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The 20 Best Comic Books of 2011

December 4, 2011  |  8:45am

Every day between now and New Year’s Eve, we’ll be looking back at the best music and pop culture of 2011. Today we look at our favorite comics of the year, from high-minded graphic novels to the serialized floppies that got us into the store every Wednesday. We’ve split it into two groups—the 10 best new or ongoing comics of 2011 followed by our 10 favorite collections or reissues released this year.

The 10 Best New Comics of 2011

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10. Infinite Kung Fu
by Kagan McLeod
Top Shelf Productions

Kagan McLeod’s massive martial-arts pastiche flies by as fast as the fists of the legendary Eight Immortals. Despite Infinite Kung Fu’s chop sockey subject matter McLeod mostly avoids an obvious manga style, with thick lines and copious shading lending a chunky and atmospheric feel to his fluid and surreal action. McLeod’s canny pop-culture cocktail unites the absurd and kinetic violence of a kung fu film with the blood-drenched gristle of a zombie horror flick, resulting in bloody, fizzy fun. (GM)

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9. Animal Man
by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman
DC Comics

Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman’s Animal Man unites the animal rights activism and domesticity of Grant Morrison’s metafictional early 1990s series with the supernatural horror that defined that book’s later run under the Vertigo label. With an altered origin that more closely ties the character to nature, Animal Man eschews standard superheroics in favor of the surreal and disturbing, resulting in one of the finest serialized comics on the shelf today. (GM)

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8. Troop 142
by Mike Dawson
Secret Acres

After tackling his favorite rock band Queen in the decent Freddie & Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody, Mike Dawson’s second book focuses on a week-long camping trip of Boy Scout Troop 142 in the mid 1990s. Each of his many characters receives moments of sympathy and cruelty, including the adults. These boys and men do things you don’t quite understand, even when you have all the information (they don’t). It recognizes the flaws in the Scout philosophy, but it doesn’t harp on them. It also shows the Lord of the Flies-type behavior of the adolescent male in an almost Margaret Mead fashion, observing with a neutral but fascinated eye as they experiment with profanity, drugs, new identities and more. Troop 142 is a terrifically subtle book that’s as funny as it is intelligent painful, and touching, and Dawson never flinches in his role as its creator. (HB)

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7. RASL
by Jeff Smith
Cartoon Books

Jeff Smith’s audacious sci-fi noir RASL proves that his fluid animated style can gloriously tackle any genre he sets his pencil to. Though it hasn’t quite captured the absorbing excellence of Smith’s classic Bone, RASL is well on its way to proving just as substantial as its forebear. It’s a concentrated thrill, with simple line structure and minimalist dialogue hiding sprawling plot undergrowth that expands with each issue. The eventual one-volume tome that’ll come out when this series wraps will be a definitive must have. (SE)

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6. Scalped
by Jason Aaron, R.M. Guera, and various artists
Vertigo Comics

Jason Aaron is one sadistic bastard. He won’t give any of his characters a break in his Native American crime blockbuster, Scalped. He continually pushes and kicks his cast along a downward spiral barbed with violence and regret. A credit to his sharp instinct and sculpted characterization, his tale of an undercover FBI agent fighting a corrupt casino boss has never lost momentum. Turning away from the inevitable powder keg at the series’ end isn’t even an option for those who have stuck around since the beginning. Aaron’s characters aren’t archetypes of morality; they’re concrete human beings coping in the face of exhausting hardship. (SE)

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