Thanks to the overall great response to our Best DC Comics list, there’s enough energy — and enough funds — to go around for another get-go. This time, it’s the Marvel Universe. Before we go any further, I’d love to comment on Indy Comics…even comics from IDW, Image, Dark Horse, Dynamite, Icon, Vertigo and other “major indies” that have been left off the list.
We love ’em.
In fact, the majority of comics I’ve read this year have come from imprints not named Marvel or DC. I caught up with Brian Azzarello’s 100 Bullets, I basked in the glory that was Nick Spencer’s Morning Glories, and finally, so happily completed, one of my favorite comic series ever in Jason Aaron’s Scalped. However, the one that stood out the most to your favorite Minister in 2012 was Jeff Lemire’s The Underwater Welder. Both fortunately and unfortunately, this is a new site.. a blog that has quickly progressed to a do-it-all Geek Culture magazine. One of my goals for 2013 will be to show more love for more creator-owned comics.
You do understand, after all. Don’t you?
GHG’s Best 10 Marvel Comics of 2012:
10. Nearly everything MarvelNOW! – While perhaps a bit too late to the party, the first couple issues of the new, NOW!-improved Captain America, FF (Future Foundation), Uncanny Avengers, The Avengers, All-New X-Men, Indestructible Hulk, and Thor: God of Thunder have been stellar. Shout out to Marvel for realizing that their “underground” titles (such as those deserving of the honors below) were fairing better in quality — if surely not sales — than the more mainstream. It’ll be interesting to see if the “Big 3” and sister Avengers-related titles can keep up this high level of quality throughout 2013.
9. Ultimate Comics: X-Men – In a world of Avengers vs. X-men it was nice to get a dose of our favorite mutants in a world not riddled with AvX crossovers. The Ultimate universe’s version of X-Men gave us that. In a world where the biggest heroes have declared war on each other due to political disagreement, “Divided We Fall/United We Stand” showed us how the mutant race survived without a Cyclops. No, the Ultimate line had a leader named Kitty Pryde. Ultimate X-Men casted a “Walking Dead” world journied by a younger, more rebellious group of outcasts that gave up everything to find the hope of freedom (no pun intended, Hope).
2012 also shifted a more positive change for UCXM in both story and in the office, with Nick Spencer handing the reigns to Marvel’s then newest major addition, Brian Wood (DMZ). The story would also finally capture an identity with Kitty Pryde dropping the Shroud; instead, taking the lead position vacated by Cyclops some years ago, and leading her fellow mutants to the free America states — few and far between, as they may. With intense battles against Stryker and the beginning of the mutant rebellion, Ultimate X-Men touches off with Kitty meeting the president of the United States… Captain America. Kitty sits in silence as Pres Rogers offers all mutants a cure from there mutation. Oh, you know it’s never that simple. This is the closest thing to the X-Men that we grew up with in spirit, an X-Men both heartbreaking and full of determination.
*tie* 8. Venom/Hulk – A title under Venom has never hit a 20-issue mark.. Until now. A book about the Red Hulk never got so many intrigued.. Until now. Under Rick Remender (Fear Agent, FrankenCastle), Venom is more than a side shot or weak shadow of his web-slinging big daddy book; but, rather, a series that can finally stand on its own! Hey, you can say the same exact thing about Jeff Parker’s Rulk! “Thunderbolt” Ross finally took enough of an initiative to make himself “The Hulk” of 2012, silly red skin or not. 2012 also saw Venom come back from saving NYC (“Spider-Island”) and having a formal invitation from Captain America to join the Secret Avengers. Hey, whadya know? Yes, Ross went from paroled missile-for-hire to fully-fledged intelligent contributor. Both Parker and Remender’s genius delivered real pathos to these characters more known for spleen-hunger and Watcher-punching. “Flash” is an amputee-recovering alcoholic-war vet that needs the symbiote to function in a super hero world. “Thunderbolt” was basically the same thing, with the legs. This new Venom proved one part Spider-Man/one part Punisher, with a little taste of a Black Ops-driven G.I. Joe Snake Eyes. This new Hulk smashes just as effectively, with an even more strategic military mind than Bruce Banner. What’s not to love!? And, yes, you guessed it.. the new Thunderbolts team consists of Venom and Red Hulk. SMASH.
7. Ultimate Comics Spider-Man – You might find it a little strange that on my Top 10 list for Marvel’s 2012 lineup I left off the main Amazing Spider-Man. Don’t get me wrong, Peter Parker has had a noteworthy year — particularly with Dan Slott’s “Big Time” story arc and everything (!!!) that just happened in the 700 issue. But, this selection is merely a testament to Brian Michael Bendis’ re-imagined half black/half-hispanic, half-black/half-red-costumed Spider-Man, Mile Morales. The kid came about at the end of last year with the death of the Ultimate Peter Parker, with a Spider-Man less about the super-hero, and even more about the personal struggle that a teenager would go through when acquiring super powers. You thought having the weird body hair and squeaky voice in high-school was bad? Well, what if you’re trying to hide sticky hands and invisibility! In 2012, readers have come to love who Miles truly is, as just as he has come into his own with his powers. He’s shown he can stand webbed toe-to-toe with the Ultimates; handle the knowledge of his uncle’s Prowling history; stand up to President Captain America; and even fight alongside the 616 Spidey (say what!) in the instantly classic mini-series Spider-Men.
6. The Punisher – Much like his other Marvel Knights brethren, Moon Knight and Daredevil, The Punisher is one of those titles that often shies away from the big crossover events that are so prominent throughout Marvel. For years writers would find ways to work around Pun, by simply having him operate outside of the set universe. Somehow, Greg Rucka (Batwoman, ) managed to accomplish the improbable by making Frank Castle a realistic part of the M.U. without losing any of the book’s initial gritty edge. This new incarnation sees a much quieter and less kill-everyone-and-everything Frank. Rucka also pens less Frank — to a strength — and a more ensemble cast of detectives; think of Bruce Wayne/Batman’s role in the hit series Gotham Central. The less face-time — the more effective. Rucka’s Punisher aimed for a more complex and intricate way of crime story, told through silent, cinematic sequences and brief dialogue. Marco Checchetto’s beautiful sketches often told it all. On a more personal level, Castle’s new journey made me realize that a man can’t become a symbol until the man is no longer there, and has no feelings or emotions to act upon.
5. Daredevil – Through numerous variations of our blind red tights-clad superhero, Daredevil has always had one thing going for him: quality writing. Miller, Smith, Bendis, Brubaker, and, now, Waid. Though, ironically, DD has always had the short end of the stick in his own storylines. Mark Waid was out to change that — to many howling fanboy-n-girls cries, do remember. It was about time Marvel’s hints came to fruition that Daredevil, now sooner or later, would be brought out of the darkness and into the light. Nobody was quite prepared for this new run; one packed with bright colors and swashbuckling, and full-fledged Avengers card-carrying status. Nothing but sheer elation from fans with that incredible team of Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin bestowed upon Matt Murdock. In a very AvX year of Marvel comics, reading the isolated greatness of Daredevil was more than a breath of fresh air.
Moody: *tie* 4. Journey Into Mystery/Winter Soldier – Lance, I would have traded your DD spot with X-Factor. Otherwise, how in the holy hell did I almost forget this one? Kieron Gillen instantly became a superstar with this book, which centered on the year’s Best Villain in both movies (The Avengers) and comics (well, was he really the villain, though? Certainly the sneakiest). Even Tom Hiddleston himself praised the take of the reincarnated child Loki, and critical acclaim was therefore no stranger to this title. Yet, while there was also a new Mighty Thor volume, which was a solid read of its own right, Gillen’s J.I.M. was the one to eat the Asgardian cake. It was also the lone bright spot in the blemished Fear Itself a year ago and never lost a step. An honorable mention also goes out to Gillen’s Uncanny X-Men, too, which certainly took many risks on its way to garner heavy Avengers vs. X-Men interest. This man is a crossover killer, plain and simple.
4. Winter Soldier – Ed Brubaker might be writing this title under the Marvel imprint, but don’t get it twisted: this is as indie-themed as it’s going to get on W. 50th Street. During the House of Ideas’ Fear Itself crossover last year, Bucky — the once sidekick of Captain America — gave up the Cap cowl himself, and returned to his heavily-anticipated role as Winter Soldier. Since most of the known Marvel Universe thought of Bucky-Cap dead at the hands of the Serpent, there was no better time for him to once again step into the shadows. Winter Soldier is a spy/thriller with more twists and double-crosses then a silver screen 007. With ingenious plots, great character development, and non-stop action, Winter Soldier was yet another much needed break from all of the Marvel crossovers (see a running theme here? I do). The first storyline took Bucky battling skeletons from yesteryear as a Soviet brainwashed assassin. Throw in a little Red Ghost and his crazy gorilla friends, peppered with a little bit of Doctor Doom, and Bru’s Bucky-Cap saga would only see more intense.
3. Hawkeye – By simple glance, you’d think that Hawkeye was an indie mundane tale of Brooklyn and non-superheroing. But at closer look, you’ll find an intensely-beautiful drawn comic that mixes Clint Barton’s smooth, endearing narration (“I’m an orphan raised by carnies fighting with a stick and a string from the Paleolithic era,”) with his alias, HawkGUY, who is subversively enjoyable as an anti-superhero’s superhero. No story like this would be complete though without David Aja’s simple, worn-line work which perfectly matches the grizzled photo-realism of its metropolitan focus. Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye may also be the first time Marvel has whizzed out a sentimental feel to Clint; one that depicts a differing side to the nearly mundane soldier-for-hire Barton depicted in Joss Whedon’s Avengers. Matty Frac and Aja should continue to nail the bullseye with this title in 2013, and there’s absolutely no reason to believe otherwise.
Moody: *tie* 2. Wolverine & the X-Men/Daredevil – As for this particular list, Lance Paul the Apostle single-handedly picked the majority of what this Reverend may have, except for one thing. He left out Wolverine & The X-Men! Did any other book come as a bigger surprise than this? Wolverine as the next Professor X, without a break of sweat? And writer Jason Aaron’s transformation as dark-and-gritty crime noir scribe to teen-humor, Apatow dickflick-level greatness? This book had arguably the saddest death of the year. With that, Aaron somehow made a child the M.U.’s most compelling villain, as Kitty Pryde also doubled her outstanding Ultimate year as Logan’s “Head Mistress”.
2. X-Factor – The house that Peter David built continues to grow. And grow. And grow. For years David has been hinting at a coming storm of conflict and tribulation for our favorite ragtag team of mutant misfits, and so it happened. Twenty-twelve started off with the death of Multiple-Man and the return of Havok and Polaris. This was a year of heartbreaks, deaths, returns, and marriage for X-Factor Investigations. David’s superb handle on humor and tone have always made his work on X-Factor incredibly funny, but it was this year, especially, that his fearless knack of handling the super-dark is what really made X-Factor stand out. David is also approaching his 100th consecutive issue this month, which kicks off a story that’s been teased for the last fifteen years, “The Hell On Earth War.” “All the various Hell lords have been waiting for this moment … the birth of the seven billionth human,” said David. “This is going to be about a 6-issue storyline that is going to bring to culmination a number of story points that I’ve been teasing and dangling over the past few issue. And yet, I’m going to walk the razor thin line of making this accessible to new readers. By the end of the “Hell on Earth War”, basically every character in the Marvel Universe is going to be gunning for X-Factor.” With consistent sales and a thankful lack of constant creative shifts (this year, the art was more consistent than ever), here’s to another year of David’s amazing journey. Without Britney Spears.
1. Uncanny X-Force – While most mutants in 2012 were dealing with the over the top action in AvX, Remender’s X-Force was quietly killing every issue. If the superb depth of character development doesn’t grab you, then the non-stop bloody action will. In the book, Wolverine leads an extreme team of X-Men that have an “anything goes” mentality when it comes to their mutant crusade. During the course of the year, the team has traveled to Otherworld (basically Marvel’s version of Earth-2), killed a hellacious version of Iceman, squared off against the Omega Clan, and learned of a few new Brotherhood of Mutants. More insanity took place during the aptly named “Final Execution,” but spoiling them to new readers would prove an even further travesty. Uncanny X-Force is as entertaining as it is complex, and perhaps did more for the scale of Wolverine — and some say Deadpool — than the entire 90’s did for grunge. Even smaller bits, such as the relationship between Fantomex and Kid Apocalypse made this comic the one Must Read of 2012.
With many of these titles now defunct or experiencing sudden creative change (R.I.P. Rucka’s Pun, Hulk is now Red She-Hulk, goodbye W.S., etc.), fans will just have to wait and read if these Avengers can be as interesting in the comics in 2013 as they are in the movies…