The Top 10 Comics of July 2011

This was a hard, hard month for cutting down a list to just ten. The past few months, it seems, have had a lot of good content, but not a lot of great content. July had too many great comic books, darnit. I rewrote this list many, many times before I THINK I finally got it right… Though naturally you’re all welcome to disagree with me in the comments below. But for now, here they are – the ten best comics published this July:

10. The Red Wing #1

The highly anticipated Image series from Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra is easily one of the best looking books on the stand. No surprise, as Hickman has taken his clean, simple design aesthetic to every project he’s worked on, even Marvel books like FF and Secret Warriors, But it’s the stuff inside that soars. Hickman is once again dealing with time-traveling fighter pilots with daddy issues battling an unknown menace through the ages, ground he’s covered in S.H.I.E.L.D. and other titles. But it feels fresh here because it’s so damn cool. The take on time travel is surprisingly original, and there’s enough teases for the overarching conflict that we can’t wait to read the next issue.

9. Jonah Hex #69

Jonah Hex is one of those titles that is always good. For better or worse, it just doesn’t regularly make our list for that very reason: most issues don’t stand out from the others, due to the consistent high level of quality. This issue stood out. Jonah, the scarred mercenary from the Old West, sits and watches as his father slowly dies in the desert. The old man speaks, screams, shouts, and begs, while Jonah just waits. It’s brutal, heartbreaking, and ultimately bitter-sweetly sad to watch; and it’s all drawn by Jeff Lemire, who, we’re guessing at this point is probably some sort of comic book making machine. If writers Palmiotti and Gray can continue this quality through DC’s upcoming relaunch, we’re there for All-Star Western on day one.

8. Red Skull: Incarnate #1

Greg Pak excels at writing villains and conflicted characters, from his justly lauded Magneto mini, to the Hulk. But the Red Skull is a bird of an entirely different feather, someone who isn’t so much conflicted, as pure evil. Pak embraces the challenge of telling the life story of this unredeemable madman, and somehow, makes it work. Even as a child, the Skull is an evil bastard. We don’t so much feel empathy for him, as pity: he’s steered the wrong way and damaged by his elders, but the seed of vileness was always there. It’s a masterful character study by one of the best writers in the business, and may shape up to be one of the best mini-series released this year.

7. Project Superman #2

I wasn’t a huge fan of the first issue of this series, or a lot of the Flashpoint minis in general, so it’s as huge a surprise for me to say this, as for you to read it: Project Superman #2 may be the best Superman story told in the past twelve years. Yup, since Superman For All Seasons, which is my own personal high for Superman stories. If you didn’t pick up the last issue? Doesn’t matter. This is a beautifully written and drawn story that gets to the heart of Superman, and who he is: even in extenuating circumstances, even after he is tortured, driven to the brink, and cut off from all human contact… He’s still not just a good guy, but the best guy. This is, by the way, also an excellent Lois Lane story, with great understated moments throughout. What writer Lowell Francis and artist Gene Ha do is tell the story as much visually as they do through the words. You know, how you’re supposed to do in a comic book? But really, here it works magnificently. Even if issue three is more on par with issue one, this will stand heads and tails as a masterful work of its own.

6. Our Love is Real #1

There were only 300 print copies made of this, so lucky us it was available digitally… As this is one of the most surprisingly original scifi stories we’ve ever read. In the future, people have sex with dogs, vegetables, even crystals… But mostly not with each other. To tell more is to ruin the book’s surprises, but this plays out like a great, kind of dirty episode of The Outer Limits. Seek out a copy, or buy it online: just be ready for a shocking, funny, and emotional read that will stick with you long after you put it down.

5. Locke & Key: Clockworks #1

You can tell it’s a good month for comics when Locke & Key comes in at number five. Particularly when you have such a big issue: five miniseries in, and writer Joe Hill makes good on his promise not to LOST up the book – basically, in 22 neat, scary, funny pages, he lays out exactly what’s been going on in the series the whole time. From the most terrifying picture of a goat ever drawn, by artist Gabrile Rodriguez, to the funny, surprising last page, this is a – pardon the pun – key issue in the saga of the best damn comic being published today.

4. Captain America & Bucky #620

Is it okay to pre-love a comic? Ed Brubaker and Marc Andreyko – two of the best writers currently working in the medium of comics – teamed with Chris Samnee – one of the best artists currently working in comics – writing the new adventures of old Bucky and Captain America in World War II? Um, yes please. Luckily, the title 100% delivers, giving us an origin for Cap’s best friend Bucky that organically fits in with what we know of the character, while enlightening us with new information. It’s a great companion piece for the new Captain America ongoing (which was very close to being on this list itself); fans of war comics, new Cap fans from the movie, or just fans of good character pieces can’t miss this.

3. Amazing Spider-Man #666

Dan Slott is the best Spider-Man writer, maybe ever. There, I said it. I know I’m throwing a lot of superlatives around this month, but they’re all true. Nobody gets Spider-Man like Slott, and here, he turns in a perfect issue of Spider-Man. Humor, danger, old villains, new villains, and enough character work to fill thirty regular comics… Yet somehow, he makes it work. Launching the Spider-Island epic, which finds regular people getting spider-powers, Slott could have gotten caught up in plot. Instead, he delivers an issue that makes old fans squeal with joy, and can be handed to literally anyone interested in reading a Spider-Man comic with no problem at all. It’s a good time to be a Spider-Man fan, and that’s all due to Dan Slott. Oh, also? Artist Stefano Caselli ain’t too shabby, either. That guy can draw darn near anything, and I hope Marvel puts him on a regular title soon.

2. Batman: Detective Comics #879

When I was at the Batman panel in San Diego, no-one – not Gail Simone, not Judd Winick, not even Grant Morrison – got bigger applause than Scott Snyder. Shocking for a writer so new to the character, but Snyder has already made his mark as one of the great Batman writers for our time, seamlessly mixing horror, action, and real mystery to make a pitch perfect Batman story. And all that would be fine, except Batman doesn’t appear in this issue. Twist! In fact, this issue, we get Commissioner Gordon continuing to investigate his possibly psychotic son, while The Joker once again breaks out of Arkham Asylum. Reading this book, there’s no way not to feel the horror creeping up the back of your neck – particularly when Snyder’s story is paired with superb art by Francesco Francavilla, and incredible lettering by Jared K. Fletcher. This is as close to perfect a single issue usually gets.

1. Daredevil #1

However, this is a perfect single issue. For years, Daredevil has been wallowing in guilt, as life just got worse and worse and worse for Matt Murdock. And some of the best writers in the business have made the Man Without Fear a top level character, from Brian Michael Bendis, to Ed Brubaker. I’ll tell you right now, first issue out of the gate: this is better than that. Mark Waid fluidly reinvents Daredevil as a man the way he used to be… A daredevil. I know, crazy right? But in two perfect stories, spectacularly drawn and laid out by Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin – who should both be handed Eisners right now – Waid makes the case that Murdock has always been this way, he’s just had an insane amount of crap handed to him. And now he’s pushing past that, and having fun again… But he’s also carrying around his past at the same time. You know, like a real person?

Not only that, not only is it a continuation of a character who has been running for decades now, but it also – and this is where it gets brilliant – works as a perfect pilot episode to reestablish a Daredevil for a new generation. And where it gets more brilliant? The excitement, the action, and the humor. I actually laughed and screamed out loud at pages in this book, when I wasn’t grinning ear to ear, which was the rest of the time. I’ll say it again: Daredevil #1 is a perfect comic book, and if you don’t pick it up, you’re blinder than Matt Murdock is… So, go get it right now, you guys and gals. Or I’ll hit you with a billy club*.

*That’s okay, if I threaten our readers with violence, right? Okay, good.

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