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Best Comics of 2012

Best Comic of 2012: Hawkeye

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hawkeye 2Admit it. You all saw this one coming. While there are some books from 2012 that we haven’t got around to reading yet which could have given some on this list a run for their money (Prophet and Manhattan Projects spring to mind), there was only ever one book that was going to top this list, and that’s Hawkeye. It’s done more in six issues than some series manage in six years.

On paper, this project was in serious danger of being a dud. Fraction’s form at Marvel has been inconsistent at best, Aja was never going to be available for every issue, and historically, Hawkeye has proven unable to support a title. His last solo series died after eight issues, while his recent team-up series with Mockingbird managed only six. Expectations were low. So it was a double surprise when Marvel put out one of the best superhero series, not just of the year, but of the century. If it lasts long enough, maybe even of all time.

That’s because Hawkeye isn’t just entertaining, although it is that. It’s also experimental and aesthetically coherent in ways that few comics are. It’s got all the spirit and originality that Marvel’s best runs display – Lee and Ditko’s Amazing Spider-Man, Gerber’s Howard the Duck, Claremont and Byrne’s X-Men. Comics this good don’t come around very often, and when they do, you cling to them and hope the ride never stops. They’re the books that cast a shadow over everything that follows. There are enough techniques and ideas in Hawkeye to keep an entire decade of writers and artists inspired for years to come. You’re going to see them again and again, and each time you’ll remember where you saw them first.

Somehow, what Fraction has managed to do is metabolise the slicker-than-thou, medium-bending action of Casanova into a Marvel Universe superhero title. Aja displays a complete mastery of the page (it’s tough to imagine anyone else cramming 20+ panels onto a page and still make it look so fucking gorgeous) while guest artist for issues 4 and 5, Javier Pulido, proves that a lighter, Kirby/Steranko-influenced style can work just as well, illustrating a hotel gang war like it was a 40s screwball comedy and somehow maintaining the tone. Colourist Matt Hollingsworth, meanwhile, is the best example of what the right colourist can for to a series, complementing the pencils with deliberately limited palettes, never overwhelming them.

The basic idea behind Hawkeye is a simple one: he’s the man on the street who’s an Avenger in his spare time. Sometimes, that means he’s dealing with extortionist landlords. Other times, it means he’s being abducted from a rooftop cookout by SHIELD. The series reads like an action movie about a street-thug turned secret agent, as the unflappably down-to-earth Hawkeye and his Girl Friday Kate (also code-named Hawkeye) bicker and fight, as much with each other as with the villains they’re trying to defeat. The book’s pace is relentless, but it never seems like a slight read. Every panel and piece of dialogue seems to do two jobs at once. It’s dense, but not fatiguing. Simple but not facile. It’s not a gritty series, but the character study is intense and realistic. When Hawkeye thinks he’s falling to his death, he’s not sarcastic or scared: he apologises, even though no-one can hear. It’s a subtle reminder of the context of everything Hawkeye does. Of his practical, hands-on, one-day-at-a-time approach to achieving the redemption that he doesn’t feel he deserves, and doesn’t realise he’s already attained.

In 2012, Hawkeye released only six issues, but you could pick up any one of them and make a case for it being one of the best individual comics of the year. And that’s why it’s our favourite series of 2012. Realistically, nothing else even had a chance.

Best Comics of 2012: Saga

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saga_8Only two things prevented Saga from being our number one comic of the year – firstly, the fact that there was somehow, inexplicably, a comic that managed to be just as good if not possibly even slightly better (of which more tomorrow); but secondly, the fact that James tried out issue #1, but – while admiring the craft – turned his nose up at the setting and concept. It’s true that at first glance, Saga‘s setting could be offputting to many – what, another sci-fi epic? What, another fantasy epic? What, another quirky-mixture-of-sci-fi-and-fantasy epic? – and a part of me expected, going in, to have a similar reaction to James. Fortunately, as it so happens, I’m enjoying Saga immeasurably, as the sort of comic that simply and hugely restores faith in the medium.

Perhaps this is because, despite appearances, the series really isn’t about the quirky-mixture-of-sci-fi-and-fantasy epic at all. Sure, that story is going on in its pages – but it’s largely a backdrop. Instead, in a twist, the “Saga” of the title is in fact the saga of one family and their lives – star-crossed alien lovers Marko and Alana, and their newborn child Hazel. The series’ narration – provided by a grown-up Hazel from an indeterminate point in the future – makes clear that for all the raging war and politics in the background, the heart of the story is this trio’s quest to establish their lives happily and safely. Along the way, a strong supporting cast – comprising robotic princes with televisions for heads, ghosts of murdered children and alien bounty-hunters with curiously intertwined personal histories – play out a story that threatens to take on ominous significance, but which never really overshadows the fact that Saga entrances through the reader’s desire to see this relationship, this family unit, succeed.

Brian K. Vaughan’s pedigree, despite not having had a comics title published since the end of Ex Machina, was already impeccable coming into this – but, and although it’s difficult to make a full judgement after just eight issues published (at the time of writing), it already feels like this might exceed his previous work. Where the sheer quality of character work, plot (complete with BKV-esque shock deaths, one in particular in this run coming surprisingly early even for him) and humour are of his usual standard, where Saga stands out is that, arguably for the first time, he’s created hugely likeable and sympathetic lead characters. Where previously the likes of Yorick or Hundred had depth but not necessarily immediate empathy, both Alana and Marko are, in different ways, made to be rooted for as heroes. Alana in particular, particularly following the flashback sequences in the most recent issue, is the kind of character it’s pretty easy to fall straight in love with.

Key to a lot of this is Vaughan’s collaborator Fiona Staples, who elevates the book from a strong, intriguing character piece into a work of genuine comics artistry. Her visuals, from character design to expression to scale, are simply phenomenal – beautiful, characterful, expansive. Little touches such as the in-art lettering of Hazel’s narration, the minimalist cover design and even the chosen paper stock (while guaranteeing, as part of Vaughan’s contract, at least 22 pages of story every issue for never more than $2.99) make Saga a series that, as with some others we’ve discussed in this end of year list, celebrates the comic as an object – and one that it’s a genuine thrill to pick up every month (or to see back on the shelves following the deliberate two-month hiatus it took between its first and second arcs).

Simply put, Saga is a comic that just makes you feel good about comics. It’s rare enough that a series feels this early like it’s going to be one of the unquestionable classics of the field, but that’s exactly what this charming, funny, thrilling, beautiful object has already become. Never mind best of the year – I’ll be amazed if we don’t look back on it as one of the best of the decade.

Seb Patrick | 30th December, 2012

Best Comics of 2012: Journey into Mystery

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Journey_Into_Mystery_Vol_1_645What is there to say about Journey into Mystery that hasn’t already been said?

Although it began in 2011, this year was without a doubt the one when Journey into Mystery became all its opening issue implied it would: ambitious, structured, perpetually riding atop a crossover and clinging for dear life. Throughout it’s two-year lifespan, there were only three issues of this series that didn’t have some kind of promotional banner attached, and it’s perhaps most thought-provoking that those three (comprising the Manchester Gods arc) were some of our favourites.

So there’s something you can say about Journey into Mystery that hasn’t really been said before: as good as it was, just imagine what it could have been with even a little more time.

Comparisons with Sandman have been made many times, but the books are as different as they are similar. Probably the biggest difference is that Sandman got 76 issues to tell its story, and Journey into Mystery got only 31. And had to devote a portion of those to servicing guests characters like Thor and the New Mutants in sales-buoying crossovers. The story of Kid Loki’s journey was probably the best fantasy epic Marvel has ever published – if it had been given double the space, it could have been so much more. The denoument wouldn’t have been so rushed. The mythology would have served more than its barest purpose. The ideas would have been followed up on and expanded. We’d have had something more like Sandman and less like Captain Britain and MI-13.

That’s not to say there was a failure on anyone’s part here. The book’s creative team barely missed a step in two years. Marvel, for their part, kept the book alive as long as it needed to tell the barest form of its story. The fans spread the book’s word, most notably on Tumblr where the Journey into Mystery tags were ablaze with the rarest kind of online chatter: praise, and enthusiasm. But the book wasn’t overtly commercial, nor was it small enough that it could afford not to be. Under those circumstances there’s only so far you can go. If anything about Journey into Mystery was wrong, it was the timing: the current comics market is conservative and unadventurous, unwilling to support smaller books, less tolerant of those that don’t fit in a simple box. A series from a superhero publisher where the lead character didn’t throw a single punch in 30 issues? A hard sell at the best of times, and 2012 was far from those.

But let’s not forget that despite its all-too-premature conclusion, Journey into Mystery was still great. Deep, funny, surprising and sad. It had points to make and ideas to explore. It resolved a story by printing a board game. It did an issue starring (effectively) the devil. It snuck what was essentially a three-issue Phonogram arc into the Marvel Universe. It made friends, then killed them. But most of all, it was a comic you wanted to read, starring characters you wanted to spend time with. Amidst all the praise for the book’s technical quality, remember that telling a story that hangs together is comparatively easy compared to telling a story people enjoy. Journey into Mystery was all that and more, and in the end, what I said at the conclusion of my CBR review of issue #645 still stands today:

It’s tempting to say that we shall not see the likes of it again — but how depressing would it be to actually believe that?

Best Comics of 2012: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 2009

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loegcentury2009fcwebA captivating mess of contradictions, Century 2009 showed perhaps more strongly than any other work that an Alan Moore not operating at the height of his powers remains more compelling than most other writers in comics. Perhaps only he could get away with putting out a comic that was in many ways so flawed, yet which still remained one of the most essential reads of the year.

For fans of the series and its ongoing plot, this was easily the most satisfying instalment of the third volume – in contrast to 1910 and 1969, which, for their strengths, had faltered in providing a solid, structured narrative (or, in the case of the former, any real discernible story at all). At times it’s difficult to look upon this volume as being the same comic as the original first series, but the through-thread of Mina’s life with the League remains its heart and spine, while the tale of her relationship with Allan here reached a final and devastating conclusion.

The Haddo/Antichrist plot had felt slightly uninspired during 1969, but here resolved itself superbly; the twin twists of Haddo’s unhappiness at being shunted into the background of his own plan, and the revelation that the Antichrist of twentieth-century fiction is none other than – basically – Harry Potter (albeit with elements of a few other characters chucked in), render the climax of the tale an odd and unsettling one rather than any kind of huge apocalyptic battle. The Potter analogue was particularly inspired (if a little mean-spirited), while the identity of the pretty-much-literal deus ex machina who shows up to save the day even more of a riot. Here, as with both the Moore and Craig Bonds showing up in the same panel (while the Judi Dench “M” was revealed as an older Emma Peel), or the BBC3-teenager dialogue of the ultimate villain, was Moore simply having tremendous, clever fun with his concept, as he has done with League since the beginning.

And yet at times it was hard to shake the feeling that the book had lost its way satirically, somewhat.  In stark contrast to how he had handled the literary references in the series’ early days, 2009 gave the sense that Moore didn’t really understand the cultural world he was spearing. All manner of hat-tips to Armando Iannucci and co. can’t mask the fact that so much of where 2009 placed itself seemed to miss the point, and leave Moore coming across as a crotchety old man grumbling about the youth of today. This extended to the often half-arsed application of the series’ fabled use of fictional cameos – where once they were subtle and clever or integrated carefully into the background of the story, here we just saw a succession of characters (some not even immediately recognisable) in the foreground of panels, peering out at the reader. In some cases these were even anachronistic – okay, so Doctor Who is a time traveller, but nevertheless the Matt Smith incarnation is utterly irrelevant to the cultural milieu of the year 2009 (having only debuted on New Year’s Day in 2010). Perhaps an unimportant example, but it’s never really been possible to accuse Alan Moore of lacking attention to detail before now, so to be able to do so here feels unsettling.

Fortunately, where the book excelled – in the character work with Mina, Allan and (yes, finally!) Orlando, in the mesmerisingly horrific denouement, in unexpectedly setting up an entirely female possible future League (finally once and for all rendering the series’ umbrella title utterly meaningless), in its peerless metatextuality, in O’Neill’s one-of-a-kind, frequently terrifying visuals – rendered these concerns less relevant than they might otherwise have been. Century 2009 may have seen Moore reach a little further than he was able to successfully grasp when it came to turning his gaze up on the stories of others – but fortunately, in and of itself it was one of his own strongest stories for some time.

Best Comics of 2012: Punk Rock Jesus

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PunkRockJesus_1

With a name like “Punk Rock Jesus”, it was always likely that Sean Murphy’s story about a cloned incarnation of Christ who rebels against his nature was going to garner some attention. The more pertinent question was whether it was going to deserve it. And as it happens, the answer was “yes”.

The story of PRJ is of a particular kind that comics do well. Set in a near-future not a million miles away from our the real present, it doesn’t just tell the story of Jesus’ probable clone, it also examines the wider society it’s set in – not just with its plot elements and characters, but with smaller details, like fashion and architecture. Superficially, this is a story about a boy rebelling against religious control, but it’s as much a story about the perils of the cult of celebrity and the dangers of a society that too often accepts the dogma of its own views.

As Sean Murphy’s first solo miniseries, there are rough edges in the writing. A timeline of the IRA that might be botched, if it’s not intended to be an alternate reality. A presentation of religious representatives that lacks shade. A few infodumps, including at least one rather one-sided description of the UK/Irish conflict (which to be fair, might be the character intentionally skewing it). But these are easy to look past, because Punk Rock Jesus is that rare beast: A comic with some actual points to make.

It certainly helps the book’s case that Murphy is as accomplished a visual storytelling as you could want in a comic. Each page is crammed with details and background information, and yet even in black and white, the information is clear and easily-retrieved. Every page is crammed with panels and action. There’s no doubt that you get your money’s worth in every issue.

The series is heading towards its conclusion in 2013, and with a series so unpredictable, it’s hard to know where it’ll end up. At this point, though, there’s almost nothing Murphy could do that would destroy the goodwill it’s gathered, so we can confidently call it one of the year’s best comics. Now we just have to see what he comes up with yet.

James Hunt | 27th December, 2012

Best Comics of 2012: Spider-Men

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spidermen1coversecondprintjpg-d90150_800wThis time last year, we named Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli’s Ultimate Spider-Man as our top comic of 2011. This time around, the main series has – unfortunately – found itself in one of its periodic bouts of momentum-loss, thanks largely to being caught in a somewhat disinteresting crossover courtesy of Marvel’s latest attempt to make the wider Ultimate universe in any way interesting or relevant.

Fortunately, while the ongoing adventures of Miles Morales were caught up in the SHIELD/Hydra Civil War, Bendis and Pichelli still had an outlet via which they could express their singularly brilliant take on Spider-Man, courtesy of the special one-off Spider-Men miniseries.

Although not officially the 50th Anniversary Spider-story, Spider-Men was a perfect celebration of the history and meaning of the character. Wisely, it chose “our” Peter Parker, displaced to Miles Morales’ universe, as its point-of-view perspective – allowing Peter to reflect on a world that hadn’t suffered many of his worst losses (with particular poignancy lent to a conversation with Gwen, wondering in a Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow kind of way how her alternate counterpart was), yet which had lost and come to appreciate its own Parker.

Light on plot, it made up for this by filling out the middle issues with hugely strong character work, and while not necessarily accessible to any reader who didn’t count themselves already as a Spider-fan, it was a fitting tribute for those of us who truly love the character to enjoy. Given that Bendis’ Marvel work has often been patchy, it’s been remarkable just how consistently dead-on he’s been with his treatment of Peter and his supporting cast – and even when dealing with a different version of the character from the one he spent a decade writing, this was no different.

(As an aside, while the story was primarily a celebration of Spidey, as a long-time fan of Mysterio it was great to see him getting his due, too. The revelation that he’d been behind his Ultimate counterpart all along was huge, and brilliant, and entirely in keeping with the character – while the plot resolution of having the 616 version trapped in the wrong universe should be a terrific plot spurrer going forwards.)

While the main Ultimate Spider-Man series undoubtedly suffered – not to ruinous extent, but a noticeable one nevertheless – from the temporary absence of Sara Pichelli, Spider-Men positively thrived for her presence. Her character work remained phenomenal, and especially important in a story that so heavily relied on talking-head conversations and the characters’ reactions to one-another. It can only be hoped that she gets back on the main series as soon as possible, as it would benefit hugely from her verve.

A funny, clever, occasionally moving and essentially downright celebratory take on the Spider-Man mythos – and on what being the titular hero means to its two incumbents – Spider-Men simply excelled. Crossing over the two universes was always going to be a dangerous game, but Bendis proved the perfect person to do it, and did so with obvious love and care. Readers who wanted a huge, explosive plot may have been disappointed, but for the rest of us the innate understanding of the character made it an absolute joy.

Seb Patrick | 26th December, 2012

Best Comics of 2012: Transformers: More than Meets the Eye/Robots in Disguise

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TransformersMTME_1It’s been a while since Transformers comics topped the industry sales charts, and their run under IDW has been up and down in terms of quality. In the last attempt, the continuity was shot, reboot followed reboot, and so there seemed little reason to assume that the latest stunt, in which a single title was split into two ongoings (X-Men-style) would fare any better. So imagine everyone’s surprise when it did. Quite considerably better, in fact.

Unexpectedly, we got two Transformers titles which both had very different outlooks and executions. In Transformers: Robots in Disguise, an uneasy alliance of Autobots and Decepticons attempt to rule Cybertron into a new era of peace. Meanwhile, in Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye, a mix of characters (mostly from the cartoon’s later years) head out to explore space and find their lost Cybertronian ancestors. The idea of Autobots and Decepticons working together is hardly a new one, and while coming up with stories to pursue outside of the good/evil dynamic certainly helping in giving the book’s a new direction, it was the surprisingly high quality of the work that helped the titles succeed.

While John Barber concentrated on political intrigue and fixing the various continuity messes, James Roberts pursued a slightly more comedic, adventurous direction. Both writers embraced the inherent difficulty of assembling a cast. Characters openly acknowledged having no familiarity with one another. Popular animated favourites rub shoulders with obscure late-line additions. Everyone was given a story to tell, and no-one was used as fodder. And it worked surprisingly well. It’s not a nostalgic take on the franchise by any stretch – past writers were never this self-aware – but it does recapture the glory days of the franchise’s comics, with strong plotting and characterisation, and strong, clear artwork that services the story without falling into the trap of using generic robot designs.

The year’s high point, undoubtedly, was the release of two interlocking annuals, both of which told stories with interlocking flashback components. Halfway through the Robots in Disguise annual, in which the allied ‘bots discover a dormant Metrotitan beneath the surface, I realised I was reading a Transformers story that made had things I’d never noticed in one before, like theme and structure and characters who were actually on some kind of psychological journey. Tie that in with the clever metatextual pastiche of the flashbacks (which were coloured, drawn and most hilariously, written in the style of Marvel’s 1980s Transformers comics) and it’s not just a good Transformers comic – it’s a good comic, full stop. For licensed material, that’s rare and high praise.

The only bad thing about Roberts, Barber et al doing work this good on a licensed comic is it surely won’t be long until someone at Marvel or DC notices and decides to tempt them away. And then history suggests we’ll go back to normal, mediocre Transformers comics. So let’s enjoy this new Golden Age while we can.

 

Best Comics of 2012: Batman Incorporated

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BatmanIncV2no1It’s reasonable at this stage to say that Grant Morrison’s Batman run stands as one of the greatest long-form achievements in superhero comics. It’s equally reasonable to suggest that it’s struggled for momentum over the past couple of years, due to a combination of scheduling delays and apparent disinterest from DC in the one truly great ongoing creative work they have on their hands at the moment (hence, a New 52 reboot that largely renders the majority of Morrison’s story technically impossible continuity-wise).

Fortunately, after going on hiatus towards the middle of 2011, the series was allowed to regroup and refocus as part of the “Second Wave” of New 52 launches earlier this year, and – despite a couple of (unavoidable and understandable) further scheduling hiccups – we were treated to a succession of outstanding, largely self-contained issues that, for arguably the first time since Batman RIP, seemed to put the series back on track towards wrapping up Morrison’s plan and vision.

There’s perhaps a sense with some of the issues that Morrison, having finally to wind things towards the conclusion of a now over-six-year story, is gathering together as many elements that he’s still yet to touch upon as he can. So in this run we’ve had an appearance from Matches Malone, a superb single issue delving into Talia’s background and motivations, a “zero issue” that told the missing story of Bruce recruiting the Incorporated gang, the long-awaited answer to the mystery of Wingman’s identity (hardly a great surprise in the end, and one that does work well in the context of Morrison’s run alone; but one of a number of elements of this run that, in order to work, rely on simply ignoring everything else that’s going on in DC altogether), and most recently a quite remarkable and horrifying return to the “Damian future” of way back in Batman #666 that suddenly slots over five-year-old pieces into place and demonstrates the deep underlying plan beneath it all.

An undoubted factor in the rejuvenation of the series has been in Morrison finally having another artistic collaborator that he simply clicks with. In an ideal world, he’d have Frank Quitely drawing everything he writes, but this isn’t an ideal world – and in fact, Chris Burnham has shown himself to be a more than adequate substitute. In fact, arguably, he’s elevated himself above that by now – it’s true that when taking over for the last few pre-relaunch issues he did seem largely preoccupied with replicating the “feel” of Quitely’s work, but over the course of this run he’s undoubtedly been developing storytelling techniques of his own (while deliberately retaining Quitely’s character styles to give a strong sense of continuity), and on the Talia issue in particular he was simply outstanding.

Unsurprisingly, DC’s focus when it comes to the Bat-books has been squarely on Scott Snyder’s run on the main title – but where that run has been very strong in places, it’s also made missteps here and there (the current Joker plotline feels misguided in a number of ways, but that discussion’s not for here). Their attitude towards Morrison seems to be that he’s had his “time” running the franchise, and he’s merely being allowed to see out his run in a way that quietly complements, rather than defines, the current version of the character. That’s a shame, as the recent Incorporated run shows him to still have a strong focus on the story he’s been telling all this time (in stark contrast to his occasionally great, but largely undefined Action Comics stretch), and DC would be better served letting it stand as the remarkable, era-defining take on Batman that it should be, rather than something shunted suddenly and casually into the background in favour of something newer and trendier.

Best Comics of 2012: Dial H

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Dial_H_Vol_1_1A year on from its high-profile launch, a lot of DC’s “New 52″ turned out to be more interesting in theory than execution. One “Second Wave” title that totally lived up to expectations, however, was Dial H, written by China Mieville and drawn (variously) by Mateus Santolouco, Riccardo Burchielli and David Lapham.

Much of the book’s appeal lies in Mieville’s dark, almost psychadelic approach to superheroes. Each new identity conjured up by the book’s slacker lead, Nelson, seems to out-weird the last. Readers are unsure whether each idea is the best or worst yet. The likes of Iron Snail (a commando with a miniature tank attached to his back) and Boy Chimney (the gangly embodiment of Victorian industrialisation) might as well have been created by sticking pins in a dictionary, while Electrocutie and Shamanticore come from the “bad pun” school of naming. But because these characters only have to exist for a few pages at a time they can get away with being one-joke throwaways. The fact that Mieville and his artists put so much effort into making them viable characters at all speaks volumes about the effort that’s going into this title.

Of the issue’s released so far, the stand-out has to be the #0 issue, which tells the tale of an ancient dial-bearer who had a considerably harder time accessing the artifact’s powers. The issue’s title, “Sundial H for Hero”, should give you some idea how hard. But more than that, it reveals some previously unknown details about where the identities the HERO dial summons are coming from. It’s a safe bet we’ll see more related to that, but even if we don’t, it gives us context than enhances the rest of the series. It was everything a prequel should be.

As a series considered alone, Dial H has been consistently entertaining, if occasionally hard to follow. But in the wider context of the line, it also gives us a glimmer of hope that the spirit of DC’s best years is still alive somewhere within the organisation. Dial H might be labelled a DCU title, but had it emerged at any other point in the last couple of decades, it would surely have been at Vertigo. It’s the only thing DC is publishing right now that recalls the spirit of Peter Milligan’s Shade, or Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, or even Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. With events like the departure of Karen Berger and the cancellation of Hellblazer doing their best to suggest that Vertigo and its style of books is being de-prioritised, the fact that Dial H exists at all is a reason to be hopeful about DC’s future, even as a teased Dial H/Flash crossover threatens to shatter the book’s self-imposed exile. Right now, it’s the only DCU ongoing series I’m reading, and the second I’m required to read another series to follow it, I’ll be out. Let’s hope someone at DC knows what they’re doing, because this is a title that – if properly left alone – would pay back far more in the future than a one-issue crossover spike would manage.

Best Comics of 2012: Ellerbisms

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ellerbismsAs is our annual custom over the festive season, we’re counting down our ten favourite comics of 2012 over the last ten days of the year. The first seven entries are in no particular order, after which we’ll each post an individually-chosen “Runner-Up” and finally our unanimous #1 of the year.

It just so happens that the first book we’ve decided to talk about as part of our “year end best” list is one that we’ve already talked about – just mere days ago, we recorded the latest episode of our podcast, in which we featured Marc Ellerby’s Ellerbisms. Just in case it wasn’t clear in that ‘cast how much we both liked it, however, here we are declaring it one of our top ten comics of the year. Blimey.

We’ve already gone into the whys and wherefores in some detail in the podcast, so if you’ve listened to that – or if you’re planning on doing – I’m wary of retreading too much of the same ground. But it’s worth reiterating that here was a comic that, aside from representing a five-year-long labour of love, aside from containing strips that spanned a range from bravely raw and emotional to simply and joyously funny, and aside from showing Ellerby’s evolution from an interesting indie webcomic talent into to the surely-on-the-verge-of-stardom figure he is now, was a proper celebration of the comic as an object.

Given that Great Beast are a small, startup publisher, in which Ellerby and Adam Cadwell have already invested huge amounts of time and money, it would have been forgiveable if their first major collections were serviceable, unobtrusively decent books that performed the bare minimum job of presenting their strips in an accessible fashion. Instead, Ellerbisms embraces the hard-copy form – with no small irony considering the strip’s origin as a webcomic – with its hefty weight, paper stock, print quality, gorgeously-coloured cover and (yes, alright) those rounded corners.

Of course, simply making a nice object isn’t enough alone to make a comic one of the best of the year (although we note that Chris Ware’s Building Stories occupies a similar position in many other outlets’ lists – not ours, though, as neither of us have read it yet. SORRY). When all’s said and done, Ellerbisms is just a great read. It’s touching, often hilarious, expertly crafted (let’s not understate the quality of work involved in shaping a largely unconnected web strip into a coherent narrative) and contains a number of references to Weezer. How could we not love it to pieces?

Seb Patrick | 22nd December, 2012

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