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ComicsAlliance’s 11 Best Comics of 2011, #8-7

As 2011 draws to close, ComicsAlliance has assembled its annual list of the best comics and graphic novels of the year, with the help and input of our editors, writers, and readers. Like any list, it is naturally subjective, but we’ve packed it chock full of eleven comics that have awed us, excited us, and entertained us over the last 12 months and books that we’re passionate about recommending. You can read about #11-8 here, and we continue today with #8-7 in our Top 11 Comics of 2011.

#8. Batman: The Black Mirror by Scott Snyder, Jock, Francesco Francavilla (DC Comics)

Scott Snyder’s tenure on Detective Comics — anchored by artistic partners Jock and Francesco Francavilla — took place under conditions that shouldn’t have fostered a classic. Detective focused on the second-tier Batman, Dick Grayson, while Grant Morrison continued to script his grand Batman plan with Bruce Wayne in the pages of the sporadically-released Batman Incorporated. Grayson as Batman was also essentially a lame duck for a year preceding DC’s line-wide New 52 reboot, yet Snyder, Jock and Francavilla somehow managed to tell a story that didn’t just work around those restrictions; it turned them into strengths.Originally published in Detective Comics #871-881, the eleven-issue run was originally planned as a series of Batman lead stories with art by Jock and David Baron and Commissioner Gordon backups with art by Francesco Francavilla. Two issues into the run, DC Comics punted the entire concept of backup stories, so the scripts originally allocated to those got moved to one-offs in between arcs drawn by Francavilla, and is all but invisible in the final collected edition. But what of the story itself?

The Black Mirror told the story of Dick Grayson and Gotham City coming to grips with each other on a personal basis, fueled by the return of James Gordon Jr. — last seen in Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One — to Gotham, complete with an entire untold backstory of psychopathy and rehabilitation. The question isn’t whether the young Gordon is mentally ill; it’s whether or not he’s sincere about wanting not to be, and it’s this mystery that drives the majority of the action in Black Mirror, while new villains such as the Mirror House, Roadrunner and Tiger Shark (not to mention the Joker) weave in and out of Snyder’s scheme.

But what elevated it to one of the best comics of 2011, other than inauspicious origins? Considering this eleven-issue arc was Scott Snyder’s first major superhero work (barring his four-issue Iron Man Noir miniseries at Marvel, which I’m surprised they aren’t promoting the hell out of), it’s an effective clinic in how to fit a series of largely unrelated stories into a thematically connected framework, not to mention a very well-constructed and well-executed mystery. It repeatedly manipulates both the characters and the reader both emotionally and mentally to very unsettling effect, and while the story’s conclusion relies a bit too heavily on a villainous monologue to resolve the bulk of the overall story’s dangling plotlines, the monologue itself is both ironic and a bit of a revelation, so cleverness goes a long way.

And as for the art, it’s utterly spectacular. Jock and colorist David Baron handle the “main” Batman sections excellently, with Jock’s jagged, practiced style complimenting Snyder’s skewed tale perfectly. Maybe even more impressive, though, is secondary story artist Francesco Francavilla, who colors his own work and contributes the art to the sections focusing on the Gordon family drama. As much as Snyder tells an interesting Dick Grayson story, his version of Commissioner Gordon — wracked with guilt over essentially abandoning his own psychotic son — is incredibly compelling, as is Barbara Gordon’s's natural distrust of the newly-returned James Jr. All of this is rendered beautifully by Francavilla, whose character acting is superb.

In short, this is a title that was a B-level Batman book when it came out, playing second fiddle to the ongoing multi-year Batman drama masterminded by Grant Morrison, one of the best writers to ever work in superhero comics, but Scott Snyder, Jock and Francesco Francavilla managed to turn it into the MOST essential read in the line.

-David Uzumeri

(Buy the Batman: The Black Mirror collection at your local comic shop or online, or get the single issues digitally)

#7. Casanova: Avaritiaby Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba (Marvel Comics/Icon)

Casanova is the kind of comic that you want to make up new words for. Like “enthusirhythm”. This entire comic is infused with enthusirhythm. And psychedelicious metasextuality. Hello there, and welcome to this essay.

Casanova might not make any sense. I’m not sure. I don’t really care. It makes sense to me, at least while I’m reading it. There’s Casanova, the secret agent for E.M.P.I.R.E., sent throughout time and space to assassinate entire universes in order to prevent E.M.P.I.R.E.’s nemesis Newman Xeno from living long enough to bring Casanova through time and space from his home universe to the one he lives in now, where he’s sent throughout time and space to assassinate entire universes. Or something. It makes sense while I’m reading it.

Casanova is one of those books that puts the lie to the phrase “style over substance.” You’ve heard people use that as an insult, right? Well, it’s nonsense, and here’s why: if your style and your substance are separate entities, you’re doing it wrong.

Casanova has the style of a freight train with ADD. It’s constantly threatening to jump the tracks; characters leap from universe to universe between panels, colors tremble against the lines that strain to hold them in, the comic stops itself to throw information in your face that you have no means of processing. Matt Fraction, a man whose real-life day job it is to find the weak points in someone else’s universe and break it as creatively as possible, makes a cameo to tell you that none of it means anything. A panda’s head explodes.

Casanova doesn’t tell you who the bad guys are, or if there even are good guys, or what any of them ultimately want. Casanova has the best science fiction braintwisters, the brightest neon-colored action scenes, the most aggressively literate and referential dialogue, the most consistently naked men and women.

Casanova has art by Gabriel Ba (this time, and his twin brother Fabio Moon last time. Gabriel Ba the time before that. Whatever, they’re both incredible). Casanova makes you feel like writer Matt Fraction is probably really your friend because you read his comic, even though he doesn’t actually know your name and is in no way likely to be your friend, not because you’re necessarily a bad person or anything, but that’s just not how friendships or human relationships work. But Casanova makes you buy into it a little bit, because it feels more special that way. And, to a point, that’s okay. That’s a fun thing about Casanova, about the intimacy of comics, about being the kind of person who wants to read a dense, funny, confusing, hyperactive, self-indulgent, mindblowing book about a free-floating semi-autobiographical metaphor in a snazzy suit.

Casanova makes you write articles about it where every paragraph starts with the word “Casanova.”

Casanova likes abrupt endings.

-Jason Michelitch

(Buy Casanova: Avarita at your local shop or digitally)

Check back tomorrow for more Best of 2011 as the countdown continues!

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