2011 gave us a wealth of great new comics, which ranged from tales of moss monsters to feral school headmasters to martial artists with the power to make their limbs fly off. But what comic book debuts tickled our fancy the most? Here are our picks, in no particular order.
By Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera, and Marcos Martin (Marvel Comics)
After the grim "Matt Murdock gets possessed by a demon and becomes an evil ninja master" storyline of the 2010 miniseries Shadowland, Daredevil completely flipped the script in 2011. In the superhero's new ongoing series, Kingdom Come and Irredeemable helmsman Mark Waid strips the superhero of his inner sturm und drang and suggests that being a handsome, superhuman attorney just might be a hoot.
This new Daredevil series works because Waid understands there are certain dramatic limitations to penning superhero comics. As one of Marvel's staple characters, Daredevil can never die, so past writers have shuffled the tragedy onto the Man Without Fear's secret identity and supporting cast. But you can only pile on so many personal horrors before the character becomes a quivering husk in red leotards who sleeps in a sensory deprivation and blasts Evanescence.
Instead, Waid allows Matt Murdock to enjoy his moonlighting. By focusing on his sensory superpowers, Waid gets to the pith of the character and, along the way, convinces us that being Daredevil is the greatest gig on the planet. "Did you know that every single strawberry on this table smells just a little bit different?" waxes Matt in the first issue. Everyone he meets assumes he's Daredevil, but Matt laughs off their accusations. He's that good.
So yes, Waid's run takes place in Daredevil canon, but he doesn't spend a lot of time dwelling on his past. This is Daredevil's "Welcome Back, Frank" moment — Daredevil is addictive, accessible, back to basics, and privy to some of the most sublime illustrations in the superhero business. The artwork by Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin is pure four-panel fantasia.
By Kagan McLeod (Top Shelf)
We love ourselves some wuxia insanity, so Kagan McLeod's graphic novel about every single martial arts trope rolled up into one zombie-filled universe was right up our alley. From our review last August:
McLeod uses [protagonist] Lei Kung's training as the reader's entry point to this trippy dimension, where kung fu is so powerful it grants immortality, regeneration, and just about every damn superpower under the sun. McLeod illustrates this in world in handsome grayscale brush strokes that make each masters' increasingly absurd techniques look splendiferous. Infinite Kung Fu may not always make a ton of sense, but A.) neither do some of the most watchable martial arts films; and B.) this book always look exquisite.
Another undead book that was pretty clutch was Drawn & Quarterly's graphic novel compilation of Brian Ralph's Daybreak. You can read our review of that here.
By Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner (Image Comics)
In this impressive debut by writer Seifert and artist Ketner, Dr. Vincent Morrow diagnoses the ghastliest terrors of the supernatural realm with a clinical eye. Aided by his trusty paramedic sidekick Eric and his, ahem, "carnivorous" anesthesiologist Penny, Morrow runs afoul of vampires and faeries, all the while maintaining a chipper bedside manner that would put Patch Adams to shame. This is a doctor, who when faced with the resurrection of Osiris, barks dismissively, "Your god has no junk!" Ketner's pencils are gruesome yet vibrant, and Seifert's script tosses a dollop of arcane outlandishness into your everyday medical procedural.
By Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso (DC Comics/Vertigo)
Holy hell, has writer Brian Azzarello been on a golden tear this year. Between spinning supernatural horror in Wonder Woman with artist Cliff Chiang and making the alternate timeline miniseries Batman: Knight of Vengeance the best part of last summer's Flashpoint storyline, Azzarello has spearheaded some of the year's most entertaining books.
Spaceman, his new science fiction miniseries with 100 Bullets artist and longtime collaborator Eduardo Risso, only maintains Azzarello's hot streak. In this bleak futurist tale, Orson — a genetically modified NASA experiment bred for Martian expeditions — is permanently stuck on an environmentally decaying Earth where his job sucks and human language has morphed into an internet shorthand patois. Azzarello aggregates everything wrong with society today, kicks it up a nightmarish degree, and allows Eduardo Risso to illustrate a future that we can only pray stays fictional.
See Also: Carla Speed McNeil's graphic novel Finder: Voice. Dark Horse Comics has fortunately been reprinting McNeil's scifi webcomic for bookshelves, and this installment collects the Voice serial from a few years back; this beautifully drawn story follows protagonist Rachel Grosvernor as she navigates the future's social clan structure in search of a lost ring.
Wolverine and the X-Men
By Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo (Marvel Comics)
It was a banner year for the X-Men, what with Rick Remender's Uncanny X-Force being one of the best superhero ensemble books out there and Mike Carey's Age of X storyline in X-Men Legacy adding to the pantheon of memorable alternate universe X-Men stories. But Jason Aaron's Wolverine and the X-Men brought the X-Men back to zany heights we haven't seen since Grant Morrison was on New X-Men. Basically, Wolverine is the harried headmaster in charge of a school of rambunctious teenage mutants, aliens, and other sentient beings with (genetically divergent) hormones raging. Aaron's got a great handle on Logan (as his work on Wolverine demonstrates), and this breezy series is the crown jewel of the X-Books. This is superhero pop in the best way possible.
By Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick (First Second)
Although it's nonfiction, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention this detailed (in the bibliography, Ottaviani mentions his research notes for the book eclipsed one meter) and extremely entertaining graphic novel biography of physicist Richard Feynman. Ottaviani's script and Myrick's alternating simple and hyper-ornate line work makes a complex man and his even more complex ideas an effortless read. Another science graphic novel we dug (that should appeal to the younger set) is biologist Jay Hosler and Xander and Kevin Cannon's Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth. The art team from Alan Moore's Top 10 and Smax illustrates this absolutely charming tale of extraterrestrials deciphering the Earth's evolutionary processes.
Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire's New 52 comics (DC Comics)
Of all crazy things to come out of DC's New 52 relaunch, it's pretty nutty that fringe characters like Animal Man and Swamp Thing are the ones eating at the A-List table. But hey, when you put writers like Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire on the case, it's no great surprise. With the gorgeous aid of Travel Foreman and Yannick Paquette, Lemire and Snyder have made Animal Man and Swamp Thing two of the New 52's consistently great titles by weaving DC lore with brainy, creepy horror that would've made the Comics Code Authority crap its collective trousers.
Animal Man and Swamp Thing marked but two of Snyder and Lemire's great debuts in 2011. Snyder is also presently penning a ripping run on Batman, and his tenure on pre-New 52 Detective Comics — his "Black Mirror" arc — was an instant classic to boot. Similarly, Lemire's high-concept espionage book Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. is proving to be a lot of fun. It's one of several high-quality monster mash books to come out in 2011 (such as Dark Horse Comics' Hellboy: House of the Living Dead and Oni Press' The Tooth).
See Also: David McKean's Celluloid from Fantagraphics. A decidedly adult erotica graphic novel with no dialogue, this is the famed Sandman cover artist going at page after page of a sexy hallucination, whipped up by a magic porno movie projector. Dreamscapes with boners.