What a year 2012 was for comics. It became readily apparent as we were prepping these lists that yeah, this was one hell of a year, and it was impressive if only because the incredible diversity. We saw more titles showing up in all of the categories than ever before, which just speaks to the breadth of genres and types of comics everyone can experience if they just look in the right places these days.
By far the hardest section of our Year in Review every year to predict is Best Issue. With so many comics dropping in any given year and so many different contributors, it ends up being more than ten issues ranked based off our scoring system. But that’s okay, because, as I said, there just are a lot of issues in a given year. The following list is one that’s all over the place, but, like the rest of our lists, really shows what a crazy year it actually was.
10 (tie). The Outliers #1
Why it ranks (Nathanial Perkins): When I first received my Kickstarter backer’s copy of “The Outliers” #1 by Erik T. Johnson, the first thing I noticed was the custom packaging. On the envelope was printed a monochrome version of the cover, with a hand-drawn return address, “To:” address box, and “Handle With Care > Do Not Bend” hand-lettered down the edges. I carefully opened it to preserve the packaging, and to this day, it sits taped to the wall near my desk, alongside a “Conan the Barbarian” mini-poster illustrated by Becky Cloonan and various other mostly comics-related potpourri.
By now, I’m sure you’re wondering why I’ve spent so much time talking about an envelope when this is supposed to be all about comics, but I wanted to drive this point home to you: the amount of attention paid to every detail of “The Outliers” #1 is absolutely astounding. In an age where publishers have begun printing comics with covers made of the same flimsy material as the interiors, it’s refreshing to see a single-issue comic book that is itself treated like an art object, rather than just disposable paper with art printed on top of it.
Before I even began to look at what’s printed inside, I spent nearly half an hour admiring the exteriors. This is a “floppy” comic with a dust jacket – a four-color, hand-illustrated dust jacket made of some rather light-weight material, wrapped around a heavy-weight cover featuring unique designs of nightmarish monsters inspired by the higher-end backers from the Kickstarter campaign, each hand-drawn to match their specifications. Every detail, including the title page, colophon, dedication, and afterword are similarly hand-drawn and hand-lettered by Johnson. All of this goes without even getting to the story or interior art found within.
The story is a delightful tale about a mute little boy named Tsu, who is only capable of communicating with a strange, giant creature known as an Outlier. When his bus goes careening off the road during a storm, Tsu is witnessed summoning the Outlier to put the bus back on the road, and a strange little scientist with a dragon-like limo driver threatens to have him devoured if he doesn’t betray the creature. The art is hand-drawn in ink, with a two-color seperation adding a pale green to the otherwise black-and-white interiors. All in all, it’s a great little book that is all the more special to me for the honor of having contributed (an admittedly small amount) to its creation. This is the kind of book that could only exist because of Kickstarter, and receiving such a unique book in the mail is why this book was hands-down my favorite single-issue comic of the year. If this is the sort of thing that interests you, in any way, I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy.
10 (tie). Wonder Woman #0
Why it ranks (Brian Salvatore): DC’s Zero Month was, as predicted, a mixed bag. While many books tried to do the definitive starting point for their character, “Wonder Woman” decided to, instead, tell a tale of young Diana, and did so in the way that many of us old-timers first encountered her – in the Silver Age style.
This book looked, sounded, and felt very much like a pre-Crisis comic – not specifically like a pre-Crisis Wonder Woman comic, but a comic that managed to hit all the beats of a comic from that era. It was an extremely welcome breath of fresh air from the high collars and faux-gritty tales of the New 52. Despite aiming for the past, the story felt revolutionary and, more so than maybe any other comic this year, existed as a single issue, self contained, no bullshit piece of sequential art.
10 (tie). Action Comics #0
Why it ranks (David Henderson): I promise not to waffle on about Superman and what he means to me too much here, but that’s exactly why I love this issue. I take no pride in saying that Superman of the New 52 has been my biggest disappointment of the year, but it was this issue that gave me that spark of hope that he was still there under layers of executive meddling and misunderstanding.
The idea of the jeans-and-t-shirt Superman was something small I loved from day one: anyone and everyone who wears that ‘S’ on their chest is Superman in their own. It’s more than the costume and the cape, it’s the ‘S’ that makes you super.
This is was everything I wanted from the New 52.
10 (tie). Uncanny X-Force #27
Why it ranks (Mike Romeo): Rick Remender’s run on Uncanny X-Force has been incredible. He’s presented readers with weighty takes on some of Marvel’s biggest icons and taken the team away from the ‘Sex and Violence’ it was previously known for. It’s difficult to choose the highest point of the series, but issue 27 might just be it. In fact, it’s one of the best single issues of the year. We watched helplessly as Fantomex had his heart cut out, both figuratively and literally. His relationship with Betsy was an illusion, Evan will become Apocalypse, and he’ll never be able to attempt to reconcile any of it. All of this coupled with the art of Phil Noto and Dean White is almost too much to take. The story stings, and it serves to remind us that the only possible way this series can end for our heroes is badly. Uncanny X-Force #27 is a part of a whole that gives readers an emotional payoff to long running plot points.
8 (tie). Journey into Mystery #645
Why it ranks (Matt Meylikhov): Oof. What can I say that I haven’t already said — twice? “JiM” #645 was a heartbreaking masterpiece, one of the few perfect issues of the year, and the best possible finale that the run could’ve garnered. It’s very tough to talk about the details of the story without inherently spoiling anything (a fine line I barely treaded in the previously linked review), but what is obvious from just a casual glance is that this was a book from two passionate storytellers on their absolute A-Game. Gillen’s writing took a strong somber tone in juxtaposition with everything that came before this, tying off all the loose ends that he could and taking the subtext of the series to the forefront in a staggering fashion, and Stephanie Hans brought so much life and personality to the issue that your heart couldn’t help but shatter as the final pages rolled in. Listening to Sigur Ros didn’t help either. Suffice it to say, as far as finales of the year go, this was one of the absolute best, and this version of series and these iterations of the characters will very much be missed.
8 (tie). Batman #5
Why it ranks (Brian Salvatore): When I was a kid, reading a comic was a full attention activity. I didn’t have the TV on, I wasn’t sitting in front of my (non-existant) computer, checking email. I had my nose next to the page, and I was as engaged as humanly possible in what I was reading. It has been a long time since a comic made me feel the way I did when I was 7, but “Batman” #5 did. The maze-like nature of the book and its odd page orientation meant that every page turn was an opportunity to be surprised, confused, and disoriented – there was no half reading this issue. While not the best written or best illustrated piece this year, this floppy demanded the most attention from me, and set out to do exactly what every single kid wants: it put me in Batman’s shoes, if only for a few pages.
7. Saga #6
Why it ranks (David Henderson): The Will’s Taken-esque threat to Prince Robot IV followed by his silent breakdown of the Stalk’s death. That horizontal splash of the Treehouse Rocketship. MArko sacrificing his sword. Literally all of Izabel’s dialogue. That hook for the month long gap between this issue and #7.
Is it really any wonder why this was my issue of “Saga”? There’s really not much I can say about the series as a whole that you haven’t heard before or that someone hasn’t said before, but this issue is something else. The stakes hit all time high with a major character death and our main trio (quartet?) finally getting off-planet when BAM we get our hook with a confrontation with the in-laws.
Man, this was such a good issue.
6. Hawkeye #3
Why it ranks (Walt Richardson): To steal a joke from fellow MC writer Chad Bowers, I’m pretty sure the first rule in How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way is never, ever draw car chases. Due to the nature of visual storytelling and the fact that cars look static even when they are moving at top speeds, it is just too difficult to convey the excitement car chases normally have on the screen in comics. Which is exactly why Matt Fraction and David Aja made a car chase comic, and we love them for it. The true star, of course, was Aja, who did the impossible and drew panel after panel of cars without a single one looking like it was standing still. We’ve extolled Aja plenty, but if you need visual proof of Aja’s status as the best sequential artist working in comics today (or at least one of the best), there is no better proof than this issue. Don’t forget Fraction’s contribution, though — the story was cleverly plotted, an excellent example of how waving your eventual twist in front of your reader’s face can actually be the best way to hide it. To repeat my review: comics this good don’t happen on accident. If you missed this, you need to pick it up.
4 (tie). Hawkeye #2
Why it ranks (Vince Ostrowski): There’s something to be said for style over substance, but Matt Fraction and David Aja are gnarly enough bros to give you both in every issue of Marvel’s “Hawkeye”. Issue #2, however, was the definite stand-out, if you ask me (and clearly somebody did ask, because I’m writing this). Whether it’s stopping the scene with a black-and-white panel to introduce a new character or delivering the title page as a story-relevant newspaper article, there are so many little stylish touches that make “Hawkeye” unlike any other book. Magic happens when Fraction and Aja get together and this is made so abundantly clear in this issue, which has what was one of the most talked about single pages of the year. The sequence of Clint pulling back his bow and firing off a tri-arrow practice shot in the same time that it takes Kate Bishop to utter 3 words is so stunningly presented that it’s no wonder it ended up on every comic blog and Tumblr that week. It’s the most shining example of the kind of stuff that David Aja does repeatedly in comics. It’s worth the price of admission alone.
But what you get in addition to great art is a book that is funny (a terrific Daily Bugle headline is featured), takes us through an action-packed shootout at a circus, has a gripping chase sequence or two, and features some great romantic (sexual?) tension between its heroes. All of this and more in an attractive $2.99 package. From front cover to letters page, this is one of the finest comics produced this year, a terrific stand-alone issue, and not to be missed by anyone who loves the art form. David Aja is a master of it.
4 (tie). FF #23
Why it ranks (David Harper): The reason why I love the last issue of Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s FF so much is simple: it reminds me of reading comics when I was a kid. In a lot of ways, even though my reading habits have arguably matured and I’ve moved onto bigger and better things than Onslaught, I’m still chasing after the feeling that stories like that gave me. The wide eyed wonder and pure “WOW!” factor was something I missed in my reading experiences as a jaded adult.
But FF #23? Man, that book hit me just like comics used to when I was a kid. As Franklin Richards (both young and old) and Leech went into the little universe of imagination and played like kids are known to play (but, you know, in a much more fantastic scale), I could envision myself with them, and it just made me smile in a way comics rarely do these days. What else should I really want from a comic?
3. The Unwritten #35
Why it ranks (David Harper): This comic was freaking epic. I hate to use that word, but let’s call a spade a spade. Many books promise “game changers” and things of the like, but often they’re long on promise and short on delivery. Not the case from Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ 35th issue of The Unwritten, which found all of the major story points of the series coming to a head and changing everything about the story – and the world it exists in – irreversibly. It was comic storytelling at its absolute finest, with some of the biggest moments of the year being executed in stellar fashion from both a writing and art standpoint.
Plus, it had the greatest cover of the year from Yuko Shimizu. What else could I ask for from a comic?
2. Fantastic Four #604
Why it ranks (Walt Richardson): David is telling me I can’t just say “To me, my Galactus.” Damn it. While the final issue of “FF” wrapped up what Hickman had been doing with Franklin, this issue tied up nearly every other theme: including, but not limited to, fathers and sons, knowledge versus madness, and what happens when you try to solve everything. #604 of the world’s greatest comic magazine was everything a climax issue should be: thematically nuanced, masterfully plotted, and goddamn intense. While I still wish I could have seen what this issue would have looked like were it penned by original series artist Dale Eaglesham, Steve Epting killed this issue, somehow balancing his realistic style with the massive scale science fiction themes of Hickman’s run. Everyone had high expectations for this issue, and I don’t think any of us were disappointed.
1. Saga #1
Why it ranks (Brandon Burpee): This is a title that had so much hype behind it, as it was the return of Brian K Vaughn to comics, that it wouldn’t have been surprising if the unreal expectations didn’t match the content of the issue. Truth of the matter is it actually blew the expectations out of the water. I was incredibly excited for this issue and the return of BKV and the addition of Fiona Staples on art and this issue was still more than I could have expected. In one issue we got a completely relatable cast, a distinct fully realized world that the cast resided and a history to said world that provided for lots of fun or politically infused stories. In other words this single issue did more than most series do in an arc, a storyline or even an entire run.
Hell, if you don’t think this book is as good as people say just look at the diverse opinions on this site and then look at the lists that were submitted for this category from the people who have these diverse opinions. There are many things we disagree on but this is one we are united on.