I’m giving you all a break from The Pure Mood’s pretentious blathering to hit you with the real skinny. Forget those try-hard Marvel books and come to the superhero worlds newly rebooted universe at DC. Here’s the 10 best DC books of the last year.
#10 – TEEN TITANS
Lobdell may be the punching bag of the comics industry, but I’m an unashamed fan, and here the guy shines in a teen book with teens that ain’t afraid to act selfish and mean. What I’m saying is, if you can remember when you were a teen, you were probably the most self-involved whiny piece of trash around, and I can say that ‘cuz I sure as hell was. Lobdell writes the superheroes in this book like that, too. The characters all feel real, with unique voices and motivations, all living in an interesting, dramatic world. He couldn’t be paired with a better artist than Bret Booth, who draws young superheroes that actually look young, who are expressive and emotive. My favourite highlight is the love triangle between Red Robin, Supergirl and Superboy – a tradition from the pre-52 I’m glad to see made it’s way over. And this is ongoing fiction, too – we get a chance to see Tim Drake grow from a gruff Batman wannabe into the start of his own man. That’s what being a teen is about, obviously, and having that at the heart of your book is a good way to go. Characters like Solstice and Skitter get put on the backburner too often, and crummy crossovers like THE CULLING knocked this down to my number ten slot, but when it’s good, this title hovers near the top of my stack every week.
#9 – DEMON KNIGHTS
To have a book this unique coming out of the Big Two just don’t seem possible. But here it is happening before my very eyes. Paul Cornell is one of comics’ best and most underutilized writers, and he does this big, kooky cast the justice they deserve. The cast really is the highlight, with great character beats like Al Jabr’s reluctance of accepting magic as a real part of the world he views purely scientifically. Etrigan’s and Jason Blood’s rivalry is probably the continuing drive of the narrative, and to us hardcore DEMON fans it’s great to see that back in the fold at DC. There’s a lot of fun had with Vandal Savage, the immortal Batman villain who happens along for the ride. Cornell stays true to the character while making him different than the man we know from hundreds of years later – a bit less megalomaniacal, a bit more of a remorseless killer/bumbling drunk. The real star of the show is the transgender Shining Knight, obsessed with his mission to be a hero but conflicted with his own perception of himself. In short, this is a fun, old-school fantasy epic set against the backdrop of the main DC Universe, with Hell, sorcerers and Avalon all appearing alongside classic DC characters in a book that’s too much fun to last as long as it deserves to.
#8 – SUPERBOY
I love the New 52 version of Superboy because I like characters who are born into the world blank slates, and now have to try to sort out the conflicting ideas and emotions they incounter every day. Superboy isn’t always a good guy in this title – he steals money from a bank because he doesn’t really understand it’s wrong. He’s a test-tube baby who initially hated the world outside NOWHERE, and is a hero in a bit more of a reluctant sense. I like these gray-area kinda characters. This also has all the juicy melodrama a teen book should, with great supporting characters like Bunker and a young woman that he occasionally crosses boundaries with. As it was pre-52, SB is made from the DNA of Lex Luthor and Superman, and always fighting a quest to find himself, and just what a hero is.
#7 – JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK
I liked this book when Milligan was writing it, but Lemiere really made this book his own. Focusing more on Constantine, we get to see an interesting contrast to the bloke we all know and love in HELLBLAZER. This one’s a bit more enthusiastic, a man at the beginning of his career, relying more on his smarts than his magic. I love books that explore the elements of DC’s canon that are normally left in the dust, and here we get to see magical worlds from the publisher’s varied history, like The House of Secrets and The House of Mysteries. The villians here are just as unconventional – Faust and Nic Necro are some of the most interesting threats you coulda read about in 2012. A team book with characters as varied as Deadman and Zatanna is always an interesting read in my books. This is the kinda Justice League I wanna read about!
#6 – ANIMAL MAN
The surprise hit of the relaunch and it barely qualifies as a superhero title – this is pure genre horror. Except at it’s heart, it’s a book about family. Buddy Baker is willing to save his family at all costs, and dear God does he have a lot to go against. There’s a lot of real down to earth writing here, with the tension of the Baker family living in the cramped close quarters of an RV. Buddy’s son is ashamed his Dad’s nothing but a B-lister, while his Mother-in-law thinks he’s nothing more than a bum. The expansion of the Red mythology is particularly interesting, the idea that nature is this unstoppable powerful force, that exists because it does, and we can’t try to stop it when it doesn’t go our way. This series also bolstered the only good ZERO issue of DC’s blundered marketing event. We see that the Red had Buddy perceive that it was Aliens who gave him his superpowers – because humans, when faced with an unexplainable, traumatic event, will often go to conspiracies’ and the occult to explain it away. It’s this kind of fresh thinking, along with the internal turmoil, familial politics and downright spookiness that made this one of the best the New 52 had to offer.
#5 – ACTION COMICS
Like any Grant Morrison book, you had to be patient with it; this just got better and better as the ideas and themes got clearer in focus. This book is about what it takes to be Superman, and how Clark evolves through the course of the story from a punk kid to a legend. It’s also about imagination, and how we have to create ourselves into something before we can make something real from ourselves. I also think Morrison dealt with Clark’s parents’ death better than almost anyone in the past – here, Superman becomes a rebellious, t-shirt wearing Superman because his folk’s early death was too confusing for a young kid. A great comic with a huge scope.
#4 – WONDER WOMAN
Tying Wonder Woman firmly into mythology was a streak of genius on the part of writer Brian Azzarello. The best part for a mythology geek like me is that everything presented is really true to the original stories. I love the controversial elements of Amazons setting out to sea to create offspring by taking advantage of the sailors. All the uniquely designed and written Gods drive an epic story of family betrayal. That being said, it’s still a Wonder Woman book, and Diana is awesome here. She’s a strong woman who isn’t afraid to do what’s right – and Zola represents the opposite. A fantastic book full of plot twists and unique characters, this is what a rebooted universe should feel like…new.
#3 – AQUAMAN
Aquaman’s unique mythology and fantasic cast of characters was finally brought to it’s full potential under Geoff Johns. Arthur is an honour bound warrior, set adrift in a new world, trying to set himself apart while still being true to his heritage. The really interesting on-going thread of the book is that, for Aquaman to view himself as a hero, others have to accept him as one. No matter what good he does, people in the DC Universe continually crack jokes about his fish-talking powers and funky get-up. But GJ doesn’t just use this for cheap laughs – we get to see a struggling new hero trying to prove himself. The stand-out star of the book is Mera – whereas Aquaman is willing to learn about this new world he’s found himself in, she wants the land to change to suit her needs! And the villains were a legitmate threat in this book, especially Black Manta who captivated me from the get-go. A title like this goes to show that any character has potential to be interesting, thought-provoking and exciting.
#2 – BATMAN
This is my favourite Batman story of all time. Bruce is controlling, cold and calculated, focused on nothing but avenging his parents. He believes he’s never wrong, and Snyder understands that that’s his inherent flaw and constant downfall. Bruce fails often in both THE COURT OF THE OWLS and DEATH OF THE FAMILY because he’s so self-assured to the point of lunacy. Bruce doesn’t have to be an unstopabble BA – Snyder grounds him, showing that he can fail, that he can be afraid. If Bruce truly sees himself as incapable of being wrong, how far he could possibly get in his mission to stop crime? This is the way I’ve always wanted to see the character written. Fantastic character insight, unique plots and great action, this is what we want in a superhero book.
#1 – DIAL H
This is a unique a book as you could ever hope to find from any publisher, and seeing it come out of DC’s The New 52 may be the biggest shock of the year. It’s dark and yet campy, terrifying and yet funny, old-school yet contemporary. This is a bizarre skewered look at Silver Age comics in a way we haven’t seen since FLEX MENTALLO. Nelson, the hero of the book, is a dumpy loser going through an identity crisis. Which doesn’t help after he discovers a mysterious dial that turns him into a new costumed superhero constantly. China Mieville uses this fun pitch to answer the question – what makes a person? Nelson has been spending years attempting to live a life removed from history, refusing to remember his past. The dial is an answer to his prayers – if you hate yourself, why ever be yourself again? This is the smartest superhero comic book I’ve ever read, and one of the most original. Fantastic artwork, incredible ideas, and no limitation on genre – boundless imagination and adult ideas made DIAL H the best DC comic book of 2012.
Well, there ya go. Hope you enjoyed it, because I doubt you’ll see me write anything else for this up-it’s-own-ass site. If you need more of me, check out @manwitnovoice on Twitter, or head on over to http://www.tumblr.com/manwitnovoice or listen to my podcast THE PURE MOOD PULL LIST (I really gotta rename that one) or THE PURE MOOD PODCAST.