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 the beginning of August? 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 ongoing comic book series of 2011… So far:
25. Heroes for Hire
Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning ended the first issue of this series with a jaw-dropping cliffhanger, and haven’t let up since. Doing what they do best – mixing big action, surprising twists, smart dialogue, and a love for Z-list characters – Heroes for Hire is a roller-coaster ride of a comic book.
24. New Mutants
As a New Mutants super-fan (seriously), I wasn’t quite into what writer Zeb Wells was doing at the start of this series, thinking he started slow and just didn’t get the characters. I was so, so wrong. Wells, instead, was building a massive two year long storyline that was bigger than almost any event currently running in comics. It pulled on every strand of continuity he could find, yet made it intimately accessible to new readers. When comic creators say the difference between movies and comics is that comics have an unlimited budget, this is the comic they should look to. Wells wrote a gigantic horror/action movie with the biggest budget you’ve ever seen… And then made it even bigger; AND well deserving of the New Mutants name.
Villains trying to reform is one of the oldest tropes in comics, but trust writer Jeff Parker – along with some of the best pencilers in the business – to make the concept feel new and exciting again. Deeply disturbed supervillains are sent out on missions with the reward that, well… They get to go outside. And though some are slowly marching towards righteousness, Parker doesn’t sky away from some very dark paths. Thunderbolts is, once again, a must read.
22. Ultimate Spider-Man
Forget all the hype about the death of the title character: before that happened, this was, for nearly a decade, one of the best comic books ever published. Brian Bendis writes teen heroes like no one else, and the heady mix of superheroics and soap opera, as well as amazing collaborators (David LaFuente, Sara Pichelli, and Mark Bagley) made this book stand with the best Spider-Man stories ever told.
21. The Walking Dead
Robert Kirkman has been justly lauded for his ongoing story of survival horror, but the book did seem to be spinning its wheels for a bit, all the same. Then this year came, and Kirkman got his groove back, with a smart, unique story about our heroes finding a safe haven… That might actually be safe. Until it isn’t. There’s an event that happened a few months ago that nearly made me drop this book, but even with that, Kirkman has continued to find new and surprising ways of pushing his characters, and the idea of what would happen next in a world full of zombies forward to the next logical extreme. I’m glad I didn’t drop it, because then I would have missed out on the last few months of spectacular stories.
20. X-Men Legacy
Mike Carey might be writing the most purely X-Men story currently on stands, finding that balance between ongoing soap opera and mutant action that fans from the ‘80s and ‘90s love so much. From the excellent Age of X storyline, to a spectacular and creative issue #250, month after month, X-Men Legacy delivers.
19. Action Comics
Though we haven’t been fans of the Reign of Doomsday storyline currently running in the title (and who knows what will happen when its relaunched in September), the Black Ring story that ran the first half of the year might be the best Lex Luthor story ever told. Fans of Superman’s arch-enemy should seek this out in trade, if you missed it the first time.
18. Sweet Tooth
What can I say, we like our post-apocalypse tales. Writer/Artist Jeff Lemire cranks out every issue on time – an impressive feat in and of itself – but also continues to let its antlered hero Sweet Tooth grow in surprising ways, as well as all the other characters. From a beautiful, fairy tale like issue, to one of the more shocking, heart-wrenching scenes of father/son separation ever committed to the page, Sweet Tooth does the Vertigo name proud.
17. The Incredible Hulks
Nobody, since Peter David’s landmark run, has written the Hulk like Greg Pak. We’re supremely sad to see him go later this year, but at least we can enjoy the exciting adventures of ol’ green genes and his fellow monsters for a few issues more. In particular, the currently running “Heart of the Monster” storyline is Pak at his best, as a wishing well gone mad is sending some of the Hulk’s toughest villains against him, all controlled by his ex-wife Betty. If we know Pak at all, there’s something coming at the end here that’s going to make us cheer, and something that will make us cry – just the way we like our Hulk stories.
16. American Vampire
Scott Snyder and Rafael Albequerque have created a classic vampire story in this Vertigo comic, one that lives up to the iconic title. As a pastiche of American history, Snyder continues to find deeply satisfying metaphors for each era through his bloodsuckers. And in terms of an ongoing story, he’s also found a beating heart in the romance between new vamp Pearl Jones, and her human husband Henry Preston. Which would be all well and good, if it wasn’t for Skinner Sweet, a great anti-hero/villain in the grand Vertigo tradition of Lucifer, Sandman, Preacher, and more. Fans of Twilight? Stay away. Everybody else? Welcome aboard the next great vampire story.
15. Captain America
Ed Brubaker is one of the most consistently solid writers in comics, so its no wonder he’s been delivering issue after issue on Captain America. But the recent Gulag story took things to another level, as he seamlessly mixed the stories of Steve Rogers, Black Widow, and Bucky Barnes, as all three try to get Bucky out of a Russian jail (or in Bucky’s case, just stay alive). Brilliantly constructed, and a fitting end for the character, Brubaker can write Cap stories as long as he wants. Go ahead, you have my permission.
Who would have though that a post-‘90s Venom series would be so good? Luckily, it has writer Rick Remender at the helm, along with frequent collaborator Tony Moore, and guest artist Tom Fowler kicking out the evil-Spidey jams. Venom has a break-neck pace, and a killer concept: Spidey’s biggest fan Flash Thompson can get his legs back if he wears the Venom suit to help out the US government; but wear it too long, the suit starts to take control, and they blow him up. God help us, but we’re fans of ol’ tooth & tongue… Again.
Jeff Parker and artist Gabriel Hardman have made the Red Hulk a great character. I know, this is like character rehabilitation central right here, but since the two took over this title, the General Ross Hulk has become a majorly complex and fascinating character. Utilizing a TV format – cliffhanger resolved at the top of the issue, new situation introduced, leading into the next cliffhanger – make each issue, and the next essential reading. But it’s the downtime, which finds the prickly Ross learning to be a human being which make this so exciting. Add in some new, weird villains, and amazing art by Hardman, and you have one of the best superhero books on the stands.
Sadly cancelled by DC, but for its runtime, R.E.B.E.L.S. was one of the best cosmic set books we’ve ever read. Pitting super smart a-hole Brainiac 2 against super strong a-hole Starro the Conqueror was a stroke of genius for author Tony Bedard. But it’s the politics and intrigue that made this book so exciting, and Brainiac manipulates the entire universe into hiring his private security force. Inspired writing, and fun where most cosmic books were series, R.E.B.E.L.S. will be sorely missed.
11. Journey Into Mystery
Writer Kieron Gillen embraces the title of this series, telling new Norse myths involving riddles, tricks, and double-crosses worthy of the lead character Loki. Excellently constructed, fans of old school storytelling and nu-Marvel art will be in heaven here. Plus, the story of a young Loki both fulfilling and fighting against his destiny is constantly fascinating. This book gets better with every issue.
10. Uncanny X-Force
Can you tell yet I’m a fan of antihero series? And Rick Remender? The X-Men’s black-ops team, which takes care of tasks too dirty for the X-Men to even know about has been rock solid since issue one. But more than that, with big, strange ideas, insane action, and deep characterization, this title is the true heir to Grant Morrison’s New X-Men. This series only gets darker and stranger with every arc, to… By next year, we expect it will just be twenty-two pages of blood and anguish.
Few titles celebrate the pure joy of reading comic books like Skullkickers does. Mixing fantasy conventions with anachronistic humor and bloody, bloody violence, Jim Zub’s ongoing story of a big bald guy and an angry dwarf should be on every comic fans pull list; if not for the story, then at least for the laugh out loud sound effects. Also for the story, though.
8. Batman Incorporated
Grant Morrison’s latest Batman story was always going to be “good,” the question was whether it would be, “Oh, I kind of get that,” good, or actually good. I’m happy to say, it’s actually great, and in particular, the last few issues have been some of the most exciting, propulsive comics Morrison has ever written. Credit to now consistent artist Chris Burnham for being the best match for Morrison since Frank Quitely. Remember when Batman used to be fun? He is again, here. So yay for that.
7. Invincible Iron Man
Has there ever been a better run on Iron Man than Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca’s? I’m just going to say, “No,” and leave it at that. The pair writer the crap out of Tony, while mixing huge scifi ideas that seem close enough to almost be real – just like any good Iron Man story should have – and heart-wrenching anguish for Iron Man and his team. The current Fear Itself arc has been terrifying and beautiful to look at, while the arc before that had an amazing ending that found all of Tony’s villains finally banding together. We can’t wait to see what happens next.
6. Secret Six
What makes someone a family? Is it proximity? Shared blood? Experiences? Gail Simone’s superb villain-centric series posits that its hating those people just a little bit less than everybody else – or at least enough not to kill them. Most of the time. This band of C-list misfits have become, over the course of the series, some of the most complex and multi-faceted characters in the DC Universe, and also, there’s King Shark, who is a shark. We’re going to be sad to see them go, but at least there’s one more issue, which looks like it will leave them going out like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The way it should be.
5. Generation Hope
Marvel’s next generation of mutant heroes had so many things going against it: the love readers have for every other young X-Men title; a writer new to the X-Men side of the universe; and what seemed like a limited premise, as new hero Hope travels around the globe activating the only six new mutants in existence. But Kieron Gillen has made this exciting, funny, and spectacularly original, from the horror story of a mutant baby who just doesn’t want to be born, to a superbly written issue set at a trial that completely redefines what we thought one character’s powers were. Add in beautiful manga-esque art from Salvador Espin, including one of the most adorable depictions of Kitty Pryde I’ve ever seen, and you have… Well, another beloved young X-Men comic.
4. Batman Detective Comics
]When writers are taking on Batman, they sometimes forget he’s a detective, or think that means just having him run prints through his bat computer. Snyder actually writes exciting, trippy mysteries for the bat to solve, and thereby made this title a must read for fans of mysteries, or superheroics. Plus, he’s created one of the most terrifying new villains for Batman to face in a decade in the form of Commissioner Gordon’s son, and this title jumps to the top of my pile every month.
3. Amazing Spider-Man
If you’re not reading Dan Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man then you don’t like comics. Okay, that’s pretty reactionary – but Slott is, and has always been writing the purest expression of Marvel’s most iconic character since maybe Stan Lee himself. With top notch artists, exciting storylines, brilliant twists, turns, in jokes, and great new characters, ASM is as good as its ever been, and maybe even better than that. Smart and funny, Slott understands that Spidey is the book any reader should be able to pick up at any point and get right in, while still pushing the ongoing soap opera and storylines. If you want to get a new reader into comics, hand them any issue of Amazing Spider-Man, and stand back in victory.
2. Avengers Academy
The premise is simple: a group of kids with the potential to become great villains are taken in to be trained by the heroes in the Avengers, as much to watch them as to make them better. But writer Christos Gage has made the series so much more than that, plumbing the depths of their characters, and the history of the Avengers to create a classic story that’s as good as anything Marvel has ever put out. Not only that, but he takes the time to make sure each character gets their due… And though it took a while, this was the year we fell in love with each character in the Academy. Look no further than the just released Fear Itself tie-in, which threatens each of them with death or annihilation. Its hard to make readers care about new characters; to make us feel this deeply means that the writer has done something great.
1. The Unwritten
Another slow burn, when this series started, it felt a lot like other Vertigo series: a Harry Potter stand-in finds out he has Harry Potter powers, and gets sent on an epic journey to control the power held in books. Except over time, writer Mike Carey and artist Peter Gross have created a complex tapestry that is an epic piece of literature in its own right. Sure, there are references a-plenty, but each issue brings new surprises in structure, from a story that focuses on what happens in the space between stories, to the main character finding himself in the belly of a whale – the same one who swallowed Pinocchio, Baron Munchausen, and more. Plus, the main three characters – Tom Taylor, Lizzie Hexam, and Savoy – have formed a bond of friendship so strong, they’re now the most exciting super-team in comics.