Counting to Midnight- Best Comics of 2012 Part 2

Author's Note: I apologize for the vast delay on this post. My family has been dealing with some medical emergencies that took priority. Thank you for your understanding, and let me say that it is good to be back.

VI

Harbinger

Harbinger instantly became a favorite of mine, as soon as I read it I got the same feeling I get when I revisit some of my favorite books from my childhood, this comfortable sense of joy when catching up with an old friend. Its a rather shocking accomplishment for such a modern book.

Peter Stanchek is a young man with psychic powers, constantly bombarded with the thoughts of everyone around him. He is currently attempting to keep ahead of the police and is on the run with his psychotic best friend. Peter slips up when he decides to go back to his hometown and lay low for there for a bit. When he runs into a childhood friend/crush and she doesn’t remember him he uses his abilities to make her love him. What I really loved about the book was how they used this plot. Using powers to change someone’s perception of you or make someone you long for love you is a fairly common wish, everyone has felt that way. There is no denying that doing this is plan wrong, and it quickly goes into a rape situation where you lose any empathy for the characters. Peter however very quickly realizes that he has done the wrong thing here but doesn’t release her from these feelings immediately, partly because he is scared for how she will react towards him and also because… he just needs someone right now. Its a very dark situation that is handled well by making the main character very human and understandable. Things quickly spin further out of control when the people hunting him find him and send in an assault team.

This is the moment where we get to see Peter unleash and show us why they are so scared of him and yeah we can see why… he rips them to shreds. Surrounded by fire and chaos he is approached by Toyo Harada of Harbinger. Harada is like him, a psiot, and he has been gathering them together to keep them safe from themselves and others. Peter agrees to go with them on the condition that his friends are taken care of, and off he goes. It is during this time that we get to know Harada more, and I really like this guy. Harada’s powers activated to protect him from the nuclear attacks on Japan and he is the oldest known psiot. The reason for grabbing Peter is that a prophetic vision has been shown to Harada that Peter will one day destroy civilization, and while many urged him just to kill Peter, he decided to bring him in and try and ensure that he didn’t go down such a dark path. During this time Peter begins to feel more alienated around the other psiots due to his insane power level, constantly hearing their thoughts against him and regularly trouncing them in training, he is outside everyone. Harada continues to advise him and eventually discovers Peter’s greatest ability, that he can awaken latent psiots. Usually accomplished with a surgical procedure that kills a quarter of patients, Peter is asked to try this again so that hopefully they can do this without killing any others in the future. However after almost killing the girl brought in for activation, he flees Harbinger to find his best friend again. And in a heroin den in the city he find him, laying dead from an overdose. When Harbinger comes to collect him, he begins to follow until he realizes that everyone in the building has been mind-wiped. His best friend’s murder was all to manipulate him into falling in line. Peter rages and attacks the Harbinger building directly until he is taken down by Harada and is thrown from the building… only to be caught by the girl he had tried to activate, who flies him to safety.

The story since has introduced new cast members as Peter has begun building up of psiots that he has activated himself, so that they can take down Harbinger and Harada. I enthralled monthly by this series and have enjoyed every character who has been brought in, each of them reminding me of actual people. The series just seems so open that things could go anywhere and I am really excited to see where things go.

V

Journey Into Mystery

I will admit that I scoffed at the idea of turning Loki into a teenager. At first it sounded like a gimmick forced on the character due to unimaginative writers, much like the idea of giving Loki tits( yes that happened). However I was pleasantly surprised by this series and I adored Loki’s new direction. After sacrificing himself for Asgard, Loki had manipulated things so he would be reborn younger without his past experiences. This is a Loki who looks up to his older brother and wants to be a hero like him, but is unable to and so has to solve things by being well… Loki. He has no magic, no strength, he must rely entirely on his ability to talk himself out of and into increasingly worse trouble. They make it very clear early on in the run that Kid Loki is his own entity, the mind of the old villain had been placed into a magpie named Ikol who serves Kid Loki as an advisor of sorts and who is manipulating events from his own end. What makes this series heartbreaking throughout is how Loki, this child, is so universally hated in his home. Everyone knows Loki is a trickster and trying to earn their trust so he can hurt them again, so everywhere he goes he is met with hatred, all towards this child who has never done anything to them. For a long time it was this treatment that I feared would cause Loki to turn back to a villain, but Thor’s compassion gave him quite a lot of strength… even if Kid Loki did arrange his death.

Three separate arcs run this year with Journey into Mystery, and to be honest none of them were personal favorites of mine with Kid Loki. The first arc dealt with the Fear Lord Nightmare seeking to claim the fear of humanity as a weapon, eventually weaponizing the fear of Loki into a crown. This was an insanely powerful artifact tied directly into Kid Loki, powered by the fear of God. Most comics would have had the simple out of having our hero overcome his fears and making the crown shatter or some such tripe… Loki on the other hand calls in the rest of the Fear Lords, all of whom desire the Crown for themselves, thus creating a never-ending skirmish between them for the crown and ensuring its non-use. The next arc dealt with new gods emerging in Britain and Loki being sent in as a spy for the Asgardian guards(he is the perfect spy because everyone already suspects him!). The final arc is a tie in with Thor called Everything Burns. Dealing with the return of Surtur and his attack on the Nine Realms. This is very bad news for Loki seeing as how he is the one who freed Surtur in one of his earlier dealings. However due to a team up of Loki’s treachery and Thor’s brawn they manage to deliver to Surtur a most mighty smackdown.

So why is this series placed so highly if I wasn’t that big of a fan of this year’s books? Yes I was a fan of previous issues, most of which were fantastic with Loki’s quest in Fear Itself to kill Thor to save everyone, or the single issue of Mephistopheles in a bar(this series has done more to explore Marvel’s underworld than any other I feel). The reason why the series ranks so highly is due to its ending. The end of Kid Loki’s saga is a heart-wrenching thing to endure, but at the same time… it couldn’t have ended in any other way. Loki is informed by Ikol(old Loki in bird form) of what is coming due to both of their machinations, the end of everything good. The next day, Mephistopheles will take the Fear Crown from the Fear Lords and with its power, unite all the underworlds underneath him. “It wouldn’t be Hell on Earth, it would be Hell Everywhere” Ikol informs him that it is too late to stop this from happening, and that there is only one way left to save the realms from this fate. Kid Loki must give up himself to Ikol, everything he is will die and be replaced will Old Loki in his body, his fear will be erased and the crown will shatter. As a gift, Kid Loki is allowed to speak to three people and say goodbye, but is not allowed to mention anything of the plight. Loki’s first action is the most telling and sets out for the Underworld to see Hela. There he asks Hela for one last favor, to send his only friend Leah far, far away from him. Leah has been Loki’s companion for most of the series and you could see there was a great caring that had developed… many thinking their relationship had turned romantic towards the end. This is the first thing Loki sets out to do, save his friend, because he knows once Ikol takes him over he will manipulate and use her. So Leah is sent away, and Loki is unable to even say goodbye or explain himself to her because there are others he needs to speak to more. On the way he encounters on of the Disir(fallen valkyries once cursed with hunger and the ability to destroy both mind, body, and soul) and asks if they still could destroy him, for if they could then he would save everyone without returning as a villain… but due to his own heroic actions in the past, the Disir are no longer cursed. The last person Loki speaks to is Thor.. and this scene always makes me cry. Loki approaches his brother and asks him to promise “that if he ever goes evil again, to kill him” Thor however is appalled at this, Loki has become a hero in the eyes of Asgard and has Thor’s trust and he tells him that he is a good person. He knows that if Loki turned to the wrong side that he would help him find his away again because he is a better man now, he will never kill him. It is everything Loki ever wanted, he is redeemed, he has the love and respect of his brother… but he completely misses the point of his warning and through his own actions he has paved the way for the return of his old self.

So resigned to his fate, Kid Loki returns to Ikol. Ikol says that he tried his best but the game was stacked against him and he never could win this… Loki’s last words are that, in the end he had won. Ikol had set this entire thing up in order to earn everyone’s trust, to change and be unexpected. But Ikol had never changed, he was the same old villain, Loki had made done those things, he had become the man they both wanted to be, he could change while Ikol never could. And as Loki kills himself to save everyone he spits that venom at Ikol “I WIN” And all that is left is Loki, in a younger body… grieving for a part of him that would never be again.

The series was a tragedy that played out in a perfect ending. Kid Loki will not soon be forgotten, and the fans have been given all new reasons to despise Loki. While some of the stories this year of Journey into Mystery may have been lacking in my eyes, the ending was so complete and awesome that it shakes me up even on a re-read. Kid Loki’s saga is one of the most epic stories ever told in the Marvel Universe, and he will be missed dearly by those that know he his gone.

IV

Uncanny X-Force

This is the series that got me into the modern day antics of the Marvel mutants. The Uncanny X-Force is the darker side of the X-Men, going out and assassinating the threats to mutantkind. This book has been incredibly written and beautifully illustrated throughout and is now a personal favorite comic run.

The main drawback from this year’s run comes at the beginning with the Otherworld Arc. Fantomex is captured by the Captain Britain Corps. and put on trial for his crimes. The story is strange and off the wall which usually works, but with the series coming straight off the Dark Angel Saga, the series strongest storyline, Otherworld felt rather boring at times, especially if you don’t know or care who Captain Britain is… The series then kicks it into high gear again for its Final Execution arc, where X-Force is set upon by the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Everything comes to a head here, and the series does a fantastic job of tying up all its plot threads together while delivering massive action. We see a destopian future where the X-Force took control, with Psylocke ruling with an iron fist and where the Punisher serves as their top enforcer. The Brotherhood however brings things back to square one by kidnapping Evan, a teenage Apocalypse who was raised by Fantomex to be a good man. The brotherhood intends to get Evan to accept his future as Apocalypse and wipe out humanity. You really can feel the tension as things continue as Evan is subjected to the truths that his whole past was just a lie engineered by Fantomex to ensure that he didn’t wind up a monster, his parents never existed, and he has been manipulated. The final battle to recapture Evan is insane and continues for many books, however there are two moments that people still are talking about. One is Nightcrawler killing the Blob by teleporting himself past his invulnerable skin, and leaving a live shark inside of him, trying to eat its way out. It is an insanely brutal way to see someone go and it serves as the perfect companion for the other huge moment. Wolverine kills his son. Remender sets the rule down that people like Wolverine, Daken, and Deadpool can be killed by drowning, it takes much longer but eventually their brain cells all dye of oxygen starvation and there aren’t able to regenerate. Daken nearly kills his father with this method earlier on, and during their last fight Wolverine drowns his son with his own hands. It is strange in how… non violent the whole thing is, with the amount of blood throughout the fights, Wolverine doesn’t even pop his claws. He simply holds his son’s head under water until he is dead. It is such an uncharacteristic fight for him, not flashy, no blood, no snarling or screaming… just silence.

This series had my favorite characterizations of its cast. My personal favorite being Deadpool, Rememder gave my favorite interpretation of the character ever. The tragedy, humor, and badass-ery of the character are all intact and he DEVELOPS AS A CHARACTER… that is so insanely rare for Deadpool its not even funny. Wolverine is done well, and is written competently without overshadowing the other characters. Psylocke is a complete badass who is thrown through the ringer here, she gets broken mentally and is still picking up the pieces which is why it makes so much sense for her to pick things back up in the next series. Fantomex is just… Fantomex is just cool man, he is the epitome of cool, and a lot of people picking up this series had no clue who he was but they love the guy now.

One of the things brought up throughout the series is whether what they are doing is right or merely necessary, it haunts the characters in their own way. Everyone has to deal with the fact that they are assassins and have entered a darker world. Eventually it is revealed that they can’t all continue this way, doing the hard thing for as long as they could survive it because they thought it was right…but they all have their breaking point. The series ends with X-Force disbanded, and they have all had their losses but they are not broken, there is still hope and the world is still spinning… and that is thanks to the hard decisions they made yesterday.

III

Hawkeye

You should totally be reading this comic, bro(Something I went into depth on in my Marvel Now .1 post, more Hawkeye coverage there!) I say this without hesitation, Hawkeye will remembered as one of the most important comicbooks of this generation. Following the exploits of Hawkeyes, Clint Barton and Kate Bishop, when they are not being Avengers and just running around being awesome while getting beat up by tracksuit draculas.

The single fault with the series is that its length, there isn’t enough and when a new issue does emerge it is immediately devoured by adoring masses. The film may have made Hawkeye a household name, but this series is making him an icon. What I truly love though is how much time is devoted to Kate Bishop, a character who could have easily been forgotten but who was brought in as Hawkeye’s partner Hawkeye in what I still consider to be the smartest thing done in the series so far. Their relationship just works, they click and have great chemistry in a way that is entirely non-romantic and beyond that of mentor and apprentice. They are friends and partners, they give each other shit all the time, and I also love that there is never, EVER a discussion about changing Kate’s name, they are both Hawkeye.

The best comics are always a union of story and art, Hawkeye is no exception. David Aja’s art is exciting, using a minimalist style and making brilliant use of purples, the style is quickly becoming iconic. Marvel has started a trend of switching out artists during arcs that can lead to some visual whiplash but the replacement artist’s so far have done a great job of keeping the style of Hawkeye the same while allowing for their own embellishments. While Avengers or All-New X-Men may be the most technically arresting comics that Marvel has… Hawkeye is hands down its most stylish.

Allow me to sum up this series as simply as I can: Hawkeye is the Cowboy Bebop of comics. If it had ran the entirety of this year, it would be taking the top spot. Unfortunately we have reached the point where we must judge the “quantity of quality” when it comes to our final three.

Officially the best arrow in Marvel’s quiver. The best arrow of course being a boomerang arrow.

Because boomerangs.

II

Saga

*Fan-Girl Squealing*

Ahem… okay, now that is out of the way. I need to explain a little bit about my own preferences before I get into this review. When I first started reading comics it was only stuff from Japan, hell I was reading Korean comics before I was reading stateside. Eventually I decided to give American comics a shot but I was intimidated about Marvel and DC as their continuity had grown so large, two series however did grab my attention and bring me into the fold of American superheroics. The first was Image’s Invincible, and the second was called Runaways. While the series’ run was woefully short, the author Brian K. Vaughan had immediately captured my attention and I would continue following his work, to Y: The Last Man, then Ex Machina, and now to Saga. With my personal experiences with the author and my views of him as one of modern comic’s greatest writers, I can honestly state from Saga’s strong start and imaginative landscape that this may well be his magnum opus.

Landfall is the largest planet in its galaxy and is at war with its moon Wreath. The people of Landfall are a winged race using technological weaponry whereas Wreath is the home to horned individuals capable of wielding magic. Their war had reached the point where it would have destroyed one of the them, and with the destruction of either planet or moon, would have destroyed the other in its wake. Now the war is fought amongst proxy planets amidst the cosmos, becoming something that is touching everywhere except the planets on which it started, no one remembers why the bloodshed started and no end is ever in sight, the war simply is. This story is not about the war, it is not about heroes trying to save the galaxy or trying reach a common ground. This is the saga of two parents trying to protect and raise their child. Marko and Alana were both soldiers who abandoned the fighting and ran away together, getting married and giving birth to their daughter Hazel. The problem begins and ends with the fact that they were fighting on opposite sides of the war. Seen as traitors by both sides, they are now being hunted down. One of the fascinating facts is that many people who hear about them simply cannot comprehend that these two are two people in love, the notion of members of these two species being in the same room together without killing each other is so alien that the idea of them falling for one another is beyond understanding. The high commands of both worlds realize how things could look if these two were discovered in any sort of public fashion and must be taken care of, both sides hiring someone to deal with their problem.

One of my favorite aspects of this story is how well the characters are developed as even the assassins sent after them are fully realized people. Landfall assigns a powerful robot prince to track them down, Prince Robot is a recent veteran of a horrific battle and is still suffering the mental trauma of it however he is hellbent to finish this assignment so he can be done with this war and start a family. The Wreath powers hire two freelancers to take on the contract, The Will and the Stalk. The Will is still a rather enigmatic character whose personality reminds me of a gunslinger from an old western, he is partnered with a Lying Cat… which is cat that can tell when you are lying(duh). The Will is fantastic and halfway through the series so far says “fuck it” and just buggers off the spend his employer’s money at a sex planet. However he is now set deep in this entire ordeal by a personal vendetta.

If you hadn’t notice, this series adores taking advantage of the fantastic, giving the entire story the feel of a child’s bedtime story created by Jim Henson studios and directed by Guillermo Del Toro. Hell, Marko and Alana’s first goal is to get off the planet they are stuck on, so naturally they seek out a rocketship forest with the aid of their spectral babysitter! As for our protagonists, I find its actually hard to describe them. Its like describing a friend you have known for a long time, you can give some basic adjectives about them but you can’t fully explain your own comprehension. Marko is a noble and peaceful soul, Alana is fierce and dependable, both are caring and try their hardest with Hazel. But they are so much more than that. More than many other characters they truly feel like real people and we are still getting to know them. All I really want to say is that they are good people to know, and I recommend meeting them.

Now I have gone on and on about Vaughan’s writing and characters, however its only with the help of Fiona Staples that this world is giving its living vibrancy. I had never read a single issue of her work before, but I have fallen head over heels for her detailed, yet simple style. The lines are vibrant and her faces are filled with emotion, the colors are understated giving credence to the preceding that lends a believability to everything. No matter how strange things get, you never question the fact that what you are seeing does not fit into this universe.Much like the pages she creates, Fiona Staples is a wonder, and I can’t wait to see how she continues to improve and shine throughout this series run.

I adore Saga and I would recommend it to anyone I met, whether or not they read comics. Saga had eight absolutely perfect issues this year, and would have taken my top ranking if another series hadn’t beaten it out by five awesome issue…

I

Batman

Let me start off this with a disclaimer in full honesty: I love Batman. I love the character to a frankly unhealthy degree; my apartment door plague proclaims the residence as ‘The Batcave’, I have oodles of DVDs of both animated series and live action exploits, I even have an Arkham City t-shirt signed by Kevin Conroy. Hell, I am the proud creator of the Batmania drinking game(which will never be described here for fear of a lawsuit from grieving loved ones). This all needs to be said because I am well aware of my Bat-bias, I honestly don’t feel it pushed affected the outcome of this ranking. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo were unstoppable and gave Batman a perfect year with twelve fantastic issues.

While the newest issues were fresh in my mind, the main thought as I began double checking 2012′s issues was “if the labyrinth issue was released this year than that is going to lock this for the number one spot”, and it was. The issue in question was the first release of 2012 and features Batman at the mercy of the Court of Owls, trapped in their underground labyrinth. Bruce has already been trapped down there for quite some time, injured, delirious, and walking in circles. Every room he reaches tells him a bit more about his foes and how powerful they are, that this is their city and that they will be here long after he dies. All the while you get glimpses of the Talon, their court assassin, ghosting Batman in the background, and you know he could kill him at any time but is simply giving the Court their show. The pages start inverting and flipping as Bruce falls further into madness and breaks… finally the issue ends with the order being given and the Talon stabbing Bruce through the chest. Bruce manages to take control of his rage long enough to fight off the Court of Owls descending upon him, the art style mutating into delusions as Bruce sees himself as a hulking Bat-beast attacking these owls, he has been broken but is still thrashing. I love this whole sequence, its great and Capullo has a lot of fun with the Bat-beast while keeping the Court of Owls super creepy in both the delusions and in reality. Batman being Batman, defeats the Talon and escapes the labyrinth, staggering back to the Cave. It is at this point that the Court of Owls awakens their army of Talons, with all their previous assassins having been stowed away and preserved, the sends their newly awakened army of zombie assassins into the Gotham night to kill those who stand in the way of the Court’s agenda and to bring back the Bat’s head.

This leads into the next arc, The Night of Owls. This event crossed into all the other Bat comics series which.. was a mistake. I love these characters but DC has overplayed Batman and has his symbol everywhere, with 4 Batman titles (Batman, Detective Comics, Batman: The Dark Knight, Batman and Robin) and 5 series starring his supporting characters(Teen Titans, Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Birds of Prey) which is now 5 with a Talon series spinning off of this event. It becomes a massive problem with events revolving around Gotham because with that many writers and issues in play it leads to messiness and makes the story bloated. Night of the Owls suffered from it and the current Death of the Family is as well. However that said, the main series is not hindered by it. You do not have to read through any of the other stories to get what is going on in the Batman series and so I don’t hinder the ranking of this series for being shackled down by so many other characters.

During the finale of the arc we see the reinterpretation of the character Owlman. For the uninitiated, Owlman was Thomas Wayne Jr. and served Batman’s role in the Justice League of a parallel dimension(The storyline was adapted into the film Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths). Bringing in Owlman as the final villain of this arc was a brilliant move as its an intelligent way to use the New 52′s continuity shift to bring in a villain that no one expected but that we knew. Hell, there have been Owls everywhere throughout the series and we were all shocked when Owlman showed up, THAT is a good author.

We then have what I consider to be the strangest issue in the year, fittingly issue 13. Focusing on a new character named Harper Row, it is a good issue and gives us a much needed breather between dark storylines… it just is strange because we have no idea yet why this character is important but she hovers in the background of the series, daring the audience to figure out what the hell her deal is… Again, not a bad issue, I simply want to know how she will become important in the future. My two thoughts being either a. She will become a new Batgirl… which I hate the idea of because we have two utterly fantastic Batgirls waiting in comic limbo to be called into the action. My other thought is that she will become the new Oracle, fulfilling the role that Barbara Gordon vacated once she started wearing the cowl again.

Now we have reached our current event, The Death of the Family. Quickly becoming one of the definitive Joker stories, its focus is on the Joker returning after a year of plotting in order to tear apart Batman’s little team. To kill the family. As it is still ongoing I will refrain from delving too deeply but I will say this is the most menacing Joker you will ever read, and this is the first comic I ever read that has ever scared me. I have a fair amount of disconnect between psyche and page, but Joker’s attack on the Gotham Police Department drew me in and scared the hell out of me. Blackness everywhere as Gordon hears Joker killing his men… its brilliantly executed. Capullo has made Batman his character, and years from now will be remembered for this run more than he will be for Spawn. Ruling from the shadows in this series, he uses the dark shadows of Gotham as his blank page, drawing them back to reveal our characters and surroundings, but they are always present.

Honestly, any single one of my top 3 series could have ranked highest. They are all a perfect union of artist and author and flow seemlessly. However one of this is one of those times where the quantity outweighs, because even though they are all of the highest quality, Batman published more than either Saga or Hawkeye, and in this case more is a very, very good thing.

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2 Comments
Edited by broo1232

Agree with Uncanny X-force and Batman their both great books. Sadly still haven't read Hawkeye or Journey into Mystery :(

Posted by MSchiwal

You can currently pre-order the Hawkeye first paperback which collects 1-5 and the Young Avengers Kate Bishop special for 10 bucks(at time of posting) on amazon
 It is well worth the price of admission.