With 2011 almost behind us, it's time to take a look at some of the comic writers who made reading comics worth it this year. In spite of all of the relaunches, revamps, and revisions going on throughout the year, you'll note that the consistent theme through most of our list is some of the up-and-coming but no longer quite new types who've made their way into comics.
10. Dan Slott (Amazing Spider-Man)
Mr. Slott kicks off our list by doing something very clever over the last year: he's somehow improved Peter Parker's life while simultaneously making it more complicated and deadly. From his new gig at Horizon Labs, to his positions on both the Avengers and FF, as well as occasional teaching duties at Fort Hammond, Spider-Man was busy in 2011. But none of this happened in a vacuum, and Slott used these changes to kick off the multi-month "Spider Island" storyline which was kind of the apotheosis of big, crazy, continuity-spanning Spider-Man stories.
9. Geoff Johns (Green Lantern, Aquaman)
Geoff Johns really wants you to care about Aquaman as much as he once really wanted you to care about the Hal Jordan. And with a couple of issues of the New 52 version of Aquaman out of the way, he's kind of making that happen with a sympathetic, occasionally funny take on Arthur Curry, Kind of Atlantis. Interestingly, he seems to be tweaking Hal Jordan a bit over in Green Lantern, scaling back the flyboy's tendency to be the end-all of DC manliness (in the mind of Johns, at least), and humanizing the character by showing that without his ring, Earth's first Green Lantern's life is a complete and total mess. Doing the work of making these characters human and relatable has gone a long way towards hooking our interest here in these New 52 entries.
8. Joe Casey (Butcher, Baker, Righteous Maker)
Along with artist Mike Huddleston, comics madman Joe Casey consistently delivers a candy-colored, LSD drip of madness with Butcher, Baker..., tearing into comics themselves (mostly through the prism of 70's and 80's exploitation fiction) while digging into a wide-ranging, frequently bizarre story of international intrigue and trucker toughness. Honestly, Casey's writing on the book is like nothing else on the shelves (even miles apart from some of the work that he's doing over at Marvel), and deserves to be checked out ASAP.
7. Nick Spencer (Infinite Vacation, Morning Glories)
Nick Spencer is increasingly becoming a go-to guy over at Marvel with his recent stints in the Ultimate and 616 Universes, but the Nick Spencer we want to talk about is the one responsible for the sinister mysteries at the heart of his creator-owned works Infinite Vacation and Morning Glories. The latter title, in particular, consistently delivers one of the most twisty and intriguing central mysteries of any book on shelves right now, with a pervasive sense of danger for both the lives and souls of its young cast.
6. Scott Snyder (Detective Comics, American Vampire, Swamp Thing)
Although David Brothers pointed out something about Snyder's writing that, once you notice it you can't un-notice it, doesn't necessarily detract from the American Vampire creator's at crafting engaging, thrilling, and sometimes downright brutal plots. His American Vampire is one of the gory good reads of the last couple of years, while his New 52 work on Swamp Thing transforms what should feel like exposition-heavy work into the building blocks of a new mythology in the DCU.
5. Mark Waid (Daredevil)
If you haven't read it yet, this Tucker Stone interview with Mark Waid serves as the best encouragement to read Daredevil, simply one of the best and most beautiful superhero comics on shelves right now. Waid, frustrated with what he sees as the pervasive cynicism and grimness in superhero comics doesn't simply retreat or write some kind of Pollyanna-ish thing with its head in the sand, instead he takes the complete and total annihilation/implosion of Daredevil/Matt Murdock and uses it to build something new.
4. Mike Mignola (Hellboy)
From one writer building a character up to another snuffing their character out completely, we come to Mike Mignola and Hellboy. The recent "The Fury" miniseries places Hellboy right at the center of all of the many prophecies and doomsday scenarios that Mignola's overarching fiction has led to up to this point, delivering his red-skinned hero's patented mix of humor and pathos as everything goes pretty much to hell. And Mignola doesn't simply play around with a simple mano-a-fang fight between Hellboy and a great and terrible dragon--he pulls the trigger on much of the promised end of world chaos, making Hellboy's fight seem all that more futile and horrible, and his final fate more poignant.
3. Kieron Gillen (Uncanny X-Men, Journey Into Mystery)
The best thing that Fear Itself gave us was Phonogram creator Kieron Gillen's semi-heroic take on Loki over in Journey Into Mystery. One of the brightest spots in Marvel's summer output, Gillen nailed the high-fantasy plot, planetary stakes, and humor--oh man, is this series funny--of a reincarnated trickster god trying to make right as the whole world starts going wrong. Here, as with his new stint on the relaunched Uncanny X-Men, Gillen gets that you need to figure out the core of the characters and let the story spin out of their actions as opposed to hammering character-shaped things into your soft plots. In both cases, he's laid down all kinds of interesting threads for future stories while laying out the potential for all sorts of mental and physical peril for his characters.
2. Joe Hill (Locke & Key)
This series, which made our 2011 Gift Guide, excels not only because of the horrific entity trying to kill the cast or the central, strange mystery of the keys, but because writer Joe Hill has taken the time to invest the Locke household with engaging family dynamics. Simply put: Hill makes you care what happens to his characters before putting them through the wringer.
1. Jeff Lemire (Animal Man, Sweet Tooth)
And what I said about Hill above with Locke & Key, I'd like to double down on with Lemire and his DC/Vertigo work, particularly Animal Man and his own Sweet Tooth. "Dread" is a word that can easily be applied to both titles, as Lemire does some of his best work fleshing out the interior worlds of his characters--what they need and hope for--and then immediately rocks them with some kind of left-field development. Lemire plays fair with his scripts, however, teasing out the horrible things that happen so it never feels like he cheated his way into his big twist or turn in the story. For that reason, he's responsible for two simply incredible (and diverse) comic books right now, and DC should be doing everything they can to keep him around.