2014 is almost here, folks. New movies, new shows, new video games, and most importantly, new comics will soon be on their way. But before we leave this year behind us, let’s look back on 2013 and all the comics that came out. What was good and what was bad?
Starting positively, here’s my list for the top 10 best comics that I read in 2013. First things first, let’s remember this all personal opinion and what I think is good may differ from what you think is good. Incredibly popular and beloved series, like The Walking Dead or Wonder Woman, are not guaranteed to resonate the same with me as they do with others. With that in mind, let us begin!
Some honorable mentions first:
Manifest Destiny: While the characters need some work, this was one of the more surprisingly books I came across. The twists, the tension and mood, the creativity, the storytelling, and the artwork all make this easily one of the best books to debut from Image this year. It sadly does not make the list due to there being only two issues out at the moment, in comparison to other books on the list. Still, I am expecting great things from this comic in 2014.
Justice League: What was once a good-but-nothing-special book from 2012 has this year it completely turned around. It became one of the best DC books that was being put out with its excitement, enjoyable stories, and gorgeous looking art (not to mention the fantastic Shazam backup). It sadly does not make the list due to it constantly being stuck within event after event, not allowing for it to fully grow on its own, and also some questionable characterization.
Sword of Sorcery: One of the most underrated books to have come out from DC, Sword of Sorcery was a highly enjoyable fantasy story with a great cast of characters, solid relationships between one another, a slow but very engaging and cleverly written story, and solid artwork with beautiful coloring. It also had two backups, one of which was rather mediocre. Sadly, the series was cancelled back in May but is still fondly remembered by me. It would get an honorable 11th place in my book.
Do you doubt the magnificence of hair color change powers?! Think about it! You no longer have to dye your hair anymore!
And now onto the best of:
10. Mighty Avengers
What amusingly started out as a book I read on a whim ended up becoming one of my personal favorites this year. Mighty Avengers focuses on Luke Cage and some lesser known street heroes (not all of them are street, but you get the idea) as they team up to fight bad guys. In this case, the team forms during the events of Infinity to fight Proxima Midnight and her army, resulting in easily one of the best tie-ins to event.
What makes Mighty Avengers so great is that it is one of the best superhero team books that I have read this year. Each character is unique and has their own voice and personality, bringing something special to the team. They all get their chance to shine and show why they are so amazing. I fully admit to not knowing a lot of these characters to begin with (newcomer to Marvel and all that), but the book does a good job introducing a new fan like me to them and encourages me to see previous stories they were in.
It sadly has two problems that keep it from being higher on the list despite its quality: One, it has the artwork of the infamous artist, Greg Land. I don’t mind the guy too much, but it can look a bit off in many places. Two, it is stuck in tie-in land, not having a single issue yet that is separate from an event (it still has managed to find its own voice, but it really needs room to grow by itself). Still, it remains a great read overall and the only book from Marvel on this list.
9. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
I honestly had a feeling before I even started working on this list that this might happen. I suspected that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic might show up on it, or at the very least be an honorable mention. However, thinking long and hard about it, there was no way I could leave one of the funniest and likeable books I have read all year off my list.
There is not much to say about it like with others here, mostly because the book is very easy to point out what is good about it. It’s a great adaption of the television series, taking the feel of the show and using it to tell its own stories, which could be epics like the return of Nightmare Moon or something incredibly simple, like Big Mac trying to find some nails during a festival. The characters are spot on for the most part; it expands on the canon of the series for those who care about that sort of thing, and the humor is just fantastic, using different types of jokes and gags.
Its only true downfall is that it’s mostly just for a specific audience, fans of the show obviously. It’s not likely to appeal to anyone else and thus, sort of artificially limits how many people can read it. Still, sometimes just being a lighthearted romp that has excels at being a comedy can be enough.
Well, as long as she’s happy with her stuffed pig pony abomination, then I suppose it’s alright that she can have it.
While some may say it had a slow and unfortunate year, I say Batwoman still had a good run overall. It was slow throughout most of the year as they said, since it took its time to slowly build things up and set the stage for the big fight against Batman and the DEO. I personally found it to be engaging and intriguing, wanting to see how all of these pieces were going to come together and play out.
It had a great and pretty well developed cast, where about every character stood out. Some very good emotional and powerful moments, like Kate reuniting with her sister in the cell. It had epic, exciting, and thrilling issues, like her teamup with Wonder Woman. It also had some beautiful looking artwork throughout the run with J.H. Williams III, Trevor McCarthy, and Francesco Francavilla. It had it all honestly, and I could easily get past the slow pace (and also some very odd continuity issues that seemed to pop up a lot throughout the comic).
However, good times don’t always last. With J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman walking off the title after their plans were suddenly changed on them, Marc Andrekyo was tossed the comic and had to do a rushed Zero Year tie-in. It was a sad turn, where the quality dropped and everything went bittersweet. Batwoman might have been higher on this list if not for this change. I do hope it can recover next year under this new writer, I really do—I just love this character and her story.
Between the finale of Death of the Family and Zero Year itself, the main Batman title had a lot going on this year. Lots of excitement, thrills, chills, monologues, analogies, and memorable moments galore!
What else can be said about Scott Snyder’s Batman that already hasn’t? It was exciting, intense, over the top in some ways (Batman punching a horse so hard it bucks the guy off of it), there were many monologues and analogies tossed around to the point of being overused and just silly (with some exceptions), great or memorable moments that are sure to stick with us into the coming year, and had some of the best looking artwork in almost any superhero comic this year. While some accuse it of having similar elements and ideas that have been done before, it is really all about the execution, where this comic for the most part succeeded.
It had its problems for sure, which is why it is only seven on the list. The Death of the Family finale was a bit underwhelming after all the buildup, the comic engaged in a lot of tell instead of show, a couple of average issues between big arcs, tedious monologues, and a pretty slow start to Zero Year. It still had a solid year overall and I’m looking forward to what the next year brings.
Still gets me every time.
6. Detective Comics
While Batman had a good year, the quality was a bit inconsistent, going from great to okay at various points. Detective Comics, on the other hand, was far more consistent. It was very enjoyable and a lot of fun at the start and stayed that way throughout the year.
Written by John Layman, his run would be much simpler in comparison to the bigger name Batman comics of the year. It wasn’t something that tried to change everything or do new twists on old ideas/stories/characters like Snyder. It wasn’t trying to say something, have commentary, or try to be much smarter than it really was like Morrison. It was just about Batman handling different problems that came his way in Gotham, kind of akin to what Paul Dini with his run.
The stories were enjoyable and well told, with lots of stories being developed in the background while smaller arcs and one-shots happened in the forefront (like how Chew works). The characters were all pretty well written, smart and memorable, with Layman introducing new and old ones with their own twists to them as well. This comic probably had the best portrayal of Batman of any of the others; playing up his intelligence a lot while also showing his compassion for others (talking down a police officer from executing a cop killer) and also having a tiny-but-there sense of humor. The comic also did not shy away from using different plot elements and stories that other writers created before and used them as well, like continuing the story from Detective Comics #0.
It may not be the kind of comic that would end up on a lot of best of lists, being that it is not trying to do something new or revolutionize anything. It does make it onto my list though because it does what it does very well.
5. The Wake
Like with Batman (also incidentally by the same writer), there’s not much I can say about this comic that you don’t already know. The Wake is a hybrid of many different story ideas, elements, and plots all blended together to make one very tasty treat. It centers on Dr. Lee Archer, a marine biologist, who is invited to help investigate mysterious sounds and an odd creature at an underwater oil rig. From there, one very thrilling, intense, and powerful story unfolds while we are also given snapshots of the past and the future.
It’s a well-told tale with a very good sense of pacing, knowing when to increase the action and excitement while also knowing when to give the audience a moment to breathe and just let the characters talk. The protagonist is characterized well and we do grow an attachment to her and her plight. The others don’t get as much depth as her sadly, but you do end up liking them a bit and when some die you do feel a little sad or disappointed by that. Speaking of which, there are moments in the comic that you are supposed to make you feel for everyone and what they are going through, and they all pretty much work.
Also equally strong is the artwork by Sean Murphy, who really brings the comic to life. His characters and their range of emotions, the layouts and use of space, the designs of the scenery and monsters, the intense and brutal action, and the beautiful flashback scenes. They all help elevate the story even higher than it already was (also, extra points to the colorist, Mat Hollingsworth, who also did a great job).
Maybe a tad too familiar in some ways, but The Wake is still one of the best mini-series to have come out in 2013 and is worth your time. The first five issues are already collected in a special edition for 10 bucks, so why not dive in (pun may or may not have been intended)?
I don’t think you should say “look” around him. It’s a bit insensitive if you get my drift.
Probably the best new series to come out from Image this year (and also the only Image book on the list), Lazarus took me completely off guard by meeting and exceeding all my expectations. I had a feeling that I would enjoy it, since I like pretty much anything Greg Rucka writes and Michael Lark’s artwork is always nice to look at. I just didn’t believe it would be this incredible.
Lazarus is about a specialized solider/bodyguard named Forever. She is tasked with protecting the Carlyle Family, one of the big families that control all the wealth and supplies in the world. It’s a story about family (a very messed up one at that), trust, betrayal, placement in society (at least, that’s what it appears that the new arc will get into), and loyalty. Forever is immediately a likeable, strong, and complex protagonist. From what can be gathered, she’s unlike anything other soldier, concerned about others that are supposed to be beneath her, emotionally conflicted about doing her job, and many other aspects.
The story is very intriguing, seeing the politics and inner turmoil between the family members and the power plays at hand. They are not the most likeable of supporting casts out there, but they are all pretty interesting and they really make you want to see what they have up their sleeves. The writing is excellent overall, with great pacing, dialogue, cliffhangers, and emotionally powerful scenes. The artwork by Lark is just as good as it always is, capturing the right tone for the moments to the utter brutal and vicious action.
At this point in the story, the world hasn’t been fully fleshed out yet and we still do not know about all of its history, like how exactly the families came into power or what it is like living at the bottom of the system. The most recent issue has started to unveil more information about these parts and they do show a lot of promise. Because we still have yet to see the world fully outside of the Carlyle family, Lazarus is only number four on my list, but I expect we’ll be seeing this comic back on this list next year.
3. Animal Man
I have mentioned that I appreciate emotionally powerful moments or scenes that make you feel different kinds of emotions. After all, you want to feel something when you read it, right? Whether it be excitement, joy, sadness, anger (for the right reasons, like the villain pulled off a successful plan that really hurt the good guys), or any other strong emotion, I feel that this helps make a story more engaging to the audience and helps separate some stories from others. As such, if there was one comic this year that had more emotion or moments that moved the audience in different ways than others it would have to be Animal Man.
While the comic had some slow and lackluster issues this year (the most recent one for instance), it still had an impressive showing overall. It finished out the Rotworld arc with a gigantic shocker by killing Cliff and then followed it up by seeing the fallout of it. The series went down a very dark road, even in comparison to the horrific monsters that came before, getting heavy on the drama and emotion. While this was a turnoff for some understandably, I was excited to read more since the quality before Rotworld started was back.
The emotion and drama was stronger than ever, and it really worked. The audience could easily sympathize with Buddy Baker about losing his son and feel for him as his life went down the drain, since he was a very three dimensional character. The height of this was with #20 and the annual (the only issue at the time of this article that I ever gave a 10 out of 10 to), focusing on the movie he made and how it paralleled his life while the other story was a flashback to one of his earlier adventures that involved Cliff. There were also the scenes with the Ellen and Maxine and how they dealt with the death as well, which was equally as strong and engaging. Happily, the tone is starting to lighten up a bit recently (still not exactly sunshine and lollipops, mind you) and move away from the utter depression that was going on earlier.
Of course, the heavy drama wasn’t the only thing that happened this year for the comic. There was also the storyline about Splinterfolk and how Buddy was nominated for an Oscar-like award for his performance in the movie, Tights. All of these stories were equally good and well developed, though in different ways. The writing remained strong throughout, most of the time, and the artwork was good (we saw the return of Travel Foreman for the annual and of American Vampire fame, Rafael Albuquerque took over after Steve Pugh).
Recently, it has been announced that Animal Man would be coming to a close in March, but by Jeff Lemire’s own terms. It’s sad of course, this being one of the strongest books that DC has been putting out, but what can one do? I’ll follow it to the very end and I hope that it all goes out on a good note.
Speaking of Jeff Lemire, he had his own special mini-series that came out this year called Trillium. Similar to The Notebook in concept (CONCEPT!), the series is about two separate characters, Nika and William. Nika is a scientist from the extremely distant future who is in search of a flower called Trillium that can counteract a vicious living virus that is killing everyone, while William is a veteran of World War I who is wandering through a jungle with his brother in search of a lost temple. Through a strange happening, the two of them cross paths and reality starts to change.
Despite being an eight issue mini-series, it is a very slow paced and personal comic that really takes its time to set things up and develop its characters slowly, while occasionally moving the plot forward. As such, the main characters are incredibly well-developed and fascinating, with their own rich history and unique personalities that define them. The scenes between them are great and even touching as they slowly grow closer. At this point in the story, the romance aspect doesn’t feel fully developed or real yet because they haven’t spent much time together, but you could at least buy them as friends now.
The true highlight of the comic that makes this worth reading, even if someone wasn’t all that interested in romance, is the art alone. Jeff Lemire does it himself and he has sort of a different kind of style in comparison to others out there. However, his characters are all unique and have a great range of emotions, which help with the personal scenes between them. Both timelines have their own coloring style that defines them, with watercolors for the future and flatter and bolder colors for the past. The layouts are where the comic truly shines, making the story experience exceptional. For instance, the most recent issue had half of the story from one perspective on the top going nowhere, where the other half was upside down and had to read from the end to the beginning. I’m honestly not sure how the trade collection is going to read though.
Trillium is the most unique experience I had with a comic this year, which almost alone guaranteed it a spot in my top ten. Though it is the depth of the characters, the rest of the art, and the story itself that got it where it is now. I am immensely looking forward to seeing how it ends and hope the characters get the ending they truly deserve.
Simple, but beautiful.
1. Green Arrow
It was completely unintentional that Jeff Lemire’s comics swept the top three on my list, I assure you. I can’t help it if his comics were that good this year. Over the past couple of weeks when I have been thinking about my list, I expected Green Arrow to be in my top three. There was just no way it wouldn’t be, considering how good it was, but after thinking about it I came to the conclusion that it was honestly the best comic I had read all year long.
There are some things to mention first though. Did it have intense and powerful moments? Certainly, but not nearly as emotional as Animal Man or The Wake. Did it have a strong and well developed hero? Green Arrow is certainly a likeable and good character, but not as good as Forever, Batwoman, or Animal Man.
Now you may be wondering something, if I value those elements a lot in my comics and they weren’t nearly as good some others, then why did this comic become number one? Well, the answer’s simple. Every single issue of the comic is fantastic and there was never a single dip in quality at all ever since Lemire took over from Ann Nocenti (who is on a different list…).
In the comic, Oliver Queen loses everything (his company, money, and even friends and co-workers) after being targeted by a dangerous individual known as Komodo, a member of a group called The Outsiders. Met by a blind man named Magus, he learns that this attack has something do with his time on the island years ago, his deceased father, and something called the Arrow Totem. From there, the story only continues to grow bigger and wider as more events happen, like with the appearance of Shado and emergence of the Weapon Clans. It is exciting, thrilling, and just plain wonderful as it incorporates elements from older runs of the character, the TV show, and brings in its own new twists and turns to shake things up.
The side characters are a lot of fun and bring some personality to the story, with some good dialogue and narration. The villains are great; being intimidating, tough, and highly memorable. The storylines are all intriguing and engaging, making you wonder how these events will play out or surprise you by what it’ll pull next. Its mythology and backstories presented are well told, building up this world and the conspiracies even more. It’s just a well-written comic all around.
Then there is the artwork by Andrea Sorrentino, which really seals the deal. I stated in a previous review and I still mean it: his artwork is both incredible looking and impressive upon further reflection. This is a guy who hasn’t taken a single break since he started and has delivered artwork that is just as creative, detailed, and unique as artists like J.H. Williams III and David Aja. That’s amazing and easily helps seal him as one of, if not the single best artist of the year. His layouts, his attention to detail, the impact and movement of the action, the way he draws attention to specific points, and mind-bending imagery he can create… just utterly amazing. Credit also has to been given to the colorist who works with him, Marcelo Maiolo, for helping a lot with the imagery.
Merely trying to describe this comic does not come close to doing it justice. I’ve said it before with other titles that have come before, but I mean now more than ever: Green Arrow is a comic that you should buy because it is a fantastic experience. An experience you need to see for yourself.
Guys, guys! Let’s save the bickering until after you are done beating the s--t out of this guy.
And that is it. My favorite comics of 2013. Will these titles be there next year? Maybe, but it all depends. A lot of things can happen within a year and things could go wrong. However, I remain hopeful and quite excited for what’ll be coming soon.