The following article was originally published at The Nerd Cave on December 28, 2013.
2013 was, without a doubt, a great year for comics. It’s part of an ongoing pattern, where creator-owned works gain more support due to publishers like Image Comics, Dark Horse, IDW, Fantagraphics, and others; while those same creators greater popularity than intellectual property due to an increasingly interested and aware fan base. 2013 was a year filled with exciting debuts, the continuation of brilliant series, and the conclusion of some ongoing favorites.
The vast amount of talent and ideas in the medium makes it difficult to select a top ten. It’s worth noting that many series not on this list, were excluded only through a painful decision making process. Yet these are the ten comics released in 2013, that I feel compose the best the medium had to offer this year. Reflecting on this list, it makes me feel incredibly lucky to be reading comics right now.
A Brief Note Concerning Accreditation: Many of the comics listed below contain work from multiple creators, sometimes more than ten. Rather than list all people involved with the production of a comic, I chose to list a maximum of three names, limited to the fields of writing, art, and coloring. If a comic contained significant contributions from more than three creators, I elected to include the phrase “and others”. If you are reading any of these series, please keep in mind that it is not just the writer or primary artist that contributes to the final product. Lots of talented people worked on many of these series and it’s worth reviewing the credits to recognize the additions of inkers, editors, and others.
10. Li’l Gotham by Dustin Nguyen, Derek Fridolfs, and others (DC Comics)
Li’l Gotham represents the most interesting new take on Batman since Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. Dustin Nguyen uses watercolors to create essential versions of the decades old cast. These minimalist versions feel brand new due to the energy that fills each page. There is plenty of fun to be had with these often “dark “ characters. Combined with an understated sentimentality and it becomes a comic that both adults and children can relish. Not only is it the best Batman story of 2013, it’s one of the best comics this year.
9. Hawkeye by Matt Fraction, David Aja, and others (Marvel Comics)
Hawkeye continues to be successful in its second year. Its short form and mix of talented artists have worked in its favor, due to an erratic publication schedule. Each issue stands as a unique work worth reading by itself, but capable of blending into a much larger tale slowly unfolding before readers. Aja’s design work and draftsmanship alone make this comic worth reading. However, there’s a lot of heart invested in the human elements of the story, capable of making the death of a minor, misnamed character much more dramatic than any major event-driven fatality.
8. The Private Eye by Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, and Muntsa Vicente (Panel Syndicate)
Vaughan and Martin’s experiment with digital distribution has not only been a surprising commercial success (paying both their rents), but a critical one. Martin’s beautifully rendered future L.A. is as detailed and informative as the city in Bladerunner. Vaughan’s high concept encourages multiple readings without detracting from the character driven detective story at its heart. Equal parts Philip K. Dick and Dashiell Hammett, The Private Eye soars above its inspirations to become something sublime.
7. Prophet by Brandon Graham and others (Image Comics)
Graham’s imagination is on full display in this blending of space opera, Conan, and superhero comics. Every issue exhausts itself exploring new concepts and inventing wild terrains. The highlight of Prophet’s third year came in the form of issue 39, an exploration of thousands of years of history through the eyes of an evolving robot. It’s an incredibly weird concept explored through the eyes of a surprisingly human character. That’s a great summary of what Prophet is all about.
6. Slayground by Darwyn Cooke (IDW Publishing)
The newest adaptation of Richard Stark’s Parker novels may be Cooke’s best to date. A simple premise, imagine Home Alone combined with Die Hard, allows Cooke to play with multiple story telling concepts in this small volume. A foldout map of the setting blends seamlessly into the story, and Parker’s many traps echo perfectly between the four acts of the comic. Slayground is another monument to Cooke’s mastery of the medium.
5. Mind MGMT by Matt Kindt (Dark Horse)
Kindt continues to tell the most satisfying story of mystery and intrigue in any medium currently being produced. Mind MGMT uses every issue to add to the wheels-within-wheels plotting, with margins and back-ups adding new details. Whether its read as individual issues or in beautifully constructed hard covers, the series is bound to be one that readers return to. Clearly devised with satisfying answers and motives in mind, new installments enhance previous ones and create an infinitely re-readable comic.
4. Young Avengers by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and others (Marvel Comics)
Young Avengers is Gillen’s magnum opus on 21st century youth. It’s perfectly suited for the 20-somethings filling comic book stores today, touching on themes of impermanency, the importance of fun, fickle romance, and how love can save us all, because of course it will. Jamie McKelvie makes those concepts soar matching the tone of the story with art that is equally innovative and explosive. The best book at Marvel is ending as 2014 begins, but it’s a title that should stand the test of time, a representative of this period for future generations.
3. Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW Publishing)
Not since Preacher has a long running comic crafted such a satisfying conclusion. Written and drawn over almost six years, Locke & Key told the story of the Locke children, three characters who came to feel like family. They faced challenges, that horrific in nature; mirror those of a real childhood. In a medium that often focuses on the illusion of change, Locke & Key is a story where change truly occurred and mattered. There is no doubt that the six volumes of this series will be recommended for decades to come.
2. Trillium by Jeff Lemire and Jose Villarrubia (Vertigo)
Lemire’s layouts in Trillium are the best of the year, exceeding even McKelvie’s on Young Avengers. It’s a comic that takes full advantage of the medium using every page, and the publication format itself, to reinforce the ideas of each issue. Lemire has already established himself as one of the greatest cartoonists of his generation with comics like Essex County and The Underwater Welder. Trillium may be his best work yet, pushing outside of Lemire’s comfort zone to explore how two people come to know one another and the astounding effect it can have on both a personal and universal level.
1. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
Saga is the great American comic book.
It’s about family. It’s about war. It’s about birth. It’s about death. It’s about life. It’s about love.
It’s all of those things woven into a beautiful story using fully realized characters, gorgeous landscapes, and real emotion. If there’s one comic you ought to be reading, it’s Saga.