Yesterday, Matt shared his picks for the best Marvel books, and tomorrow, David will share his thoughts on Image’s. This is a decidedly different list than either of theirs.
Here’s why: slowly, DC has been reshuffling their creative deck and, due to that, are currently serving up the best books they have since… well, since the New 52 launched, honestly. Despite a number of great creators leaving the company, DC seems to have been finally placing the “right” creatives on many of their projects. Because of that, this was a much harder task than I had anticipated.
Not that their line is in great shape; there are still quite a few books coming out that are pure trash, and a lot more that don’t distinguish themselves in any real way, featuring a ton of artistic fill ins, overly dark/violent turns for no real reason, and the same, Jim Lee-influenced art that dates the books quickly and permanently.
It is also a list full of brand new books or brand new creative teams. In fact, only three of these teams have been on their assigned book for more than a year, and three of these books haven’t even been in print for a year, with two having debuted in the past two months. I took the “right now” caveat quite seriously.
So, with those caveats laid out, enjoy the list!
Written by Greg Pak
Illustrated by Jae Lee
Why It Made the List: Despite a few hiccups, the Bat-corner of the New 52 has always been in pretty decent shape. The Superman side, on the other hand, has been a dumpster fire of epic proportions. With the upcoming film featuring these two characters already in production it was clear that there would be some sort of team up book coming, but I think few expected the book that we got.
Aside from a forgettable middle arc featuring Brett Booth art, this book has been an exceptionally thoughtful and well-crafted book. Each line of dialogue and panel seems deliberate and measured, as if Pak and Lee and trying to get at the absolute core of who these characters are – not just now, but from all time.
This is also one of the most stylized books that DC is putting out, which could be polarizing to some, but is rather exciting to me. Lee’s art is inimitable, and the tone he brings to the book is something that is closer to a prestige-format book than a monthly floppy. That further elevates Pak’s scripts to a place that feels somehow “above” current continuity – which, given some of the editorial choices elsewhere in the line, is a good place to be.
9. Green Lantern Corps
Written by Van Jensen
Illustrated by Bernard Chang
Why It Made the List: The best thing to happen to the health of the Green Lantern family of books was Geoff Johns stepping away from them, if only because it gave the four “team” books (not counting “Sinestro” or the soon to be departing “Larfleeze”) a chance to stake out their own identities and do some new things. Of all of these books, “Green Lantern Corps” has been the most consistently enjoyable since, and it is the book that, on the surface, changed the least. The “Corps” title has been used primarily to bring the concept of the Corps back to its core: these are, essentially, space cops.
“Corps,” under the pen of Van Jensen and pencil of Bernard Chang, have embraced this role pretty flawlessly, letting the camaraderie become an essential part of the book, as well as the idea of following orders you don’t necessarily agree with. This book also has the most vibrant colors in DC’s entire catalog, courtesy of Marcelo Maiolo. His presence on the book elevates it and, because of those bright, almost neon colors, and expressive, cartoon-ish style Chang brings, the visuals gives the book a feel not unlike the short-lived, and under-appreciated, Green Lantern: The Animated Series. That is a great touchstone for this book, as it means that the book is doing exciting, accessible, and enjoyable work.Continued below
Written by Jeff Parker
Illustrated by Paul Pelletier
Why It Made the List: For the first 20+ issues, “Aquaman” was a book that was a huge commercial success, but left myself and a huge swath of the critical community cold. The character became unnecessarily dark and humorless, and the book became entangled with Antlantean politics to the degree that it ceased being about Arthur Curry, and instead was something more akin to a soap opera set under the sea.
Enter Jeff Parker. Parker didn’t exactly turn the book into a “bwahahaha” revival, but he injected some much needed personality into the book, while keeping Paul Pelletier’s detailed, clean line. The supporting cast, while still dealing with Atlantis more than I’d care for, has become focused more on the small town of Amnesty Bay and Arthur’s relationship with the people he grew up with, both in Maine and on land in general. Parker also adds a bit of super secret science, one of my favorite comic tropes, to the mix, along with some of the mythological fun from the “Wonder Woman” side of the DCU. Taken all of that together, and the book has a really rich miasma from which Parker and Pelletier can pull from, to take Aquaman – a hero that can control 70% of the Earth – just about anywhere.
Plus, in the first issue of the run, Mera used her water powers to shoot him like a rocket into the atmosphere so he could punch a monster mega-hard. That’s just awesome.
7. New 52: Futures End
Written by Brian Azzarello, Keith Giffen, Dan Jurgens, and Jeff Lemire
Illustrated by Patrick Zircher and others
Why It Made the List: I know this is risky – the book has been in publication less than a month and, at press time, has only had three issues come out, one of which was not nearly as strong as the other two. However, this series is doing something that’s different and playing with the expectations and realities of the New 52 in a way that no other series has since it launched almost 3 years ago.
In my opinion, if DC had done a weekly spinning directly out of “Flashpoint” that could have connected some of the stray corners of the New 52 and given space for stories that didn’t necessarily carry enough weight for a series (like, say, “Blackhawks”), the initiative might have had more of a fighting chance to crawl into the public’s good graces. Instead they waited 30 months, but the results are more or less the same. It is fun to see Firestorm, Grifter, Stormwatch, etc, all popping up to get in on the action. Despite the book taking place five years in the future, we are finally getting some real world building.
This book feels like the glyph that can unlock the potential of the New 52. And, from where we sit, this is one of DC’s better books. Of course, this could all fall apart, but couldn’t all of it?
6. Justice League United
Written by Jeff Lemire
Illustrated by Mike McKone
Why It Made the List: Some of the best Justice League stories have taken place when the “Big 7” aren’t the core team on the book. I know DC has forgotten this over the past few years, but it remains true. When the book has a mixture of interesting characters, it doesn’t matter if they are the A list, or close to the C+ list – good writing and art will elevate any team to stardom (see: “Justice League International”).
Enter “Justice League United” – Mike McKone has taken the team provided and created a unified (pardon the near pun) look that not only draws on their classic looks, but updates a few of them in ways that make sense, and aren’t just throwing a high collar on everyone. The setting, thus far, of Northern Ontario also gives the book a location that isn’t simply a city or an orbiting base, but rather a visually unique, and culturally relevant, area to occupy. And, if solicitations and interviews are to be believed, the team will also be all over the galaxy, which is a sadly under-utilized part of the DCU (outside of the Lantern books).Continued below
And Jeff Lemire, a Multiversity favorite from early on, has given these characters purpose and opportunity to be a team that can actually be something greater than the sum of its parts. By both creating new characters, re-introducing old ones, and giving some from the stray corners of the New 52 a new lease on life, Lemire can craft a team that doesn’t rely on star power, or even a corner of the universe to occupy (like “Justice League Dark”), but rather a team that can be adaptable and handle whatever is thrown at them.
Which, coincidentally, sounds a lot like the Justice League.
Written by Scott Snyder
Illustrated by Greg Capullo
Why It Made the List: This has become, along with “Wonder Woman,” the equivalent of rap and country. When I was a kid, a common (and stupid) response to “what kind of music do you like?” was “everything but rap and country.” Well, ask many readers now, “what do you read from DC?” they will answer “only Batman and Wonder Woman.” Snyder and Capullo were, initially, seen as a mismatched pair when this book was announced, but they have proven that they bring out the best in each other, and have now told three nearly year-long epic stories within the pages of “Batman,” and the pair seems to be going quite strong.
Their dedication to the long form story is what sets this book apart, but it also is what keeps it at #5 on my list. If, for some reason, ‘Zero Year’ didn’t strike your fancy, well, the better part of a year is going to not interest you. These long form stories are best (and detractors may say, only) experienced from beginning to end. So, that also means that it is not the most new-reader friendly book on the shelves (although, to be fair, few of these are). That said, if you’re looking for a focused, blockbuster-style Batman story, you can’t go wrong with this book.
4. Detective Comics
Written by Brian Buccellato and Francis Manupal
Illustrated by Francis Manupal
Why It Made the List: Look, I get it. Where do I get off putting a run two issues in in the fourth place position of this list? Well, a couple of things have led to this decision. The first being this: Buccellato and Manapul have emerged as one of the best creative pairs in comics today. The second is this: while this is the third Bat-related book on the list, this is the only one that doesn’t feel like it has a precedent set for it.
This is the book that DC is literally named after, and a pretty good way to judge the health of their company is to look at how “Detective” is doing. And the book, post-new team taking over, looks like a pretty spectacular place to spend some time. For one thing, the book is about Batman actually thinking through an issue – it shows him being a detective. It also is one of the few books to escape from the biggest visual problem DC has right now, and that is its dull coloring house style. Most of the stories set in Gotham, especially, suffer from an overuse of drab browns and greys, and Buccellato, in his role as colorist, is not guilty of that at all.
The most obvious thing about the book, from a physical production standpoint, is that (much like the next two books on the list) it doesn’t look like anything else on the shelves right now. The team has brought some of the eternal hopefulness from “The Flash” and, without changing who Batman is or what he is all about, made a book that feels more optimistic than any Bat-book has in a long time.
3. Green Arrow
Written by Jeff Lemire
Illustrated by Andrea Sorrentino
Why It Made the List: It is no surprise that a few of the books on this list are self-contained entities, allowed to operate in their own little corner of the DCU without too much interference from other creators or crossovers. That is, more or less, the story of “Green Arrow” since Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino took over.Continued below
In addition, the book took a risk by incorporating Diggle, a character created for Arrow, into the cast, and has done so more or less flawlessly. Part of the turnaround of this book, which was among the worst in all of comics before the current team took over, has been the absolutely incredible art by Sorrentino. One part David Aja, one part Sean Phillips, Sorrentino’s work is never dull, and brings a totally unique look to the book.
It also is a book that isn’t afraid of the character’s own history, nor is it beholden to it. An upcoming arc appears to be hinting at the tone/general concept of the famous “Longbow Hunters” arc, and yet I’m sure Lemire and Sorrentino have no interest in simply rehashing an old story. They are doing exactly what the New 52 was supposed to do – tell good stories that didn’t require 50+ years of knowledge to enjoy them. But when they tap into some of that history, it allows folks who grew up reading these comics a nostalgic tingle down their spine, without alienating the new readers. Other creative teams: take note.
2. Wonder Woman
Written by Brian Azzarello
Illustrated by Cliff Chiang
Why It Made the List: This book is second only to “Batman” in terms of consistency over the first 30 issues, and might have the edge on the book in terms of quality per page (a new comics cum sabermetrics statistic I just invented). Led by the fearless Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, they have crafted a world for Diana that feels almost completely removed from the DC universe proper.
This is the perfect anecdote to the asshole who says “what makes Wonder Woman so special?” Her mythological origin has been updated with a powerful, emotional kicker which, although anathema to many long time fans, gave the book a hook that took the supporting cast from superfluous to essential.
Although Chiang has only illustrated about half of the issues, his usual sub of Tony Akins is simpatico enough to stay within the lines Chiang established as the look for the series. This is one of the very few New 52 runs that has been long enough and good enough to stand alongside the most classic of DC stories, and will be surely missed come the end of the summer, when a new creative team takes over.
1. Action Comics
Written by Greg Pak
Illustrated by Aaron Kuder
Why It Made the List: Greg Pak is the only writer currently working for DC who seems to really understand what makes Superman tick – and DC needs Superman to tick. I mentioned in the “Detective” write up that a good way to judge DC’s health is the success of “Detective” – while that is true, the heart and soul of DC has always been “Action Comics.” Nothing makes DC itself more than Superman. And for the first time in a long time, Superman seems to be in good hands.
When Grant Morrison took over “Action” with the New 52, he said he wanted a book that always felt like it was moving. I found this quote curious, because his “Action” didn’t feel like that; this “Action” does, and a huge credit for that has to go to Aaron Kuder, who has grown into an absolute superstar. Each panel Kuder draws (which, sadly, isn’t all of them – he’s needed some fill-in help as he scripts the last arc of “Superboy”) leaps off the page with such gusto and personality that the book becomes infectious.
“Action” has focused a lot on Lana Lang, and she, in many ways, is the avatar of the creative team. She’s the second or third most popular Superman love interest, she has been grossly underutilized in the past, and she is such a breath of fresh air when thrust into the spotlight. It might have taken DC 25 or so issues to get “Action” right, but once they did, they knocked it out of the park. Here’s hoping that, with its two signature books working extraordinarily well, a few new series kicking ass, and some of their most important properties heading in new directions, when I make this list this year, it is an even harder task.