Looking through our picks for the best comics of 2011, I've been trying to divine some kind of theme among the Geek staff's choices. Without really going out of our way to do so, the list of books we all gravitated towards ran the gamut from creator-owned to long-running franchises, from big, superhero fiction in revamped universes, to quietly personal dramas about relationships.
10. Invincible (Robert Kirkman [w] & Ryan Ottley [a], Image Comics)
And boom, right off the bat, I'll bet some of you might already take issue with our list. "If you're going to pick a Robert Kirkman comic for 2011," you might ask, "why not The Walking Dead?"
Well, if I'm going to put a fine point on it, while 2011 saw the pace of Kirkman's ongoing zombie epic slow to a glacial pace as Rick and company find shelter in another new community, Invincible has in recent months finished up a galaxy-spanning war and seen its titular hero reconsider what his role as a superhero even means. I've commented before on the sometimes direct and uncomplicated way that Kirkman writes, but he's still got terrifically interesting plots for this series which still finds time to check in with the dozen or so supporting characters each issue.
9. The Unwritten (Mike Carey [w] & Peter Gross [a], Vertigo)
This might be the year that some of the many threads laid out by writer Mike Carey start to reach their natural conclusion in the latest of Vertigo's long line of titles exploring the nature of our relationship to fiction. The beginning of this year saw series protagonist Tom Taylor trapped in the text of Moby Dick while the end of the year sees his enemies amassing against him. A series rich with mystery and enlivened by the art of Peter Gross, 2011's The Unwritten has us excited for 2012's The Unwritten.
8. The Amazing Spider-Man (Dan Slott [w] & Humberto Ramos [a], Marvel Comics)
"Spider Island." Who knew?
Dan Slott's helming of this mini-event over in Amazing Spider-Man and a handful of other New York-set minis, as well as the months of preamble leading up to it should have had us all worn out by the time every man, woman, and child in Marvel's Manhattan gained super powers. But the thing is, it didn't. Slott (aided by artist Humberto Ramos) kept the plot bobbing along, and while bringing out the book about three times a month guaranteed that the series never felt like it had time to drift, Slott should also be complimented on keeping the scope of series manageable while also keeping Spidey front and center as the real hero of his city.
7. B.P.R.D. (Mike Mignola/John Arcudi [w] & Tyler Crook [a], Dark Horse)
It's a slow-going apocalypse over in B.P.R.D. and Mignola/Arcudi and new series artist Tyler Crook should be commended for keeping us hooked. The gradual decay and decimation of the natural world continues here as the team contends with the increased frequency of sightings and attacks of unearthly and ancient creatures, while still worse things remain to be brought to the surface.
6. Uncanny X-Force (Rick Remender [w] & Mark Brooks/Dean White [a], Marvel Comics)
Like "Spider-Island," the long-running "Dark Angel Saga" should have more than worn out its welcome this year over in Uncanny X-Force, but the fact that it's 2011 and we're talking about a book with X-Force in the title with excitement means writer Rick Remender has been doing something right for the past year and change. Kicking things off with the steady corruption of Angel by his Apocalypse-created persona Archangel, Remender has shaped Warren Worthington into a calm, almost gentle villain who wants to see Apocalypse's terrible vision for the world to fruition.
5. Incorruptible (Mark Waid [w] & Marcio Takara [a], BOOM! Studios)
Month in and out, one of the most solid titles on the shelves, Incorruptible seems like a nice counterpoint to our #10 entry. Instead of being a sprawling, multi-character piece building a superhero universe, Mark Waid's companion book to Irredeemable is more of a single-character study of a single supervillain making a go of being a superhero. Max Damage--whose ability to get stronger/smarter the longer he goes without sleep is one of the most interesting gimmicks right now--continues to struggle with his role as a hero after nearly a lifetime of being the bad guy especially when his city and the people around him believe the sudden change is a ploy. As readers, we get the pleasure of wondering just how long before Max stops trying to live up to his new ideal and begins living up to what everyone simply expects of him.
4. Lil Depressed Boy (Steven Struble [w] & Sina Grace [a], Image Comics)
Each month, Struble and Grace bring you the bittersweet pleasure of heartache with the occasional real-world indie music guest. Struble's cloth-made hero doesn't really get involved in much in the way of deep or complex plots (one of his LDP's friends did get arrested recently, so there's that), but that's almost beside the point. Struble wants you to hang out with his sad sack friend who can't help but trip himself up with his own anxieties and fears around the opposite sex. That he hasn't lived much of a life (he can't drive, is afraid to speak for himself) complicates matters a bit and the true pleasure of the book is watching as the character begins to work out for himself what he needs to do to start living.
3. Animal Man (Jeff Lemire [w] & Travel Foreman [a], DC Comics)
The single best horror comic on the shelves right now. Seriously, I'm not sure how Lemire manages it, but he keeps a gun pointed at the heads of Buddy Baker's family, threatening to pull the trigger each month, and it never feels cheap or sadistic. Carrying some of the emotional weight of Morrison's acclaimed, fourth-wall bending tenure on the book, this New 52 title makes us care about Buddy's family and then immediately makes us terrified for their well-being. Acting as a sister book for Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette's Swamp Thing, Animal Man sees Buddy dealing with the emerging, grotesque powers of his daughter Maxine as something horrible begins to emerge to consume/subsume the floral world of the Green and the fauna world of the Red. Each issue has been a surprise up to this point, and thanks to Lemire and artist Travel Foreman, there's a persistent, nearly overwhelming sense of dread month in and month out on this young title.
2. Daredevil (Mark Waid [w] & Paolo Rivera/Marcos Martin [a], Marvel)
Mark Waid's second entry on this list and another very particular character piece. In this case, Waid is making a break with almost 30 years of Daredevil history and letting blind lawyer/vigilante Matt Murdock have a good time at his two jobs. But this isn't just some arbitrary twist in the central premise of the book or some ill-thought-out revamp: Waid is making Matt consider the sum total of his choices over the last few years, allowing him to attempt to make a break with them, and showing that it might not be as easy as Matt would like to pretend. Oh, and the fact that Waid is aided by two of the best artists working right now--Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin--certainly gives the book a leg up on the other titles on shelves right now. Simply a beautiful, beautiful book both thematically and visually.
1. Locke and Key (Joe Hill [w] & Gabriel Rodriguez [a], IDW)
I wonder how many hopes were dashed and hearts were broken at the SDCC screenings of the Locke and Key pilot? The well-regarded network pitch for the well-regarded IDW comic by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez got a pass by Fox and I've heard nothing since then except that the network is making a huge mistake passing on this teen-centric supernatural mystery. The central premise of the series: a series of mysterious keys can unlock doors in an equally, perhaps more mysterious New England house and each of those doors can lead to something sublime or nasty. Hill brings a touch of the strange, terrible, and wonderful to his series, and although we'll have to console ourselves that it might not be making its way to TV soon, we'll still have this fantastic comic incarnation.