Top 10 Comics of 2011 | Steve Higgins

It had humor, it had poignant human interactions, it was beautifully drawn, it was insightfully written.


10. Wonder Woman (W: Brian Azzarello, A: Cliff Chiang; DC)
When Wonder Woman is written well, it is easy to see why millions of little girls the world over have idolized her and grown up wanting to be her. That is definitely the case with this relaunched series, which takes Princess Diana and puts her in a slightly askew world of gods with familiar names but unfamiliar faces.
9. Flashpoint: Batman: Knight of Vengeance (W: Brian Azzarello, A: Eduardo Risso; DC)
Bruce Wayne is killed in Crime Alley and it is his parents who survive. It is a concept so simple that you wonder why no one has done it before. But Azzarello and Risso use this idea to show us the dark path each parent ends up on separately, and it becomes one of the most complex portrayals of grief in comics.
8. RASL (W / A: Jeff Smith; Cartoon Books)
RASL is a book that’s easy to lose track of, because it comes out so infrequently. But every issue is beautifully rendered by Jeff Smith and the plot is as tight as can be. So you might have to remind yourself where the story left off after the previous issue. So what? The book is so good, it will reward your patience.
7. The Shade (W: James Robinson, A: Cully Hamner ; DC)
This choice is somewhat of a personal one, and I freely admit my bias up front. James Robinson’s Starman is one of my favorite comics of all time, so this maxiseries which plays in the same sandbox is obviously going to hit all the right buttons for me. Is it accessible to new readers who are unfamiliar with the history of the characters? No, it is not. My response to that? Borrow my copy of the Starman Omnibuses, read them, get acquainted with this world, and then tell me you’re not pumped about this series, too.
6. The Walking Dead (W: Robert Kirkman, A: Charlie Adlard; Image)
In a year when Kirkman and Adlard could have coasted on the fumes of their hit TV show, they instead pulled out all the stops and started the year with a storyline (“No Way Out”) that was absolutely brutal to its main characters. There was a moment in issue 83 in particular that made me gasp out loud when I turned the page. Kirkman and Adlard make the characters seem real to us, and then they aren’t afraid to put them through hell, making The Walking Dead a continuously compelling read.
5. Animal Man (W: Jeff Lemire, A: Travel Foreman; DC)
Some do not like the artwork of Travel Foreman on this book, but I find its rough qualities perfectly fitting with the edgy tone Jeff Lemire has created in his twisted take on Animal Man. Buddy Baker and his family are some of the most fleshed-out characters in comics today, making the dark, disturbing path they are on feel all the more terrifying.
4. Daredevil (W: Mark Waid, A: Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin; Marvel)
Only Mark Waid could take a character like Matt Murdock who has been dragged through the mire for the past thirty years in comics and put him center stage in a book that is just out-and-out fun. He does this by having Matt acknowledge that dark side but choose to think positively instead, and it works flawlessly, in no small part thanks to the brilliant visual realizations of Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin.
3. Morning Glories (w: Nick Spencer, a: Joe Eisma; Image)
Take the mysterious mythos of Lost and add in the teenage angst of Skins (the good, British version) and you might end up with something very much like Morning Glories. It is the most frustrating comic being published today, because it is impossible to read an issue and not be disappointed that the next issue isn’t in your hands right now.
2. Batwoman (W: J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman, A: J.H. Williams III; DC)
The best superhero comic on the market today, bar none, Batwoman’s central features include a rich, deep characterization of a woman compelled to help others, trying the only way she knows how, and frequently failing because she is in over her head. Its other, more obvious draw is the artwork, which is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
1. Optic Nerve (W / A: Adrian Tomine; Drawn and Quarterly)
Adrian Tomine has only put out one single issue of his comic in the last three years, yet Optic Nerve #12 was easily the best comic released in 2011. It had humor, it had poignant human interactions, it was beautifully drawn, it was insightfully written. The question people ask should not be “why can’t Tomine put out his comics faster?” It should be “if other artists worked at Tomine’s pace, would their work rise to his skill level?”
Honorable mentions go to Image’s Chew and Oni’s The Sixth Gun. They topped my last year, and they continued to be excellent reads this year as well. Greg Rucka’s take on The Punisher brought the character back to basics with great results, while Peter Milligan’s version of John Constantine in Hellblazer has taken the character in new and interesting directions. Jeff Lemire is also having a fantastic year, not just with his contributions to the New 52 books from DC but also with his continued ongoing Vertigo series Sweet Tooth, which featured a spectacular three-part story this year with guest art by St. Louis’ own Matt Kindt. Finally, speaking of the New 52, DC really knocked it out of the park with their relaunch, creating a ton of new series that featured some of the most solid storytelling in comics. In fact, the new 52 books have been so great, they deserve a list of their own… | Steve Higgins

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