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The 10 Best Comic Books of 2012

November 30, 2012  |  8:53am
The 10 Best Comic Books of 2012

In the world of comics, 2012 has seen major new works from some of the most important creators in the field, exciting leaps from burgeoning young creators, and the occasional smart revamp of a decades-old superhero. Here are Paste’s 10 favorite comics of 2012, from literary graphic novels to the serialized superhero tales we download every Wednesday. We’re starting with the 10 best new or ongoing comics of 2012, and later we’ll reveal our 10 favorite collections or reissues released this year.

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10. Batman
by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
DC Comics

Ever since the debut of his short story collection Voodoo Heart, Scott Snyder has balanced searing creativity and disciplined craftsmanship with academic finesse. No writer has weaved foreshadowing and plot threads together with such dynamite precision since DC’s British Invasion of the ‘80s. The latest feather in Snyder’s cap is Batman. It’s a bold redirection of geography etched into modern mythology, warping a fictional institution into a booby-trapped funhouse. This is one of the Caped Crusader’s most cinematic, atmospheric outings in recent memory. (SE)

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9. Daredevil
by Mark Waid and various artists
Marvel Comics

Marvel has dropped more than a few hints throughout the decade that they might yank Daredevil out of the Xanax-swilling abyss of misery and torment that the title has inhabited since before we were born. Even with such tantalizing promises, nobody was quite prepared for the sheer swashbuckling elation that Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin (among many talented others) bestowed upon us this year. Whether lawyer-by-day/vigilante-by-night Matt Murdock is swapping tongue with a gangster’s bride (hey, her perfume drives him crazy) or trading blows with Mole Man, fun and smart have rarely intersected this beautifully. (SE)

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8. The Hive
by Charles Burns
Pantheon

The first quarter of The Hive works like nesting dolls of fantasy, adding both dreamworld comics and their “real world” counterparts to the mix, and as you’re jerked among the narratives, you can’t find your footing, an experience both nauseating and somewhat pleasurable. Burns seems to be exploring a theme about the function of visual fantasy, but it’s never obvious. He’s always been a genius at bringing out the gross side of the uncanny as he’s focused on the desires our superegos do their best to quash—a Stephen King who says the horror is in us, not outside us, and more horrifying for that—and this series is no exception. It will provoke both attraction and revulsion, often within the same panel, as well as a deeply felt sadness veering into depression, “the bad thing” David Foster Wallace wrote of. Intelligent, carefully crafted and emphatically not for everyone. (HB)

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7. Hawkeye
by Matt Fraction, David Aja and various artists
Marvel Comics

Fraction cuts around his Kirby hyper-scifi beats for almost mundane tales about Brooklyn and non-superhero life. Coupled with Barton’s smooth, endearing narration (“I’m an orphan raised by carnies fighting with a stick and a string from the Paleolithic era,”) Hawkeye is subversively enjoyable as an anti-superhero superhero study. Aja’s simple, worn-line work perfectly matches the grizzled photorealism of its metropolitan focus. This is a new, sentimental approach to the character that could almost count as an indie book with a few tweaks, packing more enough arrows in its quiver for the near future. (SE)

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6. The Underwater Welder
by Jeff Lemire
Top Shelf

Despite the debatable sci-fi trappings (does he really relive his past or is this more of a “life flashing before your eyes”, near-death experience type of deal?), The Underwater Welder is firmly rooted in realistic personal relationships, and isn’t that far off in sensibility from Lemire’s Essex County trilogy. Lemire has mastered the art of the human story in a genre setting. Welder reaffirms that Lemire is one of the most versatile and vital creators in comics today. (GM)

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5. Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller
by Joseph Lambert
Center for Cartoon Studies / Hyperion

Joseph Lambert makes something new and fierce and strange from this familiar story, bursting with life and making wonderful use of the form to tell his tale. It doesn’t matter if you know what happens; he manages to convey the birth of language and the power it gives us through a case both supremely individual and surprisingly universal. You may not like history comics or tales of overcoming adversity, and you’re free to continue to have those opinions, but please don’t miss this remarkable book. (HB)

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4. Saga
by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Image Comics

Brian K. Vaughan’s return to comics is funny, humanizing and beautiful in a way that austere science fiction rarely is. Every character, including albino men with television heads, comes with a three dimensional personality that begs to be explored. Fiona Staples’ pencils, inks and colors are gorgeous, propped against warm, washed-out backgrounds that emit a surreal fantasy glow. Her storytelling and perspective are also incredibly strong, echoing artists like Dave McKean and Michael Gaydos. If it’s not apparent, I love this comic. And I honestly don’t know what sucks more: having waited years for Vaughan to come back, or waiting for each issue of Saga. (SE)

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3. Jerusalem
by Guy DeLisle
Drawn + Quarterly

Jerusalem addresses complex and heated issues with grace and deft charm. Guy Delisle doesn’t pick sides, and he doesn’t let anyone off the hook, but he also doesn’t preach or depict himself in any noble light. The result seems to be a very real and well-rounded picture of day-to-day life, a journal comic that happens to be as much journalism as autobiography, with plenty of lightness that also doesn’t trivialize the situation in Jerusalem. Smart and fun, Jerusalem is undoubtedly one of the highlights of this year in comics. (HB)

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2. The Making Of
by Brecht Evens
Drawn + Quarterly

The Making Of is an intelligent statement about the importance of process in making art that also functions as a fish-out-of-water narrative. The book looks great, unsurprisingly, with pages that could easily stand on their own as works of art. Evens isn’t afraid of awkwardness and comedy, two aspects that frequently intersect in his work and do so beautifully here. The Making Of looks at the decision to make art without being pretentious or annoying or flippant; it’s also genuinely enjoyable to read and, at 160 pages, it’s not over before you know it. That combination makes it one of the strongest comics published this year. (HB)

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1. Building Stories
by Chris Ware
Pantheon

Building Stories, Chris Ware’s box of 14 different printed things (newspapers, pamphlets, books, a Little Golden Book, etc.), is gentler and less depressing than Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. It’s also an easier read, despite the fragmented presentation. Don’t stress about which piece to pick up first. Ware highlights relevant threads in multiple places, teasing full stories that he reveals elsewhere and guiding you masterfully to assemble the whole picture while still letting you feel smart. It may leave you with a hard little knot in your chest about the human condition (birth, maturation, possibly procreation and death, all in a short span and with little to show for it but brief moments of animal joy), but it also somehow makes you enjoy the knowledge. (HB)

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