The 25 Best Mini-Series and One-Shot Comic Books of 2011 (So Far)

Well, it’s that time again. With New Years just around the corner, we’re counting down the Top 25 Comics of 2011, with… What? It’s only July? All right then, we may have another half of the year to go, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about the amazing series, mini-series, and one-shots that blew our minds in the first six months of 2011.

Each month, in fact, on MTV Geek, we’ve been counting down the ten best individual issues we’ve read, so you’d think we could just cull from that list and be a-okay. And sure, there are some that make regular appearances like Amazing Spider-Man and Batman Incorporated. But there are also titles that have never made our 10-Best lists that have provided a consistently excellent level of quality, titles like The Incredible Hulks and R.E.B.E.L.S. And then there’s some other stuff.

Because there was too much good stuff to narrow it down, we’ve separated this into two lists, one for ongoings, the other for one-shots and mini-series. And of course, let us know what you’ve been digging in 2011 that we missed. Though I’m 100% sure we covered everything, because this is the Internet, and there are no mistakes on the Internet.

Here are the twenty-five best mini-series and one-shot comic books of 2011… So far:

25. Fear Itself

Marvel’s Big Summer Event has taken a little while to rev up, but now that it has, the heavy metal mega-action looks like it won’t stop delivering any time soon. However, the real star is artist Stuart Immonen, with inker Wade von Grawbadger and colorist Laura Martin, who are putting out so of the best mainstream comic book art… Ever. The real event is how good this comic book looks; we can’t wait to see what’s next.

24. X-Men: Prelude to Schism

Though it may not quite connect up with the series it’s ostensibly a prelude for, Paul Jenkins provided a reliably thoughtful series, with in depth character portraits of X-Men mainstays Magneto, Professor X, Cyclops, and Wolverine. Light on action, but heavy on character insight, this was one of the calmer, more interesting X-series we’ve seen ina long time.

23.15 Love

Sure, I get that an Americanized tennis manga mini-series from Marvel which has been gestating on the shelf for a long time might not be for everybody. But it’s a ton of fun, and seamlessly brings the Manga style to the Marvel audience, no small feat. Oh, and it looks great, too. More like this, and I’ll manga mine Marvel! That barely makes sense.

22. Mystery Men

We’ve only seen two issues of this neo-pulp series so far, but we love what we see. David Liss has created new, deep, interesting characters set a decade before the origins of the Marvel Universe that we desperately want to know more about. And Patrick Zircher’s art is insanely good, mixing the look of Marvel’s Noir line with pencils that would give John Cassaday a run for his money.

21. Annihilators

The lead story, by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, bringing together Marvel’s powerhouse cosmic superheroes, was a fun ride. But the real attraction was the back-up story, teaming space-weirdo Rocket Raccoon and talking tree Groot together to take on killer clowns, an army of talking mushrooms, and an entity bent on controlling the Universe. Loopy, surreal, and deeply funny; come for the main story, but stay for the back-up.

20. Batman: Gates of Gotham

In a very short time, writer Scott Snyder has made an indelible mark on the Batman mythos. In this exciting, intelligent miniseries, Gotham City’s past comes back to haunt it in the form of a new, unnamed villain. Very few writers know how to write an actual mystery involving a superhero like Batman; Snyder makes it looks easy.

19. Silver Surfer

Writer Greg Pak has a facility for getting to the heart of what makes a fantastic character a living being. So when he stripped the cosmic Silver Surfer of his powers during this mini, it shouldn’t have been a big surprise… Except it was, and it showed us – for the first time in decades – who the Surfer truly was, deep down. Also, lots of action in the mighty Marvel manner. This stands head and surfboard with the best Surfer stories ever told.

18. Ozma of Oz

Writer Eric Shanower and artist Skottie Young have, for the past few years, been delivering some of the best darn all ages stories ever told in comics, in the form of their L. Frank Baum adaptations. In this one, Dorothy returns to Oz, and in the process, Shanower and Young reclaim the nightmarish disaster of the movie version, making this a unique, magical, and gorgeous-looking ride the only way they can. This truly is a all-ages book… For the ages. Yeah, I went there.

17. Bad Dog

Okay, fine, Bad Dog is an ongoing. But with one issue released in, you know… The past few years… I think we can characterize it as a one-shot, because I ran out of room on the ongoing list. Cough. Anyway, the story of a werewolf bounty hunter who’s hit rock bottom is gloriously disgusting, funny, and graced with dazzling art by Diego Greco. Not to mention Joe Kelly, who manages to meld his dirty impulses with a true sadness and a beating heart. Here’s hoping this jumps onto the ongoing list by the end of the year.

16. Spider-Girl

Another little flub, this was supposed to be an ongoing, but as it was cancelled at number eight, I’m going to characterize it as a mini-series… And say shame on you for not picking this up. Paul Tobin told a unique, creative teen superhero story that showed how the loss of a loved one can both destroy you, and make you stronger. Plus, where most teen superheroes are like the heroes they’re named after but, you know, younger, Spider-Girl is very much her own lady. I’m very much looking forward to her upcoming Spider-Island mini-series, and you should be too, ya jerks.

15. Batman: Knight of Vengeance

Easily the best of the Flashpoint miniseries… But then was there any doubt, given that it reunited writer Brian Azzarello with artist Eduardo Risso? The team works seamlessly together, telling a story that, if disconnected from its Flashpoint connection, easily stands up with The Dark Knight Returns, or Loeb & Sale’s Long Halloween. We still have one issue to go, so sure, it could go downhill from here. But we’re going to guess it won’t. This may be one for the ages.

14. Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine

Jason Aaron may have thrown all the insane ideas he could into one series – a club that beats you back in time, Doom the Living Planet, a Phoenix-powered gun – but after several stunning looking issue courtesy of legendary artist Adam Kubert, he still found time to rip your heart out. The best/worst part? Even with the pairing of the two heroes in the Marvel Universe most likely to end up on the bad end of any scenario, you don’t see it coming. A creative gut punch that lives up to its “Astonishing” title.

13. Ruse

To be fair, I still haven’t read the original Crossgen series this was based on, so it might be, you know, same-old, same-old… But Mark Waid’s tricky, funny steam-punk detective story is both instantly familiar, and at the same time completely original. Fans of whip-smart writing and twists you just don’t see coming will have a field day with this book. People who aren’t fans of those things should maybe think about not reading comics anymore.

12. Comic Book Comics

We’ve only had one issue of the definitive, illustrated history of comic books come out this year, but it was a doozy. The fifth issue dealt with copyright law, and managed to become an essential piece in the ongoing discussion of artist’s rights. Plus, it was very, very funny, so that’s a bonus. The final issue comes out soon (co-creator Ryan Dunlavey thinks early August at this point), and if it doesn’t radically change the comic book industry forever, it will be a gigantic failure. Just kidding. If you want smart, funny, informative comic books that don’t talk down to their readers, Comic Book Comics is for you.

11. Strange Adventures

Vertigo’s over-sized scifi anthology one-shot had some great stories in it from top name creators, but it was writer/artist Kevin Colden’s “The Post-Modern Prometheus” that stole the show. Heartbreakingly beautiful, completely original, and stunningly illustrated, the story of a science experiment left for dead discovering how to live contains images that I’ll never, ever forget. Do yourself a favor, and seek this story out. Now. GO NOW. But actually read our top ten first, then go.

10. Age of X

A comic book set in an alternate reality where characters we know and love have been turned into dark reflections of themselves, trying to find out what went wrong so they can set reality right… Sounds like a certain DC event, right? Except writer Mike Carey, who wrote this over several X-titles earlier this year, created a thoughtful, fascinating look at a world gone wrong – and what it means to be a hero when all hope is lost. Not only that, but the mystery was truly intriguing, with the solution presented right at the start. You know, just like all good mysteries. Those who skipped this originally should go back and take a look, particularly as the X-Men are never better than when they’re put through the ringer – like they are here.

9. Escape From The Negative Zone

Running through three annuals, writer James Asmus delivered probably the most exciting – and fun – Steve Rogers story in recent memory. From the stunning art in the first annual, to the non-stop, drag out fight in the last, Asmus perfectly balances humor, big character moments, and all out action. If you’ve ever wanted to see Namor the Sub-Mariner, insane from lack of water, brawling with Captain America and the X-Men’s Cyclops while fighting space monsters – and why wouldn’t you want to see that? – pick this up.

8. Who Is Jake Ellis?

I think I’ve heard that this has been extended into an ongoing series, but we’ll ignore that. I also hesitate to tell you the secrets of the title, as this has one of the best first issues I’ve ever read in a comic, but suffice to say, this is the story of a guy on the run from various spy agencies, and his partner, who helps him stay one step ahead of everyone else. Though his partner may or may not exist. Mixing LOST style mysteries with Bourne style spy capers, this book is the scifi action movie most comic book fans dream of. Both writer Nathan Edmonson and artist Tonci Zonjic – who have delivered solid work before – kick their game up to another level with this book. Ongoing or miniseries, we’ll read every issue they put out.

7. Non-Player

Another little cheat, Non-Player is supposed to be an ongoing title, but with one issue released after years of hype, and no issue number two in sight… We’ll let that slide. Regardless, Non-Player is not just the best looking book of the year, it’s one of the best looking books of any year. Mixing gameplay conventions with post-apocalypse scifi, and intriguing mysteries that are just beginning to be explored, Nate Simpson’s comic book debut is one of the most spectacular in recent memory. Search out a copy… If you can find one.

6. Jimmy Olsen

Nick Spencer and R.B. Silva may have been writing the back-up story for Action Comics, but they were the star of the show. Bringing the fun and adventure of Jimmy Olsen comics to the modern era, the team delivered a brilliantly written, and delightfully illustrated week in the life of Superman’s best friend, as he dealt with intergalactic party-girls, a video game that wants to take over the world, and worst of all, his ex-girlfriend. The stories, as well as several not previously printed, were all collected in this one shot, which stands as one of our favorite DC Comics stories ever. Spencer may have gone Marvel exclusive, and we couldn’t be happier about that… But deep down, we hope he totally screws it up, and goes back to DC to write more Olsen stories.

5. Rocketeer Adventures

IDW’s perfect tribute to Rocketeer creator Dave Stevens couldn’t have a better pedigree, bringing together the best writers and artists in the industry to write and draw high-soaring stories of the neo-pulp hero. If it wasn’t for the Rocketeer’s girlfriend’s frequent state of undress, we would say this was the best all-ages book on the stands. But barring that, this truly is a book for any comic book fan with adventure in their heart, or a love for comic books that celebrate the best of the art form.

4. Knight & Squire

Paul Cornell delivered one of the most creative – and British – comic book series of all time with this take on the Batman and Robin of the UK. But ultimately, what elevates this series is that it’s not-so-secretly a treatise on why its important for comic books to be fun, as the modern grim-and-gritty era – in the form of the Joker – runs crashing into the more wistful and idyllic comic books of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Chock full of Easter Eggs, ridiculous one-off characters, and some truly deep emotion, Knight & Squire is the best Bat-book not featuring Batman released this year.

3. Osborn

Writer Kelly Sue Deconnick, along with artists Emma Rios and later, Becky Cloonan, delivered what may be the definitive look at Spider-Man’s arch-enemy Norman Osborn… Without a single Spider-Man appearance. That’s no mean feat, but add in a host of entirely new villains and characters, a story that evokes political thrillers like All The Presidents Men, and jailbreak movies, and some of the most dense, provocative storytelling in mainstream comics, and you have the makings of a classic. Few villain series make you root for the villain, while still keeping them villainous. This series does that, and more. If you missed it the first time, don’t hesitate to pick it up.

2. Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth

There’s a lot of things that can go wrong when you take a web strip – even one as delightfully goofy as Axe Cop – and try to translate it to the longer format of a three issue comic book series. Lucky us, it worked perfectly with Bad Guy Earth, which found our weaponized police officer battling an entire planet full of evildoers throughout time and space. Plus, this may be the best, most ridiculous setup for a poop joke in the history of comic books. Axe Cop – which, in case you don’t know, is written by a five-year-old, and illustrated by his twenty-nine-year-old brother – is violent, bloody, frequently disgusting… And great for the whole family to read.

1. Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom

I think, at this point, it’s probably hard to argue that Locke & Key isn’t just the best mini-series of the first half of 2011, it’s the best comic book that’s currently being published, period. Writer Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez aren’t just delivering one of the most original horror stories in comic book history, they’re truly creating a story that defies characterization, skipping easily between comedy, terror, drama, and the surreal. Nowhere was that better on display than Keys to the Kingdom, which had issues that skipped through an entire month, or were done in the style of Bill Watterson. It’s hard to discount how aware the team is of the comic book medium, either, using pages, panels, and issues to perfectly pace their long form story. Often, people will ask me, “What’s the next Sandman or Watchmen? What’s the next great series that’s currently running?” As we near the end of Hill and Rodriguez’s run, with only two more mini-series to go, it’s pretty clear the answer is Locke & Key.

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