To say this was a big year for DC Comics is an understatement. The company rebooted their entire line and reset every comic to number one. It also found itself under fire for its portrayal of female characters. But that was just the last third of the year. As I looked back through the year there were a number of issues from before the new 52 in addition to after it.
This was a bittersweet exercise. It was fun to go back and read some issues from earlier this year, but maddening to know that those line-ups or versions of characters won’t be seen again. It was also difficult to limit myself to just 10. I’ll put a few of my runner-ups at the end. As usual with any best of lists, this reflects my opinion. The rankings except for the last three are fairly loose, I could easily be swayed to move the issues around.
10. Batgirl #18 - Done in ones are rare today in comics. Done in ones that are done well are even rarer. Batgirl #18 was not just a done in one it was a done in one holiday issue. It’s Valentine’s Day and what better way for an unattached Stephanie Brown to celebrate than with Klarion the Witch Boy. This was a delightful issue filled with everything you’d want from a Valentine’s day story if you like no romance, time traveling, mating Cats and Harry Potter puns. The art by Dustin Nguyen was as charming as Bryan Q. Miller’s script.
9. Birds of Prey v.3 #12/Birds of Prey v2 #3 - The second volume of Birds of Prey was a mixed bag of great and mediocre with the latter attributable almost entirely to a revolving door of artists more than a few who did not do their best work. (The addition of Hawk and Dove to an already bloated cast hurt as well). Finally in issue #12 the Gail Simone penned book got an artist that it deserved with the wonderful Jesus Saiz. Also making this issue standout was the team gained a team member which should have been made from the start of the book - Renee Montoya, the Question, who in her Detective Comics back-up had partnered with Bird Helena Bertinelli.
It was like a new book - gorgeous art, snappy dialogue and an exciting story. And poof! One issue later it was all gone. Gail Simone left the book and volume 2 went out with a whimper with a light weight fill-in arc by Marc Andreyko and, once again, fill-in artists.
Birds of Prey came back in the new 52 with the same artist and a different writer and team (except for Black Canary). Issue #3 showed that there was hope for another a fun all- female team book at DC. In addition to a peppy storyline mystery writer Duane Swierczynski also gave wrote a strong Canary and a fresh new character in Starling. There are still questions about the team (Poison Ivy?) and the addition of a newly able Barbara Gordon as Batgirl (did she or did she not once lead the team?) but in issue 3 at least everything clicked.
8. Detective Comics #881 - The best writer of the year at DC was Scott Snyder who balanced two difference genres - vampires with American Vampire and superheroes with Detective, Batman and Flashpoint. He gave us classic run on Detective and this issue was the conclusion of that run. It was also one of the final appearances of Barbara Gordon as Oracle in the DCU and Snyder captured the balance of brains and heart that define the character. There were other final appearances of Oracle but this and her appearance in another of issue on this list are the ones I’ll remember. Can’t not mention the terrific art by Jock and Francesco Francavilla
7. Secret Six #36 - Scandal Savage was one of my favorite female characters in the old DCU. From the minute Cheshire dubbed her “Little Miss Middle Management” way back in the team’s first outing I was in love. Gail Simone has reputation for revitalizing existing characters - Catman, Deadshot, Knockout and Black Canary to name a few but she also created some great characters and Scandal should be at the top of the list. Passionate, loyal, complex and violent the daughter of Vandal Savage was an out and proud lesbian whose romantic life a key component of underlying the Six’s adventures. And finally in the last issue she was reunited with her dead teammate and lover Knockout and with her girlfriend Liana (after killing the scumbag who had tortured her.) Scandal celebrated by asking both of them to marry her. The Six was the best book that DC put out month and month out for three years. I miss it and I miss Scandal Savage.
6. Wonder Woman Retroactive the 90s - I thought I was going to love the retro story from the Mod era when the solicited these issues but to my surprise this tale by William Messner-Loebs, whose original run on Wonder Woman I had mixed feelings about (Artemis! Space Pirates?) was the best of the retro trio. In this issue Wonder Woman helps out Etta Candy by becoming a counselor at a girls’ camp. She teaches her young charges to believe in themselves, the joy of outside adventure and … well she exhausts the hell out of them. But then she takes time to engage in some of their interests. A very fun issue.
5. Batman Brave and the Bold #13 - I’ve express my great love for Sholly Fisch many times but with this issue where we saw all the girl and boy Robins come together to save Batman my love became slavish devotion. And not only were all the Robins were on page at the same time but all the Batgirls as well. Apparently this inclusion of various iterations of characters is too confusing for readers outside the Johnny DC kids line.
4. Gates of Gotham #4 - For four glorious issues fans of the second Batgirl and adopted daughter of Batman got what was requested for two and half years, a substantial appearance in comics of Cassandra Cain. Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins took newly named Black Bat of Batman, Inc. and gave her equal prominence to her Batbrothers Dick, Tim and Damian. It was wonderful. And then the new 52 came and while all three Batboys got books, she disappeared and hasn’t been seen since. I hope that changes soon.
3. Batwoman #1 - Finally. The wait was worth it. You knew it would look great but who knew Blackman and Williams’ writing would be so tight and good? I’ve written and talked so much about this book this year, I’ll just let the art prove my point.
2. Batgirl #24 - Stephanie Brown wasn’t supposed to be Batgirl. She was only a chosen in desperation after DC decided it couldn’t possibly return Barbara Gordon to the role. And Bryan Q. Miller wasn’t supposed to be the writer. He ended up with the gig after Gail Simone left the project. But the combination of Brown and Miller has left us with 24 of wonderful issues of comics and none more wonderful than this the final issue. While some of the new 52 had their runs come to an abrupt end Miller was given the opportunity to end his current story and to offer up snippets of what he had planned for the character. And, oh, what he had planned - time traveling Batgirls, a battle with the Queen of Fables, a wonderful future of Stephanie Brown where she passed the mantle of Batgirl to another young woman. (You can read the “Directors’ Cut” here). I cried when I originally read the issue and I cried when I read it again last night. But then I wiped my tears and just repeated Stephanie’s line:
1. Wonder Woman #1 - 2010 and the beginning of 2011 were not good times for Wonder Woman fans. Whatever hope that maybe JMS could help build the character’s readership ended when it was clear his run was mediocre at best and sealed when he ditched the book. Phil Hester did a fine job finishing up the mess of Odyssey but it was clear there was something major required for Wonder Woman to get the readership and attention she deserves. Enter Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. From the first pages it was clear this run was going to be different. Stunning art and an unforgivingly aggressive storyline unafraid to shake up the status quo made Wonder Woman one of the two top selling female led books of the new 52 and a top 20 comic for the first time in years. Wonder Woman is back on top and all is right with the world.
So that’s my list. I had did have some runners-up, Zatanna #9, Supergirl #55, Power Girl #22, Huntress #1 are just a few. I’m sure you will have your picks, let me know.