Tales of derring-do! Girl adventurers! Occult mystery! Infernal foes! Secrets revealed! Pirates! Love, loss & betrayal! Intricate art bound in lovely hardcovers! Indie going mainstream! Original creations!
It’s been an incredible year for comics. So many good ones that I can’t even begin to claim to know what would be the best comics of 2012. So here’s my list of comics I liked in 2012, in alphabetical order to avoid riling the many rogues contained herein.
One of the best parts of the fallout from DC’s Crisis in Creative is that Chris Roberson can devote more time to his digital imprint, Monkeybrain Comics and more creators are flocking to it with innovative work. Among them, Tobin and Coover’s charming Bandette, the story of a French catburglar who’s also called upon by Inspector Belgique to help the police solve crises and mysteries. The story and art are strongly influenced by children’s adventure stories and French language comics. Coover’s brushwork is gorgeous. Vespas, urchins, crushes, ramen–All charm.
Courtney Crumrin is a misanthropic girl with magical powers who lives with her Uncle Aloysius, a powerful warlock with an extensive occult library. In The Coven of Mystics, an intolerant town beset by an anthrophagous hobogoblin, turns on a changeling, Skarrow. Courtney befriends him and investigates why the town council wants him dead while trying to avoid the annoyances of the ordinary world and attending a secret council of cats. The book’s reminiscent of Hellboy while showing Naifeh’s spooky cute roots with publisher SLG. And Naifeh’s deep, sharp-edged black are so nice. The book collects an older storyline in a fancy new hardcover, just in time to get you up to speed for Naifeh’s new ongoing Courtney Crumrin series.
More girl adventure, but this time on the high—or low—or through—Omerta Seas! A girl learns the arts of piracy from her Pirate King father in dreams. Dubbing herself “Cursed Pirate Girl,” she decides to find him aided by a parrot and 2 armored gallants, brother swordfish. Intricately drawn and incredibly imaginative, Cursed Pirate Girl has the feel of so many of my favorite childhood books (the kind with no, or very few, pictures). I love pirates. I especially love Pirate Queens and it seems that somehow a Cursed Pirate Girl is even better. It’s grounded in 18th Century pirate history, but soon travels through the depths of the ocean to a new world. The book itself is beautifully designed, with deckled pages and a wanted poster. A wanted poster! This is a book librarians and teachers will love.
Demon Knights is the last DC comic I’ve been buying monthly. At first, it eased some of the pain of losing Secret Six. Now, it’s become one of my favorite comics all on its own. It’s one of the few current DC comics that doesn’t feel forced into a ham-handed continuity to me. And the characterization is strong. In a tale of swords and sorcery, a group of travelers including storied characters Madame Xanadu, Shining Knight, Vandal Savage, Etrigan the Demon and Jason Blood join together with an Amazon in exile, a horsewoman and a scientist, Al Jabr to face a common foe: an ever-growing horde (with dinosaurs) led by a sorceress. The characterization is strong and Vandal Savage is particularly entertaining. Outside the story, it’s gratifying to see a team book promoting gender parity, a Trans character and with as much Queerness as Secret Six. Sadly, Paul Cornell is leaving the title and Robert Venditti (The Surrogates) will be picking up the title. Venditti’s a fine writer, but I just don’t think I’ll be able to continue reading it. The weirdness at DC is too much.
I’ve written pretty extensively about Locke & Key before, but Locke & Key is not only very good, it is ending soon. The book just ended its final arc. Key House in Lovecraft, MA doesn’t so much contain mysteries as it is one. It’s a house with keys that unlock doors to anywhere, that unlock heads and transform humans into animal forms. But only children can use the keys and perceive their effects. In Clockworks, Tyler and Kinsey, the eldest Locke children, see the history of the house, the keys themselves, and their father when he was a teen living in Loveraft. It’s wrenching and tragic and perfectly effortless. With Criminal, Locke & Key is one of the best comics of the last decade.
Occult detective enthusiasts, attend! In MonsterMen & Other Scary Stories, gentlemen detectives Lawrence St. George and the Benedict of the Order of the Corpus Monstrum invest occult mysteries and save an unknowing world from infernal peril! More illustrative engraving-inflected art and the second book in this list to prominently include European helmets. Another book I enjoyed for its originality and imagination. There’s a revelation about the Abominal Snowman that was just made me so happy. Originally published as secondary stories in Hellboy, MonsterMen‘s much more satisfying collected together. It also includes pulp stories with illustrationg by Gianni, including two featuring Carnacki the Ghost-Finder and one by Robert E. Howard.
Rachel digs herself out of a grave in the woods outside the town of Manson. She’s dead, but she’s not a ghost and she has the ligature marks and petechiated eyes to prove it. She doesn’t know who killed. She doesn’t know why they did. And she doesn’t know why she’s still around. I read the first volume of Rachel Rising in one sitting last summer. I didn’t expect to. It’s chilling and disturbing way past Rachel being dead as it become more and more evident that Manson is built on something terrible. Also, Rachel Rising has Aunt Johnny–one of the best comics portrayals of a Butch lesbian outside of Alison Bechdel‘s Dykes To Watch Out For.* I just wish Terry Moore liked to draw more than one attractive woman face. I know he can. He’s teaching people to write comics. But it becomes confusing when he has more than one blonde woman in a comic.
Saga is a generically eclectic, hard to describe comic—fantasy space opera with romance and comedic elements? A space opera in which a romance novel plays a key role? An intergalactic family story with swearing? The most refreshing science fiction I’ve read in a while? Completely original? Alana and Marko fall in love and have a baby. But they’re soldier on opposing sides of an eternal war. Also, Alana has wings and Marko has ram horns and sheep ears. Nobody is happy they’re together. They’re hunted by mercenaries acting for both sides and Prince Robot IV, whose people do enjoy 18th Century court finery. And their families do not approve. I really don’t have enough good to say about Saga–well-written, imaginative, original and beautifully drawn. As with Locke & Key and Rachel Rising, I do my best not to see when I’m at the comic book store. I try to wait for collections to come out because at the end of each issue I need to know what happens next.
I just never expected to like a Punisher book. Never. But Rucka’s The Punisher is one of the best books of the year. I think Rucka was smart to avoid presenting Frank Castle’s inner inner monolog and instead show him in action and through the reactions of other characters including the police investigating a mass shooting at a wedding. Castle’s development into an emotionally shutdown man on a mission is mirrored in Rachel Cole Alves’ pain and grief at the murder of her husband, friends and family. Rucka’s obviously familiar with The Bride Wore Black, but the grieving, vengeful widow is hardly cliché in these 3 trade paperbacks. And the art is fantastic, from Castle’s ghostly skull stencil to the gorgeous covers.
Weird Western with infernal revolvers forged in the Pits of Hell! In Bunn’s Weird Western, Miss Becky Montcrief takes up her father’s revolver, a gun he was hiding from its original owner, and one that bonds with one bearer and gives them visions. She joins up with gunfighter Drake Sinclair to try to keep the guns out of wicked hands and prevent an ancient vault from opening. There are a diabolical Confederate general, a Thunderbird, winter wolves, a 9-foot mystery mummy, a Civil War prison, a secret Order, ancient evils and more guns of sinister make, including one that shoots hellfire and another, pestilence. And none of The Six is what it seems: “It was only a gun and guns ain’t known for the truth.”
*It doesn’t feel right to compare Aunt Johnny to Bechdel’s persona in Fun Home and Are You My Mother?
**I received a review copy of this book.
Forged from the Infernal Pits of Hell, Carol Borden is well-versed in the arts of ruination and confounding sinister, sacred and secular alike, but only in the interest of her secret order of Gentleman Detectives. She also really likes these books.
(This essay was originally published at The Cultural Gutter).