The Best of 2013 in Comics

Hello, Nation!  2013 was a big year for comics, and in our year-end wrap up we’re bringing you our picks of the best ongoing series, individual issues and story arcs that we read this year. Join our PTBN Comics columnists Russell Sellers of “Sellers Points”, Nick Duke and Greg Phillips, the “Hard-Travelling Fanboys” and Todd Weber from “Weber Has Issues” as we bring you the Place to Be Nation Comics department’s favorites from 2013.

Top 5 Ongoing Series

Russell Sellers:

5. Green Lantern

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Robert Venditti and Billy Tan had quite a task on their hands in taking over the title Geoff Johns had taken from near obscurity to DC’s top-selling title. And they were absolutely up to the task.

Linking the four main titles together and putting Hal Jordan in the unenviable position as Corps leader built to a great crossover in “Lights Out.” The exploration of the idea that the very thing the Corps uses to protect life is potentially responsible for ending it on a universe-wide scale is a natural progression of what Johns started and has made for some interesting philosophical questions in addition to the great action scene from Billy Tan. I think this one’s in good hands.

4. Thor: God of Thunder

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Jason Aaron has done what I thought might be impossible and turned me into a genuine Thor fan. This characterization of the God of Thunder is nearly flawless. The newest arc, The Accursed, has brought back Malekith (Hey, just in time for the movie! Totally a coincidence, I’m sure) and he’s never been written better. You get a sense of true malice from him and that’s exactly what a title like this needs in a villain. Especially after the truly epic stories in The God Butcher and The God Bomb.

What makes this even better is how it doesn’t concern itself with anything else going on in the Marvel Universe. This is one of those rare titles that just won’t be bothered by crossovers and that is really refreshing. If all you know of Thor is what you saw in the movies, you’re in luck, this title is perfect for you.

3. Superior Spider-Man

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Talk about unpredictable! Spider-Man was the first superhero I ever really loved and when Peter Parker died at the end of last year, it was heartbreaking. But, honestly, it was probably time for it to happen. Past time, really. Now, Otto Octavious is in the driver’s seat and it’s some of the most fun I’ve had reading comics this year.

Those expecting a return to the 90’s style anti-hero really had nothing to be worried about. There’s all sorts of genuinely fun and funny action in here, despite Ock’s penchant for corporal punishment from time to time. He’s been put through the trials of a hero and it’s changed him at his core. He actually does have the best of intentions, despite his ego getting in the way. But that’s what makes it fun. He’s in Peter Parker’s body so he has to keep up appearances and that’s made for some great natural comedy. Dan Slott just might be a true evil genius in disguise. I never know what’s going to happen next and I’m always excited to find out.

2. Batman

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Who would have thought that revisiting Batman’s origin would be as good as Zero Year has been? In lesser hands, this would never have worked, but Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are just killing it! Seeing all the little details worked in so effortlessly is what I love most about this series. The origin of Riddler and the delightfully unhinged nature of the original Red Hood are perfectly balanced on the young Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon’s shoulders.

Scott Snyder has made Batman his own and I, for one, am glad he’s here. His Joker story, Death of the Family, made for some really deep, philosophical reading, too. His exploration of Gotham City as its own character has pushed this title above many of the writers who came before him. He’s certainly likely to join the ranks of Frank Miller, Neal Adams, Denny O’Neil, Jeph Loeb and even Bill Finger. If Zero Year ends as well as it began, it’ll be talked about in the same regard as Year One by comic fans for years to come.

1. Superman Unchained

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This is what good comics should be about. Great story, amazing art and characters that just come alive on the page. Scott Snyder and Jim Lee have achieved all of that with this title. It’s the one book I can say I genuinely can’t wait to read every month.

Every issue reads incredibly fast, but I have to force myself to slow down and drink in all the gorgeous art. And is it ever gorgeous. That combined with the single best interpretation of Lois Lane in the New 52 and a fun new set of villains in Ascension and Wraith and you’ve got the single best ongoing series of 2013! I’m still not crazy about the name, but everything else, from top to bottom has been executed perfectly.

Greg Phillips

5. Green Lantern Corps

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For the first half of 2013, veteran GLC scribe Peter Tomasi turned in some of his best work on the title, bringing us the stories of Guy Gardner and John Stewart as they dealt with family problems and blossoming romance, respectively. The book, drawn remarkably well by Fernando Pasarin, was at its best when giving readers a glimpse into the mind of Guy Gardner, a character Tomasi was personally responsible for strengthening in the last five years. Needless to say, I was a bit worried when Tomasi departed after issue 20 to make way for newcomers Van Jensen and Robert Venditti. Much to my surprise, Jensen and Venditti’s Corps has been the highlight of the post-Geoff Johns Green Lantern era. With terrific art from Bernard Chang, Jensen has taken more of an interest in the Corps as a whole, focusing on a group of rookie Lanterns being trained by a weary Stewart. It also helps that Jensen writes the best John Stewart I’ve read in years. Of all the Lantern books, this has been the most consistent.

4. Superman Unchained

Four words sold me on this book: “Scott Snyder” and “Jim Lee.” Those who know me also know that Jim Lee is my all-time favorite comic book artist, dating back to my earliest days reading funnybooks. And ever since I read “The Black Mirror,” Scott Snyder has been among my favorite comic book writers. Putting these two together was a dream come true for me, and yet I still had some worries. It had literally been years since I’d read a good Superman series, and when this book dropped during the summer, my first thought was that it was only “good.” And then issue 2 came out. And then issue 3. Followed by issue 4. And suddenly I found myself immersed in the best Superman story I’d read in many years. The best part about this book is that it is truly timeless. Snyder’s story could take place at virtually any time in the Man of Steel’s long history. That means it isn’t beholden to whatever zany Krypton-based storylines are being told by other writers. This is Snyder and Lee picking out the most iconic elements of Superman, plugging them into a classic formula (Superman vs. What Superman Could Be) and letting loose. Each month, I can’t wait to get my hands on this book. For a kid who grew up loving Superman, that’s a good feeling to have again.

3. Justice League of America

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When it comes to team books, it doesn’t get much better than this. Geoff Johns and David Finch launched the book early in 2013 to tremendous sales but quiet fanfare. Many found the first issue too heavy on dialogue and team-building. I, on the other hand, found it incredibly refreshing. In one issue, Johns took a handful of characters who had been mishandled and nearly ruined by the New 52 reboot — Catwoman, Hawkman, Martian Manhunter and Green Arrow — and instantly reminded me why those characters matter. From that point on, joined by Finch and Brett Booth on art and with backup stories by Matt Kindt, Johns’ JLA was an intriguing mixture of backstage politics and front row action not unlike 2012’s blockbuster Marvel film, “The Avengers.” While some prefer the more action-heavy Justice League, JLA was the better title for my tastes. Seeing the interactions of these teammates, many of whom don’t know but already dislike each other, was a pleasure each and every month. It also had some great comedy along the way, including one of the best scenes of the year, Simon Baz’s first meeting with Hawkman. Johns also brought back one of his greatest creations, Stargirl, and she’s been a truly refreshing dose of optimism in a cynical DC world. Matt Kindt took over the book from Johns, and he hasn’t missed a beat thus far.

2. Batman

What else can be said about Scott Snyder’s epic Batman run at this point? For more than two years now, Snyder and artist extraordinaire Greg Capullo have been captaining the Dark Knight’s ship, and the results have been staggering, both critically and financially. This year brought the conclusion of the months-long “Death of the Family” arc, which divided readers but brought a much-needed buzz to the Joker that had been missing in the comics for much of the last decade. After a few stellar standalone issues, Snyder began his most ambitious Bat-project yet, a retelling of Batman’s origin known as “Zero Year.” Anytime you try to provide your own spin on the most iconic of all superhero origins, it’s dangerous territory, but Snyder and Capullo have stepped up to the plate and delivered a home run every month. From Snyder’s compelling take on the Riddler to Capullo’s reimagining of Batman’s earliest equipment, the story has twisted and turned while never losing its focus.

1. Green Arrow

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Talk about a turnaround. One year ago, Green Arrow was among the most critically lambasted titles on the market. With the exceptions of Superboy and the Teen Titans, perhaps no character was harmed more by the New 52 reboot than Oliver Queen. Gone were most of Ollie’s most recognizable qualities, along with his rich backstory. So with the book’s sales circling the drain, DC called on Animal Man writer/artist Jeff Lemire to take over the book and try to rescue it from the creative doldrums. What he did with February’s Green Arrow #17 amounted to a soft reboot. In one issue, Lemire repurposed Oliver Queen and established both a new status quo and a new ongoing story. Gone was the globetrotting rich boy aspect of the book, replaced by a stronger focus on archery, street-level fisticuffs, martial arts-based conspiracies and the gritty elements that made Mike Grell’s 1980s Green Arrow work so interesting. In the following months, Lemire gave Ollie a new headquarters, team and primary villain. Komodo is my favorite original Green Arrow villain since Kevin Smith’s Onomatopoeia, and I truly think he has the potential to become as iconic as Count Vertigo, Merlyn or any other foe of the Emerald Archer. Komodo is presented as a foe who has nearly every conceivable advantage over Oliver, but he’s also not unbeatable. In addition to new characters like Komodo, Lemire has seemingly made it his mission to pull a Geoff Johns and provide fascinating modern takes on outdated characters. From the Clock King to Count Vertigo, from Shado to Richard Dragon, Lemire has put his own spin on some of Oliver’s most iconic counterparts. I can’t wait to see what Lemire has in store for the reimagined Richard Dragon. But for all the praise I’ve heaped on Lemire, the man who may be more responsible for the book’s success is artist Andrea Sorrentino. Without hesitation, I’d call Sorrentino the breakout DC artist of the year. Like Grell did with “The Longbook Hunters,” Sorrentino proves that the art can move the story just as well as the script, if not moreso. There have been issues during this run where Sorrentino’s layouts have not only served the story but enhanced it with subtlety and nuance that’s missing from most mainstream comics. Sorrentino’s images manage to walk the line between beautiful and surreal, creating a cinematic “slow motion” effect to many of the action scenes. I surprised myself putting this book this high on my list, but I can honestly say no comic book impressed me more this year.

Todd Weber

5. Batman

What a year for this book! Once “Death of the Family” (which re-established the Joker as a malevolent force of nature and not a foil for the annoying antics of Harley Quinn) wrapped up, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo brought us a new take on Batman’s origin in the “Zero Year” storyline. It’s really impressive that Snyder is able to find new ground to cover in the caped crusader’s origin, and his take on the Batman/Gordon relationship is compelling. The prominence of the Riddler and Snyder clearly has a master plan at work for the dark knight, and I enjoyed every single issue of this series published this year.

4. Wonder Woman

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Brian Azzarello and (usually) Cliff Chiang are doing wonders with Princess Diana. Mature and intense, this title has fleshed out WW’s origin and personality, and has even made me care about the New Gods. This book features some of the finest artwork in comics, as Chiang’s clean lines are vibrant and the limited color palette contributes as well. Azzarello’s casting of Wonder Woman as a peer to Heracles (a mortal child of Zeus) has given her an epic tale that ranks up with George Perez’s beloved run from the ‘80s. Hopefully, there’s still places for Azzarello & Chiang to take Wonder Woman.

3. All-New X-Men

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I haven’t enjoyed any X-Men book since Joss Whedon’s “Astonishing X-Men”, and before that it had been 15 years since I’d found Marvel’s merry mutants to be entertaining. Luckily, this book has made fall in love with the mutants again. Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen’s “All-New X-Men” serves as a meta commentary on all the crappy X-Men series over the years, as it features Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original X-Men time-displaced and confronting their present selves (except for um, Jean) over how far the contemporary team has strayed from Professor Xavier’s vision.

2. Saga

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I celebrate that we’ve received a second year of this amazing epic space opera from Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples. This book is the best blend of adventure, characterization and humor in all of comics right now, and this book has so many “holy crap” moments that I’ve lost count. This is the rare comic a la “Sandman” that anybody can give their significant other who hates superheroes and tell them, “see, comics are worth your time”. Saga is so, so good.

1. Thor: God of Thunder

Jason Aaron is doing the work of his career and putting out the best book on the stands right now. Innovative and fun, this comic is always the first of my stack that I read when it comes out. From the “Godbomb” saga to the classic “day in the life” issue #12 to the current Malekith story that is clearly trying to lure fans of the Chris Hemsworth Thor in theaters now, Aaron has put out amazing comics month after month (even with different artists depending on the story arc). This book is state-of-the-art classic superhero magic.

Author: Comics Staff

The Place to Be Nation Comics Staff includes Greg Phillips, Nick Duke, Russell Sellers, Tim Capel and Todd Weber. Catch all of their individual pieces by checking out our Comics area.