If December was characterized by great comics that were also just a lot of fun, January started off 2012 by ripping our hearts out, over, and over, and over again. There’s some exceptions of this list, of course, but the majority of our top ten are books that made us feel anguish, loss, or terror. Whether it was from a man dressed in tights, a fighter in over his head, or the state of society, comics started 2012 by reaching into our chest, and squeezing. Here are the ten best comics of January, 2012:
10. Daredevil #8
We’ve already talked extensively about why this is one of the best superhero books on the stands. But this issue – the second part of a crossover with the equally excellent Amazing Spider-Man – featured some of the best superhero art we’ve ever seen, by Kano. Mark Waid’s writing is, as always, pitch perfect, but pages like the title splash featuring Daredevil, Spider-Man, and Black Cat all in motion made our jaws drop. There hasn’t been a non-excellent issue of this book yet, but this one may take the cake.
9. PunisherMax #21
Okay, enough fun, exciting stuff. Jason Aaron’s penultimate issue on PunisherMax found the writer (along with definitive Punisher artist Steve Dillon) showing Frank trace the path that led him to becoming The Punisher as he engaged in final battle with The Kingpin of Crime. Bloody, unforgiving, and a final page that’s like a knife in the gut.
8. Severed #6
Speaking of knives in the gut… This horror series has been on our list nearly every month since it started coming out, and for good reason: it’s terrifying. Like fellow horror series Locke & Key, Severed has mastered the art of using cinematic scare techniques in the slightly less mobile comic book format – and it works. The slow dread the writers and artist have been building for issues now hits a crescendo this month, and will have our hearts stuck in our throats until the series concludes in February. Though the creators have done a bang-up job embracing the comic book form for this series, if we had a movie studio, Severed would already be in development - with several sequels.
7. Memorial #2
Okay, quick break from terror and heartache to talk about a series that neatly mixes the fantastic with the macabre. We were a little unsure about Chris Roberson’s foray into the new world of Memorial with issue one - it basically set up our amnesiac heroine, and the idea that magical creatures were out to get her. The second issue, though, is the one where the writer sets up a neat premise: all the ideas that ever were or ever will be exist, and someone is trying to control all of them. Mixing fiction, fact, and fantasy, Roberson has created a unique world we’ll remember for a long time.
6. The Goon #37
The Goon has never shied away from being supremely goofy, or supremely serious... But never before has an issue been so important. Eric Powell tackled the Occupy Wall Street movement without ever breaking the timeless/Depression era setting of the Goon this month with satire and finesse. Heck, the title character barely even appeared, and it still might have been one of the best issues of the series yet. It’s tough to do satire in comics that doesn’t feel like it’s hitting you over the head... And though there’s a lot of actual getting hit over the head in this issue, it’s still a subtle, and pointed read. More comics like this, please.
5. The Shade #4
There are two words that can send any fan of James Robinson’s series Starman over the moon: Times Past. And here, Robinson perfectly recaptures the feel of those classic stories with The Shade, presenting the first look at the history of character, as it ties into the current series. But what vaults this issue beyond is the addition of two more words: Darwyn Cooke. Okay, and also J. Bone. One of the most beloved artist teams in comics working in the period they do better than anyone else, with a writer clearly back in his element? This is as close to comic book perfection as it gets.
4. Wolverine #300
Okay, another fun one, but we are going to be heartbroken (see? Worked it in anyway) when Jason Aaron leaves this series. Wolverine ends up in Japan for this monumental anniversary issue, stuck between rival gangs, and facing down the only villain who has ever posed any danger to him: Sabretooth. And if that wasn’t enough? There’s a panel where a gang leader shouts, “Sky Yakuza: GO!” which may be the best battle cry ever committed to paper.
3. Heart #3
We’ve been slowly warming to Blair Butler and Kevin Mellon’s story of an MMA fighter working his way through the ranks over the course of the past three issues... But it wasn’t until this month that it became clear what the duo were doing with this series. Spoilers ho, but what started as a clear, “Young guy rises to the top, becomes superstar, has to reconnect with his roots,” story has become something exciting and different... Because he’s probably never going to make it to the top. Instead, it seems this is a story about what it takes to keep going when you will never be the best at what you do. Our guess is it has something to do with the title, but still, in a world awash with generic stardom stories, this is one that rings true.
2. The Unwritten #33.5
The Unwritten has been interweaving two of the biggest stories of its run: Tommy Taylor’s take-down of the Cabal, the people responsible for controlling all the world’s stories - and the origins of that Cabal. And its been superb, among the most exciting and unique stories the team of Mike Carey and Peter Gross have ever done. But about three quarters of the way through this issue, there’s a moment that feels like a knife in the gut, and that’s what elevates this above the rest. Not only do we find out the origin of the old woman able to control marionettes - and thereby people - in the present of the series, we also get a story that stands alone as a morality tale for the horrors of war, and peace time. Beautifully gut-wrenching, this is an issue that will rank among the greatest the series has ever done... And there’s been quite a few.
1. Batman #5
What else could be number one? Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have been delivering a classic run on Batman, as the Dark Knight goes up against a secret society in Gotham, one so secret even Batman doesn’t know about them. But what this issue is truly about is madness, as Bruce Wayne wanders a labyrinth created by the Court of Owls to slowly drive him insane. And as he does, the issue slowly rotates, until both Bruce’s world - and ours - is upside down. A triumph not just of writing and art, but also production design, this is a comic that proves superhero comics can also do something exciting, different, and totally new.