Friday, December 13, 2013

Best of 2013 Comics: Best New Series

It was a damn good year for new comics, especially Image Comics, which has a full half of the top 10 this year.

1. Sex Criminals #1-3 (Image Comics)
Not only is this my favorite new series of the year, nothing else really even comes close. Black Beetle and Afterlife with Archie (the next two in line) both have Francesco Francavilla art, which is awesome, but neither is as inventive, as crazy weird and as much damn fun as Sex Criminals. And given that those two books feature pure perfect pulp and a zombie apocalypse in Riverdale, that is saying something. Fraction has unleashed the dirtiest part of his mind and Chip Zdarsky sort of lives in that headspace, and the result is this book about two young lovers who can stop time when they have orgasms and naturally decide to rob banks. That's all we know from there, there have only been three issues, but c'mon... isn't that enough? No? How about almost an entire issue devoted to an inventive and hilarious karaoke rendition of Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls?" How about it's so dirty iTunes banned it, and it's so popular it's in multiple printings? I love, love, love this book so much.

2. Black Beetle #1-4 (Dark Horse Comics)
Black Beetle is technically a miniseries, beginning in Dark Horse Presents and continuing in this four issue miniseries, but since the next mini, Necrologue, is hitting next year, I'm inclined to call it an ongoing. The biggest thing Black Beetle has going for it is Francesco Francavilla's inky, gorgeous artwork and stunning Eisner-esque layouts. But it's also a brand new pulp character that feels like he could fit right alongside The Shadow, Green Hornet and the rest. While Dynamite is producing solid but largely unremarkable new tales of the pulp icons, Francavilla has nailed the exact tone and style of those characters with his new creation.

3. Afterlife with Archie #1-2 (Archie Comics)
What could easily have been a dumb gimmick has, at least so far, been a dark, moody zombie apocalypse that gets bonus points for using the extensive Riverdale cast and locale. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is not a writer I've been a huge fan of, but his history with Archie (he had a play, Archie's Weird Fantasy, which depicted Riverdale's most famous resident coming out of the closet and moving to New York, before Archie Comics shut it down) shows through here, as he subverts the original characters while simultaneously getting to the heart of their concept, and Francesco Francavilla delivers spooky, beautiful artwork that accentuates the iconic nature of the cast and the horrific nature of the zombie apocalypse.

4. Superior Foes of Spider-Man #1-6 (Marvel Comics)
Honestly, I'd have given this one a spot just for a welcome monthly dose of Steve Lieber's artwork, but even better, Superior Foes is the sad sack loser supervillain flipside to Marvel's Hawkeye series. Nick Spencer occasionally verges on too-snarky for me, but it's hard to complain about Boomerang, Speed Demon and the rest being portrayed as kinda losers. It's sort of an Elmore Leonard take on supervillains, and it really is must-reading for those enjoying Hawkeye and Daredevil at Marvel.

5. Velvet #1-2  (Image Comics)
Too early to really tell the future for this one, but this '60s espionage piece by the Captain America creative team of Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting is off to a strong start, with great action and conspiracy plotting plus gorgeous, gorgeous artwork.

6. Lazarus #1-5  (Image Comics)
I occasionally feel like I'm getting lost in the depth of Greg Rucka's politically-aware sci-fi world, as he's taking a William Gibson-esque "throw you in the deep end" approach, but there's no denying that the near-future world of Lazarus is smart, compelling and a little too plausible for comfort. Michael Lark is a terrific talent whose realistic style complements Rucka's down-to-earth narrative (if you can call a book about an unkillable corporate soldier down-to-earth, and I can, it's my list) and I feel like at five issues, we've just barely dipped our toe into the water here.

7. Injustice Gods Among Us #1-11 (DC Comics)
This one is a surprise. It starts with Joker murdering Lois Lane along with a lot of Metropolis and Superman retaliating by killing the Joker. It's dark, based on the ugly-as-hell designs of the Injustice video game and seems like the kind of thing that, tonally, would not be up my alley. But Tom Taylor's moment-to-moment writing, especially on one of my favorite characters, Green Arrow, gets the DC Universe in a way that not even a single New 52 creator has, and this Elseworlds tale of what happens when Superman and Batman are pushed to far reminds me of everything I liked about Kingdom Come. I wish the art was stronger and more consistent and not married to some really awful designs, but I can forgive a lot, especially when you've got the weirdly perfect and unexpected relationship of Green Arrow and Harley Quinn. Check out the annual, where Harley Quinn and Lobo go head-to-head (in another unexpectedly perfect pairing), to get a sense of the series at its best.

8. Alex + Ada #1-2  (Image Comics)
Another new series that could peter out before it earns it's top 10 spot, but the first two issues, featuring art by Jonathan Luna and co-writing from Sara Vaughn, are really intriguing stuff. A future with telepathic instant messaging and companion robots and a young man who finds himself dealing with both bits of technology leads to a strong, character-driven story with plenty of neat things to say about what it means to be human in a world where technology is blurring the lines.

9. Superior Spider-Man #1-24 (Marvel Comics)
I know a few of my friends might disown me after seeing this on my top 10, but despite the godawful premise (Doctor Octopus takes over Peter Parker's body), the frustrating defensive arrogance that Dan Slott keeps showing online (although after you get a few death threats, I think you can forgive being a bit prickly about fan reaction) and the constantly-changing art team, there's more here I like than don't. A new relationship between Spidey and Jonah, a reinvented Peter Parker (and Spider-Man), a guest turn by Spider-Man 2099, a gang of Goblins both Green and Hob... every issue there's something that makes me groan, but there's also something that I think is interesting or cool. Like pretty much everyone else, I'm marking time until we get the real Spider-Man back, but honestly, I'm kind of enjoying this as a temporary diversion.

10. East of West #1-7 (Image Comics)
This one almost doesn't make the list because I'm starting to feel the same spinning out of plot that has happened with all of Jonathan Hickman's work for me, but... the premise and world is so interesting, the art is so good that even if I wind up losing track before the end, I'm always going to love the promise that this post-apocalyptic western about the Four Horsemen had at the start.

Also in contention: Image's Burn The Orphanage #1-2 is a fun take on videogame tropes, Trillium #1-5 is a strange experiment in sci-fi comics from Jeff Lemire and Vertigo, Rat Queens #1-3 is a fun D&D-esque fantasy tale from Kurtis Wiebe and Roc Upchurch, and Itty Bitty Hellboy #1-3 is the Hellboy universe from Tiny Titans and Aw Yeah! creators Franco and Art Baltazar. All just narrowly missed the top 10.

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