"QB" in this instance is a reference to the first comics column I wrote, "The Quarter Bin," which has since been converted here as a forum to examine back issues. I don't pretend to have read every comic published, and increasingly so I've had to be selective about what I read, which means that more so than at any other point, if a comic is on this list, I've made a real commitment to it in recognition of its quality.
Without further adieu, the best of 2012:
1. Action Comics (DC)
Grant Morrison has a pretty good history in the QB50. Last year he hit #2 with Batman Incorporated, #6 in 2010 with 18 Days, #6 in 2009 with Final Crisis, #1 in 2008 with Batman, and the same in 2007 and 2006 in the collaborative effort 52 (my favorite comic of the modern era). That would be the reason he's got the shrine here, because Morrison has so consistently given me some of my favorite comic book memories. Action Comics was not month-by-month the best comic I read, but it was the most consistently transcendent. The above image comes from #9, which features a look at a parallel reality and is one of the best single issues of the year, followed closely by #15, which delves into the 5th dimension and the unexpected depth of Mxyzptlk. Smaller moments that explored Clark Kent's life were also well worth savoring, including a temporary switch to Johnny Clark, as well as #0, which was an intimate look at the origin of the t-shirt and what happens when a kid steals Superman's cape. All of it rewards faithful readers. Morrison was ably supported throughout the year by backup writer Sholly Fisch, who also had a standout issue in #9 as well as #14, and gave perhaps the better Captain Comet story in the series this year in #0. (Ranked 5th in 2011.)
2. Green Lantern (DC)
It's strange, because my appreciation for Geoff Johns' work in this series has grown over the years. I've ranked it everywhere from 16th in 2006 to 19th in 2007 to 15th in 2008 and 2009 to 5th in 2010 to 6th last year. Green Lantern as a property has been one of my favorites for as long as I've cared about superheroes. The Ron Marz era (also known as the dawn of Kyle Rayner) was a favorite of the 1990s. I've followed the Johns run since Green Lantern: Rebirth in 2004 and been fascinated by his expansion of the mythos ever since, and in fact increasingly so. Yet it wasn't really until last year's New 52 fresh start, which in this series meant just a renumbering, that I began to feel Johns grow in confidence, perhaps because he shifted his focus away from Hal Jordan, who always seemed a reluctant lead, and onto Sinestro, who dragged Jordan around for the first year of the series. #12, whose cover image graces us above, crystallizes Jordan's new status, and perhaps what Johns was inadvertently leading to since 2004, including Blackest Night, shifting the most famous Green Lantern into a new destiny (by now an old routine) and making way for Simon Baz, who with #0 began to shape his own. While various spinoff series handle other things Johns has brought to the franchise, Green Lantern finally explored the Indigo Tribe, demonstrating yet again that there's plenty of material left to explore.
3. RASL (Cartoon)
Jeff Smith's second epic work (after Bone) came to an end this year, and was one of the series that I fought tooth and nail to read. That's how I knew what my favorite comics were in 2012, the ones I absolutely had to read. There were in fact only three issues released this year, and fifteen issues overall, making RASL a sparse experience no matter how you look at it, including in narrative, as Rob Johnson tries to undo the damage he caused by investigating the science of Nikola Tesla and trying like Tesla before him to find practical uses for it. Sometimes the world simply isn't ready, and as Batman feared in The Dark Knight Rises will exploit in the wrong ways visionary new technology. In Rob's case, this was a problem that involved parallel worlds, and a girlfriend he thought he lost but in fact was his opposite number. The title, I should note, is an acronym for Romance At the Speed of Light. Brilliant stuff, which will hopefully find a similar level of appreciation as Smith's more famous work.
4. The Shade (DC)
Last fall I was fascinated to learn that James Robinson was returning to the world of Starman (much as readers are fascinated this fall to learn Neil Gaiman will be returning to the world of Sandman, though that project is still a year away). I felt compelled to read The Shade even though in truth I still haven't read the complete Starman. Robinson can be a little hit-or-miss. The Golden Age was an obvious hit. I loved Cry for Justice. His Justice League of America seemed run-of-the-mill. Yet The Shade didn't just revisit Starman, a pioneering look at the superhero trajectory later featured in Ultimate Spider-Man and Invincible, but one of its most fascinating characters, the reformed villain, the gentleman fop once known as Richard Swift. In fact the final issue gave readers his origin, but his life and career are explored throughout the series, with #5 featuring a dramatic uptick with the story of La Sangre, which continues for the next few issues.
5. Justice League (DC)
Johns again in the series that from the start of the New 52 last year read like a sensation to me, a monthly event book, which is to say Johns writing a monthly series the way he's written numerous event books (Infinite Crisis, Blackest Night, Flashpoint). While the high drama and stakes of the early Darkseid arc gave way to more intimate threats such as Graves, the man who literally wrote the book of the League, the strong character work remained, most especially with Wonder Woman, on whom most of the action pivots, including a budding romance with Superman.
6. Saga (Image)
Easily the best new series of the year, this imaginative work from Brian K. Vaughan (also responsible for Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, Runaways) and Fiona Staples was something that took me by complete surprise. Perhaps I would have been forgiven to assume that it was just another overhyped indy book, because the indy scene specializes in overhyping itself, but not only was this from Vaughan but it turned out to be nothing like anything else he'd done, which is rare for any creator. Okay, so it's a little like Y: The Last Man, but there are so many colorful characters and such a rich reality built around them, it really doesn't matter.
7. Wasteland (Oni)
I've been enjoying this series since 2006, and am still waiting for the rest of the comic book world to catch up. At any rate, Antony Johnston is still writing it and still working toward the central revelation of the narrative, what happened and how it came to be. In the meantime, 2012 was a very good year for new readers to catch up with Wasteland, as most of the plot points that have been featured since the beginning have been repeated but in more standalone context, leaving lead stars Abi and Michael to fascinate with their journey to rediscover the lost city of A-Ree-Yass-I, as well as who they are and why they have such unnatural lives. I've been comparing Michael to Wolverine since the beginning. This is like returning to the days before Origin and seeing the character explored, from the start, more deliberately.
8. Batman Incorporated (DC)
It's funny that Grant Morrison's Batman has become so low-key, since for years it was the buzz of the comic book world. That's probably thanks to Scott Snyder. Since relaunching earlier this year, Batman Incorporated has slowly drawn the strings of Morrison's story together, and appropriately enough it all comes back to Damian and his mother Talia, daughter of Ra's al Ghul. The current Robin has been a target throughout this run, which has made his father overprotective, which as you might expect Damian doesn't take well. #2 serves as a handy recap for anyone who has no idea who Talia is or how she can be the ultimate threat in Morrison's saga, while the international heroes who are represented in the title make a comeback in #0.
9. Cobra (IDW)
Mike Costa might not seem like an impressive name to readers only familiar with his DC effort Blackhawks, but he's been writing one of the best comics in the market for years, and that's Cobra. For anyone who appreciates rich character work and an expansive look at the G.I.Joe mythology, this has been your series and you may simply not have known it. The above image comes from #17, which focuses on the familiar Major Bludd, who has been at the center of recent developments, though plenty of Cobra agents, past, present and perhaps future, have been involved in the events that presently find us in Russia with the Oktober Guard. Early in the year Chuck Dixon wrote the annual that introduced the new Cobra Commander, part of a franchise crossover event necessitated by the last one's assassination in these pages.
10. Saucer Country (Vertigo)
11. Batman and Robin (DC)
Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason have been a dynamite team twice before (Green Lantern Corps, Brightest Day), and the high hopes for their reunion in the pages of Batman and Robin survived the New 52 reboot and led to their best work. Early issues dealt with Robin's continuing efforts to discover his own legacy, one that didn't just involve the training of his ruthless mother but rather also the influence of his father, Batman, and those that involved the son of Henri Ducard were exceptional. Yet #0, which details his relationship with Talia, is the highlight of the year, with #15 a close second, a tie-in with "Death of the Family" that finds Damian matching wits with the Joker. At their best, Tomasi and Gleason are among the best, and they were at their best quite a lot in 2012.
12. Happy! (Image)
Here's Morrison again, in a mob comic dripping with the threat of violence that also features the title character, a little blue horse only Nick Sax can see. Nick appreciates this fact when it helps him escape a grizzly end, and when he realizes that Happy is not a delusion. Depending on how you read comics, this might seem like the most disposable of the three, or it might be the only one you care to read, because that's how most comics readers approach the medium, very little in-between. Though I suppose given that most of the comics on this list involve superheroes, I stand outed. I tend to follow the material and the creators, the best work relevant to my interests, so like Happy! can deviate from my norm quite easily.
13. Hoss and Feffer (FishTank)
This is the latest from one of my favorite creators, whom I didn't even realize until this year was still actively pursuing the craft. Manny Trembley is the co-creator of PX!, an all-ages adventure strip that went away a few years ago. He seems to have since reinvented himself as the proponent of material that caters but does not speak down to children. This is, for instance, a retelling of the tortoise and the hare. Lively, lovely and sweet, Hoss and Feffer is everything that proves Trembley's talent as great and enduring.
14. Batman: Earth One (DC)
A rare venture outside of monthly comics work for Geoff Johns, this is part of DC's graphic novel series that basically serves as movie-style storytelling and approachability. In fact, there are similarities between the origin found here and Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, but most especially a Bruce Wayne who's definitely still learning his craft and who has Alfred to lean on, the estwhile butler revealed in this version to be playing the role rather than living it, because he was really a friend of Thomas Wayne's come to defend him against the corruption of the Penguin, who serves as the villain of the story.
15. The Twelve (Marvel)
Last seen properly in 2008 (where it landed in 3rd, though a Chris Weston one-shot hit fifteenth in 2010), J. Michael Straczynski's vision of twelve heroes brought to the present from WWII finally concluded with its final four issues. This was basically Watchmen meets Captain America, but it was absolutely brilliant, absorbing in its depiction of morally gray and the shifting allegiances of allies discovering anew their diverging paths.
16. Aquaman (DC)
Johns again, this time in his efforts to make a man out of Aquaman, which began to take shape around the "Others" arc that finally proved once and for all that there are compelling things about the character that have nothing to do with talking to fish or Atlantis. Although with "Throne of Atlantis" kicking off, there's plenty for Johns to say about that, too. The Others, by the way, are international allies Aquaman had well before the Justice League, fellow outsiders looking for redemption, who become targets of Black Manta, Aquaman's most famous foe.
17. Avengers vs. X-Men (Marvel)
Aside from the movie The Avengers, this was Marvel's biggest event of the year, a sequel to the "Dark Phoenix Saga" (roughly covered in X-Men: The Last Stand) and House of M, which famously included the phrase, "No more mutants." This was the final reckoning, in which the Phoenix force returns to Earth and both mutants and Avengers struggle to contain it. Written by the company's best-known creators, AvX spanned the summer and helped pave the way for Marvel Now!
18. Dinosaurs vs. Aliens (Dynamite)
I figured it would be pretty funny putting similarly titled books one after the other, but they have no relation to each other. This one's from Grant Morrison and filmmaker Barry Sonnenfeld, and may end up becoming a movie. Like Morrison's earlier 18 Days, it may also remain an awesome screenplay version of his awesome scope as a storyteller, a visually and psychologically compelling experiment that sees what happens when two very different worlds collide.
19. Before Watchmen: Comedian (DC)
One of the biggest and most controversial stories of 2012 was DC's decision to launch Before Watchmen without the consent of Alan Moore. I figured that we would at least get interesting twists on familiar elements. I didn't think we'd get Comedian. In Watchmen Edward Blake was the victim at the heart of the story, but also one of its villains. This is the worthy effort to explore him more fully.
20. All-New X-Men (Marvel)
If you really stop to think about it, Brian Michael Bendis has been itching to write Marvel's merry mutants for years, and he finally has his chance with this series, featuring art from Stuart Immonen. It's more or less the sequel to AvX, may possibly feature the last days of Hank McCoy, and as an opening gimmicks literally brings the original team from the past to meet its own future. Also, Scott Summers deals with becoming the new Magneto in a more figurative sense.
21. The Secret History of DB Cooper (Oni)
Brian Churilla first proved he could do monsters in Phil Hester's The Anchor. In this mini-series he proved he could find the heart of a monster, a man struggling to reclaim his own life in the face of a mythology, a cold war, and an identity later to become famous for leaping from a plane he hijacked midflight.
22. Artifacts (Top Cow)
Ron Marz recreated himself as the scribe of the Top Cow universe, and with Artifacts has been redefining the landscape with some of the most interesting mythology in comics. You may be familiar with Witchblade or the Darkness, but this series will make you care about a dude named Tom Judge.
23. Star Trek: The Next Generation - Hive (IDW)
Most of IDW's best work with the Star Trek licence has involved characters from the Kirk era, whether original or movie reboot versions, so it's always a treat when the company can work its magic with other eras. This one combines Next Generation with Voyager, and handles the Borg Collective, giving Brannon Braga one last shot at the franchise.
24. Vengeance (Marvel)
This stunning vision of the next generation from Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta concluded early in the year but deserves one more round of recognition (Dragotta earned my designation as artist of the year in 2011 for his exceptional work).
25. Nightwing (DC)
Kyle Higgins started off strongly in his New 52 launch last year, and although the series has since fallen below essential reading, I'd still like to acknowledge that it's some of the best work Dick Grayson has had under this name in years.
26. Red Hood and the Outlaws (DC)
Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort have been so sensational in this series that DC graduated them to the pages of Superman. Granted, this statement is only recognized by a select few, because most fans ended up dismissed the book upon its New 52 launch, but the work speaks for itself.
27. Earth 2 (DC)
James Robinson in his ongoing series for the New 52, reimagining the Justice Society on its own parallel world, sensationally taking the same elements that launched Justice League and using them to springboard old heroes into fresh interpretations, most famously with original Green Lantern Alan Scott being revealed as gay.
28. Peter Panzerfaust (Image)
I've got a soft spot for Peter Pan, and as you may guess from the title of this series, this is an adaptation of the mischievous youth, brought into WWII with his Lost Boys as resistance fighters. It's how the new resonates with the old, and how it all unfolds, that makes something like this work.
29. Demon Knights (DC)
Paul Cornell worked a certain amount of his magic in this medieval version of DC lore, where familiar faces like Vandal Savage and Etrigan can be explored in more friendly context. I wonder if Cornell shouldn't have worked smaller arcs to make it more compelling, but at any rate he has since left the series.
30. Before Watchmen: Minutemen (DC)
The next best project of this effort is a reliable old-timey look at the first generation of heroes, something else that was a subplot in the original Watchmen that could definitely have used its own spotlight.
31. Atomic Robo (Red 5)
Although the more traditional Flying She-devils of the Pacific served as the regular installment of Atomic Robo's adventures in 2012, I think he was actually more interesting in Real Science Adventures, an anthology series that pushed the boundaries of the character.
32. DC Universe Presents (DC)
I found some good excuses to read this anthology, including the Challengers of the Unknown, Fabian Nizieza's Kid Flash outing in #12, and #0, which had another look at all the characters who lost their series launched at the start of the New 52, while Deadman, whose adventures launched the series last fall, got a visit from Tony Bedard and Scott McDaniel, reunited for the first time since The Great Ten.
33. BlueSpear (Com.x)
Andi Ewington's followup to 45 was a more conventional comic but featured the same strong character work and sense of mythology, marking it as a good test of its continued vitality.
34. Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre (DC)
At its most relevant, Before Watchmen had to explore things in ways we hadn't seen before, and Silk Spectre's look at the relationship between the mother and daughter to share that name and Laurie's subsequent surge to independence fit that bill.
35. Superman (DC)
This entry should be understood to indicate the Lobdell/Rocafort era, begun toward the end of the year and including the famed #13 in which Clark Kent quits the Daily Planet. With any luck, it's an era that will continue for years and leave a lasting impression.
36. Batman (DC)
Most comic book fans are gaga over Scott Snyder, and are eating up stories like "Night of Owls" and "Death of the Family." I don't read this series regularly, but it's always worth sampling.
37. Beyond the Fringe #1 (DC)
The TV series Fringe has long been a favorite of mine, and so I've read a number of the comics based on it. But this issue is the best and most relevant, from "Peter Bishop" Joshua Jackson himself, dealing with his character's experiences involving the mysterious machine that shaped so much of the third and fourth seasons.
38. Punk Rock Jesus (Vertigo)
This is a series I wish I'd been able to read more extensively, but the little I have so far is some of the best stuff I read all year. Sean Murphy, Grant Morrison's artist on Joe the Barbarian, imagines what would happen if Jesus Christ were incarnated again in the present. I know that #3 is a standout.
39. After Earth: Innocence (Dynamite)
Movie tie-ins can sometimes at best be promotional hack work. This one, for the forthcoming Will Smith/M. Night Shyamalan blockbuster, is anything but.
40. Batman: Arkham City -End Game (DC)
Derek Fridolfs gets to tell the story few others have had the chance to, the Joker's last laugh. As you might expect from the greatest comic book villain ever, death doesn't stop his madness.
41. Scalped (Vertigo)
Apparently I was last a regular reader of Jason Aaron's masterpiece in 2009, where Scalped ranked at 17th, its best of two previous appearances in the QB50, the other being 42nd in 2008. Dash Bad Horse finally leaves the reservation after somehow surviving sixty issues. I had to come back to read it happen.
42. Before Watchmen: Nite Owl (DC)
When fans envisioned what outrages would come of Before Watchmen, something like Nite Owl was probably what they expected, the first sign that the worst they could expect wasn't bad comics but mediocre material. But at least these comics feature the inks of the late Joe Kubert.
43. Brilliant (Icon)
This is Brian Michael Bendis turning the superhero experience into a TV series, half procedural, half coming of age, The OC meets Criminal Minds.
44. Green Lantern: New Guardians (DC)
The one starring Kyle Rayner and representatives from each of the "color Corps" introduced by Geoff Johns over the past few years, it's also the one written by Tony Bedard, who is a junior member of DC's mythology team, currently spearheaded by Johns and Grant Morrison. (Peter Tomasi is also a member, and writes Green Lantern Corps.) From the few issues I read in 2012, Bedard retains his fascination with the Weaponer who originally forged Sinestro's yellow ring (he employed the character in the pre-New 52 GL Corps), which is a good thing.
45. The Stand: The Night Has Come (Marvel)
This series of mini-series adaptations of Stephen King's best work finally came to an end. I previously distinguished the efforts in 2010 (where it ranked 9th), 2009 (where it ranked 12th), and 2008 (where it ranked 35th).
46. The Road to Oz (Marvel)
Eric Shanower and Skottie Young are now on their fifth book in the L. Frank Baum series filled with whimsical creations. I've ranked their efforts 19th in 2011, 24th in 2010, and 33rd in 2009.
47. Before Watchmen: Ozymandias (DC)
When I had to start being more selective about how I followed Before Watchmen and therefore make more definitive judgments on the material, I had to judge the extraneous from the inspired. And Ozymandias is basically extraneous, and subsequent efforts like Rorschach, Moloch, and Dr. Manhattan also appeared so. Perhaps later collected editions will read better. After all, I'm part of the generation that has only known Watchmen in that form.
48. Spawn (Image)
I culled my favorable reading of #220, part of Image's 20th anniversary and a repositioning of the series, into this ranking in part because I had a pretty limited comics experience in 2012 (and probably will be all the more limited in 2013).
49. Westward (Kinetic)
A pretty amusing indy work that I was subsequently a little miffed to see would only continue via crowdfunding. Just off this list is material from Jesse Grillo, whose Bleeding Ink seems to be entirely funded that way.
50. Charmed (Zenescope)
Unless I'm mistaken, these comics have come to an end, but were still a worthy followup to the TV series.
Some concluding awards:
Writer of the Year: Geoff Johns (Green Lantern, Justice League, Aquaman, Batman: Earth One)
Artist of the Year: Fiona Staples (Saga)
Character of the Year: Damian Wayne (Batman Incorporated, Batman and Robin)
Single Issue of the Year: Punk Rock Jesus #3
Movie of the Year: The Dark Knight Rises
New Series of the Year: Saga
New Character of the Year: Simon Baz (Green Lantern)
Series Conclusion of the Year: Scalped #60
Limited Series of the Year: The Secret History of DB Cooper
Cover of the Year: Batman #6