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We’ve been hearing about what comics various industry folks enjoyed in 2013 in our Looking Forward, Looking Back series, and now it’s our turn: ROBOT 6 contributors share their favorites from 2013, which include Hawkeye, Marble Season, East of West and Batman.
1. The Property, by Rutu Modan: The Property is a graphic novel that reads like a novel, with strong characters, a plot that pulls you along and several subplots to add complexity. Modan’s art is superb, and the cemetery scene in particular is a thing of beauty all on its own. Overall, this book is a perfect blend of art and story.
2. Paul Joins the Scouts, by Michel Rabagliati: Set in Montreal in the 1960s, this is the story of a teenager who finds an escape from everyday life in the Boy Scouts. Rabagliati creates a complex and believable world for Paul, including his mildly dysfunctional family, the gently idealistic Boy Scout leaders, and, in the background, the violence of the Quebec separatist movement, then throws the reader a hard curve toward the end.
3. Slayground, by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) and Darwyn Cooke: Cooke’s adaptations of Westlake’s Parker novels bristle with cool-headed action, and the retro style makes them go down smooth. This slim volume finds Parker playing cat-and-mouse with gangsters and crooked cops in a shuttered amusement park; Cooke also shows off his storytelling chops with a short piece at the end. Great stuff.
4. Donner Dinner Party, by Nathan Hale: This is a kids’ book about the Donner Party, which is daring to begin with, but Nathan Hale handles it very well and uses sophisticated storytelling techniques to not only narrate the story but also show aspects that are hard to convey in words, such as the distances the pioneers traveled and the makeup of the party at different times. At the same time, he tells the story with warmth and even humor, so these long-ago pioneers don’t seem so distant.
5. Tropic of the Sea, by Satoshi Kon: At its heart, this standalone manga by the late Satoshi Kon, who’s much better known as the director of Paprika and other groundbreaking anime, is a simple environmental fable, but Kon brings in the human element in many ways, creating characters that are complex and interesting rather than simply pitting good against evil. His clear-lined drawing style makes this a great read even for non-manga readers.
6. Red Handed, by Matt Kindt: A clever collection of stories about seemingly preposterous crimes and the twisted logic behind them.
7. Helter Skelter, by Kyoko Okazaki: It’s The Devil Wears Prada with real devils! Not quite, but Okazaki’s tale of a fashion model who will go to any lengths to keep her edge, and all the people who enable her, goes places that most pop-culture stories won’t go. She manages to make her lead character, Liliko, come off as both horrifying and sympathetic, and a police procedural subplot actually lightens up the story.
8. Bad Houses, by Sara Ryan and Carla Speed McNeil: A quirky love story about the son of a woman who runs estate sales, clearing out the past from “bad houses,” and the daughter of a hoarder, this book is also an extended meditation on things and the importance they take on in our lives.
9. Hilda and the Bird Parade, by Luke Pearson: Pearson’s tale of a little girl who gets lost in a big city and finds her mother with the help of a magic bird is geared for kids, but his sophisticated artwork and subtle storyline make it a winner for adults as well.
10. How to Fake a Moon Landing: Exposing the Myths of Science Denial, by Darryl Cunningham: In eight short pieces, Darryl Cunnigham not only explodes a host of science myths, from the efficacy of homeopathy to the vaccine-autism connection, but shows how the ambitions of humans got tangled up with the science to create misinformation that persists long after the bad science has been debunked. In other words, it’s stories about science, but not the kind you learn in school.
10. Superior Spider-Man by Dan Slott, Ryan Stegman, Humberto Ramos, et al. (Marvel)
Moving at double-time through 2013, Otto Octavius’ hijacking of Peter Parker’s life changed from an old man’s escape from death into an uneasy acceptance of Peter’s responsibilities — and then into Otto just chucking everything which got in the way of his vision for New York City. A well-known approach to Spider-Man holds that he can never be truly happy, because the character’s adventures depend on various degrees of big victories and little failures, and vice versa. Slott and company didn’t quite do that in 2013, unless you believe (as I do) that they’re wrecking Spidey’s life in preparation for Peter’s inevitable return. However, what they did do is arguably more impressive. The Superior crew didn’t turn Doctor Octopus into a hero, they made Spider-Man a megalomaniacal figure, and kept the book compelling by making readers care about everyone around him. The result was one of 2013’s best superhero serials.
9. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
There’s so much to like about Saga, from the fleshed-out, war-torn world to Staples’ expressive, almost ethereal art — but a fight in Issue 16 summed it up nicely for me. A pair of journalists is attacked for a story they’ve written, and in the course of combat, one exclaims that they shouldn’t be targeted, because they did stories benefiting both sides. That’s the point, says the enforcer: the most recent story didn’t take a side. In an environment where opinions are everywhere, plain irrefutable data becomes the most dangerous. Saga’s main story is a romance that produced a child, and of course that’s another example of “irrefutable truth.” That child will become yet another example of true love crossing all cultural lines. Even in its digressions, Saga never loses sight of its main message. Still, those digressions are pretty darn fun on their own.
8. How To Fake A Moon Landing by Darryl Cunningham (Abrams Comicarts)
You might look at the six-panel grid Darryl Cunningham uses, or the minimalist style of his images, and think that How To Fake A Moon Landing is a series of shrill screeds against contemporary science denialism. Nevertheless, Cunningham’s technique allows for a sharper focus on the facts he’s presenting. A four-page bibliography lists sources, but it also explains that Cunningham vetted each installment on his blog, thereby enabling further fine-tuning. The result is a book packed with incisive rebuttals which may not change the minds of the die-hards, but which should at least give their opponents a good bit of ammunition.
7. Batman ‘66 by Jeff Parker and various artists (DC Comics)
It would have been easy for Batman ‘66 to be deliberately bad. After all, the classic TV series was built around outlandish dialogue delivered perfectly straight. Over the years, that contributed to the perception that the show was all about tearing down the air of seriousness that superhero comics sought to cultivate. However, writer Jeff Parker and artists like Jonathan Case, Ty Templeton, Craig Rousseau and Colleen Coover have done something special. Not only have they produced pitch-perfect homages to the show — and in many cases gone beyond the limitations of 1960s TV — they’ve managed to make these versions of Batman and Robin stand on their own. These aren’t live-action parodies in print form, or a Dynamic Duo that could just as easily have appeared in the main Bat-books. Instead, they’re a couple of masked crimefighters who inhabit the world the show described. They wear cloth costumes, they talk like public-service announcements, and they carry sprays to ward off the appropriate carnivores — and it all works. The dedication from the 1966 Adam West movie sums it up nicely: Batman ‘66 is for “lovers of adventure, lovers of pure escapism, lovers of unadulterated entertainment, [and] lovers of the ridiculous and the bizarre,” and long may it run.
For a writer long associated with DC, Mark Waid has done some great work at Marvel, including seminal series like Captain America and Fantastic Four. His Daredevil may end up topping them both. Month in and month out, Waid, Samnee and the occasional guest artist like Javier Rodriguez present nothing but solid, entertaining stories about a blind attorney gifted with extraordinary super-senses who chooses to fight crime in all its many forms. A quick-witted series that knows how to hit an emotional gut-punch, an excellently-drawn series that depicts both the “real” New York City and the one Matt Murdock navigates, and an accessible series which still dips deep into Marvel lore, Daredevil is a winner on every count.
5. FF by Matt Fraction, Mike Allred and Laura Allred (Marvel)
Perhaps the most nimble use of Marvel lore and new creations, FF made its eponymous quartet out of three former Fantastic Four backup members (Medusa from the ‘70s, She-Hulk from the ‘80s, and Ant-Man from the ‘90s) and Johnny Storm’s newest girlfriend in a Thing battle suit (the latter also dating back to the ‘70s). It then put them in charge of the Future Foundation’s students, carrying over from Jonathan Hickman’s tenure. What followed was a series of wacky, touching, and thrilling exploits, most only an issue or two long, which just had fun with these characters. There was romance, scheming, and adventure, coming to a head with (of course) an attempt to stop Doctor Doom from becoming all-powerful. It was consistently the best Marvel title I read — which, admittedly, isn’t saying much — but I’d nominate it for Marvel’s best book, period.
4. Bad Machinery by John Allison
In 2013, Bad Machinery finished“The Case of the Unwelcome Visitor” and spent most of the year on the just-concluded “Case of the Forked Road.” The first was the usual amount of well-executed, good-natured adventure one expects from Allison, but “Road” used its time-travel underpinnings very effectively, creating a nice air of suspense that added weight to our heroes’ efforts and facilitated an unexpectedly heartfelt epilogue. “Road” brought out the best in Allison, which is saying a lot.
3. Astro City by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson (Vertigo)
At long last, Astro City returned in 2013, picking up where it left off with well-crafted, discrete stories about life in a superhero world. The current arc involves the public questioning the motives of Winged Victory, a sort of Wonder Woman pastiche who until now hasn’t gotten much of an in-depth look. Indeed, the story begins on just such a fearmongering “what do we really know?” note, and it may well include meta-commentary about Wonder Woman being “hard to understand.” However, AC has already hit the ground running, particularly in a two-parter (in issues 2 and 3) about a call-center operator who finds herself at the center of a super-emergency which is both wide-ranging and very personal. That’s AC’s strength, and it’s good to have it back.
2. Batman by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo (DC Comics)
2013 started a little rocky for Batman, as Snyder and Capullo offered a downbeat ending to “Death of the Family.” However, things picked up steam afterwards, with a one-issue tribute to Damian Wayne and a two-issue Clayface story, and finally with June’s kickoff of “Zero Year.” Embracing fully the freedom that the relaunch offered, Snyder and Capullo have crafted an intricate, but sweeping, saga of how Bruce Wayne came to be the Batman. Skillfully blending new elements and fresh storytelling techniques with details and Easter eggs from all across the character’s history, this creative team made sure that “Zero Year’s” installments were consistently satisfying. If this keeps up through the end of the arc, Batman may be a shoo-in for best of 2014 as well.
1. Dial H by China Miéville, Alberto Ponticelli and Daniel Green (DC Comics)
Dial H ended just a few months ago, with its final issue actually appearing under the Justice League masthead as part of “Villains Month.” Even if it had sold better, it would never have felt fully integrated into the superhero line. However, this year it played more directly with more familiar characters, tying into The Flash and giving one of its characters a riff on Batman’s origin. In so doing, it pointed out the rigidity and conservatism inherent in corporately-run superhero comics. However, Miéville and Ponticelli also infused Dial H with engaging protagonists and an involving plot. All these factors gave the series just the right mix of resonance and goofiness, and made it a truly bright spot in DC’s superhero lineup.
Since I’m such a company gal, here are the comics I am most grateful for in 2013, in no particular order:
What can I say that everyone else hasn’t? Maybe that it’s the easiest book in the store for me to sell; a simple little tale of Arrow Guy from the Avengers, drawn in a lively and unique style and cutting right to the chase in one to two issue installments. You can try an issue and jump right in; if you don’t like it, there’s little to no investment made. Just the perfect title for the new Marvel fan.
On the other hand, this book wasn’t as easy to get into, but was so rewarding if you did! As a long time reader of the X-Men, I come with a lot of baggage about what mutants and Xavier’s Dream means to me. It was fascinating to see a mostly discarded and broken characters get rebuilt to explore those classic theme of fear and hate and tolerance, not just of mutantkind, but of yourself and your role in the universe. Si Spurrier kept things clever and deep; the artwork was jarring and I think that really sold the prickliness of what it was like to live in David Haller’s mind. Plus those covers by Mike Del Mundo told you right off the bat that we were in for a wild ride. I’ll be sorry to see this leave the stands but look forward to see if the story continues elsewhere …
Thor: God of Thunder
This whole book needs to be painted on the side of a van. A van that blares The Immigrant Song as loud and as long as the hair of the Thunder God himself. It’s nice to have Thor in the Marvel universe mixed in with the rest of our heroes, but some days yo need to be reminded of who thor is and why he is fantastic. You need skull-crushing, bone-rending lightning across the cosmos that you simply cannot control to one planet or one age! Thor is a god and will fight not only monsters, but ideas and passions beyond mortal ken. Jason Aaron brought back the Age of Thunder, Esad Ribic has illuminated it like one of the classic masters of paint and canvas.
The most controversial act of Spider-Man’s career since handing over his marriage to the devil, Superior Spider-Man has been an absolute delight each and every issue. The freedom that Dan Slott has used with wild abandon on these pages has led to some incredible choice that will impact Spider-Man for years to come. Whether you read this book to learn more about Spidey-Ock’s adventures or just to see how far he’s going to fall when the real Peter Parker returns, you have to admit there’s something for everyone here.
Charles Soule made this the book I wanted it to be. Not to knock Daniel Way, but the name “Thunderbolts” requires a bit of dishonesty as well as humor. It’s ridiculous to put Venom, Deadpool, Punisher, Elektra and Red Hulk in a van and expect them to work together as a team, and under Soule’s direction we’re seeing the absurdity of their cause. Carlo Barberi’s work is fluid and rough at the same time, making for dynamic pacing and brilliant beats of levity. The fact that Ghost Rider is joining the team puts it over Superior Foes of Spider-Man as my favorite rag-tag bunch of anti-heroes for 2013.
This was one of the best books I read all year. It’s hard to admit that, considering how much I really wanted to hate this book, based on little more than its Battle Royale cover. Despite the calm, honest words of Avengers Academy writer Christos Gage when he asked readers to give the new book a chance, the whole premise turned me off. When the first issue of Avengers Arena came out and we lost our first teen hero, that death proved how right I was. But then the story continued, we got to know these characters and the deaths suffered seemed to feel more tragic than ire-inducing. This idea was not played lightly and everyone, for the most part, was given their due. Some characters tried to quit, others gave in to the game to survive; it became a drama about the heroic spirit and eventually, our heroes started to win. Maybe not the game, but a part of themselves hat we get to learn about with them. This book is far better than it has any right to be.
Deadpool is not an easy character to get across. You’d think we could subsist on wacky gags and a full face mask, but there has to be some weight to the Merc with a Mouth or he’s just as two dimensional as a cartoon. If you can’t be funny, be dramatic and Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan can do both at the same time. What started out as the wacky adventures of fighting dead presidents has rolled up into a fairly dark story of a man built to be a weapon who lost his mind along the way. The parody is great, which makes the dramatic punch all the harder when followed through. The most recent “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” storyline is outright cruel in parts and darkly funny the rest of the way through. I’d say this book is better than it’s been since the Joe Kelly days and mean every word.
Journey Into Mystery
This year, Sif took the reins on the illustrious title, and it was far too brilliant to live. In it’s simplicity Sif went on adventures, and she learned a lot about herself and the lengths that she would go to. We were treated to worlds both urban and fantastic. She had a journey of self-discovery and of myth. The cast was all there, and we got to see something super rare in Marvel comics right now: a family. There was something so inviting about those first pages as we got to know what Asgard was like on a day-to-day basis, when the heroes weren’t home and the hearth was just as important as the sword. It was so lovingly detailed, from the kids at the table reading old Marvel comics to Sif sitting down to chat with Hildegund about her family and what was to come next for them, I could easily see why the warrior woman Sif would go to extremes to protect her people and all of Asgard. I’m such an easy mark for moments where we show what our heroes are fighting for, whether it’s the streets of New York City or the high halls of Asgard; context is a beautiful thing and this book was gorgeous.
We needed this book. I needed this book. Over the past few years, the Hulk has been a lot of things to a lot of people and strayed away from his emotional core. He wasn’t human, he was a plot device, a wrecking ball, a threat to humanity and a sad sack. Mark Waid has taken Bruce Banner and moved him back into the Marvel Universe with authority and a mission. This book just busts out with sharp science-fiction and deep emotional depth that only a master like Mark Waid can provide. The artwork has been big and bold, just the way a Hulk book should come across, with larger than life depictions of our Indestructible protagonist; even Banner has a bit of a sharpness to him, an edge to his features that remind you that his puny side is just as dangerous as his alter ego. Hulk’s back in the Marvel Universe proper again, with a job and resources, assistants and allies; no longer forced into the fringes of the MU, Mark Waid put Banner back on top and I hope he stays there.
Rick Remender has suffered some by just not being Ed Brubaker and taking a huge leap away from the political thriller tone that made Captain America pop for a new generation. The thing is, he’s gone toward what I feel is more Kirby-esque — big ideas, big pictures, grand statements and heroic adventure so rich you can hear the swelling John Williams soundtrack with every turn of the page. God I love this book and I deeply apologize to anyone who feels it’s “too weird” or “not Captain America anymore,” but I simply can’t contain this feeling anymore. John Romita Jr. (missing his Jr. title on the cover) draws in big bold lines of action, heroes just lunging off the pages to punch evil right in the face and the simplicity of it all makes the comic live in your mind. The pile of mutated cloned bodies that Captain America climbs seems weighty the orations on science ring in the mind, the simple idea of kindness versus ruthlessness linger in every panel. It’s a bold, brave horror, and I am on the edge of my seat.