iFanboy’s Best of 2011: The Top 10 Best New Books of 2011

What a turbulent year for comics! One of the biggest publishers in the industry decided to start its entire line over from scratch, one of the biggest outlets for graphic novels went out of business, and companies across the industry are scrambling to figure out the right balance between digital and print editions. But with turbulence comes change, and change is the catalyst for the birth of something new. As a result, there were plenty of new books to choose from for this year’s Best New Books list, and yet we must narrow them down to 10. George Carlin said so.


 

#10 – Action Comics

The appearance of Action Comics on this list really sets the tone for this year; how can one of the most venerable titles in the history of comicdom be considered new? And yet that’s just what Grant Morrison and Rags Morales have accomplished, not just with the title, but with its main character, Superman. For years, Superman was considered the ultimate boyscout, the safe, friendly superhero, champion of law and order, protector of the status quo. But that’s not what his creators intended, and Morrison and Co. have recognized that, transforming him into a two-fisted brawler who is not afraid to take on the corruption and evil in society, even when they are protected by the law. To Morrison’s Superman, Truth, Justice, and the American Way is more than just a slogan; it means that when a system fails to respect its own people, it’s time for a revolution– and Superman just happens to have the ability to start one single-handedly.

 

#9 – Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker

Not to be confused with The Boys miniseries of a similar name (although that too is a great read), this series from Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston has to be seen to be believed. Casey likes to take his stories over the top, and Butcher Baker doesn’t disappoint. Imagine Smokey & The Bandit taking place on several different levels of reality, and you begin to get a hint of the insanity that is being provided here. The protagonist, Butcher Baker, makes the Watchmen‘s Comedian look temperate by comparison, putting him to shame in both the sex and violence departments. And seeing Mike Huddleston depict the wild shifts in characters and settings makes it hard to imagine anyone else drawing this book; his style is at times reminiscent of the best of Sam Kieth, but with a distinct flavor that he makes his own. Just pure fun and madness, and highly recommended to anyone looking for a roller coaster ride of comic.

 

#8 – Gladstone’s School For World Conquerors

Gladstone’s School For World Conquerors is one of those series that plays its cards close to the vest; initially starting off with a fun but uncomplicated premise– what if there were a school to train the next generation of super-villains?  And it seemed initially as if it would solely be focusing on the humorous aspects of growing up a supervillain-in-training. But as the series has continued, we’ve learned there’s a lot more to it than that. The kids of the school are actually a diverse bunch with differing motivations; a recurring theme is the desire to please their parents, many of whom are supervillains themselves. Some kids take supervillainy more seriously than others, and they have varying degrees of a moral code, which leads to some hard situations for them, particularly given the revelations in subsequent issues. Mark Andrew Smith and Armando Villavert clearly have a lot more up their sleeves for this series, so I was pleased to hear that a second 6-issue miniseries will be forthcoming, following the B.P.R.D. model. For once, going back to school will be fun.

 

#7 – Batman

Scott Snyder started this year in the midst of his acclaimed “Black Mirror” arc in Detective Comics, but then the DC relaunch happened, which allows me to put Snyder’s work on the relaunched Batman on this list. And it’s good thing too, because Snyder has been doing consistently amazing work with the character, and I’d hate to have to overlook it because of a technicality. Not slacking off at all from the intense “Black Mirror”, Snyder brings to the fore the conspiracy of the Court of Owls in his opening arc, which he had planted the seeds for in his Detective run. Joining him is Greg Capullo, whose dynamic panels and expressive faces complement Snyder’s story perfectly. Even if you’re not particularly a Batman fan, you’ll be able to enjoy this on the level of its compelling mystery alone.

 

#6 – FF

As most know by now, FF no longer just stands for Fantastic Four, Fast Forward, or even French Fries. It’s also the Future Foundation, as conceived by Reed Richards and implemented after the Human Torch’s death. Add Spider-Man in a spiffy white costume to the mix, and you’ve got a brand new series, one that will continue even now that the regular Fantastic Four title has returned. As always, Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting are bringing you the finest in comic book storytelling, throwing wild idea after wild idea at you with no chance to catch your breath, in the best Lee/Kirby tradition. This book is all about looking ahead to the future, and after each issue, that’s just what we’re doing– looking forward to next month.

 

#5 – Spaceman

Where FF looks ahead to a future filled with wonder and possibilities, Spaceman takes us to a future where that’s gone sour. But it’s not really about the future so much as it is about one man’s (and yes, Orson is a man, despite outward appearances) struggle with aspects of life that we all face; alienation, and the feeling that things haven’t quite turned out the way we hoped. “The future ain’t what it used to be”, or so a sage once said, and yet Orson hasn’t completely given up hope; he’s still determined to achieve his destiny, though it surely won’t turn out exactly as he’d dreamed it. This is really 180 degrees away from Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s work on 100 Bullets, and yet just as compelling, which clearly demonstrates their versatility in their craft.

 

#4 – Rachel Rising

Terry Moore doesn’t need a lot of words to tell this story. His artistic skills are more than capable of communicating his intent on every page. But just because it’s sparse on dialogue doesn’t mean it’s a quick read; the detail and subtlety of his work means you’ll want to linger over each panel of Rachel Rising, a horror/suspense thriller that is creepy in its quietness. Moore is crafting a truly spooky tale here, and while we’ve certainly seen elements of this before in the horror genre (the dead returned to life, seeking their killer) there’s so much more going on here, all balanced with just the right amount of ambiguity and tantalizing hints that keep you wanting to come back for more. A creator of Moore’s stature, with several successful independent works under his belt, could be tempted to rest on his laurels. But his latest work shows he’s just as determined as ever to push his boundaries and provide his audience with solid, gripping read in each outing.

 

#3 – Animal Man

Anyone who’s read Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth shouldn’t be surprised that he can tell good stories with DC’s Animal Man. It seems like a natural fit. Yet Lemire has gone beyond expectations, crafting an extremely human story that still makes use of the character’s roots. One of the most intriguing elements is the way in which a new mythos is being developed which ties the character into Swamp Thing, currently being written by another writer on this list, Scott Snyder. From Moore and Morrison to Snyder and Lemire– these characters really couldn’t be in better hands.  But it’s Lemire portrayal of Buddy Baker and his interactions with his family that are at the heart of this series– amid all the weirdness and creepiness ably depicted by Travel Foreman, Lemire still maintains the relationships that allow us to connect with this series.

 

#2 – Habibi

The latest OGN by Blankets creator Craig Thompson, Habibi is just so different from everything else on the market right now. It is simultaneously real yet fantastical, modern yet old, deeply personal yet far-reaching in scope. It’s a fable that draws upon the culture, history, and religion of the Islamic world for its setting and background, but is ultimately about the bond that is formed between two people who have known each other since childhood, and have endured unimaginable circumstances both together and when torn apart. It doesn’t shy away from sex and sexuality, but the purpose isn’t to titillate; it’s shown as one facet, an important facet, of human existence, and how it can serve as a means of survival, self-gratification, and sometimes as an expression of a deeper bond. This book may be controversial, and may offend some people given its intertwining of the subjects of religion, politics, spirituality, and sexuality, but it’s clear from the way Thompson has lovingly put so much detail and effort into this book, both through the exhaustive research on the subject matter, and many incredibly detailed drawings, that he has an important message he wants to communicate here. He doesn’t hit you over the head with it though, and there’s plenty of room for different readers to draw different conclusions. Which is the mark of a truly great book.

 

#1 – Daredevil

To quote one of my favorite websites, The Marvel Chronology Project, “Do you realize that, by Daredevil #350, Matt Murdock/Daredevil had been the victim of a parade of mental illnesses for almost fifteen years?!” Now add to that the fact that Daredevil #350 itself came out 15 years ago, and that’s almost 30 years of gut-wrenching, never-ending pathos. That’s why Mark Waid’s relaunch of Daredevil is such a breath of fresh air. It’s not that he takes Daredevil and turns him back into a happy-go-lucky Silver Age character; instead, he realizes that not every story needs to dwell on how miserable Matt Murdock is. He CAN be the guy that uses his agility and heightened senses, paired with his formidable rhetorical skills honed as an attorney, to deal with any threat that faces him. In short, it’s OK for him to be a superhero again. Combine that with the amazing Marcos Martin, whose every panel is a clinic in comic book storytelling, and what you’ve got is truly a new Daredevil for a new generation.

 


Matt Adler hopes for more great new books in the coming year.

Comments

  1. Ali Colluccio Ali Colluccio (@WonderAli) says:

    Habibi was so amazingly beautiful. Very glad to see it on this list.

  2. trobinson79 trobinson79 says:

    I guess we’re defining new by if it had a #1 on its cover this year. Otherwise, much as I loved the books, I’d throw Batman, Action Comics, and Daredevil off this list.

    I have to give I, Vampire some love here. I thought I’d be fine with just one true vampire comic in American Vampire, but then this changed my mind.

  3. Really good list. I am reading Action comics, Batman, Animal Man and Daredevil and they are all on my best of the year list, new or otherwise.

  4. I don’t think renumberings like daredevil or batman should count as new books, since it kind of undermines the creators actually creating new things. Anyway, I would put Witch Doctor as my favorite new book, probably followed by super dinosaur.

    • yeah it kinda is a sad commentary on what we as comics fans consider “new”. The list in theory should be 100% creator owned stuff if we’re talking about actual “new” ideas.

    • Exactly, and I’m not saying these aren’t good books. All the books chosen here are great books, but they really shouldn’t count as new. That’s really lowering our standards of what is new in comics.

    • Conor Kilpatrick Conor Kilpatrick (@cskilpatrick) says:

      It’s not The Top Ten New Ideas, it’s the Top Ten New Books. Of which these are all new books.

    • But I don’t even really agree with that. Batman has been going on for decades before this issue 1. Hell, there was still one a month before this issue. We’re getting into semantics here but I don’t buy into slapping a #1 on a cover as the only criteria for a new book. If Batman was released as a series of two issue miniseries, I wouldn’t call every issue 1 as a new book.

    • trobinson79 trobinson79 says:

      @Conor I think “new” just needs to be clarified more. If we’re talking top ten #1′s of the year, that’s fine. Otherwise, I think it’s safe to say that Batman is not new to anybody here.

    • Conor Kilpatrick Conor Kilpatrick (@cskilpatrick) says:

      #1 = New Book.

    • MauledPaul MauledPaul says:

      So if Action Comics renumbered at #1 again this September, would it count again as a new book, even though it’s been published continuously since 1939? I agree with the first poster above: that seems weird, and it’s a pretty damning indictment of the unwillingness of readers of corporate comics to take chances on new things.

    • Matt Adler Matt Adler says:

      I’ll just quote myself from the above article: “The appearance of Action Comics on this list really sets the tone for this year; how can one of the most venerable titles in the history of comicdom be considered new?”

      I then addressed that very question. It’s okay if you don’t like my answer to the question, but the way some are posting as though it was never even considered makes me ponder the irony of complaining about people not opening up their eyes and reading more… when it sounds like you haven’t even read what you’re complaining about.

      As for being willing to take chances on new things; I’ll stack my reading list up against anyone’s in terms of what’s new and different. Some of it made my Top 10, some of it didn’t. I just don’t have the bias against “corporate comics” that some seem to, and I think the unwillingness of some to even consider that innovative things can come from the Big Two is a pretty damning indictment in and of itself.

      On a side note, it’s interesting to see that out of all the suggestions for the list, only 3 creator-owned comics were suggested–Witch Doctor, Super Dinosaur, and The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, with WD being seconded by a number of people. I have read WD and SToLS, but they didn’t quite make my Top 10 (they would have made a Top 20). Still, I would have thought those against “corporate comics” would have come up with more suggestions, at least enough to replace the five that are on this list. After all, it doesn’t make much sense to say “There’s so much great stuff out there that you overlooked,” and then not tell us what.

    • twiceborn twiceborn says:

      Can’t a relatively new creative team and a new direction be enough to make something “a new book”?

    • twiceborn twiceborn says:

      New creative team on a title that they haven’t worked on before, is what I meant.

    • USPUNX USPUNX says:

      @mauledpaul: If by “corporate” you mean owned by DC or Marvel, which it seems you do, than all except 3 of these books on this list are corporate, since Vertigo is owned by DC and Pantheon is owned by Random House. The only non-corporate books are the the two Image books and Rachel Rising. And frankly, going by your definition, its pretty hard not to count Image as ‘corporate’ these days given its size so really Rachel Rising is the only non-corporate book one here; by your definition.

  5. Walter Walter says:

    Witch Dr should have definitely made this list.

  6. kmob181 kmob181 says:

    Great call on Rachel Rising. Stunning, haunting, definitely one of my favorites. I’m sorry to say I don’t quite understand the Daredevil buzz. I can definitely appreciate why its good but when I ask people why they think it’s great the only answer I get is some variation of the Daredevil is fun again answer. Then again I’m sure I’m missing something in that regard.

  7. oblivious247 says:

    Just recently read Blankets and loved it, definitely gotta check out Habibi at some point. Swamp Thing not making this list is my only complaint.

  8. g0ofgnewt g0ofgnewt says:

    My book of the year was The Rocketeer Adventures. I think I actually let out a squee when I saw that the hardcover was vol 1. Can’t wait for more next year. I can also attest that the store owners heard my squee and then I immediately changed it to a manly “that’s fantastic”.
    I cant argue with this list though. But Matt is rocketeer in your top 20?
    (also the Thunderstrike issues were awesome too- 5 issues, 2 frontline issues and a trade last year. That’s the most Thunderstrike since he 90)

  9. martinNL martinNL says:

    Nice list. I would put Xombi on the list and let Actions Comics’ fall off though. I know it was finished off after only 6 issues, but it was really telling a great story and was unlike any other book out there, both story wise and art wise. Too bad it didn’t sell.

    Looking forward to picking up Daredevil in hardcover. It’s getting so much love here. And Habibi is on my wants list too.

  10. Maty. Maty. says:

    I concur with your Daredevil selection.

  11. Matt Adler Matt Adler says:

    In addition to their being #1s, I would say that the relaunched titles on the list also are fresh and different enough takes on the characters to qualify as new. But I understand people’s quibbles with these sorts of things, which is why I addressed it up front in the article.

    Haven’t read Rocketeer Adventures, along with some of the other books mentioned here, but I will try to check them out. Ultimately, of course, any list like this is subjective since nobody can have read all the new books that come out in a year. That’s why it’s good to have you guys recommend stuff :)

    And I agree, Thunderstrike was very cool.

    • Agredd. The DC revamp/relaunch/rewhatever has applied changes to all their characters (some have been changed more than others, ex., Wonder Woman being born an offspring of Zeus). I’d say that is consistant with the description of best new books and/ or #1.

  12. Corey Corey says:

    Kinda shocked Ultimate Spider-Man didn’t make the list. But then I haven’t read any of these books so what do I know?

  13. camman13blue camman13blue says:

    Got to agree with Daredevil as number 1. I love how the art shows off the tone of the book.

  14. sitara119 sitara119 says:

    would have liked to have seen baltimore on this list.

  15. player1 player1 says:

    So glad you picked DD.

  16. chronotis chronotis says:

    Ultimate Spider-man and Uncanny X-Force have both been consistently amazing. They should be honorable mentions if not on this list.

  17. Flash923 Flash923 says:

    Luthor Strude and The Boys have been very good this year; as well as most of the New 52 and a few Marvel titles:

    Daredevil
    Amazing Spiderman
    Deadpool

    K

  18. Corey Corey says:

    Interesting to compare ifanboy’s list to The AV Club’s.

    http://www.avclub.com/articles/best-of-comics-2011-superhero-and-mainstream,67031/

    Not quite the same; they’re not listing ‘new’ titles. But still interesting to contrast.

  19. dominatr37 says:

    When yoiu said “Superman” I thought you meant the Superman title, not that mediocre read that is “Action” Comics. Honestly, I’m not seeing anything great about ‘Action’. The story is horribly disjointed with huge gaps in storytelling. “Superman” itself is a far superior book, which I look forward to every month. “Action” is just one of the books I get, that’s all. It’s mediocre at best.

  20. dominatr37 says:

    Actaully my own top ten would be Aquaman, Amazing Spider-Man, Justice League, Green Lantern, FF, Daredevil, Superman, Detective, Captain America, Demon Knights in that order, Aquaman being number 1 Demon Knights being nimber 10. Honorable mention to OMAC and Swamp Thing. If we were doing a top twenty the next 8 would be all DC’s.

  21. Reform Reform says:

    10 at top 1 (BatMan) at bottom

  22. Rbigley Rbigley says:

    My top are:

    Animal Man
    Swamp Thing
    Batman
    All Star western
    Flash

    don’t buy much but I thought these all had consistant quality.

  23. Agent Graves Agent Graves says:

    @Matt – you were saying how there’s not much point in saying there are books overlooked and then not give plenty of examples, so let me do that :)

    Who is Jake Ellis?
    Green Wake
    Inifinite Vacation
    Crawl To Me
    Lil Depressed Boy
    ’68
    Memoir
    Severed
    Near Death
    The Rinse
    Big Questions
    Petrograd
    Green River Killer
    Any Empire
    Infinite Kung-Fu
    Onwards Towards Our Noble Deaths