It was a good year to be a funnybook fan.
I mean, they all are. There’s always SOMEthing good coming out, even in bad years. But 2013 offered up an embarrassment of riches, with exciting new talent, continuing excellence from old masters, and a blitz of original projects from the cream of the big-time comics crop. There was so much good stuff, in fact, that it was tough paring it all down for our annual list of the year’s best funnybooks. We persevered, though, and settled on 25 titles that we thought deserved special notice.
With such a big list this year, we’ll be splitting it in two. The first half of this thing is already longer than the average interweb attention span, so we figured it was just basic survival tactics. And as always, remember: our list is just one dork’s opinion. I like what I like, and make no excuses for it. Some books will be conspicuous by their absence, and others will undoubtedly send someone into a snit over their very inclusion. But if you’re into left-of-center mainstream funnybooks, we think you’ll like our choices. And if you don’t… good! Everyone’s entitled to their opinion.
So, without further ado, here are the Dork Forty picks for the 25 best comics of 2013, starting with an…
Thor: God of Thunder, by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic
This book’s initial storyline, involving GORR, BUTCHER OF GODS!!!, was beautifully illustrated and so metal my mouth felt coppery after reading every issue.
It offered up a fascinating look at Thor’s personal development over the centuries by giving us not just the Thor we know, but also the loutish Young Thor and the grumpy Old Thor. It also felt particularly Norse, with both the bleak fatalism and broad humor of the Eddas. The arc went on a little too long, but the ride was good enough that it didn’t matter so much. It was everything I could want out of a Thor comic.
Then the second arc started, and it was obvious that Marvel wanted a story to tie in with this year’s Thor movie. The focus narrowed to just present-day Thor, Malekith the Accursed was trotted out as the villain, and things generally became stupider. The artwork suffered as Esad Ribic was traded out for Ron Garney (who’s fine, but not as good as Ribic), and Jason Aaron’s scripts started to feel like something he was just tossing together for the paycheck. It was quite a disappointment, and by the end of the year, I wasn’t reading the book any longer. I’ll go back when the Malekith arc is over, but as long as the story feels hijacked by corporate, it’s not worth my funnybook dollar. Nor does it earn a place in the Top 25.
But now, without further delay, let’s get to the countdown…
25. Pretty Deadly, by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios
One of several strong new series to emerge in the Fall, Pretty Deadly is the Western framed as myth. It’s about murder, revenge, and redemption. It’s about the daughter of Death, a blind man who can see, and a skeletal rabbit telling stories to a butterfly. It’s beautiful and violent and mysterious, and I couldn’t begin to explain all its secrets to you. But that’s the good thing about secrets: they keep you coming back for more.
Jeff Lemire is maybe the most extreme example of the current breed of funnybook creators whose personal work I love, but whose corporate super hero writing I don’t waste my money on. Much as I found Lemire’s Green Arrow to be uninspired and derivative, for instance, I find Trillium to be fresh and unique. Ostensibly a time travel story about the future extinction of the human race, it’s also an alternate history comic about gender. And it’s as psychedelic as anything in all those old Jim Starlin comics I spent most of December going on about:
23. Shaolin Cowboy, by Geoff Darrow
Heh. A-heh-heh-heh. This book has always been more about letting Geoff Darrow draw whatever crazy-ass thing he feels like than it has about story. But that’s never been more clear than in the insanity on display here. Two full issues were spent on two page spreads of the title character slicing apart an army of zombies with two chainsaws lashed to the ends of an impossibly-long stick! That’s right! Two entire comics, filled with nothing but super widescreen panels of zombie-killing. And in all those panels with all those hundreds of zombies…
…NO TWO OF THEM LOOKED THE SAME. That’s a beautiful thing, and well-worth a spot among the best.
22. Action Comics, by Grant Morrison and Various Artists
I will always look upon Grant Morrison’s Superman relaunch as a missed opportunity. He’s working with grand ideas and good material, crafting a First Chapter for the character to go alongside the classic Final Chapter that is his All-Star Superman. And as far as that goes, I think he succeeds.
Morrison’s Action Comics is a great set up. He firmly grounds Superman in the brown Kansas dirt, planting the seeds of the legend he will later become. He gives us an introduction to the ethics and enthusiasm that will make Superman into the greatest hero of all time. He shows us the beginnings of the friendships and conflicts that will define Our Hero’s fictional life, and promises a colorful flowering of mad adventure to come.
But he stops with the promise. We never get to see the mad adventure. I suppose the point is that we’ve already gotten it. That there are more than enough crazy-ass stories in the character’s 70-plus years of publication to fill in the gap.
But, man. MAN. Just as this Action Comics run was an attempt to re-tell Superman’s earliest adventures for a modern audience, now I want the same thing for all those stories in-between. I want a new Superman mythos defined by high imagination and craziness, and with Morrison gone from the series I’m not gonna get it. I’m not even gonna get decent follow-up on all the stuff he set up in this story whose entire purpose was to set things up for other writers to build upon.
Thus, the missed opportunity, and thus, the series’ relatively low ranking in the list.
21. Young Avengers, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
This book is like the best kind of hook-crazy pop single, the kind you can’t get out of your head, and don’t want to. It’s not deep, but it’s fun. And fun goes a long way. It’s a corporate spandex comic with a taste for narrative experimentation, but the storytelling is always crystal-clear and never less than utterly modern. It’s a teen hero comic with a penchant for representing its angst not as X-Men style pidgen-noir oppressiveness, but by turning Our Heroes’ parents and mentors into cheerfully creepy pawns of the series’ primary villain. It gave us one of the better romances of the year, and didn’t make a big deal out of the fact that it was between two gay characters. It’s glib and self-referential without being cute about it, and as effortlessly cool as a Beatles record. Or at least one from the Kinks.
20. Sandman: Overture, by Neil Gaiman and JH Williams III
I hesitated including this one on the list, because only one issue appeared in 2013. And it’s so relatively low on the list because there was only that one issue. But it’s such a good comic, such an amazing art job from JH Williams, and such a great return for the Sandman series… That I would feel remiss not including it.
19. The Bunker, by Joshua Fialkov and Joe Infurnari
Near-future science fiction with an irresistible premise: five college friends find a bunker in the woods, filled with information from their future selves telling them that they will be responsible for the extinction of the human race. The series jumps between flashes of that future time, and Our Heroes’ reaction to revelations that break their friendship apart. The writing is sharp, and artist Joe Infurnari is turning in some very nice work that puts me in mind of Gene Colan:
In addition to being sharp comics in general, The Bunker is also indicative of a trend I think we’ll be seeing more of in the future: it debuted as a digital-only series, planned for eventual print collections. That’s a great way for lesser-known creators to get their work in front of an audience, and to make some money at it without the overhead involved in print publication. And in this case, it’s a plan that worked: Oni Press will be collecting the digital-only issues in February, with regular print editions planned thereafter. Check it out then, or hit Comixology for it now. Whatever your medium of choice… give it a shot. It’s not God’s gift to comics or anything, but it IS good enough to make the list.
The countdown continues… after the jump. Continue reading