It’s the first day of a new year and so that means we’re doing our “best of” listing of the top comic books for 2013. Generally these are comic books that came out in 2013, though some are from earlier times and I got around to reading them, or limited series that continued. Keep in mind, this is what I have read. If it’s not on here, I just might not have read it.
Best Super Hero Comic – Hawkeye
Hawkeye, Marvel Comics’ least likely hit is as cool as the minimalist covers by David Aja. Written by Matt Fraction with art by Aja among others, Hawkeye follows the Avenger and shows him not as his cockiest (as portrayed elsewhere), but instead as a character who isn’t totally sure of himself. The series is a deconstruction of this hero, putting him at the street level, as likely to take on Hydra as his is some petty street thugs who say “Bro” a lot. For that, among many reasons, the comic repeats as the best super hero series out there.
The series has a pulp sense about it, but there’s something with Hawkeye’s simple story telling that makes it stand above the rest. The art, the story, the covers, it’s all there blending perfectly. It doesn’t hurt the series also boasted some of the best single issues this year.
There’s a fantastic mix of action, humor and simple human interaction that pulls together to make it the best super hero comic I’m reading. While last year it got recognition, that seems to have grown this year, with the series earning a devoted following and it’s place on not just this list, but many others.
- All-New X-Men - This series seriously shouldn’t work, but somehow it did. Writer Brian Michael Bendis has take an idea, pulling the original X-Men to the present, and gave us a solid series that actually spun into Marvel’s best event of this year.
- Daredevil – A strong contender for this year’s top spot, and past winner, this series is still one of the best comics on the market. Mark Waid’s writing is fantastic as he took Matt Murdock down further holes (literally and metaphorically), and gave him the struggle of dealing with a real life situation, his best friend’s fight with cancer. Next year will shake up the series, here’s hoping it doesn’t suffer.
- FF – The art, the writing, this series is one of the craziest superhero comics out there and one with amazing heart. Not shockingly it’s also written by Hawkeye‘s Matt Fraction.
- The Superior Spider-Man – Much like All-New X-Men above, this series is a concept that shouldn’t work. Dan Slott has switched Peter Parker with Doc Ock and given us the struggle of a villain trying to be a hero. We all know it won’t last, but it’s been one hell of a fun ride so far.
Best Non-Super Hero Comic – Saga
It shouldn’t be shocking this Image series by writer Brian K. Vaughan with art by Fiona Staples is in this spot. It’s one of the most decorated comics both this year and last, dominating “best of” lists and it’s well deserved.
The comic is a mix of science fiction and fantasy, following two individuals from opposite warring sides who fall in love, have a kid, and go on the run, pursued by both those sides.
The writing and art are just superb with characters and settings so creative no description does it justice. This is the series I’d hand non-comic readers to show them how amazing the medium can be.
- Imagine Agents – Take Ghostbusters and mix it with Men in Black and you get this series of agents dealing with imaginary friends. The series has been fantastic and I can only want more of it! A feather in the cap for publisher BOOM! Studios’ stellar year.
- Mind MGMT- Matt Kindt is an amazing writer and this series involving mind controlling secret agents is trippy and exciting as they come. The art is his usual water color like style, unique and recognizable in today’s comics. The comic feels like Ah-Ha’s Take On Me music video, with psychics and world traveling, aka, it’s awesome and the best comic you’re most likely not reading.
- Revival- Did you hear zombies are still big in entertainment? This new series follows a town locked down by the CDC after the dead come back to life. What’s the cause? What exactly is going on? Little by little we’re finding out, but the focus is really the realistic characters dealing with this strange world.
- Think Tank – This series deserves more attention. Published by Top Cow and written by Matt Hawkins with art by Rashan Ekedel, it’s real world take and well thought out scenarios and technology make it eerily prescient and a reflection of what the world might really be like when it comes to war in the near future.
Best Limited Series or One Shot – The Wake
Scott Snyder is a hell of a writer and the first part of this maxi-series wrapped up recently, leaving me with my jaw on the floor. A story that spans centuries, to say more would be to ruin the shock.
What I can say is the series’ first part evokes classic horror movies and spins out into something completely different by the end. It’s just so good and I don’t want to ruin it.
Snyder is backed up with art by Sean Murphy whose gritty pencils add to Snyder’s scary (good) scripts. Catch up on it now before the next volume begins.
- The Black Beetle – Francesco Francavilla, he alone is the reason this series is on this list. The Black Beetle is a return to fun pulp comics of the past, and Francavilla’s writing and his amazing artist (my favorite of the year) make this an amazing read. Can’t wait to see, and read, more.
- Buzzkill – Don’t know this one? This limited series deals with a hero who only gets his powers through drugs. The problem is, he’s trying to get clean. A solid series full of ultra violence. I’m hoping for a second volume, which would be interesting considering how this one ended.
- Demeter – The final release of Becky Cloonan’s indie comic trilogy, it’s just creepy. I’d include The Mire and Wolves which round out the set, but those came out before this year. This shows how many of the best comics are independent comics.
- Trillium – A max-series from Vertigo covers love across time and space. It’s trippy in ways I can’t describe. The series mixes heart and sci-fi in awesome ways. Luckily we have many issues to go over the next year.
Best Graphic Novel/Trade Paperback – March Book One
March is a brilliant accounting of Congressman John Lewis’ story for new generations and those with similar struggles around the world. This amazing biographical graphic novel is written by Cong. Lewis in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell. The result is one of the best graphic novels in recent memory and an amazing depiction of history that’s accessible to all.
This graphic novel is a piece of history, capturing the Congressman’s experiences testifying to a movement whose echoes will be heard for generations. This isn’t just a graphic novel for folks to pick up and enjoy, it’s a work of art and history that should be in every school teaching about our country’s modern struggles.
Seeing as it’s only the first book in a trilogy, expect it to be on a few more lists to come.
- Battling Boy – Comics should be fun and Paul Pope’s throwback series featuring a hero sent to Earth as a test is modern Jack Kirby. Just an amazing read with fantastic art, it was a pleasant surprise. The worst part was, I wanted to read more than just this first volume.
- Boxers & Saints – Covering the Boxer Rebellion, this dual graphic novels take the perspective of the Chinese rebels and the Christian missionaries. Again, an excellent look at history, it’s two books that can be read apart or together.
- The Fifth Beatle – The only book so far to look at the life of Beatle’s manager Brian Epstein, it’s writing is terrific and art amazing. It was a tough decision as to which would be the top graphic novel, and this one was a close second. Just a fantastic read for comic fans, history fans, music fans and Beatle fans. It’s both uplifting and touching. It’s being made into a movie, so expect buzz about this for many more years.
- Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes – Matt Kindt’s graphic novel follows a series of crimes and the detective who deals with them. There’s a twist at the end that makes this amazing. Add in Kindt’s unique and beautiful art, and it’s easy to see why this makes the list.
Best New Series – The Superior Foes of Spider-Man
Marvel’s “superior” line of comics has been just that and stands out as Marvel’s best line of comics and this series is a challenger for the best one of the line. Following Spider-Man’s C-list (ok maybe D-list) villains, we get to see things from their perspective.
The series so far has been amazing with writing that’s entertaining, fun, funny and witty. These are bad guys, and for some reason, each issue, I come out rooting for them to succeed. I also feel bad for them, because they’re just not all that good at their jobs.
Eventually Spider-Man will stop being superior, and I hope when that time comes, we don’t see the end of this, because the comics stands out as one that lives up to it’s title, it truly is superior.
- Afterlife With Archie – I live an Archie comic! In fairness I dig Mega Man, but this is the first that features the Riverdale cast. That cast is now dealing with a zombie outbreak, but this adult Archie Comic has shown the publisher is willing to try things and the series is boosted by the art of Francesco Francavilla.
- The Bunker – I had to include this digital series which comes to print next year. It’s apocalypse meets Lost story is beyond amazing and art is fantastic. More individuals will hopefully see what the buzz is all about when it comes to print next year, published by Oni.
- The Fox – The second “Archie” comic in the list is a throwback character that’s fun and entertaining. This is a superhero comic that’s great for the family.
- Letter 44 - Charles Soule is the hardest working many in comics, writing so far 7 comics a month in 2014. This is his creator owned series that mixes politics and science fiction. Two issues in, I want more!
Best Single Issue – Hawkeye #11
Hawkeye is the top superhero comic of the year, and this issue alone would qualify it to be on any “best of” list.
The issue is told from the perspective of Hawkeye’s dog Lucky, who is now also known as Pizza Dog. The issue is from the dog’s perspective using iconography and muffled dialogue instead of the normal dialogue we’d expect.
I like the fact the comic is original and switches it up from the main character as quite a few issues in this series did this year. But, it’s a pretty high profile comic series focused on a dog! Gutsy and fun at the same time how can you not like that? To say the issue was unique this year is an understatement.
Overall, it’s a brilliant issue on so many levels, it’s just an amazing comic and one of the best for many years. The fact that it spun out a fanbase for the dog says enough.
This was a top issue of a series that had many stand-outs.
Worst Single Issue of the Year – Avengers: Endless Wartime
Marvel announced it was releasing new original graphic novels and this was the much-hyped first release from the creative team of Warren Ellis and Mike McKone. If it’s goal was to gain new readers, boy did it fail.
While the comic has an interesting start, the set-up is much more impressive than the follow through. Underneath the shallow exterior, there’s a greater debate about modern war, both the outsourcing of the battles fought and the pressing a button to kill your enemies thousands of miles away through drones. Overall, the disconnect and dissociation of modern war is a recurring theme throughout the comic. That’s great, if it was discussed more than some glancing dialogue here and there. Unfortunately, that very important discussion and worthwhile exploration is presented with bad guys that seem like something out of a kids cartoon and in a narrative that at times doesn’t make much sense.
The art is average, matching a blah story. I think the character designs are a bit off from what we’ve seen and not always consistent throughout the book and the monsters that are battled aren’t quite clear as to what they are.
It’s the only purchase this year I’ve wanted my money back.
Best Event of the Year – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: City Fall
I’ll admit I generally ignored TMNT for much of the year, but this event made quite a few lists and I sat down and read it all over the holiday and holy crap did I miss out. The series follows Shredder’s power grab of New York City and the Turtle’s attempt to stop them.
But the best thing was all of the moments that just made it awesome for long tim TMNT fans. With the appearance of Bebop and Rocksteady, Leonardo turning evil, and so much more, this was the culmination of a long time build up.
This has drawn me back in and has me reading the series now each month to make sure I don’t miss out.
- Battle of the Atom – Marvel has been not doing it for me when it comes to events so this one which brought X-Men from the future to deal with the X-Men from the past was a pleasant surprise.
- Forever Evil - DC has been hit and miss, but this event has been pretty solid. Especially when you look at it as commentary between the dark and gritty villains of modern times versus the cleaner villains of yesteryear
- Harbinger Wars – Valiant’s major event was full of damage, destruction and set the universe off in a whole new direction. this is how you do an event right.
- Transformers: Dark Cybertron – IDW’s Transformers series have been awesome and this is the culmination of long going stories. Thankfully we have much to go to enjoy.
Best Genre of the Year – Indie Comics
Is it a “genre”? We can argue about that, but lets face it, 2012 was a year we saw major creators shrug off the big two, instead launching creator owned series at other publishers, digitally or through Kickstarter. We saw more comics, in more varieties, on more subjects and more ways to consume them, than any time before. It really wasn’t the year of the Big Two, this was a year that we as consumers could continue to find something that’d fit our tastes.
With more channels for distribution and more ways to produce comics, we’re in a golden age where the old ways of publishing no longer hold back the creativity that abounds.
- Zombies – Zombies have become a cultural phenomenon, lead
marching shuffling along by The Walking Dead. Revival changed the genre a bit, with so many releases giving us so many other spins and perspectives. The genre has crossed over in to movies, television, books, toys and more. We’ll see how soon before it all comes grinding to a halt and rots away.
- Digital Comics – Digital first. Digital exclusive. Web comics. This was the year digital comics began to break through. Lead by the platform comiXology, we also saw some creativity in how to sell digitally by Viz and Archie. This distribution method will only grow in 2014 as more ways to gain revenue from it are explored.
Best Surprise of the Year – Image’s continued come back
Image celebrated it’s 20th anniversary in 2012, and it came back in 2013 and kicked even more ass. It continued to do so this year, adding to the previous year’s hits with even more hot new series. Each release seemed to create bigger and bigger buzz with constant sell-outs. And should it be any shock this was the case?
Image drew some of the biggest talent in the comic industry as creators continued to throw off the shackles of the big two and instead released quality indie comic after indie comic. Pretty Deadly, Manifest Destiny, East of West, Black Science and more debuted in 2013 and that’s on top of The Walking Dead, Saga and many more of the hit comics they already published. It’s truly impressive how much quality and buzz the publisher generated with each release.
They also pushed the distribution envelope selling DRM free comics directly to fans, though questions do remain about that whole announcement.
There was something for everyone this past year from Image, and they continued to move beyond their reputation of big guns and pecks comics, instead bringing us varied titles that at times pushed the medium.
Biggest Disappointment of the Year – Kickstarter
Last year’s “publisher of the year” showed its issues as projects were delayed, vapor ware, or not as advertised. Also add in issues on the creator end of folks pledging high amounts and then disputing the charges, at times getting the goods. Add in the platform’s unwillingness to step in to deal with either situation and you get a tech company showing off it’s greed. What was once the toast of the town has shown its cracks which will only get worse.
The crowdfunding platform became a way for creators to raise funds for projects, only to get picked up by publishers, at times delaying projects and leaving bad tastes in the mouths of fans. If all creators were held to the standards of some of the best users of the system, there’d be no issue, but over 90% of the projects I’ve pledged to have been delayed or non-existence only creating angry backers and fans.
These issues have lead this site to rethink what we promote and how we do so.
Oh how the mighty have fallen.
Publisher of the Year – BOOM! Studios
A lot of thought has gone into this one and we discussed much of this on this week’s radio show. To me, the publisher of the year is BOOM! Studios and its imprints, KaBOOM!, BOOM! Box and Archaia.
For me a publisher should be more than just the comics it produces, and this one is, but lets start there. BOOM! has show diversity with it’s various lines, with interesting and fun series that span many genres and comics that are good for adults and kids. The publisher has licensed comics and original series that’s something for everyone.
Then there’s the fact they’ve expanded their market. The publisher merged with Archaia, adding to their impressive line-up and talent. Then there was the release of 2 Guns in theaters, a success for the first time movie maker. Then there’s the deal with 20th Century Fox that sees the comic creator as an IP generator for the movie studio. All solid moves that would be impressive to themselves.
Finally there’s the diversity of staff. The company has show diversity works. The amount of women working for the publisher in numerous positions is amazing and in an industry that has a bad reputation when it comes to inclusion, this was the publisher that showed it’s possible and leads to success.
It’d be hard not to applaud the company and they deserve recognition for their hard work that’s paid off.
- IDW Publishing – IDW is a publisher that thinks outside of the box when it comes to building it’s readership and that’s why they’re on this list. Not only did they make a fantastic move in including their comics in Transformers toys, an event first issue even, but they also used QR codes to get those toy collectors to check out their app. Also they’ve repackaged their My Little Pony comics to better sell in big box retailers, again something new and interesting as far as marketing. With this, plus some other moves when it comes to partnerships, expansion into tv and movies and games, the publisher is thinking bigger than the comic market.
- Dark Horse – Conan, The Massive, The Strain, the Goon, Dark Horse Presents, Mind MGMT, Ghost, Buzzkill and I could go on and on. Dark Horse gave us some amazing monthly series, but also collections of modern comics as well as classic comic archives. Consistently some of the best comics out each week and some fantastic gems.
- Monkeybrain Comics – The digital comic publisher is showing digital works and their move to collect series and get them into print second is a fantastic model I expect many others to try out. Add on top of that an expansive library with enough different titles to appeal to anyone, it’s not a surprise they’re getting accolades across the industry.
- Titan Books – While none of their books made this list, this publisher would easily fill the 5-10 slots for most of these categories with amazing comics such as A1 (my top anthology), Death Sentence, Chronos Commandos, Tomorrowland and more. They have a second wave of books announced for 2014 that sounds like they’ll be competing for publisher next year and challenging for many of these categories.