10. The Wake: Horror movies have been one my biggest passions since I was an itty bitty boy, and with it has come a lifelong reverence of that classic metaphor for all our fears and anxieties: the monster. When I first read about this miniseries and what Scott Snyder had planned, especially the types of beasts and the setting the story would take place in, I couldn’t have been more excited. Monsters and the sea go together like Jason Voorhee’s machete and a stoner kid’s throat; it’s like they were made for each other. However, the first issue of the series made it clear that those expectations were very quickly going to be exceeded.
From the start, this mini-series has felt far more ambitious than your average horror comic. On top of all the atmosphere, action, suspense, and heart, there has been the inescapable feeling that this story has the weight of a much larger narrative heaped upon its shoulders. And lo and behold, that was certainly revealed to be the case after issue #5 as Scott Snyder took what all of us thought was going to be a standard creature feature and made it into what is turning out to be a generations spanning post-apocalyptic epic.
The Wake has been a spectacular read so far, but it would be nothing without the artwork of Sean Murphy. It’s mystifying seeing a writer and artist gel together this well, complementing each other’s styles to the point of almost being symbiotic, and it’s what has given the title such a distinct feeling. Murphy captured perfectly the dark and mysterious tone of that ocean floor setting, heightening the terrifying nature of the sea beasts as a result. It will be interesting to see what he brings to the second act of the mini-series as we move back inland, but it’s probably safe to say that it will look awesome.
9. Green Arrow: One of the saddest and most frustrating things to witness as a comic fan is the deterioration of a beloved character due to a bad run; that slow-motion-car-wreck of a metamorphosis from relevancy to trash. Conversely, one of the best experiences is watching that same character who everyone (including yourself) gave up on be revitalized and redeemed thanks to a new creative team and a new sense of purpose. As most people know by now, that’s exactly what happened this year with Green Arrow thanks to the expert handling of Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino. Gone was that sense of not knowing exactly what this book was trying to be; Green Arrow’s roots have always been found in a mixture of street-level justice and world-traversing adventure, and that’s what the title has gone back to.
Deciding to take a page from other books that have managed to stand out from the rest of the New 52, Lemire chose to separate the world of Oliver Queen from the rest of the universe he technically inhabits. If the problems plaguing other books came as a result of having to live up to the new DC status-quo, then why not just pretend it wasn’t there? This “start from scratch” mentality made everything that had come before it a thing of the past and its future quickly grew brighter as a result. Here’s hoping it continues its streak of success into the New Year.
8. Batgirl: Like an idiot, I only first started paying attention to Batgirl around the time of its “Death of the Family” tie-ins. I have since caught up on the things I’ve missed, but I’ll always regret not jumping on board sooner. Simply put, what Gail Simone is doing with the character of Barbara Gordon is incredible. She’s taken an already strong, intelligent, and tough character and added a whole new layer to her persona by, essentially, trying to burn her to the ground.
Everything that has happened this year, from her showdown with the Joker to Babs’ jaw-dropping battle with her insane brother James, has pushed the limits of Batgirl’s physical and inner strength. No matter what’s thrown at her, though, she refuses to break. Like many other fans, that’s what I love about the character, and it’s what made this series stand out to me this year. In terms of sheer determination and grit, she can stand up to just about any figure in the entire DC universe.
7. Swamp Thing: While 2013 did see the end of the epic “Rotworld” saga, I’d have to say that this year in Swamp Thing really belongs to Charles Soule. I loved Scott Snyder’s run and the way he re-established the character in the DC universe, but in many ways this is the Swampy title I was hoping to see when the New 52 was first announced: a good mixture of horror, mystery, action, and good old fashion comic book drama.
One of the new things that Soule brought to this book that caught my attention was the underlying struggle he’s had with the unexplored violent-side of the Green. It’s been super cool to watch this play out in Swamp Thing’s thoughts and urges, adding a new layer of tension to the character. The introduction of Seeder and subsequent debut of the Floronic Man was another highlight, giving Dr. Holland not only a new villain to stand toe-to-toe with, but a rival as well. Overall, it’s just been one crazy entertaining run so far, and I’m looking forward to what Soule has in store for us in 2014.
6. Ghosted: I remember being kind of skeptical when I first heard the news of this comic that Image was about to put out that was supposed to be a cross between Ocean’s Eleven and Ghostbusters. I mean, sure it sounded pretty cool in theory but the execution of such a lofty amalgamation of genres (heist and horror) would probably be too difficult to pull off…right? Evidently not if you happen to be Joshua Williamson. In its debut issue, he managed to create a world that felt distinctly its own while also familiar, paying enough homage to its influences that they were visible but not overbearing.
This year, Ghosted seemed to be one of those books people were always coming at you with in the comic store. Despite not having much hype behind it before its release, the title quickly and quietly gathered a fan-base that became more and more rabid with each passing issue. Looking back, I can’t see how you couldn’t get sucked in right from the start; the cast of characters are memorable, the dialogue was snappy, the pace was almost perfectly plotted, and the creepy atmosphere (thanks to the stellar artwork of Goran Sudzuka) practically dripped from the pages. I was so glad to hear that this initially limited run was being extended into an ongoing series. It couldn’t have happened to a more exciting and deserving book.
5. Saga: If you’ve read any of my Saga reviews, or just happen to come in contact with me in the real world, you’ll know that I’m a cry baby. I’m a big ol’ quivering-lipped sucker who tears up at the mention of anything remotely sad or cute, and god help me if it’s a combination of the two. So with that said, logic would dictate that I should not be reading Saga, a book that is more than capable of sending your average reader teetering on the edge of an emotional and spiritual breakdown. But here we are.
Saga is a testament to the importance of, and the crucial relationship between, thorough characterization and solid story-pacing. I’ve always been a sucker for a slow-burn; a painstaking build-up that leads to a payoff that knocks you flat on your ass. That momentum comes as a result of hours of work put into making a character as three dimensional as possible. By the end of a Brian K. Vaughan story, you feel as if the individuals you’ve been reading about are members of your own family. Even the jerks, like Prince Robot, somehow manage to get under your skin a little.
Of course there are other factors that make this series great, like Fiona Staples’ brilliant artwork, the unique world it takes place in, and Lying Cat. It’s the feeling of being imbedded with the characters, though, that keeps me coming back to Saga. Turning your back on this book would be like turning your back on your family.
4. Wonder Woman: I can’t quite remember when exactly I realized that Wonder Woman had gone from a book I liked to a book I was freakin’ in love with, but I do know that at some point this year it hit me that this was a title that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on each month. Maybe it was the exploration of Diana’s complex relationship with her uncle War, and the emotional gut-punch that was issue #23, that caused the revelation. Or maybe it was the birth of Zeke, that adorable little bundle of demi-god cuteness. The introduction of the First Son was certainly a memorable moment this year, as was the New 52 debut of Orion and New Genesis. In the end, though, it doesn’t really matter what moment it was; all of these events combined to make 2013 one hell of a year for an already stellar comic series.
While I think it has gotten better with this year, the fact that Wonder Woman isn’t hyped up and constantly trumpeted from the rooftops as one of DC’s best still blows my mind. Brian Azzarello has been quietly weaving a rich tapestry of relationships and history in this book that rivals some of the best titles coming out of any publisher. Its art has been just as solid, barely ever deviating from the high standard that was set upon its debut. Here’s hoping that 2014 will be the year where this title finally really explodes in the recognition department.
3. Hawkeye: Pardon my French here folks, but here’s how many craps I gave about Hawkeye before this series began: zero. This year, however, it very quickly became one of my favorite titles being published by Marvel, positively destroying my expectations of not only what could be done with the character of Clint Barton, but what a superhero comic could be. Sure, there have been street-level heroes before, but few are as relatable as Clint. When you boil him down, Hawkeye is just a dude who happens to be good with a bow. He has a big heart and a pretty good moral compass, but he’s also human. He makes bad decisions, regrets things from his past and he is just as capable of having moments where his confidence in himself is nonexistent. But no matter how bad things get for him, he has that inner strength that keeps him getting back up after getting knocked down.
Awesome characterization aside, let’s be honest what the real highlight was this year in Hawkeye-world: the Pizza Dog story. This issue represents so much of what makes this series stand out. It’s got heart, is incredibly clever, and is funny as all get-out. And the risk it takes! Can you imagine pitching a story involving a dog trying to solve a mystery while walking around the apartment building it lives in? I love that Matt Fraction and David Aja are willing to takes these leaps of faith, trusting their audience to show why stories like this are a good idea.
2. Batman: When I inevitably corner people and lull them into a troubled sleep with my rants regarding Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s run on Batman, the word I always seem to use to define it is this: gutsy. They continue to make decisions regarding what stories to tell that would make other creative teams pee their pants in fear. Take their “Death of the Family” arc, for instance. The Joker is one of the most popular and iconic villains of all time, and as a result there is no shortage of stories featuring the character. Some are legendary, others memorable, but many, many more are simply throwaway. Snyder and Capullo not only crafted an incredibly ambitious story for the Clown Prince of Crime, but they took chances with the character that could have blown up in their faces. But it didn’t, and what we’re left with is a Joker story that joins the ranks of such classics as “The Killing Joke” and “The Man Who Laughs.”
So you’d think they’d reel it in a little, right? No sane person would next do, oh I don’t know, a reimagining of the first days of one of the most legendary heroes in comics…right? Nope, nope, nope. When “Zero Year” was announced, I thought Snyder had lost his mind. This is an origin we ALL know, and even the most rabid of Batman fans would probably have no time for reading another take on such a common-knowledge story. Little did I know those words would be served to me on steaming hot plate of my own regret. I ate those words, and am grateful I had to. “Zero Year” has been entertaining, engaging and expectation-exploding. It’s redefining a character that we’ve all believed to be an open book since the 80’s. I can’t wait to see how the rest of the arc plays out this year and what this dynamic duo have in store for us afterwards.
1. Daredevil: Daredevil has been a story-telling juggernaut since its debut, and as many can probably relate, finding words to adequately praise this series has become pretty difficult. We all know by now why it’s fantastic and what makes it stand out from a multitude of books about guys and girls running around in spandex and cleaning up the streets/universe/whatever-realm-they-call-home. It’s a clever, sometimes challenging, often funny, and always entertaining comic that never seems to dip in terms of consistency or quality. So all that being said, I’m going to relate the one moment this year in Daredevil that I connected to the most.
I can’t recall another scene in a comic that is more true to life or heartbreaking than when Matt Murdock watches his best friend Foggy Nelson hear the news that he has cancer. At the time, it felt like all the air in my lungs was suddenly sucked out. The unfortunate truth is that many of us know far too well what that scenario is like, and Mark Waid captured it with a vividness that brought tears to my eyes. In the months that followed, we’ve seen Foggy’s illness treated with the honesty that it deserves. There have been ups and downs for him; moments of courage and moments of despair. But through it all there has always been this message: whether you’re the person who’s been struck with the horrible disease or you’re someone by that person’s side, never lose hope. Never stop fighting.
Sometimes people trash superhero comics, saying that they’re frivolous little morality-plays that tackle nothing of importance. That is certainly the case for some, but if Daredevil represents anything, it’s the potential this medium has. It can touch lives, make people feel strong in their darkest moments. At their best, comics can give you hope.