11
Jan
2014
Chris's Top Ten New Series of 2013
Best of 2013: Comics
Chris


One of the main reasons 2013 was such a great year for comics was the incredible slate of exciting new series that launched this year. This list highlights 10 of the strongest debuts of 2013, books that might just give long time Best Of list favorites like Saga and Batman, a run for their money in 2014.

#10 Action Comics
DC Comics
-Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder

Ok, ok, so technically this is not a new series, but Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder's new direction for Action Comics is such a welcome change of pace for the Superman franchise following the grim and gritty tone of the books influenced by the success of Zach Snyder's Man of Steel, that I had to acknowledge it. Beginning with a tie-in to the zero year storyline in Batman, Pak returns to examine the early days of Clark's career, focusing on the t-shirt and jeans wearing Superman introduced in Grant Morrison's run. In one issue, Pak succinctly and artfully lays out his vision of Superman, and the hero's role in relation to mankind. Heavily influenced by Mark Waid and Grant Morrison, Pak delivers an Action Comics that is an unapologetic superhero comic, celebrating the notion that Superman is a hero who will do everything he can to inspire and save the people he protects, but cannot single handedly shape their destiny like the aloof deity some writers portray him as. Likewise Aaron Kuder, whose style is highly reminiscent of Frank Quietly and Chris Burnham has reinvigorated the visuals of this book, experimenting with dynamic panel layouts and giving the book a visual flair unique among the current DC house style. Offering up a Superman fan's Superman book, Pak and Kuder have laid the groundwork for an exciting run on Action Comics.

#9 Letter 44
Oni Press
-Charles Soule and Alberto Jimenez Albuquerque

Blending science fiction and political drama, Letter 44 tells the story of newly elected President Stephen Blade's discovery of the most highly guarded secret in America: Nasa has detected an alien megastructure on the edge of our solar system and have no idea as to when it was made or to what its intended purpose is. Mirroring real life political realities and current events, the success of Soule's narrative stems from the alternate explanation he offers for familiar events in recent American history. It doesn't take a great deal of suspension of disbelief to imagine that this is how the American government would respond to such a crisis, and as a result the tension is made all the more real for the reader. And while political intrigue dominates the story on Earth, the books other narrative has plenty to offer science fiction fans, as a group of Astronauts draws ever closer to the mysterious alien construct. Already several years into a lengthy mission, it's clear that the isolation and stress of their mission has severely affected the team, but the full ramifications of their time in space has yet to be revealed. A political/hard sci-fi fusion drama is a tough genre comic to pull off, but these early issues suggest that Soule and Albuqueque are up for the challenge.

#8 Trillium
DC/Vertigo Comics
-Jeff Lemire

Billed as "the last love story", Jeff Lemire's Vertigo miniseries chronicles the relationship of Nika and William, two people who have mysteriously crossed barriers of time and space to find each other at a time of great personal turmoil. Lemire writes and illustrates Trillium giving the work that special synergy that only comes from a singular vision controlling the majority of the creative process. Lemire's loose pencils give the book an ethereal, dreamlike look that perfectly complements the surreal elements of the scripts and the characters disbelief in the face of baffling circumstances. Lemire also experiments with the physical constraints of the comic book itself to further this feeling of strangeness and to emphasize the time travel aspects of this story: certain issues must be flipped upside down once Nika's half of the story is complete, and William's begins. While Lemire has given few answers as to why and how anything that transpires in Trillium is happening, the mechanics take a back seat to the character work and chemistry of his leads. Trillium #2 is a quiet meet-cute that elegantly grows a relationship between the leads, investing the readers in this pairing with economy and grace. The success of Trillium will hinge on whether or not Lemire can bring his disparate threads together in the time he has left, and weave as satisfying conclusion for his protagonists, but for now, the craft he employs on this title is definitely something to behold.

#7 The Amazing X-Men
Marvel Comics
-Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness

While fans are still mourning the end of Jason Aaron's immensely fun and unpredictable Wolverine and the X-Men they can take some solace in the knowledge that the same tone and many of the same characters will follow Aaron to his new series Amazing X-Men focusing more on the faculty of the Jean Grey School than the students, Amazing X-Men follows the exploits of Wolverine's team as they do what the X-Men do best: protect a world that hates and fears them. The first arc features the team answering a call for help from their deceased teammate Nightcrawler. Fan favorite arc Ed McGuinness treats Nightcrawler's fans to the return they've been waiting for, as the first issue alone featured an extended swashbuckling sword fight between the blue elf and hordes of demonic pirates. Amazing X-Men would have made this list alone for the sequence in which new X-Man Firestar first arrives as the Jean Grey School. While watching a new character thrown into the deep end of the crazy pool that is the JGS is a well Aaron has returned to several times already, it’s a concept I find always welcome and infinitely entertaining. Telling exciting stories that embrace the outlandish freedom of comics and reinvigorating fan favorite characters is what Jason Aaron does best, and fans of his work on the x-titles can rest assured that Amazing X-Men is more of what they love.

#6 Lazarus
Image Comics
-Greg Rucka and Michael Lark

Set in a dystopian future where the majority of the world's wealth is controlled by a handful of families that have carved up their former nations like feudal estates, Lazarus tells the tale of Forever Carlyle, bred to be a weapon at the service of a group of people who might be her family, or her owners. While several comics have tried to catch a topical minded audience by weighing in on the idea of the 99%, few did so as successfully as Lazarus. Greg Rucka is known for writing smart comics featuring strong female protagonists and these strengths are on full display in this new creator owned endeavor. Michael Lark renders dark and gritty set pieces that set the perfect mood for Rucka's script, and vicious fight sequences that will leave you cringing. The opening chapters of Lazarus have been a slow build, but the world Rucka and Lark have created is so fully thought out, that the world building is half the fun. Lazarus presents readers with a bleak, harsh, and unforgiving world, but I fully intend to spend much more time exploring it in the coming year.

#5 The Private Eye
Panel Syndicate
-Brian K. Vaughn and Marcos Martin

Brian K. Vaughn and Marcos Martin's revolutionary new digital series from Panel Syndicate was the talk of the comics community when the book first launched last March. Vaughn and Martin offered the book as a DRM free download that invited readers to pay what they wanted for each issue. And while The Private Eye may not have completely changed the way comics are created and distributed, it's definitely sparked a conversation. Vaughn himself remarks that this method of distribution (Martin's brainstorm) is particularly fitting for this neo-noir, as their narrative is set in a world where everyone's personnel information and digital history became readily accessible to everyone else, creating a society that hated and feared the internet and the open unrestricted flow of information. Vaughn's sharp dialogue and vivid imagination builds a world so much like our own but so very alien at the same time. Marcos Martin's dynamic designs, lithe figures, and bold use of negative space combine with Munsta Vicente's vibrant color palette to create a salivatory feast for the eyes. The widescreen page layout is perfectly suited both for the digital devices the book is intended, and for Martin's kinetic artwork as characters, organically run, leap, and fall from panel to panel. With two of comics' hottest talents asking whatever you feel is fair to pay for this year's most unique new book, it would be criminal to pass up The Private Eye.

#4 Black Science
Image Comics
-Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera

Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera's Black Science #1 was by far the strongest debut issue of the year, and that's no small feat when you look at the competition. Super genius Grant McKay has paid the ultimate price for dabbling in forbidden science, the dimension hopping machine he and his team created has gone haywire, transporting them into alternate dimension after alternate dimension with no way of predicting where they will end up next or how long they will stay there. Think Quantum Leap meets Lost In Space gone terribly, terribly wrong. Remender's narration evokes the sci fi pulp adventure feel he's striving for with this series, while parsing out exactly enough information to keep the reader informed and in the moment. Penciller Matteo Scalera, and Painted Colorist Dean White create a lush alien landscapes as beautiful as they are deadly. If the first issues are any indication, Black Science will be one of the most thrilling and brutal books on the stands, and a heavy favorite for the Best Comics of 2014 list.

#3 Superior Foes of Spider-Man
Marvel Comics
-Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber

Reading like a Guy Ritchie Movie with super villains, Superior Foes of Spider-Man follows five D-List scrub Spider-Man villains intent on becoming the next Sinister Six (because they like the name but don't want to split the score six ways). It's very rare to achieve laugh out loud moments in comics, but Superior Foes is easily one of the funniest comic books to hit the stands in decades. And while Spencer's scripts are bitingly witty, it is Steve Lieber's visual comedy that really sells both the high and low brow beats. Indicative of the new type of indy influenced book emerging from Steve Wacker's editorial office (he also oversees Hawkeye and Captain Marvel), Sinister Foes features a group of criminals with big ambitions, few skills, and a knack for getting into trouble way beyond their ability to handle. Equally inept at pulling off a heist of a major crime boss or local pet store, these characters have few redeeming qualities beyond their ambition to stay relevant in a world dominated by groups like the Avengers and the Masters of Evil. Delightfully sleazy, hilariously out of their depth, and endlessly entertaining, one issue with Spencer and Lieber's barely lovable band of misfits will leave you eager to sign on for their next caper.

#2 The Wake
DC/Vertigo Comics
-Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy

If Scott Snyer is not already considered the modern master of horror comics, than his ability to make Mermaids terrifying in his and artist Sean Murphy's new Vertigo maxi-series The Wake certainly clinches the title. Snyder and Murphy have crafted a story of disturbing, claustrophobic terror, built upon visceral shock scares, and a pervading tone of dread. Currents of mythology, mystery, and science surge together to create a dense read, anchored by a cast of charismatic, fully realized characters, none of whom are safe. Featuring a disparate group of scientists and intellectuals brought together to examine a mysterious creature captured aboard a government operated deep sea drilling rig, The Wake relies on a core tenant of science fiction horror: make sure your character have nowhere to run. Trapped beneath the ocean, their base quickly filling up with water, the creature that now hunts its former captives may be the least of our protagonists' worries. Snyder is an expert at weaving trivia, history, and lore into his narration and seamlessly spring boarding off this information to reveal character traits and backstory, a key skill when introducing characters whose death needs to mean something in a short amount of time. Murphy's sketchy line work and heavy use of shadow create a gritty atmosphere, full of half-glimpsed horrors. And while the The Wake was already a highly impressive series, Snyder and Murphy outdid themselves by drastically upending the status quo at the series halfway mark, completely subverting any expectations of where the narrative might be going and what to expect from the second half of this series.

#1 Sex Criminals
Image Comics
-Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

Originally billed as a raunchy sex comedy in the vein of your favorite Judd Apatow flick, when Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky's new passion project hit that stands, it read a lot more like a touching, coming of age memoir. Only with time stopping orgasms, enormous dildo bludgeonings, and a charming irreverence that would not have let my repeated use of the word "vein" in this blurb's opener go unpunished. Sex Criminals tells the story of Suzie and Jon, whose one night stand becomes much, much more when they discover that they both share the same incredible secret: time freezes around them and they are alone in a world of color and warmth whenever they orgasm. Diving into the characters personal histories, the book uses this very extraordinary discovery as a metaphor for the ordinary but no less confusing and scary adolescent journey of sexual discovery. Fraction has crafted one of the most honest, thoughtful, nuanced, and universal examinations of sexuality and relationships (both romantic and otherwise) of this or any other medium. Zdarsky’s characters look like real people and he imbues them with a Kevin Maguire-esque range of facial expressions. Zdarsky’s choreography and attention to detail sell scenes that shouldn’t work on the printed page, like a fantasy dance montage to Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls” or a sex toy fight in a porn shop. And while Sex Criminals is incredibly heartfelt, I don’t know that it would be nearly as effective if it wasn’t also so damn funny. Equally willing to embrace high brow literary humor and puerile frat boy gags, Fraction and Zdarsky pack this book full of the same outrageous wit that regularly spews forth from their numerous social media accounts (if you’re not following the surreal stream of consciousness that is Fraction’s twitter or watching Zdarsky befriend Applebees on Facebook, you’re only hurting yourself). Fraction and Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals was one of the most unique, poignant, and exciting series of 2013 and the book to watch in 2014. One of the main reasons 2013 was such a great year for comics was the incredible slate of exciting new series that launched this year. This list highlights 10 of the strongest debuts of 2013, books that might just give long time Best Of list favorites like Saga and Batman, a run for their money in 2014.

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