Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2011

This was a crazy year, between grad school reading and teaching, sometimes graphic novels were the only way to get some reading in. They’re short enough that I wasn’t spending the amount of time I might on a novel. I got knee deep in Grant Morrison’s run of Batman, Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern, Flash, and New Krypton story lines, as well as The New 52, which began in September. I read some great stories, but I didn’t blog about as many as I’d like. Here it is in ascending order.

10. The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

Though, I didn’t review this one on the blog, I read it for a Postmodern Lit class in grad school, and I fell in love with it. It’s not just about the Holocaust, but about the relationship between a father and his son, as well as the experiences that greatly and irrevocably affected Spiegelman’s family. It’s incredibly moving, one of the more powerful pieces of graphic literature out there. It’s also in my 10 Ten Reads for 2011.

9. Blackest Night by Geoff Johns

This is an amazing story, filled with some real emotional weight and true peril. This is one of those events that I love. Though there are a lot of obscure characters brought in, it doesn’t ever feel like Final Crisis, where I just had to shake my head to clear it of all the off the wall crazy jammed into the plot. Here is an event that feels like it’s been planned from the beginning of the DC Universe, since it stems from the Green Lanterns’ oath. Geoff Johns does an excellent job of making us question all the past events in the DC Universe, while leading us by the hand and watching him rip hearts out of our heroes–literally.

8. The Sinestro Corps War by Geoff Johns

So, 2011 was my Green Lantern year. I plowed through so much Green Lantern, particularly the Geoff Johns run, that it’s not even funny. This turned everything upside down and threw the universe into chaos. What was particularly brilliant is that it sowed the seeds for and began the escalation of events that would lead up to Blackest Night and Brightest Day. I loved it.

7. Brightest Day, Vols 1-3 by Geoff Johns

Vol 1: This was an epic story, really brilliant. Well done, Geoff Johns, for bringing in obscure characters with whom I felt no connection or emotional investment and absolutely manipulating me into caring. This deftly deals with the traumatic events of Blackest Night while simultaneously raising a whole new set of terrifying and impossible to predict issues. What you think you know, you don’t. What you think will happen, won’t.

Vol 2: Brilliantly conceived and executed. This is a fantastic, cerebral, broad-scoped story that its compelling from start to finish. Its ending is absolutely stunning and brilliant, leaving me hanging for far too long.

Vol. 3: This was a complete surprise, not at all going in the direction I thought. This was my least favorite of the three volumes, but it was still great, tying the dozens of crazy plots together in an interesting and exciting way.

6. Batman and Robin, Vols 1-3 by Grant Morrison

Vol 1: It’s an excellent follow-up to the seemingly irrevocable events following Final Crisis and Batman RIP. There is a villain almost as terrifying as The Joker can be, though I’d like him to have been developed more. This isn’t about him as much as Damien and Dick’s first week on the job after Batman’s apparent death. I love their relationship; they need to build trust with each other. Dick cannot replace Batman, but he must carry on his legacy in a performance as Batman (as Alfred puts in, in a wonderful allusion to Hamlet). In the wake of Bruce Wayne’s disappearance, Gotham is disintegrating, leaving a vacuum that some will try to fill or exploit.

Vol 2: This volume is exactly why I love Damien. His character arc over this series of volumes has been spectacular. He’s his own person, despite all those vying for him, and he makes unexpected choices all the time. The pieces of the puzzle are coming together slowly as Gotham descends into near anarchy, with Batman and Robin dealing with their own problems. The reveal at the end is a complete shocker!

Vol 3: I really enjoyed this finale of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman. I like the direction the story has gone, especially at the end, with the introduction of Batman, Inc. The two page twenty-something panel fight after Batman returns is one of my favorites ever. It’s a well-done, epic ending to a truly epic saga.

5. Batman No Man’s Land, Vol 1 by Chuck Dixon

In Cataclysm, Gotham is devastated by a massive earthquake, leading the city to be isolated from the rest of the world and condemned by the US Government as a lost cause. Most people are evacuated, but there are some too afraid or too resolute to give up on their city. Now it is a place of utter danger, with gangs vying for territory like armies, and the Gotham City Police Department waging a guerrilla war to reclaim the city. But Batman is nowhere to be seen. Bruce Wayne attempted to save the city with appeals to Congress, and when that failed, he felt as though he’d failed Gotham. Some other heroes must rise in his place until he is ready to return and avenge Gotham. This is an epic event, really well done in its look at human nature after a life-changing cataclysm, as well as the lengths some people will go to preserve humanity.

4. The Flash: Rebirth by Geoff Johns

Flash Rebirth by Geoff Johns was my first foray into The Flash, a character in whom I’ve never been interested. And I was a little blown away. It’s a complex mythology, a broad universe populated by a wide variety of interconnected characters. Geoff Johns does what he did with Green Lantern: Rebirth and brings back the title’s iconic character to be front and center. He does it in a believable way, creating a slightly altered mythology that broadens what could be at stake.

3. Batgirl: Year One by Scott Beatty

Scott Beatty’s Batgirl: Year One is a pretty amazing introduction to Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. I really, really loved it. While there are other Batgirls out there (at least three), Barbara Gordon is my Batgirl–just like Dick Grayson is my Robin, although Damon is certainly prying his way into my favorites. This is a brilliantly told story in every way. It’s funny, yet serious when it needs to be, and Babs’ characterization is solid. She’s strong and wildly intelligent, yet she hasn’t really found her place in the world.

2. Flashpoint by Geoff Johns

This is one of the epic DC events of the last year, which has led to one of the most significant shifts in the DC Universe ever. It involves a rending of the space-time continuum, as well as requiring us to question all that we know about Barry Allen. It’s intense and poignant, heartbreaking and touching. I loved it more than I loved Johns’ contribution to Green Lantern–which has now been eclipsed a bit by this event.

1. Batgirl Rising by Brian Q. Miller

This was really great! It reminds me of Batgirl: Year One, as it’s a new origin story featuring characters I already know in new roles. Stephanie Brown, formerly known and The Spoiler and the controversial Robin, takes up the cowl from Cassandra Cain.
I love her voice from the get-go. She’s snarky and very internal, not as much of a show-off as Nightwing, but doing her best to find her niche. She’s trying to depart from the recklessness that characterizes The Spoiled, while trying to earn the respect of Barbara and Dick (much like Dick and Barbara always sought the approval of Bruce). One of my favorite parts–that I want to see more of–is her interaction with Damien. It is immediately compelling and hilarious.


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