Two days left in the year, and I have one last look back at 2013 for you. This week, I’m going to examine the most memorable characters of the past twelve months. After all, even if we try a book for the creator, it’s the characters which make us stick around. They are what engage us, pulling us deeper into their fictional worlds. So, in alphabetical order by character name, here are some of the best of 2013:
1. Annabelle Lagravenese (Sex): Former costumed cat-thief Shadow Lynx turned madame of an upscale bordello, Annabelle is an intriguing counterpoint to retired hero Bruc-I mean, Simon. As much as she might try to move on, the past keeps sneaking up on her. Watching this proud woman begrudgingly admit to needing glasses (her eyesight permanently skewered by too many adventures with night-vision goggles) was a great observation on the long-term consequences of her former profession. Then, there was the scene where she lays in bed, recalling the old thrill of a chase across the rooftops . . .
2. Aric of Dacia (X-O Manowar, Unity): Valiant has definitely put Aric through his paces this year. Starting with a journey to the home world of his former captors, the freeing of his tribe from servitude, returning to Earth, proclaiming a new kingdom, and then dealing with the fall-out from those actions. Under the guidance of writer Robert Venditti, assisted by Matt Kindt, Aric continues to grow. At times unabashedly brutal, while at others displaying mercy and consideration, I suspect that Aric will continue to surprise readers in 2014.
3. Clementine & Emma (Blue Is the Warmest Color): Julie Maroh’s original graphic novel traces the path of Clementine as she discovers her self and sexuality through her relationship with Emma. Their story, with all the blissful joys and bitter mistakes that typically accompany young love, forms the basis of one of the most beautiful tales in the medium this year.
4. The Corinthian (Sandman Overture): There will be plenty of opportunity to discuss Morpheus next year as his path in Gaiman’s prequel develops. For now, though, I would like to single out The Corinthian. Gaiman returns to this fan favorite at a key moment in the character’s history, filling in a bit of background for his appearance in The Doll’s House. Gaiman & Williams render him equally chilling and charming; in other words, a true nightmare.
5. D. Oswald Heist (Saga): Even before this month’s issue, I was planning to include Oswald on my list; after reading it, I knew that I must. As the author of the book which helped bring Marko and Alana together, his name has been a part of Saga since the first arc. This year we got to meet him in person, discovering a mix of vulgar and profound, principled and resigned. Most endearing of all was his blossoming friendship (?) with the recently widowed Klara.
6. Kid Loki/Young Man Loki (Young Avengers): Kid Loki jumped from Journey into Mystery to Young Avengers without losing any of the lovable, infuriating qualities that had won him over to his fans. Riffing on that old chestnut of the God of Lies bringing a team of Avengers together, Loki, being Loki, played a long game that resulted in an older body, a power level boost, and (possibly) a little bit of heartbreak. Confronting a guilty conscience is never easy, particularly when embodied by a League of Ex’s, but these are lessons we all need to learn eventually, even reincarnated Norse Trickster Gods. OK, maybe especially reincarnated Norse Trickster Gods. Regardless, Kid Loki, you will be missed.
7. Meru (Mind MGMT): Meru has always been the focus of Matt Kindt’s exceptional series, but this was the year her character came more clearly into focus. At first glance, she was simply a non-fiction author desperate for her next book subject, someone who happened to stumble upon a scoop so outrageous no one would possibly believe it. Now we know better, however; now we know her past history with Mind MGMT. Meru has gone from being a passive pawn caught up in unfolding events to the key player directing the game.
8. Pauly “Mr. Bun” Bruckner (The Unwritten): When this character first appeared, I honestly did not care much for him. Then, Mike Carey revisited him for #24 (one of the greatest single issues I have ever read), and he grew on me. This year he popped up once again in the stellar Orpheus in the Underworld three partner. Having finagled his way onto the Throne of Hades, this former foul-mouthed killer trapped in the body of a bunny finds Lordship over the Dead less glamorous than he might have imagined. His increasing frustration with the limits/constraints of his title bring a sympathetic element previously lacking in this character.
9. Prodigy (Young Avengers): The last time I read an X-book regularly was the 90s, so I was entirely unfamiliar with Prodigy when he first appeared in Young Avengers. However by the year’s end, he had grown into a favorite from a book filled with compelling characters. His explanation of how he discovered and accepted his bisexuality was one of the highlights of the year.
10. The Riddler (Batman): In the pages of Zero Year, Scott Snyder gave Edward Nigma some of his best dialogue in years, as he plays mind games with a young Bruce Wayne and associates. In addition, Ray Fawkes scripted an outstanding Riddler Villains’ Month issue, where Nigma infiltrates Wayne Tower simply to prove that he can (a brief bout of revenge sweetens the prize as well). In both these stories, The Riddler is a sly combination of brains and menace, always one step ahead of anyone else.
11. Sif (Journey into Mystery): Sif has always been a character I was interested in, but never really read anything where she received a proper spotlight. Marvel changed that by letting her headline Journey into Mystery after Kid Loki graduated to the Young Avengers. Writer Kathryn Immonen gave us a Sif who was tough, independent, humorous, fallible and charming. You know, the kind of fully rounded female superhero we’re always complaining that the Big Two don’t produce enough of. So, of course, Marvel canceled it in just under a year. Sigh.
12. Suzanne (Sex Criminals): I have remarked before on how caught by surprise I was by the quality of this series. I believe the main reason for this is Suzie. Matt Fraction takes his time in the first issue to lay out her backstory. Readers see her family background, as well as her discovery of her powers. Through this coming of age issue, Fraction creates an utterly charming character, who only becomes more intriguing as the series progresses.
13. Swamp Thing: The common consensus when DC gave Swamp Thing a new series two years ago was that it would never last beyond writer Scott Snyder; he would do his usual brilliant thing, and leave it impossible for anyone to follow after him. In the end, his run received mixed reviews, and it was up and comer Charles Soule who had the fans speaking of a revitalization of the character. Soule has been portraying a very human Swamp Thing, while at the same time exploring the very nature of the Parliament of Trees and their Avatars. Hopefully, he’ll be sticking around on the title for a while.
14. Vincent van Goat (Quantum & Woody): In March Valiant first announced the return of heroes Quantum & Woody, while teasing us about a goat as well. Several months passed before that goat finally appeared, but once he did, he immediately lived up to expectations. Ever since, Vincent has become the highlight of every issue. The panel in issue #4 of Vincent with the self-destruct button is easily one of the funniest images of the year. Just don’t get him upset, ‘cause, you know, he’s one vicious animal . . .
15. Zephyr (Harbinger): Like Young Avengers, this is a team book filed with strong, diverse characters. Yet, the standout this year has been Zephyr. Watching her development from wide-eyed joy to shouldering responsibility to confronting the realities of combat has been a pleasure. Despite all that she’s faced, though, she has not grown cynical or lost her belief in doing the right thing. Her good will has stayed firm, even as her experience has matured.
Honorable Mention, Nova: I came onto Nova late in the year with #10, but was instantly won over by the young Sam Alexander. I look forward to catching up on what I missed in 2013, as well as discovering what happens next in 2014.
Best Ensembles: Saga, Young Avengers, Harbinger & Superior Foes of Spider-Man.
Overall, 2013 has been a pretty strong year for comics. Fingers crossed for an equally enjoyable 2014.
Cheers and best wishes for your new year.