BEST OF 2012: Gavin Craig

With 2012 coming to an end, we’ve now seen the first full year of DC’s new continuity, and the beginning of the second. Every title has completed its initial major storylines, and we got a look back in the company-wide zero month. A few titles have been canceled, a few new titles have been launched, and there’s been a bit of controversy as creative teams have been shuffled around. Most importantly, we’re starting to get a good sense of the good, the bad, and the unmarketable. I can’t begin to claim an authoritative opinion on even all of DC’s titles, but here’s the best of what I’ve been reading in the past year.

BM_Cv12Top 5 Single Issues of 2012

1. BATMAN #12
Written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV
Art by Becky Cloonan and Andy Clarke

I could easily make a list of the top 5 single issues of 2012 that was nothing but Batman. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s run on the title has simply been that good. Standing alone at the top of the list however, is Batman #12, an interlude between the Court of Owls and Death of the Family storylines where Snyder steps back and tells the story of Harper Row, a teenager working for Gotham City’s power department and trying to look out for herself and her brother, Cullen, who is repeatedly assaulted for being gay. I can’t say enough good things about this issue, from the way Snyder shows the fear that comes from not being safe in your own home to the courage and heroism that Harper displays in standing with her brother and refusing to be intimidated or degraded. The Batman’s appearance is a brief, thrilling punctuation mark in a deeply human, personal story. Guest artist Becky Cloonan’s art is both crisp and dirty as the story demands, and full of personality, and James Tynion IV and Andy Clark coordinate the space that would normally be used for a backup story into a near-seamless final segment.

2. WONDER WOMAN #0
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Cliff Chiang

In the middle of one of the strongest and most inventive titles in mainstream comics right now, Azzarello and Chiang use the forced break of DC’s zero issue month to shift both their setting and tone to a story of Diana’s childhood narrated in a pseudo-Golden-Age adventure comic voice. Azzarello had already shifted Ares from his previous pre-Flashpoint role as a major Wonder Woman antagonist to a more world-weary, self-detached position in a reimagined Greek pantheon. In Wonder Woman #0, a younger, less resigned War becomes Diana’s teacher, mentor, and even a father figure. The end of that relationship both displays the core of Diana’s character, even in its formative stages, and gives us a bit of insight into Ares’ seeming dissolution. The whole issue is a stylistic and tonal experiment that pays off in spades, and I love those.

3. BATGIRL #9
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Ardian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes

While the Night of the Owls and Death of the Family tie-in events may have served to boost sales in the peripheral Bat-family titles, it’s an open secret that almost none of them are essential (or, too often, even worthwhile) reading. Gail Simone’s Batgirl tie-ins have been the exception to this unspoken rule, and in telling the story of a Talon who grew up scarred and mute after the sole successful Japanese fire balloon attack on the U.S. mainland in World War II, Simone weaves together three different stories in an understated but powerful meditation on cycles of violence. Starting and ending from the point of view of one of the Japanese schoolgirls who built the fire balloons, the reader is given the chance to identify with their sense of mission and pride in their craftsmanship and artistry, even as the balloons are intended as attacks by civilians on civilians, a universalization of the acts of war. The ending revelation that the girl lives in Nagasaki, and was thus probably killed along with thousands of other civilians by the second atomic bomb dropped by the United States on Japan moves the reader from identification to implication in that cycle of violence. It’s a powerful frame for the story of how one of the victims of that violence was used as a tool by the Court of Owls, and how even the good guys can become ensnared in those machinations.

4. BATMAN AND ROBIN #8
Written by Peter Tomasi
Art by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray

It’s perhaps something of a theme in this list that I love the interstitial issues, the moments when a title takes a breath between big stories. It’s often when a lot of the important character development happens, such as in Batman and Robin #8. In what I think is the most underrated current Batman title, Peter Tomasi has focused on the father/son relationship between Bruce and Damian Wayne, and the way that the pair tries despite themselves to overcome the violence and inhumanity of Damian’s early years with his mother, Talia Al Ghul, and the near-impenetrable emotional wall that Bruce has maintained since childhood in order to become the Batman. Only, perhaps, in such a context can a simple four-page conversation and time spent playing fetch with the family dog be so powerful. There are times when the villains in Batman and Robin can actually feel like an afterthought, the fights tacked on to try to allow Tomasi and Gleason to keep doing the slower, open, often silent scenes looking into Bruce, Damian, and Alfred’s unexpected, wounded hearts. If you start buying this title, I would consider it a personal favor.

5. BATMAN #5, #13, #14, and #15 (Read those reviews here, here, and here.)
Written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV
Art by Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, and Jock

Bookending the year, Batman #5 launched 2012 by literally turning Batman’s world on its head. Captured and drugged by the Court of Owls, Greg Capullo’s art first turns the page sideways, upside-down, and finally backwards, throwing the reader into the labyrinth along with Batman. And finally, the current Death of the Family storyline is clearly going to stand as one of the benchmark moments in Batman history. It may be cheating a bit at the end of a top 5 list, but trying to rate individual issues would be like trying to break up Batman: Year One. I’d like to suggest that we’re simply better off acknowledging that it’s a very, very good time to be a Batman reader.

 

FlexMetalloForsideTop 5 Trades/Collections/OGNs of 2012

1. FLEX MENTALLO: MAN OF MUSCLE MYSTERY
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Frank Quitely

It’s pretty rare that I spring for a deluxe hardcover edition of a comic book trade. I just don’t have the budget for it, and the world is full of paperback trades and omnibuses that I can’t afford already. And, in my mind, anyway, there’s just something un-comic-book-ish about the whole thing. I’m not 100% convinced that computer coloring and glossy paper have improved comic books (For reference, see the difference between The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Back, in the latter of which it seems half the time that Frank Miller drew a character and left a note to the colorist to fill in the rest). I’ll make a glorious, mad exception for a Morrison/Quitely pairing, and the new edition of Flex Mentallo is nothing less than luscious. Sure, there’s navel-gazing, and the sort of circular weirdness that can be off-putting in Morrison, but there’s just something sublime about Flex, a burly, hairy man in leopard print shorts, wrestling boots, and a trench coat (sometimes) bending reality with his biceps and trying to stop an impending apocalypse with some good old-fashioned detective work.

2. BATMAN: GATES OF GOTHAM
Written by Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins, and Ryan Parrott
Art by Trevor McCarthy, Graham Nolan, Dustin Nguyen, and Derec Donovan

I’ve spent the last few months arguing in a variety of forms (mostly Twitter) that The New 52 has been really good for DC. And yet. . . . As a just-barely-pre-Flashpoint miniseries, Gates of Gotham introduces a number of historical and thematic elements that Scott Snyder has carried into New 52 continuity (the design of Wayne Tower, The Waynes, the Cobblepots, The Elliots, and the Kanes as Gotham’s four founding families, and generations-old secret conspiracies) and also delivers a strong Dick Grayson/Damian Wayne/Tim Drake/Cassandra Cain story. (In fact, I can’t think of another in-continuity appearance of Cain as Black Bat outside of Batman Incorporated, so Cass fans should pick up the trade for that reason alone.) If you’re not totally in love with DC’s new universe, or if you just want one last dose of the way the Bat-family used to be, then this is the volume for you. If you’re on the fence, then the unique combination of old and new elements might just help ease the transition. If nothing else, it’s a welcome reminder that we can still read and enjoy the old stories even after everything has changed.

3. BATMAN: EARTH ONE OGN
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Gary Frank

For years, I’ve suspected that Geoff Johns doesn’t really like Batman. In Johns’ hands, he and Hal Jordan always seem to be fighting, with the story normally on Jordan’s side – which is probably unsurprising, given that it’s normally a Green Lantern comic. Batman: Earth One was a surprising and convincing argument to the contrary. It’s a genuinely fresh take on what a “realistic” Batman would look like, and, in particular, what sort a man Alfred would have needed to be to be a mentor to a person like Bruce. There’s a bit of tweaking of basic components of the mythology (which, honestly, should probably happen more often), but the book really shines in the way its characters are allowed to evolve over the course of the story. Johns clearly has plans for a second volume, and I’m looking forward to it.

4. WONDER WOMAN VOLUME 1: BLOOD
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins

If you’re not reading the floppies, you MUST pick this up. The character design alone is glorious, and Azzarello does an amazing job of maintaining the core of Wonder Woman’s character while changing nearly everything about her understanding of her home, her family, and her own past.

5. BATMAN VOLUME 1: THE COURT OF OWLS
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo

Did I mention that it’s a great time to be a Batman reader? Pick this up as a gift for the non-comic reader in your family, to let them know what they’re missing. (Because the sales numbers suggest that you’re probably reading Batman already.)

 

swampthing7Top 5 Writers of 2012

1. SCOTT SNYDER (Batman, Swamp Thing)

I’ve spent a great deal of time already talking about Batman, so I won’t add a whole lot more here about Snyder’s brilliant year except to note that he’s been excellent on Swamp Thing as well, and probably great on his Vertigo title American Vampire, but, regrettably, my budget didn’t stretch far enough to include it in my reading.

2. BRIAN AZZARELLO (Wonder Woman)

Similarly, while Azzarello has earned the #2 spot based on Wonder Woman alone, my omission of his Before Watchmen titles (or any other current titles of his I may not have listed) is not a comment on their quality one way or the other. Love them or hate them, I decided when they were announced to wait for the trades.

3. GAIL SIMONE (Batgirl)

I was deeply skeptical when DC announced that they were putting Barbara Gordon back in a cape as Batgirl. She’d simply become so rich a character as Oracle, that I couldn’t imagine it except as a step backwards. The one reason I bought the title was that I trusted longtime Birds of Prey and Secret Six writer Simone as the one person who might be able to pull it off, and she did. I’m disappointed to hear that DC has removed Simone from Batgirl after issue #16, and I’m looking forward to what she does next.

4. JEFF LEMIRE (Animal Man)

Animal Man and Swamp Thing are titles with a great deal of interesting and unorthodox storytelling in their history, and Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder have continued that tradition in unique and fascinating ways. While Snyder has focused on the tension between Alec Holland and a role as champion of the Green that he never wanted, Lemire has created just as interesting a title from the opposite direction. His Buddy Baker embraced his superpowers to become a public figure for animal rights and to (try to) make the leap from stuntman to leading man in the film industry. By revealing that Baker was in fact never intended to be a champion of the Red but was granted powers when the previous Animal Man was murdered before the next intended champion (Baker’s daughter) had even been born, Lemire has turned Animal Man into a title focused on family, and the unintended consequences of the superhero life.

5. PETER TOMASI (Batman and Robin)

Before Batman and Robin, Tomasi was the sort of writer from whom I’d actually read a fair amount, but never really identified the work as being his in particular. Given that the tight focus on Bruce/Damian/Alfred as father/son/grandfather is what has so impressed me, maybe it has something to do with the more diffuse multi-character organization in a title like Green Lantern Corps. Maybe it simply has something to do with my general indifference to Green Lantern titles. In either case, Tomasi is now a name I look for, even if it’s not quite enough to drag me to Oa.

 

wonder-woman51Top 5 Artists of 2012

1. CLIFF CHIANG/TONY AKINS (Wonder Woman)

Cliff Chiang’s clean line and unorthodox character design clearly merit the top spot this year, but all indications are that Tony Akins has been a full collaborator, even responsible for some of the most striking character designs, and not just a frequent guest artist. So even though I’m not quite as much a fan of Akins’ art – characters in his hands can feel stretched, over-skinny, his line not as effortlessly sumptuous as Chiang’s – he’s more than earned his share of the credit for Wonder Woman’s visual world.

2. KENNETH ROCAFORT (Red Hood and the Outlaws, Superman)

Neither Red Hood and the Outlaws or Superman is on my pull list – largely because Scott Lobdell seems to be the sort of writer who has so many balls in the air that he can’t keep track of them all – but I’ve become a huge fan of Kenneth Rocafort’s art. His proportions are unerringly perfect, and yet he’s amazingly expressive. I still haven’t quite figured out how he’s able to include so much detail given the roughness of his line, but even that roughness adds to the character of his work. Finally, his page layouts are second only to J. H. Williams III. He’s a perfect fit for the New 52’s more cosmically-focused Superman, which my not actually be on my pull list, but somehow all three of his issues to date have found their way into my collection.

3. YANNICK PAQUETTE (Swamp Thing)

As befits a title like Swamp Thing, Paquette’s art has been dense and lush, his layouts a bit wild. Exactly as it should be for the story of a man pulled into a war between the inhuman forces that surround us and fighting to hold onto himself in the middle of it all.

4. GREG CAPULLO (Batman)

Coming into his run on Batman, I actually wasn’t a huge fan of Greg Capullo’s art. His faces can be fairly generic, with a blocky feeling I can’t quite put my finger on. At first I wanted to tell myself that Capullo was over-performing, but when other titles pull in guest artists fairly regularly, even for a few pages, to keep on schedule, Capullo has been reliable and brilliant. His background work is nothing less than inspired, and he’s shown a talent for the reality-bending aspects of Snyder’s writing that I never would have imagined from his earlier work. And his work on the Joker has been nothing less than terrifying. Capullo has more than just earned a place on this list – he’s earned my respect.

5. PATRICK GLEASON (Batman and Robin)

Especially in contrast to Greg Capullo’s gloriously detailed architecture in Batman, Gleason’s pencils have been notable for their deceptively open spaces, and clean, iconic, but deeply nuanced arrangements. See Damian’s broad, unlined, amazingly expressive face. Compare the way that Dick, Tim, and Damian are nearly indistinguishable in gray suits posing for a family portrait in #10 to the panel of the four Robins, each in their own distinct costume, their own chosen colors, posed in profile in #12. With Tomasi’s focus on the difficulty in communication between Bruce Wayne and his son, Gleason is asked to do a lot with his artwork alone, and he has consistently delivered.

 

BM_Cv13_R1-561Top 5 Series of 2012

1. BATMAN
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion

Does it show my hand that my top series list lines up exactly with my top writers list? A comic book isn’t a comic book without the art, but it’s the writing that really makes things for me. For all that, the battle for the top position was really close. As good as Batman has been, Wonder Woman has involved greater reinvention, and that nearly put it over the top. As praiseworthy as the collaboration between Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins on art has been, however, panel for panel, Akins’ work isn’t as strong as Chiang’s, and as much as the series relies on Akins, that was enough for Greg Capullo’s consistency to nudge Batman to the top.

2. WONDER WOMAN
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins

3. BATGIRL
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Ardian Syaf, Ed Benes, et al

4. ANIMAL MAN/SWAMP THING
Written by Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder
Art by Steve Pugh and Yannick Paquette

5. BATMAN AND ROBIN
Written by Peter Tomasi
Art by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray

 

ga_cv17_r1_02And…Most Anticipated Comic of 2013

GREEN ARROW
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Andrea Sorrentino

Before the New 52, Green Arrow was the cranky old man of the DC Universe, and those of us who loved him adored him for it. The relaunched Oliver Queen is younger, stubblier, and has struggled to escape the impression that he’s a failed attempt to clone a hybrid of Hawkeye and Bruce Wayne. Even bringing in new writer Ann Nocenti didn’t give the title any appreciable new life. With the CW’s Arrow series garnering respectable ratings, there’s a desperate need for a solid comic book version of the Emerald Archer, and I’m optimistic that, finally, Jeff Lemire will deliver.

What else am I looking forward to in 2013? More of Scott Snyder’s Batman, obviously, and getting the chance to see what Azzarello does as he brings Orion and the New Gods in on the action in Wonder Woman. With Snyder leaving Swamp Thing, I’m actually looking forward to shuffling my pull list a bit, and even adding a Marvel title or two.

Because the great thing about comics is that there are new issues on the shelf every Wednesday. Happy reading!

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One Comment;

  1. John Griffith said:

    Gavin, you so get me! Your opening sentence for Green Arrow in 2013 is spot on. After more than a year of bland stories, I am looking forward to new blood on this title. Maybe I can stop wearing out my copy of “Hard Traveling Heroes” next year.

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