“Blacksad” by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido — One look at the artwork of “Blacksad” and it should be clear why we chose this as our No. 1. The work is a collection of the first three (of four) stories from writer Juan Diaz Canales and artist Juanjo Guarnido. Guarnido’s artwork captures human traits and transposes them onto animals, and you can tell exactly the kind of person he based the creature on. The color, the layouts, the panel transitions — everything about the art is beautiful. The fact that the noir stories are just as strong, particularly “Red Soul,” which deals with the Red Scare, is astounding. Read this now.
“Deadpool MAX” by David Lapham and Kyle Baker — Deadpool is a character who has somehow surpassed Wolverine in terms of oversaturation in Marvel Comics, so it takes a lot for one of the many monthlies he is in to set itself apart. It’s only two issues in, but “Deadpool MAX” has already set itself apart with David Lapham writing Deadpool at his most vulgar and insane. Agent Bob is hilariously pathetic as he desperately tries to get Deadpool to do his job. Kyle Baker’s art adds to the hilarity as everything looks like an old Looney Toons cartoon. This is a filthy and vulgar blast of Deadpool at his best.
“Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour” by Bryan Lee O’Malley — All the hype surrounding the final volume and the movie is finally gone, but damn, was that hype warranted. Volume 6 elaborates on some of the more human parts of Scott (it turns out he is kind of a jerk), giving some needed emotional oomph. The overall theme of the story is better presented here than the story itself. It isn’t about beating evil exes to get the girl; it’s about admitting you’re a jerk and getting some totally awesome self-respect out of it. Also, the final boss fight against Gideon is far more fun here, even without Jason Schwartzman.
“The Outfit” by Darwyn Cooke — Parker is a badass, and Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of the third Parker novel, “The Outfit,” is badass as well. “The Outfit” sees the character going after the titular crime organization that has been trying to kill him. Cooke creates a somber and criminal mood by only using different shades of blue and white for the colors and by transposing direct lines from the novel onto panels where needed, keeping most scenes quiet. The plot contains a series of vignettes, and for each one, Cooke uses a different style of illustrated story telling. Each vignette’s content is similar, but as each style changes, each create a different mood. This is how you adapt a book while adding your own style to it.
“Wednesday Comics” by various authors — The coolest coffee table book ever. “The Wednesday Comics” hardcover collects the series in its intended, huge newspaper sized pages format. While not all the stories in it are that great, the artwork of all of them jumps out at you in a way that smaller comics can’t. Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred’s “Metamorpho” story is awesome, finally giving Allred the space he needs to create some fun and strange layouts. Other highlights are Paul Pope’s “Strange Adventures” and Ben Caldwell’s screen-filling pages (it almost looks like an advent calendar of awesome) of Wonder Woman. Now if only we could find a bookshelf to fit this massive book.
“Henry & Glenn Forever” by Tom Neely — For this one, the premise should be enough: punk/metal legends Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig are gay lovers/roommates, and they live next door to Hall and Oates, who are Satanists. The humor veers between the very dark (Danzig giving himself a coat hanger abortion) and the absurd (Danzig, Hall and Oates as Rollins’ children in a “Family Circus” parody), but it always impresses in this little-read indie title.
“S.H.I.E.L.D.” by Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver — The title of this one may be “S.H.I.E.L.D.,” and technically, it is a S.H.I.E.L.D. comic, but this ain’t your daddy’s Nick Fury book. The principle characters are a dimension-traveling teenager, Leonardo da Vinci and Nostradamus. Rarely is the reader expected to know exactly what’s going on in this comic, but it’s almost always awesome.
“Secret Avengers” by Ed Brubaker and Mike Deodato — This one just beat out Brubaker’s run on “Captain America” and it only did because he’s been doing Cap for several years now and it’s remained at the highest level of quality. His new book, “Secret Avengers,” focuses on a, erm, secret group of avengers led by the old Captain America, Steve Rogers. Set in the post-Civil War era, it’s a side of Steve that we’ve all had time to fall in love with, and it’s written and drawn to perfection by Brubaker and Deodato.
“Franken-Castle” by Rick Remender and Dan Brereton — “The Punisher” comics are generally fairly uninteresting. They earn the “mature audiences” tag, show Frank Castle shooting up some street toughs, question his moral compass and call it quits. “Franken-Castle” turned the series on its head, reintroducing the character as a zombie-like reincarnation of his own murdered self. Issue 21 puts Castle on the mythical Monster Island and has the most gorgeous color palette and artwork of the year. Unfortunately, the character has now gotten back to his vaguely racist brand of vigilante justice, but “Franken-Castle” will remain a rare example of a brilliantly done “Punisher” book.
“Superman: Grounded” by J. Michael Straczynski and Eddy Barrows — This story arc, one which sees Superman opting to walk, not fly, around the United States to get back in touch with “real America” has taken a lot of criticism, but it’s one of the best new arcs on DC’s flagship series in the last decade. It’s a glorious return to Superman’s days as the quintessential American icon paired with the cynical weltschmerz that has dominated the book for the last few years, and the combination is executed to perfection.