I know it’s March. I should have done this in December or January, but the reason I was hesitant is because I really didn’t read many new comics in 2013. Instead, I read a ton of older stuff. But with the caveat of having been a bit out of the new comic loop this past year, here is a list based upon what I did read.
First, the HONORABLE MENTIONS:
25. Avengers Vol. 5 (Jonathan Hickman/Jerome Opeña) MARVEL
24. Habit #1 (Josh Simmons/Wendy Chin/Karn Piana) OILY COMICS
23. Occupy Comics (various creators) BLACK MASK STUDIOS
22. Sex Criminals (Matt Fraction/Chip Zdarsky) IMAGE
21. Prophet (Brandon Graham/Simon Roy/et al) IMAGE
20. Saga (Brian K. Vaughan/Fiona Staples) IMAGE
19. Hawkeye Vol. 5 (Matt Fraction/Javier Pulido) MARVEL
18. Manhattan Projects (Jonathan Hickman/Nick Pitarra) IMAGE
17. Sandman: Overture #1 (Neil Gaiman/JH Williams) DC/VERTIGO
16. Batman Vol. 2 (Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo) DC
15. Fran (Jim Woodring) FANTAGRAPHICS
14. Boys’ Night (Max Landis/AP Quach) SELF-PUBLISHED @ SASSQUACH.COM
And now my TOP THIRTEEN for 2013:
13. Pretty Deadly (Kelly Sue DeConnick/Emma Ríos) IMAGE
Jumping from the female talent of AP Quach at number 14 straight to some more talented females, Pretty Deadly has got quite the amazing pair of women behind the wheel. Only three issues came out in 2013, but they were beautifully drawn and slickly-scripted. Comic book Westerns can often be hit or miss, but this one hits the bullseye dead-on.
12. Can’t Lose: A Friday Night Lights Fanzine (Melissa Mendes and various creators) SELF-PUBLISHED
One of the best comic book tributes to a TV show that I’ve ever seen. If you were a fan of FNL (who wasn’t?) then the mere existence of this little book is an ultimate gift from a higher power. Genuinely touching and hilariously funny. It’s been out-of-print for months, but if you are nice to me I’ll let you borrow a copy.
11. Thor: God of Thunder (Jason Aaron/Esad Ribić) MARVEL
For most of my life, I never really “got” Marvel’s Thor. Why was he so often depicted as a clean-cut regular superhero type akin to Superman? I always felt the characterization was off. Instead, I always thought of and liked the idea of the Thor of actual Norse myth—the grizzly drunkard, tough-ass Viking prince, lazy and bored with being immortal. The question then became: How could this character ever even be a hero? And along comes Jason Aaron to show us the way. In Aaron’s vision, Thor would live to see his Midgardian (and Asgardian lessers) come and go. And no matter how much he simply wanted to fight, chase women, and drink just like the warrior mortals below, he’d always have a greater responsibility as a deity. And he would learn both the true meaning of what it meant to be a god—the true meaning of love and family and the cosmos. Aaron finally made me buy into Thor as both a true god AND a superhero. And to top it all off, you have the incredible work of Esad Ribić, one of the undeniably best artists in the business. His gorgeous layouts and pencil work give the epic, grand feel that we are actually spanning eons with the gods themselves. This is some Heavy Metal barbarian space fantasy wet dream shit we are talking about here. Unfortunately, Ribić only did a handful of the issues in 2013, otherwise this book might have been higher on my list (like it was in 2012). Aaron’s so-so Malekith arc to end the year surely would have come off better with Ribić on art duties.
10. FF Vol. 2 (Matt Fraction/Michael Allred/Laura Allred) MARVEL
Anytime you get the Allreds onboard, you already have a book that goes straight to the buy-pile. And this is no exception. Matt Fraction is at the top of his game as well—channeling DeMatteis and Giffen’s old JLI with humor, delightful awkwardness, more humor, melodrama, and the occasional high-stakes winner-take-all war scenario. And while it can lay the comedy on a little thick every once in a while, the overall sophistication and near perfect delivery will win fans over every time, especially since way too much “grim & gritty” gets shoved down our throats these days.
9. Young Avengers Vol. 2 (Kieron Gillen/Jamie McKelvie/Mike Norton) MARVEL
Kieron Gillen. What a refined and cultivated writer that has taken the medium to new heights with Young Avengers. This reminds me of what Joss Whedon used to be capable of back in the day with Buffy and Astonishing X-Men—really wonderful group characterization and group dynamic. Plus the youthful spirit of the gang captured and delivered so well, along with a charming and realistic representation of LGBT folks that isn’t seen enough in mainstream comics. But like most truly wonderful comics, its the meeting of the writer with great artists that puts a book over the top. In this case, Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton are a match made in heaven for Gillen. McKelvie and Norton capture motion and emotion brilliantly—those facial expressions remind me of Kevin Maguire’s best stuff! This trio of Gillen, McKelvie, and Norton also really really GETS the comic book medium. They use the panels and title pages and text boxes and even space in-between panels in ways that I’ve never seen before! And that’s saying a lot because I’ve seen a lot. Fraction and Aja have done similar things with Hawkeye, but Young Avengers really pushes it to the limit and beyond. It is possibly the most innovative and inspiring superhero book of 2013. Also, Noh-Varr rules.
8. Nemo: Heart of Ice (Alan Moore/Kevin O’Neill) TOP SHELF
Anyone who knows me knows that League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a personal favorite of mine. For my money’s worth, there isn’t a more interesting, dense (in a good way), and pleasing book than Black Dossier. Now, while Black Dossier this certainly ain’t, it still scratches my LOEG itch. I hope crazy pants Alan Moore continues writing LOEG until the day he dies. Kevin O’Neill, as always, delivers here as well, adding a ton of H.P. Lovecraft and E.A. Poe stuff to his illustrative oeuvre. The insane ever-expanding world of LOEG is just as much O’Neill’s baby as it is Moore’s. Whenever a new LOEG book is set to be released, I eagerly anticipate the art the same way I used to anticipate DC characters getting the Bruce Timm treatment for the first time in the old Animated TV Universe. I’m dying to see O’Neill’s latest versions of men, women, and monsters from classic pop lit. If you care as much about re-use of licensed properties/public domain characters, narrative world-building, comic book continuity, ANNOTATIONS (!), arcane references, and experimental storytelling as I do, then this is a book for you.
7. Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 (Grant Morrison/Chris Burnham) DC
After eight years, the greatest run (IMO) in the history of Batman comics concluded in 2013, kicking-off a new era for DC and simultaneously concluding the Modern Era in grand fashion. Doesn’t get much bigger and better than that, right? It pains me to say it, but we may never see a Batman book like this again. The story of Damian Wayne (and everything in-between), from “Batman & Son” straight up to the final issue of Batman Inc, will be tough to top in regard to narrative build, character development, scope, energy, or sheer brilliance. I salute you both, Mr. Morrison and Mr. Burnham. Speaking of Burnham, his illustrations and layouts are the very definition of sharp. (Batman Inc would have gone higher on my list, but I really believe that the New 52 reboot disjointed this story enough to knock it down a couple pegs. It was hard to ignore that fact that the first half of the tale took place in a completely different continuity.)
6. Hip Hop Family Tree (Ed Piskor) FANTAGRAPHICS
DOPE. The ultimate history of hip hop down to the tiniest detail. And drawn by the master illustrator Ed Piskor. It’s pedagogic, well-researched, perfectly organized, and damn entertaining.
5. Batman & Robin Vol. 2 / Batman &… (Peter Tomasi/Patrick Gleason) DC
Batman Inc, in my humble opinion, was nearly flawless. Its “sidekick” series Batman & Robin (which morphed into Batman &…) couldn’t even have existed without Batman Inc and was initially meant to be a compendium of sorts to Morrison’s arc. So, how can a secondary title trump Batman Inc on my list!? Well, once the B&R snowball picked up speed as it rolled faster down the mountain, Pete Tomasi and Pat Gleason had on their hands a surprising story that was so damn good it seemed like it was operating in another New 52 Universe—a better one. I’ve been a huge Tomasi fan since Black Adam, Outsiders, Nightwing, and Final Crisis: Requiem. Not to mention his stellar views of the Bat Family as group editor. While many writers in the industry struggle with (or simply avoid) showing the more human aspects of super-humans, Tomasi tackles the subject head-on, injecting a life of legit love, loss, and joy into characters that usually never take off their masks and never stop baring their teeth while punching bad-guy guts. Tomasi knows the Bat Family isn’t just another superhero team and he actually makes the Bat Family believable as a family. But don’t forget this is still a superhero comic book series, and don’t forget that Tomasi worships legends like Denny O’Neill, Bob Haney, and Jim Aparo. These influences are obvious and welcome. Hell, in 2013 Batman & Robin gave us one of the most touching post-death requiem tales delivered in the form of a completely “silent” issue AND a team-up featuring Batman and Frankenstein! What’s not to love. Last but not least, Gleason has quickly become one of my favorite artists. It’s at the point where I associate the image of Batman not with Sprang, Burnham, Capullo, Adams, Rogers, Breyfogle, Daniel, Lee, Miller, or anyone else—I associate it with Gleason! The elegant consistency of his line-work never fails to impress, always breathing energy and detailed vitality into the backgrounds and characters. The grotesque details of his Joker and Two-Face—I needn’t say more.
4. Mind MGMT (Matt Kindt) DARK HORSE
Kindt’s mind-fucking comic series about disbanded/disavowed-mind-wiped-super-spies-with-powers is undeniably a masterpiece. I hope that other comics companies learn a lesson from this series because I’d love to see DC or Marvel superheroes written like this. Basically, Mind MGMT is a book about powers and building teams with powers, but it’s done so incredibly well that it takes on a life of its own far beyond that trite sounding premise. The brilliance of Mind MGMT‘s narrative lies in how the world is so vivid and so fleshed-out, but not at the expense of the greater narrative, which commands you and compels you to continue lest your brain melt out of your skull. Mind MGMT, in spite of its large scope and tons of characters, never gets hung up on back-story and world-building. And at its core, the book is about legitimately strong females (Meru and The Eraser), something so lacking in most mainstream comics these days. I will admit, it took me a while to get on board with Kindt’s sloppy pencil aesthetic and unorthodox lettering, but once you get it, then you really get it. Read Mind MGMT. Erase your mind. Then read it again.
3. Aama Vol. 1 (Frédérik Peeters) SELF MADE HERO
“Wow” is all I can say. A few critics compared this novel—which came out a couple years ago in Europe, but had its first North American release this year—to Alejandro Jodoworsky’s stuff. And it not only lives up to Jodoworsky’s greatness, but even equals it. This is only the first volume (of three), but I can quickly imagine Aama far surpassing Jodoworsky’s vision. I’m hoping Peeters becomes a big name in the States now that Aama is available. We’d be better off with more of his amazing sci-fi elegance on our American bookshelves.
2. Templar (Jordan Mechner/LeUyen Pham/Alex Puvilland) FIRST SECOND BOOKS
The first chapter or this book was released in 2010 and I ate it up with a spoon. Then nothing. No follow-up, no word from publisher First Second. Until 2013. Not only came the next chapter, but the whole shebang—all three chapters in one final beautiful-looking single book. It was definitely worth the wait. Templar is essentially a documentary comic about the fall of the Templar Crusaders in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. It’s a gripping story filled with violence, political intrigue, double-crosses, conspiracy theory, and implications that reverberate all the way to modern day. And much of the greatness in Mechner’s tale is that it delivers the factual information (intensively and scholarly researched, I might add) about the Templar history in the form of an adventure story that is one part Umberto Eco, one part Indiana Jones, one part Ocean’s Eleven set in Medieval Times. Templar‘s narrative is a touching, deliberately and exquisitely frustrating, page-turning, edge-of-your-seat ride and I’d recommend it to anybody. For nearly 500 pages, Pham and Puvilland gloriously draft both intimate character moments AND movie-style action scenes/swashbuckling sword duels. Their medieval streets and buildings are illustrated so well and with such precision, I felt like I was living in that era as I viewed page after page. A+.
1. Jupiter’s Legacy (Mark Millar/Frank Quietly) IMAGE
A freakin’ Mark Millar book as my number one!? Hey, I’m more surprised at myself than anyone else! I’ve always thought of Millar as an amazing “idea man” whose writing always leaves something to be desired. Jupiter’s Legacy isn’t perfect, but it sure got me thinking the most in 2013 and it sure moved me the most in 2013. It’s because of those reasons, Jupiter’s Legacy jumps to my number one. I love the start of this series (only three issues came out in 2013) for its direct op-ed take on the modern global economic climate and for its spot-on Superman analogue, The Utopian. Millar wasn’t afraid to talk about the “problems of Capitalism” in this series—rising unemployment rates, rising inflation rates on valueless fiat currency, a crooked world banking system, environmental destruction on a global scale, enormous disparity of wealth, and massive debts piling-up. And Millar does so by making us look at Superman in a different unique light. Millar shouts, “Let’s talk about how Superman (i.e. The Utopian) refuses to help usher in an alternative structure of governing despite the aforementioned ills of society!” And I shout back, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore… and I love superhero comics too!” This is a series that I’ve been waiting for a long time. Oh, and Frank Quietly is still THE MAN. Possibly, dare-I-say-it, the best comic book penciler ever? OK, obviously I am a HUGE fan, but hey, who wants to argue? I’ll take you on! Overall, Jupiter’s Legacy has blown my mind with its kick-ass (no pun intended) start right outta the gate—superb art, subversiveness with sci-fi capes and masks, and a real dialogue about modern socioeconomic politics. A++. (On that note, issue #4 just came out and jumped forward nine years after The Utopian’s death and the subsequent replacement of global Capitalist ideology with a supposedly better “socialistic” system. And, wouldn’t ya know, things are even bleaker than they were before. Sort of throws a wrench into my praise for Millar’s politicking. Or does it? Hopefully, we’ll see what I feel should be the most important part of the series, flashbacks to the nine years of attempted “socialist implementation by superhero.” Otherwise, Millar’s “big idea,” like in many of his other books, will fall flat and we might not see this on 2014’s list. But for 2013, my hat’s off to Millar and Quietly. I hope Jupiter’s Legacy stays strong and continues to poke, prod, and provoke.
While I still have your attention, here are the BOOKS I LOVE IN 2014 SO FAR:
–Moon Knight Vol. 6 (MARVEL) -Warren Ellis!
–Young Avengers Vol. 2 (MARVEL) -Concluded in early 2014, but worthy of next year’s list.
–Loki: Agent of Asgard (MARVEL) -Picking up right where Young Avengers left off in all the right ways.
–Thor: God of Thunder (MARVEL)
–Jupiter’s Legacy (IMAGE)
–Batman &… (DC) -The revamped Two-Face origin is the best Two-Face origin BY FAR.
–Miracleman (MARVEL) -Gorgeous reprints of one of my favorite series!
–Evil Empire (BOOM!) -Politics in comics, anyone? We’ll see. Strong first issue though.
–Stormwatch Vol. 3 #25-29 (DC) -Concluded in May 2014; This run was critically panned. Everyone hated it. Not me. I admit I’m a sucker for Starlin, but I will defend this run to the grave.
–Batman Vol. 2 (DC) -Duh.
–Nemo: The Roses of Berlin (TOP SHELF) -One-shot. Is this the weakest of the LOEG books so far because it has less pop lit references and more film references? Maybe, but it still love it. Also, as a student of film, I kinda dig the slight change.
–Forever Evil (DC) -Sure it’s Geoff Johns being Geoff Johns and it has all the flaws of every other “major event” series, but this is Johns amped up to ludicrous levels. This is “grim & gritty” on green Kryptonite cocaine. SO enjoyable. (I just hope it leads somewhere or else I just might change my mind…)