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The Best & Worst of Comics in 2012

What was great and what was not-so-great in the past year? Iann Robinson runs it down for you.

Batman #15

Here we are.  The end of 2012. So much has happened within the comic book world that it’s hard to sift through all of it. X-Men battled Avengers, Professor X died, Hulk and Banner separated, The Joker returned, Batman might have a brother, Glenn died in Walking Dead, and that’s just a part of the action. Those of us who love comic books were given quite a plateful in 2012. Even now, as the year winds down, we are waiting with bated breath to see how Peter Parker’s time as Spider-Man comes to an end.

Gearing up for whatever Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, IDW, Dynamite, Boom! and the other comic companies have in store for 2013, let’s take a look back at 2012. I’ve sifted through all the books I bought this year (no small feat) and compiled a list of my favorite and least favorite moments, heroes, writers and artists of this year. Please, if you would, join me in this final look back at the comic book year of 2012.

Oh one more thing. Before you complain about a lack of indie books, I did an entire list of them in the 21 Best Graphic Novels Of 2012.

 

BEST HERO:

Thomas McKael

Series: Punk Rock Jesus

Publisher: Vertigo

 

Punk Rock Jesus

 

Though this was the year of the Dark Knight, I’d be remiss in my duties as a critic and comic book lover if I didn’t go with a hero that was slightly more interesting. Thomas McKael is the anti-hero of Sean Murphy’s brilliant Punk Rock Jesus. Thomas is an ex-IRA member living with the demons of his past actions and searching for redemption in trying to protect Chris, the teenage boy who is supposedly the clone of Jesus Christ. Thomas is an ass kicker, a ball buster, and he has little time to suffer fools gladly. His past is just as intriguing as his present and, though he has tough guy tendencies, he is without one shred of cliché. There are so many elements that make Punk Rock Jesus a success and Thomas McKael is a major one.

 

WORST HERO:

Hal Jordan

Series: Green Lantern, Justice League

Writer/Artist: Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke, Jim Lee

Publisher: DC Comics

 

Justice League

 

My esteemed editor Andy Hunsaker will be thrilled by this choice but, while it saddens me to admit this, Hal Jordan sucks now. At one point, Hal Jordan was the master of his own destiny, the king Lantern, the unbeatable green with the ring machine!! Now, post New 52, Hall Jordan is a little bitch who caters to either Carol Ferris or Sinestro. For reasons that never were very clear, the Guardians took Jordan’s ring, and then writer Geoff Johns turned him into a whining little child. This is Hal Jordan, fighter pilot, adventurer, a man who was so brave an alien came and made him part of a galactic police force. None of that seems to matter as Jordan jumped from embarrassing moment to embarrassing moment, all the while never acting like himself. It was as if Geoff Johns had no idea what to do with Jordan in the New 52, so he tried to recreate him into something else. Epic fail across the board.

[Editor's Note: I do indeed concur with this selection, and I will furthermore add that Jordan was also a giant douchebag in Justice League and the title immediately got better as soon as he left.]

 


 

BEST VILLAIN:

Anton Arcane

Series: Swamp Thing

Writer/Artist: Scott Snyder, Various

Publisher: DC Comics

 

Swamp Thing

 

I do love me a sinister and really fucked up bad guy. When we last hung out with Swamp Thing’s ultimate nemesis Anton Arcane, he was just some average mad scientist bad guy. Now, thanks to writer Scott Snyder and a few amazing artists, Anton Arcane has been born into a whole new dawn of evil. It’s not just the heightened sense of sadistic insanity, or the fact that Arcane is now head honcho for The Rot, a terrifying natural force of pure evil, he also looks like Hell warmed over. Arcane is something between a skinless victim of Pinhead’s box and a zombie. Snyder’s story and dialog veer away from standard “crazy guy” plot devices and go right for the jugular of disturbing and malevolent. Add onto it the disturbing, flesh crawling art and you have one of the most evil sonsabitches in recent memory.

 

WORST VILLAIN:

Negan

Series: The Walking Dead

Writer/Artist: Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard

Publisher: Image Comics

 

Walking Dead

 

Hey, did you like the Governor? Did you like how crazy he was and how fucked up? Did you run to get each copy of The Walking Dead with the Governor because you wanted to see just how ridiculously twisted the one-eyed leader would become? I guess so, because Robert Kirkman has decided to hand you over a carbon copy with Negan, yet another leather-clad hooligan looking to do Rick Grimes and his bandied crew of survivors harm. Negan says crazy things, like the Governor. He has a propensity for violence and murder, like the Governor. The only real difference is Negan has a bigger place, more men and talks about his bat wrapped in barbed wire like it was his lover. Ooohhh, spooooky. Negan is a walking cliché, an eye-rolling look at what happens when a writer runs out of ideas. From the overdeveloped sexual appetite to the constant need to assert himself as “alpha male,” Negan comes off more ridiculous than menacing.  The worst of it is how Kirkman creates these uber violent situations for Negan that serve no purpose other than to show us how craaaaazzzy the character is. The Walking Dead has been limping along for almost a year and the arrival of Negan could be its death knell.

 


 

BEST NEW CHARACTER:

Chris The Clone

Series: Punk Rock Jesus

Writer/Artist: Sean Murphy

Publisher: Vertigo

 

Punk Rock Jesus

 

How do you write about a clone? Better question, how do you write about a clone of Jesus Christ?  Most would make him some kind of walking philosopher, a quiet man of great intellect who looked to the angels of our better nature for his answers to life’s bigger questions. Then there’s Sean Murphy, who decided to make Chris, a teenage boy said to be the clone of Jesus Christ, into a pissed-off punk rocker who wants to burn the idea of organized religion and corporate greed to the ground. Chris is a cynic born from an idealist, a naïve kid with too much intelligence and too little life experience. Murphy has created one of the most completely realized characters in literature as a whole and in comic books, without question. You love Chris, you feel his anger and understand his disassociation with the world that raised him even if you don’t agree with all his views. By the end of the series, you’ll not only wish Chris was real, you’ll wish you could hang out with him.

 

WORST NEW CHARACTER:

Cyclops aka Scott Summers

Series: X-Men, Avengers vs. X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, etc.

Writer/Artist: Various

Publisher: Marvel Comics

 

Avengers vs. X-Men

 

I know what you’re going to say. “Iann. Iann. Have you lost your marbles? Did you drink too much cough syrup and pass out? Have you handled the left-handed cigarette too often? Cyclops is a forty-year-old character. Have you gone craaaazy?”  No, I just figured since Marvel has decided to write Cyclops in a completely different way just to give him something to do, I might as well see him as another character completely. I don’t know where to begin here. It could be with Schism, where Cyclops began acting completely out of character. Instead of the fearless leader and the intellectual tactician, Cyclops started puffing out his chest like a drunken frat boy. Watching him send children into battle for no real reason went against everything Cyclops has stood for in the past.

Then, in Avengers vs. X-Men, he decided that he would turn mutants into terrorists simply because he didn’t want the Avengers to help Hope Summers against the Phoenix. Marvel tried to give Cyclops reasons for his actions, but they all fell flat against everything we know about the character. Just when you thought it might end, the next wave hit when Cyclops became a mutant terrorist, even after saying how sorry he was for his actions when possessed by the Dark Phoenix.  Cyclops has gone so far off the reservation that Cyclops from the '60s has come forward in time to confront Cyclops today. Confused? Yeah. Well all are.  

 


 

BEST EVENT SERIES:

President Of The World

Series: Axe Cop

Writer/Artist: Malachai Nicolle, Ethan Nicolle

Publisher: Dark Horse

 

Axe Cop: President of the World

 

While so many may throw themselves upon the Avengers vs. X-Men sword and proclaim it the best event series of the year, I must take a decidedly different stance. If you have a book written by a nine year old, that’s pretty cool. If that book has apes with gun hands, goo monsters, a dinosaur on a bike and a world led by a testosterone-driven cop that carries an axe, well, then, that’s about as good as it gets. Axe Cop: President Of The World isn’t cutesy, it isn’t really neat-o because a little kid wrote it. This event series is just really, really good. Axe Cop captures all the imagination and over-the-top action that got us into comic books in the first place. There is a real story here, even if it’s peppered with bizarre subplots and stream of consciousness dialog. If you’re looking to drop the pretentions, get away from the all the brooding Marvel stuff and the bright men-in-tights of the New 52, drink in the genius of Axe Cop: President Of The World.

 

WORST EVENT SERIES:

Avengers vs. X-Men

Writer/Artist: Various

Publisher: Marvel Comics

 

Avengers vs. X-Men

 

Yep, I’m saying it. I’m going to stand now for all the comic lovers who grow weary of the meaningless event series. Avengers vs. X-Men promised it would change the Marvel Universe. Did it? No, not at all. What it did do was stretch content for maybe a five-issue series over the course of twelve issues. Between that and with having so many writers involved (Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron, and Ed Brubaker to name a few), AvX collapsed under its own weight, dragged to the murky depths by the albatross of a convoluted story. Want examples? Avengers vs. X-Men started as the Phoenix power coming for Hope Summers. Then, suddenly, it didn’t care about her anymore and possessed a bunch of random X-Men.

Professor X gets so disgusted with the war he decides to step out of it. He’s so passionate about removing himself that he wipes the minds of the warring heroes so they will not remember he was even there. Then, in the next issue, he’s back at Captain America’s side and summarily gets killed by Cyclops. What?  Still not convinced? There’s a whole subplot about Spider-Man training Hope Summers that never materializes, nor does the involvement of Iron Fist in her training amount to much. I’m not sure what the original idea for Avengers vs. X-Men was but it ended up being little more than a way for Marvel to bring back all the mutants they’d lost after House Of M.

 


 

BEST SURPRISE:

Doctor Strange Becomes Sorcerer Supreme Again

Series: Avengers

Writer/Artist: Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Deodato

Publisher: Marvel Comics

 

Avengers

 

Brian Michael Bendis concluded his run with The Avengers in great form. Not only did he give us a hell of battle in Avengers #34, he also returned Stephen Strange to the rightful place of Sorcerer Supreme. What made this such a great surprise is that Bendis never even hinted this would happen. The battle he set up between Strange and Doctor Voodoo’s brother seemed like a typical hero grudge match. Voodoo’s brother was upset that Voodoo had died and, blaming Strange, he possessed each of the Avengers so they would attack the master of the mystical arts. When Strange finally taps into the dark arts to defeat Voodoo’s brother, it’s an awesome spectacle.  At the end of the fight, you figure that’s it, Strange did good, it’s Miller Time. Instead, Bendis wows us by having the Ancient One appear from the celestial plane and present Strange with the Eye Of Agamotto.

I realize some feel that the end of Amazing Spider-Man is a bigger surprise but really, we don’t know how it all pans out. It could be great, it could suck, but having Doctor Strange back at his post is a kick ass surprise.

 

WORST SURPRISE:

Glenn’s Death

Series: The Walking Dead

Writer/Artist: Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard

Publisher: Image Comics

 

The Walking Dead

 

Issue #100 of The Walking Dead should have been a turning point. Wait, let me correct that, it should have been a positive turning point. Instead, issue #100 cheapened the entire series by giving us a death that was as meaningless as it was unnecessarily brutal. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no prude, but the way Glenn is beaten to death by Governor rip-off Negan, you could almost hear Kirkman saying “Ohhh this is gonna get ‘em.”  There was no reason for Glenn to die besides easy shock value for the big hundredth issue.

Glenn was an easy target. All the readers are connected to him because of how long he’s been around but if he was to disappear, it wouldn’t really affect anything plot-wise. With the TV show eclipsing the comic, it’s become impractical for major characters to die. It would have made more sense for Negan to kill Michonne, especially based on his misogynistic nature. Kirkman didn’t take that risk – instead he has Glenn murdered not only to be “shocking,” but also solidify Negan’s role in the series as the “psychopathic madman.” Instead of feeling a powerful and climactic end to issue #100, it just feels pedestrian and easy. Shame on you, Robert Kirkman. You’re better than that.

 


 

BEST ARTIST:

Butch Guice

Series: Winter Soldier

Publisher: Marvel Comics

 

Sean Murphy

Series: Punk Rock Jesus

Publisher: Vertigo

 

Winter Soldier

 

Butch Guice’s work on Winter Soldier is astounding. His use of shadow is right up there with a master like Alex Toth. Guice doesn’t just shadow for shadowing’s sake, he uses it to give each panel depth. Then there’s the emotion of each character, something Guice is extraordinary at communicating. Guice actually takes the time to create varying facial expressions and body language. He understands the secret to great comics is not always the action. Sometimes, it’s the subtle touches that humanize the characters. Working with all of those elements, each Butch Guice panel is a work of art.  

 

Punk Rock Jesus

 

If Butch Guice’s art is Pavarotti, then Sean Murphy’s work on Punk Rock Jesus is Keith Morris from Black Flag, screaming in your face. Murphy’s work is incredibly frenetic and moves at the pace of a punk rock song. However, just like all good bands, each song is different. When trying to push a point across, Murphy ramps up the action and leaves more space within the panel; when trying to show the claustrophobic feelings of Chris, he stuffs more into the panel than you need. While the shock and awe of what Murphy does here is very real, it’s the small bits and layers of each page that shine through. All the characters have their own looks and identities, and their reactions seem so genuine, especially for a comic book. As all the chaos burns down around the pages, a real sense of humanity shines through, which is what sets Sean Murphy apart from everybody else.

 

WORST ARTIST:

Steve Dillon

Series: Thunderbolts, Punisher MAX, Avenging Spider-Man #11

Publisher: Marvel Comics

 

Avenging Spider-Man #11

 

Steve Dillon is a hack, he’s like the John Cena of comic book art. Five moves. Just like Cena, Dillon only has five moves or in this case, characters. From his pencils on Preacher to the new Thunderbolts, Dillon makes everybody look the same. It’s incredibly frustrating to see Punisher look like Jesse from Preacher and for each character in Thunderbolts to be the spitting image of somebody else from that series. Dillon also has zero idea how to work with backgrounds, so he leaves the open, plain and boring. Usually, no matter how bad, there is one thing nice to be said about any artist. Not Steve Dillon, His art is unabashedly awful.

[Editor's note: This opinion comes into sharper focus with what happened to a great Zeb Wells story he rendered in Avenging Spider-Man #11.]

 


 

BEST WRITER

Scott Snyder

Series: Batman, Swamp Thing, American Vampire

Publisher: DC, Vertigo

 

Batman #15

 

Batman #15

 

Scott Snyder. You just can’t fuck with this guy. Don’t believe me? Check out the genius level of work he’s doing for Batman. Snyder has taken everything we love about the Dark Knight and expanded it. He’s given Batman a possible brother, created tension within the Bat-Family and, more recently re-introduced, and redefined, the Joker. It’s staggering how good of a storywriter he is. This Batman era will be the one that inspires legions of future writers.

Still not convinced? Check out the complex and twisted tale involving Swamp Thing or the masterful dark noir style of American Vampire. Three very different books all written to perfection by Snyder because he knows how to construct and execute a great story. There is simply nobody better than Scott Snyder right now.

 

WORST WRITER:

Jason Aaron

Series: Wolverine, The Incredible Hulk, Avengers vs. X-Men

Publisher: Marvel

 

Amanda Von Doom

 

I’m not sure who will ever unseat Jason Aaron as the worst comic book writer in my recent memory. Very few people have strewn the misery he has over comic books. His run on Wolverine was way too long, never made a point and ended in the biggest and lamest clusterfuck ever. Then we had Schism, which was Aaron doing what he does best, throwing out continuity and character development in order to write what he wants.

With all of that horror, Aaron’s real piece de resistance was Incredible Hulk. What a botched abortion that run was huh? Even Aaron defenders couldn’t pull their idol out of the muck with Hulk. Hey, yeah, lets have Banner act out The Island Of Doctor Moreau while Hulk turns away sexual advances by Victor Von Doom’s second niece half-removed or whatever she was. There was not one saving grace to Aaron’s Hulk run. So much so that Marvel even snatched his ass off the series and handed it to Mark Waid, praying he could salvage the book. Right now, Aaron is writing the Thor reboot. He would be better handling something more his speed, like restaurant menus or coloring books.

 


 

BEST MINISERIES

Punk Rock Jesus

Writer/Artist: Sean Murphy

Publisher: Vertigo

 

Punk Rock Jesus

 

When my esteemed editor sent me the first issue of this series, I was instantly skeptical. Being an old hardcore kid, I usually tread lightly with anything having “punk rock” in the title. Cracking open PRJ, I quickly become involved in the world Sean Murphy created. A greedy corporation hires a scientist to take blood from the Shroud Of Turin and use it to make a clone. The resulting clone embryo is placed into the womb of a reluctant teenage couple that raise the child in front of billions on a reality TV show.

Protecting the biblical offspring is Thomas McKael, a former IRA member who seeks redemption in protecting the clone. From that initial set up you get violence, angels, punk rock music, anti-religious rants, and pure rebellion. This series is not only wonderfully written by Murphy, his art is some of the most original out there. Punk Rock Jesus works so well because beneath the chaos beats the heart of a sweet story about finding your place and standing up for what you believe in. This series is destined to be a classic.

 

WORST MINISERIES:

Spider-Men

Writer/Artist: Brian Michael Bendis, Sara Pichelli

Publisher: Marvel Comics

 

Spider-Men

 

Long ago, Marvel bigwig Joe Quesada said that the Ultimates Universe would never cross paths with the normal Marvel Universe and if it did, that meant the House Of Ideas had officially run out of them. I guess the creative well has gone dry because 2012 saw the release of Spider-Men, a story that had zero impact other than to allow Peter Parker and Miles Morales to meet.

Brian Michael Bendis tried to give the series a reason to exist by having those close to the now-deceased Ultimate Peter Parker re-live their pain, visiting with the Peter from our world. It didn’t work. Spider-Men was boring and never really figured out what it wanted to be. The only thing that comes to mind is they’re preparing us for Miles Morales to be the new Superior Spider-Man, though I think that’s a stretch.

 


 

BEST SINGLE ISSUE:

Captain America #19

Writer/Artist: Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting

Publisher: Marvel Comics

 

Captain America #19

 

We all knew it had to come to an end. After eight brilliant years, Ed Brubaker turned in his shield and walked away from Captain America. I always expect greatness from Brubaker and Captain America #19 is no exception. Instead of a loud bang or an overblown action issue, Brubaker goes out with quiet dignity. The story is one that mirrors the first issue Brubaker wrote for the star-spangled Avenger and looks back on everything they’ve done together.

Captain America #19 is an emotional issue, because you know this is the end of an era we won’t get back. Sure, other creative teams will step in and Captain America will continue, but not like this, not with the Ed Brubaker style and commitment to the character. I haven’t been this affected by the loss of a writer since Peter David left Incredible Hulk.

 

WORST SINGLE ISSUE:

Wolverine MAX #1

Writer/Artist: Jason Starr, Roland Boschi and Connor Willumsen

Publisher: Marvel Comics

 

Wolverine MAX #1

 

All I can guess from Wolverine MAX #1 is that Marvel doesn’t care about the character anymore. He’s in every book, he’s incredibly recognizable and he’ll sell regardless, so why care? To prove the books don’t need to be good to fly off shelves Marvel gives us the newest MAX title, Wolverine MAX. It’s terrible. Across the board, everything fails in this issue. The story is yet another excuse to show more of Wolverine’s past, which I’m growing tired of reading about. It starts in the present day after a plane crash and then bobs back and forth between flashbacks and now.

Writer Jason Starr doesn’t get Wolverine and just can’t write him. I was particularly interested in how a shark bit through Wolverine’s adamantium leg, but then the leg grew back. Huh? How did Wolverine grow back the adamantium – and isn’t it impossible for a shark to bite through adamantium? With the plot in disarray, the art comes in to finish the job. Roland Boschi’s modern day stuff is fine, but the flashback work from Connor Willumsen is easily the worst art I’ve seen this year, outside of Steve Dillon. A crappy hybrid of Mad Magazine and Richard Corben, Willumsen’s art looks like a heroin addict going through withdrawal shakes drew it.  Wolverine MAX #1 is one of the few comics  in my life that I threw across the room after finishing it.

 


 

BEST ONGOING SERIES:

Batman

Writer/Artist: Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo

Publisher: DC Comics

 

Batman #11

 

Take one gifted storyteller, add one gifted artist and then stir. What you get is an elixir of the best Batman work of the last ten years. Snyder has grabbed Batman in the New 52 Universe by the horns and done his best to expand what we know, and then add new elements for us to latch onto. Snyder never tips the hat too far, he never just creates something to do it. His additions to the Batman legacy never seem forced. The Court Of Owls story arc was brillian,t and his latest work on "Death of the Family," involving Joker, has taken Batman’s biggest villain and given him new life. Joker is not as over the top anymore – instead he's more calculated, cunning and sadistic. Each issue is a triumph and leaves you breathless for more.

As good as Snyder is, Greg Capullo’s art brings so much to the table. Capullo is obviously a top-notch artist. That goes without saying. The magic here comes with how well Capullo communicates Snyder’s idea into pictures. When Snyder contracts the action, Capullo tightens up the panels; when he expands it, Capullo opens things up and allows the panels to breathe. I also enjoy how Capullo places his panels for maximum impact. For me, a lifelong Joker fan, Capullo’s new Joker is undoubtedly the creepiest one I’ve seen in years. So much so that I can’t wait for DC to make figures of him.

 

WORST ONGOING SERIES:

The Walking Dead

Writer/Artist: Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard

Publisher: Image Comics

 

The Walking Dead #100

 

Ever since Rick Grimes and his crew escaped from their prison home, The Walking Dead has lumbered along like the zombies it portrays. Repetitive story lines are starting to show just how fast a post-zombie apocalypse can get boring. Kirkman needs to drastically shake things up if he’s going to continue this series through issue #300. Rick Grimes, the central protagonist, has become less a character than a plot device used to manipulate the story.

Michonne, one of the most interesting characters in the series, keeps playing the background as if Kirkman has run out of uses for her.  Outside of Rick and Michonne, The Walking Dead suffers from Charlie Adlard’s annoying art. I say annoying because it’s nearly impossible to tell who is who. Kirkman needs to bring back original artist Tony Moore, and then take The Walking Dead in a radical new direction.

 

CHARACTER OF THE YEAR

Spider-Man

Series: The Amazing Spider-Man, Avenging Spider-Man

Writer/Artist: Dan Slott, Various

 

Amazing Spider-Man #692

 

At the end of 2012, Peter Parker stops being Spider-Man after fifty years. Who the hell else was going to be Character Of The Year? Seriously, who could even step to such a monumental  turn of events? Fifty years. FIFTY YEARS!!!! The webhead has been bouncing around and entertaining us for half a century and now it’s all over. For how long? Who knows? But I doubt Dan Slott would be so involved with something that entails a quick turnaround. Following Peter’s exit,  we have to deal with Superior Spider-Man and who that might be. It takes a lot of sack to end The Amazing Spider-Man after 700 issues, and so I celebrate the history and my own personal love of Spider-Man by making him my character of the year.

 

Amazing Spider-Man #700

 

Well, that’s it. Those are my choices. Ready the cannons, fire at will or maybe agree with me, it’s up to you. Let’s all hope 2013 was just as exciting and eventful as 2012.