It's that time of the year, with Christmas behind and the big ball drop in Time's Square ahead, to reflect on all the truly great comic books offered by various companies across these past fifty-two comic book days. To this end, how about giving a nod to the best of the best for my third annual "best of the year" list? As in prior years, all titles will be offered in alphabetical order; it's just handier that way! Without further ado...the best comics reviewed in this column for 2013!
Archer & Armstrong #6-16; #0: Written by Fred Van Lente and drawn by Emanuela Lupacchino, Pere Perez, Clayton Henry (the zero issue), and Khari Evans. It has been another great year for one of Valiant Comics' best relaunches. The spiritual descendant to "Incredible Hercules", the titular duo spent the year fighting against Armstrong's warrior brother, aliens, dinosaurs, Cold War era generals, and more insanely imaginative cabals of evil. From flying saucers to time traveling drinking binges, this series offers one of the best "buddy adventure comedies" on the shelves today. Thankfully in 2013, it was not alone.
Battling Boy: Legendary talent Paul Pope writes and draws this masterpiece of a new work from First Second. It seems every year at the New York Comic Con I grab one of their new offerings which serves to impress me more than many "big two" comics do. Last year it was the excellent "Broxo", and while I can't honestly say this was as good, it still is great enough to be fondly recalled months later. A unique coming of age story which features the titular son of a god being cast down to earth to prove his worth, Battling Boy quickly gets in over his head fighting no end of monsters led by the vicious Sadisto. In the end he has to team up with the city's other super hero(ine) as well as admit his own wrongs to himself. Clearly the first of a series, "Battling Boy" made its start with style and substance.
Bloodhound: Crowbar Medicine #1-3: Dan Jolley and artist Leonard Kirk finally resurrect their excellent DC Comics series from 2004-2005 over to greener pastures at Dark Horse Comics for a new hard broiled adventure. The hulking ex cop, ex con Clev continues to both impress and frustrate as a man with an uncanny knack for profiling superhuman criminals in a world far from ready for them. Flanked by FBI agent Saffron Bell, the series not only follows their cases against increasingly dangerous enemies, but their own fractured family lives and attempts to recover from past sins. The comics world was a bit less without this underrated series, and its return is well earned.
Daredevil #21-34: Mark Waid continues his yeoman run on "the man without fear" alongside artists Chris Samnee and Javier Rodriguez for another standout year. 2013 saw Matt Murdock face down new villains such as the Coyote and Ikari, old enemies such as Bullseye or Jester, and a bold new conspiracy by the "Sons of the Serpent". He has survived encounters with Doctor Doom as well as the pressure of his best friend Foggy Nelson questioning his sanity, and then coming down with cancer. In addition to a brilliant voice for the character and exceptional long term plots, this series continues to offer the best artwork from Marvel Comics. 2014 will see the end of Samnee's tenure on the book as well as an obligatory relaunch, and one hopes Waid picks things up in the new year just as well as he has from the last.
It Came! #1-4: Few people may have heard of this great mini series, as it was published by Titan Comics, a U.K. based publisher which has only begun to get a foothold into North American comic shops. Dan Boultwood writes/draws/"directs" this hilarious satire of 1950's B-horror movies. When a giant alien robot appears in England, it is up to the hilariously sexist Dr. Boy Brett and the long suffering Doris Night, as well as some hapless military figures, to save the world. From mock ads within the "film" to wacky profiles on the "actors" themselves to some of the best in slapstick and verbal comedy seen in a comic this year, "It Came!" is a sleeper hit which shouldn't be ignored.
Quantum & Woody #1-6: Not content with merely having one of the best "buddy comedy adventure" series from their stable of relaunches, Valiant Comics resurrected one of their best known franchises from the turn of the century. Written by James Asmus and drawn by Tom Fowler and Ming Doyle, this series two of the most dysfunctional superheroes ever created. Two combative adoptive brothers are forced to unite when a freak accident while trying to solve their father's murder causes them to gain super powers, but fade into microns if they don't clash their bracelets together once a day. Next thing they know, they're knee deep in mad scientist enclaves, bizarre monsters, teenage clones and one mysterious goat - which would be difficult to handle even if they could stand each other! Asmus' scripts deliver better one-liners than most sitcoms while the artwork often excels at physical comedy. Each issue is a can't miss issue.
Saga #9-17: Really, is there a need to elaborate? Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' masterwork from Image Comics has been topping lists and critical reviews all year long. It has offered an imaginative yet familiar seeming science fiction universe full of unique but very "human" characters - even if they may not be "human" in the classical sense. Alana and Marko continue to try to protect their hybrid daughter Hazel from being tracked down by bounty hunter "The Will", Marko's jilted ex Gwen, and military leader Prince Robot IV. They may be aided by a fierce mother-in-law, a ghost babysitter, and an eccentric romance novel author, but will that be enough? Every character within this piece is well fleshed and well written, with this series perhaps being Vaughan's strongest creation yet. To read it is to love it.
Scarlet Spider #13-25: Writer Chris Yost and artists Khoi Pham, Carlo Barberi, and David Baldeon (among others) accomplished what seemed to be impossible; making a series starring 90's fad character Kaine last two full years and twenty-six issues of material (since there was a "point one" issue in there). This was the third Spider-Man spin off to end this year, the others being "Venom" and "Morbius the Living Vampire". Yet it eked out a position above both by providing its anti-hero with a unique setting in Houston as well as one of the strongest new supporting casts a superhero had has in years. An unlikely and often unwilling hero, Kaine survived battles against the Assassin's Guild, werewolf mobster siblings, Armadillo, Carnage, and Kraven the Hunter, as well as team ups with Wolverine, Venom, and the "superior" Spider-Man. He even endured a rodeo! Yet his worst enemy was often himself, and his series didn't see a happy ending. Fortunately, both Yost and Kaine (and Aracely) will be returning in "New Warriors" this spring.
Superior Spider-Man #1-24: Double shipping this year, writers Dan Slott and Christos Gage as well as artists Ryan Stegman, Humberto Ramos and Giuseppe Camuncoli brought life to one of the weirdest years in the web-slinger's long history. To be honest, the second half of this year has been worse on this run than the starting half, but overall it is always riveting stuff as Dr. Octopus has cheated death by possessing the body of Spider-Man and seeking to become a better hero. At its best, it offers a look at the psyche of an arrogant mad man who plays at being a hero for the sake of his own ego and often fails despite himself. At its worst, it showcases how horribly stupid everyone in Peter Parker's costumed and personal life is for failing to notice when a maniac right out of a Saturday morning cartoon is posing as someone they profess to know for years. Despite the protestations from its writers that this is permanent, 2014 will bring with is a new "Amazing Spider-Man" film and one hopes for its own sake that this story winds down just in time for it.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #18-29; TMNT Micro-Series: Villains #1-8 & TMNT: Secret History of the Foot Clan #2-4: It has been another epic year for IDW's brilliant recreation of the Ninja Turtles franchise. Scripted by Tom Waltz and original co-creator Kevin Eastman alongside art by Ben Bates, Mateus Santolouco, Ross Campbell, Dan Duncan and Andy Kuhn (among many others), this universe has become one of the best Ninja Turtles universes ever made. Uniting elements from the original comics and cartoons with newer cartoons, films, and original innovation, this has become a franchise revamp which can be enjoyed by fans new and old. The year has seen the Turtles survive a space war in Dimension X as well as a war between the Foot and other crime families back home. The year ended with their family fractured and their setting once again changing, but it will merely be a chance to lick wounds before 2014 proves to be better than ever for one of comics' most unique families.
Honorable mentions: Superior Foes of Spider-Man, The Standard, Sanctuary, Batman Beyond Unlimited/Universe, Chronos Commandos
Scandal of the year: DC Comics' unintentional war against women, homosexuals, or any reader not part of the Adam Sandler film demographic.
Fallen writer of the year: Jonathan Hickman, who made a space war in "Infinity" seem to last as long as it said.
Lamest event: "Age of Ultron"; a tale where Wolverine killed the space/time continuum and nobody cared.