The Best Comics of 2012

2012 was a great year for comics. Keeping this list to ten was impossible due to ties, so we went for twelve. However, even at twelve, this list feels too small to encompass all the great comics that were published this year. Nevertheless, there was one comic that pretty much every comic reading member of Team Unwinnable agreed on: Hawkeye.

HawkeyeThe “Comic of the Year!” Award: Hawkeye
Written by Matt Fraction. Art by David Aja & Javier Pulido. Published by Marvel Comics

Hawkeye’s profile was raised a bit with this year’s Avengers movie, so it was the right time to give the character his own solo series once again. The team on the book – writer Matt Fraction, artist David Aja, along with colorist Matt Hollingsworth and guest Javier Pulido who worked on the amazing two-parter “The Tape” – have made Hawkeye Team Unwinnable’s favorite comic book of the year.

Hawkeye is the story of what Clint Barton does when he’s not being an Avenger. Six issues into the series and, so far, Clint Barton has saved his building from Russian gangsters, stolen a bunch of money from Marvel’s meanest criminals, saved a femme fatale and exposed a leak in SHIELD. Fraction has described Hawkeye as the guy who would help you move a couch in the rain. The Clint Barton in this comic is infinitely likeable, even though Kate Bishop rightly calls him a jerk from time to time.

Fraction’s structure of single issue stories with the occasional two-parter make this one of the most breezy yet story filled comics around. Fraction and Aja have told stories in six issues that other comics take a year and a half to tell. It’s a brilliant book that is chock full of all the ingredients necessary for a classic run of comics like Walt Simonson’s Thor or Claremont and Byrne’s Uncanny X-Men.

- Ian Gonzales

SagaThe “Roseanne & Dan Conner Parenting” Award: Saga
Written by Brian K. Vaughn. Art by Fiona Staples. Published by Image Comics

I love comics for a variety of reasons, but rarely do I read a comic that inspires me. Saga, however, is that book. Brian K. Vaughan’s space epic, set against the forbidden love of its two protagonists, excels in its emotional influence, its plotting, pacing and characterization. The comic also has elements of magic and action, yet each of these is dealt with appropriately and, while Marko and Alana’s world is mythical, the palpability of their situation is real. Couple this with Fiona Staples’ stellar illustrations – clear and detailed ink lines, smooth and appealing colorization – and you have a comic that is pleasing in every single aspect.

- Brian Bannen

ScalpedThe (all too rare) “Satisfying Ending” Award: Scalped
Written by Jason Aaron. Art by R.M. Guera. Published by DC Comics.

Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera’s masterful crime series, which has been often described as “Sopranos on a reservation,” wrapped up after 60 issues and deserves its native American name, “Dances With Watchmen.” Just like most of his life decisions, protagonist Dashielle Bad Horse’s journey has a few last dark turns – though at least he solved the murder of his mother – but his tale proved a satisfying spirit quest for readers.

- Ethan Sacks

MireThe “Character Crush” Award: The Mire
Written and Drawn by Becky Cloonan. Self published.

Becky Cloonan’s mini comic, The Mire, showcases her love of medeival architecture, knights and things that go bump in the night. It’s a short book, full of lush backgrounds and gorgeous intricate character design. It is the story of a loyal squire tasked with delivering a message and the only route available to him is through the haunted mire. Cloonan’s dedicates this book to creators who have crushes on their characters. That sentiment shines throught The Mire.

- Ian Gonzales

Manhattan ProjectsThe “This Ain’t Your Daddy’s Oppenheimer” Award: The Manhattan Projects
Written by Jonathan Hickman. Art by Nick Pitarra. Published by Image Comics

In a nutshell, The Manhattan Projects ponders two big What Ifs – what if the American program to develop the atomic bomb was really a front for infinitely weirder top secret projects and, more centrally, what if all the brilliant scientists who worked on them were not at all the people we thought they were. We’re not talking little secrets like alcoholism or adultery, but really big ones like being an extraterrestrial or a living skeleton.

This book sprawls like no other comic I’ve read. It has meandered for seven exhilarating issues, showing but not telling, lingering on strange details, building a world at its own pace. The only thing I can think of to compare it to is Phil Dick’s VALIS. Which is to say that it is all mindbogglingly strange but not for strangeness’ sake. Through out all the mystery (and there is a ton of mystery – I still have no real clue what is going on here) you can feel Hickman’s authorial hand deftly guiding the way to a revelation.

So long as it stays this good, Hickman can take as long as he wants.

- Stu Horvath

Hellboy

The “Oh, It IS Christmas!” Award: Hellboy In Hell
Written and Drawn by Mike Mignola. Published by Dark Horse Comics

Over the years of reading comics, one of my favorite things has been watching Mike Mignola evolve as an artist. Sadly, after 2005’s The Island, he left art behind in favor of concentrating on writing. We got great stories, sure, but aside of cover art and the near-perfect one-shot In the Chapel of Moloch’s in 2008, I have been in withdrawal. The comic book world needs more Mignola artwork.

In the beginning of December, fans like me got an early Christmas present – the first issue of Hellboy in Hell.The title pretty much says it all (spoiler, Hellboy died at the end of the last story arc) and the overall tenor of the book feels like Mignola has been building to this for a long time, both in terms of the storyline and the gorgeous artwork. In short, it 22 pages of pure comic delight – for the readers anyway. Hellboy, on the other hand…

- Stu Horvath

DaredevilThe “You’ve Got Red On You” Award: Daredevil
Written by Mark Waid. Art by Chris Samnee, Mike Allred & Others. Published by Marvel Comics

2012 was the year I decided to get back into comics. I took broad strokes and dove into a bunch of comics, and wasn’t afraid to read characters I never really cared for. Daredevil was the most pleasant surprise of the year. I was never a fan of the blind lawyer and his Hell’s Kitchen-based hijinks, but this most recent run is a lot of fun. The Christmas themed annual was a highlight for me as the defiant ginger sported a festive “I’m Not Daredevil” sweater at a holiday party. The play between Murdock and his compatriots regarding his alter-ego status was hysterical and the crossover pieces were fun as well. For someone who hasn’t read comics in about thirteen years, it was excellent to see the Punisher, Spidey and the Avengers drop in as the story evolved. With Foggy and Matt’s relationship on the rocks, I’m greatly looking forward to see what the Marvel Now! campaign brings to the Daredevil story in 2013.

- Erik Weinbrecht

BatmanThe “Best New Villain Since Harley Quinn” Award: Batman
Written by Scott Snyder. Greg Capullo. Published by DC Comics

Scott Snyder’s Batman is chaotic, violent, epic and brilliant. Snyder finds a way to make Bruce Wayne much more than a brooding superhero, throwing in elements of humanity through characters like Dick Grayson, Tim Drake and Alfred Pennyworth. Additionally, Snyder isn’t afraid to dip into Batman’s past to create conflicts for the future (as evidenced in his “Court of Owls” storyline). Snyder has a confidence in his abilities and a way to write stories that mix both Bruce and Batman, giving the comic a more relatable quality. And just as Batman has his Robin, Snyder has Greg Capullo, a man who bring’s Snyder’s ideas to life with powerful illustrations and a sleek, angular style that can make Batman look both lithe and imposing. Given the strength of the title, I don’t see these two quitting any time soon, and for that, I am very grateful.

- Brian Bannen

ThorThe “Getting Me Back Into Swedish Metal” Award: Thor: God of Thunder
Written by Jason Aaron. Art by Esad Ribic. Published by Marvel Comics

Upon first look at Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic’s Thor: God of Thunder, I was reminded of Frank Frazetta Heavy Metal covers. The impression lingers as Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic tell a tale that spans three different periods of Thor’s life. They take the cosmic god ball Stan Lee and Jack Kirby threw and runs with it! Thor answers an alien boy’s prayer, which leads him to discover that all of this race’s gods have been butchered. This causes him to remember the first time he encountered this God Butcher – when the Odinson was young and not yet worthy to wield the Mjolnir. The story then flashes to the future, where Thor is the last of the gods and he must face down a foe that’s plagued him in the past. It’s the tale of Thor and the God Butcher and it is epic!

- Ian Gonzales

ProphetThe “Most Membranes” Award: Prophet
Written by Brandon Graham. Art by Various Artists. Published by Image Comics.

2012 was the year of Image Comics. Not only was it the 20th anniversary of the company, but it also saw the release of multiple innovative titles by many of the best and brightest talents that the comic book industry has to offer.Writer/artist Brandon Graham and a commando team of excellent artists  have taken Rob Liefeld’s derivative character and taken the concept into wonderfully unexpected and creative places.

Like a stim pack or alien healing sap, the series is meant to be injected or absorbed into the system, either all at once or from month to month. The beautiful alien worlds and  idly imaginative alien races that Prophet and occasional companions encounter are unlike anything else I’m currently reading, and a constant surprise. The covers to this series are often beautiful and the layers of imaginative science fiction and fantasy that this series provides is rewarding, I am excited for a new issue of Prophet every month, ’nuff said.

- Michael Edwards

Walking DeadThe “I Liked This Andrea Better” Award: The Walking Dead
Written by Robert Kirkman. Art by Charlie Adlard. Published by Image Comics.

Despite the horrific end of a major fan favorite in issue #100 that had fans storming the Internet message boards like a pack of zombies, writer Robert Kirkman still managed to keep the saga that lumbering forward into new territory. There have been exciting twists: Rick and Andrea are finally an item and Carl, now sporting an eye-patch, has been turned into a major action hero. And new series villain Negan makes the Governor look like Gandhi. Most importantly, the series has detoured enough from the AMC television series and into uncharted territory, that nervous fans are still reading each panel through their fingers.

- Ethan Sacks

Underwater WelderThe “Fuzzy Physics” Award: The Underwater Welder
Written and Drawn by Jeff Lemire. Published by Top Shelf.

We here at Unwinnable are big fans of the work Jeff Lemire is doing on Animal Man and Sweet Tooth, but his original graphic novel for Top Shelf was his stand-out work this year. The Underwater Welder is an intensely personal story about the relationship between fathers, sons and impending fatherhood. Lemire’s main character, Jack Joseph and his wife, Susan, are expecting their first child. Jack works on a rig as an underwater welder. The work isolates him and one day, as he works beneath the waves, he hears a voice. Of course, the book has an amazing Twilight Zone inspired twist that opens up Jack’s character and his world. Lemire approaches fatherhood and all of its joys and terrors beautifully. It’s a very honest and touching graphic novel that fans of Lemire’s current DC work should check out if they haven’t already.

- Ian Gonzales

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Brian Bannen, Comic Books, Commentary, Erik Weinbrecht, Ethan Sacks, Ian Gonzales, Michael Edwards, Stu Horvath
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