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ComicsAlliance 11 Best Comics of 2011: #2-1

As 2011 draws to close, ComicsAlliance has assembled its annual list of the best comics and graphic novels of the year with the help 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. Read about #11-9, #8-7, #6-5, #4-3 and now our two final choices for the Top 11 Comics of 2011.

#2. Daredevil by Mark Waid, Marcos Martin and Paolo Rivera (Marvel Comics)


Here’s the thing about Daredevil: Being great is not exactly a new idea for this book. For years — for decades — it’s consistently been one of Marvel’s best titles, with legendary stories by creators like Frank Miller, Ann Nocenti, Brian Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Harlan Ellison and others setting a pretty high standard. So it’s not that Mark Waid, Marcos Martin and Paolo Rivera have made Daredevil great again, or even that they’ve made it the single best Marvel book on the stands since the relaunch.

It’s that they’ve made it great in a completely different way than it’s been great in the past 30 years.The word that’s been thrown around a lot to describe the new Daredevil been “light-hearted,” but that’s not entirely accurate. There are certainly more funny moments, especially in the way that Matt Murdock cheerily interacts with his friends, but the stories that Waid, Martin and Rivera are telling aren’t chock full of sunshine, rainbows and rescuing kittens from trees. Really, it’s called “light-hearted” because we don’t really have another word that means “less suicidally depressing.”

Virtually every notable Daredevil story since 1980 has been built around thoroughly crushing the title character with one horrible event after another. The only exception, and an influence Waid has cited for his stories, was the all-too-brief Karl Kesel/Cary Nord run from the late ’90s that went for a more swashbuckling tone but never got the attention that it deserved.

Other than that, he’s been stripped of his job, his house has been blown up, his girlfriends have been murdered by the handful, his wife was rendered insane and he’s legally forbidden from ever seeing her again, and last year, he even found himself the victim of actual demonic possession. Admittedly, you’re sort of asking for that one when you dress up as the Devil and fight crime, but it’s a level of laser-focused misery so profound that the most unbelievable thing about that book wasn’t that he was a blind ninja with radar sense, it was that, as Waid has said in interviews, that he didn’t wake up one morning and decide to put a gun in his mouth. Each team that took over the book seemed to be hell-bent on outdoing the tragedy of the last, to the point where it started to stagnate. There are only so many new and interesting ways you can break a person before it starts to get boring for anyone but the most hardcore super-hero sadist.

But the great thing about Waid’s work on the title is that he doesn’t just push that stuff aside. He acknowledges that whole miserable backstory within the comic, to the point where other characters are actually worried about Matt Murdock’s relative happiness being the sign of yet another mental breakdown. There are even ongoing consequences from the previous stories, like the fact that his secret identity was exposed, interfering with his ability to practice law and help people without dressing up in a costume and punching muggers.

For Daredevil himself, though, the change feels natural. He’s been suffering for so long that it’s easy to understand why he takes the opportunity to make a change in his life when he’s finally able to free himself from a literal inner demon. Languishing in the despair he’s been saddled with clearly hasn’t been working out for him, so if he’s going to endure, if he’s going to embrace doing what he does even through his own suffering — if, in other words, he’s going to do exactly what we need to see a hero do — then why not embrace the excitement of his adventures?

 

And with that single idea in place, that’s exactly what Waid does with the character. He’s taken the idea that’s so monumentally simple that it’s amazing it doesn’t get used more often: He’s made Daredevil a daredevil. He’s a thrillseeker, he takes risks other heroes wouldn’t, he revels in the sheer fun of what he’s doing, because being a ninja acrobat super-hero should be fun. Even if he’s chasing the high that comes from an adventure in an effort to bury the pain of his past — something that, again, comes up from other characters in the book — it leads to exciting storytelling and a lead character that you want to like for more reasons than just his incredible ability to endure pain.

Waid’s a writer who’s been honing his craft for more than 20 years, and he somehow just keeps getting sharper. It would be the easiest thing in the world to believe that he’d hit his peak with Flash, or Fantastic Four, or Amazing Spider-Man, or any of the other dozens of titles he’s worked on over the year, but his first six issues of Daredevil stack up against anything he’s written in his career. They’re full of incredible adventure stories, told in an innovative way and based around concepts that are instantly engaging, and that pull great stuff in from the larger Marvel Universe.

 

It’s been years since anyone did anything with the idea of Daredevil, the blind man with super-hearing who can “see” through vibrations, fighting Klaw, a man made of sentient sound waves. A lot of that has to do with Daredevil existing in its own crime-ridden, noir-themed corner of the Universe, but again, what was once a selling point for the book and a launchpad for great stories was starting to feel confined. Opening things back up has led to some great new possibilities.

Case in point: Bruiser, a villain introduced by Waid and Martin that is essentially a luchador-masked hitman with the super-power of “you can’t suplex me,” who is also sponsored NASCAR-style by the international terrorist organizations of the Marvel Universe.

There is nothing about this that I do not absolutely love. And not just because he presents a great challenge for Daredevil, either — by giving Bruiser the motivation of wanting to fight his way up the food chain of the strongest characters of the Marvel Universe, Waid has done one of the things he does best. He’s created a villain with a legitimate sense of danger that can be dropped anywhere, into any story, and work perfectly.

And then there’s the art.

I’ve been a huge fan of both Marcos Martin and Paolo Rivera for years, and to be honest, when the news came out that they were leaving the rotating cast of artists that were working on Amazing Spider-Man, I was a little disappointed. Martin is hands down one of the best artists to ever work on that comic, up there with Steve Ditko and John Romita for his dynamic action and innovative layouts, and along with writer Zeb Wells, Rivera’s responsible for my favorite Spider-Man fight scene of all time in #577. As much as they seemed like they’d be a good fit, I was worried that they wouldn’t be able to top what they’d already done.

As it turns out, “good fit” was underselling things quite a bit. Rivera and Martin both are providing the best art that Daredevil‘s had in years, even decades. And it goes beyond just being their usual level of craftsmanship — they’ve embraced Daredevil’s super-powers in a way that few artists can, and even fewer have. Figuring out a way to represent a blind man who “sees” with his other senses in a medium as visual as comics is a tough feat to pull off even before you add in the fact that he lives in a universe of portable black holes, men made of soundwaves and unstable molecules.

But they’re doing it with some of the best art in comics, incorporating the sound effects into the action and isolating elements of the world around Daredevil so that we can understand just how he perceives them. They take old tricks to the next level, adding in new ones as they go. And not only that, but they’re doing it with a bright, beautiful pop-art style that fits with the exciting adventure feel of Waid’s scripts.

It’s a book that doesn’t look like anything else on the stands right now, and one that doesn’t even look like Daredevil has for years, but it works, rebuilding and defining a new era for the character — and the team has done all that in only six issues.

Everything about the book feels new, but even beyond the shift in storytelling and art style from the way things have been in the past, there’s solid storytelling, engaging plots, and gorgeous visuals that all combine to make something great. It’s super-hero comics at their finest, and in a year that was marked by great books all across the board, it’s far and away my pick for the best.

-Chris Sims

 

#1. Love and Rockets New Stories Volume 4 by Los Bros Hernandez

As I sat reading the last handful of pages of Love and Rockets New Stories #4, literally gasping for breath and choking back tears, my girlfriend tried to assuage me.

“You know, if it will make you feel better,” she said, pointing at the comic, “they aren’t real people.”

“They kind of are,” I replied, my voice wavering.

She cocked her head and fixed me with a look. “No,” she said, “no, they aren’t. It’s not real. They’re made up.”

I looked at her, and thought for a second, and then decided.

“I like my way better,” I said.

Like most people who’ve read Jaime Hernandez’s “Locas” stories, I feel like I’ve lived with Maggie and Hopey and Ray and Izzy and Penny Century for a long time. Through a strange alchemical process borne of Jaime’s skill and my own brain’s capacity to fool itself, those characters have become real. Of course, they’re made up. They’re lines on paper. But to suggest they aren’t real is absurd. If they weren’t real, how on Earth could they make you cry? Or laugh? Or just stare, dumbly, and think to yourself, “how true.”

Anyone who has given themselves over to Jaime’s work knows just how true his lines on paper are.

If none of the characters listed above sounded familiar — if you’ve never read Love and Rockets before — then, please: Do not read this comic. I know that it’s strange to emphatically NOT recommend that you read one of the best comics of the year, but believe me, this cannot be your first experience with Jaime’s world.

The final 15 pages of “The Love Bunglers” isn’t just the end of a great new issue of a Bros. Hernanadez comic book. It isn’t just the sixth part of a fantastic serialized graphic novel that’s run since last year. It is the culmination of nearly thirty years worth of nuance, gesture, shading, pacing and dialogue – of angst, mania, fear, friendship, anger, and love. It is the finael to an epic of human scale feeling and drama. It is heart-stopping.

Every moment in Jaime’s latest work recalls moments from throughout his entire life’s work. I’ve always maintained that the “Locas” stories do not need to be read in order – it’s not how I encountered them, and it’s not how I read them until I’d already been a fan for years. One of the qualities I’ve always admired in Jaime’s work is that I can dip in and out of his long saga wherever I please, and his stories always stand on their own – interconnected, yes, but spreading out from the middle like a blast radius, not plodding one after the other in a strict order.

“The Love Bunglers” is the exception. It is Jaime finally calling in all those powerful moments he embedded over the years, reflecting and magnifying their power through a focused prism of masterful storytelling. You could technically read “The Love Bunglers” cold, with no previous Love and Rockets experience, and you could understand it well enough. But it would be so seriously diminished as to be a functionally useless exercise. “The Love Bunglers” belongs at the end of your journey.

And please believe me: the journey is worth it. Reading “The Love Bunglers” has stirred in me a need to revisit the entire 1000-plus pages of “Locas,” re-reading what I’ve loved and filling in what I’ve missed. I envy every single one of you who might have the opportunity to meet these characters for the very first time. And you have not only a sweeping saga of punk-rock Hispanic mechanic bi-curious love and loss and life to look forward to, but the artistry of a man who continually hits the top of his game and then tops himself again.

Jaime first drew Maggis Chascarillo in 1982, and since then he’s been learning, refining, cutting the chaff, zeroing in. Jaime seems incapable now of drawing any line except those that absolutely need to be drawn, writing any word that isn’t precisely what has to be said. “The Love Bunglers” is the end result of an artist so thoroughly mastering his chosen form that he looks as if he is not doing anything at all.

Deep, rich shadows and bright white negative spaces define the entire world. Subtle, realistic facial expressions sit on the same page as cartoon anger fumes spouting from someone’s head. Seconds stretch out across multiple panels, and then two years go by with the flip of a page. And it all just reads as life, direct and true and unencumbered. You’re so swept up with the people on the page that you don’t notice what an amazing technical feat you’ve been subjected to — not until it’s over, and you look back and realize that it wasn’t real after all. It was only lines on paper.

-Jason Michelitch

Buy Locas and Love and Rockets New Stories Vol. 4 online or at your local comic shop.

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