Thursday, January 02, 2014

My Favorite Comics of 2013

Right, you know what this is all about. Let's get to it with the obvious statement: 2013 was a damn good year for comics.

Between the New Image Explosion (more on that later), the continued effort to put every great thing ever back in print, and lots of independent and web-only creators being just generally awesome, it's pretty much guaranteed there was something for you in the comic store this year. There certainly was for me. All of my books fired on all cylinders all year long, and that's great, but I really have to give gigantic props to two comics that consistently blew me away in 2013: Young Avengers and Hawkeye.

The first collection of Young Avengers was titled "Style > Substance", and while it's a great title, it's also kind of a lie. Young Avengers was style as substance, a beautiful gestalt where the two elements consistently blended into one another, backing each other up, all in service of that all-too-rare thing, telling a superhero story with an ethos and a point. The point of this one, not surprisingly, was about being young, about making stupid mistakes and cleaning up the mess, about being stuck in a world that doesn't make sense and being expected to deal with it on your own, and about getting the hell away from your parents so you can find out who you are. (It's also about saving the world by punching a bunch of evil versions of yourself.) And it was gorgeously illustrated from top to bottom. Jamie McKelvie's dead-on instinct for design served him well, creating a distinct visual look that melded perfectly with the text and subtext of Kieron Gillen's story. And best of all, they said what they had to say, and now they're walking away, moving on to the next thing. I'm sure Young Avengers will be back, but the next iteration of the series has one hell of a tough act to follow.

Meanwhile, Hawkguy. You'll remember me gushing about this book last year, and pretty much nothing has changed. Except, oh yeah, it's EVEN BETTER. Fraction, Aja, and the rest of their merry band has taken this book to the next phase of their story, and to the next level of storytelling. And yeah, no issue exemplified this better than Issue 11, "Pizza Is My Business". It not only tied together the disparate threads of the second story arc (which was, in and of itself, a triumph), it did so while creating a whole new grammar for comics storytelling, all in service of giving us the point of view of a one-eyed dog trying to solve a murder. As I said on Twitter, beat THAT, reality. If Young Avengers was my favorite series this year, this was my favorite single issue. Maybe ever.

Moving on, let's talk about a writer who's maybe had the best year anyone's ever had in comics, Jonathan Hickman. Marvel tapped him for their big relaunch of the Avengers titles, and boy is he ever proving that decision right. His Avengers and New Avengers, telling different parts of a single story, were some of the biggest big idea comics of the year, coming together in Infinity. That's another rarity: A crossover that doesn't feel too big for its britches, or too much about updating everyone's Handbook entries. It was just a big damn space opera, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. Even the editorially-mandated content, which was thankfully little, was a part of the story. Everything fit together. Hickman's overall Avengers story seems to be about order and chaos, and the slide towards entropy, but from a craft level, he's proving that tight, carefully constructed, and beautifully organized storytelling is far from dead.

Hickman also launched approximately a billion new series at Image this year. This was part of a year-long initiative by Image to shake things up, both in their company and in comics at large. Dudes, mission accomplished. Go into the comics store and pick up a random Image book, and you'll find talented creators pushing themselves to their limits and beyond, and giving absolutely zero fucks about genre boundaries or conventions. I'm not a billionaire playboy and adventurer (yet), so the only one of these I was able to add to my list was Hickman and Nick Dragotta's East of West, but that's perfectly OK with me, because East of West is a damn fine comic. From the first issue, it's clear that it's nothing like anything you've seen before or will again, and it has to be seen to be believed. I've come to get a little chill when I read the words "This is the world. It's not the one we were supposed to have, but it's the one we made." I know that, once I turn that cover, I'm going to enter a bizarre, apocalyptic, broken America chock full of all seven deadly sins, a world so broken that the apocalypse looks like an improvement, where the only character worth rooting for is Death. I also know that I am not going to be able to put that fucker down, and that I'll be dying for the next issue once it's over.

Astro City came back. That was pretty killer. The city and its denizens may have changed a bit since we last saw them, but the quality is as great as ever. This is still a superhero world populated by real, three-dimensional people, who live in stories that mean something beyond the obvious and the literal. It's also gorgeous to look at; an Alex Ross design put through its paces by Brent Anderson is one of life's simple joys. As the year draws to a close, we've gotten the start of what's probably one of the most requested AC stories ever: A team-up between Samaritan, Confessor, and Winged Victory. But of course it's already about so much more than that simple hook. I really did not realize how much I missed this book now that it's back. Please, Astro City, never go away again.

What else is going on in my pull list? Well, Deadpool is finally good again, blending the funny with the heartbreaking in that way I do so love. The "fill-in" issues have been a treat, especially the recent Kirby homage. In an unexpected but welcome development, Paul Cornell and Alan Davis started rocking Wolverine, and it's reminded me that hey, he's actually a pretty well-rounded and interesting character when he's not just there to boost sales. X-Factor came to an end, sadly, but it was a beautiful sendoff, there's a new volume starting in a week, and we finally figured out what the heck the deal is with Longshot and Shatterstar, so that's all right. (Will Peter David be able to make me not hate Gambit? We'll see this time next year!) Captain Marvel didn't make girl power cool again, but that's only because girl power was always cool, and it was just reminding us. Invincible continues to surprise me at every turn, and Invincible Universe continues to be That Comic Where Best Tiger Is Awesome. And Amazing X-Men is bringing Nightcrawler back, and apparently fun, exciting X-Men comics are coming along with him. (I kid the biggest franchise in comics. Really, just because I don't give a rat's ass about the time-lost original X-Men, doesn't mean Bendis isn't doing some damn fine stuff with them.)

I'd also be remiss if I didn't give solid props to Nemo: Heart of Ice, this year's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen installment. Rarely have I had so much fun watching someone skewer the concept of American exceptionalism. Very much looking forward to the sequel (sequels?) this year, along with whatever else Alan and Kevin have in store for us.

Speaking of Alan Moore, this isn't really a comics thing, but nonetheless: I was utterly delighted when reports of a disturbing clown standing around and freaking out residents of Northampton prompted Moore to release a statement saying that he was not in any way involved or responsible.

That was it for me this year. Obviously, a lot of the utterly brilliant books that I don't happen to be reading (or just haven't picked up yet; whither the first Hellboy in Hell trade?) were left out of the list, but that's why you have a local comic shop, dammit! Go out there and find something wonderful to read in 2014. It's waiting for you.

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