The three best comics of 2012, including the one that isn’t

Posted: February 12, 2013 in comic books, Jeff Holland, reviews, Threat Quality
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One of my new year’s resolutions: To read fewer bad comics. I mean, to stop engaging shit like Detective Comics or JMS’s agonizing Superman: Earth One books. Seriously, life is too short to hate-read.

(…Is what I’ve told myself, but then, I do have that next edition of Geoff Johns’ utterly, hilariously terrible Justice League comic on hold at the library, so. Pobody’s Nerfect.)Saga

But this column is not about bad comics. It is, in fact, about two of the best comics produced in 2012 – and possibly in years, maybe decades, maybe…look, they’re really good.

And also one other comic that I’m gonna need a little help with.

First things first. Everything you’ve heard is true: Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, is one of the best comics I’ve ever read. Here, I’ll sell it for you: “Star Wars, starring two brand-new parents.” 

One of the things that cracked me up when Disney bought the Star Wars franchise a couple months ago was the hand-wringing that Disney would somehow “ruin” Star Wars, as though George Lucas wasn’t the worst thing about the franchise. “But what if Leia becomes a Disney Princess?” people fretted.

Are you kidding me? That would be rad. Because that would mean an awesome character was being written by people who knew how to maximize her potential, rather than the weird-beard who wrote Episodes I-III.

That’s the feeling I got reading Saga: The joy of reading a big, weird, funny, audience-friendly (well, look, there’s some sex and some cursing, so not all-ages) space-opera, couched in believable human emotions. Never mind that one human has tiny bat wings and another has ram horns. They’re human. They’re new parents, they haven’t slept in days, they’re still learning weird things about each other, they have panicked opinions about weapons in the household… but also, because they come from opposite sides of a galaxy-spanning war, their baby daughter is in trouble from pretty much literally the moment she takes her first breath.

They are also being hunted by several bounty hunters, including The Will, who is basically Woody Harrelson: Hunter With a Complicated Moral Code, and his ex-girlfriend, a terrible spider-lady who embodies every irrational fear I have.

And I’ll just mention this here, because I enjoyed every inch of this comic but want most of it to be a fresh experience for you: Don’t you love the phrase “Rocketship Forest”?

SO much more interesting than a virgin birth due to midichlorians, y’know?

I recommend this book for all the reasons above, plus the fact that the pace is quick – this thing moves at a solid hustle, which means it also has really good re-read value. And then there’s the ACTUAL value: Saga, Vol. 1 costs $10 for the first six issues, but it’s honestly a bargain at twice the price. The series is only up to issue 9, so it’s worth getting in on the ground floor.

But don’t take my word – first issue is free on Comixology. Go for it.

This is going to be one of Those Books. A Sandman, a Preacher, or, well, any of Vaughan’s other big books (which is my only reservation – I only ever read the first Y: The Last Man collection, but that was some heavy stuff by the end; more importantly, I STOPPED reading Ex Machina because the final chapters proved to be far too bleak for me to remain invested in the series – which is all my way of saying, christ I hope not everyone in this book dies or becomes grotesquely morally compromised.)

+++++

hawkeye1aOn the complete opposite end of the tonal scale: Hawkeye.

So, listen, you saw Avengers, right? Since you are a human being with eyeballs in 2013, I’m just going to save us both some trouble and assume you said, “Of course I have.”

OK, you know that dude with the bow and arrow who didn’t get a lot of screentime? The one you kept calling “that bow and arrow guy”? Because the movie didn’t even bother calling him Hawkeye? OK, he’s the star of the book.

And because he’s gotten his reputation as “The guy on the Avengers whose weaponry is sporting goods,” writer Matt Fraction and amazing-super-groovy artist David Aja decided the high concept of the book should be, “The Avenger who’s just A Guy.”*

This is a member of the Tracksuit Mafia, and the reason I keep saying "Bro" three times in each sentence lately.

This is a member of the Tracksuit Mafia, and the reason I keep saying “Bro” three times in each sentence lately.

More to the point, the explanation on page one of each issue: “Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye, became the greatest sharpshooter known to man. He then joined the Avengers. This is what he does when he’s not being an Avenger. That’s all you need to know.”

It’s superhero-as-Jim-Rockford, and it’s just wonderful, full of high-stakes action, laconic character comedy (ex: each issue starts right in on the action, with some variation on, “Okay: This looks bad.”), some of the best art you’re likely to see, and hey, if you get around to buying issue 7 (which you will, because you will read each issue like it is a piece of candy), you also help with Sandy relief.

*The two previously collaborated, with Ed Brubaker, on the pretty great Immortal Iron Fist series, where the high concept was “Kung Fu Billionaire.”

+++++

And now we come to the part of the show where I just don’t know, man. I just do. not. know.

One of the weirder moments of 2012 came when it became clear the 90’s revival was actually going to become a thing – that Rob Liefeld Image and Valiant Comics properties were coming back into vogue. And what is even damn weirder, that they’d be good.

In Liefeld’s case, he outsourced some little-loved properties out to indy writers and artists with a free mandate to do whatever they wanted with them. This was wise. Nobody gives a shit about any of them, they have little-to-no narrative drive by themselves, and if the whole experiment crashed and burned, no harm done, really, just try again some other time.

Case in point: Prophet, Vol. 1: Remission, by Brandon Graham and several artists. A book that was generally hailed as one of the best of the year.

In this case, I’d love to join in, if only I could figure out what in the living hell this book is supposed to be about. (And now I am going to shout SPOILERS if you were planning on getting into this book soon.)

I mean, in the short run, yes, I get it. John Prophet – who, if memory serves, was basically “What if Captain America was built to fight Darkseid?”, though not nearly as much fun as that mash-up implies – is reawakened after 10,000 years of hibernation to a harsh, alien landscape, where he basically wanders the terrain, fighting monsters and getting closer to the destination of his pre-programmed mission. So, sci-fi Conan. OK, got it.

Then the clones show up, and that’s about when I got lost.

prophet1See, after a few issues of following Prophet around future-Earth, we learn there are actually many John Prophets, who were some kind of warriors of the Earth Empire, and then we get to know some other Prophets, including one with a tail on a failing space station, and it’s all very mind-blowing and epic but at the end of each issue, the only thing I could think was, “So…this means what, in terms of the story?”

The short version: Nothing. The long version: Well, you’re gonna have to wait several more months for the story to reveal itself in tiny intervals – since the book itself is now bouncing around among the narratives of several different John Prophets, and look, that might be your cup of tea, but none of these Prophets are interesting characters on their own. They’re just taciturn survivalists. So all the reader’s left with is their varying levels of interest in strange alien landscapes, and sadly, in my case there was little.

But I’ll say this: It ain’t boring, and it ain’t safe, and that’s gotta be worth something. So while I can’t unequivocally recommend it, you can certainly download the first issue free on Comixology and judge for yourself whether that’s something you could get into.

NEXT: Manhattan Projects, Fatale, Valiant reborn, more New Liefeld, and a hidden Batman gem.

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