Heat Vision's Top Five Comics of 2012
Hawkeye, Shade, Locke & Key, Saga and Flash Gordon get high marks as the perfect way to escape, says THR's resident comic book connoisseur.
You know a medium is firmly niche when Marvel's top comic books sell 55,000-65,000 a month (not including event or "death" issues which cause temporary spikes but don't expand the readership). But at the same time, the creativity and originality remind you that comics can be a great vehicle for storytelling and makes you wonder why aren't more people loving this artform.
With hundreds of books being put out every month, orignal graphic novels, and compliations of rare or out-print work, it would take a clone army to sift through everything. But here is a short list of what made Heat Vision grab a glass of chocolate milk, sit in a quiet corner and escape to other worlds.
Hawkeye (Marvel): If The Rockford Files was translated to a superhero comic, you’d get Hawkeye, the funny yet dramatic, chill but tense and flat-out best continuing book of the year.
It showcases the adventures of Clint Barton, the Avengers’ archer, not as he fights to save the world but rather as he fights to have some downtime (but, luckily for readers, cannot).
The monthly book, which debuted only in August, feels more indie than any other Marvel comic and brings freshness to the superhero genre due to the skewed writing from Matt Fraction and unique art by David Aja.
Shade #4 (DC): Shade was a simple DC villain before writer James Robinson reinvented him and made him an integral part of his acclaimed Starman series in the 1990s. In 2011, Robinson returned to the character with a 12-issue mini-series drawn by various artists.
The mini-series was above-average -- but the best was a "Times Past" story set in 1944 and published in early 2012. What set it apart was the sensational art drawn by Darwyn Cooke, which -- paired with the issue’s strong script -- elevated it to “best” status.
Mid-century America is the place where Cooke feels right at home (this year also saw the publishing of the third installment of his Parker graphic novels, set in the early 1960s, from IDW) and this story captures the feel of a movie serial – action, femme fatales, Nazis, cowboys – and adds a layer of family emotion you don’t see coming.
Locke & Key: Clockworks (IDW): Author Joe Hill and artist Garbriel Rodriquez don’t need a universe-spanning, Earth-threatening, pages-padding plot to tell an epic story. They do it all, and win awards for it, by having it mostly set in and around the Massachusetts estate of the Locke family.
The story, about the three Locke teens who discover supernatural and power-giving keys in their father’s home (that description doesn't give the comic justice), is being told in six-issue chunks. The first mini-series, titled Welcome to Lovecraft, was published in 2008 and the final storyline (Omega) just got underway.
2012 saw the release of the second half of the penultimate story, Clockworks, and its hardcover compilation. Clockworks reveals the origins of the keys and opens up the pages of the Locke family history. But, most importantly, it tells the story of how the actions of the teens’ father and his friends during their high school years tragically set in motion the events that affect the present.
It's an epic tale, intimately told, and another amazing pairing of writer and artist.
Saga (Image): Brian K. Vaughan, who co-created the award-winning Vertigo comic Y: The Last Man, returned to comics in March with a sci-fi sword fantasy that is a melange of Star Wars, Romeo and Juliet, Flash Gordon and Game of Thrones.
And, um, the cover for the first issue featured a humanoid alien breastfeeding a baby.
The story is narrated by Hazel, the offspring of two parents from opposing sides in an intergalactic war: Alana, who has wings and the power of flight, and Marko, whose people have horns and use magic, and now find themselves on the run from both sides.
And there's a galaxy’s worth of characters, like Prince Robot IV, from a people with televisions on their heads, and The Stalk, a spiderish bounty hunter; sly touches like talent agencies booking gigs for bounty hunters; and themes of parenthood.
I admit the art by Fiona Staples takes an adjustment period -- but I now find it perfect for a book that plays fast and loose with comic conventions.
Flash Gordon: The Planet Mongo (Titan Books): If you want to see why and how Flash Gordon has remained one of the best sci-fi heroes, take a gander at this 203-page tome from Titan.
The publisher is aiming to release the complete Flash Gordon library and volume 1, released in the spring, took us from the very first Sunday strip on Jan. 1, 1934, to May 18, 1937.
The off-white pages give the book a newspaper feel and creator Alex Raymond’s linework, with manly men (except maybe when they wear those short shorts), sexy slaves and queens, and alien worlds, still evoke marvel and could teach today’s artists a thing or two.
(The collection does have some cons, including the metal flecks falling off the logo and the occasionally muddied color reproduction.)
All in all, it's the best way to time travel in 2012.
Some honorable mentions: Batman, by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo; Rachel Rising, by Terry Moore.