I'm a grad student studying Mass Media. I study all things nerdy which includes comics, video games, cult television, fans, and internet culture. Occasionally I talk about my research here, otherwise I am talking about things I am interested in that will likely be research soon enough.
It’s December which means every entertainment blog needs to produce a 10 best list recapping the year. This is my first attempt at one and through the process I have a great deal of respect to those that compile lists like this annually. 2013 featured many exceptional series some old and some new, so a lot of difficult choices were made. Marvel’s NOW! project produced many fine books while Image continued to expand its genre and talent pool. The biggest disappointment of the year came from DC Comics and its struggle with editorial decisions leading to an exodus of talent.
10.Deadpool (Written by Gerry Dugan and Brian Posehn, Various Artists, Marvel Comics)
Probably the biggest surprise of Marvel’s NOW! promotion has been Deadpool. I’ve always loved Posehn’s stand up work and Dugan is one of those Internet personalities I’ve been following on Twitter for years. But I still never expected the quality of this series. Deadpool is a character that has been ruined through overexposure. When I was 12 I loved the character, but more recently he’s become a manifestation of the internet’s ADD. Randomness for the sake of randomness. Pop culture references masquerading as jokes. Breaking the fourth wall for little comedic reason. Dugan and Posehn have managed to dump all of these excesses out for great story telling. Sure, there are elements resembling these, but the execution is the difference.
What’s really been interesting about this book is how it can assume a variety of shapes. The series began with a 6-issue story about zombie United States presidents. It was fantastic and the humor relied on a strong understanding of American history and politics. Then we have the most recent arc about superheroes being manufactured in North Korea. This was done by the same scientists who deformed Deadpool creating an avenue to explore the character’s backstory. The tone was heartbreaking and somber. This was a complete 180 from the prior stories and it worked. It was incredibly compelling to read.
9.Sex Criminals (Written by Matt Fraction, Art by Chip Zdarsky, Image Comics)
I will put this upfront: if there had been another three or four more issues of Sex Criminal out by the writing of this list, and they maintained the first three issues’ quality, Sex Criminals would be the number one series of 2013. Despite the story’s premise of a couple whose orgasms’ stop time (because, sure, why not), Sex Criminals is a simple story about the first stages of a relationship in a very earnest manner. There is a sort of honesty about how Fraction writes both Suzie and John that also creates an honesty about why each would love one another despite, or perhaps because of, their “weird” sexual histories or personality quarks.
Somehow during all of this honesty about relationships we have also one of the funniest books I have ever read. Fraction does what I find to be increasingly difficult in comics as to find humor in both character and plot. The characters themselves are witty, but the story itself is comedic in circumstance and execution. Fraction is fully aware of the panel’s frames that surrounds the narrative and exploits both its medium and genre for every possible laugh.
My favorite moment to date involves Suzie serenading John to Queen’s Fat Bottom Girls. Image was unable to secure the rights to the song’s lyrics, so pasted over those speech bubbles are narration blocks. The blocks describe why they can’t include the lyrics and why Fraction wanted to include the song. The writing of these panels are just dynamite. During the song, John through internal narration states that this is when he knew he was in love with Suzie. That a single moment can be both so hilarious and tender is staggering. All of those emotions that come with the joy of laughter and the joy of love ride together in the same cart so easily thanks to this brilliant book. Every time I read an issue I’m overcome with a joyous energy that leaves a smile from ear to ear.
8.Daredevil (Written by Mark Waid, Art by Chris Samnee and others, Marvel Comics)
Of all the books on this list, Waid’s Daredevil is the most conventional. It is a straightforward superhero stories, but with an execution that elevates it above the rest. Waid walks that perfect like between adventure and somber storytelling with stories that make me want to read every line of dialogue.
Earlier this year Chris Samnee was added as the series’ regular artist. Samnee’s work has always impressed me with simple line techniques as well as expressive face and body work. Samnee also perfectly captures the necessary aerobics of a character like Daredevil. Much of the Daredevil formula under Waid’s run has been the expression of visual and non-traditional forms to match Matt Murdock’s blindness and enhanced senses. Samnee adapted this style perfectly and has made it his own.
7.Trillium (Story and Art by Jeff Lemire, Vertigo Comics)
I picked up Trillium on whim not knowing what to expect. Lemire has impressed me lately with his work on Animal Man, Underwater Welder, and Sweet Tooth so I gave Trillium a chance with little forethought. What I got in the first issue was an experiment in storytelling that would only work on the printed single comic book form. Two separate stories work from both covers to the center and meet. The story itself is an imaginative scifi yarn above a man and a woman meeting across time. One an explorer from the far future, and the other a veteran of the First World War exploring ruins in South America.
6.Manhattan Projects (Written by Jonathan Hickman, Art by Nick Pitarra, Image Comics)
Manhattan Projects is the kind of history of 20th century science that you would expect from Comedy Central’s Drunk History if you replaced the liquor with high-end crystal meth. It is a madcap adventure of reimagining the likes of Einstein, Oppenheimer, Fermi, Feynman, von Braun, and more as twisted versions of themselves. Oh and there are aliens, government conspiracies, war between infinite personalities in someone’s head, and sentient radioactive skeletons. Every issue of this book is a trip into insanity that’s worth reading over and over.
Pitarra’s art is benefited from a rotating staff of colorists who define a colored visual language to the action that is apparent even in the series’ first issue. Only a talented artist could bring Hickman’s insane writing to the page and Pitarra shows he’s got the chops to keep up.
5.The Wake (Written by Scott Snyder, Art by Sean Murphy, Vertigo Comics)
The obvious comparison to make in describing The Wake is the film The Abyss. Scientists uncover creatures on the bottom of the ocean. But Snyder, like he always does, inverts the expectation and tells a different story. Sean Murphy’s art is incredible as always with frantic energy.
I actually want to be careful with describing the plot as I think readers would benefit going in blind, as the unexpected elements are what makes this series work. Early on there are vague flashes back and forth in time that make little sense initially. Any descriptors explaining these would ruin the impact. It’s a series that must be experienced to comprehend. I will just say the ending of issue 5 caught me off guard in all of the right ways.
4.Wonder Woman (Written by Brian Azzarello, Art by Cliff Chiang, DC Comics)
Prior to DC’s New 52 I was never a Wonder Woman reader. The character had long ceased to be important, meaningful, or really any good. While the other two characters of DC’s Trinity experienced various levels of success, Diana was ignored. Feeling the pressure to expand into other franchise I think DC has allowed Wonder Woman to finally be it’s own series and it has paid off. Azzarello is creating something special and is the only DC book that has maintained this consistency into this third year of DC’s experiment. Azzarello has given Wonder Woman a rich supporting cast that lets the book play off both its own dynamic and the established myths of ancient Greece. Throw in a little bit of Kirby’s Old Gods and you have a wonderful book that even has a Wesley Willis analog.
The astute may observe that this is the only appearance from a book published DC instead of its Vertigo imprint. This has been a rough year for DC loosing many talented writers and artists to what seems like poor editorial management. There seems to be increasingly fewer all star talents at DC to keep my interest and as Geoff Johns shine continues to fade Azzerello is poised to be one of DC’s top writers this upcoming year. Let’s hope they at least keep him happy.
3.Hickman’s Avengers Cycle (Written by Jonathan Hickman, Various artists, Marvel Comics)
When I say Hickman’s Avengers Cycle I am referring to his work this past year on Avengers, New Avengers, and the Infinity event. Technically I’m cheating by lumping all three of these books together but it is to press the point that these series MUST be read together. This also means that in roughly a year Hickman has written a 41-issue epic that never faltered in quality or scope. Not only is this unheard of in present day comics, but also in reality, we have never seen anything like this.
Hickman’s story is grand. Creatures from beyond the stars threaten the earth and allied alien worlds in the Avengers series. In New Avengers the very structure of the universe is collapsing forcing a select few Avengers to commit unspeakable acts. These two threats leave Earth vulnerable to attack from one of the Avenger’s oldest enemies, Thanos, in Infinity. Avengers #1 laid out the entirety of the story as told through an oral history after these events and despite following this oral history Hickman has still managed to create surprises and suspense along the way.
2.Hawkeye (Written by Matt Fraction, Art by David Aja and Fransesco Francavilla, Marvel Comics)
The opening page of issue of Hawkeye presents a simple premise; this is what Hawkeye does when he’s not an Avenger. The superheroics are simpler, less grand in scale. But more importantly the book is about the every day life of Clint Barton. The mundane aspects of the every day has earned this book the nick name of Hawkguy something Fraction has played up for laughs in a few issues.
The majority of the issues have been drawn by David Aja to great acclaim. Aja really does lie out a page differently than almost any other artist. Often cramming many more panels than normal to express passages of time. The books simple clean look works with the muted color tone to make it feel as removed from The Avengers as the writing does. Action flows smooth thanks to this more grounded visual approach.
1.Saga (Written by Brian K. Vaughn, Art by Fiona Staples, Image Comics)
This year, Saga remained the gold standard in comic art story telling. Despite introducing several new characters to expand the universe, the story remains the brilliant sci-fi tale that began in 2012. Saga’s success stems from Vaughn building a large and imaginative world for the simple family drama to play out in. Vaughn’s writing, particularly the narration continues to keep the story moving. The three-month hiatus in 2013 was particularly painful because every issue already goes by too fast.
One thing I should mention is the quality of Staples art. I was very impressed with her work in early issues, but now she is operating at entirely new level. The ability to demonstrate acting with character faces has reached a new height and the character design continues to be spectacular. What amazes me most about Staples’ work is her ability to take an absurd character design that shocks on first reveal and make it seem normal through repeated appearances. Not only is this one of best-written books on shelves it is one of the best looking.
Honorable Mentions (In no particular order)
East of West (Written by Jonathan Hickman, Art by Nick Dragotta, Image Comics)
More of Hickman’s insanity. This time a future descended from an alternate past (confusing isn’t it?) sees America divided in seven nations. The three horsemen of War, Pestilence, and Famine must chase Death across these nations, which resemble a futuristic old west.
Uncanny Avengers (Written by Rick Remender, Various Artists, Marvel Comics)
Despite a bumpy start, Remender’s follow up to Uncanny X-Force hit its stride this year with a story about the next generation of Apocalypse’s legacy. Many of the art problems have been corrected and the story feels like a larger event despite being confined to this single series.
Matt Fraction’s Fantastic Four and FF (Written by Matt Fraction, Various Artists, Marvel Comics)
Had Fraction been able to work full time on these books I do not doubt they would be in the top 10. But as back up writers came in to finish the stories and second tier artists took over Fantastic Four the books dropped in quality. But, the overall experience has still been an incredible read with FF proving to be the better of the two series, mostly due to Allred’s incredible artwork.
Batman (Written by Scott Snyder, Art by Greg Capullo, DC Comics)
Last year Batman would have been in my top 3 series. Two incredible storylines began the series but this year the book has been disappointing for myself. Overall its still a good read but Snyder’s two big event stories Death of the Family and Zero Year seemed to be more of an excuse for hype that storytelling. Capullo’s art has remained fantastic through out all of this.
Pretty Deadly (Written by Kelly Sue Deconnick, Art by Emma Rios, Image Comics)
Like Sex Criminals, Pretty Deadly deserves mention because of the apparent potential in its initial issues. Only two issues in, the story takes place in the old west with elements of the supernatural that have yet to be defined. Deconnick seems to be interested in challenging traditional narrative conventions through various narrations types, which have peak my interest.