime begins hunting him down.
Daredevil soon enters the Omega Effect cross-over with Spider-Man and The Punisher. This event is covered in the Punisher review(entry 11) and my thoughts are expressed there. However I will say that I really loved Matt’s arc in the story, as he attempts to talk Rachel out of becoming like the Punisher. Matthew believes that maybe he could have talked Frank out of being how he is if he had gotten the chance earlier and gets that chance here with Rachel. Its very telling seeing Matt attempting to save someone during all the chaos and even more so seeing him blame himself for Frank’s own darkness which he has no control over.
Personally I felt that the Omega Drive storyline should have been wrapped up during the Omega Effect. The eventual ending felt like a wrap up as Daredevil turns to the Avengers to assist him. They could have done this at anytime but instead the storyline got carried on for a few issues too long. However two good story threads did come during this time, Matt’s relationship with the new District Attorney and Daredevil’s capture at the hands of Dr Doom. Daredevil is spirited away to Latveria, his senses destroyed by toxins, and he is left truly unable to comprehend his surroundings. Its a great arc and his escape is particularly thrilling.
Then comes Coyote, a new villain who uses his powers to destroy Matt’s life and credibility. He does so through out this year, planting the seeds of doubt in his best friend’s mind and even getting Matt to doubt himself. I am not going to reveal the who, why, or how Coyote does this but I will say that I really liked this villain and his storyline led to some of the creepiest imagery I saw all year.
Daredevil is in fine form this year and I am so very glad that Marvel decided to keep this series running rather than give it a relaunch in NOW! This series is still going strong and next issue we have Daredevil vs Spider-man and the return of Stilt-Man. Hell Yeah!
This may well be the best thing to come of DC’s New 52. One year later and I am being constantly shocked at the lack of cohesion, between time compression and retcons, the whole universe has become a minefield. Successful series generally exist because they did not have their continuity disturbed, Wonder Woman is the exception.
Years ago Wonder Woman had her origin retold and in that story she was formed by her mother from clay and had life breathed into her by the gods. It was a fitting origin that suited her mythological roots and was wholly original to her. At the beginning of the year, Diana has just learned that the story of her being formed from clay was a lie she had been told her entire life to conceal the truth, that she is a demigod and the child of Zeus. Hippolyta kept this fact from her to keep Diana safe from Hera’s jealous wrath and when this fact becomes revealed, Hera strikes down all the Amazons. Diana is now on the run protecting Zola, a pregnant girl who is carrying another of Zeus’ children and is accompanied by Hermes. This year is very dedicated to Diana learning more about her divine heritage as the supporting cast throughout the series is either a God, a demigod and sibling, or Zola who is carrying a new demigod. All this is happening while Zeus has disappeared and the gods begin warring over the Throne of Olympus.
This is a great story. The author really gets Wonder Woman, she is a great and fierce woman but you never doubt for a second her love and compassion. I also love the way the Greek Gods are rendered. They are all very alien, Hermes being avian, Hephaestus is squat and volcanic, Poseidon is a grand leviathan. They also generally refer to each other by their function which makes an interesting amount of sense, with Poseidon being called ‘Sea’ or Hades ‘Hell’. Hades is the only design which I simply don’t understand… he is rendered as a child in armor whose head is covered in candles, the wax coating his face. Its a very interesting design I just don’t really get why that is Hades, especially the reason he is drawn child-like. Still that is simply a personal preference.
I would say this series very much is the deconstruction of Wonder Woman and is done very well. One of the most controversial aspects of this has been the Amazons who have become more monstrous in their actions and it has been polarizing to some fans. It is now explained that the Amazons board ships that sail near their home, take the men by force and then kill them. This is how they are able to have daughters and continue their race of only women. Male children it is explained are given to Hephaestus to work his forges in exchange for the magical arms and armor the amazons bear. I personally really liked this explanation, as it answers a lot of questions about the Amazons that many would take for granted. Also the idea of a Amazons reaving and raping, to me at least, works with the old Greek Mythology… however I can understand how many, especially female readers, can take umbrage to this retcon. Many readers boycotted the series after this issue came to light, and that is why I felt it necessary to cover it here so you could make your decision fully informed on whether or not to read the series.
In more recent issues, the battle for Olympus has resolved(for now) and an Olympian has claimed the throne. Diana is now searching for Zola, who was kidnapped, and is turning to her other demigod brothers and sisters for help. However the biggest news of this arc is the re-introduction of another mythology, that of the New Gods. I am really excited to see more of Orion and Genesis in the future and this series has become a perfect place, I feel, to introduce the Fourth World.
This has been a fantastic series and is a personal favorite of mine. The best depiction I have read of Diana in years, you can tell the author really understands the character and how to write her. The return to a more mythological bent in the story is greatly appreciated and serves to set the series apart from the rest of the DC universe in an appreciable way. Lastly the art is just superb, it has a style all its own that is unlike any other series on the shelves right now. If you are at all intrigued by this series, then you owe it to yourself to check it out!
Harbinger instantly became a favorite of mine, as soon as I read it I got the same feeling I get when I revisit some of my favorite books from my childhood, this comfortable sense of joy when catching up with an old friend. Its a rather shocking accomplishment for such a modern book.
Peter Stanchek is a young man with psychic powers, constantly bombarded with the thoughts of everyone around him. He is currently attempting to keep ahead of the police and is on the run with his psychotic best friend. Peter slips up when he decides to go back to his hometown and lay low for there for a bit. When he runs into a childhood friend/crush and she doesn’t remember him he uses his abilities to make her love him. What I really loved about the book was how they used this plot. Using powers to change someone’s perception of you or make someone you long for love you is a fairly common wish, everyone has felt that way. There is no denying that doing this is plan wrong, and it quickly goes into a rape situation where you lose any empathy for the characters. Peter however very quickly realizes that he has done the wrong thing here but doesn’t release her from these feelings immediately, partly because he is scared for how she will react towards him and also because… he just needs someone right now. Its a very dark situation that is handled well by making the main character very human and understandable. Things quickly spin further out of control when the people hunting him find him and send in an assault team.
This is the moment where we get to see Peter unleash and show us why they are so scared of him and yeah we can see why… he rips them to shreds. Surrounded by fire and chaos he is approached by Toyo Harada of Harbinger. Harada is like him, a psiot, and he has been gathering them together to keep them safe from themselves and others. Peter agrees to go with them on the condition that his friends are taken care of, and off he goes. It is during this time that we get to know Harada more, and I really like this guy. Harada’s powers activated to protect him from the nuclear attacks on Japan and he is the oldest known psiot. The reason for grabbing Peter is that a prophetic vision has been shown to Harada that Peter will one day destroy civilization, and while many urged him just to kill Peter, he decided to bring him in and try and ensure that he didn’t go down such a dark path. During this time Peter begins to feel more alienated around the other psiots due to his insane power level, constantly hearing their thoughts against him and regularly trouncing them in training, he is outside everyone. Harada continues to advise him and eventually discovers Peter’s greatest ability, that he can awaken latent psiots. Usually accomplished with a surgical procedure that kills a quarter of patients, Peter is asked to try this again so that hopefully they can do this without killing any others in the future. However after almost killing the girl brought in for activation, he flees Harbinger to find his best friend again. And in a heroin den in the city he find him, laying dead from an overdose. When Harbinger comes to collect him, he begins to follow until he realizes that everyone in the building has been mind-wiped. His best friend’s murder was all to manipulate him into falling in line. Peter rages and attacks the Harbinger building directly until he is taken down by Harada and is thrown from the building… only to be caught by the girl he had tried to activate, who flies him to safety.
The story since has introduced new cast members as Peter has begun building up of psiots that he has activated himself, so that they can take down Harbinger and Harada. I enthralled monthly by this series and have enjoyed every character who has been brought in, each of them reminding me of actual people. The series just seems so open that things could go anywhere and I am really excited to see where things go.
Journey Into Mystery
I will admit that I scoffed at the idea of turning Loki into a teenager. At first it sounded like a gimmick forced on the character due to unimaginative writers, much like the idea of giving Loki tits(yes that happened). However I was pleasantly surprised by this series and I adored Loki’s new direction. After sacrificing himself for Asgard, Loki had manipulated things so he would be reborn younger without his past experiences. This is a Loki who looks up to his older brother and wants to be a hero like him, but is unable to and so has to solve things by being well… Loki. He has no magic, no strength, he must rely entirely on his ability to talk himself out of and into increasingly worse trouble. They make it very clear early on in the run that Kid Loki is his own entity, the mind of the old villain had been placed into a magpie named Ikol who serves Kid Loki as an advisor of sorts and who is manipulating events from his own end. What makes this series heartbreaking throughout is how Loki, this child, is so universally hated in his home. Everyone knows Loki is a trickster and trying to earn their trust so he can hurt them again, so everywhere he goes he is met with hatred, all towards this child who has never done anything to them. For a long time it was this treatment that I feared would cause Loki to turn back to a villain, but Thor’s compassion gave him quite a lot of strength… even if Kid Loki did arrange his death.
Three separate arcs run this year with Journey into Mystery, and to be honest none of them were personal favorites of mine with Kid Loki. The first arc dealt with the Fear Lord Nightmare seeking to claim the fear of humanity as a weapon, eventually weaponizing the fear of Loki into a crown. This was an insanely powerful artifact tied directly into Kid Loki, powered by the fear of God. Most comics would have had the simple out of having our hero overcome his fears and making the crown shatter or some such tripe… Loki on the other hand calls in the rest of the Fear Lords, all of whom desire the Crown for themselves, thus creating a never-ending skirmish between them for the crown and ensuring its non-use. The next arc dealt with new gods emerging in Britain and Loki being sent in as a spy for the Asgardian guards(he is the perfect spy because everyone already suspects him!). The final arc is a tie in with Thor called Everything Burns. Dealing with the return of Surtur and his attack on the Nine Realms. This is very bad news for Loki seeing as how he is the one who freed Surtur in one of his earlier dealings. However due to a team up of Loki’s treachery and Thor’s brawn they manage to deliver to Surtur a most mighty smackdown.
So why is this series placed so highly if I wasn’t that big of a fan of this year’s books? Yes I was a fan of previous issues, most of which were fantastic with Loki’s quest in Fear Itself to kill Thor to save everyone, or the single issue of Mephistopheles in a bar(this series has done more to explore Marvel’s underworld than any other I feel). The reason why the series ranks so highly is due to its ending. The end of Kid Loki’s saga is a heart-wrenching thing to endure, but at the same time… it couldn’t have ended in any other way. Loki is informed by Ikol(old Loki in bird form) of what is coming due to both of their machinations, the end of everything good. The next day, Mephistopheles will take the Fear Crown from the Fear Lords and with its power, unite all the underworlds underneath him. “It wouldn’t be Hell on Earth, it would be Hell Everywhere” Ikol informs him that it is too late to stop this from happening, and that there is only one way left to save the realms from this fate. Kid Loki must give up himself to Ikol, everything he is will die and be replaced will Old Loki in his body, his fear will be erased and the crown will shatter. As a gift, Kid Loki is allowed to speak to three people and say goodbye, but is not allowed to mention anything of the plight. Loki’s first action is the most telling and sets out for the Underworld to see Hela. There he asks Hela for one last favor, to send his only friend Leah far, far away from him. Leah has been Loki’s companion for most of the series and you could see there was a great caring that had developed… many thinking their relationship had turned romantic towards the end. This is the first thing Loki sets out to do, save his friend, because he knows once Ikol takes him over he will manipulate and use her. So Leah is sent away, and Loki is unable to even say goodbye or explain himself to her because there are others he needs to speak to more. On the way he encounters on of the Disir(fallen valkyries once cursed with hunger and the ability to destroy both mind, body, and soul) and asks if they still could destroy him, for if they could then he would save everyone without returning as a villain… but due to his own heroic actions in the past, the Disir are no longer cursed. The last person Loki speaks to is Thor.. and this scene always makes me cry. Loki approaches his brother and asks him to promise “that if he ever goes evil again, to kill him” Thor however is appalled at this, Loki has become a hero in the eyes of Asgard and has Thor’s trust and he tells him that he is a good person. He knows that if Loki turned to the wrong side that he would help him find his away again because he is a better man now, he will never kill him. It is everything Loki ever wanted, he is redeemed, he has the love and respect of his brother… but he completely misses the point of his warning and through his own actions he has paved the way for the return of his old self.
So resigned to his fate, Kid Loki returns to Ikol. Ikol says that he tried his best but the game was stacked against him and he never could win this… Loki’s last words are that, in the end he had won. Ikol had set this entire thing up in order to earn everyone’s trust, to change and be unexpected. But Ikol had never changed, he was the same old villain, Loki had made done those things, he had become the man they both wanted to be, he could change while Ikol never could. And as Loki kills himself to save everyone he spits that venom at Ikol “I WIN” And all that is left is Loki, in a younger body… grieving for a part of him that would never be again.
The series was a tragedy that played out in a perfect ending. Kid Loki will not soon be forgotten, and the fans have been given all new reasons to despise Loki. While some of the stories this year of Journey into Mystery may have been lacking in my eyes, the ending was so complete and awesome that it shakes me up even on a re-read. Kid Loki’s saga is one of the most epic stories ever told in the Marvel Universe, and he will be missed dearly by those that know he his gone.
This is the series that got me into the modern day antics of the Marvel mutants. The Uncanny X-Force is the darker side of the X-Men, going out and assassinating the threats to mutantkind. This book has been incredibly written and beautifully illustrated throughout and is now a personal favorite comic run.
The main drawback from this year’s run comes at the beginning with the Otherworld Arc. Fantomex is captured by the Captain Britain Corps. and put on trial for his crimes. The story is strange and off the wall which usually works, but with the series coming straight off the Dark Angel Saga, the series strongest storyline, Otherworld felt rather boring at times, especially if you don’t know or care who Captain Britain is… The series then kicks it into high gear again for its Final Execution arc, where X-Force is set upon by the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Everything comes to a head here, and the series does a fantastic job of tying up all its plot threads together while delivering massive action. We see a destopian future where the X-Force took control, with Psylocke ruling with an iron fist and where the Punisher serves as their top enforcer. The Brotherhood however brings things back to square one by kidnapping Evan, a teenage Apocalypse who was raised by Fantomex to be a good man. The brotherhood intends to get Evan to accept his future as Apocalypse and wipe out humanity. You really can feel the tension as things continue as Evan is subjected to the truths that his whole past was just a lie engineered by Fantomex to ensure that he didn’t wind up a monster, his parents never existed, and he has been manipulated. The final battle to recapture Evan is insane and continues for many books, however there are two moments that people still are talking about. One is Nightcrawler killing the Blob by teleporting himself past his invulnerable skin, and leaving a live shark inside of him, trying to eat its way out. It is an insanely brutal way to see someone go and it serves as the perfect companion for the other huge moment. Wolverine kills his son. Remender sets the rule down that people like Wolverine, Daken, and Deadpool can be killed by drowning, it takes much longer but eventually their brain cells all dye of oxygen starvation and there aren’t able to regenerate. Daken nearly kills his father with this method earlier on, and during their last fight Wolverine drowns his son with his own hands. It is strange in how… non violent the whole thing is, with the amount of blood throughout the fights, Wolverine doesn’t even pop his claws. He simply holds his son’s head under water until he is dead. It is such an uncharacteristic fight for him, not flashy, no blood, no snarling or screaming… just silence.
This series had my favorite characterizations of its cast. My personal favorite being Deadpool, Rememder gave my favorite interpretation of the character ever. The tragedy, humor, and badass-ery of the character are all intact and he DEVELOPS AS A CHARACTER… that is so insanely rare for Deadpool its not even funny. Wolverine is done well, and is written competently without overshadowing the other characters. Psylocke is a complete badass who is thrown through the ringer here, she gets broken mentally and is still picking up the pieces which is why it makes so much sense for her to pick things back up in the next series. Fantomex is just… Fantomex is just cool man, he is the epitome of cool, and a lot of people picking up this series had no clue who he was but they love the guy now.
One of the things brought up throughout the series is whether what they are doing is right or merely necessary, it haunts the characters in their own way. Everyone has to deal with the fact that they are assassins and have entered a darker world. Eventually it is revealed that they can’t all continue this way, doing the hard thing for as long as they could survive it because they thought it was right…but they all have their breaking point. The series ends with X-Force disbanded, and they have all had their losses but they are not broken, there is still hope and the world is still spinning… and that is thanks to the hard decisions they made yesterday.
You should totally be reading this comic, bro(Something I went into depth on in my Marvel Now .1 post, more Hawkeye coverage there!) I say this without hesitation, Hawkeye will remembered as one of the most important comicbooks of this generation. Following the exploits of Hawkeyes, Clint Barton and Kate Bishop, when they are not being Avengers and just running around being awesome while getting beat up by tracksuit draculas.
The single fault with the series is that its length, there isn’t enough and when a new issue does emerge it is immediately devoured by adoring masses. The film may have made Hawkeye a household name, but this series is making him an icon. What I truly love though is how much time is devoted to Kate Bishop, a character who could have easily been forgotten but who was brought in as Hawkeye’s partner Hawkeye in what I still consider to be the smartest thing done in the series so far. Their relationship just works, they click and have great chemistry in a way that is entirely non-romantic and beyond that of mentor and apprentice. They are friends and partners, they give each other shit all the time, and I also love that there is never, EVER a discussion about changing Kate’s name, they are both Hawkeye.
The best comics are always a union of story and art, Hawkeye is no exception. David Aja’s art is exciting, using a minimalist style and making brilliant use of purples, the style is quickly becoming iconic. Marvel has started a trend of switching out artists during arcs that can lead to some visual whiplash but the replacement artist’s so far have done a great job of keeping the style of Hawkeye the same while allowing for their own embellishments. While Avengers or All-New X-Men may be the most technically arresting comics that Marvel has… Hawkeye is hands down its most stylish.
Allow me to sum up this series as simply as I can: Hawkeye is the Cowboy Bebop of comics. If it had ran the entirety of this year, it would be taking the top spot. Unfortunately we have reached the point where we must judge the “quantity of quality” when it comes to our final three.
Officially the best arrow in Marvel’s quiver. The best arrow of course being a boomerang arrow.
Ahem… okay, now that is out of the way. I need to explain a little bit about my own preferences before I get into this review. When I first started reading comics it was only stuff from Japan, hell I was reading Korean comics before I was reading stateside. Eventually I decided to give American comics a shot but I was intimidated about Marvel and DC as their continuity had grown so large, two series however did grab my attention and bring me into the fold of American superheroics. The first was Image’s Invincible, and the second was called Runaways. While the series’ run was woefully short, the author Brian K. Vaughan had immediately captured my attention and I would continue following his work, to Y: The Last Man, then Ex Machina, and now to Saga. With my personal experiences with the author and my views of him as one of modern comic’s greatest writers, I can honestly state from Saga’s strong start and imaginative landscape that this may well be his magnum opus.
Landfall is the largest planet in its galaxy and is at war with its moon Wreath. The people of Landfall are a winged race using technological weaponry whereas Wreath is the home to horned individuals capable of wielding magic. Their war had reached the point where it would have destroyed one of the them, and with the destruction of either planet or moon, would have destroyed the other in its wake. Now the war is fought amongst proxy planets amidst the cosmos, becoming something that is touching everywhere except the planets on which it started, no one remembers why the bloodshed started and no end is ever in sight, the war simply is. This story is not about the war, it is not about heroes trying to save the galaxy or trying reach a common ground. This is the saga of two parents trying to protect and raise their child. Marko and Alana were both soldiers who abandoned the fighting and ran away together, getting married and giving birth to their daughter Hazel. The problem begins and ends with the fact that they were fighting on opposite sides of the war. Seen as traitors by both sides, they are now being hunted down. One of the fascinating facts is that many people who hear about them simply cannot comprehend that these two are two people in love, the notion of members of these two species being in the same room together without killing each other is so alien that the idea of them falling for one another is beyond understanding. The high commands of both worlds realize how things could look if these two were discovered in any sort of public fashion and must be taken care of, both sides hiring someone to deal with their problem.
One of my favorite aspects of this story is how well the characters are developed as even the assassins sent after them are fully realized people. Landfall assigns a powerful robot prince to track them down, Prince Robot is a recent veteran of a horrific battle and is still suffering the mental trauma of it however he is hellbent to finish this assignment so he can be done with this war and start a family. The Wreath powers hire two freelancers to take on the contract, The Will and the Stalk. The Will is still a rather enigmatic character whose personality reminds me of a gunslinger from an old western, he is partnered with a Lying Cat… which is cat that can tell when you are lying(duh). The Will is fantastic and halfway through the series so far says “fuck it” and just buggers off the spend his employer’s money at a sex planet. However he is now set deep in this entire ordeal by a personal vendetta.
If you hadn’t notice, this series adores taking advantage of the fantastic, giving the entire story the feel of a child’s bedtime story created by Jim Henson studios and directed by Guillermo Del Toro. Hell, Marko and Alana’s first goal is to get off the planet they are stuck on, so naturally they seek out a rocketship forest with the aid of their spectral babysitter! As for our protagonists, I find its actually hard to describe them. Its like describing a friend you have known for a long time, you can give some basic adjectives about them but you can’t fully explain your own comprehension. Marko is a noble and peaceful soul, Alana is fierce and dependable, both are caring and try their hardest with Hazel. But they are so much more than that. More than many other characters they truly feel like real people and we are still getting to know them. All I really want to say is that they are good people to know, and I recommend meeting them.
Now I have gone on and on about Vaughan’s writing and characters, however its only with the help of Fiona Staples that this world is giving its living vibrancy. I had never read a single issue of her work before, but I have fallen head over heels for her detailed, yet simple style. The lines are vibrant and her faces are filled with emotion, the colors are understated giving credence to the preceding that lends a believability to everything. No matter how strange things get, you never question the fact that what you are seeing does not fit into this universe.Much like the pages she creates, Fiona Staples is a wonder, and I can’t wait to see how she continues to improve and shine throughout this series run.
I adore Saga and I would recommend it to anyone I met, whether or not they read comics. Saga had eight absolutely perfect issues this year, and would have taken my top ranking if another series hadn’t beaten it out by five awesome issue…
Let me start off this with a disclaimer in full honesty: I love Batman. I love the character to a frankly unhealthy degree; my apartment door plague proclaims the residence as ‘The Batcave’, I have oodles of DVDs of both animated series and live action exploits, I even have an Arkham City t-shirt signed by Kevin Conroy. Hell, I am the proud creator of the Batmania drinking game(which will never be described here for fear of a lawsuit from grieving loved ones). This all needs to be said because I am well aware of my Bat-bias, I honestly don’t feel it pushed affected the outcome of this ranking. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo were unstoppable and gave Batman a perfect year with twelve fantastic issues.
While the newest issues were fresh in my mind, the main thought as I began double checking 2012’s issues was “if the labyrinth issue was released this year than that is going to lock this for the number one spot”, and it was. The issue in question was the first release of 2012 and features Batman at the mercy of the Court of Owls, trapped in their underground labyrinth. Bruce has already been trapped down there for quite some time, injured, delirious, and walking in circles. Every room he reaches tells him a bit more about his foes and how powerful they are, that this is their city and that they will be here long after he dies. All the while you get glimpses of the Talon, their court assassin, ghosting Batman in the background, and you know he could kill him at any time but is simply giving the Court their show. The pages start inverting and flipping as Bruce falls further into madness and breaks… finally the issue ends with the order being given and the Talon stabbing Bruce through the chest. Bruce manages to take control of his rage long enough to fight off the Court of Owls descending upon him, the art style mutating into delusions as Bruce sees himself as a hulking Bat-beast attacking these owls, he has been broken but is still thrashing. I love this whole sequence, its great and Capullo has a lot of fun with the Bat-beast while keeping the Court of Owls super creepy in both the delusions and in reality. Batman being Batman, defeats the Talon and escapes the labyrinth, staggering back to the Cave. It is at this point that the Court of Owls awakens their army of Talons, with all their previous assassins having been stowed away and preserved, the sends their newly awakened army of zombie assassins into the Gotham night to kill those who stand in the way of the Court’s agenda and to bring back the Bat’s head.
This leads into the next arc, The Night of Owls. This event crossed into all the other Bat comics series which.. was a mistake. I love these characters but DC has overplayed Batman and has his symbol everywhere, with 4 Batman titles (Batman, Detective Comics, Batman: The Dark Knight, Batman and Robin) and 5 series starring his supporting characters(Teen Titans, Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Birds of Prey) which is now 5 with a Talon series spinning off of this event. It becomes a massive problem with events revolving around Gotham because with that many writers and issues in play it leads to messiness and makes the story bloated. Night of the Owls suffered from it and the current Death of the Family is as well. However that said, the main series is not hindered by it. You do not have to read through any of the other stories to get what is going on in the Batman series and so I don’t hinder the ranking of this series for being shackled down by so many other characters.
During the finale of the arc we see the reinterpretation of the character Owlman. For the uninitiated, Owlman was Thomas Wayne Jr. and served Batman’s role in the Justice League of a parallel dimension(The storyline was adapted into the film Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths). Bringing in Owlman as the final villain of this arc was a brilliant move as its an intelligent way to use the New 52’s continuity shift to bring in a villain that no one expected but that we knew. Hell, there have been Owls everywhere throughout the series and we were all shocked when Owlman showed up, THAT is a good author.
We then have what I consider to be the strangest issue in the year, fittingly issue 13. Focusing on a new character named Harper Row, it is a good issue and gives us a much needed breather between dark storylines… it just is strange because we have no idea yet why this character is important but she hovers in the background of the series, daring the audience to figure out what the hell her deal is… Again, not a bad issue, I simply want to know how she will become important in the future. My two thoughts being either a. She will become a new Batgirl… which I hate the idea of because we have two utterly fantastic Batgirls waiting in comic limbo to be called into the action. My other thought is that she will become the new Oracle, fulfilling the role that Barbara Gordon vacated once she started wearing the cowl again.
Now we have reached our current event, The Death of the Family. Quickly becoming one of the definitive Joker stories, its focus is on the Joker returning after a year of plotting in order to tear apart Batman’s little team. To kill the family. As it is still ongoing I will refrain from delving too deeply but I will say this is the most menacing Joker you will ever read, and this is the first comic I ever read that has ever scared me. I have a fair amount of disconnect between psyche and page, but Joker’s attack on the Gotham Police Department drew me in and scared the hell out of me. Blackness everywhere as Gordon hears Joker killing his men… its brilliantly executed. Capullo has made Batman his character, and years from now will be remembered for this run more than he will be for Spawn. Ruling from the shadows in this series, he uses the dark shadows of Gotham as his blank page, drawing them back to reveal our characters and surroundings, but they are always present.
Honestly, any single one of my top 3 series could have ranked highest. They are all a perfect union of artist and author and flow seemlessly. However one of this is one of those times where the quantity outweighs, because even though they are all of the highest quality, Batman published more than either Saga or Hawkeye, and in this case more is a very, very good thing.