The Gold Standard: Top 10 Marvel Books Of 2011

10. X-Factor

You’d think that after all of these years Peter David may have hit a slump with X-Factor, but really, it never happened. The book may not be some overly important fixture of the Marvel Universe, something that all events spin out of and into, but really, that’s half the charm. Aside from a few X-crossovers over the years Peter David has been given complete freedom with a list of underutilized characters that deserve it. I mean, Layla Miller is still around and interesting and there are times I completely forgot that Bendis originally pissed her out for House of M. PAD has done some fantastic stuff on this book, and this year he’s really out done himself. Eighteen issues since the first week of January last year, including a point one issue. We’ve seen Spider-Man, Thor, Pip the Troll working for X-Factor, the birth of Rahne’s child, Rictor and Shatterstar, and hey, the year ended with what I like to call “The Many Deaths of Jamie Madrox”. It’s been pulled into Regenesis to start this year, which means Havok and Polaris are coming back home, but I imagine this book is going to have another fantastic and under the radar year this year.

 

9. X-23

Marvel’s last solo female title, not counting Ghost Rider (because really, I don’t care about Ghost Rider and given how many people overlooked that gender swap I imagine that it’s not just me). It’s last issue was supposed to be hitting stores this week, but Marvel sprung to let Laura have one last issue to say goodbye in March. While this book hasn’t been the most spectacular thing ever written, write Marjorie Liu did successfully spend the last year giving a literal clone of Wolverine a personality and character that made her feel like she belonged in the expanded Marvel Universe. Not to knock X, but really, this book is what made her into the kind of character I’m happy to see around. She’s not just a teenage girl with claws any more (on the other end of the spectrum, Daken’s book really made him an even worse character in my eyes by accenting his negatives). X-23 has been a fun book to pick up once or twice a month, and while I’m sad to see it ending, I’m very happy to see Marjorie Liu move on to Astonishing X-Men along with the supporting cast of this book.

 

8. X-Men Legacy

Mike Carey managed to slide under the radar for years with his run on X-Men Legacy. I mean, his run wrapped up last week and is currently the second longest run on X-Men by a writer snuggled in between Chris Claremont and Scott Lobdell, but his character driven Rogue lead title hasn’t been something Marvel has pushed to readers. This year started off slightly different, as Carey tried his hands at an X-Men tradition known as the alternate reality event, and while Age of X may not have been the Age of Apocalypse, it was a really intriguing take on the characters…and it led to Carey using the most toxic of toxic X characters with great success. I’m talking, of course, about Legion. He made Professor X’s son into a dynamic and viable character. Hell, let’s get back to what really works here, he took Rogue, refined her powers, and made her into not only a strong character, but one who can lead. He gave the kids a place to shine when the only focus elsewhere was on Hope and her Lights. December of 2011 marks the end of an epic run, and 2011 was a great year to cap off with.

 

7. Secret Warriors

It was a sad day when this title ended earlier this year, really, I still miss it every month. Hickman crafted a must read book with Nick Fury and a cast of super powered secret agents, one where we found out the true origins of SHIELD and Hydra. This year was the final arc, Wheels Within Wheels, and Hickman pulled out all the stops. Things we thought we knew for decades were erased, and Nick Fury and Baron Strucker had their last ever confrontation. Hell, he even tied in his SHIELD book that stars Da Vinci by having the Renaissance Man meet a younger Fury in his early spy days. This was also the book where Daisy Johnson came into her own, and this matters because all things seem to point to her profile being elevated in 2012. The book may have wrapped half way through the year, but it still ranks amongst Marvels best.

 

6. Avengers Academy

2011 saw me give up Avengers and New Avengers, and while I did enjoy Warren Ellis’s run on Secret Avengers…it wasn’t enough to get it on the list. Avengers Academy is the crown jewel of the Avengers franchise right now, it may not have the marquee characters, but it does have easily the best character work and structure of any of the books right now. Not to mention the premise of kids not being trained to be Avengers, but being held off the inevitable super villain path that is creeping ever closer to them thanks to the things that Norman Osborn did to them when he was in control. Gage has fleshed out these kids, not to mention their instructors, and the cast is just perfect. Easily the best non-Skrull Hank Pym work in years (previously I would have said Slott’s work with him in Initiative, but hey, Skrull). It’s a book about damaged goods trying to be better people, regardless of how hard it may be at times. Something I think a lot of people can relate to.

 

5. Uncanny X-Men

This one is a bit of a cheat, as I’m including both the recently relaunched three issues (as of writing this, probably four by the time this post goes up) as well as everything else that Kieron Gillen has done this year, not to mention a pre-Fear Itself Matt Fraction still kicking all kinds of ass. The book truly was the core of the entire X franchise this year, despite all of the other titles on the market, and it felt like it. All the big names, big time stories, tons of things going on, and it worked. We had Kitty and Colossus unable to touch or even talk without a telepath, mutant powers in a drug, a return of Breakworld, and who could forget the new Juggernaut? It was a banner year for the X-Men even before the Schism left Cyclops with his new Extinction Team to fight Mr. Sinister and Celestials. Wolverine and the X-Men might get the hype, but this is still the banner title for all things X-Men, and with Kieron Gillen at the helm it’s proven to be in more than capable hands.

 

4. FF

The year began with Jonathan Hickman killing the Human Torch and ending the Fantastic Four, quickly replacing it with the white and black of the Future Foundation. What’s come since has been more of the superb work that has made him into one of the most prolific writers in the history of the franchise. Sure, there was a lull during his return of Black Bolt, but really, everything he has done for the past few years has just built more and more on top of itself. His work with the FF has been nothing short of the fantastic that the name would imply, the Evil Reed’s have made for great villains, and I adore his work with the kids. The fact that the year is ending with the return of Johnny Storm and the Fantastic Four would be good enough, but the fact that Hickman will continue to right the kids in FF every month as well? Or how about the fact that Spider-Man has been a completely natural fit? Oooh, how about the promise of Galactus to open up 2012? Hickman is doing everything right, and his run is really, truly, fantastic.

 

3. Daredevil

Who knew that the trick to making Daredevil must read again was making him fun again? After years of finding success in the grimdark runs of Brian Bendis, Ed Brubaker, and to an extent, Andy Diggle, Daredevil was pretty much completely toxic. He had been outed as Matt Murdock, been the Kingpin of Hell’s Kitchen, gone to jail, been the leader of a cult of ninja assassins, and been possessed, essentially, by Parallax. It was a decade of people trying to see who could make Matt’s life the worst when they were done, and when Shadowland ended and Daredevil was ready to be Reborn I was completely done. Then they announced Mark Waid would be writing it, and that Marcos Martin and Paolo Rivera would be sharing art duties, and I couldn’t resist the first issue. What’s followed is, quite frankly, the best seven issues of Daredevil that I’ve read since…well, possibly ever. Not to knock everyone who has come before, but what Mark Waid is doing here is putting the fun back in the book. He’s a lawyer by day and swashbuckling vigilante by night and it works. He’s created clever ways to work around Matt’s now public identity, and really, the book is gorgeous. Whenever I saw Martin or Rivera on Spider-Man I’d always wonder why neither was on Daredevil, really, first thought anytime I saw them. They both have incredible styles that are really perfect for this book. It’s a gem, a real must read.

 

2. Uncanny X-Force

When this first launched I was of mixed feelings. Sure, I really did like the Craig Kyle and Chris Yost run of X-Force, but I didn’t really see why it needed a relaunch or the Uncanny adjective. Then at some point in the beginning of this year I quit caring about those things and recognized that Rick Remender was turning in some of the best X work in years. He made Apocalypse important again, did a return to the Age of Apocalypse that didn’t feel like a cash in, and is the cause of the new series launch, and most importantly? He made Psylocke matter again for the first time since before she died. Not to mention that the Dark Angel Saga was freaking awesome, and made this title the kind of thing I don’t mind seeing Marvel ship out multiple times in a month. I’m so glad that the year didn’t end with him finishing his run on the book, and that I can look forward to even more in 2012.

 

1. Amazing Spider-Man

When the year started Dan Slott had really just taken over Spider-Man full time, the book was supposed to be hitting twice a month instead of three times, and “Big Time” had replaced “Brand New Day”. I didn’t get on board right off the bat, after all, my Spider-Ban hadn’t really gone away. Then something changed. Spider-Man is part of the FF, Spider-Man teams up with the Avengers Academy kids, oh, and then the Jackal came back and gave New York Spider-Powers. Why was this the year of the Spider for me? Because I went from having not read Spider-Man in years to it being one of my favorite books period. In one year. Spider-Island reinvigorated the franchise for me by reminding me of what made Spidey so much fun in the first place. I don’t care if he’s married anymore, I just want Peter Parker to be a strong and dynamic character in his own right, and really, right now? He is. He’s the best solo character at Marvel right now, and it just gets better every month. Dan Slott has done something simply amazing.

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