A list of the best comics of 2013 (Part One), including Killjoys, Hip Hop Family Tree, Swamp Thing, Superior Spider-Man, and Multiple Warheads
2013 was a big year for comics, both mainstream and independent. DC celebrated Superman’s 75th birthday with the launch of the much hyped (and delayed) Superman Unchained by superstar creators Scott Snyder and Jim Lee. There were also the big crossover events “Trinity War” and its follow up Forever Evil which will continue into 2014. This year also marked the return of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and other great Vertigo series, like Scott Snyder’s The Wake and Jeff Lemire’s Trillium.Marvel celebrated the X-Men’s 50th anniversary with the time-traveling event “Battle of the Atom” and the launch of Brian Wood’s X-Men, which featured an all female lineup. Marvel had its share of big events (Age of Ultron, Infinity), but it also found room for quirky, offbeat books, like Hawkeye, Young Avengers, and Superior Foes of Spider-Man. 2013 was an especially huge year for Image Comics. It enlisted big name creators like Matt Fraction, Jonathan Hickman, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Greg Rucka, and Rick Remender to create a diverse range of comics from a dark, lyrical Western (Pretty Deadly) to sci-fi sex comedy (Sex Criminals), historical fiction (Three), and superhero deconstruction (Jupiter’s Legacy). And Image stalwarts, like The Walking Dead and Saga, continued to put out stories that found both critical and commercial success. 2013 was the year that comics went from being the Big Two to the Big Three.
In 2013, Dark Horse Comics celebrated a huge year with licensed comics (Brian Wood’s Star Wars, Buffy Season Nine, Angel and Faith), the Mignolaverse (Hellboy: Midnight Circus, BPRD),creator owned books (Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT, The Fifth Beatle), and some new superhero/pulp titles (Black Beetle, Captain Midnight). IDW carved a niche in a crowded comics industry through its licensed comics based on popular television shows or cartoons, such as My Little Pony, Transformers, TMNT, and The X-Files Season 10. Dynamite continued to have a corner on the pulp market and attract great talent, like Mark Waid on Green Hornet and Gail Simone’s relaunch of Red Sonja, and BOOM!’s Adventure Time and Regular Show comics sold like crazy and collected Eisner Awards on the way.
Here is a list of the ten best comics of 2013 as voted on by the Sound on Sight comics writers.
10. The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys (Dark Horse)
The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys #1-5
Writer: Gerard Way
Art: Becky Cloonan
Colors: Dan Jackson
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Gerard Way is an expert story teller. This was present even during the early days of My Chemical Romance. His songs, while being personal in nature, often make use of an omniscient narrator. It’s no wonder that he was able to cross-over into comic so effortlessly. He writes with the style and confidence of someone who has been doing this his whole life, which according to his bio, he actually has. The world that the Killjoys inhabit is fully realized with a language all its own. While it can be off putting at first, as the book progresses, the language ends up becoming second nature as you pick up the dialect along the way. Way has certainly outdone himself this time around.
With harsh realities juxtaposed by the dreamlike nature of the story, Becky Cloonan is a perfect fit for this series. Her style is fun, exciting and after the first page, you wish you leap into the panels yourself. And it is fun, for a little while anyway. Cloonan likes to hold the readers’ hands, lead you near a pool, and then push you into in the deep end. You can never be sure just where she is taking you. In one panel a character is smiling brightly, then in the next, the look of joy has turned to sheer terror as the horrors of the world choke the glee from the pages. Top this off with Dan Jackson’s bright and colourful palette, and you have a book that looks like a Disney cartoon and reads like an Orwellian drama.
One cannot shower enough praise upon this book. Way, Cloonan and the whole creative team have crafted a passionate story that can only come from the hearts of those involved. With everyone firing on all cylinders, it won’t be a surprise if you see The True Lives of The Fabulous Killjoys being a front runner at the Eisner Awards next year. A must-own title in every sense of the word.
Hip Hop Family Tree Volume One
Writer/Artist: Ed Piskor
It’s hard to tell what Ed Piskor’s Hip Hop Family Tree is more a tribute to, hip hop music or the comic books of the 1970s. Going back to New York in the 1970s, Piskor tells the story of the MCs, the musicians, the singers, the warriors, and the geeks who created the foundation for hip hop and cultivated it from a basement phenomenon into a huge part of the music industry. Piskor shows many facets of the music as he presents its origins as a potentially unifying cultural movement that was quickly taken advantage of by opportunistic capitalists that were in love with the money more than the music. In that classic struggle of commerce versus art, hip hop ended up being a child of both as business people like Russell Wilson and Sylvia Robinson brought the music to a broader audience as they followed the money. Piskor’s story of competing forces shows the symbiotic nature that developed as one needed the other to grow and thrive. It’s easy to get lost in the dizzying amount of characters but you also get caught up in the current of the movement.
But Piskor has something for the comic lover as well as he takes advantage of his pages to craft this story around a structure and artwork that would be more than welcome in any Marvel 1970’s comic book. He draws wall-rattling musical battles, schemers, and dreamers. Mimicking common comic printing errors of the 70s, Piskor creates the closest experience he can to the music of thunderous speakers. While his history is about the men and women at the center of the hip hop world, it’s also about the music as Piskor creates the performances and experience of the emerging styles. Piskor’s artwork captures the joys of performing and the struggles of the performers as hip hop tries to find its place first in New York City and then in the world.
Swamp Thing #16-26
Writers: Scott Snyder (16-18), Jeff Lemire (17), Charles Soule (19-26)
Pencillers: Yanick Paquette (16, 18), Andrew Belanger (17), Kano (19-20, 23), Jesus Saiz (21, 23, 25-26), David Lapham (23), Andrei Bressan (24)
Inkers: Yanick Paquette (16, 18), Andrew Belanger (17), Alvaro Lopez (19-20, 22-23), Jesus Saiz (21, 25-26), Andrei Bressan (24)
Colorist: Nathan Fairbarn (16, 18), Tony Avina (17), Matt Wilson (19-)
Publisher: DC Comics
Swamp Thing started off the year big, with the climax of “Rotworld”, a cross-over with Animal Man that both comics had been building towards for for an entire year. This turned into an epic story set in a dystopian alternate reality wherein Swamp Thing and Animal Man are humanity’s only hope against restoring the Green and the Red after Arcane and the Rot infect the entire planet. It was an exciting, though messy storyline, and got a little too “big”; it felt too superhero-y and removed from the quiet horrorscapes that made the first 11 issues of Swamp Thing so distinctive. The dust settles an issue later, in the “Rotworld” epilogue, also Scott Snyder’s final entry in the series, and it’s a gorgeous and human story, as good as anything in Snyder’s first year on the comic. Newcomer Charles Soule has been writing the series since #19 (April 2013) and after an awkward story featuring both the Scarecrow and Superman, he found his voice and has proven to be a strong successor to the Swamp Thing mythology. “The Murder Poet” (#21) is the first great issue in Soule’s run, and it feels closer in vein to Alan Moore’s tenure on the character than Snyder’s. A quiet, contemplative atmosphere mixed with a pulpy ’80s horror aesthetic (elegantly drawn by Jesus Saiz), it immediately removed itself from Snyder’s vision and became a must-read comic under the helm of another. Dipping in the Alan Moore fountain once again, the succeeding story is a two-issue arc co-starring John Constantine where he takes centre stage. DC’s Villain Month pushed back Soule’s ongoing arc, but “The Patchwork History” was not merely a pleasant distraction, it was a superb stand-alone story and arguably the best of the Villain Month issues. Hopefully Soule has more in store for Arcane. Not that the current Swamp Thing is in dire need of a compelling antagonist. The enigmatic Seeder has filled Arcane’s rotting boots just fine, and threatens Alec Holland’s life in brand new ways. Soule is not afraid of changing the status quo, and there’s a genuine feeling that anything can happen, from issue to issue.
Superior Spider-Man #1-24
Writers: Dan Slott (1-24), Christos Gage (11-13, 22-24)
Pencillers: Ryan Stegman (1-3, 9, 17-19), Giuseppe Camuncoli (4-5, 10-13, 20-21), Humberto Ramos (6-8, 14-16, 22-24)
Inkers: Victor Olazaba (1-10, 14-16, 22-24), John Dell (11-13, 20-21), Terry Pallot (12-13), John Livesay (17-19)
Colorist: Edgar Delgado (1-11, 14-19, 22-24), Antonio Fabela (12-13, 20-21)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Superior Spider-Man, which sees longtime villain Doctor Octopus in control of Spider-Man’s body and continuing his life and mission after a mind-swapping adventure and Spidey’s death, didn’t seem like something that would last particularly long, let alone be as good as it turned out to be.
While other current superhero series, particularly those over at DC, seem more interested in overly-epic storylines too wrapped up in their own mythology, “Superior Spider-Man” and other Marvel books have been going a different route, telling smaller, more contained stories while deftly weaving a larger narrative in the background. Like the best Spider-Man comics of yore, Superior Spider-Man is about the delicate balance in leading a dual life set against the usual spandex-clad superhero action, but with the added wrinkle that it’s really a triple life this time.
Writer Dan Slott has managed to keep things fresh throughout the first year of the book, setting up a fairly rapid-fire series of immediate threats and villains against the ongoing story of Doc Ock’s newfound life as Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Rather than get bogged down in any one plot-line or story, Slott has managed to keep things moving, slowly adding new elements to the mix while not overwhelming the readers. Just this year saw the culmination of Ock’s quest to regain his doctorate, the slow rise of a new Goblin threat, Ock’s burgeoning romance, and just recently the re-introducion of the Venom symbiote. This is a book where things actually happen, where the status quo seems to be in constant flux, and there’s no telling what direction it will lead in.
It’s one of the precious few books on comic stands right now where you legitimately don’t know where it’s heading next, and in an industry of predictable storylines and revamps, that is a rare thing indeed
Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity #1-#4; Multiple Warheads: Down Fall
Writer/Artist: Brandon Graham
Publisher: Image Comics
In 2013, Brandon Graham took us to new worlds. Where some comic creators were comfortable with world building, Graham was world engineering and creating new spaces, technology, fashion, language, and cultures around us. As with Image’s Prophet in 2013, Graham’s Multiple Warheads created a new environment but yet still told recognizably human stories within those new settings. Graham’s eye for the practically absurd details accomplishes more world creation than so many other comics can even aspire to. His vision for his fictional worlds is as natural and progressive to his characters as iPhones and iPads are to us. His world building is actually part of his character’s lives rather than an external stimulus around them. So as he creates this world inspired by science fiction, manga, and European comics, his characters like Sexica and Nikoli are able to be on this journey of finding themselves that is firmly grounded in a longing that we can relate to because it’s the same journey that we all go through today. The times and places have changed but Graham’s characters are still as recognizable as the people of the here and now.
What Multiple Warheads has that Prophet doesn’t is the artwork of Brandon Graham. Graham has to have one of the most curvaceous and sexy lines working right now. With the release of Multiple Warheads: Down Fall (a one shot of Graham’s MW stories from 2003-2007) and Walrus: he All Bum Album (an artbook from Picturebox,) and the fourth issue of Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity, you can see how Graham has simplified his lines but has created a more immersive experience that’s as welcoming as it is seductive. With the various artists, Prophet reads as a science fiction war book but Multiple Warheads, with as much imaginative and futuristic creations as Prophet, comes off more as a slice of life book because Graham’s line is so warm as it flows through the lives of these characters. Like the best Moebius comics, Graham takes you to new worlds through his drawings, but caresses your soul thanks to artwork that makes you connect to the stories on an intimate and personal level.