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The Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012 — Part Two!

Yesterday I published part one of my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012.  You can also check out my Top 15 Movies of 2012: click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three.

And now, on to the conclusion of my list of the Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012!

5. Batman: Earth One  A staggeringly entertaining ground-one reinvention of Batman, I can’t believe how much I loved this hardcover graphic novel by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank.  I don’t have too much patience for creators reworking classic super-hero origins — do they think they know better than the original creators of these long-lived, much-beloved characters?  And if you’re going to re-tell Batman’s origin, how could anyone possibly do it better than Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s superlative Batman: Year One from the eighties?  While I wouldn’t consider this origin story to be superior to Batman’s established origin, it’s a marvelously entertaining what-if version in which all of the familiar beats play out differently.  (And it’s hugely superior to DC’s first “Earth One” graphic novel, J. Michael Straczynski’s woeful Superman: Earth One.)  Mr. John’s tweaks to the familiar characters (I particularly love Earth One’s versions of Alfred and Harvey Bullock) plus Mr. Frank’s exquisite art make this a knockout.  I hope they make lots more sequels so that I can return to this world for further adventures.

4. America’s Got Powers — This six-issue mini-series (of which four issues have been published so far) has been blowing my socks off.  Superstar artist Bryan Hitch (for my money, the very best illustrator of super-hero comic books working today) and Jonathan Ross have teamed up to create this original, powerhouse new series.  Something has gifted a whole generation of young people with super-powers.  A fearful government has rounded up anyone exhibiting special abilities, but to keep them (and the general population) from focusing on the hideous human rights abuses, they have created a super-powered reality TV show in which the super-powered kids compete for fame and glory.  No surprise, the behind-the-scenes reality is far different than the happy, televised spectacle.  This series is deft speculative fiction of the very best kind, crossed with a terrific super-hero adventure story.  I have loved every single page.  I hope this series continues beyond the scheduled six issues.

3. All-New X-Men The biggest surprise of the year for me has been Brian Michael Bendis’ new X-Men series.  The Beast, fearing that his life is nearly over and distraught at the state of the X-Men, the world, and the actions of his former best friend Scott Summers (a.k.a. Cyclops) in the Avengers versus X-Men series, decides to bring the five original X-Men from the past to the present, hoping that their presence will shock Scott away from the path he has chosen.  There’s really no reason this somewhat silly idea should work, but my goodness has it worked like gangbusters.  This is some of the best writing Mr. Bendis has done in years, drenched in X-Men history as he explores the very different reactions of all of the current X-Men to seeing these young original X-Men, as well as the young five-some’s reactions to the almost nightmarish world in which they now find themselves.  Another writer would have waited months if not years before getting to the “good stuff” — like all of the original characters’ confrontations with their future selves, and like Jean Grey finding out the truth about her many deaths/Dark Phoenix/etc. — but Mr. Bendis has chosen a different, far more entertaining path, giving us all of these interactions and revelations right away.  The fun of this book isn’t super-hero action, it’s the rich exploration of these characters and their complex histories with one another.  Stuart Immonen’s art is extraordinary (with beautiful inks by Wade von Grawbadger), just mind-bogglingly perfect in every single panel.  Extra props to the creative team for somehow releasing six issues already, even though the series only launched 2-3 months ago.  Wow.

2.  Fatale  I loved Sleeper (click here for my review of that terrific noirish super-hero saga), but it was Criminal that made me a fan of of the team of writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips for life.  I loved all of the Criminal mini-series, I loved their return to super-hero noir with Incognito, and I have been thoroughly loving their new series, Fatale, that crosses hard-boiled crime fiction with the world of H.P. Lovecraft-inspired supernatural horror.  Eleven issues in, I still don’t know what exactly is happening in Fatale, but that doesn’t stop me from relishing every new installment.  Quite the contrary, I am hooked on the mystery.  I love how the series has shifted, as the issues have progressed, through several different protagonists and several different time-periods.  I love how this ongoing series is a much longer format than most of Mr. Brubaker and Mr. Phillips’ recent collaborations.  (Judging by Mr. Brubaker’s comments in the series’ letters pages, this seems to have been a story that grew greatly in the telling.)  I think the story really benefits from this long-form structure, giving the tale a chance to breathe, and for Mr. Brubaker to explore various digressions, different nooks and corners of this world he has created.  Sean Phillips gritty art remains a wonderfully spectacular constant, gloriously rich and complex.  No one draws faces like Mr. Phillips — you can see a world of pain and hurt behind the eyes of all of his characters.  And though I miss Val Staples’ work (and hopes he returns to collaborate again with Mr. Brubaker and Mr. Phillips soon), Dave Stewart is one of the best colorists in the business and his work is truly beautiful.  From Mr. Phillips’ lushly painted colors to the terrific articles in the back-pages, this book is the complete package.  Every comic book should be this original, and this wonderful.

1. Mike Mignola’s Hellboy Universe: Hellboy/B.P.R.D./Baltimore/Lobster Johnson/etc. — Pound for pound, issue for issue, this is the greatest comic book expanded universe out there right now.  From month to month, I never know quite what I will get, as Mr. Mignola and his wonderful team of collaborators release different one-shots and mini-series, illustrated by different creators, featuring their wide cast of characters: Hellboy, the various members of the B.P.R.D. team past and present, post-World War I hunter-of-vampires Lord Baltimore, 1930’s pulp super-hero Lobster Johnson, and more.  But I always know the quality will be enormously high.  We’ve become so spoiled recently by the plethora of Hellboy-universe series.  (Back in the ’90s, I remember having to wait many months between each mini-series.)  Most months of 2013 saw new installments of two if not three Hellboy-universe series each month.  Over the past few years, the B.P.R.D. series has become the backbone of the Hellboy universe, and 2012 was no different with the “Hell on Earth” story-line continuing to move forward in a very entertaining fashion.  I still miss former B.P.R.D. artist Guy Davis, but after just a few issues, new regular artist Tyler Crook’s work has really grown on me.  Of course, there were so many artists working on these comics: Max Fiumara on B.P.R.D.: 1948 and B.P.R.D.: The Transformation of J.H. O’Donnell, Tonci Zonjic on Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand and Lobster Johnson: Caput Mortuum, James Harren on B.P.R.D.: The Long Death, Jason Latour on B.P.R.D.: The Pickens County Horror, Ben Stenbeck on Baltimore: Dr. Laskovar’s Remedy, Wilfredo Torres on Lobster Johnson: The Prayer of Neferu, and Cameron Stewart on B.P.R.D.: Exorcism.  (They’re all spectacular artists, though I enjoyed Tonci Zonjic and Ben Stenbeck’s work the best.)  And, of course, the year-end return of both the Big Red Guy himself, as well as Mike Mignola’s return to illustration duties, in Hellboy in Hell, was a huge highlight.  From title to title, from issue to issue, Mr. Mignola and co-writer John Arcudi (and co-writer Christopher Golden on the Baltimore comics) are spilling a hugely enjoyable, complex saga of epic scale.  An absolute pleasure.

I’ll be back next week with my list of the Top 10 Episodes of TV in 2012, and the Top 10 DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2012!  See you back here soon!

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