Sunday, December 29, 2013

Top 10 comics of 2013


Comics books: blah, blah, sequential art blah, blah, blah, cave paintings blah blah blah oldest art form. Yadda, yadda, yadda. We've done this dance before, right? A couple of times... sort of. Look, long story short, I love them. You should too. Comics are amazing and fun. You will rarely find such a symbiotic marriage of two art forms coming together into a place of such unfettered creativity. Plus, there's tons of awesome action. And punching. And quips... lots and lots of quips...

On with the list!

My top ten favorite comics of 2013:

Battling Boy


Battling Boy is the story of a Great City overrun with villains and giant monsters. It's a story of a young girl named Aurora who has just lost her father, the City's greatest champion, the high-flying science-hero known as Haggard West, killed by the villain Sadisto. It's the story of Aurora, standing among her Father's legacy and burning for revenge. It's also the story of a young Godling, the titular Battling Boy, on the eve of his thirteenth birthday, the day he is sent by his Warrior-God father on his Coming-of-Age Quest. Armed with an Invisible Credit Card and twelve enchanted t-shirts that grant him the abilities of the animal totems emblazoned across their front, he arrives in the Great City ready to destroy all monsters. And a good time ensues, my friends, a good time ensues. This book fell out of the sky for me. A wild mix of kaiju and pulp sci-fi written and drawn by Paul Pope, it is just brilliant. Fun and fast and cool, Pope's art is amazing and the colors are fantastic. There's so much to love here. I didn't put this list in any kind of value order or anything, and the rest of the titles that appear are all great too, but I think Battling Boy might be my favorite title this year. It's fresh and it's new, but it's classic too. Only the first of two volumes is out currently. The second volume is supposedly due out this year, but y'know... comics. Either way, jump on now, you won't be sorry.


Hawkeye


The second title from Matt Fraction and David Aja, this is a book you will find on everyone's list this year. Really. Go look, I'll wait. ...See? Every list. Smart and funny and inventive and great to look at, this is simply a fantastic book. For the non-geek readers, the book is about Hawkeye (the guy with the bow from the Avengers movie) and what he does when he isn't busy being an Avenger... which is mostly get into trouble, be down on his luck, maybe drink too much, and screw up his relationships with his friends, his ex-wife, his current girlfriend, and his not-a-sidekick sidekick Kate Bishop, who also calls herself Hawkeye. She gives him lots of shit. She's smarter than him, so he takes it. It's a lot like the Rockford Files really, but with the occasional superhero freak out. Great action, fantastic panel layouts, beautiful artwork, and often surprisingly funny, I've talked about it before here.


Thor: God of Thunder


Marvel recently relaunched Thor with a new number 1 issue and a slightly new title and I probably would have avoided it totally, because Thor has never really been a character I was interested in, but then Esad Rebic's art caught my eye. Look at it. It is beautiful. Stunning. Images to pour over. It's so good, it's almost good enough that I might have stuck with the book even if the story was shit. Luckily it doesn't come to that, though, because the story is incredible. Man, do I love it. What a great book. Really. Just incredible. A twelve issue journey across time and space, it features three different Thors at different stages of their lives--young and brash, the modern day Avenger, and the grizzled old King-- who must contend with a monstrous killer bent on ridding the entire cosmos of all Gods everywhere. It's a galaxy-spanning, sci-fi, horror, time-traveling adventure. It's an unflinching story, gory and brutal and mean, but it doesn't wallow in it. It's gritty, but not in a false 90's comics kind of way. It's smart and wildly imaginative, there's big crazy ideas. It's funny too. It's a grand story, one that will come to define the character, I think. And honestly, Marvel is crazy if they don't adapt this arc for the eventual third movie. Like a lot of the titles appearing on this list, I've mentioned this one before, like on my 13 comics in 2013 list. To reiterate, if you've never read any Thor--hell, if you've never read any comics at all--issues #1 - 12 would make the short list of ones I would recommend you trying out. 


Saga


I've talked about Saga a lot before now, so you might be a little familiar with it at this point. What can I say? I'm a fan. If you're reading it, then I'm sure you understand my enthusiasm. A off-beat mash-up of sci-fi and high-fantasy, the story is about Alana and Marko, your quintessential star-crossed lovers from rival worlds. They have illegally fallen in love and, as a result, have been forced to go on the run with their new born baby Hazel, who is also the narrator. Now they just have to stay one step ahead of their pursuers, chased across the galaxy by bounty hunters and monsters and a Robot Prince with a TV for a head. It's great book. Smart and weird and funny with plenty of action, if you're a Whedon-Buffy fan, you will definitely enjoy this. Below is a scene with The Will, a bounty hunter hired to find Alana and Marko, and his partner Lying Cat. They're negotiating a possible partnership with Marko's ex-fiancee Gwendolyn, who wants to find Marko for some probably obvious reasons. This is a fun book and it looks great too. Highly recommended.


Prophet


Here's another book that I've talked about some before. Prophet is about an ancient super-soldier, a former slave who once led a revolution against a tyrannical empire, re-awakened in the distant future as his endless clone-progeny work to return that empire to its former glory. It's about a galactic war being waged in a run-down universe well past its prime and a bunch of old heroes returning to fight a battle they had believed long since won. It's an incredibly imaginative book, it's dense and cool, it's sci-fi pushed so far out it becomes fantasy. I love how the setting is so Post-Earth, Humans aren't even a represented species anymore and the greatest works of the fabled Old Earth Empire are just these broken-down ruins floating in space. It's so cool. With some of those images, you can really feel the kind of endless and uncaring void of the universe, how small and unimportant it all ends up being. I love that. Plus, as a bonus for the comic nerds, the book mines a bunch of crappy, put-to-pasture Rob Liefeld Image characters of the mid-90s and it takes their somewhat less-than-interesting templates and sort of hurls them out into this crazy setting, turning them from a bunch of uninspired knock-offs into a pantheon of crippled old Gods trudging forever back into battle. It's so good. Also of note, apparently the story is coming to an end this year, so it will be interesting to see how they wrap things up. Jump on now. However, all that being said and not to discourage anyone from this book, but while it's definitely a highly recommended one, I should probably also mention that Prophet might not be the best "New Reader" option, y'know?


Manhattan Projects


I think Jonathan Hickman is my favorite creator in comics right now. At this point, I will pick up anything with his name on it. He knows his continuity and the characters' histories, but he's not chained to it. Plus, I really like how he thinks big and long-term and he not only usually sticks his endings, but the pay-offs are great. His Fantastic Four run was incredible. Issue #600 of Fantastic Four was maybe one of the best superhero comics ever. His Ultimates run? Secret Warriors? Great stuff. And S.H.I.E.L.D.? Any book that stars Nick Fury, Leonardo DaVinci, Sir Issac Newton, and the time-traveling fathers of Tony Stark and Reed Richards is a-okay with me, kids. His Indie books are great too--more than one appears on this list, in fact--but I've found that whenever he is away from a more firm editorial hand, his narrative cohesion sometimes starts to unravel. Not always, sometimes. However, when he holds it together, he just kills it. This is one of those books. It's a story where the Manhattan Project (obviously), famous for creating the Atom Bomb, was actually a front for weirder, crazier, and even more dangerous experiments, moving beyond the global Cold War and out onto the galactic stage. And it all goes bad. It's a big crazy sci-fi story with some real history mixed in and featuring, among others, Oppenheimer's murderous cannibal twin brother, an insane Albert Einstein refuge from a parallel dimension, an alien Fermi, an irradiated monster Daghlian, the list goes on. It's a blast. I'd recommend this to anyone, especially for someone who wants to read comics, but maybe aren't interested in superhero stuff. It's great. I mean, Oppenheimer machine-gunning an horde of Kamikaze Samurai Kill-bots? Come on...


New Avengers


Here's another Jonathan Hickman title, the second of three, and this is the one firmly entrenched in the Marvel Universe. Recently relaunched with a new number one during the Marvel Now initiative, the New Avengers sees the return of the Illuminati, a covert gathering of some major figures in the Marvel Universe--Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Charles Xavier, Dr. Stephen Strange, Prince Namor of Atlantis, and Blackbolt, King of the Inhumans. They have a long history of behind-the-scene manipulations, all in the name of the greater good, of course, but then those types of ventures often have a tendency to go bad. Eventually they were forced to disband. But now a new threat has called them back together again, this time with T'Challa the Black Panther and Hank McCoy as well, replacing the now dead Xavier. One of the things I really love about this book is the hook: The multiverse is dying. It's dying because somewhere somehow a universe was destroyed. The sudden contraction set off a chain of dimensions/earths crashing violently together to fill the void and the only options are: either one Earth has to be completely destroyed, saving both universes, or both will be wiped out. The heroes are now in a race against time, wrestling with the enormity of their task: That they will most likely be forced to destroy another Earth in order to survive, and sooner rather than later, and probably more than once. It is a new reality that they must keep secret. It doesn't take long for them to discover that they are not the only ones on this path either. In fact they're not even the first versions of themselves to have to deal with this problem, and everyone has the same options of kill or die. I love it. I can't wait to read more. If you love various dimensions and secret wars, weird new realities, desperate last stands, and all the tropes that go with that kind of thing? This is the book for you.


Avengers Arena


There are people out there who will write this title off as a cheap, exploitive Battle Royale/Hunger Games rip-off starring a bunch of teenage Marvel superheroes. Let me assure you, those people are wrong. Well, I mean.... okay, they're not totally wrong, but they're definitely kind of wrong. Yes, the basic plot is the supervillain Arcade has kidnapped a bunch of teenage superheroes from their various teams and academies and has stuck them into a brand spanking new and even deadlier version of one of his Murderworld deathtrap parks. And yes, while there they must fight until there is only one of them left. But neither cheap nor exploitive, what follows after that is a surprisingly great story featuring well drawn characters, real motivation, actual tension and danger, and deaths that matters! Deaths! This a rare and beautiful thing, people. I can count on one hand the number of Marvel and DC comic books that feature all of that. Or any of that really... Dennis Hopeless is a creator I was not familiar with, but he is now someone I will definitely be watching in the future. Just 18 issues long, the story is all done, the last issue is out and it ended great. You want a book with consequences? You want a book with new characters? Here you go, kids. Enjoy.


East of West


Ah, the third and final Jonathan Hickman title on the list and it's probably the most "Hickman-y" title of them all. Set in a strange future wasteland, a a dystopian Wild West where a mysterious event fractured America sometime after the Civil War, it's a story about Death. He's a grizzled old cowboy, and lone Horseman of the Apocalypse, who is hunting the leaders of the new American Nations, a group trying to bring about the end of the world according to a strange scripture called The Message. Meanwhile, the other three Horseman--War, Conquest, and Famine--have all been reincarnated as homicidal children and they are itching to kill Death for reasons of their own. It's a story of big forces and old magic and gunplay. There's also a cyborg cowboy and former Marshall who is the Avatar of Justice. It's... an odd book, sure, crazy, but good. And beautiful. The art is great. I'll admit it though, your mileage may vary with this title, but I love it.


Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant


Delilah Dirk. Love it. Late to the race. Newly discovered. Totally adored. It's basically just a swashbuckling Sinbad the Pirate type of adventure featuring a daring young woman named Delilah and her friend, Selim, a man from Constantinople she rescues from certain death because he makes the best tea in the world. Then the duo go on a globe-trotting, sword-swinging type of adventure in Delilah's flying boat. Until it's shot down... It's pretty fun. Tony Cliff writes and draws and his style is quick and engaging. Beautiful stuff. fun stuff. Definitely worth checking out. My only complaint is that it went by too fast, I'm ready for more.


Honorable Mentions

Ten never seems like enough, so I tacked a handful of others onto the end. It's cheating, yes, but guess who doesn't care? That's right: Me. To continue, if you liked the ten I mentioned above, you may like these as well: Bad Houses, The Wake, Nowhere Men, Heck, and The All-New X-men.




So there you go, what'd you think? Thoughts? Questions? Answers?

Busy reading,
Jon

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