Another week of December, another best of 2013 list. Today, I shall be reviewing some of the most memorable single issues of the year. The criteria for selection is an issue, whether part of a larger narrative or simply a self-contained tale, that impacted me the most these twelve months. These are not necessarily the best overall stories; some outstanding arcs from 2013 are unrepresented because there was no specific issue that stood out from the others. So, with that in mind, I present a list of 15. First place is a tie between two thematically overlapping choices; the remainder are listed in alphabetical order.
Comics, like film, are in their essence a visual medium, and one of the purest examples of this are the covers which grace each issue. They announce to us what expect from a given title, evoking the tone and mood of the story within. They sometimes form our first impression of a series, inspiring us to pick up something from the shelves that we wouldn’t have considered otherwise. In other words, they play a vital part in our experience of comics.
So, for my post today, I have compiled a list of the covers which stood out for me as the best of 2013. I have separated them into two groups: a top tier of ten, followed by a second set of runners-up. Within each grouping the titles are arranged alphabetically. I’ll admit that narrowing down this list was not as easy I thought it would be. Even with 20 entries, it could have easily run longer. At the end of the day, however, having too much outstanding art to pick from is never a problem, but something to be savored.
“Come & play the tunes of glory—raise your voice in celebration of the days we have wasted in the café in the station & learn the meaning of existence in fortnightly installments. Come share this golden age with me in my single room apartment & if it all amounts to nothing—it doesn’t matter, these are still our glory days.” –Jarvis Cocker, “Glory Days”
With #13 last week Young Avengers came closer to its ending, giving readers a rollickin’ climax to a year’s worth of narrative. We still have two issues of the series to go, a two-part after-party which promises to tie up a few loose ends and, hopefully, leave us with a satisfying sense of closure. When this series debuted in January, I was familiar with few of its characters, mainly viewing it as a continuation of Kieron Gillen’s brilliant Kid Loki run on Journey into Mystery. I quickly fell for all the members of this team of misfits, and will miss them when the series wraps up next month. For its 13-month running time, it has been one of the best comics on the racks.
This past week, Marvel celebrated 100 issues of Nova. Now, while I am not old enough to have caught Richard Rider (aka Nova)’s exploits from their beginnings, he is a character I have a sentimental attachment to. See, like any true child of the 90s, I first became aware of him through the pages of The New Warriors. Marvel launched the series in the summer of 1990 as part of a batch of new titles, including the Danny Ketch Ghost Rider, John Byrne’s Namor, a Robocop book and Jim Valentino’s Guardians of the Galaxy. I bought all of those first issues, but The New Warriors instantly became one of my favorite series (along with Guardians, though that’s a reminiscing for another day). The series was also my first introduction to the art of Mark Bagley, who I immediately became a fan of as well; somewhere I have the first few issues signed by Bagley. I also had his signature on some 90s issues of Amazing Spider-Man; however, the last time I searched for them, they seemed to have vanished. (You’d be surprised how many big- name comic creators passed through Central Ohio during the early 90s).
One of the common clichés of life is that we should leave no door unopened. As a general sentiment, I would whole heartedly agree. Part of maturing is sampling different experiences; otherwise, how will we ever know if what we have is what we want? How could we ever grow? Yet, part of maturity is also knowing when to look at a door, and, no matter how tempting, recognize that this is not the right one for you. Anyone can throw themselves into anything hoping for the best; the wise know when to pause for consideration.
This theme is explored in issue six of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City. Astro City is a series centered in the fictional metropolis of the same name, populated by many colorful costumed heroes. However, instead of concentrating on larger than life superpowered beings, Busiek often focuses instead on the lives of everyday people, in this case a man by the name of Thatcher Jerome.
Rarely is there anything as simple as black and white villainy. As I have touched upon previously, the relationships between heroes and villains are complex, filled with nuances of motivation. What starts out as a noble quest can turn destructive, as well as vice versa. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” as goes a saying which was repeatedly on my mind while reading Unity #1.
This new Valiant series is the result of plotlines reaching back nearly a year, if not longer. Aric of Dacia, Fifth-Century Visigoth warrior, wields an alien armor of immense power. Originally taken captive by The Vine, an alien race who harvests captive labor from various worlds, he freed himself through bonding with this alien artifact. Traveling to the home world of The Vine, Aric liberated what remained of his people, and piloted them back to Earth. Upon arrival, he declares himself the rightful heir to his uncle’s throne and proclaims a new kingdom of Dacia.
“Tom will mean Tommy, and Tommy will mean Tom. The real world will point to the fiction, the fiction back to the reality, and so on, like particles circling in a super-collider until they impact each other and something new is born.”
From its beginnings in 2009, it has been clear that the Vertigo series The Unwritten was an exploration of storytelling and its power over our everyday lives. The series tells the tale of Tom Taylor, whose father, Wilson, is the author of the best-selling, and worldwide cultural phenomenon, Tommy Taylor young-adult novels. The fact that Wilson gave the same name to both his biological and literary progeny is no coincidence. Long employed by a mysterious organization known as the cabal, Wilson has picked up a few hints to the order of things over the years. So his son is conceived as a great experiment which Wilson will oversee, just as he molds the fictional Tommy. Throughout the series so far, writer Mike Carey has given clues as to how this process took place, but they were only pieces of the puzzle. Then, in September, Vertigo released an original graphic novel, Tommy Taylor and the Ship that Sunk Twice, which paints the first full portrait of what transpired.
Well, that was a vast improvement.
For me, Thor has always been the least successful of Marvel’s Phase 1 movies. This is not to say that it didn’t have any strengths, but, overall it was a disappointment. However, when I first saw the preview for the sequel, I found myself upgrading The Dark World from “possibly theaters, probably video” to “damn, I’m excited.” And having watched the film last night, I am happy to report that I was not let down this time around.
The film opens with a prologue recounting a battle in the ancient past between the Dark Elf army of Malekith versus Asgardian warriors under the command of Bor, father of Odin. Malekith controls a substance called Aether (very loosely defined as similar to anti-matter) with which he wishes to plunge the universe into total darkness (you know, your typical megalomaniac supervillain scheme). Bor defeats the Elves, and takes possession of the Aether, ordering it buried deep away and forgotten. As usually happens, Malekith and his power source fade into the mists of legend.
Events. We all hate them, right? Now, I don’t mean the actual, honest to god landmarks like Sandman Overture, as my colleague discussed in Hess’ House last week. No, I’m referring to the more manufactured sort. Every time Marvel or DC announces their next mega-storyline, promising that nothing will ever be the same again, we roll our eyes. We’ve heard it before, can recite the drill by heart. A bunch of stuff will happen, some it we’ll follow, some it we won’t. Tie-ins will plead that we give certain neglected titles another chance. Someone will die in the final act. Or maybe death will occur at the beginning as a trigger for the whole mess. Either way, we’ll gripe continually throughout the whole process. “Is this still going on?” “What did that issue have to do with anything?” “Boy, that banner’s ugly.” “Why do they keep doing this?” Well, because we keep buying it, right? We keep sending these events to the top of the sales charts, despite being perpetually disappointed in them.
We might affect this jaded shell of cynicism, however, deep at heart we remain optimistic in our love for comics. We truly want these events to live up to their publisher’s hype and simply be amazing. And every once in awhile our patience is rewarded, as was the case with Valiant’s Harbinger Wars.
This Wednesday begins Neil Gaiman’s Sandman prequel, Overture. As preparation, I have recently completed re-reading all of the original 75 issues. What follows is a personally-flavored guide to what may be my all-time favorite comic book title. For sake of new readers, I have kept spoilers at a minimum.
Preludes & Nocturnes (Issues #1-8): The story of Dream’s imprisonment, escape, and rebuilding of his life and realm. (Overture will tell the tale of what Dream was doing leading up to his captivity). Already in the first few issues Gaiman introduces plot elements that will cycle back around later; Dream’s confinement in itself would prove to be a major marker in his evolution as a character. Sam Keith was the original artist on this book, but I never felt it was the best fit for his style. Apparently he agreed as well, bowing out early on. Mike Dringenberg proved a better-suited collaborator. In this collection’s final chapter, “The Sound of Her Wings”, Gaiman introduced arguably his most popular creation: Dream’s sister Death. Her debut contains one of the most moving sequences in a series full of them. Finally, this volume serves as a good reminder of how closely tied to the mainline DCU Sandman was. Several characters, from John Constantine to Mister Miracle to Scarecrow, appear in these pages.