2013 has been an eventful year on multiple levels, and inside the comic shop is no exception. Every year always brings a multitude of new comics that are noteworthy and critically acclaimed, and it’s always a difficult task for any enthusiast to try and whittle down the choices to try and come up with a definitive list. Now, I would never say that a list I can come up with is definitive, per se, but whenever it came time to put finger to keyboard to write a new installment of the GeekNation Pull List, then these series always managed to capture my attention and hold it quite vigorously.
So, without further ado, here are the Top 10 Comics Series of 2013, as ranked by the GeekNation Pull List!
10) From IDW: Star Trek Ongoing
When 2009’s Star Trek film by J.J. Abrams was released, it opened up a whole world of possibilities in reimagining the entire Trek universe that had gotten very large: 6 TV series (totalling at nearly 30 seasons) and 10 movies later, there was a lot of material that expanded on what came before in the 1960s, but the original dynamic of the crew of Captain James T. Kirk was lost, until we arrived at the 2009 film.
By going back to the days of the original USS Enterprise, there was now a new potential in both exploring the characters audiences have known so well for almost fifty years, as well as the possibility of revisiting familiar stories from an entirely new perspective. While the two cinematic entries in this new Trek have largely decided to chart their own course, a comic book series set within that relaunched film universe has been able to simultaneously revisit old episodes of the show with the new cast, and create new stories afforded by the change in circumstance.
Star Trek‘s ongoing series from IDW is one of the best, active examples of expanding on a powerhouse cinematic franchise, and it continues to churn out quality issues every single month. For that, it deserves a place on this list.
9) From Image: The Manhattan Projects
In a creative climate where so many things can be redone and rehashed, truly original storytelling concepts are absolutely prized by audiences of all kinds. Although the comic book medium has always been a great source for original storytelling, sometimes certain series tend to rise above the pack and reach a level of imagination and strength that many other series have a hard time finding. The Manhattan Projects has consistently remained one of the best altered-history science fiction stories in an ongoing format since issue #1 first dropped, and it has continued to mesmerize readers with its attention to detail, tight plots, and resonant characters every single time a new issue becomes available.
Writer Jonathan Hickman is certainly one of the absolute best writers working in comics today, and he continues to amaze audiences across all spectrums as someone who can both bring new life to old, ongoing superhero titles, in addition to his ability to tap into a higher level of storytelling only afforded by an independent, creator-owned effort. The Manhattan Projects is continuously surprising, endlessly creative, sometimes shocking, and always engaging. If you haven’t checked it out yet, seek out the volume 1 trade paperback and dive in.
8) From Dark Horse: Star Wars
Dark Horse Comics has had the license to publish expanded universe Star Wars stories for as long as I can remember, and their efforts have managed to have a consistency of quality that could make Marvel and DC drool. That being said, many of those efforts in recent years had become inaccessible to new readers, since they were often very deeply-laden inside extensive Star Wars universe continuity, which literally spans thousands of years. Whether you’re talking about the Knights of the Old Republic era or the Legacy era, it’d be pretty hard for someone only familiar with the films to jump headfirst into many of the published series without scratching their heads a few times.
That changed at the beginning of this year, though, when writer Brian Wood and artist Carlos D’Anda published a book simply called Star Wars. No subtitle, no extraneous continuity, just a straightforward aftermath story to the original 1977 film. Therein lies the greatness of this title’s concept: literally the only bit of Star Wars that you need to understand this story is the original film, and really, how many people haven’t seen that?
All the classic characters and conflicts are here, written with a great level of truthfulness to both characters and situations, as well as a set of circumstances that will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s ever seen The Empire Strikes Back. Star Wars is a great read for anyone who love all of the original characters, and it gives great perspective on the events that take place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. What more could you want?
7) From Image: Saga
When it comes to one of the most steadily acclaimed independent comic creators of the last decade and a half, it’s hard not to mention the name Brian K. Vaughan. His imagination has taken us into the twists and turns in the life of Mitchell Hundred in Ex Machina, the twisted world Yorrick Brown and Ampersand found themselves thrust into in Y: The Last Man, and now Vaughan has guided us into a new facet of his imagination in the form of Saga: a space opera, sci-fi/fantasy epic that was initially described as Star Wars meets Game of Thrones. In truth, though, that description hardly does justice to the originality, thought, and depth at play in this ongoing story.
Upon reading the first issue, I was reminded in no small way of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, with love found between two people who should really have nothing to do with each other if their warring compatriots are any indication. The story quickly moves beyond this, though, and embarks on a narrative quest that is so far-reaching in scope that it’s easy to forget that the world you’ve immersed yourself into is limited to a few pieces of paper you hold in your hands.
Vaughan has talked at length about this being a world he created in both his childhood and through his experiences as a parent, and that’s likely why this world feels so expansive on the page: it comes from a variety of life experiences and creative extrapolations to become a living, creative force. Saga is one of the absolute best comics and 2013 was an eventful year for it. If you like your sci-fi/fantasy space operas with an intense dose of originality, this is likely the book for you.
6) From DC: Batman and…
Earlier this year, writer Grant Morrison and DC Comics killed off one of their most popular recent creations in the form of Damian Wayne: the son of Batman, and the latest young hero to become Robin, the Boy Wonder. When this happened, DC was publishing an ongoing series entitled Batman and Robin, and now without a Robin, the title started changing every couple of months, with the blank space now filled by whoever Batman was to partner with that month. Batman and Nightwing, Batman and Batgirl, even Batman and Two-Face. What you may not realize is that this title is one of the absolute best being put out by DC Comics, largely due to the incredible creative efforts of writer Peter Tomasi and artist Patrick Gleason.
In the first couple of months after Damian’s death, this series was entirely focused on reaction to that crushing loss. Despite his efforts to make you believe the contrary about him, Batman feels his emotions perhaps more intensely than many other people, and as a result, the loss of his son made him lose some of his control. The way that Tomasi has illustrated grief, and particularly Batman’s way of dealing with it, makes for some of the best comic book reading experiences I’ve had in 2013.
The team-up nature of this book also makes it a successor to the old Brave and the Bold issues of the 1970s, and with recent solicitations pointing to greater DC Universe team-ups in future issues (like Aquaman), this series should prove to be just as interesting as it has been throughout it’s entire tenure in publication.
5) From Image: Sex Criminals
Writer Matt Fraction, like Jonathan Hickman, is a versatile writer that stretches his legs equally well in both the realms of superhero fiction and in creator-owned independent territory. Sex Criminals is his latest indie offering from Image, and has proven to be one of the most fun, contemplative, irreverent, and interesting titles to come out of the medium all year. As I said when I reviewed the first issue back on the September 26th edition of the Pull List, “One of the things that really struck me after reading Sex Criminals #1 was the directness of the title to the concept of the series. In the past, Fraction has been a little ambiguous or symbolic in his use of titles in other works, but the title of this series is actually exactly what it’s about: two people have the power to stop time when they have sex. Naturally, this leads them to rob banks.”
That concept in and of itself definitely proves to make every issue of Sex Criminals an interesting one, and in many ways forces the reader to put themselves into that most unusual of situations. If you found yourself and someone else with this “ability,” would you decide to use it for your own gain? Not only is it a very interesting idea, but it’s also risque enough to capture a lot of peoples’ attention, and that makes it almost universally interesting.
The concept has proven to be the source of the inherent strength of the series in the other subsequent issues, and the level of fun on multiple levels continues to validate why it’s likely one of the absolute best comic book reading experiences you can have this year. Although Matt Fraction is no stranger to the creation of great comics (as I’ll also get into a little later), there’s a certain, special air that shines through with this book, and that’s largely because the gloves are off when it comes to the publication of a creator-owned comic book.
4) From Marvel: Avengers
In the last couple of years, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes have certainly come a long way. From critically acclaimed comic book runs to one of the most successful movies ever, it should come as little surprise that Marvel Comics wants to try and capitalize on the new attention garnered for their premiere superhero team and extend that love to the comics. Marvel has always been a very reactionary comics publisher, changing course on a dime if some of their other media exploitations are successful. This can be both a positive and negative, but thankfully, they’re going sort-of halfway with the Avengers comic series: giving it creators that can meet critical demands of an exacting audience, but not trying to make each new issue of the title feel like an extension of the film.
Enter the writer who can accomplish these goals very succinctly in Manhattan Projects’ Jonathan Hickman. Bringing his vast imagination in step with the limitless possibilities that many characters in the Avengers “world” have, and you have one of the most creative and surprising books in superhero fiction today. This year, Hickman has had much of his work in Avengers weave in and out of a larger crossover event he’s been working on called Infinity, which sees the return of the death-worshipper Thanos to the Marvel Universe.
One of the consistently surprising things about Hickman’s superhero work on Avengers is the scale he brings to everything. Anyone who’s read these big team-up books knows that the scale is always going to be large, but Hickman has somehow managed to tap into a way to make the fantastic feel oddly and closely real. “Real” is rarely an adjective I’d apply to a lot of superhero fiction, but somehow, Hickman manages to make you feel the clap of the thunder when Thor wields Mjolnir against the forces of Thanos.
3) From DC: Forever Evil
I’ve talked a bit before about how comic book companies can engage at times a little too liberally in the massive crossover events. They’re so massive and sprawling that they often bleed over into many other ongoing titles, disrupting the flow of specific stories and making a giant behemoth that can be hard to follow, expensive, and take the wind out of the sails of some favorite ongoing titles. In some efforts, though, crossovers can be awesome. They include all of the major characters in a specific universe, uniting their efforts to stop a threat that, in the best scenarios, requires all of them to be together. When DC relaunched their universe in the form of the New 52, they didn’t do any major company crossovers. The crossovers that they would engage in were limited to specific “families” of titles (like Batman or Superman), but a full-on event had not yet been seen since DC’s massive relaunching effort.
Then came Forever Evil, in which DC has finally gone all out in a massive crossover effort spinning out of their flagship title, Justice League. After the conclusion to the Justice League’s “Trinity War,” a dimensional gateway opened up bringing in the League’s villainous analogues: Ultraman, Superwoman, and Owlman. With members of the Justice League apparently dead, including Superman, the villains collectively known as the Crime Syndicate have taken over the planet, and the only beings equipped enough to stop them are the likes of Lex Luthor, the Rogues, Black Manta, and other high-profile villains of the DC Universe. It’s evil versus evil, and it’s a battle that’s been absolutely thrilling to watch unfold.
For people who love DC villains, this series is awesome. For people who love alternate, evil versions of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, this series is downright incredible. For people who love Lex Luthor, this series is an absolute must-read. Really, for anyone who wants to see what it’s like when the modern DC Universe is flipped completely upside down, this series should prove endlessly interesting. Geoff Johns has always had an incredible knack for writing DC’s villains, whether it’s his incredible take on the Flash’s Rogues (which continues in this series), or Sinestro from his incredible Green Lantern run and Lex Luthor from his Action Comics run, Johns knows how to make the villains of the DCU stand as much on their own as the heroes do in their own titles. If you’re at all curious about how Forever Evil is playing out across the DCU, I’d definitely encourage you to give it a try.
2) From Marvel: Hawkeye
Clint Barton has had something of a checkered past, both as a marketable comic book character and in his own life as an Avenger. Previous efforts in the last 15 years to make Hawkwye a standalone comics character have been met with mixed levels of success, but writer Matt Fraction has managed to take the ashes of those previous efforts and create Marvel’s best solo title, hands down. The brilliance of Hawkeye lies in its subtlety: it doesn’t focus nearly as much on Hawkeye the Avenger and superhero, but squarely on Clint Barton the man, and what those foibles and flaws mean for someone who is really just trying to live his life by staying on top of all of his problems.
Hawkeye is also an emotional read as well, whether or not it’s seeing how big Clint’s heart is to the fellow tenants in his apartment building, to meeting Pizza Dog for the first time, to seeing how he and his new community deal with a heartbreaking loss, this title continues to be a critical powerhouse, and one of Marvel’s most beloved titles.
As a result, some of the first few issues are actually kind of difficult to find, but if you decide to jump into this series either via individual issues or through the trade paperback volumes, you’ll likely be very happy with the way that the book moves, the tone with which it tells its stories, and the treatment of the characters. Like Sex Criminals there’s a degree of irreverence in some of the incidental humor that Clint encounters in the quieter moments of his life, but that makes the more serious moments much more powerful when you and Clint are confronted with them. Hawkeye is, I believe, Marvel’s best ongoing title. If that’s not enough of an endorsement, I really don’t know what would be.
1) From DC: Batman
Starting off the year reacting to the paralyzing return of the Joker, to now going back to the beginning of the Dark Knight’s career in the pages of the “Zero Year” story help lead me to one conclusion: Batman is probably the most fun I’ve had in comics this year. I’m biased, of course, since Bruce Wayne is my favorite comics character, but the efforts of writer Scott Snyder and penciler Greg Capullo help to illustrate exactly why Batman has consistently been rated DC’s top book, and its focus on character, action, and its narrative structure all continue to highlight what makes the book one of the absolute best on the shelves today.
Snyder helped to show us a whole new facet of the most iconic villain in comics when he brought the Joker back in “Death of the Family.” Now, he gets a chance to do much the same thing for the Dark Knight himself in “Zero Year,” giving us perhaps our most complete look ever at how the character went from a misguided and highly capable young man, to the “World’s Greatest Detective.” Snyder also characterizes much of the supporting cast in a similarly comprehensive fashion, but perhaps the biggest character renovation was given to Gotham City itself. As someone who grew up in the heart of New York, Snyder’s creative ability in characterizing what makes a city live and breathe is one of the most fascinating aspects of the Batman title, since he’s helped to apply a whole new level of life to Gotham itself.
This helps to give Batman a specific purpose for why he operates in Gotham, as well as helping to tie all of these extraordinary people and occurences to one place over other more fantastical DC Universe locales. Batman feels like its stories just have a great reason to be told, and chances are that even the most seasoned Batman fan will learn a few things by the time you take in a couple of issues.
So, that’s our best of 2013! What’s on YOUR list? Feel free to leave a comment below, and we’ll see you when the GeekNation Pull List returns in January!
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