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2013 YiR: My 10 Favorite Comic Series

Posted in 2013 year in review, book review, comic books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2014 by vagabondsaint

And now, my 10 favourite comic series of 2013, presented in no particular order (except #1):

#10. Batwoman (until #25)

Batwoman #17 cover by J.H. Williams III

I’ve already discussed how badly DC ruined Batwoman by losing the creative team of W. Haden Blackman and J.H. Williams III, so there’s no need to rehash that here. I will just say that, while I’m not trying to hate on the current creative team of Marc Andreyko and Trevor McCarthy, they’re just not as good as Blackman and Williams were.  Nowhere near it, and McCarthy’s attempts to give us a little Williams-esque work with flowing, irregular panels and unusual perspectives just makes me miss Williams more.  But the book was great before #25, so it’s on this list.

#9. Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman #20 cover by Cliff Chiang

Brian Azzarello is just not a superhero writer.  His work on the crime noir epic 100 Bullets was fantastic, of course, and his run on Hellblazer got me back into liking John Constantine (before DC ruined Constantine in the New 52), but his Batman and Superman stories were less brilliant (though the Batman stories are pretty good).  His dirty, gritty, morally-grey, doublespeak style just isn’t  suited to the brightly-colored, black-and-white morality of the spandex set, and that’s okay.

When it was announced that he was going to be writing Wonder Woman in the New 52, I was skeptical. Even with artist Cliff Chiang (whom I’ve loved since the Beware the Creeper mini-series – pick it up if you can find it), I didn’t think Azzarello could pull it off.  How could he? He’s just not a superhero guy!

Apparently Brian Azzarello knew that too, because Wonder Woman is not a superhero comic book. Yes, it stars Wonder Woman, of course, but if you’re expecting big fights against supervillains in colorful costumes and an arc of morality tales every 4 to 6 issues, you’re in for a delightful disappointment.

Instead, Azzarello made Wonder Woman into what basically amounts to a family squabble writ large – writ as large as possible, really, since the family involved is the pantheon of Greek Gods.  In its 30 issues so far, there hasn’t been a hint of anything like a supervillain appearing, just gods pissed off at each other over things that would land normal humans on a week-long episode of Jerry Springer.

And it works.

Kudos to Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang for making a book starring a superhero into a brilliant mythological journey, where the gods are every bit as petty, vain, short-sighted, conflict-laden, and selfish as the humans that are supposed to worship them.  I’ll be sad when their run ends this year.

#8. Superior Spider-Man

Superior Spider-Man #22 cover by Guiseppe Camuncoli

You should be reading this comic.  Why are you not reading this?  Hurry up before Peter Parker comes back!

Long story short: Otto Octavius, aka Doctor Octopus, swapped minds with Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, and let his own body die with Parker still inside it.  Since then, Otto has been determined to be a better Spider-Man than Peter Parker ever was, and oh boy, has he done it! He’s much more creative with using his powers, he’s become proactive against villains like the Kingpin, and he;s basically been kicking ass.  Go read this comic before Peter Parker comes back in a couple months.  Otto’s adventures have been hilarious.

And speaking of hilarious comics. . .

#7. Superior Foes of Spider-Man

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #7 cover by In-hyuk Lee

Boomerang.  The Shocker.  Speed Demon. The new Beetle. Overdrive.  These five has-been H-list villains have united to form the new SINISTER SIX! (And yes, they know there are only five.)

Actually, they got together because Boomerang promised them an easy score: procuring the cybernetic, still-living head of former crime boss Silvermane, reportedly lost when his cyborg body was destroyed.  Of course, Boomerang lied and double-crossed them, but how and why he did so makes for a great, highly entertaining read.

Writer Nick Spencer (who you will see again on my list of least-favorite series of 2013) has made these characters totally believable.  They went from Spider-Man punchlines to lovable-loser-type punchlines in their own book. I can’t say much more without spoilers, but trust me, this series is worth the read!

#6 : Transformers: Robots In Disguise and Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye

Transformers: Robots In Disguise #18 cover by Atilio Rojo & Casey Coller

Yes, I’m lumping these two together because they’re closely related (events in one affect events in the other) and they end up virtually combining for the their big Dark Cybertron crossover at the end of the year.

Transformers: RiD chronicles the adventures of the Transformers on Cybertron.  The War is over, and the planet is now led by a coalition government consisting of Bumblebee for the Autobots, Starscream for the Decepticons, and Metalhawk for those who did not choose a side in the war.  Meanwhile, Transformers: MTMTE follows the adventures of Rodimus (once Rodimus Prime) as he leads a group of Autobots through space, in search of the legendary Knights of Cybertron.

Notice what’s missing? HUMANS!

There are NO HUMAN BEINGS in these comics! That’s why these are my favorite Transformers comic series ever! Without people to constantly save and/or menace, the Transformers themselves have become much more human and much, much more relateable. They have been since the beginning, and this year they continued the trend with fun, occasionally dark stories leading up to one of the most organic-feeling crossovers I’ve ever read.  It felt like it flowed naturally from the stories, like they’d planned the whole thing from the beginning. . .but nobody does that, so that can’t possibly be the case.  Anyway, good stuff for Transformers/giant robots/good comics fans!

#5. Afterlife with Archie

Afterlife With Archie #2 cover by Francesco Francavilla

 

Starting in October, this series just barely made it into the 2013 list. . .but 2013 was a year that saved the best for last (the #3 book on this list also started around the same time and only got 2 issues in before the end of the year)!

Possibly the most unexpected Archie comic since 1994’s The Punisher Meets ArchieAfterlife with Archie is the brainchild of writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (who also adapted Stephen King’s The Stand for Marvel Comics) and artist Francesco Francavilla. In this series, the zombie apocalypse begins in Riverdale!

Without giving away too much, it goes like this: Reggie accidentally runs over and kills Jughead’s pet Hot Dog, then flees from the accident scene without telling anyone.  A grieving Jughead takes his dog to Sabrina (the teenage witch), who brings it back to life – but as a Pet Sematary-style creature that bits Jughead and. . .well, things go zombie from there pretty quick. And before you think I spoiled anything for you, let me tell you: that all happens in the first issue.  Things get considerably stranger from there!

One longtime character reveals their real sexual orientation, some siblings reveal their Lannister-like relationship, lots of familiar characters become zombies – and they’re just on issue 4!  It’s like Aguirre-Sacasa goes into writing every issue wondering how he can make it more of a mindf*** than the last one, and oh wow he succeeds every time!

If there is any must-read book on this list, I’m completely failing because they should ALL be must-reads.  But if you only choose one to just check out, make it this one.  It is a horror book, so I know it’s not for everyone, but if you’ve ever been an Archie fan, or thought Archie comics couldn’t be dark, moody, and exciting, read this book!

I should also note that Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa was named last month as Archie Comics’ first-ever Chief Creative Officer, and immediately tapped Lena Dunham (creator/writer of HBO’s series Girls) to write a miniseries for Archie Comics.  If he gets the whole company moving in the directions he wants, maybe next year they’ll be my Publisher of the Year, instead of just being 2013’s runner-up (that’ll be in a later post).

#4: Life with Archie

Life With Archie #27 "Grill of Thrones" variant cover by Mike Norton

This might be my favorite cover of the year. . .

I have never made a secret of my love for this book, and 2013 gave me no reasons to stop loving it.

If you’re not familiar with Life With Archie, I’ll give you the basics: every issue is split into two stories.  One story follows a future timeline in which Archie married Betty; the other follows a timeline in which Archie married Veronica. Hijinks and the best soap opera ever committed to the comics page ensue.

LWA already made headlines with the marriage of Kevin Keller to his boyfriend Clay Walker in #16 (which is going for about $35 on Ebay in excellent condition) and its willingness to address social issues in 2012. So what happened in 2013?

Well, in Archie Marries Veronica: Veronica and Archie have left Lodge Industries only to have their careers manipulated unknowingly by Lodge’s rival Fred Mirth, Kevin Keller ran for a US Senate seat with Veronica’s help, reality-show star Reggie gets talked into causing fights with his girlfriend Betty to increase ratings (nice commentary on “reality” TV there, writer Paul Kupperberg!), and Veronica gets framed for corruption!

In Archie Marries Betty: Betty’s successes at work make Archie jealous, Veronica helps Cheryl Blossom start a breast cancer foundation, Jughead has to deal with his sister Jellybean’s shady new boyfriend and Midge’s difficult pregnancy, Reggie’s dad is trying to recover from a heart attack, Reggie runs ragged trying to take his dad’s place at the Riverdale Gazette, and Veronica is running Kevin Keller’s Senate campaign, which Reggie is hesitant to endorse, and Mr. Weatherbee is trying to find new love after the death of Mrs. Grundy!

It’s still a fun, occasionally sad, book. . .but it will also be ending this year with #36, so once that happens, you’ve no excuse for not giving it a read!

#3. A Voice In The Dark

A Voice in the Dark #1 cover by Larime Taylor

 

 

A Voice in the Dark also started late in the year, but it jumped right out of the gate and onto this list in much the same way that Afterlife With Archie did.

Why?

First of all, bi-racial female protagonist. From Seattle.  So, right out of the box we’ve got a decidedly atypical protagonist.

Second, the protagonist is a murderer. I’m not spoiling anything here; she says it pretty quick in the first issue.

But instead of being about her killing more peoplethis story is about her struggling with dark urge to kill as she deals with the normal frustrations that all of us encounter – up to and including stupid people.  How would your daily interactions change if you knew you could kill someone and probably get away with it?

When our protagonist Zoey (extra points for not giving the bi-racial protagonist a stereotypical name) starts college in a small California town, she decides to start a college radio call-in show. Her format is that people can call in anonymously and discuss their darker, deepest, most hidden thoughts and desires. It goes horribly wrong with the very first call.

Also, this small California town has a serial killer of its own – so what’s going to happen when they meet?

A Voice in the Dark is a well-written and beautifully-illustrated book (also unusually-illustrated, but I’m not going to tell you how), and is pleasantly grounded in reality.  It intrigued me from the very first issue and has kept me there. . .so much so that I buy an extra copy of issues for a friend to read!

#2. Sex Criminals

COVER OF THE YEAR! Sex Criminals #1 cover by Chip Zdarsky and Matt Fraction

COVER OF THE YEAR! Note that this is the cover of the FOURTH printing of #1. A sixth and possibly final printing came out last month.

 

Yeah, I’m on the Sex Criminals bandwagon. I bought the first printing of the first issue, then bought the fourth printing because just look at that awesome cover.

Sex Criminals is about Suze, a woman who discovers that time stops when she has an orgasm, leaving only her unaffected.  When she meets a man with the same amazing ability, hilarity and hijinks ensue.

My favourite quotes from issue 1:

“So I did what any otherwise good, emotionally-frozen, role model-less girl would do the day after rubbing one out the first time.”

“come to our awesome PARTY where for 5 BUCKS you can DRINK while SAVING BOOKS from destruction at the hands of the S***HEAD BANK that foreclosed the library oops sorry I didn’t mean to write the word S***HEAD on a PUBLIC POSTER”

“This book is dedicated to the brave men and women who love 2 f***”

Yes, this IS a mature readers title. It’s a coming (ha!) of age story, it’s a crime saga, it’s a love story, it’s hilarious.  The best part of the book is when Young Suze is forced to go to the “Dirty Girls” at school for advice on sex.  What follows is a montage of (hopefully) made-up sexual positions with hilarious names like “twerging,” “brimping,” and “auto-erotic twerging.” No way in hell I’m showing the images here.  If Chip Zdarsky wants me to, he can draw them up and send them to me.

The second issue is where the book really takes off, with the first Sex Criminals letter column!  My favorite quotes from that:

“EGGS. EGGS IS MY PROBLEM.”

“HI DANIEL YOU SOUND SEXXXXY.”

“Thanks for writing and KEEP ON RUBBIN'”

Those were the safest things I could say without needing a ton of asterisks.

Anyway, go read Sex Criminals, if you’re mature enough, and can handle sex and crime and funny.

#1. Saga

Saga

 

Yep, another immensely popular comic book.  My shop-owning friend literally cannot keep copies of the Saga trades in his shop.  When the third trade came out last month, he ordered 35 copies and took barely a week to sell them all.  That only sounds low if you don’t live in Seattle, where there is a comic book shop every 3 miles. In a really saturated market, that’s a lot.

But Saga, unlike, say, Fifty Shades of S***ty Erotic Writing or Twilight, is actually good.  Brian K. Vaughan has crafted a well-written sci-fi story of forbidden, unlikely lovers on the run from both sides of an interplanetary war.

Wow, that was actually a really good summation.

Of course, Vaughan’s writing isn’t the only reason to read this book. Fiona Staples’ art is just so beautiful.  She captures expressions and body language perfectly.  Her characters are detailed and lush, even when you wish they weren’t (Chapter Seven), and her aliens are fascinating xenobiological forms.

Look, I could natter on and on and on about Saga (especially considering that my favorite comics moment of 2013 happens in it).

But really, I’d just rather you went out and bought the first trade and read it.  Seriously, this book has a legion of fans for one reason and one reason only: it’s a damn good book.

In fact, it’s my #1 favorite comic of 2013!

VS – 4.22.14