It's been a while since I've written a "best of the year" post (back in 2005 and 2006, even), so thanks to frequent guest-poster Zach King for suggesting it. I'm posting it before the end of January, so that's not too late for a "best of 2011" post, right?
My qualification process was simple -- the book had to have been published in 2011 and I had to have read it in 2011, so unfortunately Batman: The Black Mirror was out, along with early Secret Six trades. I tried to pick books I not only liked when I read them but still liked -- Superman: The Black Ring Vol. 1 went off the list since the second part left me a little cold, and I couldn't quite muster the same enthusiasm for Brightest Day that I'd had at the time.
Here's the list, counting down from 10 to my top pick:
10) Teen Titans: Ravager: Fresh Hell
I'm still pretty high on this one. We all know I didn't much like Sean McKeever's Teen Titans work, but he used the backup-story format really well in Ravager to craft a story full of moral-ambiguity that kept the character hopping. This is not the most groundbreaking book on the list (or groundbreaking at all, really), but it was a kicky story in its own right.
9) Flash: The Dastardly Death of the Rogues
I'll tell you, this book almost didn't make the list, so poor was its follow-up, Flash: The Road to Flashpoint. It's a testament to just how good Dastardly is, between writer Geoff Johns and artist Francis Manapul. Johns takes his time here, fully setting up Barry's world, including some power-establishing action sequences by Manapul that are off-the-charts good. I like the exploration of the fastest man dealing with a world of text messages and cell phones; there was a lot of potential in this volume, best reflected perhaps by how disappointed we were that the next volume didn't live up.
8) Justice League: Generation Lost
Judd Winick wrote a funny, moving, thoughtful superhero tale in Generation Lost; before DC's New 52 erased the old Justice League International completely, this was a fine tribute. Espionage, double-crosses, time travel, you name it. And nice to look at, too, not just Aaron Lopresti and Joe Bennett's interior pencils, but Cliff Chiang's covers from the original issues as well. Both volumes hold up exceptionally well; this is where the competition gets tight on this list.
7) Batgirl: The Flood
If I can cheat just a little bit, Batgirl: The Flood was not quite as good as Batgirl Rising, but I love the series enough that it deserves a mention. Writer Bryan Miller does great things both with Batgirl Stephanie Brown but also in giving Oracle Barbara Gordon some of the personality she's lacked of late in Birds of Prey. The profile issue of Detective Nick Gage might win the trade its spot on its own, so subtly does Miller convey important information about the character.
6) Secret Six: The Reptile Brain
OK, I'm cheating again. Reptile Brain is not the strongest Secret Six collection, though it is especially strong. Writer Gail Simone reuses characters from some of her other books here to great surprise and delight; I'm also a sucker for a good Skartaris story, especially when Simone picks up on continuity from the otherwise-ignored recent Warlord series.
5) Legion of Super-Heroes: The Choice
This could just have easily have gone wrong, but DC and Paul Levitz came through with a hefty Legion collection (including a couple of back-up stories) that was complex and thorough and gave the reader a lot to chew over. I'm quite eager, actually, to turn to the next volume, Consequences, pretty soon; I was glad to hear Levitz was just keeping on through the New 52.
4) Justice Society of America: Axis of Evil
Axis of Evil sticks with me perhaps because I didn't expect to enjoy it quite as much as I did. Bill Willingham's essentially just writing a Mr. Terrific story here, but it's one set in an alternate timeline where Willingham gets a lot of room to explore Terrific's character. There's startling evil here, but also unexpected kindnesses -- this is one that took me by surprise and I couldn't stop reading.
3) Doom Patrol: Brotherhood
Doom Patrol: We Who Are About to Die was good, and then the follow-up volume Brotherhood was even better. It's not just because Keith Giffen finds a way to reintroduce a gaggle of random elements from past Doom Patrol iterations into this story without getting too mired in continuity (plus, Ambush Bug!). Rather, it's the closing sequences in which the severely-depressed, emotionally-damaged Patrol, against all odds, suddenly decides to take their lives back. Giffen's Doom Patrol was silly and edgy, but also smart and sweet. We won't get in to the last volume being cancelled again, or I'll get all teary.
2) Green Lantern: Brightest Day
This collection almost didn't make the list, since I was pretty worn-out on Brightest Day itself, but I happened to be re-reading it as I was writing this list, and I was reminded just how good Green Lantern: Brightest Day was. Geoff Johns takes Hal Jordan on a cross-country tour with representatives of the multi-colored Corps in tow; it's a little formulaic in that every Corps gets its own issue, but Johns also does well revealing tidbits about the various Lanterns through the vantage of the other Corps's emotions. And dialogue -- this is a remarkably dialogue-heavy book, with just pages and pages of the Lanterns debating their different philosophies as to how to proceed. All of this, and a great cliffhanger toward War of the Green Lanterns (which is itself kind of a disappointment, but the lead in is good) -- when Green Lantern is good, it's very good, and this is one of those times.
1) Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne/Time and the Batman/Batman and Robin: Batman Must Die
Cheating again! Of these three, I think I liked Return of Bruce Wayne best of all, but Time and the Batman had some pages that have stuck with me as well, and Batman Must Die also. I have, I'll admit it, since Final Crisis, become something of a Grant Morrison convert. Is the DC Universe a living being? Maybe not, but Morrison's idea of comics as society's new mythology, an ongoing story seventy-five years old and counting, really resonates with me. "Whatever they touch turns to myth" -- indeed, indeed. I'll be thinking about these three for a while, and that's why they're my number one pick for 2011.
Once again, happy new year to all and best wishes for 2012.
What were your top books of last year?