Another year, another bunch of awesome comics. It wasn’t easy to pick only five books to call the “Best of 2012″, but these are titles that any fan of awesome art and storytelling absolutely needs to check out.
Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye is one the most fun (and funny) books to come out this year. Following the comical misadventures of Clint Barton, the series has already told stories both intimate and global in scale in only six issues. Fraction has reimagined Barton as a more grounded and even self-conscious hero, with enough stubbornness to make his oftentimes irrational decisions and resulting ordeals believable and hysterical. It cannot be overstated how funny this book really is; even small scenes, like someone confusing “Hawkeye” with “Hawk-guy”, make for a seriously entertaining comic book.
It also helps that David Aja’s totally unique art style perfectly compliments Fraction’s writing. Much of the humor comes from characters’ reactions and facial expressions during conversations, and Aja conveys those in the simplest possible way. Since Barton spends more time in his street clothes than his newly redesigned Hawkeye costume, it all works perfectly. Catch up with this one immediately!
Unsurprisingly, Mark Waid’s Daredevil makes our list again this year. The same blend of action, humor, and strong characterization is still present in the series, making it a reliably fun read every month. Artist Chris Samnee has drawn most of the issues this year and has done a fantastic job, even though it was initially disappointing to see the great Paolo Rivera leave the book. Samnee’s style is more cartoonish, which has come to fit Waid’s often humorous take on the hero perfectly. Daredevil is still Marvel’s very best ongoing book.
The life of Matt Murdock is only getting crazier every issue. A new reality-shifting villain name Coyote was found to be the cause of Murdock’s recent troubles, but it was soon revealed that something much bigger is in the works. The latest issue ended with a surprise visit from Spider-Man, and I have no doubt that his part in Daredevil will be much better than his own book. Now would be a great point to jump on to this book if you haven’t already.
The Creep (Dark Horse)
This story of a private detective afflicted with acromegaly who’s tasked with investigating the suicide of his college sweetheart’s son is my favorite comic of 2012. Like any great detective story, it starts off with a simple premise and develops into an intricate and multi-faceted plot with a climax that really makes you think. In throwing a different kind of protagonist into the crime fiction genre – a deeply human one with a health problem that often affects his mind and body – John Arcudi and Jonathan Case have crafted a deep and textured tale that truly deserves a top spot on our Best of 2012 list.
The first time we meet the protagonist and titular “creep” Oxel Karnhus, he’s being picked on by local deadbeats for the way he looks. The way that people react to him in public and how he’s affected by these encounters goes a long way in making him a sympathetic character, and it’s hard not to be engaged by him. The bulk of the story involves the child’s suicide that Oxel has to investigate, which quickly turns into more than he bargained for. Everything comes together brilliantly in the end, where the effects of poor mental health are brought to the forefront in a shocking way and unpredictable way.
Underwater Welder (Top Shelf Productions)
Jeff Lemire is one of the most distinct comic creators today. He can write superhero books – like DC’s Animal Man – incredibly well, but he really sets himself apart with the stories that he both writes and draws. These stories are usually about human beings (or human/animal hybrids, in the case of Sweet Tooth) and the inherent drama of everyday life.
In this year’s Underwater Welder, Lemire tells a story about a man who must come to terms with impending fatherhood by retreating deep into himself and his job to resolve his feelings with his own late father. The whole book is drawn in black and white, and Lemire’s sketchy and heavily shaded art style lends itself perfectly to the emotionally charged story. This is a graphic novel that you’ll want to read in one sitting, and more than once.
Before Watchmen: Minutemen (DC Comics)
Though some purists to Alan Moore’s timeless Watchmen series might still disagree, Before Watchmen has been a success. Some of the industry’s best talent came together to dive into the backstories of every major character in the Watchmen universe and, while some are better than others, some really great new stories have been told.
The cream of the crop is Darwyn Cooke’s Minutemen. Cooke has weaved an incredible story about the tumultuous crime-fighting group of the 1940s and made it all completely believable. Every member is given his or her time to shine, and characters that weren’t given much focus in Watchmen – namely Silhouette – are given a lot of backstory here. The whole narrative is written as if it’s straight from the pages of Hollis Mason’s tell-all book Under The Hood, which lends a clever meta feel to the whole comic. Cooke’s characteristic art style is a perfect match for this story and the time period it takes place in, and helps to add some levity to some seriously dark moments.
If you haven’t entered the world of Before Watchmen yet, starting with Minutemen – which is currently on its penultimate issue – is highly recommended.