Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Ancillary Character's Favorites of 2011 List-a-mania!!!

As the holidays grow near and 2011 draws to a close, we here at Ancillary Characters would like you to join us for our First Annual Comics Awards. Seth and Paul poured through their short boxes to choose their favorites from 2011. What follows might not be the best books in terms of craftsmanship, but rather, the books, characters and creators we enjoyed the most.

Obviously, not every book that reaches stands makes it into our greedy paws so if you notice something absent from the list, mention it to us. Who knows, maybe it passed us by. Though a number of great, small publisher books were released this year, for the most part this list sticks to the big companies.

No doubt if a larger list were compiled books like Morning Glories, Locke & Key, New York Five, and Moriarty (to name a few) would have been there. However, rather than a tedious, top-five-per-category tome we narrowed it down to our absolute favorites in each category. Read on...

Favorite Ongoing Series:

Seth's Pick - FF by Jonathan Hickman

Multiple titles were vying for this spot. I adored Scott Snyder's Detective Comics, but the reboot meant that to include 'Tec as my favorite ongoing I'd have been including the current stuff by Tony Daniel. On the other hand titles like Daredevil, Action Comics and Swamp Thing could easily have slipped into the top spot. But see, those are all fairly new titles with less than 6 issues on the stands. I wanted a book that was consistently good all year long. A book that captured my attention with every issue and was of equal or better quality in terms of writing and art month-to-month.

Well, FF is that book. Hickman has been writing these characters for almost three years now and his work with them has gone from good to great. His plotting is dense, sure; this isn't a book just anyone can jump into. However, if you've been following the Fantastic Four since 2009 then you'll appreciate all that happened in the last year. Johnny's death and resurrection, the culmination and heightening across all the various story threads in play, and Hickman's ability to turn the Richard kids (and friends) into interesting characters are all perfect examples of why this book is so deserving of being my favorite. Thankfully, with Fantastic Four's relaunch and the continuation of the FF title we have more of this classic run to look forward to this year.

Paul's Pick - The Flash by Geoff Johns (2010-11) and Francis Manupal/Brian Buccellato

I was on the fence about including a DCnU title, since these New 52 books have only gone a few issues in, so I tried to consider a title that has been going on throughout the year, and when I did my choice became very easy. I mulled over the new Batman series by Scott Snyder, or even the Johns/Lee JLA. But once I took the pre-September comics into account, I realized there was one clear choice: The Flash. Some of you might say this is unfair since Johns left the series after Flashpoint, but books change authors all the time. Plus, Manupal was with Geoff on much the initial run, so the creative team didn't do a total flip.

Flash Fact: 2011 is the year of the Flash. What makes this book so great? I'm not going to take up enough of your time to tell you all about my love for the art on this book, so let it suffice to say I adore the art on this book. From Manupal to the occasional issue by Scott Kolins, this book has been packing around some heavy artillery on art, and it's not slacking now that Manupal and Buccellato share writing/drawing responsibilities. Johns did an amazing job of building up to Flashpoint (which was incredible, by the way), while also bringing Barry Allen back to us. I'll admit, when he passed the baton to Manupal and Buccellato for the DCnU, I was a little nervous, as artists-gone-author do not always pan out, but after just 3 issues, Flash sits easily near the top as one of my absolute fans from this year. M & B are making a name for themselves in the comic realm. Together they manage to go deeper inside Barry's head than we've seen so far. These guys are creating the Flash's identity for new and old readers alike, and I'd say the series is safe in their hands.

Favorite Mini Series:

Seth's Pick - Flashpoint by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert

When Flashpoint kicked off the DC Universe was in a state of lethargy. Nothing much was happening, and a general feeling of boredom permeated many of the titles. Flashpoint was a kick in the pants for a whole line. Possibly a whole industry. It served as the impetus for the relaunch of the DCU, and was faced with the task of serving up a compelling story rather than simply a bad-guys-vs-good-guys event comic. Regardless of your feelings about the final issue, there's no arguing that Flashpoint was a different sort of "event". At it's heart it was a very small story. It could be argued it's main purpose was to remind Barry Allen (and the reader) of who exactly he is and what his place is in the universe he inhabits.

It just so happened the trappings of an elseworlds-style universe were what surrounded that small story. Sure it was great to see variations on our favorite characters; an earth-conquering Aquaman and Wonder Woman, Thomas Wayne as a casino-operating Batman. What really worked in Flashpoint was the character-driven moments. The final issue is as focused on Barry Allen saying goodbye to his deceased mother as it is relaunching a universe and for that it deserves commendation. Though aspects of that final issue may not work, on the whole Flashpoint was one of the best event comics in years and far and away my favorite miniseries of 2011.

Paul's Pick - Flashpoint... Again

Okay, so I don't want to sound redundant, but this is one thing Seth and I agree on: Flashpoint was a no brainer for our First Annual Ancillary Characters Best Miniseries Award. For the sake of going on too much about the same thing, I'll make this short. Why was Flashpoint the best? This was the best work Geoff Johns has given us since Sinestro Corp War and Blackest Night. For me, it was all about issue #2 and the ending of issue #5. When I saw Barry basically cooked by that lightning that I was so sure would work in #2... I had to literally pick my jaw up off the floor. And as for that ending, it was the short epilogue-like scene where Barry delivered that letter to Bruce that hit me the hardest. Wow, what an emotional, real ending to such an otherworldly, action-packed mini series.

Favorite Single Issue:

Seth's Pick - Action Comics #1 by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales

This is how you stage a revolution. Superman as written by Grant Morrison in Action Comics is a man of... well, action. He doesn't sit around and mope, he doesn't go on random walks around the earth for no good reason. This is a Superman who fights for what he believes is right and doesn't give up in the face of defeat. This is a Superman who is proactive rather than reactive. The Superman in issue one of Action Comics is someone who can leap single buildings in a single bound but isn't exactly invincible. There is a genuine worry with this guy that... hey, he might be a little bit breakable. When he takes a giant train-turned-speeding-bullet to the gut at the end of this issue there is the worry that he might actually be hurt.
Morrison didn't turn out as much comics work during 2011 as he did in years past but this single issue helps remind us of what we've been missing. The Action Comics relaunch was the one that seemed the furthest from the previous incarnation. Not just because Clark was running around in jeans and a t-shirt but rather that Morrison had taken a title and character that had grown stale and injected fire and light into it. The energy in this first issue is palpable, due in large part to Rags Morales pencils. Though there were many #1's from DC this was the only one that felt like a true new beginning.

Paul's Pick - Justice League #2 by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee

This was a tough decision, but JL beat out Swamp Thing #2 by a hair. This was the single most fun and exciting issue I've read all year. We already know about Jim Lee's drawing skills (unless you've been hiding under a rock), but for me this issue isn't about Jim or even Geoff's writing skills; it's about Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and the Flash. Issue #1 got the ball rolling, but this was the one that got me pumped for the series. The story kicks off with a Bats and GL v/s Supes brawl (which was incredibly one sided), and my eyes are wide: this is why I love comics.

We get to see the key heroes from the DCU facing off and meeting for the "first time." But the amazing part is, it feels like the first time. GL and Superman are trying to see who has the bigger muscles, while Batman and the Flash are trying to talk sense into everyone. What made this issue so great for me was it felt like the new beginning we were all looking for with JLA. To be honest, DC's tentpole team book hasn't been great since the Lightning Saga after Infinite Crisis. Johns and Lee are giving us a Justice League that we can be excited about, which in turn gives us a DCnU we can be excited about. Readers can slip in and nab a Batman book weekly without "buying in" to DC, because pretty much everyone loves the Bat. But if you can get the Justice League just right, you can bring people in on more than just one, but on all of these characters. Before you know it they'll be pulling John's Aquaman and Azzarello's Wonder Woman. Justice League is a window into the DCnU, and I couldn't be more excited. Need more than that? One word: Darkseid. 'Nuff said.
Favorite New Series:

Seth's Pick - Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.

There's just something about this book that hits me in all the right places. It has monsters, explosions, monsters getting punched in the face, pithy one-liners, monsters getting kicked in the face, clever concepts, monsters getting shot in the face, awesome characters... Narrowing down my favorite new series to this one wasn't easy but every issue of this title had brought a child-like grin to my face. Lemire, usually known for character based, smaller scale stories, goes all in with this one. It calls to mind titles like Hellboy and Atomic Robo but Frankenstein is a different breed. It is, unapologetically a big monster-slaying adventure books with no qualms about it.

Though not the best book on the stands, and honestly, not even the best new series in terms of quality, it's my favorite. I feel rewarded with every issue for the 3 bucks I spend on it, and its fun to turn off my brain and sit back and read about a team of Universal monsters going around destroying evil. Some times that's just what I need.

Paul's Pick - Swamp Thing by Scott Snyder

Here we go now. I almost gave this to IDW's new TMNT ongoing, but Swampy is honestly the better book. Scott Snyder is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors, and Swamp Thing is responsible for that in no small part. I wasn't on board when I picked up the first issue of this series, since I've had very little experience with the character beforehand. But after 4 incredible issues, I'm 100% sold on what Snyder is doing here. Critics are giving Animal Man a ton of attention, and the two stories are connected, but having read both, Swamp Thing is better. Maybe it's Scott's ability to make a story feel like it's been building up for ages. Or maybe it's Yanick Paquette's beautiful and haunting art telling the story as strongly as Snyder's narrative.

After only 4 issues, this book has started something that feels like one of the biggest stories in the DCnU. For someone that doesn't know a whole lot about Swampy's lore, this is a great way to induct us into the universe. As Alec Holland is learning more about this universe and becoming a part of it, so are the readers. This isn't a "superhero" comic, and it can be more than a little disturbing, but trust me when I say this is book is truly something special.

Favorite Story:

Seth's Pick - Batman: The Black Mirror

The Black Mirror is simply the title of the opening arc of Scott Snyder's fantastic (though tragically short) run on Detective Comics but I'm using it as the blanket title for the whole 11 issues he wrote on that title. Snyder's tenure on Detective is without a doubt one of the most deranged, bloody, disturbing stories the title has ever seen... and I love it. I shouldn't stop there though. Disturbing as it may be it's still injected with heart and even a little warmth as we watch Dick Grayson grapple with a case that tests not only his wits and abilities but I'd argue his sanity. What works so darn well here though is the villain he's up against. Jim Gordon's son James. A sociopath who is as unsettling as he is detestable.

The art chores on on 'Tec were handled by Jock and Francesco Frankavilla which pretty much guarantees it will go down as one of the most visually striking Batman tales on the last decade. Some how every thing here just clicks. There's a beautifully tragic aspect to James' story as he serves as Jim's biggest failure. There is the identifiable helplessness that Dick feels as he struggles with the case... even right up to the very end. This is an intimate story and one that in time will come to be considered a classic. For eleven issues Snyder held Detective Comics as the pinnacle title it deserved to be.

Paul's Pick - War of the Green Lanterns

This mini series was really the only one to offer competition for Flashpoint, but in the end FP was better written, and just altogether better. However, this was a very interesting story. I had heard mixed things when I went back and read this, but in the end I was very impressed with the tale. I've been waiting for something different with all the Lantern Corp's since Blackest Night ended, and I think Geoff finally delivered. For one thing, we finally got to see the four earth Green Lanterns working together again or the first time in a while, which was a welcome return.

The most fun and unique thing for me out of this was seeing the earth GL's put the different rings to use. Geoff Johns has conditioned me to expect large scale GL stories, and this was just that. To save the Corp, the guys have to use the other rings from the spectrum, since Krona has corrupted the green rings and is using them for mind control. This event had everything you look for in a GL mini series: big time battles, surprising twists, devastating losses, and a shocking end. What else do you need?

Favorite Writer:

Seth's Pick - Scott Snyder

Aside from American Vampire I'd had no prior experience with Scott Snyder's work this time last year. Now I can't get enough of it. Taking a look at the titles with his name on them there isn't a single one I dislike or even don't outright love. American Vampire is a wonderful, dark, gothic horror tale laced with action and romance. His new take on Batman seems as big as his prior Detective Comics run was intimate. Swamp Thing is... well, amazing. It manages to be a dark, superhero story that melds elements of horror seamlessly into it's epically plotted story. Oh, and he's sort of helping shepherd this who new DC thing.
All of this would be impressive if he was a veteran writer who'd established a name for himself but Mr. Snyder is fairly new to comics. This isn't some guy who toiled in the trenches of indie comics for decades before getting his big break, making his accomplished, assured slow-burn style of storytelling all the more impressive. There are guys that work for years to accomplish what Scott Snyder has done in a relatively short amount of time. I can't wait to see what he does with the titles he's working on and with the characters he's writing.

Paul's Pick - Geoff Johns

To be honest, I was going to go with Scott Snyder, since he's easily made the biggest impression on me this year, but I didn't want to make this thing redundant, so Geoff gets the pick! Johns is easily one of the most prolific comic authors in the business today, and I've been on the bandwagon since GL:Rebirth at the very least. However, I'd be lying if I said his stuff hadn't lost some of its luster over the last couple of years (see Brightest Day). After Blackest Night, it kind of felt like his stuff was a little too by-the-book.

Still, Johns has all but redeemed himself this year. While his GL stuff was hit or miss during a lot of the last year, he really hit his stride on the Flash. I personally loved his run on the fastest man alive, and that amazing run was topped off with one of the best events I've read in years: Flashpoint. While Geoff may have lost some of that excitement and freshness that he had during Sinestro Corp War, I believe he showed us just why he's worth his salt with Flashpoint this year. Of all the great creators in the business today, Geoff Johns has most shown us his deep love and reverence for these characters. His work is for the fans, by a fan.

Favorite Artist:

Seth's Pick - Chris Burnham

Grant Morrison has worked with a ton of great artists since he started writing the Bat universe. None of them impressed me as much with as little as Chris Burnham did. In only three issues on Batman Inc. he managed to solidify himself as a penciller I couldn't get enough of. His style has a Frank Quitely scratchiness to it, but the artist he reminds me of most is Don Rosa. Maybe it's the eye for detail or character expression but there's a strong Rosa feel to his pencils. Issue #7 of Batman Inc was one of my personal favorites this year. A smaller story about the native American Batman equivalent Burnham made it visually interesting by contrasting the bright and colorful superhero world with the dirty squallor of a reservation trailer park.

Burnham gets the top slot for me because, even in an industry full of stand-out artists, he brings a unique visual flair to everything he does.

Paul's Pick - Francis Manupal

Before Johns' run on the Flash last year, I'd only seen a minimal amount of stuff by Manupal. This was a tight race between him, Yanick Paquette, and Greg Capullo, but in the end I had to give Francis his props. The thing about his art is, it's not just a "compliment" to the story. When he was working with Johns, his stuff created a Flash world that was both unique and beautiful. His soft lines created a world without boundaries for Barry Allen, and I was all in. And yet, I may be even more impressed with his work on the  DCnU Flash series, as he (along with Brian Buccellato), since he is now heading not only the pencils, but also the writing. While there is a plethora of fantastic artists out there today, Manupal has managed to make his art such a vital part of the storytelling in the Flash that I feel it stands head and shoulders about some of these others that just manage to be "pretty." No offense to heavy hitters like Jim Lee or Rags Morales, but Manupal has earned this spot.

Favorite Character:

Seth's Pick - Matt Murdock

Under Mark Waid's guidance Matt Murdock has come back with a vengeance. Or maybe not... See, since Frank Miller turned the character of Daredevil from a swashbuckling wise cracker into a grim, put-upon manic depressive poor Matt has been under a constant barrage of awfulness. Though a consistently great title since the early 00's, Matt himself has been, well, sort of a downer. If he wasn't horribly depressed, then he was moping. If he wasn't moping then he was self destructive. If he wasn't self-destructive he was beating bad guys to near-death out of pure anger. If he wasn't doing that then he was being possessed by a demon, taking over the Hand and trying to run Hell's Kitchen. Come on, Matt. Take a trip to a circus or something. Try smiling...

Now, six issues into his new life with Mark Waid at the helm Matt Murdock is fun again. Maybe Matt is fun for the first time. In the first issue of his relaunched title we see a grinning Matt Murdock break up a mob wedding to stop a bomb, and after saving the day he pauses to lay one on the bride-to-be. Classic Errol Flynn moment there. It served as a signal that, hey, those whiney, mopey, demon-possessed days are over. Welcome back, Matt.

Paul's Pick - Dick Grayson

To be fair, Dick is one of those characters that has always been fun to read. He's pretty much the most beloved Robin by everyone, and in his days as Nightwing he has certainly proven that he can stand outside of Bruce's hands. And in the last couple of years, Dick has shown that he can take on one of the hardest jobs in comics: being Batman in Gotham City. Some of you may be thinking, isn't that old news? Sure it is, he was Batman shortly following Final Crisis. But in 2011, Grayson has shown that he was not just some filler to cover for Batman in Gotham while he was on hiatus, but rather he is a true force to be reckoned with. As a character, the mere fact that Bruce would want him to continue using the cowl in his city is proof enough that Dick has grown to a new level.

Feel free to post your own lists in the comments below this one. We want to know what you guys were and weren't enjoying this year.

That's our first year-end list under the new site. These lists are always hard to compile, particularly in a year with as many high-quality offerings as this year brought with it. Not only was it a year of huge change within the industry but it was also the year the industry finally rebounded after years in a downward trajectory. With the growig popularity of digital comics, and the need to maintain the momentum that closed out the year 2012 could end up being something truly special. Here's hoping...

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