Welcome back to the conclusion of my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011! Click here for part one. (And click here for my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2011: part one, part two, and part three.)
5. Moon Knight – I really enjoyed Brian Michael Bendis’ years-long run on Daredevil with Alex Maleev, and their relaunch of Moon Knight has been pretty terrific so far. I love the new conceit that the slightly unhinged Marc Spector is now hearing the voices of Spider-Man, Captain America, and Wolverine in his head. The result is some great comedy as the three super-heroes banter back and forth in Moon Knight’s head. (Comic banter is a Bendis specialty!) Seeing Echo back in a lead role is just icing on the cake. I never thought Moon Knight could be at all interesting, but I guess the character was just the right sort of tabula rasa for an exciting reinvention. I hope this is the start of a long run for Mr. Bendis and Mr. Maleev on the character.
4. RASL – I wish Jeff Smith’s sci-fi opus would come out a little more frequently, but I can’t really fault creator/writer/artist/self-publisher Smith, seeing as how he’s pretty much doing everything himself on this comic. It’s just that the series is so good! I want more!! This adventure/love story is just grounded enough in real scientific theories to anchor all of the fun flights of fancy involving parallel universes, lizard-men, and weird-looking little girls. Jeff Smith’s art is perfection — with a cartoony stylization that is endearing, but also an extraordinary amount of detail to give all of the settings and characters a distinct, “real world” feel. It feels like things are really starting to come together with the story, which is very exciting. The wait between issues is BRUTAL!! If you’re a comic book fan but you’re not reading this self-published gem, do yourself a favor and remedy that immediately.
3. Criminal: The Last of the Innocent – The work that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips do together just keeps getting better and better and better. I love all of their projects, but the crime-comic Criminal has always been my favorite, and The Last of the Innocent might be the very best installment since the first story-line, “Coward.” In this dark tale, we meet young man Riley Richards, who is married to a beautiful, wealthy woman. But he’s tremendously unhappy, and when he returns home and reconnects with his old goof-ball friend and the blonde girl-next-door he used to have a crush on, he realizes that he just might have chosen the wrong girl. Guess he has no choice but to murder his wife, right? The story is clever and suspenseful on it’s own, but once you realize that the characters in this story are thinly-veiled representations of Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, etc., the tale rises to the level of absolute genius. Criminal is the complete package: gorgeous colors by Val Staples, fascinating back-up articles that explore books, TV shows, and movies of note, and page-for-page, one of the most beautifully illustrated, well-written comic books on the stand. If you’re not reading this, what is wrong with you??
2. Warren Ellis’ Secret Avengers – I love super-hero comics, and although he doesn’t seem to do so too much these days, few people write better super-hero comics than Warren Ellis. And going against the grain of today’s trend of long-running story-lines (a trend that I must admit I really enjoy), Mr. Ellis’ Secret Avengers stories have all been done-in-one issues. Accompanied by an incredibly array of artistic talent (each issue is drawn by a different, spectacularly-talented artist, including Michael Lark, Alex Maleev, Stuart Immonen, and more, and I haven’t even mentioned the beautiful covers by John Cassaday), each issue is a crazier-than-the-previous-issue epic filled with extraordinary sci-fi ideas, suspense, and super-heroics. Issue #20 just might be one of the greatest time-travel stories ever told. I wish Mr. Ellis’ run on the title had lasted more than six issues! But I will cherish those six issues as some of the best super-hero comics I’ve read in a long, long time.
1. Mike Mignola’s universe: Hellboy, B.P.R.D., Witchfinder, Baltimore, Abe Sapien, and more — I just can’t believe how much entertainment I get, month after month, from Mike Mignola’s ever-expanding Hellboy universe. Also, by the way, I can’t believe that there’s actually a Hellboy universe! Who’d have thought the occasional mini-series about a demon-fighting special agent, written and drawn by the incredibly talented Mr. Mignola, would one day expand to encompass two main titles (the Hellboy mini-series and the B.P.R.D. mini-series) and an astounding array of other mini-series focusing on other characters. Most months there is at least one — sometimes two or three — Hellboy-related comics released! Even more astounding, the quality hasn’t dropped a single bit as the universe has broadened. Mr. Mignola keeps a tight hand on the reins, writing or co-writing all of the series. In 2011, we got second installments of the adventures of occult investigator Edward Grey (Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever, co-written by John Arcudi), the vampire-hunting Lord Baltimore (Baltimore: The Curse Bells, co-written by Christopher Golden), Abe Sapien (The Devil Does Not Jest), and several one-shots and mini-series featuring the Big Red Guy himself, including The Sleeping and the Dead (illustrated by Scott Hampton), Being Human and House of the Living Dead (both of which were illustrated by Richard Corben) and Buster Oakley Gets His Wish (illustrated by Kevin Nowlan). The Hell on Earth story-line in B.P.R.D. began picking up steam in Gods, Monsters, and Russia. (The first mini-series was illustrated by Guy Davis, the later two by Tyler Crook, and all three were co-written by John Arcudi.) But the real highlight of the year was The Fury, the mini-series that brought the Hellboy saga to an explosive climax. I know that Hellboy’s adventures will continue, but The Fury felt like an ending to the previous almost-two-decades’-worth of story-lines, and it was magnificent. This is what all comic books should be.