Is it too late for a Best of 2011 list? Probably. Is that going to stop me? Nope. Just because I've fallen behind doesn't mean I don't still have opinions to share. So here are my top 12 comics of 2011 (because I couldn't really pare it down to 10 without feeling bad, and besides donuts come in twelves, and they're good, so...), presented in the best way possible, alphabetical order, a system of organization so effective they went and actually named the alphabet after it.*
The Adventures of Superhero Girl - Faith Erin Hicks' weekly webcomic about the everyday problems of a superhero is exactly the sort of genre send-up I enjoy: it plays with the established tropes, sure, but it never goes right out and calls attention to them in that "WE'RE MAKING JOKES ABOUT THINGS YOU KNOW LAUGH NOW PLEASE" sort of way and instead weaves them into the fabric of the story in such a way as to make them completely accepted, normal, and even mundane. It's Hicks' artwork and comedic timing that make this excellent. That it also features ninjas and a Bear with a Monocle is just icing on the cake.
Animal Man - Grant Morrison's Animal Man run is one of my most favorite superhero comics ever, so much so that I've long been afraid to read almost anything else featuring Buddy Baker and family for fear that it won't live up. Jeff Lemire brings the goods here, though, with a story that is frequently compelling and ALWAYS freeeeeeeaaaaakkkkkyyyy. Travel Foreman's artwork is the perfect, terrifying complement to the story, though I'm now legitimately afraid to ever meet the man because if this is the sort of imagery he's capable of, what must he be like in real life?
Aquaman - I enjoy me some Aquaman (remember, I'm a certified Friend of Aquaman!), so I was excited to see Arthur get a regular series again, but my experience with Geoff Johns' work has always been hit and miss. When I think he's on, I think he's one of the best storytellers around, and when he's off, well, I want that character dismembering punk as far away from my kid as the law will allow. Luckily, it's the former Johns that has showed up (so far) for this Aquaman series, and though I worried at first he was taking the "Aquaman is the Rodney Dangerfield of the JLA" thing a bit too far, it's clear he both wants to tell good stories and prove to the world once and for all that Aquaman is so much more than the guy who "talks to fish." Good on ya, Geoff. Keep it up, and stay away from sharp objects, okay?
Batgirl - I truly regret that I didn't really discover this book until the end of its run, especially since going back and reading from the beginning in the trades proved that this was a fun, unique read from issue #1. Steph Brown has frequently gotten the shit end of the stick as a character, and being brushed aside for Babs' return as the New 52 Batgirl just continues that trend. But for a couple years, at least, she got to soar, strut her stuff, and prove to be one of the most trustworthy members of the Bat-family at last. This was proof that you can still tell stories that are both exciting and fun within the confines of the ever-darkening DC Universe, so thanks for restoring my faith, Bryan Q. Miller. I will be re-reading these trades soon, you be sure of that, and if any book on this list stands out as my very favorite of the year, it is this one.
Batman - Sometimes you just want a Batman book where he does a little detective work, uses cool gadgets, and kicks people in creative ways. Scott Snyder has been delivering that in spades, and is telling an exciting yarn to boot. The Court of Owls and their assassin the Talon have been among the best villain created to fight Batman in years, and if there's anything that will keep me on this book despite the upcoming price increase and threatened crossover, it's that. Greg Capullo's artwork is fantastic, too. Haven't seen his work since I dropped Spawn WAAAAAAAAAY back in the early 90s, and I may need to now go back and see what else he's been up to since.
Comic Book Comics - The history of comics, as interpreted by Ryan Dunlavey and Fred Van Lente, has been an amazing, if frustratingly sporadic, read. Even on the rare occasion when I disagreed with one of their conclusions, I still thought their points were well-argued and, of course, entertainingly presented. As good as their Action Philosophers was, I liked this even better, and hope we'll still be getting their promised Action Presidents somewhere down the line.
Daredevil - Never been much of a Daredevil fan, if only because even the good stuff just constantly kept loading up the Matt Murdock Pity Party Train. I'm just not interested in a character who never has anything good happen to him (yet again, I chalk this up to modern creators failing to understand what it was that actually made Frank Miller's 80s output so good). Mark Waid, though, has really turned this around and made the unthinkable (to me) happen: making me not only want to read Daredevil, but also making a Top of Stack book whenever it comes out. His take on the character, his clever use of Matt's powers, the characters and situations he's adding to the pile... it's all top shelf stuff. Add in artists like Paolo River and Marcos Marting getting to go to town with their excellent senses of storytelling and page design, and yeah, this is must-read stuff.
Demon Knights - Even though I like Paul Cornell, I was initially planning on skipping this one because I'm not a big Fantasy fan, and I also kind of hate Etrigan the Demon. Glad I gave this a shot, though, because so far it has been a hell of a ride, like a really good Dungeons and Dragons session, but with characters who kinda-sorta skirt the definition of superheroes (or at least occasionally interact with them). Even though this initial arc has been largely "getting the band together," it's still interesting to see how these very different characters are interacting and learning to co-exist.
Hark! A Vagrant - Everyone loves Hark! A Vagrant, so there's probably not a lot I need to write here other than to add my name to the list of fans. So whether Kate Beaton is telling jokes about history, interpreting the plots to Nancy Drew novels based on the covers alone, or having snarky fun with Wonder Woman, I'm in.
Jimmy Olsen One-Shot - Most of this originally came out in 2010, and it was excellent then, but I'm glad we got to read the rest of Nick Spencer and RB Silva's Jimmy Olsen feature that originally ran in Action Comics (before being cut off), because the story stayed outstanding right up until the end. Spencer's version of Jimmy, an extension of the Silver Age and All Star Superman versions who were normal enough guys who just happened to lead bat-shit insane lives due to being Superman's pal, was exactly the sort of Jimmy Olsen I've been wanting to read about for years, and would have gladly followed into a full-fledged series. The one-two punch of Spencer going Marvel exclusive and DC rebooting their entire universe made it pretty clear that this was never going to happen, but that doesn't mean I don't still want it to all the same.
Moriarty - Though initially curious, I was afraid that this would be just another merely-okay-at-best comic taking advantage of the fact that Sherlock Holmes and company were in the public domain and popular again due to the BBC series and Guy Ritchie movies, but the first issue quickly put those fears to rest. Daniel Corey's take on Holmes' archenemy, Professor James Moriarty, and the world he now inhabits (having actually survived Reichenbach Falls) is a fascinating one. Moriarty, of course, is Not A Nice Person, but a compelling protagonist all the same. Add in a plot twist at the end of the first arc that I kind of expected but not in the way it was developed, and it's easy to see how I got hooked, and why I think more people should be reading this.
Snarked! - Roger Langridge's previous works, especially his Muppet Show comics, have all been good, but Snarked! is, I think, his best yet. It's the best parts of Disney and Warner Brother cartoons, 30s screwball comedy, fairy tales, adventure stories, sea shanties, and all manner of other influences all served up in a coating of Lewis Carroll. But you don't even need to be a big Carroll fan to enjoy this, I don't think. Maybe you'll get the references a little better if you are, but those are mostly just Easter eggs, and you'll be completely able to enjoy this even if you're only vaguely familiar with the Disney version of Alice in Wonderland (like me). Brilliant, and brilliantly funny.
*At least that's what I heard.