CBR's Top 100 Comics of 2011, #100 - 76

Mon, December 26th, 2011 at 12:30pm PST | Updated: December 29th, 2011 at 1:12pm

Comic Books
CBR News Team, Editor
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Every year, CBR wraps its coverage of the comics industry with a virtual nerd cage match to determine the very best comics of the year. Each and every CBR staffer -- from our crack news team to our well-researched columnists, from CBR's many daily bloggers to our legion of comic reviewers -- had the chance to chip in their favorite books of the year. Only the highest vote-getters ranking up on our massive Top 100 Comics list, and as always, neither the staff nor the comics disappointed.

The watchword for the comics market in 2011 was "soft," as sales continued to shift in a weak economy and publishers faced challenges, from retail upheaval to digital distribution. But no matter what came along to impact the business of comics this year, the creative work proved to stand as tall as ever. From groundbreaking graphic novels to the reinvention of a number of flagging franchises to the quieter entries from the manga field to the all-ages excitement in print and on the web, comics had an impressive year by any critical standard.

And while it's nearly impossible for even the combined staff of CBR to have read every single ongoing series, miniseries, one-shot, graphic novel and webcomic published in and throughout 2011, we are confident that you'll find no better indicator of the breadth and quality of the industry as it stands today than right here. So read on as we kick off Part 1 of our week-long countdown including nods to books that hit the national press, fan favorites that survived through tough times, mind-bending humor and horror series and titles for the kid in all of us.

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100. Paying For It
Written & Illustrated by Chester Brown
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

"Controversial and not for everyone, Chester Brown's detailed and fascinating look at prostitutes and being a john in Canada feels anything but titillating. Executed as a memoir of Brown's own experience soliciting prostitutes manages through his sometimes painful honesty about himself and his surroundings to be an insightful and fascinating look at love and sex that painstakingly examines philosophy and the very nature of romantic love itself. Great autobiographical and memoir work manages to transcend the narcissistic and mundane, finding ways to become intimate and relatable. Brown manages both of those things and leaves a reader pondering his questions intently, their own answers likely surprising them. It's only in the best work that we are inspired to turn important questions back onto ourselves to truly examine and learn from them, and 'Paying For It' is exactly that kind of work."

-- CBR Reviewer & Comics Should Be Good Columnist Kelly Thompson

99. A Zoo in Winter
Written & Illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon

"Jiro Taniguchi's semi-autobiographical story of romance and becoming an artist in the manga industry is quiet, gentle, and enthralling. Taniguchi's highly detailed art is beautiful enough that you could look at it for days and keep finding new things you hadn't noticed before, but it's the story that seals the deal. It's an eye-opening glimpse into the studio system that creates manga, and the difficulties in breaking through, but with some human drama thrown in for good measure. As with almost everything from Taniguchi, this is a keeper."

-- CBR Reviewer Greg McElhatton

98. Echo
Written & Illustrated by Terry Moore
Published by Abstract Studios

"Terry Moore wrapped up his first post-'Strangers in Paradise' ongoing with equal parts powerful character moments and end-of-the-world action suspense. The science of the series, too, is quite fascinating and rewards a second, closer reading."

-- CBR Staff Writer Shaun Manning

97. The Punisher
Written by Greg Rucka
Drawn by Marco Checchetto
Published by Marvel Comics

"As much as I enjoyed Rick Remender's epic run with the character, Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto's grittier, more realistic take on the Marvel Universe version of Frank Castle has blown me away, focusing on the character's street-level crime roots without eschewing the super-powered aspect of the world the Punisher resides in."

-- CBR Senior Editor Stephen Gerding

96. Darkwing Duck
Written by Ian Brill
Drawn by James Silvani
Published by BOOM! Studios

"Ian Brill and James Silvani have my thanks for bringing the terror that flaps in the night back from the brinks of obscurity. Darkwing's escapades in BOOM!'s series are just as vivid as adults remember them -- and even better for kids to be introduced to this classic Disney superhero."

-- CBR Staff Writer Steve Sunu

95. Batman Incorporated
Written by Grant Morrison
Drawn by Chris Burnham, Yanick Paquette and Cameron Stewart
Published by DC Comics

"The DC New 52 relaunch makes it difficult to recall just how many issues of Batman, Inc. came out in 2011, but when you take a look, a lot more excellent Batman Inc. comics came out than you would think, enough to earn it a place on this list, despite the series' last issue before the New 52 being the title's worst issue. Chris Burnham was a breakout star with his artwork and Grant Morrison had a number of stellar issues, including an amazing reinvention of the original Batwoman and a striking look at the everyday life of Man-of-Bats, the Sioux Batman."

-- Comics Should Be Good Editor Brian Cronin

94. Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword
Written & Illustrated by Various
Published by Dark Horse Comics

"As a big fan of the original 'Savage Sword' from Marvel, I have to say that the new one is doing the name proud. The mission statement is to showcase Howard's lesser-known characters in new stories from a variety of writers and artists, and we've already seen Dark Agnes, El Borak and Sailor Steve Costigan. Each issue so far has also included a nice reprint from the old Marvel Savage Sword with new coloring. I love everything Dark Horse is doing with its Robert E. Howard license, new stuff and reprints both, but I will go with this title as my favorite."

-- Comics Should Be Good Writer Greg Hatcher

93. Loose Ends
Written by Jason Latour
Illustrated by Chris Brunner and Rico Renzi
Published by 12 Gauge Comics

"Still one issue away from completion, this neon noir comic book series is part Jim Thompson, part Michael Mann, and absolutely amazing to look at. It's a sharp, powerful little tale, with a scope far beyond its relatively few pages."

-- CBR Columnist Timothy Callahan

92. Irredeemable
Written by Mark Waid
Drawn by Peter Krause and Diego Barretto
Published by BOOM! Studios

"Mark Waid has a million and one talents and a million and two fans, but, even after three years of 'Irredeemable,' people don't really associate him with dark, truly unsettling storytelling. Unlike, say, Garth Ennis, Waid avoids cynicism and parody, and rarely goes for that taboo-breaking moneyshot -- instead, he weasels beneath it, creating something far more disturbing. Waid's series about the world's greatest superhero turned world's greatest mass-murderer doesn't so much make you shout 'holy shit!' as make you cover your mouth in horror, and that is pure brilliance. The Plutonian's origin, in December's #32, is probably the most genuinely upsetting thing I've read in comics."

-- CBR Staff Writer Shaun Manning

91. Reed Gunther
Written by Shane Houghton
Illustrated by Chris Houghton
Published by Image Comics

"I had the good fortune of finding this Chris and Shane Houghton book back when it was a creator-owned, self-published, energetic little title looking to be something much more. Now, published by Image and in color, this series is all that and more. Featuring a cowboy riding a grizzly bear fighting monsters and mystical menaces, we're six issues in, but you can get easily caught up to speed from a recent trade."

-- CBR Reviewer Doug Zawisza

90. Artifacts
Written by Ron Marz
Drawn by Whilce Portacio and Jeremy Haun
Published by Top Cow/Image Comics

"While 'Artifacts' technically kicked off in 2010, it really got going this year. The series which not only brought the Witchblade and Darkness back together also rounded up all of the other Artifact wielders in the Top Cow Universe and pitted them against each other. You get a sense while reading the ever-escalating event comic that something very big is going to happen at the end that will have long lasting effects on the TCU, but there's still a heart at the center that keeps everything grounded. We'll find the first week of 2012 just what kind of ramifications will ripple throughout the Cow."

-- CBR Staff Writer TJ Dietsch

89. The Cape
Written by Joe Hill, Jason Ciaramella
Drawn by Zach Howard
Published by IDW Publishing

"Based on a short story by Joe Hill, 'The Cape' has risen high into the ranks of great comics of 2011 because it shows no fear. The chilling portrayal of the origin of a very ordinary villain is a nasty comic. This medium touts itself as the arena where anything can happen, even if it so often doesn't. In 'The Cape,' it can happen and will most likely happen in ways you didn't even want to know about."

-- CBR Reviewer Ryan K. Lindsay

88. Congress of The Animals
Written & Illustrated by Jim Woodring
Published by Fantagraphics Books

"As with Woodring's previous book, 'Weathercraft,' 'Congress' finds one of the central characters in the author's surreal Unifactor world, in this case Frank, going on a lengthy journey and coming back having altered his world somehow, though in this case the changes seem to be permanent. It takes a bit of daring to be willing to alter the status quo in a respected body of work and considerable talent to be able to do so in as assured manner as Woodring does here."

-- Robot 6 Writer Christ Mautner

87. Mark Twain's Autobiography 1910-2010
Written & Illustrated by Michael Kupperman
Published by Fantagraphics Books

"Fans of Kupperman's 'Tales Designed to Thrizzle' work received a bonus treat in 2011 with his embellished take on the life of Samuel Clemens. Through war, animal make-out sessions and film writing, Kupperman takes Twain through the ringer in a hilariously catastrophic epic that the real-life 'Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' author would surely have appreciated. Although reading it won't score you any points on a history-class term paper, the book will certainly open your eyes to one of the funniest writers working in comics right now."

-- CBR Contributor Brian Warmoth

86. Prison Pit
Written & Illustrated by Johnny Ryan
Published by Fantagraphics Books

"The excessive violence is still here, more refined, more imaginative, more disturbing. Ryan pushes himself artistically in the second half of the book, delivering a stunning sequence that still haunts me."

-- CBR Reviewer Chad Nevett

85. Hellblazer
Written by Peter Milligan
Drawn by Giuseppe Camuncoli
Covers by Simon Bisley
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

"There's a reason 'Hellblazer' is Vertigo's longest running book, and it's quite simply that this series is brilliant. Constantine is one of comic's best anti-heroes, doing what protagonists in other mediums so rarely accomplish: growing and maturing without losing his edge."

-- CBR Staff Writer Josie Campbell

"Milligan continues to deliver, and the artists are doing it right too. Very happy to spend another decade or two on this book."

-- Comics Should Be Good Writer Sonia Harris

84. The Walking Dead
Written by Robert Kirkman
Drawn by Charlie Adlard
Published by Image Comics

"Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard continue to weave a fascinating zombie survival tale. Every time you think they've mined the genre for all it's worth, a game changer comes along and everything feels new -- and frightening -- once again."

-- CBR Senior Editor Stephen Gerding

83. Xombi
Written by John Rozum
Illustrated by Frazer Irving
Published by DC Comics

"Every once in a while, a series will have a quirkiness that reminds me of Grant Morrison's Danny the Street (from his 'Doom Patrol' run). Rozum and Irving hooked me with the first issue, despite the fact I never read the previous 1990s incarnation of 'Xombi.'" -- Robot 6 Writer Tim O'Shea

82. Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.
Written by Jeff Lemire
Drawn by Alberto Ponticelli
Published by DC Comics

"The perfect comic? Or the world's most perfect comic? Takes the coolest monster in the history of horror-fantasy and just pulps the crap out of him. If there was ever a Frankenstein/Atomic Robo crossover, my head would melt like Toht's in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.'"

-- Robot 6 Writer Michael May

81. Gladstone's School For World Conquerors
Written by Mark Andrew Smith
Illustrated by Armand Villavert
Published by Image Comics

"The concept itself -- children of villains attending a school where they believe they are being educated for one thing while the truth reveals itself slowly, -- is a premise that offers the creators and consumers both a great deal of potential opportunities. Where the story has gone so far has left me clamoring for more."

-- Robot 6 Writer Tim O'Shea

80. The Cardboard Valise
Written & Illustrated by Ben Katchor
Published by Pantheon

"Prep your time capsules, folks: You'd be hard pressed to find an artifact that better conveys our national predicament than Ben Katchor's latest comic-strip collection, a series of intertwined vignettes created largely before the Great Recession and our political class's utter failure to adequately address it, but which nonetheless appears to anticipate it. Its message -- that blind nationalism is the prestige of the magic trick used by hucksters to financially and culturally ruin societies for their own profit -- is delightfully easy to miss amid Katchor's remarkable depictions of lost fads, trends, jobs, tourist attractions, and other detritus of the dying American Century. He's the very most funnest Cassandra around."

-- Robot 6 Writer Sean T. Collins

79. The Unwritten
Written by Mike Carey
Illustrated by Peter Gross
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

"The interplay between fiction and reality, and the exploration of what a story is and can do, make 'The Unwritten' an intriguing and rewarding read every month. This is actually the last book I read in my weekly stack, as it's one I want to spend some time with -- Carey and Gross reward a close reading."

-- CBR Staff Writer Shaun Manning

78. The Wolf
Written & Illustrated by Tom Neely
Published by I Will Destroy You

"Neely's wordless, painted, at-times pornographic graphic novel feels like the successful final draft to various other prestigious projects' false starts. It's a far less didactic, more genuinely erotic attempt at high-art smut than Dave McKean's 'Celluloid'; a less self-conscious, more direct attempt at frankly depicting both the destructive and creative effects of sex on a relationship via symbolism than Craig Thompson's 'Habibi'; a blend of sex and horror and narrative and visual poetry and ugly shit and a happy ending that succeeds in each of these things where many comics choose to focus on only one or two."

-- Robot 6 Writer Sean T. Collins

77. Sweet Tooth
Written & Illustrated by Jeff Lemire

"Jeff Lemire's 'Sweet Tooth' is pure genius. Seamlessly blending smash-mouth, 'Mad Max'-style action with a Jane Austen novel, the machinations of this slow burn are easily recognized as the successor to past Vertigo hits like 'Sandman' and 'Preacher' And if the series' backdrop couldn't get any bigger, the recent three-issue flashback tale, illustrated beautifully by guest artist Matt Kindt, gave an even greater depth to the mythos of Gus, the antlered-boy."

-- CBR Staff Writer Jeffrey Renaud

76. The Shade
Written by James Robinson
Drawn by Cully Hamner
Published by DC Comics

"James Robinson has returned to the DC Universe, specifically the Starman corner he earned his stripes in. Launched as a twelve-issue series, this story is set to feature art from some of the brightest luminaries in the business, including Cully Hamner, Darwyn Cooke, Jill Thompson and J. Bone. With Tony Harris on the covers, it just feels right, almost like it hasn't been nearly a decade since Robinson closed up shop on his 'Starman' run."

-- CBR Reviewer Doug Zawisza

Check back with CBR tomorrow for Part 2 of the Top 100 Comics of 2011 featuring #75 to 51!

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