As always, I like to put my BEST OF lists up before the year actually ends, in part because it drives Greg Burgas crazy. Probably since the last Monday of the year is quite close to the end of the year it will drive him less crazy, but we’ll just have to be okay with that. As always, my feeling is that if I haven’t read it by the end of December (and there are MANY I have not read) then I’m not going to be able to get to it in time for it to make my bests and worsts lists anyway so it’s all the same in the end.
Also as always, I didn’t read nearly enough books this year. I especially failed on the graphic novel front, reading far too few on the whole and not getting to a bunch that I’m really interested in. Additionally, this year I got sent a ton of digital comics, mostly from up and coming indie creators, and I’m sitting on a depressingly large stack that I just haven’t had a chance to get to yet. It’s going to make for some great reading when I finally get there though.
So what’s on this year’s list? Well you can bet it’s going to be another Hawkeye-Saga-rific year! That’s of course not in an effort to piss off Burgas, but you know…BONUS! These two titles are continuing to dominate when it comes to my reading. I know it’s become almost unfashionable to keep praising them, but I’m not writing this to be fashionable, so expect them to do well. I didn’t have it in me this year to do any worsts…call it optimism, call it fatigue, readers choice!
Let’s get to it, shall we? And sound off in the comments about some of your favorites for the year.
BEST SINGLE ISSUE: HAWKEYE #13
Hawkeye #13 by Matt Fraction and David Aja. Marvel Comics.
What a depressing book to pick for a #1, right? Well, I can’t help it. It was simply incredibly well done, and with material that far too often gets bungled in comics by being too broad, too cliché, or all of the above. What Fraction and Aja did here instead was subtle and beautiful and oh so sad. If you want an alternate that’s less sad, then go with Hawkeye #11 which is almost as sad, but told entirely from Pizza Dog’s point of view, and deserves its own category thanks to the exceptionally creative storytelling Aja did in that book alone.
RUNNERS UP: Saga #11, Young Avengers #4 , X-Men #1, Young Avengers #1, The Wake #5, Optic Nerve #13, Lazarus #4, Uncanny X-Men #4 and #7.
BEST COVER (S):
As usual this is a brutal category and this year I found it absolutely impossible to choose just one. I’ve opted for a best four covers – each one bringing something different to the table. As a bizarre side note…what a great year for pink. Who knew?!?
Hawkeye #9 by David Aja
Sometimes simple is best, kids. Black and white with one bold color. Absolute perfection.
Sex Criminals #1 by Chip Zdarsky
Again, simple but in a different way. Highly stylized and with exceptional graphic design elements and an unexpected and bold color choice.
Uncanny X-Force #9 by Kris Anka
Then again, sometimes details are the best thing ever. The attention to detail and magnificent choices here, not to mention the creativity in the content and perfect are second to none.
Collider #1 (formerly Collider now FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics) by Nathan Fox
Bold color choices again make this stand out, but the best thing about it is the negative space and unusual composition.
Gorgeous stuff all around.
RUNNERS UP: Uncanny X-Men #4 (Chris Bachalo), East of West #4 (Nick Dragotta), Batman & Robin #22 (Patrick Gleason), Mara #6 (Ming Doyle), X-Men #1 and X-Men #2 (Olivier Coipel), Uncanny X-Force #1 (Coipel), Rocket Girl #1 (Amy Reeder), and Mind Mgmt #13 (Matt Kindt),
BEST MINI-SERIES: THE WAKE
The Wake by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy. Vertigo.
This mini-series was strong from issue #1, but issue #5 really turned everything on its ear, raising the bar (and the stakes) in dramatic and unexpected ways. A book that has spanned millions of years, and yet tells an intimate and personal story, is no small feat and The Wake delivers in spades. The first half of this series was epic, but the second half is poised to be beyond epic. I could not be more excited to see how this book plays out.
BEST SHORT STORY: “BLACK WIDOW & ROGUE”
“Black Widow & Rogue” from A+X #2 by Chris Bachalo. Marvel Comics.
We suffered from a serious lack of Strange Tales, Girl Comics, and Wednesday Comics-like books and stories this year, and generally I’d say A+X is a poor substitute, despite some standouts, but Chris Bachalo’s charming and adorable Black Widow and Rogue team up was everything I look for in a short story - engaging and funny, smart but not overly ambitious, and with stunning artwork. If you missed this one in your reading, head on back and pick up A+X #2, it’s worth it.
BEST WEBCOMIC – HYPERBOLE & A HALF
Hyperbole & A Half by Allie Brosh. Self-Published (and now collected by Touchstone as Hyperbole & A Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened).
Hyperbole & A Half is a webcomic I first encountered years ago and then in the vastness of the web, somehow forgot I knew about. I rediscovered it again in 2013, spent an entire afternoon laughing my head off, bought the collected print version and vowed to never again forget the brilliance that is Allie Brosh. You should do the same, you’ll thank me.
RUNNERS UP: As always I have to give shout outs to the always excellent Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton, Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona (last year’s winner), Meredith McClaren’s Hinges (2011’s winner), and the always delightfully naughty and completely NSFW Oglaf. I also discovered just this past month, thanks to io9, Mother Ship Blues which is totally worth the read.
WEBCOMIC THAT MOST EXCITES ME FOR 2014: Just last week I stumbled upon Jake Wyatt’s stunning Necropolis. Cannot wait to see how it will unfold!
BEST NEW NON-SUPERHERO ONGOING: LAZARUS
Lazarus by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark. Image Comics.
Lazarus impressed me from issue #1, but it just never let up, in fact, issues #4 and #5 were perhaps the best yet of the series, deepening the world building, upping the stakes, and cementing lead character Forever Carlyle as a potential all time great. I wrote about Lazarus and Forever in more detail for a CBR Review you can read here.
RUNNERS UP: Pretty Deadly, Velvet, Sex Criminals, Collider/FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics, so many good books this year, really!
BEST NEW SUPERHERO ONGOING: X-MEN
X-Men by Brian Wood, Olivier Coipel, David Lopez, and Terry Dodson. Marvel Comics.
Though Wood’s new X-Men had an immediate stumbling block as it got drawn into a needless crossover (Battle of the Atom) almost immediately. The book had no business in that event and its initial run suffered greatly for it, but even with that stumbling block the first three issues were fantastic, and exactly what I look for in a superhero comic. Though rotating artists have not done the book any favors either, the character roster and Wood’s fine character work and unconventional approach to superheroes pleases me to no end month to month and it's one of the books I’m most excited to read in 2014. I'm primed to settle into a whole new year of fantastic X-Men stories.
BEST NON-SUPERHERO ONGOING: SAGA
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. Image.
I just like the way Vaughan and Staples are doing things over there. The built in breaks mean that we never get an issue not illustrated by Staples and that means we’re getting the most beautiful and consistent book possible. It doesn’t hurt that Staples are is utter perfection. One of Saga’s most exciting and impressive aspects beyond the art, is the way that Vaughan has managed to build his characters up. The book is filled with “protagonists” and “antagonists” and yet really, the way they’re written they are all protagonists, and aren’t we all protagonists in our own stories? And no matter how terrible we may actually be? I love that aspect of this book. Though Staples sublime character designs and world building help all things in life to be more awesome.
BEST SUPERHERO ONGOING: HAWKEYE
Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja, Annie Wu, Javier Pulido, and Francesco Francavilla. Marvel Comics.
I read a lot of really great superhero comics this year, but time and again, Hawkeye still climbed to the top of the pile. Smart, savvy, aware of itself in a way that always makes me laugh (and think), and with exceptional artwork that pushes on the boundaries month after month – demanding more of its artist and its readers with every new issue. This is as good as superhero comics get as far as I’m concerned. Perhaps Hawkeye wouldn’t be as special if there were more superhero books like it out there, but it’s hard as a reader not to wish that everything was as good as Hawkeye is.
BEST ORIGINAL GRAPHIC NOVEL: THE PROPERTY
The Property by Rutu Modan. Drawn & Quarterly
I’m a longtime fan of Modan’s work (look! A piece from the She Has No Head archives!) and so I love that her graphic novel The Property feels both like everything she’s done before and also different from anything we’ve seen from her. Chronicling the journey of young television producer and her grandmother as they return to Warsaw in an attempt to reclaim property that her grandmother’s family was forced to abandon in the war, Modan tells the tale without any cloying sentimentality and yet it is rife with emotion and poignancy. There is nothing loud or demanding about Modan’s visuals, in fact they are all the more beautiful for their subdued simplicity. The characters here are complex, their motivations layered and their humanity evident for all to behold, they feel wonderfully real and as a result alternately tragic and joyous, not unlike life.
BEST NEW CHARACTER: FOREVER CARLYLE
From Lazarus by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, Image.
As mentioned above, Forever is a phenomenal character and she was from the first issue, but developments in both Lazarus #4 and perhaps even more subtly in Lazarus #5 prove her to be an early contender for one of the elite comic book greats. She made my “25 Favorite Fictional Females” List last week, and you can read more about why here in my CBR review of Lazarus #5.
BEST YA WORK: BATMAN: LI’L GOTHAM
Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs. DC Comics
I’ve written a lot about the digital first series Batman: Li’L Gotham over the last year and if you’ve read the book you already know why. It’s simply the most fun you can have in comics right now. It’s doubly weird since DC was a pretty grim place in 2013, to have the most fun book to be basically an out of continuity Bat title that prizes characters, good storytelling, and stunning visuals over anything else. In disappointing news, it looks like the book has been canceled going forward, but buy up those trades as they come out and maybe we can see its triumphant return eventually?
BEST SELF-PUBLISHED STAND ALONE WORK: DEMETER
Demeter by Becky Cloonan. Self-Published (Ink and Thunder)
Demeter marks the third book in Cloonan’s absolutely stunning self-published “unofficial trilogy" which also includes The Mire and Wolves. Perhaps my favorite of three books (though they are all exceptional) Demeter is layered and fascinating and reveals new things on every read. It doesn’t hurt that Cloonan’s artwork has never been more beautiful and her passion is evident in every page.
BEST SELF-PUBLISHED SERIES WORK: TERRY MOORE’S RACHEL RISING
Rachel Rising by Terry Moore. Self-Published (Abstract Studios).
It’s a crime to hear that Rachel Rising is not doing better from a sales perspective because it is not only Moore’s best work to date (in my not so humble opinion) but also just a damn fine comic book. RR has more of a horror than his other books, but shares exceptional black and white visuals and fantastic character work with its Moore predecessors. If you’re looking for a scary cool book with beautiful artwork and fascinating female characters look no further than Rachel Rising. Fun side note: RR’s Jet made my “25 Favorite Fictional Females” last week.
SERIES I’M GOING TO MISS THE MOST: YOUNG AVENGERS
Young Avengers by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. Marvel Comics.
Tough category this year, as I’m also going to miss the hell out of Journey Into Mystery and I want to miss Fearless Defenders, though it never quite gelled for me. I’m happy to report that I don’t have to miss Captain Marvel since it will return shortly and with a phenomenal artist in David Lopez. But Young Avengers tops them all. I like the way it ended – on Gillen and McKelvie’s own terms and finishing up as they intended, but it’s still sad to see it go as it was some of the boldest and most enjoyable superhero reading I had this year.
BEST PUBLISHER: IMAGE
Marvel gave Image a serious run for its money this year, delivering interesting and surprising content including some epic highs, some serious risks, and a stable of fantastic creators – all that to say that I like the cut of Marvel’s jib, lately. But it still can’t compete with the sheer number of bold risk-taking books that Image is putting out, and the entrepreneurial feeling of Image right now. Image has been an impressive publisher for a long time but they have seriously upped their game in the last year +. They also don’t have the biggest downside that DC and Marvel have to face – the inevitable (and massive) crossover events that swallow up their books and generally deliver months of less interesting content. Image, when you get even bigger, please don’t bring on the crossovers. Stay weird. Stay bold. Keep doing exactly what you’re doing.
BEST COMIC BOOK MOVIE: Um…Catching Fire? Okay, fine. Not a comic book movie. But SO GODDAMN GOOD, both as a movie and as an adaptation. For me, a pick for comic book movie is easy -- Iron Man 3. I know a lot of people have problems with it, and I certainly agree that it’s not a perfect movie, but I really enjoyed it. A lot of that rests squarely on the shoulders of Robert Downey Jr. being an absolutely perfect Tony Stark, but that’s always the case with superhero movies, right? Also, I know it’s apparently controversial, but I found the reversal in the end with Pepper Potts undoing her damsel in distress status to be fantastic. I also find that moment when Potts actually defeats the big bad guy to be extremely progressive and feminist and I’m kind of shocked anyone let Shane Black do it, and I love it all the more for those facts. I don’t think anyone can doubt the big hero is Iron Man. It’s his movie and nobody survives the day without him, but it takes a pretty small man to need to do ALL the work and always be the biggest hero around, whereas it takes a progressive confident dude to be delighted that his tortured girlfriend just showed up and saved his ass. Faults be damned I enjoyed the hell out of Iron Man 3 and the ending delighted me.
WHAT I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO MOST IN 2014:
There’s a whole lot to look forward to, and a lot of it coming from Marvel. But I confess that part II of Scott Snyder’s The Wake in February is REALLY high on my radar. Cannot wait to get back to that series, especially with the cliffhanger. Like last year I’ll be having a post in January about 10 Comics To Read in 2014, so look for that for some more detailed thoughts on 2014.
Alright, kids. Happy New Year to you all and thanks as always for reading!