It’s the year’s end, and so it’s time for us to assess all the past year’s worth of comics. Man alive, there were a lot of great comics this year! While certain books formed a common link on Team Unwinnable’s individual lists, everyone had a few surprise picks that didn’t make the final tally. The thing that got me, though, was that all of these books are fantastic. It really is a great time to be a comic book reader. Honestly, there are so many good books out there that I don’t even want to call this a “Best of” list, but instead call it a “Favorite” list. This year was that good.
Without further ado, here are Team Unwinnable’s favorite comics of 2013.
– Ian Gonzales
Kate Kane is strong. Not just in terms of ass-kicking; Kate is a woman of unshakable convictions, whose determination, loyalty and stubbornness make her a hero as well as a flawed, believable character. Brought to life by the beautiful art of W. Haden Blackman and J. H. Williams III, Kate electrifies every panel in which she appears. For all of 2013 Batwoman has been my most anticipated comic, because when I read it I felt strong too.
I’m not the only one. In 2013, Batwoman was nominated for a GLAAD award for the second time in a row, and was the only mainline DC title to win a 2013 Eisner Award. The year also saw artist Trevor McCarthy joining the creative team, who brought a new feel to the art while continuing Williams’ and Blackman’s tradition of beautiful and creative full-page layouts. An unfolding story focused on Kate’s broken but loving family was interrupted in autumn of this year, however, when Williams announced that he and Blackman were leaving Batwoman over creative differences with DC Comics, foremost among them the editorial board’s decision to forbid Williams and Blackman from having Kate marry her long-time fiancée Maggie Sawyer (DC Comics has said the no-marriage policy extends to the whole New 52, not just Batwoman). Now with a new creative team – writer Marc Andreyko and artist Jeremy Haun – Batwoman appears to be in good hands, but it’s difficult to say good-bye to the writers and artists who first brought this breathtaking comic to life.
– Jill Scharr
It’s been a while since we last saw Geoff Darrow’s Shaolin Cowboy, so it was nice to see him back in a brand-new series from Dark Horse Comics. There are three issues out so far and the only way I can describe this comic is that it’s ballsy.
The first issue starts with a rather large absurdist text piece that tells the story of what the Cowboy’s been doing since he last graced the printed page. The last two issues (and the last panel of the first issue) of Geoff Darrow’s Shaolin Cowboy have been a zombie massacre. Besieged on all sides, the Cowboy proceeds to punch, kick and cut his way through the living dead. It is simultaneously gruesome and hysterical.
Not too long ago, I wrote about how the second issue took place from one perspective as the Cowboy battled off the zombie horde for 33 pages. Darrow’s stunning art and fight choreography continued to blow my mind as the battle carried over into the third issue. If its pace weren’t so deliberate, I’d say it was the work of a madman.
Shaolin Cowboy is a place for Geoff Darrow to draw whatever he pleases. Apparently he’s really into seeing zombies with bad tattoos get killed (again) because he’s drawn two comics full of that this year. Issues 2 and 3 are definitely some of the most gruesome comics on the stands and I’m looking forward to seeing what Mr. Darrow has planned for 2014.
– Ian Gonzales
The Unwritten/Fables Crossover
Not since H.B. Reese stumbled on the idea of packaging chocolate and peanut butter together in 1928 has there been such a delectable mash-up of ideas as the crossover between Vertigo Comics’ premier titles, Fables and The Unwritten. The arc in The Unwritten wasn’t just a sales gimmick, either, but a storyline that shook readers of both books: The witches from the 13th Floor summon a champion wizard to help them ward off the encroaching forces of the evil Mister Dark…and end up having to settle for the Harry Potter-like Tommy Taylor instead. But the real magic comes from the twists enabled by setting the tale in a slightly alternate “Fables” universe – an evil Snow White, some favorites who die out of order – that culminates with far-reaching consequences for The Unwritten status quo.
– Ethan Sacks
Thor: God of Thunder
Not since the days of Walter Simonson writing and drawing Thor has the character been so exciting. Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic brought the epic and bloody story “Godbomb” to a close this year and proved why Thor is never to be underestimated. Ribic’s dark fantasy art had a Frank Frazetta flair that was perfect for the story being told. At the conclusion of the 11-issue arc, Aaron and artist Nic Kleing told a very nice and personal standalone story in issue 12 that is all one needs to read as an introduction to who Thor is and what his place is in his two homes of Asgard and Earth.
Currently Thor is off on a quest with his fellowship through the Nine Worlds to thwart the plans of the evil Dark Elf Melkor. It is this kind of high fantasy that separates Thor from his fellow Avengers, but is also what one would expect on a series that focuses a little more on the God than the Superhero. From the enthusiastic fan response from myself and many others it appears to be a direction that is greatly appreciated!
– Michael Edwards
East of West
I still don’t have a clear idea of what exactly is going on in East of West, but I know for sure that I love every meticulous panel of it. From Jonathan Hickman’s elaborate, methodical plotting (I have never encountered a comic that is so well characterized by the word ‘deliberate’) to Nick Dragota’s mind-bending mash-up of science fiction and western visuals, East of West displays the scope and nuance of a novel while retaining the graphical rhythm and flair of a comic.
I’ve been following (perhaps ‘addicted to’ is more accurate) Hickman’s work since Secret Warriors in 2009. I said way back then that he was going to grow up to be one of the best comic book writers of his generation. That is happening right now in East of West. I’ve been waiting for a comic like this for decades. The back cover of every issue of East of West bears the same quote: “We would tell you to pray but it wouldn’t do any good. You have earned what is coming to you.” I do believe I have, Mr. Hickman.
– Stu Horvath
God bless Mark Waid. I have to admit that I never thought much of Daredevil before Waid took over the series. A blind lawyer with radar sight? Not interested. But with Waid’s skillful, action-packed, heartfelt, sometimes terrifying and often hilarious take on the character, Daredevil has become my number one pull every month. Battling villains is only a small part of what makes Matt Murdock so heroic in Waid’s eyes. Never has a lawyer’s job seemed more exciting than when he’s battling his sanity, taking on his greatest nemesis, or struggling to cope with his best friend’s cancer. Every issue of Daredevil offers something new, and while the character has a rich and storied history, Waid has brought a freshness to him. Couple that with the artistic talents of Paolo Rivera and Javier Rodriguez, and you get a book with solid story and gorgeous visuals. Through Mark Waid, I have become a Daredevil fan, and when a writer can make a reader want to know the complete history of a character, he/she has done more than expected. If I can encourage one resolution in the New Year, it’s to read Daredevil. The character survived a harrowing 2013; he needs your support now more than ever to make through another twelve months.
– Brian Bannen
The third in writer/artist Becky Cloonan’s self-published Ink and Thunder series, Demeter is a single-issue story as haunting as it is poignant. Set in a vaguely medieval-inspired period, the story starts in a cottage by the sea, where a young woman named Anna is telling a story to her husband Colin. Anna also serves as the narrator of Demeter, but in neither story does she tell her audience the whole truth. Instead, through visual clues, significant looks and Anna’s increasingly impassioned dialogue, both Colin and the book’s readers learn about a mysterious bargain Anna struck to save the husband she lost at sea.
– Jill Scharr
Hellboy and BPRD
This is the fourth year in a row that Hellboy and his BPRD cohorts made it onto our year end list. I think it’s clear that Team Unwinnable has a lot of love for the big red guy and his beleaguered friends. Well, it’s either that or Stu and I rigged this thing. Ahem…anyway, this was an exceptionally good year for Hellboy and BPRD comics, if not for the characters.
This year, the Earth has gotten in progressively worse shape since the Hell on Earth era started. The Black Flame returned and the BPRD is barely holding it together in BPRD: Hell on Earth. Abe Sapien is coming to terms with not only his own transformation, but the changes in the world around him. And then there is Hellboy – still dead and still in Hell.
The connective tissue between the Hellboy and BPRD books was also strong this year. There is imagery in Hellboy In Hell # 4 that ties to B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Abyss of Time and Witchfinder: In the Service of Angels. Agent Howards and his trip to the Hyperborean Age may be referenced in Hell. Only time will tell.
Mignola is a master of atmosphere and so are the artists shepherding his world. Mignola himself illustrates Hellboy’s afterlife. Tyler Crook and James Harren illustrate the adventures of the BPRD. Max Fiumara evolves Abe Sapien in his own title. Brothers Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon stood out with their BPRD: Vampire series.
BPRD: Vampire follows the story of cursed agent Simon Anders. The first issue of the series began with BPRD founder, Professor Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm, sending Anders to the small Czech town of Ceský Krumlov. There, Anders hunts down the vampire clan that cursed him and finds much more than he bargained for. It is a terrifying book that stands out in the line of some of the best comics of the year.
– Ian Gonzales
I’ll make a confession right now: I’ve been a Hawkeye fan for as long as I can remember. From the West Coast Avengers to various miniseries in the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s, I never imagined that he would rise to the level of critical acclaim and popularity that he is at now. All Matt Fraction did was tweak the formula just a little bit, move Clint Barton out to Brooklyn, and bring fellow crime stoppers Kate “Hawkeye” Bishop and canine Pizza Dog in to give Clint Barton a hand. That is, until Kate Bishop and Pizza Dog break off on their own adventures, as they have in recent issues. This year saw bold and exciting creative choices from creators Matt Fraction and artist David Aja, including issue #11 where the point of view was entirely from Pizza Dog’s perspective. It will be exciting to see where Aja and Fraction take Hawkeye in 2014. Will it once again top the Unwinnable charts? Stick around and find out!
– Michael Edwards
Is there a more overrated comic book than Saga being published today? Brian K. Vaughan lost his knack as a writer right about the same time he left comics for Lost and now that he’s back, the industry is all the poorer for it. Together with Fiona Staple’s uninspired doodling, he has hoodwinked people into believing that Saga’ tawdry science fiction tale is some kind of groundbreaking masterpiece. If you want to read that dreck, fine, but I stopped reading after the first issue.
– Stu Horvath
Comic of the Year: Sex Criminals
Sex Criminals had my money at the premise. There are two people who freeze time when they orgasm. They meet, they flirt, they get along and they have sex. When they both realize they have the same exact ability, they make the only sane decision they can – they decide to rob banks post-coitus. Writer Matt Fraction described the series as a sex comedy that could only be done in comics. He and artist Chip Zdarsky do just that.
Like Saga, Sex Criminals is very frank and honest about sex. When we first meet Suzanne and Jonathan, they are getting down in a public restroom. Suzanne then breaks the fourth wall and gives readers her backstory.
The way Zdarsky and colorist Becka Kinzie freeze time around Suzanne and John is interesting. Since comics take place in frozen time anyway, how does one get that across? That’s part of Sex Criminals’ magic. When time stops, there is a digital flash layered over the page that signifies the time-stopped limbo Suzie calls “the Quiet” and Jonathan calls “Cumworld.” It’s a clever use of effects that maximizes panel usage and moves the story forward.
Sex Criminals is different from a lot of comics on the stands. It’s a human story with flourishes of the fantastic…and a lot of sex. I came for the sex comedy, and I stayed for the intimate portrait of two people who felt completely alone in the world until that first time they had sex together.
– Ian Gonzales