Many, many weeks ago Skinner Sweet posted on an IMJ Open Thread– saying he was getting back into comics (after being gone for about a year), and wondered if anybody had read anything worth pointing him toward.
Then I was contacted by IMJ Contributor Deanna Lepsch, who mentioned her husband wanted to get back into comics and asked if I would have any suggestions for his Birthday. I told her what I would tell anyone who’s been away for a while: Rather than give her a list of random monthly single comics (which may be in the middle of story arcs when he or she purchased them), I thought it would be better for her to buy some trades he might like… That way, he could get entire story arcs in one sitting and decide if he liked the characters and the creator line-ups involved.
These questions also dovetailed into a column I’d been itching to write for months– about some of the Best Hardcovers and Trade Paperbacks I’d read in 2012. Bear in mind, these books may have been released earlier than last year… But 2012’s when I read them.
In no particular order…
Conan Vol 11 Road of Kings HC & Conan Vol 12 Throne of Aquilonia HC
Roy Thomas literally kicks the CROM! out of every other Conan comic scribe’s ass. (Yes, including Brian Wood.)
As I mentioned in Insideman’s Pull List, Thomas returned to the Barbarian as if he never left the Marvel comic ‘lo those many decades ago. In fact, his work here is much better than many of his later Conan stories in the Marvel run. The art is gorgeous too.
Athos In America HC
John Arne Sæterøy (a.k.a. Jason) is my current favorite European cartoonist.
Jason’s work is rife with hope, sarcasm and bitter irony. I don’t laugh at comics very often, but I always laugh when exposed to Jason’s unique mind.
Afrika is a complex mix of action, emotion and political intrigue– all centered around a Tanzanian Wildlife Preserve.
This is the first English translation of this Hermann classic– and it is superb.
Marvel Firsts 1970s Vol 2
These particular Marvel reprints are very fun to read and you couldn’t ask for a more eclectic line-up of heroes or origin stories in one book.
I’d list them, but most of the characters are right there on the cover. Note: There are lots of MONSTERS.
Northlanders Vol 6 Thor’s Daughter
Brian Wood’s Northlanders was one of Vertigo’s best reads.
I don’t know what the PTB at DC did to disenfranchise this guy to the point he started looking for “greener” pastures, but it’s absolutely insane this comic book no longer exists.
DMZ Vol 11 Free States Rising
Another great Brian Wood Vertigo series. Like many, this penultimate volume (the one before the final collection) is actually more fun and interesting to read than the last few issues of the series are.
(For another example of this weird phenomenon, see Brian K. Vaughn’s Y The Last Man Vol 9 The Motherland.)
Rachel Rising Vol 1 The Shadow of Death
As previously mentioned in my 3.31.12 Pull List, I love Terry Moore’s quirky stories and bountiful fount of ideas.
I also love how well he draws beautiful women.
Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus Vol 2
You have to go all the way back to the ancient (in internet terms) Insideman’s Pull List for 4.29.12 to see me remind you what you already know: John Romita Sr was– and will always be– THE Spider-Man artist.
Who’s Todd McFarlane again? Oh yeah… And while I’m dropping names, screw the hacktastic Dan Slott too.
Cinderella Fables are Forever
When Chris Roberson suddenly realized he was working for a greedy corporation– DC Comics (owned by Time Warner)– and not some cool Indie Publisher, I couldn’t have cared less about the fate of his Vertigo series iZombie.
I did, however, mourn the loss of his talent on the Cinderella books– as he is arguably the only writer to “get” Fables almost as much as original creator Bill Willingham.
Queen Crab HC
When I noted how much I liked Queen Crab back on 4.6.12, a lot of people agreed with me.
Jimmy Palmiotti’s story is equal parts brash, weird and wonderful. Yes, it does get cut short way too early… But in these days of overkill, which would you rather have– a book which overstays its welcome or a story that leaves you wanting more?
Queen Crab leaves you wanting more… And that’s just the way I like it.
Angel & Faith Vol 1 Live Through This
What is this?
Simply the BEST, truest comic book adaptation of the Buffyverse– from writer Christos Gage, artist Rebekah Isaacs, et al.
Believe it or not, Joss Whedon hasn’t done it better.
Invincible Vol 11 Family Ties
I can run hot and cold on Invincible creator Robert Kirkman. But when he gets it right? He’s as good as any creator in comics today.
When he doesn’t? Invincible artist Ryan Ottley picks up the slack and makes me forget the comic even has words.
This is a particularly good story arc from both men.
Mike Norton’s Battlepug HC
Mike Norton is working like a madman on various comic series as I type.
Amazingly, none of his comics seem to suffer from this pace– leaving me to believe that he’s the bastard son of the late John Buscema. Plus all this work allows Norton time and money to create Battlepug– which had to be one of the most fun, ingenious (and beautiful!) comics I read in 2012!
Peanuts Vol 1
When I listen to music, I like to hear the original artists sing their original songs… Which usually means I hate most “tribute” albums. Seriously, why would I want to hear Bon Jovi sing a Beatles song?
Which is all the more amazing to me that I love Boom’s Peanuts comics. I loved the comic strip as a child and this comic proves its creator Charles Schultz may have been a genius– but he was a short-sighted one… Especially when he expressly forbid anyone from drawing a Peanuts strip after his death.
Any number of the wonderful artists in this Trade could have carried on his strip’s legacy in a more than admirable fashion… And it sucks they weren’t given a chance to do exactly that. Oh well, at least we have the comics… Schultz never forbid a comic book version of his classic comic strip– and that’s a great thing.
Blacksad Silent Hell HC
Another pick from my Pull List, Blacksad A Silent Hell does something few sequels of fantastic originals ever do: Not only does it continue the Blacksad story effectively, it builds on previous characters and situations in an organic manner… Which hopefully means there’s a lot more to come.
Elephantmen Vol 5 Devilish Functions HC
Contrary to the popular belief (of a few), I read every comment on IMJ. (Not necessarily in a super timely fashion– but I do get to every one as quick as I can.)
And despite my continuous recommendations, I often see people who seem to dislike Elephantmen… And I don’t get it. While I know different opinions are what make the world go-round, I also can’t help but believe if readers consumed Elephantmen in collected form (instead of a stray issue here and there), they would immediately understand what marvels Richard Starkings and his fine stable of creators are attempting to achieve here.
Buy a trade and give it a go. While I especially loved this book last year, I still think you should start at the beginning.
Scalped Vol 9 Knuckle Up
If you read my thoughts about DMZ Vol 11 above, you know what I am going to say here: This next to the last volume of Scalped is far better than the very last collection.
After this cataclysmic story arc, I couldn’t see Jason Aaron topping himself– and he didn’t.
None of Aaron’s words would have remotely the same power without the dynamic art of R.M. Guéra… Who is easily one of my favorite comic artists of the last decade.
Scott Pilgrim Vol 1 Color Edition HC
Despite the horror known as colorized Black and White films, the Scott Pilgrim Vol 1 Color Edition Hardcover proves some things just go better with color.
Hard to believe, but Bryan Lee O’Malley’s opus reads like an entirely new creation with the added hues.
Manara Library Vol 2 HC & Manara Library Vol 3 HC
I’ll never forget the first time I saw a Milo Manara comic and just how pervy I felt while I read it. I still find wonder, different levels and new meanings almost every time I re-read one of Manara’s stories (even if the pervy-ness has long since disappeared.)
These collections are the perfect way to enjoy the galactic talent of Milo Manara. If you’ve never experienced it, you’re in for a treat.
Prophet Vol 1 Remission
If you had told me somebody would come along and completely reinvent/rejuvenate a derivative, piece of shit character created by an even bigger piece of shit “creator” like Rob Liefeld, I would have promised to kiss your bare ass in front of 20 of your closest invited friends.
Good thing nobody had the forethought to tell me this was going to happen… Since this Prophet (like Image’s re-do of another Liefeld creation, Glory), seemingly has absolutely nothing to do with Rob Liefeld (which also makes me wonder how it ever got his go-ahead.)
I guess the other Image creators have supposedly let bygones be bygones and invited the Black Sheep back into the fold… But I would love to kiss the ass of the man and/or woman who convinced the King of Horseshit Comics™ to allow such innovative creators to remake two of his signature characters– as, I am assuming, some sort of “tribute” to his “greatness”… ‘Cause all it did was undeniably prove Liefeld has never, ever really had one cell of genuine talent– other than his huckster ability to bullshit fanboys into believing he can draw… Or write.
Peter Panzerfaust Vol 1 The Great Escape
Normally I want to vomit at the thought of most mash-ups, but this Peter Pan and The Lost Boys in World War II has me oddly mesmerized.
From Tyler Jenkins’ great art to Kurtis J. Wiebe’s ability to weave Peter Pan moments into the relentless Nazi onslaught– I’m a true fan.
The Lone Ranger Vol 5 Hard Country
From my 9.5.13 Pull List:
“In a rarity for me, I actually read the extras in the back of the book… And felt more entertained by doing so. (Normally, I might get through 10% of this stuff.) Ande Parks writes an effective Writer’s Commentary– every bit as fun as the actual comics. Rather than spit out the usual back-slapping corporate clap trap, Parks goes into great detail why he started off his Lone Ranger stint with a single, one-off story… And they even recreate this first script. He also hilariously recounts his reaction to various critics who took exception with his slight deviation from true historical fact. I’m totally with Parks for ranting about this. Rather than race to point out an inaccuracy, when will some Geeks understand they are reading fiction?”
‘Nuff Said? I think so.
The Manhattan Projects Vol 1
A lot of people have been slapping Jonathan Hickman around for his often lackluster Marvel work– and deservedly so.
All Manhattan Projects Vol 1 proves: Hickman should stay in the creator-owned space.
He– and his work– thrive there.
Doc Savage Double Novel Vol 61
Kenneth Robeson was really this prolific writer named Lester Dent… And I’m not certain he ever wrote a bad Doc Savage tale… Even though he churned them out at an amazing rate of one (or more) a month.
These Doc Savage volumes reprint TWO classic stories for the price of one… And are often reprinting stories that have not seen the light of day since their original pulp printings.
If you get into this NOW– you’ll thank me when Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 blows through the box office roof and Sony falls all over him to fast track his long-in-the-works Doc Savage film.
Criminal The Deluxe Edition Vol 2
I bought these stories in the original Trade formats… Then reread them in this Deluxe Hardcover.
The chances of me re-reading 98% of the comics I buy?
1,448,332,196 to 1.
Hellblazer The Devil’s Trenchcoat
I bring this Trade up for a couple of reasons: It’s not only excellent, but it also marks the moment when Peter Milligan fully rediscovered his mojo as a comic book scribe.
Oh, and it gives me a chance to remind DC to go FUCK THEMSELVES for canceling this fantastic Vertigo title… A comic that– in 300 issues– gave readers more consistent entertainment than possibly ANY DC comic book EVER has.
Saga Vol 1
I read the first issue of Saga and thought it sucked balls.
I then read this Trade and realized Saga was one of the BEST new series of 2012… Proving you should never judge a series by its first issue.
The Unwritten Vol 6
Tommy Taylor and the War of Worlds
This volume is a culmination of a lot of great stuff creators Mike Carey and Peter Gross have been patiently simmering for a long, long time.
Unlike most climactic story arcs in long-running comics, this one is the OPPOSITE of “suck”.
All Star Western Vol 1
Some days, I’m really proud of lots of comic books. No matter how much DC has ruined their entire line with the poorly planned and executed New 52, Jonah Hex scribes Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti took the forced changes to their book in stride– like the professionals they are.
The result? A New 52 comic that’s at least as enjoyable as its previous incarnation– but in a new and exciting way. Gray & Palmiotti have soared, while most of their DC contemporaries have crashed and burned.
The closest NEW thing you will ever see to a classic Creepy or Eerie story in the 21st Century.
Ragemoor could have appeared in either Warren title and would have been much loved… Proving that veteran creators Jan Strnad and Richard Corben haven’t lost any of their verve or magic.
The Shadow Vol 1 Fire of Creation
Garth Ennis gets a lot of flack here and there (some deserved, some not) but this Shadow Trade shows he’s as good as any comic writer when it comes to adapting something he has an obvious passion for.
As far as Pulp Magazine characters go, Doc Savage is my guy (see above) but Ennis manages to do something no other Shadow writer ever has– make the character exciting and completely enjoyable to me.
Terry Moore’s How To Draw
I waxed rhapsodic about Terry Moore’s How To Draw here— stating the book’s subtitle, “Five Lessons For The Serious Comic Artist” was as accurate a subtitle as any you will read all year.
What’s really cool: The Trade is just as fun to read if you never intend to put pencil to paper.
The Walking Dead Vol 17
Something To Fear
Robert Kirkman kills Glenn in this Trade. I had a few problems with the timing of this massive loss– but overall, I thought Kirkman handled it as best as could be expected.
The Sixth Gun Vol 4 A Town Called Penance
I’ve been touting this Horror/Western since the beginning– even going so far as to proclaim creator/writer Cullen Bunn a true talent to watch out for.
Sadly, Bunn didn’t prove immune to the lure of Marvel Ca$h… And like almost every other Indie writer, his mainstream work has been decidedly mixed. (Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe was one of the WORST trades I read in 2012.)
Still, whenever Bunn puts on his “Sixth Gun” hat, he still continues to amaze me. More of this and less Marvel Bullshit, please.
Butcher, Baker, Candlestickmaker
One of the many side projects that sprung out of The Boys– Garth Ennis’ exploration into Butcher is equal parts calm and crazy… As The Boys’ leader returns home upon hearing of his Father’s death.
I could identify with much of the sentiment in the book… And while Butcher’s final act in the story is Pure Garth Ennis– don’t tell me you’ve never at least thought about doing it to someone you disliked and/or hated… Because you have.
Fear Agent Library Vol 1 HC
This collection deservedly Sold Out the day it was released– surprising most retailers. (I’m sure Dark Horse wished they had printed thousands more too.)
The good news: Unless you have $110 to blow on a first print today on eBay… 2nd Prints of this first volume are due sometime in March. In either case, I recommend this collection highly.
Tarot Witch of the Black Rose Vol 1 Remastered Edition
The mere inclusion of this Trade in this list will, for some, negate the validity of the entire column. To those stuffed shirts, I proudly and kindly tender a raucous “Fuck Off!”, complete with extended middle finger.
Tarot is Jim Balent just being Jim Balent. Haunted Vagina Memes aside, Balent is having fun drawing sexy witches and magical melodrama. And what, exactly, is wrong with that? The answer: Not a damn thing.
Tarot is crazy, exciting, sexual and fun… And stands as one of the longest running independent comics ever printed. Like me, many fans love this book– and are willing to accept it for what Balent intends it to be… Even if you don’t.
The first volume of this series has long been out of print… And I’m glad that’s been remedied. Different strokes, and all that.