The 10 BEST COMICS OF 2013 SO FAR
I usually do one of these posts in early June to take stock in what the year has had to offer so far and throw out some suggestions for what might be the best comics of the year as we approach the halfway point.
But I hesitated about writing this column until now, because I was way behind on my reading and the comics had been piling up. And I didn't think the list was strong enough. I wondered if I'd even be able to come up with 10 comics from this year worth recommending, never mind a Top 10 of comics that might be labeled "the best" in any way. But once I read some more comics and started making preliminary lists, I knew that 2013 had plenty to offer already, and with six more months to go and plenty of comics still unread, this could still be the greatest year in the history of comics ever!
Probably not, though. But that doesn't mean you can't find some good comics to read. I liked a bunch so far, including Dash Shaw's "3 New Stories" and the first issue of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's "Zero Year" arc over in "Batman." I liked a couple of MonkeyBrain offerings quite a bit, particularly Dalton Rose's first issue of "Phabula" and the continuation of Chris Roberson and Dennis Culver's "Edison Rex." Gillen and McKelvie's "Young Avengers" relaunch is excellent, and I like what Patrick Zircher's doing with the visuals in the last couple of issues of "Suicide Squad" and Ales Kot seems poised to take that comic in a new and refreshing direction. I even liked "Age of Ultron" -- it was the kind of silly spectacle that I appreciate about superhero comics and if you're up for a marathon podcast session, you can hear more of my thoughts about the series as I team up with Chad Nevett in the first of what we're calling the Splash Page Summer Spectaculars.
And my reading of "2000 AD" has only been sporadic this year, but every time I dip into that long-running anthology series I find a whole lot of things to love. I sometimes think I should just cut way back on all my other reading and commit to "2000 AD" every week. I want to become an obsessive "2000 AD" reader and write letters to Tharg and write blog posts about every weekly installment of every new and continuing series. That would be completely sane, right? Maybe?
But until I reach that manic level, and can replace everything on this list with Judge Dredd stories and the further adventures of Zombo, here's my counting-down-from-10 of the Best Comics of 2013 So Far:
10. "Dream Thief," by Jai Nitz and Greg Smallwood
If you're a regular When Words Collide reader, you probably know that I've written about this series already. I discussed the first two issues prior to their release and I interviewed Greg Smallwood about where he came from and what it is that he thinks he's doing by being all good and everything even though he seemed to come out of nowhere.
"Dream Thief" is worth the attention.
It's a supernatural crime story that recalls the genre-bending comics coming from the full-color independents of the 1980s, and it has a distinctive point of view and a striking visual style. I've mentioned before that it's very good. I haven't changed my opinion on that.
9. "Jupiter's Legacy," by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely
I haven't really been closely following the press surrounding this book, but here are some vague understandings that have floated past my imprecise awareness: this comic is totally ripping off some band you never heard of because the title is somewhat similar in that it references a Roman god and/or a planet that is pretty famous, Mark Miller probably compared it to "Citizen Kane" meets "Star Wars" divided by "War and Peace," and no one really believes that the proposed 12 issues will be released in their lifetime if Frank Quitely is going to draw the whole thing.
After reading the first two issues of "Jupiter's Legacy," I don't much care about any of those things. (I didn't care about them before reading the issues, either, but just pretend that I did.)
Even if "Jupiter's Legacy" never comes to an end, even if Frank Quitely becomes distracted by other projects and never finishes this series and a third-stringer from Avatar Press gets called to suit up for Image to finish the project, these first two issues are still good comics.
The basic premise is that the older generation of heroes (brothers, who are both basically Superman as muscle-bound late-career Sean Connerys) can't accept what the younger generation of heroes is up to. It's part satire of celebrity culture and part slam-bang superheroics -- with the promise for more of the latter as the series progresses. But what matters most is that we get Frank Quitely drawing a stunning comic. For as long as it lasts.
8. "So Long, Silver Screen," by Blutch
I mentioned this Picturebox release when I brought it back from the MoCCA Festival this year, and I still think about how different this book is than anything else I've read in recent years. It's a smart meditation on the way movies shape our sense of reality and how we can structure our understanding of life and relationships around films we've seen or the reflection of Hollywood iconography in the world around us.
It's an essayistic exploration of theme, wrapped in a series of intimate scenes, and Blutch cartoons the heck out of each chapter, with shifting styles bound together with a calmly composed sensibility. It's like going to a film festival and having the conversations before and after the screenings seep into a reflection of your day-to-day existence. Or it's like watching that happen, but feeling like you're inside it.
7. "FF," by Matt Fraction and Michael Allred
"Hawkeye" may be getting more attention -- and it's a good comic with great art by David Aja -- but the best Matt Fraction comic of the year so far is this not-quite-the-Fantastic-Four series starring Ant-Man and She-Hulk and Medusa and Miss Thing and Deranged Johnny Storm from the Future and Alex Power and Bently-23 and Dragon Man and Artie and Leech and, well, the whole Future Foundation.
And in the first eight issues, the crew has battled monsters, dating life, the inhabitants of the Negative Zone, the Wizard, and more. It's a quick-moving, boldly-illustrated comic with Michael Allred doing his best work since X-Statix. It's colorful. It pops. Both visually and narratively. And it's the best monthly Marvel superhero comic so far this year.
6. "Satan's Soldier," by Tom Scioli
Scioli has been popping up at conventions recently with some minicomics versions of this online strip, and I'm curious to see how the artwork translates to the page, because in the later episodes of this now-concluded Superman pastiche, the artist cranks up the Technicolor appeal with multi-hued animated gifs. This isn't motion comics. It's flickering color comics, with the palette shifting within a single image to give a strobe effect that's garishly beautiful.
It's just an incredibly playful comic throughout, with Scioli pushing his extreme Superman-ish character far beyond any sense of decency and yet the violence is so absurd and removed from either reality or the "reality" of traditional superhero comics that it's impossible not to be amused and delighted by the whole project.
Scioli is known as a Kirby guy, and usually that means big, bulky figures in motion and cosmic majesty portending apocalyptic doom, but while "Satan's Soldier" has shades of that, it also seems more like Scioli's own private conversation with the superhero ideal, filtered through a digital sketchbook, and broadcast to the world. It's glorious.
5. "Batman Incorporated," by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham
Chris Burnham's turn as a writer of issue #11 was a ton of fun with some Batman-of-Japan action that was refreshing in contrast with the laborious sprawl of what's left of the New 52, but what makes this series such a strong contender for one-of-the-best-comics-of-the-year is the way Morrison and Burnham delivered the climax and conclusion of the saga of Damian Wayne. The power of the character's death is perhaps reliant on years of previous comics -- it's the culmination of Morrison's entire seven-year run -- but in this current reality of reboots and relaunches it's rare to see such a longform superhero story play out under the guidance of a primary author and that's what has happened with Morrison's Batman saga. It's still his Batman, but he's found one of his greatest collaborators in Burnham and the battle that leads to Damian's demise is one of the iconic sequences in comics this year.
Morrison's Batman sometimes feels like it's gone on too long, that it's coasting toward the finish line on a tank that's nearly empty, but that feeling goes away when you actually read any one of the issues of "Batman Incorporated." Every time another issue comes out -- and I don't even know what the schedule is anymore, but it's certainly not monthly -- Morrison proves that he still knows how to write Batman comics -- and superhero comics -- better than almost anyone.
4. "Fury MAX: My War Gone By," by Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov
Imagine a Howard Chaykin comic about Nick Fury reflecting on his life with flashbacks to various decades and then imagine that comic pushed to even further extremes. That's what you get in this "Fury MAX" offering from Ennis and Parlov.
It's 13 issues telling one story, but embedded within that story are four different three-issue arcs and a final-issue epilogue, and there's an overarching structure that makes this series not just a definitive statement about Nick Fury, but a scathing look at American interventionism and the endless cycle of war. While some of its sentiments are political, it's mostly a character study of this broken man and the decisions he made in his life, and the small group of compatriots who circle around in his orbit.
The thirteenth issue is devastating.
3. "Copra," by Michel Fiffe
Fiffe's self-published experiment in monthly genre comics continues to be not just one of the most visually interesting comics available, but one of the most compelling. Fiffe writes, in the back of an early issue, that part of the reason he's doing this comic is to connect with the way his favorite comics were done. That deadline pressure that pushed creators to move forward and advance the story and throw in new characters without time to think about all the decisions they were making. It's about tapping into the zone of pure creativity because you have to, and Fiffe is basking in it right now, seven issues into the series.
Copra is mostly a Suicide Squad riff with a lot of other familiar character types from the 1980s, but that's really just the framework for Fiffe to tell his own stories. This is no hollow exercise in genre play. Fiffe brings in the pathos and tragedy befitting a comic that takes some of its inspiration from the work of John Ostrander and Ann Nocenti and Chris Claremont, but it's all drenched in Fiffe's own uniquely-specific sensibility.
Still, as artsy as it looks, it's a comic about guys and gals punching and stabbing and blasting each other on rooftops. In other words, how can you not love it?
2. "Nemo: Heart of Ice," by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill
Basically, this new installment of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen "franchise" is a lost world adventure. It's Moore and O'Neill's take on that classic trope of a hidden realm and the explorers who navigate their way through it. When I read the book -- the only "League" installment first released complete and in hardcover other than "Black Dossier" -- I thought I understood most of the dense allusions Moore packs into the story.
But, as always, I missed more than I caught, and Jess Nevins and his crack research team filled in the gaps for me (and the rest of the universe).
You won't need all those footnotes to understand the story, but they do show the amazing depth of subtext and literary and cultural echoes that make the ongoing exploits of the League so vital. The series has become far more than literary gamesmanship. It's Moore and O'Neill's late-career masterpiece, with a chiseled veneer of cracked adventure on the surface and a bubbling enthusiasm for the magic of storytelling welling up inside.
1. All the comics released in 2013 by Michael DeForge but mostly "Lose" #5 and "Very Casual"
This isn't a fair fight. I'm lumping all the DeForge comics together into a single entry, but that's because if I didn't, then the list would be several comics shorter and everyone else would get bumped back a few slots. "Ant Comic" and "Very Casual" and "Lose" #5 are just better than everything else. Even DeForge's two-page contribution to the "Pixar's Cars" #1 minicomic is more impressive than most other comics published this year. And did I mention that it's only two pages?
How could DeForge be that good? Maybe you're asking that.
I don't know the answer, but I know that nearly every story printed in the "Very Casual" collection is unsettling and beautiful and sometimes provocative and always exciting. And "Lose" #5 is an even more confident display of his talents as DeForge seems to have settled into his own unique rhythms and is more interested in letting the story unfold than in pushing things toward the overtly grotesque.
DeForge a fantasist and a horrorist and a humorist who doesn't seem interested in any of the established rules for any of those genres. In his hands, they aren't even genres, they are something else. Impressions. Moments. Dreams of something else.
His comics are the best of the year so far. And he's so prolific, I expect we will see more from him before the year is done.
In addition to writing reviews and columns for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of "Grant Morrison: The Early Years" and editor of "Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes" anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen regularly at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.