Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012: A Year in Comic Review

While I started reading monthly comics on a regular basis in 2011, I began in September.  2012 has made up the majority of my time as a consistent customer so far, so here's a tribute to the comics of the past year and my personal favorite moments.

Funniest Moment:

In the first issue of Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham's New 52 Batman Inc., Batman and the current Robin, his son Damian al Ghul-Wayne, fight villains in a slaughterhouse, which leads to Robin becoming covered in animal blood.  He then announces:

Look at the bat logo on that cow's face and the shape of that blood puddle.  Perfection.

Most Heartwarming Moment:

Anyone who's read this blog before must have seen this one coming. From Gail Simone and Ardian Syaf's Batgirl issue 6, it's a two parter.  First, Barbara Gordon flashes back to Batman's visit to her hospital room on the night she was rendered paraplegic by the Joker's bullet:

Later on, after Batgirl rescues Bruce Wayne from mind control by the issue's villain, he has a message for her:

What can I say beyond "Awwwww"?

Most Shocking Moment:

In Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Batman issue 14, Bruce returns home to find Alfred missing and a cassette tape from the Joker explaining where the butler has gone.  On the tape, we hear Alfred proclaim that he's not intimidated by the blindfold the Joker put on him.  The Joker replies that there isn't any blindfold...


Best Overall Moment for Comic Fans:

This one is not a book, but a film.  Two films, actually.  The world of comic fandom and of movie goers in general was lucky enough to have both The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises released in the same summer.  How awesome is that?

Which leads into...

Best Comic Character Portrayal Onscreen:

Like there's any contest.

Anne Hathaway.  And now that the world has seen her equally brilliant performance in Les Mis, let's hope Catwoman steals all this year's Oscars.

Favorite Single Issue:

I thought for sure while compiling this list that this honor would go to Batgirl 6, a comic I gush over at every opportunity.   And while Batgirl 6 is a must-read, fantastic, all around perfect issue, there is one comic that beat it by just a hair.

Batman 5 has a simple plot: Batman has been abducted by the Court of Owls, a group controlling Gotham from the shadows, an organization Bruce insisted did not exist.  Dumped in a labyrinth with no exit and nothing but drugged water to sustain him, the Court doesn't even bother taking Batman's mask, to show just how insignificant they find him.  Batman spends the issue wandering the maze, his resolve and grip on reality crumbling beneath him.

What makes Batman 5 such a stand out is partly the creative team's willingness to show Batman, a character most write as an untouchable god, as weakened, frightened, and defeated by his enemies.  It can be hard to feel fear for Batman, sometimes - we all know he's going to succeed - but here, they pull it off, and it makes his struggles all the more poignant and engaging.

Another huge reason the book succeeds is Greg Capullo's ingenious art throughout the issue.  As Batman's connection to reality weakens, the art becomes more and more abstract, eventually flipping upside down and sideways.  Readers are forced to flip the book over and over and turn pages backward to follow the story, making a frustrating, disorienting experience not unlike Batman's own.  The advertisement pages scattered throughout the book at their usual orientations ought to be a distraction, but instead they add to the surreal confusion of the experience.  It's rare to see sequential art meld so perfectly with its subject matter, and that success here makes this my favorite single issue of the year.

Favorite New Comic:

 While DC Comics released their New 52 lineup in September of 2011, the Second and Third Waves of the New 52 happened in 2012.  The Waves introduced new books replacing the titles selling poorly in the New 52, and the Third Wave gave us Christy Marx and Aaron Lopresti's Sword of Sorcery.

The book is a double feature, with its main storyline reviving Amethyst, the tale of teenager Amy Winston.  On her seventeenth birthday, Amy discovers she is not from Earth, but from another world where she's known as Princess Amaya of House Amethyst.  Together, she and her mother must return to their home world and fight Amaya's evil aunt for control of the kingdom.  The back up story consists of various fantasy-based miniseries, with the first being a futuristic version of Beowulf.

It sounds like a cheesy cartoon from the eighties.  And the similarities don't disappear when one starts reading the series.  But despite the cliched storyline that we've all seen before, Marx's writing makes it work.  The story is nothing spectacular, but the genuine emotion Marx puts into Amaya's relationship with her mother gives the book something extra that most eighties cartoons lacked.  When Amaya's mother speaks on the importance of the power of love, it doesn't feel like a moral speech shoved into a script and recited by talking heads.  It feels genuine, which can be said of the entire book, and which is what makes it work so well. 

Aaron Lopresti's beautiful art is also a big incentive.

Favorite New Comic Character:

Batgirl 10 introduced us to Ricky, a car thief turned friend of Batgirl's after she rescued him from the villain Knightfall.  Ricky lost his leg in the process.  Under Gail Simone's writing, a character who could have been a throwaway hostage turned into a device not just to show Barbara's compassion and difference from her enemies, but a well-developed and moving addition to the story.  Ricky feels real, and while he has no powers or special training and has recently been disabled, he's still brave and willing to help.  He's the sort of person we all wish we could be if we found ourselves in Gotham.

Plus, how can you not love a guy with scenes like this?

Favorite Comic Series of 2012:

I think anyone who's read this blog before knows I'm putting Batgirl in this slot, and I have a whole backlog of posts to say why, so I won't spend too much time on it here.  All you really need to know about the greatness of Batgirl is this: In December of 2012, its writer, Gail Simone, was dismissed from the book despite the title being a consistently high seller.  The fan outcry was so huge that DC reinstated her just twelve days after her dismissal.  If that's not a sign she was kicking ass at telling Batgirl's story, I don't know what is.

Favorite Overall Art in a Comic Series:

Whether or not you're enjoying the storyline of J.H. Williams III and Haden Blackman's Batwoman, you can't deny that the art is consistently breathtaking.  Williams's remarkably creative page layouts and attention to detail make this title a keeper for the visuals alone.

Favorite Comic Cover:

You all knew this was coming.  Behold the remarkable Adam Hughes cover for Batgirl 6:

And that's it for the comics of 2012.  Let's hope 2013 has even more greatness to offer.

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