So what do you have to be thankful for? As we sit down to stuff our faces and pay homage to that which makes life livable, my thoughts turn to comic books. It’s been a big year in the world of sequential art. Avengers fighting X-Men, the Joker returning, Superman turning to absolute crap - there are a lot of ins and outs, lots of strings to keep straight in the Duder’s head. Being the helpful soul that I am, I have gone over the year 2012 in comic books and come up with the fifteen things we should be thankful for.
15. The Book Report Podcast
Yeah it’s shameless self-promotion, but it’s true. Every week, rain or shine (which is funny because we do it indoors), myself and my intrepid editor Andy Hunsaker bring you the very best in comic book reviews, news and all the tidbits that swirl around the ever encompassing black hole of the comic book world. We love what we do, we love comic books and we love yapping for the fans of the show. Now, being aware of how shameless this is, you’ll notice I made it number 15.
14. Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye
Really? We should be thankful for a Transformers comic book? Isn’t it just another money shill to tie into the crap fest that is the Transformers movie? Nope. Not at all. Writer James Roberts has taken the original idea of the robots in disguise and expanded it into something incredibly special. In-depth storylines, a growing backstory and, as always with Roberts, top notch writing have coalesced to create a completely new direction for the Transformers. If you have never read a Transformers comic or even if you hate the entire idea, take a shot at these books and see if you don’t walk away a fan.
13. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Long ago, in a comic book world far, far, away The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a black and white title with a serious edge and a taste for violence. Then came the cartoons, the toys and the stupid movies. Most thought that we’d never see a dawn from the darkness of the kiddie turtles. Cue up original creator Kevin Eastman, co-writer Tom Waltz and their new approach to the Turtles. The two have taken the best aspects of the friendlier turtles, e.g. the separation of characters, the colorful dialogue, combined it with the darker original material and struck comic book gold. A great series made the Turtles awesome again and turned Shredder into a credible threat.
12. Indestructible Hulk
Technically this series hasn’t started yet, but we should all be thankful because Jason Aaron isn’t writing Incredible Hulk anymore. After years of brilliance at the hands of Greg Pak, the strongest there is finally found his Achilles' heel in Aaron. Through insipid plot ideas, bad dialogue and just plain old awful writing, Aaron almost completely obliterated one of the greatest comic book characters of all time. Thankfully, Marvel came to its senses and took Aaron off the book. Stepping up to bat now is Mark Waid who, on his worst day, is better than anything Aaron could accomplish. Sadly, Aaron is now on Thor: God of Thunder, but at least we can be thankful that he’s off Hulk.
11. Winter Soldier
One of the two amazing comic titles under the wing of scribe Ed Brubaker, Winter Soldier is unlike anything else going on in the Marvel Universe. While X-Men and Avengers battle each other and Spider-Man prepares to not be Spider-Man anymore, Winter Soldier stays just outside those lines. This is a spy comic, a noir war tale that has some superhero over tones. Brubaker takes his affinity for crime writing and dark themes and applies it to a character we never thought would be more than a sidekick. Through layered plots, wonderful dialogue and some of the best damn writing in comic books, Ed Brubaker has made Bucky Barnes just as interesting and exciting as Captain America.
10. Earth 2
Writer James Robinson, had his work cut out for him. When the New 52 hit the scene, it pushed aside the Justice Society of America. It then fell on James Robinson to create a second Earth where the JSA could thrive, but with zero ties to the mainstream DC Universe. Robinson stepped up to the plate and made Earth 2 one of the best new titles in the DC stable. Robinson’s smart writing managed to involve heroes like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman and then take them away in a tragic style. From there, we got new definitions of Green Lantern (who is openly gay in Earth 2) as well as a teenage Jay Garrick (Flash) and a completely bizarre Hawkgirl. If you haven’t picked up Earth 2, I highly suggest you make it a priority
9. Avengers, New Avengers, Daredevil: End of Days and All-New X-Men
Why did I group these all together? One word. Bendis. One name. Brian Michael Bendis. While not quite as quick to condemn BMB as my intrepid editor, I’ve definitely had my problems with Bendis in the past. He can be repetitive and sometimes very boring in his presentation. However, when the man is on, he is easily one of the best in business. Case in point, his writing for both Avengers and New Avengers this year has been excellent, especially when not sidelined by the long-winded AvX event. Above that, his mini series Daredevil End of Days and his latest monthly The All-New X-Men, have gotten off to excellent starts. Sure, End of Days may shit the bed before it’s all over and All-New X-Men may fail as well, but for now, they’re part of the list of reasons we are thankful for Brian Michael Bendis.
8. Greg Rucka's Punisher
For the longest time, Frank Castle teetered between a one-note hero and a complete joke. Finally, that scale was tipped to the latter with Frankencastle. As funny and entertaining as The Punisher becoming a Frankenstein style monster was, it killed any grit or reality that the character had. Enter Greg Rucka, who saved Punisher by bringing him back to basics. Rucka didn’t just return Castle to being a vengeance-obsessed killer - he actually humanized him. Rucka’s Punisher had a mission statement; he was coldly detached from what he was doing, almost as if it was a job. That new angle really added credence to the idea that “Frank Castle” was dead and all that remained was Punisher. This not only makes Rucka’s Punisher run one of the best in the character’s history, it also opens up new levels for the story.
7. Justice League Dark
This was another tough sell for the New 52. Take a well-established character like Hellblazer’s Constantine and stick him on a team book. How do you effectively put one of the comic book world’s greatest loners onto something like the Justice League and make it work? To add to the issues, the JL Dark would be made up of lesser-known characters like Deadman, Zatanna, Madame Xanadu, Enchantress, and newer ones like Black Orchid and Andrew Bennett (I, Vampire). Writer Peter Milligan attacked these issues by forgetting all the baggage and just writing engaging stories with smart dialog and exciting magical themes. When Animal Man/Sweet Tooth scribe Jeff Lemire took over, he brought his sense of darkness and twisted logic to an already well-established group. Through Milligan and Lemire, Justice League Dark has become a must read part of the DCU.
There are those who will turn a collective nose up at my list because I’ve included Aquaman. Yeah, well, clearly you haven’t been reading Geoff Johns New 52 run on the aquatic hero. This Aquaman is a bad ass, grizzled, tough and ready to kick ass. Johns draws off of the Aquaman in Kingdom Come for some of the new attitude, but inserts his own plot ideas. There is more mystery to this Aquaman and he’s not as clean cut - he’s brutal and quick tempered. Johns has changed things in small ways with the dynamic between Mera and Aquaman, and also with bigger shifts with the history of Black Manta and the “other” hero team of which the king of Atlantis was once a part. If you think you know Aquaman, then check out this new series and see if it doesn’t change your idea.
5. The End Of The Avengers vs. X-Men Series
Fewer things brought more thankful joy to my comic book life than the end of this bloated series that went absolutely nowhere. It started with the Phoenix coming for April Summers and ended with it taking over five other X-Men. There was an entire issue where Spider-Man was going to play a big part in the series, but that fizzled. Marvel injected a kung-fu angle that went nowhere. Oh, they did kill Professor X, which was interesting because in one issue he refused to fight to the point where he erased people’s memories, and then suddenly showed up to battle. Essentially, this boring series suffered from too many cooks in the kitchen. You can’t have several top writers all vying to get their ideas across. AvX collapsed under it’s own weight and became, outside of a waste of money, an easy way for Marvel to get all their mutants back after House Of M.
4. Ed Brubaker's Captain America
As with Winter Soldier, Ed Brubaker’s Captain America is flawless. Though the esteemed writer ended his run on the star spangled Avenger this year, what he accomplished will go down in the history books as some of the best work with Captain America ever. Not only did Brubaker tell great stories, he made the first Avenger a fully realized three-dimensional character. Until Brubaker took over, Captain America was a figurehead, a do-gooder that made few errors and always rose to the occasion. Brubaker took that model and added a plethora of human traits. Our hero got angry, was afraid, suffered loss and over the entire run evolved into a human being. Adding that dimension, while keeping what we loved about Captain America, has made the character more interesting than he’s ever been.
3. The Amazing Spider-Man
While I have major doubts on the Superior Spider-Man event that’s coming up, we can, at least, be thankful for a kick ass year of Spider-Man. Writer Dan Slott has done more for old web head in his run than just about anyone else who has handled the character. Slott adds excitement and amazing dialogue to everything he does. The Spider Island run, the battle against Doc Ock and currently the web slinger against two Hobgoblins - it was all breathtaking. For the first time in several years, Amazing Spider-Man crackles with tangible energy. As I said, I’m not excited for Peter Parker to stop being Spider-Man in Superior, but I’m putting my faith in Dan Slott.
When Scott Snyder debuted with Detective Comics, I knew he was a writer with great potential. As his first year writing Batman comes to an end, it’s clear my first thoughts were correct. Starting with the Court Of Owls and now with his Joker run, Snyder has not only dropped on us some of the best writing in comic books, he’s also expanded a mythos that is seventy-plus years old. First, he did the impossible - he gave Bruce Wayne a possible sibling without making it seem hokey or stupid. Then he had this brother become Owlman, which could have been incredibly silly. Instead, under Snyder’s expert pen, we now have a credible and staggering new threat for the Dark Knight. Currently, Snyder is adding his flair to The Joker. Snyder has slowed the clown prince down, made him more despicable and sadistic but less over-the-top. In this form, The Joker is deadlier, but he’s also smarter. This slower pace and higher intelligence makes Joker an even more determined foe for Batman. 2012 has been a thankful year for we Batman fans.
1. Punk Rock Jesus
It came from out of nowhere and blew a whole through everything else that happened this year. Writer/Artist Sean Murphy released an absolute ode to perfection with his Punk Rock Jesus mini-series. The plot is so in-depth that explaining it would do it a disservice. Suffice it to say, PRJ encompasses rebellion, anti-corporate idealism, a stance against organized religion, terrorism, the idea of what family really is, redemption and punk rock. Murphy’s writing is razor sharp, as are his political ideas. Nothing in this series is wasted, the fat has been trimmed and the rubber hits the road. As complex as all of it is, as many timelines as Murphy’s working with, Punk Rock Jesus never gets confusing and never loses impact. The sheer emotional power of this series could carry it through, but added to the writing is frenetic, beautiful black and white artwork, and that makes Punk Rock Jesus the thing we're most thankful for in 2012 for comic books.